Blackening her face for 125 days was a new aesthetical mode that artist P.S. Jayamol adopted to create a social critique on the discriminated ‘living’ experiences of the Dalit communities. But it seems to have almost backfired on the face of the artist herself. The onus is now on Jayamol to defend her ‘creative social experiment’ which was lauded as a piece of performance art by local as well as international media.
Jayamol’s ‘performance art’ was almost a reaction toward the infamous ‘Rohit Vemula’ incident at the Hyderabad University. Taking ‘black complexion’ as a definitive marker of the Dalit identity, the artist had embarked on her ‘social experiment cum performance art’ by smearing her face and the exposed parts of hands and feet with removable black paint whenever she ventured out of her home/studio.
However, the argumentative Kerala intelligentsia, especially the Dalit intelligentsia, came out strongly against the artistic ‘co-optation’ of the Dalit issues by using her ‘upper caste’ body as a point of departure and made the artist accountable for such superficial ‘sabotage’ of a Dalit ‘agitating and theorising’ spaces. On the other hand, a major section of the artist community questioned Jayamol on the very idea of ‘performance art.’ Their contention was that the artist herself wasn’t clear about whether it was a piece of performance art or a social experiment. They also raised questions via social media regarding the aesthetics of ‘black’ and the politics of the performing body or that of the body in ‘performance.’
Kerala is no longer the same. The issue of ‘black’ taken up by Jayamol could’ve been lapped up by the intelligentsia had it been done a decade before. Today, the Dalit intelligentsia doesn’t allow any such ‘integrationist,’ ‘patronising’ and ‘co-optation’ moves from anybody. For the spokespeople of the Dalit sections in Kerala, no discursive space that has exclusionary tactics or inclusive approach for the sake of democratic norms is acceptable. What they want today is ‘debate’; they no longer want to be spoken at or spoken to. The clear and precise political positions of the Dalit intellectuals have categorically made it clear to Jayamol that while they accept and appreciate her ‘artistic performance,’ the very idea of sabotaging the discursive space that they’ve been creating for so many decades now cannot be allowed for whatever reasons, including the aesthetical ones. The colour Black is not the only marker of a Dalit or a Dalit’s experience. Black is a general marker for Indians, though the upper castes don’t accept this until they face discrimination at the hands of the real White within the country or elsewhere. While Black being a universal derogatory marker of the evil, marking a Dalit or a Dalit experience with the colour black is almost a reductionist approach. According to the Dalit intelligentsia, blackness has transcended to various daily experiences of the Dalit even in their interactions with patronising integrationists.
It would be a reductionist argument if I say that only a Dalit has the right to speak about the Dalit experiences. However, empathy can’t be a replacement for the real experience. Jayamol’s contention regarding her performance is that it was her position/status as a woman that made her at par with the black skinned Dalit. Though we could argue that women are gendered Dalits, there is a Dalit discourse within the gender discourse itself. Feminisms all over the world have debated the multi-layered experiences of women in various social strata and have come to a conclusion that white feminism can’t speak for black feminism; similarly white upper class feminism can’t speak for the white labour class feminism. Even within Black communities such debates prevail. Jayamol has failed utterly while conceptualizing her performance art, as she hasn’t understood the nuances of Dalit and feminist discourses. Simplistic equations like Dalit= black and Dalit= woman made her almost a laughing stock within the cultural communities all over the world. However, I won’t say that Jayamol as an artist doesn’t have the right to ‘perform’ or ‘conduct’ social experiments on caste system in Kerala using a ‘color’ as a marker. While she has the right to do so, she should also be aware that the word ‘color’ or ‘colored’ itself is a marker of race or caste (in India’s case) and it isn’t just white against black, it is white against all the other colors. In Indian context, it is Brahminism against all other castes created by Brahminism itself.
When art is treated as a ‘reaction,’ not really as ‘response’ or ‘assimilated experiential responses filtered through intelligence and feeling via adequate methods and materials,’ many Jayamols would happen in our society. Such reactionary artists, as they are driven by the urgency to ‘react’ rather than to respond intelligently, fail to understand the gravity of the situations. The failure that happened to Jayamol’s art project is because of her ‘reactionary’ approach. This performance was a ‘reaction’ to Vemula’s suicide. Her concerns were extended to the unfortunate incidents like ‘Ooraly’s arrest’ and the ‘rape and murder of Jisha.’ Reactionary artists often grab the opportunity of famous as well as infamous social happenings and attach their ‘art-ivism’ to such developments. That’s why Jayamol’s performance looks like a tacky social experiment meant for a ‘desired result’ masquerading as a piece of performance art process. The reactionary verve of the artist blinded her in seeing how artists like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abromovic and so on used body as a performance tool much before the social experiments intend to shock and eke out a reaction from the ‘shocked’ or ‘offended’ or ‘don’t care’ audiences.
Jayamol isn’t alone. Reactionary art is the latest fad in Kerala where people are looking for publicity by attaching themselves to the latest social events that demand intellectual solidarity from different sections of the society. This is an outcome of the Kochi Muziris Biennale that has been promoting an art culture which is predominantly spectacular, and supporting capitalist art with a rebellious streak. While claiming its leaning toward political art, Kochi Muziris Biennale runs with the pray and hunts with the hunter.
Before I close this article, I would like to tell the artists in Kerala and elsewhere that art is political only up to the level of the political integrity of the artist himself or herself. Painting Mahatma Gandhi with a blackened tooth or talking about Dr. B. R. Ambedkar doesn’t make an artist political. Mere sloganeering and claiming of a political voice or space also doesn’t make an artist political. Even the party affiliation of the artists does not make them political. Picasso was a Communist Party card holder, but apart from the forced reading of ‘Guernica,’ we don’t identify Picasso as a communist. Reactionaries are never political. Whether they are visible or invisible, accepted or rejected, accommodated or thrown out, Dalit political discourses have been there for over a century now in India, and a reactionary artist just cannot snatch that space for whatever reasons. As a Dalit scholar and leader had put in one of the television debates, ‘Jayamol can wash the black colour by evening, but what about us who can’t wash it off and also have to hand it over to the successive generations like a pollutant?’
Meet Hungarian journalist Boglarka Balogh! Boglarka says that she usually travels the world writing about human rights issues–but recently, she got a great idea to try something different! She thought perhaps there wasn’t enough “awareness” of the various “secluded cultures” in various African nations, and decided to do her part to correct that.
My inspiration came from my time spent in various African countries where I became fully aware of the issues regarding a number of endangered tribes, and the speed at which they are fading away. These stunning portraits show how beauty varies across the globe and prove that all of us are beautiful in a different way. They’re celebrating stunning tribal beauties at the brink of extinction.
Let me get this straight, Boglarka–in order to show how beautiful women of different ethnic backgrounds than you are, you are simply dressing up as them? This seems like it’s perhaps a little bit more about how beautiful you think you are.
How this raises awareness more than posting pictures of the actual women themselves and then writing about them, no one can really be sure. Are there actual people who would perhaps go “Gosh! I had no interest in these various cultures until a white lady Photoshopped some blackface on a selfie and dressed up as them!” Because I honestly can’t imagine how or why that would be. Although–given the fact that the article has a rating of 80, which I assume is good although I have no idea how their voting system works, and has been shared on Facebook over 4,000 times, I have to imagine they exist.
I also find it a tad suspicious that she is a journalist who travels the world writing about human rights and yet somehow she has absolutely no idea that blackface is an extremely offensive thing. I get that there are not all that many black people in Hungary, but come the hell on. Clearly, she is familiar with some non-Hungarian news sources, as she posted this thing on BoredPanda.
In light of the fact that there are so many people out there who appreciate this kind of thing–I feel I should let the world know that I am currently wearing a long sleeved black shirt and black leggings. Why? Because it’s what I put on this morning, but also because I want to raise awareness of mimes. Now you know what a mime is. You’re welcome. Feel free to send me many accolades, flowers, and candy.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was 19 when she left Nigeria for the United States to enroll in Drexel University. Her new American college roommate assumed that Adichie’s background meant she wouldn’t be able to speak English well (it’s Nigeria’s official language) and that she’d have a plethora of “tribal music” (Adichie’s favorite music at the time was Mariah Carey).
“Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, ” she said, recalling the experience years later for a 2009 TED Talk.
Adichie, who would go on to become a famed novelist, points to the problem of stereotyping distant lands, which she attributes to narratives of Western literature that often stigmatize non-Western people as impoverished and pitiable. This practice, however, exceeds the realm of novels. Scan most international documentary photography and a similar story emerges: one told from a primarily singular visual perspective rooted in a Westernized point of view.
