AFRICAN BORDERS AND THE POLITICS OF EXCLUSION: REVISITING THE COLONIAL PAST, Part 1

emmanuel image 1 african borders

Figure 1: Nigerian border. Photo by Emmanuel Mbaezue.

By Emmanuel Mbaezue

 

Once known as the cradle of civilization, endowed with a rich cultural heritage, and a communal style of living that was almost equal to none, Africa’s position in the World was once enviable.  The Continent’s conservative but still “uncorrupted” nature allowed her to remain secluded and hidden to the rest of the world for centuries. For some, she was “the unknown world,” and for some others, the Dark Continent, but still in her solitary state, Africa amazingly thrived.

That tranquil and serene environment, and the gradual and peaceful evolution of the Continent, came to an end by decree of the West. In the years 1884-1885, the Continent’s fate was decided by the European powers in Berlin, Germany. Without her consent, an unwilling and un-participating Africa was arbitrarily divided into 53 mostly incompatible units, with little or no cognizance taken of her geo-demographic peculiarities.

Led by Otto Von Bismarck but mostly guided by their economic interests, the Europeans scrambled for the resources in Africa, resources they so desperately needed to feed the industrial revolution in Europe. In the course of all this, Africa not only suffered environmental and physical abuse as vast numbers of slaves and mineral resources forcefully left her shores, she also experienced deep sociological harm.

The arbitrary demarcation of African lands without any respect for its different constituents and cultural landscapes not only led to the forceful fusion of incompatible national groups into single entities and the imposition of artificial boundaries upon them, it also resulted in the distortion of entities that naturally belonged together. By their “divide and rule” system, Europe not only magnified the differentials existent in Africa’s diverse ethnic groups, but also, in some cases, arrogated more powers and privileges to one ethnic group to the detriment of others (as in Rwanda when the Belgians favored the minority Tutsis over the Hutus); thus, Europe set the stage for most of Africa’s bloodiest conflicts.

Mr. Chukwuemeka Emmanuel Mbaezue is a doctoral student of Peace & Conflict Studies, specializing in Boundary & Border Studies, at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. He is a co-founder and member of the Border Areas Development Initiative (BADI), a non-governmental organization focusing on the development and security of Nigeria’s northern borders and border communities through education, research, advocacy programs and addressing issues related to forced and undocumented migration. His research area is on the trends and challenges of trans-border radicalization of young people.

 

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Syrian Refugees and the Earth Household, Part 2.

Camp in Lebanon close to the Syrian border. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Author: Elgaard.

By Guest Author Dana Visalli

The second camp I visited in my visit to Lebanon was considered more hazardous than the first. It is much larger and has been in place longer; a raid there a year ago netted many guns. Some women will ‘trade sex for money’ at the camp—with both Lebanese and Syrian men attending the services.

Tarek and I never really quite obtained permission to enter the camp, so we spent our time standing on a road passing through it, talking with a gaggle of men and children that gathered around us until we were kicked out. There was general agreement among those gathered that the United States was behind the violence being perpetuated in Syria by the fundamentalist rebel groups, especially ISIS and Al Nusra. I asked them why the United States would want to destroy Syria, and an answer flew from the mouth of an old man almost before I finished the sentence: “Israel. Israel wants the Arab world broken up into small pieces,” he said, “and it wants to see the Arabs fighting against one another.” He probably had that about right; as I noted in a previous report, there is an Israeli action plan published in 1982 that calls for fragmenting the Arab world.

At just about that time, the Lebanese owner of the camp happened by. Upon learning that I was an American, and was there out of a sense of concern for the Syrian refugees, he said he had a story to tell me. It seems there was this very poor man, who complained to God about his poverty. God replied that he would give the man a donkey, a sheep and goat, and he could make a living with these animals. But soon the man was back, complaining that he couldn’t sleep at night, because the animals constantly made a racket. God advised him to get rid of the donkey and things would be better; but still the other animals were rambunctious and wouldn’t let the man sleep. So God advised him to get rid of the goat, and then to get rid of the sheep; then at last the man could sleep and he was happy; he had completely forgotten about the original complaint that had initiated the cycle of emotions.

“And you Americans,” said the owner, “are like this poor man. You create this enormous problem out of your own unhappiness, destroying the country of Syria with your weapons and ignorance and maliciousness, driving the Syrian people out of their homes. And then afterwards you look upon the results and ask with feeling, “My God what happened here, this is a terrible situation, how can I help.”

To take in the magnitude of this human diaspora, one has to take the story of any one refugee individual or family, and multiply that by the 12 million Syrian refugees that currently exist, or for full effect multiply by the 60 million people on the planet today who have been driven out of their homes, by far the majority of them by violence.

The impoverishment of these people’s lives is analogous to the impoverishment of the global biosphere that is currently taking place on the planet, with the widespread loss of plant and animal populations and species. Anyone willing to take this all in will see clearly that the human species is challenged to change behaviors and strive to learn what it means to live ecologically balanced lives. I find such an inquiry extends from where I get my food to whether I am willing to pay for a nation’s nuclear arsenal. It is a personal journey for each individual.

Dana Visalli

Charre, Lebanon

 

Dana Visalli is a biologist living in Washington State; he has visited Iraq and Afghanistan often and attempted to visit Damascus in Syria in March of this year. He has essays on Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam at www.methownaturalist.com 

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Syrian Refugees and the Earth Household, Part 1.

