Blair and the New Victorians

London is one of my favourite cities. Perhaps this is
because the city and her people gave me refuge in the mid 1990s when I needed
it most. This worthy tradition, providing succour to the persecuted, goes back
many years. Karl Marx, the great political thinker and activist, found shelter
in this city in the mid 19th century even when German government
officials were hot on his heels.

I was in  London when the bombs went off two weeks ago.
Like all true Londoners, I felt a deep sense of shock. And then the feeling was
replaced with anger — anger at the young men who had perpetrated this outrage,
murdering innocent people; anger at the Whitehall politicians who had made these
young men desperate enough to kill; anger at the men in dark suits whose
insatiable greed has so deformed British politics that politicians could take
unpopular decisions and still remain in power.

Let us be clear about the
real source of the bombs that killed innocent Londoners two weeks ago: it is
unaccountable, irresponsible power. This city of seven million people was
opposed to the war in Iraq.
They came out in their numbers and marched on the streets when it became clear
that the Prime Minister they had elected to protect them was contemplating
joining President George Bush in his outrageous scheme to wage war on Iraq under false pretentences. 

The citizens of  London said a loud and
unequivocal No, Not in Our Name! They said it was not true that Saddam had
weapons capable of destroying London
and other Western cities in a matter of minutes. They said they were tired of
war and warmongers. They said they wanted to live in peace with their Muslim neighbours. But their Prime Minister
ignored their pleas and went to war. British troops joined their American counterparts
and began to drop bombs on the innocent people of  Iraq.  Cities were flattened. Bullets
and disease reaped a bountiful harvest.

Iraq  is now a country at war with
itself, siring warlords and suicide bombers the way pigs sire sows. And British
and American troops are still bogged down in that hellish inferno of their own
creation even as I write.  Two weeks ago the suicide
bombers made and nurtured in  Iraq
paid  London  a
visit. The Sunday Times of London put its finger on the pulse of this tragedy when
it reported last week that British intelligence had commissioned a secret
report on the likely impact of the  Iraqi war on British Muslims and
warned that the conflict would embitter and radicalize them. 

LondonThe murder of innocent
Londoners can never be excused. But my point is that this is murder that could
have been avoided. Suicide bombers are made, not born. The young Muslims of
Leeds who perpetrated this horrendous act were ordinary, well-adjusted kids
before something happened to them and pushed them beyond the pale of civilized,
humane conduct. That ‘something’ was  Iraq.  Once British troops
invaded  Iraq, and it was
made clear to these young men that the people of  Iraq were blameless and that this
was a war waged against their fellow Muslims by a handful of amoral politicians
and businessmen in the Christian West, life became intolerable. Indeed, life
became meaningless.  All that mattered thereafter was honour. And honour
demanded that they even the score. Tragically, they chose to reply evil with
evil. And innocent   London and her citizens were left holding the can.   

It is important, very
important, that the world understand that it is not a coincidence that the
bombing of Londoners occurred the same week they had come out to sing and dance
for Africa in their beautiful city, and also march in Scotland to force Western
leaders to stop aiding and abetting the slaughter of Africa’s children through
cruel economic and political policies. The bombings, the Live Eight concert in
London, and the citizens’ protest at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland are all
part of ongoing attempts to resist the scheme by the New Victorians to reduce
large swathes of the world to perpetual charity cases.

Africa’s present
state is the result of purposeful and premeditated political action on the part
of rightwing European and American political and business leaders and their
allies on the African continent. When Tony Blair mounts his
moral high horse and declares that he is determined to ‘help’ Africa in his
last term as Prime Minister, the fact is obscured that Africa is not helpless.  Nor are the people of Africa 
mendicants asking for charity.   

This political action came
in two shock waves — first in the early sixties just as African countries shook
off the shackles of colonialism and were marching towards economic
independence, and second, in the mid 1980s when a resurgent Neoconservatism led
by Ronald Reagan and Margareth Thatcher began to remake the world to conform to
their vision of a human community where only the powerful, the greedy, and the
amoral survived.

Mobutu, who was put in
power in the   Congo  by
European and American political and economic interests in the early 1960s,
represented the first phase in the assault on  Africa
in the 20th century. General Ibrahim Babangida of   Nigeria  whom Margareth Thatcher celebrated in
her autobiography as the epitome of civic virtue in  Africa ,
represented the second phase. Mobutu deployed crude violence to ensure that  Congo ’s wealth
remained available to his Western paymasters. Babangida worked with the IMF and
the World Bank to impose Reagan’s vision of rapine capitalism come unhinged on Nigeria. 

Charles Dickens’ powerful novels, set in London in the age of Queen Victoria, depict wealthy businessmen and politicians concerned to ‘help’ the British poor. These poor
souls were seen as lazy, shiftless, and given to drink. It was entirely their
fault that they were poor. The rich and powerful demonstrated their Christian
virtue by giving them alms. It did not occur to the latter that their vicious
economic policies, the inhumane conditions in their factories, and their
political ploys which denied the poor their right to vote, were the primary cause
of the latter’s poverty.

As in the age of   Victoria, so it is in  Africa
today. Traditional Western powers, mainly  France
and Britain ,
work with unscrupulous African ‘leaders’ to deny the vote to millions on the
continent. Western corporations pillage  Africa’s
wealth aided by machine guns supplied by Western governments. IMF and World Bank
officials sit on African governments today and insist that no money be spent on
healthcare and education. This is why  AFrica
is poor. This is why Africa’s children are dying.   

There is now talk that the
recent spate of ‘debt forgiveness’ will resuscitate   Africa .
There is also talk that the elimination of trade barriers in Western countries
will enable   Africa  ‘trade’ her way out of
poverty. But all this is idle talk. Commodity prices have been falling on world
markets for the past 200 years. Celebrating debt ‘forgiveness’ without tackling
the cruel politics that put   Africa into debt peonage in the first place does not make sense.  I grieve for London’s and Africa ‘s dead. 

Let us struggle peacefully to eliminate the New Victorian mentality that birthed
this tragedy.

Ike Okonta

Ike Okonta is a Nigerian writer and activist and was recently shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Literature for his novel "Tindi in the Land of the Dead".  He also co-authored Where Vultures Feast: Shell Human Rights and Oil in the Niger Delta"  Ike regularly contributes to Black Looks.  The article also appears in  Nigerian daily "This Day".