Love or brain chemical reactions?

The real thing? Oneinchpunch/Shutterstock

By Parashkev Nachev, UCL

I am head over heels in love but my cynical friends keep telling me that love is nothing but a cocktail of pheromones, dopamine and oxytocin, and that these wear off after a couple of years. The thought scares me, it makes the whole thing seem meaningless. Is love really just brain chemistry? Jo, London.

Licence my roving hands, and let them go,

Before, behind, between, above, below.

It is no accident that arguably the most erotic line of English poetry is all prepositions. The essence of love, at least of passionately romantic love, is revealed in its very grammar. We fall in love, not wander into it. And, as you say, we fall head over heels, not dragging our feet – often at first sight rather than on careful inspection. We fall in love madly, blind to the other’s vices, not in rational appraisal of their virtues.

At its root, romantic love is spontaneous, overwhelming, irresistible, ballistic, even if, over time, its branches take on more complex hues. It is in control of us more than we are ever in control of it. In one sense a mystery, it is in another pure simplicity – its course, once engaged, predictable and inevitable and its cultural expression more or less uniform across time and space. The impulse to think of it in terms of simple causes precedes science. Consider the arrow of Cupid, the potion of a sorcerer – love seems elemental.

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Yet love is not easily conquered by science. Let us look at why. Sex pheromones, chemicals designed to broadcast reproductive availability to others, are often quoted as key instruments of attraction. It is an appealing idea. But while pheromones play an important role in insect communication, there is very little evidence that they even exist in humans.


 

This article is part of Life’s Big Questions

The Conversation’s new series, co-published with BBC Future, seeks to answer our readers’ nagging questions about life, love, death and the universe. We work with professional researchers who have dedicated their lives to uncovering new perspectives on the questions that shape our lives.


If a chemical can signal attraction outside the body, why not inside it? The neuropeptide oxytocin, often inaccurately described as a “bonding hormone” and known for its role in lactation and uterine contraction, is the leading candidate here. This has been extensively studied, mainly in the prairie vole, whose monogamy and public displays of affection make it an ideal model animal.

Blocking oxytocin disrupts the pair bonding that is here a surrogate for love, and makes the voles more restrained in their emotional expressions. Conversely, inducing an excess of oxytocin in other, non-monogamous vole species blunts their taste for sexual adventure. In humans, though, the effects are much less dramatic – a subtle change in the romantic preference for the familiar over the new. So oxytocin is far from proven to be essential to love.

Love’s letterbox?

Of course, even if we could identify such a substance, any message – chemical or otherwise – needs a recipient. So where is the letterbox of love in the brain? And how is the identity of the “chosen one” conveyed, given that no single molecule could possibly encode it?

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When romantic love is examined with imaging of the brain, the areas that “light up” overlap with those supporting reward-seeking and goal-oriented behaviour. But that parts of our brains are set ablaze by one thing does not tell us much if they are just as excited by a very different, other thing. And the observed patterns of romantic love are not that different from those of maternal bonding, or even from the love of one’s favourite football team. So we can only conclude that neuroscience is yet to explain this “head over heels” emotion in neural terms.

Not so simple.
NaNahara Sung/Shutterstock

Do we simply need more experiments? Yes, is usually the scientist’s answer, but here that assumes love is simple enough to be captured by a mechanistic description. And that is extremely unlikely, as nature would resist it. Evolutionarily speaking, love is ultimately about reproduction. Consider what would happen to an organism whose sexual attraction operated through a very simple mechanism involving a string of critical molecules, or a dozen or so vital neural nodes.


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Its reproductive success would then be gated by the integrity of very few genetic elements, with the potential to be knocked out entirely by a mutation or two. A predator could evolve a poison that rendered its victim not just compliant, but positively amorous, only too happy to slide from a petite mort to the real thing. Were some inanimate thing to contain the key molecule in abundance, the entire species could become objectum sexuals, choosing to play with it over sex with each other. This is almost the joke truffles play on wild pigs, and it is telling that the animals are only temporarily diverted by it.

But the evolutionary vulnerability goes deeper. Remember that sex is not primarily about the reproduction of the species, but about its optimisation, and not just in response to the world as it is now, but as it might be across the widest range of hypothetical futures. This requires that organisms are diverse across their traits, as much as selected for their fitness. Were it not so, a sudden change in the environment could make a species go extinct overnight.

So each reproductive decision can be neither simple nor uniform, for we cannot be allowed to be guided by any single characteristic, let alone the same one. Universally attractive though tallness might be, if biology allowed us to select on height alone we would all have gigantism by now. And if the decisions have to be complex, so must the neural apparatus that makes them possible.

While this explains why romantic attraction must be complex, it doesn’t explain why it can feel so instinctual and spontaneous – unlike the deliberative mode we reserve for our most important decisions. Wouldn’t a cool, detached rationality be better? To see why it would not, consider what explicit reasoning is there for in the first place. Evolving later than our instincts, we need rationality only to detach ourselves from the grounds for a decision so that others can record, understand and apply it independently of us.

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But there is no need for anyone else to understand the grounds for our love, indeed the last thing we want to do is provide others with a recipe to steal our object of desire. Equally, in ceding control to recorded cultural practice, evolution would place too much “trust” in a capacity – collective rationality – that is, in evolutionary terms, far too young.

It is also a mistake to think of instinct as simple, and inferior to careful deliberation. That it is tacit makes it potentially more sophisticated than rational analysis, for it brings into play a wider array of factors than we could ever hold simultaneously in our conscious minds. The truth of this stares us in the face: think how much better we are at recognising a face compared with describing it. Why should the recognition of love be any different?

Ultimately, if the neural mechanisms of love were simple, you should be able to induce it with an injection, to extinguish it with a scalpel while leaving everything else intact. The cold, hard logic of evolutionary biology makes this impossible. Were love not complicated, we would never have evolved in the first place.

That said, love – like all our thoughts, emotions and behaviours – rests on physical processes in the brain, a very complex interplay of them. But to say that love is “just” brain chemistry is like saying Shakespeare is “just” words, Wagner “just” notes and Michelangelo “just” calcium carbonate – it just misses the point. Like art, love is more than the sum of its parts.

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So those of us lucky to experience its chaos should let ourselves be carried by the waves. And if we end up wrecked on the surf-hidden rocks, we can draw comfort from knowing reason would have got us no further.


To get all of life’s big answers, join the hundreds of thousands of people who value evidence-based news by subscribing to our newsletter. You can send us your big questions by email at bigquestions@theconversation.com and we’ll try to get a researcher or expert on the case.

Parashkev Nachev, Professor of Neurology, UCL

Parashkev Nachev, Professor of Neurology, UCL

They sold human beings here

For hundreds of years, enslaved people were bought and sold in merica. oday most of the sites of this trade are forgotten.

Photographs by Dannielle Bowman. Text by Anne C. Bailey

SARAH ELIZABETH ADAMS was around 5 when her mother was sold to a slave dealer in Lynchburg, Va. The auction took place in the mid-1840s, in the town of Marion, Va. Sallie, as she was called, was herself sold that day, but not with her mother: A man named Thomas Thurman purchased Sallie to take care of his sick wife. She would never see her mother again. For the remainder of her childhood, whenever she could, Sallie would slip away and find solace under a tall white-oak tree. All alone, she would wrap her arms around the tree’s wide trunk and cry. The tree became the place where she would recall the names and faces of her family members sold away; a place where she could grieve, but also a place where she could find shade and respite from her sorrow.

This story was told many years later by Sallie’s granddaughter, Evelyn Thompson Lawrence, a local educator and historian in Marion. Thompson’s efforts led to the founding of the Mount Pleasant Heritage Museum — housed in a former black Methodist church that Sallie and other freed men and women founded after the Civil War — to preserve the history and culture of African-Americans in the county. We know that Sallie was sold at an auction held at the Smyth County Courthouse, a brick building that was torn down after the turn of the century, when Mari­on’s current courthouse was constructed. And yet many details of her story have been lost: We don’t know exactly what happened to Sallie’s mother, or how much Sallie was sold for, or even exactly when the auction took place.The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. Read all the stories.

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Sallie and her family were among the 1.2 million enslaved men, women and children sold in the United States between approximately 1760 and 1860, according to the historian Michael Tadman. After the American Revolution, cotton production grew rapidly, and demand for enslaved workers on the vast plantations of the Deep South intensified. This, along with the ban on importation of enslaved Africans that took effect in 1808, largely led to the rapid growth of the domestic slave trade. Auctions and the sales of enslaved people could be found near or along the major ports where enslaved Africans landed, including Richmond, Va.; New Orleans; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C. But the enslaved were also sold in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and at New York City’s 18th-century open-air Meal Market on Wall Street. The sales took place all over the growing nation — in taverns, town squares and train stations, on riverbanks and by the side of the road. Before being sold, the enslaved were often kept in pens or private jails, sometimes for days or weeks. Then they were sold directly from the pens or marched to a nearby auction. Thousands of sales took place each year, right in the hearts of American cities and towns, on the steps of courthouses and city halls. As the historian Steven Deyle puts it, slave auctions were “a regu­lar part of everyday life.”

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Many American fortunes were made this way. The largest slave-trading firm during the late 1820s and 1830s was Franklin & Armfield, whose Virginia offices and infamous holding pen were located at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria. In their heyday, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield sold between 1,000 and 2,000 enslaved people per year, and by the time Franklin died in 1846, his estate was valued at $710,000 — almost $24 million today — a fortune largely earned through the slave trade.

A photograph, circa 1865, of the slave-trading firm Price, Birch & Company in Alexandria, Va. Franklin & Armfield, one of the largest slave trading firms in the country, was headquartered in the same building until it was sold to a partner of Price, Birch & Company.

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Slave trading was a lucrative business, yet for the enslaved people themselves, the auction block represented a particular horror — the end to life as they knew it. Family was one of the few bright spots in the long night of slavery, and the auction was the event that ripped enslaved families apart. The very prospect of it cast a specter over the enslaved population like a slowly dilapidating roof: At any time, it could come down and destroy the inhabitants of an already-fragile dwelling. Sales were so common that some enslaved people could be sold as many as six times in their lives, if not more, often with little warning and no chance to say goodbye. In some cases, infants were literally torn from wailing mothers.

We know from enslaved people themselves — the relative few who were able to write or otherwise tell their stories — that the auction block was even more feared than a lashing. “Common as are slave-auctions in the Southern states,” wrote one formerly enslaved man, Josiah Henson, “the full misery of the event — of the scenes which precede and succeed it — is never understood till the actual experience comes.” The New Deal-era Slave Narratives project, funded by the Works Progress Administration, is full of terrifying memories like this one, from a formerly enslaved woman in Arkansas named Will Ann Rogers: “When Ma was a young woman, she said they put her on a block and sold her. They auctioned her off at Richmond, Virginia. When they sold her, her mother fainted or dropped dead, she never knowed which. She wanted to go and see her mother lying over there on the ground, and the man what bought her wouldn’t let her. He just took her on. Drove her off like cattle, I reckon.”

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After the Civil War, most former auction sites quietly blended into the main streets of today. Except for the occasional marker or museum, there was no record of the horror of separation suffered by many black families. The emphasis on national unity and reconstruction created a desire to paper over the atrocities of the past, and many of these sites were forgotten. They were not forgotten, though, by the formerly enslaved people who had been sold there, or by their families. Immediately upon Emancipation in 1863 and the end of the war in 1865, many of these newly freed men and women set out on foot searching earnestly for their loved ones, and often the place they sought out first was the auction site. They took with them a lock of hair, a swath of clothing — small mementos that they had saved. They posted advertisements in newspapers and black churches searching for lost relatives. Their cry was “Help me to find my people,” as the historian Heather Andrea Williams documented in the book of the same name.

A photograph from about 1900 of the auction block on which enslaved people stood when they were sold at the St. Louis Hotel & Exchange in New Orleans.
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But often the auction site was no longer there to find. The war had laid waste to much of the South; the auction blocks had largely been removed, and the auction houses that still stood had been repurposed. No one was eager to preserve these sites, or even remember them. And so they disappeared, year by year, generation by generation, until there was no living memory of what happened in these places.

Today, only a small minority of these sites have been properly docu­mented, recorded and preserved. There is no online database to find them. Countless remain completely unknown. When The New York Times Magazine asked the photographer Dannielle Bowman to document some of these sites, it quickly became clear that most of their locations could be pinpointed only through original research.

And so for the last five months, my research assistants and I at the Binghamton University/Harriet Tubman Center for the Study of Freedom and Equity have combed through archives — including volumes of narratives of the formerly enslaved, as well as post-Civil War ads placed in newspapers by the enslaved themselves — in an attempt to expand the historical record about America’s slave-auction sites. During that time, we have been able to identify fewer than 50 that have been marked and approximately 30 unmarked ones. Yet these are almost certainly just a fraction of the total, when you consider how many sales took place, over how many decades, during this chapter in American history.

