All talk and no play makes the AU a dull toy

 

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“Every country, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, the real Muslims who are Salafism, or you are with Obama, Francois Hollande, George Bush, Clinton, Abraham Lincoln and Ban-Ki Moon, and any unbeliever. Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. This war is against Christians.”

These are Abubakar Shekau’s words in a video released concerning the 276 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Shekau, the leader of the militant group, is clad in fatigues and flanked by a group of men clutching AK-47’s, their faces covered by the Islam cloth, keffiyeh.

The abduction of the Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram has soared around the world via social media. International press has lambasted Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, and the African Union (AU) for their tardiness in dealing with the crisis.

Subsequently five West African countries have met with Francois Hollande, the French president, to ask for aid in handling this volatile situation. The United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) have offered support and the United Nations (UN) has just placed sanctions on Boko Haram.

What has the AU done about this fiasco?

In an AU press release regarding the most recent attacks on the 20th of May, the AU Chairperson of the Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, speaks of ‘heartfelt condolences’ to those affected and wishes ‘strength and a speedy recovery’.

Since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, where Africa looked helplessly on as the massacre took place, an initiative was set up to prevent massacres like these from occurring again. This initiative was called The Standby Brigades.

According to The Guardian, “T Standby Brigades would answer to the AU’s peace and security council, the continental equivalent of the UN security council. The aimwas to produce a rapidly deployable force and that by 2012 two units, each 2,500 strong, could be operational within just 14 days.

“The US poured money into the initiative, providing $500m to train up to 50,000 African troops. British involvement was also substantial, with more than £110m a year being invested via the African Conflict Prevention Pool for nearly a decade.”

In Jacob Zuma’s speech in 2014, condemning the Boko Haram, he mentions the problems facing the AU. “Part of the capacity needed by the AU is the establishment of the African Standby Force for rapid deployment in crisis areas without delays.”

Twenty years after The Standing Brigades initiative, there are still no forces.

The AU still has no defense system in place that can adequately handle African conflicts. Boko Haram carries on its insurgency in Nigeria as a consequence.

Boko Haram is not a new problem

The Islamist fundamentalists have been carrying out attacks in earnest since 2009, bombing, killing and raping in Nigeria and Cameroon. The recent kidnapping has been crucial in sparking a universal effort to bring Boko Haram to justice. There are many abroad who doubt whether Jonathan and the AU would have done anything for the kidnapped girls or other attacks if the international media and leaders didn’t jump on the case.

Africans too are taking notice of this lack of response, “According to New Zimbabwe.com, Joseph Chinotimba, a prominent Zimbabwean politician, said in a recent speech to parliament, “This [kidnapping] should be something that as Parliament we must condemn and I kindly appeal to government together with other nations to send soldiers to Nigeria and deal with this Boko Haram.”

South African artist and activist, Ntsiki Mazwai, said on eNCA, “It is unfortunate that it is not an African country that is coming to the aid of Africa.” The ANCYL (Youth league) leader, Bandile Masuku, stated, “… we believe that the African Union must rise to the occasion and Africans must have the necessary capacity to respond to African problems.”

The AU has done a lot of good for Africa too

The AU has assisted in the destruction of colonization in Africa and maintaining peace in countries such as Rwanda. According to The Guardian, “Africa indubitably registered some commendable progress under the AU. This is particularly true with regard to peace and security as well as economic growth and in countries’ economic performance.

“A number of countries that went through a violent conflict in the 1990s, including Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have made remarkable progress.”

The AU is still ill-equipped though to handle the extent of conflict in its own continent. Therefore, Nigeria and other countries attend meetings in Paris and Brussels to ask for aid from the past colonialists.

Dr Simphiwe Sesanti, a journalism lecturer in media ethics in Stellenbosch, believes there is a deeper underlying problem when it comes to African countries seeking international help,

“How do you expect an organization [AU] to function when you have denied the people the type of education that will give them the power to do things for themselves? Those people will be completely dependent on you [colonials] for a long time, if not forever.

