Vol. XVIII, Issue 2 (Spring 2011):Queen Mother Idia's Mask; African Fractals; Gbagbo

BOARD:

Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor
emeagwali@ccsu.edu

Walton Brown-Foster
Copy Editor
brownw@ccsu.edu

Haines Brown
Adviser
brownh@hartford-hwp.com

ISSN  1526-7822

REGIONAL EDITORS:

Olayemi Akinwumi
(Nigeria)

Ayele Bekerie
(Ethiopia)

Paulus Gerdes
(Mozambique)

Alfred Zack-Williams
(Sierra Leone)

Gumbo Mishack

(South Africa)

 

TECHNICAL ADVISOR:

Jennifer Nicoletti
Academic Technology, CCSU
caputojen@ccsu.edu

For more information concerning AfricaUpdate
Contact:
Prof. Gloria Emeagwali
CCSU History Dept.
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, CT 06050
Tel: 860-832-2815
emeagwali@ccsu.edu

 





 

Table of contents

Editorial

As I wandered through the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, a few weeks ago, I was saddened by the realization that this museum could not display hundreds of valuable treasures, imprisoned in the Albert and Victoria Museum, in London.  I could gaze at the crowns of the great Emperor Menelik 11, and the paraphernalia of Ethiopian dignitaries in both military and ceremonial garb, but what about the treasures confiscated at the Battle of Magdala? What of the various tablets and manuscripts appropriated illegally, or the numerous artefacts sold to art vendors for the proverbial song, by unauthorized vendors?

The abortive auction of the mask of Nigeria's Queen Mother Idia may be the start of a new honest process of acknowledgement, on the part of the brigands, adventurers, merchants and wandering tourists who, knowingly or unknowingly, committed acts of vandalism and property theft in days gone by. At least that is the hope. It is  in this spirit that  Dr. Kwame Opoku provides us with some of the behind- the - scenes data related to Benin artefacts, in the long quest, on the part of the sons and daughters of Benin, to retrieve the priceless artefacts and treasures of their ancestors. The recent pillaging of Egyptian artefacts reminds us of the scope of the illegal market for precious artefacts. Museums or individuals harboring stolen items are no less guilty than the thieves and pillagers.

In the second article of this issue of AfricaUpdate, Dr. Horace Campbell focuses on the uniqueness of African Fractals and pays tribute to Benoit Mandelbrot who recently passed away.

We have also included in this issue, reflections by Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, on the on-going political impasse in Ivory Coast. Gyan- Apentang's insights into the transformation of Dr. Gbagbo over a thirty year period is remarkably relevant to our understanding of the present crisis in Cote d'Ivoire.

We thank the contributors to this issue of AfricaUpdate for their illuminating analyses.

Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor,
AfricaUpdate


Reflections on the abortive auction of the Queen-Mother Idia mask:
A temporary tactical withdrawal or a principled permanent retreat?
Dr. Kwame Opoku, Independent Researcher

 

“The men and women of these countries have the right to recover these cultural assets which are part of their being”.
Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, former Director-General of UNESCO (1)

Mask of Queen-Mother Idia that was to be auctioned by Sotheby's but withdrawn by the Galway family after protests by Africans.

The cancellation notice of the auction of Queen-Mother Idia mask on 4 December, 2010, by Sotheby's could not have been shorter: The Benin Ivory Pendant Mask and other items consigned by the descendants of Lionel Galway which Sotheby's had announced for auction in February 2011 have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors (2).  This short notice is a great contrast to the enthusiastic announcement of the proposed auction where the excellent artistry of the hip mask was underlined. “All of the ivory masks are widely recognized for the quality of their craftsmanship, for the enormous scale of Benin's artistic achievement and for their importance in the field of African art.”

What more does the cancellation tell us? Very little except that the proposed auction will not take place as announced. Will the auction take place sometime in the future and somewhere else other than at Sotheby's? Will the mask be silently passed on to one of the so-called “universal museums” without our knowing?

It is stated that the Benin objects “have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors” Did the “owners” withdraw because of the protests from Nigeria Liberty Forum and others, and hope to present them at a future date or have they arrived at the conclusion that it is wrong to sell the cultural property of others, especially in a case like this where the object has been acquired by an ancestor in a violent attack of the owners?  Are they prepared to renounce their alleged rights to these blood artefacts? Did the consignors realize that the sale of such blood artefacts can only revive wounds that may still be felt by the successors of those killed in the process of invasion? Do the Galways intend to return the Queen-Idia mask and the other artefacts to the people of Benin or simply keep  them out of  public sight as they have done twice after exhibitions in 1947 - “Ancient Benin” and 1951 - “Traditional Sculpture from the Colonies”?

Sotheby's and the Galways may have been amazed by the massive public outcry at the announcement of the proposed auction.   The timing of the proposed auction may have been arbitrarily chosen but it is noteworthy that a week or so before, Sotheby's had auctioned an African artefact, a Luba female caryatid stool, for $7.1 million without any problem. This may have encouraged them to think it was the right time to make a huge profit on African artefacts. The history of that piece is different from that of the Benin pieces that are heavily charged with sentiments and emotions. Moreover, the Queen-Mother Idia hip mask has become a Pan-African symbol and thus invested with a symbolism and significance that extend far beyond the boundaries of Benin and Nigeria.   But Sotheby's and the Galway successors need not have been surprised since protest at the possession of Benin Bronzes by Western museums and a private collection has a long history.   Various Nigerian governments and parliaments have called for the return of these objects. When a museum was to be opened in Benin City, Ekpo Eyo, on behalf of Nigeria made several requests to all the museums holding Benin objects to return a few of them.  Not a single object was returned and the museum was opened with photographs of some of the Benin Bronzes:

