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The Death of Osama bin Laden: One Year Later

Originally featured on Ebony.com written by Jamila Aisha Brown

“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. … With faith in each other, and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace.” – President Barack Obama

On May 2, 2011, Obama addressed the nation to confirm the death of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most notorious terrorist.  The al Qaeda leader, responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001, was killed in a raid of a compound outside of Islamabad, Pakistan, a former safe haven where bin Laden evaded capture for nearly ten years.

The evening of President Obama’s announcement was one of many emotions.  Waves of relief, solace, confusion, and jubilation ripple through the nation.  They finally captured bin Laden.  The death of my loved one on 9/11 has been avenged.  Will the troops come home now?  Why was bin Laden killed and not captured to stand trial?  Let’s head to the White House, it’s a celebration!

These feelings swept over the American landscape as September 11 touched each of our lives marking the beginning of the nation’s longest war.  It changed the way we fly; forever augmented the New York skyline, touched the lives of every military family, and gave the United States a common enemy.

A year since bin Laden’s death TSA regulations remain largely unchanged, a memorial to the World Trade Center victims was unveiled, an end to formal deployment in Iraq sent some troops home for the first time in years, our common enemy was weakened and new Muslim extremist groups emerged.

One needs look no further to the events on May 1, 2012, to understand the complexities of fight against terrorism and threats to the United States that remain.

On the eve of the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, the president met with Afghan President Karzai to sign a treaty ensuring full American military engagement until 2014 and the presence of U.S. security forces through 2024.

“There’s a light on the horizon,” President Obama declared in his eighth presidential address to the nation, his first from abroad.

Yet the same day the president declared imminent victory the “dark cloud of war” descended following his departure.  Three explosions shook the eastern part of the Afghan capital killing five civilians and one guard, an al Qaeda attack in retaliation to the U.S./Afghanistan treaty.

The bombings along Jalalabad road encapsulates the troubled relationship between the United States and its allies in combating global terrorism.  The death of bin Laden and the weakening of al Qaeda’s leadership and communication network have not overshadowed an American war racked with scandal, tragedy, and questions of ethics in the eyes of those abroad.

Despite President Obama’s efforts to temper Islamophobia, actions such as the burning of the Holy Koran on an American military base in Afghanistan incited anger from moderate and extremist Muslims alike.  And just one month later, U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Bales was charged with the murder of 17 Afghan civilians including 9 children, further damaging the already strained Afghan-American relationship.

Adding greater turmoil to the United States’ diplomatic relations in the Muslim world, the use of drone strikes to destroy terrorist cells in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia has been harshly criticized for its potential illegality.

And though President Obama assured troops at Bagram Air Field that, “America is safer today because of you,” the Department of Defense asserts that al Qaeda offshoots present the nation’s biggest terror threat.

The collateral damage of the American Afghan war – the Koran burnings, murders, and drone strikes – serve to embolden al Qaeda affiliates likeBoko Haram in Nigeria and the al Shabab of Somalia.

Some argue that the anger and resentment felt towards the United States, the same sentiments that led to the attacks on September 11, persist in certain pockets of the world because changes to American diplomacy in the Muslim world and not only its military strategies are needed to change the tide.

Although the Arab Spring across the Middle East and Northern Africa, forced the United States to reevaluate its prior support of authoritarian regimes in Islamic nations, its public denouncement of mass killings in Syria are juxtaposed with silence on the murders of civilian protestors in Bahrain, home to the Fifth Naval Fleet that serves as the anchor of American military strategy in the region.

The reluctance to denounce human rights violations in Bahrain coupled with Congress’ refusal to close Guantanamo Bay prisons and the enduring lack of improvement in the military tribunal system’s transparency tarnish the nation’s global image and its reputation as a self-professed champion of democracy worldwide.

One year after capture and death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda–the face of global terrorism–is weakened. Nevertheless threats to American security have not dissipated but diversified and U.S. foreign policy remains unchanged.

