Friday, October 21, 2016

The Gambia

The Gambia is the smallest country in Africa. It stretches along either side of the Gambia river. Arab traders provide the first written accounts of the area from the 9th century. The country is still 96% Muslim. The mercantilist world believed you had to control trade exclusively to gain wealth. Trade as a Zero-Sum warlike enterprise. The Portuguese used the river as a trade base, then sold the rights to English Merchants. The rise of French-British colonialism is tide closely to a trade related Arms-Race. The big trade in this area became slaves. In 1807, Britain abolished slavery throughout it's Empire. Intercepted slave ships took freed slaves 272km up the Gambia river to MacCarthy island where they were released to restart their lives.

MacCarthy/ Janjanbureh Island

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I find the concept of Sovereignty and Independence strange. At the smallest non-individual level sits the family. Despite almost as close a foundation as you can get my brothers, and my parents do not view the world in the same way as I do. It rhymes, but we push each others buttons. A friend of mine says, 'your family push your buttons because they are the ones who installed them'. 

The French Colonies of Senegal and French Sudan merged in 1959. 
In 1960, they got independence as the Mali Federation.
The union broke up a few months later.
In 1982, Senegal and The Gambia merged to form Senegambia.
The union dissolved in 1989.
Separatists in the Southern Region (Casamance) have clashed with Government since.

I am more convinced that Independence has less to do with Empowerment, and more to do with power. Nation building is the process of creating power bases by building walls. We need to learn the lesson of respecting differences taught by heavy footed imperialism, and the lesson of not over-valuing differences taught by heavy handed nationalism.


Mental Accounting

Money is an abstract idea. It may have started off as a smarter form of barter, but it has gradually become just a tool of communication. Like words. Money ideally releases potential. We don't think abstractly. We think in stories. Money needs stories in order for people to make decisions. 

Mental Accounting is a term Richard Thaler came up with to describe how we make up stories to control our money decisions. We think about the same $10 differently depending on how we made it, whether it is cash or digital, how we intended to use it, how much other money we have, etc. How we think about it matters.

The advantage of barter was the relational transaction. We could see the story of both sides of the deal. What we have and what we get. As money has made one side of the story more abstract, we need to be very aware of the stories that we tell ourselves.

The story matters as much as the facts, because we act on the story. The facts just bump the story when we stray too far.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Côte d'Ivoire

Unlike the migratory colonisation of the New World, Africa's colonisation was driven, like the Opium Wars in China, by an opening up of trade. While many countries in the Americas have populations that predominantly descend from Europe, the biggest group of descendants of Europe in any country is South Africa, and that is less than 10% of the population. The coast of West Africa was named by Europeans after the various trades... Pepper, Grain, Gold, Slaves and Ivory. This trade had existed since Roman times via Saharan routes connecting with North African Berber traders. By the 11th century, the Sudanic Empires had embraced Islam and this spread South. The Europeans only joined in later.

In 1886, in order to meet the goal of 'Effective Occupation' to gain the recognition of sovereignty by other European powers, France started asserting direct control deeper into the interior of Côte d'Ivoire. Assuming French culture was superior, French policy took the approach of assimilation and association to deal with culture clashes. Those identified as elites were assimilated and granted the right to apply for French citizenship. Those who remained associates were subjects of France with no political rights.

Côte d'Ivoire is now the world's largest exporter of Cocoa Beans

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


As countries gained their independence in the wave of decolonisation in Africa post World War II, they were faced with the question of what independence means? A flag, an anthem, closed borders, a national airline? Since countries are made up, and histories overlap with neighbours, some thumb-sucking is required. 

Benin, had been known as Dahomey in colonial times. Benin was a neutral name, after the body of water, 'The Bight of Benin'. This in turn was named after the Benin Empire (1180 - 1897) - a pre-colonial Empire, located not in Benin, but in modern Nigeria. Benin, the city, is in Nigeria. Benin, the modern country, combined three areas which had separate political and ethnic systems prior to French control. It is easy to forget that Africa was far more resistant to Colonialism than the new world. The Scramble for Africa only started in haste in the period of 'New Imperialism' from 1881 - 1914, and fell apart after a couple of World Wars.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Taiye Selasi doesn't like being asked where she is from. She prefers the question, 'Where are you local?'. Her father was raised in Ghana. She was raised in Nigeria, but lives at times in Ghana, England, the US, and elsewhere. 

The answer to where you are local lies in shared rituals, relationships and restrictions. Familiarity of your world can extend across random borders. 

Ghana, like Middle Ages Europe, saw waves of Kingdoms and movement of people. These became more powerful with the emergence of the Gold Trade. Europeans, including Portuguese, Swedes, and Danes joined this trade over 15-18th century building a number of castles for protection. Free Trade at that stage was Forced Trade. The Anglo-Ashanti wars against the United Kingdom lasted almost the whole of the 19th century. By 1901, the Gold Coast was a British Colony. In 1957, it became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence in the post World War II process of decolonisation

British Control in Africa in 1913
Gold Coast in Dark Red

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Togo has a population of roughly 7.5 million, like Jordan and Hong Kong. More than half the population practice indigenous religions. Africa has 54 countries, and in only 4 are traditional beliefs larger than the Abrahamic religions. Two of the others are islands off the continent - Madagascar and Mauritius. The second mainland country is Tanzania, where there is a roughly even split between Islam, Christianity and Traditional. Part of the infamous 'Slave Coast', Germany declared Togo a protectorate in 1884, with France taking the colonial baton after WWI. Independence came in 1960. Togo is in the process of transition to democracy after Faure Gnassingbé took over from this father in 2005. At the time of his death, Gnassingbé Eyadéma was the longest serving ruler in Africa (38 years).  

Friday, October 14, 2016


The world order was shaken in 18th Century by the American (1765 - 1783) and French (1789-1799) Revolutions. The birth of Nationalism. In 1811, Venezuela became one of the first Spanish-American colonies to declare independence. In 1821, Venezuela became part of independent Gran Colombia. Independence means different things to different people, and there was a struggle between those who wanted a strong government and centralised presidency,  and those who wanted decentralised federal government. Venezuela became a separate country in 1830. Between one-quarter and one-third of the population of Venezuela was lost in the two decades of war preceding independence. Like the French, the national Tricolour flag symbolically built the new identity. Yellow for land wealth. Blue for the sea that separates Venezuela from Spain. Red for the blood of the heroes who died.

Venezuelan War of Independence