Adonis Diaries

Archive for the ‘Africa/Agriculture’ Category

Before colonial powers took over Africa: Africa history

Note 1: Repost of 2014 of “Africa, Uncolonized: A Detailed Look at an Alternate Continent”

Note 2: Maps were drawn upside down during the Arabic Empire and they skew the current traditional eurocentric point of direction.
Africa was called before the European colonization Al-Kebulan or Alkebulan meaning ‘Garden of Life’, ‘Cradle of Life’, or simply ‘the Motherland’
Frank Jacobs, November 12, 2014
Uitsny_suid_afrika

What if the Black Plague had killed off almost all Europeans?

The Reconquista in Spain would have never happened.

If Spain and Portugal didn’t kickstart Europe’s colonization of other continents in the 16th century, this is what Africa might have looked like.

The map shows an Africa dominated by Islamic states, and native kingdoms and federations.

All have at least some basis in history, linguistics or ethnography.

None of their borders is concurrent with any of the straight lines imposed on the continent by European powers, during the 1884-85 Berlin Conference and in the subsequent Scramble for Africa.

By 1914, Europeans controlled 90% of Africa’s land mass.

Only the Abyssinian Empire (modern-day Ethiopia) and Liberia (founded in 1847 as a haven for freed African-American slaves) remained independent.

This map is the result of an entirely different course of history. The continent depicted here isn’t even called Africa [1] but Alkebu-Lan, supposedly Arabic for ‘Land of the Blacks’ [2].

That name is sometimes used by those who reject even the name ‘Africa’ as a European imposition.

It is therefore an ideal title for this thought experiment by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon.

Essentially, it formulates a cartographic answer to the question: What would Africa have looked like if Europe hadn’t become a colonizing power? 

To arrive at this map, Cyon constructed an alternative timeline. Its difference from our own starts in the mid-14th century.

The point of divergence: the deadliness of the Plague.

In our own timeline, over the course of the half dozen years from 1346 to 1353, the Black Death [3] wiped out between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population. It would take the continent more than a century to reach pre-Plague population levels. That was terrible enough.

But what if Europe had suffered an even more catastrophic extermination – one from which it could not recover?

Allohistorical Africa, seen from our North-up perspective. The continent’s superstates (at least size-wise): Al-Maghrib, Al-Misr, Songhai, Ethiopia, Kongo and Katanga.

European colonies in Africa in ‘our’ 1913.

Blue: France, pink: Britain, light green: Germany, dark green: Italy, light purple: Spain, dark purple: Portugal, yellow: Belgium, white: independent. Lines reflect current borders.

Cyon borrowed this counterfactual hypothesis from The Years of Rice and Salt, an alternate history novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. The book, first published in 2002, explores how the depopulation of Europe would have altered world history.

Robinson speculates that Europe would have been colonized by Muslims from the 14th century onwards, and that the 20th century would see a world war between a sprawling Muslim alliance on the one side, and the Chinese empire and the Indian and native American federations on the other.

Cyon focuses on Africa – or rather, Alkebu-Lan – which in his version of events doesn’t suffer the ignominy and injustice of the European slave trade and subsequent colonization.

In our timeline, Europe’s domination of Africa obscured the latter continent’s rich history and many cultural achievements.

On the map of Cyon’ s Africa, a many-splendored landscape of nations and empires, all native to the continent itself, gives the lie to the 19th- and 20th-century European presumption that Africa merely was a ‘dark continent’ to be enlightened, or a ‘blank page’ for someone else to write upon.

Basing himself on Unesco’s General History of Africa, Cyon built his map around historical empires, linguistic regions and natural boundaries.

His snapshot is taken in 1844 (or 1260 Anno Hegirae), also the date of a map of tribal and political units in Unesco’s multi-volume General History.

Al-Andalus, in this timeline still a dependency of Al-Maghrib; and the Emirate of Sicily to the left of the map.

Zooming in on the northern (bottom) part of the map, we see an ironic reversal of the present situation: in our timeline, Spain is still holding on to Ceuta, Melilla and other plazas de soberania in Northern Africa.

In Cyon’s world, most of the Iberian peninsula still called Al-Andalus, and is an overseas part of Al-Maghrib, a counterfactual Moroccan superstate covering a huge swathe of northwestern Africa.

Sicily, which we consider to be part of Europe, is colored in as African, and goes by the name of Siqilliyya Imārat (Emirate of Sicily).

The Arabic is no accident.

Absent the European imprint, Islam has left an even more visible mark on large swathes of North, West and East Africa than it has today.

Numerous states carry the nomenclature Sultānat, Khilāfat or Imārat. And what are the difference between a Caliphate, Sultanate and Emirate?

A Caliph claims supreme religious and political leadership as the successor (caliph) to Muhammad, ideally over all Muslims.

I spot two Caliphates on the map: Hafsid (centered on Tunis, but much larger than Tunisia), and Sokoto in West Africa (nowadays: northwest Nigeria).

Sokoto, Dahomey, Benin and other states in country-rich West Africa. 

A Sultan is an independent Islamic ruler who does not claim spiritual leadership.

Five states in the greater Somalia region are Sultanates, for example: Majerteen, Hiraab, Geledi, Adāl and Warsangele. Others include Az-Zarqa (in present-day Sudan), Misr (Egypt, but also virtually all of today’s Israel), and Tarābulus (capital: Tripoli, in our Libya).

An Emir is a prince or a governor of a province, implying some suzerainty to a higher power. There’s a cluster of them in West Africa: Trarza, Tagant, Brakna, all south of Al-Maghrib. But they are elsewhere too: Kano and Katsina, just north of Sokoto.

Islam of course did not originate in Africa, and some would claim that its dominance of large areas of Africa, at the expense of pre-existing belief systems, is as much an example of foreign cultural imperialism as the spread of Western religions and languages is in our day.

