Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Germany: On the Mississippi with visitors from Kinshasa, DR Congo

While the world’s attention is focusing on Germany for the start of the Beautiful Game Championship (World Cup 2006) only 8 days away, my attention is focused on another beauty here in Germany today. This beauty is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and her name is Mama Emily. This post to Jewels in the Jungle is dedicated to her and all the mothers and grandmothers of her country who have survived years of turmoil and neglect to see a better day.

The TIME magazine cover story for the June 5, 2006 issue is a feature about the Democratic Republic of Congo titled “The Deadliest War in the World” written by Simon Robinson and Vivian Walt. The report is about the simmering conflicts and continuing atrocities and suffering of people in the eastern provinces of this vast African country that is larger than Western Europe. CNN published a summary of the TIME article on May 28th along with related features on the DRC. There has been some light coverage of the story in the blogosphere and on the Web. The TIME Magazine cover story attempts to illustrate the many dangers and complicated issues facing the people of the DR Congo before their scheduled July 30th national elections, the 1st democratic elections to be held in this country in over 40 years.

On May 24th CNN’s Jeff Koinange reported on the 1000’s of brutal rape victims being treated at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, a major city in the war torn eastern DRC province of South Kivu. The CNN article and video report is very disturbing as it draws attention to the plight of desperate women and children suffering at the hands of the most savage and senseless brutality against human beings imaginable. Louis Ableman of the Goma Film Project and his team have just completed the feature documentary LUMO, a film about women and girls in Goma who are the victims of thousands of incidents of sexual violence and murder carried out by various militia groups and soldiers operating in the eastern DRC province of North Kivu. Martin Bell, a former BBC News correspondent and presently UNICEF Ambassador for Humanitarian Affairs, did a feature report back in April 2006 for BBC Two Newsnight titled “No Peace for the DR Congo”.
But today I want to focus on the positive side of the DRC and move away from all of the clichés i.e. the Heart of Darkness. This is one of those all too rare stories you can read online about people from the DR Congo that has a happy ending.

Three or four years ago I had the privilege to meet and befriend a woman from Kinshasa, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) who lives in my neighborhood. Her name is Dédé (pronounced Day-Day) and she has been living in Germany for about 20 years. She is the mother of two lovely grownup daughters and is also the grandmother of my little friend Vanessa who has just begun school this year. Three generations of Congolese and Congolese-Europeans under one roof, all female, is a special experience all by itself. Dédé has been a treasured friend and an incredible reservoir of knowledge about life and customs in central Africa.

Some months before I met Dédé I had been researching information and news online about the DRC, so I was jubilant to have someone from the country to speak with about what’s going on down there, about the history of the country and the customs of various people who live there, about life under the longtime ruler of the country
Mobuto Sese Seko, and of course about the Congo civil wars (I and II) that have contributed to the deaths of over 4 million Congolese to date.

Until the time we first met Dédé had only one friend from the U.S.A. and I had never had a friend from the DR Congo. We are able to converse and argue about everything under the sun: global and regional politics, the War in Iraq, religion, history and culture in the Americas and in sub-Saharan Africa, our personal life stories and stories about our families, you name it. Dédé believes that Americans (N.A. & S.A.) are crazy and a very curious people. I have been able to convince her that some people back in the U.S.A. know a little something about Africa and the DR Congo. Of course she realizes that people from around the world care deeply about what is happening in her country even as we remain confused, angry, and frustrated about what we can personally do to help.

My friend grew up in
Kinshasa under the regime of the late President Mobutu. Her father worked for many years as a civil servant in the DRC since the 1960’s, so the family did not live under the extreme poverty and deprivation we so often see today as the plight of the majority of people living in Kinshasa and all across the vast country. Dédé’s mother and father hail from Province du Bas-Congo (see maps) in the southwest corner of the country where the mighty Congo River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. All six children in the family received a good education in Kinshasa right through secondary school and some were able to continue their studies in Europe. Dédé has told me some very interesting and many times funny stories about life under Mobutu in and around Kinshasa, and I’ve been told some very sad and harrowing tales about the Congo’s descent into war and chaos in 1996 as Laurent Désiré Kabila with the backing of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi mounted a full-scale rebellion against Mobutu Sese Seko.

