Monthly Archives: June 2013

I’ve Pinpointed Why I’m SO Upset with This Hampton University Flier

I’ve told you how I ended up at the university I went to, right? No? Well gather ‘round chil’run! It’s an amusing story, best told with brevity.

My mother, as some of you know, was (and I think, still is) a militarized Black woman. She didn’t like White folk, but she learned to get along with them. At some point in her life experience, she decided that her children would not be indoctrinated by White propaganda. So she married a Ghanaian, lived out her days in Africa, and ultimately decided that when it was time for us three to go to school it would be at an appropriate college of our choice: as long as it was an HBCU (Historically Black College/University).

I applied to two schools: Hampton University and Howard University, respectively. They both had decent liberal arts programs – according to the brochures I’d received. I mailed my applications and received an acceptance letter from Hampton a few weeks later. I never heard back from Howard at all. So I packed my palladiums (these black shoes with 3 inch thick soles, made popular by my UK friends), a few skirts, my acceptance letter, and went off to Virginia to begin my college career.

It was hard, but in three years I left Hampton Magna Cum Laude graduate saddled with $35,000 (plus interest) of personal debt. Way to start life as an immigrant in the Great US of A, huh?

Hampton University gave me many things. I found my husband there, got a decent education (although it has yet to provide a noticeable return on investment), and made lifelong friends. It also exposed me to Black Americans; some of the strangest and enigmatic anomalies on the planet. I had many misconceptions about Black Americans, even though my own mother ethnically falls into that group. I thought they were ALL gun toting, do-rag wearing, jean sagging thugs who would sooner shoot and rob you than say hello. These are the images we were fed of Blacks in Africa in the 90’s in movies and music videos. And although I knew better (as I said, my mother is Black American and I visited her family every three to four years), the media images were hard to combat. Plus, I was going to an HBCU. It was going to be like attending Hillman, a la Denise Huxtable. I was excited and frightened by the prospect of meeting my own Mr. Gaines or possibly shot by Ice Cube.

Imagine my surprise when I encountered something very different at my “home by the sea”. There were all kinds of Black people. Androgynous basketball players, Five Percenters swathed in colorful headdress, brown skinned girls with long hair clothed in Express jeans and black boots, and even a few other Africans. Within those sets were several subsets of culture. It was amazing. Each of us learned something about the other either by the pain of conflict or the bonds of friendship. It was a diverse world that I never really appreciated fully until I’d left its magnolia lined walkways.

That’s why this picture pains me so much.

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It’s a picture of Hampton University students on a flier demanding money support from the alumni. I am pained not because of their supplications for my hard earned cash, but because this picture only tells one side of the Hampton experience. I’ve never met a single one of these kids, but I know who they are. They are student government leaders, sorority or fraternity members, children born of wealth and relative affluence. These are always the ones chosen to pictorially represent Hampton. These are OUR Talented Tenth: the ones we submit to the larger culture as our satisfactory cultural heralds.

Conspicuously, or rather not, there isn’t a dark skinned one among them. This hurts me, because many of Hampton’s best and brightest students are of pure African descent. The only reason we were (and still are) is because fierce study habits are ingrained in us from kindergarten. Besides, if your parents paid for your passage from Nigeria/Ghana/Togo you had better be studying, and if your tutelage was being financed by an academic or sports scholarship, the pressure was even greater. What were you going to do if you failed? Where would you go? Who would take you in now that you’ve disgraced yourself and your family? You Ghanaian reading this: you are shaking at the thought, aren’t you!

If this not also the ‘Hampton Experience’? Was one African student not worthy of a slot in this group of six?

And what about my sisters with locs who faithfully wore batik skirts and sandals to class every day? Those individuals who were brave enough to make a political statement about the state of their Black experience in the world through their clothing and refused to assimilate into some cultural ideal? These are the ones who caused me to most angst, for I knew at some point they would be forced into pencil skirt, white cotton blouse purgatory. It was the only way to get ahead in the world. They would survive though. These girls always spoke with deliberate thought and an unwavering glare at their subjects. They were serious, but they were seriously funny as well. While Hampton has its begging bowl out, could they not consider putting a student who looked like my good friend Jahmeela on this flier? Was hers an illegitimate Hamptonian experience?

Let’s not even discuss that none of the girls has natural hair. Lord, please let’s not.

Look at all the men. Is this the singular image of Black male success in this country? Look at all these Hampton Men. Just as pretty as they can be. I bet they live in Pierce Hall, every one of them. Apart from their garb, there is no true diversity amongst this group of three men.

If you have not guessed what my real gripe is by now, it has to do with color. This image defines colorism at its worst, by defining Blackness at its best at this shade light brown and lighter. This is the Hampton we need to keep ‘strong’… essentially, not one that looks like me or the other 80% of students who sacrifice much to attend this institution.

I thought I was overreacting until my husband came home and asked me if I’d seen the flier on the dining room table.

“Yeah,” I said simply. “It came in the mail today.”

“I was really upset! Don’t you think it’s racist??”

“Yeah. Actually, I do.”

 

Actually, I do.

And hei! Before you even start, I am not bashing the students. They can’t help who they are and what they look like. My axe to grind is alumni affairs and the PR department who clumped them together and approved the photo. I’m not impressed with this effort in the least.

 

 

Paula Deen, Dark Girls, Colorism, Our Daughters and Our Community

You can all thank Mrs. L for forcing me out of blogging hibernation. I swore that I would not be enticed to pecking out any ideas or epiphanies until the summer had ended, but she gave me a carrot and I lunged for it.

Mrs. L sent me this image via text last night.

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I had to do the pretty test with the girls. The 5 year old said the 4th girl was prettiest “because she looks like you”. The 3 year old picked the third girl “because she looks like me”. Who would your girls pick and why? I wanted them both to pick the 5th girl…is this something to correct?

I have talked about conducting the ‘pretty test’ with Nadjah before, as well as the pathetic results of that test. The pretty test’s proper designation is the Clark Experiment, named after Kenneth and Mamie Clark, a married African-American team of researchers. Their studies were pivotal during the civil rights movement, and still have profound consequences and impact today on how we see ourselves as a race.

