Friday, 10 December 2010

Rwanda Genocide Testimony of Clare Muhinyuza

This is the testimony of Rwanda genocide survivor Clare Muhinyuza.  Clare was one of the first people interviewed by SURF: The Survivor's Fund.   Her story is absolutely heartbreaking and I found it to be a moving and powerful video.  Sadly, Clare eventually passed away from her injuries.  What an unbelievable tragedy.

SURF have a book entitled Survival Against The Odds which is a collection of survivors stories as well as a chronology of events.  If you click on the link above, it will take you to the page where you can obtain a copy.


Sunday, 5 December 2010

The New Scramble for Africa

Ambassador Michael Battle
Image source:

The US, African Union and new scramble for Africa

Source: ThoughtLeader

The past few years have seen a dramatic uptick in American diplomatic efforts in Africa, which has coincided with a decisive shift in political rhetoric about the continent. At first glance this might seem like a positive development, reflecting a more progressive attitude toward what has long been considered an unimportant global backwater. But a closer look reveals that American diplomacy in Africa is less about serving the good of African people than it is about securing the interests of private American capital. Nowhere has this been more flagrantly clear than on the lips of Michael Battle, the US ambassador to the AU.

First, a bit about Battle. He received a Masters degree in Divinity at Trinity College and a Ph.D in Ministry at Howard University, and served at the Interdenominational Theological Centre in Atlanta until he was nominated to his current post by President Obama in 2009.
Battle’s position at the AU is new and little known outside diplomatic circles. The US only established a dedicated ambassadorship to the AU during the Bush administration in 2006. This mission - known as USAU - is the first of its kind among non-African states, and is designed to facilitate US operations in Africa as a more ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ alternative to bilateral relationships with individual African states.

This month I had the opportunity to attend a speech delivered by Battle during his visit to the Miller Centre of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. I noticed a new diplomatic rhetoric right at the outset of his presentation. First, he referred to Africa as a continent of ‘great riches’ and ‘abundance’, flagging a notable departure from earlier, longstanding representations of Africa as ‘desolate’ and ‘impoverished’. Paralleling this point, Battle spoke at length about shifting US policy in Africa toward corporate ‘investment’ and ‘partnership’ and away from public ‘aid’ and ‘assistance’.

On the face of it this seemed like good news to me, but the rest of Battle’s speech disabused me of any rosy assumptions about his intentions, as the two primary objectives of the USAU rose quickly to the surface: security and trade.

In terms of security, Battle confirmed America’s dedication to working with the AU and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to militarise the continent’s coastlines. While he claimed that the goals of this mission include responding to increased maritime piracy and breaking cartels that traffic illegally in drugs and humans, he made it clear that the primary military objective is to protect US oil interests in the Gulf of Guinea, suppress local resistance movements like MEND in Nigeria, and secure a favourable climate for returns on investment for American corporations. When pressed, Battle justified his call for militarisation by invoking the vague and poorly substantiated spectre of ‘terrorism’.

In terms of trade, Battle spoke excitedly about the partnership between the US, the AU, and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) to integrate and liberalise the continent’s national economies. Battle’s explicit vision is to facilitate the efforts of US corporations such as Chevron, Delta, and GE (which he mentioned explicitly by name) to expand investments across multiple African nations by ‘harmonizing trade rules’ and ‘simplifying regulations’.
He praised the AU for developing ‘free trade’ across the continent at a faster rate than the EU was able to accomplish over a similar period of time, and hailed USAU’s vision for an Africa that is increasingly open for business to American companies.

None of this is particularly new, of course - the US has long used its diplomats to push for neoliberal economic policies. The real newness of Battle’s approach is that he no longer feels the need to hide America’s brash economic interests in Africa. While diplomats of earlier eras invoked the lofty rhetoric of development and democracy, Battle makes no such effort. Instead, he speaks plainly about using diplomacy to facilitate monopoly capitalism, and about paving the way for US corporations to - as he put it - ‘take advantage of Africa’s resources and exploit its tremendous market opportunities’. According to Battle, ‘If we don’t invest on the African continent now, we will find that China and India have absorbed its resources without us, and we will wake up and wonder what happened to our golden opportunity of investment.’ Battle couldn’t have been blunter - or more offensive - if he tried.

One can’t help but find Battle’s approach shockingly redolent of the 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, when European nations conspired to divide the continent among themselves, each claiming a share of its abundant resources, its cheap labour, and its untapped markets, all while committing to secure their claims with a military presence. The only thing that has changed today is that the actors are different, and the plunder is being conducted with the full support of the African political elite and the AU, which - not surprisingly - depends partially on funds from the US through USAID.

Before he left the auditorium, Battle agreed to field a few questions from the audience. One student asked him why he focused so much on capital investment and economic liberalisation, but never once discussed fairer labour standards or protective environmental policies or regulatory mechanisms designed to benefit the poor. Indeed, any astute observer of African affairs understands that poverty and instability arise not from too much regulation and too little foreign direct investment, but from too little regulation and foreign direct investment that plunders and exploits without meaningfully benefiting the public. What Africa needs is not investment for its own sake, but investment within a framework that will protect workers and the environment and ensure that common people receive a just share of the resources that are their birthright. But Battle refused to answer the question.

I also took a moment to pose a question to Battle. I asked him how it was that his job as a public functionary of the US government has become about securing the private interests of multinational corporations. I wasn’t surprised when he refused to answer me. But I was surprised that he made no effort to contradict me. Indeed, Battle was entirely prepared to defend his role as facilitator of American military intervention in the service of private American capital. And this without even the usual claims to altruism: he didn’t even gesture to the pressing problems of poverty, inequality, and exploitation in Africa. Given that Battle’s training in African affairs prior to his post at the AU amounts to almost zero, I suppose this shouldn’t be so shocking. Still, I expected more compassion and critical insight from a man trained in theology and educated at a historically black university.

As much as I want to criticise Battle for his lack of diplomatic decorum, I actually find myself grateful for it - grateful that he has spoken so bluntly about his gunboat diplomacy, grateful that he has exposed the market-oriented motives of the USAU, grateful that he has stripped away the romantic mystifications that usually shroud US foreign policy in Africa. Gone at last is the fig leaf of humanitarianism; Battle has given lie to any pretence that the Obama administration has the best interests of the beleaguered continent in mind. Indeed, Battle’s rhetoric represents nothing less than the formal inauguration of a New Scramble for Africa, and of a complicit AU that has been thoroughly co-opted by the US government and multinational capital.

Jason Hickel teaches courses in African studies at the University of Virginia while working on his doctoral dissertation in anthropology.


Saturday, 4 December 2010

Student Uprisings: Otpor!

The current spate of student protests across the United Kingdom has divided opinions and the media has rushed to portray the students as hooligans and radicals.  But what if you lived in a country where students could not protest or risked their lives by doing so?  What about those protests that changed the face of history or left indelible marks on the politics of an entire region or nation?

