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Beyond Culture Shock: African and Western Values Revisited

8 min read.

The aspiration for common ground and common values is merely a delusion of those of military might. The less powerful retain a great deal of agency to reject outright those practices and values they find either unsuitable to their contexts or completely repugnant to their traditions.

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Beyond Culture Shock: African and Western Values Revisited
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Lately, that old conversation on the contest between African and Euro-American beliefs and values has found renewed energy. So, as Rwandan President Paul Kagame would sternly ask recently at the margins of the CHOGM meeting in Kigali, “Who defines those values?”

African and Western values are still seen as problematically and diametrically opposed to each other despite co-existing in a global village.  “Why is that so?” European journalists, academics and diplomats ask themselves after working for five years in an African capital, and after seeing no difference between elite Nairobi and elite London. Why should we not have the same sensibilities? Consider the ways in which Nairobians and Londoners make their livelihoods, which is by renting out their labour for eight to twelve hours every day. Even the anti-capitalism activists in Nairobi or Kigali sound like Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders! Why then should we have different values regarding governance, animal rights, democracy or women’s rights?

This discussion that underlines an aspiration for common ground—some form of universality—on, among other things, what it means to be human, and the question of governance, specifically, electoral democracy as juxtaposed with growing authoritarianism, ironically and problematically still has the support of sections of the African elite.

It is curious that this conversation found new energy with Belgium’s return of a tooth belonging to CIA-murdered African giant, Patrice Lumumba, and with the holding of the CHOGM meeting in Kagame’s Rwanda, who will be running for another term in office.  “How does Kagame continue like that?” the democracy enthusiast asks. “We returned the tooth; that matter should be settled or not?” another Eurocentric die-hard adds. There was also the small inconvenient issue of the Melilla massacre on the Morocco-Spanish border and the plight of black folks in Ukraine. But who cares? Why are African political actors and sections of their elite still indifferent and slower to embrace the democratic ethic—as British democracy professor Nic Cheeseman wonders—and perhaps also to embrace other beliefs and values as espoused in Europe and North America?

Worth noting—and terribly problematic—is that there is a great deal of pressure on African political actors to exhibit inexplicable civility and loyalty especially as regards constitutionalism (as if constitutionally extending their stay in power isn’t a form of loyalty itself), and in the treatment of opposition groups and critics (even while journalist Julian Assange has been incarcerated for years and is facing extradition to the United States where he potentially faces 175 years of imprisonment for exposing the war crimes of Western modernities. Notice also that this conversation continues in a colonial-racialised paradigm and hierarchization where the African cultural and political actors have to constantly explain themselves to the Western world from a point of disadvantage—because theirs is the primordial position (a position that President Kagame touches in his interview cited above). I am not a defender of any abhorrent African political actors (whose actions, in all fairness, and in a more theoretically grounded sense, are not unique to them, but are, rather, a product of power). But I am concerned about the language of values and rights and the apparent insinuations of “indifference or slowness” on the part of African communities and actors to appreciate the universal values of democracy and human rights as understood in Western discourse.

First, despite being open to cross-cutting influences from elsewhere, it is difficult to achieve common ground on performative practices since cultures tend to be geographically contained. Talal Asad has told us that even Islam, which has a universally appreciated text, manifests differently in different geographic and time spaces.  It is my contention that the conclusion of this beauty contest of cultures and traditions—achieving common understanding of their inherent differences—is dependent, ironically, on non-cultural markers, specifically, power, power being the term for Western military and economic advantage.  It is not the superiority of ethical-cultural-value systems, and nor is it the absence of similar handicaps and vulnerabilities on either side of the Atlantic, but rather power and politics. It is the power relation embedded in the African adage about the hunter (more privileged) writing the story of the hunt to their advantage, before the animal (the less powerful) learns to tell their own story.

It is difficult to achieve common ground on performative practices since cultures tend to be geographically contained.

