Rwanda

Last month Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, was sworn in as chairman of the African Union so this week I talked with two women from Whanganui about their time in Rwanda.

The 1994 genocide, when 800,000 people were murdered by their machete wielding neighbours, still keeps tourists and travelers away but by all accounts Rwanda is one of the safer places to visit in Africa. Pam and Anne went to volunteer in an orphanage.

Landlocked, high on the watershed between the Congo and the Nile, and with fertile soils Rwanda is beautiful and the people humble, they told me. It is also one of the most densely populated countries in Africa.

Apart from a handful of Muslim countries in the Middle East the world’s fastest growing populations are in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda’s population is growing at 2.4 percent per annum but twenty African countries are growing faster, including Rwanda’s neighbours: Burundi, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Uganda.

Rwanda (2015 population 11.2 million) is mostly Christian with a small Muslim community. Rwanda is also divided into Hutu (86%) and Tutsi (14%).

The conflict started with a Hutu revolution in 1959 when the Tutsi monarchy was deposed and 300,000 Tutsis were forced out of the country. In 1994 a plane carrying both the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was hit by a rocket shortly after leaving Kigali airport, followed by the assassination of the moderate Hutu woman Prime Minister. The army and bands of Hutu “Interahamwe” (those who attack together) then attacked Rwanda’s Tutsis with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on.

Hutu extremists were thought to be responsible for the rocket attack but the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and even Paul Kagame have not been ruled out.  Kagame’s RPF then took the capital, Kigali, and two million Hutus fled into the DRC. Anne’s orphanage was near Lake Kivu on the border with the DRC. In 1996 the Hutu/Tutsi conflict spilled over the border into the Congo (then known as the Zaire) and another five million died in the DRC

Because of the huge number of genocide cases the accused are tried in “Gacaca” courts – traditionally used for disputes between families. Pam saw chain gangs, dressed in different coloured overalls depending on the crimes they has commited, maintaining Rwanda’s roads, “I think the murderers wore pink overalls and lots of people had horrible machete scars,” Pam said. Pam also visited the Diane Fossey Research Centre in Karisoke where the mountain gorillas live. “There are armed guards with the gorillas all the time to stop poachers,” she said. American comedienne Ellen DeGeneres has recently established a wildlife fund there.

Since the RDF takeover Rwanda has enjoyed economic stability and the Rwandan army punches well above its weight in the region. Kagame is “genuinely popular” although his enemies “tend to die.”

Kagame’s ambition is to make Rwanda “the Singapore of Africa”. The capital Kigali is sprouting high rise office buildings and the county has the densest road network in the region, twenty percent of which are paved. Landlines are insufficient but they are currently rolling out fibre optic cable and mobile phone ownership is growing rapidly. Along with its neighbours Rwanda has agreed to phase out the import of second-hand clothing and shoes from the first world. Rwanda’s HIV rate has halved since 2000 but there is still malaria and TB.

When tourists arrive any plastic bags are confiscated Pam and Anne told me. Rwanda is a plastic bag free country, there is no graffiti and the last Sunday of the month is a “rubbish pickup day”. In 2008 English was made the language for educational  instruction.

Rwanda today is an oasis surrounded by ongoing conflicts. As head of the African Union Kagame faces many challenges. “The temptation to link the entire conflict in Rwanda with overpopulation and competition for resources is irresistible,” said NZ economist Gareth Morgan when he passed through on a motorbike. This goes for much of Africa today.

 

New York (part one)

Millisphere, abstract noun: a discrete region inhabited by approximately one-thousandth of the total world population.

 

I had intended to continue examining the millispheres of Africa but after a recent tweet by Donald Trump, referring to African countries as “shitholes”, I thought I’d look at his millisphere – New York – for no other reason than to establish a benchmark for deciding what is and what is not a shithole.

 

The City of New York (1970 population 7.9 million, 2016 population 8.5 million) is the centre of the much larger “conurbation” (population twenty-five million) spread over several northeastern American states.

 

New York attracts more that 60 million tourists a year and has three of the ten most visited tourist sites in the world. Larry Morris (singer in the 1960s NZ band Larry’s Rebels) slipped across the border from Canada and spent a decade working in America as an undocumented alien, visiting New York “about three times a year.”

 

“I LOVED New York,” Larry said. “To me it was like a very big Ponsonby and I felt totally at ease there. I found parts of Manhattan very cold and dark looking though, Wall Street in particular, surrounded by massive skyscrapers that would not let the sun in unless directly overhead. Musically the New York jazz scene was especially cool and I loved Broadway and Central Park with its John Lennon memorial garden.”

