Zambia’s political crisis is not just about democracy

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Check out my latest piece on the ongoing Zambian political crisis, published today in Al Jazeera English.

Here are some extracts:

“[Zambia] is the world’s seventh largest copper producer. This metal is essential to economic development in the global North and BRICS. While Chinese investment is growing, the main player in the Zambian mining sector is white capital from South Africa and the West.

There are considerable reserves of uranium, a mineral in high demand with the increase of civilian nuclear energy projects around the world. Uranium is of strategic interest to global superpowers, as fears of global conflict fuel debates about propping up nuclear arsenals.”

“Zambia, like the rest of Africa, needs a new deal to recover its stolen wealth parked in tax havens around the world. Big capital from the West and BRICS have coopted local politicians at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. The priorities should be nationalisation and redistribution programmes.

Zambia cannot go at it alone. There is a need for a strong African Union and regional alliances to fend off the rule of foreign capital. The popularity of similar proposals in the West – for instance, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Manifesto in Britain – can be harnessed to normalise African demands.”

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UK election: vote Labour and SNP to stop the Tories

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Tomorrow’s general election in the UK will have an impact beyond the narrowing borders of the growing white nationalist parochialism that has infected Britain from left to right.

A Tory victory would be a disaster, contributing to more instability and devastation in the global South, through wars, dodgy deals, and rapacious moves to protect British multinationals’ investment.

Theresa May is the European counterpart of her close ally, Donald Trump: erratic, careless, fascist and racist. Neither of them can stand their ground when challenged in conversations lasting more than two minutes.

May brings together the worst of white nationalism with the worst of neoliberal austerity. Her government would aggravate the epidemic of militant racism and hate crimes that has been spreading in Britain for some time now.

In England and Wales, the most viable alternative to the Tories is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. What they offer is inadequate and their agenda has significantly turned right, especially on migration and security.

But Corbyn would be a much better counterpart to soften the Brexit deal. His anti-war credentials will at least ensure that he won’t do anything rash to inflame an already explosive situation in the Middle East and North Africa. The Labour manifesto also mentions decisive action on tax havens, where British banks play a huge role and help Western corporations and rich individuals pillage Africa’s wealth.

In the seats where Greens have a chance, it will be important to support them and have their voice represented in parliament.

In Scotland, the Scottish National Party is the best bet. Unlike Labour, they have not betrayed their pro-migrant, anti-Brexit stance. Their push for an independent Scotland within the EU makes more sense than Brexit Britain going far right.

Labour’s spectacular come back in the polls means that it is possible that the Tories will lose their majority in the House of Commons. An even better outcome would be if Labour, SNP, Greens and others will have the numbers to form an anti-Tory coalition government. A lot will depend on whether young people, who are overwhelmingly anti-Tory, will show up in numbers at the ballot box.

If you have the right to vote in Britain, make sure you vote to stop the Tories.

We are all Helen Zille. Or, why the West thinks that colonialism was not all bad

Check out my latest piece in Africa Is A Country on South African prominent white politician Helen Zille’s tweets in defence of colonialism. I talk about southern African whites and Western scholars’ involvement in spreading ideas about Western superiority.

Here is an extract:

“The end of colonialism, apartheid and Jim Crow have marked the global rise of liberal racism – what sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls ‘racism without racists’. Even when we do not openly endorse colonialism like Zille does, our works are filled with strategic silences, omissions and erasures that continue to sustain ideas of Western superiority.”

 

 

“It’s Tony Blair’s fault…”

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An imaginary conversation with the Labour leadership.

Me: “Was it right to push your MPs to vote for Brexit with no conditions attached? None of your amendments have passed, aren’t you just handing Britain on a platter to the anti-migrant ultra-nationalist vision of Theresa May?”

Labour leadership: “It’s all Tony Blair’s fault”.

Me: “What about your defeat to the Tories in Copeland in the recent by-election? Sure, Labour’s decline has been there for a while, but you held that seat since 1935, Tories went up dramatically, UKIP wasn’t really a threat…”.

