Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Review: My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd (2015 edition)



During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s, most press correspondents huddled in the safety of the distinctive yellow Holiday Inn in Sarajevo, sending out second-hand dispatches to news outlets back home. Anthony Loyd was never going to do that. In his memoir My War Gone By, I Miss It So Loyd travelled across Bosnia and Herzegovnia during the war of 1992-1995 and spent time in Grozny at the height of the First Chechen War. Now, to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Agreement, a new edition of Loyd’s memoir has been released with an updated foreword.

The prologue of My War Gone By, I Miss It So begins at the end of the Bosnian war, in the hills near Srebrenica. Withdrawing from drugs and newly clean, Loyd stumbles through a landscape peppered with corpses, witness to the aftermath of the Srebrenica genocide. It is an interesting place to begin, at the very end of the war, but by the end of the memoir we will see that this was not the most disturbing thing that Loyd saw in his time there. Moreover, by the end of the war, we will see that Loyd has come full circle in his life.

Armed with just a camera and pen, Loyd travelled over to Bosnia during the war after a stint in the military. Landing first in Sarajevo, he befriended a local family and spent his days dodging sniper bullets and trying to overcome the relentless boredom of war. Eager to see the frontlines, Loyd later travelled to various towns and villages in central and northern Bosnia where he met up with other members of the press corps and began to eke out a living as a war correspondent.

Loyd’s writing is brutally honest and in many passages he describes scenes and photographs that many of us would look away from or avoid. That is not to say that I don’t want to know, I really do, but at times his descriptions were so intimate and graphic that I felt somehow wrong reading the passages, as if I had somehow violated someone’s privacy. Such is the power of Loyd’s writing.

At many times in the memoir, Loyd mentions his eagerness to support the Bosniak cause on a moral level, to view them as the underdogs, but even this explicit bias is tested from time to time by the atrocities he sees. The saying goes that all is fair in love and war but that is utter rubbish, and what Loyd witnesses proves that all is twisted and futile in war instead.

It was the scenes in Grozny that were perhaps the most shocking. I’ve read a fair amount about the wars in the former Yugoslavia and felt somehow familiar with the subject matter when Loyd described his time in Bosnia and Herzegovnia. The chapter on the conflict on the ground in Grozny was disturbing to say the least. Loyd travels to the Chechen capital days before the fall of Grozny in February 1995 and what he witnesses is the utter meaningless and futility of war. It is especially moving in light of the way that history ultimately played out for the Chechens.

Again, my view of events in Bosnia might be influenced by all that I have read about the war and history of the region in the past but the only aspect of Loyd’s memoir that concerned me was his tendency to takes sides in the conflict. It is true that history and the subsequent trials have pretty much confirmed what he wrote almost 20 years ago but throughout the memoir I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would have been preferable if he had maintained a slightly more objective position.

In the foreword to the new edition, Loyd remarks how young and angry he was at the time of writing. It is interesting because while I might fault his objectivity, I never would have faulted his perspective which was infinitely more nuanced than anything I would have written back in the mid-90s when I was roughly the same age as him.

Nevertheless, I was riveted by the book from cover to cover and would highly recommend it to those interested in accounts of war or in the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular. Like the timeless photographs to which Loyd refers in his memoir, his book provides a unique glimpse into one of the most disturbing conflicts of the 20th century.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Chief Prosecutor of ICC Gives Damning Statement on Darfur to UNSC

Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, made a statement to the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Darfur last week. In her speech she gives a damning indictment of the lack of international response to the ongoing situation in Darfur.

Link: ICC: Twenty-second Report of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to the UN Security Council pursuant to the UNSC 1593 (2005) [Hague Justice Portal, 15 December 2015]

I observe with great regret that the adoption of each Resolution has, in practical terms, amounted to no more than an empty promise. Year after year, victims' hopes and aspirations for justice and a durable peace have been dashed

Despite the overall negative tone of her statement, she reiterates the determination of her office to tackle these crimes but notes that the victims require action not words.

The victims of Darfur will no longer find solace in our words. They deserve tangible justice, and they deserve to see justice is being done. What is required is concrete and joint action by this Council, the States and the Court to achieve real progress.

Bensouda noted that justice has been served in the case of Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone and in those situations, peace and reconciliation is only possible once perpetrators of atrocities are held accountable for their crimes. She insists that the same is true of Darfur.

