Skip to content

5 thoughts on “Libya rebels advance on the capital (video)

  1. August 12, 2011
    An African Chief in Cabby’s Clothing

    BEFORE dawn, when most New Yorkers are fast asleep, Isaac and Elizabeth Osei have already been working for hours. On a recent morning, Mr. Osei drove his wife from New Jersey to the half-abandoned outer blocks of Midtown Manhattan to oversee the 4:30 a.m. transfer of their fleet of 50 taxis. With Ms. Osei leading the way and a sliver of moon still hanging in the sky, they scouted three square blocks to make sure all of their taxis had been picked up by drivers. Then, over the screeches emanating from auto-body shops and the smell of gasoline wafting from a Hess station crammed with cabs, they surveyed their troubled taxis just as sunlight faintly appeared over Manhattan. At 6 a.m., they drove to the Upper West Side, reconfigured the spare tires they keep in their trunk and picked up clothing, a mirror and a table, which a friend was donating to a charity drive organized by the Oseis. The couple, who are immigrants from Ghana, struggled to tie the mirror to the roof of their car, then drove back to their Chelsea office lined with worn-out wood paneling and faded carpeting. By 7:30, Ms. Osei had taken her place in her thronelike office chair — she is the president of Napasei Taxi Management Corporation, after all — while Mr. Osei, who is vice president, took a more modest seat nearby. Then they prepared for the next 12 hours of fighting parking tickets, getting taxis inspected and helping drivers who came in to pick up their cash. But the Oseis call this grueling schedule a vacation compared with the real holiday they have ahead. On Wednesday, when they board a flight to Ghana, their roles will suddenly and drastically shift. As they cross the Atlantic Ocean, Mr. Osei will become Nana Gyensare V, a chief of the Akwamu people, who oversees the residents of five towns across the Eastern Region. After arriving in Accra, the capital of Ghana, he will don a delicate gold crown, take a seat on his throne or stool and work 20-hour days out of his 10-room palace. Rather than focus on taxi tune-ups and inspections, Mr. Osei will assume judicial and other powers, like mediating family disputes. Ms. Osei, who is happiest talking about chassis and alternators, will have to fulfill the responsibilities of a chief’s wife by running women’s groups in each town and helping with preparations for a 1,000-person banquet in September, at which Mr. Osei will bless the yam harvest. Residents are waiting to eat the yams until after Nana Gyensare’s arrival. “Here we are very busy — but at least I don’t have my people around me here, because I am more free,” Mr. Osei, a stout and succinct man more prone to chuckles than words, said of his life in New York. He nodded at his wife and added, “At times, she gets angry because she can’t even see me.” Many immigrants in New York lead double lives: restaurant dishwasher in Queens and family patriarch in Mexico, or manicurist in Midtown and financial provider back in China. But Mr. Osei’s story is far more extreme. It’s as if he spends summer vacation with the hybrid responsibilities of a mayor and a royal, said Richard Rathbone, a professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies who has done research near the towns Mr. Osei oversees. As Ghana has grown more stable in recent years, Professor Rathbone said, emigrants are returning and accepting these chiefly roles. They have many of the social responsibilities of politicians, but they also carry the historical gravitas of a royal title. “He’s connected with the past and he symbolizes the past,” Professor Rathbone said of Mr. Osei. Mr. Osei, one of 19 children, never expected to be a chief. The title, which passed through his mother’s family, had been given to an older brother, and Mr. Osei moved to New York three decades ago to carve out his own life. He started driving a taxi and bought a medallion in 1982. Within a few years, he had gotten married, had two daughters and had opened a restaurant in Harlem. But he soon divorced and found himself wiped out financially. Mr. Osei saw Elizabeth Otolizz for the first time when she stopped to eat in his restaurant in the late 1980s and he pointed out that she had spilled okra on her blouse. She moved to New York in 1986 and worked as a home health nurse, a newspaper deliverywoman and a taxi driver. She spilled out stories about the celebrities she had met, like Snoop Dogg, and the times she had been beaten up by customers. She carried in her purse masses of wires that she used to make emergency taxi repairs. When Mr. Osei went back to driving a taxi, he would occasionally spot Elizabeth at airport taxi stands and chat. Then, when he saw her driving her taxi, he would ask her for her phone number at stop lights. But Elizabeth, who was getting over a previous relationship, demurred. In 1991, Mr. Osei’s taxi medallion was about to fall into foreclosure, and Elizabeth offered to go into business with him. She borrowed $1,500 from an African grocery store owner and alternated with Mr. Osei driving his Chevy Caprice in 12-hour shifts to help pay off the loan. Soon, Elizabeth decided she was ready to take their friendship beyond a trade-off of taxi keys. In 1995, they wed in New Jersey, had two sons and slowly and steadily built a small taxi empire. But in 2006, after his brother died of complications related to diabetes, Mr. Osei was called back to Ghana to assume the title of chief. Suddenly, Mr. Osei was being carried on a palanquin, conducting judicial hearings and officiating at festivals. Ms. Osei still laughs when she describes the expression on her husband’s face when he returned from that first trip back to Ghana. “They spoil you,” Ms. Osei said of her husband’s staff members in Ghana. “When you get to J.F.K., they don’t pick up your suitcases.” But Ms. Osei seems to have embraced her husband’s responsibilities. At 8 a.m. on a recent day, after a long morning of checking on their taxi fleet, the Oseis sat down in a diner in Midtown and ordered breakfast. Just as Mr. Osei began to eat, his cellphone started to peal with calls from Ghana. While Mr. Osei finished eating, Ms. Osei answered the calls and started relaying the details of work that lay ahead, like funerals, charitable walks and social projects. (The Oseis are especially proud of having installed toilets in some Ghanaian towns.) She seemed to have made peace with the coming journey. “When I get to Africa, I have to worship him,” she said with a hint of frustration in her voice and a broad, mischievous smile. “When I get back, he has to worship me.”

