Racism and “Cultural Appropriation”

I only encountered the bizarre new concept of “cultural appropriation” within the past 2-3 years. I remember the moment well: a black Facebook friend posted a picture of some white, middle-aged women dressed in traditional African clothing. It was a sweet photo, so I was taken aback by the commentary that accompanied it: apparently, here was an example of white supremacy, once again stealing from Africa. The women were guilty of “cultural appropriation”, apparently. And that’s bad.

Here was a new and puzzling idea. The left of old was insistent that Africa was victim to the exact opposite problem: something we referred to as “cultural imperialism”. We thought that culture could be imposed by those with the money and the guns. It was a superficially obvious idea: but we failed to understand what culture is, or how it works.

There are genuine moments when a culture has been forced onto an African population: the South African attempt to teach children in Afrikaans was one example. This policy prompted an uprising by school students who demanded to be taught in English, and led to the Soweto uprising, and the famous 1976 massacre of school students. The imposition of Islam in the Sahel by the Arabian empire was, one suspects, not done entirely peacefully.

Suppressing culture for the sake of it is simply expensive and pointless. This doesn’t stop politicians, police and control-freaks from repeatedly trying.

An attempt to suppress black American music
An attempt to suppress black American music

Culture doesn’t flow by force, nor does it necessarily follow the money. The story of black American music is the ultimate proof of that. Even in pre-civil rights segregated America, black music found widespread popularity. Recording fuelled the rise of jazz, swing and rock & roll. The racist white establishment attempted to suppress this, but were unable: when something is good, people will find a way to get it; this is as true of “dangerous music” as it is of illegal drugs. For sure, it was easy (prior the civil rights era) to suppress black artists, by refusing to record them, banning them from radio and from live performances. But this couldn’t prevent white artists – Al Jolson, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly – from helping to popularise black music.

The dominance of black music, dress and language over white culture was undeniable. The African diaspora filled vacuums in Western culture: music, rhythm, dance, spoken word, new styles of humour. African culture also brought a more straightforward approach to discussion of sex; this fact alone might explain much of the resistance to black culture from conservatives.

Culture is neither imperialised nor appropriated: it flows where it is welcome, usually because it fills an existing gap. It is the self-appointed job of conservatives, racists and small-minded bullies to prevent the flow of ideas, but they will inevitably fail, in the long run.

The significance of “cultural appropriation” is that it marks the shift of racism and conservatism from the right to the left of the political spectrum. Rather than exhort people not to buy “NEGRO RECORDS”, the neo-bullies tell people that black culture is for black people, and must not be appropriated.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen black racists and their confused white “liberal” cheerleaders use cultural appropriation as evidence of how racially oppressed they are. Apparently, wearing African clothes, listening to hip-hop or making soul music is today’s evidence of just how much white people still hate black people. Which is weird, when you think about it.

This idea is the work of a racist minority, and certainly doesn’t reflect the views of most black people. In fact, many older black art-forms still only exist because they’ve been adopted by white people. The dub reggae scene – which I’ve frequented for many years – was once mostly black, and now mostly white. The same applies to many other music scenes, from soul to traditional African music. With the exception of current Nigerian pop superstars like Wizkid, who can fill large London venues with young, black Brits, African music is largely ignored by black people in the UK. Senegalese friends of mine are currently touring Europe, playing to appreciative white audiences. Without this appropriation of (i.e. love for) their culture, these African musicians would never get to leave Africa.

Most Africans love to see whites wearing their clothing, and would be bemused to learn that some angry black people in America and Britain see this is a symbol of racism. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “African clothing”. If I wear Nigerian clothes in Senegal (as I’ve once done), the locals don’t see the clothing as theirs, but as foreign.

One can also note that Africans and western blacks themselves have happily appropriated foreign culture. Today’s most enthusiastic flag-wavers for Christianity are found among Africans and the African diaspora. Although konscious black Christians will angrily point out that Ethiopia was an early Christian society, Christianity (and its European-made book) was brought to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa far more recently by Europeans, not Ethiopians, beginning with the Portuguese explorers of the west coast. Islam, likewise, came overland from Arabia. Just as African rhythm and spoken word filled a void in the West, so Islam and Christianity provided what sub-Saharan Africa had never before encountered: complex, stable religions, with their own books.

