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Over Ten Years Ago African Human Rights Organisations Urged Traditional Rulers to Apologise for their Role in Slave Trade

This is old news, but it is well worth repeating in the current controversy over historic transatlantic slave trade and its legacy. Although much of the blame has naturally been rightly placed on the White Europeans responsible for the purchase, transport and exploitation of enslaved Africans, human rights organisations in Africa have also recognised that its indigenous rulers were also responsible. And they have demanded they apologise for their participation in this massive crime against humanity.

On 18th November 2009, eleven years ago, the Guardian’s David Smith published a piece reporting that the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria has written to the country’s tribal chiefs, stating “We cannot continue to blame the white men, as Africans, particularly the traditional rulers, are not blameless.” It urged them to apologise to ‘put a final seal to the slave trade’ and continued

Americans and Europe have accepted the cruelty of their roles and have forcefully apologised, it would be logical, reasonable and humbling if African traditional rulers … [can] accept blame and formally apologise to the descendants of the victims of their collaborative and exploitative slave trade.”

The head of the Congress, Shehu Sani, explained to the Beeb’s World Service that the Congress was asking the chiefs to make the apology because they were seeking to be included in a constitutional amendment in Nigeria:

“We felt that for them to have the moral standing to be part of our constitutional arrangement there are some historical issues for them to address. One part of which is the involvement of their institutions in the slave trade.” He stated that the ancestors of the country’s traditional rulers “raided communities and kidnapped people, shipping them away across the Sahara or across the Atlantic” on behalf of the slaves’ purchasers.

Other Africans supported the demand for an apology. They included Henry Bonsu, a British-born Ghanaian broadcaster and co-founder of the digital radio station, Colourful Radio. Bonsu had examined the issue himself in Ghana in a radio documentary. He said that some chiefs had accepted their responsible, and had visited Liverpool and the US in acts of atonement.

“I interviewed a chief who acknowledged there was collaboration and that without that involvement we wouldn’t have seen human trafficking on an industrial scale,” said Bonsu.

“An apology in Nigeria might be helpful because the chiefs did some terrible things and abetted a major crime.”

The call was also supported by Baffour Anning, the chief executive of the non-governmental agency Africa Human Right Heritage in Accra, Ghana. He said, !I certainly agree with the Nigeria Civil Rights Congress that the traditional leaders should render an apology for their role in the inhuman slavery administration.” He also believed it would accord with the UN’s position on human rights.

The article notes that the demands for an apology mostly came from the African diaspora, and that it wasn’t really a matter of public concern in Africa itself. It also noted that many traditional chiefs prefer to remain silent on this awkward and shameful issue. However, one of the exceptions was the former president of Uganda, Yoweri Musaveni, who in 1998 told Bill Clinton “African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them. If anyone should apologise it should be the African chiefs. We still have those traitors here even today.”

See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/18/africans-apologise-slave-trade

This adds a very interesting perspective on the current slavery debate, and one which very few here in the West are probably aware. It’s strange reading that Africans have come to Liverpool and the US seeking to atone for their ancestors crimes during the slave trade when so much of the debate has revolved around the responsibility of Liverpool, Bristol and others cities, and western nations as a whole, such as the US and Britain, for the abominable trade. One of my concerns about the demand for museums to slavery is that these would place the blame solely on western Whites, and so create not just a distorted view of slavery but another form of racism, in which slavery was only something that Whites inflicted on Blacks. If it is the Black diaspora that is demanding African chiefs recognise and apologise for their part in the slave trade, this may not be an issue.

Nevertheless, it needs to be remembered that slavery existed, in Africa and elsewhere, long before transatlantic slavery. Black Africans also enslaved each other, there was also a trade in slaves from east Africa to Arabia, India and Asia. At the same time the Turkish Empire also raided sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Sudan, for slaves. One of the reasons the British invaded and conquered much of Africa was to stop the slave trade and end it at its source. In many cases, I’ve no doubt that this was just a pretext to provide a spurious justification for military annexation against competition for territory by other European nations. But many of the officers and troopers involved in the suppression of the trade were sincere. This included the Royal Navy, whose officers were largely evangelical Anglican Christians, who took their duty to stamp out the trade very seriously.

In the years since then real slavery has returned to Africa. The Islamists, who have seized power in part of Libya ever since we bombed it to liberate it from Colonel Gadaffy have taken to enslaving the Black African migrants making their way there in the hope of reaching sanctuary and a better life in Europe. At the same time there have also been reports of a slave market opening in Uganda. And this is apart from the persistence of traditional slavery in countries such as Mauretania and disguised forms of servitude in Africa and elsewhere, which were described a quarter of a century ago in the book Disposable People.

