WESTERN EXPLOITATION; THE CRUX OF AFRICA’S ADVERSITY

Africa-Union-plate

When you hear the phrase “children dying of hunger in Africa” it probably sounds stale and without meaning. It has been said a countless of times by parents trying to get their children to clean up their plates, by celebrities acting as representatives for charities, in one of those garish adverts that fails to draw any sympathy from you, and even regurgitated by people who are still unsure if Africa is a country or a continent.

Let me jog your memory, remember one of those days you were commuting from work/school and during your journey you hear your stomach growl and grumble. You feel a weakness descend on you and you salivate when you think of the food stored in your fridge at home. You remember the crispiness of the chicken you’ll buy or the crunchiness of the carrots. Now, imagine you got home and there was no food or you lost that last fiver you were going to use to buy the chicken. You go to bed, but turn and tussle as sleep eludes you, so you sleep late. However, the pangs of hunger awake you hours after and its dawn, you’ll have some cereal maybe but alas there is no milk. You’ll wolf down the cereal dry right? But imagine it was infested with bugs, you’ll probably still eat it.

Now, what if you had an empty cupboard and no money? Even then, you won’t die. It’s only been a day. I have gone without food for three days as part of a religious rite. Now, think about that phrase again “some children die of hunger”. Yet, these children live in a continent that thrives in agriculture, a continent whose farmers produce enough food to feed the continent. A continent rich in scarce resources; oil, gold, rubber, uranium, copper, platinum, tin, diamonds, timber, export-based agriculture, bio-fuels, biodiversity, land.

So then, what indeed is wrong with Africa? Why is the distribution of wealth so imbalanced that a minority live in opulence and a great majority in so much lack, that some starve to death?

When we talk about the many dilemmas plaguing Africa, we compare the natural resources, favourable weather, skilled labour and manpower the continent is blessed with and we conclude the problem is bad governance, mismanagement of funds.  We think of the $30 billion in aid donated yearly by first world countries, of all the charities constantly clamouring for donations to Africa. We see aid workers risking their lives and students taking gap years to volunteer in Africa. We see all these.

What we don’t see, however,  is the vast resources, calculated at $192 billion yearly, leaving Africa illicitly to Europe and America; $46.3b that leaves Africa each year through the repatriation of profit from multinational companies; $35.3 in tax evasion facilitated through tax havens; $21b in debt repayments often resulting from irresponsible loans; $6b in the loss of skilled workers; $17b in illegal logging; $1.3 in illegal fishing, and the $36.6 imposed cost as a result of climate change.

We neglect to reflect on the incessant exploitation of people and resources, the unfair trade agreements in which multinational companies operate, offering little to no financial retributions to the countries they are based.  These companies can pillage Africa of its raw materials, export it to their laboratories, make them into patented products and make millions from it without a single repayment to the country where they are sourced.  SR Pharma’s final director Melvyn Davies explains it as; “If you pick up a natural substance from the street, does that mean it belongs to the country in which you found it? [Our researcher] just happened to be in Uganda.”  How convenient!

We fail to reason why one of the poorest countries in the world, Niger, is an exporter of Uranium. In 2010, Niger supplied France with a total of 114,346 metric tonnes of uranium, representing an export value of 2.3 trillion CFA francs (over 3.5 million euros). From that sum, Niger was only paid 300 billion CFA francs (approximately 459 million euros), or 13% of the exported value.  Or that DR Congo, a country where out of every 100 children, 17 will not reach their 5th birthday, generated a profit of more than 400% for offshore companies with unspecified owners in the British Virgin Islands, by selling mineral rights of 5 mining fields. DRC sustaining a loss of $1.36bn in this deal alone.

Zimbabwean investigative journalist, Stanley Kwenda, also talked about the case of the Marange diamond fields, where though millions are being made from the mining of the field, the community suffers in impoverishment.  Stanley Kwenda, expressed dismay at how easy western mercenaries, for a fee, are willing to hide huge sums for corrupt leaders. To raise awareness, he produced the film, How to Rob Africa.

While the aim isn’t to exempt African leaders from all responsibility or excuse their greediness and its detriment to the growth of Africa, it is to draw attention to the West’s culpability to the corrupt practices of African leaders. The billions of dollars stolen from the continent by its leaders are often stashed in western countries. These western mercenaries turn a blind eye to the source of the loot and even erase all traces of the transactions with offshore accounts and disguised business ownerships. It is also common knowledge that these stolen money do not just sit in the bank, they are funnelled into the western economy while the countries these money were stolen from continues to wallow in lack.

The scramble for resources in Africa by Western countries which led to WW1 still continues. As Africa has in olden times aided the west through slavery, colonisation and economic exploitation, it continues to so do at the disadvantage of its citizens. Malachy Postlethwayt, minced no words when he said in 1745: “British trade is a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power on an African foundation.”