By May 1997 Laurent Kabila had seized the capital city of Kinshasa with various rebel militia groups and rebel Zairean Armed Forces members united under the ADFL. This march of death and destruction swept across the length and breadth of the nation, having begun in the volatile eastern province of South Kivu thousands of kilometers away from the capital. Dédé understands firsthand what it is like to be at the business end of an automatic weapon aimed at your head while marauding militias and armies are sacking a city and threatening to rape and kill you and your family. Fortunately she and her family members escaped such terror unharmed while she was visiting Kinshasa before the start of the 2nd Congo War.

What makes the TIME magazine article so relevant for me today is that after anxiously waiting for almost 8 years Dédé has family visitors from Kinshasa. Actually WE have visitors because I have been waiting to meet her family from Kinshasa too. Mama Emily (Dédé’s mother) and Jacqueline (her younger sister) are here visiting in Germany for the first time ever. I believe that I am as excited about this special visit from Kinshasa than anyone. For me it is a blessing just to be able to meet and talk with them… about (almost) everything.

Mama Emily is absolutely striking in her appearance, a grand older African woman small of stature with a face that Michelangelo couldn’t do justice to either in stone or on canvas. She has beautiful small eyes set within a petit almond-shaped face. Her dark coffee brown skin is as smooth as silk and practically wrinkle-free despite her advanced years. When I first met her last week for an “afternoon tea”, I couldn’t help but to feel humbled in her quiet presence. When I look into the face of Mama Emily I see the strong, beautiful, proud faces of my own dear grandmother’s (now deceased) back home in the U.S.A.

We had about 5 hours together to talk and get to know one another and I addressed Mama Emily as “Mama” after a short time. I communicated with her via her daughter in English and German, limited French, and my practically non-existent Lingala language skills. I think it was my great effort to speak Lingala with Mama Emily that really won her over at the beginning. A special thanks to my friend
Ali (The Malau) at The Salon blog and the Lingala language team over at Wikipedia encyclopedia for providing information about the language online.

In those first hours together it would have been very easy to ask Jacqueline or even Mama Emily about all of the bad news that we hear and read re: the DRC, but that is not what I wanted to do. I spoke briefly with the two daughters about the upcoming elections and the Congo’s history over the past 40 to 50 years while Mama Emily listened on quietly, adding a brief comment here and there. What really captured her attention during that evening is when I began to discuss the
history of the New World (the Americas) and how Africa’s and particularly the Congo’s history is so strongly linked to that of our own. You see Mama Emily had seen the renowned TV series “Roots” years ago and the film “The Amistad” more recently and Dédé told me that Mama was very sad to see the suffering of the millions of slaves who were shipped off to the Americas in Roots but was very happy to see that some had been safely returned to Africa (Amistad Case). Therefore, I had to get a few important facts straightened out for Mama Emily as things have changed considerably since those bad old days. Haven’t they?

Another highlight of the evening was when I had the opportunity to guide Mama Emily and Jacqueline through the history of my own people and family in the United States of America, proudly showing books I had brought along containing descriptions and beautiful photos of my hometown
Saint Louis, Missouri, a city along a great river just like their own home city of Kinshasa on the Congo River. I explained that the first African-American members of my family had reached the banks of the Mississippi River near Saint Louis by the year 1790 shortly after the end of the American Revolutionary War, having traveled for hundreds of miles on foot and horseback (or mule) from their former home back East. That when they arrived on the great American Midwest frontier they had traveled as free men and women, no longer living in bondage under slavery in post-Colonial America.

NOTE: So readers can get a better idea about what these territories were like back then, follow these links to the PBS special
Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1804 and the Wikipedia encyclopedia article Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1804-1806. Ironically, a key member of this historical expedition to explore the lands of the Louisiana Purchase beyond the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers was an African-American slave named York. At the end of the expedition in 1806 York asked his “master”, William Clark, for his freedom but was refused on the grounds of ‘financial hardship’. Ain’t that a b----! Learn more about this historical American journey at the PBS Living History site about the expedition.

