Saturday, December 26, 2009

Essential Beginning or Suicide Pact?

“We have sealed the deal. [The Copenhagen Accord] is a beginning – an essential beginning.” So stated UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon at the close of last week’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Others were not so charitable. Sudanese official, Lumumba Stanislas Dia-ping, called it "a suicide pact" while Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International said it was “a triumph of spin over substance”. In the end, the conference did not even formally adopt the accord, only agreeing to “take note” of the agreement.

This is not how it was supposed to be. Ever since the 2007 Bali Climate Change Conference where participating nations decided on a two-year process to a binding agreement, all eyes and hopes focused on Copenhagen. Not even the noises coming out of Washington and Beijing about a political deal being the only possible outcome, could dim expectations. “We will not die quietly” declared the Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed.

In preparation, African negotiators developed a common position based on fidelity to the Kyoto protocol, the only international instrument that imposed legally binding emissions reduction targets on the developed countries, and its extension beyond 2012; and the mandate of the Bali Action Plan. They demanded that rich economies reduce emissions to at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The developing world’s efforts would be voluntary and contingent on transfer of technology, capacity-building and financing at $200 billion a year by 2020. A further $67 billion a year would help them adapt to the changing climate. (At a meeting with their Asian, Caribbean and Pacific counterparts, the figure was upped to 1.5% of rich country GDP by 2015 over and above the 0.7% already promised as Overseas Development Assistance.)

At Copenhagen, however, African resolve caved under pressure from the West. Head of the joint delegation, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who had declared his readiness "to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent” now accepted the West's offer of a start-up fund of $30 billion over the next three years rising to $100 billion by 2020 - almost a third of what the Common Position had demanded. "Because we have more to lose, we should compromise and be flexible with (other countries)," he whimpered.

All pretense at a common front was abandoned on the last day of the Conference. As negotiations dragged on, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner and respected environmentalist Wangari Maathai warned against signing a deal that was neither “inclusive” nor negotiated in a “transparent” manner. Then came word of a deal made in private by just 5 countries, including South Africa, one of the nations selected to spearhead Africa's Common Position.

The “Copenhagen Accord”, however, was exactly what Africa did not want. It dispensed with the demand for a legally binding agreement, opting for a voluntary emissions reductions regime. There was no extension of Kyoto beyond 2012 meaning that industrialized countries would not be bound to cut emissions after that year. Developing countries would only get a fraction of the funds they needed to adapt and find a cleaner path to development and there were no guarantees that the money wouldn’t come out of existing aid commitments which meant aid for education and health care could be diverted to pay for flood defenses. As Tuvalu negotiator Ian Fry opined, poor nations were “being offered 30 pieces of silver to bargain away our future”.

While the deal "recognized the need to keep warming below 2 degrees but does not commit to do so,” observed Oxfam’s Jeremy Hobbs. In any case, after a group of scientists analyzed the emissions reduction commitments made by individual nations prior to and during the Copenhagen conference they found that they would lead to approximately 3.9°C warming by 2100. Considering that Africa gets one and a half times hotter than the global average, this means the mercury will rise to 6C on the continent. No wonder Lumumba Dia-ping spoke of “an incineration pact”!

Even worse, a new study suggests that increases in atmospheric CO2 could have significantly larger effect on global temperatures than previously thought. A relatively small rise in CO2 levels was associated with substantial global warming 4.5 million years ago when the global temperature was 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than today despite CO2 levels being similar. In the words of Mark Pagani, associate professor of geology and geophysics at Yale and lead author of the study, “since there is no indication that the future will behave differently than the past, we should expect a couple of degrees of continued warming even if we held CO2 concentrations at the current level,”. The Copenhagen Agreement clears the way to raising them.

Given that developing nations were being offered a very, very bad deal, one would expect that they wouldn’t take it. One would be wrong. President Nasheed, of “We shall not die quietly” fame, whose country will be one of the first to be swallowed up by the rising sea, declared that the best chance of survival now lay in accepting what was on the table and then working to make it much more ambitious -- and legally binding -- by the end of 2010. Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina, termed it “a reasonable conclusion” even though her country has been worst-hit by global warming and a mere 1M rise in sea level could turn 20 million of her subjects into climate refugees.

In the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, climate change was for the first time identified as one of the world's major problems and 2C established as a threshold level of temperature increase. 17 years later, the rift between rich and poor, between those who have continued to benefit from pollution and those suffering its consequences, still militates against a unified global approach to the problem.

Perhaps the best legacy Copenhagen could hope for would be if the Accord, flawed though it is, reaffirmed a global consensus on the need to do something about climate change. After all, “no one was arguing with the science,” as Prof. Mathai observed. If that is the case, then wealthy countries would have been put on notice that they could face a serious insurrection in 2010 if they do not come through with a more ambitious deal.

The Most Powerful Weapon in The Hands of the Oppressor...

"The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor, is the mind of the oppressed." -Steve Biko

The Real Cost

Seek Ye First The Popular Kingdom

Déjà vu is the experience of feeling sure that one has witnessed or experienced a new situation previously although the exact circumstances of the previous encounter are uncertain. The inauguration of the East Africa Community’s Common Market as a step on the way to an envisaged political federation induced just such a feeling. The thing is, we have been here before.

The five Presidents congregated in Nairobi mirrored another, albeit smaller, gathering in the same city 46 years ago. In June, 1963, the leaders of the newly independent states of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika declared, “… we believe a political federation of East Africa is desired by our peoples. There is throughout East Africa a great urge for unity and an appreciation of the significance of federation.”

The three were being more than a little disingenuous. The political federation of East Africa has never been a people-driven affair. From the start it was a colonial project opposed by the very people in whose name it was done. Which is surprising, since we were East Africans long before we became Kenyans and Ugandans and Tanzanians.

The integration of the region began with the building of the Uganda Railway in 1895. This was rapidly followed by the creation of the East African Common market which started in 1900 with a customs arrangement between British East Africa (now Uganda and Tanzania) and German East Africa (now Tanganyika), the establishment of a Court of Appeal for East Africa in 1902, creation of the East African Currency Board in 1905 and a Postal Union in 1911. In 1917, the British colonial administration established a Customs Union and by 1920, when the Kenya Colony was formally established, the EACB was already issuing a single regional currency, the East African Shilling.

By independence, we already had more than 40 different East African institutions covering areas such as research, social services, education/training and defence among others. This lead Tanganyikan President, Julius Nyerere, to observe in March 1963, that, “a federation of at least Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika should be comparatively easy to achieve. We already have a common market, and run many services through the Common Services Organisation…. This is the nucleus from which a federation is the natural growth.”

Yet 2 years later, the common market would disintegrate following Tanzanian proposals that each country establish separate currencies and banks. Frenzied actions to save the federation project, including the promulgation of a formal Treaty for East African Co-operation and the setting up of the East African Community, would come to naught as the EAC itself collapsed in 1977 and was formally wound up in Arusha on 14th May 1984. On the latter occasion Nyerere declared that he could not “pretend that this is a very proud day for East Africa”.

What went wrong? Quite simply, the leadership failed to carry the people along. The project was a forced marriage that made sense to and benefitted the elite few but was viewed with suspicion by and never properly explained to the common citizenry. As early as 1925, when the British government established an East Africa Commission chaired by Colonial Secretary, W. G. Ormsby-Gore to solicit views from Africans, people of Asian descent and Europeans on federation, the idea found “little, if any, support ... and in some quarters …definite hostility.”

The commission “received a memorandum against federation from the King and the native government of Buganda, and discussions which had taken place in parts of Kenya immediately prior to our arrival revealed that the suggestion was viewed with more than a little suspicion by all sections of European opinion in Kenya. All shades of opinion in Zanzibar are hostile to federation and we also received representations against federation from various Indian Associations throughout the three northern territories”. Africans were particularly suspicious of the motives and intentions of the colonists. In 1927, yet another commission, this time chaired by Sir Hilton Young, received a memorandum from the Kikuyu Central Association rejecting the idea of federation.

Without the bulwark of popular support, at independence the colonial enterprise of federation became hostage to the petty personal rivalries and jealousies of the region’s new class of leaders. By 1977, it resembled more a clash of heads than a union hearts.

Its current reincarnation is proving to be little different. A recent report notes that the majority of East Africa's 126 million people are not aware of the benefit of regional integration, let alone the process with most citizens viewing it as an elite project."The project has a lot of goodwill from ordinary citizens but lack of active involvement has left it standing solely on the political pillar, without the critical social and economic relevance that would make it a reality in people's lives," Prof Regina Karega, one of the scholars who conducted the study said. This lack of an integration of the peoples was in evidence in September 2008, when Kenyans kicked up a fuss over reports that the US President George W. Bush and Tanzanian president, Jakoyo Kikwete had discussed "instability in Kenya. It was further exposed earlier this year when Kenyans ripped up sections of the Uganda railway and openly called war over Ugandan military occupation of Migingo Island (population:250), an insignificant piece of rock in Lake Victoria.

