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Back and Forth – From Africa to Haiti to Gaza – Fidelity to Humanity

BACK AND FORTH
FROM AFRICA TO HAITI TO GAZA:
FIDELITY TO HUMANITY

Jacques Depelchin

First , not quite, but we have to start somewhere,
There were the Arawaks, the Caribs and the Amerindians
Then their land became known as Hispaniola,
As Saint Domingue, as the economic jewel
Of French overseas possessions
Thanks to Africans kidnapped, chained, shipped
Processed, codified, stamped as property
While always knowing they belonged
To no one but humanity
And through fidelity to humanity
Turned Saint Domingue into Haiti
Fraternity, equality and liberty
Their only motto

Defeating the obscurantist
Philosophers of the Enlightenment
For thirteen years, 1791-1804
Without support
From humanitarian abolitionists
Defeating the most powerful armies of the day
Spain, England, France
Fidelity to humanity
Their only prescription

Plan B was out of the question
Humanity had to prevail
But its sworn enemy had a plan B:
With lethal vengeance
Napoleon reinstated slavery
Take no prisoners, his motto
Severe, if necessary, capital punishment
Against the trespassers of
Nascent capital yet to be named
Capitalism the crusher of humanity

With exemplary brutality
Long before the birth of Gaza-upon-Mediterranean
Haiti was turned into the poorest nation
–Gaza-upon-Atlantic–
for having dared simply
To challenge and obsoletefy
The Black Code of Louis XIV
Rules of engagement against/for
Slaves balancing terror, torture, fear, death
Ensuring the endurance of slavery
beyond the monarchy
Thanks to self-proclaimed emperor
Napoleon Bonaparte the impostor

Plan B prospered so well beyond
Napoleon’s dreams of restoring slavery
We may all ask, maybe naively
Had he known his treatment of Africans
Would later inspire Hitler’s
Holocausting of the Jews
Would he have seen Africans
As humanity and not as property?

Not every French was/is a fan of slavery’s restorer:
Taubira Law of 2001 declares
Slavery a Crime Against Humanity
Could it be that France might
Be restoring Fidelity to Humanity?

But could it be too late when
Humanity or those who pretentiously
Speak for it refuse to know
The distinction between
Might and right;
Right and wrong;
Charity and solidarity

Could it be too late when
Survivors and/or their descendants
Of an unthinkable crime think
The best way to stand up for humanity
Is to slaughter/bomb humanity as deliberately
And brutally smart as possible?

Could it be too late when
Slaughtering humanity
Can be done with impunity
Thanks to a genocided past
As if anything can be traded, erased,
Commodified, genetically modified
To fit a globalised paradise
Where no one will know
The difference between
Gaza-upon-Atlantic
Haiti-upon-Mediterranean
Except for those who vowed
Fidelity to humanity

Can’t we see the obvious consequences of
Relentlessly violating humanity
Now Palestinians, then Africans centuries ago
Today displaced, refugees, best fodder
For humanitarian missions
The modernized version of abolitionists
On a mission which has not changed:
Violate humanity,
Eradicate it if too vocal
But Sabra, Shatila can still be heard

Palestinians are full members of humanity
Homelessed in their homeland, denied existence
By all means, constantly searching
For the ultimate way
Of getting rid of them
Their annihilation will not be called
A Crime Against Humanity because,
By definition, it has been repeated forever,
It only happens at Auschwitz, and other
Concentration camps in a World War

Palestinians are like Native Americans
Whose land was taken, whose genocide
Refuses to be called a genocide
Palestinians, Africans interchangeable destinies
Torn from their land, thrown into ships,
Refugeed in strips of land
Enslaved, imprisoned, less than property
Therefore not fit to come under
A crime against humanity

Palestinians, Africans, in the same boat
When the unending story of negating humanity started
Like Africans they are being processed and branded
Fit to be fodder for humanitarian crisis because what is being done
Must not be called
A Crime against humanity

For fear of trespassing which taboo?

No one dares to call the slaughter of civilians
In Gaza by its proper name
A Crime Against Humanity

For fear of trespassing which taboo?

From the times of the Arawaks
Violating, torturing, liquidating
Humanity with impunity
Has led to greater and greater
Crimes against humanity
Franchised differently
Preparing the biggest holocaust
Humanity has ever known and,
When that unfolds, as before,
We shall hear the usual
Shameful lame lie
“We did not know”.

Jacques Depelchin
Ota Benga Alliance for Peace, Healing and Dignity
Salvador/Bahia/Brasil
January 12, 2009

Will President Obasanjo call on truth tellers in his mission in DRC ? (1)

Former Nigerian President, General Obasanjo, has been appointed by the UN Secretary General to be his representative in the DRCongo. His major task is to put an end to the current fighting between rebel general Nkunda and his CNDP [National Congress for the Defense of the People] and the government troops of the DRC. Since 1996, the people in the eastern part of the country have never really experienced complete, sustained peace. The hope brought about by the signing of the peace agreement of 2003 did not materialize in a sustained way. There are many reasons for this (see Prof. Ernest Wamba dia Wamba’s most recent interviews on this website). The question in almost everyone’s mind in the country is whether this mission will produce the same results as the previous ones—namely, a temporary peace, followed by another round of fighting. For things to evolve differently, Obasanjo would have to do his best to call on those who have constantly been marginalized in the process of healing the country, not just since 1996, but at least from as far back as 1960.