But that is material for another thought experiment. This one aims to filter out the European influence.

Neither European nor Arab influence is in evidence in the southern part of Africa – although some toponyms relate directly to states in our timeline: BaTswana is Botswana, Wene wa Kongo refers to the two countries bearing that name. Umoja wa Falme za Katanga is echoed in the name of the DR Congo’s giant inland province, Katanga.

Rundi, Banyarwanda and Buganda, squeezed in between the Great Lakes, are alternative versions of ‘our’ Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

Some familiar-sounding names around the Great Lakes.

There is an interesting parallel to the Africa/Alkebu-Lan dichotomy in the toponymic ebb and flow of Congo and Zaïre as names for the former Belgian colony at the center of the continent.

Congo, denoting both the stream and the two countries on either of its lower banks [4], derives from 16th- and 17th-century Bantu kingdoms such as Esikongo, Manikongo and Kakongo near the mouth of the river.

The name was taken up by European cartographers and the territory it covered eventually reached deep inland.

But because of its long association with colonialism, and also to fix his own imprint on the country, Congo’ s dictator Mobutu in 1971 changed the name of the country and the stream to Zaïre.

The name-change was part of a campaign for local authenticity which also entailed the Africanisation of the names of persons and cities [5], and the introduction of the abacos [6] – a local alternative to European formal and business wear.

Curiously for a campaign trying to rid the country of European influences, the name Zaïre actually was a Portuguese corruption of Nzadi o Nzere, a local term meaning ‘River that Swallows Rivers’.

Zaïre was the Portuguese name for the Congo stream in the 16th and 17th centuries, but gradually lost ground to Congo before being picked up again by Mobutu.

After the ouster and death of Mobutu, the country reverted to its former name, but chose the predicate Democratic Republic to distinguish itself from the Republic of Congo across the eponymous river.

Kongo – a coastal superstate in the alternative timeline.

This particular tug of war is emblematic for the symbolism attached to place names, especially in Africa, where many either refer to a pre-colonial past (e.g. Ghana and Benin, named after ancient kingdoms), represent the vestiges of the colonial era (e.g. Lüderitz, in Namibia), or attempt to build a postcolonial consensus (e.g. Tanzania, a portmanteau name for Tanganyika and Zanzibar).

By taking the colonial trauma out of the equation, this map offers a uniquely a-colonial perspective on the continent, whether it is called Africa or Alkebu-Lan.

Map of Alkebu-Lan and excerpts thereof reproduced by kind permission of Nikolaj Cyon.

See it in full resolution on this page of his website. Map of Africa in 1913 by Eric Gaba (Wikimedia Commons User: Sting), found here on Wikimedia Commons.

_______________

Strange Maps #688

[1] A name popularized by the Romans. It is of uncertain origin, possibly meaning ‘sunny’, ‘dusty’ or ‘cave-y’.

[2] The origin and meaning of the toponym are disputed. The Arabic for ‘Land of the Blacks’ would be Bilad as-Sudan, which is how the present-day country of Sudan got its name.

Other translations offered for Alkebu-Lan (also rendered as Al-Kebulan or Alkebulan) are ‘Garden of Life’, ‘Cradle of Life’, or simply ‘the Motherland’. Although supposedly of ancient origin, the term was popularized by the academic Yosef A.A. Ben-Jochannan (b. 1918).

The term is not a 20th-century invention, however. Its first traceable use is in La Iberiada (1813), an epic poem from 1813 by Ramón Valvidares y Longo. In the index, where the origin of ‘Africa’ is explained, it reads: “Han dado las naciones á este pais diversos nombres, llamándole Ephrikia los Turcos, Alkebulan los Arabes, Besecath los Indios, y los pueblos del territorio Iphrikia ó Aphrikia: los Griegos, en fin, le apellidaron Libia, y despues Africa, cuyo nombre han adoptado los Españoles, Italianos, Latinos, Ingleses y algunos otros pueblos de la Europa”.

[3] A.k.a. the Plague, a very contagious and highly deadly disease caused by Yersinia pestis. That bacterium infested the fleas that lived on the rats coming over from Crimea to Europe on Genoese merchant ships.

[4] In fact, Brazzaville and Kinshasa, capitals of the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively, are positioned across from each other on the banks of the Congo River – the only example in the world of two national capitals adjacent to each other.

[5] The ‘founder-president’ himself changed his name from Joseph-Désiré Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga. The capital Léopoldville was renamed Kinshasa, after an ancient village on the same site.

[6] Despite the African-sounding name, abacos is an acronym of à bas costumes, or: ‘Down with (Western) suits’.

 

How Digital Platforms are Shaping Africa’s Informal Economy

A new digital generation of informal African entrepreneurs have adopted and adapted gig economy tools and digital platforms to meet their needs for a flexible and negotiable digital marketplace.

Apps that can drive demand and scale reach affordably are transforming African markets, opening up new opportunities for young Africans.

photo by Jeeva Rajgopal Wiego Informal Sector https://www.africancentreforcities.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Seminar-input-24-Aug-Final.pdf

With contribution from Niti Bhan

When people think about the informal economy, this is the picture that often comes to mind.

What is often forgotten, is that the next generation of informal economy actors – mama mbogas, boda boda okada riders, wakulima farmers, traders, taxi drivers, matatu touts, drivers et cetera in Kenya and East Africa will be vastly different from the women depicted here.

The coming generation of Africa’s informal economy are today’s millennial digital natives – hungry, educated, exposed to global trends, with all the tools available to them like everyone else anywhere in the world.

Only with No prospects of formal employment on the horizon.

‘Informal’ is no longer synonymous to the streets, associated with the roadside, automatically defaulting to the marginalized or vulnerable – it is not a disease to recover from. The informal economy is an equal opportunity, organized and commercial operating environment offering Africans the chance to achieve their aspirations.

