Surging Autocrats, Wavering Democrats

Arch Puddington
Surging Autocrats, Wavering Democrats
The Atlantic Council

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shakes hands with U.S President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2017. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shakes hands with U.S President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2017. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.

In his brief time in the White House, US President Donald J. Trump has made a point of bestowing praise on the world’s leading autocrats. He repeatedly called Vladimir Putin a “strong leader,” described Xi Jinping as “a very good man,” said Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was doing a “fantastic job,” and lauded Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his triumph in a referendum that greatly expanded his presidential powers.

Arch Puddington
Arch Puddington

Trump’s new friends represent a rogues’ gallery of modern authoritarians. These 21st-century strongmen are responsible for introducing an arsenal of new tactics to use against their domestic opponents, and have gone on the offensive in an effort to subvert and replace the liberal international order.

But modern authoritarian systems are not simply adversaries of free societies. They also represent an alternative model—a nuanced system anchored in regime control of government policy, the political message, the economy, and the organs of repression and a steadfast hostility to free expression, honest government, and pluralism.

Until recently, the spread of modern authoritarianism has largely been greeted with complacency and indifference in the democratic world, and it has become more obvious that democracies are poorly equipped to contend with resurgent repression. Meanwhile, the major autocracies are experimenting with more frightening methods of ensuring domestic political control.

China

China, in particular, seemed to take an Orwellian turn with the planned introduction of a social credit system. This form of digital totalitarianism will allow the state to gather information on Chinese citizens from a variety of sources and use it to maintain scores or rankings based on an individual’s perceived trustworthiness, including on political matters. Chinese officials have claimed that by 2020, the system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

Russia

As for Russia, the Kremlin complemented its covert interference overseas with open and ugly acts of repression at home. In one brief period earlier this year, Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was blocked from competing in the 2018 presidential contest through a trumped-up criminal conviction, dissident journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza nearly died from his second suspected poisoning, and the Russian parliament passed a law to decriminalize domestic violence that results in “minor harm” such as small lacerations and bruising. Proponents of the domestic abuse law hailed it as a win for traditional family values. Navalny, meanwhile, was jailed on June 12 following an anti-corruption rally in Moscow.

At the same time, the Kremlin has also kept up its pressure on Ukraine through support of the rebels in the eastern breakaway regions while intensifying repression in Crimea.

The confluence of authoritarian gains and setbacks for democracy suggest a number of conclusions:

Modern authoritarianism is a permanent and increasingly powerful rival to liberal democracy as the dominant governing system of the 21st century. Variations on the systems that have proved effective in suppressing political dissent and pluralism in Russia and China are less likely to collapse than traditional authoritarian states, given their relative flexibility and pragmatism.
The most serious threat to authoritarian systems lies in economic breakdown. However, Russia, China, and other major autocracies have shown themselves capable of surviving economic setbacks that did not push citizens to the limits of endurance. Only in Venezuela did the leadership attempt to impose a socialist economic system and wage war on the private sector.
Illiberalism in democratic environments is more than a temporary problem that can be fixed through an inevitable rotation of power. In Hungary, the Fidesz government has instituted policies that make it difficult for opposition parties to raise funds or present their political message.

Authoritarian states are likely to intensify efforts to influence the political choices and government polices of democracies. The pressure will vary from country to country, but it will become increasingly difficult to control due to global economic integration, new developments in the delivery of propaganda, and sympathetic leaders and political movements within the democracies.
Authoritarian leaders can count on an increasingly vocal group of admirers in democratic states. The 2016 US presidential election revealed a new constituency, albeit small, that harbors respect for Putin despite his hostility to American interests and his interference in the country’s democratic process.
Modern authoritarians can be expected to double down on their drive to neuter civil society as an incubator of reformist ideas and political initiatives. After the Kremlin effectively defanged the collection of human rights organizations, conservation projects, election monitors, and anticorruption committees in Russia, other autocrats and illiberal leaders began to act in similar fashion.
Authoritarian or illiberal forces are more likely to gain supremacy in countries where the parties that represent liberal democracy do not simply lose elections, but experience a full-blown meltdown. In the end, elections do matter, and real change still requires victory at the polls. This is why robust, self-confident, and uncorrupted opposition parties are the ultimate key to democracy’s survival.

Arch Puddington is a distinguished Scholar for Democracy Studies at Freedom House, and the author of “Breaking Down Democracy: The Strategies, Goals, and Methods of Modern Authoritarians.”

Kenya’s legal colonial paradox

In 2007-08 Kenya experienced bloody post-electoral violence that claimed more than 1,300 lives and displaced 600,000 people. The conflict pit against each others the partisans of political formations, including the Kenya African Union (KANU) led by Uhuru Kenyatta, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of Raila Odinga, etc.

President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the International Criminal Court indicted the winner of the presidential election, Mr. Kenyatta. The charges alleged “crimes against humanity, including murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts.” However, faced with the Kenyan authorities refusal to turn over “evidence vital to the case,” the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, asked the Court to withdraw the case in 2013.  Regardless, Mr. Kenyatta has ever since been resentful about his indictment. As a result, he has spent a great deal of energy, state resources and political pressure to weaken the ICC. First, he ended Kenya’s membership in the court. Then, he lobbied heavily among heads of state and at the African Union’s meetings for a global continental departure from the ICC. It appears though that his efforts were in vain. In an editorial piece, titled “In Africa, Seeking a License to Kill,” Rev. Desmond Tutu rebuked and condemned Mr. Kenyatta’s maneuver.
Low and behold, it turns out that today colonial era laws still deny Kenyan citizens some of their fundamental rights. Such are the facts laid out in Mercy Muendo‘s, article below, titled “Kenyans are still oppressed by archaic colonial laws.”
Upon reading the article, I am more than ever convinced that, instead of waging a loosing anti-ICC crusade —it got even lonelier following The Gambia’s recent return to the court —, Mr. Kenyatta ought to clean up his own yard, first.

