Wednesday Night #1528

Our special guest, Flora Igoki Terah of Kenya, made this an exceptional and riveting evening. Flora’s intensely personal account of her life in Kenya, the violent and tragic events that led her to come to Canada, and her dedication to returning to Kenya in a political role to reshape the destiny of women and HIV/Aids victims, are both inspiring and moving. Her story is recounted in her book, aptly titled “They Never Killed My Spirit” – its subititle “but they murdered my only child” – sums up the horror that she has lived through and overcome. Her thoughts are also found on her blog
See photos and more on Wednesday-Night.com

The legacy of the colonial powers
Because of the current turmoil, much attention is paid today to the arbitrary creation of the Middle East states from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire by the victorious powers in the post-World War I period. New states were defined by (relatively) neat territorial borders that ignored the bonds of culture, customs, linguistic, religious and ethnic affiliations of the inhabitants of the region.
Although the intent may not have been as noble as portrayed by the victors who exploited the vanquished, it may very well have been their chauvinistic objective to bring to the defeated, hence obliterated, Ottoman Empire, a presumably superior government system.  The inevitable result has been fierce – and often deadly – tribal rivalry within and among the nation states created under the Treaty of Versailles.
Less discussed today are the effects of the earlier Berlin Conference of 1884-85 at which the European colonial powers (Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Belgium and Italy) effectively carved up Africa.

Kenya (see dianaswednesday.com)
In Kenya, the current problem appears to result even more from lack of leadership than tribalism, leadership in the realm of religion, the police and the judiciary.  Corruption is rampant.  The undeniably corrupt electoral system at the poll level appears to ensure the continuation of the current situation, with ballots said to have been systematically selectively destroyed before being counted, a situation that is destined to continue unless and until international observers force a change.  Only twenty-five of the two hundred women who ran for office were elected, presumably largely the result of ballot manipulation by scrutineers.  Without adequate safety or security, it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish a rule of law and professional administration. [Editor’s note: the annual Foreign Policy Index of Failed States now ranks Kenya 16th  – this is an improvement – noting that the country’s “rank on this year’s index still represents [the] legacy of political violence — a recent history it is trying desperately to transcend. Doing so won’t be easy. The government has been slow to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the unrest, leaving the work to the International Criminal Court. Land, often handed out as patronage, also remains a contentious issue. And the violence hasn’t totally disappeared.” On the positive side, “The country is on track to achieve five of eight development goals set by the United Nations in 2000. With a relatively well-educated population (87 percent are literate) and a strong middle class ….”
In Flora’s words: The West views Kenya as a safe, democratic country, but nothing could be further from the truth. Kenya is comprised of 42 different ethnic groups or tribes. Until recently, its constitution (written when the country was negotiating its independence from British rule) upheld the cultural autonomy of these groups. That constitution allowed Kenyans to continue practicing detestable traditions: child marriage, genital mutilation and polygamy.”
Women enjoy few, if any, human rights and those men who do support women’s rights are neither numerous, nor vocal. The suppression of the poor but more particularly, of women – due largely to the legacy of the centuries-old patriarchal tribalism – benefits the relatively small number of the elite. The view of women as chattel, virtual slaves encourages customs such as wives being shared without their consent among friends and relatives, widows ‘cleansed’ by sleeping with brothers of their dead husbands, and is considered the prime cause of an unacceptably high incidence of HIV, even among newborns, that affects six percent of the population. Women in Kenya do 80 percent of the country’s farming, but own less than five percent of the land. In fact, according to one reliable institutional source, only 1% of all the titles over registered land in Kenya are in favor of women. A further 5-6% is held by women jointly with me. Women not only do not own land, but they are not paid for their labor.

Although microcredit has not been established in Kenya cooperative savings and loans do exist to some extent among groups of women.

Syria
The uprising in Syria is said to represent another fallout from Anglo and Franco post World War I attempts to divide territory neatly rather than along raggedy tribal lines.  It is not clear as to whether this was done deliberately or out of an innate belief in the cognitive superiority of Europeans. The human suffering resulting from the current uprising is tragic but no strong action is anticipated at the level of the U.N. and the Syrian government certainly has the ability to counter any opposition.  The unfortunate fact remains that no nation, with the possible exception of Turkey and/or Russia has sufficient influence to intervene with the Syrian government and no strong action is anticipated at the U.N. level.

Other news
As for the rest of the world, at least one Wednesday Nighter sees the European banks in such poor shape as to put in doubt the possible future of the European Union.   Greece appears to be biting the bullet, but Europe is not yet out of the woods.  Canada is looked upon favourably and is attracting many investors.  As for the United States, especially considering the inexplicable extent of popular support enjoyed by the Tea Party, some Wednesday Nighters ponder the possibility that the role of the opposition has changed, its current objective increasingly appearing to be the destabilization of the economy, in order to favour a Republican win in the 2012 election.

The IMF
If it has served no other useful purpose, the “DSK affair” has given life to events at the otherwise dull International Monetary Fund.  It would appear that the position of Managing Director will go to Mexico and possibly but more importantly, that staid, normally behind the scene organism might just elect its first female M.D.

