“…if people’s lives are made untenable in the lands that they come from, they flock to the centre of the empire – we choose not to see that or to know that story”

In September last year, rapper, poet and journalist Akala spoke at the V&A at an event called ‘Is London too rich to be interesting?‘ He spoke on a variety of different subjects including poverty, creativity, London gentrification (racial dislocation), rich people, white middle-classes, Notting Hill Carnival and  income tax. He also spoke wisely and passionately about immigration, free market economics and the IMF.

In the UK there is a serious problem with the lack of education about Britain’s true violent, oppressive and dark history. We don’t talk about it. We also don’t look at the part our history and our continued international influence has to play in global poverty, international conflicts, environmental degradation and immigration.

People are often quick to look at the symptoms of these issues, and are equally quick to blame the victims. I’m not the first to say it, but Britain is largely unwilling to acknowledge that it (and the West) has, and continues to play a powerful and destructive role in an unequal and crippling international economic system; the underdevelopment, restriction and disempowerment of developing countries; the political and cultural marginalisation of entire nations; the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people as part of the transatlantic slave trade; the division and rule of an entire continent and several countries to serve a colonial empire; countless international conflicts and wars, often committing terrible atrocities; promoting and often enforcing the pursuance of a manipulative and disastrous ideological system based on consumption, individualism and selfishness; the the destruction of huge swathes of our planet; I could go on…

People get angry about immigration in the UK, but we build a nation on the backs of others and then call it audacious when they come calling (read more in my recent post with quotes from Frankie Boyle). So it’s refreshing and important to hear people like Akala calling this out.

You can read the transcript or watch the video below (this passage is at about 12 minutes in):

“Like I said we ignore the politics that don’t affect us. London is rich for a number of reasons, people want to come here for a number of reasons, but the reasons are often primarily political. So for example, if we take the Caribbean community, why did they leave sunny Jamaica and St Lucia and Trinidad to come here? Primarily because neocolonial economic policy had made it unviable for them to make a living where they live. That’s just not poppycock. When the IMF lends Jamaica or Trinidad or any of these other countries money, they demand that you don’t spend money on social housing, they demand that you privatise your water supply etc etc etc. So if people’s lives are made untenable in the lands that they come from, they flock to the centre of the empire – we choose not to see that or to know that story. The same protectionist policies that Britain employed when it was becoming a developed nation, these countries are prevented from employing. Does that make sense? So when we look at how a country becomes rich, free-market economists become very selective about what they choose to remember and what they choose not to remember.”

“The special policies exist, that’s what I’m saying to you. When Britain was a developing country, it employed tariffs to protect it’s trade. Today, developing countries are prevented from employing tariffs to protect their trade…”

What do you think? H/T to Chris P for highlighting this on Facebook.

African and Asian leaders call for new development bank

Leaders of emerging African and Asian countries are calling for the establishment of a new development to rival the World Bank.

At the 60th commemoration of the Asian African Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia last month a number of leaders agreed that, to succeed, there is a need for a new bank, totally separate from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because the two can no longer be trusted to fully fund development infrastructure projects.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the conference host, said those who still insisted that global economic problems could only be solved through the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank were clinging to “obsolete ideas”.

In his opening statement, Widodo said that African and Asian countries felt a global injustice because the developed world is reluctant to change the status quo:

“The view that the world economic problems can only be solved by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is an outdated view. I am of the view that the management of the global economy cannot be left only to these international financial institutions. We must build a new global economic order that is open to new emerging economic powers.

“When rich nations, which comprise a mere 20 percent of the world’s population, consume 70 percent of the world resources, then global injustice becomes real.

“When hundreds of people in the northern hemisphere enjoy the lives of the super-rich, while more than 1.2-billion people in the southern hemisphere struggle with less than 2 dollars per day, then global injustice becomes more visible before the eyes.

“When a group of rich countries think that they could change the world by use of force, the global inequality clearly brings about misery, of which the United Nations looks helpless.”

You can read the full text of Widodo’s speech here.

Speaking in his capacity as the African Union leader and the Southern African Development Community chairperson, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe echoed these sentiments, arguing that Asian and African countries “should no longer be consigned to the role of exporters of primary goods and importers of finished goods” in a “role that has historically been assigned to us by the colonial powers and starting from the days of colonialism”.

