What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A lesson in colonialité

I went to an event yesterday that was supposed to be a workshop about the effects of the drugs trade in West Africa. I wasn't sure if it was really meant to be interactive - I live in a country where they will call an old prof giving you an hour-long monologue a "workshop" sometimes. Perhaps rightly so. But for preparations I did read two UNODC reports on the subject. These were (pdf files):
This is a topic receiving more attention these days. The current holder of the "Italian job" in the UN, UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa even declared last year that "West Africa is under attack." He claims so as an increasing amount of Latin-American cocaine is trafficked to the growing European market through staging posts along West Africa's shores, a major one of which is Guinea-Bissau where traffickers from Brazil don't have trouble speaking in Portuguese with the locals and which has a dense archipelago a few kilometers out to sea from its shores where clandestine landing strips can be operated and where boats can find haven as well.
Now, the problem is that the whole "West Africa is under attack" statement should very much be taken under critical review. Corruption, as much as it is fuelled by the illicit trade, is certainly not good for the countries concerned, but the money flowing into these West African countries through a suspiciously fast increasing amount of remittances from their European diasporas and through equally rising FDI, some of which could be about money laundering, is a rather benign sort of "attack." Not to mention that the drug trafficked is marketed in Europe, and isn't spilled into West Africa for consumption there given the vastly different profit margins available.
So, really, this is our primary consumer countries' interest that UNODC is trying to rhetorically sell to these countries which so far aren't so negatively affected in fact, even if in the future they could be. For example, the second UNODC report tries spectacularly hard to find something worthy of mentioning as negative economic impact so far and comes to mentioning an appreciation of local currencies because of the incoming money flow. Well, some of these countries are not export-driven economies so I wonder why that's so terrible.
Anyway, I went to this event and to my dismay it was just that sort of workshop that's not really a workshop. Moreover, the speakers just re-told the UNODC reports basically, even magnifying their concerns over doom and gloom for the West African countries concerned. But the top of it all was when they spiced this all with subliminal messages about "the White Man being the best thing that can happen to Africa," backed up by a lot of speculative nonsense.
A few especially bright examples of this, quoted from some of the speakers:
- "In a couple of years' time, who knows, these organised criminal groups, you know, with China's increasing activity on the continent, they could become involved even in the smuggling of human organs to all those Chinese who need organs, and there are a lot of them."
- "In Mauritania it's the spread of Islam that is partly behind the drugs trade. For example, this plane that was seized by authorities, about to ship cocaine to Europe, it was an Islamic leader's plane."
- "We should better nurture the important contacts we have with African students who have studied or are studying here in Hungary. They can become important leaders in their countries one day, so there should be, like, a database with their names, we should have it somewhere, and it should be available to everyone here in Hungary."
Alright. I don't want to name names here. It's more a phenomenon than something you can tie to a concrete and small group of people. These guys from yesterday, they likely think of themselves as well-meaning people, rather typically of a colonial mentality. And I'm sure in a rational debate they could be offered arguments that would make them reconsider some of the issues they were talking about.
I've heard much worse than what they had to offer, from others, before. Once I've even heard a respected old academic say, in a lecture about China, that "the Chinese, they are ready to work much harder than the average among us. They are not like the Africans." There the audience laughed in approval.
Now, to finish, shall I mention how many times I heard that "Afghans are Afghans" from people looking at me expecting that all the implications of that reifying tautology would immediately be clear to me?

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