Australia vows to turn Black children into specters

 


Australia’s Immigration Minister has vowed to ship off asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, to Malaysia. This was meant to be Australia’s “solution” to a “crisis” of asylum seekers. Simple detention simply wasn’t enough. The State announced its intention late this week, and now seems somewhat surprised at the outcry. The government never thought that the fate of children of color, call them Black children, could matter quite so much.

This aspirational project of turning children of color, Black children, into distant and dimly remembered specters comes at a poignantly timely moment.

Today, June 5, 2011, is the last day of “Glenn Ligon: America”, a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Ligon is famous for works that turn words into paintings, stencils that conjure histories of slavery, of racism, of homophobia, of violence. Some of these pieces have been described as “stenciled sentences pulled from different sources.” The sentences aren’t pulled nor are they transcribed.

They are, instead, translations, as they are invocations.

Consider, for example, “Untitled (I’m Turning Into a Specter before Your Very Eyes and I’m Going to Haunt You)”. This has been described as having been pulled from a play by Jean Genet, The Blacks: A Clown Show.

But the line in Genet’s play is actually, “You’re becoming a specter before their very eyes and you’re going to haunt them.”

And it has a particular New York history.

On May 4th, 1961, almost fifty years ago to the day, Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show opened in New York, at the St. Marks Playhouse, and it was immediately hailed as a transformative event. When it opened, the play, a meditation on Blackness, Black rage and Black liberation, was described as “brilliantly sardonic”, “a lyrical tone poem”, a play of “furies

The original cast included Roscoe Lee Browne, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., Ethel Ayler, Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou, and Charles Gordone. The Blacks was the longest running Off-Broadway non-musical of the entire 1960s.

In an epigraph to the play, Genet claimed “One evening an actor asked me to write a play for an all-black cast. But what exactly is a black? First of all, what’s his color?”

Fifty years later, we watch the Australian government plan to ship unaccompanied Black children to Malaysia, and we ask, “But what exactly is a Black child? First of all, how old is she?”

The children Australia plans to send to Malaysia are children seeking asylum. Not failed asylum seekers, but rather children in the process of seeking asylum. Australia’s Minister of Immigration believes that turning children into specters will deter “people smugglers”.

Today it was announced that the “deal” is being altered. Girl refugees might not be sent to Malaysia. The girls “spared” from deportation will still be unaccompanied and still be behind bars. They will not thank the State for this “gift”, no more than the boys will. These children designated as specters-to-come will haunt the State for decades. Fifty years ago, the specters will haunt them. Today, the specters will haunt you. Fifty years from now … the specters will haunt … us.

 

(Art Credit: Glenn Ligon / Philadelphia Museum of Art / Washington Post)

Ultimate responsibility for the ordinary

On May 22, 2009, a fire broke out in the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, in Alexandria, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. Seven girls were burned to death. Five died the night of the fire: Ann-Marie Samuels, Nerrissa King, and Rachael King, all 16 years old; and Kaychell Nelson and Shauna-Lee Kerr, both 15. Later, two more died from the fire: Georgina Saunders, 16, Stephanie Smith, 17.

There were 23 girls in a small space. Sixteen managed to crawl through the fire, to the narrow windows, and out.

Armadale was shut down. An inquiry was launched. The Armadale Enquiry Commission met for over nine months. Its report roundly condemns the government. The fire was set by a spark from a tear gas canister, tossed in the room by a guard. The straw bedding ignited.

On March 2, 2010, Prime Minister Bruce Golding reported to Parliament. The Jamaican press reports that the government “accepts `ultimate responsibility’ for Armadale.” Advocates on all sides debate the government response.

In his remarks, the Prime Minister, not surprisingly, frames the story as tragedy. He opens with tragedy: “The report of the Commission of Enquiry into the tragedy that occurred at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre on May 22, 2009 is being tabled in the House today.”

He closes with tragedy: “The awful tragedy that occurred at Armadale should not have been allowed to happen. We must ensure that no such tragedy ever again occurs. Some wards of our juvenile correctional institutions have turned out to be exceptionally good and successful adults. We must strive to ensure that they are not the exception but become the norm.”

He articulates `ultimate responsibility’ as a function of tragedy: “While public officers must be held accountable for the discharge of their duties, the government must accept ultimate responsibility for the circumstances that led to the Armadale tragedy and for the inadequate facilities provided to care for children who are placed in juvenile correctional or remand facilities. Resource constraints do impose a heavy burden on public officers who work in these facilities but it cannot explain or excuse negligence or inertia.”

What exactly is the tragedy here, and how is ultimate responsibility to be understood?

Almost one hundred years ago, there was another fire, women killed, tragedy invoked.

March 25, 1911: “Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.”

What happened that Saturday, in New York City? When the fire struck, the workers, almost all women, almost all recent immigrants, ran to the fire exits and found them locked, rushed to the windows only to find that the ladders and the water hoses didn’t reach that high. The young women then decided … to die by the flame or to leap and die in the fall. Who had decided to build such tall buildings? Who had decided to lock the doors?

