Tag Archives: journalism

MR BIGSTUFF AND THE GODDESS OF CHARM

The writer of this travelogue is Fiona Stax Ledger who worked for the BBC Africa Service for about ten years. During this period she travelled to many countries, met many people, saw many sceneries, she travelled in many way to many places.

In this book she recounts moments of this period chasing news, but in recounting she looks at those moments just next to the news, next to the headlines, next to the importance of office bearers, next to the main issues. Stories are everywhere, you just have to look to see them and to write them down. There are no stories about Africa south of the Sahara, as if the north is a different continent. The Sahara has not been a barrier throughout history but a highway of its own kind, making possible travels from north to south and from south to north. And not just travels but influences as well. 

Fiona does not follow a chronological journey, but she groups stories to form a theme. She writes about about corruption, about visits to Angola and her attempt to interview Njoma, trips to eastern Africa, tailors, cars, beautiful people and the way they behave, white legacies, entertainers, her charms and her drinks, just to mention a few. Do not expect mind boggling discoveries, but do expect a well written book. And this is what she has produced, a well written book.

One of the people she thanks at the end of her book is Israel Wamala, the famous Ugandan broadcaster who worked at the BBC. He passed away in 2006. He was married to Fiona at the time of writing of this book. 

Fiona Stax Ledger – Mr. Bigstuff and the goddess of charm – 2000

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor mr bigstuff fiona

 

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EATING THE FLOWERS OF PARADISE

The use of the khat leaves is in some countries forbidden, at other places the use of khat is a national passtime, surrounded by rituals, a way of life. When the United Kingdom decided to ban the use of khat, the khat farmers in Kenya were very angry. They saw a loss, an immense loss coming their way. When I think of khat (I admit that I have never used it) I think of countries like Yemen and Somalia.  I see men, young and old, huddled together, talking, being quiet, taking their time.

The British journalist Kevin Rushby got used to chewing khat when he worked abroad as a teacher. He enjoys it very much. In this book he travelled to find the origins of khat and a fair bit of the history of khat chewing. Where did it all start? What were the routes the first khat traders used to earn a fair living and chewing part of their wares?

He starts his journey in Ethiopia. To me this country was not linked to khat chewing, but my mind is already expanding. He starts his journey in Addis Abeba and he travels at first by train. First he travels to Dire Dawat and leaving the tracks he moves om to Harar, where he searches for traces of Richard Francis Burton (1821 – 1890, another explorer) and the French poet Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891), who moved at a very young age to eastern Africa, after he published a collection of poetry.

Next he moves on to Djibouti, where the customs try to do a good job, but the smugglers of khat are very ingenious.  In the harbour of Djibouti he searches for a boat to take him across the Red Sea and a the same time tries to avoid any sign of people working for Customs.

The second part of the book is on this journey and his memories of earlier travels (including a visit to an island run by the Foreign Legion).

The third part of the book is on the Arab world, i.e. Yemen and some comments on other places. In this country Rushby enters more familiar territory. He meets with old friends and  familiar places, but he also explores new territories. All in search of khat and the history of khat and the quality of different types of khat.

To me this book was a captivating book, very well written. Enjoying the travels and learning about khat and about historical events and people.

Kevin Rushby did a good job. And YES, there is a MAP in the book. 

Kevin Rushby – Eating the flowers of paradise. A journey through the drug fields of Ethiopia and Yemen – 1998 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor eating the flowers of paradise

 

WE MOETEN GAAN

We meet Coen and Veerle Schippers in their small appartment in the medieval Dutch town of Amersfoort. They live on a meagre income. A few years ago they were the owners of an extensive farm in Zimbabwe, worth over $ 1.000.000. Someone else has taken their farm.

When we think of Zimbawe and farmers that have had their farms taken we usually think of British farmers. The former colonial masters exist in a difficult relationship with the new masters since 1980, under the leadership of Uncle Bob. But there were and are also Dutch farmers living and working and farming in the former breadbasket of southern Africa.

Coen and Veerle lost their precious farm. The journalist Marnix de Bruyne (see also his boek “Het land van Soekmekaar”, 2010) met Coen and Veerele, he visited them in The Netherlands. He paid a visit to their former farm in Zim. He not only met this couple, he met other (former) Dutch people as well. Some are still farming, some have lost their farm, some have taken up another occupation, some have moved to another country.

