Friday, February 29, 2008

We are the Ones

I am an Obamaniac because he asks me question about, how I would make a difference in this only lifetime of mine. I believe in the hope and possibilities he has helped awaken. Here are others who live in that same place.

Trevor Phillips, David Cameron and bungling Britishness

The obsession with a safe pair of hands in this country has led to an institutionalised mediocrity that is covered in the mystique of quaintness and tradition as well as cemented into the boarding school corruption that is the old boy network. This week has been an affirmation in two cases. David Cameron the honourable leader of the opposition and a very intelligent as well as articulate man who I thought could bring an originality of thought and action to the British political scene as allowed himself to be conned into the 'community cohesion' agenda. It is the false premise that something called multiculturalism has failed and there is a need for better integration which can be achieved through Government policy. It is quite a lame idea which is now government policy embedded into immigration thinking and Home Office approaches. It is a play for social engineering that does not really address the natural complexity of cultures, the survival instinct behind retention of identity and the economic power of enclave economies in a globalised world. I would love to break these things down but it would take sometime . It will suffice to say Mr Cameron's comment on the above was so below his intelligence and capacity that it shows a continuing downward spiral the longer he has been in the role of leader of the conservative party. This is because in my humble view when you are surrounded by mediocrity like most British people are and the quality of public expectation in fossilised in entitlements there is absolutely no reason to innovate.

Mr Cameron spoke as a guest of Trevor Phillips the head of the government agency for human rights. Trevor Phillips is at best a safe pair of hands whose height and bearing flatters to deceive. One suspects Mr Phillips is a disappointment to himself from the radical and promising leadership he was groomed for as a young leader of the National Union of Students. Mr Phillips is something of a failed journalist and politician whose most glorious achievement is to oversee the extension of his fiefdom without any serious competence on the subject he has come to lead on. I believe he is in his role for no other reason than he is a black man of Caribbean / south American descent who fits in an old boy network and would be a 'safe pair of hands'. His position on multiculturalism has been so influential to a government that has always flattered the Minorities into perpetual victimhood that i suspect that he will be soon rewarded the ultimate gift for mediocrity a Knighthood. It is our lot in this country that his older brother Mike who is a more authentic and original thinker is not the one in the family with such a platform.

However that was alright until when he uses the flawed analysis by Shelby Steele as an excuse for suggesting that a win by Senator Obama would setback Race Relations in America by years. Surely a case of the kettle describing the pot with the N word. A man who helped turn the dialogue in Britain into a false dichotomy between multiculturalism and integration now wants to reduce someone else with superior talent and intellect to his level of incompetence. He seems irritated that Senator Obama has the character and intellect to set his sight on transforming his society whilst Mr Phillips has settled to pontificating on transactions. Simply put Trevor Phillips is a rent seeking official whose failure to live to his potential makes him jealous of another person who seeks excellence.

All the snobby talk of the failures and guilt in the United States hides the fact that most of us in this country are driven by entitlement and transactions whilst similar people in the United States grab opportunities and think big. It is part of our culture to manifest cynicism, elevate victims and seek the downfall of the fortunate. Trevor Phillips green eyed demons cannot let him see beyond the fact that a younger man is achieving things he could have tried if he had migrated. The reason why Britain does not have a Barack Obama , Malcolm X, Martin Luther King or any great world class Black Icon has nothing to do with numbers or lack of Slavery guilt it as to do with a culture of mediocrity, low expectation and entitlement. Trevor Phillips is a poster child for all of these.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Othello Metaphor

Below is a link to an extraordinarily open exploration of the fear of a black super male and the regular damning of Senator Obama with faint praise. I do not know who writer Venetia Thompson is both along with Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal she has been a discovery. I however disagree with the latest analysis of Ms Noonan but two reasonable people can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

We will know by the 4th of March how much damage the effort to crudely stop the momentum of Senator Obama has been. In my humble opinion he needs to switch his approach at the next debate by backing every policy argument with examples and data moving the debate away from himself to the issues he stands for. The reason is no matter how popular you are there is a diminishing return to media exposure in a race as long as this one. I encourage readers to read this article and view it from a credible and talented lens.

In Nigeria the Tribunal reviewing the last year's Presidential election is expected to rule tomorrow. Whatever the result it is a triumph for Nigerian government accountability and institutional capacity. I refuse to use the word democracy because it has become a buzzword that is neither credible nor is it adaptive enough for a complex country like Gidi. An independent process of checks and balances would have done Kenya a world of good or even restored credibility to the first Bush presidency. In a world where Nigeria is often used as a buzz word for failure, danger and corruption it is only fair it get its praise for what it does right.