In a nutshell (and if you’re not familiar with it, it’s worth delving into) they conducted a test using dolls of two races: one white, one black. Elementary school aged children were asked questions about the doll ranging from physical appearance, character, intelligence and then were asked to pass judgments on the dolls.

Which is the good doll? Which is the prettiest doll? Which is the smart doll? and so forth.

Overwhelmingly, the White doll was good, pretty, smart, etc. The Black doll was bad and ugly. Then came the lynchpin of the experiment – the one question that would reveal the unspoken truth that many a Black man, woman or child harbored: which doll looks more like YOU.

Captured on video, you can see the stunned faces of the child participants as they pointed to the black doll, and in variably admitting that they were bad, they were ugly, they were less intelligent. This experiment was first conducted in 1939. In 2008, when I got the same results with my own child, I was heartsick and devastated. I swore this would not be so.

I’m pleased to report that Nadjah has been “rehabilitated” and that Aya has never “failed” the pretty test. When asked separately, both my girls chose the third girl as the prettiest, because she looked like our family. This was good. But ultimately, I still want a different result. I’ll come back to that after I’m done with Paula Deen.

Oh? You think I’m angry with Ms. Paula? Not in the least. Paula Deen’s alleged use of the word ‘nigger’ doesn’t offend me at all. That would make me a hypocrite. I grew up around the word, hearing it rapped, sung and flung in various forms including nigga, nyugguah and just plain old nig. Usually, the word was being spoken from Black lips whom I was taught to admire. Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney who once famously declared on Chappelle’s show “Nigga, nigga, nigga, it keeps my teeth clean.”

Let’s be very clear: many Black people are not comfortable with the word in any capacity, whatsoever. Sadly, they are not the majority. Images of men swinging from nooses and hounds ripping their flesh come sharply to mind at its utterance. It was a word coined with the intention of denigrating a race, and it worked. As one of my friends put it:

I don’t care how many times a Black person calls a white guy a honkey or a cracker, neither word will ever have the power to reduce him to a quivering mass of fury as the word nigger from his lips.

All these claims about us ‘reclaiming’ the word and reducing its power are absolute nonsense. I don’t care how liberal a person is, if Jay Carney walked up to Jay Z and said – even in jest – “boy, you are one crazy nigger”, he’d be simultaneously punched in the face and hit with a lawsuit. However, Jay Z is free to make liberal use of the word, and even profit off it through album sales and sold out performances. And who are the people filling the seats at those performances? Guess who is rapping “nigga” back to him? Guess who is your future celebrity chef or congressman? Not my kids… and not enough kids that look like mine either. You know who I’m talking about. Don’t play.

There are elements within our race who have conditioned White people to become comfortable with the word and all references to it. I don’t know how or when Paula Deen was influenced around the subject of race and colorism, I just know that we all are in some capacity. Do you know how ‘racist’ my own family is? Are you even willing to admit how racist yours might be? I’ve sat through many a conversation where my elders flung insults at Chinese women for causing wrecks because they couldn’t see the road through slit eyes, or some blue-eyed devil who cut the line at mechanic, and so forth. Usually, my Uncle Blue was belly-aching about all these ills around the picnic table. And no, his name was not “Blue”. He was born “Bill”. His siblings started calling him Blue because he was so black.

Does Paula Deen saying some guy was “black as a board” bother me? Not one bit. From what I could tell from the video, she was talking about someone whom she shared a deep affection for. For all we know, he could have at one point said – in jest- “Wow. That Paula Deen is pasty as dough.”

And guess what? The woman IS pretty white.

In regards to the ‘pretty test’; I would hope that one day, perhaps five or more years down the road, when I ask my girls which of these girls which of these girls is the prettiest they will respond with one of two answers:

1)      All of them are pretty

2)      None is prettier than the other

and that they will give these same answers for the same or similar reasons that they responded that number 3 was the prettiest.

I think the first is pretty because she looks like Ms. Maria, my first grade teacher. She taught me a lot.

I think the seconds is pretty because she reminds me of Dora the Explorer.

I think the third is pretty because she looks like our family.

I think the forth is pretty because she reminds me Mrs. L

I think the fifth is pretty because she looks like Alek Wek.

Every race and color has beauty and merits. In fact, within Mrs. L’s immediate family, their skin color runs the gambit, from a very fair husband, to a deep chocolate mother and two girls that have a color in between. My hope is that we will actually learn this as a society one day and stop letting advertisers, celebrities and government policies that exacerbate color issues by saying who is capable to do one thing or not dictate our worth when we look in the mirror.

Is it wrong for Mrs. L to want her daughters to pick number 5 as the prettiest? Perhaps. Perhaps not. What do you think?

M.O.M. On Summer Hiatus

 

Greetings.

This is just a quick note to inform everyone that I’ll be on summer vacation (read: slaving away to feed and entertain my small tribe) until the end of August. I’ll have about as much time to write as I suspect the other mothers I write for will have to read.

Look. Even now, “they’ve” come for me…

See you when school starts!

“I Spy” on the Garden Route

There are many beautiful places on the earth, but I am convinced that South Africa is the Queen of them all. Considering that I am neither God Almighty nor Dora the Explorer and that I neither created the world nor certainly have not traversed the face of it, I realize that this is certainly a bold statement. However, I have watched countless hours of Nature on PBS as well as The Discovery channel and am completely persuaded that my view is absolutely correct.

I have only visited The Garden Route in South Africa, but the natives tell me that the rest of the country is no less stunning. The Garden Route stretches from Heidelberg in the Western Cape to the Storms River. I’ve written about the drive along the N2, the national highway that takes you along The Garden Route. We took the N2 to Cape Town where we spent 3 nights in the city. The last time we went, the fields were blanketed with a yellow plant that we were told was canola, but it is very similar to the rapeseed we saw in Germany during our 11 hour layover, so I don’t know who to believe. In any event, they were not in bloom on this trip; which was probably just as well. It gave me a chance to pay attention to things I missed during our last trip.

