Thursday, October 31, 2013

Another Great Music Blog

I came across another great music blog the other day. Cosmic Hearse has a lot of great obscure music on it including music from Africa, most notably a lot of Zamrock. It is a good place to look for tunes you won't find elsewhere. The amount of great music you and I never heard before on the internet is just incredible.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why can't all applications be this easy?

Today I filled out an application for a small research grant. What amazed me was how much simpler this particular application was than every single other such application in all of world history. It consisted merely of one simple fill in the blank form of one page, a 500 word proposal, and a single letter of recommendation. The form was easy to download and fill out and required no scanning. The web site did not cause me any problems. The total amount of pages I needed to personally submit was only two, and the organization requested that it be sent by e-mail attachment rather than by a very complex and almost impossible to use web site as every other application seems to now require. I am not sure why this form was so simple. Don't they know that the way to deter large numbers of applicants is to make the process extremely difficult and painful and to require the submission of dozens of pages that have to be copy and pasted or scanned into web sites that don't allow you to advance beyond one or two pages of a required dozen pages of entry blanks? Most applications take days or weeks to fill out. This one took me only about an hour.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Die Vertreibung der Deutschen

This is a pretty good video on the expulsion of  millions of ethnic Germans from what was eastern Germany and the East Central European and Balkan states of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania. I like that the narrative is written rather than spoken so it is easier for me to follow. The video gives the figure of 14 million ethnic Germans as being either expelled or fleeing westward. Other sources give lower figures. But, the total number of refugees and expulsion victims appears to have been at least 12 million. The only notable error I found was the estimates on the number of expelled Germans to die prematurely as a result of their forcible eviction from their homelands. This video gives the number at 2.1 million which appears based upon the early reports by the BRD government in the 1950s. More recent academic studies dealing with the losses have estimated the number of deaths directly caused by the expulsions to be around 500,000. Although as I noted earlier regarding the Russian-Germans the debate about numbers does almost nothing to change the fact that the expulsions were a massive crime against humanity and completely unjustified.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

African Development Past and Future

During the first couple of decades of independence from European rule the strategies for developing the economy followed two main paths. One path was heavily aid dependent and tended to follow from US and European images of Africa as described as the image to the left. As such it was always viewed more as charity or poor relief than actual assistance for indigenous development. Needless to say this strategy turned out to be largely unsuccessful. Another path sought to use the new institutions of the African state to develop the economy. This second path reached its logical conclusion in the 1970s and 1980s when Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique openly pursued development models copied from the USSR and Cuba. This path to development was disastrous especially in Ethiopia where like in the USSR during 1932-33 there was a massive famine resulting directly from the state's agricultural policies. While socialist health care and education have often been quite successful, socialist agriculture has largely been a colossal failure that has resulted in the premature deaths of tens of millions of people in the USSR, China, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Ethiopia. This foreign model did not work any better in Africa than it did in Ukraine. The key to real development and prosperity in Africa is going to be Africans, not outsiders, creating the conditions that will allow the image of Africa on the right to flourish. This means better governance, less corruption, rule by law, protection of property, support for education, and other policies that will allow for indigenous economic growth. This isn't an easy task, but we already know a lot of what does not work so we are closer to finding out what does work.

Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Phil Monsour feat.Rafeef Ziadah - Ghosts Of Deir Yassin

This is the most inspirational music video I think I have ever seen.

Friday, October 25, 2013

New Article Accepted for Publication

I just got an e-mail from a journal editor in the US informing me that an article of mine has been accepted for publication. The journal in question is the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion and my article is "Colonialism in one Country: The Deported Peoples of the USSR as an Example of Internal Colonialism." This is an article whose intellectual origins stretches back a few years, but spent a lot of time sitting in my hard drive doing nothing. I happen to be big fan of reviving ideas like internal colonialism that have essentially disappeared for decades from the scholarly discourse. As far as I can tell they disappear not because they are no longer useful, but because scholars lose interest in pursuing them in favor of doing other things. I think there are a lot interesting ideas from the 1960s and 1970s that could be picked up and revived as interpretive frameworks for history. But, everybody else seems to want to be on the cutting edge of new ideas regardless of whether they are useful or not. I am not sure when the article will actually see publication.  From the looks of their website it looks like it will be published sometime in 2014. These things always take time. But, This is a good piece of news for me in an otherwise rather frustrating day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spongebob und Patrick sind unsere Leute.

