E-waste dumping in Ghana

Accra, Ghana e-dump May 19 2014

There are many things that damn capitalism & you don’t have to read Marx to know what they are. This little girl’s life says it all. Eight-year-old Fati moved with her mother Rahinatu from northern Ghana to Agbogloshie, the slum outside Accra, so Fati could work in the e-waste dump & Rahinatu as a porter. Rahinatu had to leave behind three boys when she fled an abusive husband.

Little Fati uses a magnet to sift through mounds of old electronics–most of it illegally dumped by other countries. She wears no protective equipment since her mother wasn’t informed of the toxicity of metals in monitors & chip boards. She’s an unhappy little girl because she wants go to school but between her & her mom they don’t earn enough money to eat every day. She also has a headache from untreated Malaria & a harsh cough from inhaling the smoke billowing off the dump site.

While Fati’s life energy is being corroded in that dump, environmental groups are negotiating with the Accra city council & Ghana government for laws dealing with the environmental impact of the e-waste while taking into consideration that people’s livelihoods are involved. And that’s a dilemma that only makes sense to those without an ounce of political vision. When millions of people around the world are forced to make bare subsistence off the toxic detritus of a system based on waste, it’s long-past the time of monkeying around with legislation to make things a little better & time to start working on systemic change. The environmental groups have found the government to be quite slow in their legislative deliberations. But isn’t that always the case when profiteering conflicts with human health & well-being? The stalling & deliberations can go on for years & if they do come up with model laws there’ll be no money allocated to enforce them. That is one of the oldest ruses in the book.

Some discussions of the Agbogloshie dump & of Ghana’s economic problems point to an economic division between the northern & southern regions of Ghana since many of the young people working the dump site immigrated from the north to find work. The commentators don’t understand why capitalist economists consider Ghana one of the fastest growing economies in Africa due to new oil production & increasing foreign “investment” when there is such gruelling poverty. Some commentators looked to the US economist Jeffrey Sachs for an explanation. Sachs is the guy who advised the former Soviet Union & several Eastern European governments how to transition from the mess they called communism to the disaster of capitalism. The travesty of his work speaks for itself. What he dismantled were the basic guaranteed social services like health care & housing & replaced them with massive homelessness, impoverishment, & gangster capitalism.

Untroubled by the carnage in his wake, Sachs stalks the globe advising regimes in Latin America & Africa, marauding like the Godzilla of neoliberalism. (Just hope he doesn’t come to your continent soon.) He’s had some born-again moments & has written books like “The End of Poverty” & “The Price of Civilization”. He even lobbied to become head of the World Bank so he could turn it into an anti-poverty agency. He’s of the same political genre as Bono & Angelina Jolie, only even more stupid & cynical. Despite witnessing overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he really believes capitalism works–& this explains the banalities of his writings.

He’s been advising in Africa for nearly 20 years & the pinnacle of his political thinking was summed up in “The End of Poverty” when he declared, “Africa’s governance is poor because Africa is poor.” Most of his political thinking is that primitive. For him, Africa’s development problems are rooted in geography & climate, due mainly to being landlocked & he quotes Adam Smith from 1776 to enforce his views. In Ghana, he sees the problem of the north-south divide as a matter of port accessibility but he thinks this can be overcome. He thinks he’s being profound here but he doesn’t address the legacy of colonialism, the depredations of neoliberalism, or IMF & World Bank austerity policies. He also doesn’t address Africa’s immense wealth in natural resources, or the military build-up in African countries by foreign armies. In short, Sachs is a fool. But a savvy fool, not to be trusted.

Ghana was a British colony & in 1957 became the first African country to declare independence under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah was inspired by the writings of Marcus Garvey, CLR James, W.E.B. Du Bois. (Du Bois actually moved to Ghana to collaborate with Nkrumah & is buried there.) Nkrumah had a strong influence on the Pan-Africanist & Black power movements in the US. He was involved in founding the Organization of African Unity (1963-2002) for collaboration among African countries to root out all forms of colonialism. That’s why, according to declassified CIA & National Security Council documents, the US (under the regime of Lyndon Johnson) engineered the 1966 overthrow of Kkrumah as president of Ghana.

If we want to know where social transformation in Ghana will come from, it will not be from the likes of Sachs, Bono, or Jolie. It will be from among the dispossessed & dislocated like little Fati who grow up with a belly full of injustice & hatred for capitalism. We should all hope to live long enough to see that glorious day.

