Friday, October 17, 2008

Luo Cultural Rights - Foreskin Protection

I was astounded to see an article last month about Prime Minister Odinga and other Lou government ministers promoting circumcision in their community and admitting that they had the surgery done recently. Odinga and others said they got circumcised because they believe it reduces the chance of contracting HIV. Researchers have said that circumcision may reduce contracting HIV by 40-60%, but condoms have a 90% protection rate. When I first heard of Odinga's plea to his own Luo community about encouraging everyone to get circumcised, I wondered why does Odinga have to worry about getting HIV anyways? Is he not faithful to his wife? He is trying to set a good example for his people and admitted to this very personal medical choice to the world, but is he really admitting to something much more unethical? If you read my other article on Kenya, I'm sure you can tell that I'm not a huge fan of Odinga, but my respect for him has diminished even more after learning this news.

Circumcision is taboo in Luo culture and elders in the community feel that Odinga's campaign to promote the practice is disrespectful. African traditions should be respected and honored, but African cultures should be able to progress like all cultures. I understand if people want to get rid of practices that are harmful (such as FGM), but the Luo shouldn't start circumcising their people because they think it protects them from HIV, when it doesn't. A Luo elder and pastor points out, "Other communities practise circumcision, but there is still a high prevalence of HIV/Aids...I don't think it will be a solution to fight the spread of Aids."

Personally, I think the Luo got it right the first time. I would never cut off a part of my child's body because it is common place in my culture. A core philosophy in my belief system is to try to be as natural as possible. Being content with the way we are born is a beautiful thing. In 1975, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated in no uncertain terms that "there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn." In 1983, the AAP and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) restated this position. In 1999 and again in 2005, the AAP again restated this position of equivocation.

I hope the Luo elders continue to fight for the preservation of their culture. If not, what is the alternative? The Luo government leaders in the article are not only talking about babies or young men being circumcised, they are also recommending adult men become circumcised. For example, a near by tribe, the Luhya, do mass circumcisions during an annual festival. (Sounds sanitary, wouldn't want an infection there.) Circumcision is not a compulsory policy of the government, but it is recommended. The BBC article says, "nearly 1,000 men have been circumcised since March and medical workers receive two days of training..." Two days of training!!! I would even question whether these procedures are better or worse for the health of the community as a whole. The article says that Odinga is the Chairman of the Luo Council of Elders, but it seems he is leading them astray on this issue. I hope the Lou elders flight for their right to protect their foreskin.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Women Warriors

There were many impressive, moving moments at this year's Democratic National Convention. I only remember the last few cenventions but the speeches this time were better than ever. My favorite speeches of the convention were by Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. Hillary appeared stronger and more powerful then ever as she proceeded to yell into the mic throughout her speech. Her voice was even getting raspy at the end as if her small body couldn't contain her passion. I was pleased to see that she swallowed her ego and endorsed Obama uniting the party. The next morning on my way to work, I listened to National Public Radio in the car and I was shocked to hear all the political pundits saying that Hillary didn't go far enough to endorse Obama. I, along with the rest of the Democrats, were looking for any sense of insincerity in her support for Obama and I couldn't find any facial expression, gesture, or word that cast a doubt. Just to make sure I hadn't missed anything, I read over the transcript of her speech. Below are several exerts where she clearly states her support for Obama:

"I am honored to be here tonight. A proud mother. A proud Democrat. A proud American. And a proud supporter of Barack Obama."

"Whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines."

"Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our President."

After listing reasons why she ran for president, she says, "Those are the reasons I ran for President. Those are the reasons I support Barack Obama. And those are the reasons you should too."

"We need to elect Barack Obama because we need a President who understands that America can't compete in a global economy by padding the pockets of energy speculators..."

"Barack Obama began his career fighting for workers displaced by the global economy."

"And when Barack Obama is in the White House, he'll revitalize our economy..."

"Barack Obama will end the war in Iraq responsibly and bring our troops home - a first step to repairing our alliances around the world."

Most importantly, there is a section of her speech where she says, "Were you in this campaign for me?" or was it for the Democratic cause.

As I remembered that she talked about Obama throughout her entire speech, the reality check set in that no matter what she says the media will always criticize her. Is it discrimination or do they just hate her? I'm not sure, but it's amazing how far she has come with the media pointing out every possible flaw in her speeches, actions and appearance, and making up drama when there is none. Click here to see an exert from the Daily Show making fun of the pundits at the end of this clip.

Anyways, for those of us that actually listened to the speech, it was the most feminist speech I have heard on a national platform during my life time, which is why I liked the speech. I have always believed human rights is the most important issue of our time and often takes a back seat to other political issues. When Hillary was listing the reasons she ran for president she included, "To fight for an America defined by deep and meaningful equality - from civil rights to labor rights, from women's rights to gay rights, from ending discrimination to promoting unionization to providing help for the most important job there is: caring for our families. To help every child live up to his or her God-given potential. To make America once again a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws." I was so impressed by this statement because it takes a lot of guts to talk about the rights of gays and immigrants these days. Politicians are scared to stand up the rights of these groups because there is so much overt prejudice that no one will vote for such candidates. The center of the political spectrum has become much more conservative as Republicans push for a constitutional amendment to limit gays from marrying to prevent same sex partner to have the same legal rights as married couples when inheriting land and power of attorney issues. There has been several measures in each state across the country targeted against immigrants along with unjust racial profiling. There has also been multiple raids on factories recently where illegal immigrant workers are deported without their family being contacted and minor consequences to the business owner. The business owners should be punished more harshly than the workers!