This contest over African and Western values is an old one. West African historians Ade Ajayi and Cheikh Anta Diop were among its first African pugilists. East African interlocutors including, more famously, Okot p’Bitek, Ngugi wa Thiongo, and Ali Mazrui participated in this conversation. Okot p’Bitek accused African actors of being fully imbued with the “colonialists’ practices” (exemplified by such accoutrements as the wigs won by judges to ape Europeans) and thus needing to “decolonise their minds”, as Ngugi would famously put it.  Mazrui’s essay, Islamic and Western Values, which tackled topics such as press freedom and democracy, concluded that the difference between Europe and the Islamic world was a difference of method, but the ills of power on either side of the aisle were the same.

Although I find it endlessly productive for African activists to constantly remind themselves and their European/American interlocutors of the words of Africa’s early intellectuals—on the non-uniqueness of the crimes of African political actors or the absolute goodness and uniqueness of African cultural traditions as understood on their terms—my intention is not to rehash the words of those intellectual giants. My intention is rather modest. Mine is a traveller’s tale of a journey into the lands of our “former” colonisers.  My people in Buganda say that “travelling is seeing, and returning is telling”. However, in telling this traveller’s tale, I want it to be read within the problematic frame of culture talk—or of a beauty contest between cultures.

For the last couple of years, I have been observing our former colonisers, and have become obsessed with turning the gaze on our beloved friends. How would a native from the African continent, from deep in the countryside, supposedly “untouched” by colonialist modernity, react upon encounter with some European—still present or recently dying—cultural/traditional practice? Because, frankly, the idea of cultural cross-fertilisation and integration, while it presents itself as pick-and-choose (where one aspect is chosen over another), it also presents itself as a package, as an entire system or civilisation. Here mediations that are understood as political (such as modes of governance or economics such as capitalism or the peasantry) intimately tie in with that which is viewed as essentially cultural (such as family, marriage, sexuality, kinship or inheritance).  As I have argued before, our European friends have toned this down as “cultural shock”, preparing the native’s mind for the horror they might encounter upon reaching Europe. It is some sort of challenge to understand, learn and perhaps embrace. But as a native I am stubbornly refusing to accept this as simply cultural shock.

Intercourse and kinship with animals

A few years ago in Berlin, I encountered a group of activists who were inconsolable about being denied their right to make love to animals by the German state.  “Why seek to moralize our country?” they angrily asked.  I need to start this story from the beginning:  Before 2012, our former colonisers in Germany—the country which hosted the 1884 Berlin Conference—had the legally sanctioned the right to make love to animals. This is understood as being in their blood; not that they lacked other outlets for sexual release, but that this was their natural inclination. Yes, it was normal to enter your bed, visit a pig stye, a kraal or a kennel and lower your pants and penetrate or be penetrated by the animal of your heart’s desire. It was only after 2012 that animal rights activists made a breakthrough, convincing co-nationals that it was unnatural for humans to find pleasure in mating with animals. The Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, finally passed the law banning intercourse with animals. Dear Africans, this was in 2012.

Dear reader, I am kidding you not, after this 2012 ban—just ten years ago—concerned Germans petitioned the courts to remove the ban, arguing that they were naturally attracted to animals.  But in 2016, the ban was upheld much to the celebration of many Germans.  However, the agitation for this right to be restored continues to this day. Please note that around this time, Norway, and Sweden had also banned the practice, and a British newspaper, The Independent, reported, that this had led “to a rise in the underground animal sex tourism in Denmark”. People interested in sex with animals—Zoophiles, so they are called—made trips to Denmark, which was yet to ban the practice, to satisfy their desires.

