Monday, 24 October 2011

Libyan Rebels On a Killing Spree

When Muammar Gaddafi was dragged out from his hiding place, it was perhaps expected that the rebel group who had captured him would flaunt his capture as a trophy moment. Parading him for their camera's, his pleas for mercy were far removed from the rambling and disconnected speeches he gave on television and radio, where he referred to the rebels as "rats" and "vermin", who were acting under the influence of drugs - that they were either taking by choice, or that they had been duped into taking while drinking laced coffee etc. At the same time he had accused them of being Al Qaeda infiltrators, Islamic militants bent on destroying Libyan unity, and promised to hunt down the rebels from "house to house" using the phrase "zenga-zenga" which was later made into a song. As he quoted from his green book, he reasserted that he was not the leader of Libya, and that the leadership was in the hands of the people - he had given power to the people long ago, in 1972. It was a grand example of the doublespeak that propagandists of all kinds utilise to retain power, "the power is with you, I am just your vessel". In this brand of monarchy, the 'divine right' to rule is granted by the people - but the people don't vote on it, so the irony is difficult to avoid. It creates the preconditions for two realities to co-exist at the same time; a spoken reality, and an unspoken reality.

Despite the noble, self-aggrandizing shows of 'people power', in reality, Libya was still under his vice, however, and his hold on power was undoubtable. His sons Khamis and Moutassim controlled two feared army brigades of their own, which were far better equipped and trained than the regular army. Moreover, his son Saif El Islam Gaddafi, who bears a PhD from the London School of Economics (that was retracted when the Libyan uprising began, and followed by high profile resignations at the school when it as revealed that they had accepted large sums of Libyan funding to set up an african student exchange programme) was the designated heir to the Gaddafi throne. Saif El Islam Gaddafi was widely touted as a reformist, an art lover and patron, and cut the profile of a Saudi prince of sorts, well-heeled, moneyed and benevolent. Yet when the appeals for elections and democracy arose, and the rebels began to fight the Libyan army in the streets, Saif stood by his father, repeated the claims that the rebels were drug addled Islamic militants who disguised their true ambitions under the appeal for democracy. It was the turning point at which Saif could have changed the course of history and assumed a leadership role in the peaceful transition of Libya to a democracy. Yet it must be emphasized, that he refused to play any such role. That much is visible to anybody who cares to watch the interviews he granted to journalists in Tripoli. It was strange, if not disturbing, to see the unelected, unappointed son of the Brother Leader fielding questions from the press instead of the formal government. Very quickly the formal government of Gaddafi's Libya began to unravel, with high profile defections almost daily, followed by defections from the general army and special forces. The defections included people who had worked alongside Gaddafi for decades, and people who had been with him during the bloodless coup that brought him to power. The defected appeared on television in press interviews, revealing their detailed explanations for defection, and repeated their calls for their former leader to stand down and to allow the transition to democracy to unfold.

Many have written rather romantically about Gaddafi's role on the African continent - that he financed large developmental projects and efforts to improve the plight of Africa as a whole, championing the formation of a "United States of Africa". He supported the ANC in their struggle against Apartheid and almost singlehandedly funded the raising of the first African telecommunications satellite. Further away he supported the IRA in Ireland, Charles Taylor in Liberia and FARC in Columbia. To many on the left, he was a quirky but unshakeable symbol of rebellion against the west, the loyal brother leader who was unafraid to openly take on the forces of global hegemony. Citing the high standards of living and state funded support and opportunities available to Libyans, Gaddafi is presented as a latter day Che Guevara, who stood with the downtrodden people of the Global South against the exploitative powers in the west and created a country that provides of exceptional social services to its people. Yet with this adulation, the more unsavoury factors of his rule go unacknowledged - including mass executions of political prisoners, the exploitation of Libya's oil resources for personal gain, and the creation of a state security apparatus and government media machine that only Stalin could be proud of.

