Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

SOME TRADITIONS ARE HARD TO STOP: The Scramble for Africa Continued…

Friday, April 24th, 2009

The Scramble for Africa was a manifestation of colonialism and increased in force (notwithstanding slavery) after the outrageously racist Berlin Congress of the European powers of 1884.* The land-grab powers of Europe had started to fight amongst themselves about who would get what in Africa. To stop fighting, they got together and decided who would get what, with not one black person or African delegate to be found, questioned or even told, evidently.

Anyway, this article came from the Norwegian Council for Africa today and painfully reminds us—for those who didn’t know!—that the ‘Scramble for Africa’ is alive-and-unwell. One can only hope (pray, dream) that in this ‘land-grab’ by foreign business interests, some group(s) will truly have good intentions. Unfortunately, inside a model that puts shareholder profits (let alone owner profits) over human rights and dignity and freedom, virtually by law, this is profoundly difficult.

The short article, called The Second Scramble For African Land, is here (I actually quote most of it).

An excerpt:

Sub-Saharan African countries have of late become the target of a new form of investment that is strongly reminiscent of colonialism: investors from both industrialised and emerging economies buy or lease large tracts of farm land across the continent, either to guarantee their own food provisions or simply as yet another business.

In doing so, investors even deal with warlords who claim property rights, as in Sudan. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists in Europe are denouncing this land grab in Egypt, Sudan, Cameroon, Senegal, Mozambique and elsewhere in Africa as a new form of colonialism.

A list of the land grab investments of 2008 have been put together by the Barcelona-based NGO GRAIN, based on corporate reports. It confirms that several industrialised countries, like Japan and Sweden, rapidly growing developing nations, like China and India, and oil-rich countries, especially from the Arab Gulf, and even Libya, are buying large estates in Africa…

However, whether Africans will profit from these investments is another matter altogether. The wave of investments in foreign agricultural enclaves has led to new abuses.

“The most scandalous case yet is that of the U.S. investment banker Philippe Heilberg, who closed a deal with Paulino Matip, a warlord in South Sudan, to lease 4,000 square kilometres,” Hoering argued. Matip is a notorious warlord who fought on both sides in Sudan’s lengthy civil war. He is one of the profiteers of a dubious 2005 peace agreement, after which he became deputy commander of the army in the autonomous southern region.

Heilberg, now CEO of the New York-based investment fund Jarch Capital, previously worked for the now battered insurance company American International Group (AIG). Heilberg has been quoted as saying that, in his view, several African states are likely to break apart in the coming years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded.

“If you bet right on the shifting of sovereignty then you are on the ground floor. I am constantly looking at the map and looking if there is any value,” he told U.S. media.

That may be savvy, but it is also cynical. One can also, with that kind of leverage, work to improve situations, no?

The article continues:

While denouncing the scramble for land, human rights groups have called attention to the vagueness and imprecision of laws on land ownership in south Sudan. They cast doubt on foreign investors such as Heilberg being able to claim legal rights over such estates. The deal, which became public last January but was closed last July, has prompted human rights groups to denounce Heilberg’s venture in South Sudan as a cynical, neocolonial enterprise.

“This is a case that recalls the worse colonial land grabs in Africa,” Hoering added.

And on this posted-a-year-ago-video piece from Uganda Rising, I wrote the not particularly original line, “For the record, the ‘Scramble for Africa’ is ongoing.” I hope the quick summary of the land and resource grab is instructive, to even help understand the present day plight.

*And for history buffs or even activists, here is a description from David Lamb’s “The Africans,” of how the “Scramble for Africa” began legislatively, is illuminating—with a virtually complete disregard that people on the continent of Africa have meaning.

If Africa’s quest for unity has failed so far, if Africa’s presidents get along no better than the European powers did with one another during the colonial period, no one, least of all historians, should be surprised.

Let’s step back a century [the book was written in 1983] to the time when Africa was Balkanized and brought under European domination. It happened in Germany at a conference that not a single African attended…

The acrimonious disputes [between the European powers], though all were solved peacefully, caused much apprehension in Europe, and it was finally decided the world’s powers had better sit down to determine some game rules for Africa.

Delegates from fourteen countries assembled for the Conference of Great Powers in Berlin in October 1884.

Four months later, on February 26, 1885, they signed the general Act of the Berlin Conference, which provided that any power that effectively occupied African territory and duly notified the other powers could thereby establish possession of it. The Berlin treaty, along with other accords signed during the next fifteen years, defined “spheres of influence,” which partitioned the continent among European governments and reduced their rivalry for domination.

The disease of cruelty and violence, by its force and inhumanity, spreads the disease of cruelty and violence.

Whoa. Again, may we humans turn the tide to where business interests can not come before human rights. That, my friends, would be a great and fine day.

Lots of love to you, and to the vulnerable citizens in so many African countries,

Pete xo

COLONIZATION and IRONY

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Just a couple of thoughts.

I’ve been reading a lot of history lately, and thinking about colonization (incidentally, I get some of the most bizarre, foul, curious, ignorant and racist comments on the colonization video). Conversely, mostly beautiful comments on Darfur In Ten Minutes.

Anyway, with colonization, I was thinking it’s interesting how many undemocratic Islamic countries feel imposed on by certain Western powers (justifiably in the modern era and historically, in so many ways), but don’t readily admit that they are Islamic due to the aggressive colonization via the armies of Mohammad that spread so quickly across that part of the world and beyond—India, big time—from the 8th century on.

I write this because I’m just finishing a documentary in which Malcolm X plays a role, and I was simultaneously reading a book of comments from the writings of Canadian scholar Northrop Frye. He must have written this sometime in the ’60s (pg 317):

“I must read Malcolm X to see why the hell a black revolutionary would turn to the religion of the Arab slave-traders.”

That is to say, the Arab slave trade of black Africans. Not a bad question from ol’ Northrop: throwing off the chains of the oppressor, and their religion, for a religion that oppressed us and chained us, as black people.

From here I couldn’t help but think of sub-Saharan Africa, where this vast area of countless divergent cultures and languages was rammed and ravaged by Europeans’ (see the Berlin Conference of 1884) and Christianity’s disdain for their ways, and now these Western formed nations as a rule see Western education and Christianity as the answer to their woes.

That requires great propaganda. Indeed, the Pope was in Africa recently celebrating the great success of the Catholic church on the continent. I wouldn’t use the term success, myself.

Rwanda, it has been suggested, at the time of the genocide in 1994, had the largest per capita Christian population of any African country. I’m not saying those two events are necessarily tied together, but I am saying they existed simultaneously.

That’s all. Just a few thoughts. And still, where would so many people be, how would they feel, without their beloved beliefs (myself included?). Wild. Off to work, with a bag full of biases, wondering what it means to be part of this incomprehensible system of manifestation and unfoldment.

Lots of love to you,

pete

KICKING IT: The Homeless World Cup

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Conn Smythe once said about hockey: “If you can’t beat them in the alley, you can’t beat them on the ice.” Well in this film about soccer, most of the players live in the alley, or the street, or the slum.

Kicking It is a film about thousands of homeless soccer—football!—players from around the world competing to represent their country (there’s irony in that), and then competing for their country at the Homeless World Cup.

All I can say is I thought the Colin Farrell introduction and ending was a little cheesy, it wasn’t shot overwhelmingly well, the ESPN sportscaster announcer did not sound live, but an overdub (it may have been live) and, with all that, I loved every second of the film. I smiled virtually the whole time, sometimes with tears—and felt a few tragedies. Being human is not easy.

Thank god for grace, gratitude, love.

It reminded me that, no matter what we are doing, there’s always tomorrow, or at least tonight. It reminded me that whenever you’re so happy because you won, there’s always someone so hurt they lost, and vice-versa. There is something bigger than those feelings. Much bigger. And finally, it taught me that there’s always—and it’s just as beautiful and important—a consolation round, a B-group, a silver medal, a participation ribbon, a win after too many losses—that still feels like a World Cup win.

Ah yeah—and it reminded me that so much about Nation-states should be questioned, ignored, etc. We are sisters and brothers. So many boundaries, borders, are our own.

Life, it seems to me wonce in awhile, is this moment. Celebrate it, maximize it, observe it, be thankful for it, let it go, cause as little harm as possible, smile if you can, put your self in someone else’s football cleats, ask who you are, what you stand for—be who you are. Life will go on. Love more.

I recommend the film with great joy.

Lots of love,

Pete

Ivan Gayton Talk: The Farchana Manifesto, MSF, Darfur, Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Aid

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

My friend Ivan Gayton is giving a talk with slides and film this Monday (March 16) at 7:30 at the Pacific Cinemateque 1131 Howe Street, downtown Vancouver.

Ivan has worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres for years as an on-the-ground project manager. He will be talking about his experiences in Chad, Darfur (Sudan) and the Central African Republic to just name a few of the places, explaining from his point-of-view individual country politics, refugee camps, humanitarian aid and all such subjects that are simultaneously compelling, painful, tragic, hopeful and confusing.

