Category Archives: Nigeria

Peace is a Cliché: When the West cannot Control the World Unopposed it Means War

The West likes to think of itself as a truly “peace-loving part of the world”. But is it? You hear it everywhere, from Europe to North America, then to Australia, and back to Europe: “Peace, peace, peace!”

It has become a cliché, a catchphrase, a recipe to get funding and sympathy and support. You say peace and you really cannot go wrong. It means that you are a compassionate and reasonable human being.

After addressing East African left wing opposition at Venezuelan embassy

Every year, there are “peace conferences” taking place everywhere where peace is worshipped, and even demanded. I recently attended one, as a keynote speaker, on the west coast of Denmark.

If a heavy-duty war correspondent like myself attends them, he or she gets shocked. What is usually discussed are superficial, feel-good topics.

At best, ‘how bad capitalism is’, and how ‘everything is about oil’. Nothing about the genocidal culture of the West. Nothing about continuous, centuries-long plunders and benefits that virtually all Westerners have been getting from it.

At worst, it is all about how bad the world is – “all people are the same” cliché. And, also, there are increasingly, bizarre, uninformed outbursts against China and Russia which are often labeled by Western neo-cons as “threat” and “rival powers”.

Participants of these gatherings agree “Peace is Good”, and “War is Bad”. This is followed by standing ovations and patting each other on the back. Few heartfelt tears are dropped.

However, reasons behind these displays are rarely questioned. After all, who would be asking for war? Who’d crave for violence, terrible injuries and death? Who’d want to see leveled, charred cities and abandoned, crying infants? It all appears to be very simple, and very logical.

A three year old Iraqi child with cancer, Mohammed, in Kos, Greece

But then, why do we not hear too often that “peace speech” pouring from the devastated and still de facto colonized African or the Middle Eastern countries? Aren’t they suffering the most? Shouldn’t they be dreaming about the peace? Or are all of us, perhaps, missing the main point?

My friend, a great Indian writer and thinker, Arundhati Roy wrote, in 2001, reacting to the Western “War on Terror”:

When he announced the air strikes, President George Bush said, “We’re a peaceful nation.” America’s favourite ambassador, Tony Blair, (who also holds the portfolio of Prime Minister of the UK), echoed him: “We’re a peaceful people.” So now we know. Pigs are horses. Girls are boys. War is Peace.

When it comes from the lips of the Westerners, is ‘peace’ really peace, is ‘war’ really a war?

Are people in that ‘free and democratic West’, still allowed to ask such questions? Or is the war and peace perception just a part of the dogma that is not allowed to be questioned and is ‘protected’ by both the Western culture and its laws?

Afghan kid from slums

I’m not in the West, and I don’t want to be. Therefore, I’m not sure what they are allowed to say or to question there. But we, those lucky people who are ‘outside’ and therefore not fully conditioned, controlled and indoctrinated, will definitely not stop asking these questions anytime soon; or to be precise, never!

*****

Recently, through Whatsapp, I received a simple chain of messages from my East African friends and Comrades – mostly young left-wing, revolutionary opposition leaders, thinkers and activists:

Free Africa is a socialist Africa! We are ready for war! The young Africans are on fire! Death to the imperialist forces! Viva Bolivarian revolution! South-South Cooperation! Today we take the battle to the streets! Africa Must Unite!

Such statements would sound almost ‘violent’ and therefore could be even be classified as ‘illegal’, if pronounced openly in the West. Someone could end up in Guantanamo for this, or in a ‘secret CIA prison’. A few weeks ago, I directly addressed these young people – leaders of the left-wing East African opposition – at the Venezuelan Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Yes, they were boiling, they were outraged, determined and ready.

For those who are not too familiar with the continent, Kenya has been, for years and decades, an outpost of the British, US and even Israeli imperialism in East Africa. It was playing the same role that West Germany used to play during the Cold War – a window shopping paradise, stuffed with luxury goods and services.

In the past, Kenya was supposed to dwarf the socialist experiment of Tanzania under the leadership of Nyerere.

Kibera Slum in Nairobi with over 1 million inhabitants

Today, some 60 percent of Kenyans live in slums; some of the toughest in Africa. Some of these ‘settlements’, like Mathare and Kibera are housing at least one million people, in the most despicable, terrible conditions. Four years ago, when I was making my documentary film, in these slums, for South American network TeleSUR, I wrote:

…Officially, there is peace in Kenya. For decades, Kenya functioned as a client state of the West, implementing a savage market regime, hosting foreign military bases. Billions of dollars were made here. But almost nowhere on earth is the misery more brutal than here.

Two years earlier, while filming my “Tumaini” near Kisumu city and the Uganda border, I saw entire hamlets standing empty like ghosts. The people had vanished, died – from AIDS and hunger. But it was still called peace.

US med experiments in Haiti

Peace it was when the US military medics were operating under the open sky, on desperately poor and sick Haitians, in the notorious slum of Cité Soleil. I saw and photographed a woman, laid on a makeshift table, having her tumor removed using only local anesthetics. I asked the North American doctors, why is it like this? I knew there was a top-notch military facility two minutes away.

“This is as close as we get to real combat situation”, one doctor replied, frankly. “For us, this is great training.”

After the surgery was over, the woman got up, and supported by her frightened husband, walked away towards the bus stop.”

Yes, all this is, officially, peace.

*****

In Beirut, Lebanon, I recently participated in discussion about “Ecology of War”, a scientific and philosophical concept created by several AUB Medical Center doctors from the Middle East. Doctor Ghassan ‘Gus’ Abu-Sitta, the head of the Plastic Surgery Department at the AUB Medical Center in Lebanon, explained:

The misery is war. The destruction of the strong state leads to conflict. A great number of people on our Planet actually live in some conflict or war, without even realizing it: in slums, in thoroughly collapsed states, or in refugee camps.

During my work, in almost all devastated corners of the world, I saw much worse things than what I described above. Perhaps I saw too much – all that ‘peace’ which has been tearing limbs from the victims, all those burning huts and howling women, or children dying from diseases and hunger before they reach their teens.

I wrote about war and peace at length, in my 840-page book Exposing Lies Of The Empire”.

When you do what I do, you become like a doctor: you can only stand all those horrors and suffering, because you are here to help, to expose reality, and to shame the world. You have no right to decompose, to collapse, to fall and to cry.

But what you cannot stand is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is ‘bulletproof’. It cannot be illuminated by correct arguments, by logic and by examples. Hypocrisy in the West is often ignorant, but mostly it is just self-serving.

So, what is real peace for the people in Europe and North America? The answer is simple: It is a state of things in which as few Western people as possible are killed or injured. A state of things in which the flow of resources from the poor, plundered and colonized countries is pouring, uninterrupted, predominantly to Europe and North America.

The price for such peace? How many African, Latin American or Asian people die as a result of such arrangement of the world, is thoroughly irrelevant.

Peru – Lima:  Is it really peace?

Peace is when the business interests of the West are not endangered, even if tens of millions of non-white human beings would vanish in the process.

Peace is when the West can, unopposed, control the world, politically, economically, ideologically and ‘culturally’.

“War” is when there is rebellion. War is when the people of plundered countries say “No!”. War is when they suddenly refuse to be raped, robbed, indoctrinated and murdered.

When such a scenario takes place the West’s immediate reaction ‘to restore peace’ is to overthrow the government in the country which is trying to take care of its people. To bomb schools and hospitals, to destroy supply of fresh water and electricity and to throw millions into total misery and agony.

As the West may soon do to North Korea (DPRK), to Cuba, Venezuela, Iran – some of the countries that are being, for now, ‘only’ tormented by sanctions and, foreign -sponsored, deadly “opposition”. In the Western lexicon, “peace” is synonymous to “submission”. To a total, unconditional submission. Anything else is war or could potentially lead to war.

For the oppressed, devastated countries, including those in Africa, to call for resistance, would be, at least in the Western lexicon, synonymous with the “call for violence”, therefore illegal. As ‘illegal’ as the calls were for resistance in the countries occupied by German Nazi forces during the WWII. It would be, therefore, logical to call the Western approach and state of mind, “fundamentalist”, and thoroughly aggressive.

{Originally, in a slightly shorter version, published by RT ]

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Peace is a Cliché: When the West cannot Control the World Unopposed it Means War

The West likes to think of itself as a truly “peace-loving part of the world”. But is it? You hear it everywhere, from Europe to North America, then to Australia, and back to Europe: “Peace, peace, peace!”

It has become a cliché, a catchphrase, a recipe to get funding and sympathy and support. You say peace and you really cannot go wrong. It means that you are a compassionate and reasonable human being.

After addressing East African left wing opposition at Venezuelan embassy

Every year, there are “peace conferences” taking place everywhere where peace is worshipped, and even demanded. I recently attended one, as a keynote speaker, on the west coast of Denmark.

If a heavy-duty war correspondent like myself attends them, he or she gets shocked. What is usually discussed are superficial, feel-good topics.

At best, ‘how bad capitalism is’, and how ‘everything is about oil’. Nothing about the genocidal culture of the West. Nothing about continuous, centuries-long plunders and benefits that virtually all Westerners have been getting from it.

At worst, it is all about how bad the world is – “all people are the same” cliché. And, also, there are increasingly, bizarre, uninformed outbursts against China and Russia which are often labeled by Western neo-cons as “threat” and “rival powers”.

