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An Ethiopian woman's musings on Africa, the world and everything in between

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        Wednesday, July 26, 2006
        Force & power
        I'm posting this from a lodge somewhere in the middle of the woods in Yosmite Park, California and people are lining up to use the computer. Apologies for the typos...

        Reading the history of "primitive" people is baffling. I keep on wondering what they would think of us (in Africa) now and who would call who primitive. I'm still being inspired by Shorris' Riches for the Poor book. This is a chapter on Force & Power, which gives the history of the Pueblos of the American Southwest and show how the failure to distinguish between the two now is really 'primitive' - well, my own interpretation here.

        The Pueblos of the American Southwest drew a clear distinction between force and power.... The Inside Chiefs held power in the form of authority granted to them by the gods and the members of the pueblo. Within the pueblo itself, neither acts of violence nor any other acts of force were permitted. A second group lived outside the pueblo. These were the warlike Outside Chiefs and their band of hunter/warriors. Although the Outside Chiefs had the greater physical strength and ability, the Inside Chiefs held the power of the pueblo. They directed the Outside Chiefs to hunt, make war, and defend the pueblo using whater force was required. The Outside Chiefs could not conduct raids, hunt, or even defend the pueblo without the consent of the Inside Chiefs. Using this convention, the Pueblos were able literrally to maintain a wall between force and power....

        I think the mixing up of power and force, the deliberate breaking up of the
        wall between the two - which I think is the corner stone of democracy is
        clear in Africa. Our leaders are the gods, the inner chief, the
        chief and the people...

        Shorris defines power as belonging to the people and force to the few.

        Force is always lonely, while power never occurs in isolation: one person alone among others cannot have legitimate power. At extremes, ultimate force is one against all, as in a tyrant against the people, while untimate power is all against one, as in the people against a tyrant.

        So, in this light, what do African leaders have to say for themselves?

        posted by Fikirte @ 12:11 PM   1 comments Digg!
        Friday, July 21, 2006
        The Humanities for African leaders
        So, the more I read Shorris' Riches for the Poor the more I'm conviced that the practice politics, in the old Greek sense of the word, has been twisted and twicked beyond recognition. Understandablly, the politics (like other things) should develop to fit modern society... yaddi yaddi yadda. But, the modern way of doing politics especially in Africa is so far away from doing "dialogue publicly" that we have had an 'interesting' version of democracy.

        Politics, which the ancient Greeks defined as public dialogue, is unfortunatelly measured by some sort of wierd election that an African state conducts. "At least there was an election" is what we are reduced to.

        As a solution, teach our leaders the humanties so that they appreciate open 'public dialogue'. What say you?
        posted by Fikirte @ 2:24 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Wednesday, July 19, 2006
        Dogs first
        One thing that Shorris (see my last post) talks about is the gap between rich and poor in America. He asserts that both the poor and the rich are equal at birth, but the poor become disadvantaged because they don't know or follow the rules of "the game".

        Whatever the reason, the gap between the poor and the rich is very obvious. It seems that the pocket areas in california, which are affluent enjoy better roads, facilities and lush landscape while the rest have to deal with potholes (I can't get over the potholes - and we saw a chicken crossing the street in Malibu African style)and run down houses.

        Personally, the extent of the problem is nicely summarized in this hotel description in our guide book.

        The Cliffs at Shell Beach. Perched dramatically on an ocean front cliff, this resort is surrounded by lawns and palm trees. ...This resort is extremely pet-friendly - all visiting dogs receive a bed, two dishes, and bottled water and the concierge can arrange dog-walking services.

        I rest my case.

        Outside, you see homeless people lying on the green grass underneath a tree or hitch-hiking with their worldly possessions in about 5 small plastic bags. Still, dog guests at The Cliffs at Shell Beach get super treatment.
        posted by Fikirte @ 12:52 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Monday, July 17, 2006
        History lesson from 33,000 feet above sea level
        This is what inspired this post. I’m in the plane with my family flying to LA for a two week vacation. The security video on the Delta flight was slightly disturbing. The friendly female announcer said, with a lovely smile, "…most of the seat cushions can be used as flotation device…" Most of them? What do you mean most of them? So, whose seat cushion is going to be stuck to the seat in case of emergency…?

