The rest of the world has not got it yet. Many still think that Africa's major problems concern famine, AIDS, conflicts and wars, poverty, rigged elections, nepotism and corruption, fevers of all types that are said to originate from the continent and more. How wrong. No one knows Africa like its cruel tyrants and they have time and again told the world that Africa 's problems are elsewhere.
Robert Mugabe is a man of many problems, some made by himself and others by the good offices of London and Washington, ranging from the economic to the political and you name it. Naive observers would of course conclude that with all this on his old lap he would have no time to focus on gays or chemical castration of rapists. Wrong! He continues to rile against gays and his ministers want to imitate the Czech Republic and decree castration laws in Zimbabwe . Up north in Uganda where Museveni has sadly turned into the usual African corrupt power monger, the government wants to decree homosexuality a crime and to punish gays by severe imprisonment (not less than 7 years) as if Uganda does not have several insurgencies to contend with along with economic and political problems of all sorts. In Somalia , where carnage and chaos have built castles, the hardliners are busy destroying graves and cutting hands and feet of petty thieves while the country remains without a State and a trace of peace. In power or aspiring to take it, Africa has so many busybodies watching over its misery and continued suffering.
The call for castration ( taking away the gun of the rapist as one Zimbabwean minister put it) brings to mind the possibility that this measure could have relieved Africa by making its tyrants non (re) productive. Off hand, such a measure would have deprived us (and what a pleasure!) of an Ali Bongo, a Kabila or Eyadema junior, a Seif Al Islam and a Gamal Mubarek, sons that have taken or are in line to take over power. Castration is an ancient practice that should be revived for political ends while the so called chemical castration now being advocated in Harare , aimed at reducing the libido, is a waste of resources and expectations. Someone has said correctly that behind every phallic hero there lurks an "unsocialized" monster. The cock that spares no chicken otherwise known as Mobutu Sese Seko, the big dictator Idi Amin, and all the other polygamous tyrants were/are macho monsters par excellence that could have been or are perfect candidates for castration. But then again, a castrated and sexually frustrated Idi Amin may have brought more havoc on our Ugandan brothers and sisters. After all, according to some articles in the Pet Friendly sites, castration changes the personality of dogs. The same could be true in humans though eunuchs are revered in some countries and oppressed in many others. This means that there is the dangerous possibility that a castrated tyrant may be worshipped and allowed to wreak havoc. Eunuchs had also a purpose, some use ( Eunuch goes back to the Greek word eunoukhos, "a castrated person employed to take charge of the women of a harem and act as chamberlain") while we say castrate tyrants to make them useless. Men said to be "emasculated and castrated" by "dominating women" reportedly have serious psychological problems and we do not need tyrants with more mental handicaps. The ancients ranging from Theophilus of Antioch to Augustine condemned the pagan gods demanding castration and called the action villainy and foul. Will castrating tyrants make them more vicious though such a state may be hard to envisage given the fact they have all reached the highest level of viciousness already. Hence, we must really make sure that castration leads to a change to the better in the temperament and personality of the tyrant.
The African tyrant minus his personal private gun may be impeded from producing off springs that replace him and perpetuate our misery. This by itself is a good thing and we can only hope that Mugabe for one will opt for the full Monty castration instead of imitating Western wimps and their chemical castration option. Why send gays to prison and deplete the money of the State (money that can be stolen by the tyrants) while they can be castrated and rendered unarmed for their "criminal" activity. A black friend of mine claiming to be an expert on the make up of the African tyrants ( a field of expertise monopolized by Whites) asserts that a castrated African tyrant will wilt and shrivel as what defines the tyrant is his macho phallic hero posturing. Will castration put an end to the "unsocialized monster"? It is not sure but it sure is worth trying as Africa would benefit from ending the rule of the tyrants and the sons that continue to rise. And it would be a costless procedure as volunteer castrators would line up in their millions. Count me in.
I am sure there are a lot of people who think that begging needs no training, all you have to do is look miserly (which you will look if reduced to that state of starvation and stress or anxiety anyway), roll your eyes, and beg. How wrong they are! Begging is an art like all other such callings, it needs training and expertise and the recent report that in one Indian village such a beggars' school exists has highlighted the necessity of stopping the amateur beggars in Africa, a continent known for its ultra professional beggars.
In the good old days you could just beg (have pity on me oh passer by, I am starving!) and tug at he hearts of otherwise disinterested citizens. Modern times have hardened the ordinary human being; pity is a scarce commodity, giving help turned into a business unto itself. Consider the number of charity organizations and NGOs around the world (more than seventy in Addis Ababa dealing with the thriving business of child adoption) and the point becomes clear. Begging has become a competitive business, cut throat all the way, very capitalist. You can't have the millionaire without the beggar. One begs the other, the contrast is all. Beggars have to be professional, modern, savvy-- the times require this. In Egypt, India, Ethiopia and other places professionalism has reached the level where a beggar can rent a child for a day; organize an open bleeding wound to expose to appear pitiable and very wretched. The hard hearts need shocks, in the Indian school of begging children are taught how to sound and appear miserable while in places like Ethiopia there is really no need of training for this--we are very miserable.
Professional begging has now become as African as cassava, foufou. matoke, ugali and Injera. Any African tyrant worthy of this name is first of all a beggar par excellence, the only difference he has with the beggar on the street is that he lives in the palace or State House. Those who refused to beg from the Mau Mau, to the "NO" man Sekou Toure, the Amilcar Cabrals, Netos and Machels--where are they now? Those who opted beg had a better end---some ruled for long like Houphet or Bongo senior, Mobutu or Kamuzu. They had the art of begging down to a capital B. One of the main tenets of professional begging is for the beggar not to exhibit inferiority. The assertive beggar is the successful one. The begging tyrant hoards millions, drives posh cars, lives in palaces and yet treks to the West to beg. But, before such pilgrimages and hajjes are made there is a dangerous animal to kill and it is called humiliation. The beggar should never feel this thing called humiliation. The people may be starving, the capital city may be stinking to the seven plus heavens, the oil millions may have disappeared down into the tyrant's secret bank accounts abroad and hundreds of thousands of starving children may be sleeping on the streets but, as we say in Ethiopia, he must wash his eye with salt and beg. The beggar artist called Meles Zenawi for example begged the West for food aid for the famine stricken millions by boldly accusing the West of not delivering food aid in time. If the young African girl called Dambisa Mayo riles against foreign aid, the fruit of begging, it is because she knew not poverty and the need to beg as she came from a well to do family. The artist beggar must be adept at spinning captivating stories--extending the palm and wailing for help is of no use. Have a story line, drama and suspense, falling down the ladder, endurance and suffering and spin it with good presentation skills. Make the donor part of the operation--give and you shall receive. That is why donors give our tyrants money after money and take back quite a big part of it back while the tyrant gets a considerable sum to add to his coffers. Why should the World Bank give Meles Zenawi and other dictator millions? Surely, it is not because they tell the Bank grim tales of human rights violations, broad daylight massacres, concentration camps and war mongering. The World Bank and the IMF, or the donors in general, do like cruel dictators but they do not like to be told of this in public. They want lying beggars. I once saw in one American city a homeless person with a begging bowl in front of him and a written sign which stated "No need to lie: it's for the drinks". Many a kind elderly person passed him by, angry. Few donors want the truth. Likewise, the tyrant beggar cannot openly claim I am begging for money to steal or to buy arms with. He must spin a convincing story of worth, combining arrogance (make them feel guilty with neo colonial and imperialism references if need be) with a we are going to perish like flies if you do not fork some millions over and he must convince the donors who instinctively wonder "what is in it for us." The beggar must learn to share.
No country is FOB (Free of Beggars) and one of the countries teeming with beggars, India, is trying to use repressive measures to clean Delhi from its thousands of beggars before the October 2010 Commonwealth games. This country touted as a democracy and still practicing the caste system that has rendered millions untouchable and without rights is using courts in vans and trucks to send beggars to detention centers and prisons. Such a round up was also tried by Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, Arap Moi in Kenya and their attempt to monopolize begging by eliminating the street beggars has failed miserably. If the top man begs the white man the ordinary folk can beg from the black man or woman. It is a desperate situation and in downtown Nairobi enterprising street kids cover themselves with human excrement and threaten office going women to throw some at them unless they give them a few shillings. This aggressive begging has proved effective. Meles Zenawi at the G20 meetings tried to look as one of the donors or the big countries giving us a good example of the professional beggar without any notion of humility. Profitable as it is, begging has branched out and become a nation wide profession. Some expose their wounds and deformities as in the past while others perform, sing or stand as stone statues to beg. The latter do get more money but begging 101 also comes along with teaching stealing expertise as our tyrants have taught us over the years. Beg and steal go together--show me an African tyrant who begs for help from the West but does not steal from it or the people. The tyrants are so in it that they steal elections and innocent lives too.
The beggar is a pauper who has no money and begs for it. And the beggar is also the one who takes the money that is not his and in this definition we can bring in the tyrants and the corrupt ministers like the British MPs who were actors of the recent scandal of appropriating public money fraudulently and illegally. They really do not need money but they cannot kick the begging monkey off their back. Mobutu, Bongo, Meles, Moi, the list is long of those who have become rich by begging and stealing but still continue to beg. They have so crowded the field that the paupers and poor people in need of help are edged out, rounded up, harassed and jailed. It is a tough world out there. The beggar's school in India teaches how to overcome this and survive in the face of big and voracious beggars called ministers and leaders. The millions of beggars in Africa do need such a school. Can India help instead of taking over our lands and riches just like China and the West?
Africans may be miserable and subjected to poverty but they are on the whole nice people forever thinking of the welfare of others even in crazy times when they may be forced to indulge in a genocide or cut arms and legs with machetes. It is a dour and grim world we live in and so the Africans' untiring attempt to make us laugh now and then should be appreciated.
From the land of the Sudan , where once idle chiefs ordered a man to marry a female goat and warmed the heart of may a racist, came the indecent trousers show. A Sudanese woman, Loubna Hussein, working as a journalist wit the UN was arrested because she was wearing a trouser in public and it was deemed indecent. The world which did not know that the stiff necked fundamentalist regime has been flogging women on the basis of their clothes was surprised at first and then amused. What makes a trouser indecent? Tightness? Colour? What? We all know the Sudan has grave problems in its hands. The regime has to make sure its killing spree continues in Darfur and that does require effort (not every lazy regime can handle a genocide!), that the impending secession of the South does not materialize, that the starving millions get enough food--huge tasks, big priorities. But, the generals took time out to give us the trousers show, dragging a brave woman to court and sentencing her to prison or fine (flogging left out this time--too much world attention). The dynasty or succession show presented to the world by Syria and North Korea was justifiably taken away by Africa for the enjoyment of all. Eyadema of Togo left power to his son, Kabila senior to Kabila junior in what was Zaire and now Ali Bongo of Gabon is succeeding his corrupt father. "Monarchy-- republics" are in vogue and up North Mubarek is coordinating his own similar show and Gadafi may very well leave his place to Seif Al Islam, his son. Funny shows.
