Saturday, February 24, 2007

Poetry of the Day

We seek perfection
A waking dream
It is within this realm that poetry is born
Living, breathing, art.
If art is pure emotion
It is an unconscious conscious subconscience
Like floating
Nothing else exists
It will not work, he said.
I know, she said.
But it does not matter anymore.
Perfection is just another illusion.
Much like security.

Quote of the Day

"There is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others."

-Michel de Montagne

‘Tribal wars’ in Africa: The Case of Darfur.

“In Africa, it is a tribal war”. This statement, often heard in popular rhetoric, suggests, as would the Sudanese government in Khartoum, that the conflict in Darfur is an ethnic one. However, the war is not a conflict between ethnic groups, it is a political conflict, and when it is assumed otherwise, it is the result of ‘ethnopolitics’. The ethnopolitics of Darfur place ‘Arabs’ in opposition to ‘Africans’, which would lead many to believe that the tensions are racially motivated. In Darfur there is no easily divisible line according to ethnicity, instead political interests divide the population, which makes it a political conflict. Although this conflict may initially have been about resources, the government has ethnicized the political and economic issues, polarising two groups, favouring one to overrun the other, in order to gain power and access to land. The government presents the two groups as being ethnic opposites, yet the conflict really exists between the armed and the unarmed: the government forces and their militia allies, versus the civilian victims. The polarization of Arabs and Africans is falsely simplified, as they are certainly not rigid ethnic groups. This polarization assumes two homogeneous groups opposing one another, yet volumes of ethnographic evidence testify to Darfur’s history of ethnic heterogeneity.

, like much of the African continent, is ‘ethnically kaleidoscopic’, encompassing countless ethnic groups. Darfur means ‘land of the Fur’, and for centuries the Fur were the ethnic majority Historically, other ethnic (‘tribal’) peoples intermarried with the Fur, or adopted the lifestyle of the Fur, or vice versa, despite the Anglo-Egyptian government’s attempt to prevent ethnic change. Because of decades of intermarriage, almost everyone has dark skin and African features. To a visitor, Darfurians appear indistinguishable. The people comprising the ‘ethnic’ group of the Fur could call themselves this only after their membership was negotiated, hence to label an ethnic identity is an act of ethnic identification at a certain moment in time.

Fruthermore, Darfurians share the cross-cutting cleavage of being a Muslim, ‘Arabs’ and ‘Africans’ alike. This evidence dispels the idea that the conflict is religiously based, or the equation of Arab to Muslim and African to Non-Muslim. Likewise, some Fur have assumed Arab identity. The Islamic Nationalist government in Khartoum would like to see the Sudan as an ‘Arab’ state, in an attempt to equate religious, national and ethnic identities within one ideology.

These relationships confuse ethnic and religious identities with political identities. The opposing groups in Darfur are not only ethnically indivisible, they are not even separated politically along ethnic lines: the ‘Arabs’ do not all side with the government, and some ‘Africans’ also join the government forces or its allied militia.

The variety of ethnic groups in Darfur touched upon above can be classified into three socio-economic categories: camel nomads, farmers and cattle semi-nomads. However, identities were complex and overlapping. Individuals and groups could shift from one category to another. In this experience, the nomads and farmers have increasingly been competing for decreasing resources, and their conflicts were, until recently, internally solved. The Sudanese government is taking advantage of this history of resource competition to polarize and politicize the farmers from the nomads, by winning the ‘sentiments’ of the nomads in order to present the conflict as ethnic instead of economic.

Polarization and segregation in the Sudan have its roots in the British ‘divide-and-rule’ policies during colonisation. These roots are similar to the ethnopolitics of Rwanda, where the Hutsi’s and Tutsi’s were first dichotomized by Belgian identification cards. In Darfur, the ‘Arabs’ are armed and ‘non-Arabs’ are disarmed (isolated) by the Sudanese government in Khartoum, much like the British, that only armed tribal groups that supported their authority and were loyal to the colonial administration. Furthermore, these British policies created the North-South divide by the creation of a cordon sanitaire between Moslem northern and western Sudan and non-Moslem south Sudan.

