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On The Trail Of The White Widow

Samantha Lewthwaite, the daughter of a British soldier, is an unlikely terrorist. She is on the most-wanted list after leading the attack on the Westgate mall.

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“Roho Mzungu,” shrieks a group of barefoot children in prayer caps as they run past a mildewed wanted poster, crudely plastered onto an ancient narrow lane on Mombasa Island. Translated from Swahili, the youngsters’ cries simply mean: White Ghost. It has become the latest moniker for perhaps the most unlikely international terrorist of our generation.

I am back in Mombasa after an absence of two years and there is still only one name on the lips of local people. Today, in the schools and playgrounds of coastal Kenya, a region that once welcomed a million tourists every year, a flame-haired British housewife plagues the nightmares of local children. To the local media she is also known as the White Widow and her name is whispered in fear in churches and teeming coastal markets.

NAIROBI, KENYA – SEPTEMBER 23: Heavy smoke is seen from the site of the terrorist attack, Westgate Mall, on September 23, 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya. The attack occurred on Saturday, 10-15 gunmen from the extremist group Al-Shabab entered the mall and opened fire at random on shoppers; 68 deaths have been confirmed. (Photo by Gallo Images / Nation Media / Salaton Njau)

Thirty-one-year-old Samantha Lewthwaite, a white Muslim convert and the fanatical widow of Jermaine Lindsay, the 7/7 bomber who killed 26 people when he blew up a Piccadilly Line Tube train near London’s King’s Cross in 2005, remains at large in East Africa today, known to be in possession of significant quantities of explosives, cash, ammunition and a zeal so deeply entrenched her name is whispered in Al-Shabaab training camps with some reverence.

Kenya has been a primary target for Al-Shabab fighters ever since Nairobi sent thousands of troops to fight in Somalia. The Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has used troops from various African countries to fight the militants since 2007, but Kenya’s ramped-up involvement since October 2011, has been instrumental in pushing Al-Shabaab out of its most important strongholds, including Mogadishu and the port town of Kismayo.

The enduring role of a British housewife at the core of East Africa’s terror shows how complex the task of combatting the growth of attacks is. As we approach the anniversary of the Westgate Mall attack, global terrorist related deaths have leaped by almost one third as the world enters a deadly new phase in the cycle of violence.

Data compiled by Maplecroft, a British risk consultancy, found that over the last 12 months, global deaths have risen 30% compared to the previous five-year average. Africa, as a continent, has been among the hardest hit. With terrorism incidents in Libya doubling in the last year, violence is having a toxic impact on its economy, especially its oil sector, while attacks in Egypt have hit its tourism industry and of course Kenya, which has been hit by increasing attacks.

For Kenya in particular, there is arguably more to lose from adverse publicity. According to Maplecroft, June represented Kenya’s bloodiest month since the Westgate shopping mall attack, with 69 deaths and at least seven wounded, with a single Al-Shabaab attack on a Mpeketoni village in Lamu County responsible for 48 of the deaths.

In Mombasa, the impact of terrorism on the local economy was stark. Occupancy in most of the major resorts strung out along the coast was as low as 10%. Kenya’s tourism, which has provided 15% of GDP in recent years, is in tatters. Warnings last month by the British and other foreign governments prompted flustered tour companies to evacuate clients from Kenya’s coastal tourist hub, Mombasa. Today, the luxurious resorts on Lamu Island stand empty. Operators admit it could take years to restore confidence.

The reason? Mombasa is a fertile recruiting ground for Al-Shabaab, working through radical mosques and clerics. These leaders portray the conflict across the border as jihad, which has an energizing appeal to many youth. The myth of Lewthwaite has curiously become part of that dynamic.

Lewthwaite’s list of alleged cohorts is as deadly as it is long. United States (US) intelligence sources believe that networks linked to Dawood Ibrahim, one of the world’s most wanted men, are bankrolling the deadly Al Qaeda cell Lewthwaite is part of. Dawood, the head of Indian crime network D-Company, is currently the most wanted man in Asia and the ruthless driving force of 5,000 foot soldiers involved in everything from drugs trafficking to contract killing. Currently on the Interpol wanted list, his association with Al Qaeda in Africa has dramatically grown in the last two years.

