Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, The Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate. by Rose George. Picador: 2013
As with many modern industries, if maritime shipping has become more productive and profitable, this has not translated into a more prosperous work force either on the ships or in the ports. Although life has long been hard and dangerous for seafarers and dockworkers, the container revolution has had an especially destabilizing impact on their wages and working conditions. Before launching into the salaries and working conditions of seafarers, by way of example – there are many to choose from – I would like to relate another “industrial modernization” episode. Another situation comparable to that of seafarers comes to mind in reading George’s narrative: that of the Tunisian phosphate industry, which like the global merchant marine, went “hi-tech.” This mining sector was modernized over the course of the 1980s and 1990s. Productivity and profits in the industry rose, but a 25,000 man work force of miners was cut to less than 8,000 with no alternative sources of employment for those laid off; no Tunisian state investment of the profits gained thereby targeted the Gafsa mining region. It should be no surprise that the rebellion which toppled the Ben Ali government in January, 2011 started several years prior in the Gafsa region.
This is the way of modernization: greater productivity, more profits in a system that is constantly throwing people out of work with either less remunerative possibilities or none at all. Labor, the work force, again and again, gets the raw end of the deal. Such has been the case with the global merchant marine which frankly is little more than an extreme example of the global trends. On the one hand it has led to an explosion and re-organization of world trade that continues until present. Standardizing container shipments to move easily and interchangeably from ships to trains to trucks was a brilliant coup, as was the computerization of the industry, including satellite tracking. But if containers are one of the driving forces behind the maritime success equation, revolutionizing labor relations, the radical reorganization of the work force, is the other. There is a simple but stubbornly pursued goal here: extract more labor out of a smaller work force working for lower pay: greater productivity, fewer seafarers, lower salaries. Nowhere in commercial shipping are these changes more apparent than in container shipping where merchant marine crews and dock workers have been cut to a bare minimum and the loads they manage have grown to herculean proportions….a 20 man crew on a ship with 6200 20 ‘by 8′by 8′ containers.
Actually while the technology of container ships is recent, new, the tendency to create greater efficiencies in maritime trade by creating sea-worthy vessels that can carry heavier loads with smaller, more cheaply paid crews goes back a long ways. In the seventeenth century, when the Dutch ruled the world’s oceans and seas, dominating the carrying trade as it was called, they developed super-efficient “fluyts” – referred to in one website appropriately enough as “the container ship of the Golden Age” that could carry more freight greater distances with smaller crews than their competitors of the day. Was the fluyt the 17th century version of the container ship or the container ship simply a 20th and 21st century fluyt? The principle is the same. Used mostly for the Dutch Baltic Trade, “the mother trade” as it was called, fluyts carried grain, wood, stockfish, copper, tar, hides, hemp, flax and saltpetre, an important component of gunpowder between Baltic ports of Tallinn, Turku, Stockholm to Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Wages were low, working conditions (food, water) often sub-par even for those days and in the long distance trade to what is today Indonesia, the death rate of Dutch seaman could be as high as 50%, but that did not stop a never-ending flow of labor from swarming Dutch ports in search of work.
Was the fluyt the 17th century version of the container ship or the container ship simply a 20th and 21st century fluyt? The principle was the same.
Rose George does not go into depth concerning seafarer wages and working conditions but a clear sense of its challenges comes through throughout the pages of the book. Still, major shifts in the global merchant marine are discussed. Crews have always been international drawing from the entire globe but the percentage of Europeans and North Americans among them has dwindled over the past half century. The officers might remain European but today’s container crews hail from four countries: Indonesia, Bangladesh, China, Philippines. Low wages and English proficiency seems to be key to the ethnic make up of crews. A large number of these seafarers come from the last-named country, the Philippines. They make up a third of all crews worldwide and there are some 250,000 of them at sea. A Filipino seafarer succinctly explained why to George: we are cheap and speak good English.”
Before Filipinos dominated the ranks of seafarers, it was Malays, before the Malays Indian seamen known in the trade as lascars, the histories of each group, rich, painful and rarely told. From the 16th through the early 20th centuries, the lascars were employed especially in British shipping to help in the tedious journey from Great Britain to India and back. As demands for better working conditions and higher wages intensified, the lascars were replaced by the Malays, very active seamen during World War II, and then in the post war period more and more by the Filipinos who in turn, one can speculate will some day themselves be replaced by yet cheaper English-speaking crews.