Otpor – Resistance (uploaded on Flickr by Igor Jeremic)

University of Belgrade, October 1998.   The increasingly authoritarian and paranoid regime of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević introduced repressive laws in an attempt to curb media freedom and the autonomy of universities.  Otpor (Отпор in Serbian Cyrillic, meaning ‘resistance’) was formed by 15 students at the University of Belgrade to protest these laws.

In 1999, NATO bombed Serbia in response to massive human rights abuses and crimes against humanity taking place in Kosovo during the Kosovo War.  In the aftermath of the NATO bombings, Otpor changed their focus to a non-violent campaign of protest against Slobodan Milošević and the movement grew rapidly from just a couple of hundred members to thousands and then tens of thousands.  Students engaged in peaceful marches, met in coffee shops and schools, and made use of graffiti and propaganda posters to convey their message. 

The Milošević regime responded with a brutal counter-attack against the student organisation.  Up to 2000 students were arrested, many were beaten on streets and in police stations and the mass media responded by branding the students as hoodlums and terrorists.

Otpor logo OTPOR Sign Novi Sad 2001 Gotov je!

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Otpor launched the “Gotov je” campaign.  Gotov je  (Готов је in Cyrillic, see above right) means “he is finished” and it was a widespread campaign to encourage voters to turn up at the polls and to use their vote to remove Slobodan Milošević from power.  The campaign was specifically aimed at disillusioned voters and youth abstainers.  It is estimated that six tons of gotov je stickers (or approximately two million) were printed in six weeks and affixed to buildings, cars, street signs and in shop windows.

Prior to the elections, eighteen opposition parties combined in an attempt to present a unified position against the ruling party.  The opposition was called the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition and Vojislav Koštunica was their prime candidate.  The elections took place on September 24, 2000.  By midnight on the 24th, both independent sources and coalition staff reported that Koštunica had won over 50% of the votes (thus ensuring a win) but the Federal Electoral Committee stated that no party had won the required majority.  As discrepancies and irregularities began to emerge, allegations of election fraud were rife and this was fueled by Milošević’s transparent ploy to manipulate the vote and force a runoff.

Koštunica called for a general strike which initially started with miners at the countries Kolubara mines which produced most of Serbia’s electricity.  As worker involvement increased, Otpor arranged road blocks across the country and together, they brought the country to a standstill.  On October 5, 2000, several hundreds of thousands of students, workers and other protests converged on Belgrade in what has become known as the Bulldozer Revolution.  The protests were peaceful but during the events, the parliament was partially burned down and the main television station RTS was taken over.  The police, who had been secretly working with Otpor and the opposition for months, stood by and refused to carry out Milošević’s orders. 

Slobodan Milošević resigned a couple of days later and was eventually transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to stand trial on war crimes charges.  He passed away on March 11, 2006 before he could be convicted or sentenced.

Otpor is widely acknowledged for the role that they played in bringing down the Milošević regime and they were awarded the MTV's Free Your Mind Award in 2000.



Thursday, 2 December 2010

Book Review: When Everything Has Fallen – Nathalia Zongo

wheneverythinghasfallen%20cover On October 15, 1987 a military coup d'état took place in Burkina Faso and the president Thomas Sankara was assassinated.  Sankara himself had gained power in 1983 when he had toppled the Ouédraogo regime in a coup d'état that was organized by Blaise Compaoré and supported by Libya.  In an ironic twist of events, it was Blaise Compaoré that went on to lead the subsequent coup d'état in 1987. 

Although he was only in power for four years, Thomas Sankara had become an incredibly popular leader.  He had declined foreign aid and adopted an anti-imperialist foreign policy.  His domestic policy centered around poverty reduction; agrarian self-sufficiency land reform; public health and the vaccination of 2.5 million children; literacy and a commitment to women’s rights that saw him outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy.  His radical and progressive policies seemingly required greater control of his society though and Sankara became increasingly authoritarian in his governance of Burkina Faso, banning unions, free press and anything else that he saw to stand in his way. 

ThomasSankara Sankara’s popularity rose to dizzying heights amongst the poorest and most vulnerable of his citizens but his policies and authoritarian practices began to alienate some very powerful people, including the Burkinabè middle class, tribal leaders and those with foreign trade ties to France (Sankara had maintained strong ties with Libya and Ghana).  France backed Blaise Compaoré in leading the 1987 coup d'état in which Sankara was assassinated.

Air Force Lieutenant Etienne Zongo was President Sankara’s chief military officer and had served at his side since October 1983.  He went missing on the day that Sankara was assassinated and for several agonizing days, his family thought that he had been killed in the coup d'état, only to discover that his name was not on the list of the dead.  When Everything Has Fallen is an autobiographical account of these events written by Etienne Zongo’s daughter Nathalia Zongo.  This is a deeply personal memoir that follows the immediate aftermath of the coup d'état and the family’s struggles to pick up the pieces in the following years.  The book details military raids on the family household as soldiers searched relentlessly for Lt. Zongo and his release into custody that was negotiated by the Ambassador of Cuba and the Embassy of Ghana.  Lt. Zongo had his passport confiscated and was then interrogated, tortured and held under house arrest before being detained without trial for two years.  Released in August 1989, Lt. Zongo fled to neighboring Ghana in fear of his life and disappeared from his family for seven years.

In When Everything Has Fallen, Nathalia Zongo details how the family were once again subject to military raids upon the household after Lt. Zongo had left for Ghana and how they were ostracized by the school and the greater community.  Already struggling to make ends meet, the family suffered devastating damage to their house due to a fire and did not hear a single word from Lt. Zongo until a brief reunion in 1994.   Nathalia describes the struggles that beset the family and how one of her brothers Jonathan lost all interest and dropped out of school before graduating.  Nathalia moved to America when she was 21 to study and work to support herself.  She describes a precarious existence where employers felt able to terminate her contracts with little or no reason or notice and her own brother felt unable to support her or house her in his apartment.

There is no doubt that the Zongo family lead a harrowing and troubled existence in the years after the coup d'état, during Lt. Zongo’s imprisonment and subsequent exile, and following the departure of Nathalia and older brother Jean-Martin to America.  However, When Everything Has Fallen is set against the backdrop of a major political event and I expected the book to go into more detail about the history of Burkina Faso and the policies and practices that ultimately lead to Thomas Sankara’s death.  The author described what Sankara meant to her on a personal level but did not provide sufficient context for her admiration of the man.

Similarly, the author described what happened to her father in very brief detail although she went into greater detail about how the events impacted on her and her family.  I expect that readers of a political biography such as this might want to know more about the practice of detainment without trial and the moral and political implications of such a practice.  Lt. Zongo was interrogated and tortured by the government and had previously spoken out about his experiences to Africa International in 1991.  As the author had re-established contact with her father by the end of the book, it would make sense that some insight be provided into his experiences (or at least an opinion offered if he felt unable to talk about those experiences).  There is also little insight in the book as to why Lt. Zongo failed to make contact with his family for seven years and the reader is left wondering whether this was negligence or the fact that the family remained in a rural setting.  All that the author does mention in this regard is the unwavering and frankly irrational faith maintained by her mother that he would eventually return to the family (he never did). 

