Jan
27

ADIEU, K B MENSAH!

ADIEU, K B MENSAH!

By CAMERON DUODU

The Ghanaian Times 27 January 2015

Kwabena Buahin Mensah - 30 September 1958 - 31 December 2014. Photo©Mensah Family

 

 

 

 

THE cryptic message that I received on New Year’s Eve was hard to believe.

It just asked: “Have you heard that our friend and BBC colleague, K B Mensah, has passed away? So sad!”

“What? K B Mensah dead? Impossible!” I said to myself.

K B Mensah, I regret to tell you, was the son of one of our more admired politicians, Mr J H Mensah, Dr K Busia’s Finance Minister (1969-72) and President J A Kufuor unusually-denominated “Senior Minister” during the latter’s administration.

I called a mutual friend to try and confirm the news. He didn’t answer his phone – it was New Year’s Eve, remember!

I emailed a friend in Accra. He said he hadn’t heard of it. That’s one of the risks one takes in situations like that – being the bearer of bad news. Eventually, the news was confirmed. KB had died in hospital in Accra. The cause of death, as baffling as you like, was said by the autopsy to be pneumonia!

Now, KB was not a close friend of mine.  Nevertheless, every time I’d seen him, or spoken to him on the phone, the warmth between us was as if we were bosom friends. I’d last seen him – cheerful and oozing good humour – in Accra during President Barak Obama’s visit to Ghana in 2009. We’d exchanged pleasantries and had agreed to meet later.  But life in Accra being what it is, that was the last time I saw him.

KB’s bubbling voice will, however,  remain in my ears for many years to come – and in the ears of the millions of Africans who depend on the BBC for news about Africa. For KB was, in the 1980s-90s, one of the announcers whose voices brought Africans, both at home and in the Diaspora, news and analyses of what was going on in Africa. If you heard: “BBC World Service. It’s 1709 Greenwich Mean Time. This is Kwabena Mensah with Focus on Africa,” it would be KB using the next 25 minutes to try and make you feel that wherever you happened to be, some-one was keeping you in the loop about the continent.

Now, do not be fooled: the Focus On Africa of those days was not for weak stomachs. Africa was full of murderous dictators and thievish ones at that. They controlled the media at home. But they could not touch the BBC. And the BBC knew how to get the news. And once it got the news, it put the facts to the dictators and their minions, to confirm or deny them.

The programme’s star was its editor, Robin White, whose gravelly voice appeared as if it had been created purposely for hectoring. Without asking for anyone’s permission, Robin White assumed the position of “Headmaster” in what George Orwell might have called Africa’s “Political House of Cards”.

But in sharp contrast to Robin’s interviewing would be KB’s introduction of the item: calm, insouciant, suave – bearing the marks of pronunciation “received” at Dulwich College, in London, and Oxford University. I personally felt that KB must have been pained by some of the items he had to introduce in Focus On Africa. Its long-term principal announcer of the time, Chris Bickerton, who was British, once volunteered to me, in the Bush House canteen, that he had “just pissed on the continent  — again!”  I did not think he was being funny. To KB, therefore, constantly being made to “piss” on his own continent may have been soul-destroying at times.

It was the ”Mama” of the BBC African Service, Dorothy Grenfell-Williams, who, in excited tones,  first told me of the Beeb’s acquisition of KB Mensah and his inimitable voice. I’d gone to Bush House to do an interview and Dorothy, one of the most personable and knowledgeable radio Producers I’ve ever come across, told me, “We’ve just signed up a young man from your country. He’s called K B Mensah. He’s the cleverest African we have ever employed. You may know that we have something here called “The Sub-Editors’ Test”. Well, almost everyone we send to take it flunks it. We interview them, they appear good to us, but when we send them to the BBC Newsroom to take the test, more often than not, they fail it. But not KB – he just sailed through it with flying colours”!

