Friday, November 11, 2005

Street Violence in France

One of the assigned texts in the African History survey course
that I took as an undergraduate at Duke in 1967 was Mannoni's
Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. The
irony of this passage from Mannoni was powerful:

"France is unquestionably one the least racialist-minded
countries in the world; also colonial policy is officially
anti-racialist. But the effects of the colonial situation
inevitably make themselves felt, so that a marked racialist
attitude appears side by side with the official attitude and,
indeed, in spite of it. Even the administration officials,
although they apply France's pro-native policy humanely and
conscientiously, are nevertheless subject to the psycho-
sociological laws, and unless they are men of exceptional
calibre, come to adopt attitudes of which are coloured with
racialism. Those outside the administration, of course, have
no appearances to keep up."*

Was not France's participation - in slavery and the slave trade;
in colonialism with its repression, theft of natural resources,
and brutal forced labor; in the use of colonial soldiers in its
wars, often as cannon fodder; and in the cynical and
paternalistic manipulation of its neocolonial heirs - a racist

Are we really to believe that a country that is "one of the least
racialist" in the world could nonetheless perpetrate more than
two centuries of racist actions vis-à-vis African and Arab peoples?

Are social programs and make-work economic programs that do not
directly address French racism, and its causes and effects, really
an effective answer to the "street violence?"

French institutions, including both government and press, did not
hesitate to take the US to task for racial segregation during the
"Jim Crow" era and for the racism unmasked by Hurrican Katrina in
and around New Orleans - and rightly so. France should not benefit
from a "pass" when the legacy of its own racism is exposed by the
recent émeutes.

It is time to stop "whistling past the graveyard." It is time for
France to begin to rid itself of the artfully crafted and elaborately
maintained hypocrisy that it is a "non-racialist" society that
occupies the moral high-ground from which to castigate others. It is
time for France - like the US, like Brazil, like South Africa, and
many others - to face up to its profound and permeating racism and
to engage the long-term process of ridding itself of this burden.
Unless it does so, the "street violence" is likely just the opening
act of a long drama.
* O. Mannoni, _Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of
Colonization_, (New York: Praeger), 1965, p. 110
Copyright © 2005 Kelly J. Morris

Friday, September 16, 2005

Languages and Persistent Racial Stereotyping

It is discouraging to see racial stereotypes and inaccuracies that
persist in books and articles by authors who otherwise are credible
scholars or journalists. These defects undermine the credibility of
the authors and diminish the impact of their ideas - at least among
those who have more than a passing knowledge of the subject that
they are treating.

The latest example of this phenomenon is the book, Empires of
the Word: A Language History of the World
, by Nicholas Ostler,
that was recently reviewed in The Washington Post (Wednesday,
September 14, 2005, p. C3) by Russell Warren Howe. The broad
strokes painted by Ostler are stimulating. Howe tells us that Ostler
rates languages on their "capacity to survive." He cites some
examples of Ostler's insights into the reasons why some survive and
others do not. This analysis could be useful to those concerned with
the present and future role of indigenous languages in Africa.

Through the first paragraphs of Mr. Howe's review, I was very
interested in the book and might have bought it. I began to question
Mr. Ostler's credibility (and that of the fact-checkers at his
publisher, HarperCollins) when Mr. Howe cited Ostler's
characterization of kiSwahili as "... a form of Arabic with a Bantu
(African) syntax." It has been thirty years or more that this view
has been discredited and that Swahili has been recognized for what
it is: a Bantu (i.e. African) language. The Wikipedia entry on
summarizes it well:

"Despite the substantial number of loanwords present in Swahili,
the language is in fact Bantu. In the past, some have held that
Swahili is variously a derivative of Arabic, that a distinct Swahili
people do not exist, or that Swahili is simply an amalgam of Arabic
and African language and culture, though these theories have now
been largely discarded. The distinct existence of the Swahili as a
people can be traced back over a thousand years, as can their
language. In structure and vocabulary Swahili is distinctly Bantu
and shares far more culturally and linguistically with other Bantu
languages and peoples than it does with Arabic, Persian, Indian etc.
In fact, it is estimated that the proportion of non-African language
loanwords in Swahili is comparable to the proportion of French,
Latin, and Greek loanwords in the English language."*

In addition, Ostler may well be exaggerating Africa's linguistic Babel
when he repeats the proposition that "Cameroon has more than 270
languages [and] Nigeria more than 600." Like Norwegian and Swedish,
many of these languages are very similar and mutually intelligible.
i.e. they are dialects of the same language. Also like speakers of
Norwegian and Swedish, speakers of these African languages may
insist upon the designation of "language" rather than "dialect" for
their tongue for reasons of local or ethnic pride.

