Ryszard Kapuscinski: Bullets&honey says it is a storm in a teacup
April 20, 2005 2 Comments
I could keep silent no longer. This storm over Kapuscinski is occurring in a tea cup, and it is only right that it should be so for the man and his writing occupy no greater a space despite his book being folded into every Peace Corps do-gooder’s back-pack. The reason I say this is that Kapuscinski is only one of a vast Western army mining Africa for its misery like others do its oil and precious stones. He is therefore in the final reckoning a symptom, but one with a turn of phrase, a nerdy hey-look-at-me-courage and an audience of hungry journalists, aid workers and liberals hanging on his every morsel of misrepresentation to make their baby vulture selves feel just a little better.
Kapuscinski actually strikes me as more pathetic than dangerous for the dangers that many Africans face are of far greater magnitude than this man’s seat in an a little panel being held in New York City. I have often attended such panels for the visceral thrill of feeling wonderfully alive while observing unintentionally absurdist dramas. I am willing to bet many shillings that the panel droned, ponderously and self importantly on the IMPORTANCE OF THE WRITER and his place in making sense of evil and violence or laughter and resistance or poverty and music or HIV and film or the Girl-Child and Fela Kuti. It does not matter what they discussed because Kapuscinski and Soyinka or Rushdie, all of them, were performing: entertaining an audience that had paid good money and drank pre-wisdom wine and dressed in black – this after all is Manhattan. They held their chins, chewed on their spectacle stems, drunk some Evian water and generally held forth as they had on a thousand other panels to the very same spectators. Even the gasps of delight and outrage were scripted for everyone on the stage had been carefully selected for this purpose.
Meanwhile in Ituri, a brother was sharpening his machete, hitching up his trousers, cocking his much-used AK-47, getting ready for a bit of sport. This dude has nothing to do with Kapuscinski, and may even one day boil him when he fails to take the last flight out. That for sure would cement his reputation: he was soooo intimate with Africans, knew them inside and out actually, and now even resides inside the belly of one…
It has often struck me sadly that part of the reason that Kapuscinski survives his trips into war zones is that he is white. Were I to postpone my return ticket to ‘civilization’ in a bid to write a last-one-out-of-hell story alongside him, I would almost be guaranteed some steel and pain. Why this is so is puzzling to me, and feels like risky ground to explore. It is only one of the many issues that I think that our thought and energy can be devoted to productively. Kapuscinski, and his place or non-place in panels, is of little consequence. He is on them precisely because what he thinks of Africa dovetails quite well with its place as the hell that assures the west that it is heaven. Of course this does not mean he should not be challenged but one needs an awfully large amount of energy and time to do it with any consistence.
My suggestion: throw this stuff out there so that a few of his eager beaver fans can turn on him and with the time that liberals of all stripes seem to have now that they are consigned to the margins, they will hound him all over the world. I can see the pimply faces peeking above fair-trade T-shirts; accompanied perhaps even by a few earnest dreads huddled on the steps of a PEN event with little signs saying NO LIES KAPUSCINSKI. Perhaps even a radical or two taking up the call of No Justice, No Peace or some such slogan. The result of course would be that Kapuscinski’s speaking engagements would double as would his audience, this time drawn by the delicious prospect of controversy.
We live in a world that promises solutions for every ill. But there are few for Kapuscinski and his nonsense. You can neither speak truth to him or his audience for they are engaged in an act of eating and savoring his racism, without which the fruits of their wealth would be much diminished. Miserable Africa is needed desperately and Kapuscinski is actually an aid worker providing goodness and relief to the parched western soul. I am determined to offer no solutions for there can be no African response to Kapuscinski: the very concept of talking to him as an African I find to be a waste of time. It is a tug and pull over a place and a concept that makes little difference to individual life, notwithstanding the so-called Africa policies and initiatives which are nothing but grand delusions and Trojan horses for western aid liberalism and its little African servants. I want to deal with that brother with the AK, what does he want I would like to know and why does white skin, in my impression, seem to shield you from his machete? Ah, so many questions, such a short time, so much urgency, but not for Kapuscinski.