West Africa is probably my favourite part of the world. It contains some of the oldest, most stable and (therefore) most developed human cultures on the planet. Its economic development (it probably goes without saying) lags behind much of the world; but in spite of this (or more accurately, because of this) West African societies are culturally more developed than many other societies on the planet. Tens of thousands of years of uninterrupted cultural evolution have created beautiful musical, dance, language and social skills – which explains in large part why I go there. I’ve spent part of winter there for most of the past few years, dividing my time over six countries.
This year, I’m freshly returned from The Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country (with under two million people) – a bizarre side-effect of the British/French scramble for Africa whereby the river Gambia (and a little land either side) was carved out of French Senegal by the British. Although Gambia comprises the same main tribal groups as Senegal, and Gambians typically have family ties with Senegalese, Senegal has managed to create some form of democracy, and forms part of the wider community of French West African nations. Gambia meanwhile has effectively been the private plaything of one man, Yahya Jammeh, since he was “elected” in 1996.
Gambians take great care when speaking out against Jammeh. In a nation so small, political rivalries are personal ones. Anyone who raises a voice against his bizarre behaviours will quickly reach Jammeh’s attention, and run the risk of vanishing in the middle of the night. I previously mentioned Jammeh’s magical ability to cure his citizens of AIDS; it seems that his near-insane behaviours have only increased since then. On this trip, I noted a change in tone when talking to Gambians about local politics. They are angrier, and less reticent about sharing their views on Jammeh.
Last summer, Jammeh got rid of a few minor problems by reinstating the death penalty and having nine prisoners shot by firing squad. This led to some unusually outspoken opposition, in particular by the leading Imam Baba Leigh. The response was sadly predictable; Imam Leigh was taken from his home in early December, and has not been heard from since. In turn, this has led to Imams uniting to call for Leigh’s release, and growing organisation of ex-pat Gambians in New York and elsewhere.
Against this backdrop, most ordinary Gambians live on the verges of poverty. Electricity is only widely available along Gambia’s short coast (which serves its tourism industry). While some African states (notably Ghana and Rwanda) are introducing near-universal healthcare, Gambian healthcare remains for the wealthy. And there are plenty of wealthy Gambians; the contrast between rich and poor is striking.
And in yet another insane presidential decree, Jammeh has declared each Friday a public holiday (to increase mosque attendances) and decreed that public workers should work longer days over a four-day week instead, and schools should open on Saturday. He has imposed a new Valued Added Tax. While African states undoubtedly need to increase their tax take in order to build desperately needed infrastructure, Gambians are under little illusion that much of their tax will go to help build the nation.
The 2011 uprising in North Africa led to hopes of an “African Spring” in sub-Saharan Africa too. There were protests in Uganda, but these were viciously suppressed by President Museveni (also a contender for most-moronic leader). Black Africa was not quite ready for its “Spring” moment. The Arab/North Africa uprisings were driven, in large part, by the rise of instant communication. While most people in sub-Saharan Africa now own a mobile phone, the services are limited, and most important, the region is not well-connected to the Internet. Access is usually via Internet cafés, and is extremely slow.
Or at least, was extremely slow. France Telecom has invested heavily in the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) project, high-speed connectivity between Europe and the West African coast. The first phase of this project went live in December. While South and East Africa already have high-speed connectivity, this is West Africa’s first real access to the global Internet. The impact can’t be understated; since Europe and West Africa first met each other 500 years ago, the relationship has been asymmetrical to say the least. For the first time in human history, the playing field in communication has been – to some extent – levelled. Simultaneously, African economies are growing at breakneck speed. Education levels are rocketing, and many wealthy ex-pats are returning home from Britain, France and the USA, bringing skills, investment and employment.
West Africa is on the verge of emerging as a global force, primarily via its biggest member state, Nigeria – ACE may represent the tipping point. While European morons attempt to drag the continent back into nationalism and isolation, Africa rises and joins the global economy (indeed – for the first time, I met several European ex-pats living in West Africa not for travel or charity, but for work).
All of these factors mean the writing is on the wall for Africa’s moron leaders – especially Jammeh, perhaps the most moronic of them all. A seismic event is about to happen; as with all earthquakes, we can predict where, but not when. Perhaps Jammeh, Museveni and their like have another decade to rob and brutalise their people, but I predict it won’t take that long.
At long last, Africa’s lagging economic development can start to catch up with its unparalleled cultural leadership. The Western world has a surprise coming.
