twelve to twenty-two

A lot happens in 10 years.

Around new year’s (2010), my Aunt handed back letters that family members had written to themselves at a new year’s celebration in 2000. I was apprehensive to open my letter; was I a profound twelve year old, was it going to be embarrassing, how much had I changed?

The letter, written in my poorly scribbled cursive, read:

Yo Al,
Right now im at a 2000 millenium new years party. I’m making an aircraft carrier in lego’s. I am twelve years old. When you are reading this you will be 22. Hope you are having fun. With lego’s I have humvees, F-14s, a harrier, jeeps, chinook, and working on an aircraft carrier. I hope you made it out of high school and into college.
Love, Alex Hill

I may have been mostly preoccupied with my lego creations at the time, but at least I had some ambitions for my future self: having fun, graduating high school, getting into college. On January 1st, 2010 I had definitely achieved all three. I was spending the new year in New Orleans with my girlfriend, Nichole, of almost a full year, watching the fireworks over the Mississippi River. I had definitely graduated high school and gone on to college. It may have been an uncertain choice as to where I went to college, but ended with a great experience at the end of 4 long years of study at Michigan State University’s James Madison College. I unfortunately never completed the lego aircraft carrier and can’t look back and remember how amazing that turned out.

Legos seem to have been the most important aspect of my life at twelve. I guess I need to evaluate what that means for my development as a child and 10 years later. I love legos! For as long as I can remember I’ve been constructing things out of legos, but I was very particular as to how this worked. I was very conscious of color and design. I had a meticulous system of organization for all my lego pieces and enjoyed the creative problem solving that occurred. My lego corner in the basement was my safe haven for all my thoughts and creations to come to life. Legos taught me success and failure, they allowed me to deconstruct, learn by doing, and try again.

So, legos were important, but did my twelve year old self have any idea what was to come next? In just one year I would be thirteen and my entire life would be given purpose and direction. That summer I would meet Fr. Joseph Birungi and found the organization, SCOUT BANANA, the following summer I would travel to Uganda and see the harsh realities of our world at the ripe age of 14. The years that follow after that were just as loaded with significantly life altering experiences, people, and places, but thirteen was the pivotal year from which all of my current life springs.

Its crazy to look back and see that in just one year, my thirteenth year in this world, my life would be impacted beyond my wildest dreams. That year following the beginning of the new millennium would set me on a path taking me across three continents, to 16 different countries, having critical experiences that would lead me to meet hundreds of amazing individuals who would all have a profound impact on how I developed as a person, a friend, and a leader.

A lot happens from twelve to twenty-two. In just two months I’ll be turning 23 and I have no idea what the next year will bring. I’m grateful to my twelve year old self, but even more grateful for the people who made it all happen: my parents, grandparents, leaders, mentors, friends, girlfriend, colleagues, trainers, co-workers, randos and strangers – Thanks!

hope and change in 2008 politics

peace without sickness, failure without denial, and democracy without restriction

Hope and change have gained a great footing in not only the 2008 Presidential elections in the US, but also in the communities of Northern Uganda. Peace talk negotiations and a cease-fire in fighting have allowed children to return home, families to rebuild, and communities to begin creating lives without fear from conflict. The conflict in Northern Uganda is often tagged as a “civil war,” but largely centers on a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). (Read more here) Thousands displaced, abducted, lost – hundreds killed. The peace talks have been going well and two weeks ago (April 10th) Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, was supposed to come out of hiding to sign the peace agreement. He did not show up and his spokesperson claimed he had been sick. Sick or afraid? Kony and his top officials are now on the top of the International Criminal Court’s arrest list. It seems he may have been sick with fear of being held accountable for his long-running violent resistance.

The election count in Zimbabwe has been delayed. After many have called for the results to be released from the election, electoral officials have decided to recount 23 out of the 210 seats. This will take 3 more days. There is fear that the recount will include vote-rigging, something that would not be new in Zimbabwean elections under Mugabe. It is well known that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has gained the majority over Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. There are fears that the recount could reverse that majority. Hope for change in Zimbabwe is stalled yet again and there is no guess as to when election results will actually be released. Now hundreds of opposition supporters, fleeing “state-sponsored” violence, have been detained. Most will be charged with inciting election violence as the scapegoats for Mugabe’s government response to political opposition.