  2. Colonel Kaddafi of Tripoli has three choices: surrender, flee the city, or commit suicide.

    The Colonel is in the same situation where centuries ago Zedekiah, king of Judah, was. The Prophet Jeremiah had told Zedekiah to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon and save his besieged city, Jerusalem, from being burned down into ashes, his nobles being killed, his wives being violated, and the rest of the people being exiled. However, Zedekiah ignored the word of God that came to him through the Prophet Jeremiah.

    Zedekiah, instead of listening to what Jeremiah was telling him, he tried to escape through the night with few men with him, but the Babylonian army captured him and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar to face justice. Nebuchadnezzar sentenced him to death, burned down the city, slaughtered his sons before his eyes, killed all the nobles of Judah, put out Zedekiah’s eyes, shackled him, and took him with the rest of the people of Judah down to Babylon (Jeremiah 39).

    Like the Prophet Jeremiah, Washington, London, France, and many other countries have been telling Colonel Kaddafi to step down and leave the country, but he has refused to listen to them. Even if he manages to escape the impending danger, he will not run away from the International Criminal Court of Justice for human rights violation.

    At this time, the courageous and determined Libyan rebels are closing the gap, squeezing Kaddafi’s armies, and nearing to capturing Tripoli unless the besieged Colonel, out of his madness and desperation, uses chemical weapons against the rebel army if he has those weapons. If he is captured alive, the rebels are not going to use the inhumane measures Nebuchadnezzar used on Zedekiah’s eyes, his children, and his noble men without a fair trial but there is no guarantee because Kaddafi has slaughtered many innocent people without giving them a chance to defend themselves before the court.

    After the fall of Kaddafi, what will happen to Libya? Will there be a democratically elected government, or will there be a power struggle between some modern and old Libyan elites? Most Africans are not lucky to solve their own problems by themselves because of tribalism, ethnicity, geographical location, language, and religion. However, Libya is blessed that she has the oil, and because of its oil, she will not be short of advisors as to what kind of government she must have. When Kaddafi is out, Washington, London, France, Germany, Italy, and even China would compete among each other to send to this oil rich country their advisors as soon as possible. Libya may prefer Washington, London, and France to China as her advisors and trade partners since these three countries are the ones who have been helping the rebels to oust Colonel Kaddafi from power.

