Obama, a birth certificate and the bigots

IF YOU have been the following international news you might have come across a curious news item (no, not the Bin laden story). The 44th President of the United States of America was compelled to display his birth certificate live on television

And the grand occasion? Well, for a couple of years now, and reaching its crescendo in recent months, right-wingers have peddled conspiracy theories that Barack Obama was not born in the USA. In short, the current president is supposed to be an impostor – a proxy brought in by certain forces out to destroy America. And who are the enemies of the greatest nation on earth. The Muslims? The terrorists? The socialists? Yes, say the fringe-cum-influential lunatics.

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 The bigoted vitriol being spewed by people like Donald J. Trump and Sarah Palin (part of what’s called the “birthers”) rivals the hate speech that our own apparatchiks puke on a daily basis on the airwaves and in acres of print. At one point Obama, in frustration, uttered: “I can’t walk around with a birth certificate stuck on my forehead.” But he should have known better – even as he puts out all evidence that confirms he was born in Hawaii the birthers will continue to question the authenticity of the documents.

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As a New York Times editorial pointed out, “the birther question was never really about citizenship; it was simply a proxy for those who never accepted the president’s legitimacy, for a toxic mix of reasons involving ideology, deep political anger and, most insidious of all, race”. So just when we thought America had made a major breakthrough on the matter of race we discover, to our horror, that the birthers would, if they could, turn their president into the “Strange Fruit” of Billie Holiday’s song:

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 Southern trees bear strange fruit,

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Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

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Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

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Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

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Holiday’s 1930s song is on the heinous practice of lynching African Americans that used to be perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan and other racists in the southern states.

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But Africa has been down this chauvinistic road before – countless times. Up north we had Frederick Chiluba, that platform shoe-wearing clown, accusing Kenneth Kaunda of being a Malawian who had ruled Zambia illegitimately for 27 years. The Clown Prince amended the constitution to ensure Kaunda would not run again.

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Further up Ivory Coast is another sad case. Alassane Ouattara’s father came from Burkina Faso and, and though he was born in Cote d’Ivoire, Ouattara was twice denied the right to run for presidency with the law changed to specifically bar him from running.

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But it doesn’t end with blocking political ambition. One of the saddest stories out of Cote d’Ivoire is of how a whole family was killed in Abidjan and their businesses and properties taken because they were from the northern part of the country and were pro-Ouattara. Only a ten-year old boy survived simply because he had epileptic fits and the soldiers feared it was an evil spirit. The family driver put the boy on a ship headed for Eastern Europe. He is now in North America – damaged psychologically. We all know the Rwanda story and the role of radio and the militias. It seems any minority group in Africa can end up being labelled “cockroaches” – a recipe for massacre.

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Down here we should be careful at the new lexicon that is coming in about Nigerians and Chinese in Zimbabwe. It seems the “foreigner” is fine until s/he threatens your sadza-making business. At that point the person is no longer a human being but vermin. You see to be able to hate you have to reduce the Other to the level of an animal. When you do that you can beat your partner, lynch people who don’t look like you, burn the houses of people with “strange” names or dispossess people without “totems”. At the heart of all this is competition for power, resources and business.

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A well-known trade unionist said as much at a workshop last February as he ranted against foreign nationals.  I suppose the activist does not have family and relatives across the Limpopo and thus will not cry foul when his own are called “makwerekwere”.  

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You see bigotry refuses to look beyond gender, race, ethnicity, orientation and language. In 1999 at a high-level conference titled “Women in Power”, a certain male leader of a certain country gave a keynote address and added, “We should be careful that we don’t end up with more women than men in parliament”. He had struck a rock. He was booed with shouts of “So what?” and he sobered up quickly from his rambling. The danger of such boors is that they make a serious dent at idealism.

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How do I assure my ambitious seventeen-year old daughter that being a woman (aside from other identities – inherited and socialised) does not in any way constitute a barrier to what she aspires to be?

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But I am still grappling to understand the psychology of hate. The irrationality of it sickens me. Whether it is France and the Roman (so-called Gypsy people), Italy and the black Africans, Switzerland and Islam, the Khartoum government and the Southerners or the combustible mix of ethnicity and power (Ndebele-Shona, Kikuyu-Luo, Xhosa-Zulu etc).

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The last word belongs to my dog, Bordeaux Muromondishe, “Boss, can you imagine a dog-world in which the German Shepherd hated the Chihuahua who hated the Rhodesian Ridgeback who hated the daschhund who hated the collie who hated whatever just because they didn’t like their bark?”

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Umm Bordeaux, not sure about the analogy but it’s not kenge to hate. Peace!

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Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet. ChrisKabwato

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 Editor: Levi Kabwato (levi@zimbabweinpictures.com)

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Newsroom: editor@zimbabweinpictures.com, +27-73-212 0629

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