Monday, November 22, 2010

Normandy: Far from Africa

Africa is far behind us.  We no longer travel the lands of the Maasai, the Zulu, the San. We’re far from the Zambezi yet the vision of the river exploding over a precipice into an immense cauldron of foamy mist then bursting into the sky hundreds of feet above the river, visible many miles in the distance wants to endure. The memories of our seven month journey across the African continent have begun their gradual fade like silver halides on celluloid film. Would our memories of Africa diminish so slowly!  
Now we are traveling the lands of the Normans, an extinct European tribe that inhabited the west coast of France centuries ago then faded through miscegenation into the genetic fabric of Western Europe.  The visions of modern Normandy are shockingly tranquil.  We miss the entrancing wildness, the earthy rawness, the compelling power of Africa. Europe is a conquered land. The waters of the Seine are calm, ripple-less, sedate though stunningly picturesque.  This peaceful river is filled with barges and lined with farms and smoky factories.  There are no hyena here, though yesterday we saw some ducks. There are no crocodiles here, either,  though we drove by a close relative apparently at Alligator Bay near Mont St. Michel. We chuckled. We’re traveling in a Volkswagen Golf.  We don’t need a high clearance 4X4 mobile residence we named Kiharambee! with all-weather tires for muddy roads, skid plates to protect our engine from thumps on stone, or a snorkel to cross rivers.  Our overland titan which seemed more like a friend than car by journey’s end is strapped into a ship’s container somewhere off the coast of Angola heading for Felixstowe, England, destined for the equivalent of automotive mothballs.  We’re cruising bolangeries, rotisseries, chateauxs and cathedrals, lots of cathedrals. The World Cup 2010 is history and South Africans are now free, once again, to express themselves as they feel fit.  So they say. They claim to have held off their concerns and complaints to serve the interests of the country and support the World Cup, but now it’s their time to strike. Millions of them went to the streets to protest low wages, walking out on their patients in hospitals and children in classrooms.  I asked in a recent blog: “Can the World Cup Save South Africa?” The naivete of the question was intentional but it seems that some South Africans believed it possible and now recoil at the reality of post-World Cup South Africa.
History brought me to Normandy, compelled by events that shaped my life.  My first language is English.  I was born Catholic.  My cultural roots are linked indelibly to the emancipation of some heady English who revolted against their King, wrote a declaration of independence, and created the United States of America.  Self-reliance, independence, the belief that I can be whatever I want to be are the dictums of my life.    Who I am is intrinsically linked to these ancient tribal lands by the events that occurred here. I’ll explain if you’ll endure a brief review of the historical backdrop that led me here.
 Long, long before it was called Normandy, this region was Celtic, the tribe of my father.  The Celts covered much of Europe, including northern Italy, all the way to modern Turkey. They were unruly and wild, preferring to fight naked, a single collar of twisted metal around their necks, and blue paint on their faces.  Almost four hundred years before Christ was born, the Celtics of northern Italy, now called Lombardy, destroyed Rome and plundered the city.  From the ashes of that horrible destruction grew a Rome that would last, arguably, for nearly two thousand years until the 15th century when the Islamics invaded and destroyed the last remnants of the Roman world in Constantinople. What does this have to do with me?  “Nothing” said the child in me a long time ago.  I no longer think like that.
One can hardly take a step on Normandy soil without retracing the steps of the ancients. Julius Caesar, the oft referenced Roman general from the Italian peninsula, the land of my mother, conquered this land, then called “Gaul,” and temporarily tamed it. He launched an invasion of the island off shore called Britannia, now called England.  Later, Emperor Claudius finished what Caesar started but couldn’t finish himself. We visited the encampment of Claudius just north of Normandy on a hill top in Boulogne-sur-Mer. We ate frog-legs and calamari and sipped French wine where Roman soldiers pitched their tents. Almost five hundred years after the Roman conquest, Germanic tribesmen over-ran the region and wiped the Romans out. Five hundred years later Scandanavian pirates called Vikings invaded the land. These marauding thieves, murderers, rapists, loved the land so much they stayed. The locals called them the  “Norsemen” (men from the North) and the conquered land became known as Normandy. 


The crypt of William the Conqueror in the "Abbaye aux Hommes," or Mens Abbey of Caen. 

In 1066, William of Normandy, a Viking at heart and by blood, crossed the channel waters and for the final time in the history of the island conquered it.  England became France and that invasion would bring together a collection of unruly tribesmen, Celts (the indigenous Anglos), Saxons (Germanic invaders),  and the new French (really Scandanavians) into the unlikely brethren who would father the United States, not just with people, but with ideas.  It was because of those ideas that Americans from the United States, including friends and relatives of my father, returned to the shores of Normandy on one of the most fateful days in the history of western civilization.  On the 6th of June, 1944,  Americans, in an ironic twist of historical events, invaded the land which had been so instrumental in the foundation of who I am, who we as Americans are, not to conquer it but to liberate it from Germans who had once again invaded.  That is why I returned, to say thank you to those boys. We’ve come to the cemetery of Omaha Beach.


The American cemetery at Omaha Beach is located in land occupied by German troops until D-Day. In the distance is the English Channel.  





Below the bluff of Normandy’s Omaha Beach wide beige sands stretch for miles to the east and west then disappear in the distance. The channel waters are populated by wind surfers, bathers, fishermen, and kite flyers. Lovers stroll the wet sands, sunbathers dot the dry sands.   Young people jog.  Some play soccer. I saw a girl in a bikini playing goalkeeper. Exploring guests freely explore the labyrinth of pathways that cut through the  grass covered dunes that rise from the beach and lead to the bluff.  It’s a warm, sunny day in August 2010.  There is peace on the bluff.  It’s quiet, serene. 



Omaha beach today, a few miles west of the cemetery.  The German troops waited on the edge of the bluff which can be seen in the distance.

It wasn’t this way as the sun rose on the 6th of June of 1944, the day this section of French coastline was forever renamed “Omaha.”  The bluff was covered with anxious young German boys with machine guns lying in wait in heavily fortified bunkers.  The expansive flat beaches were covered with barbed wire.  Wooden pikes imbedded in the shallows were aimed north towards England to block landing craft.  The sea bed and shorelines were peppered with land mines. The German occupiers called this collection of deadly obstacles the Atlantikwall.  Instead of windsurfers riding in harmony with the waves, thousands of small craft fought the waves to off-load American boys, many just teenagers. They were equipped with rifles, grenades, ammunition, morphine to blunt the pain of wounds or hasten death, and K-rations.  They shuffled through the water, shoulder to shoulder from the landing craft to the shore line, exposed to the hail storm of bullets that the German boys rained down upon them from the bluff above.  At nearby Utah beach more Americans pursued dry ground. British and Canadian boys struggled towards Sword, Juno and Gold beaches.  All in all these boys numbered 160,000, enough to field over 10,000 football teams, 16,000 baseball teams or 30,000 basketball teams. Would they were just playing games! The numbers stun one’s consciousness, the reality beyond comprehension. It was the largest amphibious assault in history. Twenty five thousand parachuted behind the German boys on the bluff. Two hundred thousand occupied the 5000 watercraft off shore that delivered the boys to this theater of war.  And what high drama it was! It was staged by the most prominent military minds of the time.  The details were authored by the generals of the allied forces called Eisenhower, Montgomery, Bradley. They called it “D-Day.”  The “D” it is said stood for “disembarkation,” a rather prosaic reference that belied the nature of the event which was more like a day of Deliverance.  D-day began the deliverance of France, returning it to it’s rightful owners, the people of France, but it was also a day of reckoning when the souls of thousands, from Baton Rouge, Columbus, San Francisco and Boston, as well as those from places like Hamburg, Munich, and Heidleburg were delivered to their creator.  
I needed to see this place, the open stretch of beach the generals ordered American boys to cross while exposed to the cross hairs of waiting German marksmen, the bluff where the enemy waited like hungry predators, the slope of the climb to the top.  One can peer down the edge of the bluff and imagine what must have been.  Down there in the shallows and the sands were our boys outfitted to kill, their eyes looking upward to where I look downward. The sun was rising to their left.   In the dim of the early morning muzzles flashed on the ridge. What were they thinking as they faced what must have seemed an improbable task? How would they get by the barbed wire, the mines, the pikes? How would they get to the top of the bluff? The countless boys were exposed in the approach like proverbial “sitting ducks on a pond” for the Germans to pick off at will.  Their fear was palpable, each soldier’s heart pounding under the influence of adrenaline,  the cold of ocean water at sunrise penetrating their woolen government issued undergarment, the shock of witnessing comrades fall, their flesh torn apart by hot metal, the haunting cry out of “mother,” “mom,” “mommy” filling the air. After the first fell, there was another, and another, and another.  Thousands died that one morning.  Most of the boys from the allied side were American. On neighboring beaches British and Canadians fell.
My father wasn’t here. He was fighting in the Pacific. Still I owe this visit to my father, to his friends from Treat Ave in San Francisco, to his brother, his cousins, to all the boys, from San Francisco to New Orleans to Boston,  who put their lives on the line so that I could have the freedom to make a trip of a lifetime, so that children born to a world in post-World War II America and Europe could have choices, so that boys and girls can grow up and have choices to be doctors, as I may never have become, or football players, American and European, or whatever fancies their liberated whim.  I have benefitted all my life because of the sacrifice of these warriors.  My children have benefitted from the sacrifices. My grandchildren and the generations who follow will benefit from those sacrifices. It was time to visit those who paid the ultimate price for the freedom of others, freedom too often taken for granted by those who received it. It is a gift from men and women we would never know. The fallen would never see the beneficiaries of their generosity nor would they die knowing that their sacrifice was of any value to others. The beneficiaries would never get closer to the fallen than the grass above their permanent resting place nor would they ever hear our words: “thank you.”
Behind the visitor facing the beach of Omaha while standing at the bluff is a perfectly manicured and uniformly green lawn spreading as far as the eye can see.    Starkly white crosses and Stars of David spike the green in geometrical, precise patterns reminding the visitor that solemn order was restored from the chaos of the few moments of terror faced by the boys who stormed the beaches at Normandy.  In the distance the crosses get smaller and smaller seeming to disappear over the edge of the gently sloping resting place. Approach and you can walk among the remains of those who embody the spirit of freedom and courage.  Approach and read a name. There’s Albert Garcia Rodriquez from California.  Not far from him is David Kramer of New York on a Star of David. I knew a boy with this name.  Now he is a man. One David died so another can live. Every once in a while there is no name.  There are only these words “Here Rests in Honored Glory A Comrade in Arms Known Only to God.”  