What The Secret Service Scandal Teaches Us About Sex Tourism

Originally featured on Ebony.com written by Jamila Aisha Brown

After President Barack Obama slow jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, the president responded the talk show host’s question about the sex scandal that rocked the VI Summit of the Americas by saying a few “knuckleheads” should not discredit the entire Secret Service.

These knuckleheads comprise 24 secret service and military personnel who stand accused of misconduct with a local sex worker during the high-level multinational conference held in Cartagena, Colombia.

Weeks after 30 heads of state throughout the Americas failed to come to a resolution over hemispheric challenges such as the War on Drugs and the United States’ 50-year economic embargo on Cuba, the aftermath of the prostitution controversy continues to overshadow diplomatic tensions in the region and growing criticisms from Latin America and the Caribbean over U.S. foreign policy.

Despite its takeover of the headlines, the sex scandal poignantly draws parallels to Organization of the American States’ gathering because it reveals the crux of many issues plaguing the regions and demonstrates how American consumption often leads to Latin American exploitation.

Much like the how the U.S.’s appetite for narcotics fuels the War on Drugs another illicit multi-billion dollar market booms — sex.

Sex tourism in Latin American and the Caribbean has grown alongside the formal tourist industry at an alarming rate.  Each year millions of men AND women from the western world travel south looking to get their groove on and their groove back.

Encouraged by Washington-based organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, developing nations have become heavily reliant on the direct foreign investment and currency tourism brings into its fledgling economies.  However with major tourist locations have also come a loss of land and sustainable farming and fishing, leaving many with few options but to cater foreign travelers in both the formal and informal economy.

However, referring to sex tourism as “informal” ignores its professionalism.  While brothels and independent solicitations for sex remain commonplace, a large number of transactions occur via the web.  A simple Google search of sex tourism in name-that-exotic-locale reveals pages of websites that inform the curious sex tourist.  Lists of agencies, clubs, sex guides, and even hotels are readily available at one’s fingertips despite the illegalities of such transactions.

Although sex tourism is not new to Latin America and the Caribbean, many tracing its beginnings back to the days of Christopher Columbus in the 15th century, it has boomed as the middle class grew and international travel spiked.

Amongst these new vacationers were African-Americans who for some the acquisition of a passport gave way to new experiences and new sexual conquests.

The book Don’t Blame it on Rio: The Real Deal Behind Why Men Go to Brazil for Sex by Jewel Woods and Karen Hunter, the authors chronicle the narratives of Black men who engage in sex for pay abroad.  Even as scholars like Professor R L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy highlight the book’s shortcomings claiming it has not “… given enough weight to the larger social forces at play such as gender socialization, an expanding black middle class and the image of the black male in crisis,” it does provide a first hand account of how and why the sex tourism industry flourishes.

Yet one factor missing from the accounts of Black male touristslooking for sex overseas and its analysis remains that Black men in fact represent exploiters and the exploited in the international sex industry.

In J. Michael Seyfert’s documentary the R&R or rest and relaxation stands for Rent a Rasta.  The film, set in Jamaica, describes how 80,000 women annually visit the island nation’s shores for paid sexual adventures revealing how sexual tourism is not a gendered problem.

The issue of pay for sex play is not unique to knuckleheads, or Black men, or men in general and while travelers seek to “enjoy” offerings abroad an estimated 500,000 sex workers from Latin America and the Caribbean are exploited annually.

The Secret Service sex scandal should not only serve as a national embarrassment, but also a warning.

Despite the economic recession precipitating in a shrinking middle class and tourism downturn, sexual tourism driven by large events continues to be big business.  And as the world looks awaits the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil, a popular sex tourism destination, the United States and the Organization of the American States should take heed to learn the lessons of this recent scandal and move proactively to implement stronger laws and harsher penalties for those seeking more than just fun and sun.

Rwanda Remembers, Never Again

Originally featuredd on Ebony.com written by Jamila Aisha Brown

Eighteen years ago the world focused its attention on Bomb Alley in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina while the blood spilled on Machete Avenue in Kigali, Rwanda, flowed hidden from the international media spotlight.

