Day 1: I am Rohingya #51Days

Today as part of my #51days act of solidarity, I shall change my twitter profile to

‘I am Rohingya”

The Rohingya are an ethnic group that live in Myanmar – formerly Burma – they are mostly Muslims in a country that is predominantly Buddhist.

For a toxic mix of reasons – ranging from religious difference, land grab, ethnic hatred to simply being  – the Rohingya have been persecuted almost out of existence. First by successive military juntas and now from a democratically elected government itself led by a former political prisoner and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Rohingya seem to be the favorite whipping boy of everyone with power in Myanmar and the world seems mostly deaf and mute to their persecution.

Myanmar is signatory to multiple human right treaties and conventions  – pretty much all the ones that matter. It has obligations to protect the rights of indigenous people, women, children, the disabled and pretty much everyone in its jurisdiction.

The Rohingya do not deserve to be murdered, their women raped, their leaders tortured and disappeared. No one does. If they have committed a crime – charge and apply the law against them. To the best of my knowledge, their only crime, as a group, is to exist.

The violence and discrimination is both by agents of the Myanmar start under the pretense of security and by private militias with the tacit and often, active, support of the State.

Today, I stand with the Rohingya.

Please learn more about this here: http://www.rohingya.org/portal/

 


Photo by AK Rockefeller

51 days of solidarity and advocacy.

There are 51 days until Christmas 2016.

For each of those days,I will change my name on Twitter to reflect a cause I want to support and bring some attention in a small way.

Why?

There is so much wrong with the world. There is so much that is right too.
We are each nodes in a big network of humanity and when we refuse to pass on the right or suppress the wrong, we degrade the network. It stops working and it lets the mundane overshadow the truly meaningful.

But I’m only a node and over the next 51 days, I’m going to be a little better at being that.

How?

I’m pretty active on Twitter. I blog about things that interest me, I jump into conversations, I rant. My tweets are shared, liked and retweeted that creates reach beyond the 3000+ people that follow me. A change in name  – especially one that provokes curiosity spreads my message. It might just provoke the right action from the right person.

What can I do to help?

Retweet me, like my tweets.
Tweet about this action – if you support the same cause or simply want to support my activism.
Share this post.
Share the messages that have the hashtag #51days – they will be about the issue of the day.
Join me – if you’re on Twitter, change your twitter name in solidarity.

Or simply just share about this stupid thing Mike is doing now.

It all helps.

Just. Don’t. Do. Nothing.

 


Photo by OnTask


Photo by jared

Je suis Souleymane

A recent incident on the Paris Métro has troubled me ever since I heard the story. Let me summarise what I’ve read from the media.

Three men were in a fairly crowded carriage on the Paris’ Metro. Along came a commuter who tried to board the carriage, he was visibly blocked from entering the carriage and then shoved out entirely. The commuter made another attempt to board the train and was again shoved out.

It further turns out that the commuter , whose name is Souleymane , is black and the people who shoved him from the train were white – apparently British football fans in town for a Chelsea vs Paris St. – Germaine game. They also sang a racist chant after they forcibly prevented him from boarding.

The entire incident was captured both on the stations CCTV and by a bystander with a phone – in colour and with sound.

Restricted Solidarity

This incident follows only a few weeks after alleged religious extremists killed 7 people in various seemingly coordinated attacks on Paris , including at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo –  prompting a monumental outpouring of solidarity under the banner of  ‘Je suis Charlie’

I am curious to understand why – at a time of heightened awareness of what Parisian society will tolerate – no one spoke out on the train. Why no one challenged these racists. Why no one stood with Souleymane in defiance of this oppression.

Why wasn’t there solidarity for Souleymane?

Parisians are apparently “shocked” by this incident – the racism, not the lack of intervention. But post-event shock is no longer enough – When will shock turn to action?

Bystander Apathy

There is a social phenomenon called ‘Bystander Apathy’ where, in a group of people witnessing some event that requires action – no one seems prepared to act. This has been observed in some pretty vicious crime – physical and sexual assaults and worse, murder. They’ve happened in broad daylight and often in crowded places like trains and stations.