It’s hard to focus on one thing when you have so much beauty assaulting you in the face. Watching the gorgeous Garden Route landscape whiz by while trying to take it all in at the same time was like running face forward into a hail storm. My mind and my eyes were in pain, trying to decide what to pay attention to first.

cloudsRegal mountains lay to north of the shore like an army of ancient giants that laid down for a rest in a time before men and beasts roamed the Earth and refused to awaken from their slumber. Their peaks kissed billowy clouds that hovered over them, and they in return caressed the mountaintops with delicate touches as an attentive lover might do.

sheepFattened, wooly sheep grazed contentedly on an abundance of verdant grass, now dewy with recently fallen rain. Every once in a while, an egret might invite himself for a drink from their watering pans. Never once did I see them bother to drive him away.

Even the desolation is beautiful. Felled trees and scorched earth dotted areas of the terrain where someone may have set a bushfire or cut down too much wood for kindling; but shrouded in a gossamer mist, the lifeless patch of earth looked like a haunting painting that took your breath away.

By chance you might see – as I did that day – a traditional Xhosa man wrapped in a black, red and white blanket sitting comfortably by the side of the road, watching traffic go by. Perhaps he had just gotten off work for a lunch break. Perhaps he had no job at all and was merely wandering about the country. Only he and the road know.

As they were in years past and will be in years to come, the vineyards at this time of year were plucked bare, yielding fruit for unique wine of the most acidic quality.

sunsetFinally, hours later, you arrive in Cape Town via Stellenbosch and all that rural magnificence gives way to urban sprawl. Try as they might, the buildings will never topple the heights of the mountains on which they rest, and the fro-hawked city chick with a pea coat and pierced nose is not quite as interesting as the rural wanderer. Regardless, the city is impressive in its own right, for I have never seen a sunset more beautiful than one that settles over the ocean horizon of Cape Town.

 

The Latest from Field Ruwe: Money is the root of all evil

 Money is the root of all evil

by Field Ruwe

 

“Money is the root of all evil,” the email read. “It is the reason you Africans are a failure; a dependent of the West. It is the reason you languish at the bottom of the totem pole. Don’t blame us. You have put yourselves there. It is your self-interest, pettiness, and meanness that have put you at the brink of economic Armageddon. It is the greediness of your political leaders that makes you an endangered people.”

The lengthy email was from Walter, the Caucasian and former IMF official I had sat next to on my flight from Los Angeles to Boston on New Year’s Eve of 2011. I had not heard from him in months. I read on:

“It is this unbridled greed that is killing you at an alarming rate. It has turned you into beggars at the hands of the IMF-World Bank and condemned you to debt. The indebtedness, superior to colonialism, is the reason for the wanton deaths of African folk and the fast reduction of the African population. It’s a great shame for a people who have enough natural resources to feed, clothe and shelter every single soul on the continent.

“Like children your so-called economists and your ill-informed politicians get excited when IMF-World Bank announces that your economic growth has ‘surged’ to 8%, 4%, 2%… What they fail to understand is such are insignificant percentages of low development. IMF-World Bank is simply putting cheese on its traps and like mice you all are getting caught. Where are the African economists to fight this scourge?”

Walter’s last remarks on African intellectuals steered a debate across Africa that has lasted up to today. From the email it was clear that he was still following closely the activities in Africa.

“I see your president has become a victim of IMF-World Bank placebos. He has removed subsidies on maize and fuel. I will address that later. Let me first inform your readers that I love Africa. I’ve left the New York “Vulture Fund” company I worked for when you and I met on JetBlue. It was too much for me. In 1999, I moved from the loan shark IMF to a broking company that was ripping off countries like yours by buying up the debt at cheap prices and demanding much higher than the original price.

“In 2007, we sued Zambia for $40 million, after buying off some of the debt for $4 million. Chiluba paid us $15 million, and we rewarded him with $2 million. We went to the Democratic Republic of Congo and did the same thing. Overtime, I became disillusioned. I was often haunted by the view from the bedroom window of my Kabulonga home back in the 1980s.”

For those familiar with Walter, you’ll remember his words: “I was part of the IMF group that came to rip you guys off. Your government put me in a million dollar mansion overlooking a shanty called Kalingalinga. From my patio I saw it all—the rich and the poor, the ailing, the dead, and the healthy.”

Walter reminisced: “The daily sight of funeral processions from Kalingalinga to Leopard’s Hill Cemetery have stuck to the walls of my brain—the sound of wailing, and solemn hymns. I have quit. I am no longer a vulture. I have now become a fighter for Africa’s economic empowerment.

“I’m a staunch supporter of Joseph Stiglitz whom I have always admired. I totally agree with him when he says that the IMF must be dismantled. Joe was at the World Bank when I was in Africa. The man has a big heart for Africa. How I wish some of your rational economists like Caleb Fundanga, who is familiar with the IMF, would take a leaf from Stiglitz and persuade your president to find a way of avoiding the IMF-World Bank high restrictive conditions and abominable interest rates that have brought misery to your people.”

For those who do not know Joseph Stiglitz, he is the Nobel Prize laureate in Economics who served as Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank in the 1990s. In 2011, TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He is a guru at asset risk management, corporate governance, and international trade. The man was inside the World Bank and saw it all.

In a 2002 radio interview with Doug Henwood of WBAI, New York, Stiglitz was asked what struck him when he first got to the World Bank. The reply is quoted in full because it is the reason African states are stuck with IMF-World Bank for good.

Stiglitz: “One of the most traumatic experiences I had there was just a month after I started. I went to Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world. It had a balanced budget, no inflation, and had had rapid growth for five years, had cut back on defense expenditures from 6% to 2%, even though it had come to power through military means. This is a really unusual government – no charges of corruption. And yet the IMF had suspended its program.

“I asked, ‘Why?’ The answer was that the budget wasn’t balanced. But it was. They said, ‘But you shouldn’t include foreign aid.’ I said, ‘Why else are governments giving money if it’s not for them to build schools and hospitals?’ They said, ‘You can’t rely on it.’ The government had a very good answer. They said, ‘As long as we get the money, we’ll build the schools, and when we don’t get the money, we’ll stop building the schools.’ And when we came back to Washington we discovered that tax revenues were more unstable than foreign aid.”

It bothered Stiglitz greatly to discover that both the IMF and the World Bank were exploiting Africa. At the same time it bothered IMF-World Bank that Stiglitz had discovered their horrors and gone public. He was fired.