Africa’s prosperous future will only be realized by embracing the informal. This is not a choice.

While my thoughts are presented in the context of East Africa, I believe it resonates with the broader, global ‘gig’ economy. So perhaps my 60,000 ft view from Nairobi, East Africa rings true for the rest of the world.

Allow me to paint a picture for you using one of the sectors of the informal economy – trade.

Informal 1.0 : The Origins of Africa’s Informal Economy

Close to 80% of Africa’s human capital works and earns in the informal economy contributing between 35% to as high as 60% of Africa’s economies.

Pick a country anywhere in Sub Saharan Africa and you’ll find this to be true, be it Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Zimbabwe, or Nigeria.

Despite this glaringly significant contribution, there is still a gulf between the mindset of people who play god in our economies and the informally employed.

The implicit biases of decision makers get amplified in the real economy at the expense of real people, hindering meaningful economic development for African people.

What do I mean by the informal economy?

One definition focuses on the enterprise, whereby the informal economy comprises economic activities which are beyond the purview of the state because they lie outside its framework of laws, regulations and protections.

A small proportion of these activities are illegal, but mostly they are activities which are simply not covered or partly covered by the state’s rules and regulations.

Another definition focuses on the nature of employment rather than characteristic of the enterprise.

The informal economy is seen as comprised of all forms of ‘informal employment’ – that is, employment without secure contracts, worker benefits, or social protection, both inside and outside informal enterprises, including self-employment in informal enterprises (small unregistered or unincorporated enterprises), and comprising of employers, own account operators, and unpaid family workers in informal enterprises.

Ravi Kanbur, a University Professor at Cornell University, attributes the current policy mindset on informality to two main historical sources —the academic and the administrative.

The academic theory  views informality as a symbol of under-development, a nuisance to be swept away and kept out of sight in the modernizing path of the national economy. The theory follows that as a modern economy grows, the size of the informal diminishes in favor of the formal.

The administrative mindset on the other hand traces its origins from the colonialist regimes that made a distinction between those activities that fell under the purview of colonial rules and regulations, and those activities that were beyond the legal and administrative reach of the colonial government.

Whenever you see Nairobi’s hawkers fleeing police and city council officials, it is these laws still in force today.

Both of these prevailing attitudes have meant that for a long time, the informal has been viewed as something to get rid of – frowned upon, pitied, viewed as native, perceived to be chaotic, disorganized, teeming with criminal elements. Informal employees were viewed as rejects who ended up in the informal economy for lack of choice.

Some of it is true.

In the past, as far back as the 80s, the people who ended up in the informal employment were the formally uneducated, who for one reason or another lacked school training and relevant skills or knowledge required for the formal economy.

Like my two dear Aunts from my father’s side now in their late 60s. They were not fortunate to study up to University level due to lack of means.

In the 80s and 90s they managed to carve out a place for themselves as biashara traders in the informal economy: Aunt Wangari in the mitumba (second hand clothes) trading sector while my aunt Njeri traded at Nairobi’s Marikiti: Kenya’s largest wholesale fresh produce market. It is what they did all their lives, and brought up 7 kids over that period until they retired.

But since my Aunts’ heydays, 30 years ago, the dynamics of the informal economy have changed and assumptions about people like my aunt and their operating environment have been unpacked. Niti Bhan Blog documents the changes over a decade.

As part of the  Borderland Biashara: Mapping the cross border, national and regional trade in the East African informal economy project, we discovered that a lot of prior academic work had, sadly, mischaracterized the informal economy. We found that

The lack of formal education was not a hindrance. You could start from scratch, learn and work your way up

There is a hidden class of informal sector workers that is not accurately captured by economic statisticians both in size and quality ( TED Talk )

Learning was through hands on practice, enabled by mentorship and apprenticeship. You learnt on the job

Contracts in the informal economy were built on trust and reputation

Marketing was by building strong relationships and word of mouth

Your social and trade networks was your greatest strength

The number of formally educated people was surprisingly high and on the rise

The sectors in the informal economy were innovative out of necessity to make up for gaps

There was no time or resources to waste. Every tool was thoroughly assessed for ROI

The impact of digital tools on these factors was magnitudinal

So the informal economy was not broken and did not require fixing.

Yet, old attitudes persist; the narratives that shape our media; policy recommendations by the McKinsey’s of this world; even the technologists are still in the mindset of the colonials. And, the unproductive friction between state agencies and the informal economy rages on.

Just look at some recent headlines from Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria:

  • New City Hall team promises to restore sanity to Central Business District – Business Daily
  • How Zimbabwe’s Street Vendors Are Responding To Threats of Government Action – Ventures Africa
  • Ban on Street trading goes full throttle in Lagos – The Guardian

Informal Economy 2.0: How Mobile Phones Shaped the Informal Economy

A shift to a second generation of informal economy unfolded as East Africa’s rising literacy levels converged with the rise of telecommunication networks and sprawl of mobile phones, Aspirational, formally educated and able bodied men and women joined the informal economy.

Unlike their predecessors like my Aunt, they now had access to technology tools like the handy nokia 1110 for storing contacts, calls and SMSs coupled with the rise of Mpesa which introduced the ability to send and receive money remotely.

The image above is an illustration of Alice and her network, one of the many actors in this second generation enabled by the mobile phone.

Alice is a 43 year old informal cross border trade from Malaba – the borderland of Kenya and Uganda. She runs three lines of business: new leather shoes and bags, mitumba curtains, and school children’s accessories, operating out of a tiny physical store at Malaba. Her trade spans across Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

⇒On the demand side,

Alice mentors a network of traders including her sister who helps out at the store. She takes in both men and women looking for opportunities through referrals, mentors them on the trade, and incorporates them as retailers or sub-wholesalers under her wholesale business.