He argued that policies fostered by the IMF and the World Bank had led to deindustrialisation and declining income in sub-Saharan Africa and that both institutions should be criticised for “failing to deliver ­solutions” to alleviate poverty, ­distribute wealth and close the inequality gap in developing countries.

He said the two Bretton Woods institutions were based on “Western doctrine and exploitation” and that developing countries needed to look for alternatives to secure their place in global affairs: “We see this by the decision taken by Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] countries in establishing a development bank and the establishing of Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank championed by China. This is how we must forge ahead if the voice of the South is going to matter in international affairs.”

Mugabe said the development of these banks would usher in a new world economic order that would focus on South-South co-operation and make developing countries self-sufficient. (Source – Mail & Guardian)

Reactions to this will be mixed – controversial Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is one of those leading the charge for a new bank; Indonesia has many of it’s own problems, and turnout at the conference was low (21 leaders attended of 109 invited). However, I believe it’s really important that these conversations are being had, and that there is a growing dissatisfaction with the current world economic order, its inequalities and it’s unfairness towards the global south. Widodo himself said the group may be meeting in a changed world but still needed to stand together against the domination of “a certain group of countries” to avoid unfairness and global imbalances – and this was a sentiment shared by other leaders at the conference.

I completely agree that it’s time for a ‘new world order’, or a ‘new world civilization based on social justice, equality, harmony, and prosperity’ as President Widodo put it – let’s just hope that these leaders recognise that they need to lead by example.

It’s not going to be easy, and I have numerous concerns about the fine detail; including the task being handed over to China, or the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The AIIB is seen by many as a competitor to the Western-dominated World Bank and Asian Development Bank and a ‘threat’ to U.S efforts to extend its influence in the Asia-Pacific region and balance China’s growing financial clout. I think that it’s important to challenge US influence, but I do worry that this will just herald more of the same problems that accompany a global dominant hegemony – unchecked power, global inequality and debt, but with China at the helm.

I look forward to seeing where this one is headed and hope it is authentically, passionately, fairly, compassionately fruitful!

Let me know what you think – a good idea or a bad one? How might this work? Is it possible with/without China leading the way?

Frankie Boyle: “Britain’s criminally stupid attitudes to race and immigration are beyond parody”

Frankie Boyle writes for the Guardian newspaper: “The anti-immigration election rhetoric is perverse – we fear the arrival of people that we have drawn here with the wealth we stole from them..”

This article has been around for almost a month now, but I’ve only just got round to reading it, and I’m glad I did. I’ve extracted a few of my favourite paragraphs from the Guardian article, but fully recommend reading the whole thing here.

“Even our charity is essentially patronising. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself. Alternatively, don’t poison the fishing waters, abduct his great-grandparents into slavery, then turn up 400 years later on your gap year talking a lot of shite about fish.

In a further nod to satire, Comic Relief this year focused on Malawi and Uganda. I didn’t see any acknowledgement that Britain had been the colonial power in those countries. “Thanks for the gold, lads, thanks for the diamonds. We had a whip-round and got you a fishing rod.”

A lot of racism comes from projection. White Americans have a stereotype of black people being criminals purely because they can’t acknowledge that it was actually white people that stole them from Africa in the first place. Today, you have the spectacle of black men being gunned down by cops who, by way of mitigation, release footage to show that the victims were running away. This is what happens when you don’t understand or even acknowledge history. You end up in a situation where, when slavery is the elephant in the room in your relationship with African Americans, you think it’s OK to say that you killed one of them because he was trying to escape.

Britain is in a similar place with colonialism. We have streets named after slave owners. We profited from a vile crime and feel no shame. We fear the arrival of immigrants that we have drawn here with the wealth we stole from them. For much of the rest of the world we must be the focus of bitter amusement, characters in a satire we don’t understand. It is British people that don’t learn languages, or British history. Britain is the true scrounger, the true criminal.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “the older I get, the less interested I am in how the West sees Africa, and the more interested I am in how Africa sees itself.”

Last night Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture at PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature.