What is particularly disappointing is that Ostler is obviously "tone
deaf" to the persistence of racially-based stereotypes in his
characterization of African languages. Swahili is a sophisticated
language with a large vocabulary and is widely used not only as a
spoken but also as a written language. Therefore, according to the
stereotype or prejudice, it must be necessarily a non-African

Howe also cites Ostler as referring to "Hamito-Semitic tongues." Here
again, what were previously called Hamitic and Semitic languages
until the 1960s have long been recognized as a single language family
called Afro-Asiatic. Why continue to artificially divide Afro-Asiatic
languages according to the so-called race of those who speak them?
Does it make any sense to classify speakers of Arabic, Hebrew,
Aramaic, etc. as "white" (i.e. Semitic) by classifying most of the
speakers of Afro-Asiatic languages in Africa as "black" (i.e.
"Hamitic")? I don't know of any credible linguistics scholars who
continue to use the term "Hamitic." The fact that the skin color of
many so-called Semites is darker than that of many so-called Hamites
only reinforces the uselessness of this distinction.

Finally, as a person of largely Welsh descent, I feel obliged to note
that there is a rear-guard action against the impending death of the
Welsh language cited by Ostler. The promotion of the Welsh language
in Wales via bi-lingual schools, Welsh-language radio and TV, and
other programs has increased bi-lingualism in the Welsh population
in recent years. Therefore, the announcement of the death of the
Welsh language is premature. In fact, the creation of the European
Union and the emergence of English as its lingua franca has also been
accompanied by a cultural and linguistic "devolution" and a
resurgence of interest in local languages and cultures. For example,
while Breton is a minority language in France, both Breton and French
are minority languages in Europe and this fact has only encouraged
efforts to preserve the language and culture of the Bretons (closest
cousins to the Welsh). This situation is repeating itself in other
European countries where certain "minor" or "declining" languages
are getting a new lease on life.

This has important implications for Africa in it long-term effort
to emulate Europe by forming sub-regional unions, e.g. an eventual
West African Union composed of the present ECOWAS member States.
In such a union, all the current languages vying for ascendancy will
be minority languages except for established lingua francas
such as Hausa and Dioula or Bambara. Howe does not indicate
whether Ostler notes the "devolution" process or not and. if he
does, what are its implications for Europe and Africa respectively.

The fact that Ostler could get several not-insignificant and easily
verifiable facts wrong and persists in repeating outdated stereotypes
about African languages undermines my estimation of his book's
value. I have crossed it off my list.
* See also the Ethnologue page on Swahili.
is owned by SIL International, a service organization that works
with people who speak the world’s lesser-known languages.
Copyright © 2005 Kelly J. Morris

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Official English - A Slightly Different View

For some reason, I have been motivated lately to write
"Letters to the Editor." The most recent one is was
addressed to the program Lou Dobbs Tonight that airs
nightly Monday though Friday from 6 to 7 pm Eastern US
Time on CNN. Lou has taken up the cause of the outsourcing
of American jobs to lower-paid workers in countries such as
India and the detrimental effects of outsourcing on the US
workforce and the US economy. He also campaigns against
illegal immigration and its deleterious effects on the US
economy as well as on US security. He does not attack the
immigrants, for whom he professes a respect that I believe
is sincere, but rather he attacks the US Government for
failing to secure the nation's borders and attacks employers
for maintaining the demand for illegal workers whose labor
they exploit. He believes that immigrants should learn
English rather than being taught and otherwise receiving
services in their mother tongue. On Wednesday, he railed
against the Dallas school board's decision to require
the principals of majority Hispanic schools to learn
Spanish. I offered a more nuanced view, which was not
read on air.
Official English - A slightly different view

Lou - I have spent most of the last 30+ years working in
international development, including 19 years with the
Peace Corps. I can attest to the immense advantage -
economically, socially, and politically - of having a
language that is common to everyone in a country. I can
also attest to the great disadvantage to developing
countries of not having a common tongue.