“By the end of the 1960s, the price of Benin works had soared so high that the Federal Government of Nigeria was in no mood to contemplate buying them. When, therefore a National Museum was planned for Benin City in 1968, we were faced with the problem of finding exhibits that would be shown to reflect the position that Benin holds in the world of art history. A few unimportant objects which were kept in the old local authority museum in Benin were transferred to the new museum and a few more objects were brought in from Lagos. Still the museum was “empty”. We tried using casts and photographs to fill gaps but the desired effect was unachievable. We therefore thought of making an appeal to the world for loans or the return of some works so that Benin might also be to show its own works at least to its own people. We tabled a draft resolution at the General Assembly of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) which met in France in 1968 that appealing for donations of one or two pieces from those museums which have large stocks of Benin works. The resolution was modified to make it read like a general appeal for restitution or return and then adopted. When we returned to Nigeria; we circulated the adopted resolution to the embassies and high commissions of countries we know to have large Benin holdings; but up till now we have received no reaction from any quarters and the Benin Museum stays “empty”. (3)

In 2000 the Benin Royal Family sent a petition to the British Parliament for the restitution of the Benin artefacts. (4)  In addition to protests from Benin Royal Family over the ages, the late Bernie Grant, Member of the British Parliament and Chair of the African Reparations Movement (UK), regularly protested against the continued illegal detention of the Benin Bronzes. (5)

During the 2007 travelling exhibition, - BENIN - KINGS AND RITUALS, COURT ARTS FROM NIGERIA, the present Oba, His Majesty Oba Erediauwa of Benin, great grandson of Oba Ovonramwen, in whose reign the Benin bronzes were looted by the British in 1897, made again in the foreword to the catalogue of the exhibition   a plea for the return of some of the Benin Bronzes: “We are pleased to participate in this exhibition. It links us, nostalgically, with our past. As you put this past on show today, it is our prayer that the people and government of Austria will show humaneness and magnanimity and return to us some of these objects which found their way to your country”. (6)  Few pages later in the same catalogue followed the response of four museum directors of Western countries in a preface which in its euro-centrism, arrogance, immorality and cynicism is only surpassed perhaps by the infamous Declaration on the Value and Importance of Universal Museums. (2002. (7) They rejected the demand for return of the Benin Bronzes and advised that the Nigerian should forget the past and look onto the future.

Again in 2007, Professor Tunde Babawale, Director of the CBACC, Lagos, wrote to Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, stating that:
“The essence of this letter is to request that the British Museum, safely return/hand over the original 16th century Ivory Mask which was last worn by King Ovoramwen Nogbasi of the ancient Benin Empire before he was exiled by Britain. The Ivory Mask is the official Emblem for FESTAC AND A UNIFICATION SYMBOL FOR Nigerians and Black people worldwide. The mask is also of great significance to us as Africans.”

MacGregor's reply to Babawale does not address the main issue of the return of the mask which was said to be the essence of his letter. Instead, he writes:
“Let me assure you that the British Museum appreciates the significance of the Benin material in the collections for Nigeria, Africa and the world, and wishes to make it better understood and more accessible in Africa and worldwide. To this end, we are currently engaged in a new dialogue with the National Commission on Museums and Monuments in Nigeria”
.

Both letters of Babawale and MacGregor are reproduced in Annex V below. It is remarkable that the British Museum denies to Nigeria and Africa the stolen/looted Benin mask in order “to make it better understood and made accessible in Africa and worldwide.” The reader must judge for himself or herself the value of such reasoning which flies in the face of truth and common sense.

In 2008, a formal request was sent on behalf of the Benin Royal Family to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of Chicago for the return of some of the Benin Bronzes, but to no avail. Not even a letter of acknowledgement was sent by these venerable institutions to the Benin Royal Family. There are people who praise the artistry of Benin but do not even feel obliged to extend the most elementary courtesy to the Benin Monarchy--the traditional leadership of the place that generated the looted artefacts they are detaining.

The United Nations, UNESCO and ICOM (International Council of Museums) as well as several international conferences have urged the holders of artefacts such as the Benin Bronzes to return some to their countries of origin but with no success.

It is thus clear that there is a long history of protest and opposition to the holding of   “blood artefacts” which were obtained at the cost of loss of several lives. Sotheby's and the consignors could therefore not have been totally surprised at the protest. However, they might have been overwhelmed by the extent of the world-wide protests. Westerners have been misled by many false prophets proclaiming the right and duty of the West to hold on to the blood artefacts. This has led to turning a deaf ear to requests for restitution and to non-consideration of such demands. This has removed any moral inhibitions people may have had with respect to dealing with looted/stolen artefacts of others. But times have changed and so must potential sellers and auction houses also change.

Members of the nefarious Punitive Expedition of 1897 posing proudly with their looted Benin artefacts

The wind is now blowing in favour of restitution. France has recently restored Korean manuscripts looted in 1866; Yale University has returned Peruvian artefacts than had been in the USA since 1912; and Egypt has recovered over the last decade some 5000 artefacts wrongfully taken from the country. Several American museums and universities have returned looted artefacts to Italy. The Brooklyn Museum is about  to return some 4,500 pre-Columbian artefacts taken from Costa Rica a century ago even though Costa Rica has not asked for them and the possession by the museum appears to be legal. China, Egypt, Greece, Peru, Nigeria and other States have established a conference to press for cases of restitution and submitted lists of objects to be returned to their countries of origin. Henceforth, all are aware of the demand of certain countries for the return of their looted artefacts and one cannot continue to argue, as some in Western capitals are wont to, that there have been no requests for restitution.

The way forward to resolving cultural property disputes, as we have continued to argue, is to  recognize that there is something wrong in the present situation where the Ethnology Museum of Berlin, or the British Museum or the Ethnology Museum, Vienna have more Benin Bronzes than  Benin itself. Berlin, for example has 580 Benin artefacts. What are the Germans doing with so many Benin artefacts  when the Benin people (Edo)  have pleading in vain for years to get some of them back?