        To take my mind off, the seat cushion I started playing the Inflight Trivia challenge under the name Loser. When a question that I’m 100% sure about came, it was about Ethiopia. The question was "Which African country is the oldest Christian country?" I confidently pressed "Ethiopia" on the screen and got it right. You get a short description or added info related to the question. The description read, "Christianity came to Ethiopian in 1923 after the occupation of Italy…" Hello! Try 4th century AD, dude. Who designs these trivia questions? Do they do any research, at least on Google - never mind reading books…

        Ethiopians date the coming of Christianity to Ethiopia to the fourth century AD, when a Christian philosopher from Tyre named Meropius was shipwrecked on his way to India. Meropius died but his two wards, Frumentius and Aedesius were washed ashore and taken to the royal palace. Eventually they became king Ella Amida’s private secretary and royal cupbearer respectively. They served the king well, and Frumentius became regent for the infant prince Ezana when Ella Amida died. Frumentius and Aedesius were also permitted to prosyletize the new religion in Aksum (as modern Ethiopia was then known). After some time, Frumentius and Aedesius returned to the Mediterranean, travelling down the Nile through Egypt to do so. When they reached Egypt, Frumentius contacted bishop Athanasius of Alexandria and begged him to send missionaries back to Aksum, since the people there had proved so ready to receive the gospel.

        May be the person responsible for the "research" doesn't know the difference between Orthodox church with protestant churches in Ethiopia.

        The Sudan Interior Mission began its work in the South of Ethiopia in the 1920s. It progressed steadily but unspectacularly, baptising four converts in 1932 and perhaps a hundred by the time they were driven out of Ethiopia by the invading Italians in 1938.

        If Delta can't ensure flotation device for all, at least get the facts right on the trivia quiz.

        I am looking forward to doing some Paparazzi work in Hollywood tomorrow.
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:43 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Sunday, July 16, 2006
        Socrates against poverty

        I am reading Riches for the Poor by Earl Shorris, and I'm feeling very philosophical about democracy, political space, political engagement and all that painfully abstract stuff. The book (A MUST READ) is an analysis of poverty in America and an excitingly unique solution: "reviving political activism among the poor" through the humanities. The project that Shorris spear headed is called the Clemente Course in the Humanities. It may sound like "why don't they eat cake" type of solution for the poor – teaching them Greek philosophy, literature and art. But, by the time you flip page 7, you will start not just seeing the dots, but most importantly, connecting them.

        Of itself, the Clemente Course does not answer the question. It is only a manifestation of the answer. The course is the Greek answer, and even though it opoerates in Maya and Cup'ik as well as Western/European culture, its Athenian roots are old and very deep. If any one person can be singled out as its founder, it must be Socrates, for he not only gave the course a method, he was the first exemplify the connection between the political world and the humanities.

        Democracy and freedom seem to be requisites for the humanities to flourish. But Shorris questions if "thoughtless freedom (is) possible" without the humanities... I ask if the humanities are requisites for democracy and freedom.

        I have been wondering about the thing that's missing from the poor in America (being an Ethiopian of course I naturally seek for any parallels between the poor in Ethiopian and American…) I couldn’t explain what was missing in the American poor until I started reading this book by Shorris. The best explanation that I could come up with was that the inner city kids and the families I work with are as if they are disconnected from life, as if they have given up… That was not far off from the truth – I just didn't have a philosophical lingo to describe it and instead I used my mother's lingo and talked about glazing eyes and tired spirits… Now, I am attacking this like Socrates.

        My experience with working with 'the poor' in Ethiopia was the other way round. People are super-political and so philosophical about their life what poverty/development mean it is staggering. The only thing is that the resources (the material stuff) they need to improve their lives is out of reach. My wish for them is that somebody will start from their rich outlook and assist them in creating a political space for them. Shorris is spot on with his observation that the rich feels that training (not education) is what the poor need to come out of poverty – training to speak properly, pull pants up and not show underwear, anger management as opposed to removing what makes them angry in the first place (in America), make a veggie garden in a barrel, build a stove from cow dung…(in Africa). I suggest NGOs in Africa organize training courses for themselves to be taught the humanities by 'the poor' in Africa. Then and only then can they get to the bottom of the problem in Africa.

        I’m not done with this subject, but I have to pack now to go on vacation. Meanwhile, I invite you to read about the course. Do share your opinions about it because I'm going to go full force with it for my inner city kids after my vacation.
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:09 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Monday, July 10, 2006
        The ridiculous side of the beautiful game
        Imagine how ridiculous the headline "CEO of a US company denies using the internet in the merger deals with Indonasia" BBC’s "FIFA denies video evidence claims" sounds equally ridiculous.

