Tuesday, January 7, 2014

36 Books in 2013

It always amazes me how often people tell me they don’t read books.  Even professors tell me this quite frequently.  Fortunately for me, I am my father’s daughter; he is a voracious reader.  I’m pretty sure if he and I were in a reading contest he would beat my score by a long shot.  In 2013 I read 36 books.  I don’t consider three books a month a particularly high number, but it isn’t low by any means, especially when I compare it to those around me.

I don’t normally have a theme to my reading, but this year I did.  During the first three months of the year I was awaiting my notification regarding whether I would receive the Fulbright and be moving to Africa, so I began reading about the place that would hopefully become my new home.  After I received my Fulbright notification in early March I started reading even more about Africa, and particularly tourism on the continent, in order to prepare me for my teaching and research here.  And of course, once I got here, the theme continued.

I’ve obviously learned a lot living here in Africa, but I’ve learned even more from reading, and subsequently asking questions.  Here are what I consider the most interesting things about Africa which I learned from books over the past twelve months:

·        Less than 20% of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have access to electricity.
·        Since 1950 Nigeria has pumped more than $400 billion of oil- enough to cancel all of SSA’s debt- but 80% of that money goes to less than 1% of the Nigerian population. Apparently those people don’t know what to do with their money as one-tenth (1/10) of all champagne in the world is consumed in Lagos by the oil tycoons.

·        Luanda, Angola is the most expensive city in the world (the average hotel sells for $600/night) but more than 70% of the nation lives below the poverty line.

·        Taking a lesson from Stalin who said, “It’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes,” President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea had ballots pre-printed with his name on it during the last election.  Soldiers “supervised” voting and he amassed a victory with 97% of the votes.

·        Eighty percent (80%) of coltan is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In 2000 the price of coltan spiked tenfold to $365 a pound due to the launch of the Sony Playstation 2 game console.

·        Most of the pirates off the coast of Somalia are former fishermen whose livelihoods were destroyed due to illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste by foreign fishing vessels.

·        Forty percent (40%) of the countries in Africa are landlocked, meaning that to ship from South Africa to Zimbabwe costs as much as to ship from South Africa to China.

·        In the mid-1970s Lesotho was so poor that one of its primary exports was human blood to South African hospitals.

·        For the first six months of 2002 Madagascar had two presidents because the defeated incumbent refused to step down after ruling the country for 20 years.

·        The Congo Free State (1885-1908) was the personal property of King Leopold II, King of Belgium who wanted the ivory, minerals and rubber from the region.  Nearly 10 million people, or 20% of the population, were killed for failing to meet the required rubber quotas.  The rubber extracted from Congo went to produce car tires in the U.S. and Europe and condoms, which was credited with the drop in the European birth rate.

I brought another 32 books about Africa with me from the U.S. when I came here that I still have yet to read.  I’m not sure whether I can get all those finished in the next five months, but I certainly plan to try.

Here are a few of the books I read during 2013:

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