Archive for February 2014

Uganda, the gays, and President Museveni’s two types of hate.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has just approved a bill which allows those convicted of homosexuality to be imprisoned for life. Commenting on the new law, he stated that “No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature. That’s why I have agreed to sign the bill…Outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country. I advise friends from the west not to make this an issue, because if they make it an issue the more they will lose. If the west does not want to work with us because of homosexuals, then we have enough space to ourselves here.”

There is no question that Museveni, at the very least, hates gay people and holds them in the lowest and most violent possible contempt, and so there is no need or reason to appeal to any last vestiges of his compassion. If anything, it is probably sensible to anticipate an escalation of his anti-gay rhetoric, given that the next presidential election is in 2016. It would not be too cynical to see this new law as the opening gambit in his campaign.

Why does Museveni hate gay people? Well, it’s hard to know for sure. They may well fill him with revulsion. But there are plenty of people under his rule whom he probably finds similarly revolting, yet whom he has not found it politically useful to isolate and vilify. For example, he is not particularly fond of the Acholi, the tribal group to which I belong and which his party has described as no more than “biological substances”, to be eradicated like germs. Following Museveni’s rise to power in 1986, he orchestrated a persecution of the Acholi so comprehensive in its cruelty that he destroyed a generation. His soldiers hounded one and a half million people into camps in the North. They embarked upon orgies of rape and torture, spreading HIV/AIDS as they went, and skilfully allowed Joseph Kony to take the rap.  Their work was so thorough, so methodical, that, to quote from an Acholi Times article of June 2011, “Northern Uganda is the worst place on Earth to be a child today…According to Oxfam, the rate of violent death in northern Uganda is three times worse than Iraq’s.” The article, “Genocide in Uganda: The African Nightmare Christopher Hitchens Missed”, is excellent and can be read in full here.

What does all this mean? And how has this suffering been so effectively concealed from the world’s media? Well, for that we can thank President Museveni’s masterful control of public relations; for, rest assured, whatever most people are thinking about him right now is precisely what he wants them to. Back in the Eighties, when he had come to power and was seeking Western legitimacy and countless millions of investment, it served him well to present himself as the progressive face of East Africa, a man the West could do business with.  Now he has taken a careful look at his country’s accounts, and no doubt his own, and realised that he no longer needs the colonial shilling of which he was once so conspicuously fond. Now he is styling himself as the brave liberator, the African Che freeing his continent from the gays. And, as he does so, he can congratulate himself on almost thirty years in power during which his despotism and vast accumulation of wealth attracted remarkably little negative comment. He is settling now into the role of the jovial old dictator, most strikingly depicted by The Economist in their October 2013 profile of “the Gentleman Farmer”. As this newspaper then wrote,

“Comparisons between Mr Museveni and Idi Amin, the Ugandan “president for life” who butchered tens of thousands of his people in the 1970s, have become more common. Mr Museveni is a lot less brutal but shares the same love of power.”

The assessment that President has been “a lot less brutal” is, with reference to his treatment of Acholi, an increasingly generous one. He is unquestionably far more efficient in the disposal of his enemies than Amin, who died in exile in Saudi Arabia, ever was. Most major Western government who are horrified at Museveni’s latest manifestation of his hatred cannot say that they or their predecessors did not see it coming: for, after all, he has terrifying form in this respect. From President Museveni’s contrasting approach to gay people and to the Acholis, we can conclude that he has two types of hate.  If he merely despises you, he will tell the world; but, if he thinks you’re truly dangerous, he won’t tell a soul.

 

On Jordan Davis: the wasted energy of the black teen.

When I read of the death of Jordan Davis, the black teen shot following a dispute over the loudness of the “thug music” played in his friend’s car, my first reaction was an exhausted sigh. The wells of fury and anguish are finite, and with each such injustice they evaporate a little more. As a black teen, it takes so much energy trying not to appear dangerous. It starts with planning your wardrobe, where you must avoid wearing the hoodie, a homing beacon for trouble. It moves then to the pace with which you make your way about town; neither not too slowly, else you will be accused of loitering, nor too swiftly, else you will be identified as shifty. Be polite, patient and courteous with the police as if you were meeting the Queen.  When questioned on what you are doing in the area, respond with the earnest diligence of an asylum seeker arriving at Customs, even though you may have lived in said area for most if not all of your life. When walking through the misleadingly open entrance of an esteemed institution where you do not apparently belong, wander over to the concierge to ask how you should make your way about the venue, even though you may have been there several times before. This is you giving the reassuring signal that you are grateful, nay privileged, to be on such unfamiliar and rarefied terrain.

