Sunday, 27 February 2011

What's Wrong With This Picture?

This the Economist's scale of protest probability in 'The Arab World'; who's in and who's out? Why?
...And note that this index is based on political factors, but hungry people are also angry people. It'd be interesting to see what the probabilities of Qatar and U.A.E's low-paid laborers catching protest fever and staging a mass strike.

Is A Protest In Djibouti A Protest In The Arab World?

This is a map of most of the countries that belong to The Arab World, and while I don't think The Arab World can be defined by physical borders and states, the concept of The Arab World as a geopolitical space is still a useful one because of the links between the histories, economies and politics of these countries and it is also a definitive way of marking Arab presence in the world. Furthermore in an age where the single state empires are on the decline, a free and united Arab World could give a few crucial kicks to a dying juggernaut: U.S imperialism. 
Of the Arab countries in Africa that are revolting or have revolted against oppressive regimes, are: Algeria, Djibouti*, Libya,  Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia excluding Somalia, Western Sahara and Chad. The protests in most of the revolting countries have received media coverage, but the protests in Djibouti and Sudan, to some extent, have not been represented as protests in the Arab World and yet the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have been heralded as the revival of a pan-Arab consciousness. While I don't dispute the claims of a pan-Arab revivalism and a new Arab century to be true and I sincerely hope that the solidarity of oppressed peoples of this region becomes permanently ingrained in the Arab psyche, there are certain exclusions and hierarchies that have to be addressed for the concept of pan-Arabism to be really meaningful and truly revived. For starters, showing some solidarity with protesters in Djibouti who like Bahrain is home to a U.S military base. (The only U.S military base in Africa.) The President of Djibouti like the royals of Bahrain are U.S stooges whose oppression of their people is overlooked because these leaders do the bidding of the U.S by hosting its military operations in their countries. Just as the Bahrainis are demanding political reform and that the presiding monarch steps down, Djiboutians are demanding that Ismail Omar Gulleh be removed from his seat in power and tear up his proposed constitution that would allow him to stand for elections for two more six year terms. 
However unlike Bahrain, but like Sudan, Somalia and Chad, Djibouti does not register on the radars of popular political discourses of the Arab World. When was the last time that a mainstream political analyst or well-known Arab activist commenting on The Arab World and the revolution effect mentioned Djibouti in the same breath as Morocco or Algeria or Egypt?
That's right, never. 
Controversial as it is to ask this, it has to be asked: is 'The Arab World Revolution' a racialized term, if 'the Arab revolutionary' is mainly represented by one type of people from specific countries -yet a. Arabs are a racial and culturally diverse people and b. The Arab World is composed of nations of diverse ethnicities (e.g Somalis, Berbers, Nubians)? Is the discourse of the Arab World Revolutions being framed by the media, in terms of geo-political relevance to Palestine and European interests - as this is largely where the definition of the Middle East originates? 
Although it is true, that despite the tragic deaths, the uprisings across the Arab World are a shiny, happy, power to the people moment; it is only a shiny happy revolution moment that refers to some, not all revolting Arabs. Like some exclusive world for the resource-rich (Libya), politically powerful (Egypt) and strategically located (Yemen), the idea of 'Arab World Revolutions' has the danger of re-affirming old hierarchies and exclusions if the term continues to be applied to some regions and not others. This unintentional selectivism / blindspot has to be challenged and reconstructed, within the media and the global public, so that when people talk of Arab World Revolution it includes all member states of the Arab World.

Djibouti may be an East African country with much stronger ties to the African countries on The Horn than Egypt or Palestine, but it is no less a part of The Arab World Revolutions. The brown and black-skinned peoples of Djibouti, as elsewhere are both African and (Yemeni) Arab, so why do serious political commentators either; ignore Djibouti or those that do, speak of the protests in Djibouti in singular terms - the same way Libya is reported as an Arab Uprising, Djibouti is an African Uprising. And yet both are Arab and African states. 
By speaking of them in their singular identities the two seem unconnected and yet through a pan-Arab (and pan-African) lens, there are far more political and cultural commonalities between the situations of these countries than there are differences.

*I recognize that Djiboutians by ethnicity are predominantly Somali, Afar and Asdoimara and most average people probably recognize themselves as part of The Horn than the Arab World, but my point is that the country has formal recognition as a part of the Arab World and a member of the Arab League. In times of distress, Djibouti has often turned to the Arab League for assistance (and the African Union). Why then is it a blindspot when people speak of Arab World Revolutions and why are people not moved to comment in the same way they do about the US naval base in Bahrain and the $1.5 billion in military aid that goes to Egypt every year from the U.S.? Djibouti is America's only base in Africa, how can thousands of protesters demanding regime change not raise the eyebrows of those who talk about 'changing' Arab World - U.S relations???
IMO, this is what happens when looking at this from a purely MENA countries perspective, some widening of gaze is needed to understand how deeply connected all these things are.

