This article appeared in The Malta Independent on Sunday (29.06.08).
Summer approaches stealthily in Luxembourg. Hot, hot days unravel as surprise packages on weekends when I might be lucky enough to have the odd blond sunbathing in the public park under my terrace in nothing more than a skimpy tanga. The divine watchmaker seems to reserve a different kind of weather for weekdays with the equivalent of an Indian monsoon equipped with thunderclaps and lightning strikes hitting the Duchy on a daily basis. So long as this routine is kept (blond included) and the good weather comes on the days that capitalist society has earmarked for rest then I do not have much to complain. But the weather is as predictable as a Labour delegate’s vote and change, when it comes, is often unnanounced and tends to find me unprepared.
This week has been quite a heavy one insofar as work is concerned and barring a peep at the Euro championships and a quick breeze of the news I have not been able to dedicate the usual amount of quality time to catch up with the intricate goings on of local politics – at least not as much as I would like. If I had to sum up the general feeling I got from the world news this week it is a feeling of big changes – revolutions even. Change has become a cliché itself – one that is as old as the hills. Like the rain in Luxembourg it does have a habit of resurfacing as a major topic and will never ever go away no matter how much we wish it to.
No Man is an Island
.. except maybe Robert Mugabe. The bells have begun to toll and heavily so. Ask not for whom… for they toll for Mugabe. Mr Mugabe (no longer Sir since Queen Bess has seen the light and stripped him of his knighthood) is losing his last few friends and supporters on the international scene. Until recently neighbouring countries like Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia would develop a sudden amnesia when asked to challenge the atrocities performed by the crackpot leader of Zimbabwe. There would be much shuffling of feet in the room whenever the Zimbabwe issue was raised and the various participants at the international table would develop a sudden and profound interest in the room’s upholstery.
Mugabe can no longer be ignored. Even the reluctant Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa has finally found the courage to (lightly) criticise the madman in Harare – only to be eclipsed by his stronger and much more significant predecessor: Nelson Mandela. Speaking in London, the nonagenarian anti-apartheid hero stated that he regretted “the tragic failure of leadership” in Zimbabwe.
The goings on at the United Nations speak volumes about the slow pace of international reaction. China, Russia and South Africa have all been significant obstacles to more concrete action against Zimbabwe. The use of force would be out of the question without the logisitical support of neighbouring countries but one would expect a much more definite and concrete action in aid of a nation in the stranglehold of a dictator clutching at the last straws. Of course precedents like Darfur are not encouraging but one does wonder time and again what it really takes (beyond the legal niceties) for the international community to notice that a people are in danger and that action is needed fast.
The ante was upped during the end of last week. Mugabe is now officially World Pariah Number 1 – even managing to topple the hated Bin Laden from the international lists. The man still wants to go it alone and have a Presidential election without any valid opposition. His main opponent – Morgan Tsvangirai – abandoned the race out of concern that too many supporters were being killed in an atrocious attempt to stifle the vote for change before the election even started. Mugabe lives on in denial. His election slogan is ALL GOOD THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. Not that he needed a slogan – lopping off opponent’s heads and threatening further murders seemed to do the trick all right. No wonder that little thought was needed to further engineer Sarkozy’s slogan for a Zimbabwe version.
Another interesting spin of this story is the fact that international investments have begun to have a weight of their own in international diplomacy. The Tesco’s, Shell’s, Anglo-American’s and Barclay’s of this world face a dilemma. Take Tesco. They argue that many of their products sourced from Zimbabwe help the local economy and stopping the trade to comply with sanctions would only lead to starvation and hardship. Multinationals are thus thrown into the politics and can no longer claim the distinction between business and hard-talk diplomacy. We have witnessed this close at hand with the kidnapping of the Maltese worker in Nigeria. For sanctions and efforts to be effective, companies like Anglo-American must be convinced not to invest billions in platinum mines – it will not be enough for Rome to prevent Mugabe’s wife from shopping in Via del Corso.
Brothers in the Brave New World
An interesting news item this week involved our neighbour Colonel Ghaddafi. The erstwhile Colonel discussed the future of a young American senator while addressing his people. He spoke of his “African-Kenyan” brother and warned him not to be worried about the colour of his skin. The senator in question is Barack Obama and the Colonel seemed to be wanting to extend a protective wing onto the potential future President of America – based on the commonality of their origins from the dark continent. I am not too sure whether at this stage plaudits from Ghaddafi will earn Obama any bonus points in the race to the White House but who would ever have expected to see the Colonel flirting with a potential US number one?