All of this energy is wasted, because the people you are trying to persuade or accommodate are already convinced, at some level, of who or more accurately what you are. But use this energy anyway, because you will never be sure; and, if anything goes wrong in these situations, which any other person would recognise as merely trying to get from A to B, then you will only blame yourself.

On floods, and rising sea levels: “The Creep”.

I wrote this poem a while back about floods, climate change and rising sea levels, and thought I’d share it now, as it seems relevant.  If you find it of interest, please share.

———————————–

The creep.  I spent a sleepless eve

Beneath creased bedsheets, and I breathed

An anxious breeze, a worried wind:

I panted – my thoughts, hurried – things

Were inching closer, so it seemed:

The moon glinted; it had once beamed

Benignly at me; sign of what

I did not know; I closed window

Despite the night-time’s stifling heat,

Hiding from moon: just like a fleet

Of clouds might hide the sun from us,

My curtains hid me from the dusk

And thus I lay in darkness –

In room humid as closed casket:

But, in here, I felt no safer;

My room’s walls were thin as wafers,

And, through them, I heard in distance

Some small sound, growing, insistent

With each piston of my heartbeat,

Creeping towards me, my parched sheets;

I had heard this creep for weeks, for months –

At work, I’d talked about it once

But all I received was colleagues’

Jibes that I needed a life:

That didn’t stop me hearing it

Or fearing it.  And here it came:

Tapping my eardrums like first rain-

Drops on a nervous pane of glass

That knows the storm’s approaching fast…

I could not just wait there for it

Nor could I ignore it; so I,

Throwing on my overcoat,

Went to front door, opened it, closed

It behind me hard, with a slam

To drown that sound, and then I ran

Up to the broken traffic lights

Which lit the crossroads; flashing bright

Green, amber, red in rapid strobe,

They winked at cars, who never slowed

Down to return these urgent flirts;

And as I stood there, with the church

Across from me and the vibrant

Neon sign of some off-licence,

I heard something – no, that’s a lie:

You won’t believe me, but I’ll try

To tell you what I heard: my mind

Had amplified, well, every sound

Across the world.  In every town,

Be it Lisbon, Brisbane, Beirut,

I heard each noise: I could hear troops

Marching in the Congo, groups

Of French teens smoking bongs, those suits

In Swiss board meetings, with their knives

Sharpened, to backs to be applied…

Why did my ears offer me

This cacophony, that deafened

Me like blast from weapon?

I heard private sorrows, sobs, tears –

It was like I’d borrowed God’s ears…

Wait – there was more that I could hear:

I heard atoms in Korea

Splitting savagely in some test

To create some man-made sunsets;

Somewhere, polar bears were drowning;

Urban roads were overcrowding –

Whether on weekdays, or Sabbaths –

With hordes of metallic mammoths;

I heard jet planes farting carbon,

Arson’s roar in forest fires,

Heard the laughs of arms suppliers

As they sold death without bias

To either side of a conflict;

Heard the anguish of a conscript

In some war-torn Middle Eastern

State, who’d just killed without reason…

But, in midst of all this din,

I heard that sound, tiny, yet grim –

The creep of each tide up each shore

Higher than it had crept before –

Each creep up each beach was either

Just one or two millimetres;

Whilst we engaged in wars of words

Or worse, this creep went unobserved:

What was causing it?  I focused

My ears, so that I could know this –

Fixed my hearing on a target

In far corner of the Arctic,

And I found source of this creeping:

I heard one huge iceberg, weeping,

Shedding itself in grief’s gallons

Into sea for no apparent

Reason; then I listened more

And all became a little more

Haunting, as these teardrops echoed

Around this deserted ghetto…

It seemed that the sun had kidnapped

Icebergs that it would not give back –

So this iceberg mourned its siblings.

