Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The Roots of the Côte d'Ivoire Crisis

06.April.2011 · Posted in Opinion

This tropical West African nation, once the most prosperous in the region, is sliding even deeper into civil war. ...

This tropical West African nation, once the most prosperous in the region, is sliding even deeper into civil war.

At press time, after a weeklong street battle for Abidjan, the commercial capital of 5 million, there were reports of a fragile settlement. But the vicious violence could break out again at any time.

Mainstream Western press accounts included depressingly familiar explanations: the stolen presidential election in November, rising ethnic conflict.

The explanations were accurate, as far as they went.

Right now, Côte d’Ivoire’s 21.5 million people are living in a terrible human rights crisis, a catastrophe that is being downplayed partly because the uprisings in the Arab world are distracting attention. But several thousand people have already died here, and up to 1 million are refugees. The small United Nations peacekeeping force should be strengthened, and the world pressure to force the election’s loser, Laurent Gbagbo, to give way to Alassane Ouattara must continue. (Right now Gbagbo is still hanging on to power.) But a change in presidents will not end the danger—and the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire is representative of deeply rooted structural problems in many other African nations.

You have to come here, to one of the forest regions where Côte d’Ivoire’s million-plus cocoa farmers live, to find the fundamental reason that fighting is breaking out again: a profoundly unjust international economic order that pays the people who supply our primary products a pittance and leaves their nations chronically ill with unemployment and poverty, and with people who will fight one another over scarce resources. Here, too, you will learn that the giant American agribusiness corporations Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are one part of the problem, even though their names do not appear in the grim dispatches about widespread killings and mass graves.

At first glance, this humid eastern zone, thick with tropical forest, may seem like a frontier, on the fringes of the modern world. In fact, Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans. Giant global industries are based on cocoa; any chocolate bar sold in the United States is likely to include products from here. What looks like forest turns out to be mixed plantations carved out by hard-working small growers using axes and hand tools, who have to wait patiently, living off their other subsistence crops like bananas and manioc, for three to five years until the cocoa trees bear their first golden pods.

At the moment, the world cocoa price in London is high, roughly 1,600 West African francs per kilo. But the small farmers here laugh bitterly at that figure; they are lucky if they get half of it for their sacks of beans. Cargill, ADM and a big Swiss concern, Barry Callebaut, are some of the biggest buyers; during the harvest season that ended last fall their Ivorian agents fanned out across the southern part of the country, offering much less than the world price. Then Gbagbo’s corrupt government took a big bite in “official” taxes. Finally, the small farmers paid bribes at the police roadblocks that regularly cut the highway down to the port at Abidjan.

Ivorian cocoa farmers are self-confident men and women, pioneers who take all the risks themselves. They are not like the frightened and deferential rural poor people you might find on some big landlord’s estate in Central America or Pakistan. Even though many of them have never actually eaten a bar of chocolate, they know roughly how much one costs in America and Europe, and they are indignant that they are paid so little for their years of hard work.

I visited a growers’ cooperative to learn more about how the whole setup is rigged. The co-op’s tidy office was next to a warehouse in which the sweetish odor of cocoa beans from the last harvest lingered. One of the group’s managing committee, Monsieur Henri, a patient, thoughtful man in his 50s, got up during our talk, walked over to a large metal cabinet, shuffled through well-organized files and produced a photocopy of a receipt from Cargill West Africa. The receipt, dated July 13, 2010, showed that the giant company had deducted 972 kilos from one of the co-op’s shipments because of alleged spoilage caused by “humidity.”

Monsieur Antoine, a shorter, more intense man with a striking resemblance to former New York Giants football star Tiki Barber, explained that Cargill and the other big companies have the sole right to assess quality, with no safeguard for the growers. “It is as if one of the teams in a soccer match were paying the referee,” he said.

I asked the committee members for a rough listing of their other grievances. They naturally want better prices, but also prices that fluctuate less. Just like primary producers all over the third world, they face a boom-and-bust cycle that makes it impossible to plan; and in bad years, when the international price skids because of factors out of their control, they may even work all season for nothing. They want financing at reasonable interest rates; apparently there is no land bank. They want technological help. When I explained that in America the government pays agricultural extension agents to help farmers, M. Antoine got so angry he jumped up and started pacing back and forth. “Here, we have to pay them to visit our farms!” he said.

The co-op members want Cargill, ADM and the other big buyers to deal directly with them and the other forty cocoa cooperatives in the region. Monsieur Robert, a wry, philosophical man with a gap-toothed smile, explained, “The companies want to keep us divided. They send their buying agents out into the bush to buy from individual farmers, to keep the price down. Maybe the small farmer is desperate; he has to pay school fees for his children, or for medicine. He will accept the first price Cargill gives him.” Their village has about a thousand residents. Their homes are rudimentary—made of mud or bamboo—not what you would expect for people who since the early 1900s have been the base of what has grown into a multibillion-dollar international industry. They have no health clinic, not even a pharmacy. They do have a school, but they had to build it themselves.

Neither here nor anywhere else in this southeastern region is there a Cargill Hospital or Cargill High School; there is no Archer Daniels Midland Sports Center. The farmers told me the Swiss company, Barry Callebaut, had made some local contributions. But M. Antoine added, “All they really did was spend a small part of our own money that they had already squeezed from us.”

Cargill and ADM are gigantic enterprises; millions of Ivorians know them, but probably not one American in 500 would recognize their names. Large companies like Microsoft and Apple appear regularly in the Western press, but the big agribusinesses are arguably more influential worldwide. The Cargill and ADM websites boast about how big and diversified they are. Cargill last year operated in sixty-six countries, with $107.9 billion in revenues and $2.6 billion in profits. Do the agribusinesses really have to wrest every single West African franc they can out of the small growers?

The chronic crisis in the cocoa industry has contributed to the present slide into civil war in two ways. First, and most significant, the persistent poverty and stagnation causes war. Second, the ethnic tensions, which arose in the cocoa industry itself, gave unscrupulous politicians the chance to make a bad situation even worse, for their personal gain.

Côte d’Ivoire over the past decades has done just about everything mainstream Western economists suggested—and it remains trapped in poverty. The country concentrated on growing and exporting products it was “good” at, cocoa and also coffee, instead of trying to industrialize. But the chronically low world prices for these products kept the country poor. With better prices—a little more like what protected and subsidized farmers in the United States and Western Europe earn—my friends and the millions of others in the cocoa-growing regions here could have started to consume more themselves, which in turn would have promoted local industries, p reduced unemployment and gradually raised the country’s standard of living.

Meanwhile, Côte d’Ivoire’s education system has continued to produce graduates who cannot find work in the stagnant economy. Richard Achi, my closest Ivorian friend, is a thoughtful 35-year-old social worker. He explains, “Every year, 40,000 young people sit the nationwide exams for government jobs. But there are only, say, 300 posts available. The rest of them have to find something else. Many of them survive by going out into the streets to do ‘marketing’—selling gadgets. Some of them get tremendously frustrated.”

Despite all the poverty and soured dreams, you witness a surprising paradox here; the country has unquestionably lurched into civil war, but the overwhelming majority do not want violence. Most Ivorians have strong and conflicting opinions about who won the presidential election, but it is only a small minority, from among the disaffected, underemployed, hopeless young men, who actually are prepared to kill. Achi says, “In some cases, political leaders have promised these youths they will eventually get government jobs in return for joining their armed militias.”

Ethnic tensions, in large part connected with the history of the cocoa industry, add to the violence. When the cocoa planting accelerated decades ago, there were not enough people in the southern rainforest region to do all the work. The president back then, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, encouraged people from farther north—some from Côte d’Ivoire, others from nearby countries—to migrate and help clear the land. For decades the various ethnicities got along fine, and the cocoa belt became a mosaic of peoples. Here in the far southeast, I met a number of farmers who originally came from neighboring Burkina Faso or Mali, and you will see churches right down the street from mosques. Back then, there was no talk of “ancient tribal animosities.”

Once the economic crisis started to bite in the late 1980s, certain dishonorable politicians saw an opportunity. They would not—or could not—confront the international economic structures of exploitation that were at the root of the problem, so they started to mobilize their own ethnic followings by scapegoating and name-calling others. Ivorians can usually distinguish one another’s background by appearance, dress and name, and friction started to grow in the mixed rural areas and in neighborhoods in Abidjan.

Just before the latest wave of violence started, you could see one painful sign of the ethnic tension at newsstands, located on street corners or in the open-air bus stations. In Côte d’Ivoire there are as many as a dozen daily newspapers, twelve- to sixteen-page tabloids that are nearly all ferociously partisan for one side or the other, and that shamelessly slant the news and resort to innuendo, sometimes with an ethnic subtext. The newsstands displayed these papers side by side. Every morning, as soon as the papers arrived from the capital, dozens of passers-by showed up to read the headlines. They stood in somber rows, showing no emotion. Throughout the day, new bystanders stopped by, intent but expressionless. Achi explains, “People are hiding who they support. They have to be careful if violence does break out. Most of them can’t afford to buy a paper. But those who can will conceal it, so they don’t give away their views.”

* * *

There is hope that worse fighting can be avoided. The regional grouping (the Economic Community of West African States), the African Union, the United Nations and the Western powers all applied economic pressure on Gbagbo’s government, which slowly but surely weakened his clan’s grip. A big part of the pressure was an embargo on the export of cocoa, which the elected government of Alassane Ouattara declared in mid-January, and which was meant to deprive the illegitimate regime of one of its major revenue sources.

The indispensable human rights organization Global Witness, based in London and Washington, DC, has pointed out (in “Hot Chocolate,” an important 2007 report) that cocoa has helped fund the violence over the past decade. Not only did the Gbagbo government heavily tax exports but the rebel forces in the north that support Ouattara also diverted cocoa money to buy weapons.

Cargill said promptly that it would respect the export boycott; ADM and Barry Callebaut took another six weeks to comply. So, mountains of cocoa beans—some $1.5 billion worth—are supposed to be sitting in Ivorian warehouses. But as the chaos increases, there is no way to be sure the big agribusinesses are respecting the embargo. The temptation to add to their profits by smuggling some of those stores out of the country must be great. Global Witness is therefore calling on the giant exporters to publish what they are paying and to guarantee they are observing the boycott.

When Westerners look at Africa at all, they have an unfortunate tendency to see things in black and white. In Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, the man who refused to recognize that he lost the internationally supervised election, unquestionably committed crimes. His army opened fire with heavy weapons, reportedly killing peaceful women demonstrators. He was allied with a youth militia led by a sinister little man named Charles Blé Goudé, which even before the battle for Abidjan allegedly stopped people at roadblocks, murdered them because of their ethnic background and then threw them into mass graves. Gbagbo and his clan are also suspected of massive theft.

The installation of the duly elected president, Ouattara, will not end the Ivorian crisis. Among Ouattara’s supporters are armed young rebels who have almost certainly committed massacres just as criminal as the killings by Gbagbo’s thugs. Even if a fragile peace is restored, if the unequal international economic structures do not change, the best possible prognosis is for an uneasy calm, disfigured by poverty, exploitation and persisting tension.

Côte d’Ivoire may seem away, and exotic. But every time those in the more prosperous parts of the world buy chocolate, we are exploiting the people who produce it. As long as we continue to tolerate this injustice, there will be no peace in Côte d’Ivoire.

 

Source: James North, thenation.com

Rodolfo Graziani writes to Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron

23.March.2011 · Posted in Opinion

Letter from the former Governor of Libya, Field Marshall Rodolfo Graziani.

To the three Governors-to -be Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron (aided by Secretary of the Interior Maroni, a descendant of mine) ...

Letter from the former Governor of Libya, Field Marshall Rodolfo Graziani
To the three Governors-to -be Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron (aided by Secretary of the Interior Maroni, a descendant of mine)

First of all I wish to congratulate you on the magnificent title you gave this daring operation, worthy of a triumvirate such as yours: Odyssey Dawn, recalling the intrepid feats that saw the Mediterranean Sea as their theatre a few millennia ago. (more…)

The universal reach of popular uprisings-A.Badiou

22.March.2011 · Posted in Opinion, politics

“The Tunisian and the Egyptian people are telling us: raise up, build up a public space for the communism of movement, protect it by all means while inventing the sequential course of action.” ...

The universal reach of popular uprisings

by Alain Badiou

The wind of the east carries away the wind of the west

Until when the idle and crepuscular West, the “international community” of those who still believe themselves to be the rulers of the world, will continue to give lesson in good management and good behavior to the rest of the world? Is it not laughable to see some well-paid and well-fed intellectuals, retreating soldiers of the capital-parliamentarism that serves us as a moth-eaten Paradise, offering their services to the awe-inspiring Tunisian and Egyptian people, in order teach these savages the ABC of “democracy?”

What pathetic persistence of colonial arrogance! In the situation of political misery that we’ve been living for the last three decades, is not evident to surmise that it is us who have everything to learn from the popular uprisings of the moment?

Don’t we have the urgency to give a close look to everything, that, over there, made possible, by collective action, the overthrow of oligarchic and corrupt governments, who — or maybe especially — stood in a humiliating position of servitude to the Western world?

Yes, we should be the students of these movements, and not their stupid professors. For they give life, with the genius of their own inventions, to those same political principles that for some time now the dominant powers try to convince us of their obsoleteness. And in particular the principle that Marat never stopped recalling: when it is a matter of liberty, equality, emancipation, we all have to join the popular upheavals.

We are right to revolt

Just as in politics, our States and those that benefit from them (political parties, unions and complaisant intellectuals) prefer management to revolt, they prefer peaceful demands and “orderly transition” to the breach of law. What the Egyptian and Tunisian people remind us is that the only action appropriate to the sentiment of scandalous takeover by State power is the mass upraising. In this case, the only rallying cry capable of linking together the disparate aspirations of those making a crowd is: “you there, go away!”

The exceptional significance of the revolt, namely its critical power, lies in the fact that its rallying cry, which is repeated by millions of beings, gives the measure of what will be, undoubtedly, irreversibly, its first victory: the flight of the designated man. And whatever happens next, this triumph, illegal by nature, of popular action, will be forever victorious.

Now, that a revolt against the power of the State can be absolutely successful is an example of universal reach. This victory points out to the horizon over which any collective action unencumbered by the authority of the Law outlines itself: what Marx called “the deterioration of the State.” The knowledge that someday the people, freely associated and resorting to their creative power, will be able to throw away the funereal coercion of the State. That’s the reason why this Idea arouses boundless enthusiasm in the entire world and will trigger the revolution that ultimately will overthrow the authority in residence.

A spark can set the plain on fire…

It began with the suicide, a self-immolation by fire, of a man who has been downgraded to unemployment, and to whom was forbidden the miserable commerce that allowed him to survive; and because a female police officer slapped him in the face for not understanding what in this world is real.

In a few days this gesture becomes wider and in a few weeks millions of people scream their joy on a distant square and this entails the beginning of the catastrophe for the powerful potentates. What is at the root of this fabulous expansion?

Are we dealing with a new sort of epidemics of freedom? No. As Jean-Marie Gleize poetically said: “The dissemination of a revolutionary movement is not carried by contamination. But by resonance. Something that surfaces here resounds with the shock wave emitted by something that happened over there.”

Let’s name this resonance “event.” The event is the sudden creation, not of a new reality, but of a myriad of new possibilities. None of them is the repetition of what is already known. This is the reason why it’s obscurantist to say “this movement claims democracy” (implying the one that we enjoy in the West), or that “this movement pursues social improvement” (implying the average prosperity for the petit bourgeois de chez nous). Starting with almost nothing, resonating everywhere, the popular uprising creates unknown possibilities for the entire world.

The word “democracy” is hardly uttered in Egypt. There is talk about “a new Egypt,” about the “true Egyptian people,” about a constituent assembly, about complete changes in everyday life, of unheard-of and previously unknown possibilities. There is new plain that will come after that that no longer exists, the one that was set on fire by the spark of the uprising. This plain to be stands between the declaration of an alteration in the balance of forces and the holding of new tasks. Between the shout of a young Tunisian: “We, children of workers and of peasants, are stronger than the criminals;” and what said a young Egyptian: “As from today, January 25, I take in my own hands the matters of my country.”
The people, only the people, are the creators of universal history

It’s amazing that in our West, the governments and the media consider the insurgents in a Cairo square are “the Egyptian people.” How can that be? Aren’t the people for them, the only reasonable and legal people, the one usually reduced to the majority of a poll, or the majority of an election? How did it happen that suddenly, hundreds of rebels are representative of a population of eighty million?

It’s a lesson that should not be forgotten, and that we will not forget. After a certain threshold of determination, of stubbornness and of courage, the people, in fact, can concentrate their existence in a square, an avenue, some factories or a university… The whole world world will be witness of the courage, and especially the wondrous creations that go with it. These creations prove that there, there is a People. As an Egyptian rebel strongly put it: “before I watched television, now television is watching me.”

In the stride of an event, the People is made of those who know how to solve the problems brought about by the event. Thus, in the takeover of a square: food, sleeping arrangements, watchmen, banners, prayers, defensive actions, so that in the place where it all happens, the place that is the symbol, is kept for the safeguarded for the people, at any price. Problems that, at the level of the hundreds of thousands of risen people mobilized from everywhere, seemed insoluble, all the more that in this place the State has virtually disappeared.

To solve insoluble problems without the assistance of the State becomes the destiny of an event. And this is what makes a People, suddenly, and for an indeterminate time, to exist where they have decided to assemble themselves.
Without a communist movement, there is no communism

The popular uprising we speak about is obviously without a Party, without an hegemonic organization, without a recognized leader. In time, we can assess whether this characteristic is a strength or a weakness. In any case, this is what makes us, in a very pure form, undoubtedly the purest since the Paris Commune, to call it a communism of movement.

“Communism” here means: a common creation of a collective destiny. This “common” has two specific traits. First, it is generic, representing, in a place, humanity as a whole.There we find all sort of people who make up a People, every word is heard, every suggestion examined, any difficulty treated for what it is.

Next, it overcomes all the substantial contradictions that the State claims to be its exclusive province since it alone is able to manage without ever surpassing them: between intellectuals and manual workers, between men and women, between poor and rich, between Muslims and Copts, between peasants and Cairo residents. Thousands of new possibilities, concerning these contradictions, arise at any given moment, to which the State — any State— remains completely blind.

One witnesses young female doctors from the provinces taking care of the injured, sleeping in the middle of a circle of fierce young men, and they are calmer than they have ever been, knowing that no one will dare to touch a single hair from their heads. One witnesses, just as well, an group of engineers entreating young suburbanites to hold the place and protect the movement with their energy in battle.

One witnesses a row of Christians doing the watch, standing, guarding over bent Muslims in prayer. One witnesses merchants of every kind nourishing the unemployed and the poor. One witnesses anonymous bystanders chatting with each other. One can read thousands of signs where individual lives mix without hiatus in the big cauldron of History.

All these situations, these inventions, constitute the communism of movement. For two centuries the only political problem has been how to set up in the long run the inventions of the communism of movement? The only reactionary assertion affirms that “This is impossible, verily harmful. Let’s trust the in the powers of the State.” Glory to the Tunisian and Egyptian people because they conjure the true and only political duty: the organized faithfulness to the communism of movement takes on the State.

We don’t want war, but are not scared of it

Everywhere was mentioned the peaceful calm of the gigantic demonstrations, and this calm was associated with the ideal of elective democracy that was attached to the movement. Let’s point out nevertheless that insurgents were killed, hundreds of them, and that there are still being killed every day.

In more than one instance, those killed were fighters and martyrs of the event, they died for the protection of the movement. The political and symbolic places of the uprising had to be defended by means of ferocious fighting against the militiamen and the police forces of the threatened regimes.

And who did pay with their lives but the youth from the poorest communities? The “middle class” — of which our preposterous Michèle Alliot-Marie said that on them, and only on them, depended the democratic outcome of the events — should remember that, at the crucial moment, the persistence of the uprising was guaranteed only by the unrestricted engagement of popular contingents. Defensive violence is inevitable. It still continues, in difficult conditions, in Tunisia after the young provincial activists were sent back to their misery.

Can anyone seriously think that these innumerable initiatives and these cruel sacrifices have as their main objective to prompt people “to choose” between Souleiman and El Baradei, as it happens in France where we pitifully surrender our will in choosing between Sarkozy and Strauss-Kahn? Is this the only lesson of this majestic episode?

No, a thousand times no! The Tunisian and the Egyptian people are telling us: raise up, build up a public space for the communism of movement, protect it by all means while inventing the sequential course of action; such is the real of the politics of popular emancipation.

Certainly, the Arabic States are not the only countries that are against the people and, notwithstanding elections, are illegitimate. Whatever will happen, the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have a universal meaning. They prescribe new possibilities and thus their value is international.

translated by Antonio Cuccu, revised by Jorge Jauregui

North Africa: Rebellion, Surprise & Strategy

21.March.2011 · Posted in Opinion

A survey of of recent rebellions in the Maghrib generates questions of strategy in this essay, written for Kasama by Eddy Laing — a piece of insights studded with wonderful quotations from some of the participants in these revolts. ...

“It remains of course for the peoples of the societies of the Maghrib to determine the course of their revolutions.

“But what emerges from the tenacious facts of their struggles is the importance of making a strategic analysis of friends and enemies with the perspective of complete social emancipation. Global capital has brought the forces of social emancipation together in the urban cores of these countries and it will only be through the course of their struggle –- to gather together all potential allies to root out the source of their oppression — that they will be able to enunciate an emancipatory program.”

Rebellion across the Maghrib and the specificity of events
by Eddy Laing

What kind of repression do you imagine it takes for a young man to do this? A man who has to feed his family by buying goods on credit, when they fine him and take his goods? In Sidi Bouzid (Tunisia), those with no connections and nomoney for bribes are humiliated and insulted and not allowed to live. — Leila Bouazizi, younger sister of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire as a act of political protest. [1]

The rebellions sweeping the Maghrib, from Mauritania to Egypt, and across the Arabian peninsula have inspired hundreds of millions of people around the world. They have also raised important questions about revolution and liberation, coming as they do at a time when revolution has been declared ‘over’ by capitalist ideologues for many years now.

As Mao Tsetung put it, ‘it is right to rebel against reactionaries!’ and none of the despots being targeted by the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Iraq, Jordan, et al. are or have ever been anything other than clients of the neo-liberal order of capital in the world. They deserve to be overthrown. But what should come in their place? That is the hard question being posed to each of these rebellions.

Tens of thousands have braved bullets, gas, helicopters and tanks in pitched battles. Hundreds have died heroically and thousands have been wounded. But as difficult and important for each uprising is the struggle around the deliberation of strategy – determining what the strategic objectives of the uprising need to be, who are allies, who are targets, and how to unite everyone who can be united to move forward.

I.
I now know how Ben Ali had been stealing from the country. How the relations of Leila Trabelsi have been stealing. We do not want them back. But the situation is not just bad in Tunisia. I remember my husband used to talk about Libya, poor people there suffered as well. I have a lot of people who come up to me now to say it is not just me who has lost a son, but the whole village that has lost a son. I am proud of what he did. I would like to go up to Tunis and take a look at these demonstrations. It is good to know that my son had played a part in changing things. — Mannoubia Bouazizi [2]

As Mannoubia Bouazizi’s neighbors confirmed, Mohamed Bouazizi is emblematic of an entire population who have been subjected for decades to the multiple forms of ‘new imperialism’ and neo-liberal regimes across North Africa. Tunisia has been upheld as an example of neo-liberal, secular success in North Africa, for its extensive trade with France and Italy, for its attractiveness to foreign investment ($33.5 billion in an economy with a GDP of $44 billion), and for its suppression of orthodox Islam. Unemployment is officially at 14% and per capita income is officially $2200/year.

Tunisian society has become increasingly compacted so that one-time and prospective ‘middle classes’ have been impoverished and driven into the ranks of the urban poor. Accordingly to his sister Basma, Mohamed Bouazizi dreamed of helping his younger sisters attend university, just as he had studied computer science. But unable to find work in that field, his turned to the grey market of street vending vegetables without a permit, for which he was subjected to harassment by the police regularly. It was one final seizure of his produce and cart that proved to be the ultimate insult.

The most amazing thing is that nobody expected this. Just two weeks ago someone asked me whether Egypt could experience a revolution like in Tunisia, and I said no, Tunisia may be followed by Yemen, but there won’t be a revolution in Egypt. I couldn’t have been more wrong. M. says that he, too, didn’t believe in it.

On Tuesday, he didn’t even want to join the demonstrations, thinking there was no point. But he soon changed his mind. We walk to Giza with a young man from old Giza who is very excited about the new situation. He tells he also didn’t believe in the demonstrations of Tuesday – he went there not believing that others would go. He describes the feeling: Until few days ago I felt that I live in a nightmare, and suddenly I could dream freely. M.: “Things became possible that I couldn’t have imagined. Suddenly we can make a difference. — Samuli Schielke, 31 Jan 2011 [3]

It is extreme understatement to note that the rebellions cascading across North Africa and through the Arabian peninsula have taken their immediate targets and the forces of global imperialism by surprise with their energy and tenacity. When the first demonstrations formed in Sidi Bouzid, the expectation was that the people would vent their anger, the police would beat and perhaps shoot them, and then order would be restored. The arrogance of ignorance — imperious hubris — prevented the Ben Ali regime and its imperial sponsors in Washington, Paris, Rome and Brussels from anticipating what came next.

In the sphere of public discussion, this can be partly explained by more than two centuries of colonial and neo-colonial objectification — the projection of ‘otherness’ — that has been performed upon the Arab speaking world by the Euro-American capitals. As they have demonstrated repeatedly, the lords of capital and their acolytes cannot comprehend the consciousness of the oppressed. They construct elaborate racial, gendered and ethnic ‘theories’ to explain why such consciousness could not exist. But even their ‘Africa experts’ and ‘Arab experts’ were surprised and are now scrambling to devise geopolitical strategies that respond to the tumult.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, as rebellion in Tunisia continued to grow, and inspired by it, a coalition of Egyptian organizations called for anti-government protests on January 25. The main demands of that demonstration were the end of the emergency law, the resignation of the interior minister, the dissolution of parliament, and raising the minimum wage. January 25 is a national holiday that marks a battle by the Ismaila police force against the British. Dissident police and army officers announced their intentions to participate in the marches, which were set to begin from 100 meeting points in Cairo and Giza and 20 meeting points in Alexandria.

Mainstream political parties including Al-Walfd and Al-Lagammu — as well as the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood — distanced themselves from the demonstrations — leaving that field open to the oppositional organizations Kefaya Movement for Change, the April 6 Youth Movement, Youth for Justice and Freedom, the National Association for Change, the Public Front for Peaceful Change and the political parties El-Ghad and the Democratic Front. A political analyst from the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies sagely told the Daily News Egypt that the protests ‘would not be the beginning of a reenactment of what happened in Tunis.’

Particularly noteworthy in Egypt has been the existence of a dissident movement within the military, including at the rank of mid-level command officers who opposed the government and were willing to act independently of the general command. Those officers and the rank and file soldiers continue to play an important role, as manifested in soldier’s general sympathy for the demands of the protests and fraternization between soldiers and protesters. There are many social connections between the rank and file army and the people demonstrating in the streets and reaching out to the soldiers has been an important feature of the Egyptian protests.
At 4 p.m., one hour after curfew, I hail a taxi at Mahatta Street to take me to the newspaper where M works. The driver is at first hesitant because there is a military roadblock at Cairo University. But the roadblock turns out very fine. They check papers and look into the trunks but let people pass. Most importantly, they speak to the citizens with a friendly and polite tone that is completely different from that of the police force who routinely insult and abuse the citizens. Also later, when we return from the demonstration on foot, we are twice controlled by soldiers who say: “Excuse me, sirs” and politely check that we are not armed. Some contrast to the “son of a bitch” that Egyptians are used to hearing from their police force. No wonder the military is extremely popular and has been very successful in imposing peace and order wherever they are. There is army all over the city. At every major corner, place or junction, there is at least a tank or an armored vehicle, sometimes two or three. The soldiers – conscripted young men who might have otherwise been demonstrating – appear very relaxed, and the people treat them in a very friendly and respectful way. Many are getting themselves photographed in front of the tanks, and in Tahrir square the tanks are covered with anti-Mubarak graffiti. — Samuli Schielke, 31 Jan 2011.
II.
In mid-January, Arab League secretary general Amr Musa warned his governmental peers that “the Tunisian revolution is not far from us … the Arab citizen (has) entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration.” [4]
The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have in turn inspired oppressed peoples in Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania, Algeria, Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain and beyond to also rise up against their oppressors. But it is a mistake to see only similarity in these rebellions and not their specificities.

For example, Bahrain’s population (780,000) is comprised of a significant minority of guest workers and the state security forces have shown no hesitancy to attack the people with bullets as well as clubs. It is also the home port of the US 5th Fleet. In the week before protests erupted in Manama, the King proposed several preemptive bribes, including a BHD1000 pay-out (about US$2,650) to every family, to no avail. [5] Iraq is a tenuous ‘state’ by any definition and completely occupied by a large imperialist army and perhaps larger gangs of mercenaries. [†] Sudan, Libya and Yemen are each confederations of regional social forces and related political tensions. There are many specificities to the political discourse within each country, the stratification and class divisions within their respective populations, economic structures, political superstructures, and each country’s connection to larger capital centers: the US, the EU countries, Russia, China and India.

In January, Egypt’s now ex-foreign minister absurdly claimed that an important mark of his country’s success was its 60 million cell phone users. Meanwhile, 16 million Egyptians live below the (nominal $2/day) poverty line, and most estimates put that number closer to 32 million (out of a population of 80 million). Eighty percent of Tunisia’s industrial and agricultural product is sent overseas, mainly to EU countries. If these are examples of efficient neo-liberalism, consider some of their nearby alternatives.

In Algeria, the unemployment rate is officially 10% and 23% of the population lives below the poverty line. In Mauritania, unemployment stands at 30% and 40% live below the poverty line. Officially 15% of Bahrainis are unemployed and 31% of the 738,000 population is comprised of guest workers (foreign nationals). Forty-five percent of all Yemenis live below the poverty line and 35% are unemployed, within an economy that has an inflation rate of 12%. Libya’s official unemployment rate is 30% and an estimated 33% of the population is at or below the poverty line.

Amr Musa’s ‘Arab citizens’ have also differentiated themselves according to their political and class interests through the course of these upsurges, as evidenced in oppositional demands and especially through the course of the actual struggle.

In Tunisia and in Egypt, the workers have played important roles in the uprisings as social forces exerting coherent socio-political strength and a lateral type of leadership to the movement as a whole. The mass movement has been given strength and invigorated by the central trade unions (i.e. UGTT in Tunisia) and general strikes. One of the Egyptian youth oppositional groups, the April 6 Movement, was formed in support of major workers’ struggles in 2008.

In Bahrain, youth and university students — independent of the parliamentary opposition — took to the streets and occupied Pearl Square in the heart of Manama the second week of February, demanding the removal of the ruling monarchy. Their protests were met with bullets by the government — killing at least 6 and wounding more than 230 — but they tenaciously fought to remain in Pearl Square. On the 19th, after the government pulled its troops back, 40,000 demonstrators returned in force, bearing posters with the crossed-out faces of Saddam Hussein, ex-Egyptian president Mubarak and former Tunisian president Bin Ali, alongside pictures of King Hamad and the words “Down, Down Hamad,” chants of “go away Khalifas!” and “The people want the regime to fall!” for a new constitution, and the trial of police and soldiers who had fired on them earlier. Embedded in the constitutional demand is the democratic demand to end institutional discrimination against the majority Shi’a population of the country by the ruling monarchist government, which (including the army and police) is largely comprised of Sunni Muslims. There was also vocal anger with America based on evidence of dozens of tear gas and baton rounds imported from the United States.

(The UK is also a supplier of military equipment to Bahrain, including CS grenades, tear gas grenades and thunderflash grenades. It supplies equivalent ordnance along with military vehicles and helicopters to Libya, Algeria and Saudi Arabia.)

On the 22nd, after ten consecutive days of protests, at least 50,000 people demonstrated against the government in central Manama. Led by seven opposition parties including al-Wefaq and al-Waad, the protest raised demands for a constitutional monarchy, that the king dissolve the government, dismiss the prime minister and appoint an interim ‘unity’ government that includes opposition representatives. A group of Bahraini army officers joined the ranks of protesters, condemning those soldiers who shot at protesters the Friday before, “what we did to the people was not heroic,” said Yeussif Najri, an army officer, “we ask the people to forgive us, we ask the people for forgiveness.” [6]
In Yemen, sustained protests have been going on in the cities of Taiz, where 10,000 have reportedly established a camp, in Ibb, Al-Hudaydah, and at the university in Sana’a, where there is an encampment of 5,000 — not only of students but possibly including visits from rank and file soldiers. [7]

In reports from Taiz and Sanaa, violent battles with casualties have ensued between opposed groups of thousands of demonstrators. [8]
In Libya, where hundreds of thousands of people are also inspired by the events in Egypt and Tunisia, the incident that ignited open rebellion was the police arrest of representatives of the League of the Families of the Victims of Abu Salim Prison 1996 massacre on February 16. This prompted an immediate protest at the Internal Security offices in Benghazi, which managed to force the release of those detained representatives. As the victorious protesters then moved through the city with the freed League representatives, their ranks grew by many hundreds and into a much broader demonstration against the government. This march was further attacked and repelled attacks by still more state security forces, and news of it all quickly spread across Libya.

The next day, more protests took place in Benghazi, joined with protests in al-Baida’, Darna, and al-Qubba in Eastern Libya, and az-Zantan and ar-Rajban in Western Libya. A few days later, the protests spread to Misratah and Ghiryan. [9] As in Bahrain, significant sections of the police and military are comprised of foreign nationals, which is divisive in itself as well as for its utility in promoting racialist ideologies among the Libyan masses, since the recruits are typically from Sudan and other more southernly African countries.
III.
One Aljazeera commentator has described the upsurge as a ‘revolution against neo-liberalism,’ and while ‘objectively’ international capital is a key target of these uprisings, that is not the same as making the ‘end of neo-liberalism’ a strategic demand in any of the protests so far. As one possible outcome, however, the result poses tangible fear on the part of global capital. [††]
At their 20 January meeting, the Arab League governments suddenly remembered their 2009 pledge to implement a $2 billion economic reinvestment scheme that was imagined to remediate some of the worst economic inequities in their societies. (e.g. the Palestinian National Authority has so far received $37 million of a promised $500 million.) [10]
The G20 arrogantly proclaimed on 20 February that “we stand ready to support Egypt and Tunisia, with responses at the appropriate time well coordinated with the international institutions and the regional development banks to accompany reforms designed to the benefit of the whole population and the stabilization of their economies,” as if they were shocked, absolutely shocked that they had been sucking the economies of Egypt and Tunisia dry all these decades. [11]
Since the uprisings began, a major thread of discussion in Washington, London, Paris, Brussels and Rome has been about how to turn the uprisings toward acceptable ends. Last summer, the British news magazine Economist predicted that Mubarak’s regime was in its final days and raised the question of whether it would ‘go the way of Russia … go the way of Iran … or go the way of Turkey’ with the preferred option — to them — being the third, meaning a solid party to the Euro-American capital sphere. [12] Since the dawn of the rebellions, the ‘Turkey option’ has been raised in regard to Egypt many times by opinion ‘leaders’ in the US and in Europe. We’ve also seen visible efforts by the US State Department and UK Foreign Office, as well as the EU, to steer their clients in North Africa. By the end of February, the British prime minister and the EU vice president for external relations had both come to Cairo to meet with the generals, while the US had sent along an undersecretary of state (apparently not wanting to confer too much prestige upon the generals with the presence of the secretary herself).
The same troika (US, UK, EU) have been stern in their reprimands of the governments of Libya and Iran, as has UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who issued a memorandum at the end of February calling for the ‘non-use of force’ especially in Libya. [13] Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stirred herself to declare that “too many peaceful protesters have recently been killed across the Middle East and North Africa,” raising the question: how many is the right number? [14] US secretary of state Clinton did not miss a beat, declaring with a straight face that “[Iranian protesters] deserve to have the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt and are part of their own birthright… [The US government] very clearly and directly supports the aspirations of the people who are in the streets.” [15]
In the case of Libya, the US has assembled a small armada off its coast, ostensibly to threaten military action if Kadhafi does not follow US imperialism’s edict to resign. But the US armada should also be read as the military support that would be needed to install a new Euro-American client if that option becomes viable, on the assumption that the Libyan masses may not want to carry a new client regime to power on their own shoulders.
Concurrently, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, admiral Mike Mullen, toured the region at the end of February, meeting in Riyadh with the Saudi leadership in order to ‘reassure, discuss and understand what is going on.’ [16]
In Palestine, it was trenchantly noted that while “American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out strongly against government violence in Iran, accusing the Ahmedinejad regime of “hypocrisy” for praising the victory of anti-government protesters in Egypt, American support for ousted Arab dictators Zine Abdine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt did not feature in her comments.”[17]
IV.
The vanguards of these rebellions are younger men and women centered in the cities. For the most part, these rebellions did not emerge from oppositional organizations but from diverse and widespread sentiments of outrage and that ‘enough is enough.’

These are not revolutions based in rural areas but they are drawing in rural populations, too. At their inception, most of these uprisings did not emerge through religious networks, but they have been shown to involve religious people from many faiths, such as in Tehrir Square where Muslims and Christians also mingled and prayed, and as the rebellions grow they are attracting support from organized religious forces as in Yemen and Bahrain. Also noteworthy, not only are many of the movements separate from the main political parties, some have included those parties as ancillary targets of their protest.
At the 3 March demonstration in Sana’a against the Yemen government, a prominent banner read “Revolution, revolution, until victory, or march towards the palace!” and one of the demonstrators told a reporter that he and his comrades would “have nothing to do with the agreements reached in closed rooms.

The revolution is that of the youth and not a revolt for parties, whether opposition or ruling … we will continue until the downfall of the regime.” [18]
During a March 1 protest against the government, students from several boys and girls schools in Manama clashed over conflicting slogans, ultimately issuing a manifesto asking for ‘a constitutional monarchy, a government elected by the people and an electoral system that guarantees the fair representation of all sectors of society.’ [19]
The main labor union in Bahrain is playing a role opposite to that of the central unions in Egypt and Tunisia, aborting the general strike it called in mid-February almost immediately, stating “in the light of the army’s withdrawal and respect of the right to demonstrate peacefully, the general union for labour syndicates has decided to suspend the general strike and return to work” on the day just before the massive demonstrations February 22. [20]
Individual and organizational political positions are continually shifting and developing.
Tomorrow is the next big demonstration, named the March of Millions. As M and I leave the demonstration and walk all the way to Giza [Egypt] for the lack of taxis or mini-busses, we join a group of people coming our way, lead by a woman wearing a colorful variant of niqab, accompanied by another woman in jeans and open hair, and shouting in very loud voice: “The people – want – the removal of the president!” We join, and M. starts chanting (I never knew he has such a loud voice): Tomorrow at nine! Million tomorrow! Million tomorrow at nine! Peaceful demonstration tomorrow! — Samuli Schielke, 31 Jan 2011
Not everybody is sharing equal enthusiasm. I also meet people who are either more modest in their demands, or more skeptical about the possibility of getting rid of Mubarak and the system. The guy at the mobile phone shop where I got my phone card said: Isn’t this what we wanted – we got a new government. A customer says no, we want more, he must go. Tomorrow we all go to the March of the Millions! And at night as we stand for a while at Giza square, I talk with a man who gives the government full blame for the whole looting and chaos and hates the system, but still believes that Mubarak won’t go, he will stick no matter what we do. “It’s now worse than ever. Now we are forced to fight Egyptian against Egyptian, check each others on roadblocks, what way of living together is this? — Samuli Schielke, 31 Jan 2011
As I reached 26th of July Street, one of central Cairo’s major streets, I encountered more pro-Mubarak demonstrations, consisting of people driving on top of trucks and chanting “mish ha yimshi!”(“He won’t go”, in contrast to the pro-democracy slogan “We won’t go until he goes!”)

At first these were small groups, but bit by bit they succeed gathering spontaneous participants as well, and in the course of an hour, they developed into huge mass marches through the streets. Many cars and busses were honking their horns and people are waving Egyptian flags.

Quite suddenly, an air of enthusiasm and relief overcame the people in the street. Some were there to show their support to Mubarak, but many others are more differentiated: They were happy that Mubarak has promised not to run for presidency and confident that there is going to be democracy and new parliamentary elections. They thought that Mubarak has heard the voice of the people, and that he shouldn’t go immediately but there should a period of well-ordered transition, and people should stop demonstrating and everybody should go back to work. — Samuli Schielke, 2 Feb 2011
As we were making a quick walk around the square, suddenly I was enthusiastically greeted by an old friend of mine whom I wouldn’t have expected to see here. Sheikh N. is an Islamic mystic (Sufi) who spends most of the year setting up his tent and offering free food and lodging to the pilgrims at Muslim festivals around Egypt. But I never thought that he would have anything to do with politics. But here he was in Tahrir Square, having changed his plain white robe and turban for jeans and jacket and demonstrating against oppression since a week by now. He has built his tent in one of the green isles in the square, with some of his supporters along with him. I am delighted to see him. It gives me so much hope. — Samuli Schielke, 3 Feb 2011
Contrary to the news reported in the US, none of these protests have been peaceful and nonviolent. Hundreds and probably many more have been killed by state security forces and other reactionaries but the rebellions continue, fired by the examples of the fallen, beginning with Mohamed Bouazizi.
It is now well-known that the state security and armed forces of the Mubarak regime have attacked protesters in Cairo and Alexandria and killed hundreds. In Bahrain, where the core of the army is comprised of hired guns from Pakistan, they have shown little reservation about shooting and gassing protesters. This has now added new demands to the protests — the trial of the police and army who have shot at demonstrators and the presence of the United States, as amid the debris of the protesters’ camp destroyed by the police early on 17 February were dozens of tear-gas and baton rounds imported from the United States. [21]
The violent reactions by the states have served to draw more sections of the societies into the uprisings and to draw dividing lines more sharply. This in turn has prompted more than a few who yesterday were part of or allied with one or another government to now claim allegiance with protesters.
In Yemen, even as demonstrations were growing in intensity across his country, tribal leader and capitalist Sheikh Al-Humaiqani told the press that “if (they) were like the Egyptian protests – well-organized, controlled, protective of peoples’ souls and property, and without chaos or assault – I would be honored to go with them. But our problem is that we are still looking for protests that have this level of sophistication.” [22]

Amplifying that sentiment as the rebellion grew, the chairman of the opposition RAY party announced the following week, “we shouldn’t underestimate the demonstrators. There is a chance things may get out of hand. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition has control of it. The people are the real weapon of change but this weapon should be under a reasonable authority or political power. If people just go out in the streets with no guidance, then it will be a dangerous thing.” [23]
In Egypt, since the beginning of the upsurge, some sections of the middle classes and the bourgeoisie have argued for a return to ‘normalcy’ and calm and looked to the army’s general command to restore order. In fact, the generals have tried to order a return to ‘normalcy’ a few times since the protests began and these have succeeded in part, specifically in regard to al-Tahrir Square, but only for a day or two. At least some Egyptian capitalists thought the strikes may have been ‘tolerated in the light of the protests that brought down the former president, Hosni Mubarak,’ a statement that in itself is revealing for its arrogance toward the workers’ actions and its assumption that the neo-liberal state ought to be ‘in charge’ and everyone else in society should know to follow along.

The Guardian quoted one such bourgeois, a board member of the Nile Company, complaining that “The army should have given a firm statement for all kinds of sit-ins to stop immediately after Mubarak stepped down.” Another capitalist, in the power industry, offered his analysis that “though this statement (by the general command to halt all strikes) should have come way earlier, I think the army was just allowing people to take their chance to voice their demands and enjoy the spirit of freedom.” [24]
Right, perhaps something like a dinner party, after which the people would all go home and leave the social relationships of political and economic power completely intact, with one or two new faces in front. Anything but ‘a revolution, an insurrection, an act of violence, by which one class overthrows another.’
Certainly these revolutions and rebellions demonstrate a pace and a complexity that challenges established assumptions about political power and social relationships. In scores of cities and towns, traditional notions of strata, class, gender, ideology and ‘realistic politics’ are being seriously challenged. And after every question asked, several more raised in their wake. The rebellions across the Maghrib will leave an indelible mark, not just in the Arab speaking world.
It remains of course for the peoples of the societies of the Maghrib to determine the course of their revolutions.
But what emerges from the tenacious facts of their struggles is the importance of making a strategic analysis of friends and enemies with the perspective of complete social emancipation. The determination and tenacity of these uprisings has truly resided among the youth, students and workers who stand at the base of these societies and have the least stake in them. Global capital has brought the forces of social emancipation together in the urban cores of these countries and it will only be through the course of their struggle –- to gather together all potential allies to root out the source of their oppression — that they will be able to enunciate an emancipatory program.
* * * *
Addendum
1 August 1966
Red Guard comrades of Tsinghua University Middle School:
I have received both the big-character posters which you sent on 28 July as well as the letter which you sent to me, asking for an answer. The two big-character posters which you wrote on 24 June and 4 July express your anger at, and denunciation of, all landlords, bourgeois, imperialists, revisionists, and their running dogs who exploit and oppress the workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals and revolutionary parties and groupings. You say it is right to rebel against reactionaries; I enthusiastically support you.

I also give enthusiastic support to the big-character poster of the Red Flag Combat Group of Peking University Middle School which said that it is right to rebel against the reactionaries; and to the very good revolutionary speech given by comrade P’eng Hsiao-meng representing their Red Flag Combat Group at the big meeting attended by all the teachers, students, administration and workers of Peking University on 25 July. Here I want to say that I myself as well as my revolutionary comrades-in-arms all take the same attitude.

No matter where they are, in Peking or anywhere in China, I will give enthusiastic support to all who take an attitude similar to yours in the Cultural Revolution movement. Another thing, while supporting you, at the same time we ask you to pay attention to uniting with all who can be united with.

As for those who have committed serious mistakes, after their mistakes have been pointed out you should offer them a way out of their difficulties by giving them work to do, and enabling them to correct their mistakes and become new men.

Marx said: the proletariat must emancipate not only itself but all mankind. If it cannot emancipate all mankind, then the proletariat itself will not be able to achieve final emancipation. Will comrades please pay attention to this truth too?
– Mao Tsetung
Notes
†. Mercenaries are now euphemistically referred to as ‘contractors’ in US defense and state department documentation. According to testimony read into the Report ‘Contracting in a Counterinsurgency’ of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, (hearing 111-571, 24 February 2010) there are estimated to be a third more contractors (150,000) in Afghanistan than uniformed troops. According to the Congressional Research Service report of 2 July 2010, the DoD had 19% more contractor personnel (207,600) than uniform personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Among the most notorious contractors is Xe Services LLC, which is an umbrella company that operates through at least 30 other paramilitary outfits (e.g. Paravant, Greystone, XPG) and was formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide. The founding partner of Xe is Eric Prince who recently relocated his operations to Abu Dhabi and has set up a new company operating in Africa under the name Saracen. He was quoted in the NY Times [20 Jan 2011] that he thought relocating to the Gulf would make it ‘harder for the jackals to get my money.’

††. Over the last few hundred years, the peoples along the Maghrib have borne the burdens of successive neo-colonial and colonial relationships, especially with French, Italian, British and US imperialism. The neo-liberal variant, imposed through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, especially since the 1970s, is perhaps only the most ‘quick and dirty’ example of how global capital can restructure a society with little consideration of the people who comprise it.

For two examples: Bahrain, which for decades was maintained as a naval outpost for the British and then United States is now refitting itself as a financial services center. Its large guest worker population is engaged in construction and in hospitality services, among other occupations.

The World Bank named Egypt the ‘top reformer in the Middle East’ in 2006. Egypt maintains 20 Qualifying Industrial Zones; ‘free trade’ industrial areas where goods manufactured with a designated percentage of Israeli materials can enter the U.S. without tariff or quota restrictions. Its commerce ministry boasts that Egypt is ‘call center to the world’ based on that service sector which grew up in recent years, alongside pharmaceuticals (Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer), automotive production (GM Egypt is the largest GM unit in Africa), information systems (Microsoft, Xerox). All of which exists alongside petroleum extractives (Apache, Exxon-Mobile), and the plantation agricultural system (Egypt’s two most important export crops are rice and cotton).

The west is losing it-Dambisa Moyo

18.March.2011 · Posted in culture, Opinion

In 2010 when the US based Zambian author released her first book, “Dead Aid”, the world was shocked. The feature by Ewanfoh Obehi Peter. ...

In 2010 when the US based Zambian author released her first book, “Dead Aid”, the world was shocked. A dazzling argument on western imperialism, the failure of international aid programs as an alluring temptation to poor nations, as the African’s. The thing they called help, which usually end up entrapping the poor nations to the exploitative institutions of the west, leaving the victims to keep singing their unending hymn of poverty and economic woes.

Her angle on the argument was completely new and interesting, even among many Africans; especially those who have been fed up with idea that the solution to Africa’s underdevelopment lies in the amount of aid western nations are willing to send to Africa. The falsehood and the catalyst of the African/western relationship, which if put rightly is actually the western domination over their defeated Africa.

Since this great woman has already nailed it in 2010, it’s time to move on to her new argument, the demise of western hegemony over the world economy or if you like the politics and the global cultural westernization as we know it today.

Using the United States and Britain as the best references in the west and a new rival from the east, China, I must admit that this analysis is sophisticated and that the readers will definitely have the worth of both their money and time.

“Once upon a time, the west had it all: the money, the political nous, the military might; it knew where it wanted to go, and had the muscle to get there. Be it Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands or England, this held true for 500 years.

However, the story of the west’s dominance in the second half of the twentieth century is the story of America,” Moyo kicked off the argument, detailing the systematic rise of American economic might during and after the end of the Second World War.

A rise like a young man who was opportune to demonstrate his strength and he did prove that he is man enough.

The Second World War was the consequence of a choice, the choice among some European political leaders who wanted to satisfy their desire and dominate over their weaker neighbours. And like the saying goes that “one man’s loss is another man’s gain”, the United States had to lend Europe what it needed to fight its war while stabilising a ground for its own economic boom.

According to Moyo, America’s action in the war was a marriage of political imperative and economic savvy. The goods that were manufactured in the United States during the war and shipped abroad were not simply a political act to help the Allies; “it also helped to boost the economy,” she submitted.

Before the warring Europe could find a way to peace, as heavy debtors to the United States, the latter had made a judicious use of its capital, labour and technology and would remain on the peak of global economy, writing the rules of international engagements and carefully choosing who to deal with either as friend or as enemy.

After all, there was the money, the well trained personnel and the sophisticated technological muscle to repel any possible rival, anywhere in the world.

All these have remained almost an absolute truth until recently. Until the manifestations of what Moyo described as the bad policies from western politicians and the United States in particular. They have been over confident and have underrated those they have dominated for some five hundred years.

