Category Archives: collectivism

Gender Equality, Ubuntu, and Critical Thinking

March is women’s history month. But women make history all year, year after year. Women’s history is no joke. Women are no joke. Women are the harder-working half of humanity, hands down. They do the reproductive labor of our species, as well as productive labor. And because of patriarchal accounting systems, economies and cultures the world over, a woman’s reproductive labor is not fully accounted for; sometimes it is called leisure. But the very reproduction of the species is a far more significant task than leisure. We cannot monetize it. We cannot, or refuse to, dignify it the way our acquisitive culture dignifies the whole predominantly white male lot of Wall Street bankers who helped dramatically deepen the long crisis that capitalism is. The World Bank and IMF will not categorize and catalogue the full worth of women’s labor. But our patriarchal, consumer society has been far more successful at monetizing women’s bodies, at the gross objectification of sisters, daughters, and mothers for their body parts. In this way women are reduced to mannequins and sex dolls, display pieces in downtown boutiques, or rated, graded, and sold as if on the meat market of human flesh, as when dowries are paid. So any thoughtful vegan should be quick to recognize that the liberation of women furthers the cause. More monumental is the task of having men recognize that when women are liberated from gendercide, subordination, and second-class status as humans and as male property, we men will be liberated to become more fully human ourselves. Women’s liberation is its own worthy and urgent cause, but it is also to our own immediate advantage to participate in and share solidarity with full gender equality in our planetary civilization. For us to become more prosperous, more intelligent, and wiser, uniting with feminism is in the selfish interest of men – keeping it real. Reject male privilege. For women are no joke.

This is because an honest appraisal of who we are as individuals suggests the basic logic of the African philosophy of Ubuntu – that “I am because we are,” that we are fundamentally and immutably interdependent beings. It is informed by a basic ecological principle that whatever our material embodiment consists of, it automatically invokes and forms from the contributions of our parents, their parents, the food they ate, the sunshine that shone on it, the minerals/stardust that fed it, and ultimately, the entire universe itself. By this understanding, the American notion of “rugged individualism” is illogical and misleading, perhaps deliberately so as it aims to divide us, isolate us and atomize us. All of us constitute the community, and the full participation of each of us, realizing our full potential, permits collective prosperity. If women are denied an education, the community suffers the loss of her more fully realized participation and contribution to the intellectual and material well-being of the group. The direct consequence of the unjust enforcement of ignorance upon females is collective poverty. This can be proven by looking at any society that has strong evidence of ongoing work toward equalizing the statuses, opportunities and life chances of men and women, and then looking at a society that treats women like livestock, like household appliances. The more just society is always more prosperous, healthy, educated, safe, clean, and so on, by many multiples across any human development measure.

Active critical thinking informs an honest assessment, for men, of the problem with oppressing women, or even passively acquiescing to their oppression. Think, for example, about how women in urban communities around the United States (really worldwide) must deal with street harassment, with the catcalling and worse, which exacerbate the oppression of black women. The street harassment paradigm posits the threat of violence over all of us. Street harassment is motivated by false and problematic beliefs in males of inherent domination, unearned privilege, the machismo quest for superficial and immediate validation, and the pursuit of easy sexual gratification. These are among the same exact prerequisites for deadly beefs on the street between us black men, the same ingredients for the horizontal violence perpetrated between us. While it is objectively true that the external factors of poverty and social debasement have often left us little option but to get over at the expense of one another, we destroy ourselves when we conform to the external anti-black expectation of our manifest, mass failure to thrive in any sustainable way. The motives of street harassment are one and the same as the motives for fatal internecine hostility. This in turn helps, in part, to enable mass incarceration of black men. Thus, the macho atmosphere of street harassment, which makes the lives of our sisters, mothers and daughters unbearable and dangerous, also makes our lives as men perilous. Street harassment is emblematic of a violent community towards all of its members. The streets with the most street harassment are also the streets where the most black brothers die at one another’s hands. Street harassment, rape and bloodshed all live on the same block.

Critical thinking, aggressively centered on a defense of the dignity and full value of human beings, should also inform how we draw conclusions about how we relate to one another and whether or not what we call “tradition” is worth any respect by any intelligent person in this day and age. If you value your own humanity, we can safely and logically assume that other humans value their own essence and identity as well, and consider themselves worth a fair chance in society. Grounded in this logic, a logic that is more immediate to us as humans than almost any other, we should be able to safely regard any tradition, religion, book, philosophy, politic, ethic, or other source of culture and thought that denies the humanity and dignity of people who are different from the majority, or from those with power, as highly suspect, at best. Thus, those who see difference in others and thus deny that others’ humanity, are behaving illogically, and hatefully besides.