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Why is it important to excavate these sites? This is a question I have spent a long time considering. My second book, “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History,” was about a horrifying event that took place over two days in Savannah in 1859. Four hundred thirty-six men, women and children, including 30 babies, were sold at the Savannah Ten Broeck Race Course, normally a playground for local elites. These enslaved men and women, Gullah Geechee African-Americans, had lived together for years on the plantation estates of Pierce Mease Butler, where they forged a community with its own norms, values and customs — many informed by their African heritage. But this auction, which they came to call “the weeping time,” separated them from their families and displaced them from the only “home” they had; it was a decisive moment, maybe the decisive moment, in many of their lives. Their family bonds may have mattered little to their owners, but they mattered to the enslaved. The extent to which several of them plotted and planned about how to stay together, or went looking for one another after Emancipation, spoke to the strength and resolve of black families.

An advertisement published in The Savannah Republican on Feb. 8, 1859, by the slave dealer Joseph Bryan for a two-day auction that became the largest in history. Four hundred thirty-six men, women and children were sold for $303,850, equivalent to about $9.4 million today.

Again and again, delving into each site, you find it to be a window into unspeakable suffering but also unimaginable resilience. Next to the I-95 highway in Richmond, there’s a fenced-in area that for about 20 years starting in the mid-1840s was home to a compound owned by the slave trader Robert Lumpkin. Called Lumpkin’s Jail, it included a pen to hold enslaved people — many of them fugitives — before they were sold in auctions and private sales on the property. The site, one of the few in the country that are marked, is part of a self-guided slavery tour in Richmond. The tour runs through the downtown area called Shockoe Bottom, where auction houses were concentrated. But you could walk through Shockoe Bottom today, a hub of restaurants, clubs and small businesses, and remain completely unaware of this history.

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One person held at Lumpkin’s Jail was Anthony Burns, an enslaved person in Richmond who stowed away on a ship in 1854, escaping to Boston. When he was captured shortly after, thousands of local abolitionists tried to prevent him from being re-enslaved, but the courts ordered Burns returned to Virginia, where he was soon jailed in a small cell in Lumpkin’s Jail, painfully manacled much of the time. “The grip of the irons impeded the circulation of his blood, made hot and rapid by the stifling atmosphere, and caused his feet to swell enormously,” reports his biographer, Charles Emery Stevens. Burns was kept in this jail for four months until he was purchased there by a plantation owner from North Carolina. But he had not been forgotten by a black congregation and other abolitionists in Boston, who purchased his freedom. He went on to study at Oberlin College and spent his final years in Canada as a Baptist preacher.

Even well-known sites of slave labor look different when seen through the lens of the auction. When Thomas Jefferson died, on July 4, 1826, the enslaved people he owned at Monticello suddenly faced a perilous future. Jefferson’s will freed only five of them, including two children he fathered with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman at his Monticello plantation. But Jefferson had many debts, and to pay them off, his executors sold 133 people, scattering them across the country. The first auction was held in 1827, most likely on or near the West Portico steps of the mansion; another followed two years later at the Eagle Tavern, in downtown Charlottesville.

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Peter Fossett, 11, was among the people sold. His father, Joseph Fossett, had been Monticello’s blacksmith, freed by Jefferson in his will. Although Joseph was able to emancipate much of his family, he was unable to secure freedom for Peter. Peter was purchased by Col. John Jones and unsuccessfully tried to run away twice. In 1850 he was once again put on the auction block, but this time, friends and family were able to purchase his freedom, and 23 years after first being separated from them, Peter finally rejoined his family in Ohio, where they had settled. He went on to become an ordained minister and a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Some 400,000 people visit Monticello every year, inspired, in part, by Jefferson’s legacy as a founding father and promoter of freedom. They take photographs and stroll up and down the famous West Portico steps — the image depicted on the United States nickel since 1938. Until they come, visitors most likely have not imagined a slave auction taking place on the property, let alone on those famous stairs. Perhaps Jefferson’s greatest contribution is not the realization of freedom for all but the creation of a blueprint for future generations to follow. Spurred on by the pioneering research of Annette Gordon-Reed, Lucia Stanton, Niya Bates and others, Monticello has more fully acknowledged Thomas Jefferson’s legacy as not just the writer of the Declaration of Independence but also an enslaver. At his plantation, the auctions are described in an exhibit, but in downtown Charlottesville, where the second occurred, there is no specific mention of the auction.

An advertisement that appeared in The Charlottesville Central Gazette on Jan. 15, 1827, for the sale of Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved workers. One hundred people were sold that day.

The lack of physical markers is just one obstacle to reclaiming the history of America’s slave-sale sites. Quite a few happened in places, including in Northern states, that the general public may not typically associate with slavery. On Main Street in East Brunswick, N.J., for example, a power station now stands on a site that previously was part of the estate of Jacob Van Wickle — a judge in Middlesex County who, along with a few collaborators, perpetrated one of the most infamous slave-selling schemes in the state’s history, selling off some 100 enslaved people in 1818.

At the time, New Jersey was moving to end slavery. State law held that children born to an enslaved woman were free, but had to remain in service to their mothers’ owners until they became adults. There were two loopholes, however. First, if their mothers were sold, their own enslavement could be temporarily extended; second, enslaved people could be moved from the state and remain enslaved, so long as they gave their consent. Van Wickle used these loopholes with cruel effectiveness. He and his collaborators often signed off on paperwork that moved unwitting people, including mothers and their freeborn children, to the South. Then he sold them to traders and planters in Louisiana, separating them from their families — most of whom would never see them again. Though there was local outcry when his dealings were discovered, he himself was never punished for his crimes.

An 1852 photograph of men in front of the slave pens of Bernard Lynch, who ran one of the largest slave markets in St. Louis.

Even though the story of Van Wickle and his slave ring was reported in newspapers at the time and has since been chronicled by historians like James Gigantino, many present-day residents of the area were not aware of many of the story’s details. But when the Rev. Karen G. Johnston at the Unitarian Society in East Brunswick learned about it a few years ago, she decided that something had to be done to acknowledge the pain and suffering of those who were sold away. Two years ago, members of the church, as well as the local N.A.A.C.P., the New Jersey chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and others, formed the Lost Souls Public Memorial Project, which is developing teaching resources for local schools and is raising funds for a permanent memorial. On May 25, 2018, members of the project gathered in a solemn ceremony to read the names of people Van Wickle sold into slavery. The names included: Claresse and her son Hercules; Florah and her daughter Susan; Hager and her three children, Roda, Mary and Augustus. “I believe by remembering these lost souls back into our community,” Johnston told those who had gathered, “that that is a healing act.”

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More than a century and a half after Emancipation, there remains much more healing to be done, in part because America has yet to adequately memorialize slavery. At the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-Amerian History and Culture, an entire floor is dedicated to the slave trade and slavery; through the United States National Park Service, we have the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and the Harriet Tubman Home, which honor and preserve the resistance to slavery. There are some restored plantations, like the Whitney in Louisiana, that conduct excellent slavery tours. But sites of African-American focus currently represent just 2 percent of those registered on the National Register of Historic Places, and only a portion of those are devoted to slavery — even as some 1,800 monuments to the Confederacy still exist all across the country, an inequality that mirrors the social injustices that have haunted this country since its founding.

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How can we create a more equitable map of American history? One clear way to do it would be to provide a fuller accounting of our shared past, one that gives voice to the experience of the enslaved and ensures that their experience will never be forgotten. To look at some of these images, which show former slave-sale sites in the present day, is to grasp how invisible some of American history’s most grievous wounds have become. If we were to mark all these sites for posterity, we would help to heal their dark legacy, in much the same way that 19th-century abolitionists, both black and white, depicted the trauma of enslaved Africans on the auction block in their art and literature. By foregrounding the image of an enslaved mother torn from her infant, those abolitionists reminded the public of the horror of slavery and helped influence the course of history. Their insistence on telling these stories helped America live up to its ideals and made it a more demo­cratic country. Perhaps marking these sites could do the same.


Pine and Fifth Streets, Macon, Ga.

Unmarked

In the 19th century, the slave trader John Jossey arranged the sales of enslaved people from an office located here.


Corner of Charles and William Streets, Fredericksburg, Va.

Marked

An auction block near the former site of the Planter’s Hotel, outside which slave auctions were held. In 1984, a plaque was placed here that reads “Fredericksburg’s Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property.” The City Council in June voted to relocate the block to a nearby museum.


Monticello, Charlottesvile, Va.

Marked

After Thomas Jefferson’s death, his estate sold 133 of his enslaved workers at two different auctions. The first took place in 1827, most likely on or near the West Portico steps of Monticello; the second in 1829 at a hotel called the Eagle Tavern, in downtown Charlottesville. Today these auctions are noted in an exhibition on the grounds, but not in the city.


Wall Street, New York

Marked

From 1711 until 1762, a slave market operated on Wall Street between Water and Pearl Streets. In 1726, the market was renamed the Meal Market to reflect the grain and corn also available for sale there. A marker was installed in 2015, near the original site.


1315 Duke Street, Alexandria, Va.

Marked

Once the Virginia headquarters of the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States — Franklin & Armfield, which operated from 1828 to 1836 — the building is now a museum called Freedom House, operated by the North Virginia Urban League.


621 St. Louis Street, New Orleans

Marked

Today this is the site of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, but in the 1800s, it was the site of the St. Louis Hotel & Exchange, where slave auctions were held under its rotunda.


Corner of Broadway and Clark, St. Louis, Mo.

Unmarked

On this site were the slave pens of Bernard Lynch, who ran one of the largest slave markets in St. Louis. What remained of the pens was demolished in 1963 to make way for Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.


11 N. Fourth Street, St. Louis, Mo.

Marked

Auctions of enslaved people were common on the steps of the Old Courthouse. The slave market of Bernard Lynch was nearby, and the enslaved were often marched from his pens to the courthouse to be sold.


Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, Richmond, Va.

Marked

Formerly the site of Lumpkin’s Jail, where the slave trader Robert Lumpkin began operating his business in the mid-1840s, this spot is one of 20 that make up the Richmond Slave Trail.


Cotton Avenue, Macon

Unmarked

In the 19th century, enslaved people were sold from the slave pen of James Dean, a major slave trader on Cotton Avenue. In 1956, this Confederate statue was moved to one end of the street.


188 Main Street, Savannah, Georgia

Marked

Over two days in 1859, on what was then the site of the Savannah Ten Broeck Race Course, 436 enslaved people were sold – the largest slave auction in history. The men, women and children had lived together as a community for years on the plantation estates of Pierce Mease Butler and called the auction “the weeping time.”


Anne C. Bailey is a writer, historian and professor of history at SUNY Binghamton. Her books include “African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame” and “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History.” Dannielle Bowman is a visual artist working with photography.

Additional design and development by Jacqueline Myint.

The 1619 Project examines the legacy of slavery in America. Read more.

Africans are getting healthier and wealthier

IN MANY ways the story of Africa in the 21st century is one of success. Great strides have been made tackling diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

A baby born in Africa today is less likely to die young, and more likely to go to school than one born in 2000. Life expectancy at birth increased by nearly ten years, to 60, between 2000 and 2015. But many Africans also feel less secure than they did a decade ago. Civil wars and social unrest have proliferated, according to an index of how Africa’s leaders are performing.

The Ibrahim Index of Governance, produced by the foundation of Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British telecoms-billionaire-turned-philanthropist, has been trying to quantify how well countries are run since 2007.

It is an ambitious effort involving 100 indicators of such things as political participation, respect for human rights and sound economic management. The latest data, released on November 20th, show a worrying divergence. Of the 26 indicators related to health, welfare and education, 21 have improved over the past decade. But 18 out of the 26 measures of safety, stability and the rule of law have deteriorated.

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Civil wars in several countries, such as Libya, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, drag down the numbers. At the other end of the spectrum, improvements in health, education and social services were led by Rwanda, Ethiopia and Togo. In 28 countries development indicators improved, while security indicators deteriorated.

Overall, instability on the continent has increased. But optimists will note that the trend has slowed in the past five years. Meanwhile, most of Africa’s children are healthier and better educated than ever. That is undoubtedly cause for cheer.

How to get beer around Congo, a country with no roads

The barge, weighed down by half a million bottles of beer, pulls out into the middle of the Congo river. At its tip, breezy rumba music drifts out of a small radio and a group of young men sit around grumbling about the hardships of life on board.

“We stay on this boat until death,” claims one sailor (pictured, right). In reality, the crew spends a total of only six months on the barge a year—although the risk of it sinking is not trivial. Laden with beer belonging to Bracongo, a brewery, the boat is travelling from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the city of Bandundu, 387km (240 miles) upstream.

Omar Barcat, the barge’s owner, has been running a fleet of five cargo ships for 20 years. He predicts that various apparatchiks, some wielding Kalashnikovs, will intercept the boat at several points along the river. They will try to extort payoffs that amount to around $500. Unruly sailors are another problem. Far away from their bosses back in the capital, they are sometimes tempted to stop off in villages and visit friends. Occasionally they drink beers they claim have exploded or broken (which can lead to worse misdemeanours). “But they know that if anyone is caught doing that he will immediately be fired,” he says.

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Much is at stake for Mr Barcat and for Bracongo. The brewery, owned by Castel, a French firm that operates across Africa, has been competing with Bralima, owned by the Dutch company Heineken, for customers in Congo for 70 years. Both breweries have been around since colonial times; unlike most foodstuffs in Congo, beer is local. And yet the difficulty for both companies is getting bottles from the factory to the bar.

