Thursday, July 18, 2019

A racist president of the United States? The case of Donald J. Trump

Since Donald J. Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower in New York on June 14, 2015 and announced his run for the presidency of the United States there have been questions and debates whether or not the real estate businessman and reality television celebrity is a racist. The jury has been out for more than three years but the verdict finally came in on July 14, 2019 by way of a series of tweets by the controversial U.S. president.

On Sunday July 14, 2019 Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, directed a series of tweets at four Democratic congresswomen: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts - saying the four women of color should "go back" to the countries they "originally came from".

The Trump tweets prompted widespread condemnation - and rightly so - mostly from Democrats, and led to a vote on a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to condemn the tweets. The resolution, according to the BBC, denounced the president's "racist comments that have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color." The resolution passed by 240 votes to 187 - with four Republicans, one Independent and all Democrats who voted supporting it, according to CNN.

Screenshot of Trump presidential bid announcement, June 2015

Meanwhile on Twitter #RacistPresident was trending.

I even weighed in with a tweet of my own.
The backlash was strong - with media outlets and numerous politicians, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referring to the Trump tweets as "racist" and "xenophobic". In a tweet on July 14, the Speaker of House stated that when Donald Trump tells four congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to "Make America Great Again" has always been about making America white again. The Speaker said on the House floor that "every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president's racist tweets".

Across the Atlantic, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, condemned the Trump tweets as "blatant unashamed racism". The mayor was among British politicians who signed an open letter of solidarity with the attacked U.S. congresswomen along with almost 14,000 other signatories. British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn referred to the Trump tweets as "racist".

My Take

For many, the racist tweets attacking four congresswomen of color seem to have been the wake-up call that Donald J. Trump harbors racist white nationalist views but for me alarm bells went off way back in 2015 when he came down that escalator in Trump Tower and announced his presidential bid. Some of the things he said on that fateful day were, in my view, plainly racist. He said, for example, that "when Mexico sends its people they are not sending their best… they are sending people that have lots of problems and they are bringing those problems with us. They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime, they are rapists..."

That was racist - and of course xenophobic.

Trump essentially launched his presidential campaign on a racist platform, and months later he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." That again was racist, xenophobic and, yes, Islamophobic. Needless to say, he went on to secure the 2016 Republican party presidential nomination and eventually became the 45th president of the United States. He was not done yet.

Remember Charlottesville?

Following a deadly clash between white supremacists and anti-racism protesters during a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, Donald Trump said during a press briefing that there were "very fine people, on both sides" -- essentially drawing false equivalence between racist white supremacists on the one hand and anti-racism activists on the other.

Long before running for president the Department of Justice filed a housing discrimination lawsuit against Trump and his father. That was in 1973. According to an article on The New York Times titled "No Vacancies" for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias, the Justice Department sued Trump Management for discriminating against blacks after an investigation into housing discrimination against blacks at Trump properties. Both Fred Trump, the Company's chairman, and his son Donald Trump, its president, were named as defendants. The lawsuit was settled in 1975. The New York Times reportedly carried out its own investigation and uncovered "a long history of racial bias" at Trump's family properties in New York and beyond.

Then there is the story of the "Central Park Five" - four blacks and one Latino young teens who were accused in 1989 of beating an raping a white girl in Central Park. The boys were interrogated under duress, according to Vox, and they offered a coerced confession. Trump took out full-paged front page ads in a number of newspapers calling for their execution. DNA evidence exonerated the boys thirteen years later and a serial rapist confessed to the murder -- but Trump refuses to apologize to the Central Park Five, even though they were exonerated and agreed to a $4.1 million settlement with the city of New York. Reading one of the Trump ads in relation to the Central Park Five titled "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY! BRING BACK OUR POLICE!" it is easy to see that Trump attempted to paint a typical white nationalist picture of "us" against "them" in the ad: "I no longer want to understand their anger", he wrote. "I want them to understand our anger". That he refuses to apologize as of the time of this writing compounds his racial bias. It is hard to believe that Trump would have stuck to his guns if five white teenage boys accused of rape were exonerated by DNA evidence.