Participants of these gatherings agree “Peace is Good”, and “War is Bad”. This is followed by standing ovations and patting each other on the back. Few heartfelt tears are dropped.

However, reasons behind these displays are rarely questioned. After all, who would be asking for war? Who’d crave for violence, terrible injuries and death? Who’d want to see leveled, charred cities and abandoned, crying infants? It all appears to be very simple, and very logical.

A three year old Iraqi child with cancer, Mohammed, in Kos, Greece

But then, why do we not hear too often that “peace speech” pouring from the devastated and still de facto colonized African or the Middle Eastern countries? Aren’t they suffering the most? Shouldn’t they be dreaming about the peace? Or are all of us, perhaps, missing the main point?

My friend, a great Indian writer and thinker, Arundhati Roy wrote, in 2001, reacting to the Western “War on Terror”:

When he announced the air strikes, President George Bush said, “We’re a peaceful nation.” America’s favourite ambassador, Tony Blair, (who also holds the portfolio of Prime Minister of the UK), echoed him: “We’re a peaceful people.” So now we know. Pigs are horses. Girls are boys. War is Peace.

When it comes from the lips of the Westerners, is ‘peace’ really peace, is ‘war’ really a war?

Are people in that ‘free and democratic West’, still allowed to ask such questions? Or is the war and peace perception just a part of the dogma that is not allowed to be questioned and is ‘protected’ by both the Western culture and its laws?

Afghan kid from slums

I’m not in the West, and I don’t want to be. Therefore, I’m not sure what they are allowed to say or to question there. But we, those lucky people who are ‘outside’ and therefore not fully conditioned, controlled and indoctrinated, will definitely not stop asking these questions anytime soon; or to be precise, never!

*****

Recently, through Whatsapp, I received a simple chain of messages from my East African friends and Comrades – mostly young left-wing, revolutionary opposition leaders, thinkers and activists:

Free Africa is a socialist Africa! We are ready for war! The young Africans are on fire! Death to the imperialist forces! Viva Bolivarian revolution! South-South Cooperation! Today we take the battle to the streets! Africa Must Unite!

Such statements would sound almost ‘violent’ and therefore could be even be classified as ‘illegal’, if pronounced openly in the West. Someone could end up in Guantanamo for this, or in a ‘secret CIA prison’. A few weeks ago, I directly addressed these young people – leaders of the left-wing East African opposition – at the Venezuelan Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Yes, they were boiling, they were outraged, determined and ready.

For those who are not too familiar with the continent, Kenya has been, for years and decades, an outpost of the British, US and even Israeli imperialism in East Africa. It was playing the same role that West Germany used to play during the Cold War – a window shopping paradise, stuffed with luxury goods and services.

In the past, Kenya was supposed to dwarf the socialist experiment of Tanzania under the leadership of Nyerere.

Kibera Slum in Nairobi with over 1 million inhabitants

Today, some 60 percent of Kenyans live in slums; some of the toughest in Africa. Some of these ‘settlements’, like Mathare and Kibera are housing at least one million people, in the most despicable, terrible conditions. Four years ago, when I was making my documentary film, in these slums, for South American network TeleSUR, I wrote:

…Officially, there is peace in Kenya. For decades, Kenya functioned as a client state of the West, implementing a savage market regime, hosting foreign military bases. Billions of dollars were made here. But almost nowhere on earth is the misery more brutal than here.

Two years earlier, while filming my “Tumaini” near Kisumu city and the Uganda border, I saw entire hamlets standing empty like ghosts. The people had vanished, died – from AIDS and hunger. But it was still called peace.

US med experiments in Haiti

Peace it was when the US military medics were operating under the open sky, on desperately poor and sick Haitians, in the notorious slum of Cité Soleil. I saw and photographed a woman, laid on a makeshift table, having her tumor removed using only local anesthetics. I asked the North American doctors, why is it like this? I knew there was a top-notch military facility two minutes away.

“This is as close as we get to real combat situation”, one doctor replied, frankly. “For us, this is great training.”

After the surgery was over, the woman got up, and supported by her frightened husband, walked away towards the bus stop.”

Yes, all this is, officially, peace.

*****

In Beirut, Lebanon, I recently participated in discussion about “Ecology of War”, a scientific and philosophical concept created by several AUB Medical Center doctors from the Middle East. Doctor Ghassan ‘Gus’ Abu-Sitta, the head of the Plastic Surgery Department at the AUB Medical Center in Lebanon, explained:

The misery is war. The destruction of the strong state leads to conflict. A great number of people on our Planet actually live in some conflict or war, without even realizing it: in slums, in thoroughly collapsed states, or in refugee camps.

During my work, in almost all devastated corners of the world, I saw much worse things than what I described above. Perhaps I saw too much – all that ‘peace’ which has been tearing limbs from the victims, all those burning huts and howling women, or children dying from diseases and hunger before they reach their teens.

I wrote about war and peace at length, in my 840-page book Exposing Lies Of The Empire”.

When you do what I do, you become like a doctor: you can only stand all those horrors and suffering, because you are here to help, to expose reality, and to shame the world. You have no right to decompose, to collapse, to fall and to cry.

But what you cannot stand is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is ‘bulletproof’. It cannot be illuminated by correct arguments, by logic and by examples. Hypocrisy in the West is often ignorant, but mostly it is just self-serving.

So, what is real peace for the people in Europe and North America? The answer is simple: It is a state of things in which as few Western people as possible are killed or injured. A state of things in which the flow of resources from the poor, plundered and colonized countries is pouring, uninterrupted, predominantly to Europe and North America.

The price for such peace? How many African, Latin American or Asian people die as a result of such arrangement of the world, is thoroughly irrelevant.

Peru – Lima:  Is it really peace?

Peace is when the business interests of the West are not endangered, even if tens of millions of non-white human beings would vanish in the process.

Peace is when the West can, unopposed, control the world, politically, economically, ideologically and ‘culturally’.

“War” is when there is rebellion. War is when the people of plundered countries say “No!”. War is when they suddenly refuse to be raped, robbed, indoctrinated and murdered.

When such a scenario takes place the West’s immediate reaction ‘to restore peace’ is to overthrow the government in the country which is trying to take care of its people. To bomb schools and hospitals, to destroy supply of fresh water and electricity and to throw millions into total misery and agony.

As the West may soon do to North Korea (DPRK), to Cuba, Venezuela, Iran – some of the countries that are being, for now, ‘only’ tormented by sanctions and, foreign -sponsored, deadly “opposition”. In the Western lexicon, “peace” is synonymous to “submission”. To a total, unconditional submission. Anything else is war or could potentially lead to war.

For the oppressed, devastated countries, including those in Africa, to call for resistance, would be, at least in the Western lexicon, synonymous with the “call for violence”, therefore illegal. As ‘illegal’ as the calls were for resistance in the countries occupied by German Nazi forces during the WWII. It would be, therefore, logical to call the Western approach and state of mind, “fundamentalist”, and thoroughly aggressive.

{Originally, in a slightly shorter version, published by RT ]

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Great Hunger

Earlier this year, the Sisters of St. Brigid invited me to speak at their Feile Bride celebration in Kildare, Ireland. The theme of the gathering was: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak.”

The Sisters have embraced numerous projects to protect the environment, welcome refugees and nonviolently resist wars. I felt grateful to reconnect with people who so vigorously opposed any Irish support for U.S. military wars in Iraq. They had also campaigned to end the economic sanctions against Iraq, knowing that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children suffered and died for lack of food, medicine and clean water. This year, the Sisters asked me to first meet with local teenagers who would commemorate another time of starvation imposed by an imperial power.

Joe Murray, who heads Action from Ireland (Afri), arranged for a class from Dublin’s Beneavin De La Salle College to join an Irish historian in a field adjacent to the Dunshaughlin work house on the outskirts of Dublin.

Such workhouses dot the landscape of Ireland and England. In the mid-19th century, during the famine years, they were dreaded places. People who went there knew they were near the brink of death due to hunger, disease, and dire poverty. Ominously, behind the workhouse lay the graveyard.

The young men couldn’t help poking a bit of fun, at first; what in the world were they doing out in a field next to an imposing building, their feet already soaked in the wet grass as a light rain fell? They soon became quite attentive.

We learned that the Dunshaughlin workhouse had opened in May of 1841. It could accommodate 400 inmates. During the famine years, many hundreds of people were crowded in the stone building in dreadful conditions. An estimated one million people died during a famine that began because of blighted potato crops but became an “artificial famine” because Ireland’s British occupiers lacked the political will to justly distribute resources and food. Approximately one million Irish people who could no longer feed themselves and subsist on the land emigrated to places like the U.S. But seeking refuge wasn’t an option for those who couldn’t afford the passage. Evicted by landowners, desperate people arrived at workhouses like the one we were visiting. Our guide read us the names of people from the surrounding area who had been buried in a mass grave behind the workhouse, their bodies unidentified. They were victims of what the Irish call “Greta Mor”—”The Great Hunger.”