Instead, the left wax lyrical about the 'criminalisation' of the Libyan government that has been conducted by the mainstream global press. This, despite the fact that Gaddafi found no support amongst his Arab neighbours, and that the Libyan press was a state organ. Moreover, despite South Africa's attempts to employ the same 'quiet diplomacy' tactic that clearly failed in Zimbabwe - and voicing support for Gaddafi - they nonetheless voted in favour of imposing a no-fly zone in Libya at the UN. If Gaddafi posed no real threat to Libyans at that stage, then why didn't South Africa vote against the no fly zone? Likewise, why didn't Russia veto it? Their messages of solidarity don't match their actions - their actions show that they did fear that Gaddafi would conduct a violent purge of the Libyan people. The only other real support Gaddafi has obtained has been from Hugo Chavez, who himself has embarked upon the road to dictatorship by seeking to change the Venezuelan constitution to allow him to stay in power (and Nicaragua, who has received large financial support from Gaddafi). It is a duplicitous game that South Africa and indeed many other African states have played in this affair, attempting to hedge their bets both ways to guarantee the flow of Libyan cash to their countries (and perhaps, it must be stated bluntly, even to their personal bank accounts).

The left have detailed how a global conspiracy against Gaddafi has been engineered by the press to "criminalise" him and his government, yet it was not second-hand accounts of Gaddafi that we received. He was given more airtime on news channels for his speeches and interviews than any other global leader, more than Obama could ever hope for, even if he managed to win the next election and surprise everyone again. His press representative also had a clear and open line to the press and repeated claims to legitimacy, and of foreign interference in Libya without any interruption. If the threats Gaddafi and his son made, live on tv, were not real, then the international media have engineered the most spectacular media manipulation we have ever experienced. It was clear, from the words of Gaddafi, and his son Saif, that they were preparing for a fight to the death. That much cannot be denied by anybody. They saw themselves as having an undeniable right to leadership in Libya, and that much can be understood directly from the words that emerged from their very own mouths. They were also convinced of their support base, and were prepared to go the route of warfare. It is not just the rebels who were willing to go down the path of warfare and destruction to achieve their ends. The Gaddafi camp were also bent on retaining power at all costs. To be fair to the National Transitional Council, they were keen to negotiate with Gaddafi and to find a compromise that would see him leave with dignity (this was repeated by many defectors in the media), yet their calls for Gaddafi to step down were met with an unflinching obstinance. Nobody was going to dictate anything to him - he was the only one who had the right to dictate!

Not unlike Robert Mugabe, the beleaguered president of Zimbabwe who refused to vacate his post when he lost the elections, Gaddafi was undoubtedly a dictator. If he is not, then the term will scarcely find application to anyone else in the world. When a country's main decisions and power bases are in the hands of one man and his sons, either he is a king or a dictator. Yet for those who look only to his external actions and his larger than life role in Africa (dubbing himself the King of Kings in Africa), tend to ignore the fact that Libya was an oil rich country - oil is what enabled Gaddafi to play an especially magnanimous role as a funder of revolutionary groups elsewhere, while still providing the Libyan people with a relatively high standard of living, basic services and education in Africa. His friends included many African dictators who robbed their countries blind and rendered them dysfunctional. He was the mr moneybags in Africa, and he enjoyed his largess and his self-appointed role as the king of Africa. Meanwhile, at home, Libyans were not free. No matter what the statistics on basic services and government support for Libyans shows on paper, Libyans did not possess the freedom to determine their future, or to exercise control over their resources. In this, Gaddafi was not unlike other oil rich monarchs in the region, who also have relatively high standards of living, education and basic services provision in their countries. Freedom, however, is not the freedom to eat, work, learn, obtain healthcare and the like. That is, freedom cannot be bought or paid for. When someone buys your freedom you are still a slave, you have just transferred ownership. Freedom is the freedom to act in concert with others to change what needs changing in a political system, without fear of recrimination or exile.

Yet it is difficult for anyone with a genuine claim to compassion, however, not to feel pity towards the deposed Gaddafi, begging for his life amongst the former 'rats', now appealing to them, begging for his life, "you are my sons". Very quickly it became clear that Gaddafi was executed by the rebels. It seemed the rebels had no regard for his human rights, or his rights as a prisoner of war. Having torn up pictures, posters and effigies of Gaddafi for many months, his capture seems to have led to a similar frenzy ... as mobile phone footage of his lynching seems to indicate. He was paraded about briefly, beaten upon, humiliated and somewhere along the way he was shot. Footage has also recently emerged, of a man claiming to be the one who executed him, celebrating his role in history amongst other rebels as water is poured over his head. It will take some investigation to uncover the actual sequence of events, as many will make claim to the greatest 'trophy' in the war.