Recognition of the present imbalance in possessions of African cultural objects should lead to negotiations for returning some of them.  We should, in principle, proceed first by dialogue and failing that, judicial process. However, Western museums and their governments have not shown themselves to be very keen on dialogue, despite all pretence to the contrary. Indeed, leading museum directors in London, Chicago, New York and Vienna have shown reluctance to discuss and resentment at the very mention of the idea of discussing restitution of looted cultural artefacts. Those calling for their return are considered unreasonable but not those refusing to discuss even the possibility of restitution. It seems to me that it is the lack of pressure to bear on Western museums and their governments that allows them to get away with arguments and defences that no student would dare to present to professors without the risk of being thrown out of the university.

Instead of seeking ways to accommodate the demands of Africans for the return of their artefacts, leading Western museum directors have been busy inventing theories and stories which end up by supporting their retention of looted African artefacts. They argue that our looted artefacts belong to the heritage of human kind and thus their location in Western museums is justifiable in the interest of humankind. But the “universalism” preached by the Westerners is a “European Universalism” as opposed to true “universal Universalism” which would include all humankind and work against the domination of one group by another.  Western museum directors and their supporters have shown that they are not yet ready for such a world: they have hijacked the cultural artefacts of others and refuse to return any. Hence we have situations such as the proposed sale by successors of some of those who invaded Benin in 1897, killing many women and children, deposing the king, Oba Ovonramwen and setting Benin City on fire, just as they had done in Asante (Ghana) in 1874. Similar actions had also been carried on in Magdala, (Ethiopia) and in Beijing, (China). None of those involved in such actions seems to have any bad conscience. Indeed, they think they are doing us a great favour by keeping our artefacts with them. Unfortunately, some Africans who should know better seem to buy this dishonest argument.

But in all the discussions on the abortive auction of the Queen-Mother Idia mask as well as in the restitution debates, one major actor is conspicuously absent or ignored by some participants, namely, the British Government. There is no doubt that the main responsibility for the invasion of Benin, the looting of the Benin Bronzes and the burning of Benin City lie with the British Government which planned, financed, organized and implemented the invasion. Indeed, the British Government has not sought to deny its responsibility; what it has tried to do directly or through interposed agents, is to offer justifications for the invasion and looting, none of which is convincing. The most absurd explanation for the looting and selling of the Benin Bronzes has been that the British needed to finance the costs of the invasion and to provide for widows and children of the notorious punitive expedition. One commits an outrageous crime and defends that action by the need to finance that action and to assist those carrying out the action for damages they may have received in carrying out the action.

Another ploy of the British Government has been to divert all claims for restitution of looted objects to the British Museum which it turn declares its inability to respond positively to demands for restitution because of a governing parliamentary act. Demands for restitution should be directed in the first place to the British Government which is primarily responsible for the initial looting and to the British Museum for handling goods it knows or ought to have known were looted and illegally transferred from the country of origin.

The British Parliament has passed a law, Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 (8) that enables owners of Nazi looted artworks now in public British museums and galleries not only to obtain compensation for the loss but to receive the looted object. Some have wondered whether this act would not be sufficient for recovering the Benin bronzes... It is suggested that the loss of the Benin bronzes could be compared to loss due to Nazi actions. I do not want to enter into comparisons here for injustice is injustice and both situations show humankind at its lowest level. However, we should recall that in one case, the offenders were German official whereas in the second case, the perpetrators were British. A British government is not very likely to pass a law that would enable recovery actions in situations where the Government itself had planned and executed the notorious actions in question. But even more important, the act makes it very clear that it only applies to actions relating to Nazi seizures within a specific period. Article 3 of the Act defines Nazi era thus:Nazi era” means the period—(a) Beginning with 1 January 1933, and (b) Ending with 31 December 1945. “

Therefore the canons of judicial interpretation would not permit the extension of the Holocaust Act to looting by British soldiers in Benin in 1897.  Indeed, the fear of claims by Benin and by Greece was a point which had to be clarified during debates preceding the passing of the act. A different law would have to be made. We should caution over confidence in the judicial system helping to solve issues arising from the loot of 1897. The matter should be dealt with in other arenas.

An entity that was also conspicuously silent and absent in the discussions on the projected auction of the Queen-Mother Idia mask was the Nigerian Government. Most people, especially, young Nigerians, had sought in vain for indications of the policy of their government on this and related issues. Fortunately, a group of young Nigerians took the initiative to start actions that led to the eventual cancellation of the proposed auction. We have now received reports of statements by the Nigerian government.

According to reports to the Nigerian Tribune,the Federal Government is seeking diplomatic option to end the controversy surrounding the reported planned sale of the prized art objects.(9)  The Tribune reports further that “The source disclosed that President Jonathan had given instructions to the effect that no effort should be spared to get the Benin arts, as well as other such artefacts that symbolised the pride of Nigerians and their rich cultural heritage.

The president also ordered that machinery should be set in motion to get the artefacts repatriated into the country.
On the nature of the president's intervention, the source said appropriate officials that would handle the matter had been contacted and were expected to take the matter to the highest level of authority in Britain, adding that “we are ready to pursue the matter to the highest level."

We have no detailed explanation about the “diplomatic option” that the Nigerian Government is said to be seeking. However, if this is the same as the so-called “quiet diplomacy” which Nigerian authorities have been pursuing in the last 50 years or so without any tangible results, then one may be sceptical. We would rather have an open and loud diplomacy in which the general public is well informed at every step about what is happening. We do not recommend an approach that keeps everything secret and when you inquire about progress you are told that diplomacy takes time or that one cannot, for diplomatic reasons, reveal anything. At the end one will be informed about the negative response based on one of the lame excuses in the arsenal of the British such as the Government cannot intervene in a matter of private law or that one should address oneself directly to the British Museum.

