Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The advantages of not being well known

I see now that there are definite advantages to being a completely unknown nobody. They were not so apparent to me a couple days ago. It is true nobody agrees with me, but I am not important enough for anybody to bother with either. This last benefit is generally highly underrated.

Strike Results

Today I got my first of four installments of back pay for 2012 in addition to my normal pay. I got about $150 extra dollars. It is not huge, but it is a lot better than nothing.

The semester is almost done

Except for final exams the semester is pretty much over. The final exams are next month. Next semester I will have a lighter teaching load. Instead of teaching two undergraduate courses and one graduate course at main campus and two undergraduate courses at city campus I will just have one undergraduate course at each. For the second semester next year I will also have a graduate course. This will allow me to devote more time to researching and publishing.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Togolese Independence Day

Tomorrow is Togolese Independence Day. While Togo has been nominally independent since 1960, it has spent most of its existence under the French and more recently German supported dictatorships of Gnassingbe Edyadema who ruled the country from 1967 until his death in 2005 and since then his son Faure Gnassingbe. There is an active movement by Togolese civil society in opposition to the current regime  that has staged frequent large scale demonstrations against the dictatorship. Unfortunately, this movement gets very little coverage. Even in next door Ghana the freedom struggle in Togo is largely ignored.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Struggle for Freedom in Togo Continues

Yesterday, the government of Togo reopened the primary and secondary schools that were closed a week ago in the wake of police violence against demonstrators that left two dead. In addition to the 12 year old boy shot in Dapaong, a 22 year old student died of cardiac arrest after being hospitalized for wounds sustained during the protests. Many teachers, however, have boycotted returning to work adding to their demands that the Togolese security forces responsible for the two deaths be brought to justice.

"Expertise" is part of the problem of ignorance not part of the solution

I have decided that nobody calling themselves an "expert" as opposed to being described as such by their colleagues in the field can be trusted. In fact expertise as such does not really exist I have concluded. Sure some people know more about some things than other people do. But, people who make a big production about having special knowledge and insist on sharing their "expert" opinions are often the most ignorant people on the face of the planet. It has made me fully realize that I am not now nor have I ever been an expert on anything. Although I still like to share my opinion on things as I tell my students, "question everything, especially me." After all while I have some more knowledge than them,  I am not an "expert" and I am certainly not perfect. Like all humans I am deeply flawed. The complete lack of humility even in the face of being completely wrong that accompanies most self described "experts" makes me reject the term. I had not really thought about this until recently in these terms, but the fact that so many US academics claiming to be "experts" in certain areas can be radically wrong about basic facts in the areas they claim to be "expert"s in has convinced me that the whole notion of "expert" as title is a problem. People calling themselves "experts" are more often than not a key part of the problem of ignorance and misinformation rather than a solution to it.  I hope to God that there are not too many "experts" on the Caucasus that have been teaching for more than twenty years who think that the Karbardians and Balkars are a single people. But, given the dreadful state of  academia in North America I just don't know.

If this is what most US academic specialists on the Caucasus believe why wonder the US media is confused

I see that on Ann Little's blog that a commentator called Northern Barbarian claiming to have been teaching about the Caucasus for 20 years seems to be almost as confused as the US media. Among other things he claims that there is a Karbardino-Balkar people. No, there was a Karbardino-Balkar ASSR, but the Karbardians are Circassians and related to the Cherkess and the Balkars are Turkic and related to the Karachais. He also claims that the Germans occupied  the North Caucasus during 1942-1944 and that the Soviets only retook the area in 1944. The Germans never occupied Chechnya proper and the Soviet Red Army had already recaptured the areas inhabited by the soon to be deported Karachais in 1943. In fact the mass deportations from the North Caucasus by the Soviet NKVD had already started in 1943 with the deportation of the Karachais on 2 November 1943. I don't expect the US news media to know that despite the existence of a Karbardino-Balkar ASSR in the USSR that the Karbardians and Balkars are separate and very distinct peoples who speak totally unrelated indigenous languages. But, if you claim to be a professor specializing in the history of the Caucasus and teaching classes about it for 20 years then such ignorance is completely inexcusable. How do people like this get tenure at US universities? For the record I do not claim to be an expert on the Caucasus. I only know enough to know that unlike Moshe Gammer, Walt Richmond, and Brian Williams I am not an expert. Claiming that there is a single Karbardino-Balkar people, however, is an error that no "expert" teaching the subject for 20 years should ever make.

