Who's Fault? and Other Observations
Over the last few days I read a few articles that really underscored how we Africans are simply not doing what we need to do to get ourselves together. The first article I need to bring to our attention is one of a seriesfeatured in the LA Times by reporter Dava Maharaj entitled Living on Pennies Part 4: Living on 100 Square Feet. This article covers a slum in Kenya and the living conditions ( If you want to call it that) there.
Plastic bags, knotted and sagging, soar across the slum late at night.
They bounce off tin roofs, splatter against mud walls patched with tin cans and tumble down the steep hillside, where they sprout every few feet like plastic weeds. In the morning, they are trampled into the ground.
After 33 years in this shantytown known as Deep Sea, Cecilia Wahu barely notices the bags anymore. They are called "flying toilets," and because no one here has a bathroom, everyone has thrown a few...
Survival in Deep Sea is a matter of staying above an endless tide of mud and waste. All that separates Wahu from the filth is a dirt floor, thin plank doors and a stubborn sense that even this place is a neighborhood.
About 1,500 people are crammed into this treacherously steep four-acre warren. They live on less than a dollar a day, and this is the best shelter they can afford.
There is one water faucet, one toilet and no electricity. The homes are jumbles of tin, red-baked mud and sticks that barely keep from tumbling into the fetid Gitathuru River below.
Tropical rains eat away at the walls. Roving bands of thugs threaten to break down homes unless they are paid protection money. Wealthy neighbors across the river lobby the government to clear the hillside.
Now let's ask an important question: Who own these slums?
Nairobi's slums, where more than half of the city's 3 million people live on 5% of the land, are the first stop for the new arrivals. Despite the wretched conditions, most people must pay to live here. As the slums grow more crowded and destitute, the land becomes more precious. A network of tribal leaders, government officials and other slumlords profits handsomely.
According to a U.N. survey, 57% of the dwellings in one Nairobi slum are owned by politicians and civil servants, and the shacks are the most profitable housing in the city. A slumlord who pays $160 for a 100-square-foot shack can recoup the entire investment in months.
Next question: How do these 57% think about the people that they make live in these conditions?
Loud Congolese Lingala music blares from Deep Sea's shacks and wafts over the river to intrude on the splendor and solitude of the rich.
"They only make noise and cause trouble," says one longtime Muthaiga homeowner. "We will get them out … at any cost."
But much as they complain, Muthaiga residents need Deep Sea for the cheap labor it provides.
From the kitchens and gardens of Muthaiga where they work, the slum dwellers see rolling coffee plantations, lush forest and monkeys swinging over fences into backyards.
It is a stark contrast to Deep Sea, which is barren of vegetation and dotted with litter.
How else are these individuals exploited:
in some months they are able to set aside a dollar for access to the single water faucet that a Catholic church recently installed near the entrance to Deep Sea.
Many of his neighbors, unable to afford access to the faucet, pay peddlers the equivalent of 8 cents for a 5-gallon container of water. That's about 20 times what the city charges for tap water in better neighborhoods, according to a recent United Nations study.
To use the toilet, Mutua pays the church another dollar a month.
The faucet and toilet are in a small wooden structure at the top of the hill. The building, with a concrete floor and walls painted lime green, is the sturdiest piece of Deep Sea.
Now there is no word as to who owns the other 43% of the slums but that is of little consequence. It appears to me that these relatively well off people could really care less about the conditions in these slums. Perhaps it was errant reporting by Mr. Maharaj. Perhaps he left out the parts where the landlords said they were saving up to put in some plumbing and trying to make the living conditions better. But I'm inclined to believe that they are not doing so. so to quote a poet: "Explain to me just how the white man make you do that."
Bob Herbert's recent OP ED piece in the NYT entitled An Emerging Catastophe puts Bill Cosby's apaprent angst into sharp perspective.
A new study of black male employment trends has come up with the following extremely depressing finding: "By 2002, one of every four black men in the U.S. was idle all year long. This idleness rate was twice as high as that of white and Hispanic males."...
Among black male dropouts, for example, 44 percent were idle year-round, as were nearly 42 of every 100 black men aged 55 to 64.
"I was surprised by the magnitude of the population that was idle all year-round," said Professor Sum. "Typically, some groups will find work part of the year, but not the other part, and you end up with a high joblessness rate. But here we've got a growing number of men just not working at all."
