Africa: The world's largest refugee camp -- with a little help from the G-20...
A friend of mine just got back from touring the Kimberly diamond mines. "Don't waste your money," she said. "It's not like the old days when you could actually go down into the Big Hole and stand toe-to-toe with the miners. Now you just go up on an observation platform, view a roomful of photographs, visit a small replica of a section of the mine and watch a video." Thanks. You just saved me a 14-hour bus trip to Kimberly -- I can see all that kind of stuff on the web. "But the mine museum there was nice." But is it worth spending 14 hours on a bus? I think not.
"Jane, if you are serious about seeing diamond operations in action, then go tour Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Just put on your flak jacket, get out there and stop being a wimp." Sorry. No can do. I left my flak jacket back in Iraq.
"But why do you wanna know so much about diamond mining anyway?" asked my friend. No, it's not because I'm thinking about getting engaged. But I do watch South Africa's most popular soap opera every night and last week, Steve proposed to Queen and gave her a 15,000-rand diamond the size of a marble -- but only after he had fished it out of the kitchen sink drain where Queen's son Princie had dropped it while Steve and Queen were off on a romantic safari out near Sun City -- the Las Vegas of southern Africa.
The other reason I want to know about diamond mining is that the G-20 is going to meet in Cape Town this November -- to have fun at Sun City, of course (maybe they're run into Queen), but also to have even more Fun cutting up Africa's resources among themselves.
According to Google, "South Africa's Reserve Bank and National Treasury will jointly chair the Group of Twenty (G20) in 2007, Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni announced in Pretoria on Wednesday." Let the games begin! And like the slot machines of Sun City, you just KNOW that whenever a federal reserve bank is involved, the action is always gonna be rigged in favor of the house.
"The G20 was established in 1999," Google continues, "as a forum for the central bank governors and finance ministers of the world's major developed and emerging market economies to discuss issues around global economic development and financial stability." No comment there. We've all been around long enough to know what THAT means.
"Including both the G8 and the most influential emerging [G-8 wannabe] countries [including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, European Union, India, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey,] the G20 is a key forum on global economic development and governance, covering two-thirds of the world's population and 90% of world output." These people have power over 90% of world output? Now that's downright scary.
Anyway, the global corporate bigwigs are all coming to Africa soon. And how appropriate is that -- to meet on the very continent that has supplied them with ENDLESS wealth over the years.
And while we're drawing analogies here, let's compare G-20 members to beekeepers as well as to casino owners. "Don't do that, Jane. You know that you are allergic to bees." Yeah, but I still gotta soldier on. After all, this is SCIENCE. This is HISTORY. The future of the civilized world is at stake here. Time to suck it up and be brave.
If you think of the G-20 as beekeepers and the continent of Africa as its own personal beehive, you can get an idea of how important this continent is to these corporate guys (stop thinking of them as countries or even corporations-as-persons and start thinking of them as individual robber barons who do NOT have your best interests at heart. Heck, if they thought they could get away with it, they would have YOU working in mines and living in shacks with no running water. ASAP. Instead, however, they are politely and graciously giving you a few more years with electricity and hot showers before they make their move. Gee thanks, guys!)
But let's get back to my fabulous world-class beekeeper analogy. For the last 200-plus years, Africa has been a treasure-trove of honey for the grandfathers, great-grandfathers and fathers of the dudes of the G-8 -- and this is even truer today than it was for the likes of Cecil Rhodes, H.M. Stanley and General Henry Sanford (who lobbied Congress to approve of King Leopold II's slave trade operations after slavery ended because the idea of losing his slave-trade honey-pot was starting to bug Leopold -- a lot) because technology has made it even faster and easier for what is now called the "New World Order" to harvest Africa's many resources, er, honey. The new "Scramble for Africa" is now in high gear.
But the G-8's twelve younger siblings, the new kids on the block who were only officially included in 2003, don't have to worry about the original eight mega-corporations getting all of the "honey". There's still plenty left to go around. Gold, diamonds, uranium, fertile farmlands, platinum, oil....
So. We get the picture. The G-20 has moved in and is happily snagging all the honey. But what has happened to all those poor worker bees, slaving away to make said honey, once the hive has been destroyed? Sorry. No honey for you guys. And no Sun City either!
According to Google, "A good beekeeper knows just how much honey he can take from a hive without destroying the colony." Well, apparently the G-20 aren't very well trained as apiarists. They have managed to do major damage to African worker bees. Those dudes need to go back to bee-keeping school.