L: “It’s the Blairites’ fault”.

Me: “You did win in Stoke, does that mean that the Blairites help you win Stoke? Given that they are to blame for Copeland…”

L: “It’s a sign of the great victory of the working classes led by Jeremy Corbyn and a new radical agenda, it will be a socialist revolution, Stoke is the proof”.

Me: “Yet, despite all the door-to-door campaigning, of course it was a by-election, but the turnout was still pretty low, and even if one looks at the vote shares compared to 2015, you lost two points, and UKIP and Tories went up a few points…”

L: “It’s Tony Blair’s fault”.

Me: “The Blairites have caused great damage to the party, and they will do everything they can to oust Corbyn, but are you going to take responsibility for the mistakes done since you took over the leadership? And isn’t the fact that you are still claiming to be ineffectual because of the Blairites a clear sign of failure on your side as well?”

L: “It’s the Blairites’ fault, they are here to get us, no matter what”.

Me: “Was McDonnell’s latest message to Labour members the best response to the Copeland defeat? I mean, what kind of message are you giving to your base by focusing only on the conspiracy of the Blairites and the Murdoch media to get you? Isn’t this just another bit of exaggerated one-way propaganda with no hopeful content about what you are offering, what you are about?”

L: “You said it, it’s a conspiracy, it’s Tony Blair’s fault”.

Me: “Do you think it is wise to pander to rampant right wing nationalism and abandon solidarity with migrants? Doesn’t this betray your socialist internationalist principles? Doesn’t it push you dangerously close to May’s rhetoric and the far right?”

L: “These are minor issues, now we have to respect people’s will – they want migrants out, you know – but we will reopen the borders later, we are absolutely committed to open borders. We have the opportunity to bring about a socialist democracy in Britain, it’s just around the corner, we can’t be let down by these sterile debates. We condemn hate and racism against migrants and people of colour, always…

Me: “You mean like David Cameron and Theresa May…”

L: “… and anyway, it’s Tony Blair’s fault”.

Me: “I find it interesting that despite the vitriolic anti-Blairite rhetoric, you are actually finding common ground with the old guard on anti-immigration policies. Tom Watson recently proposed an apartheid-style system of internal controls for migrants, he said it’s currently being debated within Labour.”

L: “I have no time for you, the revolution is waiting. Bye”.

United against Trump

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The poor showing at Trump’s inauguration, and the massive turnout at the Women’s Marches, together with Trump’s popular vote defeat by nearly 3 million votes, prove that chasing Trump supporters is not only ethically problematic, but also strategically wrong. Trump did not win. He got into power thanks to the increasing fragmentation and disunity of its opposition, caused in no minor part by decades of neoliberalism and its co-option of large sections of the left.

The way to fight Trump and the rise of Euro-American fascism is unity, that much is clear.  We need a vision that rejects the unbridled rule of corporations and imperialist states over people’s lives, and the systemic racism and sexism that underpins the current world order. We should strive for models that preserve the planet from the threat of climate change, and stop the pillaging of natural resources and destruction of local livelihoods carried out to fuel an unsustainable and unequal global economy.

We should build on the contribution of queer, feminist and Black activists that showed us that this movement can only be intersectional, taking into account how all forms of oppression and discrimination interact with each other in complex and non-obvious ways. Class is not a primary reality of capital that precedes all other identities, rather it intersects with them in a non-hierarchical fashion. But disagreement with those who continue to believe in the “primacy of class” should not lead to disunity in struggle. We can work together and map a common ground. 

We are led by those who have borne the worst effects of centuries of exploitation and discrimination, well before aggressive neoliberalism eroded the livelihoods of the Western middle classes: people of colour, queer and non-binary people, women, migrants, refugees, indigenous people, people with disabilities, low-income and precarious workers, the unemployed and the underemployed, and other oppressed groups, in no hierarchical order.

We should engage in tough and frank dialogue with leaders like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. They have in different ways softened their stances against nationalist and racist arguments for economic protectionism, in the hope that a compromise would be possible to steer some of the voters who support Trump and the far right towards a progressive alternative. Sanders and Corbyn are mistaken, but we want them to understand this, reverse their positions, and contribute to the emerging anti-Trump movement.

