Artificial Trees To Save The Planet

I don’t usually write about the environment, but an idea that professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University advocating building billions of artificial trees to capture the build up of carbon in the atmosphere is difficult to ignore.

Biopact (a pact between Africa and Europe to develop green energy) writes that “carbon capture, in the form of “artificial trees”, is one idea explored in the BBC Two documentary Five Ways To Save The World. But could these extraordinary biomimetic machines help to mitigate our excessive burning of fossil fuels and its potentially catastrophic consequence, global warming? Or would we be better off using real trees in a carbon negative energy system? Let us compare the two ideas.

In 2006, more than 29 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were pumped into the atmosphere. And 80% of the world’s energy supply still relies on fossil fuels. German geo-physicist professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, thinks he may have found a way of tackling our current excessive use of fossil fuels.

Click here to read the full article


Please Don’t Go There

In Roray MacLeans review of ‘Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart’, he captures the essence of Tim Butcher’s extraordinary journey through the Democratic Republic of Congo  in the footsteps of Stanley  and Livingston.

Writing in his review, MacLean states that “the DRC is a nation wracked by decades of war. Acute poverty makes lawlessness, rape and murder routine. On his journey, Butcher is moved time and time again by the desperate willingness of people to cling to the old vestiges of order as an anchor against modern anarchy. In Kibombo he meets a stationmaster who diligently turns up for work every morning even though no train has reached the town in six years. In Kisangani traders wait for the tourist boats which will never arrive. On the banks of the Congo a fisherman asks him to smuggle his four-year-old son out of the country so as “to save him from a life of disease, hunger and misery”.

And this is the paradox; despite 130 years of worldwide social, economic and technological advances, there is little difference between the Congo seen by Stanley and by Butcher. Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene may have visited the country. Bogart and Hepburn may have come here to film The African Queen. Concorde may have flown in for the president’s pleasure. But today the riverboats rot on the mudbanks. The roads have been eaten away by jungle. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is once again “the most daunting, backward country on earth”.

Click here to read the full article.

A dedication to Kenya

As events continue to spiral out of hand in Kenya, the plight of many minorities in the country remains uncertain. Once a country on the road to recovery from it’s colonial past, Kenya looks like as if its on a journey of no return. The hopes and desires in this poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, written for Africa  now seem to lay in ruins. 

Come Africa by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Come, I have heard the ecstasy of your drum –
Come, the beating of my blood has become mad –
‘Come, Africa!’
Come, I have lifted my forehead from the dust –
Come, I have scraped from my eyes the skin of grief –
Come, I have released my arm from pain –
Come, I have clawed through the snare of helplessness –
‘Come, Africa!’

In my grasp a link of the manacle has become a mace,
I have broken the iron-collar on my neck and moulded it into a shield –
‘Come, Africa!’

The earth is throbbing along with me, Africa,
The river dances and the forest beats time;
I am Africa; I have taken your figure
I am you; my walk is your lion walk:
‘Come Africa!’
Come with lion walk –
‘Come, Africa!’

‘Come Africa’ appears in ‘Poems by Faiz’ translated by Victor Kiernan and published by Vanguard Books PVT Ltd, South Publication, London 1971. Copyright UNESCO 1971

Kenya – a tragedy in the 21st century

The events unfolding during and after the elections of Kenya, have left many around the world full of remorse and shock whilst looking on helplessly as the tribal and political killings escalated.

Perhaps the current problems in Kenya can partially be placed at the feet of the fundamentalist Islamic movement on the coastline and the Northeast.   There is no doubt that Islamic fundamentalism has been creeping in at a steady pace through the eastern territories over the two decades. 

The international online defence magazine reports that “Kenya’s sudden spiral into chaos after years being regarded as a regional stability in the turbulent Black African continent, will no doubt strike a heavy blow on the economies of a wide swathe of neighbouring nations. But while the present scale of internecine violence came as quite a surprise, it was not the first time that this African nation became engulfed in chaos.

From October 1952 to December 1957 Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the so-called “Mau Mau” rebellion against British colonial rule, over the deprivation of the Kikuyu majority. The official number of Kenyans killed was estimated at 11,503. Much fighting among the various tribes followed, until independence from Great Britain in December 1963, when Jomo Kenyatta, also a Kikuyu became first prime minister of the autonomous Kenyan government. Over the last decade or so, Kenya was regarded an African success story. Beginning to enjoy the fruits of its stability and openness, its economy has grown by more than 6 per cent annually in recent years. But now, in just a few bloody days, since a disputed election on December 27, Kenya has quickly slipped from democratic hopeful, escalating into uncontrollable chaos and brutal murder. From years of prosperity, it threatened to become the scene of just another regional, highly dangerous trouble spot, torn by ethnic bloodletting and prone to outside terrorist intervention”.  To read the full article, click here. 