It is phenomenon that also happens in business and professional settings too. There is often work or actions to be taken and even when they are obviously laid out, no one steps up to take responsibility. It is a curious phenomenon indeed.

Was this at play during the Metro incident – how can it be avoided?

What kind of society do you want?

There is a curious saying that goes –

You get what you are willing to accept

I have often pondered what it means and it seems this incidence really touches at the heart of the matter.

If I am willing for bullies under any guise – race, religion, gender, economics – to trample on my fellow human being then they will and once they start unchallenged, they won’t stop and then- perhaps one day –  they will try and trample on me.

I think what would I have done on that Metro and without a shadow of a doubt I would have spoken up for Souleymane. If it came to blows, I would have fought for Souleymane. Just as much for Souleymane as for the society I want to see and for my children to grow up in.

I’ve stopped trying to save the world, but if I can make my street , neighbourhood, city better – even by a tiny bit – I would have the moved the world along.

If we are break out from this apathy, we must be prepared to stand together against things that we believe are unjust. Everyday.

What would you have done?


Photo by JBrazito

#MH370 – Are we believing our own hype?

By: Forest and Kim StarrCC BY 2.0

As the painstaking search for MH370 continues and as families wait desperately for news – any news – of the fate of their loved ones, I can’t help but think we are in a dangerous mindset as a global community – that we are believing the hype of what we can and cannot do as a global civilisation.

Fact has merged with fiction – science fiction especially – and we now think that we have capabilities that will fix any and every thing.

What we believe we have is not what we have

Ongoing revelations of the capabilities of Intelligence agencies to spy on and store everything from everyone all the time add to the illusion that all information about everything is known or even knowable. It serves Big Brother well for us to think this – it curtails what we say and to whom. Fighting this is the core of the privacy movement.

From Hollywood we get the continual onslaught of militaristic salvation – any threat from anywhere will be defeated by our armies and our brave warriors – even if those are super heroes from comic books. We can carpet bomb, annihilate with nuclear devastation. We can even explore distant planets and keep in constant touch with our robotic vehicles on them.

Advances in medicine are offering promising defences against our micro-predators – we may soon even defeat aging. Technology is giving us exponentially faster, more ‘intelligence’ gadgets that give us more control on our architected environments and our man-made infrastructure.

All this unavoidably seeds the thought that, as a civilisation, are invincible – even if those capabilities are not actually universally available or applied. But nevertheless, there is a sense that when something truly tragic happens, we can harness our global capabilities to save lives and triumph in the adversity. But sadly, we can’t. The best we can do is pick up the pieces of disaster.

In reality – whilst we are not in the Dark Ages, we are still a small player in this big world. We are as nothing to the whims of weather. In the battle for planet Earth, she will always win, even if that means we become extinct. When we raise alarm about climate change, global warming and rising sea levels, it is not because we fear for the planet. We fear for ourselves and life as we know it.

Once upon a time, we knew our place in the system

Hundreds of years ago, when science was still in its infancy and knowledge was in the hands of relatively few people and the distribution network was basic at best, humans accepted – more easily- that tragedy happens and there is nothing we could do about it.

Ships would go out into the treacherous open oceans and may never return – the ocean bed is littered with unheard cries for rescue and salvation. As desperate as it sounds, humans had a more realistic understand of what they were capable of.

We knew our place within the system. Our place has not really changed – we have no more real responsibility than we ever had, we instead have increased our ability to meet the responsibility we have always had. Neither has the consequence of disrupting the balance of the our natural systems changed. Earth will whip our collective asses in the same ways – only the effects on us will be more devastating.

Be kind to the people who are doing their best

Against the backdrop of this misplaced belief that we can find anything are the people who are actually looking. They are discovering first hand that what they thought they had doesn’t really cut it. Hundreds of people using truely sophisticated technology – some so secret, we can only guess – are discovering that all this tech isn’t yielding any more than speculation.

