“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!

======

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!!!

Is Zimbabwe the New Haiti?

Flag of Zimbabwe
Flag of Zimbabwe

Did you guys hear about the government of Zimbabwe agreeing to compensate white farmers the hefty sum of 3.5 billion dollars? I was shocked! When there is barely any money in the country, and the economy is in shambles, how can the government agree to this? Moreover, did these white farmers ever compensate the Africans after independence in 1980 for using their lands for a century, for abusing them off their lands? And for all the years of economic embargo forced on the country? Lastly, the clause is set so that the country will be paying this debt forever12 months to raise half of the money when the country is on life support? This is so disgusting, Robert Mugabe must be rolling in his grave!

Haiti flag
Flag of Haiti

So my question is, is Zimbabwe the new Haiti? Remember how Haiti was made to pay France for over a century because of their freedom (When France extorted Haiti, the greatest heist in history)? Because the past slaves had beaten the masters, they were forced to pay France for over a century the hefty sum of 90 million gold francs (equivalent to 21 billion U.S. dollars in today’s money – when Jean-Bertrand Aristide requested reparations, he was ousted) after winning its freedom from France…? And this is why Haiti is so poor! Imagine this: Someone abuses you for years, not to say decades and generations, you finally free yourself, and now you are forced to compensate them because you freed yourself through a ruthless battle from their years of inhumanity. How fair is that? We must be living in a different type of world, because I just don’t understand the logic! Now, it would seem to be Zimbabwe’s turn?

I have always been skeptical of Mnangagwa… but now it has been fully confirmed! When I see this, I wonder why Africa’s leadership is so full of traitors, collabos, and haters of their own people! This will be the topic for another day. Excerpts below are from the CNN article of July 29, 2020.

======

Zimbabwe’s government signed an agreement Wednesday worth $3.5 billion to compensate white farmers who were evicted from their land during a controversial and often violent land redistribution program in the early 2000s under former President Robert Mugabe.

This momentous occasion is historic in many respects, brings both closure and a new beginning in the history of the land discourse in our country Zimbabwe,” said current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, after signing the agreement at State House with Andrew Pascoe, the president of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe….
According to the agreement, 50 percent of the $3.5 billion would be paid with 12 months from the day of signing, while the balance is paid within five years.
Economists agree that the Zimbabwean government, cash strapped after years of hyper-inflation and allegations of mismanagement [and economic embargo imposed by Western powers], cannot afford to make the compensation.
In a statement, the Finance Ministry said that they will be issuing long term bonds and that the parties will approach international donors to try and raise the funds.

John Amanam: Making Super Realistic Prostheses in Africa for Africans

Meet John Amanam, the Nigerian artist/engineer building super-realistic prostheses for Africans in Africa. I really liked his work: this is a self-thought man who used to work in the Nollywood industry, with no real training in prostheses, but a love of sculpture and most importantly of his fellow human being. After noticing family members who had lost limbs, he set out to make realistic-looking and affordable limbs with ebony, or mahogany shades, the shades of his fellow brothers and sisters. In essence, he is giving back confidence to those who have lost limbs. Enjoy!

Local African Sellers Growing Some Profits from Lockdowns

Kenya_map
Map of Kenya

In this era of the coronavirus and social distancing, many local vendors in some countries of Africa are seeing bigger profits than ever because of the slower competition from imported products. This should be the time to encourage local economies, and rebuilt local industries. In the article below, you will be appalled to find out that Kenya was importing fish from China (which has probably been fished on African coasts anyway) when they have a fishing industry! Why not eat local products? Why are our governments allowing these imported products to be cheaper than the local ones (it is true of Senegal and countless other African countries with products from France and the EU)? Why are foreign products not taxed properly so as to allow for the local industry to grow? I know this time is short, but it is always important to start somewhere. It is important to take advantage of these uncertain times to strengthen ourselves as all other countries are doing!  This article is from the  BBC: Fishermen cash in as Chinese imports drop.

