Zimbabwe at 37: Independent We Are Not

On April 18th 1980 Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, marking the end of a brutally racist white regime and the return of African rule. All that was wrong with our country supposedly became right.

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Image from: http://independenceday2017images.com/happy-independence-day-2017-zimbabwe-images-wallpapers-photos-pictures.html

 

Today Zimbabwe celebrates 37 years of independent rule. This year more than any other, the proclamation rings hollow, because independent we are not and the only thing to celebrate is the bravery and boldness of those who sacrificed much in the run up to, and since 1980.

I remember independence year like it was yesteryear. My family was living in Jamaica at the time, alongside a whole load of other Zimbabwean expatriates, who had been flung to all corners of the earth by the oppressive and racist white regime of Ian Smith. We attended a ceremony to celebrate the occasion, and even as a 7-year-old, the significance of the moment was not lost on me. The adults were really serious, more serious than funeral serious as up until then, for me, funeral serious was the most serious anyone or anything could be. So this was big. When they sang the new national anthem, the pride in their voices was audible, and the emotion in their souls was palpable.

In my adult years, I came to know that many of the adults that day including my father, had left Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some had left part-way through a higher education that their uneducated parents had sacrificed much for them to gain. Others had left families, dead and alive. But none, including both my parents, had left without the hope that one day they could return home, free, to resume their interrupted lives, and rebuild the nation they had fought for.

The Pre-independence Years

In my adult years I think back to my childhood, my pre-independence childhood, in rural Rhodesia. In my little world, with my extended family, it was a happy and safe world. But, intriguingly, all the images and memories of that time are always covered in a grey cloud, literally. There is no colour. I figured out that this cloud represented the soldiers that lurked everywhere whenever we went into town. Big white soldiers, with red faces, dirty blond hair, mean mouths and big guns held up against their green army fatigues. They watched our every move and made sure we didn’t go into the stores we weren’t supposed to shop in or the restaurants we weren’t supposed to eat in. To this day I feel nauseous at the sight of anything, absolutely anything, with the pattern of those fatigues whether green, grey or blue.

In my adult years I think back to my uncle, my youngest maternal uncle, a true ‘army vet(eran).’ He ran away at 14-years old or so to join the freedom fighters. I now imagine how heartbroken my grandparents who raised me and numerous other cousins must have felt, not knowing the whereabouts of their youngest child. They never showed us that heartbreak, or even fear for that matter, not even on the night that the white soldiers burst into our kitchen, pointing their big guns at my grandmother, probably demanding that she tell them where her son was.

In my adult years, when you hear of the brutality of civil wars across the globe, I now know that we survived that time purely by grace, My uncle did come home. I have yet to hear the story of how he turned up, but though he must have seen some very ugly things he came back with more joie de vivre than I remember him disappearing with. I saw him every time I went back on vacation; every time until 1996. That was the last time I saw him alive. He had survived a brutal war only to die, one day before Zimbabwe turned 17, at the hands of a regime equally inhumane, an African-led government that failed to respond to the AIDS epidemic, waging war, this time against its own.

Modern-day Warfare

Today that war rages on with different rules of engagement, but a war nonetheless. The shops and restaurants may now be open to all, but far from all can pay for anything therein. The country has run out of money for the 2nd time in 10 years and this time round the government issues a worthless currency, saving the real money for themselves of course. No one who holds a decent job gets paid at the end of the month, any month in fact. To get paid you need to run a hustle or be connected to someone in power. And the icing on the cake, those same people in power say it’s okay to use goats – as in livestock goats – to pay for school fees, while they use the country’s money to fund their children’s education at elite schools around the world.

There is no infrastructure: if you have water and electricity at the same, by default you must be living in the presidential residence. The best roads are at the airport to impress visitors or in the president’s constituency. The capital city is a shadow of its former self. The offspring of the wealthy elite boast that they have never set foot in Harare – way below their worth to do so.

In 2017, any voice of dissent is shut down, imprisoned or disappears. Worse still, the masses are so broken that they have no faith in anyone who stands up to the regime. Where are the leaders in waiting? Not allowed and nowhere to be seen. When they do manage to rise, they somehow falter as there is no fertile ground for their growth.

Today, a Facebook friend posted a video of part of the Independence Day proceedings in Zimbabwe. A procession of middle-aged men, surrounding one very old man, shuffles along to the beat of a brass band playing what I call afro-imperialist music – dreary, overbearing, repetitive, with bars reminiscent of the old colonial days, trumpets on the verge of screeching and drums too loud. These are the ruling elite, Zimbabwe’s new oppressors. Fatigues have been replaced by suits and the weapon of choice is now the dollar. Their mouths remain mean but now their faces are black and their heads bald. There isn’t a woman or young person in sight. Everyone is serious, funeral serious, because this time round there is everything to mourn and nothing to be proud of.

Zimbabwe at 37 – independent she is not.

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Image from: http://www.heraldonline.com/news/business/article145176029.html

 

 

Women’s Day 2017…or is it 1720?

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate, according to the IWD website https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About, ‘the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.’ As the day draws to a close, I have to admit that I am a little ambivalent about what progress has really been made with regards to gender equality…and in fact ‘gender everything’ ever since the modern revolution of women’s rights started back in the 1900s. This question weighs heavily on my mind not just today, though I can’t say it does so every day either, but often enough for me to be compelled to blog about it on our special day, when all I really should be doing is catching up on some sleep!

Theoretically a woman like me – aged 44, with a privileged upbringing as my niece-in-law described it over the last family weekend (and not privileged as in ‘moneyed’ either, much more and pricelessly so), with my own family albeit not in the conventional, ‘married-with-2.4-white picket fence’ sense, with parents still alive and fighting fit, in a profession with the perfect balance of job satisfaction and challenges that stretch the intellect, able to make time to get my hustle on and tick off my bucket list – should be patting herself on the back with all her female relatives and friends in the same boat, or thereabouts, about how good we have it.

