• White Facebook Icon
Oct 13, 2018

Uhuru Revisited


Uhuru Revisited by Ron Singer te, presents a wealth of African voices, all struggling with how to encourage open democracies in their lands A logistical tour de force, Uhuru Revisited includes interviews with leaders, journalists and some common folk in six African countries. As I try to process all the information here, I am struck by my own ignorance of Africa. Even though I have traveled to two francophone countries there and included African literature in my teaching, I have scarcely scratched the surface of understanding this vast continent with its countries emerging from the yoke of colonialism and apartheid only to fall into military dictatorship. Most of what I encountered here, the complex struggle toward democracy, was new to me. Much of the information is conveyed through interviews, which Ron transcribes verbatim.

The book contains three parts. In the first, which concerns income inequality in South Africa and Botswana, we meet individuals dedicated to helping the poor. Orlean Naidoo devotes her life to helping people like elderly Aunty Deeda regain such basic necessities as electricity. Utilities we take for granted are far from universal in Africa. Patrick Van Rensburg managed to relinquish old white-centrist views and lead the way in building needed structures. Part Two concerns the press in Ethiopia, whose journalists were interviewed in exile because of repression at home, and Kenya, where those valuing a free press struggle against corruption and ethnic rivalries. Speaking truth can mean persecution, sometimes even imprisonment. Section three deals with the lingering problem of corruption and governance in Nigeria and Ghana. We encounter the architect of democratic reform in Chief Anthony Enahoro and the inspirational leader and author Wole Soyinka. In Ghana, Ron spends hours with the inspiring Kan Dapaah, who gives hope that the ethos of corruption can be changed. The book is packed with all the complexity of a continent taking charge of its destiny. Africans were eager to get their stories out and happy to speak with an American who understood their history.

Ron’s experience in the Peace Corps (in Nigeria, I think) many years ago led to a life-long concern for Africa, its problems and, as shown here, its brave and brilliant writers, builders and leaders.


New Posts
  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Sep 2

    Where the Roads All End; Photography and Anthropology in the Kalahari by Ilisa Barbash ’77. This book tells three stories. First is the story of Lisa Barbash, Curator of Visual Anthropology at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, who sorted through 40,000 photographs taken during the course of eight excursions to Africa, went through all the notes and papers of the participants, interviewed those who were still around, and put it all together into this beautiful book, which memorializes the other two stories. The overriding narrative concerns the Marshall family, their travels and their efforts to keep a record of their interactions with the indigenous people they met and befriended. When the family began their adventures, Laurence and Lorna, the parents, were in their fifties and John and Elizabeth were teens. Laurence, an extremely successful businessman, could have rested on his laurels, but instead he wanted to bond his family by traveling deep into the Kalahari (where the roads all end) to see if there were really hunter-gatherers uncontaminated by modernity. The third story concerns the Ju/’hoansi (and to a lesser extent the /Gwi). When the Marshalls encountered these people, commonly called Bushmen, they were living in successful equilibrium with their environment, having enough to meet their needs. In the course of the 11 years of the expeditions, from 1950 until 1961, the Marshalls witnessed the encroachment of the surrounding world. They watched sadly and tried to help as events overtook Ju/’hoansi traditions and way of life. The Marshalls proved to be quick studies at the science of anthropology. Laurence organized, Lorna studied the children and kinship, John made several acclaimed films showing the people going about their lives, and Elizabeth wrote books including The Harmless People. They were guided by Margaret Mead; Lisa quotes her statement that the best way to understand ethos is through disciplined use of the observer’s own emotional response. With human beings, disinterested measuring and observing provide only shallow results. I think of John Barth’s line in Lost in the Funhouse : “the observer makes perfect observation impossible.” Heisenberg shows that this holds true even in the more pure sciences. Out on the Kalahari, the emotional bonds that form between scientists and their subjects is at the core of the story. At one point Lorna says that if she had it to do over again, she would not have come because the ruts carved out by their trucks led the way to the isolated people and hastened the end of their world. Africa was of course going through all manner of upheaval during those times. New nations were emerging as colonial powers lost their hold. White farmers, profiting from the chaotic times, sometimes captured Ju’/hoansi and made them slaves. In moves reminiscent of what native Americans endured, their land was taken over. Here we see the story first hand through the poignant and gorgeous photographic record.
  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Sep 2

    Labor’s Lost, women’s Work and the Early Modern English Stage by Natasha Korda ’79. We all know that Juliet, Lady Macbeth and every female part in Shakespeare was played by a male actor in the time of Shakespeare. What were the women doing? Natasha explores the tasks in and about the theater that women performed, expanding our knowledge of how much woman’s ingenuity, and expertise contributed to the plays and to society at large. Who washed, starched and pressed all those elaborate ruffs? Obviously, the women. More than that, widows and unmarried woman were instrumental in the lending of money for interest, making capital available when direly needed. Natasha is thorough in her examination of women’s contributions. I was particularly fascinated by her analysis of The Merchant of Venice as Portia portrays the newfound power of a married woman having economic clout of her own, the analysis of the cries of street venders as they impact the theater (Hamlet’s instructions to the actors) and commerce, and the use of puppets in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair ( of particular interest to me since I wrote my dissertation many years ago on the interplay of puppet theater and live theater in the twentieth century.)
  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Jun 25

    The Flight of the Romanovs, A Family Saga by John Curtis Perry ’48? And Constantine Pleshakov. We all know little snippets of this story. We remember the strange (but very temporary) power of Rasputin, the apocryphal (and completely false) story of Anastasia, and the steep fall from imperial sovereignty as the revolution swept away all the trappings of excessive opulence. This book, in elegant, compelling prose, presents the full story of this family of unprecedented wealth and privilege. I could not put this book down. Our acquaintance with the family begins with the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. Though stability marks succeeding generations, this death serves as a reminder and omen that all can be lost in a moment. When revolution comes, the huge extended Romanov family must scramble to survive. Nicholas II and his family are of course all slaughtered, but the dowager, Nicholas’ mother, survives as do many grand dukes and duchesses, descendants of Nicholas I, Alexander I’s father. We get to know these fallen aristocrats as they seek asylum with royal relatives in Europe, sometimes pathetically failing to cope with their new reality, sometimes showing reserves of unexpected resilience. Some harbor futile hopes that first Lenin and then Stalin will be brought down and that the Romanovs will be restored to what they see as their rightful place. Several, ludicrously, continue to jockey for position as heir apparent. The authors have explored the archives and have found many documents written by members of this colorful family. Because of this thorough research, the characters come alive. I was quite surprised that the son of Grand Duke Dmitri served as mayor of Palm Beach, right across the state from me. The book reads like a novel, but one where the characters were real people who endured extraordinary upheavals, enormous reversals of fortune, and clashes both petty and earthshaking.