Friday, 31 July 2015

Europe: The wetsuits from Calais that humanised the migrants

The Calais of our times
Yesterday night, a full understanding of the so-called Calais crisis dawned on me. In fact, it is now known as the Calais migrant crisis and it is seen through the eyes of business and tourism.
Business by the reason of tailbacks of traffic consisting of lorries needing to cross the English Channel between Calais and Dover in either direction. On the tourism side, it is about British holidaymakers unable to cross to mainland Europe and thereby a crisis of sorts in the Kent countryside.
The migrants in Calais consisting of people fleeing from areas of conflict and unrest as Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and Libya along with seemingly economic migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa number up to 5,000 living in the most inhumane conditions in Europe and all trying to cross over to the United Kingdom.
A fantasy, at best
The draw to the United Kingdom, has elements of reality and fantasy, many do think they can easily be subsumed into the system through the black economy which we must accept thrives despite protestations to the contrary and the idea that we have an easy and accessible welfare entry threshold compared to other European countries.
Besides, many of these people come from countries where whatever standard of English they have is passable and will be useful enough for them to get by.
Yet, to view this through the lens of our convenience is to miss the greater issue of the humanitarian crisis on our borders, the fact that a possible majority of these people are desperate, fleeing conflict and danger whilst seeking any opportunity for a life that has a modicum of peace, stability and the ability to provide for themselves and their families.
Our peace is a draw
Peace in Europe is a more than a draw for those willing sometimes without any other choice or opportunity to embark on life-threatening, dangerous and risky journeys from their ravaged homelands for the opportunity of a new life – that is an undeniable draw that is just human in all its ramifications and something anyone in their position will probably do without hesitation.
The English Channel is just 33.1 kilometres (20.6 miles) at its shortest width and standing at shores of Calais it is easy to view the White Cliffs of Dover which are quite visible from Calais as deceptively closer than they really are. Many people have swum the English Channel crossing, the fastest being in 6 hours and 55 minutes, but is it not a feat for the faint-hearted.
Two young men in wet suits
This is how Mouaz al-Balkhi and Shadi Omar Kataf from Syria bought wetsuits and plunged into the busiest shipping lane in the world of the English Channel from Calais in order to swim to England only to perish in their attempt and wash up on the shores of Texel, an island of the Netherlands 465 kilometres away and the coastline of Lista in Norway some 850 kilometres away, respectively. [Their Story]
The lives and deaths of these two young men shows not just the desperation of the migrants, but the risks they are willing to take to make it to the United Kingdom, even if it costs them their lives. Thanks to the Dagbladet newspaper of Norway, these two young men did not end up just another migrant statistic of misfortune, the coincidence of two bodies in wetsuits found on foreign beaches, but they are people like you and me who might have had a different story if their homelands were as peaceful and as comfortable as ours.
This is the case of each and every migrant who has embarked on a perilous journey from the turmoil of war or any other uncomfortable circumstance in their homelands to seek a new life in Europe. Meanwhile, our politicians are suffused in rhetoric and constituency-pleasing banter as the migrant reality is toyed with as a poor reflection of our humanity.
We can do better than this, we surely can.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Africa and the mind-set of non-issues

