Thursday, March 21, 2019

Africa: The Next 1,000 Years

I have been bouncing an idea around my head for a number of months now.  And, as I sit here in Accra, Ghana I feel I should commit the essence of the idea to writing. The shaping of Africa’s next 1,000 years rests with us, and if we are to shape it, then we must begin to effectively change the current narrative around Africa.

Africa In Space
 - Source: Selamta Magazine (Jan/Feb 2019)

Before the Common Era (BCE)
African civilizations have been documented to date back as far as 5,000 years Before the Common Era (BCE) by modern archaeologist and historians. This may not be widely known, but these are facts that have been verified by science, and the evidence confirms that a number of these civilizations have been along the Nile, a river that is approximately 6,650 km (4,132 miles) in length, and is the longest river in Africa and in the world, of which only 22% of the Nile's course runs through Egypt. While Egyptian civilizations may be the more known, and because of racism, disputed as being African in origin, the facts substantiate that the early culture of Egypt came down the Nile and not up the Nile. Prof Ivan Van Sertima was one of many scholars who made every effort to share this fact and he speaks to this in the video below:

It is documented that there are more pyramids to be found in the territories of modern day Sudan among the Nubians than there are in all of Egypt, and it is also documented that the massive stone monoliths that ancient Egyptians would have called tekhen or tekhenu, that we now call obelisks, that have become so familiar in cities across the world, were first to be found among the people further up the Nile (Nubia, Eritrea and modern day northern Ethiopia). 

Nile Valley Obelisks

Unlike the current demographic of 21st century Cairo, there is hardly any room for an honest dispute that the people further up the Nile and over into the nation of modern day Sudan are connected by culture to the people and cultures in other parts of the African continent.  It remains unfortunate that the word about the accomplishments of these peoples in history does not quite make it on to become common knowledge. My purpose in recalling these facts is to illustrate that Africans are not new to the concept of civilization.  For a comprehensive overview of this history I think the UNESCO General History of Africa gives a good survey of Africa’s history throughout the centuries.

The Common Era (CE)
In the period of the Common Era (CE) there also existed many African civilizations and empires across the continent, from the commonly called Moors in the north, Aksum in the east, to the Akan in the west, and the Zulus in the south.  This short post naming 7 Influential African Empires gives a quick summary of a few of these kingdoms.

African Empires Before 1884

The arrival of the slave traders and colonists interrupted African history, and we are better off dealing with our current context if we understand their arrival as such. At the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, that was a meeting between European nations to create rules on how to peacefully divide Africa among them for colonization, the European nations executed the division of Africa among themselves - with no Africans present. The result in effect is the division of Africa as we have today.
Africa Before and After Partition

By 1957, led by Ghana a new independence movement began with more African nations, using the same borders established by the Europeans as their borders for their newly independent states. By 1980 a majority of African nations had become independent of Europe, at least in form, if not in substance.  Using this broad sweep therefore, one could argue that the continent effectively endured direct European rule from 1885-1980, a period of 95 years.  I don’t want to be held hard to this estimate, but it serves my larger point, and the contention of this post, that, for peoples who have had at the very least 4,000 years of history (3,000 BCE + 2,000 CE) in some form or fashion, how can we rationally fix our identities around a period of 95 years of European colonization? For how much longer can this be justified? I do not believe that this can reasonably stand to scrutiny as we move forward.

Literal Translation of Country Names

Africa's Next 1,000 Years
Therefore, it is in the context of this background that I support positions that seek to peacefully rid the African continent of these very arbitrary and artificial borders imposed by the colonizers.  Like Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and HIM Emperor Haile Selassie, I also support positions that encourage the formation unions among the African peoples who currently inhabit the space, and who are often family and tribesmen and women across borders.  Julius Malema makes some very good points in the video below when he speaks of African unity with a borderless continent that facilitates business and trade, with a single currency, and a united leadership:

I support the pan-African vision. I support intra-continental trade and most importantly, I support a policy that seeks to have some of the more widely spoken African languages become the common language across the African continent. If you believe it is possible then it can be done.  There ought to be a policy to contain the use of European languages to limited spheres and give the African languages primacy when conducting the business of Africa in the African continent, if only because at its most basic it is a justifiable human right to celebrate one's culture and heritage.

If we are to make these hopes and visions realties for the next 1,000 years then we need to act boldly and decisively to bring these into being.  The good thing is that the change we seek is still within reach. 

