The Safou and Hazel Trees

The storm was doing its frequent incursions in the forest and, like a raptor that rushes on from the sky and only leaves each time with a chick, it uprooted a tree. Each victim was left to his fate. For the survivors, the attack was only the business of the one who had succumbed.  Each closed his door on his blissful quietude.

The safou tree

One morning, the insatiable grim reaper stopped in front of the safou tree and started ruffling his hair. Then she [the grim reaper] shook him in all directions to make him understand that his time had come.

The safou tree tried to organize his defense. The storm rushed, retreated to regain strength, came back with more violence, snatched off and dispersed under her breath the hair of the assaulted. Not being able to take it anymore, the safou tree sent out a distress call in the direction of the hazel tree, his neighbor.

  • Here is, he said, the brigand who for many years, depopulates our country. Come help me get out of his claws. I am out of strength.
  • I never get involved in anything that doesn’t concern me, said the hazel tree. I do not deal with either the storm or the wind. Give back to the brigands what you owe them.

This said, the hazel tree closed his door to find the softness and calm of his home.

Turkish hazel tree (Source: Chicago Botanic Garden)

Under the storm’s assaults, the safou tree collapsed. In his last breath, he grumbled that what was happening to him will not miss the hazel tree.

And two days later , it was the turn of the hazel tree to pay the storm the ransom of weakness and individualism of the people of the forest.

Fables des Montagnes de Patrice Kayo, Collection Les CLES de l’avenir, Editions CLE, Yaounde, p. 9 (1998). Translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com

Re-Discovery of the Elephant Shrew in Djibouti

Elephant shrew (sengi) in Djibouti (source: Steven Heritage – BBC)

When I heard about the re-discovery of the elephant shrew, I wondered how could the elephant go missing and I didn’t hear about it? Since when? … then I realized that the elephant shrew was a sort of tiny rodent which is common on the horn of Africa; in the case at hand, it used to be common in Djibouti, but disappeared about 50 years ago. Not sure why it is called ‘elephant’ shrew. They say that it is related to the elephant, but how? Maybe the original scientist who said that had a little too much to drink? Or just looked at its pointed trunk-like nose and decided? Excerpts below are from an article on the BBC. As a side note, we really need to preserve our fauna (and flora), because we do not need a day when the elephant, the real one, will go missing

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A little-known mammal related to an elephant but as small as a mouse has been rediscovered in Africa after 50 years of obscurity.

Flag of Djibouti

The last scientific record of the “lost species” of elephant shrew was in the 1970s, despite local sightings.

The creature was found alive and well in Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa, during a scientific expedition.

Elephant shrews, or sengis [the name is of Somali origin], are neither elephants nor shrews, but related to aardvarks, elephants and manatees.

They have distinctive trunk-like noses, which they use to feast on insects.

There are 20 species of sengis in the world, and the Somali sengi (Elephantulus revoilii) is one of the most mysterious, known to science only from 39 individuals collected decades ago and stored in museums. The species was previously known only from Somalia, hence its name.

Steven Heritage, a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center in Durham, US, and a member of the expedition to the Horn of Africa in 2019, said he was thrilled to put the species “back on the radar”.

He told the BBC: …”We did not know which species occurred in Djibouti and when we saw the diagnostic feature of a little tufted tail, we looked at each other and we knew that it was something special.”

The scientists had heard reports of sightings in Djibouti, and Houssein Rayaleh, a Djiboutian research ecologist and conservationist who joined the trip, believed he had seen the animal before.

He said while people living in Djibouti never considered the sengis to be “lost” [seems like a case of ‘only Europeans discover things’ like Columbus and the Americas], the new research brings the Somali sengi back into the scientific community, which is valued.

For Djibouti this is an important story that highlights the great biodiversity of the country and the region and shows that there are opportunities for new science and research here,” he said.