Nathalia Zongo The press release for the book does approach this and states that although set against a political backdrop, When Everything Has Fallen is an autobiography by a child “without the encroachment of hindsight or adult values”.  I find this problematic as the book is not targeted towards readers of ‘tragic life stories’ but is firmly presented as a political and historical memoir.  The book would greatly benefit from a foreword explaining the historical and political aspects of the story together with a detailed account of Lt. Zongo’s experiences as a detainee plus perhaps an afterword explaining Lt. Zongo’s subsequent actions and continuing absence from his family.  As it stands at the moment, When Everything Has Fallen simply leaves too many questions unanswered.

You can purchase When Everything Has Fallen at ¦ or you can click on the “Recommended Reading” link below for more book reviews.

Article written by me and first published as Book Review: When Everything Has Fallen by Nathalia Zongo on Blogcritics. This review contains affiliate links.


Sunday, 28 November 2010

SAVE’s “Don’t Be That Guy” Campaign

Campaigns against sexual assault and violence often focus on telling women how to stay safe.  “Don’t wear this”, “don’t drink too much”, “don’t take unlicensed taxi cabs”.  This represents an unacceptable level of victim-blaming where the spotlight is always placed on what a women was doing at the time of an unprovoked and violent attack.  Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE) is a coalition of educators, NGO's, sexual assault counsellors, the Edmonton Police Service, and interested business and individuals who aim to change the way in which sexual assault campaigns are presented.  Their common goal is to reduce the number of alcohol facilitated sexual assaults by targeting not the individuals who are victims of these assaults but those who commit them.  The coalition seeks to raise awareness about alcohol facilitated sexual violence, challenge myths and stereotypes, stand in solidarity with survivors and most of all, fight victim-blaming.

On November 22, 2010 SAVE launched their brand new Don’t Be That Guy campaign.  The message is simple: don’t be that guy, don’t be the one to take advantage of an intoxicated woman and the byline of the campaign is “sex without consent = sexual assault”.

The coalition are aware of the daunting task that lies ahead of them and they have a five-year timeframe in which they plan to launch several campaigns.  As they say on their website, “We're looking for a shift in society that's about respecting each other. Smoking used to be cool, drunk driving was once a joke - well, the way that we think about and respond to sexual assault is evolving. And it's time”.  One thing is for sure, this campaign is leagues ahead of the Transport for London Cabwise campaign run in London, England which features a woman being assaulted and the words “Stop, no.  Stop please, no, please. Please stop taking unbooked minicabs”.  It is time indeed to stop blaming the victim. 

The SAVE website also includes several resources including a fact sheet detailing the myths about sexual assault and rape as well as documents entitled Defining Sexual Assault & Consent, Acquaintance Sexual Assault, Drug & Alcohol Facilitated Sexual Assault and Male Survivors of Sexual Assault.

SAVE campaign Don't Be That Guy help-her-home

SAVE campaign Don't Be That Guy just-because-she's-drunk

SAVE campaign Don't Be That Guy couch-saying-no

Article written by me and first published as SAVE’s "Don’t Be That Guy" Campaign on Blogcritics.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

My Dangerous Loverboy: Stop Sex Trafficking - The Official Music Video

I mentioned the My Dangerous Loverboy project yesterday in my post on the Feminism in London 2010 conference: Women in Public Life.  The My Dangerous Loverboy campaign is a cross-platform film project to raise awareness about sex trafficking and more specifically, the phenomenon of “internal trafficking”.  Many young girls are targeted by older teenage boys or men who then sell them into prostitution and exploit them. 

This song is really catchy and I urge people to share the video to help raise awareness of a crime that is happening in modern, urban and often prosperous cities.

As you can see from the snapshot below, there is lots to see on the My Dangerous Loverboy website and many ways in which to get involved.

My Dangerous Loverboy


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Feminism in London 2010: Women in Public Life

On 23 October 2010, I attended the Feminism in London 2010 conference.  The notes below are from the introductory panel entitled “Women in Public Life”.  Please let me know of any errors or omissions.

Chitra Nagarajan (Organising committee of Feminism in London)

Chitra Nagarajan - Feminism in London 2010Chitra gave a brief welcome form the organising committee of the Feminism in London 2010.  In referring to the current political climate and government cuts, she mentioned the old adage “If you’re not at the table, you’re the meal”.

Ceri Goddard (Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society)

Ceri was going to discuss how women are represented in the public and media.  The Fawcett Society is a leading campaigner for women’s rights and has been doing so since the 1860s when women were fighting for their right to vote.  Ceri discussed the consistent failure of governments to enable feminism and economic policy to meet.  These were dealt with as to separate entities and at no time did economic policies take into account what was best for women.  The new government will hit women the hardest as they are making cuts as opposed to using taxes to derive their income.  Sixty percent of public sector jobs are held by women and these are the jobs that are going to be cut.  One-fifth of women’s income comes from benefits and this is what is going to be cut (as opposed to 10% of men’s income). 

Ceri Goddard - Feminism in London 2010 The Fawcett Society is non-partisan.  When the elections were taking place, the Fawcett Society offered Gender Impact Assessments of the parties’ budget plans.  Only the Labour and Green Parties committed to this.   Now, Fawcett have filed papers with the High Court seeking a Judicial Review of the government’s recent emergency budget.  This legal action came about because Fawcett believe that the government did not pay due regard to women’s issues with the emergency budget.  The law does state that the government should collect data on men and women and how policies impact them yet despite numerous requests, the government has not been able (or willing?) to prove that they have collected this data at all.

Ceri said that it hits all women and it hits the poorest.  Child benefit has been cut yet somehow tax benefits to married couples have been increased.  The recession is simply a cover for a wider, backwards ideological shift.  Feminism is not just about equality in the status quo; it is about changing the status quo and about equality for all.  We need to value human beings over cash and these discussions should become part of our everyday life.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC - Feminism in London 2010 Baroness Kennedy is an expert in human rights law, a member of the House of Lords and author of the book Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice.

Baroness Kennedy started off by saying that women are doubly disadvantaged and it all comes down to two words: power and money and how “every single bit of exploitation… can be traced back to these two things”.  It is important to understand the struggles of the past in order to understand our present.  Half of the students in law school are women and yet there is one woman in the Supreme Court.  A lot has happened but not a lot has changed.  We realised in the 1970s that you have to shine light into institutions if you want to change anything.  We talk about women in public life but what about the poor women?  Well, the reality is that if we don’t take on those institutions then we can’t make a difference.

Baroness Kennedy mentioned Polly Toynbee who is endlessly ridiculed because she analyses the small print of policies and how they affect people.  We need to stop these attacks on women who are paying attention!  [My note - This is so important because we do tend to turn on women who are ‘making a nuisance of themselves’ when we should be sitting up and listening to them and most of all, supporting them].

