My dear Q,
Once again, in the words of the immortals, I have resumed my round of steady work, relieved and sweetened by hearty play. I would have written earlier but I have been incapacitated by a small wound-nothing to be alarmed about-merely a scratch at the end of my forefinger, but enough for a while to prevent one laying it to a pen or a keyboard with any comfort. It is now alright.
I am much divided in my mind as to whether I should devote this letter to you about the most expensive police operation in British history and the thousands of people who marched through European cities last Saturday, and will be doing so again throughout this week, demanding jobs, economic justice and environmental accountability; or about the high expectations and what the World’s political and economic leaders could do this week to kick start the world economy again.
My guess is that you will welcome news about the advantages of democracy and the burdens on those who protect it, all in the name of a “free Society”. On the same breath, I am happy to report that, after some vexatious procedures I received my accreditation as one of 15 African journalists allowed to attend what we all hope will be an historic world economic conference here in London.
According to the British Police Authority a huge security operation involving more than 5,000 extra police officers from six forces will combine under Scotland Yard’s command to protect world leaders and other delegates at the summit and cope with thousands of demonstrators who will attempt to paralyse central London
An encounter with a senior police officer on Monday revealed that all police leave has been cancelled in London for the summit duration- the aim, I was told is for thousands of uniformed officers to protect and prevent legitimate protests from being hijacked in what could become the worst public disorder in a decade.
Indeed, Britain’s Chief Police Officer, who is the Head of Scotland Yard, Sir Paul Richardson told journalists over the weekend that “it will take a lot of policing. We are going to have to protect venues, various dignitaries as they are arriving, where they are staying, and the various routes they will be using. It will be a major operation and probably as big a single operation as the Met has done.”
I must remind you that on Wednesday April 1st, when police and the demonstrators will be playing hide and seek on the streets of London, and President Obama and 21 other world leaders will be discussing politics, high finance and development, at the Docklands, the Capello boys will be battling with the boys from the Black Sea, at the Wembley stadium to create space for Rooney and Gerrard so that England can qualify for the World Cup in 2010.
Of course you know that the world football village will be moving to Africa in 2010, and that the boys from England wants to come home and experience what their forefathers enjoyed so much many years back; the African experience. But that is another issue we will talk about at another time.
Please don’t be alarmed about the security in London on Wednesday April 1st. One of Britain’s most senior police officer Commander Simon O’Brien told journalists that they are “confident the police could deal with the protest and any fall out from them and of course, the football matches on that same day”.
“It is fair to say that this is one of the largest, one of the most challenging, one of the most complicated operations we have had to deal with”, Commander Simon O’Brien said when talking to journalists recently.
By Wednesday morning when the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Obama meets the Press at Downing Street for their first press conference, thousands of activists from across Europe would have converged on the streets of London,
Hardcore anarchists from Italy, France and Germany are mobilising supporters in a bid to disrupt the meeting of world leaders. Intelligence chiefs fear known agitators are arriving in London via Eurostar or coach after days of anarchist attacks in Italy.
Groups including Class War, the Wombles and the Whitechapel Anarchist Group have secretly reformed to plot carnage on London‘s street this week. Class War founder Ian Bone wrote on a web blog “We hope to control large parts of central London. Whether it kicks off depends on numbers. The poll Tax riots were all about 50,000 people who wanted a punch up. This feels like that”.
By midnight Monday 30th of March half of London had been boarded up. The authorities have taken massive precautions in case security in London deteriorates. London’s famous Red phone boxes have been removed rubble cleared from building sites.
The Ritz hotel and other well-known buildings have been boarded up as managers fear symbols of wealth will be targeted. Thousands of staff are being told to stay at home and avoid the City altogether.
Hundreds of City staff including lawyers, insurers, accountants, journalists have been warned not to wear suits and given guides to “dressing down” with chinos and loafers banned because they would make the employees obvious targets.
Last week vandals staged a pre-dawn attack on the Edinburgh home of Sir Fred Goodwin, the former boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland and warned that it was “just the beginning” of a campaign against wealthy financiers.
Chris Knight, professor of anthropology at the University of East London who is organising protests under the banner G20 Meltdown, said “We are going to be hanging a lot of people like Fred the shred from the lamp posts on April Fool’s Day and I can only say let’s hope they are just effigies”.
