Twentieth Century Africa Travelogue

Volume 16, Issue 2 | Published 06/11/2019  

June 2019

Ethiopia 1983-1985

Roots of my African Travelogue

Crossing the border between Kenya and Ethiopia was a revelation in the 1980s. It meant going from an ex-colony still dominated by British culture to an African state with a three-thousand year literate history.  Ethiopian self-assuredness is legendary and seems to be due to Ethiopians having never been colonised (except for about six years of Italian military domination in the mid-twentieth century).

As I went to work each day at the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission I got a taste of it. The boss there had a chronic cough and I learned many people in Addis Ababa suffered the effects of living in a bowl of mountains where the air settles and a cement factory was also located. I asked about this on a subsequent trip and was told simply “We moved it”. This was clear thinking and capacity for action I was not used to coming from Kenya.

The women of Sudan are risking their lives every day on the frontlines of the Sudan Revolution - the most sustained challenge yet to Sudan’s political and militant Islamist regime, a regime that continues trying to rebrand itself in desperate attempts for local and international approval.

It has been almost 30 years since the current Sudanese government took over the country through a military coup in June 1989. A combination of political Islamic elites and ideologized military officers overthrew a struggling multiparty government under the banner of national salvation. Since then the future of the country has changed drastically, and taken a sharp turn backwards.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 with a promise of    Sabka Saath, SabkaVikas: Collective Efforts Inclusive Growth. Modi spelled out his vision of governance:

Government has only one religion - India first!

Government has one holy book - the Constitution.

It was a slogan that had an appeal, especially to the 2.31 crore first time voters who came out in large numbers and enthusiastically brought Modi to power in 2014.  According to the Election Commission (EC), the number of first time voters had risen to around 8.4 crore by the time of the 2019 elections.

In 1974, when a few dozen Asian women led a walkout at the Imperial Typewriters factory in Leicester they had no idea they would spark a three-month strike that would help change race relations in Britain.

This new exhibition pays a brilliant tribute to those who fought, and allows strikers to tell their story.

The dispute began after a ­payroll mix-up revealed that whites were being paid more than Asians for doing the same work. The Asians demanded an explanation from management and, when none came, they went to the union.

The TGWU convenor made it clear he had little time for them, calling their grievance ‘tribal’.

The way he dismissed the women was symptomatic of the way many in the movement treated migrants.

They thought newcomers were fodder for the bosses—and were being used to drive down wages.

Asians were stereotyped as docile, and unions said they were difficult to organise because of ‘language problems’.