Hillary ended her speech with this:

"I'm a United States Senator because in 1848 a group of courageous women and a few brave men gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, many traveling for days and nights, to participate in the first convention on women's rights in our history. And so dawned a struggle for the right to vote that would last 72 years, handed down by mother to daughter to granddaughter - and a few sons and grandsons along the way. These women and men looked into their daughters' eyes, imagined a fairer and freer world, and found the strength to fight. To rally and picket. To endure ridicule and harassment. To brave violence and jail. And after so many decades - 88 years ago on this very day - the 19th amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote would be forever enshrined in our Constitution. My mother was born before women could vote. But in this election my daughter got to vote for her mother for President. This is the story of America. Of women and men who defy the odds and never give up. How do we give this country back to them?

By following the example of a brave New Yorker , a woman who risked her life to shepherd slaves along the Underground Railroad. And on that path to freedom, Harriett Tubman had one piece of advice. If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they're shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

Even in the darkest of moments, ordinary Americans have found the faith to keep going. I've seen it in you. I've seen it in our teachers and firefighters, nurses and police officers, small business owners and union workers, the men and women of our military - you always keep going. We are Americans. We're not big on quitting. But remember, before we can keep going, we have to get going by electing Barack Obama president."

It is too rare that politicians remind us of the amazing woman that came before us who fought for the rights we have today. Hillary said she couldn't break the glass ceiling, but "it's got about 18 million cracks." Hillary Clinton is an important historical figure that has paved the way for the rest of us. I look forward to seeing what she does next. John Stewart, Steve Colbert and other media personalities usually make fun of Hillary portraying her as a vicious bull dog that won't give up and now I can see why - by following the example of great woman before her. Woman leaders have always had to be stronger than the average person to excel in this patriarchal society. The message about never giving up is a fundamental American value. Americans never want to be viewed as quitters and want to be seen as tough. We might be perceived as bullies by the rest of the world (rightly so), but that is better than being perceived as pussies like the French. The best Americans are the strong individuals that never give up in hard times and Hillary Clinton is a perfect example.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What is hip hop?

I had very little exposure to hip hop growing up behind the orange curtain of the OC until I moved to east Africa in college. Kids in Nairobi were listening to commercial hip hop in bars and clubs and I frequently heard Tupac in villages in Uganda (I heard a lot of Britney Spears too). A few years later when I moved to DC, I was fairly familiar with the west coast classics but didn't really know what hip hop was all about until I met my husband in 2003. He listened to hip hop 24/7 and I became a huge fan of Gang Starr, Outkast, Eminem, Biggy, Missy Elliot, Atmosphere, The Coup and others. I understood that it was poetry but the good stuff sounds good too, like the 2nd track on Deltron 3030. While in DC, crunk dominated hip hop and I had a blast bumping and grinding in dark basement clubs, sweaty southern style.

As the years went on, I began to think more deeply about hip hop and what it means for the African American community and the rest of us. For example, Bill Maher on his show asked Russell Simmons about the negative influence of gangster rap on the African American community and Stephen Cobert asked Nas a similar question a few weeks ago. Both rappers denied its negative impact and replied with the same answer - I'm not going to be positive if I don't see things positive. I understand the argument, but certainly much of commercial hip hop promotes violence, sexism, and glorifies the life of a gangster. People who promote selling crack and destroying their own community should be ashamed, not selling records. The importance of telling the countless stories of tragedy in inner cities is critical and necessary for our society to grow. It is vital to expose the isolated white majority to police violence and social problems that they are unaware of, but there is a big difference between an intelligent rapper like Nas and an a-hole like Master P. Why don't the consumers of hip hop music have higher standards? In addition, it seems that the top singles each year include songs by Jay-Z, P-Ditty, 50 Cent, ect., just talking about how rich they boring. So many of the most popular rappers are one dimensional. Like all communities, people have different perspectives and not everyone in the ghetto sees everything negative. Why aren't positive rappers more popular (like Pigeon John)? One dimensional negative rappers have dominated hip hop for too long.

I have a lot of respect for positive rappers, political rappers like the Coup and Public Enemy, and rappers that have musical genius like Outkast. I think hip hop is a powerful art form that people use to express themselves and should not be limited to inner city black males. Many female rappers have talked about how hard it is for women to survive in the industry. Eminem proved that he has more skills than anyone out there and there are a lot of poor white people that have serious social problems. No matter how much his stories make me sick, he is talking about some very important realities of this country (you really have to listen to all his songs to get what he is talking about).

Last weekend I was in a San Francisco club watching some local hip hoppers rhyme on stage and a girl inspired me to write this blog. She was very ordinary looking with blond hair to her shoulders dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. She was rapping about things that interested her like the Food Network and TLC channel. I was so amused because I love the Food Network channel. As hip hop becomes more mainstream, it is evolving and diversifying. I hate people who say hip hop has to be "hard" or "gangster." Hip Hop is an art form about expressing yourself and the hip hop community should embrace anyone who can do it well.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Danica Patrick Rules!