On April 7, 1994, ethnic tension between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi reached its tipping point as Hutu Power engulfed Rwanda resulting the swiftest and deadliest genocide ever seen.  In just 100 days nearly 20 percent of Rwanda’s population, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 lives, were lost and the nation whose cries of genocide were ignored by the global community was left to rebuild, heal, and reconcile all that had been cut away.

Each year since 1994, Rwanda remembers what the world tried to forget.

For most of us, the week of April 7 passes by on the calendar like any other.  We awake only reflecting on the tasks of sending our children off to school, which of our favorite teams will play that night, or which happy hour to attend after work, but in Rwanda; every school, sporting arena, and entertainment facility in Rwanda is closed in observance of its national period of mourning.

Anne Mazimhaka, Creative Director of the think tank Illume Creative Studio, offers EBONY her personal experience as a Rwandan citizen and daughter of a refugee and her professional insight as a international human rights law practitioner and a transitional justice specialist to tell us how Rwanda is healing 18 years later.

AM:  I lost family during the 1994 genocide, but I was not here. My immediately family went into exile and fled to Uganda during the first killings in 1959 and we returned to Rwanda in 1995.

EBONY:  The first killings? History never addresses Rwandan deaths or a possible genocide prior to 1959.

AM:  No, because the conflict happened before Rwandan independence and was never legally recognized as genocide.  Rwanda was basically an invisible country when it happened. Being tucked away in the heart of central Africa — tiny and insignificant, no resources, and with nothing to attract Western attention is why so many people were killed between 1959 and 1994.  What was really hard to fathom however is that the United Nations was here, and STILL genocide was ignored.

EBONY:  What was it like returning from exile in the wake of Rwanda’s recovery?

AM:  Returning to Rwanda the first time, a year after everything happened was exciting because my parents and grandparents were finally able to go home and yet scary the remnants of destruction were everywhere, even though by 1995, a lot had been done to reconstruct and rehabilitate the country. So it was a mixture of trepidation and wonder that eventually gave way to hopefulness.

OUR HEARTS ACHE. OUR SOULS REMEMBER. OUR SOULS REMEMBER. OUR SPIRIT PERSEVERES. RWANDA REMEMBERS, NEVER AGAIN.

EBONY:  Could you talk more about that hopefulness?

AM:  The best examples of hope come from those who suffered most.  After the genocide, 85 percent of women that survived had been raped and/or sexually mutilated and witnessed their families’ slaughter.  But even amidst this trauma, survivors focused on healing their pain, healing the pain of others, and on building a future for themselves.

EBONY:  Rwanda has largely self-led its justice and reconciliation process for the survivors.  How and why has this process evolved independently of the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda?

AM:  The genocide destroyed our entire legal system.  Our judges and lawyers were killed alongside Hutu intellectuals who were amongst the first targeted deaths.  When I worked for the law reform commission we literally had nothing to work with, yet we had thousands and thousands of people accused of genocide. And although each the caseload was such that it would take literally 100 years to try every case, we had to come up with a new constitution, new organic laws that established administrative and legal systems.

EBONY:  Those are the Gacaca Courts correct?  Do you find the court system to be effective? Some international human rights advocates have expressed concerns that there is no legal counsel for the accused.

AM: The Gacaca process was a useful way to uncover the truth of what had happened and it forced those charged to reveal how things had been planned and carried out.  I know a lot of human rights organizations did not approve of the way the courts were organized and it was not a system without flaws, but when you are facing such a dire situation where neighbors killed neighbors and families killed each other it was a necessary measure in order to deal with what had happened and in order to facilitate reconciliation.

EBONY:  Former officials within Rwanda question if true reconciliation has happened such that perpetrators and survivor can go back to living side by side as they did before 1994.  Do you think 18 years is enough sufficient time to heal a wound that deep?

