Soni Sori and the Battle for the Forest

403px-Map_Chhattisgarh_Districts_All

Chhattisgarh State, India

 

8% of the Indian population are Adivasis (Indigenous people),which amounts to over 84 million people. Chhattisgarh is home to 38% of India`s Adivasis. Historically, many were forced from richer farming areas onto more marginal, heavily forested highland areas. Now these lands are wanted by mining companies for the mineral resources they contain.  The  Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation, claims that Chhattisgarh, along with two other Indian States has almost all the coal deposits in India as well as all the tin. It also claims that a fifth of iron ore in the country is found here, including large iron ore deposits in Bailadila in south Chhattisgarh. Although fewer than 10% of adivasis live as traditional hunter gatherers, more than half are still economically dependent on the forests. From the time of the British administration, there have been laws regulating the ownership and use of the forests, and today most forest land has been effectively nationalized, with large areas contracted out to private commercial interests. Despite a hard fought and successful national campaign to win land title recognition of forests traditionally occupied by Adivasi peoples, the Chhattisgarh State and others refuse to recognise the change of law by refusing to register Adivasis’ titles to land.

Deforestation caused by large scale commercial projects, logging, large dams and of course mining is a serious threat to the Adivasi`s way of life and throughout India has led to an uneven and vicious conflict between Adivasis on the one hand and the private comercial interests and the Indian state on the other. In Chhattisgarh, this is complicated by an ongoing Maoist insurgency (as in a number of other Indian states) and the activities of the army as well as state sponsored para-military groups. Ordinary people find themselves living in situations of violence, intimidation, fear, accusation and counter-accusation.

In such an atmosphere, who dares raise their voice and speak out for the poor, the dispossessed, the rights of the forest peoples?

chh02b-C

Now the air is laden with smoke – ten years ago there was a forest with fresh air, fresh water and healthy soil.

A report on the situation of Women and Girls in the state of Chhattisgarh by Dr Ilina Sen notes that

“unlike women in many other parts of India where the culture of exclusion and seclusion seems to prevail, women in Chhattisgarh are articulate,[and] visible”.

She argues that this is largely due to the important role women play in economic production, not only in agriculture but also the major role they play as the primary gatherers in the

“collection and processing of the many kinds of uncultivated foods and medicinal plants”  [found especially in the forests of Chhattisgarh.] “Women use these products for maintaining household food security and nutrition needs outside the market system. As such they are also the inheritors of an ancient knowledge system about food bio diversity”.

For these women, the loss of forest means not only loss of livelihood, but also loss of status. According to a 2009 article in Infochange about India`s then New Mining Policy,

” mining activity hitherto has neither brought any benefits to local populations nor has it shown any concern for the environment… in India, there exists an inverse relationship between mineral production and economic growth. Sixty per cent of the top 50 mineral-producing districts are among the 150 most backward districts of the country even after decades of mining.”

So-called economic development through mining of the mineral resources does not seem likely to improve the situation of women in Chhattisgarh. If anything, developing the mining industry is undermining what is a potential source of strength to women, their economic power, social visibility and confidence to speak out and determine for themselves the course of their social, economic and political development.

What happens when Adivasis raise their voices in protest?

Soni Sori

Soni Sori

Soni Sori is an Adivasi woman, school teacher, mother of three children and an outspoken critic of both the mining companies and the state on the one hand and the Naxalites (Maoist insurgents) on the other.

In August 2011, wikileaks revealed that Indian transnational mining and energy company Essar paid protection money to Maoist insurgents to safeguard their iron ore slurry pipeline in Basta, south Chhattisgarh. Newly appointed district police superintendant Ankit Garg constructed a “conspiracy” framing Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi as the go-betweens between the company and and the Maoists.  On the 4th of October 2011, Soni Sori was arrested in Delhi, where she had fled from her home in Chhattisgarh in fear for her life. Three days later she was transferred to the jail in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh where there is compelling evidence that she was tortured and sexually assaulted at the command of Ankit Garg. Three months later, on Republic Day in 2012, Garg was awarded the Presidential Medal for Gallantry while Soni Sori continued to be held on a plethora of false charges including one in which she has been accused of being a courier.