Gaddafi's son, Moutassim, who commanded a feared brigade and was responsible for his fathers security, was also captured. A video of him smoking a cigarette and swigging from a bottle of water has been posted on the internet. He also seems to have been executed by the rebels, even though they have claimed that his injuries led to his death. Khamis Gaddafi is also dead, and Saif El Islam Gaddafi has managed to escape the clutches of the rebels once again. His whereabouts still remain unknown. The Gaddafi family has been hounded out of power, their lives have been taken, and those who remain of his family have left the country to seek exile in Algeria.

Indeed, when people have been brutalised the potential to respond in kind is always great. If one takes even a cursory glance at other revolutions in central and southern Africa, it is undeniable that when the violence eventually breaks, it breaks like a Tsunami, consuming everyone and everything in its path. This should not surprise us. Neither should we be quick to relegate the rebels to the classification of 'thugs' or 'animals'. Even when the violence broke in colonised African countries, the colonisers were quick to dismiss rebellion under the same terms. They were loathe to accept their own role in creating the 'savage monsters' that rose up against them - i.e. through centuries of slavery, violence, abuse and dehumanisation - in very much the same way the Gaddafi regime has refused to accept any criticism of the Libyan government in any measure. It was a big mistake to execute Gaddafi and his son, as seems to be the case. Executing them rendered them outside of the realm of the law. They do not have to answer for their actions and decisions, and they escape the judgement of society as they cannot defend themselves. Instead, it allows for them to be hailed as martyrs who 'fought to the end'. It has made the task of the rebels more difficult as their absence in death may loom larger than their presence in life would have in a court of law, where they could be put to trial and forced to answer for their crimes.

Yet the killing, it appears, did not stop there. Human rights watch has announced that the bodies of 53 Gaddafi loyalists were found, with their hands bound behind, them having been shot in the head. The rebels have themselves begun to look very much the same as the Gaddafi loyalists, who also left scores of executed prisoners in their wake as they fled Tripoli. They have failed to uphold a moral highground, and have failed to guarantee the human rights they claim to be fighting for, to their opponents. This is not a trivial development, as the real test of one's belief in human rights is the ability to extend those rights to one's enemy. The post-Gaddafi Libya, now awash with weapons and ammunition, and rebels who have come to know battle and murder is a precariously balanced situation that might disintegrate yet even further into violence. As the Egyptian revolution has shown, the myriad interests and conflicts that emerge in the post-dictatorship power struggle can prove to be the undoing of the original aims of the revolution itself.  

It was the Gaddafi regime who originally characterised the rebels as less than human, unworthy of negotiating with on any matters, and they maintained this view despite the fact that the Libyan government was defecting more and more rapidly to the rebel's side. However, the rebels have now shown themselves to be equally brutal, and have transgressed the basic conditions upon which human rights are founded. Extra-judicial executions, conducted by rebel groups, can only lead to further a further descent into hell for the people of Libya. If what follows the revolution is a bullet fueled purge of any and all opposition to the rebels, then the old Libyan government and the new Libyan government will in effect be the same. Revolutionary movements, whether led or fragmented, often come to mirror those they fight against. It is their responsibility to break the pattern and establish a new history. Otherwise, they offer no improvement on what existed before them, and the sacrifices that were made to obtain freedom would have been made in vain. Their cause will not be recognised as just unless their actions are equally just, and nobody should overlook the executions and massacres that are being perpetrated by the rebels in their campaign. Freedom cannot be established through executing ones enemies. It begins when one forgives ones enemies and embraces them. Only then can the past be reconciled and a new future emerge. Should the killing continue in Libya, it will be torn apart, and Gaddafi would in the end be proved correct, that Libyans needed a dictator such as himself to hold them together. 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