While it’s natural that attention should focus on historic Black slavery in the west following the Black Lives Matter protests and western Blacks’ general underprivileged condition, it is disgusting and shameful that real slavery should continue to exist in the 21st century. It needs to be tackled as well, beyond the debates about the legacy of historic slavery.

 

 

A British Colonial Governor’s Attack on Racism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/08/2020 - 5:36am in

Sir Alan Burns, Colour and Colour Prejudice with Particular Reference to the Relationship between Whites and Negroes (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd 1948).

I ordered this book secondhand online a week or so ago, following the Black Lives Matter protests and controversies over the past few weeks. I realise reading a book this old is a rather eccentric way of looking at contemporary racial issues, but I’d already come across it in the library there when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. What impressed me about it was that it also dealt with anti-White racism amongst Blacks as well as the book’s main concern with anti-Black racism, discrimination and growing Black discontent in the British Empire.

Burns was a former governor of Ghana, then the Gold Coast. According to the potted biography on the front flap of the dust jacket, he was ‘a Colonial Civil Servant of long and distinguished experience in tropical West Africa and the West Indies.’ The book

deals with the important question of colour prejudice, and pleads for mutual courtesy and consideration between the white and the coloured races. Sir Alan analyses the history and alleged causes of colour prejudice, and cites the opinions of many writers who condemn or attempt to justify the existence of prejudice. It is a frank analysis of an unpleasant phenomenon.

He was also the author of two other books, his memoirs of colonial service in the Leeward Islands Nigeria, Bahamas, British Honduras, the Gold Coast and the Colonial Office, Colonial Civil Servant, and A History of Nigeria. The Gold Coast was one of the most racial progressive of the British African colonies. It was the first of them to include an indigenous chief on the ruling colonial council. I therefore expected Burns to hold similar positive views of Blacks, given, of course, how outdated these would no doubt seem to us 72 years later.

After the introduction, the book is divided into the following chapters:

I. The Existence and Growth of Colour Prejudice

II. The Attitude of Various Peoples to Racial and Colour Differences

III. Negro Resentment of Colour Prejudice

IV. Political and Legal Discrimination Against Negroes

V. Social Discrimination Against Negroes

VI. Alleged Inferiority of the Negro

VII. Alleged Shortcomings of the Negro

VIII. Physical and Mental Differences between the Races

IX. Physical Repulsion between Races

X. Miscegenation

XI. The Effect of Environment and History on the Negro Race

XII. Lack of Unity and Inferiority Complex Among Negroes

XIII. Conclusion.

I’ve done little more than take the occasional glance through it so far, so this is really a rather superficial treatment of  the book, more in the way of preliminary remarks than a full-scale review. Burns does indeed take a more positive view of Blacks and their potential for improvement, but the book is very dated and obviously strongly influenced by his own background in the colonial service and government. As a member of the colonial governing class, Burns is impressed by the British Empire and what he sees as its benevolent and highly beneficial rule of the world’s indigenous peoples. He is in no doubt that they have benefited from British rule, and quotes an American author as saying that there is no other colonial power which would have done so for its subject peoples. He is particularly impressed by the system of indirect rule, in which practical government was largely given over to the colonies’ indigenous ruling elites. This was peaceful, harmonious and had benefited the uneducated masses of the Empire’s indigenous peoples. These colonial subjects appreciated British rule and largely supported it. He did not expect this section of colonial society to demand their nations’ independence. However, this governmental strategy did not suit the growing class of educated Blacks, who were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their treatment as inferiors and demanding independence.

As with other, later books on racism Burns tackles its history and tries to trace how far back it goes. He argues that racism seems to go back no further than the Fifteenth century. Before then, culture and religion were far more important in defining identity.  He’s not entirely convinced by this, and believes that racism in the sense of colour prejudice probably existed far earlier, but there is little evidence for it. There have been other explorations of this subject which have attempted to show the history and development of racism as a cultural idea in the west. Other historians have said much the same, and I think the consensus of opinion is that it was the establishment of slavery that led to the development of ideas of Black inferiority to justify their capture and enslavement.

