Friday, July 29, 2011

Angola Concewrned But Not Yet Threatened By Protests

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Angola Concerned but Not Yet Threatened by Protests

July 29, 2011 | 1500 GMT
Angola Concerned but Not Yet Threatened by Protests
A billboard displaying Angolan President and Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos
A relatively new social activist group in Angola is calling for a protest in the capital Aug. 26, a STRATFOR source said. As frustrations about government corruption and socio-economic injustice builds, the long-time ruling party can be expected to use its wealth from the country’s natural resources and its security forces to keep the opposition reined in. However, the government recognizes that the public discontent could eventually enliven an opposition movement that poses a real threat.
The Revolutionary Movement for Social Intervention (MRIS), a relatively new social activist group in Angola, is calling for a protest in Luanda on Aug. 26, according to a STRATFOR source. The group — not a political party but a movement to express socio-economic and political discontent — held three separate protests in March, April and May. Although the demonstrations drew fewer than 100 people in each instance, the Angolan government is not taking the movement’s actions lightly.
Angola’s ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), has always been extremely vigilant about potential threats, whether foreign or domestic. Though it is the most powerful and popular political party in the country, the MPLA, which first assumed power in 1975 when the country gained independence from Portugal, has not dropped its guard since the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002. It will allow some social dissent, at a low level and under tight surveillance, but it has no qualms about using its financial and security resources to quell anti-government sentiment. The MPLA will do its best to prevent large numbers of people from joining the next MRIS protest and will not hesitate to use monetary incentives or physical force to keep the MRIS from threatening its position.

Causes of Public Discontent

The MPLA’s elite, particularly Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his inner circle, benefit greatly from being in power. Not only does the MPLA control the country, but it also works to ensure it has undisputed political control over the country’s natural resources, which include vast crude oil fields, diamonds and various minerals. The MPLA government has used this tremendous wealth for personal gain. It has also used its wealth as a tool to win support from lawmakers through patronage and to maintain the loyalty of civil society members.
MPLA opponents and advocates of socio-economic justice within civil society are drawing their inspiration from the early 2011 uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, and they are looking to similarly express their grievances. Corruption is perceived to be extensive in Angola. While revenues from crude oil (of which the country pumps upward of 2 million barrels per day) translates to a per capita gross domestic product of more than $8,000 per year, widespread economic inequity means that poverty is extensive, and the capital of Luanda, where a full one-third of Angola’s population lives, has been rated as the most expensive city in the world to live.
Much of Angola’s wealth is controlled by MPLA elite and their supporters in the armed forces, parliament and top positions within civil society, but little has trickled down to the general population. The extreme financial disparity has led to popular criticism over corruption and poor (if not the absence of) governance and infrastructure, which in turn has contributed to anti-government protests — circumstances the government fully recognizes.

Rise of Activist Groups

Since March, a grassroots-level discourse has emerged among segments of civil society (which includes representatives from the media and socio-economic justice advocates) in Luanda about the level of corruption in the Angolan government. The MPLA has not shied away from this grassroots discourse; rather, it has injected itself into the discussion as a means of controlling it. The MPLA recognizes that there are significant tensions regarding the socio-economic plight of most Angolans, but at the same time, most Angolans are not organized — perhaps due to fear or “conflict fatigue” — so these tensions have not turned into widespread unrest. Officials from the MPLA have held consultations on public accountability and have publicized events, such as the opening of government-funded road infrastructure projects, to dispel criticisms. Several officials have been arrested, but so far the anti-corruption campaign is largely political theater and a means for some government officials to attack their opponents.
The low-level anti-government sentiment has given rise to two activist groups seeking to channel the as yet immobilized discourse: the MRIS and the Resistencia Autoctona Angolana para a Mudanca (RAAM), or the Angolan Autochthon Resistance for Change. While MRIS has held and is organizing nonviolent anti-government demonstrations, RAAM is calling for political change through violent means. RAAM’s membership is believed to be small and is drawn from several Angolan tribes as well as disenfranchised members of the MPLA and other political parties. It believes the MPLA at heart will not change except when violently forced to do so. Although RAAM is still new and at this point is unable to pose a credible threat to the government, the desire to bring about a change in government by force strikes at the heart of the MPLA’s fears.

