My Blog Pages

‘Africa: A Moral Outrage’ – Tony Blair (Part 2)

‘Africa: A Moral Outrage’ – Tony Blair (Part 2) by Yemi Ogunshola

In Perspective

Anthropologists say that Africa once enjoyed a time of greatness that helped to bring about the civilization of the Western world: a period of scientists, sailors (as in Mansa Musa’s time), scholars, historians, astrologers, mathematicians,and philosophers. In ancient Ghana, then the Gold Coast, you could keep your gold at the village square and return a long time afterward to find the precious metal at the same spot. But it was also a place that provided strong slaves for the plantations of Europe and the Americas.    

Anthropologists say, too, that the concept of trading, negotiation (as in barter), science, sociology, new-age engineering and reconstructionism  spread out of Africa. Northern Africa also had a taste of Roman civilization, spreading down to wealthy Egypt and her neighbouring states.    

Not only was the first university in the world located there, it was also in Africa that modern warfare and the use of guns originated. Alas, the guns have now been developed and re-sold to the old country so political factions could kill each other.  A friend asked recently: “Given the wealth and beauty of the African past, how then did all the good things suddenly go sour?”    

Some contest that it started with slavery, which saw the depletion of the strong work-force of the African continent. But what is often not realized is the extent of the co-operation of some of Africa’s kings in this trade, and the existence of worse levels of slavery and serfdom in Europe long before it began on a large scale.

Yet, the African experience was hardly a period of slavery in the beginning. It was, since the first Spanish caravel sailed from the West coast of Guinea in 505 with almost twenty Africans, a well-intentioned attempt by the kings to help Europe to develop, especially in the field of modern agriculture. Because of the quality of African engineers, the Spanish, and later the Portuguese, asked for more: an insatiable appetite that eventually led to inter-communal war, forced captivity, and ultimate degeneration to indentured servitude and, eventually, slavery in the Americas. The rest is history.     

Not much has changed!    

Many question the seriousness, or lack of it, of the black communities regarding their own affairs. At the session with the PM in Lancaster House, it was revealed that fewer than 1% of people in a poll taken knew about the existence of the Commission for Africa. It would seem reasonable that we must now move beyond the issues of food and water for black people, to those of knowledge acquisition, literary appreciation, science, technology, all of which will help to set currently disadvantaged African countries on an equal footing with the rest of the developed world.

The Gordian Knot

There is an old gardeners’ saying, that the apple never falls too far from the tree. This links with the fable of the Gordian knot. The legend goes that some old men, wise in their ways, travelled into Greece to unravel the mystery of the knot. But, alas, their attempts at unpicking it were to no avail. And then Alexander, young and vibrant, stepped forth and cut the knot in one masterful stroke with his sword.    

The story connects with events of the Diaspora. In a floor contribution at a London session prior to the meeting in Lancaster House, one lone voice suggested a mental re-orientation, a suggestion that was hardly accorded a second thought. Like Alexander, though, the lone voice had cut the Gordian knot, for more needs be done to get back to  the roots of what made Africa tick in the past.   

The African Question

But now, the British PM waves an olive branch anew! At Lancaster House, venue for the last meeting of the African Commission, Mr. Blair took questions from the press. The  Sky News correspondent ask the PM first to clear ‘the uncertainties created by the Iraqi war’. The PM stated that he preferred to concentrate on African issues for the moment.    

A correspondent from Kenya wanted to pin Tony Blair down to the issue of debt-relief. The PM made promises, but would not be committed on debt forgiveness for African nations considered wealthy enough. Nigeria is a case in point: a nation blessed with human and material resources, but one still struggling with political and administrative matters.    

But soon it was all over for that night. It was bright and lovely at Lancaster House as members of the press mingled to exchange further ideas, enabling the foreign press to learn some of the realities at first hand from the African journalists.    

Bob Geldorf’s presence was a reminder of the all-star cast of the 1984 Feed the World project (in aid of famine relief in Ethiopia), that featured artistes such as Boy George, Jody Watley, Sting, Phil Collins, Paul Young, Gary Kemp, Roger Taylor, George Michael, and other members of groups that included Bananarama, Cool and the Gang, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, and Culture Club. Eight million pounds was raised worldwide.

A new generation of singers, including Miss Dynamite, Will Young, Jamelia, and several others made the studio in November 2004. The Ethiopian famine had gone but Bob remains, active on behalf of other African peoples in need. 

Now, everyone talks about Africa and the world worries afresh about her future. The figures official fact sheet on Africa says it all! While Africa’s whole Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from US $ 325 billion in 1980 to $559 billion in 2002, South Korea’s GDP alone increased from $115 billion to $712 billion for the same year. Records show that 315 million Africans live on less than $1 a day while the average income in the UK is $100 a day for men and $63 for women.

