The Other Side: Nathaniel Manheru
A key strategy of imperialism is raising false dust so as to cloud national focus and vision. Or to blur a clear identification and knowledge of who the real enemy is. History, including our own, is replete with instances where this time-worn strategy has been employed, indeed and has won repeatedly. The big question is why we continue to be the proverbial foolish mouse that walks into the same trap, to lick the same butter, to die the same way again. Illustratively, one well-regarded British quality newspaper yesterday ran a front-page story titled, “Donald Trump inauguration: the world holds its breath”. The paper had a typical headline for the day. Across Europe, many other titles carried the same sense, albeit phrased differently. The import of the afore-quoted lead piece was very clear: the whole world — ourselves included — is anxiously focused on, and awaiting the ominous inauguration of the new American president, a development of such global significance as to warrant universal “live” coverage and attention. The ascendency to power of Donald Trump is supposed to mark the acme of global angst, and the beginning of some horror, some catastrophe of cosmic proportions. And the global media structures delivered on their mandate, namely that of generating and conveying global panic, global mass hysteria. We all lived through the terror of a monster called Trump, an elected, democratic monster paradoxically! Only the poor ones — those who cannot afford to watch CNN, BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera — were safe, assuming of course that they, too, could not afford national channels which, more often than not, are relay stations for the same message triggered by these global news networks. Was it Turnstall who gave us the phrase “all media are American”? How right!
Hold thy breath, dear!
Let us for a short while test this re-framing of what in all senses should have been regarded as nothing more than a mere routine occurrence in some faraway country called America, into such a compulsive global occurrence, far more immediate, far closer to us than even Jonathan and his politics dzekomichi! If I may ask, what has Trump’s inauguration to do with little Zimbabwe’s command agriculture? What? My little sister who is worrying about sawi nedamba ranetsa mumunda in the wake of ceaseless rains that have blest us, is supposed to “hold her breath” because of some outlandish ceremony taking place in America? I cannot fathom why, except that is what is intended by such headlines. Unless of course it is reasoned we are not part of “the world”? Or worse, that we are too long dead to have any “breath” to hold?
Worse than what follows?
There is more that is sinister to this whole media framing game. Implied by such a headline is a presumption that all was normal and quiet before this Trump guy — now President — before this event of indeterminate global augury. That all was quiet; that all was well, serene and predictable. That we breathed normally. Or were dead normally, assuming we are not counted as capable of holding our breath too, alongside the rest of the world. Let’s test all that, both from a global perspective and from a narrow, national perspective of little Zimbabwe. On January 12, 2017, a mere eight days before this breath-holding Trump event, the same international media told us the United States of America, and within the context of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, nato, had deployed thousands of tanks and troops to Poland and other Baltic States, all to send a clear and unambiguous signal to Russia whose “threat” was viewed as growing. My poor geography tells me Poland and other Baltic States are close, perilously close, to Russian territory. In fact these States are within shouting distance of Moscow, the seat of the Kremlin. The implications of any military build-up within Russia’s near-abroad should be plain even to the most blind. Yet rolling tanks and men of war from Germany to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia on the orders of one outgoing Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America, reads less menacing to the world than the inauguration of one incoming Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America, right? That a Barack Obama who misuses the dying moments of his presidency to provoke a nuclear power, still provides no reason for the world to “hold its breath” than an ogre-ceremony consummating the result of an exercise in the much vaunted American democracy — the inauguration of Donald Trump — does? We all know the catastrophic result of a war between Russia and the West, both nuclear powers with the capability of turning our only planet into lifeless charcoal at the mere push of their respective buttons. Yet that is less daunting, less frightful, to the world than a Donald Trump swearing solemnly to (mis)lead America? Is the worst to follow, or with us already? But hang on, I am not done with you.
As wanton boys to flies . . .
The same dying moments of Obama presidency saw the US throwing bombs in Syria, killing well over 40 people, many of them civilians. Still the whole world must save its breath so it “holds” it ahead of Trump’s inauguration! It is Donald, not Barack, who is the ogre we should fear! It is an investiture ceremony, not US war games abroad, we should worry about. Yes, it is US democracy, not US belligerence, we should hold our breath for! Perhaps this is too distant to you, gentle reader. Syria is farther than US, relative to Africa! Maybe Arab humanity, too, distant, too abstract for you, dear reader. After all, since when did Arabs become human? If they were, why would Britain reallocate their lands to Jews? If they were, why would their landmark civilisation clearly pre-dating western civilisation, which it enriched in no small measure, still remain un-acknowledged in the grand narratives of humanity? If they were, surely the West would not walk into their lands at will, shooting at them so freely at whim, before pillaging their precious oil resource. No, Arabs are not human! They are not part of the world that must hold its breath. They don’t breathe, just like me, an African. For, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the [West]; they kill us for their sport.”
