Dear Jacinda: The weather is a metaphor for our current politics


Dear Jacinda Ardern,

It is a grey old kind of day here in Christchurch as I type this. Looking out the window at the dreary overcast drizzly weather wafting past, it seems to be a bit of a metaphor for the world at the moment. Grim. Dreary. No sign of getting better any time soon.

No doubt as you watch other countries including some that New Zealand is meant to be great mates with struggle, you must be counting your lucky stars that you are Prime Minister of New Zealand. You must be extremely grateful not to be having to manage the unravelling nightmare of COVID19 in the United States or quietly despairing in Down Street at the sight of huge numbers of people at the beach, without any regard to social distancing.

But going back to that metaphor, compared to the world, it is relatively sunny in New Zealand. Big powerful cumulonimbus clouds might be roving around on the horizon with their wild volatile problems, but thus far thanks to your leadership we have managed to avoid them. I hope you keep that way, and I am sure most of New Zealand want you to keep it that way too.

But Prime Minister, we have some lumpy cumulus clouds overhead that threaten to spoil things a bit, and they are ones that you can control as Prime Minister. One of those clouds is David Clark, trying to accidentally blot out the ray of sunshine that is Dr Ashley Bloomfield. I know you said you were annoyed with Mr Clark and said that if it were not for COVID19 and the need for a stable leadership team, he would be gone. Fair enough. But that was then. That was before Mr Clark threw Dr Bloomfield under the bus a few days ago.

I am sure Mr Clark is a nice guy in person, but he is going rain on your parade unless you take the Health portfolio of him, like now. New Zealanders don’t like that ray of sunshine being blocked and have noticed the cloud that is blocking it. The cloud needs to move along.

As for the grey old dreary kind of weather that is afflicting Christchurch at the moment, it is fortunately not as volatile as the thunderstorms that have been crossing Auckland and the Bay of Plenty of late. But as a rental car groomer at a service yard near Christchurch Airport, the dreariness in the sky is startlingly appropriate in terms of describing the global outlook. Planes are coming and going. I hear their engines as they disappear into the cloud from the runway a few hundred metres away. The complete absence of foreign tourists, being a reminder that the COVID19 storm is raining heavily in many countries. The constant drizzle is a metaphor for the single figure COVID case numbers being caught in isolation – the fact that it has for the most part not turned to rain, hopefully trying to tell us that the strategy of isolation is working.

My American friends can hear thunder. It is the thunder of a COVID19 storm that is far from finished and reminds every time I hear of a new rumble through the media of just how lucky we are in semi-sunny New Zealand. Now if you do not mind, we would love for you to please move that cloud along for us.

Cheers.

 

Ending a discriminatory and improper policy


It has been announced that the Government is about to wind up a policy instituted by National in 2009, which meant that refugees north African and Middle East origin were not encouraged to settle in New Zealand. As a consequence New Zealand struggled to meet its refugee quota which earned numerous rebukes including at least one from the United Nations.

As an Amnesty International member I welcome the ending of this policy. Racist, discriminatory and ultimately not beneficial to New Zealand, it makes me wonder how many more we might have been able to take had their origins not been brought into question.

It was also richly hypocritical. American foreign policy implemented by client states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel has displaced millions of people across the Middle East through wars. Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen was made possible by aircraft and munitions supplied by the United States and Britain. Turkish offensives against Kurds in Kurdistan were made possible through the same mechanisms. And the New Zealand National Party thought America was doing right.

The hypocrisy lies in whilst thinking of New Zealand as a humanitarian country that does its best to help refugees and make them feel welcome, refugees from an entire geographic region were being blocked. Despite them having fled war and persecution by state actors that America helped to arm and being separated from family, apparently settling in New Zealand and having safety often for the first time ever, was a total no-no. A country with a party that thought American foreign policy was on the right track was refusing to accept the consequences of that not so right foreign policy. By refusing to accept that by being in countries like Afghanistan in wars we should have had no role in, New Zealand was being part of the problem and not the solution.

So, now, with this racist, discriminatory and hypocritical policy on the way out, hopefully future New Zealand National Party-led Governments will see the wrongs of their ways.

