The regeneration of Hackney – the saviour of a borough in despair

Historically, the London Borough of Hackney was renowned as one of the poorest areas in Britain, plagued by widespread poverty, unmanageable social tensions and tormented by an endemic of criminal activity. From the derelict-stricken housing estates to the considerable deficiencies within the borough’s schools and hospitals, throughout all walks of life its residents encountered incredible scenes of marked deprivation. However, since the turn of the century Hackney has emerged as a vibrant centre of affluence, propagated by the booming property market in the area and a growing incentive by local government to address the wealth inadequacies – supported by the advent of the 2012 Olympics. With that said, an influx of middle class “voyagers”  have solidified in Hackney coinciding with the flourishing atmosphere within the borough, submerging with a working class population well aware of the relative indigences of yesteryear. Ultimately however, it would be difficult to argue against the fact that the emanation of the regeneration and gentrification of Hackney has not only revitalised the borough, but removed Hackney from its incredibly ruinous past.

Over the last two decades Hackney has made a considerable effort to purge the economic and social shortcomings. Initiated in the late 1980s, the Council planned to rid the borough of its “sink estates” resulting in the demolition of Trowbridge, Clapton Park, Nightingale (right), Holly Street (where 80% of residents had applied for a transfer) and the Kingshold Estate. The Woodberry Down, Haggerston, Kings Crescent and Pembury Estates are also currently facing reconstruction. In its place more traditional low-rise housing has appeared, along with a plethora of privately-owned developments. Moreover, since 2006 under the Decent Homes programme the Council have invested over £184 million in renovating thousands of existing homes.

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The closure of Hackney Downs school, Kingsland school and Homerton College of Technology due to the below-par performances of its students and recurrent behavioural issues stimulated the emergence of innovative academies, commenced by the Mossbourne Academy in 2004. This, along with the Learning Trust’s dominion over education in Hackney has led to the rebuilding of all secondary schools and the implementation of constructional improvements to primary schools across the borough, decisively improving education. From 2006 to 2013, GCSE results (5 A*-C) increased from 50.9 % to a staggering 79.6%. Corroborated by the advancements in health care and transport – particularly with the expansion of the London Overground subsequent to the completion of the East London Line, ultimately the fortunes of the borough have taken a considerable turn for the better. There have also been increased attempts by the Metropolitan Police (and more specifically Operation Trident) to tackle the eminence of gangs in Hackney after the ill-fated riots of 2011.

Undoubtedly, the recent trends in Hackney have not only statistically reduced crime and poverty rates across the borough, but more importantly have been effective in dissolving the established adverse reputation of the borough. The Metro newspaper recently ranked Hackney as the 2nd best borough in London – remarkable considering Hackney was perceived in the past as the worst place to live in Britain. Furthermore, benefit claimants have reduced by 6% since 2006, employment rates have steadily risen in the same period to 63.7% and across Hackney deprivation has seen a sharp fall, particularly in the Haggerston, Clissold and Lordship wards. These factors have intertwined with the shift in the demographics in the area from a low-income, impoverished community to a prosperous and blossoming place to reside and visit.

Whilst it would be difficult to suggest that the regeneration of Hackney can completely disguise the remnants of poverty in the borough and avoid an ‘indigenous’ population grieving with antagonisms towards the appearance of wealthier newcomers, it generally has had a positive impact in rescuing the borough from further distortion. 697392-120810-hipstersHow long will the social prosperity last? It is difficult to estimate, however  what is for certain is that there is evidence to suggest that gentrification has conserved my place of origin from returning to the social horrors it was once accustomed to.

 

Is the world still concerned that over 200 schoolgirls remain missing in Nigeria?…

Once Michelle Obama joined the worldwide calls for the restoration of the missing schoolgirls in Nigeria – mercilessly kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, it appeared that the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign had successfully galvanised the world’s leaders into actioning the swift return of the young children. However despite a growing international concern and the various measures implemented by the Nigerian government in rectifying the predicament, as of yet the schoolgirls remain in captivity. Thus, compounded by the fact that nearly four months have passed since the baneful kidnappings, are we to conclude that the world no longer cares that 200 schoolgirls linger within the hands of an organisation identified as a ‘terrorist’ group and a global threat?

What is for the certain is that we are aware of where the abducted schoolgirls are located – at least theoretically. On 26 May 2014, a Nigerian military official confirmed that they had ‘found’ the missing girls, yet for security reasons they could not disclose their whereabouts nor could they use force to rescue them due to the possibility of ‘collateral damage.’