The cross marking the grave of Albert Garcia Rodriquez of California.






















The Star of David marking the grave of David Kramer




These are the names of dead people, young people, often 17, 18, and 19 years of age.  Men and a few women considered but boys and girls by the many who knew them at the time, by the their moms, dads, teachers, pediatricians, confessors.  I have called the men “boys” because although men at heart they knew little of life beyond their childhood except for the terror brought to them the day they encountered other defiant boys with guns on the bluff above Omaha Beach. Their consciousness was snuffed when it was barely mature enough to make a legally independent decision.  They were boys, sons, brothers, grandsons and nephews, commonly referred to as soldiers, who died, many within minutes of each other in the bloody salt water of Omaha beach below the bluff that lines the edge of their permanent resting place. You dare not speak too loudly or use words too many or too carelessly in fear that you dishonor the gift of these fallen Americans. They gave their lives for those who walk above their permanent rest.  How do I say thank you?  
Most of us will never face what those soldiers faced when they disembarked the landing craft off shore at Omaha Beach.  Most of us will never be asked to confront the question: would I offer my life for an idea, a purpose, a principle? The thought taxes our mortal and ephemeral nature. The fragility of their precious existence was never the more apparent to them.  Though I try, I fail to conjure the terror, the fear of what seemed to each his imminent death. I recall the image of firefighters rushing by the hundreds into the doomed World Trade Center. It is still fresh. We all witnessed their selfless act. I multiply the vision of those hundreds by a thousand fold. I try to comprehend its magnitude, but I can’t.  I am humbled by the bravery of the boys, the young men, who disembarked that fateful day in June 1944. 
That day was the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany’s dream to create a 1000 year regime, a pan-European empire that would hopefully stretch to Russia, maybe even include it. The “Third Reich,” as the empire was to be called, was the brain child of an infamous German politician whose name is forever synonymous with “evil.”  In his dream countless must and did die, but the story of Omaha Beach wasn’t his story.  It was the story of young men for the most part, American and German for the most part, many of whom would never leave the beach or bluff alive, would never see their mothers, fathers, girlfriends, brothers, sisters, or friends again.  The boys on the beach would certainly have preferred kicking an oval ball on a field in Nebraska, shooting a round ball through a hoop in San Diego, skiing the snowy slopes of Colorado, or maybe just helping a parent or a grandparent on a farm in Iowa. The boys on the bluff would certainly have preferred kicking a round ball on a field in Hamburg, maybe walking with a girlfriend through the parks of Berlin or the forests of Bavaria. However, their leaders had something else in mind and as a result they would forever remain where they are.
The question that arises from within bursts forth in a cry.  Why?  It’s the “why?” fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, friends, cousins,  even casual acquaintances, really anyone and everyone asks.  It is a question asked by everyone who ever cared for another since the first time one person took the life of another in a fight, a conflict, in war, in battle. It is asked every day still in Iraq, in Afghanistan.  It’s the eternal “why?” with the eternal answer:  because of the arrogance of men.  That is why boys die in war.  That is why mothers, and children, and old people die in war.  If men weren’t arrogant there wouldn’t be war.  If there wasn’t the belief by some men that their right to live supercedes another’s there would never be war.  Boys die, and today girls die in increasing numbers, in conflict because of the arrogance of men, and the endless cycle of arrogance and violent death can never stop until there is no more arrogance.  
The story of war always gets down to the question of who’s right and who’s wrong. If no one ever starts a fight, no one would ever have to finish it.  Does anyone question the belief that David had a right, even a duty, to slew the incarnation of oppression, a man named Goliath?  We take for granted the right of Joshua to tear down the walls of Jericho, kill the Cananites, and take over a “promised” land.  Our forefathers took what they believed was given to us by God, and with the blessing of the post World War II leaders of Europe and America we have done it again, in the same land, causing world-wide strife that seems to have no end.  That this permission is canonized in the most referenced, beloved and ancient of our writings belies the fundamental doctrinal nature of our belief in the right to kill in the name of God.
In the 11th century, it was William of Nomandy’s time to evoke the call of righteousness.  He had no choice but to attack and conquer England because the man in the throne at that time had broken an oath.  For that many had to die and many did.  History was made as a result, as it so often is, because the arrogance of men writes the story of history by deciding who should live and who should die.  I suppose it’s possible that today all Europeans would speak German if the arrogance of the Nazi’s played itself out the way they had hoped.  I suppose it’s possible that all Americans would speak Russian if the arrogance of Russian leaders had played out they way they hoped.
Americans may feel the pride of being “right” in the case of World War II, but I am left with the same empty feeling in my gut when walking the lawns of the American cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy as when I walk the wall commemorating those friends and age-mates of mine who died in Vietnam for a cause that few believe today was worth dying for.  It doesn’t really matter, does it, when the battle is done and the dead are laid out for us to honor in the field?  Who was right?  Who was wrong?  The emptiness can not be filled.  The void remains a void.  The loss remains a loss.  The boys are just as dead.  The life that could have been never was and, for those of us who will die in the future because of the arrogance of men, their life will never be. The grief of the mother and father, the brother, the sister, the wife, the son and the daughter never ends.  
When American boys stormed ashore at Omaha, they were imbued with the passion of being on the right side of a great argument.  Indeed it is arguable that had those boys not been so imbued, so impassioned, that there would have been much more suffering because the arrogance of the those who started that war was far more cynical, far more lethal, and far more determined than any arrogance in the history of humankind.  Mine is not to question the need or motive for sending American boys.  Mine is to only to make note of the cost of human arrogance.  
We are want to use words like “right,” “justifiable,” even “ethical” and “moral,” when we talk of war.  They are words used like salve on a wound that never really heals.  War, on the grand scale, the justification of taking another’s life for a political or religious purpose is just wrong.  There is no other thought for me as I see dead boys laid out on a beautiful green carpet of perfectly cut grass, above a blue ocean, on a sunny day in Normandy.  
The British have a memorial nearby where their dead boys were permanently interred.  They honored their dead boys as we do, imprinting the soldier’s name and a religious symbol on the stone at the head of each grave. When one enters the memorial there are more words in stone. With a touch a thorny irony, and buoyant pride, the British etched the following to bring the history of their island and that of Normandy to a full and vicious circle, paying homage to those who lost their lives in the successful effort to clear Norman lands of the young German boys and their commanders. They note “Nos a Gulielmo Victi Victoris Patriam Liberavimus.” Freely translated the Latin means:  “We who were once conquered by William of Normandy have come to liberate the lands of those who once conquered us.”  So spins the Great Mandella, the “Wheel of Life.”  So spin the authors of war, the authors of its history, the chroniclers of death.