FYI: Wikileaks Cable on Blackwater in Djibouti (this story's been missed by mainstream media since Nov 2010 when the cable was released.)

Friday, 25 February 2011

African Bloggers Statement on David Kato and Uganda

We the undersigned wish to express our deep sadness at the murder of Ugandan human rights defender David Kato on 26th January 2011.  David’s activism  began in the 1980s as an Anti-Apartheid campaigner where he first expressed a strong passion and conviction for freedom and justice which continued throughout his life.   David was a founding member of Sexual Minorities Uganda where he first served as Board member and until his death as Litigation and Advocacy Officer and he was also a  member of Integrity Uganda, a faith-based advocacy organization.
David was a man of vision and courage. One of his major concerns was the growth of religious fundamentalism in Uganda and across the continent and how this would impact on the rights of ordinary citizens including lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered / Gender Non-Comforming and Intersex  [LGBTIQ] persons.   Years later his concerns were justified when the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill backed by religious fundamentalists was outlined in 2009.  David was also an extremely brave man who had been imprisoned and beaten severely because of his sexual orientation and for speaking publicly against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Many African political and religious leaders in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Gambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana, have publicly maligned LGBTIQ people and in some cases directly incited violence against them whilst labeling sexual minorities as “unAfrican”.
In October 2010, the Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone published the names and photographs of “100 Top homos” including David Kato.   David along with two other LGBTIQ activists successfully sued the magazine on the grounds of “invasion of privacy” and most importantly,  the  judge ruled that the publication would threaten and endanger the lives of LGBTIQ persons.
The court did not only rule that the publication would threaten and endanger the lives of LGBTIQ persons but it issued a permanent injunction against Rolling Stone newspaper never to publish photos of gays in Uganda, and also never to again publish their home addresses.
Justice Kibuuka Musoke ruled that,
“Gays are also entitled to their rights. This court has found that there was infringement of some people’s confidential rights. The court hereby issues an injunction restraining Rolling Stone newspaper from future publishing of identifications of homosexuals.”
Every human being is protected under the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights and this includes the rights of LGBTIQ persons.   We ask the governments of Uganda and other African countries to stop criminalizing people on the grounds of sexual orientation  and afford LGBTIQ people the same protections, freedoms and dignity, as other citizens on the continent.”

Anengiyefa Alagoa,  Things I Feel Strongly About
Anthony Hebblethwaite,  African Activist
Barbra Jolie, Me I Think
Bunmi Oloruntoba, A Bombastic Element
Chris Ogunlowo, Aloofaa
Eccentric Yoruba,  Eccentric Yoruba
Exiled Soul,  ExiledSoul
Francisca Bagulho and Marta Lança,  Buala
Funmilayo Akinosi, Finding My Path
Funmi Feyide, Nigerian Curiosity
Gay Uganda, Gay Uganda
Glenna Gordon, Scarlett Lion
Godwyns Onwuchekwa, My Person
Jeremy Weate, Naija Blog
Kayode Ogundamisi. Canary Bird
Kadija Patel, Thoughtleader
Keguro Macharia, Gukira
Kenne Mwikya,  Kenne’s Blog
Kinsi Abdullah, Kudu Arts
Laura Seay,  Texas in Africa
Llanor Alleyne, Llanor Alleyne
Mark Jordahl,  Wild Thoughts from Uganda
Matt Temple, Matsuli Music
Mia Nikasimo, MiaScript
Minna Salami, MsAfropolitan
Mshairi,   Mshairi
Ndesanjo Macha, Global Voices
Nyokabi Musila,  Sci-Cultura.
Nzesylva, Nzesylva’s Blog
Olumide Abimbola, Loomnie
Ory Okolloh, Kenyan Pundit
Pamela Braide,   pdbraide
Rethabile Masilo, Poefrika
Saratu Abiola, Method to Madness
Sean Jacobs, Africa is a Country
Sokari Ekine, Black Looks
Sonja Uwimana, Africa is a Country
Spectre Speaks, Spectre Speaks
TMS Ruge, Project Diaspora
Toyin Ajao, StandTall
Tosin Otitoju, Lifelib
Val Kalende, Val Kalende
Zackie Achmat,  Writing Rights