Even civil liberties
Let me narrow the vista a bit. Denizens at Guantanamo Detention Centre. Arabs again! Released, sorry, “renditioned” just under forty-eight hours ago. By one Barack Obama, born of an African father! Al Chapo, the notorious and artful drug peddler from Mexico, again “renditioned” to America just hours before Trump’s inauguration! It all boils down to presidential caprices. It all boils down to contriving and creating a fait accompli for your successor. Not human rights. Not justice. Not due process. Which is why Guantanamo is such an artful way of beating the reach of Lady Liberty!
All these horrors happen before Trump’s Presidency, before his inauguration that is supposed to presage such horror for mankind. Just how do you convince me, a little beetle pushing a ball of dung backwards, that there is worse to fear, much to lose, from what went on in Washington only briefly late yesterday, than the sheer enormity of grave misdeeds done a few hours before by a man who should have been waving a warm goodbye to the world? That this Trump, America’s president number 45, posits a great potential danger than Barack Obama, America’s 44th president who continues to prosecute grave misdeeds for humanity until his last minute in office? That a cub sure to eat me tomorrow is worse fear for me than its mother growling at my doorstep, its jaws finishing off the limbs of my neighbour?
Keeping ZDERA alive
But I write from Zimbabwe. Let’s see how we fare now, as against what we faced yesterday, the day, week or month before, when America was still under Number 44. Or under Number 43, if you want. January 13, 2017 — seven days before Trump’s dreaded inauguration — one Barack Obama through an executive order extends economic sanctions programmes against specified countries. These are Iran, Cuba, Libya, Venezuela, Russia and . . . and Zimbabwe! Yes, our Zimbabwe! Why? An explanation was given so unashamedly: “In keeping with his commitment to a smooth transition, President Obama has decided to renew all national emergencies that would otherwise expire in the first 60 days of the incoming administration . . . This will ensure that the new administration will not need to immediately undertake renewals necessary to safeguard our national security as it works to put its national security team in place and secure Senate confirmation of relevant appointees.” And for our beloved Zimbabwe, Obama was clear as before: he was sanctioning Zimbabwe “for actions and policies [which] pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States of America.” Obama, President No.44, now outgoing and thus supposedly not to be feared anymore! Yet delivering continuing unusual and extraordinary ill-will! Meanwhile, we are being told that we should hold our breath against Trump, President No.45? The threat to us, we are told, is not now or before; rather, it is to come by way of yesterday’s inauguration ceremony that ushered in another US president! One Trump! The amiable Obama did not hurt us; only killed us by using us to show his “commitment to a smooth transition”! We, the victims of Obama sanctions, are what make the transition of America’s respective presidency “smooth”! The other year we smoothened the transition from Bush (Jnr) to Obama. Yesterday we again smoothened the transition from Obama to Trump! Forty-three, forty-four, today forty-five: always smoothening transitions in ways harshest to us the trampled! Why then should a lubricant of American transitions “hold her breath”? A continuing lubricant?
Lessons from history
One way of understanding the evolution of global civilisations and global power is to grasp the history of primary commodities that dominated global trade, and of course the evolution of technologies that transformed these commodities into high-value finished goods in great global demand. You can trace the history of spices which added taste to world dishes. You can read about sugar which sweetened world beverages, while turning Africa into slavery. Or narcotic plants, including more portent ones like opium whose consumption the British forced on the Chinese in order to balance trade books. Tea, coffee, pick as you please, and the insights on global political economy are amazing.
