In 1991, the globally recognized anti-western Soviet propaganda machine collapsed and disappeared. Russia and SADC Member States have had long-standing and time-tested bilateral partnerships for nearly 30 years after the Soviet collapse. In this long-ranging interview, the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, discusses various aspects of SADC-Russia’s economic cooperation, some strategies, challenges and future perspectives with Kester Kenn Klomegah from Moscow.
Russia and Africa mark nearly 30 years of bilateral relations after the Soviet collapse. What does this mean from the African perspectives?
Russia has a long history of bilateral engagements with the Southern African countries, which constitute the Southern African Development Community, a Regional Economic Community (REC). Russia, as part of the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), supported the concerted efforts of the Frontline States and the Liberation Movements to fight against apartheid and the existential threats posed by it.
The USSR, in this regard, provided technical and military support to most of the countries that were a part of the Frontline States in order to achieve total liberation in the region. Even after the break-up of the USSR, Russia has continued to play an important role in technical assistance, economics and military support to African countries, including SADC Member States – our relationship with Russia is therefore not new, it is very valuable, and need to be sustained.
The most recent visit (2018) of the Russian Foreign Minister H.E. Sergey Lavrov, to the Republics of Angola, Ethiopia, Namibia and Zimbabwe, (as we understand it) was largely focused on signing of economic cooperation agreements to attract Russian investments in key areas such as mining, aviation and energy sectors, as well as fostering military technical cooperation.
Southern African leaders are looking for investment in infrastructure, industry and trade. How would you characterize Russia’s role in Southern Africa, comparing it among BRICS?
Investment in infrastructure, industry and trade is seen as a catalyst for regional integration, economic growth, and sustainable development. In this regard, SADC welcomes investors from all over the world. It is worth noting that one of the BRICS countries, South Africa, is a SADC Member State. Any comparison will therefore be limited to the other BRICS countries – namely Brazil, India and China.
While Russia as part of the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) supported SADC Frontline States and the Liberation Movements, a few years ago, it has not been that visible in the region as compared to China, India or Brazil. It is encouraging that, of recent, Russia has positioned herself to be a major partner with Southern Africa and being part of the BRICS promotes her engagement with the region, particularly in investment in minerals, aviation, defense and energy sectors.
Russia has also launched an Africa business forum, aimed at improving direct trade with the continent/region beyond the traditional sectors like mining, seeking to invest in areas like agriculture, industrial production, high technology and transport. The upcoming Russia and SADC Investment Forum that is to take place on 23 October 2018 in Russia, also seeks to provide an opportunity for businesses and partnerships.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reiterated during his last African tour that Russia’s preferred focus is on Russia-SADC in its diplomacy in Africa. Why is SADC region considered a strategic region for Russia?
We cannot obviously speak for Russia, but we could give you a general overview of why international partners and investors would consider SADC an attractive or strategic investment partner.
There are a number of inter-related factors for this, the first being peace and stability: The SADC region is peaceful and stable. A peaceful and stable environment is attractive to investors as it fosters confidence by assurance of longevity, property rights and fundamental freedoms, which underpin economic rights. Peace in SADC is sustained through cooperation between the 16 Member States of SADC as espoused in the SADC Treaty, and in particular, the Protocol on Politics, Defense and Security Cooperation whose general objective is to promote peace and security in the Region.
The Founding Fathers of SADC had long recognized that the region could remain stable by fostering common political values, building legitimate democratic institutions and mechanisms to sustain peace as a pre-requisite for regional integration and prosperity.
Secondly, is the integrated market resulting from a combined population of approximately 327 million people, and a collective GDP of US$ 600 billion (2016), which is supported by generally favorable weather conditions in most parts of the region.
Thirdly, the region has abundant natural resources ranging from vast energy resources, arable land and forestry; to precious minerals such as diamonds, gold, platinum, copper, cobalt, oil, and natural gas to mention but a few. These are vital for the global economy and strategic partnership.
Notwithstanding, the above mentioned comparative advantages, the region has relatively under-developed human capabilities and infrastructure, which are essential for bolstering the region’s efforts to exploit and maximize benefits from these natural resources. Hence, the need for the region to cooperate with external partners, such as Russia, which has advanced technologies and capacities that could be transferred to the region. A peaceful and stable environment surely presents a ‘strategic’ imperative as well.