Writings by Ruben Um Nyobe: Political Constant of Unity Practiced by Ruben Um Nyobe – 1959

Ruben Um Nyobé
Ruben Um Nyobé

In celebration of the life of  Ruben Um Nyobé, I chose to share with you his writings below on this day, 13 September, the day of his assassination in 1958 by French troops in Cameroon. These writings by  Ruben Um Nyobé, leader of the UPC, were published in 1959. The book was published as “Constante politique d’unité pratiquée par Ruben Um Nyobe – 1959,” by Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC). The text below by Ruben Um Nyobe served as a preface to the book, and has been translated to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com . For the original, go to gallica.fr

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Flag of the UPC
Flag of the UPC

Political Constant of Unity practiced by Ruben Um Nyobe – 1959

 Author: Union des Populations du Cameroon

Inform to Enlighten by Ruben Um Nyobe, General Secretary of the Union the Populations du Cameroun (UPC), Leader of the National Resistance for the Liberation of Cameroon

The national aspiration, which has just cumulated in the recognition of our independence, Is the concrete and objective expression of the result of the struggle of our people. No one can claim that independence has been granted to us, we have conquered it. All those who fought for this national liberty, whether dead or alive, have sealed their names in the history of our motherland, their glory will be immortal! But now at the term of a crowned struggle, instead of concord uniting all members of the coalition, a storm of jealousy and hatred, still sweep over our poor little country. Until when obscene passions and the most execrable hypocrisies cease to brave virtue and honesty! Why will cruel selfishness and blind ambitions not recoil before the honor and national dignity? In this flood of provocations and hatreds, where is the future of our children, the tranquility of our homes, the future of the country? Is it possible to build a country without its population? Is there independence without independent citizens? Answer! Yes answer! All those who oppress our people and those who aim to exploit it.

I say that we must give the people the means to hope and the opportunity to have confidence in them. To reach that goal we have some preliminary work to do.

  1. Present the people with clear options for his future.
  2. Prepare for the people a climate of cordiality and put an end to insecurity.
  3. Train the people’s judgment through civic and political culture / instruction.

All this is feasible/possible, so long as it is wanted. No need to dodge the work by creating tribal oppositions.   

Kamerun_Map 1901-1960
Map of Kamerun from 1901 to 1960 (Wikipedia)

I add that all those who sow hatred and call for crimes, throw the boomerang, which unfortunately does not clarify the future. In politics, there is good sense and virtue, notwithstanding the apprentices of Machiavelli! In politics, truth is also necessary, even if it hurts and displeases because we do not define the future of the people in lies and slanders! Yes, we have to be realistic! To all my compatriots, I formally repeat this: our enemies in this crucial hour of our history, are those who divide us, because they expose us weakened to the solicitations and appetites of the foreigner…

When one reflects on current events, one reaches a first observation: it is the conception of power and sovereignty which is at stake. If it is true (and it cannot be otherwise) that power comes from the people, is it not up to the people to freely designate their interlocutors? Why pretend to take the place of the people? Why seek to abuse and deceives the masses? To get elected and impose a dictatorship, isn’t it? Finally, we believe that the events of the past should make the darkest adventurers retreat. It is only in ignorance that a dictatorship can be imposed, even if it is subtle. In these conditions our task is clear: to enlighten the people. We must do it and we will do it against all adventures. Our goal is to safeguard the national dignity and sovereignty of Kamerun.

“History of Histories is Needed to Address Systemic Racism” by Gisele Yitamben

Black power symbol

In recent months, racial and social justice, and systemic racism have been at the forefront of the battle for human equality. A few days ago, Mrs. Gisele Yitamben wrote a piece for the World Economic Forum (WEF) where she addressed a very important point in the battle against systemic racism, namely the fact that the history of the victim needs to be told accurately in all its glory and entirety for the healing process to start. There is a saying that “until the lion tells its story, the hunter will always be the hero.” Mrs Yitamben has been most gracious to share with us her ideas on ways to address systemic racism, and expand on her WEF article here. Enjoy!

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History of Histories is Needed to Address Systemic Racism

By Gisele Yitamben*

“Systemic racism” is used to talk about all of the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions that harm certain racial groups and help others. “Systemic” distinguishes what’s happening here from individual racism or overt discrimination, and refers to the way this operates in major parts of society: the economy, politics, education, and more.

Systemic racism is also a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other issues. 

Systemic racism has its roots in extractive capitalism”

 It is “a deeply rooted prejudice, combined with institutional power and systemic oppression of certain groups of people.” continuing inequalities in education, housing, employment, wealth, and representation in leadership positions are rooted in humanity’s shameful history of slavery and systemic racism.