MPLA’s Response

Since it assumed power, the MPLA has never taken a potential threat to its position lightly. Domestic unrest is a particular concern for the regime, since Angola’s protracted civil war ended just nine years ago. The MPLA maintains a robust internal security force — the army, paramilitary police and a large presidential guard, as well as internal and external intelligence agencies — to quash potential threats, and it is no qualms about using its wealth to hire informants to infiltrate opposition groups. The government’s concerns are also heightened because the protests come as the MPLA is gearing up for Angola’s upcoming presidential election, scheduled for some time in 2012.
The MPLA mobilized against the previous MRIS protests by organizing counter-protests and deploying security forces to break up the demonstrations. It is a safe assumption that the government has also employed security agents to infiltrate the MRIS to find out as much as possible about the movement and its plans. It is also likely investigating RAAM and working to keep it from becoming a true threat.
The MPLA can use its wealth and security forces to deflect many concerns and potential threats, but government leaders are aware of the public sentiment against government waste and corruption. The MPLA knows this discontent could eventually fuel an opposition movement that poses a credible threat.
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Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe "Splashes Cash On Foreign Jaunts" While Zimbabweans Starve

Mugabe ‘splashes cash on jaunts’

IOL pic dec1 mugabe wikileaks
Associated Press
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe spends £2 million per month on luxurious foreign travel, a report says.
Mail Online reports that the Daily News, one of the few independent newspapers in Zimbabwe revealed the despotic leader spent £12 million on travel in the first six months of this year.
Official papers revealed that Mugabe was often accompanied by an entourage of more than 70 on his first-class jaunts around Africa and Asia, the report said.
That means that Mugabe has already considerably overspent his entire annual budget for transport, at a time when millions of Zimbabweans face poverty, Mail Online said.
The Daily News was quoted as saying: “President Robert Mugabe is the biggest spender in government as revelations emerge that he overshot his annual foreign travel budget by a massive 133 percent in just six months.
“So legendary is Mugabe’s penchant for foreign travel that he has chewed over $20 million to date, way beyond his $15 million annual presidential travel budget.”
The alleged details of Mugabe's spending come after the president made a series of high profile overseas trips.
The Daily News claimed the 87-year-old leader had been to the Far East at least five times already this year, with several trips believed to be for him to receive medical attention at a top private hospital in Singapore.
He has also made numerous visits to other countries within Africa, and flew to Rome in May to witness the beatification of the late Pope Jean Paul II.
Mugabe has been widely criticised for his expensive tastes in Zimbabwe, where many state workers earn just £60 a month and millions experience unemployment.
Local media has previously reported how the country's national airline Air Zimbabwe is often forced to hand over one of its seven planes at the whim of the president.
Mugabe is believed to have chartered jets from the state-owned company several times this year to travel overseas with his huge entourage of friends, assistants and security guards.
The Daily News claimed that the £12 million he has spent on foreign travel could have funded life-saving medication for six months for almost 600 000 HIV patients.
The controversy over Mugabe's spending follows criticism from his Zanu-PF party this week over the amount spent on travel by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Mail Online reported.
Tsvangirai, who has served as Zimbabwe's prime minister under a unity government since February 2009, has reportedly already spent £2.2 million of his department's annual £3 million transport budget.
The country's finance minister Tendai Biti told parliament he feared excessive spending on travel could delay Zimbabwe's economic recovery. Presenting his budget this week, he added that the country faced a £430 million deficit. - IOL

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Garage Door Installed

Wednesday was another day of work on the house. Our roofers made progress. The carpentry team installed insulation and got the new room ready for inspection again. A and H Door And Access Control came to work . They installed both garage doors and got my garage door opener working. Sadly when they reinstalled Elena's garage door opener, they knocked it out of frequency and Elena could not open it. This will have to be fixed today.

I am amazed at all of the craftsmanship that goes into making these modifications and updates to the house. It is also an ordeal for the home owner.

