How can one heal from a history one refuses to look at?

November 17, 2008

With the current fighting in the eastern DRCongo, the so-called international community has failed once again to rise up to history’s call. Why is it so difficult to come together for peace, healing and dignity? Are there people in DRCongo thinking and living along those lines? There are. Probably even the majority of the population. Yet, this majority keeps being betrayed by those who would like to impose the dominant mentality–which in its most succinct form states: might is right. In DRCongo, this has played itself out relentlessly against the most vulnerable: children and children accused of sorcery, women, handicapped, pygmies, old, poor, jobless, displaced people, students, etc.

Starting with slavery, the wealth of the DRCongo has been used against its own people in ways which are difficult to imagine. Most accounts of the DRCongo’s situation today fail to make the connection between the current moment and the process that was inaugurated with the dislocations/disconnections/disruptions triggered by slavery. The terrorizing atrocities committed against innocent people today are rooted in similar ones centuries ago. The mind-set that says it is okay to maim and to kill with impunity in the most horrific ways goes back to the emergence of the system of slavery, which nurtured an economic system into its current triumphant manifestation.

Everything that is not at the service of the economic system is considered secondary–as one can see from how the Planet is treated, from how economics has become the most important lingua franca of humanity. The treatment of humanity as secondary can be seen in the way in which the political leadership in Africa is dehumanizing its own people. The so-called theory of trickle down economics does work: from the highest and most powerful places in the world, where it is decided that half a million children dead in Iraq (as a result of an embargo on medicine) is a worthwhile price to pay, to far off imitators (heads of state, heads of militias, heads of gangs, cartels, respected and not so respected institutions) who think that the only way to be respected is to instill fear, softly or brutally, depending on the context.

To those who have been the beneficiaries of this long attrition process, the preference is not to dig too deep into such a history. There are several reasons why this distancing from such a shameful and terrifying history is adhered to. The most important are as follows:

1) It is shameful to the descendants of those who most benefited from the wealth generated by the enslaving process;
2) It is shameful to the descendants of those who failed to stand up against the enslaving process, from its place of origin and all the intermediate places;
3) It is shameful to the descendants of those who feel that the injustice has never been appropriately addressed.

While each of these reasons has triggered other sub-processes, they all have had one common denominator of reinforcing the mind-set born out of a process which was a crime against humanity. Some think it is sheer lunacy to recall this under the current conditions in DRC–because, they say, the priority is to deal with the humanitarian situation. After so many years in the Emergency Room of the international community, should one not try to address the fundamental issues? Those who are allergic to history prefer to focus on the last ten years or so. History is not, and cannot be reduced to, a set of disconnected modules which can be assembled, disassembled and reassembled according to the whims of whoever comes along with enough cash to reward those who dance to the tune of the globalizers.

This mind-set that one must only lend to the rich is constantly reinforced, in case it might be forgotten, with the salvaging of banks and financial institutions which, instead of being sanctioned for the problems they have created, have been rewarded. On closer examination, however, this rewarding of the ones who should be sanctioned is the very nature of the system which has been put in place over the last five centuries. From slavery to colonial occupation to apartheid and to global apartheid, the story has not changed. Along the way, at each transition, it has been reinforced, with the richer finding ways of enriching themselves faster than ever before. First it was the millionaires, then it went to the billionaires. Soon we shall have statistics about billionaires

From a continent that has suffered some of the most dehumanizing processes inflicted by a tiny segment of humanity onto another, one would think there might be some sort of awakening of its own consciousness–an understanding that the healing of humanity will only happen if and when Africans, and particularly its current political leadership, wake up to the outrage they have committed and helped to reproduce against humanity.

Jacques Depelchin

Interview on the DRC crisis with Ernest Wamba dia Wamba

Terna Gyuse, Africa Regional Editor for Inter-Press Service interviewed Ernest Wamba dia Wamba by email on November 17, 2008.

Gyuse: Ethnicity is often put forward as the key factor in the conflict in this region. You have a different view: what is the conflict really about?
Wamba dia Wamba: Strictly speaking, ethnicity or tribalism is a particular mode of functioning of a State–the colonial one that organized, conquered, or colonized people administratively by dividing them into tribes.
When post-colonial States did not successfully solve the national question by transforming consciously the colonial State, it remains a discriminatory State, functioning, in some respects, as a colonial State. Only if ethnic differences are made to become discriminations do these turn into ethnic conflicts. Right now, our State still treats communities differently, even formation of government reflects those differences. The particular case of the Tutsi Congolese had a history of having been State-oppressed when, during Mobutu’s regime, their right of nationality was even revoked. Since then, an ideology has occupied the minds of people to treat them differently, and the Tutsi themselves feel they could suffer again the same treatment if they are not protected. Sentiments of exclusion and of ill treatment make them act in a certain way. The State has not completely overcome those fears and those ideologies in people. The conflict is about power-sharing and access to resources in the situation of a weak State functioning with a discriminatory character. The resources part draws in the outside forces, and the issues left unresolved after the Rwandese genocide– the presence in the DRC of the FDR [Rwandan Defence Forces], genocidaires, and indications of their alliance with the Kinshasa regime–draws in Rwanda, at least indireclty. Other States around, that have suffered from Mobutu’s gendarme regime’s destabilization, want the DRC to remain weak. The West ‘s opposition to the Kinshasa government’s contract with China makes them less inclined to support fast the regime, as they would have done with Mobutu.

Gyuse: The DRC crisis has been “out of fashion” for some time, with relatively little heard about it until the latest outbreak of war in August. What changes on the ground have we missed in the interim?
Wamba dia Wamba: The major change has been that the scale of the humanitarian tragedy has brought it to the world’s attention, along with the increasing incapacity by the regime to settle the war for some time. And, I would think, the attitude of the West in view of the Congo/China contract implications. The conjuncture of the US elections had also something to do with it, as, in the US, universities started actively raising the issue of the silence over the killing in the DRC.

Gyuse: Many of DRC’s neighbours have been involved militarily in the conflict at one time or another — at the moment, Rwanda is accused of involvement and Angolan troops are again on the way. What role do DRC’s neighbours play in conflict?
Wamba dia Wamba: I touched on this question above. Most of them do not really want a strong DRC, and the DRC has not been able so far to develop an interesting posture of good neigborliness with the countries around. Angola made it clear it opposed JP Bemba, whom they believed would have been another Mobutu, and strongly supported the DRC regime. Congo:Brazzaville still houses former FAZ [Zairean Armed Forces] troops, Uganda’s LRM [Lord’s Resistance Army] has been active in the Oriental province of the DRC, at Dungu particularly. Many refugees from Congo are in Uganda. Congolese Tutsi refugees are in Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, etc. Angola was also accused of having occupied the territory of Kahemba, exploiting diamonds. At some point, Zambia occupied a village near Moba. All this is due to the fact that the DRC is unable to exercise its State authority around all its borders. The DRC hardly has a real national army, a real public administration and is thus unable to defend her territorial integrity. The corruption, fueled by the fact that even top leaders are involved in business interests, makes it difficult for the institutions to function well and urgently correct those shortcomings. Funds and materials sent to the war front usually hardly reach there. Food materials have been found for sale in stores in Kisangani, for example, intended for the front! The African Union should perhaps help in finding a neutral team to build the integration and restructuring of the FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo].

Gyuse: In your view, what role is there for these (and other African governments) in finding a lasting peace?
Wamba dia Wamba: As long as they operate within the UN type of conception of conflict resolution, where peace is seen as coming from outside, peace as ‘colonial pacification’, no durable solution will be found. Only a temporary solution. Since the 1960s the end of each war in the DRC has not taken up the issue of national reconciliation with truth. Often, the solution is based on power-sharing, favoring the strongest element and sometimes ignoring the defeated element–i. e., the division among the people is not dealt with and some continue to feel excluded, making it difficult even for the State to function as the State for all people. It is crucial this time that a real dialogue takes place and a reconciliation is carried out. Military solutions tend to be temporary, waiting for the shift in the balance of forces. In the long run, the DRC State has to be rebuilt, some way has to be found to organize a real army and a real administration. Unless people are involved in the process, the outcome may not be a State that is not repressive of the people. The consolidation of democratic institutions may help; so far, multipartyism has tended to be more divisive. The neoliberalism has not made it easier for weak States to really control their resources. The world economy of crime easily links up with corrupt structures to loot the resources and marginalize and impoverish people.

Gyuse: The DRC is obviously of great importance to the world. I’m thinking of the large, lucrative mineral contracts which have been signed — not uncontroversially — in recent months; of the competing strategic interests of various end-users of the resources that are extracted from DRC in both good times and bad; of the UN’s mission in the Congo; and the recent presence in the Great Lakes region of high-level diplomats from France, the UK and the United States… What role is being played by parties from outside Africa?
Wamba dia Wamba: Most of what we know those forces are doing is what the press has been reporting. Very little is really new. Since its creation at the Berlin Conference [1884], the Congo has been an international colony entrusted to the hands of some person (Leopold II), some country (Belgium) and an international neocolony entrusted to the hands of the Troika (US, France, Belgium)–now, US and European Union. Intense diplomacy is being witnessed, but one is not sure that this time a solution favorable to the Congolese people will be achieved. The West pursues its diplomacy on the assumption that its interests and privileges will remain taken care of. It is good if that diplomacy does succeed in dealing urgently with the tragic humanitarian crisis. The fear here is that, given their sentiment left by their doing nothing over the genocide in Rwanda, that they may raise the Kosovo spectre.
The Congolese people will defend their territorial integrity. Obasanjo’s mission is interesting; it might clarify the positions of the opposed camps and may help clarify the issue of the dialogue or negotiations and the terms of those negotiations. The UN mission reminds one of the ONUC [United Nations Operation in the Congo], that of the 1960’s. The government that invited it seems to have changed its mind. Even the increase of troops won’t change much. The first one’s sum-up has yet to be made; it was not necessarily successful. Until the DRC can have an effective army and be able to exercise its State authority throughout, the UN will be only of that much help.

Gyuse: You have elsewhere suggested that the government in Kinshasa has little real influence over the situation. Why is that?
Wamba dia Wamba: Not influence, what I said was that it has little control over the situation. First, because its armed forces have been very undisciplined and very ill supplied due to the disappearance of what is sent to the front; the shortcomings of the military leadership; and the lack of political will at the summit to deal with the real integration and restructuring of the armed forces–including the need for reconciliation to bring back former soldiers of Mobutu and Bemba now abroad or those that have been arbitrarily arrested. It is said that soldiers have been deserting and some becoming mine diggers. Now, the government says that it is going to deal with impunity in the armed forces; let us hope that this will change much.