Walter writes: “I was in Washington D.C. when Joe was fired. Some African presidents and Finance Ministers celebrated. It was Joe who opposed the privatization of national assets. He was against high interest rates, and trade liberalization. But he was alone. Your president and your Minister of Finance disliked him. He was standing in the way of their commissions. They were making tons of money by associating themselves with the IMF and the World Bank. It was in the Washington IMF and World Bank offices that money became the root of evil. It was here that the “carrot and stick” game was played like Russian roulette. Ministers of Finance were staking their country’s assets for a commission and we kept winning, even when they shot themselves in the head.

“Now you know why the Ministry of Finance is the most sought in African countries. African Finance Ministers are the richest of the cabinet and are confidants of the president because they are the carriers of the begging bowl. Their best telephone call is the one from Washington D.C.

By the way, I was appalled, but not surprised when one of your junior ministers was quoted as saying “we will continue borrowing; we are in a hurry to develop.” Watch him. He’s drunk with power.  It is this chronic borrowing that has worsened your county’s debt and increased poverty. A debt results in cutbacks in spending on health care, and is the reason people in your country continue to die from HIV/AIDS and poverty-related diseases. I have seen his picture; he looks chubby and is always smiling. I am sure he has a relative or two who are not as fortunate as he. If I had it my way, I would arrest him, lock him up, and throw away the key for mortgaging a country in which the majority are poor. He’s a half-hearted economist; an impetuous and selfish fellow.

“This is the type of foolish behavior I saw at IMF. The so-called African economists sent to Washington didn’t care how much they borrowed, at what interest rate. They didn’t bother to read the fine print. They did care if they flogged their electricity and water companies. They simply didn’t care about the poor back in their countries. It was what was in it for them and their president—period. And we didn’t care how much we dished out as long as we kept a country such as yours below the poverty line, and within the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC).

“I began to lose respect for African economists, dressed, as they were, in their tailor-made suits, with golden cufflinks and draped bowties. Not one of these African Iscariots I met during my stay at IMF said anything negative about IMF; not one could see the drastic impact IMF and World Bank was having on their people. Not one could see that IMF and the World Bank were merely credit risk agencies.

“Field, how do you like the tag HIPC on your country? That’s what Zambia is and will always be—a Heavily Indebted Poor Country, that’s right. IMF and the World Bank love it. It’s a way of separating lepers from society. Your president, Chiluba, sold everything for a nickel and your country slipped to 164 of the 187 countries on the United Nation’s Development Index of poverty. You are still lepers, all I know. You are a country without an airline, meaningful mining and manufacturing industries, and now no subsidies—nothing. You are a country without health, education and development. Look at your dilapidated hospitals, schools, roads—just look at them. It’s shameful.

“When I read that your president had removed subsidies on maize and fuel, two reasons came to mind. The first is obvious; your president has no choice. He needs to maintain the IMF and the World Bank (your new colonial masters) seal of approval. Your country will not get help from Western donor countries without the IMF and the World Bank endorsement. That’s a smart way of keeping your country colonized, poor and dependent. If your president refuses to remove subsidies he risks having the extension of your country’s loans denied. This is what I call ‘loss of state sovereignty.’ Like you and other writers have hinted, when a country removes subsidies, it allows the market to determine demand and supply for food. This reduces support for farmers, and leads to the poor failing to afford essentials.

“The second reason is often ignored, but true. It is what Stiglitz calls the IMF riots. Stiglitz observes that when a nation is, ‘down and out,’ the IMF squeezes the last drop out of it. I dare add that the IMF-World Bank can be political at times. Don’t forget your president is not a very likable man in the West. They think he has become a puppet of China. He has been placed under the radar and is being watched. When you make the West uncomfortable, they will have you removed. The IMF and the World Bank know that when subsidies are removed, essentials will become unaffordable and people will riot. In your country maize and fuel are good dynamite with which to blast the ruling party. If they fail this time, I can assure you they will succeed next time.

“Joe is right. He’s speaking from his heart when he says IMF has failed. It is true IMF has purloined enough from poor countries, but, unfortunately, it is only Joe and a few like me who understand this. Your president and his economists don’t. We know that the West did not develop under such harsh conditions as those imposed on Africa. They kept subsidies for domestic industries. Your economists know this, and yet they can’t see that your country is being duped through monetary austerity; fiscal austerity; privatization; and financial liberalization. What a shame.”

Walter has spoken. I shall add no more.

 

 

Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012

 

 

 

 

In Response to the Honorable Rashid Pelpuo’s “Disgust”

Greetings, oh Venerable Rashid Pelpuo. How good of you to condescend to my blog and leave a comment regarding a topic that is piercing to many a forward thinking Ghanaian citizen’s heart: that being the gradual and steady destruction of our country and who is responsible for it. Let’s get right down to it, shall we?

jarvisHave you ever seen Iron Man? I would like to invite you to participate in an exercise that Tony Stark undertakes in virtually every instance that his A.I. butler, JARVIS, presents him with data. We’re going to throw out the stuff in your comments that have nothing to do with the crux of the conversation or concerns of the citizenry and see what we have left. Let’s begin with your quips about my ‘flare’ for writing (Yes. I do write with fiery passion. Thanks for noticing.), about engaging in armchair research (which is now an archaic idiom, since no one does research from their armchair anymore, but rather on their fingertips in fast moving vehicles), your presumptions about my profession (I’m NOT a journalist, but I’m flattered that you mistook me for one.), an insipid complaint about me not knowing you (And how could I? we’re not neighbors and have never invited one another over for tea.) and a veiled accusation of my possible suffering from xenophobia.

(Actually, I DO want to talk about xenophobia. If I’m interpreting your response correctly, I think it may be an issue that has long been a thorn in your side. We’ll get to that at the end.)

So what do we have left to discuss? A man in a position of power with a job to do; and THAT sir, is all that I and the good people of Ghana, be they within the borders of the country or the Diaspora really care about.

We live in the information age, sir, and as you well know information is a more vital commodity than cash. You had the unique opportunity to inspire confidence in all who are concerned about the direction that this government that you are an integral part of is taking us, simply by providing pertinent information, yet you chose not to. Instead, you gave a canned response by copying and pasting a rejoinder written sometime last month.