Nigerian authorities may wish to look at the position and methods of another African country which, unlike Nigeria, has been extremely successful in obtaining the return of its looted/stolen artefacts. Egypt, under the leadership of Zahi Hawass, has been able to secure the return of more than 5000 looted/stolen Egyptian artefacts from Western museum. The methods employed by Hawass are the opposite of “quiet diplomacy”. He lets the general public know what Egypt wants and reports on his homepage the responses of the museum to his requests. He gets the Egyptian public and the world at large to see and realize what is going on. He treats public matters publicly and so there is no doubt who is doing or not doing what. The transparency often proclaimed but hardly practised is seen here at work.  Writing about the success of Peru in getting back thousands of its objects from the University of Yale in the USA, Hawass states “One of the key components in my campaign to return stolen artefacts to Egypt is the media. I have been insistent on bringing this unacceptable behavior to light through press releases, print media and television appearances.”(10)

We are encouraged to read that “The president also ordered that machinery should be set in motion to get the artefacts repatriated into the country."

This new body should recommend sending a team from Nigeria to establish a list of looted/stolen Nigerian artefacts, including the Benin Bronzes, in Western museums. We have provided (Annex I) here a list of such institutions that could be used as a starting point, if the Government does not already have such a list. The experience of the Chinese government could be extremely useful.  The aim of the visit of Chinese museum experts to Western museums was “to build a complete database of the Old Summer Palace's lost relics so we can have a clearer view of the historical royal garden...before it was looted and burned down in 1860 by invading British and French armies. We have clarified that this is an attempt to document rather than to seek a return of those relics, even though we do hope some previously unknown relics might surface and some might be returned to our country during our tracing effort.” (11)

Maybe the Nigerian authorities are not aware that regarding the restitution of the Benin Bronzes and other Nigerian artefacts, there is great support for Nigeria in this matter. Apart from Museum officials and those who have built their careers on blood artefacts, most Westerners are in favour of the restitution of the bonzes. Many are of course not aware of the existence of these objects in their towns and countries but once properly briefed, they are shocked that their governments could tolerate such a scandalous situation that deprives Africans of their cultural artefacts which have no role in European culture. But this support and sympathy have to be cultivated, canalized and utilized effectively. This implies contact with the public in all these through the media, e.g. press releases, adverts and articles. We are yet to see a Nigerian diplomat or official presenting Nigeria's views and position on this matter in Western media. Could Nigerian embassies that have public relations and public information sections not assist in this matter? Above all, there should be a definite place in the internet where the public could look for information on Nigeria's policies.

The abortive auction of the Queen-Mother Idia mask offers opportunity to Nigeria to make up for lost time and opportunities. Following are a few points that come to my mind:

-          Issue a detailed Government policy on this case and on restitution generally;
-         
Create a website where all such issues can be discussed and government's policy explained;
-         
Name one person or body that speaks for Nigeria on restitution and related matters;
-         
Request Nigerian diplomats to attend exhibitions on Nigerian culture and related matters that are held at their duty stations;
-         
Publish and publicize Nigeria's activities on restitution and related issues;
-      Review relevant Nigerian laws on cultural artefacts, their preservation and offences related thereto.
-     Nigeria, in alliance with Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Greece, Italy, Peru as well as other States with interest in restitution matters must bring enough pressure on Western States so that it is finally accepted by all that stealing and looting the cultural property of others is against the fundamental principles of international co-operation as enshrined in the principles of the United Nations and UNESCO
-          The moral principle and commandment that “Thou shalt not steal” must be accepted as extending to all objects and property. 

Nigeria must finally indicate to the rest of the world that it intends to preserve and keep its cultural artefacts for future generations who will not need to go to London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Chicago and other Western cities in order to see what their forefathers have achieved in this area. Nigeria has a lot to be proud of but unless serious measures are taken, to discourage plundering and to recover the looted objects future generations will have very little to see and will curse earlier generations.

Alter group honouring Oba Akenzua I, Benin, Nigeria, now in the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, Germany

Endnotes

1.     Museum, Vol. XXL, no 1, 1979, Return and Restitution of Cultural Property, pp. 18-21, at p.2, Nigeria. See also http://www.youtube.com/watchv=Nh2Tac1gNPU&feature=share http://www.modernghana.com/news/241980/1/youtube-crown-fraud-stolen-benin-bronzes-british-m.html

 

2.     Sotheby's  http://investor.shareholder.com  The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk

 

3.     Museum, Vol. XXL, no 1, 1979, at p.21, Nigeria. See Annex I for list of the holders of the Benin Bronzes.

 

4.     Annex II.

 

5.     Annex III.

 

6.     Barbara Plankensteiner (Ed), Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria,  Snoeck, 2007.

 

7. Declaration on the Value and Importance of Universal Museums. (2002). http://www.clevelandart.org/museum/info/CMA206_Mar7_03.pdf  The Declaration was signed in December 2002 by 18 major museums that declared their intention not to return the cultural artefacts from Greece, African and Asian States that have been in Western museum over a long period.

 

8.     K.Opoku, “Is the Declaration on the value and Importance of the “universal museums” now worthless? Comments on imperialist Museology,  http://www.modernghana.com.

  •  Readers may wish to consult a very useful note on the Holocaust Restitution Bill by Philip Ward. http://www.parliament.uk/briefingpapers/commons/lib/research/briefings/snha-05090.pdf

  • The Art Newspaper wrote:
    The government's major concern about Mr Dismore's Private Members' Bill is that amendments may be put to extend its scope. In particular, it will inevitably be seized upon by parliamentarians who are campaigning for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens. Similar moves might be made by those calling for the return of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, the Rosetta Stone to Egypt or the Lewis Chessmen to Scotland. The DCMS is therefore expected to press for a clear wording that would preclude deaccessioning being extended beyond the 1933-45 period.”

