And Jimmy Mubenga is dead


Jimmy Mubenga came to England seeking asylum, seeking life. According to his wife, Makenda Kambana, he was on a government hit list, “They killed my father and they threatened to kill Jimmy. They were looking for him. We had no choice but to leave.” Earlier this week, on Tuesday, October 12, Mubenga boarded a plane for Angola, having lost his last battle for asylum in the UK. Within 50 minutes on the plane, he was dead.

Witnesses report that the guards, G4S private deportation `escorts’, jumped on Mubenga and throttled him to death.  Escort deportation has become big business. Most of the 11 immigration removal centers in the UK are run by private firms, in particular G4S, GEO Ltd or Serco.

MPs are calling for an investigation, the former chief inspector of prisons as well. Many informed will raise their voices and eyebrows and hands in surprise and dismay at the violence. Charges of `excessive force’ and `brutality’ are heard across the land.

But Jimmy Mubenga is dead. As are …

Kenyan asylum seeker Eliud Nyenze, who collapsed in April this year at Oakington detention center, run by G4S. Nyenze complained of intense pain, so bad he was reduced to crawling around on the floor, begged for painkillers, and was denied any sort of medical attention. He died in excruciating agony.

Manuel Bravo, an Angolan asylum seeker who in September 2005 was found dead, hanged, in Yarl’s Wood.

Joy Gardner, a Jamaican woman applying for compassionate leave to stay in Britain, killed in front of her five year old son and her mother, September 1993.

These are the prominent, the recorded, names that have come up in discussions of Jimmy Mubenga’s death. Their deaths, the manner of their deaths, the impunity of those who killed them, is said to haunt the story of Jimmy Mubenga. The passengers on that British Airways flight are described as “haunted by the last cries of a dying man.” Understandably. The nation is haunted.

But Jimmy Mubenga is dead, and will remain so. He is not haunted by the past, but his name, his death, is haunted by the future. He is haunted by those who continue to seek asylum.

On Wednesday, October 13, the day after Jimmy Mubenga was killed, Malawian Florence Mhango and her ten-year-old daughter Precious were again blocked from receiving asylum. Precious is seeking asylum because she and her mother fear that if returned to Malawi, by law her estranged father can force her into marriage.

On Thursday, October 14, it was announced that the four-year ban on repatriating Zimbabwean failed asylum applicants would be lifted. Why? Because the Unity Government of Zimbabwe has worked.  That many, including the Zimbabwean diasporic and overseas communities, believe that the situation is worsening, that a bloodbath may very well be imminent, is of no matter. That Robert Mugabe, on Friday, called for national elections whether or not the constitution has been passed, is of no matter.  That the violence continues is of no matter.

What is important is that the Zimbabweans be sent back, be sent out. Take EM, an MDC member raped and beaten by policemen in her own home, send her back, because she has failed the test of asylum. Take Pauline Enagbonma, an albino woman who fears for her safety as an albino in Zimbabwe, and send her and her three young children back, children who have spent the majority of their lives in the UK. Take Nokuthula Ngazana and her famous 18 year old daughter Gamu, and send them back. Nokuthula Ngazana came to the UK, with her daughter, to study. Home Office claims she filed for visa extension “out of time”, and since Gamu was listed as her dependent on the application, she too must leave. Send them all back, along with all those whose names go unrecorded.

Seize them and you shall seize the day.

Send them all back for they have failed the test of asylum. In the protection of the State, there is no excessive force, there is no brutality. Those notions, like Nokuthula Ngazana’s application, are out of time.

Precious Mhango haunts Jimmy Mubenga, Gamu Nhengu haunts Jimmy Mubenga. The tens of thousands of children, of women and men seeking asylum and those who in the future shall seek asylum in the United Kingdom, they haunt Jimmy Mubenga.

And Jimmy Mubenga is dead.


(Photo credit:

Child-ghosts in the society of the spectacle

In November 2008, La Promesse, a school in Port-au-Prince, collapsed. Three stories came crashing down, at least 84 children and staff were killed, over 150 injured. It was not an earthquake that brought death to those children. It was shoddy construction, it was greed. Immediately afterwards, the mayor of Port-au-Prince stated that over half of Haiti’s building were poorly built and unsafe.