The Chhattisgarh police have a long record of committing human rights abuses which is well documented by national and international human rights organisations. These abuses have been strongly condemned by the Indian Supreme Court. Thousands of under-trial (remand) prisoners languish for years in Chhattisgarh`s jails.

Pleas by national and international human rights groups to get Soni Sori released in time for International Women`s Day 2012 and 2013 were unsuccessful. Soni Sori and her nephew remained in custody with little hope of bail for an alleged crime for which there is no credible evidence. Both Essar and the Maoists deny that they were parties in the alleged extortion racket at the centre of this case and although local contractor BK Lala as well as Essar company manager DVCS Verma were also arrested at the same time as Soni Sori, both men were released on bail in early 2012. Meanwhile, Soni Sori, who as a mother of two of children under ten at the time of arrest should therefore under the Indian law have been presumed to receive bail, continued to suffer ongoing neglect and abuse in prison. During her time in prison she lost both her mother and her husband.

Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi were finally released on bail in November 2013. All the charges against her have been dropped except the alleged courier charge. In 2014, Soni Sori decided to stand for election for the Aap Aadmi Party (AAP – translates as Common Man Party). She lost to the local BJP candidate. Her life continues to be dogged by poverty, insecurity and danger but her spirit remains unbroken. She ended a recent interview for the Women`s Media Centre with the following words,

“My fight is not about caste or religion but about the rights of all women.

I know there are many who are waiting for me to die for this fight to end, but I want to tell them that if Soni Sori dies the fight will not end. There will be a hundred more Soni Soris who will emerge. Can they drown the fight for justice for women? Can they kill each one of us? In the end, victory will be ours.”

To find out more about Soni Sori`s time in prison and to read her letters from prison go to http://sonisori.wordpress.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/OneBillionRisingforsonisori. 

 

 

 

What happened on the other side of Africa? Afro-Asians in Sri Lanka

Black history in British secondary schools focuses mainly on the Atlantic slave trade and civil rights movement in the US. The question of what happened on the other side of Africa is rarely touched on and it would be a mistake to think that some sort of parallel or symmetrical experience was at work here, that the Indian Ocean was some sort of mirror reflection of the Atlantic experience. The Indian Ocean, unlike the Atlantic, was, prior to the ascendancy of the European colonial powers, a busy region which people criss-crossed on monsoon winds between Africa and Asia, trading goods and spreading ideas and knowledge for a thousand years or more with little reference to Europe. This was brutally interrupted in 1497 when the Portuguese arrived seeking a sea route to Asia. From this point on, the histories of most of the peoples of this region would be at least partially defined by their relationships with European powers and somehow, in this process of colonisation, their relationships with each other which once were rich in cultural exchange and even some mutual tolerance would be submerged – hidden from history.

Author and academic Amitav Ghosh describes this process whereby the cosmopolitanism of the Indian Ocean became dominated by Western colonial power as being one in which Asians and Africans are now all `travelling in the west…[participating] in the dissolution of centuries of dialogue which had linked us…` (from `In an Antique Land` by Amitav Ghosh 1993).

And so it may come as a surprise to people to hear that there are communities of African descent living in South Asia including in Sri Lanka. According to author Jihan da Silva Jayasuria

“Afro-Asian communities are the result of a continuous centuries-old phenomenon but why are they not widely known? The obvious reason for this is their hidden presence as forest-dwellers, villagers and people on the margins. Those who live in urban areas are not easily identifiable either and are lost in the diversity of South Asia’s cosmopolitan cities. Afro-Asians are taken for African tourists until they begin to speak in the local Asian language!” ( http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/south-asias-africans/ )

Despite the present day marginality of many of these these Afro-Asian communities, their ancestors had a significant impact on the culture and history of South Asia including Sri Lanka.

It is estimated that around 12.5 million Africans moved from Africa to South Asia but unlike the Atlantic Slave trade, this happened over a much longer period of about a thousand years. Sri Lanka was one of the important points of contact according to the sixth century Greek traveller Cosmos Indocopleustes who wrote

“As its position is central, the island is a great resort for ships from India and from Ethiopia and in like manner it dispatches many of its own to foreign ports.” (From `The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean` ed. Jayasuriya and Pankhurst 2003)

Many Africans moved across the Indian Ocean as free people and this continued even during the European slave trade era. They travelled as soldiers, sailors, policemen, traders, bureaucrats, clerics, bodyguards, concubines and servants.