(the average Cameroonian earns a dollar a day) but his spokesmen retaliated with a
"he has been allocated the money and he can spend it as he pleases" thereby making everyone--including Cameroonians--laugh. Don't be jealous! Who gave him all this money to spend? Bad question, just laugh and enjoy the noble gesture of our tyrants who spend so much money to maintain our prestige in foreign lands (where God knows why they still think we are poor and begging for help!) and give us the chance to enjoy by proxy. The latest joke on the streets of Addis Abeba is that the tyrant Meles will win the 2010 general election hands down ( he lost the last one but stayed in power killing and jailing those who cried foul) because of millions of hens and chicken will vote for him as he raised the price of a hen to 80 Birr (they used to cost less than ten Birr in the past) and millions were not able to afford them for the kill come the Ethiopian new year (September 11) and the chicken and hen folk are elated. A South African boy, who did not know of Idi Amin who had at least 33 children, answered the question "where do babies come from?" with: "they come from Jacob Zuma" (who has 18 children by the latest count). The problem with Africans, if you want to call it that, is that they are an open book, not hiding details of their personal lives. Many a European and American have concubines and very may children out of wedlock but silence is the edict on the fact. Not Africans who flaunt their peccadilloes. Idi Amin paraded his wives and very many children, the old Mzee Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya dragged his wife, Mama Ngina, to a public forum so that she can testify he may be old but was as active as cock It was all before the blue pill). In all cases, we supplied the fun; we let those who think we are savages and bizarre have the laugh at our expense. We told the world we married goats, believed in traditional witch doctors (who consulted bones instead of the computer), declared an arrogant Arab colonel king of kings, denied diseases their existence by giving them benign names, ignored the existence of famine, elected again and again pour own tormentors, like to slaughter one another for nothing, and that our riches are there for the taking. The world laughed at us. We were useful, we are useful.An acquaintance of mine I shall call Professor Mendal (a combination of the names of there educated Ethiopian fools) suggests that Africans can get back at their tyrants by laughing at them. The run of the mill African dictator takes himself very seriously and has very many laws dealing severely with any lese majeste. You cannot laugh at he tyrants who can only laugh at the Nation at will. The practice of laughing at the tyrants, of not taking them seriously at all, of ignoring their edicts, of roaring with laughter at their endless antics will surely drive them crazy. Idi Amin stole the people's laughter and enjoyed his own fun and aggravated the misery of the people. Take our constipated looking tyrants ranging from Kagame and Meles to Ngueso and Dos Santos and imagine what being laughed at or being ridiculed will do them. We can also laugh at the opposition and give them a taste of reality. Back in the early and mid seventies Algeria 's Boumedienne (he hardly ever smiled out of choice and not because he had crooked teeth) played at being revolutionary and invited dozens of self declared liberation fronts to Algiers . One of these was a self declared Ashanti prince who brought over a political program which had an introduction, his photo, other books written by the author and a long article on the personality of the "prince revolutionary" with a final call foe the then president of Ghana, Busia, to resign (because "you are a sophist") and concludes by stating if Busia does not resign the Ghanaian army should overthrow him via a coup d'etat. A curious political program in which the self declared prince states that he met Busia and the [president suspected he was a roving agent of Nkrumah ("which I was not") or a "big personality disguised as a common man"("which I was"). Such funny "rebels "and "Marxist- Leninist- Lumumbist " con men from the Congo are no longer around. Politics has become boring and the politicians humourless. That is why the African should laugh at those oppressing them and at those who declare themselves their liberators but are caricatures of those in power. Laughter is indeed the best medicine.
“An obliging fool is more dangerous than an enemy” says a Russian proverb. In Amharic we say “kemogn dejaf mofer yikoretal” or “mogn indenegerut, beklo indasegerut”. Those Ethiopians who hailed the Obama speech in Accra and rejoiced at the possibility of a new deal for Ethiopia and Africa thanks to Obama remind us of such obliging and dangerous fools.
Ours is a continent that had endured so many speeches of eloquence and style. African leaders have been mostly demagogic, we have heard it all. Nkrumah, Ben Bella, Nasser, Nyrere, Banda, Sekou Toure and more were moving speakers and yet we found out, much to our dismay, that words and realities are two different things. Well crafted words and flowery phrases do not a good policy make. Hence, it is inexcusable for Africans to be swayed by public speakers who shroud the real issues with self evident truths (”the future of Africa is up to Africans”–isn’t it precisely to affirm this that Africans have been struggling?) and cover their dearth of knowledge with paternalist “you must do this” advice and veiled threats. At the end of the day, the Obama speech was a rehash of the old American policy towards Africa, all bones and no meat, and an expression of the continuing incapability of Washington to come to grips with the real problems of Africa. One wonders why some Africans beat the festive drums over the Obama Accra speech even though such drummers as Raila Odinga of Kenya do prove the point that “it is business as usual” for Africa’s corrupt leaders. Obama did say once that his knowledge of African realities is equal to the knowledge of those who had occupied the White House seat before him–just imagine Reagan and Bush and even the Clinton fellow who hailed Meles, Kagame, Museveni,etc.. as democrats. Not very encouraging at all. Doing the ritual visit to the slave prisons is just a photo op that even Bush had done in Senegal and it is by now an empty symbolism from a country that has refused to pay due reparation for the slave trade.
Is Obama ending the misguided policies of Bush or extending them wrapped in demagogy? As Americans are wont to say: where is the beef? Is he showing us the money? That Obama’s father was a Kenyan is neither here nor there as Condoleezza Rice, Susan Rice and Johnnie Carson are African Americans/blacks/ and they did not hear the heartbeat of Africa at all. Colour and birth considerations aside, Obama is an American, elected to safeguard the interest of America in Africa and the whole world. Obama’s vision of Africa is American and that of the ruling power holders of the big country. His refusal to acknowledge that Africa’s woes are mostly the results of neo colonial plunder and machination is at the center of his failure to understand the woes of Africa. He said accusingly that the West did not cause the economic problems of Zimbabwe and the West has little to do with wars in which children become soldiers. What? Zimbabwe’s economy was wrecked by embargoes, sanctions and sabotage by the West ever since Britain raged against Mugabe for taking action against white landowners. No one n the west cried foul when Mugabe was torching Matabele land to crush an insurgency. The child soldiers of Sierra Leone for one were involved in a diamond war in which Britain and even South Africa played a major part. Who were the allies of Charles Taylor? Who financed Renamo? UNITA? And the ongoing war in the Congo? Western mining companies like the AngloGold Ashanti corporation finance the militias wreaking havoc, recruiting children as soldiers and raping women in thousands. Obama harped on corruption and good governance in his attempt to attribute the blame on Africa itself but the reality shows us different. “No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20% off the top,” said Obama. Is this true? Absolutely not. The foreign companies actually want those scoundrels who can be bribed. From Lumumba to Nkrumah and more, nationalist African leaders have been victims of coups mostly engineered by the CIA and the West. Leaders that rig elections and repress voters enjoy American aid and backing. The butcher in Equatorial Guinea is sustained in power by American oil companies. President Nguema’s stolen millions were stashed in Washington’s Riggs Bank and Condoleezza Rice feted the tyrant. Western oil companies who ran after Africa’s oil have been allies of the despots be it in the Congo, Gabon, Nigeria or Angola (for a good exposure of how these giant companies practically manipulate the tyrants and the governments do read Nicholas Shaxson’s: Poisoned Wells–The Dirty Politics of African Oil ). And this affirmation by Obama that “we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments” or “no good governance no aid” is an old song crooned by Western leaders from Mitterrand to Blair to Clinton. Actually, American and Western aid had actually gone to despots, to apartheid South Africa, to Egypt’s Mubarek, to Meles Zenawi, to corrupt Dos Santos in Angola, etc. Britain and France have also backed despots in their particular enclaves and as the competition from China (ruthlessly nationalist and arrogantly racist too) heats up the West is grovelling before the dictators in countries with oil and minerals. Foreign investment has thus been mainly in countries where scoundrel and thieves are in power. The issue of corruption is not also just an African internal affair as Obama wanted to imply but something that has been fanned and extended all over Africa by Western embassies and companies working intimately with African officials. Governments cannot skim 20% off the top if the Western companies were not in accord with them. Western investors hate honest and nationalist leaders (who overthrew and had Lumumba murdered? Allende? Mossadegh? Arbenz?) and are comfortable with
That is why Meles Zenawi is one of the usual guests of the G8 meetings and the very person picked by Tony Blair to head an African committee. Nigerian dictator’s Abacha’s stolen billions are still in British and other western banks. Meles Zenawi and his corrupt wife have hidden millions in Citibank. The eight African leaders recently invited to the G8 meeting are all corrupt and seven of the eight are leading countries considered not free by Freedom House itself. Ghana may fare better now than others but it is also rife with corruption. In the UN Development Index report, Ghana is not that glorious (among the 20 poorest–142nd while Kenya is 144th). Corruption flourishes in Africa with Western collaboration. Africa is wrecked by wars in most cases financed and fanned by the West as it chases its greed for oil and minerals to the detriment of Africans ( more than 4 million have died in the mineral war of the Congo). Obama talked of the need for a strong parliament, honest police force, independent judges, independent press, a vibrant private sector, and a civil society. Fine requirements. However, if development depends on good governance and if America will not help those who have not instituted good governance then one is at odds to explain the actual and real policies of America in support of despots all over the continent. This is why Obama’s glossing over the damages of colonialism and neo colonialism grates and sprinkles salt on our wounds. Diseases and conflicts have ravaged the African continent but who is to really blame for that? Poverty is linked to the system; Ethiopia is suffering from famine not because its land is infertile. But who supports these regimes that impoverish the African people while opening up the country to the greedy western oil and mineral companies? Who is impoverishing African farmers by subsidizing its own farmers and making the African products cheap in the world market? Questions that Obama, like Bush, did not want to address at all.
There is the possibility that some hardened fools may still argue that all this was in the past and that things have changed now with Obama. Where and when? Besides repeating the usual (and mistaken) official diatribe against “genocide” in Darfur and terrorists in Somalia, has Obama really broken with the past? Let us take the Horn of Africa, a region we know much better than the American president. Somalia’s intractable clan war was complicated by Washington when it decided to arm the hated warlords against those it called terrorists linked to Al Qaeda. Like the WMD, it was said there were three or four top Al Qaeda operatives hiding in Somalia (they were never found) and the support to the venal warlords made the fanatics of the ICU appear better in the eyes of most Somalis. And then, Washington prompted Meles Zenawi to send in soldiers and actively supported the disastrous invasion which any Ethiopian would have told them was doomed to failure. The troops of Meles helped the Al Shabab gain more support, were forced to withdraw and Somalia is now in the pits with the fanatics in ascendance. And what is new American policy as concerns Somalia? Arming the so called moderates of the Transitional Government, paying Uganda and Djibouti (!!) for arms and training, fuming against terrorists, accusing Eritrea of arming the “terrorists”. More of the same. The misguided notion of considering the Somali mess as part and parcel of the so called war against terror is very flawed. Let us take Ethiopia where a ruthless dictatorship is in place. Taking Obama’s measures, it fails miserably to qualify as good governance: the parliament is rubber stamp and even the rubber is threadbare, the police force is brutal, corrupt and repressive, the judiciary is controlled by the State, civic society has been denied independent and vibrant existence, the free press is muzzled (Meles is named one of the worst predators of the free press), the private sector is stifled by the monopolistic economic firms of the ruling Tigrean front (TPLF). In 2005, the ruling front lost the general election but used violence to massacre more than 200 protestors, to jail thousands and to stay in power with the help of America and Britain. This repressive regime and its cold blooded head called Meles have remained to be the West’s darlings and Mr Obama was sitting together with this murderer in the last G8 meeting. W cannot talk of change because the new Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, who recently visited Ethiopia, praised the anti people regime as an ally and as the one that has brought democracy to Ethiopia. There is no new policy, no new deal, no firm American stand against dictators and tyrants.
So, if we judge the Obama speech in Accra from the real and bitter realities of poverty, war, AIDS, corruption and sovereignty. that is if we ask did he say something new or has he heralded any change, the answer is no. The “future of Africa is up to Africans” is an refrain we have heard before so many times from Western leaders that do not waste time to forcefully take our sovereignty away. It is empty talk. To rile against poverty, corruption, the lack of good governance without mentioning the lion’s share of the guilt and responsibility of the West is to bray at the moon and to hoodwink the victims. Talk of neo-colonial plunder, talk of oil companies robbing countries blind and backing tyrants and murderous militias, talk of subsidies that impoverish and debilitate African farmers, talk of taking real and concrete actions against tyrants and then we can listen. The West needs corrupt and repressive regimes in Africa for it to rob best the continent. President Obama should say no to this addiction, to this greed and craving of a junkie. Up to now, he has not done so. He is continuing the Bush policy incensing it with confusing speeches. Those Africans who imagine that “the end of tyranny is now” and that “with Obama in charge our sufferings will end” only prove the truth in the saying that a fool will laugh when he is drowning.