It was recently, as I tried to better understand the migration of desperate and starving people now crossing from East Africa into Yemen, that I began to realize how great the hunger was.  During that same period, in the latter half of the 19th century, there were 30 million people, possibly fifty million, dying of famine in northern China, India, Brazil and the Maghreb. The terrible suffering of these unknown people, whose plight never made it into the history books, was a sharp reminder to me of Western exceptionalism. As researched and described in Mike Davis’s book, The Late Victorian Holocaust, El Nino and La Nina climate changes caused massive crop failures. What food could be harvested was often sent abroad. Railroad infrastructure could have been used to send food to people dying of hunger, but wealthier people chose to ignore the plight of the starving. The Great Hunger, fueled by bigotry and greed, had been greater than any of its victims knew. And now, few in the prosperous West are aware of the terror faced by people in South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria, northern Kenya and Yemen. Millions of people cannot feed themselves or find potable water.

Countries in Africa which the U.S. has helped destabilize, such as Somalia, are convulsed in fighting which exacerbates effects of drought and drives helpless civilians toward points of hoped for refuge. Many have chosen a path of escape through the famine-torn country of Yemen. The U.S. has been helping a Saudi-led coalition to blockade and bomb Yemen since March of 2015. Sudanese fighters aligned with Saudi Arabia have been taking over cities along the Yemeni coast, heading northward. People trying to escape famine find themselves trapped amid vicious air and ground attacks.

In March, 2017, Stephen O’Brien, head of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, traveled to Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Northern Kenya. Since that trip, he has repeatedly begged the UN Security Council to help end the fighting and prevent conflict-driven famine conditions. Regarding Yemen, he wrote, in a July 12, 2017 statement to the UN Security Council that:

Seven million people, including 2.3 million malnourished (500,000 severely malnourished) children under the age of five, are on the cusp of famine, vulnerable to disease and ultimately at risk of a slow and painful death. Nearly 16 million people do not have access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, and more than 320,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported in all of the country’s governorates bar one.

This number has since risen to 850,000.

Ben Ehrenreich describes famine conditions along what the Israeli theorist Eyal Weizman calls the ‘conflict shoreline’, an expanding band of climate change-induced desertification that stretches through the Sahel and across the African continent before leaping the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. He notes that this vast territory, once the site of fierce resistance to colonial incursions, is now paying the heaviest price, in disastrous climate conditions, for the wealth of the industrialized north. As the deserts spread south, ever more dire conflicts can be expected to erupt, causing more people to flee.

Of a drought-stricken area of Somaliland, Ehrenreich writes: “People were calling this drought sima, ‘the leveller,’ because it affected all of the clans stretching across Somaliland and into Ethiopia to the west and Kenya to the south.”

“The women’s stories were almost all the same,” writes Ehrenreich, “differing only in the age and number of children sick, the number of animals they had lost and the number that survived. Hodan Ismail had lost everything. She left her husband’s village to bring her children here, where her mother lived, ‘to save them,’ she said. ‘When I got there, I saw that she had nothing either.’ The river and streams, their usual source of drinking water, had gone dry and they had no option but to drink from a shallow well at the edge of town. The water was making all the children sick.”

In 1993, at the Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit,” delegates conveying the views of then-President George Bush Sr., voiced a refrain of the statement, “the American lifestyle is not up for negotiation.” U.S. demands of the summit incalculably restricted the changes to which it might have led. Representing President Bill Clinton six years later, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended planned bombardment of Iraq, saying “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

There is danger that must be recognized.  The danger is real and the danger is spreading.  Violence spreads the famine, and the famine will spread violence.

I find myself repulsed by assertions voicing U.S. exceptionalism, yet my own study and focus often omits histories and present realities which simply must be understood if we are to recognize the traumas our world faces. In relation to conflict-driven famines, it becomes even more imperative to resist the U.S. government’s allocation of 700 billion dollars to the Department of Defense. In the U.S., our violence, and our delusions of being indispensable stem from accepting a belief that our “way of life” is non-negotiable. Growing inequality, protected by menacing arsenals, paves a path to the graveyard: It is not a “way of life.” We still could acquire a great hunger: a transforming hunger to share justice with our planetary neighbors. We could shed familiar privileges and search for communal tools to preserve us from indifferent wealth and voracious imperial power. We could embrace the theme of the Irish sisters at their Feile Bride gathering: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak” and then choose action-based initiatives to share our abundance and lay aside, forever, the futility of war.

Remembering Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Revolutionary African Musician

Fela Kuti was a revolutionary African musician, the inventor of a genre which he called ‘Afro-Beat’ and the scourge of successive military dictatorships and civilian governments whose misrule of Nigeria has blighted the development of Africa’s most populated country. Fela was an iconoclast who challenged the powerful in society, a rebel whose bohemian lifestyle traversed the boundaries of socially prescribed behaviour as well as a social commentator whose lyrics, often suffused with coruscating barbs and comical vignettes, laid bare the daily tragedy of the lives of the suffering African proletariat. His death twenty years ago was mourned by millions of his countrymen and his legacy of social activism, critique of Nigeria’s governance as well as his Pan-Africanist aspirations remain as valid today as they did at the time of his passing.

*****

Fela was born into the upper-middle class elite of colonial-era Nigerian society in the Yoruba city of Abeokuta. The first part of his original hyphenated surname, Ransome-Kuti, was bestowed on his grandfather Josiah Jesse Kuti, an Anglican clergyman, by an English benefactor. Josiah was a talented composer of Christian hymns and a church organist. Fela’s father, Israel Ransome-Kuti was a prominent educator and his mother, Funmilayo Kuti was a feminist and social activist with Marxist leanings who was part of several national delegations representing Nigeria at conferences which were designed to set out a pathway to independence from Britain.  It is from these antecedents that Fela’s talent for music, a predisposition to rebel and his interest in politics and the plight of the ordinary person stem.

Fela formed his first band Koola Lobitos in London when studying at Trinity College of Music where he enrolled in 1958. He learned classical music by day and played the trumpet at nightly and weekend gigs which catered to the tastes of Britain’s West African and Afro-Caribbean communities. He played conventional West African-style highlife music: songs about love and the mundanities of everyday life. It was a style he continued with on his return to Nigeria in 1963 right through to the period of the Nigerian Civil War when most of the federation was pitted against the secessionist state of Biafra in a bloody civil war that raged between 1967 and 1970.

It was not until he embarked on a tour of the United States during the war that Fela’s music and his raison d’etre undertook a radical shift. His association with Sandra Isidore, a black American immersed in the politics of the Black Panther Party and the growing drift towards Afrocentricity, ignited in Fela a new vision that involved integrating black politics with a hybrid style composed of contemporary horn-driven Afro-American popular music, psychedelic rock and the African rhythmic cadences of vocal and instrumental expression. A key part of this musical expression was the drumming of Tony Oladipo Allen whose input first in regard to an increasingly jazzified element to the music of Koola Lobitos and then with the new breed of politicised and funked-up music qualify him as being the co-creator of Afro-Beat.

The musical rebirth led to Fela renaming his band the Africa 70. American funk and soul collided with Yoruban rhythms which were accompanied by lyrics layered with Pan-Africanist sentiment. Fela’s new model sound, a symbiosis of Afro-Diasporan elements, sounded fresh but also natural. The Yoruba culture is one which is highly syncretic in nature.

The new bent towards protest singing was also consistent with Yoruban modes of expression. In contrast to the praise-singing directed at the wealthy and the important in traditional society was abuse-singing. Fela’s Yabis songs which ridiculed and denigrated the rich and powerful in Nigerian society would form the backdrop to many popular compositions as well as a multitude of iron-fisted reprisals from the authorities. His popularity markedly increased as the 1970s developed and his audience ravenously anticipated his next incendiary epistle on long-playing vinyl.

Fela lampooned the high-handedness of police officers and soldiers in “Alagbon Close” and “Zombie”. His disdain for the ‘foreign imported’ religions of Christianity and Islam and his belief that they served as an opiate for the masses was reflected in “Shuffering and Shmiling”. He criticized middle class Nigerian aping of Western mannerisms in “Gentleman” and mocked African females who bleached their skin in “Yellow Fever”. His uncompromising position on eschewing the colonial-derived mentality and promoting black pride formed the backdrop to his dropping ‘Ransome’ from his surname. In its stead, he adopted the name ‘Anikulapo’ which means “he who carries death in his pouch”.

He had established his pan-African outlook via his album “Why Black Man Dey Suffer” in 1971 but when criticising the racist regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa in songs like “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” and “Beasts of No Nation”, did not fail to remind his listeners of the hypocrisy and the brutality of Nigeria’s military rulers. He sang against imperialism and neocolonialism while pointing out that he felt certain of Nigeria’s elite such as the wealthy businessman, Moshood Abiola, were agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. Abiola, who rose to be the Vice President of the African and Middle Eastern region of the International Telephone and Telegraph company (IT&T), was lambasted in the song “ITT (International Thief Thief)” in a diatribe against the exploitation of Africa by multinational companies and the African ‘big men’ who aid them in this endeavour.

Corruption and the inhumanity of Nigeria’s elites were a consistent topic for Fela in his recordings, his stage banter at his popular club ‘The Shrine’ and in his frequent utterances to the press. When Nigeria hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977, he refused to perform at the gathering in protest at the corruption surrounding the event. “Money is not Nigeria’s problem”, the overthrown General Yakubu Gowon had said a few years before, “it is how to spend it.” And ‘Festac’, the abbreviated name of the festival, had induced a wild spending spree by the Nigerian government which proceeded with the obligatory backhanders for organising officials.

