Archive for March, 2014

Hero

March 25, 2014

What do Charles Taylor, Robert Mugabe, Laurent Gbagbo and Thabo Mbeki have in common? Apart from the fact that all have been presidents (one still is and will be until he dies) and all have to a greater or lesser extent autocratic tendencies and three out of four have proved to be prone to violence. Well? Here it is: they all hate The West and the Evil People who populate it although some (Mbeki) are better at hiding it than others (his northern neighbour). And because they all hate that monstrous entity that spreads disease, pestilence, death, destruction and bad entertainment around the world wherever it puts its jackboot, they all have earned the adoring admiration of the magazine I used to write for and from time to time write about: New African, NA for short.

Once upon a time the magazine sailed a journalistic course with regards to Côte d’Ivoire but then I wrote a letter to the editor (never published) reminding him that since Laurent Gbagbo employed exactly the same anti Western rhetoric as its other heroes (if not similar repressive methods like Mugabe) they should support him to the hilt. I remain, until this very day, deeply disappointed that I have never been given credit for the swift change in editorial line that NA performed in order to chime with the magazine’s central narrative: The West is plotting in more than a thousand ways to keep the Black Man Down.

It did obediently reproduce a piece about the Ivorian crisis penned by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, the contents of which came straight from the Public Relations Department of the Front Populaire Ivoirien, Gbagbo’s very own ZANU-PF. To this day, the FPI remains firmly convinced that its leader won the elections and that France’s former ADHD president Sarkozy put Ouattara on the throne with United Nations complicity. And that’s another thing that all these have in common with NA’s central narrative, which is a seductive mix of perpetual victimhood based on kernels of truth without any self-reflection. It produces a deeply disempowering political agenda.

The reason I am writing all this is that I have discovered that NA has added a new hero to its expanding Heroes’ Pantheon. His name? His Excellency, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Jahya Abdel Aziz Jemus Junkug Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia! He ticks all the right boxes. Came to power in a coup in 1994 and has since developed the mindset that running his country, into the ground as it happens, is his inalienable birthright. He has turned the country into his private property and a police state. Also a haven for money laundering and arms smuggling. And sex tourism for middle-aged women from the UK, Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere. Business Is Booming.

Jammeh’s greatest claim to fame dates back to April 2000, when he ordered the army to open fire on unarmed schoolchildren on a demonstration, while exclaiming his most memorable quote: shoot the bastards. He had a few more executed in 2012 as his jails were facing a capacity problem. Now that’s what I call efficiency. He also supports at least one of the factions that is causing frequent havoc across the border in Senegal’s Casamance Province, effectively holding the government in Dakar hostage: if you allow too much Gambian dissidence on your territory, all hell will break loose in your beloved Casamance. So far, it has worked like a charm.

 

But why has His Excellency etc etc etc earned himself the adoring admiration of New African magazine? Because he hates The West and the Evil People in it. He has become worried about the fact that The West takes a disproportionately large part of Africa’s wealth. This Must Change. He advocates a program of redistribution that he may, one day, want to apply in his own country. Apparently, The Gambia is sitting on oil and His Excellency etc etc has discovered…the Gambian People. To whom the oil belongs. Interesting thought. He has made other striking revelations in the past, such as not needing doctors to cure AIDS; he can do that himself. (I seem to remember Thabo Mbeki had a rather tenuous relationship with the scientific explanation of the disorder…) His Excellency etc etc also likes to employ unregistered armies, like Charles Taylor, to further his objectives. As far as anyone can see he only has one, the same as Mugabe: staying in power until he dies. He has more things in common with the Dear Leader in Harare: he recently left The Commonwealth because it is colonialist and the two are also united in their intense homophobia. ‘Worse than pigs and dogs,’ in Mugabeland; ‘vermin’, in Jammehland.  Both were upstaged recently by Uganda’s gay-hating president Yoweri Museveni, whom NA dislikes intensely because he is deemed a “stooge of the West” but who knows, things may change…

So NA went to The Gambia and did a MAC (Mutual Adoration Chat), went on to publish a few quotes on oil and a letter castigating someone who had the gall to criticise this hero of the fight against colonialism, slavery, exploitation, greed and racism, which as you know are the only relevant hallmarks of The West and its Evil People. I, for one, am pleased to see His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Jahya Abdel Aziz Jemus Junkug Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia, curer of AIDS, swift dispatcher of school children, brave protagonist of proxy conflict, expert emptier of prisons and champion of the downtrodden included in NA’s Heroes’ Pantheon. Maybe he could accompany the editor on one of his frequent trips to a certain Heroes’ Acre in the Zimbabwean capital where some heroes are notable for their absence. Not that this should detain this new beautiful pair as they gushingly report from Paradise On Earth.

