Thursday, November 29, 2012

The New Denial

In a Johannesburg bookstore i came across a big hardback volume called Why Africa is So Poor, and on the back was this blurb:

 "This book shows that African poverty is not because the world has denied the continent the market and financial means to compete… Nor is African poverty solely a consequence of poor infrastructure or trade access …Greg Mills controversially shows that the main reason why Africa's people are poor is because their leaders have made this choice."

I have also been encountering this kind of thinking in everyday life: most recently an American "global bass" dj told me that "Africa just needs to stop acting like a bitch and man-up" adding that "it is their own corruption which is the real problem".  A while back some Germans told me much the same thing, that "The West" no longer has anything to do with today's affliction and misfortune in Africa, and that we should all stop dredging up the past.  Routine disavowal and willful ignorance have surely always played central roles in our brave new world, but these attitudes seem to comprise a new intensified wave of right wing denialism which renews a sense of European superiority during a time of economic turmoil, provides false moral grounds for the shirking of responsibility, and reinforces centuries old racism.  Let us look at exactly what is wrong with this grade A+ Bullshit:

• Claims of internal corruption being the primary reason for poverty in many parts of Africa today ignore historical facts of the African people's chosen leaders being systematically removed by Western powers due to non-compliance with foreign interests, and corrupt lap dog dictators installed in their place, who sells out their own people for personal gain, dooming entire populations to decades of famine, war, and disease.

• Claims of incompetence being responsible for under development leave out a multitude of  manipulative measures (such as "Aid") with which foreign agents keeps real development from  happening, thus keeping routes open for their continuing exploitation.

• These claims disavow the long term interest of multi-nationals to keep areas such as the Congo unstable and in conflict.

• These claims deny fundamental colonial causation of problems in the very structure of society and in every sphere of life, which are entirely too numerous to list here*, the effects of which not only live on, but ripple and multiply with each day.

• These claims take none of this into account, saying instead: "Africans simply can not govern themselves, and as soon as we leave, they mess everything up" - calling a man weak after stabbing him in the back.

Superficially, this kind of selective observation and false reasoning may seem either relatively harmless or at the most, only misinformed.  But upon closer inspection it unmistakably stems from and validates the same Eurocentric, Social Darwinist, and white suprematist ideology which justified systematic decimation of native peoples for the past 4 centuries.  Ultimately, according to this logic, the only possible reason that "Africans can not govern themselves" is "inherent (racial) inferiority" - these claims which blame the victims not only reveal the deep racism of those who make them, they allow injustice and horror to continue unabated.  People who make these claims, just like the ones who deny artificial conflict created by the Dutch masters between the Hutus and Tutsis as one of the central cause of the Rwandan Genocide, and instead cite fictional "ancient tribal hatred" as explanation, are fundamentally no different than Holocaust deniers, and not one bit less morally irresponsible or reprehensible.

French former Defence Minister giving Algeria "The Arm"
Plenty of other examples exist, such as Germany's refusal to call the Namibian Genocide what it is, under pressure from other former colonial powers - because if Germany was to start using the G word, the others would also have to recognize the extent of similar atrocities, and forced to pay reparations.   Similarly, the French former defense minister's recent response to Algerian request for recognition of colonial war crimes (photo) more than adequately illustrates this New Denial - it is a much easier option than any other.  And last but not least we have the likes of wildly popular right-wing historian Niall Ferguson, one of top 100 most influential people according to TIME magazine, saying things like "the British Empire was mostly a good thing, at least we brought civilization to the savages".  His books, which include Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, and Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power, deny not only British Empire's pandemic destruction of culture and atrocities against vast numbers of human beings in Africa and around the world, but also, more importantly, Britain's primary authorship of the ideological constructs which made the holocaust possible.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for the strength in my African sisters and brother's hearts when they talk of reconciliation, forgiveness, and moving on; and do of course recognize the importance of letting go of the past and positivity for the way forward.  But while In the 21st Century by far not the only part of the globe still struggling with problems directly or indirectly resulting from colonialism, the situation in Africa is among the very worst, especially with the constant and increased presence of a predatory international economic order.  Many African nations are not yet ready to do what China did in 1984 - telling the former British colonizers "thank you for waking us up", in other words: "spare us your crocodile tears, just fuck off" - because the neo-colonial knife, unlike with China, is still firmly planted in their backs - and no real progress can be made until its removal.