=====

Grilled fish on a charcoal stove / du poisson braise sur un rechaud a charbon
Grilled fish on a charcoal stove / du poisson braise sur un rechaud a charbon

Sales of fresh fish in Kenya have risen as imports from China have dropped amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sellers in Dunga Beach on the shores of Lake Victoria report a jump in trade of about 40% over two weeks.

The fishermen are really now smiling at the Lake Victoria region because we are receiving more visitors. Dunga is really crowded with a lot of the residents of Kisumu coming to buy the fresh fish because people fear the Chinese boxed fish due to the coronavirus,” says Maurice Misodhi, a fisherman and leader at the Dunga Beach Management Unit.

Local fish costs about twice as frozen fish from China, of which Kenya imported more than $23m (£19m) worth in 2018.

Chinese fish used to make up about 50% of the market but this has fallen since imports stopped in November and the virus outbreak later took hold.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, local fishermen complained that cheap imports harmed local trade so much that they often resorted to eating their catch themselves or giving much of it away.

Kenya_flag
Flag of Kenya

But the scarcity of Chinese fish isn’t good news for everyone. Caroline Ochieng, a fish seller says she is struggling to make a decent profit because Chinese fish is cheaper than local lake fish.

That is the reason we want the China fish to be in supply as well as that from our own lake – so that as we do business we don’t feel the burden.

There are worries that local fishermen won’t be able to keep up with new demand for fresh fish. But for now at least, they are making the most of the surge in trade.

Chad Repaying $100m Debt to Angola with Cattle

cow
African Cows

I just learned of Chad repaying its $100 million debt to Angola with … cattle, and I simply loved the idea! When you are plagued with a slave currency such as the FCFA, why not go back to the old ways of exchange and trading? Chad owed Angola money, Angola needed cattle, Chad provided the cattle to clear its debt, and now both countries are squared: everyone is happy! Isn’t it the way the world works anyway: you need something, I supply it, and you pay me back by supplying me with the goods you have. Enjoy this article from the BBC!

====

Chad1
Map of Chad (Source: Lonely Planet)

Chad is repaying Angola a debt of $100m (£82m) with cattle, Angola’s state-run newspaper has reported.

The unusual agreement is seen as creating a win-win situation for both nations – Chad is short of cash while Angola needs cattle.

More than 1,000 cows arrived by ship in Angola’s capital, Luanda, as the first payment, Jornal de Angola reported.

In total, Angola would receive 75,000 cattle over 10 years, meaning it has accepted payment of $1,333 per animal.

Chad would send a further 3,500 head of cattle later this month, the report added.

Chad-Angola Cattle trade
The cattle trade between Chad and Angola

Chad had proposed repaying the 2017 debt with cattle, and Angola had agreed because it would help the southern African state rebuild its cattle population in drought-affected areas, the state-run daily paper said.

Angola is often hit by drought, causing animals to die of hunger and thirst and leaving many villagers destitute.

… Chad is described by the the World Health Organisation of Animal Health (OIE) as a “livestock farming country par excellence”, with about 94 million head of cattle. 

….

Lobsters and Octopuses are Back in Kenya

Kenya_map
Map of Kenya

Pollution, overpopulation of some areas, as well as over-fishing have wreaked all sorts of havoc for the ecosystem of our planet. One such ecosystem being destroyed is the coral reef along the coasts of Africa. Below are excerpts from an article from the Guardian about Kenyan efforts to reclaim their coral reefs, and bring back the lobsters and octopuses. As the marine life is re-established, let’s hope the industrial fishermen stay away!

====

Lobster_SA
African Lobsters (From South Africa – Source: WildOceans.com.au)

Three years ago, coral reef along the Kenyan coastline was almost totally destroyed in some areas. Rising surface sea temperatures had triggered devastating bleaching episodes for the fourth time in less than two decades, and with the whitening of coral came a dwindling of marine life. Overfishing only exacerbated the problem.

For coastal communities dependent on the sea for their livelihoods, the degradation of the coral reef and its effect on the marine ecosystem threatened to overturn an entire way of life. In some areas surveyed by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), as much as 60-90% of coral was destroyed.