  • UK parliament closer to passing bill allowing museums to deaccession Nazi-looted art Legislation expected to be limited to 1933-1945 only  http://www.theartnewspaper

  • Andrew Dismore, the Labour MP for Hendon who introduced the Bill stated during debate in the Second Reading of the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Bill:
    Above all, the Bill is strictly limited as to time, place and perpetrator of the original deprivation of the object from its lawful owner. It is not a Trojan horse for the Parthenon sculptures—that is my next Bill—or for any other artworks or cultural items. It is a discreet, modest measure, limited in scope and time to rectify decades of injustice, and I commend it to the House.” http://services.parliament.un

  • See also, Elginism “Nazi looted artefacts in the UK can now return home “  http://www.elginism.com

  • K. Opoku, “Will Britain join other Nations in Returning Stolen/Looted Artworks to the Rightful Owners?”  http://www.modernghana.com

  • Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009” http://www.lootedart.com

9.     Nigerian Tribune, http://tribune.com.ng

 

10.  Peru succeeds in getting 4,000 objects back home!” http://www.drhawass.com Kwame Opoku,” Egyptian Season of Artefacts Returns: Hopeful Sign to be followed by Others? http://www.elginism.com

 

11.  China to Research Foreign Museum Archives for Chinese Artifacts,  http://illicit-cultural-property,  http://www.artsjournal.com

 Appendices


African Fractals: A Tribute to Benoit Mandelbrot
Prof. Horace Campbell, Syracuse University

It was announced recently that Benoit Mandelbrot passed away at the age of 85. One news source called him a 'maverick' mathematician. It was Mandelbrot who introduced the word 'fractals' to the Western world to capture an aspect of mathematics that had been resisted by the Western academy because of a worldview that would not deal with an 'alien' concept of uncertainty and the infinite complexity of nature. We want to use the news of his passing to bring to the fore the importance of fractals and fractal thinking in society.

According to the report on his passing by the New York Times, 'Dr. Mandelbrot coined the term "fractal" to refer to a new class of mathematical shapes whose uneven contours could mimic the irregularities found in nature.' In the era of quantum mechanics, complexity and chaos, the ideas behind fractal thinking could no longer be ignored and grudgingly, fractal geometry began to gain acceptance in the Western academy. We want to salute Mandelbrot for his tenacity in bringing the concept of fractals to the Western academy. While we commend Mandelbrot for his doggedness, we use this opportunity to state that before Mandelbrot coined the term 'fractal' and popularised it in the Western academy, the knowledge and application of this geometry of nature had always existed in the thinking of African peoples.

Fractal geometry was at the heart of the African ontology and knowledge system, from divination and architecture to hair weave and craft. More than 40 years ago, Claudia Zaslavsky exposed to the West her research on the African mathematical heritage. Her book, 'Africa Counts: Number and Pattern in African Culture' was a major contribution to the understanding of mathematics in everyday life in Africa. This analysis was carried to another level by Ron Eglash at the end of the 20th century.

In his research presented in the book 'African Fractals: Modern Computing and indigenous Design', Ron Eglash was exposed to the fact that the knowledge and application of fractal had been alive for millennia in Africa. There are invaluable lessons to be learned for humanity by exploring further the heap of ideas surrounding fractals. Particularly, African societies, the African academy and the political leadership in Africa must pay close attention to exploring the transformational and revolutionary ideas embedded in fractals.

Impressive contribution of Benoit Mandelbrot
There is no doubt about the tremendous contribution of Mandelbrot to the fields of mathematics and science. Almost every discipline in the Western academy has been affected by fractal geometry. For decades, Benoit Mandelbrot was at the forefront of explaining and writing about fractals. 'If you cut one of the florets of a cauliflower, you see the whole cauliflower but smaller. Then you cut again, again, again, and you still get small cauliflowers. So there are some shapes which have this peculiar property, where each part is like the whole, but smaller,' explained Mandelbrot. He argued that seemingly random mathematical shapes followed a pattern if broken down into a single repeating shape. The concepts of self-similarity and scaling in fractals enabled scientists to measure previously immeasurable objects, including the coastline of the British Isles and the geometry of a lung or a cauliflower. We now know that the seminal contribution of fractal mathematics led to technological breakthroughs in the fields of digital music and image compression. Computer modelling and the information technology revolution have been pushed by insights from fractal geometry. In his interviews and books, Mandelbrot argued that seemingly random mathematical shapes followed a pattern if broken down into a single repeating shape. This is what in fractals is called self-similarity. This concept of self-similarity is also linked to the other key elements of fractal concepts: scaling, recursion and infinity.

In fractals, this concept of infinity is also known as the Cantor Set. In the late 19th century, George Cantor (1845-1918) had provided a new approach for European mathematicians when he showed that it was possible to 'keep track of the number of elements in an infinite set', and did so in a descriptively simple fashion. Starting with a single straight line, Cantor erased the middle third, leaving two lines. He then carried out the same operation on those two lines, erasing their middles and leaving four lines. In other words he used a sort of feedback look, with end result of one stage brought back as the starting point for the next. The technique is called 'recursion' (Eglash, p. 8). This concept of infinity had for long, before Cantor, been part of the African divination system. In Africa, Eglash encountered some of the most complex fractal systems that exist in religious activities, such as the sequence of symbols used in sand divination, a method of fortune telling found in Senegal. The concept of infinity had a metaphysical link with infinity. This sand divination was to be later referred to as 'geomancy' in Europe (Eglash, p. 99-101). Eglash and others credited Mandelbrot with the conceptual leap in the application of fractal geometry from the simulations of natural objects.

The relevant point is that fractals existed in nature and before Mandelbrot there was Koch and Cantor. Before Koch and Cantor there were many people in Africa who understood fractal geometry and the explicit and implicit mathematical idea that was to be found in everyday life in Africa.

African Fractals
It has been established that before Mandelbrot exposed the Western world to the application of fractals, these forms of knowledge had always existed in the ontology and creativity of Africans. The ideas about the infinite nature of the universe that are now central to particle physics were manifest in many African communities with the celebrated case of the Dogon people, which is the most widely known. Other aspects of advanced geometry and physics were present in the numeric systems of many societies, especially in relation to the Lusona drawings of the Chokwe people. When the colonial missionaries could not decipher the complex mathematics behind the Lusona they deemed the Chokwe to be the most backward and uncivilised in Africa. It is now known that the Dogon and Chokwe reflected a deep understanding of the mathematics of nature. African village settlements show self-similar characteristics, circle of circles, circular dwellings and streets in which broad avenues branch down to tiny footpaths with striking geometric repetition, distinguishable from the Euclidian layout. Ron Eglash presented his research findings in his book 'African Fractals' to show that African fractals emanated from a conscious knowledge system and not from unconscious activity.