Tierno S. Bah


Kenyans are still oppressed by archaic colonial laws

It’s been 54 years since Kenya got her independence and yet there are still a number of archaic, colonial and discriminatory laws on the statute books. From archival research I have done it’s clear that these laws are used to exploit, frustrate and intimidate Kenyans by restricting their right to movement, association and the use of private property.

They also make it difficult for ordinary Kenyans to make a living by imposing steep permit fees on informal businesses.

These laws were inherited from the colonial British government and used to be within the purview of local government municipalities under the Local Government Act. This act was repealed when municipalities were replaced by counties after the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

Currently, these laws are contained in county rules and regulations, criminalizing a good number of activities, including making any kind of noise on the streets, committing acts contrary to public decency, washing, repairing or dismantling any vehicle in non-designated areas (unless in an emergency) and loitering aimlessly at night.

The colonial laws served a central purpose – segregation. Africans and Asians could be prosecuted for doing anything that the white settlers deemed to be a breach of public order, public health or security.

Violating human rights

Many of these archaic laws also restrict citizens’ use of shared or public space. Some of them grant the police powers to arrest offenders without warrant, and to prosecute them under the Penal Code.

Offences like the ones mentioned above are classified as petty crimes that can attract fines and prison terms.

Some have argued that these laws are being abused because they restrict freedom of movement and the right to a fair hearing.

A few of them also hinder the growth of the economy. For example, hawking without a permit is against the law. To get a permit, traders must pay steep fees to various government authorities. This requirement is a deterrent to trade and infringes on the social economic rights of citizens.

Another example is the law that makes it a crime to loiter at night. This law was initially put on the books to deter people from soliciting for sexual favours, or visiting unlicensed establishments. It has however become a means for state agents to harass anyone walking on the streets at night.

Genesis of archaic laws

The laws can be traced back to legal ordinances that were passed by the colonial government between 1923 and 1934.

The 1925 Vagrancy (Amendment) Ordinance restricted movement of Africans after 6pm, especially if they did not have a registered address.

Post-independence, the ordinance became the Vagrancy Act, which was repealed in 1997. The Vagrancy Act inspired the Public Order Act, which restricts movement of Africans during the day, but only in the special circumstances that are outlined in the Public Security (Control of Movement) Regulations.

This legislation is similar to the Sundown Town rules under the Jim Crow discrimination law in the United States. A California-posted sign in the 1930s said it all: “Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Set On YOU In Hawthorne.” — T.S. Bah

The Witchcraft Ordinance of 1925, which formed the basis for the Witchcraft Act, outlawed any practices that were deemed uncivilised by colonial standards. The provisions of the Act are ambiguous and a clear definition of witchcraft is not given. This has made it easy for authorities to prosecute a wide range of cultural practices under the banner of witchcraft.

Rationale behind punitive laws

The idea behind most of the targeted legislation enacted by the colonialists was to separate whites from people of other races, including Asians. For example, in 1929 settlers in the white suburbs of Muthaiga in Nairobi raised an objection when the Governor announced plans to merge their suburban township with greater Nairobi.

That would have meant that they would have had to mingle with locals from Eastleigh and other native townships, which were mostly black. As a caveat to joining the greater Nairobi Township, the Muthaiga Township committee developed standard rules and regulations to govern small townships.

These rules and regulations were applied to other administrative townships such as Mombasa and Eldoret.

White townships would only join larger municipalities if the Muthaiga rules applied across the board.

The Muthaiga rules allowed white townships to control and police public space, which was a clever way to restrict the presence and movement of Asians and Africans in the suburbs.

Variations of these rules remain on the books to date. The current Nairobi county rules and regulations require residents to pay different rates to the county administration depending on their location.

In addition, the county rules demand that dog owners must be licensed, a requirement that limits the number of city dwellers who can own dogs. This rule can be read as discriminatory because the vast majority of lower-income earners now find themselves unable to keep a dog in the city. Indeed, discrimination was the basis of the colonial legal framework.

Can oppressive laws be legal?

Strictly speaking, these discriminatory rules and regulations were unlawful because they were not grounded in statutory or common law. Indeed, they were quasi-criminal and would have been unacceptable in Great Britain.

Ironically, because such rules and regulations didn’t exist in Great Britain, criminal charges could not be brought against white settlers for enforcing them.

To curtail freedom of movement and enjoyment of public space by non-whites the settlers created categories of persons known as “vagrants”, “vagabonds”, “barbarians”, “savages” and “Asians”.

These were the persons targeted by the loitering, noisemaking, defilement of public space, defacing of property, and anti-hawking laws. The penalty for these offences was imprisonment.

Anyone found loitering, anyone who was homeless or found in the wrong abode, making noise on the wrong streets, sleeping in public or hawking superstitious material or paraphernalia would be detained after trial.

Police had the powers to arrest and detain offenders in a concentration camp, detention or rehabilitation center, or prison without a warrant.

This is the same legal framework that was inherited by the independence government and the very same one that has been passed down to the county governments.

The Public Order Act allows police powers to arrest without warrant anyone found in a public gathering, meeting or procession which is likely to breach the peace or cause public disorder. This is the current position under sections 5 and 8 of the Act.

This law, which was used by the colonial government to deter or disband uprisings or rebellions, has been regularly abused in independent Kenya.

At the end of the day Kenyans must ask themselves why successive governments have allowed the oppression of citizens to continue by allowing colonial laws to remain on the books.