A few weeks ago, I discovered an aspect of American culture I had never experienced before- car racing. I never realized how popular car racing is nationally and on the grassroots level. My uncle races a classic corvette, which goes at least 140 mph. He goes to tracks throughout the southwest and races a few times a year against other people in his class. The event is not open to the public and made up of the drivers that belong to local clubs with their friends and families. I went one weekend and it way much more exciting than I expected. They also had IndyCars and other stock cars. According to NASCAR's website, NASCAR is the most spectated sport in America. (If is isn't, it is the fastest growing spectated sport.) More Fortune 500 companies participate in NASCAR than any other sport and NASCAR races are broadcast in more than 150 countries in more than 30 languages.

Interestingly, car racing first sparked my interested when Kornheiser and Wilbon on PTI were debating over the infamous Danica shove of Dan Wheldon last year. She is feisty, super sexy, and a damn good at driving cars fast! Patrick was named the Rookie of the Year for both the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and the 2005 IndyCar Series season. With her win in the 2008 Indy Japan 300, Patrick became the first woman to win a major open-wheel closed course race. Danica Patrick began go-karting in 1992 (10 years old) at Sugar River Raceway and went on to win several national championships. She moved to England at the age of 16 in order to advance her racing career. Focusing primarily on road racing, Patrick raced in several developmental open-wheel series while in Europe, including Formula Ford and Formula Vauxhall. Patrick earned a second-place finish in England's extremely competitive Formula Ford Festival, the highest-ever finish by either a woman or an American in the event. In 2002, Danica returned to the US and had several impressive finishes since 2005. Her fellow males drivers have been critical of her over the years, but I doubt she gives a shit. I love seeing a woman succeed in a male dominated sport. Danica you rule!!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Laguna Love

If anyone in the world asked me where I'm from, I would say California before America or Orange County. California was named by the Spanish after a novel about a wild island ruled by half naked Amazonian women. It must have been the first thing that the horny sailors could think of when they first saw California's breath taking shoreline. I remember in California history class, that 80% of native California tribes were peaceful hunter gatherers. It made me wonder if people who live in paradise develop slower than people in cold societies who have to struggle over scarce resources. Regardless, I'm proud to be Californian and would support succession if anyone was courageous to spearhead such a revolution. I love California not only because our economy kicks ass (we are the 7th largest economy in the world that produces more products than any other state including many agriculture and dairy products). But the best part of California is our diverse environment and people. California supposedly has more Native Americans than any other state and prior to the Gold Rush we had more Native Americans than all other states combined (damn...we were even highly populated back then). We also have the highest Armenian population outside of Armenia, Los Angeles has the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico, and San Francisco has the largest Chinese population outside of Asia.

Anyways...the California coastline is still amazing and my favorite area is Laguna Beach. The rolling hills and deep canyon is a majestic green in spring with houses built in the sides of mountains that seem like works of art. If you've never been there, it kinda reminds me of the Cote d'Azul race on Gran Turismo 4. The charming downtown is filled with upscale galleries, boutique shops, and a Whole Foods market. Many people are beautiful and happy. People here are almost as friendly as Minnesota except in a hip surfer way. For example, I can't go to the grocery store without at least two people asking if I need help finding something. It seems like Laguna gets more sunny days than most places and countless beautiful sunsets that dip into the horizon. At times it is fogged in all day and before sunset the sky clears slightly and vibrant colors light up the clouds. There is lots of fun in the sun, such as, what seems like a continual car show with people zooming around town in their new Ferraris, Porches, Lotuses, and Bentleys. This place is also a biker magnet with the classic rock dive bar downtown town always placed with Harleys out front. I recently found out that there is live reggae music every night of the week in this small town at various bars and it was the capital of LSD in the 60's. Laguna Beach is a paradox in someways because the hippies are now rich and try to keep their ideals with their hybrid cars, but can not deny their decadence. The snobs are taking over, but thankfully artists and Europeans still bring culture to this seaside village. I cherish the moments when I walk down the cute board walk on main beach or the side walk along the cliffs north of main beach. Laguna has several peaceful and serene coves and look-outs where you can get away from the tourists. Although Laguna has its share of ignorant, annoying people, there are few places in the world as beautiful as Laguna. It is hard to experience Laguna without falling in love.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Heart of Darkness

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been cursed with natural disasters, poverty, exploitation, conflict, and all sorts of suffering for endless decades. I cannot begin to skim the surface of the complex issues of the Congo here, but I was shocked to see an article on the BBC a few weeks ago that said people are still "discovering" villages in Congo. When imagining remote villages described in the Poisonwood Bible, it was hard to believe that some villages were so isolated from the outside world, dominated by superstition, and existing in the same way they did hundreds of years ago. But after reading statements from the Rainforest Foundation, I'm starting to wonder. It appears that 190 villages have been found in one area of Bandundu province where the government had originally thought 30 villages had existed. The government is surveying the area as they hand out permits to logging companies in the area. The government has already allocated parts of the territory to 11 logging concessions and the lives of these villagers will be greatly affected as a result with little consideration from the government. Instantly after reading the news, I wondered: Do these people receive no protection or social services from the government? What if there is an outbreak of a serious disease (like Ebola) in one of the villages? Being oppressed is one thing, but not existing at all...that seems insulting on another level.

