Letter to a New Nation

A Repost: As the chaos and violence in South Sudan escalates to depressing levels, I couldn’t help but think about this letter I wrote for the newly independent nation two and half years ago.

Dear South Sudan,

First of all, congratulation to you on this very festive and happy occasion of your birth into the international diplomatic scene. You have always been a nation, you’re just now being recognized on paper. It is an exciting and anxious period for you. You have a litany of unresolved issues with your former countrymen and neighbor to the north. But, that is for another day. Today is about looking to the future, not about the past. There is an enormous expectation placed upon you – by your people and the international community. As one of the least developed nations in the world, these expectations are unfair; nonetheless, you would have to deal with them. If I had the opportunity to give you an advice, I would have told you to wait five more years under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement framework as it would’ve allowed you to create a plan to repatriate and resettle all the people arriving from the North and elsewhere. This period would’ve also allowed you to build schools, medical facilities, roads, airports, etc to be able to absorb the millions of people moving back.

Now that you’re a nation officially, you would just have to deal with these issues as you go along. More importantly, now you have 54 case studies on how to avoid crisis and pitfalls as a new nation. Rest assured, you will have a lot of problems and internal conflicts, which if you have done your homework from these case studies you could avoid or at least minimize the impact to you. Since I can give you an advice for the future, let me do just that. One, avoid any kind of conflict with your neighbor states – especially and importantly, with the Republic of Sudan. Two, be inclusive, fair and equitable to all those people living in your domain – avoid the unity above all approach as this will surely sow a seed of hate and conflict for the future within your borders. Three, avoid starting proxy wars vis-à-vis Republic of Sudan or other neighbors. And finally, welcome any and all criticism from your people as it is a sign of a healthy, vibrant and democratic nation. Indeed, you will be tempted to label any kind of criticism as a planted strife by your neighbor to the north or other nations. Resist this and you will reap the rewards decades and centuries to come.

You have not yet reached the promised land – your hard work is just now beginning. Use your natural resources – oil and minerals – to develop your country. Make agriculture and education your focus for the next twenty to thirty years. And  dont allow, under any circumstances, the cancerous tumor that is corruption to grow. Heed the lessons of history that is all around you because you face an extraordinary level of hardship and temptations to simply fall prey to conflicts, wars, dictatorial rule, and corruption.

Good luck to you and may you be the first independent African nation to succeed as an example of democracy and prosperity.

Yours,

Om

Categories: Africa Related | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The (IM)Morality of Playing Video Games

It was perhaps seeing the sight of a bright blue flag with a single star in the middle that finally caught my attention. Or perhaps, it was the villainous character’s name that I was suppose to hunt down and kill. Maybe it was seeing the eerily familiar landscape with the dilapidated and bullet-ridden buildings that finally made me stop and put down the controller. I always have these kinds of moments when I’m playing a video game. It was not a surprise then that I would have a very visceral reaction when I played the latest shoot ‘em up game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 last week. In the chapter called “Return to Sender,” the character that I play (the ‘”good guy”) is sent to Bosaaso, Somalia to hunt down a warlord named, interestingly enough, “Waraabe” (Somali: hyena).

It is a thinly veiled attempt to recreate the famous Black Hawk Down battle that took place in Mogadisho on Oct. 3 1993 between the American military’s Delta Force/Rangers and General Aidid’s militia. Like the 2001 Ridley Scott recreation on celluloid, Modern Warfare 3 does an excellent job of recreating the battle for the glory of entertainment on video games. As I started playing the chapter, going from room to room, street to street gunning down the avatars on screen, the irony of a Somali guy playing a video game killing Somalis was not lost on me. Like the Germans and Japanese people who play World War II video games depicting the killing of their ancestors, albeit an avatar. But playing Modern Warfare 3 was Modern Warfare 2 all over again. In MW2, I played a US Marine who goes to Fallujah, Iraq to kill people that I co-share with religion, albeit an avatar representation. Then within the same game playing an undercover Russian spy that is given the choice of slaughtering civilians at Moscow airport or simply doing nothing.

For many people, video games are simply something violent and immoral. But the truth is more gray than black or white. As the advancement of technology has enhanced the realism of the design and execution of the technical aspects of the games, so has the moral ambiguity of the plots and storytelling. For example, in the above example of civilian slaughter at the Moscow airport in Modern Warfare 2, the undercover agent, who’s the “good guy” trying to prevent WWIII, is given a choice to either participate in the mass murder of civilians, or he can just simply watch and do nothing so as not to blow his cover. Here, then, lies the moral ambiguity of video games today. Is preventing world war 3 more important than participating (or simply not doing anything to prevent) in killing hundreds of innocent people? More and more games today force the player to make moral choices. But in my case, I had to stop playing the game and reassess my values. Even though I was playing a ‘good guy’ trying to stop World War III from happening, how could I justify playing a recreation of something as horrible as the Black Hawk down incident? Or any real life based conflict? For me, I simply had to return the game, not because it is based on a real event but I couldn’t find it entertaining in shooting, however virtual and unreal, someone that I can recognize.

