Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

I wish everybody reading this a Happy New Year. This year was pretty good, but I am going to try and make next year more productive. If you have any suggestions feel free to drop me a line.

Steven Salaita and Liberal Racism (Part Two)

I have now finished reading Salaita's essay collection. It was quite enjoyable. His essays on Virginia Tech where he works as an English professor and approaches to comparative study in this case of Native Americans and Palestinians are particularly interesting. He expresses a deep attachment to Virginia Tech and he is right about the physical beauty of the region. Although given his description of the left liberal white academics and their embrace of racist stereotypes regarding Arabs one gets the feeling that he would be more comfortable teaching at a place like University of Ghana where such people don't exist. The main theme of his collection as already noted is after all the anti-Arab and in some cases anti-Persian racism inherent in much of the discourse of white academic leftists in the US. He returns to this theme with a vengeance in his conclusion. Here the left wing feminist Katha Politt is taken to task for her racist generalizations about Arabs. Salaita notes as I have that while white leftists embraced movements seeking to establish communist dictatorships in Central America, the struggle of the Palestinians for basic human rights and national self determination remained almost completely ignored. Arabs unlike Latin American communists did not have the necessary "cool" factor to attract any concern from white leftists in the US.

Very few white leftists, then or now, have held potlucks in support of the Palestinians, long facing vicious ethnic cleansing, a situation at least as drastic as Central America's faux socialist revolutions (which often replace horrible political systems with renamed horrible political systems). (p. 164).

Indeed lacking pot lucks is the least of the problem. Many American leftists openly supported Israel as a revolutionary socialist regime justified in ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. The basic problem of course is that white academic leftists do not see people in the "third world" as humans equal to themselves. They view them merely as one dimensional props in a morality play and hence the reduction of complex humans to a binary pattern of victims and oppressors. In some cases there is some basis in reality for this view. For instance the white oppression of Blacks in apartheid South Africa. But, the leftist trope of Jews always being victims and good guys does not fit the reality of Palestine. Nor does the typical white leftist American academic view of the world fit  most situations. There is no room  in this leftist world  view for instance for African regimes like Togo backed by "progressive" European states like France repressing Black Africans. It simply does not fit into their preconceived notions of who the are the good guys and who are the bad guys. So it is completely ignored. Salaita is correct to call out the racism and hypocrisy of the privileged white leftists that dominate US academia. Until the dominant left liberal discourse in the US recognizes Arabs, Africans, Asians and other people outside of the US and Europe as being fully human with an equal claim for respect and consideration we will continue to see the very real and negative effects of liberal racism in this world.


Steven Salaita, The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought - New Essays (London: Zed Books, 2008).

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Steven Salaita and Liberal Racism (Part One)

I am reading Steven Salaita's collection of essays, The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poeverty of Liberal Thought - New Essays (London: Zed Books, 2008). Salaita's book deals primarily with left liberal racism in the US against Arabs, but also can be extended to other people of color. He hits a lot of the themes I have been writing about on this blog. Foremost among that that a lot of self described "liberals" and "progressives" do not view non-white people as fully human despite denouncing lots of other white people for being racists.  There is also the fact that it is "liberal" racism that is largely responsible for the continuing racial injustices involving the US not the opinions of poor and openly bigoted rural whites. This latter group has no real power and to suggest that their opinions rather than the political power of left liberal "progressives" in the US Senate and House like Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Barney Frank are at the root of institutional racism is simply laughable. This is of course as Salaita notes especially true regarding anti-Arab racism and US support of Israeli apartheid. Israel has long been a "progressive" cause in the US and it is the votes of left liberals like Schumer, Pelosi, Frank, Grayson, Levin, Wasserman Schultz, Harman and others in the Democratic Party that have sustained the Israeli repression of the Palestinians for decades. They voted for the hundreds of billions of dollars of military aid the US has given to Israel, not Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. Without the votes and advocacy of left liberals in the US, Israel would have gone the way of Rhodesia long ago. The support of the relatively new and weak political force constituted by Christian Zionists is insufficient to keep Israel alive. They unlike the left liberals have not controlled the US Congress, media, and academia which have unconditionally supported Israel since 1967. Salaita's first essay does a pretty good job of summing up the responsibility of liberals for institutional racism in the US regarding Arabs. The paragraph below in particular strikes at the heart of the matter.

Another related problem of the liberal left around the issue of anti-Arab racism is an unwillingness to engage Arabs on the basis of their fundamental humanity. It has been well established among people of color that racism cannot take root in any society without liberal acquiescence. Liberalism confounds the problem by providing its advocates with a comforting illusion that the fact of being liberal is enough to identify as anti-racist. (p. 18).

That is racism exists in the US because the liberals in power let it exist and are complaisant about its existence because they wrongly think that denouncing openly racist expressions against Blacks by poor and powerless whites somehow magically removes their responsibility for maintaining racial inequalities. It should be noted that it is not merely "white privilege" that they benefit from, but specifically white liberal privilege. This privilege is most evident in the domination of US universities by what Salaita calls, "liberal academic windbags." (p. 26).  But, needless to say despite a lot of wind these people have done a lot more to sustain racial injustice in the world than they have to combat it.