This network forms her sales and distribution network and she is able to manage everything by mobile phone since they are spread across the Western region of Kenya and other countries in Rwanda and Uganda.

⇒On the supply side

Alice is in touch with a supplier from Nairobi’s bustling Eastleigh area for her shoe business. She brings in raw leather material and outsources the stitching work to a cobbler in Malaba before stocking up her store.

For her curtains and mitumba (second hand clothes) business, she has a supplier from Kampala, Uganda. After meeting in person severally, they established a relationship that is now maintained by mobile phone. Sometimes she will take the trip to Kampala, sometimes she will delegate to her sister while the rest of the time they will communicate via mobile phone.

Like many other actors in the informal economy, a relationship with informal matatu, bus and boda boda system is necessary to handle the logistical nightmares.

Alice’s husband is a clearing and forwarding agent at the Kenya Uganda border cross at Malaba and helps out with the paperwork at the border crossing.

When she got started, Alice got the initial funding to kickstart her biashara from her parents and has since paid it back in full. She now sources financing from her chama savings group and Equity Bank and equally, supports her network with funding when necessary.

Her sister is gradually learning the ‘best practices’ of this informal sector from Alice and can now manage part of the biashara.

The second generation, like Alice, used all the tried and tested traditional offline methods of Biashara applied by my Aunts in the past: cultivating trust, building a network, establishing a rock solid reputation and spreading word of her business via word of mouth.

But, with an education and a bevy of tools available to her like mobile phones and mobile money Mpesa, they could amplify all the methods to scale across borders, no longer limited to her immediate physical environment.

In a lot of ways, Alice is a template of men and women in the informal economy. They could be in one of many trade and services in the informal economy and this description would still hold true, whether they sell vegetables, or mitumba bales or carpets imported from turkey; whether offline or online; whether in Kenya or Burundi.

What they are all looking to establish is multiple lines of business and move from retail to wholesale. These are the documented Biashara growth strategies we uncovered during our fieldwork at the borderland.

Informal 3.0: How Internet Platforms Are Shaping Africa’s Informal Economy

Ravi Kanbur attributes the persistence of informality in the face of economic growth in the last quarter century to fundamental trends in technology and trade which have smothered the employment intensity of growth in the formal sector.

Africa’s economies cannot generate enough formal jobs for all the young people born in the post 90s era. Less than 20% of East Africa’s human capital is employed in the formal sector. With not enough formal jobs to absorb the armies of youth churned out into the economy every year, the young men and women of Africa turn to opportunities in the informal economy.

Even the few employed in the formal sector either have gigs on the side and or are increasingly looking outwards for opportunities in the informal sector.

Simultaneously, in the last decade, the number of smartphones, prepaid mobile phone subscribers, mobile money and mobile internet users has dramatically escalated, converging with a global tide of web platforms. Young Africans have grown up in a post digital era where Mpesa, whatsapp and facebook are the norm.

Now, everything about Africa’s informal economy has been amplified by today’s electronic media.

Jane MitumbaThe 3rd generation informal traders are women like Mukami pictured here, who, while educated, could not find a job placement in the formal economy. She is one of many young Kenyans who fled to Bahrain and Middle East to scout opportunities. After a bad experience, Mukami returned home to set up shop.

Mukami is 33 years old, a mother of 2 kids and sells bales of mitumba out of her 5X5 square store on the ground floor of Tumani building in Gikomba.

Like Alice, she too is a cross border biashara seller with clients spanning Naivasha, Narok, Kitui, Mombasa, Kampala in Uganda, even as far south as Botswana.

Just like my Aunt in the late 80s and early 90s, she uses all the traditional methods of offline trust building, referrals reputation and word mouth. Just like Alice too, she has mobile phones and mpesa at her disposable for scaling.

But over and on top of my Aunts and Alice, the internet penetration and explosion of web platforms has opened up new opportunities to make use of Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram to grow and scale her biashara networks unlike her predecessors.

⇒On the demand side

Mukami manages a facebook group of 198,000 people and 4,000 followers on instagram, mostly women from across Kenya and broader Africa.

Some followers are looking to become traders and she is happy to take them under her wing and nurture them as a mentor.  She teaches them all the tricks of identifying fashion trends and spot fake mitumba bales. As soon as they are ready, she furnishes them with full bales, that they can open and resell as single items on retail.

She will even recommend them on her group and let them sell to other members of the group.  This forms her sale and distribution network.

Once in awhile she will share pictures of models and mannequins draped in some of her clothes – this is how you match this trench coat with a pair of heels – generating engagement in form of comments from buyers from different countries.

Most of her leads will first interact with her online via comments, then facebook messages, followed by connecting on whatsapp and phone before eventually following up with a visit at her store in Gikomba. Other leads stem from referrals from satisfied clients. Every lead is nurtured, and a relationship cultivated via her platform pipeline.

Mukami attributes 80% of her new leads to her customized Facebook group.

Her supportive team includes her husband, who helps out with managing the facebook group as co-admin so that one of them is always available to quell customer anxiety. She also has employed two assistants, Alfred, a 23 year old who is taking the opportunity to learn the ropes, because he too, one day wants to join the trade and rise up the ranks. Wafula is the delivery guy and takes care of errands.

Across town, one of Mukami’s long time mentees, a 27 year old Wanjiku quit her formal job to get into selling mitumba handbags full time.

While working at a law firm, Wanjiku quietly dabbled in the mitumba trade as a side gig, sourcing designer handbags from Mukami, cleaning them up, taking pictures and sharing with her whatsapp, instagram and her facebook page. In the last 2 years, it has grown large enough that she is now ready to quit her formal office desk job, and join Mukami as a full time biashara trade.