Russian Federation’s priorities are also in line with SADC priorities as evidenced by the priorities of the Foreign Economic Strategy in the region as indicated below:
- Prospecting, mining, oil, construction and mining, purchasing gas, oil, uranium, and bauxite assets (Angola, Namibia and South Africa);
- Construction of power facilities—hydroelectric power plants on the River Congo (Angola, Namibia and Zambia,) and nuclear power plants (South Africa);
- Creating a floating nuclear power plant, and South African participation in the international project to build a nuclear enrichment centre in Russia;
- Railway Construction (Angola);
- Creation of Russian trade houses for the promotion and maintenance of Russian engineering products (South Africa).
- Participation of Russian companies in the privatization of industrial assets, including those created with technical assistance from the former Soviet Union (Angola).
In your estimation, what is the level of Russia’s engagement with SADC region?
Russia and SADC Member States have had long-standing bilateral partnership for development for decades, providing substantial results in the priority areas of cooperation. Through such significant historical ties, the peoples of SADC and of Russia have strengthened friendship and mutual understanding for developing comprehensive, equitable and fruitful cooperation.
The ten (10) SADC Member States represented in the Russian Federation, namely: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe provide an extensive representation for engagement.
At the regional level, SADC and Russia are expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Basic Principles of Relations and Cooperation on 23rd October 2018, in the following areas, among others, Technical Cooperation and Assistance; Capacity Building; Peace, Security, Conflict Prevention and Resolution; Preventive Diplomacy; Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment; Infrastructure Development, and Energy; Information Communication Technology (ICT); Transport, Communications and Meteorology; Water, Agriculture, Ocean Economy, Food Security; Minerals, Natural Resources and Protection of the Environment; Education and Science; Healthcare; Technology and Innovation; and Culture, Tourism and Information Exchange. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the area of Military – Technical Cooperation, with the aim of promoting cooperation between the Parties in regional and international peace and security was signed in July, 2018.
Outcomes of Russian Foreign Minister’s March 2018 visit to some SADC Member States
In March 2018, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited the Southern Africa region where he held talks with the Presidents of Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In his statement, the Minister noted that Russia together with Africa wanted to elevate trade, economic and investment relations to a level that would meet political and trust-based relations.
It is our considered view that the bilateral engagements served to strengthen the already existing ties, coming up with win–win bilateral cooperation between Russia and these Member States. This will be augmented by the two Memorandum of Understanding: MOU in the area of Military–Technical Cooperation, that is to promote cooperation between the Parties that was signed in July, 2018, and MoU on Basic Principles of Relations and Cooperation to be signed on 23rd October 2018.
What challenges and setbacks, in your view, still remain to get both parties (Russia and Southern Africa) towards result-oriented and effectively closer in their post-Soviet economic cooperation?
SADC works closely with the International Cooperating Partners (ICPs) in achieving its developmental results. As such, SADC’s cooperation with the ICPs is guided by the principles of partnership and commitments. Both SADC and Russia value their adherence to the aims and principles of the United Nations Charter, seeking to contribute to the establishment of a democratic and just world order and to strengthen regional and inter-regional ties to ensure peace, stability, socio-economic development, and mutual confidence.
In view of the above, the thrust for SADC-Russia Cooperation shall be aligned with global, continental, regional, and national policies. By so doing, both sides will be able to contribute and create favourable conditions for socio-economic development, cooperation, and mutual confidence.
Soft power and public diplomacy are largely or significantly not in Russia’s engagement with Southern Africa. What are your objective views on these issues?
If you follow the history of Russia’s engagement with Africa, and Southern Africa in particular, from the days of the USSR to the present, one is likely to find that Public Diplomacy by Russia has encompassed many forms. These have included, educational programs, cultural exchanges, scholarly visitor programs, and of course, the use of media to cover and project issues on Africa from a Russian perspective. These are all instruments and forms of public diplomacy, which would ordinarily have the effect of reaching audiences on our continent and beyond, and impacting positively on what Russia has to offer the world. In the same vein, this can be seen as a form of “soft power” as its aim is to appeal and attract partners rather than coerce them into a relationship of one form or the other.
Arguably, do you think intermediaries will be required, for example, the private equity and commodity trading communities to play a supportive role in forging business links between Russia and Southern Africa?