There is a time to die and a time to live (in Africa there is always more time to die) but there is also a time to brand. Cattle owners and slave drivers did it. The Nazis did it on Jews. Meles Zenawi's guerrillas used the scythe to singe and brand their innocent victims. Branding was in for long and may be due for a comeback if we are to heed the advice of a Swazi member of parliament. He demanded that people with AIDS be branded so that their potential victims get a forewarning as they are being prepared for a dangerous foreplay. An interesting idea, to say the least.
But the Swazi MP could not withstand the hue and cry by Swazi men and had to withdraw the suggestion. Swazi Member of Parliament and gospel singer, Pastor Timothy Myeni, has now blamed the devil for suggesting at an MPs' workshop, that there should be a law making it "compulsory to test for HIV" and that people testing positive should be "branded on the buttocks". Here is a news report on his retraction:
"The devil has trapped me so that he celebrates that, from a Christian, such an uncalled for statement has come out. I am very sincere. I am very sorry. I understand very well that this was a blunder", said Pastor Myeni at a media conference, in Johannesburg .
"There are infants who get infected in the womb or during birth. Does he want HIV-positive infants to be branded also? What does he say about rape survivors?", asked one angry official without explaining if he was talking of women or men rape victims and why the branding should not involve babies with Aids. Myeni has retracted but his was an interesting suggestion if anything. Swaziland is a country where a young king marries young maidens and carelessly spends the country's meagre resources over cars and palaces for himself and his women. His 13 wives shop in Dubai most of the time and his birthday parties cost millions while the Aids afflicted people suffer for lack of drugs. He ordered the Swazi girls and women not to have sex for five years, not to wear miniskirts and long pants and then goes on to hold the so called Reed Dance ceremony during which more than 50,000 bare breasted and scantily clothed young girls vie to be the absolute monarch's next wife--for the money and prestige of course. The king, Mswati III, uses this ceremony to acquire young maidens as his wives. Shouldn't such a person be branded on both his buttocks as a profligate, polygamist and tyrant? MP Myeni's branding idea could very well have been an idea whose time has come but he was cowardly and threw it on and to the Devil.
To begin with, there is no reason why the branding should be for Aids carriers alone and why it should only be done on the behinds. If branding as a warning and as ID catches on, it can be used for tyrants, embezzlers, official thieves, decadent politicians, "genociders", mass killers and more. Imagine the corrupt tyrants with a big THIEF brand on their foreheads. They will never show their ugly faces in public. The brutal military regime in Ethiopia did try its own sort of branding when it unleashed the Red Terror against its opponents (mainly the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party) and nailed an "I am a counterrevolutionary" placard on the foreheads of the murdered EPRP followers. It did not catch on because the brander was the one that had to be branded and exposed while, on the other hand, popular branding by people on the tyrants can catch on. There is branding and there is branding and the Nazi numbers branding is out of date unless we insist on branding Sassou Ngueso and his likes No 1 Thief. African tyrants who like to be called No 1 Patriot and No 1 Genius could deserve to be called number one Despots and Robbers. Branding the forehead may not also be very effective given that fact that with fundamentalism spreading not only women but also bearded fanatical men cover their foreheads. The hands can also be covered with Michael Jackson gloves. Thus, where to brand becomes a problem.
Lest some ill intentioned people think that the Swazi pastor is one more African savage advocating a cruel act let me say that branding people is an old practice of the Western civilizations. Romans branded even thieves with the letter F and burning people with iron was also considered punishment. The Greeks did burn and brand. Res servus est, the slave was a thing, a biological entity somewhere there with any ordinary livestock who had to be dehumanized to make it know its place. Following the Romans and Greeks, Americans and Europeans branded their slaves/in most cases black/ just as they branded their cattle. The practice of branding did spread to affect deserters, adulterers, blasphemers and prisoners. Branding was legal in ancient laws of England . "The British Mutiny Act of 1858 provided that the court martial may, in addition to any other penalty, order deserters to be marked on the left side, 2 inch below the armpit, with the letter "D", such letter to be not less than an inch long. In 1879 this was abolished". The
Dutch, the Spaniards and the Peruvians were cruel slave holders often joining branding to neutering of the slaves. Yet, there are those who argued that branding gave the slave a sense of pride, it was proof he belonged to someone, had an identity and was not a "nobody" Nowadays, the border police take our photos and finger prints so that no rejected modern slave flees to another country and becomes an accepted immigrant (or slave). It must be said that not all branding, or facial marking, was done involuntarily. Many Africans cut their faces with knives to carve "railways lines" or designs to show their ethnic identity and/ or even social status. You brand yourself and you differ and, as one Nigerian put it, based on that difference you slaughter or get slaughtered.The problematic of where to brand lingers. Below the armpits is a hidden place where many eyes do not get the chance or the will to go. The Swazi pastor suggested the buttocks but that is only visible if one takes of trousers and pants-- and even poorly clad Africans manage to cover that part somehow. In other parts, the Burka--type covers frustrate any branding on any part of the face. The shame is thus hidden, the ID not seen. The Swazi pastor also made the mistake of assuming the males in his place will be nude when they spread the virus with diligence and cruelty. Given the fact that people tattoo themselves anywhere and everywhere with meaningless designs and indecipherable characters the place for the ideal place for the revealing and exposing branding may not be found that easily. Can the Devil help? Maybe, hopefully. But branding is an idea whose time has come. Imagine our joy if we could see the despots that have made our life miserable carved up with a big DD on their foreheads: Decadent Despots. Time to carve them up, time to brand them all. R for racists, B for those disciples of Bush and his butcheries, T for tyrants, MM for mass murderers, G for those who commit genocide, E for embezzlers, S for stooges, C for the corrupts, and a big MO for monsters, scoundrels, Talibans, ruffians, marauding militias, sick fanatics, mad mullahs, the Joseph Konys and other such disasters who have made the world a terrible place to live in.
Michael Jackson (MJ) was world famous --in other words conspicuously miserable for the entire world to see. It is not the lack of a better thing to do or write that has pushed me to pen this brief and different adieu to the legend (Ethiopians say an idle mother would engineer her own son's divorce) but the need to thank this 50 years old child for the very many good gestures and good things that he did especially for ordinary Africans. He may not have known it but MJ did help us in many ways.
There is in the beginning the "We Are the World" song that mobilized millions to help Ethiopians during the 1984 Famine. For us, who have had the 1973 famine and still get the privilege of being starved by a regime that claims 11% economic progress figure per year, the noble gesture of Michael Jackson (as opposed to that other common man calling himself Prince who did not take part in the song) and others was not to be forgotten. That famine passed, other famines came but it was not the fault of MJ though the present regime in Addis Ababa has accused foreigners of being responsible since they did not come with food aid in time this time around. Be that as it may, MJ is to be praised for not taking himself as the Messiah and trying to impose himself on Ethiopians and Africans as God sent just because he helped. Thanks to MJ for not doing a Geldof or a Bono on us is what we are saying. These two and others like them have appointed themselves our patron saints. Dambisa Mayo who wrote the Dead Aid book concurs by being opposed to rich celebrities becoming the de facto face of Africa and, as expected, Bono’s Advocacy One organization has campaigned to discredit Moyo’s book. I do not know of any African who has voted these Bono and Geldof and others like them as his or her representative but they, with the haughtiness they are not even aware though it is instinctive, have stolen our shouts.
MJ did not do that. He did come to Africa though ans was made a king in one region in Ivory Coast . At Dar es Salam airport. he was seen holding his nose and some African newspapers did attack him for suggesting that Africa stunk. For me, the biggest surprise was the fact that MJ's nose, after all the surgeries, was still functional while the noses of our otherwise self declared healthy nosed Mayors are dead to the stench of the cities they run to ruins. I do not know about Dar es Salam airport but many African cities stink to the skies as do, of course, European cities like Naples . In Africa, we are expected to wallow in filth, sleep outdoors (our leaders claim the real African is an outdoor man, a being of the wild who hates being cooped up, though they still cram us into tiny prison cells whenever they get the chance), and to never complain against the Mayors. Thus, MJ acted as a Knight in a shining armor when he held his nose and the Mayors cried foul. He was actually holding his nose not to suggest filth but as we Ethiopians say, pardon the expression, he who is about to fart cannot tolerate jumping. The Mayors and the State owned newspapers shouted against MJ because they knew of the filth they had made the people endure. MJ said sorry but most of us Africans said thanks for telling them that even for a nose that had passed under the knife so many times the stench was just too much. A short visit to Addis Ababa for one can prove the point of the prevailing stink on all levels.
MJ did a lot more for Africa . Poverty stricken as we are, we wear second hand clothes, hand me downs and cheap clothes that shrink when washed (if ever you get water evidently). Wearing trousers that do not reach the ankle had been a long time embarrassment to most of us and there came MJ with a shrunk trouser making our day. We could now boldly and confidently strut and walk around the cities in our unfitting /shrunk/ trousers , no more ashamed, and proclaiming to the world I am wearing hand me downs and second hand clothes. We could, if we want to be chic, wear just one glove (it could be torn no matter) and no one can snicker if we do not have another one. That MJ has the habit of grabbing his crotch in public has also meant deliverance to many beleaguered African males who have had the need to do just that not to dance but for a variety of reasons. For one, Africa has too many rivers and lakes but almost every city is suffering shortage of water and the chance of having a decent wash is becoming more slender than the waist of a diet conscious Western girl. Thus, grab can carefully and subtly be turned to scratch (like when we were small children or big rebels in the forest with lice in our heads) --what a relief. The other main reason for doing the grab thing has been to check, given that African tyrants have emasculated most African men and stolen their manhood. We are to be excused if we do take things literally and have the need to check from time to time if it is still there in place. With MJ doing the grabbing in public the shame and discomfort associated with the action vanished and many a proud African could indulge in the grabbing action (check and recheck) as many time as possible to his heart's delight. I am sure these are the kind actions of MJ that many white folks did not know about.
There are some people who think that MJ was not socially conscious, what with this entire alleged attempt to turn into a whit woman. Yet, MJ was conscious enough, he started out to look like Diana Ross ( who did not look at all like Amy Winehouse for example), explained his whiteness is linked to a skin condition called vitiligo and no more. One wonders why the surgery thing has become such an issue when he did it and not when others did it going as far as even removing some ribs to look thinner. Bear with me for another Ethiopian proverb which laments "I do not know if it is my predicament or that of my karma but when I hold a lemon it smells to the seven heavens". The hue and cry over MJ's face could be because of his karma (poor soul) but he was a troubled person, exploited, used and abused by many sycophants and parasites. Yet, he was a conscious man who accused SONY of racism. In my books, the Japanese emerge as the most racist lot in this blighted world and Japanese companies hold their noses at Africans and blacks in general while grinning till tomorrow when they take the money. That MJ attacked SONY as racist showed clearly that he was conscious of color and did not appreciate white or yellow just like that. An attitude that gave courage to many Africans who did call whites racist over and over again but were afraid to do the same with Asians though the Indians have proved notoriously racist in East Africa and the Chinese have taken their place and prejudices all over Africa. We Africans can now follow MJ and call the Japanese and Chinese, who call us black devils, racists. Thanks again MJ.
As we say, pain is another word for the good fortune of another being. Many had pain because MJ was successful, an icon, world famous. So what if he gave money to AIDS afflicted children in Romania and not to AIDS orphans in Africa ? What matters is that he gave. Madonna goes to Zambia finances a school and makes sure that the children adopt her Kabala religion. Is this selfless charity? The African tradition is that you do your giving and helping discreetly, let God only know about it. Is Oprah Winfrey even listening? But these celebrities trumpet loud the amount of money they give or the so called good deed that they have done. Did we ask Bono to be the spokesperson of Africa ? Who are the Darfurians who entrusted their cause to George Clooney? Who is that stupid American who went to the Burmese peace activist's home and gave the dour generals the opportunity to haul her to court? They want fame for it and in this way they expose themselves as charlatans. MJ may have spent millions during one shopping spree and not given much for poor students who yearn for a scholarship (not in Africa but right there in America ) but he has escaped from being a charlatan. Can we have non patronizing help please? MJ did not patronize Africans-- he had more important things to do. As most people allege if he had to turn white that was no easy undertaking at all. The music world is poorer without his presence and for this fact alone we say goodbye to MJ with sorrow in our hearts just as we said adieu to our own Ethiopian great and departed singers like Tilahun and Menelik.