Death Penalty

This month the UN General Assembly are due to meet to discuss the moratorium on capital punishment. I have been trying to get news of this, but so far have failed to do so. If any of you have come across anything please let me know. In the meantime here is an excellent piece from HANDS OFF CAINE published on 30th August 2007.

“It is only a few weeks from the presentation of a resolution on the Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment at the UN General Assembly by the European Union, an initiative that was inspired by Italy, Hands Off Cain has released its 2007 Report on Capital Punishment in the world, and the picture it paints is chilling.

Notwithstanding protests and humanitarian initiatives, many countries of the world still execute children. And in 2006 the number of countries that employ capital punishment increased from 24 in 2005 to 27. In 2006, there were at least 5,628 executions as compared with 5,494 in 2005. Capital punishment still exists in many Islamic regimes, in some democracies, and even in a European country (Belarus).

Among the 51 countries that still employ capital punishment, China, Iran and Pakistan take the record for executions: at least 5000, 215 and 82 respectively. In 2006 in Iran, seven minors were executed. The United States have put to death 53 people, slightly less than the year before. Between June 30th, 2005, and June 30th, 2006, five executions took place in Belarus. However the surprise comes from Africa, the continent of tribal struggles and uncontrollable genocides. While it is true that there were 80 documented executions in 2006, a sharp increase on the 19 of 2005, it is also true that numerous countries are in favour of the resolution on capital punishment, as Prime Minister Romano Prodi revealed in the introduction of the Hands Off Cain Report.

The Prime Minister describes the commitment in Africa as extraordinary, citing that South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Senegal, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda (whose people have recently witnessed the most serious violations of international human rights) have joined our global campaign. Confirming this is the recognition given to Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, with the prize of ‘Abolitionist of the Year 2007’. It was awarded by Hands Off Cain as an acknowledgement to the person who, more than anyone else, committed themselves to the moratorium on capital punishment and the abolition of the death penalty. Kagame is also the author of the Report’s preface, in which he notes that ‘Rwandans have defeated the leadership responsible for the genocide (the Hutu), the State and the culture of impunity’.

According to Hands Off Cain, ‘the abolition of the death penalty and the support of the campaign for the Universal Moratorium on capital punishment are acts of extraordinary symbolic value. Rwanda has symbolically demonstrated to the world that it is possible to break the absurd cycle of revenge, and that justice and legality aren’t achieved with capital punishment.

Black Skin, White Masks – the legacy of Frantz Fanon

Marking the abolition of slavery, I would like to present you with an extract from Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century:

I am talking of millions of men who have been skilfully injected with fear, inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair, abasement. – Amié Césaire, Discours sur le Colonialisme

The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon… or too late.
I do not come with timeless truths.
My consciousness is not illuminated with ultimate radiances.
Nevertheless, in complete composure, I think it would be good if certain things were said.
These things I am going to say, not shout. For it is a long time since shouting has gone out of my life.
So very long…

What does the black man want?
At the risk of arousing the resentment of my colored brothers, I will say that the black is not a man. There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born. In most cases, the black man lacks the advantage of being able to accomplish this descent into a real hell.

Man is not merely a possibility of recapture or of negation. If it is true that consciousness is a process of transcendence, we have to see too that this transcendence is haunted by the problems of love and understanding. Man is a “yes” that vibrates to cosmic harmonies. Uprooted, pursued, baffled, doomed to watch the dissolution of the truths that he has worked out for himself one after another, he has to give up projecting onto the world an antinomy that coexists with him.

The black is a black man; that is, as a result of a series of aberrations of affect, he is rooted at the core of a universe from which he must be extricated.

The white man is sealed in his whiteness.
The black man in his blackness.

Man’s tragedy, Nietzsche said, is that he was once a child. None the less, we cannot afford to forget that, as Charles Odier has shown us, the neurotic’s fate remains in his own hands.

However painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white.


Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925 and studied medicine in France, going onto psychiatry. His writings had far reaching influence from the civil rights to black consciousness’ movements.