In the Q&A session afterwards, she said:

“You know I’ve actually found that the older I get, the less interested I am in how the West sees Africa, and the more interested I am in how Africa sees itself. I used to spend a lot of emotional energy being angry, but now I’m actually much more interested in Kenya covering Nigeria than I am in the U.S. covering Nigeria. And I think there’s a lot changing on the continent… There’s the fact for example that a foreign journalist comes to Nigeria and a Nigerian journalist wants to get an interview with the Nigerian President, the foreign journalist is more likely to get the interview. That’s a problem. How do we solve it? We need to just stop being stupid…

The idea that what happened in Paris was in the front cover of newspapers in the U.S., and what happened in Nigeria wasn’t. There are practical things to me. There’s that it’s harder to get access to the parts of Nigeria that’s been overrun by Boko Haram. It’s much easier to go to Paris. But also I think that we need to talk about who’s telling the story. I think that the people who make the decisions in the newsrooms just feel a closer affinity to France than they do to Nigeria. It doesn’t make them bad, it just is what it is. I wish that Boko Haram had been on the cover of every African newspaper. But it wasn’t, and that’s what I want to talk about truthfully…

I want to say that I’m becoming this sort of isolationist person, but I’m not. I do think that the West matters. I do think that engagement matters. But increasingly I’m not as interested as I used to be in this idea that somehow the western gaze should be that biding, interesting subject of the people on the continent of Africa. And also what it means then is we start to cut to those really ugly, dangerous colonial ties. But it’s much about a continent that is […] You know people say, ‘You can’t fly [directly], you must go to Paris first from Lagos. There are just things that are outdated, and I just find myself so much more interested in thinking and talking about those things that I am in […] the fact that the coverage of Ebola in the American press was so atrocious. It really was. I don’t want to get started or I’ll go on this whole rant.”

Massive hat tip to okayafrica for posting about this. There’s a link to a video of her saying this on their Facebook page.

Dear Fellow Humans #GE2015

It’s on a slight tangent, but I wrote this a few weeks ago (not for on here) and decided not to share it because it’s so long self-indulgent. Then the UK elections happened and it felt more poignant than ever, so I changed my mind and it was published by the wonderful ZOD Culture magazine.

The below is an excerpt, you can read the full article here.

“Dear fellow humans,

If you know me, you’ll know I’m passionate about social justice and equality, about regenerating the environment and caring for one another and making mistakes and being truly, honestly, awkwardly, beautifully human. You’ll have seen my rants on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll have watched me squirm and fume in the face of (what I call) bigotry, you’ll have heard me debate and argue, campaign and shout and change my mind and get things wrong and learn and relearn.

Firstly, I know how annoying this must feel sometimes and how being with me, and others like me, can feel like waiting to be told you’re doing something ‘wrong’. I also know that it probably comes across as patronising and holier than thou. And most of all, I know and understand that often it’s hard to hear and easy to ignore.

But although I might seem like I’ve got it all together and sit in my ivory tower passing comment on how the world is operating, and what we ‘should’ all be doing, that’s not my reality.

I’ve just been onto Google to see if there was a word or phrase to describe how I’m feeling today, and in fact how I often feel these days. I searched for ‘feeling depressed about the world’, and immediately was faced with reams of entries from people feeling the same way. I think that, in an era where we’re all at the end of a hotline to everything going wrong, this ‘humanitarian depression’ is a phrase we should coin…”

Read more here and let me know what you think.

Want to see real change happening? #Dumsormuststop

Ghanaian actress Yvonne Nelson has started a Twitter storm: #Dumsormuststop, calling for the end of Dumsor, or ‘lights out’ in Ghana by the Electricity Company of Ghana, where the country experiences frequent and lengthy blackouts, despite many promises to end it. 

The new regime instated in February means that residential consumers of power will now have up to 24 hours of outage before ‘enjoying’ 12 hours of power. But #dumsormuststop is gaining traction, and there’s a vigil planned on May 16th, organised by Nelson and rapper Sarkodie so watch this space…

You can follow the hashtag here; read more about it here; or hear Nelson speak about it here. Sometimes the power of social media to mobilise people still amazes me.

I just hope they can find a sustainable, reliable and viable solution quickly.