Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Response to 'Where are all the role models?' from Sidney Boahen

A friend of mine was this year listed as one of the UK's top 100 black graduates. I'm really proud of him, as I hope to get myself into the same list next year. It's the type of honour that makes someone look at your CV for that extra 2 seconds, or hold a conversation with you for a couple minutes longer than your peers, because they think you've been certified as having something to bring to the table. In other words, it opens doors.

Until this publication came to existence however, there were volumes of calls for black role models for black children; black professionals who themselves opened doors for black youngsters. My friend, Sidney - Future Leader and ACS Debater extraordinaire - has just added his voice to those calls but I'm afraid I will have to disagree holistically with his argument. I suspect he knew I would, which is why he tagged me in the facebook post.

I am wary of allowing a young person to believe that they can be anything they see someone else become. I'm a rich rapper and you can be like me... I'm a rich footballer and you can be like me... I'm a rich lawyer and you can be like me... but there aren't any well known, rich or successful astronauts (of African descent) so even though you've spent every night since the age of 7 staring at the stars trying to name and count them, I want you to pack away that telescope and look for a profession our community is aware of. This here is the mistake a lot of our most outspoken friends make. Their heart is in a good place, and I do agree that young people can extract advice from, and have doors held open by, elders in their community, but I don't agree that a role model must always be the same race as the young person or that a role model is necessary for success.

Sidney in his article, doesn't account for 'the firsts'. We hail these firsts as demi-gods! (when I think BET, I think "XYZ paved the way for the rest of us") but what did these firsts have that we seem to lack in our present-day community, without the will to find it? I would say it was colourblind determination to achieve the goal they set for themselves based on their own internal desires regardless of the context in which they lived. Understand me before you lambaste me. That is not to say that people like Barack Obama, or Tidjane Thiam (who Sidney refers to) were not aware of the obstacles positioned in their way because of their skin colour and heritage. It is rather to say that knowing full well that there were hurdles in their path and that the finishing line was 100 metres away, they worked their damned hardest to come in pole position when their opponents were running a simple 100m sprint. It had not been done before, but if they were to wait to see it done, they would have missed their queue. It frustrates me that one would say "You can not aspire to be something that you have not seen" when if anything our history has shown that the opposite is exactly the case. Slavery went on for centuries. Generations born onto plantations - bought, sold, raped, maimed. Slaves, for hundreds of years, had only seen slavery in their community but that didn't stop them from wanting to be free. They hadn't seen freedom, but aspired to it with fervent passion. If Barack Obama had waited to see a black man become President of the USA before he decided to run himself, you would all still be waited to see Barack Obama as President of the USA before you decided that your heart's desire is yours for the taking.

If you can't see someone standing there in all their shining glory, with the door wide open waiting for you, then it's up to you to recognise that your number is 1. You are the first. You may never be the richest, you don't need to be. You need to be the best you can possibly be at the thing you have a passion for. And if your motivation rests on you being told that what you want to do has been done many times before by people who look just like you, think, 'Do I love it enough to do it when I can't see anyone at all?' When you can answer yes to that question, you're on the path to great things.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A week to remember

This is a week to remember, undoubtedly.. although it might pass unnoticed in the larger population of the world. I trust that there are a few of us with shared interests who are to an extent excited by what this week will bring.

On the same day Egypt and the DRC were to go to the polls. Both elections are contentious issues. In the case of Egypt, the system not the participants, is flawed. Egypt's elections will not bring about the immediate democracy that its people campaigned so hard for- if the military gets its way Egypt's democracy will be put on ice for yet another 12 months minimum, but they've waited over 50 years already what's another on the calendar? This would be Egypt's first ever election. Coup after coup has been the usual passing of power. and so you can see why people may be excited and eager to take part.

Further south the DRC is also having elections. And as can be expected the particpants not the system is flawed.. that is the story of sub-saharan Africa. President Joseph Kabila inherited the apparent democracy from his father who stole it from the dictator Mobutu who violently and inhumanely seized it with unashamed neo-colonial Belgian and US sponsor, from the country's first president, Patrice Lumumba. That has been the story of the DRC. Now in the country's elections candidates with rumoured history of serial rape, dealings in blood minerals and all other types of crimes run for positions in government that will give them access to large quantities of funds.

I'm not one to trust western media (and I throw Al Jazeera into this label) when it comes to African affairs, simply because I know that the world doesn't rate us, but I reckon in this case - the case of the DRC which is not only the poorest but the most dangerous place to live in the world - some accusations may just be true. It worries me that in the spirit of democracy someone with such a shady past with no sign of remorse or reform could be given legal power and the resources to govern the people he tormented for years. Many more statesmen have been expelled from the political arena for much less than what this gentleman is being accused of.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Aid vs Sovereignty


You may find this post in another blog as well, I don't know (at the time of writing this,) whether I want to submit it as an article for a political communal blog 'cartel' I'm in, or not.