In fact, KB’s voice alone was such an asset that even if he hadn’t had an excellent brain to go with it, he would have become a star at the Beeb. After watching him flourish  on Focus on Africa, the Beeb paid him the supreme compliment of making him one of the presenters of its flagship news programme on the World Service, Newshour.  Here again, he displayed unflappable professionalism and must have won thousands of listeners for the BBC. He was clever to use his full Ghanaian name, “Kwabena Mensah”, for had he styled himself merely as “K B Mensah”, there would have been some BBC listeners around the world who would have been fooled into thinking that  he was some Englishman man called KaybeeMensa!  (Actually, being called “Mensa” would probably not have been much of a misnomer, given the number of “eggs” that seemed to have been laid inside that small head of his!)

KB Mensah was born in Accra on 30 September 1958 and died on  31 December 2014. His father was Mr Joseph Henry Mensah, a noted economist, who was working for the United Nations in New York at the time Kwabena was born.  “J H” moved back to Ghana in 1961, where he became one of the authors of President Kwame Nkrumah’s Seven-year Development Plan, at the National Planning Commission.

Kwabena’s mother was the late Elizabeth Mensah, a teacher and grand-daughter of Asafoatse Nettey of the Ga State. KB was her second child, having been preceded by an elder brother PK Mensah (who was born in  1955). A second brother,, Kwabena Amoah-Awuah Mensah, was born in 1961. They have one sister, Nana Yaa Mensah, who, like KB,  is a high-flier in journalism, and is currently working in London.

KB attended the then University Demonstration School, Legon (now University Primary); the UN School in New York (when his father,  “J H” was working at the UN; then Skippers Hill Manor (at Mayfield, East Sussex, in England); followed by Dulwich College, London (where P G Wodehouse, the acclaimed writer who created “Jeeves”, was educated); and Oxford University (where KB took a Bachelor’s degree in “PPE” — Politics, Philosophy & Economics).

After graduating from Oxford, KB moved to Ghana and worked with friends on a fish farming venture and another farming project with his father. He next moved back to London in the Rawlings years, where he helped to compile a register of victims of the Rawlings’ regime. This was followed by his stint at the BBC in the 1980s and 90s, presenting Focus on Africa. He later worked at Human Rights Watch. His later years were spent working mainly for the magazine,   Africa Report.

 KB is survived by his partner, Angela Carson, with whom he has a daughter, Nana Esi, who was born in 2006.

 You can obtain an inkling of who and what KB was by reading this quotation from a tribute sent to KB’s brother, PK, by Mandy Ruben, who worked with KB:

“Dearest PK,

When I think of KB I recall his voice. I hear KB’s voice so clearly.

The way, as he said hello, he ended with a warm chuckle. Then I see KB peering through his glasses, searching. And that was what brought us close together – having someone else to research – and develop ideas for television programmes – with.

“KB transformed my life:  as I adapted to being at home with a young daughter, between 1992 and 2000, he galvanized me to write. When KB went back to Accra in 2001, we promised to pursue our TV projects…He was intriguingly well informed and an insightful interpreter of events, with strong personal opinions that he was able to balance with a professional objectivity. More than that, KB cared about the people whose stories he reported. He seemed made for radio and reporting, his compelling voice, cogent analysis, his intelligence. …

“I remember listening to him on the BBC World Service Focus on Africa with my family in Kenya. My dad used to tell me he’d been listening to my friend! Again, it was his unmistakable voice. Whether during filming for C4 in Ghana, when KB also happened to be in Accra, or when collaborating in London, he was unhesitatingly supportive and generous, both with his time and sharing his contacts. After all the words we wrote together, now I am struggling to find the words to write about losing KB.”

Dear KB, Rest In Perfect Peace. Your many friends will miss you ever so much!

Jan
21

A MEMO TO ECOWAS LEADERS ON THEIR INTENTION TO INTERVENE IN NIGERIA’S MILITARY CAMPAIGN AGAINST BOKO HARAM

 

A MEMO TO ECOWAS HEADS OF STATE by CAMERON DUODU

Greetings, Your Excellencies!