 

Frederick Olmsted, who helped design Central Park, gained his organisational skills while in charge of sanitation on the American Civil War battlefields. Considered the grandfather of American landscape architecture, Olmsted later became an advocate for conservation and national parks.

 

Musicians: Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Maria Callas, Mariah Carey, Duke Ellington, Art Garfunkel, George and Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Lena Horne, Billy Joel, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, Barry Manilow, Yehudi Menuhin, Gerry Mulligan, Harry Nilsson, The Ramones, Lou Reed, Carly Simon, Phoebe Snow, Artie Shaw and Fats Waller were all native New Yorkers. Hip Hop (Rap) music originated in the Bronx.

 

Many other musicians came to make their name in New York. Robert Zimmerman, from Minnesota, worked up his act in the folk clubs of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village – and changed his name to Bob Dylan. New Zealand’s Lorde got heckled at a New York concert, last week, for her principled decision to not play Tel Aviv,

 

New York has the largest Native American population in the United States – traditionally coming to work in high-rise construction. Although he looks Hispanic, singer Willy DeVille’s grandmother was one of the last purebred Native Americans in New York state and Willy was a New Yorker to his bones.

 

First Dutch, then English and finally American, New York became a destination for refugees from Europe; the Irish, Germans, Italians and East Europeans came to start a new life in the New World. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free,” said Emma Lazarus – whose ancestors had emigrated from Germany and Portugal before the American revolution.

 

New York has the largest Chinese population of any city outside Asia and has 2.4 million Hispanics and 1.9 million Blacks. There are over 200 languages spoken in New York and half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home. New York now has the largest foreign born population of any city in the world.

 

New York dealer galleries and art institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim arbitrate what constitutes “high art,” anointing locals like Diane Arbus, Edward Hopper and Roy Lichtenstein. New Zealand artists such as Billy Apple, Len Lye and Max Gimblett went to make their names in New York and Pittsburgh commercial artist Andy Warhol came for his “fifteen minutes of fame,” and stayed. Realist New York painter Norman Rockwell was loved worldwide for his kitch Saturday Evening Post covers and it was in New York that spray-can graffiti “bombing” originated, also to be embraced globally.

 

The most densely populated city in the United States, New York is known for its creativity, entrepreneurship, social tolerance, environmental sustainability, freedom and cultural diversity – for the other side of the coin check out next Tuesday’s On the contrary.

The Cape of Good Hope

Millisphere, noun: A discrete region inhabited by one-thousandth of the total world population. around 7 million people, but anywhere between 3.5 and 14 million people. A lens to examine human geography.

THE continent of Africa (population 1.2 billion) consists of about 170 millispheres. Sitting at the south-western tip of South Africa (population 55 million) is the former Cape Province (2016 population just under 14 million).

Roughly equating to the region where the Afrikaans language is spoken, the Cape Province population was 6.7 million in 1967 and has doubled in the past 50 years.

The Afrikaner population goes back to when the Dutch East India Company (VOC) established a warehouse/garden there in 1650 to restock its ships heading to and from the Indies.

It was the Portuguese who called it the Cape of Good Hope 150 years earlier — because it meant turning back to the tropics. Some of the oldest cave paintings in the world are at Blombos near Cape Town, going back 77,000 years to the San Bushmen.

The “Cape Coloureds” of Cape Town go back to the 17th century and the mixed races of the Dutch and their slaves, both Black and Malay.

Occupied by Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, Cape Town (population 3.7 million) is a modern multicultural city, with sizeable Indian and Malay communities. In South Africa, post-apartheid, poverty among whites increased and many blacks rose to the middle and upper classes. The South African population is 80 per cent black, 9 per cent white (down from 22 per cent a century ago), 9 per cent coloured and 2.5 per cent Asian, and there has been an influx of 5 million refugees from Africa.

The old Cape Province can be further divided into its modern provinces: Western Cape, 5.8m (Cape Town), Eastern Cape, 6.5m (Port Elizabeth, East London) and Northern Cape, 1.1m, (draining north into the Orange River).

The watersheds of Eastern and Western Cape drain south to where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean and both qualify as millispheres.

Eastern and Western Cape have interesting biogeographies because of an ancient chunk of Gondwanaland fusing with the African continent back in prehistory.

The cape floral kingdom is a biodiversity hot spot and is one of the worst areas in the world for the invasion of foreign species, including NZ pohutukawa and flax.

