Sunday, December 17, 2006

Why is Africa like this?

I had always liked reading about the world history and Geographies. And in recent times, Wikipedia has really helped me in this. God, how I like Wikipedia (there’ll be a separate blog on that!). In the past 1 year (probably even more than that), I’ve read about almost every single country in this world. Wikipedia gives the history, geography, politics, current events, economy etc of every country.

And as everyone would know, none of the countries in Africa are in a good state. And I’m sure this is the impression about Africa in the minds of every single non-African. I used to think a lot on what actually went wrong in Africa and why are they suffering like this. The countries of Asia and South America were also colonized and exploited, but we seem to doing much better than the Africans. Reading and thinking about this, I realize that there are host of reasons that have caused this devastations.


Africa has a highly varied geography – the dense fertile Congo rain forests, the central highlands, the dry Kalahari Desert, fertile Nile delta and also the harsh Sahara. And a majority of this is really inhospitable. And this has isolated much of interior Africa from the rest of the world thus giving it the name ‘Dark continent’. So the people did not really catch on the advancements of the outside world. The interior of Africa remained mostly nomadic and is still is like that in many countries. This is totally against the modern way of living.

There did exist powerful kingdoms like the kingdom of Benin, but they were still backward compared to the colonial powers.

Paper Partition

When the European powers started colonizing Africa, they really did not care about the culture of the people living there. The African race was just considered so inferior that they didn’t even think of treating them of normal humans. Large number of blacks was exported as slaves and they were just treated as animals. They were portrayed as being equal to monkeys. There were lots of zoos in Europe and Americas, where the Africans were displayed along with the chimps in cages. The last human zoo was in Germany as late as 1958.

So the European powers met somewhere in Europe (Antwerp I guess) and had a map of Africa in front of them, and drew out the borders of colonies and divided the continent among themselves. Many of these borders were just straight lines; cutting across areas inhabited a people of a single tribe, thus effectively dividing them. And these borders remained after independence. So many of the existing borders are not based on the tribes, religion, language or anything, but just lines drawn in paper by some European power in some European city.

The best example is the case of Tutsi and Hutu people inhabiting the regions of current day Rwanda and Uganda. These people are divided among these countries. While they are a majority in one country, they are minority in other. This was also used by the colonial power to divide and rule them. That animosity developed by the colonial power has now led to decades of civil war including the notorious Rwandan genocide.

Human Development

African countries ranks last in the World wide Human Development Index. This again is fallout of imperialism. Unlike in Asia where the local population was trained at least to do the clerical administrative jobs, the African population was largely neglected by the imperial powers. Large number of whites settled down in the African colonies to take care of governance and to exploit Africa’s natural resources. And when the countries got independent, many of them left for their motherlands. With the majority of Africans also not having any sort of education, there was a huge knowledge vacuum in many of the newly independent African countries. And as a result, there was no big leader of any sorts available to guide the nations. And the big warlords and criminals took over the governments paving way for civil wars, genocides etc.

At the time the African countries became independent, i.e. by the 1960s there was just one university in the whole of North and West Africa. Such was the pathetic state of affairs.

Cold War

Most African colonies gained independence when the cold war was at its height. Their economies were too nascent and vulnerable and totally lacked any infrastructure. And many countries did not have any leader with a proper vision. Also these countries were rich in important natural resources. So obviously they caught the attention of the two super powers. In order to control the natural resources, they started installing puppet regimes in many countries, which just gave the super powers all access to the resources, while denying the locals even the basic necessities. The super powers even supported such fanatics and maniacs like Idi Amin, just to propagate the cold war. The result – Anarchy, civil war, genocide and stripping of natural resources.

Many of the governments were supported by huge aids provided by the super powers. And when the cold war ended, the aid was abruptly stopped and the governments were left in the dark and the economies started crumbling.


The colonial powers created plantations in many parts of Africa, often supplanting the local crops. They created plantations of mainly cash crops like Coffee, rubber, cashews etc. And this practice continued even after independence. The new governments did not give much importance to food crops and invested more on the cash crops. Plus many countries were concentrating on just one or two varieties. So when the prices of those particular cash crops fell in the international market or when there is a drought or famine, the economies fell. During times of drought, the food crop production was not enough to support the population and there arose huge famines crippling the economies further.

Natural resources

The rich natural resources of Africa are both a boon and a bane of this continent. So far it has mainly been a curse. The governments do not have the infrastructure or the money to exploit these natural resources. So they are compelled to let foreign governments and large corporate to do the job. These external agencies resort to bribery, illegal funding of civil wars & rebel groups etc in order to gain control of the natural mines and to exploit the people there. Many of the corrupt governments also support this in exchange for arms. And in the process all the natural resources are just exported overseas with little benefit to the local population.