Burns is also concerned at what he and the other authorities he quotes as the growth in anti-Black racism that came following the First World War. He compares this unfavourably with a comment from an African lady, who went to a British school during Victoria’s reign. The women recalls that she and the other Black girls were treated absolutely no differently from the Whites, and that the only time she realised there was any difference between them was when she looked in a mirror. This is interesting, and a good corrective to the idea that all Whites were uniformly and aggressively racist back then, but I expect her experience may have been very different from Blacks further down the social hierarchy. Burns believes the increase in racism after the First World War was due to the increased contact between Blacks and Whites, which is probably true following the mass mobilisation of troops across the Empire.

But what I found as an historian with an interest in African and other global civilisations is the book’s almost wholly negative assessment of Black civilisation and its achievements. Burns quotes author after author, who states that Blacks have produced no great civilisations or cultural achievements. Yes, ancient Egypt is geographically a part of Africa, but culturally and racially, so it is claimed, it is part of the Middle East. Where Black Africans have produced great civilisations, it is through contact with external, superior cultures like the Egyptians, Carthaginians and the Arabs. Where Blacks have produced great artistic achievements, such as in the Benin bronzes of the 16th/17th century, it is claimed that this is due to contact with the Portuguese and Spanish. This negative view is held even by writers, who are concerned to stress Black value and dignity, and show that Blacks are not only capable of improvement, but actually doing so.

Since then a series of historians, archaeologists and art historians have attempted to redress this view of history by showing how impressive Black African civilisations were. Civilisations like ancient Nubia, Ethiopia, Mali and the other great Islamic states of north Africa, and advanced west African civilisations like Dahomey. I myself prefer the superb portraiture in the sculptures from 17th century Ife in west Africa, but archaeologists and historians have been immensely impressed by the carved heads from Nok in Nigeria, which date from about 2,000 BC. Going further south, there is the great fortress of Zimbabwe, a huge stone structure that bewildered western archaeologists. For years it was suggested that Black Africans simply couldn’t have built it, and that it must have been the Arabs or Chinese instead. In fact analysis of the methods used to build it and comparison with the same techniques used by local tribes in the construction of their wooden buildings have shown that the fortress was most definitely built by indigenous Zimbabweans. There have been a number of excellent TV series broadcast recently. Aminatta Forna presented one a few years ago now on Timbuktu, once the centre of a flourishing and immensely wealthy west African kingdom. A few years before, art historian Gus Casely-Hayford presented a series on BBC Four, Lost Civilisations of Africa. I think that’s still on YouTube, and it’s definitely worth a look. Archaeologists are revealing an entire history of urban civilisation that has previously been lost or overlooked. Nearly two decades or so ago there was a piece by a White archaeologist teaching in Nigeria, who had discovered the remains of house and courtyard walls stretching over an area of about 70 km. This had been lost as the site had been abandoned and overgrown with vegetation. He lamented how there was little interest in the remains of this immense, ancient city among Nigerians, who were far more interested in ancient Egypt.

This neglect and disparagement of African history and achievement really does explain the fervour with which Afrocentric history is held by some Blacks and anti-racist Whites. This is a view that claims that the ancient Egyptians were Black, and the real creators of the western cultural achievement. It began with the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop. White Afrocentrists have included Martin Bernal, the author of Black Athena, and Basil Davidson. Following the Black Lives Matter protests there have also been calls for Black history to be taught in schools, beginning with African civilisations.

More positively, from what I’ve seen so far, Burns did believe that Blacks and Whites were equal in intelligence. The Christian missionaries Samuel Crowther, who became the first Anglican bishop of Africa, and Frederick Schon, had absolutely no doubt. Crowther was Black, while Schon was a White Swiss. In one of their reports to the British parliamentary committee sitting to examine slavery and the slave trade, they presented evidence from the African missionary schools in the form of essays from their pupils to show that Blacks certainly were as capable as Whites. Possibly more so at a certain age. As Black underachievement at school is still a very pressing issue, Crowther’s and Schon’s findings are still very important. Especially as there are real racists, supporters of the book The Bell Curve, keen to argue that Blacks really are biologically mentally inferior to Whites.

Burns’ book is fascinating, not least because it shows the development of official attitudes towards combating racism in Britain. Before it became such a pressing issue with the mass influx of Black migrants that came with Windrush, it seems that official concern was mostly over the growing resentment in Africa and elsewhere with White, British rule. The book also hopefully shows how we’ve also come in tackling racism in the West. I’m not complacent about it – I realise that it’s still very present and blighting lives – but it’s far, far less respectable now than it was when I was a child in the 1970s. My concern, however, is that some anti-racism activists really don’t realise this and their concentration on the horrors and crimes of the past has led them to see the present in its terms. Hence the rant of one of the BLM firebrands in Oxford that the police were the equivalent of the Klan.

