Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Politics of Identity

After two decades in power, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni probably needs to update his image in view of next year's election. And he has hit on a new strategy to woo young voters. The 66-year old is reinventing himself as a hip-hop star and his debut rap song has become a sensation on the radio and in the nation's dance clubs. While addressing a huge crowd of youth supporters on last month, Museveni decided to show off his rapping prowess, saying that he had recently learned about "the black African roots of hip hop music." A music producer captured the rhymes and later put them to beats, creating the song "U Want Another Rap?" with Fenon Records. The song features the president rapping in Runyankore about God and family, followed by the chorus "Yes, Sevo!", which was added by the producer. Sevo is a common nickname for Museveni.

Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin is intent on forging a different kind of identity. In a bid to boost his action-man credentials, he strapped on a helmet branded with the Russian flag before climbing into a powerful Renault Formula One race car and tore along an empty road near St Petersburg by himself, reaching speeds of nearly 250 kilometres per hour. It is just the latest in a long list of machismo stunts the 58-year old has pulled off in the recent past. It all started with flying a fighter jet into war-torn Chechnya in 2000. In August this year, he was photographed hunting endangered whales with a cross-bow during a scientific expedition in choppy seas, and later taking the controls of a plane to dump water on a Moscow wildfire. He has also shot a Siberian tiger with a tranquiliser gun and released leopards into a wildlife sanctuary.

It was not only politicians seeking a public makeover. A young Asian male was placed under arrest after he donned a mask and boarded a flight from Hong Kong to Canada. However, at some point during the flight he went to the toilet and emerged without the elaborate disguise, looking like the fresh-faced twenty-something he actually is. In what they described as an "unbelievable case of concealment", authorities in Vancouver, who had been tipped off by the cabin crew, later found a bag containing a Mission Impossible-type head mask of a white man complete with a brown leather cap, glasses and a thin brown cardigan. The young man, who had apparently swapped boarding passes with a US citizen to get on the flight, has now claimed asylum in Canada – presumably using his real identity.

Disguises, however, can have fatal consequences. A 32-year old actor playing the role of a masked gunman in the Philippines was shot dead after he was mistaken for a real assassin. Kirk Abella, was shooting a scene for the movie Going Somewhere when the local security guard, Eddie Cuizon, was called by a concerned citizen saying there was a masked gunman in the area. As the director shouted "action", the actor took off on a motorcycle with another masked rider at the controls. Cuizon later told police he saw two men on a motorcycle but they sped away as he tried to approach them. He then shot Abella fearing they were going to escape. Police said that other witnesses initially thought the shot fired was part of the movie. Cuizon now faces real-life charges of homicide and violation of a gun ban.

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