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.