Burn’s book shows just how much progress has been made on, and makes you understand just what an uphill struggle this has been.

 

 

Author Interview: Q and A with Dr Simidele Dosekun on Fashioning Postfeminism: Spectacular Femininity and Transnational Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/07/2020 - 8:49pm in

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In this author interview, we speak to Dr Simidele Dosekun about her new book, Fashioning Postfeminism: Spectacular Femininity and Transnational Culture, which reflects on ideas about postfeminist self-fashioning and subjectivity through interviews with women in Lagos, Nigeria, who practise a spectacularly feminine style.

Q&A with Dr Simidele Dosekun, author of Fashioning Postfeminism: Spectacular Femininity and Transnational Culture. University of Illinois Press. 2020.

Q: In Fashioning Postfeminism, you interviewed 18 ‘spectacularly feminine’ women in Lagos, Nigeria, aged between 18 and 35. What is spectacular femininity, and how does it sit within Lagosian styles and Nigerian fashion more broadly?

The book is concerned with women who dress in a contemporary transnational style or fashion characterised by elements such as long weaves, heavy and ‘flawless’ makeup, immaculately manicured nails, false eyelashes and so on. I use the term ‘spectacularly feminine’ descriptively. I mean spectacular in the sense of luminous, brilliant, ornate, hyper-visible, drawing the eye, and I argue that the style very much constitutes and communicates femininity, among other things, hence ‘spectacularly feminine’. I preferred this term to, say, ‘hyper-feminine’. In the book I argue that while the particularities of this spectacularly feminine style may be relatively new in Lagos, the fact of women (and men) ‘dressing up’, getting themselves carefully and beautifully styled, and also keenly following transnational trends, is certainly not. There are long histories of fashion and fashionability and attention to appearance in Lagos – and Nigeria and Africa more broadly – of which the spectacularly feminine is just one instantiation.

Q: In your book you position the performance of spectacular femininity as a way that your participants fashion a postfeminist self. How would you define postfeminism, and how does your focus on a ‘new African – Nigerian, Lagosian – femininity’ challenge some of the existing assumptions about who is or can become a postfeminist subject?

I understand postfeminism as an upbeat, celebratory cultural address to women, and promise, that they are past or post- the need for feminism, that they are ‘already individually empowered’ as I also put it, and can ‘have it all’, ‘do it all’ and so on. I argue at the end of the book that postfeminism is a lie, because the conditions for women to no longer have need for feminism have clearly not arrived, which would be the dismantling of patriarchy. The original literature on postfeminism considered its subject to be a white, Western, upper-middle-class woman – the Sex and the City type, for instance – and didn’t look or seem to imagine much beyond this. This has changed in the years since I started working on the project; there is now research on postfeminism pretty much all over the world, and centring variously racialised subjects. My argument is quite simply that postfeminism and its styles of self travel; that they are not, and indeed cannot be, fixed to or owned by any particular type of subject, even as, practically speaking, there are material constraints to who can ‘do’ postfeminism.

Q:  A crucial point underscored throughout the book is that black beauty is a complex construct in its own right, and it is a myth to reduce it to being a response to white beauty norms, whether as mimicry or opposition. Do you think that contemporary feminist scholarship on beauty and fashion sufficiently challenges reductive understandings of black beauty?

I think the notion that black women are fixated on white beauty standards and norms continues to dominate feminist scholarship, including black feminist work. It has become something of a truism in the literature, and so is rarely interrogated. In the book I argue strongly against this, very much drawing on the theoretical perspectives and insights of Shirley Tate. That said, I do not try to deny or shrug off the fact that anti-black racism has shaped black beauty practice and norms. I try to make an argument for keeping white supremacy in view, but without reducing black beauty to it. I think the latter is very important for many reasons: to recognise and respect that black people are agentic, creative and desirous subjects, even under hostile conditions; to recognise and respect that blackness has its own logics and dynamics; to recognise and allow that things – in this case beauty norms, practices, aesthetics and so on – can enter and sediment into blackness, can become black, even if they may have started somewhere else. This is also to say, therefore, that blackness is not essential and fixed and incommensurably ‘other’.

Q: It is often assumed that beauty practices are performed to gain the approval of others. But a concept that stood out in your book was beauty as ‘psychic capital’ – how embodying a particular style of femininity can be a crucial buttress for the self. How important was psychic capital for your participants? Did it entirely displace the importance of other people’s opinions?