If it doesn’t rain in the near future Cape Town will run out out of water in April 2018.

South Africa has no “capital”. The Parliament is in Cape Town; the president and the administration are in Pretoria, as are the foreign embassies; Bloemfontein is the judicial centre and Johannesburg has the constitutional court (and serious crime).

South Africa was the first country to “renounce” nuclear weapons and it has the second highest murder rate in the world and the world’s highest rape rate.

A girl in South Africa is more likely to be raped than to complete secondary school and there are seven million South Africans with Aids.

South Africa’s solution to crime has been “gated communities”.

The private security industry is the largest in the world, with 400,000 registered guards — more than the police and army combined. Private security even guard the police stations so the poorly paid and ineffective police can do their “work”.

More than half of crime is unreported and violence is generally reasoned “OK” to resolve conflict.

The country is 80 per cent Christian, although 60 per cent of blacks consult “healers” and follow African spirit and ancestor beliefs. Known for its gold mines, Johannesburg was once known as “Jewburg” and is now known for its guns. There were 120,000 South African Jews in the 1960s; now there are 67,000, many “returning” to Israel, where they have congregated in one of the richest suburbs in Israel.

Recently a white South African was granted asylum in Canada on the argument that whites were disproportionately affected by crime.

While those most affected by “crime” are actually the poor blacks, the murder rate for white farmers is 10 times the South African average.

In the 1980s one SA rand was worth one US dollar, now it is 15 rand to the dollar.

While kleptomaniac Jacob Zuma continues to cling on to the South African Presidency, recently Cyril Ramaphosam, from the mine workers’ union, who is seen as the “least corrupt of a corrupt bunch”, has replaced him as president of the ANC, the country’s ruling party.

America’s new embassy: An iron fist in a green glove

Millisphere (noun): A discrete region inhabited by roughly one-thousandth of the total world population.

LOOKING back on the millispheres I’ve covered over the past year, I realised that there was a cluster in the Middle East.

The conflicts of the various warring tribes (including contingents of Christian crusaders from the United States) makes nightly television news and had drawn my attention there. At the centre of this attention-demanding, regional rivalry are the Abrahamic religions.

German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk once said that discussing religion is akin to “doing open-heart surgery”.

It is philosophically and psychologically demanding, emotionally charged, and can be physically dangerous.

Sloterdijk proposed a few ground rules – that you are allowed to talk about religion and that you shouldn’t be killed for talking it. In his book God’s Zeal, Sloterdijk uses literature, art and architecture to examine the world’s four great monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Marxism (there is no one-God).

The book studiously demands keeping an open mind and counsels against falling back on religious stereotypes and preconceptions.

Now it’s Christmas, it is salutary to remember the criticism this column received when it examined the millisphere of “Israel/Palestine” (from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea), teasing out the human geography of the millisphere where Jesus Christ once lived and died.

The column ranged through the implications of a two-state and a one-state solution for Israel/Palestine. For merely questioning the legitimacy of the state of Israel, the column raised the ire of some New Zealand and overseas Jews.

The millisphere of Israel/Palestine would have about as many Arabs as Jews and would only work if Israel gave up the ideology of a Jewish state and it was run on a one-person-one-vote basis. If the conflict in Northern Ireland can be used as an example, one way to achieve peace in the Middle East is to get rid of the borders and for the people to work together.

President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been condemned by all other members of the United Nations Security Council, and engaging Sloterdijk’s system of using literature, art and architecture to examine the new US embassy in London reveals much about “the Nation of Darkness”.

“The most expensive embassy ever” (US$1 billion) was built at no cost by selling an expensive Kensington site to an Arab developer and rebuilding in downmarket Wandsworth.

Designed “to embody the ideals of the American government”, the glass cube, clad in plastic sails, set on a plinth and surrounded by a moat-like pond, is engineered to balance “impenetrable security standards” with a “visual language of openness, transparency and equality”.

On the roof, there are solar panels instead of a heli-pad; stormwater is collected in the moat; and each floor has an indoor garden. The building’s environmental performance standards are outstanding – “mapping a passage towards diplomacy for the environment”, to quote one architectural critic.

The architectural language of the embassy is about falsely presenting the “Nation of Darkness”, the pre-eminent military power and the greatest arms dealer of all time, as open, transparent and “environmentally friendly”. An iron first in a green glove.