In the case of African and people of African descent, it is a direct consequence of doctrine patiently distilled, policies developed and communications put in place to downgrade the blacks with the end results of taking their wealth, their souls.

To support the Portuguese expansion, Pope Nicholas V issued a Papal bull on 18 June 1452 authorizing Afonso V of Portugal to conquer Saracens (Africans) and pagans and consign them to “perpetual servitude”. Successive popes reiterated the Bull: Pope Callixtus III in 1456 with Inter Pope Sixtus IV in 1481 and Pope Leo X in 1514 with precise denotations.

Pope Nicholas V

This position of the Catholic Church, accompanied by the legend of Shem in the Bible, that the noble institution disseminated without being encumbered with its real textual and theological foundation, too happy to have new territories of crusades, of evangelization, would be authority sweeping the reluctance herding slave traders and neophyte traders.

The position of the Catholic Church in relation to the slave trade was not going to be an epiphenomenon, far from it, its encouragements to enslavement would continue throughout the Negro period, like doctrinaire activism of the eminent French theologian Bellon de Saint Quentin, who used the “Holy Scriptures” to free the conscience of those who relied on his science.

All sorts of means will be used to dehumanize races, as a matter of policy to seek to assimilate cultures, for example, US and Canada, established boarding schools, prevented native language speaking, and separated children from their parents to put them in foster homes.

Slaves on board a ship

“People went as far as exhibiting Africans in Zoos”

Human zoos

Paris, the  capital of lights celebrated 100 years of freedom, equality and fraternity in 1989 with a “Universal Exhibition”. In addition to the brand new Eiffel Tower, the main attraction offered to the 28 million visitors to the “Universal Exhibition is the “Negro village” and its 400 Africans, exhibited on the Esplanade des Invalides, in the middle of the colonial pavilions. For ten years, these indigenous villages have been present in most of the major exhibitions, and they continued to be so for much of the 20th century in Hamburg, London, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Barcelona, ​​Osaka. Senegalese, Nubians, Dahomeans, Egyptians, Lapps, Amerindians, Koreans, and other so-called exotic peoples were thus presented in an environment evoking their countries, often in junk costumes and alongside wild beasts. More than 1 billion visitors rushed to these exhibitions between 1870 and 1940.

Caricature of Sarah Baartman from the 19th century

One of the most pathetic cases, of those  human zoos, is that of Sarah Baartman, who was put on display around Europe as a sexual freak, paraded naked on runways by a keeper who obliged her to walk, sit or stand so that audiences could better see her protruding backside

Even when she died, destitute and diseased, the ”Hottentot Venus,” as she was called, did not get a decent burial. Napoleon Bonaparte’s surgeon general made a plaster cast of her body before dissecting it. He preserved her skeleton and pickled her brain and genitals, placing them in jars displayed at Paris’s Museum of Man. Her brain, skeleton, and sexual organs remained on display in a Paris museum until 1974. Her remains weren’t repatriated and buried until 2002.

It was President Nelson Mandela who took up the cause of trying to get the young woman’s remains a proper resting place. Nelson Mandela sought the intervention of President François Mitterrand for his help in the matter when the two men met in South Africa in 1994. It took 8 more years to finally get Sarah buried.

Exposed face of Sarah Baartman from the French Museum

For more than five centuries, the Doctrine of Discovery and the laws based upon it have legalized the theft of land, labour and resources from Indigenous Peoples across the world. This has regrettably rendered indigenous peoples to be seen as dolls (see history of Sarah Baartman) that appeared not to have made any contribution to the evolution of mankind. Research has proven that modern day medicine took roots from traditional medicines practised by indigenous people. It is the same with other domains of social science.

