Archive for November, 2008

The Heart of Darkness. Part II

Posted on 15 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, Human Rights, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Of all the continents, Africa is the most beautiful, the most colourful, generous, vibrant and creative one. It has life, a pulse, music and a heartbeat. It is the richest continent, as well. Rich in resources, people, tradition, culture, history. Rich in promise and potential.  Now you may think I’m biased, but that’s only because you’ve never been there. If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself. But be careful where you go. Because the same riches that hold the promise of prosperity, is a double-edged sword that brings discord, abuse and turmoil. And this is starkly demonstrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo right now.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a volatile history, drenched in the blood of its people, scarred by greed. Just more than a century ago, it was the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium. He did not shy away from using slavery, extortion, cruelty and abuse to plunder the rich African county for as much as he could. His ruthlessness succeeded in making him an obscenely rich man. It cost the Congo, by some estimates, as much as 10 million lives.

When Harold MacMillan’s “winds of change” blew through Africa, the DRC was not to be left behind. Young, charismatic Patrice Lumumba insisted on practically instantaneous freedom and self-rule for a country that had virtually no citizens with any government experience, no Congolese officers in the army, no Congolese professionals. Less than 100 graduates. But Lumumba was either oblivious to the demands of governance, or deluded to think that he could overcome the lack of skill. Sort of the Sarah Palin of his day. He became the Congo’s first Congolese Prime Minister,

Factionalism, tribalism and greed quickly turned the situation chaotic. Lumumba insisted on and received aid from the USA and the UN, but got upset when things did not go his way. He had unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, and when these could not immediately be met, the young, inexperienced leader decided to use the cold war to his own advantage. But playing the Soviet and the US/UN off against each other, swiftly led to his overthrow and subsequent execution. An old African expression says “When two elephant bulls fight, the grass gets trampled.” Lamumba, either through stupidity or a delusional belief in his own power and importance, had placed himself in the middle of the bull fight.

After a few years of chaos, revolt, looting and mayhem, Col. Joseph Mobutu, later Mobuto Seso Seko, took over, and led the country for the next thirty years. Although he maintained order, it was through oppression, torture and abuse, all the while enriching himself and his cronies, while the Congolese did not receive much benefit from their country’s wealth. Health care, education and infrastructure quickly collapsed, and the rich country plunged deeper and deeper into debt.

In 1997, Laurent Kabila succeeded in overthrowing Mobuto, became president, and assumed the mantle of tyrant and exploiter in charge. In his revolt against Mobuto, he had mustered support from Rwanda and Uganda. Now the piper had to be paid. And when the payment was not satisfactory, more revolts were organised, leading to the involvement of Angola, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Namibia and Chad. Aluta Continua becomes looting continues.

In 2001 Kabila was assassinated, and his son, Joseph Kabila, was appointed as his successor. Kabila Jr has tried with some success to get rid of the foreign influence in the DRC, but that only means there is so much more for those in the country to exploit. At the same time, those that have tasted the prosperity of the DRC, soon grew thirsty for more. Hence the current situation.

That’s the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo in a nutshell. Sadly, it is also the history of many other African countries.

In the next few posts I hope to explore more African countries, their history, failures and successes, and where they are now.

In 1985 I was finishing high school. Young, optimistic, Live Aid captured the interest, the imagination and the passion of my generation. When Bob Geldoff announced Live Eight 20 years later, it triggered an almost opposite reaction in me. I hope to use this journey to help me understand that change better. Because as dispassionate as I want to be about Africa, the atrocities are too haunting, the plight too devastating to ignore. But I want to make a difference that will make a difference.

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Hamba kahle, Mama Africa.

Posted on 10 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , , , , , |

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Miriam Makeba born 4 March 1932, Johannesburg, South Africa

                         died 9 November 2008, Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy

I remember, as a child, loving the sounds of “The Click Song”. For a white South African, the various clicking sounds so typical of the Xhosa language, are incredibly difficult, if not impossible to emulate. That never stopped me from trying. If you ever had to hear me contort, abuse and strangle the wondrous sounds of one of your most iconic songs, you would have wept. but I think you would have been proud, as well.