It is acknowledged in the appellations of the organs of integration. In much of the rest of the world the name of the regional grouping tends to reflect the stage of integration which has actually been attained. African regional groupings and the EAC in particular, have used terms such as “Community”, and “Common Market” in their names more as a reflection of elite aspirations. Thus our customs union meant neither the abolition of internal tariffs nor synchronization of external ones, disputes over fishing rights and work permits are a feature of our “common markets”, the East African passport is only valid for travel within what is supposed to be a borderless East Africa and our federating countries still have territorial disputes.

The exclusive focus on reaching political and macro-economic milestones has left the process blind to the needs of the common man. While economic benefits of integration are touted (greater bargaining power in international arena; the larger market makes for a more attractive foreign direct investment (FDI) destination), ask any common East African whether last week’s ceremony means he or she can traverse the region seeking employment and you will probably get a blank stare. An East African Parliament and envisioned Presidency are not matched by moves towards a common East African identity and citizenship. In fact, they are assumed to be the same things. The legality of belonging to the EAC is thus confused for the feeling of true community.

In the 1950s, the then leader of Ghana, Nkwame Nkrumah, declared “seek ye first the political kingdom and the rest will follow” arguing that African countries should right away integrate politically. The East African leadership seems to have taken this literally. The assumption that they can create an East African kingdom to which the people will thereafter be added is dead wrong and needs to change. And there are signs that it is. Last week, The EastAfrican reported reported that the partner states are to establish integration centres at border points to sensitize the citizenry on the benefits of regional assimilation and that Kenya's EAC Ministry would use mobile phones to educate up to 17 million people on the Common Market Protocol. Hopefully this time the reality will prove different.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cutting a Long Constitution Short

There is no nice way to say it. The Harmonized Draft Constitution of Kenya is long. Very long. Its 165 pages contain more than 60,000 words. The Table of Contents alone is 11 pages. In contrast, the US constitution, the oldest such national document in continuous existence, is only 7800 words. In fact, across the globe, loquacious constitutions seem to be all the rage. In each decade since 1945, the average length of national constitutions has increased by between 1300 and 1900 words. We may not have scaled the heights of the Indian document (whose English translation, at 117,369 words, is the longest national constitution) or that of the State of Alabama (its 357,157 words make India’s look like a model of brevity) but there is cause for concern.

The most obvious problem is that a populace not renowned for its literary appetite, and busied by the daily struggle to keep body and soul together, will be unlikely to put much effort into reading and understanding it. Its very length and the complexity of its legal language will militate against this. James Madison, principle architect of the US Constitution said it best. "It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood."

The constitutional fat strangles the common heart. It is hard to imagine the passion and patriotism that is inspired by

We, the people of Kenya—

ACKNOWLEDGING the supremacy of the Almighty God of all creation:

HONOURING those who heroically struggled to bring freedom and justice to our land:

PROUD of our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, and determined to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation:

RESPECTFUL of the natural environment that is our heritage, and determined to sustain it for the benefit of future generations:

COMMITTED to nurturing and protecting the well-being of the individual, the family, communities and the nation:

RECOGNIZING the aspirations of all Kenyans for a government based on the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law:

EXERCISING our sovereign and inalienable right to determine the form of governance of our country and having participated fully in the making of this Constitution:

ADOPT, enact, and give to ourselves and to our future generations, this Constitution.

However, this is not the gravest problem. According to Donald S Lutz, professor of political science at the University of Houston, one of the reasons for replacing a constitution is that it “may have been changed so many times that it is no longer clear what lies under the encrustations, and clarity demands a new beginning.” This is clearly the case with the current constitution of Kenya. It suffers from a surplus of “encrustations” and these have everything to do with its length.

A study of amendments to the 50 US state constitutions between 1789 and 1991 found a strong correlation between the length of a constitution and its average annual rate of amendment. It is not that amendments tend to fatten constitutions (our current constitution, for example, has lost over 18000 words since 1963, despite undergoing numerous amendments). Rather, the interesting bit is that the longer the original length of a constitution, the more likely it is to experience a high rate of amendment. This is principally because the more provisions a constitution has, the more targets there are for amendment. And, of course, it will tread on more toes and attract greater hostility.

Our independence constitution again bears this out. At 117 pages, its 58,000 words were not exactly a picture of shyness. It has since been amended it at a rate 7.5 times faster than its much slimmer US cousin. The monstrosity we have today is the result. The Committee of Experts though, want us to enact an even longer one this time. Why?

Do the extra pages come from expanded provisions governing social, economic and cultural relations? Not likely. A study by H.Van Maarseveen, and Ger van der Tang, published in 1978 found that the length of a constitution was not determined by the inclusion of such provisions; in fact constitutions with these provisions were actually shorter on average than those without. Perhaps surprisingly, it was the enumeration of these rights in a separate chapter that led to an increase in constitutional length and the draft constitution doesn’t have one.

Or perhaps the blabber results from efforts to be precise. Since over time all governments seek broader powers than first authorized, constitutions should be crafted in a way that carefully enumerates and thereby limits their powers. However, each generation has limited knowledge. A constitution, while enacted by a particular generation of citizens, must allow for evolving norms as a result of succeeding generations having greater understanding. In short, it is a living document. Its language should be as precise as necessary to contain the government while remaining vague enough to allow succeeding generations to interpret it to suit their needs. Too restrictive and you strangle it. It is this balancing act that is the genius of the US Constitution. It has never gone out of date. Its vagueness gives rise to new interpretations, such as the constitutional right to privacy which is nowhere expressly asserted, without having to resort to amendments (which in any case should be rare and difficult).

As in many things, brevity in constitution-making is a thing of beauty. So as we faithfully slog through the draft, let us look for ways we can cut the calories. May it turn out like the mini skirt: long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep your interest.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ssssssssilly Seasssssssson

Unhappy Anniversaries

MONUC, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the largest and most expensive UN mission in the world, has just marked its 10th anniversary. Established in November 1999, and despite maintaining, at present, close to 20,000 troops in the Congo at a cost of $1.4 billion a year, it has achieved little more than a bad name.

Next year the DRC, too, commemorates an anniversary: its Golden Jubilee. 50 years of independence, during which the country has singularly distinguished itself for the misery it imposes on its citizenry. President Joseph Kabila has asked that MUNOC present him with a withdrawal plan as a present. What is not clear is whether he intends to give long-suffering Congolese people a respite from his and his fellow butchers-in-arms' warmongering.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kenya Threatens Visa Ban on US Officials Blocking Healthcare Reform

Argue, Don't Shout.

In the 1970s Julius Nyerere, then president, issued a thin booklet that he distributed to all his diplomats, titled, “Argue, Don’t Shout,” in which he tried to show how disputation is more effective than name-calling and shouting, even when someone is becoming an irritant. [Tanzanian] “leaders” – I know this word is misplaced — would do well to get a copy and go through it carefully.... Tanzanians have recently witnessed easily the most acrimonious exchanges — let’s not dignify them with the description “arguments” — in their history, all played out in full public view, because the press reported them, utterance after ugly utterance, with surprising accuracy.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Freedom For The Thought That We Hate

In common with many of my countrymen, I found the recent wedding in London between two homosexual Kenyans quite disturbing. For very different reasons though. Many condemned the ceremony itself, with some even calling for the dreaded Mungiki to take vengeance on the two for allegedly besmirching the name of the House of Mumbi. Nominated MP and Muslim leader Sheikh Mohammed Dor was typical, declaring that the Quran, Bible and Hindu scriptures detest such unions. “It should be discouraged by all means. It is un-African and against our traditions”. Asking that the government to take a stand on moral issues, Sheikh Dor said if nothing is done, more will follow the example of the two men. Mr Otiende Amolo, a member of the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review, declared that if homosexual and lesbians’ rights were included in the draft, “a majority of Kenyans [would] reject [it] during the forthcoming referendum”.

I, on the other hand, was saddened that these two citizens were not allowed to celebrate their union in their homeland. In fact, the very act of consummation would have landed them behind bars (and that’s assuming they were able to escape the blood-thirsty mob). It led me to ask a series of questions. What gives society the right to determine what two consenting adults may or may not do in the privacy of their own home? Since there was no victim of any kind, no coercion, and nobody was harmed, shouldn’t free citizens, in such circumstances, have the right to do as they please? What does it mean to “include gay and lesbian rights” in the constitution? Is it necessary for us to have language that enumerates each and every right that a citizen may exercise? In a free and just society, what rights are reserved to the individual and which to the state?