Useful African Statistics

To make this change, I challenge each African that for each negative story he or she posts about Africa, they should google and find at least two positive stories to repost on their timeline. Even after natural disasters Africans have always picked themselves up and moved on with their lives. The narrative of the hapless natives is played out. This is not a story we need to keep repeating, and we certainly don’t need to keep sharing them, because we are more than suffering.  There are many positive stories and we are better off helping our people by share those.

Selmata, March 2019
Africa Moves Closer to Becoming a Free Trade Zone
 - Source: Selamta Magazine (Mar/Apr 2019)

The story of Africa for the next 1,000 years is for us ordinary Africans to write. I will end this post with this 5-minute video clip that was a part of the Great African Leadership Series by Prof P.L.O. Lumumba who speaks to how we can make the immediate vision of the United States of Africa real.

Walk good.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Immortalizing Emperor Haile Selassie I

Ethiopian Airlines has on the cover of the January/February 2019 edition of its in-flight magazine Selamta the image here.

This I think this is significant. I recognize alongside the Emperor Haile Selassie I, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, and in another photo, Kwame Nkrumah. These are the elders.

This publication was timely as it was intended to coincide with the unveiling of the commemorative statue of Emperor Haile Selassie I, erected in the compound of the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 🇪🇹

The statue was in fact unveiled on February 10, 2019 quite coincidentally the very same day I landed in and departed from Addis Ababa in-transit. This note by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia is worthy of freezing for posterity and so I’ve chosen to preserve it in images below:

As the Emperor himself had proclaimed at the first meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in May 1963, “may this convention of union last 1,000 years,” I will add in support, long live the dream of a united Africa.

#travel #rastafari #panafrican #africa

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Buju Banton Returns to Jamaica

As a Jamaican living outside of the island, I can say I fully appreciate what it feels like fi come a yuh yaad, and I thought about that joy as I saw the images of Buju Banton arriving at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston last night. Nutten nuh better dan that at that moment. Suh welcome home breda Buju. Guh a beach. Enjoy it. Enjoy the love of your people who freely give it.

As I read some of the posts, I must admit that I get the complexity of the feelings. I too harbor some conflict when I think of the impact of drugs on our communities. But Buju didn't start this, the reality is that it is systemic, and he got pulled in.

In my own reflection, I've been thinking that folks like me who have a strong development agenda ought to be more aggressive about educating our creatives and others who have come into some money about better investment options. There is no guarantee that many will listen, but our failure is in not trying. Usain Bolt has ventured into the restaurant business and now real estate, for example. Outside of entertainment events, there are also options to invest in hotel and travel, agro-processing, transportation, light manufacturing, media, tech, and offering business financing/funding through the right partners. I can only list these few examples here, but the truth is that there are lots of options that can be pushed and our entertainers and other creatives must be courted by us to prevent devils on airplanes to take down some of our promise. Might we be failing some of our prodigies is not an unreasonable question? This could have been a very different story if Jamaicans could get out of our own way and past our boxed up prejudices, indeed the full has never been told.

Buju was a big part of the soundtrack of my growing up in Jamaica. At one point, it felt like he was releasing a new tune every week - and they were all good. Knowing what I now know about Jamaican music I can truly appreciate how lucky I am to have had that front seat from yaad.

At this point, I'll give Buju the benefit of any doubt I have because he has paid a price far greater than many of us will ever pay for our indiscretions. And who among us is without a few? Life is not an easy road.

I'm heartened by the demonstration of a kind of family love by some of my fellow Jamaicans, where members of the family know that a son might have done wrong, but yet they still reach into their hearts and welcome him home regardless, because ultimately a still yuh family and your humanity cannot bear to see them suffer. I eagerly await hearing and seeing the outcome of this experience from Buju himself in his music and his deeds.

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Thoughts on Reggae's UNESCO Inscription

Perhaps it seems strange, but I'm in agreement with Dotun Adebayo of The Guardian who wrote the article "Reggae is Jamaica's rebel music - it doesn't need establishment approval". The headline says it all for me. 

Reggae is not some endangered cultural practice.  Reggae music (and other Jamaican music genres) is actually mainstream and not some endangered or regional practice as are the many other things that have received this recognition from UNESCO.  Unfortunately, I think the only people who think that our music in not mainstream might be some Jamaicans. Jamaica’s reggae has long been mainstream with an economy that is global and in many ways independent of the economy of Jamaica. What troubles me is that so many Jamaicans who have the power to help with the development of the industry locally still have this 'whoa is reggae' or this 'poor reggae' view.  I agree with Adebayo that reggae doesn’t need this and it may very well be a kiss of death for reggae’s anti-establishment perceptions.