The Latest Leftist Strategy to Denigrate Africa

I have noticed a new leftist strategy to denigrate Africa and particularly Ghana on the Internet. This consists of dismissing all of the political, economic, and social progress made by Ghana as an independent state because unpaid child labor still exists in some sectors of the economy. This is a particularly racist argument because it states that as long as Ghana fails to completely eliminate child labor that nothing else it does counts as worthwhile. Meanwhile a completely different set of standards is applied to the "progressive" and white European countries. Their political and economic achievements are never dismissed because of continuing injustices in their societies. Nobody ever says that the educational and health care systems in Europe should be dismissed because racial discrimination against African immigrants continues to exist in these societies. Or the fact that child prostitution still exists in Europe. This is a strategy that US "progressives" reserve solely for successful African countries. The fact that Ghana has established a long term stable democratic system after years of military dictatorship is completely dismissed because the government still has not totally eradicated child labor in the fishing and cocoa industries. The fact that standards of living for many people have increased dramatically in recent years is also totally ignored in favor of pointing out that child labor still exists Indeed it seems that no matter how prosperous, democratic, and otherwise advanced Ghana becomes none of this will ever be recognized as significant by US "progressives" as long as Ghana fails to reach perfection in eliminating child labor. This is a completely unreasonable stance by US "progressives" and one that is motivated by racism as they have never applied similar impossible standards to white European countries.

Hate Crime in NYC

I just want to note that Bloomberg the mayor of NYC does not think that the deliberate murder of a Hindu man because somebody thought he was a Muslim is a big deal. I guarantee if somebody pushed a Jew in front of a train and justified it on the basis that they hated Jews that the mayor would think it was a big deal. We would be inundated with stories about rising anti-semitism and hate crimes against Jews. But, instead we are treated to the increasing Israelization of the US where the lives of some people as defined by their ancestral religion are worth more than the lives of others.

hat tip: Mondoweiss

Current Reading on Development

I am currently reading Gilbert Rist, The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith (London: Zed, 2008 [1996]). One thing I notice that he brings out is just how blind many western intellectuals were to human rights violations by socialist states during the 1960s and 1970s. For instance he notes, "A blind eye was turned to the brutalities of the Chinese regime, and the people's communes were hailed in their vitality as a reconciliation of theory and practice that was abolishing the petty-bourgeois mentality and putting into practice a new model of 'development.'" (p. 140).  He further elaborates on this embrace of Castro, Mao's Cultural Revolution, North Vietnam, the Sandinistas, and even the Khmer Rouge by left wing western intellectuals on pages 174 to 176. Now there were plenty of dictatorships supported by the US government during the Cold War such as Suharto, Mobuto, and the various military juntas in Latin America. But, there was never any intellectual cheer leaders for these regimes stressing their commitment to creating a utopia. US policy supported these regimes as a matter of rather openly naked national self interest. It was the left that dressed up things like the Cultural Revolution in China in the lofty language of "progress" and opposing the "evils" of capitalism and imperialism.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Russian-Germans Defending Brest 22-29 June 1941

One of the first heroic defenses against Nazi aggression by the Soviet Red Army took place at Brest Fortress on 22-29 June 1941. The fortress held out much longer than anybody expected due to the determination of the soldiers garrisoned there. Among them were a significant number of Russian-Germans in the 125th Rifle Regiment under Major Aleksandr Duhlkeit. Besides Duhlkeit the ethnic Germans that fought against the Nazis at Brest included Nikolai Kung, Heinrich Klinger, Edward Mueller, Edward Damm, Vladimir Weber, Georg Schmidt, Aleksandr Herzog, Aleksandr Hermann, Heinrich Reling, Viacheslav Meyer, Aleksandr Wagenleitner,  and Erich Krohl (Bugai, pp. 191-192).  The Soviet government posthumously awarded Meyer the Order of the Fatherland 2nd Degree for his role in the battle of Brest (German and Shul'ga, p. 28). It is probable that a large number of battles against the Nazis would have shown similar resolve by Russian-Germans in the ranks of the Red Army had the Stalin regime not removed them from military service and sent them to forced labor camps in the Urals and other distant regions.


N.F. Bugai, Oni srazhalis' za rodinu: Predstaviteli repressirovannykh narodov SSSR na frontakh Velikoi Otchestvennoi voiny (Moscow: Novyi Khrongraf, 2005).

Arkadii German and Igor Shul'ga, "'Ne byvat' fashistskoi svin'e v nashem sovetskom ogorode' : Sovetskie nemtsy na fronte i v tylu vraga," Rodina, May 2010, pp. 28-31.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Africa and the Failure of the Human Rights Paradigm

The international liberal human rights paradigm has had limited success. One big problem is that it has never been universal. Almost nobody, certainly not most liberals supported human rights for ethnic Germans in 1945 or Palestinians in 1948. But, even when there is not open support of human rights violations against certain groups on the basis that they are "reactionary" or "Nazis" there is a general neglect of  cases not considered interesting. I have looked in vain for any "liberal" or "progressive" blogs dealing with human rights or the struggle for democracy in Togo where the same family has been in control since 1967 and the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters is routine. There is not much there. "Progressive" white bloggers just do not care about Togo or most of Black Africa period. It is not something that they write about very often. It simply does not interest them. So human rights causes only get promoted in those cases where the cause manages to develop a certain "coolness" factor. Something that is hard to do for most "third world people." This almost complete neglect of most of the non-white world co-exists with prolific denunciations of racism against people of color in the US, almost as if it were a totem to show how much they really do care and demonstrate just how "cool" they are. But, surely if they were truly concerned with the plight of Black people in the world then they should focus not on the US, but rather Africa. After all there are over 20 times as many Black people in Africa as in the US and the plight of the down trodden, oppressed, and poor in Africa is considerably worse than that suffered by African-Americans. Of course to do so would mean actually looking at Africans as real human beings and seeking ways of working with them to improve conditions in Africa rather than merely using the charge of racism as a weapon to hammer political opponents in the US. The first of these options requires some real thinking and work. It also takes time. The second one is easy and gets instant results. So I guess I should not be surprised that none of the big "liberal" or "progressive" blogs express much interest in Africa.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In answer to Farhad: Why I consider myself a "right winger" and not a "progressive"