How Left Meets Right and Collides Into Annihilation

This piece emerges from a particular perspective I have been nurturing; firstly in reaction to the emergence of a right wing discourse that rails against big government, and places all its faith in ‘the small guy’ who, in a neoliberal fantasy world where all things remain equal, will inevitably triumph over restrictive regulation and taxation and prevail in the  ‘free market’. Secondly, it is a reaction to the emergence of a left wing discourse that apriori assumes that the mechanisms of global hegemony are at work in every event and circumstance that unfolds upon our television and computer screens, fed by a corporatized media that slavishly and un-objectively executes the ‘will’ of their corporate owners. I will not debate the merits or the facts of the respective positions adopted by the left or the right. Instead, I will point out their ultimate similarities, and reveal how they become mirrors of each other, ultimately hijacking the political space for free expression and political debate, rendering those who do not fall within either camp, to the obscurity of political apathy.
The first view, maintained by the right, relegates any taxation, regulation, etc. as evil instruments of the left, who are constantly trying to find a way to dupe or con them into accepting dressed up forms of socialism and communism into their hallowed freedom, and to distort ‘true’ (read neoliberal or neoconservative) democracy. Fox news – the Rupert Murdoch owned channel that is unashamedly pro-conservative - is perhaps the best example of this view, where all debates are located in frameworks where the ‘right’ (in the sense of ‘correct’ here) view is presented as self-evident and obvious.  It is used as the framework for judging dissenting or differing opinion. It is not a neutral ground where opinions are debated on their own merit. Opinions are filtered through the ‘tea party’ discourse, chewed on like cud, and either expelled or grudgingly swallowed in the name of upholding the tenets of ‘freedom of opinion’. The conspiracy mill is very much alive and at constantly work on the right, rooting out the schemes of the left, finding fault with their nefarious ’do-gooder’, bleeding heart nonsense that is used to further an agenda of inciting class warfare and to put it simply, to use higher taxation and state resources to keep the lazy and unproductive afloat. The right, of this ilk, are not open to critique – they already ‘know’ what the problem is, and what the solutions are, and have no need for debate except in demonstrating that the freedom to debate still exists. This is ironic, even paradoxical, as it means that the freedom to engage or act does not exist in reality. What exists, is a shadow of freedom that masquerades as the real thing. You can disagree, but in reality, nobody is listening for disagreement. Their minds are made up and they only seek out agreement.
Likewise, the left have slowly but surely perverted the discourse on global hegemony into an apriori framework that informs all their analysis and opinion on global or local events. No longer does the left make recourse to objective analyses before arriving at an opinion or idea of what is transpiring. Rather, the discourse on global hegemony has gained so much strength that it serves as a conspiratorial meta-narrative through which all events and situations are filtered in analysis. There is a clear evil, and a clear good, and never the twain shall meet. The West, driven by its corporations and governments are intent on dominating the resource bases, polity and social values of all those within its borders and those outside of it. They are an evil machine that churns out self-serving platitudes to purposively dominate all events and all situations across the globe. The Western Empire trundles forth behind its massive weaponry, bombing whoever stands in their way, making  a mockery of the very values they purport to uphold, not unlike the hithertoe Catholic Church of yesteryear. Any action they take is not to be trusted, as it is loaded with hidden agendas to control the rest of the planet and its resource bases. In return, the left cheers any and all that make the appearance of ‘standing up to’ or ‘bucking’ the West, and regards them as brethren to which their loyalty must surely be given under any and all circumstances. They are loathe to criticise 'one of themselves' because they are all brothers and need each other in the great 'struggle' against the West. They are reluctant to be forcibly critical of the Chinese and Cuban governments, or Gaddafi and other 'left-aligned' populist dictators, despite the availability  of evidence of human rights violations in these countries. Like their right wing counterparts, the left also believe that there is no need for debate, except as a show of their appreciation of the need for ‘freedom of speech’. Yet they are not listening when opinions go against their framework of beliefs, as their beliefs have become foundational. They are not up for debate. Rather, their beliefs become a standard by which the debate (and those of dissenting  opinion) are judged. Often this judgement takes the form of “either you understand or you don’t”, and the left resorts to clich├ęs such as “there are none so blind as those who will not see!” to justify where it stands. You have to be able to 'see' the conspiracy by adopting a particular framework of interpretation, the interpretive framework does not necessarily have to follow from an analysis of each situation, taken on its own merits.