We were told that it was just a matter of time.  We’ve been told it now and we were told it in the 1970s.  We’ve been lead to believe that over time, women will grow to become equal with men but it is still not happening to such an extent that some have come to believe in positive discrimination.  Women are still not seeing themselves in these roles; we are waiting to be asked.  We have to keep fighting for women  Legal Aid is being cut and most of the lawyers are women fighting for the rights of the most disadvantaged.  We are all advocates for other women.

Lindsey Hills (25-year-old mother, member of YWCA and mentor to young people)

Lindsey came to talk about the perceptions of young motherhood in public life.  She was a teenage mother and was lucky to have the support hat she did.  She started at the YWCA when her child as 8 months old and they gave her the support to move on from a negative relationship.  She became aware of the stereotypes and how there are no positive perceptions of younger mothers even though it can be a positive experience that encourages women to succeed.  As a young mother, she was gossiped about, ridiculed and judged and told by others that she had let her own mother down.  The perception is that young mothers have no drive to succeed and yet Lindsey continued her studies in tourism whilst looking after her child.  The perception is that young mothers are either irresponsible for getting pregnant or they are deliberately getting pregnant for the benefits but this has no bearing on reality. 

Lindsey described how unhelpful the local council was when she tried to get a place of her own.  They basically fobbed her off for a whole day and she sat at the council offices for hours until the emergency housing team came onto duty that evening.  They first put her into a B&B and then a hostel and finally a flat that was in another neighbourhood, away from her family and friends.  She was told that she had to accept it or lose it.  The rent was £1,600 a month and so Lindsey could not afford to work, otherwise she would lose her housing benefits. 

Thanks to support from her family and the YWCA, she now works part-time for a children’s centre and the Scouts and she does volunteer work for several organisations.  That is not a lazy mum!  Lindsey has worked with the YWCA to set up the Respect Young Mums and More Than One Rung campaigns and seeks better careers advice, skills and training for young women.

Rahila Gupta (Author of Enslaved and Provoked)

Rahila Gupta - Feminism in London 2010 Rahila focused on journalism and writing and how it affects women.  She spoke of visibility and fields of vision and asked how do you qualify for the description of women in public life?  The media turns people into spokespersons for entire communities but on whose behalf do we speak, should we speak?  Despite wanting to believe the opposite, there is still great racism and sexism in the most liberal of spheres (women of colour are only ever called upon to speak about the issues facing women of colour).  Rahila questioned to what extent our narratives are diluted by the rules of engagement.  We have to ask police for permission before we protest about police brutality.  Rahila raised so many questions and said so much and closed by asking if women can ever get really comfortable in public space.

Virginia Heath (Film maker and cross-platform producer)

Virginia’s address was really inspiring as she said that there were far more women in film today than when she had started out.  She described how there had been no film courses in New Zealand and how she had landed up coming through to London to study film.  Jane Campion was the first woman ever to win the prestigious Palme D'Or at Cannes award for her 1993 film The Piano and Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director Oscar in 2010 for her film The Hurt LockerWomen have made lots of achievements but we’ve still got a hell of a long way to go.  Virginia talked about her new project My Dangerous Loverboy.  This is a cross platform film project to raise awareness of sex trafficking and I will post more about it later this week. 

Virginia told us that she began studying film during the miners’ strikes in 1985 and she filmed a documentary about the event of the strikes on the miners’ wives.  She mentioned that if there are interesting things happening when you’re studying, it really makes an impact.  I can really relate to that as I was at university when Apartheid was dismantled in South Africa.


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Feminism in London Conference 2010

Feminism in London

I attended the Feminism in London conference on Saturday and it was an incredible day of inspiring speeches and motivation.  It was attended by over 1,000 people this year which makes it the biggest Feminist gathering in England for over a decade.  I was fortunate enough to attend four sessions including the opening session on Women in Public Life, workshops on Violence Against Women as a Hate Crime and Reports from the Global Women's Movement and the incredible rousing closing address.

Over the course of the next week, I’ll be uploading the notes and photographs I took as well as some relevant links and a video.  Of course, that is my intention but I am right in the middle of preparing for upcoming exams and have suffered a family bereavement too so bear with me while I try to get all of this up.

I think it is really valuable to post thoughts and lessons learned from conferences like these as the whole reason I looked up a feminist conference in London was that I read my friend Sophy’s accounts of Wiscon (the Feminist Science Fiction conference held in Madison, Wisconsin each year) over the past couple of years.  Please let me know if there are any errors or omissions in my posts as I found that listening and taking notes was not as easy as it had been in university 15 years ago.


Saturday, 16 October 2010

Joel Burns Tell His Story: It Gets Better

It has been a crazy couple of weeks as we’ve uncovered the terrible news of teenagers across America that have taken their own lives because of bullying.   The video above is an incredible and passionate speech by Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns about the bullying that he encountered as a gay teen and how it does get better.  Wearing a pink shirt in aid of breast cancer awareness, Burns explains that this is the first time he has ever told the story of his bullying and near-suicide to anyone.  Almost a million people have watched this video since it was uploaded on Joel’s YouTube channel just three days ago and many people have posted it across Twitter and Facebook daring others to try watch it without breaking down crying.

I found it incredibly difficult to watch as it unexpectedly touched a very deep nerve within me.  After moving to South Africa from England at the age of 9, I was subject to relentless bullying that lasted until I moved to high school at the age of 12.  There was no ‘reason’ for my bullying other than the fact that I was different and foreign but I began to make serious and concrete plans for suicide by the age of 11.  That first year of high school was still hard but by the end of that year I began to make friends and am still friends with them to this day.  I absolutely agree sympathise with Joel as it is never easy to tell you parents that yes, you contemplated suicide but the fact is that we need to be open.  We need to tell people, no matter how it might hurt them, that the successful, happy, vivacious person standing before them was once on the verge of ending it all.  With this openness, perhaps we can move on and communicate to the children of today that it gets better.

You can see more videos from the It Gets Better Project or visit The Trevor Project for more information about suicide prevention amongst LGBT teens.

Trevor Project banner


Monday, 11 October 2010

Reconsider Columbus Day

I don’t think it is ever ‘easy’ or ‘comfortable’ when people ask us to reconsider our national holidays.  More so, perhaps, when those people are not a citizen of our country.  But consider for a moment whether that national holiday honours all citizens of your country.

One of the major sources of contention when the Apartheid government of South Africa was replaced by the government of the African National Congress was that all of the national holidays were either changed or abolished and new ones were introduced.

The “Day of the Vow” on December 16th was no longer a day of thanksgiving to honour a promise made to God for helping the ‘pious’ Afrikaners defeat the ‘heathen’ Zulus at Blood River in 1838 (for this is how the events on that day were taught to us in school). Most of us ‘got’ why such a holiday might be offensive, most of us welcomed the change of name (and spirit) of the holiday to the “Day of Reconciliation” but there are still people who remember and honour the “Day of the Vow” each year.  They dress up in 19th-century clothing, make pilgrimage to the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria and generally hark back to the glory days of Apartheid. 