 

Africa: the continent quietly reforming itself


When Africa has come to the attention of other countries, it has usually been for the wrong reasons – disaster, civil strife, war, accidents and almost never for reasons that could be considered positive or forward looking. Racial stereotyping of African migrants has led to dreadful events such as the Rwandan genocide; a people and a continent with no hope in the eyes of the nations that ruthlessly exploit the vast mineral resources. It has almost been like the media have wanted to present the African continent as one with no future, or one with continual troubles.

But away from the media attention, away from the spotlight of the major non-Governmental organisations around the world, a surprisingly diverse array of African countries are reforming themselves. According to the World Banks “Women, Business and Law” report with little song or dance, the Congo, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe, Malawi, Zambia and Guinea were the biggest movers on the WBL index (p. 11) for how women are faring in terms of career and ownership. In an index where 100 is a perfect score, which only 6 nations have achieved, Congo has jumped 25 points from 45 to 70; Mauritius has overtaken New Zealand (91.25) to sit at 91.88.

The Congo, whose border with Rwanda is awash with automatic weapons, might seem like one of the last places to expect such spectacular progress. This is especially so when one considers that several million people have died in a quiet low intensity in the 24 years since the Rwandan genocide. Quite staggering it is to think that these numbers are on par with the death toll of World War 1. But neighbouring Rwanda is also experiencing economic growth. Although its President Paul Kagame has been linked to genocide related crimes, and appears to have small regard for western law, Rwanda’s development has been noted by notable magazines such as Forbes.

Like other nations, New Zealand needs to respect Africa for what it is and take less of a domineering “I know best” attitude and more of a “okay, how can we help you improve”. The former attitude is consistent with that of former colonial powers such as France, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, all of whom had colonies in Africa, and all of whom were found wanting in their treatment of the people in those places.

It is not that I believe New Zealand can offer nothing. We can offer quite a bit. We have things many African nationalities can only dream of – a transparent government; competent authorities; clean (compared to them)environment; high literacy and life expectancy rates.

So, I think we need to learn to show Africa some respect. It has clearly made some progress. Although countries like Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Kenya appear to be sliding backwards, given stereotyping like that seen in “Hotel Rwanda” where the U.N. commander says “You’re not even black, you’re African!” writes off a whole continent, many were probably not expecting anything positive at all.

What did we learn from W.W.1 100 years on?


When Europe spiralled into war in 1914, there was an almost euphoric, gleeful, delightful jolly mood throughout Europe. What a jolly thing they all said. It will be all over Christmas and we’ll be having pudding on the table, with presents under the tree and a roast for dinner.

So off they all rushed to war, this jolly good European jaunt. The Commonwealth nations excited to be supporting Mother Britain all began to mobilize. The Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, Indians and South Africans all put out calls for troops.

Within weeks the first casualty counts were coming in. The Germans had somehow stalled on the banks of the Marne River. No worries everyone thought. Things will get going again soon. The days turned into weeks. The weeks into months. The nights began to become longer and the days colder. The trenches that were supposed to be temporary were starting to take on a degree of permanence.

No peace would descend on Earth in 1914. Instead the first of many bloody battles up and down the Western Front over which a few square miles of land would be fought with fanatical savagery had begun. Battles costing thousands of lives a piece had happened at St. Quentin, the Marne, Albert, Yser, Ypres (No. 1 of 5) and a host of other places. The ground that would become a muddy hellhole over the next four years was starting to be ground up.

The mincing machines of the Somme, Verdun and Passchendaele were still over a year away. But as the mass of pill boxes, bunkers, tunnels and barbed wire accrued on both sides of no mans land the men who sat in water logged dug outs eating, washing, and otherwise trying to live in close quarters to many other men, the task of finding ways to break the stalemate and win the war became a priority.

The plane as a weapon of war was still in its infancy. The tank was still years away. But other sinister developments were taking shape. Desperate to gain the military initiative, the Germans, French and British had begun experimenting with chemicals as weapons. The initial attempts were unsuccessful, but in 1915 the Germans introduced chlorine.

Tactics were changing too. The creeping barrage that moved in front of advancing soldiers had been introduced. A moving wall of exploding shells would proceed the soldiers across no mans land, chewing up and spitting out already mangled land and bodies. Another one, the bite and hold strategy of biting a small chunk out of the enemy lines, consolidating and moving on was another.

By the time the Somme and Verdun, two blood baths with a combined total of nearly 2 million Allied and German dead between them, were over, the French were ready to mutiny. The Russians, sick to death of their wealth hoarding Tsar and no longer able to stomach any further fighting against the Germans were ready to revolt. Food shortages in Germany and Britain were dire and no one knew how or when this giant mangling machine would end.

