We don’t need your white guilt

Yesterday, I had my very first argument on Facebook – with someone I barely know, as go all Facebook arguments. I, unlike many so-called ‘intellectuals’, do NOT believe in Facebook arguments. There, I said it. I don’t think Facebook is the right platform to conduct healthy discussions on issues that matter. Let’s face it, Facebook is oftentimes an outlet for people to brag about their deeds and their ‘morality’ with the appearance of caring about the world and humanity. Yes, sure, I do acknowledge that it’s a good way to be up to date with current news and issues (but even then, your feed will probably be covered with things you already agree with). But unlike what it professes to be, its ‘social network’ only expands to people users are already close to. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any privacy setting. I personally use it to ‘be moral’ and share news articles that I think are important and that I think make me look smart. I also use it to put funny and sarcastic statuses and pictures because that’s my vanity – believing my friends when they tell me that they like my Facebook statuses because I’m a funny gal. Yes, I know. I take pleasure and pride when people like me, or when they tell me they like me. Sue me.

This is why Facebook arguments are often (not always) useless because no matter how long my comments are, they will never truly be able to show my history, my identity, my background, and my experiences. They will be taken out of context by people who don’t know me and interpreted according to their history, identity, background, and experiences. When we live in a world where people can barely get through decent conversations face-to-face, how likely is it that we would be able to change people’s minds drastically through Facebook? Let’s not kid ourselves.

No, it is not possible to ‘have intellectual conversations’ where our ‘personal’ feelings don’t get involved. Everything is personal. So don’t blame me for being ‘defensive’ and ‘taking things personally’ when I’m being insulted and attacked under the guise of ‘intellectual debate’. It is possible to be ‘insulting’ while using words such as ‘sorry you feel that way’, ‘yes that is fair’, or ‘I didn’t mean to offend you’. Just because you use ‘civilized’ expressions doesn’t mean you can’t be insulting and condescending.

Having put this very long preface, this is what happened. It’s too long and complicated to summarize, and I wanted to be as objective as possible, so here goes – I explicitly made this post ‘public’.  (Click on the picture to see the comments). On another thought, I could have made the ‘commenter’ anonymous to protect her privacy, but that would have been too much trouble (ain’t nobody got time for that) and she chose to be on this public intellectual debate in the first place, so….

I have MANY MANY things to say about this, but will say this one thing – for now. I may go on several ranting posts after this.

One of the fundamental truths White People (WP from hereon – and I put this in capital letters because I am not speaking about all white people, but the history and privilege white people represent as a racial group) seem to believe, is that it is absolutely degrading and immoral to see Africa or African countries as both ‘poor’ and ‘wealthy’, as being the homes of both ‘joy’ and ‘pain’. They have (and still do) portrayed Africa in such a negative light for so many years in so many ways that the ‘woke’ thing to do now is acknowledge that Africa has much more to offer than just ‘poverty’, ‘malnutrition’, and ‘child mortality’. And yes, that is true. Africa is much more than that. Like ANY OTHER CONTINENT.

Why do WP go on talking about wealth gaps in ‘developed’ countries like the States, but the moment we mention that ‘some’ Africans may not practice Yoga (a very privileged leisure in places other than India), we have committed an immoral crime? Why can’t WP acknowledge that, like in ALL societies, poverty AND wealth cohabit in African communities? Why do WP feel the need to protect Africa, like it’s a child that knows nothing and stumbles into the harsh real world completely blindfolded? Colonization has been over for more than half a century now, but the white guilt coming from it is so strong that now the reverse has occurred – there is absolutely no way you can talk about serious issues in Africa, such as poverty and civil wars, without being a ‘racist’. You MUST acknowledge its potential! Its future! Its people full of hopes! WE  ARE ALL EQUAL! WP fail to see this is just ANOTHER White narrative they are imposing on their former colonies. A ‘more positive’ one, sure, on the outside, but just as condescending.