Monday, April 22, 2013

My Random Thoughts on the Relationship between Boston and Chechnya

I am rather unimpressed with the US media coverage of the events in Boston. The level of ignorance about Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan, and Islam they have in general displayed is almost as great as their lack of knowledge about Africa. There does not seem to be any connection with the terrorist attacks in Boston with Chechens, Central Asia, or Islam other than the fact they were committed by two people of Chechen descent from Kyrgyzstan. Why they committed these crimes may or may not have been motivated by factors pertaining to their ethnic and religious background. But, at this point it is impossible to know anything other than the crimes were the responsibility of two individuals and not of an entire nationality.

On the other hand I am glad to see that many bloggers seem to recognize that contrary to the claims by Francine Hirsch that racial categories can only be based upon biology and genetics that ethnicity and religion work just as well. In fact the Chechens were one of the groups racialized and subjected to genocide by Stalin. A fact vigorously denied by Francine Hirsch, a tenured professor at University of Wisconsin who has set the orthodox party line for Soviet nationality studies. I am still at a loss as to why it is only regarding the history of the USSR that there is a militant refusal to acknowledge that racial discrimination can be based upon ethnicity, nationality, and religion as well as biology.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Brief Collection of Older Posts on Chechnya

I am not going to claim to be an expert on Chechnya. I know enough about Chechnya to know that there are very few such experts in the world and one of them, Moshe Gammer very recently died of cancer. But, I have been writing professionally about their deportation in 1944 since 1997. So despite not being an expert I do have some familiarity with the history of the nationality. Since the US media is flooded with bad commentary about Chechnya, I thought I would link to some old posts of mine providing a brief history of the Chechens. The most important event in recent Chechen history in shaping their national development was Stalin's deportation of nearly the entire population to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 1944. The collective memory of this ethnic cleansing has been an important tool for political mobilization of the Chechen people and plays a similar role in their understanding of their own history as the Holocaust does for Jews and the Armenian Genocide does for Armenians. The 1944 deportation is why there are still Chechen communities in Kyrgyzstan. They are the descendants of the Chechen survivors of the deportations and special settlement regime who did not return to Chechnya during the Khrushchev era. The best short introduction to the history of the Chechens is Moshe Gammer, The Lone Wolf and the Bear: Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule (London: Hurst and Co., 2005). If you want to know more about Chechnya and its people I suggest you check out Gammer's book and turn off your television.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ghanaian Supreme Court starts hearing on election petition

The big news in Ghana now is the Supreme Court case by the NPP (New Patriotic Party) seeking to have 4,670,504 votes from the 2012 elections annulled due to alleged fraud and irregularities. This would be a sufficient number to throw the presidency to the NPP rather than the current ruling NDC (National Democratic Congress). The court proceedings are being broadcast live on Ghanaian television and radio.

Another UTAG update

It looks like the government has agreed to pay our arrears in four installments in April, May, June, and July. This is a little bit better than the old plan of May, July, and September, but not a whole lot better. I  had hoped for at least April, May, and June.

UTAG update

Apparently some sort of compromise on the payment schedule for arrears has been reached between the government and the UTAG leadership, but neither party has released any details of the new agreement.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The UTAG Strike is Over

The university faculty union has called off the strike after a recent meeting with the government. We did not get any of our demands met. The government still intends to pay the arrears in three installments in May, July, and September rather than in a lump sum. The strike by doctors and pharmacists at state hospitals here, however, is still going on.

Lethal Police Violence in Togo Kills a 12 Year Old Boy

Yesterday, the Togolese security forces killed a twelve year old boy in suppressing a student demonstration in Dapaong. The use of violence by the Togolese dictatorship against peaceful demonstrators has become a common occurrence in recent months, but this is the first reported fatality among protesters. Last week demonstrations by students in support of striking teachers took place in a number of locations in Togo. The regime has reportedly now temporarily closed all primary and secondary schools in Lome including private ones.

