Thursday, 14 December 2017

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

An interesting exploration of the lives of two mixed race girls growing up in South East London. It takes us on a journey through a life chasing dreams and dodging poverty. The story touches on the madness of celebrity from glamour, to superficial relationships and the accessorising of African poverty.

The story hints at a lot of things without dwelling too deeply on them. It’s never quite clear what social significance the different gender racial mix makes. There also doesn’t seem to be much insight into Tracey’s father fractious relationships. What were his feelings about his previous family? Did he develop a fetish for Black women at some point? How did he become involved with Aimee?

The story does delve into the phenomenon of celebrity adoption of Africa as a pet charity project. However, it does gloss over local corruption and repression and how these celebrities’ endorsement may or not contribute to it.

Her treatment of romantic relationships wasn’t altogether convincing. Some didn’t really add up or really seem particularly likely. They read as unsatisfactory as they eventually turned out in the book.

Some very interesting themes in there but it was a difficult read and not altogether enjoyable.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Spotlight on culture of sexual abuse and harassment

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has brought out into the open a history and culture of sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation that has become pervasive in day to day life in the USA and UK. Not only has it given victims a voice, it has also meant abusers are now being held to account irrespective of wealth and status. There are some exceptions, of course. It has also opened up a debate about notions of male entitlement and the casual mistreatment of women that has become normalised over time. The usual excuses for inappropriate and indecent sexual behaviour are now being held up to scrutiny and rightly dismissed and condemned. The UK Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon has had to resign claiming that what was acceptable in the past is now no longer acceptable. People have been quick to correct him that it was never acceptable just accepted because the perpetrators had power and influence.

The Black entertainment industry has a notorious reputation for misogyny and sexual violence. It might seem like there’s no point in raising it but this is probably an ideal time to call it out and hopefully put an end to it. The music industry needs to take more responsibility for the well-being of its workers and behaviour of its stars. Sexual harassment and exploitation are so endemic that it is taken for granted. That needs to change. This is important for the safety of people just trying to do a job, the professionalism of the business and the integrity of the art.

In Nigeria sexual abuse and exploitation of women have been pervasive and routine across all walks of life. Not only is the abusive behaviour normalised, it is also unchallenged. It is so ingrained in social culture that banks recruit young females to market banking products with the understanding that customers will see them as sexually available. Many of these women, single or married, are often coerced into sleeping with prospective customers in the hope of securing new account business. Lecturers in further and higher education routinely proposition female students with offers of better grades or threat of failing for sexual favours. This behaviour has gone on unchecked forever. This is a country where some regions have sought to legalise child brides. It is time for all the countries providing international aid for development and governance training to exert influence to challenge inappropriate behaviour. It is impossible to promote the empowerment and development of women when they can’t feel safe in social and professional settings.

In Nigeria, and many parts of sub Saharan Africa, there is a psycho-social dynamic driving the sexually predatory behaviour. There is an almost primordial inclination to see women as objects subject exclusively to the will of a man. It is a traditional mindset that sees man as the head of the family and women as subservient subjects with no will of their own. Unfortunately it still persists into the 21st century and shows little sign of abating. Now some men want to continue to dominate and demean the women in their lives. And women who have become high achievers, and even family breadwinners, still find themselves at the mercy of envious and insecure men who want to humiliate and brutalise them.

All societies need to take action to address sexual harassment and exploitation in professional and personal situations. A lot needs to be done to change prevailing attitudes towards sexually inappropriate behaviour. Victims should not be coerced and intimidated into silence. Also, perpetrators should not be allowed to pay off or threaten victims in order to cover up misconduct. Knowing what is appropriate behaviour and being held to account for sexually inappropriate conduct should be standards that are ingrained in the fabric of all societies.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Guns are the Problem

President Trump doesn’t think that this is the time to talk about gun control. If not following the worst gun massacre in America’s history I wonder when is. It may not be clear to Donald Trump but the National Rifle Association is not as interested in the welfare of American citizens as its lobbyists would like us to believe. The over thirty thousand people killed by guns in the last year suggests that something isn’t right. And it is possible that gun possession might be at the heart of the problem.

The American people have come to believe that constitutionally guaranteed rights are inalienable. I think the continued espousal of the second amendment rights means it’s time to challenge that notion. The second amendment was meant for a time when America was made up of isolated and unprotected settlements. The Wild West was a desperate time, it was every man for himself, and clearly gender equality was inconceivable. However, in the 21st century there is no rational reason to bear arms routinely. There might be a rational to take up arms in self defence but then one would have to be under threat. To be under that kind of threat one would have to be living in a failed state or a complete collapse of law and order.