Gyuse: Who are the relevant parties to negotiate a better future for the country?
Wamba dia Wamba: Within the institutions, they are people who are agitating for direct negotiations with Nkunda. In the Senate and in the National Assembly, proposals have been made in that direction. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has been meeting with the Rwandese, I do not know how much has been achieved. Since the issue should be to achieve a long-lasting settlement, the more the institutions are involved the better. During the time of the secessions (Katanga and South Kasai), President Kasa-Vubu did meet with the leaders of the secessions. It would be good that a high-level meeting take place so that implementation of the agreements could be guaranteed. The government should consult with bipartisan wise people all across the country to get a sense of what is likely to move us towards a better future.

Biso na Biso, une radio pygmée pour préserver les forêts

Reposted from, November 1, 2008.

Le média doit participer à une gestion durable des massifs forestiers du Nord Congo

L’organisation Tropical Forest Trust et la Congolaise Industrielle du Bois – la première compagnie forestière au Congo, pays où vient de s’achever le 6e Forum mondial du développement – sont à l’origine du projet de radio pygmée Biso na Biso. Le média communautaire devrait émettre à partir de janvier dans la concession forestière de Pokola, dans le Nord Congo. L’une de ses missions sera d’intégrer les Pygmées dans les efforts de gestion durable des forêts. Précisions de Norbert Gami, coordinateur du programme.

samedi 1er novembre 2008, par Habibou Bangré.
Le savoir ancestral des Pygmées est une véritable arme pour préserver les massifs forestiers et la biodiversité qu’ils abritent. L’organisation Tropical Forest Trust (TFT) et la Congolaise Industrielle du Bois l’ont bien compris. Elles ont donc décidé de créer la radio communautaire Biso na Biso (« entre nous », en lingala), qui devrait commencer à émettre en janvier. La radio, notamment financée par la Banque Mondiale et la Fondation Chirac, sera animée par et pour les Pygmées du Nord Congo. Ils s’exprimeront dans leur propre langue pour dénoncer les activités forestières illégales et pour transmettre leurs traditions et leurs savoirs aux jeunes générations. Norbert Gami est anthropologue pour le programme social de TFT et coordinateur du projet Biso na Biso. Il précise les objectifs de cette radio, la première à émettre en langue autochtone. : Comment est l’idée de créer Biso na Biso ?
Norbert Gami :
L’idée est venue de Jerome Lewis, un anthropologue de la University College London qui a longtemps travaillé avec les Pygmées. Il a constaté que le message ne passait pas bien entre les sociétés forestières et les sociétés locales, notamment parce que le dialogue se faisait en français ou en lingala, des langues que les Pygmées maîtrisent moins bien. : Quels sont les objectifs de la radio Biso na Biso ?
Norbert Gami :
L’objectif est d’encourager le dialogue entre les Pygmées et les exploitants forestiers en permettant des échanges sur les savoirs traditionnels et modernes. L’idée étant de mieux faire passer les messages destinés à une gestion durable des forêts. Le but de Biso na Biso est aussi de valoriser la culture pygmée car c’est une culture qui commençait à disparaître. Grâce à la radio, les jeunes qui perdent leur culture seront sensibilisés à l’importance de connaître la forêt et à celle de la conserver intacte pour les générations futures. Biso na Biso sera par ailleurs un lieu d’échanges culturels. Les émissions seront traduites dans près de 14 langues et permettront aux Pygmées et aux Bantous de mieux s’entendre. : Quels thèmes seront abordés dans les émissions ?
Norbert Gami :
Le Conseil supérieur de la liberté de la communication a classé Biso na Biso comme radio communautaire à objectif culturel. Les animateurs se rendront dans les campements de Pygmées et réaliseront des émissions à thème sur la chasse, la santé, l’exploitation forestière… Un comité sera chargé de vérifier la véracité des émissions. Les sujets concernant la religion et la politique seront exclus. Pour un début, nous voulons les éviter car dans notre zone nous avons des associations pygmées fortes qui s’expriment dans les médias nationaux sur ces thèmes. Par ailleurs, ce n’est pas à cette radio de résoudre les problèmes politiques. : Comment les Pygmées ont accueilli l’arrivée de Biso na Biso?
Norbert Gami :
Ils l’ont très bien accueillie. Lorsque nous sommes allés dans les villages pour leur annoncer la nouvelle, nous leur avons expliqué que cette radio était leur radio, qu’ils pouvaient passer des messages, annoncer le décès de quelqu’un à un autre village, raconter les histoires de chasse de leurs grands-parents… Le fait qu’ils ne soient pas obligés de parler en lingala leur plaît. : La réaction des exploitants forestiers ?
Norbert Gami :
La Congolaise Industrielle du Bois est la première compagnie forestière au Congo. Elle a fait certifier 700 000 hectares où il applique une gestion durable des ressources. Elle travaille donc déjà avec les communautés pygmées. La création de la radio est pour elle un plus. : Où émettra Biso na Biso ?
Norbert Gami :
Elle émettra dans un rayon de 100 à 150km dans la zone de Pokola, dans le Nord. Je pense que la radio touchera entre 10 000 et 15 000 personnes dans cette région, et qu’elle touchera un peu la République Centrafricaine et le Cameroun. : Les Pygmées vivent en pleine forêt, sans électricité. Comment pourront-ils écouter Biso na Biso ?
Norbert Gami :
Nous avons fait des tests avec deux postes radio choisis avec l’aide de nos collègues de la University College London. Depuis deux ans, les communautés pygmées se partagent ces radios qui fonctionnent avec des émetteurs relais. Ces radios fonctionnent grâce à une dynamo. Il n’y a pas besoin de piles, il suffit de tourner la manivelle cinq minutes pour capter l’énergie solaire et recharger la radio. Ce qui est facile puisque nous sommes dans une zone tropicale où il y a du soleil toute l’année. : Comment seront distribuées les radios ?
Norbert Gami :
Les Pygmées sont organisés en clans. Nous allons donner un radio par lignage, ce qui devrait faire entre 1 000 et 2 000 radios. Nous sommes en train de recenser les communautés semi-nomades pour avoir une estimation plus précise. Les radios seront uniquement distribuées aux Pygmées qui vivent en forêt car ceux de la ville ont déjà une radio.

From Kimpa Vita to Lumumba to the women of Panzi : the fear of emancipatory history in the DRC

As events unfold in DRC, the usual questions are being asked: who is responsible for the current war within the war, which never really ended in 2003, and its ensuing humanitarian crisis? In the pages of one of the most respected dailies of Kinshasa (Le Potentiel), well-known philosophers have offered conflicting ways of looking at, and analyzing, the conflict. Who is General Nkunda, and why has he said that this time around, he will not stop in Goma (threatening to go all the way to Kinshasa)? What is the Rwandese government up to, besides pretending, disingenuously, that it has nothing to do with it ? Why is the Congolese army unable (or is it unwilling?) to defeat Nkunda’s army? Does Nkunda take his orders from Kigali? Or from Kinshasa? Why has the African Union remained so silent? Who is this current crisis going to benefit? Is this the prelude to the final and complete return of Mobutism without Mobutu? What is the UN (and its acolytes in the EU, NATO) up to? Given the resignation of the military head of the peace-keeping mission, one has to wonder whether he found himself in the same position as General Dallaire in Rwanda in 1994. Then the pressure on him from the UN bureaucrats to resign was only prevented (according to Dallaire himself) (1) by his second-in-command, a Ghanaian officer, who prevailed on his boss not to give up.

Any attempt to make sense of the current carnage must factor in the connection between cheap resources like coltan, gold, cassiterite, the warring factions and the war. Yet trying to answer all these questions could take volumes and will not help understand why and how the DRC has arrived at such a point of destruction and self-destruction. Among most analysts there is deep-seated reluctance to look at the visible and invisible legacies of a history which has been, in the main, genocidal and predatory. And not just from 1994.(2)

While looking for the usual culprits at the highest levels of governments and/or multinational corporations, we should not ignore those of us who consume the latters’ goods. Why don’t consumers of computers and cell phones feel compelled NOT to purchase items resulting from a well-known criminal process that can be traced to the extraction of coltan from eastern DRCongo? Is their attitude different from that of previous generations which enjoyed the comforts provided by the triangular Atlantic trade and then, later, by colonial occupations? The visible crimes against humanity today have their roots in the refusal to look at the current triumphant economic system as part of the problem. It is not enough to rant against the usual culprits, be they foreign regional leaders or their international supporters. The process which brought the current political leadership to power in the DRCongo can be traced to, at least, the conditions and circumstances under which Independence was achieved in 1960.

As can be seen by the recent unfolding, so-called “financial” crisis, the reluctance to go back in time to the root of the problem is deeply ingrained. It took a long time for pundits and experts alike to mention 1929, and it is still taboo to mention the word depression. Yet, history, one should know by now, is not unlike nature: it unfolds with warts and all, good and bad, regardless of what historians may wish to edit out. While it is fairly easy to rage and rant against the current cast of regional, national and international leaders for their unrelenting determination to “do away with the DRCongo”, and enrich themselves in the process, a mixture of fear and shame seems to stand in the way of going further back in time in our history–shame in understanding that we should never have allowed Patrice Emery Lumumba to be overthrown, assassinated and disposed of in an acid bath. Lumumba’s elimination was meant to be exemplary in its terrorizing effect on the Congolese people. In the subsequent decades, everything was done to ensure that no political leadership emerge that was inspired by emancipatory politics. And it seems to have worked far beyond the expectations of its sponsors.

In three years’ time, January 17, 2011, it will be the 50th anniversary of the so-called success of having “done away with” Lumumba. The same mentality has been at work trying to balkanize the DRCongo. Like Lumumba’s body, they would like to dissolve it. As with Lumumba, as with colonial rule and slavery earlier, the recipe for dealing with persons, groups or even a country which refuses to conform, in Africa or beyond, has been the same: do away with it. How many Congolese know of Kimpa Vita, who was burnt at the stake on June 2, 1706 simply for having denounced the Kongo king for allowing slave raiding? In turn Capuchin missionaries denounced Kimpa Vita for being a heretic. That was two centuries before Simon Kimbangu’s resistance against economic, political and religious colonialism. Imprisoned in 1921, he died in prison in 1951. Done away with.

The same dominant mentality led to the erasure of Yugoslavia from the map. Similar processes are going on in various parts of the planet. The targets may not necessarily be chosen for access to cheap resources, but at the core, the objective is to target people whose will to be free refuses to bend to a fundamentalist ideology rooted in the notion that economic liberty must be defended at all cost. Regardless of the genocidal sequences left in its path.