Did you read any of the grievances of the folks who left comments on this blog bearing your name and title? I’ll take a quick guess and say “no”. Here are their questions and concerns in short form:

 

  • What education do you actually possess that qualifies you for this position? You did not give mention of that in your response, only saying that I got your credentials wrong. Pray, what ARE your credentials? You are responsible for making sure that all the information on the internet about yourself is cohesive, and I have to tell you, it is the very opposite of the adjective.
  • What is the timeline that citizens engaged in private enterprise can look to for implementation of these “five flagship projects” you alluded to in your rejoinder? Does one even exist? Who can be held accountable when this timeline goes off course? (And we ALL know sir, that it will be stalled at some point.)
  • Exactly what sort of investments is the government – and I assume this falls under your branch – providing to indigenous business? How are these case analyses being carried out? What sort of business are getting a particular type of assistance? Some will need cash infusion, sure, but others will need infrastructure and equipment rather than cash.
  • Will citizens engaging in private enterprise still be made to pay crushing tariffs at our ports of entry on imported goods to help facilitate their businesses in the face of a government that simply WILL NOT provide a sustainable means of generating the hardware needed to facilitate x business?
  • Who is going to answer these questions?

 

Concerning xenophobia: I understand why you mentioned it. In reading the comments of the proletariat in our mainstream media, there were many unkind things said about you. That you were running your department like it was a zongo republic. That you behave as though Ghana was a makaranta school. I’m sure I don’t need to rehash these. It will not edify anyone reading this reply. For the benefit of full disclosure, I am a hybrid-Ghanaian who grew up in a Muslim/Christian household and went to school students from all over Africa and Ghana, of course. For me to succumb to xenophobia would be absurd and beneath my dignity, as I myself don’t fit into one traditional category.That doesn’t bother me, and I would certainly expect that you being  from the North doesn’t bother you.

I don’t know you personally, Mr. Pelpuo; and I don’t need to. I don’t know if you kiss your kids or whip them at night before you send them to bed. Unless your kids are helping you write policy, your personal pursuits have nothing to do with me.

I care about one thing only: How well do you do your job… and how effectively you communicate your progress.

In parting, I have this bit of advice. You are either going to have to do one of three things from here on out. 1) Get greater control of your message. 2) Grow a thicker skin. 3) Ignore all criticism altogether and send our country deeper into the bowels of destruction. The days when ordinary citizens took it on the chin lying down are fast drawing to a close. Where we sense knavery, we will dig it up and expose it. We will no longer allow those who claim to serve Ghana and its interests hide behind the ubiquitous shield of “government”. We will name names and demand accountability according to the titles apportioned to those names.

These are the times, Venerable Pelpuo. I wish you the best of luck as you cruise these uncharted waters.

 

ARSON AT MAKOLA: LATEST IN A LONG LINE OF ATTACKS ON MARKET TRADERS


The importance of market women can never be exaggerated. For centuries, these women have held the purse strings and purchasing parity of West African families, deciding what gets sold and at what price. These markets, now little more than stalls or windowless containers were once the nerve center of West African commerce. Now, in the names of  of ‘globalization’ and ‘modernization’, they are under attack, with those at the helm of government facilitating their demise instead of redirecting services that would aid these women in providing Ghanaians with quality food and materials in sanitary conditions. These cowards are literally burning the markets down.

The market holds a special place in my heart because it has saved the life of many a girl. I have a number of (female) primary school mates who could not afford to finish school who were forced to sell in the market, sometimes from the tender age of 12. Through wit and savvy business practices, they rose to become economic power houses in their own right, out-earning even those of us who went on to get degrees. It is therefore obvious why pernicious elements within local government would seek their destruction. They are blinded by greed and motivated self desire. My dear friend Nana Ama Amamoo explains below:

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The third incidence of arson in Accra’s central business district in as many weeks, is the latest manifestation of racist and misogynistic policies of colonial and successive governments, and traditional rulers in Ghana and elsewhere in British West Africa. The arsonist(s) may get away with it, because the target of their psychopathic acts are dismissed as powerless market and street traders, the majority of whom are women. The latter have been vilified for decades simply for having the chutzpah to resurrect again and again from the ashes, despite all attempts by the authorities to snuff them out!

Busia was dismissive of them as illiterate women. Acheampong likewise rebuked them for the economic problems that his policies engendered; Rawlings, Akatapore et al blamed them for inflation and the shortage of commodities, stripped them naked and lashed them publicly! Others have since lined up to pour scorn and blame on them.

Now our markets are being torched to make way for expensive shopping malls to sell us shoddy goods from the East! We should not look on helplessly but it is worth reminding ourselves of some key issues:

  1. Market Women’s Associations (MWAs) predate colonialism. There are reliable records of regular trading sessions at Techiman and other markets in the sub-region. MWAs are the most important socio-economic organisations that African women own and control.
  2. Now classed as prime real estate sites, large markets such as Makola and Kejetia  sprang up on the periphery of the business and residential districts of the colonisers, to serve the food and other requirements of the growing urban African population.
  3. Lord Lugard’s policy of Indirect Rule appointed local African chiefs to collect his hated Land Poll Tax (lampoll). Market women were sitting ducks, an easy and obvious target to collect from, unlike farmers and fishermen who were mainly or exclusively men, and whose work schedules were inconvenient for the tax collectors!.
  4. African women fought back vigorously. See: http://www.blackpast.org/?q=gah/aba-womens-riots-november-december-1929 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aba_Women’s_Riots.
  5. However, they have been losing the battle since the Aba Riots in 1929, as the system of Indirect Rule continues unabated. Today, staff from local government and traditional rulers carry on collecting ‘lampoll’ from them on a daily basis, without providing any amenities!
  6. As the women do not have leaseholds on their trading spaces, it does not make economic sense to invest in improving their work environment; besides, that is what they pay the ‘lampoll’ for.
  7. So we now have the sorry situation in Ghana (and other African countries) where everybody, from the President to the lowliest beggar, sources their food, daily, from these filthy places, with grave implications for public health!
  8. In Ghana, every government since Dr. Nkrumah’s, has continued the twin-track economy inherited from Lord Lugard’s Indirect Rule. They zealously implement IMF/World Bank policies that harm our economy, and carelessly ruin the market traders who together with subsistence farmers, constitute the backbone of our economy!

What can be done?