What is undeniable is Lewthwaite has funding from somewhere and she is backing it up with action. Lewthwaite was recently identified as the brains behind a bold operation to free her terrorist lover, Jermaine Grant, who was arrested in Mombasa in December 2011 in a raid. Kenyan police believe the audacious attempt to rescue Grant, as he was taken from prison to a Mombasa court to face trial, was coordinated by Lewthwaite after two suspected terrorists were stopped crossing into Kenya from Tanzania with bullet-proof vests and face masks. Both men claimed they were acting under the direction of Lewthwaite.

A source from the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit told me that she could still be in Mombasa.

“We believe that for some time she was in fact hiding in plain sight here in Mombasa, working her identities between a now blonde western tourist and burka-clad Muslim. Mombasa is Kenya’s second largest city and she knows the city well. The problem for us is, although not quite a master of disguise, she is afforded the right to wear a hijab or a burka and this simplest of methods allows her to travel. To catch her we must lift the veils of 100,000 women and she knows this is her biggest weapon.”

Lewthwaite’s incredible life on the run is a remarkable twist to an enduring story that is made for Hollywood. Over three years ago, Lewthwaite was forced to flee a terrorist safe-house in Mombasa after Kenyan Police received a tip-off that an Al Qaeda-linked terror cell she was part of was planning to blow up hotels and shopping centers in the city over Christmas.

Instead of the suspects they expected, the police discovered an empty shell. A hastily abandoned bomb-making factory containing batteries, hydrogen peroxide and wires. Crucially they also found a false passport left behind in panic by one of the alleged terrorists, a white woman, later identified as Lewthwaite.

Since then, it has been shadow chasing for the authorities. Relentlessly hunted by the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, and partially supported towards the end of last year by Scotland Yard’s elite SO15 anti-terror squad, the White Widow has remarkably eluded capture.

Frustrated at Lewthwaite’s sophisticated field skills, Kenyan investigators increasingly believe that the Aylesbury mother of three might have played a small, but influential, part in the 2005 London bombings and is now so mired in jihad she has abandoned her three young children to enable her to stay on the run.

The information surrounding Lewthwaite’s current whereabouts is believed to have been sourced under interrogation from known associates of the Briton, including Marianna Issa Mohammed, a female terrorist who was arrested in Kisamayo, Somalia.

Claims that she had boasted of prior knowledge of the London bombings within the terrorist community are particularly remarkable considering that in the wake of the tragedy, Lewthwaite went public on her horror at her dead husband’s act of terror and she was even placed into protective custody by Scotland Yard.

Suspiciously, it wasn’t until a week after the 2005 bombing, that Lewthwaite contacted her local police to register her husband missing. At the time, she claimed they were having relationship troubles. Lewthwaite then later refused to accept Scotland Yard’s insistence that her husband had been the bomber, until investigators produced evidence and she was apparently dragged screaming from her home claiming her husband’s mind was poisoned by radicals.

The White Widow’s journey from suburban Britain to Somalia is all the more astonishing because her father was in fact a British soldier who served in Northern Ireland. Her parents separated when she was 11, which friends claim badly affected her, leading to her being comforted by Muslim neighbors in the town.

After starting A-levels in religious studies, the teenage Samantha decided to convert to Islam, aged 15 and began wearing a hijab and swapped her jeans and T-shirt for a salwar kameez, a traditional Asian tunic and trousers. At 17, she went one step further, changing her name to Asmantara.

As her radicalization continued, Lewthwaite, described by her teachers as precocious and intelligent, enrolled for a degree in religion and politics at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Around this time, she met Jamaican-born Islamic convert Jermaine Lindsay on an internet chatroom for Muslims and they later met face to face at an anti-war rally in London. The couple married in an Islamic ceremony in the front room of a terraced house in Aylesbury in October 2002 before just four witnesses. None of Lewthwaite’s family attended.

“My father Andy didn’t approve and stayed away and my mum just couldn’t make it. I was his youngest daughter. He found it hard enough when I converted to Islam, without marrying a Muslim I had hardly met,” she later recalled.

In 2004, the couple’s first son was born, which is when Lewthwaite claims her husband started to spend time at radical mosques. She has said he was a peaceful man before these visits. Lewthwaite was seven months pregnant with their second child when Lindsay launched his 7/7 attacks. Police believed that she was also a victim of the terrible events and placed her in protective custody after her house was torched in an arson attack.