Those who might falter in the belief that capitalism is the “best economic system man has invented”, should read the lead article of The Economist (October 18, 2008) titled “Capitalism at bay”. Unsurprisingly, the subtitle is : “What went wrong and, rather more importantly for the future, what did not”. At the end of the very first paragraph, one reads “Ever since [one hundred and sixty five years ago], The Economist has been on the side of economic liberty”. Economic liberty has obviously worked wonders for those who fashioned and benefited most from it, starting all the way from slavery. In all of its subsequent manifestations and so-called self-corrections, those who most benefited have maintained their grip on how it should be run, while allowing a few more into the privileged circle.

The prizing of economic liberty over everything else has taken such a toll that it does keep at bay those who might wish to calculate its costs. Could the fear stem from what might be found? The calculation of human suffering is impossible. In Africa, humanitarianism has been used to alleviate the conscience of those who swear and live by the fruits of economic liberty. As has been seen with the so-called financial crisis, the dominant mind-set shall always find ways of extracting profits even where it might be thought impossible. The financial engineering acrobatics bringing about the current crisis have been used before against segments of humanity that had been ruled out of humanity. How many Africans, for example, know that from 1685 to 1848, France applied Le Code Noir as the legal tool for how to treat Africans.(3) The abolition of slavery did not change the habits which had been ingrained in the populace that benefited from slavery. It would be more appropriate to speak of the modernization of slavery. The financial engineers of those times, with the help of the steam engine, figured that more money could be made by abolishing slavery and, to boot, giving themselves moral accolades for putting an end to something that was not morally sustainable. It never entered the minds of most abolitionists that those they called slaves saw themselves as part of humanity.

France passed the Taubira law in 2001. The law stated that slavery was a Crime Against Humanity. Given what happened at the UN Conference Against Racism and Intolerance in August/September 2001, France’s acceptance of slavery as a Crime Against Humanity was certainly a positive step; but ever since, a backlash has been brewing and broke out in the open with historian Pierre Nora’s blunt reaction against the law.(4) This detour may seem irrelevant to what is going on in eastern DRCongo. It is not, because it reveals how difficult it is to transform a mind-set born out of genocidal sequences (wiping out of indigenous populations in the Caribbean and the Americas followed by hunting for slaves in Africa). Segments of humanity benefited immensely from slavery and the slave trade. In Haiti, France and its allies went even further and insisted that the slave owners and plantation owners be compensated for their economic losses when Haitians won their independence. Such compensation was paid from 1825 through 1946. When President Aristide insisted that the payment should be given back, France, including some of its best known liberal voices, balked. They then did everything they could to do away with President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Luckily, unlike Toussaint L’Ouverture and Lumumba, he survived. But the doing-away machine went to work among those who kept calling for his return, like Lovinsky Jean-Pierre. He “disappeared” in August 2007. His crime was fearlessness and fidelity to the truth process of bringing about a change in the situation.(5)

The lessons of what happens when trespasses of humanity (e.g. genocide) and its living principles are broken, have still not been learned. The corrections, whether at Nüremberg or in South Africa, have always been far beneath what was called for. The same happened with the Rwanda genocide of 1994. To this day, the unfolding of feminicide (destroying women at their most vulnerable and intimate), in eastern DRCongo, the collateral maiming and killing of children, are the direct continuation of a refusal to attend to what happened, at all levels, inside and outside Africa. And, of course, this refusal is, in turn, connected to the wider and deeper refusal to face Crimes Against Humanity where and when they did happen. The result can be observed today, almost like a spectacle. The inventory of atrocities committed seems endless both in terms of numbers and intensity.

The pattern of “doing away with” is not peculiar to the DRCongo. There continues to be a deliberate “doing away with” people like the pygmies, immigrants, women, children, handicapped people, workers, poor, peasants. On a larger and deeper scale, the spectacle of “doing away with” the planet is unfolding with impunity. By calling it a financial crisis, the leadership of the most advanced economies defined those who must come to the table to discuss how to get out of it. According to the defenders of economic liberty über alles, those who have been at the receiving end of its ravages over the centuries must be kept out of the discussion.

At the conference that is being called in Nairobi, there will be nobody representing the women who were raped beyond description, no one who will represent the children. The NGOs present there will follow the protocol dictated by the modernizers of the Berlin Conference. Then it was about carving up the continent between those who made themselves count. The mind-set at work in Berlin in 1884-85 has not changed with regard to Africa. Some day it will, because it has to….if humanity is going to survive.

(1) See the documentary on the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, made by Frontline:
(2) See, for example, Adam Hochschild’s book King Leopold’s Ghost.
(3) See Louis Sala-Molins, Le code noir ou le calvaire de Canaan. Presses Universitaires de France. Paris. 2002. Obviously, we are not referring to academics, but even there, knowing and doing something about it are two different things.
(4) See the article by Pierre Nora “Liberté pour l’histoire” and Christiane Taubira’s response “Mémoire, histoire et droit”, respectively in Le Monde of October 10 and 15, 2008.
(5) After Lumumba’s assassination, a process of what could be called ideological cleansing led to the doing away of anyone who was considered a lumumbist. It included people who came from the same region as his birth place.

Interview with Ernest Wamba dia Wamba on the Crisis in the DRC

Following is an interview on October 31, 2008, by Pambazuka News editor-in-chief Firoze Manji with Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, founder and director of our sister organization, the Ota Benga Center for Human Dignity in Kinshasa, DRC. The interview will appear in a forthcoming issue of Pambazuka News, but we are posting it early because of the critical events now taking place in the DRC.

Manji: After many years of silence about the killings in the DRC, the world’s attention has suddenly turned to the current sweeping of Laurent Nkunda’s forces around Goma. What’s brought about this kind of attention?
Wamba: I think that the change of the balance of forces on the terrain is part of the reason. The scope of the humanitarian catastrophe forces many western people connected with media, with humanitarian organizations and also the rising interest in the situation of the DRC around the US elections. One hears that the incumbent regime would like to create hot situations either to help the Republican candidate or to create faits accomplis for the new regime to deal with. Around certain universities in the US, for example, for the first time a trend has developed to take up the issue of the silence on killings in the DRC. And, we have to add also the need for western capitalists, after the Chinese contract with the DRC government, to re-assume their control over the Congolese resources. We hear that the idea of a Kosovo is being played, but, if it materializes, it will not be for Congolese peoples’ interest but to have control over very important mineral and agricultural potential resources of the area.

Manji: The mass media in the west predictably seeks to portray the conflict as tribal. But what is this conflict about? What are the political and economic factors behind the conflict?
Wamba: Tribal differences have never been a cause of conflict; other conditions must prevail to transform differences into discriminations and these to lead to conflicts. There are of course many unresolved issues since the Rwandese genocide took place and many, including genocidaires, moved maassively to the DRC as recommended by the international community. Nkunda, for example, does use the presence of the FDLR [Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda], still committed to retake power in Rwanda and perhaps carry out genocide, as one reason for his war. The truth of the matter is that we have to distinguish between the main objective–access and control over the resources–and the conditions facilitating that objective—the existence of genocidaires creating havoc among the innocent people, the sentiments of exclusion still felt by the Tutsi Congolese, the involvement of the DRC government with those genocidaires (used as the government’s marines, according to someone), and the possible alliances between business people aligned with government officials of States in the region. Most of our regional governments are actually led by security officers allied to businessmen. It is said that Rwandese businessmen, among others, have been financing Nkunda to keep control of the mines and continue exploitation of minerals–coltan, nobium, etc., very much sought by transnational enterprises producing or distributing mobile phones, satellites, etc.

The subsoil of the whole country–DRC–has almost been sold out with contracts to so-called partners. Quite a few family members of people in power, from the summit on, find themselves on those contracts. One suspects that in zones where there is no firm control by any State, weapons decide everything. In a sense, Kivu is now the weakest link of the globalisation chain. We need to identify the different contradictions converging there. The absence of a real State authority, apparently willed by some who are in the State, facilitates the agents of the world economy of crime.

Manji: What are the roles of Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Angola in this conflict? What’s in it for them?
Wamba: After having experienced the destabilization experiences by a Mobutist gendarme State, many neighbouring countries would rather prefer having a weak Congo around, especially if they can even benefit from that weakness by engaging also in the looting of resources of the Congo. The invisible alliances in business facilitate those kinds of pursuits. Certain officials in Uganda and in Kinshasa at some point did have joint business going on. Rwanda has an interest it uses contradictorily: the presence of the genocidaires to claim that its security is threatened and keeping a situation of anarchy to have access to resources on which its businessmen have been enriching themselves. Their participation in the last two rebellions made them taste the resources available in Congo and in fact want to continue enjoying them in one way or another. The task of organized government in Kinshasa would have been to find ways of legalizing participation in the common exploitation of resources. This process has been very slow and one feels that the anarchy is found more profitable in the short run.

Manji: We have witnessed attacks from within Sudan by the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army]. How does that play into the situation?
Wamba: On the issue of LRA, I do not know much. It would seem to me that it may just be a case of banditry connected with the war zone; LRA has been accused of looting resources and children to carry the loot and use them also as fighters.

Manji: The European Union and other countries are deeply engaged in exploitation of DRC’s resources? To what extent are they culpable in the current crisis?
Wamba: Certain transnational enterprises were identified by the UN panel some time back: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers, etc. The nature of the minerals being exploited in the area can only be used by advanced enterprises, and Africans are just intermediaries. The campaign against the DRC-China contract by the West is an indication of their willingness to control the Congo’s resources. The sad part is that, profitability through bloody coltan being higher, they do not really care about the life of the innocent Congolese, only to reduce the miseries through so-called humanitarian punctual aid–not to eradicate violence altogether.

Manji: Are we witnessing the ‘balkanisation’ of the DRC?
Wamba: The rebels are occupying an area of about three territories. It is not clear whether in negotiations they will accept to give it up. If the DRC government does not succeed in getting that territory back, and if external forces support the keeping of the territory by the rebels, a small but very rich country will be formed and the impact on the rest of the country may lead to a real balkanisation. The government is being asked not to give up to that demand if formulated. Congolese people are firm for their territorial integrity.

Manji: Does the Kinshasa government have any control of the situation?
Wamba: Not really, that is why it has been criticizing the MONUC [United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] for its own failure to arrest the war. Because of the nature of leadership we have, mostly interested in looting resources and staying in power, condoning impunity,etc., institutions hardly function. Most of what it promised to do is not being done, including national reconciliation and building of a real national army. Even the new government being sworn in does not seem to inspire confidence in the population. Much useless dead wood (but behaving as if the Republic is their private property–the so-called the parallel government) has been re-included.