The women whom I interviewed in Lagos very much insisted that they do their fashion and beauty ‘for themselves’, not ‘for others’, especially not for men. They explained that when they dress up they feel good about themselves, they feel confident and so on, and this is what I call ‘psychic capital’: the internal boost, or the ‘oomph’ as one of the women called it, that spectacular feminine beauty gives, or promises at least. But at the same time, as the women centred their own desire and gaze in their accounts of their dress practice, they also revealed that many external factors and pressures and voices weigh upon them, and push them to make what I argue comes to feel like  a ‘necessary choice’ of postfeminist spectacular. I think the dichotomy of ‘dressing for myself’ versus ‘dressing for others’ is a false one, so I do not seek to argue that the women said the former but in reality it was the latter. My analytic concern is rather with what they deemed sayable and preferable, and what this reveals of the kind of subjectivity being performed. I read the individualist, self-pleasing and self-regarding ‘I do it for me’ discourse that the women took up as an example of their postfeminist self-positioning.

Q: Your participants frequently attributed the successful embodiment of spectacular femininity to having a particular ‘can-do’ attitude rather than the material wealth required to purchase expensive beauty products. Is it in keeping with postfeminism to stress the importance of the ‘right’ mentality, and did other factors influence the reticence over money?

I wouldn’t say the women in the book were reticent to talk about money per se; rather, that they took for granted their class privilege, and the spectacular degree of consumerism that it afforded them, which, of course, is precisely how privilege works, by being invisible and ‘normal’ and unnamed. But more generally, I certainly think that part of how postfeminism works is by obscuring the material conditions that it requires, and instead exhorting women to work on themselves, to work on their attitudes and their confidence, to ‘lean in’, and all this individually. In my view, this is but one of many reasons why postfeminism makes women feel like they are always failing. Whether in relation to their professional lives, or motherhood, or beauty as in my book, postfeminist standards are essentially unattainable.

Q: You write that ‘it hurts that postfeminism proves impossible to inhabit. In fact, it hurts to even try to inhabit it’. You discuss how happiness and unhappiness coexist in the performance of spectacular femininity, but did these emotions play into your own experience of undertaking the study? In other words, can postfeminism be a painful object of research? 

This is an interesting question. The short answer is yes, I found postfeminism painful to research, ultimately. There was pleasure and laughter and positivity in the women’s accounts, and in my interactions with them; I don’t want to suggest otherwise. But in the final analysis, I often felt sad and frustrated by how the postfeminist emphasis on happy affects and choice and ‘can do’ seemed to leave the women with little imaginative and emotional space for complaint, critique or resistance. Even when there were hints of pain, ambivalence or melancholy in their accounts, they quickly moved on to reassert a happy position or outcome. They were insistent that an ‘empowered’ woman can simply choose what she likes and make her own way, even when these claims were contradicted by the very experiences that they were reporting, and when the range of conceivable choices on offer seemed quite delimited.

Q: At the end of the book you write that ‘while I agree with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie— and, laterally, Beyoncé—that we should all be feminists […] we cannot all be, not if the subject position and its politics are to mean, much less try to effect, much’. Why do we need to refuse the idea of feminism as a happy, popular and fashionable project?   

I often joke about my mild panic when, in 2014, just as I was finishing my dissertation (which eventually became the book), Beyoncé declared herself a feminist at the MTV Music Awards. So much for postfeminism! My arguments at the end of the book have to do with this, with the fact that in the last few years feminism – a certain feminism – seems to have come back into fashion and now enjoys a relative popularity and visibility, as Sarah Banet-Weiser puts it. I essentially wanted to make a ‘killjoy’ argument against happy, celebratory, ‘sexy’ feminisms, to insist instead on feminist anger and critique and disaffection, quite simply because we have so much to be angry and critical and disaffected about! This is not to say that I think feminism is or should be gloomy, but rather that we must insist on a thorough and radical critique, and not be seduced by glossy, consumerist, individualist and capitalist visions of feminism that, in my opinion, will not take us much beyond the patriarchal status quo.

Note: This interview was conducted by Dr Rosemary Deller, Managing Editor of the LSE Review of Books blog. This interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Banner image credit: Photo by Ayodeji Alabi on Unsplash.

Feature image credit: Photo by Ovinuchi Ejiohuo on Unsplash.

