Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

A plea for accuracy – 3

December 10, 2018

Next installment of my brief end-of-year reflection…I have hesitated about this theme, writing and then re-writing bits of the entry that follows but I do feel it needs to be put out there. I had cut it up in smaller parts…four when I started – but for reasons of legibility (and because I keep re-working stuff) there are now five parts. I promise that’s where it will stay.


As the previous section suggests, Fascism is above all: organisation. There is no comprehensive fascist ideology but there are themes. Taken together, these themes produce a poisonous cocktail. In the 1920s and 30s, fascist leaders capitalised on the twin themes of national humiliation/demoralisation and national resurrection to capture their audiences. The Italian Benito Mussolini personally made the Odyssey from editor-in-chief of Avanti, the socialist party’s paper, to the leadership of the fascist party. An Austria-born amateur painter and World War One front soldier came back to a destroyed German Empire and wrote an overlong book about his struggle.

Both argued that The Nation must be made strong again. The way to do this is through organised coercive violence. The Party and its (visionary) Leader are there to bring this about for a deserving demoralised populace. And this is the third theme.

Filling the void

In both countries, the idea of The Nation got bound up with the demographic that historically was supposed to have owned that nation, hence the reference to that supposed organic unity of Ancient Rome, Blood and Soil in the German version. Indeed, this is about The People: that mythical, constructed, artificial – and above all pure – in-group. It is hardly surprising that fascism (certainly in the German variety) places great emphasis on the wholesome life outside the cities, in the natural idyll of the unspoilt natural countryside.

Once Nation, People, Party, Leader and State are declared to be the same, everybody else falls outside that frame. First the dissenters: the socialists, the communists, the anarchists, the writers, musicians – jazz was infamously declared to be “degenerate art” -, playwrights and other artists, the clergy who questioned the New Faith. They were the first inmates of the concentration camps. Then came everyone else considered “Not Like Us.” The Jews, but also the Roma, Asians, Africans, gays and lesbians…all were brutally attacked by party militias and physically destroyed by the repressive machinery of the Party-controlled State.

It should be clear, then, that the nature and organisation (and to a lesser extent the thematic underpinnings) of this self-perpetuating death machine made territorial expansion unavoidable. The machine needs constant feeding. The lands outside The Nation are full of people “Not Like Us,” therefore they can be subjugated and humiliated in our holy quest for more resources and Living Space.


In Central Europe, the war began on September 1, 1939 with a classic piece of fake news. Hitler claimed that the Poles had attacked, and then he inserted this infamous little phrase: ‘Since 5h45, fire is being returned.’ In their conquests, the Germans could fall back on the “expertise” they had gathered during their colonial reign; some of the worst criminals who had participated in the destruction of the Herero and Nama peoples in Namibia effortlessly found their way to the German fascist party. The Italians crossed the Mediterranean and set foot on Libyan soil…after all, the Romans had been lord and master on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea – and most of Western Europe. In their attempt to imitate the ancient empire, Italian colonisers got their hands on Eritrea and Ethiopia. In 1937 they carried out an appalling atrocity, killing thousands of people in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, an infamy that is described in this book. 


To sum up then, we have three simple, self-centred navel-gazing themes to seduce a pauperised population and gain power, we have violence and terror-based dictatorship to consolidate that power once obtained and we have wars of conquest to gain more power and fresh resources. Never the question arises whether or not this “model” is sustainable. History teaches us that it isn’t. It eats itself.

Banning says, and I agree with him, that at heart there is no coherent ideology. Fascism fills a void and it fills it with raw, naked, undiluted, violent, cynical power, exercised by people who are often unable to excel anywhere else. The Italian and German fascist parties attracted criminals, misfits and failures who jumped on the fast train to power until it inevitably hit the buffers, leaving the two Great Leaders exposed as the charlatans they were. Both men and their short-lived projects came to violent ends.