As you can imagine, Mama Emily and her two daughters really loved hearing these stories and examining the pictorial history books about my hometown and country. Black Africans trekking through the wilderness of the New World to start a new life in freedom among
native tribespeople, virgin forests and fields full of wildlife and game, a few hundred European settlers, trappers, frontiersmen, and of course eagles soaring high above the limestone bluffs and lush green deltas of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. I put in an award-winning performance that evening because having the opportunity to tell these tales to our distinguished visitors from the Democratic Republic of Congo was a real joy for me. I think that these stories I told and pictorial histories I shared helped to transport Mama Emily and Jacqueline thousands of miles further than they had already traveled on the flight from Kinshasa to Germany___ and back hundreds of years to a time when many of their own people had survived a difficult but yet incredible journey into a brave New World.

At the end of the evening before I left for home, Mama Emily took my hands into her own to thank me for the time together, to send blessings to my people back in America and my family, and to remind me about something that she had said earlier that evening___ that the people of the Congo still have hope. I trust and believe in what she says with all of my heart.

Melesí Mama Emily & Jacqueline. Wilkommen in Deutschland. Likamboté. I hope to be able to welcome you to America and Saint Louis, MO. one day soon so that we may have coffee and tea by the river near the great arch. Tokomónono Mama. Tokómonono.

A Happy End to a wonderful evening. To be continued…

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Africa Open for Business documentary airing on BBC World TV series in May

Heads Up Bloggers!

BBC World TV will be airing a series about the documentary film Africa Open for Business starting on May 20th. The film by journalist and filmmaker Carol Pineau was funded by The World Bank and featured at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, the World Economic Forum, the AGOA Summit, and the G8 Summit 2005 at Gleneagles, Scotland. For anyone who has never seen this important documentary about successful entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa, BBC World will offer a 3-part series with airtimes starting Saturday May 20th at 0930 GMT and 1630 GMT. The program is scheduled to repeat on Sunday May 21st at 0130, 1330 and 2030 GMT.

Below is an excerpt from the promo for “Africa Open for Business” on the BBC World Business Frontiers special programmes airing throughout May 2006:

"In a new three-part series, Africa: Open for Business, offers a glimpse of flourishing entrepreneurship in a continent where war, famine, natural and man-made disaster is rife. The series features a variety of small and larger businesses in 10 African countries, offering an insight into the continent that is not seen very often by the rest of the world.

They are inspiring stories of human force of will, demonstrating that Africa is viable, has capacity and can be competitive in the global economy. The series features a wide range of companies, from a tiny café in Kampala to a major flower exporter in Kenya. Some of the companies operate in African countries with good governance; others operate with no government at all.

The series speaks directly to the individuals behind the initiatives, looking at the successes, the struggles, the challenges and the solutions involved in running a business in Africa. Companies featured include HFC Bank Ghana Ltd, the largest provider of housing finance in Ghana today; Homegrown, a Kenyan company who export vegetables and flowers to all the UK supermarkets; and Pictoon in Senegal, Africa’s only animation design studio that produces TV series and feature films."

More information about the film and the director/producer Carol Pineau can be found online at the links listed below:

Africa Open for Business official website
Africa Open for Business - World Bank news (Mar 18, 2005)
Africa Open for Business – NPR News & Notes (May 20, 2005)
Interview with Carol Pineau – Washington File (Jul 14, 2005)
Interview with Carol Pineau – BBC World Talking Movies (Jul 26, 2005)
Interview with Carol Pineau – news (Sep 09, 2005)
The Africa You Never See by Carol Pineau - Washington Post (Apr 17, 2005)

Drawing a whole new image of Africa – TIME Europe (Aug 14, 2004)
A TIME Magazine feature on the Senegalese animation firm PICTOON

Timbuktu Chronicles blog by Emeka Okafor – a view of Africa and Africans with a focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, technology, practical remedies and other self-sustaining remedies. If you want to learn about 100’s of great SME business opportunities in Africa, Timbuktu Chronicles should be your first stop.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

U.S.-China Relations: An Apology of Sorts

Some of my regular readers may remember my earlier post on the subject of China in Africa: The CNOOC Nigerian Oil Deal that together with posts from some Global Voices community’s bloggers who write regularly about African affairs got a lot of attention back in January 2006. Now that the People’s Republic of China’s President Hu Jintao has completed his world tour to the United States, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nigeria, and Kenya, I want to address the subject of China in Africa again here at Jewels in the Jungle. But before I start on that complex set of issues I want to make an apology of sorts.