I am touched by your concern over the Boko Haram issue in Nigeria and your decision to try and help Nigeria
defeat the terrorists who have made life so impossible for the residents of North-East Nigeria.

This concern has been eloquently articulated by your chairman, President John Mahama of Ghana, who has proposed that the AU should give ECOWAS the authority to set up “a multi-national force” to fight Boko Haram. To be able to achieve this, ECOWAS has requested that the next African Union (AU) meeting in Addis Ababa must include a special session on terrorism. And the Ghanaian President has made a trip to Germany to see the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to urge her to persuade her fellow EU leaders to support the efforts of ECOWAS t to assist Nigeria fight Boko Haram.

The ECOWAS chairman clearly intends to lead West African leaders in seeking authority from the AU to create the multi-national force to help combat the operations of Boko Haram. He told the BBC on 17 January 2015 that the number of African countries willing to contribute troops to the force, and how many troops should be sent, would “depend on the discussions at the AU”.

President Mahama pointed out that already, “a consensus” had been reached in the region by “Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Benin” over how to combat Boko Haram. The countries of the Lake Chad Development Authority, he said, had also “come together and agreed to create an international force” which was “supposed to be based in Baga in North-Eastern Nigeria” but had been “overrun recently by Boko Haram.” There was therefore an urgent need to “create a better conceptual plan” so that intervention could be “more effective.” It might take “a couple of months” to implement such a plan, President Mahama envisaged.

However, Excellencies, your own external intelligence agencies operating in Nigeria will  no doubt have briefed you on how difficult it is to assist the current Nigerian Government in this noble task of seeking to help it return the country into the safe place for ALL its citizens that its government is duty-bound to ensure. The reasons for this difficulty are complex, but the principal one is that Nigeria sees herself as not lacking in either manpower or fire-power when it comes to defending itself. So the country may actually resent assistance from abroad.

Arrogance apart, the Nigerian armed forces, as you would have been told, are a formidable force, whose  numerical strength is estimated at: Active Front-line Personnel: between 130,000 and 200,000; Active Reserve Personnel: 32,000; and Para-military forces: 300,000 (est.).

The Nigerian armed forces also have a reputation that is second to none with regard to foreign military operations. So much so that the purveyors of jargon coined a new term, “Pax Nigeriana” to describe the situation whereby Nigeria could impose peace on almost any country in sub-Saharan Africa in whose affairs it chose to intervene (apart from South Africa). According to Wikipedia, the Nigerian Army “has demonstrated its capability to mobilize, deploy, and sustain brigade-sized forces in support of peacekeeping operations in Liberia. Smaller army forces have been previously sent on UN and ECOWAS deployments in the former Yugoslavia, Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sierra Leone.”

Specifically, Nigeria, under the ECOMOG flag, sent troops to Liberia in 1990 and 2003; and in 1997 to Sierra Leone. In 2004, Nigerian again sent troops to Darfur, Sudan, under UN auspices, as it did to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004. Nigerian troops again went to help Mali in 2013-14. (But significantly, Nigeria did not send troops to the Ivory Coast during the conflicts between that country’s rival leaders, Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo). Presumably, French intervention in the Ivory Coast rendered a Nigerian effort de trop.

The question to be asked is this: if Nigeria is so powerful that it can make or break regimes in other Sub-Saharan African countries (apart from South Africa), then why is it unable to defeat a local insurgency initially mounted by a ramshackle army that depended almost exclusively on the religious zeal of its followers for success? The answer is this: perhaps when Nigerian troops go abroad, they are properly equipped; they are relatively well paid (almost certainly through allowances paid in US dollars) and they receive relatively good care all round. But at home, the Nigerian armed forces are exposed to Nigerianitis – a debilitating condition that subjects its victims to neglect, occasional callousness, and results in a low morale within them.