Sections of today’s left are continuing the work of the white supremacist right of last century.  They try to define rules that only apply to certain racial groups. Blacks can “appropriate”, whites cannot. Black culture must be left alone, white culture can go where it chooses.

The difference between the person who rails about “cultural appropriation”, and the person that organised a boycott of “negro records” is wafer-thin. The language has changed beyond recognition, but the ugly, bullying, divisive intent is the same.

The Black Oppressors

As I’ve blogged often, the intellectual collapse of the left in recent decades has left me bereft of a political home, forced to re-evaluate my beliefs in the absence of a tribe I can belong to. The idiot new left, having noticed that brown people are less wealthy than white people (on average), has made that most basic of all mistakes: confusing correlation with causation, and has decided that the economic dominance of Europeans in recent centuries is all about racism.

Continue reading The Black Oppressors

Genocide in Mali

map_of_maliAs the so-called “war on terror” grinds into its 12th year, it’s the duty of every intelligent person to occasionally take a step back and remind ourselves that the “terrorist threat” today is vastly bigger than it was on September 11 2001. The Neocon “war on terror” turned a small group of fanatics into a global threat, firstly, in the minds of a gullible public, and then (via the Iraq War, kidnap, illegal imprisonment, torture and drone strikes) in reality.

Now, we’re told (by salivating warmongers), that a “new front” has opened in the Sahara. Mali has collapsed into civil war. The average war-loving moron hasn’t heard of Mali, let alone could find it on a map; they tell us that this is about the expansion of militant Islamism. Yet, they don’t seem to understand that Mali has seen Tuareg rebellions before, in the early 90s, and in the 60s.

I visited Mali four years ago, to attend a music festival, and see/photograph some of the country. It is perhaps the most dreamily beautiful place I’ve visited, and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. The map is key to understanding what is happening there. Like most African countries, its borders are a colonial creation. Most of the population is black, and lives in the bottom-left part of the map. The largest part of the country, in the top-right, is in the Sahara desert. The Sahara is sparsely populated by nomads from the Tuareg and others tribes. Most desert-dwellers are of “white” North African origin.

When the European powers carved Africa into nations, they ensured that in states like Mali, the Tuaregs would become a small racial minority, governed by very different people and cultures located hundreds of kilometers away. To the Malian government in the South-West, the Sahara is only of interest for its mineral wealth. To the Malian Tuaregs, they are people of the Sahara, with kin spread across Mauritania, Algeria and Niger. The outcome is obvious: who can be surprised that the Tuaregs, seeing little in common with Mali, have repeatedly tried to gain independence?

When I was in the country, it was largely peaceful, although tourists had occasionally been kidnapped, usually for financial gain. In the unofficial Tuareg capital, Timbuktu, I visited a peace monument made of destroyed guns from the 90s uprising, set into concrete. It was clear to me, even as an outsider, that Tuaregs and other Malians weren’t always on the best of terms – centuries of history between the groups, including slave-taking, have left them still uneasy with each other. Yet these problems are in the distant past – Tuaregs have become increasingly assimilated into urban Malian society. But as we know by looking at other societies with old racial divides (USA, anyone?) a calm surface can hide division and bitterness.

During my trip, I made friends with a Tuareg man, who I’ll call M, a middle-class university graduate. We kept in touch since then, mostly exchanging small-talk about London, Bamako and Timbuktu. Then early last year, Mali’s peace collapsed. A coup in Bamako, the capital, triggered the current problems, and as had happened before, some Tuaregs used the chaos to restart their war of independence. The Malian nationalists united with Islamists. The response was vicious – Tuaregs were attacked from the air. From the very start of the current problems, the Malian army made little distinction between any Tuareg, whether civilian, nationalist rebel or Islamist. Murder and rape of Tuaregs became widespread, and my friend M fled into a neighbouring country, where he slept rough and looked for work, then eventually managed to reach Europe – where he now faces a new set of challenges, new forms of racism.

The rebels quickly stalled Mali’s army. Islamists seized control of the North and East; tragically, in Timbuktu, once a Western outpost of the Arabic Empire, many ancient treasures were damaged or destroyed by Islamist hard-liners (West Africa’s version of Islam differs from the Arab version, and fundamentalists reject the African modifications).

