The world remade

21 04 2011

Care of Pambazuka News

To choose democracy is not to choose Europe and it is certainly not to choose the United States of America, which has overthrown democratically elected governments around the world when electorates have had the temerity to elect the ‘wrong’ leaders. In fact, any serious commitment to democracy has to reject the moral and political authority of Europe and the United States of America. Any commitment to democracy has to assert, very clearly, that all people everywhere have the right to govern themselves according to their own will.

We cannot know the trajectories of the uprisings that have swept North Africa and the Middle East. But one thing is for sure. Whatever pompous claims to the contrary come out of Washington and Brussels, these are not revolts for American or European values. On the contrary they are a direct challenge to those values. They are revolts against a global power structure that is formed by an international alliance of elites with one of its key principles being the idea, the racist idea, that Arabs are ‘not yet ready’ for democracy. This, of course, is an echo of one of the common justifications for apartheid. But the plain fact of the matter is that anyone who says that anyone else isn’t yet ready for democracy is no democrat.

Ben Ali and Mubarak were little more than co-opted Bantustan leaders in a system of global apartheid. Gadaffi’s oil funded cruelty, megalomania and opportunism has taken him in many directions in his 42-year reign but have, in recent years, been leading him in the same direction. Democratising a Bantustan is progress. But democratising a Bantustan is not enough. The whole global system needs to be democratised.

On Libya

14 03 2011

A friend recently asked me my thoughts about the African and Arab uprisings and whether or not they will lead to more dictatorship.  I responded with the following:

I’ve been following what’s been happening in the Arab world since reports starting coming in about the demonstrations in Egypt. Everyone here, much like the rest of the world, barely heard about Tunisia until it happened.  It wasn’t even rated as a news story.

These are very significant events in the history of the post-colonial world, and the tendency for the news media, except maybe, Al Jazeera, to gloss over them or badly report them is a crime.  The same can be said for the international community that has been working very hard to find out what each uprising means for them and their interests before trying to decide how to turn the situation to their benefit.  It is destroying the huge potential of these uprisings.

Colonialism never truly died in these countries. The colonial powers formally relinquished control, but their presence remained. The eager revolutionaries and organisations that took their place instituted authoritarian rule, and the same Western powers that once colonised these countries for their resources or strategic military value, simply made friends with the dictator to open the doors to commerce. Large corporations then moved in to extract resources from the country, export them home, and pay the dictator millions of dollars while the people remained in poverty.

Part of the reason these authoritarian regimes have been able to come to power is because the people of these former colonies have never had a chance to “birth” a new national identity, one based on honour, respect and equal rights.  Colonial rule ended suddenly, and the institutions that lead to oppression under colonialism, generally, remained in place.  As such, no new identity was born.  While the French were able to do it in the face of their monarchy, and the Americans did it in the face of Britain, the colonial power, in the countries now experience unrest there is simply a perpetuation of the privilege, humiliation and abuses that occurred under colonialism.  These uprisings are the next step in the process, where the people rise up, kick out their petty tyrants and establish an identity that is not based in humiliation and subjugation. This is why all these uprisings have had a nationalist bent — and while I’m against nationalism as an oppressive, divisive concept often aimed at achieving conformity and suppressing difference, I accept the nationalism of these uprisings as an attempt to re-express an identity.

It is a fundamentally good thing.

The next thing that is necessary to consider is that not all country’s in Africa and the Middle East are the same.  Tunisia and Egypt were similar because both governments tried to maintain a thin veil of legitimacy to the international community and world.  They were also strong Western allies.  So when the people no longer feared the para-state security apparatus that Ben Ali and Mubarak had created, it was easier to force them out of the country.

Libya was the next in the chain, particularly given that it sits right between Egypt and Tunisia.  Unrest had spread to many countries, but you could tell Libya would be next.  The only problem is that Gaddafi would never step down.  He has less to lose than Ben Ali and Mubarak did.  Better yet, he never tried to maintain a veil of legitimacy to deal with the rest of the world.  People know he’s a brutal authoritarian ruler and they engaged him anyway.  That they are now saying “OMGz What are you doing to your people?” is really a farce.  Further, the internal structures and institutions of Libya are different to Tunisia and Egypt in that Gaddafi did his best to marginalise the military to prevent a coup, so it’s little wonder many in the military have defected, play the tribes off against each other and therefore keep the people subjugated.