                                      -Tom Simpson 



In the photo above, the inscription "Nos a Gulielmo Victi Victoris Patriam Liberavimus" is etched on the cross beam above the pillars.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is there Wisdom in Africa? or Can the World Cup save Africa? KE NAKO

When I left Kenya 35 years ago, it was a reluctant and painful departure from the people and country I loved, but I knew I could no longer live where collective wisdom was rapidly becoming a relic of the past.  From what I could tell,  collective wisdom had been jettisoned everywhere I looked on the African continent and knowing that weighed on me. I didn’t want my children to become part of the problem either as victims of the lack of wisdom or as possible participants in its sustenance.  Their mother’s way of life had many virtues and I’ve written how she brought her virtuous and wise ways into my life thus rebirthing me in a tribal system of thought.  However, those ways and those virtues are part of an Africa which was severely, perhaps mortally damaged by the events of history and now, given the dearth and continuing diminution of collective wisdom, seem to be ways which  will likely fade into oblivion.  
Africans say that collective wisdom was always part of life in tribal society and my wife’s stories of tribal and family life suggested that the wisdom permeated all aspects of daily life.  Much like the stories of the ancient Jews who carried them generation to generation for thousands of years by oral tradition, so did Africans preserve their traditions and laws. This oral tradition provided ethical and moral solutions to the day-to-day problems they faced. The elders collectively and individually formed the library of the collective knowledge and the wisdom flowed from them like water from an eternal fountain, forever available.  You only had to ask. In those days, chiefs did not act as if they lived inside a vacuum.  The elders had to be consulted. 
This system of collecting, storing and sharing wisdom faced severe challenges when the Arab and the European arrived on the African continent. The intrusion by the outsiders disrupted and sometimes methodically destroyed the fabric of African tribal cultural heritage and wisdom, which proved too fragile for the challenge.  This was most apparent in the area of religion, the formulaic representation of the wisdom of the invading peoples.  History tells us just how these invading societies used these formulas to breakdown the oral tradition based belief systems of African tribes to replace them with the systems of the invaders. The absolutism of the these mono-theistic religions was uncompromising and could not accommodate the relativism of African theology nor the existence of alternate deities. Islam and Christianity are all-or-nothing options for believers and their missionaries laid waste to tribal collective wisdom as manifested through spiritual and theistic beliefs.  Thus, the rooting of Islam and Christianity took place by undermining, then replacing the basic tenants of tribal collective wisdom.  Once the invaders had achieved this end, the full exploitation of the continent was just a walk in the park.  Indeed this message is a common theme in the writings of some great writers of African literature including Ngugi wa Thiongo, A Grain of Wheat,  and Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. 

Ngugi was Thiongo, author of A Grain of Wheat


Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart

Slavery was an early and notable consequence of the intrusion by the outsiders whose own systems of collective wisdom were so corrupted by self-serving individuals they justified the enslavement of Africans. With the Quran or New Testament in one hand and a sword or gun in the other the invincible conquerors carried off human booty.  African chiefs became complicit enablers as tribal collective wisdom and the tribal knowledge base were too provincial to tackle the complexities of the slave trade.  Tribal chiefs used slavery for personal gain and to weaken enemies. Tippu Tip, the Zanzibar Arab who was a prolific trader of slaves, wrote in old Swahili a first hand account of his business dealings.  He traveled the savannah of East Africa to the rain forests of modern day Congo trading beads and cloth with African chiefs for slaves. He might as well have been dealing with cattle.  The deals were described without sentiment and there was never a word of regret for the misery caused.  Did those African chiefs who sold fellow Africans for cloth and bead know what the fates of their captives would be? Did they care? Did they have an inkling of what the world would later say about treating people as the equivalent of property? Would they have behaved differently?  Slavery, it has been said, had always been subject to tribal collective wisdom but its practice was different from the slavery practiced by Arabs and Europeans.  When one tribe defeated its rival in battle and killed the men or chased them off, the women and children were taken as the equivalent of slaves.  Eventually those “slaves” were absorbed by their new tribe as wives and children and fully integrated. When the Arabs and Europeans arrived a new opportunity was available to the African chiefs.  They could exchange their captives for goods. This meant that male captives, who would normally be killed, could be sold and that the women and children no longer had to be integrated.  They, too, could be exchanged for Arab and European products or commodities.

Portrait of Tippu Tip which can be seen in the municipal museum of Zanzibar

There are anecdotal historical records which reveal how some tribes used their collective wisdom in effective ways to deal with the invading outsiders.  When the British colonized East Africa, they didn’t ask if they were welcome.  They weren’t, by the way,  but that didn’t matter to them. The Brits had a deeply imbedded self-delusion they deemed irreproachable.   Thus, those whom they encountered were faced with uncompromising attitudes. The Maasai people were faced with the dilemma of the militarily powerful, uncompromising Brits. The invading British were determined to build a railroad right through the middle of their grazing lands so the Maasai consulted their Laibon, the men of a priestly class, who advised them to not resist arguing the Brits had overwhelming force. That was a difficult admission to make because the Maasai were not used to compromising with anyone. Reluctantly,  they made a deal that allowed the British to build their railroad and allowed the Maasai to preserve much of their grazing lands. You can read about this in an historical novel called The Lunatic Express. The agreement worked also to preserve the way of life for the Maasai for over 100 years and, even today, many Maasai live as they always have, moving from manyatta to manyatta with their cattle following the water.  The Maasai’s decision to accommodate the British invaders is an example of institutionalized collective wisdom, a systematic way of dealing with human conflict.  It may have had another unanticipated benefit for the Maasai have the highest per capita control over grazing and agricultural land in East Africa. This could translate to unparalleled wealth as the astute Maasai negotiate their way through the gradual and inevitable acculturation process that will result in full fledged economic membership in future Africa.
The historical record documents the effect of the Arab intrusion into Africa and the effect of Islam on the African way of life. The Arabs penetrated Africa in the north and the east.  The Arab effect was so profound in North Africa that their language and culture replaced those of the societies invaded.  In the east of Africa the Arab invasion let to a melding of cultures. The Swahili language and culture were the products of that melding in coastal urban centers ranging from modern day Somalia to Mozambique.  Even though the Arab intrusion was disruptive and brought devastating consequences to tribes because of the Arab slave trade, the long term effect produced a new society with rules that worked.  And that’s the point.  If the interlacing of different societies can lead to a new, workable society, with rules that function to the benefit of all, then there is “wisdom” in that society. Swahili society wasn’t perfect.  Slavery, for example, would have maintained the rift between Arab and African societies, but it was to be eliminated by the British, for the Brits, though devoid of insight, weren’t inherently evil and did some good things.  Without slavery the Swahili people evolved into a group of coastal Africans, religiously muslim, who were accepted by traditional African tribes and essentially lived a peaceful co-existence with African tribal societies.  Conflicts did occur but for the most part there was enough collective wisdom in the Swahili world and the surrounding tribal societies that they could live in relative peace and cooperation.
Melding worked, too, in parts of the Sudan.  The Arabs created a way of life that worked for many and had enough collective wisdom that Arabs and African peoples lived in a harmonious coexistence more often than not.  The Nubians, the black, proud,and dominant indigenous African group of the Nile  may debate the point because the Arab dominated government has destroyed much of Nubia by building dams, but, for the most part, the Arabs and the Nubians live in a modicum of peace and harmony. In other parts of the Sudan, however, the invading Arab was not able to reach a peaceful and long term co-existence with African tribal societies.   Sudan’s Arabs, who in the majority are really Arabized Africans, have disdain for non-Arabized Africans and a long history of subjugating African people.  It doesn’t even matter if the African is muslim.  An African muslim who maintains his tribal affiliation is the enemy of the African who calls himself an Arab in places like Darfur.  This enigmatic racial disdain and hatred over-rides the religious affiliation.  In the south and in the east of the Sudan this has played out as genocidal warfare that has its roots in age old hatreds resulting from racial and religious bigotry.   In the case of the Sudan, no matter how strong the collective wisdom of the melded society, it wasn’t wisdom enough to serve the interests of everyone who came under the influence of the new rule.
When the earliest explorers, like Vasco da Gama,  opened the door to Africa, the first Europeans who followed were completely wisdom-less and unpretentiously exploited the continent. Gold, copper, diamonds and ivory were carried by the shipload to Europe, while slavers packed  Africans into ships to become the property of European colonialists in the New World and Europe.  The European who invaded the African continent had bestowed upon himself a self-endowed right of exploitation and many evoked philosophical principles, such as their obligation to assist in the development of primitive people. England, France, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium, the invading European societies, gladly deceived themselves using a self-serving  “collective wisdom.” The well intentioned individuals of the religiously imbued like Dr. David Livingstone were, if not self-serving, at least misguided. Livingstone fought to destroy the slave trade, but his first purpose was to bring Christianity to the continent which “pacified” Africa and opened the doors to the entrepreneurs and farmers who followed.   Entrepreneurial colonialists like Cecil Rhodes imbued with philosophical principles of British superiority were simply wrong, if not disingenuous, and self-serving.  The blatantly self-serving goals of the Boers in the South of the continent were, like all self-serving goals,  short in vision and, as we know, had no long term potential for survival as they were devoid of wisdom that served the people whose land they invaded.  They had no intention of accommodating the world of tribal Africa and they had little intention other than to exploit the African for the purpose of taking his land and using his labor.
The eventual turnaround of the exploitation of Africa by invading European societies was inevitable.  There are just too many people of non-European origin below the Sahara.  Besides, European societies were not devoid of wisdom.  They realized their mistakes and finally withdrew from the continent, though force was sometimes required to stimulate wise thinking and hasten their departure.  The real test of the people of  Africa would follow the departure of the European colonizer.  How would the African respond once the European was no longer in control of the situation?  We know the answer.  The personages of people like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mobutu of Zaire, Mengistu of Ethiopia, Doe of Liberia and Idi Amin or Uganda are  good examples of how dysfunctional the African would behave in the absence of the European colonialist.  The exploits of these men, who are but the tip of a massive iceberg of dysfunctional, self-serving African leaders,  are more than adequately chronicled elsewhere.  In short, they acted treacherously and unconscionably using their newfound power for personal gain.   There would be other personages, though,  to show the African could behave in wise ways.  Two of the most notable are Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and the revered Nelson Mandela of South Africa.  These two men are gems of  African wisdom.  Their visions inspired.  Their words and deeds met the highest standards of humankind and make the point that Africa, too, even with the systematic dissolution of their tribal societies could produce men with exemplary vision and intelligence.  However, two men aren’t enough to solve the woes of the world of the African.  There must be collective wisdom, not just the wisdom of the one, or the two.  Nyerere and Mandela have shown virtuous and wise ways for others to follow, but there are just too few who do follow.  Although there are certainly Africans who say the right thing in university classrooms, editorial pages of newspapers, and parliament houses, the old adage, “talk is cheap,” applies to almost everyone.  The forces of power and greed are unfettered at the highest levels in the lands of Africa and just about nothing stands in the way of the men who control these societies. 
This leads us to another humongously obvious, always ignored elephant-in-the-African  parliament. The chief executives of Africa are, with only one exception in the history of the continent, as are the vast majority of all African leaders, men not women. Call it a world of “chiefs gone wild,” a playground for power and greed mongers. It is the last vestige of tribal collective wisdom, though it is arguably the least functional surviving element of tribal society and it’s no surprise that it survived. You can’t get more self-serving than to behave as does a chief, especially a chief who no longer has to answer to the collective wisdom of the tribal elders.  Post-colonial Africa was the perfect setup for men who had aspirations to gain from their new found powers.  If any element of tribal society had a chance to survive in post-colonial Africa it was the idea that chiefs rule, a ruler always rules as a chief, and chiefs are always men. 
The women of Africa have been systematically excluded from roles which permit access to power and wealth.  Consequently women have had little impact on the evolution of collective wisdom in post-colonial Africa and collective wisdom is impossible without the inclusion of women. If that statement should go without saying who is doing the saying? If women are saying it, they are doing so very carefully or not at all. As individuals, wise African women have had their impact but in areas which don’t effect the acquisition of power and wealth by men. African men have not permitted a challenge to their hegemony over wealth and power on this continent by women.  A Kenyan wise woman who has little but symbolic impact on the collective wisdom of her country in a way that facilitates, promotes or empowers the African woman is Wangari Maathai.   She received the Nobel Prize for her efforts to preserve the trees of Kenya. I can’t help but to think that the trees of Kenya are offered as proxies for the women of Africa.  African men will permit achievement among women, even applaud it, as long as it doesn’t impact on their control of power or wealth.  If a woman promotes the idea that women deserve equal rights under the law, including equal access to power and wealth, she might be able to if she calls a woman a tree, but otherwise she may be ostracized, demonized and possibly be murdered.  Consider the fate of Chelugat Mutai, a female member of parliament from Eldoret, Kenya, who aggressively fought for equal rights for women in Kenya.  Her fellow parliamentarians trumped up charges of corruption against her.  Of course, they were quite familiar with the crimes they accused her of since they themselves were practiced perpetrators.  She had to seek refuge in neighboring Tanzania.  Ultimately she repatriated and now stays quiet, but alive, on her farm in Eldoret, Kenya.


