Zambian kwacha


Courtesy, we have another great-looking African currency – the Zambian kwacha!

ZMK is the three-character currency abbreviation for the Zambian Kwacha based on the ISO-4217 standard codes. ZMK is the official currency of the Republic of Zambia. The common usage symbol for the ZMK is ZK. The Bank of Zambia is the government agency that issues the ZMK. The ZMK divides into smaller units of known as Ngwee. One ZMK equals 100 Ngwee. The ZMK is not considered a major currency and is not actively traded in the international currency markets. The value of the ZMK “floats” against other currencies. That is, market forces determine the value of the ZMK. Therefore, the ZMK is convertible into other currencies.

Sure, it’s no South African rand, but I like the shout-out to hard-working peasants!

gettin paid

A random woman flashes some kwacha. (Exchange rate: USD $1 = 5,175 ZMK, but relatively higher inflation means this won’t stay current for long)

South Africa’s rand is the world’s best performing – and best looking – currency

This was some interesting news (via Bloomberg):

South Africa’s rand, the world’s best-performing major currency this year, may rally another 4 percent if it breaks through 8.23 per dollar and stays there, based on technical analysis by Barclays Plc-owned Absa Capital.

Candlestick charting shows the rand closed stronger than its opening levels everyday last week, suggesting it’s “fighting” to appreciate further, said Judy Padayachee, a technical analyst at Johannesburg-based Absa. Even so, it has yet to remain stronger than the so-called “resistance” level of 8.23 per dollar, according to Padayachee.

Good for them. But thanks to this news I was pleasantly surprised at how awesome the rand looks. Buffalo power!


The notes were redesigned after the end of apartheid in 1994. Here is what the old notes looked like:


You can find out more about South Africa’s currency (with similarly intense drawings of lions and rhinos) here.

Africans in Guangzhou, Africans in Tokyo

This CNN report documents that much as in Japan, there is apparently a sizable number of Africans engaged in international trade and retailing in shops in Guanghzhou and some other areas of China. The report attributes the increase to increased trade ties between China and nations like Nigeria.

For a more detailed look at the situation of Africans in China, take a look at this translated article from Southern Metropolis Daily entitled “‘Chocolate City’ – Africans seek their dreams in China”:

In distant Africa, nearly 50 countries exploding with demand have opened their arms wide, and are rapidly digesting all of these consumer products not produced locally. Based on Chinese official statistics, during this period of China-Africa trade fever that started in 2003, the number of Africans headed to Guangzhou has been growing at annual rates of 30-40%.

About five years ago, Chinese petrolem companies and businessmen poured into Africa. This led many locals to feel that China was grabbing their resources and rice bowls (jobs). And yet from tractors to toothpaste, everything was “Made in China”; this stimulated many of them into looking in China’s direction. Many of Clem’s friends encouraged him, “Go to China! Nigeria’s using petroleum to trade for foreign currency, and the Chinese are buying it to build heaven!”

In September of 2007, Clem’s father, working at a Nigerian embassy in Europe, was able to arrange a Chinese visa for him. His friends were envious. More and more Africans are patiently lining up in front of Chinese embassies in Africa, fighting for visas permitted under a limited quota. A guy who received his visa at the same time as Clem had paid a fee to a visa application service nine months ago. When he finally received the visa he had been waiting for, the guy who had been muttering and cursing under his breath finally calmed down; he fiercely kissed his passport.

Many taxi drivers aren’t willing to take on “chocolate” customers. They don’t like the nose-irritating perfume, nor the constant bargaining on every trip. Some drivers will use excuses that “you’re too big, the car won’t fit you”, or “I don’t understand your foreign language”; but some don’t care, “driving anybody is just business.”

Based on official statistics, since 2003, the number of Africans in Guangzhou has been growing at 30-40% annually. Based on a report in the Guangzhou Daily, there might already be 100,000 in the community. They come from Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Liberia, and Mali. Amongst these, Africa’s most populous country Nigeria claims first place.

They primarily live in village-districts in the city of Guangdong (like Dongpu, Dengfeng Jie, Yongping Jie). They do their business in a few large-scale China-Africa commerce malls.

The stalls in these commerce malls don’t have much in terms of decoration; at most, there will be a black plastic model at the front door. Samples are piled up the ground, and hung up on the walls and placed in display cases. In one building, the warehouse and sales offices are one and the same. Stall owners pile their blue jeans on the walk-way itself. When it gets busy, you have to step over the piles of pants.

These centers have accumulated basically all of the world’s top brands — Dolce and Gabbana blue jeans, Adidas shoes, Gucci high-heels, Louis Vuitton purses, Chanel purses, Armani underwear. Their prices are ridiculous: Dolce and Gabbana jeans are 20 RMB (3 USD), Gucci high-heels and purse together for 100 RMB (15 USD)…

While picking through clothes, Cote claimed that he had many Chinese friends here. To prove his point, he walked up, and pats the store-owner on his head. Or, he playfully kicks at the store-owner’s leg. He’ll loudly greet them, “Friend, how are you recently?” His “friends” don’t respond. Some pull out a cell phone and intentionally ignore him. Others impatiently wave at him, and say in a combination of Chinese and English: “if you’re not buying anything, then go… quickly GO!”