From the 16th through the early 20th centuries, the lascars were employed especially in British shipping to help in the tedious journey from Great Britain to India and back. As demands for better working conditions and higher wages intensified, the lascars were replaced by the Malays, very active seamen during World War II, and then in the post war period more and more by the Filipinos who in turn, one can speculate will some day themselves be replaced by yet cheaper English-speaking crews.
Gender-wise, seafarers have been and remain an overwhelmingly male profession. Kendal, with its 6200 containers, has a crew of all of twenty seafarers and one cook, the latter, “Pinky”, a Filipino, being the only female among them. Historically women were rarities in global shipping and that remains “the tradition” today. However the ethnic make up of merchant sailors includes people from many places; George relates that nearly two-thirds of ships have more than one nationality, but nearly 40% have several. This is in part a result of the nature of the enterprise, sailors coming and going at different ports so that ships are often compensating for lost numbers at different ports of call. Navies it appears, like to steal crew from merchant ships. That said, today, recruitment of merchant seamen are chosen by planners in shipping offices worldwide. Manila, Mombai, Singapore are often cited. More and more there are conscious efforts to have more multi-national crews. George explains that the seafarers themselves prefer multi-ethnic crews and that such crews rather than increasing, tend to reduce tensions. Perhaps. But I cannot help thinking of the purposeful ethnic mixing in Colorado mines in the early 20th century to dampen labor militancy where companies like the infamous Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CFI – of Ludlow infamy) would purposely mix miners of different ethnic backgrounds speaking Italian, Greek, Croatian, Spanish, what have you, and often unable to communicate their common grievances. It is hard to imagine that a century later in maritime shipping that the same logic is not at least, in part, at work.
The Filipino entry into seafaring is relatively recent, beginning in 1974, with the encouragement of one of the 20th century’s great kleptomaniacs and key U.S. allies, Ferdinand Marcos. It was a way for the island nation to deal with its increasingly aggravated unemployment crisis. Filipino women were sent in large numbers to oil-producing Middle East countries as nannies, nurses sent to Europe and North America and seafarers to the burgeoning container fleets – all cheap labor in the global labor market. Today there are some ninety merchant marine academies in the Philippines producing an astonishing 40,000 seafarers annually. As George notes, in 2011, they sent home some $4.3 billion in remittances. On the Kendal, rather typically, the Filipino crew works under British law (it is a British flagged ship) but at Filipino rates which are around $1000 a month, more than a senior Filipino government official makes, but less than a third or a quarter of what their European shipmates would take home.
The United States and Great Britain used to have some of the world’s largest merchant marine fleets. This is no longer the case. Today less than 1% of the maritime trade reaching American ports are carried on U.S. registered ships. Today there are fewer than 100 ocean-going U.S. registered ships among the 100,000 that ply the world’s major waterways. In 1961, Great Britain hosted some 142,500 seafarers, today the number has shrunk to 24,000, still sizable but much, much smaller than in the past.
Keep in mind that she was embedded on The Kendal, a 6200 container ship that ABM-Maersk chose, not one of her own choice. In a field where the conditions of labor are, at best, “opaque” – as is the whole operation of container ships – it is not too outlandish to suggest the company put her on what they considered to be a model ship with one of their best and most humane captains and a crew not about to mutiny. Still living and working on a container ship is hard at best and filled with all kinds of possible dangers. Despite international agreements, it is in practice a highly unregulated field “uniquely mobile, and difficult to govern, police or rule.” According to the international union that represents the now 600,000 seafarer members, the International Transport Workers Federation, the maritime and fishing industries together “continue to allow astonishing abuses of human rights of those working in the sector…Seafarers and fishers are routinely made to work in conditions that would not be accepted by a civilized society.” (p.11) Once out beyond the 12 mile limit that defines national sovereignty, as in days of yore, most of them are completely at the mercy of the ships’ captains with no connection nor communication with their home countries or company main offices. More than 2/3 of ships crews are denied cell phone or internet access.
Even in the best of situations, a seafarer work week is punishing; up until two years ago, 2012, international standards allowed seafarers to work a 98 hour/seven-day a week work week….which averages out to fourteen hours a day. It turns out they were consistently working more than that as reflected in accident reports. A more recent “Labor Maritime Convention” known as the Seafarers’ Bill of Rights reduced that to seventy-two hours, which is still more than the maximum recommended in the EU Working Time Directive.