I identify myself as a "right winger" I prefer that term to conservative because the latter term is far too closely linked to specifically American issues that have no parallel anywhere else in the world and I have lived outside the US for many years now. The reason I claim to be a man of the "right" and not the "left" is the fact that I support traditional societies in opposition to revolutionary violence. The use of political violence to enforce "progressive" change was a hallmark of the international left during the 20th century. It was the main motivator behind Stalinism, the ethnic cleansing of Germans from Central and Eastern Europe, and Zionism. The traditional societies of the Crimean Tatars, Sudeten Germans, and Palestinians just to name a few politically incorrect peoples were all considered to be reactionary obstacles to "progress" and hence subjected to violent dispersion aimed at destroying them as viable national entities. With very few exceptions the people who opposed these atrocities in the 1940s and 50s and even beyond were all identified as being on the "extreme right." The international "left" for the most part enthusiastically endorsed the brutal ethnic cleansing of these peoples as a just collective punishment for the crimes of collaborating with the Nazis and opposing the "progressive" Soviet and Israeli states. I do not believe that revolutionary violence against traditional societies is justified in the name of "progress" or punishing "Nazi collaborators." I reject the ideas of collective punishment and forcibly destroying ethnic communities that continue to hold on to "reactionary" beliefs and practices. It does not matter to me that in some cases these groups really did posses odious opinions. Obviously the traditional anti-semitism of many ethnic Germans in East Central Europe and the USSR was totally unacceptable in US "liberal" society. But, I find the support of "liberals" for ethnically cleansing these people because of this prejudice to be a far worse form of racism. I continue to see this type of support for collective punishment among a number of "progressives" regarding the Palestinians. The constant reference to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem's collaboration with the Nazis, the consistent pointing to Israeli support of gay rights versus the opinions of Hamas on this issue, and the branding of the Palestinians as "anti-semites", as justifications for Israeli crimes all follow a similar pattern to that already established regarding ethnic Germans, Crimean Tatars, and other "enemies of progress" in the mid 1940s. I can not identify myself with the "progressives" endorsing collective punishment and ethnic cleansing. Instead I find myself on the same side as the "extreme right" during the 1950s in opposing these crimes.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

To all my readers who celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, Merry Christmas. For the last week I have been taking it easy and hearing Joy to the World played everywhere. This is my second Christmas in Ghana and while a lot of people in the US talk about how they like white Christmases I actually like the warm weather.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Burundi: Rwanda's Mirror Twin

I have started reading Peter Uvin's Life after Violence: A People's Story of Burundi. I must say other than the 1972 massacre of Hutus by the Tutsi regime I knew almost nothing about Burundi before today. The number of fatalities in 1972 is contested, but Peter Uvin says the number killed exceeded 80,000 (Uvin, p. 10). The very small amount of public knowledge about Burundi strikes me as odd given the attention paid to its neighbors, particularly Rwanda and Congo since 1994. Burundi has not been spared the horrors of ethnic killings and civil war that have affected its better known neighbors. For most of the post-colonial period Rwanda had a government led by the Hutu majority that practiced apartheid against the Tutsi minority. Burundi in contrast during most of this time had a regime controlled by the Tutsi minority that imposed apartheid upon the Hutu majority (Uvin, pp. 9-10). In both countries Hutu made up about 85% of the population versus 15% Tutsi (Uvin, p. 12). Uvin in fact even uses the word apartheid to describe the system of largely excluding the Hutu majority from government jobs, university education, positions in public corporations, and places in the officer corp of the military (Uvin, p. 10). This discrimination led to a Hutu military insurrection and full scale civil war between Hutus and Tutsis from 1994 to 2006. While less costly in human terms than either the genocide in Rwanda which claimed over one million lives or the ongoing conflict in Congo which has now claimed over five million lives, the Burundian civil war was quite bloody. Uvin estimates the number killed at 300,000 with another 500,000 forced to flee to neighboring countries as refugees and 800,000 displaced within Burundi (Uvin, p. 15). This violence like the violence in Congo is connected to events in Rwanda since 1994 and should be studied in this context.

Source: Peter Uvin, Life after Violence: A People's Story of Burundi (London: Zed Books, 2009).

I Like Chuck

I like Chuck Hagel. I like him precisely because he is not a tool of the Israeli lobby and puts the interests of the US before that of the state of Israel. I hope he becomes the next Secretary of Defense. Unfortunately, the people who put the interests of Israel ahead of the US are very powerful in US politics and media. So he may be defeated. But, after Obama's spectacularly bad pick of Susan Rice to be Secretary of State it is good to see him make a very good choice for Secretary of Defense.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

New Book Acquisitions

Today I purchased five books. I got three scholarly books published by Zed and two novels. I have listed the publishing information below.