        What is wrong in using modern technology to assist soccer referees????

        FIFA doesn’t seem to agree with that. Now they have to defend the referee’s decision to send Zidane off because the French coach is challenging them on the premises that the fourth official has watched the video replay of Zidane headbutting Materazzi on the chest and advised the referee… Who cares? Watch the damn video already. The referee is just a human being in a huge field trying to catch up with 22 pumped up athletes and keep his cool. Rewind, press play and decide. What’s the big deal about watching the video? It’s just ridiculous.

        If FIFA is so against modern technology, let the players start walking to South Africa now. They’ll make it just before 2010.

        On an unrelated argument, I felt bad for Zidane and I really believe that Materazzi was mouthing off so bad to deserve it. I don’t believe that Zidane should be accused of reacting like that – sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. The only thing is I wish Zidane did what he had to do subtly. Oh well. What’s done is done.
        posted by Fikirte @ 8:47 AM   2 comments Digg!
        Friday, July 07, 2006
        Culturally accepted torture

        Harmful culture is one of those things that defy logic – not that culture is often based on logic. Still, it is mind boggling how women carry on the culture of harmful practices on girls as if they were not victims themselves. Female genital mutilation is a wide spread practice in Africa, the middle East and some far east countries.

        Even if parents protect their girls from such practices, society is not too forgiving to girls who are not circumcised. Recently, in an attempt to stop the teasing about not being circumcised, a Kenyan girl performed the operation on herself and bled to death. Then, I wonder, what good is a law against such practices which leaves the culture intact, is not supplemented by education/awareness and can’t even prove that the practice is harmful? If anything, as Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance notes, legislation without changing the hearts and minds of people, will push the practice underground. (This site is worth reading by the way – it explores the religious-based arguments for and against FGM.)

        The child, completely naked, is made to sit on a low stool. Several women take hold of her and open her legs wide. After separating her outer and inner lips, the operator, usually a woman experienced in this procedure, sits down facing the child. With her kitchen knife the operator first pierces and slices open the hood of the clitoris. Then she begins to cut it out. While another woman wipes off the blood with a rag, the operator digs with her sharp fingernail a hole the length of the clitoris to detach and pull out the organ. The little girl, held down by the women helpers, screams in extreme pain; but no one pays the slightest attention. The operator finishes this job by entirely pulling out the clitoris, cutting it to the bone with her knife. Her helpers again wipe off the spurting blood with a rag. The operator then removes the remaining flesh, digging with her finger to remove any remnant of the clitoris among the flowing blood. The neighbor women are then invited to plunge their fingers into the bloody hole to verify that every piece of the clitoris is removed.

        If this is not a human rights violation, I don't know what is. I truly suspect that FGM has its origins in the patriarchal social system. A woman has to be a virgin until married, she has to be loyal to her husband while he can screw around… I’m pretty sure on this one.

        The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is half-arsed when it comes to FGM.

        On one hand, Article 24, paragraph 3 states: "States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children." But Article 29 paragraph 1.c calls for: "The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own." (Source)

        Recently, I read this BBC article on "breast ironing" in Cameroon which chilled my spine. "This involves pounding and massaging the developing breasts of young girls with hot objects to try to make them disappear." All this is to try and protect girls from sexual advances by boys. Whatever happened to over-sized T-shirts?

        Protection against FGM
        I think very little has been done to protect girls from undergoing FMG. Given the fact that the practice is about 1000-2000 years old – depending on whose counting – it is only in the mid 90's that the only two countries, US and Canada, started giving women a refugee status if they are afraid that they will be victims of FGM in their country. It is also the same time that African leaders started taking FGM seriously, at least on paper.

        In September 1997, African legislators endorsed a plan to end female genital cutting in Africa by the year 2005. The forum called all African states to enact specific, clear legislation for the abolition of genital cutting and other harmful practices. It urged legislation and the establishment of concrete mechanisms for implementing policies to eliminate of all forms of violence against women and children. Endorsed by delegates from 40 countries, the declaration also called the "degrading and inhuman practices of female genital mutilation and other harmful practices in Africa" a disgrace.