“Tie their hands and feet and ask them to run and compete with you. That’s why you can’t have African solutions in Nigeria just yet.”

This may be one of the reasons for the lack of ambition the AU has shown. It has been fifty one years since Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana spoke at the opening of the African Union,

“We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent. We need a common defense system with African high command to ensure the stability and security of Africa … We will be mocking the hopes of our people if we show the slightest hesitation or delay in tackling realistically this question of African unity.”

Boko Haram has cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the AU and their measures for peace keeping. Currently, as The Guardian stated, “From Bamako to Bangui, ordinary African men and women have cowered and waited, hoping that western troops or UN peacekeepers will come to their aid.”

Until the AU finds a way of dealing with conflict on African soil, past colonial ties continue to be the African way of dealing with African problems.

Anthony Molyneaux is a post-graduate journalism student and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

 

The dark days of ghost parts and horse placenta

Diego Costa

Diego Costa

A mysterious woman in Belgrade, Serbia, massages ‘fresh’ horse placenta on sport stars injuries in her small apartment on the second floor. The treatment, rumored to cost thousands of Euros, is believed to accelerate the healing time.

Footballers such as Dutch striker Rob van Persie and Athletico Madrid’s Diego Costa have flown thousands of kilometers to attend Mariana Kovacevic’s practice.

Pseudoscience practices are prevalent around the world.

In Massimo Pigliucci’s book, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk”, Pigliucci discusses the blinding effects of pseudoscience and the lengths people will go to implement their beliefs.

In 2000, AIDS denialists from around the world were invited to Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS advisory panel. The consensus of the former president of South Africa’s panel deemed AIDS and HIV to be nothing more than a harmless passenger virus.

The panel decided, despite irrefutable scientific evidence, that this passenger virus required no anti-retroviral (ARV) medication. Instead herbal medicines and beetroot treatments were endorsed by the Minister of Health, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

This would be similar to telling a cancer patient that they actually didn’t have cancer; they just needed more fruit.

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This frightening and misguided decision doomed an estimated 330 000 people to an untimely death.

Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley was an integral part of Mbeki’s decision to shun Anti-retroviral medication. He himself was an AIDS denialist.

Pseudoscience, such as AIDS denialism, is any subject that “fails to meet the three criteria of naturalism, theory and empiricism. Yet even when all three of these checks fail, its supporters still insist there is no problem”, states Pigliucci.

Why did a respected scientist such as Duesberg play a role in this travesty of pseudoscience? Why did he not take into account the overwhelming scientific evidence?

Pigliucci, a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, states that “it is all too easy to find at least some ‘experts’ who will defend almost any sort of nonsense”.

This is pseudoscience at its worst.

In 2006, thanks to ongoing petitions of civic groups and 81 leading scientists, Mbeki implemented ARV treatment in South Africa.

The Human Services Research Council (HSRC) survey showed that over 2 million people were on ARV treatment by mid-2012 in South Africa.

Pseudoscience in education

The Dover School Board in Pennsylvania attempted to implement their religious beliefs into the school’s curriculum in 2006. Intelligent design (ID) was to be installed into the curriculum and taught as a science.

Intelligent design is a pseudoscientific view that believes there is an intelligent or guiding hand that created the universe. It is a form of creationism, which, in 1987, was ruled by the Supreme Court to be a belief system and not a science.

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“A field does not belong to science unless there are reasonable ways to test its theories against data,” states Pigliucci. In the case of ID, there is no way to test its theories therefore, it falls under pseudoscience.

The United States Constitution states that religion is not allowed to be taught in American public schools.

Against all odds, the Dover school board, fronted by Alan Bonsell, decided to push for the teaching of ID as a science. To promote their case, Bonsell recruited the help of the Discovery Institute, “a Seattle-based ‘think tank’ devoted to the promotion of intelligent design in public schools”, according to Pigliucci.

The Discovery Institute sent Bonsell an explanatory video that was “arranged to be shown to the teachers to ‘educate’ them about the real nature of ID”.