I’ve been reflecting about how I have presented some of my views online about the People’s Republic of China and I am concerned that what I have written may appear to be xenophobic and racist toward the Chinese people. Nothing could be further from the truth and I would never want to encourage people to behave with fear and prejudice toward one another based on ethnicity or anything else.

Chippla, a Nigerian engineer (& outstanding blogger) based in The Netherlands, recently wrote about the
growing relationship between Angola and China where we both had the opportunity to express our concerns and ideas in a way that I felt was honest and open. I wrote in the comments section of his post words that I wish to share here with readers of my blog. Although to date I do not have many visitors who read Jewels in the Jungle from inside the People’s Republic of China (my blog is proudly forbidden by the Great Firewall of China) I do hope that some have found ways to outfox the Chinese Internet Police and may be reading this post. If you are on the wrong side of the Great Wall, read fast and remember the Tank Man of ‘89 (PBS). For those of you who would like to know more about Beijing’s censorship of the Internet please read the BusinessWeek article on the Great Firewall of China and also check Global Voices many posts on China and Rebecca MacKinnon’s Rconversation blog. Of course many blog authors and other support the global campaigns to release the Prisoners of the Great Wall.

Here are excerpts from my comments at
Chippla’s blog on April 10th:

“I realize that I must appear very Sino-phobic and alarmist in my comments about Chinese investment activities in Africa and elsewhere these days.”

“This aggressiveness is not meant to include the millions and millions of people in [the PRC] China who remain helpless to affect any type of real change in their government. My comments are primarily focused on the small cadre of business and political elites that control practically all facets of Chinese life today.”

“Fact is I DO NOT TRUST anything that the Communist regime in Beijing does both domestically and internationally.”

“Perhaps that is the unfortunate thing for me, that I will never have trust in that country’s foreign policies until I see a radical change in the way mainland China is governed and in the behavior of certain Chinese businesses working in at-risk developing countries.”

“Of course I shall be long dead before that China ever rises.”

Chippla has updated his series on China in Africa with the April 27th post titled “From China Town to Oil Deals” where he writes:

“With regard to China’s recent encroachment on the African continent, I have declared myself a Sino-skeptic a number of times on this weblog, i.e., someone who prefers to be cautious about such a relationship rather than opening his/her arms to warmly embrace the fast-changing giant. China’s presence on the African continent can no longer be taken for granted. And while some European and American media attempt to make sense of it, objective reporting is very difficult to come by.”

Chippla goes on to write:

“The official line from China with regard to how it is portrayed by Western media, when dealing with Africa, is one of disgust. For instance, preceding President Hu Jintao’s visit to Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya, there was significant coverage both in the Western media, and the English-speaking blogosphere about China’s increasing role in Africa. What astonishes one, with regard to the blogosphere coverage, is the diversity of the people who write about these things. They seem to be scattered all across the globe!”

Chippla then highlights a recent “news article” from the PRC government’s media mouthpiece The People’s Daily (English version). Here are some excerpts from that April 26th Chinese newspaper article:

“Western media hypes up China’s ‘economic colonialism’ in Africa, cooking up stories about China’s oil-and-nonferrous metal motivated investment increase in Africa and playing up the ‘threat’ on local business and labor economy by China’s imports of raw materials and exports of manufacturing products.”

“None of those assertions which sound mindful of the interest of the African people are based on facts or go with the tides. Behind them is the intention of sowing discord between China and Africa. As it is known to all, western powers, not China, colonized Africa and looted resources there in the history. There is no historical feuds or interest conflicts between China and African countries. The traditional friendship between China and Africa has a long history and is well-established.”