This new generation of the informal economy is opting out of “formal” economy because it makes sense to do so.

Our research concludes that because this 3rd generation is educated and digitally native, they will leverage all the new emerging platforms to scale because the roadside is no longer restricted to next to the street; the street has been scaled to whatsapp and SMS and calls and facebook groups.

The long tail of industrialization and globalization

Today, in Kenya, you can open the business papers and immediately spot three stories of entrepreneurs who are involved in different types of manufacturing – charcoal briquettes; fortified flour; paper bags – at different scales of operation. Yet all three would tell you that the bulk of their business enquiries and sales come from online platforms and social media.

All are university educated and see themselves as micro-entrepreneurs and employers. That is, there’ s a whole new demographic of value creation taking place at the grassroots of the Kenyan economy that straddles the challenges of the real world in which they must make their goods and deliver them to customers; and the online world which is where they build a brand and promote their products, generating new business leads and sales.

These hidden value creators are the new generation of tech savvy, young, educated entrepreneurs who toil unseen to put food on the table, not only for their own families, but also for their entire networks of suppliers and service providers.

We can trace their supply chains stretching invisibly from the east coast of Africa all the way to the Pearl river delta of east Asia.

This network includes merchants, traders, wholesalers, retailers, transporters, and a host of intermediaries involved in lowering the barriers to the flows of value being exchanged along the line. Now, the entire supply chain can run on mPesa, as Safaricom – Kenya’s leading telcom giant – ties up with Chinese payment solutions, and with Western Union, to span the globe or Kenya’s Family Bank, which recently partnered with SimbaPay to launch instant transfers to China’s WeChat

This economic ecosystem may never resemble the conventional models of industrialization and globalization, nor the textbook diagrams of linear, hierarchical supply chains. But it is flexible, digital, decentralized, and responsive to rapid changes in consumer taste and market demands. This is the foundation of Informal 4.0, the recognizable reality of the transforming African economy harnessing the power of connectivity, communications, and commerce on the phone.

This essay was inspired by this twitter thread

Much thanks to Niti Bhan for her thoughts, contribution and 4 years of inspiration.

Recommended readings

Rethinking the informal economy  – Martha Alter Chen

Borderland Biashara: Mapping the cross border, national and regional trade in the East African informal economy – Emerging Futures Lab

The hidden opportunities of Africa’s informal economy  – Niti Bhan

It’s time to drop meaningless formal-informal economic model – David Ndii

Mindsets, Trends and the Informal Economy –  Ravi Kabur

Elephant apocalypse

By Alice Jay

Four elephants are killed an hour — it’s a race against time before we lose these gentle giants forever.

In one day, poachers butchered 600 of them in Cameroon.

Take Action Now!

Dear friends,

Dozens of heavily-armed hunters rode into a national park in Cameroon, butchered over 600 majestic elephants, then hacked off their faces for their tusks. Poachers have annihilated half of central Africa’s last elephants. And no one’s been able to stop them.

Until now!

Brave investigators have gone undercover in poaching rings in ten African countries, and already more than 2,000 traffickers have been jailed! 

It’s awe-inspiring stuff, and it’s won awards, but many funders are wary of going head-to-head with organised crime. We may be the best community to scale this extraordinary operation, fast.

Four elephants are killed an hour — it’s a race against time before we lose these gentle giants forever.

This carnage is happening across the continent. Paid-for-hire poachers track elephants, leopards, apes, and all kinds of endangered creatures, then bigwigs bring in helicopters and heavy weapons to hunt them down and butcher them for their skins and tusks.
This is a $19-billion business run by international mafias, and they’re getting away with it by bribing everyone in sight.

But now the courageous Eco-Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (EAGLE) network is taking them on at each step of the criminal chain — infiltrating the gangs undercover, working with police to supervise arrests, and making sure the bosses are jailed.

Their unprecedented success has won them acclaim from Interpol, WWF and the Duke of Edinburgh, but so far these heroes work on a tiny budget, powered primarily by a deep love for these animals. If we all donate a small amount, here’s what we could do:

  • Help train and sustain dozens of undercover investigators to infiltrate the most wanted networks in more countries and get their chiefs behind bars;
  • Support investigations of complicit officials and politicians who enable the bloody trade;
  • Investigate and expose companies and governments profiting from selling ivory and other wildlife products; and
  • Run massive campaigns to protect the natural world and preserve our delicate web of life.

More information:

Ivory Coast Arrests Six in Ring That Smuggled Parts of Elephants, Leopards and Pangolins (New York Times)
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/world/africa/ivory-coast-elephants-leopards-pangolins-smuggling.html

Lion and hippo teeth seized in Senegal’s biggest ivory haul (Reuters)
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-senegal-wildlife/lion-and-hippo-teeth-seized-in-senegals-biggest-ivory-haul-idUSKCN1B427V

How Saving One Chimp Led to a New Kind of Anti-Poaching Group (National Geographic)
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/ofir-drori-wildlife-corruption-laga/

Organised crime sets sights on wildlife (BBC)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26153516

Do you know? I still don’t know much on genetically modified plants, animals and people

Plants were first genetically modified (OGM) in 1975. The researchers confirmed that their impact on the environment is None of their concerns. Now every living creatures is impacted and suffering.

Actually, tomato was modified in 1963 in Davis University in order to withstand harvesting by machine in California: they are the ugly square tomatoes.

Do you know that the multinational OMG, like Monsanto and Bayer, first prepare the land by spreading all kinds of pesticides used in the 50’s and 60’s, particularly the new Glyphosate, proven to cause cancer? Now if these plants are supposed to be resistant to a certain kind of bugs, why spread pesticides?