The Malaysian government – as politically dysfunctional as any – are trying to do the best they can. But they are clueless – not because of a lack of competence – but because there really aren’t that many clues and even fewer promising ones. If everyone is grasping at straws, perhaps it is because there are only straws.

So let’s  be kinder to them and everyone involved in both addressing the tragedy and breaking the news to us that we are believing our own delusions of invincibility. Perhaps we would be better engaged in trying to understand what we think we can do versus what we actually can do.

Will we ever find MH370 – I don’t know, I sincerely hope we do.  Finding this plane – in whatever state it is in will ease the pain of not knowing for the desperate families of the passengers and crew.

Hope is what fuels us through adversity. We must be hopeful that we can be better and do better, but it mustn’t blind us to the false hope in capabilities we do not yet possess, because life and nature will call our bluff over and over again.

We Are Frogs in a Pot

2010-05-21-Frogs
Image may be subject to copyright.

Climate change is a no brainer.

There are 6+ billion human frogs and untold number of other species in this pot we call earth and it is literally boiling –  slowly but surely.

Yet, some are noticing it and raising the alarm, others notice and wish it would go away and , by simple reason, there must be some who genuinely don’t think there is a problem – they are happily doing backstrokes while the temperature rises.

There are some who think that maybe something is happening and it’s all natural  – part of a rather long cycle that our current data doesn’t cover and there really is nothing to worry about. Personally I don’t buy this – even if this were true, the outcomes of those ‘natural’ long cyclic events have not been experienced in mankind’s time on Earth and from what we can observe so far, it will be catastrophic for us – all of us.

Personally, I think we are huge contributors to either the pace of the adverse changes or the intensity or both. Frankly, to think we played *no* role in it would be an enormous case of willful blindness. Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether we did – aside from figuring out what we are doing and reducing it – what matters now is that these changes are happening and we need to figure out how to cope with their effects in terms of avoiding mass destruction and loss of lives.

I’m really worried about this and feel pretty powerless mostly because it seems to me to be an all or nothing deal – either we all work to reduce the effects or we do nothing. Scary.


Are you worried by adverse climate change? Share them and let’s see what we can do together. Tweet or comment below.

Some nerve.

Peter Mandelson, more recently Lord Mandelson , an unelected cabinet minister in Gordon Brown’s waste of space Labour government today announced the row over the sell off of the UK Royal Mail business was making the task of finding a buyer much harder.

It would appear that Mandelson would not only want us to accept that there is no alternative to the sell off, we are now also expected not to question it and challenge the government’s wisdom that the sell off is necessary.

Whether the Royal Mail actually needs to be sold is not the point – I don’t know enough either way, but the disdain that this government has for the citizenry is frightening. Let them carry on – they are in the throes of a dying government, one that will not be back for a while.

I for one will be voting Liberal Democrats.

Mama was right

When my mum called Tony Blair an ‘out and out’ liar and his administration ‘morally bankrupt’ , I was a little reticent to join in and thought for a second that she might be wrong.

Blair and his Labour government are indeed liars in their role in the Weapons of Mass Deception fiasco which provided a very poor excuse for invading Iraq and unleashing the devastation that followed.

Today, Jack Straw – the UK Minister for Justice (heeheehee – ironic isn’t it!) announced that he was vetoing the releasing of the minutes of the Cabinet meetings in the run-up to the Iraq war (see Straw Vetoes Iraq Minutes Release). Jack Straw was in the Cabinet and involved in those meetings and now it seems, is part of the longer term cover up.

His cover for the cover-up? Releasing the minutes would do ‘serious damage’ to the system of Cabinet government and collective responsiblity. His view is that this is of greater importance than openness and public accountability.

Such is the total disregard that these political shysters have for us – the citizens of the United Kingdom by whose mandate they govern.

I have to live with the shame that the first time I exercised my democratic (and hard fought) right to vote in this country, I voted in liars and war criminals.