I submitted my dissertation topic form two weeks ago, on the deadline, about 3 mins before it was due to close. It was an idea I had been toying with for weeks, but fundamentally it is the basis for my studying politics in the first place - Africa.

Africa is my beginning and end I guess and so writing about it, giving myself the opportunity to understand it better is key. I didn't expect though that confirmation of this topic would come in the way it did...

The week before I submitted my topic form it was announced that the UK will slash aid to African nations who refuse to embrace homosexuality as a part of their society. At the recent Commonwealth Summit the British Prime Minister reasserted this policy. David Cameron argues that the right to be gay, and gay rights form an integral part of Human Rights and therefore, any country that does not uphold gay rights or even goes as far as to oppose it and introduce punishments upon the LGBT community is infringing upon International Human Rights and therefore unworthy of Western aid.

Those sympathetic to the gay rights movement won't really find a problem with what the British Prime Minister is proposing. That is not to say that I am not sympathetic with gay rights, but that I am more sympathetic with the more basic Human Rights being sidelined for this issue. The right to eat, for one. The right to an education, and the right to quality healthcare (although the American republicans may disagree with these two). The three sectors of infrastructure I have just named are heavily funded by Western aid. This means that any cut to the amount of help given at the beginning of the process will ultimately result in a cut to the quality of service found at the end. Can David Cameron really boast of moral high grounds when he is willing to see a young 5 year old girl go hungry week-in week out at the request of Western gay rights organisations (who enjoy 3 square meals a day)? Where is the moral high ground when that girl - lesbian or straight - grows up to work in a farm her entire life against her every desire, but as her only option, because the quality education wasn't there for her?

I am not a Utilitarian but in some cases the pleasure of the majority and the superiority of the greater good for the greater number must take precedence. There are some things that we cannot gamble with.

Cameron's declaration also confirms all that Kwame Nkrumah and his peers feared and warned against. The Prime Minister claimed that Britiain's position is one in which they can tell the African countries what they "expect" from them. He is unashamedly claiming to have the power to change the mindset of a people over whom he should have no control. My apologies for playing this card but it reminds me to much of the impetus behind colonialism - to civilise the barbarians, who in this case are barbarians because they believe that every man's relations should be with a woman and every woman's with a man. Today it is gay rights, tomorrow it is trade with British businesses, (or maybe that was yesterday actually!) When will Africans decide when Africans are ready?

I just hope African Heads of States make the decision to comply or resist based on what their people want. I am frustrated by what David Cameron has put forward, and one may argue that the best thing to do for the young girl is comply and move on, but Africans need identity and pride in their identity as the only ones who can shape and dictate what that identity is. If Africans choose aid over their principles then so be it, but if they choose their religion, culture and traditions over £36million (the amount the UK give to Ghana) then I would respect that decision too, because the most important contributor to national development isn't foreign aid, but pride in the national identity decided by Africans.

The worrying prevalence of homophobia in Ghana

I wrote this and intended to publish it on the 23rd July 2011, 3 months before David Cameron's campaign for gay rights in Africa:

No matter what I say it will probably be taking in the wrong way by someone. But I think I should say something, because my sister appears to be getting tired of me talking for hours on end about the things that annoy me without showing signs of actually doing SOMETHING about it.

Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed something in Ghanaian news that I do not like. As the title of this post would suggest it is the prevalence of homophobia in Ghana. I will make my position clear because I think it's important that no one misinterprets any ambiguities. I am a Christian (by birth some may say) and I follow the Bible as closely as I can.That is to say that I know we are not all perfect but we can try to be. I have not yet read a scripture that deals with homosexuality directly but I think the interpretations and sentiment that runs through the Bible makes it pretty clear. So with that, I'm not homophobic, I have gay, bisexual and lesbian friends and I don't ever judge their life choices. Their sexual orientation is their decision

It frustrates me that our country's leaders doesn't have their priorities in order. The most important thing for Ghana and indeed for most African countries, is development. Our pastors, headteachers and politicians should be preaching about anti-corruption values, innovation and respect. They shouldn't be asking people to expose other people's private lives or call the police on mere suspicions of things that do not concern them. There are many other evils in our country that seem to be slipping through the mosquito net.

And I will be terribly honest. I'm not asking for Ghanaian society to be any more accepting of homosexuality than it is today. It is not acceptable in our culture, nor in the religions to which we subscribe. But Ghanaians had perfected the art of living side by side with those with whom you disagreed. There is a common goal which is the country's development and we should work towards that despite other problems. I worry that this flurry of debate around homosexuality in the country will bring unnecessary attention to a country that so far no one has any problems with.