Yehudit Kirstein Keshet, Checkpoint Watch: Testimonies From Occupied Palestine (London: Zed Books, 2006).

Rosemary Sayigh, The Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries (London: Zed Books, 2009 [1979]).

Peter Uvin, Life after Violence: A People's Story of Burundi (London: Zed Books, London, 2009).


Jonathan Kellerman, Twisted: A Novel, (NY: Ballantine Books, 2005).

John Sandford, Broken Prey, (London: Simon and Schuster, 2005).

George Fredrickson on Race and South Africa and Why Francine Hirsch is Wrong

The literature on racism is vast. But, despite the large amount of writing on the subject, the definition of racism is more often assumed rather than actually articulated. One of the best definitions of racism that I have found is that proposed by George Fredrickson. He succinctly summarizes his position with the statement, "we might say that racism exists when one ethnic group or historical collectivity dominates, excludes, or seeks to eliminate another on the basis of differences that it believes are hereditary and unalterable." (Fredrickson, p. 170). This is a much more accurate and useful definition than the one given by Francine Hirsch. She defines "race" in purely biological rather than social or legal terms as most scholars understand it. Echoing Stalinist era Soviet anthropologists she claims race is "a physiological or biological type, whereas nationalities were sociological and historical forms." (Hirsch, p. 35). Given her narrow definition of "race" she defines "racial politics" in an equally narrow manner as the persecution of groups based upon "suspected 'biological weakness' or 'deficient inner constitutions.'" (Hirsch, p. 37). She completely ignores the scholarly consensus of people like Fredrickson, Rex, Malik, Balibar, and others that "race" is a constructed category and that it can be constructed and justified along lines other than biology. It is in fact often constructed along sociological and historical lines such as nationality. That is nationality can be racialized.

George Fredrickson has noted many times in contrast to Francine Hirsch that "race" does not have to be based upon biology and genetics like the Nazi conception, but can be based upon essentializing the culture of particular ethnic groups. That is the distinction between ethnicity and race is often blurred and that ethnic groups can become "racialized" under the right circumstances. He notes, "Unlike some sociologists, I do not believe that one can regard race and ethnicity as clearly distinct and unrelated phenomena." (Fredrickson, p. 154). He goes on to note that one way of looking at "race" is in fact as ethnicity that has been essentialized. Or as he puts it, "Race can therefore be described as what happens when ethnicity is deemed essential or indelible and made hierarchical." (Fredrickson, pp. 154-155). It should be noted that natsional'nost in the USSR was at least since 1938 treated by the Soviet government as essential and indelible as well as hierarchical. The fact that this treatment was based upon justifications regarding essentialized culture rather than biology does not make it less racist. Culture has often served as a substitute for biology in justifying racial discrimination. Or as Fredrickson puts it, "Culture and even religion can become essentialized to the point where they can serve as a functional equivalent of biological racism..." (Fredrickson, p. 145). The use of cultural rather than biological justifications to deny certain groups defined by their ancestry equal rights with other citizens of a given society is no less racist than using genetic rationalizations.

Fredrickson's definition is not merely theoretical. The Nazi Holocaust against the Jews completely destroyed the credibility of justifications of racial discrimination based upon biology and genetics. As a result cultural justifications for systems of racial exclusion became much more prevalent. Nowhere was this more apparent than in South Africa. After the imposition of apartheid in 1948, the official rationalization for the differential treatment of blacks and whites relied upon justifications of culture and not biology. Rather than appealing to theories of genetic inferiority, "the defenders of apartheid who responded to international criticism between the 1950s and 1970s eschewed biological arguments in favor of what historian Saul Dubnow has aptly described as 'cultural essentialism.'" (Fredrickson, p. 135). This 'cultural essentialism" attached to Afrikaners, Zulus, Xhosas, and other ethnic groups or in Soviet terminology nationalities did not differ significantly from the Soviet practice of categorizing its population according to immutable groups based upon ancestry and establishing a hierarchy of rights for these groups. At the top of the Soviet hierarchy were the Russians and at the bottom were the various deported peoples placed under special settlement restrictions. Even after the abolition of the special settlement regime this hierarchy persisted in the continuing ban placed upon Russian-Germans, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetian Turks from returning to their homelands and their lack of national territories complete with the various political and cultural institutions guaranteed to other Soviet nationalities. 

Yet using Hirsch's definitions there were no "racial politics" in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The South Africans officially conceived of the various ethnic groups or nationalities in South Africa not as biological groups, but as social and historical groups. This is quite evident from the literature of not only the South African government itself, but also the volkekundiges who played the same role in South Africa as did ethnographers in the USSR. Indeed the concept of apartheid in theory sounds remarkably similar to korenizatsiia. 

For Afrikaners , "Christian Nationalism" meant schools and universities , separate from those attended by the English, in which the language and and values of the Afrikaner Volk could flower. In theory , it meant the same thing for Zulus and Xhosa, whose homelands would be the cradles of growth of their own unique national cultures. (Fredrickson, p. 135).

