While you were watching the Olympics…

The Iconic Image of the Event: Celebrating brilliance is one thing, forgetting the rest of the world is a mistake. © The Guardian

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for celebrating British achievement and the fact that the Olympics weren’t the fiasco everyone was expecting them to be. The Olympics have been here, there and everywhere these past two weeks as people from all over the country have taken leave of their prejudices, their differences (and sometimes their senses) to come together and stick to their televisions for up to eight hours a day.

However in all this ‘We are #teamGB’ we have seemed to forget that a real world exists outside the shiny, happy wall to wall coverage of attractive, athletic types winning Gold medals.

For instance, a twelve year old girl, Tia Sharp, disappeared from her home in Croydon last Friday and her body was discovered the following week in her grandmother’s house. Her grandmother and two men have been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

On a national level, David Cameron has abandoned plans to reform the House of the Lords and pave way for the major reform promise of all three major parties at the last election out of fear for back bench rebellion angering his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats into threatening the stability of the coalition by rebelling over boundary reform.

Across the pond, Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney announced his running mate for the American Presidential election in November, a pro-life, economic liberal called Paul Ryan who has been branded as an ‘extremist ideologue’ by the Obama camp with a budget plan that supposedly only benefits billionaires. Romney also used the opportunity to add another gaffe to his collection by calling Ryan the ‘future President of the United States’.

In other world news, Syrian rebels have been promised an increase in ‘non-lethal’ aid by British foreign secretary William Hague despite being accused of human rights abuses by Human Rights Watch as the civil war moves into the second city, Aleppo.

In another part of the world recently touched by the Arab Spring, Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi has ordered the retirement of the country’s powerful head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi. This has widely been seen as a strike against the narrow limits imposed by the Generals during the election. He has also announced a constitutional declaration to curb Presidential power has been shelved.

Finally, there was a massive earthquake in the north west of Iran and about 250 people have died with over 2000 people being injured and homes and villages flatten. The relief effort is now on to get people into adequate shelter before the onset of winter. Casualty figures are expected to rise as hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

Iranians mourn over the covered bodies of loved ones in the village Baje-Baj, near the town of Varzaqan, © ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages/Sky News

I’m not saying the Olympics isn’t important. I am not saying I wasn’t cheering on Mo Farah like everyone else but I can’t say it made me any prouder to be British (or from Yorkshire). There are individuals who have succeeded and I will cheer them on but I don’t feel they really represent me; the girl who disliked sport at school and loathed her self-aggrandising PE teachers even more. I was however proud to be an alumi of the University of Birmingham when Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake (possibly my two favourite athletes ever) praised ‘Birmingham People’ for doing such a good job hosting them before the games started because of my personal attachment to the place and the people in it.

The overwrought and overstated emotion attached to these games is misplaced. A video montage detailing Tom Daley rise to promience ahead of the diving final yesterday treated him like he was poised to pull a sword out of a stone, not get a bronze in the diving. Why is this necessary? Ultimately all sport is just a game and it will be played over and over again. It makes the individuals money and it makes many others happy but it doesn’t change the world and it certainly won’t change London.

Yes its great that this country has so many talented young people, yes its great that they can excel, but that doesn’t make the other citizens any less obese, any richer and it certainly doesn’t make Britain more ‘great’. We are still a fading world power that is so riven with internal division that we can’t get the other 90% of young people who weren’t blessed with athletic ability out of the dole queue.

The Olympics won’t change us. We may be united on Twitter and in front of the television now but how long will this last? I give it until Wednesday until we’re all bickering again. What has the Olympic said about us? We can make the trains run (sort of) on time for two weeks of the year? Some of us run fast?

I’m not saying the Olympics shouldn’t be on television, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be celebrated. However ultimately its just a sporting tournament that happens every four years and given London has hosted it more often than any other city on Earth and is full of tourists all year round anyway I think its probably time the Tube got a rest.

We can dangle the gold medals in front of faces to distract ourselves all we like but the real world isn’t going away. Young girls are still getting murdered, Middle Eastern dictators are still waging war on their own country and their citizens are committing atrocities in retaliation. Natural disasters  will still kill more innocent people .

By all means, celebrate tonight and go back to hating each other in the morning. I have no problem with the Olympics being front page news, it just shouldn’t be the only news. I know its a miserable thing to say but the real world isn’t going away just because we want it too.

A Review of the Year: Africa in 2011

Africa often calls itself the ‘ignored continent’ because whatever is happening there is often pushed down the news queue in favour events in wealthier nations. However this year, African soil was the birthplace of the Arab Spring and this year’s UN intervention which was covered yesterday in the review of the Middle East. Not only that sub-saharan Africa, the subject of this article, saw quite a lot of action not go unnoticed by the world’s media such as:

South Sudan: After decades of civil war and bloodshed spilt between its two halves, Sudan’s southern Christian areas voted to secede to form the world’s newest country, South Sudan in an overwhelming majority at a referendum in January. Since their official independence day in July, they have declared their official language as English over Arabic, controversial as few in the country speak it fluently and suffered the teething problems of a new state with a hostile neighbour to their north. In the past few days there have been reports of air attacks by the (northern) Sudanese military and cattle herders in the far west of the country are reported to have been killed. Although the division, instigated by the UN in 2005, was supposed to put an end to war but it seems like the old factions are still not prepared to go down without a fight.

