Monday, July 4, 2011

Surprising Europe - Review and Interview

Film Review & Interview

Surprising Europe: The life and times of Ssuuna Golooba, directed by Rogier Kappers and produced by Jongens van de Wit, the Netherlands -- 70 mn documentary and 9-part TV series, 2011.

The history of humanity is also the story about migration. In the final analysis, we are all migrants. Central to my Yoruba people's philosophy on human migration are two of their proverbs. One is Omi ni eniyan; the second, Ibi ti aye ba gbeni de, la npe layede.

The first means that human beings are like water that flows wherever it can find its level. The second one means that it is where destination leads us that we call home.

It is probably the knowledge of these proverbs that informed many Africans to migrate to Europe to seek the proverbial green pasture. The natural instinct of every animal is to look for wherever the grass is greener. Europe, in recent history, emptied as much as a third of her population to other climes when the going got tough. It therefore remains incomprehensible to many African immigrants in Europe, why the continent that has benefited so much from migration, remains the most hostile to them.

Several thousand Africans have moved and settled in Europe. Some of them managed to build lives that are far better than what they left behind. But for the majority of these migrants, it has been tales of harrowing disappointments. For many of these profoundly disappointed Africans it is always a case of: "Had I known?"

Many of them had well-paying jobs in their countries with middle-class lifestyles and expectations. But human ambitions being what they are, they wanted more.

Images from Western media like BBC World and CNN are beamed into their living rooms, with commentators constantly harping on "rich" Western countries with out-of-this-world GNP, GDP, and other statistics that paint pictures of a paradisiacal West. The same media portrays Africa as a hopeless, war-torn, famine-overwhelmed, dictators-ridden continent that is forever begging to feed its lazy citizens.

Hollywood also lends hand with movies that show the bold and the beautiful who, with no apparent means of livelihood, tool around town in kilometer-long limousines, wining and dining the whole day with no apparent care in the world. Images are shown of people putting plastic cards into walls from which money gushes out. Ah, white people are magicians!

There are also the new missionaries on the block, those kind-hearted NGO folks who drive around in big 4-wheel-drive jeeps, hold endless conferences, and talk themselves silly on how to end poverty in Africa.

African immigrants who come on holidays and start spending money like it's going out of fashion also do not help matters.

These are the images Africans are bombarded with and who does not like better things? Determined to get his share of the wealth of Europe, the African quits his job, and sells whatever properties he had accumulated over his toiling years. Some sell the family jewels, houses, and even the farm. Occasionally, loans are contracted to embark on the journey to a supposed El Dorado.

Arriving in Europe, the immigrant is thrown into a severe culture shock from which he hardly ever recovers. The illusion that Europeans are nice and welcoming is the first to go.

In many parts of Africa, especially in the villages, total strangers are mostly welcome with huge smiles and a desire to help. The immigrant's first contact with Europe is with stony-faced immigration officers with the countenance of a wolfhound and the friendliness of a Gestapo. The confounded immigrant wonders what has happened to all those Europeans he saw in Africa with smiles pasted on their faces, as they trample around the continent looking for places to develop.

When he's finally admitted into the country after a bruising encounter at the port of entry, the senses of the poor immigrant are further assaulted when he finds out that he needed more than his expensive visa to even begin to settle down.

First, the small question of accommodation needs to be settled, and it becomes a major production when he's asked to produce a residence permit without which he cannot get legal accommodation. Our bewildered immigrant, who had a spacious apartment in his native land, is forced to make do with sleeping in other people's corridor.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Namibian Land time-bomb

This piece was published in the Letter to the Editor section of the Pan African magazine, New African, July 2011 edition.

Kindly permit me space for this letter in reaction to your story: “The Trouble with Namibia,” NA June 2011, pp4- 44.

I must first thank you guys at the New African magazine for bringing us pertinent information about our beautiful continent.

I consider myself a little bit knowledgeable about African affairs, but your report on Namibia left me totally flummoxed.

I was (until I read your piece) a great admirer of former President Sam Nujoma whom I considered a great Liberation leader. I honestly thought he was more than populous beard and fiery revolutionary rhetoric until I read the type of agreement he signed in the name of independence.

Little wonder that these agreements are forever shrouded in great mystery.

We can contrast what happened in the colonies in Africa with what transpired after the second European Civil war when Germany was made to regurgitate everything she stole from her European colonies and also paid compensation. In Africa, they think that we should be satisfied with a flag and some wretched smiles!

With the editor’s permission, I shared an extract on my Facebook wall, and the flurry of traffic I received was rather gratifying, as they greatly opened my eyes to the happenings in that beautiful but sadly racially-stratified land.

I can only express my shock and sadness as I read the lamentations of many Namibians about how their people lost all during the German invasions and how, up till today, young German boys prevent them from visiting their ancestral graves to pay homage!

Fortunately, at least for me, this is not a situation we experienced in West Africa.

Having stayed in Europe where I did not see a single African owning even one square inch of European land, I cannot imagine how I will react to Europeans fencing hundred upon hundred square kilometers of my people’s land in the name of private property.

It is very sad and troubling to read the depth of pent-up anger among my Namibian Facebook contacts. In my humble opinion, the correct question to ask now is to whom are we doing a favour by pretending that all is jolly and well in Namibia? Truth has a way of emerging however hard they try to suppress it, and however long, injustices have ways of blowing up in the face of its perpetrators.

Do the Western agencies, organisations and governments that perpetrated and abetted this gross injustice hope that it will last forever? Do they really believe that Namibians will somehow just forget about their ancestral lands? Doesn’t Zimbabwe provide ample evidence on what will happen when we bury our heads in the sand and pretend not to understand that historic injustices need to be rectified?

Your report quoted a 'SWAPO intellectual' talking about the incapacity of the government to act. I got hold of the Namibian Constitution and I found these relevant sections the Namibian government could use to get its land back from the absentee landlords.

Article 16: Property

(1) All persons shall have the right in any part on Namibia to acquire, own and dispose of all forms of immovable and movable property individually or in association with others and to bequeath their property to their heirs or legatees: provided that Parliament may be legislation prohibit or regulate as it deems expedient the right to acquire property by persons who are not Namibian citizens.

(2) The State or a competent body or organ authorised by law may expropriate property in the public interest subject to the payment of just compensation, in accordance with requirements and procedures to be determined by Act of Parliament.

There is no government anywhere that can claim impotence when it comes to overriding public interests. If the new elite in Namibia will have the political will, I think they can do a lot to help their own people.

Laws are made by men and could be undone by man. Section 16:2 of the Namibian constitution empowers the government to act. If the occupiers refuse to play ball, the government, through parliament CAN and SHOULD enact legislation confiscate the land and pay the same compensation the land-owners claim that they paid.

Wise saying:

" Never use both feet to test the depth of the sea." - African proverb