The white apartheid regime in South Africa and its scholarly supporter did not speak in terms of biology or genetics. They like the Soviet Union justified their policies in terms of ethnicity, Volk (Narod), culture, and history. Since the discrimination under apartheid was officially against groups defined on the basis of their social and historical development and justified on that rather than any biological reasoning then one would have to conclude using Hirsch's definitions that no "racial politics" existed in South Africa. This is of course a patently absurd conclusion. As Fredrickson points out, "the essence of racism is not biological determinism per se but the positing, on whatever basis, of unbridgeable differences between ethnic or descent groups - distinctions that are then used to justify their differential treatment." (Fredrickson, p. 137). Practicing discrimination against groups on the basis of their ethnicity (natsional'nost) falls under the category of racism if ethnicity is defined in such a way as to make assimilation impossible. In both the case of the USSR and South Africa ethnicity was permanent, immutable, essentialized, and based upon ancestry. They were also both justified on the basis of cultural, historical, and social factors not biological or genetic ones.

Fortunately, outside of scholars of the USSR nobody uses Hirsch's definition of "race" today. Even the volkekundiges have abandoned attempts to historically justify apartheid on the basis that it was founded upon the differential treatment of social and historical and not biologically defined groups. Only in the case of the Soviet Union does Hirsch's outmoded and inaccurate definition of race still dominate. Unfortunately, she seems to completely dominate the historical study of Soviet nationalities in the US. The words "race", racism, racialization, and racial discrimination remain almost completely absent from scholarly works on Soviet nationality policy written by US based scholars. This absence is not due to a lack of official racism in the USSR, but rather to adoption of Soviet definitions by scholars in the US to defend the regime from the charge of racial discrimination. One could just as easily use the same definition of "race" to deny that there were ever any "racial politics" in South Africa during the era of apartheid and it would be just as ridiculous. 


George M. Fredrickson, Racism: A Short History (Princeton University Press, 2002).

Francine Hirsch, "Race without the Practice of Racial Politics," Slavic Review, vol. 61, no. 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 30-43.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Union is Making me Rich

Today I got my check for my teaching at City Campus. The Union has gotten the amount we make from teaching at there more than doubled from last year. In fact it is about two and a half times greater. A full semester still pays less than a month of regular salary, but the new rate is a huge increase over the old one.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Today I accomplished no actual work. Instead I went to buy a new MTN modem. The old one vanished, actually I think it was stolen. But, it had no data on it and it turns out to be a lot cheaper to buy a new modem with data on it than to buy data to put on an old modem. The only problem is that traffic this time of year is awful and waiting at the MTN store to buy and register anything usually takes longer than waiting at the state hospital to see a doctor. Then I went to the bank to get money for the Christmas weekend. The highlight of my day was seeing an old friend of mine from Nigeria that I met in Bishkek in 2010. This is the second time he has come to Legon to have lunch with me.  Finally, after lunch I dropped off my laundry to be cleaned. I do not intend to leave Legon and fight against Accra traffic again until after Boxing Day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Title Suggestions?

My colleague across the hall also told me today that we are supposed to get a book and research stipend this month as well. So I will have some money to buy more 10 cedi ($5.00) books published by Zed. For some reason almost all of the nonfiction at the big bookstore across from the university is published by Zed. So if you know of any good books published by Zed please list them in the comments so I can go buy them. I think the stipend is pretty substantial so feel free to list as many Zed books as you think are good.

I Love My Union

It turns out my union, UTAG, is still getting me back pay. Today I got an extra month's salary deposited in my bank account from the University. I was not expecting this at all and was surprised when my colleague across the hall told me yesterday that the university had sent the money out to our banks on Friday. It is, however, a very nice surprise.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reading on Rwanda

In my continuing effort to enlarge my knowledge about African history I am now reading Linda Melvern, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide, New Updated Edition, (London: Zed Books, 2009). I understand that Susan Rice who is a hero to many self described American "liberals" and "progressives" got her start in facilitating the mass murder of Africans in 1994 under the Clinton Administration during the Rwandan Genocide. So far, however, the main bad guys besides the Rwandan players have been the "progressive" and "social democratic" states of Belgium and France so beloved by American "progressives." The American "Left" always likes to condemn American imperialism, but they almost never mention the long standing imperialist and neo-colonialist policies of European states like France and Belgium towards Africa. It is almost as if the EU has become the new USSR for American "progressives".

Friday, December 14, 2012

Commonwealth Hall (Vandal City) Again

Last night there was a Commonwealth Hall Fellows meeting to go over the Hall Master's annual report. Commonwealth Hall is the largest dormitory on campus with nearly 1000 students. It is also the only all male hall. While the "Vandals" have a reputation for being a bit wild going back to the 1960s they also provide a disproportionately high number of very good students in terms of academic accomplishment. They also provide many of the university's best athletes. As a result the hall has a strong identity on campus and one which I am proud to share. When everything is said and done, "Truth Stands."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thoughts on Poverty

I must really be out of it. I thought poverty was living in a shack with no electricity and no running water, not having enough to eat, and dying because you can not afford the 1.5 cedis (0.75 US) that it costs to buy anti-malaria medicine. It turns out in the US you can own two cars, run the air conditioning 24/7, have a big screen television with cable and still be considered "poor." There is real poverty even in America. That is people sleeping on the streets in all of their clothes and diving in dumpsters to eat. To me lumping the two groups of people together is ludicrous. In one case you have a group of people who own luxuries that most people in the world including myself will probably never be able to afford. In the other case you have people who are literally just one cold night away from death.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Air Conditioning Question

