Monday, July 04, 2005

Get Real: Global Politics 101 & Live 8

I have moved to, and i have also migrated all posts and comments. YOU SHOULD NOT BE HERE SO CHANGE YOUR BOOKMARLS/BLOGROLLS ACCORDINGLY!!!!
[Edit #2]

I fully expected my last post, Live Aid? Please! to stir some interest, and it didn't disappoint. Responses in terms of posts and actual emails have been coming in thick and fast. The post has been linked to by several websites and blogs, both personal and institutional, and those have sprouted their own discussions.

Which is good.

It is impossible to respond to everyone in person and so I shall first post a monster post and you can pick out your responses. If you were thinking of just reading this before taking a trip to the men's room to get rid of those 5 cups of coffee, I suggest you go first.

Now, the responses can be broadly categorized as follows:
- The School Of Like Minds agreed entirely with me
- The Band Of Hope thought I was too cynical and should give Bob, Live 8 and Tony Blair a chance
- Dissenting Disciples who disagreed with me in entirety
- The Sanctimonious Schmuck Squad who could not believe my black behind could dare question the good work that was being done in my benefit
- The Cretin Clique who were sure I was a lazy, good for nothing buffoon, wholly ignorant of world affairs and the way things work, content to sit on said black behind and point fingers, wondering what I was doing instead of clicking my fingers every 3 seconds to fight poverty. These are the people who claim to be authorities in Africa by watching CNN, BBC and listening to Akon. They wanted Bob Geldof canonized at the first opportunity and I had jolly well better be grateful for all that was being done for my poor backward self. Well gentlemen, if you are waiting for my gratitude get yourselves a good long book. I suggest War And Peace.
- The Keyboard Kommandos who did not even bother to read the entire post but jumped on their keyboards intent on proving they have opposable thumbs. To these I can say this:
(1) Kindly read the ENTIRE post. My solutions (by no means exhaustive) are peppered throughout. It's not a Puss In Boots type story with the moral neatly at the end.
(2) Even if I had not suggested any (which is not the case), howling self righteously about problems without solutions is a half baked notion that speaks volumes of life experience amassed purely by a regular diet of television talk shows. Consider you are in the garage and the gardener runs in shouting "Your baby has fallen in the pool". Does a sane mind retort: "Don't me the baby fell in the pool! Offer solutions!"?
- The Arrogant Abels who equate my statement "Who can spell Geldof" with a chronic case of Worldly Ignorance. Apparently, knowledge of world affairs is tied to which (in)famous people you know. To these sterling intellects let me just say the point I was trying to make missed you in its entirety.

And oh, one more thing. I am not European or American. I am not writing these thoughts from a comfortable chair in London or New York or Dublin. I am writing these thoughts from a comfortable chair in Africa. I am a full blooded African. I was born in Africa, I studied in Africa, I work in Africa and I live in Africa, Kenya to be precise.

That said and done, I deeply believe in free expression which covers everything from saying what's on your mind. As for the latter four gaggle of individuals you are also fully entitled to making an ass of yourself. Watching CNN occasionally and listening to Akon does not make you an authority on African affairs.

Now, to answer to the copious feedback I shall do it in the form of a narrative that is partially true and partially fictitious that will illustrate the grim reality of this world.

The Way The World Works

Preamble #1

Smack in Central Africa there exists a country called Kundu. (An episode of West Wing had something to the effect that Military planes got permission to fly over Kenyan Airspace to get to Angola, a geographic inaccuracy which was so laughable the name stuck).

Kundu is composed of three major tribes, the Kuku, the Unu and the Dudu, numbering 30 million. An amalgamation of the three tribes' names led to the naming of the country. This was done by the British, who colonized the country briefly. The national bird is the Chicken. The Kundu are peculiar in that they get by with using only one name in lieu of the traditional forename and surname. The chief spoken language is English.