Categories: Entertainment | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

World AIDS Day

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Eulogy for Lorenzo Charles

I kept my feet on the peddle steadily as I entered the interstate, rushing to work and I hoped, with nearly 20 minutes to spare before the office meeting starts, to not get delayed on this often treacherous and chronically under-construction highway again. Then I saw what I always dread: the electronic board announcing delays ahead. It is a routine – I always curse then immediately follow it with regret for my cussing because I know someone usually gets hurt or, sometimes, dies in these accidents. Knowing that it will take me at least another good half  an hour to reach work, I called my friend and colleague to tell him that I’ll be late since I’m sitting at a parking lot on the highway so he’ll pass it on during the meeting.

After nearly thirty minute sitting in my car I reach the site of the accident with a combination of selfish relief that I’ll finally pass this jam and the realization of seeing the result of the accident: a turned over commercial bus. I see there are no people bleeding sitting by the road or any corpse or body parts scattered around, which means it is not serious. Like the 21st century voyeur we’ve all become, I pull out my cellphone and snap couple of pictures; for what reason, I don’t know. I give no second thought to the actual accident as the site is no longer a human tragedy to me my hurried mind but just an “interesting” sight on my way to work. But here lies the body of Lorenzo Charles, the man behind the greatest bucket of college basketball. But at the time I didn’t who was the victim of tragic accident; only did I find out later when I got to work while browsing through Google News as I usually do when I settle down at work. As an alumni of the school that he led to the NCAA Basketball Tournament Championship in 1983 with his heroic grab of the ball in midair with 2 seconds left in the game with NC State down by 1 point and dunking it to seal the championship for the heavily underdog NC State Wolfpack against a Houston team that posted future NBA champions and hall of famers like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Around campus, Charles was a legend and his spectacular, last-second dunk poster plastered all over the walls in countless buildings and fraternity houses.

It is a sad day for the Wolfpack Nation. RIP Lorenzo!

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUCe62Rh8FI]

Categories: Sports | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Politics of Bin Laden

I was putting my shoes on when I heard my mom say, “He’s now in heaven” as my sister nodded approvingly. I looked back to see what my mom was referring to. It was an image of Osama bin Laden on the television, then I realized. Naturally, I had my own reaction to the announcement of this man’s death. Everyone does, even those who believe it is all a hoax. “Even if he is responsible for the deaths of many Muslims? I asked my mom. She should know this because she was in Nairobi the day the US embassy was bombed there. Many Muslims were killed that day (of the 12 Americans killed, one was a Muslim-American). And in Dar es Salaam, all the 11 people killed were Muslims. When bin Laden was asked why did he kill those Muslims, he responded by saying that “good Muslims should be at the mosque on Friday.”

So how does someone who not only kills innocent people in general, but also fellow Muslims, get sympathy from my apolitical mom? It is very strange indeed to see very rational, and quite well-informed, people become emotionally sympathetic to such a fellow. We are taught, from an early age, that to not say bad things about the dead but does that mean we forget and praise people whose very identity as we know is about killing lots of people? Conversely, it is horrifying to see people so jubilantly celebrate the taking of a human life regardless of how evil or accused evil the person was (which is a sad reflection on humanity, to say the least). For all we know, bin Laden could have been a great father, husband, brother, son, uncle, and friend. Only those who knew him would have the benefit of knowing that. But his identity to the world was as the leader and chief financier of Al Qaeda whose bombings have killed countless innocent people, both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Yet, as he has portrayed himself as the ‘defender’ of Muslims, by also killing many Muslims along the way, bin Laden has managed to create a political identity that many have come to sympathize with even as they recognize his undoubtedly horrible acts of violence and destruction that killed thousands of people, in addition to his cancerous ideology that will continue to outlive long after most people forget his image. He did of course defend his fellow Muslims earlier in his career – fighting and defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. But does that justify such a sympathy after the many more innocent people he killed since creating Al Qaeda? It still amazes me how many people I come across that believe bin Laden was a religious leader. Of course he was not, despite his followers calling him Sheikh Osama. He was a political figure, who has single-handedly changed geopolitics forever.

It is a grave mistake, then, to see his death as anything but a martyr.

Categories: politics, Religion, Terrorism | Tags: , | Leave a comment

A Bad Deja Vu

The images coming out of Libya seem very familiar to me. They seem as if I’ve seen them before. Maybe I haven’t and my brain is just over-reacting to them. But I swear I’ve seen them before…or even lived through them. I feel Libya is having a civil war, not a revolution anymore. Maybe that is not true; revolutions can be bloody as well. Why do I feel this is a civil war? The similarity with Somalia’s civil war is too strong to not consider: long time dictator facing armed rebellion, endless amount of tribes whose affiliations are seemingly changing by the minute, and complete collapse of state whose identity revolved around the dictator who’s willing to do anything to stay in power. Yeah, that’s about right.