Guangzhou has the densest concentration of African businessmen in China. Areas and cities surrounding the area has thousands of factories that take tens of thousands of African orders, originating from Chocolate City, every day.

… On Yongping Street, many black illegal immigrants live together in homes that rent for 100-200 RMB per month. They come out only at night, either selling physical labor by offering to carry goods, or sell drugs and other illegal activities. According to police in the area, starting in November of 2007, they had searched out a group of Africans in the country illegally. They were sent to Yunnan and deported.

Africans in Tokyo

On the continental level, Africans make up the least significant group of foreigners in Japan, far outstripped by just about every other group that counts (Vietnam alone has more registered foreigners in Tokyo than the entire continent). According to a Mainichi article from 2006 Africans in the Tokyo area number in the “tens of thousands,” though this is far above the 2,987 registered foreigners of African nationality within Tokyo Prefecture (Excel). It is also far smaller than the “as many as 100,000” in Guangzhou – that would mean African residents make up 1.31% of Guanghzhou’s population vs. 0.16% of Tokyo’s (assuming that Mainichi is right and there are at least 20,000 African residents in the Tokyo area). I should also mention that they are apparently overwhelmingly male and in prime working years.

Many are apparently in the country under similar terms as in China – most come from Nigeria and Ghana, and they are in the country on work/business visa quotas, and sometimes as illegal overstayers. In addition, many are in the country on spouse visas, both genuine and fraudulent (or somewhere in between). Some teach English, while others operate or work for clothing stores, import shops, or restaurants. Their numbers extend beyond Tokyo – I have heard reports of African-run hip-hop clothing stores as far-flung as Shikoku.

While almost all of the African residents in both Japan and China surely make their livings legitimately, it is worth mentioning that Africans in Japan have been notably involved in counterfeiting, drug muling, money laundering, and other illicit activities, apparently in line with the situation in Guangzhou. These crimes may receive extra scrutiny because of how Africans stand out. Anecdotal reports indicate that the police generally view Africans with suspicion, and apparently when they are arrested they can expect little mercy from the Japanese justice system (though the reaction in Japan must certainly be tamer than the brazen racism seen in that piece on China).  

One key difference between the Sino-African and Japanese-African relationships is that while the Japanese interests have centered around resource investment projects (in his youth, Prime Minister Aso helped run a diamond mining operation in Sierra Leone) and meeting diplomatic goals (UN Security Council reform, whaling), China under Mao developed ideological ties with leaders in Africa as it sought to support socialist revolution abroad. These efforts included a priority student visa program for African students to study at Chinese universities. On an only tangentially related not, this was the historical background of some pretty scary 1988 protests in Nanjing:

On December 24, 1988 two male African students were entering their campus at Hehai University in Nanjing with two Chinese women. The occasion was a Christmas Eve party. A quarrel about correct identification between one of the Africans and a Chinese security guard, who had ordered the Africans to register their guests, led to a brawl between the African and Chinese students on the campus which lasted till the morning, leaving 13 students injured. 300 Chinese students, spurred by false rumors that a Chinese man had been killed by the Africans, broke into and set about destroying the Africans’ dormitories, shouting slogans such as “Kill the black devils!” After the police had dispersed the Chinese students, many Africans fled to the railway station in order to gain safety at various African embassies in Beijing. The authorities prevented the Africans from boarding the trains so as to question those involved in the brawl. Soon their numbers increased to 140, as other African and non-African foreign students, fearing violence, arrived at the station asking to be allowed to go to Beijing.

By this time, Chinese students from Hehai University had joined up with students from other Nanjing universities to make up a 3000 strong demonstration which called on government officials to prosecute the African students and reform the system which gave foreigners more rights than the Chinese. On the evening of 26 December, the marchers converged on the railway station while holding banners calling for human rights and political reform. Chinese police managed to isolate the non-Chinese students from the marchers and moved them to a military guest house outside Nanjing. The demonstrations were declared illegal, and riot police were brought in from surrounding provinces to pacify the demonstrations which lasted several more days.

The African population depicted in the video is clearly of a much different character from these earlier students. Reflecting the increasing resource investment of China itself, this group of Africans in China are strictly business-oriented (many never even attended college), apparently hoping to cash in on the Chinese economic boom.

Japanese rastas


A small but devoted Rasta community developed in Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rasta shops selling natural foods, Reggae recordings, and other Rasta-related items sprang up in Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities. For several years, “Japan Splashes” or open-air Reggae concerts were held in various locations throughout Japan. For a review by two sociologists of how the Japanese Rasta movement can be explained in the context of modern Japanese society, see Dean W. Collinwood and Osamu Kusatsu, “Japanese Rastafarians: Non-Conformity in Modern Japan,” The Study of International Relations, No. 26, Tokyo: Tsuda College, March 2000 (research conducted in 1986 and 1987).

Where are these Japanese rastas today?