"They call it Africa. We call it home."

Ultimately, Africa is the homeland of all humanity. But, some parts of the African diaspora are more closely related in time to the continent than others. The Black Diaspora as it is called here that resulted mainly from the various slave trades to the Americas and elsewhere certainly has a stronger imagined connection to Africa than the rest of humanity. I have noticed, however, that a lot of African-Americans coming here are greatly disappointed by what they find in Ghana. I am somewhat puzzled at this. I had no expectations of what to find here, but I was greatly impressed with what I did find. For me Africa was a continent I knew little about before arriving here. Most of what passes for knowledge about Africa in the US consists of generalized negative stereotypes from the worst events in the entire continent's history over the last several decades. So I just ignored the images on my television set and came to Africa anyways trusting that God sent me here for a reason. But, I am having a hard time wrapping my head around a situation in which I would have set unrealistically high standards for Ghana and then been sorely disappointed by the reality here. If anything Ghanaians sell themselves short on their accomplishments and the best thing that one hears about the country in the US is that unlike Somalia or Zimbabwe that it never appears in the news. The assumption being that no news is good news. However, the reality is that Ghana has an awful lot good going for it. Maybe somebody can cue me into why so many African-Americans that come here become so quickly disillusioned with Ghana and Ghanaians? Did they really expect that after several hundred years they would be welcomed back as Africans rather than be viewed as Americans? Do they in turn welcome African immigrants and visitors to the US as long last brothers and sisters? If not why should they expect Ghanaians to welcome them as brothers and sisters when they arrive in Africa? Maybe I have been living abroad so long that I no longer understand Americans, but even though Ghanaian culture is very different than US culture I have never encountered what I would call xenophobia here. On the other hand I do understand why Ghanaians use the term Obruni to describe Black Americans as well as White Americans.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How Many Corpses Can Dance on the Point of a Sickle and Hammer?

The number of Russian-Germans to die premature deaths from 1941-1948 in the USSR due to inhumane treatment is impossible to exactly ascertain due to the fragmentary nature of the available data. The very lowest estimate of excess deaths among the nationality during these years is 150,000-160,000 (Krieger 2013, 242). This would be slightly over 10% of the total population including those who managed to escape westward permanently and those born during these years. Other estimates are higher. Realistically, the total losses could have reached as high as 300,000. Although I am skeptical of figures that go beyond this because the existing archival data on the demographics of the groups simply does not support higher estimates. But, rather than hashing out the statistics and demographics of the number of premature deaths here, I think that it is perhaps time to move beyond this question. If you are really interested in it you can go see some of my previous efforts to address this question. We can be fairly certain that the number is between 150,000 and 300,000. We are never going to be able to establish an exact number for these losses. That type of information simply does not exist. Nor should this be surprising. Such a number does not even exist for the Holocaust which has been studied to a much greater extent than the Stalinist deportation of the Russian-Germans and their subsequent mistreatment as special settlers and labor army conscripts. From an historical point of view it does not matter a whole lot if the number of victims in this particular crime was 225,000 people or 250,000. Suppose a list of all such premature deaths could be found. How would it effect our judgement of the Stalinist regime or the wartime experience of the Russian-Germans? In point of fact it does not alter our interpretation of the nature of the USSR or the suffering of Russian-Germans in the 1940s at all. One either believes that the regime was evil and the treatment of the Russian-Germans criminal or one does not and neither opinion is dependent upon the exact number of corpses involved.


Viktor Krieger, Bundesbuerger russlanddeutscher Herkunft: Historiche Schluesselerfahrungen und kollektives Gedaechtnis (Muenster: LitVerlag, 2013).