It was during an aerial exploration of rural parts of Africa that Eglash grasped the central aspect of the architectural designs in terms of self-similarity and scaling of patterns. In his book he said clearly that, 'While fractal geometry can take us into the far reaches of high tech science, its patterns are common in traditional African designs and the concepts are fundamental to African knowledge system.'

Eglash's findings also include the use of sophisticated mathematical ideas in everyday objects. In the arid region of the Sahel, for example, artisans produce windscreens by utilising a scaling design that gives them the maximum effect - keeping out the wind-driven dust - for the minimum amount of effort and material. Abdul Karim Bangura, another scholar of African science and mathematics, in his review of Eglash's text noted that:

'Aerial photographs of various settlement compounds revealed that many were composed of circular structures enclosed in other circles, or rectangles within rectangles, and that the compounds were likely to have street patterns in which broad avenues branched into very small footpaths. As Eglash notes, at first he thought it was just from unconscious social dynamics. But during his fieldwork, he found that fractal designs also appear in a wide variety of intentional designs--carving, hairstyling, metalwork, painting, textiles--and the recursive process of fractal algorithms are even employed in African quantitative systems. These results, Eglash concludes, are congruent with recent developments in complex systems theory, which suggest that pre-modern, non-state societies were neither utterly anarchic, nor frozen in static order, but rather utilized an adaptive flexibility that capitalized on the non-linear aspects of ecological dynamics.'

Since the writing of this review, Ron Eglash has not only written extensively on African Fractals but his widely watched presentation at the TED conference has brought the ideas of Fractals to an international audience.

When Eglash returned from Africa, one of his colleagues advised him to focus on scaling patterns in African hairstyles. In the conclusion on scaling, Eglash himself admitted: 'While it is not difficult to invent explanations based on unconscious social forces - for example flexibility in conforming designs to material surfaces as expressions of social flexibility - I do not think that any such explanations can account for this diversity. From optimisation engineering, to modelling organic life, to mapping between different spatial structures, African artisans have developed a wide range of tools, techniques and design practices based on the conscious application of fractal geometry' (p. 85).

Scaling and self-similarity are descriptive characteristics; one can see these in African designs. The idea is to grasp how these were intentionally designed so that we can have a better grasp of African fractals. Eglash then went on to look closely at African architecture, designs, art, village structure, cosmology, and divination systems to understand how all of these are linked to an African knowledge system. I have elsewhere used the term the African ideation system or worldview. The question for us is to understand how this is linked to political relations in Africa.

Of the five main elements of Fractals that were highlighted in his book - scaling, self-similarity, recursion, infinity and fractal dimensions - Eglash drew attention to the recursive processes that generate a feedback loop. Eglash gave three examples of recursion, namely, cascade, iteration and self-reference.

I was introduced to fractals and African mathematics by Sam E. Anderson, and I met Eglash in 1999 to engage him on this concept of African fractals. Ever since my meeting with Eglash, I have seen the revolutionary implications of fractal thinking and a fractal worldview. I have sought to further the understanding of the relationship between fractal optimism and politics in my book, 'Barack Obama and twenty First Century Politics'. In this book, I sought to underline the importance of self-organisation and self-mobilisation as the basis for a new bottom-up politics that could unleash a new form of participatory democracy for the 21st century (based on the intentional activities of conscious humans). Fractal has been applied in many other fields. In the application of fractal to political science, elements such as recursion, cascading, self-similarity and memory help us understand the self-replication of genocidal violence, exploitation, militarism, masculinity and environmental plunder, among others. Thus, it becomes imperative for there to be a coordinated human intention to make a break with such traditions (negative recursion) and to establish a different legacy that would form a positive recursive loop for the transformation of society for posterity.

Self-Similarity, Recursion and Society
One lesson of fractal for African (and other) societies is the conceptual application of the ideas of self-similarity and self-referencing in recursion, and the imperative that this mode of thinking breaks the certainty and predictability of determinism. Determinism, simplicity and reductionism had migrated from the physical sciences to implant the artificial divisions in the academic disciplines that became the hallmark of the social sciences in the Western world. F. Kapra had warned against this certainty of Western thinking. In the book, 'The Turning Point', he argued:

'For two and a half centuries physicists have used a mechanistic view of the world to develop and refine the conceptual framework known as classical physics. They have based their ideas on the mathematical theory of Isaac Newton, the philosophy of René Descartes, and the scientific methodology advocated by Francis Bacon. Like human-made machines, the cosmic machine was thought to consist of elementary parts. Consequently it was believed that complex phenomena could always be understood by reducing them to their basic building blocks and by looking for the mechanisms through which these interacted. This attitude, known as reductionism, has become so deeply ingrained in our culture that it has often been identified with the scientific method.

Humans now know that this reductionism of the 'scientific method' emanated from a European reading of science and human knowledge. With the advances in digital technology and genetic engineering, advances made possible by the application of fractal geometry, the promise of the future demands that humans have a deep appreciation of the inter-relationship between humans and nature so that we do not become slaves to technology. This demands from us the obligation to intervene as humans to reverse the headlong rush towards dehumanisation and the destruction of the planet earth. Fractal thinking and the understanding of the consequences of the reference points for progress demonstrates the necessity to make a break with the recursion of negative self-similar patterns such as conflicts and wars, domination, exploitation, militarization and religious and ethnic tensions. We can see that we are in a feedback loop of economic crisis, intensified exploitation, stock-market failures and conflicts. This kind of recursive process has a definite reference point which is the history of capitalism, racism, domination, oppression, greed and plunder. It is in examining the connection between the two (recursion and cultural categories) that the use of fractal geometry as a knowledge system (and not just unconscious social dynamics) becomes evident.