Lauded photojournalism organization World Press Photo (WPP) released its second “State of News Photography” report in November 2016, a document that addressed many key issues affecting contemporary photojournalists. Most striking was the fact that of the nearly 2,000 news photographers surveyed internationally, a mere 15 percent were female. Also concerning was the revelation that 65 percent were from Western nations, specifically Europe, the United States and Australia. These two statistics reveal that the vast majority of news images are produced by Western-born men. This is the dominant point of view through which the entire world continues to see and understand itself.
Two women with their cell phones in Lagos, Nigeria. Andrew Esiebo has focused his work on chronicling the rapid development of urban Nigeria. ANDREW ESIEBO/EVERYDAY AFRICA
It’s this singular visual perspective that Ecuadorian photojournalist Emilia Lloret sees as the central problem in the lack of diversity among photojournalists. “Instead of being a tool for social change…it becomes a tool of oppression, perpetuating clichés and crippling stereotypes like the ‘violent and dangerous’ Latin America, the ‘flies-in-the-eye malnourished child’ in Africa,” says Lloret. Making the problem worse is the constant struggle for local photojournalists to get equal access to assignments and recognition within an industry that caters to North American and European photojournalists.
The Eye in Imperialism
Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam has faced that particular struggle himself but cites additional problems within the existing power dynamic of international photojournalism. Furious with what he sees as the dismissive treatment of photojournalists from non-Western nations, he says he and his colleagues have repeatedly experienced devaluation from hiring editors, such as assumptions that they’re willing to be “paid less, work longer hours, need less notice and [be] accepting of last-minute confirmation or cancellation.”
At a London fundraising gala in 2005, Alam was again left thinking that non-Western photojournalists are denied the same levels of opportunities and respect afforded to their Western counterparts.
Somali-American filmmaker and Everyday Africa contributor Idil Ibrahim photographs girls playing in a rural village an hour from Kabwe, Zambia, where many locals are subsistence farmers who grow tomatoes, cabbage, kale and other staples. IDIL IBRAHIM/EVERYDAY AFRICA
“All the photographs were taken by white Western photographers,” Alam tells Newsweek. “Being poor was their primary identity. That there are many other aspects of a person’s life seemed to be secondary or absent. These were people to be pitied and saved. The history of colonization, exploitation, unequal trade terms and racism were absent in both the images and the text.”
Even as photojournalists bear witness to the world’s oppressed, impoverished and deprived, certain questions must be contended with—namely, what do the visual stories being told imply about minoritized communities, and who should be telling these stories?
Alam cuts to the problematic double bind when separating Western good intentions from imperialistic suppositions. “The solution is simple. A local photographer is likely to be culturally and socially more attuned, linguistically more able and politically more aware than a visiting photographer. These are pluses,” Alam says. “They still need to be respected as professionals and given the same ‘value’ that a Western photographer would be given.”
Caskets are carried on the way to the cemetery to bury the 77 victims of the Covadonga massacre, in Estrella Polar, Chajul. Guatemala-based Daniele Volpe has covered the deaths of victims of violence and human rights violations across the country. DANIELE VOLPE/NATIVE
The Corrective Collectives
In response to such concerns, Alam founded a documentary photography agency catering to photojournalists from and living in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East—what he terms the “majority world.” The agency, itself titled Majority World, acts as both a professional resource for often overlooked photojournalists and a place where a Western client base can acquire locally sourced images for publication. He’s not alone in recognizing the need for such organizations that provide opportunities for talented photojournalists from all nations and also offer imagery coming from varied viewpoints.
Recently, WPP collaborated with Instagram-based photo organization Everyday Africa to create the African Photojournalism Database (APJD), a carefully curated list, several hundred names long, of working photojournalists native to and working on the African continent.
Chilean photojournalist Tamara Merino focuses her independent projects on native communities in Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and Australia. Merino’s project “Underland” documents a town called Coober Pedy in the middle of the Australian outback that’s home to 47 different nationalities of immigrants, ex-prisoners, and veterans of World War II who have decided to escape their past lives and take refuge in this remote and unique place. TAMARA MERINO/NATIVE
David Campbell, WPP’s director of communications and engagement, says the ability to find and connect with photojournalists in the “majority world” can be an obstacle to improving diversity among photojournalists. “We know that there’s talent [in those countries], but who are they and where are they?”
In an attempt to address that problem, WPP produced the APJD and premiered a Latin American version of its revered Joop Swart Master Class, previously held only in Amsterdam for the master class’ 23-year history. All photojournalists invited to improve their craft at the Mexico City workshop were from Latin America, and at least two-third of the workshop instructors were also local to the region. Regional master classes in African nations that follow this same model have begun; Nairobi hosted a class in December and March will see a class Masterclass in Accra, Ghana.
“There’s no way to flip a switch and radically alter the industry overnight,” Campbell acknowledges to Newsweek. Rather, it’s imperative to keep diversity on the agenda, always promoting it, considering it and connecting people and organizations wherever possible.
Emilia Lloret is a Quito-based photojournalist who has been documenting the Tsáchila Aguavil family, member of the Native American culture, the Tsáchilas. EMILIA LLORET/NATIVE
Majority World View
It was the Mexico City Master Class that made the necessary connections for Lloret and Latin American photo editor Laura Beltrán Villamizar. In March 2016, Villamizar left a curatorial position at WPP to co-found Native Agency, an organization whose mission is to provide more resources and access for photojournalists in Latin America and Africa.
Villamizar says it was her experience as a photo editor at the Mexico City Joop Swart class that spurred the move. There, she witnessed firsthand the mismatch between the photojournalists’ impressive talents and their lack of access to a client base or the professional resources to market their work effectively. One of her focuses with Native Agency is helping mentor female photojournalists, a project borne out of her own difficulties building a career in the predominantly male photojournalism world.
Colombian self-taught photojournalist Juanita Escobar has always been interested in the relationship between humans and the environments that surround them. For her project Llano, she shadowed the llanero, rural herders who drive cattle every summer. The llanero were originally part Spanish and Indian and have a strong culture, including a distinctive form of music. JUANITA ESCOBAR/NATIVE
“It’s been hard as a woman,” Villamizar tells Newsweek, “but I’m using that, that lack of diversity and my own experience, and translating that into the DNA of my project.”
Like many of her photojournalism peers, Lloret, a member of Villamizar’s Native Agency, personally and professionally feels a desperate need for more diversity in the industry she loves. “In order to make photojournalism more diverse and democratized, the major players in the industry should take an honest look of themselves and start advocating for the causes that photojournalism [has always supposedly stood for], like equality and human rights, making the change from the inside out.”
Two models backstage during an Africa Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria. Yagazie Emezi has described her work as driven by discovery for an Africa she wasn’t familiar with and “a passion for the preservation of the African aesthetic.” Emezi attended school in New Mexico before returning to work as a documentary photojournalist in Aba, Nigeria. YAGAZIE EMEZI/APJD/NATIVE
Tara Pixley is a photojournalist and photo editor, as well as a media studies and visual culture scholar. Her research focuses on how implicit bias becomes written into American news discourse, particularly that of documentary imagery. She is currently a Knight visiting fellow with Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism and a contributor to #PhotoLab.
To the many white people in African countries using us to make a name for themselves while overshadowing the work of those few who genuinely care and have a clue about what they’re doing, please get over yourselves, and find less insulting ways to feel good about yourselves
Mindy Budgor, who took a crash course to become the first female Maasai warrior. Glamour.com
A young white, middle-class woman from California learned on a trip to Kenya that Maasai women were not allowed to become warriors. Apparently, she learned this from a Maasai chief. The woman, Mindy Budgor, was shocked at hearing of such an oppressive culture and decided to become the first woman Maasai warrior in order to save Maasai women from their own culture. Budgor, having apparently succeeded at her mission – let us not dwell on the intricacies of how a white woman can become Maasai or the fact that Budgor took a crash course in becoming a warrior, completing in 15 days an exercise that usually takes years – returned to the United States and published a book titled Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior.
Considering the number of white people who venture into African countries, particularly Kenya, in order to save the natives and in process themselves, Budgor’s story could easily have escaped the notice of the general public. Fortunately, this one didn’t. On the one hand there was the Western media who never seem to tire of these stories of white women thriving in harsh “tribal” conditions, then there was the backlash from African bloggers who have had enough of white people using Africa, African people and African cultures as their playground.
Ignoring Maasai voices
It is hardly a secret that there is no shortage of cultural appropriation when it comes to the Maasai people. Yet Budgor’s labelling of herself as the first female Maasai warrior marks a new, low, and could not have come at a better time, right on the heels of the massive online discussion about how feminism excludes women of colour. The white woman’s burden sees white women using their feminism to liberate their less fortunate “sisters” all over the world, regardless of whether the latter actually need liberating or not, from FEMEN encouraging Muslim women to dump their hijabs in favour of toplessness, completely disregarding the opinions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, to Budgor, who seems to have totally ignored Maasai women in her quest to bring feminism to them.