Well, let’s start with the question of why we need the state at all. In a natural state, all men, just like animals, are absolutely free to do as they wish, guided only by their instincts. However, the law of the jungle respects only might and does not necessarily foster security or justice. By acting together in civil society and binding ourselves to its laws, we pass from the natural state to a civil state, substituting justice for instinct and right for might. Natural independence is given up in favour of civil liberty, the former being guaranteed only by the individual’s might while the latter is guaranteed by the collective power of the community. This arrangement, what 18th century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau referred to as The Social Contract, substitutes legal equality for natural inequalities in strength and intelligence evident among men.

We become part of a corporate body politic, composed of as many members as there are votes, in which each person in giving himself to all in general, gives himself to no one in particular. There is no member from whom he doesn’t acquire the same rights he himself gives up to others. It is this public person, which is made up of the unification of many persons, that we call the state. The individuals within it are individually known as citizens and they all share equally in the sovereign power and are equally subject to its laws. The state itself is therefore formed for the common good as defined by the general will of the governed. Since the natural, some might say God-given, rights have been relinquished in favour of civil rights, the state now draws its legitimacy not from a higher being, but from its subjects, the people. It is, by definition, secular.

The common good being common to all, there is no question of sacrificing one person or group in the interest of another. Rather, since the state is the result of a negotiation by different interests, it is the common points of agreement that constitute common good. The contemporary ethicist, John Rawls, defines it as "certain general conditions that are...equally to everyone's advantage". Common good is thus a confluence of interests, not moral values or traditions. The latter are important only in as much as they influence an individual’s sense of where his interests lie. At the state level, however, the discussion is only informed by interests. Far from enforcing a moral code, the only thing the state is committed to is the pursuit of common interests through the creation of social systems, institutions, and environments which work in a manner that benefits all persons without elevating the interests of one group over those of another.

Rousseau defined the legitimate political set up as one which “will defend and protect with the whole common force, the person and goods of each associate and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone and remain as free as before.” Therefore, though in the civil context we give up our absolute natural freedom, in reality we give it up only to the extent that is necessary for the protection of the common good. Whatever is left over is retained by the individual. Crucially, the delegation of specific powers to the state must be done so expressly while, at the same time, any enumeration of civil rights (as in a Bill of Rights) is not to be construed as a limitation on other rights retained by the people. This is the doctrine of limited government.
In delegating power to the government, any decision to alienate or restrict the individual’s freedom must be accompanied by a compelling reason as to why common interest demands it. As John Stuart Mill stated in his 1859 essay, On Liberty: "The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant . . . Over himself, over his own mind and body, the individual is sovereign."

Now let’s apply these principles of just governance to the controversy over homosexual rights. It is immediately clear that there is no requirement to spell these out in the Constitution. It is just as apparent that having a large majority that thinks that homosexuality and homosexual marriage is distasteful and to be discouraged doesn’t mean that the forces of law and government should proclaim it illegal and threaten all offenders with prison terms or even death. That is not democracy, as many would like to believe, but rather the tyranny of the majority.

Since obviously no common interest is injured by the consensual union of two men or two women, it would be absurd to suggest that such conduct be expressly outlawed. All being united in one corporate body, it is impossible to attack one group without attacking all and an attack on any person’s rights is an infringement of the rights of all. In the long run the entire society is bound to suffer. An example of what would follow is the Anti-homosexuality bill tabled in Uganda’s Parliament on October 14, 2009. If passed in its current form, the bill would punish parents for not denouncing their gay kids and teachers for not reporting on them. Landlords would not be able to rent out their premises to persons of their choosing, doctors would be compelled to disregard the Hippocratic oath and religious leaders prevented from ministering to the needs of their flock. How any of this promotes societal welfare or the common good is beyond me.

Similarly, around the world the criminalization and interdiction of prostitution (another consensual transaction between adults) creates a situation where women and, increasingly children, are exploited by criminal gangs engaged in a thriving yet unregulated industry. The misguided global War on Drugs (an assault on the individual’s right to get high) also achieves little in terms of reduced drug-taking yet incurs huge financial and material costs for society. Not only do these legal bans have the effect of turning a huge number of otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals (the incarceration rate for black Americans exceeds that in the Soviet Union at the peak of the Gulag), they drive the trades underground, away from the reach of government regulators. They also foster a culture of violence since disputes between drug dealers cannot be referenced to courts for adjudication.

Another consequence of the bans is it has made trafficking a lucrative enterprise for those willing to take the associated risks, creating vast amounts of tax-free wealth primarily for ruthless and blood-thirsty criminal gangs. These funds are then used to corrupt police and legislatures and to maintain violent insurgencies in much the same way proceeds from “blood diamonds” are used in Africa. In February, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, a group headed by three former presidents—Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—published a report arguing that the violent crime and corruption generated by drug prohibition is undermining democracy and that the drug war has “failed”. Currently, narcodollars are financing rebellions across the world and destabilizing countries like Mexico, Colombia and Afghanistan.

Now contrast this with the results of the more enlightened policy on tobacco. While the dangers of smoking have been acknowledged for over 30 years, governments have not sought to deal with the vice through bans. Instead, they have concentrated their efforts on public education with the result that smoking rates in the West are falling. Because the industry is legal, we can regulate the contents of cigarettes, whom they are advertised and sold to, and where one may or may not light up. Most importantly, there is no violence associated with the production and sale of cigarettes.

If these other trades were legal, then they too could be regulated and taxed. Children and minors would be protected by legislation requiring a minimum age; prostitutes’ earnings would also be protected from the predation of pimps. Importantly, counselling and help could be offered to prostitutes wishing to leave the profession, and to drug addicts willing to change. As it is now, the law treats them as criminals. Such aid could be easily funded by the taxes levied on the legal enterprises engaging in these ventures.

A final example of what happens when the government loses sight of its objective is the ban on abortions. If, for the sake of argument, we grant that abortions are not in the common interest, then the question for the state (which unlike the church answers to the citizenry and not God), should be this: What policy would lead to the least number of abortions? Opponents of abortion tend instinctively to favour discouraging it with as many legal restrictions as possible. What does the evidence show? Is this the best route to take?

According to a 1995 study, approximately 26 million legal and 20 million illegal abortions were performed worldwide in 1995, resulting in a worldwide abortion rate of 35 per 1,000 women aged 15–44. Among the subregions of the world, Eastern Europe had the highest abortion rate (90 per 1,000) and Western Europe the lowest rate (11 per 1,000). Among countries where abortion is legal without restriction as to reason, the highest abortion rate, 83 per 1,000, was reported for Vietnam and the lowest, seven per 1,000, for Belgium and the Netherlands. Abortion rates are no lower overall in areas where abortion is generally restricted by law (and where many abortions are performed under unsafe conditions) than in areas where abortion is legally permitted.

More recently, a report by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think-tank, suggests that the number of abortions is declining, particularly in countries with legal regimes. But the number of illegal abortions is staying steady. These backstreet procedures kill an estimated 70,000 women each year.

As the evidence amply demonstrates, legalisation does not lead to a higher incidence of abortion while the current policy of banning the procedure is killing and maiming thousands of women. If our aim is to reduce the number of abortions, and protect our women, then criminalising the procedure is definitely not the way to go. Better we try what works. That means empowering women to make free choices concerning their own bodies, as well as providing sex education including information on reproductive health and contraception.

From the above, it is abundantly clear that when governments and societies breach the social contract they have with their citizens, no good comes of it. Individuals and groups have a right to their opinions and beliefs. There is absolutely no compulsion for anyone to participate in or even approve of any of these acts. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. But that doesn’t give you the right to impose on someone else.

The late US Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said: "A necessary corollary of giving individuals freedom to choose how to conduct their lives is acceptance of the fact that different individuals will make different choices” adding that “we should be especially sensitive to the rights of those whose choices upset the majority”. In this, he was echoing a famous argument by another late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. who stated: "If there is any principle … that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought -- not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate." Some may prefer that we ignore present temporal realities for the sake of a future spiritual salvation. That, however, is a luxury society and the government can ill afford.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Spoils of War: Why Do We Celebrate Kenyatta, not Kimathi, Day?

This week, Kenya will mark the anniversaries of two arrests. One will be marked by a public holiday and celebrated with fanfare, while the other will be almost completely ignored. The lives of the two suspects, the circumstances surrounding their arrests, and the differing reactions we have to them today, are symbolic of the contradictions at the centre of Kenya’s path to independence and beyond.

In the early hours of 21st October, 1952, Jomo Kenyatta was arrested peacefully at his Gatundu home, charged with managing the so-called Mau Mau uprising and on 8 April 1953 sentenced to 7 years hard labour. In an uncanny historical coincidence, 4 years to the day after Kenyatta’s arrest, on 21st October, 1956, the leader of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army and self-proclaimed President of Kenya, Dedan Kimathi, was shot and captured in the forests near Nyeri. Clad in a leopard skin and carrying a .38 revolver, Kimathi was charged with carrying a lethal weapon –a capital offence under the emergency regulations then governing Kenya. He was sentenced to death and hanged at Kamiti prison on 18th February 1957.