When it comes to Trump and racism the so-called "birther movement" that questioned President Barack Obama's place of birth and citizenship deserves an honorary mention. Donald Trump led the racist birther movement that spread the conspiracy theory that America's first black president was born in Kenya hence is not an American citizen and by extension cannot be a legitimate president of the United States. The movement, in my view, was based on the color of Obama's skin. It was racist. If Obama were a white U.S. politician - from say Mississippi - there would have been no question about his place of birth or eligibility for the presidency. According to an article on Fortune, Trump began echoing the birther conspiracy theory as far back as 2011.

Drawing from the afore, there is ample reason to believe that the 45th president of the United States is, well, racist.

"Go back to your country" - as Trump told the four congresswomen of color - is a statement straight out of the racist, xenophobic white nationalist handbook. It is a classic hate crime trope, according to NowThis News. Almost every person of color or person of African descent living in the United States (and/or Europe) and has had the misfortune of being confronted by a White nationalist or neo-Nazis must have probably heard it at least once. As an immigrant myself living in Finland I have heard the phrase from people I would aptly describe as racist. I have, for example, heard it uttered by a member of a Finnish neo-Nazi group during one of the group's demonstrations next to s shopping mall in the East of Helsinki. A member of the neo-Nazi group, it is worth mentioning, was later involved in the killing of 28-year-old man during a demonstration by the group in the heart of Helsinki - sparking debate whether or not the group should be banned.

I welcome the backlash directed at Trump for the racist tweets, and the resolution by the House of Representatives condemning the tweets but I am somewhat disappointed that it took so long for Americans, including the media to wake up - if they have woken up at all - to the fact that, as stated by George Conway, a New York lawyer and husband to Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, in an opinion piece in The Washington Post: "Trump is a racist president".

That statement by Mr. Conway encapsulates my take.

Come November 2020 Americans have an opportunity at the ballot box to fix the problem by rejecting racism and all the baggage that comes with having a racist president who puts cruel immigration policies in place such as family separations and putting migrants, including children seeking asylum in cages at the border because he views migrants and asylum seekers as "rapists" bringing nothing but "drugs" and "crime".

Friday, April 5, 2019

It's official: Cameroon is a dictatorship

The Republic of Cameroon has been ruled by one man, Paul Biya, since November 1982. By virtue of the president's longivity at the helm alone- and the fact that in 2008 the 86-year-old eliminated presidential term limits from the Constitution of the Republic - Cameroon has been tagged a dictatorship by many analysts. But recent, more disturbing events, including the arrest and imprisonment of a political party leader and presidential election candidate and his supporters have added weight to the assertion that Cameroon is, in fact, a dictatorship.

On January 28, 2019 Maurice Kamto, leader of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement - a party that contested the results of the 2018 presidential election, was arrested in Douala along other political activists, including one who was pulled out of his hospital bed where he was recovering from a gunshot wound sustained during a peaceful protest, according to The Guardian. Kamto was arrested after his opposition party organized several peaceful protests in towns across the country, including one in the economic capital Douala on January 26, 2019 during which police opened fire on protesters - wounding two prominent figures of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, namely Michelle Ndoki and Celestin Djamen. Human rights group Amnesty International condemned the violent crackdown and called for the release of more than a hundred peaceful protesters arrested for exercising their right to peaceful protests. The rights group also expressed concern that Maurice Kamto and more that a hundred supporters face the death penalty as Cameroonian authorities intensify crackdown of critics.

Screenshot: The Guardian
One month after the arrest of Kamto, Michele Ndoki, a lawyer and political activist of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement was arrested. Prior to her arrest, she was among those shot and wounded by police during a peaceful protest in Douala. She is one of the lawyers who argued before the Constitutional Council for the annulment of the 2018 presidential election. Amnesty International launched a petition calling for her release. According to the human rights group, she was arrested on February 25, 2019 while trying to cross the border to Nigeria. She faces charges of rebellion, hostility against the homeland, incitement of insurrection, offence against the president of the republic and destruction of public buildings and goods. She faces the death penalty, according to Amnesty International.