Congo is not an easy country to get around. China has three metres of road per citizen; Congo has three centimetres. Only four out of 26 provincial capitals have roads that reach Kinshasa. Some villages are so isolated that they still use a currency that was abolished in 1997. It is no surprise that, in the east, the government has little control and the people in power are those with guns. Millions have fled the violence there over the past 20 years.

For most people the only way to travel long distances is to go on boats that ply the Congo river and its tributaries. All the beers that reach the country’s dense, forested interior will have been shipped up the river. The journey on Mr Barcat’s boat will take a week. If the roads in Congo were made of tarmac instead of undulating mud and sand, then the beers would reach Bandundu in less than a day. But the rusting carcasses of overturned vehicles languishing in ditches serve as a reminder of what can happen if that journey is attempted by a lorry with a heavy load.

In 2019 Bracongo had the edge over its competitor: it provided 53% of beers in the country, compared with 47% from Bralima, according to the brewery’s own statistics. In Kinshasa the two companies race to load up trucks each morning. “We try hard to get everything out by 7.30am. Bralima’s lorries leave between 7.30am and 8am,” says Teddy Junior Mena, head of Bracongo’s distribution. “And we are also trying to get a beer to every last village in Congo,” he adds.

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Indeed, despite the country’s abysmal infrastructure, beer gets everywhere. Like the rumba music which is blasted from fuzzy speakers at every run-down bar, it is one of the few things Congolese can rely on. To understand how one brewery gets its wares to thirsty customers, your correspondent embarked on a series of voyages.

The Congo river traces a huge arc across the country from the south-east, through the city of Kisangani, past Kinshasa and out into the Atlantic Ocean (see map). It is both the second-longest river in Africa and the deepest. If its roaring water mass was turned into energy through hydroelectric dams, it could light up most of the continent.

King Leopold’s ghost

For centuries the river has served as a trade route—for better and for worse. King Leopold II of Belgium, who ran Congo as his personal fief from 1885 to 1908, forced armies of villagers to harvest ivory, tap rubber and load these precious commodities onto boats. Wives were held hostage to ensure that their husbands submitted to forced labour. Those who did not work hard enough were killed or dismembered. Countless villagers hid deep in the forest to avoid enslavement. Fishing and subsistence farming collapsed. Deaths from starvation and disease soared; births plunged, since so many couples were separated. By one very rough estimate, Congo’s population fell by half, from 20m to 10m, between 1880 and 1920.

Leopold’s misrule attracted global condemnation. In 1908 the Belgian government prised Congo from his grip and ruled it somewhat less atrociously until 1960, when it became independent. Mobutu Sese Seko, a military despot, re-christened the country “Zaire” in 1971. In Kongo, a local language, this means “the river that swallows all rivers”. The name changed back when Mobutu was overthrown in 1997.

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Today the river is a source of pride. Photos of fishermen in canoes on the river are stamped across the country’s banknotes. Just after setting out, Mr Barcat’s barge passes a man sitting astride four floating tree trunks, bound together with rope. Using a single oar, he guides his vessel towards the port where he will try to sell the wood. He has probably travelled from Mbandaka, a city in the heart of the Congo basin rainforest, some 586km upstream. If so, he will have spent two weeks punting down a wide stretch of murky water that is home to hundreds of crocodiles.

After a week Mr Barcat’s barge reaches Bandundu. From here, as in Mbandaka, smaller vessels carry the beers to tiny villages on the banks of the river. At the port in Mbandaka, Christine, a 40-year-old bar owner, picks up 70 crates of beer from the Bracongo depot. She travels to the city twice a month on one of these smaller vessels to collect beers for her bar and to sell to other bartenders. The trips are tough: she has to sleep out on deck in the rain and the muggy heat. “We are exposed to all the elements,” she sighs.

The second, spluttering wooden boat, which along with Christine and her beers carries around 150 people, 60 sacks of charcoal, palm oil, peanuts, two charred cobras (a regional delicacy) and a mournful-looking chicken, finally sets off, after a five-hour delay, at 9pm. Rumba music hums from several battery-powered radios. Modified Chinese generators power the boat. Fiston, a member of the crew in his early 20s, explains that there are five generators so the boat will not have to stop when one or two inevitably conk out. Indeed, a few hours into the journey, the first so-called engine splutters and dies.

It is not the only sign that this vessel is not entirely river-worthy. Fiston’s list of passengers, presented to the official at the harbour, has only 15 names on it. If the boat goes down and more than 15 people survive, he will have no problems with those in charge. Creative accounting like this makes it almost impossible to know how many people die in the river each year.

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Soon after the boat starts off, the smell of marijuana wafts down from the upper deck, nicknamed “The United States”, because “it’s as high as you can go in life”, a passenger explains. Below, people huddle around smoky stoves and share saucepans of rice and stew. Old men nestle down for the night under their coats. Passengers step over them to get to the toilet, which is a hole in the deck and a bucket of river water.

In one of the four cabins available to passengers, your correspondent’s bed is a sagging foam mattress supported by slabs of plywood with a grubby mosquito net hanging over it. Sleep is elusive: the generator is so loud that it is hard to doze off.

The next morning bleary-eyed passengers shuffle, one by one, to the back of the boat, clutching toothbrushes. A woman fries dough balls and sells plastic cups of sugary tea for breakfast. An argument breaks out between the captain and a couple of young men. A group of boys on the United States deck lean over to get a better view of the ruckus. Angel, a peanut vendor, wags one of her fingers and shouts something in Lingala, a local language. Suddenly everyone cheers. A drunk man blows a whistle. “One of the boys was winding up the driver,” Christine explains. “But that woman put him in his place.”

Ça sent la bière, Dieu qu’on est bien

Your correspondent gets off, grateful for dry land, at a village called Lolanga. Christine will continue on the boat for three more days, to its final stop, a larger village called Akula. It is less than 350km—about as far as New York is from Washington, dc, a journey of around four hours in a car. Each round trip takes Christine just over a week. She dreads it, but knows that her bar will not survive without beer.

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Christine’s travails are passed on to her customers. Her beers cost a third more than those in Kinshasa, at $1.80. She has to factor in her $60 boat ticket and the money she pays a friend to run her bar when she is away. Her profits are slim. She does not make enough money to save, she says, but enough to survive.

For many Congolese, potent home-brews offer better value for money than factory-made beer. Old ladies produce buckets of fizzing moonshine in the backs of their houses. One drink, called Mbandule, or “turn your mind upside-down”, is made from a fermented cereal crop and is particularly popular in the east, or with those seeking cheap oblivion. A glass costs just 30 cents.

Beer is a status symbol, observes Mr Mena, like owning a mobile phone. The two often go together, he laughs: “Nowadays people drink a beer with their phone in one hand.” Rumba musicians, too, are sponsored by different beer companies; when Werrason, a famous one, switched sponsor from Bracongo to Bralima in 2005, he prompted gasping headlines.

Partly as a result, beer sales in Congo do not reflect the state of the economy, which shrank by 1.5% in 2019. According to Bracongo people are drinking more beer than ever before. “Even we don’t understand it sometimes. This dry season [April to August] we have some of the biggest figures ever,” says Mr Mena.

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Since 2010 Bracongo has started to promote different kinds of beers to different slices of the population. Those without jobs inevitably pick the cheapest in the market: small bottles of the weakest brew called Beaufort. Young people tend to go for lighter lagers, says Florent Muteba, head of Bracongo’s commercial analysis. Farmers and street vendors seem to like malty dark ales. Clever, aspirational marketing and Herculean logistics help explain why the company manages to sell alcohol even when people are getting poorer. (Its addictive qualities probably help, too.)

On the journey back to Mbandaka, this time on a wooden canoe which threatens to capsize as a priest and his friends get on board, your correspondent stops in a tiny riverside village. Here a woman complains that the nearest pharmacy is a three-hour boat trip away. Getting antibiotics quickly is impossible, but getting beer is not—just next door to her an old man, Garus, sells large, warm bottles of dark ale. Fishermen pool their day’s earnings to buy them. There is no electricity, but Garus turns his straw-roofed house into a bar at night, using torches to light it. He too pumps rumba music out of a battery-powered radio. “People here drink beer to forget their worries, to de-stress,” he explains.

Mr Barcat would be out of business if Congo had proper roads. Politicians keep promising to build them, but somehow never do. Mr Barcat jokes that he will be able to retire comfortably; his barges also take the empty bottles back to Kinshasa on the return journey, so he makes money both ways. The river will remain Congo’s main artery for years to come. And poor people will continue to club together to buy one of the few colonial relics that nearly everyone loves: clear, refreshing, temporarily worry-dispelling beer. ■


This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition of The Economist under the headline “How to get beer around Congo, a country with hardly any roads”

The race to Aso Villa: the tall dream of Fela, Moghalu and Sowore

By Jerry Obanyero


My doubts are little and insignificant, that is, if at all they exist, that Fela Durotoye, Kinsley Moghalu and Sowore Omoyele, the 2019 presidential aspirants, represent genuine leadership change which our troubled country needs at this crucial time.

They may even provide the best leadership that our country has not had since independence if given the chance. Perhaps my conclusion is hasty and assertion no more than expressing faith in the candidature of politically naïve persons that until now their national political records with us read but nothing comparable to their career success. But going by the leadership failure under the All Progressive Congress led by President Mohammadu Buhari, you cannot blame me for my hasty conclusion and expression of faith. Talking about faith, even our President has enjoined us to pray for security of the country and exercise our faith by accepting in our communities those that go around at night to slaughter hapless women and children in their sleep. What I have been trying to say in a nutshell is that the candidature of any person outside the fold of a failed party that rose to the pinnacle of leadership by promises now turned lies, will most likely get endorsement from right thinking Nigerians. In this present circumstance, there seems to be more hope in the angel you do not know than the devil you know, a reverse of the popular aphorism.

Having laid the above premise, I will dare venture that the dream of these three Nigerians to lead the country come 2019 is not novel but is tall as far as politics in Nigeria is concerned. It is imperative we understand that no country in the world has exactly the same style and system of politics. True as it may that similarities exist as well as areas of convergence here and there; politics exhibits variation from country to country in actual practice even though these countries draw from the same ocean of democracy. A case in point is Nigeria. Nigeria’s political turf is lone with its idiosyncrasies. Politics in Nigeria has its traditions and what is customary to it. It is not mathematics, there is no definite answer. Politics in the country has its own self-created formula. It has its rules and most times the rules are non-rules and it is mastered only by those who have played or have been outplayed by them. This defines Nigerian politics. I would like to change gear at this juncture and leave further analysis for the Political Scientists and Historians.

Now back to the juice I have been trying to squeeze, Fela, Kinsley and Sowore may have a grand master plan or manifesto of distinction by all standards. They are very educated and have proven and tested credentials to show for it. They are successes in their chosen profession. Nature has endowed them with a gift of oratory to present their plans for the country and its several million citizenry without ambiguity, nay, rather convincingly. Without undermining their impressive pedigree and achievements, I would say to these three new political entrants, borrowing the words of Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible, that “one thing thou lackest” and this despite their grandstanding records in other fields is not much of a difference to “wisdom and knowledge” which, “believers lack”, according to the Hadith of Prophet Mohammed SAW.
Wait a minute! Before they say I commit a sacrilege or a kind of blaspheme, or I am accused of being an unbeliever of the “New Nigerian Project” by the converts and disciples of these three aspirants, I would like to plead that I be given a chance to expound my point. Maybe, just maybe, reason will be seen in my reasoning. Okay! Now Nigeria is a complex country and its complexity is not just a function of its size but also people spread across its six geo-political zones. This complexity is also in the mirage of socio-economic and ethno-religious and political problems that have forced this giant of Africa shamefully to its knees. There is also a complexity in the event of availability of solution of how and where to apply it judiciously and dispassionately. These and many more make leadership in this country unsuitable business for mere rhetoric, gambling, the political tenderfoot and grandstander. Because the country is complex, the business of politics in the country is serious extraordinaire. Nigeria at this point can only but to get it right and cannot, in whatever guise and however the person, afford another wasted year.

The business of ruling a country like Nigeria does not end in the sublimity of words or plan, youthfulness advertisement or ostentatious debonairness or circusy display of occupation eminence. It is result-delivery, converting words into action, alleviating fears and inspiring confidence in the governed and providing total and quality leadership to all the over one-eighty million Nigerians. This is a serious business. It is a national task. In a country that has been bed-ridden for several decades with all known and unknown sickness and pregnant with potentials, only a qualify physician and surgeon can and should attend to her.