 


We Should Not Sell Arms to Saudia Arabia, Let Alone Apologise to Them

On Friday, Mike published a very enlightening article showing just how concerned the Tories are about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia: they aren’t. They actually apologized to them about it. It seems that after BoJob announced sanctions against particular Saudi individuals for their crimes against humanity, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace phoned up the Saudi prince serving as their defence minister and apologized. This wasn’t publicized over here, but it was loudly trumpeted in the Saudi state press, and only reported in Blighty by the Independent.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/10/defence-secretary-phoned-saudi-arabia-to-apologise-for-human-rights-sanctions-claim/

What! Outrageous!

We’ve got absolutely no business selling arms to Saudi Arabia in the first place. A few years ago a Nigerian academic appeared on Radio 4 recommending a change of allies in the Middle East. Instead of supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia, we should support and ally ourselves instead with Turkey and Iran. It’s a radical plan that has absolutely no hope of success, but it would be better than those two highly draconian and intolerant regimes. Turkey, until the accession of President Ergoyan, aspired to be a modern, western-looking, secular state. That was the programme of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Attaturk. Turkey has also has its problems with human rights abuses, such as its ethnic cleansing of the Kurds and official denial of the Armenian massacres. Iran is also a theocracy, but despite the Shah’s regime, which turned it into an absolute monarchy, and then the Islamic Revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini, it does have a democratic component. They have a parliament – the majlis – whose members are elected, as is its president, although progress to a genuine, western-style democracy is blocked through an elected Supreme Leader, another ayatollah, and the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guards. But even with these anti-democratic institutions, both countries are more tolerant and democratic than Saudi Arabia.

Iran officially recognizes in its constitution the country’s religious minorities – the Zoroastrians, descendants of the original monotheist faith of the Persian Empire, Armenian Christians and Jews. Four seats are reserved for them in the majlis. And despite American and Israeli propaganda to the contrary, Iranian Jews are tolerated and treated quite well. Possibly this is because some of the country’s great patriots of the 20th century, who were determined to resist its annexation by the imperial powers, were Jews.

This is in stark contrast to Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute, theocratic monarchy. The only tolerated religion is Wahhabi Islam. All other faiths, even they are varieties of Islam, are strictly proscribed. The Shi’a minority live in villages without electricity or running water. Their religious books may be seized and destroyed. And as the west has made grief-stricken overtures of sorrow and contrition for its racial intolerance and slavery, the Saudis have made no such gestures on their part. A few years ago one of the country’s leading clerics – I think it was the Grand Mufti, rather than the Sherif of Mecca, declared that the Shi’a were ‘heretics’ and ‘worthy of death’. It’s a declaration of genocide, an exact counterpart of the slogan ‘Baptism or extermination’ of the German crusading orders in their campaigns against the pagan Slavs in eastern Europe. Saudi Arabia only outlawed slavery in 1964, but it still occurs today in the appalling exploitation of migrant labourers under the countries’ sponsorship system. Domestic servants are also kept in conditions no different from real slavery, including those taken to Britain and Europe by their masters.

And it explains precisely why the Saudis are indiscriminately bombing and killing civilians, women and children, and mosques, hospitals and schools in Yemen.

We went to war in 1939 against a regime that was determined to the same to the Jews, as well as the Gypsies, Poles and the other Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe. If you want to hear some real horror stories, talk to Poles, Ukrainian and Russians about what happened when the Nazis and the SS moved in and occupied their countries, as well as the horrors Jews, Gypsies and the disabled went through.

Why should we be arming a similar regime?

And the Saudis are spreading this intolerance. Many Muslim countries were traditionally much more tolerant and pluralistic. One of Mike’s photos he brought back from his time in Bosnia showed a church and a mosque that were right next to each other. It’s a very clear demonstration that in that part of the country, Christians and Muslims had been friends and definitely not at each others throats. But I’ve read comments again and over again in books and articles from more moderate Muslims from different nations lamenting the increasing fanaticism in their countries. And they state that those responsible for it went to study in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Bosnian Islam, thanks to these influences, has become more rigid and austere. In the Balkans Islam was spread by the Sufi mystical orders that served that Turkish troops as chaplains. These forms of Islamic piety also absorbed elements from Christianity. But these are being purged as Wahhabism is exported to Bosnia. A few years ago the government was sending in bulldozers to destroy the traditional Muslim gravestones in its cemeteries.

And we shouldn’t sell the arms for simply self-preservation.

