Nelson Mandela’s Birthday

July 18 (not an official holiday in South Africa)

“We must accept the fact that in our country we cannot win one single victory of political freedom without overcoming a desperate resistance on the part of the Government, and that victory will not come of itself but only as a result of a bitter struggle by the oppressed people for the overthrow of racial discrimination…

The theory that we can sit with folded arms and wait for a future parliament to legislate for the ‘essential dignity of every human being irrespective of race, colour, or creed’ is crass perversion of elementary principles of political struggle.”

The Shifting Sands of Illusion, Nelson Mandela, June 1953

Mandela’s story is legendary, not only for the 27 years he spent in prison, but for the reasons he arrived there and for his singular journey since.

Mandela was arrested on Sunday, August 5, 1962 for speaking against the government in public and leaving the country illegally, for which he was sentenced for five years.

“While serving this sentence, he was tried again for more serious charged connected with his leadership of the armed resistance group, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He and his colleagues were convicted of terrorism, narrowly escaping execution, receiving life sentences instead.”

Nelson Mandela: the Early Life of Rolihlahla Madiba, by Jean Guiloineau and Joseph Rowe

Terrorism? Yes, in a post-9-11 world, heads of state downplay that for nearly three decades Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nelson Mandela had been deemed a terrorist by the apartheid “justice” system.

Nelson Mandela stamp, Soviet Union, 1988

During his imprisonment the island on which Mandela was held—Robben Island—became known as “Mandela University.” The political prisoner educated other inmates who then continued the struggle against racism outside the prison walls.

“Did they imagine we might forget him and his companions if they banished him to this island? And did they imagine we could forget the misery of our lives?”

A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana, from Call Me Not a Man, by Mtutuzeli Matshoba

The famous cry “Free Nelson Mandela” really meant “Free South Africa”. On February 11, 1990, the first half of that long sought prize came to pass. Since 1966, not so much as a photograph had been taken of Mandela. His release was broadcast around the world.

After the country’s first truly-democratic elections in 1994, Mandela became South Africa’s first black President.

Youtube: Free Nelson Mandela

Freedom, however, is not a moment but a journey. As late as 2008, due to red tape and lack of oversight, Mandela and other members of the African National Congress were still on the U.S. terrorist watch list.

“In the 1970s and ’80s, the ANC was officially designated a terrorist group by [South Africa’s] ruling white minority. Other countries, including the United States, followed suit.” — USA Today 4/30/08

“It is frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in…the great leader, Nelson Mandela.” — Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice

Mandela and the ANC were removed from the list by a special bill signed by President Bush in July 2008, just prior to Mandela’s 90th birthday.

In South Africa, celebrants “thank Madiba” (Mandela’s honorary title) on July 18th with acts of charity and good deeds, from cleaning cemeteries to painting hospitals.

Meanwhile, in the country of Ghana…

President John Evans Atta Mills on Friday called on Ghanaians to observe Saturday, July 18, 2009 as Nelson Mandela International Day to commemorate his leading role in Africa’s liberation struggle… “The day is Mr. Nelson Mandela’s birthday and those observing this day are required to contribute 67 minutes of their time to the service of their communities in recognition of the 67 years Nelson Mandela has spent in serving humanity.”

Ghana News Agency, July 17, 2009

1961 Nelson Mandela Interview

Madaraka Day – Kenya

June 1

June 1 is Children’s Day in over 40 countries on five continents, but in Kenya, where roughly half the population is 14 or under, June 1 is Madaraka Day, one of Kenya’s three national holidays.

  • Madaraka Day:  June 1
  • Kenyatta Day: October 20
  • Jamhuri Day: December 12

The original Madaraka Day was June 1, 1963 when Kenya gained self-rule for the first following a century of colonization.

Madaraka means “autonomy” or “self-rule”. On the first Madaraka Day in 1963, Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta addressed the importance of the concept of “Hamrabee”.

