Second Fiddle to Joy: A Policy Wonk’s Reflection on Joy Odera’s Letter to America

Second Fiddle to Joy: A Policy Wonk’s Reflection on Joy Odera’s Letter to America

Joy Odera’s recent posting on MULERA’S FIREPLACE , A Letter to the USA from an African– 3 March 2017, makes fascinating reading. It embodies the literary skills and bravado of a master writer at her best. I dare say that I as read Joy’s masterpiece, I saw the rye smiles, heard the deep grunts and was surprised by the laughter of the greats of Africa’s self-critiquing genre of literalists – people like Okot p'Bitek, Okello Oculi, Wole Soyinka, ….. . And I liked the way that Joy brushed up her message  with the light touch of the humorous irony, which is another genre of literature that has been so ably scaled by other great African literalists  like Hillary Ng'weno and Tumusiime "Ekanya" Rutshegye.


I do not have Joy’s agility to dance between language of the policy and management wonk (which is Joy’s livelihood trade) and the prose and poetry of the lucid literalist. But Joy has stirred my heart and mind into some serious reflection. Having worked in public policy all my life, my reflection comes from that perspective. Initially, I had titled my reflections as “Ode to Joy!”. Upon completion and reading through, I changed the title to “Second Fiddle to Joy!”.


For more than 70 years, the dominant, in-your-faces, domestic and international interest of the USA has been MESSIANIC. To say it plainly, the USA sees its primary, secondary and tertiary roles in the world community to be the redemption of the world in the USA's own image!! This has been the world of the USA for at least 70 years. In 1949, Harry Truman refused to sign on an important statement of postwar American foreign policy. The little man told his advisers that the statement put too much emphasis on the USA’s interest in free trade and foreign markets. The statement, Truman said, “made the whole thing [US foreign policy] sound like an investment prospectus”. He ordered the references to free trade and foreign markets struck out of the document. Instead, he told his advisors to tell the world that the USA was going to be their saviour!! And then the troops of US financiers, technical experts, volunteers, overt and covert soldiers, and other do-gooders started to match out!!


It is interesting to dwell for a moment on one of the first and most ambitious adventures in the USA’s mission to redeem the world. One of the first targets of the USA’s “civilising” mission was Afghanistan. In 1949, the US set up the Helmand Valley Authority (HVA). The HVA was, for all good measure, named and modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Its main function was to build dams. The dams would be used as a central platform for “modernising” Afghanistan’s “primitive” agriculture. And there were also other side dishes on the modernisation menu.


For example, the USA built a modern city named Lakhshag in Helmand Province. Lakhshag was modeled after an American suburban division, and it was supposed to demonstrate modern home and living styles. PAN AM Airlines was contracted to start an Afghanistan national airlines (named ARIANA). The University of Kabul was provided with millions of dollars and technical assistance to modernise. Emphasis at the University was put on building a world class Faculty of Engineering, as the Americans considered technological advancement to be a central plank of the modernisation process. There was a programme that was started in Kabul to teach Afghan women western manners. In what would today sound like a laughable or infuriating turn of events, the American government supported the production Islamic religious tracts.  


The main dam builder was Morrison-Knudsen (MK) – the same civil engineering and construction company that built the St Lawrence Seaway, the NASA Space Center, the Hoover Dam, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the Alaska Pipeline, and so many other American wonders.  Never mind that before Europeans used piped water, the Afghan’s had built one of the most productive agricultural systems in the world, and Afghanistan was the world’s leading exporter of dried fruits and nuts. That agriculture system was based on an intricate underground irrigation system called the khaweez or (qahweez). The khaweez tapped water from the Himalaya glaciers and transported it to farmers’ fields that were as far as five hundred kilometres downstream.


To make a long story very short, the American modernisation project, particularly the dams component, was a major failure and disaster. Dams took water from the more efficient khaweez system. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the American surface irrigation dams led to silting and made the soils saline. Before long, the farmers could not grow their traditional crops of wheat, rice, vegetables, fruits and nuts. With time, marijuana and opium poppies, crops which love the saline condition created by the dams soon became the main crops and ways of livelihoods. With other things factored in, Afghanistan started its descent to the unenviable place where it is today.


By the 1960s, Afghan citizens were aiming their fire power at American “aid workers”. The students that were trained at Kabul University, especially the Faculty of Engineering became radicalised anti-American nationalists who started and joined insurgent groups that are the major pain in the butt of the USA today.  Unsurprisingly, but also shockingly, there are very few Americans who can or are willing to make the connection between America’s history of trying to civilise Afghanistan and the events of 2011 and their aftermath.


Ever since Truman’s declaration of intent for America to redeem the world, every President has worked hard to cultivate the messianic image, actually a mask, of the “GREAT USA”. This is in spite of the truth that the predominant interest of the USA is economic and other domination of the world.


Joy Odera’s tongue in the cheek “rascals” like Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Milton Obote of Uganda banded with others like Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Josef Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Suharto of Indonesia, and shouted wolf!! They pointed out that the USA was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They warned against the hubris and overreach by the US in the truthless and immoral presentation and conduct of its role in the world.


Some academics and public intellectuals like Walter Rodney, Perry Anderson and the Marxist – Socialist crowd at Cambridge and the London School of Economics tried to speak and reveal the truth about the USA’s role in the world. But these well-meaning witizens argued and resisted in vain. Some even ended up badly.