This North-South divide has led to tensions in Darfur. Since the civil war between the North and South of Sudan, there have been two directions of political movement: to join the militant authoritarian regime in Khartoum and reap the benefits, or to join the rebels that demand access to power and resources from the central government in order to compete with northerners (‘Arabs’) in the economic market, and in order to be sovereign from the ‘Arabization’ of the land. Darfur was torn in two during this war, and their current retaliation is not only a reaction to the North-South peace process, as dissatisfaction with the accord and to express their marginality in the affair, but the conflict was also ignored in order to expedite the US-backed peace process in order for foreign funds to flow to Khartoum. When the government could no longer ignore their discord, (as rebel groups attacked military bases in order to arm themselves and to disarm the government forces) the government retaliated by recruiting and arming local militia groups. The result was the mass murder, torture, rape and displacement of the civilian farmers. Henceforth, food is no longer being produced, resulting in famine, and the survivors find themselves in overcrowded camps in neighbouring Chad, where diseases are rampant, or are being held captive by the same militias that have terrorized and decimated them.

Many will present these atrocities in terms of ‘Africans’ versus ‘Arabs’. However, the ethnographic evidence shows that the categories ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ are not ethnically identifiable, (although they are assumed to be), but they are instead politically polarized groups. One group supports the ‘Arabic’ nationalism that the National Islamic Front (hereafter named NIF, the government regime in Khartoum), promotes, and the other group opposes it. The so-called opposing ‘groups’ are working together and the same ‘groups’ are fighting each other. The Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) is led by a Fur Islamist and represents an alliance of Sudan’s marginalized ‘African’ peoples, but comprises an improbable coalition: The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) an Islamist rebel group and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), self defence units, (formerly named Darfur Liberation Front), made of radical secularists. These ‘militias’ work together to oppose the NIF, challenging Khartoum’s control of Darfur, in response to government oppression, especially of non-Arab tribes.

Thus, ‘Arabs’ and ‘Africans’ are simply abstracted external categories, presented as if they were very real: ‘reification’. An ‘ethnic’ conflict, therefore, is the politicization of ethnicity: ‘ethnopolitics’. It is a creation of the state, it is no more ethnic than it is religious; it is simply a power struggle; one group is armed and the other is disarmed.

Like most African nation-states, the political border of the Sudan was drawn on a paper map in a white man’s office during colonial rule, completely disregarding the actual ethnic or linguistic boundaries. This ‘imaginary’ border is merely symbolic of a political community, which assumes that a hegemonic policy will be adopted by all its citizens. In reality, in the Sudan this assumption hides the repression of ethnic minorities under an authoritarian militant regime.

Rebel groups formed to resist this ‘Islamic Radicalism’ and hegemony of Khartoum. These groups attack the government forces and its allied militia, but protect the farmers from counterattacks. Unfortunately, the government labels the civilian farmers as ‘rebels’ as well, leaving no one in the vicinity unharmed, and their fertile land up for grabs. The government has recruited and armed local ‘Arab’ militias from Darfur, and surrounding countries. Formerly camel-herding nomads and semi-nomads, currently known as the janjaweed, align themselves with the military forces, which execute and displace or imprison the farmers.

Can we name this ‘annihilatory extreme’ in Darfur ‘ethnic cleansing’? Genocide? These are questions over which the international community (journalists, activists, politicians, and scientists) has been disputing. Kofi Annan, however, would not attest that Darfur was a case of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and refused to define it as genocide. This may be confrontational with the comparisons that are being made to Rwanda, where the differences are merely quantitative and the similarities revolve around the lack of response by the UN and political leaders around the globe.

The debate over semantics was perhaps an ‘official reality’ in order to avoid the need for the international community to intervene and to protect their oil interests in the Sudan. International critics have suggested that the case of Darfur is a case of ‘Genocide for Oil’.This chillingly reminds me of the Indonesian occupation of East-Timor. There, the (western) international community denied and ignored a genocide: the ethnic cleansing of the Timorese, out of interest to trade with Indonesia for the oil located off the Timorese coast. Is the same thing happening once again in Darfur? Why is international intervention so lax to respond? For the NIF, oil production and distribution is their sole political leverage on the international market.

