About 100 metres away from the trenches, dug five feet into the reddish brown earth, my comrade and I – a man who I still can’t call a friend even though I have no one who understands me better – continue to walk, each carrying about fifteen pounds of artillery.

We hear faint noises, whimpering noises of a man. I wonder if this might be my cousin, I’m told he’s in now too but I can’t bear the thought of meeting him here. I don’t want to ruin my last memory of us together – drinking coffee with our mothers. Our mothers are the sisters who held the family together. My mother is the eldest child and his mother came after her. They are best friends. I remember that time we sat drinking coffee with them and they told us stories about how I used to wait for him to sleep and then rub berbere – the hot powder- into his eyes. I was jealous of him because my mother would make me give him the sweet corn she bought for me on her way home from church. She would call him sweetheart.

“Anta Mussie shukor, nea eba temesah” she would say.

(“Mussie, sweetheart, won’t you come and have lunch now”)

She told me I shouldn’t be so jealous. I was older than him by 13 months, I should be more proud than jealous. 13 months older in a land of 13 months of sunshine. My English teacher who was a dark man from Sri Lanka never understood why we had another month here, but he accepted it, saying that all beliefs should be tolerated, even if they are untolerable. We knew he couldn’t tolerate us really, but that was okay because most of us talked about him in our language. We wanted the outsiders to always remember their place – the place they don’t have.

The repetition of lame whimpers cuts my nostalgia short. I look over to my comrade, my closest friend who is not really a friend, and ask him if he hears it. He nods his head and we begin to retreat backward.

We walk back toward our trench only to stop after approximately twenty metres. The whimpering sounds are a bit stronger now, so we know we’re closer to the source. I try to shrug off the feeling that it might be Mussie. I try to remember the funny times we shared.

 

My comrade-or-friend walks toward the pile of burnt artillery, remnants of the war past. The place is called Ashrak. It has become a landmark, and many people who left our country during the war come back to see this place – to see where the tanks were burned. The government was clever to make this into a tourist attraction – it saves them from paying to dispose of the potentially dangerous materials.

My comrade signals for me to come. He’s behind the heap of burnt things now. I walk over, dreading what I’ll see, dreading to see what I must remember, dreading to see what I cannot erase. I consider not looking beyond the heap of burnt things, until I realize I am already there.

We both look down at this man, his hands tied behind him. His mouth half-open, his leg severely wounded. I look down at him and realize this is one of those moral dilemmas they warned us about during the early training days.

For about thirty minutes we were lectured on what constitutes a real moral dilemma as opposed to what constitutes the mind of a weak man. We were warned against the impulse to flee when given the chance. We will be caught anyway. We were told not to talk too much to people who asked questions – the test was not to see who could answer the question the fastest, or who knew the most political facts. The test was not to volunteer information – it was to avoid it. Avoid information. Information will always make moral dilemmas harder to solve. We were also told about the dilemma before us. What to do with a soldier who is tired, or limp, or maimed. There were two categories to this dilemma: our soldiers and theirs.

I tried to remember the answer to this dilemma as I adjusted the strap of the AK slung across my shoulder.

My comrade-or-friend asked me what to do, although he knew I didn’t know. We sometimes passed time like this. We liked to ask each other stupid questions so that we could find a way to start conversations. I could sense he wanted to trust me but I didn’t know how to tell him that he couldn’t. I can’t even trust myself anymore.

 

The whimpering got louder as the man noticed he had an audience that took time to deliberate the scene to follow. He might have thought we were considering compassion, thinking about what angle we should carry him to the nearest hospital, about 75 kilometers away. The thought of added weight to our load was enough reason to kill him now.

I feel indifferent about this man, but feel sad that I’m indifferent. He might be a father or a son. Or he might not be a father and his own father could have died before he was born. It’s easier to kill someone when you think nobody will miss them. I wonder if he’s married but then think about my own wife and how much she begged me to wed before I left for the trenches. I’d probably do him a favour to get rid of her voice in his head.

My friend asks the man to speak.

“What’s your name. Where are you from.”

The man whimpers again. We know he is lying. He is trying not to speak to us. He doesn’t want us to know that he’s from the other side, although the flag on the side of his jacket gave him away. He knows we know. He knows we are testing our own humanity. He is trying not to beg us to save him, and he is smart. He is allowing us to show him mercy on our own terms. This is a real man’s way.