The design for the proposed new US embassy in Jerusalem presents challenges in a city that is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

The decision to shift the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was made by a small group, which included Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Drenner, Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu and New York lawyer Jason Greenblatt, who is Trump’s lawyer and adviser on Israel.

The group’s only woman was Dina Powell, an Arabic-speaking, Egyptian-born Coptic Christian from Texas. Powell has recently resigned from the group citing “family reasons”.

In some ways, moving the US embassy merely recognises the reality on the ground and the logical next step is to end the apartheid system imposed on the Palestinians by the Israeli military and to confront the inherent self-delusion of all monotheisms.

■When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chair of the Whanganui Musicians Club.

War looms again for Lebanon

A decades ago, when I first ran the millisphere focus over the globe, Lebanon (2007 population 4 million) just qualified as a millisphere.

At the time I called this millisphere “Phoenicia” because I had included the “European” island states of Cyprus and Malta — whose populations are genetically similar to the Lebanese because of their shared Phoenician seafaring history and the maritime highway the crusaders took to the Levant.

With a 2017 population over six million, and the recent shock resignation of their Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri, it is timely to focus on the millisphere of Lebanon.

The phenomenal 50 per cent population increase in a decade is a result of 1.7 million Syrian refugees arriving in the past five years. Lebanon’s 2014 population of 5.8 million was divided — 4.1m Lebanese; 1.1m Syrian refugees and nearly half a million Palestinian refugees.

It is estimated that there are about 14 million Lebanese worldwide. During the 1975-1999 Lebanese civil war, which included ethnic cleansing by both sides, one million Lebanese emigrated, but they had been leaving for decades.

Fortune magazine’s “world’s wealthiest man” is Carlos Slim, the son of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. Eighty per cent of the Lebanese diaspora are Christian and there are six million Lebanese living in Brazil alone.

As at 2012, Lebanon was 54 per cent Muslim, 40.5 per cent Christian and 5.5 per cent Druze (who don’t consider themselves Muslim). The powerful Maronite Christians, centred around Mt Lebanon and Beirut, comprise 21 per cent of the population, while Lebanese Muslims are evenly split with 27 per cent Shi’a and 27 per cent Sunni who are centred around West Beirut and Tripoli.

Under the 1943 power-sharing arrangement (based on a 1932 census), the Lebanese parliament’s speaker is always a Shi’a, the prime minister is always a Sunni and the president is always a Maronite Christian.

Recognising the changing religious demographics, representation in parliament was recently changed from 6:5 Christian/Muslim to 1:1, with the Shi’a gaining more representation but the Maronite Christians continuing to dominate the economy.

Before the Lebanese civil war, Beirut was the richest city in the Middle East with a thriving tourism and banking sector. The World Bank estimated the cost of the civil war at US$18 billion in destroyed infrastructure.

Many of Lebanon’s conflicts originate in neighbouring Israel and Syria. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war 100,000 refugees fled to Lebanon, joined later by more from Jordan, creating a Palestinian mini-state in southern Lebanon.

In 1968, responding to Palestinian hijacking of Israeli aircraft, IDF commandos raided Beirut airport and shot up Arab carriers. This raid polarised Lebanese Christians and Muslims, and was followed by Israeli invasions in 1978, 1982 and 1996.

In 1976 Syria sent troops to fight the Palestine Liberation Organisation on behalf of the Lebanese Christians, but then changed sides, siding with the Shi’a Muslim Hezbollah.
Before being killed by a car bomb in February 2005, Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri — father of the recently-resigned Saad, spoke of the “inevitability of Palestinians getting Lebanese citizenship”. Hezbollah and Syria were blamed for the bombing.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 calls for the disarming of Hezbollah but this has yet to happen. In 2006 Hezbollah and Israel clashed in southern Lebanon and, for the first time, Israel was not the clear victor and withdrew.

Former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri gave fear of being assassinated, like his father, as his reason for resigning last month, citing rivalries between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The strategy of the United States is to create conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in the Middle East; to divide and rule while picking up some lucrative arms sales on the side, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have their fingerprints all over it.

Just as Beirut has rebuilt after the tragic civil war and is, once again, the party capital of the Middle East, ancient religious feuds and geo-political machinations are conspiring to bring war to Lebanon once again.

Indigenous people isolated

millisphere (noun): A discrete region of approximately 1000th of the total world population – a bit over 7 million people but anywhere between 3.5 million and 14 million will do. A lens through which to examine human geography.

We have been Wwoof hosts (willing workers on organic farms) since 1976, and over the years we’ve hosted young travellers from all over the world.