The focus of the talk, however, will be on his most recent experiences in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad, which has become, tragically, what’s called ‘semi-permanent.’

I so recommend coming to hear Ivan speak. He is very clear, experienced, informed and compelling.

MSF IN DARFUR

The hour long talk will no doubt (and unfortunately) be heightened by the recent abduction of three MSF workers in Darfur. Sudan has recently been closed to most foreign aid workers by the notorious Sudanese President Bashir. Bashir is angered at being accused of War Crimes by the ICC—and has accused those he’s thrown out for being in cahoots with the ICC. Tragically, one of the MSF aid workers, nurse and artist/photographer Laura Archer—a lovely woman, evidently, from PEI, who lives in Montreal—is a friend and co-worker of Ivan’s. They worked together in the Central African Republic. Here’s a little bit about her, and her art.

Ironically, I passed this tragic news along to Ivan today, having just read about it, minutes before Ivan was having a meeting with someone who wants to work with MSF.

Anyway, may Laura, and all three, be safe.

As for my relationship with Ivan, we met about a year and half ago, when he gave a slide-show talk at the home of a mutual friend. From there, and from his experiences and knowledge, I put together two short ten-minute films—advocacy pieces, I guess, to be more accurate.

Darfur In Ten Minutes: An Overview of the Conflict in Sudan, its title self-explanatory, is Ivan’s very clear take on the conflict in Sudan, and a great example of his intelligence. You can see it here.

At the Cinemateque, Ivan will be showing the Farchana Manifesto: Women Fighting For Refugee Rights, built, with a few spare parts, around an interview that Ivan did, and brought back from the Farchana Refugee Camp in Chad (see my previous blog). The interview was with a remarkable woman who, with a group of other Darfuri refugee women, had the immense courage to speak out against their treatment in the refugee camp.

Motivated after a night of terror in the camp, in June of last summer, the women put together a document that has come to be called The Farchana Manifesto.

Ivan will be able to add details that, for the safety of the women, were not highlighted in the film.

The show will last about an hour, and then will have a Q&A. I might even be there for a few questions, if only, by my responses, to make Ivan look even better.

Hope you can come by. Tickets are free at the door, with a whopping two dollar suggested donation to help cover the costs.

Lots of love to you, and may you be safe and free,

Pete xo

THE FARCHANA MANIFESTO: The Courage and Resilience of Women Refugees Against Despair and Confinement

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

“Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.”
—Margaret Mead

As the very gratifying Muhammad Ali film (Facing Ali) slowly winds towards finishing, finishing, finishing etc, I’ve been doing a few smaller projects.

One short film piece just posted is called The Farchana Manifesto: Women Fighting For Refugee Rights.

The piece arose from my friend Ivan (the same Ivan from Darfur In 10 Minutes) doing humanitarian work in eastern Chad last summer at the Farchana refugee camp—a camp for Darfuri/Sudanese refugees.

The camp was supposed to be transitional, like all refugee camps. Unfortunately, six months has expanded to five years, and with this prolongation comes, predictably, increased depression, oppression and hopelessness (and, it turns out, stunning resilience and courage).

The short film is here. Feel free to pass it on. Actually, please pass it on.

As for refugee status, Mahmood Mamdani offers thought-provoking ideas on what he calls The New Humanitarian Order, in a paragraph worth being re-read:

The international humanitarian order…does not acknowledge citizenship. Instead, it turns citizens into wards. The language of humanitarian intervention has cut its ties with the language of citizen rights.

To the extent the global humanitarian order claims to stand for rights, these are residual rights of the human and not the full range of rights of the citizen.

If the rights of the citizen are pointedly political, the rights of the human pertain to sheer survival; they are summed up in one word: protection. The new language refers to its subjects not as bearers of rights—and thus active agents in their emancipation—but as passive beneficiaries of an external “responsibility to protect.” Rather than rights-bearing citizens, beneficiaries of the humanitarian order are akin to recipients of charity.

Humanitarianism does not claim to reinforce agency, only to sustain bare life. If anything, its tendency is to promote dependence. Humanitarianism heralds a system of trusteeship.

What I’m about to suggest may be obvious, in a sense, but it seems to me that the longer—and I will generalize here—men are left without self-determination, a certain freedom of action, the ability to feed or protect their loved ones or the opportunity of work, then the more oppressive, depressive and non-functioning men become. What is striking, it seems to me from observation and reading, is that women (for whatever reason) are able to withstand these pressures to a much greater degree, and hold together, even rebuild, whatever remains—under shockingly distressing conditions.

This, in my opinion, should be a recognized phenomenon. It is repeatedly seen in refugee camps, under extreme poverty, external occupation, and with opportunities like micro-financing.

The wonderful Dr Erin Baines, whom we interviewed for Uganda Rising, had spent months at a time at camps in Northern Uganda, and explained an example of the despair this way:

“When the [IDP] camps were created, it completely disrupted the gender division of labour, because men could no longer work, and they certainly didn’t have a political voice in things. What happened is you had men become completely disempowered, lose their identity not only as Acholi, but also as men.

The only way they could continue to feel they had any kind of power was vis-a-vis the women. So they could at least say this is my woman and you will do this for me.

All of this is compounded by the fact in order to fill their day or despair, men have turned to drink. And there is a high prevalence of alcoholism in the camps—which women brew. Which intensifies the level of anxiety and agitation that men feel, which is then again unleashed on women and children in the form of violence.”

This profound resilience, from the Darfuri women who spoke out in Farchana, is seen in spades.

FARCHANA

But back to Ivan and his experience in Chad. One night at the camp—after a night of physical terror imposed by a group of men (refugees) on seven women within the camp (to teach a moral lesson)—a group of women who witnessed the brutality decided to speak out. These courageous women actually got together and wrote a 14-point document calling for their rights, the rights of women and the rights of refugees. It has come to be called The Farchana Manifesto.

Despite great danger, one of these women was also willing to speak on camera. Ivan filmed this remarkable moment and brought the interview back home. The interview took place in a makeshift tent, fully accompanied by the bustle of people, crying babies and shrieking donkeys (assuming donkeys shriek). I then interviewed Ivan—here, of course—and with additional footage from a few generous others, put together this ten-minute piece.

The underlying message is this: Refugee camps are meant to be transitional. When they become what are called semi-permanent locations, they become refuges for hopelessness and violence—with women facing the brunt of the violence.

This is contrary to both human dignity and the stated goals of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is to protect and support refugees and assist in their return or resettlement.

The main goal of the piece is to answer the women’s plea to “bring this message to the outside world.” It seems the least we can all do. Awareness is the first step. Awareness of the situation, we hope, will also increase the safety of those who spoke out.

The film is here. I hope you find the women and the film inspiring and informative, and a call to action and understanding,

Lots of love to you,

Pete

See also, for example, the UNHCR and Physicians for Human Rights, our Darfur In 10 Minutes on youtube and Mahmood Mamdani‘s The New Humanitarian Order.

Credits:

Ton Koene for his photos, Jacky Essombe for her voice, Karin Muller and Ivan for additional background footage, Stephen Cohen for the additional interview, thanks to Sarah Estacaille for the B-cam help, and Dr. Amin Jalloh for translation.

A Vida E So Uma: MOZAMBIQUE and the SPIRIT of LIFE

Monday, October 13th, 2008

When I was in Mozambique (Kenya, Malawi and South Africa), I think two years back now, I went to this little clubhouse kind of place where kids meet to talk about topics of the day, and for community. They also gathered to become more aware of the truths and falsehoods about HIV/AIDS—whose treatment in Mozambique, despite the efforts of many great people, was minimal in terms of reaching the infected population.

For example, for a multitude of reasons—access, education, poverty, infrastructure etc—at the time only 2 or 3% of pregnant women were taking the relatively simple access drugs during delivery (let alone the rest of the time) to help prevent the spread of the virus to the newborn child. We talk about this in Hope In The Time of AIDS (actually, not in this excerpt—but a few of the tragic statistics are here).

Anyway, these wonderful kids at the clubhouse in Mozambique (Moputo) had a guitar and I borrowed it and in this hot little room just started playing.

The resulting music is on film but I don’t have the footage, unfortunately. One day. But the kids, maybe a dozen of them, just started singing along, ad lib counterpoint, and I made up a song on the spot called My First Day In Mozambique. It was rhythmic and sweet, and the experience wildly inspiring and fun. One day, when I find it, I will post it.

Then two of the boys took the guitar (they were about 17 or 18, I think) and sang, which was also filmed. I always wanted to make a video out of it, but I haven’t had easy access to the film. But I do have a recording of it, which I will post here. It was sang with great love and passion—even though the guitar wouldn’t stay in tune! They were amazing—as humans so often are—and I don’t even know their names.