Wangari Maathai of Kenya, Nobel Peace Prize 

How does the lack of collective wisdom affect that day-to-day life of people who live in Africa? It does so tragically and the wisdom-less behavior pervades every level and facet of society. Take the example of male teachers in Kenya, who routinely use their position as teachers to extract sexual favors from their female students.  These teachers act with impunity and when a female student is impregnated by a teacher, the student is expelled from the school to return home to deal with the pregnancy.  There are occasional charges brought up against these male teachers, but they have acted pretty much without consequences for decades.  Rape is not just a way of life in sub-Saharan, non-Islamic Africa. It is the right of men.  In Uganda, over 60% of women over the age of 15 report that they have been forced to have sex by men, so says the Voice of America. To me, knowing how reluctant women are to speak out about anything in Africa, 60% sounds more like a near-universal experience.  Women, in most African societies, are part of a man’s wealth.  She is an object.  She is owned.  She has a function to bear children, and in no way does a man’s commitment to support her mean that he will be faithful to her.  African men, with few exceptions, see themselves as free to engage in sex with women other than wives.  It’s been a time honored right and in spite of what is written in the law books, what is said in church or in parliament, what is seen on TV in soap operas, and what is written on the roadside anti-HIV billboards,  there has been little to change this perceived right.  There may be wise men in Africa who understand that this should not be the way, but there aren’t enough to meaningfully change the way women are viewed on this continent.  For this reason, the HIV epidemic has the potential to plague Africa for as long as current attitudes and behaviors persist. The out-of-control epidemic is the prevalent and inevitable consequence of egregious male dominance and indifference to their impact on the women men control. There are well known examples of just how bizarre and how insane the rule by men goes in a world where their self serving ideas and their unfettered control over women permit the most hideous and counter-productive of crimes against women.  I’ll briefly describe two of these.  There is a practice among men in Africa who are infected with HIV which they believe will cure their infection.  These men will have forced sex with virgin girls in order to cure their infection.  Since it’s difficult to prove virginity these men will go so far as to have sex with virgin infant girls to “cure” their HIV.  Yes, babies.  Another bizarre and completely counter-productive practice has been reported in multiple societies in Africa.  It’s called “cleansing.”  A cleanser is a man who is designated to have sex with a widowed woman to make her ready for re-marriage.  In a world of HIV epidemic gone wild, many of these widows are already infected.  Almost certainly the “cleanser” is infected.  As a consequence, this practice comes close to guaranteeing that HIV will infect the widow or the cleanser if either is not already infected.  One man, called Mbeki, who occupied the highest office in the most powerful of all African nations, South Africa, would contribute to the disinformation, if not unwillingness, to accept the wisdom of learned scientists and medical experts.  He proclaimed for all to hear that a virus could not be the cause of AIDS.  In so doing, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Africans died who would have otherwise been treated with available anti-virals.
Power and wealth (the word “greed” works well too) go hand in hand.  Power facilitates greed and greed seeks the power to quench its thirst.  In a society where there is little systematic or institutionalized wisdom, this translates into “corruption.”  It’s a word one hears a lot in Africa.  Even the politicians rant against it.  They have to.  Their rantings are the most effective way to protect their own corrupt behavior.  The current Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki,  announced on the day of his inauguration that “corruption will cease in Kenya from this day forward.” Of course it was a lie.  The forces of corruption are far greater than the words of one man, besides if the president uses the words to camouflage his own corruption then he does much to protect the other crooks in government. This, according to John Githongo, the man assigned to stop corruption in Kenya by President Kibaki,  is exactly the case. Githongo had to escape Kenya in order to make that statement or he would no longer be alive to make it. If you want to read about it, check out Githongo’s story in It’s Our Time to Eat. Perversely, Kenyan politicians have used the corruption argument to become among the highest paid politicians in the world.  If they’re paid well, they argue, they wouldn’t need to behave in a corrupt manner.  However, it was an argument to create a protective shield around their own corrupt behavior. Corruption is rampant in Kenya in a world where the few honest politicians go broke and their families resent them for not taking advantage of their political power. The stories of how politicians use their offices to milk money from any and every opportunity are legion. I hardly feel the need to repeat them since they are universally recognized as the way of life in Kenya. I heard of instances daily when I lived here 35 years ago and after returning I heard them daily again.  
Corruption is not limited to politicians.  They just set the gold standard for government officials. From the heights of the highest office in the land,  the corruption and all its associated accouterments, including its cynical disregard for humanity’s misfortune, spills downhill to the economic lowlands of African life. There at the bottom the consequence of corruption festers like a disease searching a cure. Poverty, ignorance, malnutrition, crime, and an epidemic of HIV are some of the progeny of corrupt government and nearly everywhere one travels in sub-Saharan Africa, there is ample evidence. The most obvious to overland traveler is the behavior of the police, who are flagrant and  frequently encountered practitioners of corrupt behavior in the wisdom-less world of sub-Sarahan Africa. This is government sponsored roadside banditry. The police set road blocks anywhere and everywhere. It’s common to be stopped multiple times on a day’s journey.  Once we were stopped five times on the island of Zanzibar on a trip of only 30 miles over a period of one hour. The police are astute predators and cherry pick their victims for their vulnerability. A traveler with an out-of-country license plate is prime pickings, not to imply that fellow Africans are exempt.  Far from it.  The majority of the illegal income comes from fellow Aficans. The police may demand a document that doesn’t exist.  This happened to us.  Police can say you obstructed traffic if you slowed down at a road junction to read a road sign.  That one happened to us, too.  One policeman in Zambia told me that I passed a truck in a no passing zone. The truck was going so slow I thought it may have stopped and told the officer this. “Didn’t you see the solid white line?” “No,” I told him and asked for permission to return to look for the solid white line. He agreed.  I returned to the location where I passed the truck, took a photo, and showed him that there was no line.  He said, “Okay, you’re right,  but you passed on a curve.”  That wasn’t true either, so the argument continued. The police can tell you any one of a million things. I found it refreshing when one policeman asked, “what do you have for me today?” and another demanded “give me a book.” These men deserve praise for their honesty. They may be corrupt, but they get to the point without any pretense.  The police will also tell you that to avoid going to court or to avoid paying the “full fine” you only have to give them a small amount of financial assistance. The amount is rarely less than forty dollars and often much more. They won’t provide a receipt for it and they would deny it if you made a complaint against them.  Their fellow police would verify the truth of their lie.    This is a way of life in most of sub-Saharan Africa.  There are exceptions. The Sudan is righteously honest because Islam demands this though we were stopped many times to show travel documents.  The most refreshing exception was South Africa where we traveled nearly 10,000 km and never experienced one police road block.
Businesses are particularly vulnerable to corruption in sub-Saharan Africa.   Whatever needs government to be done will be done if money is paid to make it happen.  That’s the short of it. The more vulnerable you are, the more likely you will be “charged” for your vulnerability, so the last words a businessman wants to say to a government official is “I really need this.” More than one businessman told me that he doesn’t doesn’t use those words and he doesn’t make demands or threats at the licensing office when faced with a corrupt official who has held out his hand for a supplementary fee. Some businessmen refuse to pay on principle or because they can’t afford to pay.  When the government declines the request while intimating or even demanding a personal fee, the businessman just walks away with the hope that in time the government official will yield and provide the license without demanding a bribe.  Typical documents for which officials commonly request bribes include accounting records, building plans, ownership documents, etc. In Africa, there are few men more powerful men than those with rubber stamps, except for their bosses who have empowered them and who in return expect compensation for the power bequeathed.  It all adds up so that at the end of the day the cost of doing legitimate business in Africa becomes either prohibitive or you pass the costs on to the customer. Merchants burned by corruption find it arguably reasonable to turn to illegal methods of doing business. The Black Market is rife with stolen booty, so the merchant buys it on the cheap to sell for a profit.  They give the police their share of that profit and everyone is happy.  In much of Africa,  government is a mafia organization that takes care of the brotherhood of the internal bond that is most often tribal based.  In Swahili, they call this “eating the little thing.”  Everyone eats.  They call it little, “kitu kidogo,” but it’s not.  It’s huge and they are eating themselves to self-destruction. When the access to power and wealth by dominant tribal segments of African governments is threatened, the result is often violence, even genocide. This has happened notoriously on a large scale in Ruanda and Burundi, but has also happened to the same or lesser degree in multiple countries all over sub-Saharan Africa.
When the colonizer left Africa he dealt a second, inevitable and, possibly the coup de grace to the hope that collective wisdom would survive colonial rule.  He left  a vacuum of power that had to be filled by Africans who had never ruled.  The consequences were inevitable.  Wisdom-less politicians filled with aspirations for power and greed rushed to fill the power vacuum and fulfill their fanciful dreams.  In the worst cases, for example, like Zimbabwe, the African leader, the Oxford-educated Robert Mugabe, just took what he wanted from the White Zimbabwean citizen and showed him the door.  In Uganda, the infamous Idi Amin, who used military might to acquire the position of chief executive, kicked every Indian, regardless of Ugandan citizenship, out of the country, stripping every thing he could from the departing Indians.  For good measure Ugandan soldiers terrorized the women with rape as a parting gesture of hate.  Of course, Amin didn’t stop there.  He went on to wreak havoc upon fellow Black Africans, especially from competing tribes, employing unconscionable and bestial methods.  Sometimes whole societies acted as did individuals like Amin.  The Hutu sought systematic destruction of the Watutsi in Ruwanda and the Watutsi sought the same of the Hutu.  Theirs was an age old conflict that resulted from the forced subjugation of the Hutu by the Watutsi who invaded the region many centuries earlier.  It’s called tribalism here but it is no different than racism in its worst form.  The Watutsi are derivatives of Cushitic nomads who stormed across Northern Uganda to the Ruwanda region a long time ago.  They established kingdoms over the existing bantu who had occupied the region.  This happened all over Uganda as well and is behind some of the ancient resentments between the African peoples of this region. These themes play out all over sub-Saharan Africa.  The vacuum of collective wisdom created by the exit of the colonial powers left Africans free to seek revenge for abuses and conflicts that went back so far no one remembered for sure what the original cause was.  Typically, one group would gain more power than another and used the gained political power as a way of demonstrating its wrath towards the politically weaker tribal group. Genocide in Africa has been the worst manifestation of the lack of wisdom in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa.  
One African ruler who showed wisdom in post-colonial Africa by taking bold and decisive action on sensitive issues was Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.  In order to dampen the effect of tribalism on post-colonial Tanzania, he used forced migration across tribal lines.  It wasn’t welcome but it significantly reduced the impact of tribalism on the future of Tanzania.  Today, Tanzania proudly claims that tribalism is not a problem  in modern Tanzanian society.  That is a disingenuous exaggeration but our experience with day-to-day life in Tanzania suggests some truth to the claim. In addition, Tanzania is proud of its distinct Swahili culture that is predominately Muslim.  Muslims and Christians live and work side by side throughout Tanzania which includes mainland Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar.  This is an amazing outcome given the treacherously exploitive history of Muslims who ruled ruthlessly over the mainland from Zanzibar for hundreds of years. Then in 1964 a racially charged grass roots revolution overthrew the ruling Arabs and non-Arabs sought genocidal revenge against the Arabs.  Thousands of Arabs and non-African muslims were reportedly murdered.  In the aftermath, Nyerere, then president of Tanganyika, worked with the Zanzibari leadership to create Tanzania. Arab rule would remain a thing of the past, but tolerance of other cultures was a hallmark of Nyerere’s policies. Many argue that it was Nyerere’s inclusive philosophy that created a united Tanzania with racial tolerance.   

Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania

Faced with the onslaught of foreign investment and political influencing during the post-colonial cold war Africa, Nyerere provided his people with a philosophy to face the future.  The post-colonial period was characterized by “neo-colonialism,” a colonization of a different type.  Africa worried about Western economic control and cultural invasion.  Nyerere formulated “Ujamaa,”  a reshaping of the ancient practice of “African Socialism.”  He created the “Kijiji” or small village economic unit, which had a reminiscing feature of the communes of Marxist socialism. Nyerere refused to accept aid without attaching the aid to certain criteria. He didn’t want a tractor from the West without understanding how to use it because he didn’t want interdependence that could lead to a persistent subjugation.  So “gifts” had to come with a full plan to teach Tanzanians how to maintain proper care of the gift.  Ideally, Tanzanians would eventually learn to build their own tractors.  Nyerere’s socialism failed in some respects because the “Kijiji,” the self contained economic unit, an ideological solution that also failed in communist countries, failed in Tanzania.  Nyerere’s Afro-centric approach was still successful. He sought African solutions to African problems.  He inculcated the belief of self-reliance and the belief that the African way of life must be preserved as Tanzania moves forward.  Swahili, the language created through the interface of Arab and African cultures, became the “Lugha ya Taifa” or language of the nation.  It gave Tanzanians a unifying voice and it is an African voice.  It is the only lingua franca of Africa that actually originated in Africa. Today Tanzania is a country that still carries Nyerere’s legacy.  Even though the corruption that has infected the rest of sub-Saharan Africa has infected Tanzania, and post-Nyerere Tanzania has suffered greatly as a result, there is a greater sense of self-reliance in Tanzania than in neighboring Kenya.  In contrast to Tanzania, Kenyan corruption has turned the face of Kenya into that of the suppliant, the prostitute, the beggar, the roadside policeman, the thief, the corrupt politician, willing to do whatever is needed to get while the the getting is good.
The wisdom of Nyerere was anecdotal evidence that sub-Saharan Africa had a vision for the future in a post-colonial world.   Unfortunately, the few leaders who demonstrated wisdom had almost no pervasive or systematic effect on the people of sub-Saharan Africa.  Wisdom, collective wisdom, is a long, hard fought, well deserved process that is an eternal work-in-progress. It requires the participation of all members of society and its goal is to serve all members of society.  It’s the product of a body of law and the willingness to see the law fulfilled.  It is constantly evolving and requires open methods of communications as well as strong systems of accountability.  There is little of this in the current world of sub-Saharan Africa and there never will be if African politicians and their surrogates continue to pocket every bit of cash that passes their way.  Africa requires the full participation of all, men and women, the wealthy and the poor, to create a collective wisdom.  Without the education of children, without nourishment for their growth, and without the inculcation of principles of self-reliance and communal commitment,  there is no vitality to nurture a collective wisdom that can stand up to the bullies, the tyrants, the greedy and corrupt.  Until the nurturing ground of a collective wisdom exists, the bullies, the greedy, the corrupt will do everything in their power to prevent it from happening.
The closest Africa has come to creating a just and fair society, engineered by a wisely constructed set of guidelines emerged from one the most fractured and wisdom-less countries in the world:  South Africa.  Fifty-two years ago, South Africans codified a system called Apartheid.  It was a corrupt formulation of ideas that guaranteed a minority of people would benefit from a majority of the wealth generated by South Africa.   Non-whites were sub-categorized into “coloreds,” “Asians,” and “blacks.”  Each was provided according to his color only what the whites were willing to provide. Apartheid was a system that did not mind using force, wrongful imprisonment or even torture to insure its hated subjugation of the people it disenfranchised.  Not unsurprisingly it would be dismantled because the disenfranchised people protested, but it took 46 years of struggle. Some protesters resorted to violence when the violence used against them in Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976 was so bloody that it shocked the world .  The protesters were led by the wisest and most influential of all African leaders in the history of the continent. His name is Nelson Mandela. He is the rarest of men, a visionary statesman with courage, principles, and energy, willing to sacrifice his life rather than compromise his purpose.  Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years because he threatened the existence of the wisdom-less state of South Africa. In spite of being at the receiving end of Apartheid’s brutal injustice,  he guided the transition of South Africa from the absurdity of apartheid rule to a democratic country. Amazingly he started his work while still a prisoner of the state he would reform.  He is known in South Africa as Madiba. 