A fightback was needed and so the institute began working with local communities to rehabilitate degraded coral reefs along the country’s coastline. Among the areas targeted was Wasini Island, a tiny strip of land off Kenya’s south-east coast. The results have been startling.

Women on the island have led an initiative to restore degraded coral that has shown how coral restoration techniques can revive marine ecosystems and create sustainable livelihoods for communities that depend on fishing and eco-tourism.

Octopus
Octopus (Source: Wikipedia)

The fish have started coming back since the restoration activities began,” says Nasura Ali, of the Wasini Beach Management Unit, which has about 250 members, of whom roughly 150 are women. More than 40 people have been trained in restoration techniques.

A year-long study by the KMFRI had tested the viability of raising coral fragments from areas affected by bleaching events, explains Jelvas Mwaura at the KMFRI’s department of marine environment and ecology. Many of the corals transplanted from coral gardens to degraded reef areas for the study survived, providing new habitats for fish species including jacks, groupers, emperors and sweetlips.

This success led to funding from the Kenya Coastal Development project (KCDP). Locals on Wasini Island have since grown more than 3,000 corals.

Coral reefs provide shelter and breeding grounds for hundreds of species of marine life. Fish populations in waters around the island have increased three times as much as in other areas, says the KMFRI.

Kenya_flag
Kenyan flag

… The women of Wasini Island have also been restoring fish populations by cultivating seagrass. Overfishing of certain species, such as trigger fish, had led to the disappearance of seagrass because trigger fish fed on the sea urchins that devoured it. Using gunny bags made of sisal to protect the seedlings and prevent them from getting washed away, the women replanted seagrass seedlings on the ocean floor.

In addition to providing food, seagrass plays a key role in the overall coral reef ecosystem, providing shelter to juvenile fish after they hatch by shielding them from strong waves until they mature and move into the coral reefs.

Vanillanomics or the Economy surrounding Vanilla

Vanilla1
Vanilla

The term Vanillanomics is not from me, but from the article below on Bloomberg. I just wanted to let you in on the Vanilla trade, and more. Sad to note that these very rich regions, i.e. rich in vanilla are always in the most remote, poorest, and inaccessible areas of the country. This is the same throughout Africa, whether you are talking about the cobalt of DRC which is lifted from its mines by special planes bypassing the national airports, or the cocoa of Côte d’Ivoire, or the diamonds of Sierra Leone, or even the coffee of Cameroon… and much more. Enjoy! The full article can be found on Bloomberg Business Week.

=====

First, we needed a 4×4 of some sort, along with a driver willing to chance roads that are sometimes passable, sometimes not. The man we found struck us as the quietly skeptical sort, but after a few hundred rutted kilometers, any hesitations he’d been suppressing hardened into emphatic certainties. “The only people who drive on this road,” he told our photographer and me, via our translator, “are people who want to kill their cars.” Yet he gamely pushed ever deeper into Madagascar’s tropical north, until our mud road descended a hill and was swallowed by a wide river. It was the end of the line for the driver. He seemed relieved.

Madagascar
Madagascar

Somewhere on the other side of that water, dozens of farmers would soon converge upon a regional vanilla market in the village of Tanambao Betsivakiny. Growers would negotiate with buyers working on behalf of exporters and international flavoring companies, and together everyone would hash out a collective, per-kilogram price for the crop. Most buyers would pay cash on the spot, and the farmers would hand over several tons of green, freshly harvested vanilla beans.

Those humble beans, whose essence is associated with all that’s bland and unexciting, have somehow metamorphosed, butterfly-style, into the most flamboyantly mercurial commodity on the planet. In the past two decades, cured vanilla beans have been known to fetch almost $600 per kilogram one week, then $20 or so the next. Northeastern Madagascar is the world’s largest producer of natural vanilla, so every boom and every bust slams this region like a tropical storm. When prices peak, cash floods the villages. When prices fall, it drains away.