The debate around homosexuality in Africa is centered, for the homophobes, in strange defenses of “tradition” or “religion” that claim the alienness of homosexuality to Africa, the “unnaturalness” of gay sex, and so on. These conclusions are fundamentally antihuman, and thus are to be fundamentally rejected; they are unscientific, dishonest and illogical besides. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is no joke. They are human beings. They are part of the community. They are worthy of respect and of every opportunity to fully contribute to and participate in the growth and empowerment in community; this is no less true in Africa or in black communities anywhere than it is in the West or any other part of the planet. The homophobes in power in Nigeria, in Uganda and elsewhere are using politics to disenfranchise, terrorize, scapegoat and dehumanize a part of the community that should be given every right to enjoy their human lives and be the sisters and brothers to our family that they truly are. By thinking critically and imagining ourselves the target of these laws and antihuman paradigms, we cannot but help draw conclusions that lead us to recognize the inhumanity and fundamental stupidity of homophobia and patriarchy. In this vein, heterosexual people should stand in full solidarity and advocate for the full inclusion and enfranchisement of our homosexual kin. This is the mature stance which will allow all of us to contribute our utmost to grow as a collective. Reject your heterosexual privilege and arrogance. Lives are at stake – and by the logic, critical thinking and Ubuntu understanding we have applied here thus far, it is unacceptable to deny the humanity of anyone in our community, no matter what gender or sexual identities they are born with or adopt. When we begin to take what private parts people have, or what they do with them in private, as justification for branding certain people unworthy of human dignity, we are being utterly childish, and any religion, tradition, or person that has that tendency is also ignorant, childish, dangerous and stuck in the stone-ages.

As a heterosexual male, I hope I have made a reasonable case that we, over-privileged straight men, will be far better off when we reject the convenient privileges of our status which permit us to dominate women and dehumanize gays. Equality of opportunity, for women to be born, to be educated, to enjoy equal participation in the maintenance of a family and household, and to be able to contribute their fullest potential to our collective excellence, will always lead to a superior quality of life for our community. The same equality of opportunity and recognition of humanity for non-heterosexual members of our community will also enable everyone to contribute fully and without fear of denigration.

Machismo is deadly to women and to men. Patriarchy and male supremacy are harming the planet and keeping millions of women from even being born, let alone contributing their full worth to the excellence of humanity. Only equality – an equality that enables us, especially as men, to see women as at our level in all productive, cognitive and creative capacities – can move us forward.

Gender inequality is a hallmark of underdevelopment, a cornerstone of neocolonialism and a function of ignorance. All sorts of indicators of social well-being in different societies show this. And when men, straight men at that, reject the insults of patriarchy, chauvinism, and homophobia, we truly begin to become revolutionary. For we begin to honor the basic nature of human beings that the Ubuntu principle reminds us of – that I am because we are, that all of us deserve to participate to the fullest might we can muster as free people towards our collective greatness.

The Beauty of African Resistance

I have been admiring the actions in this video since I first saw it six weeks ago when Mr. Omoyele Sowore, founder of Sahara Reporters, and his comrades pulled this off. This event, where Nigerian Minister of State Viola Onwuliri was supposed to explain the “virtues” of the radical removal of fuel subsidies in Nigeria effective January 1, was essentially prevented from happening by the revolutionaries in the room, after the “honorable” minister was shamelessly late to her own event, dishonoring everyone present on that front alone. Brother Sowore has been upstaging Nigerian politicians in their NY diplomatic theater events for some time now, operating with the “this is not Nigeria” philosophy that if there’s any place we can call these people out for the thieves and liars they are, it is here in New York. Most politicians in New York City and in America are also disgusting thieves and scoundrels of the lowest order, but for the purposes of this post I will discuss the international, particularly African thieves of state who visit for “diplomatic” reasons. Wherever and whenever they try to make noises about how some new policy that’s supposed to slaughter and consume the poor is actually good for them somehow, and try to convince a misinformed or bourgeois crowd that black is white, people like Omoyele Sowore, people like us, should do our utmost to make them uncomfortable, and make business as usual impossible. Revolution depends on us exposing the absurdity and inhumanity of the status quo, and it also depends on us creating and living, right now, the new norms by which we would prefer the world would operate – the Chomsky approach.