Kundu has a warm wet tropical climate that is excellent for agriculture. Among the things it grows are foodstuffs, flowers, pyrethrum, cocoa and cotton

The Kundu are blessed with diamond deposits and oil wells

The bastion of Kundu's economy is the export of the following
- Oil
- Diamonds
- Flowers
- Cotton
- Beef
- Pyrethrum
- Cocoa

Recent History
In the cold war era, some 10 years after their independence, General Felya, a deeply communist leader toppled the popular government in a bloody coup, and to ensure they didn't return the favour, toppled their heads from their necks, installing himself as President, Fountain Of Honour and Imperial Good Guy™. He immediately declared Kundu a Communist nation and ordered the removal of the words 'my' and 'him' from the local Dictionaries and Thesauri. Chairman Mao and Josef Stalin called him personally to congratulate him them on their new political dispensation.

Preamble #2

Great States
Shorty after America declared independence, three leading officers of the British army, Major Minor, Major Major and Major Stake unanimously came to the conclusion that it would be unwise for them to return to Britain. Their hesitation was understandable after a letter from the King, requesting the specifics as to the circumferences of their necks and asking conversationally if they had any next of kin. By the same token, George Washington was very keen to meet with them and remove their heads with a blunt blade. And so midway between Britain and America they formed a new country the Great States.

The population of the Great States is approximately 500 million. 200 million in the State of Stake, 50 million in the state of Minor and 250 million in the state of Major. The people speak English, but have taken liberties in pronunciation and spelling. Those who have heard a Greatan say "Nuclear" will know what I mean.

Due to its size (it is an entire continent) , Great States enjoys the spectrum of weather.

Great States, hereafter called GS enjoys deposits of gold and oil. The gold deposits have been all but exhausted. With the oil, wells have been dug and plants have been built but the oil is not actively extracted.

GS has one of the biggest economies in the world, remarkably similar to those of other leading economies. Listed in order of contribution these are
- Bullshit
- Electronics
- Pharmaceuticals
- Motor vehicles
- Services
- Assorted farm produce

Recent History
As one of the participants in the cold war, and the warm war before it, GS's capitalist disposition put it at loggerheads with China and USSR. The communists' activity deeply concerned the GS leaders and so they fought tooth and nail, hammer and thong, peaches and cream to counter the effects of the communists.

Of late attacks on it by terrorists, militants and assorted yahoos has left GS in no doubt that though it was big and powerful, it was about as popular as the guy who does quality control for electric chairs in death row.

Are we together? Excellent

Chapter One: The Way The World Worked - 1950-1980

Shortly after General Felya took over Kundu and made it communist, concern grew in GS. "How dare they!" the president at the time, Raygun, said indignantly. "We cannot cannot cannot stand by and let this happen!"

And so the 103.45 infantry battalion was told by its Commander In Chief to avail its best men to train freedom fighters to liberate the country.

"What freedom fighters?" A bewildered Major asked as he cleaned his rifle.

"Dunno!" His commanding officer replied, equally bewildered.

Two months later a certain Sergeant Attarms, Harvard educated, came to the light as a freedom fighter passionately opposed to General Felya and his communist government. The battalion parachuted in its men, in the still of the night, while shepherds watched, rendezvoused with Sergeant Attarms and within 6 months had trained Attarm's army.

For a long time after that, and even now, some people still believe that there is a certain animal in Kundu that sounds precisely like a machine gun. In a few years General Felya realized that fate has a sadistic sense of humour and succumbed to a fatal case of chronic bayonet. Elections were held and invariably the people voted in their beloved liberator sergeant.

The ink had not yet dried on the election tally when a delegation of magnates from the GS bearing gifts of Gold, Frankfurters and Cuban Cigars landed and sought an audience with President Attarms. The President was happy to meet friends of his good friend Raygun.

"Any friend of my friend .. Ha ha! .. is my friend!" Attarms said clapping them in a comradely fashion on the back. Two days later Special Oil sunk its first oil wells, Croak A Cola opened its first bottling plants, Softy (No relation to Wimpy) opened its first fast food store, McAvelli's opened its own first food store. Henrietta opened a diamond mine and a whole bevy of GS industries set up shop.

