Bem Bulletin #3 – January 2015: Malawi Floods, Boko Haram & SYRIZA


This month: we reflected on society’s erratic internationalism in the wake of the outcry over the Charlie Hedbo massacre; we tried to excuse our abysmal taste in bad action films with dubious politics; and we presented a nice bit of pragmatic radicalism from the mouth of Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.

… And on the musical front: delightfully odd bedfellows, schmaltz-pop guitar wizard Les Paul with Mary Ford, and West Country weirdo PJ Harvey.

In this month’s Bem Bulletin:

1. 2015

2. Malawi Flood

3. Boko Haram Massacre, Nigeria

4. SYRIZA Continue reading “Bem Bulletin #3 – January 2015: Malawi Floods, Boko Haram & SYRIZA”

Coffin For The Head Of State (Fela Kuti)

In February 1978, a small polygamists’ commune-cum-recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria, was attacked then burnt to the ground by a thousand soldiers loyal to President General Olusegun Obasanjo. During the assault, troops threw a 77 year-old woman out of a second floor window, and after eight weeks in a coma she unsurprisingly succumbed to her injuries. She was Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, venerable women’s’ rights campaigner and the first Nigerian woman to legally drive a car. She was also the mother of the owner and founder of the compound, musician, composer, Afrobeat trail-blazer, and outrageously individual political dissident Fela Kuti. Continue reading “Coffin For The Head Of State (Fela Kuti)”

Grisly Arithmetic: humanitarian crisis in Mali

Some of the 50,000 Malian refugees who have fled to neighbouring Niger - almost ten times as many have fled elsewhere
Some of the 50,000 Malian refugees who have fled to neighbouring Niger – almost ten times as many have fled elsewhere

Crisis-riddled post-colonial Africa once looked to Mali as a heartening example that the continent could have peace and social stability. Now, as various ethnic and religiously driven factions fight for independence, the country looks set to tear itself apart.

Last year, sectarian violence in northern Mali forced 450,000 people out of their homes and left 1.2 million struggling to feed themselves as fighting disrupted food supplies in what was already one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

The crisis began with Mali’s Tuareg ethnic minority, cattle-herding Saharan nomads mostly living in country’s northern Azawad region. The Tuareg have spent decades chafing for independence and, last January, Tuareg militia groups took a bold stride towards realising that aspiration by rising up and expelling central government troops from their home province. Continue reading “Grisly Arithmetic: humanitarian crisis in Mali”

Looking Back on Somalia

Somalia-famine-007Between October 2010 and April 2012, Somalia was wracked by the world’s worst famine in 25 years. The humanitarian response on the ground was typically heroic, but international donations were sluggish. Last week, new figures released suggested thousands more were killed than originally thought.

Somalia – another arbitrary geographic unit where people fundamentally no different to anyone anywhere else on the planet have been left to endure decades of abject suffering.

Independence from the British Empire brought a brief but dysfunctional flash of Western-style Somali democracy in the 1960s, before an army coup replaced it with a dictatorial pro-Russian regime. The seventies saw stuttering attempts to meld Soviet-style economics with Islam, but after a war with more straightforwardly Marxist Ethiopia lost it the USSR’s backing, Somalia’s rulers became increasingly violent and repressive, largely binning ideology in favour of clinging on to power anyway they could. Continue reading “Looking Back on Somalia”

The Somali Famine

A girl stands on the outskirts of the Dabaab refugee camp, surrounded by 70 freshly-dug child graves
A girl stands on the outskirts of the Dabaab refugee camp, surrounded by 70 freshly-dug child graves

Early this month, the United Nations announced that the famine wracking Somalia, itself just the worst aspect of a food crisis afflicting a swathe of East Africa, was officially over. Given that this meant little more than the amount of food available to keep scores of ailing human beings alive had just crept over an arbitrary threshold, this doesn’t come as much consolation to the 2.34 million people still teetering on the brink.

In as much as it means that material conditions are improving in the areas afflicted by the world’s worst food crisis, the news is excellent. In the West, though, it was far more depressing than it should’ve been, only serving to highlight how few people had any idea it had happened in the first place. This was a situation that occurred, worsened, took a horrific toll and began to peter out while the vast majority of Western civilisation obliviously went on with its business. It’s hard to blame individuals when the amount of media coverage given to an event of this grim magnitude has been pitifully small. While tens of thousands of human beings starved to death, their plight was inexcusably allowed to slip down the back of the news agenda. On the rare occasion that it was deemed newsworthy enough to make the headlines, coverage was customarily blasé  – events were conveyed in random flashes with little attempt to explain the context or the causes behind them, the crisis generally presented as just another freak happening in an inherently backwards netherworld where nothing ever goes right. Continue reading “The Somali Famine”

Digested: Kony 2012

Joseph Kony
Joseph Kony

Earlier this month, media furore ensued after a 30-minute documentary condemning the Ugandan guerrilla leader Joseph Kony appeared on the internet.