Do not expect in this book a series of interviews with Dutch farmers. This book is something different and much more. De Bruyne has set the position of the Dutch farmers in a wider context. He did research in archives, he did his fair bit of oral history. He talked with new farmers on old farms and with new politicians in Zimbabwe.

A few bits and pieces from this book:

A number of farmers had a background in the former Dutch colony of the East Indies. They were born there, or their parents had lived there and farmed there. They were familiar with another world as compared to the situation in The Netherlands. When Indonesia gained independence (after much cruelty) many people sought a new home (330.00 people returned !). They were used to a free life under the tropical sun. Some moved on to that African spot Rhodesia (still a colony) and tried to built a new life. They had to start at the bottom of the white social ladder. So there is this triangle of the East Indies (presentday Indonesia), The Netherlands and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe

In this triangle the Dutch town Deventer played a pivotal role. In this town was started in 1912 a College of Tropical Agriculture, geared towards work in the East Indies. Many young men went for training at this institution. They learned a lot about farming, cultures and languages. Some of those who ended up in Rhodesia were trained in Deventer, trained for a life in the East Indies. Already for many years (since 1955) there is a very regular Deventer-reunion in Harare (only for men!).

After the Second World War (1939 – 1945) many Dutch people left the Lowlands to find a better life in another spot. Many went to the Unites States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Dutch government encouraged this exodus and it hoped it would lessen the burden of the government in the years of rebuilding the country after the ravages of the war. The government decided to open diplomatic talks with the government (under British rule)  that settled in Salisbury.  The Governor Sir John Noble Kennedy is of the opinion that the Dutch people are welcome. South Rhodesia, North Rhodesia and Nyasaland need good artisans. Other people confirm the need for skilled people, but there is a limit for Dutch people. In 1951 67 Dutch had indicated they wanted to move to South Rhodesia. In January 1955 the first government sponsored flight to Bulawayo (the airport in Salisbury was not suitable).

During the days of the regime of Ian Smith the country was boycotted by many countries. This was a difficult situation for those farmers with cash crops, like tobacco. De Bruyne gives some information on the way this boycott was evaded by the farmers. Suddenly nearby countries had a huge export of tobacco. During the days  of the Smith rule the guerillawar was intensified, and some Dutch farmers took part in  this fighting, in order to safeguard their farms. De Bryune visits a tobacco auction in Harare and talks to people who have been involved in tobacco during their whole life.  And he notices a growing Chinese influence in the tobacco industry.

In 1998 the Dutch government and the Zimbabwean government made an agreement on the protection of the bilateral investments.  For the Dutch farmers that had been chased from their property this meant that the Zimbabwean government should compensate these farmers. The farmers did not know about this, till in 2001 a Dutch official visits Harare and the Dutch farmers to inform them about this agreement.  One pillar of this agreement stipulates that Dutch investors in Zimbabwe are not to be discriminated upon as compared to Zimbabweans. Another pillar is the compensation in case of nationalisation of their property. A third pillar is in case of conflict on these matters a party can bring it before the ICSID in Washington (USA). This organisation is linked to the Worldbank. Some farmers decide to bring their cases before the ICSID. They win their case, Zimbabwe has to pay an amount decided by the ICSID and up till this moment the Zimbabwean government has not paid anything. Also people with another nationality are still waiting for a compensation. After the decision of the ICSID the confiscation of farms and property did not stop.

At the start I mentioned the Schippers. They are not the only ones who appear on the pages of this wellwritten book. We meet the widow Oostindien, who in her eighties is left farmless. A farmer could expect any day someone or a group of warveterans knocking at the door with the message: Your farm is now mine. Some farmers take up another position in the country, some live on thanks to financial support from their children. Others who already had handed out part of their farm, see the remaining part still taken from them. Another farmer is now manager on his ‘own’ farm. Some Dutch / Zimbabwean farmers (who still farm of whose relatives still farm) did not want to cooperate with the writer for fear of repercussions. Some had started farming in the in the pre- UDI days, some started farming in the post-1980 days.

Marnix de Bruyne has written a book that gives insight into the developments of Zimbabwe, from a different angel than the usual one, i.e. the British one. He has managed to intertwine the human approach with  his paper research in a very readable way. He has written a book that is hard to put down (even though I missed proper maps). 