Conditions were no better in the Commonwealth countries. New Zealand and Australia were permanently scarred by their experiences in Gallipoli in Turkey where they had been trying to take the Dardenelles and secure a supply line to Russia. Canada, South Africa and India were also bleeding steadily. All had further bloody confrontations awaiting them at Passchendaele (Ypres III), and elsewhere.

And so, Passchendaele got underway with the misgivings of just about everyone involved. Only the Generals seemed to be keen for it to happen. The 100 days of mud and blood that followed earnt it a special place in the collection of hell’s that World War 1 was.

Whilst that was happening the Russians had the second of two revolts that toppled the Tsar. Communism became a new term in the language of politics and within months, Russia and the Germans had cut a deal that enabled the Germans to flood the western front with fresh forces.

The German offensive of 1918 temporarily terrified the Allies, moved rapidly west for a month and then, unable to sustain their supply lines, failed. Another 688,000 Germans and 863,000 British, Commonwealth, French and American lives later and it was over for Germany. Before they could recover, the Allies 100 days offensive that would end with the Kaiser abdicating and Germany calling for an armistice began. It took back everything the Germans had taken and was closing on the German border when the Kaiser abdicated.

So what did we learn from World War 1? Apparently not a lot, other than that type of war is criminal. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was apparently cowardice, for which one could be shot. Soldiers went home and suffered permanent mental break downs as a result of what they had seen and done with no redress of any sort. And in that 4 1/4 years, enough progress was made on the technological front to unleash horrors unheard of in 1913. Historians to this day argue over the true meaning of the battles that took place, though all are in agreement that it was a truly appalling time in human history.

It was meant to be the war that ended all wars. The Germans would be vanquished, and unable to conduct offensive wars ever again. It would be punished and made to pay huge reparations. Yet on 01 September 1939 World War 2: The Really Really Dreadful Sequel started.

The pill boxes and the grave yards that litter fields in Belgium and France are silent testament to four years of abject madness where political pride and military prestige were more important than the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. If nothing else, on this 100th Armistice Day Anniversary, we would do really well to remember that. They did not die for nothing.

Government cleaning out non performing diplomats


The Government is set to announce a clean out of diplomats from New Zealand’s overseas missions. The announcement comes at a critical time as New Zealand attempts to adjust the country to an unsettled geopolitical environment created by Brexit, the divisive nature of current American politics, capped off by high international tensions with Iran.

One of the diplomats being pulled is Tim Groser, current ambassador to the United States. Mr Groser, prior to going to the United States was Minister for Trade in the National-led Government of former Prime Minister John Key. In that capacity Mr Groser was tasked with pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement to a fruitful conclusion. It was under Mr Groser’s watch that the many major concerns about the T.P.P.A. became known to the public and the beginning of the backlash occurred.

Mr Groser’s time in Washington D.C. does not appear to have been overly successful. Indeed one insider admitted that during his ambassadorship, the residency of the New Zealand ambassador has been “party central”, with numerous functions and parties hosted.

Mr Groser is not the only diplomat being recalled.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters believes that the idea of political appointments to the diplomatic posts is not a good look and not in New Zealand’s interests to continue. Mr Peters views Mr Groser as a political appointment because it was made by the previous National Government when Mr Key was still in office.

There are other key diplomatic posts opening up, including one in Dublin. This is a well sought after post because among other boards, it is home to the International Rugby Board, as politicians it was noted in the Government of Mr Key love to be seen with rugby royalty.

Mr Peters said that the Washington post is just one of many being reviewed and necessary recalled by the new Government. Others include a possible posting to London.

I believe that New Zealand needs to put more focus on building diplomatic ties with African and Latin American countries more than anywhere else. Neither of these two regions is very well understood by New Zealand, despite growing communities of Latin American nationalities and African nationalities in the country. Aside from sharing New Zealand’s wariness of war, Latin America also offer opportunities in trade and have been one of the few international bright spots in the last few years with the end of the Colombian civil war. And Africa, for all its mystery, remains the least understood part of the world in just about all respects. Trying to better understand this continent of mystery when some Governments take an ivory tower view of thinking they know best, when they do not, is not only a really good idea, it is essential.