Luba Art Featured at LACMA

I love museums. Of course, it’s a pleasure to see the renowned paintings such as the Mona Lisa or famous works like those of Renoir, Picasso or van Gogh. And, who wouldn’t enjoy seeing the sculptures created by artists like Bernini, Dalí or Michaelangelo?

But, I have an equally strong desire to see what the hands of artists from other parts of the world created. Despite my sincere appreciation for Western art forms; I would be leaving out most of the planet if I stopped there… what a sad thought!

One of the things I like most about art is its uncanny ability to tell the story of the culture it comes from and the era it was created in. Much more attractive than volumes of books on anthropology and often as informative. I can afford neither the time nor the money to travel every corner of the world. But, I can afford to spend a few hours touring a museum and learning about people from Papua New Guinea (home to our coffee of the month for January 2014!) or the Tonga islands (141 islands which make up the only Pacific kingdom never to fall to foreign rule) . I might not have the resources to jet off to Niger or India whenever the mood hits me; but I can pack a picnic, hop in the car and head to see a concert, hear a speaker or see a limited exhibit at a local museum.

So, recently, I did just that: packed a light lunch and headed off to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see some art done by the Luba people of the Congo. Due to the presence of art from the Luba in both museum and private collections in the West; many of you might recognize art of the Luba without knowing its origin. Its style is appreciated by African art collectors and if you’ve visited a large collection of African art in one of the museums of major cities like New York, London or Rome; you have certainly seen a Luba piece among the art.

The reason I went to LACMA specifically though was two-part: 1- to support their new initiative to showcase more African art in Los Angeles and to see a few pieces which rarely leave Brussels. I was not disappointed!

Here is a video which highlights the exhibit. It does an excellent job; so I’ll leave you with the video and these words… If you are in the Los Angeles area, go see the exhibit (exhibit open now through May 4, 2014)! It is definitely worth your time. Also, if you have children age 17 and under, LACMA has an incredible program called “Nexgen” which allows kids in FREE, yes free! They also have the ability to take an adult with them free of charge. The program costs nothing, just ask about it at the ticket counter, or sign up by using this link.

Pack a lunch if you are short on cash and eat at the park between LACMA and the la Brea Tar Pits, or treat yourself to lunch at the museum’s café. Either way, I can’t think of a better way to spend a couple of hours… or all day if you have it.

Other African art worth seeing can be found throughout the museum’s permanent collection.

Please feel free to share information about your favorite African art museums or upcoming exhibitions that include African art.


Merry Christmas to Africa … and beyond!


Mama would like to wish Christmas blessings to all of our friends celebrating this beautiful holiday from places like Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia to Russia. Armenia or Georgia!

Yes, I said Merry Christmas.  Many people in the West have no idea that after everyone has boxed up their decorations and put their Christmas trees on the curb; millions of people in Russia, Greece and East Africa are celebrating Christmas.

Technically, the two churches both celebrate Christmas on December 25th; the difference is in the calendars they use.  When many switched to the Gregorian calendar, some parts of the world decided instead to keep the Julian calendar, which explains the 13 day difference between the commonly accepted December 25th date and January 7th.

So, for many Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, today is Christmas day!  The day will be filled with incense burning in churches, big meals shared with family and friends, the exchange of gifts and lots of good cheer.

If you would like to tell us more about your Christmas traditions, we’d love to hear more in our comments section below.

Melkam Gena to those in Ethiopia, Rhus Be’al Ldetn Hadsh Ametn to our friends in Eritrea and to our Egypian friends: أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة

Again, Merry Christmas to all of you celebrating today, wherever you may be!



Playing Games in the Sand

There are hundreds of names for this game. Our carvers in Ghana call it awale or oware; but many of you know it as mancala.

There are hundreds of names for this game. Our carvers in Ghana call it awale or oware; but many of you know it as mancala.

One of the things I really love about culture is the fact that each group of people has a flavor, if you will.  Yet, it isn’t necessarily that we are so different; but more about the different way that we combine ways that we are alike.  We are much like a group of recipes which include almost the same ingredients; but produce a different finished dish.  After all, we are all people and there are only so many sounds we can make, foods we can eat and types of art that we can use to express ourselves.