Not waiting in vain any longer
I was not particularly ululating over Barack Obama’s trip to Kenya, neither did I find time to see what he was up to.
I did my share of waiting to wave at dignitaries in the 1970s when we stood as pupils of Corona School by the railway line at Bukuru, Jos waving Nigerian flags at the convoy of Yakubu Gowon the then Head of State of Nigeria and his friend Gnassingbe Eyadema from Togo when they drove up to Yakubu Gowon’s homestead near Pankshin.
Besides, every Children’s Day, the 27th of May, we went marching to the salute of the governor of Benue-Plateau, J. D. Gomwalk, really, I had had enough of that stuff.
Treating people differently
However, there were some things one could not miss about what Barack Obama said in Kenya, some brilliantly highlighted by the Independent.
Obama was always going to talk about gay rights, but he had a broader thing to say about rights which, unfortunately, was lost on his host.
When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode. And bad things happen.
He could not have said that in any simpler terms, to codify the treatment of people differently because of their difference in the law will not only erode the freedoms of those people, it sets the stage for eroding the freedoms of the next vulnerable group.
Missing the point totally
There is no doubt that there are many vulnerable, voiceless and somewhat powerless groups in Africa, women, children, girls, the poor, the sick, the indigent, the minority by tribe, religion or some other association, they are all in line for a form for erosion of their rights eventually, even if it does not seem obvious now.
Uhuru Kenyatta a few months younger than Barack Obama and son of Jomo Kenyatta who led the struggle for Kenyan independence said in response, ‘gay rights was "generally a non-issue" for most Kenyans’.
That sort of dismissiveness is dangerous makes you wonder about the allegations of culpability that led to ICC charges against Uhuru with regards to the post-election violence in 2007 to 2008.
How many other non-issues?
The question becomes how many other rights are generally a non-issue for most Kenyans? How many minority groups have had their freedoms eroded because they have become a non-issue, an insignificance, a nuisance, a distraction and are readily ignored because they do not matter?
For how long will the leadership of Kenya follow the inclination of the majority to the detriment of the minority who they are also elected to serve and protect?
It was a poor choice of words, but broadly the issue of gay rights in Africa has become a litmus test of what its leadership is ready to address progressively in the name of human rights.
We lost many opportunities
They have expended so much energy in promulgating anti-gay laws to persecute and prosecute people who are generally invisible and in the shadows whilst ignoring the critically important aspects of rights for women and children, national development, education, health and welfare for all.
In the meantime, the seriously disaffected who have already concluded that they are viewed as a non-issue to the majority, have found the comfort extremist Jihadist companionship to wreak the havoc of unspeakable terror all around Africa.
The non-issue talk is a mind-set, a rotten one at that, because it goes without saying that many who have resorted to terror would never have considered it pathway of protest or emancipation if those who were supposed to represent them listened, engaged, participated and contributed to their wellbeing that they did not feel they were a non-issue but were acknowledged, respected and included in the greater and laudable pursuit of being part of their nation for its good, its development and its progress.
In pursuing gays, we lost opportunities to improve the lives of, and consolidate progressive laws with respect to people we see daily who are affected the most by our inaction even if they support our actions against the minority of the different and the other.


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Thought Picnic: On the politics of adversity and the expectations I refuse to respect

Exemplary beyond words
I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 programme last night titled No Triumph, No Tragedy presented by Peter White who as the Disability Affairs correspondent of the BBC was born blind.
He was interviewing Melanie Reid who in 2010 suffered a fall whilst horse riding and the injuries sustained turned her into a tetraplegic. There were so many things she touched on the subject of life-changing adversity that I could relate to, that I thought I might write something in relation to my experiences.
One particular phrase she used was, ‘The Politics of Disability’, which I understood to be a particular thinking and mind-set that appears to create a community of people with a common experience and agitates to maintain or set a standard for how people in that setting should identify, project, speak or advocate.
The pressures to conform
As a tetraplegic and her stubborn desire not be defined by that condition, she had come against some opposition from others in similar situations who expected her to more accepting of her situation and a more vocal advocate of rights, positions and policies to serve that community.
Whilst, I have had my share of adversity and none as serious as the principals I have heretofore written about, the concept of politics is even broader than that of disability. It covers such areas as the medical, the economic, the social, the cultural, the religious and the familial dimensions of the person, their community and their society.
When you consider race, sexuality, long-term conditions, survival from cancer, attendant chronic conditions and adversity, there has always been some perception and thinking one has had to prevent from encroaching into what is essentially one's own personal story which is not entirely unique.
Expectations I refuse to respect
Yet, I find that from all those apparent groupings that have their loosely agglomerated communities, there are expectations and demands. That I am black, I am expected to identify with a political slant without questioning else I am a sell-out. That my sexuality is a private and not a subject for public discussion, I am considered either lacking pride or courage for who I really am, whereas, that is just part of who I am and hardly the whole.
Other matters on the issue of disease and the management of it, we've had cancer which in some cases is both politics and an institution beyond which it could even become a kind of lifestyle. A resignation to fate whilst the fight continues to survive and meet certain life goals. Last week, I was literally bullied into signing a petition to keep the NHS public, especially when I mentioned I was a cancer survivor, I got a good earful.
Knowing where your loyalties lie
Yet, I owe my survival not to the UK NHS but to the Dutch healthcare services that acted promptly on noticing that I had a serious condition, where they are more interventionist than reticent. A chronic condition discovered for well over two years now in our NHS has had doctors do everything but go for dealing with it. I have been observed and sweet-talked in the notion that the real damage is probably a decade away when we could address the condition now and be done with it.
It is unsatisfactory and it does make you want to find a pressure group agitating for quick decisive action rather than what looks lackadaisical almost to the point of uncaring with the hope that we expire before we cost the NHS anything for our treatments.
Reviewing this situation allows me know where my loyalties lie, knowing those who really did something as opposed to systems that pay lip service to situations they never practically affect in a positive way. In other spheres too, you begin to know that your loyalties must be borne of profitable experiences of humanity rather than have your loyalties determined by default to what pigeonholes you have been allocated.
Know your story and stick to your life
On the matter of adversity, the counts are numerous and only a few people know to any extent what the experience was, the losses were many, yet hope lives and thrives in ways that celebrate the resilience of the human spirit.
There are reasons to identify and conform, but in the end, you have to have your own personal experience written as your own story in your voice and in your time, extricate yourself from being a statistic or a number, not a patient, not a victim, not a mishap or an unfortunate reportage, but a person with a name, with a life and life they are living their own way.
Politics has its place, but the stubborn will to be different is the best story that can be told of any life that has lived on this planet earth. For that, I commend Peter White and Melanie Reid for teaching me more about facing life, not as a triumph or a tragedy, but as life the best way you can.