  3. A Writer’s Beginnings in Kenya
    Published: August 12, 2011

    Harried reader, I’ll save you precious time: skip this review and head directly to the bookstore for Binyavanga Wainaina’s stand-up-and-cheer coming-of-age memoir, “One Day I Will Write About This Place.” Although written by an East African and set in East and Southern Africa, Wainaina’s book is not just for Afrophiles or lovers of post colonial literature. This is a book for anyone who still finds the nourishment of a well- written tale preferable to the empty- calorie jolt of a celebrity confessional or Swedish mystery. Not that Wainaina is likely to judge anyone’s taste in books. In fact, at its heart, this is a story about how Wainaina was almost eaten alive by his addiction to reading anything available. “I am starting to read storybooks,” he says of his 11-year-old self, growing up in Nakuru, Kenya. “If words, in English, arranged on the page have the power to control my body in this world, this sound and language can close its folds, like a fan, and I will slide into its world, where things are arranged differently.” As he leaves childhood behind — “My nose sweats a lot these days, and my armpits smell, and I wake up a lot at night all wriggly and hot, like Congo rumba music” — Wainaina retreats further from the confusing realities of politics and adolescence and his big multinational family (his father a Kenyan businessman and farm owner, his mother a Ugandan salon owner) and deeper into a world of words. At school he is told, and believes, that he is supposed to become a doctor or a lawyer, an engineer or a scientist. But Wainaina seems constitutionally incapable of absorbing anything that would further a career in these fields. “I spend all useful time in my advanced-level years making plays and novels,” he writes. “I do not study much. Our most successful play is a courtroom drama called ‘The Verdict.’ I play a prostitute with a heart of gold called Desirée who falls in love with a repressed boy who murders his mother. The stage is beautiful. We have raided the chapel for fine Anglican velvets and old wood tables with gravitas.” At home during breaks from boarding school, Wainaina lives a dream-life of stories even while making a cheerful effort to act the expected part of a good man-child. “I know nothing about old Peugeots,” he writes of an outing with his father to fix some of the family’s farm equipment. “There are things men are supposed to know, and I do not want to know those things, but I want to belong and the members need to know about crankshafts and points and frogs and holy manly grails and puppy dog tails. Secular things to hang onto.” By the time Wainaina leaves Kenya to attend university in South Africa, a country smoldering with the last poisonous fumes of apartheid, his addiction to books is complete. He drops out of school to pursue more completely a life of reading. “Over the past year,” he writes, “as I fell away from everything and everybody, I moved out of the campus dorms and into a one-room outhouse. . . . My mattress has sunk in the middle. Books, cigarettes, dirty cups, empty chocolate wrappers and magazines are piled around my horizontal torso, on the floor, all within arm’s reach. If I put my mattress back on the bunk I am too close to the light that streams in from the window, so I use the chipboard bunk as a sort of scribble pad of options: butter, a knife, peanut butter and chutney, empty tins of pilchards, bread, a small television set, many books, matches and a sprawl of candles, all in various stages of undress and disintegration.” Wainaina’s almost terrifying inability to do anything but read, even as the world around him falls apart (“I returned to my home, Kenya, to find people so far beyond cynicism that they looked back on their cynical days with fondness”), is a thread to follow through the book. The plot spoiler is in our hands — Wainaina obviously figured out that he must write to survive — yet the story of how he achieves this dream is gripping less for its preordained conclusion than for the way it unfolds in Wainaina’s jazzy style: riffing, inside- jokey, un-self- conscious. “I am starting to scribble my thoughts, to write these moments,” he says of his fledgling attempts to make stories from the raw material of his rich world. “It is when this is all done that I do what I do best. I look up, confused and fearful, all accordion with kimay; then soak in the safe patterns of other people, and live my life borrowing from them; then retreat — for reasons I don’t know — to look down, inside the safety of novels; and then I lift my eyes again to people, and make them my own sort of confused pattern. I am no sharp arrow cutting through the career ladder. It’s time to try to make some sort of sense of things on the written page. At least there, they can be shaped. I doubt myself the moment I think this.” By 2001, Wainaina is 30 years old and tired of his itinerant life in South Africa. “I want to be home,” he writes. “Just to be home.” He returns to Kenya and finds housing near one of Nairobi’s largest slums. “Hostels like these are popular with college students and the newly employed. They are cheap and secure. Water is rationed. That first night I left the dry taps open, and I woke up to see my laptop floating in four inches of water. The screen died. I bought a cheap secondhand P.C. screen in the city, and now it is working.” By day Wainaina writes. By night he makes his way “through the zigzag paths” of the city’s streets “to catch the flickering streams of people.” Wainaina was catapulted into the literary spotlight when his autobiographical novella “Discovering Home” was awarded the 2002 Caine Prize, sometimes called “the African Booker.” The work arose from a long, late-night e-mail to a friend, and it retains an unedited familiarity. “There is a problem,” it begins. “Somebody has locked themselves in the toilet. The upstairs bathroom is locked and Frank has disappeared with the keys. There is a small riot at the door, as drunk women with smudged lipstick and crooked wigs bang on the door.” Wainaina followed up that success with “How to Write About Africa,” a provocative essay that appeared in Granta in 2005. “In your text,” he wrote, “treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: 54 countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book.” “One Day I Will Write About This Place” grew in part from the seeds of those shorter works. But while their superbly vivid moments never quite cohered, this latest work is brimming with insouciant virtuosity, and it is utterly resolved. Wainaina’s Africa is not all glamorous poverty and backlit giraffes. It’s an Africa in which the lost are perpetually leading the blind, and yet somehow still find their way home. h Alexandra Fuller’s new memoir is “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.”