I feel guilty for thinking of shooting him there but it’s much better than having him suffer. I do not know if that’s the mercy he wanted, but it’s the only kind I can offer.

I feel closer to my comrade and wonder if it’s time we became friends. After all we just killed a man together. In the depths of our souls, in the silence of our thoughts, we know we’re really the same person. I know we are both good people who kill. It’s a special understanding, a special code of person. We are warriors. We ignore the tugs of our conscience for the greater good of peace; for the greater cause of security.

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Reuters
Friday, May 4, 2007; 1:12 PM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission embraced Eritrea’s government on Friday in the search for a comprehensive solution to a range of conflicts across the Horn of Africa, from Darfur to Somalia.

European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel gave a warm welcome to President Isaias Afwerki despite accusations of human rights violations, praising his diplomacy over Sudan and his decision to ban the forced circumcision of young girls.

Foreign editor Keith Richburg joins host Sam Litzinger every Thursday at noon for a roundup of the latest world news.

“I was very, very honored to receive him in the Commission,” he told a joint news conference.

“This is … an important event, an international signal for the EU and for Eritrea. I have very high expectations in this new kind of relations between the Commission and Eritrea.”

Eritrea last month quit the east African regional bloc IGAD, in a feud over the group’s support of Somalia’s interim government — strongly backed by Ethiopia — Eritrea’s bitter foe since a 1998-2000 war.

Afwerki dismissed charges by Addis Ababa that Eritrea was behind a rebel attack in southeast Ethiopia last month in which 74 people were killed and seven Chinese workers were seized.

“It’s become a habit, it’s become an addiction to blame anything on Asmara so don’t be surprised,” he said, adding that the sheer distance between Eritrea and the remote Ogaden area of Ethiopia where the attack occurred made any link impossible.

Security experts say Asmara has long supported Ethiopian rebels groups to pressure Addis Ababa, which Eritrea denies.

“KEY PARTNER”

Michel made no public mention of human rights, media freedom or growing tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia, saying he hoped a regular political dialogue with Asmara would help improve the mood for solving all problems in the region.

“Everybody knows Eritrea is a key partner and a key actor in the Horn,” he said, citing efforts to bring peace to Somalia, where Asmara has backed an Islamist movement ousted from power in Mogadishu by Ethiopian military intervention in February.

A November report to the United Nations on arms embargo violations in Somalia said Eritrea repeatedly armed and trained Islamist militants who opposed the Somali interim government.

Asmara denies this, but has hosted Islamist leaders in Eritrea. It has repeatedly criticized both Ethiopia and the Somali interim government and accused them of undermining what it called the Islamists popularly supported movement.

Ethiopia’s ambassador in Brussels, Berhane Gebre-Christos, at a news briefing coinciding with the president’s visit, accused Eritrea of playing a destructive role in the region.

“It has become a pariah state as far as its role is concerned in Somalia,” he said.

Gebre-Christos said the European Union should call on Afwerki to abandon “terrorism.” “What he is doing is terrorism,” he said. “The European Union should tell him unambiguously that he has to cease from terrorist acts.”

Harry Goldstein
Senior Associate Editor, IEEE* Spectrum

IEEE Spectrum Radio

What does it take to build a computer lab in sub-Saharan Africa? IEEE Spectrum’s Harry Goldstein travelled to Nigeria to investigate the use of recently installed fiber-optic cables, but ended up spearheading the construction of a computing center for students at the Federal University of Technology Owerri.

The computer lab was to replace the cumbersome system of taking hand written notes to internet cafes to send as e-mail, and provide internet access to the students of FUTO. Goldstein encountered several challenges in securing funding and support to build the lab. Together with a grant from the IEEE foundation, Hewlett Packard donated the computers and equipment to fill the lab.

Despite the multi-million dollar fiber optic cable connection, internet access was hugely expensive and only available through satellite connections. Besides having to find reliable sources of electricity, there also remained the problem of providing adequate network support. Listen to how a dedicated group found solutions to most of the lingering problems, providing an invaluable educational resource for Nigeria’s future scientists and engineers.

*The IEEE, a non-profit organization, is the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology.

The full name of the IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., although the organization is referred to by the letters I-E-E-E and pronounced Eye-triple-E.