Normally I would lash out with a snide remark or two about the People’s Daily description of western media news coverage of President Hu’s “historic trip” but out of respect for some dear Chinese friends and colleagues who have had a great influence on my life, I will remain silent for now, and press on.

No American (U.S.) citizen can comfortably give advice to an African citizen or government official about how to handle trade relationships with China. All you have to do is read some of the reports and news articles about U.S.-China relations today to realize that America itself doesn’t really know how to proceed with this bilateral relationship. Lot’s of big problems between the governments of these two countries and between the people of these two countries as well.

Tom Plate, a professor at UCLA (University of California – Los Angeles) and founder of the UCLA AsiaMedia news daily, thinks that Americans don’t really care or understand much about China. Professor Plate wrote in his April 13th article “China’s boss man comes to America”:

"The average American knows less about China than the average Chinese citizen knows about America. This is sad but true. The reason is basically threefold. For one thing, the U.S. news media in general does a poor job of informing the American public about the world in general, about Asia as a region and about China in particular. The second reason is that China is not open enough for the Western media in general to really understand the place, and China usually does a poor job telling its own side of the story. The third reason is that (America's university-age generation perhaps withstanding) the American people are mainly provincial-looking and entertainment-addicted and are far more interested in knowing about the latest with Brittany Spears than with Madam Wu Yi, the brilliant vice-premier of China who was in Washington earlier this month to smooth boss Hu's way.

The average Congressman knows little about China, has never been there, and faces a re-election in November. He/she will do almost anything for votes. An easy target is China's $200-billion-plus trade advantage over the U.S. Of course, if Americans would buy less, use their credit cards less, and spend less time at predominantly Chinese-import emporia like Toys' R Us, that imbalance would reduce quickly. But economic subtleties are not major players in U.S. election campaigns.

The U.S. Pentagon has been complaining about China's military buildup, especially of its submarine fleet. Worrying about and preparing to combat the strength of potential foes is the Defense Department's basic job, of course. So let's be realistic, not conspiratorial. Even so, the Pentagon ought to also point out that China's spends much less money on its military than does the U.S. China does not have bases in the Americas as we do in Asia, and has not invaded any countries recently, as we did Iraq. Are we naïve to want a somewhat more balanced picture from the Pentagon?"

Professor Plate makes some very good points here, but I am not so sure that all of what he is writing can be taken as a matter of fact. Maybe a key point here is the use of the word “average” in describing what U.S. citizens and politicians know about the People’s Republic of China and vice-versa.

My own personal experiences with people of Chinese ancestry in my home country (the U.S.A.) and abroad has been overwhelmingly positive. I have a great deal of respect for my Chinese friends, acquaintances, and colleagues as their lives have certainly touched and shaped my own. I remember many of my Chinese American and Chinese national friends and classmates, neighbors and work colleagues as being exceptionally bright, hardworking, friendly, and an innovative people who were often eager to help with problems of every kind as well as share in the fun and traditions of everyday American life. They worked hard to become accepted as equals in the U.S. against great odds and blatant racism from several other “American” ethnic groups and individuals. The Chinese American people’s struggle for full acceptance and equality in America continues right up to this very day in some places, unfortunately.

The Chinese have been and will always be an invaluable asset to the very fabric of American culture and life, helping to build our great nation from their arrival on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in large numbers in the early 1800’s. They have toiled right beside us in slavery times and in freedom, fought and died for the United States of America in foreign wars right alongside other Americans, and they have suffered indignities that few other ethnic groups have had to bear i.e. the discrimination against Chinese immigrants from 1882 to 1943 that refused naturalized citizenship to legal Chinese residents in a country where their ancestors had lived and died for generations (ref:
The Chinese Exclusion Act). Here is an full excerpt from one of the documents that can be found at the excellent University of Houston Digital History website:

Digital History – Asian American VoicesRacism and the Law

Year: 1854

The California Supreme Court rules that a Chinese witness could not testify against a white man accused of murder. After George Hall was convicted of the murder of Ling Sing, based on the testimony of three Chinese witnesses, Hall’s lawyer argued that a California statute barring testimony by African Americans, mulattoes, and Indians applied to all non-whites. The court concurred.