The Triangle fire had been replayed as tragedy, as destiny, as horror story, as political catalyst. Now it would be examined once more, as a question of justice: Was it right to hold anyone personally responsible? And if it was right, was it possible?”

There is no distance in time or miles between the 1911 Triangle Waist Factory, New York, fire, and the 2009 Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, St Ann Parish, one. What, then, is the tragedy; is it possible to hold anyone responsible?

If women are locked in, sooner or later the fires will kill them. If women are forced into overcrowded spaces, sooner or later the fires will kill them. How can planned death be accidental? How can a horrible event that is not destined but rather designed by human beings and perfectly obvious in its detail, how exactly can that event be called a tragedy?

The nobility of the tragic that was so quickly, so easily painted across the face of these two events is a means of obscuring their ordinariness. And it is the ordinariness of the deaths at Armadale and at Triangle that haunts. These are stories of the ways in which death sentences are imposed on women workers, on women prisoners, on women.

Someone was meant to die at Armadale, and that someone was meant to be a young woman, a girl. Which girl, how many girls, remained open. But someone was meant to die there, in a fire. And someone did. And she was a young woman, a girl. And absolutely no one can claim ultimate responsibility for that until they have transformed the everyday world of ordinary women and girls in which women are the fastest growing prison population, and women are the majority of sweatshop workers.

 

(Photo Credit: Armadale: Children on Fire // UNICEF Jamaica / YouTube)

 

Haiti, “mes cousins jamais nés 
hantent les nuits de Duvalier”

Nadia François

Tragic haunting has moved recently to the center of the world stage. Tragic haunting is the haunting of singular, incomprehensible, inexpressible moments, and Haiti is the epicenter of the tragic haunting.

There are the images. Michael Mullady is a 26-year-old photographer, currently in Haiti. He’s been trying to photograph the conditions on the ground: “What I’ve witnessed will be sure to haunt me.” The tragic haunting of the witnesses is in the certainty of the ineffable trace the experience leaves on the soul and on the eye. Part of the tragic haunting is also the recognition that witnessing is a luxury. Haitian women and men don’t have time to witness. They gather. People like Nadia François from Delmas 75, in Port-au-Prince, spend the whole day and much of the night gathering and distributing for the community. Everywhere Haitian survivors are taking very good care of one another and of themselves. Hope rises from the ashes of the fires women make to cook, to clean, to purify. When the quake struck, what articles did the women take? They took pots and buckets. They knew. The work of sustaining leaves little time for witness. That time will come, but not now.

This tragic haunting, though singular, is not the first for Haiti. In November 2007, the Montreal-based band Arcade Fire announced its affiliation and with support for Partners in Health and its Haitian sister organization, Zanmi Lasante. In performance, word, song, and deed, they raised money and support for Zanmi Lasante and raised awareness about the ongoing devastation of Haiti by multinationals, by foreign forces, and especially by the United States. Their song “Haiti’ captures a bit of that:

“Haiti

Haïti, mon pays,
wounded mother I’ll never see.
Ma famille set me free.
Throw my ashes into the sea.

Mes cousins jamais nés
hantent les nuits de Duvalier.
Rien n’arrete nos esprits.
Guns can’t kill what soldiers can’t see.

In the forest we lie hiding,
unmarked graves where flowers grow.
Hear the soldiers angry yelling,
in the river we will go.

Tous les morts-nés forment une armée,
soon we will reclaim the earth.
All the tears and all the bodies
bring about our second birth.

Haïti, never free,
n’aie pas peur de sonner l’alarme.
Tes enfants sont partis,
In those days their blood was still warm”

My unborn cousins haunt the nights of Duvalier.

Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying tells the story of her father, her uncle, herself, her family, including Maxo, her cousin who died last month in the earthquake. Danticat’s Uncle Joseph and cousin Maxo were arrested and sent to Krome Detention Center, outside Miami. Krome: “a place that … all Haitians knew meant nothing less than humiliation and suffering and more often than not a long period of detention before deportation” Uncle Joseph died at Krome. Krome was a death sentence for a man of his age and ill health.

The penultimate chapter of Brother, I’m Dying is “Brother, I’ll See You Soon.” It is the book’s climax and the articulation of the tragic haunting. Uncle Joseph is buried in Queens, New York, not in Haiti. The chapter is framed by two mirror reflections of Haiti’s tragic haunting.

