Dem a take chance

Racialized youth. Austerity gets a reaction.

(But, also, sometimes when I miss you it is painful.
Today, when I woke up I enjoyed the quiet of my empty bed.
When I searched for you, you were present in the absence.

I became beautiful because I knew I would find you again.)

The food insecure amongst us

Every year the UN-OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) says that 3-4 million (always different) subsistence farmers and pastoralists in a variety of different regions in Ethiopia are food insecure, and thus in need of food aid (out of a total population of 80 million) The Ethiopian government then holds a press conference and asks donors to pitch in. The number of food insecure in Ethiopia is roughly the same this year, and yet when reading the news reports in the Western media about famine in the Horn of Africa you would think something totally dramatic and different has been happening in Ethiopia this year.

On the other hand as a percentage of the population the numbers of food insecure people are substantially higher in southern Somalia where “access” to food insecure places is a key factor in donor activity in the region. When I say “access” what I mean is that getting physical access to southern Somalia is a key issue in donor efforts in the region. Southern Somalia is also controlled by Al Shabbab. And, well the powers that be have been trying to tame southern Somalis for the past 20 years, but without much success. Thus, in the past 20 years, we have had two formal military interventions (one US led and one led by Ethiopia) and myriad small scale regularly inflicted informal interventions, sometimes in the form of drones, sometimes coming as ak47s, etc. So between the war on terror, and the war on poverty it is hard to know why Somalia is in the news right now.  But also more difficult to know is what is happening in the Horn of Africa militarily, politically, and economically beyond sensational reports. But, certainly since there is always enough food to feed the people of the world, we must become cognizant of the fact that famine has its own specifec political-economy, as does war, and also news reportage. So, just as poor news reporting is never a disaster of an individual mind, famine is never a natural disaster. Bad institutional configurations produce both :)

Where does that leave us? I am not suggesting  a conspiracy theory. But when I start to put the pieces of this story together the Cassandra in me certainly hears grumblings of another military intervention in all of this news making activity. After all, what else can “access” mean?

In the mean time, though I am still waiting for a really good article/analyses on the framing of this years biggest “humanitarian disaster”, I see that other people have questions too. We are starting to get closer to a better analyses of this event with this blog post. Check it.


Since the story broke abut African migrants forcibly dying off the coast of Libya, abandoned by NATO’s humanitarian mission, so many trite remakes have been made. The most common is some variation of, “I am reduced to silence”, or better, “what can I do, over there is so far away, I feel so lucky here?” etc. In the face of these remarks I am posting two poems from Faiz Ahmed Fiaz. Here is the link to the story about the migrants. Below are the poems. So speak.


Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.

See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;
The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.

Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, ’cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.


If they snatch my ink and pen,
I should not complain,
For I have dipped my fingers
In the blood of my heart.
I should not complain
Even if they seal my tongue,
For every ring of my chain
Is a tongue ready to speak

Policies that make you

I went to a party last night and I realized the remnants of Canadian social democracy brought up a generation of refugee children who came here throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and who are from the Horn of Africa and who are A M A Z I N G, sassy, strategic, progressive, funny and insightful. Now that our little H of A community has come of age I especially want to say “All praises to the young Idil. Toronto, you did all right”.

Straddling the gap between charity and social justice, lost lives, and a changing immigration system bent on penalizing social citizenship and rewarding cold hard cash, last night’s party also reminded me that remnants of Canadian social democracy also gave us Baby Blue Sound Crew (Sean Paul and Lil X) plus Kardinal Offishall and Jully Black.

“Beyond their shared talents, what these names have in common is a little-known initiative of Ontario’s NDP government: a program called Fresh Arts. Fresh Arts was developed under the umbrella of JobsOntario Youth, part of the larger JobsOntario training and employment program the NDP government introduced to address the labour market fallout of the early ’90s recession.

Fresh Arts attracted young people of colour from areas the city now designates as “priority neighbourhoods.” Then, like today, these neighbourhoods were characterized by large immigrant populations, racialized poverty and high unemployment — most strikingly, youth unemployment.