Your music represents a bitter-sweet era. When I listen to you sing, I imagine myself in the hustle and bustle of Sophiatown in the fifties and sixties. Kwela and pennie whistles. Mielies and paraffin heaters. But I never forget that for many years, you were denied access to the sights and sounds and smells of our beloved country. In my mind, because of this, and because of your stature, and your dignity, I often seat you next to Celia Cruz at the dinner table of my mind. I am just glad that you, unlike Celia Cruz, had the opportunity to return home, and to treat us to your copper voice on South African soil. And I think you would have been filled with an inner satisfaction that, though you had to die in a foreign land, you died after having done what you so loved to do – sharing your soulful music with others, and in pursuit of a good cause.

Your music inspired so many, in South Africa, black and white, in the United States, where Broadway was woed, in Europe, where you were celebrated and revered, and Cuba, where you were offered honourary citizenship, having been denied that of your homeland. (One of Castro’s few redeeming acts.)

Mama Africa, you said you’d like to be remembered as a good old lady. I am sorry, but in my mind’s eye you will forever dwell on the good side of 50, and therefor the best I can do, is to say you were a great lady.  You, like your music, can never be old.

Thank you for the music. Hamba kahle, mama.

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Heart of darkness

Posted on 9 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , |

Africa, my home, my birthplace. Even though thousands of kilometres separate us, you are always with me, in me, my heartbeat, my breath, my sorrow, my joy.

You are like a violent husband: I am better off without you, but my heart won’t stop yearning. I rant against your indiscretions, your temper, your fists, your insults, wishing to be rid of you. And then I cry, and crawl back, asking your forgiveness, trying to see where I’ve failed you. One kind word, act from you, and I forget the countless humiliations, bruises you bestowed.

You are the rotten child who steals my money to feed your addiction. You rob old women and young children, you lie and steal your way to your next fix. And then suddenly transfix me with an angelic smile, confessing, atoning, promising to do better, to be better. And though my head shouts “Tough love!”, my heart concedes: “My child!”

And I continue to live with the dichotomy, every time I see the evidence of your excesses and abuse, or your compassion and creativity. It is just that, as time goes by, that I see more and more of the former, and less and less of the latter. Is it my heart growing darker, or yours?

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The best of times, the worst of times.

Posted on 7 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

So here I sit, completely self-satisfied, surveying my fiefdom with glee. After all, did I not, single-handedly, manage to steer the USA past the icy shores of Alaska into the warm seas of Hawaii? Did I not alert the voting masses to the pitfalls of voting for a ticket with a marginal grip on intellect? Did I not spotlight the flexible relationship with reality displayed by said ticket? Did I not caution against the potential international scorn that would be unleashed were the wrong candidates elected to the White House? It fills me with no small amount of pride to know that I managed to save not just the USA, but possibly the planet, from unimaginable catastrophe and mayhem. Disaster averted, the world can sleep peacefully tonight. So can I. Nothing to interrupt my moment of serenity. Just me, my thoughts, and a glass of Southern Comfort that’s less full than I think it should be.

Oh, and an imminent meltdown in the Congo.

And Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow who was stoned to death in Somalia adultery. The nature of her “adultery”?  She had been gang-raped by three men. When she went to the militia authorities to report the rape, and to seek protection, she was instead accused of adultery and stoned. Initially reported to have been 23 years old, Amnesty International has now revealed that Aisha was 13. None of the rapists have been arrested.

For now, I’ll refill my glass.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to save the world from itself again.

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I’m not voting.Here is my proxy vote – use it wisely.

Posted on 4 November, 2008. Filed under: US Elections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

For almost two years the world, well OK, I, have closely observed the wheeling and dealing, the shaking and stirring, the positioning and the posturing of US politicians, vying for the position of the most powerful leader in the world. From the beginning, the Republican stable was uninspiring, bland, and predictable. It was the Democratic hand that excited and inspired from the word go: John Edwards, with his passion for the working classes, Barack Obama, young, energetic, and African-American, literally, and Hillary Clinton, the dynamite woman of politics. Even then, the themes of change and experience rang clearly through all the speeches and advertisements.

Now, it’s whittled down to 2 choices. (Well, sorry, independents, in 2012 I’ll pay more attention to you guys, and I do think the USA do you and the people a great disservice by ignoring you so much.) But today, less than an hour before the first polling station opens, I want to stick to the two main players in the race. If you have read my previous posts, or you know me, then you know where my support lies. At first I was really torn-up with the choice between Hillary and Barack, but once that was resolved, my position was clear. Unequivocally, I support Barack Obama. To a large extent it was a knee jerk choice, but I hate those, so today, I want to analyse and motivate my choice to myself, and to you.

