Exclusion or Autism

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
26 February, 2018
Editorial: 179
Fecha de publicación original: 7 septiembre, 1999

The hungry dream of bread

At the beginning of August, Guineans Yaquine Koita (14 years old) and Founde Tounjara (15 years old), decided to address the people of Europe about daily suffering on the African continent and ask for help clambering out of its depths. They climbed into the landing gear of a Belgian plane in Conakry and arrived dead in Brussels with the note they had written in their pockets. A radical form of communication technology that worked for a couple of days. Europe was moved. Europe needed the simple note written by two bodies trapped in the landing gear of an aeroplane to realise that there are problems in Africa and that they have names and surnames. Louis Michel, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs (Belgium, ex-colonial power!), exclaimed, unblushingly, “We can’t let this cry for help for a better life go unanswered” and he promised to deliver this letter to his colleagues in Europe so that they too could see first hand, a dead and buried hand, just how bad things are for people living in Africa. We shall never know whether the letter got to them before or after the eclipse of the sun, which cast a definitive shadow over the Guineans’ story in the news.

Then, in the middle of August, Moubiala Kipupa became the protagonist of another episode in this radical communication technology. Kipupa, a refugee from Kabila’s war in what was Zaire, now lives in Gijon. Someone lifted his four year old daughter Clarice with her father’s cell phone number in her pocket (another scrap of paper, another message, the same hopes) over the 2,7 metre high fence that separates Ceuta from the rest of the African continent. How Clarice got there from the Congo heaven only knows. Certainly not in the seat of a comfortable bus or plane anyway. In the fifteen minutes the media gave to the event, Kipupa had time to make one headline . “All I ask is that political refugees from the Congo be given the same treatment as the Kosovars. Everyone wants to make a movie of my case now, but if they really want to help me, let them give me a job.”

These are exceptional cases, radical ones, which we could call transitory social communication with highly efficient content some of which is transmitted with great precision. The norm, however, is autism. The North prefers to turn a deaf ear to the situation in the South, that cardinal point of poverty, marginalisation and desperation, cushioning it with well-worn stories of war, earthquakes, floods, epidemics, massacres or other catastrophes in which there are no real names or voices which directly explain for themselves, without intermediaries of any kind, what is happening, what is needed and how things could be solved. This is a constant social communication technology with very low efficacy in relation to its content, a content which is always hazy because of its generalised catastrophic dimension in which there are no identifiable protagonists. The media in rich countries do not even need to make an effort to put this kind of communication into practice. They have the tacit or express consent of political organisations and the bulk of society. There was nothing pointing to a substantial change in this state of affairs until the use of the Internet became popularised at the beginning of this decade and, more particularly, five years ago.

Social exclusion, as old as the hills but disguised as something new by the peculiar dynamics of globalisation, feeds on the autism of those who could reach out to the marginalised sectors of society but who prefer instead to buy hammocks to lie back and twiddle their thumbs in. For the first time ever, the Internet offers the chance to take the voices, the needs and points of view of these sectors into the living rooms of those who enjoy the use of these resources. Without intermediaries, or the need of wars or big catastrophes to propel them by big headlines. In fact, this real possibility is the driving force behind the discussion about social exclusion as a problem in search of solutions that spreads in many areas of the Internet. This possibility took concrete form in 1991, when the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) developed as a network of regional and sub-regional networks from all five continents working on the environment, human rights, anti-militarism, development, etc. was formed. The APC was already leading the way at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. At the Global Forum which ran alongside the UN Conference on Environment and Development, hundreds of NGO’s from all over the world learned how to use the Internet to start perforating the blocked ear drums of the self-satisfied North, gain technical and financial resources and exchange experience and knowledge without depending on their physical location in the world.

Nevertheless, in order for the Internet to play an essential role in breaking down social exclusion, it requires action in this direction. Telephones do not ring just because they are connected and contact is not established because the lines are installed. People need to dial and find someone to talk to and establish a relationship with. This is the first step towards creating networks which will have a significant impact on the social and economic differences which are becoming ever more pronounced in our societies. And it is becoming clear that this is what internauts themselves are doing in terms of civic society in many parts of the world, either via business initiatives which develop new encounter technologies of social interest, or creating new areas for the exchange and transfer of knowledge and skills, and new spaces for sharing experiences. This is the greatest change taking place at the turn of this century. The idea that we are not going to accept social exclusion on a global scale has never been stronger than it is now, not even at the height of the Cold War when the social landscape was tinged a deep scarlet by different forms of Marxism. The maturation process of this perception will have a lot to do with the arrival on the scene of the “others”, able to speak for themselves via the networks right into our own homes.

Either this, or the discussion on social exclusion will become just another one of those stellar masturbatory topics that opulent societies are so fond of. If we look back at some of the news events that occupied world headlines in August we can assess the difference that separates the margins of exclusion and the ease (or difficulty) of placing oneself in that position. While the story of the two Guinean boys hit the headlines in the European press and filled all kind-hearted people with a sense of sadness about the fate of the African continent, dozens of little boats were crossing the 100 km stretch that separates Morocco from the beaches of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. Boats filled with hopeful men, running away from hunger whose existence only became known when they drowned shortly before reaching land or were returned to their country of origin as soon as the police picked them up. Nobody knows the names of any of them. Not even of the seven audacious and desperate sub-Saharan men who tried to get to Ceuta in an inflatable toy boat.

No sooner had Belgian Luis Michel taken Koita and Tounkara’s letter to EU headquarters, than Spain began reinforcing the fences and walls that separate Ceuta from Morocco to stop immigrants coming in. The UN, on the other hand, was denouncing the fact that rich countries have reduced humanitarian aid by 24% since 1992. Unicef released a report, whose publication some rich countries tried to prevent, in which the infant mortality rate in Iraq –a country without the Internet– was reported to have doubled since the embargo was declared in 1991. From a mortality rate of 56 per 1,000 children per annum it has now risen to 131. According to the report this means the death of 500,000 children as a result of the decision to send that country back into the Middle Ages. That is social and historic exclusion, a new category of marginalisation that, yet again, is met with the response of official and social silence in the North.

Translation: Bridget King