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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Thursday 03rd of October 2019

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Macro Thoughts

Home Thoughts

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01-APR-2019 :: There is certainly a Fin de siecle even apocalyptic mood afoot.

There is certainly a Fin de siècle even apocalyptic mood afoot. The
conundrum for those who wish to bet on the End of the World is this,
however. What would be the point? The World would have ended.

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The chances of Republicans deserting @realDonaldTrump are underrated @FT
Law & Politics

Upon dismissing his chief of staff in 1973, Richard Nixon said that he
loved him “like my brother”.
The line seems too easy until you remember that the US president had
seen two of his own die young.
Nixon’s bond with H R Haldeman and other colleagues fortified him well
into the Watergate crisis that brought him down.
Excluding his in-laws and blood relations, is there anyone in
Washington of whom Donald Trump would make the same comment?
Is there anyone who would say it of him? The point is not about the
president’s likeability or otherwise. It is about his level of support
as his own impeachment ordeal nears.
Since the Ukraine scandal emerged, it has been natural to assume total
Republican commitment to Mr Trump. Such is the tribalism of a riven
There is another scenario, though, and it does not stop at one or two
Republicans peeling away. Instead, to save itself, the GOP
establishment might desert Mr Trump as swiftly and unexpectedly as it
bent the knee to him in 2016.
Whether this manifests as the Senate supermajority needed for his
ousting is still hugely doubtful. But there are other kinds of
defiance: a staff exodus from the White House, senatorial refusals to
defend him, the turning of implicated parties on one another.
Sceptics will say this requires the party to wake up from its cringing
passivity. But it has been doing that, in fits and starts, for a while
A dozen Republican senators voted to end the president’s state of
emergency over the Mexican border.
Individuals in the executive have tried to subvert him. Others refused
to scuttle the probe into Russian meddling in US politics.
Senator Mitt Romney has usurped former Ohio governor John Kasich as
the party’s most disapproving grandee.
Congressional members have quit and invited the world to infer why. Mr
Trump was being challenged for the GOP nomination even before
Parts of the conservative ecosystem — think-tanks, journals — have
bucked Trumpism and paid a toll in lost patrons.
I am not suggesting another volume of Profiles in Courage here. But
Profiles in Sheepish and Occasionally Effective Dissent would not
struggle for case studies.
In parts of the country, support for Mr Trump is as bottomless as the
hype implies. In Washington, it can be gossamer-thin.
Aside from any personal dislike of him, his two dearest projects —
protectionism and lower immigration — jar with conservatives reared on
laissez-faire. Some Republicans are even willing to put a number on
the closeted apostates.
Were the vote held in private, “at least 35” GOP senators would choose
to convict the president, according to Jeff Flake, who was one of
their number until January. They will not, of course, but the chances
of a different and still lethal rebellion are underrated.
What might cause it? Were public opinion to turn decisively for
impeachment — the first polls merely lean that way — it would focus
Were Mr Trump’s behaviour to deteriorate, his staff would have to
decide whether to risk ensnarement in the mess.
What put the likes of Haldeman in jail was not Watergate itself but
the efforts to cover it up. And that was under a president with some
grounding in the rules. Mr Trump, a neophyte in Washington, often
appears sincerely dumbstruck by the illegality of certain actions.
Mr Trump must also do without his favourite recruiting sergeant. In
2016, hatred of Hillary Clinton enlisted wavering conservatives to his
cause. Whichever Republican opposed her in the presidential election
could count on almost inexhaustible forbearance from the right.
Three years on, she is a non-factor. Perhaps conservatives can summon
the same dread for the prospect of President Elizabeth Warren (who is
some way to her left) or President Joe Biden. Otherwise, Mr Trump
cannot terrorise them into loyalty merely by brandishing the
The president’s transactional world view always implied the
possibility of his own abandonment. Once he stops being useful to
people, by his own logic, they have no reason to stay loyal.
He does not offer a relationship much deeper than — what an airing
this Latinism is getting — quid pro quo.
For the time being, he still gives eminent Republicans something for
their something. He electrifies a constituency they hardly understand.
But they must now weigh this against a scandal that even the gamest
loyalists among them are struggling to rebut. They must weigh it
against the subpoenas being couriered ominously around Washington.
Whether to support Mr Trump is becoming a finer and finer calculation
for Republicans. And calculation, not fraternity, is all it ever was.