Interestingly, the Bandundu province is in the western region of the country not far from the capital city compared to the vast distance from Kinshasa to the Eastern Congo region. If the government doesn't know about their neighbors in their own backyard then how are they supposed to keep track of people who are almost a thousand miles away. The Congo is about one fourth the size of the US. Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, is from the East, which could be helpful, but his government has consistently proven that they cannot provide security for those in the East. According to the IRC, 5.4 million people have died in Congo due to conflict or preventable illnesses. And as many as 45,000 continue to die every month, despite a peace agreement that ended the war in 2002. For those of you not familiar with Congo's history, President Laurent Kabila took over after Mobutu in 1997 and then there was a five-year civil war with Zimbabwe and Namibia supporting the government and Rwanda and Uganda supporting rebels in the East. In 1999 a peace agreement was signed, but in 2000 fighting continued between all parties including clashes between Uganda-supported and Rwanda-supported rebels in the East. Many believe Uganda and Rwanda were fighting over control of Congolese resources being plundered by both groups. A peace agreement was signed in 2002 and Joseph Kabila headed the interim government. The last Uganda troops left in 2003 or shortly after that, but Rwanda's involvement in the East has remained. Today Eastern Congo is still in conflict. The government has failed to protect its citizens from constant rape, genocide, and children being forced into combat. A good friend of mine in grad school, who was very passionate about Congo, always complained about how evil Uganda and Rwanda were for exploiting Congo's resources and fueling rebel activities in the East. He was correct to some extent, but it is a fact that there were separate rebels groups organizing in Congo to overthrow the Uganda and Rwanda governments which is a good reason to invade a country (the US would have invaded). The Congolese government has no control over the area, therefore they cannot control who crosses their borders with weapons or prevent rebels groups from attacking neighboring countries. Uganda and Rwanda took advantage of the situation, but I would also argue that Congo is not such a great neighbor either. It is particularly horrific in the case of Rwanda. The militia that killed the most people during the Rwanda genocide were never brought to justice because they are still hiding in the Congo. Kagame wants to get them badly at any cost, which is understandable. Kagame is criticized for killing people in refugee camps in Congo, which was wrong, but the camps were not only harboring people who committed the genocide but they were empowering them. A brilliant book, Condemned to Repeat; The Paradox of Humanitarian Action, written by Fiona Terry (the head of the Medecins sans Frontieres in Goma) illustrates how humanitarian organizations empowered Hutu genocide leaders by having people in the camps elect them as camp leaders and allowing them to control supplies. There is no simple answer to what is going on in Eastern Congo, but it is a disaster and the Congolese government hasn't done enough for its people.

The story of the pygmies in Congo is particularly tragic. Since 2003, there has been several articles on the mass slaughter, rape, and torture of the pygmies. Many of tribes consider them "subhuman" and there is proof that the MLC rebel group regularly eats Pygmy body parts (the heart especially) in ceremonial rituals. While the UN carried out an investigation of the allegations, they collected testimony from 350 witnesses. The UN peace keeping force in Congo, MONUC, was urged by the Congolese government to help with the situation, but they claimed they had no mandate to use force to protect the pygmies. Now the Pygmy population has become dangerously low. Humanity wouldn't be the same without them. According to the BBC article, When humans faced extinction, genetic research has shown that Pygmies are genetically similar to the first modern humans making them one of the oldest group of people still existing today.

The only solution that makes sense to me is not an option - Congo should split into smaller states. The government obviously can't manage such a large state. What is the Congolese solution - Chinese Companies. Congo just signed a huge deal with Chinese companies (CREC and Sinohydro) where Congo agreed to give them "10m tonnes of copper and 400,000 tonnes of cobalt" and they will in turn build "6 billion dollars of infrastructure including 2,400 miles of road, 2,000 miles of railway, 32 hospitals, 145 health centres and two universities." The Congolese government likes the deal because there are no strings (western governments usually use aid to promote democracy and capitalism) and it is said that the government doesn't have the technology, capacity, and knowledge to build its own infrastructure. Critics say CREC and Sinohydro are going to make tremendous profits on the deal (about 42 billion at current market prices) and the Congolese people are going to loose out. One of the main concerns is that this deal was signed in secret and there weren't provisions for regulation or taxation of the companies. I can't wait to see how this works out. Are there no better options out there? Not only is the Kinshasa government not looking out for its people on so many levels, but they are still discovering communities they had no idea existed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sweet Justice

There is nothing better than sweet justice. As African governments slowly democratize, I have always argued that the development of independent, efficient, effective judiciaries is the most important aspect of democratic progress. The courts in various countries on the continent pose the only significant balance of power to Prime Ministers and Presidents dominating political systems. There are several important trails that either are currently taking place or will take place that could change Africa forever. Charles Taylor is currently on trial in the Hague and Hissene Habre will likely be going to trail soon. They are two of Africa's worse dictators still alive. Habre is dubbed Africa's Pinochet and Charles Taylor is famous for hacking off the limbs of innocent civilians in western Africa. Even Uganda's Joseph Kony is scared of the International Criminal Court's indictments (he is East Africa's most ruthless rebel leaders in recent history known for abducting more than 20,000 children that were forced to mutilate and kill northern Ugandans.) Leaders of governments and rebel movements will now have to think twice before killings, mutilating, and torturing people in large numbers.