Manji: What should be the response of pan Africans to the present situation?
Wamba: Call for a regional African peoples’ conference, if there is a way to make this happen. What is needed even for democracy to be built in the area is that the people do agitate to really build a post-neoliberalist developmentalist State. In the short run, we should agitate against any possible balkanisation, for the application of the Nairobi agreements, for the exchange of embassies between the DRC and its neighbors Rwanda and Uganda, and for an urgent humanitarian intervention.

Faut-il en finir avec la RDC ? une lecture de l’histoire de l’humanité.

Depuis l’événement du 30 juin 1960, il y a eu une constante par rapport au Congo : il fallait coûte que coûte en finir avec toute velléité d’indépendance réelle. Patrice Emery Lumumba (Premier Ministre) a incarné la fidélité à cet événement. Une fidélité qui ne se lit pas seulement dans ses discours, ses appels à l’unité, sa lettre/testament à son épouse et à ses enfants, mais aussi et jusque dans les derniers jours et moments de sa vie. La force de cette fidélité fut telle que les assassins, après l’avoir enterré, l’ont déterré pour dissoudre ses restes dans un bain d’acide sulfurique.

La rage d’en finir avec Lumumba et surtout avec ses idées s’est poursuivie sans relâche depuis les premiers projets (qui datent d’avant le 30 juin 1960) de sa mise à l’écart. En observant l’histoire de la RDCongo jusqu’à ces dernières années, il est difficile de ne pas se demander si la rage d’en finir avec Lumumba ne s’est pas transformée en rage d’en finir avec la RDC : dépecer le pays comme cela fut fait avec le corps de Lumumba. Ce n’est pas seulement à cause de ses richesses, cela tient aussi à une dynamique et une vision de l’humanité et de son histoire qui a pu et qui peut être vérifiée en regardant au-delà des frontières de la RDCongo, de ses voisins. En Europe, un des exemples les plus frappant de cette volonté d’en finir avec des histoires qui dérangent s’est vue dans le démantèlement de la Yougoslavie. En outre, là où il y a eu des génocides certifiés ou non, on observe la même rage d’en finir avec la mémoire de ces moments où l’humanité fut transgressée. A chacun de faire sa liste. Visiblement, l’effet cumulatif des transgressions ne fait qu’accroître la rage d’ « en finir avec ». Que ce soit sur courte ou longue durée, dans l’espace et dans le temps.

Ce qui se passe en RDC aujourd’hui, en particulier, mais pas seulement dans sa partie orientale, est une continuation d’une histoire qui a commencé, au moins depuis sa « découverte » par les Européens, au 15ème siècle, avec la course aux ressources, en l’occurrence, les esclaves. Cette course aux ressources se poursuit aujourd’hui d’une manière encore plus frénétique : pour une force de travail toujours meilleur marché, corvéable à merci, par ceux qui, comme du temps du marché des esclaves, se sont enrichis en servant d’intermédiaires pour ce qui fut un crime contre l’humanité. Serait-ce excessif de se demander s’il y a vraiment eu abolition de l’esclavage, lorsqu’on observe ce qui se déploie aujourd’hui comme une modernisation de la logique inaugurale?

La logique d’une humanité une et indivisible ne devrait-elle pas amener à poser la question de savoir s’il ne serait pas temps de se défaire de la mentalité accrochée à un système de penser, de vivre qui divise le monde entre l’humanité et ceux qui la dépècent petit à petit et la dissolvent en la lobotomisant. Quitte, ensuite, comme aujourd’hui, à monter des machines humanitaires pour dissimuler l’impact d’un système prédateur qui cherche à gommer ses lointaines origines génocidaires.

Avant Lumumba il y a eu la figure héroïque de Kimpa Vita qui fut brûlée sur le bûcher, accusée par des missionnaires Capucins d’être une hérétique. Cela s’est passé le 2 juillet 1706. Aux yeux des missionnaires et du Roi du Kongo, le crime de Kimpa Vita fut de dire aux autorités du Bakongo, et aux missionnaires conseillers/consultants du roi qu’il était inacceptable de laisser la Traite Négrière se poursuivre dans l’impunité. Saura-t-on jamais si elle a parlé de crime contre l’humanité ? La recherche de cette reconnaissance du crime et l’opposition farouche se joue tous les jours, comme on a pu le voir récemment dans Le Monde où l’historien Pierre Nora et Anne Taubira (Loi Taubira reconnaissant l’esclavage comme Crime contre l’Humanité) ont illustré à la fois l’ampleur de l’enjeu et la nécessaire hauteur à prendre si l’histoire de l’Humanité sera contée à partir d’elle comme un tout, et non à partir d’une de ses parties, (ou de ses avocats), aussi puissante soit-elle.

Ce qui se passe aujourd’hui dans l’est de la RDC est rapporté et relativement bien connu. Le problème n’est pas dans l’inventaire ou même dans l’analyse (sélectionnée) des faits. Une histoire qui présenterait tous les faits dans la plus grande fidélité, et sans apparence de parti-pris, laisserait encore les gens se demander d’où vient cette dynamique ou mentalité qui, au fil d’une douzaine de guerres depuis l’Indépendance, semble déterminée à en finir avec le pays comme Etat, comme Nation et même comme société. Tout dernièrement, des philosophes Congolais cherchaient des explications (voir les échanges dans Le Potentiel). Cependant il semble que quelle que soit la sophistication des argumentaires avancés, ils ne feront pas le poids face aux forces déterminées, coûte que coûte, à en finir avec un pays qui a connu et qui connaît encore des figures fidèles à l’Humanité, fidèles au principe de vie.

Depuis la « découverte » d’Hispaniola (aujourd’hui divisée entre la République Dominicaine et Haiti) par Christophe Colomb, et la disparition des populations Amérindiennes, s’est installée une logique de conter l’histoire de l’humanité fondée sur le recours à la violence et la terreur, souvent décrite comme guerre de pacification. Dans la région des Grands Lacs, cette logique de la voix des armes prime sur tout. Depuis 1994, il y a eu refus de régler la question du génocide en dehors du paradigme de la vengeance. Cette difficulté vient en grande partie de la faillite de deux modèles qui, en apparence, n’ont aucun point en commun, mais qui, dans la réalité de l’histoire de l’humanité, sont profondément liés : Le tribunal de Nüremberg (1945) et la Commission Vérité et Réconciliation en Afrique du Sud, mise en place à la fin de l’Apartheid et présidée par Desmond Tutu.

Les décisions prises à Nüremberg ne pouvaient mener à une réconciliation de l’humanité avec elle-même car, avec Hiroshima et Nagasaki, on assista à la modernisation (comme l’avait intimé Dwight McDonald en septembre 1945) de ce qui s’était passé à Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, etc. Si l’on se met à la hauteur de l’histoire de l’Humanité, de sa convocation, de ses exigences, il devrait être possible de distinguer la double trajectoire consciente et inconsciente, ainsi que la trame qui connecte les deux. Les acteurs conscients, qu’il s’agisse des dirigeants des Etats de la Région des Grands Lacs, des dirigeants de groupes armés, des institutions internationales (ONU, EU, UA) sont-ils conscients de la logique unique qui les lie à ceux, par exemple, qui, consciemment, ont voulu en finir avec les femmes en tant que femmes dans le Sud Kivu. Nommé féminicide par certains, ce crime est difficilement mesurable à l’échelle des transgressions contre l’Humanité. Là aussi il s’agissait, pour les auteurs, d’en finir avec.

L’illustration la plus atroce de l’échec de la Commission de Vérité et de Réconciliation fut l’explosion des Sud Africains les plus pauvres qui voulaient « en finir avec » les étrangers les plus pauvres (mai 2008). Etrangers, faut-il l’ajouter, qui venaient de pays qui avaient soutenu les Sud-Africains dans la lutte contre l’apartheid. L’histoire de l’Humanité n’est pas différente de la Nature : tout est enregistré et tout se répercute, tôt ou tard. Que ce soient des crimes contre les plus délaissés ou des crimes contre ceux qui se considèrent comme intouchables ou qui estiment que leur souffrance doit compter plus que la souffrance des plus misérables, pygmées, sans-papiers, immigrants, handicapés, etc.

« En finir avec » vise non seulement à tuer, mais aussi à effacer toute possibilité physique de reconstituer les principes de vie, de liberté, d’égalité et de fraternité. L’ « en finir avec » a eu pour résultat, entre autres, et patent aujourd’hui, la visibilité de la destruction de la Planète, mais aussi la destruction de l’Humanité par, entre autres, l’humanitarisme. Face à ces assauts constants d’en finir avec, chacun cherche à se protéger en se mettant sous la protection humanitaire même s’il faut, en même temps oublier les appels à la solidarité de l’humanité. L’humanitarisme est le mode charitable d’intervention inventé par les défendeurs à outrance de la liberté économique pour adoucir l’en finir avec ceux et celles dont la présence continuent de déranger leur conscience. Les survivants des génocides certifiés ou non l’ont dit de différentes façons, mais clairement : On a parfois l’impression qu’on nous aurait préféré morts, disparus.

Ce qui se passe au Kivu n’est pas unique au Kivu, l’ « en finir avec» qui s’y manifeste et qui vise la fin d’un Etat est, au bout du compte, un « en finir avec » l’humanité. Mais pour être conscient de l’envergure du défi et de l’exemplarité de la réponse à donner, il faudrait comprendre que l’histoire d’ « en finir avec » inclut les Africains qui, à Haiti, de 1791 à 1804 ont dit, avec un autre vocabulaire, l’inhumanité de l’esclavage. Cependant, dans la logique des « découvreurs », un Africain enchaîné qui se libère de soi-même, recouvrant sa liberté, devait absolument être écrasé, sans relâche. L’en finir avec Haiti s’est poursuivi pendant plus de deux siècles. Il faut s’attendre que l’en finir avec la RDC se poursuive. L’exigence d’en finir avec ce possible de recouvrement de liberté, de vie, est renforcée par la peur, dans la tête de ceux qui veulent en finir avec la liberté et la vie, de ce qu’un tel exemple pourrait inspirer.