In her closing, Bensouda calls for a commitment by both individual states and the United Nations Security Council to act for Darfur.

Ending impunity for the world's most destabilising and gravest crimes is not the prerogative of one single institution. It is a collective responsibility with humanity as a whole as its beneficiary.
Read the full statement on Hague Justice Portal.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

#ZumaMustFall, White Privilege and the South African Spring

The 16th of December is a public holiday in South Africa. It used to be a racist Apartheid holiday marking the Day of the Vow when Afrikaners swore to God that they would forever commemorate it if He allowed them victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in 1838.

Today the 16th of December is the Day of Reconciliation, a day dedicated to healing South Africa's fractured past. Or to sitting in the sun and drinking in the hot African summer. 

Today, the 16th of December was marked by protests around the country for the #ZumaMustFall movement. It was a day that made me proud to be South African and which I thought might finally be the start of South Africa's Spring. I don't expect the crime to suddenly end but I do live in hope of an end to the poverty and corruption (which I see linked). More on that later. 

There was a very good article in the RDM today.

This is an interesting article. In many ways he is right - we expats have all had awkward moments when we've had to explain to other South Africans that we don't share their racist views. You will not believe the racism amongst South African expats and the white middle classes. Or maybe you will. 

 And he's not wrong when he observes that "[i]n focusing singly on Zuma, white South Africans expediently ignore the role of unsurpassed privilege — and their refusal to relinquish those alienable components of it — in explicitly marginalising black South Africans". 

The problem is that he is ignoring that Zuma is hugely flawed, that he laughs in the faces of his corruption. And he is ignoring that something is seriously wrong in a country that hasn't begun to tackle abject poverty twenty years after the installation of 'democracy'. Compare Britain in 1965 and South Africa in 2015 and tell me again that it's impossible to put a roof over people's heads in the aftermath of devastation. 

Mzimhlophe Hostel, Front Door
Every day South Africans of all colours land up on the streets but a vast majority of black South Africans still live in shanty towns and slums with no running water, no sanitation and communal washing facilities (if they are lucky). In December 2014, I visited Mzimhlophe Hostel in Soweto where some of the worst violence took place in the 1990s. After all this time there was no running water or sewerage and one set of latrines and washing facilities for every six to eight families. There were also no plans to improve the lives of the residents there.

In October, a friend of mine died, leaving his wife and child in utter poverty. They have nothing now that the breadwinner has gone and there is no safety net, no social security and nothing to stop them landing up on the streets. There are so many South Africans in need that there is simply no charity that will take on their case. That falls to their friends and employers. 

Compare this to a R246b upgrade on the President's private residence. Move beyond the corruption, nepotism and cronyism to the wealthy elite who drive past homeless people in cars worth more than they will earn in a lifetime. Heck, some of those cars are worth more than I'll earn in a lifetime. 
Mzimhlophe Hostel Soweto
There is something very rotten in South Africa, a seemingly insurmountable discrepancy between rich and poor and I don't see anything being done about that. 

Apartheid caused what is happening in South Africa today but South Africa today is sustaining that legacy. 

So is the #ZumaMustFall movement solely the domain of white privilege and racism? Today I didn't witness my fear-mongering, often racist Facebook pals at the #ZumaMustFall marches, but the most liberal, forward-thinking and genuine of people. I know that smacks of "not all whites" but the truth is that South Africa cannot be free until all South Africans are free and if the movement does smack of privilege then it needs to move beyond that. 

Three years ago, I was reading The Battle for the Arab Spring by Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren and I was blown away by the similarities by the situation in Egypt prior to the Spring and that in South Africa. Massive youth unemployment and poverty were paired with massive state corruption, embezzlement, cronyism, nepotism and gerrymandering. I remember remarking to myself that the only factor that set Egypt apart from South Africa was that the latter had not moved electoral borders. Yet. 

Is the time right for a South African Spring? Yes, I think it is. I think that a massively popular movement needs to be played out across social media and in the streets and that South Africans need to demand housing, education, jobs, adequate healthcare and poverty alleviation. Those were the basic promises of the ANC in 1994 after all. It's one thing to support a party that liberated the country but if the ruling party has lost their way then the population needs to guide it back on track. 
© A Passion to Understand

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