Thursday, April 29, 2021

Dadaab and Kakuma to Close

 Kenya  has told the United Nations it will shut by June 2022 two camps,  Dadaab and Kakuma,  holding over 410,000 refugees who fled from wars in the east and Horn of Africa, adding it planned to repatriate some and give others residency.

Kenya tells U.N. it will shut two camps with 410,000 refugees by June 2022 | Reuters

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Cain V. Abel Again

 France 24 cable news outlet carries a report on the farmer-herder conflicts in Nigeria. 

Clashes between farmers and herders have killed more than 10,000 people in the last decade and forced the displacement of 300,000 people, according to the International Crisis Group. Nigeria’s Middle Belt has been struck this year by a spike in farmer-herder violence, which in 2018 was six times deadlier than the Boko Haram insurgency, killing more than 2,000 people according to the International Crisis Group.

Salihu Musa Umar, a member of one of the biggest pastoralists’ associations in Africa and the founder of The Farmers and Herders Initiative for Peace and Development, explains:

"The herdsmen are often portrayed by farmers as evil. This gives rise to suspicion and anger when they arrive but actually, they are just as often victims in this conflict. Pastoralists are being killed by farming communities on a daily basis. The herders have to move from point A to point B in search of greener pasture. But their cattle route is often blocked by farmers, who get angry and attack the herders. When these attacks take place, there is no justice, and so the herders feel cheated and begin reprisal attacks. It is an endless spiral. The nature of the pastoralists’ livelihoods makes them very vulnerable. The majority of them are poor, uneducated, and they are very rarely given a voice in public discourse. It is easy to scapegoat them."

Many farmers are losing their source of income as their crops are being burned by herders. 

Finding a resolution to Nigeria’s cattle-grazing crisis is also essential for the country’s economy and food security. Almost sixty percent of Nigeria’s protein originates from Fulani herders, according to Salihu Musa Umar. Meanwhile, about 90 percent of farmers are smallholders that produce most of the country’s farm output, which accounts for almost 27 percent of gross domestic product. 

“Food is becoming very expensive because farmers no longer have access to their farms,” Isaac Olawale Albert, Director of the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University of Ibadan told the Observers team told the reporters.  “If we don’t achieve peace in rural areas, we won’t be able to grow food anymore. So the conflict has become an existential problem for Nigeria. Either we find a solution to the conflict, or we will no longer have enough food to feed ourselves.”

Climate-induced desertification in recent years has escalated tensions, forcing the northern herders further south into the farmers' territory, creating one of the conflicts, as both sides compete for scarce resources. Farmers and herders have crossed paths for decades, as pastoralist Fulanis from the north have a long tradition of migrating south during the dry season in search of water and grazing land for their cattle. The two groups usually managed to reach a mutual accommodation and overall, they coexisted peacefully. However, in recent years, climate change has altered that order. Increased drought and desertification have forced herders even further south and into conflict with farmers, whose numbers have increased in line with Nigeria’s booming population. 

“Climate change is the most important variable in the analysis,” Isaac Olawale Albert, explained. “Droughts and desertification are the root cause of the herders’ increased movement. It has become more difficult to find fertile land, so competition has increased. The Middle Belt is often referred to as the country’s ‘food basket’ – it is very fertile land and so farmers want it for their crops and herdsmen for their cattle.” 

 As killings persist, the clashes have increasingly been framed as a religious problem, since the majority of Fulaniherders are Muslim and most of the farmers are Christian. Charges and counter-charges of ethnic cleansing have gained momentum.

This situation was depicted by a 2018 article in the Socialist Standard, using the biblical analogy of the Cain versus Abel story 

The Suffering in the Sahel

 A record 29 million people in six countries of the unrest-hit Sahel region are in need of humanitarian assistance in the face of “unparalleled” insecurity and growing hunger, the United Nations and NGOs have warned. In a statement the signatories said another five million people were now in need of assistance in Burkina Faso, northern Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and northeastern Nigeria compared with last year. The violence has led to the closure of thousands of schools across the region, while 1.6 million children are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

“The conflict in Sahel is growing wider, more complex and involving more armed actors,” said Xavier Creach, Sahel coordinator for the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) and deputy director for West and Central Africa. “Civilians end up paying the price as they face an increasing number of deadly attacks, gender-based violence, extortion or intimidation, and are forced to flee, often multiple times.”