Madagascar_Vanilla
Vanilla bean

Madagascar was largely integrated into global trade centuries ago. The island is bigger than France, with cultural traditions that vary by region, unique biological treasures, and a developing tourism economy. The capital, Antananarivo, is full of laborers, lawyers, bureaucrats, bankers, artists, entrepreneurs, intellectuals—everything a 21st century city of 1.5 million needs. Yet Madagascar is also one of the poorest countries on the planet. You see and feel its disparities most sharply in its more remote pockets, including in the vanilla-growing region of the northeast. The extreme isolation of those communities, their dominance over the international supply, the dramatic changes they undergo during price swings—all of it has turned this part of the country into a semicontained observation lab that exposes both the genius and the insanity of globalized commerce. …

Madagascar’s First Locally Owned Sea-cucumber Farm

Sea Cucumbers_1
Sea cucumbers (Source: Tommy Trenchard – BBC)

Honestly, I had never heard of Sea Cucumbers before, and at first when I heard about it, I thought “cucumbers grow in the sea?” Later I found out that sea cucumbers are actually a marine species belonging to the same family as that of the starfish… and so I had to highlight this photo-journal article on the BBC website, especially as it pertains to Madagascar, the big Isle. Enjoy some excerpts below.

====

In much of the Far East, sea cucumbers are a delicacy, fetching a high price for their purported health benefits.

In Tampolove, a tiny windswept village of mud huts and sandy paths squeezed between the coast and the forest in south-west Madagascar, they have provided a major boost to the local economy and environment. The delicacy is transforming the lives of people who have typically earned no more than a dollar a day, while at the same time helping to alleviate the pressure on marine species.

Sea Cucumbers
Sea cucumbers as they are being harvested at night in Tampolove, Madagascar (Source: Tommy Trenchard – BBC)

Sea cucumbers belong to the echinoderm family, along with starfish and urchins, and come in all shapes and sizes. They spend their days buried in silt, emerging at night to feed, sifting through the sediment for particles, a practice that provides an essential filtration service that benefits the wider ecosystem. Yet in recent decades rampant overfishing to feed demand in Asia has left wild sea-cucumber stocks declining around the world.

The sea-cucumber farms in Tampolove are part of a scheme to protect the environment and improve lives in this neglected part of the country. In 2004 the local community, with the support of a British NGO, Blue Ventures, came together to decide what to do about the rapid decline in fish and octopus stocks in their coastal waters. They set up an association, comprising representatives from several villages on this stretch of coast, whose responsibility it would be to manage fishing and the environment. They called the protected area Velondriake, which translates from the Vezo language as “to live with the sea”.

 

Burkinabe Woman Turns Water Hyacinth Into Gold Mine

Burkina Faso - Mariama Mamane1
Mariama Mamane (Source: UNEP)

In Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, a young scientist, Mariama Mamane who won the Young Champion of the Earth in the year 2017, is turning water hyacinth, an invasive species, into fertilizer, bio-gas and energy.

Mariama’s pilot program prevents desertification, creates food security and converts a problem into a livelihood opportunity for people in Burkina Faso. Her project, “JACIGREEN”, offers an innovative eco-solution introducing a plant-based purification mechanism to help manage fresh water and improve access to drinking water. It simultaneously implements a system to produce organic fertilizer (via anaerobic composting) and electricity (from biogas recovered from the water hyacinth transformation process). Her goal is to “Improve living conditions of population through sustainable agriculture and renewable energy for energy deficient rural communities in West Africa.”

Lake Victoria1
Water hyacinth invasion in Lake Victoria (Source: Lilian Ochieng, The East African)

Recall that Achenyo Idachaba of Nigeria has been exploring other alternatives making arts and craft products with the Water hyacinth (Jacinthe des eaux) in Nigeria. For those who do not know what the water hyacinth is, it is a plant which has been suffocating rivers around the globe, and has proliferated in places such as Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest body of fresh water) not only depriving the lake of its oxygen thus reducing nutrients for fishes, blocking water ways, and breeding all sorts of new diseases. This plant is not native of Africa.

Please help me applaud the work of Mariama Mamane. She was featured in this UN video below turning plant to power in Burkina Faso. Enjoy!