Michele Voltaire Marcelin tried to understand, to live with, the calculations that leave children suffering and dead under the weight of preventable destruction. She tried to understand the promise we make to our children:

The Promise
— For the Haitian schoolchildren who 
died under the rubble of “La Promesse”

children die
do not talk to me about prayer
or paradise
talk is cheap
children die
and my anger supercedes my grief
it was a november morning like any other
when the plaster the brick the mortar
came crashing down
children die
under the rubble of the promise
women cry
the air is heavy as lead
the air is filled with dust
we live in heartless times
and children die
looking for paradise

Children die. We live in heartless times and children die. Those children become child-ghosts. We live in an age of spectacle in which children die and living children are treated as dead. Both are child-ghosts.

Sunday morning, May 16, seven year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones lay asleep in her bed, when Detroit police rushed in with guns drawn and, quickly, blazing, and killed her. An accident, they said, in apology, as explanation. `A Tragedy in Detroit, With a Reality TV Crew in Tow’, according to The New York Times. The police were participating in an A&E reality show, The First 48. For some, this is an issue about reality shows, for others police violence, for others the value of the lives of people of color, of girls of color. These are all worthy lines of lines of inquiry.

At the same time, Aiyana Stanley-Jones is precisely not a tragedy because her story is too familiar and too often repeated. She is one with the girls of La Promesse, young, Black, dreaming, and killed. A ghost-child.

The next day, Monday, the US Supreme Court decided that “juveniles who commit crimes in which no one is killed may not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.” “An incredibly important win for kids who’ve been condemned to die in prison”? Perhaps. A step in the right direction, but not a long enough nor a strong enough step? Probably. A ruling that addresses neither the inequities of life without parole nor the cynical inequalities of the parole system? Most likely.

Sentencing a child to life without the possibility of parole turns that child into a child-ghost. Once he or she, and the majority are he (and he of color, at that) is sentenced, the game is over, the play is done, the curtain is drawn. All that matters is the spectacle of society being defended, the courtroom drama that assures that humans will be protected from monsters. How? By sending them to the beyond. That those monsters actually are still alive is irrelevant. Who really cares about ghosts produced in a society of spectacle? No one.

And what of those children whose only crime is that of seeking safety?

On Wednesday, the British Home Office announced that children would no longer be held at Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre in Scotland. The decision came soon after a Pakistani woman asylum, Sehar Shebaz, and her 12 month old daughter Wania were arrested on Monday, and sent to Dungavel. People protested. The Home Office said fine … and then prepared to ship Sehar and Wania Shebaz to Yarl’s Wood.

Yarl’s Wood … again: “Anne McLaughlin, SNP MSP for Glasgow, called for an immediate end to the policy across the rest of the UK. Ms McLaughlin has been a key activist in the high profile campaign to prevent Florence Mhango, from Malawi, and her 10-year-old daughter Precious, who were held at Dungavel and Yarl’s Wood, from being deported after seven years in the UK. She said: `From Precious we know the horrific impact detention at Dungavel has on young children, but we also know that her experience at Yarl’s Wood was no better. By removing children immediately to Yarl’s Wood they are being taken away from the support networks and services they have built up in Scotland. The House of Commons has been highly critical of child detention in Yarl’s Wood and we must see this practice brought to an end across the UK as soon as possible.’”

A child seeks asylum and is sent to prison. A woman seeks asylum, with her child, and is sent to prison. Does it matter which prison? Out of sight, out of mind, out of luck, out of options, out of light, out of life. They are ghosts, and they are treated as such.

Today is May 22, 2010. May 22, 2009, seven girls perished in an altogether preventable fire in Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in Jamaica: Ann-Marie Samuels, Nerrissa King, and Rachael King, Georgina Saunders, all 16 years old; Kaychell Nelson and Shauna-Lee Kerr, both 15, and Stephanie Smith, 17. The Prime Minister called it a tragedy. Of course. A video and petition campaign has begun to make sure that the Prime Minister and the Director of Public Prosecutions work harder, work better so that the tragedy is not repeated.

These child-ghosts, these girl-ghosts, under the rubble, under the gun, behind the bars, in the flames, they are children, living, breathing, human children. In fact, they are our children. We must teach them as we ourselves must learn and live the lesson of the Griot, “You got to be a spirit! You can’t be no ghost.”


(Photo Credit: Herb Boyd / Voice of Detroit)