 

Camp in Lebanon close to the Syrian border. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Author: Elgaard.

By Guest Author Dana Visalli

 

With a Lebanese population of four million, Lebanon is currently hosting over one million Syrian refugees from the violence in Syria that has torn that country apart. I wanted to touch in with the human stories of these people, and so I traveled to Lebanon in hopes of visiting one or more of the refugee camps that have sprung up all over the country.

Most of the camps are humble affairs, taking in from one hundred to one thousand people. The dwellings are typically tent-like structures with large tarps thrown over a wooden frame. Despite the fact that these camps now dot the Lebanese landscape, entry into them is both tightly controlled by the U.N. and not particular safe once you are allowed in, so it was my good fortune to visit two camps and be able to walk around and talk with some of the inhabitants (with the help of a translator).

Both camps that I visited were in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. The Al Jaraheya camp was a collection of about 30 wood-framed structures housing about 200 people. A dominant theme of the camp that comes to mind is emptiness. This small, lost world is not lacking in people, but it is empty of any social or cultural context or content. For example we took a tour inside one of the “homes”; there was almost nothing in it. There was a rug on the floor, a small stove (but no fuel) in the middle of an approximately 15 by 15 foot room, and a television; other than that it was just open space. An attached side lean-to had a simple sink, drainboard and a single-burner propane stove.

In a “community center” social area, there was just a small plastic table and four plastic chairs; nothing else. Four pepsis—which of course are devoid of any nutritional content—were brought and placed on the plastic table in this environment that was devoid of any cultural content. The devastation and the deprivation of any form of meaningful existence visited upon them in their home communities in Syria had followed them across the border to Lebanon. There is no work for these people, no books to read, no activities, just overwhelming emptiness in a sterile environment.

Abu Razak, young man of 25, has been in the camp for one and a half years. His village near Homs was razed to the ground by the Syrian government. People in his area were known to be critical of the Assad government; one of their major issues was the mass killing of perhaps 25,000 people in an uprising staged by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982.

People in the area where this violence took place were deeply traumatized by the event, but they had never been allowed to talk about it; if they did speak publicly, they would likely be arrested by government agents. Abu Razak said his people “were not even allowed to think” for fear of reprisals by the government. (On the other hand, education was free in Syria and Razak dropped out of school after the 8th grade, to his regret now). How was life in the camp? His answer was similar to others I asked, “We are alive thank God, but life in camp is hard.”

Young Selwa (she did not want to give me her name so I told her to just make one up; she laughed and said, ok, call me Selwa) has been in the camp for two and a half years; her home and entire village are also completely destroyed. Who destroyed it, the government or the rebels? She said the responsibility for the destruction was shared between the Assad government and the rebels. Both sides are constantly fighting, and the people are caught in the middle. She is 29 years old with two young children; her husband is stuck in Syria because currently no more Syrians are allowed to cross the border to Lebanon.

Surviving the economics of the camp is challenging. Most camps are on private land, and most landlords charge a month rent for each tent; at Al Jaraheya the rent is $50 a month per tent; multiply that by 30 tents and it seems the landlord is making a tidy sum off of the refugee’s misfortune. There are also charges for electricity and water. There is little work to be had for the refugees, but if the rent isn’t paid in a timely manner, tents and the people in them are removed from the camp. Each person in the camp gets a card for $27 worth of food a month; sometimes people sell this sparse supply of food in order to raise money to pay the rent.

My guide Tarek tells me afterwards that everyone in the camp is against the Syrian government. They are mostly from the poorer strata of Syrian society, who are the ones who often seemed to have felt most neglected by the government, while the more well-to-do people tend to support Assad (certainly not categorically true however).

Dana Visalli is a biologist living in Washington State; he has visited Iraq and Afghanistan often and attempted to visit Damascus in Syria in March of this year. He has essays on Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam at www.methownaturalist.com 

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I still can’t breathe

It was a beautiful day in Massachusetts today—a day to get outside, breathe in fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, listen to the birds, and be grateful for being alive.  All of which I did.

But then a close friend brought me back to another reality, one that is never far from my consciousness or conscience, by sending me the link to the video at the beginning of this post.

Please watch and listen.

Watching and listening made me gnash my teeth, weep, rage. ask for the millionth time how people can bear to treat other people cruelly.  Such images always lead me, at least for awhile, close to despair.

But I had other reactions to the video.  The music is exalting; it raised me up and energized me. It reminded me forcefully of the courage of people who speak out, who sing out, who fight for social justice, and grateful that I personally know so many fine people of multiple hues who participate in that struggle.

What are your reactions when you tune in to the video?  what do you feel?  what do you want to do?

Personally I am sad to have retired from college teaching, to have lost the opportunity to encourage my students to be the real patriots–that is to work actively for peace and social justice in this country,  But I will continue to sign petitions, send letters, participate in demonstrations, and optimistically write this blog, grateful to any readers willing to approach my soapbox.

The story behind the making of the video and the lyrics to the song can be found at: http://www.swarthmore.edu/sites/default/files/assets/documents/chester-childrens-chorus/CCCSpringNewsletter.pdf. Please read. The poem/song is another great example of art on behalf of peace and social justice.

by Kathie Malley-Morrison

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