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Thank You

I'd like to thank everyone who's posted a comment, tweeted (@konwomyn) at me and RT'd or linked to my open letter. I'm glad most of you feel the same way I do about this issue. I'm tied up at the moment, but I'll be updating my blog over the weekend. Please keep posting your comments on my blog and I'll respond in due time.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

About Those 'African Mercenaries', An Open Letter to Al Jazeera From Africa

Dear .......... (Insert name of media organisation and modify letter as you wish)

Dear Al Jazeera

I have decided to write this letter to you as you've been the channel I watch the most for informative coverage on events in the Middle East and North Africa. In many ways your coverage has been amazing and I sincerely applaud the unbelievably brave efforts of your journalists who had to work under very difficult conditions to cover events in North Africa. However I now write to you with concern at international media's coverage of events in Libya, particularly concerning 'African mercenaries'. I honestly don't have a problem with the term 'African mercenaries' because this is how Libyans probably refer to Black non-Libyans, but what bothers me is the way some of your tv anchors and field journalists continue to push this meme on air. For example on Sunday the anchor on Al Jazeera English, David (I didn't get his last name, he was an older man with an English accent hosting the news around 6 p.m GMT) said 'mercenaries are coming from Africa' ...but Libya is in Africa. As correction perhaps, the Al Jazeera website had an excellent Features article, 'In Search of an African Revolution' the very next day on Monday (21 Feb) addressing this very issue.

And yet your other journalists continue to refer to 'Black African mercenaries coming from Africa' (as with the 1p.m broadcast at the Egypt/Lybia border on 22 Feb with the courageous and brilliant Jamaal Elyshayyal) yet some of those mercenaries are also reportedly Arab and European. (RE: David Smith's column in Guardian UK) Understandably this may have been an unintentional oversight on the part of the news network as this is what Libyans on the ground are reporting, but I think continually pushing a singular narrative about a more complex story has the danger of reinforcing an African and Arab narrative that has an uncomfortable racial connotation to it. I am not accusing Al Jazeera of having a racial bias, far from it. I just feel its important for the network to be sensitive to how this issue plays out to an international audience of both Black Africans and Arabs when the full story is untold. 

Elsewhere, other Al Jazeera and international journalists who although tweeting in their personal capacity, tweet the news and again they repeat this 'mercenaries are coming from Africa' line. One has to wonder whether we're looking at the same map when we speak of Africa or is this some journo code-speak ordinary people are not privy to?

As reports are emerging, it seems to be that the 'mercenaries from Africa' are most likely from Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Tunisia and Guinea as well as South Africa and parts of Europe. So they are White, Arab, European and Black, not all Black Africans. They may not be from the Congo, maybe not from Somalia but almost certainly not Zimbabwe as some wild speculations claimed. Yes, there was no plane full of soldiers dispatched from Harare to Tripoli at 1 a.m (!) on Sunday morning - any well-educated Zimbabwean could have told these international journalists tweeting in their personal capacity that this 'witness account', as dubbed by Al Jazeera, was untrue. Of course AJE is only the messenger so you can't be blamed for what you can't verify and I don't blame you. But since this is an open letter I may as well post some info for other inquiring minds who'll stumble on my blog. For starters soldiers are not mercenaries, our history of mercenaries is mainly from the apartheid era, Mozambique's civil war and the Angolan war when White South Africans and White Zimbabweans (some of them were former Rhodesian soldiers) would use Zimbabwe as temporary base but they did not operate in Zimbabwe. Secondly today in Zimbabwe we have thugs (don't often use guns but often beat and rape) not mercenaries (skilled hit-men like Simon Mann (Equatorial Guinea plot)) that are busy with their own electoral campaign of violence, thirdly Zimbabwe's thugs* have no knowledge of Libyan terrain and finally Zimbabwe doesn't speak French. Sadly no amount of @'ing international journos on twitter could kill this rumor. But as untruths die in time, I sincerely hope that this untruth will die sooner rather than later. (see Smith's column)

Anyway about these mercenaries and Al Jazeera's role in coverage. As there have been suggestions that it is likely the 'African mercenaries' are from the above-mentioned African countries, I'd like to know why an investigative journalist couldn't be dispatched to these countries to find out how the mercenaries work - surely Chad, Tunisia and Niger are not as hostile to international journalists as Mummar Gadaffi's Libya. If not, could a Chadian Ambassador or Activist could be invited to Al Jazeera studios to share their view? How can the story of mercenaries be reported to the exclusion of Chad, yet Chad is the French and Arabic speaking nation where some of these hitmen are allegedly coming from?