George mentions a 2006 report which indicates the consequences of such punishing work schedules: one of four seafarers falls asleep while on watch:
“Their level of fatigue is as dangerous as drinking seven times the legal limit of alcohol. Sixty percent of shipping accidents are due to human error. When the Exxon Valdez struck Alaska’s Bligh Reef in 1989, spilling eleven million gallons of crude oil, an investigation found that the watch officer had been mostly awake for eighteen hours before his shift.”
How much is overwork a factor in the 2000 or so deaths of seamen who die every year or the fact that two merchant ships are lost every week? Add to this the lack of any serious regulatory investigatory or enforcement mechanism to keep ship owners accountable and a picture of just how unstable and dangerous maritime shipping can be, emerges. By way of example, using interviews with family members of victims, George details the sinking of one at Christmas time in 2009, the Danny F II, a livestock carrier arriving from Uruguay to the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli carrying 10,224 sheep, 17932 cows and 83 men. It is a typical tale in many ways along with . Prior to carrying livestock, and with another name and another owner, the Don Carlos, she carried cars. In the early 1990s she was sold twice, first to a Singapore company and then to Rachid Fare Enterprises, a livestock transporter. During this period the Danny F II was registered and flew the flags of Sweden, Singapore, Liberia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. By the time of her sinking she was now owned by the Egyptian based Falcon Point International, the world’s largest marine registry and was carrying a crew that included a British captain and electrotechnical engineer, an Australian stock man and a crew made up largely of Uruguayans, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Lebanese.
Turns out that transporting livestock by ship has its own lethal logic even in the best of times. George notes that according to the Australian Society for the Protection of Animals, some 40,000 cattle and sheep die being transported from Australia every year. Some of the specific incidents cited are worth mentioned by way of example
- During the 2006 voyage of Al Messilah some 1863 sheep and cattle died because of heat and failure to eat
- 6000 sheep were stranded at sea for three months in 2003 having been rejected by their Saudi importer; when another buyer could not be found the Australian government offered them for free to Eritrea
- In 2002, 6119 sheep died in high temperature on four ships. One of these ships, the Al Shuwaikh, was then permitted to load more local sheep and 2,304 of these died.
In the case of the Danny F II, it sank as a result of lack of balance of the ship’s load as too much material and livestock where on one side of the ship. When the ship was purposely tipped to expel animal waste, it could not regain its balance, tipped over and sank. George describes the sinking in detail. Half the crew, including the captain drowned. Those rescued were essentially left to make do on their own and were treated in an extraordinarily shabby manner by Falcon Point International; only late in the game did the company provide a pair of pants, socks and shoes to the survivors, but that was all. As the ship sank in international waters, and not within Lebanese territorial limits, the Lebanese government did not open an investigation. Flying a Panamanian flag, Lebanon had no formal authority over the fate of the Danny F II; despite inquiries from families of survivors, the Panamanian government, “one of the worst offenders at lax publication and investigation” of maritime accidents under its legal responsibility, failed to release a report on the accident or to respond to inquiries.
To be continued…
Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, The Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate. by Rose George. Picador: 2013
I can’t say that either the title or the subject were particularly enticing. “Ninety Percent Of Everything”…hmm, what does that mean? The notes on the cover give more clarity: it is a non-fiction work on the world shipping industry which carries ninety percent of everything from one part of the world to another. Air freight might be faster, but the overwhelming bulk of everything from raw materials to finished products are transported by ship, and a full 60% of that 90% on container transport ships which seem to grow in size with each decade.
Why read it at all?
Well frankly I hesitated and it sat around for more than six months before I finally decided the time had come. I teach more and more in my Global Political Economy class about commodity chains – everything from how a material – mineral, food, water – is mined, stolen from the earth – to how the product is transported, refined, manufactured, retailed and then recycled, or more likely simply turned into garbage. I have long been interested especially into the labor that goes into each step, how much (or how little) it is paid, the working conditions that exist a long the way. Shipping has long been a gap in my understanding of the process, and so…it was time. I figured that Rose George’s Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, The Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate (Picador: 2013) might sugar-coat what I suspected to be a generally boring subject, and so I started there. A fortuitous accident. It wasn’t boring at all. George writes extremely well, is a careful and detailed researcher and I dare say, a humanist. Her exploration of container shipping done by taking a trip from Rotterdam to Singapore on APM-Maersk’s Kendal, a container ship with a capacity to embrace some 6200 containers on board was not just a bird’s-eye view of today’s shipping industry, it was also very much of probe of the human dimension of the industry: what it means to be what the British refer to as “a seafarer”, what we Americans more likely to call a merchant marine sailor. Read more…
Nobody even noticed – not even me – the editor/publisher/main article-special feature writer. Sad but true.