The Conversation

Slavery: Carson, Trump, and the Misuse of American History

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary, Housing and Urban Development
Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary, Housing and Urban Development

I am re-posting here Jelani Cobb’s article (The New Yorker) written around the blunder of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, whereby he compared African slaves to immigrants. This is the same person who, out of the blue, claimed in 2013 that: “Obamacare is really … the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” The +20 million people who got insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) would beg to differ.
Anyhow, Dr. Carson will, most likely, not become president of the United States. The world will thus be probably a better place. Because despite his  acknowledged skills as a neurosurgeon, Carson is a mediocre student of history. Should he want to remedy that self-inflicted intellectual handicap, he would have to rethink slavery. And first of all, he must admit that the Slave Trade is “America’s Original Sin.” Consequently, it was not some migratory itch or urge that uprooted millions of Africans and dumped them on the shores of the “New World.” On the contrary, they were taken out and across the Atlantic Ocean in chains. Upon landing, and as Edward E. Baptist put it best, they toiled, from dawn to dusk and in sweat, tears and blood, for the “Making of American Capitalism.”

Tierno S. Bah


In referring to slaves as “immigrants,” Ben Carson followed a long-standing American tradition of eliding the ugliness that is part of the country’s history.

Earlier this week, Ben Carson, the somnolent surgeon dispatched to oversee the Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of the Trump Administration, created a stir when he referred to enslaved black people—stolen, trafficked, and sold into that status—as “immigrants” and spoke of their dreams for their children and grandchildren. In the ensuing hail of criticism, Carson doubled down, saying that it was possible for someone to be an involuntary immigrant. Carson’s defenses centered upon strict adherence to the definition of the word “immigrant” as a person who leaves one country to take up residence in another. This is roughly akin to arguing that it is technically possible to refer to a kidnapping victim as a “house guest,” presuming the latter term refers to a temporary visitor to one’s home. Carson had already displayed a propensity for gaffes during his maladroit Presidential candidacy, and it might be easy to dismiss his latest one as the least concerning element of having a neurosurgeon with no relevant experience in charge of housing policy were it not a stand-in for a broader set of concerns about the Trump Administration.

A week earlier, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, had described historically black colleges and universities as pioneers in school choice—a view that can only co-exist with reality if we airbrush segregation into a kind of level playing field in which ex-slaves opted to attend all-black institutions rather than being driven to them as a result of efforts to preserve the supposed sanctity of white ones. The Trump Administration is not alone in proffering this rosy view of American racial history. Last week, in a story about changes being made at Thomas Jefferson‘s estate, Monticello, the Washington Post referred to Sally Hemings, the enslaved black woman who bore several of Jefferson’s children, as his “mistress”—a term that implies far more autonomy and consent than is possible when a woman is a man’s legal property. Last fall, the textbook publisher McGraw-Hill faced criticism for a section of a history book that stated, “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” The word “worker” typically carries the connotation of remuneration rather than lifelong forced labor and chattel slavery.

One part of the issue here is the eliding of the ugliness of the slave past in this country. This phenomenon is neither novel nor particularly surprising. The unwillingness to confront this narrative is tied not simply to the miasma of race but to something more subtle and, in the current atmosphere, more potentially treacherous: the reluctance to countenance anything that runs contrary to the habitual optimism and self-anointed sense of the exceptionalism of American life. It is this state-sanctioned sunniness from which the view of the present as a middle ground between an admirable past and a halcyon future springs. But the only way to sustain that sort of optimism is by not looking too closely at the past. And thus the past can serve only as an imperfect guide to the troubles of the present.

In his 1948 essay “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” Robert Warshow wrote about the mid-century efforts to pressure studios to stop producing their profitable gangster movies. The concerns focussed partly upon the violence of the films but more directly upon the fear that these films offered a fundamentally pessimistic view of life and were therefore un-American. There is a neat through-line from those critics to Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” idealism to the shopworn rhetoric of nearly every aspirant to even local public office that the nation’s “best days are ahead of us.” We are largely adherents of the state religion of optimism—and not of a particularly mature version of it, either. This was part of the reason Donald Trump’s sermons of doom were seen as so discordant throughout last year’s campaign. He offered followers a diet of catastrophe, all of it looming immediately if not already under way. He told an entire nation, in the most transparently demagogic of his statements, that he was the only one who could save it from imminent peril. And he was nonetheless elected President of the United States.

Strangely enough, many of us opted to respond to Trump’s weapons-grade pessimism in the most optimistic way possible, conjuring best-case scenarios in which he would simply be a modern version of Richard Nixon, or perhaps of Andrew Jackson. But he is neither of these. Last summer, as his rallies tipped toward violence and the rhetoric seemed increasingly jarring, it was common to hear alarmed commentators speak of us all being in “uncharted waters.” This was naïve, and, often enough, self-serving. For many of us, particularly those who reckon with the history of race, the true fear was not that we were on some unmapped terrain but that we were passing landmarks that were disconcertingly familiar. In response to the increasingly authoritarian tones of the executive branch, we plumbed the history of Europe in the twentieth century for clues and turned to the writings of Czeslaw Milosz and George Orwell. We might well have turned to the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and James Baldwin for the more direct, domestic version of this question but looked abroad, at least in part, as a result of our tacit consensus that tragedy is a foreign locale. It has been selectively forgotten that traits of authoritarianism neatly overlap with traits of racism visible in the recent American past.

The habitual tendency to excise the most tragic elements of history creates a void in our collective understanding of what has happened in the past and, therefore, our understanding of the potential for tragedy in the present. In 1935, when Sinclair Lewis wrote “It Can’t Happen Here,” it already was happening here, and had been since the end of Reconstruction. In 1942, the N.A.A.C.P. declared a “Double V” campaign—an attempt to defeat Fascism abroad and its domestic corollary of American racism.