WP love talking about ‘African culture’ and admire it because it offers hospitality, a sense of community, and so forth. This is still another form of ‘exoticizing’ Africa. Africa is not the ‘black continent’ where people die under miserable conditions. But neither is it a place where children run happily without shoes because, you know, that’s happiness for them.

So no, it’s not OK to use the hashtag #firstworldproblem assuming Africans don’t have cell phones or don’t have to deal with mosquitos. But it’s also not OK to impose your white guilt on everything and pretend yoga is a national pastime. It is OK to think some people would have found my downward dog on the yard ‘the whitest thing ever’. I’m sure the Senegalese maid at the house I’m staying at rolled her eyes at me. And so did her brother that came in later. And I’m OK with that. I had never felt ‘whiter’ than that moment I was doing my Vinyasa being bitten by mosquitos (this is meant to be sarcastic – just pointing it out). It is OK, no, necessary, to understand a community, a country, a culture, a region, with all its complexities and differences. It is OK to think and say that problems and hope exist together. Denying either one only shows your white superiority complex that YOU know what’s best for them, because it makes YOU feel better.

 

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What to expect when you’re not expecting

What to expect when you’re not expecting.

I think this was the title of a movie -rather a disaster I hear- starring Cameron Diaz and Elizabeth Banks. Although I am in no way of ‘expecting’ as the movie indicated,  I do think it serves as a perfect subtitle to my trip to Dakar.

What was I expecting indeed? Getting lost from the airport to my airbnb place. Not being able to step one foot outside the door without being called ‘Chinois!’ or ‘Amigo!’ or ‘Ching-Chong’, like my 14 years of living in Nouadhibou had taught me, yet never accustomed me to. Being utterly unaware of how to find my way in town. So many concerns and anxieties, besides the main question ‘Does my research question actually make sense IRL?’.

What I was not expecting however is the wave of familiarity and memories that overcame me when I saw the little bit of the city from the plane. The lack of skyscrapers, the overwhelming presence of neutral toned colors – sand, tranquility, monotony – the flat houses invading one another on narrow streets, the occasional minarets, the vast parcels of destitute lands, and the multitude of cars – everything that I had forgotten, that time had tucked away in the further corners of my box of memories, came back. Granted, Dakar was not my hometown per se, it is actually a much more developed version of good old Nouadhibou (especially 20 years ago), but it didn’t matter. I could still recognize bits of my childhood in this West African capital.

IMAG1389.jpg

View of Dakar from the plane.

Once in the city, I realized memories come in other forms than visual ones. It was not just the sight of ’boutiques’ that seem to have just popped out of nowhere from pieces of metal. It was more than the frequent horses (donkeys in Nouadhibou) dragging the carriages. It’s as if all my senses had been awoken by this trip back ‘home’.

It’s the heat of the scorching sun on your skin and in your eyes. It’s the smell and taste of the exhaust fumes from the run-down vehicles that constantly tingle the back of your throat (whoever thinks Africa is the land of pure air and nature blah blah has never been to African capitals). It’s the sound of the clip-clops from the horse carriages. It’s the sound of the distant, yet awfully close, call to prayers five times a day. It’s the tingle of the sand on your feet, it’s the struggle of trying to walk in that sand everywhere you go. It’s the constant thrill you get trying to cross a busy intersection, looking left and right, without the help of traffic lights – will you make it this time as well or will that car run you over? It’s that laugh and not-quite-shaking, not-quite-slapping of hands when you say something funny with your friends. It’s that smell of a mixture of piss and food gone bad from the heat and time that linger in the corner of every street.

It’s the feeling of finally being at home after all these years, something I have never been able to feel from the many instances I landed in Seoul, South Korea, the land of my passport.

Gosh, Africa (not to generalize), it’s good to be back.

 

Why I hate Studying

Yes. Big surprise, I hate Studying sometimes. Actually, I hate Studying more often than not. Ironically, I have come to hate Studying at a time when I need to enjoy it the most. I’ve come to recognize and realize this sentiment more and more recently and have decided I am in a “It’s complicated” relationship with Studying.