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Anti-Iran Alliance Falters as @netanyahu, @realDonaldTrump and MBS Focus on Their Own Predicaments @haaretzcom
Law & Politics

The three leaders who have led the anti-Iran line in recent years were
each absorbed in his own domestic crisis this week. U.S. President
Donald Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry his efforts to get
Ukraine to investigate a son of his political rival Joe Biden. Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers reported Wednesday to the first
meeting of a pre-indictment hearing on three separate corruption
cases. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, meanwhile, has been
embarrassed by the mysterious shooting death of the personal bodyguard
to King Salman, the crown prince’s father. Saudi Arabia is also facing
renewed global criticism on the anniversary of the murder of Jamal
Khashoggi, a journalist who was critical of the regime.
Iran’s leaders have had a relaxed week, by comparison, despite the
pressure of the U.S. sanctions and the country’s economic distress.
Not only did the sophisticated and destructive attack on the Saudi oil
facilities last month pass without a military response from Riyadh or
Washington, but Saudi Arabia even made it clear that it supported
dialogue with Tehran. Just days after the attack, Iranian President
Hassan Rohani received an enthusiastic welcome at the United Nations
General Assembly in New York. And this week, the Politico website
reported that on the sidelines of the UN, Trump and Rohani agreed, in
a bout of shuttle diplomacy brokered by French President Emmanuel
Macron, on a four-point document as a basis for renewing negotiations.
The U.S. and Iranian presidents almost met face-to-face, and according
to Politico it was Rohani, not Trump, who backed out at the last
In the meantime, there were reports of a defeat suffered by the Saudis
and their allies at the hands of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the
civil war in Yemen, shortly after the United Arab Emirates decided to
reduce its involvement there. And on Monday, a key border crossing
between Iraq and Syria was reopened. It will boost Iranian control of
the “land bridge” from Iran to Lebanon, another result of the Assad
regime’s victory (with Iranian help) in the civil war in Syria.
Tehran found itself in an inferior position, after Trump’s
controversial decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement in May
2018. The economic crisis seems to be unbearable and U.S. Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo presented a 12-point plan to create maximum pressure
on Iran, and many people viewed this as step intended to bring about
regime change in the end.
Almost a year and a half later, things look a bit different: Trump has
avoided military action against Iran, justifiably fearing being caught
up in a regional war in the Middle East, and is avidly wooing Rohani
in the hope of a meeting with him that might lead to a renegotiated
nuclear agreement. Added to this American confusion is European
weakness and Saudi feebleness. In an interview with the American CBS
network, Crown Prince Mohammed warned about a further rise in oil
prices, justified Riyadh’s inability to defend itself against Iranian
attacks and expressed support for a Trump-Rohani meeting.
After Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, Netanyahu often boasted of
his close relationship with Trump. His fans celebrated his influence
over the American president, got worked up about his numerous meetings
with Russian President Vladimir Putin and presented Moscow’s
commitment to keep the Iranians away from the Israeli-Syrian border as
evidence of the strength of the relationship between them, after the
Assad regime completed taking back control of southern Syria.
In practice, this success turned out to be very limited, in the best
case. Over the past few weeks, Netanyahu has half admitted that Trump
is heading toward renewed negotiations with the Iranians, but explains
that it is better that he is in the position to influence the Trump –
rather than his rival, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. In
Syria, the Iranian forces were not completely kept far from the border
with Israel. In addition, Hezbollah is deepening its influence on the
Syrian part of the Golan Heights. The efforts of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards to establish themselves militarily throughout
Syria, alongside the smuggling of arms to Hezbollah and the attempts
to construct assembly lines for precision- guided missiles inside
Lebanon are continuing, too.
Among the many interviews Israeli military officers gave during this
holiday period, the one with Brig. Gen. Dror Shalom, the commander of
Military Intelligence’s research division, in Israel Hayom stood out.
Shalom sounded rather pessimistic: “The picture is much gloomier,” he
told journalist Yoav Limor. “In the end, everything revolves around
Iran. Over the entire field – in its efforts to establish itself in
Syria and Iraq, in the attempts to transfer advanced weapons to
Hezbollah. We are facing Iran on a dangerous curve and need to hold on
to the steering wheel very tight.”
Shalom mentioned a few possible scenarios concerning the nuclear
agreement, including U.S.-Iranian negotiations, a continued military
escalation that could drag in Israel and more serious violations of
the agreement on Iran’s part.
Shalom hinted that Iran is delivering cruise missiles to Syria and
Iraq and described as a “very reasonable option” the possibility that
Iran would launch cruise missiles, surface-to-surface missiles or
drones from western Iraq into Israel to avenge the recent attacks
against it. In light of the capabilities the Iranians demonstrated in
their recent attack against Saudi Arabia, this sounds like a very
relevant warning.
Shalom also described a directed and calculated Israeli move to expand
the scope of its attacks against Iran and targets identified with it
on the northern front. He was not asked – and it is reasonable to
assume he would not have answered such a question – about Israel’s
cumulative contribution to the recent escalation with Iran and whether
they are justified or are in any way related to Netanyahu’s personal
survival efforts.
When President Reuven Rivlin asked Netanyahu last week to form the
next government, the prime minister justified the need for a unity
government by citing the tensions with Iran.
He described the Iranian threat as “an enormous security challenge
that is coming closer to us at incredible speed and it is already
“To deal with it we need to join forces because the people need to be
united,” said Netanyahu.
It is possible that the long-standing assumption, according to which
the status quo will continue because Netanyahu is chary of war, is
being eroded.