There are a few things we don’t need to do: we don’t need to empathise with Trump supporters and far right voters in Europe; we don’t need to reach to them; we don’t need to give more airtime to their views. It’s up to us. We can claim the democratic right to express our firm rejection of xenophobic and racist nationalism, or let people like Trump and Farage call the shots. We don’t need their voters to win in the ballot box, but they will be welcome if and when they realise they were wrong.

In the world we want to live in, there is space for everybody, including those who voted for Trump. Like everybody else, they will benefit from the progressive policies and collective actions we will deploy in the fight against Trump and his allies.

Whiteness, our own

Struggling to openly name race and racism from a privileged white perspective is a symptom of the convergence of many fears and often conflicting feelings. There is the horror at acknowledging what people have done who we share something with, even for those who refuse to self-identify as whites. The more personal guilt and shame for our own participation in various ways in this system, from moments when we acted upon our prejudices and communed with others in racism, to the general invisibility that other people’s pains have had for so long in our eyes.

But deep inside there is a more fundamental, almost uncontrollable fear of karma. That what white people did, the atrocities we continue to support and benefit from, will come back to haunt us. That the discriminated and the oppressed will exact revenge on us. That’s why many reactions from privileged whites are of aggressive self-defence. We feel our very existence is in danger, because we know what we’ve done, and can’t imagine that people we’ve done it to will be anything less than brutal in response.

If we listen carefully to what people are saying around us, we would quickly realise that our fears are unfounded. There is a growing space for humanity emerging out of the cracks of a system of domination in crisis, where people of all walks of life are coming together in solidarity.

That space cannot be built on superficial colour-blinded gender-neutral ideologies that gloss over individual and collective differences and discriminations, histories and experiences. It cannot be built by denying the claims of those who push us to reflect on multiple forms of oppression and our complicity in them. It dissolves in the instant we want to write out our personal life and positionality, erasing with it not only the humanity of others we have for too long exoticised and devalued, but the very possibility of our own humanity.

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The dangers of the myth of Trump’s white working class support

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The myth of the white working class support for Trump is animating post-election debates at alarming speed with misleading interpretations of often partial and incomplete data. It is being used from certain sectors of the Euro-American left to try to minimise the biggest single factor that emerges from the US presidential election results: most whites, across gender and income groups, voted for Trump, somebody who has not hidden his white supremacist views, condones sexual assault, and built his campaign on openly anti-immigration, anti-Latino and anti-Muslim themes.

It is quite likely that some sectors of the white working classes have switched from Democrat to Republican. Much better analysis and comparison are required than what is circulating to support the “working class thesis” – as examples of misleading early analysis of voter data see Nate Cohn’s piece in the New York Times; a much better analysis on the Washington Post dismissing Cohn’s interpretation is here. What is problematic is the attempt to blow this factor out of proportion and say that Trump’s victory was supported by some kind of popular revolt, that we should give attention to the anti-establishment narrative and policies proposed by Trump, so that we can produce better alternatives without the “awful racist rhetoric”.

Many on the left, including Jeremy Corbyn, are liquidating the Trump phenomenon as just that, reducing it to the presence of racist and divisive “rhetoric”. This erases the fact that the vast majority of people of colour who voted, supported Clinton – clearly an “establishment” candidate, which doesn’t mean that those who voted supported an establishment agenda of course. And it ultimately dismisses the plight and suffering of groups who have experienced for centuries structural discrimination and marginalisation, both in the US and abroad, thus reinforcing racial and ethnic divisions, and undermining the possibility for broader solidarities across the various groups and communities that have been at the receiving end of the devastating effects of the current world order.