We had something good going on, you know, until I made the foolish decision to push it a bit further, without realizing the consequences. Honestly, I think I’ve been having this feeling for quite some time, ever since it introduced me to Feminism, but I guess I was trying to ignore it, hoping it would go away, that things would get back to normal after a while. But I don’t know. I think I’ve put myself in a destructive relationship that I can’t get out of.  I do hope we’ll sort things out soon though. I do. I still hope.

But you see, Studying is forcing me to ask questions I didn’t even realize needed to be asked, and it refuses to give me clear answers. While I try to figure out right from wrong, it just sits there, probably concocting the next enigma and puzzle it’s going to haunt me with. Sometimes, it directs me to a certain direction, and when I’m trying to familiarize myself with it, it smiles and points to a different direction, often quite the opposite and I just sit there, confused and helpless. I want to ask, Is there ever a right or wrong answer? And all I get is a shrug, a sympathetic smile.

A few days ago, it introduced me, first to Samantha Power, and just when I was about to get her know better and perhaps be friends with her, because I did like her, it brought along another friend, Mahmood Mamdani. Mamdani brought one of his kids, “Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror” and I’m not sure  I liked it, or what it was trying to do to my relationship with Power.

Mamdani is very critical about the international ‘buzz’ around the Darfur issue, and mainly the Save Darfur Coalition that worked hard on the lobbying for humanitarian intervention in Darfur because of the ‘genocide’ that was going on. To him, the international community’s stubborn decision to give the name ‘genocide’ to what was NOT a genocide represents: an effort to redeem itself from the colossal mistake it made in Rwanda, an excuse for a military intervention without understanding the context of the conflict, a reincarnation of Western colonialism and imperialism accompanied with the binary distinction of evil versus good, another facet of the anti-Muslim discourse, a pathetic proof of our stupid tendency to simplify complex issues and forego the historical legacy, a pet project, among many others, of self-righteous celebrities and privileged people with the savior complex; well, you get the idea.

Although my heart is still with Power and the need (and now this word sounds totally wrong too – I’m being ripped off of my vocabulary as well) for the ‘international community’ to take interest in atrocities around the world and somehow contribute to the lessening of individual suffering, I cannot help but nod alongside Mamdani’s arguments. Of course, it’s not that Mamdani is denying the massacre of civilians in Darfur or the severity of the situation. His critique is rather directed at how the international community uses these issues as a way to brandish their so-called morally high values without really trying to understand the history and background that led to these conflicts, which inevitably results in the prescription of the wrong ‘cure’.

Darfur and other conflicts in Africa are often used as ‘shows’ to reassure the non-African bourgeoisie that we are still human, that despite our inability to actually be in the field ‘to help’ and despite our real current focus on the next Hunger Games movie, we can still feel compassion towards starving African children and feel good about ourselves for feeling that compassion. We can be proud to have donated money to charity groups and NGOs without so much knowing about what is really going on, or without even finding out the details of these organizations, because, well, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie told us to, and how could they possibly be wrong?

George Clooney in Darfur

George Clooney with the ‘poor innocent’ children in Sudan

Angelina Jolie's Charity Work3

So now, after having had a 30-dollar meal of oysters and other delicacies, I can sleep at night in peace, with my 5-dollar contribution that will most certainly feed five children in Africa.

The world was so much simpler before Studying.

I felt so good about myself after donating money to the Kony 2012 project (which was a disaster in many ways, I later learned).

I would have shed a few tears at the pictures of starving children and admired them for keeping their smiles despite all their hardship! all the while enjoying some singing by U2 and Mary J. Blige.

I would have considered the fact that Ben Affleck talked about the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Senate another good reason for me to like and admire him (and fangirl every time I saw him with Jennifer Garner). I would have applauded him for his effort to let the world know that there are other things going on beside the Oscars or internet cats (as much as I like both of them). But now I have to ask myself, Does he really know what he’s talking about? What does his organization do exactly? Where do the funds he gathers really go? Is he really genuine? Will his efforts do more good than harm? Has he even considered the political implications and ramifications of this conflict? Is he aware that his argument for increasing “US leadership” in the area can vaguely sound neo-colonialist and imperialist?