Comrade Sowore and his heroic brothers in this scenario provide an excellent and proper example for how to push forward the African revolution today. The crimes of the political class in the nation-states across Africa must be exposed everywhere. They must be explained to African people clearly, fully, and passionately. More of us, myself included, must become passionate about the African revolution. In this instance, even if ever so briefly, the good guys won the day, and they could make clear to anybody that such was the case. The greedy and wasteful political masters could not withstand the passion and the power of truth that brother Sowore and his colleagues threw at them.

Personas like Minister of State Viola Onwuliri are in fact the enemy. Anyone who defends the status quo, a status quo which is tailor made to destroy life for poor everyday Africans, is an enemy. Anyone who benefits from the status quo, who dines and lives large at the expense of the masses of suffering people, is an enemy. There is no future for them, no future for their politics, no future for their ideology, no future for their misleadership.

We are our own leaders, our own heroes, our own hope. It is we working-class hardscrabble Africans who, armed with knowledge, passion, and fearlessness, will revolutionize Africa until it is a land that provides all its citizens with a chance to thrive, create, innovate, and win. We are the majority, and those of us still blinded by the strange floodlights of heads of state, ministers and governors are dwindling among us, the truth of suffering making them question the fundamental construct of their reality.

A liberated Nigeria belonging to and run by the people of Nigeria would be a land of immense prosperity and productivity. A liberated Congo belonging to and run by the people of Congo would be a land of incredible bounty to Africa and the world. A liberated Senegal, a liberated Ghana, a liberated Liberia, a liberated Uganda likewise.

A united Africa, a union of the subaltern, of the oppressed throwing off the mindset of misery and building the will to win with the power of knowledge, would accomplish untold greatness.

But it starts with the boldness of men and women like Omoyele Sowore and men and women like you, transforming your individual lives, your families, and your communities with the passion and vision of what a liberated Africa would mean.

This boldness is a template for the revolutionary African in the 21st century, upstaging the thieves and cowards wherever they are and building the revolution right in the place where they stand.

I leave it to the Nigerian funk-masters the Action 13 who in the 1970s said what needs to be done today – GET… MORE… BREAD…. TO THE PEOPLE!

Kinda speciesist…

I’ve had trouble updating this blog for a while since I realize I no longer want to discuss just plant-based diets up in here. I’ve come to admit that Afrikan liberation at large – organizing for it, articulating it, propagandizing for it – is of more consequence to me than only advocating that we black folks eat plants.

See, the thing is, as oppressed people, in so many places where we are, we don’t have access to affordable and sound whole foods and produce in the first place. It’s not affordable or accessible to those of us who pull in little income despite busting our asses the hardest, and furthermore live in “food deserts.” Our pro-corporate food systems subsidize cheap empty calories (corn-based processed food-like substances) at the expense of whole fruits and veggies, which are overpriced. So it is not easy to advocate, as one’s sole agenda, a vast black vegan renaissance, when most Afrikans will have a hard time funding it or justifying it at the expense of other concerns in the life of someone of limited means and oversized responsibilities.

I promote a more plant-based lifestyle for Afrikans as a means towards optimal health, the health-consequences of meat- and fast-food- and junk-food-heavy diets being more expensive to the individual health of Afrikan peoples and to the shared ecosystem than would occur if more humans ate more plants primarily and increasingly spared this world of animal husbandry.

But I don’t viscerally care so much what individual Afrikans are eating off the bat, don’t want to question one’s private choices, not outside of the context of recognizing that our inability to even access healthy plant-based lifestyles is due in large part to imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, neocolonialism, etc. themselves, the first causes of overall black suffering in the contemporary world.

To my current thinking, encouraging healthier lifestyle choices in the Afrikan community must always occur with the naked fact of segregation, exploitation, geographic and economic limitations and imposed ignorance about such choices, and so on, laid bare on the table, so we don’t fall into the trap of just talking about “let’s go vegan and it will all be fine, brothas and sistas!”

I’m not so interested in talking about saving the animals in this context either. In stating this I suppose I’m toying with blatant speciesism, which I’m not supposed to do as an ardent vegan. Make no mistake about it, I’m an ethical vegan, personally. I’m not interested in oppressing non-humans. But I have a whole lot more visceral solidarity with Jamaicans, Haitians or Nigerians than with cows and turkeys and pigs. And I’m not a back to nature man, I’m not one to stand still and be non-violent in the midst of being bitten by mad mosquitos or while suffering super-massive ant-infestations in my apartment (as occurred when I lived in Accra, Ghana). I’m not even a pet owner and never will be. I’m primarily interested in talking about and resolving human suffering by any means, and in particular the suffering of Afrikans.