Do you know that wind is contaminating the traditional seeds with OMG plants? Even if 2 km radius, the wind contaminate the traditional peasants harvests

Do you know that animals and insects are currently genetically modified? A cow can now produce milk adapted to children? Male Mosquitoes are modified to kill all female mosquitoes and their offspring when impregnated?

Do you know that 10% of all cultivated land in the world are OMG and 80% of the OMG lands are located in North America?

Do you know that 40% of exported OMG come from the USA? Argentina has tripled its production of OMG in the last decade.

Do you know that what the mono-culture of OMG cannot be consumed by the poor people in Africa that they claim to have in mind to feed. They focus on cotton, soja, corn and flowers…

Do you know that the primary reason for modifying grown food is to be able to be handled by the harvesting machines?

I wonder: are research still going on the effects of these modifications on the health and safety of the consumers?

Cash rolls?
PATRICK COCKBURN. Tuesday 15 January 2013

As long as the cash rolls in, the West appears untroubled by Gulf monarchies’ ideology

Note: Remember this article was published in 2013. The world parties engaged in the war in Syria all knew the financial resources of the funding for terrors. The Western nations just delivered the purchased weapons and training and logistical support.

The West has portrayed Gulf leaders as natural allies in promoting democratic revolutions.

France is expecting the “Arab” monarchies of the Gulf to help the campaign against jihadi Islamist rebels in Mali, its Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (a Zionist) said today.

On a visit to the UAE, Mr Fabius outlined different ways of helping; through materials, or through financing – an ironic request given that private donors from these countries are believed to be the main supporters of  al-Qa’ida in Iraq and Syria.

The US and Western states have long looked to the Gulf monarchies to fund their actions in the Muslim world and beyond. Sometimes the funding has been direct, such as the financial and material aid Qatar gave the Libyan rebels in 2011.

At others, it has been indirect subsidies to groups, such as the Afghan mujahideen who were fighting the Soviets, with whom the West did not want to be quite so publicly associated.

Mr Fabius said that donors would meet towards the end of January in Addis Ababa, to finance an African push against al-Qa’ida. He said: “Everybody has to commit to fighting against terrorism. We are pretty confident that the Emirates will go in that direction as well.”

Relations between the US and its West European allies on the one side and the absolute monarchies of the Gulf on the other have been highly contradictory since the “Arab” Spring began two years ago. The West has portrayed the kings and emirs of the Gulf, ruling some of the most undemocratic states in the world, as natural allies in promoting and financing democratic revolutions in Libya and Syria.

A further contradiction is that Saudi Kingdom and the Sunni rulers have encouraged the salafis across the Muslim world – fundamentalist militants advocating a literal interpretation of the Koran – through paying for schools and mosques. While most of the salafi are non-violent, their ideology is similar to that of al-Qa’ida. (From where did Cockburn get this statement?)

Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya was an important donor and investor in sub-Saharan Africa and it is unlikely that the Gulf Arabs will be prepared to spend as much money.

Even Syrian rebels say the funds they receive come episodically and are inadequate, leading to widespread looting by rebel commanders.

While France is justifying its intervention in Mali by claiming it is all part of the “war on terror” its action may stir up further turmoil in the region. Interestingly, one rebel group in the north, the separatist MNLA that wants a homeland for Tuareg in northern Mali, is reported to have backed the French intervention

Note: As the Syrian army has practically re-conquered most of Syria and reached the Golan Heights and all the southern border with Jordan, Qatar, The Emirates and even Saudi Kingdom are conducting secret negotiations to re-open their embassies in Damascus.

Could Anti-black racism be related to Arab slave trade?

Confronting anti-black racism in the Arab world

The Arab slave trade is a fact of history, and anti-black racism in the region is something that must be addressed.

Susan Abulhawa posted on Aljazeea this July 7,2013

In response to an essay I wrote recently regarding the “essential blackness” of the Palestinian struggle, I received this reaction, among others: “What about Arab anti-black racism? Or the Arab slave trade?”

The Arab slave trade is a fact of history and anti-black racism is a fact of current reality, a shameful thing that must be confronted in Arab societies. Though I claim no expertise on the subject, I think that applying notions of racism as it exists in the US will preclude a real understanding of the subject in the Arab world.

I spent much of my youth in the Arab world and I do not recall having a race consciousness until I came to the United States at the age of 13.

My knowledge of Arab anti-black racism comes predominantly from Arab Americans. Like other immigrant communities, they adopt the prevailing racist sentiments of the power structure in the US, which decidedly holds African-Americans in contempt.

Migrant workers from African countries often face abusive conditions in the Middle East [AP]

This attitude is also becoming more prevalent in Arab countries for various reasons, but mostly because Arab governments, particularly those that import foreign labour from Africa and Southeast Asia, have failed to implement or enforce anti-discrimination and anti-exploitation laws.

(It is mainly a colonial expression to discriminate among the indigenous people and the colonial people, whether the colonizer is western, Islamic or Chinese. My folks worked and traded in Africa during French colonialism and they brought back the expression “3abeed” (slaves) to mean Blacks)

In many Arab nations, including Kuwait where I was born, workers are lured into menial jobs where their passports are confiscated upon arrival and they are forced into humiliating and often inhuman working conditions. They have little to no protection under the law and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, including extraordinarily long working hours, withholding of salaries, sexual, mental, and physical abuse, and denial of travel.

The recent case of Alem Dechesa brought to light the horrors faced by migrant workers in Lebanon.

Dechesa, a domestic worker from Ethiopia, committed suicide after suffering terrible mental and physical abuse at the hands of her Lebanese employers, whose savage beating of her in front of the Ethiopian Consulate went viral last year.

Defining beauty

An extension to Arab anti-black racism is an aspiration to all that our former – and current – colonisers possess. Individuals aspire to what is powerful and rich, and the images of that power and wealth have light skin, straight hair, small noses, ruddy cheeks and tall, skinny bodies.