Charles Taylor caused havoc in west Africa for at least a decade (1989-1999) by controlling rebel forces, in Liberia and Sierra Leone, that committed some of the world’s worst atrocities and he was widely known as a gun runner and diamond smuggler. He’s currently on trial for 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for supporting Sierra Leon’s Revolutionary United Front Rebels by buying them weapons and selling diamonds. “Ten of thousands of people died in the interlinked conflicts in Sierra Leon and Liberia. Instability also spread into neighboring parts of Ivory Coast and Guinea.” Below is an exert from the trial to truly understand the brutality of Taylor’s rebels:
“Describing himself as Mr. Taylor's former chief of operations and commander of a death squad in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Mr. Marzah said the former leader ordered militias to eat the flesh of enemies in Liberia, including African and UN peacekeepers. ‘He said we should eat them. Even the UN white people - he said we could use them as pork to eat,’ Mr. Marzah said, adding that it was to ‘set an example for the people to be afraid.’ He said repeatedly that nothing was done without an explicit order from Mr. Taylor and that anyone who violated his commands would be executed. ‘We slit your throat, butcher you... throw away the head, take the flesh and put it in a pot... Charles Taylor knows that,’ he added. Mr. Marzah also described how he had killed so many men, women and children that he had lost count, and also slit open the stomachs of pregnant women on Mr. Taylor's orders. Earlier in his testimony, Mr. Marzah told the court he had taken weapons, some stored at Mr. Taylor's presidential mansion, to Sierra Leone and returned to Liberia with diamonds which he then delivered to Mr. Taylor.”

I was elated a few days ago to hear that Chad’s Hissene Habre might be going to trail. He was the ruthless dictator of Chad from 1982-1990 who was responsible for countless disappearances. It has been documented that he is responsible for 40,000 politically motivated murders and 200,000 cases of torture. Habre came to power with the help of the French and CIA and is currently living in exile in Senegal. There has been several attempts to bring Habre to justice. In 2006, “a Belgian court issued an arrest warrant, based on its universal law which lets Belgium try those accused of human rights abuses wherever they are committed.” However, the Senegalese refused to extradite him to Belgium. As a result, human rights organizations asked Senegal to try Habre, but they said they didn’t have the jurisdiction. Now the Senegalese have changed their constitution so they can try Habre and France has offered financial and technical assistance for the trail. This is the first significant step to bringing the oppressive dictator to trial.

Lastly, the BBC had an interesting article called "'Ex-slave' takes Niger to court" that is worth commenting on. Hadijatou Mani was sold into slavery when she was 12 years old for $500 in Niger. She was a sex slave and was forced to domestic and agricultural work. Several years later, she was released and decided to marry a man of her choosing and her master said she was his wife. He took her to court and she was found guilty of bigamy and sentenced to 6 month imprisonment. A local human rights group, Timidria, says there are 43,000 living as slaves in Niger. In 2003, Niger finally passed a bill making slavery a criminal offence (its about time!), but Ms. Mani says the law is not being enforced. She decided to bring her case before the Community Court of Justice of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) in Nigeria and argues "the government continues to legitimise the practice of slavery through customary law, which discriminates against women in direct conflict with the constitution and criminal code." This case is very important because it is the first of its kind and reminds us that slavery is still a reality for thousands of Africans, particularly women and children. For example, there was a story in Uganda's New Vision newspaper about a woman that was kidnapped 26 years ago when she was a child and taken to Yemen as a sex slave. She finally made contact with her family in 2005, but they have no money to bring her home. Also, while living in northern Uganda, many locals in Lira would tell me they thought children that were being abducted by the LRA were sold to Arabs through Sudan to the gulf as sex slaves. Many of the abducted boys were either killed or forced to fight with the rebels; however, many kidnapped girls seem to be unaccounted for. There is no proof to this claim but it cannot be technically dismissed until all LRA abductees are accounted for or until mass graves of little girls are discovered.

Parts of Africa stricken with conflict and poverty are not only difficult for the people that live in those areas, but many individuals are left very vulnerable and could be forced into slavery or conflict. This article is only a brief snapshot of some court cases recently in the news that can truly change Africa for the better. Slave owners, evil rebel leaders, and ruthless heads of state have rarely been held accountable in the past, but hopefully that will change. Strong independent judicial systems is Africa's greatest hope for sweet justice.

Monday, March 31, 2008


I witness the hottest thing I have seen on TV in years the other night – finale for American’s Best Dance Crew. If you want to instill nationalism in today’s youth and fight their disenchantment, just promote shows like American’s Best Dance Crew. America is a mix of many cultures and the people from each geographical region have various characteristics. I have been exposed to people from each area. I lived in DC, which is a mix of north and south. My husband is from the mid-west and I’m from the West – WESTSIDE!!! The final episode was a battle between all crews from each region of the country.

The first dance was the Westside, made up of crews from San Diego, Hollywood, and the OC. They were the most diverse group with many Asian, black, white, female, and male dancers. Their dance was slower, slick, smooth, and funky, like Snoop Dogg’s voice. Their moves were tighter and crisper than any other dance crew with very intricate choreography. The west is always the most creative and uses visual effects by clever positioning. During their dance, they pretended to drive a low rider with hydraulics bouncing to the beat and they ended with everyone doing their own b-boy stance flashing west-side symbols. They were by far the hippest crew.