Far from rising, Africa’s share of world trade has declined from 2.4% in 1990 to 2.0% by 2003 (her total trade increased 148.8% from 1984 to 2003 however). Asia’s share of global trade increased from 14.3% in 1990 to 20.4% in 2003. While many African countries hold no current population census figures, a basis for scientific planning, life expectancy varies considerably. For instance, the average expectancy in Gambia is pegged at 37 years, while it is 73 years in Tunisia. 44 million children in sub-Saharan Africa do not go to school. According to the figures, enrolment in education is as low as 19% in the Niger Republic. 

The Awakening

Among the activities set up in Great Britain to deal with the issue of Africa is Africa 05, with a series of activities designed to create greater awareness of the African plight. The idea for an African awakening is now catching on slowly, but surely. In the third weekend of May, at the offices of the Mayor of London, Nigerians again led the way through an initiative of Nigerians in Diaspora Europe (NIDOE) – a seminar at which guest speakers included commissioner Fola Adeola of the African Commission, The NIDOE President, and Valsa Shah of the Directorate for International Development. The event afforded attendees an opportunity to network and brainstorm anew.     

The African question climaxed in the summer with the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, under the chairmanship of Mr Blair. The agenda was fuelled by the Geldorf-led concerts to create awareness on a global scale. Marked by disruptions – violent protests in Stirling and a terror attack in London – the summit nevertheless went ahead and concluded with what was considered the most detailed aid package ever agreed to.    

The Make Poverty History campaign had its critics, most notably Africans themselves. Controversy began early. The Live 8 Band show in aid of Africa, organized for July 2nd, and featuring stars like Bob Geldorf, Elton John and Madonna in London, and several mega-stars across the globe, including the Unites States,  apparently couldn’t find a black artiste or group (in the United Kingdom) with ‘enough global appeal’ to participate. In a last ditch effort, Baba Maal and Yusuf Ndour were brought in to fill the glaring omission. The poorest turnout for concerts was in Africa itself, where South Africans struggled to make sense of the whole idea.     

The Gleneagles summit and Live 8 concerts are now history. What lingers is the achievement in awareness created. It made sense to invite African presidents such as Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thambo Mbeki of South Africa, and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi to the summit in Gleneagles. In a speech following Prime Minister Blair’s, Chief Obasanjo expressed himself satisfied with the summit. Time is yet to tell how the vision will hold.    

Since Gleneagles, old problems have re-surfaced, with famine in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali.    

Money helps in times of trouble, but true salvation lies in the heart and spirit of the people. In a continent where the first university was located (Timbuktu), where humankind is thought to have originated; where Egyptian arts and sciences influenced global civilization, the people dream of a return to their glorious past. The challenges persist and the privileged of the world need to get their hands dirty, move to the hard streets of Africa, live with the people, invest therein; to build parks and green fields, instill ethical education, remind Africans of their past and the need to think afresh, effect an evolution of the mind-set, of social work, co-operation, and also share with them the true secrets of the forebears which have made other continents great.    

In the run-up to the British elections, Africans stood en masse behind the policies espoused by the Labour party. One would hope that Blair’s vision for Africa remains on course.  In the last week of April, at a Labour party campaign rally organized to coincide with World Poverty Day, at which Bill Clinton spoke by satellite, Chancellor Brown’s address centered on planned British assistance to Africa, and especially to African children. Touching on the activities of the Commission for Africa, the Chancellor pledged his support for the Make Poverty History campaign. Finally, Mr Blair declared 2005 as the year for Africa. “This year can be the year that makes the difference,” he said. “People from Africa are not different from people here. We’re the same everywhere.’’     

How right Mr. Blair is! Yes, Africa is more than the depressing image of hunger, war, disease and backwardness so often portrayed by the press. It is the conscience of the world, a mirror by which the entire universe must see its own self. It is the home of humankind, but needs the help of kindred spirits to rise from the ashes to a brand new day. It is the home of hope; of people still warm and natural in their chosen ways.     

Well, almost always!

 

(Yemi Ogunshola is a London-based writer and critically acclaimed author)       

‘Africa: A Moral Outrage’ – Tony Blair (Part 1)

‘Africa: A Moral Outrage’ – Tony Blair  (Part 1) by Yemi Ogunshola

The black Blues

Europe is not a bad example of how things can change…Europe was at war; Europe was subject to the most terrible resignation…” Words very well put by Mr. Blair at a world press conference in 2005, to which Good Times International (GTI) was invited.

Europe’s is a history fraught over many centuries with uncertainty. It has endured wars, poverty, and pestilence. Britain has had its share of these, battling internal strife, two world wars, general discontent and hardship. More than once the country has experienced royal discontent as feuds rent apart members of the ruling families, for instance, during the period of the Plantagenets. Nor was the nation exempt from disasters: some 70,000 lost their lives to the famous plague. Then in 1666, as in Nero’s Rome, a great fire seared through the city of London, destroying buildings and sending terror into the hearts of inhabitants. It was, as one historian wrote, ‘…a place of fear and flames.’    

