I am not inventing this: I really did not know; I had no clue! Until today, which is the 6th of November 2012… 1PM… Nairobi time… I had no clue that they were once again sticking those pieces of paper into boxes… far away – in the USA.
And how did I find out? I went to my favorite bookstore in East Africa and my friend, an Indian bookseller, simply pointed at a book written by Quintus Tullius Cicero. It was written some 2,100 years ago, and was called, “How to Win an Election”.
“Practice your Latin”, my Indian friend smiled. He somehow suspected that quite some time ago I had to suffer through a classic education. Traces of it have probably never left my face.
“It sucks”, I admitted. “My Latin sucks.”
“This…,” he pointed his finger at some magazine cover, with the grinning face of Obama, and of some other guy that I did not recognize, “This surely sucks much more than your Latin… And don’t you worry; the book is a by-lingual edition, so you can cheat.”
And so I did. I purchased Cicero and some Kenyan novel, and descended to a Congolese/French café, ordered a powerful espresso macchiato and a bottle of sparkling water. Then I began to read the English language side:
“Promise everything to everybody. Except in the most extreme cases, candidates should say whatever the particular crowd of the day wants to hear. Tell traditionalists you have consistently supported conservative values. Tell progressives you have always been on their side. After the election you can explain to everyone that you would love to help them, but unfortunately circumstances beyond your control have intervened…”
Elections? What elections?
Then I began to recall something. My ex wife, a concert pianist and a professor of music at Columbia University, wrote to me just yesterday, from New York City. She was urgently trying to get some dirt on Obama for her friend, who appeared to be in the terminal stages of dark depression over the entire US political establishment.
Without giving it much thought, I happily complied and forwarded to her the manuscript of my book on Indonesia, called “Archipelago of Fear” (published by Pluto, UK, 2012). The book contains some toxic flashes, illuminating Obama’s childhood in a fascist post-1965 Indonesia, as well as some revivals and vignettes on his Kenyan father – one of the luminous US-trained economists, who busily helped the West destroy everything slightly resembling ‘socialist’ or ‘social’ in Kenya, and the entire East Africa).
Then I wrote to my ex-wife, now a good friend; summarizing my moderate opinion on the President of the United States: “Regarding Obama: I do not have any particularly negative feelings towards him. He is a criminal, a war criminal, like all of those guys, ever since Washington and Lincoln. He is a crook, but not an exceptional one… just a regular bandit. But in reality just a sad clown serving Western market fundamentalism and imperialism.”
But why was everyone so obsessed with the elections and with our dear leader Obama right now?
* * *
I confess that at some point in time, I stopped watching television and reading the newspapers. Writing and filming in all corners of the world, I live most of my life in hotels and on board passenger airplanes; therefore periodically some glimpse of the headlines catches me. Most of the time, I avert my eyes from the screens or the front-pages, as I am not really that interested in who had been eaten by a shark, somewhere in Florida, who slept with whom and in what position, and who has been running for the US Senate or the White House.
I find it irrelevant. I ignore pop music, all Hollywood and Bollywood films, as well as most of the mass media. I also ignore all the coverage by all the news outlets, of what is occurring in the US and the European political scene, as I find this information totally unrelated to the suffering of the world which I am witnessing everywhere.
Western politicians are just like some pre-selected puppet theatre dolls, and whoever of them is occupying the throne, influences nothing of what is happening in the world, and even in their own countries – in the US and Europe. To borrow an expression of one great British playwright – Hanif Kureishi: “These guys are not even in charge of the farts coming from their rectums.”
Since the beginning of this year, I decided to go back to the basics, to do it all – or at least in the field of investigative journalism – in an old-fashioned way; the way it was done a long time ago, by Orwell, but especially by people like Wilfred Burchett and Ryszard Kapuściński. I decided to go to war zones, to conflict areas, and there, listen to people, use as few quotes from the establishment as possible, and to be totally opinionated and ideological. This, I was convinced, would bring me as close as possible to the real ‘objectivity’ and the ‘truth’ as one could get.
There, in the places where the real suffering was, people did not care who was in the White House: whether Clinton or Bush or Obama. For them it was always the same: big multi-national companies cut down their forests, polluted their rivers, robbed their natural resources and bought their labor for a song. And overthrew their democratically elected governments (yes, in many countries there were attempts to establish democracy) if those were trying to serve, to prioritize the people.
