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INSIDE AFRICA

Current Events on the African Continent

Aired September 11, 2004 - 12:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TUMI MAKGABO, CNN ANCHOR: They say they are Jews and as that claim fuels debate around the world, we'll tell you why some agree that these are the descendants of a lost tribe of Ancient Judea. In Kenya, demands for royalties from a U.S. company that's turning bugs into cleaning agents. In our business spotlight, London cabs that are becoming mobile billboards for South African business. And celebrating two centuries of a rich culture in Nigeria. These and other stories coming up on INSIDE AFRICA.
Hello. Good to have you join us. I'm Tumi Makgabo.

We begin with a journey to South Africa's northern Limpopo province. That's where thousands of members of the Lemba Tribe are gathering this weekend for the annual meeting of the Lemba Cultural Association. And the reason the assembly is drawing attention is because the tribe is the focus of a growing international debate. At issue, whether or not the Lemba are Jews. They say they are descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel.

Paul Tilsley picks up their story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL TILSLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the hunt for one of the lost tribes of Israel from biblical times. The search takes us to Tshivhazwaulu (ph), a village in the far north of South Africa. Most of the 70,000 who reportedly make up the Lemba Tribe either live here or just over the border with Zimbabwe, to the north.

The Lemba have a remarkable claim, that they're ancestors come from ancient Judea and that they're Jewish.

SAM MOETI, LEMBA CULTURAL ASSN.: We're the same people. We come from the common descent. We are all the grandchildren of Abraham.

TILSLEY: The Lemba's claim is not just the stuff of ancient rural storytellers.

Dr. Rudo Mathevha runs the intensive care unit of the southern hemisphere's biggest hospital, Chris Hani Baraguanaf (ph), in Soeto.

DR. RUDO MATHEVA, LEMBA: I'm a Lemba Jew. And the Lemba Jews are part of the lost tribes of Israel. And the history dates back to 2,500 years ago, when they left ancient Judea and went to settle in Yemen and then crossed into Africa.

TILSLEY: Matheva claims the Lemba were traders from ancient Israel. They sailed up the nearby Savi (ph) River two millennia ago, exchanging pots like these for ivory and gold. Lemba women still trade rather than sell the pots they make.

The tribe claims its forefathers learned to use just their hands to make and style the pots, as Jews in Judea did at the time of Jesus.

SAMSON MPOSI, LEMBA TRIBESMAN: These people, they didn't make any change. They've done as the -- as these pots used to be done during the time when the people were living in Tel Aviv and through this country.

TILSLEY: Genetic scientists have conducted tests and say the DNA of some Lembas shows links to the people of the Middle East, but one of South Africa's top chromosome detectives, Professor Trefor Jenkins, who has been looking at the Lemba's DNA for more than 25 years, expresses caution.

TREFOR JENKINS, DEPT. OF HUMAN GENETICS: There is a clear demonstration that about half of the males who have been sampled from the Lemba have a Y chromosome which is not of African origin but rather of what we call Semitic or Middle Eastern origin.

TILSLEY (on camera): But when you say that they probably descended from Semitic roots, you don't necessarily mean that they were Jewish.

JENKINS: No. Semitic we use the word advisedly because it's a linguistic term referring to the languages that are spoken by people in the Middle East.

TILSLEY (voice-over): The science of DNA testing has become more precise since Jenkins' first experiments. Now a London academic has used DNA to claim the Lemba could be linked historically with Jewish high priests.

TUDOR PARFITT, SCIENTIST: There was a very, very high proportion of a particular haplotype which has been called the Cohen Model (ph) haplotype, Cohen (ph) being the word for priest, and this is a haplotype which is found among about 52 percent of all Jews who claim to be priests. Outside this particular group, this Cohen Model (ph) haplotype is found, but never in very great concentration, and strangely it's in a huge concentration in one of the clans of the Lemba.

TILSLEY (on camera): The quest to discover whether the Lemba have Jewish roots started, though, not through DNA testing but rather when a university musicologist thought that she detected that Lemba songs sounded Jewish. Do they? Well, we went to investigate so that you could judge for yourself.

(voice-over): This music has very little similarity to anything African offered in this region, but there's more. Lemba males are circumcised in the Jewish tradition at an early age. Around them, as they live, the Lemba keep Jewish symbols. Their tomb stones are engraved with the Star of David. They prepare food in the Jewish manner.