Nobody knows how it will end but it sure won’t be pretty either way. Unlike Somalia, what compounds Libya’s situation is the presence of oil. The European powers wouldn’t be talking about military intervention if this was some resource-less place like Tunisia.

May they save themselves from the curse of civil war and foreign military intervention!

 

Categories: Africa Related, Middle East | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

You Maybe an ADD If…

In an article this week, the New York Times declares, “Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites like Twitter” using some recent surveys that appear to show that most young people (specially under the age of 18) are drifting away from blogging or reading blogs in favor of Facebook and Twitter. In other words, these young people’s attention span can be summed up in 140 characters or less, or one sentence FB update. I don’t know anything about these surveys or how accurate they are, but they do suggest a trend in how young people spend their social interaction on the Internet. Does it mean that most young people have an ADD to bother reading or writing blogs? Rather than read a 800-word article or a 2,500-word essay in the New Yorker, young people are happy with, “I’m going to shopping!” tweet or FB update. Then again, who can blame them to read or write blogs when their lives are already full of such obligatory assignments from school?

The whole point of a blog is to express one’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes and opinions on everything that matters to the individual. Whether they do it in a long form style such as a blog entry or in a 140-character or a couple of sentence on Twitter/Facebook update is beside the point. Perhaps the only difference is that unlike a blog where virtually everyone on the planet can read and comment on what you write (anonymously or otherwise), Twitter and Facebook let you control this environment – the people who can access it. Every ologist wants to define people’s behavior on the Internet but that’s precisely the problem. The Internet is an evolutionary space. It is how people use it that continues to evolve – as it should. Chatrooms, IMs, personal webpages, etc all used to be big. They’re still very much around; it is only how the Internet has evolved to allow people to use them in an slightly different way or for different purpose. I use these three different platforms – blog, Facebook, and Twitter – for different purposes. Rather seeing them as competing platforms, people ought to see these services as complementary to each other on an individual’s social life on the Internet.

 

Categories: Life Style | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

In Search of Amal: Chapter 1

“Are you listening to me?” Mom was repeating it as she dressed me with those hideous school uniform of  short blue trouser and short-sleeved white shirt. ‘I hate these lousy uniforms’ I was thinking or perhaps it was the instruction Mom was giving me that I was really annoyed with. Mom finally pinched me on the left arm after receiving no response from me. “Tell me what I just told you?” she demanded. I replied, grudgingly, ‘I’m to look after Amal…but Mom that’s not fair!’. “What you mean that’s not fair? Isn’t she your little sister? Who’s suppose to look after her?” she demanded. Then, sighing and in a gentle voice, she continued, “You know you’re the man of the house now until your father gets back.” Unlike me, Amal is excited and running around with her new notebook and pencil. It is her first day of school but I don’t remember being this excited my first day of school. Why is she so excited? I call her to lay the ground rules: “Look, Amal, when we’re at school please don’t bother me when I’m with my friends ok?” She nods her head and runs after Mom into the room. By that hurried response I know my warning is futile, thus I’m resigned to my fate at school social life.

*****

I feel a tender touch on my right arm and as I slowly wake up, I see the smiling Air Malaysia flight attendant with a cart full soda cans and bottles asking me if I want anything to eat or drink. I’m too sleepy. I ask for an orange juice only. My seat-mate, who’s from Latvia, is happily eating his chicken salad. In a heavy accented voice, he tells me this is one of the finest chicken he has had in a long time. I tell him maybe it is the hunger and lack of good oxygen at this altitude that is making this chicken salad so tasty for him. He says, “No, my friend this is good – try it.” I tell him, “No, I’m good for now.” I return to my sleep after I finish my orange juice.

*****

The boys have been asking me a lot of questions about Amal at school. “Isn’t she too young to start school?” comes up often. At lunch, I go with my friend Bakar as usual except today Amal is coming along. “Only until you make friends,” I tell her. She hands me two Somali Shillings. “I’m not hungry, you take it,” she says. “Mom gave it to you for a reason, Amal. You will need it if not today, tomorrow” I explain to her. “No I want you to have it,” she says firmly without hesitating. Then adds, “You’ve been nice to me today so I want you to have this money, Aboowe.” “If you don’t want it, I will take it,” says Bakar.  “Shut up you thief,” I say to Bakar and we all laugh as if it is the funniest thing ever. I take the two Shillings from her and give one back to her. “Save it for tomorrow or if Mom asks you about it.” Walking back home after school on the rocky road we start talking about Dad; it seems Amal has many questions about his absence while I’m merely content with the occasional gifts and phone calls. I miss him too, but I guess I’m more stoic than her so I try to explain to her as simply as I know why he’s away but I don’t do a very good job because she keeps finding new questions to ask. We hear a distant ululation and we run towards where the sound is coming from. It’s one of the houses that we pass by everyday on our way to and fro school. The husband has taken a new, younger bride and his relative womenfolk have come to congratulate him. The first wife, whose kids we go to school with, is not present. We go inside the house and start mingling with the other neighborhood kids. We’re given xalwa and cake. Amal wants to stay but I drag her away and we head home. God, she still has a lot of energy to skip and sing-along all the way home.

