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July 9, 2020
Nawaz Khan Memoirs

Why are we poor in Africa? We never learnt to hoard – Part III

Well, we all know DFID, USAID, EUAID (Is there such a thing?) GIZ – as a DEVELOPMENT Agency – needs to be shut down, or at least – reduced to one woman writing cheque’s and a team of M&E experts – external.

Pre-qualification: *the term “White People” refers to ALL Colours from UK, USA and EU, they are defined by their hand-sanitizers and Apple Macs/iPads/i-everything, in their earnest, zealous endeavors to “save the Afreekian”. Daniel Deng and Parek Maduot (Two black men – are typical of “white people”)… it is NOT a racist/color thing.

So: What is missing from this equation? Market.

File image of women in coastal Somalia.
File image of women in coastal Somalia.

This is a lecture I gave the EU-centric JDU (Joint Donor Unit) in Juba… “Dutch-Led donors looking to do good”… Obviously they failed. The topics below are sequential as I drove along the road to Western Equatoria…

“Every African Grandmother knows how to grow 100 pumpkins per month”. So why don’t they?
“They also know how to build roads”.
“We are so rich (materially, in natural resources) we make teak charcoal and mahogany scaffolding”.
“The butcher was a genius”.
“Africans are not lazy, just give us the right jobs to do”
“Africans are lazy because they are too rich”. We are all essentially semi-retired…

I wrote – and delivered this paper to a bunch of incoming EU experts to explain where they were… after a drive to visit Western Equatoria, South Sudan – a remote place, a road so bad you could roll on a straight patch of road – and one NGO woman I know spent a month in traction to realign her spine after a drive on that road in a Land Cruiser with leaf springs. There were several places – where YOU HAD TO HAVE an armed guard with you in the car – for fear of Joseph Kony’s LRA, who were still dribbling about killing randomly.
I was very observant that my spine was taking a beating from the road, and so was determined to rest and talk to the locals over several days – even though my Prado was “BFG taller tyres, custom springs from UK and Heavy Duty Monroe Gas Shocks”.

Western Equatoria really is a wondrous place… at one place – I saw such a sight, I thought I was hallucinating – a teak tree had been chopped down, was burned and made into charcoal! I stopped to talk to them, and spent a few hours in conversation. At another place – phallus-shaped earthen phallus-es erupting from the ground (they were termite mounds, mushroom-umbrella shaped for the ameliorating the pounding from heavy raindrops that threatened to demolish them) – I could make a fortune renting this ground as a “fertility retreat” for childless couples – or couples seeking a particular sex of child… again, I stopped and photographed the “phallus-ic ground”.

Gov. Kivutha Kibwana in a meeting during a recent project with USAid in Makueni County.
Gov. Kivutha Kibwana in a meeting during a recent project with USAid in Makueni County.

But I digress…
Western Equatoria is remote… “schooling for the older generation was traditional”… to be polite.

“Every African Grandmother Knows how to grow 100 pumpkins per month”.
Yes – they do. SO WHY DON’T THEY? But when you go to W.Eq, you will find their farms have pumpkins, sorghum, tobacco (for home use) a few fruits… a few chickens… goats… very few cows… (for fear of attracting Dinka Cattle raiders)… at one VERY Clean impressive household, I stopped to talk to them – with my armed guard acting as translator.

The matriarch was an elderly grey haired woman, Zande… I asked her if she had pumpkins for sale.
“No” she said.
NK: Why not?
Granny: Where will I sell them? We all grow pumpkins here, where can I sell them? Then she laughs at this stupid foreigner, who is obviously “new in Afreekia”…
NK: Can you not sell them at the market in Yambio?
Granny: Laughs heartily – Son, there are two cars a day passing this road, belonging to Kawajat (Foreigners/NGOs) and they will not stop. If I take my pumpkins to market, how will I return? And nobody buys from us.
NK: How many pumpkins can you grow – if I was going to buy them all?
Granny: Stops, thinks, once for a wedding I grew 50 because there were going to be many people. But that was a long time ago.
NK: Can you grow 50 per month, every month consistently?
Granny (who is probably 50yrs old but looks 187yrs): Looks at me and says – my grandmother used to be the senior wife of the chief, and for their gatherings, family feasts, tribal meetings she used to provide ALL the food. Even more than 100 pumpkins. That was more than 60 years ago.

Implication: If she has off take – she will produce 100+ pumpkins per month, 20Kg tobacco, bananas, papayas, etc.