And in addition to all these, there are other things like tropical diseases, AIDS, nomadic lifestyles of the people unsuited to modern development etc. that are continuously keeping Africa down.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blood diamonds

This weekend I had gone to a movie called "Blood Diamonds" with Leonardo Di Caprio in the lead. The story is set in the small West African nation, Sierra Leonne. The country has been experiencing a 10 year old civil war that started around 1991. The war is waged by a rebel group called Revolutionary United Front (RUF). These people are so ruthless and cruel. Their main aim is to control the huge diamond reserves of the country. They raid entire villages, abduct the small girls, boys and some men. The rest were cruelly killed. Millions of poor people were amputated. The theory is that democracy survives through voting by hand and so hands were just chopped off to discourage voting. Other body parts were also mutilated.

The story is about an African fisherman whose family is ripped apart by these RUF rebels. He is taken to work in a diamond mine. His daughter and wife are taken as refugees to neighbouring country Guinea. His young son is captured to serve in the child army. The fisherman sets out to track his family. Leonardo di caprio is a diamond smuggler. The fisherman finds a huge diamond in the mines and hides it. Dicaprio helps the fisherman in his search for his family in return for the diamond. They travel through the country surviving the RUF atrocities.

The movie was really voilent. But most of what they show is not too much of an exagerration. I've been reading about these blood diamonds for quite sometime now and I've read quite a few disturbing accounts of the RUF.

The RUF control the diamond mines of the country. They use these diamonds to buy arms to fund the civil war. They do not have any people oriented agenda, plans or anything. Their only aim is to fill their own pockets. They were being supported by the gangster president of the neighbouring country Liberia.

Poor people are abducted from the villages and taken to Diamond mines to look for diamonds. Diamonds occur in places like river beds. The miners have seive, keep filling it with river water and see if any diamond gets caught in the seive. If anyone is caught stealing the diamonds, they are just shot. So these diamonds are just worthless stones to the poor people.

The children are kidnapped and the young boys are inducted into the children's army. There they are tortured and hardened and handed machine guns and trained to become ruthless killers. They are whipped and beaten. One account claims that the rebels rubbed Cocaine on the children's wounds to make them maniacs. Further they are hooked on to drugs to insenstise them to the brutality.

On the whole the rebel camps become a totally cultureless, ruthless place filled with children drinking, smoking, doping and gambling. They just move about the villages armed with machine guns, machetes in open jeeps and loud rauchous music. Villagers are caught, women and girls raped, shot and tortured.

The international arena just turned a blind eye for more than 8 years and just continued to buy these illegal diamonds. In fact many diamond companies funded the rebels in exchange for the diamonds. Then starting from 1998, the UN started sending peacekeeping missions and finally the RUF was quashed by 2002. The diamond industry met in Antwerp and adopted a resolution to stop trading in Blood diamonds. Also they created a diamond certification agency that will certify all legitimate diamonds.

Now for past 4 years, Sierra leonne has been at relative peace. But as long as the needs of the people are not taken care of, there will always be the danger of the country sliding back to anarchy.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


I frankly don't understand how the non-veg ppl can talk of animal conservation. Think of the amount of animals being killed every day. The no. of burger, sandwiches that BK, Mcdonalds and others make. I guess Billions of animals are slaughtered around the world in a year. Yet these ppl talk of not killing other animals. So if animal population is more, that animal will not have pain, does not need comfort, freedom, sanitation or anything. So they will happily butcher a snow leopard if its population is same as pigs or lambs. And the way these animals are stored when they are alive !!! horrible.

In one of the 'Everybody Loves Raymond' TV series, Raymond and his family go to his brother's in-law's place for Thanksgiving. Suddenly a pigeon hits itself against the window and gets badly hurt. So his mother-in-law takes the bird in, finds that it is in acute pain and so just kills it to relieve it of its misery. Seeing this, Ray and his parents get so angry and call their family 'savages' and argue how they can kill a life like that and so on. A big fight ensues. Then the mother-in-law brings in the thanksgiving turkey and at the sight of food, all hostilities are forgotten and all is well. It is just a humourous scene. But What an irony !!! Ppl who care for a pigeon and fight because someone put it out of its misery, are so happy to kill and eat a much larger bird. I guess, they don't even realize that these are animals. I think it will be like different things : Food and animals. Chicken , pigs etc are food and the rest are animals. I remember the Tom and Jerry cartoons, where when Tom sees a small duck / chicken, the live bird will appear as a hot plate of steaming food in its eyes. I think it will be the same for these ppl. When they see a Hen or a turkey, immediately deep roasted chicken wings or a steamed turkey will probably cross their minds .