But her precise movements since the bombings are harder to follow. Within two years of the London attacks, the widow met a new lover, identified by her family only as a Moroccan Muslim from Birmingham, and she later gave birth to her third child in August 2009. It was shortly after this point that Lewthwaite went off the grid.

In late 2010, Lewthwaite is believed to have traveled to South Africa on her own passport but later left with a new identity: that of Natalie Faye Webb, a 26-year-old South African-born nurse based in Essex, England, who was later confirmed as a victim of identity theft. At this point, it is believed Lewthwaite spent time at a training camp in Somalia.

By August 25, 2011, the Briton entered Kenya from Tanzania with her three children, also on false passports, where she is believed to have met with her current lover, Habib Saleh Gani, an Al-Shabaab sleeper, in Mombasa. Lewthwaite is also thought to have made contact with a third British terrorist, Jermaine Grant, 29, from Newham, East London.

By linking herself to Al-Shabaab, Lewthwaite had chosen one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations on the planet. The group, which has imposed a strict version of Sharia law in areas under its control, including the stoning to death of women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves, was responsible for a double suicide bombing in Kampala, which killed 76 people watching the 2010 World Cup final at a local rugby club.

Chillingly, a cache of intelligence, found on the body of Al Qaeda’s African leader and inside the bullet-ridden truck he tried to ram through a Somali government checkpoint, provides a chilling look at the global aspirations of Al-Shabaab. The meticulously prepared documents that detail plots for a kidnapping and attacks on London’s prestigious Eton College, Jewish neighborhoods and the posh Ritz and Dorchester hotels, were uncovered last year when senior Al Qaeda leader Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was shot dead by Somali forces.

According to anti-terrorist police, Lewthwaite seemed the perfect operative. Able to seamlessly mix with tourists on surveillance trips but also able to revert back into strict Muslim society in a burka, her logistical skills proved to be invaluable.

On arrival, it seems Lewthwaite blended quickly into the tourist capital of Mombasa where she operated three safe houses in high-end estates in the north of the city. In the Kisauni area, she lived in a house belonging to a wife of Musa Hussein Abdi, a British-born terrorist who lived in Africa for a long time and who was killed in Somalia last year alongside Fazul Mohammed. The latter was the mastermind of the bombings on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Lewthwaite then moved to Shanzu, a magnet for British tourists, where she lived in a five-bedroom villa paying four month’s rent upfront. She used her western appearance to mingle with holidaymakers and carry out reconnaissance on security in major hotels. But on December 19, 2011, anti-terrorism police raided the house. How Lewthwaite escaped before the raid is a mystery.

Police recovered 60 bullets, two magazines for AK-47 rifles and bomb-making material including acetone, hydrogen peroxide, ammonium nitrate, sulphur, lead nitrate chemicals, AA-sized batteries, an electric switch and a piece of conductive wire.

Ahmed Hassan, a resident of the Kisauni apartment block, says Lewthwaite would leave the house in both western clothes and in her burka.

“Wearing a burka will not get you into an international hotel but wearing a bikini will and a sarong will. It is obvious now that she was the terrorist’s main spy,” he says.

Following the raid, Lewthwaite fled with a laptop, cash and bomb-making material to another safe house barely 20 kilometers away from where anti-terrorism officers believe she dished out equipment and money to field terrorists under the noses of unsuspecting neighbors and police.

But as the net tightened Lewthwaite’s London associate, Jermaine Grant, was arrested in central Mombasa. Grant’s arrest is significant. Within days the White Widow’s latest hideout was exposed again. But, when officers led a raid on the property in January, Lewthwaite had somehow left shortly before and was last seen driving towards the Tanzanian border crossing, Lunga Lunga.

Lewthwaite didn’t raise her head in Mombasa again until June 24 last year when witnesses claim they saw a white woman throw grenades into a crowded bar, killing three people, including a nine-year-old boy, and horrifically injuring 30. Since that last incident, she has been true to her nickname. A ghostly presence linked to sporadic attacks across Kenya including the Westgate Mall.

In Mombasa, Lewthwaite’s case file remains open at the regional Law Courts, where she has been charged in absentia. Court documents indicate that Lewthwaite and her lover Gani are charged with being in possession of explosive materials and conspiracy to commit a felony. The files also allege that Lewthwaite is bankrolling a Mombasa terror cell whose members include Grant.

