Sunday, December 30, 2007

Starsky & Hutch, Sarkozy & Bush?

(written in October 2007)

There has been much talk around the MSM and the blogs, especially the francophone ones, about the new relationship between France and the United States, since the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy in France. Only last weekend, here in the US, several talk shows and Sunday forums continued to comment on this new affinity between the leaders of the two countries. From Bill Maher, to the France 2 journal (on PBS), to Chris Matthews on his show, to Wolf Blitzer on Late Edition – his guest was “French doctor” and French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner – all marveled and/or sneered at the apparent 180 turn of France, and the – really unfortunate – apparent similarities between the policy and ideology positions between the two. I will therefore not spend too much time going over this again (some may argue I already have).

I must however note that there is one particular policy-setting method, long-mastered in the US, which Sarkozy seems to have borrowed, and implemented dexterously from Bush: I call it “bill packing”. Sarkozy is trying to overhaul the immigration policies of the mighty French Republic, land of welcome… well not so much anymore. In fact Sarkozy has been adamant it seems, to rethink the whole concept of immigration in France. We’ll talk about the oddness of his policy another time. But on this particular legislation, Sarkozy has proposed a total package, making it extremely hard, even for those opposed to him, to object to the law altogether. He has packed the bill with elements that pander to his far-right/center-right base – like the requirement of DNA testing to prove the paternity of the children that accompany immigrants, while also attempting to pander the immigrant rights groups, by including a measure to – this is a first in the history of France – create statistics on the ethnic/racial diversity of France. I was watching a program called “Arret sur Info” (“Pause on the News”), on 3A TeleSud, the French/African channel dedicated to Africa and the French-Caribbean, and the topic was this new legislation; the activists opposing DNA testing – like the representative of CRAN – were contrived in their remarks, because they had to be extremely careful to only reject those specific amendments, while the person defending the bill – Christophe Nana, a Frenchman of Cameroonian origin – had the easier task of simply pointing out all the positives, and the irrefutable leaps forward, that are ALSO included in the bill. Add to bill packing a majority in Parliament, the appointment of the two or three first ethnic minority cabinet members, and you have a recipe for near absolute rule by an arrogant and self-important man, who seems adamant to transform France into the US-redux. This man’s fascination with the US reminds me that the French have never really gotten over their Napoleon “grandeur” complex, and that Sarkozy is simply the latest form of that.

Do not get me wrong: Ségolène Royal would not have been much better. She is also self-important. The difference, however, is that she supports other issues, that include a reduction in the powers of the all powerful French “King-President” – which, one might argue, is not such a bad thing. But Royal would have imposed her vision in much the same way as Sarkozy, should she have had the same majority in Parliament. It seems to be the new attitude in this generation of political elites in France: I am right, I know that I am right, you’re wrong, we’ll do it my way, and if I can help it, I won’t give you any viable avenue to even attempt to prove me wrong, before I do it my way. Napoleon tried that, and we know what happened to him. Bush is still feeling the effects of that. I don’t know why Sarkozy would want to follow such dismal beacons…

I wonder…

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I have a dream...

I am no perfect man. Far from it. I was born a Congolese man, in Congo, in relative privilege, and I did not always take full advantage of the opportunities that were offered to me, and that others in my country did not have. And when I did take advantage of them, I did not always capitalize on them as much as should have. Now, I see my country crying of hunger, disease, and poverty, while sitting on a gold mine, and I feel a responsibility to help change that. Because I have a dream.

I was raised by parents – and particularly a mother – who understood the soundness, and the benefits of raising a human being with complementary identities, a citizen of the world. I am first and foremost Congolese, and African. But I am also strongly, and proudly a world citizen.

I have had the privilege to visit, live in, study, work and travel throughout Africa, Europe and North America, and to meet, associate, interact and form long-lasting ties and friendships with people of all races, all colors, all genders, of various beliefs, from all the corners of the world. What I learned is that we are more similar than we sometimes want to believe. We are all humans, with similar needs and wants, and we are more resourceful and innovative than we sometimes appear to be. And so, I had a dream.

Having a dream is now quite cliché, I recognize that. But my personal heroes, including Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Yeshua Ben Yusef, Patrice Lumumba, Dikembe Mutombo, Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Jimmy Carter, and my own Mother, are people who overcame unbelievable odds to rise above others, and still struggled to bring forth meaningful and long lasting change in people’s lives, because they believed in the principle of fairness, equality and justice for all. So yes, I have a dream.

I dream of the day when Congolese people will shed the complexes born out of years of humiliation under colonialism. I dream of the day when we will be as proud of our nkokos’ mud-huts, as we are of the skyscrapers we want to build. I dream of the day when Congolese people will be as proud of their colorful attires, their raffia outfits, and their loincloths, as they are of their western business suits. I dream of the day when Congolese men learn to respect Congolese women. I dream of the day when we can abandon our clannic and tribal rivalries, and start thinking in terms of cultural promotion, and community development. I dream of the day when Africans will have access to the fullness of what is known of their proud, long, and rich history. I dream of the day when Congolese and other African people will be aware of, appreciate and internalize their rightful place as equals among the nations of this planet.