However, I can't bring myself to endorse "official
English" or "English only." Unfortunately, lurking
behind these movements are, in addition to the many
sincere and well-meaning folks such as you, racists
and nativists for whom "English" is simply a
politically correct euphemism for "white."

I would like to see English promoted as our "national
language" rather than our "official language" while at
the same time demonstrating that we value fluency in
other languages and cultures. I would like to see us
make the sustained financial commitment to promoting
both English and our other languages so that our
citizens will be able to work and to communicate
together and to compete effectively in an inexorably
globalizing and polyglot world economy.

The difference between "official" and "national" may
seem semantic, but I assure you that it is not.
Promoting and taking pride in all of our languages makes
a lot more sense to me than trying to forbid or discourage
some of them and enforce English.

Copyright © 2005 Kelly J. Morris

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In re: "Welcome Soldiers to the Peace Corps," by Colman McCarthy, The Washington Post (8/21/2005)

In an article in the August 2, 2005, edition of The Washington
, journalist Alan Cooperman wrote that "the U.S.
military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is offering
to allow recruits to meet part of their military obligations
by serving in the Peace Corps, which has resisted any ties to
the Defense Department or U.S. intelligence agencies since
its founding in 1961 ... Congress authorized the recruitment
program three years ago in legislation that drew little
attention at the time but is stirring controversy now, for
two reasons: The military has begun to promote it, and the day
is drawing closer when the first batch of about 4,300 recruits
will be eligible to apply to the Peace Corps, after having spent
3 1/2 years in the armed forces ... When it stalled as a separate
bill, aides to the senators [McCain and Bayh] said, they folded
it into a 306-page defense budget bill, where it did not attract
opposition ... Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez, who was
appointed in 2002 by President Bush, said in a recent
interview that the Peace Corps was unaware of the provision
until after it became law ..." He said, "There might have been a
discussion, there could have been some dialogue on this, but
obviously that didn't happen,"

Columnist Colman McCarthy responded to the news, and to the
negative response of current and former Peace Corps people, in an
irate op-ed piece in The Washington Post on Sunday, August
21, 2005. He stated that "the Peace Corps should be open to all
comers, regardless of the route they take to apply. Is someone
with a liberal arts degree from an Ivy League school somehow
superior in character and skills to a Marine lance corporal
educated by surviving combat in Iraq? Elitism is at work here:
The purity of the Peace Corps will be sullied by opening the doors
to militarists." He decried the "... bias against people in the
military [that] has long infected the American peace movement ..."
and posits that "an alliance with the Pentagon could be an
opportunity for supporters of the Peace Corps ... to shake the
Pentagon's money tree and increase the Peace Corps budget."

In an unpublished "Letter to the Editor" of The Washington Post,
I responded as follows:

During the period from 1968 to 2001, I served for 19 years with
the Peace Corps as a Volunteer and staff, in Africa and in
Washington. Based upon my knowldge and expeience, I believe that
Colman McCarthy is entirely wrong.

The negative response of current and former Peace Corps Volunteers
and staff to the provisions of the "National Call to Service" law
that allows members of the US armed forces to complete their service
in the Peace Corps is not an elitist anti-military reaction. There
have always been veterans of the armed forces who have served as
Volunteers and staff of the Peace Corps. Former Peace Corps
Volunteers have also served in the military after their Peace Corps
service. Among the thousands of Volunteers and staff that I have
known since 1968, there were more military veterans than Ivy League
liberal arts grads. Volunteers are more likely to be graduates of
state universities and of small Catholic and Protestant liberal arts
colleges where their vocation for public service has been nurtured.

I know that no one values peace more than America's combat
veterans. Among them are my late father, a proud World War II
submariner whose example inspired me to serve in the Peace Corps.
Until now, however, there has never been any confusion about Peace
Corps Volunteers' status in regard to the military when they were
assigned to any of the dozens of countries where they serve, often
at very remote sites.