“As we participate in pomp and circumstance, and as we make merry at this time, remember this: we are relaxing before the toil that is to come. We must work harder to fight our enemies — ignorance, sickness and poverty. I, therefore, give you the call Harambee! Let us all work hard together for our country—Kenya.”

Jomo Kenyatta, quoted by Anthony Cullen, reprinted in “How to Develop Resources for Christian Ministries“, 2004

Harambee comes from a Bantu term. meaning “work together” or “let us all pull together”. In bears much in common with ujamaa, a term popularized in Western culture by the emergence of Kwanzaa.

“Harambee is not new but a traditional principle which existed in every traditional society in Kenya. Each society had self-help or co-operative work groups by which groups of women on the one hand and men on the other organised common work parties, for example to cultivate or build houses for each other; clear bushes, harvesting etc.”

— The Harambee Movement in Kenya: The Role Played by Kenyans and the Government in the Provision of Education and Other Social Services, Susan Njeri Chieni

Six months later, on December 12, 1963, Kenya achieved full independence as the Republic of Kenya.

[The date of Kenya’s independence became of paramount interest in the United States in 2009 after a document surfaced purporting to be President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The “Republic of Kenya” document is dated February 17, 1964.]

Children’s Day – Nigeria

May 27

Today is Children’s Day in Nigeria. Why May 27? No clue. Some Nigerian sites purport that May 27 is International Children’s and Youth Day as declared by UNICEF, but Nigeria appears to be the only country to do so. The UN celebrates Universal Children’s Day on November 20. Dozens of other countries, including almost all former Soviet Republics, celebrate on June 1.

May 27 is coincidently the anniversary of the death of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose birthday (November 14) is observed as Children’s Day in India.

May 27 is also the day in 1967 that General Gowon split Nigeria from four provinces into twelve, three days before the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War.

In terms of population, Nigeria is even larger than Russia. About half of its 150 million people are 18 or younger. The average age women get married is 17. So you see, kids grow up fast in Nigeria.

Growing up fast is a sadly a necessity, as the average life expectancy in Nigeria is only 47, according to the World Factbook, despite the fact that Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil-exporters. In fact, oil accounts for 80% of the national budget. Oil revenues come at a devastating price though. Nigeria experiences the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill every year.

“Indeed, a half century of oil exploration — and, experts say, exploitation — has earned the Niger Delta a dubious distinction: Environmentalists call it the most polluted ecosystem on Earth.”

Nigerian Oil Spills Make Exxon Valdez Look Like Drop in the Bucket

On the bright side, the International Monetary Fund ranks Nigeria as the third fasting growing economy in the world, behind China and India. Others disagree. [Lying With Statistics: Nigeria as 3rd Largest Economy]

One thing people tend to agree on. Nigerians—both children and adults—have a reputation for being among the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth. Nigerians believe in large extended families that form the foundation for a nurturing support system for children.

The extended support system and ancestral traditions may be what has helped Nigerian communities survive everything from colonization to coups and corruption. Whether Nigeria’s latest purported economic boom will translate to better health conditions for the its children remains to be seen.

Children’s Day is celebrated across the country by primary and secondary school students with parades and presentations. However, considering the dire situation of children in Nigeria…

“…Children’s Day celebrations must become occasions for serious soul searching, articulation of blueprints or assessment of the process of implementation of child-friendly programmes of governments, not necessarily only occasions for the celebration and showcasing of a few privileged children.”

— Nigeria – Children’s Day (editorial)

Oil Spills in Nigeria Lack Legal Accountability

UNICEF Commends Joint Action to Protect Women & Children

Liberia – Unification Day

May 14

We here in the United States get cranky at our politicians for the slightest misstep, like plunging our country into bankruptcy or sending our children into misguided opportunistic wars.

Yet our stalwart Liberian cousins put up with 14 years of civil war before finally giving their leaders the boot in 2005. The rallying cry of the president to-be?

“All the men have failed Liberia. Let’s try a woman this time!”

In November 2005 the Liberians elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the highest office in the country, becoming Africa’s first elected woman head of state.