(Photo by Renee C. Byer from “Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives & Faces of the World’s Poor)

Mary Scully


Anti-colonial thinkers and understanding neoliberal predation in Africa

Central African Republic May 10 2014

You can’t really figure out what’s going on in the conflict between Sudan & South Sudan, Uganda, Congo, Central African Republic, et al, from media reports. Without understanding the politics & sectarian differences between militant armed groups ostensibly propelling civil war, without knowing the history of ethnic or religious divisions, without a clear view of the pernicious legacy of colonialism & the insidious meddling of neoliberalism, most of us are lost. And that confusion is entirely intentional. The point of historical & media obscurantism is to make African peoples appear primitive, unable to resolve ancient conflicts peacefully, & renders justification for colonialism & neoliberalism–which are becoming indistinguishable.

Politics are complicated everywhere but not more so in African countries than European ones. Most don’t have the time to investigate, few have reliable sources, & the bonds of international collaboration with African social movements have long-since been severed by repression, ignorance, racism, distrust, & that ugly white savior crap of the Bono & Geldof sort. There are however important anti-colonial thinkers whose writings & lives are of the greatest consequence. Many became known in the 1960s with the tsunami of anti-colonial movements throughout the world–from the Caribbean to North & South America to Africa & Asia. Their time has come again & we need to again study them. To name only a few: Eduardo Galeano, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Franz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, Steven Biko, CLR James, Jose Mariategui, Chinua Achebe–& many others & likely new ones.

For many without time for study, it’s only necessary to know where justice stands. They don’t need to know the entire geopolitical history; they just want to know why the conflict is happening & who to support. This is not a defense of anti-intellectualism but an acknowledgement of reality. People want to do the right thing without getting a PhD in colonialism.

Anyone who’s tried to sort through the current war in Central African Republic (CAR) & occupation by French & African Union troops comes up against a wall of scholarly deceits & media obscurantism. So until African writers & activists can unravel most of that for us, let us present what the occupation is really all about. CAR is a region immensely rich in natural resources & neoliberal predators want to get their filthy hands on it. Much of the sectarian conflict is fomented by disreputable & despicable agents of neoliberalism. We don’t have to invent conspiracies; there’s a long colonial history to draw on.

Here children gold miners, whose profound misery is etched in their faces & postures, are sitting just a few days ago next to a gold mine in the village of Gam, CAR, where gold mining is a primary business. When you want to know what that civil war is all about, think neoliberal plunder. And oppose the presence of foreign troops under the guise of stopping genocide.

(Photo by Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

Mary Scully

Belgium’s legacy of colonialism lives on

Brussels May 10 2014
This shifty-eyed cop has every good reason to be suspicious of the camera catching the Brussels constabulary removing a woman & her child from begging in Grand Place, the central square in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium has ratified or acceded to every convention & protocol in international law concerning human rights. On paper the country looks like an international exemplar of justice. But a country doesn’t just walk away from it’s wretched colonial past by signing a few abstract & unenforceable documents. Colonialism requires a thoroughgoing historical & political accounting. Belgium & other countries are unwillling to make that accounting because it will expose their past criminalities & continuing exploitation & treacheries. That’s why finding decent history books on colonialism is so damn hard.

Belgium has been cited repeatedly in the past several years for violating the human rights documents it has ratified. It’s been cited for abuses in the prison system, in particular for prisoners with mental disabilities & refugees, including children refugees; repeatedly for discrimination against Muslims, in the courts & in the public streets; housing discrimination against Travellers; forcible evictions of thousands of Roma; racist practices toward Black citizens. A picture is shaping up here of a country reproducing its colonial relations within its own borders against anyone who isn’t white. Does that explain why Grand Place is called a “white sepulchre” by Marlow, the protagonist in the 1899 novel “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad?

Conrad, the Polish writer, worked for a Belgian colonial enterprise in Africa & well knew the racist depredations of European imperialism in Africa. Regrettably his experiences led him to misanthropic conclusions & his politics grew quite sour. He’s of the same generation as Mark Twain & shares the political problems of Twain, including racism & misanthropy in their senior years. They both lived in the heyday of colonialism & did not look to the colonized peoples as agents of their own emancipation. This is not the place for excuses like “they were products of their own times” since others were cogently analyzing & excoriating imperialism & colonialism.

Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian writer (most notably of “Things Fall Apart”), delivered a famous critique of “Heart of Darkness” in a 1975 lecture entitled “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Achebe was a thoroughgoing analyst of European colonialism & called Conrad a “thoroughgoing racist.” This offended quite a few & stirred up quite a literary & political controversy–in precisely the same way as criticisms of “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.

The pending US intervention into Nigeria requires that historical accounting & puts colonialism, neoliberalism, & racist, xenophobic practices under the glare of exposure. It is important that we listen less to the voices of racist historians & writers & more to the voices of Africa.

No US intervention in Nigeria!

(Photo by Geert Vanden Wijingaert/AP)

Mary Scully