R.I.P. Gill Scott Heron

Gil Scott Heron died in the week of African Liberation Day 2011. He was a genius and encountered some of the problems that usually come with genius. Along with others like the The Last Prophets, bother Gil provided the musical counterpart to the fiery politics of the 1960s and 1970s. And his music helped to inspire me to become politically-aware and to get involved in political activity. Here are some of my personal favourite songs of his.

Racism in Football? Ba!


West Ham were relegated from the Premier League after they did ‘an Arsenal’, and let a 2-0 half-time lead at Wigan turn into a 2-3 defeat.

I’m sad that West Ham have gone down. See, I’ve always had a lot of time for the Hammers. I grew up round the corner in Hackney and Leyton, and for years I worked 5 minutes from the Boleyn Ground. As an Arsenal fan, I love the fact that West Ham seem to really hate Tottenham. The hatred is so deep, that a few years back, they apparently allowed Arsenal agents to poison the Spurs players’ food so that they lost their last match of season against the Hammers, thus allowing Arsenal to qualify for the Champions League.

Today’s papers are full of stories of a how the brawl at West Ham’s recent end of season ball started after striker Demba Ba was racially abused by a West Ham fan. This incident reminded me of a part of West Ham’s history that I’m less excited about. Ask any African or Asian person over 30 years old, and they will tell you that during the seventies and eighties, West Ham was a club with some of the most racist supporters in England. Africans who played against West Ham in those days testify that playing at the Boleyn Ground was a horrible experience. They would face boos and monkey chants and would have bananas thrown at them by the locals.

Down the years, many Europeans have tried to play down this kind of abuse. They say that John Barnes being subjected to monkey chants is the same as Gordon Strachan being called a Ginger b*****d. These people think that racism is purely about appearance, and that Africans are only abused because we look different to Europeans. So we should get the ‘chip off our shoulders’ (what does this actually mean?) and stop moaning. But the abuse is just the tip of iceberg.

Behind every monkey chant is centuries of political, economic and military domination of Africans by Europe. The fans who made the monkey chants are signalling that they are proud that “Britons never, never, never” had been slaves – unlike Africans. The Liverpool supporter who threw a banana at the African footballer in his own team affirmed his belief that he is a member of a proud ‘superior race’ while the African is a part of an accursed race of slaves. When that European player called an African opponent a ‘mono’ (Spanish, for ‘monkey’) he sent a message to him that his people are nothing but poverty-stricken wretches and they should be thankful that Europeans came and ‘civilised’ them with slavery and colonialism.

Racist abuse is a reflection of the ideas of racial superiority. European Capitalists deliberately constructed these ideas to justify their brutal and relentless exploitation of Africa and Africans through Slavery and Colonialism. They fed these ideas to the European working class to foster racial solidarity and to help prevent revolutionary ideas. Having accepted these racist ideas, the European working classes happily enjoyed the fruits of Africa’s trampling (the cheap consumer goods, exotic food imports and high wages at the expense of African workers and labourers) and they also willingly fought in Imperialist wars to ‘pacify’ the Africans. And these ideas continue to be useful to this day, because Europe has never stopped dominating and exploiting Africa. This era is what is known as neo-colonialism. So, far-right groups like the BNP and more recently the EDL have grown in popularity, while mainstream parties take every opportunity to attack the terrifying threats of (non-European) immigration and multicuralism.

I’m really glad that racism in British football is far less of a problem than it was back in the day. Clubs like West Ham have successfully stamped out overt racist abuse in the grounds. They have also made great efforts to build links with their local communities which have high numbers of Africans and Asians.

But the fact that the incident at the West Ham party surfaced on the same day that two men go to trail for the murder of Stephen Lawrence shows that as long as racism has a function in society, it will persist in football.

Where is Uganda’s Lumumba?