President Sirleaf declared:

“My administration shall thus endeavor to give Liberian women prominence in all affairs of our country…. We will also try to provide economic programs that enable Liberian women — particuarly our market women — to assume their proper place in our economic process.”

Americans may not know it, but the U.S. has played a pivotal role in Liberian history over the past two centuries, unparalleled in transAtlantic history. Back in 1817 the American Colonization Society purchased land in on the West African coast to emigrate freed African-American men, women and children. The motives for doing so were as different as the Society’s members, which included abolitionists and slave owners. Some saw emigration as the road to freedom for African Americans; others saw it as an alternative to integration in order to maintain a homogenous white state.

According to From Plantation to Ghetto:

“In the main, free blacks were suspicious of the motives of the American Colonization Society and strongly opposed it.”

Over 3,000 free blacks met in Philadelphia to protest the Society in the year of its founding.

However, over the next 40 years the well-funded ACS “repatriated” 13,000 African Americans to live in Liberia.

The Society’s involvement in Liberia lessened after 1847 when the Americo-Liberians (those who emigrated from the U.S.) declared Liberia an independent nation. Americo-Liberians modeled Liberia after the U.S. in a number of ways. The name Liberia itself means “Land of the Free.” Its capital is Monrovia, named for President James Monroe. Its flag, government and constitution are modeled on that of the U.S. It became the first African republic in 1847, though the U.S. didn’t recognize its independence until 1862.

Liberia received monetary support from the United States over the years. Despite the fact that Americo-Liberians constituted a small minority of the population, the “Americans” as they were called, controlled the government and dominated the African population for the next 150 years.

“That is, because they were not regarded as citizens in in America, they too, did not recognize the indigenous inhabitants as citizens of the new Republic.” — Unification and Integration in Retrospect – Sehgran K. Gomah

In fact, as late as the 1930’s, the League of Nations censured the Liberian government for the forced labor of its indigenous population. Even after the abolishment of forced labor, indigenous Liberians remained disenfranchised second-class citizens until 1951. President William V.S. Tubman was a major proponent of integration and unification during his 28 years as President (1943-1971). Under his leadership, the government declared May 14 National Unification Day (during the 1959/1960 legislative session) to celebrate the integration of American and indigenous Liberians.

President Sirleaf reinvigorated National Unification (and Integration) Day in 2007, calling on Liberians work together to heal the wounds of a decade and a half of civil war.

“In November 2005, Liberian women strapped their babies on their backs and flocked to voting tables all across their war-racked country to elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Africa’s first female president. It was a seminal moment in the political history of not just Liberia but the entire continent, where patriarchal rule has long dominated, leaving African women on the sidelines to fetch water, carry logs, tend farms, sell market wares and bear the children of their rapists, while their menfolk launched one pointless war after another.”
Madame President, NY Times, by Helene Cooper, May 15, 2009

The Liberian Civil War of the 1990’s and 2000’s took nearly 300,000 lives.

Freedom Day – South Africa

April 27

Today is Freedom Day in South Africa, a country that doesn’t take freedom for granted. Freedom Day celebrates South Africa’s first democratic elections, held on this day in 1994.

Voting began on April 26, for the elderly, the ill, and pregnant women. The general election was held from April 27 to April 29, and was open to all South Africans 18 and older, regardless of race. Prior to the election, non-whites had limited voting rights. Under the apartheid system that ruled the country since 1948, voting was essentially restricted to white South Africans.

That’s not to say there were free elections before 1948. The Dutch East India Company established the first “refreshment station” on the Cape in 1652. In the 19th century, British settlers arrived in increasing numbers, and black rights gradually eroded.  Blacks and Indians were excluded from government in 1910, when the Union of South Africa was formed. Later laws required black South Africans to carry special passbooks and banned them from owning property outside of certains “reserves”. These reserves made up only 13% of the land area of South Africa, despite the fact that blacks made up an overwhelming majority of South Africa’s population.