Jacob Ondari of Kenya’s directorate of public prosecutions believes Lewthwaite is highly dangerous.

“She is not just a small cog in this terrorist machine; she has links to the top. I will be calling for the death penalty when she is finally caught. That would be our prayer,” he says.

In recent months, The Muslim Youth Centre, a radical Kenyan organization believed to have terrorist links, has used the myth of Lewthwaite as a recruitment tool, boasting of her escape from the world’s most sophisticated intelligence agencies. The group has also posted a recent video of a hooded British Al-Shabaab operative calling for holy war in Somalia in a bid to further boast their international credentials.

Perhaps most tellingly, using Lewthwaite’s image on its website and Twitter feed, the group recently referenced the Hollywood blockbuster, The Thomas Crown Affair, in which Pierce Brosnan plays an art thief who carries off a heist by dressing dozens of accomplices in identical clothing as him, allowing him to escape right under the noses of the police.

According to Phyllis Muema, director of the Kenya Community Support Center, a not-for-profit group in Mombasa that works on rehabilitating Somali fighters, Lewthwaite is a powerful recruitment tool.

“To have a white western woman on their side provides Al-Shabaab with a major weapon. For illiterate and impoverished young Muslim men it is easy to be radicalized, but to follow a white woman with access to money from abroad and with her education and intelligence is a significant allure,” she says.

For Lewthwaite’s family, the uncertainty of her children’s fate remains the hardest pill to swallow. Her grandmother in Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Allen, wears a panic alarm and has been told to contact police immediately if Lewthwaite arrives at her home in Banbridge, where she spent part of her youth. Her mother, Christine Allen, claims she hasn’t heard from her daughter in years.

My source within the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit reveals that they have believed for several months that although Lewthwaite is still with her lover, Gani, she is no longer on the run with her children.

“We believe that she is separated from her children at the moment to enable her to remain at large. Even under a burka her footprint is compromised by the children. We have artists’ impressions of them and Lewthwaite knows they are her biggest weakness. She cannot hide them under burkas. We believe they have been smuggled over the Somali border and are being cared for in a training camp.”

The claims are backed up by postings on the widow’s closed down blog which stated: “I advise you to raise your children in the cult of jihad and martyrdom and to instil in them a love for religion and death.”

The source added: “The truth is there was no mention of children from eye witnesses in the final property she was linked to and interrogations since have identified her as operating with Habib only. It wouldn’t be the first time a jihadist has made such a sacrifice. They sacrifice everything they have for this life.”

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How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap

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As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.

On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.  

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“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”

So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.

If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.   

The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.

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“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.

While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.

As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.

“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market

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While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.

The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.

This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.

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“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”

The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership

The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.

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The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.

In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”

Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.

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“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.

So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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No Seat At The Global Table For Indigenous African Cuisine

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Gastronomic tourism based on African food could easily increase and create new value chains that unlock billions in untapped wealth for the continent, but what is stopping us?


Food and tourism are an integral part of most economies, globally. Food is undeniably a core part of all cultures and an increasingly important attraction for tourists. To satisfy their wanderlust, contemporary tourists require an array of experiences that include elements of education, entertainment, picturesque scenery and culinary wonders.  The link between food and tourism allows destinations to develop local economies; and food experiences help to brand and market them, as well as supporting the local culture and knowledge systems.

 This is particularly important for rural communities, where 61% of sub-Saharan Africans live, according to the World Bank last year. These communities have often felt the brunt of urbanization, which has resulted in a shift away from rural economies. If implemented effectively, Africa could get a piece of the gastronomic tourism pie, which was worth $8.8 trillion last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

World-renowned chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu and author of her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef. Picture: Motlaban Monnakgotla

However, there is currently very little public information to pique the interest of tourists about African food. World-renowned South African chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu sought to remedy this with her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef.

“I think where it was very clear to me that I needed to do something was when I went to cooking school. I trained at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. I thought I was actually going to get training on South African food and, somehow, I assumed we were talking indigenous food.

 “I was shocked that we went through the whole year’s curriculum and we didn’t cover anything that I ate at home; we didn’t cover anything that my first cousins, who are Sotho, ate in Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province); we didn’t cover anything that would come from eSwatini, which is where my mother is from,” Mqwebu says.