I was shocked to find out that over 80% of "poor people" in the US have air conditioning. I do not have air conditioning in my residence here in Ghana and I live on the equator. I used to live in Arivaca, Arizona where it gets really, really hot and I had no air conditioning. How is it that "poor people" in the US can afford things like air conditioning that people with PhDs like myself can not afford? What has happened in the US since I left? Did the price of air conditioning drop to $1 a month or something? If so then why has the low price remained limited to the US? Less than 20% of people in Africa have home air conditioning. Even in super rich Europe you will not find 80% of the "poor" with air conditioning. What gives?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Mahama wins reelection

I predicted the Ghanaian presidential elections correctly. Mahama won reelection as Ghana's president. So we will have another four years of rule by the NDC.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Tagillag Intake 1942-1946

Between 1942 and 1946 the Soviet government forcibly conscripted 6,519 Russian-Germans into the labor army and sent them to work at Tagillag. Below is a breakdown of the various waves of conscription and transfer of Russian-Germans into Tagillag.

1942 - Conscripted from Russian-German men deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia according to GKO Order 1123ss of 10 January 1942 - 2,982 (44.9%).
1942 - Conscripted from Russian-German men already living in eastern regions of the USSR before 1941 according to GKO Order 1281ss of 14 February 1942 - 621 (9.5%).
1942 - Removed from the ranks of the Red Army - 495 (7.6%).
1943 - Conscripted from Russian-German men and women deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia according to GKO Order 3960 ss of 19 August 1943 - 1,652 (25.3%).
1942-1946 - Came from place of incarceration after completing sentence - 180 (2.8%).
1942-1946 - Transferred from other NKVD camps - 319 (4.9%).
1942-1946 - Other - 322 (4.9%).
Total - 6,519 (100%).

Source: V. Kirillov and S. Razinkov, "Sovetskie Nemtsy - Trudarmeitsy Tagillaga (1942-1946gg.), in A. German (ed.), Nemtsy SSSR v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny i v pervoe poslevoennoe desiatiletie 1941-1955gg. (Moscow: Gotika, 2001), pp. 148-156.

Final Post on Western Sahara for Now

Okay, I have now  finished the Shelley book and this is my last post organizing the tiny bit of new knowledge I have about the Western Sahara. I only have two final observations. First, that the Moroccans were quite ruthless in their suppression of the Sahrawis. The Moroccan security forces "disappeared" around 500 people, 57 prisoners are known to have died in captivity, and over 1,300 others have been detained for various lengths of time (Shelley, p. 100). If the total Sahrawi population in Western Sahara was only 90,000 in 2004 then more than 2% or one in fifty people either "disappeared" or spent time in Moroccan prisons. This is an incredibly high percentage and is equivalent to about six million people in the US.

Second, for all intents and purposes it appears that the UN spearheaded by the US, France, and UK has abandoned any pretense of pressuring Morocco to allow a referendum on independence for the Western Sahara. The Polisario is still observing the ceasefire, but the goal of an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in any substantial amount of the territory of Western Sahara keeps getting further away. It has become increasingly unlikely that Western Sahara will follow in the footsteps of East Timor. Given the massive settlement of Moroccans in Western Sahara it is likely that Rabat will be able to fully integrate the territory without having to make any concessions to Sahrawi autonomy.

Source: Toby Shelley, Endgame in the Western Sahara: What Future for Africa's Last Colony? (London: Zed, 2004).

An Election on Farmers' Day

Today is a national holiday in Ghana. It is Farmers' Day. It is also election day. I am still confident with my prediction that the NDC will retain the presidency. I am also confident that there will be no significant incidents of violence or other problems with the election.

Length of Time to PhD: It should be Three Years Maximum

I understand that Stanford is now offering a five year PhD as a reduced time to finish. This is ridiculous. In the UK the standard time to complete a PhD is three years. I did mine in two. If you take seven years to complete a PhD you are either twice as lazy or twice as stupid as somebody who does it in three years. Even five years is an awful long time to write a single book without any other obligations all the while receiving extensive advice on how to write that book from trained professionals. Honestly, where I got my PhD (SOAS) the dissertation is limited at 100,000 words. So if you write 200 words a day you can finish the first draft in no more than 500 days or less than a year and a half. That gives you a year and a half to edit and polish a short book manuscript. It can of course be done even faster. If I were not the laziest man on earth I probably could have finished writing my dissertation a lot quicker than the two years it did take me. Five years is not a short time to write a PhD thesis. It is an extraordinarily long time by the standards of most of the Commonwealth. Anybody who spends seven, eight, or more years writing a PhD dissertation is not making good use of their time.

Update: In response to the comment below I am clarifying that I am only talking about PhDs written in the field of history. It does not apply to any other field since I have no first hand knowledge about what those fields entail. But, writing up a short monograph on an historical topic should not take over a half a decade if that is your main focus during that time.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Western Sahara Demographics

One of the things that has stood out for me as I read Shelley's book on the Western Sahara is just how small the indigenous population of the territory is in comparison to Morocco or even Mauritania. There are no exact census data, but the estimates all point to a very small population especially given the geographic size of Western Sahara. Shelley puts the number of indigenous Sahrawis at 90,000 in the territory and the number of Moroccan settlers as many as 300,000 plus 160,000 soldiers. Including the Sahrawi refugees and others outside the territory may have boosted the indigenous population up to 250,000. Since that time the total population of Western Sahara is estimated to have exceeded 500,000. But, finding a breakdown between the indigenous population and the settlers has eluded me. This demographic reality means that Morocco has successfully swamped the territory with its own citizens and made the Sahrawis a rather small minority, about 25%, in their own country. Given the unreliable nature of all the population figures on Western Sahara, please feel to add any corrections, updates, or other information you might have in the comments.

