With less than a month to go, I'd really like to know whether or not my former colleagues of the OSCE - Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe - have a plan in place (on invitation of the U.S. government, of course) to send a full-fledged mission to monitor next month's U.S. presidential election. I figure that, like me, most folks anywhere can honestly say they have never lived through a set of circumstances to match what is going on today in the United States and the rest of the world. As I see it, much of this contagious turmoil and heartache could have - would have - been averted had only someone cared, paid attention and taken effective regulatory and legal action in years past. That includes back in 2000 when professionals of conscience like Atlanta Legal Aid Society Home Defense attorney Bill Brennan and others made crystal clear the extent of U.S. financial institutions' merciless and ultimately self-destructive attempts to exploit and extort the U.S.'s most vulnerable populations: people of colour, women, the elderly; in short, the poor, near-poor and working poor. A related concern is that, come November 4, we very well could witness a third consecutive chapter of the political equivalent of what is now boiling over financially. That is to say we stand to witness the same, grave problems in the conduct of the 2008 U.S. presidential election as the whole world saw, first in 2000 and yet again in 2004. An excellent documentary American Blackout explains clearly what happened in both elections as well as the efforts and work of then-Democratic congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. (As I've blogged before, Cynthia is now the U.S. Green Party's presidential candidate and I plan to vote for her.)
All of Indian society, India's diaspora (particularly in the West), the national government and its diplomats in Washington and elsewhere, and anyone anywhere in the world who professes to admire or emulate India really must take action to stop the most barbaric butchery being carried out against religious and ethnic minority communities, particularly in Orissa State. There's the little girl, no more than ten, her face terribly scarred when local terrorists set her family home alight, and with them inside. We have no idea why U.S. media no longer are capable of or interested in doing the type of courageous and important international reporting evidenced in this moving FRANCE 24 report - "Where Bibles are burnt",filed, as it should be, from India, by Stephanie Lebrun, Arnaud Kehon and Navodita Pandey. You've done your work here; vous avez faites votre travail. No matter who or which group or religion would commit such acts, it would be irrevocably wrong. God have mercy on those men and women who murder, assist, and commit these crimes against humanity, and who go further in doing so "in God's name" - and certainly God's mercy on these poor victims.
I will never forget that August 7, 1998 was a Friday. In Croatia I finished a report for work. My colleague-friend Melinda and I had taken a day of leave and arrived on Croatia's beautiful, rocky, pine-scented Dalmatian coast to spend a weekend away from our human rights work with OSCE. We unlocked the door to our little hotel room. Which of us happened to turn on the TV? We saw the images of devastation and knew something dreadful had occurred. Then the little lightbox told us that what we were observing had taken place in the city centre of Nairobi, Kenya. Something told me I'd soon learn more about this tragedy. So many paths in my life eventually seem to converge. In August 1998 and in spite of my family's distinctive African ancestry, I had never yet had the opportunity to venture anywhere in Africa other than northern Africa. Back in Washington I did have an acquaintance named Julian who, like Melinda and many of my friends, shared my affinity for the world. While on loan from his State Department career, I'd met Julian Bartley when he was doing foreign policy work on the congressional staff of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson. A few years later, ten days after my trip to the Croatian coast with Melinda, the other piece of news arrived from my friend "A" back in Washington.
My cab driver, transplanted from Ethiopia, told me first. That was weeks ago. But I couldn't believe it till I read the headline of today's Independent (London): "Price of oil will double." Folks, we have now reached 'put up or shut up' time. Time to re-tool our out-of-whack, hyper-industrialised U.S./western lifestyle - much of which is so wastefully over-indulgent. Let's take the news as a wake up call, not doom-and-gloom. I prefer something akin to Lucile Alder's poetic view (Dancing toward the future, published in the same journal with Meadows, Meadows and Randers' 1992 follow-up to their 1972 The Limits of Growth). Make good use of age and even perhaps of wisdom. In short, finally learning, as human society, to wise-upwhile we have time.
"-- To become a dancer so late To be determined so late to become A dancer is to become part Of the dream of the humble heart Determined to dance to the beat Of this one dawn becoming day Caught by a great blush and throb Of laughter at such a becoming Such a desire to become a dancer In the sense of one moving, clumsy With effort, yet effortlessly becoming..."
What is there to say about Zimbabwe? 18 April marks the 28th anniversary of Zimbabwe's freedom from colonialism and state-sponsored apartheid. Some of us, like me, marched and protested to help put an end to Rhodesia. Most people acknowledge something's gone very wrong in the last 28 years. The problem is not independence. but Zimbabwe's governance. The most recent affront is the national election of three weeks ago. Zimbabweans peacefully went to the polls and then they and the rest of Africa and the world awaited the count and announcement of the election outcome. Some reports say the opposition actually won yet today we're still waiting. This is almost as bad as the U.S. 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election. Some hoped ex-freedom fighter Robert Mugabe might use today's Independence Day speech to gracefully and finally announce he's come to terms with the will of Zimbabwe's voters. Instead he and the ruling party have again done the unthinkable. Meanwhile, South Africa, the region, and much of Africa seem to sit on their hands. How long will this go on?