Two years after Germany, Denmark was conflicted on the same issue. While animal rights activists seemed to have made a breakthrough towards having the practice proscribed, the 12-strong Animal Ethics Committee of Denmark was opposed to banning the practice. The president of the Animal Ethics Committee, Bengt Holst, argued that the ban was unnecessary since the Animal Welfare Act, which was already in place, advocated for the protection of animals as it prohibited “animal suffering, pain, distress or lasting harm”.  This meant that you were free to make love to the animal of your choice as long as you didn’t cause it “suffering, pain, distress and lasting harm”.  For Bengt Holst, seeking to “moralise” the issue of making love to animals was not in good taste.

Great Britain—the world’s largest coloniser—only banned the practice in 2003 with the Sexual Offences Act. Some of its clauses are captured in this article which publishes allegations that former UK prime minister David Cameron once inserted his manhood in a dead animal while still at university in Oxford. Quoting a biography that is rightly described as controversial, the newspaper wrote that, “the Prime Minister inserted a “private part of his anatomy” into a “dead pig’s head” while at Oxford University—an act that was allegedly photographed.”  So, before 2003, our friends in the UK would have liked the African primitive to understand their reaction to the idea of mating with animals as simply cultural shock.

This meant that you were free to make love to the animal of your choice as long as you didn’t cause it “suffering, pain, distress and lasting harm”.

Our new colonising powers in the United States still have several states where mating with animals is permissible despite campaigns to ban the practice. By 2016, bestiality was still acceptable pleasure in Texas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Virginia, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Vermont, West Virginia, Montana, Wyoming and the District of Columbia, and New Hampshire. In a nicely researched article, British psychologist, Dr Mark Griffiths reveals that, “many zoophiles believe that in years to come, their sexual preference will be seen as no different to being gay or straight”. And while it is difficult to ascertain it, many zoophiles believe animals have given them some form of consent.

My intention is not to add to the voice of anti-bestiality campaigners in Europe or the United States, or to ridicule lovers of the practice. Not at all. But if I took the vantage point of an African anthropologist—of the colonial type—writing my tales about Europe and North America (with titles such as Into the Heart of Dark Europe; Flame Trees of Berlin, the Orients of the West, etcetera) for travellers, and students on the African continent, I would tell them about the inexplicable backwardness of the people in the West. I would challenge them to be careful about these animal-loving barbarians of Europe and North America. African readers would be appalled by the idea of human beings sleeping with animals, and lobbying and fighting to keep the right to do so.  Part of my intention would be to inspire them to travel to these lands and perhaps seek to civilise these people, forcefully if need be, and if they can, to also take their lands. Because the culturally backward have no right to property and neither are they able to govern themselves.

Before 2003, our friends in the UK would have liked the African primitive to understand their reaction to the idea of mating with animals as simply cultural shock.

Perhaps my larger contention is this: while cross-fertilisation is true about cultures and traditions, and oftentimes, and that, for their survival, less powerful communities/traditions are conscripted to the dictates of the most hegemonic power, the aspiration for common ground is merely a delusion of the militarily powerful. There are dislikeable, almost disgusting things on either side of the aisle, and cross-fertilisation ought to be understood as slower and fluid. While conscripts are often cast in an inferior position, they retain a great deal of agency within the constraining limits. They will not only remodel, repackage, or refashion that which they have to adopt from the hegemony, they will also often reject outright those practices and values they find either unsuitable to their contexts or completely repugnant to their traditions. Thus, journalistic and academic promoters of implied notions of “common ground” and “common values” from the Western world to their colonised conscripts ought to beware of these nuances and dynamics of time, fluidity, and refashioning.

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Yusuf Serunkuma is a columnist in Uganda’s newspapers, scholar and a playwright. In 2014, Fountain Publishers published his first play, The Snake Farmers which was received with critical acclaim in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. He is also a scholar and researcher who teaches political economy and history.

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Twitter: Let It Burn!

Whether or not Twitter survives should be irrelevant to those committed to building a democratic public sphere.