In essence, we are all variations of one another.  Please don’t misunderstand this to mean that we are the same or that all cultures are identical or equal… that couldn’t be farther from the truth! But, as I like to tell my children: “If you sit two people next to one another and they decide upon open honest dialog, they will discover that they have more in common than differences.”  The more I travel, the more I learn the truth in this statement.  Sitting at a table in Eritrea with friends or family means eating spicy foods, sharing a common dish, and eating with your hands while drinking homemade beer called “soowa”.  In Korea, being invited to share a meal with friends at their home means roughly the same thing: shared dishes, spicy food and homemade beer or wine… only you’ll get chopsticks and a spoon.  Your meals will have been prepared with the same love.  And yes, if you are in the countryside, you can know that the meat was probably a sacrifice to add to the meal.  The ingredients vary and the preparation might not be the same; but the experiences will be similar.

Many years ago, I was at a park and walked over to see an African woman stooped down playing a game with two Korean ladies.  I was amazed at the fact that they didn’t speak the same language; but were playing together while laughing.  I asked the African woman how she knew the game’s rules.  Her reply: “We have this game in my home country too, it’s called gebetta.  As children, we dig holes in the dirt, find small stones and play it.  When I saw them playing it, I watched to see how their rules were different and I just walked over to play.  I think that they were wondering how I knew a game from their country as much as I was wondering how they knew one from mine.”

It is dozens of moments like this that remind me how our lives aren’t so different after all.

So, the next time you are seated watching your television or reading the news about those far off places called Kenya or North Korea or Zimbabwe; remember that you are connected in ways you haven’t even imagined to the people who are suffering.  Had you been raised in a different nation, their story might just be yours.



The Crossroads Between Eritrea and Greece

Papa Cristo's in Los Angeles is where Greece intersects with Eritrea and Ethiopia

Papa Cristo’s in Los Angeles is where Greece intersects with Eritrea and Ethiopia (Photo property of

I was in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago and while there, visited one of my favorite little places to shop.  Since you probably already know that I’m a real food lover (I still feel odd saying “foodie”), of course it’s related to where I can buy what I love most: cooking ingredients!

 Since I happened to be in LA on some other business; I took the occasion to make my way down to Papa Cristos Greek restaurant.  So, why on earth, you are certainly asking yourself, would I find myself so excited to go to a Greek place?  Well, because I do love Greek wines, baklava and Eritrean food.  Yes, I said it: Eritrea is (almost) in Greece. 

 Now, to try to turn that into something that makes sense: in LA, as in most large cities, there are ethnic neighborhoods.  Ethnic neighborhoods tend to blend, as opposed to having a clear line.  I’m sure that if I were to return to my childhood memory of New York’s Chinatown and Little Italy with a clearer view; I’d have realized that they too blended. But, that is a story for another time…


Photo property of

Dinner at the Nyala Restaurant in L.A. (Photo property of

So, let’s return to LA:  There is a section of Los Angeles called “Little Ethiopia”. It is home to many Eritreans and the largest population of Ethiopians in the United States.   It is a great stop if you want to have a taste of Ethiopian or Eritrean cuisine.  I highly recommend the Nyala Restaurant on Pico if you decide to pop into the area.  They are famous for their lunch buffet.

But back to how Greece meets Eritrea… You see, the first time I realized that the connection isn’t automatic for a lot of people is when I first took a friend with me to Papa Cristo’s to pick up some injera (a soft sourdough “pancake” of sorts that is used to eat most Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes with).  She looked at me completely perplexed when we entered the place and asked the obvious question: “WHY on earth would this Greek guy sell African foods?”  I then had to explain to her that we were related in many ways.  Eritrea used to be a part of the Greek sphere of influence, we have traded for centuries and our foods reflect that, (as I’m sure would our DNA, if anyone bothered to check).  Eritrea’s name comes from the Greek name for the Red Sea coastline “Erythra Thalassa”. 

Queen Cleopatra of Egypt was from the Ptolemy family of Greece, not a woman of African or Arab descent, as many tend to imagine her.  And, since the Nile River flows north to Egypt, much trade was done in both directions.  Thus, ancient Greek archeological sites can be found in both Eritrea and Ethiopia.  This river has connected the peoples of the Mediterranean Sea to those in the Horn of Africa for ages.  After all, where there is water, there is commerce.  And, where there is commerce, there is an exchange of ideas, cultures and faiths. 