Born almost a quarter of a century apart, the two men were destined to change the future of the Kenya colony. They each received their early education at Church of Scotland missionary schools. To pay the school fees, Kenyatta worked as a houseboy and cook for a white settler while Kimathi collected seedlings for the forestry department. Both were religiously inclined. Kenyatta converted to Christianity in 1914 assuming the name John Peter, which he then changed to Johnstone Kamau. Kimathi was reported to carry a Bible regularly. However while the former completed his education and went on to secure opportunities which saw him rise to general secretary Kikuyu Central Association in 1928 and (after a 15 year sojourn in the UK) the eventual leadership of the Kenya African Union, the latter dropped out for a lack of fees, was kicked out of the Army for misconduct, joined the militant wing of the then defunct KCA in 1951 and was elected as a local branch secretary of KAU in Ol' Kalou and Thomson's Falls area in 1952.

An interesting encounter between the two men is related by Munene Macharia, Professor of History and International Relations at the United States International University. “One day at Kaloleni, Nairobi, (so say those who were there) Kenyatta turned to Jesse Kariuki, one of his top KCA comrades and asked in Gikuyu language: ‘Jesse, andu niaiganu?’ (Are there enough people?). Before Kariuki could respond, a brash young man named Dedan Kimathi shouted ‘Ii niaiganu,’ (Yes, they are enough). On hearing Kimathi, Kenyatta reportedly took out his handkerchief, wiped his eyes and asked ‘Nimukwenda wiyathi?’ (Do you want independence?). And the public responded ‘Ii nitukwenda’ (Yes, we want it). Kenyatta then remarked, ‘Muti uyu wa wiyathi nduitagiririo mai; uitagiririo thakame. Ningunyita Kiongo-i, nimukumiriria mateke?’ (the tree of freedom is not nurtured by water but by blood. I will hold the bull by the horn, will you withstand the kicks?) ‘Ii’ (Yes), the people responded.”

That same year marked the beginning of the uprising. At about the same time Kenyatta was prevailed upon by the colonial government to curse the “secret society called Mau Mau” saying they should “go to the roots of the mikongoe tree”, Kimathi was briefly detained for his oathing activities, escaped with the help of local police and fled to the forest. In 1953, as Kenyatta declared in open court “ndiui Mau Mau” (I do not know Mau Mau, I have no connection with it) and that violence would never bring harmony, Kimathi formed the Kenya Defence Council to co-ordinate all forest fighters. That same year, as related by Gatimu Maina in his paper, Paths of the Mau Mau Revolution: Victory and Glory Usurped, he launched the only known communication between his movement and the outside world, the KLFA Charter, which attempted to explain its political position and programme of the movement. The Charter was sent to the British government. Copies were circulated to the Indian, Egyptian, French, American, and Russian governments. Pan-Africanists such as Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana, George Padmore and W.E. B. Dubois were also sent copies. To whip public support in Britain, a copy was sent to Fenner Brockway, who was a sympathizer of the Mau Mau cause. The thrust of the Charter was self-government for Kenya with an African judiciary based on African laws, African control of the economy and the withdrawal of British armed forces from Kenya. The launching of the KLFA Charter, coupled with the sustained armed struggle and the eventual creation of the Kenya Parliament with Kimathi as its President in the forests on February 5, 1954 constituted, in Gatimu’s opinion, a unilateral declaration of independence for Kenya by the KLFA.

The British took the threat posed by the KLFA very seriously. On the same night Kenyatta was arrested, a State of Emergency had been declared and British military reinforcements began to arrive in the colony. A regiment of British soldiers was flown in from the Suez Canal Zone. The Kenya Regiment (composed of European settlers) was called up. Units of the King's African Rifles arrived from neighbouring Tanganyika and Uganda. In total, according to Basil Davidson, Britain and the Kenya colonial authorities mobilized 50,000 troops for the war armed with bomber airplanes, tanks, personnel carriers and other sophisticated weapons. These were ranged against Kimathi’s estimated 10,000-25,000 guerillas armed with rifles, shotguns, homemade guns, and grenades and crude traditional weapons of all kinds.

In the forest Kimathi had to contend with emerging splits, especially between the illiterate and the educated. He had himself usurped the overall leadership of the movement from the unlettered General Stanley Mathenge who, unlike Kimathi, had military experience. As their rivalry became generalized, the educated fighters favoured Kimathi’s Parliament while the rest preferred Mathenge’s Kenya Riigi. Matters came to a head in 1955 when, according to former fighter Field Marshal Muthoni-Kirima, the colonial government “suggested a truce, that the insurgents and the colonialists start exchanging letters before they could meet physically and negotiate a ceasefire.” Kimathi took a dim view of this proposal, fearing it to be a trick, and forbade any contact with the British. However, Mathenge went ahead to meet with them, incurring the wrath of Kimathi and narrowly escaping the death sentence at his trial before the Parliament. This however did not appear to dissuade him as a week later he was reported to have had more meetings with the British. An enraged Kimathi ordered that Mathenge be brought to him alive, but the latter went into hiding and was reported to have fled to Ethiopia. (This was a precursor of what was to happen to the KLFA fighters when they emerged from the forest and stepped into an independent Kenya governed by the better educated sons of collaborators.)

By 1955, though, the brutal British tactics were beginning to tell. The forests of Mount Kenya, where the KLFA had their base camps, were designated a "prohibited area" and were heavily bombed. People living on the fringes of the forest were evicted from the land, their animals confiscated and crops and huts burned to clear the way for the "free fire zone" where any black man could be shot on sight. In fact, rewards were offered to army and police units that produced the largest number of 'Mau Mau' corpses, the hands of which were chopped off to make fingerprinting easier. The entire 1.5 million rural Kikuyu population were forcibly resettled into barbed-wire fenced villages, overseen by watch-towers. Continuing urban insurgency was smashed by the aptly named Operation Anvil in April 1954, which effectively arrested all Kikuyu in Nairobi. The back of the insurgency was broken and one by one the forest commanders fell. Eventually, after a 10 month man-hunt, Kimathi himself was captured, tried and hanged.

Meanwhile, Kenyatta, convicted after a five-month trial on the perjured testimony of Rawson Macharia, was sentenced on April 8, 1953 to seven year’s imprisonment with hard labor and indefinite restriction thereafter. His subsequent appeal was refused by the British Privy Council in 1954. On April 14, 1959, Kenyatta completed his sentence at Lokitaung but remained in restriction at Lodwar. Later, he was moved to Maralal, where he remained until August 1961. On August 14, 1961, he was allowed to return to his Gatundu home. On August 21, 1961, nine years after his arrest, he was freed from all restrictions.

Though he was not directly connected to the insurgency, his political rise after imprisonment was undoubtedly a direct result of the Mau-Mau activities. In 1961 Kenya was on track towards self-government and he was hailed as the country’s independence leader. He assumed the leadership of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), a political party formed while he was in prison and in 1963 led it to an electoral victory. He became prime minister of an independent Kenya on 12th December 1963 and a year later, when Kenya became a republic, Kenyatta was declared its first president, more than 10 years after Kimathi had claimed the title for himself.

Over the course of half a century, Kenya’s independence war has entered into the realm of legend, with little to distinguish between fact and fiction. Many who then opposed or shunned the insurgency nowadays proclaim themselves to be at its forefront, while the real fighters languish in long-forgotten and overgrown graves or are still awaiting the recognition and rewards they insist are due them. Just as Kimathi usurped the uneducated Mathenge’s authority in the forest, so the collaborators and their offspring inherited his uprising.

The name attached to the movement itself betrays this. While initially it had no name (the Kikuyu had called it Muingi ("The Movement"), Muigwithania ("The Understanding"), Muma wa Uiguano ("The Oath of Unity") or simply "The KCA", after the Kikuyu Central Association that created the impetus for the insurgency), according to Bildad Kaggia, the movement had been using the Kiswahili word muhimu (important) as a password for the movement and its activities. After muhimu declared an open war on the British colonial government, the combat forces referred to themselves as the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. The British though called it Mau Mau, a bastardised name given to them by the settlers. In the 1953 Charter, Kimathi introduced his movement stating: “We reject being called [Mau Mau or] terrorists for demanding our people’s rights. [It is derogatory]. We are the Kenya Land [and] Freedom Army.” Josiah Mwangi (JM) Kariuki, who was interned in prison camps from 1953 to 1960, and later murdered by Kenyatta's agents, talked of the KLFA saying: "The world knows it by a title of abuse and ridicule with which it was described by one of its bitterest opponents." To this day, however, the appendage Mau Mau remains.