That image rejects melanin-rich skin, coiled hair, broad or pointy noses, short stature, broad hips and big legs. So we, too, reject these features, despising them in others and in ourselves as symbols of inferiority, laziness, and poverty. That’s why the anglicising industries of skin bleaching and hair straightening are so profitable.

And yet, when Palestine went to the UN for recognition of statehood, the vast majority of nations who voted yes were southern nations. The same is true when Palestine asked for admission to UNESCO. In fact, when the US cut off funding to UNESCO in response to its members’ democratic vote to admit Palestine, it was the African nation of Gabon that immediately stepped up with a $2m donation to UNESCO to help offset the loss of income.

It was not Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, or Qatar, or Lebanon, or Sweden, or France. It was Gabon. How many Palestinians know that, much less expressed gratitude for it?

So concerned are Palestinians with what the European Union and the United States think of us.

So engrossed are we in grovelling for their favour and handouts as they support a system of Jewish supremacy pushing our ancient society into extinction. We dance like clowns any time a European leader spares us a thought. Have we no sense of history? No sense of pride? No comprehension of who is truly standing with us and who is sabotaging us?

In a world order that peddles notions of entire continents or regions as irreducible monoliths, the conversation among Arabs becomes a dichotomous “Arab” versus “African”, ignoring millennia of shared histories ranging from extensive trade and commerce, to the horrors of the Arab slave trade, to the solidarity of African-Arab anti-colonial unity, to the current state of ignorance that does not know history and cannot connect the dots when it comes to national liberation struggles.

Arab slave trade

When I was researching the subject of the Arab slave trade, I came upon a veritable treasure of a website established by The African Holocaust Society, or Mafaa [Swahili for “holocaust”], a non-profit organisation of scholars, artists, filmmakers, academics, and activists dedicated to reclaiming the narratives of African histories, cultures, and identities. Included in this great body of scholarly works is a comprehensive section on the Arab slave trade, as well as the Jewish slave trade, African-Arab relations over the centuries, and more, by Owen Alik Shahadah, an activist, scholar and filmmaker.

Reading this part of our shared history, we can see how a large proportion of Arabs, including those among us who harbour anti-black racism, are the sons and daughters of African women, who were kidnapped from Eastern African nations as sex slaves.

Unlike the European slave trade, the Arab slave trade was not an important feature of Arab economies and it predominantly targeted women, who became members of harems and whose children were full heirs to their father’s names, legacies and fortunes, without regard to their physical features.

The enslaved were not bought and sold as chattel the way we understand the slave trade here, but were captured in warfare, or kidnapped outright and hauled across the Sahara.

Race was not a defining line and enslaved peoples were not locked into a single fate, but had opportunity for upward mobility though various means, including bearing children or conversion to Islam.

No-one knows the true numbers of how many African women were enslaved by Arabs, but one need only look at ourselves to see the shadows of these African mothers who gave birth to us and lost their African identities.

But while African scholars at the Mafaa Society make important distinctions between the Arab and European slave trades, enslavement of human beings is a horror of incomprehensible proportions by any standard, and that’s what it was in the Arab world as it was – or is – anywhere.

There are some who argue that the Arab slave traders were themselves indistinguishable from those whom they enslaved because the word “Arab” had cultural relevance, not racial.

One-way street

This argument goes hand-in-hand with the discredited excuse that Africans themselves were involved in the slave trade, with warring tribes capturing and selling each other. But no matter how you look at it, the slave trade was a one-way street, with Africans always the enslaved victims.

I know of no African tribe that kidnapped Europeans and put them in bondage for generations; nor do I know of an African tribe that captured Arab women for centuries and made them sex slaves.

I think humanity has truly never known a holocaust of greater magnitude, savagery, or longevity than that perpetrated against the peoples of Africa. This Mafaa has never been fully acknowledged and certainly never atoned for – not that the wounds or enduring legacies of turning human beings into chattel for centuries can ever be fully comprehended or atoned for. But one must try, because just as we inherit privilege from our ancestors, so do we inherit their sins and the responsibility for those sins.

Gaddafi’s role

The late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi understood this and he used his power and wealth to try to redeem our shared history. He was the first Arab leader to apologize on behalf of Arab peoples to our African brothers and sisters for the Arab slave trade and the Arab role in the European slave trade.

He funnelled money into the African Union and used Libya’s wealth to empower the African continent and promote pan-Africanism. He was a force of reconciliation, socialism, and empowerment for both African and Arab peoples. Gaddafi’s actions threatened to renew African-Arab reconciliation and alliances similar to that which occurred at the height of the Non-Aligned Movement during the presidencies of Jamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Thus, NATO’s urgency to prevent “massacres” and “slaughter” in Libya was manufactured and sold wholesale. The fear of African-Arab solidarity can be seen in the way the US-backed Libyan insurgency spread rumours that “black African” mercenaries were committing atrocities against Libyans. Gaddafi became an even bigger threat when an agreement was reached with the great anti-imperialist force in South America, Hugo Chavez, to mediate a solution to the uprising in Libya.

Now both of these champions of their people are gone, and the so-called Libyan revolutionaries are executing “black Africans” throughout the country. Gone, too, is NATO’s worry about slaughter in Libya, and another high-functioning Arab nation lies in ruin, waste and civil strife – primed for rampant corporate looting.

I wrote previously that the Palestinian struggle against the erasure of our existence, history and identity was spiritually and politically black in nature. So, too, are other struggles, like that of migrant workers throughout many Arab nations. These are our comrades. They are the wretched, exploited, robbed, and/or, at last, liberated.

I refer to Black as a political term, not necessarily a racial or ethnic descriptor. In the words of Owen Alik Shehadah: “Black People is a construction which articulates a recent social-political reality of people of colour (pigmented people). Black is not a racial family, an ethnic group or a super-ethnic group.