Like most of the developing countries, Southern African countries have, over the years, largely relied on multilateral and regional development financial institutions to fund their development projects. However, given the huge demand for resources, policy makers have realised that these cannot be met solely from these traditional sources, and therefore, the need to explore alternative and innovative sources of funding. Private equity and commodity trading exchanges can play a critical role in mobilising resources mostly from the private sector to fund projects in the Southern African countries.
For the region to realise its enormous potential, it needs the support of the next generation of financial instruments and intermediaries to capitalise on opportunities, navigate challenges, and build the businesses and economies, that will enable the continent to thrive. Private equity could become a major force for accelerating growth in African countries. While regional penetration is low, smaller markets and modest penetration create significant potential for high risk-adjusted returns. Major growth sectors are: natural resources, transportation, energy, real estate, fintech, healthcare and hospitality. Many private equity funds are nurturing the requisite skills and experience to invest, grow and add value to portfolio/innovative companies.
Similarly, the establishment of commodity trading exchanges can play a critical role in boosting the region’s economic development. Successful securities exchanges all over the world are key to the economic development, providing the most efficient channel for savers (domestic and foreign) to channel funds into long-term productive enterprises, creating growth and increased prosperity. Since the region has a comparative advantage in the vast natural resources sector, and in line with SADC objective of developing and adding value and beneficiation concept, the setting of the commodities trading exchanges present attractive growth opportunities.
In this context, SADC has already undertaken initiatives to develop the interconnectivity project whereby the aim is to link the SADC stock exchanges, and to encourage cross border trading of shares/stocks. Efforts are also being made to improve the operational, regulatory and technical requirement underpinnings and capabilities of the region’s exchanges to make the securities markets more attractive to both regional and international investors.
The region remains a top destination for investment as its attractiveness to investment has risen dramatically over the last several years, and this should continue to present attractive growth opportunities for private equity for the foreseeable future. Private equity represents a new source of capital, complementing traditional sources and project finance, with private equity investors offering more than just funds, but also the needed skills. All said, there are positive directions in the relationship, we look for a bright future.
Review: As Coronavirus Rise Past Three million, Africa Hopes for Vaccine
With its large population and fragile health systems, Africa has recorded more than three million Covid-19 cases, still less deadly as compared to other regions in the world, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). According to Africa CDC, Africa’s coronavirus tally was 3,021,769 as of January 10. The death toll was 72,121 and the number of recoveries was 2,450,492. The biggest number of coronavirus cases were reported from South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Ethiopia.
South Africa, with more than 1.2 million reported cases, including 32,824 deaths, accounts for more than 30% of the total for the continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion people. The high proportion of cases identified in South Africa, were attributed to more tests carried out than many other African countries.
African countries are expecting to get medical equipment, most especially vaccine, to help them out of the pandemic. These they expect from external sources. During January 4-9, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. Wang Yi emphasized that China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation in diverse spheres with Africa. For example, China’s efforts to create a new image in Africa through China-European Union Cooperation in vaccine.
Both China and the EU vow to work as a global collaboration under the World Health Organization in terms of accelerating the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and assuring fair and equitable access for every country in the world. It’s about making the vaccine a global public good.
Last December, during his annual media conference, President Vladimir Putin made it known that Russia’s readiness to help foreign countries including Africa. With regard to cooperation with other countries, it would boost the technological capabilities, enterprises to produce the vaccine, foreign countries would invest their own money into expanding their production capacities and purchasing the corresponding equipment, he explained.
Foreign countries would be investing in these projects: the enlargement of production facilities and the purchase of equipment. “As for cooperation with foreign countries: nothing is stopping us from manufacturing vaccine components at facilities in other countries precisely because we need time to enhance technological capacities of our vaccine manufacturing enterprises. This does not hinder vaccination in the Russian Federation in any way,” Putin said.
According to January report from the Tass News Agency, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has only registered the first Russian vaccine Sputnik V in Africa. “Russian Direct Investment Fund announces the first registration of Sputnik V in Africa. Ministry of Pharmaceutical Industry of Algeria registered Sputnik V on January 10th,” as follows from a post on their official Twitter account.
According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the registration was done under the accelerated Emergency Use Authorization procedure. This procedure was also used to register this vaccine in Argentina, Bolivia, and Serbia. The Fund said that supplies to Algeria would be possible thanks to its international partners in India, China, South Korea and other countries.