It bears repeating that Chad is an Arab African nation. It is Libya's neighbor. As your coverage is mainly centered on the 'Arab World' its tempting to think that Chad is perhaps not Arab enough that it should be spoken of and not spoken to in news reports and analyses. I appreciate that this is a fast-developing story and there are many angles to cover, but the impact of events in Libya on security and political relations between these two countries cannot be so insignificant that it's not worthy of mention, can it? At the very least one would think, Idriss Deby must be having sleepless nights while the Arabs next door are revolting. He could very well be the next Arab dictator to go. Does the Chadian government not have an opinion on the fact that the Brotherly Leader, King of Kings of Africa is said to be using Sub-Saharan Arab Africans and Africans to kill North African Arabs? Oops I'm sorry, I meant Chadian gunmen are allegedly crossing the border to help murder protesting Libyans? And Niger? Is it too poor to mention? 0.12% of the people speak Arabic if that helps.

UNHCR is becoming increasingly concerned at the displacement and violence experienced by foreigners living in Libya, including the other one million plus legal and illegal migrants from different parts of Africa other than Egypt. In the interests of humanity, its only fair and right that Al Jazeera to report on the fate of these people as well as they have reported Egyptian, Turkish and Italian migrants returning from Libya. 

This isn't just an Arab story, its an African story and it's a World story too. It must be told as such, with its multi-layered, complex, tragic and heartwarming narratives including the all too-often forgotten voices of poor migrants and refugees of all hues, tongues, nationalities and faiths. 

Al Jazeera's code of ethics states that the organisation aims to: 

1. Adhere to the journalistic values of honesty, courage, fairness, balance, independence, credibility and diversity, giving no priority to commercial or political over professional consideration.
2. Endeavour to get to the truth and declare it in our dispatches, programmes and news bulletins unequivocally in a manner which leaves no doubt about its validity and accuracy.

To me, this suggests that Al Jazeera strives to be impartial, give a voice to the voiceless and empower people to hold their governments and institutions to account. As the media organisation is becoming a leading player in international affairs, Al Jazeera has the chance to re-shape political and social discourses of our time, it has the potential to shift the centers of power from the traditionally empowered to the historically marginalized. Given that Al Jazeera wields this potential influence to enable a plurality of voices to speak, as a viewer, I don't understand why the Libyan Uprising being covered from a largely singular perspective. I feel that the story is still told from a West v Middle East perspective. Granted it is thankfully being told from the Middle Eastern side, but the speakers still remain the same. You promise to uphold 'fairness, balance' so it's fair to ask, when will other voices be invited to speak on this matter? Here's a suggestion, just for a day, in between field reports, you could have ongoing satellite conversations with diplomats from the UN, AU and Arab League battling it out with Libyan activists and bloggers who want to know where the real help is for Libya is, rather than going through a never-ending list of London and Washington's political and financial experts. I think that would be an 'unequivocal' display of 'fair and balanced' ethics, non?

If the Arab League, the EU and United Nations are being interrogated for their role in stopping the carnage in Libya, then the AU should be in the spotlight too. Its shameful that they have been silent on this issue and yet they, under Article 4 of the Constitutive Act, have a humanitarian responsibility to intervene in the affairs of a member state of the African Union when a crime against humanity is committed. Its funny but sad and infuriating that Al Jazeera spends more time discussing what the Arab League must, can or will do yet it can only issue condemnations and suspensions of Libya. None of these things will stop the carnage. The African Union has a peace keeping force that could help Lybia, that is why John Kerry of the Obama administration suggested this tonight (at about 7 p.m GMT 22 Feb), but the Al Jazeera anchor and Libyan analyst in the studio glossed over this and went back to discussing the Arab League and UN.
The news broadcast then switched to gathering views from around the world and South America, North America and Europe all had opinions. Nothing from Africa. Nothing from Asia. I laughed out loud, but inside I died a little and it hurt a bit. Is the Africa beneath the Sahara that irrelevant? Have African leaders, diplomats and UN representatives not been asked? Perhaps your Africa news desk is aware that the African Heads of Missions (AU) might be meeting in South Africa today. If its taking place it would be great if one of your correspondents in S.A could ask senior AU figures about the possibility of sending Lybia some of the peacekeeping troops that are partly funded by Gadaffi. As an African member-state, this is Libya's security investment so the AU should be pressured to get in there and save Libyans from the terror of this mad man and his sons. Please don't let the AU escape from responsibility because it doesn't fit the 'Arab World Revolutions' narrative. Right now Libyan lives matter more than pondering about 'new pan-Arab uprisings' and decoding Hillary Clinton and William Hague's diplo-speak.

