Friday 6 December 2013

Rest well, Madiba

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

(Extract from I am Prepared to Die – Nelson Mandela’s statement from the dock at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, 20 April 1964)

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Out of the mouth of babes!

Did s/he just say that?

How may times have you been regaled about the early verbal adventures and the profound statements made by their 2 or 3 year old and you thought, hmmm surely mummy or daddy are embellishing a bit there? 

Anyway, I can assure you, seeing as that time is upon with our 2 year-old. Perhaps jolted into action by the early arrival of his brother, E has started making some of those unexpected and mostly smile inducing pronouncements and observations.

For instance, the other day, as he was walking through a mall with mummy, he randomly called a total stranger Chad. There was no doubt as he actually pointed at this 'Chad'. Glad to say the man took it in good humour and found it amusing! 

We certainly do not know any Chad and in fact have rarely ever come across the name here in Ireland. 

We figured that the only other place he could have come across this name was in creche, where perhaps there's a delivery or handy man called Chad (all staff in his creche are female). If this was a just random name he picked up, we are none the wiser why he went for Chad instead of the locally ubiquitous Sean, Patrick or Conor, etc?

Perhaps a perfectly plausible explanation is that he's been secretly watching those American soaps or reality TV shows in which Chads are a dime a dozen!

And then a couple of days ago, he asked mum again (I see pattern developing here): "Are we going on holidays?" Momentarily stumped as to where this was coming from, mummy thought of answer, but before she could answer, the follow up question was: "Where is holidays?"

Good follow up question, son! Wish I knew too!!

Thursday 7 June 2012

Come on IRELAND!

The only way I was ever going to ‘support’ England at the EURO 2012 soccer tournament starting this Friday in Poland-Ukraine was if I somehow 'picked' up England in the office pool. Well, I did just that and as such Roy Hodgson’s men get my grudging support. If only to finally win something for the first time.

To be honest, I'm not really counting on finally getting my hands on those doubloons come July 1, judging by England's woeful tournament underachievement since 1966.
Also, it doesnt help that I picked what is considered the auld enemy in these parts.

Actually come to think of it, the widespread antipathy - in fact you could even call it animosity – towards English national teams in these parts is bizarre to say the least, especially when you spot the countless number of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal replica jerseys on the streets on of Dublin. You would think they are handed out for free at pub entrances instead of going for around €50 a pop in the high street sports outlets.

Anyway, club football allegiance makes this ‘support’ somewhat palatable mainly because this English side is surprisingly and inexplicably packed with Liverpool players and captained by no less than Stevie G. Having had yet another largely disappointing season, Liverpool has somehow ended up with a quarter of the English squad.

Of course, Ireland having qualified for its first major finals since 2002 means I can once again support my adopted homeland at a major finals and I hope the boys do well despite being in the same group as current world and defending European champions Spain and former world champs Italy.

However, stranger things have happened on the soccer pitch and Ireland’s chances cannot be discounted on the basis that they face two of the world’s best sides. If anything Ireland under the pragmatic and obstinate stewardship of the old schemer il Trap have proven extremely hard to beat. So hope springs eternal!

Come on you boys in Green!

Come on you boys in Green!

Come on you boys in Green!

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Tackling Institutional Racism

I had the great pleasure this morning of meeting and listening to Imran Khan (as he joked, no, he’s not that other famous Imran Khan, the former legendary Pakistan cricketer and ex-husband to Jemima Goldsmith), the highly regarded human rights lawyer probably best known for representing the family of Stephen Lawrence, the black young man who was murdered by racist thugs in South London in 1993.
That eponymous and long struggle to achieve justice brought to the fore the deep rooted institutional racism that was endemic in London’s Metropolitan police force.

I won’t reproduce Imran’s entire excellent speech at this morning’s conference on racism in Dublin, but he made some very salient points, on how to deal with and tackle institutional racism, most of which you could say are a given, but always worth repeating and emphasising every now and then.

The following ten points (in bold & italics), he believed, were essential in tackling and challenging institutional racism wherever and whenever it reared its ugly.

I suppose in certain parts of Africa, particularly Southern Africa, where I’m originally from, you could also easily substitute racism with tribalism, which is another societal and social scourge that needs to be tackled.

1) Recognise and acknowledge that racism exists: In some countries, especially here in Ireland, there has been an apparent reluctance at official/political level to publicly acknowledge that racism exists at all or that it is a problem. In fact some very ill informed and feckless politicians, who do grudgingly admit that racism is a problem in Ireland, have the brass neck to imply that racism only became an issue when black people started migrating to Ireland in the 1990s.

2) Adopt a reality spectrum: Understand and acknowledge the lived reality of those who suffer directly from racism. Suspend the disbelief.

3) Treat people according to their specific needs: It shouldn’t always be about treating everyone equally. Nor should it ever be about tolerance either. Once you tolerate others, the implication is that there is something negative about them, that your tolerance is showing them a kindness.

4) Introduce affirmative action: This always divides opinion which sometimes is based on gender or racial lines. Usually those who are vehemently opposed to affirmative action insist on a meritocracy that conveniently ignores centuries of white (usually male) privilege which totally ignores the considerable barriers that black people (and women) have faced for centuries and in many cases still do. I personally am not a fan of blanket affirmative action, but realise that it may be necessary in certain circumstances as long as capable and qualified minorities are given a chance to progress.