This past month alone though, I found myself wondering why I was the only woman in not an insignificant number of meetings of late; why at several high profile celebrity events, all the noise and hype was around male achievement when there were some ground-breaking contributions by women in the same time period; why in 2017, a young man in Australia feels it’s reasonable to imprison a woman for nearly 2 months subjecting her to what appears to be a brutalizing regime of rape and beatings (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/mar/08/uk-backpacker-raped-held-captive-australia-out-of-hospital); why the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland cannot just admit to its appalling and inhumane treatment of young mothers and their children and allow their souls to rest in peace (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/07/catholic-church-children-buried-at-tuam-ireland); and why a father is more insulted by his daughter’s murderous breakdown as a result of sexual exploitation, than by the fact that it was his own friend who subjected the daughter to such, with intentions of moving on to his other daughter (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37683927) . And I wonder about the multiplication factor that would be applied to all of these incidences, because they are not isolated by any means.

As each year passes, and more so this year, I cannot help but think of the millions of women all over the world whose lives do not reach their full potential whether it’s personally, for their families or their communities, simply because the laws governing their locality say that they are not worthy. I think of the hundreds of thousands of women who go missing every year into black holes of sexual and other forms of slavery. I think of those who are disowned by those endowed with the title of ‘family’ simply because they do not conform to the rules of their society that are designed to suppress their very essence, their womanhood. I think of those women in areas of conflict – including the conflicts we don’t hear about – who cannot be the mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, wives, girlfriends and comforters that they are meant to be and just want to be. It is mind-boggling to me that the men and other women who subjugate women like this, do mankind an indescribable disservice. Without mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, wives and girlfriends who are valued in the true sense of the word, society will eventually cease to function. This is not to proclaim superiority over men – but God did not create man alone.

Whenever I get around to reading historical accounts of women in society I often wonder where it all went wrong. The tales of ancient and some recent civilizations indicate that women at one point, long long ago, had a much higher standing in society. Then for reasons outside the scope of a late night blog like this, it slowly but surely fell apart. Fell so far apart that at the core of it, when all the glitter and glitz and gloss is peeled back, when you delve into the psyche of society, I must ask, is womanhood in 2017 any different from what it was in 1720? If one were to plot some extrapolation of gender progress over time and do some mathematical corrections that take into account changes in the key societal factors which are converted into some numerical value, would we see an exponential or even at least a linear growth in women’s standing in society? I suspect it will be far from either.

Perhaps what is the more important driving factor for gender equality is not how society defines us, but how we as women define ourselves. We now have a voice that most but not all choose to listen to, and we are using that voice now more than ever before. Already this year, women around the world, many who didn’t really need to, marched in their millions against a misogynistic President – not that he is the only one of his kind mind you. With that voice we are redefining ourselves, or actually, let me phrase that correctly, reclaiming our original and intended definition of ourselves, with the intention of marching forward, side-by-side with men, in all our womanly glory.

IWD Logo for blog

 

The reality is…a reality TV star is the 45th POTUS

When all is said and done, that is the reality right?

I feel the need to add my 2-pence in with a lengthy blog on Donald Trump becoming the 45th POTUS, but in reverence to my renewed drive for increased efficiency, ‘work smart not hard/kill 2 birds with one stone’ mentality, I will insert the link to my rant after Brexit here – https://lalulaworld.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/an-unexpected-br-exit/ -, because essentially these 2-pence can easily be put towards the current situation. A few modifications here and there to make it US-centric, but the principles underlying this seismic fall-out remain the same – disillusionment, delusion, disenfranchisement, modern-day feudalism coming to roost, hatred and dirty nasty ‘politricks’.

Nevertheless, I will add a PS to the original rant, because you know, this occasion cannot pass without that.

PS.

When we look back over the last century to now, has there ever been a POTUS that wasn’t in some way a creation of America’s imagination, a caricature or a character of some sort. Some had valid qualifications for the job yes, but one thing they all have had in common is that at some point, when the cameras stopped rolling, the illusion became apparent – a contradiction of terms yes but that is the ‘reality’ that is America – an apparent illusion.

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Image from:

http://tabithaannthelostsock.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/optical-illusion-american-flag.html

 

 

Let’s start with whom most of us are familiar with. Wasn’t John F Kennedy though genial, a carefully crafted vehicle for his father’s obsession with power and glory? Then throw in his love for the fast life that was Hollywood, hanging with the mob and side-chicks. Perfect concoction for good TV.

Lyndon B Johnson had an honourable track record for his attempts to restore civil rights, but known to be someone who could change his personality to suit the occasion.

Richard M Nixon, Watergate says it all. The ultimate baddie.

Gerald Ford to be fair didn’t really choose to be President, but his intellectual capability for the job was questionable especially being an ex-football player. Only in America does a football player rise to the Presidency. And he pardoned Nixon.

Jimmy Carter was probably more successful as an ex-POTUS than a POTUS, so one has to ask ‘what did he do’ in the White House.

Ronald Reagan, though Governor of California before he became the 40th POTUS, let’s face it, was a Hollywood actor. He could therefore play any role asked of him. He is the reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger thought he could do the same but he forgot that Trump’s America does not like foreigners, especially those that actually sound like a foreigner; and Ronald Reagan is also why Will Smith went through a phase of joking about how he too could transition from actor to POTUS (or maybe that was the media creating something).  Today though, we know where those bad jokes can lead a nation.

Ah, then we enter the Bush era that gave way to the 41st and 43rd Presidents. An oil-rich dynasty that got into the White House to make themselves and their Texan buddies more millions than they already had through war-mongering. All under the guise of serving their country, waging a war on terrorism, using God as justification for bad behaviour.

Bill Clinton is one of the most liked and most charming and most popular POTUS’, who despite being impeached and displaying misogynistic tendencies of tremendous magnitude, and in the process contributing to his wife’s defeat in today’s election, is still liked and charming and popular. Typical reality TV star – incorrigible character, but you still love him.

