Thursday, March 5, 2009

All Hail Omar Hassan al-Bashir

Today's Washington Post, page A-12.

Now here's a dictator for the ages, a man who has read Being a Dictator for Dummies and memorized the better parts. The Post photo is of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, President of Sudan, being driven in an open top car through a throng of admirers (?). He wears large sunglasses (a prerequisite of dictatorhood), a kepi possibly designed by Eva Braun, many campaign ribbons (the Darfur Meritorious Order of Starvation) and best of all, he is waving a stick in the air as if thrashing the faithful about the head and shoulders. In fact, he looks like what I imagine is a commanding officer in the Singaporean Urinal Police (SUP). You remember the SUP, stationed in that small nation's public bathrooms to make sure you flush after you pee. If you don't, they cane you. Omar Hassan is my kinda guy.

I'm generally not big on projects and causes. I've always believed that, if things get terrible enough, people will react and get the bad guy out either by killing him (Sam Doe of Liberia, whose body is rumored to have been eaten by his enemies) or sending him to the south of France with a suitcase full of money (Baby Doc Duvalier of Haiti and Idi Amin of Uganda.) In most parts of the world, politics have a tendency to resolve themselves, though in some regions, it takes longer than in others. The Sudan may well be the exception.

In Africa's largest country, once a British-Egyptian protectorate, things have not been going well. In 2001 the government freed 15,000 slaves. That same year saw the first of a series of cataclysmic events, both man-made and natural, that have driven the Sudan to its knees. Starvation and displacement reign. With 2 million already dead , civil strife continues to rage. The best and worst efforts of Europe, the Americas and Asia have, in the end, done little to ease the country's plight. Hundred of millions of dollars and Euros have been spent with very little to show for it. Al-Bashir, who has ruled since 1989, is unlikely to alter his style and Sudan's sad day-in-the-sun is fast ending. Honestly, we are desensitized, have been since Biafra or earlier, and pictures of starving babies, emaciated mothers or stacks of bodies by the roadside have little or no impact anymore. People like Omar Hassan know this, of course. He may not be a likable guy, but he must have some street smarts--he wouldn't have lasted long without them. He knows the fickleness of do-gooder movements. Soon another country will massacre enough of its people to garner our passing interest, and Omar Hassan will be off the hook. It's a waiting game dictators know how to play all too well.

Here's a thought. Lets hire some Union Corse guys to kidnap the son-of-a-bitch and drop him off naked in American Samoa. Most Samoans are no-nonsense types and will know what to do with him. Then lets find a guy--or woman--willing to lead the Sudanese government and back him or her with the full might of the developed world. Lets get the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and FAO and whoever else we need in-country to rebuild without too much self-interest in the planning. Lets cut through some of the appalling BS that Part I nations have created to insulate themselves from the rest of the world and act in support of decency, humanity and common sense.

It's do-able.

Here's installment 72 of Wasted Miracles.

Chapter 18

In the final edition of the paper the next morning there was a small article about a house in Anacostia that had burned down in the early hours of the morning. Four bodies were recovered but none had been identified to date. The firemen had been unable to quench the blaze, it was an old house, the clapboard was dry and the nearest fire hydrant had been tampered with. It took minutes for the firemen to get water and minutes were all the flames needed. The next door neighbor, an elderly black lady, said there’d been no warning. The fire seemed to start spontaneously, and though she’d not known the people next door well, she would include them in her prayers.
Colin read the story and felt nauseous.
Not a word had been exchanged during the ride back. Colin had thrown a jacket over Josie, and she’d slept through it all. Mamadou had dropped them off at Orin and Marsha’s house and driven off, still silent. Marsha had taken over, a sad and serious expression etched across her face.
“She should be in a hospital, Colin. I think it’d be wiser.”
Orin had agreed. The sight of the girl had shocked him. “Jesus, Colin, she’s a walking skeleton, except she isn’t walking...”
Marsha had put the girl immediately to bed and rigged an IV. “She’s dehydrated, and it looks as if she hasn’t eaten anything in a week. Her pulse is steady, though, and it’s a good thing. But she needs more care than I’ll be able to give her here.”
So Colin had asked Marsha to call Catherine, but he’d left before she arrived. At home, he unplugged his phone.
Mamadou had said Joe was dead but Colin called the police station anyway, asked for Joe by name. You never knew, maybe he’d escaped. The cop on duty told him Joe hadn’t shown up yet this morning but he’d take a message. Colin said he’d call back.
There was no one to turn to, and that fact alone ate at him. He wondered if Joe had relatives, remembered him once mentioning a cousin who was also with the police force of a small town in Florida.
In the middle of the afternoon he fixed himself a sandwich, ate a single bite and threw the food away. He made a pot of coffee, picked up the phone to call Catherine, punched the first three numbers then put the phone down.
The fact was, the multiple killings would probably not elicit much interest, would be seen as part of the city’s never-ending drug wars. He wondered what the coroner would do with the discovery that one of the dead men was white. Probably nothing.
In the evening he watched the news. The fire had already been relegated to a mere mention at the end of the show. A three-second shot of the house showed a blackened and still smoldering ruin. The front porch had collapsed and the front door was gone. The camera panned to two children with very white teeth looking straight into the lens and mouthing, “Hi, Mom.”
He wondered how Josie was, found he really didn’t care. Her fate was out of his hands--if it ever had been there in the first place.
Shortly before 10 p.m., Catherine knocked on his door, called his name several times. He didn’t answer. After a few minutes, he saw a scrap of paper slide beneath the door. He didn’t pick it up, walked around it.
An hour or so later, he took a shower, shaved carefully, put a clean pair of jeans and shirt on. He selected an old hound’s tooth jacket he hadn’t worn for years but the thing didn’t fit, was far too tight around the shoulders, so he found the least tattered sweatshirt, put that on instead.
He remembered Orin’s admonition to call before he did something foolish but that didn’t seem like a good idea at all. Orin would probably try to talk him out of it and Colin felt he’d been waiting a lifetime for this moment.
The bar was a dark and cheerless place with neon signs advertising beer and a TV tuned to the all-sport station. Colin ordered a double vodka (Absolut), a shot of Glenfidich with a Michelob draft on the side and, just for the hell of it, a margarita.
He drank them quickly, waited a moment, ordered another round.

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