Yet, the people picked themselves up and rebuilt anew, as they did after the terrible destruction of World War II. 

“I think it’s possible to make a change,” said PM Blair. “Things can change…This (change in Europe) didn’t happen strictly by the efforts of each country on its own. There was a partnership there…” 

Over the years the picture painted of Africa to the richer nations of the world has been dire. It is too often a story of a tired people seen on television, too listless to lift their arms to swipe at flies as hunger rages in the wilderness. TV pictures present negative images of women and children displaced by war and civil strife as rampaging soldiers kill, loot and rape. Other images show ‘saving angels’, the Red Cross and members of  Western society appearing with food, drugs and clothing to ‘save’ the naked children.

But what is often not expressed is the wealth and diversity of Africa’s history. The cameras neglect to take shots of her beautiful streets, graceful ladies, harmonious dwellings, and rainy season flowers that bloom at some time in the year in most parts of the continent. It is from Africa, scientists say, that all mankind originated.

Western society is at last focusing on Africa, striving to find ways to assuage the guilt of a dark past that, some would argue, had been the cause of the continent’s dire straits. Africa, once strong and vibrant, now seems a shadow of that happier past. Victim of slavery, cruelty of ‘the middle passage’, battered by western colonization, discrimination, and seemingly afflicted by an inability to adopt patient thinking, her green fields which once fed millions are now changed in colour, brown and exhausted.     

Mr. Blair’s response was to set the Commission for Africa in 2004. Since then activities have gone into overdrive. Tony Blair’s comments to the world press after the third meeting of the Commission for Africa in 2005 were as strong as they were emotive. He recalled the Tsunami disaster earlier in the year that had claimed so many lives.    

“What has happened in Africa is roughly equivalent to that scale of disaster,” said the PM.

Interesting thoughts! But, unlike in the past, thoughts are now backed with serious action. And it was action of a different kind, as the PM set initiatives in motion, enabling the gathering of minds to brainstorm on the problem.  In Great Britain, the host country, the United States of America and also in the historic cities of Africa, they sought to find answers.    

Tony Blair spoke further:   

“So, what we can try and do is to come together, commissioners from different parts of the world, different walks of life, (for) consultations, discussions with people of different countries. 93,000 people and organizations have contributed. We have received hundreds of written submissions. We’ve seen literally hundreds of foreign people (who) have participated to discuss the issue…We have to wait for the report to judge that properly. But I do say this is to set out a comprehensive plan with a very powerful position for a strong and prosperous Africa.”     

The report, produced after a long and tortuous process, was published in early spring, 2005, at the British Museum, London. With Mr. Blair as President, the Commission drew several people from Europe and other continents, including Chancellor Gordon Brown (UK), former Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldorf (Ireland), Fola Adeola (Nigeria), KY Amoako (Ghana), Nancy Baker (USA), Hilary Benn, Vice President (UK), Michael Camdessus (France), and Ralph Goodale (Canada).

Other members of the Commission are William Kalema (Uganda), Trevor Manuel (South Africa), Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania), Linah Mohohlo (Botswana), Ji Peiding (China), Tidjane Thiam (Cote d’Ivoire), Anna Tibaijuka (Tanzania), and Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian Prime Minister.    

The Commission held meetings, based on consultative fora across the continents. The final and conclusive meeting took place in the last week of February 2005. And GTI witnessed it all.    

Details of various brainstorming sessions in Africa and Britain are interesting to say the least. The mind-set suddenly seems to be shifting just a little. No longer do Africans at such discussions accept the traditional thinking. And maybe this will change the strangely poor perception held by non-Africans of the continent’s story being confined to the televised imagery of black, malnourished, unkempt, fly-infested men, women, and children with protruding tummies, with trembling hands clutching, and with tears in their eyes weeping for dear mercy.    

The often-fiery meetings of Africans gathered for discussion mostly asked for something else: RESPECT.    

The session organized in London, the host city, by the African Commission in conjunction with ADVAD and Afford, was an enlightening evening indeed. It was attended by individuals and groups representing almost every country in Africa. They spoke for ideas concerning HIV-AIDS, democracy, African development, publishing and reading culture (as espoused by groups like Executive Books/GTI) and other interest groupings.    

Discussions, perhaps short as a result of time constraint, focused mainly on five issues: Marginalisation, Migration, Remittances, Trade Debt and Development, and also the African Image. However, one could be forgiven for thinking that all sessions overlooked the importance of mind culture.