Peace Corps has never been able to guarantee absolutely the security
of each and every one of the thousands of Volunteers serving at any
given time. The agency staff tries to select assignments and sites
carefully and trains Volunteers in the cultural and linguistic
skills that will help them to be both effective and safe. Ultimately,
however, Volunteers' safety and well-being are in the hands of the
people and the local authorities of the communities where they live
and work. Typically, Volunteers are offered tremendous hospitality
and are enveloped by their host communities. Any confusion in the
eyes of a Volunteer's neighbors and co-workers as to what is the
real mission of that Volunteer, and as to what is his or her
relationship to the US military, is potentially very troublesome.
It may not only diminish a Volunteer's effectiveness but also can
diminish the community's willingness to take responsibility for the
Volunteer's safety. As a result, the new law may make Peace Corps
Volunteers more vulnerable and less safe.

And by the way, if this new provision of law is such a great idea,
why was it not debated in the light of day? Why was it sneaked into
legislation without the knowledge of current and former Peace Corps
people and of most of the Members of Congress and Senators who
voted on it? This is hardly a shining example of democracy at work.
The Peace Corps-related provisions of this law are ill-advised and
dangerous. Congress should repeal them at the earliest possible
Copyright © 2005 Kelly J. Morris

Monday, August 01, 2005

"African Democracy: A Primer for Development Workers" - FIRST DRAFT

I have just completed the first draft of "African Democracy;
A Primer for Development Workers." The premise of this document
is that democracy is no less a part of African culture than it
is an inherent part of European and North American culture. The
democratic traditions in African culture can either be
cultivated and encouraged in order to help develop modern
practices and institutions of democratic governance, or they
can be ignored, stifled, or suppressed. Grassroots development
workers, I contend, can have a positive role in encouraging the
development of African democracy without involving themselves
in partisan politics.

Please download a copy of the document in PDF format. Once you
have read it, please return here to post your comments.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Kelly Morris discussed Togo election on KPFA Pacifica Radio

This afternoon, journalist Glenn Reeder interviewed me in regard to
the Presidential election in Togo for KPFA 94.1 FM, Pacifica Radio
in Berkeley, California, USA. Part of the interview was aired this
evening, Sunday, 24 April 2005 on KPFA's Sunday Evening News at
6-6:30 pm Pacific Time (9-9:30 pm Eastern Time). It can be
downloaded at the KPFA Website Archives at:

or at my Website at:

Disclaimer: The opinions that I expressed in the interview are
entirely my own and do not necessarily represent the position of
Friends of Togo or any other organization or agency with which I
have been associated.

Kelly J. Morris

Monday, February 21, 2005

Kelly Morris discussed Togo situation on KPFA Pacifica Radio

The interview about events in Togo that journalist Glenn Reeder conducted with me on Sunday, 13 February 2005, for KPFA, Pacifica Radio in Berkeley, California, was aired on KPFA's Sunday Evening News the same day. It can be downloaded from the KPFA Evening News Archives at:

Just scroll down to the 13 February 2005 show. The interview with me takes place about half-way through the broadcast. Or you can download the interview at my Website at:

Once you have listened to the interview, please feel free to return to this blog and add your comments.

Disclaimer: The opinions that I expressed in the interview are
entirely my own and do not necessarily represent the position of
Friends of Togo or any other organization or agency with which I
have been associated.
Copyright © 2005 Kelly J. Morris

Le Togo se ridiculise devant le monde ...

Version anglaise:
On Saturday, February 19, I listened to BBC radio interviewing the Togolese Minister of Communications, Pitang Tchalla. It was the saddest, most ridiculous performance that I have heard in ages. The minister was repeating (I paraphrase here): "We had a crisis. The President died. The Speaker of parliament was out of the country. There was a vacuum we had to fill for the security of the country. What do you want us to do?" Then he put forth the specious, convoluted logic of the so-called constitutionality of Faure Gnassingbe's take-over. He became very frustrated and had no answer when the BBC journalist asked him: "If the President of the Parliament was out of the country, why wouldn't you allow the deputy speaker to become interim President, as provided in the Constitution? Why wouldn't you let Speaker Natchaba back in the country?"

The Minister justified the coup that brought Faure Gnassingbe to power by saying that it was necessary to prevent a dangerous power vacuum. He is further quoted as saying, "I don't know whether our friends outside (want) Togo to fragment into pieces." When the current regime took power in 1967, there was a credible argument that the political parties of the day had plunged the country into chaos and that it was necessary to restore security and civil order. After 38 years in power, however, the regime wears its failure to create a stable, free, prosperous, and law-abiding society like a badge of honor, as if its failure further justified its lawless clinging to power.