Note: I have updated the post with more accurate information since yesterday.

Russian-German Labor Army Mortality at Viatlag

Between February 1942 and 1 July 1944 a total of 8,207 Russian-Germans mobilized into the labor army arrived at the Viatlag corrective labor camp. During this time a total of 1,428 (17.4%) of these men and women died of hunger, cold, and illness in the camp. Another 1,581 (19.26%) were released as being ill with a "hopeless diagnoses." The most common diseases to afflict the forced laborers at Viatlag were inflammation of the lungs, tuberculosis, and alimentary dystrophy. This last term was a euphemism used by Soviet authorities to describe starvation. Looking at the statistical data enumerated above, the number of deaths in the camp plus those released to die from these conditions numbered over 3,000 or 36.6% of the total contingent. Thus probably over a third of the Russian-Germans conscripted into the labor army and sent to work in Viatlag during the years 1942-1944 either died in the camp itself or shortly thereafter due to health problems directly related to their stay in the camp.

Source: V.A. Berdinskikh, "Rossiiskie nemtsy v Viatlage," in A.A. German (ed.), Nachal'nyi period Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny i deportatsiia rossiiskikh nemtsev: vzgliady i otsenki cherez 70 let (Moscow: MSNK-press, 2011), pp. 552-561.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Grading has Begun

I have now started grading the huge stack of final exams on my desk. I got through five today. I am easing into it. I should pick up momentum as I progress. Tomorrow, I have nothing else to do other than grade tests so I am hoping to get through a lot more.


The secret to good writing is rewriting. The first draft of anything is going to be rubbish. It takes at least three drafts or so to make an historical article or chapter into something presentable. But, I think after today's corrections that my current draft of "Is there a Black Eurasia?: Ghanaian and other Diasporic African Populations in the USSR in Comparative Perspective" has finally reached that level. Of course nothing is ever perfect, but I don't have any more improvements to make until I get some more feed back from other people.

Western Sahara as a Colony of Morocco

It appears that the Western Sahara meets all of my criteria for being a colony. It is politically controlled by an outside power run by people of a different ethnicity and nationality and the indigenous population has neither autonomy or influence in Rabat. It is economically exploited by Morocco. The Moroccans extract a far greater net value from the Western Sahara than they invest in it. In particular the mining of phosphates and off shore fishing have benefited Morocco in a manner very similar to other colonial economic relations. In contrast very little has been invested by Rabat in the social and economic infrastructure of Western Sahara. The territory does not even have a single university. The Moroccan government has also settled hundreds of thousands of people from Morocco proper into Western Sahara.  Finally, there has been significant opposition to Moroccan rule by the indigenous population including armed resistance by the Polisario. The controversial part of this claim is of course the first one. The Moroccan government claims that Western Sahara is part of its territory that got split off from the rest of the country by the colonial powers of France which ruled Morocco and Spain which ruled Western Sahara. The Sahrawis and their Algerian allies claim that Morocco took over from Spain as the colonial ruling power in Western Sahara in 1975.

Moscow Germans Deported to Uzbekistan

The Stalin regime deported comparatively few Russian-Germans to Uzbekistan. Indeed I was somewhat surprised when a woman I interviewed in Kant, Kyrgyzstan told me about her German family being deported from Belarus to Uzbekistan. Evidently the NKVD also deported some of the ethnic Germans living in Moscow to Uzbekistan. I was unaware of this previously and was under the impression that all the deportees from Moscow ended up in Kazakhstan. Echelon 1072 arrived in Tashkent on 27 September 1941 with 2769 deportees from Moscow after travelling for thirteen days. The Soviet government placed these special settlers in Kirov Raion in Tashkent Oblast. So in addition to the massive number of Russian-Germans the NKVD exiled to Kazakhstan and Siberia, they also initially sent a few thousand to Uzbekistan. 

Source: A.A. German, "Deportatsiia nemtsev iz Moskvy i Moskovskoi oblasti" in A.A. German (ed)., Nachal'nyi period Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny i deportatsiia rossiiskikh nemtsev: vzgliady i otsenki cherez 70 let (Moscow: MSNK-press, 2011),  pp. 521-527.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Ghanaian Elections are Friday 7 December 2012

The Ghanaian elections are this Friday. I am still predicting that the NDC will beat the NPP and Mahama will maintain the post of the presidency. None of the other parties have a chance of winning. Although it is possible that the PPP can force a runoff election.