Fela, Kinsley and Sowore have dreams for a better Nigeria and should by every means be celebrated but in the race to govern the country, they have not exhibited proper understanding of the complexity of Nigeria and this one error is fatal to their ambition. No matter how hard we attempt to run away from it, the country’s complexity and politics are inseparable. In fact, the complexity defines the politics and the politics is the complexity. Respectfully, the three have been going about preaching the gospel of a better Nigeria and themselves as the messiah but their message is largely received by university students, few educated youths, some religious folks and social activists concentrated mostly in cities and towns. How this support base can translate into winning for any of them in a complex nation as ours is an issue for the Political Analysts to determine.
There are two fundamental tests for those who aspire taking a shot at the most powerful seat in the world’s most populous black nation. First, “how do I get there?” and second, “if I am there, who will I walk with or team up with to execute my grand plan?” Some have passed the first and occupied the seat but failed to deliver because of the second. Many have totally neglected the two tests or turned blind eye or are ignorant of them. They are rather embarking on a race in anticipation of miracles in the process or overstretching their faith, which probably is not a bad idea, but certainly does not and cannot win an election or produce a President that can deliver result.

To conclude, above having an ambition and a grand plan, Fela, Moghalu and Sowore will do well to weigh the size and possibility of their ambition against the current realities in the complex Nigeria, and may even be great wisdom to seek for another political position other than the current one to test run their plans.

This is by no way timidity, disbelief or mediocrity, it is building a foundation or a political structure upon which the “Nigerian Project” they so much believe in will stand, specifically it is for them, gathering momentum for the top job and shooting the top from the ground. It is demystifying the complexity through practicality and separating rhetoric from action and solution from vituperation.


Jerry “Obans” Obanyero is a law graduate and writer. You can reach him jerobans@yahoo.com or follow him on twitter, @jerobans

Is it right for a Christian to support death penalty?

Pope Francis has declared the death penalty “inadmissible.” This means that the death penalty should not be used in any circumstance. It also alters the Catholic Catechism, a compendium of Catholic doctrine, and is now binding on Roman Catholics throughout the world.

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Pope Francis said the death penalty, can never be sanctioned because it ‘attacks’ the inherent dignity of all humans. Photo: HuffPost

But in spite of his definitive statement, Pope Francis’ act will probably only deepen the debate about whether Christians can support capital punishment.

As a Catholic scholar who writes about religion, politics and policy, I understand how Christians struggle with the death penalty – some cannot endure the idea and others support it as a way to deter and punish terrible crimes. Some Christian theologians have also observedthat capital punishment could actually lead to a change of heart among criminals who might repent when faced with the finality of death.

Is the death penalty un-Christian?

The two sides

In its early centuries, Christianity was seen with suspicion by authorities. Writing in defense of Christians who were unfairly charged with crimes in second-century Rome, philosopher Anthenagoras of Athenscondemned the death penalty and wrote that Christians “cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly.”

But as Christianity became more connected with state power, European Christian monarchs and governments regularly carried out the death penalty until its abolition in the 1950s through the European Convention on Human Rights. In the Western world, today, only the United States and Belarus retain capital punishment for crimes not committed during wartime. But China, and many nations in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa still apply the death penalty.

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Support for the death penalty is falling worldwide. World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, CC BY-SA

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Survey, support for the death penalty is falling worldwide. However, in the United States a majority of white Protestants and Catholics continue to be in favor of it.

Critics of the American justice system argue that the deterrence value of capital punishment is debatable. There are also studies showing that, in the United States, capital punishment is unfairly applied, especially to African-Americans.

Christian views

In the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 21:12 states that “whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, however, rejects the notion of retribution when he says “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

While it is true that the Hebrew Bible prescribes capital punishment for a variety of offenses, it is also true that later Jewish jurists set out rigorous standards for the death penalty so that it could be used only in rare circumstances.

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A 2010 photo of a victims advocate Ann Pace who supports the death penalty. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

At issue in Christian considerations of the death penalty is whether the state has the obligation to punish criminals and defend its citizens.

St. Paul, an early Christian evangelist, wrote in his letter to the Romansthat a ruler acts as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” The Middle Ages in Europe saw thousands of murderers, witches and heretics put to death. While church courts of this period generally did not carry out capital punishment, they did turn criminals over to secular authorities for execution.

Thirteenth-century Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that the death penalty could be justified for the greater welfare of society. Later Protestant reformers also supported the right of the state to impose capital punishment. John Calvin, a Protestant theologian and reformer, argued that Christian forgiveness did not mean overturning established laws.

The position of Pope Francis

Among Christian leaders, Pope Francis has been at the forefront of arguing against the death penalty.

The letter accompanying the Pope’s declaration makes several points. First, it acknowledges that the Catholic Church has previously taught that the death penalty is appropriate in certain instances. Second, the letter argues that modern methods of imprisonment effectively protect society from criminals. Third, the letter states that this development of Catholic doctrine is consistent with the thought of the two previous popes: St. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

St. John Paul II maintained that capital punishment should be reserved only for “absolute necessity.” Benedict XVI also supported efforts to eliminate the death penalty.

Most important, however, is that Pope Francis is emphasizing an ethic of forgiveness. The Pope has argued that social justice applies to all citizens. He also believes that those who harm society should make amends through acts that affirm life, not death.

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Jesus’ message was of forgiveness. Brandon, CC BY-SA

For Pope Francis, the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of life are the core values of Christianity, regardless of the circumstances.


This article first appeared on The Conversation on April 27, 2017.

Africa is finally uniting: all we need now is good politics

With a free trade agreement signed, a new era of prosperity beckons for the African continent.

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A statue honouring the strength of Rwandan women stands before the construction site of the Kigali Convention Centre. Photo: Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty Images

IAfrica, our biggest threats are also opportunities. By 2035, 450 million Africans will have joined the working age population, more than the rest of the world combined in that time. They will power our economies forward, as long as there are jobs they have the knowledge to perform.

But our schools and universities have not kept pace with technology. Over half of all jobseekers have few or no skills, while 41% have qualifications but no skills for the jobs available. The gap is wider still in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I was delighted to participate, along with other government officials and the private sector, in the second African Transformation Forum this week in Accra, Ghana, where restructuring our economies for the digital age was high on the agenda. The forum took place at a time when conditions for the continent’s transformation agenda have never been better.

We are experiencing greatly accelerated progress towards the economic unification of our continent. In this year alone, the African Union has adopted the free movement protocol and inaugurated a single African air transport market, which will reduce not only ticket prices but also the need for stopovers on other continents.

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Heads of state pose at the Kigali summit where countries signed up to the African Continental Free Trade Area. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Most importantly, in March, 44 countries signed the Continental Free Trade Area agreement. Most other member states indicated their intention to follow suit in due course.

Joining up diffuse, fragmented markets would be a leap forward. Doing this across borders will require governments to work closely with each other, and with the private sector.

By creating a highly networked, frictionless marketplace, we will encourage the best products, services and ideas to rise to the top. This will boost the economy as a whole and open up opportunities for women, rural populations and other marginalised groups.

Ultimately, the goal is to make our economies bigger and more dynamic. No country or company will lose out in the long term. This is why business leaders are called upon to be champions of continental integration, first of all by seizing these new opportunities to grow Africa’s firms.

Business leaders now participate actively and meaningfully in African Union summits. This is based on the understanding that the shared prosperity at the core of the union’s Agenda 2063 can only happen when the public and private sectors are working closely together.

The business community should also contribute to holding governments accountable for putting what has been agreed into action, and pushing all of us to do more, and better.

For example, given the transportation and logistical challenges on our vast continent, much more investment in joint regional infrastructure, including digital networks, is required.

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People go about their business in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

Globally, there is no shortage of finance, both public and private. We can attract more of it to Africa, and help close the investment gap, by planning big infrastructure regionally. This generates projects of sufficient size to interest major funds, and enhances the business case. It also makes regional integration tangible and irreversible.

We also need to match external capital with African capital. African savings are not being mobilised effectively. This can help reduce risk perceptions, and also ensure we share the upside of profitable deals.

Building the capacity of African firms creates badly needed jobs and skills right here on the continent and, as African construction and services firms grow, costs and operational risks will decrease.

The Continental Free Trade Area goes against the prevailing trend of moving away from regional integration and the multilateral trading system. This is already making Africa stand out to global markets and investors.

Finally, prosperity rests on good politics and a secure environment, because the transformation agenda requires a broad consensus that is sustained across decades. Transformation requires leadership and accountability at every level, beginning at the top, but not stopping there.


SOURCE: This story was originally published by The Guardian, UK. All rights reserved

Air pollution is killing millions globally every year

Air pollution is killing millions globally every year

A THICK SMOG settled over New Delhi as winter began in India last year, forcing medical professionals to declare a public health emergency. Residents swarmed local hospitals complaining of respiratory problems. Cricket players were forced to put on anti-pollution masks during a national match between India and Sri Lanka. And United Airlines canceled flights into the city, citing the air-quality concerns.

Air pollution is killing millions globally every year
King’s Way in New Delhi is seen shrouded in smog on Dec. 4, 2017. Photo: HuffPost


Air pollution isn’t among the causes of death that medical examiners list on death certificates, but the health conditions linked to air pollution exposure, such as lung cancer and emphysema, are often fatal. Air pollution was responsible for 6.1 million deaths and accounted for nearly 12 percent of the global death toll in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Air pollution is killing millions globally every year
Heavy smog engulfed Gurgaon, India, a city southwest of New Delhi in North India. The air quality index was at 320, which agencies consider unfit for inhalation even by healthy people and which made commuting difficult. December 2017. Photo: SANJEEV VERMA/HINDUSTAN TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES

“Air pollution is one of the great killers of our age,” Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai wrote in an article published in the medical journal The Lancet.

India’s late environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave, made headlines last year for denying there was proof that air pollution was singularly responsible for death in India. Dave conceded that air pollution “could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory associated ailments and diseases,” but he blamed the negative health effects on other issues: poor diet, occupational hazards, socioeconomic status and genetics.

Dave died in May 2017 from cardiac arrest. The new environment minister, Harsh Vardhan, has also said that “to attribute any death to a cause like pollution, that may be too much.”

But there are numerous studies linking air pollution to morbidity around world.

“There is a huge amount of data linking outdoor and indoor air pollution with adverse health effects, including acute and chronic disease, exacerbations of chronic disease and death,” said Dr. Barry Levy, adjunct professor of public health at Tufts University School of Medicine.

The right to breathe is, you would think, the most fundamental right ― more than food, more than water. And that right is being seriously compromised right now.Mayur Sharma, TV personality

Of the 6.1 million air pollution death in 2016, 4.1 million are attributable to outdoor, or ambient, air pollution, according to IHME. Such pollution comes from sources like vehicles, coal-fired power plants and steel mills. Household, or indoor, air pollution is a more pressing problem in low-income countries due to the use of indoor fires for cooking and heat, and it’s linked to an estimated 2.6 million deaths per year. (In India at least, the total air pollution death rate has declined since 1990 even as the outdoor death rate went up in recent years ― due largely to a decrease in the number of deaths attributable to indoor air pollution. Scientists don’t completely understand how ambient and household air pollution deaths interact, and there’s some overlap between them, which is why the sum of ambient and household air pollution deaths exceeds total air pollution deaths.)

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Photo: David Henry Montgomery/Huff Post

Developing countries bear the brunt of the world’s pollution problem

Air pollution is undoubtedly a global public health problem, but not all countries are equally affected.

As many as 1.6 million deaths were attributable to air pollution in India in 2016, according to IHME. That same year, all air pollution was linked to almost 123 out of every 100,000 deaths in the country ― among the highest in the world.

“When it comes to the number of deaths from air pollution, India is No. 1,” Landrigan told HuffPost.

Afghanistan and several African countries have higher ambient air pollution death rates than India, likely because of the extremely dusty conditions in those countries, combined with other pollution sources, like vehicle emissions and crop burning.

“With globalization, mining and manufacturing shifted to poorer countries, where environmental regulations and enforcement can be lax,” Karti Sandilya, one of the authors on the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, told Reuters. “People in poorer countries ― like construction workers in New Delhi ― are more exposed to air pollution and less able to protect themselves from exposure, as they walk, bike or ride the bus to workplaces that may also be polluted.”

North India’s topography makes its pollution problem worse, Vox noted in November. The region acts as a basin, trapping pollution from crop burning outside the city and mixing it with industrial pollution from within city limits. And that mix of pollution sources is most intense during the coldest months of the year.

In fact, the problem is getting so bad that some people are moving out of New Delhi altogether. Television personality Mayur Sharma is perhaps the most notable example: He left his job and moved his family out of the capital to escape the pollution.

“The right to breathe is, you would think, the most fundamental right ― more than food, more than water. And that right is being seriously compromised right now,” Sharma told NPR.

As India’s economy has expanded, the country has struggled to keep up with the environmental costs of that growth. Premature deaths from air pollution have stabilized in China, which rivals India in terms of pollution problems and population. That stabilization occurred partly because China has used fines and criminal charges to crack down on pollution. India’s government, however, seems more focused on economic growth than on protecting air quality and the environment.

Air pollution is killing millions globally every year
King’s Way in New Delhi is seen shrouded in smog on Dec. 4, 2017. Photo: HuffPost

Air pollution ― and climate change ― link the global community in deadly ways

Because air pollution and related health problems can travel, no country can solve its air pollution problem alone.

Air pollution from Chinese consumption was linked to an estimated 3,100 premature deaths in the U.S and Western Europe in 2007, according to an article published last year in the journal Nature. At the same time, nearly 110,000 premature deaths in China were linked to pollution prompted by consumption in the U.S. and Western European.

