Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tell it to the wind...

Talk to me of gardens with companions pure
Sing to me through colours unpaletted onto
a canvas of a scene as vivid as a post-rainfall picture
Laugh with me through melodies melting into
unadulterated contentment

Don't tell me in your half anaesthetised state
of the father that you cannot find,
I cannot resurrect your mother
Don't ask me for more drugs
to dry up your tears and
deaden your heart

Let's revel in the contradiction of the African sunshine
lets exploit the fruits of democracy now
hold my hand while we skip salutations
to our struggle heroes under the rainbow

Don't pick at my conscience
or tell me of your reality
for I will be sure to explode
under the pressure of inactivity
how bad can a child headed house-hold really be?
Your eighteen, jump on the bandwagon of BEE,
and leave me be
Don't call me a 'kind person' because
I pretended to listen

Don't tell it to me...
tell it to the wind

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's a cruel , cruel Summer ...

The topic of Refugees is an uncomfortable one. The recent Xenophobic attacks have left our nation with unexplored feelings of guilt. Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that pent up emotions can't be too healthy.

" who is The Other?"

" why are our levels of tolerance so low?"

" are WE in any way responsible for the refugees?"

While we know that the situation in South Africa is not simply about foreigners, it seems as though we have just wished away discussion around the topic once 'Xenophobia' migrated from the headlines.

The reason that we need to have 'this discussion' is because issues around migration and refugees are sure to gain more importance but less exposure. Reasons for this include nations tightening their boundaries (under the guise of national security), civil-wars, strained resources and climate change.

The first three reasons have been explored to a large extent, but I wish to focus on the last cause for the emerging class of refugees.

The definition for "Environmental Refugees" has not yet been crystallised, but there is a call for a universal definition which would entitle this recognised group to receive aid that is allocated and allowed for refugees. One definition, developed by El-Hinnawi in 1985, sees environmental refugees as: "those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural and/or triggered by people) that jeopardized their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life [sic]. By ‘environmental disruption’ in this definition is meant any physical, chemical, and/or biological changes in the ecosystem (or resource base) that render it, temporarily or permanently unsuitable to support human life.” (El-Hinnawi quoted from UNU-EHS 2008). Analysis around classification of refugees would show that the classes are interlinked .

The factors driving environmental migration include 'poverty, failing Eco systems, vulnerability to natural hazards and gradual climate-driven environmental change'. (1) Climate change impacts on the environment in the following ways: warming and drying reduces agricultural potential by destroying clean water and fertile soil, it leads to extreme weather events (eg. floods) causing mass migration. Finally, rising sea levels permanently destroys coastal regions, again causing mass migration.

Questions then arise ," do we really need to intervene? will the environment not just regulate itself? can we take responsibility for natural phenomenon?"

An honest analysis would reveal that 'We' (the energy guzzlers of the modern world) , are a direct cause for many of these dramatic events. Conisbee and Simms (2), in the handbook 'environmental refugees - a case for recognition' state: more than any war or political upheaval, global warming stands to displace millions of people. And global warming is being driven by the fossil fuel-intensive lifestyles that the West enjoys."

It becomes a situation (in many cases) of the world's poorest communities paying for the mistakes of the wealthiest nations. This seems to be a recurring theme ... the economic crisis reflects this philosophy as well.

At the moment we find ourselves at the point of trying to define the problem , some circles are still trying to decide weather the problem of 'environmental refugees' actually exists.

Interventions at this point will be far from pro-active, but ignoring the importance of this , in my opinion , is negligent. We have seen (in South Africa) how refugees can bear the brunt of frustrations when it comes to strained resources. The situation globally is sure to worsen , are we prepared?

The experts have cited solutions that include advocacy around these issues. This is an area that is accessible to us. Blog it , read about it , talk to your book club about it. On a small scale, let us be more conscious about our carbon footprint, on a larger scale, let us put pressure on industrialised nations to pay carbon tax - big time .

An interesting and interrelated subject is that of food and water security - watch this space.

on a more Muslim note : Ponder over the attitude of the ansaar towards the muhajireen. They were accepting and truly made the effort to share their resources ...

(1) Morton et. al : Human Seurity Policy Challenges

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Will we ever trust them again?

The bold face of capitalism has been irrevocably distorted.

Banks and Multinational Corporations have gained status as shrines of the modernised world. Their continued existence seemed undeniable and their foundations appeared unshakable, while they loomed over our economy with an arrogance that inspired submission.

The global Credit Crisis has altered this perception. The technicalities that lie behind this wreck are intricate but the motivating factor that underlies it is simplistic.

We have come to realise that the promise of great financial rewards allowed brokers, investors and rating agencies to overlook risk under obviously risky circumstances. Perhaps greed can anaesthetise caution.

The cliche of "building a house of cards" must have originated in anticipation of the crisis that we are in the midst of. A greater tragedy than the tenants of capitalism "collapsing like dominoes" (yet another apt cliche) , is the repercussion of this 'crunch'.

While the real consequences of the situation still needs to play itself out, it is obvious that the least fortunate are to become even less fortunate. The American tax payers will be footing the bill of the proposed bailout. Due to the legacy of Globalisation, the trickle-down effects are already being felt.

Although South Africa is relatively insulated from the crisis, we will definitely be feeling the 'pinch'. Being an emerging market, South Africa is sure to bear some brunt of the mistakes made on Wall-Street.

The most difficult aspect for me to accept is the fact that international aid organisations will be compromised. Laura MacInnis (Reuters) reports : "Washington in particular would be under severe pressure to pare its international aid spending after agreeing a $700 billion financial rescue package, said Steve Radelet, a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development."

Organisations confirming concern about the negative impact that the crisis will have on aid, include Oxfam and the WHO.

With faith in the capitalist system at an all time low, alternate financial systems have come under the spotlight. Tanya Cariina Hsu (a political researcher and analyst), in a paper entitled, "Death of the American Empire" mentions that eight years ago, Saudi Islamic banker Dr. Nayef bin Fawaaz ibn Sha'alan gave a series of economic lectures in Gulf states ."Islamic banking", he said, "always protects the individuals' wealth while putting a cap on selfishness and greed. It has the best of capitalism - filtering out its negatives - and the best of socialism - filtering out its negatives too ... The essential difference between the Islamic economic system and the capitalist system is that in Islam wealth belongs to God - the individual being only its manager. It is a means, not a goal. In capitalism, it is the reverse: money belongs to the individual, and is a goal in and of itself. In America especially, money is worshipped like God.".

She goes on to say : "the crash of the entire global economic system is a result of America's fiscal arrogance based upon one set of rules for itself and another for the rest of the world. Its increased creative financing deluded its people into a false sense of security, and now looks like the failure of capitalism altogether."

Perhaps economists understanding the solutions offered by Islamic Finance should 'capitalise' on this opportunity to fill a void.

The real face of the financial crisis will be revealing itself gradually in the months and years ahead ...
during this time I pray for compassion and patience - for all.