Barack Obama. As a black woman, I will never deny the importance of his position as the 44th POTUS and how much it means that our children can grow up knowing that a Black man can hold that position and that it’s not a big deal for a Black man to hold that position. But I am under no illusion that his public image is probably a well-crafted one, and that one day, it may all come out in the wash. Most of us still admire him and Michelle though – that is reality TV – we take what makes us feel good even if it’s not real.

PPS. Be a part of the reality show

So we must not lament yesterdays’s episode because it’s part of the storyline. As more seriously put in this piece I came across as I searched for a meaning behind the madness, this is how the world works – https://medium.com/@theonlytoby/history-tells-us-what-will-happen-next-with-brexit-trump-a3fefd154714#.1z8d5jkpm. History repeats itself, the same characters are thrown up in different guises and the plot follows a time-tested formula.

All we now need to do is decide what character we will play and play that character well. Become a part of history, a history our children can look back on and draw inspiration from when their turn comes up in the next round of calamity.

Because right now, just being a spectator is not going to cut it.

An Unexpected Br-exit

On the afternoon of this now forsaken referendum, my 8-year old declared that he had voted at school. I was pretty taken aback – mostly because he hardly volunteers information about what he has been up to, but also because it showed just how big a deal this referendum to leave or remain in the European Union (EU) was if 8-year olds were getting involved. He didn’t hesitate to tell me which way he had voted – to stay, and ‘my friends did too,’ he added – this was really information overload for me today! His reason to stay: so he can go and visit his French child-minder anytime he wants, after she goes back to France…fair enough.

I too voted to remain. The referendum race was going to be tight of course, but so sure was I, and I guess so was everyone else in the remain camp, that we would edge across the line first, it didn’t even occur to me get up early and watch the results. And besides, if 8-year olds could get it right, surely the rest of us, or rather the majority of us could too, right?

Watching our dear veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby read out the results on the morning of June 24th, my first thought was that he looked absolutely battered. Not battered in an ‘I’m-77-years old-and-it’s-way-past-my-bedtime’ kind of way, but more in an ‘I-can’t-believe-what-I-have-to-tell you…and-in-my-golden-years-at-that’ kind of way. When he actually announced the leave majority, I felt the way he looked, and the words ‘but the 8-year olds got it right though’, rang loudly and repeatedly in my head. The United Kingdom had voted to leave the EU – the Brexiters had won.

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Image from: http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/682835/EU-referendum-result-European-Union-Leave-Remain-In-Out

 

‘Gripping political drama and a nation in turmoil’

One week later, and the whole nation is in turmoil. It’s true to say that no one expected this outcome, not even the Brexiters themselves; those who say they are not surprised are only able to say so with the help of the good old retro-scope. Who would have thought that within 96 hours of the vote, we would have bloodless coups left, right and centre, no Prime Minister (PM) as David Cameron was quick to jump ship, a crumbling opposition party thanks to a grand total of 17 Judas Iscariots, a Chancellor missing in action, a far-right leader in Nigel Farage now with a licence to offend in even greater proportions, a looming general election between rudderless political parties, and the real prospect of the bumbling blonde ex-journalist Boris Johnson becoming our ‘leader,’ someone who is unlikely to command any international respect. Answer: no one. The only man standing by his principles, is the Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and at this rate, who knows how long he can remain so loyal to his cause. This is the kind of drama that no seasoned political playwright or screenwriter could have ever conjured up.

‘The false science of politics’

I admit that, though by nature a remainer, in the days leading up to the polls, I did think about what it could mean to leave. As an immigrant myself though, I just couldn’t get past the misdirected anti-immigration rhetoric – surprise, surprise. This and the false claim that £350 million saved per week by leaving the EU could rescue our National Health Service (NHS) meant my flirtation with leave lasted all of 30 seconds. The decline of the NHS was obviously not going to be reversed by phantom cash. When politicians brandish numbers about without clear calculations, we must be very suspicious. Besides, the mind-set of those that manage the health service is now so thwarted, mismanagement of funds, fictional or real, would be inevitable. One advantage of being an immigrant from a non-EU state is that you know very well the very tall tales that a government can spin. We all wish our fellow Brits would have figured this out a while ago.

And, I will also admit, that at times I felt that the evidence for the reasons to remain were largely speculative. In recent times, it seems politics has tried to pull itself off as some sort of science, brandishing about terms like ‘evidence-based policy’ and using statistics and data inappropriately, because it rhymes in a slogan or evokes the right ‘feelings’ in the electorate. If real scientists or ad-men and women were to use the same methods, they’d be slurred by the media that dutifully reports this BS, and fined to oblivion by the bodies that regulate those professions.

‘Why remain?’

My vote to remain was really about safe-guarding, as best as I know how, the future of the next generation of Brits – both descendants of natives and immigrants. We can no longer argue that Britain, a nation with no real industry can sustain itself. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is, like everywhere else in the world, wider than ever, with no signs of that gap narrowing. The class system prevails mightily here and will continue to do so for generations to come, meaning that if the have-nots want to ever move up, they will need to move sideways, then up. To move sideways, you need to have the option of moving across borders open to you; whilst some Brexiters are lamenting the invasion by not just the Polish but also the Muslims and the Africans and the Syrians (I know Muslim or African is not a nationality, but a certain brand of Brexiter doesn’t function at that level), they forget that there was a time they too had to move to foreign lands just to survive.

‘The great social divide’

The nation’s wealth is concentrated in London where it is largely in the hands of the dreaded foreigners. And in that capital city are politicians that will happily sell out the masses to those foreigners as long as their own off shore accounts are kept flush. The tragedy is that even the opposition parties that are supposed to represent the masses have joined in on the pimping. When I first came to this country nearly 30 years ago, you could easily tell the difference between a politician that was ‘Labour’ (left-wing) and one that was a ‘Tory’ (conservative; right-wing): the content of their ‘speak’, their manner, their way of dress – these were clear differentiators. Today, I’m sure I am not the only one that struggles to tell members of either party apart – they have all morphed into one mass of privileged men and women, who are nothing but career politicians that now don’t even pretend to aspire to be servants for their electorates. And the few with a remaining whiff of social conscience, can attest to this. They exhibit varying degrees of pomposity, but what they all have in common is a clear disdain and disregard for the working class. Some of them repeatedly chant ‘we need to reach out’ and ‘reconnect with the grassroots’ but the hollowness of those sound bites has become increasingly nauseating. With the results of this referendum, and whilst shooting themselves in both feet, the grassroots has made it clear that no amount of reaching out, in the current form anyway, is going to reconnect anyone.