Earlier this week, a popular Cameroonian musician popularly known as Longue Longue was reportedly arrested in Douala in relation to a video he posted on social media criticizing the government and results of the disputed 2018 presidential election. He was reportedly released later.

MY TAKE

Cameroon is a dictatorship. It has always been under 86-year-old president Paul Biya who has been in power for almost four decades -- but the arrest of opposition leader Maurice Kamto and his supporters on trumped up politically motivate charges solidifies Cameroon's place on the global list of dictatorships where authoritarian regimes crackdown of political dissent using riot police in the streets and judges in politicized courts, including military tribunals.

By arresting a political party leader and members of his party for protesting, Cameroon has now checked all the boxes of what makes a dictatorship:
  • Crackdown on peaceful protesters
  • Killing of protesters by riot police
  • Presidential elections marred by allegations of massive systematic fraud
  • Arbitrary arrests, torture and incommunicado detentions
  • Eliminations of presidential term limits
  • Arrest of opposition political party leaders and political activists
  • Stifling of free press through arrest and imprisonment of journalists
  • Prosecuting civilians before military courts
If you ever doubted whether or not Cameroon, under the Biya regime, is a dictatorship where human rights and fundamental freedoms are assaulted -- doubt no more. With an aggregate score of 19 out of 100 (19/100), the country is classified "Not Free" in the Freedom in the World 2019 report published by Freedom House

Dictatorships can always claim elections were free and fair, especially when, in some cases, bogus international observers like those uncovered during the 2018 presidential elections in Cameroon endorse the results. But dictatorships cannot deny the arrest and persecution of opposition political party leaders, political activists and journalists before military courts. According to Amnesty International in its 2017/18 annual report, human rights defenders, including civil society activists, trade unionists and journalists in Cameroon "continued  to be intimidated, harassed and threatened", and unfair trials continued before military courts, which are often "marred by irregularities". The report documents military court trials against journalists like Radio France Internationale correspondent Ahmed Abba.

Cameroon has always been a dictatorship. A country where the Head of State has absolute control over all branches of government, including the judiciary which is routinely being used to silence political dissent with the help of a sweeping anti-terrorism law -- a law that severely restricts freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and has landed several journalists, political activists and peaceful protesters before military courts on trumped up charges.

The mere fact that the Head of State, 86-year-old Paul Biya, Africa's oldest president who will be 92 when his new term ends, according to The Associated Press, recently won a seventh consecutive term in office - all disputed - after eliminating presidential term limits from the Constitution of the Republic in 2008 - points to a dictatorship but sometimes more evidence is needed to prove a case. Recent events in Cameroon over the past couple of months, including the arrest of political party leader Maurice Kamto and political activists of his party, Cameroon Renaissance Movement, have provided plenty of supporting evidence -- evidence that adds weight to the long-standing assertion that Cameroon under the Paul Biya regime is a dictatorship. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Cameroon Anglophone crisis: Real threat of Genocide -- but not necessarily by the Military

For over two years Cameroon has been engulfed in a political impasse that has over time degenerated into a humanitarian and human rights crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country. Many people have been killed and thousands displaced internally and internationally, and there have been allegations of a genocide happening in the affected regions. While there is evidence of possible war crimes committed by the Cameroonian military operating in the Anglophone regions of the country, there is no concrete evidence of a genocide - in the true sense of the word - happening yet. However, there is a real possibility of a genocide in the future if the crisis is not addressed, but the impending genocide would not necessarily be committed by the military. The Bangourain attack, allegedly by an armed group from the English-speaking region, and the retaliatory attack against Anglophones in Bangourain that followed are a warning sign and a blueprint of what could spark a genocide. 