AM:  I think that critique is incredibly simplistic and fails to recognize the deep-seated complexities of the roots of the ethnic tensions. The roots are complex, as are the effects, which will undoubtedly linger for generations. Eighteen years later Rwanda has made incredible strides, but we have indeed only just begun. And, honestly, Rwanda’s biggest challenge is that we must realize that true sustainable reconciliation takes time. We have only just begun to re-build what was destroyed.

BLACK GOLD: What Will Oil Do For (or To) Kenya?

Originally featured on Ebony.com written by Jamila Aisha Brown

News from the African continent buzzed on Twitter as #TurkanaOil rose into the top ten global trending topics.

Kenya struck black gold.

During a national press conference, Kenya’s Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi proudly held up a glass vile filled with thick, crude oil, “We will make sure that the oil in Kenya is a blessing for the people of Kenya and not a curse,” he declared.  A hopeful statement, but one imbued with both the promise and despair the discovery of oil has brought to so many other African nations.

‘The resource curse’, ‘the Dutch disease’, ‘the paradox of plenty’ are all descriptors for how potential financial gains of the petroleum industry often become mired in corruption, debt, and environmental degradation.  Perhaps the best, or worst, example is petrol powerhouse Nigeria.  The discovery of Nigerian oil coincided with a perfect storm of national sovereignty, civil war, excessive foreign lending, and Niger Delta oil fires.  To date, Nigerians live with the stark dichotomy of the wealth and poverty.  Although Nigeria accrues $120 million (US) daily from oil exports, most Nigerians continue to live off $2 a day.

Avoiding the same pitfalls may present a challenge for Kenya’s flailing economy.  In 2011 the Kenyan shilling gained notoriety as the world’s worst performing currency after its value sharply declined, interest rates skyrocketed, and inflation neared 20 percent.  Although Kenya’s economic and political situation is more stable than most of its East African neighbors, standard of living for most Kenyans has taken a hit over the last decade.  Nearly half of all Kenyans live on less than a dollar a day and are unable to meet their daily nutritional needs.

Poverty is a struggle known all too well in the newly oil rich Turkana County. Located in Northern Kenyan, its arid lands and the daily struggle for potable water have grown more extreme as climate change threatens already scarce resources.  Yet now the discovery of petroleum presents a new potential beginning for the community.

“Oil in Turkana, Cement in Pokot, North Rift is saying goodbye to poverty and cattle rustling!” tweeted @amon_gallis.

Despite growing excitement from the region absent of adequate healthcare and basic amenities like electricity is palpable, much of Kenya’s exporting future remains contingent upon the British oil firm Tullow and how the government will navigate international interests hungry for East African resources.

The scramble for Africa’s resources dominated by European colonial powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has seen a 21st century revival on the continent, but now with more players from farther West and East.  The United States along with China and several oil producing Middle Eastern nations directed its investments towards East Africa adding their names to a long list of those eager to capitalize on Africanenergy potential.

POVERTY IS A STRUGGLE KNOWN ALL TOO WELL IN THE NEWLY OIL RICH TURKANA COUNTY.YET NOW THE DISCOVERY OF PETROLEUM PRESENTS A NEW POTENTIAL BEGINNING FOR THE COMMUNITY.

While Tullow Oil PLC continues to excavate in Turkana, pressures from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and global economic powerhouses to its East and West mount, ready to offer the same services to develop the new oil industry lent to Nigeria and other oil-bearing West African nations.  However, Kenya may find its strength and guarantee Energy Minister Murungi’s promise to make oil a blessing and not curse through East African solidarity.

According to Kenyan oil industry expert Patrick Obath, it would be wise for Kenya and its oil-rich neighbors: Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Tanzania to develop its industries collectively rather than independently.  Obath suggests that if these countries were to invest a world-class refinery as one group they could lower the unit cost of production and instantly make East African products competitive.

