Sidiki and Mamacita: a Malian love story from Hell

November 3, 2020

‘Oh, they knew for years that he was doing it. Everybody knew!’ 

“He”, in this account by a colleague of mine is Sidiki Diabaté, arguably Mali’s biggest musical star and export. He produces syrupy love songs, invariably accompanied by videos that feature large bungalows, swimming pools, big cars, expensive clothes – and jewellery that bedecks beautiful women. Mariam Sow, affectionately known as ‘Mamacita’, would not have been out of place in these videos. She was Sidiki’s girlfriend and it is her we should be mostly talking about. 

This story has nothing to do with sweet syrup or jewellery and that’s where the “doing it” part of the opening quote comes in. It began on September 14, when Mamacita put photos on her Tik Tok account, showing a body. The body was covered in wounds and bruises, as if someone had been using whips, fists and even sharp instruments to inflict pain and damage on the victim. Mamacita made it unequivocally clear that the body in the picture was hers and that the scars and bruises were the result of the actions of her boyfriend, with whom she had been living for as much as six years. She told a Senegalese television station that she had been held captive for months and that she had been hit with electric cables. Probably other things too. 

Let’s get the eternal question out of the way first: why stay? I can give you a number of reasons, and that’s speaking from experience. First, your abuser is not only an abuser. He or she also has qualities that attracted you to him/her in the first place. Your abuser is still capable of either turning on the charm or simply showing you why and how you fell for them in the first place. It is only when the balance flips decisively that you start thinking that this relationship may be unhealthy and you should be leaving. This is a long drawn-out process. 

The second reason is best summarised in that short English phrase: it is the hope that kills you. In short, you never lose hope that sometime, somehow – and preferably as a result of your benign interventions – your abuser will change and/or improve. It takes time and effort to be disabused of that notion. Which brings me to the third reason: normality. Abusive relationships tend to adopt a pattern: abuse – resistance – fights – make up – abuse – resistance – fights – make up and so on, ad nauseam. Gradually, you begin to regard this pattern as normal. It takes a blinding flash of insight on your part or (more often) external intervention to snap you out of this doom-laden reverie. Hence the efforts abusers put into isolating you, either by simply preventing you from getting out or by throwing an almighty tantrum if and when you do de-isolate. It is a highly pernicious game they play and Mamacita was, by all accounts, subjected to all of this. 

And to violence, at the hands of an entitled violent little brat, who counted the equally dysfunctional DJ Arafat from neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire among his friends. He paid just under €11,000 for Arafat’s funeral, after the Ivorian icon rode himself to death last year, whilst doing ‘demonstrations’ with his beloved motorbike on a public bridge in Abidjan. In an ante-echo of Mamacita’s, the fate of the female journalist Arafat injured during his deadly antics was of no interest to his fans. 

Sidiki’s family has asked for forgiveness, and I think this includes his father Toumani (yes, that Toumani, arguably the best kora player the world has ever known). Even – and to my massive astonishment – Oumou Sangaré added her voice to those pleading for forgiveness, a plea she later retracted. Others have joined her.

Indeed, this may astound you. Large chunks of Mali’s music scene have migrated to Camp Sidiki, which decided from the moment that Mamacita broke her story to go as low as inhumanly possible to tarnish her name and save their hero. One commentator on social media summarised rather awkwardly that a minority painted Sidiki as the devil incarnate, while a rather larger portion went out of its way to paint Mamacita as manipulative. Highly suggestive below-the-belt remarks were directed at his now former girlfriend (like I said: no low is low enough for these people). Some went still further and claimed that she, a poor girl from Guinea with a troubled family history, was being used by feminists to destroy Mali’s top selling artist. In short, they wheel out the tired old conspiracy trope, to which activists like Fatou Harber (Tubuntu Woy on Facebook and her friends have only one reply: to hell with that nonsense. A demonstration on the streets of Bamako, late September, beautifully captured by the very talented photographer Ousmane Makaveli, featured placards that said among other things: “You beat a drum. Not your wife.” 

From the demonstration at the Place de l’Indépendance. Retrieved from afrik.com

Mamacita’s lawyers have recounted what their client has told them: Sidiki stands accused of (at the very least) sequestration and causing grievous bodily harm. Those syrupy love songs suddenly sound not just hypocritical but downright sinister. Meanwhile, Camp Sidiki elected it necessary to leak a sextape onto the internet, in which the girl from Guinea apparently was a participant. No, I have not seen it and I never will. 

Just under a fortnight after Mamacita released her images, Sidiki was finally arrested. And while African Muzik Magazine Awards (Afrimma) did the honourable thing and removed his nominations, musicians playing for other well-known Malian artists went on a demonstration in Paris, demanding his release. A Dutch radio maker, journalist and blogger, Alie de Vries, also a hugely committed fan of Malian music, had enough of the double standards and pulled the plug on her Music from Mali channel. You can read her comments on the events here. It is called “The fallen star” and written in Dutch. The damage to the carefully curated image of Mali’s musicians, frequently met with the starry-eyed gaze of Western adulation, could be considerable. 

Will justice be done? This is a hard question to answer, even today, when the political protection the Diabatés used to enjoy has been yanked away following the August 18 coup that removed president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and his clans from power. (The Diabatés, father and son, were part of the campaign for the re-election of the deposed president.) The other problem is that, like everywhere else in the world, a prominent position means that you can literally get away with murder. I still have the article from an Angolan newspaper in which it is described how a high-ranking military officer escapes the law after he has drunk-driven a schoolgirl to her death on the Ilha de Luanda and makes it so that the journalists covering this scandal and the family sharing their grief with the newspaper are subjected to threats. We do not have many intrepid journalists wanting to pursue a story featuring the violent acts allegedly committed (yes, even here we must retain the principle of the presumption of innocence, however difficult) by one of Mali’s biggest selling artists. But we should not lose hope, as activists have argued. This case is so terrible that it could be a marker for change. 

office du tourisme, Mali

Indeed, impunity seems almost written into the DNA of the elites, of which Sidiki is most decidedly a part. It takes one visit to one of Bamako’s most exclusive discotheques to get a sample of that. The place, called Ibiza, is a horrid hell of bad taste, awful music played extremely loud, overpriced drinks and unpleasant people, where nauseating entitlement mingles with utter disdain for those lower in the pecking order, like the taxi driver who was beaten up for not getting out of the way quick enough as a luxury car was looking for a place to park. To the surprise of no one, the lowlifes who perpetrated this act were said to be Sidiki’s mates, cut from the same cloth of those who went out of their way to diminish Mamacita in every way they could, reducing her to nothing and the violence meted out to her as a non-event. Ibiza, also the scene of shootouts, is a showcase of the moral decrepitude of Mali’s elites that got so bad that people were willing to go out on the streets in their thousands to ask – and even die – for the departure of Bamako’s champaign class, and applauded when soldiers took them away.

