The return of bullets and honey

From now on, African Bullets & Honey will be located here.

I think I am going to start blogging again. Yes, definitely. I feel the urge strong upon me, alas.

Bullets & Honey Closed…

Just got back to Addis with a bag of 2007 resolutions, one which is to temporarily close down African Bullets & Honey for a few months. Yes, I am running a stake through the heart of this monster until I can find more time to dedicate to it.

If you feel like taking over it for six months, then just write to me at bulletsandhoney at googlemail.com so that we can get something sorted.

If you have never been to Lamu on the Kenyan coast, then pack your bags and head there. I spent a week in this most beautiful of coastal towns alongside writers and editors attending the Kwani Literary Festival. Things were smoked, others drank and a 24-hour dhow trip to Pate Island made. I came back from a week of not even bothering to read a newspaper to find that Ethiopia had chased the Islamic Courts out of Mogadishu and that Saddam Hussein had been executed in a particularly thuggish manner. So much to blog about but alas…

Next on the menu for this son of the soil is my very first visit to Dubai and India next week and then a few days in South Africa. Of course as all this is happening, I will be struggling to finish my thesis. After all the happy procrastination, I now have exactly nine months to get it done and submitted. So some sacrifices have to be made; one of them – happily for me – is the ravenous, inconsiderate and always hungry for more Bullets & Honey.

Thanks for visiting.

Bring Back the American Draft

The question of whether we need a universal military draft will be important as long as this country is placing thousands of young men and women in harm’s way in Iraq. As long as Americans are being shipped off to war, then everyone should be vulnerable, not just those who, because of economic circumstances, are attracted by lucrative enlistment bonuses and educational says Charles Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from New York. You can read more here.

The draft is a logical extension of democracy. If a nation is deciding on whether to wage war or not, one of the questions its citizens should have to ask is whether they are ready to step in harm’s way for the aims that their government is pursuing. The war in Iraq for instance is being fought by young people from the poorest backgrounds, many who signed on just because they did not have other economic options, while almost none of their leaders in the White House and Congress have experienced war or even have children in uniform. In fact a large number actively avoided the Vietnam draft and got off by being connected to the high and mighty.

I have so often railed against the state, especially the Kenyan one, on this blog but there is something about this posture that can sometimes be a bit false, particularly if it is in wartime. Let me stay with the United States for a minute. In the most general terms, both the Left and the Right of that country regard their politics to be in some way opposed to the state even as they fight for the right to possess and direct it. Both sides are after all arguably different strains of classical liberalism with its clarion call of individual rights not only pre-existing the state but taking precedence over it.

From the Left comes the rebellion against The Man who is supposed to support the military or use it to not only dominate and control society – the playground of the (vulnerable) progressive individual with his inalienable rights – but also to embark on a violent imperialism abroad. The Right also fights The Man who it supposes to be a be-suited bureaucrat determined to bring the economy – the playground of the profit-maximizing individual to whom private property is virtue – under his malign control. Both sides regard the state warily and want it cut down to size when it does not serve them. The hunger for power by these two broad groupings is ever present, and is really at the heart of their critiques against the state. If you were a Martian and heard either side rail about the evils of state-power, as I have done so often myself, you would think that the state is run by robots or is a very big animal with a will totally disconnected from the politics of the day.

Yet the government, if democracy exists in America, is created and maintained by the interaction between these camps. The government to put it more simply is the people. If it wages war, so do they. So why should the poorest among them, eighteen year olds from trailer parks who sign on to get a college education and a job, have to be shredded by IUDs while the rest sit back and snipe at each other over the actions of the government from their safe seats?

It does not matter that an individual American did not support the war personally; celebrating his country as a democracy means that he implicitly has to own the actions of the present government. Military service and the draft are an extension of democratic citizenship and not to be understood as an extension of Left or Right politics, or for whom you cast your vote, or the anger or delight you feel as news of the war carries to you.