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon is available here ISBN 0-8021-5084-5

The Battle of Algiers

The screening of Saadi Yacef and Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers at the French Institute in South Kensington on 12th May 2007 was extraordinary. A projected 35mm re-mastered print of the film captivated the audience bringing parallels for many to the war in Iraq and the city of Baghdad and Basra. Even after its first release in 1966, the film brings a lump in your throat highlighting the travesty of French colonial rule and the indignity and humiliation of occupation.

Written as a memoir, Saadi Yacef has approached Pontecorvo to turn his writings into a film. Yacef took on the role of co-producer, making much of the shoot possible and also acted in the film as Djafar. Banned by the French, the film went on to win the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival. Over the years, the film has been instrumental in inspiring directors around the world, including Oliver Stone and Michael Haneke.

Present at the screening were Zafira Saadi, daughter of Saadi Yacef and Yamina Benguigui, the French-Algerian woman film director internationally known for her films on issues concerning women and the migrant community in France. She is also credited with being the first French-Algerian woman to have directed a feature film.

Zafira Saadi spoke on behalf of her father Saadi Yacef who could not attend due to poor health. She spoke about growing up with the film as a child as Yacef regularly projected the film – words like “long live Algiers” were one of the first phrases that she learnt.

Zafira also talked about how not enough credit is given to Saadi Yacef for making the film happen – so in many ways the screening was about putting that right. If it were not for Yacef we would not have The Battle of Algiers. Yacef’s main interest was to bring the true struggle of Algerians to the world – hence his memoirs and since then he’s has concentrated on writing political works. You can see a clip of an interview of Yacef at Maiden Voyage Pictures.

Yamina discussed the influence of The Battle of Algiers, although born during the struggles; the collective memory of the film came to her very quickly – citing Pontecorvo as an inspiration to the kinds of films that she would want to make. Yamina remains one of a handful of Arab women filmmakers and is highly regarded by the Arab community.

An important film, which is still being viewed by a huge cross-section of audiences from the Pentagon, Hollywood through to academics and culturalists, the film remains timeless. Gillo Pontecorvo’s visualisation and direction is astounding – his collaboration with Ennio Morricone on the sound track through to complex crowd scenes still hold the viewer spellbound. Saadi Yacef’s motivations are clear – to bring to the world the true predicament of the struggles of Algeria against the racist and cruel occupation of the French.

A pity that The French Institute didn’t recognise the importance of the film – the screening was a shambles – and it seemed hardly any publicity had been done by the institute. The staff were appalling – microphones were not working – and the engineer kept on tripping over wires and trying to make things work whilst Zafira and Yamina stood patiently by to introduce the film. Five minutes into the screening of the film, the engineers decided to turn the stage lights on obscuring the projection where only the sound could be heard – and it took a further 5 minutes to turn them off. After the screening Zafira and Yamina came onto the stage again – again the microphones were not working – and for some inexplicable reason the cinema staff and I imagine along with the engineers decided to have a very loud conversation – disturbing the speakers and the audience despite requests to stop their chatter. I would hate to read too much into this shambles and consign it to the staff having had drunk too much the night before and not preparing for the screening – obviously they didn’t consider the film important enough to warrant a good job – despite the fact that the world considers The Battle of Algiers as one of the master-pieces of cinema.

However, the film is released in over 14 screens in London and can be viewed through out May to June; in professional theatres where due respect will be given to one of the greatest films of our time.

Lake Victoria – the Life Giving Source of the River Nile

With a surface area nearing the size of Southern Ireland, Lake Victoria is many things to many people; provider of transport, drinking water, somewhere to dump industrial waste, industrial fishing as well as local fishing, supporting East Africa’s wildlife and so on. It is becoming clear that the lake can no longer support the advancing population whilst being a casualty of pollution, drought, greed and miss-management. In short Lake Victoria is dying. This will have far reaching implication affecting rivers like the Nile, and other rivers and lakes connected to either Lake Victoria or the Nile.

East Africa has had a chequered history albeit one designed by the British. In the mid 1800’s John Speke accidentally came across Lake Victoria (then unnamed) and declared that it was the origins of the River Nile. He was later followed by Stanley and subsequently by British Rule. In less than 30 years England had taken the region and created Uganda and Kenya. And of course Tanzania (then Tanganyika) came under German ruler-ship. The destruction of the ecology of the region along side that of native population and culture had began. Vast prime forest areas were cleared to create tea plantations along side coffee, cotton and sugar. And in hot pursuit, came the Railways, directly to the shores of Lake Victoria. 

Lake Victoria drew many admirers who came to see the abundant wild life of hippos, crocodiles and so on. Much was and is being gained from farming, fishing and mining of the riches around the region.

