Friday, December 10, 2010

Julian Assange in Nigeria

Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans
Fela Kuti, International Thief Thief

As I write, Julian Assange is in a secure wing of Wandsworth prison, secluded from his fellow inmates in a part of the complex usually reserved for sex offenders.  The irony is almost too much to bear.  It’s hard to see the extradition pressure from Sweden as anything other than a conduit for a pressure that originated elsewhere – perhaps a valve inside Joe Lieberman’s head.  Everything else was merely a concoction in between.  Or are we really to believe that Assange, the meticulous planner and anticipator, would throw a career’s caution to the wind when confronted by Scandinavian totty?

There’s a powerful political theory at work behind Wikileaks, which Assange has alluded to in various comments in the past few days.  The theory goes something like this: freedom of speech no longer has political traction in the west, in contrast to other parts of the world.  It doesn’t really matter what is said in America in the press or elsewhere; it has little consequence for a system that is buried from view, circulating via diplomatic cables and a (mostly) secure corporate communications infrastructure.  In contrast, freedom of speech remains a matter of life and death for hundreds of millions of other people, where the communications infrastructure is less sophisticated and inconvenient truths are harder to hide. 

The trick is to realise that the two versions of freedom of speech are intimately related: what cannot be said in one part of the world is often conditioned by the interests at work in another.  The raison d’etre of Wikileaks is to bring this occluded connection to light.  In the process, we are made to realise that the freedoms of speech we thought we had were scratches on the surface of a set of material interests that carry on regardless.  On one level we act surprised – that so much manipulation is at work in the world between powers via their corporate proxies – and another level we realise we knew it all before. What the Wikileaks diplomatic cables reveal is in fact an old secret: the military-industrial complex determining that a nation state’s interests count for everything. The beast must be fed and the beast must be protected. In the process, the cables remind us that no matter what we might know, we are apparently powerless to stop it.  The odd thing is: in the act of us realising this, everything now changes. A weakening and a dilution of power is now at work.  For the first time, we see formations of resistance that emerge from within the information system itself: Anonymous DDOS as a cancer upon the corporation’s circulation system.

From a Nigerian perspective, we find little we didn’t already know, save for details that add some fiscal spice to the talk in the beer parlour: the actual amounts a smuggler-thug kingpin charges for allowing uninterrupted passage of a container from Niger into Katsina; the price of a former (now disgraced) Attorney General’s ink.  The bigger picture remains unchanged and is known to all.  The history of post-independence Nigeria is intimately connected with Shell.  Nigeria and Shell are twins someone forgot to separate at birth.  No one is at all shocked to hear of the former head of Sub-Saharan operations Ann Pickard’s boast that the company has infiltrated government to the core.  There’s little point Shell trying to deny it at this stage. It might be better to go legit and create a Ministry of Shell Affairs. All other multinationals are at least one tier below Shell in terms of their complicity with official misappropriation: Julius Berger, Pfizer, Halliburton, Siemens and so on.  Again, the diplomatic cables do little more than reassure and refine our cynicism.  Quite how Berger has escaped the diplo-gossip relatively unblemished so far is a minor miracle.  Perhaps in the next few days of releases another national laptop recall will be circulated.

The lesson for those looking in at Wikileaks from a Nigeria perspective is clear.  Those that dismiss Nigeria as the home of 419 and the submarine vent of originary corruption with a tired flick of the hand fail to see the enduring handiwork of the transational corporation, attacking a fragile state like an opportunistic virus against a weakened immune system.  The dismissive ones have yet to listen to Fela and allow his words to make sense in their heads.  As it was in the 1960s and 1970s, so it is today, it seems.

But there is a crucial difference: the genie is out of the bottle.  It no longer matters what happens to Assange.  Westerners can no longer believe in the seductive entitlement of the First Amendment (now that we know how easily compromised it can be), at the very time when information has never been so disaggregated and available.  The way the tension between the two (the limits of the freedom of speech vs the unlimited power of disaggregated information) plays out will have consequences for the global order we cannot yet anticipate.  No matter what newly produced official secrets may stay secret from now on, the West’s handmaiden in corruption, the transnational corporation, will itself be under surveillance.  Anonymous is here to stay.