Eritrea Behind African Union Attack Plot

Ethiopia: Eritrea Behind African Union Attack Plot - U.N. Group
July 28, 2011
Eritrea was behind the plot to attack the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January 2011, according to a U.N. monitoring group report on Somalia and Eritrea, Reuters reported July 28. The report said all but one of the people arrested for the plot had been trained by Eritrean officers and it is believed the officers are also involved in supervisory and operational roles in external operations in Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan. According to the monitoring group, the Eritrean officers present an enhanced level of threat to the region as a whole and it has obtained documentary evidence of Eritrean payments to a number of individuals linked to al Shabaab. The Eritrean Embassy in Nairobi continues to maintain and exploit a network of Somali contacts, intelligence assets and influential agents in Kenya.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tuesday's Work On The House

The roofing crew arrived so early in the morning that I did not even have clothes on. I had to run and hide while dressing. The carpenters then arrived. I called the garage door contractor and he was on his way here. I moved my car out of the garage. The garage door contractor arrived and went to work taking down the old doors that are falling apart. The electricians then arrived and did all sorts of work including taking down the power for messingup my computer. We then got a visit from the building inspectors. The house was full of vehicles and people working hard. We passed all inspections!

My poor dog Copernicus had to be held on leash outside while all of the work was going on. It was a lot of pressure and disorientation for him.

The plumbers also arrived and went to work on installing the gas lines for the dryer and the water heater. I had to eat lunch while the roofing crew worked with the sky light above me. Debris fell to the table.

I decided to take Copernicus for a walk along the beach., When we came back I had him on tight leash. He still was able to bite the garage door contractor. I was embarrassed.

The crews worked late and the plumbers were the last to go. I was exhausted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Lot Of Work Monday On The House

Monday started early with the arrivel of the roofing crew. They will spend this week stripping off the old roof and putting a new roof on the house. They will also replace all of the side boards that have dry rotted and give us new gutters also. The roofers helped me to haul up the sink for the wash room. Our carpenter crew arrived. John Jolivette, Jr. told me that he did not believe our fancy sink would fit correctly. He agreed to install it but was not sure that the bottom drawer that Elena loves would deploy properly. There were all sorts of noises and commotion on the roof. Copernicus went mad with all of the noise. Wired WOrks arrived next. Dave and Neil went to work on doing all of the electrical work.  THe new room was full of people working. I was constantly cleaning all of the debris that found its way into the house. It was a day full of hard work. Our plumbing team from Alansi's Plumbing and rooter arrived in the late afternoon and worked until well past seven. Elena got to meet them and see al of the detail work they were doing.

This is a huge investment in time and money. I am exhausted every day. We did get the good news from CBS News that the housing market in our area is one of the few hot ones in the USA and getting as good as it was in 2006. We might recover our investment yet. This may not turn out to be "Elena's Folly!"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Persistence Rewarded

Saturday we went to Costco and found an innovative and different sink for the clothes washing area. We bought it and hauled it out to the parking lot. We took it out of the box in hopes that we could fit it into Elena's car. We found scratches all over it. We took it back in to returns and got our money back. We came home discouraged. Yesterday we went to Lowe's and could find nothing similar to that sink. We took a chance and went to Costco again. We got a big cart. Lo and behold, the sink we loved was still there. We loaded it onto the cart and got checked out. We hauled it out to our Saturn Vue. We saw that we were going to have to take it out of the box to load it into the car. We got out the top part with all of the hardware in it. We fitted this in through the side door. We then tried to slide the body through the back door of the car. It would not fit. We had to take down the area in the Vue with all of the drinks and bags. We got another man to help us get it into the Vue. We closed the door and were relieved. As we drove home we both realized that we were exhausted. We put the Vue in the garage. The construction crew can unload it tomorrow.

Persistence Rewarded

Saturday we went to Costco and found an innovative and different sink for the clothes washing area. We bought it and hauled it out to the parking lot. We took it out of the box in hopes that we could fit it into Elena's car. We found scratches all over it. We took it back in to returns and got our money back. We came home discouraged. Yesterday we went to Lowe's and could find nothing similar to that sink. We took a chance and went to Costco again. We got a big cart. Lo and behold, the sink we loved was still there. We loaded it onto the cart and got checked out. We hauled it out to our Saturn Vue. We saw that we were going to have to take it out of the box to load it into the car. We got out the top part with all of the hardware in it. We fitted this in through the side door. We then tried to slide the body through the back door of the car. It would not fit. We had to take down the area in the Vue with all of the drinks and bags. We got another man to help us get it into the Vue. We closed the door and were relieved. As we drove home we both realized that we were exhausted. We put the Vue in the garage. The construction crew can unload it tomorrow.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Overtime In Soccer City-The World Cup One Year Later