First, Uncle Joseph’s: “Uncle Joseph’s most haunting childhood memory, and the only one he ever described to me in detail, was one of the year 1933, when he was ten years old. The U.S. occupation of Haiti was nearing its final days. Fearing that he might at last be captured by the Americans to work in the labor camps formed to build bridges and roads, my granfather, Granpè Nozial, ordered him never to go down the mountain, away from Beauséjour. Uncle Joseph wasn’t even to accompany his mother, Granmè Lorvana, to the marketplace so that he might never lay eyes on occupying marines or they him. When he left home to fight, Granpè Nozial never told my uncle and his sisters, Tante Ino and Tante Tina, where he was going”

One day, Uncle Joseph had to go down the mountainside to the market. He came upon a group of six or seven white men in dark high boots kicking something on the ground. This is what the ten-year-old saw, what haunted him: “They kept kicking the thing on the ground as though it were a soccer ball, bouncing it to one another with the rounded tips of their boots. Taking small careful steps…, my uncle finally saw what it was: a man’s head. The head was full of black peppercorn hair. Blood was dripping out of the severed neck, forming dusty dark red bubbles in the dirt. Suddenly my uncle realized why Granpè Nozial and Granmè Lorvana wanted him to stay home. Then, as now, the world outside Beauséjour was treacherous indeed.”

The chapter ends with Danticat’s father’s tragic haunting: “My uncle was buried in a cemetery in Queens, New York. His grave sits by an open road, overlooking the streets of Cyprus Hills and the subway tracks above them. During his life, my uncle had clung to his home, determined not to be driven out. He had remained in Bel Air, in part because it was what he knew. But he had also hoped to do some good there. Now he would be exiled finally in death. He would become part of the soil of a country that had not wanted him. This haunted my father more than anything else.”

For Haitians, the tragic haunting is not new. It comes with US Marines and US immigration officers and Haitian dictators. Hope rises from the ashes, from the songs, from unmarked graves, from the memories, from the tears, the bodies, the warm blood. Meanwhile, in Miami, they’re moving prisoners out of Krome to prepare for the “potential influx of Haitian migrants”.

 

(Photo Credit: João Pina / Kameraphoto / New Yorker)

Haiti, like this woman’s song

Last Sunday, Canada’s Governor General Michaëlle Jean stood before a gathering in Calgary, broke into a song her mother used to sing to her, as a child in Haiti. She sang a song in Creole, and then, in English, said, “It’s a song of hope. Like this woman’s song, rose from the wreckage, that song that traveled over the airwaves to reach us. So I thought, even when we have nothing left, there’s always a song. There’s always music, words and then steps, to bring us back to life, to bring us together and to provide hope.”

You have to hear and see her sing to understand the power of the moment, to feel that moment in which she fuses her mother’s song, her mother’s daughter’s song, and the song of the woman rising from wreckage, songs that bind and songs that bring.

The past two weeks have been filled with many reports, many images, many words, many silences. Images of women emerging from the rubble, ghostlike with the chalk and dust covering their faces and bodies. Pictures of girls, panicked, traumatized, barely emerging from the rubble, from les décombres, from the ruins. The images, the stories, the words are haunting.

For me the hardest part is the living. There have been so many dead here, corpses are so common both on the street and oozing out of the wreckage, that it’s the living who haunt me.”

But what is the quality of the haunting?

Edwidge Danticat’s cousin Maxo died in the earthquake, died as well because the United States refused his asylum appeal.

“When Maxo was a teen-ager, his favorite author was Jean Genet. He read and reread `Les Nègres.’ These lines from the play now haunt me: `Your song was very beautiful, and your sadness does me honor. I’m going to start life in a new world. If I ever return, I’ll tell you what it’s like there. Great black country, I bid thee farewell.’”

Those with experience of Haiti know the intricate and intimate filaments of the tragedy, they know the names, which they must speak and share and weave into something new:

When Robinson and I last toured Cite Soleil in March of 2009, a small girl approached me from out of nowhere, shoving a tiny piece of paper into my hand. Then she ran away. On that paper she had scribbled her name: Adline Verne. It took me some time to understand how powerful it was that she had no concrete expectations and had asked nothing of me. She merely wanted me to know, for future reference, that she existed. Because she opened her hand to extend to me this information, I feel obligated by journalistic responsibility to report it. In Haiti, there are millions of voiceless, nameless people like Adline. Maybe now their voices will be heard.”

The Haiti that haunts cannot be the Haiti of the living dead nor can it be the Haiti of rubble. It must be the Haiti of the living, including the living who have died. It could begin with a song sung by a woman conjuring the woman who was her mother singing that song to the girl she once was, a mother’s song that then forms a chorus with another song, a song sung by a woman emerging from the wreckage, refusing to become one with the wreckage, refusing to become rubble, rising and traveling and reaching, among others, us.

 

Who are the plunderers, and who are the restorers?

In the Congo, who are the plunderers? Sokari Ekine posed this question earlier this week, after having seen Grand Theft Congo. It’s a good question.

Grand Theft Congo tells the story of cassiterite, a mineral that serves as the base for tin. The value of cassiterite skyrocketed when the European Union outlawed lead and replaced lead with tin. Europe rises, and the eastern Congo sinks, literally. As Ekine notes, the minerals are mined by slave labor, but they are transported and purchased by a free market of local comptoirs, or trading houses, and distant corporations. Everyone turns a blind eye. But does this identify the plunderers? Who are the plunderers?

