Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday Geography - North Africa - part 2

This evening we return to North Africa. Last Monday we looked at the nations bordering on the Mediterranean. Tonight we look at the next tier, the row of nations bordering those of last week.

I plan to put some playful review at the end but want to put a disclaimer up front: there are no tests here, so no self-scoring, no putting ourselves down, nothing to quash ourselves. I like to play with information, so any questions or games at the end are meant to reinforce and tease, NOT to quiz and probe. Deal?
We begin on the western coast with Western Sahara, a very sparsely populated area. It was a former Spanish colony. Nowadays it is mostly administered by Morocco, making it what the UN calls a Non-Self-Governing Territory. Portions are controlled by the Algerian-backed Polisario/SADR. The two parties--Polisario and Morocco--are variously recognized by different states and organizations and the matter is unresolved. So you see two flags above: Morocco's and the Polisario-sponsored flag. The largest city is El Aaiún but there is no recognized capital. An inhabitant is known as a Sahrawi or Sahrawian.

Mauritania is named for the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania. The capital, Nouakchott, is on the Atlantic coast. Mauritania gained independence from France in 1960. It joins Egypt and Jordan in being a member of the Arab League with an ambassador to Israel. Oil was discovered offshore in 2001. Wikipedia notes the following:
The first fully democratic Presidential election since 1960 occurred on 11 March 2007. The election is the final transfer from military to civilian rule following the military coup in 2005. This is the first time the president has been selected in a multi-candidate election in the country's post-independence history.

We are clearly in francophone Sahara, visiting next la République du Mali. French is the official language; in colonial time it was known as French Sudan. Its name is from the Mali Empire (a Mandinka state from c. 1235 to c. 1600) and is from the word for hippopotamus. The word for a crocodile's back yields the name of the capital, Bamako. Mali's exports include gold, cotton, and livestock.

I would imagine the mention of Niger triggers for readers here the memory of Ambassador Wilson's trip to Niger to investigate rumors that Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. His public debunking of that rumor (and other government agencies had discounted it as well) earned him the enmity of Dick Cheney and resulted in the treasonous outing of Wilson's wife Valerie (née Plame).

Wikipedia notes: "The economy of Niger centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits." Uranium is its largest export. The capital is Niamey, the official language is French, and citizens are known as Nigeriens (French pronunciation) in contrast with Nigerians of Nigeria.

Chad (Tchad in French) has two official languages: French and Arabic. The capital is N'Djamena. Of interest (to me) is this tidbit from Wikipedia: "Chad is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups." It is a very poor and corrupt country. Subsistence farming and livestock are the main source of livelihood. There is oil in the south.

Chad has been in the headlines lately (at least French ones, some noted in our world watch feature here) and here is the latest development (Associated Press, dateline 1 April):
PARIS: All six French aid workers convicted in a mass kidnapping in Chad have been freed in France, hours after the Chadian president formally pardoned the group, the French Justice Ministry said.

The six, from a charity called Zoe's Ark, had tried to spirit 103 children to France in October, claiming they were orphans from Sudan's Darfur region. However, an investigation showed that the children were Chadian, and that most had at least one parent or a close adult relative.

In December, a Chadian court convicted the six on kidnapping charges and sentenced them to 8 years of forced labor. They were sent to France on Dec. 28 where the sentence was converted into 8 years in prison.

Sudan is the largest nation in Africa. It is very much in the news because of the sundry conflicts within Sudan between the northern ethnically Arab region and the government in Khartoum and the southern ethnically African region. In addition to ethnic and cultural differences you have religious conflict as the south has more Christians and animists.

Sudan has a long and rich history from ancient days forward. In modern days it emerged from British dominance with independence on January 1, 1956. Civil war between north and south had begun in 1955, prior to independence, and continued until 1972 with the Addis Ababa Agreement. When an attempt was made to rescind the extensive autonomy of the south in 1983, the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out and continued until 2005.

Religion, class struggles, ethnic strife, and fierce power struggles are all mingled in the horrors that have led to mass slaughter in the western region of Darfur. The current conflict in Darfur arose in 2003 and continues into the present.

As I looked at the Sudanese flag, I knew many other flags are quite similar, so put the ones I am aware of together here so you may examine them in one place. These all share the colors of black, red, green, and white as well as three horizontal stripes and a geometric element on the hoist side.

Sudan is the only one with a red stripe on top or a green triangle on the left (hoist) end.

Kuwait and the Emirates have a green stripe on the top.
Kuwait differs from all the others by a black trapezoid on the left.
The United Arab Emirates differ from all the others by a red rectangle on the left.

The remaining three all have black-white-green stripes (top to bottom) and a red triangle on the hoist end.
With no further adornment, it is the flag of Palestine (not yet a recognized state).
With a white star on the triangle, it is the flag of Jordan.
With a red star and crescent in the white stripe, it is the flag of Polisario Western Sahara.

Look folks, I don't have these all memorized and have to look them up every time, so even though I am a vexillophile I do not have all this down pat. I just knew they were out there and had to look them up.

I will add a quick aside. The flag of Mauritania also has a star and crescent: gold on green with the crescent pointing upward. Mauritania borders Western Sahara. This is the sort of mnemonic device I use to remember which is which (or which countries border) but I really have not much luck.

Sudan's NW corner touches on Libya, the country with the solid green flag. Sudan is the only one of these six flags with a green triangle at the hoist end. You gotta have a weird mind that is always looking for connections to get this desperate for "demonic" devices.

OK, now for the orange, white, and green flags. Although the image I had for Niger in my flag graphics looks like the one above, I looked it up again and found that Niger uses a darker shade, more of a burnt orange, which would clearly distinguish it from the others. Still, we're playing here.

India shows the wheel of Asoka in the center, so if you have any associations with the Hindu-Buddhist history of India and recognize that symbol, you will always know India's flag.

Ireland and Côte d'Ivoire are very similar. Ireland has green, the color of the Emerald Isle, on its hoist side, so if you think of Eire as being firmly attached to its greenness, then you may imagine that the flag with orange on the hoist end must be that other one: Côte d'Ivoire.

There is no evident difference in color or proportions between the flags of Chad and Romania, though it is said that Chad has a darker blue.

Here is a regional look so we can look at the nations in last week's and tonight's series.

True confessions. I knew Khartoum was the capital of Sudan before doing this today. Having just typed all this information, I honestly can only remember one other capital (Bamako, "crocodile back," linking to the word for "hippo").

One country has two flags and no universally recognized government.

You probably can all recall which one exports uranium.

Two have Atlantic coastline.

One of these nations has over 200 ethnic and linguistic groups.

That's all I can pull together tonight, folks. Too tired to add music videos this time around.

You may well guess that I have a deep appreciation of the Panamanian extravaganzas that greet us on Friday nights.
--the BB


Malcolm+ said...

Malaysia and Poland too, as I recall.

Paul said...

Indonesia and Monaco are nearly Identical; Poland has red on bottom. I will put up a graphic.