October 23, 2017

Today I learned a new word: Pigmentocracy

Filed under: Africa, Business, Health, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Guardian, Afua Hirsch writes about the recent Nivea skin cream video to explain why the ad is so controversial:

“Now I have visibly fairer skin, making me feel younger,” declares the Nigerian actor Omowunmi Akinnifesi in an advert for a new face cream. The ad, for the global skincare brand Nivea, was only ever intended to reach a west African audience, but predictably – has Nivea heard of the internet? – it has been watched and shared millions of times around the world including in the UK, where most of us live in blissful ignorance of the fact that some of our most popular brands openly promote the idea in other markets that white is right.

Nivea says the ad was not intended to offend, but offence is not the point. The global market for skin lightening products, of which west Africa is a significant part, is worth $10bn (£7.6bn). Advertising has a long and unbroken history of promoting and normalising white beauty standards, and if Britain built its empire as a geopolitical and ideological project, the advertising industry commodified it. Soap brands such as Pears built a narrative that cast Africa as dark and its people as dirty, the solution to which – conveniently – was soap. Cleansing, lightening and civilising in one handy bar.

These days the marketing has become much more sophisticated. Ads speak of “toning” as code for whitening. Lancôme, which a few years ago got in trouble for using Emma Watson’s image to market its Blanc Expert line in Asia, emphasised that it does not lighten, but rather “evens skin tone, and provides a healthy-looking complexion … an essential part of Asian women’s beauty routines”.


Shadism, pigmentocracy – the idea of privilege accruing to lighter-skinned black people – and other hierarchies of beauty are a complex picture in which ads such as Nivea’s are only the obvious tip of an insidious iceberg. Celebrities with darker complexions, such as the Sudanese model Nyakim Gatwech – nicknamed Queen of the Dark – and actors such as Lupita Nyong’o, are so often discussed in the context of having achieved the seemingly impossible by being both dark and beautiful, that they become the exceptions that prove the rule.

It is often observed that light-skinned black women are more likely to become global superstars, the Beyoncé-Rihanna effect. They are, however, still black women and therefore not immune from the pressure to lighten – most recently by fans following a new Photoshopping trend of posting pictures of whitened versions of their faces and remarking upon the improvement.

In countries such as Ghana, the intended audience for the Nivea ad, and Nigeria – where an estimated 77% of women use skin-lightening products – the debate has so far, understandably, focused on health. The most toxic skin-lightening ingredients, still freely available, include ingredients such as hydroquinone, mercury and corticosteroid. It’s not unusual for these to be mixed with caustic agents ranging from automotive battery acid, washing power, toothpaste and cloth bleaching agents, with serious and irreversible health consequences.

December 19, 2012

ARA Libertad finally free to sail home from Ghana

Filed under: Africa, Americas, Government, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:05

If you’ve been following the debt-related travails of the Argentine navy’s flagship, you’ll recall that the ship was impounded on a visit to Ghana back in October. The BBC is now reporting that the ship has been released, and Argentinian sailors will be able to take the frigate home after a UN court decision:

The Libertad set sail from Ghana’s main port of Tema after a United Nations court last week ordered its release.

Argentina sent almost 100 navy personnel to man the three-masted training ship.

It was impounded after a financial fund said it was owed money by Argentina’s government as a result of a debt default a decade ago.

[. . .]

In November, sailors on board the Libertad reportedly pulled guns on Ghanaian officials when they tried to board the vessel to move it to another berth.

The lengthy diplomatic row began when the ship was prevented from leaving Ghana on 2 October, after a local court ruled in favour of financial fund NML Capital. The fund is a subsidiary of US hedge fund Elliot Capital Management which is one of Argentina’s former creditors.

Initial report on the seizure here and here.

October 25, 2012

Follow-up – Argentine flagship’s crew to fly home after three week delay

Filed under: Africa, Americas, Government, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I originally found this story at the beginning of the month, and after all this time, the bulk of the Argentinian crew finally fly home. BBC News has the update:

Almost 300 sailors left on an Air France plane chartered by the Argentine government.

A skeleton crew is staying on board the three-masted Libertad to maintain it.

The tall ship was prevented from leaving Ghana after a local court ruled in favour of a US fund.

The fund, NML Capital, argued it was owed $370m (£231m) by Argentina’s government as a result of its debt default a decade ago.

[. . .]

An earlier plan for the sailors to fly back on an Argentine plane was scrapped because of fears that the aircraft might itself be impounded as part of the debt dispute.

On Tuesday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner condemned the Libertad’s seizure and made it clear there would be no negotiations with creditors.

Photo by Martín Otero, 7 April, 2007

October 7, 2012

Flagship of Argentinian Navy seized for unpaid government debt in Ghana

Filed under: Africa, Americas, Government, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:38

If I were you, I’d avoid investing in any Argentinian business (or businesses which have significant operations in Argentina), as the government is doing everything it can to prevent the flight of capital. Some of the debt holders are getting quite creative about finding ways to put pressure on Argentina to pay its debts:

If pirating didn’t work out, Capt. Jack Sparrow would perhaps have made a savvy hedge fund manager.

A New York hedge fund boss is being dubbed a real pirate of the Caribbean after seizing the flagship of the Argentinian navy in an attempt to settle some of the country’s huge debt.

Billionaire Paul Singer took control of the tall ship the A.R.A. Libertad with a court order in Ghana this week.

The triple-mast frigate, which stopped in the African country as it trained naval cadets, is valued at $10 million and is the ceremonial flagship of the Argentine fleet.

Photo by Martín Otero, 7 April, 2007

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