Last year we had our first South Americans – from Chile.

Danielle was a young vintner from Santiago working the season in New Zealand vineyards and Jose was a recent English language graduate from southern Chile, and I took the opportunity to quiz them about Jose’s millisphere of Mapuche.

Relative to the rest of the world, South America is characterised by large rural millispheres, indicating low population density; and a number of very large cities where South Americans tend to congregate.

Eighty per cent of the indigenous people of southern South America are Mapuche who remained independent for the first 350 years of European settlement until the Arauco war in Chile and the “Conquest of the Desert” in Argentina around 1870 brought them under state control.

There have been Mapuche settlements in Chile and Argentina since 500 BC and there is evidence that the Fuegians reached the Falkland and South Shetland Islands by canoe.

At the southern tip of South America, the island of Tierra del Fuego is divided east/west by the boundary between Chile and Argentina. This boundary continues up the continent following the watershed of the Andes. Chile drains west into the Pacific and Argentina east into the Atlantic.

It takes most of the land south of the major cities of Santiago (7.3 million) in Chile and Buenos Aires (13.5 million) in Argentina to make up enough people for a millisphere.

Most of the people cling to the coast; the rest of southern South America is too cold and too dry to support much life.

Both Danielle and Jose were “Mestizos” (of mixed European and Amerindian blood).

University of Chile figures reveal that the Chilean population is around 30 per cent Caucasian, 65 per cent Mestizos and 5 per cent indigenous. The “average” Chilean gene is 60 per cent European and 40 per cent Amerindian.

Argentina was originally majority Mestizo until mass European immigration in the 19th century.

Of the two million Mapuche, most live in the Araucania region of southern Chile where Jose was from. Although Jose was a Mestizo, he certainly didn’t consider himself Mapuche. In 2002 only 4.3 per cent of Chileans identified as Mapuche; by 2016 this had risen to 11.4 per cent, and there are about 200,000 remaining Mapuche language speakers.

Ever since the Chilean army invaded Mapuche territory in the late 1800s, Mapuche relations with the state have remained fractious.

The conflict has accelerated in recent years with armed groups burning houses, churches, trucks and forest plantations. Forestry is Chile’s second highest export earner after mining.

Only 36 per cent of Chileans believe that Mapuche feel they are “Chilean”.

Under the military administration of General Augusto Pinochet (1970-73), remaining Mapuche land-holdings were reduced from 10 million to 400,000 acres when the state acquired land for forestry (mostly Pinus radiata for export to the United States).

Pinochet introduced anti-terrorism laws which are still applied to Mapuche resistance – and 60 per cent of Chileans believe terrorism exists in the Araucaria region.

Chile is in the grip of a 10-year drought, experiencing historically high temperatures and about a million acres of forest, valued at US$333 million ($464m), were destroyed by fire last summer, most being attributed to accidental causes.

This year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day (Dia de la Raza), held on the day that Christopher Columbus made landfall in the Americas, was marked by marches in Santiago calling for Mapuche judicial autonomy, return of their ancestral lands and the re-establishment of Mapuche cultural identity.

Both Danielle and Jose acknowledged that “indigenous things have less value” in Chile and that Chileans were prejudiced against Mapuche – prejudice highest among the old, the poor and the right-wing, they told me.

The violence between Mestizo landowners and Chile’s indigenous people was getting worse, they thought, and that “both sides are victims of the ongoing processes of globalisation”.

When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chair of the Whanganui Musicians’ Club.

The wisdom of sensibleness

millisphere (noun): A discrete region of roughly one 1000th of the total world population – a bit over seven million people. A lens through which to examine human geography.

The state-aborted referendum on independence in Catalonia (population 7.5 million) puts the spotlight on yet another millisphere seeking to extract itself from the state it is part of.

It was in Catalonia that I forgave the Spanish gypsies …

In Andalusia, my travel companion had lost her plane-ticket and the contents of her purse to lightning-fast gypsy fingers. After that we went on alert whenever we ran into gypsies, but a few live performances by gypsy street musicians softened my heart.

In front of Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, a gypsy woman with a baby on her hip was working a queue of tourists. We were leaving Spain, so I emptied my accumulated small change into her proffered McDonald’s carton. She returned the gesture with a high five – it felt like a blessing.

Catalonia – in the northeast corner of Spain and on the border with France – was incorporated into the Spanish empire in 1516 in the “dynastic union” of Castile and Aragon/Catalonia under emperor Charles V.