Actually, it is not that sad, not at all. It died a natural death and had a short but vibrant life.
It all started in 2006-7. I was trying to read an edition of The Intermountain Jewish News, but I couldn’t get past the first page. It was so much pro-Israel happy talk, so little content. By the way – I come across it today – and while the Zionist slant is still as potent as ever – its reporting on local, Colorado issues has improved. Still, I could never and will never bring myself to subscribe, it being, like me, little more than a cultural dinosaur, a relic of another age – the Cold War.
Anyhow, at the time, I complained to my wife about how thoroughly bankrupt was the publication and she, in classic form, threw a psychological dart at me: “Stop Kvetching - Do something.” Hmmm I thought, that is good advice, and thus was born, the Colorado Progressive Jewish News. For the first few years of its life, it was a printed newsletter, usually of 6-8 pages, in which I wrote virtually all the articles, although on rare occasions there was a guest writer. I paid for the first edition myself. It cost me $250 as I recall. After that, I was able, believe it or not, to raise contributions for each issue. I came out four, five times a year, usually a run of 500-700 copies, hand delivered here and there. A number of friends helped with the distribution, some Jewish, some not. One column in every printed issue which seemed to strike a chord was “Goy Of The Month”. I’d like to find a way to continue with that tradition but haven’t figure out exactly how… Read more…
Rob Prince at Seventy (November 6, 2014) – Ten Books (well actually eleven, maybe twelve) That Have Influenced Me
(note: This blog entry is lifted from an exchange on Facebook…)
I have been thinking about this entry, done yesterday…something I want to make clear – the purpose of putting these books out with short descriptions is NOT to impress people. Screw that. Who needs it? It is more of a list of recommended readings, minus the first title which is more personal, books that I consider shed some light on the world in which we all live and that I think others – everyone – might benefit from reading. No doubt if it were me who made up the required freshman reading list for my or any other university – Pfeiffer’s Creative Explosion would easily, easily top the list. Screw showing off, screw trying to impress people, which has not been very important to me much of my life anyhow – this is shared information, at least that is the spirit in which it is offered).
Taking Up Brandee Hayle‘s challenge to name ten books that have stayed with me over the course of my life (and being bored with my usual bout of middle-of-the-night insomnia which strikes for no particular reason) I’ll name ten books that come to mind.
Philip Roth’s Letting Go – The only book I ever read that seemed to be about ME, the world I grew up in and moving out West, one of his early works although his ending in Iowa is far more depressing than mine in Colorado
John Pfeiffer’s The Creative Explosion. To my mind although now 20 odd years old – the most engaging analysis of human evolution I have come across, especially the chapters on Cro-Magnon (early humanity 50-10 thousand years ago) and the incredible chapter on how the Australian aborignes learn geography
Karl Marx’s Capital (of course!!) – at least the part of that I understood in our little study group 40 years ago with Nancy, Saleh, Jack and Patty, Scott K (when he didn’t show up stoned), Dick Ayre (who actually understood it all and tried, with little success to explain it). We got through Vol 1 and half of Vol 2
Braudel’s three volume – Civilization and Capitalism, that I keep coming back to again and again and again. To my utter surprise, I found it on a shelf in my father’s home in Florida. He’d read it, understood it, loved it…perhaps the only time I ever discussed a book (or books) with him. That was nice.
Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle – still as good an explanation of U.S. Middle East politics (the USA, Israel, the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, etc) as one can find around
Robert Merle’s breathtaking 13 volume epic historical novel of 16th, 17th century France , Fortune de France, in French- about the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, a kind of proto-type of modern day political and racial bigotry. Am only through the first three volumes but am pretty sure I’ll be impressed with the next ten
Henning Mankel’s “Wallender series” – drunken, slovenly, essentially permanently depressed detective on the edge (and sometimes over the edge) of senility probing the seamy side of post Cold War Sweden.
Eduardo Galeano‘s “Open Veins In Latin America” – best regional history along with his more recent trilogy. There is a guy in the trilogy who is always getting the shit kicked out of him by higher powers but keeps bouncing back and never gives up.
Mohammed Samroui’s Chroniques des annees de sang (in French); former high level Algerian intelligence agent who details in a systematically riveting fashion crimes of state in Algeria during that country’s horrific civil war of the 1990s.
Colette Braeckman’s “Le Dinosaure” (in French) – the penetrating history of “our man in Kinshasa” for so many years, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (his full name which translates as “The warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest”) – skunk extraordinaire – of the Congolese people, but OUR skunk – Congolese ally in the Cold War in Africa.