Overtime in Soccer City

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images
Children play a pickup game with the stadium hulking in the background.
On the second Sunday in July, exactly one year after the final game of the 2010 World Cup was played here at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, the cappuccino machine inside the V.I.P. suite was firing up. A bottle of wine cooled in the fridge across the bar. In the stadium’s bathrooms, fresh liners were tucked into the wastebaskets and the soap dispensers were refilled to the brim, as if the 90,000 fans that flooded the venue in 2010 might reappear at any moment. Ephraim Nong, a stadium tour guide, showed me the pitch from the V.I.P. viewing deck. It is maintained religiously, he said: cut three times a week, the grass in shadow artificially sunned using giant lamps hung on wheeled racks.

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“When was the last event here?” I asked.
“When was our last event?” Nong dropped his head. “Yeah, man, let me see. I think it was May.”
Outside the stadium, along Golden Highway, the stoplights were down, literally: some of them lay on the ground, while others dangled from their stalks like pay-phone receivers off the hook. On the road that led to the corrugated iron shacks of Soweto, a billboard declared: “1 Ball Can Change It All!”
It advertised the lottery, but it also summed up South Africa’s hopes for the World Cup. Many South Africans imagined that hosting the tournament would create big, visible benefits, turning the country decidedly, glamorously first world — normally the work of generations — nearly overnight. Dawie Roodt, a South African economist, forecast a “massive inflow” of foreign capital and a “massive increase” in tourism, but “I was completely wrong,” he said. There are some new roads, but one year later, South Africa is a similar country, still struggling with inequality and a fragile infrastructure. The day before my visit, in a neighborhood across Golden Highway, there was an electricity blackout, Nong told me. Residents protested bitterly. “There were tires in the road.”
In a recent poll, 70 percent of South Africans said they now believe the World Cup actually brought the country economic disadvantages. The 10 host stadiums are particular sources of dispute. When they were being built or refurbished, rock concerts and glammed-up local soccer games were cited as the potential return on the government’s $1.6 billion investment, but the concerts have been few, and some of the host cities don’t even have soccer teams.
So the stadiums mostly stand empty, already monuments. At Soccer City (since rechristened First National Bank Stadium), the honking of vuvuzelas has been succeeded by the twittering of birds. Several species roost in the rafters, and when there are no tours to lead, Nong gets to know them. “There are the tall ones with dark legs,” he told me. “And the ones nearly like flamingos.” He imitated their different noises: Glug-glug. Cluck-cluck.
And yet something lingers: a sense of pride, even of nationhood. I saw it in people’s clothes as I drove north from Soccer City. In Johannesburg’s Muslim quarter, a man with a long beard layered a shalwar kameez over track pants striped in green and gold, the national soccer team’s colors, which became fashionable during the tournament. Downtown, street vendors sold green-and-gold jackets; a woman shopper swaddled her baby to her back in a green-and-gold blanket.
In the same poll in which they lamented the World Cup’s economic disappointments, 78 percent of the respondents said they thought South Africa derived “social cohesion” from hosting it. “South Africa is still by default a divided country,” Roodt, the economist, said. This yields a longing for cathartic moments in which South Africans can come together and revisit the possibility of becoming a different kind of country. There hadn’t been such an event since the 1995 Rugby World Cup, dramatized in the movie “Invictus.”
My final-game anniversary ended in a poor area called Diepsloot, recently depicted in this magazine as a hotbed of resentment and violence. There is one spot there, however, that is free of such anguish, and that is the World Cup viewing park, upgraded before the games. Every Sunday, people still gather there to watch sports on the big screen or play mancala, a board game.
The World Cup spirit is more alive in that green square than it is in Soccer City, illustrating how real transfiguration often happens far from the cathedrals we build for it. Everyone I asked was adamantly happy that South Africa hosted the tournament. Some people even suggested the viewing park’s special peacefulness came from an aura of aspiration, a will to do better, that persisted from the World Cup. “We’ve got this park because of the World Cup,” said a boy named Lucky Kunene, who was sitting with his friends in a circle on the grass. “And there is no fighting in this park.”