I have just finished reading about cotton: how and when it became a global commodity, how and when it redefined global power, in the process creating new empires. I hope you know that this vital fibre had its roots in India, Latin America, China, the Arab world and in Africa. That you know that Nigeria’s Kano was called “the Manchester of West Africa”, never mind that the more appropriate way would have been to call Manchester — itself a latecomer in weaving — the Kano of Europe! Such is the up-side-down nature of history: denying glory to founders, panegyrising latecomers. Sven Beckert is even more direct: “Cotton, quite simply, was exotic to Europe.” He adds that not only was it exotic; Europeans thought it came from an animal! Europeans have the hated Arabs to thank for introducing cotton to them, which is why the noun “cotton” comes from the Arabic “qutun”! Apart from not knowing the fibre, Europe also did not have the hot climate for the plant. The point to make is that both the growth of the plant and the development of founding weaving technologies resided in Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and in Africa. Never in Europe which only came into the picture late in the 18th Century, after centuries of wearing the smelly and less versatile wool. But that is not my story.
Reshaping the world
My real story relates to how Europe, specifically the United Kingdom, Holland, Denmark and France, ended up being epicentres of the cotton trade. In short how cotton cities like Madras, Surat, Cossimbazar, Calicut in India; Baghdad, Mosul and Basra in Iraq; Cairo, Meroe, Bamako and Kano on the African continent, lost their leadership. The clue lies in capitalist Europe’s ability and willingness to project both capital and naval military prowess across vast oceans, themselves routes for this vital trade. Writes Beckert: “With increasing frequency, Europeans inserted themselves, often violently, into the global networks of the cotton trade — within Asia as well as between Asia and the rest of the world — before using that same power to create entirely novel networks between Africa, the Americas, and Europe.” Superior firepower and robust naval ships saw Europe controlling the global cotton networks, inching out Arabs who had distinguished themselves as fat Nimrods of the trade in that commodity. To facilitate such incursions, Europe struck an alliance between merchants and statesmen — call it a politico/merchant complex. And because statesmen controlled armies, naval power completed the equation.
Rise of war capitalism
Still, the whole equation would not run efficiently for as long as small, disparate merchants were the order of the day. They had to be consolidated into joint stock companies both to consolidate capital and to create big monopolies. Not surprisingly, in 1600, British merchants created the British East India Company; the Dutch created the Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in 1602, while the Danes created Dansk Ostindiske Kompagni in 1616. The French only came in in 1664 when they founded the Compagnie des Indes Francaise. The interesting dimension is that these conglomerates armed themselves militarily in order to reshape the cotton trade and routes in their favour. The result was the little written about phenomenon of “privatised violence” which spawned a unique player: “the soldier-trader” who in turn gave rise to what in history is known as “war capitalism”. Only after these European corporatised war behemoths had corralled world cotton trade, was Europe ready and able to regain its conscience thereby campaigning against the Atlantic slave trade. An alternative economy had been found, alternative to selling human beings – Africans. A new morality could thus be afforded. The key message being that “conscience” in the West is never a random human impulse or attribute; it only arises in circumstances in which economics dictate. An economic derivative, never an intrinsic value. Dear reader, once you grasp that lesson from history, then you begin to understand the way the world was founded, indeed the way it functions, both now and in future.
All death, bullet or rope
Which is to say? We are on the cusp of a major worldwide transition. As always, such a transition does not happen on the basis of old rules and mores. Old morality. Old players like Merkel and Obama. Old rules of neo-liberalism led by the likes of Hillary Clinton, and funded by the likes of George Soros. Not even old generals who may have won old wars in the Middle East. Or old values which said no American boots on the African continent; only UN-led proxies. I thought the discussions at Davos have been revealing enough. Just in case you missed those discussions, one key message from Davos is that the fruits of globalisation have been inequitable in their impact on nation-states. Historically, this has been the shrill cry of Third-Worlders. Little did we know that even in Europe, itself the heart of capitalism, similar inequities were being felt, suffered. Including in America where jobs fled, while “foreigners” swamped! What followed? Brexit. Shootings and counter-shootings that occurred in Obama’s America, all tell-tales of creeping social disequilibria, only re-framed as law-and-order news in order to keep a lid on the crisis. In reality the start of social conflict and implosion. A Trump was thus needed in America, the same way that a David Cameron was not needed in Britain. The dominant features of the new world order are very much in evidence: an iconoclastic US President in league with Big Companies, seeking new Alliances and Enemies, backed by daring Generals. Everything is set to change, the CIA included. Prepare for the second coming of soldier-traders, of war capitalism. For a Trump who is an American; for an America which is the only world. As for the beetle pushing a ball of dung, does it really matter whether it’s many small feet of “wanton boys” or one big foot of bully, which kicks the ball? 43rd, 44th or 45th, does it really matter what the count is? It is all death, whether by the bullet or by the rope. Nothing to hold breath for.