Malgré le statut de Patrice Lumumba comme héro national, tout fut fait, depuis sa disparition, pour le présenter comme quelqu’un qui fait peur. Nous entendons souvent parler des millions de mort depuis la guerre de 1997. Il le faut. Mais pourquoi oublie-t-on d’autres victimes ? Par exemple, le contage de ceux et celles qui furent les victimes, mortes, torturées, emprisonnées, de la chasse aux lumumbistes durant le régime mobutiste, n’a, à ma connaissance, jamais été fait. A ceux qui douterait de l’ampleur de cet « en finir avec » les lumumbistes, il suffira de lire les ouvrages écrits par des mercenaires comme Mike Hoare ou d’écouter le mercenaire Müller (ancien SS nazi) expliquer, en souriant, comment il ne pouvait pas se rappeler combien de Congolais il avait tué car on lui avait dit d’éliminer tout ce qui bougeait dans les zones où il opérait.

L’histoire d’ « en finir avec » est très longue et loin d’être rectiligne. Outre les contradictions propres qu’elle produit, elle rencontre des résistances passives et actives, de l’intérieur et de l’extérieur de sa propre logique meurtrière. Le défi de comment mettre fin à l’ « en finir avec » appartient à tout le monde. A ceux qui se croiraient mieux doués que d’autres pour y répondre, il faudrait souhaiter qu’ils résistent à cette tentation en se disant que la réponse devrait venir de ceux et de celles qui ont été et qui continuent d’être les objectifs de l’ « en finir avec » à tous les niveaux, local et global.

How We Fuel Africa’s Bloodiest War

People throw stones at UN peacekeepers patrolling on a road in Kibati, about 16 miles north of Goma

Reposted from The Independent/UK October 30, 2008.

What is rarely mentioned is the great global heist of Congo’s resources

The deadliest war since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe is starting again — and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket.When we glance at the holocaust in Congo, with 5.4 million dead, the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a “tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you.

Every day I think about the people I met in the war zones of eastern Congo when I reported from there. The wards were filled with women who had been gang-raped by the militias and shot in the vagina. The battalions of child soldiers — drugged, dazed 13-year-olds who had been made to kill members of their own families so they couldn’t try to escape and go home. But oddly, as I watch the war starting again on CNN, I find myself thinking about a woman I met who had, by Congolese standards, not suffered in extremis.

I was driving back to Goma from a diamond mine one day when my car got a puncture. As I waited for it to be fixed, I stood by the roadside and watched the great trails of women who stagger along every road in eastern Congo, carrying all their belongings on their backs in mighty crippling heaps. I stopped a 27-year-old woman called Marie-Jean Bisimwa, who had four little children toddling along beside her. She told me she was lucky. Yes, her village had been burned out. Yes, she had lost her husband somewhere in the chaos. Yes, her sister had been raped and gone insane. But she and her kids were alive.

I gave her a lift, and it was only after a few hours of chat along on cratered roads that I noticed there was something strange about Marie-Jean’s children. They were slumped forward, their gazes fixed in front of them. They didn’t look around, or speak, or smile. “I haven’t ever been able to feed them,” she said. “Because of the war.”

Their brains hadn’t developed; they never would now. “Will they get better?” she asked. I left her in a village on the outskirts of Goma, and her kids stumbled after her, expressionless.

There are two stories about how this war began — the official story, and the true story. The official story is that after the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu mass murderers fled across the border into Congo. The Rwandan government chased after them. But it’s a lie. How do we know? The Rwandan government didn’t go to where the Hutu genocidaires were, at least not at first. They went to where Congo’s natural resources were — and began to pillage them. They even told their troops to work with any Hutus they came across. Congo is the richest country in the world for gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, and more. Everybody wanted a slice — so six other countries invaded.

These resources were not being stolen to for use in Africa.

They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole — and slaughtered. The rise of mobile phones caused a surge in deaths, because the coltan they contain is found primarily in Congo. The UN named the international corporations it believed were involved:

Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers and more than 100 others. (They all deny the charges.) But instead of stopping these corporations, our governments demanded that the UN stop criticising them.

There were times when the fighting flagged. In 2003, a peace deal was finally brokered by the UN and the international armies withdrew. Many continued to work via proxy militias — but the carnage waned somewhat. Until now. As with the first war, there is a cover-story, and the truth. A Congolese militia leader called Laurent Nkunda — backed by Rwanda — claims he needs to protect the local Tutsi population from the same Hutu genocidaires who have been hiding out in the jungles of eastern Congo since 1994. That’s why he is seizing Congolese military bases and is poised to march on Goma.

It is a lie. François Grignon, Africa Director of the International Crisis Group, tells me the truth: “Nkunda is being funded by Rwandan businessmen so they can retain control of the mines in North Kivu. This is the absolute core of the conflict. What we are seeing now is beneficiaries of the illegal war economy fighting to maintain their right to exploit.”

At the moment, Rwandan business interests make a fortune from the mines they illegally seized during the war. The global coltan price has collapsed, so now they focus hungrily on cassiterite, which is used to make tin cans and other consumer disposables. As the war began to wane, they faced losing their control to the elected Congolese government — so they have given it another bloody kick-start.

Yet the debate about Congo in the West — when it exists at all — focuses on our inability to provide a decent bandage, without mentioning that we are causing the wound. It’s true the 17,000 UN forces in the country are abysmally failing to protect the civilian population, and urgently need to be super-charged. But it is even more important to stop fuelling the war in the first place by buying blood-soaked natural resources. Nkunda only has enough guns and grenades to take on the Congolese army and the UN because we buy his loot. We need to prosecute the corporations buying them for abetting crimes against humanity, and introduce a global coltan-tax to pay for a substantial peacekeeping force. To get there, we need to build an international system that values the lives of black people more than it values profit.

Somewhere out there — lost in the great global heist of Congo’s resources — are Marie-Jean and her children, limping along the road once more, carrying everything they own on their backs. They will probably never use a coltan-filled mobile phone, a cassiterite-smelted can of beans, or a gold necklace — but they may yet die for one.

The Food Crisis Is Not Just About Food

A paper presented at the 5th International Conference of La Via Campesina, Maputo, October 16-23, 2008.

Preamble: Looking for some principles and avoiding the syndrome of discovery

In order to live one needs to eat and in order to live one needs more than just food. In a world ruled by worshippers of the Market, it has come to be accepted that principles of justice, solidarity shall take second rank to everything else. Indeed that is why one hears more and more often of the distinction between justice and social justice as if calling for the former will not automatically cover those most affected by the growing disappearance of justice and equality.

Given the current mentality, dominated by greed, selfishness and selfish charity, it is worth remembering a few cautionary principles/axioms: Beware of the names given to a problem, to a disease to a person without the consent of the discovered person. Always remember the Arawaks and those who welcomed Christopher Columbus and his party on what CC called Hispaniola. Soon they died of hunger and diseases. Always remember those who resisted the conquest of their land because they were defending much more than their land. To remember requires much more than mining memories and archives, it will take listening with loving attention to the voices which tend to be ignored, to poets, to those who did die of hunger, to those who would like to speak for themselves as they are, from where they are (Pygmees, Ikung, Hazabe).

As Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba (EW) has pointed out, at times such as these, it is crucial to hear the thinking of ordinary people, (e.g.people living in forests or deserts), on how they have understood food security. For example, among the Kongo in DRCongo, Earth is a package of food and medicine provided by God so people can face hunger and illness. During slavery (in the US), slave masters sometimes wondered how the Africans survived without access to what the masters considered food. It did not occur to the latter that the Africans managed to invent more nutritious food than their masters.

The food crisis is not just about food, it is about understanding of humanity and its relation to nature. How the issue is framed or problematized shall determine the process of rethinking and finding a solution which is satisfactory, primarily to those who have suffered the most from the predatory nature of the current and triumphant economic and financial system. For EW, “it is the destruction of Mother Earth and the building of walls between people and Mother Earth which is at the centre of the food crisis. In the process Mother Earth is transformed, sterilized and turned into the mother of profits for the rich. For the victims it is unconscionable that food should be destroyed in order to increase prices, make people suffer while generating huge profits for the destroyers of Mother Earth.”(1)

1. Setting the parameters

The current food crisis in the midst of a multiple crisis should provide a wake up call to all those who are trying to provide solutions by only focusing on food. On first sight, there are at least two competing narratives: on one side there are those who have run the world and their allies and on the other there are those who are expected to submit and accept the word of the self-appointed masters of the world. Formally speaking, the latter set their own agendas via the G8 and the yearly Davos meetings, among other places. Those who are expected to submit are reduced to using the United Nations and its specialized agencies, and the World Social Forum. Soon the Security Council and its permanent members will be changed, but it will not matter since the G8 and Davos meetings have taken care of ensuring that the decisions which do matter to them will no longer be taken within the UN system.

Put in other words, it is not only in justice, health or, more prosaically, air travel, that the class system has imposed itself: there is justice/health for the poor and justice/health for the rich. Indeed, if one looks more carefully, it is not difficult to detect that the super rich would like to separate themselves from the rest. However, no matter how hard they would like to distinguish themselves from the rest of humanity, there is only one humanity. Splitting it apart as was done for the atom will yield worst results than the process which led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Still, more than 50 years later, how many are willing, like Dwight McDonald, to see in the dropping of those atomic bombs as the modernization of Auschwitz, Dachau. Given what happened in WWII, but more importantly, the centuries leading to it, should one not ask if the current multiple crises are not the by-product of the same competition-to-death mentality which gave rise to a political leadership, in several countries of the most advanced economies, friendly to the idea that there was nothing wrong in getting rid, once and for all, of any racially defined group (be it Africans, Asians, Armenians, pygmees, Jews, Tutsi, Hutu). Asking the question does not mean that one knows the answer. In a context in which one can see that the mind-set of those genocidal times are still vibrant, it would be irresponsible NOT to ask questions like who are the slaves, who are the Jews, who are the colonized. Asking this kind of questions will help find out, along the way, how poverty and hunger are created, who name them and why they are so named?

The mind-set which has trampled humanity, under different names, (e. g. slavery, colonization, holocaust, apartheid) has not retreated, it has grown like a cancer destroying the living principle while, at the same time, passing itself under names which disguise its lethal, predatory nature such as bio-technology. Presenting itself as promoting life when it is engaged in the process of killing brutally, softly and all the ways in between. Bio-technology is a misnomer; given the antecedents, its proper name should be thanato-technology: to live on Planet Earth according to death principles. The chain toward self-destruction has no end: To rape, to enslave, to colonize, to seek the final solution, to bantustanize, to ethnically cleanse a country, etc. Humanity has yet to see the end of its genocidal tendencies and sequences. Under the previous submission processes, the responsibility could be traced back to some sort of state authority; but with submission to the Market rules, responsibility/authority seems to be nowhere and everywhere.