Addressing the root causes of systemic racism and bias

Manuscripts a Tombouctou (Mali) montrant de l'astronomie et mathematique
Manuscripts a Tombouctou (Mali) montrant de l’astronomie et mathematique

As a Black woman in Africa, I am living the reality that the “deep roots” of systemic racism lie in extractive capitalism on this continent. Slavery, the colonization of Africa and the economic exploitation and speculation that continues today, are driven by greed for profit which is underpinned by cheap replaceable labour and raw materials seemingly at any cost, using obnoxious cooperative accords inherited from the colonial era [The Charter of Imperialism]. Ultimately, it is greed that has led all European to the systematic and methodical devaluation of all Africans. For centuries, African peoples have been discounted and devalued as the colonizers sought to maximize profits and focused on their own needs and “happiness”. This mindset continues to drive racist attitudes today.  What is amazing is that the exploitation of African resources have been going on for 500 years and the minerals are showing no signs of depletion [The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu]!!! This should have called in a big change of the system’s approach.

Current approaches to addressing racism have failed for the most part because they have addressed the symptoms but not the root causes of racism. We see this when we consider that while slavery and colonialism were officially abolished, the system of oppression merely transitioned into Central banks serving slave owners [The Bank of Senegal: Ancestor to the FCFA – producing Bank], but not former slaves [Reclaiming History: Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners], and police forces serving elected officials rather than  ordinary citizens.  In Liberia for instance, a country populated by ‘freed’ slaves, plantations enslave the rural populace.

If we want to end systemic racism we need to get beneath the surface and understand what’s really going on, especially on an unconscious or subconscious level. And to do this, we need to go beyond campaigns, slogans and figureheads—important as these are—and re-write the real stories of each race and its contribution to humanity.

Writing the history as it happens

Black Pharaohs of Nubia
Black Pharaohs of Nubia

It has always been curious to me that the “black pharaohs” of Egypt – powerful Kushite leaders that ruled all of Egypt from Nubia to the Mediterranean Sea from about 760 B.C. to 650 B.C. – have been largely forgotten by history [The forgotten kingdom of Nubia]. This dynasty of leaders embarked on an ambitious building program up and down the Nile, including the construction of pyramids in modern-day Sudan [Africa’s Forbidden Pyramids: Meroe, Nubia, and Sudan], under which their kings are buried. Yet the average person – black and white alike – if you mention pyramids, they think of those in Cairo first, and are not even aware that such structures exist further down the Nile in Sudan because this southern country is mostly a Black country.

“Black people need to start telling their stories”

In confronting racial stereotypes we need to tell the story as it happens and show how the development of the world is made of interwoven efforts; that will rebuild respect. There’s a reason why the Black Lives Matter activists are targeting statues of colonial and slave oppressors – because they recognize that there is power in these stories and symbols that have kept people trapped for centuries. As David Adjaye – lead designer of the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington DC –once wrote: “there is a direct relationship between symbols and systems and that people are starting to seek complex truths in new symbols that don’t ignore the losers or the forgotten underbelly of history”.

Pyramids of Nubia
Pyramids of Nubia, Sudan

For many years, the narratives about Africa have been about misrule, corruption, poverty and hunger, yet it remains one of the richest continents in terms of mineral wealth and agricultural potential. This is not to discount the reality of poor governance and corruption, which I must stress out is being encouraged and promoted by developed countries within the frame work of the exploitation strategy.; Many people lose their lives each year trying to cross dangerous waters into Europe in search of a better life largely because of these factors [Francis Bebey, Fatou Diome, and Immigration]. But there are positive stories we can tell too.

“When we really know each other, their contribution to common history and see that their solutions also hold value, we may start to shift systems” 

Africa needs to take the lead in telling her stories to shape a new perception. This new perception will be positively shaped if truth is told. It is not about begging to be accepted. We need to tell the stories that make visible the things we value, the beauty and the power that have been written out of history. We have a saying – “Until the lioness tells her side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

Driving systems change at the local level

By telling real Africa’s stories (victories and downfalls) and making Black history more visible we can start the work of unraveling the systems that hold racism and oppression in place, but this alone will not be enough. Systemic racism has also to be tackled at structural, institutional and political levels. A system that has historically devalued a whole group of people is by definition exclusionary; we need to therefore re-design systems that value inclusiveness. In this, solutions cannot be imposed from outside. Those that need change most must be involved in bringing it about.