BEN SADHI, LEMBA TRIBESMAN: We still honor the old tradition, Jewish tradition of kosher killing in the sense that we must slaughter our, let's say, chicken, goats or cattle before we cook the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for consumption.

TILSLEY: The Jewish practices of keeping meat and dairy products separate and not eating pork are observed by Lemba.

Johannesburg Rabbi Hilel Avidan has spent time with the Lemba and is sympathetic towards their belief that they are Jewish by descent.

HILEL AVIDAN, RABBI: They are definitely of Jewish descent. They have Jewish ancestry. This can be shown through the rituals that they have, which are clearly of Jewish origin.

MATHEVA: In my mind, there is no doubt that I am of Jewish origin and I am a descendant of Aaron.

TILSLEY: And today in Africa there's a new generation growing up who claim to be black Jews, claim to be the children of a lost tribe of Israel.

Paul Tilsley, INSIDE AFRICA, Tshivhazwaulu, South Africa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MAKGABO: Well, while there may be some who are still not prepared to accept that the Lemba are Jews, there is consensus among those who studied their case that they are descendants of a Middle Eastern tribe.

Now, if you would like to log on to our Web site to read a little bit more about the Lemba, the address is CNN.com/InsideAfrica. Remember, while you're there, do take part in our quick vote on the subject and also send us an e-mail. The address for you once again, CNN.com/InsideAfrica.

And still ahead on the program, what do you get when you put hot lakes, bugs and laundry detergent together? A heated international controversy. We'll have details for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MAKGABO: Welcome back.

Now, it may surprise you to know that some of the laundry detergents used in your home include enzymes from certain kinds of bugs. And some of those bugs come from Kenya, where authorities now say a U.S. based company improperly acquired and cloned them.

That allegation has spurred an international row and as Gladys Njoroge reports, the Kenyans are thinking of pursuing legal action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GLADYS NJOROGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These hot springs have temperatures similar to those found in a turning washing machine. They are also home to bugs called extremophiles (ph) that live in high temperatures and extreme conditions of acidity or salinity.

Bugs that are now the focus of an international row between the Kenyan Wild Life Service and Genencor (ph), a U.S. based biotechnology company. The Kenyans say Genencor (ph) illegally acquired bug samples taken from these hot springs and an alkaline lake in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Valley and is using them to produce enzymes that are used in laundry detergents and in the making of denim blue jeans.

(on camera): The enzyme found in mud samples collected from this alkaline lake, scientists say, are used to give denim jeans that softer feel and faded look.

(voice-over): Wildlife officials in Kenya say Genencor does not have authorization to commercialize the bug samples and are now demanding royalties.

EVANS MUKOLWE, KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICES: We have documentation, documentation prepared by the companies themselves. There evidence from within the country that these samples were collected and that together with that documentation I have just told you about, that the commercialization was eventually effected.

NJOROGE: According to reports, the enzymes are produced through a genetic engineering process in laboratories around the world.

Genencor acknowledges using enzymes from samples from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Lake. On its Web site, the company claims to be the first to commercialize the enzymes from the extremophiles (ph). In a statement, Genencor says it sells one of the enzymes to detergent manufacturers, but declines to name the manufacturers.

It also denies illegally acquiring the bugs. Genencor says it got samples from England's University of Lester (ph), which got them during an expedition in 1992. The company notes: "Although we were not involved at the time, Genencor acted in good faith to obtain biological samples in accordance with existing laws and proper permits obtained in partnership with local hosts."

But a researcher involved in the 1992 expedition from Kenyatta University's Botany Department told CNN that the University of Lester (ph) had a permit to collect samples for research purposes only.

Kenya's National council of Sciences and Technology, which approves research permits, agrees.

OWATE WAMBATI, NATION. COUNCIL FOR SCIENCE: And even if it is of no affiliation, usually it is for research only, but we know that you can have inventions as a result of research.

NJOROGE: The University of Lester (ph) has declined to comment on the issue.

Wildlife officials also claim that extremophile (ph) samples may have been continuously collected for more than a decade. The most recent being two years ago. The Kenyan Wildlife Service is not alone in its demands. Now residents living near the hot springs want a piece of the pie.

"We've asked the community and they say if anyone has stolen anything from Lake Bogoria, he should bring back the benefits. If he has made money, he should pay some to the government and to us," he says.

The Kenya Wildlife Service has engaged the help of an international property rights group that is now in the process of gathering a team of lawyers to fight the case in court.

Gladys Njoroge, for CNN, Lake (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Kenya.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MAKGABO: And we stay with business news a little longer. See now how your money fared this week. Nadia Bilchik has those details -- Nadia.