The working class, most of whom occupied the leave camp of Brexiters, are not entirely blameless though. Left behind whilst globalisation, and all that comes with it, marches ahead, they seem to lack the will and appear powerless to change their circumstances. When I lived in one of the most deprived parts of England, I was shocked that in families with 2 generations of unemployment, it hadn’t dawned on either the 2nd or 3rd generation to start thinking laterally, and perhaps exercise their right to, for example, a free university education. At the same time, the goal of many immigrant parents whether they came into this country illiterate or overqualified 5 times over for their jobs, was to ensure that their children were qualified to the hilt.

One of the most painful open secrets in education is that underachievement is by far highest amongst working class white boys…and it starts at a young age. The current term ‘white male privilege’ should be revised to ‘white male of-the-ruling-classes privilege’ because it certainly does not include the rest. Recently, it was reported that race hate crimes against Muslims were now at a level 3x higher than last year and the most likely perpetrators were white teenagers. A lot of the reasons for this underachievement and bad behaviour are socially and culturally based; yet no one speaks about this as it doesn’t fit the political agenda of the day. The result is a perpetuation of a culture that can neither articulate its needs nor organise itself sufficiently; a culture that will find it difficult to produce an effective leader, one that can spearhead the drive to rebuild a nation, particularly a nation isolated from its neighbours. These skills are vital if the working class intends to contend with the ruling elite in London… and in Brussels.

And as for the middle classes…well, we now exist only in name. Many have long relinquished any combination of bi-annual foreign holidays, two cars, school fees, nannies and cleaners.

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Image from: http://jondanzig.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/eu-referendum-result-disunion.html

‘Let’s do what we do best’

With events unfolding as they are, the actual reasons why many of us voted to leave or remain are rapidly becoming redundant. We now find out that the results of the referendum themselves are not binding. Someone needs to invoke Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty, a law that outlines the steps to take should a member state wish to leave the union. Who that someone is, we don’t know as we don’t have a leader. Our recently departed Mr Cameron says we won’t trigger the process yet. Mr Johnson wants informal talks before we start proceedings. The EU response to Mr Johnson: ‘the computer says no’. And Nigel Farage continues to offend, and gloat, here and in Brussels.

So far the single most important result of the referendum has been to give our current social and political structure a badly needed shake-up, forcing us to come to the table to start our 12-step programme to rehabilitation. The first step is in acknowledging the facts and confessing: ‘Hi my name is Britain and I am no longer Great’. Our Britain is indeed no longer great, not in the way that it used to be, nor is it great in the way it needs to be to function alone. The way the world is evolving won’t allow for this parochial and insular mind-set.

Whichever way we voted, we all took a risk, and the thing about taking risks is that you don’t really know what you’re going to get. A change is something we all wanted, we didn’t know how we would get it, but to get that change, we absolutely had to go out on a limb. As the MP Sir Eric Pickles said on the day of the referendum results, ‘I’m sad and dismayed, but that’s democracy. Now we need to get on with it.’

And as Brits, that’s something we are still very good at it – getting on with it and making the very best of a bad turn of events.

Cameron ‘v’ Buhari: The case of a spade, a pot and a kettle

So this past week, our very own UK Prime Minister David Cameron, bestowed upon us a revelation of fantastical proportions. He was overheard or rather ‘over-recorded’, in a conversation with the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, stating that ‘We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world’. This conversation was conveniently made available to us, the public, 48 hours before an anti-corruption summit, hosted by Mr Cameron himself, was to be held in London. It’s always intriguing to me how western leaders take any opportunity to show themselves as leading the way in making the world a better place for us to live in – a leaked recording justifying the need to cleanse the world of dodgy dealings might, to the inflated political ego, equate to some serious brownie points. But, we know better don’t we?

‘A spade is a spade’

The ensuing frenzy over Mr Cameron’s so called gaffe showed the lengths the media will go to whip up a political storm. Was it really a gaffe? No. Mr Cameron was just calling a spade a spade. Nigeria and Afghanistan rank at the top of the international corruption index. It’s a well-known fact, in all four corners of the globe, that Nigeria is not just fantastically corrupt, but stupendously so. Nigerians will tell you themselves, with no hesitation, just how tightly corruption is woven into the fabric of every aspect of their society – from the state house to the pulpit, threading in everything in between. In fact, Mr Cameron could have gone all the way and reeled off a long list of other fantastically corrupt countries, many of which would be found on our beloved continent of Africa, and chances are that he would have got full marks. I for one was offended that he didn’t call out my birth nation of Zimbabwe …

‘Best qualified’

The parties involved in that leaked conversation are by far the best qualified to assess who is corrupt and who isn’t: Mr Cameron who himself admitted that he has benefitted from hidden offshore assets and whose party is bankrolled by businessmen with dubious links who, in return, get titles and tax breaks; our dear Queen Elizabeth, Head of the Royal Family, whose family fortunes are founded on loot plundered from all corners of the British Empire, and are sustained in the present day by the tax payer; the leader of a religion that has long exploited those that they are supposed to protect from evil; and the leader of the House of Commons packed with Members of Parliament who inflate their expenses and land the tax-payer, again, with the bill, whilst regularly popping up as the central characters in salacious scandals straight out of a den of iniquity. Nigerian leaders, present one probably excluded, are familiar with all these tendencies; put them all together and you have a cupboard full of pots and kettles calling each other black.