Anyone who has ever lived through short or prolonged periods of abuse (psychological, physical, or both) knows that any and all abuse is a full negative and should have no place in the place you call your home. Justice must take its course. If Sidiki is found guilty he must go to jail. What this means for his career is irrelevant. To those still agonizing about his talent and worried about his future and asking for forgiveness I would direct these questions: where is Mamacita in all this? Does she not deserve compassion and justice? Should you not worry about her future? Or do you just continue to spit in her face, like so many in Mali’s musical community are currently doing? Will you help her get up and reconstruct her life? The answers to those questions will tell you a lot about yourself. 

Covid-19 and me and you

October 24, 2020

Well, yes, I promised I was going to shut up about it after my Corona Chronicles from Bamako but I do find myself currently (and hopefully temporarily) in a very strange part of the world. I am watching with bemusement supposedly competent governments thrashing about in the wake of what must be termed a very large but ultimately not very powerful pandemic (the official statistics report death rates of less than 1 per cent of those affected). Coming from West Africa, Europe has all the hallmarks of a continent that has gone quite mad.

Just one example. As I mentioned in my Chronicles, when Mali and its neighbours decided they had a problem, they acted swiftly, decisively and ruthlessly. Night curfews did not start at 10pm in bars with large numbers of people already present, they started earlier, even when it is well-known that when people decide to partake in the rich nightlife of West African cities they do so very late. As someone astutely observed: will the virus know that it can only come into a packed and crowded bar when last orders have been consumed? This literally makes zero sense. You are either open – or you are closed. There is no halfway house here. 

The debate about face masks is even more bizarre. Look, I loathe the bloody things and I think they are not only a nightmarish inconvenience to wear but also an environmental disaster waiting to happen given the widespread human habit of disposing of your stuff anywhere you please but for crying out loud… Message to the navel-gazing Westerners complaining about this: the wearing of a face mask is, for once in your life, not about you. It is about others. It is not about a dictatorial government turning you into a slave. If you think this is what dictatorship and slavery look like you clearly have led an extraordinarily sheltered and massively privileged life. 

I will leave the conspiracy theorists who believe it’s all a China/WHO/Bill Gates/George Soros/5G/Deep State/Democrat/liberal/leftist/UN/Agenda 21/NWO bid for world domination, to one side. While fascinating in the way slow motion car crashes are fascinating, they add nothing to any rational debate about what we are dealing with and what we should do about it. Arguing with people advancing such points is futile. You will waste your time and fail to sway any of the True Believers. Just ask for evidence for their claims. You will invariably find that they are unable to provide such. All this BS should have one destination only: the bin. 

An even more dangerous cult, which should also find its way to the rubbish dump post haste is neoliberalism, the real point of writing this. Covid-19 has done more to destroy the neo-liberal consensus that began with the Greed Is Good regimes of Ronald Reagan and the equally loathsome Margaret Thatcher than any amount of street demonstrations, bedecked in yellow jackets or not. However, the neoliberal consensus still holds sway throughout much of the world and what is happening before your eyes is not a conspiracy but evidence-based fact: protection for the rich and their companies and banks, hell to pay for everybody else. It is Brexit on steroids.

When health workers get empty and meaningless gestures of nightly applause but no remuneration commensurate to their role in this crisis; when bankers are deemed more important than sewage workers; when shareholders and stockbrokers are considered of far more consequence than the mostly invisible people who ensure that your lights stay on, your water is clean, your internet keeps working and your roads are safe; when teachers are considered less important than some bozo gambling your future and mine away shifting billions around the world with the click of a mouse; when airlines are being kept aloft with billions of euros of taxpayers money that then goes to lease firms and moneymen…when you see all this happening in real time, you realise that you live in a system that is not worth saving. 

The banks’ Ponzi schemes that have been the bane of modern post-industrialist society will collapse once again. The Washington Consensus that brought destitution and war across Africa, Central and South America, Asia, South East Europe and the Middle East, has turned out to be fundamentally misguided, as the consequences are finally reaching the richest shores in the world. The criminals who dreamed it up should be persecuted, as the Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako showed in his film, Bamako

The end of the system, which we now know to be built on fraud, idle speculation and lies, will not come about through the swing to the populist right we are seeing in many parts of the world today. Xenophobia, racism and violence are not the answers to the systemic failure Covid-19 is revealing. The populist right of Le Pen, Wilders, Farage, Trump and the rest of the one trick con artists only serves to entrench neoliberalism even more. Like its kissing cousin, identity politics, it is a dangerous and ultimately pointless distraction. What will end the current systemic insanity is a radical swing towards real progressive politics, which has always been international in nature and always has the ideal of creating fair, equal and just societies in its DNA. You may want to call it socialism, which is fine by me. You can either have that, or you will have barbarism. 

Our choice. 

Myth and betrayal in an asbestos town (part two)

September 12, 2020

About the documentary Lamentations of Judas, shot in Pomfret, South Africa.

 

“You are all black and yet you were fighting against your own brothers.” In a hall that has been stripped off its windows and roof, we see the men, now old, as they sit behind a table and look straight at the interviewer/interrogator and us, the viewers.

Retrieved from the Rialto Cinema (Amsterdam) Facebook page.

Name.

Rank.

Name of fighting unit. 32 Battalion.

In the service of the Apartheid government’s army, ordered about by white commanders, they fought bush wars in Angola and against the Namibian freedom fighters of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) – known as the Border War in South Africa. Namibia gained its independence in 1990 and as the South Africans were preparing their withdrawal the men and their families were dumped in Pomfret, only to be called upon to repress the people rising against the apartheid government in the black townships. Returning to MPLA-run Angola was not an option. Pomfret became home to some six thousand people, stuck in a rut, forever.