[…]Yet, like other efforts to address systemic racism […](such as the Anti-Racism Secretariat), Fresh Arts fell victim to Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution. Harris ended JobsOntario Youth, and with it, Fresh Arts.”–remixing-urban-education

Institutions make and break us. But sometimes the remnants of once ambitious institutions can make us, long after the real thing has departed the scene.

But all the same let us banish all talk of gravy trains and a common sense revolution. There is sense in the commons, but to know it means we have got to get down with the commons, not atomize it into a million seemingly fragmented pieces.

On War

If the body has its own language it is because limbs and lungs are also a repository for events long forgotten by conscious memory. Peel away the walls of the body and you are bound to remove the place holders that keep the past from spilling out towards you.

It is also true that in Addis Ababa the stray dogs beat out an endless tap-tap.

Pressed against a sky filled with the colour of cyan and occasional streaks of red, what this signals to me is that no one wins in a war.

The mongrels are all cross-bred with a Russian genus.                                                             Not quite made for this climate but still roaming the streets.                                           Sediment of another subterranean moment that is in fact world-historical.

The paws scratch the surface of rocks and pebbles.                                                                 You dream that our elbows will interlock.                                                                                     But what happens instead is that your spine keels backwards towards incapacity.

It is also true that you cannot take in that which you want to see pour out.

I would advise you to refrain from challenging my rigidity.                                             Rather, retrace the cups that hold your pain, watch how the body can stand still for years. And the dogs beat out an endless tap-tap.

No one wins in a war.

Immigration and labour market flexibility should be an election issue

Over the past few years the Tories have been drumming up a lot of fear about immigrants and refugees flooding over Canada’s borders. But the truth is that Canada is accepting far less permanent residents and refugees that ever before.

Indeed, Canada’s refugee policy is far from generous.  After all, as the folks from “No One is Illegal” have pointed out in 2008/2009 Canada only accepted about 11,000 refugees, most of whom were applications from inside the country. At the same time, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees announced that Syria, Lebanon and Jordan accepted 885,000 Iraqi refugees between them.

Moreover, while it is now even more difficult to meet the criteria to become a permanent resident in Canada (unless you are highly skilled and have money) the number of temporary workers allowed into the country has doubled from 2007 until now. But what is even more surprising about about the temporary foreign worker program is that after four years of working in Canada, these workers must leave the country and are banned from re-entering as workers or under a different immigration status. A new crop of temporary migrants are then supposed to replace the ones who have been banned from staying in the country. The NDP in Manitoba has attempted to mitigate against this policy at the provincial level by nominating temporary migrants to become permanent residents. But this is not a solution to an overall immigration framework aimed at increasing labour market flexibility on the backs of the most vulnerable members of our community.

The CBC has done an excellent job of covering the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in some detail. See here:

This really should be an election issue.

“The fascism we deserve”?

My fellow blogger on RPPE (Mr Travis Fast) says that the question is not “if another world is possible for in the abstract it always is. The real question is how and under what conditions it could be possible.”

I have also been thinking about the conditions for making another world during the run up to the federal elections here in Canada. But as we face the possibility of a Harper majority, one of the things I have been struck by is the inability of those who want something other than a Harper majority to really think through and thus act to address the question of political lassitude.

The only piece I have seen on the issue is one by Murray Dorbin, who tried to answer the question on by rightly claiming that “we have a population that is disengaged from its own community and its history. That means [it is] disconnected from a key source their moral core. Politics makes a difference if you are connected to each other. Otherwise, not so much.”

But Murray Dorbin’s article then waxes on about “traditional democracy” and the fact that the elite classes no longer respect the institutions of a post WWII social contract.

But all this got me thinking about the relationship between aggregate experience (the form of a society) and individual experience. That is to say, I am also bewildered by why there are no courageous attempts at reform in Canada? Well, one thing that I have found is that it seems really hard for people to have both a sense of reality and a sense of justice at the same time. People can think about how we “ought” to live but they cannot connect those “oughts” to reality. By this I mean they cannot connect those “oughts” to how they organize their daily existence. The good life is thus an abstraction of fine platitudes but has no real bearing on reality—sort of like heaven. But for me this raises the issue of the relationship between the discipline required to think about reality and reality itself– that is, how can we recognize the limits inherit to reality and also establish processes to help overcome those limits. And then it hit me that a “liberal” society systematically deprives people of the practical memory as well as the conceptual tools to deal with discipline as fairness and justice. This is because experience in market society is organized so that it appears that there is no relationship between desire and deprivation of desire except as a market principle (see my posts on romantic love for further clarification on this point). In any case, under such conditions any sense of a shared world or collective struggle thus seems old fashioned, authoritarian, primitive, or whingey.

