Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer ūüĆě! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

COVID-19 stresses United States on domestic borders; war analog might foster state solidarity upon federal power

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo was recently
threatened with a lawsuit by New York Governor Andrew
Cuomo.  U.S. Air National Guard Photo
by Master Sgt Janeen Miller (2016).
I have just published at the new blog, Law Against Pandemic. Here is the abstract:

The coronavirus pandemic is stressing not only our healthcare systems, but our political and legal systems.  The pandemic has challenged our sense of identity in humankind, pitching us back and forth between a spirit of global solidarity and a competition of human tribes for resources and survival.  That tension plays out in our political and legal responses to the pandemic, manifesting the natural human temptation to tribalism in both international and intranational dimensions.

As policymakers struggle to respond to the pandemic and to curb the outbreak of COVID-19, I have been struck by the emergence of interstate tensions in the United States.  The pressure of the pandemic, aggravated by a slow and uncertain governmental response at the federal level, has been a brusque reminder that the United States are a plural: a federation of states that famously endeavored “to form a more perfect Union,” but that, like human governance itself, remains a work in progress.


Read more at the new blog, Law Against Pandemic

 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Report from Quarantine: Week 1

Since (and because) I returned from Africa via Jo'burg and Heathrow, my wife and I have been in self-quarantine.  Here is my self-absorbed, self-quarantine report, week 1.

What I'm Reading


Moshin Hamid, Exit West (2017) (Amazon).  Hamid is best known for his 2007 novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Amazon), basis of the 2012 film.  This book offers an intimate character study of a couple who flees civil war in an anonymous homeland, as they experience displacement amid western cultures. I care for neither romances nor narrative demagoguery, but this book, colored with a shade of magic realism, is more complex than the former and more crafty than the latter. Thoroughly compelling recommendation from Dean Peltz-Steele.
Charles Serio, The Legend of the Blue Cloud (2019) (Amazon).  Shout out to my uncle, who authored this book.  London based, Charles Serio is an accomplished playwright and communication consultant.  His debut novel was the quasi-autobiographical The Lies I've Told (Amazon).  In this book, he fully embraces fiction, spinning the yarn of young adults in the American West who must combat an evil force that seeks to unleash itself on our earthly realm. The book might best be billed as a YA thriller, though its portrayal of the antagonist has a mature edge. Better than I could write, it's sometimes rough around the edges, but I was engaged to the end to find out what would happen to my heroes.
James D. Zirin, Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits (2019) (Amazon).  I started planning my Trump Litigation Seminar for fall 2020 before I knew this book was coming out.  My goal was to use Trump case stories as a vehicle to teach tort law and litigation skills.  Now I plan to assign this book, too, which adds a rich policy dimension to the subject.  What Zirin illustrates is frightening:  You be the judge of the President; what I find frightening is the sorry state of our justice system, for its vulnerability to exploitation by the ruthless.
Book of Judges (Bible Study Tools).  In my on-again-off-again flight from Africa, I admit, I lost the thread of my church's yearlong Bible-reading study.  But let's be honest, who hasn't lost the thread in Numbers?  I was back in the saddle for Joshua, and now, in Judges, Deborah has summoned Barak to the Palm.  No spoilers!

What I'm Watching


Toy Story 4 (2019) (IMDb).  It would have been hard to top Toy Story 3, and 4 does not.  That said, 4 is a well worthwhile frolic and welcome opportunity to see what became of our beloved characters after Andy.  Key and Peele are delightful additions to the cast as Ducky and Bunny, and Keanu Reeves is downright brilliant as Duke Caboom.  Yes, we Can-ada!
Star Trek: Picard s1 (2020) (CBS trailer, IMDb).  This worthy new entry in the history of the franchise shows Star Trek to be in good hands at CBS.  Patrick Stewart said he would not appear again as Jean-Luc Picard after Nemesis.  But even he could not resist the siren call of the pen of Akiva Goldsman and Michael Chabon, whose writing is inspired.  Make it so.