Though Beckford experts have estimated Britain’s debt to Africa in trillions of pounds, Drayton concludes that the debt is actually incalculable “for without Africa and its Caribbean plantation extensions, the modern world as we know it would not exist.” This echoes what Jacques Chirac, ex-president of France also confirmed; “we have to be honest and acknowledge that a big part of the money in our banks comes precisely from the exploitation of the African continent. Without Africa France will slide down in the rent of a third world power”, and to add insult to injury, African countries are paying repayment for debts to the Western world. A debt Richard Drayton, of the Guardian, says only exists on paper as the money never left the western world.

The West with its vast array of charities, which in themselves have become a money making scheme, portrays Africa as poor and helpless and gives to it in full view of the world, under flashing camera lights whilst robbing it in secret.

Africa is exactly where the West wants it to be, and “aid” is just a cover up.

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The Birth of a New Nigeria

2015 Election, Nigeria

2015 Election, Nigeria11082425_10205050468560465_7420701953760957151_o

For the first time in the history of Nigeria, since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigeria’s ruling and incumbent party PDP experienced its first fierce competition and subsequent power shift. General Buhari of the opposition party APC, following the two days collation of votes has today been declared the winner of the 2015 Presidential Election by INEC.

This elections trumps many in the history of the country, as it bears a significant meaning to Nigeria and even Africa in general. It has succeeded in proving that the people’s vote can count and Nigerians have not given up on their civic duties, as might be expected considering the country’s track record for immense corruption, and the nature of previous elections where there have been clear evidence of rigging.

General Buhari, a military man known for his iron fist and severe clamp down on corruption, represented the promise of a new beginning to the people. He stood as the answer to Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group that had claimed lives and dislodged millions in the north part of Nigeria, as well the hope of justice for those responsibly in the misappropriation of funds under the last regime.

Nigerians in the months leading to election resiliently chanted the word Change and on the d-day, 28 of March, went out to put their votes where their  mouth is. Defying rain, sunshine and even threats from the insurgency, Boko Haram. Nigerians trooped out to decide the fate of their nation under the full glare of the World, overcoming the challenges raised by the new voting system of card readers and  PVCs  to exercise their civic duties.

Though the elites, who conveniently have their family outside the country, tried to sow discord along tribal and religious lines with the threat of a civil war looming, Nigerians stood in unity, respecting difference in opinions.

A clear message has been sent by the outcome of the election;  as Nigerians we will not be scared by threats of violence from a terrorist group or the few elites that are bent on appropriating the wealth of the nation for their personal gain. We will not be lethargic in our fight for transparency and accountability. We as Nigerians reserve the right to vote out leaders who have failed to deliver the mandates of the people. The power belongs to the masses not the leaders and we will not be divided along tribal or religious lines. We stand in Unity!

And as Chief Obafemi Awolowo predicted, “a day will come when Nigerians from the North and South, Christians and Muslims and Animists will merge as a force for progress and unity, and kick against rigging and corruption and tyranny”. that day came and it was today.

Nigeria made history and the people celebrate.

“Acting Black”; When did ignorance become synonymous with being black?

Arriving in the UK as an African girl with my luggage in tow and a massive grin on my face, bursting with expectations,  I was halted in my steps by a discovery. I found that in the western world, it wasn’t enough to be born black, it is possible to act black, dress black, talk black.

I realised that just as there is a box often made for each and every one of us, which only the daring and non-conformists manage to escape, there is a box made for black people in the western world to fit into, in the UK and even more so in the USA.

I was often told by black people who grew up in the UK (Black British) that I act white. When they see that my playlist isn’t filled with songs that refers to women as bitches and men as niggas, when they see artistes like Darius Rucker, Bryan Adams and Bill Withers as opposed to Wiz Khalifa or 50 cent, when I refuse to speak slang or use words that are considered part of the lexicon of what is often referred to as Back English or Ebonics. In fact, I was surprised that I used better grammar as an African than some Black British.

Whilst my intention isn’t to claim that there is something wrong with rap or speaking slang, I am very much concerned with the concept that everything paramount to respectability and career advancement in a civilised society is termed White and the opposite, Black. For instance,  “acting black” means you are ghetto, uneducated, not well spoken, dressed like a tramp, loud, while “acting white” connotes good manners, eloquence, educated, cultured, reserved, successful.

It is the reason why my 14 year old cousin came back from school gobsmacked to have seen a White schoolboy sagging. In her words; “No, it doesn’t suit white people, it’s for black boys.” Need I remind you that sagging is very likely to get you stopped and searched by the police and very unlikely to help you make a good impression at a job interview.