There remain serious questions about the justification for not having more rigorous control of gun ownership. However, the real issue that is probably even more concerning is the mentality that drives Americans to believe individual gun ownership is required to ensure their personal safety and overall wellbeing. The idea that guns are needed to protect a way of life seems so completely out of step with modern day sensibilities. There is little or no evidence to suggest that even a significant number of people have required a gun for any form of self defence. Nor can it be said that open carry policies create anything other than an atmosphere of heightened fear and anxiety. It does appear that at this point in time gun ownership has created a less safe and more dangerous environment for all law abiding citizens.

Relaxed gun control regulation has led to the adoption of related policies  that have created an unsafe environment. ‘Open carry’ policies seem a clear provocation to aggression and intimidation. ‘Stand your ground’ policies certainly hark back to lawless frontier times. It almost appeals to some sort of wild eyed savagery that is reminiscent of prehistoric times. Access to semi automatic weapons is hardly a proportional response to a desire for self protection. It all comes down to a circular argument justifying gun ownership by citing protection against criminal entities. However, criminals are so well armed because of the free access to guns, legal or otherwise. This means it’s harder for law enforcement to contain criminal violence therefore making it necessary for individuals to own weapons to protect themselves.

An inalienable right should be one that is required for sustaining individual life and dignity; as well as protecting social order. Gun ownership in modern times cannot be said to meet that standard. The mentality that puts gun ownership above a right to life is one which suggests a slide towards stateless lawlessness. The onus for law enforcement and protection of liberty cannot be solely down to individual perception of safety. For as long as it isn’t possible to guarantee that owners of guns will use them responsibly there is a need to change the mindset that everyone should be entitled to own a gun. The enjoyment of shooting cannot override the threat of innocent people being shot and murdered without provocation.

Thursday, 28 September 2017


What’s the point of running if you can’t come to a stop?
What’s the use of sitting if you can’t get up?
Of what use is believing if you can’t take a knee?
How can it be fair when we’re not treated equally?

Who wants a rose that can’t be held?
What do you do with iron you cannot weld?
Is there any good in being slick if you can’t feel friction?
How good is a tale if it’s all just fiction?

How can you be unique if you’re not truly different?
How can it be clear if it’s not really apparent?
How can you love if you’ve never really lost?
Is hell different from the purgatory of Faust?
How can you live for so many years and only take a second to die?
If honesty is the best policy why is it so easy to lie?

Thursday, 21 September 2017

A Failing Association

Football across the British Isles is a bonding experience for children and adults of all ethnicities and genders. People grow up playing, watching and enjoying the game. And while it is true that it has become a lucrative form of employment for professionals; it is also a unifying experience for many supporters and amateur players out there. It is because of this that the Football Association has a responsibility to set standards for both the performance and administration of the game. In recent times however, the FA has struggled to demonstrate any moral responsibility for the well-being of the game or its minority group players.

The FA investigation into charges of bullying and discrimination in the case of Eniola Aluko and Lianne Sanderson fell very short of any standard of fairness and thoroughness. The barrister appointed to lead the investigation appeared to not have a lot of understanding of the nuances of racism and discrimination. It was right that she should have looked for evidence of the claims made. However, in cases of racism there is a need to also explore attitudes and the environment in which the alleged incidents occurred. In basing her findings solely on the conclusion that there wasn’t any overriding proof she made little effort to actually even explore what the experience of the alleged victim of discrimination was. This showed a lack of sensitivity and an ignorance of the social context of racism.

It is ludicrous that a second investigation should have actually concluded with a decision after Eniola Aluko declined to cooperate with it. While her non cooperation was far from ideal, without it any findings could hardly have been credible. The investigation didn’t question Mark Sampson as to why he had made earlier self admitted remarks about Ebola. It also seems strange that Mark Sampson was cleared without the investigation actually giving Lianne Sanderson a hearing in person. It was almost as if her claims had already been deemed unsubstantial. This is in addition to no effort being made to interview Drew Spence about prejudicial comments made to her in the presence of some other England players.

The FA should have realised the Eniola Aluko being dropped from the England squad following her complaint would give the appearance of victimisation. There should have been more effort taken to explain the reason for her exclusion to her in person. This would have given her a forum to express her feelings about it. The FA then paying up her contract and paying a further sum for a non disclosure agreement certainly seems like an effort to quash rather than resolve the issue.