"But Jane," you might say, "your analogy sucks eggs. These are PEOPLE you are talking about -- not insects." I know that. You know that. But do the global conglomerates and corporate-owned governments attacking the riches of Africa full-tilt know that too? Apparently not. So. Here I am in Africa and it is Bee Season. Let's take a look at some of the "hives" the G-20 have harvested already or have next on their list. And, also, let's look at some of the tragedies that have befallen said "worker bees" after their nests have been destroyed.
The most obvious place to start looking at major hive damage right now is Darfur. That one has been pretty much smashed. Uranium and oil. As one prominent Middle East expert wrote me recently about Darfur, "Dar in Arabic means House. So, Dar Fur means the House of Fir. But the Darfur problem is not a refugee problem, Jane. It's OIL, OIL, OIL -- and even URANIUM. Thus, it is truly the House of Oil and Uranium, which has brought death and destruction to that area. There's a lot of oil in Darfur. The Chinese already had contracts to produce and market it, but apparently the Western oil companies want a share there too. And Israel supporters don't want the uranium to stay in the hands of the Arab Sudanese government."
Someone else who I've talked with recently was involved with the international Darfur relief effort and he said, "There is plenty of money available to relieve the people of Darfur -- but the big problem is getting the food TO them. Planes fly out of Nairobi with supplies from the WHO, etc. and air-drop them over the Darfur area. However, they don't dare land." What? It's not even safe for the UN to get into Darfur? That sucks eggs. But if you want a more detailed report on Darfur than that, there are hecka lot of eye-witness reports floating around -- dead babies stacked in the streets like cordwood, that kind of stuff. But go Google it yourself. Why should I do all the work?
Another good source of info about the problems in the Sudan region, I am told, is that new Pulitzer Prize winner, "Acts of Faith".
Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia? Those hives have been pretty much smashed as well. And what about the mining centers like the DRC? What has happened to their worker bees? Watch "Blood Diamonds". Or that movie about gun traders -- the one with Nicholas Cage? "Lord of War". And then there's Barbara Kingsolver's classic novel, "The Poisonwood Bible". The G-8 and the G-20 have been disrupting hives in Africa for a long long long time and they are really good at it. But enough about bees. Let's get back to talking about people. We all can imagine what a disturbed hive of bees looks like -- we've seen enough Disney cartoons. But just try to imagine what a whole continent-full of disturbed PEOPLE looks like. The G-20's search for honey, er, profit has turned all of Africa into a VERY disturbed hive.
Take Kenya, for example. "The northeastern province here and the northern part of the coast is awash with refugees, highway robbers and pirates," said a friend from there. "From Malindi to Lamu, there's a huge problem with lack of stability and a breakdown of the rule of law. Buses have armed escorts riding shotgun. Piracy on the open ocean is common. They take hostages and hold them for ransom -- like those Danish merchant marines. Many of the 'shifta' outlaws come raiding down from Somalia for a few days then go back across the border with their loot. Somalia used to at least have Sharia law to hold it together -- but now even that is gone. Human life is totally valueless in a lot of the Kenya-Somalia border areas. They would kill you for your socks -- let alone your cell phone. If you want to visit even the border areas, you need to bring your own private army." And several G-20 players are in that area because of its oil -- the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, to name a few.
According to the BBC, "Somalia is now officially at the epicentre of a regional Great Game that threatens to unleash a devastating war that could draw in over 12 countries in Northeast Africa. The Horn version of the Great Game is much more serious than the cloak-and-dagger stuff of imperial espionage and diplomacy that pitted Czarist Russia against the British empire in the period between 1813-1907 in Central Asia. Rarely before in post-colonial Africa have we seen such an intense regional power struggle to shape the destiny of a country." The G-20's idea of having Big Fun?
"I live perhaps 50 kilometers away from the largest refugee camp in the world," continued my Kenyan friend. The largest one in the world? The whole freaking CONTINENT of Africa is one giant refugee camp and has been for the last 500 years, as far as I can tell.
Alcohol also plays a big part in helping Kenyan worker bees endure the results of having their hives smashed -- as it does in all too many other places in Africa where bees in the hive have been disturbed. "They call beer here 'changa' and it comes in plastic bags called 'kumi-kumi' -- 10-10. Ten shillings for a 10-ounce bag. And that stuff will blind you if it doesn't kill you first. It's home-brewed, with battery acid added to increase the kick. My uncle makes and sells it." My friend also told me about the local circumcision ritual. "The initiators used to use the same knife on all the boys but now, since the AIDS pandemic, the boys all bring their own knives. They make three cuts and if you flinch, that makes you undesirable on the marriage market. And the place of honor is to be the first in line." But I digress. Except that we have now brought up yet another horror topic for worker bees -- AIDS.