‘Clean up your act too’

However, there is one person who came out less charred than Mr Cameron – Mr Buhari, the Nigerian leader. His response was class. He didn’t retort hypocritically and indignantly in the way that some of our African politicians would have, and deny (the obvious) that Nigeria is corrupt, or demand an apology (because this was not about him), or embark on some irrelevant tirade to deflect from the real issue. Instead he took it to another level, rose above it all: ‘No. I am not going to demand any apology from anybody. What I am demanding is the return of assets. What would I do with an apology? I need something tangible.’ In others words, ‘we can go round and round in the way that spades, pots and kettles do, but actually, if you’re serious, you clean up your act too’. Mr Buhari has been cleaning house in his own country so he probably knows what he’s talking about.

‘A true boss’

And interestingly, with that response, mainstream media swiftly moved on to find another story to drum up – in their eyes, this particular storm, with no mud-slinging, had turned into nothing but a damp drizzle.

Mr Buhari, handled this like a true boss – wonder how his anti-corruption colleagues and his country handle him after this…

 

A Tale of Two Boys: Emmett Till and Tamir Rice

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The year that saw the public unravelling of the discriminate American policing and judicial system continues to the bitter end of 2015.

This week, just over a year after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead in Cleveland, Ohio whilst holding a toy gun, the police officer who shot him will not be indicted on any criminal charges. In fact, it’s not immediately apparent what consequences this officer will face.

The facts…in a nutshell

The official report from the county prosecutor’s office tells us this: Tamir, who was African-American, was playing with a toy gun in a park on November 22nd, 2014; a 911 call was made reporting a man waving and pointing a gun at people; the caller did state that the gun could have been fake and the person involved could have been a juvenile; two police officers subsequently arrived on the scene and drove within a few feet of Tamir; inside 2 seconds of getting out of the patrol car, one of these officers fired 2 shots at the 12-year old; one bullet struck his abdomen; the police officers stated that they ordered Tamir 3 times to raise his hands; none of the witnesses heard these commands; neither of the police officers administered first aid to Tamir after they realised he was indeed a juvenile; one officer instead tackled and handcuffed his 14-year old sister; when his mother arrived on the scene she was threatened with arrest; both officers refused to testify at the grand jury hearing; the office that shot Tamir was deemed not fit to handle firearms; the prosecutor at the same hearing blamed the emergency services despatcher for not relaying the information that it was possible that the individual in question was a boy with a toy gun.

Two subsequent reports, the Sims report and the Crawford1 report, both concluded that Tamir’s killing was reasonable. There is guidance from the United States Supreme Court that explains why the policemen who set up an ‘officer-created jeopardy’ situation will not face criminal charges. It’s flawed, because like most things American, it’s open to interpretation, but nevertheless this guidance, or rather, one interpretation of this guidance, was upheld2.

A deeply and profoundly sad state of affairs

The onslaught of public reports of deaths of African-American men and women at the hands of those whose duty is, and who are paid to serve and protect, has been relentless. The countless editorials, opinion pieces and commentaries on these events, in the main-stream and off-stream media, from the right-wing to the liberal leaning to the conspiracy theories, all raise ugly issues and rub salt in the deep wounds that afflict American society.

I could blog a self-righteous piece based on my own worldview which is here on the outside looking in, about what a mess America wallows in; sometimes though the clearest view is indeed from that vantage point. As much as a personal rant would feel good, it would a), not shed any light on the complexity of the dysfunction within that society, b),  require an anthology of American history and society which I am not in any way qualified to write about, c), serve no real purpose other than self-gratification on my part and d), not ease the deep and profound sadness I and many like me feel about the young lives that are being snuffed out like nuisance prey by a seemingly predatory system.

A predatory system that has changed little in the last 60 years.

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Emmett Till: July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955

Image courtesy of: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/peopleevents/p_till.html

 

On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old African-American Emmett Till was killed by two white men in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a 21-year-old married white woman. The only difference between the case of Emmett then and that of Tamir now is that the killers of now, wear uniforms.  I urge you to read the story yourself and I’m pretty sure you will find it incredible. I know that 3 years after I first came across it, I still find it to be so.

Both boys were perceived, by whites, to be older than they were on account of their physical appearances – Emmett weighed 68kg and stood 1.63m tall; Tamir was 79kg and stood 1.7m tall. So the fact that they were bigger than they should be warranted and even justified an aggressive response to childish behaviour. There is published work on how whites view and interpret the physique of black children3, and it’s very telling.

You would think it’s enough that black and brown-skinned adults are negatively stereotyped – not that we need studies to tell us that, though statistics and surveys are very useful in providing objective evidence to the naysayers. Does this deadly stereotyping really have to extend to black and brown-skinned children too? Can they not be allowed to be like all other children who sometimes do incredibly stupid things without paying for such stupidity with their lives? Even if Emmett had really made lewd comments to an adult woman, surely all that adult woman had to do was drag him by the ears to his family and allow them to deal with him. That’s how we know things to have been dealt with in the good ole’ days right? And, there is no doubt that Tamir was silly to have been brandishing any imitation weapon of any kind in public especially in the climate at that time; for generations, children have been fascinated with guns, because adults revere guns; for generations, children have played cops and robbers with fake guns, no questions asked. Are we now to accept that it’s open season on any child who engages in this past-time (though in my circles it is quite un-PC, and rightfully so, to give children toy guns)? Since when have law enforcement officers been intimidated by children playing with toy guns?

In the case of Emmett, media stories at the time even focussed on that fact that his father, an officer in the US army, had been executed in Italy during the 2nd World War for allegedly raping and murdering women, in an attempt to show that there must have been some genetic disposition in Emmett towards aggression against white women. I really urge you to read up on this case yourself – it boggles the mind. The holes in both stories are gapingly wide, yet even after the cases were bought before a judicial system and the American public, no one was found culpable in the violent death of a child.

Of course, in between Emmett and Tamir there have been others: some we hear about like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Laquan McDonald, but most we don’t, like Kendrick Johnson4. In all cases it’s apparent that the deeply disturbed and flawed legacy of Emmett’s killers and their ancestors continues to thrive in modern day Americans. I can’t even use the word the term racist legacy because that word doesn’t really feel as if it fully encapsulates the forces at play here.