Like Uganda , Italy has had its political clowns. If Uganda had Idi Amin Dada, witch doctor Alice Lakwenya and even the present death man Joseph Kony, Italy had Mussolini. The image of the Italian fascist, IL Duce, strutting atop a piazza Venetia balcony and shouting "l'etiopia e italiana!" ( Ethiopia is Italian), when his invading troops entered Addis Ababa . is unforgettable. The bald fascist had his own show much like the ideal western buffoon called Idi Amin. Mussolini was hanged upside down by his victims and Idi Amin died in comfortable exile in Saudi Arabia (whoever said these Arab monarchs and Sheikhs had good feelings towards Africans anytime?).
Italy has a new buffoon. He undergoes plastic surgery, has a hair transplant, sleeps with minors, dilly dallies with professional prostitutes, makes politically incorrect declarations , talks of a tanned leader called Obama, declares Italian colonialism was a blessing and more but few people are laughing. Berlusconi tries at being a political clown but he is not funny. Consider his actions against immigrants. Last February 20, 2009, Berlusconi issued an emergency decree that allows volunteers in organised groups to patrol and identify suspicious individuals to report to the police. Currently, such militias are supposed to be unarmed and equipped with special mobile phones to make contact with the police. In future, the decree envisages a budget increase of €100 million from the interior ministry to fund 2,500 police reinforcements by April at the latest. Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa, from the neo-fascist National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale, AN), announced that the emergency decree permitting civilian vigilante groups had been unanimously agreed upon by the council of ministers. Roberto Maroni , home affairs minister and member of the racist Northern League, declared that the patrols would be organised by mayors and police chiefs, and equipped with special walkie-talkies. Recently anti immigrant violence, targeting Romas (commonly referred to as Gipsies) and Africans, has taken place all over Italy . A rape attributed to a group of Roma youths was publicized to raise public anger while a similar rape by a son of a Mafia chief in Naples was played down. Government authorities are systematically fanning xenophobia especially against Moslems, Roma and Africans as a whole. When hundreds of Muslims held a prayer protest in front of the cathedral in Milan and the Coliseum in Rome during the war on Gaza , politicians and the media presented their actions as an "Islamic threat" and an attack on "Western values". In Nettuno, a town near Rome , a 35-year-old Indian man was attacked by three drunken Italians who set him alight. Berlusconi came to power playing anti immigrant racist politics and his government, allied to neo fascists and racists of the Lega Nord, promises to deport more than half a million refugees. France has deported close to 30,000 in 2008 alone. European countries consider Italy the weak underbelly used by refugees supposedly “flooding” Europe . Italy is thus turning on the screw with a fierce right wing government unconcerned by human rights vowing deportation en masse. Already, Berlusconi has deported hundreds back to Libya which recognises no refugee rights. Thousands of Ethiopians, Somalis and Eritreans are held in containers in the Libyan desert at thr mercy of unscrupulous police thugs.
Berlusconi enjoys attacking Africans and the continent at every opportunity. Rome gets dirty and he compares it with an African city as if Naples is not there next to him with its uncollected garbage. Much as he may show racist prejudice towards Africans and the continent, Berlusconi has many characteristics that can make him a run of the mill African dictator. A racist he surely is but he is as good a buffoon as an Idi Amin or a Bokassa. Italian sources claim he is one of the loyal consumers of Viagra much like the late Sani Abacha of Nigeria who (like Berlusconi) frequented escort girls and high priced prostitutes. Consider the various women making part of the Berlusconi scandal:
"Noemi Letizia, an aspiring model and actress at the centre of scandal. Berlusconi attended her 18th birthday party on April 26 and gave her a gold and diamond necklace; she is said to have attended a new year's party at Berlusconi's villa. He has not explained how he came to know her. His wife alleges he has slept with her.
Patrizia D'Addario, a former model and escort, 42, who says that she was paid to attend Berlusconi's parties and has secretly filmed herself and Berlusconi in his bedroom.
Elisa Alloro, a slim, blonde former television presenter, 33, and author of We, Silvio’s Girls, who says that she has been invited repeatedly to Villa Certosa. “Every time is a privilege,” she says
Sabina Began, a former nude model who was named by the Italian press as the “queen bee” at Berlusconi's villa parties. Reported to have sat on his knee at a party celebrating his 2008 election victory while he sang the Napoletan song Mala Femmena (Bad Woman).
The enraged Veronica Lario, Mr Berlusconi's wife, 53, who announced on May 3 that she was seeking a divorce because she "could not stay with a man who frequents minors". Berlusconi is officially 72 years old.
Berlusconi could have learnt much from his African twins but his flimsy attempt to steal compromising tapes surely makes Omar Bongo turn in his grave. If Patrizia D' Addario had ever set foot in Gabon and dealt with the short Mullah Omar in Libreville she would have been disappeared a long time ago before anyone could hear of any compromising film or tape. Berlusconi has yet to meet the fate of Abacha who died on top of an international sex worker due to Vigara pills acting bad with his cardiac medication. Yet, the Italian clown has been humiliated in the face of the whole world as a man who takes advantage of minors and pays anything from 2000 to 10,000 Euros to have a good time with escort girls. No wonder he deports refugees, this unfunny clown. Italian colonialism is guilty of horrendous crimes in Ethiopia and Libya . That Mr. Berlusconi claims colonialism has done well instead of bad is to be expected from him given his political right wing and fascist position and his overall irresponsibility.
The man who said he never paid for sex has high priced prostitutes brought to his decadent parties by army helicopters. He is anything but a clown--Berlusconi is a calculating bully, said one political observer. He has apologized publicly to his wife for his public sexist comments but has yet to say sorry for his predecessor's colonial carnage or for the misery he has brought on asylum seekers and immigrants. His crude comment on the victims of the cruel repression by Argentina 's generals passed without much approbation. In other countries, the gaffes of Berlusconi may have led to a resignation but he survived not because Italians love buffoons but because he controls the media. This is how one observer put it:
".... the reaction of the Italian media to his comments was almost a test case of the extent of his unhealthy domination of that industry. Il Foglio is owned by his wife. Il Giornale is owned by his brother. The main state television channels are not directly controlled by Mr Berlusconi but are part of a web of political patronage. The prime minister also owns the three main private television channels. "
Berlusconi himself has admitted that he only had three laws passed and all of them were in his own favor. He does enjoy adulation in Italy and that has inflated his ego and given him what one reporter called a "god complex". This same reporter went on to explain the problem: "His 147-room country house at Arcore, north of Milan , is complete with an underground mausoleum, like a pre-Roman burial site'. You pass through a narrow corridor and enter an imposing square chamber with a pink marble sarcophagus in the centre'. Mr. Berlusconi's family and friends, meanwhile, will be buried in niches around the walls, facing his tomb"
The billionaire and so called "il cavaliere" is the prince of gaffe but he is in reality a bully, a prince of darkness. He is not funny at all. Mr. Berlusconi, leave immigrants and asylum seekers alone please.
The diminutive tyrant called Meles Zenawi has a slick tongue which some people imagine expresses intelligently though out ideas. It is a busy forked tongue that can spew out a lie in at least three languages in at least four directions. Most Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis have learnt this belatedly much to their chagrin.
As much as Meles tries to be smart (street smart say many of his detractors) he also tries to be funny but, much to his chagrin, unknowingly. The thin lie between a lie and the truth had long ago been blurred by him and his attempt at humour usually ends up being grotesque lies trying to pass of as truth. When he sent his troops to invade Somalia for the first time he declared very seriously "we did cross the border but it was not an invasion" and was surprised that many did not believe him or laugh at his joke. For a man whose tyrannical regime holds more than 35,000 political prisoners in official and secret prisons and camps, he wants to be believed when he declares "we do not hold even one political prisoner". Back in 1993, he officially promised the Westerners that opposition parties leaders wanting to come to Addis Ababa for a Peace and Reconciliation conference will not face any repression ("it is their country," was what he said) and when they came he whisked most of them right from the airport to prison (one is still imprisoned on trumped up charges). He vowed to have a multi party system and immediately banned all independent groups and parties and flooded the country with his satellite groups, hastily made up the African way, with bribes and benefits laced with threats and blackmail. Yet, Meles appeared as an intelligent if not humorous leader to many Westerners, ranging from IMF and World Bank officials to Bush and his poodle dog Tony Blair.
When the Meles ruling front lost the 2005 general election one of his henchmen blamed " the wind"(nefas) for blowing the ballot papers in favour of the opposition. The goon was not joking at all. Meles handled his defeat the usual tyrant way-- he let his special police and security forces loose on the people, massacred more than 200 in Addis Ababa alone, jailed more than 100 political leaders and independent journalists, rounded dup 50,000 opposition parties' sympathisers and members and accused the opposition of fomenting violence. Again being funny unintentionally but actually doing his thing as usual he forced the opposition leaders to write to him a letter asking "pardon" for the crimes that he himself had committed against them and their followers. When one of these jailed and "pardoned "leaders explained the charade he had her rearrested and sent for life imprisonment while blatantly declaring she will not be released and he boldly expects the whole world to applaud this as due process and proper legal action. Is this funny? Funny in African politics is often hilarious, Bokassa funny, Idi Amin funny, Nguema type macabre funny. Meles fails by comparison. He was trying to be funny when he said he will make sure that the majority of Ethiopians ate three decent meals per day and when millions starved instead he did not even try claim that he never said when but went on to shout that it is the fault of the Western countries for not giving food aid in time. Just like he is presently blaming the World Bank for the grave power shortage and the closing of factories which has rendered thousands of workers jobless. Starving Ethiopia , dark and lightless Addis Ababa and many other towns-- it is all the fault of foreigners. Who is in charge of the hapless country in the first place? An unasked question but, if we take Meles at his words, it is not Meles who is in charge. When he had thousands of Eritreans expelled from Ethiopia , roughly and brutally, he declared "if we do not like the colour of your eyes we can send you packing". Recently he said I do not care if the main man is in the Asmara ( Eritrea ) Palace is human or ape. We remember when he said that talking to the main man in the Asmara palace was worth reading ten books. Consistency is obviously not the forte of Meles,
Meles is definitely not funny. This is not because he does not try at all, no. he tried hard and is still trying. While millions starve he states that Ethiopia is having a surplus of crops and will export to Kenya . When millions are faced by increasing poverty he unashamedly asserts that the economy of the country is growing at 11% annually. He claims he is proud of his record, of the economic progress, of establishing peace, while millions wallow in poverty, eating one decent meal has become as difficult as getting clean drinking water and ethnic strife has spread like prairie fire all over the country. He claims democracy reigns when the judiciary is controlled by the ruling front, when due process is denied, the rule of law trampled upon, prisoners tortured routinely and draconian repressive laws decreed one after another. All this is supposed to be funny. Ethiopians are not laughing but Meles who said there is something wrong on their dietary practice could very well suggest that the Ethiopians not only lack food but also a sense of humour. The ruling front has almost monopolistic control over the country's economy using a conglomeration of firms under a collective name of EFFORT. Meles says it is an Endowment, it belongs to the people of Tigrai, his old mentor on ethnic hatred goes further and states that EFFORT is the biggest and richest company in Ethiopia . How did this happen? How could this be let to happen, this use of State power control to dominate the economy and drive other (ethnically "Others" above all) businessmen out of action? Our organization had the money while were fighting in the forest, has said Meles. When the Tigrean front was a guerrilla group and it gave medical treatment and medicine to the people under its control it registered this and when it took over power it forced the Ministry of Health (under its control of course) to pay it back millions of dollars. A bad joke? We wish! His wife, the Queen of corruption, has learnt from him and claims she has difficulty paying her daughter's school fees.
