Douwe Osinga's Blog: February 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What do you do after a genoicide?

Arriving in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda from most other African countries must be a bit of a reverse culture shock; the city is clean and pretty, the traffic not too busy and well behaved. The shops are well laid out and give a sense of prosperity and the people seem healthy and relaxed. The government though recently giving in to a certain degree of authoritarianism, is still efficient with streaks of visionary mixed in; they banned plastic bags and decided to change the national language from French to English for economic reasons (though certain disagreements with the government in Paris might have pushed them over the edge). All in all it feels more like a nation taking its cue from Singapore than South-Africa.

I imagine it is much like Germany must have been in the sixties. It's been about 20 years since Hutu death squads went on a killing spree killing around a million Tutsis and moderate Hutu's in one of the worst genocides of the second half of the twentieth century. Led by Paul Kagame, the current president, the RPF, a Tutsi dominated rebel movement, succeeded in pushing out the genocidistas before the United Nations got their act together.

What puzzles me is how they got back to a state of normalcy. The Rwandese genocide didn't happen in relatively remote concentration camps. It wasn't executed by a small group of well armed extremists. It happened everywhere at the same time, with neighbours killing neighbours, sometimes family members killing each other. People trying to find refugee in churches were sometimes turned over to their killers by nuns and priests, sometimes the Interahamwe would just blow up the church.

After World War II people in the Netherlands would whisper that somebody had been "wrong in the war" when they suspected collaborators or wonder if a visiting German tourist might have been "a good german". Over time that went away, but it took a good while. More than 40 years after the end of the war, football supporters were still celebrating the rare win over the German team declaring they got their grandfathers bicycle back.

In Rwanda they seemed to just have decided to do away with the whole thing. Now there are no more Hutu's or Tutsi, just Rwandese. The events in 1994 were a grim reminder that 80% of humans will turn into mass murderers given the right circumstances. Now Rwanda is showing the world that you can come back from even the worst tragedy imaginable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Paleo diet is wrong about grains

The Paleo diet insists we should only eat things our forefathers ate back in the stone age; our systems just aren't developed to process modern foods. It's an interesting idea that intuitively makes sense although the objection that it's crazy to get health advice from a group of people that had a life expectance of 32 is hard to overlook.

So you're mostly left with a diet of some vegetables and lots of animal protein from meat, fish and eggs. Especially grains are a big no-no. To the untrained eye it appears as yet another low-carb diet with a better back story. I think though that they are wrong about the grains.

I'm writing this while being on a trip to East-Africa, the cradle of humanity. And even though you don't see many primitive hominoids on the planes of the Serengeti, you do see baboons. Baboons aren't great apes so not very related to humans, but they do seem to fill a similar niche as early humans did; they're ape-like creatures living in social groups on the savannahs getting by on whatever they find.

This time of year the Serengeti looks like a field of grain. The rains make the grasses grow tall and all those grasses are laden with seeds. Those seeds are of course nowhere as big as modern grains but it is still free calories to the baboons. And so a common sight is to see a group of baboons "harvesting" "grains". It just seems very unlikely to me that our ancestors would just let that opportunity go.