Prologue
ON JUNE 22, TERRY AND DAVID JONES WILL BE MAKING THEIR ANNUAL PILGRIMAGE TO MONTREAL AND WEDNESDAY NIGHT. WE WILL TRY TO ARRANGE A PRIVATE RENDITION OF O KEBEC – WE ARE SURE THEY WILL APPRECIATE THAT THE “proposed anthem for an independent Quebec, extols rainbows of love that arc over a diverse community of people and animals such as mighty moose and graceful Snowy Owls.” (CP)

This week we welcome Flora Terha, the remarkable young Kenyan woman, who is the author of “They never killed my spirit … but they murdered my child” that tells her extraordinary and inspirational story of her fight for women’s rights in Kenya, her candidacy for a seat in the Kenyan parliament and the dreadful consequences. Despite these experiences that would have shattered lesser individuals, Flora remains, optimistic, determined and, above all – utterly charming.

It is nice to know that the mere mortals of Wednesday Night share agenda topics with the Bilderberg Conference. If you are not as up-to-date as you might be, you can enjoy The Guardian’s extensive (and scathing) coverage

According to the official website (isn’t this quite a departure for the somewhat mysterious group?), the 2011 agenda covered: Challenges for Growth: Innovation and Budgetary Discipline [odd combination?], the Euro and Challenges for the European Union, the role of Emerging Economies, Social Networks: Connectivity and Security Issues, New Challenges in the Middle East, Conflict Areas, Demographic Challenges, China, Switzerland: Can it remain successful in the future? – just like our weekly gatherings, although we cannot remember ever worrying about Switzerland continuing to be successful – Bilderberg attendees obviously suspect something that has not yet crossed our radar.

Adding to the Bilderberg list – and also narrowing some of its focus – our agenda includes:

– the rights and wrongs of the Air Canada strike Why the union is fighting the airline’s concession demands so hard…and why Air Canada says it has no choice but to make them

asbestos and the Harper government’s inexplicable continued support for its export – Health Canada’s asbestos advice rejected by government

– the Harper Doctrine and its implications as interpreted by John Ibbitson: “Under the Harper Doctrine, Canada doesn’t just support the state of Israel. It supports Israel four-square, without reservation. … The army has been re-equipped, the air force is being re-equipped, the navy will be re-equipped, despite plans to rein in the dramatically enlarged defence budget. And this government doesn’t hesitate to send that military overseas in the service of Canadian and allied interests.
The Harper Doctrine permits real money to be spent on foreign aid, but that aid must mirror core Conservative values – so no funding for abortion or for aid groups seen as soft on Israel.”

Update: On the subject of foreign aid, EWB is pushing ahead with its campaign to get Canada to sign on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative.  Foreign aid can be better spent: group.

We are not sure where Canada’s backing for the Libyan rebels fits in to the Doctrine, but it is welcome, considering that our country has been one of the most active NATO members in the campaign.- Syria is at the top of our list of international preoccupations this week. The viciousness of the suppression of protests, the sickening use of torture, the scorched earth policy applied to village crops and farm animals, prompting condemnation around the world but no prospect of intervention – and as the campaign is extended, who can/will intervene? Analyses emphasize that “neighbouring governments have not responded to Syria’s crackdown, fearing the chaos that could follow Assad’s fall. The country has a potentially explosive sectarian mix and is seen as a regional powerhouse with influence on events in Israel, Lebanon and Iraq.” How many interventions can the world sustain?

Turning to the world economy -it appears that Christine Lagarde will be the new Managing Director of the IMF, even though there is a ‘short-list’ (of two) that includes Bank of Mexico head Agustin Carstens. So much for reform of the IMF and the World Bank for now.

The WTO has launched an interesting initiative – Director General Pascal Lamy has introduced the idea that trade policies and regulations should more accurately reflect the fact that traded goods are rarely made in just one “country of origin”, e.g. in 2009 the US had a trade deficit in iPhones with China of $1.9 billion. However, the single largest portion of the value of the iPhones being shipped from China to the US had been created in Japan. Germany and South Korea were also responsible for considerably more of the iPhones’ value than China. Talks ignore global value chains – WTO – sounds highly reasonable to us.

International Conference Examining Media and Higher Education Set for Toronto June 16-18, 2011
Can higher education trust the media? Does journalism help keep education honest? These are two of many provocative topics that will be debated by an international audience of media and academics June 16 to 18 at the first annual Worldviews Conference. This sounds like fun – do we know anyone who is going?

In the interest of keeping you entertained with scientific information, we would add as our final note that experts are developing tools to talk to dolphins (“Off the Bahamas a dolphinologist and an artificial intelligence specialist thrown together on board The Stenella are this summer developing a piece of hi-tech gadgetry that will, if it works, fulfil the 1960s’ vision of talking to dolphins – and, if he shows up, ET as well.”) Dolphinologist? We wonder if the dolphins will be invited to Bilderberg in the coming years? We would certainly include them on Wednesday Night if we could fit in an appropriate pool for the visitors. Or maybe, we could convene on the beach for their convenience.

On that happy note, we look forward to your participation in Wednesday Night – without benefit of Dolphinologist or other translator.

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