Tanzania’s Man-Eating Fish

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In the 1960s, European venture capitalists introduced Nile perch to the waters of Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake, shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. Over the next few decades, Nile perch, this omnivorous, predatory killing machine multiplied rapidly, gradually gobbling up every other species that lived there to the point of extinction.

Despite the disastrous effect on the once-teeming habitat, the experiment in bio-engineering turned into a business bonanza for Russia which now transports about two million pounds of perch out of Tanzania annually. A nasty, neo-colonial relationship has evolved in which Russia reaps the benefits of the harvest, while the Africans can no longer support themselves by living off the lake or the land.

“Darwin's Nightmare,� directed by Hupert Sauper, is a damning documentary which contrasts European greed and decadence with the fallout visited upon Tanzania due to the relentless rape of its natural resources in the name of profit. This poignant picture presents the country as a barren wasteland where unemployment and famine have combined to ruin not only the nation’s economy but its culture and family structure.

All of the African women we see, here, appear to be high and practicing prostitution, surrendering their bodies in exchange for favors from the relatively wealthy white males working in the fishing industry. The bulk of the Black men are unemployed and forced to commit crimes to survive, while the children have been reduced to homeless hordes of glue-sniffing drug addicts.

All of the perch taken out of the lake is exported, except for maggot-ridden fish heads discarded in the manufacturing process. The saddest scene, perhaps, shows one desperate soul saying he actually hopes for a war of some sort to break out, since this would mean he could land a job as a soldier.

Unfortunately, this story is not unique to Tanzania, for as director Sauper says, “I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria or Angola, crude oil.� Welcome to globalization’s New World Order.

Excellent (4 stars)
In English, Russian and Swahili with subtitles.
Running time: 107 minutes
Distributor: Celluloid Dreams

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