I still love him though...

I still love him though…

And then, I think about how we all like simple things. Reading about the very complex history of Sudan… I’m sorry but who has time for that? Is there nothing we can genuinely do, without any other ulterior motives, to really ‘make the world a better place’ and prevent another genocide if -God forbid- we ever put in such situation? Or is that too pretentious of us? Is the international political apparatus, with the UN, the ICC, and others, ever actually useful? Or are they and will they always remain pawns of the more powerful states?

Gawd, I hate Studying sometimes.

And I also hate it for making me love the fact I wrote about it in terms of ‘relationship’.

PS: I am aware this mildly sounds like a #humblebrag and maybe also a #firstworldproblem. Oh well, I sometimes lack humility and live in the ‘first world’. I’m only human.

Words and pictures – a genocide

Pictures are worth a thousand words, is the popular saying, and today, with the vast array of videos, web-based material and what not, none of which I know how to use unfortunately, that could not be truer. Who would want to spend 30 minutes of their precious time reading a paper when a 10-minute, well-edited video could efficiently and more interestingly, deliver just about the same message?

Yet there are some things that cannot be conveyed through images and interviews, there are some things that do need the power of words and well-written inspiring sentences for us to fully grasp the intensity and severity of the issues at hand. And more importantly, words do have the ability to move us beyond images.

The article “Bystanders to Genocide” by Samantha Power is the very first (academic) article/paper, I can say, without hesitation, that made me cry. It will probably be the last. (Indeed the path towards a PhD is filled with surprises – who the hell cries reading an assignment for class?)

(She later developed this article into a 600-page book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”, which I hope to read some day)

In my defense, Power’s account of the world’s blatant disinterest and of a few individuals’ sincere efforts and frustration as they saw these efforts disappear into thin air after hitting the walls of “national interests” without so much leaving an echo, is quite powerful. Maybe it was her purpose all along, to instill every one of us with a pinch of guilt for not understanding, not doing anything, not being interested in what happened to be one of the most horrible tragedies of the 20th Century.

Reading about a genocide involves many elements, each one more heart-breaking than the other: its development, the meticulous planning of it, the stories of individuals with names, faces, families and friends disappearing under other individuals’ gunshot, machete, finger, the annihilation of humanity crushed under the excuse of “national interest”, the lack of care, the drowning efforts of a few individuals who did want to ‘make a difference’…

It is sad that in the face of the worst crimes humanity can commit, Realist theories remain unabated in the world of international relations and politics; and human lives are calculated in terms of how much resource/capital it would cost a country.

Aside from Romeo Dallaire and a few other individuals, the Rwandan genocide leaves us with only bleak sides of humanity, including the unchanged stereotypes and general ignorance we have towards Africa and our reluctance to engage in global action (because governments often naturally presume military intervention is the only option) despite sufficient information. And two decades later, it doesn’t seem we have made much progress.

And for those to whom pictures still convey a stronger message:

http://www.hrw.org/video/2009/02/13/confronting-evil-genocide-rwanda-featuring-alison-des-forges

 

Second semester

I don’t know how my first semester here ended, but it did. Was it satisfactory? Overwhelming? Challenging? Boring? Disappointing? Up to my expectations?

Frankly, all of the above, and to be even more frank, I didn’t have much time to really digest what was going on and to find the right description. My goal was to survive day by day and finish most of the readings I was assigned to. Some were eye-opening and superb, while I did seriously wonder why on earth I was reading some others. Just like everything else in life, pretty much.