But in politics as in life nothing is so clear-cut. I suspect that my reasoning opens a Pandora’s Box. If indeed the government is the people in a democracy – take or give some problems here or there – then it might make logical sense for civilians to be violently attacked by forces opposed to that nation’s policies. The more robust and realized a democracy is, the thinner gets the boundaries between citizen, military and government. Thus it would make perfect, if heinous and cruel, sense to attack the citizen of a democratic country because you are opposed to his government’s actions.

Friendly Advice to the African Headed to Liberal Arts College America


Congratulations on your acceptance letter my friend. You must now tap into the deep rivers of American survival craft that I, with the help of the wise ones, have fashioned for the better part of a dozen years. You have struggled mightily to gain that visa, found just the right angle to pitch your proposal for a grant (‘I was a child soldier before I went for a sex-change operation and I shed tears for the environment every night’) and you are very clever and have read many books. But, and indulge me in saying this, you are a babe in nappies when it comes to the Herculean challenges facing the African man in his first year at an American liberal arts campus. The bigger your scholarship, the more prestigious the school, the more you need me. For a one-time fee of beers, which I will collect when I next see you, I will let you in on a few of my many secrets of how to keep the winter darkness at bay and your sanity intact. Here are some basics that you may want to keep in mind:

1. Black Man Rage: This is unavoidable on the whole and should be managed carefully. Every once in a while, you will feel a massive surge of anger at a very reasonable stance or action by a white person. Breathe deeply when you feel it coming on and let rip when it first appears. Allowing it to build will only guarantee its nuclear-like proportions when it eventually explodes; better to let it go at grenade stage. BMR, which is a clinically proven state, is brought on by mercy, understanding and a certain slow nodding motion that has been perfected by the white denizens of liberal arts colleges. I could tell you more grasshopper, but you will learn as you feel. There is only one situation in which you must avoid BMR: when you are inevitably stopped by the cops. You will have generously suppressed it earlier only to see it emerge in the presence of an armed man with little compunction shooting terrorists and angry black men.

2. The Drought: You must forget sex for three-six months after your arrival on campus. You will discover that your language of sex (unless it is monetary) sounds like Martian to the co-eds around you. Being a writer and having dreads might allow you to cut some of the Drought period but make no mistake, there shall be a drought. What this will do is increase BMR and can potentially be demoralizing. There is nothing quite like disrespecting people who then refuse to be seduced by you. It crushes even the strongest egos. Even those that the owner did not know they possessed. The Drought will lead you down several wrong paths. It will make you believe for instance that the slow-nodding liberal girl from a small town in California is about to give you action. Nothing could be further from the truth, she is likely of the opinion that you are a diseased pet placed on campus for her entertainment (and here I stop to collect my breath and swallow a sudden, bitter spike of BMR).

3. Collegiality: this is a biggie. The fact that you are going to a college town means that the faculty sets great store by this word, and that they are supposedly proud and committed to teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. Small towns breed intense jealousies and rivalries that use weapons of exceeding pettiness to win the day. The spoils? You would hardly recognize them but everyone around you will be attuned to nuances that you can barely guess at. My dear, you are a collegial fellow and so this itself might be your saving grace since you will appear to fall straight into line. And a line is what it is. My advice for what it is worth is that you must do occasional writerly huffs and adopt a few eccentricities. Walking barefoot on a snowy day for example will go a long way to excusing your every absence from collegial gatherings.

4. The Smile: the slight movement of the lips that you will confuse with a smile and that will eventually make you wish that you could punch through it. The Smile is a very great danger to the African who is suffering from the Drought and is therefore partial to BMR. You, being collegial, will no doubt initially respond to this movement of the lips with a Sambo type smile that shows a delight that you can hardly explain at the sight of this almost-stranger. When you finally realize that they are not smiling and that it is at best merely a courtesy and at worst a sign of nervousness or fear at your screaming blackness, you will be liable to losing it and going down a particularly bad path. I heard one African scream for a whole afternoon at anyone who moved their lips in said fashion to him.

Let me leave you with just those four items. There will be others should you need or want them. Remember, there is no spoon, it is you that must bend… Peace African, have a good trip. I’ll see you when I come to bail you out.

The courtiers who use isms like machetes and will grind you to dust.