By self-publishing, she has ultimately contributed to a value chain that has linked local food producers and suppliers, which includes agriculture, food production, country branding and cultural and creative industries.

“I am a member of Proudly South African, not only my business, but the book as well. Part of the reason is that the cookbook was 100% published in South Africa. So, everybody who worked on the cookbook, and printing, was all in South Africa, which is something quite rare these days because authors have their books published abroad.”

The Proudly South African campaign is a South African ‘buy local’ initiative that sells her cookbook on their online platform as its production adheres to the initiative’s campaign standards. Self-publishing has allowed Mqwebu to promote her book for two years and to directly communicate with her audience in a way she thought was best, while exposing her to a vast community of local networks. She recalls her first step towards creating her own body of work.

Amadumbe gnocchi. Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

“I was in culinary school when I wrote the recipe for amadumbe (potato of the tropics) gnocchi. We were making gnocchi and I thought, ‘so why aren’t we using amadumbe because it’s a starch?’ and when I tasted it, I thought, ‘this could definitely work’. I started doing my recipes then.

 “And there was talk about, ‘we don’t have desserts as Africans’. I did some research and found we ate berries, we were never big on sugar to begin with. That’s why I took the same isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin that my grandmother used to make and that became my dessert. “I also found that when I went to libraries looking for indigenous recipes, I couldn’t really find something that spoke to me as a chef. I found content that looked like history books. It was not appealing. It was not something, as a chef, I could proudly present to another chef from a different part of the world, so I knew I had to write my book,” Mqwebu says about the award-winning recipe book that chronicles African cuisine.

Isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin. Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

Financial and health benefits

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2018, the tourism sector “contributed 319 million jobs, representing one in 10 of all jobs globally and is responsible for one in five of all new jobs created in the world over the last five years. It has increased its share of leisure spending to 78.5%, meaning 21.5% of spending was on business.”

To narrow in on how lucrative food can be, the World Food Travel Association estimates that visitors spend approximately 25% of their travel budget on food and beverages. The figure can get as high as 35% in expensive destinations, and as low as 15% in more affordable destinations. “Confirmed food lovers also spend a bit more than the average of 25% spent by travelers in general.”

However, there is a widely-held view that the African continent is not doing enough to maximize its potential to also position itself as a gastronomic tourism destination, using its unique edge of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).

“We are not a culinary destination and we will never be while we are still offering pasta as the attraction for our tourists,” Mqwebu says.

Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems program in South Africa’s North-West University, echoes Mqwebu’s sentiments.

“I often cringe when I go to conferences and there are guests from all over the world and we serve them pasta. Why would they come from Brazil to eat pasta here? They can have pasta in Italy. Why don’t we serve them umngqusho (samp and beans)?

Umngqusho (samp and beans). Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

“We need to be creating those experiences around our culture. We are failing to capitalize on our strengths. There is a lack of drive to celebrate what we have,” says Sedupane, who also teaches modules and supervises research in indigenous health and nutrition.

Writer and historian Sibusiso Mnyanda says current innovations in African food technology are born out of necessity, rather tourism and cultural ambitions.

“Food security is becoming an issue that is leading to IKS around farming being prioritized. In Nigeria, they are innovating dry season farming, because of deforestation and soil being de-cultivated. 

“So those indigenous knowledge strategies are being used in countries where it is a necessity and where there are enough advances related to the fourth industrial revolution. The traditional ways of producing food are not only much more organic, they are also crop-efficient,” Mnyanda says.

Nigeria may have inadvertently innovated a health solution related to colon cancer through its diet. Sedupane tells FORBES AFRICA an anecdote.

“There was a study where the colons of an African country that did not consume a lot of meat was compared to Europeans. The Africans had a much better profile as a result and there are people who want to buy African stool to get that kind of rich bacteria, that you get on an African plant-based diet.”

Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Picture: Supplied

The study Sedupane is referring to was conducted in Nigeria and it states that: “Nigeria showed the average annual incidence of colorectal cancer was 27 patients per year. This shows that even if it seems that incidence rates are increasing in Nigeria, such rates are still about one-tenth of what is seen in the truly developed countries.”