*****

As the plane slowly descends into Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, the Red Sea appears and to the right, the vast Lake Assal meanders gracefully. ‘I’ve finally come back to Africa’, I remind myself. I’m nervous and terrified of what’s out there, yet my purpose for being here could not be more clearer at this very moment. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain and I would like to welcome you to Djibouti…” comes on the intercom as I stare through the window on an exquisite sunny day. As I pass through the various immigration lines, a Sammy Davis Jr. lookalike immigration officer stops me for a secondary screening. “Sir, are you a Djibouti citizen?” he asks me and I tell him no I’m not but I am from Somali originally. “Okay, I understand now. Do you speak Somali?” he asks me. I tell him yes I do but not good, only enough to understand. “Please come with me,”  he instructs me. I follow him out into a narrow, quiet hallway with bluish doors on both sides. “Is there a problem, sir,” I inquire but he just nods silently. Eventually we reach our destination – a small room with no windows. “Please come and sit” he says. I feel uneasy but I sit in one of the chairs facing a desk and place my backpack on another chair. He sits behind the desk with stacks of papers and an aging computer monitor facing me directly. I feel thirsty terribly so I ask if I could have a mineral water. He says “sure no problem. Just a minute okay?” He goes out to get the water for me. I sit there what seems like an eternity. I look at my watch but it has Eastern Standard Time; I look at the analog clock on the wall next to a portrait of the president of the republic and it is 1:13pm. Finally Mr. Immigration comes back with a cup of water that I’m hesitant to drink for a second. He reassures me that it is indeed a mineral water and not to worry of getting sick. I drink and he starts asking me the same routine questions I have already answered before. “What is your business here sir”? he asks me and I tell him I’m only in transit. “If you look at my ticket and passport, you will see that I’m going to Addis Ababa,” I reply. “I know that sir but why are you going to Ethiopia?” he continues. I feel a bit nausea and sleepy, perhaps from the jet-lag I tell myself. “I don’t see how where I’m going matters to you sir,” I tell him, with a little bit of frustration in my voice. “Mr. Hassan, I’m only doing my job. Can you answer my questions,” he replies. “If you put it that way, yes, I will answer your questions. My business in Ethiopia is to find my missing little sister,”  I tell this stranger something I haven’t told anyone since I left home. Then I feel my eyelids getting heavier and heavier; the front of my head explodes with a sharp pain. “I don’t feel well sir,” I tell him “and I need to go to the restroom.” I get up and take few steps and collapse on the concrete floor.

****

Chapter 2 will be posted soon.

Categories: Fiction | Leave a comment

Dictators’ Club Annual Meeting

This is an imagined club meeting of dictators so take it with a grain of salt.

*****

“Order! Order! Please, take your seats so we can begin our meeting” MC Gaddafi calmly announced. “We have a full agenda and the sooner we get started the quicker we’ll all go home,” he continued. “As you may have heard, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, brother Ben Ali and brother Hosni have been…how should I put it…overthrown. Apparently, ‘overthrowing’ our fellow brothers has become all the rage these days. Therefore, today’s agenda will mostly be about how to prevent these so-called ‘revolutions’ from taking place in our domains. We’ve also lined up experts to help you launder all that money to safe offshore accounts in case you’re worried you might be overthrown soon. And then at the end of the meeting, we’ll have refreshments, pizza, raffles and share the latest party tips! “

Categories: Satire | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Blue Dreams

image

I’m laying on top of a fluffy thing that’s on top of the ferry I’m currently riding on my way to the archipelego of Zanzibar. I chose to camp in the open deck, to enjoy the open air and the lovely breeze of the indian ocean. Everything I see is a perfect blue, with the exception of few dhow boats and commercial ships now and then. It’s 4:30pm on a Sunday afternoon of the coast of Tanzania. There is one special person I would love to be here with me, to share this view, this breeze, this tranquil moment. I’m having blue dreams. (And you’re in it…you know who you are).

Isn’t it amazing that I have a decent internet connection in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Gotta love technology. I’ll get back to enjoying my view and breeze as the perfect Swahili is spoken near by…

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa, Photography, Random, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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