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Twitter: Let It Burn!
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Elon Musk finally bought Twitter. Although everyone expected the move to quickly prove foolhardy, the speed of the implosion has been impressive. The latest gaffe is a failed attempt to monetize verification by requiring paid subscriptions for them, which has led to all manner of comical impersonations (one macabre highlight was a “verified” George W. Bush account tweeting “I miss killing Iraqis. “Tony Blair” responded with “Same tbh”). Some are watching with shock and horror and wondering if Twitter can be saved. But, when sulfur and fire rains, it is best not to look back.

Africa Is a Country managing editor, Boima Tucker, put it best some years ago: “Contrary to the utopian dreams of the early internet, the idea of a more democratic communications space has given way to a system of capitalist exploitation.” The thing to reckon with is the extent to which we have exaggerated the emancipatory potential of networked communication and social media, partly owing to our own psychic overinvestments in it. Which is not to deny that it has never shown democratic and egalitarian potential, but that’s never been what Twitter is forThere can be no right platform in the wrong world.

What was Twitter for then? In the New York Review of Books, Ben Tarnoff describes it as a “network of influence.” In a world characterized by the economization of everything, social media is the place to commodify the self, to transform one’s unique traits and personality into a product for public display. The main imperative online is to “stay on brand,” to cultivate an appealing enough persona in the endless “production of new genres of being human.”

The key contradiction of social media use, of course, is that even though these platforms appear to us as complete products that we participate in and consume, we are the ones responsible for ensuring their possibility in the first place. As the media scholar Christian Fuchs notes, “Digital work is the organization of human experiences with the help of the human brain, digital media and speech in such a way that new products are created. These products can be online information, meanings, social relations, artifacts or social systems.” Thus, it is us who create the value of these platforms.

In a better world, these digital communications platforms would be democratically owned and operated. But one also wonders if in a better world they would be as necessary. Perhaps, when we are less socially disaffected, living in societies with social provision, an abundance of recreational public goods and less exploitative, dignifying work, then we would all have less reason to be online. For now, the question is: in a time when this ideal is nowhere close to being within view, how best can we use platforms like Twitter as tools to get us to that world?

The possible answers here are murky. Twitter seems like a critical piece of infrastructure for modern political life. Musk is not alone in thinking of it as a marketplace of ideas, as something like a digital town square. Yet, and especially in Africa, Twitter is not as popular a platform, and even on it, a minority of Twiteratti exert an outsized influence in terms of setting the discursive agenda. But setting aside the question of who is excluded from the digitalized public sphere of which Twitter is a cornerstone, the important question is whether the quality of political debate that takes place is healthy or desirable at all. Granted, it can be fun and cathartic, but at the best of times, amounts to hyper-politics. In Anton Jager’s explanation, this:

can only occur at a discursive level or within the prism of mediatic politics: every major event is scrutinized for its ideological character, this produces controversies which play out among increasingly clearly delineated camps on social media platforms and are then rebounded through each side’s preferred media outlets. Through this process much is politicized, but little is achieved.

We would lack critical self-awareness if we did not admit that Africa Is A Country is a venue whose existence greatly benefits from an online presence—so it goes for every media outlet. Tarnoff points out that “… if Twitter is not all that populous in absolute terms, it does exert considerable power over popular and elite discourses.” To lack an online presence is to reconcile oneself to irrelevance. Although, the news cycle itself is a disorienting vortex of one topic du jour to the next. It makes difficult the kind of long, slow, and sustained discourse-over-time that is the lifeblood of politics, and instead reduces everything into fleeting soundbites.

Nowhere is the modern phenomenon of what Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called “pointillist time” more apparent than on Twitter. For Bauman, pointillist time is the experience of temporality as a series of eternal instants, and the present moment’s connection to the past and future “turns into gaps—with no bridges, and hopefully unbridgeable.” The consequence of this, is that “there is no room for the idea of ‘progress.’” Living through a mode where everything seems to be happening all at once, is both to experience time as what Walter Benjamin called “a “time of possibilities, a random time, open at any moment to the unforeseeable irruption of the new,” but curiously, at the same time, for everything to feel inert, and for nothing to seem genuinely possible.

