The evidence is overwhelming, scattered and in abundance. Without a commitment by African governments to decolonise educational curriculums, root out corruption and consciously mobilise the masses for mindset changes, Africa will remain at the mercy of narrow legalistic conceptions of what freedom and self-determination is.
By Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto
Africa is under threat, enabled by the mindless, selfish and greedy politicians we consciously elect into power. As we install these politicians in power, ourselves, the general populace equally become co-conspirators in our own demise and that of our beautiful continent. Unfortunately, a newspaper article like this one will do not do any justice to the issues under scrutiny.
Kenya and the contraband of contaminated sugar
Around mid-June, Kenyan authorities said they had seized more than 1 000 bags of illegally imported sugar from warehouses in Eastleigh, Nairobi, and other parts of the country. Apparently, the samples of the contraband sugar, impounded by the Kenyans tested positive for toxic substances, lead and copper while also failing to meet the Kenyan Bureau of Standards (KEBS) quality standards on microbiological matter determining the shelf life of consumable goods.
Charles Ongwae, head of KEBS, confirmed to parliament that the samples were contaminated with copper and lead containing nearly 21mg/kg of copper — 10 times more than the recommended safe level.
Ingesting high levels of copper causes nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, or diarrhoea and can cause liver and kidney damage and even death. Lead is known to cause cancer of the kidneys, brains and lungs, affects the development of the brain and nervous system, significantly altering intelligence in children, and causes anaemia and high blood pressure.
Reporting on the issue iol.co.za advised that “labelling details showed the consignment of white and brown sugar had been milled in Brazil, but packed in different countries, including the United Arab Emirates and India”
A Kenyan newspaper, The Daily Nation, reported on June 22, 2018 that the high prevalence of copper and lead in the sugar meant that millions of Kenyans had been exposed to the harmful effects of heavy metals, which cause a wide range of diseases and disorders.
According to Oliver Mathenge, tweeting on the issue, on June 21, 2018, “for sugar to be cleared at the ports of entry in Kenya, the following agencies must clear the importation, KRA (Customs), KEBS (Quality), Port Health (Food Safety), Sugar Directorate (Licensing), Radiation Protection Board (Safety), Kenya Ports Authority (Logistics).” A question that begs an answer is where were the officials of these agencies when the contraband was allowed to reach household levels?
Limiting biodiversity in Pondoland, South Africa
In a village near the base of a steep valley outside Lusikisiki, in the Pondoland region of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, 32 huts lie, only accessible on horseback or by foot.
Starting January, every year, the villagers keep vigil, in anticipation for the arrival of South African Police Service (SAPS) National Air Wing helicopters to thunder above, whilst hovering over the hills as they approach the village fields. Without fail, for 30 years, their plantations of marijuana have been poisoned by dangerous chemicals as summer ends, right before harvest, leaving behind fields of dry and shrivelled twigs.
In a feature article, Cash crops poisoned in Pondoland on the Eastern Cape, in Ground Up dated April 2016, Kimon de Greef writes, “Marijuana farming sustains entire communities in the rural Eastern Cape, an important cash crop in a deeply impoverished subsistence economy. It has also been illegal under South African law since 1929. For more than 60 years the state has conducted regular eradication programmes but failed to halt the practice, which is sustained by consistently high demand for dagga and a lack of alternative options for the farmers who produce it, among other factors.”
De Greef explains, “…the poison in question, glyphosate, was patented by agri-giant Monsanto in 1974 and first registered in South Africa the following year. Now the world’s top-selling herbicide, it works by inhibiting the production of essential amino acids, killing any plant not genetically modified to withstand its effects.”
Greef continues, “…the best-known glyphosate formulation sells under the brand name Roundup. It is used widely in South Africa to control agricultural weeds, remove invasive plants from water bodies, and to spray road and railway verges.” The SAPS uses a different formulation called Kilo Max to target marijuana fields, maintaining that “it poses no human, animal and environmental health threat.” This is according to the SAPS communiqué dated 19/02/2015. Yet it has been discovered that Kilo Max contains glyphosate with carcinogenic properties.