The Ethiopian State is basically a Tigrean dominated State, with most of the officials coming from the Meles ethnic group. Yet, Meles claims all people are equal and if some claim that this is no true and some are more equal than others he would say they are only ill intentioned, in love with the fallen regime or just plain jealous of his ethnic group that he calls "the golden people". When we were young and being fed (brainwashed actually) with Ladder edition books of "What is Communism?", "What is Democracy?" and the Reader's Digest catholic right wing sanitized values, I remember a column in the Digest which was titled Laughter: The Best Medicine. A similar quote was also at the entrance of the Haile Sellasie (later National) Theatre in Addis Ababa . Having tried my hand at satire I have always wondered if laughter could assuage our pain. The jury is out on the matter but taking the cruel joke on Ethiopia that is called Meles Zenawi not many of my compatriots are amused. They consider the regime a damnation and not funny at all. Actually, Bokassa and Idi Amin, Nguema and Kamuzu Banda, for all their antics and shows and preposterous declarations, were not that funny in that they were tyrants down to their big toes but compared to Meles they did make us chuckle. Beady eyed Meles Zenawi, on the other hand, does not have the clown's face or "atmosphere". There is something in his gait and movement that cries here comes the cheat, the cruel monster. Too bad for him but only those who do not know the sadistic fellow feel sorry for him.
As if his crude fake jokes were not enough Meles has recently tried to make us laugh with his original declaration about democratic elections, a subject he knows little about unless you mean rigging and killing and jailing the winners and shooting those who protest against the fraud. Talking smart on the subject he told the whole world that "the process is all" and the outcome not so important. What is this miraculous process? Is it knowledge he got from the correspondence course of the British Open University? It cannot be the process of free and fair elections as he and his regime killed such an exercise in 2005. If the process is fair and the outcome not so nice for Meles and his regime then the outcome is changed and the voice and decision of the people stolen, denied. In other words, you can win the election but so long as the election process was ok you do not need to complain you have been cheated out of the outcome. Original, no? But, not funny at all. As the dictator said, if you get zero it is just tough luck as the process is "All". The electoral law and the electoral commission are all in favour of the regime but no need to complain, as come the deluge or the Sahara heat, the ones controlling the gun often emerge supreme in Africa . Alas, the process is a poor man's soup, plain water, no meat, no substance. Famine. Now, there is one sure thing we know we have under the Meles regime. No joke. An empty stomach and an aching heart do not help one to appreciate lame jokes and that is why Meles Zenawi is not funny at all but a small pathetic man presiding over a vicious tyranny. He is so pathetic that his nauseating talk of I am going to resign has not even interested the millions of flies of Addis Ababa which, under his reign, has become one of the dirties cities of the world.
We all hear countless accusations and denunciations being hurled at what has come to be known as modern slavery. Talk of slavery and it is only on June 18/2009 that the US Senate issue a formal apology. One news report put it as follows:
Americans sort of enjoy being surprised, a "we did not know that at all (whatever did we do to "Eye-ran"?)" type of denial. Ignorance is no excuse of course. The ongoing shock at Americans torturing prisoners is another self serving Ostrich politics. The world knows that America was torturing prisoners all the time. Forget Native Americans and scalping and using dried human skin/breasts/ for tobacco pouch--check out the Los Angeles Times article of June 18/2009 on torture:
" Torture, after all, is a venerable American tradition. We were water boarding captives in one of our earliest wars of occupation , the Philippine-American War, which cost as many as 1 million civilian lives. In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt himself wrote with laconic praise of "the old Filipino method."
The slave trade was as American as apple pie and as British as fish and chips. Belated apology does not a reparation make but how do you calculate money wise the damages that the slave trade made to a whole continent? The slave trade laid waste to Africa and damaged its future for long. Africa's call for reparation has been ignored royally. That African chiefs and Arab merchants took part in this nefarious trade must also be mentioned--after all Africans have always been at the centre of their own misery. Slavery was evil and enough commentary has been made on it thereby relieving me from the need to belabor the point. But what is this animal called modern slavery? Is it an animal, a vegetable or a mineral? Let us just say damn the slave trade because one of its bad consequences is that our tyrants are using it even now to excuse the pitiful state of poverty in which they have put us in. Take away the slave trade and colonialism and the African despots would not have had any external excuse for their drastic failure in assuring good governance.
Officially, slavery is dead and gone but as many things deemed dead it still exists and is in fact flourishing in new forms. Debt bondage and forced labor are realities in many countries from the Congo to Peru. In Niger, Mail and Mauritania for example, ethnic difference has led to a master and slave situation with people being considered as slaves at birth. Dalits or bonded laborers are in their millions in India and Pakistan. Many child slaves wear leg irons. In Mauritania, slavery was formally proclaimed dead on August 8/2007 and a fifth of the country's population, dark skinned Mauritanians known as Haratines, were supposed to be free from bondage but not many of them had radios and TV to even hear the news and slavery still thrives there. As one news report puts it: "Dark-skinned men, women and children known as Haratine carry out orders under the threat of being beaten. They work as laborers and shepherds, as servants and cooks, as nursemaids and security guards. They are penniless and uneducated. Their masters are pale-skinned, Arab-speaking Moors". Thousands of people from Africa and Asia are trafficked (this is the new word, mind you. that could make you imagine a paved congested highway leading to Eldorado) to the West and the Middle East to work as modern slaves. Some 200,000 people, mostly young women from Ethiopia, the Philippines, etc, are modern slaves in Lebanon, working as domestic maids and servants, unpaid, raped and beaten, with no rights and subjected to the crude racism that is very Lebanese. Modern-day slaves can be found labouring as "servants or concubines in Sudan , as child 'carpet slaves' in India , or as cane-cutters in Haiti and southern Pakistan , to name but a few instances". There are currently over 27 million people in bondage and slavery. UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children from West and Central Africa are sold as slaves every year.
This time around the slavery is modern not only because we live in modern times but also because the slaves go to their bondage sometimes willingly in search of work as it were. The slavery in Mauritania and other such places is as antique as 800 years ago but the modern slaves found in the West and the Middle East are different. No one abducted them, though they are indeed still trafficked. They themselves face up to danger (and many die in the Red Sea or the Mediterranean) to make their way to the lands of modern slavery. "Domestic workers" really means or refers to modern slaves in private houses and brothels. It is a multi million dollar business and as we all know our unelected leaders go where the money is to be found and they are the ones facilitating this traffic. Few modern slaves pick cotton, very few are lynched. Instead, they slave for 16 hours in rich people's houses and sweat factories and they are thrown into shark infested waters, beaten to death, pushed to suicide, drowned and shot by callous border guards. There are no galleys though the slave ships are still there crammed with hopeless souls. Modern day traffickers, ruthless employers and old time slave drivers share the same cruel streak.
All this said, we African must be the first to admit that modern slavery has its benefits. To begin with, it is modern even if this remains a mystery to us as many other things of this modern unfair world. Due to progress, modern slaves come cheap, they do not cost much. Modern slavery is not so much about color or race--it is about poverty and economic deprivation. It is not even about religion either as Moslem Saudis, Lebanese, Libyans, and even Sudanese and Yemenis hold as slaves Moslems from their own and from many other "Third World" countries. For once, we Africans, or blacks as we are called, can sigh with relief as others not so black are also subjected to modern slavery. What is so good about others suffering just as our ancestors did and as our kin in many places are still suffering? 27 million modern slaves and the number on the increase--maybe one day Africa's demand for reparation may be heard or is that a desperate hope? The more Disposable People abound in this modern world--meaning modern slaves-- there is more probability that the whole evil may end as more people suffer and if this modern slavery thing which has started to involve Eastern European women continues to trap more Europeans and then there may be some concern and protest. It is not forbidden to have big expectations. Slave labor is at the core of the destruction of the Amazon rain forest which means all these environmental and Green and ecology people may rise up against slavery. Of course, it could just be another Waiting for Godot. The role of Arabs in the old and modern slavery, the involvement of Europe and America in the old and modern slavery is continuous. We have no surprises, the culprits are known and that is one better thing. Know the culprit-- no sweat, we know them already. Modern slavery does not have many secrets and surprises. It is modern. And those who may be nostalgic of old style slavery can still travel to Mauritania, Nepal, India, Sudan and Pakistan.
Ethiopians, who have had to endure brutal deaths over decades, have a common wish which asks God “to make my death decent” (amamuaten asamirew). I am one of those who wonder why Ethiopians pray since He hardly ever listens to them but then again Ethiopians are a hopeful lot who will die hoping and praying for better days that never seem to come.
I was in the Sudan when the over drunk president Jaffar Nimeri have had enough (the Sudanese joked that whiskey was pouring out of his ears) and decreed Sharia over our heads and just made all liquor expensive. According to this law, thieves were amputated (right arm and left leg or left arm and right leg) after the doctor gave them anaesthetic. How decent of the Sudanese authorities you would say, no? However, it was not a decent act in that the anaesthetic in the Sudan took days to take effect and the victims suffered their pain anyways. The rebels of Sierra Leone gave victims the choice on amputation but were not decent enough to ask their victims whether they preferred to die by the bullet or the machete. Times have indeed changed and have become brutal. No one asks Ethiopians if they want to die of famine but the regimes just bring the famine year in and year out. The concept of decent murder is sometimes known as Forrester’s paradox. “It proves that if you murder someone, then you only did what you ought to do. For if you murder someone then you ought to murder them gently. If you ought to murder them gently, then you ought to murder them. So, if you murder someone, then you ought to murder them”. But it should be done decently. Is this too much to ask? The Emperor ordered the hanging of the unfortunate woman but she was dressed decently for the occasion. It was not costly at all. I have seen in 1960 my politically unconscious compatriots sticking sticks into the bullet shredded legs of a hanged coup leader to turn the corpse towards this or that direction as they joked and snickered and hurled insults.
Thank you swine flu and Mexico ! For once Africa has not been blamed for being the source of a deadly virus. From Ebola to Lassa Fever, Rift Valley Fever, White Nile virus, the Marbrug Virus, the “Jealousy” malady and even AIDS and all so called haemorrhagic fevers have been attributed to poor old Africa . Africa is good for some blame at least.
The ongoing swine flu has been first detected in Mexico and the reports indicate that a small five year old Mexican boy was the first victim. Imagine just if his father or any other Sanchez or Mexican had been on safari in the Serengeti plains and the swine fever would have been called the African swine flu and Mother Africa would have been blamed for a mild yet deadly flu that you can avoid by wearing a face mask and washing your hands! Shame of shames, an African virus that does not kill millions would have been bad for Africa ’s reputation. This time around the Mexicans are to blame even though it could very well be gringo/American tourists who took the virus there and brought it back to their homes. Back in 1981, the first AIDS victim was an American but somehow the scientists argued that the deadly virus must have originated from the “dark” continent. By the way, the Israelis have reportedly protested against the present flu being called the swine flu. Not kosher at all. The virus is said to be a combination of swine, bird and human flu, a combination that poor Africa cannot really afford come to think of it. Now that this deadly flu is beginning to ravage the Western world a vaccine may be found for it fast as it is no malaria killing millions in over populated underdeveloped countries.