Teenagers are often more susceptible to this form of ingrained stereotypes for fear of ostracism. As a teen the first thing on your to do list is to fit in. A black teenager will more readily play the role of a stereotypical black kid and in fact take it on as an identity than fight against it, to avoid being called a Bounty or Oreo (like the chocolate and cookie, black outside and white inside).

After all studies find that “during the teenage years, young people are influenced by a huge array of factors, which can increase vulnerability and risk. These can include; puberty and hormonal changes, wanting increased autonomy from family, peer pressure, body image and self esteem issues, the influence of the media, an increased capacity for cognitive reasoning etc” (Kelly, L. 1988).

Since these formative years are the foundation on which a person’s life is built on, a sparse vocabulary, bad grammar and other attributes synonymous with “acting black” could very well jeopardize the chance of a solid higher education or career prospect. I am yet to see a professional that says “innit”.

I’d say as an outsider who grew up in a country were I wasn’t constantly reminded of my race, and amongst an educated family who encouraged me to receive the highest accolades possible and press for success, it was easy to spot these stereotypes and recognize them as a totally false depiction of me.

I came out of my mom’s womb black and that is as far as that colour determines my person. I was born black and therefore do not have to “act black” “dress black” “talk black” to earn a place in the black community. These phrases have no meaning to me and it is a pity that some have accepted these attributes as black culture. It doesn’t matter if I take up golf, love the Beatles, or speak eloquently, I am very much BLACK.

Black and Intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive and I refuse to be deceived into accepting a set of pre-instilled stereotypes as my culture or be considered a sell out for “acting white”.

PS: Did you know Will smith had to hide his books in pizza boxes so people in his neighbourhood don’t see that he studies?

Reference:

Kelly, L. (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence, Blackwell Publishing/Polity Press.

#IAmBaga

Victims of the Baga attack in NigeriaMy heart and condolences goes out to those who lost families, friends, relatives in the recent happenings in France and the Boko Haram bombing in Nigeria that claimed 2,0000 lives in the name of religion.

Over the clamour made by the killings in France, the uproar it sprung on social media networks, the bustle of world leaders congregating in France to devise a solution as well as stand in solidarity with the French nationals, it was so hard to hear the bomb blast in the village of Baga, Nigeria that has been termed one of the the group’s deadliest attacks by Amnesty International.

When the news finally trickled around, a lot of people used the hashtag #AllLivesMatters, asking why the 12 lives in France are more important than the 2,000 in Nigeria. Others blamed the western media and the Nigerian government for its lethargic reaction to the incident, though it can be contested that there has been a response at all.

In fact Jonathan Goodluck, Nigeria’s president though expressed his condolences for the victims of the massacre in France, remained silent on the Boko Haram attacks. Probably so as not to further taint his chances of a second term by reminding voters of the failure of his administration in lieu of the upcoming election. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also sent her sympathy to France, ignoring Baga. These all the more insinuating that the lives of those in France is of more value than those in Nigeria and further reminding me of how Nigerians jumped on the #icebucketchallenege while it was a cool trend, forgetting the one million and one challenges they are constantly forced to live with. A country where some of its population still struggles to get clean water, a very basic amenity.

While we might validly ask why world leaders are congregating in France and not Nigeria, we should also note that the valour of life cannot be measured and both cases of killings are as important, but lets not get tricked into believing that problems in Africa are only Africans problem.  Only recently, Ebola was deemed a West African problem until it spread to western states.

Lets not also forget that the fact that people of different cultures and religion, who speak different languages are cohabiting as nationals of this country happens to be one of the nation’s greatest problems and a result of colonisation.

Nigeria is plagued by a myriad of problems and its government is only a fraction. The amount of “God will help”, “God is in control” that I have heard since the commencement of these attacks is a pointer to one of the country’s greatest problems: religion.

Nigeria though a developing country has some of the richest religious leaders; pastors with harem of private jets, decked in expensive clothes and living in mansions. Pastors who dine with corrupt leaders and offer them front seats in their churches. Pastors who manages to convince their congregation to donate half of their earnings and then go ahead to build schools half of their congregation cannot afford.

I believe if Nigerians are convinced that there is no God and no one is up there looking out for them, we will see changes and very fast too. Religion has rendered its citizens complacent, we quickly drown our sorrows at altar in churches and dump all our problems in the hands of God and then just as quickly turn around and discriminate against people who practice a different religion from us .

The Baggage of a Migrant

lone walker

From: Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.com

My migration was saddled with discovery, the discovery of race. I had grown up in Nigeria as a girl, but in the UK I became a black girl, not a black British type, but a black African type.