Despite that minority, the majority of South Africans today observe a day of reconciliation, overcoming conflicts, forgiveness and nation building.  Or they at least take a day off and don’t rub the Battle of Blood River in the face of the majority of the population.

When the time comes for your government to recognise that perhaps history needs to be reflected more accurately, are you going to embrace the change and work together on reconciliation, forgiveness and nation building?  Or are you going to hold on to this holiday (and others) and all that it represents?  What does Columbus Day mean to you?

Reconsider Columbus Day


Thursday, 23 September 2010

Book Review: A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld

A Time for Machetes - The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld Following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 which claimed the lives of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Jean Hatzfeld visited Rwanda and spoke to the survivors of the atrocities. Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak is a harrowing read which tells in the survivors’ own words the horrors of the genocide including surviving massacres in churches, hiding under dead bodies or spending days hiding in swamps as their former friends and neighbours scoured the area with machetes seeking to kill them.  You can read my detailed account of the book here: On Rwanda: my passion and the need to know.

In A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak , Hatzfeld returns to Rwanda and this time he speaks to the perpetrators of the genocide: ten men who are serving time in a  prison for their part in the genocide.  As a prolific reader of books relating to the Rwandan genocide, my expectations on picking up this book were quite specific.  What the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide did was unthinkable, it defied words and stretched the bounds of the human imagination.  I hoped to gain some insight into what the killers had been thinking, what had motivated them and how they justified their own actions.  I expected to read that the men had been caught up in the frenzy and organisation of the time and that they were somewhat horrified by their actions today.  I expected the passage of time and life in prison to have inspired a remorseful attitude and an appreciation of the human cost and loss of life resulting from their actions.  I was disappointed.

There is no doubt that this is an excellent book and I have no hesitation giving it five stars and recommending that people read it.  Hatzfeld’s brave and tireless enquiry has given us an extremely rare insight into the mind of a genocidal killer.  The questions that he asks, the commentary and background information that he provides and the process he undergoes to gain the killers’ trust provides an invaluable resource that we simply have not had with other genocides.  In the end though, it seems that my expectation of remorse and reconciliation was beyond naive.

The chapters in the book detail the level of organisation of the killings including how gang members were initiated and how they were instructed on how to kill.  There are descriptions of how men were punished or not rewarded if they failed to kill and how there were called upon and dispatched each morning and fed and rewarded each evening.  The respondents discuss how they overcame initial hesitation with respect to the killings, how they began to dehumanise Tutsis in order to kill them and how they felt about rape and looting. 

“We no longer saw a human being when we turned up a Tutsi in the swamps.  I mean a person like us, sharing similar thoughts and feelings” - Pio

Danielle Nyirabazungu - memorial site guardian
Danielle Nyirabazungu - memorial site guardian

Throughout reading the book, there is the continual and nagging feeling that something is missing.  In a sense, it is the complete lack of sincerity, humanity or accountability.  One killer speaks of how he magnanimously spared the life of a woman only to kill her days later once her usefulness had run its course.  The killers display an incredible sense of entitlement and a refusal to even hint or acknowledge of how wrong their actions were.  They simply feel no remorse and even manage to express anger and impatience at their victims.  If only they could get on with it and forgive them, then the killers could get their own lives back!

“I believe the consequences have been most unfortunate for us all.  The others have gathered in many dead.  But we, too, have met with perilous hardships in the camps and a wretched life in prison” – Fulgence

It is possible that this sense of brazen remorselessness has to do with way in which the questions were asked of the killers or the manner in which they were reported however, Hatzfeld had specifically set out to give the killers a voice, to put the inconceivable into words, so I would be less likely to believe that it is deliberate bias.  It is likely that much has been lost in translation between the original Kinyarwandan to French to English.  The fact remains that much of the text in the book is reported in the killers’ own words and that the ten respondents were part of an original gang that managed to stay together during their time in prison.  Quite simply, it is most likely that they simply did not feel remorse or the full impact of their actions as the genocidal discourse had remained intact during their time in prison and nothing had been done to separate the men or break down these beliefs.  Mention is made in the closing chapter of the books of the men being sent to a re-education camp at Bicumbi before the majority of them were released back into the community in May 2003 but the interviews in the book took place before this occurred.  Hatzfeld's final book in this trilogy, The Strategy Of Antelopes: Rwanda After the Genocide picks up where the killers have been released into the community and details their difficulty in settling back down in the communities and how their Tutsi neighbours must tolerate them.

Jean Hatzfeld
Jean Hatzfeld

I would certainly recommend this book but I would certainly not recommend that this be the only book that you read on the Rwandan genocide.  These are the top books that I would recommend on the Rwandan genocide (click on the links to go straight to

  1. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza
  2. An Ordinary Man: The True Story Behind Hotel Rwanda by Paul Rusesabagina
  3. Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey by Fergal Keane
  4. Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak by Jean Hatzfeld
  5. The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo by Clea Koff

Despite the difficulties presented with the subject matter, I would still give this book five out of five stars.

Article written by me and first published as Book Review: A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld on Blogcritics. This review contains afilliate links.


Saturday, 18 September 2010

Leaked United Nations report into Congo

Rwandan refugees passed a body in a refugee camp in Congo in 1997.
Rwandan refugees passed a body in a refugee camp in Congo in 1997.
Image © Roger Lemoyne/Liaison, via Getty Images

Three weeks ago, a United Nations mapping report “documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003” was leaked to the press.  The purpose of the report is a mapping exercise to detail over 600 cases of serious atrocities that occurred in the DRC during the ten year period and it includes of attacks against Tutsi and Banyamulenge civilians and Hutu refugees.  This is a massive 508 page document that gives harrowing detail of rapes, murders, torture and war crimes committed against both civilian and militia targets. 

Unfortunately, the appalling and shocking nature of the crimes has become overshadowed in the political storm that has resulted since then.  Quite simply, the report could possibly implicate the Rwandan government in an act of genocide against Hutu refugees that fled to what was then Zaire after the 1994 genocide.  Civilians made up of men, women and children were not separated from the Interahamwe militia in refugee camps and the report contains allegations that Rwandan soldiers were indiscriminate and unrelenting in their attempts to pursue the former militias.  The New York Times reported in the article U.N. Congo Report Offers New View on Genocide that the massacres were systematic and that insufficient effort was made to protect (or even exclude) civilians from the attacks.  The New York Times then reported that the U.N. Delays Release of Report on Possible Congo Genocide and that Rwanda were so angry about the report that they were threatening to pull peacekeeping troops out of Darfur.