Several Maasai women have remarked on the foolishness of Budgors’s actions. One comment from a Maasai woman over at Africa Is A Country reads: “I am a Maasai woman (from Kenya) and we have seen these (white) women come and go. We have Maasai women members of parliament, doctors, lawyers, professors, civil servants, teachers, nurses, business owners etc., but of course, we don’t exist in the eyes of fools like this Mindy woman whose sole purpose always appears to be to fetishise Maasai men (our sons, brothers, fathers and husbands) in one way or another. How many books are going to be written by white women about how they came and fell in love with a Maasai man, gave up everything for him, helped poor ignorant Maasai women, taught Maasai men how to behave etc, etc. We are sooooo fed up!”Another Maasai woman was disgusted by the white saviour aspect of Budgor’s mission, the cultural insensitivity, and the insult to Maasai women and Maasai culture in general. In addition, the fact that Budgor is making money off this insult puts her in a space not too far from that occupied by the white colonialists and slave traders who similarly just came to Africa to take and enrich themselves. To end her dissection of Budgor’s actions, the second Maasai lady reveals an insight with the question: “why is it so easy for us to sell ourselves like this…if this woman was not a mzungu [white woman] she would never have had this experience let alone write about it. Are we still enslaved in our minds or what?”
It appears the majority of us Africans are indeed still enslaved in our minds. Literally every time I have expressed some discomfort at white women wearing traditional clothes from Nigerian cultures and attempting to dance cultural dances, I have been told to hush and be happy that white people are showing any interest at all in my culture. As if our cultures cannot be whole without a stamp of approval from white people. The reason Africans are still be looking to white people for validation and valuation of their cultures can only be due to the shackles of mental colonialism.
What would have happened if a woman from another African country had attempted to do what Budgor did? Would she have gone far in the process of becoming a warrior? Would any chief have paid her some attention? The truth of the matter is that we Africans tend to give more space to and legitimise white voices than we do our own; we are still seeking to please the white man, prompting Julius N. Timgum of the African Economist to ask“what is it about the white man that breaks us down to the point of submission? Do we have to continue stooping so low by selling our heritage at so cheap a price?” It is hard to know how far a Maasai woman, or an African woman from another country, would have gone in becoming a warrior if she’d tried, and I have no idea how many, if any, African women actually want to become Maasai warriors, but it is necessary to question why Budgor was allowed to go as far as she did. It is important to recognise and confront the way we Africans respond to white privilege.
The White Man’s Woman’s Burden
There is a long history of white people trying to liberate Africa and Africans; this was one of the excuses Europeans used to justify colonialism. Till today we still see versions of the white man’s burden, though not limited to just white men as white women and Westerners of colour fall into this trap, too. We encounter such people who believe it is their duty to help the poor, confused and oppressed/oppressive African “tribal” people. The more sinister truth is that these privileged people are only using their wish to help as an excuse, and are in reality selfishly looking for ways to enrich themselves at the expense of whomever they claim to be helping. This is not unique to Africa; there is a long list of white women being “initiated” into Asian, African and indigenous American cultures. Contrary to some African bloggers who seem to believe that Budgor would not have been able to get away with this brazen appropriation if she had tried it with Native American cultures, white women have appropriated Native American cultures for centuries. The white Australian woman Fiona Graham who travelled to Japan to become a geisha also followed a crash course, taking a year to complete what traditionally takes years to master. Her tale of cultural appropriation ended when the other geisha chased her away from the sisterhood due to her lack of respect for elders, among other things. The eventual rejection is notably similar to Mindy’s, who was lunged at with a spear by her “fellow” Maasai warriors who felt that she did not belong in their circle.
White women who appropriate benefit from it, they get published and interviewed. People buy their books and some of these women become the go-to Western authority on whichever foreign culture they plundered. I have met quite a few white British people who seem to believe they can change the world by travelling to Kenya to play with children, and maybe having sex with the natives, before returning to their comfortable lives in England. Last year I was (un)fortunate enough to attend an event that I thought was a fundraising for people who were displaced by the post-election violence in Kenya. It was quite a fancy event, held at a beautiful hotel in the English countryside. As the dinner progressed I found myself horror-stricken as it slowly became clear that the fundraiser was actually to sponsor a young, middle class white man to go to Kenya for vague reasons involving work with children. Money was being raised, not for the displaced people but for a white man to go on a “saviour” trip.
To the many white people in African countries using us to make a name for themselves while overshadowing the work of those few who genuinely care and have a clue about what they’re doing, please get over yourselves, and find less insulting ways to feel good about yourselves.
By 2030, African nations have vowed to restore 100 million hectares (around 386,000 square miles) of the forest. The “AFR100” activity is an aspiring and phenomenal arrangement by more than twelve African nations to do what they can do in the event of a climate disaster.
“As the world forges a climate agreement in Paris, African countries — which bear the least historic responsibility for climate change — are showing leadership with ambitious pledges to restore land,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute in a press statement. “These African leaders are turning their words into action and making a real contribution to respond to the global threat of climate change.”
Nine monetary accomplices and 10 specialized technical help suppliers have promised support for AFR100, led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD Agency), Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and World Resources Institute (WRI).
Despite the fact that they just cover 7%, tropical forests protect more than half of the world’s plant and creature species. Africa is presently losing 10 million sections of land of backwoods every year, which is incredibly influencing the planet’s capacity to manage the environmental change and is gradually placing natural life in peril of termination. Africa’s Congo Basin is the second biggest rainforest after the Amazon, which is the reason the first please to secure it is so essential.
“AFR100” recognizes the benefits that forests and trees can provide in African landscapes: improved soil fertility and food security, greater availability and quality of water resources, reduced desertification, increased biodiversity, green jobs, economic growth, and increased capacity for climate change resilience and mitigation. Forest landscape restoration has the potential to improve livelihoods, especially for women.
The announcement was made during the Global Landscapes Forum at the Climate Conference in Paris. According to The World Resources Institute, countries that have agreed to join the AFR100 initiative are:
• Democratic Republic of Congo (8 million hectares)
• Ethiopia (15 million hectares)
• Kenya (Committed, but finalizing hectare target)
• Liberia (1 million hectares)
• Madagascar (Committed, but finalizing hectare target)
• Malawi (Committed, but finalizing hectare target)
• Niger (3.2 million hectares)
• Rwanda (2 million hectares)
• Togo (Committed, but finalizing hectare target)
• Uganda (2.5 million hectares)
“Restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security and opportunity,” said Dr. Vincent Biruta, Minister of Natural Resources in Rwanda. “With forest landscape restoration we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their well-being. Forest landscape restoration is not just an environmental strategy, it is an economic and social development strategy as well.”
“The scale of these new restoration commitments is unprecedented,” said Wanjira Mathai, Chair of the Green Belt Movement and daughter of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. “I have seen restoration in communities both large and small across Africa, but the promise of a continent-wide movement is truly inspiring. Restoring landscapes will empower and enrich rural communities while providing downstream benefits to those in cities. Everybody wins.”
The video above from the Jane Goodall institute explains why Africa’s forests are so important to the wellbeing of our beautiful planet, and what the organization is doing to reforest chimpanzee habitats.
Let us know your thoughts regarding this, and share this uplifting news!
Africa must transform agriculture to meet its food security needs and contribute to economic transformation. But change in this sector is usually slow. It is often bedevilled by popular opposition to the use of new technologies.
These perceptions could lead to people opposing new technologies and ultimately undermine farming communities’ abilities to improve their well-being through agricultural innovation. In Kenya some farmers have, over the past decade, opposed the introduction of mechanical tea harvesters because of the potential impact on jobs.
Such perceptions aren’t new. Agricultural mechanisation, for instance, has been marked by long periods of opposition, largely by advocates of farm animals and human labour worldwide. American farmers objected to the introduction of tractors. They argued that horses could reproduce themselves while tractors depreciated. Anxiety about the loss of incumbent farming systems lay at the heart of this controversy.
Agricultural transformation requires both courage and sensitivity to social effects. This is why Africa needs a variety of incentives – particularly prizes for excellence – that promote agricultural innovation in ways that benefit farming communities. Research has proved how much prestigious prizes can boost cultural innovation. Why shouldn’t the same be true for agricultural innovation?
The prestige of prizes
One of the initiatives that’s trying to change people’s attitudes to agricultural innovation is the Africa Food Prize. It styles itself as “the preeminent award recognising an outstanding individual or institution that is leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa”.
The prize, founded by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa and the Yara Corporation, is worth much more than its monetary value of US$100,000. It “celebrates Africans who are taking control of Africa’s agriculture agenda.” It highlights “bold initiatives and technical innovations that can be replicated across the continent to create a new era of food security and economic opportunity for all Africans”.
More importantly, it aims to change African agriculture “from a struggle to survive to a business that thrives”. This involves pursuing agricultural excellence that isn’t usually associated with traditional farming systems whose emblem is an African woman oppressed by the inefficiency of the hand hoe.