Similarly, it was common in the days immediately following September 11th to hear it referred to as the nation’s first large-scale experience with terrorism—or at least the worst since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, staged by Timothy McVeigh. But the nation’s first anti-terrorism law was the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, designed to stall the attempts to terrorize emancipated slaves out of political participation. McVeigh’s bombing, which claimed the lives of a hundred and sixty-eight people, was not the worst act of terrorism in the United States at that point—it was not even the worst act of terrorism in the history of Oklahoma. Seventy-four years earlier, in what became known as the Tulsa Race Riot, the city’s black population was attacked and aerially bombed; at least three hundred people were killed. Such myopia thrives in the present and confounds the reasoning of the director of the FBI, James Comey, who refused to declare Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black congregants in a South Carolina church, done in hopes of sparking a race war, as an act of terrorism—a designation he did not withhold from Omar Mateen’s murderous actions in the Pulse night club, in Orlando.

The American capacity for tragedy is much broader and far more robust than Americans—most of us, anyway—recognize. Our sense of ourselves as exceptional, of our country as a place where we habitually avert the worst-case scenario, is therefore a profound liability in times like the present. The result is a failure to recognize the parameters of human behavior and, consequently, the signs of danger as they become apparent to others who are not crippled by such optimism. A belief that we are exempt from the true horrors of human behavior and the accompanying false sense of security have led to nearly risible responses to Trumpism.

It has become a cliché of each February to present the argument that “black history is American history,” yet that shopworn ideal has new relevance. A society with a fuller sense of history and its own capacity for tragedy would have spotted Trump’s zero-sum hustle from many miles in the distance. Without it, though, it’s easy to mistake the overblown tribulations he sold his followers for candor, not a con. The sense of history as a chart of increasing bounties enabled tremendous progress but has left Americans—most of us, anyway—uniquely unsuited to look at ourselves as we truly are and at history for what it is. Our failure to reckon with this past and the centrality of race within it has led us to broadly mistake the clichés of history for novelties of current events.

Jelani Cobb
The New Yorker

Conversation with a White Nationalist

Richard Spencer, White nationalist
Richard Spencer, White nationalist

Richard Spencer is among the tens of millions of Americans who are excited about Donald Trump’s coming presidency. The 38-year-old white nationalist heads a small organization, called the National Policy Institute, and believes people of different skin color are inherently different, hate each other and should live separately.

Al Letson
Al Letson

Reveal’s host Al Letson talked to Spencer the day after the election. You can hear the whole conversation above and read the transcript below. While the months of campaigning were often devoid of real exchanges of ideas, this is the opposite: a frank and deep conversation, revealing starkly different views of the same world.
For instance, Spencer tells Al his long-term dream is an “ethnostate” – a territory set aside for people of European descent.
“So that we would always have a safe space,” Spencer says. “We would always have a homeland for us. Very similar to … how Jews conceive of Israel.”
Living all mixed together, he suggests, has not worked out that well.
Spencer also says he believes that Trump opens the door for white identity politics to become an overt and welcome part of mainstream conversation in America for the first time.
Al, who is African American, asks how Spencer is different from members of the Ku Klux Klan or other racists who “hung people up from trees.”
His answer is worth hearing.
Spencer is well-educated and well-spoken, from a mainstream conservative family. Reveal profiles him in our upcoming episode and podcast, in partnership with Mother Jones magazine.

Al Letson: So Richard, it’s the day after Donald Trump won the election. I think so many people were surprised. Were you surprised by it?

Richard Spencer: I was surprised. And I, I didn’t believe it. And I’m not sure I believe it even right now. It’s all a little surreal. I mean I thought that he was, I thought he had a much better chance than people were giving him credit for. I thought it was a much better chance than say the 5 percent chance that the Huffington Post or The New York Times gave him. Or even like the 25 percent chance that Nate Silver was giving him. I thought, I thought he was going to bring in new voters. And I also thought that there were a lot of shy Trump voters out there. But even I couldn’t believe it when it happened. I was with a friend. We were actually at the Trump Hotel on election night and that was a lot of fun and we were just walking around town. We were both kind of like pinch us. I’m not sure it’s real. So it’s it’s been quite a day.

Al Letson: So now your candidate has won. What do you see the future of America being? Because, you know, I feel like Trump winning means that kind of all bets are off. Like everything that people may have thought was going to happen the day after and from here on after, can be shifted at this one moment in time. So I’m curious, like for you, what does the future look like? Or what do you hope the future looks like?

Richard Spencer: Yeah I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t think this was just an unusual election with an unusual candidate. I think this really was a paradigmatic shift. The new paradigm that Donald Trump brought into the world was identity politics and in particular white identity politics. And this, this question which he asked directly: “Are we a nation or are we not?”
And defining his political message not on conservatism. Because, I mean, Trump is not a conservative in the way that self-described ideological conservatives understand that term. He does not – his starting point is not freedom and liberty, his starting point is not tax cuts. His starting point is not an aggressive democracy promotion foreign policy in the Middle East. His starting point is nationalism. Are we a nation? Are we a people or are we not? And again, this is something that his critics said oh this won’t play, this is too toxic, it’s too awful.

Al Letson: To to you when he says that.

Richard Spencer: And this will never work. But it worked.

Al Letson: To you and he says are we a nation or not, does nation mean specifically white people? Because when I hear are we a nation or not. I hear him say all Americans. That’s that’s what I’m listening for. But but does that is that coded language and it says something different to you?

Richard Spencer: Well obviously there are people of other races who are United States citizens. They’re, they’re here. But what really defines the American nation. Is the American nation just defined as a kind of economic platform for the world? Is the American nation just purely defined by the constitution and some legalisms? No. The American nation is defined by the fact that it is derived from Europe. That European people settled this continent, that European people built the political structures, that European people influenced its architecture, its economy, its art, its way of life and society and so on. So America, I agree of course there are many different people here. But which people truly define what America is? Well obviously that could change.

Al Letson: Let me, let me let let me respond to that let me respond to it though. Because I would say that every culture that came to America helped shape America as it is now. It was all the people that were here that created what America is.

