Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ogling the Poor Is Never Cool

I recently read this article by Jina Moore about poverty tourism, making my post of a few days ago seem relevant enough, if a year late. Moore believes that critiques of such tours have less to do with exploiting the poor, but rather discomfort with "our own economic power and our concerns about using it ethically." She contends that tourists have no issue with exploiting the rich by viewing their, such as touring Windsor castle, but I strongly disagree with the comparison. A tour of Windsor castle or the White House are sterile and static experiences, polished facades presented to the public devoid of actual "living". There are no people and the point of the tour isn't the people, but rather the opulence of where and how they live. Poverty tourism, on the other hand, while also relying on the "where" and "how", relies on displaying the people, the poor, themselves. you don't tour an empty village with a guide showing you a shack families may sleep in; you walk around their very lives, ogling at the misfortune.

The most telling difference, however, is the implicit idea that experiencing the world of the poor will make you, the viewer, a better person. There's no mention in any brochure or advertisement - that's why it's implicit - but by talking to individuals who vacation in Africa, who go on "village walks", who specifically request visiting rural schools, it's there. And that's why it's exploitative. My slum tour is certainly no Millennium Village - that's actually a great project - but, willingly or unwillingly, no person should be part of a zoo.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cat Naps

I am currently popping a few Hydroxycut everyday, not because I think that they will miraculously melt away pounds without any effort on my part (I am running again and whatnot), but because I am impatient to return to my pre-Uganda level of fitness: I want to lose ten pounds. Just ten stubborn little pounds. Or five? Maybe two? No, I'd be content with five. I want to look good in my skinny jeans again.

Yet a couple of hours after taking them, the initial "high" wears off and I crash, hard. During said crash I often find those two adorable furballs seen above curled on my bed, tempting me with sleep. I admit I can't resist their snuggly nature.

I sometimes take naps at 9:30 in the morning.

I seriously need a job.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Exploiting Poverty Is Awesome!

Please look at this flyer. Take your time. Here's the back:

The print may be small, but you should be able to read it. However, I'll paraphrase it for you:

Eager to experience life in the slum?

Well, you know, I am curious as to how those people live, but it can't be safe to walk through such a place.

No worries - you're guided by people who are from the slums! You can visit families where people are dying from AIDS and who knows what else. You can also visit prostitutes and give them condoms! Imagine how grateful they'll be! Maybe there will be time to pop into a school so children whom you will never see again (nor they you) can greet and sing for you. It's awesome!

Plus, since you'll be with a local person, you can take pictures! With no guilt! After all, what's the point of experiencing slum life if you can't show others what it's like? Show them that you intimately understand the problems facing the poorest of the poor.

And . . . breathe.

I had forgotten about this brochure I found in Red Chilli's information area, with advertisements for all sorts of activities available to the tourist in Uganda. Hmm, gorilla trekking, safari, ooo! slum tour! I am sure AFFCAD is doing wonderful things, but exploiting people in this way can't be one of them. I-I am not sure - what the fuck are you experiencing in a four-hour tour? How is this any different from a human zoo? Doesn't the organization realize this? Doesn't anyone who would even consider taking this trip? It would be better to simply donate 20,000ugx.

I am filled with questions and frustration. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Death and Writer's Block

Yesterday was the three-year anniversary of my mother's death, but rather than reflect on her affection or lost personality traits, but considering the difficulty I am having with my publishing my "genocide theory" posts, what comes to mind is how her death affected my writing.

Mom died the summer between my first and second (final) year of my Master's program. Not surprisingly, I had no idea how to cope with her unexpected death. I considered taking time off from school, but listening to my father's advice ("that's not what she would have wanted") I soldiered on - in my own way. Simple coursework (and papers) didn't fill my mind enough, so I applied for (and was hired) as a full-time employee at REI. (I was already working there, part-time, but became the full-time frontline specialist. Oh, and I was good, for whatever that counts.)

I contented myself with working 38 hours per week, going to school on my two days off and reading (for school) in the evenings. I also had AA meetings and alcohol education classes to fill my time (requirements of my drunk-driving arrest the previous year.) No time to think about death or my mother or anything, really - which was the point. Complete focus on everything except the devastating reality of Mom's death. I also drank a lot.

I didn't fully realize what I was doing until I attempted to write my end-of-quarter research papers. I admit I don't remember too many details (I hate to sound cliched, but that time really is a blur) but one course's paper revolved around the initiation and circumcision rituals of Nilo-Saharan (African) tribes, though I don't remember the actual point of writing about it. (That particular laptop suffered horribly under some pornsite-inspired virus - obviously not my doing! - and, still stupid enough to not back-up information, I lost everything on that hard-drive. Though, considering the paper in question, not such a loss to posterity.) What I remember is sitting at my desk and typing: The majority of Nilo-Saharan tribes performed circumcision, with the exception of a few who didn't for various reasons. Yep.