I went to school in the 3rd world, and later I attended UBC where I completed my undergrad education. Everything about the way I was raised, from the primary and secondary school I attended, to the streets I walked on, taught me that people who work together can change the world(decolonization was still fresh on our minds). UBC was a total shock for me, because, what I took for a global conversation was totally absent from the school curriculum in the Department of History (no less). In any case the streets of my childhood did not teach me about a shared world in some didactic way, what I knew was that some folks grabbed some space and reorganized power at the institutional level so that I had a thoroughly post-colonial education. Thus, my high-school ‘A’ level curriculum included the readings of one Dr Walter Rodney.

Today, in my scholarly work I am still having a conversation with the way that power was reorganized in the 3rd world in the post WWII era, but clearly I know the conditions for having the conversation. But what seems apparent to me is that the concomitant experience of power grabbing and reorganization that happened in Canada is absent from the way we imagine the WWII social compromise in Canada. Instead, as Dorbin would have it, elites were just nice guys who all of a sudden wanted to respect democracy.

What was the saying: “A country gets the fascism it deserves”?

So, unless we start organizing so as to return experience back to critical thought, this above statement will be more true than ever. What this means for me is that we need to build spaces of solidarity that can address the form society takes at the aggregate level and at the same time address everyday experience. Unions used to do this, but then we all became concerned with being respectable, polite, and rational. But, such a discussion cannot provide us with the power base through which to connect thought to experience.

And this is a question of power, I think.

Otherwise, who cares about a blog or textbooks or romantic love? Only the solitary you, my friends.

The MENA countries (Middle East and North Africa) and public choice

Just in case you were wondering how the firestorms in North Africa were being spun in the policy circles of the great powers, check out the latest highly instructive speech by the president of the World Bank (see link below). What Zoellick reminds us of is that street protests are really a demand to equitably distribute economic incentives  so that everyone can behave like economic maximizers. Indeed, he reminds us that economists can bring the political back into economics by reducing democracy to incentives that produce economically rational behaviour.

Apparently people are dying on the streets for the right to be incentivized so that they can behave like Homo Economicus! And what Homo E really is all about is self-evident too, so that the only problem until till now in the MENA countries is that the right incentives did not exist because Oriental desposts were too greedy and hoarded all the economic rewards that existed in the country.

Bloody clan system!

In any case now the World Bank has learnt its lesson. It now know knows that all human being are economically rational (secretly we are all moderns, it is just the clan system that keeps us down).

Thus, from now on the World Bank is willing to partner with anyone in the MENA countries (especially the women)who will free up the flow of incentives so that people all over MENA will become happier.

It is only rational.


And so the WB finds yet another way to absolve itself from thinking about market failure over the past 30 years in the MENA countries. And  so to0 it can really and truly keep the political away from the economic.

But also telling is that this market place of incentives and rewards is what Zoellick thinks democracy in the West is all about too.

And I quote: “These [incentives] are not luxuries reserved only for developed countries. They reflect on the quality of governance. They improve public policy. They signal integrity. They communicate respect for the public. They treat public office as a trust.  They may sound political, but they are certainly economic.

These topics are part of the economics of public choice.  The public choice theorists cautioned us to think about how governments really work, compared with how we might wish them to work.  The public choice advocates have called for better incentives and opportunities for citizens to monitor government more effectively.  They are right.”

(Zoellick, April 2011)

What an innovative vision of humanity!

To find out more about how the World Bank spins protest from 1848 until 2011, follow the link (and yes, Zoellick really does mention 1848):,,contentMDK:22880264~pagePK:34370~piPK:42770~theSitePK:4607,00.html