Bonsell and the Dover school board members were then taken to court. Judge Jones ordered the removal of ID from the science curriculum. The school board’s attempt to force their ideologies into education was denied due to laws protecting science from bunk. Judge Jones said, “To assert a secular purpose against this backdrop would be ludicrous”.

Ideological views tend to influence judgment and responsibility as was seen in the Dover case. Think tanks like the Discovery Institute have also become breeding grounds for bias.

Think tanks refer to “a specific kind of organization, namely, a private group, usually but not always privately funded, producing arguments and data aimed at influencing specific sectors of public policy”. Pigliucci goes on to say, “too often their political, ideological, and financial biases are not disclosed to the public, which gives them the misleading aura of being neutral, third-party experts.”

These factors make separating science from bunk that much more difficult.

Albino’s plight

In Tanzania, people from all walks of life pay large sums of money for Albino body parts, believing them to hold magical powers that will bring good fortune.

There is a common belief that “albinos are ghosts who are cursed but whose body parts can ward off bad luck and bring wealth and success”, according to the National Geographic.

Witch doctors sell Albino body parts as talismans to miners who “bury them where they’re drilling for gold and fishermen who weave albino hair into their nets”. This witchcraft in Tanzania kills thousands of innocent albinos, resulting in hundreds of albino children having to live under protection in guarded camps.

Albino camp in Tanzania. Photo: National Geographic

Albino camp in Tanzania. Photo: National Geographic

The title of astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark seems more apt than ever in Tanzania.

Sagan and Pigliucci both encourage people to learn critical or skeptical thinking to prevent pseudoscience tragedies such as these from happening.

Compared to the albino’s plight in Tanzania, the horse placenta treatment caused no serious harm to the footballers, except for their dignity. Diego Costa could only play for 7 minutes before having to come off after the ‘miraculous treatment’. On his departure from the field, one tweet read, “Horse placenta. Foal’s gold.”

Yet there are many who still swear by the treatment. There are even more who believe in dangerous, inhumane pseudoscience as mentioned in this article. Jumping on the band wagon is not an option and neither is sitting back. We should take inspiration from the truth seekers such as Pigliucci and Sagan, and remember the famous writer, Anatole France, who said, “If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

Anthony Molyneaux is a post-graduate journalism student and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

For the love of the name

Bhrihat Mridanga Das, a 26-year-old man, used to be called ‘Rory Strydom’. Growing up in a stringent Afrikaans Christian family, he is now a practicing Hare Krishna monk and temple commander. Anthony Molyneaux met with Bhrihat at his Ashram in Cape Town.

The Vermicelli crackles in the shallow oiled pot while milk boils and bubbles in the larger pot beside it. A weathered Hare Krishna cookbook lies open on the cold steel counter.

Brihat adjusts his thick lensed spectacles as he stirs the thin pasta into the spitting oil. He is preparing Kheer, a vermicelli pudding, for the mantra meditation being held at the Ashram later in the evening.

“There’s a term we use, Swadharma, which basically means ‘own duty’. This duty is your calling, you could say. You need to do what you’re good at and what you enjoy; otherwise you create too much strain on yourself. Finding your swadharma is essential for a happy life.” states Brihat.

When asked what his ‘swadharma’ is, he smiles while looking down at the sizzling pot.

“I like cooking. It’s a good meditation, but really, I’m a jack of all trades. I’ve never been number one at anything but I’m good at most things.

“I like doing outreach programs, socializing, and networking. I guess I enjoy anything humanitarian. I want to help people when they are unhappy and I believe that’s the most important principle of spiritual life: to develop compassion.”

Brihat’s duties as temple commander are maintaining the vegetarian cooking standards, training the new devotees in Krishna consciousness, leading meditations and instilling the principles of ‘spiritual communism’ in the ashram.

“Communism means that everything belongs to the government but we believe everything belongs to Krishna. Everything is utilized for him and he provides everything we need. So when we are serving each other, we are serving Krishna.”

Brihat is sporting pink croc footwear, the traditional orange robe and a tired brown sweater. His head is closely shaved except for the strand of long hair sprouting from his crown, bundled together in a messy pony tail. His appearance hardly goes unnoticed in the small farming communities where he grew up.