5) Good Leadership: Especially at political and at service provision level (police, immigration, health service, etc). Good leadership sets the tone on how the rest of society deals with racism.

6) Diversity/anti-racism training: Basically ensure that people are aware how detrimental and debilitating racism is to the victims and generally raise awareness. Promote the positives about diversity in society but also develop ways with which to deal with the issues that may cause misunderstandings and conflict between different cultures and races.

7) Exert your rights: Challenge racism wherever you find it.

8) Adopt human rights agenda: We are all entitled to our human rights.

9) Institutions must learn to acknowledge mistakes: No matter how big or powerful, institutions, especially those that are there to serve the public (police, health service, social services, etc) should have the humility to acknowledge mistakes and not be prone to cover-ups.

10) Integrate equalities in everyday life: Equality should not be an abstract concept.

Friday 9 March 2012

It's About The Children, Silly!

If judged solely on the basis of how it has gone massively viral online, the KONY 2012 campaign by the American nonprofit organisation, Invisible Children, has been a rip roaring success. As I write this, there have been well over 50 million views of the video on You Tube and Vimeo.

If you are one of those steadfast souls that conscientiously avoid jumping on bandwagons and opening any old viral web-clips that are bombarded into your inboxes, timelines and virtual walls, then you likely have not viewed this web phenomenon. Even then, unless you are hopelessly illiterate or never listen to news or have never opened a newspaper in your life, you will have heard or read about this somewhere.

Well, if you still have no knowledge of this somehow, you are not in luck then, because here it is in full.

Basically the half hour video tells the story of tens of thousands of children who have been abducted and turned into child soldiers and sexual slaves by the notorious and despicable Joseph Kony and his cultish militia, the Lord Resistance Army, which has waged a vicious and bloodthirsty reign of terror in northern Uganda and neighbouring countries since the mid 1980s.

The organisation behind this ‘campaign’ argues that they are making Kony ‘famous’ to put pressure on US policymakers to ensure that he is removed. Indeed, even before this online phenomenon, the US had sent in 100 special forces in 2011 to assist the Ugandan army and other countries in the region to hunt down Kony. Reports suggest that he has not been in Uganda for a few years and is probably somewhere in the dense tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic.

Why now, is one of the many questions that have been asked? I first became aware of Kony and the LRA back in the 90s when I was working as a journalist in Zimbabwe and was writing a series of articles about Zimbabwe’s involvement in the conflict in the Great Lakes Region (the second Congo War), which pitted the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supported by Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Chad and Hutu aligned forces against Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tutsi aligned forces. Even though he was not a central figure at all in that conflict, Kony’s name came up a few times, mainly whenever child soldiers were mentioned. Equally attention grabbing was his proclivity to turn Uganda into a theocratic state ruled by his bizarrely self-styled version of the Ten Commandments.

By then, the world had heard about the child soldiers of West African conflicts, particularly in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but for me, it was the sheer scale of Kony’s abductions of children from villages in Northern Uganda and later neighbouring countries that was quite staggering and caught the attention. Estimates range from 30,000 to 66,000 children abducted and brutalised into being child soldiers or sex slaves.

Anyway, the KONY 2012 video or rather the organisation behind now faces the inevitable backlash for something so high profile (a host of well known names have jumped on the bandwagon – Bill Gates, Diddy, Mia Farrow, Juliette Lewis and Zooey Deschanel amongst many others and the video has even received praise from Barack Obama).

Questions have been asked about the motives of the NGO, how it raises and uses its funds resources; why it always should take these ‘pesky western do-gooders’; why cant Africans sort this out themselves (never mind it’s 20 odd years since Kony started his reign of terror); accusations of self promotion by the film-maker; accusations that the discovery of rich oilfields in the region may now finally be focusing attention and resources (US involvement) on something that has been going on since the 1980s without much western involvement or interest and also why nothing has been done to capture Kony after he was indicted by the International Criminal Court at the Hague in 2005.

Lots of valid questions, cynicism and concerns, but my take on this is that by any (legitimate) means necessary, Kony and his ilk must be stopped to save the thousands of children and put an end to the terror that is visited upon them daily.

I work for a big Irish children’s charity and in my work I come across so many children from the developing world lucky enough to have escaped from the clutches of monsters like Kony and it is only when you look into the almost soulless eyes of some of the more traumatised children that you realise that some of these so called principled stands against ‘neo imperialism’, ‘unwarranted western paternalism and interference’, cynicism about the bonafides of seemingly well meaning western charities are mostly selfish self posturing that won’t change much for these children.

Yes, I agree sometimes some of these interventions are naively set out and perhaps I agree to a certain degree that some ‘western’ solutions are not always a perfect fit for African problems but peddling simplistic ideological mantras in response to this campaign should not detract from doing all that is in the best interests of the children.

The focus should be on the bigger picture and if it means that KONY 2012 results in the capture of Kony and the routing of his LRA thugs, then I say well done to those behind the video and I would hope that this is only the start of an effective form of 21st century cyber-based manhunt for the world’s most wanted and despicable tyrants who cause so much untold suffering to so many.

You hear that Assad? ASSAD 2013 is probably being filmed somewhere right now.