Worst of all, the Nigerian armed forces too — like the rest of Nigerian society — observe the massive corruption and (especially) incompetence that have been the hallmark of Nigerian administrations in recent years. They must often come to the conclusion that the regimes under which they serve are unworthy to receive the ultimate loyalty of the combat soldier, namely, being willing to give his life to achieve the objectives of a military campaign. A Nigerian soldier recently dismissed for disobeying orders told the BBC: When we fight Boko Haram, it is as if Boko Haram soldiers were wearing bullet-proof [protection] while the Nigeria soldier is only protecting himself with an umbrella.

Furthermore, in the current situation of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking re-election in February 2015, has alienated almost half of the population of his country by being perceived by the North to have reneged on an informal understanding within his PDP, which provided that after the presidency had been occupied by a Southerner for two terms, a Northerner would be the next President. In his defence, it must be said that President Jonathan had not served two full terms by nomination time for the 2015 elections, having succeeded to the presidency on the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua in May 2010 (that is, after Yar’Adua had eaten into his own term by 2 years). But while some say that Jonathan legitimately profited from the two years that were left of Yar ‘Aqua’s term, others maintain that he, in effect, cheated by enjoying Yar’Aduah’s remaining term and still seeking to run for two full terms under his own bat. It is a controversy that will rage for years, but there is little doubt that its very existence has undercut President Jonathan’s authority in the eyes of many, especially ambitious politicians in the North, who had sought to win the PDP nomination for themselves and are now out of the party.

This political contretemps has added its weight to the massive corruption believed by many Nigerians to be taking place under President Jonathan, and has made some Nigerians so disaffected with his regime that some of those in trusted positions – including the security services – are believed to be unwilling to conduct the campaign against Boko Haram as vigorously as their military oaths oblige them to do. President Jonathan himself acknowledged this when he blurted out in public not too long ago, that Boko Haram had infiltrated his administration everywhere.

I suggest to you, Excellencies, that it is because of such complexities that the United States and Great Britain, for instance, find themselves unable to render as much military assistance to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram as they would normally, be only too willing to provide. The London missions of Your Excellencies may have reported to you that there was a mini-debate, arising from a Question in the British House of Commons in London, on the Nigerian situation on 12 January 2015. I trust Your Excellencies will find time to acquaint yourselves with some of the things the British MPs had to say. The point was made again and again in the debate that no-one could assist a person who did not seem to want assistance.

Well, all I really want to tell you, Excellencies, is that you should do what, in the military, is known as a full appreciation of the Nigerian situation before you plunge into it. You should not get involved militarily in it on the basis of emotion. As a Ghanaian, I can tell you from memory that Ghana did that in 1960 and lived to regret it: Ghana went to the Congo on the basis of the emotional empathy that its leader, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, felt for the Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba. The Ghana army was then under a British General Officer Commanding [GOC] by the name Major-General H. T. Alexander, and many of its other senior officers were British. Technically, they were competent to lead Ghana’s troops into the Congo and carry out their mission successfully But the appreciation they crafted before they left for the Congo must have been full of holes, in that by hindsight, it seemed to have ignored, or glossed over, the social milieu in which Ghanaian troops, under white British officers, would be operating. They were expected, perforce, to interact often with Congolese Force Publique soldiers, but most of these Congolese soldiers intensely hated their own racist white Belgian officers, and had indeed mutinied against the Belgians.

The result was that forty-three Ghanaian soldiers were killed when Congolese soldiers made an unprovoked attack on a camp at a town called Port Franqui. The Congolese troops apparently attacked the Ghanaians on the basis of false information fed to them by Congolese politicians hostile to Ghana’s presence in the Congo, who lied to the Congolese soldiers that the Ghanaians were acting in collaboration with the Belgians. In another instance, one Ghanaian battalion had to be disbanded after it mutinied, and the mutineers undoubtedly resented the alleged fraternisation of the battalion’s white officers with the Belgians, which they surmised, placed them in danger. Can you imagine how embarrassed President Kwame Nkrumah was, on receiving reports about such sad events?