  1. Sort out once and for all, who owns the land that these markets operate on; is it government or stool land?
  2. We should stop limping on a two-track economy: a ‘mainstream’ one, full of toxic policies dictated by the IMF/World Bank, and an ‘informal economy’ which is teeming with entrepreneurs, the majority of whom are women!
  3. Pay attention to Market Women’s Associations and sell them the land (peppercorn rate, freehold, leasehold, whatever), and allow them to construct purpose-built markets with adequate storage, security, toilets, running water and crèches.
  4. Security of tenure/leaseholds of their trading sites for members of MWAs would in one fell swoop, create an asset-rich class, eligible for bank loans; and taxation of them would be justified.
  5. They are an important socio-economic group that will help grow the economy and create jobs, thus avoiding the welfare system that has blighted western economies.

 

 Nana Ama Amamoo is the Director at T.A.F.F. TRADING CO (UK) LTD, a civic and social organization in London, UK

Table Mountain In Very Simple Terms

Greetings, members of the MOM Squad and other Random Readers dropping by. You’ll have to forgive me this morning. This post will not be completed with any elaborate eloquence. My body is wracked by pain, but it is my duty to report the events as they unfolded as I made a fatuous attempt to climb Table Mountain yesterday – and drug my poor husband along as I did it. In fact, I’m going to write this post as if I’m talking to my sister. In fact, feel free to stop reading now. It’s going to be ugly.

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Chaaaley. A-Dub. Why? Who sent me to go there? Eh? Why?!?!

First, let me say that Table Mountain is not the type of place you go in order to get fit. You only venture there if you already are fit. I can admit that now.

When we came to Cape Town last time, at least a handful of people asked if we had ‘done’ Table Mountain. I told them no. I’ve climbed several mountains as you know, and come out tired, sure… so why shouldn’t I climb Table Mountain as well?

Humph.

We made some simple inquiries and some guy told Marshall and me that it was like climbing stairs.

“It should only take an hour and a half,” he said. “It’s like climbing a bunch of stairs.”

Oh fine! I can walk for 90 minutes; no problem.

Then when we arrived in Cape Town, the inn keeper at our B&B said that that was not exactly true. It would take more like two hours. Still; no problem!

Humph.

And then we arrived at this foolish mountain. We had to park 20 minutes from the base of the trail. They told us to look for a brown shack.  The trail begins then. I had romanticized images of our ascent. The mountain looked very green from a distance, and I fabricated images of a wide, green valley leading to the summit. Perhaps I might frolic in wild flowers along the way. Feeling very confident about our impending ascension, we finally reached the bottom of the mountain. That’s when I heard it speak to me. I spoke back in defiance.

lions headHeh. Black Woman. What are you doing here?

What do you mean?! I am Malaka Gyekye and I have to climb you!

Have you seen any other Black Women here?

Mtseewww. Nonsense. Am I every Black Woman? I say I am Malaka Gyekye and I have to climb you!

I’ll punish you ooo.

Shut up! I say, shut up over there! The Bible says if I say to the mountain “be thou removed” I can move it! Do you want me to send you to Singapore?

Then the mountain was silent. I took that as an indication that it acknowledged my superiority.

Up we went, into the mouth and bowels of Table Mountain. It looked as though we were going into a rocky version of Hell.

Forty minutes later, when we had climbed 300m (about 984 feet) we came to a sign that said we had two choices: either go down the ravine to the lower cable card of go up to some guy’s gorge.

“Malaka. This is no longer pleasant,” Marshall breathed.

I know what he meant. He wanted to quit. He wanted to go back like that American woman who admitted she couldn’t finish the climb and had to go back down. I was not having it.

“You can go back if you want to, but I’m getting to the top!”

“But the sign says not to split up.”

“You have the cell phone. You back without me. I’ll be fine.”

Now of course my husband wasn’t leaving his wife to climb some treacherous mountain all alone without a cell phone. How would that look? He took a seat, cleared his head and said he would continue on with me.

I was eager to get a move on, because 3 other couples had passed us by as we were debating our next move.

The sun was very bright, and it reflected off the white and grey rocks. Fortunately I was wearing sunglasses, which I seldom do. Also, and perhaps more fortunately, I had a bottle of water. We were encouraged to take one by the parking attendant. I will be forever in his debt. I was absolutely planning on making this climb with no water. (Remember this part A-Dub. It’s important. Marshall and I had ONE 12 oz bottle of water to share between us.)

There is nothing to report about the beauty of Table Mountain. I couldn’t see it. I saw razor sharp rocks and my impending doom if I took one misstep. Unlike our national parks in the States, there were no guardrails to protect you as you made your climb… only barbed wire fences that stood as a barrier between you and the ravine below.

We climbed and climbed, A-Dub. And when we thought it could get no worse, it only got worse still. To keep my spirits up, I sung spiritual songs and hymnals in my head.

Jesus! Be a fence, all around me e-ver-y day!!

When that didn’t work, I muttered curses under my breath.

This is some f*ckin’ bullsh*t.

In time, we made it to the middle of the mountain… or so we thought. We were informed by an elderly White man making his way down that the middle was still 2 hours way.

“Are you okay?” Marshall asked him with concern.

“Oh, I’m fine,” he replied nonchalantly. “You see when you get old, you skin gets very soft. I cut myself on a branch and these are the results.”

What were these two talking about? I looked in the direction of my husband’s gaze and saw the reason for his concern. The old man’s arm was gushing blood. Dear God!

He left us with some parting words of wisdom: rest when you need to and drink water. I looked at our bottle of water, which was now more than half empty. Two hours in and we had not even cracked half the mountain…

Eventually we go to this enormous rock where there were notes left by climbers of yore.

Just keep walking, one exhorted!

rock encourage

Humph.

By this time, there was no choice. We had to go up. If we chose to go back down, it would have been a disgrace. Marshall later revealed that his pride would not let him go back. Good man. Good, foolish man, following his foolish wife.

What more is there to be said about terror, barbed wires, slippery slopes, spritely blond men and their brunette girlfriends running past you as you make a tortoise pace up to the apex and the theme song from Lord of the Rings and Gollum’s demented cackle playing in your head? Not much. You get the hint by now, I’m sure.

Let me tell you now about hope.

Eventually I had to leave Marshall behind. He was stopping every few feet and frustrating me in the process.