Encountering A Lawyer Who Represented Me 38 Years Ago

On Friday afternoon, the latest copy of San Francisco Magazine arrived in the mail box. It was an episode devoted to food. In the back of the magazine was a big advertising section for lawyers. I got curious and decided to read it. Lo and behol, one of the ads was for the law firm of Lawless and Lawless. I looked at the picture of the managing partner and the other senior partner. The managing partner was a lady who represented me 38 years ago when I had a big problem in San Jose,California. She was a good lawyer and did the best that she could for me under the circumstances. Her name is Barbara Lawless. I met her when she was a young lawyer just out of Berkely Bolt Law School. I sent her a nice letter.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Battle For An Incredible Part Of African History In The Center Of London

July 15, 2011 10:06 pm

The battle for London’s African heart

The Africa Centre in Covent Garden was, according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a ‘home from home’ for a generation involved in the struggle for liberation. Can high-profile campaigners stop the building’s sale and restore it as a symbol of 21st-century Africa? William Wallis reports
The Africa Centre
The Africa Centre at 38 King Street
If you wished to savour the full extent of black culture in London today, you might head east to Dalston to eat Ghanaian kenke, south to Brixton market to fill your fridge with ingredients for an egusi sauce, then north again to Walthamstow for a dose of fire and brimstone at a Nigerian church that boasts the single largest congregation in London. Or you might sink a quick Primus beer in Tottenham at the Congolese dive Papa Mapasa, before heading south to hear visiting African politicians at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. With luck, you might catch an African band performing at the Barbican, in the City, before close of play.
You would, in short, have to spend a lot of hours on the Tube or bus. Nowhere in the former capital of empire, home to more than a million Africans or people of African descent, is there a central venue showcasing the creative strides that contemporary Africa and diaspora Africans are making in business, literature and the arts. Nor is there an obvious meeting place where Ethiopians can rub shoulders with Zimbabweans, or black artists and activists mix with black bankers and lawyers. Africa in 21st-century London is as scattered as your day would be trying to locate its many parts.


