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Friday, October 17, 2008

We’re thieves who stole the world from other creatures

By Charles Onyango Obbo

Two days ago, I was sure I was re-reading one of the most fascinating articles I have encountered on Zimbabwe opposition leader and almost-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in the August issue of the political journal, Prospect. We would have shared the insights from the article, whose title, “The tragedy of Tsvangirai’’, had my attention not been diverted by a small column in the magazine called “News & Curiosities”.

Now US presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama (and we shall never tire of repeating that his father was from the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria), are tackling each at each vigorously as election day approaches. However, “News & Curiosities” reports that McCain and Obama at least have one thing in common — they are both left-handed. And there is more; four of the last five American presidents — Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton — were left-handed.

So were a bunch of US presidential candidates in the last 20 years — Al Gore, Bob Dole, John Edwards, Bill Bradley, and Ross Perot. This might suggest that left-handedness confers power and greatness, of sorts. However, if you take a group of 1,000 Africans who are over 40 years, there will probably be only two among them who are left-handed. If you took a group of 1,000 Africans aged 10 to 20 years, you could well find that up to 20 of them are left-handed.

The reason for this is that Africans used to believe that the devil and all manner of ill spirits lived in the left hand. Everything was done to persuade a left-handed child to abandon using it and shift to the approved right hand. Parents went to extraordinary lengths to achieve this. Some tied the child’s hand behind his or her back; others splashed hot pepper on it; and in some extreme cases, the hand was burnt. Indeed, in some ancient African societies, the left-handed child would be thrown into the river or fed to hyenas in the forest.

These are more enlightened times and the left-handed have a right to be, although parents in the villages still enforce repressive measures against the limb. Now, if political talent resides in the left hand, then we can assume that the reason Africa has been so badly led and is as corrupt as it is, is because of the wars we used to wage against the left-handed.

With the more tolerant attitude today, perhaps we can now hope for a brighter future. One feature of this future is, I suspect, going to be the domination of the world by multicultural societies. Prospect quotes the online news magazine, Slate, as reporting on June 30 that about one-third of the goals in Euro 2008 were scored by players who were not born citizens of the European countries they played for. Indeed, there's hardly a successful West European football club that doesn’t have a player who does not have African, Arab, East African, or South American immigrant blood. Perhaps that is one reason countries like China and India, though emerging as global economic powers, are hopeless at football.

Despite the fact that they both have populations of over one billion, they can’t find just 11 men to form a world-beating football team. The USA and Britain of the last 25 years are two countries that demonstrate the enriching possibilities of cultural diversity. It seems that however smart a population is, soon, it reaches its limit and needs to rejuvenate itself with ideas from other cultures. For this reason, I don’t think even when China eventually becomes the world’s undisputed economic power in 20 years as some experts predict, it will achieve the political dominance that the US enjoyed in the world in the last half of the 20th century. By extension, I think that the more culturally diverse India will be the next true global superpower, not the more homogenous China. The biggest test for multiculturalism is Obama. If he becomes the next American president, then we shall know that the multicultural or multiracial project will have reached the breakthrough point.

Finally, we learn that there are an estimated 10,000 trillion ants on earth — roughly 1.6 million ants for each citizen of the world! Their combined weight is equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Like you, I am wondering which human beings counted the ants to arrive at these numbers. That we have developed very sophisticated methods for counting such things explains why we are able to dominate a world where we are a tiny majority. Last year, it was reported that if humans were all to disappear from the earth, in some 30 or so short years, the grasses, trees and waters of the world would consume and cover up most of the cities, roads, and other symbols of vanity that we have built over the last 2,000 years.

Now, think about it: If all creatures voted on who should rule the world, we would never be in charge. Man’s dominion of the world, is the ultimate dictatorship.

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