4z6GF5o

… or a Lijphart reading about the differences between political systems

After a short winter break (too short compared to the two-month winter break in Korea), I’m back for my second semester and into my third week already a month has already gone by. Maybe it’s just the beginning, or maybe I’ve become more phd-tuned, but this semester is revealing itself to be much better. For once, I love all of my classes (okay, the word ‘love’ might be a bit too strong for some), I like my schedule, and somehow I don’t have as much reading as last semester (which still seems terrifying and I feel like there’s something I’m missing). At least I can finish about 95% of the readings I have planned for every week. My schedule also allows me to attend the Monday lunch seminars at the African Studies Center, which I was not able to last semester. Learning about the challenges, changes and future of most African countries is depressing more often than not, but also fascinating, if this word is appropriate to describe it. To be surrounded by all these professors studying and researching about diverse parts of African history, politics, economics and culture is also quite invigorating and it is my small hope and dream that one day I too, will be able to join the ‘cool gang’ of ‘Africanists’ (and maybe diversify the “old white men” club I’m seeing here, like everywhere else…)

I am also taking a class titled “Islam and Politics”, which I love just as much as my “Human Rights in Africa” class (taught by none other than my beloved Professor L. :D). I realize that there really is nothing that I know about Islam in general. Somehow, having grown up in Mauritania and having spent the next ten years in Korea, where I was probably the most knowledgeable person among my peers about Islam and Africa, I had come to believe, I guess, in some pretentious way, that I actually did know something in this field. Well, among professors and students who actually do study it here, I realize how pompous and mistaken that was on my part.

And in a way, I’ve come to ‘blame’ (not really, but kinda sorta) people who simply ‘assumed’ I knew something about Africa and Islam just because I grew up there. I mean, I was a teenager. Much of the growing up in Mauritania had to do with reciting lyrics to BSB, N’Sync and Westlife songs, giggling about boys with my girlfriends, trying to do ‘cool’ things like going to the beach with my friends after school and nearly drowning, studying, laughing at teachers. I wasn’t trying to understand the gender dynamics of Muslim women as seen in Mauritania or distinguish the linguistics of all the dialects spoken there. Unless that’s what teenagers usually do… then, okay, my bad.

As always, I digress every time I find the tiniest opportunity to complain. Well, the point being, I am glad that two decades later, I am finally learning something about where I spent 15 significant years of my life.

The class in Political Theory is also quite awesome, if I may say so. The reading may be dense, but short, and the tiny number of people in that class shapes a certain coziness, all the while being intellectually stimulating. It’s also quite intriguing to see how much I actually enjoy philosophy, when, back in high school, I thought it was the lamest subject because it was so ‘out there’. I thought philosophers were people refusing to get out of the material comforts of their home and environment all the while pretending to bear all the emotional and intellectual burdens of the world. In a way, yes, it’s true. I’m getting paid to study, having my three meals everyday (and sometimes more), with a decent place to stay, and trying to debate what it means to be just and the higher moral grounds we as human beings should be aspiring to. And yes, it’s true that when you’re trying to tend to your family’s everyday needs without a decent job and with a mortgage to pay, trying to figure out what Aristotle meant in his books and how his thoughts can be applied or interpreted today may not be among your priorities.

Digital-Aristotle-Thoughts-on-the-Future-of-Education-by-CGPGrey

 

And yet, somehow, I persist in naively believing that people are more than beings that need to be fed and clothed. Yes, those are basic needs that certainly should be met, but an intellectual pursuit on some level should also be conducted in parallel, for those primary needs to be fulfilled in a better and fairer way. Or maybe I’ve finally reached a point where I’m blindly believing in my illusions.

So, all in all, my semester is going great. 🙂 – is the point of all this blabbering.

Also, it's quite awesome I can understand this.

Also, it’s quite awesome I can understand this.

The human element

One of the things I regret not properly ‘documenting’ throughout this semester is how my classes went.