In Uganda rampant inflation – coming shortly after a disputed election win for President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni – has given birth to the Walk to Work campaign. The Government response has been to shrug its shoulders and mete out obscene violence. This in turn has led to what looks like a surge in support for the main opposition figure, Kizza Besigye.

The government’s treatment of Besigye has placed him firmly in the media spotlight. And he is wasting no time in cultivating the idea that he is a popular leader who is fighting a despotic an increasingly unpopular and despotic Africa regime. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

It remains to be seen whether Besigye is someone who can effectively unite Ugandans against Museveni. The fact is, his Forum for Democratic Change performed quite poorly in the Presidential election, though they reject these elections as fraudulent.

All of this has revived a question that has been bugging me for a while now… Where are the heroes of Ugandan independence?

My brothers and sisters from places like Ghana, Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Azania (South Africa) can all point to leaders who organised the people in successful anti-colonial resistance. These are the likes of ‘Osagyefo’ Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Steve Biko, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, and Amilcar Cabral. These individuals are held in great regard because of the visionary leadership they provided to the independence movements. Of course, these individuals did not create themselves. Instead, they emerged from within political movements that prepared them to take positions of leadership. Without such movements, none of these men would have emerged.

But when I think of my home country Uganda, I can’t think of any such great leaders or any such movements. We seem to lack that history of popular anti-colonial resistance that so many other countries have. I might be wrong about this – in which case, I will greatly receive correction and enlightenment.

Maybe with the current crisis in our country, the time is ripe for such a movement to develop – and for “Uganda’s Lumumba” to emerge?

The Rise and Fall of So Solid: A Cautionary Tale


So Solid Nostalgia!

I’m feeling all nostalgic for the So Solid crew (pictured right). I’m thinking about the kind of things they might have gone on to achieve if their rise had not been stopped so soon.

So Solid emerged at the tail end of UK Garage’s commercial boom in the late 1990s. Up until then, MCs were not really recording artists. Instead, they hyped-up crowds in the clubs and rhymed over tracks on pirate radio stations. But So Solid and others ushered in a new era in which MCs took centre stage as artists in their own right.

On one hand, this was a positive development. MCs are able to express themselves a lot more comprehensively than singers and the new tracks provided a window into the things that black youth in London had on their minds. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly – these MCs mainly wanted to talk about sex, money and guns. The attitude they put forward was unashamedly materialistic, nihilistic and individualistic.

When they were up
This new era was led by the So Solid Crew along with others like Oxide and Neutrino, More Fire Crew and the Heartless Cru. So Solid led the way and in 2001, they achieved a series of chart hits from their debut album They Don’t Know. Their pinnacle was the massive chart-topper 21 Seconds with its superb video.

When they were down
But the bigger their profile became the more trouble they seemed to get into. The mainstream media fell over themselves to tell us about the latest brawl or stabbing or shooting that had occurred at a So Solid gig. At the same time, violence began to occur more and more frequently at UK Garage nights. Clubs began to disassociate themselves from Garage due to the violence.

Within months, So Solid went from chart topping superstars to public enemy number one, with even Government ministers lining up to blame them for the ills of urban Britain. So Solid were driven away from the limelight by the negative publicity and their sophomore album released in 2003 disappeared without much interest.

An alternative ending
Had So Solid been able to flourish and progress, they would have learned valuable lessons about the industry. They could then have passed these on to a younger generation. In fact, they had youngsters in their camp called So Solid Kids who were not actual members but were learning the ropes.

So Solid would inevitably have branched out into other commercial areas in order to generate new revenue streams. Imagine a large group of young black men and women becoming well-versed in business and entreprenuership and passing on that know-how to youngsters!

As they matured, So Solid might also have got more involved with their local community in constructive ways. For example, they could have supported anti-gun and knife crime initiatives and mentoring schemes.

Conscious lyrics
Over time, the group may have also grown up a bit lyrically and their music could have started to offer a more conscious worldview. In fact, last year So Solid’s Swiss released a track called Bad Boys (video below) which dealt with police harassment. Imagine if they had put out this kind of material during their heyday?