Comparing slave ships to the animal slaughtering industry may have it’s place, somewhere for some minds. But I’m currently more interested in discussing eating healthy for the self-interested agenda of building a healthier and stronger black race, period. Getting folks more liberated from all these chronic diseases, and using my own experience as validation and evidence, is what suits me more these days. I think discussion of the Afrikan Holocaust, the Ma’afa, is not even deep enough in the Afrikan community worldwide, not in everyday parlance. We need to think deeply about the legacy of that holocaust, and talk loudly about it because it continues in new ways today, before casually introducing notions of animal holocaust into discussion, at least in the sorts of circles I run in. We Afrikans are still being treated, and are treating each other, like animals. Thus I don’t think some non-veg Afrikans are ready to immediately express profound sympathy for non-humans.

I am critical of Afrikan cultures that hold a prestige on meat. But that won’t stop me from working with said Afrikans toward common liberatory goals in the broader areas we can and must collaborate on. I still hint at putting more fruits and veggies in the body than dead flesh, since that’s my practice, I’m always asked about it by Afrikans, and most people intuitively know it’s healthier to eat more fruits and vegetables. But it’s not a make or break issue for me interpersonally.

So I just had to share that and update the blog. My pro-human speciesism is exposed. The direction of this blog, while still hip to discussions around plant-based diets and radical ecological justice struggles, will only entertain such struggles in full acknowledgment of the fact that capitalism/imperialism/patriarchy/white supremacy are the problems, to be resolved not by one-issue campaigns built on concepts hard to relate to intimately for all but the most privileged and aloof, but by humanistic revolutionary struggle to more fully meet human needs and enable human freedom for oppressed, dispossessed peoples, led by indigenous peoples, peoples of the third world, Afrikans. As sound, well-informed minds vying for healthier communities introduce their efforts into the revolutionary mix and see results, then in the course of a blatantly human struggle – this black struggle, land justice, sustainability and the needless waste of life and resources in current regimes of consumption can be overturned as well.

But for me it has to be about black liberation in total. Humans. To be fully human.

Discuss.

Mystic Vegan Tap-Dance Boogie

As part of festivities for the slight re-branding of this blog, here’s the latest posting in the form of some rhymes and images. Lyrics by me. Music by Djelimady Tounkara. Pro-vegan, pro-Earth, pro-common-sense, pro-peace, pro-people, Afro-positive bars.

Lyrics:

Chamber music provokes the mystic vegan tap-dance boogie

Unfold your arms, children, boss-up like righteous hooky

I am neither John Cassavates nor a Wookie

That means the only thing I do is resurrect the Chinese Bookie

.

Boogie-woogie, that’s the way of life that I promote

So the rookie wins, with bowling pins to stay afloat

Cargo cults that curry favor for the flavor of the wild oat,

And open up the gates that pen the billy goat

.

Though, it’s a long road, the other shore’s way over yonder

So in the meantime, the mystic tap-dance make’s you ponder:

Is this the best we can do, the human Cadillacs

Hacking each other down, Kalashnikov’s the battle ax?

.

Blacks killing blacks, capillaries full of plaques

Paranoia over mosques, migrants, money and Macs,

Stupefied by Sarah Palin, Mama Grizzlies going whaling

While the planet burns and floods like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

.

It’s a fact: the way we live is making ice shelves crack,

From meat and car culture to the war in Iraq

Which isn’t over, shift change to mercenary soldiers,

Different bullet casings, feral caffeine binges on Folgers

.

But the mystic vegan tap-dance boogie is real

Earthshine on the moon, still a light you can’t conceal

Hot: the soul-searcher bringing out her own potential

Not: the fake pundit telling lies through his credentials

.

A tap-dance thunderclap roars through the plains.

Knocking over all the rafters, bulldozers and cranes

That wanna spread suburban sprawl all the way past Saturn

Real estate Tourrette’s tics, the same worn pattern

.

Using drapes, curtains and shades, dealing aces and spades

But the tap-dance bottle-caps the ignorance raids

On your conscience, the subway ads for beer and pomade

The Times Square sonic light-show free-trade brigade

.

But the boogie boogies forth, as the tropics wander north

No fear, the tap-dancing clan has a plan to take a stand

On rock-solid ledges of a pluralistic thought,

The rise of the ubuntu, bumuntu, bananas bought

.

For the bounty, shared from the Bronx to Kisangani,

No need to kill for water or food like Handsome Johnny,

Cultures of violence and their vultures of silence

Might fade away, and that includes the restive oil fields of Bonny

.