I honestly don't mean to offend, but I'm a frustrated viewer who enjoys Al Jazeera's coverage and believes that the network has the ability to be the champion of the people. All people. As an African I was raised to see to the Continent as a whole with all its differences, contradictions and multiple identities, not to the exclusion of others. We are all Africans. The countries below the (sometimes imaginary) Saharan line may be the North's poorer half, but we matter too. In solidarity, the Lybian, Egyptian and Tunisian struggles are mine too as a young-ish person who lives under an oppressive regime. Including the Sub-Saharan Africans in this conversation would only further the North Africans cause as both the AU like the Arab League is a mixed club of despots and liberals all of whom have a case to answer to oppressed peoples on the whole Continent.

You can see a slightly longer version of this letter posted on my blog. A number of people have read it, shared it on twitter and some people, North Africans included, have commented on the post. I have also shared it on Twitter and have gotten a positive response thus far. I hope that despite, my cheekiness you will address my concerns. You may perhaps take comfort in knowing that I'm not singling out Al Jazeera, it's an across the board progressive media non-engagement with Africa as a whole and I will be writing open letters to the few revolutionary-inclined print media organisations that I've relied on for coverage as well.

I look forward to receiving a response from you regarding the concerns I have raised.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Yours Sincerely

A. Viewer
*'Zimbabwe's thugs' is not to imply that I am covering or defending for their brutality but a clumsy way of saying that their violence has been unleashed out on innocent, often defenceless people within the borders of Zimbabwe.
** This is the modified (supposedly better) version of a letter that I have now sent to AJE.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

ConDemtion Song

This is a siiick remake of Bob Marley's Redemption Song by Adynkrah, an upcoming artist worth looking out for. As social critique, this song song provides a fresh satirical take on the policies and behaviour of UK politicians. From Tony Blair's lies, the MP's expenses scandal (ref. to watching pornography DVDs ), government cuts, Nick Clegg's broken pledge that in part, sparked off the student protests of last November, Adynkrah gets it all in.
I hope that this song will make it onto to the protest soundtrack of #demo2011, so when this song goes viral or this lying government falls :), remember where you heard it first.

In DOPE Music WE Trust

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

All Africa: Egypt, Tunisia & Gabon

All of this is Africa, and all the people born here are from Africa

By the time I'm done with this blog post I hope it doesn't read as a jumbled rant but I'm raging about so many issues all at the same time. First off I just want to say the media's full of sh!t. I don't swear often but this time I feel like it and I meant it. They're all full of sh!t. Even my beloved Al Jazeera and The Guardian. Why? Because they suck. There have been protests going on in Gabon since the 29th of January and up till now they've not picked up on the story, they've been busy with Middle East and North Africa coverage that the demonstrations in a small West Central African nation aren't worthy of media attention.

Julie Owono of Global Voices reports that this is the result of a long running dispute over the 2009 elections that Ali Bongo (son of Omar Bongo) is said to have won. Gabon's opposition leaders along with former presidential hopeful Andre Mba Obame then formed a breakaway government on January 26 and Mba Obame swore himself in as President of Gabon. Ministers were appointed to Mba Obame's cabinet, even though its unclear how the Minister of Foreign Affairs would take up the position as he is currently resident in France. Supporters of Mba Obame in the capital, Libreville marched to the UN offices and demanded that the UN recognize him as President. It has since emerged that the base of the unofficial government is in the the UNDP offices. On January 29, thousands of supporters marched in the streets of Libreville, but were violently crushed by the army. Fast forward to 10 February, students at the University of Omar Bongo added their voices to the dissent but for different reasons. Owono writes that:
"According to website La Voix du Peuple Gabonais (Voice of the Gabonese People LVDPG) [fr], an online newspaper managed by Gabonese living abroad, students were demonstrating [fr] because they have not received their 100 Euros (66,000 Central African Francs) monthly scholarship money since July 2010." 
The student grievances are also about the poor conditions at the university, police brutality against student demonstrators and they demand the 'reinstatement of three professors' who are aligned with the opposition. There's a protest scheduled for the 21st of February calling for Ali Bongo's departure (Ali Bongo Degage) and although SMS-es have been sent out to people, the authorities have in the past done a good job of ensuring the message does not spread across the country so there is a possibility that this march could be crushed too (as were those on 5 & 8 February). 