Oh yeah…some people read the Bible once a year – I read Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species or some other works by the master or by Alfred Russell Wallace who is just as good
This was fun, now I’ll go back to sleep
DU Report: John Evans, University founder and Colorado’s former governor, ‘culpable’ for state’s most notorious massacre.
Anyone with a basic knowledge about Colorado history knows the shame surrounding the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.
But what hasn’t been recognized is the culpability of one of the central figures behind the attack – Colorado’s own governor at the time, John Evans.
A scathing report released Monday by the University of Denver – which Evans founded – finds he created the conditions that led to the killing of members of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes who were living under the protection of the U.S. Army on the eastern plains.
The massacre at Fort Lyon 150 years ago this month killed what scholars say were 73 to 200 women, children, elderly and infirmed tribal members. Sand Creek is one of the most infamous events in the Indian Wars and perhaps the deepest scar in Colorado’s history.
Historians long have condemned U.S. Colonel John Chivington as a “monster in human form” for launching the attack. And rightly so. Chivington was the killer on the spot. He and his men slaughtered tribal members, mutilated their bodies – some sexually – and then brought heads and other body parts back to Denver as battle trophies.
DU’s report finds that Evans had just as much blood on his hands by manufacturing a war he said the tribes had waged against whites.
Aside from his role as governor, he was appointed by the federal government as superintendent of Indian affairs in Colorado. That job entailed keeping peace with the tribes during the Civil War to avoid a war on the second front. Instead, the report reveals, Evans shot-gunned fear-mongering letters to officials throughout the state. He incited Coloradans to shoot as vigilantes any Indian they ran across and to take his or her property as their own.
“Chivington would not have carried out orders without Evans preparing the way,” said DU professor Alan Gilbert. “The lionization of Evans is the opposite of the truth. Evans launched the extermination of Cheyenne and Arapahoe in Colorado and he should not be honored for it.”
For Gilbert, Evans’ lionization hits close to home. Gilbert is the John Evans professor at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The professorship named after the school’s founder is the highest honor bestowed on scholars both at DU and at Northwestern University, which Evans also helped found.
Evanston, Illinois, where Northwestern is located, is named after the physician and railroad promoter who became the second governor of the Territory of Colorado in 1862. Denver’s Evans Avenue and Mount Evans – the twelfth highest of Colorado 14ers — also bear his name.
“Denver and Northwestern have pretended that Evans was a wonderful man and ignored these intense brutal facts,” Gilbert said.
He had suspicions about the man after whom his professorship was named since being awarded the distinction in 2000. About eight years ago, he and a group of Native American students at Northwestern started studying Evans’ record. Their inquiry led to a series of meetings with descendants of tribal members killed at Sand Creek. Study committees were formed at both universities, each of which released reports this year.
Northwestern’s report, released in May, found that, although there is “no known evidence indicates that John Evans helped plan the Sand Creek Massacre or had any knowledge of it in advance,” he “helped create a situation that made the Sand Creek Massacre possible.”
“John Evans’s conduct after the Sand Creek Massacre reveals a deep moral failure that warrants condemnation. While he denied any role in the massacre, he refused to acknowledge, let alone criticize, what had happened, even going so far as to defend and rationalize it. Regardless of Evans’s degree of culpability in failing to make every possible effort to protect the Cheyennes and Arapahos when they were most vulnerable, his response to the Sand Creek Massacre was reprehensibly obtuse and self-interested. His recollections of the event displayed complete indifference to the suffering inflicted on Cheyennes and Arapahos.”
DU’s report went a step further, saying Evans was directly “culpable” for the massacre.
“Evans’s actions and influence, more than those of any other political official in Colorado Territory, created the conditions in which the massacre was highly likely,” it reads. “Evans abrogated his duties as superintendent, fanned the flames of war when he could have dampened them, cultivated an unusually interdependent relationship with the military, and rejected clear opportunities to engage in peaceful negotiations with the Native peoples under his jurisdiction. Furthermore, he successfully lobbied the War Department for the deployment of a federalized regiment, consisting largely of undertrained, undisciplined volunteer soldiers who executed the worst of the atrocities during the massacre.”
The findings of DU’s committee – on which Gilbert sat — make him squirm. He likens teaching under Evans’ name to teaching under the names of Confederate or Ku Klux Klan leaders if he worked at a university in the South. DU, he says, has operated under what he calls “a founding amnesia” since its inception in 1864, the year of the massacre.