Like others before, Obasanjo has said that he will talk to all parties. Of course, he has in mind the ones who are currently fighting. Like others before, he is setting a course which will ignore the most important party. This party is made up of many, but they all have one thing in common: they are despised by those in power and/or by those aiming to seize power by any means necessary—fair, foul and in-between. The most visible among the despised people are the ones running for their lives, caught between the fighting parties (or their armies). Then there are those who have been decreed with or without consensus as the nameless, voiceless, homeless, jobless. They are humanity in all of its diversity: babbling and mute babies; haggard children with bloated tummies; barely walking old people; pregnant women, each with a child on her back and a load on her head; raped, bleeding, dying women; the sick, the just born, the near dead. Hopefully, some day, a painter (one who will survive from among them) shall immortalize these Damned of the Earth trying to keep death at bay. Inside each of them is humanity in all of its resisting splendor, but on the outside their pain and misery can only trigger humanitarian charitable mumblings among the richest of the rich of the Planet. They would rather donate their wealth to their bankers, even at the risk of losing it all. Between salvaging humanity and salvaging those financial institutions that have squeezed (or massacred as Fanon put it back in 1961) every drop of blood and sweat out of its multiple and diverse members, the richest of the rich have shown where their heart (money) is.

These richest of the rich should be called the executioners of humanity. The images of humanity on the road, suffering, dying, barely breathing is a perfect illustration of humanity heading toward extinction. Humanity they are, but not for those who have labeled them the greatest humanitarian crisis of the DRC. These negationists of humanity who present themselves in humanitarian clothes belong to the same family of rhetoricians who, in a search for shocking words, called the war in DRC the first African World War (1998-2003). As often happens, such display of high moral ground distorts our history. During slavery, every “civilized” country was involved in what the French parliament has called a Crime Against Humanity (Law Taubira). England, France, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, countries bordering the Indian Ocean, the United States, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Brazil. Wasn’t that crime the first World War ever? Wasn’t that the holocaust which the same bleeding humanitarians refuse to certify as such?

To be named or to be baptized/branded, as happened to many Africans landing at their destination on the other side of the Atlantic, has been part of the process of losing one’s identity and having the newly imposed name maintained for the sake of the enslavers/colonizers/globalizers’ tranquility and sense of moral superiority. But that is not how the globalized world likes to look at the history that has led the DRCongo and humanity to this point. Their argument usually goes something like this: one cannot apply the morals of today to what happened centuries ago. But isn’t the humanity which is running for its life on the roads of eastern DRCongo the same which, centuries ago, was trying to run away from wars triggered by the search for THE commodity of those days: African black humanity? Each member of the latter saw then, as each member sees herself or himself today, as a full member of humanity, not just African black humanity. The commodity of choice has changed, but in order to access it, humanity has to be subjected to genocide, slaughtered, maimed, and silenced so that the same kinds of profits can be made for a system which has been consolidated, and, from the look of it, gone beyond control.

Between all the parties Obasanjo will call to the table and all those who are organizing the party, who, confronted with such an onslaught on humanity, can really say that they are on the side of those who continue to remain nameless, voiceless, homeless? Each one, among the latter, knows that he/she has a name, a voice, has/had a home, has/had a family, has/had a life, has/had a job. Like the ones who were dragged to the waiting ships, the ones from North-Kivu have asked what wrong have they done, why do they deserve to be treated as if the consensus is for them to be dead.

Will General Obasanjo be willing to ask himself why no one seems to be able to resolve the never-ending crisis in the DRC? Will he take time to go beyond the usual bureaucratic routines imposed by the logical mind-set of the Market? Will he pose questions and tell himself that he has to listen to, to call on, those who, since 1960 and many centuries before, have never been called to discuss their future? They were not asked who should be enslaved and who shouldn’t. When the enslavers decided to abolish slavery, those who had suffered from that Crime Against Humanity were not asked to sign on to the decrees. Abolition was a humanitarian gift…Or was it a poisoned chalice? (2)

When Africa was parceled out in Berlin in 1884-5, not a single representative of African black humanity was called to the table. When the so-called WW I and WW II broke out, the same African black humanity was dragged into them by their colonizers and colonizers’ allies but were not asked for their opinion.

The history of how one overwhelmingly wealthy and powerful side of humanity has treated another side of humanity has been known for a while. It is a history of a humanity that has been de-skilling (3) itself, becoming increasingly less of itself. It has been turning part of itself into humanity-less-ness, humanity without weight, weightless humanity. More and more members of humanity are being pushed into the ranks of weightless humanity, a humanity which does not count, except as second or third class. As they say in French, “ils ne font pas le poids”. They do not make the cut—at least in the currency of those who decide who shall live and who shall die. Yet, it is this very mentality which shall wipe out everyone. Not just in the eastern DRC.

It is known that weightless humanity can speak, and with unmatched eloquence. It is in their ranks that Obasanjo will find the Truth tellers (as in the late Ahmadou Kourouma’s play Le diseur de vérité (4) —Truth Teller). There are many tellers of truth in DRC, but collectively they do represent the Truth Teller of Kourouma’s play. Willy Kabwe’s essay on how easily people in Kinshasa lie should have gone on to explore how the truth has been kept, maintained. After all, the fact that he could distinguish between lies and truth makes him one of the Truth Tellers.

Jacques Depelchin
November 26, 2008

(1) Part of this essay was inspired by a column written by Wily Kabwe in the Kinshasa newspaper Le Potentiel of November 22, 2008. This is not a translation of the french essay with the same title.
(2) Responding to this question would require another essay. The question is posed in that manner because what followed abolition ensured that those who had most benefited kept all the privileges and accumulated wealth, including the cultural, social, political and ideological superiority derived from slavery. One of the most incurable outcomes, racism, will take many more generations to eradicate.
(3) The term is borrowed from Harry Braverman’s work Labour and Monopoly Capitalism (1974). For a critical discussion on de-skilling see: http://www.whywork.org.uk/workorg_3.htm

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