Oil was discovered in the Sudan by Chevron in the 1970’s, it has been exported since 1999, although there was a ban on sales to the US. The North-South peace talks moved forward due to US involvement: The NIF would receive peace and US business would now gain access to Sudan’s oil. Many suggest that the possibility of gaining access to oil, political relations or preoccupations on the world stage deterred intervention in Darfur by creating blinders for the urgency of the conflict. Specifically, Washington and Khartoum preferred to not upset the North-South negotiations by ignoring the Darfur war. Other countries could not point the finger at the lack of intervention by the US, as they themselves were guilty of the same crime, yet European countries no longer had faith in (US-led) intervention since the Iraq war.

The NIF regime sees the Sudan as an ‘ethnic’ (meaning ‘Arabic’) state, and demands its citizens to be patriotic. Therefore, political critics see the Darfur war as a government-driven ethnic cleansing, a continuation of the ‘Arabization’ of the Sudan. It is a true shame if the international community adhered to the Sudanese government and allowed ‘minorities’ to be exterminated, in the name of oil.

What is the motivation for the violence? Is it resources, is it oil, or is it ideology? We can only speculate. Evidence shows that the root causes of the violence stem out of many sources and areas. They have been bundled into a confused, yet dichotomized world of black-and-white, powerful and helpless, living and dying. Whether or not it is genocide? This seems to me to be irrelevant, as civilians are the victims, there clearly needs to be an intervention.

January 2006

Africa, a continent still in our shackles

The latest blame for the state of poverty and dispair in Africa is given to the World Bank and the IMF. Before that it was the Cold War. Before that it was colonialism. Somehow they are all related, each one representing a new form of the same repression and abuse, according to historical context. Therefore, we too, as postcolonials are responsible for cleaning up the mess, indeed. Let us stop pretending to know what's best for Africa. We obviously don't, or it would not be such a big mess right now. And they're not just 'Tribal Wars', by the way.

When Blogging is a Crime

About freedom of speech, about censorship, about conspiracies, about control and the state's monopoly on violence. Be careful what you blog or protest even more audibly? This blogger was arrested in Egypt in November. When our private diaries become public, they are also percieved as a threat, to undermine the administrating authorities and forms of controlling the mind, as the university was the one to turn him in. It makes me wonder what they had to hide. By arresting Abdel, Eqypt has thus drawn international attention to a situation that may not have been known otherwise. Isn't it ironic? Free Kareem! so that the price he has to pay isn't too high! Save the bloggers!

Another beautiful film

Last night I saw another inspiring film, Bamako, set in Mali, about a tribunal accusing the World Bank and the IMF of generating poverty and unemployment in Africa. The debt problem is eloquantly portrayed in a very realistic yet aesthetically, poetically beautiful portrait of daily life in Africa, including tempo and chaos. I will add it to my recommendation list.

For the Chomsky fans, another inspiring documentary for action: Noam Chomsky, Rebel Without a Pause. What a man, how brave, may we all be so defeatless!
Another one, which I haven't seen at this moment as I write but will be seeing very shortly: Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in our times.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Do you have a job that you don’t enjoy to buy things you don’t want to impress people that you don’t like?

Happiness is not an accident…

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Requiem (Mozart)

Music is our salvation.

It communicates the beauty in the world.

Musicians translate the voice of god

Singers are angels

Lifting our spirits above

To overcome all our sorrows

A chorus of freedom

In our minds

There is light

Drifting up


Like crystal


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Platform for Change

The greatest pressure on the earth’s resources is not from large numbers of poor people but from a small number of the world’s ever-consuming elite. The world’s ever-consuming elite are producing money that produces ever more money, which the large numbers of poor people will never benefit from within the current ‘free’ market paradigm.

Over-consumption is apparently easy for people to signal as an environmental problem, but for the majority it remains extremely difficult to consequently act accordingly. It is confronting to realize that the only way to make a true difference in the world is if we change our own behaviour, for this has consequences for the environment as well as the poor and oppressed populations worldwide.
Actions are often only undertaken if there is an economic gain or possibility. This is typical of the economic analysis, using the cost/benefit relationship, wherein social and environmental consequences are not considered.