The upshot of my message to you, Excellencies, then, is this: if you get involved in a situation in Nigeria in which some Nigerians will look upon the presence of your troops there with hostility (especially if they think that the very mooting of the idea will accrue to the benefit of President Jonathan, as he fights a tough election battle in February 2015) you will inevitably come to rue the day that you decided to intervene in Nigeria. Be warned that you will be going into a country whose people have a polity based on loyalties that are incredibly diffuse; and moreover, a country whose leader is himself so nonchalant about national affairs that he took 40 days to make a statement about the abduction of 300 schoolgirls at Chibok, when the Chibok girls had been the subject of sensational world headlines for days and days!

In other words, if you must go, do candidly make clear to President Goodluck Jonathan that – as a Ghanaian proverb has it – “it is only when you try to climb a tree with adequate proficiency that those on the ground may feel inspired enough to push you up it!”

Please don’t rush in to go and kill the children of other people in a military campaign whose basis is so difficult to sketch that even the British — who, after all, created the Nigerian army and has kept in close touch with it over the past half century during which Nigeria has been independent — don’t want to hear of it.

Jan
17

GOOD NEWS FOR ALBINOS IN TANZANIA

Good News From Africa

cameron

The Tanzanian Government has announced measures aimed at stopping the murderous attacks often conducted against people with albinism in the country.

Albinos can be found in most societies: in my part of Ghana, we knew them and called them by the name ofiri. In Tanzania, there are nearly 40,000 Albinos. Many Tanzanians – and indeed people from other parts of East Africa — believe that Albinos are endowed with good luck “by Nature” and so hunt them and either kill them to use their body parts for “medicine” (juju), or maim Albinos, while they are alive, by hacking off their limbs , ears and other parts which they use to prepare magic potions and talismans, which they hope, can bring them good fortune. Some politicians are also said to believe that the use of Albino body parts in occult practices, can help them to win elections. So election time is very dangerous for Albinos in Tanzania, which means they become a very endangered species every five years or so.

The Ghanaian investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, did a harrowing report for Aljazeera TV some time ago, in which he was able to penetrate the mysterious circles of the Albino hunters and get a few of them arrested.

But because many police personnel and the politicians under whom they work believe in the alleged powers of Albino body parts themselves, nothing comes of cases involving the harassment of Albinos that are taken to the law enforcement agencies. In the past three years alone, seventy Albinos have been killed in Tanzania, but only 10 people have been convicted of the murder of Albinos. This has caused an international outcry, and now, the Tanzanian Government has decided to try and eradicate the horrible practice by banning the “witch doctors” who prepare the potions and talismans with body parts hacked off of Albinos. The Tanzanian Home Affairs Minister, Mr Mathias Chikawe, who announced the ban, said there would be a “nationwide operation” to arrest the “witch doctors” and take them to court if they continued to work.

An organisation which works for the protection of Albinos, the Tanzanian Albinism Society, has welcomed the Government’s move. “If we and the government come together and show strength as one and speak as one, we can deal with the problem headon”, the Society said. Mr Chikawe said action to find and prosecute “witch doctors” would begin in two weeks’ time in the northern areas of Mwanza, Geita, Shinyanga, Simiyu and Tabora, where most of the attacks against Albinos have taken place. However, much as I applaud the seriousness with which the Tanzanian Government now seems ready to attack the problem, I think it is going about it the wrong way. The reason is that in Africa, if you “ban” something, you drive it underground. Because of the mistrust of government that was created by the imposition of foreign colonial rule upon African societies, Africans regard governments as a necessary evil that imposes unwelcome measures of people who just want to live their lives in peace – measure like taxes or the criminalisation of gin-brewing and the manufacture of firearms. Africans always find ways of going round such bans, and those who disobey the laws regarding them are actively protected by their societies with a cult of silence that Governments cannot break down. Besides, it is not all those classified as “witch doctors’ by the colonialists, whose derogatory terms our legal machinery continues to employ, fall into the category of superstitious quacks who prey on the minds of the dim-witted and vulnerable members of their societies. Many proficient “herbalists” and what might be called “indigenous para-medical personnel” (for want of a better term) are arbitrarily classified as “witch doctors” alongside the peddlers of superstition. The skills of these indigenous practitioners of medicine will be lost to Africa for ever if a blanket ban is placed on so-called “witch doctors. “