But here’s an mp3 of their beautiful song. The lead singer wrote it. One day, hopefully, there will be a video of them playing, to accompany it. The joy will be clear.

Here are the lyrics in the Portugese original:

A vida é só uma

A vida é só ma
A vida irmãos é só uma
A vida é só uma
Vamos viver a vida
Porque a vida é só uma
Quando ela escorrega não se apanha

Irmãos Moçambicanos dêem as mãos
Sejamos um por todos e todos por um
Unidos ao mundo inteiro seremos fortes
P’ra juntos combatermos o inimigo
SIDA você não tem chance
SIDA connosco não podes

Coro

Vamos viver com jeito
Nós amarmos com jeito
Porque a vida é muito bela
Porque a vida é só uma

And in English:

WE ONLY LIVE ONCE

We only live once

We only live once
Brothers, we only live once
We only live once
Let’s live our life
Because we only live once
If you miss out on life there is no second chance

Mozambican brothers, let’s hold hands
One for all, all for one
United with the world we will be strong
Together we will fight the enemy
AIDS, you have no chance
AIDS, against us you can’t win

Chorus

Let’s live with care
Let’s love with care
Because life is beautiful
Because we only live once

Lots of love to them, and you, and joy, kindness and compassion,

Pete xox

And just because I like to post it, and it reminds me of the wonder of being alive, Wide Open.

SMALL ISLANDS and GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

I’ve been working so intensely, I have had virtually no time to write on this blog this summer. A mild shame—perhaps much more for me than anyone else! The Facing Ali project is a couple of weeks from what is called picture lock.

But I thought I would quickly post this message from avaaz.org, talking about the immediate threat of changing climate to small islands everywhere. It is something to see politicians from these countries saying that the people and their islands are on the verge of being submerged/overwhelmed by rising tides, increased storms and so on. It feels very much like a clarion call, a microcosm, of the effects of what could or will come to coastal people everywhere…which includes countless major cities all over the world, of course.

Read it and send it. It is hard to wrap my head around such events, but they are, indeed, real, and so our heads must try and see a little deeper, farther, clearer.

Next week, the leaders of a group of small islands are planning an unprecedented effort to press Security Council itself to address climate change as a threat to international peace and security.

For those in small island states, rising sea levels are an existential threat. Climate change isn’t a far-off menace, it’s a day-to-day crisis; as an Avaaz member in Fiji wrote this week, “whenever there is a particularly high tide, the village is flooded and homes are awash.” Moving the climate debate into the security arena could shift the global politics of the issue — but the effort is likely to meet fierce opposition from the world’s biggest polluters. Sign the petition now to raise a worldwide chorus of support for this call—it will be presented by the islands’ ambassadors next week at the UN:

avaaz-petition, press here

For the first time in human history, the North Pole can be circumnavigated—the Arctic ice is melting more quickly than almost anyone anticipated, pushing up sea levels week by week. Now, small island nations—where homes are, at most, mere meters above sea level—are preparing evacuation plans to guarantee the survival of their populations. They are on the frontline, experiencing the first wave of devastating impacts from climate change which soon will threaten us all.

The more signatures we raise to be delivered to the UN next week, the more urgently this call will ring out to protect our common future. Sign now:

avaaz-petition, press here

The small islands’ brave campaign for survival is our campaign as well. Just as sea levels rise or fall everywhere at the same time, the choices of every person everywhere affect the future of our common home. By standing with the people at the front line of the climate crisis, we show them, and ourselves, that we recognize our fundamental shared humanity—and the responsibilities that come with it.

These are the States who are sponsoring the resolution: Fiji, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, joined by Canada and Turkey.

For a draft of the Small Islands States Resolution, please see:
Small Islands States Resolutions

For more information about those presenting the petition
please press here.

For information on Tuvalu’s evacuation plan and climate refugees press here.

For information about how rising sea levels will affect us all.

For more information about all of the island states.

No answers or even insight, but one can only hope that awareness is one of the keys—then love, compassion, greater vision, and from the epic proportion of the problem, grace, of course.

Sending love, missing the interactions,

Pete xoxo

MOBUTU, LUMUMBA and the RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Once in awhile, I get some unfortunate youtube comments regarding two video pieces that I posted some time back. I’m not sure exactly what motivates their posting, or even the angle—but, hey, something motivated colonialism and resedential schools and countless other brutal yet largely praised endeavours, so no surprise.

As humans, of course, we follow our natures to a large degree, and our natures are nurtured by environment, in some mysterious alchemy, resulting in us.

I, of course, have no answers, but, as the Beach Boys once sang…

“Wouldn’t it be nice…” if things were more loving.

CONGO/ZAIRE/DRC

For the historical aspects of the Ali film I’m working on, the Congo/Zaire/the DRC may be noted in two different areas.

One is from the early 1960s. That connection, or at least perceived connection, between Black nationalist groups in America, in this case the Nation of Islam and, more specifically, Malcolm X. Specifically, his support for the eventually assassinated, democratically elected leader Patrice Lumumba.

From Mike Marqusee’s book Redemption Song, pg 117:

Malcolm [X] was overwhelmed by Lumumba, whom he called “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent.” It was not an accident that he referred to Lumumba in his response to the JFK assassination, nor that he would invoke his name again and again during his own final months.

Lumumba, it is said, was captured and murdered by domestic military forces with support from Western Intelligence agencies. The imposed leader was brutal strongman and thief extraordinaire Mobutu Sese Seko.

The second area is with Mobutu. In 1974, it turns out, he put up (surely not his own) big money for the Rumble in the Jungle—Muhammad Ali versus the invincible George Foreman for five million a piece. For Mobutu, the point of the event was to highlight the greatness of the country he was actually bleeding to death, in all senses of the word.

As Mobutu continued his pathological reign of terror (indeed, prison and terror continued unabated beneath the Stadium while the fight was on, according to Norman Mailer in When We Were Kings), the boxing match was dubbed a back-to-Africa spectacle of solidarity, led by that champion of solidarity and human rights, the inimitable and twice-charged-with-murder or near murder, Don King.

Ah, the material experience. Is this not a fascinating world?

This fight was King’s first really big splash in boxing, as the fight game moved from the Frankie Carbo mafia tranglehold to the Don King (and a few others) stranglehold.

Talk of pensions and unions remain largely non-existant, which can only encourage boxers to fight too long.

PIRATES AND EMPERORS

It has been estimated that Mobutu took 4 billion dollars from the country (in loans payable, no doubt, many via the IMF etc). This was undeniably known by the CIA well into the 1990s, as Mobutu remained the celebrated guest of, among others, Ronald Reagan and former CIA head George Walker Bush.

Anyway, things are still more than difficult in the Congo, unsurprisingly yet ironically exacerbated by rich resources in the country.

This is a quick piece on Mobuto.

This is a piece from Hope In the Time of AIDS. The young girl in the film, Safi, lives in the DRC.

And this is a very brief overview of Colonialism—or, more specifically, the so-called Scramble for Africa.

Life is never as clear as any of these pieces, of course, but they can still be instructive.

Love more!

Pirates and Emperors

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

I always felt a resonance with this anecdote from the preface to Noam Chomsky’s book Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World.

St. Augustine tells the story of a pirate captured by Alexander the Great, who asked him, “how he dares molest the sea.”

“How dare you molest the whole world?” the pirate replied: “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an Emperor.”

Augustine, for the record, agreed wholeheartedly with this pirate’s conclusion—and the connection to today’s world, of course, is obvious.

Having been so much in the world of interview lately, I recall with great fondness the opportunity I had to interview Noam Chomsky a few years back, at MIT, for Uganda Rising.

An excerpt that is incomplete in that there have been compelling, courageous pockets all through history of Christianity’s ‘revolutionary church of the poor’ roots blooming, but the basic premise of the excerpt is clear—that such revolutionary ideas are seldom encouraged by Power:

Pete: Back to Rwanda and the genocide there, there was something I wanted to ask you about. I’ve read that the Christian Church in Rwanda was often complicit in the genocide, with priests carrying arms and actually being involved in some butcherings and so forth. This shocked me, but then I started to think about history. How would you explain the connection between colonialism and the Church?

Noam Chomsky: Well, it’s a long story actually. I mean, look, the first couple of centuries of the Church, it was a church of the poor. It was a revolutionary church of the poor. That’s what the gospels are about. When you read the gospels, that’s what they say.

It was picked up by the emperor Constantine and he turned it into the church of the rich and the powerful. The cross—which was the symbol of suffering and oppression—became the symbol on the shield of the Roman soldiers. From then on, the church was the Church of the rich and powerful.

It’s changed to some extent—in fact, very dramatically, in Latin America, primarily, in the 1960s and 70s. The church went back to the gospels. It was called the preferential option for the poor. Priests and nuns and layworkers were working with peasants and running base communities in which they studied the gospels as they really are.