The processes of exploitation, exclusion and marginalization are well-known phenomena of the world capitalist system today, yet powerful players at the top, which are benefiting from this system, are not prepared to part with any of their wealth in order to redistribute it among the poor. Providing opportunities to those people they are exploiting would decrease their power, and diminish their comfortable positions.
Such opportunities could be achieved by moving towards an emancipatory discourse for the poor, which would contribute to breaking ‘the culture of silence’. This includes the silence of the academic community towards the poor. The poor, oppressed and marginalized demand a central role in academic discussion, as important actors in our world economy, but most of all to give them a platform so that they are no longer silenced and invisible, but rather to create the potential for change.

Quote of the day

'When a flower is reborn amidst all that filth, it tells you there's still a moment of hope, and that our love for the earth, for nature, for human beings, must open each day toward the world, toward people, toward all of us.'

- Rosa Isolde Reuque Paillalef, Mapuche Feminist

Monday, February 12, 2007

You, Me and the World

You and I are among the priveledged few. Let us not forget this and take advantage of all the privileges and opportunities that we are granted, just based on the fact that we were born at the right place at the right time. Let us not take that for granted. Let us not forget the past. We have a responsibility to those that do not have these possibilities, the poor, the oppressed, the exploited and violated. We must not allow them to be invisible and unheard. We have a responsibility to keep the discussion alive, so that we are not implicitly justifying injustice. We (collective human kind) must learn from the past and so that we don't keep repeating history relentlessly into the future. I have hope, that our generation is more aware, and that we take on the responsibility to magnify that awareness so that it may be transformed into action and our world can really be a different place in the future. For those of us which the current system allows to take action in whichever way, shape or form, this is our lifegoal. Life itself deserves our empathy and compassion because every living being has the same right to enjoy life on earth. However small or large, you can make a difference, today.

Energy: At What Cost?

The correlation between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels has been acknowledged widely for decades. The concern about global warming has led to heated debates about the use of fossil fuels to provide energy, and whether there are feasible alternatives. Renewable energy sources, efficiency and nuclear energy are all presented as low-carbon possibilities, yet agreement on their implementation varies and remains contested. The thirst for oil brings about geopolitical, socio-economic and environmental repercussions. Nuclear energy with all its risks cannot possibly be the best alternative. The political will to implement environmentally friendly, sustainable and renewable forms of energy is presently insufficient, despite the IPCC and the Uppsala Protocol. What remains largely uncontested, yet lurks beneath the surface of these debates is the need for energy itself. The claim that the demand for energy will continue to rise with economic growth and population growth therefore seems indisputable. Do we really need so much energy? The current negative effects of energy use in its different forms must force us to reconsider whether it is desirable to use energy at all for the future. If our need were in demise, our main energy problems would accordingly be solved. The socio-economic, geopolitical, health and environmental costs of energy far exceed our need for energy, and it is our need for energy that needs to be curtailed in order to solve our energy problems and ultimately, achieve sustainability for the future.

The war in Iraq is a recurrent example of negative effects that our thirst for oil brings with it. It is the umpteenth war fought in order to secure oil, and this pattern will continue as oil’s scarcity rises. Price volatility and depletion of oil fuel political uncertainty, yet oil itself fuels so many aspects of life and economy, including transportation, airline travel, agriculture, habitat, urban planning, industry which is why its access has had such a high determining factor in world politics for many decades. Not only is war fought to gain access to oil, oil is necessary for war. As fossil fuels are neither politically, nor economically, nor environmentally desirable, nuclear power is presented as a replacement for oil.

As if Chernobyl was not enough warning, nuclear energy is now once again on the table as a recommended alternative to oil as a source of energy, as it is deemed commercially viable, and economically competitive. Not only are such disasters as Chernobyl a warning, it is the epitome of human destruction our species could cause this earth and ourselves. In this case accidental, the same type of energy can be harnessed for purposeful destruction, as we are reminded by Hiroshima. This reminder was present throughout the cold war, and the fear of nuclear warfare caused countless negative effects in the socio-economic and political spheres, throughout the world. In order to look to the future, plan for the future, and involve ‘future generations’ in an ideal of sustainability, we must learn from the past.