After the National Party came to power in 1948, several laws restricted rights even further: the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, the Immorality Act of 1950, the Population Registration Act, and the Group Areas Act, which forced black South Africans to move out of neighborhoods that were designated as “white only”.  Future laws segregated virtually every aspect of South African life, from elementary schools to swimming pools.

Signs of Apartheid - Durban Beach, 1989
Sign of Apartheid, 1989

No one event brought about the end of Apartheid. The struggle combined international pressure from both governments and corporations, economic sanctions, internal boycotts, and other forms of resistance. Apartheid laws fell one by one, the African National Congress was reinstated as a legal organization, and in 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Mandela became the first black President of South Africa after the election of 1994. He was inaugurated on May 10. Every year since, South Africa has celebrated April 27 as Freedom Day.

This year’s Freedom Day celebrations “happen on the eve of the biggest sporting event, the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, which will for the first time take place on African soil.” — Gauteng province to host the Freedom Day national celebrations

[For Americans: Soccer is a big sport in much of the world outside the States. Much like basketball except it’s played outdoors on grass and players can’t use their hands.] Like many new holidays, traditions are still being formed:

“The only thing I’m not sure about is how we are supposed to celebrate Freedom Day. I know and respect everything associated with the day but for me it is just a public holiday where I chill and do whatever. On the odd occassion, I will watch SABC 2 to hear and see what rallies are happening…”

Celebrating Freedom Day –

Others call April 27 “unFreedom Day”, using the holiday to comment on the sharp divide between the rich and poor still all-too evident in South Africa.

“There are many in South Africa who feel that Freedom Day is a cruel joke which attempts to gloss over the true social concerns of citizens. Abahlali baseMjondolo, which means “shack dwellers” in isiZulu, is an intellectual movement formed in early 2005 in Durban, South Africa. To counteract Freedom Day, a day that actually reminds the poor in South Africa just how un-free they are, Abahlali spread the realities of UnFreedom Day through educational discussions, meetings and creative expression in films and music. UnFreedom Day has also begun to take on a positive meaning, a reminder of just how strong and united the movement has become.”

Alex J. Hyatt – unFreedom Day in South Africa

Freedom Day: 27 April

South Africa Split on Freedom Day

The Deadliest Creature on Earth

April 25

Statistically, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning, crushed by a vending machine, or flattened by falling airplane parts than to be killed by a shark.

In terms of deadliest animals, sharks barely make the top ten and are superseded by the vicious jellyfish (100 human deaths per year) and hippopotami (200 DPY).

Clocking in at #7 are lions (250)
#6 Bees (400)
#5 Elephants (600)
#4 Crocodiles (2000)
#3 Scorpians (5000)
#2 Snakes (100,000)

But the death toll of all these murderers together wouldn’t be a tenth of Public Health Enemy #1:

Weighing in at 2.5 milligrams and half an inch in length, the Mosquito kills 2 to 5 million people each year, from one disease alone: Malaria.

Today on World Malaria Day (formerly Africa Malaria Day) organizations such as WHO are getting the word out about the leading cause of premature mortality in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, malaria consumes four out of every ten public health dollars, and one out of every five children in sub-Saharan countries will die of malaria before their fifth birthday. 3000 every day.

A Harvard study in the year 2000 found that, had Malaria been eliminated 35 years earlier, the GDPs of Central and Southern African nations would be 30% higher today.

The vast majority of the infected are children in Africa, but the disease also effects South and Central America, the Indian subcontinent, and Southern Asia.

What can we do about it?

From 1992 to 2006, despite medical advances with other diseases, malaria infection and mortality rates actually increased, as strains of malaria became resistant to drugs such as chloroquine. Once cheap and readily-available, chloroquine is now ineffective in half of Africa’s malaria cases.

There are no vaccines proven effective against malaria. And though prophylactic drugs are available, the best forms of prevention today are still the simplest. Mosquito netting around beds and mosquito repellant are two.

It’s estimated that it would take $3 billion a year to eradicate Malaria. Not a chunk of change anyone wants to part with, but still less than the amount spent each week on the war in Iraq.