The next dance was the South and they showed everyone why they call it the Dirty South. They danced to Lil’ John and they danced low (I mean they looked like there were sitting in low chairs). They showed how someone is supposed to dance to crunk: slow and powerful, hitting every beat hard. They did a lot of stomping and the girls would roll their hips with their legs spread to the audience. The South had the best female dancers and their large, strong, shiny thighs were hard to miss. They had the most explosive intense energy. Towards the end of the dance, a guy does a flip and the girls bend over and touch their toes (like the songs says) facing their butts to the audience and shaking them while walking backwards and the boys pretended to play them with drum sticks. I was just in awe at first, but the dance really summed up what I had seen in dance clubs in DC for a while. People in DC do those moves every weekend in the club. The South has a gritty sexuality that is unmatched by any other region and loosely resembles some Bantu African style of dances. This was my favorite dance of the night.

The third dance was the Northeast, represented by crews from Boston and Jersey. They were very clean-cut looking dancing to LL Cool J. Their stunts were great as usual. One guy ran up stairs of people and did a flip off the top; however, their dancing was unoriginal and moves imprecise. They ended with busting out the campaign glasses. (Ending on northeast snobbery – how perfect!) The dancing was about as weak as the hip hop from the region.

The last dance was from the Midwest and they always exceed expectations. There was a male crew on skates from Indiana and a female crew from Chicago dancing to Pop Lock and Drop It. They were matched perfectly with complex choreography. They started and ended the dance with one crew holding the other up like puppets. They all dressed like wholesome kids. They danced so good it was hard to tell if they were all on skates or if no one was on skates. They did some cool break dancing and popped it a lot. They were like the nice white guys next door hitting on the sweet naughty girl in pigtails.

Rightly so, at the end of the episode, Randy Jackson crowned (with hip hop baseball caps) the JabbaWockeeZ the best dance crew in America. Their dances blew me away each week and they had a style that no one has seen before. Randy says they are the future of hip hop but I don’t know if anyone else can do what they do. For the semi-finals they worked with a mixer to compose their own music with a dance in the Jaba-style. The song starts with applause and a black man preaching. They clap like mimes and one guy pretends to be a microphone while the other pretends to give a speech. Then they dance slowly in formation locking to the violin beats. They danced completely in unison with sharpness and did beautiful moves with fluttering fingers and then a low hip hop beat pounded. Everyone jumped into their own b-boy stance and their leader started doing the most amazing break dancing I’ve ever seen. You have to check this at the link below. The song ended with the sound of rain and their fingers trickling down and they pointed to the sky to remember their crew member that died at the beginning of the show. The reason I’m writing this is because the JabbaWockeeZ are not just dancers, but they are illusionists. They wear white masks and gloves concealing their identity so create a pure interpretation of the music. They have positioning that deceives the eye. They had this one stance where it looked like an 8 foot guy was levitating in the air, by having three guys on their knees in front with the top half of one body and the lower half of another sticking out on each side a foot from the ground. They also used props as wheels for a car made of JabbaWockeeZ and bounced like a low rider. They're like Cirque du Soleil meets the streets. They have created an amazing cultural phenomenon among our youth that should not be ignored. This is the Broadway of the hip hop youth, which is now being brought to mainstream America.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Journey to 10,000 BC

I was watching Journey to 10,000 BC on the History Channel last night and discovered that camels are from North America and migrated cross Alaska to Asia. According to Wikipedia, “fossil evidence indicates that the ancestors of modern camels evolved in North America during the Palaeogene period.” The Palaeogene period was 42 million years when “mammals evolved from relatively small, simple forms into a plethora of diverse animals in the wake of the mass extinction that ended the preceding Cretaceous Period”. Apparently in North America, the hunter gatherers at the time had the same cognitive abilities that we do today and lived among giant sloths the size of cars, mammoths (the largest mammals since dinosaurs), saber tooth lions, and bears that were twice as big as grizzles. More importantly, they were able to survive a mini-ice age in which 80% of animals went extinct. In the most populous area around Chesapeake Bay (DC area), there was an extremely windy sand storm for about a 1000 years as a result of a melting ice cap. I’m thankful for shows like Journey to 10,000 BC because they remind us the challenges our ancestors overcame to make us who we are today and note interesting facts like the beloved camel being from North America. Some cultures place great importance on learning about their ancestors and Americans have a lot to learn from them. The American educational system teaches children very little about North American ancient history if they cover it at all. Our perception of life would be different if we were continually reminded what our planet and ancestors have been through.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Did Hilary get screwed by the media or is the U.S. just that sexist?

There has been a lot of discussion in the media and the general public about how for the first time in decades the democratic electorate is energized. People are coming out to vote for the Democrats in record numbers. This could be because we have two excellent, well-qualified candidates or the thought of another Republican like Bush in the white house is terrifying. I, on the other hand, have been feeling more disenfranchised than ever. It is all about the polls, momentum, and who the media says is winning. What happened to the idea of letting the voters be heard based on each candidate’s platform. Each vote counts and should be seen as separate from the media empire controlled by a handful of individuals. The media seemed excited when Obama won Iowa (he is very charismatic) and even gave New Hampshire to Obama when Hilary won it. Of course, they had to retract that when all the votes were counted and revealed that polls are not all that reliable. Beth Fouhy from the Associated Press this week wrote that Hillary is trying to save her “moribund candidacy” in the Texas and Ohio primary, and it seems for the most part that the media believes she has already lost. She may not win, but the media is making an effort to influence voters as hundreds of delegates are still at stake. The article, “Clinton: Running again the wind”, describes how luck has been on Obama’s side. Howard Fineman says, “He made it to the Senate after not one but TWO sex scandals leveled his potential rivals. He got to run against Alan Keyes, an often bizarre-acting politician who didn’t even live in the state of Illinois. And as for his war vote, well, he didn't have to make the same choice Clinton did. That's because Obama wasn't elected until two years after the first tanks rolled into Iraq.”