  4. Zerai Deres

    Zerai Deres died in 1937 in Rome, Italy, in public opposition to the rise of fascist power in Italy and her African colonies. His death is considered part of the movement against Italian occupation. Deres was born in Eritrea, then a province of Ethiopia, and is considered a folk hero in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ethiopia was a member of the League of Nations when Italy invaded and occupied it from 1936 to 1941. It was a clear violation of the Covenant of the League of Nations and an act of aggression for a member State to invade and occupy another member State. The Ethiopians resisted the invasion until the Italians started to use chemical warfare agents like mustard gas. In June 1936, King Haile Selassie I appealed to the League of Nations to take action against the invasion. But it was ignored. On May 21, 1937, in Rome, Italy was celebrating its fourth anniversary of the proclamation of the Italian Empire. The celebratory parade was attended by Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III. Thousands of subjects from Italy’s African colonies marched during the parade. Among them was a young Eritrean man named Zerai Deres. He was carrying the sword to salute the King, the Führer, and Il Duce, at the grandstand. As the parade marched past the Vittorio Emanuele monument, Zerai Deres looked up and saw the golden Lion of Judah, the symbol of the ancient monarchy, to which his ancestors had long owed allegiance, erected as a war booty in the heart of Rome. The shock was too great for him, and he drew his sword and with it he slew five fascist guards[1], as well as wounding others, before he himself was killed[2] on the spot in a hail of gunshots. The Lion of Judah monument that provoked his fury has been restored to Addis Ababa, after long negotiations between Ethiopia and Italy in the 1960s. ~Wikipedia.
    In some ways the climax of the story came on June 15, 1938, when in Rome, the capital of fascist power, one lone Ethiopian made his solemn protest at the indignities subjected on his native land. Despite the fascist censorship news of this one-man demonstration at once reached the outside world, and on the following day the London Times published the following curious report from its Rome corespondent: “ABYSSINIAN SHOT IN ROME “An Interrupted prayer” Rome, June 15 “Romans hurrying to lunch today saw a negro, presumably an Abyssinian, praying before the large gilt Lion of Judah which now reposes at the foot of the monument in honour of the 500 Italians who were killed at the battle of Dogali… “A crowd gathered, and when an army officer attempted to prevent the negro from continuing his devotions, the latter produced a scimitar from his clothing and slashed at him, inflicting a serious wound. A butcher’s boy who intervened was also slashed, whereupon two soldiers fired four shots at the negro and put him out of action, but not before he had wounded the soldiers”. The hero of the incident, who lived on to learn of the liberation of Ethiopia in 1941 and of the Allied occupation of Italy in 1943-4, but died in his land of captivity before the restoration of the Lion of Judah statue, was a young Eritrean, Zerai Deress, a former post-office clerk, then in his early twenties. During one of the many fascist demonstrations in Rome, his obituary in the Ethiopian Herald states, Zerai, [standing] by the Lion of Judah statue “bowed down to pray. Naturally all the spectators were distracted from the main purpose of the display and the humble Ethiopian became the pivot of their attention. A Fascist officer went over to him and asked him to get up and end his prayer. Not wishing to be disturbed Zerai continued his bowing posture. Rougher measures were applied by the officer. “In religious anger his sword was unsheathed and in a rage somewhat similar to the divine fury induced by the priestess Apollo, he fell on the would-be mockers of his country’s national symbol and killed them, uttering the words, ‘The Lion of Judah is avenged!’. Animated by this passion and burning with enthusiasm to protect the emblem of his country, he gave no quarter until he was run down by a motor cycle and arrested”. A somewhat more dramatic account of the incident, the exact details of which are in the nature of things almost impossible to establish, was given a few years alter by an Eritrean writer, Alazar Tesafa Michael, who relates that “when Zerai saw the national symbol of his country displayed as a trophy of the conqueror, he sank down in grief, tears streaming from his eyes. Then he rose up, hastened to the Museo Coloniale, possessed himself of a sword which was on show there. Returning to the statue of the Lion he prostrated himself before it. “Leaping to his feet as he unsheathed his sword, he then rushed into the midst of the thousands of Fascists who had assembled for the celebration. He took his stand by the monument erected to the Italians who were killed at Dogali… Wielding the sword he killed five Italians and wounded many more before they dare lay their hands on him. Then he paused and shouted out, in Italian: “Long live Tafari! (i.e. the Emperor Haile Sellassie). Long live the Lion of Judah! Down with Italy! Raise up and exalt Ethiopia! Down with the King of Italy! Down with Mussolini!”. “Zerai”, Alazar Tesfa Michel concludes, “was shot by two railway station police in the Piazza Esedra, and fell near the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, still holding his sword. He was retained in prison till after the Italian defeat, and died there during the Allied occupation of Italy, in July 1945, at 29 years of age”. [In view of the manifest discrepancies between the above accounts readers are referred to the recent reprint by his nephew Alem Tesfazion of the book Zerai Deres: Note RP, March 2005]

Leave a Reply