Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Stolen African Art & Old Europe's 'Curative' Affront

Looted Ife Terracotta Sculpture on Display in British Museum
Let me vent today...I read this on NY Times few moments ago..
“There was a complete understanding about what would remain in Egypt and what would be taken to Germany,” Mrs. Grutters said by telephone. “Maybe there is a bit of jealousy on the part of Egypt over Nefertiti. In any event, I am not so sure Egypt has the best conditions for this statue,” she added. “And because it is so fragile, I am not sure the statue can even be flown. We have excellent conditions here in Germany.”  NY Times
What arrogance right? Excellent conditions in Germany for Egyptian Art so much to justify stealing and outright banditry by your forefathers? I guess if it were Jewish Art looted by the Nazis we might be writing a different headline for this story; but this is Africa. Yeah, the same Egypt with not so excellent conditions is home to millions of other artifacts that I am not seeing this snub complaining about. The great museums in Alexandria are not good enough for Egyptian Art, but punishing European climate is just about okay.

For far too long, European looters have hidden beyond this smokescreen of "having better conditions" for art works they literally stole. It is insulting to the thousands of African artists that still ply their trade in the motherland. If Africa is such a bad place for her own art works, why are these European snubs not offering express Visas and residency to all African artists? **Immigration alert! 

Yeah, African Art is so great we had to steal it and keep it in "better" Europe. After looting African resources, it is her art work we so brazenly stole that we will so brazenly try to keep! Yeah..take that snub. To me I say rubbish. The original Benin Bronze and Ife head still lies in British Museum as testimonies to British thievery! The Owo door and thousands of other stolen artifacts are brazenly displayed in European cities, attracting billions of tourists revenues annually while Europe remit chicken change in aid and IMF grants to African states. Of course it makes sense that Europe will continue to make this case, while African leaders can't get their act together. Kudos to Egypt for trying though; it is about time someone call out these folks. 

However the minimum is that the successors to the legacy of banditry should shut up and stop rubbing salt on Africa's wound with such silly comments. Of course, their age long insistence on using their judicial systems to legalize stealing won't cut it either.

read further here and here

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Putin- The True Russian Oligarch

Was it not the other day when Putin made a comment about his wealth? He said in his usual terse manner that he was the wealthiest man in Russia. In his own words, "It is true. I am the richest man not only in Europe, but in the world: I amass emotions and am rich in the sense that the Russian people twice put the trust in me to rule such a great country as Russia. I count this as my biggest wealth. What concerns various rumours concerning my financial situation, I have seen some documents on this issue. This is simply gossip, which there is no reason to discuss - mere nonsense."

Of course he is rich..I mean rich in use of his macho strong man image to strong arm otherwise recalsistrant gongo capitalists that seized the Russian economy after the fall of the Soviet Union, and rendered his once powerful and equally popular predecessor(Boris Yeltsin) a political impotent. Putin refused to play this game with the Oligarchs, otherwise called the "Seven Bankers" i.e. Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Khordorkovsky, Potanin, Vinogradov, Smolensky and Friedman-Aven (pp. 328, The Oligarchs, Wealth & Power in the New Russia (2001;2003)). There will be an eight, who will be an ultimate winner in Putin's chess power play i.e. Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. But this Yeltsin inside man was hardly the focus of David H. Hoffman's tale. They all nearly had something in common: rare ambition, uncommon courage, and feeling of being outsiders at the onset. Untold greed also characterize their voracious appetite for both financial and political control which ultimately became their undoing in Putin's Russia sans the new millennium when Yeltsin left town. Indeed, of the original seven, five had one or more Jewish parents (less Potanin & Vinogradov. See pp. 359) . What a coincidence? Well, it is notable! In this set up, one of them was always prefect: Berezovksy 

In his book, Hoffman a journalist in the post-Soviet Russia traces the rise of the intellectual heft (read Anatoly Chubais) and the inner city machine (read Luzkhov) as well as a natural politician (read Boris Yeltsin) and how the intersection of their passion for Economics, Politics & Power shaped the emerging Russian Federation. By Exploring the exploits and power plays of these three men, and their insistence on destroying the old Soviet Union structures and from the ashes of that union create a new liberal democracy of Russia while quickly undoing the vestiges of the old sets a telling tale of betrayal, scuffle, gerrymandering , posturing, intrigues and ultimately unlikely triumph. 