The battalion was formally disbanded in March 1993, just over a year before the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South Africa´s first democratically elected head of state. Some families left Pomfret behind and moved to other towns in the province.  The men and their sons found work in South Africa’s burgeoning commercial security sector. But others try to find an escape in alcohol and still others have been recruited again and again to do the one job they know in other parts of the continent and the world: Nigeria, The DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Iraq… An unknown number of them (there’s no precise figure, reports range from a handful to 60) were among the crowd arrested by Zimbabwean police on board an aeroplane making a stopover in Harare, on their way to Equatorial Guinea in what is one of the most hare-brained schemes ever dreamt up: the plan to overthrow the murderous regime of president Teodoro Obiang Nguema and his family. The debacle, which happened in late 2004, is described in Adam Robert’s book The Wonga Coup.

The existence of Pomfret and its reputation as a mercenary town, was a major embarrassment to the new South African government, in power since 1994 and no longer in the hands of the white minority. It had outlawed mercenary activity in 1998 and so the remaining fighters of 32 Battalion found themselves not only on the wrong side of history – again – but also on the wrong side of the law.

Inevitably, the men started to build their own mythology. Us, fighting against our brothers and sisters? How dare you suggest this? “This country – South Africa – is free because of me!” says one of the men in the film. Of course, steeped in the relentless propaganda that Apartheid was fighting the good fight against Communism and Soviet bondage, this is a tale that is not difficult to maintain. But how did Boris Gerrets, the Dutch filmmaker, manage to get the men to talk about their lives?

By coming up with a metaphorical device: the Passion Play, based on the evangelical tale of the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus Christ, well known in this deeply Roman Catholic community.

Christ was arrested by Roman soldiers, the result of complaints from corrupt local leaders about his radical views and works. He was to die on the cross as a punishment. As he and his group of disciples, all played by the former soldiers, have their last super, Jesus foretells that one of them, seated around the table, will betray him that same night, denying having ever known him. The men play this scene with great intensity.

 

Source: Witfilm, Netherlands.

Engaging the community of Pomfret in staging that play brought the breakthrough, rendering the film a multi-layered one, with the desolation of this once beautiful and wealthy asbestos town as the background, fragments of the Passion Play as the metaphor for betrayal, snippets of the history in which they got caught up, and, of course, the life stories of the men themselves, beautifully edited. The interviews grow in intensity as the film progresses.

The South African government has been working since 2008 to erase the stain that is Pomfret. Literally. 2008 was the year that the national electricity utility ESKOM cut off power supply, reducing the families to fetching water the old/fashioned way, from boreholes, as the electric pumps bringing the water into their homes stopped working. Then followed attempts to tear the entire place down: homes, the community hall and other public buildings were partly demolished, the hospital and police station closed. The official reason given was the presence of dangerous asbestos but it would appear that the measures against the town had a political imprint. Pomfret had no intention to be moved and got a court to stop the evictions in 2012. It is all well and good for an ANC representative in the province to invite the Angolans to “come and join us in the New South Africa” but they are keenly aware of the fact that they are seen, by and large, as pariahs.

Understandably, the film steers clear of local and national politics and focusses on the men, their stories and reflections on their lives. They are asked whether the Roman soldiers were in the right as they arrested Jesus Christ in the Passion Play. Could they have refused? Well, no: you don’t refuse orders in the military. The words they use for their own work, the grisly details of which remain hidden (except for one man saying “we killed many people”) are “service” and variations on “we were following orders”. The politics, the “South Africa owes its freedom to us” came later. As one of their leaders makes an attempt to explain the hideously complicated historical and geo-political context, one of the men following the lecture-plus-discussion is shown wearing an MPLA cap…

But towards the end of the film the justifications gradually make way for the feeling of having been betrayed. Betrayed, by the men who had recruited them, just like the Zimbabwean ex-soldier-turned-writer Bruce Moore-King says in his graphic account of Rhodesia’s dirty war against Zimbabwe’s freedom fighters and concludes: “We were lied to by our elders.” Towards the end of the film, when some of the men are asked whether they felt they had been used, their initial bravura melts away and the myth crumbles. “Yes,” they say, as some break down and tell us that their lifelong fighting and invincibility – some were child soldiers – have all been in vain. “We suffer a lot,” says one. “For nothing. Nothing!”

What were they…heroes? Clearly, yes, in the eyes of some – including still a few of their own. But they were also villains and victims, simultaneously, and ended up as human wreckage, forgotten by uncaring masters. Listen and do not judge. As the film ends, the man whose musings we have heard throughout, Judas Iscariot, does the one thing these men don’t do: he walks away. How they wished they could walk away from what they did and what was done to them.

Myth and betrayal in an asbestos town (part one)

September 10, 2020

About the documentary Lamentations of Judas, shot in Pomfret, South Africa.

 

The desolation of an abandoned mining camp that serves as the backdrop for a Passion Play with an all-African cast. The life stories of Angolan war veterans, who are the main actors in the Passion Play. The theme: betrayal. More precisely: the betrayal by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, of Jesus Christ, about to be executed by the Romans who had colonised the Middle East, where the story takes place.

Alright, you have probably lost me there. Allow me to continue and it will all make sense towards the end.

Lamentations of Judas is the last documentary made by the Dutch filmmaker Boris Gerrets, who died in March this year. In a short interview in English the film’s producer, Eric Velthuis explains how he came across a snippet of information about the South African town of Pomfret, on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, a stone’s throw away from the border with Botswana. And he was intrigued: had anyone ever heard of a group of soldiers from Angola who had fought for the Apartheid regime and had been left marooned in a dilapidated town next to an abandoned asbestos mine where Portuguese was the main spoken language?

Turns out, quite a few had. There had been stories in various South African newspapers, more about that later. But the idea that African soldiers would fight for a government that made Africans third class citizens in their own country was something that just did not compute in a rational mind.

So they went to Pomfret and were met with a wall of stony silence. Which, given the context, was entirely predictable.

Most of the men, especially the older men who will make their appearance in the film, later, were fighting for the liberation of their country, Angola, against the Portuguese colonial regime. The war had started in 1961 and most of these men were fighting for the Frente Nacional de Libertaçao de Angola (FNLA), led by the charismatic but notoriously intolerant Holden Roberto, traits he shared with all of Angola’s post-independence leaders.