The appellant, a free white citizen of this State, was convicted of murder upon the testimony of Chinese witnesses.

The point involved in this case is the admissibility of such evidence.

The 394th section of the Act Concerning Civil Cases provides that no Indian or Negro shall be allowed to testify as a witness in any action or proceeding in which a white person is a party.

The 14th section of the Act of April 16th, 1850, regulating Criminal Proceedings, provides that "No black or mulatto person, or Indian, shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a white man."

The true point at which we are anxious to arrive is, the legal signification of the words, "black, mulatto, Indian, and white person, " and whether the Legislature adopted them as generic terms, or intended to limit their application to specific types of the human species. . . .

The Act of Congress, in defining that description of aliens may become naturalized citizens, provides that every "free white citizen," etc. . .

If the term "white," as used in the Constitution, was not understood in its generic sense as including the Caucasian race, and necessarily excluding all others, where was the necessary of providing for the admission of Indians to the privilege of voting, by special legislation?

We are of the opinion that the words "white," "Negro," "mulatto," "Indian," and "black person," wherever they occur in our Constitution and laws, must be taken in their generic sense, and that, even admitting the Indian of this continent is not of the Mongolian type, that the words "black person," in the 14th section, must be taken as contradistinguished from white, and necessary excludes all races other than the Caucasian.

We have carefully considered all the consequences resulting from a different rule of construction, and are satisfied that even in a doubtful case, we would be impelled to this decision on ground of public policy.

The same rule which would admit them to testify, would admit them to all the equal rights of citizenship, and we might soon see them at the polls, in the jury box, upon the bench, and in our legislative halls.

This is not a speculation which exists in the excited and overheated imagination of the patriot and statesman, but it is an actual and present danger.

The anomalous spectacle of a distinct people, living in our community, recognizing no laws of this State, except through necessity, bringing with them their prejudices and national feuds, in which they indulge in open violation of law; whose medacity is proverbial; a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point, as their history has shown; differing in language, opinions, color, and physical conformation; between whom and ourselves nature has placed an impassable difference, is now presented, and for them is claims, not only the right to swear away the life of a citizen, but the further privilege of participating with us in administering the affairs of our Government.

These facts were before the Legislature that framed this Act, and have been known as matters of public history to every subsequent Legislature.

There can be no doubt as to the intention of Legislature, and that if it had ever been anticipated that this class of people were not embraced in the prohibition, then such specific words would have been employed as would have put the matter beyond any possible controversy.

For these reasons, we are of opinion that the testimony was inadmissible.

The judgment is reversed and the cause remanded.

End of text… DAMN!! That’s Hard. No Justice.

Our entire nation owes a great debt to the Chinese and other Asian peoples who emigrated to the United States of America, for God knows that they did NOT have an easy time and faced unbelievable abuse and xenophobia in the U.S. from all kinds of ethnic groups and people of other races, political leaders and exploitive businessmen___ including lots of exploitation and severe abuse from criminals amongst their very own people.

More can be learned about Chinese American history in the United States at the resources provided below. I place it here up front ‘cause I want you to read and bookmark this valuable information before I continue with my posts about China, the Chinese, and The People’s Republic of China.

Digital HistoryAsian-American Voices
Note: Digital History is an interactive mega textbook project on American History sponsored by the University of Houston, Chicago Historical Society, The National Park Service, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and others.

PBS and The Center for Educational Telecommunications
Ancestors in the Americas produced by Loni Ding
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
History of Angel Island Immigration Station
AIIS Resource page (a goldmine of documents, videos, the works)

Chinese Historical Society of America and the CHSA blog
Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles (California)

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Chronology of Asian American History
Stanford University
Text of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Asian-American Immigration History

To be continued…

Next post on China: The Eagle vs. The Dragon - Round 3

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