In the 17th century, Catalonia briefly revolted against Spain, siding with France in the Franco-Spanish war, and retained a degree of autonomy until 1716, when the Nuevo Plata decree abolished Catalan institutions.

By the 19th century, when Spain started losing its New World colonies and had to look for new income streams, it was Catalonia that led Spanish industrialisation. In the early 20th century, Catalan anarchist activists achieved the first eight-hour working day in Europe.

Franco’s fascist government put down the anarchists, banned any activities associated with Catalan nationalism and banned the use of the Catalan language, which is a Romance language somewhere between Spanish, French and Italian.

After Franco’s death in 1975, the Generalitat (regional government) was restored. In 1978 the Catalan Generalitat was granted control over culture, environment, communication, transport, public safety and local government. The Generalitat shares health, justice and education with Madrid.

In 2006 the Catalan Generalitat passed the “Statute of Autonomy” but it was declared “non-valid” by Spain’s constitutional court. When the Generalitat banned bullfighting, the constitutional court overturned it, ruling that bullfighting was a Spanish cultural tradition.
Madrid retains control over ports, airports, coasts, international borders, passports and ID, immigration, arms control and terrorism prevention.

Catalonia has its own police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, and the national police, the feared Guardia Civil who maintained political control in Franco’s time but were rarely seen in Catalonia … thousands of them were sent in to stop the Catalan independence referendum.

Catalonia is pretty evenly split between those seeking independence and those wanting to stay with Spain but they all agreed with having a referendum.

“If Scotland can have an independence referendum, why can’t we?” they all said.

“Occupation forces out,” they shouted when the Guardia Civil occupied the polling stations; and “No tine por” (“We are not afraid”), which is what the crowds in Barcelona chanted after the Islamist van attack on Las Ramblas last month.

My friend Johnny Keating was in Barcelona in the lead-up to the referendum last week.
Coming into the city from the north with his travel companion Sue behind him on a motorbike, he said the landscape was flat, hot and dry and the “ladies of the night”, sitting under red sun umbrellas and pointing their long legs out at the passing traffic, were a bit distracting.

Johnny said the locals were “pissed off” with the presence of the Guardia Civil in the free-spirited city that had given the world Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Johnny thought the European Union should be mediating.

The composer of the hymn of the United Nations, the Catalan cellist Pablo Casals, who is considered the pre-eminent cellist of the 20th century, said: “The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should should love stop at the border? There is a brotherhood among all men.”

Traditionally Catalans follow their own “Seny” philosophy (called “the wisdom of sensibleness”) – that, their language and banning bullfighting make Barcelona different from Madrid.

When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chair of the Whanganui Musicians’ Club.

Kurds bid for independence

Aspirant millispheres (discrete regions of approximately one 1000th of the total world population) have been coming thick and fast lately. Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region (8.4 million) in northern Iraq and Catalonia (7.5 million) in Spain have both had referenda in the last month about forming independent states.

On September 25, 2017 Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government asked voters: “Do you want the Kurdistan region to become an independent state?” – 93 per cent of those who voted said: “Yes.”

At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was divided up by the victors at the Treaty of Lausanne, roughly into the countries we see today in the Middle East. The Kurds were initially promised their own country, but today’s 40 million Kurds are distributed along the mountainous borders between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

“We have no friends but the mountains,” say the Kurds and (with the exception of Israel) this remains mostly true today. Iraq’s reaction to the referendum was to impose a land and air blockade and to threaten military action. In the 1980s 180,000 Kurdish “infidels” were killed by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Arab government – this included the infamous 1988 Halabja poison gas attack on civilians.

Turkey warned of military measures, cancelled flights and called the referendum “treachery.”

One in five Turkish citizens are Kurdish. Ankara refers to their country’s Kurds as “Mountain Turks” and has actively suppressed the Kurdish language and culture. About 40,000 Kurds have been killed by the Turkish forces maintaining control in southeast Turkey.

Ten per cent of Syrians are Kurdish and Syria also has a semi-autonomous Kurdish region (Rojava in northeast Syria). Syria rejects the “unilateral” call for independence by Iraq’s Kurds and says it cannot accept the division of Iraq, fearing a similar division in Syria.

The Kurds are largely Sunni Muslim but there are also Yazidi, Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewish Kurds, and schools in Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region are “religiously neutral.”
It was the Kurdish Peshmerga who helped the Iraqi Army defeat Isis in Mosul recently.
The fundamentalist Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam has failed to attract adherents among Sunni Kurds like it did with their Sunni Arab neighbours. Kurds have also been active in defeating Isis in Kobane in Syria.

