A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

By Nana Nkweti

Growing up in Addis, Bamako, and Cotonou, the 14th of February was just like any other day. Heart-toting teddy bears and red rose bouquets were not even on our romantic radar. That's not to say that Cupid's arrow completely missed the continent, however. It's just that Africans generally didn't indulge in the candy-coated commercialism that comes with celebrating Valentine's Day in the United States. According to the National Retail Federation the average American consumer will spend more than 19 to show their love this holiday. Many of the most popular products they buy are made from African raw materials, yet the homelands we love barely benefit. This year, The AFRican gives you tips to use your purchasing power in a socially conscious manner--giving gifts that give back to (and spare heartache for) the motherland.

Chocolate Kisses

Chances are the assorted chocolates in that heart shaped box found their way to your taste buds from the continent. According to the World Cocoa Foundation 70% of the world�s cocoa is farmed in West Africa. Cote D'Ivoire tops the cocoa exporters' list with 43% of the market, yet the 2001 revelation of child labor in its cocoa fields makes the country's market dominance bittersweet. According to the International Labor Organization children as young as nine years old were trafficked for use as forced labor. Public outrage led a pressured chocolate industry to agree to the Harkin-Engel protocol, a voluntary commitment to ensure that chocolates sold in the United States were derived from cocoa harvested without child labor. Unfortunately, the industry's self-regulation has fallen short and many children are still working under back-breaking conditions.

Organizations like TransFair USA and the Global Exchange are trying to abolish such practices by promoting fair trade chocolate products.They already have alliances with African nations like Ghana and Cameroon. Under fair trade agreements, no child labor is used and nations are paid fair and stable prices for their cash crops. Visit sites like this shop to buy a Valentine's day basket filled with fair-trade chocolate and other goodies and learn more.

Diamond Buying's New 4Cs: Cut, Color, Clarity, and Conflict-free

Valentine's Day is filled with diamond-tipped promise and engagement rings that symbolize eternal love. Yet many of us are aware of the gems' other malicious significance in the lives of fellow Africans on the continent. The mineral-rich regions of nations like Sierra Leone and Angola have been the war chests of rebels bent on financing their insurrections for years.

Today, almost a million people labor in the diamond mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country blessed and cursed with 30 percent of the world's diamond reserves which yield 2 billion worth of diamonds each year. Despite this, the Congo's citizens are mired in poverty. In 2003, the United Nations passed the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in which nations agreed to voluntarily monitor the provenance of their diamond exports. The diamond industry also self-polices to make sure the sparklers that end up on your ring finger are conflict-free.

Your neighborhood jewelers are largely unaware of these issues, according to a recent report by the human rights organization Amnesty International. So the responsibility lies with the consumer. Amnesty has produced a buying guide which suggest four crucial questions to make sure no blood was shed for your diamond:

1. How can I be sure none of your jewelry contains conflict diamonds?
2. Do you know where the diamonds you sell come from?
3. Can I see a copy of your company's policy on conflict diamonds?
4. Can you show me a written statement from your suppliers guaranteeing that your diamonds are conflict-free?

Another diamond buying option which takes a proactive stance towards helping the continent is Igloo Diamonds. Mined in Canada, they promote an Adopt-a-Minefield program that helps clear dangerous mine fields in Mozambique.

Brand Conscience

Avoiding illicit diamonds and luxurious chocolate harvested by children during this season are major commitments that affect some of the most pressing issues in African trade, but even your more modest purchases can directly support initiatives on the continent. Product Red, the brainchild of U2 frontman Bono and Kennedy scion Bobby Shriver, benefits from a percentage of profits from custom 'red' products made by international corporations. Up to 50% of these profits from these sales are donated to the Global AIDS Fund. If technology makes your honey's heart flutter, you can whisper sweet nothings to her on the new cherry red Motorola RAZR or give her a custom red iPod Nano pre-programmed with a mix of African slow jams.

If your thoughts are more focused on sense and sensuality this Valentine's night, you can provide economic support to African artisans while adding a unique twist to your romantic evening at home. Set the mood with flickering flames from Fanti-inspired candles set on beautiful batik table cloths or a Malian mud cloth. That culinary masterpiece you serve for dinner, with a recipe courtesy of Africhef.com and accompanied by a chilled glass of home-made T'ej, will be especially delicious when served on Calabar Import's gorgeous Moroccan serving dishes.

Leaving on the Midnight Plane?

If you are making travel plans for your next romantic retreat, your tourism dollars are one of the most effective ways to support local African economies. Make your hearts beat faster with a walk on the wild side on a Kenyan safari that supports the environment. After a day of watching the animal mating game, you'll be ready to go back to your tree top abode and re-learn everything about the birds and the bees. Bogie and Bacall immortalized Casablanca's charms, but you don't have to live in a celluloid world to plan that last minute lovers' escape with your baby. Check out Africa for Romantics for other romantic African locales.

Any one of these choices can turn your Valentine-inspired passion into positive action on behalf of Africa, so make wise choices as you splurge on your honey this year.