Okello Oculi, Ph.D, Executive Director, AFRICA VISION 525 calls for a "political" analysis of tragedy and charity.
The 26th December, 2004 TSUNAMI, yielded by an earthquake in the eastern sector of the Indian Ocean, has provoked several international events, notably: a confrontation between Colin Powel, the outgoing Secretary of State (or Foreign Affairs Minister) and Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General: both of whom owed their status in world affairs in the transition from the Twentieth to the Twenty First century to President George Bush and his conception of the role of the black man in world affairs. Both men ended up deviating from having brains cloned from the wishes of the master. Powel, a man who had killed and pledged to get killed in defense of America, had developed less of a bully- Cowboy view of, and more respect for, other peoples who fight for their national freedoms and visions of history. Iraq as a scene of profit for corporations like Bechtel and Harliburton (both from potential contracts for its reconstruction after it had been battered to ruins ir order to seize control of its vast oil deposits), pitched Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Srecretary Donald Rumsfeld, against Colin Powel's politics rooted in sentimental memories for American soldiers who had died in other wars for similar economic interests elsewhere. Some observers claim that President Bush was anticipating "to award a $900million construction contracts to rebuild Iraq" to American companies.
Kofi Annan too suffered from Colin Powel's sneeze over Iraq. Both black men had come into power with empty hands and pockets, the one rich in military medals but no corporate wealth, and the other rich in a diplomatic bureaucrat's vocabulary. Having forced Powel out of office, Bush is now growling at Annan, hoping that the dog will either run away while keeping his cheek; or wine and wag his tail in obsequious apology.
The TSUNAMI tragedy has created a grand scene from which to put Annan on a wild bull for him to ride without being thrown off the saddle and gored to death ;just as they do in rodio games back home in Texas where George Bush grew up seeing cowboys test their masculinity. Short of that the American imperial guard will show off their fleet of helicopters, troops and equipment- hauling trains that fly across skies over vast distances; military troops who eat hamburgers as their tribal food and arrive on the scene with the sound of a whistle, and not the usual quilt the United Nations puts together from diverse contingents supplied by willing member states; assembled with the lightening speed of a pregnant tropical snail.; and fuelled by low budget paraffin and not expensive petrol.
The attack on Annan's global mandate and gait, however, developed a puncture on its front tyres probably due to delays occasioned by a wish to dramatize the Santa Claus image of the United States to Moslem worshippers everywhere in the run up to their annual pilgrimage and congregation in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. With the red stripes on her national flag beginning to sag and run with what looks increasingly like unclotting Iraqi blood as 2004 came to an end, a more caring and generous image of the United States as "Big Bird" in Sesame Street, was likely to become compelling to image makers. The delay might have even enhanced this image if it hadn't been for another inconvenience: the mad waters have murdered several thousands of citizens of Scandinavian and other European countries whose governments and kith and kin responded with spontaneous outpourings of grief, anxiety for the fate of loved ones out on holiday in the region, and collections of donations of relief material and funds from publics aroused by their own independent global media which operated outside the boundaries of censorship by America officials and reporters. In the United States itself, congressmen representing constituencies where tourists known to be in that part of Asia came from, were under pressure to demand and denounce seeming indifference by President Bush and his top officials.
The Europeans were going to insist on asserting independent initiatives even as the post-Cold War lone giant pretended not to hear screams of victims on the peripheries of the empire. To these European voices and initiatives, the United Nations was the preferred and traditional Santa Claus within which their individual sovereignties had dignity and voices, even if anchored on populations less than the size of New York City . Sweden, with the most human losses, has a total population of nine million, probably twice that of its neighbour, Norway, also bereaved.
The United States , in an apparent move to camouflage her desire to overshadow the United Nations, and its head prefect, Kofi Annan, put together a relief club made up of India and Australia as junior partners. Japan was excluded presumably because her brutal treatment of peoples in this area during World War 2 is still remembered with revulsion and anger; but more likely as a credible competitor for relief and reconstruction contracts. India, to assert her national pride, and also justify her participation in the relief-supply club, rejected relief for victims in Tamil Nadu and its northern border areas reached by the earthquake and angry waters. India was probably also mindful of relief partners targeting its nuclear plants located in the region. As a precaution, those living in the vicinity of a plant were evacuate accompanied by loud assurances by officials that there were no fears of leakages of harmful radiation. While joining the American craft of relief givers, India was also probably wary of too eager an embrace by a rampaging giant who had always supported her arch enemy, Pakistan, all through the Cold War; and silently welcomed high visibility for Kofi Annan's relief professionals in the region. The United States is after all, once a colonial colosus over the Philippines; in the mid-1960s sponsored the massacre of hundreds of thousands of members of the Communist Party in Indonesia; bombed Vietnamese nationalism with all the violent and explosive chemistry it could export, and tamed Japan's imperial ambitions over the region. She is not a Santa Claus without hidden claws even at a mass funeral and on a red cross mission.