A recent Global Witness report, Faced with a gun, what can you do?: War and the militarisation of mining in eastern Congo, identifies seven military and other armed groups as those who are `plundering minerals’. These groups are a Rwandan Hutu armed group; Tutsi-led rebels backed by Rwanda; another group that allies with different sides at different times; various mai-mai groups in North and South Kivu, organized largely along ethnic lines; a Tutsi cadre; the Congolese national army; and demobilized combatants, especially former mai-mai. The mai-mai were originally local resistance forces opposed to the Rwandan invading armies and militias.

In this report, the term plunder is only used to describe the actions of regional military forces, Congolese or Rwandan. The report documents the comptoirs, or trading houses, that sell and export the minerals, through Rwanda and Burundi, to companies elsewhere, such as Thailand Smelting and Refining Corporation (THAISARCO), the world’s fifth-largest tin-producing company, owned by British metals giant Amalgamated Metal Corporation (AMC); British company Afrimex; and several Belgian companies such as Trademet and Traxys. These then sell their materials to electronics and other industries. These companies all contribute to the violence, but they are not described as plundering.  Why not?

The plunder of the Congo is presented as the Great Plunder, the Rape of the Congo. Some see the plundering as a system. Others argue that the plunder of natural resources can only take place in the context of super exploitation, forced labor, and carnage. For some, this carnage concerns sexual terrorism and militarized rape campaigns. Soldiers rape, commanders condone, women suffer, and the copper, diamonds, cassiterite, coltan keep on moving. And don’t forget the wood, the nickel, the land itself.

But what exactly does it mean, to plunder? “To rob (a place or person) of goods or valuables forcibly, typically in a time of war or civil disorder or in the course of a hostile incursion; to pillage, ransack; to rob systematically; to despoil.” Plunder is always military. In fact, it seems to have first appeared in English during either the Thirty Years’ War, when English soldiers were fighting in southern Germany, or earlier, when English soldiers were fighting in the Low Countries. It took root and effloresced in England during the English Civil War. Wars of empire or civil wars.

But the intricacies of plunder, and of the identity of the plunderers, go further. At its German or Dutch root, plunder meant “to rob of household furnishings.” Plundering involved the violent, militarized seizure of bed-clothes, clothing, baggage, rags, trash, everything. Plunder did not mean to take the most valuable but rather to ravage and ransack the most ordinary, the stuff of everyday life. Plundering is a violation of the most intimate, the trash and rags that comprise our days, that which we cherish most and which the market values least, and it always goes from house to house, from body to body.

The plunder of the Congo is the violent militarized seizure of the everyday, of the ordinary. Women. Men. Children. Forests. Land. Stuff. Even in the story of plunder, which should be their story, they have all been sacrificed to the story of markets, of mineral resources, armed forces, major corporations. They must be restored to the center of their own stories and the story of the Congo.

Who are the plunderers, and who are the restorers, the replenishers, the re-founders? There are the ones who are well known, such as conservationist René Ngongo who has worked with local growers to find ways of sustaining rather than devastating the rainforests of the Congo Basin and who has taken on the mining and logging industries. There’s Dr. Denis Mukwege, at Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, who has tended to survivors of sexual violence. Then there are the thousands, like the Director of Maison d’Écoute (Listening House), ‘whom I will call Rebecca Kamate”, local women and men whose names must be withheld, Congolese women and men who literally turn the swords that have been thrust into them into ploughshares. They are the ones “that have managed to maintain their integrity by not partaking in the plunder of the Congo”, and they too are numerous. Where is their story told, where is their documentary, where is their Congo?

(Photo Credit: International Committee of the Red Cross) (Image Credit: Panzi Hospital)

Regret haunts the world

Regret is in the air this week. You might say, regret is the name of the game and, even more, the game of the name. From Geneva to the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in Zimbabwe, to Guinea, it’s been a week of declarations of regret.

On Monday, in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, thousands gathered in peaceful, and courageous, protest, to demonstrate their opposition to the military dictatorship of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who seized power in a military coup last December. Reports suggest that as many as 157 people were killed by soldiers who opened fire on them. Survivors and witnesses also reported, “A number of women taking part in the demonstration were stripped naked and sexually assaulted by security forces”. This has been described as “most shocking to the wearied citizens in this predominantly Muslim nation” who were “`profoundly traumatized’ by what had happened to the women in the stadium”.

The government of neighboring Liberia, a country that knows something about militarized sexual violence, issued a statement: ““The government of the Republic of Liberia has expressed grave concern at the events unfolding in neighboring Republic of Guinea, and has learned with profound regrets of the deaths of over 90 persons during a demonstration in Conakry on Monday, September 28, 2009”.

From Conakry, “Guinea’s military junta leader has expressed regret over the bloodshed in the clash between the opposition and security forces in the capital Conakry, Radio Senegal reported on Tuesday.” Death merits “merits” regret. Rape and sexual violence are clothed in silence, deep and profound.