Air pollution can travel long distances and cause health impacts in downwind regions,” Qiang Zhang, co-author of the article and a researcher at Tsinghua University in Beijing, explained to Popular Science.

Air pollution doesn’t care about political boundaries.Kirk Smith, professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health

Climate change will likely exacerbate those global concerns, according to public health experts.

They anticipate that climate change will trigger a host of public health problems, including heat- and cold-related deaths, increased disease risk and mental health problems from climate displacement and extreme weather conditions.

Climate change also contributes to air pollution trends ― hotter temperatures increase wildfire risk, and wildfires create ambient air pollution. It also increases ground-level ozone, which is a main ingredient in urban smog, and can trigger health problems like chest pain, throat irritation and lung inflammation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Higher temperatures are expected to increase the rate of ozone formation,” Levy said.

This makes it even more crucial for local, national and intergovernmental organizations to join forces to address air pollution.

As Kirk Smith, a professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, put it, “Air pollution doesn’t care about political boundaries.”


SOURCE: Huffpost

The making of Philippe Coutinho: how Espanyol polished Barcelona’s diamond

The making of Philippe Coutinho: how Espanyol polished Barcelona’s diamond

THE career of Barça’s new signing owes much to a revitalising stint across the city under Mauricio Pochettino six seasons ago.

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To the left, the £142m Philippe Coutinho of Barcelona and to the right an on-loan Philippe Coutinho at Espanyol in 2012. Composite: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images; Jasper Juinen/Getty Images


Everything has come full circle for Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian made his debut for Barcelona on Thursday night, coming on as a 68th-minute substitute against Espanyol. He has played at the Camp Nou once before, six years ago, again as a 68th-minute substitute, only this time it was for Espanyol – Coutinho was nothing but an impish 19-year-old with flickering promise, curly locks and the face of a child.

Some things have stayed the same. Coutinho’s boyish looks remain, despite the more manicured hair, the tattoos and the maturity that the Brazilian seems to exude on and off the pitch. Lionel Messi is still the best player in the world – he scored four that night in 2012 in a 4-0 win and he scored again on Thursday, helping Barcelona to a 2-0 victory (2-1 on aggregate) to progress to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.

The making of Philippe Coutinho: how Espanyol polished Barcelona’s diamond
hilippe Coutinho was happy to get a new start in La Liga with Espanyol in 2012. Photo: Andreu Dalmau/EPA

It was fitting that Coutinho’s debut would be against Espanyol, the club that arguably saved his young career. At Internazionale, Coutinho had struggled for any kind of consistency. They are a club with a long reputation for signing the best young Brazilian players – be it Ronaldo, Adriano or Roberto Carlos – but many are unable to adapt to the culture change, the language barrier and the tactical restrictions in Serie A.

Plucked from Vasco da Gama’s academy at the age of 16 in 2008, and loaned back to the South American club for two years, Coutinho then failed to live up to expectations in Italy. Six managers in three years did not help, but brushes with injury and a lack of confidence evidently hurt the shy teenager.

When Claudio Ranieri sent him out on loan to Espanyol in 2012, it was very much seen as a last chance to impress. But under Mauricio Pochettino he thrived, scoring five goals in 16 appearances, the first time in his professional career that he had displayed such consistency. “Because of the difficulties in Italy, I found it easier to adapt in Spain during my Espanyol loan,” Coutinho said last year, when recalling his time under Pochettino, who understood the balance between giving the Brazilian responsibility and protecting him, whether that was instructing him to take the team’s set pieces or starting him on the bench in the derby at the Camp Nou.

The careers of Pochettino and Coutinho are intrinsically linked. Nicola Cortese, then Southampton’s executive chairman, revealed this season that the only reason he became aware of Pochettino’s promise as a manager was because he went to scout Coutinho. “I was attracted by this young man on the touchline,” Cortese said. “I just liked his body language. I didn’t know his name at the time, but from then I started following his career.”

Coutinho returned to Inter that summer and despite some improved displays, inconsistency and injury returned. The following January, Pochettino was made head coach of Southampton. Thirteen days later, despite the Argentinian trying to re-sign Coutinho, he joined Liverpool for £8.5mafter Rafa Benítez – one of Coutinho’s former managers at Inter – informed the club’s then director of football, Damien Comolli, of his talent. But, simply put, neither Pochettino’s nor Coutinho’s moves to England would have happened without that stint at Espanyol.

Such was Coutinho’s confidence at Espanyol, he would also show glimpses of emulating his idol Ronaldinho. Against Málaga he scored a free-kick under the wall, a trademark Ronaldinho trick (that would be repeated on numerous occasions at Liverpool). Against Levante he would copy a famous Ronaldinho flickthat had humiliated Andrea Pirlo in a 2006 Champions League semi-final. Coutinho has openly called Ronaldinho his hero and not just because of their shared nationality or the fact they were both raised on futsal. The connection is such that Ronaldinho even made Coutinho a special video when he signed for Barcelona.

Coutinho’s move to Barcelona makes sense for so many reasons, not just because of Ronaldinho. Coutinho says he has dreamed of playing there since he was a boy. He fell in love with the city while playing for Espanyol – “[My wife and I] love Barcelona in the way we love Rio, which is where I’m from” – even one of his two dogs is from Catalonia and “will be returning home now.”

The making of Philippe Coutinho: how Espanyol polished Barcelona’s diamond
Philippe Coutinho replaced Andrés Iniesta in the 68th minute against Espanyol to make his Barcelona debut. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

He has the personality to succeed there: the humility to happily play second fiddle to Messi but the confidence to change games when others around him are floundering. His relationship with Luis Suárez is very close: it was the Uruguayan who picked up Coutinho from the airport when he landed in Barcelona, and on Thursday night there were already signs that they had rekindled their on-pitch chemistry, Coutinho providing Suárez with a golden chance to make it 3-0.

Coutinho has come a long way since that night for Espanyol in 2012, where despite his team being 4-0 down, the substitute tormented Barcelona’s Martín Montoya for the 22 minutes he had on the pitch. His trajectory since has been meteoric.

His first act as a Barcelona player on Thursday was to replace Andrés Iniesta; we will see in the coming years to what extent he can do that once the Spaniard has retired. On Sunday he will make his La Liga debut for his new club but whatever happens at Barcelona, what is not in doubt is the debt he owes to the smaller club on the other side of town.


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

These women has learnt how to live with lions

These women has learnt how to live with lions

By Niki Rust


Lionesses have a lot of power in lion society. The females typically work together to hunt down prey, and form crèches to look after their cubs. This cooperative behaviour brings in lots of food, and ensure that plenty of lion cubs survive to adulthood.

These women has learnt how to live with lions
A pair of lions Photo: Karl Ammann/naturepl.com

The female lions’ empowerment stands in stark contrast to the human societies that live alongside the lions in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. There, as in many other cultures throughout history, women have been discouraged from taking control – in part due to a male-dominated culture.

As it happens, lions – despite the lionesses’ efforts – are vulnerable to extinction. So what might happen if we took a leaf out of the lions’ book and began to allow women to make more decisions?

One Kenyan lion conservation organisation, Ewaso Lions, decided to find out.

These women has learnt how to live with lions
The Mama Simba uniform is bright red. Photo: Kelly Wilson

Ewaso Lions helps local communities find ways to coexist with wildlife. This is crucial, because one of the greatest threats to lions is humans killing them.

As some of Samburu’s lions live outside formally protected areas, they often come into contact with the Samburu livestock. In retaliation for cattle killed by lions, the Samburu sometimes hunt the lions.

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Conservation training. Photo: Ewaso Lions

The Mama Simba project began when local women went to Ewaso Lions asking to be educated. Mama Simba means “the Mother of Lions” in Maa, the local language.

“The women had seen how warriors in their community were being engaged in conservation through another of Ewaso Lions’s projects,” says Heather Gurd, conservation manager at Ewaso Lions. “They were adamant that they could do just as good a job as the warriors if only they were given the chance.”

Samburu women actually spend a great deal of time in wildlife areas whilst they collect firewood, fetch water and look after livestock. This means they often come into contact with animals like lions.

These women has learnt how to live with lions
The Mama Simba project aims to empower women. Photo: Ewaso Lions

Yet before this project, the women were rarely actively included in conservation activities.

Ewaso Lions is educating the Samburu women in basic literacy, numeracy, and wildlife conservation. They also train them in beaded art craft, so that they can diversify their income and not depend solely on livestock.

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A group of Mama Simba participants, February 2016. Photo: Ewaso Lions

Since Mama Simba was launched in 2013, over 300 Samburu women have participated in the programme. There is a core group of 19 who spread the word.

“Empowerment means that women are given a chance to lead, like men do,” says Ntomuson Lelengeju, a Mama Simba participant.

“Women and men are now getting equal opportunities in terms of resource sharing,” says Noldonyo Letabare, who also takes part.

These women has learnt how to live with lions
A lion (Panthera leo) in Samburu National Reserve. Photo: T. J. Rich/naturepl.com

As well as benefiting the women, the project should also help the lions.

To achieve this, the women are trained in how to better protect their livestock enclosures from predators. They also learn how to identify carnivore tracks, and tell Ewaso Lions about lion sightings and any conflicts that arise.

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At the Mama Simba school. Photo: Tyrel Bernardini

It is too soon to tell whether this new project has benefited the lion population. But there is evidence that people’s attitudes towards lions are becoming more positive.

“I have changed as a result of the Mama Simba programme,” says Lelengeju. “I now cannot accept people to kill lions.”

“Since joining the programme I have learned to love lions, unlike before,” says Letabare.

“We have seen a real change in the confidence and enthusiasm that the ladies have,” says Shivani Bhalla, executive director of Ewaso Lions. “They were once very quiet and shy, never speaking up at any community meetings or talking about wildlife. Now they are vocal about conservation.”

These women has learnt how to live with lions
A Samburu woman making a beaded lion. Photo: Ewaso Lions

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What do you do when you can’t get it right?

By Omoteniola Akinwalere


The weekend is around the corner and yes, it’s already buzzing at my end. So, I came across

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his girl’s story on one of my numerous WhatsApp groups and I just kept imagining how one
person could be sooo dumb. I know by now, you’re already wondering what happened. Just
chillax, you’ll probably think so too by the time you finish reading the story.
She said her first boyfriend asked her for sex and even though she’s an usher and believed
premarital sex was wrong, she allowed him and three months later, he dumped her. Details of
what went wrong was unknown.
The second one was an illiterate who sold spare parts according to her and even though she
was a graduate, she still agreed to date him. She bought him things and even tutored him in the
aspects of speaking and writing English only to find out about his fiancée one week to his
wedding. I guess we all know how that ended.
The next one after him impregnated his ex-girlfriend and she found out after she had just slept
with him. The baby mama texted her and asked her to stop sleeping with her husband.
That was when she decided that marriage wasn’t meant for her and she would rather remain
single. She said she was confused and didn’t know what to do.
On my own part, I think she’s just dumb and failed to see the signs and writings on the wall.
She needs your opinions. What do you really think is wrong with her or do you think it’s just the
men she has been dating who are bad? Let me know what you think she should do. I’ll be
reading your comments

OPINION: Why do guys do this thing?

By Olaleye Omoteniola Akinwalere


There’s this thing that I’ve noticed guys do or should I say some guys?  So that I won’t be guilty of the error of generalization.

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It happens mostly when they’re trying to ask a girl out; they act so cool, very friendly, caring and all of that just to get the girl’s attention. Some even go as far as buying expensive gifts and taking such ladies to expensive restaurants for dates but all the time, the girl is still trying to weigh her options.

But then, just when she decides to give him the attention he really needs and begins to fall hopelessly in love with the guy, he starts acting up, stops doing everything he has been doing before and practically becomes someone else.

Some may not even call the girl anymore and just keep their distance from her. Others will go ahead and date her but make her constantly wonder what actually changed. I have so many girls complaining bitterly to me about this.

I’ve also been a victim of such behaviour at a point in time. Guys need to know that this behaviour is unacceptable. You cannot make a girl fall in love with you and then leave her hanging. It’s not too good.

Do you even think of the emotional trauma you’ll put her through by doing that? Some might have even left a boyfriend because of you. Please guys, I am begging you all personally to stop it. Thank you.

Signed:

Association of single ladies😭😭😭


Olaleye Omoteniola Akinwalere is Freelance Editor, Writer, Poet, Fashion Designer, a fun-loving girl who loves to write and read a lot. READ MORE ABOUT HERE

The Conversationalist

By Olaleye Omoteniola Akinwalere


How’s your day going? Great I guess? That’s pretty much good to know.

So, today I’m going to talk about this issue that has been trending on twitter for a while now. It’s the issue of who can best keep a conversation going between a boy and a girl.

A lot of people have said that girls generally are poor at keeping conversation going. I beg differ though, probably because I’m a conversationalist. Lol. I like good conversations that can tickle my brain cells, you know; conversations that makes me reason and argue.

Yeah, I love wonderful arguments, constructive ones not bitter, destructive arguments. So, you ask me: Madam Teni, what’s the main gist? This introductory speech is getting long o. E ma binu, I’m coming to that.