On the other hand, in the past two years the President’s Malaria Initiative, a $1 billion+ initiative focusing on preventive treatment in children under 5 and pregnant mothers, has helped to reduce new cases of malaria across 15 African nations.

A recent shark attack in San Diego made national headlines yesterday. The attack was horrifying and tragic, no doubt.

But imagine if the same attention were paid to each of the million+ fatal animal attacks each year by the common mosquito…

Or if we could see the devastation of a 9/11-size catastrophe, 3000 people dead from malaria, every single day

The resources devoted to solving such a crisis would be bottomless. But we don’t hear about it in the news precisely because it happens every day.

Malaria once terrorized Europe and America as it now does Africa. On April 25th we imagine a day when Malaria Day memorializes those millions killed from the eradicated disease, rather than the 3000 who will die today.

President Talks About Malaria in Hartford, Conn.

UN Launches World Malaria Day

Drive Against Malaria

Malaria Free Future

Zimbabwe Independence Day

April 18

Happy Independence Day, Zimbabwe!

Okay, well, maybe not so happy.

A quick scan of the blogosphere headlines reveals:

and my favorite:

According to the first article,

“Independence followed a seven-year war between nationalist blacks and the white-minority regime that left 27,000 people dead. Robert Mugabe was sworn in as president in 1980 and has maintained his grip on power ever since.”

Louise Dunne, Radio Netherlands Worldwide

“The first decade, 1980 to 1990 was superb for everyone, there was an independence euphoria, things were moving. Then 1990 to 2000, people started looking at what they had actually achieved from independence, scrutinising things like corruption. And then after the land reform in 2000, things just went down”.

Charles Rukuni, Zimbabwe journalist

Zimbabwe is a land-locked African nation sandwiched between Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, and South Africa.

Zimbabwe was once called Rhodesia, named after the British dude ‘Cecil’.  According to “Disability, Liberation, and Development” by Peter Coleridge…

“The Rhodesian colonial system was geared primarily for the benefit of a white minority for whom ‘the whole economic system on the farms as well as in the mines, rested on a cheap and plentiful supply of native labour.'”

Sadly, as the above quote suggests, they didn’t even know how to spell labor. Education was a big problem back then, and the disparity was rampant. Rhodesia spent ten times as many education dollars on whites than on blacks.

Fortunately, after gaining independence, the government poured vast resourced into the education system, allocating “22 per cent of its budget to education, which it declared to be the birthright of every Zimbabwean. (This compares with an education budget of around 2 per cent in Britain in the same period.)

The school population more than tripled between 1979 and 1989. Sounds like a great idea, except, as Coleridge points out, “the downside of educating so many people so suddenly is that there are very few jobs.

In other words, you pretty much need a Ph.D. to work at Coco’s now.

Zimbabwe also suffers from hyperinflation. It made news in early 2009 when the government printed what may be the world’s first $100 trillion bills. A 1 with 14 zeroes in case you were wondering.

Don't spend it all at once

But if you find one on the street, don’t go on a spending spree. It was worth about $30. Shortly thereafter, the government changed the currency system by removing 12 zeroes from the dollar, so that $1 trillion now equalled $1 Zimbabwean. Though it saved a lot of zeroes, it was a moot point, as Zimbabweans stopped accepting/using the ZD and now use foreign currencies for transactions.

Some blame President Robert Mugabe for the country’s problems, but to be fair, he has only been in charge of the country for the past three decades.

President Mugabe’s life is the stuff of legend. Born in 1924, he was a leader of the independence movement. He spent 11 years in prison for speaking out against the colonial government, during which time he earned three degrees, including a law degree. After independence, in which he played an instrumental part, he was elected the country’s first Prime Minister, and later President.

Since then however, his critics insist his reign has exhibited symptoms of Saturday Night Live skit syndrome. A good idea gone on about 20 years too long.

“On this day I am hoping for change, especially for the president…He is not going to go on and on. The talks must end now so we can vote.”

— Fanuel Chikwakwaire, Zimbabwe citizen (Mugabe rejects violence as Zimbabwe celebrates Independence)