It’s time once again to look back at the highlights and lowlights of the past year. The widespread economic and social problems have meant that, for millions, 2011 has been a difficult, challenging time. But not for MoronWatch! 2011 has one of the most moronic years in modern history. And it’s time to give thanks to all the morons who helped make it happen.
So here’s my attempt to remember just a few of this year’s moronic events, and the morons behind them. I couldn’t possibly cover every piece of moronitude, and I’ve undoubtedly missed some key events and people – feel free to add your favourites below.
Those who entertained us by promising to deliver, before completely failing to do so.
Winner: Harold Camping, who predicted the second coming would take place on 21st May, followed by the end of the world on October 21st. He worked it out using numbers. Sadly (at least for morons awaiting Judgement Day), his calculations turned out to be wrong. Jesus failed to show in May, but Harry stuck to his guns and said the world would still end in October (it didn’t, FYI). Honourable mention: the people who believed him.
Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines), a right-wing British blogger who tried (with help from the moron press) to show, via an online petition, that the UK public were clamouring for a return of the death penalty. They weren’t.
Donald Trump, who reignited the birther controversy, demanding Barack Obama produce his long-form birth certificate. With beautiful timing, Obama duly did so, destroying Trump’s presidential campaign (though to be fair, Trump had already destroyed it himself by being Donald Trump).
Christopher Monckton, a man who has profited hugely from selling climate change denial to morons, despite having been repeatedly discredited, opened a Twitter account. After skirmishes with myself and other “fans”, he quickly closed it down again.
The far-right English Defence League (EDL) have continued to keep us entertained with their moronic (and badly-spelled) antics, both online and offline. This year, they discovered that posting online threats to attack the Occupy protesters in London would lead to them being arrested when they arrived in town for Remembrance Day.
Rick Perry, presidential hopeful, had a moronic plan to close entire government departments, but when asked during a TV debate, he couldn’t remember which ones. Oops!
Michele Bachmann, after showing early promise to be the flag-bearer for American moronism in next year’s presidential election, vanished without a trace (as did several of her moronic competitors).
Who has been doing their best to destabilise world society, and (whether deliberately or accidentally) drive us towards war?
Winner: The Tea Party caucus in Congress for refusing to raise the US debt ceiling until the 13th hour, resulting in a downgrade for the USA’s credit rating. While some “moderate” Republican morons used the debt ceiling increase as a negotiating tool to try to force cuts in spending, the Tea Party, led by MoronWatch favourite Michele Bachmann, were genuinely prepared to force a US debt default, taking the global economy to the brink of panic.
European leaders for repeatedly failing throughout the year to take the actions necessary to stabilise the EU economy. Special mention to Silvio Berlusconi, for clinging to power despite having mismanaged the Italian economy for years, so he wouldn’t face prosecution for – well, pretty much everything. Very special mention to Dave Camoron and his nationalistic, Eurosceptic Tory right, who tried (perhaps successfully) to single-handedly derail a deal that would stop the European economy from collapsing.
Ongoing: The US for its moronic “war on terror” which grinds on, killing civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pushing those countries steadily towards social collapse and so putting power in the hands of the Taliban and other extremists, who are (in theory) supposed to be the enemy.
Binyamin Netanyahu, who has stopped even pretending to care about peace in the region, and endlessly accelerates Israeli aggression and land theft. Special mention: the moronic pro-Israel lobby in the US who continue to support Israel, regardless of what it does.
Ongoing: most world governments for their endless execution of the utterly failed War on Drugs, which swallows endless billions of dollars and millions of lives, and results in more people taking more dangerous drugs.
Terrorism is becoming ever-more fashionable, especially among those who claim to be fighting terrorism. Here is my selection of the year’s top terrorists.
Winner: President Assad of Syria, for the mass-slaughter of his own people in the streets of Syrian cities. Of course, like all good state terrorists, Assad says that his victims aren’t civilians at all, but are themselves terrorists working in behalf of Syria’s enemies. No doubt, Syria has its own population of morons who believe him.
Barack Obama, for drone strikes on Pakistan that kill civilians on a regular basis. Obama fans may point out that it’s actually the Pentagon or the CIA carrying out these attacks, but if we blamed Bush’s wars on Bush, let’s be consistent and lay the blame for post-2008 terrorism on Obama. It’s only fair. And by the way, it’s probably about time Obama returned his prematurely-awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
West Bank extremist settlers for their barely-reported campaign of “price tag” terrorism against Palestinian civilians. Their strategy is to endlessly provoke the Palestinian population by ripping up crops, sabotaging irrigation systems or damaging mosques, then shooting people who protest. If the protests get too big, they go running to Mummy (aka the Israeli Defence Force) who shoot or arrest and torture Palestinian civilians.