Iraqi Kurds have only been able to secure a passport since 2005. Admittedly, it is an Iraqi passport and about as difficult to travel with as a Somali or Afghan passport, but it is easier than travelling with none at all.

When the Iraqi army fled in the face of Isis advances the Kurdish Peshmerga occupied the Kirkuk oilfields in 2014, resisting an Isis takeover. Oil now flows by pipeline from Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the Mediterranean.

Trade between Erbil and Ankara is estimated to be $US7.5 billion per year, with a similar volume of trade between Erbil and Tehran. The Kurds have set up free trade zones on both their Turkish and Iranian borders. The per capita income in the Kurdish regional government area is 25 per cent higher than in the rest of Iraq.

Kurdistan has four billion barrels of proven oil reserves and an estimated 45 billion barrels of unproven reserves. Exxon has recently defied Baghdad and signed exploration agreements with Kurdistan, walking away from its southern Iraq oilfields.

Based on the region’s history one would need a heart of stone to oppose Kurdistan independence but at present Russia, China, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations are all against it. The United States government says independence for Kurdistan risks destabilising Iraq.

Iran has called Kurdistan’s president Massoud Barzani a “middleman for the Zionists”. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish Democrat senator for New York, said: “Neighbouring states, led by despots, who oppose the Kurdish state out of self-interest, need to have respect for the Kurds to determine their own future,” echoing the position by Israel; the one country to support independence for Kurdistan. There are 200,000 Jewish Kurds now living in Israel.

While Spain called the referendum illegal, Artus Mas, the former president of Catalonia, said he supported Kurdistan’s bid for independence and applauded Kurdistan’s leadership for “defending democracy”.

When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and a traveller

Election helps focus on change

Millisphere (noun): A discrete region of approximately one-thousandth of the total world population. Around seven million people but anywhere between 3.5 and 14 million will do.

I have previously sketched out the millisphere of Te Moananui (population 8 million) which includes Aotearoa and all the other islands of the Pacific but, following the above rules, New Zealand (population 4.7 million) qualifies as a millisphere by itself – a millisphere simply being a lens for examining human geography and it is allowable to change the focus.

The Dutch navigator Abel Tasman called these islands “Nieuw-Zeeland” when his party of explorers laid eyes on them in 1642 – and we have been spelling it wrongly ever since. A century-and-a-half later, Captain Cook redrew the map.

In November this year, Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom will open in a repurposed Mitre-10 in Foxton. Located next to the replica Dutch windmill, Te Awahou will tell the story of the contribution to this country of 160,000 Dutch New Zealanders (and our ancestors).

Lockwood homes, Rembrandt suits, Vogels bread and the Royal Gala apple are some Dutch contributions and we are reputed to have introduced cafe culture to New Zealand.

The English have traditionally found the baldly direct Dutch way of communicating a little unsettling. “You won’t die wondering,” is what they say about the Dutch; as well as being notoriously tight.

Last weekend’s general election provides another lens through which to examine the human geography of “Nieuw-Zeeland”.

Candidates from all parties portrayed a country with a housing crisis, polluted rivers and child poverty – and naturally they were the ones to fix it. Not exactly the happy, green and clean image that we market to the world.

Though New Zealand winters are mild compared with the Netherlands, post-war Dutch immigrants complained that they had never been so cold as their first winter in a traditional NZ timber bungalow. One was expected to put on woolly socks and jumpers and soldier on.

We are only now learning that poor-quality housing leads to poor health. There are ways to build inexpensive warm dry houses (passive solar mass, small rooms and simple things like curtains) but the NZ building regulations often stand in the way.

Ironically, because of the leaky (and rotting) building crisis, caused by the mainstream building industry, it has become virtually impossible for the homeowner to legally do any building work on their own property.

Education and empowerment are ways out of the housing crisis – not the government and the building industry.

We could build our way out of the housing crisis but, at the moment, on the outskirts of Auckland we are building speculator suburban slums when we should be rebuilding well-designed higher density homes in the inner city.

Cleaning up our rivers is also possible. In recent times the regional councils have marginally improved land-use practices while at the same time doubling dairy herd numbers.

Many Dutch immigrants went into intensive agriculture like dairy and poultry. In the Netherlands, cows are kept inside barns but there are animal rights regulations requiring farmers to let their cows outside for some fresh air and severe regulations about what to do with the manure.