In this tale, the Oligarchs are not power brokers as they are often made to be, they are mere players. That is my conclusion. Today, one is in Jail. Two are in exile. One is virtually unheard of (though not bankrupt, but definitely nearly as rich and definitely powerless), while 3 of the original thrive in less fashion while the potential eight learned quickly and cow-towered to the new Sherriff in town i.e. Vladmir Putin; the true successor to the combined legacy of Luzkhov, Chubais and Yeltsin. Hoffman focused on 2 power players as character witnesses (Luzkov and Chubais) and 4 capitalists. He explored less the impact Putin had on the entire complex, which came in the last half of the last chapter and is largely uncelebrated. The fact that Putin will let Roman thrive is no coincidence, or even the fact that the media empire that Berezovsky and Gusinsky had no impact on his electoral ambition is the tell tale sign of the political astuteness of the man. He will not betray yeltsin, he had dirt through his FSB years on the Oligarchs and clearly intended not to share power and play hard ball with them to clearly get the message. Gusinsky was made an example of, Berezovsky quickly took a page from that drama (the stripping of NTV from Gusinksy); but Khordo..of Yukos fame learned the wrong lessons and is today cooling his feet in a Serbian jail for tax evasion charges- Nobody messes with Putin! 

To the author's credit, the book is focused, engaging and hard to put down. However, the less curious justice done to Putin's character, and the two major winners in this rule of the jungle capitalism i.e. Potanin and Abramovich, probably calls for a book two hundred pages longer, and probably four years published earlier than it should. In Putin's Russia where he is still Prime Minister, and President in waiting, no other center of political power will be tolerated. In Putin's Russia, his rule demands and espouses the grandiosity of Chubais vision of a developed economy, the "doer" view of Luzkhov political machine in Moscow, and the Yeltsinoistic appetite for political gamesmanship and brinkmanship on the national stage as well as a near astute feel for the political temperature on the street and how to use the security services to keep the lid on the ambitious new capitalists. 

In 2009, perhaps the last paragraph of this tale is yet to be written. Will the dog bite, or will the fox haunt? Will his pawn, President Medvedev play ball? I remise to say in Russia, things never appear as they seem. Perhaps a second revised edition, or a third is necessary;  because in Putin's Russia the question the then newly elected President asked Berezovsky in 2000 is prescient, "You, you were one of those who asked me to be president. So how can you complain?"

Classically was a joyful read. I give is a four star. 

The Putin Era Oligarchs..gone awry
Suggested Read:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Power & Limitation of a Single Story

This was the theme of a public lecture by Nigeria's and perhaps Africa's brightest burning young literary star, Novelist Chimamanda Adichie. The writer of the groundbreaking work, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, and winner of the Commonwealth and Orange Prizes for literature, explores the danger of stereotyping using a single narrative. She explores the African literary experience from the perspective of a story teller, and her audience. The Danger of building off a story, and the power of the powerful (sans the not so "other") to choose the instance from which stories are told to shape perspectives about the "other". Chimamanda's imagination has not changed since I last heard her few years ago, but she has grown. The parameters hewned by this public discourse is worth exploring, and need I say, worth sharing...I will let her do the talking..below.

Is this Nigeria's next Nobel Prize winner? Well, there is the early evidence of something beautiful. Below is an interview she did recently with CNN...this her story, I hope it is not a single story (no pun intended)- at least her perspective below on the institution of marriage which some of my buddies on another blog are clearly running with..(laughs)


this is