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ON FILM - GOD-FORSAKEN CONTINENT? FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Kenya Staff Writer MORAA GITAA reports on Martin Scorsese's film, Blood Diamond.
Mombasa, KENYA - ''As humans, we can only share the grief with those who have been directly affected by this calamity.''
Kenya's President Mwai Kiba ki - on May 14th 2007 at the national day of prayers function called for the victims of the Kenya Airways flight 507 plane crash...
As usual the Kenyan President totally forgot all about the lesser Kenyans dying in land clashes! Back to this in a minute...
'It's my ticket out of this God-forsaken continent!'
Yeah, that's Di Caprio dissing our continent in 'Blood Diamond' while starring as a diamond hungry cowboy Mzungu out in war-torn Sierra Leone (he was referring to a pinkie - extraordinarily large uncut diamond) .
It was a month ago before schools opened for the new term. I came home unexpectedly and stumbled upon my daughter Tracy 'debating' with herself whether she should watch 'Blood Diamond' or 'The Last King of Scotland.'
I calmly told her that she can't watch The Last King because there are some scenes not suitable for her age (Parental Guidance and all that blah... ) I've been having a battle lately because my brothers (her uncles G and Cliff) who are movie buffs have turned her into one (me included!)
Her Aunt (My kid 24-year-old sis Irene) sides with her so I gave up on child-lock years ago! Sometimes I ask myself why bother when the twelve-year old can explain any episode of 24 or Prison Break that that you miss?
The conversation thus went...
'If I'm NOT ALLOWED to watch The Last King of Scotland, then I MUST watch Blood Diamond! Mum do you know I'm now a teenager?' Tongue-in-cheek I replied that she still has one more year to go. Recently I've realized though that today's average twelve-year old is yesteryears sixteen year old. So Blood Diamond it was and I sat down to watch with her.
It was a good idea though because she couldn't believe we have child-soldiers in Africa until I reminded her of Liam - the young Sudanese ex-child soldier who exiled to Kenya and whose conscious hip-hop about his life as a child-solder has been rocking the charts.
A week down the line she was asking a friend of mine how sure she was that the diamond in her engagement ring that she been given by her fianc» was not a blood diamond. My friend scratched her head uneasily and said that the jeweler in Mombasa's Old Town had told them that it was from South Africa.
And my daughter asked me aloud in child-like wonder if people take jeweler's assurances at face value. I didn't have a reply to that one!
Enough of my domestics.
Martin Scorsese's 'Blood Diamond' gives you the picture in Sierra Leone. Let's shift focus from Sierra Leone to Sudan and Dave Eggers, one of America's most mischievous memoirists, who this year once again stirred controversy with a brutally honest, if boisterous account of a Sudan's war victim. The book, 'What is the What', has been described as ''A straight forward and unflinching portrayal of the madness of war; yet it is also full of unexpected humor and adventure... It is heartrending and astonishing, filled with adventure, suspense, tragedy and, finally, triumph''.
Written in trademark finesse, the narrator Valentino Achak Deng is a testimony of the atrocities of growing up in war-torn Sudan.
The horses of the apocalypse descended leaving behind a trail of unimagined terror, untold misery and cold dread. It is a sick country in which children are roasted by bombs or split asunder by bullets. It is a sick country in which children cannot play with each other like many do elsewhere. The narrator had this painful parting with his mother at a tender age.
He says, ''I was sitting with my mother, helping her boil water. I had found kindling and was feeding the fire, and she was approving of the help I was providing. It was unusual for a boy any age to be as helpful as I was. There is an intimacy between mother and son, a son of six or seven.
At that age a boy can still be a boy, can be weak and melt into his mother's arms. For me, though, this is the last time, for tomorrow I will not be a boy. I will be something else - an animal desperate only to survive. I know I cannot turn back and so I savor these days, these moments when I can be small, can do small favors, can crawl beneath my mother and blow on the dinner fire. I like to think I was luxuriating in the final moment of childhood when the sound came.''
The sound was of the roaring planes of war, which the small boy found fascinating and funny, likening them to the birds of the air, only they were deadly.
In a shocking description straight form the bowels of hell, the narrator describes in detail the aerial bombardment of weary villagers running helter skelter to hide under the long grass which is no cover against helicopter shelling.