Aime Cesaire est mort aujourd'hui. Aime Cesaire has died today. We awoke to this news, 17 April 2008. He made it to age 94. The Martiniquan poet, novelist, playwright and former mayor of Fort de France and member of French parliament was the last living member of the Cesaire-Damas-Senghor trio credited for inspiring the international Negritude movement. I certainly respect it though up to now in key ways, Negritude, rather than being truly universal, seems to me shaped by clearly masculinist claims. This reminds me of 2003 in Paris and a very curious and ultimately aborted attempt at an intellectual public encounter with a very self-absorbed young chap named Harlem Desir. Where, in the francophone (and other) Caribbean-African-European picture, is Black North America (women and men) permitted to fit?Negritude may have spread long before Hurricane Katrina but it came long after la Louisiane and New Orleans and Congo Square. Then last week my friend Marilyn Sephocle, la martiniquaise, and I saw each other for the first time in years. Me, francophone American; a francophone Black American and Black American woman. She, Caribbean and antillaise, citoyenne of France - a citizen of Europe through Europe's hold on its final outposts in the Americas. More than three decades ago, living in France, they called me guadeloupienne though my first time in Guadeloupe did not come till 1994. Our working group, "exiled" from Haiti, arrived by night at Pointe-a-Pitre airport where "outsiders" like me stood, waiting, in the "Non-EU" immigration line. I regret that I never met Monsieur Cesaire. Now for me along with others the task becomes to re-examine what came before and what we have inherited, while finding our way home from here.
It's just days after the "Ides of March" - the date when the emperor Giulio Cesare was assassinated in Rome. In English we call him Julius Caesar. In English we also have a saying about March, that it "comes in like a lion," and "goes out like a lamb." We also talk casually about something called "March madness." Does anyone know where that started? I don't know its origin but looking at U.S. foreign policy in the past nine years the idea of "madness" in March seems worth another look. I was part of a group at the Salzburg Seminar in Austria in March 1999, when on the first or second evening we got word that the NATO bombing of Belgrade had begun. Four years later and it was Baghdad. Is there method to madness in March?
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga and putatively re-elected second-term president Mwai Kibaki finally reached an accomodation for the country's political divide and the death and violence it wrought. I was excited to see BBC live coverage of the opening of Kenya's parliament for the first time since the December election and its aftermath. Everyone who loves Kenya, Africa - and the diasporic African world - wants this political accomodation to hold.
And yet at the height of the violence in Kenya in January I remembered how Asian Indians and Europeans continue to dominate Kenya's economy. I recalled a conversation I had with an African leader a few years back. This elected leader reminded me of the landmine issue of land distribution vs. need for land reform in six countries that were colonised by Great Britain in east and southern Africa. I do remember on the list were South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe -and Kenya. I'm wondering if Tanzania and Uganda were the other two on the list...
Meanwhile, The Economist has a cover story on "The New Colonialism" in Africa, referring to China and India. Reuters has a Feb 2008 interview about this with Hungarian-born billionaire financier George Soros:
"...European nations' scramble for resources, from slaves to diamonds and gold, led them to subjugate Africa's peoples under colonialism. After independence swept the continent in the 1950s and 1960s, they often supported corrupt and dictatorial regimes.
Over the last decade, amid concern over minerals funding wars from Angola to Democratic Republic of Congo, Western governments and multinationals have largely accepted the need for accountability and transparency in extractive industries.
But India and China, which are pumping billions of dollars of loans and investment into Africa, have not, Soros said. ..."
After five years living in the Balkans, and longer if I count Italy and France, there are a few things I know about Europe and Kosovo, and even more I remember about that area and the rest of former Yugoslavia. I recall one particular orientation in Pristina; one of those sessions most, if not all, international civilian mission staff have endured. Usually I actually liked them for the information we learned on the people we would work with and the regions into which we were sent. Yet in much the same way media are reporting Kosovo/Kosova and the Balkans today, in this seminar in Pristina in 2000 we were briefed on the Kosovar Albanians and on the Kosovo Serbs, yet not one word about Kosovo's Roma. So, of course I asked. After all, we were in Kosovo to work with the Roma, too. I've written about Europe's Romani citizens before on this blog and will do so again, but I'll repeat myself - the Roma, the Rom, Romani, etc., are Europe's largest ethnic minority population, whom many outsiders still call "Gypsies". In all the public discourse and reporting on Kosovo, and even on the Balkans and Europe overall, why are the Roma still almost always excluded? More powerful than anything I can offer is Sani Rifati's own firsthand account of his birthplace, along with this link to a powerful, if a bit dated, related report. When I think of my time in Kosovo (and elsewhere in the Balkans) in my mind's eye I see the pregnant woman IDP ("internally displaced person") with two school-age kids. I remember the long, narrow storage container which was "home" to several unrelated families. I remember the refugee day center in Macedonia, near Skopje: Kosovo Roma refugees sitting, waiting for so-called 'third-country refugee resettlement' invitations that never arrived. As human beings wherever we are, all of us can and, hopefully, will do far better, for each other and consequently for ourselves.