You know, that caused a violent reaction. The U.S. went to war against the Church in Latin America. I’ve got a picture right back there [points to his wall] which describes it. The 1980s, particularly under Reagan, was largely a war against the Catholic Church. A massive war against liberation theology and it’s not hidden.

The ’80s opened in Central America with the murder of an archbishop [Romero], and ended with the murder of six leading Latin American Jesuit intellectuals, all by forces closely linked to the United States or trained and armed by the United States—who meanwhile killed tens of thousands of the usual victims.

The full interview is here—and, as always with Noam, full of insights, revelations and unthought-of-angles. I remain amazed by the processing power of the man’s brain, and his remarkable, generous work ethic.

Here’s to freedom, solidarity and love,

Pete

PITY THE MONKS OF TIBET: Forget Ideology, Follow the Money

Monday, April 14th, 2008

An interesting article worth reading from Rod Liddle in the [British] Spectator Magazine. Its title—Pity The Monks of Tibet Who Dare To Hope That Anyone Will Come To Their Aid—sums up its theme, and the inability to do much, given our propaganda and economic entanglement, without considerable solidarity. An excerpt:

It is one thing to behave cravenly toward the appalling Saudis in order to ‘protect our security interests’; it is another to suck up to the even worse Chinese simply because they are bigger than us and we want a slice of their burgeoning economy.

[British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown mentioned human rights, as a sort of afterthought, of course, the last time he visited Beijing—and was told by his cheerful hosts, ‘Oh, don’t you worry yourself about that, everything will be fine.’

This seemed to keep Gordon happy.

He did not visit opponents of the world’s most long-lived totalitarian communist regime; he did not raise the plight of human rights lawyers imprisoned in China, nor the dissidents, nor the journalists. He did not so much as mention Tibet.

He posed with ping-pong players and visited interesting power plants instead—conveying, every time he grinned that weird rictus grin of his, British support for a regime which 50 years ago visited genocide upon the Tibetans and continues to oppress, torture, detain and murder those who voice the mildest objection to its policies.

Yes, indeed. Liddle continues, and I think accurately:

We are enjoined to understand that China has changed; that it is embracing, to a certain degree, a liberalism. But ‘liberal’ means many different things to different people, from Tariq Ali to Milton Friedman—to the extent that it means very little at all.

China is, if anything, worse today than before, combining the most oppressive aspects of state Marxism with the most brutally rapacious aspects of capitalism.

In this new improved China there are still no independent trades unions, scores of Catholic clergy have been arrested for proselytising, hundreds of human rights activists bundled into the back of police vans to disappear for ever; journalists censored and detained; lawyers roughed up by police thugs. Minorities, such as the Uyghur Muslims, are persecuted and find their leaders arrested and executed.

Those beneficial, if accidental, consequences of capitalism—improved standards of living, better health and safety and so on—are denied to the vast majority of Chinese people.

So too, with the connivance of greedy Western corporations, is freedom of information. We now have the Great Firewall of China, which is one reason why those protests in Tibet take so long to reach the West.

And of course there is Darfur. What are the Olympic games supposed to represent again? As much as I feel for the athletes training for the biggest of Games (and I do), saying that the Olympics have nothing to do with politics reminds me of what Gandhi said, paraphrasing:

Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.

The Russian Olympics in 1980 were boycotted for their brutal invasion of Afghanistan. So why not the Chinese for Darfur and Tibet? And I would say the same thing if America was hosting the Olympics. Ah, but the USSR was not willing to be involved economically. The Chinese are all over the economy, stamped on most everything we purchase, and offering tons of cheap and ill-treated labour?

The full article is here.

And for those who haven’t seen it, here’s an overview of Darfur in Ten Minutes.

Keep the faith and the love flowing, as much as possible. Don’t be fooled by the news.

Love to you,

Pete

SHOCKINGLY OFTEN, IN CONVERSATION AND HISTORY…

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

So many moments and comments keep coming up (say, Tibet, Iraq, Darfur and events historically), that relate to what Naomi Klein writes about in her remarkably clear and profoundly researched book The Shock Doctrine, that I thought I would post this blog one more time.

It talks about Charles Ferguson’s Iraq documentary primer on Iraq—No End In Sight—and then finishes with an excerpt and a link from an interview Naomi Klein gave about her book. I hope it resonates more than shocks, and inspires more than shocks.

By the way, dear sisters and brothers, don’t be fooled by the title No End In Sight. Everything changes, everything comes to an end. Everything re-news. Re-grows. More beauty, more kindness, more solidarity and love is possible in every moment, every action. Take a deep breath and begin today.

The blog is here.

A ten minute informative and punishing film rebuttal by Charles Ferguson to a Paul Bremer III op-ed in the NY Times is here.

Naomi’s interview is here.

And while we’re at it, here’s an interview with Stephen Lewis, Naomi’s father-in-law and (positive) crusader for Africa. Imagine the conversations at their dinner table.

An excerpt:

You know, it embarrasses me when people say, “Oh he’s such a great humanitarian” or “person of compassion.” I’m no more a person of compassion or with humanitarian instinct than anyone else in this world—or certainly in Canada.

I’m driven ideologically. My entire life has been filled with the conviction, which I imbibed from my father in particular, that you’ve got to spend a part of your life fighting social injustice and inequality or there’s no point being on the planet.

For me, the AIDS virus is the ultimate expression of social injustice and that’s why I’m so mad about it. Because it’s so profoundly wrong. I’m neither animated by spiritual inclinations, and nor do I retreat into them. For me, it is frankly my own social philosophy, my own ideology. I just think the struggle for social justice is the most important struggle there is. If AIDS violates it, then you fight AIDS.

And in case you feel overwhelmed, may I say that life remains an extraordinary experience of stunning beauty and overwhelming acts of kindness and love, so here’s a couple of songs celebrating said mystery and beauty.

Wide Open.

Naked Love.

Little Dreamer.

Free downloads! And lots of love to you and yours,

Pete

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: CULLING THE BEAUTY IN A HYPER-MASCULINIZED WORLD

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

I ask no favors for my sex…All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.
—Sarah Moore Grimké

A week or so ago, I was writing a blog about the courage of certain Women’s Groups, and how remarkable their efforts are—all over the world—in fighting for their right to social, physical, financial, creative and spiritual freedom and equality within their respective systems.

For some reason, before I got to really express said greatness—and the movements of all people who are almost sytemically oppresssed—I began by speaking way too much about the American Founding Fathers and the US Constitution.

Too wordy. What a shock.

But the blog’s incorrect constitution left my point in the fine print. My point was the stunning and unshakable courage all over the world of groups oppressed. While writing that blog, by the way, I coincidentally discovered International Women’s Day was upcoming—which was yesterday.

Whenever there’s an International “Anything” Day, that “Anything” is most likely in trouble.

In contrast, if you ever see, say, an International Weapons-Producing Day, International Fast-Food Day, International Dictator Day or International Big Media Day, know the world is probably moving in a less hyper-masculinized and progressive, heart-centred direction.

CELEBRATION

And so, I’d like to again express my respect, wonder and awe for these groups, and ask this: if anybody is inspired by any group who, under brutal political/ideological/theocratical climates, are fighting for women’s rights, democratic rights, farmers rights, peasants rights and so on, I’d be greatly inspired to hear about them.

If I get enough (or any) responses, I would like to make up a worldwide map of these soul and life and freedom-affirming groups—so we can just look at the degree of like-minded, courageous people.

The two groups I mentioned were an Iranian group I read about recently through alerts from Amnesty International; specifically, the arrest of Jelveh Javaheri, for fighting for women’s equality. This group is called, at least in English, We4Change: Iranian Women Struggle For Equality.

The other group is RAWA, the relentlessly courageous and strongly outspoken Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, whom I’ve known about for a long time.

Both must be careful with their every move, yet make their moves anyway. Further, when the drums of war beat, when invasion is threatened, these truly anti-oppression groups are almost never mentioned in the media, nor aided, let alone consulted, by an invading government claiming to be exporting democracy.

At the time the Iraq disaster began, there were many grass-roots groups fighting for democracy in Iraq—yet never celebrated or rarely brought to the table where the Big Boys gather.

So it goes for Iran today and all over—countless African and Middle Eastern countries, I am sure.

And so it was with RAWA—the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan—who were shouting as loudly as possible with limited funds and no mainstream media support—before the invasion of Afghanistan.

Imagine what groups like that could do with, say, a small percentage of the PR budget for a company like McDonalds, whose modus operandi is essentially maximize profits by mass producing disgustingly unhealthy food from billions of abused animals for increasingly fat and diabetic people—and may the environment be damned, too.

Thank you, Ronald.

CULLING THE BEAUTY

In a hyper-armed, hyper-warfare, hyper-aggressive, hyper-corporate, hyper-profit driven world, I tend to agree with holocaust-survivor Viktor Frankl’s statement that, paraphrasing, under brutality, the best (in general) will not survive.