What should be done, instead, is this: the Tanzanian Government should establish district educational units, manned by educationists who know and understand Tanzanian traditional beliefs – people trained in anthropology , psychology and modern medicine but who understand and appreciate African traditional medical practices — to educate the “witch doctors” about the science of albinism. Audio-visual equipment can teach them that albinism is also found in animals such as monkey, rats and rhinos, and that there is therefore “nothing magical” about Albino humans.

If the Tanzanian Government is able, using such methods, to get the “witch doctors” to come on side, then the attacks on the Albinos will die out. On the other hand, if the “witch doctors” are forced to go underground, they will be paid more money for undertaking “Albino hunting”, for their prospective customers will realise that the enterprise has become more ”dangerous”. One only has to remind the Tanzanian Government of how American gangsters were the people who profited most from the criminalisation of the sale of alcohol through the “Prohibition” laws.

Even more relevant is the growth of animal poaching throughout East Africa, although poaching in search of ivory from elephants and tusks from rhinos is a serious offence in the region. A closely-knit network of smugglers has grown in the region, which is able not only to supply animal poachers with sophisticated weapons but also, is able to export ivory and tusks abroad, through corrupting port officials.

These smugglers have cultivated customers in China, Taiwan and other Asian countries, who ensure that the smugglers’ “winnings” in Africa obtain a ready and lucrative market.

Albino human parts may not yet be as prized as elephant tusks or rhino horn, but who knows how far the superstition can spread if given the impetus of the smugglers’ cult?

Jan
17

THE COLLECTIVE MADNESS THAT HAS STRUCK GHANA — galamsey — STRIKES AGAIN!

 17 January 2015

Source: citifmonline.com

Galamsey-induced water shortage hits 50 communities

Manya Krobo Water Shortage

About 50 communities in Asunafo South in the Brong Ahafo region and Atwima Mponua District in Ashanti Region have been hit by severe water shortage.This is due to the activities of illegal miners along the Desre River in the Brong Ahafo region.A disgruntled resident who spoke to Citi News said, the challenge has affected business operations of residents in the area.“Illegal miners have destroyed our waters. For the past five months, we don’t have water, we don’t even have water to irrigate our cocoa farms. We are pleading with government to come and help us because illegal miners have destroyed our only source of water,” he stated.

Another said, “For the past year, we have been trying to stop the galamsey operators. Now the river is muddy and we cannot even use it to spray our farms”

“We don’t get any water to drink because of what has happened to Desre. We don’t have other sources of water to drink.”

Illegal mining has been a major problem for government in recent times; many of the water bodies in the country have been destroyed by the mining.

In many parts of Ghana, including the Northern Region, a number of people have either been left injured or dead in clashes between residents and illegal miners.

Chiefs in the Upper West region recently raised concerns over the rising interest and the acquisition of mining concessions in the Upper West Region.

According to the chiefs, most of these concessions were granted without the involvement and consultation of traditional authorities.

The Lands Commission in 2014 expressed concerns over the increase in illegal mining operations in Wa, the Upper West Regional capital.

The Commission said the activities of the “galamsey” miners are destroying the vegetation in the region.