Nelson Mandela "Madiba"

In 1995, one year into his presidency of the first democratically elected government of South Africa,  Mandela supported the Springboks, South Africa’s rugby team that represented everything black South Africa hated about the apartheid regime.  Mandela attended the World Cup final and thanked the underdog Springboks for bringing honor to South Africa. Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African’s rugby team, corrected Mandela with these words: “No, Madiba.  You've got it wrong.  Thank you for what you've done for South Africa.” “Mandiba” is a Xkosa word which refers to his clan, implies a deep sense of the bond between Mandela and the ancient wisdom of his people and sounds like “savior” when people use the term. Madiba is revered by all people in South Africa, black, white, “colored,” and Asian. To the world he is one of the wisest men of our generation.  He has shown Africa the value of wisdom.  It is his gift to his people, to everyone in South Africa, to everyone in the world.  Madiba showed unusual courage and profound wisdom when he, and those who followed him,  ushered in the new South Africa. He convinced millions of South Africans to do what so many predicted could never happen, to put behind them the transgressions of the white Africans who had exploited the land and people of Africa to unconscionable levels. He also convinced the transgressors themselves that the new South Africa will embrace them as partners in the creation of a new country. In doing so South Africans enabled a future that had been previously illusive, if not impossible, and provided a game plan of justice, fairness and accountability for other African leaders in post-colonial Africa. The New South Africa will neither be white, Asian nor black, Zulu nor Xhosa. Even the “coloreds,” who neither fit in the white nor black world in times past, have a place in New South Africa where a constitution guarantees a color and gender blind future. In this sense the New South Africa aspires to be a melding, of different cultures and of different people, who will have a collective wisdom that serves the interests of all and not just the few.  More than one South African has boasted to me that their constitution is the most progressive in the world.  It is fair and it is just.  Yet they are only words on paper, as were the words on the Declaration of Independence in the United States.  Americans know well how difficult it has been to follow those words.  It is because of the vision of and the demand by this one man called Madiba that the South African constitution and bill of rights were written and it is because of this one man that there may be a future in South Africa. Without the vision of Madiba, the World Cup in South Africa could never have been possible.


Nelson Mandela congratulating Francois Pienaar 

There is no event in the history of Africa which has caught the attention of Africans, or brought more attention to Africa from the outside world, than has the World Cup. It is the source of immense pride. The World Cup has stimulated a gargantuan effort to meet standards that many critics argued South African could never meet. To the amazement of the World and to the delight of the people of South Africa those standards were not only met, expectations were exceeded.  But can the World Cup save Africa as is so boldly asked in the title of this blog?  The World Cup has had a remarkably salutary effect on South Africa and Africa as a whole. Hope, like the sound of the vuvuzela, is in the air.  It’s palpable. Mention the words “World Cup” and the faces of Africa change, whether the tea lady of the Sudan, the sheep herder of Ethiopia, the taxi-cab driver of Kenya, the dow captain of Tanzania, the fisherman of Malawi, the border guard of Zambia, the office worker of Botswana.  It is the hope for a better day, for a better world, a world which is inclusive and fair, where justice is available to everyone.  
Can the World Cup save Africa? It is a strange question to ask in the context of an unsettling discussion, if not a straight up diatribe, about corruption in Africa. Certainly FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup,  did not come to Africa to save Africa.  FIFA is interested in staging the largest and most popular single sport tournament in the world. FIFA is interested in making a profit and the early estimates indicate a windfall in excess of 3 billion dollars just for the television rights and corporate sponsorships. FIFA did not come to Africa to stop corruption.  FIFA and the World Cup cannot bring wisdom to South Africa, let alone the continent of Africa?   No, the World Cup can’t save Africa in the sense that I’ve posed the question.  Africa can only be saved by the inculcation of a collective wisdom that is committed to serving the well being of everyone, regardless of tribe, race, sex or age. The goal of wisdom is justice and fairness.  Without these how can Africa effectively address the real issues of poverty, the HIV epidemic, the lack of education, the lack of women’s rights, the horrible nutrition, the lack of health care, the poor sanitation, the lack of clean water, the bad infrastructure, the unemployment, etc?  These are problems requiring economic solutions  but the economic solutions will never work if corrupt politicians and those who are empowered by them pocket any available cash.  Moreover the economic solutions which will “save Africa” can’t happen without  collective wisdom.  There is no justice, there is no fairness, without collective wisdom, and without wisdom there is no prosperity.  
Jackie Selebi, police chief of South Africa, convicted of corruption


When Mandela took the office of president in South Africa he, like Nyerere of Tanzania, broke the mold. However, his successors did not. Two presidents followed: Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. Both presidents have been accused of the same patterns of corruption as seen in other African states. They even accuse each other.  Interestingly, something momentous and timely happened recently which shows that South Africa intends to live up to it self-professed goal to be just, fair, and accountable.  South African’s top law enforcement official, Jackie Selebi, was convicted of crimes against his country, including being in the pockets of one of the most powerful criminals in the country, a mafioso drug baron named Glenn Agliotti.  The court decision came within days of the championship match of the World Cup.   In addition, investigators uncovered information showing that Thabo Mbeki, the first president of South Africa to follow Nelson Mandela, the same man who impeded and threatened the campaign against HIV by declaring that a virus was not responsible for the plague, enabled if not abetted his chief law enforcement agent to use his office for personal gain.  For those of you who love to read stories of intrigue and political shenanigans, the story of Selebi and corruption in South Africa will soon be told by journalist Adriaan Basson. 


KE NAKO

The World Cup brought sub-Saharan Africa a new vision and a new phrase, a boy who loudly sings the words South Africa wanted the world to hear.  His words are:  KE NAKO. These words are visible on billboards, on the sides of buildings, on banners flowing from standards at the stadiums. TV viewers around the world have heard the phrase over and over again before, during, and after World Cup matches.   The words mean “It’s Time.”  The World Cup Committee of South Africa, whether or not they intended, chose the perfect words for the times, for IT IS TIME. KE NAKO.  It is time for children with sunken eyes, discolored hair and bloated stomachs. KE NAKO. It is time for the thousands of people, old and young, who line the roads of Africa holding their hands out with the hope for a coin, a piece of bread or an empty water bottle. KE NAKO. It is time for the infants dying in medical facilities throughout Africa who struggle for each of the few breaths remaining in their short lives. KE NAKO. It is time for the policemen of Africa to watch after and protect their fellow citizens instead of picking their pockets of available cash. KE NAKO. It is time for a 10 year old girl,  Saneyt Hagos of Axum, Ethiopia who told me that she wants to grow up and be an eye doctor to help people see. KE NAKO. Is time for an 18 year old woman of Kapsokwpony Kenya, Evelyn Chebet,  who told me that she wants to be an airplane pilot. KE NAKO. It is time to educate every child born on African soil so that all have opportunity and can make choices for their future. KE NAKO.  It is time for women to have an equal voice in political matters, in the formation of laws, in the work place, and in the home.  KE NAKO. It is time for all young African girls to be freed from the fear that they will be sexually abused. KE NAKO.  It is time for the politicians to serve their people, to follow the best among them, to listen to the words and match the deeds of Madiba, and lead their people from the bondage of ignorance, poverty, and injustice.KE NAKO. 

Tom Simpson, July 23, 2010



Saneyt Hagos of Axum, Ethiopia and her little brother


Evelyn Chebet of Kapsokwony who wants to be an airline pilot

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Day Holland Met Brazil: An Autopsy

After logging nearly 40,000 kilometers to get to the World Cup in South Africa, attending 11 games in 6 different stadiums, I think it’s time I say something on the subject.

Kiharambee! and Maria, regaled as the #1 Brazilian fan from San Francisco,  just outside Nelson Mandela stadium in Port Elizabeth


South Africa has been covered in Orange.


Can you see Maria in the middle?


Some Orange Some Yellow

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do we care about these games?”  Think about the question before you answer. 
Why do we reward players with rapt attention and virtually unlimited access to the treasures and pleasures of the world for kicking a ball around some grass for 90 minutes while trying to kick it into a net? They’re not always kicking, or even standing, are they?  As you may have noticed, players spend much of their time sitting on the grass rubbing a body part or complaining to the referee about an opponent player.  Has it crossed your mind that these players act like emotionally challenged, entitled primadonnas who feel they are the most important people in the world? Fans and journalists reinforce these delusions of human superiority with unfailing attention, showering them with superlatives that were at one time reserved for the inhabitants of Mount Olympus. Their coaches are often as bad as their proteges, and sometimes worse. The scream, rant, rave, gesticulate, moan, and complain on the sidelines with the passion of men who envision the world coming to an end.  Many of them nourish the distorted self-images of their players with non-reality based praise, enabling dysfunctional behaviors that almost guarantee bad outcome.