Now, this is the full gist. This guy sent me a DM, I looked at it and discovered we once chatted sometimes in 2012.  Mehn, that was a long time ago. I love making new friends and I was like, what harm could it cause? Worst case scenario; he gets boring and I stop replying him. Big mistake!

This guy can hold a conversation. Got me oooohing and aaahing. I was like: whaaat? Why do you have to be so good? No foul language, no indecent words, no talk of boons, ass, my pretty face/shape or what nots? I was haaaappy! Omo, I was always checking my DM to see if message has dropped.

It’s been soooo long since I had this kind of chat. I’m very impressed. We talked about movies, books  (winks), yeah books, music and all. People you can have sweet, wonderful and intelligent conversations without being a hoe.

I’m still sitting here with this butterfly fluttering about in my tummy. Will keep you posted if it graduates to something MORE!


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Only small number of Christians remain in Egypt | How long until all Christians are wiped out of the country? 

Only small number of Christians remain in Egypt | How long until all Christians are wiped out of the country? 

“At this rate Copts will be extinct in 100 years. They will die, leave, convert or get killed,” a friend wrote on Facebook as news broke of the latest bloody attack on Egypt’s Coptic Christians.

Only small number of Christians remain in Egypt | How long until all Christians are wiped out of the country? 
Monks look at the view following a terrorist attack against a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt on Friday. Photo: NYT/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Less than two months ago, while attending church in Cairo on Palm Sunday, my friend told me she’d mused to herself that it was a blessing her daughter wasn’t with her: If there was a bombing, at least her child would survive.

Forty-five Copts were murdered that day by the Islamic State in churches in Alexandria and Tanta. Such are the thoughts of Coptic parents in Egypt these days.

The terrorists chose today’s target well. The Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor, which I visited a decade ago, is very hard to reach. One hundred and ten miles on the Cairo Luxor desert road, you make a right-hand turn and for the next 17 miles drive on an unpaved road. The single lane forces cars to drive slowly, and, as the only route leading to the monastery, the victims were guaranteed to be Copts. Friday is a day off in Egypt, and church groups regularly take trips there. Outside of a few policemen stationed out front, there is little security presence.

The terrorists waited on the road like game hunters. Coming their way were three buses, one with Sunday school children. Only three of them survived. Their victims were asked to recite the Islamic declaration of faith before being shot.


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In the past few months, the Islamic State has made its intentions toward Copts well known. “Our favorite prey” they called my co-religionists in a February video. Their barbaric attacks have left more than 100 Copts dead in the last few months alone. The Northern Sinai is now “Christianfrei,” or free of Christians.

Many serious questions will be asked in the next few days. How has the Islamic State been able to build such an extensive network inside mainland Egypt? Is the Islamic State moving its operations to Egypt as it faces pressure in Iraq and Syria? And why has Egypt repeatedly failed to prevent these attacks?

All of these questions are important and require thoughtful deliberation by the Egyptian regime and its allies around the world. But these are not the questions on the minds of my Coptic friends at home. They have far more intimate concerns: Am I putting my children’s lives at risk by remaining here? Should we leave? And what country will take us?

In February 2014, I met the head of the Jewish community in Egypt,Magda Haroun. Today, she told me, there are 15 Jews left in the country, out of a population that once stood at nearly 100,000. Ms. Haroun said she was afraid the Copts would soon follow.
At the time I thought the prospect was overblown. There are millions of Copts in Egypt.

Where would all of them possibly go? Surely some will remain, I reasoned. But I had left the country myself in 2009 — and so have hundreds of thousands of Copts. Even before the recent wave of attacks, Copts have been packing their bags and bidding 2,000 years of history farewell. As more find permanent homes in the West, more are able to bring relatives over. Ms. Haroun was right.

The Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor — where one of the giants of the modern Coptic church, Father Matthew the Poor, was ordained in 1948 — is the only remaining monastery of 35 that once existed in the area. Copts had always been tied to Egypt, their very name derived from the Greek word for the country, Aigýptios. Despite waves of persecution at the hands of everyone from Roman and Byzantine emperors, Arab and Muslim governors and Egypt’s modern presidents, they have refused to leave. Their country once gave refuge to the young Jesus. Where will they now find sanctuary?

In 1954 an Egyptian movie called “Hassan, Marcus and Cohen” was produced. The comedy’s title represented characters from Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In 2008, a new movie, “Hassan and Marcus” hit theaters. It warned of the growing sectarian strife between Egypt’s Christians and Muslims. Fifty years from now, it seems likely that the sequel will just be “Hasan.”

OPINION: President Trump Fails NATO | It's quite embarrassing

OPINION: President Trump Fails NATO | It’s quite embarrassing

President Trump’s first NATO meeting was the moment to show that he would honor the example of his predecessors in leading a strong and unified alliance that has been and should remain the anchor of Western security. He failed.

OPINION: President Trump Fails NATO | It's quite embarrassing

Instead of explicitly endorsing the mutual defense pledge at the heart of the alliance, Mr. Trump lectured the members for falling short on pledges to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic products on the military, much as he had hectored them on this subject during his presidential campaign. There were signs, too, that Mr. Trump and the allies remain at odds over Russia, which is deeply unsettling given mounting questions about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Trump has a point when he says the allies should increase their military budgets, which they have started to do, partly in response to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. But his obsession with the matter has reinforced the impression that he sees NATO as essentially a transactional arrangement, not as an indisputably important alliance that has kept the peace for 70 years and whose value cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Against this history, Mr. Trump’s repeated scolds are not just condescending but embarrassing.

What possesses him to treat America’s allies so badly? The NATO nations are mostly democracies with vibrant free markets that have helped America keep enemies at bay, including in Afghanistan. The question is made all the more pressing in view of Mr. Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of countless autocrats, among them Vladimir Putin of Russia and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, where he just paid a deferential visit and assured Sunni Arab leaders that “we are not here to lecture” despite their abominable records on human rights.

This perplexing dichotomy has been vividly captured in video and photographs — Mr. Trump laughing comfortably with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington during a recent Oval Office meeting, while refusing to shake the hand of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany when she came to town. There was more of the same in Brussels, with Mr. Trump shoving aside the prime minister of Montenegro, which recently defied Russia to join NATO, on his way to a front row spot for a photograph.

The allies had hoped to hear a robust endorsement of the NATO Treaty’s Article 5, which commits them to a “one-for-all, all-for-one” principle that has been the foundation of the alliance since it was established. What they got instead was a vague promise to “never forsake the friends who stood by our side” after the Sept. 11 attacks, and assurances from Sean Spicer, the press secretary, of a “100 percent commitment to Article 5.” This would have been more persuasive coming from Mr. Trump, since he and not Mr. Spicer had denigrated NATO as “obsolete” and suggested darkly that the United States might not defend allies under attack if they did not contribute more to the alliance.Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been no more credible than Mr. Spicer. “Of course we support Article 5,” he told reporters earlier this week, presumably assuming that the president would say much the same thing in Brussels. That Mr. Trump did not reinforces the common perception that Mr. Tillerson has no more influence over his thinking than do Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, and Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, on whom many had counted to put Mr. Trump’s foreign policy on a more responsible path.

That Mr. Trump and the allies were unable to agree on a common approach toward Russia was also worrisome. Moscow has become increasingly aggressive as Mr. Putin annexed Crimea, waged war in eastern Ukraine, meddled in the American and European elections and intervened militarily in Syria. The most that emerged from a meeting between Mr. Trump and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, was that the two shared the “same line” on Ukraine.

All told, Mr. Trump’s commitment to NATO and America’s tradition of leadership remain very much up in the air. Should the president abdicate both, no one would be happier than Vladimir Putin.

#Biafra50: What the Federal Government should do to appease the Igbos – Femi Fani-Kayode

I believe that it is not only the height of naivety but also deeply insulting to say that the way to stop the Biafran agitation is to offer the Igbo cake.

Femi Fani-Kayode

Quite apart from that I find it curious, incredulous and somewhat patronising that those behind the “Biafra at 50” event, which took place at the Yar’adua Centre in Abuja today, would think it  appropiate to invite the leaders and representatives of a government that has blood on its hands and that is committing genocide against the Igbo and IPOB members on a daily basis to their programme.

They talk peace and reconciliation but can there really be peace and reconciliation without restitution and justice?

You can say anything and rationalise it in any manner that you deem fit but the reality is that 1 million innocent Igbo children were purposely starved to death in the civil war and 2 million Igbos were killed. Worse still the problems and atrocities that the Igbo complained of in 1966 are still with us today. The very reasons that they were forced to fight that war are still with us today.

If you want peace and reconciliation, if you want to celebrate or remember Biafra at 50 and if you want to honor the memory of those that lost their lives during the struggle for Biafra the promise of a greater share in the national cake will not cut it.

Instead the first thing that you need to do is to get the Nigerian state and authorities to give an unconditional apology for the atrocities committed against the Igbo during before and after the civil war.

Secondly you must reach out to those that are agitating for Biafra today with love and genuine affection and endeavour to make it worth their while to stay in Nigeria by treating them with love, compassion, respect and sensitivity.

You do NOT kill them in the streets, lock up their leaders and attempt to kill their dream of emancipation from subjugation and servitude and at the same time claim that you want and believe in reconciliation. It is either one or the other.

You either love and honor them or you fight them and reject their attempt to express themselves freely or to exercise their right of self-determination.

This charade of kill them and pretend to love them all at the same time sickens me. It dishonours the memory of ALL those who fought for and believed in the ideal of Biafra.

It is like dancing on their graves and spitting on their blood.

How can you talk about Biafra and celebrate Biafra at 50 when the leaders of the new Biafra like Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB and others are not there?

How can you talk about Biafra when a contractor and compromiser from Igboland who has lost every sense of self-worth and dignity is invited to the gathering?

The Federal Government is killing his kinsmen with their security forces and refusing to protect them from the relentless carnage and barbaric slaughter of the Fulani militias and this despicable man who has fed fat on Nigeria will come to such a gathering and say that he will fight anyone that wants to leave Nigeria, including Oduduwa and Arewa. I really dont know whether to laugh or cry.

These are clearly the words of a desperate comedian who has lost all sense of self-respect and who is prepared to do anything in order to remain in perpetual servitude.

Such a man is shameful. He is dishonorable. He is cowardly. He is evil. Worse of all he is a grave danger to those that he claims to speak for and represent.

If anyone really wants peace in this country and true reconciliation the only way to achieve it is to set into motion a process of and a programme for restructuring and the devolution of power from the centre. They must also accord due respect to every ethnic nationality in this country including the Igbo.

Failing that it is only a matter of time before Nigeria breaks into two or more pieces and this will be done peacefully or not so peacefully depending on the attitude and disposition of those who believe that they own Nigeria and that the rest of us are slaves.

Encouraging was the fact that Chief John Nwodo, the respected and much-loved Chairman of Ohaeneze, was at the Abuja event. Of all those that attended, together with Pat Utomi and one or two others, is one of the few that I trust and admire. What a leader this man is. Nwodo is a man of immense wisdom and courage and well bred too.

He comes from a well-educated, noble and illustrious lineage of statesmen and political leaders of the rarest kind.

He will never bow down to ANYONE that attempts to undermine the interests of the Igbo and he will never sacrifice or betray any of the millions of young men and women from the south-east who are yearning for Biafra.

With him at the helm of affairs of Ohaeneze I have no doubt that the Igbo are in safe hands and that they will not be fooled by the wolves in sheeps clothing that organised and engendered this shameful event.


This article expresses the authors’ opinion only. The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of The Bloomgist. 

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Nigeria's whistleblowing policy initiative: a mission of or more noise than substance

Nigeria’s whistleblowing policy initiative: a mission of or more noise than substance

President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 on a strong anti-corruption platform. On taking office, his administration launched a suite of corruption investigations which have seemingly overwhelmed the country’s main anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

It has also overseen some important institutional and procedural reforms to reduce the ease with which money can be misappropriated from within the public sector. But such measures are the tip of an iceberg of much-needed reform to address the fundamental flaws that exist within a political, institutional and legal system that remains rooted in patronage.

Meanwhile, the latest whistleblowing policy initiative is attracting some notable headlines following some high-profile cash seizures, papering over in the process, the failure to tackle deeper issues within the country’s anti-corruption architecture through legislated change and institutional overhaul.

According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), corruption is set to cost Nigeria around 37 percent of its GDP by 2030. The eye-watering sums that have circulated in connection with some of the country’s most recent corruption scandals – most notably in the downstream fuel sector – bear witness to the enormous burden that corruption places on the economy. With corruption now featuring higher on the political agenda, there is some hope that the government can bring about durable reform. But it will need to go beyond the easy-wins it has pursued so far and take on more challenging legislative reform to address key shortcomings in the investigations and judiciary structures that are currently at the forefront of the anti-corruption campaign.