Mali’s troubles give weight to “war on terror” propagandists who claim Islamism is a global “threat” to the West – without pointing out that the rise in hardline Islamist groups such as those fighting in Mali can be linked to the “war on terror” itself; their roots are in the US war in Afghanistan/Pakistan in the 80s, in the Iraq War, in missile strikes on Yemen and Somalia, in the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.

I didn’t support the attacks on the oil states Libya or Iraq – these were both functioning, if repressive, states. Mali is a different issue – the state was weak, even in peacetime. The case for intervention is stronger – to restore rule to Bamako and to free northern and eastern Malian towns from the control of Islamist hardliners.

The Malian army, too weak to react, had been stalled, but with French support in recent weeks, has quickly regained the initiative. However, sections of the Malian army have used their new advantage to declare war on the Tuareg civilian population – the French and their European/American supporters appear to be turning a blind eye. Under the mythical “war on terror” banner, an apparent genocide is being perpetrated. Unless the French now use their presence to prevent it, the support for extreme Islamist groups, far from shrinking back, can only grow. Very few modern military interventions achieve their objective – let’s hope this French action doesn’t end up the way of Iraq or Libya.

The following is a brief Facebook conversation I had with M yesterday

M: In Mali very bad

MW: Do you think the French army will help?
Will the French make it better or worse?

M: So many touareg has been killed by malian army in the last days
Now France are making tuareg situation worse
Now malian army are just killing tuareg people
so many
We don’t understand why france don’t say for malian army to stop killing civilans

MW: Do you have contact with people in Mali?

M: Yes in Timbuktu erea
my small brother

Liberal Racism and Africa

Back in London’s bad old racist days of the 70s, many council estates were National Front strongholds, and dangerous places for blacks and Asians to go. London’s middle classes, of course, abhorred the crude violence of the working class NF supporters. We fast-forward into the 90s, and the picture had changed drastically. London’s working class areas were now becoming racially mixed, and were producing ever greater numbers of mixed-race kids. Working class Londoners were creating new, mixed cultures, cutting-edge music and were transcending race.

Meanwhile those middle-class neighbourhoods that had scorned the National Front were as white as ever. White liberal London was almost untouched by the explosion of racial mixing, or the new cultures and musical forms it was generating. It seemed that the liberal aversion to racism didn’t extend as far as actually mixing with racial minorities. London developed two distinct cultures: a multiracial one formed of immigrants and their offspring mixing with white working class Londoners; and one of the middle/upper classes that avoided mixing at all costs – either with immigrants or the poor. Ironically, the children of the fascist gang members of the 1970s were far more likely to grow up having non-white friends and sexual partners than the kids of NF-hating liberals.

Liberal racism is far more effectively veiled than the more crude types, but being better disguised, it’s also far harder to identify and tackle. In Uganda, parliament seems set to pass a draconian anti-gay law this week; this was originally drafted to include the death penalty for “aggravated” offences, but as it currently stands, looks set to be passed but without the death penalty. It’s almost impossible to discuss this subject with liberal-minded white people without someone pointing out the role of Westerners in this law. You’ll be told that existing homophobic laws are a hangover from British rule, and that American evangelists are backing supporters of the law. Both of these things are true, but the implicit assumption in this “liberal” thinking is a colonial one: that Africans couldn’t possibly have invented homophobia without our help. That these simple people have been corrupted by our influence. It assumes that African minds are so supple, so easily corrupted, that Westerners can make them believe anything.

This argument is dishonest, flawed and fundamentally racist. Yes, anti-gay laws were exported by European powers to their African colonies; but so were entire legal systems. It can be noted that while Europeans have scrapped homophobic legislation since African independence, most African states haven’t. Perhaps Africans can think for themselves after all… perhaps homophobia is a factor of African society, rather than something “we made them do”. Perhaps African culture even goes back further than European colonialism? Well yes – Africa has the oldest and most socially developed human cultures on Earth. African language, music and social customs are often far more advanced than the equivalents anywhere else. Yet still, the liberal racist can’t grasp that African actions – such as viciously anti-gay laws – are the creations of Africans themselves, not us.

