Give a man a fish

Famous documentary filmer Hubert Sauper was working in Ruanda 1997. While being on an airfield in Mwanza, Tanzania he witnesses the loading and unloading of two huge cargo planes.

One plane with UN food donations for Tanzania and the starving refugees from Ruanda is being unloaded. At the same time a huge cargo plane with fish from Lake Victoria in Tanzania is ready to be shipped to Europe.

This contradictory experience leads him to film his documentary “Darwins Nightmare.” (2004)

In different layers he enfolds the story:

1. In the 1960’s during an experiment 35 nile perches (also known as tilapia) were abandoned in Lake Victoria, Tanzania. This predatory fish was released in this new habitat to support the poor fish industry on the shore of the lake.

The aftermath of this artificial intervention of the natural balance was disastrous. Within 30 years the 400 different other fish species were wiped out because of the gluttonous nile perch. Due to the lack of all the other alga-eating fish, the eutrophication proceeded. By now Lake Victory is in danger of a population turnover.

Chalres Darwin proclaims his concept of the “survival of the fittest”. But the natural shift in the last 40 years in Lake Victoria is even worse. No one is the actual winner and survivor. Now the habitat for even the fittest in the food chain is not even livable any longer.

2. In the years of the expansion of the nile perch all the neighboring states did nothing about the mass mortality and the natural imbalances. They were instead supporting the process, because of their increasing fishing quotas.

Economic concerns were leading interests in this time. A lot of fish factories on the lakeshore were established to process the fish meat and to cut the fillets.

But almost no money that the fish were flushing in the country, stayed there. The factories were held by international investors. They also dictated the prices and the wages. At first the Tanzanian citizens were happy because of the increasing number of jobs and employment. But within a very short time the previous wages dropped inflationary. The whole region was depending on the fish industry now.

In the film Hubert Sauper also portraits a different food-chain the fish industry created.

The most expensive and precious part of the fish, the fillet, is only used for export to be transported to Europe. But even the actual waste of the fish industry created a chain itself. The fresh fish-bones and head of the fish are sold. Because of the lack of cooling possibilities some fish turn bad really fast. Even those uneatable fish created a new market with people selling those foul fish, to produce dry fish out of it.

Years before the towns on the lake shore had fishermen, fishing enough for the region, but not for export. Now they are exporting their piles of fish, but the region itself is starving and can only nibble the fish bones the western fish industry left over.

3. In Hubert Saupers documentary he is not only presenting the biological and the fish-economical side, he also gives a hint at the trade-off for the fillets.

This statement is quite dangerous and hard to verify, this is why he only states it as an assumption and speculation. Sauper denotes that the return service could be the armament supply for the wars going on in and around Tanzania.

A modern trilateral trade: Russian cargo planes leave eastern Europe with weapons and armory flying to Libya, Sudan or Egypt to embark and to refuel with cheep kerosene, then flying to Tanzania to load the fish, for the European market.

In his books “Being consumed – Economics and Christian Desire” William T. Cavanaugh talks about free markets, consumerism, pluralism and scarce resources. But he does this in a Christian perspective. This perspective he captures for example by combining his thoughts about free markets with Augustine views. Stating that our freedom is not merely a “freedom from” but more a “freedom for” Cavaunagh is promoting a more positive figuration of free markets by embracing the positive end (telos) of life in God. Our attachments and depending structures are enfolded by defining consumerism as a restless spirit, that is never content and satisfied. In our globalized times the fulfilling of this lifestyle of artificial wants utilizes international trades and connections.

Chales Darwin, who provided the title for the documentary of Hubert Sauper with his evolution concept and his thoughts about the survival of the fittest could also be transferred to developments concerning globalization and consumerisms.

He shows where a road a leading for a society, in which only the fittest can survive. Where our artificial wants dictate markets that provide fish fillets, which are flown across the globe into our freezers.

This is where a road is leading for a society that followed Darwin’s evolution and picked another telos than Gods.

If you have some time, watch the movie. It changed my views on a lot of things and after watching it, I understood for the first time, that globalization and consumerism definitly have something to do with me and my lifestyle.

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