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For generations of people from – or engaged with – Africa, things were once different. From its opening by Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, in 1964, until the turn of the century, the Africa Centre at 38 King Street, Covent Garden, was a place where anyone could eat, drink, dance, read and talk all things Africa under one (increasingly leaky) roof.
Leading African politicians, heads of state, writers, musicians and artists were regular visitors to the centre, as well as thousands of punters black and white alike. It was a rare venue where races mixed in the 1960s, where Marxists eyeballed capitalists at the height of the cold war and where all could celebrate black music and culture at its cutting edge.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu described it as a “home from home” for a generation of Africans who cut their teeth in the turbulent era of liberation struggles. As Farai Sevenzo, a Zimbabwean filmmaker puts it, the centre is a place where “the great milestones of our short history, as well as the political upheavals our continent has faced since independence, have been debated”.
But the building has also been beset by controversies. The latest of these has put its very existence at risk. Earlier this year, news leaked from a whistleblower trustee that fellow members of the charity board entrusted with the centre’s upkeep and ethos were secretly planning to sell the building to Capco, a property developer with South African family roots. Capco, which declined to comment on any such plans, has transformed Covent Garden into a hub for high-end retail outlets and restaurants and has long had 38 King Street in its sights, according to trustees.
A small group from within the board handled the negotiations, in confidence at the developer’s request and without consultation. The board is self-appointed by invitation and, since the membership list lapsed, effectively unaccountable to anyone but itself.
The Africa Centre has been in decline for years; it is no longer the place people go to celebrate African culture. Yet news of the building’s proposed sale provoked outrage among those for whom it remained a kind of symbol of Africa in the wider world.
Chipo Chung, a social activist and actress of Zimbabwean origin, whose mother’s university education in the 1960s was financed by a trust housed at the Africa Centre, is among those who have led a campaign to save the site, organising a petition that has gathered about 3,000 signatures (including mine before I began to research this article). More strikingly, it has helped galvanise a consortium of African business luminaries, architects, musicians and continental leaders into a last-minute rescue mission.
Those lending their support include Tutu, Jean Ping, chairman of the commission of the African Union, Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese philanthropist and telecoms billionaire, Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel literature laureate and Youssou N’Dour, the Senegalese singer. But at the core of the effort is a team led by David Adjaye, the Ghanaian British architect, Hadeel Ibrahim, Mo Ibrahim’s British-born daughter, and another Ghanaian Brit, Ekow Eshun, cultural commentator and former director of London’s Institute of Contemporary Art. The campaign is as much about a younger, diaspora generation appreciation of the building’s potential (and belief that moving the Africa Centre from King Street would be tantamount to moving Parliament out of Westminster) as it is about the nostalgia of older members of the African community for the building’s past.
David Adjaye
Architect David Adjaye
“For too long Africa’s assets – land, commodities and even people – have been sold to others who value them more highly,” says Hadeel Ibrahim. “Previous generations have failed to safeguard the future of this African landmark. Now is the moment for us to come together to create something more representative of Africa this century: young, dynamic and better-governed.”
The board of trustees, together with 14 recently appointed new members, voted almost unanimously to endorse the sale last month at an extraordinary general meeting called as a result of pressure from the campaign. But they have granted a stay of execution, apparently realising that it would be a public relations disaster to dismiss the moral authority of Tutu, and the credentials of Ibrahim and Adjaye, who believe the building can be saved. The rescue team was given six weeks to raise millions of pounds to rehabilitate the building and to provide a plan that would solve the centre’s chronic financing problems.
For Chung, success is essential, not only to save a piece of the African community’s London heritage but to demonstrate how African leadership can work. “We can either present our community as poor and helpless and unable to make things work,” she says. “Or we can prove that we have gained the social capital and vision for what Africa could be in the next century.”
It is not the first time 38 King Street has been held up as something of a mirror to Africa’s fortunes. The building began life in the 18th century as a banana warehouse – where, folklore has it, slaves were sold. It later became an auction house and, among other things, sold Benin bronzes from Nigeria. It was bought by the Catholic Church and, in 1962, gifted to the African community in its broadest sense. The idea was to provide a social, political and cultural platform at the heart of London for Africans and people interested in the continent during a period of tumultuous change. When it opened, the nearby piazza in Covent Garden was still a vegetable market, its environs a scruffy home to artisans, second-hand clothes stores and family-owned cafés. There wasn’t a Burberry bag in sight.
Over the years, the centre shed its Catholic skin to become a hotbed of liberation movements and anti-apartheid intrigue. In the 1980s and early 1990s it is best remembered as a venue where Jazzie B of Soul II Soul held club sessions on Sundays and where break-dancers scaled the walls.
It remained a place where you could buy any contemporary book in English on Africa. You could then read it at the Calabash restaurant, having chosen from a pan-African menu, and discuss it later at the basement bar, dubbed “Soweto”, which made up for dingy décor with raucous atmospherics and political debate.
By the turn of the millennium, however, the centre was becoming a shabby anachronism in deep financial trouble. In increasingly smart surroundings, it was more a reflection of Africa’s decline than of the continental revival under way.
As Westminster Council closed down sections, enforcing health and safety regulations, the centre’s income from events, rent and sales dwindled and the management borrowed to pay the staff. It was virtually bankrupt when, in 2006, the Arts Council – in the role of a cultural International Monetary Fund – earmarked £3m in loans and grants.
Before releasing the funds, the Arts Council insisted on a change of direction and imposed conditions akin to the belt-tightening enforced on indebted African countries by multilateral lenders. Staff were laid off, debts paid and the finances gradually sanitised. Today, there has been a significant turnround; the centre has roughly half a million sterling in the bank and runs at a negligible loss each month.
It was a place where you could buy any contemporary book in English on Africa then discuss it in a bar dubbed ‘Soweto’
Still, it is a shadow of its former self. Refurbishment of some front upper floors has allowed the charity to draw rent from NGOs, a shop and consultancies. But the core auction hall and rear of the building continue to decay. The glass lectern roof, which once beamed light down past an elegant mezzanine floor, has long been boarded up. In a warren of back rooms, valuable art works collect dust, archives lie jumbled in boxes and mould is spreading across the walls. There is one employee running a skeleton programme of events.
By the time Capco approached the trustees with a £10.5m offer, many were already convinced that the only way to save the charity was to sell the building. They were frustrated that an ambitious plan to revitalise it (costed at £10m- £12m) never got off the ground. (It was completed just as world markets tumbled in 2008.)
They had concluded that the building was, according to chairman Oliver Tunde Andrews, a Lagos-based banker, “not fit for purpose”. And it would be prohibitively expensive to make it so because of its Grade II listed status. With the proceeds of a sale they would buy a more manageable space, and create an endowment fund with the difference – perhaps £5m. With this, Andrews tells me, they would place the centre on a sound financial footing for the first time and relaunch with a programme of events relevant to a new generation of Africans in the UK.
Graeme Jennings, a consultant brought in by the Arts Council to run the centre, elaborates. He explains that the putative new venue, also in central London, would be smaller, big enough to host a book launch or corporate seminar, but not a ­concert or a club. There would be an ­information centre but not necessarily a bar or café. The focus would be on using the endowment to leverage further financing, to bring African talent to London and to host events at bigger, world-class venues around the city. The demise of 38 King Street is “tragic”, he tells me, but he fears that if the Africa Centre stayed there the building would bring down the organisation again.
Where Andrews and pro-sale board members see dry rot, wet rot, asbestos and prohibitive bills, others who visit 38 King Street see great potential. For them the building is a priceless asset that, with the right vision and support, could be dragged into the 21st century to showcase Africa and Africans again, to fulfil, as they see it, the centre’s proper purpose.
As Adjaye puts it: “The centre has the history and it would be a shame not to reinvent it for another generation. It has lasted through the most difficult times. Now there is an affluent African class that can support it. This is the moment we should be galvanising that support, not giving up.”
Broadly, what Adjaye and others will propose is the complete refurbishment of the building. The ground floor and central venue would remain a public space for cultural events, the restaurant and bar would be restored and possibly given to a high-end franchise such as Momo, which has expressed interest in the past. The top floors would become a private members’ club, income from which would – together with the restaurant and bar – subsidise the rest.
Ekow Eshun, who is working out the programming side to the rescue plan, points to the success of the Double Club, a temporary nightclub-restaurant with a Congolese theme that enjoyed success in Islington a couple of years ago: “This is a hard-nosed proposition, one that is not just about holding on to the legacy of the building.”
Jazzie B, who breathed new cultural life into the centre in the 1980s, believes a turnround is in sight: “This is the generation that can do it,” he told me. “In such a short time all these people have come together – they know how to run a business and they have a clear vision of what the centre’s about.”
For the plan to work, however, the board of trustees must agree to shelve their own ambitions – something they have exhibited little inclination to do so far. Various trustees I spoke to dismissed the many offers of advice and assistance they have received including the most recent. The Ibrahims are “unreliable”, I was told. Adjaye, Britain’s most distinguished black architect, “offered a poor submission in the past”. And, Desmond Tutu is not in possession of the facts. He has been “manipulated” into backing the campaign.
There’s the rub. Before anyone sensible puts their money into the building, whether in the form of loans or grants, they will first need to persuade the board to put the sale on hold. And then they will almost certainly want to gain control of the board and change the governance structures. These have been described by Andy Gregg, an expert in charitable foundations, as “blatantly oligarchic”.
“If the centre is an anachronism in its current state then so is the way it is run,” agrees Chipo Chung. Unless that changes too, it is likely that to experience anything comparable to what 38 King Street once offered, you will continue to spend long hours on the Tube.
William Wallis is the FT’s Africa editor