Monday, 20 July 2015

Childhood: Mr Piper

I remember
The advent of the Internet has somewhat meant that no knowledge of my exciting childhood will be left incomplete.
Times that memories of decades gone float back like eerie clouds into my mind, I only having an aspect good enough to research for and obtain the old and today, I had such to bring to completion.
When we lived in Jos in the early 1970s, we finally got a black-and-white television in 1974 and one children’s show that I remember from that time was Mr Piper.
The theme song was quite melodic and the only that was clearest in my mind of the song was, ‘In my stories and in my songs’, the rest was a jumble with a tune that I never really got to know until today.
Completing the knowledge
So, today, I found out that Mr Piper was a Canadian children’s television series made in 1963 that became popular in the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s. The lyrics of the theme song found like pieces of a half-completed jigsaw found and put in place.
Come with me,
Come and see,
All the wonders there will be
In my stories and in my songs,
And everywhere where fun belongs.
You’ll meet heroes, giants bold,
Visit lands both hot and cold,
With magic tricks to shiver your skin,
Laughs galore with animals in
My world of fun —
Pied Piper’s Home
And to complete the circle of recall, an episode of the Mr Piper.


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Nigeria: Deploying the Piggyback Exculpation Device

Behind every man
Dr Goodluck Jonathan, the erstwhile President of Nigeria who was democratically pensioned off in March 2015 has some very powerful women in his cabinet.
Diezani Alison-Madueke, the Federal Minister of Petroleum Resources from April 2010 until May 2015 and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Federal Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy from July 2011 to May 2015.
Whilst these women apparently had the chops to hold their positions without fear of sack and redeployment and could be said to have maintained the highest confidence of the president that they were hardly affected by the many cabinet reshuffles during his tenure, the perception of what they might be up to as regards the welfare of Nigeria left a perception of perfidy.
I didn’t do it
First in June, Mrs Alison-Madueke, popularly known by her first name Diezani protested vehemently with a clear conscience that she had never stolen a single kobo of oil money. In another news story yesterday, it was revealed that Okonjo-Iweala or NOI as we know her had handed over to the new president, Muhammadu Buhari a list of corrupt deals approved by Jonathan.
Since NOI held the purse strings, it would uncharitable to suggest a woman who once held one of the highest executive posts in the World Bank could have been co-opted into a corrupt enterprise by the seemingly unassuming erstwhile president, but what do we know.
Who stole the maize?
However, I have a little story, two very hungry boys walked by a maize farm where the corn cobs were ripe for harvest and they hatched a plan to go into the farm and get some for themselves.
The bigger boy piggybacked the smaller boy who also had a bag slung over his shoulder and they walked into the farm shielded by the height of the maize. The big boy did not touch anything whilst the smaller boy did all the plucking and put the maize in the bag and the made away to roast the corn for supper.
The farmer later found the leftovers and did a quick take that the corn might have come from his farm. As he corralled the boys for questioning, they both had a very plausible story and more or less got away with the theft.
The big boy protested that he did not steal the corn, whilst the smaller boy swore that he never set foot on the farm.
Piggyback Exculpation Device
I call this the Piggyback Exculpation Device because whilst the theft was well planned the plausible stories told meant without much interrogation the thieves will be exculpated.
That gave birth to the tweet I posted in June about Diezani and now with NOI also singing like a canary about what machinations for suspect inquiry Jonathan’s cabinet go up to, methinks these women are deftly deploying the Piggyback Exculpation Device of offering plausible stories to be left off for possible bad behaviour.


Now, I hope whoever hears their story is less than satisfied and meticulously picks apart the whole saga to ensure everyone and anyone who has been involved by omission or by commission in the so-called corrupt enterprise that seemingly was the raison d'etre of the Jonathan era is brought to book.
No one should get away scot free, not ever again.