Neither has the derogatory nature of the term changed. The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary defines the verb to “mau-mau” as “to intimidate (as an official) by hostile confrontation or threats”. In 2002, right-wing US columnist Ann Coulter, outraged that Halle Berry won an Oscar, complained that the Black artist had "successfully mau-maued her way to a Best Actress Award." In 1993, Former US Vice President Daniel Quayle's chief of staff, William Kristol, said Carol Mosely Braun "mau-maued" the U.S. Senate when, as the only African American woman member in the Senate's history, she stopped a charter renewal for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The statistics of the KLFA uprising are also a source of perennial controversy. According to the British government, some 32 white civilians, 63 white military and 527 'loyalists' were killed. In contrast, 11,503 Africans died. Other sources have the Kikuyu death toll at anywhere from 20,000-30,000 with 10,527 fighters killed in action. One thing is not in dispute though. The British losses were remarkably light, with less than 100 dead. What accounts for this discrepancy? Was the conflict, as some (including the British) have termed it, less about aspirations to nationhood and more of a civil war within the Kikuyu community?

In a paper entitled Emergency in Kenya: Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Insurrection, Major Roger D. Hughes of the US Marine Corps says about the conflict: “The Mau Mau movement is usually viewed strictly as being politically motivated toward national independence. The less popular view is endorsed herein, that two separate, multi-faceted movements existed, one motivated by nationalism, and the other by a blind, irrational quest for revenge. In the process of each attempting to exploit the other for self-serving purposes, they became uncontrollably intertwined, which resulted in near disaster for the Kikuyu tribe. Totally lacking in quality intelligence regarding the origins of Mau Mau at the outbreak of hostilities in 1952, colonial forces struck out blindly to suppress the violence and treated the movements as one. Thus, the Military resolution is traced through 1956, when the preponderance of hostilities were finally suppressed in what seemed at that time more like an intra-tribal civil war than a war of independence.”

As related by Marshall S. Clough in his book Mau Mau memoirs: History, Pemory, and Politics, “the Gikuyu were the angriest and the most internally divided of the major ethnic groups in Kenya. Colonial rule had affected them deeply, and for two generations they had suffered from its impositions and responded to the opportunities it had offered more than any other Africans. The British authorities and their policies tended to push the Gikuyu together, but for most the closer ties to lineage, locality and district remained more important than loyalty to the ethnic group as a whole. Ever since the founding of the Kikuyu Association (KA) in 1919, their politicians had protested such grievances as land alienation in Kiambu and Nyeri, the treatment of squatters in the Rift Valley, the carrying of passes, and the non-representation of Africans in the Legislative Council. In protest politics, however, disunity had been as typical a common front, as witnessed by the division between the KA and the East African Association (EAA) in 1921 and between the KA and the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) in the late 1920s. Religious disputes, emerging originally from the cliterodectomy conflict of 1929-1931, divided them further among animists, followers of mission Christianity, Christian independents, and followers of prophetic sects (the arathi). Divisions between educated and uneducated, landed and landless, rich and poor had widened in the interwar period. Moreover, Gikuyu members of the colonial authority structure, especially chiefs, had often clashed with politicians and these conflicts would grow more intense in the postwar period as the second colonial generation entered politics.”

And what of tactics? Both sides utilised the tactics of terror and neither spared innocents. Just compare these two reports, one by Peter Swan, a British policeman who guarded Kimathi after his capture:
The Mau Mau 'Freedom Fighters' were no more than thugs whose terrorist activities were directed mainly at their own tribesman than at the 'whites'. Having come across Meru women, gutted with an unborn child torn from them; children whose heads had been cracked open; an old couple that where burnt alive after being ham-strung to make sure that they couldn't get away, it was difficult for me and the twenty African policeman to have any sympathy for those Mau Mau that we encountered. We took no prisoners. To hear them classed as heroes' of the day goes against the grain.
Another account from an Australian living in Kenya during the ‘Emergency’:
We was joined by two of [a settler named] Bill’s mates in another Land Rover and just about dawn we seen two Africans crossing the road ahead. Bill fired a shot across their bow and they put their hands up. I tried to tell Bill that those lads, hardly more than boys they was, didn’t look like Mickeys (Mau Mau) to me but he says, “They’re Kukes and that’s enough for me”. Well he roughs them up some but they say they don’t know where the gang of Mickeys went to, so he gets some rope and ties one to the rear bumper of his Land Rover by his ankles. He drives off a little ways, not too fast you know, and the poor black bastard is trying to keep from ploughing the road with his nose. The other cobbers are laughing and saying, “put it in high gear Bill” and such as that, but Bill gets out and says, “Last chance, Nugu (baboon), where’s that gang?” The African boy keeps saying he’s not Mau Mau, but Bill takes off like a bat out of hell. When he comes back, the nigger wasn’t much more than pulp. He didn’t have any face left at all. So Bill and his mates tie the other one to the bumper and ask him the same question. He’s begging them to let him go but old Bill takes off again and after a while he comes back with another dead Mickey. They just left the two of them there in the road.
Even tales of Kimathi himself tend to differ with a 1956 TIME Magazine article titled "The Terrorist" saying of him:
There was no fiercer character in all the jungle than Dedan Kimathi, a scarred, stocky ex-clerk who had fought and jockeyed his way to the leadership of all the guerrillas. Not content with his popular title, "General Russia," Dedan capped his arrogance by calling himself Field Marshal Sir Dedan Kimathi and appointing a parliament of his own to preside over...A refugee captured by Kenya police as he left Kimathi's camp recently has provided a vivid picture of the once great chieftain in his twilight hour. Broken in health and mind, 35-year-old Dedan Kimathi now spends his days making wild speeches to the jungle trees and his nights raving endlessly. He lies on a litter of branches, blubbering and blabbering about reform in the Liberation army, while his friends search the woods for monkeys to eat. Whenever a police patrol comes near, the 20 loyal henchmen (and teen-age henchwomen) who still surround him hustle Kimathi into a nearby cave and gag him to keep him quiet.
Peter Swan, quoted above, paints an entirely different picture of the man:
Our first hours together were almost silent. My command of Kikuyu language was reduced to the long drawn out greetings 'Moogerrrh' which should have elicited the reply 'Moogerrhni'. His command of Kiswahili and mine were similar, in that we were both well versed in what was loosely termed Kaffir Swahili. He was, I discovered, soon after joining him in the hospital, well versed in English and we later spent time swapping tales of our bush activities in that language. His wound was in the thigh and he had to be stretchered everywhere. Up to then he had received rudimentary first aid and he was still dressed in the leopard skins that had been his trade mark during his Mau Mau operations...Dedan Kimathi and I sat and read the books that I brought in to pass the time. Our conversations were occasional and without animosity or conflict on either side. He knew the penalty for his activity was death, and he expected that sentence. He believed that the sentence would not be executed and that he would survive. There was a quiet and distant confidence in his belief.
I think Kenyans deserve to know the truth about what has come to be known as the fight for Uhuru and why it is the sons of the homeguards, not the "freedom fighters" who reaped the fruits of independence. Why is it that the Mau Mau continued to be a proscribed organisation up till 2003? Why do we insist on honouring dead fighters while ignoring the plight of those still alive? The blog What An African Woman Thinks has informative interviews with some of these fighters including Field Marshal Muthoni, in which one General Karangi, "is hard put to understand why those who successfully evaded bullet, bomb and grenade are less praiseworthy than the one who got caught".

While the Mau Mau lost the military fight against the British, they lived to see the White Man ejected from Kenya. However, 50 years on, their land and legacy is now being stolen anew by those who collaborated with the colonialists. It seems to me that we, as Kenyans, have striven to erase from our minds what should be a heroic chapter in our common history. Instead we seem determined to construct a new tale in which the villains of yesterday become the heroes of today while the real fighters, their accomplishments, and eventual betrayal is consigned to history's dustbin.

Othe 50th anniversary of his hanging, the Kenyan government took the step of honouring Kimathi by erecting a statue. A better memorial would be an honest retelling of the story of his struggle, and an explanation of why he was allowed to rot in an unmarked grave while Kenyatta’s body deserved the splendor of a mausoleum.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On Cartooning

Knife-edged and salient, there is no simpler or more effective form of journalism than the editorial or political cartoon. The message – usually critical – is instantaneous, and often funny. For over half a millenium cartoonists have exposed abuses of power, the corruption of government and the hypocrisy of society. Their works provide a running commentary on events, people, attitudes and preoccupations, and reflect momentary shifts in public sentiment.

But even earlier than that, in fact from the very dawn of his existence, man was using images to tell his story. The rocks of Africa, for example, are host to millions of images, some of which date back to 10,000 B.C. What makes the connection between these and later cartooning is occasional similarity between the way people are caricatured on the rocks and some of the cartoons that appear, for instance, in the Karonga Kronikal, a humour magazine created for and by troops fighting in the East African campaign during World War 1.