Video 1

Video 2

The new narrative about Senator Barack Obama is that he is this 'Voodoo' 'Conjure man' who uses the power of words to turn nearly 9 million of his fellow United States citizens to frenzied supporters. It ignores the energy, dialogue and humility that has built the foundation for this admiration. The subtext to this is that young people who support Obama in their droves cannot have any reasoned position but are fawning on a rock star. This video is a response to that as Derrick is an example of many Obama supporters so for every State Senator that cannot say one accomplishment there is a Derrick who eloquently stands for Hope. All over the world we are seeing a fight between a generation whose main achievements are trapped in the battles they fought in the sixties for freedom, human rights or self expression and have since in their arrogance painted progress in their image against the rest of us. It is time for those of us in the subsequent generations to break the death grip that the so called sixties generation have had n our possibilities. Derrick is an Icon for that and it feels sweeter that he is of African Descent.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My Cuba

I visited Cuba as part of a lifetime of dreaming Havana, the people, the icon Fidel and the fascination with the heretic. I had Che in my heart. It was a time when Cuba was open for business and dollar shops were abound. I got to Havana in the evening in a flight packed to the rafters and as usual I was the only black person in the bunch. It was the turn of the century and I needed to visit before Fidel died or things fell apart. I am glad I did . I was the only person given extra scrutiny my passport held for much longer than any of my co -passengers. My disappointment was palpable for I thought I was entering a world where there was genuine equality. I could have turned back then if it would not have been too difficult. The Cuba I experienced was more complicated, it had the good i.e. an educated and loving people, the bad i.e. the control of the Fidelistas, the pass cards they citizens have to carry, the naive open racism that Afro-Cubans face as well as the poverty that people live in, the ugly was the subtle prostitution and a proud people reduced to living by their wits.

Havana smelled like a cupboard full of camphor balls, the fuel used by buses and cars seemed adulterated with something noxious. The crumbling decay of the facades of old buildings hid the beautiful people who naively expressed their stereotypes of 'negras'. I experienced the religion of my ancestors as a sophisticated and open part of life, it was quite inspiration . I engaged Osun and Shango without the darkness and fear that now cloud any open discussion of these saints and the ascription of debauchery that coats any access to their understanding in Nigeria. I evolved in my own understanding of a older form of Yoruba, the Oyo original in which every divinity is explored. Words like Olukunmi, Aku et al now made sense. My eyes were then opened and I was educated about the exiles in Miami and the form of Apartheid that they practised and how Fidel is the saviour of Afro-Cubans. on a person level it was a deep well of insight especially about my relationship with my late mother and many times I wept like a baby tears I never had when she died at a tender age. I came to know love as vulnerability in my journeys through Trinidad, Camaguey and many other places. By the time I got to Cayo coco I was in a groove.

It was quite painful to see my Cubano family excluded from tourist places where my dollars were sought. I moved out completely and lived in a Commune with a troupe of young artists, dancers, musicians who took me to heart. We shared many days and nights exploring life and love. It was quite an education. It dawned on me that the stubborn Fidel had mortgaged his people to preserve an ideology but without him my own people the Afro-Cubans will be totally stuck in plantations. It was a wash, Fidel is no saint but he has done both good and bad.

The fear is what happens now as I do not trust the Fidelistas, they like their counterparts in Miami would like to put the Afro-cubans into a box. I sincerely hope whoever the new leader is takes the best of the Cubano and recognises the diversity of the land. For my friends Angela, Alejandro, Jorge, amongst others i hope when we meet again we will have our usual game of dominoes, drink a whole bottle of Havana Club , light a cigar to the saints and dance to the Orisha, Los Vanvan and cry after a bolero or two. Viva Cubano.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Are we having a Shagari Mark II or just Anti Government

I have tried not to post too heavily against the current PDP regime in Nigeria in spite of my earlier misgivings. It appears its latest decision to rescind the sale of NITEL the former government owned telecoms company to Transcorp (itself a flawed effort to create a Nigerian version of the Korean Cheabol organisations) puts things into sharp relief. Although the jury is still out but, this government does not inspire any great sense of purpose or engender any serious transformative instinct. It trades on the humility and personal integrity of the President without any evidence for believing he has good judgement or any coherent policy direction. We have had this before between 1979 and 1983 leading to a period of fascist rule. On the other hand this government in Abuja might be worse in that it panders to the worst populist instincts of the Nigerian elite which are rampant competition, disdain for process, short term addiction and a rabid anti Olusegun Obasanjo.

The result is that confidence required in any successful economy to trust in Government commitment is being damaged. The belief in sustainability of any Nigerian government commitment has become a lottery in which any subsequent regime can overturn at will prior contracts and projects. This is a very sad development. We are now unable to have any continuity of national agenda even when the voters appeared to retain the same party largely for that reason. When the confidence of the investors small and large as well as voters and tax payers are tarnished to serve the insecurity of the baying mob of cognescenti and glitterati. I wonder how that can be called governing . I think this government is quickly becoming the Anti- government.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Triumph of Amebo

When I was but a young pup there was a sitcom called the village headmaster in which the gossips name was Amebo. So in colloquial Nigeriana Amebo became shorthand for an irresponsible gossip who finds life purpose in sowing division, discord and drama. The press across the world has taken the role of Amebo to absurdity. There was a time when journalism was a noble profession in which there was a clear distinction between facts and editorial. We now have journalists who make the news up as they go . There is very little attempt at objectivity nor a serious effort at debate but the sheer tabliodisation and addiction to the sensational means that there is very little left in the bank for a serious pursuit of issues for the reader, listener or watcher to make up their own minds. It also further shame that the quality of opinions is largely poor and simplistic full of easily consumable soundbites that are trite and rarely illuminate anything other than the egos of those who produce them.