The mystic tap-dance boogie shows that world peace isn’t hard

Beacons of light written in flight by buoyant bards

The inhospitable wardens across the planet

Must have obsidian souls while the boogie’s soul is pomegranate

.

Plummeting the hegemonic phonic of the fold,

To an abyss, all the white noise, the ambience, the hiss

As our own dance taps drown out the sound of cold

With the sound of bold, the human beings that blow a kiss

.

From Kinshasa to Fortaleza to Ogbomosho

Strong-willed strivers winning over all the no shows

To learn the mystic vegan tap-dance boogie in the Sun

Sustainable quilombos keep the corporate forces on the run

.

Clean and easy living, walk the land like Bodhidharma

Leave the car at home, empty the zoo and clear the karma

Bring the brothers home, close the jails and fund the college

The liberationists for revolutions must have knowledge

.

Pro-human pedagogies, no more spikes on planters

Science and traditional knowledge mix, we’re plant enchanters

Vandana Shiva is the general, and people like her,

Waangari Maathi, and plant more trees and be a biker

.

The mystic vegan tap-dance boogie looks like land and freedom

Mau Mau sounds preferring death until the stacks are even

Boogie men and women marchin’ to the sun

Teeth, tongue and tap-shoes – more stopping power than a gun

Veganism and the Class War

What follows is a thought exercise.

My own definition of a vegan is a human who eats fruits and vegetables [as well as whatever nuts, seeds or legumes he or she may desire], and never eats or uses animal products. For starts. For my purposes and for the purposes of this post, this vegan is not so heavily involved in extremely elaborate recipes, in highly-processed ingredients and additives, in soy and grains, etc. That can come later. I’m simplifying and scaling down for the purpose of understanding what this post wants to address, which is the skeletal basics (though in full disclosure I’m pretty much a fruitarian). A vegan, firstly, is someone anywhere in the world where fruits and vegetables are affordable and accessible who eats those items, eats produce. That sort of vegan, who isn’t strictly dependent on special products, mock meats, packaged goods, and so on, who could be just at home eating the fruits and veggies available in Kinshasa or Kisangani as are available in Karachi or Kansas City, might be said, for the purposes of this thought experiment, to be a universal vegan, or even a vehicular vegan, and I will use either term interchangebly going forward.

As for the class war, I define it as the conflict between workers and bosses, between capitalists and proletariats, between landlords and tenants, between elites and all us riff-raff, even between humans and animals, over access and claims of ownership over land, infrastructure, the means of production, the structure of our economy, the production of culture, and so on. It is the imperative of oppressors to oppress, to exploit, to profit, maintain ignorance, maintain illiteracy and food scarcity, maintain the divisions amongst working people, maintain ideological, religious, and political zeitgeists of constant histeria, and yet eat well and live comfortably all the while. It is the imperative of workers, of women, of ethnic or sexual minorities, of those rendered landless, to maintain unity in struggle, to vie for and claim power, land and freedom, to achieve self-determination and societies of fairness and justice, to collectivize resources, to build and practice pro-human cultures, and to, at a spiritual maximum as it were, prefer death to slavery. The class war is very real and it is everywhere and, whether or not we acknowledge it, we are all class warriors of some stripe, all over the world. If we find ourselves hating our banks and landlords and tiring of our bosses, that much makes us class warriors, just as a Naxalite Adivasi struggling against planned and perpetrated genocides and land thefts and who actually engages in armed struggle is a class warrior. The bosses that like exploiting and polluting and dominating – whether at Goldman Sachs or British Petroleum or Tyson Chicken or General Motors or Lockheed Martin or Uncle Sam himself – they’re all class warriors for their side.

So how can we mix veganism – as practiced by the universal vegan – with the class war? We start with the manner in which prestige is applied to certain objects to make them desirable, even when they aren’t healthy or necessary. Possession or consumption of these articles of prestige are then used to define who is of what class, or at least who aspires to more elevated social rankings. Yes, commodity fetishism includes propagating the meat prestige – look at the most extreme sorts of hamburgers the fast-food industry invents, or at the Heart Attack Grill.

So, all over the third world, even where meat is scarce or pastoralism is irrevocably destroying land, meat is a prestige. Automobile usage is another. The wealthiest eat the most meat and drive the most, and are often the most gorged and overweight, hence the typical gut of rich and powerful elites in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. (And thanks to the zombifying power of marketing and mass media, a million other useless, wasteful and dangerous products are rendered prestigious, and we must use our own voices and propaganda to fight this, but that is another topic.)