        Before that…

        1958 – the Economic and Social Committee (UN) invited the World Health Organization (WHO) to do a study on FGM. WHO blew it off saying that FMG is outside its jurisdiction.
        1980 – UNICEF announced that it was going to the root of the problem – awareness and training.
        1979 - WHO seminars on FGM
        1989 – WHO Africa had a change of heart and started urging participating governments to ban FGM.
        1996 – The US Senate passed the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995
        1996 – WHO, UNICEF & UNFPA jointly screamed that it was "…unacceptable that the international community remains passive (about harmful traditional practices) in the name of a distorted vision of multiculturalism.” By then WHO has forgotten that it said what is done in the name of culture is outside its jurisdiction. It’s all good.
        1997 – IMF and the World Bank were required to deny loans to countries which practice FGM and don't have anti-FGM education campaigns.

        Legislation against FGM performed even in Western countries fall short of protecting girls because these practices are performed under tightly guarded secretes. For example, the UK bans FGM but about 7,000 migrant girls are estimated to be in danger of undergoing FMG. "Backstreet doctors" are used or the girls return to their original country to be butchered. What's a UK law going to do especially in the latter case?

        A glimpse of hope
        Raising awareness and providing an alternative to social practices must be the best way against FGM. A local organization in Kenya is doing just that. It provides an alternative (and not painful) right of passage for Massai girls.

        Women's groups and human rights activists have placed genital cutting on the agendas or many governments and international organizations. Belgium, Ghana, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have outlawed various forms of genital cutting, while Sudan and Djibouti forbid infibulations. Public education campaigns make open discussion of the practice more acceptable.

        Successful programs have retrained practitioners of genital cutting either to undertake different careers or to modify the practice, retaining its importance as a rite of passage while avoiding inflicting harm. (Source)

        But imagine the pain an organization must go through to convince donors for money to retrain FGM practitioners and give them an alternative harmless social practice.

        Harmful culture can be beaten. In the 19th century, Britain and the US thought that clitoris was responsible for such nervous disorders as epilepsy "What now will be the chance for recovery for the poor epileptic female with a clitoris?" was the question an American doctor asked when his British counterpart was publicly disgraced for insisting that female circumcision was harmless. Mind you, the medical society still believed the Brit about masturbation as the cause for epilepsy and other disorders.

        Britain and the US have come a long way since then. So can Africa – with the right commitment.

        Amnesty International has a comprehensive list of the African Countries practicing female genital butchering.
        Global Campaign against FGM
        History of circumcision
        posted by Fikirte @ 12:38 PM   2 comments Digg!
        Sunday, July 02, 2006
        Democracy? No thank you, Sa!

        African leaders have refused to adopt a democracy charter that would have made it more difficult for unpopular presidents to stay in office. BBC

        Now, this is the type of news that makes a dark and stormy Sunday afternoon even more depressing. The BBC article didn't make it any better by I was disappointed with BBC's article by the way for mixing up issues. They didn’t even have their usual "Have your say" section to let people vent.

        I've always felt a bit dodgy about the African Union but never in my wildest dreams have I imagined that our dear leaders would blatantly refuse democracy.

        Understandably, the situations in Sudan and Somalia demand urgent attention. But is the refusal "to adopt a democracy charter" going to be blown off just like that? How come others such as IRIN didn’t pick up the story?
        posted by Fikirte @ 4:45 PM   1 comments Digg!
        Doing Bush’s homework
        Where do presidents get their information on issues and countries? And, how important is the source in shaping international policy? Or it really doesn't matter because there are other factors at play than accurate information?

        I am not throwing these questions to initiate discussion or to make you think. I am asking because I really don’t know the answers.

        When it comes to compiling country profiles, I used to imagine a sophisticated US information gathering system from several sources counter checked against the CIA's profile… I guess there must be a system that I don't know about.

        This is why…

        The coloured country is Sudan and the continent is Africa - just in case

        While talking to BBC’s Khartum reporter, Alfred Taban - one of the four African recipients of the National Endowment for Democracy award - Mr. Bush was surprised to hear that the South Sudan peace agreement was not working 18 months after it was signed. "That's not the information I'm getting." was what Mr. Bush said.

        Now you understand why I'm wondering who feeds presidents with information, is there a political/economic motive behind selective/misconstrued information… I'm all paranoid with conspiracy theory here.

        But whatever the reason, how difficult is it for the president to google "south sudan peace agreement" and get a feel of what (information) is out there. I don't expect him to read all 44,200,000 sites, but just the first 10 sites will do.