But all this political drama in less than a month and not one headline from a major news outlet? Would it help if it was known that during all this unrest, on 9 February, Nicolas Sarkozy sent birthday wishes to Ali Bongo? Or that one of the chants is 'Ben Ali Gone, Ali Ben Degage' making the clear connection to Tunisia? Isn't this also one of those social media uprisings and domino-effect revolutions that are oh-so trendy right now? The Gabonese have used Facebook, SMS, YouTube and Twitter just like the Egyptians, Algerians, Libyans and Bahrainis. So why have they been ignored? An unofficial government housing itself in a UNDP building is pretty significant one would think. Does Ban Ki Moon not give a hoot that the UN's premises are being occupied by potential revolutionaries? Even his standard 'we strongly condemn violence blah blah respect human rights blah blah blah' is needed, just say something! African Union, same ting! Maybe Gabon needs self-immolating martyrs so they can go mainstream and Anderson Cooper can be sent in to do coverage in the 'heart of Africa.' Or maybe Sarkozy should explain that when he says France supports Gabon in his birthday message to Bongo he actually means he'll send teargas and live ammunition, in the tradition of what Chirac and Mitterand used to do for daddy Bongo - that would get tongues wagging, wouldn't it? Or even better, a few people can burn themselves and the Muslim minority in Gabon can invent ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt then Al Jazeera will come running. Good, no?

Sadly this lack of attention isn't only from leading Western or Arab media, but leading African newspapers as well like South Africa's Mail and Guardian. Their coverage on South Africa is pretty good, but being the frustrated critical reader that I am living in this digital era of information-obesity where stories break by the minute, I find the Africa coverage very disappointing and even moreso when compared to other mainstream global media. If it's not a story on Kenya, the Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Cote d'Ivoire or Zimbabwe it doesn't get coverage until AP (Associated Press), Reuters or the Guardian UK does a story on it. And if they don't copy n paste from AP and Reuters it probably won't get covered. I'm not surprised they've not covered it, but I'm irritated that they've missed out on an important story. Yet again. (Yes, their coverage of Wikileaks Africa cables hasn't been great. Its slanted towards Assange, the moral ethics of Wikileaks and the big stories, but very little analysis (!!!) or reportage on the Africa cables outside of the big gossip and corruption stories from the usual countries, yet Morocco, Djibouti, Mauritius, Madagascar and Diego Garcia were pretty important cables that got missed.)

But back to the subject of the role of new social media in protest. Yesterday at the New Statesman Laurie Penny wrote this: 
"The instant dissemination of camera and video footage and reportage from citizen journalists means that the truth can travel around the world before government propaganda gets its boots on."
To which I responded:
"But what happens when that truth gets ignored by mainstream media? Oppressive regimes will continue to oppress people so inasmuch as it's great that social media helps communicate a message if the influential people aren't listening then what? Can we really speak of 'social media revolutions' and even speedy dissemination of truth when it took over a month before mainstream media picked up on Tunisia? There have been anti-government protests in Gabon since 26 January, influenced in part by events in Tunisia, but there's been NO Anglophone media coverage, apart from Global Voices and the Daily Maverick (S.A). As with Tunisia, it's alternative outlets that have been leading on this story esp Global Voices, while the rest of mainstream media are still looking for different angles to reproduce the headline stories. If anything, the more popular something is the more coverage it gets and calling things 'social media revolution' is much nicer and more palatable for the masses than things like brutality, poverty and unemployment, so the truth of oppression spread through social media becomes masked again."
I don't know if Laurie Penny saw my post and even if she did, then what? Will she actually write about Gabon or more likely pass it onto on of her colleagues at the New Statesman more knowledgeable in African affairs? Yea, keep hope alive. Maybe the Guardian will keep their promise to follow up on my comment today about lack of Gabon coverage, but if they did it won't make them any less sh!t. They were late.
And despite the brilliance of my beloved Guardian and Al Jazeera, they've also been a bit disappointing because their analysts have had little to say about the very real impact of Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia and Algeria on Africa. The Arab uprisings have been looked at mainly from a pan-Arab and Arab-West perspective and yet these events have had a global impact. Citizen-State power relations aren't just shifting in these two spheres but on the Afrian Continent as a whole and in many other parts of the world too. Alongside the Graun & Al J, I've also watched and read the BBC, The Atlantic and NY Times and they all do the same thing. I'm not sure why this recent series of events has only been seen from a Arab-Middle East lens and not through a Arab-Africa lens as well. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan and Algeria are all Arab nations in Africa. But expert upon expert writing or talking to the media has looked at this from a Middle Eastern/North Africa/Arab perspective as though these protests would have no effect on the land below the Sahara. Or as though North African / Arab Africa, doesn't mean African or Africa (see map above). Pity the poor writers across the Continent who've enthusiastically written about this from an African perspective and pity the Gabonese who've found inspiration from 'the Arab World' but whose voices aren't being heard. Even more frightening though, is the five men who've been abducted in Zimbabwe for celebrating Mubarak's downfall, Zimbabwean state tv censorship of Egypt news and in Malawi, protesters against the recent fuel price hike were detained for several hours by the police because their demonstration was illegal and Bingu Mutharika warned Malawians not to copy Cairo. (But they're not listening) Mutharika, Mugabe, Mubarak, Gadaffi, Bongo were/are all strong men in Africa. Too bad everyone's busy reporting this as 'the Arab revolution' to also notice its many faces. The ripple effect of a rock thrown in a pool of fury doesn't flow one way, but in concentric patterns so that even those on the southern most tip of the continent will feel what is happening on its most northern tip. 