New Zealand dairy farmers were caught by the recent dairy price downturn but in the Netherlands it was worse because farmers there had just borrowed millions of euros to install robots to milk their cows to stay ahead of their competitors.

Last weekend’s election saw the tide go out for the minor parties. All that is left of United Future is the faint smell of stale fart and the Maori Party sank below the waves.

“There will be consequences,” said Winston Peters after the Greens called him a racist, and the Greens are dreaming if they think they can be part of a Labour/NZ First/Green coalition. The Greens lost support because both National and Labour appropriated their policies.

“If other parties take Green policy, that’s winning,” said former Green co-leader Russel Norman.

The Greens only option now is to work with National, and their bottom line should be the legalisation of “personal” cannabis. When I was in the Netherlands last, the government was gathering tax from the “coffee shops”, and most Dutch people had never heard of methamphetamine.

*When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chair of the Whanganui Musicians Club.

Natural disaster gets helping hand from man

Millisphere: a region containing one thousandth of the total world population, around seven million people.

Natural disasters have a way of revealing aspects of the geography of the region affected.

The greater Houston metropolitan area (population 6.5 million and the fourth largest in the United States) was flooded by the recent Hurricane Harvey, which broke all records for rainfall.

This “natural” disaster was actually a perfect storm of economics, population and land use.

In 1900, the deadliest hurricane in US history devastated Galveston as a 4.6-metre storm surge swept over the 2.4m high island on which it was built. Not surprisingly many of the survivors moved inland to nearby Houston.

Built on a swamp, Houston has 4000km of managed waterways – the first of them dug by hand by black slaves and Mexicans. Today it is estimated one in 10 of Houston’s residents is an illegal “alien” from south of the Mexican border.

Parts of Houston have been sinking because of the extraction of groundwater. Some areas have subsided by three metres since 1920, others by 300mm in a decade, creating cracked foundations, uneven footpaths and areas where floodwaters collect.

Houston has very few planning restrictions. Developer-friendly bylaws and no formal zoning code mean that housing is cheap and Houston largely escaped the 2008 economic crisis when American house prices plummeted.

Described by some as “America’s worst-designed city”, Houston has doubled in population since 1980, with the resulting urbanisation exacerbating the flooding. To cope with the extra run-off, many waterways need widening but that would require the city coming up with billions of dollars to buy out the properties lining the “bayous”.

A graph of the rainiest days in Houston (1890-2016) reveals a trend to intensified rainfall, with extreme weather events more frequent.

Climate modelling depends on a complex confluence of factors but the world’s temperature is about 0.7 degrees higher than 1980 and for each degree Celsius increase, air holds 7 per cent more water.

Houston is the “oil and gas capital of the world” and has the headquarters of more than 500 global energy firms, including the Shell Oil Company (the US branch of Royal Dutch Shell) which has its head office there with 22,000 employees.

The Shell Oil “futurists” came up with “three hard truths” that the company faced. They were:
1. That global energy demand is rising;
2. That the supply of conventional energy will not be able to keep up;
3. That climate change is both real and dangerous.

Houston provides jobs in the downstream oil and gas industry – Red Adair, the famous oil well firefighter, was from the city – and is known for its terrible traffic and bad public transport.

The climate is hot and humid and there are fire ants, snakes, alligators, “mosquitoes the size of sparrows” and residents are forced to spray once a month for cockroaches. It also has the distinction of being America’s “fattest city”.

Both the Bush presidents, Ted Cruz, Indianapolis 500 race car driver A. J. Foyt, Howard Hughes, Kenny Rogers and ZZ Top are from Houston and it has the highest number of Fortune 500 companies after New York.

The port of Houston is the second largest US port in total tonnage and the first US port in foreign tonnage, exporting oil-field equipment, plastic, resins, synthetic rubber, insecticide and chemical fertilisers.

As well as “natural” disasters, art has a way of revealing aspects of the geography of a region.

Houston’s phenomenally wealthy oil industry has a collective reputation for patronising “high art” such as Mark Rothko’s multi-denominational chapel built to display his blue/black modernist abstract paintings dedicated to “truth and freedom”.

The paintings are so much part of the architecture that visitors have been known to ask: “Where are the paintings?”

The Latino barrios are decorated with folk art such as “bathtub Madonnas” – an old decorated bath, sometimes with lights, standing upright with a madonna inside.

On the Sunday after the Hurricane Harvey deluge, President Donald Trump declared a national day of prayer for the victims. City planning might be more useful than prayer to avoid future “natural” disasters.

*When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chair of the Whanganui Musicians Club.