Prizes aren’t without their detractors, of course. Their role in promoting excellence is one of the most hotly debated areas of social innovation in Africa. Each year, for instance, there is much discussion about the award or non-award of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.
In his pioneering book, “The Economy of Prestige”, James English points out that prizes have been critical in promoting advances in literature and the arts. He argues that they’ve helped to create the “cultural capital” that’s needed to propel creativity and excellence in these areas. English shows how cultural innovation benefits from improvements in the prize sponsorship, nomination and judging procedures; presentation and acceptance; and publicity and even controversy. These lessons can all be applied to the world of agricultural innovation.
Today a number of prizes globally seek to foster innovation. A study by consulting giant McKinsey found that such prizes are most effective when there is:
a clear objective (for example, one that is measurable and achievable within a reasonable time frame), the availability of a relatively large population of potential problem solvers, and a willingness on the part of participants to bear some of the costs and risks.
More prizes needed
Hopefully, the Africa Food Prize will foster the creation of similar and complementary prizes. This is important. There’s a tendency for society to shun excellence prizes if they appear to serve only a small group of people. In social settings where patronage and entitlement are the default criteria for awards, resentment toward these prizes is particularly strong.
So what might new prizes in the field of agricultural innovation look like? They could have very specific objectives – rewarding young agricultural entrepreneurs, especially those who succeed across the full agricultural value chain. They could focus on newer agricultural fields like data processing. They could reward those who are innovative in production, processing and packaging, retailing, recycling and environmental management.
The diversity of agricultural activities calls for more prizes. As “The Economy of Prestige” suggests, society can rapidly accumulate cultural capital if there are as many prizes as they are winners. The Africa Food Prize should be the first seed in a broader effort to cultivate a culture of agricultural excellence on the continent.
Prior to colonialism, food production in Africa was in the hands of African farmers who grew crops mainly for food production. Many explorers to Africa were more focused on acquiring and shipping raw materials to the western world and considered this the most efficient use of their resources. Over time this way of conducting business became expensive and they sought to diversify ways to increase their profits. More often than not, private companies such as the Royal Niger Company, Imperial British East Africa Company, and British South Africa Company incurred high costs in trying to set up a new administration that would protect their interests. These new administrations often introduced tax systems and laws that forced local farmers to grow crops they could openly sell on the local market in order to pay their taxes. This led to the introduction of cash crop agriculture in many parts of Africa.
Ghana and Nigeria
On the Gold Coast, cocoa became the key cash crop after it was introduced to the territory in the 1880s. The Gold Coast became the single largest producer of cocoa in the world and production continued to expand until the 1970s. Cocoa production in Ghana, was introduced to the Akwapim by missionaries. In Nigeria, the Yoruba were introduced to cocoa and the Hausa to groundnuts. While cocoa production was profitable for export it required large tracts of land and could take up to 15 years to mature.
In Uganda, the British Cotton Growing Association encouraged the Ganda chiefly class to embrace cotton production. Prior to cotton becoming the key cash crop, the Buganda had exported slaves and ivory only and farming was primarily used for food production. While cotton production increased dramatically, food production declined as more farmers chose to plant cotton which would increase the value of their land. In Sudan’s Gezira region, cotton was also the major cash crop and Sudan’s Plantation Syndicate dictated the use of land to farmers by providing most of the financing. The focus on a single cash crop for a country of region left many Africans vulnerable during periods of drought, economic decline and falling world prices.
In Kenya, most groups were pastoralists except in the fertile Rift Valley, where the settler government parceled out land to its people by clearing African inhabitants. Groups like the Kikuyu were displaced and moved to areas with poor soil and unfavorable climate known as reserves. The few Africans who continued to live on land designated for white settlers were treated as squatters who were required to work for the white farmer in return for living on his land for a specified amount of time, thereby offering cheap labor.
Early colonial government would actively support white farmers by providing them financial assistance, seeds, equipment, agricultural advice, startup loans and cheap transportation rates to transport produce using the railway. The white settler government actively sabotaged African farmers by making it illegal for them to participate in export trade of any cash crop and prohibited from growing specific cash crops like coffee or tea.
In Southern Rhodesia (now present day Zimbabwe), the white settlers settled for farming after failing to find large the large gold reserved they hope to. In 1923, they consolidated power and achieved self-governing status. In 1930, through the Land Apportionment Act, the white settler farmers were able to take 49 million acres of the most productive land while Africans were placed in 7.5 million acres of the worst land known as reserves. Most of white settler farmers grew cash crops for export.
This article serves as a foundation for understanding the land issue in many African countries such as Malawi.
Maya Berinzon and Ryan BriggsJanuary 20 2017 at 7:00 AM
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, left, takes the oath of office during the swearing-in ceremony lead by Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood at Independence Square in Accra, Ghana, on Jan. 7. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)
When Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo took the oath of office on Jan. 7, by his side was a judge wearing a traditional British horsehair wig and black judicial robes. Just how far had Ghana shifted away from colonial rule since gaining independence in 1957?
Many Africans — and political scientists — believed that the newfound sovereignty of African nations in the 1950s and 1960s would cure ills, from economic underdevelopment to political repression, from low levels of social trust to high levels of corruption.
Many of these hopes remain unrealized. While countries did gain independence, some researchers argue that they held on to many of the rules put in place by former colonizers. Our research examines if this idea of colonial endurance is plausible in the legal sector.
Do colonial rules persist?
Colonial-era bureaucracies and legal systems were designed to control the population and extract wealth from the colony back to the colonizing power. After independence, governing and judicial institutions continued to run much as they had in the past, like trains moving along the same track.
Examples are easy to spot. Judges in a number of other African Commonwealth nations continue to wear the horsehair wigs and robes of their British predecessors. Some laws in Commonwealth nations also mirror older British laws — many African countries still maintain harsh colonial-era laws criminalizing homosexuality, for instance.
In the United States as well, we can easily find antiquated laws. Hey, New Yorkers, it’s illegal to wear slippers after 10 pm. Seriously.
While we have some anecdotal examples of legal institutions staying the same, we also have examples of countries making major changes to their laws. Rwanda, for example, is in the process of changing its entire legal system from the colonial Belgian civil law system to the common law system.
So, we have competing narratives. Do examples of colonial endurance tell us something about the general state of institutions, or are they just weird exceptions to a more general pattern of change?
Do colonial laws hold countries back?
If these laws have stayed largely the same, this could help us understand why some countries have had slower economic growth. For example, researchers have found that there is a correlation between the kind of colonial legal system and economic outcomes today. Generally, civil law countries perform worse than common law countries.
So, if civil law countries kept their colonial laws, this might account for worse economic growth. Changing these laws might help them perform better economically. If, however, laws have already shifted, then further modifying the laws themselves is unlikely to promote economic development. In this latter case, there must be other reasons for the constrained growth, like informal institutions or norms.
We scrutinized the entire criminal code in 7 countries
Our research challenges the idea that there is widespread persistence of colonial legislationin African civil law countries. We examined how much of the colonial criminal code endured across much of French West Africa — Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. We looked at whole legal codes rather than cherry-picking individual laws.
The French implemented a single criminal code across its colonies, with a final version instituted in 1955 (five years before most French African colonies gained independence). We wanted to see how much of this colonial law was evident in the present codes of these sub-Saharan successor states of French West Africa.
Each criminal code includes hundreds of articles, so we wrote a program to make these comparisons. The program takes every article of the 1955 code and finds the article in each country’s present code that most resembles it. It tabulates what fraction of the old article must change in order to turn it into a new article. If very few changes are necessary, then the language of the old article carries into the present code. If a lot has to change, then this is evidence that colonial influence is waning.
All of these countries made large changes to their criminal codes
The figure below shows how much of the colonial code was retained in each of the seven West African countries in our study. Every country substantially changed more than half of the colonial criminal code. Most changed significantly more.
Senegal retained the largest share of colonial articles, but even then, less than half of the colonial code exists in the present code. Togo retained the least, keeping only a few colonial articles in its modern criminal code.
Figure 1: How much of the 1955 French penal code remains in West African nations? This figure measures the extent to which the 1955 AOF (Afrique occidentale française) criminal code remains embedded in present-day legal code. Every country in our study changed more than half of its criminal code after independence, though some countries changed far more than others. Source: Ryan Briggs
So what do our findings say about the persistence of colonial law? First, we should be skeptical of claims that Africa’s laws are unchanged since the colonial period. Our results suggest that the laws in these countries are dynamic and varied.
Second, these findings suggest that if inherited colonial institutions are responsible for economic or political outcomes today, then this effect probably occurs through the transmission of informal rules or culture. It’s not directly because of the laws themselves.
