A Statement of Our Policy and Ethics when Treating with Africa.

As director of our small family business I have spent more than 20% of the past 12 years in 15 countries across Africa. African culture, art and people are my passion. When traveling in Africa I stay with the local people in their hotels, villages and homes. Their generosity, hospitality, honesty and friendship has taught me to understand the problems associated with poverty and to respect the dignity, humor, sharing, caring and love of life that I see among my friends in Africa. Every year friends are missing. Dead from malaria, appendicitis, measles and countless other maladies. In these situations African families suffer just as ours do. By the luck of our birthplace we are privileged and our support in Africa is essential.

People often ask, “What can we do about Africa? How can we help?” My answer is to offer our support and understanding while sharing our wealth. Our politicians are the elected representatives of our country within the larger international community. Their mandate must include our international responsibilities. We must all acknowledge the causes of poverty, recognize the problems in developing countries, stop the exploitation and assist their people to rebuild their countries. We can encourage the international community to work towards creating an equal and fair playing field for all of humanity.

Africa is almost 4 times the size of Australia with a 1950's survey (Murdoch) showing more than 800 different ethnic groups. Tasmania is similar in size to Lake Victor ia.

About 3300 BC, the historical record opens in Africa with the rise of literacy in Egypt, which continued, with varying levels of influence over other areas, until 343 BC. Other prominent civilizations include Carthage, the Kingdom of Aksum, the Nubian kingdoms, the empires of the Sahel (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai), and Great Zimbabwe.

Contact and trade with Europe in West Africa began during 1482 with the establishment of the first of Portugal’s many trading stations at Elmina. In the North, trade with Arabic nations began over a millennia earlier. In 1324, King of the Mali Empire, Manse Musa (The Lion of Mali) took an entourage across the Sahara to Cairo. The wealth of the gold he gave as gifts caused rapid inflation and destabilized the Egyptian currency for 12 years. He was so generous that he ran out of money and had to take a loan to be able to afford the journey home. Musa's haj, and especially his gold, caught the attention of both the Islamic and Christian worlds. Along the east coast, trade with the north and east had continued for thousands of years. Research indicates that contact with Malaysia began about 500 AD. and trade with China from about 900 years ago.

As slavery was ending in Europe in the early 19th century, the European imperial powers staged a major scramble for Africa. The Berlin Conference of 1884–85 regulated European colonization and trade in Africa. Its outcome, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, resulted in the occupation and creation of many colonial nation states, leaving only two independent nations -Liberia, established in 1816 for the resettlement of American slaves, and Ethiopia. The colonial powers demonstrated their total disregard of the history and culture of the mighty kingdoms and empires that they were occupying.

A continent was shattered, destroying highly sophisticated cultures, wealthy nations, sensitive and caring peoples considered primitive and without history in the west. Where consent was refused, weapons won wars. Wealthy Empires that had smelted iron and cast bronze for thousands of years, where wealth was measured with gold, kings and chiefs ruled in peace and where people were self sufficient within their communities were rapidly destroyed.

Yes, there were wars just as there have always been wars between different races and migrating groups on every continent. The needs and desires of Africans are no different from the rest of humanity. Their cultures and religions are different from ours but just as strong as those of the rest of humanity.

The first African country to gain independence from their colonial power was Ghana in 1957. Many other countries followed during the next 14 years with South Africa, the last, finally gaining freedom for their majority on 6th June 1994. Today’s Africa is home to more than 50 independent countries, all but two of which still have the borders drawn during the era of European colonialism. A number of Africa's post-colonial political leaders were poorly educated and ignorant on matters of governance; great instability, however, was mainly the result of marginalization of other ethnic groups particularly those divided into minorities by colonial boundaries.

The incursion by both Christian and Muslim missionaries has destroyed many traditional religions and the cultural laws that accompany their animist beliefs leaving many peoples without their history and strong traditional law.

It is time to stop imposing our values. Time to Ilisten to other opinions and to accept the individual and communal right of Africans to their opinion, to give unconditional support to our fellow humans in need.

African countries without natural resources are very poor but peaceful, well governed and generally have been more able to maintain their religion along with their culture and laws.

Countries rich in natural resources such as oil, gold, diamonds, agricultural produce and many other products sought by the west continue to be exploited by multi nationals and Western nations and seem to be in a constant state of turmoil with extreme poverty, war and political corruption possibly exacerbated by the control of neo-colonial powers.

Across Africa the average life span of people in many countries is well below 50 years. Infant mortality rates are huge and death from malaria, starvation, polio, measles, meningitis and multiple tropical diseases far outnumbers the death from diseases such as HIV & AIDS. There is a huge discrepancy between rich and poor with many poor and rural people having very limited access to things in life which are essential to all humanity such as regular food, running water, electricity, health care and education. Health care is not available without cash to pay for it.

University graduates work in their profession for AU$5.00 per day. A majority of people attempt to support their extended family on less than AU$30 per month. A 25kg bag of rice in Mali costs AU$25. One meal a day is the norm.

Our contributions do help. They will remain essential, even though they are just a band-aid and help too few, until the international community recognizes that fair trade and equality are essential for the survival of poverty stricken countries.

Most western countries place limitations on aid to African nations, especially the United States. These limitations are often used to control the governments of these African nations.

Until Africans can be left to nominate their own leaders, governments and have free and democratic elections these problems will continue. Until the world leaders recognize that the wealth of Africa belongs to Africans and if available on the international markets should be purchased at normal market rates the living conditions of the average African will not and cannot improve.

African nations need the support of the world to help them to gain full independence and freedom from neo-colonialism, allowing them to govern in their own right. The plunder and exploitation of Africa must stop before one of the world’s wealthiest continents can be truly free to progress into the 21st century. Cancellation of debt is essential.

At Sidewalk Tribal Galleries we are proud of our record within Africa. We pay full market price for all goods purchased. We do not exploit either the artisans who make our craft items nor the villagers who have used our traditional sculpture as part of their culture and religion. Because of our record villagers are prepared to save special pieces for us until we visit thus enabling us to build our standing in the international tribal art market. We pay all interpreters, drivers, packers and others who work with us well above local rates and all of our shipping documents have full museum papers and customs documents paid for within the local laws. We do not accept nor use black market documents.

The people who help us all know that if possible we will help with funds in any emergency. We pay hospital bills, school fees, rent and food bills to many families when they find themselves in a crisis. These contributions are without obligation and our way of showing support as well as helping people who have become colleagues and friends. We are repaid a thousand times over with the support and friendship of them along with their extended family and communities. It is not possible to help everyone in need and the most difficult thing to say no when we’re short of cash.

When it comes to extreme poverty aid is not so much about philanthropy as it is a necessity. African cultures retain many of the features that are rapidly being destroyed in the west as we move into 21st century more quickly than their developing countries. Values that are being eroded in our communities such as the extended family, sharing and support among communities, discipline, selflessness and respect are all aspects of traditional communities that we witness every day in every country as we travel across Africa.

If we choose to listen we can learn so much.

From our privileged position a little goes so far in Africa.

Ann Porteus, Sidewalk Tribal Galleries, © 2006