One of the most blatantly racist articles I can remember reading in the mainstream media was (surprise?) in the Guardian. Film-maker Tim Samuels wrote in 2009 about Western-made porn reaching Africa. He starts the article with:

I used to think porn was tremendously good fun. The adolescent thrill of sneaking a copy of Fiesta home inside the Manchester Evening News. Crowding around a PC at university as a smutty picture revealed itself pixel by pixel…

and goes on later to say:

The moment porn truly stopped being fun came in a remote Ghanaian village – mud huts, barefoot kids, no electricity … but that doesn’t stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists…

So you see, Tim Samuels and his uni pals can look at porn and not become rapists. But Ghanaian men are obviously made of something different. What could the difference be? Samuels doesn’t explain, but the implication is clear. The old stereotype of the over-sexed, out-of-control African male is alive and well in 21st century Guardianista-land.

If Samuels had provided evidence, the article may have been of some value. But the only evidence he provides comes in the form of a few anecdotes from locals. There are no stats provided to show an increase in rape since the arrival of porn videos – just a smug “it stands to reason” attitude. The Guardian editor accepted and published this racist article – an article that blatantly brands black men as potential rapists – because it is sold on the liberal pretext of protecting women. Bizarrely, this is very similar to the thinking that saw black men lynched for rape in the Deep South. They can’t help themselves, you know? We have to do something about it. Incidentally, the same thinking was part of the justification for banning marijuana in the US – it was said to turn blacks and Mexicans into rapists, which of course was sufficiently frightening to get whites behind prohibition.

In fact, in the West, there is evidence of a correlation between increased sexual openness (including access to porn) and a decline in sexual violence. This is backed by scientific evidence, such as the paper Porn Up, Rape Down, as well as much other research. Samuels doesn’t explain how the Democratic Republican of Congo simultaneously has the world’s worst rape statistics, coupled with among the world’s lowest levels of Internet access. But evidence matters little to those who have a doctrine to sell, whichever part of the political spectrum they come from.

The most overt and vicious racism still comes predictably from the right, and the left has done a huge amount to tackle racism in society. But white middle-class liberal society hides a racist core, and in its infinite belief in its own superiority, it doesn’t even seem to notice.

Rewriting African History

Map of Africa
The Ignored Continent

It’s Black History Month in the US (Britain’s being in October) – a time set aside for furthering the understanding of African and diaspora history among the black population and, hopefully among non-blacks too. The history of the African diaspora being such a bizarre and brutal one, Black History Month was created to create strength and stability in a rootless, subjugated population. It’s a time to learn about the heroes of the diaspora, those whose actions created hope in people whose position was apparently hopeless. From Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of Haiti’s successful slave rebellion against the French, through the Jamaican Marcus Garvey who fostered the idea of a black return to Africa, to the civil rights heroes Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and beyond, diaspora history is the story of people overcoming enormous odds.

The era running roughly from the 1950s to the 1970s was a time of global black advancement, with African and black Caribbean states throwing off colonial rule while black Americans took huge steps forward. This movement created its own stories, which were used to raise black pride as a necessary part of putting right gross injustices. These Afrocentric ideas included much mythology, and many mistaken views of history, but played an essential political role nonetheless.

Prior to the rise of Afrocentric thinking, sub-Saharan African history had almost entirely been been written by non-blacks. With the exception of Ethiopia, literacy is a relatively new import to the region, first arriving in northern parts with the Arab Empire around a thousand years ago, and becoming more widespread as Europeans arrived in the past 500 years. The first written documentary of black Africa was done largely by white people viewing very strange and different cultures, and could never have been an accurate or balanced portrayal of African culture.

But Afrocentrism didn’t change that; it was a wishful view of Africa written largely by people who had never set foot on the continent. Its goal wasn’t accuracy, but to provide a counter-balance to white views of Africa and black people. The American descendants of slaves, existing as a minority in one of the world’s most brutally racist societies, understandably saw the world in a racial way; American politics have always been racial, and so the history of slavery and the slave trade was therefore rewritten in the same way, to suit black American sentiment: white people kidnapped Africans from their homeland and transported them to the Americas.