The word “cartoon” is drawn (no pun intended) from cartone, the Italian word for “pasteboard.” The Italian masters used pasteboard for rough sketches (cartoni), which were especially useful in preparing frescoes and tapestries. The word did not come to mean “an amusing sketch” until the 1840s when Prince Albert, who wanted to decorate the walls of the new Houses of Parliament in London with frescoes, opened a competition for their design. The cartoons for the frescoes, some of them absurd in their attempts to appear heroic, were exhibited in 1843 and parodied shortly thereafter in the English magazine Punch, thus earning the word its present meaning.

Political cartoons are for the most part composed of two elements: caricature, which parodies the individual, and allusion, which creates the situation or context into which the individual is placed. While caricature originated around the Mediterranean, with Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic explorations of “the ideal type of deformity” which he used to better understand the concept of ideal beauty, cartoons of a more editorial nature developed further north. During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther condensed his message into simple broadsheet posters or illustrated pamphlets which were the distributed throughout population centres. It proved to be an effective strategy because the images would reach a large amount of people and, in an age of widespread illiteracy, enjoy the greatest possible amount of comprehension. As Barry Burden, assistant professor of government at Harvard University, puts it, “Satire was once the way for illiterate people to make sense of what was going on in politics.”

According to Ray Morris of York University, cartooning depends on the political system. In totalitarian regimes the artist is forced to praise the system and denounce its enemies. In authoritarian regimes some dissent is allowed, and when the regimes become brittle cartoonists mercilessly expose their rigid foolishness. In a Western (style) democracy during peace-time, cartoonists are watchdogs, keeping power-holders honest and accountable. “One might then generalize that cartoonists focus on office-holders and aspirants whom the public can hope to defeat in an election or a popular uprising. Cartoons focus overwhelmingly on the leaders of the party in power. Other government and business figures are in the minority.”

Cynthia Bailey Lee states in ‘A Semiotic Analysis of Political Cartoons’, a study of the visual images of presidential candidates portrayed in the editorial cartoons in the 2000 US presidential election campaign, “political cartoons are...successful in helping society to understand and make judgments about the extremely complex interactions at work in political systems.”

Over the years, the power of cartoons has been illustrated time and again. As Western culture diversified from its original religious foundation, new subjects became available for ridicule and the appeal and influence of cartoons on public life grew in proportion. In 1764, a series of four copperplate images inflamed tempers during the 1764 elections and ultimately cost Benjamin Franklin his seat in the Pennsylvania Assembly, the only election he was ever to lose. In 18th Century Europe, the cartoonists of England, Russia, Germany, Spain, and the United States generally declared satirical war on Napoleon, and so effective were they that Napoleon sent notes to the government of England requesting their suppression, equating them with murderers.

By the mid-19th century, editorial cartoons had become regular features in American newspapers. The continuing effect of political cartoons on public opinion was amply demonstrated with the demise of William Tweed, a New York politician in the 1870s, largely caused by the attention paid to him by cartoonist Thomas Nast. Tweed’s exasperated response speaks to the power of Nast’s cartoons. He demanded of his henchmen,“Stop them damned pictures. I don’t care what the papers write about me. My constituents can’t read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!”

In the tumultuous first half of the 20th Century, cartoons continued to be used to motivate soldiers and the citizenry. Cartoons in the Karonga Kronikal helped define the enemy, by depicting German soldiers comically, such as in positions impersonating African women or as cowards hiding behind African men. According to Melvin E. Page, in an article titled “With Jannie in the Jungle: European Humour in an East African Campaign” published in The International Journal of African Historical Studies in 1981, “the enemy in Europe was frequently painted in horrific terms, a Teutonic barbarian cruelly smashing the innocent and righteous.” By the WW2, the influence of cartoons was such that Hitler and Stalin surrounded themselves with large groups of “pocket” cartoonists who praised them extravagantly. They also destroyed or exiled cartoonists critical of them. During the “Battle for Britain” Englishman David Low, considered the century’s greatest cartoonist, was put on Hitler’s “death list.”

In modern times, political cartoonists, especially in the West, have fallen on hard times. Newspapers across the US, for example, are under pressure as readership declines along with advertising revenue, while more and more Americans get their information online. The dramatic decline in advertising dollars in a brutal economy has forced newspapers to cut costs by firing cartoonists, and turning to marketing syndicates for cheap cartoons. As a result, over the past three decades, the number of editorial cartoonists working in America's newsrooms has been cut in half. Prominent newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times do not employ a staff cartoonist.

In East Africa, the situation is reversed. The number of working cartoonists in Kenya, for example, has more than doubled in a decade and newspapers are increasing in number, not decreasing. However this may be short lived as internet use spreads. Many cartoonists are paradoxically turning to the web for salvation. The opportunity to reach a wider audience and practice their art unfettered by the fears and inclinations of editors might yet prove to be a blessing.

However if the tradition of irreverent political cartooning was to disappear, the world would be the poorer for it. Editorial cartoonists are valuable to democracy because, as Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Clay Bennet puts it, “democracy needs hecklers.”

“Let's face it, most people are just plain nice… reluctant to impose their comments or observations on others when those views are either unkind or unsolicited. Most folks will sit quietly in a theater (no matter how bad the performance) and clap politely… But in every audience there's a heckler—someone who's either fearless or foolhardy enough to publicly ridicule the flaws in a performance… Columnists and editorial writers are more like theater critics —studiously observing, then methodically reviewing the show with deserving praise or criticism. Editorial cartoonists, however, would be the hecklers—blurting out their complaints for all to hear, receiving scorn from some and approving nods from others in the audience. Although the critic and heckler basically serve the same purpose, the latter is much less concerned with the prospect of embarrassing others... or himself.”

Another famous cartoonist, the late Herb Block, who coined the term “Mc-Carthyism” and attacked the infamous anti-communist investigations of that era notes in his essay, “The Cartoon”: “Cartooning is an irreverent form of expression...If the prime role of a free press is to serve as critic of government, cartooning is often the cutting edge of that criticism.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Live and Let Die

Across the globe, millions of trees have been martyred to provide the paper upon which the sorry tale of man’s inhumanity to nature is recorded. Animal shows and channels dedicated to them have proliferated on air, telling us why each and every one of nature’s creatures is special, lovable and deserving of protection. However, sometimes I think it useful to question the rationale. Does nature accord each and every species a right to exist? Do we have an obligation to protect them all from the consequences of human activity?

The indisputable answer to the first question is a resounding no! No species on this earth, humans included, enjoys an absolute right to exist, at least not one that Mother Nature recognizes. According to Dr. Richard Leakey, former head of the Kenya Wildlife Service and world-renowned conservationist, since life first appeared, more than 99% of all species that ever existed have become extinct. From the dodo to the dinosaur, all who didn’t get with nature’s evolutionary programme brought upon themselves the indignity of having their graves dug up by archaeologists and their naked bones displayed to all and sundry.

Far from being rare, extinction is very much a fact of life. It is nature’s age-old mechanism for getting rid of the evolutionary chaff. From the very beginnings of life on this planet, extinction’s agents have come in many forms -meteorites, climate change, disease and other animals- none of which have been particularly welcome. However, special condemnation has been reserved for the latest incarnation, Homo Sapiens.

By most accounts, we are living in a period of mass extinctions. Writing in the American Scientist magazine, Dr. Donald A. Levin notes that the rate of extinction occurring in today's world is exceptional -as much as 100 to1,000 times greater than normal. Anywhere from 35 -150 species disappear every day. In 2008, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the world's main authority on the conservation status of species, "confirmed an extinction crisis, with almost one in four [mammals] at risk of disappearing forever". A 1998 survey by the American Museum of Natural History found that 70% of biologists view the present era as part of a mass extinction event, the fastest to have ever occurred.

While man undoubtedly bears some blame for this state of affairs, his contribution has been less than stellar. Leakey considers “our role in this extraordinary [extinction] saga has been minuscule and so far…not statistically significant”. And while some, such as E. O. Wilson of Harvard University, predict that man's destruction of the biosphere could cause the extinction of one-half of all species in the next 100 years, in the grand scheme of evolutionary things, this is not a lot. Other Extinction-Level Events (ELEs) such as the Permian-Triassic decimated up to 96% of all marine and 70% of land specie. Nonetheless, the “crisis” has many people worried.