On the one hand, they were classes like any other I took in undergrad and grad school before, boring at times, entertaining at some other, with tons of reading I wouldn’t always complete on time. Sometimes I was facebooking more than paying attention to the lecture, and sometimes I was simply at loss and wondering how and when on earth knowing how to do matrix calculations by hand, for instance, would ever come in handy in my life. So it was quite a relief, for the lack of a better word, to know that classes, even at the PhD level, and even in the States, were not exceptionally different. There were times I thought I had actually invested myself more into these classes at GSIS, especially preparing for group presentations. I honestly missed those presentations. Spending hours with my friends and peers brain-storming (and I often had the best co-presenters in every sense of the word), trying to figure out a compromise between the time limit we had and our passionate academic minds, laughing at the crazy ideas, listening to others during class. Good times, they were.

On the other hand, there were true moments of revelation, to the risk of sounding cliche. I once had a whole week of excitement and giddiness because I had gone through Feminism theory in IR, reading Fiona Robinson, J. Ann Tickner and Annick T.R. Wibben, and I was simply in love with them and their ideas, and Feminism in general. And everything in the world seemed to make sense.

But above all, it was my class in “Politics and Government in Contemporary Africa” that was the most inspiring one of them all, week by week.Through this class, I was able to realize the prejudices about Africa I didn’t even know I had in the first place.  The fact that it was taught by an amazing professor was the cherry on top of the cake. The class had everything a student could ask for: organization, knowledge, interesting lecture and discussions, and, above all, a contagious inspiration and passion from the professor. Looking back, I had a professor I absolutely fell in love with, in every academic sense possible, every time I went to school, and I think it was that connection (one-sided, I admit) that helped me get going. Feeling, first-hand, the passion and dedication of the professor is the best source of motivation for a student (and the fact that they are directed at an actually interesting subject also helps). This first semester at BU was no exception. If I thought I could not respect Professor L. more than I did throughout the whole semester, the little ‘story’ he left us with on the last day proved me wrong. I hope it’s not something too personal (there were about 20 of us who listened to it, so I wouldn’t think so) and that I can tell it again here in my own words.

“A friend of mine was a teacher at a local school in a small village in Rwanda when the genocide broke out. Her being Tutsi, she was caught during an attempted escape and was to be shot there and then. One of the Hutu men present thought it was a better idea to ‘take her home with him’ and she was kept in his house for months, where she was raped, by him and others. When she was finally let go, she returned to her village and found out that all her family, close and extended, a total of about 300 people, had been killed and only two distant younger cousins had survived. She took them with her and went to South Africa where she built a new life for herself, until the day came she had to go back to her village for some sort of registration. Scared to go back and face her past, she asked me to accompany her, and we went there, after an hour hike in the hills. When we went up there, a woman came running to us, recognizing her, and told her she had kept some of the things from her family and from her house, kitchen utensils and others, in the hopes she would come back. My friend told her she did not need these things anymore, that she had a new life, and told the woman to keep them for herself, and to look after the land her family had once owned. On our way down, she turned to me and said “You know, her sons are among the ones that killed my family… But what can I do? What use is there for me to hold grudge against her? I have my life now and I’m content.” – And to me, my friend and her words, that’s what Africa represents. When scholars and so-called experts are talking about numbers and about the little development and progress the continent has had and is having, I see my friend and how she overcame it all. Africa is not just a number, whether that number be the rise in GDP or the number of deaths. It’s people like her, individuals, who learn to live day by day and overcome whatever misery and misfortune has happened to them.”

How do you not cry when you hear this story on your last day of class? Well, you try hard not to, because you would just appear foolish… Fortunately, even for the cry-baby that I am, I was able to hold back my tears. But this is one of the ‘last class’ I will always remember, for teaching me, among others, that Political Science, and Social Science in general, is actually about ‘individuals’. We are so often told that numbers and statistics, concrete data in general, are what matters, what is real, that we forget that at the center of every “science” there is the human element. We study and research because we believe what we do will somehow contribute to the improvement of human life, our life. It’s not about finding the right numbers that will help us publish papers in renowned journals… even if, unfortunately, you kinda need to do that as well. It’s about understanding people, individuals, and feeling compassion and empathy, and using them to connect the invisible dots that are not there to separate us, but to bring us together.

It may all sound idealistic and utopian, and ‘un-realistic’, but I don’t know, I often think ‘realism’ is overrated anyways.