The slave trade however, was triangular: manufactured goods were taken to Africa; slaves were taken to the Americas; cotton and sugar were brought back to Europe. People became rich at all three points; the English cities of Bristol and Liverpool were build on slave trade money; equally, an African elite became wealthy by selling Africans. Many of today’s wealthy Africans descend from this same elite.

It’s estimated that when Europeans first arrived in West Africa, between one-third to two-thirds of the population were slaves. Even earlier, Arabic explorers who ventured south of the Sahara documented rich individuals owning hundreds of slaves. The first European involvement in the African slave trade was by the Portuguese, who bought slaves on the Slave Coast (Nigeria/Benin) and sold them to the Asante of the Gold Coast (Ghana) in exchange for gold.

When the British outlawed the slave trade, they didn’t just hurt European traders – even more, they damaged the West African economy, which was in large part based on slave exports. With demand diminished, prices fell and slave ownership rocketed within Africa. The 10 million or so slaves that were exported across the Atlantic represented a small percentage of the total number of Africans in slavery. The Afrocentric view either ignores this majority, or creates new myths: Afrocentric thinkers will often claim that slavery in Africa was a more civilised matter than what took place in the Americas; eye-witness reports of slaves being sacrificed, their blood spread in the fields, to appease gods, suggest otherwise. Afrocentric viewpoints write the majority of slaves out of history; to suit the political needs of black America, the stories of countless millions of Africans have been ignored.

Afrocentrism attacks other people’s stories too. Afrocentric thinkers find it convenient to claim that ancient Egypt, Africa’s first great civilisation, was a black one. This ignores the inconvenient reality that today’s Egyptians (and north Africans in general) aren’t black; to which the Afrocentric response is that the original Egyptians were somehow wiped out and replaced by Arabs, Turks or Greeks. As to when this enormous genocide supposedly took place, I’ve yet to hear a straight answer. It may seem harmless to allow people to maintain this mythology; yet it is an essentially racist one, denying the right of anyone who isn’t black to be an African. The black race is just one of several racial groups indigenous to Africa; Afrocentrics would write the others out of history, and deny modern Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians their African identity.

The myths become more ludicrous. Some even stake a claim for black ownership of Israel/Palestine… as if the Palestinians didn’t already have enough problems. Some still talk about a black Jesus. The racist cult, the Nation of Islam states that white people are the invention of an ancient black scientist.

Afrocentric moronic myths date back decades, and have been debunked many times, yet every black history month sees them resurrected. Black History Month was supposed to be about black history. Africa isn’t served by the repetition of made-up tales; neither are black children benefited by being taught stories in place of history. Black Americans still have a mountain to climb to find equality in their own country, but angry, racist groups like the NoI or the New Black Panthers seem to serve little useful role any more. But things are changing: an economically resurgent Africa is finding its own voice, as African universities produce graduates in ever greater numbers. The diaspora itself is increasingly dominated by African migrants – Nigerians for example are among the most successful immigrant groups, both in the US and in Britain. Africa can now speak for itself, and as America’s global cultural impact is fading, so is black America’s.

In the US, despite the election of Obama, black people are still the victims of institutionalised racism. Since the civil rights movement made all races equal in law, new methods of “legal lynching” have been invented; the corrupt War on Drugs has been used to target black people, and the black prison population has rocketed in the past 20 years. A million black people are currently in US prisons. It’s understandable that Afrocentric myths find a fertile breeding ground in the US, but they do nothing to help understand Africa or its history. Afrocentric thinking has served its purpose – it’s time to consign it to the trash can of black history.

Africa’s Moron Leaders

Robert Mugabe
Hero Turned Moron

I try to maintain a global perspective in my moron-watching, but that’s difficult: just trying to keep track of moronic activity in Europe and the US is hard enough. However, Africa is a continent that has always held great fascination for me, and I’ve enjoyed travelling to a number of countries there. Sub-Saharan Africa is a wonderful place to travel. Sadly, the Western media is interested in reporting little other than famine and war in Africa, ignoring most of the other 99% of happenings there. The BBC used to produce an excellent radio programme/podcast called This Week In Africa, which gave a good, weekly overview of African events – sadly that was lost to the UK government’s moronic austerity measures.