The FNLA was mostly based in the north of the country and consisted for a large part of BaKongo, people who have lived there for centuries. Support came from many different sides but arrived through Zaïre, a country whose leader (Mobutu Sese Seko) was a Western asset in the ‘Cold’ War with the Soviet Union. This put the FNLA at loggerheads – and indeed in hot fighting battle – with another liberation movement, the MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertaçao de Angola), a nominally Marxist movement that was to form the first post-independence government in the capital, Luanda, led by the poet, president and ruthless killer Agostinho Neto. The MPLA received enthusiastic military support from Cuba and rather reluctant assistance from the Soviet Union. (Later, of course, another murderously charismatic individual by the name of Jonas Savimbi would break off his alliance with Holden Roberto, set up his own movement UNITA and become the prime asset of the United States in the deadliest proxy war between the two superpowers of the ‘Cold’ War, which would last until 2002, when Angolan troops killed Savimbi, thus ending 27 years of hostilities that may have killed one million Angolans.)

32 Battallion. Retrieved from za.pinterest.com

Still with me? This is real history, in which hundreds of Angolan men were caught up, ground down and spewed out into that old asbestos camp called Pomfret, and abandoned.

Here’s what happened next, back in those tumultuous 1970s.

The presidents of Zaïre and Angola made their peace, which resulted in Holden Roberto getting booted out of Mobutu’s country and his FNLA fighters left to their own devices (as you will see, this is a recurrent theme in the lives of these men). And in the meantime, two other things happened: a military coup in Portugal (Revolução dos Cravos) in 1974 put an end to one of the last fascist governments in Europe (the other was in next-door Spain) and the new soldier rulers immediately started to remedy the cause that had made them cease power in the first place: those idiotic colonial wars they were fighting on behalf of the government they had just overthrown, in East Timor, in Mozambique, in Guinea Bissau, in Cabo Verde and, indeed, in Angola.

And in the same year, the South African Army started arriving in Angola because the last thing they wanted was a majority black government in Luanda that was also – horror of horrors – avowedly Marxist in nature. And the South Africans came across some of those old FNLA fighters and adopted them. A Colonel by the name of Jan Breytenbach has been associated with forging them into what they would become: the most terrifying counter-insurgency force in the Southern African region, the 32 Battallion, nicknamed Os Terríveis, the Terrible Ones. “They never lost a single battle,” gushed one commenter under a short South African film about Pomfret that appeared on YouTube in January 2008.

As they were taken to Nambia to fight against the liberation movement there, Angola descended into civil war. Savimbi turned UNITA into the anti-MPLA fighting force that the FNLA never was and president Neto’s government in Luanda ordered a purge (it was literally called A Limpeza, The Cleanup) of the more radical elements in the MPLA. The May 1977 mass killing may have cost up to 30 thousand people their lives. It followed a supposed failed coup and is, up to this day, not discussed inside Angola. It is also the subject of a book I reviewed four years ago.

That’s enough history for today. I will take you back to Pomfret and the film by way of Namibia and South Africa in the second part of this review, comning in a few days.

Mali: the death of 1991

August 19, 2020

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) is gone. And Mali will be none the better for it. Parallels with the exact same event, in March 2012 will inevitably be drawn. Yes, some things are the same: working conditions and pay of the soldiers supposed to fight Mali’s asymmetrical wars were terrible – they still are. Corruption and poor morale permeated the Army in 2012; they still do.

Other things were also present in 2012 and have become considerably worse. Insecurity, previously mostly a problem of the North, has spread to the centre and is now threatening Bamako. Is it the jihadists? Well, that’s what the Islam-obsessed West wants to believe. But truth be told, jihad is either a poor disguise or an ideological fig leaf for mostly criminal activity, born out of a complete lack of any perspective, thanks to the now ousted government and the ones that preceded it. Will this coup make these things better? No, it will not.

Corruption stalked the land in 2012 and still does. The roads in Bamako have fallen apart during this last rainy season because they are not maintained. Why are they not maintained? Because the money that is supposed to go into this rather crucial repair work disappears. This country relies on donor money for just about everything and the fact that we are living with terrible roads, appalling electricity delivery, grotesquely bad drinking water services, dreadful education and dire health care is testimony to the fact that the donor money earmarked for this work never arrives where it should. We send the money and close our eyes. Will this coup make that problem go away? No, it will not.

So we have spreading insecurity, corruption and the absolute point blank refusal to deliver basic services to the population. Anything left, then? Oh yes, religion has risen, as I have argued in various places. The opposition movement that was clamouring for IBK’s departure has in imam Mahmoud Dicko the leader that fills the gargantuan hole where a government should be. And more than anything, that hole is moral. Will this coup address that moral deficit? No, to all intents and purposes the ones who organised this chain of events are very much part of the problem.

1991 ushered in an era of democracy, we are told. The popular uprising + coup that put an end to the repressive reign of General Moussa Traoré was most decidedly welcome. But democracy is not the same as ‘doing whatever the hell I want’…and that’s what we have seen Mali’s new elites do and that behaviour has been extensively copied.

At the heart of Mali’s problems lies the absence of moral leadership that should have come from Generation 1991, of which IBK was a part from the very beginning. But there are no ideals, no agenda, no moral leadership…just greed and money. Yesterday’s coup has laid to rest three decades of increasing moral bankruptcy. Will it invent some moral leadership? Posing the question is answering it.

IBK’s government was besieged by three different contesting groups. One, the M5 Movement, did not know what it wanted. I know this because I asked them: “OK, you want IBK gone. Fine. Then…what?” To which came this shocking answer: “Oh, we don’t know. It’s all in the hands of God.” Well sorry folks, but that just will not do for a country of 22 million souls, some of whom are looking at you for guidance.

The second, the Army, has solved whatever issues it had with the government by removing it. This was about pay and positions. The head of the Presidential Guard was fired on the eve of the coup and you can bet your last euro that he wasn’t too damn well pleased with that… He also has friends in Kati, from where this coup came, just like the one in 2012. The soldiers have no truck with a political opposition and religion is something between you and Allah.

However…imam Dicko and his entourage see things very differently. They are the only ones who actually have a plan for Mali, which is to turn it into a Sharia state. To be sure, this is an idea that appeals to conservative tendencies present among the majority. But I am not convinced that said majority fully support Dicko’s desired flight backwards into history, before the hated French colonisers were here with their lay republic and their laws and their institutions, none of which are relevant to Malians and their lived daily experience.

After all, Islam is imported, too. And the kind of Islam Dicko wishes to impose on 22 million Malians is not the kind of Islam they aspire to, no matter how conservative they are. Because people also like their music (live, if you please), their drinks (in the privacy of the drinking dens) and their sex (in the privacy of the backrooms behind the aforementioned dens), all of which will be illegal once Sharia law is introduced.