A year later a thought struck Raygun and after an exhausting evening of chewing tobacco he asked his Minister for Defence: "By the way, do we still send military hardware to Kundu?", to which he was informed "Well, Felya may have failed -- ha ha! -- but his followers are still there. The new government needs arms to protect its people."

Two years later increasing reports of torture chambers and members of the opposition shooting themselves in the head before setting themselves on fire, making use of elevators to get to the roofs of tall buildings and jumping from their rooftops caused some concern in the leadership of GS.

"Well," Raygun observed philosophically, unaware that his copyright material was to be later infringed by F D Roosevelt, "He may be a sonofabitch, but he's OUR sonofabitch."

Back in Kundu, it became extremely unwise to pass a photo of the President For Life and Imperial Majesty without bowing at least 45 degrees and not more than 90 degrees. Speaking of the president in any way other than devoted fervour was tantamount to treason and was punishable by spot execution. His birthday was a national holiday. He was a passionate believer in Nike's logo and he Just Did It, objections of husbands and boyfriends notwithstanding.

"But why don't we just remove him?" The unwary would ask.

The wiser would mince no words.

"What part of 'I am henceforth president for life' didn't you understand? 90% of the budget goes to the army, nitwit. You try and remove him!"

And so for 25 years the Kundunese made as much progress on the path of development as a glacier going uphill. There's something about AK-47s, AR-14 Carbines and men in jungle green all over the place that just kill the spirit of initiative and development. It was thought, and understandably so, a brain was best without a bullet in it. Those who think nothing can stop a brilliant mind have clearly never beheld the effects of a sharp machete on the same.

"But don't these guns rust or something? How do they replace them?"

"Which part of '90% of the budget goes to the army' didn't you understand, nitwit?"

"Surely the Western world can help us! We can't vote him out and we can't remove him because he has all the guns."

"And just who, pray tell, do you think supplied the guns?"

And so life went on. Dissent was silenced not by debate but by bullet. And Special Oil, Croak A Cola, Softy, McAvelli and others happily wired billions and billions back home.

But God is a merciful God. Five years later either a lightning strike or a cruise missile (opinion is still divided) struck the President's barracks and ignited the fuel depot. The former was speculated by the presence of a large number of Soviet Gentlemen spotted drinking comradely Vodka in the presidential dining hall.

President Attarm's well known horse hair wig was found some 30 kilometers from the barracks. President Attarm was not found immediately below his charred headpiece. Kundu was free.

Chapter Two: The Way The World Works - 1980-2000

The new President of Kundu, Dude, got to work with zest. Painfully aware of how bad leadership cost the country, he set to work laying out institutions and procedures. The only people to carry guns were the police. All soldiers were to remain at their barracks until further notice. Looking at the statements of accounts he discovered that they were so deeply in the red they were able to see the other side of the spectrum.

"Crikey!" He observed to his finance minister. "I've never seen so many zeroes after a negative sign!"

His consternation deepened after he observed the contracts being enjoyed by companies owned by the late Felya's good friends.

"5 dollars for a 100 year lease? Zero taxes? Zero duties? Zero mining fees? Over my dead body!"

Within the hour panicked calls rung at the Pink House, the residence of the GS president and a day later a powerful delegation landed at Kundu's capital, Cluck.

President Dude quickly discovered precisely what being between a rock and a hard place meant.

"Look, if you want to have your zillion dollar debt waived, and money to build schools and hospitals, just leave these contracts as they are, capische?" The Greatan Minister for Trade was a keen follower of the Godfather trilogy and was willing to demonstrate it.

"We'll give you a hundred thousand bucks to build roads. However please find in this slip of paper the contractors, engineers, surveyors etc you should use ... what's that? They all seem to be GS firms? Why what a coincidence! Anyway, just sign here and we'll be on our way.

Unable to enjoy the benefits of his country's diamonds and oil, the president and his advisors brainstormed.

"Well, it looks like we are somewhat at the loose end," the president observed to his cabinet.