Focusing on African morons may make some liberals uneasy; because African heritage is deeply entwined with racial issues in the West, many will miss the obvious: Africa itself isn’t a racial issue. Furthermore, the politically-correct version of African history tries to explain away every failing of Africa by blaming colonialism. Colonialism did represent resource-theft on a huge scale, and the colonial “scramble for Africa” carve-up by European powers created long-term political headaches that still rumble on; yet the colonial era (approx 1880s to 1960s) was also an unprecedented time of development for the continent, during which the population increased around sixfold and the continent’s great cities of today were born. The “it’s all our fault” school of Western liberal thought is a fine piece of subtle racism; while white supremacists like to say everything good in Africa is a foreign import, liberals say everything bad is. In reality, Africa is capable of both success and failure without our help. Africa is rich in many resources, but perhaps one of its most abundant resources is bad leadership; if moronic and crazy leaders were tradeable currency, Africa could be the wealthiest continent on Earth.

Africans themselves generally have a clear view about where their problems originate: after all, they are the ones who are daily extorted of money by the police, who face discrimination based on which ethnic group they belong to, who struggle to make a living at the roadside while their politicians drive past in fleets of expensive SUVs, who see their countries’ resources skimmed off into Swiss bank accounts. A Sierra Leonean businessman I met was refreshingly straightforward about his country’s problems: “Our leaders are a bunch of illiterate savages”.

The African story isn’t just the gloomy tale of war and famine that’s dripped out through our media. Despite a handful of countries that can truly be said to be “basket cases”, the average African economy is growing at a very healthy pace. Schooling is becoming ever-more standard, and literacy is growing fast. The lack of good communications across the continent has been rapidly solved by the arrival of mobile telephony, with mobile phone ownership approaching levels seen in developed countries. Africa’s final hurdle is to improve its governance. African countries will no doubt soon experience their own civil rights era; with more educated and demanding populations than ever before, we can expect, within a few years, to see black Africa rise up in pursuit of better leadership, as we’ve seen in North African and Arab countries this year.

So here is a brief tribute to a few of Africa’s moron leaders – those people who by theft, suppression of free speech or just downright idiocy, are slowing Africa’s emergence into the developed world.

Jets

Nothing says “Moron” like a president who buys himself a luxury jet from public funds while most of his people struggle to live on $1 to $2 a day, and this has been a speciality of many African leaders. Recent examples include President Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi, who secretly spent $13m on a new plane, triggering a cut in British aid to the country, and the Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, who blew £30m ($48m) on his jet.

Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe is the perfect example of a revolutionary hero who turned out not to be such a great national leader once the revolution was won. Mugabe served over 10 years in prison during the struggle against white minority rule. In power since the formation of Zimbabwe in 1980, Mugabe quickly revealed his moron credentials by attacking his opponents and committing mass-murder against a tribal minority, the Matebele. Gradually, Zimbabwean opposition was crushed. Mugabe then set out on a populist land-grab from white farmers, handing land to his friends and supporters, with the result that harvests failed and a once-prosperous country fell into poverty. Indeed, hunger is a favourite weapon used by Mugabe against his enemies. Despite being electorally defeated, Mugabe refuses to let go of power, and will remain until death (he’s 87), or until his ZANU-PF cronies finally find the guts to depose him.

AIDS

Traditional “medicine” and superstitions are rife in Africa, and this extends even to the ruling classes. Nelson Mandela’s successor in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, allowed himself to be convinced that AIDS wasn’t related to the HIV virus, and acted to prevent antiretrovirals from being made widely available, despite South Africa having the world’s worst AIDS epidemic. After several years, Mbeki’s stance was overruled, and antiretrovirals were made available, but only after an estimated 365,000 people had died due to his ignorance. Mbeki’s successor Jacob Zuma showed himself to be no more enlightened about AIDS when, standing trial for rape, he revealed he’d had unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV positive, and had showered afterwards to “protect himself”.

Superstition and a belief in traditional medicine has helped the spread of AIDS elsewhere in Africa. Perhaps the most moronic case of all is President Jammeh of Gambia, who claimed in 2007 to be able to cure people of AIDS with his own herbal remedy. Indeed, the president devoted Thursdays to curing his people, promising that the remedy would cure AIDS sufferers within three days.