In fall of 2006, I read Obama’s Audacity of Hope and dreamed of the first brilliant, articulate, African American becoming president some day. I was an avid Obama supporter until heavy campaigning started after the Iowa Caucuses and I switched my vote to Hillary. Since the beginning of the year, I have become increasingly annoyed by Obama faking a southern accent (typical of most politicians, but he is supposed to be different) when he gives speeches in the south and his non-specific rhetoric of hope and unity. We all want to hear about hope and unity to save our divided nation, but we also want to know what the less experienced senator plans to do when he is in office. I became increasingly frustrated with Obama’s lack of substance at the beginning of his campaign and then I realized that Clinton and Obama simply have different communication styles. Obama is more eloquent and philosophical while Hillary is a “keep it real” type of lady. She bullshits like all politicians, but to a lesser extent and has the balls to go against the grain if she believes in it. People say that Obama resembles Kennedy and maybe he does. I wasn’t alive to experience Kennedy speeches (Obama wasn’t living in the US at the time either), but it shouldn’t be about someone’s communication style; it should be about what they are saying. One thing that I like about Hilary is that she always says, on my first day in office, I would do… I know exactly what her agenda is because she provides details. She has been a major proponent of decreasing the power of the executive, which I strongly support. I know it is tough for Americans, but we really need to pay more attention to what candidates are saying and shouldn’t be so easily herded like sheep by the media. One of the most bothersome statistics about Obama is that while being a State Senator in Illinois he voted present 130 times, rather than voting yes or no to remain uncontroversial. We need a strong leader. He wasn’t elected to vote “present”. In a New York Times article, Professor Redfield from University of Illinois says, “If you are worried about your next election, the present vote gives you political cover…This is an option that does not exist in every state and reflects Illinois political culture.” During the California debate, Obama said his health plan focuses on lowering cost while Hilary’s preaches universal health care. After watching Sicko, I’m shocked by how desperately we are in need of a universal health care system and it should be the 1st priority for any Democrat running for the white house. In the debate, Obama also said, “And I have disagreed with Senator Clinton on, for example, meeting with Iran. I think, and the national intelligence estimate, the last report suggested that if we are meeting with them, talking to them, and offering them both carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change their behavior. And we can do so in a way that does not ultimately cost billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and hurt our reputation around the world.” I don’t think the Iranians are going to be very open to negotiating with Obama if he refers to them as goats, mules, or any other animal that likes carrots and sticks. I doubt he intended to be insensitive, but the comment reflects his inexperience. He has made many other comments that I disagree with, but they are not worth pointing out here. The purpose of this article is not to bash Obama. I actually still love Obama, although I don’t believe he would be a better president than Hilary. The purpose of this article is to discuss deeply rooted prejudice in our society that everyone should be aware and as a result, the primary is not a level playing field.

For the last few months, I’ve been inundated by the media with anti-Clinton propaganda. The media has not only been brutal to the Clintons, but I would argue that Bill is perceived as Hilary’s better half. The media has had a field day demonizing her in a way that has shocked me. Please comment on this piece and let me know if you are surprised too. The below exerts are only a fraction of the Hilary bashing I have heard in the last few months.
In an interesting article on called Some voters say sexism less offensive than racism, MSNBC's Chris Matthews suggested "the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around." The article also says, “At a rally, hecklers yelled to her to iron their shirts….” Radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners, "Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?” Clinton has been targeted online too by toilet brushes that are being marketed as your First Cleaning Lady and a Clinton nutcracker for sale (It cracks nuts between her legs). Another interviewer said, “Sexism of the nature Hillary Clinton is experiencing has been around as kind of an acceptable joke for years. As far as racism, it's definitely not politically correct or acceptable.” I think that most Americans have this view, which says a lot about how far we have progressed with regards to racial and gender discrimination in this country. “Feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem recently wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, in which she endorsed Clinton, that ‘gender is the most restricting force in America,’ not race.” I have also heard many comments on Hillary Clinton's hairdos, ankles and even her cleavage and the above article makes a similar statement. A few weeks ago, the Daily Show showed a few ridiculous media clips insulting Hillary and one included a guy saying, “every time she talks, I just hear ‘take out the trash’”.