An ugly mind-set based on destructive principles

These forces appear to surmise that anyone of African origin is somehow not human, soul-less, devoid of emotion and feelings. It is this mind-set that shoots a child of colour first, then prevents that child’s loved ones from comforting him as he dies, then lies about the events that transpired, because that mind-set is confident in the fact that there is a system that will support your every devious move.

There’s no doubt that policemen see some ugly things in their line of duty; but is that justification to shoot first then lie later? Working in accident and emergency as a junior doctor some years back, I and my colleagues saw human beings at their ugliest too. But never at any time did we ever lose sight of the fact that we were dealing with human beings, fellow human beings, who no matter what, were to be treated as such. There is no reason why policemen shouldn’t have that same empathy…unless they are somehow not human, soul-less, devoid of emotion and feelings.

60 years forwards…or backwards?

Although Emmett Till’s death in 1955 turned out to be one of the catalysts for the American Civil Rights Movement, why is it that his story is repeated through Tamir Rice in 2015? The sad truth appears to be that the destructive principles that form the foundation of American society have never been dismantled. Now they are being exposed for what they are. But unless all Americans can fully and positively exploit the opportunities that are open to them to really uphold their revered Constitution, and start work on a new foundation, things will go back another 60 years.

 

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Tamir Rice: June 25, 2002 – November 23, 2014

Image courtesy of: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/us/in-tamir-rice-shooting-in-cleveland-many-errors-by-police-then-a-fatal-one.html?_r=0

 

 

1http://prosecutor.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_prosecutor/en-US/Tamir%20Rice%20Investigation/Crawford-Review%20of%20Deadly%20Force-Tamir%20Rice.pdf

 

2http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/12/28/tamir_rice_s_death_didn_t_lead_to_indictments_because_of_supreme_court_vagueness.html

 

3https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/28/why-prosecutors-keep-talking-about-tamir-rices-size-36-pants/?tid=sm_tw

 

4http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/fed-seize-cell-phones-computers-ga-gym-mat-death-article-1.2303553

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the week where the world remembered the mass kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria, as the savagery that is ISIS and the murderous tendencies of US police simmered on in the background, we were hit with a side-blow – xenophobia: South African style. I’m just going to think aloud on this one, as an outsider not privy to, or fully cognisant of the intricacies involved in the evolution of this nation:

We all like to think that when Nelson Mandela was freed in 1994, to declare SA a ‘rainbow nation’, all would surely be well. But in reality nearly 21 years later, South Africans, black, white and every shade in between, are basically just breaching through the perimeter of the misogynistic bubble that is apartheid. As xenophobia again rears its ugly head in SA,  the wide-reaching ramifications of this system again come centre-stage; this is just one of many chapters of the story of the rebirth of a broken nation.

When apartheid was ratified by law in the 1940’s, racial segregation was already woven tightly into the fabric of SA’s society. The Dutch had kicked it all off in the 1700s, with the British duly perfecting the regime in the 1800s. Legislation in 1948 was a mere formality for a totally irrational system where Filipinos were classified as black, because whites worked out that they were…well…black. And yet Malays were classified as ‘coloreds’. Television was only introduced in the 1970s, and when it was, it too was segregated. One cannot believe how ‘nuts’ that system was…and is.

Apartheid means literally ‘the state of being apart’ – and the system not only kept the races within SA apart from each other, but also kept South Africans, especially black South Africans apart from the rest of Africa and the rest of the world. The concept of pan-Africanism is foreign to a significant proportion of black South Africans. Apartheid led to the evolution of generations who knew and still know very little of the great continent to which they belong. My own experience is that this ignorance and insularity is not limited to black South Africans alone either. I have a vague recollection of a conversation with some white and ‘colored’ South Africans soon after 1994, during which it became apparent that these seemingly enlightened individuals couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of the countries neighboring theirs – not a thing. You could argue the same about a lot of other people, but at least Americans could tell you that some Canadians speak French, and the English could tell you that the Germans speak German, and Indians could tell you how Pakistan became separated from India. These South Africans were totally blank when it came to anything about neighboring Zimbabwe, Botswana or Mozambique.

I read somewhere that 65% of the black South African population, is between 15-65 years old. Many in this age bracket have grown up in a world no bigger than their townships, physically and mentally. And some of the harshest acts of mass violence against black South Africans was meted out in these same townships, when this group were children or young adults, a time when thought processes and reasoning are heavily influenced by one’s environment. And their parents also grew up in a world of violence and all sorts of other social injustices – substandard education, inadequate health services, broken family life, lack of cultural evolution. This mass chronic dehumanisation would surely have a disastrous psychological impact. And there are lots of studies about the way in which apartheid affected the mental health of black South African children – some of these same children who are now in that 15-65 age bracket. And forty percent (40%) of this group are unemployed, compared to, and get this, 8% of whites, 18% of Indians and 28% of coloureds. And that 40% unemployment rate eerily matches the 42% rate for education to high school level only.

Surely the great Madiba’s release in 1994 was going to relieve some of this misery. But really, can 300 years of brutality against the souls of a people be reversed by one man, in less than another 300 years? Especially when followed on by a government run by individuals, who despite putting on the right appearances, are products of the same system? I’m going to be controversial here, but this is where you can kind of see where the Castros of this world were coming from, in principle; after your country is liberated from oppressive rule and you inherit a glaringly unfair system where the disadvantaged tip the scales upside down, your first priority is to fix that imbalance pronto. Because isn’t that injustice the reason why you took up arms and got your butts exiled in the first place? So how can you now squander the opportunity to fix that which you fought for? The new SA government should have tackled inequality aggressively from the start. This was an opportunity to show us a new kind of African leadership. But I guess that would have come with too much sacrifice…of self-gratification, wealth and power.