The typical reaction has been to attempt to save everything. Extinction, though, is not necessarily a bad thing. It creates room for better adapted species to develop and survive and also affords us the opportunity to rid this planet of any that make our lives a living hell, such as mosquitoes, bedbugs, cockroaches and tse-tse flies. As Leakey rhetorically asked in his famous ‘bunny huggers” speech, “Given the inevitability of extinctions, and bearing in mind that most of these losses will come about as a consequence of activities beyond the control of individual nations or their conventions, should we really be concerned about the loss of a few species that results from international trade? Will the world be any worse off if there are no longer pangolins, brown hyenas or pandas? The Europeans don't seem to have suffered from the loss of the woolly rhinoceros and how many Americans even remember the giant sloth that slipped into extinction some ten thousand years ago? Will Africans miss the elephant or the rhino if these too disappear? Is the elephant any more important than an orchid that grows near tropical wetlands? What about the extinction of hundreds and thousands of species that we humans have not yet even discovered? Does it matter if they become extinct before we even know that they exist?”

Actually, to try to preserve everything would be a clear challenge to nature’s idiom of survival for the fittest. In humanity’s insatiable consumption and material progress, Mother Nature is once again wielding her broom and sweeping away species that have overstayed their welcome. Better, I think, to go with the flow and accept that some, even many, species will have to go. The evolutionary New World Order with mankind at the top of the food chain is unlikely to collapse any time soon. This means that species that cannot adapt to our destructive ways will either have to hide and wait until we are spent or they will be exterminated. Evolution has never been a democracy. It respects neither human, animal nor vegetable rights.

We, though, have a vested interest. Our physical and economic well being is tied to the fate of many other species. For example bees, which the world over have been dying from a mysterious syndrome termed colony collapse disorder, or CCD, threaten enormous consequences. Experts at Cornell University in upstate New York have estimated the value bees generate in the US alone - by pollinating fruit and vegetable plants, almond trees and animal feed like clover - at more than $14 billion. In fact, animals provide pollination services for over three-quarters of the staple crop plants that feed human kind and for 90% of all flowering plants in the world. As Albert Einstein once put it, “no more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

We are also endowed with a natural appetite for love and empathy. We abhor the waste of thousands of elephant lives in the service of our baser need to kill and our higher appreciation of beauty. We protect these “gentle giants” even when they destroy the livelihoods of peasant farmers who see nothing gentle in the behemoth’s manner. So I think a balance has to be struck between our role as nature’s hangmen and our compassion for those in her gallows.

Not all living things deserve our protection. And even if we wanted to, we could scarcely afford the investment it would take to save them all. We need a rationale for prioritizing which species to preserve and which to let go. Leakey declares that government policy should be based on the non-negotiable premise that “species which are the stuff of nature are priceless, as are human dignity and freedom.” While I definitely agree that human dignity and liberty are undoubtedly priceless, I think even he would have a hard time defending the priceless nature of the Ebola virus or the Guinea worm. The argument that viruses and other lethal parasites play a vital role in assuring our evolutionary “fitness” by eliminating weaker individuals is undercut by the acknowledged priceless nature of human dignity. It is a safe bet that theirs is a service that we would gladly do without.

My motto is: If the species is good for us then we save it. If it’s bad for us, then we kill it. If it doesn’t fall in either category, then it takes care of itself and good luck to it. Of course, this should not be taken as a license for extermination of all but the most obviously beneficial animals. Since we are often ignorant of future benefits of certain species, we need to hedge our bets through solutions that accommodate as many as possible without injuring our interests. All the same, we live in the present and while storing up for the future, let’s be careful we do not starve ourselves today.

That many organisms on this planet exist at our pleasure has been proven time and time again. And not just in regard to extinction. Through genetic tampering, we have created never-before seen specimens of cows, sheep, tomatoes etc. We have striven to eradicate any animal/plant that has posed a threat to our way of life. The smallpox bacterium and the saber-toothed tiger are just a few examples. Others we have locked up in zoos, reserves and parks for profit, academic study or just the joy of having them around as a kind of exotic pet. In a very real sense, we have been playing God for a long time. It’s about time we learnt to live and let die.

Monday, September 28, 2009

UNequal Nations: Why The West Isn't About To Get Rid Of Its Nuclear Arsenal

Last week, when the potentates of the world gathered for the UN’s General Assembly in New York to talk about global issues, they might have paid heed to the words of Swiss philosopher, diplomat, and legal expert, Emmerich de Vattel, who in his 1758 opus The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law declared that “nature has established a perfect equality of independent nations.” It is not a principle that has always gone down well with the rich and powerful countries. 

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which sought to craft a new world order out of the ruins of the 1st World War, Japan introduced the following clause on racial equality to be written into the covenant of the League of Nations:

“The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord, as soon as possible, to all alien nationals of States members of the League equal and just treatment in every respect, making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.”

The West was aghast. Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes was mortified about the future of “White Australia” if the clause was accepted. The British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour declared that while he found the notion that all men were created equal an interesting one, he did not believe it. “You could scarcely say that a man in Central Africa was equal to a European.” 

US President Woodrow Wilson was worried that, even with a watered down version of the clause (that simply asked for “the principle of equality of nations and just treatment of their nationals,”) the League of Nations Covenant would not get the support of US senators from the western states if it included the racial equality provision and, when majority of the delegates voted for the Japanese amendment, announced that the amendment could not carry because there were strong objections to it. In any event, the US Senate never ratified the League of Nations Covenant, thus dealing the first attempt to form a global society of nations a fatal blow.

What does this have to do with the General Assembly? Well many of the issues discussed had a great bearing on the principle of equality. Addressing the gathering US President Barack Obama declared that “no world order which elevates one nation above others” could succeed in tackling global issues. Speaking immediately after him, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in a long (he spoke for over 90 minutes instead of the allotted 15 minutes), rambling, and sometimes incoherent address, put Obama’s remarks in stark relief. Clutching a copy of the UN Charter he moaned: “It says nations are equal whether they are big or small –are we equal in the permanent seats? … Do we have the rights of the veto?” Answering his own questions he said: “No, we are not equal.”

Now, whatever one may make of the man, that statement is undeniably true. We are not equal. And not just in the current UN power structure. Take the challenge of nuclear proliferation, one of “four pillars” outlined by US President which encapsulate the challenges facing the world. The global effort towards a nuclear-free world continues to be characterized by rampant discrimination and inequality between the nuclear haves and have-nots. For example, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the US loves to quote in relation to the nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran also states in Article VI:

"Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

On Thursday, Obama chaired a meeting of the UN Security Council as part of the process of drawing up a replacement for the NPT and designed to stop countries developing these weapons. In a unanimous vote, the UNSC adopted a resolution calling for the full implementation of Article VI but with emphasis on the “negotiations in good faith” part. There was absolutely no mention of a deadline by which the nuclear weapon states would disarm and the resolution is also silent on the continuing development of new nukes as well as delivery systems by these states. 

Give an that Obama has already declared that disarmament will not happen in his lifetime, the fact that the UK has already ruled out giving up its nukes (a statement on Tuesday from Downing Street made it clear that the UK's nuclear deterrent was "non-negotiable"), and that Russia and China have both announced upgrades to their nuclear arsenals, it is obvious that the UN resolution is just an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. It is not the first time this has happened.

When, in the closing years of the last century, India called attention to the requirement for complete nuclear disarmament by all under this provision, the Clinton Administration said its implementation was "unrealistic" though the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade earlier had ended the nuclear arms race. The US (and all other nuclear powers) therefore is also in breach of its "international obligations" in this regard and has little moral authority to demand that others comply with the NPT. Sadly, this is far from an isolated incidence of non-compliance. The NPT has been repeatedly violated by the nuclear states in pursuit of narrow political interests.

According to a report by John Burroughs, Executive Director Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, the 2000 NPT Review Conference came up with an "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapons States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all states are committed under Article VI." Don't hold your breath though. The report states that "during the Conference, diplomatic talking points released by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists revealed that US negotiators advised Russia that keeping its nuclear forces on alert is a good idea". Why? "Under 'any possible future arms control agreement,' the talking points say, Russia, could maintain on 'constant' alert a 'large, diversified, viable arsenal', sufficient to mount an 'annihilating counterattack' in response to a US first strike, regardless of any 'limited' US national missile defense system." Of course, the US could then use the same argument to justify its arsenal's continued existence. We thus have here the nuclear powers colluding to eliminate the possibility of their ever having to comply with their "unequivocal undertaking". In fact, in a speech in Prague earlier in the year, Obama declared that the US would never give up its arsenal so long as nuclear weapons were held by other countries.

In his speech to the General Assembly, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed a "grand global bargain between nuclear weapon and non nuclear weapons states” in which “all nuclear weapons states must reciprocally play their part in reducing nuclear weapons as part of an agreement by non nuclear states to renounce them.” This, he declared was “exactly what the Non-Proliferation Treaty intended”. Then came the rope-a-dope. “In line with maintaining our nuclear deterrent I have asked our national security committee to report to me on the potential future reduction of our nuclear weapon submarines from four to three.” What Brown is asking us to believe is that by reducing their nuclear arsenals, the nuclear weapon states are disarming as required by Article VI. This, of course, is nonsense. When the Kenyan government is asked to disarm militias, the clear suggestion is not that the militias be allowed to keep some of their machetes.