The narrator goes on ''Through the doorway I saw a kind of airplane, coming low over the village. It was a fascinating kind of plane, black everywhere and dull, unreflective. The planes I had seen before resembled birds in a rudimentary way, with noses and wings and chests, but this machine looked like nothing so much as a cricket. I watched as it flew over the village. The sound was rich and black, louder than anything I had ever known, the vibrations shaking my ribs pulling me apart.
''Achak, come here!'' I heard my mother's words, though her voice was like a memory. What was happening now was utterly new. Now there were five or more of these new machines, great black crickets in every direction.''
''I walked out of the hut and into the centre of the compound, transfixed. I saw other boys in the village staring up as I was, some of them jumping, laughing and pointing to the crickets with the chopping sound.''
In one of the most poignant descriptions of all times ever captured, he says he wanted to remember his mother just before he exited the world of the living.
In a voice as innocent as any young boy's, he says ''I conjured my mother as best as I could. I pictured her in yellow, yellow like an evening sun, walking down the path... When she came up to me, I told her I was too tired to continue, that I would not suffer again, and would watch others suffer.''
Like a rugged, Biblical Prophet Elijah sleeping under a juniper tree wishing for death only to be awoken by an angel who gave him strength, the narrator is also woken up. Not by an angel, but by a girl who lifts him up and gets him walking again.
''You look like my dead brother,'' the girl says.
These children trekking and dying in the desert had a touching affection for each other and something genuinely humane. Though fictionalized, most of the events did in-fact happen to Achak Deng. The few lucky ones who managed to survive reached America and came to be known as 'The Lost Boys'
In the Sudan, where unprecedented things have happened to young children; the line between fiction and reality is at times blurred.
Despite atrocities highlighted in such groundbreaking texts, another war is still being waged against civilians in Darfur by allegedly government-backed militia. Though Human Rights groups have lobbied for peace to be restored, it is widely believed the problem exists because of fighting over control of 'Black Gold' (Oil Reserves) The novel is an epitaph to the children who die in Sudan, but is again an indictment to all of us, especially more so African writers who are letting Authors from the West capture our stories.
I've been musing on our continent. Do we in Africa encourage this attitude because of complicity and complacency? Various reports from Reuters and the AP point towards this.
The brutal war in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) which left between three to four million dead is supposed to be over, but word coming out of the DRC indicate that it is not.
In December 2002, a peace agreement signed between DRC's President Joseph Kabila and various militia leaders brought an official end to the fighting. Many of the rebel commanders were given lucrative posts in the transitional government and most of their militia were integrated into the national army.
The problem has been that of a combination of low wag es for soldiers, only around a dollar a day, plus endemic corruption which often reduces that still further, means they do not have enough to live on. As a result they regress back to what they used to do - taking what they want from civilians at the barrel of a gun.
Many rapes and sexual assaults in Congo have been experienced and most are committed by either rebel or government soldiers. Murders, kidnappings have also increased. Few however face justice for their crimes in a country where the criminal justice system has virtually collapsed. Thus refugees streaming into camps for displaced people will continue to be the norm rather than the exception.
Nearer home, in neighboring Uganda, who ever thought that in 2007 protestors would carry placards reading 'UGANDA NEEDS ANOTHER AMIN'
President Museveni certainly stirred a hornets nest a couple of months ago by even remotely implying that part of Mubira rainforest in Uganda would be hived off and sold to an Asian firm! Running skirmishes between protestors and police were the order of the day for a week
My country Kenya has even more stranger-than-fiction goings on. In the wake of Kenya Airways flight 507 crash in Douala, Cameroon, President Kibaki called for a day of national mourning on May 14th.
My condolences to families and friends affected, however the Government has once again proven that it remains insensitive to a section of Kenyans.
115 people died in the crash, including 9 Kenyans, but we cannot ignore that more people have perished in the recent and on-going ethnic/land clashes in Molo, Mount Elgon, Marsabit, Kitale and parts of Bura and Tana River (which strangely flare up during General Election years) His Excellency has not even been to these areas in a personal search for peace. He should concentrate more on internal security.