“The longer we stop, the longer it’s going to take us to get to the top!”

“Then you go.”

So I did. I got to the top a full 30 minutes before he did. But before I got there, I was serenaded by the softest, most beautiful music. I was going mad, I thought. Turns out I wasn’t. There was a Xhosa man sitting on a ledge playing a homemade xylophone. He told me the traditional name for it, but of course I’ve forgotten it. I had only had room for two ambitions at that moment: getting to the top and finding more water.  Neither seemed like they were going to be my reality any time soon.

“Eiii. Sistah! Don’t give up,” he said, trying to encourage me. “It’s only 20 more minutes to the top!”

(But because he was Xhosa, he said “*click*wenty”, not “twenty”. God’s honest truth.)

“Really? 20 more minutes?”

I was desperate and so tired. And I needed to pee ever so badly.

“Yesss sisi. At this pace, *click*wenty more minutes.”

“And if I was going faster?”

“Ten,” he said with a genuine laugh.

That gave me all the power I needed. I thanked him and told him my husband was some ways behind me.

“When he comes up, please tell him it’s only a few more minutes to the top!”

He promised he would, and went back to playing his xylophone. That’s when this South African and English couple behind me over took me and stopped to take pictures. As I took the opportunity to rest while they commandeered the path way I looked over the ledge for my poor spouse. I didn’t see him anywhere. I didn’t hear the couple speak to me over the sound of pounding blood in my ears and my worried thoughts. Maybe I never should have left him…

“Will you snap a photo for us?”

“Huh? Oh! Yes! Of course!”

I took a picture of this happy, fit 20-something couple with their tight bodies and grinning faces. We chatted for a bit and then they said they had to dash. They were in a ‘race’ with another couple.

Whores.

“Would you like me to fill your water bottle?” asked the girl with manic blue eyes and a grin to match. “You look a little low.”

“What? Oh no… I couldn’t. I can’t take your water.”

“We have two bottles,” the man assured me. “And they’re both full.”

Look closely on my cheek.

Look closely on my cheek.

I passed them my bottle without another word. You see, by this time I was so dehydrated I was sweating salt. There were actual, literal, granules of SALT coming out of my pores.

I talked to a few more people as I waited for Marshall to show. A gay guy with hipster glasses and perfectly coiffed hair and a married couple from Phoenix who sympathized with Frodo’s trek to Mordor as I did.

“Shoooot. Cast ME and the Ring into the fire,” I snorted.

They laughed and wished me luck. Marshall still had not made it. It was getting cold in that part of the mountain so I needed to move. Finally the end was near. The mountain split at the summit like a giant labial fold, and I emerged dripping wet like a newborn calf. For you see, in its final act of degradation, the mountain dehumanized me by drip-pissing on my head as I struggled up the final 80* incline.

It was now 1:14pm. At 2:05, Marshall appeared. I was elated.

“I saved some water for you babe!”

“Thank you,” he heaved, chugging it down. “Let’s go find some more.”

And so we did. In a bathroom. I drank BATHROOM water. And when I finally did take that piss, it was the color of week old Guinness. Though they rhyme, the two should not look alike.

And that’s it. I climbed Table Mountain, and I sweated salt. I will never do  either again.

The Pursuit of Chocolate is the Pursuit of Happiness

Whenever I feel down, I medicate myself with food. And whenever I feel especially down, chocolate serves as my one true panacea. The range of emotions I’ve felt in my first few days in the country – which included elation, disappointment and despair, all finally culminating in a certain ambivalence – have forced me to seek out culinary and confectionery healing.  Now that I have absolved myself from any duty towards solving any problems, no matter how miniscule, I am finally free to enjoy my vacation and that means eating, and eating in abundance.

There is no better place to feed oneself than in this corner of South Africa.

The portion we stay in is part of the garden route, and that means an abundance of wine, cheese, meats of all kind, fresh vegetables and chocolate of all designs on your plate within mere hours of production. As anyone who has lived close to their food source will tell you, there is absolutely no replacement for fresh fare. It makes eating a delightsome event, rather than an obligatory one.

I personally began my quest for an oral orgasm at Sedgefield Market earlier this week and have not stopped since. My first indulgence was a traditional farm breakfast, which included a rasher of bacon, a side of sausage, scrambled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and nutty toast. I then moved on to freshly squeezed lemonade and samosas prepared right in front of me. Once I had satisfied my savory senses, I moved on to the sweets.

cheesecakeStall after stall, sat all manner of brownies (as big as your head!), fudge of the dark chocolate and caramel varieties, pies, pies, and yet more pies, and cheesecake, each begging to be ravenously devoured. Oh the things I did to that cheese cake. That four inch deep, 3 inch in diameter, topped with strawberry shmear cheesecake…

Of course all this eating has wreaked havoc on my waistline; but I couldn’t care less. I could help my cause by drinking water, but that has proven difficult seeing as there is so much rooibos tea to imbibe. And not that imitation crap we get at Publix either! You can taste the earth in this tea. It’s warm, hearty and filling.

This might look better in Instagram sepia, but trust me, the was the TRUTH.

This might look better in Instagram sepia, but trust me, the was the TRUTH.

Did I mention the ostrich, by any chance? Not only do they make excellent belts and purses, but it turns out ostrich makes a delectable fillet as well. I had mine with some sort of squash pie, chips and cabbage. Everything comes with chips in South Africa. That’s the Dutch influence I suppose.

The face of a woman who's eaten way too much

The face of a woman who’s eaten way too much

Speaking of influence: one of the most positive things to come out of the Indian Ocean and Dutch slave trade (when they brought a few million Asians and Indians to South Africa as slaves and conscripted soldiers) has been the cross-cultural influence on food. You’ll find some of the most authentic Thai food you could ever stuff in your face in this part of Africa, peppers and all. Last night, we ate tapas at a Greek restaurant in Cape Town, and Mexico (strangely) has a pretty substantial influence here as well.

But even better than the eating is the shopping.