“The island of Janjira (off the west coast of India near Mumbai), for example, was a base for African traders long before it became the powerbase of a princely state ruled by Africans from 1618 for about three and a half centuries. Another state, Sachin, was also ruled by Africans from 1791. In 1948, the year after India gained independence, both these states became part of the new nation. Ex-Royal Africans, still live in India and are well respected locally. (From `The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean` ed. Jayasuriya and Pankhurst 2003)

Many African people were also traded as slaves throughout this time, not so much during the pre-colonial era as labour for plantations and mines but mainly as high status servants for Indian and Sri Lankan princes.  Many were given military training and became elite and trusted bodyguards and were able to achieve positions of power, wealth and prestige over a number of generations.

Sinhalese King Raja Sinha II (1635-87) had a “guard of Cofferies or Negroes in whom he imposeth more confidence than in his own People. These are to watch at his chamber door and next to his person” ( From `The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean` ed. Jayasuriya and Pankhurst 2003)

“Elite military slavery, though not unique to Africans or South Asia, provided the mechanism for some slaves to reach high positions and wield power” ( From `The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean` ed. Jayasuriya and Pankhurst 2003)

So, although these could be brutal times, it could also be true to say that the Indian Ocean experience of Africans even when enslaved was not the intensive and mass brutalisation perpetrated against a large number of African people over a short period of time in the Atlantic slave trade.

Africans continued to come to or be brought to Asia throughout the colonial period and played a significant part in the history of those times as soldiers and also to work on building and plantation projects. In 1630, the Sinhalese army defeated the Portuguese at the battle of Randeniwala and advanced on the what is the present day capital Colombo, a trading port held by the Portuguese. The Portuguese only managed to stop them by bringing in a company of African soldiers from Goa. A Sri Lankan ballad composed in the 17th Century to commemorate this war mentions the role of African mercenaries in the Portuguese army. (Jayasuriya and Pankhurst 2003)

Of the 20,000 Portuguese soldiers in Portuguese forts in Sri Lanka, 19, 000 were from Portuguese African and Asian colonies. At the end of Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka, some African soldiers went on to serve under the Dutch while others settled in the Kandyan kingdom which was still under Sinhalese rule and served the Sinhalese kings.

The Dutch brought in more Africans including slaves from Malagasy (present day Madagascar) to do heavy building work on the forts and battlements throughout their colonies in South and South East Asia. Slave Island is the name of a suburb of Colombo where slaves were housed under the Portuguese and Dutch. It is just south of Fort – now Colombo`s central business district – where the Portuguese landed and built a fort, later reconstructed by the Dutch – or perhaps more accurately we should say by Africans under Portuguese and Dutch rule. In the early 18th Century, the African slaves in Colombo Fort revolted killing the Fiscal, Barent van der Swann and his wife and causing massive damage to property.

The British also brought Africans to Sri Lanka. Many were freed from slavery in return for military service. In 1803, they fought for the British against the Kandyan Kingdom which was finally defeated. During the British era, Africans formed a large part of the Ceylon regiment. They also worked on road construction. But during the nineteenth century their numbers declined in Sri Lanka – many returned to Africa but many were also killed by the Kandyans. They also intermarried with the local populations and they gravitated towards the Portuguese burgher population who, like the Africans spoke Portuguese creole.

Those Africans who retired from British military service were given some land to settle on and small Afro-Sri Lankan communities known locally and not derogatorily as Kaffirs continue to exist to this day. In Leonard Woolf`s book `The Village in the Jungle` based on his experiences in the colonial civil service between 1904 and 1911, there is a Kaffir character whose father is a trader and who like many Kaffirs in Sri Lanka traces his origins back to Mozambique although this may not be strictly accurate.

In Sri Lanka the Kaffir community along with the Portuguese burghers has had a significant impact on popular music. Kaffrinha or Kaffrinha Baila is a fusion of African, Portuguese and and South Asian music and often accompanied by dances. Music and dance is a very important part of the community life of those remaining Kaffir villages as the video clips below show.