Third, these results imply that it is not enough, and potentially not even useful, to suggest that a problem like corruption or weak shareholder protection can be fixed simply by writing new laws. Any prescription for change should start from a proper diagnosis. In these countries, there is little need to rewrite laws to remove colonial influence; that influence has already waned.
Maya Berinzon is a researcher at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Policy and Governance.
Ryan Briggs (@ryanbriggs) is an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Political Science.
M Neelika Jayawardane is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego.
Whenever “Africa” is in the headline of mainstream US and European media sources, especially those that are highly regarded, I wince. I know the storyline is going to suffused by disappointment and resignation about Africa failing, once again.
While the rest of the world and its modern inhabitants are technologising and digitising, happily going about wearing jeans and T-shirts, there goes Africa, backwards into some apocalyptic, scarred past, wearing embarrassing tribal garb.
Sometimes, these media outlets allow Africa to come to the present, but of course, in dubious ways: embedded in the flow of “Islamic” terror-narratives: Nigeria and Boko Haram, Libya and its violent insurgents, Somalia and its troublesome “Islamic fundamentalists” raiding Kenyan universities.
It’s as though the editorial board is shaking its collective head with an exasperated sigh, and showing us, with a lavish, full-colour photograph, exactly why they are frustrated with the entire continent.
Sometimes, though, I’m just confused. For instance, the influential New York Times recently published an article titled “Who Is Telling Africa’s Stories“, covering efforts to develop photojournalism in various African countries.
The writer, Whitney Richardson, a photo editor for the paper, provided some contradicting points: Happy news about the growing number of talented photographers coming out of photography training institutes and collectives based in countries with divergent histories and presents – Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa – but also that these photographers do not produce work that is “professional” enough for agencies to hire them.
Richardson offered some insight into continuing problems that locally based photographers face getting international news agencies’ attention. What emerges as a solution is the need for young photographers to get international exposure, where, according to acclaimed photographer Akintunde Akinleye, they may also “learn the ethical standards of the industry”. The takeaway: unless international news agencies based in North America and Europe such as the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse pick your work, you are a nobody.
Yet, it is these very agencies that contribute to problematic views that simplify Africa into a repetitive trope. Africa remains a monolithic space of violence and poverty uncomplicated by global politics and military action, because the images and narratives chosen by powerful news agencies and newspapers continue to speak to foundational myths that Europe (and white ex-colonists and plantation owners in America) manufactured about Africa, in order to better ease their conquest and exploitation of a regionally, politically and socially complex, dynamic continental shelf.
If the construction of the African as child-like, or not quite human, who has little agency or intellect, aided the colonial project, today, the narrative continues to aid the construction of the European self as civilised, maintaining the African and Africa as the location of savagery, helplessness, and devastation. It also creates Europe as a desirable location that those who have no agency and have done little to better themselves attempt to infiltrate – much to Europe’s chagrin.
Aida Muluneh, Ethiopian-born artist, documentary photographer, and the founder of Desta for Africa (DFA) – a creative consultancy that curates exhibitions and pursues cultural projects with local and international institutions – emphasises: “Photography continues to play a key role in how we are seen, not just as Africans, but as black people from every corner of the world. Stereotypes and prejudice are incited by images, and if it’s used, yet again, to undermine those of us who are truly doing the difficult work, then we need to have some uncomfortable conversations.“
And when it comes to payment, there are further “uncomfortable” discrepancies that international agencies never reveal: “When we do get assignments, they want to pay us less because we are from the country; but for a foreign photographer, they will not blink to pay an arm and a leg,” adds Muluneh.
In Richardson’s piece, the prevailing view is that even though top photo agencies are looking for local photographers to “offset costs”, the Africans do not compare to western photographers.
Alice Gabriner, Time magazine’s international photo editor, expressed disappointment with African photographers (note, again, an entire continent’s photographers are lumped together), because they lack “completed bodies of work”.
But photography training institutions – producing photographers with “complete” bodies of work that have received international acclaim and awards – have mushroomed in the past 10 years. Muluneh’s own focus is on developing internal networks: to be “independent and to create our own platforms … and institutions … to be self-sustainable and to be able to compete in the international market.”
Despite the existence of photographers and journalists from African localities, they are not the go-to people that agencies based in the geopolitical West seek out. The New York Times’ reporters-in-Africa, Nicholas Kristoff and Jeffrey Gettleman, or R W Johnson, the London Review of Book’s go-to fave on South Africa, spin a good Africa story, seemingly with little self-critique, and with little thought to consequences.
The ideologies behind the image narratives and stories in English language news sources are presented matter-of-factly, with little resistance from alternative media in the US and Europe; although they often contain deeply problematic perspectives of significant issues, they are trotted out on a regular basis, whenever there is a “crisis” involving Africa.
Conscious and unconscious tropes
If we ask a photojournalist or a photo editor how old narratives constructed in order to aid slavery, exploitation, and colonisation, as well as current efforts to extract resources, continue to inflect themselves into how we conceive of Africa and Africans today, in current photo spreads, we’d draw blank stares, or be the recipient of hostile, defensive responses.
That lack of critique is partly owing to the fact that photo narratives reference prevailing problematic, and often racist, views; even those with expensive educations that taught them to be critical, those who hold influential photo-editing positions at the world’s most powerful news companies, still subscribe to these views, consciously or unconsciously.
For instance, only months before publishing “Who is Telling Africa’s Stories,” The New York Times published a photo essay with the troubling headline “Stepping Over the Dead on a Migrant Boat” by Rick Gladstone and Aris Messinis. The story focused on African migrants who had crossed the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe, but ended up dying in a capsizing boat.
The photo essay appears, at first, to highlight the migrants’ plight. However, the way in which they are portrayed, along with the provocative headline, made their desperate attempts to reach safety appear callous and inhuman (because what civilised person would step over the dead?).
The survivors who scrambled to get to safety are depicted as broken humans, at best, or those with unformed psyches that permit acts of barbarity that the Western “we” would never consider.
Photo-narratives such as “Stepping Over the Dead” bring up many familiar, and troubling, tropes common to the prevailing narratives about Africa. They teach a new generation of readers to view the African as an “other” to be pitied or feared.
These arresting images – constructed mostly by flown-in photojournalists, with the help of their photo editors – grab our attention; the best draw the fundamentals of their aesthetic from European masters, referencing visual cliches that Western-educated audiences can identify and latch on to. They continue and reinforce colonial mythologies, fashioning the “us” of the geopolitical West as “civilised”, defining and distinguishing the enlightened European self from the dark, savage Africa.
When the same newspaper prints a story about the struggle that African photographers face getting their work published, with little critique of their own involvement in presenting an insistently racist vision of Africa and Africans that simply masquerades as compassion, it’s easy to end up with a little schizophrenia.
How can African photographers hope to get work or recognition without reproducing expected stereotypes? Can they do so without the accompaniment of writing that exposes European or US governments’ interference and military presence – as in the case of Somalia, Mali, CAR, Djibouti, and Chad – or destabilisation efforts and military campaigns – as in the case of Libya?
Instead of leading the story with the dearth of Africa-based agencies, and offering the need to get recognition in North America and Europe – itself a problematic solution, available mostly to those who are already from middle and upper-class families who are well-connected enough to navigate visa and immigration regimes, not to mention galleries and art world sharks – why not offer better solutions?
Photographs have traditionally been regarded as “evidence”, or even as providers of indisputable “truth”. And there is little doubt that the present generation reads the world almost exclusively through images. In this age, where images play a significant role in how we read the world, photographs that accompany news stories have even more influence.
But the practice of reading, in which we currently engage, is undergirded by consumer practices; it is carried out with little critical ability, and with little historical understanding about how and why readers’ image repertories, and their thought processes are influenced by material cultures – including photography – that aided violent, imperial histories.
But because photography is seen as a “truth-telling” medium that reveals without bias, audiences and photographers themselves are unaware of how the narratives they help create continue to be inflected with the same stories that enabled Europe’s construction of the African as a savage or helpless, the “other” needing the disciplinary forces of Western civilisation to tame and aid their unruly bodies and psyches into modernity.
When Muluneh was recently interviewed by a local radio station, she was asked how she was able to photograph “the good” things about Ethiopia, “as well as the bad”. Muluneh explained to her interviewer that the “bad is the easiest thing to document”. Perhaps that’s something The New York Times’ photographers need to hear in a critical skills workshop.
M Neelika Jayawardaneis an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego, and an Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). She was a senior editor and contributor to the online magazine, Africa is a Country, from 2010 to 2106. Her writing is featured in Transitions, Contemporary And, Art South Africa, Contemporary Practices: Visual Art from the Middle East, and Research in African Literatures. She writes about and collaborates with visual artists.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Tanzania is receiving development assistance to further develop the agricultural sector through public-private cooperation. The projects are being promoted under the premise that fertile land is abundant but, in practice, this land is almost always occupied. This means that large-scale agricultural projects are driving people off their land. An example is the case of the Maasai of Mabwegere, who are being dealt with harshly.