Yet there is something central in this attitude, because it is shared by both the left and the right, and in this sense they become mirrors of each other. It is political mysticism. It is simple to diagnose if you do not fall completely within either side. It is that there is a shared belief that understanding can only be achieved through one set of filters, and that these filters can only be understood or ‘seen’ if the individual searches deeply within themselves and interprets the evidence ‘honestly’ or 'in the right way'. It is mysticism dressed up as objectivity - a claim that there is 'correct' way of seeing, to the exclusion of others. Both sides appeal to a mystical sense of ‘knowing’ or being in the know, in order to arrive at the position that they have arrived at. In both cases, circular logic is imposed i.e. they begin from a foundational view, interpret all evidence within that foundational view, and thereafter declare the foundational view correct or justified. It is tautological; it starts and ends in the same place. Causality isn’t drawn out from the specificities of context – rather, causality is framed within the original, foundational position and over-arching meta-narrative. It is not true analysis. It is the same mystical belief shared by cults, who state the same thing, that is; “if you can’t see the mystical truth, then something is deficient in you” – it is your fault for not being able to see things their way. It is not incumbent upon them to convince you, you have to earn the privilege of sharing the right to the hallowed 'truth'.
Both the left and right have, in their extreme polarisation, become cult-like conspiracy mills in which any objective analysis of an event that occurs in real time, is obscured by historical meta-narratives that claim a hegemony of their own over all present and future events. Yet seldom do the proponents of either side step back to ask the critical question, “if we already know the answer, then what is the point of analysis?” And this is the question that reveals what the right-left mirror constituencies have become – they have become fundamentalists who believe in foundational views. Things as they are, or will be, have no uniqueness, they have no contextuality to those who occupy the poles. Rather, they can only be understood through  foundational filters.
And this is where the problems begin, for the exclusivity of these cults relegate a large number of people to the domain of the politically apathetic. Why? Because apathy is not just a consequence of laziness or political illiteracy, it is also a consequence of the exceptionalism of the right and the left. It results from perceiving that one is unable to engage politically, except if one adopts one of the sides in this bipolar form of democracy. In short, starting in the middle is useless - you have to choose a side. For many, they become apathetic because the moment they express an opinion, either side pounces upon them and rebukes them for not knowing the mystical 'truths' that they should know about 'how the world really works'. And nobody likes to ‘not be in the know’. So shutting up is the first option. The second option is to regard both sides with the same contempt that is reserved for religious cults and to block them out completely. They ruin life by harping on the same chords and singing the same songs, time and time again. In turn, the left and right predictably withdraw to their self-righteous thrones and denounce the state of knowledge and understanding amongst the ‘masses’ in the world, who deceived by the ‘powers that be’ cannot distinguish right from wrong. Very scarcely do they stop to consider the thought that this disengagement, this apathy, might actually result from the degrees of polarisation on the right and left, which leaves the space in the middle a political ‘no-man’s land’. 
To paraphrase the comedian Chris Rock, “Nowadays everybody wants to be down with the gang … I’m a republican, I’m a conservative … no decent person is one thing or another … listen to the issue, let that shit swirl around your head.” It is this gang, or cult mentality that has infected the global political state of debate. It leaves a huge, yawning gap in the middle, where the possibility of finding a third actually way exists. Yet without any legitimate free debate being allowed to grow and mature out of this middle, no new ideas are being born. We oscillate in an endless debate between outdated theories that were written in an age that has long past. It is almost as if we are dragging the past into the present and forcing it upon a new age and era because we have run out of ideas. Instead, all we have is our suspicion of ‘the other’ to draw on, and those who dominate the political spectrum love this as it plays perfectly into the divide and conquer strategy that makes it easy for politiicans to dupe us. It prevents us from formulating a system that can eventually displace rhetoric, and absolves us from dealing the realities of poverty, inequality, oppression, hunger, slavery, war, etc. in any substantive measure. Who needs facts, and textured contextual analysis when the moment you open your mouth, an 'angel' sings the truth through you? What more could you ask for?