Two really good books about African Asians are

`The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean` ed by Shihan de S Jayasuriya and Richard Pankhurst 2003

India in Africa Africa in India Indian Ocean Cosmopolitanisms ed John C. Hawley 2008

 

 

 

Urban Farming in Detroit


In July 2013, the city of Detroit became the largest US city to file for bankruptcy although its economic decline began a long time before. Images of Detroit`s urban decay are becoming well known and much admired.

This statement accompanied the stunning images of Detroit in decline, including the one above, by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

“Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies
and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension.

The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at
some point, the volatile result of change of era and the fall of empires.
This fragility, the time elapsed but even so running fast, lead us to watch them one very last time : being dismayed, or admire, making us wondering about the permanence of things.”

But what of the people who are left behind?

Not everyone wants to or is even able to leave the city. But as the city declines economically, the services on which people were dependent also start to disappear including places where you can buy cheap fresh food. Where once there might have been six or seven grocery stores in a neighbourhood selling good quality produce, there is now a `food desert`. This means people have to travel further in order to buy affordable good quality fresh food but transport is limited and again not everyone can afford a car. This is a problem that particularly affects Detroit`s black community. Approximately 82% of Detroit`s population is African American. In this video interview with Malik Yakini, learn how the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network are making history by growing food and at the same time sowing the seeds of change.

“We’re not interested in plans where the corporate sector comes in and uses the majority of the population as workers. We’re concerned about control and ownership. We want to model not only the growing techniques but model the kind of social and political economic dynamic that we think are appropriate for a city like Detroit” Malik Yakini, chairman of the network.

 

The Ruvuma Development Association – Daring to do things differently in Tanzania

In December 1961 Tanzania became an independent country. In April 1962 President Julius Nyerere published his vision for the country`s development in a pamphlet entitled `Ujamaa – The Basis of African Socialism`. Ujamaa is a traditional concept of extended family in which there is respect for everyone and everyone is expected to work and be responsible for the welfare of the whole community. Tanzanian socialism was to be an extension of this concept of family. The individual pursuit of wealth at the expense of others was deemed incompatible with Ujamaa.

Inspired and encouraged by Nyerere, groups of farmers organised themselves into small co-operatively organised communities. By 1963 about a 1000 of these had been set up with very little government support. Many failed but in Ruvuma in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania 17 such settlements prospered and became an enormous success. They formed the Ruvuma Development Association (RDA) the organisation through which they could co-ordinate their labour, educate their children, sell their produce and develop their small scale industries.

According to Ralph Ibbott, a technical adviser, who was invited to work with the RDA, this was

“the most striking and most successful example of self reliance and Ujamaa in Tanzania and possibly Africa.” (Ibbott, R. quoted in Edwards, D.M., Matetereka, Tanzania`s Last Ujamaa Village Edinburgh University 1998).

Tanzania

I first heard about the RDA at an inspiring talk given by author and activist Selma James of Women`s Global Strike at the King`s Cross Women`s Centre. She presented it as an example of how it is possible for people to not only survive and dream of a better world when faced with the most challenging of circumstances but also manage to successfully create a thriving self-reliant community organisation, one that is even more relevant today as a model of development when we examine what our options are for the future in the face of unemployment, cuts in welfare and the looming threat of climate change.

The RDA grew slowly by supporting existing villages and new settlements. Before a village was accepted it was made clear that the villagers should not expect to get rich overnight and membership would be deferred or refused if it there was uncertainty about a community`s commitment to co-operation.

Villages belonging to the RDA became self-sufficient in food, improved the health of their residents, built a school, provided water supplies and set up village industries. They also created an outreach service called the Social and Economic Army (SERA), made up of experts in various fields who could provide support for member villages.

The RDA bought a maize mill with a grant from Nyerere himself who regarded their organisation as a poster child for his ideas. They also bought a saw mill which became the main supplier of sawn timber in the country. A primary school was established and developed in an experimental manner by creating a syllabus that was flexible and responsive to the needs of the villages. A three year post primary technical training for the children was planned as the next stage of education.

By 1969, the RDA consisted of 17 villages making up about 500 households. It was, to quote Ralph Ibbott again,

“ an organisation completely built up by the people who were in it, who always made all decisions and controlled development” (in Edwards, D.M.).