The issue is not so much with restating the fact that the establishment is in crisis, and something has to change. It seems that these narratives are accepted in certain quarters when the decline affects white Americans and Europeans. One gets the sense that it is only when we focus the attention on the plight of the “white working class”, that some people are able to fully grasp the damage that a discriminatory exploitative system has on people. This way of thinking does not allow for a radical restructuring of the world that will make space for all humans, and actively work against the privilege of certain groups – whiteness and maleness remain unmistakably two of the most dominant forms of privilege today. Knowingly or not, the “popular revolt” thesis plays in the hands of xenophobic and racist movements calling for “anti-establishment” politics that favours white nationals at the expense of everybody else.

One powerful reminder comes from South African history. The “poor white problem” emerged as a political category in the early 20th Century, when the white government became worried about the widespread poverty of Boer communities who had been dispossessed and turned into cheap labour after the Anglo-Boer war. Of course the worry was motivated by widespread revolts of that sector of the population, which was absorbed into mining labour, but was also driven by a racial concern for “fellow whites” who had fallen from grace. That formed the basis for the rise to power of Afrikaner nationalism and the establishment of apartheid on an ideology that supposedly provided welfare and protection for the “dispossessed” whites, at the expense of blacks and all other racial groups. Apartheid was a welfare state for whites only, supported by the cheap labour of black people and other discriminated racial groups, built on the brutal repression of any dissent and wars waged against black liberation movements across the African continent.

If we simplistically frame Trump’s victory and the Brexit vote as a revolt of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised white working classes – based on a partial and biased reading of the actual data – there is a real risk that the solutions we come up with will contribute to reinforce various forms of white nationalisms and xenophobic alliances, rather than providing a clear and uncompromising alternative to them. The attention has to shift to the whole system, with its myriads of levels of discrimination and oppression. Doing that will easily put into perspective the dissent by some sectors of the white working classes. While there is no doubt that we should attend to all forms of exploitation and dispossession, an intersectional approach means that we cannot privilege one dimension of exclusion over others. Race, class and gender need to be understood in interaction, rather than in mutually exclusive terms.

Sadly some of the analysis that has been produced recently by leftist commentators tends to produce stark dichotomies privileging a reading of class that disregards race and gender dynamics. These analyses tend to be driven by a narrow understanding of race and racism. Racism is not seen as a structural factor that orders and articulates the distribution of economic, social, educational and other resources and forms of capital, but as some left-over of Jim Crow or colonial imperialism that reappears as a rhetorical baggage to mislead the working classes in the wrong direction, providing the wrong response to the right concerns.

What is left out here is that many whites – the majority of whom are not impoverished working class – now feel under attack as “whites” and their perception of diminishing wealth and privilege are rooted in a racial view of a world that is perceived as hostile to their very existence, where other discriminated groups and some conspiratorial multi-billionaires have supposedly allied to marginalise the “common white folk”. The term “white” might be less present in European discourse, but there British, Italian, Swedish, German, and so on, are used as proxy for white nationals. In South Africa, we are seeing similar dynamics among the white communities. The problem then, in America and elsewhere, is not that racism is high among the white working class, rather it is widespread among all sectors of the white population.

We need to move beyond narrow readings of race. For instance, the analysis by Nate Kohn for the NYT claims, based on partial data from the Rust Belt, that many white working class voters switched from Obama to Trump, and this was the main reason for Trump’s victory. It is a simplistic conclusion based on the the fact that some states that voted strongly for Obama in 2012, saw a Trump victory this week. This “fact” is doing the rounds in social media, but has not been supported by solid evidence, because we need to properly evaluate how much of the victory is due to Clinton’s collapse in support more than a switch from Democrat to Republican.

Looking at percentages doesn’t help, we need to look at actual voters in 2012 and 2016. Nate Cohn’s analysis is lacking in this respect, and ignores the fact that in some of these states, for instance in Wisconsin, Trump did not get more actual voters than Romney in 2012, while Clinton lost significant support compared to Obama. Overall, Cohn’s analysis does not contextualise the extent to which the white working classes would supposedly constitute the decisive factor in Trump’s victory – it does not look at trends across the country and various income classes, to see whether Trump made significant rises there too compared to 2012. Christopher Ingraham for the Washington Post looks at a much broader set of national data across and concludes that, with the exception of southeast Ohio, most of the counties that experienced huge shifts from Obama to Trump are outside the Rust Belt. Cohn’s bias is also clear from a tweet where he classifies people earning between $50,000 and $99,999 per year to justify his mistaken claim that low-income white voters have supported Trump more than affluent white voters. We will have to wait for all the votes to be counted in this election to provide solid comparative analysis on this, but for now we can say that the evidence provided by Cohn is at best scant, and at worst incomplete and biased.