There is this point you will find in all these uprisings where the reports you read will cause fear.  You can see the videos of what is happening in the street, read the twitter feeds giving on-the-ground accounts and then you read the news reports.  There is that point where you fear for the people and think, maybe, just maybe, their momentum is finished and the State may now crack down, hard.  Your first thought is that there will be blood.  There was that moment in Egypt, but the protesters made one final push, with the help of the military, and Mubarak was gone.  In Libya, there was that moment exact same moment, but unlike in Egypt, the protesters in Libya faced far heavier repression.  The Egyptian security forces would try to run down demonstrators in the street but the army never opened fired on demonstrators.  The servants of the Libyan state shot protesters dead.  In dozens.  Indiscriminately.  With RPG’s and bullets all too often, aimed at the head.

It is not hard to see the lies and great efforts the regime in Libya has gone to in order to hide their brutality.  I watched a video just the other day, where a reporter went into a town recaptured by Gaddafi forces.  In the centre, the week before, there were 19 bodies that were buried.  These were people killed in the uprising.  The graves had been demolished, and apparently a bull dozer had been brought in to remove the bodies.  A coffin lay smashed open on the ground.  Relatively peaceful protests, as seen in Egypt, never had a chance.

I also do not think it is right to call what is going on a ‘civil war’.  The “rebels”, as they have been called in the media, have no organised army or weapons, except that which has been liberated from Gaddafi’s security forces.  What we are seeing is a continuing response to the brutality of the crackdown on an attempt at a relatively peaceful protest and revolution.  The people picked up guns liberated from the security forces and rushing to help protect others in neighbouring towns because it is their only choice.  Libya is in revolt.  For those who began the revolt, everything is on the line and if Gaddafi is able to reassert control over the country there will be a continuing, brutal repression against anyone who was involved.

Make no mistake about it.  People have disappeared.  The injured have been removed from hospitals, the young have been arrested and dissent has been crushed in many places.

Too many pessimists are already saying nothing good can come from these events.  I disagree.  Strongly.  I am optimistic about what these revolutions, if successful, will achieve.  As I pointed out earlier, the capacity for a people to stand up from a long period of subservience and humiliation to establish a new identity is inspiring.  It is a positive thing and may very well yield positive result.  But in saying that, you can never know with revolutions.  Uprisings, rebellions and revolutions are fickle creatures.  Often the question is not whether you will be successful against the forces of great evil, but whether or not you will become them yourself.  Those who start out fighting for honour, dignity, integrity and justice all too often end up becoming what they hate.  But this is not to say that revolutions should not be fought or attempted, it is just that you cannot know the future until you’re living in it.

“Dear Mr Presidents”

13 03 2011

The following is a letter originally published here.  I am reproducing the full text because you can hear the author’s heart breaking as you read.

Dear Mr Presidents,

I’m writing to you here trying to clear my mind a bit, been on-board this Cluetrain called Revolution. I’m catching a breath on paper trying to reach you out…[sic]

You, in your Ivory tower. Yes, you, hidden behind closed doors having my entire future in your hands!

Let me ask you this, Mr Presidents: What if?

What if your hands, laws, corruption, violence and your rule of kleptocracy were the reason for this revolution?

Mr Gaddafi, what if finally your People have decided that it was time for you to go? Is that thought so unbearable that it could, in your eyes, justify killings thousands of your own Citizens? Does it make it more permissible for you to break a mother’s heart every minute of the day, week after week? This with the international community hiding behind endless reasons a no Fly zone would be so hard to implement, playing the offended, fake virgin in front of TV: So why should they stop you in your rampage anyways? You are serving their cause, precious oil – the cause of so much unjustified violence and death.

Let me ask you again Mr Gadaffi, do you honestly think We the People are the ones siding with the terrorists of Al-Qaeeda? Really? Then, Mr Gadaffi can you explain this arrival of Syrian troops in Tripoli as reported in the current issue of Intelligence Online? Syrian troops who have brought with them more planes and helicopters, as you requested in a phone conversation with Bashar Al Asad in the first week of March? Troops you need to kill your own People?

If you are the victim of this crisis as you poorly try to convince us, then why do you need more soldiers to fight unarmed Citizens, whose only weapons are the ones they took back from you, trying to save only themselves and their Families.

You Syria! How are you feeling today knowing your president has sent your Brothers to fight Citizens that are as Muslim as you are! How do you sleep at night Syria? Knowing those people have had only one request: To Live as a Free People.

The Libyan’s hands are empty for the vast majority. They have no guns, no bombs except for a few seized on the battleground. I’m talking to all of you Syrians: How do you feel knowing you are part of a mass murder financed by Gaddafi Inc.?

When are you, Syria, going to stand up for Humanity? You are letting your government use your money to do horrendous things, unconscionable things in the eyes of every Human. Wake up Syria! If You stand idly by and let this continue, innocent Libyan blood will be on Syrian hands.


I can now imagine all other countries smiling, thinking they can avoid scrutiny – Don’t delude yourselves.

Let’s talk about you USA, Canada, Australia. Let’s talk about you Turkey, France, Russia. And you Germany, UK, Italy, Bangladesh, India, Japan and China – to name a just a few. Your silence is useful to you at this point isn’t it? It is convenient to avoid talking about those billion dollar contracts signed since 2008 … as these 2 cables show us ( 09TRIPOLI151, 08TRIPOLI912) .

The Libyan League for Human Rights spokesman Ali Zeidan said on Wednesday March 3 that the death toll across Libya is about 6,000. We must ask: Are these billion dollar contracts worth more than the 6,000+ Human Lives already lost?

At this point, We the People have concluded that NO! They are not. We are screaming ours hearts out as One, protesting as One, signing petitions as One, exchanging images of horror and suffering as One.

ALL OF YOU ARE GUILTY! YES GUILTY! And you will pay for this! We the People will make sure of it! You have discredited yourselves, Mr. Presidents, by your lack of action.

Your silence has shown the world your true colors, where blood can be shed in all impunity, as long as your precious oil and your petrodollars keep flowing.

You have sold us on this Idiocracy for quite a while. You have kept us busy and blind by media manipulation. And now the world can see. And We will neither sit, nor be quiet anymore.

As Wael Ghonim said so well. This is ”Revolution 2.0”.

…Soon in a neighbourhood near you!

What direct action looks like

5 03 2011

Racism against African migrants in Libya

2 03 2011

Revolutions are notoriously fickle creatures.  All too often would-be revolutionaries turn out to be what they hate.  The introduction of violence on the scale seen in Libya only serves to prompt revolutionaries to push back.  Gaddafi’s practice of importing mercenaries has also inflamed the situation, with innocent African migrants being caught up in the mix.  Likewise, the overarching narrative that has been spun in the international media, and often, by the revolutionaries themselves, has taken a particularly nationalist bent and no doubt, this is fall out.

But then the character of the Libyan revolution has been wholly different to that of Egypt and Tunisia.  The institutions and regimes in these countries have been unique.  While Mubarak and Ben Ali had maintained ties with their international counterparts during their presidency and sought to maintain some kind of democratic responsibility through the pretence of elections, Gaddafi, is a different animal entirely.

Words to live by: do not become what you hate.

Two new videos

26 02 2011

Care of Wikileaks Central

A captured African “mercenary” is protected by Libyan protesters from other Libyan protesters

Update: BBC reports on Gaddafi’s attempts to recruit mercenaries from neighbouring countries by exploiting the discrimination they face by offering cash salaries to young men, how the attacks on African migrants within Libya and the mistaken belief by many Arab Libyans that Libyans of African heritage are mercenaries.

It is a necessary distinction to make.  Just because a person is a “black African” in Libya does not mean they are working with or support Gaddafi.  African migrants have long suffered discrimination at the hands of Gaddafi’s regime as he used them as leverage over Italy.

Walk through of underground prison in Benghazi

Gaddafi supporters shoot woman outside her doorstep screaming for son to come home

26 02 2011

@Feb17 voices has made the following account of protests in Tripoli available to the world.  Listen to it here.

Reporter Martin Chulov has wrote on Twitter that he visited a dungeon underneath the captured army base in Benghazi:

I visited a dungeon underneath the sacked army base today. Residents said last week it was the most feared room in town.