So putting aside gender for a moment (because ultimately it’s not about gender, he said, from his white man’s ivory tower), I would say that under brutality, the feminine principle is placedt under intense interrogation and pressure; instincts for nurturing, beauty, art, communication, expansive wisdom and creating spaces for everybody, are slowly culled from the physical and spiritual make-up of the human species.

As the defense of civilians decreases—and civilians by definition are largely a combination of women, children and the elderly—the world becomes hyper-masculinized. I’m, not positive of the statistics, but I recall reading that the civilian death too in World War I was 10% of all deaths, 50% in World War II, 70% in Vietnam and 90% in Iraq.

Who exactly are these wars against? And either way, what is the human, spiritual cost?

If those stats are at all accurate, the increased disregard for life and the increased culling of the feminine principle (as above, anyway) is essentially a statistically predictble side-effect. And from it comes a higher percentage of people willing to communicate via the sword—even more so if resources are scarce and weapons are available.

Which brings me back to how much courage it takes for oppressed peoples to fight for their freedom, dignity and equality, and how inspiring it is to hear about them—and to try and make their cuase known and supported.

DENOUEMENT

Just to end, and although it goes without saying, I want to make sure I mention how these problems do not appear out of nowhere. The roots of distress and brutality in, say, Africa are deep and complicated. It is extremely difficult for most men, also, to live under corrupt, brutal governments and/or extreme poverty/unemployment.

In this excerpt from Uganda Rising, Dr Erin Baines of the Liu Institute, who spent years of her life in Northern Uganda, gives a concise and instructive synopsis of one possible cycle:

When the [IDP internal displacement camps] camps were created, it completely disrupted the gender division of labour, because men could no longer work, and they certainly didn’t have a political voice in things.

What happened is you had men become completely disempowered, lose their identity not only as Acholi [the main group affected in Northern Uganada], but also as men.

The only way they could continue to feel they had any kind of power was vis-a-vis the women.

So they could at least say this is my woman and you will do this for me.

All of this is compounded by the fact in order to fill their day or despair, men have turned to drink. And there is a high prevalence of alcoholism in the camps—which women brew—which intensifies the level of anxiety and agitation that men feel, which is then again unleashed on women and children in the form of violence.

Microcosms of that cycle, and variations on the theme, are seen all over the world, including in the margins and inner-cities of the West. To fight to get out of these conditions, to fight with and for dignity, is where countless unseen, unheard heroes are today.

Here’s to sisters and brothers all over—with love,

Pete xox

NEWS FROM SUDAN/DARFUR—though it applies all over

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

For those who have (or even haven’t seen) the little PSA/film I put together of my friend Ivan recounting his experiences in the country and Darfur—Darfur in 10 Minutes: An Overview of the Conflict in Sudan—this newspiece reiterates his first point.

It is sent via the Norwegian Council for Africa, which sends regular and useful updates on Africa:

The piece was called Presidential advisor lashes out against peace agreement, and it’s from the Sudan Tribune, March 5, 2008:

Khartoum (Sudan) — Sudanese presidential advisor has lashed out at the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) saying it ignores the real cause of the Sudanese crisis. He further said that what we need is to identify what unite the Sudanese people before to talk about democracy.

Speaking to the Sudanese press on Tuesday about the “Democracy and Benevolent Government”, presidential advisor Bona Malwal said “the real debate should be about the perpetual failure of the national political leadership” to identify what unites the people of Sudan.

The CPA “has only massaged the issues of democracy in Sudan and not really resolved them. We, are neither free from a theocratic state, as the SPLM leadership would want us to believe, nor are we an Islamic state as the NCP also would want to believe.” The prominent southern politician said.

However, he underlined that the “best we can do, is to strive to make it [CPA] work, since it has secured for us a precious peace in our country.”

The presidential advisor stressed that Sudanese need “a change of mind set” if they are really want to implement a true “democratic transformation” in the country [not to mention excessive outside greed using divide-and-disturb policies, see also Congo, Iraq and countless other places].

“If we achieve a change of mind set and the leaders of the Government of National Unity (GoNU) cooperate with one another better than has so far been the case, then we can achieve something in the remaining two years, before the people of Southern Sudan vote in their referendum on Self-determination.”

Bona said declaring Sudan as an Arab state can be considered as “a show of power by those who took over the country from colonialism.” He further added that “The idea of an Islamic State totally ignores the reality of our country.”

Asking “What democracy are we talking about therefore?” Bona pronounced a harsh verdict against the ruling party saying that the Sudanese society has degenerated into a series of tribal societies. “Tribalism has become even proudly acceptable mode of individual identification in Sudan.”

“You almost witness the pride in the face of our politicians, when they identify themselves in power as Jaaleen or Shagia or Danagla. It is as if it is some shame on those tribes who have not set foot on the Presidential Palace along the Nile as rulers of Sudan. Where is the room for real democracy or for Sudanese nationalism?” he said.

What a great question.

To know a little more about the problems (and, I guess, hopes) from oil in Sudan and Africa—which is also very important, exacerbates ethnic tensions via power, resource and environmental imbalances, and part of what is sometimes called the “Resource Curse,” and you can extrapolate to the rest of the world—check the film out to see China’s pragmatic, ugly involvement, which by definition supports and arms the Khartoum Arabic Muslim government, and by definition is a human rights nightmare by proxy.

I hope the film and these links make Sudan/Darfur/Africa/”developing” world issues slightly clearer and, as the Presidential Advisor mentioned, make the real questions, and real problems be asked.

My belief is, and assuming a worldcentric view, deeper knowledge and awareness helps deeper, more aware questions to be asked. I also try to hold two other massive factors: the colonial legacy and the ongoing misery and decimation via AIDS, malaria, malnutrition and unchecked internal and external influences etc. And yet so much strength and love prevails, against brutal odds. Remarkable. Stunning.

I’ll quote a Chomsky’s response to a question I asked relating to this (for Uganda Rising), which is inspiring and so easily forgotten by the way and nature in which “important” news is disseminated—if it arrives at all.

I love rereading this, just to feel solidarity and hope for so many peoples under the gun (or, as Woody Guthrie once mentioned, the fountain pen):

There are popular organizations all over Africa—I mean South Africa, every other country—fighting really courageously for rights against privatization which drives, say, water prices out of sight, against construction programs which are harming the mass of poor and enriching the super rich. Everywhere you look, there are union activities that are lively and exciting.

That’s going on in most of the world.

There’s a reason why the World Social Forum is held primarily in the South and not in the North. It meets in Brazil and India and there will be one in South Africa—side ones in South East Asia. That’s because that is where the major action is going on, the major constructive, progressive struggles.

The North kind of joins in so when people talk about what they call the anti-globalization movements—a ridiculous term for it—well, it’s supposed to have started in Seattle. Well, that is because Seattle is the first Northern city where anything happened.

Meanwhile it has been going on for twenty years in India, Brazil, South Africa and elsewhere. So if hundreds of thousands of people stormed the parliament in India to prevent monopoly drug pricing, well, that’s not interesting. But if people are breaking windows in Seattle protesting World Bank policy, okay, that’s exciting. So the global justice movement—as [activists] call it—is held, is started, in Seattle. Actually, it’s late.

That’s why the meetings are down South—and Africa is a large part of it.

The last World Social Forum I went to, in Puerto Alegre, had a big component of people from Africa, many of them peasants, activists. In fact, a large part of the meetings were about Africa-Brazil connections. That doesn’t get reported up here…

This has been going on for a long time. The South Commission, as it was called, represented most of the countries of the South. They published for years important detailed studies, critiques of neo-liberalism, alternative development models and so on. I have written about them but you just can’t find a word about them anywhere. They don’t exist. They are the lower breeds. It doesn’t matter what they say…

I mean it’s 80 percent of the world’s population but those people down there can’t think. We have to tell them what to think.

That’s good old-fashioned imperial tradition. Deeply embedded old centers of imperialism like Cambridge and Oxford and our counterparts and so on carried through the media. It is such a deeply entrenched perception that any accurate perception of what’s happening is almost very hard for people unless they undertake a research project.

The struggle, the beauty, the undying potential for freedom, dignity and to not be oppressed, continues, all over the world in solidarity movements. That’s worth celebrating.

Lots of love to you and yours—who are all of us, it turns out,

Pete xo

ON THE SUBJECT (and irony) OF AFRICAN OIL

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

I care not how affluent some may be, provided none be miserable in consequence of it.
—Thomas Paine

China’s ravenous and socially-devastating involvement with oil in the Sudan (and selling weapons to Khartoum) was discussed in the little film Darfur in 10 Minutes: An Overview of the Conflict in Sudan.

But then, wouldn’t you know it, today I was at the Bibliophile bookstore on Commercial Drive in Vancouver (a lovely bookstore), with my mom, when I stumbled upon journalist Nicholas Shaxson’s 2007 book Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil.