So now you have a sizeable sector of the society that is frustrated and angry because there is no sign of any rainbow as far as they can see. Frustration and anger mixed in with all the other social and behavioural pathologies that apartheid created is a ticking time-bomb. Because SA is still so segregated along colour lines, most black immigrants, the majority of whom are from Zimbabwe, live side-by-side with black South Africans. These immigrants have left their homes with the sole purpose of making a better life for themselves and their families. No one leaves their homeland because they have nothing better to do; when they land wherever they land, they will work hard to fulfil that purpose. Right-wing rhetoric may have us believe the opposite – of course some do not abide by the law of the land and spiral into a treacherous underground of devious behaviour, but this is not representative of the majority.

The perpetrators of this current wave of xenophobic violence see these immigrants creating the life that they should have without realising that the ‘foreigners’ are using skills and education and drive that they, these black South Africans just never had the opportunity to develop. These immigrants never had their psyche bound by the chains of apartheid so they are not subject to the same limitations. Yes, they have their own problems in their own countries, but they are not fresh out of something as sinister as that regime was and continues to be. Unfortunately, living side-by-side means that the immigrants are right in the line of fire of all this pent-up resentment – a mild term for this in fact. The privileged, of all races, are too far away to target, because the type of perpetrator dishing out this violence doesn’t really venture out of ‘his’ immediate vicinity. No, their immigrant neighbor is easier to get to, a soft spot; and besides harsh lessons have been taught in the past about lashing out at the real oppressor: when you revolt against that system, what do you get – the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprisings…

Some have termed this brand of xenophobia, ‘afrophobia’ as a result. But you know, whatever we want to call it, it’s purely academic and just about semantics. What we are witnessing is just ugly and frightening and unbelievably tragic. Reactions have been largely based around calling out South Africans for being hypocritical, because many African countries took them in during their hour of need. That is true and we are free to point that out, but we cannot dwell on that because it will not stop the maddening crowd. The great majority of South Africans, black and white, do not support xenophobic crime – some may be racist, yes – but supporting these atrocious acts is another ball game altogether that they wouldn’t want to partake in.

Instead, it should be about calling out the current South African leadership to be aggressive in protecting the victims and anyone at risk, to bring the perpetrators to justice quickly so as to deter others from following suit; to speak responsibly and appropriately to their electorate so that there is no doubt as to where they stand on the issue of violence against ‘foreigners’; and to get pro-actively creative in addressing – no, fixing – the social and economic imbalance that is the root of this current evil. Apartheid and its creators are  where all this started – there is no denying that. But we cannot go back and undo history. Progress is about being focused on the now with a view to creating a new future that South Africa deserves…that Africa deserves.

 

Finding clarity in the fuzziness that is Ferguson, 2014

On Monday 24th November, my Facebook feed reminded me that this was the day that a grand jury would decide on whether a policeman who shot a child dead will have to stand trial. Said plain like that, surely the outcome would be obvious; except, it’s not plain like that – the decision would be on whether a white policeman who shot a young black man in America will have to stand trial. Now, with those adjectives added, it gets all fuzzy.

Since the August 2014 shooting of Mike Brown and the subsequent riots in Ferguson, Missouri, I have read a plethora of articles and editorials on the saga, ranging from those written from a (both black and white) right wing, conservative perspective (read Fox News and Bill Cosby-like), a liberal perspective, a ‘new black’ (a la Pharrell Williams) perspective, a British perspective, an African-in-the-diaspora-perspective, an anti-US perspective, any angle that any argument came from, I  read it. I viewed the situation from what I conjured up to be that of Mike Brown. And after reading all those pages of Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, I viewed the situation from his angle. Of course my opinions and feelings about the events (note the plural) were not just formed and shaped by those of others. I viewed the situation from the angle of a mother of a little black boy who was picking up some of the snippets (we are news junkies in our house), and from the angle of a daughter of a man who when he moved to this country from the Caribbean in the early 1990-s, as a respected member of that community had to endure meaningless police stop and searches as a middle aged, working father and provider. I viewed the situation with memories of riots in London in 2012 after the shooting of a young black man by police. I viewed the situation from that of what I presume to be a well-adjusted member of 21st century society.

From all these angles, the whole sorry tale can only but stir up mixed emotions. I doubt that few of us, if we were to be honest, can firmly fix our feet in the camp of Mike Brown, or of Ferguson, or of Darren Wilson; except for the families involved of course. Because it really isn’t all black and white. Very few situations are. Despite all the fuzziness though these things are clear to me:

As black people, it seems that we are wholly judged by the thuggish elements in our society. And without a shadow of a doubt, these thugs aggravate each and every one of us ‘non-thugs’; and by the way, in case no one noticed, we ‘non-thugs’ are in the majority. Though all social groups have these elements amongst them, rarely are these the benchmark by which the rest of the group is judged – not the triads for the Chinese, not the mafia for Italians, and not the cartels for Colombians.

This judgment can then lead one to believe that a young black man in America cannot deviate from the straight and narrow as he traverses through teenage angst, because he is then automatically a thug who deserves to be killed. He has no right to mature into a man, expand his worldview, and see his potential. I wonder what would have become of many uber-productive black men in my inner and outer circles, and those of others, if they had happened across a Darren Wilson in their teenage years. None of us know what Mike Brown was like or what his potential was to be, but you know, perhaps he should have had the opportunity to grow into himself and achieve his potential, whatever that would have been. As stories abound of rape allegations on college campuses across the states, when have we heard of a young white man, even with his identity known, to be judged by or worse killed for his abhorrent behavior?

Darren Wilson’s descriptives of Mike Brown: ‘it looks like a demon’, and ‘he made like a grunting’ and ‘he was coming at me’ and ‘I felt like a 5-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan’ demonstrate that ingrained judgment against black men in particular – that they are anything other than human and so must be put down. Not by a mace or a stun gun (that he didn’t like to carry), not by a shot to the leg, but to be put down by a shot to the head. ‘They all kill each other anyway, so what the heck’ (my adaption of ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s comments). Of course in any community, you are more likely to be killed by a member of your own community. As the stats reportedly show however, white policemen in America are more likely to kill a black man than a man of any other race.