Ever since the end of the Second World War, America’s attempt to engage with the world has been nothing else but a long catalog of debacles and failures: the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953; the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961; the quagmires of Vietnam (1959 – 1975), Iraq (2004 – present) and Afghanistan (2001 – present); the unfinished business in Libya and Syria (on-going ); the support to failed apartheid in South Africa; the roundly condemned regime of apartheid that is exercised by Israel in Palestine; the rise of the Islamic State; the list can go on. These quixotic disasters cannot be passed off as just errors of presidential judgment. They are the price that America recurrently pays for the hubristic embrace of a messianic, moralising  foreign policy.


There are particularly two glaring symptoms of America’s messianic overreach that stand out like open head-wounds. The first symptom is the systematic failure of the USA to take proper care of its many domestic problems. These problems include: ingrained racism; the lingering hunkering in some quarters for a return to slavery; the huge divide between the rich and the poor; the absolutely and proportionately large number of people without access to health services; the absolutely and proportionately large number percentage of citizens who die violently, especially from firearms; and so forth.


Being a hypocritical moral crusader, official America and many Americans in general find it difficult to admit that they have their own internal problems. And they especially get riled up when non-Americans point out that there are socio-economic failures inside the USA. Many attempts are then made at window dressing and applying band-aid treatment to cancer sores. Some of these are worthy of recognition as horrifically sick and cynical tragi-comedies. For example, take the case of Judge Clarence Thomas (appointed to the Supreme Court by George H W Bush in 1991) and the recently appointed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. These are black men who will never advance the cause of the black people because each one of them seems to possess nothing but sawdust in the space between the ears, and also because they have been coopted, lock stock and barrel, into the ruling elite. Yet they are cynically advanced as representatives and examples of the “commitment” of America to advance people of colour.


In 2008, a whiff of common sense seemed to blow over portions of America, and the cerebral and gracious Barack Obama was elected President. Many people in establishment America hated Obama, because of the ethnicity of his father and because of his gracious, conciliatory and truthful problem solving ways and initiatives (such as the Affordable Care Act or Obama Care). The Obama haters, including someone who would become President, were willing and ready to “sink the Good Ship America in order to sink Obama”!! I have no doubt that that is the genesis of the current presidency and its controlling interests. Some may act surprised. I am not.


The second symptom of the disease of America’s messianic overreach, Cold War or no Cold War, is America’s exaggeration of threats. One might have thought that strong countries, especially those with overwhelming military superiority, would not be scared so easily. Not so the United States.  Pushed by the then nascent “military-industrial complex”, Truman and his people convinced themselves that the Soviet nuclear threat was imminent and overwhelming. And they spread this threat throughout the American public. World War II had been an economic bonanza for the elite. Keeping the country on a war footing was a sensible way to continue to make money, which includes controlling other countries' affairs.


Today, the exaggerated fear of threats extends to anyone who is not white or is from a faith other than Christianity. Never mind that historically, not just today, most Americans have never known or practiced what it means to be a follower of Christ, the Rabbi who lived 2000 years ago in Palestine, and taught that all men were equal in the eyes of God.


It is easy to be tempted into thinking that the Trump phenomena (i.e. the story of the self-identified groper of women, tax cheat, serial purveyor of "alternative facts," and bed-fellow of the enemy who became President of the USA) is a one-off aberration that can be corrected at the next election. I like to be optimistic, and I also believe in miracles. However, I am also a realist. I realise that there are significantly wide-spread and deep-seated pockets of fear, cynicism, anger and resentment that Trump and his cohorts are digging into, manipulating and exploiting.


It is not only in America that I see opportunistic leaders manipulating cynical, fear-filled and angry swaths of their country’s population. There are blond haired men and women prowling the streets of German towns to ferment nationalist causes. There is a resemblance to Trump of Marine le Pen, the rabid white-European supremacist and anti-immigrant crusader, and the possibility of her being elected as President of France. There is mass acclaim of Vladmir Putin in Russia and Recep Erdogan in Turkey, both pitiless despots. India and the Philippines are governed by elected bloody strongmen. The land of Nelson Mandela is led by what appears to be a clueless rubble rouser who taps into the pent-up xenophobic anger as it suits his own interests.


How in the name of Nelson Mandela did the world ever get to this stage? The fundamental premise of our existing Western inspired intellectual frameworks is the assumption that humans are essentially rational and motivated by the pursuit of their own interests; that they principally act to maximize personal happiness, rather than on the basis of fear, envy or resentment. In order to tie this together, truth is truth and is as sacrosanct as the need to respect each others’ right to peaceful existence. We respect each others’ right to personal and property rights. We are not even supposed to touch each other or interfere with or take each other’s property except by mutual agreement.  


The history of the USA’s messianic mission to “civilize” the world, the on-going events in the USA and what appears to be the global spread of xenophobia tell us that our long-held ideas of liberal radicalism (what Hillary Clinton represented so well and was punished for) are miles off the mark. They cannot explain the utterly self-serving and chaotic nature of the world that we live in.


Why and how did we get it so wrong, and what can be done to put things on an even keel?.......... May be I  should wait for another movement from Joy and/or others at MULERA’S FIREPLACE.


Level 19 (XP: 18400)
Brilliant. Human gullibility, propelled by xenophobia, has provided fertile ground for those who love to hate.

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