Richard Spencer: Well, that’s certainly true to a certain extent. But I would say that white Americans, European-Americans, in particular Anglo-Saxon Americans, Anglo-Saxon Protestants were this essential historic people. That they defined it in a way that no other people did. So, of course African-Americans have influenced American culture and American identity. Of course Asians have and so on. But it really was Anglo-Saxons who truly defined it. Who made America what it is. Who were indispensable. There are other people, you know, other races and all sorts of other different countries. But there has to be that founding people, that indispensable people that really makes the country what it is.

Al Letson: I disagree with you completely but I’m going to go past that because I want to get back more to your idea about what the future’s going to be. Because if you see America as a place that was predominately created by white people, and for white people, which – I’m not sure if I disagree with the for white people – but I would definitely say if you see that is what America has been, is that where you see it going?

Richard Spencer: To be honest. That’s that’s not where I have seen it going. Over the course of my lifetime. I’ve experienced something that is quite the opposite of this notion of an America of and for white people. I have experienced a great transformation of the American nation and American culture and society. I’ve certainly experienced through immigration a move towards multiculturalism and multiracialism. But there is, you could say, a moral component to it as well. Where we live in a world of a white guilt complex. Where if a non-white actor is hired for this new movie role or more non-white applicants apply to this college or there’s a new non-white CEO of this major corporation, that’s thought of as inherently a good thing morally speaking. We need more of that. We need less white people in positions of power. We need more non-white people in positions of power. So this has been my experience I’m 38 years old. I was born in 1978. This has been my experience of America. It has not been – the arrow has not been pointing towards a country of and for white people.

Al Letson: I guess the point that I would make there is that like, if you look at the numbers, a majority of the power in this country is controlled by white people.

Richard Spencer: Yes.

Al Letson: If you look at Hollywood just, if you just look at Hollywood right now, like majority of the films that are being made star white people. If you look in colleges and look at the admission rates like you see majority of that is white people. And I think that what you’re talking about is that, you know, the world or the country is trying to find a balance where everybody gets a seat at the table. Where it’s not just so white people get all of this stuff and everybody else gets left into the corner. You know, I hear this argument a lot where I hear people talk about things like there’s BET Black Entertainment Channel and people wonder like why isn’t there a White Entertainment Channel. But every time I cut on the TV and look at just any TV station, majority of what I see is white. So therefore like there already is a White Entertainment Channel. We don’t need a White Caucus in Congress because most of Congress is white.

Richard Spencer: I think there is a certain degree of truth to what you’re saying. If we were living in, say, 1965 but we’re not living in that world anymore. Yes, white people are generally better off than many other people. But again, the question really is, which way is the arrow pointing? All of these institutions are not acting on behalf of white people. They are acting on behalf of non-white people. And you can talk about this being fair, or what have you. But I will be brutally honest with you. Fairness has never been really a great value in my mind. I like greatness and winning and dominance and beauty. Those are values. Not really fairness.

Al Letson: So Donald Trump is your perfect candidate.

Richard Spencer: Yes. Look, again, I don’t think Donald Trump is me. I don’t think Donald Trump is alt-right. I don’t think Donald Trump is an identitarian as I would use that term. I think Donald Trump is a kind of first step towards this. He’s the first time that we’ve seen a genuinely if, you could say incomplete, politician who’s fighting for European identity politics in North America. This is the first time we’ve seen it.

Al Letson: How do you maintain it though? Because the numbers are going against you. Pretty soon white people are going to be the minority in America like in the next, what 40 years?

Richard Spencer: Yes. By 2042 white, if nothing else changes, white people will become a minority. Also the majority of births right now are actually to non-white people. So there is a dramatic transformation taking place. Now, what is going to happen in that? Are we going to all, in 2042 are we going to all decide oh well you know race doesn’t mean anything anymore. Identity is meaningless. We’re just all atoms here in the United States and we all go shopping in the same store. We just have different skin colors. No. I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. I think whites are going to be, they’re going to have a amplification of their consciousness of being white. That this whole process we’re experiencing is not going to bring about racelessness. It’s going to bring about a new consciousness amongst white people that actually wasn’t there before.

Al Letson: So, what happens with that consciousness?

Richard Spencer: Well it’s not necessarily, look, it might not be about maintaining an all white society. I don’t think I can snap my fingers and we could go back to 1965 before the major immigration act under LBJ that really dramatically changed the country. I don’t think that. But I think the only way forward is through identity politics. And the only way forward for my people, for us to survive and thrive, is by having a sense of identity. And I don’t know what the future is going to hold, but we need that.

Al Letson: So earlier when you were talking to our producer and reporter you talked about that you wanted a white ethnostate. Is that the end goal, the white ethnostate? Because I guess like I don’t understand how you get to a white ethnostate if already you’re beginning to lose the numbers.

Richard Spencer: Right. The, the ideal of a white ethnostate, and it is an ideal, is something that I think we should think about in the sense of what could come after America. It’s kind of like a grand goal. It’s very similar to in the 19th century when the left had ideals of communism. It was you know, politics is the art of the possible. But philosophy is kind of the art of the impossible, so to speak. So that they were imagining a new society. And at some point they brought it into being. A similar thing could be said of Jews in the 19th century who were imagining Zionism. There’s a Jewish state in the Middle East. That that was impossible. That did not exist.

Al Letson: Richard, respectfully man, like so are you saying that like America has to end in order for your ethnostate to happen? Because if you are trying to have a white ethnostate, what you’re basically saying is that you have to forcibly remove people. Because I got to tell you like I’m African-American and I’m not leaving.

