Posts Tagged ‘New African’

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.

The Shoehorn

February 11, 2013

Here’s another in an occasional series about a remarkable London journalism-plus-agitprop magazine, for which I once wrote. This time: the United Nations, or: how to shoehorn a pretty good article into the editorial agenda and mangle the result in the process. 

 

If you are a small and poorly-resourced country, you can still wield influence at the United Nations, provided you are focused, united and diligent.

Indeed. I can cite the example of my own country of origin, The Netherlands, tiny but certainly not poorly resourced. Over the past 20-odd years, though, it has substantially dropped the ball on international issues, a perfect reflection of the nation’s newfound obsession with its own navel. It got so bad that one major international magazine (and I think it was The Economist) famously described the Lowlands as “small, pink and irrelevant”. Mind you: that was before the rise of Geert Wilders’ dog and pony show messed up the country’s reputation even further…

The simple truth quoted above was taught by experience and brought home by representatives to the UN from Kenya, Gabon and emerging African heavyweight Angola. But they appear in a story about the UN in this month’s New African, which leads a crusade against a selected few large international organisations. Is there something terribly wrong with the UN?

From the magazine

From the magazine

Where to begin?

It has sclerotic bureaucracies, to start with one of its minor ailments. It is prone to cynical political horse-trading, for instance for the much-hyped Millennium Development Goals. Nobody believed in them and the whole shebang has been quietly dropped since. You can also take a look at the behaviour of various “UN Families” in countries in and around Africa, behaving like wasteful parallel governments that thrive on foreign resources.

And what about the out-of-date Security Council, which is dominated by two powers that still matter (China and the USA) and three ageing former empires (Great Britain, France and Russia)? Can we get rid of The Obsolete Three and replace them with Nigeria, Brazil and India? Thank you.

Early on, the author of the story zooms in on Kofi Annan, the former head of the large Department of Peacekeeping Operations. He went on to become one of the UN’s “most charismatic Secretary Generals, ever.” Fine. But why does she not mention the momentous event that Annan and his Department watched from the sidelines – the Rwanda genocide? There is no shortage of material about it (Samantha Power’s Bystanders to Genocide springs to mind) and it would have told us quite a lot about what is wrong with the UN.

But none of the above qualifies. I can imagine the editor poring over the story and thinking: but why does she not write about…what I asked her to cover? Because, you guessed it, the UN has a major flaw. It is…wait for it…racist. One diplomat – and the only anonymous one in the entire story – pontificates that Africans at the UN are not taken seriously and the only African countries that matter have stuff that the West needs.

AHA! The West! Home to those racist, colonial, slave trading….er, Not Very Nice People. Somehow, this meme had to be woven into the piece. I think the author, having done a decent job, was either sent back to find that quote – or it was made up. Why would this diplomat not want to be named? You don’t put your career on the line with such a quote – not in an organisation where there is a daily shower of all the politically correct buzzings: race, gender,climate change and tolerance, nay: acceptance of the manifold isms in the world. So if he said what was quoted, he has chosen to remain anonymous…out of sheer, ocean-deep embarrassment.

 

This one is rather mild. I am working on a more spectacular one, relating to New African’s hostility to the International Criminal Court. A year ago, that hostility spawned an absolute trainwreck of an article. Coming up at some point in time! 

Gays and a London magazine

December 12, 2012

In the next few weeks/months (whenever I feel like it) I’m going to write some occasional comments on a magazine I used to write for. It’s a monthly called New African that offers the reader a combination of pure journalism and seriously agenda-driven writing. Making the distinction between the two can be difficult, although in this case, it’s not. Alright, here goes. 

 

New African’s editor Baffour Ankomah has decided to add a new dimension to the magazine’s tradition of heaping praise on some (not all) violent power grabbers like Charles Taylor and Robert Mugabe. In February this year, Ankomah wrote another one of his popular editorial commentaries, known as Baffour’s Beefs. Beefs has two key stylistic elements: it uses a lot of words and takes forever to get to the point. But there is never any mistaking of the target of his rhetorical long-distance arrows. This time it was gays.

Mind you, the targets are always arrived at by way of others, in this case David Cameron, the UK prime minister. Cameron said earlier this year that he was making aid disbursement contingent on African nations showing respect for (among others) gay rights. (You know my view on aid so we’ll leave that issue to one side for now.)

Beefs asked the question why Cameron ties giving aid to promoting something that ‘affronts the innate values of the African…’ This is a nasty little rhetorical trick he uses on occasion, to great effect. In this case, the implication was crystal-clear: molesting a gay man or a lesbian is akin to socking it to The White Man, who, and this is an important subtext to a lot of New African’s output, is racist, colonial…let’s say: Not A Very Nice Person. The writer carefully offers an extraordinarily mealy-mouthed ‘That however does not mean that we should persecute gays, as in Uganda or Malawi….’ but the point that gays are fair game has been made and will be repeated later.

In December, to be precise. Subject matter of Beefs this time: who will be the new Head of the Church of England? One main contender was John Sentamu, with whom Ankomah has a long-standing feud, originating in the former’s criticism and the latter’s starry-eyed admiration of Zimbabwean president Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Comrade Bob, like a true born African, does not like gays either.

So: why did Sentamu not become the new Head of the Church of England? We’re hundreds of words into Beefs when the cat finally comes out of the bag: Sentamu is against gay marriage. That is why he did not get the job. You see, white men are not only Not Very Nice – they also shag each other. And here, Ankomah uses his trick again: Sentamu remembered that ‘…he was African after all…’, hence his anti-gay and gay marriage stance. Oh really?

Early 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing the long-serving Cameroonian lawyer Alice Nkom, the first African woman ever to have been called to the bar in her country and a tireless campaigner for the rights of her compatriots (my radio report is the bottom link on this page). She famously defended the late crusading journalist and fellow citizen Pius Njawe. Equally famously, she defends the rights of sexual minorities in her country, where a widespread theory circulates that claims the French colonizers only granted independence once they were sure their successors were all gay… Back on Planet Earth, here’s a lengthy quote from my interview with Maître Nkom. Read this slowly.

‘Homosexuality is un-African? No, homophobia is un-African. It has entered the continent in tandem with two imported religions: Christianity and Islam. The most important value of our Constitution is the equality of all people in terms of rights and obligations. This means that regardless of my sexual orientation or my religion I have the same rights to protection of my home and my private life, as everyone else. In consequence, whatever I get up to in my home, in my bedroom, is my affair and mine alone and as long as I don’t call the police because there is danger, absolutely no-one has the right to come and disturb my peace. So when I defend the rights of sexual minorities I am following to the letter the constitution of Cameroon and I am helping the president to guarantee the constitutional rights of all.’

Maître Nkom later added that the persecution of sexual minorities, apart from being unconstitutional, also targets the poorest people in society. ‘I find that personally hurtful and it goes against all the values I have been inculcated with since childhood.’

A lawyer I will never be but I reckon it is appropriate to end here with a simple: I rest my case.

There are more interesting features adorning New African, such as its unwavering support for certain autocrats, its animosity towards the International Criminal Court and, of course, Europe. That’s for some other time.