Peoples, nations have been enslaved, colonized by other nations, but at the core of the process, the rules of the Market reigned supreme. The capitalist Market has superseded all previous conquering, enslaving, colonizing mechanisms. Indeed, unlike the empires of old, the Market (as guided by capitalist principles) has modernized (automated) the mechanisms of domination in ways imperial powers could never have dreamed of achieving. Through the Market mechanisms, a few former slaves, a few former colonized could become part of the ruling cliques, and, move away from the miseries of hunger and poverty. In times when denunciations of corruption have become a perpetual mantra, the sweet murmurs of the Market and the promise of greater wealth to be made through its labyrinths, gag and/or muffle the few voices trying to change course. Before trying to restrict the food crisis to the last few decades and/or to the usual culprits, one should revisit the histories of those who (since the inauguration of capitalism, a few centuries ago) died of hunger in times when the words food crisis were not even uttered.(2) At least not in the manner one hears them today.

Increasingly, food is only accessible through the Market as is work, education, health, justice, birth, right to exist, right to breath clean air, right to clean water, etc.. Everything which goes into making life worth living, into making a human being worth being a human being, everything can only be accessible through mechanisms controlled by a few individuals, but above all by a mind-set which is accountable to nobody. The market fundamentalists might react and say that this is an exaggeration and that they are just as interested in all of the above objectives as anyone else. As fundamentalists who have benefited from the Market, understandably, their primary objective has been, is, will be, to maintain the prism of the Market as the determining one in assessing life’s value. If the food crisis is not problematized from within the situation, the histories of those who were famished because of who they were (i.e. dispensable), then the exercise is more than likely to provide solutions beneficial to the so-called discoverers of hunger/famine. Historically, the discoverers have never seen themselves, at least initially, as the possible and probable source of problems of a socio-economic nature which are now affecting more than 90% of the world population.

By discussing the current food crisis from the perspective of the last few decades, these very short-term analysts, consciously or unconsciously, are saying that the problem is momentary and conjunctural. It is neither, and has been in the making for a very long time.(3) Sometimes, like now, the time span can even be shorter because of the emphasis on the concomitant financial, energy and ecological crises. This essay would like to address the current food crisis from a perspective which goes back to, at least, 1491. As Ch. Mann has pointed out, 1492 as a starting point of a post 1492 narrative tends to give the impression that prior to 1492 there was nothing worth remembering. The dominant mind-set which emerged out of the so-called discoveries emphasizes only the positive aspects, to the exclusion of any aspect which might blemish its record.(4)

The term consciousness of evil is one which has been used to describe what happened during and after WW II. Fifty years later, one has slowly, but irresistibly slid into a situation which is leading to the eradication of people who stand in the way of total and complete triumph of the will of the richest people of the earth. When Native Americans were driven out of their land, when they lost the material basis of their way of living, they died of hunger and diseases. Centuries later, but this time on a bigger scale, masses of people are being starved, while a few are stuffing themselves, to death.(5) Some, because they are not eating the proper food, others because they just overeat, excited, driven by never ending advertising campaigns. The killing, anti-humanity mind-set has reached such a level of intensity that those who are its victims fail to grasp that they do not have to submit to it. All it would take is affirming humanity and the living principles.

2. The current food crisis seen from the starved

From way back, if one is willing to listen carefully to the historical echoes of those who screamed against inhumanity, one can hear something like the following:

When people were punished through starvation
They protested, but who were they?
They responded:
We are not slaves, we are Africans who were enslaved.
For having spoken they were killed

The generic human being protested
The screams were heard, but
She was a colonial subject
She was jailed, raped, sent to exile
Only for having spoken
when she was supposed to keep silent

The human being protested
Babies, children, old men and women
Followed by animals, birds, nature.
Life protested against death
To no avail
The market must prevail,
Keeps prevailing,
Is kept prevailing
The most powerful so dictated

The habit of not listening to human beings less powerful
The habit of raping with impunity
Led to humanitarianism, a discovery aimed
At covering up crimes against humanity
By those who had refused to listen to humanity
And lost their humanity

From Columbus to today, the discoverers have not changed
They changed tunes to reinforce their mind-set
Leading one to ask:
Was their discovery of humanitarianism
a diversion or a negation
of their own humanity?

Or are they saying there is a humanity
To be understood/represented/defended
–by them or their agents–
Through humanitarianism, charitably
and there is humanity, as humanity
Against which no crime must be committed

They discovered themselves as the best representatives of humanity,
But they are disconnected from humanity,
They have never known starvation
The only thing they understand
Is how to make money
Out of their discoveries
Whatever their names:
Land, slaves, colonies, poverty, misery, hunger.

The history has been known for a long time, but it keeps being pushed back even when, one should say, especially when, it manages to free itself from the shackles of the dominant mind-set. An enslaved person who frees herself without waiting for the master’s abolition or a colonized people which decolonizes itself before it is considered appropriate by the colonizer shall be “taught a lesson”. From Saint-Domingue/ Haiti to Indochina/Vietnam, to Cuba, to Kenya, to the DRCongo, to Mozambique, the lesson has been drilled with all the means at the disposal of the dominant mind-set: from extreme violence to extreme seduction. With the same objective: ensure that fear and/or shame will keep the descendants of those who did try the impossible (and succeeded) to never ever try again to free themselves. More on shame further below.

3. Identifying and sorting out some of the deepest roots of the food crisis

If the current food crisis is going to be resolved for the benefits of those who have been most affected by its unfolding, and in a way that those who have most suffered from hunger participate in the thinking of how to remove hunger, then the food crisis must be examined away and far beyond the rattling of statistical tables which reveal the obvious, i.e. that the poorest of the poor (PoP) (6) have been getting poorer and poorer for the benefit of the Richest of the Rich (RoR). From as long as humanity has existed the former have risen against the latter, but one must resist the temptation of accepting the idea that emancipatory politics will always fail. Closer to us in historical time one must also resist the temptation of accepting the notion that thoughts expressed by highly educated intellectuals count more than the thoughts of uneducated or poorly educated peasants. Being uneducated does not mean that one is incapable of thinking. The Africans who did overthrow slavery in Saint Domingue/Haiti thought better from within their situation than those who predicted that they could not possibly achieve such a feat. It is not difficult to imagine the slave owners (and the Enlightenment philosophers) saying to whoever would listen: what do the slaves know about freedom?

Yet, these are the very ones who, having dared against all odds and all the predictions of failure, did leave us with lessons on how to achieve freedom. But again, the lessons retold by the discoverers and/or their descendants and/or their allies shall always differ from the ones recounted, remembered by the so-called “discovered” and/or their descendants and/or their allies. More often than not, one finds among the latter the most vociferous distorters of the histories/lessons which emerged from the battles against the defenders of submission to the dominant mind set. For example, listening to the history of Haiti as recounted by C.L.R. James or, more recently, Peter Hallward is not the same as hearing it from Alex Dupuy. (7) The RoR have multiple ways of enforcing their views, but so do the PoP too, provided they are convinced that they can.

For any human being, suffering can reach unbearable points, but at the same time, over and over in history, people have shown a heroic capacity to resist and rise above the most extreme forms of torture, especially when motivated by a political understanding of their situation which has disconnected itself from the mind-set which never stops dictating the idea that the way out can only be through the dominant mind-set way of thinking.

Again if one looks at the history of Haiti, it is easy to understand why the slave and plantation owners would seek, by any means necessary, to prove that the Africans who overthrew slavery on Saint Domingue should never have tried: financial, economic, political, religious, cultural and intellectual means were used to convey the message that the inhabitants of Saint Domingue would have been better off had they not risen against slavery. In a nutshell, everything has been done to ensure that other enslaved Africans (or living any subsequent Enslaving system) reconsider emancipatory politics as a viable option.

The history of Haiti is one of the most exemplary one for both sides of the ideological fence separating emancipatory and consensual/submissive/abolitionist politics.

4. The convergence between fear of one’s history and fear of hunger

From the historical record, it is known that the turn over ratio of Africans in Saint Domingue was very high. Supply was cheap and less costly than seeking to improve maintenance. It was cheaper to get fresh bodies and use them to death. The demographic ratio was also favourable to the Africans, free and enslaved ones. From the beginning to the end of the 18th century, the number of Africans went from around 2,000 to about half a million. As in any such situation, a range of possibilities must have been discussed: improve the conditions of work/treatment, including better food, get rid of the system altogether.

However, before going further in our examination, it is important to connect the history of the Africans in Saint Domingue and the Africans from one of their geographical points of origin: the Kongo Kingdom. Only 85 years (about 3 generations) separate two events related to the overthrow of slavery. On July 2, 1706, Kimpa Vita (some times known as Dona Beatriz) was burned at the stake for having tried to convince the Kongo King to put an end to the activities of the Potuguese slave raiders/traders. It was not just a one person enterprise. Those who agreed with her denunciations rallied behind a movement known as The Antonin Movement. So called because Kimpa Vita said that she had received her message from St Anthony. Little is known about the movement following the death of Kimpa Vita, but it is not unreasonable to surmise that memories of the movement survived and may have influenced those who, in 1791, in Saint Domingue, decided and vowed to end slavery. And, it would not be unfair to presume that, as a principle, humanity has genes which are allergic to any form of slavery. From within humanity there are always going to be those pushing for emancipatory politics.

The Africans who ended up in Saint Domingue lived in a most fearsome situation. In order to understand their determination to do away with slavery, one should try to understand what slavery was about. (8) The latter is almost impossible, regardless of the descriptions available either through historical, fictional or cinematographic accounts. (9) The use of an entire Continent as a hunting ground for enslaving people is the kind of trespassing of humanity which, because it has remained unacknowledged, opened the door to further trespassing, not just in terms of the number of people maimed, slaughtered, raped but also because it further reinforced the mind-set based on the notion that competition-to-death, by any means, is the most efficient way of organizing any economy. One shall never stress enough that unless the enormity of what happened is eventually understood, it will be impossible to do anything with regard to the current challenges faced by humanity. (10)

Out of this mind-set has grown a habit of minimizing/erasing what the industrial enslavement of an entire Continent has done. Such a process of slowly building a mind-set aimed at minimizing/muffling/eradicating the efforts of those who, long before it was so proclaimed by the “discoverers”, stood up against a crime against humanity (CAH), ends up distorting any attempt to rise up against some of its most damaging consequences. This minimizing of slavery and its consequences has been repeated at every subsequent transition (end of colonization, end of apartheid).

When the French government passed the legislation recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity (Loi Christiane Taubira, 2001) (11), it was done in a way which was aimed at shielding those who collectively benefited from slavery. How else should one interpret the French government behaviour toward President Jean Bertrand Aristide (JBA) in 2004. The kidnapping was carried out by the American military in collaboration with the French and Canadian governments and their allies, including the Central African Republic.. The whole episode reminded one, more than 200 later, of the kidnapping of Toussaint-L’Ouverture.