*arbitrary national boundaries which divide ethnic groups;  inequality fostered within populations;  introduction of forms of governance and legal systems which go against local customs; suppression of education; banning of local languages; destruction of indigenous culture; collective psychological trauma from centuries of violence and oppression; etc, etc, etc, etc.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why are we surprised?

Abu Ghraib was no aberration, the recent pissing on corpses was no exception, and neither was last week's murder spree. quite the opposite, they are not only part of a larger culture developing in these places, incidents like this reveal the very essence of US ideology which drives foreign policy, they uncover the precise nature of these wars, of the real underlying American sentiment toward these wars, toward the people who have been constructed as enemies.

Bush jr. was unjustly criticized at the time for his use of words, because they were extremely accurate: "crusade". That's exactly what it always was: a civilizing mission to bring the light of Freedom and Democracy to uncultured primitives who are so backward that they are barely human.

With rhetoric like this as justification and guidance, no one should be surprised if a few occasional stories, out of no doubt tens of thousands, should surface.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What is Very Wrong with KONY2012

They give a man 1 fish to feed a family of 10, after having taken 1,000 fishes from him, while continuing to take massive quantities of fish from him every day, with no plans to stop taking fish from him, ever.

The giving of 1 fish makes the givers feel good, and makes them forget about having taken 1000 fish before, and makes it possible for the taking of fish to continue.*

The sentiment, the sympathy, the emotionalism, the tears, the "caring", the charity, the aid -- it is all an integral part of the machine which keeps plundering, raping and murdering Africa (and S. America and S.E. Asia).

The "apolitical" rhetoric of humanitarianism often cloaks, justifies, and ultimately equals military interventionism (intervention which serves economic and political self interest, beneath the talk of aid). Just like the allegedly "neutral" language of "free market", business, and development always conceals hegemonic ideology.

*fish stops being a metaphor and becomes literal when it comes to the Somalian Pirates.

and within the problematic world of Charity and Aid, Invisible Children is especially worrying:

How Invisible Children Falsely Marketed The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act

growing outrage in Uganda over film

TOTAL REVENUE $13,765,180

Advocating increased militarization of a government with plenty of human rights abuses, in order to catch a drastically diminished warlord who left the country 6 years ago, is not what Uganda needs.

It is unethical to knowingly misrepresent a war for any reason, least of all self aggrandizement and paychecks (likely not only from the bulk of revenue, but also likely from Ugandan military)

Invisible Children's super-hero fantasies of white men coming to save Africa make it even easier to disavow historical Western complicity and causation in African atrocities, from Rwanda Genocide to Congo War to LRA.

Again the westerners use the misery that they helped to create to make money and themselves look good while condescending toward and blaming the victim.

the West, and the US, did a lot to cause situations like this and monsters like Kony -- and things like Invisible Children furthers Western/US ideological agendas, not only reinforcing racist notions of superiority, not only prevents accountability for, or even admission of, direct or indirect crimes against humanity on the African continent, but makes it possible for them to keep exploiting, and create more future monsters.

1- From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex.

2- The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.

3- The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.

4- This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people and Oprah.

5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

6- Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.

7- I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.
- Teju Cole @tejucole

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


There can be no reconciliation between total despair wrt the global situation, and a confident, cheerful disposition in the everyday sphere. Nor between knowing that nearly everything about the way we live is wrong, being aware of the epic scale cruelty and violence supported by our daily life, and making that life livable.