Mad Selfishness

17 October 2009 at 03:28 | 465 views

By Oswald Hanciles, Freetown.

It had been a good week for planet earth. In our global village today, we had been agape on our satellite TV at the high drama ongoing at the UN headquarters in New York, United States.

It has been an awesome Academy Award-type red carpet walk of the most powerful, and ‘the most dangerous’, men on earth - as they entered and congregated under the ‘greatest village palava hut in the world’. That all of them could meet under this same ‘palava hut’, share ‘kola nuts or smoke peace pipes’, and awaken our wonderment and mirth, gives hope that these world leaders are not as nutty as they have been sounding and acting for sixty years now. Libya’s Muammar Gaddaffi was there. That was Gaddaffi’s first appearance at the United Nations General Assembly after clinging to power in his native Libya for forty years. Gaddaffi upbraided the richest nations in his two and half hours speech.

Gaddaffi contemptuously tore a booklet of the UN Charter, tossed it behind his back with rehearsed imperial disdain…(“The preamble of the [UN Charter] says that all nations are equal whether they are small or big…The veto is against the Charter. We do not accept it and we do not acknowledge it”, Gaddaffi spat, his demeanor stern). The man who is being indicted by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of pushing the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, always casually dressed in a jacket with no classical necktie on, flashed a “V” peace sign with his fingers held aloft, as his bearded face smiled, his slight frame almost hobbling into the UN building amidst a phalanx of security men.

Compared to Gaddaffi, who was clad in copper-colored robe with an emblem of Africa pinned over his chest, a robe with a fashionable shirt color and back drape hinged behind his back that appeared to have been designed by the best of Parisian haute couture, the likes of our President Ernest Bai Koroma, in his sober black business suit and white shirt, looked lackluster to the point of being drab. Amidst all the grand glitz of the biggest names of the most powerful nations on earth, one may get overwhelmed, and get obfuscated by harsh underlining realities. These biggest world leaders are largely ‘Mad Men’.

Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a former foreign minister of Nicaragua, and the 63rd President of the UN General Assembly, punched home this Collective Madness malaise of the greatest of the world’s leaders: “The state of our world today is deplorable, inexcusable and, therefore, shameful. What Tolstoy denounced as ‘mad selfishness’ explains why, as trillions of dollars are spent on wars of aggression, more than half the world’s people languish in hunger and destitution. Our priorities, sisters and brothers, could hardly be more confused.”

To ‘un-confuse’ the world, we need leaders with Yoga quiescence like our President Ernest Bai Koroma to keep our focus on global and institutional priorities. Hear President Koroma at the UN General Assembly: “The theme for this session, ‘Impact of the Global Food Crisis and Poverty and Hunger in the World and the Need to Democratize the United Nations’, is important and timely. Africa has a disproportionate share of the world’s poor and hungry and the need for urgent and concerted action is compelling. The rising cost of food has had a negative impact on our resources, and is a risk to our national stability and the stability of other countries in West Africa. It is vital that Africa increases food productivity and achieves food self sufficiency….If this problem is going to be resolved, it is also essential to end the agricultural subsidies and trade barriers that impoverish African farmers….”. It was a mercifully short speech, maybe about five minutes, antithetical to Gaddaffi’s tortuous marathon speech. While the world leaders gathered at the ‘Big Bowl’ of the UN did not doze off or walk out as with Gaddaffi’s speech, did they listen to our beloved ‘Ernest’?

Ernest told the world that “the rising cost of food has had a negative impact on our resources, and is a risk to our national stability and the stability of other countries in West Africa”. O, yeah!!! What did our President mean there?

Only about a week ago, the opposition SLPP in their appraisal of two years of President Koroma’s APC’s performance heaped the blame on the governing APC for the rising cost of food: a bag of the staple bag of rice cost Le60,000 when the SLPP was in power two years ago, the SLPP press release indicated, but, today, the same bag of rice costs Le140,000. Ernest, and his APC, had been saying what Ernest echoed at the UN: the rising cost of food is a “global” phenomenon. (The English word “global” has been captured by our ever-mutating Krio, and given a new meaning. For the SLPP opposition, “global” means rising food prices because of the political ineptitude of the APC; and for the governing APC, “global” means: ‘Don’t blame us; the global financial crisis has caused the rising prices of food locally’). If prices of food continue to spike in countries like Sierra Leone, will the starving majority in urban centers understand, and waste away silently, and listen to the ‘global logic’ of those who they have elected into office, or, will the oppressed majority listen to the demagoguery of the political opposition, and be agitated into political protests, and violence? Would the ‘Mad Global Leaders’ listen to the sanity of Ernest, and end the global madness of the world systems that could be exacerbating a food problem caused principally by local indolence and mental lassitude?