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@khamenei_ir Hassan Nasrallah and Qasem Soleimani H/T @FirasMaksad
Law & Politics

These 3 are leading the counterattack and are popping above the radar

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asymmetrical tactics of the Houthis, combined with the conventional capabilities of the Yemeni army, are capable of bringing the Saudi kingdom of Mohammed Bin Salman to its knees.
Law & Politics

Houthi forces employed drones, missiles, anti-aircraft systems, as
well as electronic warfare to prevent the Saudis from supporting their
troops with aviation or other means to assist their trapped men.
Testimony from Saudi soldiers suggest that efforts to rescue them were
half-hearted and of little effect. Saudi prisoners of war accuse their
military leaders of having left them prey to their opponents.
a triple checkmate for the Houthis against Riyadh. Firstly, they
showed that they had enough local support within Saudi Arabia to have
ready internal saboteurs in the event of an all-out war with Iran or
Then they showed they have the capacity to cripple Saudi Arabia’s oil
production. Ultimately, Yemen’s conventional forces could redraw the
boundaries between Saudi Arabia and Yemen in the latter’s favor should
Yemeni leaders decide to invade and occupy a strip of Saudi territory
to secure a buffer zone, given that Saudi forces have been violating
Yemen’s sovereignty and massacring civilians willy nilly for the last
five years.
It bears reflecting on the significance of these events. The
third-biggest arms spender in the world is incapable of defeating the
poorest Arab country in the world. It is, moreover, incapable of
protecting its national interest and borders from this impoverished
Arab country.
The Houthis are showing to the world what a poor but organized and
motivated armed force can do using asymmetrical methods to bring one
of the best-equipped militaries in the world to its knees.
This conflict will be studied all over the world as an example of how
a new means of warfare is possible when technological and cyber
capabilities are democratized and available to those who know how to
use them appropriately, as the Houthis have shown with their use of
drones and electronic warfare.
With the Houthis enjoying a high level of leverage, through a
combination of missile capabilities, the holding of many prisoners of
war, and saboteurs spread throughout Saudi Arabia (apropos, a strange
fire occurred in Jeddah on Sunday at the Al-Haramain railway station),
it may be time for Riyadh to accept the tragic consequences of this
useless war and sit down at the negotiating table with Ansarullah.
Washington and Tel Aviv will try in every way to prevent such
negotiations. But if Mohammed bin Salman and his family wish to save
their kingdom, it is better to start talking to the Houthis
Otherwise it is only a matter of time before another attack by
Ansarullah leads to the complete collapse and ruin of the House of
Saud and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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16-SEP-2019 :: Drones Strikes Deep Inside the Kingdom.
Law & Politics

now the overwhelming geopolitical question is around the longevity of
the House of Saud and its Crown Prince who is of course the Proud
Owner of Leonardo Da Vinci's Salvatori Mundi which means Saviour of
the World and according to Robert Baer has so. many enemies that he
sleeps on his $500m yacht the Serene off Jeddah. The much commented on
Orb is of no help now

