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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since July 2010

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DR Congo: Independence 50 Years Later

July 2, 2010 ·

Congo conference 2Foreign Policy In Focus commemorated 50 years of independence for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week, along with Friends of the Congo, Congo Global Action, Africa Action, Africa Faith & Justice Network, TransAfrica Forum, and WPFW 89.3 FM in Washington DC. For many of us, the event organizers and most of those in attendance feel that true independence for DRC has yet to be realized.

The DRC won a hard-fought independence from direct Belgian colonialism in June of 1960, led by Patrice Lumumba, who was subsequently elected Prime Minister of the Congo. It is widely accepted that Belgium, the CIA, and other Western forces conspired to, and succeeded in assassinating Lumumba. This travesty was also a recurring theme within yesterday’s event.

Held at the Public Welfare Foundation’s True Reformer Building, this day-long conference attracted over 150 people, many of them Congolese. We began by screening 20 minutes of three films; Memories of Lumumba by Lubangi Muniania, The Street Children of Kinshasa by Gilbert Mulamba, and  Apocalypse Africa by Del Walters. I highly recommend that you click the link for Apocalypse Africa to view its trailer.

The films were able to dispel a racist notion promoted by Western media; that Africans are a naturally brutal and violent people, particularly toward one another. Once one understands that it was Belgian colonial rule that introduced the chopping off of hands and raping of women as methods of subjugation, then today’s realities in the Congo are better understood. Once one learns that it was U.S. government policy to saturate “Black Africa with weapons” to deliberately foster violent internal conflict, explanations about the current state of Africa become much clearer.

Emira Woods speaks at the Congo conferenceIt became very evident that people are very frustrated about, and anxious to find solutions to the dire situation in DRC. We were able to get into a more full discussion about what can be done during a panel moderated by Del Walters and IPS’s Emira Woods.

With a 14-year conflict over mineral resources that has claimed six million lives and hundreds of thousands of women raped, a discussion about how to actually insure the security and sovereignty that should accompany independence was a very difficult thing. Frustration and disgust intermingled with African pride and human compassion were the order of the day.

In my view, the most instructive lessons regarding the fate and current state of the Congo have come from the late Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana and promoter of the scientific theories and practices for uniting the whole continent. Nkrumah, also overthrown in a CIA orchestrated coup, wrote the book Challenge of the Congo; A Case Study of Foreign Pressures in an Independent State. Nkrumah said:

"Although the struggle for national independence in the Congo has yet to be won, I see no alternative for the future of the Congo, except in the arms of a united Africa within the framework of a continental Union Government. Until this is achieved, the dangers facing the Congo will not only multiply but will be complicated by many factors which will involve the whole of Africa” (Challenge of The Congo, p. XVI)

It seems Nkrumah predicted what we now see taking place in the DRC. The Rwandan and Ugandan governments carrying out destabilization policies at the behest of U.S. power is one example.

Congo conference audienceAfricans in America, and the whole African Diaspora, have a special role to play. So long as we do not see ourselves as African first, how much we engage and what exactly we do when engaged will not be adequate enough to address the problems we face in the Congo or anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, people who are not of African descent must begin to respect African people as a national entity, or in a more contemporary and useful sense as a political entity.

In quintessential African style, we closed the event with culture: captivating performances by Omekongo Dibinga, Deja Belle, and Anna Mwalagho. I'm certain the Democratic Republic of the Congo had not, in a long time, if ever, received as brilliant and suitable a commemoration in Washington DC as this.

Hurricane Alex Hits Already-Troubled Waters

July 1, 2010 ·

sign on highwaySince the April 20th explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf, many have anticipated the compounding effects that hurricane season would bring to the continuing BP oil spill. On Wednesday Alex, the first hurricane of the season, struck the Gulf. Though immediate attention must be given to combating the destruction in the Gulf, we should not overlook the BP spill as a catalyst for transitioning away from fossil fuels and a brutal indication to stop offshore drilling entirely.

Hurricane Alex has been pushing more oil onto shores that had been previously cleaned and forcing clean-up workers to dock skimmers and boats that otherwise would be helping with clean-up efforts. According to Associated Press, shores in Alabama were streaked with oil and dozens of vessels that had been helping transport workers and supplies were tied to docks. Yesterday morning, skimming efforts mostly stopped in the Gulf. Republican governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has taken this opportunity to contradict himself, by criticizing the Obama administration’s lack of urgency in responding to the spill while maintaining opposition to the six-month offshore drilling moratorium.