Meanwhile, in the European Union, the dust clouds have still not settled following the Irish Earthquake. President Sarkozy is expected to inaugurate his six months of Presidency with a dampened enthusiasm. On the 13th July the leaders of 27 EU member countries and 17 Mediterranean countries will assemble under the Tour Eiffel to launch a new Union for the Mediterranean – Sarkozy still intends to show Europe (and the Med) that he needs business. It will be the eve of Bastille Day, the day that commemorates one of mankind’s greatest revolutions that effectively confirmed the blueprint of the Universal Bill of Rights.
That Bill was partly imported from the US of A back in 1789 when America was a newborn baby and the only hope for a black man at the time was emancipation. The second amendment to the constitution drafted by the founding fathers grants citizens the right to bear arms. For 200 years and more the US Supreme Court never ruled decisively on the subject. For many, the second amendment was meant to be taken in context – a right of militia to bear arms for security and protection. For the gun-toting crowd it meant a sacrosant right for every individual to carry his preferred caliber on his person. This week the Supreme Court ended its relative silence on the issue. By a vote of 5-4 it decided that “an individual’s right to bear arms was supported by the historical narrative” including English common law both before and after the amendment was adopted in 1791.
A jubilant Bush said “As a longstanding advocate of the rights of gunowners in America, I applaud the Supreme Court’s historic decision confirming what has always been clear in the Constitution: the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear firearms”. What else to expect from the Texan genius? I wonder if Bush is aware of the fact that in 2005 the comparison between gun death statistics in the UK and the US was incredible – 12,352 deaths in the US compared to 50 in England and Wales. Well, I guess that so long as they have the right to bear firearms then everybody is happy. Frankly I do not know what the fuss with Korea, Iran and nukes is all about!
Korea is actually playing good boy now… well maybe it is. The North Korean government has handed a declaration to China. The declaration covers nuclear production in the country since 1986 but it remains to be seen whether Guns-Are-For-Everyone Bush will be happy with this report.
Revolutions in Hyperspace
But the biggest changes this week come from the world of Information Technology. Bill Gates has announced that he will now become Microsoft’s non-executive chairman. In essence it means that good old Bill will no longer be involved with the business running of Microsoft and will work mostly on his foundation – in new battles against malaria and poverty. Once again the shifting role of multinationals (and billionaire sons of multinationals) is thrown in perspective. Microsoft will continue to battle in the IT world and try to elbow a space among the new giants like Google.
It will have to change and change fast. This week sees the launching of a revolutionary product that will make gadget freaks ecstatic – and not only gadget freaks. At the WWDC in San Francisco Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the arrival of iPhone 3G. Do find some time to scoot over to the mac.com website and see the presentation of this new phenomenon that promises to be as revolutionary as the desktop pc was in its time. Forget the iPhone you have seen till now. iPhone 3G will form new habits, revolutionise work, social interaction and the general pool of public knowledge. iPhone3G and the clones that will inevitably be spun-off by the followers will mean a new way of life – the future is now (and it’s coming straight from Apple).
I may be sounding overenthusiastic – allow me to sound crazy: an intelligent (should I say Smart?) government with an eye on getting it’s nation at the forefront should have a new cry – an iPhone in every pocket, a wireless system to serve all the iPhone. Hell once you’ve seen what I’ve seen you’ll probably agree that we should be prostituting out infrastructures to Apple and its systems to allow the fitting in of the very best at the right moment.
Yes, I have been converted and the damn thing is not out before 11th July – and that is in the US. European markets will have to wait a bit more. I was proud to see Malta listed in the list of 72 countries where iPhone 3G is available. Weirdly enough the name of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg fails to make any appearance. Which does not surprise me – Luxembourg is far from being an ideal place for those who want to keep abreast with developing technologies and communication. Let’s face it – even the simple fact of having a proper choice of cable tv channels seems to be an impossible obstacle for the Luxembourg market!
And the beat goes on…
This has been J’accuse bringing reports of change to your printed paper. Enjoy it while it lasts – in a few years you’ll be browsing through this article on your version of the iPhone… Sic transit gloria scripti.
Jacques blogs daily at https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. Comment is free.