 Let’s compare cultures for a moment: Greece: Greek Orthodox Church, Eritrea: Coptic (Orthodox) Church.  Greek food has a particular flavor profile which uses: fenugreek, oregano, ginger, cumin, turmeric… Then you come to Eritrean food where you meet those same flavors again.  It’s all about the way in which they are blended and in what proportions.  Lamb?  Yes, we both eat it.  At the end of the day, the climates are the same and so are many aspects of the cultures.  Where food is concerned, Eritreans have much more in common with Greeks than we do with Senegalese or Namibians.  And Greeks have more in common with an Ethiopian Copt where faith is concerned than they do with fellow Europeans in Norway or even Catholics in Ireland.

 So, for me to walk into Papa Cristo’s store, it makes complete sense that he’d have incense burners, tiny coffee cups for our coffee ceremony, containers stacked high of spices we use for cooking and yes, even injera made by a local Ethiopian lady who runs a business from home.  Greece and Eritrea have always felt like cousins to me.  We might speak a different language and look a little different; but even that isn’t always the case.  But for my friend, as well as many others that I’ve had conversations with in the past… it is a healthy reminder that European influence in Africa didn’t start with colonization.  We’ve been trading together, praying together and eating together for eons before that nasty turn of events.  And, I have faith that with good will and a clear understanding of history, which is then put in its proper context… we’ll be working together to create a mutually beneficial experience for a long time to come.  Not because of politicians or debates in the United Nations.  But because of good hearted people who reach out to each other with sincere interest and good will.

 Papa Cristo is a man who is short in stature, but big in heart and personality! His father founded the store over 60 years ago with the idea of bringing a little of his homeland to Southern California. Considering his proximity to the Little Ethiopia neighborhood, they slowly added Eritrean and Ethiopian products to their list of wares.  It was a brilliant move considering there is so much cross-over of flavors.  If you think of Greek cuisine, you think of a few different spices and herbs off of the bat: Cumin, turmeric, fenugreek… all of which are also used in Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine.

Greece is tied to both of my cultures, Italian and Eritrean with a pretty tight knot.  Thus, it isn’t surprising that I feel at home among the olive oil jars, baklava and loud voices greeting one another as people come through the door. It is so typically Mediterranean and despite Eritrea lying on the Red Sea, it is a nation with a large Mediterranean influence and feel, due to decades of influence from Greece and Italy.

Caracalla, African born Roman emperor (215-217).  Image courtesy of British Museum

Caracalla, African born Roman emperor (215-217). Image courtesy of British Museum


It’s amazing how many people think of Africa as a dark continent first discovered by colonists in the late 1800’s.  When, in fact, we have had a rich common heritage for centuries before that.  We’ve shared queens, spices and art for ages.  We’ve been sending our vessels over the seas to trade, we’ve intermarried and yes there were even African rulers of the Roman Empire.


Africa and Europe, especially southern Europe have a common history that dates way before the Portuguese mimicked and greatly expanded the Arab method of slave trade.  And I suspect that our futures are tied as well.  So, the next time you hear people oversimplify the relationship between the evil white Europeans and the poor African victims… remember me sitting among the Greeks and buying freshly made injera, remember Cleopatra of Egypt- by way of Greece, remember the Roman emperors and generals who were of African heritage.

My mantra here on the blog is “Dialog matters”.  Well, honest, open dialog about our cultures and history is a part of what matters most.  Often, we find that as often as it opens the door to discussions about our past and current wounds… it also reminds us of our commonality.  So, let’s use this space as a place to keep the dialog going!  I anxiously await your comments.



Photo Friday: Macaron au chocolat

Macaron au chocolat

Just another delicious way to support fair trade: French style macarons made with our Omanhene cocao powder and filled with a chocolate ganache made with our 80% dark chocolate… ethical trade never tasted so good!

The Full recipe can be found over at Mama Europa’s blog.

While Sipping My Cup of Fairtrade Zimbabwe AA Coffee

Here I sit, sipping a cup of Zimbabwe’s finest AA coffee as I do many mornings.  Frankly, our Zimbabwean coffee is one of my favorites (shhh… don’t tell the others!)  But this week, its meant a lot to me to start my day with the taste of Zimbabwe and a special thought and prayer for them as they led up to their elections.  I take a moment thinking about the farmer and his famiIy.  I take a few minutes to think about all of the women and children in Zimbabwe and the possible effects that this election might have on their future.  I pray that God allows their voices to be heard and counted.