So now you see: none of these agendas run parallel. We had the government and its plan for self-enrichment and lip-service to development, the Army and its nefarious networks and interests, the clueless political opposition and a bunch of adroit political Islamist operators… And then we have the interests of the outside world. ECOWAS has already cut Mali off, like they did in 2012. “We don’t endorse coups,” has been their message to Mali, consistently. The African Union, European Union, UN and the rest of the ‘international community’ will engage in its favourite pastime, prolonged handwringing, and do very little if anything at all. The plethora of military missions will not now be augmented by yet another futile attempt (the European Operation Takuba) and the rest is likely to wind down sooner (Barkhane) or later (MINUSMA).

Post coup, Mali finds itself on its own, borders closed, isolated and alone. Friends will turn their backs until ‘constitutional order’ is restored. In some circles, France will continue to be blamed for everything, which conveniently ensures that the proponents of this noise do not have to reflect on their own responsibilities in all this.

Unless, and only unless…the military finds itself ushered into a position of mediator between what is left of the State and the various insurgencies – and takes this role seriously, only then we just may get somewhere. But for now, we’re in an even greater mess than before.

Malians would be right to think: thanks for nothing, everyone.

OK, I have read his book so you won’t have to…

August 5, 2020

Pic retrived from marketwatch.com

John Bolton is a self-important bore who takes some 450 pages (almost 600 with notes and references) to drone on and on about how he is always right. Between April 2018 and September 2019 he was the national security advisor for a man who also thinks he is always right, president Donald Trump. A clash would seem inevitable. There were a few of them, as there were near-calamitous diplomatic near-misses. In the hands of an able writer this would have made very juicy reading but in Bolton’s clunky, plodding policy wonk prose it becomes a drag. You’re wading through what are essentially rememorised notes.

So why write about this at all?

Well, in spite of the fact that he is and remains a warmongering self-aggrandising hawk who firmly believes in regime change for some and bombing any country that takes a different view of the world than the Great US of A, his inside account gives us the strongest arguments yet for ejecting the narcissistic toddler currently occupying the White House at the earliest opportunity.

Having said that, the two men do share an abhorrence of world order and the institutions or organisations working towards that goal, including the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and its affiliated organisations like the World Health Organisation. They don’t like the EU much either but then I’m currently none too happy about where it is going… (Incidentally, they also share a deep hostility for the Fourth Estate; Bolton’s disdain for the press is palpable throughout his book.)

What they prefer is US-led global anarchy, where they set the rules. However, Bolton is far more systematic about this, which makes him the most dangerous of the two. Bolton wants regime change in Iran (he is worryingly obsessed with it), reign in China and contain Russia. In that order. As an aside and contrary to what many seem to think, he considers Syria “a sideshow”. Which from an inside-the-Beltway perspective it most assuredly is, like Africa. Yes, all of it.

And what is Trump on about, when he does not ramble about anything and everything? Three things stand out: money, deals and image. Raise any policy issue and he is likely to ask, like the New York real estate hustler he has always been: how much does it cost and what’s in it for me? That is exactly the mentality he has brought into the Oval Office. It should surprise no-one but since Bolton is a stickler for detail it’s useful to have this on public record in the sharp and unforgiving tones it deserves.

Money is at the root of his endless questioning: why are we in (Korea, Germany, Poland, Africa, Afghanistan…) Korea should pay for US military presence. He confuses a percentage of a nation’s GDP spent on national defence with contributions to NATO. On and on it goes. Trump is about as childishly and predictably unpredictable as Bolton is boring.

When it comes to China and North Korea it’s all about making deals. The greatest deal in history. Wonderful deals. When the United States withdrew from the agreement that bound Iran to limit its nuclear activities, Trump justified withdrawal because it was “a terrible deal.” Worst deal ever. This is not a president in action; it’s a New York real estate hustler.

And looking good is paramount. Photo-opportunity with North Korea’s strongman Kim Jung Un on the border between the two Koreas? Brilliant! Especially when you can get your venal and conniving family in on the picture: the shadow government of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner that Bolton hints at should scare the bejezus out of anyone with an ounce of understanding about how to run a country. Inviting the Taliban to the White House for talks? Great photo opportunity! And relations with China hinge on Trump’s great “personal relationship” with president Xi Jingpin, especially when Trump tells him that putting Uighurs away in concentration camps is a very good idea. The only thing that’s really terrible about China is the US trade deficit, the mechanics of which he does not understand.

Pic retrieved from 9and10news.com

Sucking up to autocrats is a particular character trait of Trump’s. He’s perfectly fine in the company of the likes I already mentioned, plus president Erdoĝan of Turkey and of course Vladimir Putin, even though I never get the impression from this book that he is what some simple minds refer to as ‘a Kremlin asset’. Trump likes dictators and wants to be one, simples. Unfortunately for him, he lives in a democracy that has so far proved remarkably resilient in spite of his efforts. Bolton likes Putin because he’s articulate (unlike his boss), on top of things (unlike his boss), and secure in his own role on the global stage. But make no mistake: Russia remains the enemy.

Bolton’s descriptions of his numerous meetings with the president of the United States show a man with the attention span of half a goldfish. In one, on Afghanistan, Trump manages to jump from that country to CNN reporters (unsurprisingly, he is in favour of shooting or jailing journalists), getting out of Africa (again), NATO and money (again), Ukraine, troops in Poland, calling North Korea’s Kim “a psycho” (Bolton agrees), South Korea paying 5 billion dollars for US military bases, the 38 billion dollar trade deficit with South Korea, getting all American troops out of Europe and announcing he was going to call the Indian Prime Minister about Kashmir. Bolton does not supply a time-frame but given the average length of security/foreign policy meetings this typical Trumpian ‘rolling on’, as Bolton calls it, may have occurred within, say, 30 minutes. Every single meeting goes like this.

These scenes aside, most of his tome consists of endless accounts of the bureaucratic infighting Washinghton is notorious for, trips abroad, and preventing Trump causing major international mayhem…always and forever framed in the glowing terms of the national security advisor’s infinitely superior intellect. Which makes it even more of a drag to read. (I told you I read his book so you won’t have to.)

This is probably Bolton’s last shot. He is unlikely to be hired ever again after having hung out some of Washington’s dirty linen and I for one think that the world’s a safer place because of it. Whether or not he should have made his revelations about Trump abusing his office for personal gain available to Congress will remain up for debate, probably forever.