While Mark Sampson’s eventual sacking as England Women’s Football Manager is claimed to be unrelated to the allegations of bullying and discrimination it does raise significant questions. The incidents at Bristol Academy clearly show that he was not a person of unimpeachable character. It also further demonstrates that the FA and its coterie of advisors are barely competent or capable of simple good judgement. The FA claiming that the incidents in Bristol showed no safeguarding risks seems to fly in the face of adult protection requirements and standards. There may not been any child protection concerns but multiple adult protection concerns should have been flagged immediately.

The FA is an organisation that makes a big show of publicly espousing social responsibility. However, in its operations it doesn’t demonstrate much social awareness or much of a social conscience. Almost every opportunity it has to act with integrity and address traditional and institutional bias falls woefully short. There is so much focus on being seen to be doing the right thing that there isn’t much capacity to actually understand what is right and act appropriately so. Providing a platform for the young to thrive in the game and for players to be supported and protected, where necessary, should be one of the first principles of the organisation. Unfortunately, that seems to be what comes last in consideration if you work for the Football Association.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Nothing Right About Race Hate

Courtesy New York Times
The pursuit of racial purity didn't work out for the nazis in 20th century Germany, even at a time when the most liberal nations advocated it. So why do some people imagine it can work now in the 21st century? Given that most nations' origins involve quite a pool of nationalities the idea of racial purity is really just jingoistic pandering to a disaffected underclass. Unfortunately it has set out to target disadvantaged minorities and is becoming successful in further marginalising them. 

Neither Christian dogma nor scientific evidence support the idea of racial purity. Jesus Christ advocated loving your neighbour as much as yourself and turning other cheek to provocation. So there is no basis for subjugation of other races or religions based on Christianity. Targeting other religions is distinctly unchristian. In science social genetics demands that for survival a gene pool must be diversified. This is an essential element to the survival of all species. Continuous interbreeding will lead to weakness, mutations and extinction.

It is not possible to enjoy harmony in personal relationships whilst wishing for a society that will thrive on exclusion and separation. It takes a particularly warped mentality to want to see others undermine and subjugate others. Denying some groups their rightful place in society only serves to create a more unstable and unsafe society for all. It also removes any moral legitimacy to calls for groups to integrate or be more patriotic.

Encouraging free speech is an important part of maintaining personal and social freedoms. However, society cannot continue to be Finding tolerant of hate speech and racially motivated aggression. Demonstrations intended to intimidate and denigrate other people will inevitably spawn resistance movements. On such emotionally charged issues it is just a matter of time before they provoke violence. Prejudiced and racist speech don't advance the development of new perspectives on dealing with inequality and improving social safety or harmony.

The true essence of national pride is creating a nation and consciousness where all citizens have a place irrespective of colour, creed or capability. Ensuring that there is an acceptable place for them and making sure they are accepted as partners in progress. That requires recognising and acknowledging historical and current inequalities. It also involves making reparations and accommodations in each case. 

Monday, 31 July 2017

Democratic Party Doldrums

A lot of journalists, political commentators, analysts and comedians are currently very preoccupied with Donald Trump and his modern presidential antics. And it is right that he should be subjected to a fair degree of scrutiny. All public officers should expect to be accountable for their stewardship. Trump's difficulty in accepting any level of scrutiny of his actions is another sign of the deterioration of political governance in America.

However, the reality of the day is that Donald Trump is the president of the United States and he was properly elected into office. There is little point in continuing to question how he could have become president. The duty of all fair minded people is to now ensure that he governs for the benefit of most if not all Americans. However, the Democratic Party has an entirely different challenge on its hands. Hillary Clinton's defeat wasn't just a rejection of her as person but also a repudiation of Democratic Party and its approach to grassroots politics.

The Democratic Party has failed to win significant elections in both the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as losing the presidential election. This would suggest that on a local level it just isn't making a good enough impression. On issues like cost of living, unemployment, housing and law order the party seems to lack a clear and relevant message. Opposition to Trump is necessary but it isn't all that needs to be done.

In selecting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders the party opted for the politics of personality over sound social policy. The Democratic Party is frantically searching for a leader whereas what it needs is a message and a thumping rallying cry. It's time it came up with a set of messages that reflect the feelings and wishes of grassroots America, and tested and refined them. Key figures in the party need to see this as a priority over jostling for leadership of the party.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Changing Nigeria's Political Landscape

copyright: Micha Klootwijk
Politics in Nigeria is corrupt and unevolved. It is riven by mismanagement and tribal partisanship. There is a strong belief that it is unlikely to see a change for the better anytime soon. It is difficult to argue with that. Even the current crop of up and coming political aspirants are steeped in the lazy and uninspired principles of their forebears. Unfortunately entering into politics is driven by a desire that accumulate wealth or escape poverty rather than a vocation for selfless public service. This has created a status quo of corruption and incompetence in both the executive and administrative arms of government.