This was later proved when an NGO – say SCF or Care – went to Yei County, and gave everyone seeds to plant pumpkins… and so – harvest time – everyone had pumpkins for sale! And nobody wanted so many pumpkins. The following season nobody planted pumpkins. Almost everyone has 1-2 pumpkin plants – and the formula near town is this: Eat the leaves, sell the fruit. You will always be eating “pumpkin leaf stew with your ugali-grits-rice-bread”

“They also know how to build roads”.
This lesson was from Granny Pumpkin’s courtyard. In W.Eq. they have this amazing GREY murram that compacts into “almost smooth plaster”. Granny Pumpkin’s courtyard was grey, murram smooth and swept clean every day. It was also sloped – so that the rain (Tropical rainforest) would run away and not sit in puddles in front of the huts. The soil is very soft loamy, and the water just soaks in and disappears.
I looked carefully – and realized what I was looking at – the precision of an engineer – a road-making civil-engineer to be precise. If you told her “make a road” – no chance. If you told her “re-create your courtyard in front of your land… for 100 metres… easy peasy – she has been roadbuilding for decades and watched her Granny doing so.

“We are so rich we make teak charcoal and mahogany scaffolding”.

The reason I had stopped – was simply because I had seen a sight that beggared belief. A teak tree had been chopped, and was being chopped into bits to be turned into charcoal. I did not believe it. So I stopped to verify it was indeed a teak tree, and talked to them first, before being invited for tea and subsequently met “Granny Pumpkin”.

Edward Greene (File image)
Edward Greene (File image)

The soil under the teak tree was being turned into building bricks – sun dried – because apparently that soil from under the roots made the best bricks… that amount of R&D is generational.

NK: Why are you making charcoal from this tree? Do you know its value?
Him: Yes, but I need to make charcoal (which trucks buy from the roadside for their week-long drives deep in the bush) and this is a big tree. Nobody buys the wood, and the trunk is too big to do anything with. Also I can make bricks from the soil under the roots, so I can build another hut.
And so I saw a teak tree turned into charcoal.

Later – I saw mahogany plants turned into scaffolding – which would be burned after one month of use.

For a fact – when we bid for Warehousing pallets in Juba, the cheapest most cost-effective long term solution for warehouse pallets – was Mahogany… and so I had the enviable(?) task of supervising mahogany planks and blocks to be assembled into warehousing pallets. (Screws, not nails, so I can tell you Mahogany is hard to screw into – a 3-4V rechargeable drill-screwdriver is not up to the job, 12V as a minimum.)

“The butcher was a business genius”.

About two hours further down the road, I saw a roadside butcher, so I stopped. Once a week, same place every week, he would bring a bull, slaughter it, butcher it – set up his table under the shade of a tree – and people would come from miles away, buy his meat, and disappear. We were literally 20Km from any town. And yet it worked. By 2-3 pm, all his meat would be sold, he sold the head last (It served as free advertising whilst he had meat for sale). I figured it would take 3 MBAs and two Business Phd’s to analyse this successful business, another 3 to make it work… yet he had intuited it and made decent enough money from this trade.

“Africans are not lazy, just give us the right jobs to do”
Further down the road – about 10Km outside Yambio, I saw a HUGE HERD of cattle – probably 3,000 plus – unusual enough… but the herdsman – normally naked and armed… was flagging us down – politely and clothed… with his gun resting 10 metres away – with another man – who was also armed. Rule No1) Never ever stop for a man with an AK47 unless he is in uniform. But I had an armed guard, and so I asked him – should we stop? As we passed by, my guard said “No, he is from Aweil”.

Now – I am VIP in Aweil anyways… but – Wait – WHAT? Aweil? These are Aweilian cows? In Western Equatoria? My foot slams the brakes – ABS works on my car, by the way. I reverse – and he is running towards us…

File image of Turkana women, Kenya.
File image of Turkana women, Kenya.

Herdsman: Can you take me to Yambio town, I can pay you.
Me: Yes, but no need for money, get in.
I ask him where he is from – he does not look Equatorian.
Herdsman: I am from Aweil.
NK: What? Aweil, as in where Malong is Governor?
Herdsman: You know Malong? Yes, I am from Aweil.
NK: I know Malong, Aldo, Cleto, Arthur, Simon – and reel off some Aweil VIP friends.
Herdsman: You know Simon? These are his cows.

It turns out Simon – Aldo’s son-in-law, (Aldo is a whole book in himself, but best described to foreigners as Luol Deng Chicago Bulls superstar’s dad) has over 7,000 cows. And every year they are walked from Aweil to W.Eq to follow the grazing and rains, about 1,800Km round trip – this man and his fellow junior herders walk behind their cows, with their guns to protect from raiders.

NK: Why are you leaving your cows to go to town? (I am hoping to hear “Bar, alcohol, booze – like in the Western movies when cowboys come into town).
Herdsman: I need to buy medicines for these cows, soon we will ‘meet those of the small brown cows from Cameroon’ and they do not look after their cows, they have disease and ticks… (the last few words are said with disdain, his reflex was to spit after, to clear his distaste, but he was in a car, so he desisted).