On his blog Congo Siasa, Jason Stearns reminds us that:

“The report's intention is to call for accountability for the mass atrocities committed during ten years of conflict in the Congo, not to single out Rwanda for "acts of genocide." Indeed, Angolan, Burundian, Ugandan, Chadian and Congolese officials are also cited for war crimes in the report. While the systematic massacre of Rwandan Hutu refugees stands out as one of the worst crimes committed during the war and deserves to be highlighted, the press should have put the report in context and highlighted its call for a tribunal and a truth and reconciliation commission” - Thoughts on the UN mapping report (Congo Siasa, August 28, 2010)

The most interesting portions of the United Nations document are commentary on why the Truth and reconciliation commission failed and the insight into the nature of sexual violence in the area.  I have uploaded the full document which you can either read online or download (5.79mb). 

The above mentioned report refers to the specific period from 1993 to 2003.  What it does not cover is the ongoing violence against women and children in the area.  It is reported that starting in July 2010, rebels forces took over an area in eastern Congo and up to 242 women were raped.  The New York Times article Rape Victims in Congo Raid Now More Than 240 details how Congolese and Rwandan rebels groups took over villages in the Walikale region of North Kivu “assaulting their victims in groups of two to six”. 

The Rwandan forces involved are members of the Hutu power rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (DFLR).  The group is also known as FDLR after their French name Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda.  This group is opposed to Tutsi rule and influence in the region and is made up of many former Interahamwe members. 

As usual, there are reports of United Nations inaction.  They were aware of the attacks since 30 July and that nothing was done to prevent the numbers of victims rising to over 242 by early September.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

An Examination of the Genocide in Darfur

Girl carrying baby brother
Girl carrying baby brother, originally uploaded by stopgenocidenow

This is a guest post by Joy Henry.

Darfur is an area in western Sudan, a country on the east coast of Africa. Since 2003, a civil war has been waged in the region, killing over 400,000 and displacing over 2.5 million. The Sudanese government is directing an ongoing push to kill off an ethnically distinct portion of its population, the African Muslims who inhabit the Darfur region.

Who is Involved

Sudan can roughly be divided into north and south portions, each with a distinct ethnic population; the north has mainly a tribal Arab population, while the south has black Africans farmers. There is a history of tension and racist feelings between the two populations--after slavery ended here, Arab feelings of superiority became directed towards the African population. The Sudanese government has been decidedly Arab-centric and supportive of these racist views. The Darfur region, a region with a mixed population, actually had not felt the discrimination as harshly until a group of Africans joined together and began confronting the Sudanese government about its racist practices.

The fighting began in 2003, when a group of black Africans called the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) began accusing the government of supporting Arabs and discriminating against Africans.

In response to this uprising by the SLM/A and the JEM, the Sudanese government enlisted its military as well as Arab tribesman to fight against the rebels. This group of Arab tribesman, called the Janjaweed, have been called a "mixture of the mafia and the Ku Klux Klan" by reporters. The Janjaweed view Africans as less than human, and began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them. The government's military and the Janjaweed militia have used terrifying tactics of rape, starvation, and mass murder against the African populations in Darfur.

What is Being Done to End the Genocide

Amnesty International was one of the first to report the genocide in Darfur and spread awareness about the situation, in July 2003. After the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan called Darfur "the world's greatest humanitarian crisis" in 2004, international media attention began pouring in.

In 2006, the UN began putting peacekeeping troops on the ground in Sudan. The troops focused on protecting civilians and ensuring that humanitarian aid was getting safely into the country.  By 2006, the UN has upwards of 20,000 troops, police, and civilians on the ground there.

A woman and her two sons
A woman and her two sons, originally uploaded by hdptcar

Criticism of the Response to Darfur

Without great monetary support from the wealthy nations of the world, however, the UN peacekeeping forces have fallen far short of what is necessary to contain the genocide in Darfur. Throughout 2008, the UN troops were far too small, and the lack of necessary equipment, like helicopters, impeded their efforts. Some groups argue that if the Security Council and the UN had responded to Darfur sooner, that the crisis there could have been averted.

China has especially been criticized for supporting the Sudanese government in order to ensure its access to oil reserves in the region. It has also been repeatedly accused of supplying weapons to the government's military.

How Can You Help

There are several things you can do to help end the crisis in Darfur. One is to write your local Congressperson to ask them keep Darfur an important issue in the government. At, you can easily put in your information and send a form letter asking different officials to take action on Darfur.

Another important step you can take is donating to groups that are working to improve the situation there. Some great organizations are Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and CARE.

You can also encourage divestment from companies that support the genocide in Darfur. The Divest for Darfur campaign rallies U.S. investment firms to keep their funds out of these companies.

And finally and most importantly, stay informed on the current news of what's happening in Darfur. The Save Darfur Blog is a good place to start. Darfur Voices, STAND, and Humanitarian Rights are other good sites.


Saturday, 11 September 2010

Project 2,996: Suresh Yanamadala

Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc. lost 295 colleagues in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.  I cannot even begin to conceive the impact that losing that many employees could do to a company and I imagine that it was simply devastating.  You can visit the full MMC memorial to their lost friends and colleagues on the MMC Memorial website.

Suresh YanamadalaToday I am writing about one of those MMC colleagues as part of Project 2,996.  His name was Suresh Yanamadala and he was just 33-years-old at the time of the attacks.  He lived in Plainsboro, New Jersey and worked as a consultant at Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.  He was survived by his wife Ajitha.

Suresh was incredibly popular amongst his colleagues on account of his easy smile and friendly nature.  Tribute after tribute from his colleagues describe his good sense of humor and how people instantly liked him the moment they met him.  He was kind and gentle, according to his friend Keith and another friend Mike described how Suresh immediately made friends with all of his friends because everyone just loved him. 

Suresh Yanamadala was a remarkable man who left a deep impact on the lives of everyone who met him.  He had such a magnetic personality that work colleagues became firm friends.  There is so little information on Suresh online but I know that the reason for that is that Suresh was larger than life and that he remains very much in the hearts and minds of his friends and family and especially his wife Ajitha. 

If any of Suresh’s friends or family would like to give any further photos or share any memories, I would be happy to update this tribute on your behalf.


Friday, 10 September 2010

Project 2,996: Rosa Gonzalez

This is the tribute that I wrote for Rosa Gonzalez as part of the Project 2,996 in 2009.  I will post another entry tomorrow and hopefully by next year, we’ll be able to ensure that tributes for all 2,996 victims are online.

Today, I remember Rosa Gonzalez, a victim of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th 2001. I’m writing this today as part of Project 2,996 and you can visit the site to read more tributes to the victims of 9/11.  An amazing 1,081 people (so far) will be remembered formally this year through Project 2,996 but the purpose of the project is to let the world know that we will never forget.  We will never forget the victims or the loss experienced by their families, friends, communities and indeed, the world.