They have lied and stumbled their way through events that have monumental repercussions for the very foundations of this country and indeed the world. We can excuse them screwing up the little things (like education and healthcare!), but when they screw up on the big things – like committing hundreds of billions of pounds we actually don’t have to inherently broken institutions with little regard for the suffering it causes , it is inexcusable and at the very least they need to be sacked. The entire government needs to go! If they’re lucky they won’t do jail time for incompetence.

Not only are they liars and lack moral aptitude, the rot continues and is amplified by the new government of Gordon the unelected/unelectable. Their lack of vision and creative thinking in this financial crisis is astounding. If ever there was a time to spend taxpayer money wisely – this would be it. Instead they hurl cheques that might as well be blank at greedmongers and those that have ruined entire economies.

Britain was great once – on the backs of the oppressed and the blood , sweat and tears of the colonies. This labour government has a chance to make it great again – by rebalancing our society and creating a fairer and rejuventated community, revolutionising public services and creating a knowledge economy that would sustain generations of growth, for halting the pace of environmental decline and perhaps turning it back. But they lack the vision and political will to do it.

My mother was right, beyond what she could even comprehend or perhaps she just has the vision that this government sorely lacks.

Who Pays?

Israel launched hostilities against Hezbollah in Lebanon, destroyed homes, infrastructure and brought human devastation.

Who paid to rebuild shattered buildings?
Who paid to rebuild shattered lives?

Then Israel had a lock-in in Gaza. It cordoned it off from the outside world (mostly, though al-jazeera still got real reports from their on the ground teams). Then they went to work, in the name of stopping Hamas missiles from being launched against civilian targets within Israel.

Neither of these are wars. They are brutal acts of aggression by a recognised State against non-state actors. Nevertheless, Israel is accountable to international humanitariand and human rights law to behave properly. This means they must avoid harming civilans and they must ultimately pay for the damage.

War or not , Israel must be held accountable for the scale of destruction of life and property in these attacks.

I’m not naive enough to think that Hamas is saintly or bears no responsibility for at least part of this mess – any group that launches missiles from within civilian populations, effectively using innocents as human shields are immoral and criminal. Their actions make them complicit in the ensuing crimes against humanity that occur. Both sides are to blame in this tragedy. That is not the same as condemning them as out and out terrorists without a cause. Which is a topic for another piece.

For either side to then claim any kind of victory against the background of babies and infants on fire and children trapped under collapsed building, is both obscene and chilling.

My primary concern in this piece is who bears the costs of rebuilding broken buildings and infrastructure, of compensating fathers for the murder of their children, of mothers for the death of their breadwinners (though with 80% unemployment in Gaza, not much bread is being won!).

The EU emissary to Gaza said European taxpayers are tired of paying for buildings to be rebuilt only for Israel to blow them up again. Why must the rebuilding costs be borne by anyone else but those who knocked it down?

Why isn’t the United Nations drawing up resolutions forcing Israel to pay for the devastation is has wracked – perhaps knowing that they will have to pay the rebuilding costs and compensate for the human carnage will encourage them to negotiate a peace?

My questions resound within the emptiness of the international community’s resolve to hold Israel to account. It is the State entity here after all and must be made to play by the rules of Statehood, which must include bearing the financial consequences of the military policy.

Gutless Government Part 1

I think someone changed the rules while I slept or perhaps I missed the class on Demo-Capitalism.

Within a free market economy ,as the US and the UK claim to have, the market is king! It determines who profits and who doesn’t. Selection by competitiveness is proclaimed to be the prevailing law.

Yet in this current crises in the global economy , these governments (and others) are going against the very rules of free market economics that they claim to be abide. By using unbelievable sums of public money to shore up the losses of private enterprise, they have tampered with a system, though fundamentally flawed and unsustainable, does have a weirdly fair way of self correction. Simply put, the free market weeds out those participants who, by the change in demand OR by making overwhelmingly bad decisions and business practice, are weakened and failing. Call it free market natural selection. The bailouts and so called stimulus packages are not only wrong, they are obscene and a spiked gloved slap in the face of those already peddled by the State in the name of free markets. Obscene because by their actions , future generations are condemned to penury and phenomenal national debt.