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Jan
13

AN UNSURPASSED SUPER-FARCE IN FRANCE

AN UNSURPASSED SUPER-FARCE IN FRANCE

By CAMERON DUODU

Satire has the unique ability of throwing up surprises, of course. Nevertheless, the more reflective survivors of the dastardly attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine which lost 12 of its journalists in a brutal massacre on 7 January 2014, may, in years to come, ponder whether their extreme distress at the wanton slaying of their colleagues did not rob them of an opportunity to cover adequately, a story that seemed to be made for satirical iconoclasm.

For the spectre of a Paris filled 1-2 million people shouting liberte, fraternite, egalite in support of freedom of speech in the France of 2014, would appear  somewhat problematic to some — especially the country’s Muslims..

They would wonder how often  French Muslims are allowed to feel “egalitarian” with their non-Muslim fellow citizens? Are they allowed space, in the spirit of fraternite, to argue in the French media, the case for, say,  allowing Muslim females the right to cover themselves from head to toe in black burkas or niqabs?

It is no doubt enormously disconcerting  to a Frenchman to have to sit opposite a woman on a train or a bus, without ever being able to know what she looks like. But you cannot spend 100 hundred years or more, carrying out a mission civilisatrice around the world – from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, to Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (all countries where Muslims form a large slice, if not the majority, of the population) – and not expect some fallout to come back to haunt the  civilateurs, can you?

The problem in France, as in many Western countries, is that the rulers do not ensure that their children are taught real world history in their schools, but a sanitised version that glosses over, if not totally ignores, the role played by their countries in the pauperisation of the peoples of so many countries in the world. Even worse, the people of these former colonising countries are never apprised of how disingenuous was the process whereby their countries transferred power from the traditional rulers of the colonies (who could at least be dealt with by the people themselves when they failed to perform) to an insensitive and unresponsive Western-educated elite that, once elected (through a vote that can be rigged) is empowered to swindle the state of its resources at will  for four or five years at a time, and reduce the populace to penury, whilst indulging themselves in “conspicuous consumption”.

Nor is it explained that the reasons for so much instability in the ex-colonies is that the only power that can remove an unresponsive, “elective dictatorship” is the military – whose leadership is often, more corrupt than the corrupt politicians they often remove from office  ostensibly “because of the corruption of the politicians!”.

This lack of knowledge of cause and effect — and the “groupthink” it fosters — is perhaps more visible in France than in any other former colonial power. In the name of freedom of speech, some French publications often ridicule the generality of peoples of other cultures at a very superficial level, not because of what they have done or said, but because of their culture as such.

A good example can be taken from the periodical, Le Point, which claimed in a cover story in 2012 that “brazen Islam” was taking over French schools, hospitals, cafeterias and swimming pools. The cover featured a niqab-clad woman arguing with a French police-woman. When asked what he thought of the story, the [then] French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls [now Prime Minister] answered: “It expresses reality”. He added: “What I find shocking, and will always find shocking, is a fully-veiled woman”.

Ahah! But suppose an Ivory Coast newspaper were to make hate-figures of the French women who swim naked in holiday beach resorts in countries with Islamic populations, (including the Assoinde beach resort  in the Ivory Coast, where I have seen this behaviour at first-hand myself)? Isn’t swimming in the nude “shocking” to many of the populace in a country whose labourers at beach resorts include  Muslims? Do the French care? Do the Westernised Ivorian mass media care?

That is the framework that must form part of  the discourse that takes place when  a  massive clash of cultures and/or religious beliefs, occurs. People approach religion from different angles: some are fanatical about their beliefs, others are not. It is thus in the enlightened self-interest of governments and their peoples not to adopt a head-on confrontation with those who engage in irrational religious practices. Fanaticism can be so all-consuming that it is best not to provoke it into action in the first place.

Yes, if the fanatics wage a military campaign, as they are doing with Boko Haram in Nigeria, then they must be fought with rifle for rifle. But if all they are doing is to say, “Allow our women to dress as they like and do not discriminate against them because of that mode of dressing”, then meeting them half-way, even if inconvenient, is a good strategy. They will eventually get tired of observing the strict dress code, I would have thought.