Academic Bias in the US

There is a Fulbright Scholar here who is an expert on Angolan history. I asked him today if Dr. Laumann's presentation here on Friday in which the MPLA and Cuba could do no wrong was typical of US scholars dealing with Portuguese speaking Africa. He said that it was not. But, nonetheless the fact that one can be a tenured professor in the US and essentially parrot the official Cuban line without any new original research as if it was objective scholarship still troubles me even if he is in the minority. It speaks of the double standard at US universities regarding communist regimes. No university for instance would ever hire somebody who parroted the old propaganda line of apartheid South Africa and rightfully so. The inability to properly criticize socialism, however, still seems to dominate US academia.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Tenured Radical now claims that a powerful Palestinian Lobby in the US is trying to Silence her and other Militant opponents of making Israel accountable for the Crime of Apartheid

I see the Tenured Radical who is hell bent on making sure the radical experiment called Zionism is never undone has a blog post whining about how she and other militant opponents of BDS are being silenced by a supposedly powerful Palestinian lobby in the US. If you don't believe me go to her blog and go read it. I can't make this stuff up. If I could I would be writing fantasy novels and outselling J.K. Rowlings. The Palestinians are a stateless people living in forced dispersal and under military occupation and apartheid. Their oppressors are unconditionally supported by the US government, media, and both major political parties. In academia there are only a few tiny voices of dissent critical of Israel and they have been constantly opposed by the traditional LEFTIST support of the Zionist project as represented by the Tenured Radical and others who are opposed to Palestinian rights. I wish the people who do support Palestinian rights did have the power to silence people like the Tenured Radical, but alas the power balance is all her corner. She will never be fired for her position on Palestine. Something that has not been true for a number of people critical of Israel such as Norman Finkelstein.

There was indeed mass murder by Tito's regime in Yugoslavia (1945-1948)

Where did the myth that there was no state mass murder in Yugoslavia under Tito come from? I keep seeing descriptions of Yugoslavia under Tito on LEFTIST blogs like the Marxist Crooked Timber that describe it as some sort of Balkan Sweden. Because in order for this outright lie to be credible at all you have to completely ignore the years 1945 to 1948. Executions and deaths in concentration camps under Tito were responsible for the death of over 55,000 ethnic Germans alone, nearly 17% of the minority's population.  That is almost as many people as the number of Americans who died fighting in Vietnam and this figure does not take into account deaths among other ethnic groups such as Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, Albanians, and others. It is a whole lot more people than Pinochet killed in Chile, the Argentine Junta killed during the "Dirty War", or the South African security forces killed during apartheid. Yet none of the LEFTISTs defending Tito at Crooked Timber and other places would ever deny that the 30,000 people murdered in Argentina during the "Dirty War" constituted mass murder even though it is a much smaller number than the total number of people exterminated by Tito's forces.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Now is not a good time to get get sick in Ghana

The Ghana Medical Association the union representing doctors at state hospitals such as the one I go to for outpatient consultation along with the Government Hospital Pharmacist Association have been on strike since last Monday when they withdrew outpatient service. Now they are threatening to stop emergency services starting this Monday if the government does not pay them their outstanding arrears. Other than a few private clinics and hospitals, the only medical facilities still working in Ghana for non-emergency outpatient care are the military and police hospitals and the Cuban Doctors Brigade.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Today's presentation (Dennis Laumann)

Normally when we have outside speakers come to the department they speak on a topic related to Ghana as do the speakers from inside the department. They also are sometimes quite boring. Today Dennis Laumann from the University of Memphis spoke to the department on Cuba's role in Angola and its significance during the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.  He was certainly not boring. Nor did he hide the fact that he was an unabashed partisan of Cuba and the MPLA before it converted from Marxism-Leninism to capitalism. He is evidently a member of the Communist Party USA which I was unaware still existed. Although if Dr. Laumann is representative of the organization today they seem to have shifted away from advocating a Soviet model to supporting a Cuban model.

Update on Book on German Colonialism in West Africa

Last night the fellows of Commonwealth Hall (Vandals) had a social get together and I ran into Wazi Apoh, one of the editors of the book in which my latest published piece appears. Apparently, I never sent him a postal address to give to Lit Verlag in Berlin. So I have now rectified that oversight and I hope to eventually get a personal copy of the book.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Publication on German Togoland now in Print

The article I co-wrote with a PhD student here for the conference in Winneba in 2011 has now been published as a book chapter. J. Otto Pohl and Felix Y. T. Longi, "The Relative Failure of German Togoland as a Model Cotton Colony" appears in Wazi Apoh and Bea Lundt (Eds.), Germany and its West African Colonies: "Excavations" of German Colonialism in Post-Colonial Times (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2013), pp. 185-200. I still have not gotten my copy of the book, but an associate of mine with a chapter in the book showed me a copy of it yesterday so I know it has now come out in print.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Labor Unrest in Ghana