Land, water and access to natural resources become scarcer due to climate change, population growth, and the increasing demand for land for investment.
The Tanzanian government wants to develop the country by attracting investors, and for that it needs land.
Maasai unwelcome in their own village
The village of Mabwegere in the district of Kilosa in the Tanzanian province of Morogoro is home to 4105 nomadic pastoralist Maasai, while the surrounding villages are made up of crop farmers.
Although Mabwegere is an officially registered village and the Maasai have been living there since the 1950s, the elites and the local government are abusing their power so as to drive out the Maasai and to drive a wedge between the crop farmers and the cattle herders. They want to use the land for speculation or for growing crops.
This fuels the conflicts between these two groups, who are given less and less land and living space.
The first time the local authorities tried to evict the farmers was in January 2009. We interviewed nine men and seven women from the village who were there at that time. For their own safety, they prefer to remain anonymous.
‘The district administration gave the order to seize the cattle. They wanted to cash in the cattle and evict herders to give the land to agriculturists,’ says one of the village elders.
During the large-scale operation to remove pastoralists from Kilosa, police and paramilitary units throughout the district confiscated their livestock.
The villagers say 5000 cows and goats were seized in their village alone, but the exact number is difficult to determine. A report of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) shows estimates ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 or 300,000 confiscated animals in the entire district.
‘Although we paid the fines, we never saw our cattle again. The police sold every animal at a large cattle market in Dar es Salaam.’
‘We tried to stop them, but the police held us at gunpoint and fired warning shots. They bombarded us with teargas and beat people,’ says a villager.
‘There were at least 200 of them and there were also people from neighboring villages with whom we don’t get along.’
All the cattle were herded into large stables. The villagers had to pay a fine of 30,000 Tanzanian shillings, about 15 Euros, for each cow and 5 Euros for a goat or sheep.
‘Although we paid the fines, we never saw our cattle again. They sold every animal at a large cattle market in Dar es Salaam,’ says one of the villagers.
The Maasai’s livelihood depends entirely on their cattle. At the time of the seizure, a cow was worth about 500 Euros on average. People were left in poverty.
‘We had no money to buy cattle. Some borrowed cows from relatives to survive, but those who were not so lucky still have nothing today,’ said one of the villagers.
‘The cows were all we had,’ says one of the women from the village. ‘We cannot grow crops. Our sons moved to the city. They now live far away in Iringa.’
Blocking access to water may be a strategic move to prevent the Maasai from returning to their territory.
Farmers from neighboring villages used the chaos to their advantage by occupying Maasai land and using it to grow crops.
Much of the land they confiscated is located at the river and drinking spots.
The farmers let the IGWIA know that blocking the herders’ water access was a strategic move to prevent them from returning to their territory.
One of the women shows a plastic bottle that appears to be filled with lemonade: ‘This is our water. We no longer have proper water. The cattle can’t drink it. It makes us ill, too.
Whenever we have our blood tested, the results show we have typhoid. When we want to let our cattle drink from the rivers, the farmers who are now growing tomatoes and sugarcane stop us. We have to get our water from puddles.’
‘We sued those farmers but lost the case, even though in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that Mabwegere officially belongs to us’, says one of the men from the village.
‘We have been living here since 1956. The local government is ignoring court orders.’
‘The government considers this a good region for farming rice. There are important people in the government who are particularly interested in this land.’
One of the reasons why the local authorities ignore court orders may be that the district administration has already given parts of the region to influential people without following the legal procedures.
‘There are rich people from the cities that want our land’, says one of the older women from the village. ‘What are they expecting? That we’re going to live in trees like baboons or birds?’
According to the men from the village, some of those who want their land are in the government themselves: ‘The government considers this a good region for farming rice. There are important people in the government who are particularly interested in this land.
That’s why they are turning our neighbors against us. They are conducting a hate campaign, portraying us as violent and uncivilized.’
Murder, arson and rape
This hate campaign also fits in with the policies and discourse of Jakaya Kikwete, who was president of Tanzania until late 2015. Kikwete considered the lifestyle of the nomadic cattle farmers unproductive and outdated, something that didn’t belong in a modern state.
He stated in his speech at the start of his tenure that the people of Tanzania should go from being nomadic herders to become modern sedentary farmers.
‘They came with clubs, spears and machetes. They tried to seize our cattle. They torched houses and raped women.’
Local politicians continue to incorrectly label the nomadic cattle farmers as illegal immigrants who cause conflicts.
In January 2015, the conflict escalated further when residents of the neighboring villages invaded Mabwegere.
‘They came with clubs, spears and machetes. They tried to seize our cattle. They torched houses and raped women.
The IWGIA report that six women were raped, the villagers themselves say there were four. ‘The real number is much higher’, says Maasai leader Chris.
Chris is not his real name, because he, too, fears persecution. He represents 200,000 people and, in the past, he has reported to the UN about the situation in Tanzania.
‘Women in my community can’t say they’ve been raped. They feel it would damage their reputation’, says Chris.
Chris believes those who attacked the village were trained units.
‘The elite are financing these conflicts. They want our land in order to sell it to investors. They finance the farmers from neighboring villages and train them to fight. This is not just a conflict, it’s war.’
‘The elite are financing these conflicts. They want our land in order to sell it to investors. They finance the farmers from neighboring villages and train them to fight. This is not just a conflict, it’s war.’
‘Women and children are the most vulnerable during such violence’, say the women. ‘The men are often away from home and can stay in the cities or in the forest, but we are always at home to take care of the children. We have nowhere to go.’
The trauma runs deep. The women of the village cry when talking about the seizure of the cattle in 2009 and about the more recent rapes. A recurring theme is their indignation about the fact that they do not get help in coping with the traumatic events.
‘After the invasion in 2015, the representative of the regional government even came to the village, but nothing happened. Everything stayed the way it was and no one was punished’, says a resident.
Since the cattle seizure, there has been a culture of impunity. The cattle farmers sued at different levels of government, but to no avail. They were given no protection at all.
The Tanzanian newspaper Daily News did report this February that the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau has started investigating politicians and others who may have spurred on the conflict.
Land disputes and demarcation
Mabwegere is not an isolated case. The IWGIA has gathered statements from cattle herders in about twenty villages in five provinces of Tanzania. The general narrative is always the same.
Tanzanian NGO HAKIARDHI reported in 2012 that, in the span of a year, there were 1825 land disputes in courts and, in sixty percent of those, a powerful investor was involved.
The village of Mabwegere is located in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGCOT). The government, donors and the private sector want to realize this fertile region’s agricultural potential and modernize it through public-private cooperation, focusing on small-scale farmers.
This supports the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NASFN), an initiative launched in 2012 by the G8 in order to pull 50 million people in Africa out of poverty and hunger through public-private cooperation in the agricultural sector.
The initiative is supported by the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.
In this case, the demarcation is not intended for securing the rights of the villagers, but for providing security to investors.
The NAFSN projects are aimed at the SAGCOT region.
The Tanzanian government promised to demarcate the SAGCOT region’s land in order to obtain the support of the NAFSN.
This would allow the government to create a mechanism to provide investors with land in a correct and transparent way.
A clear demarcation could help villagers secure the rights to their land. However, in this case, the demarcation is not intended for securing the rights of the villagers, but for providing security to investors.
Paolo De Meo of Terra Nuova, an NGO cooperating with the Hands on the Land coalition, considers EU policy partially responsible for the land grabbing.
‘Nomadic cattle farmers are one of the most vulnerable communities, because their lifestyle is not productive from an industrial perspective.’
‘EU support of African agriculture is increasingly focused on expanding an industrial agricultural model. This makes nomadic cattle farmers one of the most vulnerable communities, because their grasslands are considered unused and because their lifestyle is not productive from an industrial perspective.’
Edward Louré of the Tanzanian NGO Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), which supports the rights of nomadic cattle farmers and hunter-gatherers, is also concerned.
‘The NAFSN is receiving much support from the World Bank. We are worried because the project documentation for the NAFSN does not mention the rights of indigenous peoples. This is unusual for the World Bank. They know much about the rights of indigenous peoples.
Their silence in this matter leads us to assume that they are allowing the ousting of local communities to make room for big investors.’
Land that isn’t there
Tanzania divides all land into three categories. Under SAGCOT, the only category accessible to investors is general land, but this only constitutes two percent of the land. The other two categories are village land and reserved land.
The president can convert village land into general land if this serves public interest, such as in agricultural projects. SAGCOT wants to increase the percentage of general land in the region from 2 to 20 percent.
This would free up 350,000 hectares of land for agriculture and would require converting village land or reservations to general land.
‘The World Bank does not want to be accused of facilitating land grabs.’