In sum, then, yes, the White House chaos is there and it’s Trump’s chaos. Bolton’s descriptions make it clear that however bad you thought it was, it’s actually worse. Take that together with his autocratic tendencies, his tantrums and his narcissism and it becomes clear that even though the alternative is not exactly palatable this Orange Squatter should be out on his ear, come November. Here’s hoping that president Biden leaves Africa as much alone as did his predecessor; we have enough trouble here without the US sticking its oar in.

Nine days in July, 1938

July 25, 2020

Part 4 and end – Lesbos and the shadow of Evian

The al-Assad family that has been ruling Syria since 1971 fits right in with a long list of venal and corrupt families who are prone to using extreme violence to keep their power and – more importantly – their business interests intact. From the Kim dynasty in North Korea through to the Obiangs in Equatorial Guinea, the now deposed Duvalier clan in Haiti, the Gnassingbes in Togo or the terrorism-spreading House of Saud, they all share one overriding characteristic, whch is that they consider the countries they rule as their private property, to be distributed and looted as they see fit. One of the most bewildering scenes of the last decade is the blind support lent to the Assad government by some deeply misguided – or bought – elements of the Left, who would do well to read this from an ideologically impeccable source.

I have been loath to use the term ‘Arab Spring’, as it is historically illiterate. The term ‘Spring’ refers to one episode in Eastern European history, which happened in Prague 1968 and was crushed under Soviet tanks. The term also suggests that the people rising up against autocratic and corrupt governments like that of Ben Ali in Tunisia (yes, another one of those clans) were following some kind of script. This is the same arrant nonsense that compelled a Dutch editor to ask me whether the popular uprising in Burkina Faso that chased Blaise Compaoré (and his clans, yes) from power in October 2014 was somehow inspired by the Arab Spring. No it wasn’t: it was inspired by the people being royally fed up with a corrupt dynasty, supported by France, that refused to leave the scene. And if there were any inspiration, it surely would be a similar uprising in neighbouring Mali, which had dethroned the military dictator Moussa Traore, in 1991. Or indeed, in Burkina Faso itself where the people had chased away an incompetent head of state…as early as 1966.

So, something similar started in Syria in 2011. One BBC reporter who covered those very early protests, commented that the Assad dictatorship was “very very well constructed” and that the people oppossing it were “very very brave”. As Assad’s extreme repression intensified and Syria descended into civil war, millions started leaving the country. Soon, the EU’s Evian Paradigm would hit the buffers.

Lesbos, Greece. Picture accompanying an article by Ingeborg Beugel, retrieved from De Groene Amsterdammer.

There is just one country between Syria and the outer limits of the European Union. And when Turkey held some three million Syrian refugees within its borders by 2014 something had to give. At least, that was clear to all, except for the Brusels bureaucrats, still busy preparing deals with murders and butchers south and east of the Mediterranean to Keep ‘Em There. ‘Nobody saw this coming,’ Polman cites Kati Piri, a Member of the European Parliament. Until the proverbial dam burst, in 2015.

One of the many points this book makes so eloquently is that the refugee issue is always described as humanitarian, an active denial of the local, regional and international politics causing the existence of refugees. This absolves distant rich actors of all responsibility: we just give a little money to create a safe space or a camp somewhere and then we publish nice pictures of grateful refugees eating the crumbs from our table. Another point the book makes very well concerns the rule regarding countries that are first port of call for arriving refugees: the rule, rigorously followed, says that those countries must process the arrivals. What this means in practice is the total absence of any European solidarity when it comes to receiving refugees. As the uniquely insensitive Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte puts it: well, you know, those countries that live next to refugee crises just have bad luck.

In short, the Keep ‘Em There dogma remains firmly in place once refugees have crossed an external EU border. When they came to Greece in ever larger numbers it was not the EU’s problem – nope: it was Greece’s. Next thing we know: this, the overcrowded camps where desperate people are stored, places my good friend and colleague Ingeborg Beugel, who reports on Camp Moria and other places always and consistently describes as The Horror Camps. Towards the end of the book, Polman takes us to Lesbos, and describes the scenes she finds there: bewildered refugees asking questions about where to go, volunteers blowing bubbles to amuse the refugee children, the masses of life vests on the beach, the utter squalor in the camps and the maddening bureaucratic blockades refugees face when they want to move on.

With one and only one exception, when the German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally deblocked the situation as the whole of southeastern Europe and the rest were slamming their borders shut. In a short-lived gesture that nearly ended her political life she allowed Syrian refugees through and into Germany. But the idea that the ‘burden’ (barely equivalent to the annual intake of a single Dutch amusement park, Polman drily notes) would be equally shared among fellow European member states proved illusory. The borders slammed shut again. And the next thing we saw was the infamous deal with Turkey, discussed in the last instalment…and real violence against refugees trying to land on Europe’s shores. So much for the much-vaunted European values of democracy and humanism. After all, death already is an accepted instrument, employed very effectively to Keep ‘Em Away. The migration route across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe is the deadliest in the world and may have claimed as many as  30,000 lives since the EU came into being in 1993.

Is there a solution to all of this? There are hints in Polman’s book here and there, like Spain’s decision in 2005 to give residence permits to 600,000 migrants who had been in the country for longer than three years and without a criminal record, which led to hysterical reactions elsewhere on the old and ageing continent. The number is, of course, insignificant, as Polman keeps emphasizing. This is a major contribution of this book: wide-ranging and meticulously researched it provides perspective, facts and history instead of hysterics. It also has an extensive Glossary to explain the complicated and sometimes crass terminology being used regarding migration and the movement of refugees. It chronicles the shameful history of deliberate failure, since Evian.

But the biggest contribution of Nobody Wants Them is that it buries forever the myth that European politicians somehow buckle under populist pressure and develop their anti-migrant and anti-refugee policies. This is complete nonsense: Polman’s unearthing of the Evian Conference clearly demonstrates that this has been standard policy for almost nine decades. But the standard policy is untenable, living as we do in a world with obscene inequalities, with wars that are fought using arms that land huge profits in Europe (and indeed the US, Russia and China), which then closes its eyes for the consequences, with aid money that is used to ensure that the migration routes from poor nations becomes even more deadly than they already are…the list goes on.

The Evian Paradigm may be alive and well. It is also obsolete. Given the challenges ahead – including demographics, chronic instability and climate change – it is high time to do better. Much better.

 

Nine days in July, 1938

July 23, 2020

Part 3 – Brussels

“This country is run by gangsters.”

