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Saturday, June 14, 2008


There is an interesting comment on the post about DDT, from someone who identifies himself as a coffee buyer and concludes that the concept of an entire district losing its “organic certification” is patently false. The middle-man cocoa buyers are bullying the farmers with this threat. I find that quite believable: perhaps it is this way all over the world, but the bullying culture seems well developed in Africa. On the surface the society seems relatively peaceful to the outsider, the strong clan identification and respect for elders. But underneath, there is violence and fear. Older kids bully younger ones, a huge problem at our boarding school in past years (though one we’re fighting), as new students find themselves surrounded and threatened and relieved of their stashes of sugar meant to sweeten their morning porridge, or of their pocket-change meant to buy pens or soap. Teachers bully students. A friend told Luke last night that his teacher told him that unless he stopped playing soccer in the afternoon break time, the hour and a half of exercise and recreation that breaks up the long school day, he was going to fail that teacher’s class. Men bully their wives, and parents their children, using beatings or withholding food to assert their power. Staff bully patients, berating them at times for disturbing their peace. Families bully their relatives when they accuse each other of witchcraft and extract expensive fines and rituals for peace. Harsh words, raised hands or sticks, coercive threats, turn the interaction into one of power and abuse. So the idea of cocoa buyers pressuring farmers with the threat of boycott seems quite real. And with most bullying, one must query what the bully seeks to gain. A lower price for the product, and a higher profit margin? A political point scored against a government policy? Or just a sense of control? And perhaps that points to the reason the culture of bullying thrives in a place like this. When the vagaries of international trade and exploitation of resources have depleted a continent, when the ravages of disease and drought lurk around the corner of every month, when daily survival is a struggle and the outcome by no means certain, people want a small sphere in which they feel some sense of security. They want some way to manipulate the world in their favor. So from the hungry teen all the way up to the shady businessman, the stronger pushes the weaker, and feels stronger still. Sounds like something out of Ecclesiastes, another lament. And a warning to my own heart. Lament lays the injustice before the throne of God, rather than bullying the bullies into submission.

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