But if a society hedges closer to veganism, that means more calories will generally be available to its individual constituents, since growing plants is far more sustainable and efficient than growing animals which eat plants. So that society would naturally enable an environment of greater equity and less classism. On the other hand, if a society hankers hard after meat, that means fewer people will eat of the greater resultant scarcity in overall available calories. The meat-centric society will inevitably breed the conditions for less equality and for harsher stratification, just because of how much meat production usurps of limited environmental resources.

That’s macro-level. What about individual vehicular vegan class warriors?

Conscious vegan workers remove themselves partly from an equation of exploitation by striking animals from a hierarchy of exploitation and brutality from their own lives. They help keep the class war between humans and from involving non-humans, who have enough of their own struggles and class wars in the wild without having to worry about human consumption.

Conscientious vegan workers keep from supporting aspects of the elite apparatus and cash machine by non-participation in the meat-industrial complex and, should veganism keep them healthy, the medical-industrial complex. The industries of violence and slavery are among the largest which support class and caste structures worldwide. Not endorsing the meat prestige and engaging in veganism means one is using one’s own labor and consumer powers to directly disempower the most odious aspects of the system.

It could be observed that much of veganism, as it is known particularly in North America, is associated with upper classes and privileged populations, but veganism at the grassroots is actually potentially most revolutionary. In the US, poor communities of color are often bereft of access to fresh healthy foods, and disproportionately find themselves afflicted with the diseases of Western diets and lifestyles. This is part of class war, as I see it, keeping the most chronically impoverished from being able to be healthy, long-lived and highly functioning, and from excelling as human beings. The elites don’t really care to ameliorate this problem.

Thus it is up to grassroots universal vegan workers of color, aware that existence in a human society configured such as ours means lifelong class war, to promote healthy lifestyles, to strive and struggle to increase access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in our communities, and to speak loudly and widely on the benefits of non-meat consumption and the fallacies of the meat prestige and meat addiction.

Thoughtful vegans should make natural class warriors. Their veganism empowers them to escape relationships of oppression and violence with both humans and non-humans, while granting them the vitality and awareness to struggle for just power and representation for as long as necessary. The vehicular vegan revolutionary can be a revolutionary of stamina and substance, of vision and actualization, actually practicing diplomacy (with non-humans) and militancy (against industries and economies of subjugation).

And that is how, and why, veganism can relate to the class war, and why vegans, especially working-class vegans of color, should consider themselves class warriors. But it’s just one small open-source theory that still needs help (or refutation) from y’all.

Veganism can indeed be revolutionary, and we must make it so if we are serious about social change, food sovereignty, Earth and non-human justice, and human freedom and equity.

Poverty Contests

An article published in today’s New York Times reports on efforts in India to enshrine access to food as a constitutionally protected right, a law its proponents expect could enable the food-insecure to make their own market choices to purchase food with food coupons or cash, instead of waiting for monthly 77 pound bags of grain, sugar and kerosene under the current regime. The article also goes on to highlight statistics about how India’s poverty is more widespread and intense than Africa’s, despite the “Tiger” rebranding and annual economic growth rate. A report compiled in India Current Affairs in July also highlights these poverty rankings, comparing the one Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in the country’s center with the entire Democratic Republic of Congo, both of similar population (though the Congo’s size is more comparable to India in its entirety), and finding the same levels of deprivation, even with DRC’s wars (though Madhya Pradesh is not without Naxalites and other struggles for land and resources between communities and multi-national mining and other interests, not unlike DRC).

On the one hand, the expectation around the world seems to be of Africa as the world’s eternal poverty yardstick. This in spite of similar levels of conventionally measured economic growth in a number of Sub-Saharan countries that approach such activity as seen in India in recent years. By comparing favorably to Africa, a government should have license to claim progress in the war on poverty – that’s the ridiculous, racist assumption, an assumption of development stasis.