The Saudis have also exported their religious intolerance by funding and arming terrorist groups. Forget the stuff about Iran being responsible for most of the world’s terrorist groups. Muslim terrorism only ever counted for a fraction of global terrorism. Most of the terrorist groups around the world are either nationalists or Marxists. But it seems to me very strongly that the Saudis surpassed Iran long ago as the suppliers of Muslim terror. They matched the Americans in funding and supplying the Islamist guerrillas against the Russians in Afghanistan. The suppressed passages in the official report about 9/11 made it clear that atrocity was funded and led by the Saudis. It was impossible to follow the trail all the way, but the evidence pointed all the way to the top. And the reports on al-Qaeda’s campaigns in Iraq and Syria published in the volume Unmasking Terror: A Global Review of Terrorist Activities, edited by Christopher Heffelfinger and published by the Jamestown Foundation in 2005 state very clearly that al-Qaeda in those nations was being funded and supplied by the current head of Saudi intelligence. The Saudis were favourably disposed to Daesh, and only turned against them when ISIS declared the jihad against them.

If we sell them armaments, there is a very real chance that they will make their way to terrorists who will use them against our brave boys and girls and our allies.

The argument for selling what David Cameron called ‘this wonderful kit’ to Saudi Arabia and other nations is that this supposedly opens these countries up to other British products. It doesn’t. They don’t purchase more ordinary, peaceful British goods. They just concentrate on weapons. Weapons that they don’t actually need. We sold them, or one of the other Arab states, a whole batch of jet fighters a few years ago, despite the fact that the Saudis had no need for them, nowhere to put them, and no maintenance infrastructure.

But it all makes the arms companies richer. And they, no doubt, are also donating very handsomely to Tory party coffers.

Three Books on African Languages

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/06/2020 - 9:28pm in

Teach Yourself Swahili: A Complete Course for Beginners, Joan Russell, (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1996).

Teach yourself Swahili Dictionary, D.V. Perrott, (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1965).

Teach Yourself Yoruba, E.C. Rowlands (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1969).

I’ve an interest in languages, and two that I considered learning are the African languages Swahili and Yoruba. I tried teaching myself a bit of Swahili when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol in the 1990s and very early couple of years of this century.  I didn’t get very far with either of them, and haven’t really done anything more with the Yoruba book than look at it since I bought it. However, I thought some people out there might be interesting in knowing about them, especially now that the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked an interest in African culture and civilisation.

Kenneth Katzner in his book, Languages of the World (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1977) has this section on Swahili:

Swahili, more correctly called Kiswahili, is the most important language of east Africa. It is the official language of both Tanzania and Kenya, and is also spoken in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire. (In Zaire a separate dialect is spoken, known as Kingwana.) Swahili is the mother tongue of perhaps only a million people, but at least ten million more speak it fluently as a second language, and many millions more at least understand it to some degree.

Swahili is one of the Bantu languages, which form a branch of the Niger-Congo family. Its vocabulary is basically Bantu but with many words borrowed from Arabic. The name Swahili is derived from an Arabic word meaning “coastal”, having developed among Arabic-speaking settlers of the African coast beginning about the 7th century. During the 19th century it was carried inland by Arab tradesmen, and was later adopted by the Germans as the language of administration in Tanganyika. In modern Tanzania it is the national language, and in 1970 it was proclaimed the official language of Kenya.

The Swahili alphabet lacks the letters c, q, and x, but contains a number of its own. The dh is pronounced like the th of “this” (e.g., dhoruba-hurricane), gh like the German ch (ghali-expensive), and ng’ like the ng in “thing” but not as in “finger” (ng’ombe-cow). Whereas English grammatical inflections occur at the end of the word, in Swahili everything is done at the beginning. Kitabu is the Swahili word for “book” but the word for “books” is vitabu. This word falls into the so-called Ki Vi class, one of eight in the Swahili language. Others are the M Mi class (e.g., mkono-hand, mikono-hands; mji-town, miji-towns), and the M Wa class, used mainly for people (mtu-man, watu-men; mjinga-fool, wajinga-fools). Furthermore, these prefixes are carried over verbs of which the noun is the subject, as well as to numerals and modifying adjectives. Thus “one big book” in Swahili is kitabu kikbubwa kimoja (“book-big-one”), but “two big books” is vitabu vikubwa viwili.

Katzner gives as a example of a text in the language the poem, The Name, by Shaaban Robert. This runs

Mtego wanaotega, ninaswe nianguke,

Sife yangu kuvuruga, jina liaibike,

Mungu mwema mfuga, nilinde lisittendeke,

Na wawekao kaga, kudhuru watakasike.