The region was plunged into conflict in 2012 when armed groups overtook a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists in northern Mali. France led an intervention the next year to beat back the armed groups, which scattered and regrouped before taking their campaign into central Mali in 2015 and then into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso. Chad and the Sahel regions in the north of Cameroon and Nigeria are also gripped by conflicts with armed groups.

“We’ve seen hunger jump by almost a third in West Africa – to the highest levels in the best part of a decade,” the statement quoted Chris Nikoi, a regional director of UN’s World Food Programme, as saying. He added that soaring food prices linked to the violence were driving hunger and malnutrition.

“Behind the numbers and data, there are stories of human suffering,” the statement quoted Julie Belanger, a regional director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as saying. “Without sufficient resources, the crisis will further escalate, eroding communities’ resilience and putting millions more children, women and men at risk,” she added.

Record 29 million in the Sahel in need of humanitarian assistance | Humanitarian Crises News | Al Jazeera

Africom for Africa?

 Isn't it ironic that having achieved independence from colonial rule, Nigeria is inviting the military of  a colonial power to return?

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has called on the US to move its Africom military headquarters to the continent from Germany.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to young Africans studying in the US,  cautioned against China's growing presence on the African continent.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Quote of the Day

 “Look at what the collapse of Syria and the chaos of civil war has meant...Ethiopia has 110 million people. If the tensions in Ethiopia would result in a widespread civil conflict that goes beyond Tigray, Syria will look like child’s play by comparison.” Jeffrey Feltman, US special envoy for the Horn of Africa

New Biden Envoy for Horn of Africa Warns Tigray Conflict Could Worsen (

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Africa's Sweatshops

 Economists have promoted low-wage textile industry as the best way for poor countries to build a manufacturing base. In East Africa, the promised trickle-down effects of foreign investment have not materialized. The dream of industrial growth comes at a high price.

 A number of East African countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya, are attempting to follow that path. Images of industrial progress and of politicians visiting work-shops, with rows of workers hunched over textile manufacturing equipment suggest that the development that has long eluded the continent is not too far off.

The Ethiopian government sees itself competing with Bangladesh for a place in the global clothing supply chain. And Bangladesh isn’t a floor to build on—it’s a ceiling. 

The Ethiopian Investment Commission markets the country’s wages as “1/7 of China and 1/2 of Bangladesh,” the lowest garment worker pay in the world. From these paltry wages, Ethiopian industry has grown from 11 percent of the country’s GDP in 2013 to 25 percent today. That growth is held up as a local success story. Applauding the country for “building Africa’s manufacturing strength,” the African Development Bank highlighted Ethiopia’s goal of generating $30 billion in exports from the textile and apparel sector between now and 2030.

All this development is sold on creating jobs that will reduce poverty. So how are Ethiopian workers faring?

Studies have shown that an Ethiopian garment worker needs about $146 a month to survive. Only 7.5 percent of garment workers make that much. Ethiopia’s garment sector has no statutory minimum wage; instead, the working minimum is tied to the lowest wages for government employees. As a report from NYU’s Center for Business and Human Rights notes, “The fact that government-paid floor sweepers earn so little doesn’t make $26 a fair base wage for sewing-machine operators employed by foreign manufacturers.” The Worker Rights Consortium found that in addition to being paid the lowest wages in the world (as low as 12 cents an hour), workers were facing the same abuses that plague sweatshops in Asian countries, including harassment, unsafe conditions, forced overtime, and pay deductions for lateness or missing work (on top of wages missed), “despite such practice being barred by international and domestic law, as well as applicable codes of conduct.” 

