“Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy” – Margaret Thatcher.
Having disappeared for several months from these pages, I think I owe the long-suffering readers of Beefs a special treat, on this my long-awaited return. So please, sit back and gird your loins. During my lengthy disappearance, I have been reading up on some of the things I had allowed to pile up on my to-do list, such as the press cuttings yellowing in my Scrap Book. My faithful Scrap Book. And what great treasure it holds!
Well, is it only me or is it the sin of people of a certain age – I love history, it has a lot to teach. Sometimes I am inclined to think that Africa’s struggle for a place in the economic sun has become even more difficult because we have neglected to properly learn history, our history and the history of the other people who inhabit the same planet as us, and use that history as a guide for our tomorrow.
I write this with the words of the great John Hendrik Clarke of blessed memory, ringing in my ears. “If we are to change tomorrow, we are going to have to look back in order to look forward. We will have to look back with some courage, warm our hands on the revolutionary fires of those who came before us, and understand that we have within ourselves, nationally and internationally, the ability to regain what we have lost and to build a new humanity for ourselves.”
So what history has my Scrap Book thrown up in the interim? Please wait for this. It comes in the form of a letter written by one David Cayde of London to The Guardian, published on 15 April 1998. It is a shocker! Mr Cayde began:
“After Peter Tatchell reminded the Archbishop of Canterbury of his Church’s discrimination against gay and lesbian people (Gay activists storm Carey pulpit, April 13), George Carey resumed his sermon saying: ‘People in Britain are forgetting their Christian past.’
“Ordinances (catalogued MS e Mus 229) in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, support the fact that for 550 years, from 1000 to 1546, the Church administered London’s Bankside brothels. The Church managed its 20 or so brothels so that they filled its coffers.
“For example, as many nuns financed their convents by working as prostitutes, the Church’s ordinances of 1161 levied a fine of 20 shillings upon any brothel [not part of the Church’s network] permitting a nun to work. With Christian fastidiousness, the Church also ordained that on Holy Days, no whore should work between 6am and 11am or 1pm and 6pm. These are just a few examples of our Christian past that we must, as the Archbishop says, not forget.”
Imagine a church, of the standing of the Church of England, having its own brothels – 20 or so of them! And filling its coffers with the money coming from the brothels.
Imagine a nun, all saintly and holy, with head covered in a white veil, hands in a prayerful position, receiving it in the inner sanctum of the brothel despite the knowledge that a hefty fine of 20 shillings against the whore house awaited at the door. She had to finance her convent with the proceeds from prostitution! Some might say: “But what do you expect, the Church of England itself came into being because its founder, Henry VIII, wanted to have more illegal sexual liaisons against the wishes of Rome.” In Ghana, our elders say, “a crab never gives birth to a bird”. So the Church’s history continued. To me, the real funny bit is the ban imposed on Holy Days. The brothels’ clientele were allowed by the Church to gorge themselves on the forbidden fruit within only two hours of daylight on Holy Days – they couldn’t do it between 6am and 11am or 1pm and 6pm. So what was special about the two scant hours between 11am and 1pm? Unholy hours?
For non-Christians who might not know, “holy days” in the Christian firmament are the high days such as Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, the Day of Atonement, and such like. And yet, even though people had so much time on their hands to burn on those Holy Days, the clientele were restricted to just two hours of daylight work. Not fair, is it? The good side though, was that the Church still filled its coffers! History – where would we be without it?
Sadly, in Africa, some people think we can do without history. “Oh, colonialism ended 50 years ago, so don’t waste our ears.” Yet in London, on every 11 November, an elaborate ceremony is held at the Cenotaph to remember the British war dead – in the two world wars and even beyond. They do it, faithfully, every year, rain or shine, because they know the importance of history. They are forever reminded of what George Orwell (the journalist and novelist – real name Eric Arthur Blair) wrote: “He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the future, controls the present.”
But in Africa, we want our iPads without the history. But even iPads have a history. They didn’t just land in the shops. They started in R&D rooms. The research and development that went into making iPads would blow your mind if Apple Computers cared to tell you. That is history.
Which reminds me of a remark made by the lead actress of a new movie I saw the other day. “Today was yesterday’s tomorrow”, she admonished her students. That movie, a Ghanaian/Nigerian collaboration, is cantankerously titled “Somewhere in Africa”.