In the same week, it was revealed that Nestlé had been purchasing dairy products from the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in the Mazowe Valley, about 20 kilometers north of Harare, a dairy farm recently taken over by Grace Mugabe. Once this was discovered, other connections were revealed. For example, DeLaval: “DeLaval, a leading equipment firm based in Sweden, is part of the giant Tetra Laval group owned by the Rausing dynasty”. They had sold a ton, actually tons, of equipment to Gushungo. Their response: “.Jörgen Haglind, a spokesman for Tetra Laval, said: “Tetra Laval was not previously aware of this transaction and we can only regret that the control functions within DeLaval have failed as this transaction should never have been approved.””  On Tuesday, “Delaval’s international spokesperson and vice-president of marketing and communications, Benoit Passard, said….”We regret that this has happened. We first made contact with the SA Dairy Association and then a long list of investors. The Mugabe name was never mentioned. This has come as a surprise to us and we would never have done business with them had we known this was who we were dealing with.””

Tuesday was a big day for expressions of regret. On Thursday, Nestlé Zimbabwe “ditched” Gushungo, without any expression of regret but rather an explanation of market forces. Perhaps those would include the threatened global boycott. We’ll never know. By Thursday, the government of Guinea was no longer expressing regret for anything, but rather claiming outside agitators and other nefarious forces were at work in Monday’s demonstration.

What is regret? “To remember, think of (something lost), with distress or longing; to feel (or express) sorrow for the loss of (a person or thing)…. To grieve at, feel mental distress on account of (some event, fact, action, etc.).” Regret is lamentation, grief, sorrow. Regret is loss.

In Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith, Cherokee scholar, feminist, rape crisis counselor, activist, woman, tells a story of regret: “`Assimilation’ into white society …only increased Native women’s vulnerability to violence. For instance, when the Cherokee nation was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth century, soldiers targeted for sexual violence Cherokee women who spoke English and had attended mission schools….They were routinely gang-raped causing one missionary to the Cherokee, Daniel Butrick, to regret that any Cherokee had ever been taught English.”

As Smith records for Native women in the United States, as the women of Guinea and Zimbabwe understand deeply, as women in Sweden and Switzerland might know as well when they consider DeLaval and Nestlé as elements of their own well being and comfort, sexual violence is a State policy. It is not an exceptional event, but rather is woven into the very fiber of State security and national development. Ask the Sudanese women refugees in eastern Chad, who have no place to hide from or escape the daily sexual violence.

The United Nations Security Council this week voted to request the appointment of a special representative to address sexual violence in armed conflict zones. After the vote, “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon … immediately following the text’s adoption…. expressed regret that previous responses to sexual violence had not been able to stem the scourge.”

Were the Security General to express regret, or the leader of Guinea, or the corporate representatives, or the clergy, or anyone in public office or private spaces, for sexual violence, it would have to be more than a simple pro forma apology. The one expressing regret must perform and demonstrate grief, lamentation, sorrow, must understand and teach a lesson of loss. Until then, regret haunts the world … profoundly.

(Photo Credit: Rhizome) (Video Credit: Yoko Ono, Maysles Films, Inc / YouTube)

 

Ishrat Jahan and the gender of aftermath

Ishrat Jahan

On the morning of June 15, 2004, in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat in India, Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed by police. In India, these events are commonly referred to as encounters. The government claimed that Ishrat Jahan was “India’s first woman terrorist”. A recent magistrate report suggests that Jahan was simply a college student with no ties to any terrorist group whatsoever, and that the claims by the State were cynically manufactured. In India, this is a cause célèbre. In Gujarat, it is said, a dead woman haunts the State. The State is haunted.

A haunted State is a state that exists in the aftermath, a state in which the real occurs after the event, in which ethics is always deferred, always for a later determination.

Italy is a haunted State. Six Italian soldiers were killed last week in Afghanistan. Monday was a national day of mourning. As Italians gathered in the tens of thousands, it was not the soldiers who were said to haunt the assembled but rather “this gray area between peacekeeping, peace enforcement and combat operations….The ambiguity has haunted the country”. This ambiguity is precisely the clarity of the aftermath. We don’t know exactly what our mission is, but we will, once it’s accomplished. When it comes to war, the aftermath justifies the means … and the deaths.

But it’s not just the military branches of government that rely on the continual deferral of the aftermath. For example, Lauro L. Baja, Jr., a distinguished Philippine ambassador at the end of an illustrious career, faces the ignominy of a court trial: “When Lauro L. Baja Jr. returned to his native Philippines in 2007, he had just finished a four-year stint as ambassador to the United Nations that included two terms as president of the Security Council. A storied diplomatic career that began in 1967 culminated with the Philippine president conferring upon him the highest award for foreign service. Then a three-month episode from his U.N. days returned to haunt him. He was sued by Marichu Suarez Baoanan, who had worked as a maid in New York City for Baja and his wife, Norma Castro Baja. Baoanan, 40, said the Bajas brought her to the United States in 2006 promising to find her work as a nurse. Instead, Baoanan said, she was forced to endure 126-hour workweeks with no pay, performing household chores and caring for the couple’s grandchild. Baja denied the charges, saying Baoanan was compensated. He also invoked diplomatic immunity — a right that usually halts such cases in their tracks.”