It might be asked what is the meaning of this long detour into the history of Haiti for the purpose of confronting the current food crisis? It has to do with resisting the attempt to frame the food crisis from the perspective of those who want to benefit the most from it. In its most simplistic terms, the food crisis is being analyzed, explained within the parameters put in place by a dominant mind-set which has its deepest roots in how it organized the pauperization of those who had defeated the biggest scourge of those times. Indeed it was more than a scourge, it was the embryo of what was to become known under globalization two centuries later.

The Africans, then, understood their situation without political or charitable representatives. Their understanding and thinking of how to get out of their situation was arrived at through their own thinking and, definitely, without the help of the Enlightenment philosophers. 1789 had taken place and did help bring forward the idea, at least among some, that if the banner of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality was going to have any meaning, then it had to lead to the complete and total abolition of slavery. Massive efforts took place, not just from France, but also from England and Spain to try and reverse what the Africans had done. The abolition of slavery in French controlled territories would not take place till 1848. A date which also coincides with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But as stated above, these rights apply differently whether one belongs to Humanity (first class) or to Humanity-existing-through-humanitarianism (second and third classes).

Will the food crisis be resolved according to the discriminatory perspective above or according to an understanding that there is only one humanity? In other words will the question of how to eradicate hunger and poverty be posed by those whose dominant mind-set has generated massive hunger and poverty or will the poor and the hungry frame the questions and provide the answers without the humanitarian/charitable advice of the “discoverers” of poverty and hunger?

It is not difficult to see that the food crisis is connected to other crises, economic and financial (the so-called credit crunch), climatic, etc. It is also clear that all institutions have been mobilized, from the ones which are specialized on the issue (e.g. Food and Agricultural Organization-FAO, government ministers) to personalities like the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan who understand the seriousness and gravity of the crisis. But when all of these specialists meet and discuss, the voices of peasants, the voices of those who do produce food, either for themselves and families or for corporations, are rarely, if ever heard. Moreover, how can people whose mind-sets are responsible for the food crisis be expected to provide satisfactory answers? How can people who see nothing wrong in their mind-set be expected to get rid of, or distance themselves from, the very way of thinking which has brought the inhabitants of the Planet face to face with permanent disaster?

The fear at work in the minds of the above group is not the same as the one to be found among those who belong to the most vulnerable inhabitants of the Planet. A mind which does not have to worry about eating three meals a day, as well as provide food for all members of its family can be at peace while the ones who go hungry on a daily basis often resort to suicide as the solution to their daily miseries (Raj Patel, 2007). An Inconvenient question arises which is not unlike the one which arose with regard to the HIV-AIDS epidemic: could it be that the RoR would rather let the hungry die than discuss with them the best way to resolve the crisis?

5. Fear and Shame: Consciousness of Evil or Consciousness of Shame?

In addition to fear there is shame. While psychologists have studied how to detect people who are lying, there has been little interest on trying to understand why and how, individually and collectively, human beings are eager to hide anything which might be shameful. The fear of having a shameful act revealed to all provides a powerful incentive to hide. (12)

How a segment of humanity has treated others in the past can lead to a sense of shame and the desire to ask for forgiveness. Unfortunately, one is not operating under conditions which are levelled: those who know from their own historical records that they have perpetrated shameful acts are not eager to bring them to the surface. What was done to Africans, to Native Americans by other people in the name of a way of thinking, an ideology, a religion, etc. has been deeply felt unevenly all over the world. In some cases, e.g. France toward Africans and slavery has acknowledged that slavery is a crime against humanity (CAH), but little has been done to reverse the direct and indirect consequences. Indeed, a belated apology has often been used as the most efficient way of preserving the gains acquired through the crime.(13)

Once a taboo has been trespassed, it becomes extremely difficult if not impossible to overcome its direct and indirect consequences. With regard to food, in a world in which people should not go hungry, people do go hungry precisely because it has become acceptable, in a mind-set dominated by a dictatorial free market system, that some people are going to die of hunger. The accepted norm, under the present mind-set, is that hunger cannot be eradicated, regardless of the efforts. The fact that humanity has been able to eradicate certain diseases, including hunger, is not seen as the proof that hunger could be banned.

6.Why the histories of Saint Domingue/Haiti’s are more emblematic than ever?

In their self-congratulatory march to where they have reached, the RoR have always feared what the PoP would or could do if they were to understand their own situations without outside interferences. Along the way, the former segment of humanity has resorted, directly or indirectly, to fearsome practices in order to submit and/or obliterate those they considered less than humans. (14) The process of how Haiti has been impoverished following 1804 is pertinent to how to think about the current food crisis.

Haiti, for example, used to be self sufficient in rice, the DRCongo used to export cassava and many other food commodities. Both countries now have to import thanks to a process which involved the World Bank economists and the US government’s common strategy of liberalization. The process of turning self-sufficient economies into dependent ones has been documented ad infinitum. (15) Aid and charity complement each other as the remedy to the predatory extremes unleashed by the dictatorial rule of competition. (16)

Succeeding where success was not expected, as the Africans did in eradicating slavery, could have inflicted a serious blow to the system. (17) Those who had most benefited from slavery had to impose their own timing: it took another half-century for France to abolish slavery. Timing was crucial in order to tame those who had thought, back then, that slavery was indeed a crime against humanity. Again, as with abolition, the timing for the recognition had to be imposed by those who had most benefited from the crime itself. It was only in 2001 that France finally passed a law recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity(18).

While working in Mozambique between 1979 and 1986, I once had a poster against apartheid: “Apartheid is a Crime against Humanity”. Looking at it a visitor asked what it meant. I remained speechless, thinking it was self-explanatory. How long will it take for the South African government to acknowledge apartheid as a crime against humanity? Or, is it that, in the name of Truth and Reconciliation, the multiple roots of the crime shall be silenced?

From 1962 to 1974, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) succeeded, against all odds, in putting an end to Portuguese colonial rule. Such a success, as in Haiti, had to be reversed. The context, in Mozambique, was dominated by the Cold War. Frelimo had been supported by the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Vietnam, the German Democratic Republic, but also by people from western countries like Italy, Holland and Sweden. As Henry Kissinger stated during a visit to Southern Africa in April 1976, communism had to be defeated in Southern Africa. (19) Not long after that began to unfold one of the most vicious civil wars aimed at what looked like a process of “teaching Frelimo a lesson”.

The consequences of the war have been so devastating that, in the name of the peace achieved in 1992, it has become preferable not to speak about the war. So much so that the silence around the Civil War is now being extended to the war against the colonizers, as if that was the war which should never have taken place. Again, it is difficult not to think of Haiti and what the Africans did to slavery. Today’s elite in Haiti acts as if it wishes slavery had not been abolished, at least not in the manner it was done between 1791 to 1804. Today’s elite in Mozambique prefers to focus on how to become as rich as possible and as quickly as possible, and, it possible that some of them might even be inaudibly saying to themselves that had it not been for Frelimo, they would be much better off today. (20)

Both Haiti and Mozambique are most talked about as very poor countries. Thanks to outside donors, anti-poverty programs do help the PoP overcome hunger and other problems. It is understandable that those who suffered the consequences of war (especially the civil war, 1980-1992) would rather not face that situation again. A question rises, though: should the fear of what happened during colonial rule, or after, lead to the fear of politics, i.e. thinking for oneself on how best to get out of a given situation. Moreover, should the fact that the Soviet Union and all its allies “lost” the Cold War lead Mozambicans to the conclusion that anything which resembles, directly or indirectly, socialism and/or communism must be banished. For ever?

The process of enforcing only one way of thinking with regard to colonial rule and its demise has followed the same pattern as the one which has been observed in Haiti: everything must be done so that a different way of organizing society, production and distribution does not emerge. Differences will be acceptable if they are not antagonic to the dominant way of thinking.

7. Césaire, poetry, politics and history

When Aimé Césaire passed away recently it dawned on many people, including this one, that someone very special had lived among us and had no been heard or understood as he should have been (21). This has happened before and will happen again. Later on, some shall describe him as a prophetic voice. He always insisted, without saying it in this manner, that he was not a politician and that his politics were in his poetry. (22) To a specific question by Françoise Vergès on the relationship between his poetry and politics he points out the following: “La poésie révèle l’homme à lui-même. Ce qui est au plus profond de moi-même se trouve certainement dans ma poésie. Parce que ce ‘moi-même’, je ne le connais pas. C’est le poème qui me le révèle et même l’image poétique.” (Aimé Césaire. Entretiens…2005:47) [—It is poetry which reveals the human being to itself. What comes from deepest within myself can be found in my poetry. Because even this self of mine, I do not know. It is the poem which reveals it to me, even the poetic imagery –jd translation—]

Using statistical data to demonstrate the insanity, the injustices behind the current food crisis will not make a dent in the consciousness of those who are responsible for it. For someone like Césaire, and Françoise Vergès is right to emphasize this point (A Césaire. Entretiens…2005:111-136), the immensity of the wound inflicted by one segment of humanity onto another, through slavery and later compounded by colonization, has never been assessed. Such an assessment is deliberately avoided because of the fear/shame of what would happen to all those who only know one truth, one history: the history, the truth of humanity seen through the eyes and the mind-set of those who have enslaved, who have colonized. The resulting shock of discovering what had been hidden could be overwhelming, to those who are unprepared.

From within this kind of historical narrative, the dominant mind-set is bound to present access to food, health, education, justice as something which is easily available to anyone provided it is so desired. To paraphrase Françoise Vergès, the dominant mind-set (in France) is convinced that the 1848 abolition of slavery was France’s gift to the Africans. This paternalistic mind-set is as deeply embedded today as it was in 1848. Enslavement to the dominant system is being carried out with different means, but the results are just as devastating on humanity as a whole. The direct and indirect consequences of slavery and colonization have never been dealt with. As a result, one hears calls to the poor to change their attitude. It is very easy to promote the idea that the poor are poor because they want to be poor. Just as it is easy to accuse the peasants of laziness. No one among the RoR ever accuses the land stealer, the bankers, the speculators of being lazy, even though, most of the time, their robbing is conducted seating in comfortable offices(23).

From Aimé Césaire’s poetry one has heard, but not yet learned, that living is an art. The food speculators, the financiers, the colonizers, the enslavers and all those who have never seen anything wrong in their mind-set, or in living as an accounting exercise, may praise our Beloved Césaire and even quote from his poetry, but they will do so from within the accounting mind-set, willing to accept him paternalistically, just as they accepted the abolition of slavery in 1848. As stated in the preamble, the food crisis is one of the multiple manifestations of humanity approaching a dead end.