Colonial-era governments in Africa focused on producing raw materials, which were exported to the metropole and re-imported as finished goods. Shortages during the world wars, and volatility in commodity prices that made it more expensive to import manufactured goods, forced colonial managers to invest in domestic industries. With the decolonization wave beginning in the 1950s came an even greater effort to develop light industry, producing electrical machines and goods like clothing, shoes, paper, and leather. Part of the plan, then as now, was to attract foreign firms that had both the capital and technological know-how to develop industrial capacity.

 To secure these investments, governments implemented policies like tax exemptions, low customs duties, favorable exchange rates for investors, and duty-free import of capital goods. But global competition was steep, and without railroads and other transportation infrastructure, it was difficult to export goods. Neither was there enough domestic demand to support factory production, in part because workers were paid so poorly. Faced with these challenges, many postcolonial experiments in industrialization in Africa ended in failure.

The current development efforts in East Africa have been shaped with knowledge of this checkered history. 

Kenya’s government plans to develop horizontal industrial clusters that build on local strengths, with investments in tanneries and meat, dairy, and leather processing plants. The country is also undertaking efforts to train more engineers to raise the ratio of skilled workers to unskilled ones.

The Ethiopian government, meanwhile, has embraced state intervention to protect infant industries, prioritizing sectors that will “maximize linkage effects” and lead to investments in connected industries, as Arkebe Oqubay, a special adviser to the prime minister, puts it in Made in Africa: Industrial Policy in Ethiopia. In his study of experiments in the cement, floriculture, and leather industries from 1991 to 2013, Oqubay argues that low-income African countries such as Ethiopia cannot develop their natural advantages without the strong hand of the state. This doesn’t mean creating an inflexible command economy, but instead “reserving the right to make mistakes and, in the process, to learn from them.” 

Earlier growth strategies in Africa have been handicapped by a relatively underdeveloped workforce skill base. Training has to be a cornerstone of development policies, and the best bet is to build off where workers currently are. In East Africa, that means farming. Despite its much-touted manufacturing growth, more than 70 percent of Ethiopia’s workforce is still in agriculture.

The African Union’s African Continental Free Trade Area, which went into effect at the beginning of 2021, removes trade barriers for goods and services among countries on the continent, giving infant industries more access to friendly export markets. The additional income from opening trade, plus savings from eliminating tariffs, is estimated to reach $450 billion by 2035.

 The bulk of development efforts are still devoted to attracting foreign business investment, creating an all too familiar race to the bottom. The Tax Justice Network-Africa estimates that Kenya loses a billion dollars a year in tax incentives and exemptions. Export processing zones, a key part of the country’s industrial policy, give companies a ten-year corporate income tax holiday and exemptions from import duties on machinery, raw materials, and inputs. What reason do foreign companies have to invest in linkages with domestic ones, or to train workers, if they are planning to leave the moment the tax holiday is up?

Jacob Omolo, a labor economist at Kenyatta University in Kenya, describes the Kenyan state as caught between standing by the “principles and rights” of Kenyan citizens “versus their desire for investments.”

 As part of its charm offensive to attract foreign capital, the state has been reluctant to enforce labor and union regulations. Pervasive high unemployment, particularly among those under age thirty-five, also leaves workers in a vulnerable position, while the minimum wage—by some estimates, $123 per month—is half a living wage of roughly $240 per month. The promised trickle-down effects of foreign investment have not materialized.

To Omolo, the decision to neglect labor protections has been the “weakest link” in state development blueprints. African governments that fail to support workers, build on existing skills and improve them, and support sectors that create local wealth and diminish the power of foreign capital will have little hope of growing past the sweatshop floor.

Up From Sweatshops | Dissent Magazine

Friday, April 23, 2021

Whither South Africa? (1950)

 From the April 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the western outskirts of Johannesburg lies the “shanty-town" of Newclare—an ugly sprawl of wooden shacks, patched up with canvas and corrugated iron, dirty and horribly overcrowded. Buried deep in the misery and squalor of Newclare and other places like it, live the Native workers of Johannesburg and the gold-mines of the Rand.