A larger and larger portion of the workforce in the state sector of the Ghanaian economy are going on strike. UTAG (University Teachers' Association of Ghana) which represents faculty at Ghana's universities is still on strike. We have now been on strike for a week. An earlier strike by primary and secondary school teachers has ended. But, yesterday doctors and pharmacists at state hospitals went on strike. They will no longer be delivering any outpatient service for the time being. Now it appears that court workers will also be going on strike as well. While the government has failed to pay arrears to public employees in education and medicine for 2012 it has at the same time given an ex-gratia payment of over 20 million dollars to 230 members of parliament, a figure over four times what it owes to university faculty. So it is not a lack of money that prevents the timely payment of arrears.

Monday, April 08, 2013

What is happening in Legon

I finally finished grading all my mid-term exams. I am going to have to do finals at a much faster rate. As soon as I get the tests I need to plow through as many as possible, say fifty or sixty a day. Finals will be in May. Right now we are still on strike which means I am not giving any lectures here in Legon. But, I still have other work related stuff to wrap up including revising a book chapter. Tomorrow one of our PhD students has his viva followed by a departmental party. This will be the first PhD produced the department since I started working here.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Why we are on Strike

Okay, the issue behind the strike are the arrears on the part of our salary called the professional allowance which is about half of what we earn. They already paid the arrears on the other half called the basic salary. The current salary we receive still has the professional allowance pegged at the 2011 level without the 2012 "Market Premium" adjustment. This adjustment was an 18% increase in public employee salaries. But, the Ministry of Finance was instructed to freeze the actual paid salaries of university faculty at the 2011 levels. The union has demanded that the government immediately start paying this increase and pay the arrears from this increase for the year 2012 immediately in one lump sum. Currently, the government owes each faculty member at the University of Ghana a net payment of about 3,000 to 4,000 cedis. UTAG already took the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission to court and won a judgement against them. But, the current government position is that they will pay the arrears in installments of three in May, July, and September. The government has not said anything about starting to pay the "Market Premium" on a regular monthly basis so that arrears do not accumulate in the future.

Improved Discipline

The union discipline in enforcing the withdrawal of teaching by faculty is much better this year than it was during last year's strike. That strike never had as great of adherence as the current one does. I am told that a big part of the reason for the better enforcement this year is that a lot of people are really angry. So there is a much greater united front in refusing to teach this year.

Union Meeting

Today there was an emergency UTAG meeting regarding the strike. We are withdrawing teaching until such time as they update our whole salary to the 2013 level and pay us the arrears due to this cut in a single lump sum. Part of our salaries are still frozen at the 2011 level. The government has said it will pay the arrears in three parts during May, July, and September. But, if they do not restore our salaries to their proper level then we will constantly be amassing arrears. So that needs to be done immediately. The union has said that the three part installment plan is unacceptable and that the government needs to pay all of the arrears in a single lump sum.

BTW: Do not expect any of the poser "progressive" LEFT-wing blogs like Lawyers, Guns, and Money who falsely claim to care about labor issues and Black people to mention anything what so ever about this strike. Even though it a very large industrial action involving eight university campuses and thousands of faculty members almost all of whom are Black it won't get a single mention by any US "progressives." They do not care about the labor rights of Black people.

A Middle Aged Man with an Old Blog

Sometimes I think this blog has lived beyond its expiration date. After all most blogs don't live even five years and this one is approaching nine. I never had a lot of readers or comments, but recently it seems like I have a lot less than I used to have. Part of the problem is that my actual life is quite boring. I know some people in the US think I have an interesting life because I spend all my time in countries that appear strange and exotic to the average American. But, really living in a country for an extended period of time is very different from coming for a few weeks as a tourist. You don't get to see new and exotic things every day for years. So I don't have a lot of interesting observations to note anymore. Maybe both the blog and myself have entered that boring stage of middle age?

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Another UTAG Strike

Two days ago UTAG, our faculty union, called a strike over the issue of back pay. According to the head of the union the government owes us a total of 10 million cedis (5 million dollars) or about 3,000 to 4,000 cedis for each lecturer. The government wants to pay the money in three installments between May and September, but UTAG is insisting that the strike will continue until the arrears are all paid in a single lump sum. So with any luck I will have an extra $1,500 to $2,000 sometime soon.