The cabinet, and to be precise the Minister For Education, expressed itself at length and in great detail. That they had a lot to say, and a firm grasp of the language became quickly apparent. The air turned blue for miles around the state house. The secretary taking minutes resigned her commission five minutes into the meeting, on grounds that her duties were incompatible with her Christian upbringing.

"But there's not much we can do about it."

His sentiments were unwittingly to be echoed some years later at a series of cabinet meetings in Iraq when the sensitive subject of Iraqi oil wells arose.

"All right," the president said philosophically, "We can concentrate on agriculture. As Ice Cube says, 'you can do it, put your back into it'."

So Kundunese flowers and pyrethrum, of a singularly good quality began to arrive at Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

A Briton farmer took one look at a Kundunese rose and ran howling for his MP.

A week later a new requirement was placed for all flower exports from Africa:
a) Inspection fee (none refundable) to be paid to EU appointed inspector. Criteria of what Inspector is looking for are not mentioned.
b) All African flowers should be sprayed with InsecticideX, which has, among its ingredients, gold fillings.
c) All African flowers must have an odd number of petals

A cabinet meeting was hurriedly called.

The Education Minister has been polishing up his vocabulary. His tirade rattled windows and cracked the large plate glass window overlooking the lawn.

"Well, looks like we're headed for the high jump. This new flower requirement will nip us in the bud, of you'll pardon the expression." President Dude said.

The finance minister raised a harassed and unhappy countenance to his fellows.

"This new regulation just screws us completely. Our annual income will drop to ... let's see -- borrow one, carry one -- five bucks."

"If I can summarize or predicament. We have oil and diamonds that we are quite frankly giving away, so we can't make money out of that. We can't sell our flowers or pyrethrum either. Basically we have a large debt and no income."

"But what about cocoa?" The health minister asked plaintively.

The agriculture minister shook his grey head sadly.

"Since we have lousy infrastructure, it costs us 97 cents to get a unit of cocoa to the market, which is sold for 1 dollar. This would not be a problem were it not for the fact that it costs GS framers 40 cents, AND their government subsidizes them 50 cents per unit."

"Well, as I heard my son tell one of his friends yesterday, 'whichever way the die falls we're screwed'."

Enter Live 8
Now, if you have read that narrative you are in a position to digest the following

Africa is not something that was discovered the other day. Africa has been around for millions of years. People have known about it ever since the first ship was built. Africa's problems have been covered from time immemorial, even more during the colonization of the continent by the British, German and French in the infamous "Scramble For Africa". There exist reams and reams of footage, books, newspapers and articles of the continent and its problems from the 30s onwards. Anyone claims not to know Africa's problems, especially after factoring in the ludicrously skewed coverage of Africa is either living in his own world or lying through his teeth.

The very African General Felyas and the very foreign Rayguns of this world must take credit for contributing to the state of affairs of Africa in the period of the 60s to the 90s. This is a truth, but at present it is a meaningless truth. So what? The blame game solves precisely no solutions. However the events in the past directly precipitate the events of today and we have to deal with them today.

Politicians are the same the world over -- your opinion only counts in the run up to the elections, and only to guide them to say the right things. After that you are just an ignorant irritant to them and they'd be very happy if they never heard from you.

President Raygun did not consult his constituents before effecting the actions that he did. In fact he was quite unmoved by the protests.

The concert was ostensibly to force the G8 leaders to act. My friends, the fact that our opposition to the war in Iraq was disregarded in its entirety should speak volumes of the power you have over your politicians and what they think of Democracy!

Africa is a gloriously cheap source of minerals, oil, agricultural produce, ore, etc.. That coffee and tea you drink, that chocolate you enjoy shortly before rushing to the gym probably came from a farmer who was paid a couple of cents to Cadbury's who probably make a 10000% markup on it.

Make no mistake about it - in a world where resources are running scarce it is in G8's best interests to retain this state of affairs, no matter how well meaning their populace is. After all, the people snapping their fingers are not the ones balancing budgets.