Ideally I'll support those ppl who make it a point to eat only dead plant food, like veggies/ fruits that fall down from the plants naturally. I remember the girl, Hugh Grant tries to date in the movie 'Nottinghill'. She tells that she is one such person. That way we don't even kill the plants. But living like that is very difficult. Probably that will be the same argument of a non-vegetarian.

However hard I think, I'm not able to think of a concrete argument that will justify vegetarianism and also prove non-vegetarianism as wrong. We do kill plants as they kill animals. Probably I can say the following (But I am also able to produce counter arguments for each of my argument):
  • It has not been fully proved that plants feel pain -- But plants do have safety mechanisms, like thorns, repelling poisonous chemicals etc. We eat the plants only after overcoming these defences.
  • The condition in which the plants are grown is much better than the conditions in which animals are grown. This I feel is somewhat a valid point, though the growth of many plants is being manipulated by man.
This is the link in Wikipedia about Vegetarianism:

These are some points I liked on that page:
  • Vegetarians in Europe used to be called "Pythagoreans",[1][2] after the philosopher Pythagoras and his followers, who abstained from meat in the 6Th century BC. These people followed a vegetarian diet for nutritional and ethical reasons. According to the Roman poet Ovid, Pythagoras said: "As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
  • Many Hindu scriptures advocate vegetarian diet. The secular literature of Tirukural (circa. 100-300 AD) advocates vegetarianism. (I didn't know Thiruvalluvar talked about these things)
  • Vegetarian societies (apart from India) were first formed in majority meat-eating European countries both as a means to promote the diet and to gather together vegetarians for mutual support. By 2000, most Western and developing nations had functioning vegetarian societies. The countries that were first to establish societies are still the ones most likely to have the greatest proportion of vegetarians within their populations.
  • Today, Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70% of the world's vegetarians. They make up 20 to 30% of the population in India, while occasional meat-eaters make up another 30%.
  • The majority of the world's vegetarians, statistics wise, are Hindu. Hinduism and Jainism teach vegetarianism as moral conduct while Christianity and Islam generally do not.
  • Islam allows some consumption of meat; this meat is known as "halal", and this meat is slaughtered by the Islamic standards, and disallowed meat is haram, which is non permitted meat or meat not slaughtered according to Islam's standards. Islam accepts the ritualistic animal slaughter done by Jews, known as shechita. (Hebrew)" Islam also excludes the consumption of pork (pig meat). Muslim vegetarians are very rare as the consumption of meat is intertwined with religious sacrificing of animals (namely caprids, bovines and camels) in Eid ul-Adha. Moreover, in Islamic jurisprudence, it is wrong to forbid what is not forbidden. When travelling to locations where it is difficult to get halal meat, Muslims eat fish instead or eat only vegetables.
  • According to the United Nations Population Fund "Each U.S. citizen consumes an average of 260 lb. of meat per year, the world's highest rate. That is about 1.5 times the industrial world average, three times the East Asian average, and 40 times the average in Bangladesh."(Think of the number of animals killed )
So Basically, India is the most vegetarian country in the world. A recent survey (Hindu-CNN poll) has concluded that more than 40% of the country's population is vegetarian. This is really huge, considering our population.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The ubiquitous "potti kadais"

Do you remember the ubiquitous potti kadais (Bunk shops) seen everywhere on Indian streets? They are found everywhere and sell all sorts of things like cigars, beedis, water packets, butter biscuits and other such life saving things. We never cared too much for these shops. They were supposed to be an eye sore of the localities compared to the new trendy malls and departmental stores.

Now after coming to US, I miss them in one unique way. They had always acted as our location markers. Any new town we enter or any new locality we visit, we first look at the name boards of these shops to identify the street name and the locality we are in. Even in the dead of night, while traveling to other localities, when the bus stops at a teashop in the highway, these name boards will tell us where we are. They had always been a part of our lives that we never thought of this. When we go to a new bus stop, we immediately go to a nearby potti kadai (which will definitely be there) to get details about the bus number, bus timings and so on. I remember the time when I went on a trip to Yercaud with my cousins. We got down at a station at around 3:00 am and were clueless about the location of the bus stop or the shortest route that we can take and so on. Then there was this potti kadai that came to our rescue. The people there gave us details about where the bus would stop, what are the possible routes we can take, what are the other places of interest in the region and so on.

All this comfort of the potti Kadai is not available in the US of A. A few days back, I went to a residential locality to search for an apartment. While returning back, I went and stood near a small board that proclaimed that stop to be a bus stop. But there was no one around to ask whether I'm standing at the right stop, whether the bus has already left etc. The street was very calm, beautiful with lots of lawns and stuff, but there was not a single soul in sight. This was when I wished there was a potti kadai nearby. Undoubtedly they are doing a great service. They are showing the people "their way".
Maybe we should export this potti kadai technology to these backward western nations too :)