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23-SEP-2019 :: And by the way, my conclusion remains we are at a Peacock Throne Moment for the House of Saud
Law & Politics

And by the way, my conclusion remains we are at a Peacock Throne
Moment for the House of Saud and that markets and folks tend to miss
inflection points and therefore I have a supreme conviction around the
Oil markets and am conducting my own operations and only on a need to
know basis.
The Shah of Shahs ended up in Panama all on his lonesome looking out
to sea and there is another fellow not unlike the fictional Dean
Jocelin with a $500m Yacht called the Serene who will most likely be
looking out to Sea in the not too distant future.

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30-SEP-2019 :: President Xi will have to let the renminbi go so SELL the RENMINBI CCP is celebrating 70 years of the People's Republic but when the Party is over, it will be an almighty hangover
International Trade

President Xi will have to let the renminbi go so SELL the RENMINBI.
They will hold it steady this week because the CCP is celebrating 70
years of the People's Republic but when the Party is over, it will be
an almighty hangover

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.0942
Dollar Index 99.181
Japan Yen 107.27
Swiss Franc 0.9966
Pound 1.2275
Aussie 0.6706
India Rupee 71.2131
South Korea Won 1206.06
Brazil Real 4.1433
Egypt Pound 16.33
South Africa Rand 15.2742

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WTI Crude Oil H/T @TCommodity 52.50

Emerging Markets

Frontier Markets

Sub Saharan Africa

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Government debt has surged from 20% of gross domestic product a decade ago to a projected 91.6% this year, prompting the International Monetary Fund to warn that Zambia is at high risk of debt distress. @economics

Zambian Finance Minister Bwalya Ng’andu plans to obtain almost 10% of
the southern African nation’s total income next year from undisclosed
sources, raising concerns about the accuracy and sustainability of
government spending plans for 2020.
The budget, which Ng’andu presented to lawmakers on Sept. 27, contains
6.75 billion kwacha ($515 million) of “exceptional revenue” that could
further stretch the finances of Africa’s second-biggest copper
producer if it doesn’t materialize.
Government debt has surged from 20% of gross domestic product a decade
ago to a projected 91.6% this year, prompting the International
Monetary Fund to warn that Zambia is at high risk of debt distress.
“There’s a process tagged to this and an announcement will be made as
soon as process completion is attained,” a Finance Ministry spokesman
said in response to questions about the source of the funds.
“It would be great if the government gave an indication of this
exceptional revenue before the budget comes into effect in January to
avoid unnecessary speculation,” Lusaka-based economist Chibamba
Kanyama said in an emailed response to questions Wednesday.
“I think all stakeholders want to ascertain the efficacy of that
source so that we are more than guaranteed it will be realized.”
Zambia plans to spend 106 billion kwacha according to the 2020 budget,
a 22% increase from this year. Nearly one-third of that will be
financed through domestic and foreign loans and grants.
Still, Ng’andu forecast the budget deficit will narrow to 5.5% of
gross domestic product from this year’s target of 6.5%.

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Huge quantities of frozen chickens, rice, fabric and cars arrive at the port of Cotonou, Benin's economic capital, where they are taxed locally before being routed - often illegally - to Nigeria.