Each group’s submission seemed to express the old concern of not being taken seriously enough. Now, they’d love to see a move to the Promised Land. Some observed the pain and anguish of the African, even in Great Britain, where Africans often have the most menial jobs regardless of their levels of intelligence or the skills and high qualifications they’d acquired in Africa. That, in a nutshell, seemed the dilemma of the African. It is a story fired by the flames of pain and non-expression. Participants also wanted Western banks to stop accepting dubious wealth embezzled out of Africa.    

Some saw the African as a sad reflection of black Britain, a situation where opportunities are relatively few, jobs are hard to find, where children imbibe more of the drink and gun culture than school. Many also wondered why black people hardly ever rise to the very top in management and politics. They’d like to see more black people in white-collar jobs. Sadly, Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, recently even advocated the separation of black pupils from their white counterparts as a solution to the generally poor performance of Negro youngsters.    

Many argued that the Western world was to blame and would seek reparation for years of misery caused by their forbears in the slave fields of the Americas, and to a lesser extent in Europe. Yet others argued that Africans should quit looking to the past; that the vision for the future resides in new dreams.    

But dreams need the encouragement of hope. Many would argue that the stagnation in Africa is a result of the lack of sweet dreams, that state of calmness, which allows for aesthetics and creativity. Years ago, someone once wished that time could stop in Africa! That the busy minds of Africans could be still for once; that creativity could flourish; that the old African ideals of courage, cooperation, fairness, aesthetics and honesty would be back as in the old days of philosopher kings and that creative thinkers could once again have influence.

 

Yemi Ogunshola is a London-based writer/editor and critically acclaimed author

**Continued in Part 2...

 

Marketing Tip 2

YOUR BRAND, YOUR POWER (Part 2) - by Yemi Ogunshola

 

The Next Level

These days few people have been left untouched by the power of the internet.

When building a corporate website, it is essential that it reflects your brand. The internet experience is a journey in itself, and the earlier one begins, then the quicker and more effective are the results. Register as many domain names as possible, select a good hosting company (preferably one which specializes in internet marketing), build websites in accordance with genre (category), optimize the sites with the search engines and directories, and watch your sales, services, and activities soar.

On the world-wide-web, traffic (web visitors) is key to everything. Many websites are like phantoms hanging in space, lucky to receive a few clicks now and then. At best, too many websites often seem like mere extensions of business cards!

A website should be found naturally by internet users. Nowadays, internet users can be numbered in several billions. The easiest way to find sites is via search engines. Last autumn (November 2007) a Microsoft adCenter survey carried out in the UK reflected that more than 60 % of small businesses made no investment in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). But companies which did so reported over 75 % growth in sales and activity. Peter Scargill of the Federation of Small Businesses was quoted as concluding “… creating a website is absolutely pointless if no one can find it.” Billions of dollars have been invested in sites which cannot be found.

Your site is your brand, your power. Investing in Search Engine marketing, website promotions, combined with caring for and updating your site are all crucial.

 

About Author: Writer is Consultant at eGTM Hosting, London.

Marketing Tip 1

YOUR BRAND, YOUR POWER (Part 1) - by Yemi Ogunshola

Your site is your brand…Your power.

A website, unless it’s a search engine, should not be made to serve too many different functions at the same time. For instance, a corporate website is meant to brand the company (or person) and project its image. Selling products on that same site is not a good idea. If this is done, the rewards can be minimal, bringing in less than 2 or 3 % of the site’s potential. The solution? Building as many sites as possible or necessary!

Website genre or categories may include Custom Design, Personal, Business, the Modern, or Corporate. These days, available styles may include 3d, Artworks, Cartoon, Clean, Collage, Dark, Futurist, Geometric, Grunge, Minimalist, Paper Made, Retro, Corporate, Urban / Street, Vector, or Neutral. Depending on your type of business, choose your genre well.

Websites may be in the form of E-Commerce, the orthodox simple website, or Content Management System/Blog. Examples of the E-commerce types are osCommerce, ZenCart, CRE Loaded, and Magento Themes. Web Design types include the Static, Flash, Flash Intro, SWiSH , and Dynamic Flash Photo Galleries. Content Management Systems and Blogs may be in the form of PHP-Nuke, PhpBB, WordPress Themes, Joomla, Mambo, and Drupal.

A website is akin to an office in space. The greater the number of the offices, the more the opportunities which each site affords, since each one attracts traffic (visitors), jostles for a position on the web, and combines forces with its related websites to serve its owner/publisher. Multiple sites also offer choice to clients and customers, with each site having a pre-determined (targeted) audience.

A professionally-designed website, well-hosted, supported by a sales letter, a power squeeze page or power squeeze site, is a must for success on the internet. A special auto-responder system for viral marketing makes for even greater possibilities.

Your website reflects your brand: your ideas; your branding; advertising medium; promotional portal; your marketing tool – it reflects completely the way the world looks at you.