With tears’ torrents, it was shifting

Tides towards us, and our coasts

So soon the coasts would be as close

As our front doorsteps; but the creep

Went unheard by the people.  Meek,

Made humble by this distant threat,

I did what these seas did – I crept

To my room, that tomb,

And I slept.

UK floods: the heart attack after not going to the doctor.

Floods are causing distress throughout many parts of the UK, and I am fortunate that the only discomfort that I am feeling is severe frustration. I may find it difficult in the next few paragraphs to articulate my fears, so I apologise for any lack of clarity in advance.

I cannot believe that we are still here, in 2014, largely dismissing the possibility – or, in my view, the probability – that the extreme weather events we have seen recently are the result of climate change accelerated by the human race. I actually cannot believe it. In 2006, when a work colleague alerted me to this issue, I went away and read as much of the science around this issue as I could. I didn’t want to acknowledge the enormity of the growing problem at first: the range of challenges that our world would face was overwhelming. For some reason, though, the threat which stood out above all was that posed by rising sea levels. I think, quite simply, because this is the worst thing about floods: they meet you in your home, at your doorstep. There’s nowhere else to run after that, when the danger is lapping at the entrance of your refuge.

And this is where I feel such frustration. I feel the same frustration that I might feel if I had been telling a friend for months to go to the doctor to get that terrible chest pain of theirs checked out, and they ignore my concern only to suffer a heart attack. And my feeling is exactly this: a grim concern, not the detached smugness of “I told you so”, but a worry that they may not be able to recuperate, since the health problem may be too far gone. Because we have wasted so much time. We have wasted so much time indulging xenophobia at the imaginary floods of Romanians and Bulgarians from the EU whilst the very real floods have been arriving with increasing insistence each year. We should have been looking instead at how we could adapt to a world where extreme weather events are more and more common.

Climate change is not, in the end, a political issue. After all, those floods will happily converge on the homes of liberal and conservative voters alike.  The key question, in my view, is whether we will make smart estimates about the funding needed to mitigate the effects of such floods in future. Otherwise, I wonder how just many more warnings we will need.

The War on Empathy

When people talk of war, the first image conjured is often of a battlefield thousands of miles away, greeted by the steady rainfall of bombs.  But there are other more subtle wars taking place each day, which can be brutal in their effects upon any given individual. One of these, which has become particularly vicious in this time of global economic discontent, is the war on empathy.  The war on empathy, waged by politicians who lack the imagination or the sensitivity to think of compassionate solutions to the world’s problems, dictates that every time that society suffers as a whole, a smaller and defenceless group must be identified by political rhetoric or policy as the culprit.  The war on empathy dictates, for example, that the lack of jobs is not attributable to the financial crash or the automation of many occupations, but is instead the fault of immigrants coming to our shores and stealing them.  The war on empathy is waged by soldiers who lack any emotional connection with people whose monthly wages have fallen far behind inflation and the cost of living.  It is waged by soldiers who look contemptuously upon those who have not attained their own levels of affluence or social status, and accordingly punish them for it. The war on empathy commits acts of structural violence against its targets, and it is the most dangerous bombless war that you will ever see.

“Helpless”, about climate change

Climate change is consistently claiming the headlines these days.  Many people are not convinced that the recent extreme weather events are anything to do with our pollution of the environment; many others are convinced, but I suspect are feeling helplessness and resignation about a problem that feels too big to address.  I wrote this, “Helpless”, in the hope that it might resonate with some of them.

————

It’s hard not to be selfish
If you feel helpless
If you know the ice shelf’s melting;
Have to look elsewhere, stare at the twelve-inch;
Quick, give me sports statistics to delve in…
Bring it to my doorstep,
Grinning from the tabloids’ foreheads,
Morbid – more wars – more deaths –
I will ignore it, as forceful as storms get;
I will not witness the torment….
Pardon: I can’t watch what I can’t stop,
And I can’t put the oil back, refreeze the seas,
Or uneat the meat,
Or unburn the coal,
Or unfly the planes,
Or unbirth the souls;
So:
I’m not about to halt what I can;
No, I’m off to grab hold of and gulp what I can;
Some will bet that I could have done better
But can’t say I never made an effort;
See, I’ve called on those above us, but none replied
So now all I do is cover eyes:
Now all I do is cover eyes