Though Kenyan oil is not projected to enter the marketplace projected for another three years, its government must implement solid frameworks (like Obath’s proposed East African investment bloc) in order to maximize its oil wealth.  Taking a lesson from the Norwegian example, Kenya could raise Turkana, its nation, and potentially its region out of poverty through the creation of an oil account similar to The Petroleum Fund of Norway, which uses its revenues to equally distribute wealth.

During this long excavation period, the key for gaining the most from future oil earnings will be to get Kenya’s politics and governance right now.  In this regard Kenya possesses a head start as one of Africa’s most democratic nations; however it must evade internal political/economic corruption and the lure of short-term cash gains presented by external investors.  It is at this juncture Kenya must begin to build its oil future and decide whether to go the way of Nigeria or Norway.

Joyce Banda Becomes Malawi’s First Woman President

Originally featured on Ebony.com by Jamila Aisha Brown

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Malawi once again captured the attention of the world this weekend, not for its poverty or a pop star’s child adoption, but for its progress. On Saturday, April 7, 2012, Joyce Banda was sworn as the Republic of Malawi’s first female president and Africa’s second. The longtime women’s rights activist and outspoken politician, listed asForbes’ third most powerful woman in Africa in 2011 assumed one of its highest offices.

“I want to sincerely thank Malawians and all people living in Malawi for the respect of the law shown by the peaceful transition of the presidency,”President Banda announced before nation whose constitution she pledged to defend and preserve.

Taking over after the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika will not prove an easy task for Banda who made many enemies in the late president’s Democratic Progressive Party as his Vice President.  Shortly following the 2009 re-election, Mutharika and Banda clashed over Mutharika’s policies and style of governance.  Within a year Banda was kicked out of the majority party, but she skillfully evaded political isolation and defiantly retained the title of Malawian Vice President creating her own political party, the People’s Party.

Mutharika’s disdain for Banda, who openly criticized his presidency likening him to an autocrat, was widely known.  His preference for his brother to succeed him over Banda was a personal but non-constitutional choice, as Banda remained the nation’s Vice President.  In the wake of President Mutharika’s passing, many whispered of a power vacuum struggle between the two while others speculated that the former head of state’s body was transported to South Africa in an attempt to buy time was chosen.  Nevertheless the power struggle many envisioned did not come to fruition and the rule of Malawian law had prevailed for it to make history.  For those who blame Mutharika for the country’s current economic crisis, President Banda represents great hope for change.

A former World Bank economist, the late President Mutharika was once the darling of the international community yet he began to question Malawi’s heavy dependency on foreign aid clashing with donors and lenders during his second term of office.  The worse Malawi’s economic situation became the more Mutharika resisted the recommendations of international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  As the Malawian economy entered into a tailspin, Mutharika ignored the IMF’s advice to devalue its currency despite severe shortages of vital commodities such as sugar and fuel.

Fixing Malawi’s flailing economy presents a great challenge for President Banda, one that her critics question her ability to face.  But as questions of her ability to pull Malawi out of financial crisis and powerful enemies loyal to Mutharika threaten to mar her historical presidency, it is important to note that Banda may have already endured the greatest fight of her life.

The 62-year-old Joyce Banda we know today: staunch women’s rights advocate, educator, philanthropist, politician, and president represents the evolution of a 25 year old mother who escaped an abusive marriage.

Living in a violent household in Nairobi, Kenya far from her native homeland, a courageous President Banda drew strength and inspiration from the 1970s’ Kenyan women’s movement to leave her husband with three young children in tow.  Once safe in Malawi, Banda gained financial independence as a garment manufacturer. Using her personal knowledge and experience to advocate for the economic freedom of other Malawian women, Banda founded the National Business Women Association.

Just as President Banda rebuilt her financial future as a young single parent and survivor of domestic violence, she is now charged to do the same for her country.


GAME CHANGER: How Will New Colombian Drug Laws Impact ‘The War on Drugs’?

Originally featured on Ebony.com written by Jamila Aisha Brown

From HBO’s “The Wire,” Season 3, Episode 4 “Hamsterdam”

Dennis “Cutty” Wise:  The game done changed…

Slim Charles:  Game’s the same, just got more fierce.