It expanded upon the not deeply-discussed effects of the discovery of Africa being an oil-rich continent.

Shaxson understandably made clear that the problems of corruption within so many African countries are pervasive and devastating to civilians already under duress. I agree with this, of course. It’s a disaster.

Ironically, though, I have no doubt—instinctually, anyway—that, monetarily, the amount of corruption in Africa is nowhere near the dollar amount perpetrated in the Free West.

Consider this, for example:

But back to Africa. After discussing African corruption and what might be needed to diminish it, Shaxson writes on page 224 (I wrote this down on a piece of paper to write it down here):

To understand the next bit of radical surgery, consider this. It is not unlawful for a United States bank to receive funds derived from alien smuggling, fraud, racketeering, handling stolen property, contraband, environmental crimes, trafficking in women, transport for illegal sexual activity, slave trading—and many other evils.

Can this really be true?

I could not believe it at first, and I checked. But it is true. The only catch is this: the crimes must be committed abroad…

And Europe, it seems, are hardly better behaved.

In short, the real power centres are outside Africa, and until they change, nothing can change on any large degree anywhere, for the problem is systemic—and there is some hope of change, within democracies, and I use that term loosely.

Regarding the above, I literally stumbled upon this (only listen up to 5:20 with regard to this blog):

THE SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA CONTINUES

There was in the colonial era direct rule and then indirect rule—indirect rule being ruling by local leaders on behalf of the colonial power, as opposed to the direct rule of the colonial power.

This legal freedom for banks and businesses to profit with impunity via humanity’s most foul profit-making enterprises—slave trafficking, drug trafficking, mass fraud etc—seems to me to be the global continuation of Indirect rule unabated.

In other words, it is no longer Britain’s rule over Sudan or France’s rule over the Central African Republic. It is Multinational Institutions (via their legal framework: Trade Agreements) ruling over the Third World—with locals, often willingly, doing much of their dirtiest work.

And Shaxson is no anti-corporate activist. He has written for the Economist and the Financial Times. But in a six-question interview with Harper’s, he reveals what he learned after over a decade of research, against his beliefs:

Western schemes to “guide” Africans to behave better often fail, because African rulers—especially oil-rich ones—tend to be quite good at mastering their own destinies nowadays.

We can best help by making changes at home. One way is to curb our fuel consumption.

Another matter cropped up repeatedly during my 14 years of research: the draining of Africa’s wealth into rich-world tax havens. Current transparency initiatives don’t touch this issue; but instead we pretend that it’s only the Africans who are corrupt. Don’t forget that New York and London, swimming in foreign dictators’ loot, are two of the world’s biggest tax havens.

He continues, with reference to Angola and Nigeria—both resource-rich:

Angola’s oil-laden budget this year is about the same size as all foreign aid to all of sub-Saharan Africa—but according to the United Nations, Angola’s infant mortality is the second worst in the world, worse even than Afghanistan’s.

At the start of the last oil boom in 1970, one-third of Nigerians lived in poverty; now, four hundred billion dollars in oil and gas earnings later, two-thirds are poor.

People often put the problem like this: oil money would be a blessing but politicians steal it, so people don’t see the benefits.

But it’s much worse: the oil wealth not only doesn’t reach ordinary people, but it actively makes them poorer. It took me years to really accept this counter-intuitive idea. But after all I’ve seen, I have no doubts.

With the Western addiction to certain resources—oil in particular at this juncture of history—the “Scramble for Africa” continues with virtual impunity. The corrupt leaders of countries in Africa reap the rewards (as do banks and corporations in the West), and the majority of citizens already on survival’s edge (not to mention the environment) pay the excruciating price.

Anyway, it’s bitter food for thought, but important to know a little more about human nature and the systemic problems that ensure certain problems—but also show where hope is possible for a better world: working on laws, greed, accountability, increasing human rights, energy sources, environmental sustainability, politicians and solidarity and so on.

Lots of love to you, and sisters and brothers everywhere,

Pete

Colonialism in 10 Minutes: The Scramble For Africa (and before)

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

A man is worked on by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well [my italics].
—Frederick Douglass, escaped African-American slave, and great leader of emancipation

When trying to comprehend Africa today, one aspect, regardless of one’s confusion, should be obvious. For this I will use an analogy: If Person X was to continually beat Person Y (or an animal), only a moron would ask why Person Y struggles to move forward in their life, suffers from uncertainty, confusion, violent outbursts etc.

Even “Africa” as defined as something collective is absurd, except perhaps, in its uber-decimation by slavery and then colonialism, and the confusion and despair (and, of course, greatness and hope) that abounds today.

In short, no matter how many ways I try to look at it, it seems undeniably clear to me that Africa, by a number of external and internal forces, has been willfully and relentlessly gutted and anihilated for over a millenia—a fragmentation of the everyday people, the culture, the essence, the spirit, mostly for resources, with racism as a justification.

This point is mentioned but not pushed in Darfur in Ten Minutes: An Overview of the Conflict in Sudan. And the point matters for myriad reasons and I wanted to point it out.

From an “all-of-humanity” point of view, Africa is a crime scene, and by not being as clear about that as, say, the holocaust, the crime continues.

The fact that the “Scramble for Africa” can continue so remorselessly—whether by outside players (even “Free World” players), or outside players working with inside players—is mind-bafflingly hideous, and would be criminal if justice had any real relationship to mutlinational business interests and profits.

Or, as Shirley Chisholm once put it:

When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.

I posted this exceprt from Uganda Rising to offer a brief overview of what happened in Africa during the European colonial period, when vast areas of the continent were literally and systemically looted at will. Below the piece is a further damning description of the so-called Arab slave trade, which was equally hideous.

COLONIALISM IN 10 MINUTES: THE SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA

This description from David Lamb’s “The Africans,” of how the “Scramble for Africa” began legislatively, is illuminating—with a virtually complete disregard that people on the continent of Africa have meaning.

If Africa’s quest for unity has failed so far, if Africa’s presidents get along no better than the European powers did with one another during the colonial period, no one, least of all historians, should be surprised.

Let’s step back a century [the book was written in 1983] to the time when Africa was Balkanized and brought under European domination. It happened in Germany at a conference that not a single African attended…

The acrimonious disputes [between the European powers], though all were solved peacefully, caused much apprehension in Europe, and it was finally decided the world’s powers had better sit down to determine some game rules for Africa.

Delegates from fourteen countries assembled for the Conference of Great Powers in Berlin in October 1884.

Four months later, on February 26, 1885, they signed the general Act of the Berlin Conference, which provided that any power that effectively occupied African territory and duly notified the other powers could thereby establish possession of it. The Berlin treaty, along with other accords signed during the next fifteen years, defined “spheres of influence,” which partitioned the continent among European governments and reduced their rivalry for domination.

The disease of cruelty and violence, by its force and inhumanity, spreads the disease of cruelty and violence.

Here’s an excerpt from an article in Le Monde Diplomatique called The Impact of the Slave Trade on Africa, April 1998, by Elikia M’bokolo. The statistics are staggering.

The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries (from the ninth to the nineteenth).

Then more than four centuries (from the end of the fifteenth to the nineteenth) of a regular slave trade to build the Americas and the prosperity of the Christian states of Europe. The figures, even where hotly disputed, make your head spin.

Four million slaves exported via the Red Sea, another four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to twenty million (depending on the author) across the Atlantic Ocean.

Of all these slave routes, the “slave trade” in its purest form, i.e. the European Atlantic trade, attracts most attention and gives rise to most debate.

The Atlantic trade is the least poorly documented to date, but this is not the only reason.

More significantly, it was directed at Africans only, whereas the Muslim countries enslaved both Blacks and Whites [equal opportunity]. And it was the form of slavery that indisputably contributed most to the present situation of Africa. It permanently weakened the continent, led to its colonisation by the Europeans in the nineteenth century, and engendered the racism and contempt from which Africans still suffer.

Noam Chomsky, to end, with a quote I like to use from an interview with him:

[A] look at history and perception of what we see, does, I think, lend some credibility to a traditional view coming out of the Enlightenment—it is at the core of liberalism, the ideals we are supposed to honour but disregard—which says that fundamental to human nature is a kind of instinct for freedom, which shows up in creative activities.

This is actually the core of Cartesian philosophy, the core of enlightenment political thought. And I think we see plenty of examples of it: people struggling all over the world for freedom.

They don’t like to be oppressed.

Be as free as you can be, without causing harm, and love more—and stand up for that whenever you can, however you can. What else can a person do?

Pete

DARFUR: AN OVERVIEW of the CONFLICT in the SUDAN

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview my friend Ivan recently, who has spent a lot of time “on the ground” in Africa over the last few years—including months doing emergency humanitarian work in Darfur. I put this 10 minute piece together, hoping this explanation could be useful in clarifying a humanitarian disaster to which the news doesn’t always give context.