Friday, October 18, 2013

Red Harvest

I just finished reading Dashiell Hammett's 1929 short novel Red Harvest. It was pretty interesting, but one thing that stuck out as a major difference from more recent detective fiction is the sheer amount of action packed into very few pages. There is not a lot of character development or even solving of mysteries clue by clue. Instead there is one mystery solved quickly after another in quick succession much like an action thriller in words. Since the work was originally serialized in Black Mask in four parts this makes sense. But, I think I prefer the more deliberate and intellectual solving of mysteries that came to dominate later detective fiction. The copy of the novel I purchased had five novels by Hammett in a single book. So now I will start on the second novel in the book which is The Dain Curse. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Havoc -The Witch (Zambian Rock Band)

WITCH is an acronym for We Intend to Cause Havoc and they were one of the many great bands to come out of Zambia in the 1970s. I think the stuff WITCH recorded in the 1970s was just as good or better than anything that was recorded in the US, UK, or Canada during that decade.

Grading Mid-Terms and other events in my life today

Today I moderated a very successful morning seminar presentation by Marc Becker on intermediaries in Ecuador during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I also received a 700 cedi check I was not expecting from the university. But, I forgot the bank closed at 4:00 pm. I thought it closed at 4:30 so I did not get around to depositing it today. I have also started grading the pile of mid-term exams on my desk. So far the mid-terms for my students from main campus have been considerably better than in years past on average. I have now graded 10 out of 73, but the trend so far is very good. I think this cohort has benefited from better preparation during the last few years. Since I arrived here the history department has undergone a series of reforms aimed at improving the academic output of students. It appears to be paying off. They all seem to be remembering to include things like thesis statements and conclusions that were not always present in all the exams I have graded in the past.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It has been 26 Years since the Murder of Thomas Sankara

On 15 October 1987, a French backed military coup overthrew the government of Burkina Faso and murdered 13 people including President Thomas Sankara. Not since Kwame Nkurmah had Africa seen such a visionary leader as Sankara. Only in power for four years before the coup which replaced him with the current ruler of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, President Sankara had a substantial string of accomplishments. These included setting an example of living modestly. Sankara gave himself a salary of only $450 a month, drove a beat up Renault, and possessed beyond this only four bikes, three guitars, a refrigerator, and a broken freezer. He refused to use air conditioning, a luxury unavailable to most people in Burkina Faso. As the poorest head of state in the world, Sankara set a very different example from that of most African leaders. The pay and privileges of government officials were curtailed. He banned the use of first class airline tickets and chauffeurs by government officials. In particular he sought to improve the lot of the poor peasant majority of the country. Among other thing he abolished tribute and obligatory labor to local chiefs, eliminated the rural poll tax, redistributed land to the poorest peasants, vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever, and measles, instigated a tree planting program to combat desertification, and launched a campaign against illiteracy. He also took an active role in trying to bring social equality to women in Burkina Faso. On 22 September 1984, he declared a day of solidarity with women in which men were urged to take over the domestic labor of their households from their wives for a day. Although most of his programs focused on the poor rural majority of  Burkina Faso he also attempted to ease problems for the urban poor by suspending rents on 31 December 1984 and building public housing. Since his overthrow almost all of these programs have been discontinued in favor of increasing the salaries of government officials, eliminating funding for health and education, and restructuring the economy along the neo-liberal lines dictated by the World Bank and IMF. For a comparison of Sankara's accomplishments versus the corrupt regime of Compaore see this post.

Just Another African Monday

Today I finished a couple of projects that were coming up against deadlines. One was an administrative report regarding multiple majors and the other was a blind peer review of an article for an academic journal. In the last year I have done blind peer review for five articles. I wish there was some way to claim these on my CV, but that would kind of defeat the whole idea of double blind peer review. At any rate I have now cleared all of the articles awaiting peer review from my inbox. I also have now read Marc Becker's piece on Tinterillos in Ecuador in preparation for his presentation on Wednesday morning. Not the most productive day I have ever had, but by far not the least either. I actually did get a couple of things crossed off of the to do list.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Things I did today

1. Recovered clean laundry from laundromat.

2. Ate koko and koose.

3. Gave a midterm on Legon Campus. My TA caught one student out of 73 cheating.

4. Read Stan Hoig's, The Sand Creek Massacre (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961) in its entirety during midterm.

5. Withdrew money from ATM.

6. Taught a class at City Campus.

7. Fixed right shoe with super glue.

8. Waited behind a woman purchasing a year's worth of cleaning supplies in the little store so I could buy a little bottle of bissap.

