Has our choice to invest ourselves in technology robbed us of the ability to be taught by the next Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Some thoughts from the King holiday this week:

MLK became a Christian teacher for me through his writings when I was a young lawyer and a newly adoptive Mississippian in the 1990’s. I also learned a lot of the history of Civil Rights and the South through Taylor Branch’s voluminous King biographies among my other more Mississippi-specific reading. I used material from Rev. King to guest teach a couple of my Sunday School classes in Mississippi.

This was not that long ago by the timeframes of my life but before smartphones and “social media.” Also before any of us knew of Barak Obama, before my year in Kenya, and while I was still a “lifelong” Republican if drifting away in part because of some of the demands of my own faith.

King’s ministry and leadership had a long arc with a slow rise. We have learned that the FBI tried to stop him at an intermediate point but failed. His influence in some important respects peaked over years after his murder. He did not convince the majority of Southern whites in his lifetime that he was substantially right about the biggest things, but eventually he did.

Now he is a statute off the mall in Washington and a great source of quotes for all occasions and whatever purpose but we can hardly stop and think and/or pray and talk through the differences in how we see our country around us.

I am afraid that today someone like King would be delegitimized and marginalized long before he or she could lead us to change.

Likewise, the less currently “popular” parts of his message might further overwhelm those that were eventually heard. And we could not hear a Christian minister today as we eventually came to hear him.

Today, it would not seem feasible to pass morally challenging legislation like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act with bipartisan support and against bipartisan opposition because we do not allow ourselves to accept leadership of that type from outside politics and the people that we elect are not leaders at that level.

And now we find ourselves beset with contentions and backlash after years in which many of us assumed that continued steady if slow progress was assured. We have what seems to me an extraordinary partisan divide in which the vast majority of Republicans see racial discrimination against African-Americans as mostly a solved issue and “reverse discrimination” as more salient while the vast majority of Democrats see it in a more “traditional” frame.

As a moderately conservative white adoptive Southerner, “my people” are now very much oriented to the Republican side of politics but I cannot understand my day-to-day world in a way that inverts the racial discrimination burden and it is a struggle for me to know how to address myself to this gap of perception. We made tremendous progress during my lifetime and it is vital to recognize that–and to recognize the toil, sacrifice and courage of those like King that were necessary for the country to accomplish that. But you cannot just declare “peace with honor” and pretend that things cannot come apart because you do not want to deal with the challenge any more.

  • We have work to do.
  • As we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an ungoverned preacher, Paul Kagame moves to govern Rwanda’s churches

    A regulated church modulated by a political military autocrat — or even a majoritarian elective republic — would not have allowed a prophetic, challenging voice like that of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to be heard.

    It was hard enough in the relative free-for-all of American Protestantism of the 1950s and ’60s. This is addressed in King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which has had renewed attention in light of the anniversary of his assassination and a new spirit of contention and race-baiting in post-2008 American politics.

    I rediscovered the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as an adult in the early years of this century, before Obama or Trump or my connection to Kenya, and was inspired to use it as the basis for a Sunday School lesson in my defacto nearly all white Mississippi church knowing that it would still challenge all of us as it still will today.

    Today’s AP story: “Rwanda closes thousands of churches in bid for more control” (h/t @Smith_JeffreyT). Read and make up your own mind as to Kagame’s objectives.

    Aside from his own record as an RPF military leader in the early 1990s and what I see as the ruthlessness expansiveness of his continued consolidation of power over Rwandans, I am concerned that Kagame represents a dangerous force more broadly in East Africa and beyond because of the notion of outsiders with extraneous interests aligning with him to use his rule as a model — or excuse — for things that are flatly against our values. Like a surrender of religious liberty to the State, as one example.

    [See yesterday’s CBC story about Canadian journalist Judi Rever’s new book In Praise of Blood which is being seen by many as offering revelatory revision on Kagame’s record during the genocide. I am adding it to my reading list recognizing that I have no independent background or insight on events then in Rwanda but perhaps some in how East African history is shaped and used in the West. Helen C. Epstein’s Another Fine Mess; America, Uganda and the War on Terrorwhich I intend to review– offers insight into Kagame’s background and role as a Ugandan soldier/insurgent under Museveni.]

    Update April 7: Statement from Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan – “Commemoration of the 24th Anniversary of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda“:

    We stand today with the people of Rwanda in commemorating the 1994 genocide during which more than 800,000 men, women, and children were brutally murdered. On this solemn occasion, we remember those who lost their lives and honor the courage of those who risked their lives to save others.

    The United States values its strong partnership with Rwanda, and we are inspired by the remarkable progress that Rwanda has made in rebuilding since 1994. We are proud to support Rwanda as it continues to fight impunity for atrocities, lift millions of its people out of poverty, and build a peaceful and prosperous future for its citizens.

    We also honor the contributions of Rwandans such as Godelieve Mukasarasi, recipient of the Department’s 2018 International Woman of Courage Award, who have dedicated their lives to fighting for a culture of peace and non-violence in Rwanda. We are inspired by their bravery and dedication to justice and reconciliation.