The bringing together of artistic talent from Africa and the African Diaspora had appealed to the Pan-Africanist sentiments of Fela who as a young boy had been introduced to its greatest champion, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, by his mother. He felt that the gathering could be used to “redirect the thinking of the common man”. He had been invited to join the National Participation Committee for Festac along with other luminaries from Nigerian drama, music and literature, including his cousin the future Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, but along with Soyinka and a few others withdrew disillusioned.

When the festival commenced, Fela denounced the military government in nightly sermons delivered at ‘The Shrine’ where musicians flocked to pay him homage. Among them were Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra and Hugh Masekela. The Brazilian artists Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil who for a time had been forced into exile by the military junta of their country also met Fela.

Fela would pay a heavy price for his harangues. Less than a week after the end of the festival, the army surrounded his commune, known as the Kalakuta Republic, before storming it. Its inhabitants, not least Fela were beaten and the female members of his entourage sexually violated. Fela’s mother who resided at the residence was thrown from a first floor window and although initially surviving the attack died a few months later from injuries that she sustained.

It was a dark period for Fela. He spent 27 days in jail and suffered different bone fractures. He was put on trial and an official inquiry whitewashed the invasion and destruction of his compound concluding that the damage to his property had been perpetrated by “an exasperated and unknown soldier”. To top it all off Fela was branded a “hooligan”.

He went into temporary exile in Ghana and responded with lamentations of his experiences with the songs “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” and “Unknown Soldier”. In the former, Fela rails in his trademark pidgin English which was readily accessible to the common person:

So policeman go slap your face
You no go talk
Army man go whip your yansh (buttocks)
You go dey look like donkey

Fela’s allusion to Army brutality, a common occurrence in 1970s military-ruled Nigeria, carried a resonance among the many civilian victims who had been verbally humiliated, maimed and even killed by soldiers.

Yet Fela remained defiant. He partook in a traditional marriage ceremony with his entire female entourage of 27, performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978 and in anticipation of the first civilian elections to be held in Nigeria since the middle 1960s, he formed a political party, the Movement of the People Party, and offered himself as a presidential candidate in 1979.

Fela continued to release music and embarked on many tours of European and American cities gaining a wider audience and respect from members of the rock community. He had known Ginger Baker, famous as the drummer for the 1960s blues-rock trio Cream, during his sojourn in England in the 1960s and both men collaborated in the 1970s and met each other frequently while Baker was resident in Nigeria from 1970 to 1976.

Paul McCartney was introduced to Fela when he went to Nigeria to record his album ‘Band on the Run’. After an awkward first meeting that had Fela accusing McCartney of coming to Africa to “steal the Black man’s music”, both men developed a friendship. McCartney would later confess to have been reduced to tears by the power of Fela’s music. In his autobiography published in 1989, Miles Davis acknowledged Fela as a force in music.

Fela would continue to endure numerous arrests: many of them for possession of Indian Hemp but also one last major politically-motivated arrest in 1984 which involved an alleged violation of currency regulations just before he was due to embark on a tour of the United States. His detention under the military regime which had overthrown the civilian government that had been elected in 1979 led to an international campaign spearheaded by Amnesty International to free him. Soon after his release in 1986, he played alongside artists such as U2, Sting and  Peter Gabriel in a series of benefit concerts for Amnesty.

Over a million people turned out for his funeral after a lengthy illness. His brother Olukoye, a medical practitioner, announced that Fela had stubbornly refused to seek medical help and that by the time he agreed to be taken to hospital was not cognizant of the diagnosis of AIDS.

The cause of death many blamed on a hedonistic lifestyle. The image he frequently portrayed in songs and interviews of a playboy were real enough. Alongside  the praise he earned from many of his country men were the denunciations of others. During his life he was criticised for corrupting the nation’s youth due to his fondness for marijuana and his projection of hypersexuality. While he may have spoken up for the nation’s downtrodden underclass, Fela was attacked for exploiting young women many of who came from poor backgrounds. The accusations of misogyny were often backed up by evidence of his living arrangements, the interviews that he gave as well as songs such as “Mattress”.

He was a mass of contradictions. While he may have spoken out against dictators, he ruled his commune in an authoritarian manner. And even the atrocity committed against him by the soldiers ransacking of his home was preceded by an incident in which a number of his employees had a violent confrontation with some soldiers during which they appropriated a motorcycle and later set it on fire. For some, Fela had set himself above the law from openly smoking weed on stage to holding up traffic while he crossed the road on his pet donkey.

Fela was uncompromising. In the early part of his career he turned down offers from foreign record companies to market Afro-Beat to Western audiences in the way reggae music was because it would have meant that he would have had to shorten the length of his songs. Later on he prevaricated over signing a one million dollar deal with Motown records until the offer lapsed. He could have chosen to live a relatively comfortable existence in European exile in a city such as London or Paris but that was never an option.

He had several distinct nicknames each reflecting a part of his multifaceted personage. ‘Omo Iya Aje’, which translated from Yoruba means the son of a witch, alluded to the belief that Fela inherited supernatural powers from his mother, in her prime a powerful female figure. Fela’s unusual disposition and rejection of convention earned him the sobriquet ‘Abami Eda’ (Strange creature). He was the ‘Chief Priest’ because of his practice of traditional Yoruba religious rites which were featured during his performances at the Shrine. Finally, the ‘Black President’ was an acknowledgement of his leadership qualities and his promotion of ‘Blackism’ and Pan-Africanism.

Now fully two decades after his passing, Fela’s music and the message in his music continue to resonate. His records still sell and his life story has been retold in several biographies and through a successful Broadway play “Fela!” He was more than a musician simply because his protest songs were not merely abstractions confined to the music studio or to music festivals. He transcended the role of a conventional musician because he spoke to the masses and confronted successive military dictators at great cost.

Wrote Lindsay Barrett, a Jamaican-born naturalised Nigerian novelist: “It is no exaggeration to say that Fela’s memory will always symbolise the spirit of truth for a vast number of struggling people in Africa and beyond.”

Fela Kuti was born on October 15th 1938 and died on August 2nd 1997.

At Every Door

I come and stand at every door
But none shall hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen

— Nazim Hikmet, I Come and Stand at Every Door


On July 18, 2017, at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing focused on “The Four Famines: Root Causes and a Multilateral Action Plan,” Republican Senator Todd Young, a former Marine, asked officials present if ongoing war in Yemen could fail to exacerbate the catastrophe developing there – one of four countries, along with Southern Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia, set to collectively lose 20 million people this year, one third the death toll of WWII, from conflict-driven famine. Yemen is being bombarded and blockaded, using US-supplied weapons and vehicles, by a local coalition marshaled by U.S. client state Saudi Arabia.  Yemen’s near-famine conditions, with attendant cholera outbreak, are so dire that in Yemen it is estimated a child dies every 10 minutes of preventable disease.

At the hearing, Senator Young held aloft a photo of a World Food Program warehouse in Yemen, which was destroyed in 2015. Senator Young asked David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program, to name the country responsible for the airstrike that destroyed the food warehouse. Mr. Beasley said the Saudi-led coalition blockading Yemen had destroyed the warehouse, along with the relief supplies it contained.

A July 2016 Human Rights Watch report documented 13 civilian economic structures destroyed by Saudi coalition led bombing between March 2015 and February 2016, “including factories, commercial warehouses, a farm, and two power stations. These strikes killed 130 civilians and injured 171 more. The facilities hit by airstrikes produced, stored, or distributed goods for the civilian population including food, medicine, and electricity—items that even before the war were in short supply in Yemen, which is among the poorest countries in the Middle East. Collectively, the facilities employed over 2,500 people; following the attacks, many of the factories ended their production and hundreds of workers lost their livelihoods.”

Asked about the Saudi coalition’s destruction of four cranes needed to offload relief supplies in Yemen’s port city Hodeidah, Mr. Beasley clarified that the loss of the cranes has vastly impeded WFP efforts to deliver food and medicines. Senator Young read from Mr. Beasley’s June 27th letter to the Saudi government, only the latest of multiple requests, asking that the WFP be allowed to deliver replacement cranes. Mr. Beasley said the Saudis had provided no reply. Senator Young noted that, in the three weeks since this last letter had been sent, more than 3,000 Yemeni children had died of preventable, famine-related causes.

Medea Benjamin, of the antiwar campaign Code Pink, was at the “Four Famines” hearing, and later thanked Sen. Young for rebuking the Saudi government’s imposition of a state of siege plus airstrikes that prevent delivery of food and medicine to destitute Yemeni civilians:

One day later, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on a July 19th coalition airstrike in Yemen, which killed 20 civilians—including women and children—while they were fleeing violence in their home province. The report claimed more than two million internally displaced Yemenis “fled elsewhere across Yemen since the beginning of the conflict, but … continue to be exposed to danger as the conflict has affected all of Yemen’s mainland governorates.”

On July 14, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would potentially end US participation in the Yemeni civil war. In the past, the White House has provided refueling and targeting assistance to the Saudi-led coalition without congressional authorization. Since October of 2016, the US has doubled the number of jet refueling maneuvers carried out with Saudi and United Arab Emirate jets. The Saudi and UAE jets fly over Yemen, drop bombs until they need to refuel, then fly back to Saudi airspace where US jets perform mid-air refueling operations. Next, they circle back to Yemen and resume bombing.