The courtiers who use isms like machetes

In every city, every town and hamlet, there is a small core of men and women who are drawn to the business of proselytizing to their fellows on how best to think or act. They have sought to join courts with no regard to whether they are monarchical, fascist, authoritarian or democratic. What they desire is the pose that is power, to beat their counterparts competition to the throne. I came to these abstract thoughts recently when I was listening to friends of mine praise the efficacy of free markets and the governmental policies needed to maintain this state of affairs. We spoke of informing, educating and cajoling ordinary people to appreciate ‘how markets work’. We raged (with me contributing a lion’s share) at the ignorance and lack of curiosity among people while generously pledging to help find ‘solutions’. Those of an opposite persuasion, among whom I also count not a few friends, speak of the inefficacy of markets and they too seek to inform and empower by educating and advocating for their point of view. The objects of their responsible attentions mill about, ignorant, disempowered, simple minded, blind to real interests according to their saviours. Yet those billions of people know markets intuitively and intimately. They have been buying, selling, exchanging, possessing and being dispossessed every moment of their lives so that their knowledge resides as much in the instinct and unconscious as it does in their diplomas. To them, the market is not the system their self-appointed betters announce they can view from the eagle’s viewpoint. Rather, it is the millions of transactions they conduct: decisions to act driven by past lessons of painful or pleasurable consequences and sometimes by rights and wrongs that are wholly moral.

The courtiers do not allow their ignorance to stand in the way of their fierce competition among themselves to win the right to be the main proselytizer to the people. Ideas are merely weapons in the race to the throne. This is not to say that they are all equally good or bad, or that they are necessarily harmful to the ordinary person. It is to recognise that those who wield them do it more in the fashion of a machete with which they wish to dismember court rivals. It matters not the historical period or the system of government, the court is where the ideas ‘of the (self) anointed’ are deployed. Our broadest and most opposed political categories after all were born when the deputies of the French National Constituent Assembly ranged themselves to the left and right of Louis XVI during that country’s revolution. Absurdity is always present in court: I am told, for instance, that the arrangement of the ‘conservatives’ to the right of Louis or the Speaker and the ‘radicals’ to the left originated from an old custom of a host seating an honoured guests to his right at formal gatherings. Right versus left, fascist versus communist, social democrat versus libertarian, whatever their roots, are mighty war-clubs called isms used by one group of courtiers against another. The rest, meanwhile, sleep, eat, have sex and die, each individual deeply woven into his own material and emotional markets, some which are regulated by some commandment and others in an unregulated flux of pain or pleasure. Each life is a million contradictions, multiple defeats and victories. There is little that is linear in it, even if its owner tries mightily to think it so. Its layers are multiple, their interaction with time not to mention other lives making for such complexity that it is best described as a universe: a whole. Yet the courtiers would have us believe that their idea du jour must be followed by all of us if we are to better understand the system and live better. Their ambition to possess the throne that they believe allows them to make our lives in their image, blinds them to the fact that each of us is a sun in a solar system with billions of planets. Isn’t this self centring how it should be since we only burn for a short while? The reason so many people love pop music or cliché Hollywood films is that we turn the page and eye the film star through the lens of a dynamic and labyrinthine life. So much so that we can even elevate drying, grey paint into great art provided we filter the experience through us. Alas for the courtiers who hold that learned tomes, with their handy advice or diagnosis, are richer in than the inner life of each person. How little their red or green books or manifestos have that is relevant to the totality of my life. Yet observe how much they threaten it with their conceit and determination to replace me as guardian to myself.

To the court’s aspirants, the mass of people remain ignorant though each one is embroiled in an unending transaction of goods, emotion and sensation. Those who would wear the crown disdain the individual life. They only respect those parts of it that can be loaded onto their ism. They are as the knight who would use the sword to introduce new ideas while clearing the path with a scythe of contempt. The victory of the powerful, which initially must be a victory among courtiers, once it leaves the centre to meet its appointed destiny with ordinary people, is nothing less than the denial of their internal human existence. It should come as no surprise that the communists killed as much as the fascists, they were all projects of the powerful striding out of the court and into the hut or the tenement. The solutions of the court are best considered with suspicion by their ostensible beneficiaries. And the time to fear for your individual life is when one group of ism wielders has beaten another for they then turn to you with your ignorant, unscientific and unintellectual life and if left to it will grind it, and probably you, to dust.