For a while, notions of historical progress have been passé on the left, associated with Eurocentric theories of modernity. Now, more than ever, the idea is worth reclaiming. The Right today is no longer straightforwardly conservative, but nihilistic and anti-social, thriving on sowing deeper communal mistrust and paranoia. These are pathologies that flourish on Twitter. The alternative to media-fuelled hyper-politics and anti-politics is not real politics per some ideal type. Politics, in the first instance, is not defined by content, but by form. The reason our politics are empty and shallow is not because today’s political subject lacks virtues possessed by the subjects of yore. It’s because today’s political subject is barely one in the first place, lacking rootedness in those institutions that would have ordinarily shaped an individual’s clear sense of values and commitments. The alternative to digitized human association, as noted by many, is mass politics: only when the majority of citizens are meaningfully mobilized through civic and political organizations can we create a vibrant and substantive public sphere.

AIAC editor Sean Jacobs observed in his book, Media In Post-apartheid South Africa: “the larger context for the growing role of media in political processes is the decline of mass political parties and social movements.” Whether Twitter dies or not, and if it does, whether we should mourn it or not, should be beside the point for those committed to building a world of three-dimensional solidarity and justice.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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COP 27: Climate Negotiations Repeatedly Flounder

The distribution of global pandemic deaths ignored existing country vulnerability assessments and dealt some of the heaviest blows to the best prepared countries in the world

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As COP 27 in Egypt nears its end, I find it difficult, almost impossible, to talk to my children about climate change. The shame of our monumental failings as a global community to address the greatest crisis our planet has consciously faced weighs too heavy. The stakes have never been higher, the moral quivering of political leaders has never been more distressing.

“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” goes the famous commandment from George Orwell’s political allegory Animal Farm. It applies with particular acuity to international negotiations, where each country has a seat, but seats hold very different weights. The outcome of the Sharm-El-Sheik conference will in large part depend on what Western governments are willing to commit to and follow up on. Rich European and other Western countries are historically responsible for the bulk of carbon emissions. The moral case for them being the first-movers and the biggest movers on cutting emissions is crystal clear, and genuine commitments on their part may hold the key to opening up the floodgate of policy innovation towards decarbonization in other countries.

In this context, viewed from the Global South, recent events in the country that still held the COP presidency until it was handed over to Egypt appear as signs of the madness that grips societies before a fall. In her short time as head of government in the UK, Liz Truss spoke as if she lived on another planet that did not show signs of collapsing under the battering of models of economic growth birthed under the British Empire, gleefully pronouncing that her three priorities for Britain were “growth, growth and growth.” Her successor, Rishi Sunak, announced that he would not attend the COP 27 climate summit because he had to focus on the UK economy. The silver lining is that Truss did not last long and Sunak was shamed into reversing his decision. In a scathing rebuke, the Spanish environment minister called the shenanigans of British political leaders “absurd” and pointed out that elections in Brazil and Australia show that voters are starting to punish leaders who ignore climate change.

I see another silver lining. Last week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that Europe was warming twice as fast as other parts of the world. A similar report was not issued for North America, but other studies indicate faster than average temperature increases across the continent’s northeastern coast, and its west coast was home to one of the most striking heat waves last year, with a memorable summer temperature peak of 49.6°C recorded in British Columbia, Canada.

Professor Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general, emphasized that the findings highlighted that “even well-prepared societies are not safe from impacts of extreme weather events.” In other words, the report should make Europeans think it could happen to us, with “it” being devastating floods on the scale of what Pakistan and Bangladesh recently experienced, or the hunger-inducing droughts afflicting Madagascar and the Horn of Africa. While some may find it dismal that human beings remain relatively unmoved by the plight of other human beings considered too distant or too different, this is a part of human nature to reckon with. And reckoning with it can turn a sentiment of shared vulnerability into an opportunity for the planet.