Richard Spencer: I don’t.. this shouldn’t be taken as a cop-out but the fact is I don’t know. Because I don’t know what history has in store for us. I don’t know how history is going to unfold. What I do know is that for my people to survive we have to have a sense of who we are. We have to have, we have to have identity. And we don’t always have it. We don’t have an ethnic ethnic racial consciousness. Now in terms of an ethnostate, I don’t know how that will be possible. I mean, for leftists in the 19th century, communism seemed just downright impossible. Over and over again. But history presents opportunities and it becomes possible. So, the ethnostate’s not going to happen next week. It’s most likely not going to happen through Donald Trump. What the ethnostate is, is an ideal. It’s a thing, it’s a way of thinking about we want a new type of society that would actually be a homeland for all white people. All European people. So that would include Slavs, that would include Germans, that would include Latins, it who would include people of all ethnicities that we would always have a safe space. We would always have a homeland for us. Very similar to, very similar to how Jews conceive of Israel.

Al Letson: Sure. Are you going to do that in Europe?

Richard Spencer: Again, I’m not trying to, this is not a cop-out. I don’t know. All I’m saying is that you have to dream before you can build it. And we have to have this idea in our mind. I don’t know where it will happen because I don’t know how history is going to unfold. All of this stuff might very well not happen in my lifetime. But the thing is, I know that in my lifetime I’m going to have opportunities to fight for the survival of my people and my civilization.

Al Letson: I’ve done some some reading on you. Just a little bit of research and watched a couple of videos. And you’re a handsome guy man, and you’re well put together. You’re really smart. And I’m I’m actually enjoying, like having this conversation with you. But, what’s the difference between you and the racists that like, you know, hung people up from trees? What’s the difference between you and the Klansmen that burned crosses on peoples lawns? What’s the difference between you and you know, the people who don’t look at me, an African-American man, as a full human being? Like what’s the difference. Because you know you have this great sheen about you. Like and I don’t necessarily agree with your views but this is America and I totally support you being able to have those views. But you know, I mean to me it just sounds like the same old thing that I’ve heard before in a different packaging.

Richard Spencer: Well, I don’t think it is the same old thing we’ve heard before. I think you just said that it’s not. That you’re actually intrigued by it. I don’t, you know, look I’m not going to comment about you know some hypothetical Klansman or or whomever.

Al Letson: There’s no such thing as a hypothetical Klansman because the people that I’m talking about exist. They have gone out, they have burned crosses on people’s lawns. They have lynched people. They’ve done horrible horrible things. They are the first American terrorists. So it’s not hypothetical. I’m not comparing you to this thing that I’m just dreaming up. I’m comparing you to history. And I’m not intrigued by your ideas. I’m saying to you that like your ideas sound just like them, except you wear a nice suit and you can speak to me directly. And I respect that about you. I respect that you and I can have this conversation, that you’re not wearing a hood, but it’s the same thing. And that’s so that’s what I’m asking. Like what is the difference?

Richard Spencer: I’m sure there is some commonality between these movements of the past and what I’m talking about. But you really have to judge me on my own terms. Like I am not those people and I don’t fully know, I don’t know in the specifics of what you’re referring to. Like I am who I am. And you, if you’re going to treat me with good faith, you have to listen to what I’m saying and listen to my ideas. I think someone who would go down the path of becoming a Klansman or something in 2016, I think that is, those people are very different than I am. It’s, it’s a it’s a non-starter. I think we need an idea. We need a movement that really resonates with where we are right now.

Al Letson: Richard. How are you different from them? Because you are talking about a white ethnostate. You’re saying that white people don’t have space in this country. I heard the interview with our producers. And one of the things that you said is that you were going to be able to talk to people of color about going along with your white ethnostate. And so – you’ve got a person of color right now. Talk to me about your white ethnostate.

Richard Spencer: Let’s not talk about the ethnostate. Let’s talk about identity. Who are you? If I say that, don’t think about it just answer. Who are you?

Al Letson: Sure. Sure. I’m an African-American male that has four kids. One of those kids is a white kid. I adopted him. He has no black blood in his body at all. He is the apple of my eye. He’s my 16-year-old boy and I love him to death. I have a child that’s biracial and I have two black kids. So. So yeah. I’m a black man who has love in his heart for everybody on this planet, including you. So that’s who I am. Who are you?

Richard Spencer: I’m Richard Spencer. I’m a European person. I, I’m part of this great story of Europe and our history. I was born in Massachusetts, I grew up in Texas. I like mountain biking. You know, what I’m getting at is that, when I ask you that, even, even despite the fact that you have, you know, I guess a white wife perhaps or a white child. You still answered that I’m an African-American male. And that has meaning for you. And I respect that. If you ask your average white person in America, “Who are you?” they are going to probably never get around to talking about their European identity or their heritage. They’re afraid of it. They know it. Everyone’s kind of racially unconscious. They know it in their bones but they’re not conscious. They don’t want to really talk about it and explore it and think about how that inflects their life. So that’s what I want to bring. I respect your identity. I respect the fact that you think about it seriously, that you take it seriously. I want white people to take it seriously. In terms of what I was talking about of like we’re going to do this together. I think that I want to see an identitarian future. I want to see people, different peoples, different civilizations having a sense of themselves and finding out ways to live together.

Al Letson: But a white ethnostate is not people living together. What you’re saying to me now is different from what you said before because what you said before would basically mean that I would live in one state and my son, my white son, would have to live in another state. You know, for me when we talk about like my blackness and me saying that I’m an African-American man. It’s true. I am proud of my blackness but I’m not advocating for ethnostate. So I want to respect you as a white man. I see that. I understand that history. I want you to respect me as a black man and see that and understand that history and then figure how we move forward together. That’s the difference between me and you is that I want to move forward together. And you feel like those fissures that are between us are too big to pass over.