I am fairly sure that "yep" was in my original draft - if you consider two sentences a "draft." It was while staring at my pitiful opening (and current best attempt of the paper) that I realized I was avoiding my mother's death. Of course it wasn't central-African circumcision rites that provoked such a realization, but rather my inability to think, much less write, analytically. I had spent the past four months actively suppressing my emotions and memories; writing anything of value required that I open my mind, thereby freeing those emotions I was desperately trying to Forcing my brain to work beyond basic functions freed emotions I was desperately trying to suppress. Yet no matter how much I tried to avoid life, subconsciously I couldn't avoid my mental breakdown. And that's what it was: for a time, I completely lost my grasp of reality and refused to acknowledge what was before me. Writing forced that acknowledgment on me and, ultimately, I was better for it.

And here I am again, trying to write while trying to avoid something. Not death this time - I have accepted the loss of my parents and though I miss them terribly, painfully, I no longer have to ignore those feelings to function - but rather the realization that I need a guidance counselor. Do they have those for adults? My life has taken so many unexpected turns that I can no longer guess where I'm headed. Not just death, but marriage - when did I ever believe I would get married? Never, until Seth came along, so now I not only think about "where is my life going?" but also "where is our life going?" A year into wedded bliss and that one still stumps me - how do I think about two people when I can't even manage one? If there's ever a time when I miss my parents' guidance, this is it.

Seriously, though, about that guidance counselor: where can I make an appointment?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Continuing Effects

I am preparing my next post on genocide theory, but while waiting for that let's consider the continuing effects of genocide:

The vice-president of Rwanda's Green Party was found dead just a few days ago. The police claim he was robbed, but as his wallet and money were not taken from him and he was found "nearly beheaded", it's more likely he was targeted as an opposition figure. This happened approximately one month after another opposition figure, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, was shot in Johannesburg, and also a month after the journalist who accused the Rwandan government of attempting to assassinate Nyamwasa was himself shot and killed.

So Rwanda is perhaps not as safe as it is touted to be, but what does this have to do with genocide? Everything, actually: Paul Kagame endlessly uses the Rwandan genocide as an excuse for any actions the government and army take that are considered questionable or illegal. This includes invading DRC in order to plunder its mineral wealth; closing newspapers and blocking opposition parties from registering for the presidential elections; and assassinating opposition members. But before you speak up and openly accuse Kagame of such oppressive practices, remember that he and the RPF liberated Rwanda from a devastating and particularly brutal genocide while the rest of world looked away.

However, considering that Kagame and the RPF invaded Rwanda in order to take control of the government and the country - and once the genocide began, continued with this plan, clearly avoiding areas where massacres were occurring - how long can we be expected to turn on our backs on such obvious displays of fascism? Taking power by force is one thing - of course the US can't be too critical about that - but sixteen years later it's time to let the political process normalize.

And stop guilt-tripping people who dare criticize your actions - the honeymoon ended long ago.

Image courtesy

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stages, Steps and Other Categorizations of Genocide

The 8 Stages of Genocide, as listed by Genocide Watch, are as follows:

1. Classification
2. Symbolization
3. Dehumanization
4. Organization
5. Polarization
6. Preparation
7. Extermination
8. Denial

As a checklist o' genocide, the list is extremely useful, but assumes a systematic nature of the crime that I am not fully convinced exists. This list has been referenced and reused consistently in books and articles without criticism or comment - its ubiquity proves its validity; I don't need to go into detail as to why that's a problem. Yet the majority of the steps can happen without genocide being the ultimate goal. This does not mean that it is healthy or positive if a society is busily classifying its citizens into distinct groups or actively engaging in polarization - it just means that genocide is not the inevitable conclusion in those scenarios. Yes, this is why there are genocide "watches" and genocide "warnings", but the criteria for those labels are fairly broad (more on that later.)

Genocide Watch* also provides a list of The 12 Ways to Deny Genocide, originally compiled by Israel Charny. These tactics include victim-blaming; minimize statistics; claim that deaths were inadvertent; blame "out-of-control" forces; and "definitionalist" denial - the acts under question do not fit the definition of genocide. Of course, if the definition of genocide itself comes into question, so does that form of denial. Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and author of the list, insists that most people who use the "definition denial" have never actually read the UN Convention (therefore do not know the legal definition), but I respectfully disagree: it is by using a very close reading or interpretation of the Convention that such denials find purchase. Nevertheless, I have no doubt of the validity of the points made in this list; rather, I have a problem with making general examples of denial genocide-specific.