Somewhere in Africa, the guiltiest of the people who appear to have no truck with history are politicians, especially the opposition type, those who aspire to leadership, and not just any leadership, but the presidency! I know some in Zimbabwe. I have known some in Côte d’Ivoire, in Ghana, in DRCongo, in Zambia, and elsewhere. We are seeing some in Malawi right now. They get so blinded by the urge to please their foreign sponsors that even if it means supping with the devil without a long spoon, they will still sup with the devil. And only when they get bitten, do they realise the dangerous game they had been playing with the devil.zI am reminded of this by what has happened to the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor. At a certain point in his eventful life, he was a “good boy” of the Americans. We are always “boys”, aren’t we? The Americans loved Charles Taylor and he loved them back. They even released him from their jail in Boston and made it look as if he had broken jail. Clever cats, these Americans.
In five interviews I had with Taylor over a 10-year period (from 1992-2002), he consistently stressed the point that “during the war [meaning his rebel war in Liberia], every move we took, we informed Washington first”. Which shows the closeness and friendship Washington and Taylor had in those days. Sadly, Taylor forgot one cardinal rule: Once you lie in bed with the Americans, you don’t get out until they tell you to do so. Now Taylor is paying for that forgetting. And what a heavy price it has turned out to be!
The contraption called the Special Court for Sierra Leone is nothing but a regime-change device manufactured by the Americans to get Taylor out of the politics of Liberia forever – his punishment for breaking with them in early 1990. The other guys who were caught in the Court’s web were mere collateral damage.
The Americans wanted to teach Taylor a lesson, and they relentlessly pursued him ever since he broke away from them. They never forgot him. That is why the Special Court for Sierra Leone struggled to pin Taylor down on the legal issues. That is why they struggled to give him the “right” sentence. For those of us who knew the background, what Taylor calls the “contextual framework”, and followed the case, it was purely a political case, which, unsurprisingly, ended up with a “political” sentence.
Notice how the Court accepted that Taylor was not guilty of the weightier modes of liability on the charge sheet – “joint criminal enterprise”, “command and control”, “instigating”, and “ordering” the crimes. But because he “aided and abetted” the crimes – a lesser mode of liability – he gets 50 years in jail.
As the judges themselves put it – in the judgement: “…The jurisprudence of this Court, as well as that of the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] and ICTR [International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda] holds that aiding and abetting as a mode of liability generally warrants a lesser sentence than that imposed for more direct forms of participation.
“While generally the application of this principle would indicate a sentence in this case that is lower than the sentences that have been imposed on the principal perpetrators who have been tried and convicted by this Court, the Trial Chamber considers that the special status of Mr Taylor as a head of state puts him in a different category of offenders for the purpose of sentencing.”
So out goes the universal principle of equality before the Law. Now the Law becomes a respecter of persons. “The special status of Mr Taylor” means that though the Court accepts that he is not the “principal perpetrator” of the crimes on the charge sheet, he, nonetheless, gets a higher punishment than the principal perpetrators.
So Issa Sesay, a one-time leader of the RUF, a principal perpetrator, was sentenced by the same Court to concurrent terms, the longest being 52 years. Morris Kallon, a principal perpetrator got 40 years in jail. Augustine Gbao, a principal perpetrator, got 25 years. Charles Taylor, not a principal perpetrator, gets 50 years. Can you see the politics behind it?
Which reminds me of Salon of Athens, the philosopher, who wrote more than 2,000 years ago: “The Law is like a spider’s web. The small are caught and the great tear it up.” The great Americans can tear up any law when they want to get their way, as we have seen in Taylor’s case. That should be the real lesson for those who aspire to leadership in Africa. The same foreign powers that are sponsoring your activities as an opposition leader, will be the same powers who will spit you out when they are finished with you. Today, they even have a bigger weapon lying in wait: the ICC and its frightful judges in The Hague.
As an African, I find it quite frustrating that we don’t seem to learn from history, and as a result, more aspiring leaders in Africa today, the ones with the beautiful title of opposition leaders, still continue in the same mode, to be used by the metropolitan powers – especially France, America and Britain – for their own selfish interests. Why? I ask. Why are we so blessed?