The next lesson of African fractals is for African educational institutions. African education must support research agendas that seek to unearth the richness of Africa and focus on positive aspects of the African knowledge system as an indispensable site of knowledge. The road to the re-establishment and reaffirmation of Africa as a site of knowledge has never been smooth, and may get rougher unless our scholarly tradition refrains from following a recursive path that is self-similar to that which attempted to deny and subjugate our intelligence and ontology. Three years ago, Paulus Gerdes and Ahmed Djebbar produced the important bibliography on 'Mathematics in African History and Culture'. This bibliography carried forward the traditions of Cheikh Anta Diop, who did so much to unearth and highlight the contributions of African mathematics to research and learning.

Diop studied in France at the same time of Mandelbrot. Diop moved to Paris in 1946 and studied nuclear physics and Egyptology. He submitted his thesis to the University of Paris in 1951, but could not find a committee to examine his work on the Egyptian contribution to math and science. It was after nine years that he was granted his doctorate by the University of Paris in 1960. It was not by chance that Diop was a physicist who had studied relativity and quantum physics. It was this study that brought Diop back to an awareness of the richness of African knowledge and intellectual traditions and although he did not use the term fractals, his research and work shared many points of convergence with Benoit Mandlebrot.

Popularising Fractals in the West
Just as how it was difficult for the ideas of Diop to be accredited in the French academy, so Mandelbrot's popularisation of the idea of fractals in the West was not an easy task. Mandelbrot attended school in France at the same period when the African scientist Cheikh Anta Diop was also studying in Paris. Between 1949-52, Mandelbrot wrote his Docteur d'Etat ès Sciences Mathématiques: Faculté des Sciences, Paris.

After receiving his doctorate in 1962 from France, Mandelbrot moved to the United States, where he pursued postdoctoral work. Mandelbrot followed a tortuous career between industry and the academy because of his view on complexity and infinity. It was not until he was nearly 75 years old that he was granted tenure in the mathematics department at Yale in 1999. His book, 'The Fractal Geometry of Nature', was first published in 1982.  Writing in the popular magazine the New Scientist, one reviewer said of the book:
'Fractal geometry is one of those concepts which at first sight invites disbelief but on second thought becomes so natural that one wonders why it has only recently been developed
.'

The reviewer further writes about Mandelbrot:
'First, he has enriched our geometric imaginations with computer graphics of stunning beauty Secondly, he demonstrates that fractals are good models for an impressive variety of natural objects Thirdly, he emphasizes that fractals imply an unconventional philosophy of geometry [contrary to the conventional] "Newtonian" picture Mandelbrot's essay is written in a personal, intense and immediate style.'

Mandelbrot wrote the book, 'The (Mis)behavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin, and Reward'. In this book, Mandelbrot warned that markets are far riskier than society wanted to believe. From the gyrations of IBM's stock price and the Dow, to cotton trading and the dollar-euro exchange rate, Mandelbrot showed that the world of finance can be understood for its volatility. Contrary to the advice of stockbrokers, there was nothing certain about the future and stability of the stock market. The ideas of fractals were further popularised and published in Scientific American in 1999 under the title, 'A Multifractal walk down Wall Street.' In this article Mandelbrot argued that:

'Fractal patterns appear not just in the price changes of securities but in the distribution of galaxies throughout the cosmos, in the shape of coastlines and in the decorative designs generated by innumerable computer programs.'


'In finance, this concept is not a rootless abstraction but a theoretical reformulation of a down-to-earth bit of market folklore - namely, that movements of a stock or currency all look alike when a market chart is enlarged or reduced so that is fits the same time and price scale. An observer then cannot tell which of the data concern prices that change from week to week, day to day or hour to hour. This quality defines the charts as fractal curves and makes available many powerful tools of mathematical and computer analysis.'

Despite the warnings about the fact that there was uncertainty in this branch of finance, a brand new group of financial wizards attempted to bring back the linearity and certainty of capitalist development and growth to predict the unlimited rise of the stock market. These wizards were to be called 'quants' on Wall Street, and they populated the area of speculation called the market for derivatives. Warren Buffet had called these derivatives 'financial weapons of mass destruction'. The world was brought face to face with the complexity and chaos of this branch of finance in 2008, yet the mindset of certainty and unlimited potential of capitalism has meant that the gurus of the world of quants have returned to the mythical world of unlimited profits.

In the New York Times report on the passing of Mandelbrot we are reminded by Mandelbrot himself that life is not linear and not based on a straight line:

'Dr. Mandelbrot compared his own trajectory to the rough outlines of clouds and coastlines that drew him into the study of fractals in the 1950s.'

"If you take the beginning and the end, I have had a conventional career," he said, referring to his prestigious appointments in Paris and at Yale. "But it was not a straight line between the beginning and the end. It was a very crooked line."

The important point was that human intentions become an important aspect of human interactions with nature and it is this intentionality that existed in Africa that was brought out in the book 'African Fractals' by Eglash. The study of fractals illustrates the importance of the human intention to make a break when the recursive processes lead to militarism, destruction and greed.

While the quants have applied fractal geometry to the modelling for the derivatives market, it is only the conscious actions by citizens that can make a break from these financial weapons of mass destruction. This break with negative recursion and the establishment of a positive recursive loop is applicable to our education system, our leadership orientation and our engagement with the environment and in our relations as humans.

In this bid, we propose that there must be human intentions to make Ubuntu - shared humanity and respect for the environment -the reference point that would self-replicate and cascade itself across all sections of society.


The Gbagbo Conundrum
Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng

To say that outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo of La Cote d'Ivoire has a multiple personality is to state the obvious because all of us do. In Mr. Gbagbo's case, one discerns two distinct profiles and they are getting in the way of each other and creating confusion in the minds of people, including some who should know better. Thus, some of the issues swirling around Gbagbo's bid to remain president, and the responses to it have to do with political wars of the past.