Political Blackness is thus not an identity but a social-political consequence of a world which after colonialism and slavery existed in those colour terms.

The word “Black” has no historical or cultural association, it was a name born when Africans were broken down into transferable labour units and transported as chattel to the Americas.”

But that word has been reclaimed, redefined, and injected with all the power, love, defiance, and beauty that is Africa. For the rest of us, and without appropriating the word, “black” is a phenomenon of resistance, steadfastness – what we Palestinians call sumud – and the beauty of culture that is reborn out of bondage and oppression.

Right to look the other way

Finally, solidarity from Africans is not equivalent to that which comes from our European comrades, whose governments are responsible for the ongoing erasure of Palestine.

African peoples have every reason to look the other way. Ethiopians have every reason to say: “You deserve what you get for the centuries of enslavement and neo-enslavement industry by your Arab neighbours.” African Americans have every reason to say: “Why should I show solidarity with Arabs who come here to treat us like white people do, and sometimes worse?”

Malcolm X once said: “If I was that [anti-American], I’d have a right to be that – after what America has done to us. This government should feel lucky that our people aren’t anti-American.”

We can substitute the word “Arab” for “American” in that sentence and it would be a valid statement. And yet, Africa is right there with us. African American intellectuals are the greatest champions of our struggle in the United States. The impact of solidarity from four particular individuals – Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and Cynthia McKinney – can never be overestimated.

Last month, the former South African ambassador to Israel refused a “certificate” from Israel confirming the planting of trees in his name. In his letter, he called Israel a racist, apartheid state and said the gift was an “offence to my dignity and integrity”. He added: “I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of ’18 trees’, in my ‘honour’, on expropriated and stolen land.”

I would like my countrymen to think long and hard about this until they truly comprehend the humbling beauty of this solidarity from people who have every reason to be anti-Arab. I wish my countrymen could look through my eyes. They would see that black is profoundly beautiful.

They would see that Africa runs through our veins, too. Our enslaved African foremothers deserve to be honoured and loved by their Arab children. And it is for us to redeem their pain with the recognition and atonement long owed.

Arriving at this understanding is a good starting place for reciprocal solidarity with nations and peoples who are standing with us, in heart and in action.

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian writer and the author of the international bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury 2010). She is also the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, an NGO for children.

Follow her on Twitter: @sjabulhawa

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Somalia Mogadishu horror suicide bombing in Pictures

Attentat effroyable en Somalie, plus de 500 victimes, et tout le monde s’en fout

© Claude El Khal, 2017

“Les images sont effroyables, écrit Le Figaro, plus de 270 personnes ont été tuées et 300 blessées samedi après l’explosion d’un camion dans le centre de la capitale du pays, Mogadiscio”. Mais bien entendu, tout le monde s’en fout.

Il y a comme ça des pays, des continents entiers, où la mort de centaines d’hommes, de femmes et d’enfants n’intéresse personne. Leurs noms ne défileront pas sur les écrans des chaînes d’infos en continu, les larmes des uns et des autres, d’habitude réservées aux victimes comme il faut, ne couleront pas pour les habitants de Mogadiscio, et la Tour Eiffel ne s’illuminera pas aux couleurs de la Somalie.

Voilà le destin des pauvres de ce monde, êtres humains, pays et continents.

Que sont-ils finalement aux yeux des nantis? Des chiffres, des statistiques, des gisements de matières premières ou, dans le meilleur des cas, des destinations touristiques, des toiles de fond exotiques aux seflies des vacanciers?

“C’est l’explosion d’un camion garé devant un hôtel dans un quartier fréquenté de la capitale (…) qui abrite bâtiments officiels, hôtels et restaurants, qui a fait des dizaines de morts, écrit encore Le Figaro. (…) (Apres la priere aux mosques)

Les images envoyées par les agences montrent un paysage de destruction effroyable. Deux heures plus tard environ, un second véhicule a explosé dans le quartier de Medina (…)

Le président Farmajo a décrété un deuil national de trois jours, après cet attentat considéré par les Somaliens comme le pire de l’histoire de leur pays.”

Photos : Farah Abdi Warsameh / AP – Mohammad Abdiwahad / AFP – Feisal Omar / Reuters
Si un tel attentat, à Dieu ne plaise comme on dit au Liban, avait eu lieu dans une ville glamour, l’effroi aurait été mondial.
Des capitales entières auraient porté le deuil. Des internautes chics se seraient répandus en pathos larmoyants. La toile aurait été en berne.Bien sûr, les présidents et premiers ministres des pays cravatés y ont été de leur déclaration. L’un a tweeté et l’autre s’est fendu d’une tirade de circonstance.

L’Afrique est une pompe à fric, vous comprenez – pardonnez-moi ce jeu de mot facile. Alors on fait semblant. On affiche tristesse et solidarité. L’œil sur les contrats juteux présents et à venir.

Peu importe si la Somalie a sombré dans le chaos, il y a déjà plusieurs décennies, à cause de la politique irresponsable de puissances étrangères.

Peu importe si les Somaliens meurent par centaines, par milliers, par dizaines de millers depuis trop longtemps.

Peu importe si les salauds qui ont commis ces attentats sont financés par les pays amis de ceux qui feignent aujourd’hui le chagrin.

Des pays qui sucrent autant les politiciens occidentaux que les jihadistes d’Afrique et du monde entier. Des pays que les médias de l’Axe du Bien continuent d’appeler “modérés”.

Le mépris de l’autre, du plus faible, du plus démuni, du plus fragile, est un mal universel.

L’hypocrisie des puissants en est un autre.

La Somalie a encore une fois prouvé, à ses dépends, cette triste et lamentable réalité d’un monde moralisateur mais dépourvu de tout sens moral.


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