Africa Calling
By Victor W.A. Mbarika and Irene Mbarika

This is a great article for anyone interested in the African wireless revolution or digital divide issues. One of my most time consuming hobbies is reading about technology; especially technological development in Africa. So here’s one of my favourite articles, (also posted on my blog: http://www.afrorise.wordpress.com).

Mobile in Africa

Mobile Subscriptions Skyrocket: Africa far outpaces the rest of the world in average annual growth of mobile phone subscriptions. According to the International Telecommunication Union, from 1999 through 2004 Africans signed up for cellphones at a far greater rate than Asians and nearly three times as fast as Americans. Most of that growth was in the sub-Saharan region [left]. Illustration: Bryan Christie Design (2)

Mobile vs. Fixed

Mobile vs. Fixed Lines in Africa: The most recent figures from the International Telecommunication Union show that between 1994 and 2004 the number of telephone subscribers per 100 inhabitants in Africa increased dramatically, thanks to a huge upsurge in cellphone usage starting in the late 1990s.
Source: International Telecommunication Union

Just got the following via email:

This year marks the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in England. I thought you would be interested in learning what’s happening in order to pause and remember.

Between 1400s and 1800s, close to 12 million Africans were forcibly removed from Africa, and in the most inhuman and difficult to imagine ways, shipped across the Atlantic. About 2 million died at sea. The slave trade was among humankind’s darkest chapters.

March 25, 2007 is the UN-designated International Day for the Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Yesterday, in Toronto, Governor General Michaëlle Jean officially opened the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples at York University. In 1826, a former slave from Virginia by the name of Elder Christian Washington came to Toronto and founded The First Baptist Church. Yesterday, First Baptist hosted the Canadian Council of Churches service in commemorating the 200th anniversary.

Below, please find important links to media coverage of the 200th anniversary, speech of Toronto’s mayor at the launch of the commemoration of the anniversary, and info about the Ontario Bicentenary Commemorative Committee. I’ve also attached Mayor David Miller’s proclamation regarding the anniversary.

Mayor David Miller’s Speech at the launch of the commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the abolition of the British Trans-Atlantic Slave trade :

Info about the Ontario Bicentenary Commemorative Committee:

Media articles covering the anniversary:

The invisible history of the slave trade

Pause to remember the victims

Slavery’s long destructive legacy

Britain searches its soul over slavery

The day an evil began to wither

For the past year I have considered what this power relation is between the self, and the happy self. Is the happy-self a memory or figment of one’s imagination? If so, then the proverb by Ingrid Bergman, “Happiness is good health and bad memory” is pretty apt.

What I semi-understand is that there is a socio-economic-political context to happiness. For the passage below, I’d like you to assume that happiness is dependent on the presence of Love. In latin, Love is the sine qua non (that without which) in Tigrinya, Love is mekeret hiwet (the taste of life) in Arabic, Chinese, Filipino, I’m sure love is something that contributes to a good life. So hopefully this is not a problematic assumption for most of us.

Socio-economic context.

Happiness requires the context of love. Love is a supreme motivator to live a good life. Self-love is integral to any loving relationship. However how one achieves self-love is the hardest question to answer given the socio-economic context to love. If love is a commodity and can be traded as such, then each transaction has some value, even if its only comparative or relational and not intrinsic. However, the problem is that love seems to be one of those ‘intangibles’ that does not mesh well or translate seamlessly into so-called productive values (such as thrift, competitiveness, efficiency, time-management). These values are so intrinsic to Western society (this is just a prima facie observation, not an ontological argument) that we do not recognize the deep rift in our souls between Western and Eastern values.

However, us diaspora youth do confront this schism daily. We see everyday that we have options to be this or that or another. There are no homogenous identities in this world, I realize that, but diaspora identities are even more fractured and psychologically disturbing in some ways. Strong economic transactions do not fare well in the midst of psychological turmoil/disturbance/turbulence. Just look at the high stress/risk factor on Wall St.

So what is the ‘value added’- so to speak- of loving in this context? How to love others in this context of transactional relationships? Please refer here to the Bible, Qu’ran, Torah, Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist Sutras, etc. if you prefer religious interpretations over the psycho-philosophical Helenistic interpretation I’m about to impart below. :Þ Please feel free to laugh because as a dear friend has told me, “laughing is the closest distance between two people”, and hence, you are loving me with your laughter. I love you too.