 

Kwa wingi natangaziwa, maovu nisiyotenda,

Na habari nasikia, kila ninapokwenda,

Lakini Allah mwelewa, stalifanya kuwanda,

Jina wanalochukia, badala y kukonda.

 

Badala ya kukonda, jina litaneenepa,

Ugenini litakwenda, lisipopendeza hapa,

Kutafuta kinbanda, ambako halitatupwa,

Huko wataolipenda, fadhili litawalipa.

 

A trap they set, for me to get caught,

My reputation they blemish, to spoil my name.

Oh, Lord the Keeper, save me from the plight,

And those who promise me harm, remove their aim.

 

Many slanderous charges are published against me,

And these I hear, wherever I go.

But God who understands, my name will clear,

The name they hate, He will surely emancipate.

 

Rather than wither, my name will thrive,

Abroad it will succeed, if here they will not heed,

Shelter it will find, where it will not be remiss,

Where those who care, it will reward and recompense.

 

The blurb for Teach Yourself Swahili runs

This is a complete course in spoken and written Swahili. If you have never learnt Swahili before, or if your Swahili needs brushing up, Teach Yourself Swahili is for you.

Joan Russell has created a practical course that is both fun and easy to work through.She explains everything clearly along the way and gives you plenty of opportunities to practise what you have learnt. The course structure means that you can work at your own pace, arranging your learning to suit your needs.

Based on the Council of Europe’s Threshold guide lines on language learning, the course contains:

  • Eighteen graded units of dialogues, culture notes, grammar and exercises
  • A guide to Swahili pronunciation
  • Swahili-English and English-Swahili vocabularies

By the end of the course you’ll be able to cope with a whole range of situations and participate confidently in life in Tanzania, Kenya and other Swahili-speaking areas.

The blurb for Teach Yourself Swahili Dictionary simply says that it is

A concise working dictionary that contains all the Swahili words you are likely to hear or read. The Swahili-English and English-Swahili sections of the dictionary provide clear definitions for a range of words and phrases, including words that are particularly appropriate to life in East Africa. A useful Swahili grammar and practical hints on pronunciation are also included at the beginning of the dictionary.

Katzner says of the Yoruba language that

Yoruba, with the stress on the first syllable, is one of the major languages of Nigeria. It is spoken in the southwestern part of the country, in the region whose principal city is Ibadan. There are about 12 million speakers. 

He also notes that it is a member of the Kwa languages, which are a subgroup of the Niger-Congo family. It’s written with grave and acute stresses over letters, which indicate the rise and fall of the voice.

The example he gives of a text in the language is a passage from A King’s Election in Yoruba Land. Here it is, but I’ve been unable to include the tone accents.

Ajo igbimo ti awon agbagba ni ima yan oba larin awon eniti nwon ni itan pataki kan ninu eje. Ilana kan ti o se ajeil ana saju iyan ti oba. Awon olori ama dan agbara ti iroju re ati ise akoso ara re wo. li ojo ti a yan fun dide e li ade, awon olori ama lo si afin oba, nwon a mu u dani pelu agbara, nwon a si na a pelu pasan. Bi oba ba farada aje n lai sun ara ki, nigbana nwon yio de e li ade, bi beko, nwon yio yan oba miran.

The king is chose by a council of elders from among those who have a certain blood descent. A curious ceremony precedes a king’s election. His powers of endurance and self-restraint are tested by the chiefs, who, on the day appointed for the coronation, go to the king’s palace, get hold of him forcibly, and flog him with a whip. If the ordeal is suffered without flinching, then the king is crowned; if not, another king is chosen.

The blurb for Teach Yourself Yoruba runs

This book provides a complete introductory course in Yoruba, the mother tongue of over 10 million people living in Western Nigeria, in parts of Northern Nigeria and Benin.

The book is concerned with the generally accepted “standard” Yoruba which is widely understood even where regional dialects exist. The course assumes no previous knowledge of the language and every stage is illustrated with examples and exercises. Pronunciation, grammar and syntax are comprehensively covered and the book will equip you with a basic, everyday vocabulary.

I’ve no doubt that other books are available on these languages, and that these may well be a little dated after all this time. Reading about them, it’s clear that they’re very different, and therefore very difficult for speakers of European languages like English. Nevertheless, I thought that people interested in Africa and its languages might like to know about them.