Africa and Gates-keeping

I have been, over the past year or so, making a slow conversion to free software. It started when I interviewed Richard Stallman and tried to get ZNet moving in the direction of free software, along with some help from my friend Tarek. It’s been a long process and I don’t want to minimize the difficulties, but I have decided to aim for full conversion once Windows Vista replaces Windows XP to the point that XP is no longer supported (I’m typing this from an XP machine). I had decided this a while ago, and then I saw an excellent article by Raj Patel called “Tunnel Vista”. The article is available at an excellent site – looks like a blog and is, I note, done in drupal, a free software content management system that this blog will soon be converting to – called “Stuffed and Starved” about our food system.

Raj connects the behavior of the Gates’ in their philanthropy with Africa and their corporate behavior as Microsoft. I’ve been thinking about Africa recently. I’ve been reading about Sudan and Darfur, and that got me thinking about the Congo, and that got me thinking about AIDS. The common thread that runs through Africa’s problems, to my mind, is that the whole continent has been stripped of its sovereignty. Its independent development, its economies, and its governments, have all been destroyed and undermined. The serious problems its people face, they aren’t able to solve, because all the levers of control are outside of their control. The idea that a continent of so many peoples is to depend on philanthropy for vaccinations at all is really angering. Anyway, please read Raj’s piece, and check out Stuffed and Starved.

Stephen Lewis’s ‘Race Against Time’

Stephen Lewis did the Massey Lectures this year. Previous Massey lecturers (that I’ve read and loved) include Noam Chomsky, Thomas King, and (that I’ve read and found interesting) Richard Lewontin and John Ralston Saul.

For those who don’t know who Stephen Lewis is, he’s the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. He’s also been a politician in Canada, a very important activist for Canada’s social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP).

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Hotel Rwanda

I watched Hotel Rwanda last night.

It was a good movie on multiple levels.

Nick Nolte played the person who was supposed to be Romeo Dallaire, and he played the helpless hapless general’s role well. At one point he’s explaining to the main character how the world won’t intervene because the West thinks Africans are dirt. Such a raw acknowledgement of racism is rare.

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Congo troubles

Rwanda invaded Congo again, it seems — with local backing. In Kinshasa, a protest against the UN and the government for failing to stop the invasion was suppressed, with UN troops firing on protesters and killing at least 2. I tried to write an introductory article on the Congo conflict a few months back to help readers begin to get a handle on one of the major mass murders of the past decade. That piece is damning of the role of Rwanda and Uganda in the Congo, following the credible sources I was able to find. The piece ended with a very precarious peace in place… that is what seems to be breaking down now.


The situation in Sudan is very serious. Reports are that the Sudanese government is engaging in massacres and massive reprisals against civilian populations. There is an insurgency in the South against a political-Islamist government in the North — but there is also a great deal of opposition to that government in the North, and in other regions.

One of the reasons I suspect the left doesn’t touch this conflict is the simple moral dictum that we should work on issues we can affect — it doesn’t take a moral giant to criticize something the Islamist government in Sudan is doing in the United States, but riskier and less popular to criticize what the US is doing in Iraq or the US/Israel are doing in Palestine. Another reason might be that people don’t want to help imperialism — the US has launched cruise missiles on Sudan before, and didn’t exactly help (instead it destroyed one of the country’s only pharmaceutical plants), and the last thing anyone wants to do is help the US prepare another ‘intervention’ against a ‘terrorist’ state.

Having said that, though, there are Western corporations cashing in on the Sudanese government’s displacement of people from resource-rich areas. There are, therefore, ways for people to try to prevent the west throwing gasoline on the fire. A prerequisite to figuring out these ways is understanding what’s going on, which is tricky, because many of the ‘experts’ take imperialism for granted. Here’s a backgrounder based on a fairly good book by one such ‘expert’.

The Congo Conflict


Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja. The Congo From Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History. Zed Books, London, 2002. Nzongola-Ntalaja was interviewed in preparation for the review on Jan 29, 2004.

John F. Clark. The African Stakes of the Congo War. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2002.

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Non-Reformist Reparations for Africa

The arguments against reparations for Africa are in the details: How can you possibly measure, and repay, for millions and millions of shattered lives over centuries? When a figure is settled on, and paid, is it all over? Can there be adequate compensation for centuries of slavery, colonization, and destruction? Can one group of people be held accountable for what their ancestors did? Where does exploitation in the present fit in?

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