Believe me Q, people are really pissed off and they want to blame or punish someone for the meltdown.
“Poor countries are innocent”, says Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala former Nigerian Finance Minister and now managing director of the World Bank. According to Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, poor people did not contribute one jot to the global credit crunch, and their banks and firms have few links to global capital market.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF’s managing director at a conference in Tanzania a few weeks ago said that millions could be thrown back into poverty by the crisis. The IMF chief went further to say that a “threat of civil unrest, perhaps even war” as a result of the credit crunch, should not be dismissed.
White, blue-eyed bankers are entirely to blame for the world financial crisis that has ended up hitting black and indigenous people disproportionately, the President of Brazil observed when meeting the British Prime Minister last week.
In an outspoken manner whilst meeting the British prime minster last week, Luiz Ignacio “Lula” de Silva pledged to make this week’s G20 summit “spicy” as he accused the rich of forcing the poor into greater hardship.
“This crisis was caused by no black man or woman or by no indigenous person or by no poor person,” Lula said after talks with the British prime minister in Brasilia.
“The crisis was fostered and boosted by irrational behaviour of some people that are white, blue-eyed. Before the crisis they looked like they knew everything about economics, and they have demonstrated they know nothing about economics”.
Red faced and shocked by the Brazilian president’s statement, the British journalists travelling with the Prime Minister where ready to throw killer questions at the Brazilian President, but they were met with more mocking from President Lula, standing next to a speechless British prime minister, he said, The “gods of wisdom”, who had had to be bailed out. “The part of humanity that is responsible should be the part that pays for the crisis”, he added.
Challenged about his claims, Lula responded. “I only record what I see in the press. I am not acquainted with a single black banker”.
But my dear Q, a black American President is coming to town and London Bridge will be down to take his motorcade. Yes indeed, the entire presidential motorcade and half of the White House will be moving to Europe this week, and it’s not an April fool’s Day charade, it’s the Obama show coming to London.
More than six weeks of planning has gone into the visit which begins with the G20 in London followed by other European cities. The presidential entourage consist of about 500 people of which over 200 are secret service agents as well as policy makers and support staff.
The president will fly into Britain Tuesday night on Air Force One, flanked by cargo planes which will hold all the transportation he needs while in Europe. An estimated 35 vehicles will be brought to London for the presidential visit. On arrival in London, he is escorted by an army of people whose only function are to keep him safe and in comfort. His Secret Service codename is ‘Renegade’ which he chose himself while a presidential candidate.
While on his five day trip in Europe, Mr Obama will have a team of chefs on hand to cook anything he desires, at any time. Also, a team of six fully trained medical staff will be permanently on call in case Mr Obama falls ill, or is injured. And it’s no surprise; they carry supplies of his blood type AB.
Mr Obama’s armour-plated limousine, nicked-named The Beast, is strong enough to withstand a chemical attack. The vehicle is made of reinforced steel, aluminium and titanium; it has a raised roof and a completely sealed interior which acts as a” panic room”. Its bullet-proof windows protect the driver who will have top-of-the-range GPS sat-nav at his disposal. And the tyres are designed to be driven upon even if they are punctured by bullets.
If you think the job of the Secret Service and the British Metropolitan Police will be difficult this week as thousands of protesters descend upon the capital, spare a thought for the wife of the British Prime Minister, Sarah Brown who has the unenviable task of entertaining the wives and –one husband- of the world’s most powerful leaders.
But of course, Mrs Michelle Obama will have her own bodyguards, a secretary and press officer in her eight-string team.
I think you asked in one of our conversations whether the President will be meeting people especially Black British whilst he is in London. I am very sorry to report that this will not be happening for security reasons. In fact, for the past few days the question that is begging for answer amongst the black intelligentsia here in London and across Europe is; who will be lucky enough to exchange high-fives with President Obama, outside the summit circles? The White House press office is being tight lipped about his schedule, which he says will be released as “late as possible” for security reason.
Talking to a White House Press aide the other day about the President’s Schedule and the replies I got, I recollected reading “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama.