Benin has few functioning petrol stations, and its fuel is far more
expensive than in Nigeria, where it is subsidised by the state. A
common sight is smuggled Nigerian petrol, sold by the side of the road
in jerrycans.
Beyond contraband, though, trade with Nigeria is crucial for Benin and Niger.
Ranking among the world's poorest countries, they find themselves as
David opposite the Nigerian Goliath -- a market of 190 million and
Africa's biggest economy.
In Benin, business people in some parts of the economy are panicking,
and unfounded rumours that Nigeria will even go so far as to cut off
its electricity supply are spreading in local newspapers.
"Buhari and his country want to put an end to us," said Barthelemy
Agon, a pineapple producer. He like many others have been hard-hit by
fruits and vegetables no longer being exported to their big neighbour.
As for taxi and truck drivers, it's barely worth the effort to hit the
road since a litre of imported contraband fuel has risen by about one
euro ($1.10) since the frontier was closed.
"We are suffering seriously from this situation -- without petrol we
can't do anything," said Aristide Samson Assogba, a motorcycle taxi
Sebastien Deguenonvo in Cotonou's Casse-Auto district said sales of
his low-quality diesel had slumped from at least 30 26-litre
(six-gallon) cans per day to just 10.
"I beg the Nigerian president to have pity on us," he said.
But if his stoney reputation is anything to go by, Buhari -- an
ex-general whose first spell as Nigeria's leader, in the 1980s, came
after a coup -- is unlikely to be merciful.
"President Buhari should be a little bit afraid of God," said Henry
Assogba from the National Association of Petrol Sellers. "The big one
cannot live without the little one."

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Rwanda charges 25 suspected rebels with attempt to overthrow government @The_EastAfrican

A group of 25 men appeared before a military tribunal in Kigali as
suspected operatives for the rebel group, Rwanda National Congress
(RNC), which the government labelled as a terror organisation.
The RNC is mainly composed of former allies of President Paul Kagame,
now bitter foes, residing mainly in exile.
It was started in 2010 by Kayumba Nyamwasa, the former chief of staff
of Rwanda Defence Forces and the late Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s
former Chief of Intelligence—whose murder in Johannesburg December
2013 caused a cessation in relations between South Africa and Rwanda.
The men who appeared in court on Wednesday include three who
identified themselves in court as Burundian citizens, two said are
Ugandan and one identified as a Malawian.
They were all charged with four crimes, including; committing acts to
harm the established government or attempting to overthrow the
government by use of military force, maintaining relations with a
foreign government with intent to wage a war, formation and joining a
criminal association, as well as joining an illegal armed group.
The charges attract between 25 years in prison and life imprisonment.

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Zimbabwe to Introduce First Zimbabwe Dollar Notes in November @economics

Zimbabwe will put the first notes of its reintroduced currency into
circulation in November, said Eddie Cross, a member of the central
bank’s Monetary Policy Committee.
Zimbabwe has been chronically short of paper cash, forcing most
transactions onto electronic platforms such as mobile-money system
“we have insufficient cash in the system to meet people’s needs for
transactions,” Cross told the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp.
The new notes “should do away with the queues at the banks and people
then should have adequate money for daily use.”
The Zimbabwe dollar was reintroduced in June in electronic form after
being abolished in 2009 following a bout of hyperinflation.

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JAN-2019 :: "money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised."

“Money is accordingly a system of mutual trust, and not just any
system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and most efficient
system of mutual trust ever devised.”
“Cowry shells and dollars have value only in our common imagination.
Their worth is not inherent in the chemical structure of the shells
and paper, or their colour, or their shape. In other words, money
isn’t a material reality – it is a psychological construct. It works
by converting matter into mind.”
The Point I am seeking to make is that There is a correlation between
high Inflation and revolutionary conditions, Zimbabwe is a classic
example where there are $9.3 billion of Zollars in banks compared to
$200 million in reserves, official data showed.
The Mind Game that ZANU-PF played on its citizens has evaporated in a
puff of smoke.
‘’The choice of that moment is the greatest riddle of history’’ and
also said “If the crowd disperses, goes home, does not reassemble, we
say the revolution is over.”
What is clear to me is that Zimbabwe is at a Tipping Point moment.

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Namibia's credit rating was downgraded to BB with stable outlook, down from BB+. @CHGSchlettwein

In Sub-Saharan Africa there is no economy with an investment grade
rating by Fitch. South Africa and Namibia remain the two highest rated
economies with BB+ and BB ratings respectively.