Flag of Cameroon

The COVID-19 pandemic may ironically be showing us a way here. In Cameroun working in remote areas with social entrepreneurs – lockdown measures have effectively cut us off from our usual means of trade; incomes have collapsed and we’ve been forced to create new systems to ensure that people can attend to their basic needs. This has included creating a local currency to allow people to trade during this time and setting up of new localized trade routes. While driven in this instance by necessity, there is power in this approach in that it starts with what is under the control of the beneficiaries and needed and what is valued and then builds around that.

Going forward, we can seek to apply this principle of localization more broadly. When we start to respect others and see that their solutions also hold value, we can start to shift systems.  These systems are built on mutual trust.

I believe social entrepreneurs will have a central role to play in this regard by driving localized solutions, for example, creating access to affordable finance for initiatives that can improve livelihoods for future generations of Africans. In this way we can build out a new narrative for the continent and create systems that value people, and their happiness and well-being, over profits.

We are at a historic moment in the fight against systemic racism. There is a wider moral recognition that some things in our society are fundamentally wrong and a broader understanding of the need to address the root causes of these ills. We have an opportunity to uproot systemic racism and it starts with rediscovering what has been forgotten and revaluing what has been systematically devalued.

Gisele Yitamben is the Founder and President of Association pour le Soutien et l’Appui à la Femme Entrepreneur (ASAFE) a social enterprise  that provides business training and development services, alternative financing and access to e-commerce to support thousands of women entrepreneurs in Cameroon as well as in Guinea, Benin, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She can be reached on myitamben@yahoo.fr

The Bank of Senegal: Ancestor to the FCFA – producing Bank

Monnaie_Bank of Senegal 1872
5 Francs from La Banque du Senegal – 1872

My people, have you ever heard about The Bank of Senegal? The grandparent to the current FCFA producing banks (BCEAO, BEAC)? The bank which was created to cover the losses of slaveowners when slavery was abolished? The owner of slaves were compensated, but not the slaves who had been over-exploited. In essence, after the abolition of slavery, in French colonies, a new system of exploitation was put in place through the banking system (The 11 Components of the French Colonial Tax in Africa).

Monnaie_Bank of Senegal 1917
2 Francs BAO 1917

Well, the Bank of Senegal was created by Napoleon III by imperial decree on 23 December 1853. First established in Saint-Louis in Senegal. In 1867, a branch was opened in Gorée (then transferred to Dakar in 1884), then another branch in Rufisque. It was started as a public limited company with a capital of 230,000 F, approved by the Emperor established by reference to the law of April 30, 1849, to settle the problem of compensation granted to slaveholders following the abolition of slavery (Décret d’abolition de l’esclavage du 27 avril 1848).

Monnaie_Bank of Senegal 1938
25 Francs BAO – 1938

The Bank of Senegal was created to finance the campaigns of the traders in the purchase of tropical products and the sale of manufactured products. The distribution of capital in this new bank depended on the number of slaves owned or sold. The owner of slaves were compensated, but not the slaves who had been over-exploited.  This Private bank had the power to issue bearer, banknotes. In 1901, the bank evolved and became the Bank of West Africa whose shareholders were the Bordeaux houses (60%) (The Maurel house, Teisseire and Beynis), the CNEP (20%), the Marseillais (20%) (Charles Bohn).

FCFA_Dakar_BAO_1904
B.A.O. Building in Dakar, Senegal, 1904

In 1901, the Bank of Senegal became La Banque de l’Afrique Occidentale (Bank of West Africa), B.A.O. .  In 1929, its emission privilege was expanded and extended to French Equatorial Africa, Cameroon and Togo. The system put in place would help build multinational plantations for international market. As you see, there were no opportunity to access finance for local entrepreneurs. On April 14, 1959, the Central Bank of the Equatorial African States and Cameroon BEAC and the Central Bank of the West African States BCEAO were created. Although they are called Central Banks, they do not play the role of a central bank which is that of implementing monetary policies, setting official interest rate used to manage both inflation and the country’s exchange rate and controlling the nation’s entire money supply.

Let’s examine one of the most incongruous accords in humanity after the black code

Monnaie_Bank of Senegal 1941
100 Francs BAO 1941

It is the convention between France and 14, 15 African countries in the franc zone which stipulates that:

The member states agree to pool their external assets in a foreign exchange reserve fund. These reserves will be subject to a deposit with the French Treasury in a current account called “operations account.