According the Mr Obama, the first time he saw the White House was in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was President. He wrote “It was a brief trip, spent mostly navigating the endless corridors of the Rayburn Building, getting polite but cursory audiences with Hill staffers not much older than I was. But at the end of the day, the students and I took time to walk down to the Mall and the Washington Monument, and then spent a few minutes gazing at the White House. Standing on Pennsylvania Avenue, a few feet away from the Marine guard station at the main entrance, with pedestrians weaving along the sidewalk and traffic whizzing behind us, I marvelled not at the White House’s elegant sweep, but rather at the fact that it was so exposed to the hustle and bustle of the city; that we were allowed to stand so close to the gate, and could later circle to the other side of the building to peer at the Rose Garden and the residence beyond. The openness of the White House said something about our confidence as a democracy, I thought. I embodied the notion that our leaders were not so different from us; that they remained subject to laws and our collective consent”.
“Twenty years later, getting close to the White House wasn’t so simple. Checkpoint, armed guards, vans, mirrors, dogs and retractable barricades now sealed off a two block perimeter around the White House. Unauthorised cars no longer travelled Pennsylvania Avenue. On a cold January afternoon, the day before my swearing in to the Senate, Lafayette Park was mostly empty, and as my car was waved through the White House gates and up the driveway, I felt a glancing sadness at what had been lost”.
Indeed, it is that same sadness that many will be feeling when Mr Obama comes to town, but with no “hot ticket” for the British intelligentsia. You see, that is the thing with “Power” my dear fellow. It changes man perversely.
Students of political history and economics will remember the last time a global economic conference was held against a dire backdrop of capsized banks and sinking economies, a new American president was in the White House and Britain had its first Labour prime minister at 10 Downing Street. Hope abounded that the world’s leaders could agree in London on concerted action to turn things round.
But the World Economic Conference attended by delegates from 64 countries was an abject failure. Franklin D. Roosevelt chose not to show up but sent a “bombshell
Message that sabotaged the temporary stabilisation of currencies, seen as a crucial first step towards renewed international co-operation. Far from reversing the move towards economic nationalism, the summit marked a further staging-post along the way to it. For Ramsay MacDonald, the British prime minister who by then headed a cross-party government, the event brought chagrin rather than glory.
Mindful of this, students of history and present day experts and observers are waiting anxiously for the outcome of this week World Economic Conference.
Having proclaimed the dawn of a “new era of American leadership”, President Obama faces his first real test at the G20 summit. Observers will be watching to see if Mr Obama will turn the page on George Bush’s confrontational style which stirred so much anti-American sentiment, and engage world leaders to deliver policies that will lead to steps to reverse the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Some seasoned observers believe that Mr Obama has not helped the cause of unity by showing insufficient regards for national sensibilities in recent weeks. Developing economics having been lectured by the West about the joys of free market and the need for deregulation, are in no mood to share the burden for fixing a crisis that they blame squarely on America.
European countries, which already spend much more than the US on welfare while harbouring deep-rooted fears dating from the past century about inflation, have also refused to heed Mr Obama’s exhortation. And recession has weakened allies such as Britain’ Gordon Brown, who has extremely limited reserves of capital –both political and economic-to spend.
In a letter to leaders of the G20 Group and indeed, to the entire world, published in the Times of London last week Mr Obama calls for swift actions to stimulate growth.
He said, “I know that America bears its share of responsibility for the mess that we all face. But I also know that we need not chose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve anyone. This G20 meeting provides a forum for a new kind of global economic co-operation. Now is the time to work together to restore the sustained growth that can only come from open and stable markets that harness innovation, support entrepreneurship and advance opportunity.
In conclusion, the American President appealled for unity and call on the nations of the world to work with him to create a new and prosperous world.
“The nations of the world have a stake in one another. The United States is ready to join a global effort on behalf of the new jobs and sustainable growth. Together, we can learn the lessons of this crisis and forge a prosperity that is enduring and secure for the 21st century”.
Well, I am off to the London School of Economics to talk politics, high finance and development, these are fascinating subjects, especially when one is in the company of Jeffrey D. Sachs, so one must end now. I will keep you posted about the G20 Summit and the Barackness of London.
Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay Jnr