Someone in Madagascar told me about the AIDS situation there. "Because we live on an island, the AIDS problem here has been almost non-existent. But now some big corporation is financing a mine on the island and that opens up a whole new can of worms. Because laborers from the African continent work more cheaply than the people here, they will be shipped in to work in the mines and the port. And they are bringing AIDS with them. And the people here don't believe in using condoms. And they think that AIDS is only an African problem and that THEY won't get it. Plus monogamy is not very heavily practiced here -- if your husband or wife cheats, you get upset but if someone else's husband or wife cheats, you just shrug your shoulders and life goes on. Plus the prostitutes come down to the urban areas to work until they make enough money to go back to their villages -- bringing AIDS back to the villages with them. The government has already drawn up a map showing the future routes that the disease will take." Thank you, G-20!
South Africa has the number-one AIDS problem in the world. "I don't know much about the refugee problem here," said one NGO worker, "but I hear it is straining this country's economy to the limit. That, and the problem of AIDS and AIDS orphans. Here we have what is called 'child-headed households'. Or they live on the streets. Children as young as two years old are living on the streets by themselves. I know one nine-year-old boy who is the head of his household and he's been taking care of his four younger brothers. Many of them drop out of school and look for work in order to support their siblings. Some try to return to school later. I know a 20-year-old who has just started ninth grade. He's struggling to keep up. But he's trying. Children in the primary schools get one meal a day and many of them live on that. But that's no longer the case when they get to high school so they have to drop out."
And speaking of AIDS, I just asked an expert on the disease how one can tell if someone has AIDS. "After a while you get to recognize the symptoms," she replied. "On their faces, their temples sink in and their bodies start to waste away, particularly on the buttocks. That's a particularly obvious sign." Well, that statement just got me in big trouble. Trust me. It's NOT a good idea in Africa -- or anywhere else for that matter -- to go about ogling guys' bottoms!
And while I was stumbling around lost as usual -- yes, Ashley, it's happened again -- in one of Africa's capital cities last week, I actually bumped into an embassy for the Republic of Iraq! OMG. I gotta go check this out. I gots a whole bunch of questions to ask! Should I say, "Ambassador, what do you think about the way that George Bush has turned your country into a total slaughterhouse?" Or should I ask, "How the freak do you think we can stop Bush from killing 15,000 Iraqis per month on the one hand while he steals all your oil to plush out his Swiss bank account on the other?" Or should I just keep my mouth shut or what? Determinedly, I marched up to the gate. "Are there a large number of refugees from Iraq seeking refuge in this country?" I finally decided to ask. That sounded like a pretty safe question....
"Well, actually," said the Ambassador's aide de camp, "there aren't ANY Iraqi refugees coming here. However, we do have a lot of citizens of this country applying for visas to go there." What! People would rather go live in war-torn IRAQ than to stay in Africa? Things are more serious than I thought!
"No, I mean that people from here go up there to work in the Green Zone." Oh. Do they also work for less money than the locals, like in Madagascar? Interesting. And I hope that they are being tested for AIDS before they leave. Iraq has enough problems as it is.
Even in peaceful, scenic Malawi, which has no war-torn countries bordering it at all, "the refugees just keep on pouring in," according to one local resident. "We have two major refugee camps here along with our 11 national parks and game reserves." Malawi is a major tourist destination. I suppose one could consider refugees a new type of tourist....
In Zambia, the refugee problem is intense as people seeking to escape from the DRC and Angola stream over the border and live in vast squatter camps. "But some of them just come over here to buy and sell," said my Zambian friend, "and then they go back home but many of them don't want to go back because the NGOs feed them here and there is nothing to eat back there. If the NGOs could spend their money in the countries, it would be better but the money is just allocated for refugees."
"What do they sell?" I asked.
"Mostly junk made of plastic; dollar store-type of stuff. Made in China. It sells for cheap. But people here buy these things a lot because they are status symbols. Sun glasses. Cell phone covers." Apparently, Zambia is awash with refugees. And people can't get out of Zimbabwe fast enough. I'm sorry, but to list all the countries that are in trouble due to the refugee explosion and to enumerate specifically how each hive is being destroyed would wear out my fingers on the keyboard. This essay is getting too long. I need a break. I need to go off to Sun City! Or at least to go watch "Generations". But the next time you hear about a big refugee problem -- or that illegal immigrants are streaming across some border, any border, even the border between the United States and Mexico, just think of my beehive analogy and thank the G-20.