Avenue 5 s1 (2020) (HBO trailer, IMDb).  Not every joke lands, but those that do more than make up the difference.  Hugh Laurie is characteristically fabulous.  And I adore Nikki Amuka-Bird, who, as Rav Mulcair, steals every short scene she's in.  Fly safe, fly true.

Letterkenny s6 (2018) (IMDb).  I had tickets to the live show in Portland, Maine, in March: postponed indefinitely for coronavirus.  So I slowed my viewing to savor seasons 6 and 7.  Pitter-patter.

What I'm Eating


Crepelicious, Barrington, RI, USA.  A scrumptious ham, egg, and cheese crepe like this one could be yours for curbside pickup from locally owned Crepelicious.  Please, if you are in a position to do so, support your local restaurants and retail!
Whole Foods Market.  Guilty as charged.  In my defense, we're not breaking quarantine to go to the grocery store, which seems to me the weak link in the whole flatten-the-curve effort.

What I'm Drinking


Jamestown Coffee (Facebook).  Made in Ghana, fruit of my recent travels.  Smooth and tasty.
Highclere Castle Gin.  You watched the TV show and the movie; now try the gin.  A smooth London dry with a hint of lavender, it's made with botanicals from Highclere Garden and the imprimatur of real-life Lord and Lady Carnarvon.

What I'm Hoarding


We just received an aid package from my sister- and brother-in-law in Atlanta, where, apparently, this stuff grows on trees.  Before you get any ideas: My house is protected by Smith & Wesson.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Multidisciplinary 'Law and Development' book tackles hard problems from principled perspectives

[UPDATE, March 31, 2020: The Introduction to Law and Development is now available for free download from Springer, via SSRN.]

I am thrilled to announce the publication of Law and Development: Balancing Principles and Values, from Springer, a publication in the Kobe University Monograph Series in Social Science Research (flyer). While I was privileged to serve as a contributor and co-editor, with Professor Dai Tamada (law site), of Kobe University in Japan, this book has been a project of passion for our lead editor, my inspiring colleague and friend, Professor Piotr Szwedo. On the law faculty of the Jagiellonian University (UJ) in Poland, Professor Szwedo serves as head of the OKSPO Center for Foreign Law Schools and co-director of UJ law programs with the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, and the Universit√© d’Orl√©ans.

Born of an international conference organized by Professor Szwedo at UJ, this ambitious multidisciplinary collection examines the problem of "development" across the world especially from perspectives informed by morality and ethics. Here is the jacket précis:

This book examines the concept of ‘development’ from alternative perspectives and analyzes how different approaches influence law. ‘Sustainable development’ focuses on balancing economic progress, environmental protection, individual rights, and collective interests. It requires a holistic approach to human beings in their individual and social dimensions, which can be seen as a reference to ‘integral human development’ – a concept found in ethics. ‘Development’ can be considered as a value or a goal. But it also has a normative dimension influencing lawmaking and legal application; it is a rule of interpretation, which harmonizes the application of conflicting norms, and which is often based on the ethical and anthropological assumptions of the decision maker. This research examines how different approaches to ‘development’ and their impact on law can coexist in pluralistic and multicultural societies, and how to evaluate their legitimacy, analyzing the problem from an overarching theoretical perspective. It also discusses case studies stemming from different branches of law.
Prof. Szwedo
Prof. Tamada
In organizing the book's 13 contributed chapters, we envisioned and executed on four threads of approach: (1) conceptualizing development, (2) financing development, (3) development and society, and (4) applied sustainable development.  Scholars, lawyers, and scientists who approach development from diverse professional, geographic, and experiential perspectives all will find compelling inroads in this volume, which ranges from the highest echelons of philosophical thinking about the human condition to the most earthbound problems of how many fish swim in the sea.  With DOI links, here are the contents and contributors:
  1. “Law & Development” in the Light of Philosophy of (Legal) History, by Tom√°Ň° G√°briŇ°, Faculty of Law, Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovak Republic.
  2. Populorum Progressio: Development and Law?, by Christine Mengès-Le Pape, University Toulouse, France.
  3. Luigi Sturzo’s Socio-economic Development Theory and the Case of Italy: No Prophet in His Homeland, by Flavio Felice, University of Molise, Campobasso, Italy; and Luca Sandon√†,University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy.
  4. International Financial Aid, Catholic Social Doctrine and Sustainable Integral Human Development, by George Garvey, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., USA.
  5. Common but Differentiated Responsibilities for Developed and Developing States: A South African Perspective, by Zuzana Selementov√°, LL.M. (Cape Town), Valouch, and Attorneys-at-Law, Prague, Czech Republic.
  6. Must Investments Contribute to the Development of the Host State? The Salini Test Scrutinised, by Dai Tamada, Graduate School of Law, Kobe University, Japan.
  7. Water: The Common Heritage of Mankind?, by Franck Duhautoy, University of Warsaw, Centre of French Civilisation, Poland.
  8. Private-Sector Transparency as Development Imperative: An African Inspiration, by Richard Peltz-Steele, University of Massachusetts, North Dartmouth, USA; and Gaspar Kot, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.
  9. Between Economic Development and Human Rights: Balancing E-Commerce and Adult Content Filtering, by Adam SzafraŇĄski, Faculty of Law and Administration, University of Warsaw, Poland; Piotr Szwedo, Faculty of Law and Administration, Jagiellonian University, Krak√≥w, Poland; and MaŇāgorzata Klein, Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland.
  10. A Comparative Law Approach to the Notion of Sustainable Development: An Example from Urban Planning Law, by Ermanno Calzolaio, University of Macerata, Italy.
  11. Challenges Concerning ‘Development’: A Case-Study on Subsistence and Small-Scale Fisheries in South Africa, by Jan Glazewski, Institute of Marine & Environmental Law, University of Cape Town, South Africa.
  12. Economic and Social Development in the Republic of South Africa’s New Model of Mineral Rights: Balancing Private Ownership, Community Rights, and Sovereignty, by Wojciech BaŇĄczyk, Jagiellonian University, Krak√≥w, Poland.
  13. Sustainable Development as a New Trade Usage in International Sale of Goods Contracts, by Daniel Zatorski, Faculty of Law and Administration, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.
An introduction from the editors ties the work together.  Previews (with abstracts) of each chapter can be viewed from the book's home page at Springer (or from the DOI links above), where also a flyer about the book can be downloaded.  Working on this project has been a tremendous education for me on law and development.  My congratulations and deep gratitude extend to Professor Szwedo, Professor Tamada, and every one of the contributing authors.

Book chapter examines information access in context of Polish privatization, law and development

My colleague Gaspar Kot and I have published a book chapter entitled Private-Sector Transparency as Development Imperative: An African Inspiration.  The chapter appears in the new book, Law and Development: Balancing Principles and Values, from Springer, edited by Professors Piotr Szwedo, Dai Tamada, and me (more in the next entry on this blog).  Here is our abstract:
Access to information (ATI) is essential to ethical and efficacious social and economic development. Transparency ensures that human rights are protected and not overwhelmed by profiteering or commercial priorities. Accordingly, ATI has become recognised as a human right that facilitates the realisation of other human rights. But ATI as conceived in Western law has meant only access to the state. In contemporary development, private actors are crucial players, as they work for, with, and outside the state to realise development projects. This investment of public interest in the private sector represents a seismic shift in social, economic, and political power from people to institutions, akin to the twentieth-century creation of the social-democratic state.
Contingent on state accountability, Western ATI law has struggled to follow the public interest into the private sector. Western states are stretching ATI law to reach the private sector upon classical rationales for access to the state. In Poland, hotly contested policy initiatives over privatisation and public reinvestment have occasioned this stretching of ATI law in the courts. Meanwhile, in Africa, a new model for ATI has emerged. Since the reconstruction of the South African state after Apartheid, South African ATI law has discarded the public-private divide as prohibitive of access. Rather than focusing on the nature of a private ATI respondent’s activity as determinative of access, South African law looks to the demonstrated necessity of access to protect human rights.
This chapter examines cases from South Africa that have applied this new ATI model to the private sector in areas with development implications. For comparison, the article then examines the gradually expanding but still more limited Western approach to ATI in the private sector as evidenced in Polish ATI law. This research demonstrates that amid shifting power in key development areas such as energy and communication, Polish courts have been pressing ATI to work more vigorously in the private sector upon theories of attenuated state accountability, namely public ownership, funding, and function. We posit that Poland, and other states in turn, should jettison these artifices of state accountability and look instead to the South African model, since replicated elsewhere in Africa, for direct access to the private sector. ATI law should transcend the public-private divide, and the nations of the North and West should recognise human rights as the definitive rationale for ATI in furtherance of responsible development.
Gaspar Kot
With Mr. Kot's help, this chapter extends to a European context my previously published comparative work on private-sector information access. Gaspar's expertise was invaluable for Polish legal research, to be sure, but moreover to help me to understand Poland's richly complex, on-again-off-again courtship of privatization.