South Africa has quickly emerged as one of the finest and most luxe fashion centers in the world. I have the personal belief that there are as many fashion magazines and editorials as there are citizens. One pleasure that I indulged in, and that Marshall financed, was a genuine red ostrich leather handbag. I can’t show it to you yet, because it’s being specially made direct from the factory and will be ready for pick-up this Friday. They’ve even promised to personalize it with the letter ‘M’ somewhere on the bag. *Insert high-pitched, girly squeal here.*

The factory, called Der Lederhandler, was an accidental find. We happened upon it on our way to Oudsthoorn, which exists as both ostrich and ‘Klan’ country. Apparently, it’s one of the oldest and most historically racist cities in the nation. Like George Wallace was an icon in these parts. We didn’t see any racists though. I guess they had shut up shop for Sunday.

Anyway, I met three wonderful colored women at Der Lederhandler: Jocelyn, Ophelia and Anne-Marie who made absolutely sure that I did not walk out of that factory empty handed. In addition to my special order purse, I got some brown leather sandals that fit my foot like… a glove? Do we wear gloves on feet? Whatever the case, my foot slid right in. I felt like Cinderella with size 10 boats.

IMG_3174Later today we are going to attempt to ascend Table Mountain (which is a lot taller and bigger than I remember from last time; But then again I wasn’t considering a climb, was I?) and then taking a tour to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 20 years. Did you know that he spent an additional six years at Pollsmoor Prison after being transferred from Robben Island? Apparently, he and other senior ANC leaders were having too much influence over younger activists who were being ferried into the prison camp. What a crime…

Okay MOM Squad! This post is coming to you early so that you can begin your prayers. Pray that neither the mountain nor the Robben Island tour breaks me. And pray that if either of them do, that I would make it safely to one of the three chocolatiers I saw on Kloof Nek Road last night…

It’s Da Furst o’ Da Month!

You need this song playing in the back of your mind. It makes the storytelling so much more arresting.

South Africans like to think they are immeasurably different from other Africans; when in fact, they are not. There is a wide spread and indoctrinated belief that all Africans north of the Limpopo are savage, ignorant things. It’s what they were taught in school. Even amongst themselves, there are elitist clusters, each declaring superiority over the other. English whites are better than Boers; Cape Coloreds are better than other Coloreds; and ANYONE is better than Blacks. It’s simply modern day tribalism with more tribes, some fancy gadgets and a treaty or two in the mix.

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And like the rest of Africa, life is very (very) good if you’re rich and really (really) sucks if you’re poor.

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What does make South Africa unique is the way it treats its poor, however. There are no safety nets ‘up in Africa’ for the poor, unless you have some benevolent relative who is willing to send money back home until his/her good will runs out. The government does not get into the business of caring for the country’s destitute. It truly is every man for himself. In South Africa, the uneducated, the sick, the poor and the unfortunate in general are eligible for a grant… which is essentially what we call welfare in America.

The process for keeping the poor in a state of deprivation and still content with the deplorable workings of the government work the very same way they do in America: you give them access to minimal education, feed them garbage, keep them in barely sufficient housing and throw a few hundred dollars (or Rand in this instance) at the masses every month, while drilling in that the welfare-facilitating state is not the enemy.

“Those racist conservatives who want to take away your benefits are the enemy,” they proclaim. “They are the ones who deserve neither your trust nor your vote!”

But the people are not satisfied.

“We want jobs!” they cry.

And what does the government do? Send in community leaders to assure them that jobs are coming. Good paying jobs too; as street sweepers! And in their ignorance, the less educated feel it is their mandate to assist in ‘job creation’ by littering their own environs and never thinking twice about picking up rubbish if it blew in their path. At least that’s what they say in the colored townships… that and it’s not their duty to pick up trash in their neighborhood anyway.

And so a sheepish population is created, milling about doing this and that to survive, dependent on a government that has kept them barely literate and semi-skilled. This is where a little boy named Kweikwei and a feeding frenzy at local ATMs that comes every first of the month.

I’ve only heard of the fabled feeding frenzy in snickers and whispers in Atlanta. Every first to third of the month, swarms of people descend upon big box stores – usually Wal*Mart – and attack the bread, milk, cereal, meat and cigarette aisles. This usually happens after midnight, from what I’ve heard. The result is a store wrecked and stripped bare of the essentials that usually sit in plenty.

So this Saturday when we drove through Knysna on the way to Sedgefield market, I was intrigued. By the thronging crowds slowly making their way in one direction. Was it a street fair, I asked.

“No,” replied our host. “This is the first of the month. Everyone with a grant gets their debit cards reloaded and they go to withdraw their money.”

How nice.

Actually, not really.

The grant system is rife with charlatans, scoundrels and thieves. I discovered that the downward spiral into poverty starts with a promise. Men from larger townships will venture into the Transkei with their taxis and lure villagers with the promise of housing and good jobs in the Western Cape. Don’t have a car? Not to worry! For as little as R1000, I will ferry you back to the Western Cape with me. I’ll even allow you to come on credit. Just pay me when you get a job.

Now of course, you city slicker reading this knows there is no job in the big city, and you already know what happens to our hapless villager. He/she is now drowning in debt to the taxi driver, who collects his money in interest. To get the loan shark off his back, the villager seeks out a Big Mama, who advices the villager to seek a grant and again loans him money to pay the taxi driver.

“But I will hold your bank card until I have been paid in full,” she says with finality. And that is that.

And so every month, at an ABSA or StanChart ATM, you will see a Big Mama with five or six ATM cards, withdrawing her portion and giving the remainder of the money to the grantee until next month or whenever her loan has been paid in full.

With no work, a structure that can hardly be called a home, and no purpose in life overall, our villager turns to one of two things: God or drugs.

Unfortunately for him, God wants him to work in some respect, and usually offer his service for free. Paint this building, weed this lawn, and so forth. Also, and even more unfortunately, the church (or God) is destitute, and hardly able to pay for the upkeep of the church. At least with drugs he can create an alter ego and a virtually reality for himself. Fortunately, tik (meth) is plentiful and affordable. A few smashed out car lights and a hand shake later, our villager is hooked… and there are no services – at least for free – to help him successfully break his habit.

This story repeats itself, again and again, like bad rash that won’t heal, no matter what kind of balm you rub on it; and in the midst of this canker sits a frail 6 year old boy named Kweikwei, who suffers daily abuse from his mother’s drug addicted boyfriend and who herself will not allow him to stay with an adoptive mother who genuinely cares for him all because of hopes of collecting a piece of welfare money via his scarred flesh.