From 1945 to 1973, these Africans exported, for example, raw materials for 100 billion dollars they deposited all the 100 billion dollars in the French treasury.

From 1973 to 2005, if they exported for $ 100 billion, these same African countries were obliged to deposit 65 billion in the French Treasury in the operations account.

Monnaie_Bank of Senegal 1994 - BEAC
2000 Francs – BEAC 1994

Paradoxically, it is France which decides when the currency can be devalued like in 1994 when the FCFA was devalued by 50%. Since September 20, 2005, the deposit amount stands at 50% for West Africa and 60% for Central Africa. This simply means that if Africans export up to 100 billion dollars or Euros, Yuan, etc. they are obliged to deposit 50 billion in the French treasury.

For Central Africa, 60% of these dollars are purely and simply recovered by the Banque de France, while only 40% go down into the treasury of the African countries

France claims that she is retaining this money to guarantee the fixed exchange rate 1 € = 655 FCFA. This is purely an economic nonsense. First we are told that the rate is fixed, and then we learn that in reality it is not because of market forces that no one can control.

Monnaie_Bank of Senegal 1994 - BEAO
5000 Francs – BCEAO

As major consequences, when African countries of the Franc zone export their raw materials to France, let’s say for example 100 million euros, France does not pay a single dime. All she does is mark a plus on the country’s name in the Operation Account better known in French as the “Compte d’opération” in the French treasury. But if it is Nigeria or Ghana that export to France, De Gaulle’s country, will be obliged to take 100 million euros from the Operation Account to pay them.

All this to say, that we, Africans, need to break these chains of economic slavery that have been on our necks for the past 167 years. We need to free ourselves, and not expect France to free us. As Thomas Sankara said in his 1984 speech at the UN, “the slave who is not capable of assuming his rebellion does not deserve that we feel sorry for him. This slave will respond only to his misfortune if he is deluding himself about the suspect condescension of a master who claims to free him. Only struggle liberates [«… l’esclave qui n’est pas capable d’assumer sa révolte ne mérite pas que l’on s’apitoie sur son sort. Cet esclave répondra seul de son malheur s’il se fait des illusions sur la condescendance suspecte d’un maître qui prétend l’affranchir. Seule la lutte libère … »]…!” AFRICA MUST UNITE and FREE ITSELF!!!

Zimbabwe to Return Seized Land to Foreigners

Flag of Zimbabwe
Flag of Zimbabwe

After the Zimbabwean government agreed to compensate the White farmers the hefty sum of $3.5 bn last month (Is Zimbabwe the New Haiti?) when they have no money in their coffers, it was only a short step to agreeing to return seized land to foreigners. Excerpts below are from an article on the BBC website. Again why are the people, who will be forced to pay for all this, not consulted?

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Zimbabwe has offered to return land to foreign nationals whose farms were seized under a controversial government programme two decades ago. Thousands of white farmers were forced from their land, often violently, between 2000 and 2001. The seizures were meant to redress colonial-era land grabs but contributed to the country’s economic decline and ruined relations with the West [caused by foreign economic sanctions and embargo]. A separate compensation scheme has been launched for local white farmers. They have not been offered land, but the government last month promised them $3.5bn (£2.6bn) for seized infrastructure[Is Zimbabwe the New Haiti?]. The US has said compensating farmers is one of the requirements for it to lift decades of economic sanctions.

Zimbabwe on Monday said foreign citizens who had their land seized could now apply to get it back. Hundreds of Europeans – mostly Dutch, British and German nationals – whose investments were protected under international agreements could benefit from the offer [if their investments were protected, why do they need compensation now?], reports the BBC’s Shingai Nyoka from the capital, Harare.

In a joint statement on Monday, the ministers of finance and agriculture said some black farmers who received land under the programme would now be moved [to where?]. To allow the former owners “to regain possession” of their land, the government will revoke offers made to black farmers [will they also be compensated like the white farmers?] currently occupying the farms and “offer them alternative land elsewhere” [really? – I don’t trust this sneaky government- with the West they have binding agreements, but with the locals… nothing ], the statement said.