On the other more important hand, these rankings and contests, especially as presented in the links mentioned above, are patently absurd in themselves, ignoring the basic fact that most of the annual GDP growth measures the rise in income of mostly exclusive urban, male, elite high-end sectors which determine and direct mining, cash-crop, real estate (land displacement), and [cheapest] labor configurations which exclude vast rural populations, whether in India, Congo, or Colombia. Human beings are impoverishing other human beings – not continental geographies. And the story is similar in most geographies including those concerned in this essay – Adivasis in rural Chhattisgarh struggle to hold on to their land in the face of “Memoranda of Understanding” signed by illegitimate politicians to mining interests to violently displace the people from their land, similarly to how Niger Delta militants attack oil infrastructure and kidnap oil workers in response to land displacement and ecosystem destruction by a half century of oil exploitation by foreign corporations in happy concert with local state governments and the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Once you understand neo-colonialism and neoliberal market economics, these patterns can be easily understood as to how they determine poverty and struggle around the third world. Malnutrition and poverty propagate fastest and most consistently wherever governments fail to prioritize enabling peripheral population groups to exact their own capacity to cultivate, live and eat of the land. Changes in the environment, and dietary demands which may place undue stress on the ecosystem and reduce its carrying capacity, may further impede nutrition and food security, as predominates in Sahelian countries that currently suffer serious drought. But policy-makers in much of the third world more often than not do not care, since they do not share the same fate as those far beyond the capitals, the urban and privileged spaces where they bury their heads, forgetting what rural populations go through, forgetting they exist.

I think that in itself, that food security should become a constitutional and human right anywhere is excellent. But a shifting in societal priorities would be a more lasting solution, towards actually considering the plights of women, of agriculturalists, and enabling their self-determination while the wealth of the nation focuses first on human and ecological needs rather than profit for exploitative corporations and salaries for ministers and bureaucracies.

Why focus on these poverty contests, with Africa at level zero? These statistics only measure those who, already in positions of control over powerful economic interests, are getting richer as they exploit more underpaid, vulnerable workers, and the land those workers may have been displaced or evicted from. These statistics don’t measure women’s reproductive work, don’t measure broader levels of quality of life that get inflated by those at the very top, even while the masses at the bottom suffer more dispossession and malnutrition year after year.

Human solidarity is to be encouraged instead. The same problems in Nigeria or Congo are found in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia or Peru, the same exact identical types of fierce corruption, the same exact types of high-official sellouts, the same exact identical types of Western aspirationalism and mimicry, the same exact types of ideological and religious extremisms and hysterias which cripple the masses from thinking critically and boldly enough to challenge the regimes that cause their suffering, the same exact multinationals praying on their resources, human and natural, to be exploited to the lowest common denominator. The same exact types of ignorance forced upon the masses with the absence of schools and the tolerance of illiteracy, despite official claims to the contrary. The exact same types of oppression of labor activists and human-rights campaigners and journalists. The exact same types of classisms and casteisms that compel generations to accept their designated desperation. The same exact types of false democracies in which the people do not have choice or voice in the structural economic questions of society, only at best over the latest personality who says the prettiest things or just looks pretty, but in power does little to nothing of the good he or she promised.

Thus I reject poverty contests. Instead, I move towards human collaboration and solidarity in the third world in pursuit of revolution! Towards the African revolution, the South Asian revolution, the Latin American revolution, the world revolution! Towards human-based economics! Towards the end of rapacious capitalism, the end of the rush to privatize water, seeds and land! Towards human and community-level self-governance and self-determination! Towards the humanization of labor such that people are not reduced to pack mules to produce Wal-Mart products at competitively lower and lower wages in ever more dangerous workplaces!

Towards human development work which is interested in human development, not numbers nudging and statistics masturbating.

Ubuntu: Afrikan Humanism (and my Further Thoughts) *bump*

I posted the following essay on my original blog waaay back on November 28, 2007. I was thinking a lot about the Congo this morning before work and came back to this piece, which compels me to conclude that thoughts we’ve had at earlier phases in life are sometimes more clear and articulate than our current thoughts. And I doubt anyone really looked at this back at the time, so here it is bumped up (with some fresh edits) for your current review. Would seriously like your feedback on ideas in this little philosophical tract. Talk about it!

Towards BUMUNTU! Towards KIMUNTU! Towards UBUNTU! Towards the end of hate and the culture of violence! Towards sisterhood and brotherhood between black folks, and no more horizontal violence in the streets or in Afrika! Rasta nuh chat Rasta! I’m talking about human beings, trying to be humane, just, fully realized, cooperative and free!!!