Government gutlessness is a disease caused , in part, by a lack of social conscience and an intrinsic incompetence in the running of a fair social system. We, the people, simply ask that the government take our taxes and provide for our common needs. We mandate them , with our votes, to protect us as from those to whom we are simply donors to be bled. We ask them to exercise their legislative and regulatory powers (which, by the way, they get from us) to ensure that we, the people, are not exploited, poisoned and abused. In this key task, they failed.

This failure , borne from the unhealthy alliance between elite, big money and politics, is supported by a complacent population, who care about what happens to them and their country, but not enough to do anything to change it.

This gross failure, terrible as it is, pales in comparison to what these gutless governments have done instead. They have taken our hard earned taxes from this and future generations and poured it into saving the very private corporations that have exploited and profited from us. This is equivalent to compensating the rapist with the victim’s wages. It would be a black comedy if it wasn’t so damn tragic.

The right thing to do is let the cards fall where they may. Let the companies that screwed up and gorged on greed, fail. Strengthen the social system to catch those cast aside by those failures. It would cost less to provide social aid to all those who have lost their jobs from the collapse of failed corporations (for the rest of their natural lives!), than it is costing to bail the companies out.

Rather than pump new money into a failed system, be brave and use a fraction of the bailout money to fund a new , fairer and sustainable system.
Let the businesses that were built on unsustainable and unrealistic models fail. Failure is an integral part of free market economics. It is the inbuilt and natural system of self improvement. Yet our gutless governments crumble in light of what they should do.

This crises is a golden opportunity to repair the foundations of our society. Sure money will be spent, but by bailing out failed and failing greed-mongers, it will be badly spent.

Instead of bailing out car manufacturers (there are too many cars on the roads anyway), invest public money in revolutionary public transport systems based on sustainable and self generating energy, that encourage an active lifestyle and low environmental impact.

Instead of encouraging unrealistic levels of home ownership and profiting from the ensuing unsustainable mortgage markets that plunge people into unrecoverable debt, invest public money in public housing that embraces and fosters community and sustainable living.

Instead of pouring money into short term measures like a reduction in VAT, use taxes wisely on progressive educational policies and a health care system that cares about the health of the country and is equitable to all.

Instead of bailing out banks and investment firms that screwed us all, create community based public lending institutions with public money that lend at a grassroots level in accordance with sound and fair practices (and if those don’t exist, create them!).
Better still, hasten their departure by giving them three months to fully and publicly disclose the extent of their losses and therefore show the world that they (mostly) are incapable of resuming any kind of appreciable level of lending. If they do not comply, revoke their banking license and shut them down.

Take radical action to get more value for money from the unprecedented levels of public money that is poured into the National Healthcare Service, lose the horde of incompetent managers and pay nurses more, fund and foster a holistic approach to care that treats people as human beings and not just as patients.

Instead of being complicit in the destruction of domestic manufacturing and production in favour of ‘cheap’ foreign imports (their true cost, when externalisation of cost to the environment and to its workers is factored is far greater) , re-invest in training and supporting the domestic manufacturing base. Do it now, before we lose the knowledge of how to manufacture. Sure, the goods will be more expensive – but they are made here, to our standards and our tastes. They keep jobs in our communities and the government can legislate that profit stays in our economy too. Its called protectionism and we are led to believe it is unfair trading practice. But if our government was not elected to protect us, then what the hell are they good for? Of course there are some things that are not feasible to produce here (not because we can’t but because the true cost of doing so makes it unsustainable) and those can form the basis of fairer international trade.