Like many of you I suspect, I start most days browsing the news.  In the process, I found this video which reminded me of how fortunate I am to live in a nation where despite occasional hiccups and technical errors… something this blatant and direct is simply unimaginable.

I’ll make no comments as to election results, whatever they turn out to be.  But, I have to say that there is something inherently wrong with a system where people might ever believe that this kind of behavior hurts anyone but themselves in the long-run.  NO single man, whoever he might be is worth selling your integrity for… ever.

My dearest Africa, we have a past that shows us that we are capable of more.  We should now dig deep and start working toward a future that will make our children as proud of us as we are of our own ancestors.  Long-term planning, carried out with a sincere selfless desire to push our nations forward is our only hope.

As for me, I will continue to put my faith in weavers, farmers, carvers and mothers before I put it into ANY man that is in politics.  If you don’t want to come, lead and then go home to a real job… I don’t trust you much, sorry.  Politics shouldn’t be a profession; it should be a temporary public service (with a major emphasis on “temporary”).

And, I will choose to wake up each morning and do what I can do for the people of Zimbabwe, use my voice to promote human rights and support fair trade products in order to stimulate Zimbabwe’s economy in ways that I believe in.  As to the rest, its up to the people of Zimbabwe to one again build a nation that rivals their nation’s great historical civilizations.  I know a few Zimbabweans; so I know its possible!



Happy Birthday to Africa’s Greatest Elder, Mr. Mandela

There is much that could be said about Madiba (his Xhosa clan name), or “Tata” (Father) as South Africa’s youth call him. But, I think that the best of his qualities is that he led by example. In my opinion, we have never had a more upstanding “village elder” in Africa. He stood by his principles, sacrificed to bring them to reality, then did what most African leaders of our time refuse to do: left office in order to be equally productive in other domains outside of politics.

Instead of celebrating his birthday as we do many other historical leaders around the world, Mr Mandela asks South Africans to give 67 minutes (the number of years of service he gave to his nation) serving others. I think that its a beautiful legacy that all of us could take to heart. So, what will YOU incorporate as your personal or family tradition each July 18th to celebrate Africa’s greatest elder? Please share with us, inspire each other and join me in wishing Mr Nelson Mandela a very happy 95th birthday!

Here is my wish for each of us:

Dear African leaders, follow his footsteps.

Dear African citizens, require that your leaders follow his footsteps, or simply refuse to let them lead. Integrity is essential, always.

Dear African children, know that THIS is the kind of elder that has come before you to show you how it is done. Become future leaders that lead with honor, respect for your fellow man, long-term vision and an understanding that you are but one member of a team that makes great things possible.

Love, Mama

An Open Letter to Geoff Baker and an Apology to My Readers

Many of you who follow my Round Table discussions know that my mantra is made up of just two words: “Dialog matters!” But, I always clarify when people ask that the ONLY kind of dialog that matters is open, honest dialog.  I have always tried to encourage that spirit of direct dialog here on our blog as well as any other time I’m given an opportunity to do so.  But, when the conversations begin, there is also the risk of being used, lied to and mislead. 

The key though, to our true character, is how we respond to these bad situations.  I would like to take this chance therefore to respond in the way that I do best: Openly, honestly and candidly…

Over the years, I have interviewed a fair number of people who are linked to Africa in a variety of ways.  One of those persons was Geoffrey Baker of Aid4Africa.  Through his first interview in 2010 and his second interview and our connection through the social media platform Twitter; we formed a friendship and often discussed current issues facing the African continent, primarily human rights and sustainable development. 

A couple of days ago, I noticed a comment left on the blog which called him a conman and a swindler. In an attempt to be fair, I tried asking the person who left the comment about the source of her information; but got no reply.  So, I did a bit of investigation and found an article on Scotland’s Daily Record (which I will post in its entirety below) which was published in March of this year.  That article led me to this article published about him in 2002Yesterday is the first time I learned the truth about him, much to my dismay.

It turns out that Mr. Baker is in fact EVERYTHING that he professes to hate so much: Someone who steals from those who are orphaned, victims of war, the poorest people on the planet AND those who are moved to care enough to help them!!

There are few things worse than betrayal… but the one thing that IS worse than betrayal is when you make that very betrayal of the poorest children in Africa the way that you fund your daily life! 

Although theft is wrong, Robin Hood is a hero because so many people can understand the robbing of the rich to care for the poor.  But when you rob the poor to make yourself rich well… I think there is no other way to put things than the fact that you are directly serving the Devil himself.  And, there is most probably a special seat in hell with your name on it.