On February 13th this year, two armoured carloads of police drove into Newclare. Their object was to make a surprise check-up on passes, the documents which the law compels all adult male Africans to carry to show they are in work (and which, incidentally, most of them are unable to read).

These “pass laws” have never been completely effective. They are even less effective now when the Natives have been flocking into the towns in such large numbers that the authorities have found it quite impossible to keep up with them. And so, to remind them that the law still exists even though it cannot be administered properly, the police have taken to making surprise raids (often in the middle of the night), in which they make a sudden swoop on an area, quickly round-up likely suspects, arrest those found without passes, and carry them off to gaol. Sometimes the arrests run into hundreds, and the raid looks more like a minor military exercise.

Perhaps because it was only a small raid, the one on February 13th did not pass off quite so smoothly as usual. When the police tried to make an arrest on this occasion they were immediately attacked by a large crowd of Natives who eventually forced them to retire under a hail of stones and other missiles. Having driven off the police, the crowd then proceeded to throw barricades across the streets and began stoning every vehicle they found carrying Europeans, at the same time setting fire to shops and looting the contents.

The rioting continued unchecked until the following day, when heavy reinforcements of armed police and firemen were drafted to the scene, and to other places where disturbances had also broken out in sympathy. Covering the firemen with rifle and machine-gun fire to enable them to fix the hoses and at the same time prevent the crowd from cutting them, the police began to occupy the area. The crowd resisted fiercely, attacking both the police and the bands of armed Europeans who were now also roaming the district, bent on taking matters into their own hands. (The presence of these gangs was one of the most significant aspects of the riot, and is a disturbing indication of the level to which racial feeling has now risen inside South Africa.) Finally, after several hours of pitched battles, the police cleared the streets, and the disturbances came to an uneasy end.

The incident itself has since been referred to the Riots Commission, which is already sitting to consider five other cases of rioting. All of them have occurred within the last six months.

What has brought South Africa to this perilous pass? What has brought about this situation, in which certain elements in the White group are already expressing their intention of suppressing all future trouble, whatever the cost and whatever the consequences? Where some of the politicians are already talking about the dangers of civil war? South Africa has always had a racial problem. What has happened in the past few years to bring it to such a terrible state?

To answer these questions, we must first make a brief review of the events that have taken place since 1948.

The Past Two Years
There are two main political parties in South Africa, the Nationalist Party under Malan, and the United Party under Smuts. In addition, there are two smaller organisations, the Afrikaner Party led by Havenga, and a Labour Party.

At the last General Election, held in May, 1948, the Nationalists and Afrikaners combined had a slight majority over the United Party and the Labour Party. This enabled them to form a Coalition Government with Malan as Prime Minister, and Havenga in the key position of Minister of Finance.

Backed largely by the Boer farming vote, the Nationalist Party has always taken an extreme line on the racial question, and, indeed, they fought the election on this issue. Malan himself, in a speech at Praal on the 20th April, 1948, said about the election that it was 
  “dominated by the question of whether the European race would be able to maintain its rule, its purity, and its civilisation or float along until it vanishes for ever in the black sea of South Africa’s non-European population.”
Once in power, there is no doubt that Malan would have been prepared to go the whole way with his extreme racial policies if it had not been for the reluctance of Havenga to go the whole way with him. As his Government depends upon the support of Havenga and the Afrikaner Party, he has had to give way—at least for the present. This, however, has not prevented him from pressing on with all kinds of other repressive legislation, with or without the support of Havenga. Prominent in this legislation has been: —
(a) The pushing forward of the general ideal of "complete separation” of all the racial groups of South Africa, “socially, residentiary, industrially, and politically.” This means that, the four groups of South Africa—the Whites, the Coloureds (people of mixed blood), the Indians, and the Africans, will be for ever kept strictly apart. In line with this, legislation has already been introduced forbidding inter-marriage between Europeans and Coloureds (laws already exist forbidding marriage between Whites and Indians, and Whites and Africans).
(b) The intention to keep the Natives on the Reserves, and away from the towns—in Malan's own words, “the Native reserves must become the true fatherland of the Native." In the towns they must henceforth be regarded as “visitors.” 
(c) Repeal of the previous Government’s law allowing the Indians three representatives in Parliament.
(d) Abolition of present Coloured vote, and in its place a similar system to that now operating for the Natives in which they are allowed three separate representatives (who must be Europeans).
(e) Repeal of the previous Government’s Bill recognising Native Trade Unions.
(f) All training of Native skilled workers to cease.
(g) All voting rights to be taken away from the Indians, and from all Natives living away from the Reserves.
As the culmination to all these repressive activities Malan is now about to introduce an identity-card system by means of which every person in the Union will eventually be registered according to “race.” Its effect will be to put every individual, once and for all, into a racial classification from which there will never be a chance of escape. To the darker-skinned African it will be just another document to add to the others he has to carry already, but for the Coloured group its effects will be profound. It will put an end, in fact, to all possibility of a white-skinned Coloured person “passing over” into the White group.

