Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kenya's Tragic Flower Crisis

Nevermind Afghanistan and Iraq, the Great Lakes region of Africa is the most disastrous conflict zone in the world, by far; the heart of Africa is hemorrhaging. Two of the continent's three largest countries, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are suffering crippling civil wars, and the entire region surrounding them, a area which all-together accounts for about one third of Africa, is on fire. Together, ten countries comprise the Planet's focal point of death and refugees.

Furthest to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is in a seemingly never-ending conflict, or at least a series of conflicts, ongoing for almost a decade. In the initial war from 1998-2003, an estimated 3.9 million died of direct and indirect causes, which makes it the second bloodiest conflict since WW2. All together and up to the end of 2007, a total of 5.4 million people have been killed as a result of the conflict, probably the most underreported human crisis in history. Recently the country's government, the Congolese Army, and a few rebel groups fighting against them, and amongst each other, seem to have come to a ceasefire for the time being. This despite reluctance from Laurent Nkunda's Tutsi fighters who operate mainly in the east of the country. The "peace" will almost certainly be short-lived. Mr.Nkunda this week removed his side from the negotiations after being accused of massacring 30 rival Hutus. The disaster persists despite heavy U.N military presence and involvement.

Its tiny neighbour to the east, Rwanda, is still extremely poor, very short on options and resources, and still recovering from the effects of the 1994 genocide which left over 800,000 people killed in less than four months; victims of the worst ethnic cleansing in human history. Their president Paul Kagame is able, well-intentioned, and extremely intelligent, but can do very little in the face of overall instability in the region, for such a small country in the midst of such large overwhelming conflicts. Meanwhile Nkunda's Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo threaten to set off another conflict in Rwanda; Paul Kagame is also Tutsi.

Bordering Rwanda and the Congo to the north-east is Uganda. The Lord's Resistance Army there has been fighting the gvt of Yoweri Museveni since 1986. Although a "permanent ceasefire" is due to be finalized and signed by next week, the conflict has killed tens of thousands and displaced nearly two million people in the two-decade-long war.

Then the west and southern parts of the giant to the north, Sudan, are rife with ethnic violence and secessionist rebel groups. The nomad Arabs from the north are attempting to cleanse the black populations in Darfur, and a racist, greedy government in Khartoum allied with the West is granting them impunity and making matters much worse. The United Nations and the under-resourced token African Union have some presence in Darfur, but these efforts have been undrecut by incompetence and bureaucracy. The world's powers have no sincere intentions to prevent ethnic cleansing anyway, unless they can siphon resources and benefit economically afterwards. The tribal war which began in early 2003 has so far claimed over 200,000 lives, and has forced the movement of around 2 million Sudanese, many of them refugees to the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad.

To the west of Sudan is Chad. Mainly in the north-east of the country there are currently about 400,000 displaced people, many of which are coming from Darfur. The U.N. is attempting to set up a make-shift chapter 7 assistance mission in eastern Chad, but as usual bureaucracy is again dominating those efforts, and the resources, soldiers, and contributor nations are all disorganized and disunited. Not that it would make much of a difference anyway, but now the deployment will be delayed for months. Meanwhile France already has a unilateral neo-colonial military presence in both Chad and the CAR. In Chad, French assistance aims at helping the self-serving military dictator Idriss Deby, the country's president, at fending off Khartoum backed rebels. Chad is also one of Africa's poorest countries.

Hopelessly lodged in between Chad, Sudan, and the DRC, is the Central African Republic. Likewise in the CAR, French troops are busy fighting off rebels based in the north-east. The country which has been victim to a series of reckless dictators and coups in the last ten years or so, is mired in violence, and boasts around 300,000 displaced people of its own.

Sudan's biggest neighbour to the east is U.S. backed Ethiopia, which is fighting a religious war "on terror" against Somalia, and a territorial one against Eritrea. Ethiopia's internal affairs are extremely divided as well.

And the latest victim to fall, apparently a wonder of "economic development" and a bright beacon of exemplary "democracy" amidst the heart of darkness that is Africa, is Kenya. In the last two months or so after the presidential election was rigged in favour of the now illigetimate president Mwai Kibaki, ethnic violence has ravaged the country as the vast majority of oppostion Luos, Kalenjins, Luyhas, and Kisiis have taken to revenge killing of Kikuyus, the ethnic kin of Mwai Kibaki. They have done so in angry response to decades of political domination and exploitation by the Kikuyu oligarchy. Perhaps tens of thousands have died already, but for some reason the media will not admit to more than just over 1,000 deaths. Oddly enough, the violence and killings continue, yet that number has remained neutral for about a month.