Key successes of the current administration in tackling graft to date include the introduction of a Treasury Single Account (TSA) for public finances, which has strengthened the ring-fencing of over N7 trillion in public finances, according to the Accountant General of the Federation. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is also implementing tighter Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, via the provision of Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) towards reducing money laundering activities in the country. Lastly as noted above, the Ministry of Finance initiated its whistle-blowing programme at the start of the year, which is aimed at encouraging citizens to report credible information concerning the theft of public funds. Although the line has faced numerous problems including claims it has ceased working, it has reportedly led to the recovery of around US$57 million in recent weeks – sums that have been celebrated in the media, albeit with a note of frustration at the continued scale of graft.

The whistleblowing programme enables individuals to report corruption or financial malpractice in public finances through an online platform set up by the Ministry of Finance, or by writing directly to the Ministry, which helps promote some level of confidentiality within the entire process. However, whistleblowers are still expected to provide their personal information if they are to be rewarded for their actions. According to the programme, whistleblowers will receive 2.5% to 5% of the value of funds retrieved by the government for any useful information they provide. The law may permit the disclosure of their identities in some special cases, but under the condition that they also receive protection from the government.

Last month, allegations arose linking the secretary to the federal government and the head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to US$43 million worth of funds recovered by the EFCC from an apartment in Lagos. This led to the suspension of both public officers who are currently being investigated by a special committee set up by the Presidency. But Nigeria has too often seen these types of headlines, which have not been followed up by rigorous, independent investigation and effective prosecution, allowing culprits to fall from the radar of public scrutiny and judicial sanction. This underlines the limitations in the current anti-corruption campaign without more far-reaching reform. Such reform needs to focus on the current lack of genuine institutional independence, coordination and capacity to overcome powerful vested interests in a political system in which patronage and influence often trump due process.

Increased partnerships will also help strengthen the campaign’s drive as proven by the EFCC and Federal Inland Revenue Service’s (FIRS) combined efforts to deal with tax fraud which can help contribute to increased fiscal transparency. Private sector operators can also partner with the public sector, as exemplified by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountant’s (ACCA) partnership with the government to host a capacity-building programme centred around anti-corruption in June 2017. Meanwhile, the private sector also has an important role to play in shifting attitudes by instituting robust compliance and anti-bribery and -corruption standards to set a clear example.

Both private sector operators and the government have made positive strides to reduce the opportunities for corrupt activities to take place in recent years. But gains can be transient if not supported by deeper reform, and in this respect, the Buhari administration has some way to go towards cementing its legacy as an effective champion in tackling corruption within the system.


By Kadiri Otaru and Zephia Ovia

Kadiri is an Associate Consultant in the Intelligence and Analysis team at Africa Practice, providing business intelligence and political analysis for the financial, infrastructure and ICT industries. He has a degree in Economics from the University of Abuja and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Management from Obafemi Awolowo University.

Zephia is an Analyst in the Intelligence and Analysis team at Africa Practice, providing political and commercial insights across the public and private sector. She holds a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the London School of Economics (LSE). She has also interned at the South African Parliament in Cape Town.


This article expresses the authors’ opinion only. The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of The Bloomgist. 

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OPINION: Ifeanyi Ubah and government cremation of Igbo interests – Jude Ndukwe

On Friday, May 5, 2017, the Department of State Services otherwise known as Nigeria’s secret police because of the nature of their mandate, arrested and detained the Managing Director of Capital Oil and Gas Ltd, Dr Ifeanyi Ubah.

Ifeanyi Ubah

It is instructive to note for the benefit of this piece that Dr Ubah has since remained in the DSS custody since then without being charged to court despite the claim of the DSS in its earlier press release declaring that it would prosecute Ubah “forthwith”.

In that release, the DSS had lined up a plethora of allegations against the oil magnate as the reasons behind his travails. Such allegations hastily publicized almost immediately after Ubah was arrested is in tandem with the well-documented script of this current government to try all their victims in the public domain and excite a section of vulnerable Nigerians with it by embarking on media trials, drama and razzmatazz only for their cases to eventually fall flat on their faces where it matters most – at the courts!

It is no longer news that since the end of the 2015 general elections, the ruling party has not forgiven (as if there is anything at all to forgive) Ndigbo for their choice at the elections. The president had not hidden his sentiments about this when he made the infamous 97% vs 5% statement. Since then, strong and several attempts have been made to humiliate and subjugate the Igbo either as individuals or as a group just to emasculate them and reduce their humanity to calamity! Those who are most hit are the critics of government and or those considered to have supported the last administration at the last election especially if they are of Igbo extraction.

Several cases abound to prove that this is the case. Another one is the Ifeanyi Ubah issue.

How could the DSS be so much in a hurry to accuse Ifeanyi Ubah of all that they accuse him of when in actual fact the issues involved are transactional, contractual and a dispute between two parties to an agreement which also spelt out in very clear terms how to resolve any dispute that might arise from such an agreement? Surely, such resolution mechanisms catered for in the agreement does not include the use of state apparatus like the DSS or any other law enforcement agency to intimidate, harass or detain any of the parties in the case of a dispute.

It is reported that the agreement between Capital Oil and NNPC did in fact make room for the root of this dispute which states that should Capital Oil sell any of the NNPC products in its tank farm, it would pay an extra 1% of the value of the product sold. And to think that Ifeanyi Ubah was ready to go the extra mile of incurring additional losses to his operations just to help salvage a brewing petroleum crisis and its attendant numerous and severe negative effects on not only the country but also the ordinary Nigerian during the transition period speaks volume about his pristine qualities as a businessman.

This is in addition to the fact that Capital Oil and Gas claims NNPC is owing it N16bn.

First and foremost, is it not absurd that Nigerians are neither alarmed nor outraged that a government agency is reportedly owing a private enterprise as much as N16bn? How many businesses would survive with such amount owed it? Why is the NNPC so unashamed about its huge debt to Capital Oil? Why is nobody talking about this? Would any sane society tolerate this level of intolerable business lopsidedness? For how long is it morally right for NNPC to continue to owe Capital Oil without it taking necessary action to recover its money even if it means selling its debtor’s property in its possession especially when the sale was done in national interest and at a loss to Capital Oil as they would be paying the 1% extra value on the volume it sold.

Does this not nullify the allegation of the DSS that Ubah’s actions amounted to economic sabotage when indeed what was done was done in national interest especially now that the Petroleum Tankers Drivers (PTDs) have also come out to say that Ubah never incited them to embark on any strike or take any action to curry favour from them?

All these go to show that there is more to it all than meets the eye. If Ubah were of the northern ethnic stock, this case would obviously have been treated differently. While a private sector player like Ubah with staff strength of over 2000 and about 25,000 others indirectly engaged by his company is being harassed by the DSS, Babachir Lawal, a political patron of this administration is enjoying the rare privilege of a presidential investigation after allegedly diverting huge sums meant for IDPs in the north. He is never arrested, detained or prosecuted. One Nigeria indeed!

Ibrahim Magu, despite the overwhelming and damning report against him by this same DSS and his rejection by the Nigerian Senate, is still parading himself as Acting Chairman of EFCC. He, of course, is from the north!

Fulani herdsmen terrorists are also roaming the streets freely with pride in their continued killing of thousands of Nigerians across the nation, displacing families and destroying livelihoods in unquantifiable terms far more than what Ubah is purportedly owing NNPC, yet, they are neither harassed, arrested, detained nor prosecuted. This same government makes all sorts of excuses for them including compensating them after their killings, yet, it is Ifeanyi Ubah who creates livelihoods for people that is suffering over a trade dispute simply because he is Igbo, a tribe that must be conquered by all means!

The other time, they shut down Ibeto cement factory for no just cause only for them to reopen it without any criminal liability on the part of the company. Of course, the ravenous monopolist from the north has to be helped to have his competitors from the south east killed. Now, they are going after the likes of Emeka Offor, Innoson etc as if it is only Igbo people that are doing business in Nigeria.

While other businessmen from other parts of the country enjoy undue advantage over their Igbo counterparts by being given generous waivers, tax rebates, government patronage etc, the Igbo businessmen suffer factory shut down, harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention and persecution, demolition, wares seizures, multiple taxation etc. Of course, he must be run out of business by all means!

Even in the railway project for which the government intends borrowing a humongous $5.8bn from the China Exim Bank, an amount to be repaid by all regions of the country, only south east was deliberately left out among those to benefit from the loan, still in continuation of the ethnic agenda against the people.

Most unfortunately, this whole Capital Oil saga is leaving the otherwise esteemed DSS demystified, reduced to Boys’ Brigade who beat their drum for every Shehu, Abdul and Musa that call them into a dispute even if it is between two cows. With the way the DSS are going, very soon, they will soon start being called by couples to arrest and detain their partners over marital disagreements. It would soon get to that since they now seem very comfortable acting as Debt Recovery Agency rather than as an Intelligence Agency.
Dr Ifeanyi Ubah should be released immediately and NNPC should come forward to reconcile accounts with Capital Oil and Gas. You cannot be indebted to a man to the tune of N16bn but keep harassing him over your N11bn. This is outside the N26bn which a Federal High court in Abuja, had ordered the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) to pay Capital Oil and Gas as contained in a consent judgement delivered years ago but yet to be complied with.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that there is a deliberate attempt to cripple Ifeanyi Ubah, decimate his businesses and cremate the general interests of Ndigbo. This has got to stop or the nation continues on the irreversible regressive journey of self-implosion!


The author Jude Ndukwe tweets @Stjudendukwe


This article expresses the authors’ opinion only. The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of The Bloomgist. 

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Emmanuel Macron

OPINION: Will Nigeria ever vote a 39 year old as their president?

By: Kofoworola Ayodeji


The media, and of course the social media in particular, has been agog with the news of 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron emerging the French president.

Emmanuel Macron

Macron had defeated his key contender Marine Le Pen on Sunday night with a margin of 66.06% to 33.94%, making him the country’s youngest president.

Nigerian masses versus the elite

The victory of Macron has caused a heated debate within the Nigerian social media space. And that’s for two obvious reasons: One, the charismatic young man won on the platform of En Marche, a political movement which he formed less than a year ago. Two, he defeated 62-year-old François Fillon and 65-year-old Jean-Luc Mélenchon who ran on the tickets of two traditional main right-wing and left-wing parties ending their decades-long dominance. In other words, he defeated the “powerful and elite” in the country without a party. In my country, it’s like defeating the APCs and PDPs of this world. So I ask, is that possible in Nigeria?

Of course it is. After all, up until March 2015 nobody per se had ever thought Nigerians would rally round a new party, then the APC, to remove the PDP which had held on to power for 16 years. Not only that, who could have thought of a scenario in which a sitting president Goodluck Jonathan would be removed from office; as if that was not enough, he was unseated without a civil war breaking out. Common! That was unimaginable, yet it happened. So this gives a precedent to the fact that the Nigerian masses, who are angry and frustrated at the moment, can turn around to vote out the established and powerful parties in power, at any level at that.

But where is that 39-year-old Nigeria’s Macron?

I was engaged in a twitter chat with Chude Jideonwo, co-founder of Red Media Africa, which owns the continent’s largest portfolio of youth media brands, a few hours ago. Chude lamented how he had persuaded young people who are capable and well resourced to run for office. They just would not. According to him, “they are so frightened of throwing money down the drain they don’t even have the coverage to take risks. I don do PowerPoint tire ……”

For me, they should be scared actually. An average Nigerian youth of today is still in deep slumber. Although many people have attributed this to poverty and the poor education system, I can’t agree less. In its 2016 Graduate Report, Stutern— a Lagos-based organization which connects employers looking for the best undergraduate talents, in-betweeners and graduates in search of internship/full-time opportunities— says about 3 in 4 Nigerian graduates earn below #50, 000 as first salary. Wawu! How does one who earns so little ever think of running for office or joining others to campaign for whoever is willing and competent?

Think about this scenario. I earn #30,000 as entry salary after spending about four years of my life studying in the university and another one year for NYSC. I feed myself, buy clothes, transport to and from office, pay bills, visit friends and still strive to save. Come to think of it, inflation is at its peak. With this, I’m frustrated, the future looks bleak and I can’t even work on my dreams. Naturally, getting involved in politics is definitely the last thing on my mind. In short, I’m pissed off with everything and anything government. That is the story of an average Nigerian youth today.

This is not to say there are no thriving, willing and competent young Nigerians anyway. But then, they would definitely have to think of the harsh political terrain, ethnic politics, the electoral processes and citizens’ apathy. I want to believe that has kept a lot of capable young people away.

Nigeria can actually produce a young president, but how?

Young Nigerians will have to solve each of the problems listed above to make a difference. We must put pressure on our lawmakers to ensure the establishment of independent candidacy. This will allow credible people run without a political party, exactly what Macron did. Also, credible candidates can also take over existing dormant parties and turn them around. I believe playing ethnic politics brought us to where we are right now, so we must eradicate it if we will ever move forward. In addition, we must exalt competence, values such as integrity and excellence, good antecedents over ethnicity. Let the best candidate emerge irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation.

Are we not tired of suffering in this country?

I don’t buy the idea of saying we need a “youth-party”. In reality, it’s the youth who are making all the difference in the world today. The world is now a global village because of young people, so why underplay their capabilities? Bill Gate co-founded Microsoft at 20. Anthony Joshua is 27. Mark Zuckerberg is 32. Chimamanda Adichie is 39. Aboyade Inioluwa is 26. Jack Dorsey is 40. Tara Durotoye is 40. Onigbinde Oluseun is 32. Young people should join political parties to understand the existing structure and flow of things.