NK: (Me) What? You mean there are people who walk from Cameroon with their cows?
Herdsman: yes, but theirs are small and brown with small horns.
NK: Do they not fight with you?
Herdsman: What for? There is plenty of grass for everyone… (that pragmatism is a whole level of Buddhist-level contentedness)

So it turns out this man walks 1,800+Km annually behind his herd of cows… as do some Cameroonians, they meet in Western Equatoria, graze a few months, then walk back to Aweil up north, as the Cameroonians walk back to Cameroon – half a continent away. These are nomads…

Now here comes the kicker. We met him for drinks in a bar later, he came with several big boxes of drugs carried by two porters – he had $1,000 of cash on him in his bag, the medicines cost $300… it was afternoon when he joined us, finding me in Yambio was easy – only foreigner in town… only a few bars… after a few minutes of drinks, the sun came out and I suggested we move tables… I took my drink, my bodyguard took his drink, the herdsman took his medicines and left his drink, then sat with us. He then brusquely called a waitress to bring his glass and bottle to us. I was watching… the waitress brought his glass and bottle of beer… and went away unperturbed.

Me: Why did you, a man who walks thousands of kilometres, not go and get your glass and bottle from 15 metres away?
Herdsman: That is not a man’s job. Life lesson: Know who you are!

Sidenote: I was privileged to meet Gen Gabriel Deng (Wau-Awelian) – a tall fearsome regal man with a moustache– whom Aldo and Co. respected and feared… as a younger man – educated as a veterinary officer in Khartoum, he left his government job to become a rebel, and his role was: take gold from Aweil, WALK to Ethiopia, buy guns and ammunition and return, walking. The Murle are a feared tribe, he walked through Murle lands – I asked him – how did he cope with the Murle?

Gen Gabriel Deng: I had my two pistols and rifle, I used to walk straight to the chief’s house and explain my fight is with the Arabs, and there would be no trouble from me, and I wanted no trouble from them, unless they wanted to die trying to kill me. They usually gave me an escort to the edge of their lands. I did this for many years.

It is a generational process, give an African man a man’s job, he will walk 2,000km risking his life. Ask that same man to fetch water from 50 feet away, he will refuse. And yet, I had managed to train waiters and waitresses – and a decent-enough barman at my restaurant in Juba – Central Pub.

“Africans are lazy because they are too rich”. We are all semi-retired…
I noticed hundreds of oranges on the floor of my host in Yambio… rotting… I asked him why:
Host: Khan, how many oranges can the children eat? Everyone has an orange tree.
Western Equatoria – you see wild bananas, wild papayas…

But the defining moment came in two instalments:

Instalment 1:

Juba, Opposite Bank of the Nile, one day I was visiting the chief across the River Nile where I had wanted to build a house on land he had given me, as we sat, a man came, sat down, opened his knapsack, took out a grasshopper, impaled it on his hook and started fishing. Within an hour he had 5-6 fish each between 10-12 inches long. He would sell 4 for $3 each, eat two with his family, and start again the next day. Total work time? 20 minutes catching grasshoppers, 60 minutes catching fish, when he had enough, he went to market, sold them and went home.

He did not fish all day to catch 100 fish and amass wealth… I realised – he is truly food secure, he knows fish is always there, grass is always there, grasshoppers always there, amaranth… sesame… sorghum, mangoes… antelope, crocodiles, terrapins…

Segue on Terrapins: He caught a massive albino terrapin, big enough that is he sat on it, it was moving with him on it. He called me – In the time it took me to get there – some Chinese from the riverport they were building downstream had come, paid him $700 and gone with it. I berated him… visions of the “turtle-souping it”… and told him to keep it as a tourist attraction etc. etc. anyways, it was gone. Turns out, the next day, as we were sitting, they brought it back with lots of painted religious symbols, prayed, chanted – and released it back into the Nile!!! Respect!

Instalment 2:

On a visit to Central Europe inland, I saw my host pile on the berry jam, and he noticed me with my pathetic amount of jam on my bread… he asked me to add more – I asked him why he was eating so much jam?

“Only way to get Vitamins during winter, which is why we preserve everything”. Cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, celery – everything is preserved until the sun returns in spring… I realised, they are food insecure, they need to hoard because – winter will come and kill if you are caught unprepared… “winter is coming” is not just for Game of Thrones…

Postscript:
So Marco Polo went to China – where gunpowder was used for entertainment… brought it back to Europe, made guns, cannons, war rockets, and thus these hungry food-insecure Euros, came to India, Afreekia, Amreekia, and stripped it away of all its wealth, to hoard for there, in Euroland, “winter is coming”… always… as sure as night follows day, winter follows summer in Euroland.

So why are we poor?

We never learned to hoard… and those that do these days, (politicos, tycoons) steal and hoard… in EU – stealing from Afreekians/Indians was called Conquest, stealing within EU was punishable by death… in Afreekia, if you steal a small amount, you are likely stoned to death by a crowd of onlookers… if you steal a big amount, you and your family are celebrated as “big men”.

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