Alarmingly, an increasing number of studies conclude that nuclear energy should be an important part of the strategies towards sustainable energy development, which influence policy such as the OECD’s IEA ‘sustainable development vision scenario’. The focus on carbon emission decrease causes the negative environmental impacts of nuclear waste to disappear into a blind spot. The mere fact that nuclear energy is suggested to be a sustainable source of energy clearly negates the multidimensional aspect of sustainability, which considers environmental, social and economic effects. Furthermore, the health risks accompanying nuclear production and radioactive waste are disastrous at worst: infertility, leukaemia, cancers, diseases, native malformations, death etc. The problem with radioactive waste is that it may not actually become a visible problem until centuries into the future. Therefore, the thought of creating more nuclear energy completely disregards future generations, which is an imperative aspect of any discussion concerning sustainable development.

Whether or not we need energy to survive as a human species seems like a moot point, yet it is certainly the magnitude of energy that we ‘need’ that should be questioned. It is argued that energy is one of the basic human needs; however, the majority of energy is employed in the production of mainly luxury goods and services. This luxury is needed due to our concept of comfort. Energy efficiency not only requires technology, but a fair amount of awareness. Awareness that the earth’s resources are finite, and an awareness that we consume much more than we actually need.

Renewable energy sources have been identified for decades, yet their implementation is problematic. First of all, the political will is lacking when it comes to the implementation of solar energy, as PV panels are not economically viable in the short term. When economic considerations are prioritized above environmental considerations, innovation and sustainability are blocked. Furthermore, certain renewables may not be ecologically sound alternatives. Sustainability is therefore not only a question of technological advance and innovation; it is a matter of political will, and transcending ‘Not In My Backyard ' attitudes.

For example, wind energy is a clean, environmentally friendly, renewable and sustainable form of energy, yet for a number of social and economic reasons, actual construction of wind turbines remains very slow. Many people protest the implementation of wind turbines due to their sight and sound, which are predominantly aesthetic and the sound is certainly no more than any urban centre.

Solar PV systems seem to be the most feasible option, despite their initial price, in terms of sustainability as well as implementation. Solar systems are used more and more in development projects, to increase self-sufficiency as well as sustainability, so that using distributed renewable energy resources will foster local independence from world markets, and create economic, social, and political stability.

In agricultural sectors, biofuels can be considered a sustainable option, albeit they are used on a small scale, such as using cattle manure or plant oils that are produced naturally anyway. On a large scale, biofuels are discouraged as an alternative, as it would require a lot of land, significant energy as inputs, and competes with food by diverting land and water resources, and defeats the purpose of environmental sustainability due to soil degradation, biodiversity loss and the fact that it is not carbon-neutral .

Hydro power is also presented as a carbon-neutral alternative, and it is renewable, however it is not an environmentally benign power source. According to new studies, the amount of greenhouse gases generated by hydropower can be greater than the amount of greenhouse gases produced by a fossil fuel power of the same strength, and increases threats such as erosion, landslides, change of sedimentation, loss of fresh water and biodiversity loss, nor is it socially benign! The implementation of dams has led to the displacement of millions of marginalized and indigenous populations worldwide, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China, The Narmada Dam in India, etc.

Therefore, renewable energies (wind, sun, water, biomass) are harmless to air pollution but face severe limits of feasibility for the world-scale development. True alternative energy sources are often unnoticed and certainly not recognized as plausible solutions to global energy problems. This is due to their small scale and locally-based character. Yet it is precise these two characteristics that make them sustainable, as transport is eliminated and self-sufficiency, and thus independence is increased. The smaller the scale, the greater the energy efficiency can be. Self-sufficiency also implies a limitation to energy use levels, so that they fulfil basic human needs but do not exceed sustainable levels for luxury items and superfluous behaviour.

The possibility of using clean, sustainable and environmentally friendly forms of renewable energy has been around for decades, if not centuries. Yet, the political will to resort to locally-based solutions seems to be lacking. Is it because they do not contribute to the national or global economy? Large-scale schemes are often the solution, (such as the quest for oil, hydro-electric dams etc.) as this contributes to industry, trade and political power, or is it just a matter of economics?