How does this haunting work, and what does it tell us? If the allegations in the Baja case are proven, somehow those who committed the violence are haunted, because they are the subjects of history, the actors. What about Marichu Suarez Baoanan? Or Mildrate Yancho Nchang, who worked without pay or a day off for three years and then went to hospital when her employer, a Cameroonian diplomat’s wife, beat her severely. What happened to the diplomats? They got off. Diplomatic immunity.

Diplomatic immunity is one issue, a matter of rule of law and interpretations of sovereignty. Existential immunity is another. Who haunts, who is haunted, how does haunting work, and, finally, is haunting gendered?

These are stories of aftermath. From India to Italy to diplomats’ households, the haunting only begins once the period called aftermath has begun. To be confronted with or to struggle with aftermath is to be haunted, but what exactly is aftermath? “A state or condition left by a (usu. unpleasant) event, or some further occurrence arising from it” and before that, aftermath is the “second or later mowing; the crop of grass which springs up after the mowing in early summer”. The math is the mowing itself, the action and process of chopping down. The aftermath is the grass that follows the violence and the act of mowing it, again and again and again. What is the gender of math? At its root, feminine. And what is the gender of aftermath? Woman. Ask those who haunt. They’ll tell you.

(Photo Credit: news18)

The gender of stampede

There was a stampede in Jakarta, Indonesia today. Few agencies have reported it, I’ve found only one. Thirteen people are reported injured, and it is reported that the thousands who gathered for free food and cash handouts, to mark the end of Ramadan, were overwhelmingly women and children.

Human stampedes are reported throughout the year, everywhere. In the past week or so, four human stampedes have been reported, Jakarta’s being the most recent.

In New Delhi, India, on Thursday, September 10, “Tragedy struck a government secondary school in Indian national capital New Delhi Sept 10 when five girls were killed and 27 other students injured, six of them very critically, in a stampede. The incident occurred when students were trying to make their way up and down a narrow staircase when they were asked to shift classrooms during an examination in the Khajuri Khas Senior Secondary School….Some students said they were asked to shift classes as certain classrooms were water-logged due to incessant rains since Sept 9 night. One of the girls, going down the staircase, fell leading to the stampede….All but one of the 27 injured students were girls.” In the end, 34 students were reported injured, five killed.

That was Thursday. On Saturday, in KwaNongoma, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, “Tragedy struck at the annual Royal Reed Dance … when one of the maidens was crushed to death during a stampede that broke out following a scramble for promotional caps. Another maiden is in a critical condition while 10 others were seriously injured as the event turned into pandemonium.”

That was Saturday. On Monday, September 14, in Karachi, Pakistan, “Eighteen people were suffocated to death during a stampede here on Monday as poverty-stricken women battled for a free bag of flour being distributed by a philanthropist in Khohri Garden. The dead reportedly include a number of children as well. Meanwhile, several unconscious women were rushed to the emergency ward of the Civil Hospital in Karachi.” Actually, it was twenty women and girls killed, and fifteen were injured. Or was it at least 25? At any rate, the women and girls were waiting for free food.

Stampedes occur all the time. It could be sports events, such as in March of this year at the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Côte d’Ivoire at a football, or soccer, match when a wall collapsed and the crush killed 22 and injured over 130. It could be the proverbial fire in a crowded theater or club, as happened in Bangkok this New Year’s, when at least 59 people were killed and over 200 were injured. Or it could be a sale at a big store, like Wal-Mart, as happened late last year, in Valley Stream, New York, not far from New York City. That was on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when people couldn’t wait any longer and broke through the doors, trampling a worker, Jdimytai Damour, to death. It happens all the time.

All of these incidents were described as stampedes. In the most recent, the dead and injured were all or almost all women and girls, but that is not my point here today. What exactly is a stampede, and how does a crowd crush become a stampede?

Stampede is a relatively new word, and it seems to be North American. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was coined early in the 1800s, Cowboys in the United States borrowed the Spanish word, estampido, which means crash, explosion, or report of a firearm, and estampida, which means a stampede of cattle or horses. It was an early example of transnational vaquero cowboy culture. The word didn’t come from Spain, it came from Mexico. Stampede, or stompado, was a “sudden rush and flight of a body of panic-stricken cattle” or horses. Later, stampede came to mean a “sudden or unreasoning rush or flight of persons in a body or mass”.

Here’s the thing. At its inception, stampede meant a thundering herd, powerful, dangerous. Today, when referring to people, it means a mass of people in flight who are threat mostly to themselves. How does that happen? Here’s one possibility. At the beginning, stampede was virile, masculine, big roaring animals and big riding cowboys. People, on the other hand, that was panic. In fact, the word in Spanish for the phenomenon of people rushing as a crowd and crushing one another in the process is precisely pánico. Panic. Sudden, wild, unreasoning, excessive, at a loss and out of control. And what is the term for mass panic?  Hysteria, the women’s condition: “Women being much more liable than men to this disorder, it was originally thought to be due to a disturbance of the uterus and its functions”.  Hysteric: “belonging to the womb, suffering in the womb”.