In the summer of 2006, I joined peace campaigner Claudia Lefko at a small school she helped found in Amman, Jordan. The school served children whose families were refugees, having fled postwar chaos in Iraq. Many of the children have survived war, death threats, and displacement. Claudia had worked with children in her hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts, to prepare a gift for the Iraqi refugee children at the Jordanian school. The gift consisted of strings of paper origami cranes, folded in memory of a Japanese child, Sadako, who had died from radiation sickness after the bombing of her home city, Hiroshima.  In her hospital bed (the story goes), Sadako occupied her time attempting to fold 1,000 paper cranes, a feat she hoped would earn her the granting of a special wish, that no other child would ever suffer a similar fate. Sadako succumbed too rapidly to complete the task herself, but Japanese children hearing of her folded many thousands more cranes, and the story has been told for decades in innumerable places, making the delicate paper cranes a symbol for peace throughout the world. The Turkish  writer, Nazim Hikmet, wrote a poem, since set to music, about the story. Its words are on my mind today, as I think of the malnourished children from the countries of the terrible Four Famines, and from other conflict-torn, US-targeted countries such as Iraq, and Afghanistan. I think of their months or years of terrible hunger. Their stories may have ended already during the first half of 2017.

I need no fruit I need no rice
I need no sweets nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead for I am dead

The song about “The Little Girl of Hiroshima” imagines a child who comes and stands at every door, unheard and unseen. In reality, we the living can choose to approach the doors of elected representatives, of our neighbors, or stay at home. We can choose whether or not to be heard and seen. Robert Naiman at Just Foreign Policy points out that many people don’t know yet that the House has voted to prohibit US participation in the Saudi war in Yemen. We can focus on progress made, publicize the House votes on social media, push for a House roll call vote on the Davidson-Nolan prohibitions on Defense Appropriation, and push the Senate to pass the same provisions as the House.  I personally oppose all defense appropriations (I have refused all payment of federal income tax since 1980). I recognize that legislative activism, at the heart of an empire addicted to war, is a tool of limited use; but considering the arriving disaster for which, as too few yet understand, 2017 may be hereafter remembered as the worst famine year in post-WWII history – we have no luxury to reject any tools presented to us.

Billions, perhaps trillions, will be spent to send weapons, weapon systems, fighter jets, ammunition, and military support to the region, fueling new arms races and raising the profits of U.S. weapon makers. But, we can choose to stand at the doors of our leaders and of our neighbors, honoring past sacrifices and the innocent lives we were unable to save, as we redouble efforts to stop war makers from constantly gaining the upper hand in our lives.

We can never reverse the decisions to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we cannot prevent all of the dying that is set to come, this fateful summer, in the countries of the Four Famines.  In the song, lost Sadako, long beyond saving even as she folded paper in her bed, doesn’t ask us to erase her own terrible loss, but to achieve the change we can, and to lose no more time in achieving it:

All that I need is that for peace
You fight today you fight today
So that the children of this world
Can live and grow and laugh and play

Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy

This time of year Mediterranean beaches are the destinations of choice for many European holidaymakers; it’s also the beginning of the busiest time of year for the people smugglers based in Libya and elsewhere along the North African coast. July to October is their peak season — during this time in 2016 around 103,000 refugees were crammed into unsafe boats, often in the dead of night, and cast off into the Mediterranean Sea.

Some don’t survive the crossing. Whilst the number of migrants arriving at Europe’s back door may have decreased — from 205,858 in the first five months of 2016, down to 71,029 for the same period this year, the number of dead has dramatically increased, reaching a staggering 1,650. The mortality rate has increased from 1.2% to 2.3% (2016). In 2015, when Europe’s response was properly coordinated, and when Germany opened its doors to over a million refugees, the death rate was 0.37%.

Europe’s politicians seem indifferent to the growing number of fatalities, and with a reported 2.5 million people (according to a leaked German government document) waiting in countries around the Mediterranean, the death count is set to rise dramatically.

The German report states that one million people are holed up in Libya, which, thanks to western ‘intervention’ is now a lawless state without any credible government where refugees are imprisoned, sold as slaves and trafficked into prostitution. Another million are in Egypt, almost half a million are waiting in Algeria, there are 160,000 or so in Tunisia and hundreds of thousands sit patiently in transit countries such as Jordan where there are estimated to be 720,00.

This is in addition to the 3.3 million refugees in Turkey, who have been denied access to Europe by the European Union’s (EU) ‘One in One out’ Syrian migrant deal struck in 2016. A crude financial arrangement of convenience made with Turkish President Recep Erdogan – a quasi-dictator, in which Turkey accepted the return of irregular migrants arriving in Greece in exchange for six billion euros in financial aid, and the loosening of visa restrictions for Turks. The result: tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Greece, living in intolerable and insecure conditions.

It was bribery by any other name; the aim was to push the refugee issue out of sight, make them someone else’s problem. This remains the EU’s inadequate, irresponsible approach.

It’s easy to see the statistics and forget that the numbers refer to people, human beings trying to escape some form of danger or violent conflict: Syrian Mother, “there was a rocket launching pad right behind my house. For the children, this was the main reason that we left. They became sick, they wouldn’t let me go… At night they’re asleep, they’d wake up crying. And the same thing happened to me. And my husband was not with us.” Others are fleeing persecution: Sudanese Mother, “There is racism in Sudan, between Muslims and Christians. The soldiers or the policemen come and they take half of what I earned, and they say: ‘that is for us’. But they don’t behave like this with everyone, only with Christians from Eritrea. If you try to say no, they will either kill or jail you.”

Ignoring root causes

Two main routes into Europe are used by refugees: the Aegean route via Turkey, Greece and the Balkans which is now virtually closed off, and the Mediterranean crossing from North Africa which is fraught with dangers.

Having travelled for months across unforgiving terrain, suffered abuse and exploitation en route, refugees arriving in Europe all too often find themselves in an unwelcoming, hostile environment, one in which the debilitating politics of fear, intolerance and division has increasingly influenced decisions on immigration generally and an approach to those seeking refuge.

Europe has sought to reduce the numbers making the journey by various short-term measures, none of which deal with the root causes of migration, and indeed the numbers have dropped — not because less people are leaving their troubled homelands, but because they are going somewhere else, or being held, imprisoned, in transit. The problem is not being resolved because the underlying causes have not been faced, those in need are simply being pushed elsewhere: it is a moral disgrace and a new approach is urgently needed.

To Europe’s utter shame there has been no collective response to what is euphemistically called the ‘refugee crisis’, but is actually a worldwide humanitarian issue partly caused by the aggressive foreign policies of America and her allies.

It’s not just war that people are fleeing; it’s a range of issues including human rights abuses and persecution by brutal regimes – Ethiopia, a key ally of the West, for example, and Eritrea where people are fleeing military conscription and poverty. The driving impulses that make people leave home are fear and hope; fear of death and terrorist threats – in Nigeria, for example, where the largest numbers making it to Europe currently come from, fear of torture and violence, and the hope of a better life somewhere else; a peaceful life in a country where the rule of law is observed and human rights are respected.

Refugees make up a mere 0.4% of the total population of the EU (approximately 510 million), and on a global scale refugees represent only around 8% of all migrants, and roughly 85% of all refugees live in developing countries. There is no question that Europe could and should do more, could offer long-term support to more in need.

The sane suggestion of establishing equitable resettlement quotas for all EU states has been completely shunned by selfish, irresponsible national governments concerned not with meeting the fundamental needs of refugees, but by domestic politics. Britain has been at the forefront of isolationism and indifference, with the Conservative government under David Cameron’s leadership agreeing in 2015 to take a paltry 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years.

Manipulative, cowardly European politicians hide behind the outdated, unworkable Dublin Agreement, which states that refugees must be processed in the first country they set foot in and can be returned there if they dare to venture beyond its borders. This completely unfair scheme has placed colossal pressure on Italy and Greece – countries that most refugees simply wish to pass though en route to other European countries. In fact, many refugees, according to a study by Warwick University, don’t even want to go to Europe. The report challenges the idea that, ‘destination Europe’, is the dream goal of millions, claiming it is traffickers who often ‘decide’ who goes where: Europe is the most expensive option and therefore the most profitable for the smugglers.

The in-depth report recommends that Europe’s refugee policy, which has focused on deterring people from seeking refuge must be changed to one that is “grounded in an appreciation of — and responsiveness to — the journeys and experiences, as well as the understandings, expectations, concerns and demands of people on the move.” It makes clear that the current approach, which connects aid payments to countries such as Ethiopia, Lebanon, Jordan, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, to preventing migration, should be replaced with proper “interventions that address the diverse drivers of unauthorized movement”.

Deterrents do not work mainly because the situations people are escaping from are a great deal worse than anything that might happen to them when they arrive in a destination country.

The study makes the common-sense suggestion that opening “sufficient safe and legal routes to the EU for people who otherwise have to resort to precarious journeys,” should be a priority, together with investing in decent “reception facilities and improved access to key services,” such as health care and housing. In addition long-term national and regional resettlement programmes are needed, and more humanitarian aid provided to poor countries close to conflict zones that are coping with the majority of the world’s refugees, including Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Like the other major issues facing humanity — the environmental catastrophe, nuclear disarmament and ending armed conflict, economic injustice and terrorism — the displacement of people (currently numbering 65 million globally), of which refugees form a small part, is a worldwide problem and requires an international humane and coordinated response. Unified policies based on the recognition of collective responsibility and group need, not this fragmented nationalistic approach which is intensifying human suffering and does nothing to deal with the underlying causes.

Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy

This time of year Mediterranean beaches are the destinations of choice for many European holidaymakers; it’s also the beginning of the busiest time of year for the people smugglers based in Libya and elsewhere along the North African coast. July to October is their peak season — during this time in 2016 around 103,000 refugees were crammed into unsafe boats, often in the dead of night, and cast off into the Mediterranean Sea.

Some don’t survive the crossing. Whilst the number of migrants arriving at Europe’s back door may have decreased — from 205,858 in the first five months of 2016, down to 71,029 for the same period this year, the number of dead has dramatically increased, reaching a staggering 1,650. The mortality rate has increased from 1.2% to 2.3% (2016). In 2015, when Europe’s response was properly coordinated, and when Germany opened its doors to over a million refugees, the death rate was 0.37%.

Europe’s politicians seem indifferent to the growing number of fatalities, and with a reported 2.5 million people (according to a leaked German government document) waiting in countries around the Mediterranean, the death count is set to rise dramatically.

The German report states that one million people are holed up in Libya, which, thanks to western ‘intervention’ is now a lawless state without any credible government where refugees are imprisoned, sold as slaves and trafficked into prostitution. Another million are in Egypt, almost half a million are waiting in Algeria, there are 160,000 or so in Tunisia and hundreds of thousands sit patiently in transit countries such as Jordan where there are estimated to be 720,00.

This is in addition to the 3.3 million refugees in Turkey, who have been denied access to Europe by the European Union’s (EU) ‘One in One out’ Syrian migrant deal struck in 2016. A crude financial arrangement of convenience made with Turkish President Recep Erdogan – a quasi-dictator, in which Turkey accepted the return of irregular migrants arriving in Greece in exchange for six billion euros in financial aid, and the loosening of visa restrictions for Turks. The result: tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Greece, living in intolerable and insecure conditions.

It was bribery by any other name; the aim was to push the refugee issue out of sight, make them someone else’s problem. This remains the EU’s inadequate, irresponsible approach.

It’s easy to see the statistics and forget that the numbers refer to people, human beings trying to escape some form of danger or violent conflict: Syrian Mother, “there was a rocket launching pad right behind my house. For the children, this was the main reason that we left. They became sick, they wouldn’t let me go… At night they’re asleep, they’d wake up crying. And the same thing happened to me. And my husband was not with us.” Others are fleeing persecution: Sudanese Mother, “There is racism in Sudan, between Muslims and Christians. The soldiers or the policemen come and they take half of what I earned, and they say: ‘that is for us’. But they don’t behave like this with everyone, only with Christians from Eritrea. If you try to say no, they will either kill or jail you.”

Ignoring root causes

Two main routes into Europe are used by refugees: the Aegean route via Turkey, Greece and the Balkans which is now virtually closed off, and the Mediterranean crossing from North Africa which is fraught with dangers.

Having travelled for months across unforgiving terrain, suffered abuse and exploitation en route, refugees arriving in Europe all too often find themselves in an unwelcoming, hostile environment, one in which the debilitating politics of fear, intolerance and division has increasingly influenced decisions on immigration generally and an approach to those seeking refuge.

Europe has sought to reduce the numbers making the journey by various short-term measures, none of which deal with the root causes of migration, and indeed the numbers have dropped — not because less people are leaving their troubled homelands, but because they are going somewhere else, or being held, imprisoned, in transit. The problem is not being resolved because the underlying causes have not been faced, those in need are simply being pushed elsewhere: it is a moral disgrace and a new approach is urgently needed.

To Europe’s utter shame there has been no collective response to what is euphemistically called the ‘refugee crisis’, but is actually a worldwide humanitarian issue partly caused by the aggressive foreign policies of America and her allies.

It’s not just war that people are fleeing; it’s a range of issues including human rights abuses and persecution by brutal regimes – Ethiopia, a key ally of the West, for example, and Eritrea where people are fleeing military conscription and poverty. The driving impulses that make people leave home are fear and hope; fear of death and terrorist threats – in Nigeria, for example, where the largest numbers making it to Europe currently come from, fear of torture and violence, and the hope of a better life somewhere else; a peaceful life in a country where the rule of law is observed and human rights are respected.

Refugees make up a mere 0.4% of the total population of the EU (approximately 510 million), and on a global scale refugees represent only around 8% of all migrants, and roughly 85% of all refugees live in developing countries. There is no question that Europe could and should do more, could offer long-term support to more in need.

The sane suggestion of establishing equitable resettlement quotas for all EU states has been completely shunned by selfish, irresponsible national governments concerned not with meeting the fundamental needs of refugees, but by domestic politics. Britain has been at the forefront of isolationism and indifference, with the Conservative government under David Cameron’s leadership agreeing in 2015 to take a paltry 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years.

Manipulative, cowardly European politicians hide behind the outdated, unworkable Dublin Agreement, which states that refugees must be processed in the first country they set foot in and can be returned there if they dare to venture beyond its borders. This completely unfair scheme has placed colossal pressure on Italy and Greece – countries that most refugees simply wish to pass though en route to other European countries. In fact, many refugees, according to a study by Warwick University, don’t even want to go to Europe. The report challenges the idea that, ‘destination Europe’, is the dream goal of millions, claiming it is traffickers who often ‘decide’ who goes where: Europe is the most expensive option and therefore the most profitable for the smugglers.

The in-depth report recommends that Europe’s refugee policy, which has focused on deterring people from seeking refuge must be changed to one that is “grounded in an appreciation of — and responsiveness to — the journeys and experiences, as well as the understandings, expectations, concerns and demands of people on the move.” It makes clear that the current approach, which connects aid payments to countries such as Ethiopia, Lebanon, Jordan, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, to preventing migration, should be replaced with proper “interventions that address the diverse drivers of unauthorized movement”.

Deterrents do not work mainly because the situations people are escaping from are a great deal worse than anything that might happen to them when they arrive in a destination country.

The study makes the common-sense suggestion that opening “sufficient safe and legal routes to the EU for people who otherwise have to resort to precarious journeys,” should be a priority, together with investing in decent “reception facilities and improved access to key services,” such as health care and housing. In addition long-term national and regional resettlement programmes are needed, and more humanitarian aid provided to poor countries close to conflict zones that are coping with the majority of the world’s refugees, including Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Like the other major issues facing humanity — the environmental catastrophe, nuclear disarmament and ending armed conflict, economic injustice and terrorism — the displacement of people (currently numbering 65 million globally), of which refugees form a small part, is a worldwide problem and requires an international humane and coordinated response. Unified policies based on the recognition of collective responsibility and group need, not this fragmented nationalistic approach which is intensifying human suffering and does nothing to deal with the underlying causes.

The Tragedy of Forced Displacement

It constitutes the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War affecting huge numbers of people and demanding all that is best in us. Yet instead of compassion, understanding and unity, all too often intolerance, ignorance and suspicion characterise the response to the needs of refugees and migrants.

There are now unprecedented numbers of displaced people in our world, with children making up a disproportionate percentage of the total. Figures from UNHCR are detailed and shocking and demand our attention: At 65.3 million, “the global population of forcibly displaced people today is larger than the entire population of the UK.” Of this total, almost 25 million are refugees (half are children, many of them unaccompanied) – 3.2 million of whom are in developed countries awaiting asylum decisions. The rest, 41 million, are displaced within their own countries, Syria, Columbia, Yemen and Iraq making up the lion’s share.

The movement of large groups of people is most commonly the result of wars of one kind or another. This is reflected in the fact that over half the world’s refugees come from just three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million). People are also fleeing conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan, and the UN recognises a further five armed conflicts in Africa alone – this does not include Ethiopia, where there is civil unrest, or Eritrea. Add to this list nations ruled by repressive regimes, other countries where economic opportunities are scarce and the magnitude of the migrant crisis begins to surface. It’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of refugees (people fleeing violence), 90%, are not crowding the cities of industrialised nations, as some duplicitous politicians infer,.  They are in refugee camps in poor countries close to their own, living uncomfortable lives of uncertainty and misery.

Mass Vulnerability

Most people don’t leave their homeland because they want too. They move because either their town or city is a war zone; they are being persecuted and are in danger; or they cannot find work to support themselves. Given the same circumstances wouldn’t we do the same? And yet in countries throughout the world migrants have become the scapegoat for all manner of social-economic ills. Often publicly vilified and treated like criminals by heavy-handed officials and security personnel, herded into holding camps, processing units and detention centres – which in many cases are worse than prison. ‘Migrant’ in some bigoted quarters has become a dirty word, synonymous with criminality and extremism. Described as a potential threat to ‘national security’ or as ‘Islamic terrorists’ by those on the very fringes of sanity – flag-waving fanatics who call themselves politicians, but employ the rhetoric of intolerance and fear to ignite tribal instincts that should have been jettisoned in favour of mutual understanding, tolerance and universal brotherhood decades ago.

Migrants are not criminals. They are human beings trying to survive in a hostile, unjust world: A world in which violent conflicts – that lead to the mass movement of people ­– are engineered by the powerful to sustain an insatiable arms industry (worth $1.7 trillion or 3% of global GDP) and maintain geo-political control. A world based on wrong conclusions, where the commercialisation of all areas of life has lead to the commodification of everything, including persons – including children. In this world of money and fear the most vulnerable are traded and sold; vulnerability grows out of poverty, and allows for exploitation: there are few human beings more vulnerable and defenceless than migrants, particularly migrant children.