Ernest appealed to the ‘Mad Global Leaders’ to “end agricultural subsidies”. What is that again? In the developed countries, an agricultural subsidy is a governmental aid to farmers and agri-businesses to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities, and influence the cost and supply of commodities that include wheat, feed grains, maize, barley, milk, sugar, soybeans, etc.

The United States Agricultural Department is required by law to subsidize over two dozen such commodities. Between 1996 and 2002, an average of $16 billion a year was paid by programmes authorized by various U.S. farm bills, dating back to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. The subsidy programs give farmers extra money for their crops and guarantee a price floor. For instance in the 2002 Farm Bill, for every bushel of wheat sold farmers were paid an extra 52 cents, and guaranteed a price of $3.86 from 2002–03, and $3.92 from 2004–2007. That is, if the price of wheat in 2002 was $3.80, farmers would get an extra 58 cents per bushel (52 cents, plus the $0.06 price difference). If you are not mathematical, what it could hypothetically mean is this: if the U.S. farmer, for example, produce wheat and sells it at $1.00 a barrel, and the price of wheat goes down to $0.50 cents in the market, the U.S. government would give the farmer the $0.50 he would lose in the market. The result of this system is that surplus food is produced in the richest countries of the world. If they don’t sell the surplus food, it doesn’t matter. So, huge surplus of food is stocked in the developed world, and sometimes, when the food gets too much, they simply dump it into the ocean. Yes, dump tons of food into the ocean!!!

Now, I think that the figures above should be diluted, put in imaginative local languages, dramatized in Nollywood films, so that ordinary Africans would really understand what “global” means. (And, Africans would angrily stone Christian evangelists coming from the U.S. for rank hypocrisy, as they try to teach Africans about “Jesus Christ”, the prophet who insists that when his followers have two coats, they should give one coat to those who have none). How can people in Europe and America be having surplus food and throwing tens of tons of this surplus food into the ocean depths, and the majority in Africa are malnourished and some 30% are starving? This is wicked madness, certainly!!!

To sustain their gluttony, the most gluttonous nation of all, the United States, has invested trillions of dollars in irons and machines that kill men, women, children and babies with cold blooded abandon. Global military expenditure stands at over $1.46 trillion in annual expenditure at prices for 2008, and has been rising….. The United States military expenditure is $711 billion - that is 41 percent of global total. Europe spent $289 billion in 2008 on weapons of death. Add the U.S.’ and Europe’s military expenditure (they form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] military alliance), and you have one trillion dollars on weapons to kill. In one year alone!!! Juxtapose those staggering sums of money with the cancerous poverty eating into the bones of over 80% of peoples in Africa. How can such vast sums be spent on weapons while a few billions dollars are all that is needed to prevent millions of Africans from dying prematurely because of lack of clean drinking water, or, lack of access to medical doctors?. Aaaaagh!!! Any intelligent alien from some distant galaxy who comes to our planet and see how we govern it would be stunned at our madness. Worse, as scientific evidence over the past ten years has been increasingly showing, this madness is underlined by what has been labeled as “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”.

Though the theme of this year’s UN General Assembly meeting was on ‘food security’ and reforming the UN itself, the emphasis of the most powerful leaders of the world – i.e.U.S., Japan and China…. - shifted it to “Climate Change”. Finally, the leaders of the “G8”, of the “G20”, have come to the realization that most of what the vaunted global systems of post-World War II Breton Woods have yielded is a monumental madness. Africa has endured the brunt of the global inequities and injustices over the past sixty years. The looming tragedy of “Climate Change” is likely to worsen Africa’s predicament in scenarios which former U.S treasury secretary, Robert McNamara, described sixty years ago as a misery so grotesque it would “beggar the imagination”. Let me put that pompous sentence into words that would be evocative for us in Sierra Leone: “Global Warming” could mean merging the horrors of January 6, 1999 and all the gruesomeness of the RUF war on mainly unarmed civilians in a concentrated form. And much more!!! Surely, we are not going to sit down and wait for such horrors to unfold in already poverty stricken countries like Sierra Leone?

Sierra Leone, and other countries in Africa, must go on the offensive. We must cure the biggest nations of their madness –but, first, we can only move from puniness to necessary colossal stature capable of potent psychological warfare when we cure ourselves of the craziness of our Tribal War Mentality. We should not feel belittled by our midget economic stature, and political nonentity mode. When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. thundered in the U.S. in the 1960s, and pointed out the stark contradictions between the lofty ideals in the American Constitution and the sublime Truths in the Christian Bible vis--vis crude racism in America, he was only a ‘little nobody’, a reviled ‘Negro’ in a land where most whites thought of themselves as near demigods and blacks as being sub human.

King vanquished the searing hate of racism with the invincibility of love. Can we help catalyze change in the world from insignificant Sierra Leone? Yes, we can – that, in rousing Obamaesque language!!