Now fast-forward…

A plea for accuracy – 1

December 4, 2018

For an end-of-year reflection I am taking a short break from matters West African although it is not unrelated… I have hesitated about this theme, writing and then re-writing bits of the entry that follows but I do feel it needs to be put out there. It’s long, so I have cut it up in four smaller parts. Whenever you’re ready…


Here’s a word that is being bandied about with wild abandon. It reminds me of that film quote:

‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’ It’s my deepening irritation about the over-use of this word, misinformed by a complete lack of historical context. The word is: Fascism.

I have in my luggage a classic from my political science classes. The book is entitled “Contemporary Social Movements” (or Hedendaagse sociale bewegingen, to quote the original title) by the Dutch religious sociologist and pacifist Willem Banning. His descriptions of these social movements, both religious and secular, are succinct and to the point.

The first print run appeared as Europe was sliding towards what would become World War Two. An adapted version was published after 1945, and that is the one I have access to. Banning describes and evaluates the destructive movement, Fascism, as it rose and fell in Italy and Germany.

It’s instructive to go back to this, because we are bombarded with phrases that suggest the 1930s are back, World War Three is around the corner and the entire Western world is in the grip of an extreme right-wing wave that will lead straight to the resurrection of the gas chambers and the concentration camps. Well, are we? Let’s examine the Beast.

Fascism appeared as a political force after World War One (1914-1918), which was a giant European fight for global turf. European nations’ collective heads had crashed into various walls. Limits, more accurately. Limits to economic growth, limits to colonial expansion and limits to its rampant capitalism. As a result, Europeans lunged at each other’s throats for four years and at the end of it some 11 million people lie dead. Also dead: three empires: Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany. Another one, Russia, had a bloody revolution and two others (France and Great Britain) had fatally injured themselves and many of their subjects in Asia and Africa. The European void was both physical and spiritual. World War One buried the 19thCentury and its notions of societies moving inexorably forwards. The space left open was taken up by a new, confident and optimistic kid on the block – America (which, one century on, is in the process of being overtaken by China).


Part Two shortly.




April 1, 2010

Interesting moment for a bit of Dakar orientation – just before leaving for a few months, but there you have it. That big blob sitting in the middle of the map you have clicked above, is the airport. And I live pretty much next door to it. Here’s a little more detail:

Small blob in the bottom right-hand corner: that's my corner

Ouest Foire, that’s the name. It’s an upcoming, hesitantly middle-class part of town. Far away from the expatriate exuberance of Mermoz or the lunatic decadence of Almadies. My place is on the street at the top end of the oval mark. And the best place in my area, is restaurant Figo. It sits near the bottom of the mark, close to the Pont CICES. And it looks like this:

Figo, Route de l'Aéroport, Ouest Foire, Dakar (photo: Martin Waalboer)

You’d swear you’re in Southern Europe, somewhere, with that exterior. And you’re not far off the mark, because the owners and managers of the place have spent quite a bit of time – in Italy. Atoumane Diagne and Fatoumata Bathily got the idea in Italy, were they met seven years ago. They were both working in a restaurant and said to themselves: ‘This should be possible in Senegal.’

‘I did a survey,’ Fatoumata recalls, ‘and found this part of town ideal. It’s new, it’s close to the airport and there are very few restaurants.’

‘It was a house’ adds Atoumane, ‘we re-designed the entire place to make it look like a European restaurant and terrace.’ And Figo (nothing to do with the Portuguese football player, they assure me!) opened its doors on November 15th, 2008.

It's their place: Fatima, Atou - and the fellow in the middle is Aziz (photo: Martin Waalboer)

It’s been good going so far. Fatoumata is pleased. ‘Expatriates, Senegalese, people from Ouest Foire – it’s a good landing spot for a lot of people.’ And it’s also proof of something else: you can make it right here, at home.

