Wednesday, December 07, 2016


Most nations are a bigger coming together of formerly warring subgroups. This is true of Saudi Arabia, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and smaller countries like Eritrea. Italian Eritrea was formed in 1890, just eight years after the first Italian settlements in the area, and five years after the Berlin Conference. The first lands were bought from Sultans for commercial interests before the Italian government took control. 

Most smaller groups on the west coast of the Red Sea were under the Egyptian Control. They were notionally under control of the Ottoman Empire, but acted more and more independently. The big powers of the area were thrown into chaos with the Ethiopia-Egypt war and the rise of the Mahdi in Sudan. The Italians swooped in incorporating various Kingdoms and Sultanates into a colony. That lasted 62 years.

Ethiopia was the one African country which completely resisted the Scramble for Africa. It also had imperial ambitions of its own and annex Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. In 1950, Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie then annexed the area in 1962 leading to a 30 year war. A 1993 referendum resulted in independence. The country has a population of 6.4 million with no official language, a number of ethnic groups and a roughly 50/50 split between Muslims and Christians. The working languages are Tigrinya, Arabic and English. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


Initially colonialism in most of Africa was colonies - not control. More forcing your way into a bedroom than taking over the house like New World colonies. Settlements and trading cities grew and treaty areas of control were formed/forced. In Djibouti, France signed treaties with the Somali and Afar Sultans to gain a foothold. Railroads were built to Dire Dawe and Addis Ababa making the area an important Red Sea port. In 1958, 1967, and 1977 referendums were held regarding independence from France. The last one brought independence. In 1960 the population of Djibouti was 83,636 and is now around 850,000. Over 90% of the women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation. In 2016, UNICEF estimated some 200 million women in 30 countries had undergone this procedure. 

Monday, December 05, 2016


In 1960, South Africa had it's SAxit Referendum. 3 of 4 provinces favoured dropping Queen Elizabeth as the Head of State and becoming a republic (56% leave). In 1974, the four islands of the Comoros had a referendum on independence from France. Three voted to leave. The dissenting areas faced different outcomes. Natal, in South Africa with 76% remain was forced to leave. Mayotte, in the Comoros, with 63% remain held out. The Comoros has repeatedly pressed its claim with the United Nations General Assembly citing 'territorial integrity' on decolonisation. Scotland, in the recent EU Brexit referendum, was 62% Remain.

For the Comoros, Independence came for the three island nation in 1975, but it is a land defined by a mixture of arriving societies. Bantu Speaking explorers from the left, Arab explorers from above, Austronesian explorers from the right, and eventually, European explorers from below. With about 800,000 people, it is as densely populated as the Netherlands. 98% of the population are Sunni Islam with Arabic a widely spoken second language, French the administrative language, and Comorian, related to Swahili, the most common tongue.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Central African Republic

The Central African Republic (CAR) was third in 2016 on the Fragile State Index published by the Fund for Peace. The twelves indicators used are demographic pressure (too many people v resources), refugees/internally displaced people, group grievances, human flight/brain drain, uneven economic development, poverty/economic decline, state legitimacy (e.g. corruption), public service, human rights/rule of law, security apparatus/use of force, factionised elites, and external interventions. 

The area was one of the earliest mixing point of the expanding BantuNilo-Saharan and Afroasiatic speaking groups. The expansions were slow, with lots of space and a history of farming people settled, grew a little, pushed on a little, probably (we think) fought a little. 16/17th slave trading and colonialism sped things up. Kingdoms rose up off the back of trade, but you wouldn't have wanted to be close to enemies or you became the product. The 'civilising mission' that came with colonialism and the end of slavery didn't mean the end of forced labour (e.g. mandatory cotton cultivation and building of railways). The first of (or continuation of) several forceful take-overs followed 1960 independence. Despite an abundance of natural resources, CAR remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Bouar Megaliths - date back to 2700-3500 BCE

Saturday, December 03, 2016


Although Luxembourg is one of the smaller European Countries by area, there are 29 smaller recognised sovereign states globally. Its population of 576,000 is of a similar size to Cabo Verde. (There are about 500 cities with populations of more than 1 million). Like Cabo Verde's mixed heritage, Luxembourg has a mix of French & Germanic cultures and repeated invasions by both has led to a strong interest in playing the mediation role. It now serves as the seat of the European Court of Justice. The country's history began as a town grew up around a fortress that guarded the crossing of two Roman roads. Despite being regularly strengthened by the victors, it was conquered variously by the Spanish, French, Austrians, and Prussians. Borders never really applied to the ruling classes. Three members of the House of Luxembourg reigned as Holy Roman Emperor in the 14th and 15th century. Luxembourg long attempted a policy of neutrality, but this ended after its World War II occupation by Germany, and it became a founding member of several inter-governmental institutions.

