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 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.
Showing posts with label West Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label West Africa. Show all posts

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

Monday, February 24, 2020

Oussouye king applies customary law in Senegal

The king and his attendants in the sacred woods. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
The king of Oussouye in the Casamance region of Senegal received me with my group earlier this week. The Oussouye are part of the Diola, or Jola, ethnic group, who populate a vast transnational area reaching from Gambia to Guinea-Bissau. Diola also span religious faiths, having Islamic and Christian adherents, though traditional African religious tenets run strong in tandem with colonial imports. The Oussouye tend especially to traditional faith.

The king dispenses justice in both criminal matters and civil disputes in Oussouye. Civil matters cover a broad range, from real and personal property, to domestic relations, to obligations. The king also operates a local social welfare system, growing a quantity of food to support needy members of the community.

Typical of the manner in which customary and "modern" law are integrated within African countries, the king exercises a jurisdiction of first instance. He explained that if someone takes a matter to the police or the courts of Senegal, the authorities will ask whether the complainant has yet consulted the king, and will refuse the matter if not. This system does not fully obviate conflict, as questions arise over when the national legal system should take precedence--especially in high-profile cases implicating human rights, including non-discrimination and the rights of children. But the great bulk of dispute resolution is managed uneventfully upon traditional principles.

Chosen according to a spiritual calling, not lineal heritage, the king is said to be supernaturally endowed with wisdom, notwithstanding a lack of formal training. The Oussouye king readily said that he had been a mechanic before the spirit moved him toward his royal role.

Oussouye kids head home from school.






Traditional impluvium house.
Local chief in the center of impluvium house.

Evidence abounds of Chinese investment in the Casamance region.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Gambia AG initiates truth inquiry to get country on track

A Gambian customs office shades goats near the southern border with Senegal.
All images: RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.

The TRRC process includes public awareness via signage.
With the independence of a nation's attorney general now the subject of discussion in the United States, consider Ba Tambadou, AG of the African nation of Gambia, where I visited on its independence day, February 18. A former Hague prosecutor, Tambadou was instrumental in creating the present Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission, which now is holding hearings in Gambia and dropping revelations nearly by the day in the news there.


The Gambian TRRC concerns abuses of power, including repressive violence and press suppression, that kept Yahya Jammeh in control of the country from 1994 coup to surprise election upset in 2017. The ex president now lives in exile, in reportedly sweet digs in Equatorial Guinea. He seems to have ample access to the fortune he looted on the job, which is looking like hundreds of millions of dollars, despite a 2017 US freeze on his assets under the Magnitsky Act.

TRRC proceedings captivate public attention on TVs in Banjul.

Unfortunately Gambia's elected president, Adama Barrow, has raised eyebrows by recently rescinding a pledge to serve only three years, though the national constitution does permit five. Political opponents whisper about corruption, and no doubt nerves are raw since the country finally freed itself of Jammeh. All the more important then is the independent judgment exercised by Tambadou to shine light on historical misdeeds. The TRRC is the sixth of its kind on the African continent and essential to break the cycle of maladministration in government, and hence the cycle of underdevelopment and poverty in this brilliantly diverse yet smallest mainland nation of Africa.

American rice bags are repurposed to make a mattress in Gambia. All images: RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.


Friday, February 14, 2020

'Seduction' on Rue Torte, Île de Gorée, Senegal

Rue Torte, Île de Gorée, Senegal (CC BY-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele)

Happy Valentine's Day! Time magazine on the seduction tort, for the occasion, adapted by and from Clement Knox, Seduction (2020).

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Kids everywhere play

Kids find innocent fun in the toughest of living conditions. It's a reminder that soulful joy doesn't come from worldly things.

In the photo at left, kids in Ganvie Lake Village in Benin wanted to see themselves on the screen of my little camera. Ganvie has an unusual history tied to the Portuguese slave trade; read more at Atlas Obscura. Photo by my traveling mate, Dylan Armstrong. By the way, RI/South Coast US readers, you can catch Beninese world music Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo at The Vets in Providence, R.I., on February 22. Meanwhile watch her fabulous performance on YouTube.

The photos at right and below are from in and around Jamestown, a community in Accra, Ghana. This village was an NAACP stop for the 2019 Year Of Return (WBUR), and its Old Fort is one of the string of forts and castles that memorializes the horrific suffering inflicted on "the slave coast." Two boys I met on the street, one wearing a US Soccer shirt, were experimenting with a kite they had made out of plastic and wood debris and electrical tape. In Jamestown, ever smiling Masha was my tight-gripping companion. Both photos are mine, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, taken with permission of their subjects.



Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Football is universal

Football in the Jamestown district of Accra, Ghana (CC BY-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele)
I'm a believer in sport and development and a participating researcher at the International Sport and Development PlatformRead about the great work done around the world by Boston-based Soccer Without Borders, winner of, inter alia, the 2017 FIFA Diversity Award.

Courthouse at Cape Coast, Ghana

Courthouse at Cape Coast, Ghana (CC BY-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele)