Recommended read: Mediterranean migrants: No one makes this journey just to pick up benefits

I’ve just read this article in The Guardian by Gary Younge about immigration in the UK, following the tragic deaths of hundreds of people travelling to Europe from Libya in the Mediterranean Sea earlier this month. 

He says: “Those who insist the west can’t take in the world’s misery must acknowledge how much of that misery we’re responsible for.”

I really recommend reading it:

“…Around 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. The global 99% did not come about by accident. It’s the result of centuries of colonisation, decades of imperialism and the current corruption that has allowed a handful of people, in different ways at different times, to steal natural resources and pilfer public goods. As Winston Churchill once said of Britain: “This small island [is] dependent for our daily bread on our trade and imperial connections. Cut this away and at least a third of our population must vanish speedily from the face of the earth.”

In more recent times these inequalities have been reinforced by a global trade system that operates according to the golden rule – that those who have the gold make the rules. Put bluntly, Europe is rich (even if those riches aren’t evenly divided) in no small part because other nations are poor.

On top of that, a large number of these people are displaced by wars. The top three nations from which maritime refugees to the EU come are Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The country where they are most likely to start their journey is Libya, which is now effectively a failed state. In other words, many are running for their lives through countries we have bombed. Those in the west who insist we cannot take in “the world’s misery” must, at the very least, acknowledge how much of that misery we are responsible for…”

Read the full article here.

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Life-changing letters – An open letter to international development charities…

Dear Mercy Ships and Plan and the many others for whom this is relevant,

I know that you have the best of intentions. I know that really I should be writing to the corporate elite, the banks, the investors, the off-shorers, the mining multinationals, the Big Pharma, the fund managers…

But the letters I received through the door from you the other morning are dangerous. They’re dehumanising, they’re ‘othering’, they’re disempowering, they’re telling people in the UK stories that aren’t true; making them believe that the world’s problems, and their guilt, can be alleviated ‘for less than the price of a packet of crisps’. And you need to take responsibility for that.

Let’s examine the stories you’re telling…

Plan

“You could change a life for less than the price of a packet of crisps”

“Children like Rosa are waiting for a sponsor – a sponsor like you”

“One in five children born in the poorest countries won’t live to see their fifth birthday. The lack of something simple as clean water to drink, leads to the appalling loss of so many promising young lives. Millions of children go without education or opportunities, and live without hope of things ever changing… But if you become a child sponsor with Plan, you could make a better life possible for a child, their family and their community.”

Mercy Ships

“Without urgent medical care, children like Memuma will die. Will you help us reach them before it’s too late?”

“I had to warn you. I had to let you know that the picture of Memuna that you can see above is upsetting.”

“…without Mercy Ships, children like Memuna, in the remotest, poorest parts of our world, don’t have a chance. Without medical care, they’ll never be able to see, walk or be free of deformity again.”

“If it [Memuna’s tumour] had gone untreated it would have killed her in the most agonising way imaginable. But thanks to kind supporters just like you, I was able to remove her tumour.”

“Thank you on behalf of every child we can save together.”

NB: I also completely take issue with the name of your charity. Mercy = “compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” With this choice of name you have immediately elevated yourselves to a position of power over those you want to ‘help’, disempowering them and reducing their ‘salvation’ to an act of mercy, rather than a matter of social justice, equality and humanity.

Your words and images reduce people to a spectacle. You remove their agency and their power. You make them ‘different’. You reduce them to graphic photographs, to heart-wrenching descriptions, to painful voyeurism, to their problems. You take away their history and their experiences, their feelings and the full spectrum of their being. You make the impossible seem possible. You make them a salve for a consciousness that ignores that fact that in the world today people are poor, because ‘we’ are rich. You put value on ‘promising young lives’ and not lives; You reduce lives to the value of a packet of crisps.

Most dangerous of all, is that you allow people to think that we’re separate from all of ‘this’. That we’re different. That the actions we take here, the system we’re complicit in, the things we buy, the choices we make, don’t affect people around the world. You’re not telling the truth. You’re telling stories. And that’s why things aren’t changing.

All I keep playing over and over in my head are the words of Nick Dearden, Managing Director of Global Justice Now, who recently wrote in an article in Red Pepper:

But over the past two decades, the war on global poverty has been subverted and co-opted. In an age when obscene wealth became once again something to boast about, those big campaign groups and politicians concerned about poverty moved with the times. To keep ‘poverty’ relevant to Thatcher’s children, they gutted it of political content. Through the new concept of ‘extreme poverty’, it became possible both to believe in me-first individualism and free market economics, and to care about the very poor.’

Not possible. The two are mutually exclusive.

I really appreciate what you’re trying to do, and I’m sure a lot of people will diasgree with me, but, it’s time to tell different stories, and campaign for real change. Honestly, we all know that Ali from Finsbury Park’s 50p a week isn’t going to change the fate of developing countries and those living in them, when the West is taking billions of pounds resources out of Africa every year, when the World Bank is run by a handful of powerful countries, when John in New York’s congratulating himself on moving another $50m into his offshore account. It’s a big task I know, but you’re in the position to educate people about what’s going on and call for real, lasting, earth-trembling change. I know it’s not going to happen overnight, but telling the truth is a good start…

Yes Memuna has a tumour, and she’s unlikely to have access to medical care. But why not talk about the fact that “The World Trade Organization (WTO) enforced the privatisation of health care and opened the developing countries health markets to Western Health Care industries. In 1995 the WTO-GATS agreement (on trade and services) prevented signatory governments from providing subsidised goods and services in the health sector for which there is market demand.” This is just ONE tiny example of how Western neoliberalism isn’t playing fair in healthcare, you can read plenty more here.

Yes Rosa lives in a “tiny one room shack with her mother, sister and another young family…She was forced to leave school, as her mother could no longer afford the fees.” But, before you get me started on the effect of neoliberalism on education; Rosa’s life isn’t going to improve with a daily donation of 50p from a Western saviour. What we need is an international political and economic system that’s equal. Where all countries have a say in making the rules, where trade is actually fair, where countries have autonomy over their choice of leadership and over their economies, their politics and their cultures. Where we talk about how much Europe benefited from colonialism and slavery and continues to do so. Where leaders who challenge Western models of capitalism and neoliberalism aren’t assassinated. Also, don’t tell people that Rosa’s sat in (insert African country here), waiting for a sponsor like them, as if that’s all she knows and all she has to live for. You know that’s not true, although you probably haven’t asked. You haven’t given her a voice.

I know it’s a tough position to be in, but you’re in a position of serious responsibility. Real justice isn’t going to come from a place of guilt. It’s not going to come from a place that perpetuates damaging stereotypes or misinformation. I don’t have the answers, but:

  • Why not stop writing to the public asking them for money, and instead write to them (because I agree that we should all take more responsibility for what’s going on on this planet) to let them know what’s really going on. Tell them what the UK government and the businesses we buy from are really responsible for, so people can make informed choices about who to vote for/buy from. You can also ask them to campaign/educate/raise awareness and demand change.
  • Ramp up campaigns targeting those who lead global inequality and that we blindly follow.
  • And finally, if you insist on continuing with donor-supported fundraising requests. PLEASE please PLEASE sort your messaging out. For many people living in the UK, their only experience of ‘developing’ countries comes via you lot, or the media, and we know how representative that really is… You have a responsibility to tell the TRUTH about what’s really going on in these countries and for the people living in them.
  • And why not actually AMPLIFY the voices of those you speak of. Instead of searching for stories of woe and projecting your own stories to suit your aims, why not ask people in developing countries what they want the UK to know? Why not speak to the hundreds of thousands of vocal, mobile, passionate people living in ‘developing countries’ or ex-pats who are angry and active on these issues and give them more air time here.

Do you really think things in the world are going to change if everyone in the UK thinks that everyone in the global south needs ‘saving’ and that it’s something that we’re capable of giving with a fleeting moment of guilt and a monthly financial donation. That it’s possible without giving anything up or standing up, without learning and listening and taking responsibility for the lives we live, the systems we create and the world we make every day?

Notes on Europe and Europeans for the Discerning Traveller

Word.

The Disorder Of Things

Europe has the only classical tradition that is also considered modern.

Europe claimed Greece as its ancestor. But not anymore.

Europe once turned a Black god white.

Once upon a time Europe decided that it was a family of nations. This decision is commemorated as the beginning of international law.

Because indigenous peoples were not mentioned in a very old book, Europeans wondered if these peoples were human.

Some of the Europeans who cleared lands of their indigenous peoples liked to represent themselves as indigenous princesses.

Europeans once thought that if they left Europe they would degenerate. To this day they view their cousins over the seas with suspicion.

European scientists once found a way to break up human beings into a set of quantum parts.

Europe is proud of freeing itself from metaphorical chains.

Europe got rich out of African slavery. Then it freed the slaves.

Europe was so…

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Cutting out the ‘heart of darkness’

A couple of weeks ago I posted a video from the Rules about telling #ADifferentStory to capitalism (Oops… I forgot to post this and found it in my drafts…)

For me, this links really closely to research I have been doing recently about colonialism and the effects that it’s had, and very much continues to have on the African continent in particular (more on that and neo-colonialism later).

There is an inherent link between capitalism and colonialism; both are dominant Western, patriarchal discourses, and, in my opinion, both are just stories. Powerful ones that continue to pervade society, culture, economics, politics and our very sense of self, but still stories. Ones that can be retold.

One conversation I had in Ghana with a Ghanaian friend (there were many similar and equally painful conversations) went something like this: 

“White western people are like royalty. Before they came we were savages. We didn’t have cars. We didn’t have chairs to sit on…” 

This is why I think it’s SO important that the voices of people like Walter Rodney, who wrote How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and articles like this one: http://thisisafrica.me/africa-colonisation/ are so important. They tell A DIFFERENT STORY to the one that we’ve been told, and keep telling, all of us in fact – the colonisers and the colonised, the oppressors and the oppressed.

It’s why, when I read Rodney’s account of African development pre-colonialism, and of its originality, and different and wonderful ways of doing things, and its innovation, and advancing societies and cultural magnificence… I want to shout it from the rooftops.

Africa has long been the subject of others’ narratives: from the ‘dark and savage continent’ of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sand-banks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps.”

… to the Rough Guide’s ‘sensuous Africa’: 

“…the brilliance of red earth and emerald vegetation in the forest areas; the intricate smells of food cooking, charcoal smoke and damp soil; the towering clouds that fill the skies at the start of the rains; the villages of sun-baked mud houses, smoothed and moulded together like pottery; the singing rhythm of voices speaking tonal languages; and the cool half-hour before dawn on the banks of the Niger, when the soft clunk of cowbells rises in a haze of dust from the watering herds. These are the images that stay, long after the horrendous journeys and delays have become amusing anecdotes.”

Africa, often described as a victim, as backwards, as incapable and as a homogenous dark and dangerous country, is prescribed with projections and shrouded in mystery, stereotypes, lies and racism. Binyavanga Wainaina makes this point exquisitely in his GRANTA essay: How to write about Africa.

But, different stories (that have long been told) are starting to be heard. Websites like This is Africa, Ijinle, Africa is a Country and A View From The Cave, and strong voices like Binyavanga Wainaina, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda AdichieTMS Ruge, Ory Okolloh MwangiTeju Cole, tolu ogunlesi and Minna Salami are so important for all of us. They’re telling a different story about the African continent – and it sounds something like the truth.

What I say here isn’t important, and the fact that I’m pointing it out isn’t noteworthy at all (I don’t want to become another author of a story that isn’t mine to tell). But for people living in the West who might read my blog, I urge you to seek out and listen to and amplify the stories that don’t always get heard or told in, or by, the mainstream. 

It’s time the West stopped telling our story to the world and trying to make it THE story. It’s time we learned to listen.

Let me know of any other brilliant people and organisations telling new stories (or shouting louder about older, marginalised ones)…

‘My Africa’ by Michael Dei Anang

I love this.