In any case, acting with the usual Western attitude of superiority on such occasions as the mourning of the Charlie Hebdo  Twelve can  seem puzzling, to say the least. How many of the millions who marched in Paris had even heard that even as they marched, that Boko Haram had slain 2,000 people  in a place called Baga in North-eastern Nigeria? Who will march in support of the “right to life” of the victims of  Boko Harm? Did they indeed occupy the same hallowed space on Planet Earth as the Charlie Hebdo Twelve?

I started off by saying that good satirists can have a field day analysing what happened in Paris on 11.1.2015. And indeed, some illuminating comments have already begun to emerge. One is this:

QUOTE: Counter-Punch, Paris, January 12, 2015

by BINOY KAMPMARK

We must demonstrate our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo without forgetting all the world’s other Charlies.” — Christophe Deloire, Director of Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Jan 11, 2014

…The march, and the grief, strike the necessary emotional register. The attendance list of the notables in attendance, however, was more problematic. …The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, is certainly raising the stakes in a dangerous way. On Saturday, he declared that France was at war with radical Islam. But what, exactly, is this war against? Such untidy reasoning has become the hallmark of responses of supposedly tolerant governments.

This is why the list of political celebrities in attendance of the Paris march is troubling. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, was present, representing state interests that are… intertwined with Islamic radicalism. The tip-toeing of Turkey with the Islamic State is well noted, as is the authoritarian move of the regime towards a more conservative brand of Islam. …

The case becomes even murkier on the issue of free speech. If free speech is, in fact, the valiant creature that is meant to be the armed warrior against obscurantism, then some of the leaders in attendance seem like odd choices. For them, free speech is not something to treasure so much as dread and stifle. Turkey, to take one example, remains a star offender against the journalistic profession in the World Press Freedom Index. Questioning various dogmas of the government – that the Armenian genocide is not, for example, a genocide – will land you a prison sentence [in Turkey].

Even more notable is the prospect that [if] the same cartoons run by Charlie Hebdo [had been published] in Turkey, its journalists [may have been] targeted. The government can call upon various legal weapons to achieve its purpose of controlling freedom of expression, be it the penal code’s articles on defamation (Art 125), religious defamation (Art 216), or obscenity (Art 226), to name but a few.

Other countries also deserve mention. There is Egypt, [next] Algeria and the United Arab Emirates. Then there is Russia. All [these regimes] place regime interests before free speech interests. [And yet] all had representatives at the march….

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) was one of the first [organisations] to note the contradictions. “RWB is appalled by the presence of leaders from countries where journalists and bloggers are systematically persecuted such as Egypt (which is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index), Russia (148th), Turkey (154th) and United Arab Emirates (118th)” (Reporters Without Borders, Jan 11).

Then comes that rather troubling issue of terrorism – or at the very least what are perceived to be acts that fall within the dozens of definitions suggested in the social science canon. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has made his position clear on the Palestinian state, on Palestinians in general and that old hoary chestnut of sovereignty. And the state he runs has not been remiss in its own periodic acts of military ruthlessness against those in Gaza, where Palestinian deaths assume statistical coldness before state brutality. …

The tragic tale of the recent killings in Paris, is that these were not acts lacking a compass. The direction was made even clearer once France joined the air campaign led by the United States in Iraq against the Islamic State. Bombs, at least the result of them, tend to be productive of only more bombs…. A pretext for home- generated brutality is minted with each intervention, with each impassioned appeal to storm distant foreign barricades. Jihadi fascism is the distorting lens here, while free speech is ever the straw man cast in an argument that is actually Realpolitik. Regimes are capitalising on sprucing up their images, the police state has been given a shot in the arm, and even now, the significance of the Charlie Hebdo victims is being lost. UNQUOTE

 

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