    Nuts and Bolts of the American-Kenyan relationship . . . .

    A release today from the State Department:

    Assistant Secretary of State Thomas M. Countryman welcomes a senior-level Kenyan delegation to Washington, D.C. from April 30 – May 5, 2012 for a Legal-Regulatory Implementation Workshop on Strategic Trade Controls and Border Security.  The Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) will host the Kenyan delegation, which will be led by the Assistant Defense Minister of Kenya; Major General Joseph Nkaisserry (retired).  Ambassador Ochieng Adala, Executive Director of the Africa Peace Forum, and other senior Kenyan officials involved in strategic trade control issues will also participate in the workshop. 

     The training, supported by the Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program, is organized by the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia.  The five-day workshop will cover the spectrum of issues pertaining to the development, implementation, and enforcement of an effective strategic trade control and border management system in Kenya, which will advance the dual goals of improving international security and fostering sustainable economic growth.

     This visit provides a unique opportunity to discuss the fundamentals of an effective strategic trade control system with key Kenyan legislators and government officials and to help them incorporate strategic trade controls into future legislation. 

    Saturday Prime Minister Odinga will be among the commencement speakers at Florida A & M University in Tallahassee:

    State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, chair-elect of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, will lead the lineup of speakers scheduled for Florida A&M University’s Spring 2012 Commencement on Saturday, April 28.

    Joyner, D-Tampa, will address students slated to receive degrees at the first of three sessions beginning at 9 a.m. at the Lawson Center.

    U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn will speak at 2 p.m. Kenya Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga will speak at 6 p.m.

    For those not familiar with Florida A & M, here is a history capsule from the website “Alumni Roundup”:

    Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University was founded as the State Normal College for Colored Students, and on October 3, 1887, it began classes with fifteen students and two instructors. Today, FAMU, as it has become affectionately known, is the premiere school among historically black colleges and universities.

    Prominently located on the highest hill in Florida’s capital city of Tallahassee, Florida A&M University remains the only historically black university in the eleven member State University System of Florida.

    Here is coverage of Odinga’s Friday speech to the Atlanta World Affairs Council.

    And elsewhere in the United States, being another election year, some of my old right wing friends seem to be promoting a movie that claims that Obama was born in Kenya but that his father was American, not Kenyan (!).  And of course complaining again about Odinga.

    A third year has gone by since the murders of Kenyan civil rights activists Oscar Kingara and J.P. Oulu

    From March 2011::Five Years After the Kenyan Government’s Raid on the Standard and Two Years After the Oscar Foundation Murders, Impunity Reigns and a “Local Tribunal” for Post Election Violence Remains a Pipe Dream

    As I have previously written, I have to miss the frenzy of reading the Wikileaks diplomatic correspondence, but the Kenyan newspapers are full of articles related to a few of the cables newly leaked.  Much of this is Kenyan politicians dishing on each other to curry favor at the U.S. Embassy, and probably in some cases news to Kenyan voters who don’t have the same access to their leaders as Americans do.

    One of the main impacts of the leaks in Kenya, that I would not necessarily have realized, is the degree to which the well-publicized cables give the Kenyan media cover to report facts that are quite well known but that they would not otherwise dare print for fear of libel suits and official displeasure.  Certainly much of what Kenyan politicos tell the Embassy they will have told reporters, or reporters will have learned independently, but couldn’t report until the State Department’s internal “news bureau” was stolen and partially put out on the internet.

    Some of the material dates back to the Government’s raid on the Standard media house on March 2, 2006.  Enough of this outrageous incident (really series of incidents) has long been well known that in any country with leadership at all serious about press freedom and the rule of law there would be some people in jail.  Nonetheless, total impunity for each and every player in all of the multiple criminal acts remains the status quo.  While U.S. Ambassador Bellamy was sharply critical at the time, there is no indication that this has been on the public diplomacy agenda since.

    It is in this context that observers of the Kenyan scene have to realize that the notion of a Kenyan “Local Tribunal” that would try the kingpins of the Post Election Violence identified by the Waki Commission report was always a pipe dream.

    We have a recent report on the killing of former Foreign Minister Ouko, said to have taken place at State House in Nakuru–no action.  We have the circumstances crying out for investigation in the murders of civil rights activists Oscar Kingara and J.P. Oulo–two years have gone by today with no action.

    While I agree completely with the notion that as a wholly conceptual matter, a Kenyan tribunal rather than the International Criminal Court would be the best place to try the suspects for the Post Election Violence, it is also quite clear that that was never going to happen.  The will is simply not there–the Government of Kenya has a well established policy of impunity which has served the interests at stake very successfully for many years.  It will not change of its own accord, or through simple persuasion or jawboning.  A “Local Tribunal” in Kenya, if there ever were such a thing, would be a platform for deal making to preserve impunity, not a court of law.  Because the United States is not a member of the ICC, it may well be that we are not so credible as leading advocates of the ICC as the appropriate venue for the election-related trials–nonetheless, I think we should stop indulging political frivolity in the context of these grave crimes.

    Related Post on local tribunal.