Real freedom, according to Slavoj Zizkek in "First As Tragedy, Then as Farce", is the freedom to fundamentally change the political systems we live with. This is a view that appeals to my sensibilities. The freedom we have today, is the freedom to “live as if we were free” (Zizek paraphrased), and Zizek diagnoses correctly that both the left and the right are complicit in landing us in this mess. In the absence of any substantial progress on agreeing what real, fundamental changes are necessary, we are relegated to the domain of the mystical in our politics. We either ‘understand’ or we don’t. Anything else is anathema. The rhetoric of the left and the right becomes ineffable – it needs no authority but itself – it becomes the word of God. This bland, but dangerously polarising political mysticism ultimately undoes freedom by undoing the secularity of freedom itself from within, but employs dogma and rhetoric instead of religion. The foundational views of either side are elevated beyond reproach and are not up for question. It is my contention that this is why we are failing, over and over again, even 11 years into the new century, to formulate a new politics. It is because we are not truly free. And this time, it is not governments who are robbing us of our freedom, but our own propensity for recreating ideological no-go zones that have come to define our lifestyles, personalities and generally, our reason for existence. In short, we have become confused between the freedom to change systems and the freedom to champion a position. The freedom to champion a singular position eventually weighs down like an anchor around our necks, and we become stuck, rigid. What kind of freedom is this? A 'groundhog day' freedom is not freedom. It is the farcical enactment of freedom.
Real freedom allows and enables us to let go of cherished ideals and beliefs (even for a short while), to be able to entertain perspectives from the viewpoint or standpoint of others. If we cannot achieve this then the other remains a monstrous construct, to which the only logical end is the use of force or violence. Where there can be no dialogue, the only recourse to resolve conflict becomes violence, which is easier if the other is your exact opposite in the first place (i.e. an abomination of you). The left-right mirror opposites are like matter and anti-matter. They emerge out of a vacuum, moving backward and forward in time, and then they collide and annihilate, disappearing into the vacuum. Nothing new is created by their emergence, or their disappearance, energy is conserved in the reaction because they are equal opposites to each other. Their entanglement does not result in the creation of anything but their mutually brief existences, and  then they are gone, unable to be grasped or drawn into the real. It is the very anti-thesis of the Gandhian approach, or the approach taken by such luminaries such as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. In this new world, “love thine enemy” is utilised instrumentally, in much the same way the rhetoric of ‘free speech and debate’ is invoked and the farce of ‘objective analysis’ is made. No real effort is made to interrogate the fundamentals upon which either side stands, by themselves. Instead, what we observe is two cult-like followings who cast barbs at each other and stand in judgement of each other. Not everybody has the stomach for this, and the levels of disengagement and apathy towards local and global politics we see in the world today is a consequence of the failure to allow for true pluralism, where freedom reigns. Rather, politics is led by the exceptionalism and exclusivity of the cult, and if you haven’t had your mystical moment of realisation then you don’t qualify to enter the political domain. Indeed, you are worse off than an island in no-man’s land. It is for this reason that my position is that it is ultimately better to be hated by both the left and the right than to be loved by them, because if you allow them to love you they quickly rob you of your voice. You end up speaking with someone else’s voice, and not your own – that is; the voice of whichever visionary, angel, God or demi-God the cult chooses as its soothsayer at that moment in time.
In the spirit of this piece, you, the reader, have all the freedom in the world to disagree with me. This is not a search for yet another absolute position, but an appeal for greater tolerance, broader debate and for sincere analysis that can help us formulate different ways of enabling our freedom in this new global era. My appeal is that you seek more deeply to understand those positions you might disagree with most. It is not easy to do this, but it does help open up dialogues and debates that have a genuine freedom and not a contrived freedom in which agendas and positions are already worked out. My appeal is that you judge the transition that the globe is undergoing as vigilantly as you can, but allow the context and evidence to inform your judgement, rather than retro-fitting the evidence to a framework you have already decided upon. The more you fail to achieve this on the left and right, the more you alienate those who aren’t ‘believers’ and rob them of their chance to enter the debate. It is your messianic exceptionalism that catalyses apathy. Ultimately, however, I am acutely aware that the majority of you will end up hating me for diagnosing you as part of the problem. I, being hated by both sides, also become part of the problem in this respect, but I welcome your hate. It is nothing new to me. I’d rather you hate me than you love me, because your love is more dangerous than hate.