Richard Spencer: I do respect your identity and I respect you as a black man. But the question I would have to ask is: Do you really think that we’re all better together? Do you think that modern America, contemporary America there’s greater levels of trust and togetherness than we had decades ago, or that other, you know, more ethnically homogenous nations have? I don’t think so. And I have to be honest. I think we actually kind of hate each other. And that is a very tragic thing. And that’s a very sad thing. And we don’t trust each other. And we can talk about how one day we’re going to all be holding hands, or we can actually be realistic about this and we can actually look at the power of human nature and the power of race.

Al Letson: If that is your worldview then I’m sorry. Because, like I said, like I I have white family members that I love. So no, I don’t think that we hate each other. I think that there is not a nation in this world that doesn’t have problems. But I would say that like when you just said like if we could go back x amount of years, would we be better? No, because I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. We wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in right now. And I’m, I’m sorry but like the mixing pot is already created. You’re talking about going into a stew that’s already been made. Spilling it out and picking out each individual ingredient and thinking that you’re going to have a whole thing that works again. And you won’t.

Richard Spencer: I think you’re using your own personal experience, and I think you’re being genuine in talking about it, but you’re projecting that onto everyone else’s experience. Look what just happened. I mean is this an example of how class trumps race? Is this an example of us getting together? No it wasn’t. Look, I can get along with non-white people. I do. There are certainly exceptions that prove the rule but the rule is the most important thing. And that is that when you have two really dramatically different cultures, two dramatically different races all being forced together it’s a recipe for turmoil. And distrust and hatred. And I don’t know of an historical example that contradicts that.

Al Letson: Listen, you and I could go back and forth nonstop. And if you ever want to have a conversation, like just to hear the other side or anything you feel free to call me up because I will talk to you all day. Because I think honestly, the only way forward is through. And the way through is that like people like you and I like actually have conversations. As much as I think that you’re dead wrong and as much as you think that I’m dead wrong we’re actually, the fact that we’re having the conversation is probably the best benefit that could come out of both sides of it. So, Richard, I appreciate your time. Thanks for talking to us. And yeah like I said man, seriously if you want to have another conversation, I don’t know how many black people you get to talk to in your life. But if you’d like to have a conversation at any time feel free to give me a call. And if you’d like to talk to my son I would love to put you on the phone with him to hear his experience of America.

Richard Spencer: Interesting. Let’s do it.

Al Letson: We’ll let you know if that conversation happens. Richard Spencer is a white nationalist. He heads the small think tank the National Policy Institute. Want to know how Spencer came to hold these views, after growing up in mainstream Republican Texas? Catch his backstory on our next regular podcast.  You’ll get that along with other post-election stories to provide reflection well beyond the vote count.

Thanks for listening…

Al Letson
Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

L’Afrique reste le continent de la pauvreté

Béchir ben Yahmed
Béchir ben Yahmed

Je re-publie ici l’article “L’Afrique reste le continent de la pauvreté” par Béchir Ben Yahmed. De la part de ce pionnier et vénérable journaliste, c’est un constat réaliste et amer. C’est surtout un témoignage de valeur qui résume quelque soixante-dix ans d’indépendance africaine — la Tunisie cessa d’être un protectorat français et obtint sa souveraineté en 1956.
Après son départ du gouvernement de Habib Bourguiba, premier président de la Tunise, Béchir ben Yahmed fonda le magazine Afrique Action en 1960. L’année suivante, la publication devint Jeune Afrique. Je me souviens vaguement avoir été témoin de la présence et d’une conversation de Béchir ben Yahmed à Conakry, au milieu des années 1960.  C’était au dancing La Paillotte, dont le décor et l’ambiance était rehaussée en l’occurrence par François Luambo Makiadi (Franco) et le Tout-Puissant OK Jazz.

Pour mémoire, La Paillote devint le bercail de feu maître Kélétigui Traoré et ses Tambourinis.  Un autre orchestre congolais — le nom n’échappe — avait élu domicile et jouait régulièrement au dancing Jardin de Guinée. Après le départ des Congolais, le night-club  accueillit  en permanence feu maître Balla Onivogui et ses Balladins. C’était quatre ans environs avant la création du Bembeya Jazz de Beyla, avec le soutien d’Emile Condé, gouverneur de la région.

Béchir ben Yahmed avait donc rompu avec le despote de sa Tunisie natale. De même, il devint tout aussi indésirable dans la Guinée, qui pâlissait graduellement la dictature d’Ahmed Sékou Touré. La brouille était prévisible et inévitable entre celui-ci et un Béchir attaché aux principes de la démocratie, dont celui de la liberté de la presse.

Siradiou Diallo (1936-2004)
Siradiou Diallo (1936-2004)

Pour autant, Béchir ben Yahmed ne renonça, ni ne délaissa la Guinée à son sort dans les mains sanguinaires de Sékou Touré. Au contraire, il embaucha feu Siradiou Diallo —mon propre neveu— dans sa rédaction. Mieux,  il récompensa le talent du jeune Guinéen en l’intégrant progressivement à la direction de l’hebdomadaire, et cela jusque dans des fonctions de décision au sommet. Ben Yahmed, Siradiou Diallo, et toute l’équipe de Jeune Afrique, s’attelèrent méthodiquement à l’accomplissment de leur délicate mission. Guidé par une politique éditoriale lucide, ils livrèrent à l’Afrique et au monde des reportages clés. Et des révélations implacables sur les dictatures du continent. Jeune Afrique devint une plateforme nouvelle, solide et fiable de diffusion des nouvelles du continent : bonnes ou mauvaises, encourageantes ou déprimantes.… Autant les interdictions frappaient la revue, autant les exemplaires —et les articles — de ses numéros étaient fièvreusement attendus et, souvent, secrètement partagés.
En particulier, les Guinéens doivent une fière chandelle à Jeune Afrique. En effet, durant deux décennies, la revue publia des informations rares, vitales, au moment où le terrorisme d’Etat et la peur paralysaient le pays. Imaginaires ou/et rééls, les complots furent exposés de manière précise,  professionnelle.
Autant de raisons pour lire et méditer sur le papier de Béchir ben Yahmed. C’est un rappel bref et alarmant du rayonnement continu des “soleils des indépendances”.