If you expect President Raygun to give up free oil and free diamonds, and to suddenly let his countrymen's companies be taxed out of their back teeth my friend you have got to be kidding! If he does this it will mean increased prices for his people, and who, pray tell, would want that?

There are deeply vested interests in keeping Africa precisely where it is. However the demands of the populace have caused some rumination to happen among the G8. It will be political suicide to do nothing. However it would be suicide to do what they are told. The result? Compromise
- Waive Debt? [x]
- Double Aid? [x]
- Donate material support (nets, HIV medicine, etc.) [x]
- Open the markets and enable Africa to stand on its own [HECK NO!]
- Stop plundering, raping and pillaging the continent of its resources [HECK NO!]
- Stop shipping mines, guns and ammunitions to Congos and Sudans and Somalias [HECK NO!]

That's three apiece.

Another example. Some time back, the United States made a lot of furore as they objected to generic Antiretroviral drugs, copies of copyrighted drugs made by their manufacturers. Then there was the little bother of some people sending others poisoned mail. The drug to counter this little bit of additive was copyrighted elsewhere but good old US said quite blatantly that they were going to make their own generic version, copyright or copyleft notwithstanding.

Moral - countries will always act in their own interests first, second and third.

Utterly pointless to waive Kundu's debt and they are unable to sell their oil, diamonds and flowers to raise the money they need to build schools, hospitals and so forth. They will be back in debt within SIX MONTHS. Waiving debts is completely meaningless on its own!

Granted, a good chunk of African countries have the most mediocre leadership ever to sully the face of this planet. We have fellows who buy themselves 400,000$ colossal cars and a week later are at the IMF gates with hats in hand. I dare say if these schmucks had strong grips attached to their trouser seats and they were bounced down the front steps they'd be forced to live within their means. Aid paid to most countries goes straight into numbered Swiss Accounts.

Civic education is the most glaring omission in most political dispensations in Africa that masquerade as democracy. This we must address both systematically and in public fora like these.

Shovelling aid at these wastrels is just filling their Swiss bank accounts and allowing them to get a 8 door Mercedes instead of 6 door ! It is ludicrous for the West to rant and rave at Museveni at his lack of democracy and yet 60% of the Ugandan budget, most of which is used by the military comes from the very same West!

The attendants of the concerts no doubt were well intentioned. In fact I was impressed at the turnout. Most of the attendants I believe were genuine, but I fear largely ignorant of the unbelievably murky world of global politics that they live in. But ask yourself -- how many farmers in G8 countries were at that concert snapping their fingers, championing the waiving of subsidies that line their pockets?

So now after P Diddy and Destiny's Child and U2 and Dido have performed people know the G8 agenda. Big wow! So what?

The democracy we have today is nothing like what Plato envisaged. You cannot make Tony Blair or George Bush or Chirac do anything. If you couldn't stop them from going to war, I wonder what you could stop them from doing.

But I can wager that subsidies and other uncompetitive tactics are here to stay. I don't see them sacrificing their farmers and their pocket friendly golden goose on the altar of an African Renaissance.

I can hardly wait for the outcome of the G8 meeting, but I can wager good money that the check-list will be as I have outlined above.

So for those who attended the Live 8 - thanks for the concern and the passion.

The G8 is not going to shoot itself in the foot to help out the Congolese or the Sudanese or the Somali. Bush and Blair went to war to smoke out alleged weapons. People are being raped, bombed and shot in plain open in Darfur but the pressing urgency that Bush and Blair had seems to have dissipated. In case Bush and Blair missed the Seven O'Clock news, the Darfur crisis has been on for well over two years.

The difference? There is nothing in Darfur that anyone wants, just as there was nothing in Rwanda.

You have a long wait if you thing Tony Blair, George Bush, Jacques Chirac etc are going to dump their farmers and industries in the noble cause of freeing Africa from its shackles.

We will be left to our own devices, problems or not until we have something that they want urgently enough to justify their discomfort. Just ask Iraq.

It's good to be optimistic, but then again you should also always have your feet on the ground.


Here's to Luther. One of the greatest singers of all time.

Ciara - 1,2 Step