I still would like to argue that the swine flu may very well have originated in Africa itself. We have a swine fever attacking pigs in many parts of Africa . We have had flu of various types and too many birds to count. And we claim we are the origin of human kind. Why can’t we be the origin of all its fevers, maladies and viruses? George Bush called the whole continent a disease ridden country and one similar racist American blogger also referred to Africa as a collection of filthy disease ridden lands. Insults aside, if our continent, which has at least 53 distinct countries, is the origin of human beings, then it should consequently be the centre and origin of all the viruses and diseases. Logical, no? On another level, we are often told we do not have proper attitudes towards hygiene though our detractors do not bother to query how come we have so many rivers and no clean drinking water, how come we are destitute while our lands have riches and how come we cannot afford modern medicines. Recently, there was a big hue and cry by so called Western twitters (mostly actors and entertainment personalities) to buy and send us mosquito nets aplenty. I read a message from Dead Aid author Dambissa Mayo that in some places the thankful African ladies have turned the mosquito nets into wedding dresses, to hell with the mosquitoes. It reminds me of Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia, the victor of Adwa over Italian colonialists, who was fascinated by the electric chair and imported one and, alas, since there was no electricity, used the chair as an ordinary chair for himself. Misplaced importing move on his part. When it comes to our self appointed aid givers they often give us Dead Aid or irrelevant material. Like refrigerators where there is no electricity, vaccines that require a fridge where there is no electricity, blankets to desert people, fish soup powder to people who detest fish, fishing nets to highlanders, dates to those who do not eat dates but would brew it into a potent arak and cause deadly brawls in refugee camps, etc. The charity business is often profit oriented or many times a balm for the guilty conscience of the West and decadently rich people. Colgate where tooth brushes have never been seen.
The contention that all evil viruses originate in Africa is part of the old and persisting prejudiced and selective perception propagated by the Western media on and about Africa . The news agencies often quoted by African newspapers themselves (AP, UP, AFP, Reuters and AFP) are not African at all and even the Russian news agency and Xinhua are more or less in the same can. Then Western agencies often circulate the negative image of Africa, focusing on “savagery and wars, tribal unrest and carnage, shocking corruption, flogging and rape, a South Sudanese marrying a goat or a Nigerian raping a child to cleanse himself from Aids,” and so and on . The war in Bosnia or Croatia is ethnic but “tribal “in Africa . Bestiality, child rape and cannibalism are features of decadent Western societies but highlighted when it touches on Africa . It is part of the “dark continent” syndrome, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness rhetoric of Empire (to quote the title of David Spurr’s book). Primitive and savage, raw meat eaters, all of them “The White Man’s Burden” awaiting salvation and enlightenment from the West—the image sticks. The Africanization of the viruses falls in place. Saudi Arabia is an ally of the West but an obscurantist medieval regime that hangs women and beheads people every Friday and oppresses women to no end but one hardly reads a continuing denunciation of this. The presentation of Africa in the western media, the harping on the viruses, on the “tribal” wars (by the way why are the Sans people called Hottentots and the Ewes Pygmies?), the famine, the viruses, Aids, the diseases—all are part of the rhetoric that the Empire has maintained throughout the long decades to demonize Mother Africa. Of course, we cannot deny that considerate Africans despots have chipped in to help!
So, if the Swine Flu had been attributed to Africa we could have welcomed it gladly. Bring it on kind of attitude. Africans are resilient and tough—didn’t they survive the slave trade and brutal colonialism? If one more virus is attributed to them what can it do to them? Nada, as the Mexicans would say. If Africa is the origin of the creature called human, Africa deserves to be the mother of all its maladies and viruses. Mother Africa, accused of originating so many devastating viruses, makes no apologies as it lets the Mexicans and others enjoy for once their pathetic swine flu.
To be fair, Nicolas Sarkozy did say Africa deserves to be happy just like other continents. But in the above quoted speech in Senegal he did say also: “The (Africans) have never really launched themselves into the future,” and Mr. Sarkozy did add “the African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time … In this imaginary world, where everything starts over and over again, there is room neither for human endeavor, nor for the idea of progress. The problem of Africa … is to be found here. Africa’s challenge is to enter to a greater extent into history … It is to realize that the golden age that Africa is forever recalling will not return, because it has never existed.”
The Sarkozy speech caused a lot of stir in Africa though many “France Afrique” members (or if you want to put it crudely many French neocolonial puppets) did not utter any strong protest. From far away South Africa, Mbeki, the faux pas man par excellence, wrote to Sarkozy and praised him as a citizen of Africa. “What you have said in Dakar, Mr. President, has indicated to me that we are fortunate to count on you as a citizen of Africa, as a partner in the protracted struggle to achieve the renaissance of Africa within the context of a European renaissance and the rest of the world,” Mr. Mbeki wrote. And Mr. Sarkozy was reported to have written back: “You have been kind enough to highlight the ‘courage and truthfulness’ of this speech. As you very well know, Africa needs truthful friends in order for her to meet the challenges she is facing.” Sarkozy did also say colonialism did not exploit anybody echoing a revision of history that is becoming fashionable in France and some other European former colonial countries. The speech of Sarkozy is now headline news because his rival, the Socialist Segolene Royal, who happened to be born in Senegal, went back to her birthplace and offered an apology for Sarkozy’s slight on Africa. Apologies, apologies for those humiliating words that should have never been uttered in the first place said Madam Royal and the whole French right wing establishment has gone ballistics against her accompanied by that Bush loving, nominal Socialist, shameless Bernard Kouchner who is the current foreign minister of the right wing French government. The Royal apology has engendered a royal bashing while ordinary Senegalese and many Africans are delighted.
France has definitely a lot to apologize and atone for. As one of the notorious colonial powers, it is responsible for heinous massacres in the Malagasy Republic, Indochina and North Africa. French colonialism was a curse for Africa and did not have much to envy from Belgian, Dutch or British colonialism when it came to barbarism or exploitation. The French war against Algerians and Indochinese has gone down in history for its atrocities. After the colonial Empire collapsed, France maintained its neocolonial grip on its former colonies (stationing Foreign Legion troops in Djibouti, Chad and other places), staging coups, brazenly exploiting resources (the oil of Gabon, etc..) and acting as an arrogant overlord. Yes, France does have a lot to apologize for but then again asking the colonized victims pardon is not in vogue. Instead, blaming the victims themselves, calling them terrorist when they try to resist is what is fashionable. This is why the French establishment riled against Segolene Royal. This said, one can also go the politically incorrect path and join the Mbeki fellow who praised Sarkozy and perhaps wonder if the African has indeed entered history. Did the African only know the eternal renewal of time? Was the African even aware that time changed given that his agricultural activities have been dismal? Maybe he planted in summer and stayed in his hut during winter? Africa had no golden age said Sarkozy but did it have a bronze one even? No wonder the henchmen of Sarkozy felt humiliated and shamed by the apology of Royal in Senegal. How can “golden- aged” France apologize to an Africa that had no golden age at all?
Forgetful of the world by which they were forgotten the Ethiopians slept for three thousand years, wrote one European historian. This was worse than Senghor’s “the great sleep of the Negro”. Sarkozy has upped the ante—the African has never entered history in the first place. Where on earth was this black giant wandering? From Songhai to Axum to Zimbabwe to Kingdoms of Mali and Ghana, to Kilwa Kiswani and the Gambia and Timbuktu, etc, we are invited to forget Africa and her civilizations and asked to wonder where Africa was roaming in the wild unable to find the door to History. It is not only rabid racists who claim that colonialism did wonders for Africa and that Africa’s main problem is not anybody else but the African himself. Many raise the question that resource starved Japan is advanced while resource rich Africa is not and that the main difference is that Japan has the Japanese people. No one has explained in detail whether this refers to the shape of eyes or the color of skin but the general take is that Africans are lazy, no good, song and fun loving “darkies”. We Africans know otherwise of course. The ordinary African toils from dawn to dusk and more but the fruit of his labor has always been taken away from him by robbers from afar and near. After all, the African was brutally taken away from his land as a slave and has built Europe and the Americas and even Middle Eastern countries and therefore all talk of sloth is nonsense. Sarkozy’s paternalist and veiled racist comment denies this basic fact and casts negative light on the speaker himself.
Yet, one can still say the African has not entered history if by history one means the history of Monsieur Sarkozy. Otherwise, Africa had its history and as any Ethiopian would proudly assert Africa was the birthplace of humanity itself. How history–imbued can one be in the light of that? Sarkozy’s claim that the imaginary world the African lives in has no room for human endeavor is hard to grasp given the fact that the African people have been endeavoring and sweating to their bones to make progress and change their lives if only they had not been hindered by France and other colonial and neo colonial powers. Africa has also an ailment called her own leaders. But if we take Gabon, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Cameroon where France crushed the nationalist struggle of Ruben um Nyobe of the UPC (1955), etc and ask the toiling peoples who is behind their unending misery we will find out that the black calloused fingers would be pointing to the direction of Paris whose dirty streets still get cleaned by African workers who are treated less humanely that the littering dogs. And did Africa lack “an idea of progress”? Little Nicolas was not even born when Africa had bright ideas of progress. Actually, the struggle for independence waged by Africans, the resounding NO of Sekou Toure, the Pan African and “Africa should be free” vision of Nkrumah and Lumumba, of Felix Moumie killed by France, and more were all loud and clear visions and ideas of progress stifled by France and other neo colonial powers. So, how can the Sarkozy fellow sanctimoniously blame Africa of having no idea of progress and of living in an idealist naive babies land?Still, if we want to be the devil’s advocate and feel sympathy for both Sarkozy and Mbeki we can ask where the African was all these years shut outside the doors of history. Imagine if there was no Sarkozy to tell him there was never ever an African golden age and the African should wake from his thousands years long “sleep of the Negro” and try to enter history! Disaster! But where is the key to the door of history? Who holds it? America or France? Will they give the African the key since they are already taking his resources for free? The Sarkozy fellow did not elaborate on this but we must ask and wonder about this. As we do this, the Royal plea of pardon does warm our heart. After all, as lazy Africans we want to blame others, we still fail to understand that colonialism was good for us, that no one rally did exploit us, that we are actually our own worst enemies and we just dream of a non existent golden age that will never really come in the future. And so, when Segolene Royal came back to her birth place and said sorry for the humiliating speech of Sarkozy we say thank you lady for the kind words even if we still have no idea of how to enter into the history the Frenchman talked about. Is it as Mbeki suggested through a European renaissance? Will they allow us to tag along or will they continue to chase us out of their continent and their so called renaissance? Mbeki is no longer in power and cannot answer us and Sarkozy has no ears for us Africans with absolutely no idea of progress. All this said, I would still be happy if Sarkozy or any other person would enlighten me on where the African was roaming all these centuries when he was said unable to enter the door of history
The “dark” continent is in reality the most vibrant and original continent. Tam tams are still there, the drums of passion and of an undying spirit of hope rising against the reality of despair and death. Westerners have this annoying tendency of taking poverty as exotic ( take the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire as an example) while disliking the poor, of loving Africa’s wild and Serengeti type plains while detesting the Africans as a whole. Yet, our continent is vibrant, original and alive and those who talk of a disappearing Africa are themselves coming from drab, old and failing empires and continents.
B grade actors have indeed become presidents in some other places like America and the Philippines but where on earth can a DJ suddenly enter the palace (the cherished “ Eating Place ”) except in Africa ? The buffoonery of Idi Amin and Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa, orchestrated by Britain and France respectively, is a thing of the past. Those two were not original, they were ordinary colonial soldiers raised to high ranks and the palace. At De Gaulle’s funeral Bokassa cried “Papa! Papa!” without shame. The coups were not also something new and startling. Since then, we had the creeping coup, the accidental coup, the corrective coup, the mistaken coup, the revolutionary coup, the coup against the coup and now in Madagascar a DJ’s coup. The laughing stock of a union in Addis Ababa (the AU) has declared the Madagascar coup illegal even though many of the AU leaders are themselves products of a coup (including the current chairman Gadafi of Libya who may hope we have forgotten September 1969) and the Madagascar coup is original in that it is DJ orchestrated and denies it is a coup. Which coup in the word has even denied it is a coup? Where on earth has a DJ come to power in such a way? Only in Africa ! Even those who think that Madagascar and Sri Lanka share the penchant for long names must admit that the African island has redeemed Africa ’s unique place once again. The Madagascar opposition leader, DJ Andry Rajoeleina, who is referred to as TGV (the French high speed train), is expected to use his own Injet company to paste advertising billboards all over the country and to benefit as his predecessor did from such an action. We would have been surprised if he had not benefited from the opportunity. Of course cynics would say: Ravalomanana is gone (but Rajoeleina appears like his clone. Poor Madagascar is in for more turmoil for sure.