So what happened? What went wrong? Well, it is important to stress that this remarkable experiment did not fail despite the many practical difficulties and challenges that the people involved faced. It was killed off.

Despite publicly declared support from Nyerere, the RDA had attracted considerable opposition from many others in the government. In September 1969, it was announced that TANU – the ruling party – would run all Ujamaa villages and the RDA was declared a prohibited organisation. Their equipment was confiscated, the expatriate staff working with them left and the school was closed. Only one village managed to continue its communal activities and survives to this day.

To look in detail at why this happened is beyond the scope of this blog. But in an obituary written for Ntimbanjayo Millinga, a local politician and later Head of Ujamaa Villages for TANU and who was the driving force behind the success of the RDA Ralph Ibbott writes that

“…Regional Commissioners and most government officials … could not accept a situation where the villagers were deciding the details of their own development. They could not sit down with and discuss with these village people as equals. Nyerere took many steps in an attempt to spread the practice of the RDA ideology. One of these was a week-long seminar for the members of the Central Committee of his party, which was held at Handeni. Three RDA members attended. Shortly after this the whole of the Central Committee met, and at this meeting 21 out of the 24 members voted for the banning of the RDA. Millinga had very successfully built a team of people able to understand what was needed for the development of their dreams. Nyerere was not able, despite great efforts, to build such a team at government level. The party took over. People power was not accepted.”

If you try to find out about Ujamaa villages often what you discover is that what many people understand by this term is the process of enforced villagisation that followed the closing down of the RDA. This happened in the 1970s when rural Tanzanians were forced into villages nationwide resulting in hardship and resentment. It was not a success but it has overshadowed the real historic success that was the Ruvuma Development Association.

References:

http://www.globalwomenstrike.net/content/obituary-ntimbanjayo-millinga

http://rudatanzania.org.uk/ruda.htm

http://www.cas.ed.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/27330/No_077_Matetereka-_Tanzanias_last_Ujamaa_Village_David_Edward.pdf

Note: Walter Rodney (see post) spent some time teaching in Tanzania and admired Nyerere`s African Socialism

Africa`s Stolen Leader – Patrice Lumumba

“Dead, living, free, or in prison on the orders of the colonialists, it is not I who counts. It is the Congo, it is our people for whom independence has been transformed into a cage where we are regarded from the outside… History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets… a history of glory and dignity.”

 Patrice Lumumba 1960

At the end of 2013, Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa died. He was 95 years old. All around the world, he is hailed as an icon of democracy, peace and reconciliation. His wisdom is an inspiration to many.

 But what of those other heroes of black African liberation who did not make it to old age through the struggles of their respective countries for freedom, democracy and independence? Between 1961 and 1973, six African leaders were assassinated by their former colonial masters; Felix Moumie (Cameroon). Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Mehdi Ben Barka (Morocco), Edouardo Mondlane(Mozambique) and Amilcar Cabral (Guinea and cape Verde).

 The second of these, Patrice Lumumba, was the first elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was only thirty five years old when he was murdered. He was also ten years younger than Nelson Mandela.

I first learnt of Patrice Lumumba when I read Barbara Kingsolver`s powerful novel `The Poisonwood Bible` which has as one of its central themes the Democratic Republic of Congo`s painful beginnings as an independent country and the tragic fate of its popular young prime minister just over fifty two years ago.

I next became aware of Patrice Lumumba when I was teaching a group of young unaccompanied asylum seekers. Two Congolese students produced drawings of a statue of a man in front of a very modern building.

 “ `E eez our national `ero` they explained in their French accented English. A third Congolese student muttered something I couldn`t hear but a fierce discussion erupted in French. None of these young people or even their parents is old enough to actually remember Patrice Lumumba but he is quite clearly an important and controversial historical figure for them.

But why should we, here in Europe, be interested in Patrice Lumumba?

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country fabulously rich in mineral resources including gold, copper and coltan. These minerals are integral to the `developed` lifestyle of industrialised Europe and the USA. Coltan in particular is an important ingredient in the manufacture of mobile phones and copper keeps the electricity circulating round our homes and cities. Controlling the supply of these minerals and the wealth generated by them is of vital importance to the Western neo-colonial countries, Britain, France, Belgium and the USA, that continue to dominate the economies of many African countries and they will find ways of moving against anyone who threatens their control over these minerals. 