Opposition candidates have been arrested, people stayed away from the polls, rising cost of food and decline in wages have lead to a popular discontent with the Egyptian government. People are more concerned with getting bread on the table than on turning out in the polls. The main opposition party in Egypt has been officially banned and their candidates have been arrested and detained so that they cannot campaign. The hope for change has been squashed by the current government, but not without at least some opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood, with its candidates banned, boycotted the elections and clashed with police. There is fear in the government that they will lose more support to the “pro-Islamist independents” who seem to have the backing of the people. The US is not the only country where the rise in power of Islamic groups has produced an unfounded fear and caused actions that are far from democratic.

Kenyan politicians have reached a deal to allow a coalition government. Mwai Kibaki will remain President and his opponent, Raila Odinga, will serve as Prime Minister. It is not clear how the people will react to this evolution. The next major task of the coalition government is to work on relocating the hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples as a result of their “election” or move to power. Nearly 140,000 people are living in tents and depend on food handouts to live. Adding difficulty, there is disagreement in the parliament as to what actions should be taken first: returning the displaced or preaching co-existence and reconciliation. The historical rifts in Kenyan politics will need to be handled as soon as possible if Kenya is to move forward with the stability of the past.

In all four cases there is an extensive past to learn in order to fully understand the current situations. Each case represents a direct outcome of former colonial systems perpetuated (especially their failures), oppressed populations, and a push for democracy that seems to be historically flawed in its practice and exportation. Hope and change may just become buzz words for the 2008 election year, but they also have the great potential to live up to the aspirations of many looking for a new way of handling governments and societies.

why the US does not become involved in african conflicts

The title of this entry is a question that very often crosses my mind as I continue to read the news and stay up to date on the various African conflicts across the continent. How can the country with the most power sit idly as conflicts that tear nations and governments apart worsen? How can the country with the most power get involved in its own political war games and ignore the dying?

“If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

Mother Teresa spoke these words and they can possibly lend us an answer to why there is inaction with mass conflict. I found this quote used on the Foreign Policy news page with an article called Numbed by Numbers. The argument of the article is that “people don’t ignore mass killings because they lack compassion. Rather, it’s the horrific statistics of genocide and mass murder that may paralyze us into inaction. Those hoping that grim numbers alone will spur us to action in places like Darfur have no hope at all.” The article says that it is our own human psychology that hinders our action. We are unable to comprehend the numbers and put them into terms of massive human tragedy. The article also notes a study where aid to a young child, when accompanied by large statistics, declined sharply. We cannot comprehend mass human tragedy and apply our actions. Now there are worries that just one more major security incident could create a ‘humanitarian collapse’ in Darfur. I suggest reading the full article on Foreign Policy.

Another possibility of an answer lies in the blog of an American who has just returned from living in Uganda. The conflict, or civil war some say, that is being revealed in Northern Uganda is another conflict in the scope of mass human tragedy. Peace talks were started and stalled last month in Uganda, but are set to re-start in April. The blog entry on March 19th from ‘In an African Minute’ says, “The United States, with very little effort, could drastically increase the possibility of a permanent resolution of the conflict in northern Uganda. Why Washington hasn’t made an effort has been a matter of speculation in policy and development circles since the peace talks began in August 2006.” There is much speculation, especially since the US has been so involved in the continent with ‘anti-terrorism’ measures by giving support to key African countries. ‘Fighting terrorism’ has replaced communism as the US’s new objective in Africa. Ending divisive and destabilizing conflicts in the region is not on the top of the US agenda, if at all.

There are roughly eight conflicts in the African continent affecting nearly 16 million people. Why are these not on the US agenda? We can’t handle numbers, we are blinded by the fight against terrorism, or maybe we just don’t have the Administration with the resolve to act on others behalf when there is no obvious gain for the country or government?