According Professor Ron Smith, a defence economist at Birkbeck College, going from four to three nuclear submarines would probably have little effect on Britain's nuclear capability. This is because the fourth sub is essentially a spare. Similarly, the Moscow Treaty between the US and Russia, which sets a goal of reducing deployed nuclear weapons to between 1700-2200 by 2012, only covers weapons that are “deployed,” meaning those that are in missile silos, in submarines, or ready to be loaded onto Air Force bombers. The treaty does not cover weapons held in reserve by either country. In fact, there is no intention among nuclear weapons powers to disarm, Obama’s rosy rhetoric notwithstanding.

Under Article I of the NPT "each nuclear-weapon State also undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices."

Thursday’s UNSC resolution is however not so unambiguous. It declares that the Security Council, which will determine if any particular situation of non-compliance “constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” So some instances of non-compliance, it seems, are acceptable and others are not. Why would the UNSC introduce such ambiguity in the resolution’s wording? Perhaps it is an attempt to retroactively cover their collective behinds.

In 1976, a US Senate committee uncovered secret US heavy water exports to India which paved the way for India's nuclear weapons programme. In March 2006 The UK's Foreign Office admitted that in the 1950s and 1960s, Britain made hundreds of secret shipments of restricted materials- including samples of fissile material (uranium-235 in 1959 and plutonium in 1966) as well as highly enriched lithium-6 which is used to boost fission bombs and fuel hydrogen bombs- to Israel. A BBC Newsnight investigation also showed that Britain shipped 20 tons of heavy water directly to Israel in 1959 and 1960 to start up the Dimona reactor, constructed with French help in 1956.

Under the NATO concept of “Nuclear Sharing”, the US still deploys up to 200 nuclear weapons in non-nuclear Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. A significant proportion of these weapons are intended for delivery on aircraft belonging to non-nuclear NATO members in the event of war. This is in direct violation of the obligation “not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons” and another telling example of Nuclear Power deception.

The key document on the US interpretation of Articles I and II of the NPT is entitled Questions on the Draft Non-Proliferation Treaty asked by US Allies together with Answers given by the United States. In it the US declares that once a general war has begun, it would no longer feel bound by the NPT creating a loophole by which it could withdraw from the Treaty without the three month notice period required by NPT article X. It further states that the NPT does not deal with arrangements for deployment of nuclear weapons within allied territory as these do not involve any transfer of nuclear weapons or control over them. 

This interpretation was made public on 9 July 1968, eight days after the NPT signing ceremony at which the first 56 nations had signed the Treaty. Research by the Berlin Information-centre for TransAtlantic Security (BITS) concluded that many countries were unaware of the NATO countries’ unilateral interpretation of the NPT and its meaning when they signed the Treaty; that there was no evidence that the details of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements or the interpretation had been made available to all NPT parties prior to joining the Treaty; and that neither the US nor NATO ever lived up to then US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s 1966 promise "to make every effort to explain both our non-proliferation and our NATO nuclear sharing policies and to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt, that there is no conflict between them." 

One may suppose that an unintended consequence of the US position is that in the event of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, Iran could immediately withdraw from the NPT citing the Questions and Answers. However, even in this, discrimination reigns. The US tries to preclude this possibility by stating that it would withdraw only in times of "general war" and that "the other extreme would be a limited, local conflict, not involving a nuclear weapon-state. In this case the treaty would remain in force".

The conduct of the nuclear powers simply proves that the NPT is a byword for global domination; a scheme to keep such weapons, and the political power they convey, in their hands and in the hands of their friends. They never intended it to "facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons." The UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband last week noted that Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world which he announced in Prague, “is a very long-term goal which may outlive his children, not just himself.” He added that the nuclear powers "reject unilateral nuclear disarmament … precisely because the world cannot end up in a situation where responsible powers get rid of their weapons, but the danger of nuclear proliferation by other powers remains." But, one might very well ask, who determines which countries are “responsible powers”?

The NPT, just like many other relics of the post-WW2 and Cold War era, has outlived its usefulness. These were agreements designed to keep the peace in an age dominated by big military powers, when just the threat of war was sufficient to intimidate most into towing the line. Today, when 19 men with box-cutters can strike terror into a nation of 300 million and 10,000 Hizbullah guerillas can fight the largest and best equipped military in the Middle East to a standstill, such agreements seem obsolete. Created, in Paul Leventhal's words "for a world of thousands of nuclear power plants and of multi-billion-dollar deals" the NPT- with its seamless arrangement of assured nuclear supply built upon pledges from the non-weapon states not to produce nuclear weapons and from the weapon states to negotiate in good faith to get rid of theirs -was supposed to take care of all problems. That world has not materialised.

However nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented and are here to stay. The world needs a new treaty that acknowledges this reality and one that avoids a situation where a few countries are allowed to continue to develop, possess and threaten the rest with these weapons. Any new treaty must take the following realities into account.

First, state-held nuclear weapons do not necessarily threaten the peace. As Newsweek’s Jonathan Tepperman notes, nuclear weapons were largely responsible for the fact that the Cold War never heated up; they made the idea of war between the US and the USSR unthinkable. In fact, not only did they militate against nuclear holocaust, but they also prevented conventional war between nuclear states. The latest skirmishes between India and Pakistan did not degenerate in full blown war largely due to the fact that both countries were nuclear powers. Far from destabilizing the region, an Iranian bomb (and, I hasten to add, no one has demonstrated that they want one) might actually bring some semblance of normalcy to Lebanon by obviating the need for Iran to arm Hizbullah as a deterrent to a feared US or Israeli military assault on Iran. Just as the prospect of mutual nuclear annihilation has mellowed the attitudes on the Indian sub-continent, so it may pour some much needed cold water on the famously hot tempers of the Middle East.

Which brings me to my second point. That the nuclear umbrella effectively protects the citizens of nuclear weapon states goes without saying. The rest of us, however, are not so lucky. While Thursday’s resolution “recalls the statements by each of the five nuclear-weapon States…in which they give security assurances against the use of nuclear weapons to nonnuclear-weapon State Parties to the NPT”, it is obvious that such assurances are of little meaning considering the US position that it would not be bound by the treaty in the event of a “general war”. Also, during the Cold War, Third world countries became the arena where big power rivalries were settled, their citizens bearing the terrible consequences. And, of course, nuclear weapons did not mellow the behavior of big powers towards their less endowed neighbours. The Soviets invaded and occupied Eastern Europe and Afghanistan; the Americans beat up on a host of countries including Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and, more recently, Iraq and Afghanistan. Any treaty on non-proliferation needs to temper big power belligerence as well as ensure that non-nuclear countries have the same protection from both nuclear and conventional warfare.

Finally, the real threat of nuclear proliferation is that it increases the risk of WMD falling into the hands of terrorists. A global nuclear arms race is a terrorist's dream come true. At the moment, it is exceedingly difficult and expensive to manufacture a nuclear weapon, even a crude one. Many terrorist groups thus look to nuclear weapon states to provide them with the necessary material and technology. The more the nuclear states, the higher the chances of that happening. A frightening example of what could happen was provided by the father of Pakistan’s bomb, Dr. Prof. Abdul Qadeer Khan. In early February 2004, the Government of Pakistan announced that Khan had signed a confession indicating that he had provided Iran, Libya, and North Korea with designs and technology to aid in nuclear weapons programs in return for millions of dollars. It is not a great leap from that to selling the technology to terrorists.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El Baradei, recently warned that more than 30 countries could soon have the technological know-how to produce nuclear weapons. It seems that going nuclear is becoming fashionable on the international stage. Many states are developing nuclear technology that is designed for peaceful energy production. The problem is that these programs could quickly and easily be modified to develop nuclear weapons. Iran and Brazil are actively working on uranium enrichment capability, and other countries, including Australia, Argentina, and South Africa are seriously considering programs of their own. Thirteen more states either have the ability to produce weapons grade uranium, could build the technology to do so, or could use nuclear waste for weapons: Japan, South Korea, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Taiwan, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Lithuania. Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia recently announced they were initiating nuclear programs. Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Namibia, Moldova, Nigeria, Poland, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam, and Yemen have expressed an interest in doing so, either for energy production or in response to regional realities. The potential for global nuclear proliferation has never been greater, and the possibility of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of radicals determined to employ them has never been more real. Any new treaty has to deal with it.

On June 26, 1946, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, soon to be India's first Prime Minister, declared: "As long as the world is constituted as it is, every country will have to devise and use the latest devices for its protection." The challenge before the UN is how to re-constitute the world and to breathe meaning into the language of equality so all nations can have a share in the advantages and responsibilities of technological progress. This is necessary if we are to achieve the goal of securing the globe for the sake of its current and future residents. It is, as Obama put it, “the bargain that makes this work.”