Perhaps, a bit of history would help to illustrate the point I am about to make. At the time of independence, Africa was roughly divided into two camps. One advocated rapid decolonisation, and a quick break with the colonial past, pan-Africanism and rapid industrialisation. In that camp were countries like Ghana, Algeria, Mali, Guinea, Morocco, etc. On the opposing side were most of the francophone (except Mali and Guinea) countries and Nigeria. La Cote d'Ivoire was a vocal member of the second group and its independence leader, Mr.  Félix Houphouët-Boigny was said to have laid a bet against Nkrumah as to which of the two different development and political models would deliver a better outcome after ten years of independence.

In this polarised continental atmosphere, the leaders in one camp were denounced and demonised by those in the opposite camp. Thus, Houphouët-Boigny was seen as an opponent of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah; and he gave covert and overt support to Nkrumah's opponents led by Dr. J. B. Danquah and Professor Kofi Busia. As with almost all independence leaders, the Ivorian leader brooked no opposition in his country while denouncing Nkrumah as a dictator and it stands to reason that Nkrumah also gave succour to the Ivorian leader's opponents, many of whom were living in Ghana.

Dr. Laurent Gbagbo, a young political firebrand emerged as one of the main opponents of Félix Houphouët-Boigny and mobilised opposition to the late president from his base at the University of Abidjan where he taught history. He founded the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) which emerged as the popular vehicle for struggle around the usual left issues of anti-apartheid, pro-Palestine, pan-Africanism solidarity and a nudge to socialism at home. Gbagbo ran and lost in the 1990 elections and benefited from the ban imposed on all other major potential candidates by Robert Guéï's political junta in 2000. When Guéï tried to rig the election result against Gbagbo, the latter led a revolt that resulted in Guéï's overthrow and Gbagbo's successful installation as President.

How would Gbagbo of the 1970s to 2000 have reacted if an incumbent president of his country decided to remain in office in the face of considerably reasonable evidence that he had lost the confidence of his compatriots as expressed in an election? It is reasonable to imagine that he would have been at the front of the barricades demanding that the right thing be done. The tension in Ivorian politics, which is beginning to define African attitudes in the 21st century, is also about reconciling the two Gbagbo profiles on offer to the public.

Fast-forward to 2010 and you realise that most of Gbagbo's ardent supporters are in reality hankering after a man and an age that have both long disappeared. Some African leaders are supporting Gbagbo because he supported the liberation struggle in the 1970s or that he supported or still supports the cause of the Palestinian people, and stuff like that. In truth, the Gbagbo of old, that symbol of democratic renewal and the darling of the left and progressive forces, who was equally supported by the West, is getting in the way of a proper appreciation of what the current crisis in La Cote d'Ivoire is about.

It is neither about Gbagbo not Alassane Ouattara. It is about democracy and its most basic principle for which Gbagbo fought and went to prison twice in his life; the elective principle was at the core of everything Gbagbo fought for and won acclaim. The election in La Cote d'Ivoire in 2010 bears some resemblance to what happened in 2000 when under severe pressure, the comical but deadly dictator of that time, Robert Guéï organised elections that he hoped to win. When the results appeared not to go according to his plans he ordered the electoral commission to scrap the entire exercise and proclaim him winner against Gbagbo. The ensuing popular uprising led to the coronation of Gbagbo who declared himself president.

In 2010, Gbagbo was a less reluctant believer in the election but it had taken five long years for the country to reach that point – under his watch. Under the circumstances of the elections, it is more than probable that some things could have gone amiss, but all credible observers say that Ouattara won. That appears to be at the centre of the controversy in the country, but a closer inspection should suggest that if Gbagbo had won, the results would have been announced in hours and not days after the ballot closed. The fact that a close Gbagbo ally tore up the election results on live TV shortly before the Electoral Commission's declaration confirms that fact.

Gbagbo's allies and apologists are calling for a re-run of the election on grounds that there were difficulties with the results in some parts of the country, but the Gbagbo of old would have given short shrift to this argument as indeed he did when Robert Guéï tried to pull the same trick eleven years ago. As has been said repeatedly, there is nothing like a perfect election, and the last Ivorian election is no exception. However, on a balance, almost all credible observer groups have said that Gbagbo lost the election.

The pity of it is that Laurent Gbagbo has moved himself from the column of the small band of genuine African heroes into the baddies column. But this is not only a personal tragedy for Gbagbo but has serious implications for politics and political thought in Africa. In the short term, Gbagbo's behavior, coming on the heels of similar obstinacy by Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Kenya's Mwai Kibaki, who both lost elections but toughed it out, may denote a trend in which losing incumbents decide to refuse or accept an election verdict. We should not forget that Gbagbo told a live TV audience that he would accept the verdict of the electorate but that was before he lost the same election.

Perhaps, the key to the Gbagbo conundrum lies with the Ivorian armed forces, or the part of it that staunchly backs the incumbent. It can be argued that a way out of the crisis must involve a properly organised and supervised transition in which the role of the armed forces (and the rebel army) now and the in the future is spelt out. This is because coming out of a civil war situation in which Ouatarra was the defined “enemy” of the Gbagbo supporters, the fighting forces would have a say in how their principals behave in the post election period. That has to be part of the political settlement because it is obvious that the confidence building measures that were supposed to be in place before the elections have not been sufficient.


In all of this, the Gbagbo of old would have been on the side of democracy, change and fair play. That would have been the legacy he would crave. If he looks behind him, he would realise that perhaps not all those lining up to offer support have the same instinct. Dr. Laurent Gbagbo is a professor of history so it should not be too difficult for him to distance himself from himself and choose a suitable legacy for his life's work. It would be wise for him to choose before a choice is forced on him
.

Kwasi Gyan - Apenteng is the President of the Ghana Association of Writers, PAWA House, Accra and Coordinator of the Cultural Initiatives Support Programme, Du Bois Centre, Accrakgapenteng@cisghana.org

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