 In 1994, war broke out in the Congo. It has left more than five million people dead, over half of the dead are children and it has driven thousands of Congolese people into exile. Seven neighbouring countries were directly involved in the fighting at various times and it is said to be the deadliest conflict on the planet since World War Two. Yet, according to War Child International, it “has rarely caught the attention of the international media despite (or maybe because of) the fact that most of the phones and gadgets we rely on are made from the valuable minerals that fuel the conflict”  

 Although the war is officially over, the country is desperately poor, conflict still erupts from time to time and sexual violence is endemic.

 On the fiftieth anniversary of Lumumba`s death, author and journalist Adam Hochschild reflected in a New York times article that

 “Many factors cause a war, of course, especially one as bewilderingly complex as this one. But when visiting eastern Congo some months ago, I could not help but think that one thread leading to the human suffering I saw begins with the assassination of Lumumba.”

 Britain along with France, Belgium and the United States was implicated in the assassination of this democratically elected and popular leader in 1961. Four years after this assassination, Mobutu, an army general and one of Lumumba`s captors took power in a military coup. He was supported by the Western democracies implicated in Lumumba`s murder. What followed was a corrupt and brutal thirty two year dictatorship, and war which according to author Adam Hochshild left the country in a `state of wreckage from which it has not yet recovered.`

 The reason Patrice Lumuba was murdered in the first place was because the Western powers involved in his murder could not stomach the idea that they would lose control of the Congo`s vast mineral wealth to a leader who they feared would nationalise the mines, particularly the copper mines in order that the wealth they generate might benefit the Congolese people.

Last summer a marvellous opportunity presented itself to learn more about Patrice Lumumba. The Young Vic in London revived the play `A Season in the Congo` with Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead as Patrice Lumumba himself. The play, a classic text, originally in French by Aime Cesaire, poet and politician from Martinique was written just a few years after Lumumba`s death and is a straightforward account of what happened and could easily be read with teenagers in school. It is slightly out of date in just one point of information. At the time of writing it was thought that the Katangan soldiers (Congolese opposition) executed Lumumba but more recent evidence suggests that Belgian soldiers organised and carried out his execution by firing squad.

So what happened? Who was Patrice Lumumba? It is impossible to justice to this story in a blog. As well as reading Aime Cesaire`s  play, I recommend Leo Zeilig`s ` Lumumba Africa`s Lost Leader` (Haus Publishing, London 2008)  and Ludo de Witte`s `The Assasination of Lumumba (Verso London DATE). Here also are links to a couple of really good shorter articles as well as to the War Child International website which is useful for understanding the impact of the ongoing conflict in the DRC.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/opinion/17hochschild.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

 http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jan/17/patrice-lumumba-50th-anniversary-assassination

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jan/17/lumumba-50th-anniversary-african-leaders-assassinations

 http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/70254

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22006446

 http://www.warchild.org.uk/issues/conflict-in-democratic-republic-of-congo

 

Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba

I recently attended a creative writing course with a group of students aged 11-14. One workshop was on performance poetry with well known poet Francesca Beard. We learnt how to create some simple list poems – easy to remember, easy to perform. One of these was a “yes and…” poem which two or more people can perform together. It is an informal chatty form in which the two conversationalists seem to be trying to please each other by trying to agree with and add to everything the other one says. We discovered that it lends itself well to building up a dramatic, political narrative. It works a bit like a chorus in a traditional Greek play. I thought this might be a good way to recount the events leading to Patrice Lumumba`s murder in a simple way suitable for younger teenagers.  It is best read aloud by more than one person and I make no claims for it being in any way a good poem but here it is.

Do you know what happened to Patrice Lumumba?

 I saw a brilliant play last summer.

It was called `A Season in the Congo`

 Yes and it was about a man called Patrice Lumumba.

 Yes and he was the first leader of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo.

 Yes and he was very popular.

 Yes and before he was elected, the Congo was ruled by Belgium.

 Yes and the Belgian rulers were extremely brutal.