Instead of selling our sensitive industries to the highest bidder and divorcing government policy from its primary responsibilities, protect those essential aspects of our social and economic lives. Create a list of national security assets – basic universal healthcare, energy, security, transport , basic financial services , education and the environment. All those assets which, if interrupted or jeopardised, would cause our societies to come to a halt. Treat them exceptionally – fund them with public money and make them work (they are not supposed to be profitable!), protect their independence by barring private or foreign and therefore , profit-driven ownership (partial or otherwise). Invest in the skills to run them, service them and keep them fit for purpose. It is possible to have well run and financially accountable public systems, it takes guts and passion and a commitment to make a difference for the whole of Britain, not just the rich!

These are not revolutionary and rare ideas, they are clear as day to the fair mind. They require courage because they go against the interests of the elite, they require tenacity because they cause transformational change in the collective personality and such change takes time, they require vision that is unencumbered by a need to be re-elected or even popular in the short term. Everything they require has hitherto been lacking in our succession of gutless governments.

Ironically , perhaps the most gutsy leader of Britain in the modern age has been Margaret Thatcher – and before my peers razzle me for going over to the dark side, let me explain my thinking. She oversaw massive privatisation of public assets – that was wrong but hugely gutsy. That said, it was fairly gutless to release them to profiteers rather than reform them.

So, finally , I question why have the bailout and the answer I find, in the media and from the government, is that to allow these corporations to fail would erode the trust in the system and the economy. In case they hadn’t noticed – no one trusts the banks (and we haven’t for a long time) and we all know the economy is screwed – read as ‘recession’. We know it and our trading partners know it. Perhaps a better way to encourage trust is to communicate fairness to the world. To say that we will not bet the future earnings of our people on the fate of a handful of greedy bankers (as Gordon Brown and his chums are doing). That we are willing to take the short term hit of job losses for the long term health of a fairer , more sustainable financial system. But, cynically perhaps, I believe this is simply impossible to expect from our gutless governments.

Too Bad Katrina was not Iraqi

Had Hurricane Katrina been Iraqi or Afghan or any number of nationalities with some tedious relation to al-qaeda, this President would know what to do.

But it wasn’t , nor indeed was it human. It was literally a force of nature to which we are all subject at one time or another.

Images of the devastating floods in Mozambique in February 2000 may have shaken the hearts of many the world over, albeit briefly. Then the world forgot the suffering and the poor. Even the fantastically destructive tsunami that wiped out over 200,000 lives across the indian ocean states seems to have all but vanished from the western psyche.

Buoyed by a seemingly tireless patriotism, Americans have generally been comfortable with their leaders’ efforts to make them the most powerful nation on earth. Economically and militarily perhaps. In the currency of humankind, perhaps. But they die and they suffer like the rest of us, at the hands of nature.

Undoubtedly Mr Bush would have carpet bombed entire nations to smithereens had this been a human terrorism act. As it is , it wasn’t (atleast not yet proven), it was that other ‘terrorist’ – the weather, reminding us all that our wasteful ways are disturbing patterns that we do not understand…. yet delight in meddling with.

Paradox of Our Time

Message from George Carlin

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but
shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but
have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller
families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less
sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems,
more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little,
drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too
little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too
much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to
life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but
have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer
space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom,
but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but
accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more
computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we
communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small
character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of
two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are
days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night
stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to
quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and
nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to
you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just
hit delete.

Remember, spend some time with your loved ones because they are not going to
be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because
that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the
only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most
of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep
inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will
not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak, and give time to
share the precious thoughts in your mind.

AND ALWAYS REMEMBER:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments
that take our breath away.

– courtesy of George Carlin. 2005.

Bare Faced Impunity

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq. These are places , notable but not unique, where America has committed violations to human rights and universal decency. Reserving their right to ‘defend’ themselves against ‘terrorists’ and projecting their agenda of pre-emptive action (albeit on the basis of false intelligence), the US and its allies have crapped all over international law and are getting away with it.

Whilst it may be that Australia , the UK and even Italy (amongst others) ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with the US in its operations in Iraq, it seems now that the US’s impunity is not limited to the rest of the international community but even to its ‘friends’.