Luxembourg (Left) - The Netherlands (Right)

Friday, December 02, 2016


Belgium was the first Continental European country to participate in the Industrial Revolution. 98% of it population is now Urbanised. Belgium is about 1/3rd of the size of the province of South Africa I grew up in - Kwa-Zulu Natal. Both have a population of around 11 million. Belgium's independence from the Netherlands was recognised in 1839. The Dutch Republic of Natalia declared independence in the same year, although Britain took control (as a colony) in 1843, adding the annexed Zulu Kingdom in 1897. The Zulu Kingdom was roughly the size Belgium is. Belgium's own colonial history in Africa is incredibly dark. About 10 million Congolese died, halving the population, under King Leopold in the Belgian Congo (76 times larger than Belgium). Belgium is one of the six founding members states of the European Union, hosting the European Parliament in its capital, Brussels.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Welfare State

The Modern Welfare State - a mixture of Democracy, Welfare and Capitalism - rose in response to the Great Depression as a middle way between Communism and Laissez-faire Capitalism. The first Welfare State was the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century, with charity one of the Five Pillars of Islam. In Europe, historian Paxton says the Welfare State was introduced by Conservative and Fascist governments to make unions and socialism less attractive to workers. 'Modern twentieth century European dictatorships all provided medical care, pensions, affordable housing, and mass transport as a matter of course, in order to maintain productivity, national unity, and social peace.' In Britain, a National Insurance contribution was introduced, in return for 'benefits for those who sick, unemployed, retired, or widowed'.

When benefits are tied to income and savings, the recipient of benefits effectively has to prove they need help. Like the opposite of a job interview. You have to convince someone that you can't help yourself. That you can't afford to. That buzz you get when you get the endorsement of a job offer, must be analogous but opposite. Means-testing also requires bureaucrats to ask the questions, and make the decisions.  The more strings are attached, the less of the money is available to actually help. Individuals also need to understand they are eligible. As the system gets more complicated, just knowing which forms to fill out and where to go may be a step to far to get out of the rut.

Investors will often talk about maximising after-tax returns. I have always felt queasy about that. As tax laws get more and more complicated, you can stop spending your time on making sure your capital is doing the best job, and instead focus on working the system. Tax Law and Benefits are two tools government has to pull the strings of society. There is still a belief that decisions are best made centrally. A simplified tax code, without loopholes, and the end of means testing would reduce the ability of government to affect individual decisions.

Benefits which are only given if there is proof of need for help can lead to a poverty trap. Sharp cut-offs or change of circumstances can make taking on work, or getting out of the hole that led to the need, unattractive. Unconditional support takes a blind eye to circumstances. Universality reduces the cost of means testing, but also prevents the unintended consequences of trying to direct assistance to particular causes. There are stories of children being taken out of school so that the parents won't lose their illiteracy support.

The concept of 'Personal Responsibility' runs deep even amongst those who aren't religious. In the UK, those on benefits are often called 'Scroungers' - a person who borrows from or lives off others. A deep part of modern society is a belief in helping people who help themselves. A push back against hand-outs. This is tricky. We find it easier to see the help others have been given, and can forget about the support we have received. I have never met a self-made man.

I support the concept of an Unconditional Basic Income because it removes the wasted costs of means-testing, retains the incentives of a market system to participate in society, cuts out the moral hazard of strange behaviour in order to justify help, and loses the stigma of 'benefits'. A UBI is a dividend on the collective wealth of society. In the same way as we get hereditary support from our parents, this is hereditary support from humanity. It provides the security to lift your eyes from living hand to mouth, so that we can build the kind of community we would like to live in.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Netherlands

The Dutch only established a permanent trading post in South Africa in 1652. The Portuguese had touched the other end of the old world first for Europeans, but moved further around and up Africa to Mozambique. 1652 was just 4 years after the end of the Eighty Year War the Dutch had fought for independence. The War started in 1568 with tensions around the group of Seventeen Provinces acting too independently of the Spanish Habsburg Empire. The Empire was also responding to the Reformation with an inquisition led Counter-Reformation, in an attempt to regain religious uniformity. 

Many who left to form part of the heart of the Afrikaans Community in South Africa came from the Netherlands, fleeing religious persecution. The rest were already there. The indigenous community, like in Spanish America mixed with the new comers. Boer means farmer in Dutch. Originally Afrikaans was referred to derogatively as 'Kitchen Dutch' because it adopted words from the local Khoisan, Bantu languages, Portuguese, German and Malay. It is the first language of 76% of the population with mixed descent. It was only in 1875 that a group formed the Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaanders (Society for Real Afrikaners) and published grammars, materials and histories to formalise the language. 

After the Anglo-Boer war, feeling beaten and belittled, generations of hatred for the English and desire for independence formed the bitter heart that led to Apartheid. This fed off a global trend towards Nationalism and Self-Determination. Afrikaans became one of the tools of a new, separate, identity. It didn't end well. A language born in a melting pot lost its way becoming a symbol of division. Ironically too, the country the Afrikaners fled has a global reputation for social tolerance.

Dark Green - 80-100% first language Afrikaans