much thanks to Julie Owono, Ethan Zuckerman and many other silent bloggers for caring enough to write about this.

UPDATE: GABON: A 38 year old woman, mother of two and anti-Bongo protestor, Marie Mendome has died as a result of injuries from a police beating. She died on Sunday but the story's only started circulating in my spheres, today. Read about it here. How many more deaths will it take before this story gets a headline?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

California on Egypt

While the Pew Research Centre has produced some very interesting research* to dispel the myth that Americans are not as ignorant as the rest of the world sometimes thinks they are,  some young people Cali are simply clueless. 
This is Kaseem G on the streets of Cali. 
* Pew Reasearch shows that +-32% of the public said that they kept up with news about the situation in Egypt and the Egyptian Revolution made up 56% of media coverage last week. This is said to be one of the 'highest levels of coverage for any story since PEJ started its weekly analysis four years ago -- and the highest for a foreign news story'. Kind of surprising given that America's fighting two wars and has military and humanitarian interests in so many countries around the world.

Friday, 4 February 2011

postcard from helmand...

Helmand province, Afghanistan: A camel train
fotocredit: Kevin Frayer

'Africans Will Always Be Africans'

Tahrir Square, Cairo
copyright Marc
jacked from Sultan Al Qaseemi

The conversations below are from three Zimbabweans that I spoke to recently trying to get some idea of how Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe see the current events in Egypt. All of these people are not politically inclined so they in no way represent the political perspective in Zimbabwe. While many Zimbabweans have been inspired by what they've seen in Egypt and Tunisia - they've blogged, talked and tweeted about it, but it's largely an impassioned hand-wringing affair, as usual. Some people want freedom but they don't know how to or are too scared to fight for it. Then there's a certain sector of the middle class, the ones who are comfortable in Zimbabwe right now, they are not on the frontlines of any political party and have largely made their money the legal way. These are the people I spoke to. At the time I didn't intend to record our conversations on this blog, I just wanted to know how people felt about Egypt in relation to Zimbabwe. All of these people are personally known to me and are of different ages as indicated by one of the names and the language used. Parts of the conversations have been re-created or paraphrased. While I don't intend to suggest that this is representative of the whole of the non-political middle class, I think this gives some insight into political indifference that has been produced by and has sustained Zanu majority rule. 

Me: So Mama have you been watching the news and seeing what's happening in Egypt. 
Mama: 'Ahh K' she says in a piteous voice, 'African will always be Africans hai wa wa wa [a lamentation] everywhere in Africa we will always fight one another.' 
Me: But Mama, they're not fighting, they're protesting for what they believe in and they're being killed.
Mama: Was Egypt not peaceful before? Why can't they do it peacefully?
Me: How can they be peaceful when they are being attacked? Don't you remember we have been through the same thing in Zimbabwe?
Mama: Yes I know. I have watched the news about Egypt, but why is the government being so violent? Now Tsvangirai wants to scare people saying Zimbabwe will be the next Egypt.
Me: [laughing] Maybe Tsvangirai's right.
Mama: [laughing] Tsvangirai is a man of threats and fear, when it was Kenya he was saying the same thing, when it was Sudan's separation he said the same thing. Now we will be Egypt.
Me: We all know Tsvangirai has his problems, he talks but doesn't seem to understand the situations in Kenya, Sudan and Egypt are all very different. 
Mama: Yes but they have violence in common, we Zimbabweans don't want violence. We just want to wake up on voting day, drive to cast our votes and come back to our homes and have our food. All these other things about Mugabe and Zanu, let them talk amongst themselves.
Me: But we have violence in Zimbabwe. Every election kune violence, it's even started now.
Mama: Yes, but it's not the same as the war. People really died.
Me: Even now, people are really dying.
Mama: But most of us are not. Zimbabwe's okay now.
Me: Hamuna magetsi [you have no electricity]
Mama: Ehe, that's British talk now.
Me: [laugh] We'll see what happens, change will come.
Mama: Isusu [Us] we are happy, shops are full and the rains were good. 
Me: But life is not cheap. Not everyone is happy. 
Mama: This is our country, as long as it's peaceful we are happy.