Where hundreds of similar initiatives have struggled and failed to dent the popular consciousness, Kony 2012 was instantly everywhere, being bandied around YouTube, surfacing on usually-banal social networking sites and being watched 30 million times in 48 hours.

The video excoriates Kony for war crimes committed over several decades, particularly for kidnapping children and using them as soldiers and sex slaves, and calls for his arrest. It hadn’t been ricocheting around the internet for long, though, before its creators, American advocacy group Invisible Children, were on the receiving end of criticism themselves. Continue reading “Digested: Kony 2012”

New Crisis in Sudan

displaced camp darfurDisplaced persons’ camp, Darfur

This month our roving humanitarian spotlight stops over Sudan, where a fragile and widely-flouted ceasefire agreement is collapsing and sparking a new phase of horrendous ethnic violence.

Sudan has internally broiled for over a decade, ever since a rag-tag alliance of indigenous African militias declared war on the Arab-dominated Sudanese government they accused of racial apartheid.

For hundreds of years Sudan has been ruled by the descendants of Arab migrants who came to the region in the twelfth century. Today Sudan’s population is 70% Arab, and over 90% are practising Muslims.

But Arab-African relations have been far from harmonious. Arabic culture is treated as supreme, while that of indigenous Africans is trampled over and demeaned. Sudan is oil-rich, but while the Arab north enjoys the proceeds, the impoverished African south goes without. In early 2003, rebels attacked police stations and military outposts in Sudan’s western Darfur region. Civil war was the result, and initially anti-government forces did spectacularly, state-embarrassingly well.

To save itself, the Khartoum-based regime had to radically rethink its strategy. It chose to fight guerrilla tactics with guerrilla tactics, calling on armed cattle herders known as the Janjaweed it had used to suppress previous inconvenient uprisings to tackle this latest insurrection.

Armed and funded by the state and backed by the Sudanese Air Force, the Janjaweed scythed into rebel-held territory. Arab settlements were left untouched, while the indigenous African population was slaughtered. Their towns and villagers were looted, bombed and burned, and suspected anti-government fighters were dismembered if they were lucky, summarily executed if they weren’t. Women and children in rebel areas were often (and, horrifically, often still are) systematically raped. Other times they were just executed. As time went on, the Janjaweed slash-and-burn campaign started to look like ethnic cleansing – a concerted attempt to wipe Darfur’s non-Arab Sudanese out of existence.

Today, we look back on what happened in Darfur as genocide. Approximately 400,000 people were killed, harrowingly many of them non-combatants, over 400 settlements were completely destroyed and over 2,500,000 people were uprooted by the violence.

A peace treaty was eventually signed in May 2006. In 2011, South Sudan, a hub of anti-government resistance, declared itself an independent state. But the region was left coping with a humanitarian catastrophe.

By its (official, sadly not actual) end, some were estimating that as many as 2,000,000 had been killed and 4,000,000 left homeless. Approximately 1,700,000 people are still living in makeshift aid camps in the region, with nearly 300,000 more in neighbouring Chad. Foreign aid is the only thing keeping them alive. The social fallout will be felt for generations – in one camp of 22,000 refugees, 20 babies conceived through rape are abandoned by stigma-fearing mothers every month.

What’s more, South Sudan has entered existence as one of the world’s poorest countries. Around 5,000,000 South Sudanese, roughly half the population, have dangerously little food to eat and approximately 250,000 are thought to be at serious risk of starving to death in border regions where renewed fighting has shredded vital farming areas.

war criminal omar al bashir

President Omar al-Bashir

An already dire situation is further compounded by the actions of the regime back in Khartoum. Under Omar al-Bashir, the only sitting head of state ever to be indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, government forces are continuing to hound rebel elements still inside Sudanese borders. As violence reaches levels not seen since the 2006 peace agreement, indiscriminate bombing raids, looting, pillaging, and the rape and slaughter of innocents continue. 

People displaced by the latest round of fighting on the Sudanese side of the border are fleeing en masse to their newly-founded impoverished Southern neighbour. A fledgling country incapable of feeding itself is now left coping with 19,000 more refugees.

NGOs are working heroically to provide life essentials like food and clean water, but the burden is increasing and UN commanders tasked with protecting homeless civilians are complaining they lack the manpower to do the job effectively. Sudan needs more aid, more peacekeepers and more media exposure to grab the attention of both the public and the Western political class.

At the moment, a situation even more horrific than the Syrian conflict we see splashed all over the newspapers is steadily worsening and getting shamefully little media attention. It’s terrifyingly possible that the international ‘community’ could, yet again, self-obsess its way through another preventable human calamity.

Oxfam is at the forefront of the bid to keep hundreds of thousands of people alive across Sudan and South Sudan. You can donate to their Sudan appeal here.