We should not be surprised at this turn of events. The regime is dangerously removed from reality and has been shielded from the consequences of its actions by its protectors and enablers, especially France, for 38 years. Therefore, it is shocked - truly shocked! - that the international community has finally had enough and takes them to task for their irresponsible and unconstitutional actions.

The ruling politico-military clique just doesn't seem to "get it" when it comes to how much they are embarrassing themselves on the global stage and what the economic consequences are for a country whose economy has already been suffering for many years. Togo is no longer as obscure as it was in pre-globalization days. For every news item that I post to Togo-L, the same article is posted to all the major international media and to literally dozens of local news services in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. The scratching we hear in the background is business people scratching Togo from the list of potential partners, capitalists scratching Togo from the list of promising opportunities for investment, and tourists scratching Togo from the list of vacation destinations.

Poor Togo, to be so ill-served by its leaders at such an important point in its history ...


French version:
Le samedi, 19 février 2005, j'ai écouté une émission de la BBC News. Le journaliste interviewait le Ministre togolais de la Communication, M. Pitang Tchalla. C'etait la prestation la plus triste, la plus ridicule que j'ai entendu depuis très longtemps. Le Ministre a avancé une explication bizarre et convoluté de la logique constitutionnelle du coup qui a porté Faure Gnassingbé au pouvoir. Le ministre se répétait à dire (ici je paraphrase): "Nous avons subi une crise. Le Président Eyadema est mort. Le Président du Parlement était en voyage hors du pays. Il y avait un vide de pouvoir que nous nous devions de remplir afin de garantir la sécurité du pays. Qu'est-ce que vous voulez que nous fassions?" Il est devenu tout à fait frustré quand le journaliste a insisté a lui poser la question, "Si le Président du Parlement était hors du pays, pourquoi n'avez-vous pas permis au Vice-Président du Parlement d'assurer l'intérim comme prévu par la Consitution? Pourquoi n'avez-vous pas permis au Président du Parlement Natchaba de revenir au pays?"

Le Ministre a justifié le coup qui a porté au pouvoir Faure Gnassingbé en disant qu'il a été nécessaire afin d'éviter un vide de pouvoir. De plus, en s'adressant à la presse, il a dit: "Je ne sais pas si nos amis étrangers veulent que le Togo se désagrèges." Quand le régime actuel a saisi le pouvoir en 1967, un argument crédible pourrait être avancé qui postulait que les partis politiques de l'époque avaient plongé le pays dans le chaos et qu'il a été nécessaire de restaurer la sécurité et l'ordre civile. Après 38 ans au pouvoir, pourtant, le régime porte comme une médaillon d'honneur le fait qu'il n'a pas pu créer un état de droit ni une société stable, libre, et prospère, comme si ses propres défaillances justifiaient son accrochage illégal au pouvoir.

Nous ne devrions pas nous étonner à ce tour des événements. Le régime s'est dangereusement éloigné de la réalité. Pendant 38 années, il a été protégé des conséquences de ses actions par ses protecteurs et facilitateurs, particulièrement la France. Par conséquent, il est choqué - vraiment choqué ! - que la communauté internationale en a finalement eu marre et le prend à partie pour ses actions irresponsables et anti-constitutionnelles.

La clique politico-militaire au pouvoir ne semble pas appréhender combien ils se sont embarrassé sur la scène internationale par leurs actions et quelles en seront les conséquences économiques pour un pays dont l'économie avait déjà souffert pendant plus d'une décennie. Le Togo n'est plus aussi inconnu qu'il était avant l'avènement de la globalisation. Chaque article de presse que j'affiche au Togo-L est aussi diffusé à d'autres médias internationaux et aux douzaines de services de presse locaux en Europe, en Amérique du nord, en Asie, et en Australie. Le bruit de grattage que nous entendons provient des personnes d'affaires qui sont en train de rayer le Togo de la liste des clients potentiels; des capitalistes qui rayent le Togo de la liste d'occasions prometteuses pour l'investissement; et des touristes qui rayent le Togo de la liste de destinations de vacances.

Pauvre Togo, d'être si mal servi par ses leaders à un moment si important de son histoire ...

Copyright © 2005 Kelly J. Morris