Racism and Tribalism

Resentment between African tribes has often been hugely exacerbated by the hasty drawing of post-independence borders as European colonial rulers left and African leaders replaced them. Every African country is ethnically divided to some extent, and leaders (elected or not) will often represent their own group rather than the national interest. It’s hardly surprising then that African leaders tend to use power to discriminate against rival tribes, which in turn heightens tensions and makes conflict and genocide more likely. This happened most starkly in 1994 in Rwanda, where the minority Tutsi ruling group was suddenly turned upon by resentful Hutus, resulting in the loss of around 800,000 lives.

In Kenya, the 2008 elections collapsed into ethnic violence between the dominant Kikuyu tribe and others; political leaders on both sides were accused of stoking the violence for political gain.

Sierra Leone has racist laws on the statute that prevent any non-native from being born a Sierra Leonean citizen, however many generations his family may have lived in the country.

Africa’s most multiracial country, but also a fragile one, is South Africa; a Cameroonian man recently told me of his difficult experience working in South Africa, saying that black South Africans were the most racist people he’d ever encountered, especially against other black people. South Africa’s ANC leaders have generally been careful to tackle racism, seeing the danger it could cause to such a diverse country, but recently a leading ANC figure, Julius Malema, was convicted of hate speech after leading the singing in public of a song that advocated “killing Boers”. So far, South Africa is largely peaceful and politically stable, with the ANC easily winning every election. But with growing anger against ANC corruption, and the rise of an opposition party led by a white woman, watch out for more race-baiting coming from the ANC as its monopoly on power becomes weaker.

Homophobia

Africa is perhaps the worst place to be gay. While homophobia is widespread pretty much everywhere on earth, African laws against homosexuality tend to be the most draconian, and the most enthusiastically implemented. Liberals often try to blame this on the West, pointing out that many of these laws originate from the colonial era, and that African homophobes are enthusiastically supported by American Christians, but that’s a subtle piece of liberal racism which assumes Africans wouldn’t know how to be homophobic by themselves. The laws may descend from colonial times, but then so do almost all sub-Saharan African legal systems. African homophobia is homegrown. Europe has now abandoned its homophobic legislation, but African nations (with the laudable exception of South Africa) seem to show no enthusiasm in doing likewise.

Special mention must go to Uganda, which has been toying with the idea of legislation that would introduce the death penalty for homosexuality. This law seems to have been shelved, largely due to international pressure, but may still return. President Museveni has been vocal in vilifying gays and creating a climate of fear. South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda, Jon Qwelane, also deserves a mention for writing an article entitled “Call Me Names, But Gay is NOT OK”.

In Ghana, generally one of the most peaceful, liberal and democratic states in Africa, the government and media have also rounded on homosexuals; in July this year, one regional leader called for all gays in his region to be arrested.

Nigeria

If one country can sum up the greatest hopes and worst fears for Africa’s future, it’s Nigeria. A large, federal nation of 36 states and 155m people, it has oil reserves that bring huge revenue flows into the country. Unfortunately, much of that is embezzled within the corrupt political system, and rapidly exits the country again. Nigeria has the wealth to build good education, healthcare and electricity infrastructures for its people; but has largely failed to do so. By rights, given its mineral wealth and human resources, Nigeria should be ready for a place in the G20; but that is a distant dream.

A figure that best illustrates Nigeria’s problems is the salary paid to its politicians. Incredibly, while three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 per day, Nigeria’s elected representatives earn around $1,500,000 per year (no, that’s not a typo: I really said $1.5m), and are the world’s highest paid politicians. By contrast, US politicians earn around one-sixth that amount. This huge reward for winning elections helps explain the corrupt and violent mess that is Nigerian politics – and the perks of political life go far beyond the salary.

Nigeria has been repeatedly failed by moronic leadership, none more so than former president Sani Abacha, who ruled from 1985 to 1990. Abacha personally took billions in oil money, and trampled human rights.