Mike Brown was a child. Trayvon Martin was a child. No matter how ‘big and black’ he was, whether he was legally a child or not, Mike Brown was a child. Surely that means something. And whenever a child dies, especially in a violent way, and whether at the hands of the ‘law’ or not, that warrants some sort of justice, something more than a dismissal by a grand jury. Looters aside, this is what most people from all backgrounds are protesting about – the lack of justice. I want to think that most parents, of any color or creed, get that.

Civic apathy in the black community, in any community, will land you nowhere but straight into a mess, if not immediately, then eventually. Ferguson, with a majority black community, is run by a majority white police force, and a majority white local government. Of course there are lots of intertwined reasons for why this set-up has come about. Whilst I do not support the notion of assigning the cause of all ills in the African-American community to slavery (or of Africa to colonialism), there are some far reaching consequences of slavery that we fail to acknowledge and in so doing cannot rectify. Two of these are our real struggles with taking on responsibility, and a lack of self-confidence. Voting and pushing for change requires these 2 community traits – it’s about saying, listen we are the majority here, let’s shape our community, and let’s have faith that we can choose the right people to lead us to that change. Responsibility and confidence must be regained. To achieve that, we have to exercise these characteristics over and over again, so that generations down the line can fight the battle in a different way to what we are seeing now. Then at least, our children can move on and deal with more pressing issues. We owe that much to our fore-bearers.

 

#BringBackOurGirls: For Our Girls from Chibok

 

10325655_703893972986996_8527027233136498105_nOn April 14 2014, 234 Nigerian schoolgirls aged 16-18, were abducted from the dorms of their boarding school in Chibok, NE Nigeria. It’s reported and accepted that the Islamic militant group, Boko Haram (meaning ‘Western education is sin’) was responsible, rounding up the girls, driving them deep into the surrounding forest towards neighboring Chad and Cameroon and selling them into sexual slavery. On the ‘drive to darkness’ some of the girls escaped whilst the militants set one of many villages en route on fire. A reported account from one of these girls can reduce a grown person to tears and make them hug their child tightly.

 

I read an initial news article of this attack via a news link on my Facebook page probably during the Easter weekend. My mouth dried up, my heart sank, my insides flipped over twice. Yet another story of citizens getting needlessly caught in the crossfire of senseless violent campaigns based on religion/politics/tribalism/sectarianism. Yet another story of women and sexual exploitation. Yet another story of child abuse.

 

And then, I sat back and waited for the news channels to start the rounds, confirm the events, cut to scenes of military swoops into the jungle and enlighten me, educate me on the religious geo-politics of this episode. I waited for the words from international Heads of State denouncing this depraved act. But actually, there was still a plane to find somewhere in the Indian Ocean, a royal visit down under to cover, a celebrity sex tape to publicize and rev up network ratings, and reality TV show shenanigans to drag out to a scandal-thirsty audience. How would the story of faceless African girls from an African country widely acknowledged to be a socio-political mess compete with all that?

 

But the story wouldn’t go away. My sister found another article and we exchanged Facebook comments. My cousin tagged on to another article I’d shared and we exchanged more Facebook comments. I set out to fill the gaps in my knowledge of this long running Christian-Islam, South-North battle in the most populous and wealthiest African nation  – in resources that is. The story makes for gut wrenching reading – this group is ruthless in their campaign, and they seem unhinged in their ideology and methodology as they do not discriminate against whom they kill and how they kill. They have burnt entire villages down and mass-slaughtered mere boys – echoes of the conflict in Bosnia ring loud. But I don’t think we have ever heard of brazen mass abductions of children like this, although Boko Haram have abducted girls before, many of whom were later found pregnant or with children…

 

The situation raises all sorts of issues that ought to be brought to the table, flipped upside down and inside out, trashed and shredded, including but certainly not limited to the far-reaching tentacles of Islamic extremism, selective media coverage based on socio-economic and racial lines, and ineffectual, apathetic and under-resourced African governments.  Not a word of support or of comfort or of hope from Nigerian or other African leaders – even if it’s just for PR purposes! Then there is our own self-made African racism, where a catastrophe befalling a community is excused on the basis that those of said community belong to a tribe deemed unworthy and deserving of such a disaster.

 

Whilst we rightfully discuss and debate these issues we must take 2 important steps. First we must set in motion some solutions. I say set in motion because we cannot deny the complexities of the situation and none can be resolved overnight either with the wave of a magic wand, or a motion in Parliament, or a UN treaty or a modification of a clause in a Constitution that was dubious in the first place. And we must be committed to keeping up the momentum on these solutions. We must involve like-minded folk and even engage not-so-like-minded individuals because sometimes we will get tired of the push, and will need others to step into the driving seat. We must continue to criticize our leaders, but it has to be consistently and persistently constructive, as much as it burns to be so. We must remember and remind them that they are human just as we are, and must not elevate them to a demi-god like status. We must never lose an opportunity to hold them accountable, because the minute we do – look at the consequences – we’re drowning in them. Dictatorships and autocracies around the world have fallen, and African ones are no exception – we must never for a moment become complacent to that eventuality. We must be committed because it’s going to be a long haul – we are unlikely to reap the benefits of our actions, but we must stay committed and faithful to the fact that subsequent generations must inherit much less of our mess.

 

Our solutions should be put forward alongside the second but probably the most important and immediate step. As citizens of this planet, with more power than we choose to exercise, we must find some way, any way, from our various corners, to be the voice of those that cannot be heard, or rather that no one listens to. Let our collective sanctified voices speaking on behalf of these girls urge all of our governments to step up. These Nigerian girls must know that we, whatever our color or creed, feel their anguish and are expressing that anguish for them.  If by chance they sneak a peek at their abductor’s smart phone or other device, let them catch a glimpse of any of the many social network sites that right now speak for them, petitions signed for them, and protests pitched for them. And let what they see fire their bravery to endure the horrors forced upon them, and sustain their faith that those horrors will end.

 

#BringBackOurGirls

 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bringbackourgirls-UK/768530563180609