We have even seen a two month old baby with arrows stuck in her head who later died after undergoing an operation. In line with the Douala tragedy, condolence adverts have been placed in local dailies by blue chip and corporate firms, some almost due to turn into Multi-nationals yet the same firms are yet to show concern for the Kenyans affected by land clashes!
As usual my favorite cartoonist Paul Kelemba (Aka Maddo) captured my train of thoughts with his caricatures on 'It's a Madd Madd World' of Saturday Standard 19th May. He depicted a prominent Kenyan Psychiatrist known for rushing to the aid of elite involved in accidents while ignoring the common man suffering and displaced as a result of local disasters or internal land conflicts - Fannon's wretched of the earth style!
In the wake of the recurrent land clashes, let's take a peek into last months most current report by SID (Society for International Development) reveals the depth of ethno-centered distribution of natural resources by Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki regimes.
'Readings on Inequality in Kenya: Sectoral Dynamics and Perspectives' The report titled:indicts all three regimes for ''tilting the ethnic balance'' to favor the president's community. No wonder no condolences are forthcoming from the president to victims of land clashes.
An in-depth look into the report reveals the inequality in land and home ownership in Kenya is widening by the day with women being the worst hit though they work the hardest on the land. The study says that Kenya lacks a system of land tenure that provides for equitable and efficient distribution of land ownership for both men and women within cultural and legal systems.
Reading the report, we learn that 77% Kenyans are homeowners, while the remaining 23% either rent or live as lodgers. The report reads in part '... a residual class of white settlers and a group of former and current power brokers in the three post-independence regimes, a few businessmen and farmers, many with either current or past political connections, own hundreds of thousands of acres of land... '
It further says that only 40% of female household heads are owners, majority of females are thus renters with very insecure terms of tenancy.
In another incident, recently chilling TV images showed innocent people who spoke out against 'mungiki' (a proscribed and banned sect) beheaded and limbs and private parts chopped off, their heads placed on chicken coops as a chilling warning to others who might oppose the sects extortion (especially against matatu owners) activities. Matatus are minivans that are a common mode of fair transport on Kenyan roads for the common man. Again our President kept a low profile in the wake of these murders of Innocents.
What can be more God-forsaken as Di Caprio so aptly puts it than a country with first, second and third class citizens?
In Nigeria in the recently concluded presidential elections, there were reports of widespread rigging. Otherwise why would you be mugged and be relived of only your voters card?
Further South in Zimbabwe, in an unprecedented move, a Pan-African body decided to send a fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
I can't blame them. We all saw on CNN, Morgan Tsvangirai (Zimbabwean opposition leader) with a swollen face and it was reported that his skull was cracked!
One development though, that is worthy of writing home about is a new book 'African Perspectives on China in Africa' published by Fahamu, it contains essays by scholars looking into various aspects of Chinese trade with and investments in Africa.
When it comes to trade and capital flows between Africa and the rest of the world, China is the new kid on the block. The suitor earnestly wooing.
The ADB (African Development Bank) says Africa needs to weigh her commercial and economic relations with China.
There is a potential for China to help Africa diversify production, exports and markets, which is required to accelerate the integration of the continent into the global economy. Africa-Asia trade and investment relations may also provide African countries with easy access to technology.
Despite China's forays and in-roads into this rich continent, concerns have been raised about increased imports from Asia into Africa. In spite of the benefits from importing cheaply manufactured products from Asia, many countries will suffer displacement of infant industries through these imports.
China accounts for 60% of oil exports from Sudan and 35% from Angola. Chinese firms also mine copper in Zambia and Congo-Brazaville, cobalt in South Africa and uranium in Zimbabwe 46% of Gabon's forest exports find their way to China, 60% of timber exports from Equatorial Guinea and 11% of timber exports from Cameroon are also exported to China.
Nigeria has also attracted substantial Chinese investment in her petroleum industry, but the African country is also turning to China for weapons to deal with insurgency in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
Many concur though, that this strategic partnership needs to embrace value addition in Africa. Rather than import raw timber from Gabon, for example, China should invest in Gabon's furniture and construction industries. With such partnerships, Africa will not be labeled God-forsaken!
PS: To Martin Scorsese. He should now give use 'Blood Oil' and Blood Land'
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