Ivory Coast:Although it was once a paragon of virtue for good African government, the Cote d’Ivoire has been torn between sectarian disputes for around ten years and the election in November 2010 was supposed to bring the country back into the democratic fold. However, instead of bowing out gracefully after losing the election, incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down from power and instigated a civil war for four months until he was captured in his compound by opposition forces loyal to internationally recognised successor, Alassane Ouattara in February. The dry run for the Arab Spring has left the country struggling to get back on its feet as many are many have fled into neighbouring states and are still living as refugees after the rebels terrorized civilians. There is hope for restored stability however as Gbagbo was taken to the Hague in November to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Cape Verde: In the wake of Gbagbo’s ungracious exit from power, former President of the nearby island of Cape Verde, Pedro Verona Pires, was awarded the $5 million Mo Ibrahim Prize in October for leaving office peacefully. Pires was instrumental in the tiny island’s independence from Portugal in 1975 and transitioned the country from autocracy to democracy even when it met he lost the election that he instigated. The award was set up by Sudanese Telecoms giant Mo Ibrahim to encourage better government across Africa but tellingly was not awarded in 2009 and 2010 due the lack of a credible candidate.

Nigeria: It is far too early to say but another potential contender for a future Mo Ibrahim prize may be the new President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. After many years of rigging at the polls, the election Jonathan presided over in June this year was regarded as the fairest in recent memory according to international watchdogs. Jonathan hopes to bring an end to political tribalism and sectarian or religious violence but ushering Nigeria into a proper democracy. However, the ratification of an anti-gay rights bill and the raiding of a newspaper office after they published an alleged letter by the former President criticising the new government. Additionally, Islamist terroist group, Boko Haram have done everything to derail this process with an ampted up campaign of violence culminating in the attack on a Church in the capital Abuja on Christmas Day were 37 people were killed. Jonathan vows to ‘crush’ the group and has called for a state of emergency in parts of the country. Where this will end up and to what ends he goes to do fight Boko Haram remains to be seen.

Gay Rights: For the African LGBT movement, 2011 did not get off to a good start. Uganda, whose HIV laws have effectively made it illegal to be homosexual, lost one of its major gay rights activists in January as David Kato was beaten to death after Uganda’s Rolling Stone magazine published pictures of men they claimed were homosexuals under the headline ‘Hang Them’. Human Rights Watch urged immediate investigation into Kato’s death. Meanwhile in Cameroon, gay rights lawyer, Alice Nkom said in November that she was receiving death threats from other lawyers and the situation was detoriating with illegal imprisonment and torture. Under Cameroon’s law, which also ratifies human rights leglislation, to be convicted of homosexuality you must be caught n delecto flagrante and cares a sentence of six months to five years. However, Nkom says that men are being arrested and locked up immediately for ‘looking effeminate’ or wearing makeup. Meanwhile in South Africa, lesbian women are still living in fear of social ostracisation and ‘corrective rape’ according to a report by Human Rights’ Watch entitled ‘We’ll Show You You’re A Women’.

South Africa: Speaking of Sub-Saharan Africa’s richest country, the ruling party the ANC, ruled to ban popular and youthful firebrand, Julius Malema from the party for five years. Despite being elected unopposed as the President of African National Congress Youth League back in June, Malema was facing expulsion for ‘sowing divisions with the ranks of the ANC’ and ‘bringing the party into disrepute’. An outspoken critic of President Jacob Zuma and said he was ready to kill him in 2008. He had already broken ranks with his support of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and support for regime change in Botswana which the party regarded as working with imperialists. This signifies ongoing divisions and weaknesses within the party that has been ruling South Africa since the end of apartheid.

Liberia: Finally some good news. Liberia is normally associated with Charles Taylor, its brutal President up until 2003, especially after his war crimes trial last year which sensationally involved British supermodel Naomi Campbell. However this year saw it recognised for its good government with its’ President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sharing the award with fellow Liberian, peace activist Leymah Gbowee and a Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman for their ‘non-violent’ work for women’s rights. Mrs Sirleaf is Africa’s first female elected head of state and its credited with ending 14 years of civil war and Ms Gbowee lead a peaceful campaign to oust Mr Taylor.

After The Fall: What’s Next For The Middle East?

Courtesy of Nick Hayes/ The Guardian

Now that the Gaddafi regime has been ousted from Tripoli and the rebels revel in and loot the various palaces of him and his family, the blogosphere and the Guardian’s picture editors are making the (slightly obvious) comparison’s between Gaddafi’s regime and the forgotten colossus in Shelley’s Ozymandias.

However, as talk turns to what Libya and the Middle East will do next I think a probably more profound literary allusion would be George Orwell. Or more specifically, the final words of his 1945 novella Animal Farm:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from
pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Continue reading After The Fall: What’s Next For The Middle East?

Gaddafi’s Last Stand And The Future Of Libya.

Celebration In Green Square As Gaddafi Falls? Courtesy of NewsTalk.com

The rebels are closing in. The heirs to the regime have either been arrested or killed. The compound is all that is left of a dictatorship that has spanned four decades.

With only 20% of the capital, according to current reports, still in his possession and night long celebrations in the capital’s Green Square it looks like the jig is up for Colonel Gaddafi.

His time in power, lubricated by sitting on top of an oil reserve that the Western powers don’t want to lose, has been marked by suspicion, mystery and worldwide condemnation. It is hard to believe this is the end of the saga that has been going on since the airstrike began back in March.

Back when NATO sanctioned the air attack the government tried to suggest that it would be quick and painless as Gaddafi was already on his last legs. However the past 5 months have proved that was as naive as most commentators and members of the public thought at the time.
Continue reading Gaddafi’s Last Stand And The Future Of Libya.