Emancipation Celebration

Yesterday I went to an event involving the History Department, the Institute of African Studies, and the Ghana Historical Society supposedly to celebrate emancipation. The historians in the History Department and the Institute of African Studies do not have a lot of contact with each other so every time I see someone from African Studies  it is like a reunion. Most of the day was spent eating and engaging in informal conversation. But, there was short formal panel. Surprisingly there was not much said on the history of slavery. There was some mention of Danish slave plantations in the Gold Coast established after the British banned the export of slaves and the role of indigenous providers of slaves to the Europeans such as the Asante, but not much else historically. Instead there was a considerably detailed discussion of slavery today in Ghana, particularly in the fishing industry. I had heard about the practice, but did not know much about the details. It turns out that fishermen buy boys from poor families with the promise of apprenticing them and then use them to untangle nets underwater and other dangerous activities. The boys themselves receive no monetary compensation and are often physically abused. The practice is illegal under Ghanaian law, but evidently still flourishes.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Graduate Course on Ethnicity and Race

Next semester I will be teaching my first graduate course ever. It is on the history of ethnicity and race. Right now I am compiling the reading lists. I definitely want to include works by Valery Tishkov, Etienne Balibar, John Rex, George Fredrickson, and Walker Connor. I have quite a bit on the USSR and some stuff on South Africa. But, I don't have much on ethnicity in Ghana yet. I am going to try and rectify this deficit over break. I am also wondering how I should balance general works with those dealing with specific case studies. Altogether I am thinking of assigning ten books and ten journal articles.

Preparing to Grade Finals

My students took their final exams this last week. I have about 250 finals to mark over the Christmas break. Most of them from my 200 level historiography class. Grading is my least favorite part of being a lecturer. In particular I find complaints from students that did well, but not excellent regarding grades to be tiresome. According to all the official guidelines of the university a B+ is a good grade, yet every semester I have numerous complaints from students that it is a very bad grade and that only an A is acceptable. I am sure students would be happy with a system where everybody got an A and grades became totally meaningless. But, giving everybody an A defeats the whole purpose of grading. When students think that a B+ is the equivalent  of an F then the inflation of grade expectations is way too high. An honest question if there is anybody else involved in education anywhere in the world reading this. Do you have this problem and if you do how do you deal with it? Oh why do I even bother asking questions? I know absolutely nobody except maybe Walt is ever going to comment.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

African things (Western Sahara)

Today it is really hot and humid in equatorial Africa. On the way home from the book store my shirt became soaked with sweat. I purchased Toby Shelley, Endgame in the Western Sahara: What Future for Africa's Last Colony ? (London: Zed, 2004). I am trying to expand my knowledge about Africa and I know very little about the conflict in Western Sahara. All I know right now is that it was a Spanish colony and that the independence movement fighting against colonial rule was called the Polisario. When Spain withdrew from the colony, Morocco and Mauritania took control over the territory. The Polisario backed by Algeria continued to fight against the new occupiers and eventually Mauritania withdrew and Morocco occupied their former portion of Western Sahara. Last time I checked Morocco still occupied Western Sahara and the Polisario was still trying to achieve an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. I should know an awful lot more after I finish reading Shelley's book.


The Soviet government conscripted a total of 20,711 people of which 20,493 (98.9%) were Russian-Germans into the labor army and sent to work at the ITL (Corrective Labor Camp) Bogoslovlag. Below are the main sources of these forced labors.

1941 - Removed from the ranks of the Red Army - 6,247
1942 - Conscripted from among Russian-Germans deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia according to GKO Order No. 1123 ss (10 January 1942) - 4,787
1942 - Conscripted from among Russian-Germans already living in Kazakhstan, Siberia, and other eastern regions of the USSR before 1941 according to GKO Order No. 1281 ss (14 February 1942) - 6,555
1942 - Removed from the ranks of the Red Army - 71
1942 - Sent from place of incarceration after completing sentence - 39
1942 - Transferred from other NKVD camps - 1,393
1942 - Other - 348
1942 - Total - 13,139
1943 - Sent from place of incarceration after completing sentence - 23
1943 - Transferred from other NKVD camps - 51
1943 - Other - 19
1943 - Total - 93
1944 - Sent from place of incarceration after completing sentence - 48
1944 - Transferred from other NKVD camps - 35
1944 - Other - 35
1944 - Total - 118
1945 - Sent from place of incarceration after completing sentence - 129
1945 - Transferred from other NKVD camps - 845
1945 - Other - 49
1945 - Total - 1,023
1946 - Sent from place of incarceration after completing sentence - 7
1946 - Transferred from other NKVD camps - 23
1946 - Other - 7
1946 - Total - 37
Total 1941-1946 - Removed from the ranks of the Red Army - 6,318
Total 1941-1946 - Conscripted from Russian-Germans deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia according to GKO Order No. 1123 ss (10 January 1942) - 4,787
Total 1941-1946 - Conscripted from Russian-Germans already living in Kazakhstan, Siberia, and other eastern regions of the USSR before 1941 according to GKO Order No. 1281 ss (14 February 1942) - 6,555
Total 1941-1946 - Sent from place of incarceration after completing sentence - 244
Total 1941-1946 - Transferred from other NKVD camps -2,347
Total 1941-1946 - Other - 458
Total 1941-1946 - 20,711

Source:  S.L. Razinkov, "Sotsial'nyi portret trudarmeitsev, mobilizovannykh v lageria NKVD na Urale v 1941-1946 gg," in A.A. German (ed.), Nachal'nyi period Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny i deportatsiia rossiiskikh nemtsev: vzgliady i otsenki cherez 70 let (Moscow: MSNK-press, 2011), pp. 668-681. See especially, table no. 1, pp. 668-669 and table  no. 2, pp. 669-670.