Professor Lusugga Kironde of the Ardhi University conducted a non-published study for the World Bank concerning land matters in the SAGCOT region.
‘The World Bank requested that study because they wanted to know if the land is really available. We believe it is not. The World Bank wants to know which steps they need to take in order to acquire the land. They do not want to be accused of facilitating land grabs.’
‘The conflicts between farmers and nomadic pastoralists are a clear sign that there is no free and available land’, says Professor Kironde.
‘If the land were available, we would not be seeing these conflicts. Farmers would not be taking the nomadic pastoralists’ land if they had enough land available themselves.
The conflicts are growing in frequency and lethality. A project like SAGCOT is impossible without taking families’ land.’
Investors who want land have to go through the Tanzanian Investment Center (TIC). A TIC employee, who wished to testify only anonymously, also agrees that there is no land available.
‘Now that they are revising policy, there is a strong lobby that wants to convert village land to general land in order to make it available to investors. If this happens, it will lead to large-scale land grabs.’
‘There is no indisputably available land. The procedures to make land available for investing are time-consuming, because the village land needs to be converted into general land. The investors have to wait for months until the conversion is complete.’
National policy concerning land is currently being revised, which worries Professor Kironde.
‘There is much pressure because it is difficult for investors to gain access to land. Now that policy is being revised, there is a strong lobby that wants to convert village land to general land in order to make it available to investors. If this happens, it will lead to large-scale land grabs.
It will take some time, because converting all land to general land would require changes to the constitution. However, the process could become more simplified and faster.
‘It would be good if they could shorten the procedures for conversion, for instance by involving the Minister for Lands rather than the President’, says the TIC employee.
No budget for proper consultations
State organization RUBADA (Rufiji Basin Development Authority) is in charge of the demarcation of the land under SAGCOT. This organisation visits villages to demarcate land and, at the same time, tries to attract investors.
RUBADA made Tanzanian headlines last year because of a corruption scandal involving the disappearance of about one million Euros of development and investment money.
‘One of our main goals is attracting investments in the SAGCOT region’, says RUBADA Director for Planning and Investment John Rutabwaba.
A RUBADA employee told academic Mikael Bergius that they handle as many villages as possible each day. Bergius has been researching agricultural development in Tanzania for decades at the Norwegian University NMBU and for the Oakland Institute thinktank.
‘We cannot adequately consult the villagers because we lack the budget’, says Rutabwaba. ‘We are a governmental organisation, but the government doesn’t support us. Luckily, we’ve gotten some help from the UNDP, otherwise we would not be able to do anything at all.’
Ebe Daems & Kweli Ukwethembeka Iqiniso This article was created with the support of Journalismfund.eu
In order to receive development assistance, Tanzania has to give Western agribusiness full freedom and give enclosed protection for patented seeds. “Eighty percent of the seeds are being shared and sold in an informal system between neighbors, friends and family. The new law criminalizes the practice in Tanzania,” says Michael Farrelly of TOAM, an organic farming movement in Tanzania.
In order to get developmental assistance, Tanzania amended its legislation, which should give commercial investors faster and better access to agricultural land as well as a very strong protection of intellectual property rights.
‘If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto under the new legislation, they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You’re not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that’s the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa’, says Michael Farrelly.
Under the new law, Tanzanian farmers risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years or a fine of over €205,300, or both, if they sell seeds that are not certified.
‘That’s an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day’, says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT).
Under pressure of the G8
Tanzania applied the legislation concerning intellectual property rights on seeds as a condition for receiving development assistance through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The NAFSN was launched in 2012 by the G8 with the goal to help 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in the ten African partner countries through a public-private partnership. The initiative receives the support of the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Companies that invest in the NAFSN are expected to pay attention to small-scale farmers and women in their projects, but sometimes little of that is noticed. As a result, the NAFSN receives a lot of criticism from NGOs and civil-society movements. Even the European Parliament issued a very critical report in May this year to urge the European Commission to take action.
‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind the G8.’
With the changes in the legislation, Tanzania became the first least-developed country to join the UPOV 91-convention. All countries that are members of the World Trade Organization must include intellectual property rights on seeds in their legislation, but the least-developed countries are exempt from recognizing any form of intellectual property rights until 2021. After that, the issues would be reviewed.
‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape from poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind de G8,” says Michael Farrelly.
‘As a result, the farmers’ seed system will collapse, because they can’t sell their own seeds”, according to Janet Maro. ‘Multinationals will provide our country with seeds and all the farmers will have to buy them from them. That means that we will lose biodiversity, because it is impossible for them to investigate and patent all the seeds we need. We’re going to end up with fewer types of seeds.’
‘I have seeds of my family, because my great-grandmother used them. She gave them to my grandmother, who gave them to my mother and my mother then gave them to me. I’ve planted them here in the demonstration garden in Morogoro and that’s why very rare plants now grow here’, says Janet Maro. ‘Local farmers find it hard to understand the idea that you can patent and own a seed. Seed should simply be something that is easily available”, says Janet Maro.
Ownership for investments
‘Intellectual property rights ensure that farmers have better access to technology’, claims Kinyua M’Mbijjewe, head of Corporate Affairs in Africa for Syngenta. Syngenta is a Swiss company that produces seeds and agrochemicals alongside Yara, one of the two largest players in the private sector in the NAFSN.
‘A company that wants to invest wants to be sure that its technology is protected. African farmers have been sharing, bartering and trading their seeds as a form of tradition. For farmers who want to continue to do so, it is important that they have that choice.’ Kinyua M’Mbijjewe claims not to be aware that the Tanzanian legislation no longer allows that freedom of choice. This is strange, since Syngenta is one of the companies that is part of the leadership council of the NAFSN, meaning that they negotiate directly with the partners about the changes in legislation which must be met in exchange for aid.
Nevertheless, according to the Tanzanian Government, the legislation never intended to penalize small-scale farmers, only to protect their property rights – that is, if they patent their own seeds.
‘Small-scale farmers do not have the means to get a patent for their seeds.’
‘But who’s going to sell non-certified seeds? Small-scale farmers do not have the means to get a patent for their seeds’, says Janet Maro.
“The government is working on a revision of the seed legislation. We hope that they will add an exception for small-scale farmers and will expand the Quality Declared Seed System,” says Michael Farrelly.
The Quality Declared Seed System gives quality guarantee for seed. It is a kind of compromise, because quality is cheaper and easier to obtain than a patent.
Currently, a farmer is allowed to sell recognized seeds in only three surrounding villages, but the government says it wants to expand this at the district level with the new legislation. ‘That way, the seeds could be sold in seventy villages, which is economically viable,” says Farrelly.
Removal of trade barriers
An additional problem is that the seeds of foreign companies are not always adapted to the local climate. ‘What works in Utrecht doesn’t necessarily work in Zanzibar,’ says Michael Farrelly. Tanzania alone has five different climate zones. ‘Even the region of Morogoro has different climate zones,” says Janet Maro.
‘Africa’s trade barriers have not pushed forward the farmers and the economy.’
Yet soon it will be easier for seeds from different regions to enter the country, and other African countries are on the way to follow Tanzania’s example. In 2015, eighteen African countries signed the Arusha Protocol for the protection of new plant varieties.
The purpose is that all countries would try to work on eliminating the trade barriers and incorporate intellectual property rights on seeds in their legislation, in order to achieve a harmonized regional system. Among others, the Community Plant Variety Office, an EU agency for the protection of plant varieties as intellectual property, invariably takes part in all meetings related to the Protocol.
Syngenta believes that these measures will help advance Africa: ‘We are pleased that it is finally going in the right direction after years of negotiations,’ says Kinyua M’Mbijjewe. ‘The EU has a harmonized policy regarding the seeds that are allowed to be brought into another country. In Africa this doesn’t exist. You could not bring seeds from Kenya over the border to Tanzania, an area with the same climate zone. Africa’s trade barriers have not pushed forward the farmers and the economy.’
More intensive farming?
In order to feed the world population by 2050, the World Bank and FAO (the UN food agency) state that food production must increase by half. A figurative war is fought regarding the approach to increase production, but there will likely be many victims among the small-scale farmers.
According to the business world, Africa needs more agricultural inputs: fertilizers, hybrid seeds, pesticides… But is the commercial approach best suited to help the poorest segment of the population?
‘The small-scale farmers are not our target.’
All the development initiatives of the NAFSN in Tanzania focus exclusively on the most fertile part of the country. The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) covers much of the southern half of the country. Fertile soil easily attracts investors. But what about the farmers who are located in less-than-ideal regions? Or what about the statement by the World Bank (2008 report) that input subsidies for fertilizer in Zambia were beneficial mainly for relatively rich farmers rather than for the small-scale farmers whom the subsidies were meant to benefit? Another essential fact: this type of intensive farming is one of the biggest causes of global warming.