The killing , by US soldiers, of Italian agent and negotiator – Nicola Calipari – has shown, once again, that there is no honour in this so called coalition. Calipari, who was travelling at high speed, in a car with an Italian hostage whose release he had just negotiated, was shot whilst approaching an American checkpoint in Baghdad. He was trying to shield the hostage from shooting and died a hero.

After a seemingly routine investigation, the US authorities have announced that the shooting was ‘accidental’. The Italians claim they had notified the Americans of Calipari’s route and had permission. Whatever the facts actually are, it remains that there are more versions of what happened and therein lies the crisis.

Friendly fire , as this questionably is, are accidents that happen between allies. Usually they are as a result of miscommunications, carelessness or simple bad luck. But in this case, with US troops on the highest alert and constantly on edge, they rained bullets on this car that they thought should stop, but whose occupants thought they were pre-approved to go. The result is one dead negotiator and two ‘allies’ arguing on whose version of the truth is most accurate.

The underlying doctrine of the US has been and always will be ‘multilateralism when we must, unilateralism when we want’, even if that unilateralism is within a restricted multilateralism. This barefaced impunity that allows the US to do what it likes, when it likes and to whomever it likes is only possible because of the economic and military power that buoys this empire.
The time will come when world commerce is not dictated by the dollar and when bigger and better armies exist to counter America’s. Every empire goes the same way.

Queuing to leave the country

The UK High Commission in Lagos, Nigeria processes over 17,000 visa applications. Its the busiest UK visa office in the world. Statistics from other popular destinations paint a similar
picture – Nigerians are trying to get out at an alarming rate.

If we let our imagination get a little creative, but remain educated, we might extrapolate that there are ten times more people who did not make an application. This might be due to lack of funds, inadequate supporting documentation. In other words, there are about 170,000 people every month who actively want to leave Nigeria.

Having lived in Nigeria for 17 years and not having been back there in 13 years, the stark reality of the scene I met when I finally revisited earlier this month is extremely worrying.

Corruption permeates much of society, it is no longer quietly done with a smirk and a nod, it is open air and in your face.

The middle classes have been decimated and the gap between the very rich and the very poor is gaping. Its a society on the brink of breakdown but seeming somehow to carry on with ordinary tasks in an extraordinary circumstance.
Children still go to school, but their teachers are not motivated to teach. I heard stories of teachers failing students in their school classes that didn’t sign up for the private classes that they set up. Private schools and tuition are at an all time high. Universities and schools are chronically underfunded – much of the little that is earmarked is siphoned away. So much so that private universities are the new fad – even the President is trying to get in on the act by founding his own!

More on the unemployment, even the street vendors who ply their wares on the treacherous highways of Lagos in stifling humidity and heat for long hours every day count as employed. Theirs must be the least efficient form of employment (labour vs rewards wise).

It would seem that people will sell whatever they have to get by. Teachers sell knowledge and female university students (a minority I’m told) sell sex. Apparently, as classes end on Thursdays, many can be seen flocking to the domestic airport in Lagos for flights to Abuja – the Federal Capital – for the pleasure of the legislators and other wealthy elite.

Nigerians are not lazy people as a general rule, sure they love life and a party, but also have a good work ethic. Nigeria, despite regional differences, has produced world class scientists, educators, artists. Its farmers used to feed the nation and its crops used to account for the bulk of its GNP.
Used to‘ is the operative phrase. That is, before the oil and the greed for its revenue.

Oil has literally polluted Nigeria. It has turned its protectors into victimisers and permitted the devastation of lives and livelihoods. It gave birth to a new type of corruption and opulence that marks Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Corruption is not cultural (contrary to what the Customs officer at the airport might say!), its a scourge borne from the rape of the country’s abundant natural resources, the divisive and unbalanced distribution of State spending and the rabid ethnicality of its politics. Endemic underinvestment in basic social infrastructure – electricity, water, housing, communications, education etc., has resulted in a country plagued by electricity rationing, undrinkable public water and other basic failings. Yet every single day, from oil alone, Nigeria earns $12 million. From this it cannot provide the basic medication to its people, nor clean drinkable water, nor educate its youth.