Thursday, 20 October 2011

With Gaddafi Dead, Libya's Biggest Challenges Begin

The death of Muammar Gaddafi has been announced by both sides, and footage of his dead body, at first hunched over headfirst into the street, then turned over with what seemed to be the help of a foot and sprawled out on the street for a head-shot, his hands still tangled up in the sleeves of his shirt above his head. An awful end, as awful as many have had in defence against his repression, and in defence of his regime. It was perhaps a fitting death that resonated with the tragedy of his character - in the end, delusional and self-aggrandizing in equal measure, able only to see his heroic reflection mirrored back at him through the eyes of himself and others. The martyr's death he sought out did not find him. A martyr is only a martyr in the eyes of others, not in his own eyes.

Yet the finality that accompanies the death of a dictator, or the removal of a dictator, is often misleading. The euphoria of freedom, while well deserved in most cases, having followed a difficult struggle to attain it, can create the conditions for the smooth talkers to enter the fray and hijack the newfound freedom, while it is still virginal, untouched and untested. In the desperation to make a show of stability and solidarity to the outside world, many compromises may be made without thinking through the long term consequences sufficiently. This is not to suggest that compromises won't be necessary. Undoubtedly, compromise will play a key role in establishing the bonds and trust that is necessary to forge unity. However, instead of speeding up the transition, now is the time to slow it down. In the rush towards a new dispensation, there is a good chance that Libya might establish agreements (especially over it's oil and natural gas) that may seem worthwhile in the short term (primarily to get funds into the new government), but may in the long term lead to the self-replication of the very same structures and power relationships that enabled their oppression in the first place.

This is the time for Libya to slow down the technocrats who will undoubtedly invade their newly freed country, promising to rebuild infrastructures and ensure prosperity and global competitiveness. Their primary goals will be to get the flow of oil and gas pumping again, and to ensure their share of it for the needs of their respective markets or countries. They will remind Libyans of how the western world views them, and distrusts their commitment to 'global principles', in much the same way as the new dispensation in South Africa was coaxed to privatise and deregulate the South African economy just two years into the new democracy (in 1996). Above all, Libyans will have to recognise that building a new democratic dispensation is not a technical exercise. It is a profoundly socio-cultural and political exercise. Democratic countries can often give the appearance of stability and wealth generation, yet the fundamental values upon which democracy is constructed can be absent. These are empty vessels, where democratic rhetoric prevails while the institutions, power relations and political structures remain the same, or worsen, deepening inequality, corruption and poverty. Putting the technical needs of a democracy first - i.e. rebuilding infrastructures, stimulating consumption, and so forth - while understandable, has been the undoing of many newly founded democracies.

What Libyans should be acutely conscious of, is how adopting policies, positions and trade, regulatory and governance frameworks that may at first seem desirable, may in the end lead to the formation or re-establishment of the very same structures that prevailed in the past, or new forms of the same exploitative hierarchies, structures and processes of governance i.e. the same old wolves disguised in the new sheepskin gear of democratic progress. The sly opportunists will also make their voices heard, now that the danger of death is no longer imminent, and they may even exploit pre-existing divisions to achieve their ends. Now is the time for vigilance in Libya - I must add, a calm vigilance that slows down the pace of change enough for engagement of all the peoples and communities of Libya to be achieved, in formulating their new constitutionality and form of government. Democracy is by no means a faithful partner, it requires rethinking, contemplating, consulting widely and acting with care. At worst, democracy yields a mirage of freedom - an appearance of freedom may prevail, yet it will remain beyond one's grasp.

The Transitional National Council will face difficult challenges now that they will be called upon to ensure that the functions and services of the state is restored, and that society can begin to live again. It is appropriate to celebrate the newfound freedom that Libyans have achieved through half a year of desperate fighting. That is undoubtedly deserved. But Libyans should beware the rush to establish 'normality'. New norms need to be established for democracy to thrive. These are not universal, and should be determined from engagement with citizens from every community, district, town and city in Libya. The Libyan constitution should be drafted by the people of Libya, and not a select group of appointed representatives who specialise in writing new constitutions for virginal democracies. If it is formulated in this way it will not reflect the will of the Libyan people as expressed by themselves. It will be a second-hand constitutionality that runs the risk of being equally foreign to Libyans as the very same regime they fought against.

There will be heavy international pressure to turn the Libyan revolution into a success as quickly as possible so that nations who backed the Libyan rebels can find justification for their decision to intervene. The timing is good, as by comparison the Egyptian revolution seems to be faltering under heavy military rule, and the Syrian and Bahraini peaceful uprisings have been brutally repressed by their regimes, who are still in place. Libya will be touted as an 'example' of how regime change can be effected through intervention. In short, where George Bush Jr failed  through war in the Middle East, Barack Obama will be eager to show success. There is a danger in this, as eagerness to achieve 'success' often results in the show of success rather than substantive, real results. Moreover, the scars of war and conflict will take longer to heal than might at first be appreciated. Re-building society in the aftermath of war requires more than just re-establishing basic services. It requires rebuilding communities that may be deeply affected by the war. It requires reconciling the conflicts and feuds that may remain, even after freedom has been achieved. It also requires broad participation in envisioning what kind of country Libya should be in the future. Failure to approach the future through wary eyes may result in a Libya that Libyans are still not free in, and in which their freedoms are guaranteed on paper, but not in practice. Slowing down, and taking each step carefully, will go further towards ensuring a lasting democracy in Libya.










Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Urban Environmental Accords

I attended the recent summit for the Urban Environmental Accords held in Gwangju, South Korea, between 11-13 October 2011. The event was attended by a large range of city mayors and governments, most of whom were from developing world contexts. The event served more as an awareness building exercise than an opportunity for negotiation, and while it received heavy media coverage within South Korea, it largely went unnoticed by the international press. To some extent, it seemed to be conducted in the shadow of the upcoming COP17 international climate agreement negotiations forum to be held in Durban later this year. This was a pity, as it is clear that cities are experiencing rapid growth (especially in the developing world), and are already consumers of 80% of global material and energy supply, and producers of 75-80% of GHG emissions. As such, cities themselves hold the key to taking local actions and forging inter-city agreements, forming funding and support mechanisms (e.g. skills transfer) that can help bring about the drastic reductions in emissions that are required for slowing down the effects of global climate change. The lack of attention that the Urban Environmental Accords is receiving (in comparison to COP 17) is symptomatic of the often misplaced belief that is placed in international consensus and cooperation in the era of globalisation. While global agreements are important, it does not stop cities from making agreements with each other, and innovating new funding and cooperation mechanisms that are required in light of the uncertainty that centralised funding of carbon trading faces post 2012. Indeed, this is what the World Bank itself seemed to be encouraging in it's presentation at the summit.

A key issue that was raised at the summit, was the difficulty of accounting for emissions savings and reductions, and the difficulty of negotiating the bureaucracy of centralised emission tradings schemes. In particular, developing world countries and cities often lack the institutional capacity and skills that are required to access these funds, effectively rendering the process useless to them. In respect of this, simplified procedures and protocols have been put in place for city-level emissions trading by the World Bank, so "in theory" city-level trading can now commence. It remains to be seen to what level these theoretical arrangements can be actualised in practice, but it is a good sign that efforts have been made to enable emissions trading at the city level. 

What was clear from the discussions and presentations that were made at the summit, is that cities have an overwhelmingly large role to play in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and that this role is being accepted by city governments. Many are aligning their infrastructural, economic and human competence development strategies with the goals of low-carbon consumption, production and waste in mind. Achieving the behavioural changes that are required for low and zero carbon living to take root, was also recognised as a core goal. In short, business-as-usual in cities has to change, and city governments are grappling with the question of how best to make infrastructural changes that will enable a low-carbon future. 

In respect of infrastructure, the core themes that were dealt with at the summit include; building energy efficiency, waste management, sustainable urban transport, water and wastewater, and urban ecosystem management. Notably, even though food in European cities (for example) account for up to 30% of their ecological footprint, the food sector was not formally dealt with at the summit. This, despite the high levels of awareness that middle class, global consumers themselves have displayed in the food choices they make and how that affects the global climate and environmental sustainability. Over and above the particular themes, it was also widely recognised that integrated approaches towards carbon reduction and sustainability were required at the city level i.e. approaches that can help address the symptoms of the prevailing urban divide, such as poverty, inequality, unemployment, lack of access to basic services, lack of mobility, and so forth. Integrated approaches that can address social, economic and ecological concerns are necessary to ensure sustainability in the long term.

At the end of the summit, there was a lack of concrete agreements and arrangements for how to stimulate and maintain inter-city cooperation, and to put agreements in place that could be monitored and adapted over time. Rather, the main directive seemed to be to raise the importance of city-level issues at COP17. It is difficult to imagine how this will be possible amidst the din that will ensue at COP17, where myriad and diverse interests will gather, each with their own particular sub-agenda to champion. It may well prove that the cities agenda may be lost within this tangle of competing interests, and remain under-appreciated for its importance in actualising real change at local levels that can lead to significant global emission reductions. Cities have the potential to steam ahead on the emissions reduction front, and to take the lead that many national governments have been unable to. In this respect, although the summit was useful in resurrecting the Urban Environmental Accords, a great deal more work remains to be done between cities themselves. The good news is that they do not have to wait for international agreements to proceed. A framework already exists in which they can begin participating in emissions reductions, and earning carbon emission reduction credits for these activities.