As with most sustainability issues, the interrelation between economics and politics forms the main stumbling block to achieving sustainable energy use. The economic dimension is prioritized above the social and environmental dimensions when energy policy is made, albeit a few exceptions.

The environmental and social costs are at present not included in the pricing of fuel or electricity. These costs are often referred to as ‘externalities’, yet have been known for decades, leading me to wonder when these costs will be internalized in energy policies. Inevitably, the negative social and environmental consequences of our energy use far outweigh any economic cost we may impose on energy sources. Therefore, putting a monetary price tag on the earth and on our survival cannot possibly answer to our ethics as a human species. Being confronted with our own behaviour is one of the hardest tasks we have as a species, yet it is not impossible. The ability to see the consequences of our own actions does not require superhuman abilities; it is rather the prerequisite for our survival and that of the planet. War is the most extreme cost that our ‘need’ for energy can bring. Not only is it traumatic for those directly involved, it threatens our global political security and is disastrous for both the local and the regional socio-economic and environmental stability.

Politics are a human creation, as are economics and energy production and use. These inventions have led to large scale changes in the ecology of this planet, and therefore the welfare of our species as well as every other species. Let us not forget that we have the ability to reinvent our social reality if we choose, which will in turn affect our planet, our natural habitat.

A reduction in the world’s population will not necessarily lead to an improvement in the global environment. The world needs to behave sustainably before the numbers can make a difference. If the world is overpopulated with overconsuming capitalists who do not consider the future of their grandchildren, then overpopulation is indeed a problem. Even if the numbers of these people were to decrease, we would still exceed the so-called ‘carrying capacity’. However, if the world was to have the same population, but of people living according to the sustainability concept, overpopulation would no longer be a problem for the environment.

Instead of reducing emissions by using less fossil fuels, the wealthy elite are seeking to replace oil and coal as energy sources with other risky sources such as nuclear power. Furthermore, over-consumption is apparently easy for people to signal as an environmental problem, but for the majority it remains extremely difficult to consequently act accordingly. It is confronting to realize that the only way to make a true difference in the world is if we change our own behaviour, for this has consequences for the environment as well as the poor and oppressed populations worldwide. The importance of environmentally friendly, renewable and sustainable energy use is recognized globally, yet reducing automobile usage or other forms of energy consumption has not been addressed effectively to date. Actions are often only undertaken if there is an economic gain or possibility. This is typical of the economic analysis, using the cost/benefit relationship, wherein social and environmental consequences are not considered.

To achieve the ideal of balance between the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, ecological, social), would require a compromise. A compromise in their values, as one may not be more valuable than the other. Therefore, the actors involved must compromise their own interests on the basis of equality with the other parties involved. In line with Wolfgang Sachs, among others, the present development model itself is unsustainable, and therefore sustainability is not possible in the current system. Sustainability must represent an alternative approach altogether, not one that takes place within the development paradigm.

today's magnetic poetry

the forest
whispers to me
of talking animals

a tree
with a good beat
of blue guitars
in a thousand pieces

without fear
another walks in circles
in a million directions
laughs out loud

the mountains
the forest
an ocean
the right place
a perfect world

My vision, dreams, thoughts and desires.
A new World.
A solution.
A journey.
A voice.

Is the obvious answer.
It is bliss.
It is truth.

The possibility of the universe
Inspires the dream,
A light in my mind.
I believe
In tomorrow.

Books I recommend

  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
  • Runaway World by Anthony Giddens
  • Planet Dialectics by Wolfgang Sachs
  • The Algebra of Infinite Justice By Arundhati Roy
  • Fences and Windows by Naomi Klein
  • Stupid White Men by Micheal Moore
  • The Case Against the Global Economy and For a Turn Toward the Local edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith
  • Ecofeminism edited by Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies
  • Seeing Like a State. How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott
  • Death Without Weeping. The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil by Nancy Scheper-Hughes
  • The Multicultural Riddle by Gerd Baumann
  • Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz
  • Europe and the People Without History by Eric R. Wolf
  • Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson
  • Everything written by Farley Mowat
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
  • Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle
  • Young, Damned and Banda. The World of Young Street People in Mexico City, 1990-1997 by Roy Gigengack
  • Europe and the People without History by Eric R. Wolf