Mystery winner: somebody, probably Israel or the US, carried out a terrorist attack on an Iranian military base, and quite possibly other attacks we haven’t heard about. If Iranians protest or retaliate in any way, it just shows how unreasonable they are. Honourable mention: Western media and politicians who ignore these attacks and continue to beat the drums of war against Iran.
London’s Metropolitan Police, who executed Mark Duggan, a young black man, in North London, based merely on the suspicion that he might be carrying a gun. Immediately after the shooting, the police lied to journalists, saying an exchange of fire had taken place – it hadn’t. The shooting triggered an uprising in Tottenham which led to the UK summer riots. Notably, this is the second time a riot has begun in Tottenham after the police killed an unarmed person. Special mention to the poorly-named Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are never independent and always ignore complaints. As ever, they came down on the side of the police.
While it’s useful to understand motivations, some people are just plain evil.
Winner: “Pepper Spray Cop” – the policeman in Berkeley, California who was videoed casually spraying peaceful, seated protesters in the face with pepper spray. He was just one of many US police officers who took part in violent attacks on peaceful Occupy protesters this year, showing that free speech isn’t as much an American value as we might have hoped.
The US state of Georgia, who executed Troy Davis, despite strong evidence that his trial had been rigged.
Supporters of presidential candidate and libertarian, Ron Paul at a debate. Paul was asked about his “libertarian” approach to healthcare: what should happen to people with no health cover if they were to fall ill? He confirmed that they should be given the “freedom” to die. At which, the audience applauded heartily, yelling “Let him die!”.
Everyone loves a little hypocrisy. Well, MoronWatch does, anyway. Here are some of the highlights.
Winner: Joint prize to The UK, France and the US for attacking Libya, to “protect civilians”. Strangely, their newly-found morality hasn’t been applied in recent years where civilians in their thousands (or tens of thousands) have been persecuted, slaughtered, raped or driven from their homes in various countries including Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Bahrain. Did I mention Libya is a major oil producer?
The Republican Party, who desperately fight for tax cuts for the rich, while proving decidedly reluctant to extend a tax cut for working Americans. Not only is this morally suspect, it’s also economically moronic: tax cuts for people on low and average incomes feed back into economic growth far more effectively than extra money for the wealthy.
Western conservatives, who enjoy using the words freedom and democracy incessantly but who, when faced with Arabs demanding democracy, proved decidedly lukewarm about the idea.
Just Plain Moronic
Awarded for general acts or statements of stupidity.
Winner: The British Public, for rejecting a modest improvement (the Alternative Vote, or AV) to our democratic system that would help weaken the current Labour-Conservative duopoly on power, open the door for the creation of fresh new political parties, and revitalise our democracy (as had already happened when AV was adopted in Australia). The newspapers (which mostly support the Tories or Labour) had largely come out against AV, and since most of the public pay no attention to politics, they voted as the press barons told them to. Thus proving that referendums, though seemingly democratic, are not in practise.
UK Prime Minister Dave Camoron for publicly giving the advice that people should pay off their debts. Although this advice is sensible, unfortunately our current economic system isn’t. A widespread shift from spending to saving, at a time when the economy is already struggling, would make the situation worse. By the end of the day, Dave was forced to reverse his advice. People are supposed to keep spending, and paying down their debts, even as the majority of them become poorer. How will that work? It won’t.
All-round weird moron Donald Trump, for suggesting that the US should take Libya’s oil as “payment” for “liberating” Libya. It’s almost like the good old days of Empire. In fact, I think it is the good old days of Empire.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, for his wonderfully simple (in every sense of the word) 9-9-9 economic plan, under which corporation tax, income tax and sales tax would all be pegged at nine percent. The tax would result in the poor paying more, the top 10% doing pretty well, and the top 1% doing fantastically well. Cain proved incapable of explaining how it could possibly work, just as he proved incapable of explaining anything at all, from foreign policy to why a series of women would accuse him of sexual harassment.
The delightfully named, but not at all delightful, Eric Pickles, Tory government minister, for the most pointless spending exercise of the year. Councils across the UK have been encouraging recycling by providing households with recycling bins and reducing general waste collections from weekly to fortnightly. Although this is sensible and desirable, the British press and public did what they do best: moan about it. So Pickles threw £250m at restarting weekly bin collections, thus managing to waste huge amounts of cash and reverse years of progress towards recycling, all to win a few moron votes. Not only was the idea moronic, but most councils have rejected the cash anyway.