It is possible that some white voters across income groups have switched from Obama to Trump. What is worrying is the way this has been used to support the idea that if white voters have previously voted for a black president, then they can’t be implicated in racism. Obama’s first election was met with much clamour by many whites in America, who felt that this was a momentous event that would finally help America heal its deep racial divisions. It was seen as a sign of hope. Yet, throughout the two Obama presidencies we have seen a rise of racist rhetoric and arguments thrown against Obama that tried to dismiss pretty much everything he did, from the Affordable Care Act to state intervention in the financial crisis and foreign policy.  These views were often racialised and indicated that the alleged failures were the making of an incompetent black man not suited for office. Explicit racist rhetoric was often replaced by a coded way to talk about race that characterises much liberal racism today.

The fact that some of the same people who voted for him could join the ranks of those who attacked him as unfit for office and even unAmerican, is not contradictory. We see this all the time when black professionals are hired in workplaces dominated by white colleagues. Often, many of the same colleagues that support the need to diversify the workplace and make it representative of wider societal demographics, are quick to dismiss and undermine their black colleagues with a myriad of overt and less overt aggressions. It is evident that on the whole, white people are still very uncomfortable with having people of colour in positions that were traditionally occupied by whites and constitute up to now the core of white privilege. The basic hierarchy that puts whites on top is put in question, and hence the backlash. A possible switch of some white voters from Obama to Trump does not make the arguments about “popular revolt” any more valid. It can be easily explained by a more nuanced approach to race that recognises how widespread various forms of white racism are today.

In the same way, to gloss over the fact that Trump’s victory has a strong gender component would also be wrong – this too is often downplayed by some left commentators, to stress once again the dominant narrative the only reason for Clinton’s lack of popularity was her establishment credentials. The fact that people supported an unashamed chauvinist who says that groping women is not sexual assault is not something that can be minimised as a “character flaw”. Trump did gain most of the vote of white women, but in significantly lesser proportion than white men. Women of colour voted for Clinton in bigger numbers than men of colour. The vitriolic arguments against Clinton during the campaign suggested that gender was a factor.

When men are confronted with the possibility of women becoming their equals, there too there is a backlash. It’s not just about biological sex or the pigmentation of one’s skin. It is about having individuals who are not willing to mould their persona and behaviour to fit the accepted racial and gender stereotypes in a world dominated by whites and men. Sarah Palin, who is an enthusiastic Trump supporter, poses no threat to the toxic masculinity of the president-elect. Hillary Clinton does. To minimise misogyny as an important factor in Clinton’s defeat – as a post-election piece by Adaner Usmani in Jacobin magazine does – because 42% of women voted for Trump, is to offer a poor and narrow understanding of gender and sexism, and how they intersect with issues of race and class.

The same piece ends on a note that highlights many of problems with the linear class narrative that I am criticising:

Yet if the Left writes off Trump’s base, we too have no answer. All the socialist POC in the country can’t fill a football stadium, much less put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In the main, we live in universities and/or in blue-state bastions. If organizing means nothing more than doubling down, we are in trouble.

The role of the left should not be to focus the bulk of its efforts on negotiating and allying with the – often misrepresented – concerns of one sector of the working classes. It is to mobilise a broader alliance against the system that can effectively tackle various forms of discrimination, acknowledge the differential levels of discrimination and exclusion experienced by various groups, and make proposals that do not gloss over white and male privilege at the expense of everybody else simply because “that’s our base”. Framing the Trump phenomenon as driven by legitimate concerns expressed with the wrong rhetoric goes in the opposite direction.