Syngenta itself has admitted that it is logical that they, as a company, have little concern for the less successful farmers. ‘We are a commercial company and therefore we invest in Africa. We believe that Africa is done with development aid and that it is now all about trade,” concludes Kinyua M’Mbijjewe. ‘The small-scale farmers are not our target. We focus on small-scale farmers trying to grow businesses and we are happy to work with NGOs that have a commercial approach. Farmers who merely try to survive or operate in an unfavorable climate are left out.’
Many farmer organizations and FAO have more faith in ecological methods. Particularly the smaller-scale farmers would benefit from it, because they usually cannot afford the expensive inputs for conventional agriculture.
Janet Maro, on the other hand, works in challenging rural areas. Together with SAT, she trains small-scale farmers in agro-ecological farming methods. SAT teaches farmers to do farming with what is available in their surroundings.
‘After our training, there were many farmers with good results who questioned why they should still go into town to buy expensive synthetic fertilizer.’
‘Our training center is located in the dry areas of Vianze, which most people would claim to be impossible to farm,’ says Janet Maro. ‘If we can do it there, we can do it anywhere. We plant additional trees that hold back the water when it rains, so that it is incorporated into the soil, and we have an irrigation system with water bottles, so we consume less water.’
‘We teach small-scale farmers how to make compost with the plants they cut in their fields. We also teach them to do mixed cropping and to make extracts from plants that grow in their surroundings in order to control crop pests and diseases. The most common pest, for example, is the aphid. You can make an extract of Lantana camara, a shrub that grows in almost every village in Tanzania, to control the aphids,’ says Janet Maro.
‘We also trained farmers in a region where they were given government subsidies to purchase fertilizer. After our training, there were many farmers with good results who questioned why they should still go into town to buy expensive synthetic fertilizer, as they can have a good harvest and can fight pests with resources that are available in their own fields. Those farmers returned their vouchers for subsidized fertilizer to the government. The government has now also come knocking on our door, asking us to train farmers.’
Choosing between grandmother and industry
‘Doing nothing and thinking that you can continue with what your grandmother grew, is a guaranteed catastrophe’, says Kinyua M’Mbijjewe from Syngenta. ‘The reason we have hunger in Africa is that there are insufficient agricultural inputs.’
‘Doing nothing and thinking that you can continue with what your grandmother grew, is a guaranteed catastrophe.’
Abel Lyimo, the CEO of the Tanzanian Rural Urban Development Initiatives, a NGO that focusses on the development of small-scale farmers through the private sector, thinks the same: ‘Tanzania is one of the countries with the lowest use of farm inputs and the lowest productivity in the world. There is a link between proper use of inputs and productivity. Use only half, and you’ll produce only half.’
Janet Maro contradicts that. ‘In the Mlali Region, there were projects in which they gave the farmers parcels of land to grow tomatoes. It went really well for a while and they produced a huge quantity of tomatoes, but this year things went wrong. The price of a bucket of tomatoes ranged between two and three Euros. Nowadays, because of the overproduction, you have to consider yourself lucky if you get 40 cents. Now, the farmers can no longer afford those expensive fertilizers and chemicals.’
‘And I haven’t even started to mention the environmental damage and the deterioration in soil fertility that these projects cause. The government has asked us to train farmers because the quality and quantity of the water from the Mzinga and Ruvu Rivers have considerably worsened because of the government’s agricultural projects. They want to save the situation before it is too late and have seen that the projects of SAT have a much better impact on the environment.’
Even the United Nation’s former Special Rapporteur for the Right for Food, Olivier De Schutter, stresses the importance of more research and investment in agro-ecological methods in a report in 2011.
According to FAO figures, more than 80 percent of the food in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa is produced by small-scale farmers. If they cannot afford commercial inputs, they can still make progress with agro-ecological methods. The methods are not immediately patentable and therefore the industry treats them shabbily. An unfortunate consequence of this is that insufficient research is being done into such methods.
Ebe Daems & Kweli Ukwethembeka Iqiniso This article was created with the support of Journalismfund.eu
Think tanks are important institutions that provide information and analysis to both policy-makers and the public. But when they court donations, it can become unclear whether that analysis is tainted by donor agendas.
Ken Silverstein in the Nation (5/21/13) recently exposed the extent to which positions at the center-left Center for American Progress (CAP) and other think tanks were shaped by the interests of donors. “Staffers were very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors,” Silverstein reported.
The 25 institutions in FAIR’s study of think tank citations have gotten money from corporations, foundations, governments and individual donors. The law does not require public disclosure of who the donors are, though donations above $5,000 are reported to the IRS. Many think tanks thank their donors in their annual reports, while others list donors on their websites. Sometimes the trawling of tax documents is required to figure out who is giving—and what they’re getting in return.
The sobering news about atmospheric carbon dioxide passing 400 parts per million (Guardian, 5/10/13) is another reminder that the global community needs to quickly take serious steps to avert looming ecological catastrophe, but with world leaders relying on research funded by the energy industry, it is unlikely the drastic measures required will be considered.
Billionaire Pete Peterson has ties to five top think tanks (cc photo: Lingjing Bao/Talk Radio News Service)
Almost two-thirds of the think tanks studied (16 out of 25) took money from at least one oil company. Thirteen—more than half—were funded by ExxonMobil, while more than a third, nine, were funded by Chevron; the Koch brothers contributed to seven. Shell gave to four think tanks, and Conoco-Phillips and BP each funded three.
Reflecting the clout that big donations bring, various think tanks have Big Energy sitting on their boards. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has Rex W. Tillerson, chair and CEO of ExxonMobil, on its board of trustees, along with John Hess of Hess Oil. Duke Energy chief Jim Rogers sits on the boards of the Brookings Institution and the Aspen Institute. Aspen also has David Koch of Koch Industries, who’s on the board of the Cato Institute as well. The board of trustees of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) features the “Honorable Richard B. Cheney.”
War-related issues are also of vital public concern—and the companies that most profit from war are using their wealth to shape the discussion in ways that benefit them. Just under half (12 of 25) of the most-cited think tanks take money from weapons manufacturers; General Electric bankrolls 11 of them, while Boeing and Lockheed Martin each contributed to six. Four got donations from Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon financed three.
Ten of the 25 think tanks received donations from finance corporations. Five have finance executives on their boards; Brookings has three different Goldman Sachs–linked individuals, while Aspen has two. The board of the Institute for International Economics (IIE) has three members linked to Citigroup, and the Carnegie Endowment has one.
Thirteen of the think tanks had connections to the for-profit healthcare industry, either by donation or by board members. Nine received donations from pharmaceutical interests like Pfizer, Merck and the lobbying group PhRMA, while three have accepted money from health insurance companies like MetLife. AEI’s board has Wilson Taylor, chair emeritus of Cigna, while Brookings’ contains former Cigna chair Ralph Saul. IIE’s board holds Karen Katen, former vice chair of Pfizer, and Ronald Williams, retired chair and CEO of Aetna.
Think tanks are also funded by charitable foundations, often channeling the fortunes of wealthy families of individuals, many of which have an ideological agenda that can be seen clearly in their choice of beneficiaries. Foundations tied to Richard Mellon Scaife, the Mellon banking heir who has helped to “fund the creation of the modern conservative movement in America” (Washington Post, 5/2/99), have bank-rolled the Manhattan Institute, AEI, Heritage, Hoover, Cato and CSIS. Scaife sits on the boards of Heritage and the Hoover Institution.
The Koch brothers foundations support Cato (where David Koch is on the board), Heritage, AEI, Manhattan and the Woodrow Wilson Center. The DeVos family, whose fortune derives from Amway, fund through various foundations AEI, Heritage and Cato. The Gilder Foundation funds the Manhattan Institute (where its founder is chair emeritus), Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Cato and Heritage. The Bradley Foundation donates to AEI, Heritage, Manhattan, Hoover and Cato.
The Walton Family Foundation, created by the family of billionaires who own Walmart, have given money to conservative groups like AEI, Heritage, Manhattan, Hoover and Cato. They’ve also given money to the centrist Brookings and the center-left CAP, which backs President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a program that may drive up costs for Walmart’s small business competitors (Business Insider, 6/30/09).
Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson, who has relentlessly campaigned against retirement benefits through programs he helped launch like the Concord Coalition and the Fix the Debt campaign (Extra!, 3-4/97, 6/10; CounterSpin, 3/15/13, 11/16/12), is the former chair of the Council on Foreign Relations (and is still on CFR s board) and the founding chair of the IIE. His entities have bankrolled the Atlantic Council, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and New America Foundation (NAF).
Billionaire financier George Soros is an outlier among wealthy givers, contributing through multiple foundations and corporations to a variety of institutions ranging from center-right to progressive: the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Woodrow Wilson Center, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Carnegie, Aspen, Brookings, Cato, CFR, EPI, NAF and CAP.