I was plunged into a discourse of race and had to cut through the layers of labels and stereotypes to find myself, other times finding safety in the streotypes; using them as a camouflage.

I learned that you weren’t just born Black, you had to live Black. I learned that it is possible to “be” Black; it is in your nuances, your speech, your taste. In fact, after time the icing to a story or the determining factor of a joke being funny was hinged on if the character(s) was White or Black. When a friend tells a story of something that happened at the train station, I wait a second or two and then I ask;  Was she black? Was he white? A black group of girls? A white group of boys?

I learned that what a black person did miles away could have a bearing on me.

I had first encountered England in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, and then in the movies and tales from relatives. My enthusiasm of learning in such a great country was quickly dampened by reality.

I am one of the lucky ones.  I came at an age where I could never forget being Nigerian, as well as able to adopt, even if shabbily and temporarily, a different culture. The unlucky ones like my Rwandan friend end up existing between two worlds, two cultures. Not accepted into one due to years of absence, and not feeling completely at home in the other.

I assumed the title ‘Immigrant’ and I saw and heard my fate constantly debated on the news.

But being an African girl, offered me no refuge in my dignity. It didn’t matter that I paid international student fees and got no help from the government, I was seen as an outsider not an explorer. An outsider in search of greener pastures.

A parasite feeding off others resources.

 I was dumb; I sounded different. I was blind; the meanings were different.

Read more immigrant stories here

Education, marriage, motherhood?

I have recently graduated from the University. Now, if you’re African and a female then you know what is next on the pre-written-cannot-be-edited-or-tweaked-carved-in-stone list for you. Yes you guessed it, marriage.

Aunties and their friends, family friends, well wishers,  practically everyone -like they’ve attended a meeting and decided on the next agenda for your life- teases, jokes and not so jokingly asks  you for the man, a suitor, your boyfriend. Your mum calls you for talks, looking earnest and serious as she prods “so what is your plan?” “give me a name, let me start praying”  “there is no guy you like or that has shown interest in you?”.

Now, if you are single and have no idea of getting into a relationship let alone getting married any time soon, you know this is a dilemma. Explaining yourself is likely to fall on deaf ears, explaining how you intend to pursue your career will only produce suspicious stares followed by lectures on how you’re not getting any younger.It is funny how my brother had graduated some years ahead of me, living with a girl he truly loves and no one is pressuring him about getting married.

While I haven’t decided yet if I am a feminist, or even dissected the difference between Western and African feminism or Black feminism as the case might be to see where I fit in, I definitely know I won’t go along life ticking a list that has been written on the bedrock of so called culture.

Being African by birth (both parents are African), I believe what I instinctically do should culminate what being an African woman entails, not me having to follow a set of rules passed down  and policed by a society steeped in patriarchy. Thereby reinforcing its view on what an African woman is expected to be.

Times are changing and if we all lived by culture without so much as amending it, twins in Calabar will still be getting killed, 19 will be considered too old an age to be single, women won’t be voting or owning lands or wearing trousers or riding horses in straddle. Yeah, ridiculous right?

JUMPING THE BROOM

Jumping the broom is a cultural practice that can be roughly traced back to the 16th century if not even farther in history.  Its origin or time of origin is uncertain. There are also different beliefs about how it started.

Though it is true that the slaves practised jumping the broom ,this custom didn’t emanate from slavery as is popularly claimed and also supported by the Hollywood film ‘Jumping the Broom’. The slaves only practised it in honour of their tradition and also because legal marriage was inaccessible to them.  Some have claimed that this custom started in Wales where couples jump over a flowering broom (shrub), others attribute it to the Romani gypsies and some are adamant it started in West Africa from the Ashanti group of Ghana who waved broom over the head of newly-wed couples to ward off evil spirits.

While who started it or where cannot be ascertained, the custom is known to have been practised in Africa, Wales, Scotland, amongst Romani gypsies, in England, America and some aboriginal or shamanistic cultures. The symbolism attached to this practice varies according to cultures though similar. To some it means crossing from the old life of being single to married, to others it signifies the bride’s promise to clean the house, a reminder for the couple to work in unity, to represent the couple’s new home and to decided who makes the decision, a honour bestowed on the first to touch the floor after jumping and in some tradition, the highest jumper (usually men). The straw of the broom also symbolizes  family and the bind, the hand of God holding both families and the couple together.

This culture has seen a decline because of its popular association to slavery most modern couple avoid this so as to forget the horrors of slave trade but it is still practised by many as a form of cultural heritage. The decorated broom is normally placed in front of the church or reception so the groom can jump over it on their way out after the ceremony or in front of the their new home.

http://www.celebrateintimateweddings.com/ceremonybroom.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/northamptonshire/content/articles/2004/08/05/pagan_wedding_feature.shtml