So that’s where I will definitely park you if you pass through Dakar. Senegalese and Italy-style food, drinks, music (Saturday night it’s live) and the nicest restaurant managers you can think of. But don’t take my word for it…

Migrant success

December 7, 2009

Here’s an idea if you want to get things done in Yoff: learn Italian. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but there’s a fair number of people here who have

–          been to Italy

–          learned the language (putting my poor attempts at the learning the local language Wolof to shame)

–          got a break…

…and then decided: naah, Europe’s not for me, I’m going home.

So they’re back home and running businesses. One of them is another one of my many namesakes, Ibrahim. He holds office behind a desk at the back of a very trendy furniture shop – along L’Autoroute of course. His own. As he was selling me a nice bright red designer sofa/bed, Ibrahim casually told me he’d gone to Italy just to try his luck, like so many before (and indeed after him). He had worked in a factory for a bit, decided that this was not quite what he had in kind for the rest of his life and found himself more lucrative employment. Like all migrants, he is pretty vague about what made him enough money to return and set up his furniture import business but ultimately: who cares? He makes his own money, employs a youngster who enjoys what he’s doing and things are looking fine. Sharp dresser Ibrahim and yours truly had, in the meantime settled on a price for the sofa/bed: just under 200 euros. Not bad. And would I be interested in a pair of very expensive Italian designer shoes? They’re just in…

No shoes, thanks. But the piece of designer furniture from Italy duly arrived at my flat – on a very old-fashioned horse-drawn cart.

 ‘You can breathe here.’ She’s very pretty, has just come off the flight from Paris and sits across from me on the outside terrace of Figo, easily the best mainstream restaurant/bar/meeting point in Yoff. In tune with the times, or “branché” as the French would put it. Yep, it sits on L’ Autoroute, where else. The recent arrival explains to me that she spends half the year in Europe. When she gets fed up with the place she takes the plane to Dakar. And vice versa. Works fine. Oh and by the way, she’s married. Dommage…

The young couple that run Figo had the Italian experience as well. And they decided to bring some of that here. Nice furniture, designer ashtrays (yes, you can still smoke here, a sign of sanity if you ask me) and of course WiFi (always a laptop or two on the premises). They have a lovely stack of MP3s that gets a regular run and includes a generous amount of Senegalese top stars (Youssou N’Dour, Thione Seck, Wasis Diop) plus pop music from the European Mediterranean. Mercifully, virtually no modern r&b, the perpetrators of which should be put on trial for audio crimes against humanity. There’s also an ice installation, very Italian but evidently out of order for the time being. And…. excellent coffee.

Figo seems to be doing quite alright for itself although Atou, the male half of the couple (he basically runs the place) did tell me after a very long night that things are not easy. Not for want of trying. The Senegalo-Italian kitchen is very good. The atmosphere is cool and pleasant. At the weekends you may find a band or a solo artist playing, to attract the clients. Things like these and plenty promotion are needed to keep a staff of at least 10 quite busy. So now you know where I’ll take you on your first visit…

Just two examples of what they call “circular migration”. But migration is a triple edged sword: it’s an uncertain investment, it plunges you between your own culture and the one you’re heading for and consequently it may seem that you don’t quite fit in anywhere.

For would-be migrants to Europe, it seems two messages are coming through. The first is visible along L’Autoroute – with a bit of luck you can actually make it and build up a pretty good life back home. The second is: Europe? Don’t bother. For traders, Africa’s richest and most powerful demographic, Europe is history. Too much hassle just to get into the bloody Fortress and then come back with overpriced stuff. Dubai, Hong Kong and Istanbul – that’s the ticket.

In the end, everyone makes up their own mind of course but I would hazard a guess: most Senegalese have no intention of leaving. Those who do would most likely fancy a life with two places to call home: one in say Italy, the Netherlands (I will one day tell you a story about a would-be Dutch citizen of Guinean origin) or even France if you can’t help it. And another one here in Senegal, because “you can breathe here”. Circular migration: why not? That’s precisely what I am doing.