Bone dry assessment by a Nairobi-based journalist, as we were discussing president Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan, some nine years ago; me as a Radio Netherlands Worldwide editor, he as a regional correspondent. Bashir, the homicidal autocrat deposed by popular uprising a year ago and still wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for – among other things – mass murdering the people of Darfur Province, was of course an ideal partner for the execution of the EU’s policy of Keeping ‘Em Out. Sudan received a cool 200 million euros in 2016, to beef up its border security. The people hunting down refugees, notes Polman drily, were the same folks who had been hunting Darfuris. The former Janjaweed killers on horseback transformed themseves into the Rapid Support Force charged with border protection. EU oficials in Khartoum and Brussels, meanwhile, perfected the Art of Playing Innocence Personified.

Brussels has developed a habit of seeking out and partnering with extremely dodgy characters. Polman presents a whole raft of such deals in her book, including the one with Sudan, a depressing indication of the lengths to which Europe is prepared to go to ‘protect’ its white-as-snow innocent inhabitants from the – let’s not mince words here – darker-skinned hordes trying to scale the walls of Fortress Europe. If that takes making deals with homicidal maniacs, so be it. Gangsters? Brussels says: no problem. Mafia types who turn refugee centres into slave markets? Brussels says: why not?

The former Libyan leader Colonel Muamar Ghadaffi, deposed in a criminal enterprise undertaken by former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, former British Prime Minister David Cameron, former US president Barrack Obama and his former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, understood the xenophobic feelings of the European underbelly very well. When he was still bestest of friends with the British, the French and the Italians, Ghadaffi’s aid was solicited in the epic European struggle to Keep ‘Em There. Refugees or migrants…? That distinction had already been buried, as the Evian Paradigm took hold ever more firmly, while the end of the Cold War faded from view.

Threatening to let “millions of Africans” through so they could land on Europe’s wealthy shores, the Colonel was clearly angling for deals that would give him access to Brussel’s ever larger funds for outside border control, while he knew that a blind eye would be turned to the torture and killings that were routine in his detention camps. Whatever his forced departure from Libya has wrought, and all of it is chaos that has travelled across the Sahel and to the Atlantic shore, the basic European policy remains firmly in place: we make deals with whoever happens to run a particular portion of what remains of this vast North African country, even if that includes uniformed officials to whom people smugglers pay protection money.

These are some of the many practical examples Polman cites. They stem from something that sounds very friendly: the European Neighbourhood Policy. These are anti-migration deals made with governments to the south of the European Union, designed to keep as many migrants and refugees out as possible. As you know by now, these are small numbers. The vast majority of refugees are safely holed up in their camps and have nowhere to go, by design… This friendly neighbourhood policy, which I have on numerous occasions called by its proper name – blackmail – goes hand in hand with the equally friendly militarisation of EU border protection, spearheaded by the Frontex agency. This militarisation goes deep into the Sahel region and far out on the seas off Africa’s shores.

It is hard to find the most cynical deal of them all among the many you will find in this book, none of which register in the mind of your average EU citizen. But both the EU-facilitated slave markets in Libya and the EU deal with Turkey expose how migrants and refugees are considered objects, to which you can attach a price tag. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s erstwhile Prime Minister and later the country’s increasingly autocratic president, made it extremely explicit: Europe, how much are you prepared to pay me to Keep ‘Em Away? Three billion euros, say? Fortress Europe is an expensive folly but it remains the only game in town.

Brussels said: sure, yes, and thus ensured that Erdoğan had the leaders of the largest trading bloc in the world by the short and curlies. This grossly unedifying horse-trading led to the EU-Turkey deal of March 2016, a panick response to the events of 2015, the subject of the last part of this mini-series. Oh and the main architects of that infamous deal? The Dutch, acting in pecisely the same way as they did in the 1930s, when the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany went down on their knees at the border, to be let in, only to be told: Sorry, we’re full. The Evian Paradigm is alive and well.

Conclusion is next.

Nine days in July, 1938

July 20, 2020

Part 2 – Jahnzon

It’s the end of March 2011. We (that is yours truly and photographer Martin Waalboer) are in the tiny Liberian hamlet of Jahnzon, close to the border with Côte d’Ivoire. What we are witnessing is an exodus across the Cavally River that separates the two countries here. But contrary to what you may think, the exodus is not away from very poor Liberia still recovering from 14 years of gang warfare. This is an exodus in the opposite direction: from relatively rich Côte d’Ivoire into Liberia. Jahnzon is the first stop and when we meet Chief Moses Zé Dié to pay our respects he is at his wits’ end. It is pouring with rain as it does so often here, and there is a dire shortage of accommodation.

“They have been coming in large numbers,” says the Chief. “I cannot refuse them; they are our cousins. But I have no more place to lodge them. All the houses are full. I tell you, I now feel like a refugee myself…”

The Ivorians were fleeing the town of Duékoué, just across the border, where a terrible massacre was taking place, committed in all probability by the rebel force that had begun its descent from the north of the country into the economic capital Abidjan. In all probability, because this crime has never been properly investigated. What the refugees coming into Jahnzon were saying that they had heard shooting and that was for them enough reason to grab a few belongings and rush across the border into the relative safety of Liberia.

At the UNHCR refugee camp in Bahn, not far from Jahnzon, Hortense Gba is telling me her story. Here’s hoping she is doing well, wherever she is. Pic: Martin Waalboer.

This was the final phase of a series of West African wars that had started six weeks after the Berlin Wall fell. Not even sixty kilometers from Jahnzon (as the crow flies) is the equally unassuming town of Buutuo, where on Christmas Eve 1989 a few bewildered inhabitants saw a group of about 150 men, armed to the teeth, cross the Cestos River from Côte d’Ivoire into Liberia. When I went to Buutuo to collect their memories the good people of that town said that they were told that this group was heading for the capital Monrovia. “We told them: well, good luck with that…”. Months later, Charles Taylor and Prince Yormie Johnson, the two main gang leaders, had taken control of Monrovia, causing death and destruction wherever they went.

The wars careened through Sierra Leone and Guinea and eventually returned to Côte d’Ivoire, where the deadly sequence had originated. It would be, at least for now, the last roll of the deadly dice in this densely forested region. The violence caused hundreds of thousands of refugees who, for the most part, did exactly what the rich and powerful nations of the world wanted them to do: stay away from their affluent shores.