The British government and media, for creating a new moral panic about Sexualisation, an imaginary problem designed to scare parents that society had become too sexual, and was threatening their children – and hence laying the foundations for future legislative attacks on sexual freedom.
I try to maintain a global perspective in my moron-watching, but that’s difficult: just trying to keep track of moronic activity in Europe and the US is hard enough. However, Africa is a continent that has always held great fascination for me, and I’ve enjoyed travelling to a number of countries there. Sub-Saharan Africa is a wonderful place to travel. Sadly, the Western media is interested in reporting little other than famine and war in Africa, ignoring most of the other 99% of happenings there. The BBC used to produce an excellent radio programme/podcast called This Week In Africa, which gave a good, weekly overview of African events – sadly that was lost to the UK government’s moronic austerity measures.
Focusing on African morons may make some liberals uneasy; because African heritage is deeply entwined with racial issues in the West, many will miss the obvious: Africa itself isn’t a racial issue. Furthermore, the politically-correct version of African history tries to explain away every failing of Africa by blaming colonialism. Colonialism did represent resource-theft on a huge scale, and the colonial “scramble for Africa” carve-up by European powers created long-term political headaches that still rumble on; yet the colonial era (approx 1880s to 1960s) was also an unprecedented time of development for the continent, during which the population increased around sixfold and the continent’s great cities of today were born. The “it’s all our fault” school of Western liberal thought is a fine piece of subtle racism; while white supremacists like to say everything good in Africa is a foreign import, liberals say everything bad is. In reality, Africa is capable of both success and failure without our help. Africa is rich in many resources, but perhaps one of its most abundant resources is bad leadership; if moronic and crazy leaders were tradeable currency, Africa could be the wealthiest continent on Earth.
Africans themselves generally have a clear view about where their problems originate: after all, they are the ones who are daily extorted of money by the police, who face discrimination based on which ethnic group they belong to, who struggle to make a living at the roadside while their politicians drive past in fleets of expensive SUVs, who see their countries’ resources skimmed off into Swiss bank accounts. A Sierra Leonean businessman I met was refreshingly straightforward about his country’s problems: “Our leaders are a bunch of illiterate savages”.
The African story isn’t just the gloomy tale of war and famine that’s dripped out through our media. Despite a handful of countries that can truly be said to be “basket cases”, the average African economy is growing at a very healthy pace. Schooling is becoming ever-more standard, and literacy is growing fast. The lack of good communications across the continent has been rapidly solved by the arrival of mobile telephony, with mobile phone ownership approaching levels seen in developed countries. Africa’s final hurdle is to improve its governance. African countries will no doubt soon experience their own civil rights era; with more educated and demanding populations than ever before, we can expect, within a few years, to see black Africa rise up in pursuit of better leadership, as we’ve seen in North African and Arab countries this year.
So here is a brief tribute to a few of Africa’s moron leaders – those people who by theft, suppression of free speech or just downright idiocy, are slowing Africa’s emergence into the developed world.
Robert Mugabe is the perfect example of a revolutionary hero who turned out not to be such a great national leader once the revolution was won. Mugabe served over 10 years in prison during the struggle against white minority rule. In power since the formation of Zimbabwe in 1980, Mugabe quickly revealed his moron credentials by attacking his opponents and committing mass-murder against a tribal minority, the Matebele. Gradually, Zimbabwean opposition was crushed. Mugabe then set out on a populist land-grab from white farmers, handing land to his friends and supporters, with the result that harvests failed and a once-prosperous country fell into poverty. Indeed, hunger is a favourite weapon used by Mugabe against his enemies. Despite being electorally defeated, Mugabe refuses to let go of power, and will remain until death (he’s 87), or until his ZANU-PF cronies finally find the guts to depose him.
Traditional “medicine” and superstitions are rife in Africa, and this extends even to the ruling classes. Nelson Mandela’s successor in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, allowed himself to be convinced that AIDS wasn’t related to the HIV virus, and acted to prevent antiretrovirals from being made widely available, despite South Africa having the world’s worst AIDS epidemic. After several years, Mbeki’s stance was overruled, and antiretrovirals were made available, but only after an estimated 365,000 people had died due to his ignorance. Mbeki’s successor Jacob Zuma showed himself to be no more enlightened about AIDS when, standing trial for rape, he revealed he’d had unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV positive, and had showered afterwards to “protect himself”.