Lire de la part de Jeune Afrique, le journal et la maison d’édition : (a) Plus dure est la chute … Guinée : dix-neuf ans après le “non” du 28 septembre 1958, le mythe et les réalités  (b)Guinée, la carpe et le lapin (c)
Sékou Touré. Ce qu’il fut. Ce qu’il a fait. Ce qu’il faut défaire (d) Le diplomate et le tyran (e) Sékou tel que je l’ai connu (f) Diallo Telli. Le destin tragique d’un grand Africain

Merci, Béchir !

Tierno S. Bah


La démocratie, la vraie, est-elle en train de progresser en Afrique ? La pauvreté y est-elle en régression ? À ces deux questions, les plus importantes qu’on puisse et doive se poser, la réponse est, hélas, négative.

  1. Malgré certaines apparences, la démocratie africaine, au lieu de progresser, s’est mise à régresser.
  2. La pauvreté ? Elle a reculé partout dans le monde et de façon spectaculaire en Asie, mais guère en Afrique.

Une trop grande partie de la population de la majorité des cinquante-quatre pays du continent est encore engluée dans un état de grande pauvreté.

C’est là le résultat de la mauvaise gouvernance et de l’absence de toute industrialisation digne de ce nom, contrastant avec la richesse du sous-sol d’un continent où l’électricité fait encore défaut et qui donne l’impression de n’être pas sorti du XIXe siècle.

La situation de la démocratie

Tout le monde sait, et en premier lieu ceux qui y aspirent, que le pouvoir ne s’acquiert plus par des coups d’État. L’on y accède durablement, et l’on ne s’y maintient désormais que par les urnes.

Mais celles-ci sont capricieuses, et leur verdict est aléatoire. Que faire quand on veut le pouvoir à tout prix ?

On triche, et, dès lors que tous les candidats ou presque s’adonnent à cet exercice, ce qui est le cas, l’emporte celui qui triche le plus et le mieux.

Il le fait trois fois de suite : lors de l’établissement des listes, le jour du vote et au moment du dépouillement.

Ceux qui détiennent le pouvoir et veulent s’y maintenir ont appris, en outre, à contrôler la commission électorale (censée être indépendante) et à faire en sorte que ce juge suprême qu’est le Conseil constitutionnel arbitre en leur faveur.

L’alternance est ainsi quasi impossible.

La Constitution dont vous avez hérité ou que vous avez vous-même fait élaborer limite le nombre de vos mandats ? Qu’à cela ne tienne ! Vous cherchez et trouvez le moyen de la modifier.

Vos concurrents crient à la fraude ? Leurs contestations sont trop bruyantes ? Vous avez les moyens, dont la prison ou même pire, de les faire taire.

Et si eux-mêmes, leurs avocats et leurs partisans protestent, vous répondez sans ciller : « Nous sommes dans un État de droit, la justice est indépendante… »

Et vous jouez la montre, attendez que le temps fasse son œuvre. On se lassera de protester, et « le fait accompli » viendra confirmer votre victoire : au bout de quelques semaines, vous voilà « un président démocratiquement élu ».

Ces pratiques ont pour principale victime la démocratie africaine elle-même : est-elle « morte-née » ?

Oui, tant que l’opinion publique africaine acceptera cette situation, que l’Union africaine (UA) et ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler « la communauté internationale » ne seront pas plus sévères à l’endroit de ces présidents faussement élus et qui ne sont, en réalité, que des dictateurs qui se défendent de l’être.

Il suffirait de refuser de reconnaître « les assassins de la démocratie » et de s’abstenir de traiter avec eux. N’est-ce pas de cette manière qu’on a combattu les coups d’État au point de leur enlever tout intérêt et de les faire ainsi disparaître ?

Un signe qui ne trompe pas : la pauvreté

Début octobre, la Banque mondiale en a donné les derniers chiffres disponibles : dans le monde, 767 millions d’hommes, de femmes et d’enfants, soit un peu plus de 10 % des êtres humains, ne disposent (en parité de pouvoir d’achat) que de 1,90 dollar par jour au maximum, juste de quoi ne pas mourir de faim.

Ce chiffre et ce pourcentage ont beaucoup baissé en vingt ans (entre 1993 et 2013), car ces malheureux étaient près de 2 milliards en 1993, soit le tiers de l’humanité.

En Inde et en Chine, respectivement plus de 200 millions et plus de 300 millions de personnes sont sorties de la pauvreté au cours de la dernière décennie.

Quid de l’Afrique ? La même Banque mondiale donne les pourcentages disponibles par pays. On note tout d’abord l’absence de chiffres pour une quinzaine d’entre eux : on ne sait pas ! Dans une dizaine d’autres, plus de la moitié de la population vit dans la pauvreté.

Dans d’autres États enfin, qui forment la moitié du continent et sont les mieux lotis, la proportion de pauvres se situe entre 20 % et 40 %.

Nous sommes, comme vous le voyez, le continent de la pauvreté : elle est plus répandue chez nous que partout ailleurs…

Si l’on s’aventure à comparer avec les pays riches ou assez riches, membres de l’OCDE, on doit tout d’abord changer de critère : dans ces trente-cinq pays sont décomptés comme pauvres ceux dont le revenu est inférieur à la moyenne nationale.

Le pourcentage des personnes dites pauvres est en même temps indicatif de l’inégalité qui règne dans les pays considérés.

Béchir Ben Yahmed
fondateur de Jeune Afrique (17 octobre 1960 à Tunis)
Président-directeur général du groupe Jeune Afrique.