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries to pay developing countries loss and damages to fund their transitions to greener energies and build crucially needed climate adaptability to limit deaths. Underlying such a position is a centuries-old smug belief that Europe and North America will never need to depend on solidarity from other parts of the world. The WMO report calls into question such hubris, as did the Covid 19 pandemic before that.

The distribution of global pandemic deaths ignored existing country vulnerability assessments and dealt some of the heaviest blows to the best prepared countries in the world. Europe and North America, where barely 15% of the world population resides, accounted for more than half of COVID deaths. Turning the normal direction of disaster statistics upside down, high- and upper-middle-income countries accounted for four out of five Covid deaths globally. While some scientists still pose questions over the real death toll in low-income countries, I was grateful to not live in the West during the pandemic. In Burkina Faso, Kenya and Senegal where I spent most of my pandemic months, I often encountered “COVID refugees,” young Europeans who had temporarily relocated to work remotely from Africa to escape pandemic despair at home.

We are at a point in our failures to fight climate change where fiction writers and other experts of human nature are often more useful than scientists in indicating what our priorities should be. Many fiction writers have turned their focus on what will be necessary for humans to remain humane as societies crumble. Before we get to that stage, let us hope that political leaders and delegates keep remembering that climate disaster could very concretely befall them personally at any time. Let us hope that the sense of equal—or more cynically, unpredictable—vulnerability instills a sense of global solidarity and a platform to negotiate in true good faith. Let us hope that we can start talking to our children again about what we adults are doing to avert the disaster that looms over their futures.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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The Specter of Foreign Forces in Haiti

The so-called ‘Haitian crisis’ is primarily about outsiders’ attempts force Haitians to live under an imposed order and the latter’s resistance to that order.

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What actually happened on the nights of October 6th and 7th, 2022, remains unclear. What reverberated was the rather loud rumor of the resignation of Haiti’s acting prime minister  Ariel Henry. He was a member of President Jovenel Moïse’s pro-US Pati Ayisien Tèt Kale (PHTK) party. (Moïse was assassinated in July 2021.) Had Henry truly resigned? Or was it just a well-propagated rumor? Could it have perhaps been both at the same time: that Henry might have indeed resigned but had been coerced to stay, thus making the news of his resignation spread like gossip that the governmental communication machine had fabricated for public consumption?

Nevertheless, we witnessed the following the next day: in Henry’s address to the nation, he first requested the intervention of foreign military forces in Haiti. He then made a formal request to the United Nations. This call was picked up by international organizations, particularly the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres. In the media coverage of the events, no relationship was established between the (rumored) resignation of the de facto Prime Minister and his request for military intervention. Was it a way to keep our minds occupied while waiting on a response from the international community? Or was the military intervention a promise made by the international community to Henry for the withdrawal of his letter of resignation?

Media coverage has seemingly obscured what happened on October 6th and 7th by choosing to focus solely on the request for military intervention, obscuring a chain of events in the process. Was the same request addressed to the UN and the US administration? Or were these two distinct approaches: one within a multilateral framework and the other within a bilateral framework? Supposing it was the latter, what does this tell us about the Haitian government’s domestic policy, about US foreign policy toward (or against) Haiti, or even about geopolitics (as part of a white-hot world order)—especially in light of US Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols’ visit to Haiti, his ensuing meetings, and the presence of US Coast Guard ships in Haitian waters?

At least one thing’s for sure. Since the request for formal intervention and the presence of the US in the form of its warships and its emissary, the question of military intervention has been swiftly framed as a discourse on the supposed “consensus between Haitians.” In reality, it refers to the convergence of interests between the representatives of the de facto Haitian government; the representatives of the Montana Accord (agreed on between civic and political groups in the wake of Moise’s assassination); and the president, Fritz Jean, and prime minister, Steven Benoit, agreed on as part of that accord. The message is clear: If you do not want a military intervention, side with Ariel Henry, who initiated the request himself. Any posture of self-determination must undergo review by Ariel Henry and his crew.