“In the Afrikaner community there’s always this weird vibe toward us [Hare Krishnas]. Afrikaans people tend to be polite, unless they are intoxicated. But you can still feel them thinking, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”

Before taking on Krishna Consciousness, when Brihat was still known as Rory, he spent most of his time in clubs and trance venues. He was studying a B.Sc in Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University, which took him five years to complete.

“My first year of university didn’t count, as I never attended class. I was working at Tollies Nightclub as a barman and I was making a lot of money. When I was working there it was quite a zef place, it’s not like it is now.”

“Before I began with the Hare Krishnas in 2010, I was also practicing shamanism. Intuitively I know how to heal with my hands as I had already learnt this in my previous life,” states Brihat.

“I used to guide people through chambers of their own mind to help heal them. But after I joined the Hare Krishnas, I started to become more focused on my studies and left that trance phase behind.”

Upon completing his degree in 2012 he moved to the Ashram in Cape Town, where he is now cooking this sweet dish.

“I was always attracted to a very simple lifestyle. In movies and games, I liked the monk and the sorcerer, the guy with the magic. So I had a natural attraction to this life and when I found out it was possible to live like this, it was my calling.”

Sandra Troskie, a previous lecturer of world religions at Stellenbosch University, believes Krishna consciousness and Christianity have many similarities that perhaps make the transition easier.

“Hare Krishna is a paradigm that is comfortable for some Afrikaans youth. They all think it’s strange but it’s not really. It’s exotic without being too different,” states Troskie.

“Hare Krishna is not very far off from Christianity. Krishnas also have three gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This is more or less the trinity of Christian beliefs and it’s easier to extrapolate for them. Even Jesus and Krishna share many similarities.”

Troskie proposes that the recent surge to Krishna consciousness and other eastern religions, may extend deeper into the Afrikaner youth upbringing.

“One of the greatest identity shocks to the Afrikaans people arrived with the ending of Apartheid and the letting go of concepts they were taught by the church.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Council brought all this to light and there was an enormous outflow [of people] from the reformed churches,” states Troskie.

“The youth felt especially betrayed and didn’t trust the reformed church anymore. The Hare Krishna devotees are a small part of this exodus.”

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Old vs. New

Brihat’s parents remain committed to the reformed church but what do these older generations think of new age religions?

Kavi Karnapura Dasi, who was previously known as Jacobus Breda du Toit, is now a senior monk in the Stellenbosch ashram. He found Krishna consciousness on the streets of London but grew up in a small Afrikaans farming community called Vereeniging,

“My parents are members of the Reformed church and the first time I told them I was a practicing Krishna monk, they weren’t very optimistic,” says a laughing Kavi. “But I think in time they saw it was nothing malicious. It took four years for them to come around though.”

Brihat didn’t have it much easier.

“My mom is a fundamental Christian. She is a pious lady and helps others but she is very set in her ways. In her heart she feels if you’re not with Jesus, then you’re going to hell,” states Brihat.  

“From her perspective, it’s quite hectic to see her son going to hell so I can understand that.”

“When I graduated in 2012, I told them I was moving to Cape Town to live in an Ashram and become a Hare Krishna Monk. My mom just got up and left. She didn’t say a word.

“Up until a few months ago, she never said a thing about it. She denied it for years,” states Brihat.

Brihat now has a working relationship with his mother. She is still apprehensive of the new age religions.

“My mom has opened up more, but she is more critical of my beliefs now. She questions my actions and reasoning all the time which I don’t mind because it keeps me on my toes.

“I think she sees that I’m happy with this path. I am becoming who I believe I am meant to be.”

The thick milky pudding is poured into a wooden bowl and left to cool. Brihat rings a tiny bell repeatedly and gives thanks to Krishna for the sweets he has just made.

An incense stick burns away in the corner of the kitchen and chanting voices drift through the warm air. Brihat grabs his guitar and glides up the stairs to the temple to begin the weekly mantra meditation.