A BP executive told Reuters that “[Hurricane Alex] is not expected to hurt oil capture systems at the BP oil spill or the company's plans to drill a pair of relief wells intended to plug the leak by August.” However, Kent Wells, BP’s executive vice president has said that the large waves caused by Alex “would delay this week’s plans to hook up a third system to capture much more oil.”

For some Louisiana residents working temporarily to clean up the oil spill, Hurricane Alex could actually more mean more work in the long run. Jerome Benjamin of New Orleans told NPR, “The more oil comes in, the longer we stay out here, the more work.” For now at least, most relief workers have not had much to do with strong winds coming in and waves disabling skimming efforts.

It is predicted that Hurricane Alex will bring heavy rain and potentially floods to Louisiana and Texas. By Thursday, winds should diminish but rain will likely continue in Texas and Mexico.

Meanwhile, Jindal has spoken out ruthlessly against Obama’s recent decision regarding offshore drilling: “Nobody in Louisiana wants to see another explosion, another loss of life…But at the same time, we don't want to devastate the same coastal communities that are struggling with this oil spill with this arbitrary six-month moratorium.” It is true that Louisiana’s coastal communities depend on jobs in the oil industry. However, considering BP’s previous offenses in Texas and Alaska and the recent Massey Energy explosion in the West Virginia Upper Big Branch mine, it is starting to look like no measure exists to prevent catastrophes when dealing with fossil fuel extraction, be it oil or coal. Would Jindal trust BP to operate safely in the Gulf Coast after this disaster? Would he rescind this “arbitrary” moratorium if he had the power?

In the wake of the BP disaster, public attention has turned to corporate accountability, to the cozy relationship between big business and government, between BP and the Minerals Management Service. And rightly so. We have focused on the Murkowski amendment, oil dispersants, BP’s containment efforts, and now the $20 bill escrow fund. However, in our rush to clean up and rethink the unchecked power of corporations, we must not lose sight of what the spill ultimately means for our energy future. A six-month moratorium, while “arbitrary” according to Jindal, is more of a provisional acknowledgement by the Obama administration of the dangers of offshore drilling. A deliberate, sustained transition to renewable energy is needed, and now is a better time than ever to stop offshore drilling permanently.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Jericho Brown

July 1, 2010 ·

A weekly featured poem of provocation and witness. You can find more poetry and arts news from Blog This Rock.

Prayer of the Backhanded

Not the palm, not the pear tree
Switch, not the broomstick,
Nor the closet extension
Cord, not his braided belt, but God,
Bless the back of my daddy’s hand
Which, holding nothing tightly
Against me and not wrapped
In leather, eliminated the air
Between itself and my cheek.
Make full this dimpled cheek
Unworthy of its unfisted print
And forgive my forgetting
The love of a hand
Hungry for reflex, a hand that took
No thought of its target
Like hail from a blind sky,
Involuntary, fast, but brutal
In its bruising. Father, I bear the bridge
Of what might have been
A broken nose. I lift to you
What was a busted lip. Bless
The boy who believes
His best beatings lack
Intention, the mark of the beast.
Bring back to life the son
Who glories in the sin
Of immediacy, calling it love.
God, save the man whose arm
Like an angel’s invisible wing
May fly backward in fury
Whether or not his son stands near.
Help me hold in place my blazing jaw
As I think to say, excuse me.

-Jericho Brown

From Please (New Issues Press 2008). Used by permission.

Jericho Brown worked as the speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before receiving his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. He also holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans and a BA from Dillard University. The recipient of the Whiting Writers Award, the Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, and two travel fellowships to the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland, Brown teaches creative writing as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of San Diego.  His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, jubilat, New England Review, Oxford American, and several other journals and anthologies.  His first book, PLEASE (New Issues), won the 2009 American Book Award.

Brown appeared on the panels Gay and Lesbian Poetry in the 40th Year Since Stonewall: History, Craft, Equality and Black LGBTQ Writing as Agents of Change during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

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