Most of you have heard me say before that “any friend of Africa’s is a friend of mine.”  Well, the reverse is also true: “Any enemy of Africa’s is also an enemy of mine.”  I have dedicated my life to serving poor African women and their families.  I have done and will continue to do whatever I am able to ensure that all Africans have their basic freedoms respected, a sustainable way to make a living and their human rights valued. 

I know that I am just one woman and that my time and talents are limited.  But my voice is not.  So I scream this from my rooftop in the hope that it will inspire you to scream it from yours:


I would like it to be known that I have never given a penny, nor received one from Mr. Baker.  I have only talked with him and agreed with what he professed to believe.  It seems though, that lying about his beliefs is a job for him… and he’s become quite the trained professional!  He has chosen to be the kind of man who lies to churches filled with people who actually want to do God’s work with their hands and wallets.

I heard a “man of the cloth” once say that we are bound and obligated to forgive those who show remorse and ask for forgiveness.  But we are NOT to forgive those who don’t. I agree wholeheartedly.  As this is not new behavior for Geoff, I will not forgive… nor will I forget.

But, I will continue to believe in people; because I know so many who are working tirelessly to alleviate poverty in Africa.  I will not allow my hope to be crushed by greed or selfishness.  I am not naïve; but I am as sure that there is good in the world as I am that there is bad.

The fact that we have dictatorships doesn’t mean that true democracy can’t exist.  The fact that he lied and deceived so many, doesn’t mean that they didn’t really feel touched and want to help.  The fact that there are men like Geoff Baker doesn’t overshadow the good work of men and women like Paul, Dominic, Freweini, Béatrice, Donna, Cori or the hundreds of others who are sincere and whole-hearted in their attempts to make the lives of women and children in Ghana, Eritrea, Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa better.

The existence of the evil doesn’t overshadow the glory of goodness done with a sincere heart.

I’m sorry for having introduced any of you to such a terrible man.  But, I’m not sorry for having agreed with what turned out to be his lies.  Because you see, I DO believe in sustainable development for Africa.  I DO believe in empowering women through jobs.  I DO believe in children being cared for and loved whether they are rich or the poorest of the poor.  I also DO believe in dialog: open HONEST dialog.

The sad shame is that there are people like this who find people who also believe in what I do and then take advantage of their kindness and generosity.  And worse yet, take advantage of those small African organizations which are actually desperately trying to take care of poor women and children day to day.

And to you Christine, a heart-felt and genuine thank you for being brave enough to step up and tell us the truth.  Your voice and all of the voices here at Mama’s Round Table are so very important to the future of Africa.  I am so grateful that you held up the torch and shone the light on the truth.  Many of us are happy that you did. 

I am happy to say that despite my disgust, revolt and utter disappointment in having realized yesterday that I was in a friendship based completely on lies; I am starting today with a smile on my face.  Because, in my cup is coffee from Zimbabwe that a farmer who was paid a fair price for his beans.  I will then publish this post telling the truth so that others won’t be fooled by a conman who uses African children’s sad stories as bait.  I’ll continue my day by getting through the work on my desk, spending another day in year 11 of my dedication to African women’s cooperatives from Ghana to Rwanda.

Thank you to every customer who has ever subscribed to our coffee of the month club, ordered a basket or carving for serving as a daily reminder of how many people DO care.  I treasure each of you today more than ever.




Here is the article I found on Scotland’s Daily Record:

Swindler accused of ripping-off orphans in South Africa is tracked down to Scottish bolthole

17 Mar 2013 08:12

GEOFFREY Baker was exposed for fleecing Scots churchgoers by the Sunday Mail 10 years ago and is now accused of duping charities in South Africa. He claimed to be in China but we found him in Clydebank.

Geoffrey Baker photo courtesy of the Daily Record

Geoffrey Baker photo taken by Mark Anderson, courtesy of the Daily Record


Geoffrey Baker

Photo by: Mark Anderson

A CHARITY fraudster under investigation in South Africa has been tracked down to a Scottish bolthole by the Sunday Mail.

Geoffrey Baker is being probed by elite police in Johannesburg over claims he conned churches and
charities out of a fortune.

The 66-year-old is accused of stinging good causes who work with destitute kids by persuading them he was a fixer who could get them funding via his contacts.