In present day Kenya, 30 million people have come to depend on the life giving force of Lake Victoria. But since the British introduced large predatory fish like the Perch in the 50’s the Lake has been subjected to great ecological calamity with the loss of native species. The Perch along with other large predatory fish have ensured a dramatic drop in native species (over 300) to the point where parts of the lake are dieing. The formation of algae, oxygen depletion, commercial fishing, Industrial pollution, bilharzias and typhoid has played a great part in effecting the livelihood of communities living around the lake. With the reduction of fish stock in the lake, the local fishermen have had to resort to abandoning traditional methods and are now fishing with large nets which have further ecological implications.

Advancing algae causing toxicity, decaying of plankton and depletion of oxygen in the water has also added concern for the future of the lake. Many experts note that the problem is not inherent within the lake only; there are outside factors that are contributing to its inability to stave off pollution that are locking down its natural filtration abilities. Multinationals alongside the governments of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are to blame for the industrial pollution that is deposited into rivers that feed into the lake; mining residue (washing of gold etc) leave high traces of mercury as well as other metals such as lead and chromium.

The trouble is that the lake is shared by three countries, each in severe economical decline. Since the two large Dams were built to generate electricity at Kiira and Nalubaale, the lake has had a decline in its water level. Many are predicting that the population of native fish will die out in a few years and the lake will begin its decline, dry out and eventually die.

A Criminal and Cowardly Act – the bombing of Algiers

The prime minister of Algeria, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, declared yesterday’s bombing in central Algiers as ‘a criminal and cowardly act’. The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) now called the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb an extreme right wing group have taken responsibility for the attack killing over 30 people.

The attack yesterday is said to be a reaction to the army’s activities in the Bejaia region, where government forces have increased their operations against the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Algeria seems to be heading for the dark days of the 1990’s where the country descended into violence when more than 200,000 innocent people were killed.

Many extremist groups related to or in sympathy with al-Qaeda throughout the Islamic world, from Iraq, Indonesia through to Afghanistan have abandoned Islamic law and rules of engagement, misusing Islamic concepts, altering Quranic versus to suit their own need for a base for power. 

Many attacks by Al-Qaeda and their splinter groups that don’t make the headlines are carried out in remote areas fall within the realms of the unjust; acts such as poisoning wells, destroying farm land and generally terrorising, including rape.  The injunctions laid out in the Quran on the rules of engagement are being blatantly ignored by Al-Qaeda et al. Afghanistan is a case in point when Osama bin Laden was retreating into the mountains, ordered the wells to be poisoned.

The prophet Muhammad declared many injunctions whilst commanding his forces during battle, amongst them:

No killing of non-combatants
No immoral attacks on wildlife and nature
No felling or destruction of orchards and trees
No destruction of wells

The Quran clearly states that:

“So if they withdraw from you, and fight not against you, and offer you peace, then Allah does not give you permission to take any action against them”.

Abu Bakr, the Prophet Muhammad’s companion, further reinforced these injunctions by stating that:

“Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone”.

Days of Glory – the Cinema of Rachid Bouchareb

With films like Days of Glory you are reminded of the power of cinema and Rachid Bouchareb has made what can only be described as one of the most important films in recent times. Extremely influential, the film has played a major role in persuading the French President Jacques Chirac to reinstate war pensions of the African and Arab soldiers in line with the White French soldiers of the Second World War.

Steeped in its colonial past, the film tracks key Arab and African characters entering the arena of the Second World War. Sandal clad, severely under rationed and experiencing racism from fellow French soldiers this motley band of ‘native’ soldiers fight a battle on both fronts. Powerful and moving the film sets out to show the brutal inequality within the French and allied troops.

Ironically, the second and particularly the third generation of Arab/African communities in France and the rest of Europe remain oblivious to the immense contribution by the ‘native’ free army against the rise and onslaught of Nazi Germany. Over the years, the level of racism in France has been increasing where second generation Arab and African French are further disenfranchised from the mainstream; riots, gang fights, lack of education, lack of job opportunities and facilities continue to maintain the status quo.

Traditionally the Arab and African community in France has had very little opportunity to integrate. In the urban areas, in particular Paris, the suburbs which encircle Paris are largely made up of working class and the minorities. It is this separation which is so defined, continues to contribute to the breakdown between the two communities.

Days of Glory succeeds to bring in audiences across the board without simplifying and watering down facts. In fact, the film goes a long way to play to the Arab, African and the White French population. A highly creative and political work, the film triumphantly crosses over in both the commercial and art cinema sectors.