Realistically, we have the number— at least we’re about 60% of the Nigerian population. With that, amidst other things, we can make a huge difference I believe.

Can Nigeria ever produce a young president? Yes. Will Nigerians ever vote a 39-year-old, 41-year-old or even 45-year-old as their president? Yes, we can.


Kofoworola Ayodeji is a Pan-African writer, transformational speaker and socio-political commentator based in Nigeria. He tweets@Generalkopho


This article expresses the authors’ opinion only. The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of The Bloomgist. 

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Pius Adesanmi: Do you know what A Luta Continua means?

I was wet behind the ears. I was a Jambite. It was matriculation day at the University of Ilorin.

d67b9-pius_adesanmi_4_2

After matriculation on the main campus of the University, I returned to the mini-campus in the company of new friends – fellow Jambites. At the entrance gate to campus, we ran into a chaotic mass of policemen, soldiers, tanks, guns, tear gas.

Students, advanced, retreated, advanced, retreated, screaming, chanting, rallying. In all the chaos, the protesting students (Nigerian authorities always demean their struggles by calling them rioting or rampaging students) had one rallying call which fascinated us as Jambites:

A luta continua

A luta continua

A luta, a luta

A luta continua

Thus it was that on my very first official day of University life, on matric day, I had to return to Isanlu for two months because the University was closed down. The two months I spent in Isanlu was not a waste. When Baba Adesanmi heard me chanting “a luta continua” one day, he asked: “Bola, who taught you that thing you are saying?”

I told him that the chant was the energising spirit of the student protest that had sent me back to Isanlu. All the senior students were chanting and screaming “aluta” and all the Jambites joined them. He smiled casually and took out two books from a shelf in the family library. One was entitled, Mozambique: Sowing the Seeds of Revolution, authored by a man called Samora Machel. The other was an edited selection of the speeches and writings of the same Samora Machel.

I knew enough of African and world affairs to know that Samora Machel was the president of Mozambique who had died in a plane crash in 1986. But I did not know that he was one of Africa’s greatest sons, one of Africa’s greatest freedom fighters, one of Africa’s greatest revolutionaries, one of Africa’s greatest radical theorists, one of Africa’s greatest thinkers.

Samora Machel was thus my entrance into the intellectual force field of African radical revolutionary thinkers and freedom fighters. Samora Machel was the path that led me to the writings and work of Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane, Steve Biko, Patrice Emery Lumumba, and Thomas Sankara. Beyond Africa, Samora Machel was the path that led me to a life time of reading the writings and thought of Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Paulo Freire, and Regis Debray but I am jumping ahead of myself.

A luta continua! Generations of Nigerian students have chanted it, have been defined by it. Portuguese for “the struggle continues”, Samora Machel and his FRELIMO freedom fighters originated that call as their antiphonal call and response formula for mobilising and motivating the people of Mozambique in their historic struggle against the evil Portuguese colonialists.

Samora Machel developed a musical, deeply-textured and sequentially sequenced way of screaming “a luta” from the podium when delivering his rousing speeches and the people would respond in unison, “continua”!

Samora Machel’s call to struggle moved across Africa and the rest of the world to become the rallying call of struggles and protest movements. In Nigeria, it became part of our national lexicon and the very definition of the student experience. Of course, we took Samora Machel’s chant out of context and divorced it from the totality of his meaning. We would not be true Nigerians if we didn’t do such an anti-intellectual thing.

Thus, very few Nigerian students actually know the origins of a luta continua. I wager that few in the post-1980s generation have even ever heard of Samora Machel and FRELIMO. Fewer still in the newer generations would know that Samora Machel never stopped at screaming “a luta continua” from the podium. When he had worked the people to a frenzy of excitement with the “a luta continua” call and response, he would suddenly stop and say:

Against what? In other words, Samora Machel was not just interested in empty sloganeering. He would ask: against what precisely must the struggle continue? Samora Machel, the great educator, knew that because he was leading Mozambique and, by extension, Africa, against a particular form of oppression, it was easy for people to understand praxis as an exclusive struggle against imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism.

As important as the struggle against colonialism and imperialism was, Machel understood that it had to go in tandem with and be underwritten by other internal struggles and dynamics without which the broader struggle was doomed.

Against what must the struggle continue?

Samora Machel would answer his own question to the admiration of his audience:

Against tribalism!

Against ignorance!

Against illiteracy!

Against superstition!

Against misery!

Against hunger!

In other words, the most important aspects of what Samora Machel meant by a luta continua, what he specifically defined the struggle against, have been left out of its Nigerian appropriation by generations of Nigerian students. When the Nigerian student – or even the Nigerian – casually vents, “aluta continua”, tribal hate and religious bigotry are not even remotely in his mind for these two demons are the natural constitutive elements of the Nigerian oxygen.

The Nigerian student chanting aluta continua is thinking of some forces of oppression in the most fuzzy and abstract terms. He is not thinking of tribal hatred and religious bigotry – two of the most significant negativities that Samora Machel and his generation of African freedom fighters and thinkers defined the struggle against.

If Samora Machel and other freedom fighters understood that tribalism, religious bigotry, and superstition were enemies of progress, enemies of the national project, enemies of the liberation struggle, they also understood perfectly that these things were fed by ignorance and illiteracy.

That is why they invested so much of the struggle in mass education and instruction, public pedagogy and the reduction of ignorance. On the personal level, many of them understood that there was no alternative to a lifetime investment in erudition. They were polymaths with an encyclopedic knowledge base in philosophy, history, literature, culture, music, economics, mathematics and the other sciences. They led by example. You could not mobilise the people against illiteracy and ignorance if you were not erudition personified.

The tragedy of Nigeria is that we destroyed the informing spirit of education. Without this informing spirit of education, Nigeria has been building new Universities, Polytechnics, and Colleges of Education in a national project of mass producing and graduating largely ignorant and barely literate armies of ethnic hate, religious bigotry, and invidious superstitions.

Nigeria’s self-destructive demission from the informing spirit of education has come full circle as social media is now exposing the consequences of our dereliction of duty: entire generations of graduates whose only meaningful lifeline is ethnic hate and religious bigotry fed by ignorance and illiteracy.

Hate for hate’s sake. North, south, east, west, these armies of hate and bigotry went through the University screaming “a luta continua” without even understanding what the real owners of that historic liberation chant said that the struggle must be against.

There is also no understanding of the fact that Samora Machel and his generation saw personal development – understood as reading ceaselessly to attain vast erudition – as the principal building block of aluta.

Hence the many contradictions of our blighted existence in Nigeria. Boastful public anti-intellectualism – I don’t read! This essay is too long! – is worn around the neck like an Olympic gold medal by people screaming “aluta” on social media. People who live for hate and by hate on the basis of ethnicity and faith also go about screaming aluta.

Education, real education, remains the greatest weapon against hate. And this is where my generation still hasn’t come to terms with its own failures in the Nigerian national project. We are the ones raising the younger generations who are so totally defined by hate for hate’s sake. We watch all the purulence on social media, gnash our teeth, and shake our heads without understanding that we are responsible to a great extent for this state of affairs.

If you are in my generation and your kids are currently undergraduates in their early 20s or late teens, you fail to understand that the Nigerian education system in its current condition cannot educate them and enrich their minds. I have written again and again that the rot and destruction in our education system is deliberate. The politicians will never fund educational institutions and make it possible for them to produce an educated and informed citizenry.

We do not need to repeat the well-known fact that the rulers of Nigeria are animals. They are the worst humanoids in the world. The education of your children is not in their best interest.

If you intend to run Nigeria the way she has been run by generations of moribund and stupid leaders, the first thing you do is to mass produce an under-educated citizenry easily polarised by ethnicity and religion. If your children were educated and enlightened, where would these leaders find the armies of hate and division they need for their self-perpetuation? They will continue to underfund and destroy education for this reason.

Yet, you think that your work stops once you find enough money to pay your millennial’s school fees in the slaughter slabs of the mind we call Universities in Nigeria. This explains why you have no personal library at home. How can you be raising kids who are not surrounded by books at home?

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It is fast approaching two years since President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as President of Nigeria. Precisely, May 29, 2015 was the day Nigerians thought they had voted for a messiah to rescue them from the abject poverty they witnessed during the last administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. If Israelites had known they would be confronted with hunger, poverty, hardship and depression, they would not have followed Moses out of Egypt.

President Buhari recently held a closed-door meeting with Governor Nyesome of Rivers state as regards the recent activities of the Niger Delta Avengers
President Buhari recently held a closed-door meeting with Governor Nyesome Wike of Rivers state as regards the recent activities of the Niger Delta Avengers


“If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death,” the Israelites said to Moses and Aaron. The same scenario is currently playing itself out where things have gone from better to worse under President Buhari. Those who do not have the opportunity to express what they are passing through publicly are now resorting to committing suicide or attempting to commit suicide, which ever way.

That said, I overheard some ‘cabals’ whispering to Nigerians that President Buhari would be the one taking Nigerians to the promised land. If I may ask, which promised land are they talking about? Is it the one in the bible? An adage says, “A ki i fini joye awodi ko ma le gbadiye,” meaning, “One cannot be given the title ‘eagle’ and yet be incapable of snatching chickens.”

It is a bitter truth that Nigerians can no longer wait for miracles to happen under this government after having waited for nearly two years without any positive results. If Mr. President seems to be doubting my write up, I will advise him to quickly fly over to Lagos and take a walk just to test his popularity. A good leader has no need of being feared by the people, they say.

Recall that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidents made life inconvenient for Nigerians, but the scenario has grown worse with President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock. No wonder the political theorist Harold Laski said, “It is better a government does not exist than having a government under which people continue to wallow in abject poverty.”

At this juncture, if we do not say the truth as it is, the upcoming generation won’t forgive us. President Buhari spends his two years playing the blame game, leaving governance behind and pretending to fight corruption. Nigerians voted for President Buhari with the hope of enjoying great leadership, but the reverse is now the case as things are not in any way getting better.

Considering the numerous challenges facing Nigeria, one ought to have thought that Mr. Buhari and his party would brainstorm to execute at least one project that would have a positive impact on the people. Political sycophants are now distracting people’s attention from Buhari’s failures by focusing on the 2019 presidential elections. I read recently that a governor in the South-East publicly said he would encourage Mr. Buhari to go for the second term. Of the presidents’ 24 months in office, Buhari has spent over 8 months battling with his health and shuttling between Nigeria and the United Kingdom for medical treatment. Of course, my instinct tells me that even if they push President Buhari forward to go for the second term, the president might decide to nominate another person elsewhere.

Under this government, the nation’s democracy has turned to autocracy. The legislative and executive arms of the government are flexing their muscles. Both are now toying with the lives of over 176 Million Nigerians who are struggling to put food on their tables instead of of focusing on governance.  By next year, the country will embark on campaigns for the 2019 general election, where the executive will neglect laudable projects it ought to have tackled in the past. This will be the time the sitting president will fool gullible Nigerians, giving the impression that if voted for the second term, he would be able to do better.

As the condition of the country continues to deteriorate, the majority of Nigerians are beginning to see that there is no clear difference between the APC and the PDP. PDP has now mixed with APC while APC also mixed with PDP, and they continue to play upon the intelligence of the people they govern. When should Nigerians expect good governance? Why has the government failed to stabilize electricity in Nigeria since 1960? Why is it that the past and present governments of Nigeria have found it difficult to protect the future of its citizens and why are the same people still ruling today in Nigeria? Buhari ruled the country under the military era between December 31, 1983 and 1985, and ended up presenting himself as a democratic politician who became the president of the country again. Is this all we have to offer? Do we not have conscientious leaders who care for the good of our nation? Are we cursed?

Let me quickly ask Mr. Buhari how far he has gone with the 40,000 MW electricity generation he promised during electioneering campaigns in 2015. The president should be reminded that Nigerians are still waiting for this to become a reality. How about making the naira equal to the dollar? On security challenges, while Buhari focuses on curbing the Boko Haram insurgency, Fulani herdsmen have taken over the country, terrorizing farming communities across the nation. Fulani herdsmen are now killing faster than members of Boko Haram, and nothing is being done to checkmate their activities.

President Buhari promised the creation of 1 million new jobs annually during 2015 election campaigns. While Nigerians wait for him to fulfill this promise, those who had jobs are being fired on a daily basis as some companies are laying off staff due to the harsh economy. Under this government, more than 40% of private companies in Nigeria have folded up as a result of the current recession that never existed during the last administration. Can we still expect “Manna” to fall from heaven with these failed promises?

Nigerian political leaders should remember one of the quotes of an American author and journalist, Anna Quindlen, who says, “Look back, to slavery, to suffrage, to integration and one thing is clear. Fashions in bigotry come and go. The right thing lasts.”


Adewale Giwa is a Journalist, former senior United States’ Correspondent of Daily Newswatch and Daily Trust Newspapers. He tweets @AdewaleGiwa8


This article expresses the authors’ opinion only. The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of The Bloomgist. 

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