Months down the line, Baker – who we first exposed in 2002 – would ask them for money to help with “insurance” for the scheme.

South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), known as the Hawks, are investigating a series of complaints about him.

One of the charities he allegedly duped said they received an email from Baker on Friday, claiming he was in Beijing on fundraising work. But we found him in a flat in Faifley, near Clydebank.

The conman could now be forced to travel to face criminal charges in South Africa, which has an
extradition treaty with the UK.

We first exposed Baker a decade ago when we told how he had reduced Scots churchgoers to tears with tales of his mercy missions to Kosovo – before fleecing them for thousands.

His latest spiel in South Africa involves his “contacts” Pastor Mick Mott and Pastor Dan, linked to a group called the Texas Oil Foundation.

Baker is the subject of a complaint from the Rhema church’s Hands of Compassion group, who work to aid poverty-stricken kids. Police are also investigating a claim from psychiatrist Leif Brauteseth, who claims he was duped and used to lend credence to Baker’s “foundation” called Aid 4 Africa.

South African attorney Gary Duke, who represents both parties, said: “In Rhema’s case, it’s because they have lost money. Dr Brauteseth believes he was horribly abused and used by Baker to
further his aim of trying to elicit funds out of people. There appears to be a lot of other people affected.

“Baker refuses to account to anyone about what happened to the money – there is always an excuse.

“There is always a reason he has to cancel a meeting at the last minute – usually something like he has broken his leg and can no longer travel.

“Apart from the criminal charges laid with the Hawks, we wish to serve a summons on Baker, which we will have to do via a UK court.

“He also professes to be a solicitor but we have checked with various authorities who have no record of a Geoff Baker.”

The Law Society of Scotland say Baker is not registered with them.

Duke said he feared “associates” of Baker were nothing more than
figments of his imagination.

Rhema pastor Alan McCauley said: “He first approached me in 2006 at our church in Johannesburg. He said he’d been coming to the church for some time and admired our work.

“He said he could help with funding. Nothing came of it immediately – but nor did he ask us for money. It was two years later he first asked us for cash.

“It was for about £3000, which he said would go towards an insurance policy related to the funding.

“He called it a risk policy. A second request was made in 2009, also in the region of £3000.

“The alarm bells started ringing when his promises were never fulfilled. Documentation was never forthcoming and he would never let us speak to the pastor in Texas – who we came to
suspect may not exist.

“We hope something can be done to stop other organisations being targeted like ours.”

Hawks captain Jan Judeel yesterday said: “There is a request between countries for certain information and inquiries are ongoing.” English-born Baker, who has lived in Scotland for decades, shares the flat in Faifleywith his South African second wife Jennifer.

He quotes an office in the Connal Building in West George Street, near Glasgow’s Queen Street station, as his business address – but a woman there said she had never heard of him.

We told in 2002 how Baker tricked members of the Open Door Fellowship in Bearsden, near Glasgow, and Paisley’s Assembly of God into giving him more than £18,000.

The former Salvation Army officer then fled his Glasgow home, owing a letting firm £9000. A businessman also told how the conman defrauded him of more than £45,000.

Baker served a sentence in Barlinnie prison for fraud in the 1990s. In 1981, he was convicted of a £200,000 charity con after persuading then employers, the Scottish Council for Spastics, to invest in a bogus promotion.

And the article from 2002:

THE H0LY C0NMAN; Swindling  businessman pockets church cash destined for war ophans.


THIS is the “Good Samaritan” who duped a church into handing over thousands of pounds to a mysterious pastor and a non- existent orphanage.

Geoffrey Baker reduced churchgoers to tears with graphic tales of rape camps and murder squads in war-torn Kosovo.

He claimed to have just returned from a mercy mission to the Balkans and begged members of Glasgow’s Open Door Fellowship to help the children at an orphanage run by Pastor John Grolsch.

One kind-hearted soul handed over pounds 3000 and dozens of other churchgoers gave him large cash donations.

But what they didn’t know was that Baker, 52, is a convicted fraudster who lies for a living.

He claimed to be a lawyer and accountant – but all his credentials are phoney – and also fleeced one couple out of pounds 10,000 for a “business deal”.

And when he was finally rumbled over the Kosovo cash, he fled his West End home owing more than pounds 9000 in rent.

Stunned parishioners of the Open Door church in Bearsden say they doubt the elusive Pastor Grolsch exists.