Movies/Documentaries I recommend

Tea with Evo

November 28, 2006

Yesterday I went to a lecture by Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, and recognised as the first indigenous president of the Americas. His policies symbolize an unprecedented break with the past. He wants to 'decolonize' Bolivia, starting with the natural resources, which foreign companies have largely been profiting from since the implementation of the World Bank and IMF's SAPs. Instead of the company receiving all the profits, he has reversed the percentages, so that the state now receives 82% and the company receives 18%. He copied this ratio from the Dutch government, whom he had visited years ago before he was president, and this inspired him to implement it in Bolivia. And why not? If the Dutch can do it, why can't the Bolivians? He plans to redistribute the profits in order to relieve poverty and promote 'bottom up' development, instead of the failed 'topdown' strategies of the past. This is not radical, as academics, activists and development critics have been saying it for years. It is, however a radical break from the mainstream, the hegemonic liberalization and economic development above all. Finally a social movement that has come to political power. This is the epitomy of democracy.

Bush used the discourse of democracy to justify his invasion of Iraq. However, the situation in the US is not emblematic of democracy and democratic processes. For example, the dubious circumstances surrounding the vote count during the 2000 elections, the media censorship concerning September 11th and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The patriot Act itself does not support the ‘democratic’ ideals of freedom of speech. Not to mention the social and economic problems in the US that many of its citizens feel needs to be addressed before its military intervene or meddle in another country’s affairs. There is an aboriginal wisdom which says: ‘Before passing judgment on another, one must look to oneself.’ This is certainly not a practice of the US foreign policy of the Bush Administration. Furthermore, implementing ‘democracy’ through violence is certainly not democratic; rather it is precisely these techniques that characterize an authoritarian dictatorship, which the US are supposedly dismantling.

Similarly, the world is looking to Latin American countries and fearing the ‘radical’ left wing policies of Chavez and Morales. Will they radicalize? Enforce their policies on their citizens through violence and oppression? Not likely. This is truly an economic fear of investors that want to continue their exploitative relationship with Latin American countries, and must now lose profits for, god forbid, the benefit of the poor. Redistribution is their credo, and to the US it sounds like communism. The fear of the ‘Reds’ has not died, yet now it is wrapped in the package of the terrorism discourse. Yet acts of terror have been reportedly used by foreign companies and their staff against the local population in Bolivia, Peru, Chile… when they received the go-ahead in the age of neoliberalisation and SAPs. Morales raises an interesting question, which echoes Noam Chomsky: liberalization was originally intended (by Adam Smith) to free the movement of goods as well as labour, yet through US hegemony, liberalization has only resulted in the free trade of goods, and restricts the movement of the very people that are producing these goods. In order for the world to be truly ‘liberalized’, the people need to be allowed to move freely across borders. The fear of terrorism (ironically the point of terrorism is to instill fear, so the terrorists have already achieved their goals) does not allow this, yet it is these restrictions that contribute to the origins of terrorism.

I prefer not to make a scientific prediction of the future of indigenous movements in
Latin America. Predictions can be dangerous tools in shaping top-down policies for the futures of peoples whom I feel should actually be taking an active role in the creation of their own futures themselves. Nor would I express any specific expectations, out of a personal belief that expectations of any kind inevitably lead to disappointments. What I would like to do is express my hope for the future, as well as contest the present floating fear in the West that Latin American leaders such as Chavez and Morales may ‘radicalize’ their social goals for their countries in the future. After attending the Morales lecture, I am confident his form of governance and societal goals are not ‘radical’. On the contrary, Morales is executing his reforms step by step, proceeding with caution precisely to prevent conflict. Listening at Evo yesterday, I felt he is a mild-mannered man that I would invite over for tea, and his speech, full of humour, was exactly what we've wanted all along. Now he is in the position to make a positive change, in any case for Bolivia. Let us hope this seed will spread in Latin America, and that we may learn from it as an example for the future. This is dependent on political will, and it is this will that Morales is showing that is giving me hope for the future of Latin America, and possibly the rest of the world.