Lessons to learn
What can we do to prevent other youngsters falling into the So Solid trap? This question was answered by So Solid songstress Lisa Maffia in an interview last year:

“We had no guidance, no mentor,” says Maffia, “No one told us, ‘It’s probably not a good idea to stay on the estate where you grew up with all that money and success.’”

Our job as a community is to learn from the experience of So Solid and build relationships with up and coming artists to ensure that they are better prepared to handle fame and fortune if it comes their way.

Most African & Asian Children in the UK Living in Poverty


Once upon a time there was this horrible thing called “racism”. Racism used to affect dark-skinned people in the UK. It prevented us from being able to get jobs. We were called awful names and faced physical violence in the streets from racist people – including the police.

But thankfully, everything’s fine now because our society has grown up. Nowadays, there is no racism. We can prove this by looking at how many black people there are in the media. There are lots of black footballers and sports stars and we now have a record number of ‘ethnic’ MPs in the Commons. Racism is over.

So goes the myth.

The reality is that racism is alive and well. Perhaps some of the more blatant forms of abuse might not be as common as they were in the 70s and 80s. But people still face massive levels of inequality because of their cultural background.

A recent study shows that more than half of African (more commonly known as “African-Caribbean” or “black”) children in Britain live in poverty (i.e. 60 per cent of the average national household income). Even more disturbing, the study estimates a whopping 73 per cent of Pakistani and Bengali children are living in poverty. 73 per cent!

Statistics like these continue to underline the point that this system simply does not work for Africans and Asians. In fact, it doesn’t even work for most Europeans either. We need a radically different system – based on the social needs of the majority people rather than the thirst for profit of a few.

Angolan Dies on Plane During Forced Deportation

Guardian

A man who died while being deported to Angola was being heavily restrained by security guards and had complained of breathing problems before he collapsed, a witness has told Guardian.

Jimmy Mubenga lost consciousness while the British Airways flight was on the runway at Heathrow on Tuesday night. The commercial flight was cancelled and Mubenga was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Kevin Wallis, a passenger on the aircraft, said he had been sitting across the aisle from Mubenga and watched as three security guards restrained him with what he believed to be excessive force.

Wallis said he heard Mubenga complain: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” for at least 10 minutes before he lost consciousness, and later observed that handcuffs had been used in the restraint.

Last night, police confirmed that they were investigating the death of Mubenga, who they said was “deported from the UK under escort by three civilian security guards”.

“Inquiries continue to establish the full circumstances of the incident,” a Scotland Yard spokesman said. “There have been no arrests.”

The guards worked for G4S, a private security firm contracted to oversee Home Office deportations. In a statement, G4S said a man “became unwell” on a flight while being deported.

The wording was echoed by the Home Office, which said Mubenga had “taken ill” – but Wallis, who described having the clearest view of any passenger on the aircraft, said that account was “absolute rubbish”.

The 58-year-old, an oil engineer from Redcar, said he became aware a man was in distress as soon as he boarded BA flight 77, bound for Luanda, at around 8pm.

Speaking on the phone from Soyo, in the northern province of Angola, he described how he heard Mubenga “moaning and groaning” as though in pain.

His leather jacket had been taken off, and some passengers had been moved away.

He said two security guards were sitting either side of Mubenga and “holding him down”.

A third guard was occasionally holding him down from the passenger seat immediately in front, he said. All three were sitting on the final row at the rear of the BA flight.

He said Mubenga had been trying to get up, saying: “I don’t want to go”, adding: “They must have been forcing him down, because I didn’t realise until afterwards that he was handcuffed.

“They must have had him doubled over and they were both on either side putting pressure on him, so when he got a bit stronger or tried to lift up, the guy on the other seat [in front] leant over and pushed him down again.”

Wallis described receiving a call from his wife, who could hear the incident over the phone. “She said: ‘That sounds really nasty – what’s going on?’ I said: ‘They’re going to [deport] a bloke, and he didn’t want to go.'”