Marnix de Bruyne – We moeten gaan. Nederlandse boeren in Zimbabwe – 2016 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor we moeten gaan

 

THE TEETH MAY SMILE BUT THE HEART DOES NOT FORGET

I just finished a brilliant book, written by the American investigative journalist Andrew Rice.

In this book I found three lines of investigation that all come together:
* the story of Duncan Laki who searches for his father Eliphaz Laki who disappeared during the reign of president Idi Amin. He was a chief in Ankole. After his disappearance silence took his place.
* the story of Uganda (starting with the Brit Speke 😦 ) to put the search by Duncan into a proper context. Rice traces the different groups, the influence of colonialism, the way to hold sway among many oppositions.  
* the search for an answer to the question of forgiveness and rememberance and confession. What do communities and countries want to remember about their past? What is the role of justice in it all? Can there be forgiveness when there is no confession of guilt?

All these lines come together in a fascinating story, built upon research and many interviews with the people concerned (except Laki senior and Idi Amin), but Rice had contact with Obote and with Museveni, who took a personal interest in the case and who was present at the reburial of Eliphaz Laki.

We follow the lives of Eliphaz Laki, the rise to power by Yoweri Museveni, the lives of three people who were brought to court for the death of Eliphaz, one of them being Gowon, a close associate of Idi Amin, and also from the West Nile area.

We see the outcome of the courtcase and the shaping of a post-Amin judicial system. We see the changes of Museveni, from a communist/socialist fighter to a man who prefers the liberal capitalism. We see the fragility of a nation that smiles but cannot forget (a saying of the Banyankole, to which Duncan and his father and Museveni belong). We meet people who want to embrace Idi Amin once again. We see Duncan Laki in his search for his father, while close relatives prefer to let the dead be dead. Every answer could lead to complications.

Near the end of the book we see the difficulty Museveni has with a legal opposition in his country, Bisegye is a victim of this attitude. He has been fighting with Museveni during the rebellious days and now he tries to run for president, just like Museveni.  Now recently a second edition of  Museveni’s “Sowing the Mustard Seed” has been published. The name of Besigye, who was present in the first edition, has been wiped out of the second edition. This reeks of oldfashioned communist rewriting of history.

On page 248 I came across the name of the American Roy Innes (1934). I did not recognize the name and did not get much information on him in the book (notwithstanding the many and extensive notes). In the book it is mentioned that in 1973 Innes was in Mbarara, in the company of Idi Amin. 
At the time of this visit, Roy was the National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He was elected in 1968. Under his leadcership CORE supported the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972. 
This trip to Uganda was not the first trip in Africa for Innes. Two years earlier he and other delegates of CORE visited seven countries in Africa and had met with peple like Kenyatta (Kenya), Nyerere (Tanzania) and Tolbert (Liberia). And on that very same tour the CORE group also went to Uganda and met with Idi Amin, who was awarded a membership for life of CORE. I do not know if this included a medal, that could be pinned on the uniform of the president. Strange bedfellows: an American Black Nationalist Movement and Idi Amin.

A well researched and documented book. Warning: you might want to read it in one go!

Andrew Rice – The teeth may smile but the heart does not forget. Murder and memory in Uganda – 2009

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor the teeth may smile

 

reading and lecture with abdourahman waberi

When you happen to be in New York (USA) the day after tomorrow you may take the opportunity to listen to Abdourahman Waberi (1965). He spent time in France, Germany and now teaches in the USA. He is a writer and lecturer and he will talk about his profession.

More information for those travelling to a meeting with the man. 

The Literary Mews: Reading and Lecture with Abdourahman Waberi

a cultural weapon?

How independent are journalists?

They make a living from their writing. They uphold their families. They have their personal ideas about their topics and wider society.

What did happen in the political scene in South Africa and the many decades that passed by? How independent were journalist who worked for the apartheid-press? 

A book has been written about it and the name of Max du Preez is highlighted.

Read this article about it. 

 

power outage in nigeria inspired

Never Expect Power Always (=NEPA).

At times the Nigerian Power Authority leaves people in the dark. It happend to the French journalist Pierre Cherruau when he worked in Nigeria. No electricity, no light, so what to do? 

Pierre decided to light acandle, take a piece of paper and he started writing up till he finished his first novel, set in Nigeria. 

Read this interview with the man who wrote many more novels, quite a few of them set in Nigeria.