Rosa Gonzalez was a single mother aged 32 and her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer meant the world to her.  She was very much loved by all who knew her and as her brother-in-law Jeffrey said in a tribute to her on the Legacy site, “Rosa was also a beautiful and caring person that certainly did not deserve to die in this way… Rosa was a single mother that really making an effort to better herself and give her daughter the best upbringing possible. Her job with the Port Authority was another step towards success”.

Jeffrey and his wife took Jennifer in after 9/11.  Shortly after the attacks, Rosa Gonzalez phoned her sister Migdalia from the 66th floor of 2 World Trade Center, told her she loved her and asked her sister to take care of her daughter.  The New York Times tribute to Rosa quotes her sister Maria as saying, “Of course, Migdalia will take care of Jennifer.  We will all take care of Jennifer. The situation is, we have to be strong for Jennifer.”

Rosa Gonzalez was one of seven sisters and she lived in New Jersey.  It is clear that everyone who met her was taken by her infectious smile and friendly nature.  As P. Martinez says on the Legacy site, “"I met Rosa a couple of years ago when she was working at the Housing Authority. She was always so happy and up-beat, kind and caring… My heart goes out to her daughter, I hope she'll always know what a great mother she had. I'm sorry Rosa that your life was cut so short”.

It is clear that Rosa stood out in the community and people remembered her once they had met her.  This is evidenced by the number of people that expressed guilt at escaping from the Twin Towers themselves and their sadness of hearing of Rosa’s passing.  I found the comments by her neighbour Cindy to be especially poignant as her grief was clear in her remarks: “It has taken me this long to be able to view this site. Rosa, Maggie and I lived in the same building and I still remember the day I was able to get home and found out Rosa wasn't. Sitting in the apartment with her family, posting pictures, leaving candles and flowers and waiting for any word at all. Although we were not close friends I will always remember the beautiful petite woman that Rosa was. I would give anything to be able to call her again to ask her to turn the music down!! Maggie I will always be here for you if you need me for anything”.

Rosa Gonzalez had been with her friend and colleague Genelle Guzman McMillan as they descended the stairs together and tried to escape from the World Trade Center.  They had been holding hands but were separated as the building came crashing down.  Genelle was the last person pulled out of the wreckage of the World Trade Center alive.

Rosa was one woman out of so many that died that day but she was a kind, caring and friendly woman who left behind heartbroken family, friends and co-workers and most importantly, her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer.  I hope that I have succeeded in paying tribute to Rosa Gonzalez and that her daughter knows that people all around the world are thinking of her and her family on this anniversary of the attacks.  Jennifer also left a tribute at the Legacy site: “hi my names jen rosa was my mother she was a very good person i love u and miss u so much we will never forgat u ever”.

I’ll be posting this one day early so as to assist the people at Project 2,996 in logging the names of this year’s participants.  They have over a thousand entries to log after all!


Thursday, 9 September 2010

Project 2,996 2010

I’m taking part in Project 2,996 again this year.  I know it is a bit late to be posting about it two days before the anniversary but there are still about 350 people who do not have tributes.  You can take part by choosing a victim who does not yet have a tribute and writing a tribute and even if it is not up by Saturday, at least we can get all 2,996 up by next year.

One important thing to remember is that even though it is a big anniversary next year, the loss of the people in the 9/11 attacks is real to their families and friends each and every day.  The grieving process is always hard around big anniversaries or milestones but don’t forget to offer your support today if you can. 

Project 2,996 is a project whereby bloggers remember the lives of the victims of 9/11 and not their deaths.  This is not about the perpetrators and who they were and why they did it.  This is about 2,996 amazing, inspiring and good people who lost their lives that day.


Thursday, 19 August 2010

Book Review: Wars, Guns and Votes by Paul Collier

Wars Guns and Votes Paul Collier begins his book Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places by noting that the next generation might live see the eradication of war or they might die in one.  Each is a distinct possibility but he states that the face of warfare has changed.  The wars of the future, he asserts, will no longer be about invasions, values and the movement of international borders; wars will be on a much smaller scale and are likely to be civil wars that affect the poorest countries on earth.  It is a chilling prediction and far from believing that the atrocities of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia are firmly in the past, Collier predicts more genocides and ethnic warfare as the governments of what he calls the “bottom billion” remain unaccountable and illegitimate.

In Wars, Guns and Votes, Paul Collier seeks to challenge some of the more popular and enduring beliefs about the politics of the “bottom billion”.  He begins by dissecting the role of democracy and the effects of ethnicity and then follows this with a section dedicated to guns, wars and coups with a case study of Cote d’Ivoire.  The final section of the book focuses on Collier’s recommendations for policy changes and his suggestions for steps that the developed world can take to ensure the development of proper governance and accountability in the countries of the bottom billion in the future. 

Part 1: Denying Reality: Democrazy

In the first part of the book “Denying Reality: Democrazy” Collier debunks the notion that the revered democratic election should be the end point in the political process.  Citing research and case history, he asserts that democracy does not enhance prospects of internal peace but rather increases political violence.  This is because democracy has not produced accountable and legitimate governments and the way that elections are won means that bad governance and a lack of accountability is inevitable.  Quite simply, it is too easy to rig elections, pick on scapegoats and minorities or lie to voters in order to win elections and once elections have been won on that basis, what incentive is there to govern properly?  A government would need to continue these tactics in order to stay in power as long as possible. 

Collier continues with a look at the effects of ethnicity in developing countries and observes that public services tend to be worse in ethnically diverse countries where politicians plundered the economy and transferred the proceeds to their own ethnic groups.  Citing the case of Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Collier notes how the construction of a national identity can help to overcome such effects of ethnicity.

In the final section of part one, Collier notes that peacekeeping does in fact work and that while it is expensive, it costs a mere fraction of the cost of conflict.  He asserts that there is a level at which the benefits of peacekeeping missions seem to even out (approximately $100 million a year) and that the aim should be to pull out eventually and phase in an over-the-horizon guarantee with the promise of a rapid response.  He cites the British ten-year undertaking to fly troops into Sierra Leone should the need arise as an example. 

Part 2: Facing Reality: Nasty, Brutish and Long

Part two of the book is entitled “Facing Reality: Nasty, Brutish and Long”.  In a discussion on guns, Collier notes that aid is leaking into military spending.  As post-conflict military spending increases, there is a risk of reversion to war and thus aid is a two-edged sword.  Collier states that the developed nations have a responsibility to police arms embargoes and make them more effective or that they need to be more responsible with the provision of aid and to link aid allocations to a chosen level of military spending.

In “Wars”, Collier quite succinctly notes that armed struggle is development in reverse.  He expands on his claim in the opening paragraphs of the book and notes that we are moving away from invasions towards an increase in rebels, insurgents and civil wars.  Collier discusses several issues such as the economy, history, structure, geography and politics of a country and notes that all of these factors might be correlated with warfare but that it might be inaccurate to talk of causality.  Collier warns of the dangers of reverse causality and states that it is perhaps not relevant to look at why wars happen in the developed countries but how they are allowed to happen at all.  Recognising that the legacy of a civil war is another civil war, Collier states simply that we need to make civil wars more difficult.