It doesn’t matter who is trampled in the event called a stampede. What began as an articulation of masculinity, the enraged capacity to destroy all in its path, has become the embodiment of womanhood, the helpless implosion of self. What began as a roar has become somehow a whimper. When you read that a group was in a stampede, know this. It is not a neutral word. It is a gender, and the gender is woman.

And those who were in the stampede? Writing of the trampling to death of Jdimytai Damour, one person commented, “I’m particularly troubled by reports that police are thinking about charging individual members of the crowd. When people behind you start pushing you forward, there is often nothing you can do. And there’s a real fear that if you try to resist, you too will be trampled. Part of the tragedy is that there are undoubtedly people in that crowd who know they stepped on something that day, or who, in their excitement, spurred on the surge. These thoughts may haunt them for many years.”  Those who trampled will be haunted, those who lost loved ones will be haunted. The rest of us, we are meant to be haunted by the gender of stampede.

(Photo Credit: NDTV)

ACAS Bulletin 83: Sexual and gender based violence in Africa

Sexual and gender based violence in Africa

A New ACAS Bulletin edited by Daniel Moshenberg

This Bulletin began in response to news reports of “corrective” and “curative” gang rapes of lesbians in South Africa. These were then followed by news reports of a study in South Africa that found that one in four men in South Africa had committed rape, many of them more than once. We wanted to bring together concerned Africa scholars and committed African activists and practitioners, to help contextualize these reports. We wanted to address the ongoing situation of sexual and gender based violence on the continent, the media coverage of sexual and gender based violence in Africa, and possibilities for responses, however partial, that might offer alternatives to the discourse of the repeated profession of shock or the endless, and endlessly reiterated, cycle of lamentation. To that end, we have brought together writers of prose fiction (Megan Voysey-Braig), lawyer-advocates (Salma Maoulidi, Ann Njogu), poets (Chinwe Azubuike), trauma scholars (Sariane Leigh), human righs and women’s rights advocates (Michelle McHardy), gender and transgender advocates (Liesl Theron), activist researchers (Sasha Gear). These categories are fluid, since every writer here is involved in various activist projects, advocates in many ways. The writers do not pretend to `cover Africa’, and neither does the collection of their writings. The writings treat South Africa, Nigeria, Zanzibar, Kenya, Sierra Leone. They are meant to continue certain conversations, to initiate others.

Read more here : http://concernedafricascholars.org/analysis/acas-bulletin-83/

Download the Entire pdf (3.4mb) here: http://concernedafricascholars.org/docs/Bulletin83.pdf

Table of Contents

Sexual and gender based violence: everyday, everywhere, and yet… | pdf
Daniel Moshenberg

Untitled | pdf
Megan Voysey-Braig

Zanzibar GBV advocacy: important lessons for future legal reform strategies | pdf
Salma Maoulidi

Searching for the will to conscientiously prosecute sexual crimes in Zanzibar | pdf
Salma Maoulidi

Poet’s Note | pdf
Onwu Di
Of Widowhood
Chinwe Azubuike

Post conflict recovery in Sierra Leone: the spiritual self and the transformational state | pdf
Sariane Leigh

To be a woman in Kenya: a look at sexual and gender-based violence | pdf
Ann Njogu and Michelle McHardy

Trans-hate at the core of gender based violence? | pdf
Liesl Theron

Manhood, violence and coercive sexualities in men’s prisons: dynamics and consequences behind bars and beyond | pdf
Sasha Gear

Supplemental Material

Profile: Dr Denis Mukwge
Lelly Morris / The Lancet

Interview: Sexual terrorism in eastern DRC
Amy Goodman interveiws Christine Shuler Deschryver

Report: Soldiers who rape, commanders who condone
Human Rights Watch


The Association of Concerned African Scholars (ACAS) is a network of academics, analysts and activists. ACAS is engaged in critical research and analysis of Africa and U.S. government policy; developing communication and action networks; and mobilizing concerned communities on critical, current issues related to Africa. ACAS is committed to interrogating the methods and theoretical approaches that shape the study of Africa.

Harm’s Way – HMP Styal

An epidemic of self-harm is said to be sweeping the women’s prisons of the United Kingdom: “The number of women deliberately harming themselves in prison has almost doubled in five years…. Officials recorded 12,560 cases of women prisoners injuring themselves – mainly by cutting and burning – last year, equivalent to almost three incidents per inmate. In 2003, 6,437 instances of self-harm were recorded in English prisons, about 1.5 per inmate. Although women make up just five per cent of the prison population in England and Wales, they account for more than half of all self-harming incidents. Many of the women in prison have been convicted of minor crimes, but suffer high levels of mental illness and drug abuse…. A total of 4,291 women are currently in prison, a slight fall on last year, but still nearly double the number held just a decade ago. Research suggests that more women are sent to prison for shoplifting than any other crime. Forty per cent of sentenced women serve just three months or less. More than half of women in prison report they have suffered violence at home, and one in three has suffered sexual abuse. Two-thirds have a neurotic disorder, such as depression, anxiety and phobias.”