Could March 16, 2012 be the day that forever changed the game?

Weeks before leaders throughout the hemisphere gather in Cartagena, Colombia for the Organization of American States’ (OAS) VI Summit of the Americas, Colombian President Juan Santos unveiled a 56-page legislative plan that would legalize “personal dose” amounts of narcotics.

Santos’ bold move towards legalization represents a sharp turn from recent anti-drug policies in Colombia; a nation that has been the United States’ strongest international ally in the War on Drugs and its main supplier.  As the world’s largest cocaine producer Colombia plays an integral role in combating the illicit drug trade although the $60 billion annual drug habit of its American partners has made for a complicated relationship.

Forty years of the U.S. led War on Drugs has done little to curb American consumption and Colombian production of illegal narcotics.  And though critics, advocates, and even President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly admit its failures, little political will exists to address and/or reverse the flawed strategy.  In fact instead of taking a step back to reevaluate the $7 billion spent on the anti-drug initiative Plan Colombia, Congress trudged forward ratifying a bi-lateral free trade agreement with Colombia that will surely extend these policies in order to protect American economic interests.

But what is to become of the relationship now as Colombia inches towards drug legalization?  And what becomes of its citizens?  What becomes of the pawns in the drug game?

At first glance, the only commonalities the United States and Colombia share are its problems illegal drugs.  But as we look closely upon the faces of Americans and Colombians greatly impacted by the War on Drugs we begin to see the reoccurrence of particular faces amongst the multitude – the faces of African-Americans and Afro-Colombians.

The U.S. presents itself as a stable democracy with a viable court system readily able to prosecute drug offenders and Colombia as an economically viable nation that has rebounded from civil war and quieted counterinsurgency groups that challenged its national sovereignty.  However behind the façade are two nations whose Black communities stand as targets in the controversial War on Drugs.

HBO’s acclaimed show “The Wire” offers a fictional, but fact-based look at how the intricate web of drugs, narcotrafficking, politics, law enforcement, education systems and media impact African-American lives.  PBS’ “The War We Are Living” gives a firsthand account of the terror right and left wing insurgents, who use drug trafficking to finance the conflict, inflict upon Afro-Colombians living along the Pacific Coast.  Albeit powerful, these programs provide only a microcosmic view of the repercussions and realities of a failed drug war.

FROM BALTIMORE TO THE BARRANQUÍLLA, POOR BLACK COMMUNITIES HAVE BEEN CAUGHT IN THE CROSSHAIRS OF THE WAR ON DRUGS SINCE THE 1980S

From Baltimore to the Barranquílla, poor Black communities have been caught in the crosshairs of the War on Drugs since the 1980s. Crack cocaine disparity laws, mass incarceration, drug crop fumigation, and intimidation, murder, and forced removal by narcotics-financed insurgents have led to over 31 million American drug arrests, and 4 million Colombian displacements.

Scholars and advocates such as Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” deem this anti-narcotics strategy demonstrates gross prejudice to the extent that it subjugates and even re-enslaves Black citizens, stripping their socio-economic and political power. The numbers concede the point: African-Americans comprise 32% of all drug possession arrests, yet only consume 12% of drugs used monthly.  And out of 10 million Afro-Colombians, state and non-state armed factions forcibly displaced 79% of the total population.

Over last four decades the drug game’s grown fiercer and there’s no sign that it will be relenting anytime soon.

Given the United States’ voracious appetite for Colombian cocaine, its adherence to the War on Drugs, and its pursuit of capitalist gains abroad, President Santos’ effort to legalize individual drug possession may make little to no difference for African-Americans and Afro-Colombians.

Yet the Colombian parliament’s reaction to such legislation remains to be seen.  Parliamentary response coupled with potential support for legalization from other OAS nations grappling with drug violence and crime could pressure the United States into revisiting its embattled anti-drug policies.

So perhaps Colombia’s move done changed the game after all … slightly.

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