The brief overview describes three of the significant “drivers” that explain what is going on in Darfur, but also show why decreasing the misery is so difficult.

The three “drivers” are 1) ethnicity, 2) oil (mostly China, in the ongoing “Scramble for Africa”), and 3) desertification/climate change.

I hope the piece is helpful, and by its clarity, inspiring. Any informative comments are greatly appreciated—and if you find the piece clarifying, inspiring, useful or anything else, please pass along the link here or the link on youtube.

Remember, we have (both Canada and the States) massive ties to China. Let the politicians and anybody else you know, know you’re not happy about living-hell for citizens being a trade-off for oil.

DARFUR IN 10 MINUTES: AN OVERVIEW OF THE CONFLICT IN SUDAN

As a personal note, with the Darfur hell so centred around oil, I can’t help but think of the Iraq hell, that also began in 2003, and has likely resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians—basically folks like you and me.

To get a brief overview of the colonial legacy in Africa, and put Sudan in even more context, take a look at this ten minute summary from Uganda Rising.

Don’t you just dream of a time when enough people actually say, “No”—and it has meaning? Maybe that time is closer than we know.

Lots and lots of love to you and yours—may you sleep well and be safe, and feel loved,

Pete xoxo

PS Thanks to Dennis Burke for the music (which is actually from See Grace Fly).

BLOGGING, TIME CONSTRAINTS, LOVE, GANDHI and GRATITUDE

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.
—Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi

Mahatma means great (maha) soul (atma)—one who sees a bigger picture, all souls as sisters and brothers. Now that’s inspiration.

FRIDAY: NORTHERN VOICE

I’m on a blogging panel on Friday and yet I’ve had no time to write on this blog.

In a comment, my friend Tim (co-directed Hope In The Time of AIDS with me) wrote:

No blog posts for Pete in 4 days…something big must be brewing!!

I hope hope he’s right.

As for the film I’m directing called Facing Ali, I’ve been heavily researching the endlessly fascinating 1960s and 70s, and history as it unfolded in juxtaposition to Muhammad Ali’s journey—from Cassius Clay to heavyweight champion, to a friendship with Malcolm X, to joining the segregationist Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad, to refusing to go to war in Vietnam and so on.

Extraordinary times—just as these times are extraordinary.

Just think about the utter incomprehensibility of being alive, being born where you were born, of existing. And then consider the incomprehensibility of how it could be (or not be) any other way. Woo.

QUOTES

A couple of quotes I read recently—the first one bouncing off Chomsky’s inherent suspicion of leaders, where he says we don’t need leaders—in fact run when you hear the term—in a true democracy we would have representatives.

A not so subtle distinction that should be kept in mind.

Eugene V. Debs (who was sentenced to ten years in prison for being against the brutal carnage of World War I) writes:

I never had much faith in leaders.

I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week.

If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and mis-representatives of the masses—you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction.

I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.

And a comment from Thomas Jefferson, who is always touted as being a great democrat.

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

That’s some food for thought.

All I can say is, assuming your intentions are good, be yourself as much as possible, and inform yourself with edifying information as much as possible. My friend and Vedic scholar and teacher Jeffrey Armstrong has said that:

Ego expands to fill the space not filled by knowledge.

Go forward with your heart’s intention, your action as clear as possible, and strive in greatness to do so with ahimsa (cause no harm). We are remarkably temporary here (at least in some undeniable way), which makes seeing everybody as sisters and brothers, and choosing love in every action (with discernment) the richest of choices.

I’m feeling so grateful for this time, this life, and trying to love all my sisters and brothers,

Pete

And here’s a link to a video of a song of mine I recently put together, called “What’s Going Down.” That’s my grandmother talking off the top, when she was 97. She died in 1999 at the age of 101.

Oh, here she is again, at the beginning of this tiny little ditty called Orangutan from way back in the early ’90s. I just love her laugh.

She lived through poverty, two World Wars, the depression, two dead husbands, her mom and her brother leaving for good when she was very little, and immigrating to Canada at eighty.

DARFUR NOW? (and who’s next?)

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

I saw the documentary film Darfur Now a few nights ago with a friend—and when we left, we didn’t say much. I’m not sure why, but I think this was because these massacres feel endless, and there’s really not much to say.

And anyway, the question that matters is what is there to do?

This is where the film shows six different people trying and doing different things, according to their circumstances and natures, to alleviate the suffering on the ground in Darfur.

Although Darfur Now is not a deeply political or historically detailed film (perhaps because these heinous situations, like in the Congo, Northern Uganda and elsewhere, are so utterly complex), the film brought home the systemic horrors of everyday life there; a lying, violent government, the marauding Janjaweed, the usual international contradictions, efforts and impotence, the struggle to get international awareness and support to really effect change, and just the ongoing ability for humans to be brutal to each other.

The immediate complexity of the battle lines are evident when one official says something about how the brutality is not about Arabs and blacks—the people are the same—and one of the victims in the camp, who is black, says, and I am paraphrasing, we are not Arabs—it is the Arabs who are doing this.

As for Sudan itself, civil war is nothing new. Indeed, it has been mired by civil war more than any other African country (if I remember correctly) since the inception of its independence. From Uganda Rising, on the section on colonialism:

In Sudan, the British ruled the Arabs in the north and the blacks in the south as separate colonies—only to combine the areas before independence in 1956. The result has been relentless civil war, the Darfur massacres being the latest tragedy.

But this horrendous, systematic attack in Darfur has steered away from the North/South battle lines drawn with independence.

STAR POWER

The film itself magnified a strange (perhaps) modern reality: for starters, a general lack of wise, nuanced, active or compassionate political leadership from virtually anywhere.

One could argue leadership’s almost always been that way.

But in this modern day, or at least in this documentary, actors are the voices of leadership (which speaks volumes of both desperation and farce in an absolutely un-farcical misery).

Profoundly trying to demand action in this case are Don Cheadle and George Clooney, with Governor Arnold “The Terminater” Schwarzenegger helping out with the signing of a divestment bill that prevents California from economically supporting the Darfur atrocities.

Well god bless ‘em—seriously—but it is a curious state of affairs, and I could weep just writing here about humanity’s limitations, individually and collectively, for myriad reasons.

The Toronto International Film Festival listing describes the film this way:

The ongoing atrocities in Darfur, Sudan, remain one of the world’s great challenges—not just to our politicians but to each of us individually. Eventually, when the crisis ends, what can we say we did to help resolve it?

This is the question that drives Ted Braun’s urgent, necessary new documentary. Darfur Now follows six people who have taken up the challenge to help stop the murder, rape and displacement the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit people of Darfur have suffered since 2003.

One of those six is a movie star [and the seventh person would be George Clooney], and it is to this film’s great credit that his work on Darfur is stitched seamlessly together with the others’ efforts.

Don Cheadle first became active in humanitarian crises in Africa after starring in Hotel Rwanda.

Darfur Now shows him continuing to spend the currency of his celebrity to make the situation in Darfur more widely known and impossible to dismiss.

“We’re trying to speak in a loud voice now,” he says, “so that people cannot say ‘I was unaware.’ They can only say ‘I acted’ or ‘I stood by.’”?

INDIVIDUALS

I am often inspired and amazed by how many ordinary people—Adam Sterling (of the Sudan Divestment Task Force) in this film, for example—give so much to do extraordinary things for people in desperate need (and doing anything has a taste of the extraordinary).

And those in the film, battered sisters and brothers on the ground in Darfur—Hejewa Adam (a woman whose child was killed and has joined a rebel group to fight the Janjaweed and Khartoum), Pablo Recalde (the World Food Program) and Ahmed Mohammed Abakar (a local, displaced sheik)—who keep trying to do something with their various windows of hope and desperation.

AND THE ICC

And the ongoing yet inconceivable challenges for the International Criminal Court’s passionate Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

As has been witnessed in Northern Uganda and elsewhere, indicting war criminals is a lot more straightforward than bringing them to justice.

And regardless of the crimes—and of course they are horrendous, whether Charles Taylor, Joseph Kony, Slobodan Milošević or Ahmed Haroun, Sudan’s State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs [god knows what the word for Orwellian is in any of the 134 languages spoken in Sudan] and former State Minister of the Interior, and Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed, for war crimes and crimes against humanity—not everyone even agrees that indictments are the best way to bring about peace.

But to speak the obvious, there is no easy answer that I can see, for any of this misery.

People must do and will do what they can—unfortunately that human instinct includes those people and forces exacerbating violence.

Why? I don’t know, but the inequities in the world are staggering, and within these inequites are massive amounts of small arms and weaponry, manipulation and, perhaps worst of all, finite resources. And people at war and killing each other can be good for business.

THE CHINA SYNDROME

Here China (and Russia, I have read, but to a much lesser degree) is making, by their greed and hatred of freedom and human rights, the heinous situation more heinous—with oil once again greasing the allowance of unspeakable misery.