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NGO employee

March 19, 2014

NGOs, also known as non-governmental organizations (although the “non” part in NGO does not necessarily imply that state coffers are off-limits) attract a wide variety of individuals, some good, some bad, some nutcases and a lot in between with varying degrees of acceptable incompetence, especially in foreign countries. The same, incidentally applies to the UN, the difference being that this organization relies heavily on generous helpings from state coffers; its methods to recruit massively overpaid individuals with varying degrees of unacceptable incompetence should be the subject of a worldwide inquiry. It will also be the subject of another blog entry. Promise.

But back to our NGO employee. He was from an East African Nation but working in a West African One. A thoroughly pleasant individual to be around. Me and my colleague took a ride with him on an NGO truck back to the capital. I accept that this is against my principles; in mitigation I offer that (1) the nature of this trip was not journalistic and (2) the number of alternatives available was negligible.

During the long ride, the conversation turned a tad bizarre. For one, he has been living in this country for four years but every time we started to discuss the nation’s rather interesting politics and the name of a prominent mover and shaker came up, he would ask:

‘Who’s that?’

We were talking ministers here, prominent members of parliament, high up in the political hierarchy.

The talk then turned to a big bad awful monstrous entity that spreads disease, pestilence, death, destruction and bad entertainment around the world wherever it puts its jackboot. You guessed right: our NGO employee was a virulent critic of The West. Absolutely everything it did was evil. I neglected to ask him if this included paying his salary.

A memorable quote from the UK wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill mentions America as the country that can always be expected to do the right thing…after having exhausted all other options. Generally speaking, The West is shorthand for America, which is shorthand for the United States. (Nominally Francophone countries in Africa do not mention The West as the source of their predicaments but point the finger squarely at France.) Our NGO friend was, correctly, highly critical of US actions in Iraq where it fought an illegal war; Afghanistan, where it lost a war; Libya, where it helped trigger various wars… There is a long list of countries that have yet to recover from having experienced US involvement. The explanation, to me at least, lies in another dictum, this time Napoleonic: never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence.

You see, I strongly believe that most of The West, including my own country The Netherlands, is run by buffoons, clowns, jokers and idiots. I’m being charitable here, just like the American but Mexico-based writer Fred Reed, who takes an equally dim view of the people in Washington who run America’s wars around the world.

Not our NGO friend. He saw conspiracies. The West was doing this. The West was doing that. I remarked:

‘Most people in The West would not even be able to find the country where we are right now, on a map. So what is this “West”?’

‘It’s the entity that commits crimes around the world.’

‘Yes, I know that and agree. I marched against the Iraq war. Fat lot of good that did…’

‘It is a destructive force.’

‘Well, yes, and how many people actually know this?’

That hardly appeared to matter but by now it was becoming clear what the hub of The West was. America. So I said:

‘Well, you’ve been there. Half the people don’t even have a passport and have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the state next door. Let alone a foreign country.’

Further precision-targeting revealed that he meant the makers of an alleged “policy” inside the Washington Beltway. Which amounts to stumbling around in utter darkness until someone finds a light switch. And promptly turns it off again because the mess is too appalling to behold. Where the West bears collective guilt (which is what our NGO friend was implying) is in the fact that it keeps electing buffoons, clowns, jokers and idiots, who then appoint their like in the bureaucracies that manhandle the state machinery. I don’t know how to change that and neither do you.

Fear and self-loathing has been an ingrained feature of The West since the 1960s. It has grown in prominence. It’s easy because it does not require analysis. Naturally, it has seeped into the world of NGOs and equally naturally this mindset attracts the likes of our amiable East African friend. But what really shocked me was that he could spend four years living in a country on his own continent without bothering to get to know it any better.

An NGO Bubble. As a matter of fact, “shocking” is not the right word, “terrifying” is.