Finally, the Nationalists have extended the racial laws to cover the Cape Province, formerly the least subject to prejudice. In the post offices, non-Whites are now directed to separate counters; there are separate exits and entrances at the railway stations; “Jim Crow” travels the trains; and rides shamelessly on the buses, where Europeans now sit in the front and members of the other groups sit at the back.

All these things show clearly that the Malan Government is determined to put the clock back in South Africa. But what of the United Party and Smuts? Are they any different? Only to this extent— that whilst they do not wish to put the clock back, they neither wish to put in very far forward. Their alternative boils down to a few reforms here and there which they hope will take the sting out of the Natives' rebelliousness, relieve the pressure on the Indians and Coloureds where it hurts them most, and leave them all once more contented with their inferior position.

The same applies to the Labour Party. Only recently there was a split in their ranks when their Leader and Deputy Leader in Parliament voted against the Indians being allowed the vote. One member abstained and the others voted in favour of the Bill, which was in any case a milk-and-water effort that only allowed them representation by Europeans.

What it comes to is this, irrespective of Party, irrespective of class, almost the whole of the White group are united in refusing to allow the non-Whites anything like a position comparable with their own. They may differ here and there amongst themselves as to which particular rung of the ladder each of the other groups should occupy, but one thing they are agreed upon—that they, the Whites, belong near the top of the ladder and the others a long way further down.

They continue to deceive themselves that they can maintain this situation, that for ever and ever 2½ million Europeans can keep the other 9 millions in subjection. There never was a more forlorn and fantastic hope, nor one with graver possibilities of terrible consequences for themselves. Speaking in the South African Parliament three days after the riot. Smuts said: —
  “Something new is coming into the life of this country. We are accustomed to the orderly conduct of our Natives and on the whole our Natives are well behaved, but some change is coming about  
  “Unless this new development is stopped and stopped at once and unless firm measures are taken no one can be sure of the future of South Africa.” (Johannesburg Star, 15/2/50.)
Unfortunately for Smuts, for Malan, for all the vast majority of Europeans in the Union who think like them on the Native question, there is a change taking place in the Natives, not only in South Africa, but throughout the whole of the continent. Smuts has sensed the change and would like to explain it by the recent activity of Malan and the Nationalist Party. What he fails to recognise is that whatever the Nationalists have done to provoke matters, they have only helped to bring more quickly what is bound to have come in any case. What all the Whites of South Africa fail to face up to is that the Natives are on the move, and will not stop until they have gained the same position as the Whites.