In earlier works, I compared the South African approach with the United States FOIA and with Indian RTI law.  I am excited about this approach in access-to-information law, which is now gaining traction elsewhere in Africa, because I believe it to be a potential game-changer in saving democracy and human dignity from corporatocracy. I am spending some of my sabbatical time this semester in Africa and other parts of the developing world studying how this approach is especially salient in the context of problems in social and economic development.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Happy Independence Day, Namibia!

Your humble blogger reaches Swakopmund, crossroads of the Namib Desert and South Atlantic Ocean.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
Yesterday, March 21 was independence day in Namibia. One of the youngest countries in the world, Namibia attained independence from South Africa in 1990 after a brutal war and bloody history of subjugation as the German colony of Southwest Africa. Public celebrations of 30 years of independence were cancelled because of the coronavirus, though an inauguration ceremony of President Hage Geingob, for his second term, proceeded.

Sign fallen to the ground in Windhoek.
I found mixed feelings on the ground about Geingob, who was the country's first prime minister and a hero of the independence movement. One middle-aged man from Namibia's rural north told me Geingob can't be blamed for entrenched intransigence and corruption in the political establishment, that he can only do so much. Meanwhile a young woman in the capital, Windhoek, stringing together multiple jobs to put herself through university, blamed Geingob squarely for double-digit unemployment--by various estimates, one in three Namibians, or more, need work--and fiercely lamented his second term.

The National Museum and historic German Lutheran church stand in juxtaposition in Windhoek.
Me and Nujoma. He holds the Namibian constitution.
I've been sensitive in traveling Africa to the subtleties of foreign influence, especially that of China, and that shadow turned up in a curious way in Namibia. Like elsewhere in Africa (I wrote earlier about Guinea-Bissau), communists financed the independence movement as an aspect of the Cold War; consider, for Namibia, this was the 1980s. North Korea grew close to legendary independence leader Sam Nujoma. North Korea financed a great many public works projects in independent Namibia, including recently and strikingly, the National Museum, which opened in Windhoek in 2014. The building is modernist (technically "socialist realist"), marking a contrast with Windhoek's colonial center, and boasts a Kim Jong-ish statue of Nujoma. The interior is to match, celebrating Namibian independence with socialist-style murals and cult-of-personality-type homages to national leaders.

A mural in the National Museum celebrates independence.
The sun rises over the Rössing Uranium Mine in the Namib.
Why does North Korea's interest persist so many years after independence? Locals point to Namibia's especially valuable natural resource: uranium mines in the western Namib desert. Though North Korea formally is walled off by the West from materials that might advance the DPRK's nuclear capabilities, suspicions point to China as a willing intermediary. And so the African "natural resources curse" persists.