Resentment between African tribes has often been hugely exacerbated by the hasty drawing of post-independence borders as European colonial rulers left and African leaders replaced them. Every African country is ethnically divided to some extent, and leaders (elected or not) will often represent their own group rather than the national interest. It’s hardly surprising then that African leaders tend to use power to discriminate against rival tribes, which in turn heightens tensions and makes conflict and genocide more likely. This happened most starkly in 1994 in Rwanda, where the minority Tutsi ruling group was suddenly turned upon by resentful Hutus, resulting in the loss of around 800,000 lives.
In Kenya, the 2008 elections collapsed into ethnic violence between the dominant Kikuyu tribe and others; political leaders on both sides were accused of stoking the violence for political gain.
Sierra Leone has racist laws on the statute that prevent any non-native from being born a Sierra Leonean citizen, however many generations his family may have lived in the country.
Africa’s most multiracial country, but also a fragile one, is South Africa; a Cameroonian man recently told me of his difficult experience working in South Africa, saying that black South Africans were the most racist people he’d ever encountered, especially against other black people. South Africa’s ANC leaders have generally been careful to tackle racism, seeing the danger it could cause to such a diverse country, but recently a leading ANC figure, Julius Malema, was convicted of hate speech after leading the singing in public of a song that advocated “killing Boers”. So far, South Africa is largely peaceful and politically stable, with the ANC easily winning every election. But with growing anger against ANC corruption, and the rise of an opposition party led by a white woman, watch out for more race-baiting coming from the ANC as its monopoly on power becomes weaker.
Africa is perhaps the worst place to be gay. While homophobia is widespread pretty much everywhere on earth, African laws against homosexuality tend to be the most draconian, and the most enthusiastically implemented. Liberals often try to blame this on the West, pointing out that many of these laws originate from the colonial era, and that African homophobes are enthusiastically supported by American Christians, but that’s a subtle piece of liberal racism which assumes Africans wouldn’t know how to be homophobic by themselves. The laws may descend from colonial times, but then so do almost all sub-Saharan African legal systems. African homophobia is homegrown. Europe has now abandoned its homophobic legislation, but African nations (with the laudable exception of South Africa) seem to show no enthusiasm in doing likewise.
If one country can sum up the greatest hopes and worst fears for Africa’s future, it’s Nigeria. A large, federal nation of 36 states and 155m people, it has oil reserves that bring huge revenue flows into the country. Unfortunately, much of that is embezzled within the corrupt political system, and rapidly exits the country again. Nigeria has the wealth to build good education, healthcare and electricity infrastructures for its people; but has largely failed to do so. By rights, given its mineral wealth and human resources, Nigeria should be ready for a place in the G20; but that is a distant dream.
A figure that best illustrates Nigeria’s problems is the salary paid to its politicians. Incredibly, while three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 per day, Nigeria’s elected representatives earn around $1,500,000 per year (no, that’s not a typo: I really said $1.5m), and are the world’s highest paid politicians. By contrast, US politicians earn around one-sixth that amount. This huge reward for winning elections helps explain the corrupt and violent mess that is Nigerian politics – and the perks of political life go far beyond the salary.
Nigeria’s economy is growing and the country is becoming more wealthy. But unless its wealth is shared among the population, the nation risks falling back into bloodshed. No country can have a stable existence with the world’s worst poverty sitting alongside enormous wealth. And the oil won’t last forever; if the proceeds are not invested wisely, Nigeria could see catastrophe as production goes into decline. If Nigeria destabilises, the entire West African region, and beyond, would be flooded with refugees and collapse into chaos. Probably more than any other country, Nigeria is key to Africa’s future.
WOW! Fridays are normally nice, quiet, getting ready for the weekend kinda days. But not today. Here’s a quick summary of global moron activity for this morning
Egypt in lockdown – most Internet and phone services are shut down in expectation of huge demonstrations after lunchtime prayers. Reports suggest that huge amounts of people have been rounded up, and that police shootings have occurred. Wikileaks provides a timely reminder of why Egyptians hate the dictator Hosni Mubarak so much.
And in the UK, semi-literate semi-comical far-right group, the English Defence League, fabricates a story about one of their leaders Kevin Carroll being shot at by “Jihadists”. This is intended to stir up anger among the EDL’s moronic followers in the run-up to a demonstration in Luton on 5th February. The police report only confirms that a man complained of something being thrown against his window.
Finally over to Israel, which has always complained that Hamas doesn’t accept its right to exist as a state (and therefore justifies endless war). A Wikileaks cable confirms what was widely known anyway: Hamas does accept Israel, within 1967 borders.
And that’s just Friday morning… GIMME A DAMN BREAK GUYS! Please?