African Heritage

Africa Africa

Today I stumbled upon a poem by Ghanaian author Michael Dei Anang which made me think a lot about Cheikh Anta Diop‘s work of re-educating the world about the place of Africa in history as the cradle of humanity. Michael Dei-Anang was a member of President Kwame Nkrumah‘s (Ghana’s first president) main secretariat and was concerned with the liberation of the rest of Africa still under colonial rule, at the time. Enjoy!

My Africa

by

Michael Dei-Anang

When vision was short

and knowledge scant,

Men called me Dark Africa

Dark Africa?

I, who raised the regal pyramids

and held the fortunes of Conquering Caesars

In my tempting grasp.

Dark Africa?

Who nursed the doubtful child

Of civilization

On the wand’ring banks of the life-giving Nile,

And gave to the teeming nations

Of the West a Grecian gift.

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Dehumanising victims

Today, a friend shared a link to this post on Facebook about the Garissa Massacre. In my opinion, maarnayeri is spot on…

maarnayeri:

Using pictures of charred, mutiliated and decapitated foreign bodies as a westerner, a first worlder or someone otherwise generally not exposed to such a reality doesn’t make you brave, or radical. On the contrary, relying on such shock imagery exposes a weakness and insufficiency in being able to respectfully report on the complex geopolitical matters concerning war, which means that you shouldn’t discuss such matters to begin with. It doesn’t take anything but a google search of “dead Yemeni” or “Af/Pak drone strike victim” to render such photographs, especially not a reasoned comprehension of the science and politics behind calculated warfare.

You rob war victims of their autonomy, personhood, consent and lives previous to political instability when you post them bloodied or battered or dead. You make them, their nations and nuanced stories one-dimensional, which insidiously plays into the “primitive, war-stricken brown/black people” trope. You present their lives for them to the world, without understanding how they would’ve wanted it narrated. Intentional or not, there is a serious savior/imperialist complex with those who believe its within their right or capability to select photographs or brief snippets off the internet and essentially give an unsolicited account of another human being’s tribulations, of which they’ve never met, lands they’ve never visited and lives they couldn’t possibly comprehend.

Also, death is a serious consequence of war, but its hardly the only one. What most don’t seem to understand or give enough consideration to about war is that its ramifications can last several generations, whether it be through desertifed soil and subsequent food insecurity through combat, radiation to food and water due to aerial bombing and undiscovered/exploding landmines. In addition to various injuries sustained, mental illnesses, such as PTSD, GAD and depression that afflict those who survived are also a very underappreciated consequence. There are so many facets of war that hold serious weight that can be displayed without dehumanizing those affected, which are also, to no surprise, severely neglected.

War is a serious, complicated and heavily politically charged catastrophe. Without prior/proper resources and knowledge, simply posting violent and exploitative images of full fledged persons with no context or understanding is counteractive and immensely disrespectful and demeaning to the parties involved, seriously.

For you reckless folks who show no respect to the Garissa Massacre victims. Ask yourselves why we’ve seen zero pictures of Germanwings casualities, why we’ve never seen pictures of Columbine shooting or Boston bombing victims, but when something happens in Africa (or Asia), you leap at the opportunity to splatter their pictures all over social media.”

Instead of reposting or sharing the many images splashed across the internet, you could show solidarity by contacting friends or colleagues in Kenya who were likely to be affected – supporting them and listening to their experiences.

You could also seek out, share and amplify local/regional/national accounts, stories and analysis (like this) coming from Kenya and Kenyans themselves – giving them autonomy and control over the narrative. People like Ory Okolloh Mwangi on Twitter are really tapped in to what’s going on in Kenya and are worth following.

With love and respect to all those affected.

Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

‘In the developing world, the problem of population is seen less as a matter of human numbers than of western over-consumption. Yet within the development community, the only solution to the problems of the developing world is to export the same unsustainable economic model fuelling the overconsumption of the West.’

Kavita Ramdas.

Read the full article in The Guardian.

Photograph by Brett Cole.