Others taken in by smooth-talking Baker have launched legal actions to get their cash back.

Baker appeared to be deeply religious and held prayer meetings at his home with wife Jennifer and when he gave a heart- rending talk to his church congregation about his fact- finding trip to the Balkans, they immediately agreed to help fund the orphanage.

Suspicions grew when Pastor Grolsch failed to turn up in Glasgow to show the church how their cash was spent.

Open Door’s Pastor Angus McAuley admitted: “We don’t know if anything he told us was true.”

Pharmacist Ian Mouat and wife Gillian gave Baker pounds 3000 for the orphanage collection and another pounds 10,000 as a loan.

Ian, of Kelvinside, said: “We were all taken in by this man. He’s certainly no Christian. He’s nothing but a conman.

“Geoff claimed he had travelled to Kosovo where he met Pastor Grolsch. He stood up during a Sunday service and told the entire congregation about the work this man was doing.

“He told us all about the orphaned children, rape camps that had been set up and the horrific effects of the civil war. We were all moved to tears.

“He said Pastor Grolsch needed money and, of course, everybody said they would help.”

Baker claimed he’d organised for Pastor Grolsch to come to Glasgow with videos to show the church how the money had been spent.

But the day before he was due to arrive, the Bakers said he had fallen down the steps of the aircraft after arriving in Corfu for a connecting flight to Glasgow and broken his leg.

Mysteriously, the videos and photographs of the orphanage had also gone missing.

Ian had become worried because he had already loaned Baker pounds 10,000 to cover a cash- flow problem for a business deal.

Ian said: “It sounds stupid now, but I trusted him and he said I would get the money back with interest.”

But, despite repeated attempts, Baker couldn’t come up with his friend’s money and the Mouats have since severed all ties with the church. The Open Door Fellowship are reluctant to discuss Baker and the orphanage cash.

Pastor McAuley said: “We never thought to check on what he told us. We never spoke to Pastor Grolsch and only got e- mails but I know that they can come from anywhere.”

He also claimed that church bosses had decided not to call in the police over the missing cash.

He said: “We took a decision to write it off and we have done.

“Very few of the congregation were aware of what happened.” Pastor McAuley admitted he knew of the pounds 10,000 that the Mouats had handed over to Baker.

He said: “If I had known about that in advance I would never have allowed it.”

But Ian Mouat is not the only one left out of pocket by the holy conman.

Lettings boss Gordon Shields is owed pounds 9000 after Baker failed to pay the rent on his three-bedroom home for a year.

Gordon said: “Everything was fine for a while and then rent cheque after rent cheque bounced.

“His reasons for not paying up went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

“He blamed it on his internet bank and then claimed he’d pay the money from his late father’s estate.

“When that never materialised, he said it was because his brother, who had to sign the cheque as a trustee was holidaying in Barbados. He also claimed that pounds 17,000 of his own money had been stolen and the Fraud Squad had ordered him not to use his bank account.

“Another time he said that he would be able to pay the money back because he’d just landed a job with the United Nations.”

Eventually, Gordon’s company was forced to take Baker to court to evict him but, just hours before the bailiffs arrived, he and Jennifer fled.

A neighbour said: “They just disappeared from the house early one morning without warning.

“They seemed like an ordinary couple although they were obviously deeply religious. Their front room had bibles everywhere and crosses on the wall.”

In 1981, Baker was convicted of a pounds 200,000 charity fraud after persuading his then employers, the Scottish Council for Spastics, to invest in a bogus promotion with the BBC kids programme, Multi- Coloured Swap Shop. He duped the council into buying 148,000 Swap Shop scarves with the proceeds going to charity but the programme- makers knew nothing of the agreement.

Baker was rumbled when he kept putting off “meetings” with the BBC to discuss the deal.

He admitted the fraud at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and was sentenced to 240 hours of community service.

Nine years later, Strathclyde police launched an investigation after cheques disappeared from a building firm Baker worked for.

Businessman Bill Hislop left him in charge of his roofing firm when he went on holiday and came back to find the firm in financial difficulties.

Bill said: “He told me he was in the Salvation Army and his Bible was left lying in the office. I trusted him.”

Baker and Jennifer are now living in Glasgow city centre. He is using an office in The Connell Building in West George Street to pick up mail.

When confronted by the Sunday Mail, he insisted that Pastor Grolsch and the orphanage existed and he had handed over all the money collected.