Whether it was done under Democrats or Republicans is soon forgotten, but the suffering remains in the memory.
In this year – in 2012 – I traveled to the cities and through the countryside of China and Latin America, to the border between Syria and Turkey, to Rwanda/DR Congo border, to Bahrain, Uganda, to the sites of religious violence in Indonesia, to the villages built on and near the garbage dumps in and right outside Kolkata, to the ‘sinking’ nation of Kiribati, to the Kenyan/Somali border, as well as to the biggest refugee camp on earth – Dadaab.
I made films, and worked on books and reports. There was no time for watching the news. The system: the Empire, the regime, the savage capitalism was murdering all over the world. Why to waste time to study its mascots replaced once every four or eight years?
* * *
And then suddenly I was here, in Nairobi, one day before my departure for Cairo and Kuala Lumpur. I was here, struck by the revelation, that I had absolutely no clue that there were elections taking place, in the country whose citizenship I was holding: the United Sates of America. And I had no idea who the candidates were, although once I found out there was actually an election taking place, I was certain that Mr. Obama would be one of them, as he would not want to deprive us of his luminous presence at the zenith, for another four years.
I called, texted and “Whatsapped” several people who confirmed that, yes, indeed, there were Presidential elections taking place in the US. They all thought that this was a cute joke on my part. It wasn’t.
I opened the Yahoo.uk page and it was there! Yes: Obama and Romney (who the hell was he? But as Obama is a Democrat, this dude must be a Republican, by definition, right?).
While I was hibernating, those guys in Washington already managed to nominate each other, pre-select two loyalists from their ranks, run background checks (make sure that nobody is going to rock the boat) and then allow the voters of the USA to decide whether they, and much of the world, would be ‘governed’ for the next four years, by a Mickey Mouse with the pink nose or by the one with the orange one.
2+2 were suddenly gathered together: I now recalled that some Senate candidates recently wrote to me. They complimented my work, and then suggested that we ‘should work together’. There was a candidate for Governor of one of the major States, too. I mainly ignored such letters, or very politely declined the offers. I was absolutely not interested in the establishment, too busy with my books, films, reports, personal turmoil and the Latin American Revolution.
* * *
Slowly, waking up to reality, I began to realize how dangerous, and how subversive were my refusals to take an interest in the luminous, shining path of the Western ‘democratic’ election process.
I recalled one of the greatest post-war novels, “Seeing”, written by the Portuguese author, Jose Saramago. In its pages he described a ‘peaceful’ and ‘democratic’ European country, and the sudden turmoil, when its citizens began spoiling the ballots, and refusing to participate in the charade of voting for pre-selected and pre-approved corporate clients, called ‘candidates’. The state immediately reacted by imposing Martial law; it began to kidnap, murder and torture the population.
To refuse to play the game – to take these depressing and poorly choreographed tragic-comedies called ‘elections’ seriously – was probably a very dangerous undertaking, a punishable crime. The Western regimes like to be taken seriously. Or else…
I suddenly had felt so wicked, and so dangerous!
But what could I do? I really couldn’t care lesser, as those people I met felt all over the world, which candidate would be warming the chair in the White House. Obama’s foreign policy has been appalling – from the Middle East to the Gulf States, from Latin America to Africa. There is nothing positive that he has been offering to the world, as there has been nothing positive offered by any of the White House dudes since the WWII. As there would certainly be nothing positive in what Mr. Romney (whoever he is) would offer were he to become the President.
Qua re etiamatqueetiampergetenereistamviam quam institisti , ex-celledicendo. Hoc ettenentur Romae et adliciuntur et abimpediendo ac laedendorepelluntur.
In such a chaotic world, you must stick to the path you have chosen. It is your unmatched skill as a speaker that draws the Roman people to you and keeps them on your side.
‘Unmatched skill as a speaker’, maybe, but ‘sticking to the chosen path’?
I went upstairs, and cleansed myself by listening to a couple of good revolutionary Latin American songs. And later I took a shower, defining this moment in history, under a hot stream of water, as an erotic day: “Fuck their elections!” I mumbled merrily before departing for the airport and Cairo.
I still didn’t know, and had no interest of knowing, who that guy called Romney really was.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific – Oceania – is published by Lulu . His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear” (Pluto). After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website.