In 2016, lawyers in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon went on strike - decrying what has been described as the "Francophonization" of the legal system in the regions by way of, for example, appointing French-speaking judges to courts in English-speaking regions. When their demands were not met they took to the streets in peaceful protest. The protest were met by tear-gas and a heavy-handed response by state security forces. Teachers, students and the general population joined the protests, and the situation morphed into a mass uprising against marginalization of English-speaking Cameroonians in a majority French-speaking country. The government's heavy-handed response continued and what started as a call for reform turned into calls for outright secession of the English-speaking regions.

Armed groups emerged and the Anglophone regions of Cameroon became engulfed in outright armed conflict between separatist groups and state defense and security forces. Hundreds - if not thousands have been killed, schools and houses burnt down and hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes in Cameroon's Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 437,000 people in the Northwest and Southwest have been displaced internally as of November 30, 2018. The socio-political situation in Cameroon remains tense, and there have been a proliferation of non-state armed groups. According to UN estimates, thousands of Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria. Over 20,000 Cameroonian refugees were registered in Nigeria as of March 2018.

Civilians have been caught in the crossfire and "genocide" has been used to describe atrocities committed in the region, sometimes against whole villages. "This is a genocide", a woman reportedly told The Guardian. According to The New York Times, many have accused the Cameroonian military of "genocide".

MY TAKE

A genocide, according to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, means "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm  to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
Drawing from the afore definition, genocide is a serious crime. It is not a word to be thrown around lightly else risks losing seriousness. That said, atrocities have been committed in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, and the Cameroonian military has been linked, by credible sources and analysis, to the atrocities. These atrocities including extrajudicial killings and the burning down of civilians' houses and in some cases the razing down of whole villages. In June 2018, using satellite imagery and eye-witness testimonies, BBC Africa Eye linked Cameroon's state security forces with the burning of villages.

Some of the atrocities committed by the military rise to the level of war crimes, but, in my view, fall short of genocide. The atrocities include burning down of villages and houses, destroying sources of livelihood in civilian areas, torturing and killing captured suspected separatists. War crimes have, without a doubt, been committed in the armed conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions. These war crimes include the burning of schools, destruction of hospitals and health centres and kidnapping of civilians, including students and teachers by non-state armed groups. 

As to genocide, it looms but has not been committed yet. It will happen when Anglophones or Anglophone non-state armed groups will target and kill Francophones or vice versa, and the affected group retaliates -- targeting and killing members of the other group "with intent to destroy in whole or in part" as retaliation. Last weekend there were glimpses of what could spark a genocide in the context of the Anglophone crisis when homes were set ablaze in Bangourain in the West Region allegedly by armed Anglophone non-state actors. The reported attack on the French-speaking community reportedly happened on December 23, 2018, and was captured on video that was widely shared on Facebook. In the video a voice is clearly heard saying the attack is retaliation for the treatment of Anglophones. According to BBC News Pidgin the assailants were about 300
 gunmen. One person was killed, about 80 houses burnt down and 15 people kidnapped. Members of the Bangourain community on their part retaliated three days later by publicly beating to death two Anglophones suspected of involvement in the Bangourain attack, and reportedly asked Anglophones to leave the area. The gruesome killing that could be aptly described as a public lynching was also captured on video and widely shared on Facebook.

I am afraid we have not heard the last of Bangourain yet. Both sides, Anglophones and Francophones in Bangourain and in the rest of the country must exercise restraint in order to avoid an escalation that could lead to mass killings along linguistic lines or, yes - a genocide.   

The Bangourain tragedy is a warning sign and a blueprint of how a genocide could be sparked in the context of the Anglophone crisis. The genocide would not necessarily be committed by the military. It would be committed by civilians, when, for example, someday, for some reason, French-speaking Cameroonians turn against English-speaking civilians or vice versa. That is how the Rwandan genocide happened. Hutus turned against Tutsis.

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