jacked from google y'know how we do

Online Friend: I struggle to see an uprising in Zimbabwe similar to the one seen in Egypt recently. People just want to get on with their lives
Me: Do you really think so? Maybe it's possible.
Friend: Sitting where I'm sitting right now, in Zim, I doubt it. People just want to improve their lives, save and plan for Easter and all that.
Me: True. But what happens when election violence starts again. Are we going to be eternally intimidated by war vets and Zanu youth?
Friend: Mind you, the violence is not country wide and people have been through their darkest hour and have realised that they want to move forward.
Me: Just because its not everywhere that doesn't mean we should accept to live in a society where that happens. In the last three months I've come to the realisation that I really cannot be worried about a decent salary in Zim, and ignore the abuses in Chiadzwa. [diamond fields]
Friend: It's interesting, but what I've realised since moving home is its important for reporters and such to talk to 'common people' to see what they want.
Me:  I don't care about reporters, I care about problems we have in Zim. People don't want violence but doesn't mean people don't want change.
Friend: You misunderstood what I'm saying.The 'real story' isn't told.The majority of regular normal people aren't interested in rebellion. What I'm simply saying, is the news will focus on what happened in Mbare whereas that incident is only limited to that one area.
Me: Ok that 's fine I agree with you 100% but I still say this isn't about reporters, its about us Zimbos, is there a will to change things? I don't mean the Tunisian way but I'd just love to see a mass number of people protesting government to improve health, education and jobs. I think our government wld be forced to do something about it but we don't even have the right to protest or make such demands peacefully. : (
Friend: Now that I'm home I see things differently, I will have to express in more detail what I see and experience here.
Me: Ok I look forward to hearing from you.

Me: Have you been watching the news? Have you seen Egypt?
Friend: What the Egyptian crisis?
Me: Yea, what you think?
Friend: I don't know, it's heavy, yo.
Me: Yo, Sis it's like revolution!
Friend: [line crackling] Like what?
Me: Like revolution, like people power.
Friend: Oh yea, power to the people!
Me: You think it's gonna happen in Zim?
Friend: [laughs] We comfortable here. 
Me: But so many things wrong wit' Zim.
Friend: Yea but we aint taking to the streets, we good here.
Me: Yea but somebody's gonna have to fight the government one day.
Friend: Yea one day, someone will.

*Kanye Moment *
Granted that some of the comments above may have been made as flippant remarks, but they're indicative of how deeply entrenched apathy is in Zimbabwean society particularly among the educated middle class. The abuses of power and failures of our public services don't really seem to bother many because they are comfortable, yet this is the group of people who, with their well-placed contacts and economic influence, could collectively lobby the government to do better for it's people. Indifference to our own condition of oppression and that of our fellow Zimbabweans is, partly what has emboldened the perpetrators of violence. If the affluent classes were to rise up against some of the injustices in Zimbabwe, would the youth militia and war vets be so quick to invade places of business in the name of Chimurenga and indigenization? Would the police be so pathetic in their response to these perpetrations and other crimes? If this sector of the middle class were to throw its weight behind civil society groups, could they be a more effective rights lobbying group? On a different note, our selective indifference is also very telling of the kind of the disgraceful (read: subliminal self-hate) attitude we sometimes have towards our own people. How is it that our righteous outrage towards the bombings of Gaza, war in Somalia or Blush and Blair's Iraq war is maintained at an all-time high, but we become defensive or blind to the aggression of our own state in periods when the election violence ( 2000, 2005 &  2008) has died down? Just as the people of Gaza, Somalia and Iraq will always deserve their freedom and dignity, so do our neighbours, villagers and activists. They always deserve a high place in our memories because they are our people. They must be remembered if not for the sheer tragedy of human suffering in our nation then for the selfish, but logical reason that those atrocities may one day become our very own experiences if things should ever escalate into full-scale war. And while one could rightly argue that right now the majority of Zimbabweans' lived experiences are not centred around brutality, it cannot be denied that all of us feel the effects of sub-standard education, transport, energy and health systems, screwed up economic policies and rampant corruption and for as long as we put up and shut up, we will continue to have a sub-standard and screwed up country.