Nigeria’s economy is growing and the country is becoming more wealthy. But unless its wealth is shared among the population, the nation risks falling back into bloodshed. No country can have a stable existence with the world’s worst poverty sitting alongside enormous wealth. And the oil won’t last forever; if the proceeds are not invested wisely, Nigeria could see catastrophe as production goes into decline. If Nigeria destabilises, the entire West African region, and beyond, would be flooded with refugees and collapse into chaos. Probably more than any other country, Nigeria is key to Africa’s future.

Moron Alphabet N-O

This is the latest in a series. See also:

N is for Nigerian Pastors

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, a rising power, and a land of huge complexity, its population comprising around 250 ethnic groups. The country has huge oil reserves and an economy growing at Chinese-type speed; at its current rate of development, Nigeria stands to become a global power within decades. In surveys, Nigeria generally ranks as the world’s most religious country, with its population roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Religion in Nigeria is one of its fastest-growing industries and is hugely competitive, especially in the wealthier Christian-dominated south. Nigeria’s demographics and history make for the evolution of bizarre new strains of Christianity; despite the country’s growing wealth, inequality is extreme, and most Nigerians still live in poverty. Education has yet to reach the majority – only about 30% of Nigerians receive secondary education; and despite the dominance of non-African religions, most people still hold on to traditional beliefs in juju (black magic) and witchcraft.

Additional to the home market, Nigeria’s large and wealthy diaspora are also targets of the religion biz, with large international church networks blossoming.

These factors make for a population that’s deeply susceptible to superstitious beliefs, and a large number of religious preachers who are willing to exploit the ignorant for huge financial rewards. The religion business is so lucrative that Forbes maintain a rich-list list of the wealthiest Nigerian pastors.

Nigeria’s pastors preach a kind of anti-Christianity known as Prosperity Theology, which promises not just eternal salvation but wealth on Earth too; this is (understandably) hugely popular, despite contradicting the traditional Christian idea of wealth and inequality being evils. The sight of the rich extracting money from those who can’t afford it is ugly enough, but much darker practises also take place. Given the cost of medicine to ordinary Nigerians, and the belief in juju, many preachers offer cures for cash. This practise was most recently revealed to be taking place in London, where three AIDS sufferers in the congregation of one of Nigeria’s wealthiest pastors, TB Joshua, are reported to have died after stopping their HIV treatments.

And it gets worse: three years ago, a documentary called Nigeria’s Witch Children was shown on UK Channel 4. This revealed horrendous and widespread abuse of children labelled as witches. While this happened because of traditional superstition, it was stirred up on a large scale by wealthy pastors who were selling “exorcisms” to their poor victims.

We’re used to thinking of missionaries as Europeans who go to preach in Africa. Now the flow is reversing – the Nigerian pastors are coming!

O is for Omnipresence

Once upon a time, God was a physical being who lived somewhere. In a primitive, tribal world where few people strayed far from their home village, that made sense; people could believe that a god or gods could be found on an island they’d never visit, across a sea they’d never cross, or up a mountain they’d never climb. Primitive gods aren’t fluffy, undetectable things like those of today; they have substance, appearance and location, and can be called upon at will to prove their existence. Moses, for example, was able to climb Mount Sinai (alone) to meet God and collect the tablets containing the ten commandments.

As people began travelling further afield, God became more elusive. The atheist rapper Greydon Square (who you should seek out if you enjoy intelligent hip-hop) said the following in the track Mission Statement on his album, The CPT Theorem:

I love how the gods used to live in the mountains, and when we moved to the mountains and never found them, then they went and moved to the sky, then we moved to the sky, but we didn’t find them there, and you’re wondering why.

… thus summarising the religious problem nicely. God is always to be found just beyond our reach. The heavens were once “up there” in the sky. But when mankind insisted on inventing flying machines and space rockets, heaven, like God, became an abstract, elusive thing. So if God is no longer somewhere, he must be everywhere – how else could he hear our prayers, check that we go to church or see us sin?

Omnipresence is only a temporary refuge for God. Having evolved from a physical being who intervenes in our affairs to a wispy cloud-thing who generally leaves us alone, he becomes a soft target for scientific reasoning, which grows stronger all the time. Of course, the power is still in the hands of the believers. All they need do to prove their case is provide evidence of God’s existence – and presumably they have some hidden away somewhere, ready to reveal at the right moment.