In a bid to find reasons for this rarity of colon and rectal cancer, the study concluded that, among other reasons, the protective effects of Nigeria’s starch-based, vegetable-based, fruit-based, and spicy, peppery diet, and geographical location which ensures sunshine all year round, played a role in the country’s colon health.

Interestingly, it seems the potential value of African food could not only be based on what goes in but what also comes out as healthy faecal matter is big business globally. In 2015, The Washington Post published that one could potentially earn $13,000 a year selling their poop. 

The American-based company OpenBiome has been processing and shipping frozen stool to patients who are very sick with infections of a bacteria called C.difficile. It causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, leaving some sufferers house-bound. “Antibiotics often help, but sometimes, the bacteria rears back as soon as treatment stops. By introducing healthy faecal matter into the gut of a patient (by way of endoscopy, nasal tubes, or swallowed capsules), doctors can abolish C. difficile for good… And yes, they pay for healthy poop: $40 a sample, with a $50 bonus if you come in five days a week. That’s $250 for a week of donations, or $13,000 a year,” the publication stated.

Sedupane is of the view that a diet which includes indigenous foods could vastly improve one’s quality of life.

He says small changes could be made, such as including more of indigenous greens, namely sorghum and millet, to breakfast. The grains are gluten-free and produce alkaline which boosts the pH level of fluids in the body and reduces acidity.

Moringa fruit which is an African superfood. Picture: Getty Images

“Moving to our legumes, we have indlubu (Bambara groundnut) which is very rich and helps in the secretion of serotonin in the brain. This so important nowadays with the increase of depression. It’s easy to digest, and is great for cholesterol and moderating blood sugar,” Sedupane says.

 Mnyanda is also of the view that food is imperative to health and medicinal properties. He says traditional healers primarily use natural herbs in their practice. “These are used in pain relief and healing. Things like cannabis, camphor, African potatao and red carrots. So, food is not just used for nutritional purposes.”

Other African superfoods include, Baobab fruit, Hibiscus, Tamarind, Kenkiliba, Amaranth, Moringa and pumpkin leaves. 

Cultural and historical benefits

Gastronomic tourism also includes the promotion of heritage sites that are known to revolve around dishes that are of historic importance. They enhance the travel experience, they encourage the acquisition of knowledge and a cultural exchange.

There is a unanimous view that vast amounts of knowledge have been lost to history and there is a huge knowledge gap in African societies as a result of colonization and urbanization.

“Part of the colonial agenda was to make sure food security did not belong to indigenous groups. Therefore, archiving of these knowledge systems was not a priority. Especially during industrialization, where people moved from their villages to the city you found that the knowledge got left behind,” Mnyanda says.

Abathwa (the San people) hunting. Picture: Getty Images

He offers a contemporary example of how modernization continues to push African practices to the fringes: “To this day, abathwa (the San people) hunt their meat, but you find that because of changing agricultural practices and land reform on the Kruger National Park, they are being forced to move into the cities and industrial areas, therefore they are no longer able to practice their culture of hunting. As a result, their diet is changing.” Sedupane shares the view that the fundamentals of farming and astrology have also been exiled from public knowledge.

“The fundamentals of IKS were based on the understanding of the laws of nature – how and when things were done. Harvest cycles were linked with understanding astrology. They would not harvest until certain stars were visible in the sky. There was a dependence on nature.

“With industrialization, rather than working with nature, humans are seen as being above, as controlling, as directing it. The natural cycle is often tempered with rather than trying to work with it.”

Not all is lost however. There are historical practices that have stood the test of time and continue to be a part the few foods that are internationally associated with South Africa. Mqwebu says that, “historically, we ate more plants than meat because our ancestors had to hunt and the game back then was not tame. So, there were no guarantees that you would return with meat. And that’s where things like umqwayiba (biltong) come from. They had to preserve the meat, because wasting was not part of the culture”.

Umqwayiba (biltong). Picture: Getty Images

According to a 2015 exploratory research project conducted under the guidance of research institute Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society director Professor Melville Saayman, biltong contributes more than R2.5 billion ($163 million) to the South African economy.

Perhaps, like the faecal transporting company, Africa will soon realize the ‘wasted’ opportunity and that there is loads of money to be made in gastronomic tourism for all its inhabitants, whether they are rural or urban, technological or indigenous.

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