The section entitled “Coups” is difficult in that the author obviously has a point of view that he would like to express but in the end, it is supported neither by case histories nor research data.  Collier states that coups might be the only method of removing a troublesome dictator and that perhaps they should be harnessed, not eliminated.  He notes that a coup is a surgical strike and is not nearly as devastating as a civil war.  The problem is that coup leaders often get a taste for power and don’t deliver election as promised or they may be greedy and power hungry and not necessarily seeking better governance.  In fact, Collier notes, from a statistical point of view, coups are at least as likely to occur in democracies as they are in autocracies and therefore, they are less likely to throw out a truly bad government than they are to oust an acceptable, functioning regime.  Despite this grim outlook, Collier maintains that the threat of a coup can keep a government in check and that coups do have a role in maintaining good governance.

Collier then presents a case study of Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) which encountered a severe economic shock which lead to the development of anti-immigrant sentiment and identity polarization in the country.  In a very short period of time, the country experienced two military coups, a sham election and a rebel uprising which saw civil war erupt to devastating consequences.  Collier asks the question as to whether this catastrophe could have been averted.

Part 3: Changing Reality: Accountability and Security

The final part of the book is entitled “Changing Reality: Accountability and Security”.  Collier insists that the answer lies in nation building and the adoption of global norms of accountability.  Once again he refers to the case of President Nyerere of Tanzania and how he built a strong national identity in a previously fractured country.  Collier asserts once again that only once petty ethnic divisions are neutralised within a country, can public goods be supplied on a national scale.  Embarking on elections before national identity and accountability are in place is and will remain to be disastrous.

In “Better Dead Than Fed” Collier lists his three-part manifesto for ensuring accountability and security in the developing world.  He states that sovereignty has been shown to be disastrous in the past (when America refused to join the League of Nations) and he argues that the time has come to join together in assisting the developing world rather than leaving such countries to their own devices.  Collier states that we need to harness the threat of violence in order to ensure democracy.  This means that a voluntary international standard for the conduct of elections must be developed whereby the international community will assist countries in ensuring free and fair elections but will leave a country to the threat of a coup if the elections are not fair.  This must be complemented by enforcing probity in public spending.  Collier argues that donor countries have an obligation to their own tax payers to ensure that money is used in the manner in which it was intended.  Therefore, Collier calls for “governance conditionality” which would be based on capacity and verification.  It might be the least favourable kind of aid but Collier calls for technical assistance whereby donor countries supplied skilled people to verify that the capacity they are providing is actually being used to enforce probity in public spending.

Finally, Collier calls for an international supply of security.  Collier insists once again that donor countries have an obligation to link aid to the level of military spending to ensure that they are not subsidising the provision of guns and arms in countries at risk of civil war.  In addition, Collier suggests that sovereignty be shared and that the international community rise to provide security to post-conflict countries.  Collier states that “Some governments should provide or finance peacekeepers; some governments should provide aid; and the post-conflict government should reform economic policy, cut its military spending, and, if it chooses to hold elections, let them be free and fair”.  In order to be effective, these provisions need to be in place for about a decade to ensure that there is no reversion to civil war.

Wars Guns and Votes It is clear that Collier’s views will not be welcome or popular amongst the people that already think that developed countries are already doing too much in the developing world and that taxpayers’ money would be better used in domestic arenas.  In the classic parlance of the economist, Collier reminds us that ignoring our responsibilities at this stage will lead to greater devastation in the future and indeed, a greater financial outlay.  At times his arguments seem so simple that it is surprising that they have not been implemented previously; how is it possible, for example, that donors supplied aid without ensuring that it was not used to fuel greater war and suffering?  At other times his arguments seem impossibly liberal and idealistic but the point is this: we fought two major world wars to protect freedom, sovereignty and values; why are we not prepared to act in order to ensure this for the countries of the “bottom billion”?  

There does seem to be some movement in the direction that Paul Collier proposes.  Collier is a professor of economics at Oxford University and is quite respected in his field.  He certainly has an expanding sphere of influence and has talked at the Aspen Institute and the TED Conference.  In addition, there are several organisations and initiatives hard at work to introduce notions of governance and accountability to the governments of developing countries through, for example, the Public Expenditure & Financial Accountability (PEFA) programme. 

The ideas that Collier proposes in Wars, Guns and Votes are not simply theories but are based on research conducted by his own academic team and by other researchers.  Collier has made a fine effort in attempting to bring complex economic issues to a mass market through books such as this and The Bottom Billion but his references to data collection and analysis might prove too technical for much of this market.  There is also the ever present problem of reverse causality and a lack of reliable data to test.  Collier notes that the application of statistical research is a pretty new addition in the field of economics which means that as impressive as some of the hypotheses in this book might be, they may be somewhat limited until a greater body of research can be analysed and compared.   The problem is that this issue is far more urgent than that and requires decisive action.

Nevertheless, Collier has raised some intriguing points in this book and I am sure he will continue to champion the plight of the “bottom billion”.  It will be interesting to see how international relations and policies shift in the future and whether any of his ideas do come to fruition.  This book is certainly recommended for anyone seeking an introduction to democracy and post-conflict development in developing countries and such readers would benefit from reading his previous work The Bottom Billion too.

Buy Wars Guns and Votes at ¦
Buy The Bottom Billion at ¦

This article was written by me and first published as Book Review: Wars, Guns and Votes by Paul Collier on Blogcritics.


Sunday, 15 August 2010

Breaking News: Young Girls Exploited for Sex in the UK

Link: Revealed: The horrific trade in British children for sex []

This story has been in the news all week and this article is one of the less racist or alarmist pieces I have read on the matter.  It is surely an alarming matter when school girls are lured from their homes by charming older men who groom them and then share them amongst their friends as sex slaves; it is just a pity that it took this case involving a schoolgirl from Manchester to convince the public that slavery and sexual exploitation of children is alive and well in the United Kingdom. 

National Working Group

Actually, I wonder if even this case, as widely reported as it has been, will bring sufficient attention to the matter.  You just need to look on the resources page for the National Working Group for sexually exploited children and young people to see that they have been trying to draw attention to the matter of child sexual exploitation and pimping for some time now.  So why has this case drawn attention?  No doubt it is the racial element, the fact that in this case, Asian men abused a white girl.  That simply does not help.  Child abusers come from all walks of life and they prey indiscriminately on children and young people.  The victims just have to fit one profile and that is to be young, innocent and vulnerable. 

Joanne, because she is now 18, is no longer of any interest to her former pimp, says her mother. The teenager is mentally scarred, homeless and drug addicted. "She's not a child any more, so they're not interested. They've used her up and thrown her out. One of them said to her: 'In five years' time you'll be a crackhead out on the street and I'll be cruising with another 14-year-old.' Five years down the line, she is on drugs, on the streets. He – like he told her – is cruising with another 14-year-old." –, 15 August 2010

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