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In Madagascar, the Dead Are Dug Up so They Can Party With the Living

Music, food, and love are poured into the Famadihana festival
I’m teetering on the roof-edge of a concrete tomb. The air is filled
with the scent of sweat and rum, and I’m being jostled from all sides
by excitable, dancing men, hollering announcements in Malagasy to the
surrounding crowd of two or three thousand people.
They wave their arms, swaying to the upbeat trumpets of the brass
band. We inhale dust as, below us, men in baseball caps drive shovels
into the dry, compacted earth.
The crowd waits eagerly, many of them clutching rolled-up straw mats.
They demand the men dig faster, and bring out their dead.
So, you know, basically a typical Friday.
This is Famadihana, or the “Turning of the Bones,” a festival for the
dead held in the highlands of Madagascar. Every five to seven years,
people honor their ancestors by exhuming them from the family tomb and
wrapping them in fresh shrouds.
It’s joyful, with music, hog roasts, rum, and dancing. My companions
are Eric, a 51-year-old polylingual driver and tour guide from eastern
Madagascar, with whom I speak an absurd mix of English, French, and
Italian; and Lala, a 34-year-old woman who lives in northern
Madagascar and regularly makes the long and arduous journey to visit
her family.
It’s been more than a year since I first contacted a specialist tour
company in the hope of securing an invite to Famadihana. Just two
months before, I received the email: Lala had invited me to attend her
family’s ceremony in the village of Ambatomiady, around 70 miles from
the capital city of Antananarivo.
“Eric,” I say, gripping the dusty pink cross on top of the tomb, “did
you say this is all one family?”
“Yes,” Eric nods, taking my backpack and slotting it onto his front so
I don’t drop it on the corpses that are about to emerge. “Lala has 15
siblings, and that’s normal. So if they all grow up and get married,
and they each have 15 children…” He indicates the crowd. It’s simple
“Do they all know each other?”
“No!” he waves his hand. “That’s one of the most important reasons to
have Famadihana. So they can meet each other.”
Famadihana is not simple or quick to organize. The family decides on a
rough date — an odd number of years since the last, as it’s fady
(taboo) to turn the bones on an even year.
 Then, they must ask a local astrologer three to six months beforehand
which date would be safe to open the tomb. Some dates are off limits —
it’s fady to open a tomb on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, or to talk about
exactly how many bodies are inside a tomb, or to point at one (if you
must indicate, you use your knuckle).
The astrologer asks when the tomb was constructed — this one is almost
70 years old — and issues a selection of dates. The family must then
apply for legal permission from the state to open it.
On the ground, the shovels hit stone. The moment is coming.
TThe importance of ancestors in Madagascar is visible to the naked
eye; as we drove across the red earth topped with patches of faded
green grass, I noticed tombs made of concrete and granite sitting on
hills, watching over villages of tiny houses made of mud, sticks, and
“I heard that in the ’80s, an aid organization donated concrete to
Madagascar,” I told Eric, “It was for people to upgrade their houses
so they’d be less vulnerable to cyclones, but instead they upgraded
the tombs. Is that true?”
“Yes,” said Eric, “People are happy to live in mud huts they have to
rebuild over and over, but tombs have to last forever.”
We arrived at Lala’s family’s house after an adventurous 11-mile dirt
track made almost entirely of potholes and craters. I stepped over a
patch of blood to shake hands with the family, who were tending to two
slaughtered pigs laid out on the ground atop some tree branches.
The Malagasy flag flew from the thatched roof — a sign that Famadihana
was in progress — above two giant speakers set up for the party that
After a night and morning of eating, drinking, and dancing, Eric and I
were invited to climb a ladder to the top floor of the cottage, where
we sat on the floor with Lala and her family in a circle.
The oldest member of the family, 72-year-old Rafaely, gave a welcome
speech. Eric translated as I presented the family with a shroud and
some bottles of rum, thanking them for the invite. And then the whole
group danced along with the blaring trumpets of the brass band as we
made our way uphill to the tomb.
The men toss aside their shovels, having uncovered a stone slab. They
slide it back and dive into the tomb. People step forward and pass
their straw mats. They disappear into the tombs, place the ancestors
on the mats, and pass them up. Their names are still visible on the
earth-stained shrouds, scrawled on the side in Sharpie. The
descendants hoist them upon their shoulders and walk them to the back
of the crowd.
“That’s Lala’s grandfather,” Eric says, as the fifth body emerges from
the tomb. “Let’s go!” We climb down a rickety wooden ladder, and jog
through the crowd with “Follow that car!” energy. It takes us a few
minutes to find the right corpse, which is not a sentence I ever