Namibian Parliament: A banner on the Parliament's administrative building heralds 30 years of independence.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Customary law undergirds justice systems in Africa: A-courting in Harare

Outside the "Harare Civil Court" buildings, a discarded sign reads, "Harare Magistrate's Court / Civil and Customary Law." Other court building in Harare are pictured below. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
The integration of customary law into national legal systems based on post-colonial polities is a challenge, and an opportunity, throughout Africa. I wrote recently about customary legal authority in the Casamance region of Senegal, and Zimbabwe is no exception to the norm.

The Zimbabwe constitution expressly preserves customary law, and federal enactments spell out the scope of customary law in sensitive areas, such as marriage and child care. The constitution creates customary courts and charges other courts, including the Supreme Court, with respecting and developing customary law, just as they do common law. For NYU Law GlobaLex, Saki and Chiware (updated by Pfumorodze and Chitsove, 2017) further explained:
The main reason for the existence of these customary law courts is to provide a justice system to ordinary people in rural areas which is consistent with African custom and values.  It is  realized that most ordinary Zimbabweans regulate their lives in accordance with customary law to the extent that the legal ideas and institutions inherited from the system has  preserved the authority of traditional leaders  to adjudicate in civil disputes by customary law.
In Zimbabwe, customary courts have jurisdiction over civil, but not criminal, matters. Common law controls in the civil sphere, while criminal law is strictly codified in Zimbabwe's mixed system.
Scales of justice adorn a high court building where criminal cases are heard.
Jehovah's Witnesses occupy the walk outside the characteristically modest legal aid office.

Your humble blogger stands before the highest court('s house) in the land.
Constitutional Court.






[March 21, 2020] Sabbatical update: For obvious reasons, I am home, and not in Africa. Thanks to my wife who booked my return journey from Windhoek to Boston. Stay tuned for a return to normalcy. Meanwhile, #QuarantineLife.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Shop like a termite: Sustainable architecture in Harare

Leko, my guide in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, uses a termite mound for elevation.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
The Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, pictured outside and inside below, uses passive cooling (read more at Wikipedia) to keep cool without exhaustive power consumption. Designed by Zimbabwean architect Mick Pearce, the shopping and office complex opened in 1996. Pearce works in "sustainable architecture" and developed the field upon an interest in biomimicry. The passive cooling design of the Eastgate Centre is said to be based on principles observed in southern Africa's ubiquitous termite mounds.

Eastgate Centre

Monday, March 16, 2020

Zimbabweans still await their development moment

Robert Mugabe airport.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
In Harare, Zimbabwe, my host (whose identity I am protecting) brought me up to speed on national politics and the present fuel shortage. I had been under the impression that the exit from nearly 30-year rule of President Robert Mugabe, with subsequent electoral fanfare, marked a turning point for the southern African nation. Alas, my host reported that the new regime of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is same story, different day.

Zimbabwe imports its oil, but there is no ready explanation, such as a natural disaster or embargo, to explain the latest (nor the prior) bottleneck and long gas lines. My host blames politics as usual, which means control of the country's oil market awarded to cartels in exchange for lucrative kickbacks to politicians. A business owner dependent on vehicles to move assets, my host explained the strategies he employs to keep his fleet in service, including foreign currency purchases, which can bypass gas lines; fuel storage for a rainy day; the occasional financial inducement to a fuel seller; and, when all else fails, waiting in the interminable lines.

A gas line runs along the road.

A Total station is closed except for its 'Bonjour' shop.
The high ratio of pedestrians to vehicles on the streets of Harare is like none I've seen elsewhere in a major city, as even minibuses are in short supply for want of fuel. There are taxi stands, but the cabs are decidedly parked and not cruising for customers. My host said that the aforementioned politicians never seem to be wanting for fuel, though. Indeed, around Parliament and the executive administration building, I saw many official vehicles, and early in the morning, I saw workers filling their gas tanks from fuel cans. Entrepreneurial roving street merchants, who might be selling bananas, nuts, or newspapers in another city, hawk fuel cans and funnels in Harare.