Harm does not sweep prisons. Harm overcrowds and chokes prisons. Harm organizes and rules prisons. Prisons are harmful, especially for women.

On Monday, June 22, twenty female prisoners were raped in a prison riot in the central prison of Goma, in the DRC. We are told the men were trying to escape; the men are militia members, in prison for murder, rape, and other major offenses; the prison is meant to hold at most 150 and currently houses 600 prisoners. We are told that rape of women and of men in prison is common. We are told a great deal. Of the women, we are told nothing.

On Tuesday, June 23, the U.S. National Prison Rape Elimination Commission finally released its report. The Executive Summary opens with the harm: “Rape is violent, destructive, and a crime—no less so when the victim is incarcerated. Until recently, however, the public viewed sexual abuse as an inevitable feature of confinement.” The Introduction opens with the haunting: “Sexual abuse is among the most destructive of crimes, brutal and devastating in the moment and carrying the potential to haunt victims forever.” The Commission emphasizes that rape in prison is not inevitable, but it might as well be in a national “culture that jokes about prison rape.”

Rape. Torture. Violence. Guantanamo. The Obama administration considers “issuing an executive order that would authorize the president to incarcerate some terrorism suspects indefinitely.” Not convicted felons. Suspects. Bagram. Twenty-seven former prisoners detailed this week the abuse and torture they suffered and endured in Bagram: “physical abuse, the use of stress positions, excessive heat or cold, unbearably loud noise, being forced to remove clothes in front of female soldiers”. Not one of the former prisoners was ever charged or tried. Suspects. Israel has its own private Guantanamo, Facility 1391, where who knows what goes on. But more generally Israeli security forces have been accused “of deliberately shackling Palestinian prisoners in a painful and dangerous manner, amounting to a form of torture.” Suspects abounding.

Rape. Torture. Violence. These are the Big Stories of the Horror. But hold on. In Arizona, for over a decade, male prisoners have been paraded in public in women’s pink underwear. In the U.S., women prisoners in childbirth are shackled. Casandra Brawley, a former prisoner at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, is taking Washington State to court for having shackled her during childbirth: “Brawley said she was shackled by a metal chain around her stomach during transportation to the hospital, then fastened by a leg iron to a hospital bed throughout several hours of labor. The suit alleges her restraints were removed during an emergency 
cesarean section only after a physician insisted, but then were 
replaced after the procedure.” Calling a woman in labor a security risk is a joke, right? Like prison rape, or making a man undress in front of a woman, or making a man dress like a woman.

In the United Kingdom, forty per cent of sentenced women serve three months or less, and yet somehow manage to `harm themselves’ at a rate of three incidents per inmate. Women prisoners’ self harm is neither epidemic nor outbreak. It’s life. It’s part of the harm of being a woman in a neoliberal political economy. The Corston Report: a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the U.K. criminal justice system, said as much in March, 2007.

Behind the Corston Commission Report sits HMP Styal, “one of the largest women’s prisons” in the U.K. Between August 2002 and August 2003, six women died at Styal. Anna Claire Baker, a 29-year-old mother of two, a remand prisoner, was found hanged in her cell in November 2002. Sarah Campbell, 18, took pills, informed the staff she had taken pills, and was promptly left alone in a cell, to stew for a bit. She didn’t stew. She died. So did Julie Walsh, in August 2003. Walsh, a 39-year-old mother-of-two, also died after taking pills. The tragic deaths of these six women at Styal was the impetus of the Corston Commission. According to Nicholas Rheinberg, the Cheshire Coroner who conducted the inquests into the deaths at Styal, “I saw a group of damaged individuals, committing for the most part petty crime for whom imprisonment represented a disproportionate response. That was what particularly struck me with Julie Walsh who had spent the majority of her adult life serving at regular intervals short periods of imprisonment for crimes which represented a social nuisance rather than anything that demanded the most extreme form of punishment. I was greatly saddened by the pathetic individuals who came before me as witnesses who no doubt mirrored the pathetic individuals who had died.” That was then.

This is now. February 27, 2009: “The chief inspector of prisons has warned of more deaths at Styal women’s prison if services for vulnerable inmates do not improve…. John Gunn, brother of Lisa Marley, who died at Styal in January last year, asked: “How many more women have to die before something is done?” What’s that you said about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, and thereafter as farce?

Harm is more than injury, it’s “Evil (physical or otherwise) as done to or suffered by some person or thing.” In a world in which women in labor are shackled and sick women are left alone to die, women prisoners’ self harm is simply a structural adjustment, another efficiency. The evil that men do lives after them. So does the harm.

(Photo Credit: https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/)