Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Sobering Love Song For Africa

Africa: Altered States, Ordinary MiraclesAfrica: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
by Richard Dowden

As an author and activist, I am generally optimistic about Africa's future, but Richard Dowden tempered my hope with a sobering dose of reality based on his decades of reporting on the continent. His powerful guide to sub-Saharan Africa is a must-read for anyone who hopes to understand why Africa is the mess it is.

Dowden is the director of the Royal African Society and spent two decades as Africa editor of the Independent and the Economist. His book is filled with both studied thoughts on the forces that have shaped Africa's history and pertinent personal tales of his experiences there. His message is ultimately fairly simple: Africa's problems can only be solved by African people.

The depressing counterweight to that conclusion that I drew from Dowden's accounts is that corruption is so ingrained throughout the power structure of most nations in Africa that it is unlikely that solutions can ever be implemented.

Having set my latest novel in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was particularly interested in his conclusions about that beleaguered nation:

"In December 2005 a new constitution was confirmed by a referendum and elections were held in July 2006. The assumption of outsiders was that, forced to govern together, the warlords would check each other's theft and violence. The opposite happened. They keep the country divided, cut deals with each other and filled their pockets."
Dowden makes another observation which mirrors my own experience:
"Despite the politics of theft, violence and patronage, Congo still inspires great patriotism among its long-suffering citizens. They may have little loyalty to institutions or a ruler, but Congolese believe desperately in the Congolese nation and a few are prepared to fight its looting bosses."
Africa - Altered States, Ordinary Miracles reveals Dowden's great love for the continent he has spent his life discovering. It is no dewy-eyed romance, however. He reveals all his lover's warts and blemishes, bad breath and occasional frequent bouts of ill-temper in a paean to her beautiful potential.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Elston Howard - A Strong Reminder

Elston and Me: The Story of the First Black Yankee (Sports and American Culture Series)

by Arlene Howard with Ralph Wimbish

The story of Elston Howard serves as a great reminder to us all that racial prejudice did not end when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Howard's unsuccessful quest to become a major league manager also isn't ancient history; it happened well within our lifetime and should be a part of our collective memory of how fine, good men can be mistreated based on the color of their skin.

Arlene Howard and Ralph Wimbish did a fine job of showing all sides of Elston Howard--the athlete, the father, the coach, and the husband. The book contains great accounts of the highlights--and the low--of his tremendous career in baseball. I particularly enjoyed the reminiscences of Yogi Berra, a man who played a number of roles in Howard's life.

The authors had longtime personal ties to Elston Howard, of course, which lends even greater authenticity and authority to the book.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Inventions For The Family Business

The electric light bulb transformed civilization. And if some family business owners had the chance to release their inner Thomas Edison, they’d come up with their own bright ideas to make managing a family firm a lot easier.

Joe Stone of Systems & Methods Inc. in Carrolton, Ga., would like to have consultations on demand with his father, Bob, who founded the company in the family’s living room in 1971 and retired in 2003.

“I’d like to have a talking portrait of him on the wall,” says Joe, now the CEO of Systems & Methods, which handles data processing for government offices in several states. “A lot of our company culture is built around what he stood for -- and what he still stands for.”
Today, the third generation is beginning to take its place at Stone’s company.
“We have everything from in-laws to outlaws to ex-laws,” he says.
He says he’d like to leave the next generation a time capsule containing a message that his father passed on to him:
“Keep an open mind and a broad sense of humor. You’ve got to approach every day just like that.”
Chris Combe, president and CEO of Combe Inc. in White Plains, N.Y., likes the idea of another kind of capsule -- one that might be swallowed.
“I love the energy and fun of creative meetings,” he says. “How about a capsule that keeps innovation at top of mind 24/7?”
Combe’s company was founded by his father, Ivan, whose innovative personal-care ideas spawned Just For Men hair color, Odor-Eaters, Lanacane skin-care products and Cepacol oral-care remedies.

In addition, Combe says,
“Please invent the genie that will grant each of our 621 worldwide employees passion for his or her work every day!”
L.R. Gardner, who works for his father running their chain of 22 Crackerbox Convenience Stores in Arkansas, would appreciate a father-son communications device.
“I got promoted once and didn’t know about it until I got new business cards,” he relates cheerfully. “They said I was vice president. I wondered if that would show up on my paycheck, but it didn’t. At least I got new business cards.”
Having a management position in the family business means multi-tasking, according to Gardner, which would make a dial-up “how-to” database nice to have.
“I found out I’m the IT director here,” he says. “How did I find that out? If something breaks and everybody screams at you to come fix it, you’re the IT director. I’ve got about 17 hats and one salary.”
Speaking of salary, Gardner says,
“If my father were talking about my salary, he’d have some illustrations and maybe a pie chart.”
He figures his father doesn’t need any inventions to explain it any more clearly than that.

This article originally appeared in Family Business Magazine

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the