Pre-game Pomp

Closer view of the Dutch side.  Check out the kid in the middle.


The Brazilian fans in Yellow and Blue before the match.  They weren't so jubilant or united later on.


The Brazilians appeared to be focused at the start.


Some say that football is a game for gentlemen played by barbarians. I’d say the gentlemen reference is dubious at the best, and a non-fit at the worst.  Lawn bowling and golf are for gentlemen. A player hardly breaks a sweat.  Chess.  That’s a better fit. Pretending to be a nobleman, the chess player fights medieval battles and never has to leave a chair. The player lifts his hand from his lap to the chessboard occasionally.  That’s a gentlemanly amount of energy exerted, don’t you think?  The barbarian reference, in contrast to the gentleman reference, fits the footballer like his shoe should fit his foot.  The behavior alone qualifies but the image is enhanced by  the hairdos of Puyol, the tatoos of Prince Boateng of Ghana, and the take-no-prisoner style of Gatuso.  Add the spitting, kicking, and punching and you can’t get much more barbarian unless you add a weapon. A movie director could take just about any of these guys, add a fur skin and axe, place him in the opening scene of Gladiator, the movie, let him act like a footballer,  reshoot the scene and either you wouldn’t notice a difference or you’d say something like, “these guys really are barbarians, aren’t they.”   Without a referee present what what footballers do? Tear each limb from limb? Did you see Pique of Spain pull down Cardozo of Paraguay? Then he protested, “What! did I do something?” Denial, as implausible as it seems to the outsider, is the sine qua non of the guilty footballer. But, as much as they seem to aspire to qualify, they’re not really barbarians. They’re more like pretend barbarians. Did you see the profound pain suffered by writhing Arjen Robben of Holland time and again as Brazilian defenders went anywhere near him? Footballers are too scared of pain to be barbarians.  Real barbarians would tell these guys to stay home with the children and women while they went off to tear down the walls of Rome or some other magnificent city.
Bastos, a bit disgruntled, after getting a warning from the ref for getting too close to Robben.  


Behavioral psychologists and anthropologists would be in their element in a locker room filled with football egos.  If you could choose the locker room for a behavioral scientist to be a fly on the wall, whose locker room would you choose? The Brits.  The Italians.  The French.  The opportunity for study and, ideally therapy, is limitless. The president of France would gladly use state money to provide therapy for the French team if not only to figure out what the hell happened to those guys. The Nigerians president isn’t wasting time with therapy or anything like that.  He banned the team for two years (but later rescinded the ban).  You have to love the Nigerians. They get right to the point even if they can’t stick to it. We all know what’s wrong don’t we?  These players actually are boys, emotionally challenged, entitled primadonnas,  who act tough but are really puff balls who are, above all, focused on their ridiculously exorbitant cheques at the end of the month.  What do you expect them to do when you put a bunch of them together on the same field?  These boys aren’t trying to save the world even though their fans may feel otherwise.  They just want to be around long enough to collect while they can .

Robinho protesting a warning by the ref.


Would there be a World Cup if nobody came to watch?  Simply put: Without the fans there is no World Cup. If these games are about anything, they are about the people who believe that the World Cup has meaning and significance, as elusive as that idea may seem.  One might ask the fan: If your countrymen are better at putting a ball into a net than any other countrymen, what does that say about you, the fan?  What does it say about your country? One quite reasonable answer is:  nothing.  It might mean your country has an obsession with a whimsical if not childlike predisposition to play rather than work.  It might mean you and your countrymen have a passion for the trivial while you ignore what ails your people?  One could say this about Africa, where everyone on the continent has his and her eyes glued to the TV set, while HIV, corruption, poverty, malnutrition, and other evils wreak havoc upon their world.  Will any of these go away because of the World Cup?  That seems to be the question everyone is asking and the one the politicians, as well as FIFA representatives, would like us to believe will be the result of staging the Cup in Africa. If the World Cup can actually achieve any lofty goal, it will do so because of the Felipes of Brazil. Without fervent devotees, there would be no money to pay for anything let alone an ad for condoms.  I met Felipe in East London on his way to Port Elizabeth to see his beloved team play against Holland in a fateful match.  The World Cup is built on the backbone of the Felipes of Brazil who sacrifice their relationship with wife and children, put their businesses and/ or livelihood at risk, remove every bit of available cash from their savings accounts, and fly to another continent to chase their team.  They pay any amount asked for a ticket.   If their team loses, and 97% of the teams lose in this tournament,  Felipes fall into a deep depression that threatens health, exacerbating their already depleted personal funds, challenging their ability to return to employment, and preventing them from returning to normal family life. I may be guilty of a little hyperbole on some points, but on this matter I’m not.  Heck I drove 40,000 kilometers to see these games, passing through deserts, marshes, rivers, mud, over horrible, horrible roads, at the cost of many dollars, to see these games.  That just defies what anyone might call reasonable, sensible, or rational.
Some of you know that I’ve done some coaching in this sport.  I’ve coached small boys and I’ve coached adult aged men.  I learned that the tendency for a player to be delusional gets worse with age.  After all, a player survives in the sport by showing the ability to be more effective than the next player. A sense of superiority grows.  It can escalate to a sense of invincibility, and players are forever falling into the trap of believing what fans, coaches and journalists say about them. Delusional thinking and inappropriate self-expectations are common if not inevitable.  World Cup cases in point include Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo.  Need I say more? Both did the same thing over and over again even though it didn’t work.  Isn’t that the definition of insanity?  The coach’s challenge is always the same:  get a collection of divergent egos with various and sundry motives for playing football, each player typically having an exaggerated sense of self-importance and each typically having an unrealistic sense of ability, who believes “if you want to win, just put me on the field,” to actually play as a team.  This challenge was the same when I was assembling 10 year olds at Beach Chalet soccer field in San Francisco or fielding older players to play in national championships.  The trick is always the same.  A coach must get every one of these self-absorbed egos who is obsessed, if not fascinated, with his capabilities to kick a ball around a grass field, to subordinate his whimsical, if not bizarre, personal considerations for playing a sport to the purpose of the game:  putting the ball in the net.  Some people call this “playing like a team.” 
It was not beneath me during my days as a coach to use familiar symbolic references for players to mull over,  to get them to refocus, to move their eyes from their selves to the purpose of playing on a team.   I often used religious references, especially for the younger aged players who are less cynical, because religion is based on the mystical and the belief that the individual ego is less important than the divine ego.  Meditation is important, I argued, because it aided one to rise above his limitations and do something spectacular. I reminded them that ego is the poison of the footballer’s soul, which by nature must be communal. If a player could subordinate his personal will to that of the team, an afternoon on a football pitch can be as spiritual an experience as any experience inside a building where God is said to live.   If nothing else, these ideas distracted players, if only for a moment, from focusing on their individual selves so that they could, if only for a moment, do something that was a “benefit” to others by participating as a member of a “team” rather than focusing on their own self-important objectives.  Of course, a coach must add the relentless training, good nutrition, the teaching of ideas and the practice of technical skills, but if a coach cannot get a player to put his personal interests aside for the benefit of the player’s team, the team will inevitably fail.  
If a coach is successful at this, a group of players can achieve some rather remarkable things, the most important of which is putting the ball into the net of an opponent’s goal with greater frequency than the opponent succeeds in doing the same. Without ego subordination there is no salvation for the team, and without salvation for the team,  there is no salvation for the individual.  If nothing else, this World Cup has proven just how fragile belief systems can be while also showing how powerful they can be.  Exit France.  Exit Italy.  Exit England.  Enter Uruguay. Enter Holland. Enter Germany. Playing as a team never guarantees success, but playing as individuals always guarantees failure.
If any game in this tournament revealed the forces at work in football, it was the game played the day Holland met Brazil in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  For the record, Brazil was my hope to win the World Cup after the USA was eliminated. They’re just about everyone’s favorite team.  While we traveled our many thousands of kilometers through the African bush, we talked about the World Cup with just about everyone.  “Who is your favorite team?” we’d ask.  Nine times out of ten, it was Brazil.  Brazil captures the imagination of so many because Brazil has that magical ingredient in their game that states, as a group, “we can do anything at anytime to achieve our purpose and get the ball in the net.”  Holland, on the other hand, is not my favorite team.  I appreciate their individual talents but as teams go, Holland has often fallen short.  Dutch players, like so many Dutch coaches, are flagrant egos, full of themselves.  The worst thing in the world is to be caught in the same room talking to some Dutchman about how to play the game.  There is only one way.  The Dutch way.  The only problem is that when you get the Dutch together it seems there are 11 guys on the field who all know the “Dutch way” but unfortunately they never share their ideas with each other or if they do, they prove the adage, “too many cooks spoil the soup.”
This World Cup is different for the Dutchmen.  I suspect little Wesley Sneijder has something to do with it, though I’m certain that the coach does to.  These things don’t happen by accident.  When there is success, there is someone behind the success.  Wesley Sneijder is my “hunch,”  after watching him play and watching him interact with his teammates. It’s not just because he’s scored the majority of their goals.  He has the magical element of the player who keeps the team focused and together.  Still, the real money on any bet with regards this subject is on the coach:  I have no idea who he is.  I can’t say a word about him, other than when he is interviewed, he clearly demonstrates he understands what he’s doing. Today, the day his boys are to face the shrewd upstarts from Uruguay, he said, “my boys have a tendency to get arrogant with success.” Arrogance has plagued the Dutch.  We shall see if it comes back to haunt them again.  If the coach is Dutch, he certainly has to be an unusual Dutchman, because it would take an unusual Dutchman to get all those boys playing as a team.
Each game has its own personality and the Brazil-Holland game was no exception, though it started out looking like a routine rout by the Brazilians over an opponent. They scored easily.  The referee called an offside nullifying the goal.  No problem.  A few minutes later they scored again.  It’s easy for the Brazilians.  Defensively they were rock solid.  I remember one time when Van Persie, a huge, aggressive, skillful striker was running full speed on the ball and just about to push the ball by a Brazilian defender near the goal.  I couldn’t imagine any defender stopping Van Persie.  Then Juan stepped up and put his foot on the ball with such authority it stopped the ball dead in its track.  Van Persie went flying and Juan calmly passed the ball off to Gilberto Silva to start a counter-attack.  Juan left the great Van Persie reduced to a groveling, ankle holding baby whimpering over a lost opportunity while wondering how it ever happened.
Another player who did his fair share of whimpering is a guy named Arejn Robben. He went down to the turf time and time again.  Robben has quick feet.  Everyone knows that and the Brazilians have quick feet too.  Early in the game, each time Robben was on the ball the Brazilians were there to neutralize those quick feet. Robben responded by collapsing to the ground, ankle in hand, rolling as if in excruciating pain.  It was great drama.  The Brazilians were infuriated.  They knew Robben was putting on a show for the referee.  They threw up their hands.  They beseeched the referee to admonish this guy for his play acting.  They walked away in disgust when Robben repeated this time and time again with impunity. 