It is time for a new vanguard of socially conscious Nigerians to create a new narrative that both connects with the aspirations of Nigerians and addresses their most pressing needs. In order to do this there needs to be a profile created for public service. Capability and integrity have to take precedence over wealth and patronage. Public can no longer be seen as a passport to personal wealth.

Successive governments have failed to address security issues with regards extremists and crime and disorder. Public services only serve to entrench deprivation and inequality. Economic policy has been regressive. There is little appetite for investment in sustainable development. Economic regulation is inadequate and poorly enforced. The north east remains isolated, unsafe and underdeveloped. The south remains an environmental disaster zone exploited by oil companies and local militias.

An association of young people supported but not led by some like minded older and wiser hands need to come together to form a viable political party. Nobody with present or past affiliations with political parties or groups in the country should be eligible to take up membership. This new party would campaign on a platform of good governance, transparency, financial accountability, economic development, youth empowerment and open society. This new political movement will start small and look to grow its membership and relevance on a local and national basis. It will seek to develop a solid support base and promote its political values across all states. It would hopefully be able to build this up into a credible national presence.

It is time to reimagine Nigeria as a place where there is strength in diversity. Where unity can be achieved through fairness and unselfish patriotism. A place where social capital is built up, maintained and reinvested in national development. A place where elders are role models and mentors to the youth. A place where young people grow up with a sense of integrity and an aspiration to personal and public improvement.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Labour Party's Halfway Housing Hokum

One thing Karl Marx made clear was that first principles don't add up to much if they are not backed by a sound working theory. Jeremy Corbyn is very quick to flaunt his socialist credentials but it has become clear that he has no idea of what a coherent theory of socialism for the 21st century should be. He doesn't seem able to define the role of a socialist government in relation to public services, economic production or social welfare. The Labour Party's new housing proposals seem to be another example of him lacking the rigour to define a fair and responsible approach without alarming a section of the electorate.

Labour's new housing policy proposes more action against 'rogue landlords', more new builds including social provision and reversing housing welfare reforms. These sound appealing but are mostly populist attempts to sway voters rather than a genuine effort to reform housing policy. Focus mostly on building more homes for sale will further the ambitions of the middle class and increase urban purge of poorer working class groups. There's no mention of support for sustainable housing.

A genuine socialist housing policy would come up with rent control proposals for inner city and urban areas, scrapping of right to buy policy and targeting help to buy solely at essential staff. That way low income and young people have improved access to affordable rental accommodation in accessible areas. It will also ensure that social housing is targeted at those most in need. This will provide an opportunity to reform council housing allocation policy.

While these Labour proposals will do some good; yet again Corbyn sacrifices coherence for convenience. Housing requires both policy reform and attitudinal change. A cohesive policy that will change things for the better for the most people over the longest time is what is needed. The Labour Party's proposals offer little more than more of the same.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Starvation in Africa: The New Face of Imperialism

Image courtesy: Project Authenticity
The United Nations has indicated that there are almost 10 million people at risk of starvation in Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia. In a continent that is well provided for in resources and potential this is calamitous state of events in the 21st century. It would come as no surprise that all these African countries are involved in some form of religious, tribal or political conflict. It has become a political trend in Africa for the welfare of millions of people to be put in jeopardy by warring factions pursuing selfish personal interests.

The three countries highlighted represent just a few of the many countries in Africa where poverty and starvation are rife due to political mismanagement and corruption. Economic development has all but petered out throughout the continent due to pillaging by political leaders with the assistance of overseas governments and multinational corporations. Even though each new government makes very earnest pledges to tackle corruption its endemic nature means that the very people promising to clean up the system are busy lining their own pockets covertly.  Any efforts to come to grips with corruption are either halfhearted or futile.

The quandary Africa finds itself in now us that a lot of people are focusing on historic ravages of colonialism and imperialism as the root of modern day travails. However, not enough of a spotlight is being shone on the modern day graft and racketeering that has been given a veneer of respectability. A lot of successful business have benefited from looted public funds or unfair favourable business terms allowed them by cronies in government. As a result very many African governments offer very little in terms of social welfare or affordable public services. Until public finances are properly focused on improving living conditions of the citizenry and not just funding governance structures and enriching private individuals and corporations Africans will continue to see increasing hunger and starvation, even in its so called emerging economies.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Carry on Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn appears to be failing both as the leader of the Labour Party and the leader of the opposition. He has alienated most of Labour's parliamentary party and still seems unable, reluctant even, to develop an effective working relationship with them. When he was voted leader of the Labour Party the hope was that he would rescue the party from the centrist reactionary mode it was stuck in. Maybe he would bring a more person friendly and compassionate approach to policy making. Unfortunately it appears he is stuck in a past of grandstanding soap box politics where people make loud speeches and promise to give power back to the people. Unfortunately, in this day and age what people want are wealth and security. Neither of which Corbyn has a plan for.