The TSUNAMI has brought a peculiar message to Indonesia. With the largest number of Muslims in the world in one country, Indonesia had refrained from being a vigorous exporter of the faith. It had also achieved a creative fusion between Islam and her traditional culture. In her struggle for independence against Dutch colonial exploitation and dictatorship, and Japanese wartime occupation, she had borrowed ideological weapons from the Communist nationalists in China, and liberal democratic calls for freedom from India and the United States. The Soviet Union and China favoured her communist siblings while the West favoured her liberal democratic nationslists as expressed in the rhetoric of Sukarno. Her communists, and not her Muslim worshippers, alarmed the West. American scholars writing on her politics, praised what they called a culture of consensus, not polarized by conflict especially after the communists had been conveniently massacred and silenced in their hundred of thousands by the Indonesian military, with encouragement from the American government.
However, in the closing decade of the twentieth century, a militant anti-EuroAmericoAustralian brand of Islam imported from an Arab world which had been fighting Israel for decades, entered Inddonesian politics and competed brutally for her sense of national identity. More importantly, its carriers saw themselves as alternative powers who would keep the keys to legitimacy even for key institutions like the armed forces, the bureaucracy, the judiciary and political power. When they bombed nightclubs and foreign embassies, they were announcing their will to set the national agenda, including its vital economic choices and the legitimacy of exiisting foreign relations. When it became clear that they were part of Bin Laden's military infrastructure, they thoroughly alarmed the traditional holders of power (who cherished their independence and the economic bounties they had reaped from it), and the foreign "infidels". The horrendous decimation by the TSUNAMI and the high drama it allows for relief international relations, as well as the shared tears from death and injuries, can only be a welcome opportunity to regain lost moments of playing the desired; and even superiorly endowed , foreigner. Colonial hangovers die only slowly, if ever. Kofi Anna's shadow comes in useful here as an anti-acid; a digestive chemical which even the Americans would grudgingly welcome.
Perhaps the best allies of Kofi Annan, the African from ancient cultures of Ghana and West Africa, are the people of Thailand. A January 5, 2005 CNN programme "Larry King Live", showed two American couples from Seattle in Washington State in the far northwest, who had both escaped unhurt, physically at least, because they had managed to get to high ground before hungry waves got at them. They had fled from sleep and scrambled out without clothes and shoes. To the husband, a Thai nurse gave him her shoes, others gave them clothes. Another man who had grabbed a child as the waters tossed him past him and clung on to the boy desperately till Thai rescuers pulled them out and, like several BBC correspondents did repeatedly, praised the generosity, the humanness of the Thais; 'the opening of the heart" (as a resident European tried to translate) the Thai national moral resource. The Thais have shown that there is a moral capital mightier than money. The American couple chose to become volunteers and carry dead bodies and coffins, and perform other needed tasks because as they put it:"to whom much is given, much is expected".
The Thais had given them a rare gift of humanhood They would, therefore, not walk away from their early moment of grief. In the face of American officialdom waving scores of helicopters, troops, food and high technology, Kofi Annan's moral currency from the historical record of the United Nationas has a vital ally in the gift of light from open windows in Thai hearts, a shine which may well send forth illumination so powerful that it may well blind the arrogant wielders of America's machines. Kofi Annan would do well to put on his agenda the export of those Thai cultural diamonds of humane light from hearts to other economies as new infrastructures for carrying and anchoring the humanitarian work of the United Nations.
In this regard, it is most regrettable that journalists from most Asia, African, Latin American and Caribbean countries are not represented among those coverage this transcontinental tragedy. The media in these countries do not have the huge resources major networks deploy even at very short notice. Yet the absence of a capacity for responding to such calamities; of becoming active participants is a cauldron of what should be a global human instinctual struggle for survival, of volunteering to bleed and cry a little with victims in distant lands, is a major component of underdevelopment. It too must be crossed as a gap between the North and the South. Journalists from these regions would serve to build this capacity in the consciousness of officialdom and the mass public alike. As a lesson from this TSUNAMI, Kofi Annan should de-bureaucratize the work of the UN's major humanitarian agencies: UNICEF, UNHCR, and WHO, and take them to the active participation of the mass publics everywhere. This is what the volunteers in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India have demonstrated. Their heroic legacy should not go away with receding ocean waves. That is certainly one initiative which American officials would recognize as coming directly from the bowels of their own fight for freedom against British colonial exploitation and dictatorship.