I am in Johannesburg (August 2013) at CISA. Most evenings, coming back from the university, enjoying a drive and conversation with Dilip, director of the Center, I stop at Mike´s Kitchen. Nothing fancy but good food. Grilled calamari, grilled chicken, grilled filet, fresh salad, steamy vegetable, and a decent Pinotage by the glass, makes it for a healthy dinner and ready to go in the morning.
This evening I was sitting at the end of the narrow path in the restaurant, before the last table, on the right hand side looking at the restaurant and thinking about the Indian Ocean. I had saved a couple of articles and maps; at the restaurant they do not have wi-fi. I am becoming more interested. Through its role in modern/colonial histories you can see the displacement of the field of forces and the role of the Oceans in the global order.
In the modern era the Mediterranean was the center. After all, French historian Fernand Braudel wrote a voluminous and long lasting book on The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II. That was the moment in which the Mediterranean (medi-terra perhaps late North Africa, Middle East and Southern Europe, according to today’s geographical regions) was displaced by the Atlantic. The Atlantic hegemony lasted five centuries. Now we are entering the era of the Pacific. Next will be the era of the Indian Ocean.
When you look at the map and see the configuration of the Indian Ocean, you began to understand why in South Africa the BRICS are being taken seriously. The passage from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic was the foundational moment of Western Civilization. The Pacific was in the back yard. Now the Pacific is coming center stage: China forced the US to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership. and to declare that the 21st century will be the American Pacific Century. Now, enter the Indian Ocean, and the BRICS, and you would begin to understand what a multipolar world means. The last meeting of BRICS country was held in Durban. Gentle reminder of where Durban is located.
While I was deep into my political-metaphysics speculations, a couple entered, approached and sat one table in front of mine, a table for four, but on the left hand side. They were a couple, obviously. They sat next to each other. Strange, I thought. Why they do not sit in front of each other? Better to just look at each other with your neck in a regular position instead of turning your neck to the right or left to look at each other.
After a while the guy moved and sat in front of her. All right, I told myself, that is the way to go. They were both big. I would say at least 6+ feet tall. Not fat, not thin, just big by any standard and white–especially next to the waiters, black men and women, young, thin and on the short side. She had long red hair and a pale face; he had brown hair and a pale face.
After a while, another couple entered the long and narrow corridor. She was tall, about 6 feet also. Blond, not fat, not thin, just big. He was average. That is, you would not have noticed him, not tall, not short, not fat, on the small side next to the other three, but obviously larger than the black young woman who were waiting on them, with a big smile.
If you have seen these people in Holland or Germany, you would not have paid attention. Perhaps Germans from Namibia who moved to South Africa. They would fit with the average tall and big men and women in those countries. I do not know how they get so tall, but they do. Here, instead, they were noticeable. I would guess that they were British or Dutch or of British and Dutch descent.
At the last table, to my back, but also on the left hand side, was a couple of black people. I would guess that they were from South Africa and/or Zimbabwe or perhaps Mozambique. They were talking about Mugabe holding power after the last election. They were obviously in favor of Mugabe. At some point they were also making some comments about some events in Maputo that I was unable to locate, it was too local.
And then they turned the conversation to Ubuntu. I paid attention because I am interested in the debates around the word, similar to the debates in South America around Sumak Kawsay/Suma Qamaña. In the conversation they were trying to sort out the importance of bringing this concept into current debates to undermine the naturalization of democracy and development as the only way to a peaceful feature, when indeed democracy and development were pure rhetoric to justify the well being of 1% of the population.
But at the same time, Ubuntu was appropriated to justify illicit and personal benefits, or by a new age middle class, or by philosophers who justify their job by analyzing the meaning of the word in various languages, with their spelling and phonetic variations. Same with Sumak Kawsay. A quick translation is ¨living well¨ distinguished from ¨living better.¨ Basically, Sumak Kawsay and its equivalent promote economic administration of scarcity rather than of accumulation to the benefit to those who want to devote their life to accumulate at the expense of people who are not interested in that.
The World Bank appropriated the idea and now equates ¨development¨ with the ¨happiness economics¨. We know that this is a lie. Or a blind naiveté. After all, the guy said, it is the same with democracy. It is appropriated for purposes that are non-dmocratic, like John Kerry saying that the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi by the military was not a coup d’état but a restoration of democracy. Humm. Military overthrow of an elected government by an significant majority is restoration of democracy? Very strange, indeed. But there is still another logic of the same kind: the IMF recommend to Spanish government to reduce salaries in order to create jobs. Do you get it? This is a recommendation to equitative distribution of poverty, so the banks can accumulate to be able to loan money!!??
What is the relationship between the Indian Ocean and Mike´s Kitchen?–that all came together in a lapse of two ours of enjoying my dinner.