Writing under the headline “Africa’s Road to Recovery in 2021 Is a Fresh Start” published originally by Chatham House, Dr Alex Vines, the Director for the Africa Program at Chatham House, said many African countries would be much more seriously affected by the socioeconomic consequences of the global economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic. Even before Covid-19 hit, an increasing number of African countries were indebted and financially stressed.
He wrote that African debt would become a greater global concern in 2021 as many African states remain the world’s poorest and most fragile and have been hard hit by the economic and financial costs imposed by the pandemic.
In his analysis, Dr Vines further pointed out that 2021 will also see increased geopolitical rivalry for influence in Africa. This will include competition over generosity, ranging from positioning over debt cancellation to providing Covid-19 vaccines. China has its Sinopharm vaccine and has already signed up to Covax, the international initiative aimed at ensuring equitable global access. The Russians have their Sputnik V vaccine, the UK has its AstraZeneca and University of Oxford vaccine, and the US the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech (with Germany) vaccines.
Reports from Quartz also said Africa appears not part of the supply priorities of the Pharmaceutical companies producing the foremost Covid-19 vaccines. While Pfizer-BioNTech has offered to supply just 50 million Covid-19 vaccines to Africa starting from March to the end of this year, Moderna and AstraZeneca have not yet allocated supplies for Africa. AstraZeneca directed the African Union (AU) to negotiate with the Serum Institute of India for its vaccine to see if they can get a deal. Serum Institute of India has earlier obtained the license to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The Quartz report said most African countries mainly relied on the COVAX co-financing public-private facility backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to enable rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for lower income countries. The facility promised access to vaccines for up to 20% of participating countries’ population with an initial supply beginning in the first quarter of the year to immunize 3% of their population. However, COVAX is underfunded, and these countries must look for other avenues to access more doses to vaccinate the 50% of their population in order to reach immunity.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, several countries around the world have been making efforts to facilitate local vaccine development, clinical trials, and some had made upfront payments for vaccines to encourage early production. Outside of South Africa, most African economies have played too little or no role at all in the development of Covid-19 vaccines and had likewise made little or effort to secure vaccines while other economies around the world were doing so.
For instance, a globally respected genomic and infectious disease laboratory in Nigeria announced the development of a Covid-19 vaccine in September that is 90% effective against the virus in the preclinical trial but it has not been able to carry out clinical trials due to lack of support and funding.
While Kenya recently announced that through the COVAX facility, it ordered 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with supply expected to start arriving in the second week of next month, several African countries are opting for vaccines from India, Russia, and China. This is despite skepticism about the vaccines from Russia and China in particular. Both countries rolled out their vaccines without phase 3 clinical trial results that confirm the vaccine effectiveness.
South Africa said it made a deal with Serum Institute India and will be getting 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for its health workers starting this month. The country, which is going is also in talks with Russia and China to procure vaccines. Currently, Guinea is testing the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V and has ordered 2 million doses.
Morocco has ordered 65 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, and AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute India. Egypt plans to buy 40 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, has already received 50,000 doses of the vaccine in December, and expecting another 50,000 in the second or third week of this month when vaccination will commence. Nigeria says vaccine access was in its discussions this week with the Chinese foreign minister during his visit to the county, according to the report from Quartz.
Besides the fact that Africa has registered its three million cases, Africa still behind the United States and European countries, and Asian countries such as China and India when it comes to the Covid-19 outbreak. For many African countries, it is still the time to reflect on African countries’ responses to Covid-19. Although it has abundant resources, Africa remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, and worse with poor development policies. It is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.
Significantly, the global pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Africa’s health system, adversely affected its economic sectors, it is therefore necessary for African leaders, the African Union (AU), regional organizations and African partners be reminded of issues relating to sustainable development and integration. It sets as a reminder to highlight and prioritize the significant tasks set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
China’s Diplomacy in Africa: Being a civilian great power
Authors: Xu Guoying & Chen Yiling*
During January 4-9, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. According to the media reports, the visits is in line with China’s 30-year tradition of choosing Africa as the destination of all Chinese foreign ministers’ first overseas visit each year and demonstrated China’s close attention to its ties with African countries as well as its firm friendship with African people.