More and more of its members are beginning to sense that when living principles determined by human beings are being superseded by principles anonymously determined by a deity called Market, then something, somewhere, did go wrong. When food, e.g. corn or maize, is being produced for reasons other than feeding people, then, surely, it is a sign that the segment of humanity which promotes such a diversion has modernized, exponentially, what happened during WWII. For the sake of defending/promoting a mind-set, masses of people are being reduced to a non existing status.

8. Freedom without equality and fraternity is freedom to annihilate

The Market, unfettered of any rules based on equality and fraternity between all segments of humanity, can only lead to annihilation of humanity. This is not a prediction. It is happening as surely as the melting of the ice caps at both Poles, as surely as global warming is progressing. How does one reverse a mind-set which has taken hold not just of the speculators, bankers, political and religious leaders? How does one defeat the deeply rooted tendency of thinking that the task at hand is impossible?

For one, the voices which have been saying the same things for centuries must be heard, and acted upon. It is not enough to say that humanity is one if, at the same time, one refuses to listen to some of the voices, regardless of the reasons. When the crisis is as serious as the current one, regardless of the angle from which it is tackled, is it not wise to acknowledge that every single member of humanity has a say. Should one not call and encourage the tiniest voices to rise? Isn’t the wisest course to accept, in the face of Inconvenient Truths, the inconvenient truths uttered for the past centuries by the PoP?

When confronted with the systematic denial of one’s humanity, there is only one possible course: stand up against such a denial. It is crucial that the resistance against the dominant mind-set be conducted from within the principles aimed at a different mind-set. It must be firmly grounded on solidarity. The only force to be used shall be the force of art, poetry and science at the service of humanity.

Artists, poets, scientists must eat too. Freedom by itself does not feed, but freedom with equality and fraternity can. Artists, poets and scientists do not have to congregate in places designated by the Market promoters. In such places, all voices shall be heard, provided respect for basic principles to be agreed upon by those who insist on the necessity to change the mind-set. Among the principles, the following ones could be considered:

• The Food producers/PoP must be heard in their own voices
• The multiplicity of the voices calling for emancipatory politics must be accepted
• No representation shall be accepted;
• Each voice must heard from where it is, as it is.

These are, by no means, the only ones.

9. Healing from fear and shame

The transition from apartheid, even with the help of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), has not lived up to its heralded promises. The recent (May 2008) pogroms against the PoP by other PoP has revealed the shortcomings of the TRC as a panacea, on the one hand; on the other hand, it brought out very sharply the shortcomings of the ANC as the governing party as well as the government with regard to educating and informing the population about the international support without which apartheid would not have been defeated. In that process of informing and educating, the role of ordinary Africans who risked their lives and generously gave all they could, should have been highlighted. This failure, however, must be shared by most African governments because of their common tendencies to disregard the role of ordinary people in the making of their histories. The failure to inform and educate must also be shared by those who, during apartheid, remained silence and profited. As it has been remarked, sometimes listening to what happened during apartheid in South Africa, it sounds as if everyone was a resistant to it.

As with all previous major transitions (from slavery to post-slavery, from colonialism to post-colonialism), the defeated side quickly reorganized itself with the objective of minimizing their losses. In that process they were helped by their previous enemies (now referred to as adversaries). As in Nkrumah’s famous motto, they were convinced that once the political kingdom had been seized, the rest would follow. Yet, in social and economic terms, they found themselves suddenly far from the very ones who made it possible to seize the kingdom, and, much closer to their previous enemies whose main thinking was focused on how to keep the economy going as well as before. And, one might add, as fast as possible, if possible, faster than before.

The fear of the new government was to show that things, in South Africa, would be different from the way they had happened in the rest of the continent. That fear led the ANC leadership to move away from the Freedom Charter, but even from creative principles to provide the Pop with some rewards and, more importantly, a say in transforming politics.

To have a say in transforming politics meant, among other things, as pointed out by the members of AbahlalibaseMjondolo, to speak for themselves and not be represented by politicians. The Pop who live in shacks in Durban, Jo’burg, Cape Town see themselves as the ones who are really defending the principles contained in the Freedom Charter. Democracy means that everyone thinks, that everyone deserves respect and dignity. Freedom must mean that when decent housing, and decent living conditions are not provided for the Pop, they are the best qualified to make sure that their voices are heard, clearly without translators and/or intermediaries, be they lawyers, municipality leaders, university lecturers, politicians. (24)

The similarities between what the Pop, the peasants are suffering across the world call for a reinforcement of the already existing links, for greater sharing of the stories and histories of resistance against what Amit Bhaduri has referred to as the TINA syndrome (i.e. there is no alternative to Globalization) (25). The syndrome is not new. The imposition of colonial rule was presented as an altruistic exercise bringing civilisation to Africa. Forced Labour was presented as an educational exercise.

Emancipatory politics must go hand in hand with emancipatory historical narratives and move away from historical narratives framed by the so-called success stories of globalization told from the perspective of multinational mega corporations and/or financial institutions at their service.

October 6, 2008
This essay was drafted sometime in June-July 2008. The question of naming remains as crucial as ever. The so-called financial crisis is not just about finances, banking, credit. And it is not just about the deregulation of the banking industry. More and more it looks like a deregulation of all the principles which, one would have thought, have made humanity what it is. The reluctance to face history and humanity, as such, in all of its dimensions and complexities, is more entrenched than ever. Only Mr. Market counts, but even it, or so it seems, has grown tired and would like to rest.

(1) Personal communication from Prof. Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, October 27, 2008.
(2) At one time, during its triumphant emergence, the Roman Empire tried to resolve its food crisis by conquering Egypt.
(3) Fernand Braudel and many others since have, rightly, insisted on approaching history from the long term perspective. Unfortunately, such an approach has tended to favour the questions emerging out of the dominant narrative. In the issue of Pambazuka News 383 focused on the Food Crisis, the time depth was even shorter: 1970s. If one is going to make sense of the Food Crisis today, but also try to understand other food crises in the past (e.g. the potato famine in Ireland in the 19th century), the framing of how it has been unfolding should be as deep and wide as possible.
(4) For example, Howard Zinn in his Peoples’ History of the United States can only go as far as providing an inventory of the slaughter of the Native Americans and the Africans. For him 1776 is still the Event. And as the subtitle indicates, the starting point of his narrative is 1492.
(5) See Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved. The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Melville House Printing. 2008.
(6) There is a history of how the PoP did reach that stage has been observed across the Planet and across centuries and generations: from food producers, they were forced off their land and reduced to search for work in an environment in which there was only work for a few.
(7) C.L. R. James, The Black Jacobins; Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, Verso. 2007; see also Peter Hallward’s review of Alex Dupuy’s The Prophet and Power: Jean Bertrand Aristide, the International Community and Haiti, Rowan and Littlefield. 2007. in Haiti Liberté
(8) The importance of this cannot be overstressed in view of the tendency within the dominant mind-set to down play the horrors of slavery. See J. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800. Cambridge University Press. 1998.
(9) In his Black Jacobins, C.L.R. James did try. Fiction writers have tried, from Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons to Toni Morison’s Beloved. Haile Gerima in his movie, Sankofa, offered a harrowing view of what it was like. Still, when all is said and done, I would argue that no one, to this day and with my greatest respect for the above writers, has come any way near to measuring what slavery meant both individually and collectively. I have to assume that such measurement, not just in physical terms, shall one day be possible. This hope rests, in part, on the realization that someone somewhere did achieve that impossible act, but that it has not been recorded in the form and/or in the place where it would get noticed. There are exceptions, most notably Aimé Césaire (2005)
(10) A point cogently made by Françoise Vergès in Césaire (2005).
(11) Its application officially began on May 10th 2004.
(12) In recent times, it has been possible to see how difficult it is to accept that people in very powerful positions can lie. In earlier times, Hitler and his acolytes found out that a lie repeated a thousand times became a truth
(13) France, among the nations most involved Atlantic Slavery, has probably taken the boldest step by declaring, through the Loi Taubira, slavery a crime against humanity. However, this bold step has triggered as sort of blowback against it, particular by historians. See Pierre Nora’s “Liberté pour l’hitoire” in Le Monde(10.10.08) and Christiane Taubira’s response a few days later: “Mémoire, histoire et droit” in Le Monde (15.10.08).
(14) A few weeks ago (in May 2008), in South Africa, the PoP (so-called indigenous South Africans) went on a rampage against the PoP foreigners. It has been the most recent and exemplary illustration of how entrenched the competitive mind-set is. It also reveals the structural shortcomings of the transition from apartheid to post-apartheid founded on the erroneous notion that colouring the RoR in black would radically transform the economic/financial tenets of apartheid days.
(15) One of the most interesting accounts has been given by John Perkins in his Confessions of An Economic Hit Man. 2004(ISBN0-452-28708-1) See also Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved.
(16) That it does not have to be so has long ago been proved. See, for example, Marcel Mauss’s essay Essai sur le don (1924). And also the website of Revue du M.A.U.S.S. .
(17) What was feared was the effect it could have on other Africans wanting to get rid of slavery in other parts.
(18) In 2006, 40 members of the French National Assembly call for the abrogation of the loi Taubira. See:
(19) Glijeses, Piero. em>Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa 1959-1976. 2002. The University of North Carolina Press.
(20) Such inaudible murmuring may even come from the mouths of bona fide veterans of the armed struggle. See Duarte Tembe’s book on Samora (Maputo, 2000). And also the interview given to the weekly Savana (Ericinio Salema and Paola Rolletta) on July 6, 2008. It can be viewed at:
(21) Obviously there are exceptions to this deficiency. There is a difference between knowing someone was special and having understood the true worth of the person. See for example Daniel Maximin’s Préface to Césaire’s Ferrements et autres poèmes (Editions Points, 2008)
(22) Aimé Césaire, “Calendrier laminaire”, in Moi, Laminaire, in Anthologie Poétique, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1996, pp. 233-234; tel que cité dansAimé Césaire, Nègre je suis, nègre je resterai. Entretiens avec Françoise Vergès. Paris, Albin Michel, 2005, pp. 47-50.
(23) There are exceptions. K. Marx being the most prominent one with his reference to “coupon clipping capitalists.”
(24) In its most recent intervention, S’bu Zikode has made these politics very clear. See S’bu Zikode’s speech at the Diakonia Economic Justice Forum. August 28, 2008. Posted on their website: www.abahlalibasemjondolo.