        Perhaps the President is relying on only one source, USAID Sudan, for his updates on the country. Then it is totally understandable that he is misled into thinking that things are looking much brighter in Southern Sudan. You have to dig deeper to get the real albeit limited humanitarian reports beneath the "we're doing this, we gave that, we're going to do the other" usual let's-feel-good-about-ourselves-and-justify-our-existence talks. This obvious cover up effort is highly possible (say I, Agatha Christie of Development) because USAID’s bashing of African leaders wasting money on "white elephant projects" has come back to bite them in arse as they are being bashed for wasting tax payers money. Mr. Bush should know this because it’s a high profile reprimand involving Congress.

        Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Mr. Bush is in the dark when it comes to the situation in Sudan. Therefore, I took it upon myself to list the following links for the president. I don’t have anything better to do this stormy Sunday afternoon while my daughters are playing science with the neighbour boy (occasionally bursting out laughing) – oh boy.

        Information sources on Sudan
        Kofi Annan’s Nightmare
        What the agreement was, its limitations, how frigile it is… here
        A bloggers message to President Bush
        Darfur right outside the White House
        War News
        Global Genocide Watch
        Before you take a test on Sudan

        I know that the New York Times is in the dog house with White House for reporting on the government’s surveillance of confidential banking records, but it has some good articles on the situation in Sudan.

        Let me know if you need more, Mr. President, and I’ll be on it.

        By the way
        The other three recipients of the award are

        • Zainab Bangura, human rights and women's rights campaigner from Sierra Leone
        • Immaculee Birhaheka, human rights and women's rights activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo
        • Reginald Matchaba-Hove, human rights activist from Zimbabwe.
        posted by Fikirte @ 2:44 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Saturday, July 01, 2006
        Trying to be civil here

        I don't want to be a sore loser. I am trying very hard to use my team's – Brazil – loss gracefully and positively. Mind you, it would have been perfectly justified if I lose it and rant away after what I went through for that team. Instead, I want to re-write the laws of the game so that I can focus on something positive – or am I merely shifting blames here?

        Lesson from America
        Compared to referees of American football, soccer referees act like dictators. I don't blame them because all power of decision rests on them and what they say is final. But how many times have they messed up because they are only human and they are expected to be god – at least in the field? To be fair to referees, they also have a fraction of a second to decide.

        So, if it is so obvious that it is humanly impossible to be accurate all the time, how about doing something about it? There are several things that have improved over the years – rules of body contact are stricter, killing time by the leading team is punishable, referees are wearing their whistle on their wrists these days and they even walk around with a slick headset Britney Spears style.

        I think its time to further the soccer evolution and assist referees with some visual aid. Make a little shelter thingie like the one the coaches sit and bite their nails from, put a small screen hooked up to a video player, where in doubt stop the game temporarily, rewind the tape and give your verdict. How difficult is that?

        In all seriousness, I am surprised that this has not been practiced in soccer as it is in American football. Unless it is in a pathetic effort to distinguish between American and European game, why else isn’t soccer using this technology? If anything, it will give players a chance to catch their breath, take a gulp of water and spit more. It is OK to learn and borrow something from America – if that's what worrying FIFA.

        In the NFL, a number of rulings (but typically not penalties) can be reviewed by officials or challenged by coaches (see Instant replay). If a coach wants to challenge a play, he must do so before the next play begins, and he does so by throwing a red flag similar to the officials' yellow flags. Coaches are allowed two challenges per game and may be granted a third if their first two are successful. The team loses a timeout if they lose the challenge. Plays inside the two-minute-warning cannot be challenged; any review of that play must be initiated by a replay official off-field. The referee performs the actual review via a video screen on the sideline. The referee will announce the result of instant replay reviews over his wireless microphone.

        Now, that's pretty simple. It's only fair to the players, to the game and to the millions of viewers who witness every single fowl and error in judgment in sloooow motion. Imagine if this was in place, Maradona wouldn’t have had the "Hand of God", Argentina would have qualified to the semi-finals, the Brazil vs Ghana’s score would have been 2-0...

        Sokari dear, I don’t want to hear it. At least give me a week to recover 
        posted by Fikirte @ 6:47 PM   0 comments Digg!
        The face of VAW

        Kamilat - victim of acid burning The face of VAW - violence against women. It should and can be stopped with enough commitment. Helping one woman at a time is a start.
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