There are major concerns about how the UK government is handling the process of exiting the European Union. However Corbyn seems determined to do all he can to ensure that Article 50 is triggered as quickly as possible. He hasn't come up with any proposals for dealing with quitting the single market or handling the ending of free movement agreements. Two issues that are fundamental to the future wealth and welfare of Britain. It's almost as if he's expecting Brexit to lead to a revolution which will end in the people rising up and overthrowing the government. Given that Corbyn's ideas have not been revolutionary, or even evolutionary, it is highly unlikely that he will be at the forefront of that revolution should it materialise.

It could be said that inexperience and constant talk of leadership challenges have undermined and impeded Corbyn's tenure. He however has repeatedly gone rogue with statements not in line with Labour Party policy and clearly not discussed with beforehand with his cabinet or MPs. He has failed to adequately engage with influential groups in the Labour Party and put forward an effective front as opposition. This has also meant that the Labour Party has not successfully presented itself to the public as a government in waiting. In fact, it has not come up with any clear positions on the economy, transportation, health, housing or immigration.

It is unlikely that the Labour Party can win a future election under Corbyn. He could however do a better job of holding the government to account. And maybe developing a policy framework that presents a viable and attractive alternative to the current brand of fascistic conservatism being shoved down our throats at the moment.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Stop! You're Killing Me

Modern society has been blighted by a plague of killings and a fascination with killers. We live in world where depicting killing has become normalised and in fact popularised over generations. Almost every major religion makes frequent references to killing as a way of propagating its beliefs or maintaining its integrity. National governments have installed the threat of war as a deterrent. Government sanctioned killing by agent or drone are rife. Nationalistic causes have largely adopted killing as an attention grabber and negotiation leverage. The news media literally salivate at the prospect of reporting murders and deaths in any context. Book, film, tv and social media are dominated by killing and gratuitous violence.

Tragically we now live in a society where people too often resort to murder to take what they want, avenge a slight or assuage hurt feelings. One can only pray that resorting to murder to resolve knotty issues doesn't become the norm. It seems to be a consistent theme in everything we read and watch.

It is difficult to imagine us evolving into a kinder and more gentle society when killing and maiming have become skills to most desire. Violence in our society won't abate until we turn away from the gratuitous enjoyment of killing and violence. Killing is a reality of the world we live in but we have become dangerously desensitised to its destructiveness.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Nigeria's Culture of Human Trafficking

Nigeria has a less than proud history of association with slavery. It's major ports were once staging posts for the slave trade. The active role played by some tribes in capturing neighbouring villagers and selling them to slavers is not explored in too much detail these days. Even back then there were lessons that could have been learnt in tackling tribalism that has blighted the Nigerian federation in modern times. Unfortunately, even though the slave trade has long been abolished it would appear that in the 21st century slavery isn't quite eradicated in Nigeria.

For many years now it has been the practice for families in the village to send young family members to work as servants for wealthy people in the cities. In many cases it involves sending children and teenagers to work as househelps. Children in their pre teens are often sent to work as servants while their parents receive payments to cover the wages they would have earned. In some cases the host families are content to have children of school age working for them but not enrolled in education.

There have been numerous cases of young girls being sent abroad to work as nannies or house helps for families but being abused and held in appalling conditions. Very often they are denied education, not paid, and held illegally in the countries they have moved to. Meanwhile, they are mistreated and subjected to extreme deprivation in an attempt to keep them subdued and captive.

In parts of Nigeria parents are marrying their under aged daughters off to older men for dowries or to pay off debts. In some cases the girls are betrothed and remain with their parents until they finish secondary school. A lot of the girls being betrothed in early youth are often unable to complete, or attend secondary school at all. Where they do complete secondary school any further formal education they receive is often at the behest of their husband or fiancé.

There is a very lucrative industry of trafficking Nigerian women abroad for the purposes of prostitution. Amsterdam and Italy used to be prime locations for this. However, in recent times the UAE, and Dubai in particular have become targets for Nigerian traffickers trading in women for prostitution.

It is time that the government in Nigeria recognised the prevalence of human trafficking in the country. This should involve increasing awareness of the rights and protections needed for young girls. The wealthy should not be able to deny them the right to education and freedom despite collusion from their parents or families. Law enforcement in the country should be actively engaged in combating trafficking in all its forms.