The irony of this kind of advocacy in Jamaica where some from the anti-establishment are always seeking establishment approval never ceases to amaze me. What ever happened to the Garveyite philosophies of doing for self (including doing as a community)? The discomfort I have with this kind of advocacy is it seems to be relying heavily upon the goodness and mercy of the same people and institutions that have systematically marginalized us. Powerful people never educate (or provide) powerless people with what they need to take the power away from them. So if we are seeking establishment approval then it should be an establishment of our own making, since those who have systematically marginalized you are not going to suddenly change course unless they see a benefit to them, or that you no longer pose a threat.  Adebayo cleverly brings this home in his quote, "turkeys endorsing Christmas come to mind, with the gobblers hatching a cunning plan to turn 25 December vegan." Whatever victories the community feels it’s won here will be outmaneuvered by those who know how to make money from our culture and lifestyle before you've even understood what’s happened.  Conscious Jamaicans cannot continue to cede control of Jamaica to those who don’t believe in a certain kind of far-reaching development of its people and expect that these folks will be doing their bidding.

I'm of the view that if the Jamaican political establishment wants to show their commitment to Jamaica and Jamaicans I think the effort would have been better placed in the creation of institutions for the greater development of the Jamaican language - Patwa. It’s been the vehicle of our collective expression, it’s what many in the world want to speak.  Dennis Howard in his Jamaica Gleaner article, "Jamaican Language Anchoring Cultural Exports" articulated similar sentiments as to why the focus on the Jamaican language is a worthwhile investment of time and resources. I think embracing it will set a foundation for exploring cultural enterprise and additional economic empowerment activities along that avenue.

Admittedly, this might be an important gesture to declare ownership, but this doesn’t solve the underlying problem of Jamaica not being able to claim greater economic benefits from its creations. I get that Jamaica wants to world to know that Jamaica is where the music originated and that’s not a bad thing, and that was achieved, so the question is what’s next? Will the marketing strategy of the Jamaica Tourist Board change to now ensure Jamaica has a presence at all the international Jamaican music festivals to get these potential visitors staying on the island? If there is no plan to explore this then it speaks volumes about the initiative in the first place.

Ultimately, those who advocated this really need to focus more on some self-development, where they find resources to build profitable radio stations, tv stations, controlling real estate, their own financial entities, agri-processing and export businesses, manufacturing enterprises, schools and other institutions that will stand behind them when they speak. I don’t believe pure moral suasion is going to get them any meaningful part of what non-Jamaican investors and others are reaping from our culture.

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Intellectual Property Policing: Notes from Rototom Sunsplash

Our intellectual property is our gold. We should be taught to treat it as such.

There is a major challenge Jamaican creatives face, and that is the policing of our intellectual property.  Once you’re able to get beyond the excitement and the validation (the ‘smaddification’ experience) of seeing your culture on spectacular display at an event such as the Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival, then you realize that what is on show is Jamaican intellectual property over the years.

For this I’m grateful that many artists themselves are able to benefit by direct participation through performance or by the sale of merchandise in festival venues like these, but I’m also mindful that some Jamaican creatives are not so fortunate.

One question we pondered as we moved through the venue was how effective were the Jamaican artists at estate planning.  This was relevant to us because of the myriad appearances of artists merchandise particularly of those deceased.  

We could only assume that all the merchandise we saw were properly licensed by the estates of these artists, and that their family continued to benefit from the sale of the goods in events such as these.  

I have argued elsewhere that the sale of merchandise is not something that should be taken lightly by artists as in some instances it could become a significant part of their brand extension, sometimes taking on a life of its own, and therefore becoming a meaningful source of income.

There are sub-cultures such as surfing or skateboarding in which Jamaican music and iconography have found a place, but for which Jamaicas from home are not prepared to take full advantage. It is perhaps our being closed off to these types of experiences that have prevented us from innovating ingenious ways to begin to take advantage of these openings that our music and culture have made.


There is something in our thinking that has been allowed to kill aspects of our innovation. As a child, we developed indigenous skates using wood and raw bearings that we would ride downhill, we also made our own wooden skates at that are now sold back to us made of aluminum, and we ditched our pushcarts and pushcart derby.  All these could possibly have grown into something bigger, but it seems we're burdened with a philosophy that has convinced us that as an African diaspora people we have nothing of value coming from below. This in my view is Jamaica’s biggest development challenge because I am of the opinion that whatever the idea capital can be raised, and teams can be organized, providing you have sufficient faith in the value of your ideas. 