For most people fleeing conflict or economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa (North and Sub-Saharan) the primary destination is Europe. In 2016, 363,348 people arrived at one or another Mediterranean port, roughly a third being children, 90% of whom were unaccompanied. Most people cross the sea to Italy or Greece, departing from Libya, of whom 5,078 are estimated to have drowned making the 300-mile crossing during 2016 alone.

Since the ill-judged US-led assault on Libya in 2011, the country has become a chaotic dysfunctional state racked with terrorism, political instability and crime. In this lawless land Human Rights Watch (HRW) records that hundreds of thousands of innocent migrants (including children), experience torture, sexual assault and forced labour at the hands of “prison guards, members of the Coast Guard forces and smugglers.” Recent investigations by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found that migrants in Libya are being openly bought and sold as slaves by Libyans; young men from poor families, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia and Senegal, are targeted. They pay traffickers hundreds of US$ to get them to Libya, and once they arrive, IOM reports, they are handed over to smugglers for sale. In other cases migrant boys/men are kidnapped, held for ransom and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Women and girls are “bought by private [Libyan] individuals and brought to homes where they were [are] forced to be sex slaves.” It’s thought that up to 800,000 migrants are currently congregated in Libya.

When those who survive the horrors of Libya make it to Europe, the nightmare for some is far from over. Save the Children reports that thousands of migrants are trafficked in Europe every year; the majority are women/girls, mainly from Nigeria and Romania, who are forced into prostitution, “made to rent sidewalk space to sell sex, ”amid voodoo rituals and violent threats against their families back home. Some are as young as 13. Boys are also victims: “social networking sites like Facebook” are used “to lure boys with the promise of a better life.” The reality is slave labour in Rome or Milan. As the number of unaccompanied children arriving on Europe’s shores doubles year on year, the risks of exploitation and human suffering increase. Europol believes as many as 10,000 “unaccompanied child refugees have gone missing after arriving in Europe.”

Victims of Circumstance

The numbers are huge and the demands on countries to meet the needs of millions of displaced people are intense and complex. But as Pope Francis, who is increasingly the voice of reason and common sense, rightly stated, “we must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation…in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

When migrants arrive at their destination, knowing nobody, not speaking the language and with no understanding of the culture, they are faced with the mammoth task of re-building their lives. All depends on the support and welcome offered. In the US, despite Trump’s antagonistic rhetoric, the attitude amongst most Americans is largely positive. According to a Pew research survey, 63% of US adults think immigrants strengthen the country, with only 27% believing migrants take jobs, housing and health care. In Europe however, the picture was less encouraging; in eight out of 10 European nations surveyed 50% or more of adults questioned said they thought refugees increased the likelihood of terrorism, and in none of the 10 countries did a majority believe diversity was positive.

It is essential, and morally just, that all displaced people should be treated kindly, shown understanding and trust. Destination countries should be welcoming, Government policies supportive and inclusive, refugees integrated – for as Pope Francis said, “a refugee must not only be welcomed, but also integrated…and if a country is only able to integrate 20, let’s say, then it should only accept that many. If another is able to do more, let them do more.”

Displaced people (refugees or economic migrants) sitting in a refugee camp or sheltering in an abandoned building, waiting to hear the result of an asylum application or in transit somewhere in the world, are victims of circumstance. They are not the ones orchestrating or carrying out the violent conflicts around the world, nor are they responsible for the economic conditions in their native countries. They are victims of a divided world, fragmented by religion, ethnicity, ideology and economics; and with the intensification of these causes the effects increase – displacement of people is one such effect.

The solutions to this major crisis, and indeed many of our problems, would naturally flow from the recognition of the fact that we are brothers and sisters of one humanity. In such an understanding, hostile divisions based on nationalism and ethnicity begin to fade, whilst the diversity of differing views and cultural traditions enriches and adds to the tapestry of society. This single shift in thinking – simple yet enormous – would facilitate changes in all areas of society; sharing, co-operation and tolerance of others would begin to shape the socio-economic systems, totally changing their nature, allowing social justice to develop, trust to grow and peace to gently settle upon our troubled world.

It’s Time to Reawaken the Spirit of Occupy for the Starving Millions

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources in the 21st century? The time has come for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated Occupy protests from 2011, but now focused on the worsening reality of mass starvation in the midst of plenty.

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The world is now facing an unprecedented emergency of hunger and famine, with a record number of people requiring life-saving food and medical assistance in 2017. Since the start of this year, the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war has continued to unfold, while the international community has failed to take urgent commensurate action. The extent of human suffering is overwhelming: more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, including 1.4 million children – a conservative estimate that is rising by the day. Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, and could soon follow in Somalia, north-east Nigeria and Yemen.

In February, the UN launched its biggest ever appeal for humanitarian funding, calling for $4.4 billion by July to avert looming famines in these four conflict-ridden regions. Yet not even $1 billion has been raised so far, leaving little hope that these vital minimum funds will be raised on time. Last week the UN also sought to raise $2.1 billion for the funding shortfall in Yemen alone – described as the single largest hunger crisis in the world, where two thirds of the population are food insecure. But even this appeal remains barely half funded, which will almost certainly leave millions of neglected Yemenis facing the prospect of dying from starvation or disease.

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources, in a 21st century world that is wealthier and more technologically advanced than ever before? It was only six years ago that East Africa suffered a devastating drought and food crisis, with over a quarter of a million people dying from famine in Somalia (including 133,000 children), and millions more left with a legacy of chronic poverty, hardship and loss of livelihoods.

In the wake of this appalling human catastrophe, the Charter to End Extreme Hunger was drafted by NGOs from across the world, calling on governments and aid agencies to prevent hunger on such a scale ever happening again. But the underlying principle of the Charter to take early and large-scale preventative action has essentially remained unheeded. Early warning signs for the latest crisis were visible months ago, yet the international community again failed to respond in time to avert an entirely predictable and avoidable famine. So much for the “Grand Bargain” struck at the World Humanitarian Summit last year, which agreed to a package of reforms to the complex international emergency system under the empty slogan: ‘One Humanity, Shared Responsibility’.

This fact should be emphasised, as we always have the power to avert and end famines, which are largely man-made and preventable if sufficient resources are redistributed to all people in need. To be sure, the challenge is now historic with increasing “mega-crises” becoming the norm, mostly caused by conflict and civil war rather than natural disasters. Far from stepping up to meet urgent funding appeals, however, donor governments have not even met half of requirements in recent years, leaving many crises and nations pitted against each other for resources. Meanwhile, wealthy nations are recycling old aid pledges as new money, and the purported annual increase in overseas aid is failing to reach the least developed countries. The Trump administration has pledged no new funding to the emergency famine relief appeals this year, instead announcing plans to dramatically cut foreign aid expenditures and voluntary contributions to UN programmes like the World Food Programme (WFP).

The tragic consequences on the ground are inevitable, as demonstrated in Somaliland where the WFP is providing emergency food aid for a few thousand people at a time, when the need is upwards of 300,000. In South Sudan, nearly one out of every two people are in urgent need of food assistance, yet only $423 million has been received out of a requested $1.6bn. Across North-East Nigeria, where 5.1 million people are food insecure out of a population of 5.8 million in the three affected states, the response plan still remains only 20% funded.

Of course, aid alone is not the solution to extreme poverty and hunger. In the long term, the answers for avoiding hunger crises lie within developing countries themselves, including supporting local food production, enhancing community resilience, and guaranteeing social services and protection for the poorest – all measures that rely on effective national governance. Beyond the need for material resources and financial assistance, there is also a need for long-term approaches towards conflict prevention and peace-building, placing the politics of famine at the heart of any international efforts. A huge part of the battle is not only raising vital funds, but also devising the correct response strategy and securing necessary access in complex, fragmented war zones.

At the same time, addressing the root causes of today’s escalating food crises depends on a turnaround in the foreign policy agendas of competing nations, which are either directly or indirectly responsible for many of the wars across the Middle East and Africa that have led to a record high of global forced displacement. The deadly conflict that is ripping apart Yemen continues to be facilitated by the UK and US governments, who are propping up the Saudi-led bombing campaigns through extensive political and military support, including billions of dollars’ worth of weapons sales that dwarf the amounts pledged in aid.

This is clearly the opposite of policies that can make countries like Britain and America “great” again. The world cries out for a new strategy of peace and generosity to replace the self-destructive policies of “national security through domination”, which urgently calls for a modern global Marshall Plan for investment in education, health, water, sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure across the world’s most impoverished regions. Fully-funded aid shipments in place of arms shipments; an end to drone attacks and military “special operations” within countries like Yemen; the spearheading of much needed diplomacy in all war-torn regions; massive transfers of essential resources from North to South – such is the only way to show true political leadership in the face of entrenched global divisions and escalating human suffering.

As STWR has long advocated, an intergovernmental emergency programme to end life-threatening poverty is the very first step towards achieving a more equal and sustainable world. It must be remembered that the four countries grouped together by the UN as a food security emergency are, in fact, only the worst instances of a wider crisis of hunger and impoverishment. Millions of other marginalised citizens are also suffering from soaring food insecurity worldwide, not only across Africa but also Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Haiti, the Oceania, and so many other regions. According to the UN’s official statistics, there are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of North America and the European Union. Every day, around 46,000 people needlessly die as a consequence of life-threatening deprivation, the vast majority in low-income countries.