But, perhaps the West's biggest concern in all this was making sure that Kenya's roses arrived to Europe on time for Valentine's Day. Millions of Africans are dying and they have no food, but lets first and foremost make sure that we mobilize manpower and resources so that February 14th isn't interrupted. The powers-that-be keep the rich populations ignorant, with extravagant, egocentric holidays. Pop culture is the opium of the masses. Kenya's prized export accounts for about one quarter of Europe's flower imports. A newsfeed from The Associated Press reported that "Armed escorts are being used to ensure Kenyan roses arrive in time for Valentine's Day", and that "Growers have charted planes, enlisted police to protect flower-truck convoys and made pleading calls to frightened workers urging them to return." It almost reminds of me Rwanda when French and American forces were sent in as the conflict intensified to fly their expatriates out of the country. All the white Europeans and Americans had the green light to go, but the Black Rwandans who were taking refuge inside a hospital surrounded by blood-thirsty Interahamwe rebels who were waiting outside with machetes, they weren't allowed to leave. This time it is flowers and not expatriates being flown out of Africa, but the Black gardeners are being pleaded to work and risk their lives so that the roses can be delivered on time for the white people. If only a catastrophic earthquake could rip apart Central Africa and the Great Lakes Region, and a powerful tsunami devastated the Swahili Coast, then maybe people would start paying attention.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

El Medico Del Siglo 21

On Monday February 4th 2008, Nabeel Yar Khan left Canada as the first student ever to go study medicine in Cuba at ELAM (Latin American School of Medicine). Each year Cuba trains thousands of doctors, hundreds among those students from the poorest, most remote, most neglected areas of countries all over the world. Cuba's internationalist mission in healthcare is a program which offers scholarships to poor students to study medicine on the island, with the intention for them to return to practice in their home communities in need, or wherever they may be needed througout the world. In the most dire situations all across the globe, Cuba also sends medical teams, always first on the scene, to secure those who are abandoned by the international community.

Worldwide Cuba has over 30,000 doctors providing free medical care to more than 60 countries, they have been praised, loved, and appreciated by thousands accross the world for their unconditional, selfless sacrifices. To illustrate a few examples, they have been greatly complimented by Pakistanis for their efforts and refered to as having the "souls of angels". They work often in the most difficult conditions, with language barriers, and are dispatched to relieve the most horrific natural disasters. While they were working in Haiti, the country's president Rene Preval said, in expressing appreciation for their contributions, that the "Cuban doctors are second only to God." Fidel Castro sees their contributions as a crucial message of human solidarity, and says that the international teams set examples for "this humanity which will someday be truly humane."

Cuba's medical efforts in Canada were initially intended to reach out to the aboriginal community, to offer opportunities to students from these often overlooked communities, and for them to have the ability to give back to their communities upon returning. However, one particular comrade insisted on being an exception to the rule. Last year, Nabeel now a Canadian who's parents originated from India, participated in an exchange program which gave him the opportunity to travel to Cuba. While he was there he did volunteer work in a community clinic, an experience which opened his eyes two the exceptional realities of the Cuban healthcare system. He later wrote: "What I learned was that Cuba utilizes a system of preventive medicine, which Canada does not utilize. I believe Cuba could be a model for the Canadian health care system...I believe that this system is not only a model for Canada but the World entirely." After his experience, Nabeel was determined to become an internationalist doctor, and began taking the necessary steps to go study at ELAM.

Nabeel who is also involved in Cuba solidarity work in Canada, draws inspiration from Ernesto Che Guevara. In a letter sent to Fidel Castro, Nabeel wrote that "Ernesto’s characteristics have placed an imprint on me...I want to portray Ernesto by also fighting, not with arms, but with medicine, to help people around the world who are in desperate need." After his six year committment in Cuba, this young revolutionary has said that his "primary goal is to become a doctor, not to migrate back to Canada and practice, because it is a country that has substantial aid, but to take the education, skills, and capabilities to help the less developed and war-torn countries in this world." Nabeel is a pioneer who has made the valiant and selfless decision to offer the medical expertise he will learn for the well-being and prosperity of all the world's children; he is an inspiration and example to future Canadian students who aspire to study medicine. So in the spirit of Che Guevara, an exemplary human being who was also a doctor, we do justice to this cause by recalling some of his insight. In August of 1960 while giving a speech to Cuban medical students and health workers, in refering to the road taken by revolutionary doctors, Che said that "nobody can point out that stretch; that stretch is the personal road of each individual; it is what he will do everyday, what he will gain from his individual experience, and what he will give of himself in practising his profession, dedicated to the people's well-being."

Julien Lalonde for
Toronto Forum on Cuba.