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Movie The Brylcreem Boys

I subscribe to Hulu. It is a movie and TV service that competes with Netflix. This service has these great little fims that never were commercial successes. I am watching one such film-The Brycreem Boys. It was made in 1998. I thought I was an expert on World War II history but I learned something new. A number of Allied and Nazi sailors and airmen bungled onto Irish soil. Ireland was neutral in World War II. But when a military person from one of the combatants showed up, they were taken prisoner. They were held until the end of the war. I am sure that some South Africans experienced this. If an allied POW made their way out of the camp and to Northern Ireland, they were returned to the authorities in Ireland. The Bristish were concerned that Ireland would come into the war on the side of the Nazis and they cooperated with this imprisonment of their military personnel.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Treasure Lost 20 Years Ago Returns-The Book Savimbi's Angola

A Treasure Lost 20 Years Returns-The Book Savimbi's Angola

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In 1991,I had lunch and a long afternoon in Angola with the late UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. He was a charming and articulate man who spoke English perfectly. He had studied law in Portugal. At that time he was still in a war with the Communist government of President dos Santos. He was recovering from the personal tragedy of the loss of one wife in a lightning atrike.
At the end of our time together he autographed a book and gave it to me. The title was Savimbi's Angola. It had been published in 1980. It was a picture book of Angola torn apart by civil war and all of the death,destruction, and suffering. I was honored to receive the book. It became a treasure for me.