All this has made investors (especially foreign ones) eager to come into Nigeria – if Nigeria won’t build its infrastructure, it can privatise its industries and turn its obligations over to foreign corporations without the responsibility (or accountability) to the people. They know it has the wealth (for now anyway) to finance such projects. The international shame that it cannot fulfill its social obligations despite its wealth , coupled with a need to stand up to its perceived regional and international importance is compelling the current Nigerian administration to try and meet its responsibilities. They are trying to fight corruption – a key obstacle to attracting respectable international investment. As well as trying to tackle counterfeiting – another key threat to the influx of consumer goods, medication and other products. Even bottled water is counterfeited!

The problems of Nigeria are too numerous and complex for a humble blog like this to tackle, sufficed to say, the government is of the people and shit sticks.

This article is concerned with the continuing exodus and attempted exodus of Nigeria’s human resources. Whilst it may be understandable that many head (through various channels) to the ‘west’ – Europe, the UK and the US, others still head for apparently less hospitable places (than Nigeria). Recently the Saudi Arabian Haag authorities threatened to reduce the number of pilgrims from Nigeria for this year, by the number of those from last year who did not return from Saudi Arabia – almost 27,000. These people left a secular country in West Africa (much cooler and more African) to a wahabist Islamic nation in North Africa (very hot, and full of Arabic people with less regard for Africans, oh and they cut off limbs for stealing.)

Those who still care for Nigeria and hope it will find its way to it fill its potential must ask themselves why Nigerians, particularly the youth, are queuing up to leave. Perhaps when this question is asked and answered, something can be done to address it.

Crimes against Humanity vs Genocide

By the time you finish reading this, perhaps a child would be dead in Darfur or a woman would be raped by the Janjaweed, certainly a climate of fear and insecurity would still persist. So please read quickly.

Those looking in from the outside can see little difference between genocide and crimes against humanity, but the difference is literally between life and continued death.

Sparing you the longwinded academic definitions, these crimes include mass killings, rape and other actions that threaten the survival of a group of people. Genocide covers this same range of crimes but is definitively limited to four groups – national, ethnical, racial or religious group. It also is particularly qualified by the element of ‘intent’. This means that the perpetrators of genocide must have ‘intent’ to commit these acts for them to be genocide. Presumably if the Nazis annihilation of the Jews and other ‘undesirables’ could have been passed off as a mass accident, then it would not be genocide. Although ‘intent’ can be inferred from the persistent patterns of the crimes, it still remains the most tenuous to prove.

Far more significant a difference is the obligation to act. Crimes against humanity engender debate and chastisement – but no obligation to bring it to an end. Genocide is different, nations are under obligation to act to stop it. That means they must do what needs to be done – individually and/or collectively to stop it. Stopping genocide requires intervention.

But intervention costs money. It takes organisation and resources. It costs money and requires solid political will to commit troops, weapons and resources to face down another sovereign power (usually) – regardless of the severity of their abuse. It often requires international cooperation and the setting aside of national interests. It needs to be entirely altruistic and truly for the good of humanity.

The UN Report into the human rights situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, after a detailed investigation into the documented atrocities stopped short of describing the Darfur abuses as genocide.

A UN team, headed by a notable war crimes veteran judge, saw the scale of the internal displacement due to the conflict, heard reports from the Darfur people, NGOs and humanitarian agencies. It was the most comprehensive international investigation into the abuses. Yet they determined that although so many had been killed and millions had been displaced, there was no intent on the part of the Sudanese government to destroy the Darfur.

So, the abuses in Darfur are not genocide but ‘mere’ crimes against humanity. No one is required to act to stop it. The Janjaweed commanders may face ICC charges in the future, but who will bring them to justice, under what mandate?

The dead are still dead, the dying not far behind them. To those displaced women and children, the broken men and the shattered lives of Darfur, these academic differences are no consolation whatsoever.