Gastronomically speaking, unfortunately for us we found only one Jamaican food vendor at the festival, so presumably there are more opportunities that await enterprising Jamaican food vendors; because everyone likes Jamaican food, right, whether its of the spicy variety, vegan or ital.  Maybe a group of entrepreneurs should get together to explore how we could place more Jamaican food vendors in these venues.  It does seem to be a viable business opportunity.

Jamaica's intellectual property is its gold and we would do well learning how to mine it and investing in the systems that will help Jamaicans to police it.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

We Are the Lucky Ones: Reflections from Rototom

In the shopping area of the Rototom Reggae Festival I had the following discussion with a vendor:
Vendor: Where are you from?
Me: Jamaica
Vendor: You’re so lucky!

It’s something to think about. There are a whole set of people, quite likely more than the population of Jamaica, who really think Jamaicans are the lucky ones. This may be hard to believe if you’re Jamaican given our daily life challenges, but there are many people on the face of the earth who think otherwise. 

At the very least this should translate into a boost of confidence at the fact that we have some things right.  This is a boost that’s needed to push us to another level of economic performance.

This Rototom reggae festival is one that keeps on giving and one additional observation I’ve made is the centrality of African-ness to the aesthetic. In essence, the unwritten code is that to be a recognized part of the gathering one must in effect show your African - your red, your green, your gold, or your black. Anything with a hint of Rastafari, Jamaica or Africa works. I’m amazed at the European embrace of the pan-African message ‘Africa Unite’ that I’ve seen on so many tees worn by ordinary Europeans. 

In effect, this really is a full embrace of the Rastafari philosophy made world famous through music. For better or worse our music is embraced globally for themes of peace, love and African unity, rebellion against establishment values, and on another level simply being irie.

There should be no illusions as to the implications of what this means politically for impacting the Jamaican identity from the outside in, and I suspect therein lies a major challenge for the rapid growth of this sector in Jamaica. 

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In the World that Jamaica Made: More Reflections from Rototom

In 2015 Baz Dreisinger wrote an article in Forbes Magazine titled, “Seven Reasons Why Rototom Sunsplash is the World’s Best Reggae Festival”.  Among the reasons she gave were, the music, the grounds, the location, the consciousness, the beach, the food, and the people.  I endorse her comments wholly, because all those observations ring true to what would make a world class music and cultural immersion experience.

As a Jamaican who is concerned about the development and well-being of this globally admired island that is home, I worry that despite the years of effort we have not been able to organize and build systems that enable better returns to the people on the island from our cultural heritage.  If the Rototom Sunsplash team over the years has successfully created to use Dreisinger's words, a ‘veritable Reggae Disneyland’ in Europe then why have Jamaicans not been able to have created a similar experience on the island, where the music forms that are the core of this truly global reggae festival were born? 

Legendary producer Gussie Clarke made an interesting observation on the “Dub Talks” panel here on Sunday, when he said, technology has never really given Jamaicans an advantage, rather our advantage has always been our ability to innovate.  No doubt, a part of the solution we seek will be in the direction of innovation.  I believe that any meaningful answer to the question in the context of Jamaica lies outside of a reliance on central government.  I’ve worked in central government in Jamaica, and I believe that at the moment this institution is not the most effective vehicle to lead this process. Far from it. This may change in the future, but the systems that currently exist are antithetical to innovation of the type Jamaica needs to transform itself into a veritable cultural mecca of the type the 2003 cultural policy titled, Towards Jamaica the Cultural Superstate envisioned.

Consider that according to the officially released Rototom festival information, the festival is 96 percent self-funded with 4 percent public and private contributions. This eight-day festival is in its 25th staging and has welcomed over 2 million 740 thousand festival goers from over 130 different countries around the world. The audience breakdown for 2017 specifically saw 220,000 attendees from 98 difference countries; 13,000 minors under 13; 11,200 adults over 65; and, 7,600 people with disabilities.  I don’t know to what extent these numbers intersect with the markets that the Jamaican government and current tourism interests in Jamaica seek to target.  But one thing that is sure so far in our six days of the festival is that none of the individuals I’ve spoken to have encountered any official who is seeking to market visiting Jamaica to any of us in attendance.  This suggests that this is an opportunity if it is not currently being taken advantage of.

A large part of this festival has been the consumption of alcohol as well as the use of ganja (cannabis or marijuana), and I can’t avoid wondering how a severely class-conscious Jamaican state will negotiate the realities of the integral parts of this experience if we are to allow festivals of this type to attain their full potential on Jamaican soil.  Added to that, the patrons of this festival would hardly be interested in an all-inclusive experience, which means that the stage is set for power struggles if indeed Jamaica means business when it comes to better extracting value from its culture.

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