How had I come to be there in Angola with a fugitive rebel leader in the middle of a civil war? It starts with a lady named Maria Neli Pinto Santos. She was born in Luanda, Angola of Jewish/Portuguese parents. When Portugal still controlled Angola, she lead a life of parties, good food, and fun on the beaches. When the Portuguese gave up and left Angola, the Communists took over. Life became very bad. She and her young daughter Sandra fled Luanda in 1975 and came to Johannesburg as refugees.

Neli and Sandra found the same shocking reality that other refugees from Angola, Mocambique, and Zimbabwe found in South Africa. Quite literally the local white population considered all of them cowards who had abandoned their countries. They got little or no help or sympathy. Neli and Sandra ended up living with a compassionate black family. Neli worked hard and got her degree in mechanical engineering. She was able to find work and support her daughter.

Neli also developed a business relationship with the leader of the UNITA rebels in Angola; Jonas Savimbi. Angola was so rich in diamonds that one could literally walk along crocodile-infested river banks and pick them up. As Savimbi nad his men found diamonds in Angola, some of them went to the CIA to finance arms and other military purchases. The rest were smuggled to Neli in South Africa (She never explained how.) It appears that the South African authorities turn "a blind eye" to the whole thing. Neli became an expert jeweler and used her contacts with other jewelers to cut and sell the diamonds. Neli was a lady of strong moral principles. She refused to use the proceeds from the diamond sales to buy weapons or anything that harmed other humans. Rather she used the money to buy food,medical supplies, clothing, etc.

Neli and I met through a Christian introduction service. We began a passionate realtionship. I got to know the details of her secret life. She told me that she had to go to Angola to meet with Savimbi. At that time there was a thaw in the bad relations between Angola and South Africa. One could get an Angola visa and then get on the South African Airways flight from Johannesburg to Luanda. We could not do this as we would have been under surveillance from the moment we landed in Luanda. We could have ended up leading the Communist agents to Savimbi's headquarters.

Neli told me that we would have to fly to Windhoek in what was then South West Africa (Now Nambia) and make our way across the border with Angola. At that time a long insurgent battle between the South African Defense Force and SWAPO (Southwest Africa People's Organization) was coming to a halt. However the border with Angola was a dangerous place to be, Wheb one crossed into Angola it became even more dangerous. If one was unlucky to be caught by a patrol of the Angolan government, the best case scenario was months or years in a vile prison while a deal was struck for your release. The worst possible case was that you could be shot right on the spot for being spies.

Neli was unphased by all of these dangers. We landed in Windhoek and were met by a shadowy African who guided us across the border into Angola. At he border we were met by a patrol of Savimbi's soldiers who drove us to his headquarters. When we arrived I found a simple and spartanical camp. We were told that we were going to have lunch with Savimbi. At the appropriate time he met us and immediatley put us at ease. He was a warm and articulate man who spoke beautiful English. We had a deightful time. At the end of the meal, Jonas Savimbi autograpohed a copy of the book Savimbi's Angola. He gave it to me as a memento of our time together. Neli took a lot of pictures. The next morning a squad of his soldiers escorted us bacak to the border with Southwest Africa. Our guide on that side was there to meet us. We were driven back to the Windhoek airport and flew back to Johannesburg.

The passionate relationship that Neli and I shared burned out quickly thereafter. But the book that Savimbi had given me became a treasure. Late in 1991 all of my goods went into storage at a warehouse run by Thompson Moving And Storage. I fell behind on my storage payments and all of my goods were sold in 1998. I lost some real treasures including that book.

While I was at a trade show in Hannover, Germany in February of 2002, I got the sad news that Jonas Savimbi had been ambused by the Angolan army and killed. I was heart broken. He had entered into a peace agreement with the government of Angola and allowed to remain free and live in Angola. He had got angry with what he considered were violations of the peace agreement. He had started the civil war again.

I always remembered the book that he had given me. I was sure it was a part of my life that had been lost forever. Two months ago I was working with a rare book dealer in Port Elizabeth named Lindsay Christiansen. He had a book with that title. I ordered it not thinking it was the same book that I treasured. A package arrived from South Africa yesterday. When I tore it open I found that it was indeed the book I had lost long ago. Sadly it dd not have Savimbi's autograph. I was so touched that I had tears in my eyes.

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