9. Ate spicy chicken wings and plantains.

10. Wrote this blog post.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Another Day

Well I had to revise the seminar schedule once again to fit in another post-graduate student which means I had to remove my own presentation to make room for it. Other than that today's accomplishments consisted of conducting the seminar, returning library books, and trying to sort out various minor problems. I am kind of disappointed I won't get to deliver a version of my Ho paper to the History Department here at the end of the month. But, on the other hand it means I don't have to finish editing the 19 single spaced pages I have into something more presentable by the end of this month. So there is a little less pressure on me regarding deadlines.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Today's Accomplishment

After many changes I have at long last finalized the seminar schedule for the History Department of the University of Ghana. We will have nine presentations by eight speakers from tomorrow through 13 November 2013, every Wednesday morning. Topics addressed will include intermediaries in South America, Chinese foreign aid to Ghana, and Afro-Brazilians in Accra. My presentation, The Soviet Labor Army Conscription of Ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan and Central Asia: Forced Labor in a Socialist State will be on 30 October 2013. It will be a longer and more detailed, but less edited and refined version of the paper I intend to deliver at the conference in Ho in January 2014. The paper will focus on the role of the state, political motivations versus economic rationales, ethnic targeting, and gender. I have a rough draft of the paper finished and have started editing it. Right now it still needs a lot of work including some fundamental restructuring. But, I think I can get it into decent shape by 30 October 2013.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Bissap - A Pan-African Beverage

At one time I almost turned this blog into a food blog. But, it has been a while since I have written anything here about cuisine. So here is an entry on one of Africa's best kept soft drink secrets. The purple concoction usually referred to here as bissap. Recently I have taken a liking to bissap also known as sorrel, zobo, sobolo, and other names . It is a beverage made from hibiscus flowers and various spices such as ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla. It is drunk throughout west Africa and has a number of different recipes. Here is one that is pretty simple. The beverage has a nice sweet, tangy, spicy flavor and is loaded with all kinds of vitamins and other things good for your health. It is very refreshing on a hot and humid day. Which is a pretty important feature in any beverage meant to be consumed in equatorial Africa.

Music: It is universal, not just the property of white "indy" artists.

Sometimes I toy with the idea of turning this into a music blog. Simply because I enjoy the tunes regardless if anybody else reads this blog or not. For instance today I discovered a great album of Vietnamese rock and soul songs from 1968-1974. Of course Vietnam is not the only country that produced stuff every bit as good as the best stuff to come out of the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. Korea also had some great music in the 1970s. As did Turkey. Then of course there is all the great music of Africa. From Zamrock bands like WITCH, The Peace, and Ngozi Family to the great Fela Kuti from Nigeria. This of course doesn't even include the more modern stuff from South Africa, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Syria and other places around the world including Ghana. I still like some Obrunistani music, but lets face it the reason I like everybody else listened to it was because it was accessible and well marketed not because it was better than what people in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America were or are currently producing. If your radio only plays songs by hipster indy musicians from the US and white commonwealth you are missing out on an awful lot of good stuff. Fortunately, the internet brings hope to even the culturally poorest people on the planet. We here in Africa are happy to share our wealth with you.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

People having fun in Africa

There is a three day party going on up at Commonwealth Hall ("Romantic" Vandal City) this weekend. I was up there earlier this morning to watch the Commonwealth boys do some amazing hip hop song and dance numbers. They recognized me by name and announced my presence through the PA system. They then tried to get me to dance with them. But, I declined for the time being. I will go up there later today to check out what else is going on with the Vandals. As a fellow of Commonwealth Hall I feel a moral obligation to observe the activities of the students living in the hall. As a general rule we have very few disciplinary problems and some of my best students in terms of academic accomplishments are Vandals. So "Truth Stands" and I hope everybody at Commonwealth has a great time this weekend.

Another update on my forced labour paper

I finally heard back from the German organizers of the Ho conference on forced labour. Yesterday, I was discussing a draft of the paper with Marc Becker when the Head of the Department summoned me to his office to ask if I intended to submit a paper to the conference. Sitting in his office was one of the organizers from Humboldt University. I informed her that I had sent her colleague my abstract in July four separate times using two different e-mails. She then asked me to send her the abstract which I did yesterday. Today I finally heard back from the chief organizer whom I had e-mailed in July. They are going to put my paper at the end as part of a round table discussion on putting forced labour in colonial Africa into a larger international context. The panel will have presenters on India and Brazil as well as my paper dealing with the USSR.