In her book, Polman details how that works out, especially in the post Cold War era. After the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 the rich world’s policy was more emphatically than ever to “Keep ‘Em Out And Over There”. UN agencies like the refugee organisation UNHCR are being paid to carry out that brief. The old joke before the Wall came down, was that the Russians would surely be coming…one by one, as dissidents chased from their country. That was still manageable, and ideologically The Right Thing To Do.

Their arrival was covered by the 1951 Convention for the Protection of Refugees, a document that was produced during the early days of the new post World War II East – West confrontation and after much tedious negotiation. The main issue was that only truly real genuine refugees, those who had political reasons to leave their countries, had the right to be granted asylum – and the hope was of course that those numbers would remain manageably small; the unspoken assumption was that the people most likely to be covered by this new Convention would be refugees from the Communist Bloc . (Polman points out that when the Soviets overran Hungary in 1956 the main thrust of Europe’s refugee policy was to keep the numbers of the truly real genuine refugees they could admit as manageably small as possible.) True to form, the United States made a very crass distinction between those who deserved asylum and those who did not: the ones fortunate enough to flee autocratic and Communist Cuba were welcome to establish their exile communities in Miami, Florida; those unfortunate enough to come from Haiti, a country that – like Syria today – was run by a venal, violent and corrupt family were sent back: they came from a country that belonged to Our Side…

Yes, it is Antonio Guterres, head of the UNHCR, visiting Bahn at roughly the same time we were there, in the company of Margrethe Løj, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Liberia. Guterres, of course, went on to become the UN Sec Gen himself, Løj moved on to South Sudan. Pic: UNHCR.

Post Cold War, the distinction between deserving and undeserving refugees disappeared completely and the objective became even more firmly aligned with the Evian Paradigm: Keep ‘Em Over There. As long as refugees fleeing war in West Africa, Central Asia, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East stayed in their region, all was well as far as Europe was concerned. To that end, the rich nations pay the UNHCR for the job of setting up refugee camps everywhere on a shoestring budget. Polman devotes a few chilling pages to the great philosopher Hannah Ahrendt’s reflections on camps – places where people are herded into and then either destroyed, worked to death or stored; and always forgotten. Some of these camps become veritable cities where people stay for years, if not decades. It matters not; as long as the donors’ Keep ‘Em There agenda is served, preferably on the cheap, all is well.

And if need be, adds Polman, that agenda is militarily enforced. France invented the ‘humanist’ intervention in West Africa for geo-strategic reasons but in the era after the Cold War the military-humanist intervention made a huge comeback, in support of another novel idea: ‘reception in the region’. Among the innovations tried out in those days were the so-called safe enclaves, loosely guarded by United Nation troops recruited mostly from poor countries in ever larger numbers. In Southeast Europe, this led to the disaster of Srebrenica in 1995, overlooked by Dutch UN troops. Yes, Keep ‘Em there – in the ground if need be, or in the desert sands of the Sahara or on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. In the next installment I give a few examples of the lengths to which Europe is prepared to go to keep itself ‘safe’ from refugees and migrants, a distinction that has disappeared completely as a result of Europe’s efforts to undermine, fatally, that already wafer-thin wall of protection for refugees, made in 1951.

To be continued

Nine days in July, 1938

July 18, 2020

Part 1 – Evian

This is not “another book about migration”, as it has been rather dismissively called. This is, in fact, a book about the European anti-migration machine and how it has been fully operational for eighty-eight years. The copy I am reviewing here is the Dutch original, written (full disclosure) by my great colleague and friend Linda Polman. Title (my translation): Not Wanted Anywhere. Literally it reads: Nobody Wants Them (Niemand wil ze hebben, in Dutch).

To explain that title we must go the French resort of Evian, on Lake Geneva. Polman has put her research and investigation skills to use to take us to the origins of Europe’s hostility to the idea of receiving refugees. This alone makes it an extremely welcome addition to the Europe-wide clamour about migrants and refugees, which is almost entirely dominated by emotion, rarely informed by facts and completely devoid of any historical perspective. This book offers facts and history, in spades. And in fact, to my not inconsiderable shame, I will admit that I had never heard of this conference until I picked up this book.

For nine days in July 1938 a global mix of 32 delegations took some time off their leisure activities, abundantly available at this French lakeside luxury paradise, to discuss the question what to do with the growing problem of Jewish refugees from Germany, already in the asphyxiating grip of Nazism. To put it more precisely: the delegates discussed the question how to avoid doing anything about the growing Jewish refugee problem, by using phrases that will sound very familiar in 2020. The excuses ranged from “We’re full,” through to “We should not take in too many of them, as this will create tensions” all the way to declaring the vast majority of those desperately trying to get away from the repressive Nazi steamroller “unwanted elements”.

Aerial picture of Evian, retrieved from evian-tourisme.com

None of the nations present, including Canada, Australia, the United States or indeed a smattering of Latin American ones offered any sanctuary. But we should not lose sight of the fact that this was first and foremost Europe’s problem. And the response of Europe’s nations? Keeping all borders closed.

For the Jewish delegates, Evian was not the soothing pleasure trip from massage parlour to leisure boat. It was a horror show, as 32 delegations casually condemned countless Jews to a prolonged stay in Germany, which for many of them would end in a death camp. “Sorry. We’re full.”

The Nazis watched the spectacle with cruel irony. As the conference dragged on, their propaganda paper Völkische Beobachter would write a sneering comment along the lines of “We told you so” and continue, referring to the Jews, desperate to get out, with this deadly accurate assessment: “Nobody wants them.” Four months after the conference ended, an all-out attack on Jewish persons, houses of worship and businesses took place during the infamous night that would go into history under the name Kristallnacht. In the wake of this massacre that killed hundreds, the Netherlands reinforced its border controls.

Having set the scene, the book then takes us through the ‘Cold’ War (there were many parts of the world where that war was not cold at all) and into the era following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the many ways in which the Evian Paradigm, if you like, has continued to shape the policies of Europe, the European Union and its member states regarding migrants and refugees. More on that in the next installment.

Oh and what’s the Evian Paradigm? You can glean that from the many excuses the delegates used to keep their borders shut during those nine days in July 1938. Put bluntly, you can summarise it inone single phrase: Keep ‘Em Out And Keep ‘Em Over There. Without presenting a blow-by-blow account of the book, I will give examples of what that means in practice and in so doing also – and hopefully – provide enough ammunition for the argument that this book does indeed deserve an English translation.

Stay tuned.