Perhaps, it is time itself that is changing and changing very fast.

The 2008 financial crisis was only a sign of the things to come, the western monopoly of global economy and politics may have already taken a different tone.

By the ending of the twentieth century, only few economists and political futurists could have predicted the present global economic reality with a true accuracy.

The western challengers are what Moyo called the rest, mainly a group of four emerging economic powers, Brazil, Russia, Indian, all spearheaded by the Asian giant, China. And they are fast proving to the west that there is another thing to worry about apart from the military arsenals and the nuclear upheavals, under which the global population are beginning to be terrified. There is the economic and technological warfare, few things that are quickly slipping the monopolisation of the west.

Moyo has her reasons. The west, hiding in its capitalist imperialism did successfully penetrate every corner of the earth, crushing every resistance and imposing its will since the last five hundred years. Culture, politics and the global economic dominion; the west has always had its way, but then the weak points were also going to present themselves. Over confidence, some bureaucratic bottlenecks which were rather too old for the changing time of today, the privatization of the industries and some loose regulations, which allowed few wealthy individuals to be driven by a wild desire, profit, instead of the common good of the western society.

Whereas, the emerging rest, especially China had a different strategy, maximizing the volume. That is, instead of been drive by profit like their western counterparts, which of course could not have taken them much far, the Chinese were ready to create more jobs for their people even at the expense of making less profit.

This can even further be understood, according to Moyo’s line of argument that private companies do not act on behalf of the population at large but on behalf of their shareholders. For example, if China oil (CNPC) becomes a private company, it will automatically pursue the interests of its shareholders whom in the current globalised age do not necessarily have to be Chinese and therefore have to maximize profit so it can make good return.

“When the US policymakers decided to open its capital account, thereby allowing the unfettered movement of capital through its border, this set America up for a big fall. Now any returns on American capital invested abroad would end up in the pockets of company shareholders, and they have no obligation to invest their money domestically for the betterment of America; they could just put their money in private secure back accounts abroad,” she argued.

There is no need to doubt that there are many ways the west is running at a loss in the completion with China.

Last month, Saturday, February 12, the ex-president of European commission, Romano Prodi was speaking at a conference at Padova University, north of Italy when he clearly pointed out one important advantage of China over its western competitors, especially the United States, the on-going wars.

Mr. Prodi mentioned ‘the Afghanistan and Iraqi war’ and of course the heavy western military arsenals which are perpetually circumnavigating the world. All these cost resources, a huge amount of resource, time and personnel from the west. Meanwhile, China is channelling all its energy to propel its economic empire, to give the west a run.

This is the reality of today, and even though Moyo was optimistic enough to suggest that all hope is not lost yet, the west and its system of operation is certainly growing old and with or without making any wrong political choice, it would someday develop a dry bone.

It is the bitter dilemma of the human nature and the social, political and economic systems he has created.

Ewanfoh Obehi Peter

Photo by: kikuyumoja, canada.2020, wikipedia.org, francescorusso,

Dambisa’s speech during the 2010 Forum on Africa held in Taormina (Italy)

Interview at BBC Newsnight

Telling A Lie; How Unethical?

27.February.2011 · Posted in Opinion

...what really matter is not the fact that a lie has been told; it is whether the lie itself is justifiable within the given situation. ...

Recently, I read an article titled: “Lying and Ethic”. Having seen some people who could nearly roast others simply because they have told a lie, I have to read this article with a keen interest.

From the article by Tim C. Mazur, Santa Clara University are the following extracts. The first is from the middle of the argument and the second from the concluding part.

“Though the nature of virtue ethics makes it difficult to assess the morality of individual acts, those who advocate this theory generally consider lying wrong because it opposes the virtue of honesty. There is some debate whether a lie told in pursuit of another virtue (e.g., compassion: the brother’s lie to his sister’s drunken husband is motivated by compassion for her physical safety) is right or wrong…

Clearly, lying is an issue worth examining, as many people believe it is a bigger problem today than it has ever been… More likely, the problem is that too few persons adequately consider any ethical perspective when facing a situation that tempts a lie. Either way, it seems that the solution to our dissatisfaction begins with acknowledging the value of ethical reasoning and ends with a commitment to follow through with what we determine is the right thing to do”.

Since the day I first read this article, I have been wondering if the term “ethic” is not a linguistic confusion or better still a poor word, which cannot explain itself beyond what has been attributed to it, so it can exist.

I do not know about you, but I think any fast individual can go away with the view that the rule of ethic is not written on a stone. In fact, the term ethic might only be relevant within the ambit of acceptability and necessity in the society that defines it.

Talking about what is necessary and acceptable, anything as simple as making an armed person, in the case of a soldier, to shoot another person just because the victim has been defined as an enemy to a society or a system can be quite valid. Otherwise, what is even ethical in the job of killing people?

I am going to tell you a story you probably already know.

Two daughters thought it was right to have sex with their father in order to raise children. This is the biblical account of Lot and his daughters, (Genesis 19:30-38). To you, maybe, this can be unethical, but come to think of it. These victims were only trying to save their continuity as a people; therefore the question of being or non-ethical was irrelevant. Also because it was unnecessary at the circumstance they found themselves.

This can even further be expanded. Assuming that the above case was to be real in the 21st century, the said decision will still be more relevant. This is because the ethics and the codes of conduct of a people are created for the good of the same people, not the other way round. This is why any law, no matter how rigid and ancient must be destroyed and recreated if it is so considered to be in the best interest of the society or a system for which the said laws is existing.

Let’s get more serious.

If you like, you can boast that you have never told a lie in your life, but let me tell you that you just might have succeeded in telling one today by your claim.

Lie in the Longman dictionary of English and culture was defined as “an untrue statement purposely made to deceive”. If I must add something here, that the word “deceive” was used in Longman dictionary does not necessarily translate the act of lying to be evil, instead the lie that was told should also be understood within the motive behind it.

In Esan, south of Nigeria, it is said that a man who loses the ability to lie is as good as doomed. And this is very easy to understand because one of the reasons for telling a lie is to find a solution to a problematic situation, not just for the purpose of deceiving people.

Of course, there are some individuals who just like the deception; they often tell their lies in order to harm their victims. Even then, it is still very important to consider the motive for the lie; else, telling a lie “to save a victim” and telling a lie “to harm a victim” is always what it is, “telling a lie”. In that case, the lie that was told should be less important compared to the motive for which it was told.

In more than 2000 years ago according to a biblical account, there was a great famine in the Middle East. The famine created a situation of migration and one of the people who migrated from the Middle East to Africa was Abraham and his wife, Sarah. They had gotten nearer to their destination when they realised that there was another situation. Sarah was a beautiful woman and that was a trap for Abraham. So he tried to resolve the immediate situation by telling the lie as followed: “and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister”. Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her,” Genesis 20:2 (New International Version).

I’m quite sure that the writer of the book of genesis did not call the above account a lie and that does not mean that what Abraham had said was a true statement. Therefore, what really matter is not the fact that a lie has been told; it is whether the lie itself is justifiable within the given situation.

For example, if the biblical Abraham has not said that his wife was his sister, he would most probably be killed, so it was very important to weigh the option of ethic and necessity at the circumstance. And when it comes to ethic, the situation should not be misleading.

Not until an ethic leads to the good of the given people and promotes their continuity, it might not truly be qualified to exist. Also because, a people first need to exist in order to have a conviction or define their own wrongs or rights.

Ewanfoh Obehi Peter