The way in which Hillary has been scrutinized is different than any other candidate in history. The amazing thing is that it is acceptable in our patriarchal culture. We need to pay close attention to what is going on, not for Hilary, but for all American woman. How are woman treated differently in powerful political positions? I always wonder if woman like Hillary think: will my partner define my identity, am I pretty enough, am I smart enough, am I sensitive or feminine enough (not a cold-hearted bitch), and most importantly, am I tough enough?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kenya’s Reality Revealed

In 2002, my senior project for college was a comparative study of Uganda and Kenya politics and my thesis in graduate school (2005) discussed the development of democracy in Kenya, Uganda, and Botswana. Since then, Uganda and Botswana have faced various democratic challenges; however my argument on Kenya hasn’t changed since I lived there in 2001. Democracy is unlikely to flourish in Kenya as long as ethnic conflict remains at the heart of political, social, and cultural issues. Ethnic or tribal differences in Kenya are not necessary historically engrained in Kenyan society, but a result of British colonial rule and the politics of elites in the post-colonial era. On 1/29/08 Professor Elkins from Harvard was on BBC America arguing that ethnic divisions sharpened during the colonial period given their divide and rule tactics. She described how tribal identity was used to determine access to the state and that the Kenyan ruling elites have continued to use the politics of ethnicity for political support. The Akiwumi report which was made public in October 2002, “confirmed that prominent ruling party politicians have fueled multiple incidents of so-called ethnic clashes in Kenya since 1991.”

Given the historical context and current political situation, Kenya’s present crisis in which 1000 people have been killed is no surprise. Kibaki and the government are to blame for rigging the election and police violence against innocent civilians, primarily in Kibira. But there is stronger evidence that Raila Odinga and his party have been the primary instigators of ethnic cleansing. In the BBC article, Odinga denies ‘ethnic cleansing, Justice Minister, Ms. Karua said the government had suspected that Mr. Odinga's ODM party was "planning mayhem if they lost". But she said they had not expected "the magnitude [of the violence] and for it to be ethnic cleansing". Asked whether she was accusing the ODM leadership of "calculatedly planned ethnic cleansing", she answered: "Absolutely yes, that's what I'm saying categorically." In another interview with the BBC's HARDtalk, Mr. Odinga called these allegations "outrageous... She knows where the truth lies - that all that we are having is as a result of the order that the government has given to the police: to shoot particularly members of certain ethnic communities…. So what we have been seeing is basically a response by members of the public to the police action, which has resulted in the killing of very many people who are members of other communities than the one that she comes from.” It is ironic that Odinga makes a reference to Karua’s ethnic identity. The article goes on to say, “Mr. Odinga said his party had condemned one of the most notorious incidents - the torching of a church in the western town of Eldoret on 1 January. But he said the attack on the church had been an attempt to avenge earlier attacks.” The burning of the church in Eldoret was the first of its kind and remains one of the darkest moments in Kenya’s history. Any statement or apology that ever begins with a “but” never seems sincere. In a Human Rights Watch Report released on January 24, 2008, HWR states that opposition party officials and local elders planned and organized ethnic-based violence in the Rift Valley. “Opposition leaders are right to challenge Kenya’s rigged presidential poll, but they can’t use it as an excuse for targeting ethnic groups,” said Georgette Gagnon, acting Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We have evidence that ODM politicians and local leaders actively fomented some post-election violence…” Human Rights Watch interviewed members of several pro-ODM Kalenjin communities who described the ways in which local leaders and ODM party agents actively fomented violence against Kikuyu communities. A Kalenjin preacher in a village in Eldoret North constituency told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of December 29, 2007, a local ODM party mobilizer “called a meeting and said that war had broken in Eldoret town, so the elders organized the youth into groups of not less than 15, and they went to loot [Kikuyu] homes and burn them down.” The report goes on to explain several accounts of ODM mobilizers arranged frequent meetings following the election to organize, direct and facilitate the violence unleashed by gangs of local youth and encouraged them to purchase semi-automatic weapons. Many Kalenjin community leaders told Human Rights Watch that if the area’s ODM leadership or the local Kalenjin radio station KASS FM told people unequivocally to stop attacks on Kikuyu homes, then they believe the violence would stop. “If the leaders say stop, it will stop immediately,” said one Kalenjin elder.

Based on media reports, the general trends of violence appears to be that the police began attacking people who were protesting for Odinga (it is unclear whether they were targeting certain ethnic groups) and as a result Odinga supporters attacked Kukuyus and then we saw the reemergence of the Kikuyu extremist gang, Mungiki. From an outsiders view, it is difficult to confirm whether this chain of events is accurate, but one thing that is clear is women from all tribes have been the worst victims. Rape has doubled and we know that rape has been severely under reported in Kenya. It is important to note that Kibaki was the first president to make an effort to dismantle Mungiki and challenge their authority. I remember the days when they controlled many matatu routes in Nairobi during Moi’s time. They regularly robbed and rapped people adding to Nairobi’s lawlessness. But with the win of the opposition in 2002, there was new hope in the city with police, government, and citizen cracking down on Mungiki’s control over the public transport system. Odinga now claims that Kibaki is using Mungiki against him when Odinga was the one that let the beast out of its cage. BBC’s article, Kenya Militia Strike Back, details Mungiki’s attacks on people. They are an extreme, violent group that likes to behead and hack people to death.

It is clear that Kibaki isn’t fit to rule. He has provided the public no leadership at this difficult time. I doubt Odinga would be any better and could be worse for the country. In 2003, he united with Kenyatta, which led to the split of the one party system changing Kenya’s democratic future forever. He offered Kenya great hope, but has proven to be a greedy leader willing to do anything for power. Although the violence has been stopped for the most part, Kenyans cannot deny the ethnic hatreds that exist in their society. Kenya must have true reconciliation and equality for its citizens to make a real political and social change.