In Japan, Obama inauguration inspires English lessons, off-kilter likenesses

The Adamu household is just ecstatic and relieved to see Obama inaugurated as president. We can’t tell which feels better: not-Bush in the White House or Obama in the White House? 
Though you might not know it to look around you, there are many in Japan who are excited about Obama who don’t live in a certain newly famous town that happens to be named after him. As just one indicator of interest, NHK announced its late-night ratings almost quadrupled for live coverage of the address. A fairly universal attitude by my observation has been, “Why don’t we have dynamic leaders like that in Japan?” So the buzz over Obama may in part be a kind of vicarious thrill.
So even before the inauguration, individuals and businesses in Japan have been finding interesting ways to express their enthusiasm. Let’s take a look:

1. Learn English

  • Listening to one of the great speechifiers of our time can be inspiring. Obama’s message can call you to serve your country, resolve to be a better person, or sacrifice for the greater good (but tragically apparently not to prosecute those responsible for the Bush regime’s crimes). Some aspiring English speakers in Japan have taken this opportunity to brush up on their own speaking skills. Prominent among the “Obama books” that are currently flooding Japanese bookstore displays is CNN’s Obama Speech Collection for students of English as a second language. The book, so far having sold over 400,000 copies, features excerpts from famous Obama speeches with a Japanese translation on the opposite page, which students can use to follow along as they listen to an attached CD. I picked it up the other day and it has proven useful both as a translation reference for US politics and as a handy record of his landmark addresses. I’m not sure how effective it is as a teaching tool, but for a Japanese learner of English inspired by Obama it will no doubt give them easy access to the tools they need (minus the inauguration address, of course).
  • Meanwhile, much like Kenya’s “Obama imitation contest“, some private English classrooms have started offering Obama mimicry lessons to a reportedly favorable response. In one TV news report, groups of 20+ students lined up to wait their turn to recite famous Obama speeches as a White-boy instructor barked orders on how to mimic Obama’s unique oratory style.

2. Create a mildly unsettling Obama likeness

Here we see some examples of creativity from both traditional and modern artists that deserve an “A” for effort but unfortunately didn’t turn out all that appealing:

no resemblance whatsoever?
No resemblance whatsoever?

Zombie Reagan looking gaunt (or is that Carter??)
Zombie Reagan looking gaunt (so Carter really is irrelevant!)

* Thanks to Andrew Leonard for the correction!

Compare to the real thing:

That’s more like it!

Police statism around the world

After my post the other day, it is worth realizing that, despite worrying trends back home there are no shortage of countries that are far, far worse off. Here are some stories that jumped out at me just in the past few days.

American Filmmaker Arrested in Nigeria

Andrew Berends, a New York-based freelance filmmaker and journalist who was working on a film about the oil-producing Delta region, was arrested on Sunday and held overnight. “They didn’t let me sleep or eat or drink water for the first 36 hours,” he said Tuesday night.

Taiwan Society receives inquiry letter over rally

The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) yesterday rebutted accusations from the Taiwan Society and others that it was breaching freedom of expression by issuing a letter of inquiry to the group that organized a major rally held last Saturday.

The rally drew tens of thousands of participants protesting the government’s cross-strait policies, and called on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, save the economy and help to accelerate the adoption of “sunshine bills.”

Thai Government Cracks Down on Rebellious Websites

The ICT says that 344 of the websites it listed had content it deemed “contemptuous” of Thailand’s royal family, five were considered “obscene,” two featured religious content and one hosted a sex video game.

Thai courts issued orders to shut down about 400 of the websites on the ICT’s list, while the remaining 800 are expected to be blocked by ISPs. The ICT also asked police to help round up sites’ owners, noting that it wants to “bring all violators to trial.”

Chinese Muslims cower under secret police crackdown

Being seen talking to a foreigner is enough to earn a Uighur a minimum of five years in prison and the confiscation of his business. “Please leave here,” said one man in a tea house around the corner from the scene of the attack. “We did hear things, but we cannot talk or we will be taken away.”


Fearful of the growth of an independence movement, and of the motivating effects of religion, the Chinese government has imposed debilitating measures on the local mosques. One popular mosque was even padlocked shut yesterday.

No one under 18 is allowed to visit a mosque, and schools deliberately schedule their classes over the 1pm call to prayer. Nor are imams allowed to broadcast over a tannoy.

Uighur passports are now held by the police, who refuse to let many Uighurs travel abroad. Since May, any Uighur travelling inside of China has been stopped and sent home by the police. They are not welcome at any hotels or guesthouses, under stringent regulations designed to protect Beijing or the other Olympic cities from a possible separatist attack.

And so on. This is just a small sampling of countries besides the US where the government is stepping beyond any reasonable bounds to stifle political dissent. Of these four countries, three are significantly less free than the US today and serve, in various ways, as examples of what governments should not do (the case of Thailand is extra complicated, since with their eternal coups and factions it’s hard to even tell who should be considered the government at any given time.) The fourth country, Taiwan, is particularly complicated case. A military dictatorship and full on police state until fairly recently, Taiwan is a new democracy that was ranked an impressive #32 in last year’s Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. But the current administration is a return to the formerly dictatorial KMT, and there are serious worries over the possibility of recidivism. In the same ranking, the US was given a dismal 48- having slid precipitously from #17 in the 2002 Index.