I dream of that day, in Congo and in Africa, when the value of a smile and an attentive ear, will be valued higher than a frown and the back of a hand, in educating our children, and in daily life. I dream of the day when Congolese people celebrate and appreciate knowledge, science and freedom, as much as they venerate customs, religion and traditions. I dream of the day when we will marvel at the technological achievements of the West with admiration, but not with shameful envy. I dream of the day when all young Congolese people will embrace modernity out of a rational sense of practicality, instead of a deep seeded, and long-taught sense of inferiority and inadequacy. I dream of the day when we will stop to simply mimic the West, and instead encourage those in the West that are willing and respectful enough, to work with us to nurture, promote, celebrate and reward ingenuity and innovation from our own sons and daughters.

I dream of the day when all black Africans will inwardly AND outwardly see white people, not as an indomitable superior force, source of “Civilization”, but instead, as equal partners, as equal members within this race we call “humans”, that spawned many “Civilizations” of which theirs just happened to be the most... "actively" (understatement of the year) proselytizing. I dream of the day when people of European descent will see me and my fellow Africans as "brothers and sisters" to work and compete with, instead of black sheep to eliminate, or pawns to manipulate. I dream of the day when the Western languages we inherited from colonialism will cease to be barriers for African Unity at the grassroots level. I dream of the day when speaking English, French, Portuguese, or now Chinese, will be seen not as a symbol of inherent social superiority, but as wonderful tools for development, and international communication.

I dream of the day when all Africans, the Congolese included, will be given the tools and the ever so needed information to be true, involved and active members of this global village we are creating. I dream of the day when the average Congolese person will have the luxury, the resources, and the time to be involved with, and care about such important, yet ultimately secondary, issues as global warming, embryonic stem-cell research, nuclear physics, sexual rights and animal cruelty.

I dream of the day when Congolese and other African leaders will seek our respect, our trust, our pleasure and our votes, and not our fear, our submission, our misery and our death. I dream of the day when African leaders, the Congolese ones included, will seek the long-term glory of history, statesmanship, respect and admiration, instead of the short-term thrill of material wealth, unlimited power, unavoidable paranoia, and muted vilification.

I dream, yes, I dream of that day when young Congolese people will travel to the West in search of alternative opportunities, and not out of desperation. I dream of that day when I can go from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, Kananga, Kisangani, Matadi, Goma or Gemena, Nairobi or Lusaka, Harare or Johannesburg, in a sedan, on a paved road. I dream of that day when Kinshasa the bin, will once again be Kinshasa the beautiful. I dream of that day when Congolese people will be returned at their rightful place as full members, and maybe even leaders of the African community.

I dream of that day when Congolese and other African people will truly feel like they have a legitimate stake in what happens in their country, their continent, and on our planet. I dream of that day, when every child born in Congo will be given a pen instead of an AK. I dream of the day when every child - every child - born in Congo will have three square meals a day, a decent education, a conscious loving family, hygienic health facilities, drinkable water and electricity, a sense of purpose, and at the very least a fighting chance to become a proud, valued and productive member of the global village.

It is a wonderful dream, and it is one that I believe we can at least partly achieve. We are admittedly far from that dream, but I will sure do my part to realize it... or die trying! Who is with me?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The death of fatherhood?

I have read - well, let me honest, read half of - a book that not only made me uncomfortable, but genuinely scared. The book is Louise Sloan's Knock Yourself Up: No Man? No Problem, which is basically a guide for women to "make babies on their own". Now, people who know me will tell you that you would rarely find more liberal than me, among Africans, especially on women and GLBTQ rights. But even I have been taken aback by this apparent manifesto for the... sidelining of men in the procreation process. I felt quite bigoted to think this after reading Ms Sloan's book, and I felt quite tangled-up. And then - Eureka - I found an article in the Guardian that echoed precisely what I felt. To give people a chance to read the book and decide for themselves, I will not say more about the book; however, I wanted to leave you with a quote from the article that expresses my thoughts most accurately:
Much has been written lately about the commodification of love, and the way consumer culture has inflated our expectations of relationships to an unmanageable degree. We are encouraged to consider partners as wish-list fulfillers and, when they fail to do so, as disposable. The modern premium on autonomy and self-determination does not sit easily with the loosening (rather than lowering) of expectations, the toleration of uncertainty and compromise necessary for sustaining intimacy and providing a platform for parenthood.

But it would concern me greatly if our contemporary trouble with relationships led some women, straight or gay, to excise men from the parenting picture entirely. At the heart of this seems to be a clash between adherence to the norm and choice. In the past, traditional notions of what a family ought to comprise have wrongly prevented many from becoming the loving parents they longed to be. This is not an argument against gay and lesbian parenthood. And a single woman who believes she is emotionally and financially secure enough to raise a child alone ought to have options. But nowadays the ideology of choice is proving just as problematic as that of normativeness in the realm of the family and it is necessary, not retrograde, to interrogate that.