This from a Reuters news article:

The Small Arms Survey said China’s financial support to Sudan indirectly helped finance its wars, lifting Khartoum’s income to at least $1.3 billion a year from oil revenues.

Chinese companies have controlling interests in Sudan’s largest oil blocks and 50 percent of its largest refinery. But Chinese investment was larger than just oil, the report said.

“China is now northern Sudan’s most important trade partner,” the report said, adding investment was in construction, dams and railways as well as the energy sector.

On arms, the report said Chinese-Sudanese military relations strengthened from 2002 with high-level exchange visits.

While little information is available, it cited U.N. figures showing China as the largest military weapons and parts supplier to Sudan in 2004 and 2005, overtaking Iran. In 2005 it supplied almost $25 million worth.

The report said pressure from advocacy groups and negative media attention ahead of China hosting the 2008 Olympic Games had pushed Beijing to use its influence over Sudan more wisely.

The full article is here.

And this from the Children’s Hunger Relief Fund:

Since early 2003, government-supported [Omar Bashir] militias called the Janjaweed [“devils on horseback"] have carried out a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the civilian population of Darfur (Western Sudan).

The Janjaweed have been ruthlessly and viciously eliminating entire communities and ways of life: villages are razed, women and girls raped and branded, men and boys murdered, and food and water supplies targeted and destroyed. The government-sponsored campaign has led to the deaths of almost 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million others from their homes.

Although there were some hopeful signs in 2005 that the violence was abating, the attacks have increased since the beginning of 2006. As an indication of the cruelty of this campaign, food convoys have been specifically targeted. Refugees in the camps and aid workers have also been attacked.

Many refugee families are headed up by women with no form of income, as the men have been killed trying to defend their homes and villages. There are also many orphans who have lost or been separated from their parents during attacks.

Large parts of Darfur are desert, and conditions are difficult and dangerous during the best of times. The deadly combination of the Janjaweed and the regional drought have made these the very worst of times.

Indeed. If nothing else, make yourself aware. If you figure out exactly what should be done by you, please do it.

Love more, please, and lots of love to you and yours. May they sleep well…

Pete

Spreading PEANUT BUTTER with an INVISIBLE HAND

Friday, October 20th, 2006

In reference to The Inexplicability of Circumstance, I think I figured out, upon further reflection, what disturbed me so much.

Although selling one’s soul is as old as having a soul, there seems in my opinion to be an ongoing shifting of the moral compass that suggests, for reasons of money and resources, one has to compromise and be compromised to get ahead.

Why?

The easiest answer yet: because that’s just the way the world is—a world that through “science” has been concluded to not be held in the ridiculousness of God’s invisible hand, but in the self-evident truth of the Market’s invisible hand.

Both are absolutely without “proof,” or as much proof as one wants to give either.

Brutality is now considered so unavoidable that to protest it (say sweatshop degradation) is to get in the way of progress.

The world may have always been this way, with brutality readily available, but lately it keeps putting these ideas in writing.

Fighting for civil rights and access to fair trial for all people can get a good person labeled pro-terrorism.

To protest the mistreatment of workers in sweatshops can make a caring soul feel like they’re helping keep the extreme poor in rural poverty.

That’s just weird.

The question is: can not protesting degradation against human beings possibly be good for human beings in the long run?—and when was the last time human beings thought in the long run?

Who thinks of their great, great, great grandchildren? Whatever faults indigenous cultures had, this concept of taking care of all future generations (not just through Family Trust Funds) was a good one, and all but disappeared with their decimation.

And what the hell do I know? I’ve never been hungry a day in my life.

I know I’m missing something by trying to figure this out. But I’m missing everything by not trying to figure it out.

And may I be more grateful. Always more grateful.

A person whose spiritual intelligence has been reawakened becomes free from both the good and bad reactions to their work (Bhagavad Gita, Ch 2, 50).

***

I remember ten years back or so, maybe more, I was writing a crappy novel: The Beaver Rebellion, Part II (there was no Part I). It was about four Vancouver revolutionaries, a flagrant oxymoron—Greenpeace notwithstanding. On its opening page I quote what I believe to be a real article from the Vancouver Sun.

HUMAN RIGHTS NO LONGER LINKED TO TRADE

(CP-Toronto) That Canadians will no longer have to consider human rights when considering trade with other countries is both progressive and in line with Free Trade Agreements, said Trade Minister Max Boddington.

“This opens up whole new opportunities,” the Trade Minister said from the Conference Room of the Georgia Hotel. “The fastest way to make change is through interinvolvement. For once the market will be left to decide.”

I recall how the article really disturbed me.

Why?

One, Canada had for sometime always linked human rights to trade, at least in theory. In other words, a country couldn’t get one without the other.

Two, because this proclamation separating human rights and trade passed without fanfare.

If nothing else, it was always hopeful to make the acknowledgment of human rights by a country a necessity for trade, simply because human rights—the dignity of an individual—are paramount.

But that’s old. Trade is now the answer. Not compassion. Equality comes not by a shift in worldview and belief, but in trade.

If trade is so important, you’d think a torturing or human rights abusing government would stop torture so as to allow trade. But in fact, trade is God, so not even torture or human rights abuses can stop it. And should one try, this legislation will be slapped down at the Pearly Gates, otherwise known as a Free Trade Agreement.

I think I see in the same light Jeffrey Sachs’ well-intentioned (and possibly necessary) idea that cruel, underpaying and degrading sweatshops are an undeniable fact and vital for lifting people out of extreme poverty.

Again, we leave it to this invisible market hand to decide. If we find this theory wrong, we are not only naive, we’re pushing the hopeful poor back to their “rural misery.”

We don’t ask about the long term effects of treating people like beasts of burden, especially if that beast of burden is one day able to buy things like breakfast.

Now of course it’s utterly right to cry out: “What about the annihilating effects of people living endlessly under insurmountable abject poverty?”

But is degrading treatment and work really the only way out? And is it actually a way out? We can split genes and circle Jupiter, and this is the best we can do?

Forcing people to degrade themselves to get out of poverty teaches us that compassion, solidarity, brother and sisterhood are secondary to market demand.

Can this be sustainable? Or is it ongoing paternalism with an allowance?

Are sweatshops not colonialism with a budget? Punishment for aid? Bombs with food? Development without roots?

And finally, shouldn’t the primary goal be to hear the free voices of those millions involved? The companies are western, the products by the billions are for westerners, and yet finding a means of increasing dialogue with workers or to change the practices is not paramount, by any stretch.

That in itself speaks volumes about human nature, and were it not our nature, we would probably respond with humility and caution.

This is not finger-pointing. It’s an exploration. I feel the impotence and the tragic truth of unknowingness. It brings to my heart a desire to listen more.

All pros and cons aside—a debate that in itself is degrading and paternalistic—I would guess the main variable that stops economically desperate people from being treated well under any conditions (perhaps starvation excluded) is the belief system of those with power.

The invisible hand seems more like a fist, and more brutal and obvious than invisible.

This is the greatness of the Grameen Bank (and this bank better be on the up and up or I sure look like a schmuck).

So let me rephrase this: there is much greatness in the spirit of the Grameen Bank as I perceive it—with a complete lack of deeper study.

And of course today, trying to impose democracy by slaughtering a country has come to be thought well within the bounds of normal diplomacy and even common sense—perhaps even the standard means of bringing “democracy” to the rest of the world.

Do you remember when Afghanistan simultaneously had bombs and food (peanut butter, I believe) dropped on them under the label of humanitarian aid?

Well, they’re still in Afghanistan. In fact, Canada sent more troops there today.

Protests aside, my dear friends, that actually passes as normal. That is this world. So—and this is a guess—at some point one either follows that slide or one chooses to humbly try and be more loving, all the time, understanding the universal predicament of the human condition.

One can only be humbled by remembering that in one hundred and, say, twenty years, every body walking on the planet today will be no longer walking on the planet.

Another guess is that giving more love, compassion and understanding today in every thought, will carry not only into my belief system in some mysterious way, but into future generations—as will more divisiveness.

So what changes? The human condition and nature is highly predictable. The effects of that nature are impossible to know.

In the old days they didn’t call war and invasion and threats “creating democracy.” It was called colonialism, and its premise was the spreading of civilization.

There were other problems, too, don’t get me wrong.

Still, one always hopes to be living in enlightened times.

That’s what bothered me so much about the ‘unavoidable necessity of sweatshop’ argument—even if it’s accurate.

Hm.

The truth is I really want to believe everybody’s loved. And for such heartfelt dreams, the Market’s invisible hand just doesn’t cut it.

Easy for me to say, I just had a good dinner.

So let me put it another way: one day I might die by the invisible hand of the market, but I’ll never believe in it.

It’s as temporary as a God with a big ol’ beard, knuckle-dragging ancestors, all the news that’s fit to print and, of course, me.

So how much am I willing to believe in the invisible hand of love?

Go ahead, make my day. Ah, you already did.