The reversal of government priorities that is needed to ameliorate this immense crisis may never be achieved, unless world public opinion focuses on the worsening reality of poverty in the midst of plenty. Never before has it been so important for an enormous outpouring of public support in favour of sharing the world’s resources, thus to guarantee the long-agreed socioeconomic rights of every citizen, no matter where they live. Against a backdrop of rising nationalist sentiment, anti-immigrant rhetoric and huge funding gaps for humanitarian causes, it is up to ordinary people of goodwill to stand in solidarity with the world’s suffering poor majority.

The time has come for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated Occupy protests from 2011, but now concentrated on one simple and unifying cause: for the rapid implementation of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nowhere in the world are these long-agreed rights guaranteed for everyone – concerning adequate food, housing, healthcare, social services and social security for all. But there can be no greater example of the lack of these basic entitlements for a dignified life, than the fact of millions of people dying from hunger across vast neglected and conflict-ridden regions. Hence the need for endless global protests to begin with a united call for wealthy countries to redistribute all necessary resources to those at risk of starving to death, above and beyond the UN’s modest appeals for humanitarian funding.

The situation today is potentially even more catastrophic than in the 1980s, when Bob Geldof and Live Aid were at the forefront of a public funding campaign for victims of the Ethiopian famine – eventually resulting in the loss of almost one million lives. To stop a repeat of this tragedy occurring on a potentially even greater scale, it will require much more than one-off public donations to national charity appeals. It will also require countless people on the streets worldwide in constant, peaceful demonstrations that call on governments to massively scale up their efforts through the UN and its relevant agencies. Is it not possible to organise a huge show of public empathy and outrage with the plight of more than 100 million people facing acute malnutrition worldwide? For only a grassroots response of this exceptional nature may be enough to awaken the world’s conscience – calling for food and medicines, not bombs; standing for economic sharing as the only way to justice. Surely there can be no greater cause and priority at this critical hour.

Angry, Desperate, Rejected

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his boldest and perhaps most defining speech. It alienated liberal allies in the North and the Northern press, plus many in King’s own civil rights movement, and prompted President Johnson to withdraw King’s secret service detail. Exactly one year later, forty-nine years ago on April 4, he was assassinated. He said, “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems … Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” It was his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

Today, the 100th anniversary of the US entry into World War I, billed as “the war to end all wars,” wars rage and conflict-fueled hunger crises have culminated in potential famines hitting almost simultaneously in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.

Three former UN officials with many decades of experience as diplomats recently wrote a blunt appraisal of the US role in undermining UN efforts and promoting wars, noting the President continues “embracing a toxic form of messianic nationalism” with exclusionary policies “illustrative of a regressive and Islamophobic outlook.” Yet in Kabul, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV) have been welcoming Voices US and UK delegates, one or two at a time, over the past several months. This followed a five month stretch where, for security reasons, the community was unable to receive visitors. I’ve been very grateful to be with them for the past two weeks.

On my first full day there, we traveled by bus to a small village where relatives celebrated the marriage of Abid and Zahro. They were married in the Herat province the week before. The wedding party was Disneyesque! Our group of women from Kabul sat with the village women in a large tent. Abid’s sisters and cousins, wearing brightly decorated gowns, looked exotic and beautiful. Young, and not so young, women took turns dancing and singing. “Wedding culture” remains quite popular in Kabul and throughout the country, but families experience severe financial strains trying to meet the expense, often with serious and long-lasting consequences.

For me, travel to a small village was welcomed as our movements have been restricted during recent visits in Kabul. The villagers tend almond and mulberry trees as well as grape vines. When the bus driver realized a foreigner was on board, the rate was suddenly doubled. The APV responded by saying, “OK. We’ll walk.” I was exhilarated, walking downhill alongside orchards with mountains looming on all sides. The bus driver soon found us and negotiated a more reasonable price.

The arrival of spring results in family gatherings, with opportunities to plant and recreate. It represents the beginning of the Afghan New Year. This past winter, for the fourth consecutive year, the APV supported seamstresses and provided a living wage to sew warm duvets for distribution to refugee camp families. Efforts were likewise redoubled on the “Street Kids’ School”.  Child street vendors are provided the opportunity to make up months or years of schooling they missed while supporting their families. Rations of rice and cooking oil are provided in trade for their attendance in school and participation in weekly classes at the Borderfree Center. The kids, and a growing circle of neighbors, also learn about the history and practice of nonviolence.

Today was my last full day in Kabul. Six of us went to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War to donate blood. Courageous workers there have faced innumerable crisis situations following attacks in Kabul. Their healing touch includes provision of well-tended lawns and gardens for their patients to rest in while recovering. Patients who can be mobile emerge from full wards, on crutches or in wheel chairs. We see them converse softly. And always there are a few children in wheelchairs racing down the cement walkways. The Emergency hospital in Lashkar Gah operates under full war zone conditions and still manages to run clinics and ambulance services.

Afterward, Nematullah took me to a refugee camp to visit a class he teaches to girls aged 5 – 14. With 25 students, we sat on uneven, rocky ground in a primitive room. For two hours, the girls were easily engaged in stories, activities, grammar exercises, and writing assignments. I felt grateful and hopeful as they bade us farewell.

Like the people in the refugee camp, people throughout Kabul cope with contaminated water and air, shortages of food and electricity, and a disastrously inadequate sewage and sanitation system. Hakim observes that among the dozens of young volunteers at the Borderfree Center, every family is dealing with severe traumas. In my short ten-day visit here, Barath Khan traveled to his home province of Paktia for the funeral of a cousin killed by an unknown assailant. Meanwhile young Bismillah’s family was mourning the recent death of his 28 year old brother who was killed in action serving with the Kabul government’s army. Nawid learned that his young cousin living in a neighboring province runs to hide every time he hears the sound of an armed US drone flying overhead.

Three days ago, the Center hired two buses to take Street Kids and Volunteers to a high hillside for their Fly Kites not Drones celebration. The children turned a cause for frightened hiding into a day of togetherness in the open, of solidarity, perhaps some healing, returning a message to the Afghan sky (and to its current US masters) that they do not want to fear it any more.  The following day, Ali and Qasim carefully loaded 90 saplings, plus shovels, pickaxes and buckets onto a bus already filled with eager young people who volunteered to plant trees at two different schools.   The APVs have planted more than 600 saplings since they first started the Bamiyan Peace Park.

This morning, Hakim and I talked about linking with communities in other war zones, being perhaps more deliberate about eventually bringing a joint message from those living under the tyranny of war to the General Assembly in NY or some other public forum. Early in my stay Hakim had given the APVs a slide show detailing antiwar resistance as far back as WWI – it was crisp, moving and inspiring. He contrasted the scientific advances that had allowed the first lunar landing with the use of technology to develop the weapons of mass destruction the US and weaker nations precariously stockpile. The slides covered a century of war resisters, some reminders of war’s wide-reaching costs, and even the effect wars have had on Hakim’s own family. Faced with unemployment and a dire lack of solutions to their own financial hardships, teams at the Borderfree Center have developed presentations about global poverty, worker’s rights, far-off famines and the ecological crisis. Their alternative education currently reaches many dozens of young people in Kabul. A small team now meets weekly to design an Institute of Peace for older students.

Shortly after returning to the US, I’ll head to NYC for a week of fasting and action at the UN regarding starvation and war in Yemen. Since my arrival in Kabul two weeks ago, the conflict-driven crises in Somalia, South Sudan and North Nigeria have accelerated further toward famine, making up, along with Yemen’s nightmare, what is being called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in seventy years. Trump’s slashing of US contributions to UN relief agencies must be condemned as the exact opposite of what the US can and should do: as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the US should make famine prevention and feeding those at risk of starvation a top priority. But we should also resist continued US military buildup in Yemen, African countries, and any other part of the world. To give humanitarian aid while continuing US military strikes and US support for the Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports is like giving money to the local fire department on one’s way between setting different arson fires.

We recall the horrible suffering and death in Iraq under economic sanctions. Efforts to alleviate the suffering were always too little and too late. Voices witnessed US aerial terrorism and invasion afflicting Iraqi civilians on a massive scale in 1991 and 2003. The US military menace gave rise to ongoing chaos, displacement, and bitter civil wars.

Fifty years ago Dr. King risked his life to tell us that “the world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve,” that a nation focused on military defense more than social uplift “is approaching spiritual death,” and that we still had a choice: “nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.”  How much longer will that choice be extended to us? It’s an open question. But the time is always ripe to start making the right choice. We cannot look the other way as military and economic warfare destroys lives, communities and cultures. We cannot lose ourselves in trivia and fantasy while the foundation of our real lives is the inescapable misery and suffering of others. We must persistently ask how US people will ever find the ingenuity, skill and resources to solve critical problems facing US communities when perennially panicked into working to satisfy the bloated and obscene needs of the US military industrial complex.

I’ve had the extraordinary experience, in Kabul, of walking among and learning from angry, desperate, and rejected young men, and young women. I have seen them working for peace, for their neighbors, and for a brighter future. That has to be a good start.