One of the most familiar scenes of the day: Arejn Robben holding his ankle, a team-mate in protest, and a Brazilian defender (Bastos) the focus of the referee's attention.  It was a ploy that had a profound effect on the game.

But he was no threat to the Brazilians, not really.  Robben hadn’t penetrated the Brazilian defense. His only success was the playacting without getting reprimanded for it.  The Brazilians should have left it alone, but they couldn’t. For one thing, it’s a tactic they sometimes use themselves.  I suspect they didn’t like to see a Dutchman use it against them.  Robben enjoyed his petulant whimpering, every boy does,  especially if he can get the other guy in trouble.  That’s the object isn’t it.  Get the other guy in trouble.  Get the referee to have sympathy.  Get a card distributed.  A yellow card. Maybe a red.  

Alves and Sniejder assisting Kaka after Kaka was taken down but failed to get a call by the referee.  Sneijder was the ever-cool politician, often soothing the heady, frustrated egos of the Brazilians.

In the meantime, the flow of the Brazilian game and the Brazilian control of the Dutch flow began to change.  Personalities began to emerge.  Kaka, in rage, would throw up his hands in disbelief because he couldn’t get the same attention as Robben.  Danny Alves stomped about the pitch in disgust. Then he started doing little things, like clipping the heels of players with his shoe, or slapping someone on the cheek when he thought the referee wouldn’t see him.  And while these boys were showing their petulance and letting their egos emerge, the effectiveness of Robben changed.  His quick feet began to provide some productivity.  The Brazilians weren’t canceling out each of his attempts to advance towards the net.  Van Persie didn’t look so ineffective anymore either.  In the meantime,  Sneijder was going about his usual business of making sure that he was available for any opportunity.  And then it happened.  Sneijder sent a looping paced ball towards that net.  It would have been a routine save by the keeper, but Felipe Melo (no relation to Felipe the fan) got anxious and lunged aggressively with his head.  He collided with the Brazilian keeper who was unable to make an otherwise routine save.  The ball went into the net, not so much because of the efforts of Sneijder, but more so from the disorganized and frumpled defensive efforts of the Brazilians.  

My view of Holland's first goal.  Melo and the keeper are out of view. The Brazilians can't believe what they saw.

I just happened to be sitting next to Ethan Zohn, a goalkeeper,  whom I met 13 years earlier when he tried out for the San Francisco Seals.  It was a total coincidence that we had seats next to each other at Nelson Mandela park in Port Elizabeth.  We rarely saw Americans in South Africa outside the USA - England game let alone see people we knew.   I turned to Ethan. “Keeper error?” I asked.  It wasn’t clear what happened. I figured a keeper would know but it was tough to see from out vantage point. He nodded a yes.  Then Maria, who saw the replay,  said, “It was an own goal.”  At least that’s how the scorer saw it.  But the way I saw it was different.  It wasn’t a keeper error or an own goal so much as it was a discombobulated Brazilian group of boys who were no longer playing like a team. Instead they played like a bunch of boys who weren’t sure why they were there.  It wouldn’t take much longer for all of these issues to play out. The Brazilians couldn’t mount an effective attack and the open expression of disbelief, anger and concern increased.  It was getting chaotic.  The antics of Danny Alves increased.  Kaka couldn’t keep focus.  After he looped a ball over the last defender and it missed its mark, rolling harmlessly out of bounds, he stood there starring at the big screen as if he couldn’t figure out how that could have possibly happen.  However, the TV crew had moved on and there was no replay.  The game moved on too and Kaka was left there standing while Holland kept playing. 

The blogger, one time coach, reuniting with Ethan Zohn, a one time candidate for the Seals.

Felipe Melo, the player who bumped the keeper,  was beginning to act strange as well.  I noticed he was standing more than usual and not responding defensively.  Then Dunga made a change.  I thought Dunga saw what I saw, a Felipe Melo who was no longer contributing.  Instead, Dunga but in Gilberto for Bastos at the left back. Bastos already picked up a yellow trying to handle Robben.  One more yellow and Bastos would be out.  Frustrations were high.  Maybe Dunga figured Bastos was handicapped by his yellow and would have to back off Robben, something the Brazilians couldn’t afford to do.  Perhaps Gilberto was his solution, but even he would fall victim to Robben’s antics and drew a yellow.  

  
Above:  First, top photo,  Melo draws the red from the referee.  He's hidden behind the orange. Then, in disbelief, the beleaguered Melo trundles off to the showers.  His team-mates would follow later on in equal dismay.

If Felipe Melo was not Dunga’s concern he was mine.  A few minutes past. Robben kept getting calls. Gilberto got his yellow. Kaka failed to get a call.  Felipe Melo got stripped of the ball.  He was likely fouled and he threw up his hands in rage and frustration.  The little boy in him couldn’t be controlled anymore.  Yes, the Japanese ref was probably missing calls.  Yes, he was probably over-accommodating to Robben, who just couldn’t get enough of the referees attention.  However, it’s all part of the game, but Felipe Melo forgot why he was out there.  He charged into the fray when Robben was on the ball. Frustrated, maybe angry at himself for bumping his own keeper, maybe angry at the referee for not giving him the call a few seconds earlier, he stomped a crushing blow on Robben’s lower leg.  Robben squirmed in agony as the referee pulled an immediate red from his pocket. Robben chuckled.  Felipe Melo was out.  Alves was out (though still on the field). Kaka was out (though still on the field).  There’ weren’t enough Brazilians left to play as the Brazilians had dissolved from the cohesive, unstoppable unit it was in the first half into a bunch of disorganized, ineffective children who hadn’t the emotional ability to keep their opponents in check let alone mount an effective attack on the opponent’s goal. Wesley Sniejder’s winning goal was only a matter of when, not if.  In the final moments, the Dutchmen were handed at least two, maybe three more golden opportunities by the Brazilians who had disassembled into chaos.  The Dutch couldn’t put away the third, killer goal that the Brazillians, if not distracted, would have put away as if it were child’s play (pun intended).


My view of second goal.  Kuyt (far right) head flicked the ball to Sniejder (behind #3 Lucio) who put the ball in the net for the second time that day. Melo and keeper (Julio Cesar) helplessly look on. 

So why do we care about these games?  You have your reasons.  Felipe, the fan, of Brazil has his.  It’s certainly far better than fielding barbarians with battleaxe and sword in hand on the fields of Germania, not to pretend it’s an option, though wouldn’t it be nice if we could agree there would be no more wars.  Couldn’t we let the World Cup or a similar competition decide the conflict?  For me, it’s like I tell the guys before they enter the field of competition:  If you want a spiritual experience, put all your personal stuff aside, see if you can do something for someone else, put it all on the line, and see if you can put the ball in the net.  When a team does this, whether as coach or fan, I’m there to enjoy and celebrate the achievement.  When they fail, I’m there too, ready to carve out the ugly details of their failure. That’s what coaches do.  It’s in the blood.  I hope each of you is enjoying the World Cup in your own way.  I know the people of South Africa have experienced pride and pleasure at the staging of these games in their country.  It doesn’t seem to matter who’s playing though clearly their hearts were with their beloved Bafana Bafana and the hardworking Ghanaians, right up to the that horrible moment when Asomoah’s free shot at fame and legendary status hit the cross bar.  It’s not so easy sometimes to put the ball into the net.   
Words aren't necessary.



The jubilant Orange!


Maria. Disappointed but still believing in her team.