(NEWS BREAK)

MAKGABO: After the break, sounds of the deserts, some former insurgents who've traded their guns for the stage. We'll have more for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MAKGABO: Hello again.

The northern Nigerian state of Sokoto has a rich cultural history. It was once part of a great Islamic kingdom which flourished until the British conquered it in 1903. But Sokoto is proud of its past as its leaders demonstrated when they gathered recently to observe a milestone in the state's existence, and our Jeff Koinange was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The rhythms and sounds of Africa, a continent steeped in tradition and folklore. The occasion: the celebration of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or freedom that survived 200 years despite colonialism, countless religious wars and political turmoil. The bicentennial of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had all the pomp and circumstance of another error.

To the sounds of trumps and the beating of drums, political and religious leaders from far and wide converged, including the presidents of Ghana, Chad and Niger. They came on horseback and camel and aboard SUVs. They were accompanied by a coterie of bodyguards. Others relied on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to signal their arrival.

But the occasion was much more than ceremonial. 200 years ago Usman Danpolio (ph) launched a holy war that led to the creation of Africa's greatest Islamic empire spanning thousands of miles across West Africa. Now Sokoto is a single state and it's not been spared the religious violence that has plagued much of Nigeria.

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, came to Sokoto in flowing Muslim robes to underscore the need for religious harmony. Anyone who burned down a mosque or church, he said was an infidel.

Just two months ago, President Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in one state after scores were killed in Christian-Muslim violence. A symbol of mutual respect, Muslim leaders from across the continent took turns in pledging their allegiance, fists clenched in salutes, and Obasanjo's message of tolerance was echoed by the modern day Sultan of Sokoto.

ALHAJI MACCIDO, SULTAN OF SOKOTO: We have to be persuading people, to show them the reason why peaceful existence pays more than violence. Violence doesn't pay.

KOINANGE: The Sultan said that Usman Danpolio (ph) preached unity and tolerance, values that Nigerian leaders today should hold close to their hearts.

Whatever the splendor of the bicentennial ceremonies in Sokoto, they hardly mask the deep religious divisions that run trough Nigeria. But some do see them as a step forward. The celebrations recognized those who came, saw and conquered and the civilization they built, but also that a modern state could only be built on foundations of tolerance.

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Sokoto in northern Nigeria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MAKGABO: And finally we introduce you to one of the hottest bands in Mali. What makes this group interesting isn't just their music but the fact that its members were once fighters in an armed rebellion against the Malian government.

Having given up their guns, they're now winning the hearts of fans around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Tinawiren is one of the most popular bands in the West African nation of Mali. What makes them unique is the fusion of their traditional Touareg rhythms with blues, reggae and rap.

Despite their fame, the band, whose members belong to the Touareg Tribe, has not forgotten its Nomadic roots and wants to make everyone aware of their heritage rooted in the desert.

ALHOUSSEINI ABDOULANI, MUSICIAN (through translator): We want to tell the world that there is a community that exists in the desert. They thin that it's all about hunger, thirst and suffering, but for us the desert is everything. Our culture, our language, our life.

MAKGABO: Poetry and singing have always been an important part of being a Nomad, something that helps them endure the hot days and chilly nights of the Sahara.

In the 1970's the Touareg claimed autonomy for their region, but faced with a military response to their uprising, many fled the deadly clashes and their country.

IBRAHIM AG AL HABIB, TINAWIREN FOUNDER(through translator): Things were miserable at that time for us. We were all in exile and the songs we wrote had messages to awaken the consciousness of the Touareg. We sang about unemployment, rebellion, exile and our people's suffering.

MAKGABO: It was only when the fighting ended that many Touareg were able to return home from exile.

These former fighters not only exchanged their guns for guitars, but also brought a new rhythm to their music.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I have learned many new rhythms from abroad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There were usually no instruments in Touareg music. The Touareg people are nomads who traveled through the desert. Carrying an instrument around just wasn't practical. The voice and singing were the most important elements of our music.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

All right. Tinawiren will be traveling the United States a little later this year, and perhaps if you get a chance to see them, we'd like to hear your thoughts about what you saw. In fact, we'd like to hear your thoughts about the other stories you see on the program. Send us an e- mail. InsideAfrica@CNN.com is the address. Once again, InsideAfrica@CNN.com.

That's our look inside the continent for this week. I'm Tumi Makgabo. Thanks for watching.

END

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