How we learn to turn a blind eye on corruption

Corruption2

I’ve been reading about Nigeria in this class “Government in Contemporary Africa” (my favorite class, I must say, for this semester) and the similarities between Nigeria and South Korea, in terms of corruption, are quite striking. I know that many stuck-up Koreans will be offended by having their ‘highly developed’ country, one of the Asian Tigers for god’s sake, compared to a ‘developing’ country in Africa they know nothing about, but it is what it is.

At the core of both societies lies an ailment that has spread so extensively and that has such deep roots in history and society that it has mutated to a social tradition. I don’t know what is the worst part in this social disorder; that its manifestations are never exactly clear cut malign or benign, that its causes are too deeply entrenched in society to isolate them for further examination, that its symptoms are often indistinguishable, or that its cures are yet to be found. I guess even worse is that there is no clear definition of what ‘corruption’ really is. I don’t mean a ‘dictionary definition’, since I’m pretty sure it is a word that is in the dictionary, but its definition when taken into the context of our daily lives. The only clear thing is that it is there, it exists, and it often negatively affects society, politics and economics, and we are still at a loss when it comes to curing it.

corruption

Indeed, where do we set the limits to what IS corruption and what isn’t? Is it corruption to have university professors ‘recommend’ some students whose integrity and sincerity they are aware of, to certain research posts to help them in their careers? Is it corruption to pay ‘a little something’ to police officers who arrest your car on the streets instead of arguing with them for half an hour? Is it corruption when a politician accepts money from his/her ‘supporters’ when every other politician is doing the same thing, and that’s the only way to finance your political agenda? Is it corruption when you put in a good word for a friend or a family member because you believe, in your heart, he/she is the right person for the position, although there was, officially, a public announcement recruiting for the post?

Both in Mauritania and Korea, I have been an unconscious and ‘innocent’ witness and beneficiary of corruption, I must admit. Whenever our phone line wouldn’t work in Nouadhibou, which was quite often, mom would go to the ‘person she knew’ at the post office and ‘fix it’. We would get stopped by police officers in the middle of the street when we weren’t going any faster than the normal speed limit, and instead of haggling for half an hour, we would resort to the quickest and most obvious solution, bribing the police officer, who would smile and let us go as if it were the most normal thing to do. In Korea, graduating from the officially number one university of the country, and speaking a little English and a little French on top of a little Korean, along with knowing the right people, will get you farther ahead than some other people.

And every time I was playing in the wide and invisible pool that is corruption and nepotism, I would have my sturdy reason. After all, it wasn’t as if we were paying millions to get out of an annoying traffic ticket, it was ‘just a little present’. It wasn’t as if I were offered a top position somewhere, or that I didn’t deserve it, I just had the good luck not to go through some bothersome red tape. And above all, it wasn’t as if I were the only one taking the easier path. Everyone else was, and would, if they had the chance to.

corruption2

Corruption1

Sure, these excuses work, or seem to work rather harmlessly on a personal and individual level. But that’s what politicians, corporate, and other horrible corrupt people must think too, right? Why should a small bribe matter when I’ll be using it for the ‘greater good’ and life would be so much easier afterwards? So where do you draw the line between indulging your personal greed and contributing to a social wrong?

I guess what we fail to realize, in our eager desire to get ahead and in our endless search for comfort, is that for every chance we take on innocently, there is someone else out there who missed out on that chance without even realizing he/she had it in the first place. When we ‘give presents’, we force those who don’t have the means to ‘give presents’ to do the same. When we think we are helping out a friend, we deprive someone else with similar abilities of a chance he/she might have eagerly waited for, but couldn’t get it just because he/she didn’t know the ‘right people’. The small step we naively take translates into a thousand ripples into the big realm of corruption and therefore perpetuates inequality. The line between what is corruption and what is not becomes blurred and the blurrier it gets, the harder it is for us to combat corruption, or even to perceive it as something we should fight against.

2009-12-30-Nepotism