The coup has come back with revenge. Mauritania and Guinea have had their authentic coups. Hardline military men playing havoc on the countries. Madagascar has the shy coup that denies it was ever one. But Africa has coups made against the people in various ways. Unwanted power holders have arbitrarily changed constitutions to assure their rigged re election for additional terms. Museveni is one example. Over in Egypt (does Mubarek consider himself an African I wonder?), the Rais is trying to pass power to his son. In Ethiopia , a tyrant killed hundreds, jailed opposition leaders, stole the people’s voice and illegally continued in power with America applauding this coup. Mwai Kibaki did an election coup on Kenyans and following deadly riots pulled in his rival as prime minister and as they ate together Kenya is starving to no end. Another coup on the people. The revered coup does not have to be military. The coup is an illegal sudden action against the will of the people. The tyrants of Africa have staged several coups against the people in this respect.
The conceited West imagines that it is the source of all knowledge. Russian racists attacking Africans in Moscow and other cities openly claim that Africans are around (and not created mind you as how can they imagine a lily white God of theirs creating blacks?) to serve as slaves for whites but the reality is that Africa is way ahead of the self proclaimed not dark continents. For more than a decade, Africans have been without electricity while a Western NGO is calling on the world in March 2009 to switch off electricity for an hour to protest against environmental degradation. Even in the realm of voicing a protest the self inflated and Western centred so called environmentalists ignore us. Switch off your lights for an hour is a call that leaves out millions who have had their lights switched off for decades and more than three days per week anyway. Yet, Africans did pave the way. No electricity for days. No drinking water for long. We did protest but few listened for years and they now belatedly understand why we stayed without electric lights for so long. We were protesting but did anyone listen? Not at all! George Clooney goes to Chad refugee camps and shows a bucket of water for flushing a toilet. What toilet? We are shocked by different things and levels and sadly our self proclaimed benefactors will not understand Africa anytime soon unless it concerns taking away its riches from the Congo to Niger and beyond.
To come to the main point, Africa is pioneering new fields. A DJ can be president. We can all have coups that deny their identity. Self inflicted coup. The justified coup, the non coup, the invisible coup, the forced coup, the coup against electors, etc have all been seen in Africa . From buffoons and morons to DJs they have all taken power. Original! Can any other continent compete? Doubtful! Africa is forging ahead for sure.
The controversial International Criminal Court has finally come out with an arrest warrant for President Omar Beshir of the Sudan . The warrant is out for war crimes and/ or crimes against humanity but not for genocide—a point that would surely not matter that much for the accused.
Let me say from the outset that I have little or no sympathy for the tyrant in the Sudan who, aside from causing the slaughter of so many in South Sudan and Darfur , has deported many Ethiopians to their deaths or disappearance and has sent his troops to occupy Ethiopian land. That said, the decision by the ICC and the clamour it has engendered from quarters that have proven contempt for Africa calls for some reflection. As I tried to point out in my previous article, “Of Courts and Hypocrisies”, the ICC seems to be in reality the ACC, the African Criminal Court, as it seems hell bent to deal ONLY with alleged African war criminals (up to now) from the Congo, Sudan, Central African Republic and Uganda. From Milosevic to Charles Taylor and the Congolese war lord, that court in The Hague has yet to deal with notorious war criminals from the West.
The ICC arrest warrant for Omar Beshir thus leaves a bitter taste in our mouths not because the accused is innocent or does not deserve to be tried (which should be done by the people of Sudan and not by others for that matter) but because it is one more clear contemptuous action directed against Africa and signifies the nauseating double standard and hypocrisy that has been so damaging to the oppressed peoples of the world. War criminals abound all over the world and the top ones are the very ones manipulating the ICC prosecutor and making all this hue and cry. Just a look around shows that while in Cambodia one trial for genocide is in progress the butchers of Indochina from Henry Kissinger to so many American generals and CIA officials are not only free but honoured. In Iraq, where war crime of huge proportions has been committed by Bush and Cheney we hear no whisper of a court action against them or any other suspects other than the speeded trial and execution of Sadam and his officials. Even in Africa , pro-West butchers are hardly bothered. The war criminal in Ethiopia , Meles Zenawi, is untouched and even rewarded with aid and praise for his crimes against the Ethiopian and Somali peoples. The tyrant in Equatorial Guinea is enjoying Western protection by those greedily taking that country’s oil. Omar Beshir’s political and ideological position brought on him this wrath and not his bloody actions against his own people. Had he been pro-Washington or pro London , the ICC would have ignored him no matter how many he may have killed. Did London and Washington criticize Mugabe when he ran rampage in Matabeleland to “deal with an insurgency”? There is presently a cry out for the arrest of former Chadian dictator Hissen Habre but his replacement Idris Deby also deserves to be tried but the oil factor comes in to grease the ICC silent. How many war criminals are enjoying comfortable exile in the USA , France and England ? Wasn’t Sadam the dear friend of the West for so many years as he killed so many Iraqis and gassed Kurds and waged war against Iranians?The shame of the past seems to be carried by the ICC now. Real crimes and criminals ignored. Has Germany paid for the brutal massacre of the Hereros? Italy for the death of one million Ethiopians? Belgium for the butchery of 15 million Congolese? Britain for all its crimes of Empire all over the world? Britain , France and America for the slave trade? France , Spain and Portugal for their colonial crimes? Can we say Lebanon ? Sabra and Shattila? Chechniya? Dare we even mention other recent crimes perpetrated by the powerful on hapless and defenceless people? Africa is shamed again and again and that dead body called the AU has yet to be buried with indignity. A frustrated Revered Desmond Tutu once said young South Africans ‘should not listen to Desmond Tutu”—I find his recent comments on Zimbabwe and Sudan not worthy of an African ear, young or old. Anyway, the ICC warrant against Beshir will mainly serve to complicate the problems of the troubled region and may even gain him some support from angry Sudanese. Other victims of Beshir may rejoice but it would only be a pyrrhic victory. The real victory is when the people bring the tyrants to their own court of law and when all war criminals, white or black, rich or poor, are brought before a proper court of law. The parody and political machinations by those who should be tried themselves is only a continuation of the injustice, a cruel and crude joke, against oppressed peoples.
A loud hue and cry is being heard just because a Sierra Leonean Court found three former rebel leaders (of the Revolutionary United Front--RUF) guilty of war crimes. The accused were found guilty of what a CNN reporter termed creative torture (what is so creative about chopping hands and arms?). The foreign media cried joy in its usual paternalism, congratulating Africans for conducting a trial (that the UN was involved is a footnote) and delivering a verdict of guilty. For those of us Africans who know African judges and courts and their insatiable appetite for finding all and sundry guilty, there is of course no surprise at all.
Years ago, I argued that the rebels of Fode Sankoh (dead and in heaven probably), otherwise known s the RUF—are worthy of interest and perhaps of even admiration as they introduced a new concept in to the field of atrocities and carnage in Africa . No more indiscriminate killings, no more forced slitting of throats, no more stoning people to death, no more run of the mill massacres or bombing dozens to death. The RUF involved the victim in the choice of his or her own punishment. Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Congo, Uganda —so many amputees and none of them chose to be relieved off their hands or arms. In Sierra Leone, where the real cause of the war was Diamond, Bauxite, Tantalum and the British and Western greed for these minerals (even South Africa of Mandela sent mercenaries), the RUF involved the victims in the choice of their amputation, that action being main choice of terrorizing the population and even foreigners. Talk of RUF and you hide your hands deep in your pockets even in downtown London . Yet, behind the fear engendered and the apparent cruelty of the rebels they were notable in their introduction of choice in the whole system of terror and killing. The RUF rebels made sure they used sharp axes to chop of arms and hands thus showing an admirable concern (consider in contrast the anti- Sadam Iraqi executioners and the Somalis agonizingly stoning a victim girl to death) for the well being of the would be amputee. More importantly, they diligently asked the victim whether he wanted to wear a short sleeve or a long sleeve in the future (they are excused if they assume the victim will have a shirt in the first place). And, according to the CHOICE of the victim they choped off the hands or the arms (from the elbow down). Choice—the one thing that African tyrants have been denying us for so long.
I am sure some foreigners will smirk and belittle the importance of the choice as to where exactly you get amputated. As we say in Ethiopia , when you have no bread the crumb becomes more than significant. Denied rights and choice, we appreciate those who give us the chance to choose even the way we die or suffer. This was why I admired the RUF and suggested that they will for sure engender the wrath of African dictators who believe on crushing the people under their feet, no choice or breathing space and time ever given. This being the reality, I braved the storm and gave recognition to the RUF for bringing in the C word (choice) into the suffering of ordinary Africans. The ululation being heard today concerning the trial of the three RUF leaders brings to light the nauseating hypocrisy that is associated with these courts trying war crimes. To begin with, real criminals are not being apprehended or brought before a court of law. Talk of genocide and war crimes, Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia comes to mind but the ugly devil enjoys western protection and is thus immune. Criminal tyrants in both Congos , Equatorial Guinea , Gabon , the Horn of Africa are left unperturbed. Hypocrisy reigns, double standard is supreme.
Let us refer to the so called International Criminal Court. Of 139 cases presented to the ICC it has only dealt with four and the fact that all four concern only African countries (DRC, Uganda, Central Africa Republic and the Sudan) have led to accusations of prejudice on the part of the court and its controversial prosecutor, the Argentinean Luis Moreno Ocampo. He was unanimously elected to the job in 2003 by the 70-plus signatories to the Rome Treaty, which set up the court in the face of fierce opposition from the Bush administration. In fact a coalition of human rights lawyers, academics and leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has begun openly to criticize his competence and conduct. The prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo has dismissed his media adviser, who made a complaint against him of sexual misconduct with a South African female journalist. That complaint, denied by Moreno-Ocampo and the woman involved, was dismissed by the court as "manifestly unfounded". But last month the adviser, Christian Palme, was awarded two years' salary as compensation for wrongful dismissal and €25,000 (£19,700) in moral damages by a tribunal of the International Labor Organization. It found that the prosecutor had not followed due process and had "seriously infringed" Palme's rights. Ocampo’s persecution of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga is also criticized for alleged lack of fairness and due process. “Ocampo sounds as if he is calling and working for a regime change in the Sudan,” said one human rights expert working on the Darfur issue. More importantly, those who should be brought before the ICC are not even threatened.War crimes have been committed by America since time immemorial but America had made sure no American will be tried for it. The massacres in Indochina are presently being repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan . Many Kissingers have flourished. While a Cambodian official is paraded for genocide, Henry Kissinger and the butchers of Indochina are feted and treated with respect. Pro –West dictators are left untouched and are enjoying comfortable exile in America and Europe . In Ethiopia , leading members of the ruling party took part in the Red Terror but they are trying others for the same crime and America has given asylum to many other such criminals with many deaths on their hands. Real politics plays its hand too. The criminals of Renamo in Mozambique are sharing power. Somali warlords and hard line criminals are also holding power. Given time, Joseph Kony of Uganda may also share power. Crime pays. And none of these untried thugs can compare with RUF which tried to give its victims a choice before the axe came down. The day real war criminals all over the world are brought before a competent court of law will be the day we may start hypocrisy and double standard dead.
“The time has come, » the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things;
Of shoes and ships—and sealing wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”
Lewis Carroll ( Alice ’s Adventure Through the Looking Glass)
Somalia has done it again. For 18 years it showed the world that a country can exist without a State (which makes the Somali fundamentalists the first real Marxists) and still accomplish all the functions of a proud African State —kill, maim, destroy the country, displace millions, bring in famine, commit atrocities and more. And now, as the whole or at least half the world watches, Somalia has elected its latest president (no fake claim like Meles or other dictators who allege that 99.9% elected them)--, meaning some 500 MPs from various clans—themselves unelected-- elected Sheikh Ahmed as president and did the election not inside Somalia but in a neighboring country, Djibouti.
