Friday, July 31, 2009



By: Charles Onyango-Obbo

You will have heard or read about the study released last week that suggested that evolution is making women more beautiful.

We men, on the other hand, are still "stuck in the Stone Age in terms of attractiveness," as The Sunday Times (London) put it.

The study by Markus Jokela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, using data gathered in the USA, demonstrated that beautiful women had more children than their less beautiful counterparts. The other striking thing is that a higher proportion of those children were female.

The children also tended to be attractive and go on to repeat the pattern of having more female children once they became adults, according to the study.

The study found attractive women had 16 per cent more children, and very attractive women had 6 per cent more children than their less attractive counterparts.

But the study found that the opposite is true for men, with handsome ones being no more successful than others in terms of number of children.

Scientists said this suggested there was little pressure for men's appearance to evolve. In other words, an ugly man (especially if he is smart and successful), will still get himself a beautiful woman.

From an African perspective, this is interesting for slightly different reasons.

First, one striking thing about Africa, especially if you go to schools where children of middle class parents study, is that these children tend to resemble, and it can be quite frustrating locating your little one in the mad house.

The result is that what you would call the "typical tribal look" has all but disappeared. This development started when, increasingly, more educated and urbanised parents stopped scarring their children with ethnic ritual marks on the forehead or cheeks.

Thus the school children today have no ethnic marks, or if they do, they are fewer than their parents had. And their parents have fewer than their grandparents.

Then, the rise of the middle class meant, for example, that nearly all their children endured the agonising, but fruitful, years of being forced to drink Cod Liver Oil, and they ate largely the same food that their parents bought from the same super-market.

If the typical tribal look is on its way out, then it is possible that tribal taste which people bring to choosing a partner could also disappear with it, increasing the prospect of cross-cultural marriage – and reduction of deadly ethnic politics.

Because Arabs will soon overwhelm Jews inside Israel and the occupied territories due to their very high birth-rate is very high, the former president of the Palestinian Authority, Yassir Arafat, once said: "Our ultimate weapon is the womb of the Palestinian woman."

Likewise, you might say, long-suffering Africa will be saved by the wombs of its women, not the wisdom of its leaders.

Talking about long-suffering Africa and the wisdom of leaders, I am extremely grateful to the good Daily Nation reader who sent me a remarkable essay by Herbert J. Gans entitled "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All".

The essay was published all of 38 years ago in the July/August 1971 issue of the journal, Social Policy. This was before the poverty industry grew out of the "poverty reduction" or "poverty alleviation" programmes that became fashionable late.

Then, it also provides work for the police, who exist partly to protect the rich from the poor. Gans gives 13 uses of poverty in modern life, including the fact that it produces what he calls "poverty warriors" (who, he acknowledges, include journalists like himself, World Bank bureaucrats, the NGOs) who make a living supplying information policy on poverty, or relief to the poor .

The poor here include all those who are not well off.

Among the 13 uses of poverty, Gans argues that Pentecostal ministers, faith healers, prostitutes, pawn shops, and the peacetime army, which recruits mainly from among the poor, either need poverty to exist or to thrive .

Two of his cleverest insights are that, first, without the poor, the capitalist system as we know it today would be a very different animal.

The poor buy goods others do not want and thus prolong the economic usefulness of such goods –day-old bread, fruit and vegetables that otherwise would have to be thrown out, mitumba (secondhand) clothes, cars and dilapidated buildings.

Secondly, the poor also provide incomes for doctors, lawyers, teachers, and others who are too old, poorly trained or incompetent to attract more affluent clients.