Noting the year 2021 marks the last year for the implementation of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Action Plan (2019-21), FM Wang’s visits aimed to deepen coordination and communication with the African side to cement the important consensuses and facilitate economic recovery in African countries while fighting the virus. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the close cooperation between China and Africa in fighting the pandemic has indicated the two sides’ firm determination to step up relationship with each other. This is more necessary because the traditional friendship between China and Africa would have reached new heights in the post-pandemic era while they also expected to exchange views on a new round of forum during this visit.
There is no doubt that China’s diplomacy has always adhered to the principle that all countries, large or small, are equal and that has advocated multilateralism, opposed power politics, promoted general democratization in international relations, and supported the United Nations to play its due role in international affairs. To that end, China needs the consensus and diplomatic supports from the countries in the Third World, particularly the African states. Given this, Chinese FM Wang reiterate that big countries should take the lead in abiding by the basic norms of international relations, not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, helping small and medium-sized developing countries, and assuming their international responsibilities in dealing with climate change and promoting sustainable development. Today, as the largest developing country, China is willing to fulfill its international obligations since its development is a growing force for peace, justice, and other developing countries as equal members of the international community.
This is not a lip-service but a solemn promise to play a more active role in international affairs and is willing to work with the country to safeguard world peace, stability, and prosperity. As a matter of fact, most states of Africa have admitted that China has adhered to the principle of equality between large and small countries, and made all the efforts to safeguard the interests of small and medium-sized countries and developing countries. Morally and practically, China has always stood with developing countries in international affairs. During his trip to Africa, Wang praised China’s close ties with the African states like the important members of the international community where all the members should treat each other as equals and achieve fruitful results in practical cooperation.
It is obvious that the leaders of the African states welcomed FM Wang’s visit and vowed to continue to support Beijing on the issues concerning China’s core interests, and inclusive of taking the opportunity of jointly building the Belt and Road and implementing the outcomes of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Summit with the view to taking mutual cooperation to a new level and building a community with a shared future for both sides in light of the economic and social development needs of the African people. Considering the huge African population and rich natural resources, China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with Africa in many traditional and new areas such as green environmental protection and blue ocean economics. Meanwhile, China fully understands the urgent desire of the African states to cope with climate change. The two sides agreed to sign the implementation agreement on the construction of low-carbon demonstration zones in South-South cooperation.
Since China’s relationship with Africa has been never exclusive, it calls on the cooperative programs with all the countries, in particular the European Union. For example, China’s efforts to create a new image in Africa through China-EU Cooperation in vaccine. This is the good chance for both sides because they all want to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control and then it’s going to require a major, global effort to do so. As a matter of fact, China has reiterated that the virus knows no borders and has no interest in the nationality of its victims. As a result, it will overcome all barriers if we do not work together to counter it. In the face of the virus, we are without doubt a global community. But the key question is: Are we able to act like one? The answer is yes, but China and the EU need to work together to play a pivotal role in dealing with what is called the political, social, and ethical issue. It requires that political leaders manage to explain convincingly that it is advantageous for all of us if as a first step some people are vaccinated in all countries instead of all people in some countries?
Both China and the EU vow to work as a global collaboration under the World Health Organization in terms of accelerating the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and assuring fair and equitable access for every country in the world. It’s about making the vaccine a global public good. This should be in Chinese and Europe’s interests too. There is a consensus between China and the EU that nurses in African countries be vaccinated as a first step, and soonest—needs a big PR push.
There’s little doubt that most Europeans want the vaccine as soon as possible. But the EU should also move fast to vaccinate especially doctors and nurses in as many affected and vulnerable African countries as possible. There are several compelling reasons to do this. First is the destructive nature of the virus. The longer it flourishes, the greater the chance of it mutating in ways that make it even more deadly, contagious, or just difficult to vaccinate against. Getting it rolled out quickly across Africa is crucial. Second, a World Bank study in last April showed that if the EU and European governments are really serious about their soft power, this is the time to share the vaccine in a way that equals to the global influence of China as it has already been sending vaccine for trials in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
Now as for China’s relations with Africa, where it has built huge infrastructure projects on the back of loans to several countries and is extracting much-needed raw materials, the Chinese leadership has gone on the offensive. In June, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a meeting of African leaders that “African countries will be among the first to benefit” from a coronavirus vaccine, once its development and deployment is completed in China. Moreover, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has pledged that Beijing would extend $11 billion (€9 billion) in loans for vaccines to Latin American and Caribbean countries. In light of this, China and the EU should cooperate with each other in Africa rather than excluding the other side. For sure, all the more reason for China and the EU to seize the opportunity to boost their mutual soft power with a combination of philanthropy and a big dose of self-interest.