But he was unable to give us any telephone numbers for the home or Grolsch or anyone who knew him.

He claimed: “There are no phones in Kosovo and I don’t want to compromise him in any way.”

Baker also said his fraud conviction was “in the past” and he insisted that he intended to pay back the Mouats and Gordon Shields.


COPYRIGHT 2002 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.


Peace Isn’t Bought, It’s Built

photos des orphelines qui etudient les metiera

I read an article yesterday concerning the World Bank’s latest promise to fix Africa through another of its spending sprees.  This latest round promises $1 billion to help build peace through development in the Great Lakes region.

Let me begin by saying that development can be a piece of the puzzle and when development projects are responsibly planned and designed to be sustainable; they are a game changer.  Health, education and economic development programs are incredibly important components in the building of nations. 

A peaceful environment clearly lends itself better to progress and a better overall result. I don’t think that many people would argue against that.  Nor, would most people disagree if told that funding is a very important part of many projects success.  Development projects are essential and funding matters.  But neither of those things creates peace.

I am a believer in two things: peace and dialog.  I think that true peace is in fact only possible through dialog, open and honest dialog.  So, here is my contribution to the dialog concerning peace building:

Rwandan people have already shown us the way, both to horror and lasting peace.  I won’t go into the reasons for, or the details of, the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  Not due to a lack of knowledge; but because I want to focus on the “after” instead of the “before”.  Some of us know the story of Rwanda before the genocide, most of us know the story during… but here is an aspect of the after that many don’t know.

One of the things that surprised me most when I learned about the work that our partner in Rwanda was doing, when I first connected with them a decade ago, was this: The cooperative members were women who had gotten together to help one another survive the aftermath of the genocide.  They were daughters, mothers and grandmothers.  They were related to offenders and survivors.  They were women who had been raped during those terrible days in April and they were those who took in young children whose parents didn’t survive.  Some were orphans with no family; some were women who took in as many as six children who had nowhere else to turn.  Some had lost everything and others knew it was because of their family members that others had lost their lives.

But most impressive was the fact that they were working together.  They weren’t living with hate and a desire for vengeance.  Not to mean that many of these women didn’t have long-lasting and incredibly deep wounds.  Let’s face it, regardless of who you were or what your particular story was in Rwanda during that period; you were dealing with severe trauma.  There was no one left unaffected.  Rwanda was in essence, a nation dealing with collective post-traumatic stress.

What was so incredibly impressive was the spirit with which the women of Rwanda faced their problems: by connecting with other women and working to find solutions together.  I cannot begin to express how honored I am to work with the women of Rwanda.  Not just because their art is beautiful or because of their ability to overcome such immense challenges; but due to their sincerity and love in helping one another move forward.

THAT my friends, is where peace is built: in the direct relationships with each other.  It isn’t created in bureaucracies or even around the table at “peace talks”.  True peace is created person to person.  It is created in learning that we are connected at our roots.  It comes from extending our hand and taking a chance on the other.  It comes from sharing and praying and seeing each other through new eyes.

Rwandans had labels like Hutu and Tutsi bastardized during colonialism.  Initially forced, they then adopted the new meanings of these words and allowed them to grow in their hearts.  They allowed themselves to feel separate, some even hate-filled.

Ultimately though, what it took were women, strong and courageous women.  These women decided to link arms with each other, weave baskets together, raise children together, go to counseling together and build a nation based on their identity as mothers, daughters and grandmothers… as Rwandans.

The politicians, NGOs and large international organizations did nothing if not let Rwanda down when it mattered most.  That is a historical fact.  But what ultimately rebuilt that nation to the point it is now is its women.  Women united in love and faith:  One basket at a time, one banana fiber card at a time, one prayer at a time and one small gesture of support at a time.

I’d ask that the next time you hear about these billion dollar deals and investments in peace, you remember the women of Rwanda.  The next time you hear about a group of men sitting around a table negotiating peace for a nation, you think of the women of Rwanda.  The next time you read about women’s rights being stripped away and their lack of inclusion in the peace building process… remember Rwandan women.  They have showed us how to create peace.  Now it’s up to us to listen and apply the lessons.

Mama Afrika is so incredibly proud to work with true peace builders.  Most of all, I am motivated and encouraged by their ability to overcome their own hardships by working with others to overcome theirs.

I am not from Rwanda.  But as a woman who highly prizes peace… I too am a Rwandan. 

Love, Mama.