Customers wait for the grocery store to open in the morning.
Another curiosity that struck me in Harare was crowds of people around and in the grocery stores. Outside a CBD branch of the popular market chain OK were a score of peddlers bearing cardboard signs showing numbers. My host explained that, in tandem with Zimbabwe's economic woes, and also a function of corruption, he asserted, runs the country's currency shortage. Indeed, I paid always with U.S. dollars, received change in same, and never saw other than inflationary Zim notes being sold as touristic novelties. In part because of the currency shortage, and to prevent a run on banks, people are restricted in bank withdrawals. That means one must go more often to the grocery store. But people have adapted, and they do have access to their money through electronic devices. The peddlers outside the stores are brokers, or internet-age money changers, who, for a competitive cut, convert electronic bank balance into hard currency to spend on groceries that don't directly accept debit or public assistance payments.

My host lamented: Zimbabwe is a country rich in natural resources and natural beauty to rival regional neighbors such as Tanzania and South Africa. Yet in 55 years since independence from the UK, the country inexcusably has failed to mature domestic productivity or the touristic sector. Sadly, coup d'etat and the long-anticipated exit of Mugabe seem not to have precipitated meaningful change.

Just wait, my host said: if the people don't see improvements, they'll change leadership again; and again, until someone gets it right.

Zimbabwe Parliament building sits on Africa Unity Square.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Poor development choices may bolster quality-of-life disparity on Tanzania's Msasani Peninsula

 Coco Beach, Msasani Peninsula, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.


The short length of Coco Beach is the touristic gem of Tanzania's largest city, Dar es Salaam, which, for all its rugged charms, is not rich with touristic gems. Coco Beach sits on the eastern, Indian Ocean, coast of the ritzy Msasani Peninsula, just a few kilometers northwest of the CBD.

Msasani says a lot about wealth stratification in Africa. The worsening wealth gap is an issue that vexes me in the United States. But we've got nothing on many an African country. Where subsistence living is the norm, and social safety nets are nearly non-existent, the disparity between haves and have-nots gets closer at each end to all and nothing. And as on Msasani, the extremes are often abruptly juxtaposed. The peninsula is home to subsistence fishermen, and the polluted beaches of the slipway, in the west, and the luxury condominiums of posh Oyster Bay, in the east.

Luxury condo building on the road from Oyster Bay to Sea Cliff Village
I walked the peninsula from west to east and saw, in the span of just a few kilometers, ramshackle wood dwellings on potholed dirt trails without plumbing, in the west and center, and gated condo complexes with marble-esque, statued facades, in the east. While the former teemed with human life, the latter were eerily vacant, deserted of all but the occasional maintenance worker. I assume the condos are mostly second-home getaways and vacation rentals for the well-to-do in high season and on weekends. (I was reminded of the dark-windowed high rises that loom over Central Park West, New York.)

Qatar's is the most modest of the beachfront embassies.
At that, the most striking residences of the eastern Msasani are not luxury homes, but foreign embassies, including those of Qatar, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. (The U.S. embassy and others are in Oyster Bay, but in the interior.) They line the main coastal road that runs between Oyster Bay and Coco Beach, which runs on northward to swank Sea Cliff Village and the Yacht Club.

Present service structures on Coco Beach, astride road construction.
At present, it isn't easy to cross this road, because a massive construction project runs all along the length of Coco Beach. I had hoped that this construction would improve the beach for touristic use that might fuel economic development to benefit the peninsula's have-nots. What passes for services on the beachfront now are wood shacks of dubious hygiene, selling drinks and snacks that might prove hazardous to foreign GI tracts. One municipal toilet building has seen better days and is now inaccessible anyway because of the construction. Alas, no, a local on the beach informed me: The purpose of the construction is to convert the shoulderless, two-lane, asphalt coast road into a four-lane highway, because, he said, the embassies want better and more secure access.