To that end, China has reiterated that it is not a military threat to the status quo since it has reaffirmed the defensive nature of its national defense policy as Chinese top legislative body adopted new revisions to the National Defense Law, renewing tasks and goals as well as cementing policies. Accordingly, it is quite sure that China will be more like to act as a civilian great power which is compatible with the goal of the European Union. Considering this, China and the EU would be able to continue their cooperative partners in trade and economics, transparent and open competitors in high technologies and possibly the systematic rivals.
*Chen Yiling, MA, a research fellow at the Center for International Relations, SIPA, Jilin University
Somalia: My Nostalgic, Childhood Visit to Grandma’s Village
At twelve noon, the old man whispers to himself as he counts his prayers with a rosary. He strokes his goatee beard, streaked with grey. He hitches up his sarong and sits under a shady tree on a mat made from a deerskin. On the mountains behind him, I see a mirage as the sun bakes the scenery. He is a popular imam among the villagers. They hold him in great reverence throughout the village, which is located twenty miles west of Erigavo, Somalia.
I see my grandma sharpening a big knife. For the past three months, this knife has been handy for my grandma. She uses it for countless purposes, from cutting fresh little sticks off the acacia trees to slaughtering animals for a feast. She chews on the tip of one of those sticks to make it soft enough to brush her teeth. I watch the rolling eyes of this restrained ram as its ears wiggle and listen to the clatter of the sharpening. Two women lay the ram on its back, one holds the front legs, and the other holds the rear ones, and grandma walks calmly towards the ram, grabs the chin, presses the head down and slits the throat, and blood gushes out on the steep ground and runs down to the outsole of her shoes. The ram’s eyes do not move now, and they stare at the sky, motionless.
This is Ismael. He seems to have done enough physical exercise, not in an urban gym, but by tending the camels, drinking camel milk, and running around in the bush from dawn to dusk. His bones are thick, and his muscles are strong. He is a real nomad and can walk miles and miles without breaking a sweat. Look at me. I’m a city boy who barely walks a mile a day. And grandma sends me to fetch firewood with this boy. Look at him. He walks well, but to me, his steps are so fast. I have to keep up with his unusual pace where he zigzags, jumps over thorny cactuses, changes direction unexpectedly, and avoids clear paths. As I chase him, I cough because of the dust strewn in my face by his stamping feet. Sandy grains are in my eyes and my vision is blurry. It takes us five miles to arrive at a place where firewood abound. I sit to rest, panting, cleaning my teary eyes with a handkerchief. Not only does he scale a tree like a monkey, he gathers some firewood, breaking every dry branch there with the swift blows of his axe and tossing it down. For him, a village life is a walk in the park.
I tie a firewood load into a bunch and heave it to my back. The Ismael’s load is three times bigger than mine. He walks swiftly and disappears from view with a lightning speed. With resting intervals, I reach home forty minutes later than him, with my feet blistering and my nose bleeding slightly. I fling the firewood away from my back to the ground and descend to a sitting position. I pull off my sturdy boots, and something smell ammonia.
The women start a three-stone fires in three different spots, and the flames lick the enormous cooking pots whose outer form dark and hardened flakes from years of use. I sit there wreathing in a haze of clouds of smoke, trying to strike up a conversation with this girl in her teen years.
“How can you guys cook all this meat without messing up something in the process?” I dub my nose.
“What makes you think we will cook all the meat?” she swaggers past me, putting more firewood into the fire.
“I’m just asking,” tears roll down from my eyes.
“Please don’t trip,” she says as I get up suddenly.
“What?,” I step back, stumbling over a head.
“That belongs to the second ram,” she explains. “I am Sophia, by the way.”
“I’m Ahmed,” I glance at the ram head, freaked.
