Archive for January, 2008


The Wisdom of Jean Chretien

January 30, 2008

I just had the opportunity to see Jean Chretien speak here at St. FX.  I have to be honest, he has what’s missing from Canadian politics these days: Charisma.  He spoke with deftness and humour about his time, not just as Prime Minister, but also in various cabinet positions and as a junior MP.  Though I probably never would have voted for him I can’t help but like him.

Here are some of the things he said tonight that I thought were great.

On Quebec:
When you have equality you can’t have special status.

On the arts:
Artists vote for the Bloc in Quebec and the NDP in Ontario.  Investing in the arts was not a great investment for me, but it was the right thing to do.

On his longevity in politics:
My trick was undersell and overperform.

On Africa:
Africa doesn’t need charity it needs investment and access to markets.
We don’t pay enough attention to Africa.  If we pay more attention to Africa, Africa will have to pay more attention to what it does


Know your enemy…

January 29, 2008

Here’s a thought that just struck me while reading this. Whoever a Christian calls his enemy he has to love. This is the basis of true revolution. The successful revolutions of the 20th Century, Be it Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement, or even Gandhi’s movement to free India were love revolutions.

People don’t know how to respond to non violence; people don’t know how to hate love. Someone asked Gandhi how he expected the British to leave India, he replied “as friends.” How do you respond to that? The paradox of the Death and Resurrection is the triumph of Love over Violence. The triumph of love over power.*

Instead of trying to win control of political systems, instead of trying to rule the world, perhaps we should be learning how to love our enemies. If people living in the slums of the Rift Vally weren’t hungry would they be killing each other?

How do we put our love in action? It isn’t enough to say the words, we need to act. We need to feed the hungry instead of indulging in our own gluttony. When we love those we despise we change everything, from how we perceive them to how they perceive us, and all the implications in between.

Turn the Rage Against the Machine song inside out: Know your enemy… so that you can love them. It’s harder to love, but sometimes that which is more difficult is more effective.

*for more on this read “Which Jesus?” by Tony Campolo


Let Africa Sink?

January 28, 2008

This is a long promised response to something I read a while ago. It is neither exhaustive nor paints a complete picture of Africa. It is written mainly to say there is hope for Africa. Even as my heart breaks for Kenya hope is not lost. People in Africa long for change, people in the West long for change, we will see change in Africa when the right strategies are put in place and the right people work them.

I had a friend recommend I read this essay. It’s written by Kim du Toit, an Afrikaner living in the U.S. (His life story page talks about his descent from Europeans) The title of the essay is “Let Africa Sink.” When my friend was talking about it, it sounded more reasonable than it is. Let’s outline the basic arguments and then I’ll present my issues with this essay.

His basic premise is that in Africa, life is cheap. He knows this because he lived there for over 30 years. Of his group of 18 close friends, only 10 survive today due to various, specifically African, causes. This creates an understanding of death very different from ours in the West, one where death is generally accepted as a fact of life and rarely tragic.

He then says that this is part of the reason why aid doesn’t work. There is an inherent attitude in Africa that sees death as a fact of life. Africa is a dog eat dog continent, whether those dogs are dogs or people. The billions of dollars in aid has only accomplished regression. Finding its way into the hands of tribal leaders and dictator’s swiss bank accounts, not into the hands of those who need it.

His final point is that the best thing the West can do is ignore Africa. Stop sending aid, stop covering it in the news, and stop sending medication. His solution?

…here’s my (tongue-in-cheek) solution for the African fiasco: a high wall around the whole continent, all the guns and bombs in the world for everyone inside, and at the end, the last one alive should do us all a favor and kill himself.

The argument is actually quite coherent right up until that little paragraph. Apart from his lack of references he reflects issues and frustrations that many of us in the West have with Africa. Nothing seems to work.

His argument although, is simplistic and he misrepresents himself as an authority.* There are many problems in Africa. Many are man made, some are man made from before trade and colonization. Cannibalism was in practice before the East Coast was settled, slavery was first practiced by different tribes*, then picked up by the arabs, and finally brought into its most massive form by europeans. These things all had different consequences, but it is hard to underestimate what withdrawing 25 million people, mostly men, does to a continent sociologically. This is my first argument, there is a blood debt owed by europeans and white north and south americans for what they did to Africa demographically.

More important than that though is an overall mishandling of trying to “fix” Africa. Money has been given without accountability to corrupt governments. Groups like U.N. peacekeepers have had their hands tied during catastrophes like Rwanda due to the interests of non-African countries. Places like the recently mentioned Darfur are playgrounds for world interests like China and Russia. Yet there are groups that are making a difference. World Vision and Compassion International are feeding and educating children, changing the next generation of leaders in Africa. Organizations like KIVA are working from the ground up to invest paltry sums that make a big difference in small businesses, in Africa and around the Third World. Then there are people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, people wealthy beyond belief who are giving most of it away. They’re not being stupid about it though, demanding accountability and results. Unlike the U.N. where more than 50% of every dollar spent is swallowed by bureacracy alone, before the corruption even has a chance to touch it.*

The question was put forward in the title: Let Africa sink? I can emphatically answer NO! What we are finally seeing is innovative ways to deal with the situation in Africa. Solutions brought forward by people who haven’t lost hope in change, even if they don’t believe in the big government style of changing the world. The solution is not ignoring the problem. Globalization means that we will not remain unaffected if we watch a continent implode. We have a moral responsibility because of our past and a duty to our future to work for change in Africa until change occurs.

*His claim to being born and raised in Africa neglects one important detail. He is an Afrikaner who now lives in the U.S. He also fails to give adequate evidence apart from his eloquent sophistry.

* African slavery though was much different from European Slavery. Including things like the ability to move from Slave to becoming a member and sometimes even leader of a tribe. Another thing to note is that Slaves were brought by Africans to trading posts set up on the coast. Trading posts that had to be constantly resupplied with workers from Europe as there was no immunity to African disease.

* As a case study check out this page. Money Quote: “Prof. Sachs is right about tougher seeds but not about more aid. By his own calculation, “out of every dollar of aid given to Africa, an estimated 16% went to consultants from donor countries, 26% went into emergency aid and relief operations, and 14% went into debt servicing.” He could not account for how much of the remaining 44% got siphoned off by corrupt officials, nor could he explain why $400 billion dollars of aid over the last 30 years has left the average African poorer.”
Part of the reason African countries haven’t been helped by Western Aid is because a third of it has gone back to the West and 26% has been used on immediate issues. Mismanagement has prevented long term solutions from being implemented.



January 24, 2008

Too much reading to do, but I obeyed.
toothpaste for dinner


Question Everything…

January 23, 2008

…and you’ll go insane.

The Madman is not the man who has lost his reason.  The Madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.
-G.K. Chesterton


Like father, unlike son.

January 22, 2008

I’d wondered about this.  What does it mean to bear the last name of the most wanted man in the world, and quite possibly one of the most hated men in the West.  That is what Omar bin Laden deals with.  The son of Osama bin Laden, he is apparently publicly calling on his Dad to find another way.  Including starting a charity horse race across North Africa to raise awareness for peace.  A completely different tactic from his father.

I for one applaud this effort.  We don’t have to be defined by who came before us, or even who begot us.


How to write?

January 20, 2008

I’m finding it difficult to write these days.  The more you write an argument the more you want it to be airtight.  It can lead to paralysis, and this one is a simple rebuttal.  Anyway, another week has dawned, hopefully I can finish it today.