On this question we can do no better than quote from our pamphlet. “The Racial Problem.” What it said three years ago is even more relevant now than it was then:—
  “As industry develops, they (the Natives) will learn more, and want more, and then the same position will face the South African White worker as faces the American White worker at the present time. Then will the South African workers, White, Native. Coloured, and Indian, be at their own cross-roads. What their decision will be we do not know nor do we intend to guess. What we say to the South African workers we have already said to the American workers. They must realise that their interests as workers lie together: until they do so they will remain divided and weakened, wide open to the attacks and encroachments of the capitalist class. Much worse may result; the logical end of the road which the South African White worker is treading can only be bloody violence and destruction. No group can permanently hold down another many more times more numerous than itself, and sooner or later the working class, particularly the White section, will have to face up to the situation and make their decision.”
Recent events in South Africa have served only to underline the warning contained in this statement. The White workers in the Union will ignore it at their peril.
Stan Hampson

Sacrificed and Forgotten

 The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is expected to issue a formal apology on Thursday after it discovered that at least 116,000 – but potentially up to 350,000 – predominantly African and Middle Eastern first world war casualties may not be commemorated by name, or at all.

All fallen military service personnel are supposed to be commemorated identically with their name engraved on a headstone over an identified grave or on a memorial to the missing.

But, quoting racist statements such as a governor saying in the 1920s that “the average native … would not understand or appreciate a headstone”, the commission has concluded that soldiers were treated differently if they came from Commonwealth countries. Winston Churchill, when colonial secretary after the first world war, also said mass memorials would be adequate in Africa.

In the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Nigeria and Sierra Leone, no African death of the first world war is commemorated with a headstone.

In one 1923 letter quoted in the report, FG Guggisberg, the governor of the Gold Coast in Africa, wrote: “The average native of the Gold Coast would not understand or appreciate a headstone.”

 The first world war was a battle for control of colonial possessions, not least in Africa, where western powers including Britain, Germany and France embroiled about 2 million people in the conflict as soldiers or labourers. It is estimated that 10% of them died. Large numbers of conscripts in Africa were used as part of a human supply chain in “carrier corps”, which took a huge toll that the lack of adequate memorials can make hard to calculate.

 In Egypt alone, it has been suggested by the historian David Killingray that three-quarters of the 327,000 men who served were recruited forcibly.

Unremembered: the African first world war soldiers without a grave | Military | The Guardian

Lest we forget - World War One and Africa

 The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 was convened by Otto von Bismarck to discuss the future of Africa. The Berlin Act of 1885, signed by the 13 European powers in attendance, 

  • The colonial powers were interested in protecting old markets and exploiting new ones though, and they began carving up Africa leaving people from the same tribe on different sides of European-imposed borders

More than one million people died in East Africa during World War One. Some soldiers were forced to fight members of their own families on the battlefield because of the way borders were drawn up by European colonial powers, writes Oswald Masebo.

I was born and raised in a simple home in the rural district of Ileje about 1,000km from Dar es Salaam, in south-west Tanzania. The district is at the border with Malawi where the hilly plateaus of Ileje and Rungwe districts rise above the plains of Lake Nyasa and Kyela district.

My family has made a living from the land of Ileje for generations. During World War One, Ileje and the surrounding environments became a battle ground between German forces and British allied forces from Malawi.

Although the war began in 1914, it was the battles fought in 1915 and 1916 which were most intense and which had grave consequences to the generation of my great-grandparents.

Ten years ago, I asked my own grandfather Jotam Masebo what he knew about World War One. His recollections remind us of grinding hardship. I quote:

"Our parents narrated to us a lot about this war. The timing of the war was bad. It broke at the time when our parents were about to begin planting maize, beans, cassava, groundnut, and potatoes... The fighting created fear and insecurity that disrupted the agricultural production of our parents and led to the most acute famine that killed many people. The fighting killed innocent men, women, and children."

The fighting at the river Songwe border was particularly notorious because some of the soldiers and carrier corps involved in it were related to enemy soldiers.

People living on both sides of the border lived together as a single community until the notorious Berlin Conference created a boundary to separate the German colony of Tanzania and the British colony of Malawi. The boundaries passed through the middle of these people and divided them. They would come to fight during World War One, representing the interests of their respective colonial masters.

Although Tanzania was a battleground for World War One, very little is known about the role, position and social identities of Tanzanians who directly participated in the war.