I’ve heard pundits complain that Obama’s had a free pass, and that the media has not investigated issues as much as they should have. I don’t fully agree with the statement. I think that in the case of many issues raised, the public simply indicated that based on what was presented, it did not scare them, and would not sway their decision, and so the media moved on. Association and acquaintances simply paled in significance to the economy and two wars. But if Obama got a free pass, then make no mistake, so did McCain. Nobody really wanted to scrutinise allegation and insinuations regarding his POW years and his military record, planes crashed, bad behaviour. The swift-boat tactic wasn’t going to float this year. The Keating five, his temper outbursts, his emotional stability, all was given but scant attention. Sarah Palin, the running mate that nobody had even heard of three months ago, was ridiculed for the obvious, but superficial. Her abuses of office, the involvement of her husband in her governing, his and her ties to the AIP, Trooper Gate and the controversial Alaska oil pipeline were largely ignored. And nobody will touch her irresponsible behaviour with regards to the circumstances surrounding baby Trig’s birth. (Flying that late in a risk pregnancy, etc…)

On the topic of associations, again, for every dubious association of Obama’s, you can dig up one (or more) for McCain. Ex-domestic terrorist for ex-domestic terrorist, controversial pastor for controversial pastor, corrupt businessman for corrupt businessman. McCain can even trump with some mob connections, and communist military dictators. But who’s counting?

McCain keeps telling us he’s been tested, and he has. But the POW test more than 30 years ago does not count in a presidential election today. Presumably the president of the USA will not fall into enemy hands and be tortured to reveal the the secret location of the white house wine cellar. The tests that do count for president are these:

Calling the Iraq war                                            Obama 1    McCain 0

Calling the economic ressession                       Obama 1    McCain 0

Choosing a suitable VP                                       Obama 1    McCain 0

Ability to stay calm under fire                            Obama 1    McCain 0

Ability to run a big campaign                             Obama 1    McCain 0                                                             (as an analogy for running government)

So yes, Senator McCain, you have been tested, but no, you did not, in fact, pass the test. Any of them. Not the ones that matter here and now, at any rate. But Senator Obama did.

On issues of education, health, social services and the environment, Obama is my man. His compassionate, forward-looking approach to these issues might be far left (is it really, though?), but I’ll take it any day over McCain’s “each man for himself” pro-big money, pro-instant gratification approach to life. (Drilling not being the solution to anything except mucking up the planet even more, and putting money in the pockets of big oil companies.)

After one debate, the second. I think, Obama was criticized for frequently agreeing with McCain, or affirming his positions. The McCain campaign even tried to exploit it in their ads. I saw it as an example of Obama’s statesmanship, managing to reach across the aisle, something McCain constantly claims as his trademark. But while McCain tells, Obama shows. And how does McCain treat it? With ridicule, and trying to manipulate it for his own purposes. In fact, throughout the campaign, while Obama did not hesitate to take McCain on on issues, he always praised and honoured him for his service to the country. McCain, on the other hand, regularly treated “that on” with contempt.

Overall, I am less than impressed by McCain’s unpredictable, at times grumpy, erratic, full-of-energy-today, out-of-steam-tomorrow, doddering demeanor. I am bowled over by Obama’s calm yet energetic, nerves and spine of steel, caring image.

I don’t like McCain’s tough guy, brawny behaviour. Nobody expects him to go and fight a war, that’s what the army is there for. I’ll take Obama the brain, who will diplomatically and strategically try to avoid conflict, and if it won’t be avoided, he can use his intellect to wisely direct the army. Because that is what one expects a president to do. Not to physically lead the charge on the battleground.

On the issue of first lady, the intelligence, humility, charm, grace and poise of Michelle Obama is extraordinary. Enough said.

As a South African, how is this any of my business? Because America is a city upon a hill. At the moment, the name of that city is Mordor. I don’t expect Obama to work miracles, but even if he just butts out of everyone else’s business, that will be an improvement. If he changes and improves the way the USA interacts with the world, it will be a boon. I look forward to more caring, and less greed. More talking and less threatening. More friendship, and less parenting. And there is always the slight possibility that he’ll change the city into Shangri-La.

Now as I, disenfranchised citizen of the free world, cannot vote in this election that will impact on the whole world, I give you my proxy vote. Please use it. Get out there and go vote! Don’t get it wrong again, America. The cross goes next to Obama!

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    Welcome to my personal soundboard, where I can muse (you might call it ramble on) about things that interest, irritate, infuriate or impress me. In time, I hope this will lead me to understand the meaning of life, the universe, and me.

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