In a New York Times report, by Andrew Pollack, entitled, Weed Killer, Long Cleared, Is Doubted, dated, March 27, 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) “declared that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, probably causes cancer in people.” Pollack continues, “the declaration drew an angry response from Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, which has accused the agency (WHO) of having an “agenda” and “cherry-picking” the data to support its case.
In a Times Live article by Niren Tolsi, entitled, Killing the economic lifeblood of the Eastern Cape’s weed-producing people dated, March 27 2016, he revealed that in the communities they visited, “several people blamed the indiscriminate spraying of water sources that provide drinking and irrigation water for miscarriages among their livestock, especially cows and goats.”
Tolsi further alleges that, “in the hippie zones of Port St Johns, “crusties” and “greenies” whisper of the spraying being part of a grander Monsanto plot to eradicate any “heirloom maize” left in the area to clear the way for more genetically modified maize and a limitation of biodiversity. Already, much of the traditional mealie cultivation in the area has been replaced by Monsanto maize, which is resistant to Roundup, but creates a seed dependency on Monsanto — which posted $16 billion (about R245 billion) in global revenue in 2014.”
The justification by SAPS in harassing and intimidating communities that are poor, because of cannabis, is their desire to discourage its cultivation because most of those who start with cannabis graduate to harder drugs and in a country with rampant unemployment amongst the youth, leads to serious crimes such as rape, murder, attempted murder and robbery with aggravated circumstances.
What is worth mentioning is that, the South African government has started having a progressive debate about the benefits of cannabis for both medical, personal use, including tourism.
The corporatisation of cannabis cultivation and processing
Big corporate cannabis has arrived. Increasingly, decision makers in state institutions for legal marijuana are tilted in favour of enterprises with big money. We are seeing this happen in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Lesotho. In addition, venture capitalists are looking for entrepreneurs with deep pockets that can ramp up and be able to replicate while scaling up their operations everywhere overnight.
What these African governments are oblivious to, is that, although they have tried to limit and stop its use, cannabis remains deep-rooted in African tradition, recreation and economies.
In an October 25, 2015 article, written by Dana Sanchez, 18 Countries Ranked For Marijuana Tolerance In Africa: Part 1, Sanchez highlights Africa’s history with cannabis. “… Indigenous to Central and South Asia, cannabis is thought to have made its way to Africa through contact with Arab traders connected to India. The earliest evidence for cannabis in Africa outside of Egypt comes from 14th Century Ethiopia, where ceramic smoking-pipe bowls with traces of cannabis stood the test of time, showing up in archaeological excavations.”
It is believed that from Ethiopia, cannabis seeds were carried south by Bantu speakers who were migrating from North to Southern Africa. As a result, that is how other native Africans such as the San adopted its use as both a medicine and an intoxicant. Sanchez continues, “Dominican priest Joao dos Santos wrote about the plant in 1609, saying it was grown near the Cape of Good Hope and was called bangue.
Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope, described the use of cannabis by Hottentots as far back as 1658.
African subsistence farmers illegally grow cannabis year in and year out, whilst facing a heavy onslaught from the authorities. As African governments review their stances towards this beautiful plant, it makes sense that they first enable local subsistence growers, who have been honed transferrable skills in its cultivation, from one generation to another, for centuries.
What is it about us black Africans decision-makers that prefers and prioritises outsiders over our own? Is it corruption, ignorance, lack of self-pride or all three?
Preferring big corporate cannabis to traditional subsistence growers is a new conquest of sorts. What is noteworthy is that Monsanto in South Africa has started lobbying government so that it can be allowed to be the preferred supplier of GMO cannabis seeds!
The next instalment will continue with Part 2 of the same theme.
l Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at email@example.com