Before this happens though, let me turn again to the game at court which is initially one of poses. Power over the mass of people is pretended to exist at all times over all when the house on the hill can scarcely keep up with the goings on in the bush and bed of the peasants’ life. Most courts rarely emerge from their rivalries except to use a public action to consolidate their place in the only contest that matters to them. The ones that manage to win the throne comprehensively, if only for a short time, will be impelled by the momentum from their contest to try and expand the throne to fit into all the public spaces. When that is done, and they have won even that contest, which is no mean feat, they shall clutch at their bloody ism and wield it at the insides of individual lives. They will be for Life and a life, for The Market and not the individual’s varied transactions. The courtier, unable to peer inside the pleb to see how his ism slices and dices, and intent on his own inner voices, shall desire simplification. That is they shall attempt to match their ism with the inner life of most people or at least ensure that it meets no resistance. But people are unable to switch off, to follow the dictates of any ism and so they slip up, and are judged ignorant, unconscious, counter revolutionary or rebellious. Many are killed to ensure the success of this engineering attempt; it is the ultimate simplification. The courtier’s ambitions pursued to their logical extreme require that his life be the only one left on earth. They are driven ultimately by the little voice that never stops promising the sun that it shall become cold and dead soon, no matter how hot it burns now.

The Return of the Prodigal Blogger to His Spurned Mistress

Yes, I have been away. Trying to recover from the sickness, the addiction, that is blogging. On most occasions I sat still for any length of time, my jealous mistress, known to you all as African Bullets & Honey, would sound her plaintive cry: ‘you have not posted today’ she would whine. What was I to do, being weak of will and filled with opinions that my dear loved ones now listen to with sighs of resignation? I had to return, to blog, to bloviate and join the almighty clamour of noise and thought that is blogosphere. Problem is this, I find myself unable to write well academically and otherwise while I am blogging. The feedback loop is so immediate that it becomes more attractive than the other forms of writing which might actually present the tiny hope of paying the bills.

Now where was I when I left off a few weeks ago? Yes, I was in mid-rant about the usual utopianism of the Jeffrey Sachs crew. And I stopped, exhausted at the sheer stupidity of arguing about stupidity. So let me turn to something that I think is far more interesting: Jane Jacob’s studies on the nature and organisation of cities. I am ashamed to say that I first heard of her a couple of months ago; now that I am reading her book – The Death and Life of Great American Cities – I am stunned that I did not come across her sooner. How strange it is to now know what I don’t know after not knowing what I did not know. I grew up in Nairobi and always regarded the steady deterioration in its security to strictly be a matter of lax police work by a corrupt and dictatorial state. While that may be true, Jacob’s studies suggest that there might be more afoot in Nairobbery than poor policing, it could be a matter of the way public and private spaces are apportioned, the lack of mixed use neighbourhoods and the paradoxical impact of the ‘high walls for security’ culture actively reducing the ‘eyes on the street’ which are the key to urban safety. But all this is a post for another day, a flexing of disused blogging muscles…

Why Western Visions of Utopia are Killing Africans

William Easterly writing in Foreign Policy asks: What is utopianism? and goes on to answer that ‘it is promising more than you can deliver. It is seeing an easy and sudden answer to long-standing, complex problems. It is trying to solve everything at once through an administrative apparatus headed by “world leaders.” It places too much faith in altruistic cooperation and underestimates self-seeking behaviour and conflict. It is expecting great things from schemes designed at the top, but doing nothing to solve the bigger problems at the bottom.’ This is the model proposed by the usual idea-challenged and arrogant rock stars alongside their rock star economist partners such as Jeffrey Sachs; all possessed of a feverish utopianism that would have Africans look to them for the solutions to poverty and war. Once again, African Bullets & Honey is home to an anti-Western aid screed. The reason I am so taken with this issue if I may just explain is that I believe fighting the aid industry in its many forms is one of the great moral crusades of our time. Read more of William Easterly’s piece here.