“I knew about genocide against Native Americans, but I hadn’t been aware of how shocking this is,” he said. “Now I feel like it’s a sort of burning thing in my soul and I have to do something about it.”
DU is behind Gilbert.
“We offer this report as an initial step to promote empathy and healing, for those of us who have inherited this complex legacy, but also for the Arapaho and Cheyenne people, who have displayed an active sense of presence in the face of victimization and, lest we forget, on whose ancestral lands our campus sits,” reads the executive summary.
In a letter to the “campus community” Monday, Chancellor Rebecca Chopp announced DU will hold public forums to discuss the history of Sand Creek and “consult with tribes regarding memorial plans.”
“The Sand Creek Massacre is a tragic event in the history of the University, the city of Denver and the state of Colorado,” Chopp wrote. “We embrace our obligation to learn about it, to learn from it, and to carry those lessons forward as we continue to realize our vision of being a great private university dedicated to the public good.”
The University rushed to release the report before the massacre’s 150th anniversary on Nov. 29. Its findings may be lost in the news cycle – a day before today’s mid-term election.
As Gilbert sees it, the truth about Evans resonates as Coloradans choose — among other elected officials — their governor today.
“What we see here is the horrors that a so-called good man can commit,” he said. “We all ought to consider that there are not only the possibilities of doing slight harm as governor but, as the early history of Colorado shows, the possibilities of doing massive, ghastly harm.”
[ Image detail of “The Sand Creek Massacre” by Robert Lindneaux.]
(note: also posted at Foreign Policy In Focus)
1. Burkina Faso – Land of Upright Men (and Women)
Its capitol, Ouagadougou, rocked with a week of large and militant demonstrations, Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, is in the midst of major political turmoil that could spread to other West African countries. “Burkina Faso” translates from the local language as “Land of Upright Men.” What is known to date is that after a week of angry demonstrations in Ouagadougou in which the Parliament was stormed and set on fire. Blaise Compaore, the country’s president for the past 27 years, the target of the demonstrators. was forced to resign and give up power.
Compaore was in the process of trying to amend the country’s constitution so that he could extend his rule and become, like his Cameroonian colleague, Paul Biya, another French puppet, president for life. This apparently was more than the country’s 17 million people – 60% of whom are under the age of 25 – could take.
Like in Tunisia four years ago, the presence of hundreds of thousands protesters in the streets of Ouagadougou forced Compaore, to resign, his 27 year rule coming to an abrupt and undignified end. Compaore was then escorted out of the country to Po, close to Burkina Faso’s border with Ghana, by a military convoy. At least three people were killed although opposition spokespeople claim the number of casualties to be much higher, with dozens having lost their lives. Another comparison with Tunisia, under Blaise Compaore’s aegis, the country was considered the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s “best pupils” driving an already terribly poor country into greater depths of economic and social collapse. Read more…
(Latest in a series)
Our reunion of sorts was in La Marsa, Tunisia in December, 2011. Zine Ben Ali, wife Leila Trabelsi and members of their two clans had been gone from the country for almost a year. Tunisians were both relieved and confused. In a country where previously people rarely talked politics to foreigners for fear of the consequences, now free speech flourished. A person would be hard pressed those days not to talk politics; it was hard to find anyone who had anything but contempt for the Ben Alis and Trabelsis. But now the near quarter decade of mounting economic woes, seething repression and corruption on a grand scale was over.
But it was a strange time as well. A wave of religiosity soon overwhelmed addressing the socio-economic crisis as a coalition of Islamic forces, some moderate, others of a more radical Salafist bent, spread throughout the country, a trend at odds with Tunisia’s moderate and more politically secular modern political traditions. Ennahdha, the moderate Islamic Party, headed by Rachid Ghannouchi had emerged from the shadows of the Ben Ali regime as a disciplined and organized political force. With its fraternal ties to the Muslim Brotherhood ruling circles in Qatar and Turkey, Ennahdha benefited from considerable outside funding from these regional allies. The Salafists enjoyed financial and other support from the Saudis and other Persian Gulf emirates. In short order more radical Islamicists had taken over many of the country’s mosques, replacing – purging would be a more apt description – more moderate imams with more Salafist (and in many cases, more poorly trained) brethren. These elements had also taken over the pre-schools. In short order, having gained such status, the new more radical imams began influencing the country’s youth, especially in Tunisia’s western and southern more impoverished regions, but not only there. Read more…