One source I draw on for inspiration every now and again is an excellent text by Dr. Erich Fromm (1956). I like to read in the washroom and I keep my watermarked copy of “The Art of Loving” in the carrel alongside my M.A.C. lipstick. That was for visuals.

ln The Art of Loving, Fromm postulates The Theory of Love. He notes Love as the Answer to the Problem of Human Existence. Yes, this presupposes that human existence is a problem but if you are going along with a secular interpretation this should not necessarily be hard to accept. (And even with the religious interpretation we see in the monothestic texts that since Adam and Eve, the world has been doomed to fail no matter how hard we try. The Hindu/Buddhist scriptures have less of this sense of human guilt embedded in their view but I don’t know nearly enough of it to talk about it without insulting people.)

Fromm also talks about The Objects of Love – Brotherly, Motherly, Erotic, Self-Love and Love of God. My favourite chapter is III Love and its Disintegration in contemporary Western Society. For the larger context of Fromm’s socio-psychology please refer to Wikipedia. There it describes in ironic information-age generalized detail, his overarching philosophical project, especially regarding his work in the book, “Escape for Freedom” (1941):

1. Relatedness – relationships with others, care, respect, knowledge;
2. Transcendence – creativity, develop a loving and interesting life;
3. Rootedness – feeling of belonging;
4. Sense of Identity – see ourselves as a unique person and part of a social group.

So how do we go down this itemized list and find the impetus to love one another when all four points seem like transactional values at best (Relatedness and a Sense of Identity are transactional in my view because we only gain relatedness and self-conscious identity when we are in the midst of others who will be willing to listen to us speak, watch us dance, and just be there – but then you have to go and listen to THEM speak, watch THEM dance, and just be there for them too which as we all know can be a pain in the ass too…) and contradictory values at worst (Transcendence and Rootedness speack to the tension of reaching out and doing your own thing while remaining connected to your roots.)

The problem with diaspora communities and love within and amongst them is that we never know which part of our fractured identity the other is using in the friendship. Is it solidarity seeking belonging, or the creative resistance to group-think seeking transcendence?

This leads to a transactional, pragmatic view to loving because I will only love you insofar as you love me to a certain extent. This is an unethical view in my eyes because it does not show the other that you have self-love emanating from a love of God or supreme being.

These leads us to the Political context.

The Political context of loving.

This is easy. Everyone wants to be loved more than they love. It’s the narcissistic, egoist impulse that we just can’t get away from. I don’t want to blame “Western” society for this because it just seems like a lazy argument but I will anyway because I think it’s a truism. Everything, including love, has been commodified, commercialized, bought, sold, and our hearts (am using this as a symbolism for our feelings)- in the midst of it all – have turned into a no-(wo)man’s land. Nowhere and everywhere at once we seek love.

In this situation what we do is equate love with power. I think politically it is easier to love what seems more powerful to us. Why love that which has been deemed unloveable? And even if we get over this question about “Why love”, the next question is HOW? How do we go on to love those objects, persons, stories, jobs, ideas, that have been deemed unloveable, undesireable, unprofitable, unproductive?

It is through resistance. Through resistance we find the impulse to love ourselves, one another, our nations, our histories, our lives. Love is the one thing that we can choose to give through our will, it is deep and inherent in each and every one of us. It is our own product in the world economy. We produce, manufacture and provide it with the help of God (spiritual, relgious interpretation) or an atom (scientological, atheistic interpretation).

You see in my view, the power to love one another is manifested by the power to resist the symbols that tell us not to. These are divisive symbols that are found mainly in bureaucratic institutions, but are not exclusive to them. Our hearts are also institutions deep within our being. We all have constitutions, by-laws, etc. and we are able to live by them with the sheer detemination of self-love principles through integrity or we can choose to pretend they don’t exist, living like anarchists – rebels without a pause.

I really like the idea of principled resistance. Let’s love in spite of the obstacles in our way. Let’s not be anarchic because what really is the difference between absolute power and the total abolishment of it? One is terror and so is the other.

Am having a great time reading Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope”. I love that title. Here’s a great article from Times Online about the launch of Obama’s presidency campaign.