Imagine the lesson of this novel experience. Instead of having often dangerous elections inside the country (and being forced to rig or cancel ) our tyrants can just take a few hundred of their support ers and party loyalists abroad and have them vote His Excellency as president. Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Angola who have had forays into the D.R. of the Congo can benefit from this—an election in Kivu by their battalions of soldiers. It would be legal. The MDC in Harare would be forced to eat its heart out for one. Sheikh Ahmed is being lauded by his former enemies in Washington and Addis Ababa and he may eventually make it back to Mogadishu or Baidoa and claim the palace if it still stands. Who says elections must be held in one’s own country? It can now be held abroad or in one’s own restricted ethnic enclave and then imposed on the whole country. Who says the whole people have to take part? They never did anyway and even if and when they did their votes have been thrown away and the fraud perpetrated. Why waste energy and money for a charade that has been exposed all over the world?Another country has tried to steal the thunder of Somalia and to hog the limelight and it is that “off shore” island called Madagascar . In that usually quiet place, civil protests and killings are being registered these days. A 34 years old former DJ who complained that the president of the country ordered the closure of his TV station has taken in charge an opposition movement and as I write this he is claiming he is charge of the country until a transitional government is established. A first in Africa in that everyone is wondering how the military can allow a simple DJ (actually protesting against an impending unemployment) to cause this much havoc. In Guinea, where the military made its coup just after the dictator Conte died the coup makers are aflame with fury. In Mauritania , where another coup maker general has taken over, the officers are also fuming. Madagascar has no army? The president cannot order them out to crush the protesters as has happened in Ethiopia in 2005 when the ruling front lost the election? How can all self respecting and coup addicted African officers let a DJ wreak havoc and claim “I am in control” as if the general and colonels do not exist? The Madagascar experience is another first in its own way. The latest AU meeting in Addis Ababa , attended by tyrants and coup makers and no DJ, could be discussing it in secret as it augurs not good things.
The situation in Eastern Congo is also weird in its own way. Take the Tutsi rebel pastor, Laurent Nkunda, whose jungle wardrobe could make many in cities jealous. Film footages of Pastor- General Nkunda showed him in different attires, holding different canes like a serious Mzee, jovial and dancing to sweet Tutsi tunes. The whole world knew that he was backed and guided by Rwanda which, like Uganda, has had its own predator interest over Eastern Congo hidden behind an official claim of going after Hutu rebels hiding there. All of a sudden Presidents Kabila (DRC) and Kagame (Rwanda) seemed to have found a ground of common accord and action and Rwanda has detained Nkunda (what was he doing in Rwanda while he claims he controls much “liberated” territory in eastern Congo?) and the armies of the two countries are operating in the Congo against the Hutu guerrillas. In this same Congo , Sudanese, Congolese and Ugandan troops are on a joint hunt for Joseph Kony, the commander of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army which survived all these years thanks to Sudanese full scale backing. As I had written some years back, the notion of Armies Without Frontiers (AWF) has led to Rebels Without Frontiers (RWF) too and the LRA operates in the Sudan , the Congo and in Uganda . This is a development to watch because, in a short while, we may completely fail to understand who is fighting who and where.Add to the who and where the basic question of why and for what too. Two years after Meles Zenawi sent his troops to invade Somalia and to oust the Islamic Court Militia the very man that the troops chased out has become the new Somali president and the Islamic hardliners have come back strong and with a vengeance. The troops of Meles have left of course. Why then the bloodshed and the deaths of so many Ethiopians and Somalis? Meles and his patrons achieved nothing at all. Thus, the lesson that we are expected to get is the old fact that, in Africa we fight for nothing and we destroy people and countries for no apparent gain. This is not a first by the way. To suffer defeat and trumpet victory is not original either, Mission Accomplished and all that “Bushism. The other argument, that Sheikh Ahmed is a moderate (as opposed to who else? His friend Aweys? The Taliban?) , is also a lame one after all the cry we had heard about moderate Ayatollahs and how the regime of Meles (which is murderous but “not as brutal”) is moderate compared to the military regime of Mengistu. A comparison that splits hairs and has little or no meaning to crushed skulls and lost lives in the hands of so called moderates. The Islamic Court Union being Sheikh Ahmed’s baby and the brutalities of Al Shabab in accord with his teachings and exhortation, the change or the difference is illusory. In other words, the invasion of Somalia was an orgy of bloodletting that changed little in Somalia . It also does not require a prophet to state that the woes of Somalia re not over yet. Bad as this may be we can take solace from the possibility that Somalia may give us another first and make the Horn, if not the whole, of Africa an interesting place to watch for pioneer developments.
The statement by Rama Yade, a young Senegal born woman who serves under the French president as a junior minister for human rights, provoked my foray into this mined field that often triggers wrath from the "we love America" camp. Yade was euphoric that Barack Obama got elected US president and said: "This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten. America is becoming the new World. On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes".
Rama Yade is biting a piece of a right wing French dream as Sarkozy's human rights minister and, judging from her record up to now, no tin pot Francophone African dictator is trembling at the possibility of being pricked by her probes or disapprovals. This is how things are expected to be and should be, France riding her puppets in Africa from Cote d'Ivoire in the West to Djibouti in the Horn, no mention of human rights. What makes Yade provocative is her open affirmation that "we all want to be American" and want to have a "bite of the dream". For official America that has great fears that everyone wants a bite of her and everyone in this world wants to be an American, this is a dangerous confirmation coming from a black woman no matter the significance of the Obama victory. "Rogue foreigners" refusing to change have always angered self indulgent America which has been interventionist and consequently missionary and now talks a lot about rogue states even. The contention that the world is flat, to quote Tom Friedman, and that the world is flowing into or can be made to flow into one American dug reservoir of American values and ethos is believed in by America but is dubious at best. Globalization has not erased the differences and levelled everyone into one dreary lot. On the contrary, every assault by the multinational has led to the search for roots, the ethnic is bedevilling us in the so called developing world where nation building has been wobbling for decades. The American dream, itself fuzzed by the materialistic and individualist insistence that accompanies it, is not the envy of all notwithstanding Hollywood and the cultural invasion. The contradictory nature of the American position--on the one hand wanting the whole world to be like America, to dream the so called American dream and on the other falling into the siege mentality of "the hordes are coming to bite pieces of us" (the schizoid mentality of the isolationist as it were) has made this world a tough place to live in as confused American foreign policy metamorphoses friends into enemies overnight (check Bin Laden, Noriega, Sadam) and makes foes into friends (Pakistan and Libya to mention a few) with a jarring double speed and double standard. American altruism or generosity, a credit to its people, is officially accompanied by the desire to control and humiliate. Aid has not been the panacea and America has used and abused its position in the world and caused the hatred against it that we see today in many parts of the world. The praise seeking do- gooder is often a blatant bully.
What has been called the capricious inconsistency of America is at the core of the problem. On the one hand the belief that other peoples and countries have no culture and value, no vision and future of their own worth keeping and that they should be dragged or bombed if need be to the American way. This zeal of a cult leader imbued with his self- worth and eternal correctness then clashes with the notion of "they are jealous of us the chosen people". Ethiopians, and up the Red sea the Israeli and the Chinese afar, are familiar with the notion of the chosen people that considers all others envious (and disadvantaged) and leads to a syndrome that, to say the least, is not healthy throughout. The chosen people syndrome assumes that God or some power is behind "us only" as opposed to the others and it meets a cement wall when it is confronted by a rival "chosen" (Allah is with us and hates the others). As they say, the masquerading saint, often the religious zealot, is more dangerous than the open bully. The consideration of oneself as unique leads to the desire for a special treatment, we are special and you should bend to our will kind of logic. For example, the conclusion that Iraqis wanted an Iraq as seen and composed by America was shattered when " Mission Accomplished" turned out to be a sham and the war continued. Hypocritical from the outset, this has led to the obdurate refusal to accept the cartoon character Pogo's famous saying "we have seen the enemy and it is us". We came to liberate them and to make them have a taste of the American dream but how come they are resisting us? Unable to question the very basic premise that led to the primary act or mistake itself, resort is made to anger at and contempt for the one refusing to be so liberated. The recipe for disaster, for massacres--from Hiroshima to Vietnam , Yugoslavia and Iraq the road is littered with the victims of this fundamental misconception.
Obama aside, the Civil Rights Movement aside, America was, and still is to an extent, a white supremacist society. Change is coming for sure and Obama's victory is an example of it so long as we refrain from taking the symbolic for the real and done deal. The drafters of America 's Declaration of Independence owned slaves ( Jefferson had 300) and the first American president George Washington had 316 slaves on his plantation in Virginia . Nowadays, the lynching is done differently but the prisons of America hold a big number of African Americans and even the outgoing president Bush had signed and approved the execution of many black men prisoners. The injustices abound and barring the euphoria, to my mind, the road ahead is bound to be tortuous. That is why I will like to assure all Americans that I for one and many others like me do not want to be American just because a half African has made it to the White House and we do not dream of biting a slice off your American dream, no. We know Hitler refused to shake the hand of African American high jumper Cornelius Johnson but it was Roosevelt who did not shake the hand of Jesse Owen when he returned victorious from the Berlin Olympics. Maybe, all this is neither here nor there just now but the praise heaped upon Obama's election (echoes of "Berlin Wall fall times ten" by Yade ) by African dictators makes us worry. The claim by Obama that America will lead and change the world is bothersome. Are we to be dragged and bombed into accepting the American way whatever that may be even if (we may dare not say it along with some others) it represents the "cesspool of morality and religious decay"? A Sudanese official found the election of Obama "inspiring" without clarifying what are the Darfurians to expect from this. Somalia's warlord par excellence colonel Abdullahi stated it was a great moment for Africa (is he hankering for an invasion?), Mwai Kibaki gave Kenyans a day off to celebrate, Luos claimed Obama's father as their own and Sudan said Obama has Sudanese roots given the "fact" that Luos were.......and so and on. The Nigerian president said "we have a lesson to draw from this historic event" without specifying if it has anything to do with fair election or not or treating the Nile Delta people and all Nigerians fairly. President Amadou Toure of Mali said America has given lesson in maturity and democracy without adding that he will try to learn from that if ever. And a Chadian official bluntly stated: it is an example to follow especially in Africa. What? The election? Electing a president who had/has an African father? The same official added that democracy knows no colour, religion or origin? Is this really a Chadian official in a country ruled by an ethnic chauvinist dictator called Idris Deby? And from Congo Brazzaville, the man who rules by the force of his horrible Ninja troops, Sassou Nguesso, said that Martin Luther King's dream "has come true". I do not know what the tyrant in Ethiopia said but I am sure it would be another useless hypocritical statement. The crux of the matter is that if an event makes both tyrants, their victims and democrats euphoric then there must be something wrong somewhere.
Without attempting to steal the thunder and lightning of the Obama victory, reality demands from us to be wary. The appointment of "Madams disaster for Africa", that is to say Hilary Clinton and Susan Rice, by Obama jolts us awake. We want a tamer, gentler and more humane America. Hence, we do not want to spread fear by openly claiming we want to be Americans (to a paranoid country that says every visa seeker is a potential immigrant) or that we want a slice of the apple pie, the American Dream. We want to stay put in our own places to nurture our own dreams and values, to follow our own visions and roads. Americans are as wonderful a people as others are but it is not true that everyone on earth wants to be an American. After all, it may be a historic event for America to elect a half African (half white person) to the presidency. For us, we have had full blooded Africans ruling over us for centuries and it has not meant much in terms of our freedom because, colour aside, they were not really Africans, and more importantly, not gentle human beings at all. Our scepticism on real change in America being around the corner must be excused, perennial victims have the bait of exaggerating their pain--didn't some one say even the American declaration of Independence was a "maudlin list of grievances"? Even the Bible asks rhetorically: Can the Ethiopian/African/ change his skin or the leopard his spots? Will Obama's America ever understand us when we say we do not want to be Americans?
IF THEY ARE YOUNG ENOUGH TO DIE, THEY ARE OLD ENOUGH TO KILL