Existing scholarly narratives focus on German and British military personnel. Yet, oral sources I have collected claim that African men and women played a key role in sustaining the war-related operations in south-west Tanzania. Kaswashi Pwele of Kapelekesi and Labani Kibona of Isoko - who I interviewed in 2008 - recounted that Africans were a majority in the German colonial army. They emphasised that the German colonial army was essentially an African army. But they could not tell the exact number of Africans in the army.

ohn Iliffe's archival research suggests that Germany had about 15,000 soldiers in south-west Tanzania in 1916 out of whom about 3,000 were Germans and the remaining 12,000 were Tanzanians whose names are not recorded.

The Tanzanian carrier corps also played a central role in sustaining the war. Their story should be recovered.

It is estimated that during the peak of military operations in 1916 the German colonial state conscripted some 45,000 African members of carrier corps.

And let's not forget the general public of ordinary men and women who grew food such as maize, beans, and cassava. They also raised cattle, goat, sheep, pigs, and chicken. The colonial armies relied on this food to feed soldiers and carrier corps. Oral recollections tell us Tanzanians did not give out this food willingly. Armies acquired it by force, by looting Tanzanian rural homes and communities. In 1996, Kileke Mwakibinga recalled:

"At the time of the war, of 1914, I was still a young boy. But I was watching the entire goings on when the soldiers were passing… elders were persecuted and persecuted. Others were captured here and there. I was watching all this… They came and looked for things… they would enter a house, if they found milk they would just take it. If they saw chicken, they just took them. That is when the Germans were fleeing."

Both the German military forces in Tanzania and the invading British forces from Nyasaland and Rhodesia engaged in these barbaric acts of looting food reserves of the generation of my great-grandparents, creating a food shortage which my grandfather spoke about.

But perhaps the most surprising element in this elusive story is a silence of the names and identities of African soldiers and carriers in the oral history itself.

I find this to be surprising and unique because Tanzanian soldiers and leaders who participated in other military engagements are known and remembered.

For example, some of the names and identities of Tanzanians who fought in the Maji Maji wars of resistance in Southern Tanzania from 1905 to 1907 are known and remembered.

Maji Maji wars were local protests against German colonial exploitation, oppression, and forced cultivation of cotton. The resistance was sparked by a charismatic spiritual leader Kinjekitile Ngwale who claimed to possess medicine which would protect warriors against German bullets, turning them to "maji". Maji is the Kiswahili word for water. Many people died as bullets never changed into water.

Maji Maji remains a heroic story in Tanzania, which is taught to every young Tanzanian in primary and secondary school. Kinjekitile Ngwale is celebrated and romanticised for his readiness to die in order to preserve the independence, autonomy, and respect of Africans. The Maji Maji museum in Songea was built to celebrate the heroic lives of soldiers and leaders of the war - it contains narratives, sculptures, and even pictures of these heroes. Each year there is a month-long commemoration of the annual Maji Maji war in that district.

So why is the story so different for World War One? Why are the names and identities of thousands of Tanzanians who served as soldiers and carrier corps unknown?

Perhaps this is because they were not appreciated by Germany.

In some oral accounts Germany even held them responsible for Germany not winning the war. Kaswashi Pwele claimed that "German military officials blamed Africans for not winning the war. They accused some Africans for lacking loyalty to Germany and for leaking security information to Britain."

But isn't the key reason for the invisibility of the names and identities of Tanzanian soldiers and carrier corps to be found in the attitude of the British colonial state which took over from the Germans?

Elders told me the British were very suspicious of Africans who had worked for the Germans. Soldiers and carrier corps who served in the German army were the least trusted.

According to the elders, some of these soldiers and carrier corps were deported to Nyasaland. Some were detained for some years.

It was risky to be labelled a pro-German royalist. It was dangerous.

As a coping strategy, many men who had participated in the war on the German side made "creative adaptations" by concealing their identities and war experience.