In these circumstances, there can be no self-determination. It is as though those truly responsible for the military intervention (which was already underway) aren’t those who asked for it, but rather those who were unable to thwart it by finding an agreement with the former group. In this sense, the “nationalist” label (the current catchall term which, among other things, is being made to include any praxis refuting the colonial apparatus) refers to doing everything possible to avoid military intervention—and that means doing exactly what the representatives of the “Colonial Capitalist Internationale” want.

American presence in Haiti—in the form of warships and a high-ranking emissary—takes after historical colonial endeavors such as the Napoleonic expedition for the reestablishment of slavery (1802) and King Charles X’s fleet, sent to demand ransom for Haiti’s independence (1825). Yet, in this case, the point is not to put pressure on those who hold the keys to institutions, but rather to avoid losing control in a context where those in government are not only misguided, but also display the greatest shortcomings in managing the lives of the population for the better. The US’s current presence thus more closely echoes the language of the English warship HMS Bulldog, sent to shell the city of Cap Haitien to support President Geffrard against the anti-government insurrection of Salnave.

The Henry government uses the same grammar as its tutelar powers to discuss the current situation. Much has been made of “efforts deployed by the United States and Canada”: they have consisted in flying police equipment into Haiti on Canadian and US military cargo aircraft. Henry and the Haitian National Police offered warm, public thanks for material paid for with Haitian funds some time ago; indeed, these deliveries have come very late, and only thanks to pressure from Haitian civil society actors. More problematic still, the presence of foreign military planes at the Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince has served both as evidence of an ongoing military intervention and as a subterfuge to obtain such an intervention.

This request for intervention, while it seeks to obfuscate this fact, nevertheless exposes the political illegitimacy of the Henry government—made up of members of Henry’s PHTK and former members of the opposition. Its illegitimacy doesn’t rest on the usual discussion (or lack thereof) and confrontation between the governors and the governed, nor on the classic power play between the political opposition and the authorities in place; rather, it is the result of the absolute rejection on the part of Haitians of an order controlled and engineered by the PHTK machine in Haiti for over 10 years with one purpose in mind: defending the neoliberal interests and projects of the Colonial Capitalist Internationale. The request for intervention reveals the fact that the rejection of the PHTK machine is but one part of a broader rejection of the neoliberal colonial order as it has manifested itself in various anti-popular economic projects, which themselves were made possible by many attempts at reconfiguring Haiti socially and constitutionally: consider, to name but a few, the financial project of privatization of the island of Gonâve, the referendum to replace the 1987 Constitution, and others.

For the first time since the US military intervention of 1915 (the centenary of which was silenced by the PHTK machine), we are witnessing a direct confrontation between the Colonial Capitalist Internationale and the Haitian people, as local political go-betweens aren’t in a position to mediate and local armed forces (whether the military, the militias, or the armed gangs) aren’t able to fully and totally repress unrest. In this colonial scenario—drafted in the past five years, maintained and fueled by the geopolitics of “natural disasters,” epidemics, pandemics, and the presence of gangs (simultaneously functioning as the armed extensions of political parties and materializing “disorder”)—the only possible solution to chaos is military intervention by foreign forces.

Yet one cannot pretend that such an intervention will help the Haitian people, and no agreement crafted in the language of the colonial system can stifle popular demands and aspirations which, in the past twelve years, have built what Haitian academic and activist Camille Chalmers calls a real “anti-imperialist conscience.”

What of late has breathlessly been labeled the “Haitian crisis” must instead be identified as the highest point of the contradiction which has brewed throughout the PHTK regime: between the International Colonial Capitalists’ will to force us to live under an imposed order and our resistance to that order.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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