 Yes and they chopped the Congolese people`s hands off if they did not collect enough rubber for them.

 Yes and the Congo has lots of precious minerals as well as rubber.

 Yes and Patrice Lumumba believed these riches should be used to help the people of Congo.

 Yes and the banks and the mining companies in Belgium, France and Britain disagreed with him.

 Yes and they stirred up trouble in the Congo to stop him.

 Yes and they encouraged some corrupt politicians to say that Katanga wanted to be independent from the rest of Congo.

 Yes and Katanga is the place where all the precious minerals are.

 Yes and the Belgians sent their army to protect Katanga`s independence.

 Yes and there was lots of fighting.

 Yes and the United Nations arrived to sort things out.

Yes and it turned out that they were no help at all because they just took the side of the Belgians.

 Yes and Patrice Lumumba had to ask the USSR for support.

 Yes and this upset the United States of America.

 Yes and so the USA, Belgium, Britain and France decided Patrice Lumumba must to go.

 Yes and it is likely they had planned to get rid of him many months before this.

 Yes and the Belgian soldiers arrested him when he was on his way to Katanga.

 Yes and they tortured him.

 Yes and then they shot him in the back of his head.

 Yes and they dissolved his body in acid.

 Yes and he was only thirty five years old.

 Yes and he was the democratically elected prime minister of Congo

 Yes and thousands of people in cities across the world came out onto the streets to demonstrate their anger and grief when they heard the news.

 Yes and all this happened more than fifty years ago.

 Yes and we will not forget.

 

 

Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela – Brothers in Arms

Before we get too far into 2014, I would like to reflect on a couple of important events in 2013.

2013 was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King`s iconic `I have a dream ` speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. It was also the year that saw the passing away of that other iconic figure of peace and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela. The emergence of these two men into public consciousness as symbols of peace, reconciliation and democracy, has sanitised their heroism and obscured the historical context of the struggles they took part in. This makes it too easy for those people who now wish to claim association with what both men have come to symbolically represent to disguise the fact that they once regarded both men as villains who they wished to see in prison or even dead.

Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela on the other hand might have regarded themselves as brothers in arms.

 The Civil Rights movement in the USA, which is also taught in British schools is rarely discussed in the global context of the wider struggle by black people for freedom and recognition of their rights in Africa and the Caribbean. These movements in different places drew inspiration and support from each other. While en route to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King, who was himself influenced and inspired by India`s Mahatma Gandhi, spoke in London about the difficulties facing black people in South Africa. The following extracts from this speech are taken from the full text at this website

http://www.rfksafilm.org/html/speeches/africaking.php

 ”Clearly there is much in Mississippi and Alabama to remind South Africans of their own country, yet even in Mississippi we can organise to register Negro voters, we can speak to the press, we can in short organise the people in non-violent action. But in South Africa even the mildest form of non-violent resistance meets with years of imprisonment, and leaders over many years have been restricted and silenced and imprisoned.”

 He acknowledged that the situation made non-violent action almost impossible and that one of the ways forward was through international solidarity that recognised that pressure needed to be put on the neo-colonialist states whose economies benefited from the exploitation and oppression of black South Africans.

“It is in this situation, with the great mass of South Africans denied their humanity, their dignity, denied opportunity, denied all human rights; it is in this situation, with many of the bravest and best South Africans serving long years in prison, with some already executed; in this situation we in America and Britain have a unique responsibility. For it is we, through our investments, through our Governments` failure to act decisively, who are guilty of bolstering up the South African tyranny.”

“Our responsibility presents us with a unique opportunity. We can join in the one form of non-violent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa – the action which African leaders have appealed for – in a massive movement for economic sanctions.”

Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King are presented as part of that rather bland pantheon of `inspiring` leaders and achievers inserted into the mainstream curriculum as a gesture to inclusive education. They are shorn of complexity, radicalism and controversy and presented in a version that does little to challenge young people`s and encourage them to question the way our society is organised in the way that they themselves did. Who teaches for example that Martin Luther King said this:

“I’m convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. . . . Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”  (From: `Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam`, New York, 1967).

I found this quote in an interview with US academic Jared Ball on The Real News Network here http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?Itemid=74&id=31&jumival=6101&option=com_content&task=view