expected to write. A man rips strips off a new shroud and mutters, his
eyes wet with tears.
“He’s saying, ‘I haven’t got a dad anymore,’” Eric whispers, “‘I’m an orphan.’”
On the journey here, Lala’s father said the overwhelming emotion of
exhuming the bodies is sadness, an intense renewal of the loss. Rather
than treating bereavement like a flesh wound that heals with time,
Famadihana rips it all open again, if only for a moment. Grief is the
small print of love.
They disappear into the tombs, place the ancestors on the mats, and
pass them up. Their names are still visible on the earth-stained
shrouds, scrawled on the side in sharpie.
They wrap him in a silk sheet, tie it up with the fabric strips. The
music swells and all around us, people start to hoist the bodies onto
their shoulders.
FFamadihana is eye-wateringly expensive. “You’re feeding an entire
village for two or three days,” said Eric, “You’re hiring a band,
maybe paying for transportation for families who live far away. Some
families save money by doing small, simple celebrations — but for
others that’s not acceptable.”
Often, people get a bank loan to pay for it, and fall into cycles of
debt; it might take three or four years to pay off, at which point the
next ceremony is just a year or two away. Like many African nations,
Madagascar had an influx of Christian missionaries — white saviors of
the soul — beginning in the 1800s. Now, while around half the
population maintain traditional religious practices, the U.S.
Department of State reports that around 41% practice Christianity.
Eric tells me that this has led to some tension, with many Malagasy
Christians questioning the value of spending money on the dead, as
life for the living becomes ever more expensive.
That is, of course, easy for them to say.
“In the Malagasy tradition, we don’t have Jesus or Buddha or
Mohammed,” said Eric. “The ancestors are our prophets, our
intermediary, the link between us and God. That’s why it’s important
to take care of them.” To suggest Malagasy people stop venerating
their ancestors is essentially recommending they abandon their
prophet, their advocate, their protection against mortal terror.
Regardless of our beliefs, we all find ways to immortalize ourselves.
Some of us follow religions that tell us our souls are immortal, that
we’ll reincarnate or go to heaven. Non-believers might find symbolic
immortality in naming children, stars, or hospital wings after
themselves. Some of us, ahem, write books.
But some methods of keeping death anxiety at bay are pricier than
others. The debt people go into for Famadihana seems almost like a tax
on living without terror. When I put this to Eric, he only partly
“Honoring the ancestors in this way, it’s a duty, but also a
pleasure,” he says, “We believe in God, but we can’t see God. But
thanks to the ancestors, we’re here on earth — that’s tangible. So why
would we forget them? Why wouldn’t we honor them, touch them?”
I feel a knock in the back of my head — it’s a freshly wrapped corpse
on the shoulders of three men, who laugh and say “Azafady!”
(“Sorry!”). Cadavers are being lifted into the air all around us.
“Hey white person, take our picture!” cries one grinning man,
steadying an ancestor on his shoulder.
“Do you have un stilo?” Eric asks. I pull a pen from my bag, and
Lala’s relative proceeds to write the deceased’s name in large black
letters on the white silk shroud so that they’ll be able to recognize
him in seven years. The next body over needs one too, so they pass it
along. When I get it back, I joke, “This is a special pen now.”
“It is!” Eric says, “You will receive a blessing.”
The sun is tumbling toward the hills. It’s unwise to tackle the
potholes in the dark, so we say our goodbyes. The family members clasp
my hand with both of theirs, make me promise to tell everyone what I
saw today. We hurry through the crowd (“Azafady, azafady…”) ducking
under newly shrouded ancestors bouncing on the shoulders of their
dancing descendants.
I shut the car door and gaze into the rearview mirror, barely able to
process what I’ve just seen. Eric starts the engine. The wheels puff
clouds of dust into the air behind us, obscuring the family of
thousands, dancing with their dead under a setting sun.

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It will purge the rottenness out of the system.

In his memoirs, US President Herbert Hoover says that he received the
following advice from Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon after
the stock market crash of 1929:

“Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate
real estate. It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High
costs of living and high living will come down. People will work
harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and
enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent
people.” According to Hoover, Mellon “insisted that, when the people
get an inflation brainstorm, the only way to get it out of their blood
is to let it collapse” and that “even a panic was not altogether a bad

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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October 2019

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