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What is Ubuntu? It is the notion, expressed in Zulu and present in other Bantu languages, that “a person is a person through other people.” It is the notion that an individual is born into the community and will always be a part of the community. It is a statement of interdependence and communalism, that the welfare of the individual is dependent upon the welfare of the community, and vice-versa. I claim Ubuntu as a guiding philosophy of mine, inasmuch as it is obvious that I am because we, as Afrikans, are. Having once been a serious student of Buddhism, one reads in the notion of [inter-]dependent co-arising and the “interbeing nature of things” that, in acheiving awareness of anatman or not-self – the absence of any independently existing entity of a “self” – one fully understands that he or she does not belong to his/her supposed “self.” Our physical bodies are little more than compilations of stardust animated by the life-force, genes and cells given us by our parents and all of their ancestors. Everything in the world and in us can only exist because of everything else, and if the forest which provides the wood for the table, or the food that the table-maker’s parents ate before they even thought of conceiving the table-maker, are removed from the table, the table cannot exist. Likewise, humans cannot exist without all the elements that precede us, all of our ancestors, all the elements of nature and the world that permit being, and so on. To live symbiotically with the world and with the community we are born into only makes perfect logical sense. Ubuntu, interdependence and Afrikan humanism, must therefore be more than mere positions on how to animate and organize a society, for they emerge from deep scientific truths. Interdependence with the elements of the natural world to perpetuate a sustainable and balanced life-cycle is called deep ecology in some circles, a radical and proper conclusion based on an understanding of the symbiotic form that living in the world should assume. Ubuntu is practiced in the very same vein, based on a fundamental understanding of how reality works and what beings like us bring into this universe as we come and go.

In his book African Cosmology of the Bântu-Kôngo, Dr. Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau discusses African communalism in Bantu societies and how that concept, which he derives from his native BaKongo context but which is clearly analogous to the Ubuntu practice, is applied in the organizing and governing of a community. In doing this he shares an aphorism which is often recited by some traditional BaKongo peoples (in KiKongo) before community meetings of social, political, economic or judicial significance:

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mputu

There is no room for poverty

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mvwâma

There is no room for ill obtained wealth

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mpofo

There is no room for blindness

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mfumu

There is no room for “order-giver”

Bobo mfumu na mfumu

All are masters, and only masters

Bobo ngânda na ngânda

All specialists, and only specialists

Mu kânda

Within the community

Bilesi

Young generations

Mu kânda

Within the community

Mwâna mfumu

Ancestors’ sons

Mu kânda

Within the community

Busi/ nsâng’a kânda

A sister, the community shoot

Mu kânda

Within the community

Nkasi a kânda

A brother, a future leader

Mu kânda

Within the community

Kinenga ye dedede

Equilibrium and equality

Mu kânda

Within the community

Kingenga/ kimpambudi nwânana

There is no room for separatism/ privacy

Mu kânda

Within the community

Sèkila kumosi

All sleep at once

Mu kânda

Within the community

Sikamana kumosi

All wake up at once

Mu kânda

Within the community

Mbèni ku mbazi

Enemies stand out

(Fu-Kiau, 80-82)

These aphorisms reflect the extremely advanced, deliberate, sophisticated, and humane philosophy that we Afrikans developed to survive and thrive in pre-colonial times and which are the birthright and inheritance of all Afrikans today. It is our responsibility, indeed our necessity if we are to survive on this planet, the only world we’ve got, to live this. All we need do is continue our organically humanistic lifestyle and reconstitute a truly humane, progressive, democratic, tolerant, gender-equal and open society for the Afrikan, in which our economic life never fails to meet human needs and where land and the means to produce are commonly owned with no private property in the hands of the few to disfranchise and exploit the rest. Fu-Kiau, in this very important and recommendable text, informs us that in the world-view of the Bakongo, “individual wealth is an abominable crime” (Fu-Kiau, 76):

“Individual wealth of all kinds above the accepted standard of necessary goods, is considered a crime. One says that this kind of wealth could not be accumulated without  exploiting [wuka/ yiba] other members of the community. In that case, the wealth itself  is called kimvwâma kia muyeke, wealth that betrays, yekula, the community and its members. The owner of such excessive properties was often killed or hoodooed [lokwa]. African communities believe strongly that the individual accumulation of property has  always had negative effects on the traditional social structure and on policy- making institutions.”

Afrikans need to think critically about the way of life into which we have been socialized under the contemporary regime of capitalism, neo-colonialism, and the myth of individualism. This regime has removed us from what living reality otherwise would make clear – that we cannot exist apart from or at the expense of our world or our communities, and thus ought naturally to seek to live in harmony with nature and our communities. For Afrikans, the practice of Ubuntu must begin at home, amongst Afrikans. May Afrikans practice Ubuntu with other Afrikans and across the third world, and exclude from Ubuntuist Afrikan communities all those capitalistic, bourgeois aspirant, individualistic, reactionary, intolerant, narrow-minded, knuckle-headed, selfish, greedy and malevolent negroes.

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Bonus video: Rasta Nuh Chat Rasta by Queen Ifrica. Enjoy and Learn!