He added: “One of [the security guards] – I think it was the one in front – said: ‘He’ll be alright once we get him in the air – he just doesn’t want to go … once we get him up in the air he’ll be alright.”

Mubenga’s wife, Makenda Kambana, said she spoke to him as he sat on the plane waiting to be deported.

“He was so sad, he was saying: ‘I don’t know what I am going to do, I don’t know what I am going to do,'” she said. “Then he said: “OK, just hang up and I will call you back” … but he never did call back … I never heard from him again.”

She said she had spoken to him earlier in the day, when he appeared to be calm and was getting on with his guards.

“He was friendly with them. They did not put him in handcuffs because he was good to them. I heard them asking him: ‘How are the children’,” she said.

Mubenga and his wife lived in Ilford, Essex, with their five children, aged between 16 years and seven months.

Kambana said the family had been devastated by his death. “I feel so sad. I don’t know, I was thinking if I was there to help him,” she said. “The children just can’t stop crying, and I don’t know what to say to them.”

Mubenga’s complaints about his breathing difficulties continued for “10 minutes at least” before he lost consciousness, Wallis said.

Asked whether Mubenga he been consistently complaining about his breathing during those ten minutes, he replied: “Yes, he was saying: ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.'”

He said Mubenga was not making other complaints but he could hear him heaving as though being sick, adding: “I think they were scared of him … they put so much pressure on him because he looked a big lad. The three security guards were big blokes as well.”

When it was clear Mubenga had lost consciousness, he was laid down in the aisle. The captain was alerted and police and paramedics called.

Wallis said he believed the security guards notified the crew. “He just went quiet for a good while, then they checked his pulse and they must have thought it was very, very low,” he said. “They [the guards] brought him up then, and I saw his head and everything. They checked his neck pulse and his wrist pulse. That is when they looked a bit worried.”

He added: “The paramedics tried to resuscitate him on the floor beside me. They chased the security guards and said: ‘Get out of the way, we don’t want to know you’. The security guards were trying to have a look to see what was going on, but the paramedic – a young lady, she was – said: ‘Will you get out of the way?'”

Several passengers, including Wallis, were interviewed by detectives before they were allowed to board the flight 24 hours later. It was then Wallis discovered that Mubenga had died.

He added: “Knowing that he was being handcuffed, I would say they put far too much [pressure on Mubenga]. He must have been in horrible pain and pressure.”

A second witness has also come forward to tell the Guardian he heard Mubenga say repeatedly: “They’re going to kill me.” He estimated that the three security guards were on top of Mubenga for 45 minutes.

The 29-year-old engineer, who asked to be referred to only as Ben, was sitting around 10 rows in front of Mubenga on the same flight.

He also became aware a passenger was in distress after he boarded the plane and saw a commotion. He said he saw one of three security guards remove a handcuff from his pocket to restrain Mubenga’s arms.

“There were three guys trying to hold him,” he said. “This led to them pushing everyone further up the plane, so we were all pushed into first class.”

When allowed back into the main cabin, he said the three guards were leaning on top of Mubenga.

“You could hear the guy screaming at the back of the plane. He was saying: ‘They are going to kill me.’ That’s what he repeatedly said,” he added.

“He was saying that right from when I got on the plane. He just kept repeating that all the way through.”

The engineer added that it was not clear whether Mubenga was referring to the guards or his political adversaries in Angola, and most of the passengers were not concerned.

“He was muffled because they were holding him down,” he added. “No one was that alarmed by what he was saying. He just then went quiet. We were about take off and there was an announcement saying that someone on the plane was very ill.”

He said Mubenga “had been slumped down on his seat because they were pressing down on him. You only ever saw the top of his head a little bit or you heard him muffle[d] because they were on top of him.”

In 2006, Mubenga was convicted of actual bodily harm after a brawl in a nightclub and given a two-year sentence.