"Creative adaptations" - it's another way to say "hiding the truth", perhaps a polite expression for lying. I have translated creative adaptations from the word ubhuche, in the Ndali language, my mother tongue and the language used by elders I spoke to.

Ubhuche helped people to avoid the dangers of a new colonial regime. This helped them to live peacefully and to prosper under British colonialism. They also learned to speak negatively about German colonialism, even those who had individually benefited from it.

The silences on the names and identities we see today are probably the result of this creative adaptation of African soldiers and carrier corps to the British colonial regime after the war.

It might be too late to interview the eye witnesses but listening closely, creatively, and critically to our elders, we can still hear echoes of the voices of African soldiers, carrier corps, and the larger public during World War One.

Let me conclude by reflecting on that visit I made to the south west. I'm going to make Ubhuche - a Creative Adaptation of my own - I'm going to adapt what I've learnt from research to imagine the invisible stories of World War One.

Standing in the World War One battlefields at Kasumulu, I could see the River Songwe that the British and German colonisers used to divide our great-grandparents as different people: as either Tanzanians or Malawians.

I also saw a glimpse of a soldier from a century past, standing with his rifle. Next to him, a carrier with supplies for the colonial army on his head and back. I imagine them as proud men of values. They accepted the war, probably reluctantly, and went to fight against British Malawian soldiers, perhaps their cousins who lived on the other side of the River Songwe.

They have no military uniform. They fought in traditional dress. I know some killed enemies, and some of them died. And when I think of them, I don't think only of the conflict they fought in, but also the inner conflict that they combated at the end of the war.

It's important for me to remember the public too, the impact on my great-grandmother and her children during the war. I imagine the ordinary men, women, and children in those hills, plains, and along the river.

They were full of fear and insecurity, they suffered from acute food shortage, had their houses burned by combatants, they were exhausted by war traumas.

Women and children were probably at the highest risk from this global crisis that unfolded in their villages.

But I know that just as my people suffered in this war, many also survived and overcame the challenges. Their creative adaptations, the Ubhuche, helped them to endure and prosper.

They may be invisible in the mainstream history.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The wealthy in Africa

 According to the latest report, total private wealth held on the continent amounts to approximately $2.0 trillion. ‘Total wealth’ refers to the private wealth held by all the individuals living in each country. It includes all their assets (property, cash, equities, business interests) and less any liabilities.

 South Africa has around 36, 000 millionaires or HNWI, 1, 930 multi-millionaires (+$10 million) and five dollar-billionaires.

Egypt, which comes in at 15, 500 and 810 respectively and 6 billionaires

Nigeria, the continent’s biggest economy, is in third spot on the private wealth list. It has 9, 100 HNWIs, 460 multi-millionaires and four billionaires.

South Africa’s private wealth plunges - Moneyweb

Why China wants Africa

 There should be no illusion that Belt Road Initiative's (BRI)  projects in Africa are wholly altruistic. More than half of the 60-plus recipient countries under China’s BRI are located in Africa.

 China’s financing of its BRI projects across Africa (as in the other emerging markets where the programme is underway), is mostly comprised of loans to governments that are both very large and conditioned by signatories’ commitments to not fully disclose their terms.  It is bad enough that China’s lending entities, which are government-owned, do not disclose the terms of their lending to African countries. It is even worse that African government leaders also agree to this. After all, terms of loans made to African countries by the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank – all of which are also non-commercial institutions – are routinely made public.

The headlines in the past few months about Zambia’s struggle to repay its debt burden to China highlights just the most recent case in point.

At present, the countries in Africa with the largest Chinese debt are Angola ($25bn), Ethiopia ($13.5bn), Zambia ($7.4bn), the Republic of Congo ($7.3bn), and Sudan (6.4bn).

There are key elements of the BRI that stand out starkly as having only the most rudimentary of camouflages for Beijing’s pursuit of unspoken (but not hard to guess) motives, including those that serve to benefit China more than the recipient countries. The true motives behind the BRI are now being questioned.

Africa’s debt dance with China in creating the Belt Road Initiative (