Black men, already in an employment crisis, were hit particularly hard by the last recession and have not done well in the fitful recovery that followed. Jobless rates for some subgroups, black teenagers for example, have been all but off the charts.
Education is one of the keys here. As Professor Sum found, 44 percent of black men with no high school diploma were idle year-round versus 26 percent of those with a diploma, and 13 percent of those with a bachelor's (or higher) degree.
That last statement is extremely instructional for those who are quick to dismiss Mr. Cosby and others. When a Black male child "decides" that he does not want to finish High School for reasons other than extremely deprivation, he has set himself up for all kinds of nonsense. I'm talking about people who will be seated all day long. Who will stand on a corner from sun up to sun down but will not go to school. And what of our daughters? Who will they marry? yo ucan't knocvk off 44% of the Black male population and not put the black family in a serious bind.
AIDS in Lesotho
Also in the NYT is a startling article about HIV in Lesotho and how the globalisation of the textile industry that produces the Gap pants I have on right now, among other articles that we purchase at incredibly marked up prices, have contributed to a pandemic that seems the threaten the very existance of the African woman:
Ha Thetsane is home to thousands of women who have fled Lesotho's impoverished countryside to seek jobs as garment workers. But the average wage for such jobs, about 70 cents an hour, is seldom enough to both sustain a worker and allow her to send money to the family she left behind.
Thus the detergent boxes in the windows. They signal that the women's husbands or boyfriends are visiting - and that the men who have been supporting them in exchange for sex should lie low.
"One woman will go out with four or five men," said Bolelwa Falten, a 26-year-old former seamstress. "One will help with the rent. One, maybe, will drive a taxi and take her to and from work. One will help with food. One will help her pay her installments."
Experts refer to such desperate arrangements by the dry term "transactional sex." This is one reason, though hardly the only one, that in Lesotho H.I.V. infects one in four men aged 15 to 24 - and one in two women...
..."There's a growing feminization of this epidemic," Tim Rwabuhemba, the Lesotho coordinator for the United Nations Program on H.I.V./AIDS, said in an interview. "More and more women are becoming infected at an earlier and earlier age."
In an interview in Bangkok, Stephen Lewis, the United Nations envoy on AIDS in Africa, said he envisioned a southern Africa 20 years from now in which "you are going to sense and see the loss of women."
"There will be portions of Africa," he added, that "will be depopulated of women. "
The article attempts to lay the blame for the transmission of HIV directly on Africans themselves. it states:
Those battling this trend face two intractable forces: biology and African tradition.
H.I.V. easily passes through vaginal mucous membranes, especially the immature membranes of girls and young women - and in much of sub-Saharan Africa, early sex is the norm.
The larger reason, however, is that few African women have a say in sex, or in any other life-changing decisions.. In Lesotho, married women are legally minors, unable to open a bank account or own property without a husband's approval. Men decide all sexual matters, down to the number of children a wife will bear.
"Once you get married, you become a child, in a way, of your husband," said Dr. Itumelang Kimane, a senior lecturer in social anthropology at the National University of Lesotho. "You cannot use devices like condoms and contraceptives without the husband agreeing."
While I Agree that the rights of women ( not neccessarily their roles) need to be changed yesterday, such commentary still does not address why the women are paid so little by Taiwanees, Chinese, and "Western" companies as to need to sell themselves in order to "Survive.
AIDS arrived here during apartheid, when Lesotho's men brought H.I.V. home from South Africa, where many worked in mines. But after 1994, democratic South Africa shunned foreign labor, the mines became mechanized and Lesotho's mining work force shriveled.
The garment industry, however, has staved off economic collapse. Fueled by an American program that slashes duties on African clothing imports, more than 50 Taiwanese-owned clothing factories grew here, shipping $400 million of jeans, T-shirts and other apparel to American stores last year alone. They also brought the second great wave of migration - 55,000 textile jobs, four-fifths of them held by women, largely from drought-ravaged rural areas where farming has collapsed.
Clearly 70 cent a day to make Gap Khaki's is insuficient top live on. these companies can easily pay a living wage to their factory workers. If they did so, then women would not need to resort to sexaul trading to get by. The effect would be immediate. What should be clear is that unlike in the US AIDS in Africa is largely man made and a direct result of the so called "new" global economy and post colonialism.
When does it stop?