Take the role the press plays in exploiting divisions and differences. my first genuine experience of this was as a young person of how they tried to vilify and generate hatred for my hero Mohammed Ali . He was for them the arrogant and narcissistic black man who sought to live above his station. In their view a dangerous renegade whose faith was dangerous and subversive. He was the whipping boy for this earlier form of Islamophobia. It is quite interesting that the same press now thrives on presenting him as an icon when he has been forced by disability and age to mellow his positions. The same press derided the earlier hip hop movement for Afrocentricism calling it romantic claptrap trumpeting an African past that never was and a dangerous ideology that did not have credibility in the gritty streets from whence they emerged. They laughed at the Brand Nubians, The Native tongue collective, KRS one , Jungle bothers till they helped drum ascendancy to the very Gangsta rap they now criticize.

The more disturbing turning point is the symbiosis with Princess Diana that followed her in life and its arguable that it haunts her in death. i remember distinctly being caught in London the day before her funeral and realizing the way in which press machinations had driven the people into a mob like frenzy in which the streets of London looked like a set of the war of the worlds. The hysteria generated was contagious like a sweeping tide of Ebola or some other kind of virus . People literarily attacked you if you questioned the sainthood that the very press who exploited Diana's neurosis had now conveyed on her. What became clear was that Newspapers, Television and Radio were committed to finding any emotive issue that drove the desire to engage life as a soap opera in which you continued to buy their product to follow the plot, sequel et al.

This journey of a tabliodisation of the media also includes the heavy rotation of 24 hour news channels that constantly seek an angle on the news and feeding the never ending desire for breaking news. This is always couched in the language and the world of simplistic and linear narrative that reduces life's most complex issues into readily consumable dichotomies. Take an example in the so called Obama momentum and the notion that it is a fact that there is division amongst the voters along the of identity lines especially blacks for Obama and Hispanics for Clinton. This simple narrative presumes that blacks are voting their colour rather than they had take their time to truly assess Obama's bona fides and like other voters including white males, working class women, latinos are liking what they see and also expressing their enthusiasm for the possibility that their hopes for dramatic change might be truly embodied in this campaign. It is true to say that 80-90% voting itself is a sign of absolute solidarity but that against an initial analysis that Obama was either not black enough or as a child of immigrant African rather than descended from Slaves he lacked credibility. It is now the same campaign that everyone now tags with the potential of inevitability. For the press the most disturbing result is that even when it is wrong it is right. CNN, Time magazine, Newsweek and NYT amongst many corporate media outlets have nailed their position to Hillary either explicitly or by their editorial positions. This however is often under the smoke of objectivity. In the same token the press refuses to acknowledge that Obama has won predominantly whites states like Idaho and Iowa outright. They neglect to acknowledge the fact that Latino is a multicultural, multinational, and multi- skin- pigmentation , linguistic banner and it only the media and lazy administrators that can create such classification then sow seeds of demographic blood bath on minority status. I often wonder what a black Chilean has in common with a Mexican other than language.

The major problem is that it is the same approach that has now been copied by the media in many parts of the world to great damage. In South Africa the role of the media in reducing Thabo Mbeki into the stereotype of the nutty intellectual who is a stranger to his people has stuck so well. They reduced a complex and nuanced man into a cartoon cut out that the public bought with potentially damaging consequences. They took their leave from their Western colleagues to present his position on Zimbabwe as timidity. In Nigeria the press has made Anti Obasanjo stance a governance standard to the detriment of clear headed and eclectic judgement with very damaging consequence in policy terms for reforms. We now have government whose desire for popularity is shown in how many of its predecessors positions it overturns. We have seen both the Clintons and Blair amongst other cosy up to the Murdoch press like crack addicts to a dealers Hummer. With the exception of Al Jazeera and maybe the Financial Times (on non African issues) you are highly unlikely to read or watch anything other couched in pre-packaged world views. It is now the case that governments aross the world spend a lot of their time and resources in news management rather than informing people. Once again the western approach to journalism has been accepted as the gold standard for a free press. How truly sustainable is this?

It is time to truly start encouraging original gathering of information and a concerted effort to manage the the role of the media in our information rich world. The first place is the role of Afro pessimists in shaping the dialogue around Africa. It is also the time we set up a fact check forum around the African media so that the politics of personal destruction is not used as a substitute for real exploration and dialogue of the issues. Finally it is quite right to start calling out all those hacks who collect brown envelopes or are in the pocket of corporate and vested interests to the detriment of the reading and viewing elite.

Yes We Can