Two muscled men dig a square hole in the ground and use it as an underground oven to cook lamb stuffed with rice. Look at them. They are in a perfect shape. They fight off lions and hyenas at night when these predatory carnivores attack the herds, Ismael tells me. One of them is wearing an eye patch. His name is Hussein. His back has scars that resemble the shape of the African continent, his left fingers suffer from physical deformity. The other man has a silky dress and a black shirt on. He wiggles the white-faced Seiko watch on his wrist into place, checking the time repeatedly as he flips the meat. He yawns and I glimpse that he is missing all his lateral incisors. His name is Hassan, and he is in love with the imam’s daughter. Her name is Amina. Despite Hassan’s declared love, Amina was not forthcoming with being in love with Hassan.
“How did he afford that watch?” I ask curiously.
“He sold a bull last year to buy that watch and a new wardrobe,” Ismael answers.
“By the way, one day Amina told him to remove all his lateral incisors to prove his love,” he adds.
“Wow, poor man!” I yell softly.
“Probably, she said that jokingly,” Ismael smiles.
“Love is a strange thing,” I check my broken shoelaces.
“You know nothing about love,” he raises his voice. “You are barely sixteen.”
“You know more than me about how love works in this village,” I blow my nose.
“Anyway, the wedding is tonight, and I am two years older than you,” he puts peanuts into his mouth.
“ Whatever,” my eyes settle on a Billy goat flirting with a goat.
My mouth waters with the delicious sight of the meat and the rice, readied on those big stainless still plates. The women pour the soup into several glass jars as well. Sophia hands me the largest plate for the imam. As I walk towards the tree, I see six meditative men with the imam. Each man is sitting on his own deer-skin mat and holds a rosary. My hands shake with the weight which propelled me to put the plate hastily in front of the closest man, the imam. He opens his eyes, nodding. Then, I hear thuds under the nose of each man. I feel amazed at the synchronization of the women for bringing the brimming plates and placing them down at the same time. And the rest of the food, from tropical fruits to freshly squeezed juices, keeps traveling on its way to the tree as if carried by ant colonies.
At nine o’clock pm, everyone gets engrossed in the wedding’s climax. The groom and the bride wear exquisite traditional dresses. Sophia gazes at me, blushing, and I gaze back at her, feigning shyness. I virtualize the two of us in those dresses. Maybe she envisages that too. Many villagers attend the event and enjoy the feast. Out of the blue, a lion purrs in midair and attacks the imam. Hussein lifts his spear and hurls it at the beast, killing it. The imam sustains slight injuries. Hussein becomes the hero of the night, takes off his shirt in celebration with his continent-shaped scars showing.
I am in a school uniform, heading to the kitchen for breakfast. It is a beautiful morning. After a few months in the village, everything looks tidier than the village, and my sense of smell detects the difference. All the city scents lingering in the air are rich and exotic in a novel way. The people are gentler and more polite. But I remember the innocence and lack of political correctness of the village people. Unlike the city people who seem to harbor grudges, they get everything off their chest. And in my mind’s eye, I see Sophia’s face as she waives at me goodbye. I look forward to a second visit next year when school is closed.
Turkey: A full recovery from the COVID-19 crisis will take time
The COVID-19 crisis has hit Turkey’s people and economy hard, accentuating pre-existing challenges such as the low share of workers...
Data-Driven Operations Are Key to Future of Manufacturing
In the near future, manufacturing companies will collaborate in hyperconnected value networks in which data-and-analytics applications drive productivity, new customer...
A Disintegrating Trump Administration?
If Donald J. Trump wanted a historic presidency, he certainly seems to have achieved it — he is now the...
The Belligerent Chinese Diplomacy and Its Failure
The Chinese media has recently reported of Xi Jinping writing a letter to George Schultz the former chairman of Starbucks,...
Egypt’s search for a fig leaf: It’s not the Handball World Championship
Hosting major sports tournaments can confer prestige on a country, but in the case of Egypt, the 2021 Handball World...
Dawn of great power competition in South Caucasus
The pace of geopolitical change in the South Caucasus is staggering, with the recent Karabakh war only underlining several major...
Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China
The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the...
South Asia3 days ago
India: Metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies
South Asia2 days ago
More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar
Americas2 days ago
Deliberate efforts were made to give a tough time to President Joe Biden
Americas2 days ago
Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy
Americas3 days ago
Latin America and the challenges for true political and economic independence
East Asia2 days ago
The Problem of Uncontrolled Nationalism: The Case of Japan before the WWII
Religion2 days ago
Daughters Gone Forever: Forced Religious Conversions
Human Rights3 days ago
UNICEF: Closing schools should be ‘measure of last resort’