Nearly completed end of beachfront highway entering the CBD.
Many an American city can today tell tales of costly woe for having built transportation and utility infrastructure along prime waterfront property. It's bad enough that embassies, with their high, secure walls, occupy this land on the peninsula to begin with. Their inefficient use of prime real estate, distant from the administrative offices of the CBD, and in the company of Tanzania's "one percent" and cloistered ex-pats, sounds an awakward echo of colonial elitism.  To boot, now, the embassies and luxury homes will soon be served by a four-lane road that will further limit public access from the peninsula to the already underdeveloped beachfront.

Tanzania in 1974 moved its capital de jure to central Dodoma, in an effort to broaden economic opportunity in the country beyond Dar es Salaam. Nevertheless, concentration of development in Dar is still a problem that plagues the country. A businessman in the northeastern town of Arusha told me there's mounting resentment there about rural taxes paying for big-city infrastructure. (Boston says hello, western Massachusetts.) Maybe foreign nations can help Tanzania take a step forward by transferring their embassies from walled beachfront luxury to central locations with better access to government, whether Dar or Dodoma, on condition that appropriate public development of the Msasani Peninsula be left in their wake.  After all, foreign diplomatic posting is supposed to be a hardship, and it's compensated accordingly.

The new highway runs in front of the historic Ocean Road Hospital, where a street sign bears a familiar name.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

US President haunts African 'ghost capital'

Main traffic circle in Canchungo, Guinea-Bissau.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.

Throughout Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa, characteristic landmarks found in town centers, parks, and traffic circles are large, dilapidated blocks of painted concrete, often graffitied. These blocks are actually bases that have held statues of prominent leaders during the country's tumultuous history since independence was declared in 1973.

For Guinea-Bissau, it's been a journey as rocky and potholed as the nation's roads. Independence from Portugal was hard fought, with the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China pouring in arms for the revolutionaries to the end of establishing a communist foothold in West Africa. Anti-revolutionary soldiers were mass murdered after their defeat. Subsequent instability and corruption led to civil war in the 1990s, and election turmoil and political violence marked the 20-aughts. The presidential election in 2019 was contested, and just this week, since inauguration of the ultimately recognized victor, there are reports of military intimidation of the courts. No wonder statues don't last long in poor Guinea-Bissau.

That makes one statue still standing all the more an oddity. In an overgrown park in the heart of the main town on Bolama Island, in the Bijagos Archipelago, at the center of low walls of crumbling concrete that once demarcated colorful stars, the likeness of 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant rises defiantly.

The Grant statue is a curious throwback to Portuguese colonial rule. Actually, all of Bolama Town is a throwback to colonialism. Once grand Portuguese constructions crumble in slow decay in what's sometimes called Guinea-Bissau's "ghost capital." European powers such as Portugal favored locating their colonial bases of operations on offshore islands, where winds kept malarial mosquitoes at bay. Today the ghost capital is inhabited, despite its state; thousands of people live in subsistence, and sometimes dependent, conditions amid the ruins.

In the 1860s, President Grant became the mutually agreed upon arbitrator between Portugal and Great Britain over territory in the islands. After Grant awarded Bolama to Portugal in 1870, the Portuguese erected the statue to honor him. Notwithstanding the resolution of that dispute, and despite British efforts to aid the Confederacy and topple the Union in the Civil War, Grant was ultimately credited with strengthening U.S. relations with Britain during his two terms as President in the Reconstruction era. Grant proved so popular abroad that he and his wife embarked on a world tour after his presidency, and, with the imprimatur of President Rutherford B. Hayes, Grant inaugurated the custom of former presidents conducting informal diplomacy abroad.

The tale of Grant's Bolama ghost gained an unusual epilog in 2007, when the statue went missing. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported the story for NPR. Apparently stolen to sell as scrap metal, Grant was recovered in pieces, and authorities ultimately restored him--not how things usually work out for statues in Guinea-Bissau.

Ruins of Portuguese palace in Bolama Town

Abandoned cinema in Bolama Town


A storefront in Bolama Town painted for politics

Kids swinging in a refurbished Bolama Town park