The Vandals are Back in Town

Last night I was ordering an egg sandwich when I noticed a very loud convey on campus of motor bikes and cars. I asked the woman cooking my eggs if it was a biker gang and she said that it was just the Commonwealth boys. It turns out they are having a festival in "Romantic" Vandal City (Commonwealth Hall) this weekend. I will have to go check it out. Phil Lynott wasn't Ghanaian, he was Irish. But, he was cool enough to be Ghanaian.

Collectif de Resistance de la Diaspora - Togo

The current regime in next door Togo is well known for its violation of its citizens' civil and human rights. On 27 August 2013 it permanently shut down Radio Legende after suspending the station for a month. But, for some reason this was only reported by two days ago. The freedom struggle in Togo like many other similar movements for human liberty and dignity has a strong diaspora component. To the right is the symbol of the Collectif de Resistance de la Diaspora Togo. This organization is a multithenic organization founded by the coming together of three movements associated with specific ethnic groups in Togo. These include the Ewe organization Kekeli, the Kabaye group Tinga, and the Kotokoli movement Fitila. On 16 and 17 November 2013 Kekeli will be holding a meeting in Bremen, Germany to discuss ways in which to free Togo from dictatorship. Unfortunately, the freedom movement in Togo has received very little support in the West. The freedom, human rights, and human dignity of Africans is a very low priority in the US and Europe. The French and German governments continue to prop up the Togolese dictatorship despite falsely claiming to support human rights abroad.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Peace unto Africa

The picture to the right is one of my favourite in my collection of African maps. Unfortunately, it is more aspirational than real. Nonetheless, the sentiment of a peaceful continent is one that we should all support. Peace in this case meaning the absence of violence not merely the absence of armed conflict between states and armies. While the nadir of post colonial repression has largely passed in Africa, countries like Togo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Angola still remain far away from the ideal of liberal democratic republics that respect human rights. However, despite having failed to achieve utopia in the wake of independence, Africa is not nearly as nightmarish as portrayed in the western media. Famine, child soldiers, and civil war are not universal to the continent. They exist in isolated areas. There has never been famine or civil war in Ghana for instance. Indeed, Ghana is a much nicer place to live than many places in the US or Europe. It doesn't have the insanely high violent crime rate of most large US cities or the blatantly racist xenophobia that dominates most European societies.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

What things look like from Africa

People living in the US seem to be running around the Internet like chickens with their heads cut off today. I can not say that I have much interest in trying to understand what they are on about. I did see, however, that the dollar has lost value which is potentially very good for me since I am paid in Ghanaian currency. So if the dollar loses value versus the Cedi then I can buy more dollars and lots of stuff including imports, plane tickets, and money remitted becomes cheaper for me. The loss in value of the dollar, however, is not just good for people in Africa and other places where imported goods have to be paid for in dollars thus raising their price in local currency. It is also good for US exporters. One of the reasons the Chinese have been able to dominate the market for consumer goods in much of the world is that their currency is undervalued making their goods relatively much cheaper than those from the US. If the dollar loses value then US produced goods and services will be cheaper in Africa and elsewhere and will be able to better compete on price with goods from China and other parts of Asia. Overall this will increase US exports and any loss in profit from lower prices will be more than made up for by increases in volume.

Нефть! Газ! Нефть! Газ! Нефть! газ!

This is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Today's Academic Accomplishment

Today I submitted an abstract for a conference in a country other than Ghana for the first time in over five years. In fact the conference is not even in Africa. But, now that I know how to apply for university funding for conferences I figure I might as well apply to give a paper to anything of interest I come across. It also gives me a chance to branch out into new areas. That is assuming first that the abstract is accepted and second that the university pays for my plane ticket. I hope that the people organizing this conference are more prompt in their response than the Germans organizing the conference in Ho have been. In the olden days conference organizers used to either accept or reject abstracts within six weeks. There was none of this waiting for months on end without any of the submitters hearing anything from the organizers. At any rate the first draft of the paper for Ho is done so if the conference doesn't come through I will just edit it down for publication somewhere else. Although I would certainly like to get a free trip to Ho including hotel and meals.