More on this in the next post, because I realize it's been two weeks since I began this genocide discussion (long even for me!) and so I need to get it back on track. Check out the lists, think about them, and come back soon.

*I am using Genocide Watch not to take issue with that site in particular, but rather because it easier to reference something easily accessible by the general public as opposed to books or journals only available in university research libraries.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bombs and the Horn

With at least 74 people dead following bomb attacks at two locations in Kampala, Somalia is receiving renewed attention (thanks to Al Shabab claiming responsibility) - but to what end? It is unlikely that the attacks will encourage African nations (especially Uganda) to remove troops from Somalia - increased engagement in more likely - but is that the best solution for peace and a viable government in Somalia?

What does it take to remove the monikers of "failed state" and "terrorist haven" from Somalia? More diplomatic attention, especially from Arab states? Greater focus on clan coalitions? The past 20 years of conflict prove that there is no easy answer (considering how complicated the situation is) but surely there's a better way than simply try to keep the fighting - and refugees - from spilling over into neighboring countries?

So many questions, but all pointing in the same direction: the need for a secure and politically viable Horn. Without that, how can we expect safety and development in East Africa - or all of Africa, for that matter?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Oh, Uganda (5)

Cheap food.

Yes, I have been out of the country for over a week now, but I can still post the things I will miss. Like these crayfish.

A fisherman came to The Heart selling 100 for 1,500ugx; I bought 200. 200 crayfish for 3,000ugx - that's not even a $1.50. Sweet, delicious, fresh crayfish, buck and a half, right at your doorstep. Not to mention the most amazing pineapples (25 cents); tart passion fruits (1kilo = $1); mangos and guavas straight from the tree - and jackfruits, too! What's not to love?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Genocide Theory

Revolutionary White Girl recently posted a blog concerning a trip she made to a genocide memorial in Rwanda, a trip which made her rethink the concept of genocide, as her blog did for me. It's time to break out of the domestic bliss I've been living in for the past week and start focusing on my great academic love again: genocide theory.

Like RWG, I have struggled with the concept of the term "genocide", to the point that is became the underlying theme of my Master's thesis. However, I haven't thought of it much since turning in said thesis, so I figure it's time to revisit that struggle. Over the coming weeks (yes, weeks, because I know myself) genocide theory will be my main theme, as I detail my problems with the concept and its applicability to modern events. Some of my ideas are fairly lucid while others are demonstrative of my inability to adequately verbalize my thoughts. I appreciate - and desire - any and all feedback.

One of the main ideas behind the creation of the word "genocide" (as defined by Raphael Lemkin in his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe) was that genocide was a crime out of place Western Enlightenment principles, therefore out of place in "civilized" nations. Not an unacceptable crime as such, but unacceptable within Western, first-world ideals. It was not accidental that the perspectives and peoples of the South were completely disregarded - Lemkin himself attributed the fate of the Hereros and Congolese (for example) to their own "barbaric" natures.* It stands, then, that the "crime without a name" was a crime of barbarity - a crime of the Other.

Furthermore, the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which provides the legal definition, is overly dependent on the specific crimes of the Holocaust, resulting in the constant search for similarities between modern instances of mass violence and the crimes of the Nazi regime. Considering that more scholarship is available on the Holocaust (including all the history that word entails) than all other genocides combined, the search for connections is understandable, but mistaken. If the Holocaust is just one example of genocide among many, than the UN Convention should not include specific details pertinent only to Holocaust history ("forcibly transferring children of the group to another group" is an explicit reference to Nazi policy) but rather should be rewritten to broadly encompass all possibilities. On the other hand, if the Holocaust is "uniquely unique", as some Holocaust scholars claim, than it should in no way be the basis for international law. It is beyond comparison and any attempts otherwise will ultimately prove futile.

If a law is intimately rooted in the crimes of the mid-twentieth century than it will not be able to evolve along with modern methods of war and concepts of human rights - and an evolving law is desperately needed. Despite the existence of the UN Convention, there is no consensus on what genocide actually is: is it a crime specifically of "intended extermination; a descriptive term useful only in its ability to classify certain acts; a historical phenomenon?** In common usage, "genocide" applies to all three, but is that valid? Common usage (common knowledge) also equates genocide with "the simple desire to kill as many of one's enemy as possible,"*** but surely genocide is meant to be more than that? Otherwise, why differentiate between acts of war and acts of genocide - or should we?

* - Dominik Schaller, "Raphael Lemkin's View of European Colonial Rule in Africa: between Condemnation and Admiration," Journal of Genocide Research 2005. See also John Cooper, Raphael Lemkin and the Struggle for the Genocide Convention.
** - Henry Huttenbach, "Gerlach Reconsidered: Search for Terminological Clarity," JoGR 2007.
*** - Anthony Pagden, "Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State II", JoGR 2007.