Marcos Gogolin 4:21 am  

Marry Christmas Julian Assange.

We all have our little secrets but no one likes to be confronted, when it happens, we like to believe "it was not like that", we question "who does that person think to be for judging me?" or "the truth is relative anyway...". When confronted we most often feel, think or react somehow. Our reaction can be proportional to the subject or gratitude of confrontation, proportional to the threat to our self steam (or to our position in society) and many of us just simply over react. Weather someone confronts us or a combination of circumstances lead us to a bitter conclusion about ourselves, we have three options:

to fight;
to fly;
to 'wear it'.

It takes a lot more energy to fight or to fly but we 'just do it'. Occasionally we are humbled enough to wear it, to feel calm and actually regain the required energy to handle the issue. That is easily said but on the heat of the moment we are put to the test, we get caught in a withdrawn or fighting mode, retaliation follows, the escalation can be rampant and we will use our feelings, thoughts and actions in the most regrettable way. As we move along in life, we will constantly confront ourselves one way or another as our link to reality is tuned in and out. In extreme case scenarios, when "our ego" is shattered and if it is considered more precious than life itself, we might consider suicide. If our ego is more important than the lives of the provocatores, the perpetrators of the confrontation, then it will help us to consider homicide.

I was lucky enough to come across that type of 'philosophy of life' and to learn it for my own benefit. Wikileaks can offer a similar benefit as a social tool for confrontation that works like a social consciousness. As such, it is not only the powerful, all mighty Americans (and friends) who have been confronted by its latest developments, we have been confronted just as well! Lets turn our 'auto-flight' mode off and wake up to it! Isn't it ironic that in the Christmas month, when we should rise our spirits to thoughts such us "love our enemies"; "offer the other face" or more importantly "the truth will free you" ; "I am the way, the truth, the life...". In this very month we are confronted with one of the greatest moments (also a unique opportunity) as our society is divided by the truth! Many of us (weather we call ourselves Christians or not) are actively or passively allowing a brave activist like Julian Assange to bear the burden on his own!

To write this notes, to write to my friends and to donate a few dollars to the Wikileaks cause (it was not a straight forward Internet transaction) is the least I can do. Although I do not imagine Julian Assange having the charisma, the sanctity or selfless spirit of Jesus Christ I do compare his struggle or even possible end of life to that of Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke the truth, confronted the powerful, questioned unethical behaviour, challenged the rich and defended the victimised. Thus maybe a lot of people then did not know what they were doing when allowing the powerful to condemned him... "forgive them father, as they do not know what they do", but 2000 year on we should know better.

If Julian goes down or even die, I believe he should come back up in another way but where does that leave the rest of us?

Marcos Gogolin

authorsoundsbetterthanwriter 6:25 pm  

Hello Jeremy. I saw this article by Chimamanda in the FT and thought you'd be interested.

Mildred 2:26 am  

Solid analysis but I must disagree about the sexual charges. Assange might well have thrown caution to the wind. Passion, lust and desire are powerful, irrational forces that might undo anyone. And no one is perfectly controlled.

Anonymous,  4:55 pm  

Why are we making Julian to be more than he really is...this things arent new

Anonymous,  7:05 pm  

Your view on the issue is quite right and factual.The recent cable leaks by Julian Assange has made it known to all nations and individuals that we all have to stand up against western bureaucracies. as it has no promising future for developing coutries..British and American troop are in Afghanistan not for peace keeping otherwise they wouldn't'nt have killed thousands of innocent civillians..Transparency in the western government has no other meaning but to harness their own economy by diplomatically extracting other nations wealth..It is so pathetic that Nigeria's government is controlled by morons who are too greedy to understand what these western countries are up to.

Bennie Efemena Ben-Iriri,  4:34 pm  

Lets forget the the brouhaha the sexual allegation against Assange has created. Its not hard to figure out the mastermind behind it. Assange has exposed enough information to cast doubts on the double standard by the supposed world police. as far as i am concerned. This allegation whether credible or not has been for the benefit of the United States, blown out of proportion.

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