However, it appears that this was a disguise for the evident ineffectiveness of the Nigerian government, who have not only failed to curb and address the actions of Boko Haram in the past (let alone in this instance) but have also allowed the Islamic group to commit over a dozen other crimes throughout the country since the abduction, including the assassination of a Muslim leader in Borno state and the seizure of the vice-prime minister’s wife. As a matter of fact, the Chibok schoolgirl kidnappings is just another episode within a catalogue of atrocities instigated by the radicals and in conjunction, is another example of the incompetence of Goodluck Jonathan and his regime in quelling Boko Haram’s growing influence in Nigeria. The conclusion of the Nigerian inquest into the kidnapping at the end of June epitomised the toothlessness of the Nigerian government, with their findings simply acknowledging the number of girls still under confinement.

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If the lacklustre attempts of the Nigerian government raises questions over whether the return of the kidnapped schoolgirls remains a priority, the actions of the world’s leaders only adds salt to the assumption that the world has turned its back on the students. Undeniably, the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign led to widespread media coverage and raised attention of the kidnapping on an unprecedented scale, however since the world’s celebrities erected their photographs online displaying their banners of protest, the international emphathy has dramatically dwindled. In the short-term, many nations – including the United States and United Kingdom, offered support in the form of intelligence experts to aid the Nigerian’s in their search for the young children. Though, in the long-term the missing schoolgirls have largely dissapeared from the subconscious of the international political and social arenas and have become a distant memory in response to the advent of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Ebola outbreak and ultimately other pressing internal and external issues. Similarities can be made between the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ and ‘Kony 2012’ campaigns, both of which became worldwide phenomena overnight but fundamentally depreciated due to a lack of perpetual support for the respective causes in the long haul.

So, is the world still concerned that over 200 schoolgirls remain missing in Nigeria? seemingly not, however it is important that we continue to raise awareness of the abducted students and not confine the crimes of Boko Haram into the abyss of unsolved mysteries. Importantly, although we live in the world where news is constantly changing, we should grow to become more vigilant in sustaining our campaigns against the atrocities we witness – wherever it may be in the world, as people power (as in this case) has proved in past to be an affective lobbying tool in determining the actions of politicians. However, we must refrain from our Western-centric perceptions and apprehend that the plight of anyone in world is parallel to our own understanding of how people should be treated, particularly when it concerns children. Ultimately though, we can only begin to imagine what the reaction would be if over 200 girls went missing at the hands of ‘terrorists’ in the Western world...

Why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a product of miscalculated foreign intervention

In the ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine, one question that surely springs into the minds of the world’s populace is what will (if anything) bring the two conflicting states together? Well what is certainly apparent is that a feasible solution has yet to emerge. Indeed, what has been particularly detrimental to the reconciliation process is the largely unsuccessful interventions of foreign countries in the affairs of the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Historically, the ‘Holy Land’ has always been a matter of contention between the Judeo-Christian and Arab world, however it would be an over assumption to suggest that the conflict between Israel and Palestine stemmed from an uneasy relationship between the Abrahamic religions in the past. As Mark A. Tessler noted in 1994, the conflict is not based on primordial antagonisms, and it has only been over the last century that Jews and Arabs began to view one another as enemies. In reality, it was not until the fall of the Ottoman Empire as a consequence of the  their defeat in the First World War that tensions in the area emerged. More importantly, the fall of the Ottoman dynasty would also stimulate a growing incentive by nations across the world to influence the destiny of Palestine, largely without considering the consequences of their actions.

For centuries, the Ottomans had solidified its domination over Palestine, and had governed the largely Arab population without any significant resistance. Yet, by the turn of the 20th century the Ottoman Empire was struggling to survive, hampered by a weakening economy, internal and external threats to its territory, and a lack of military modernisation – particularly in comparison to its rivals in Europe. Coinciding with the burgeoning Zionist movement – which promoted the idea of a Jewish homeland in the ‘Land of Israel’ (although other areas, such as Uganda and Saudi Arabia were also considered), the future of Palestine became increasingly uncertain. Ultimately however, the fatal decision of the Ottomans to align with the Central Powers would be the catalyst to the tensions in the ‘Holy Land’ in the future.

The Ottoman Empire’s eventual defeat at the hands of British during the First World War would result in Palestine being surrendered to Britain under the terms of the Balfour Declaration. However, although the British had initially signed an agreement with Arab leaders in 1915 which promised the sovereignty of Palestine in exchange for their support in the war effort – culminating in the Arab Revolt in 1916, the Balfour Declaration effectively lobbied for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in appeasement of Zionist movement. As a result, driven by their own individual interests in the area, Britain had given promises both to the Arabs and Jews over the sovereignty of Palestine, causing either side to claim their right to the land. The falsehood of Britain’s promises would lead to tensions between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine throughout the inter-war period, as Jewish migration dramatically increased. As a consequence, the Palestinian nationalist movement matured in response to the growing strength of the Zionist cause.

The British administration over Palestine would expire in 1948. However, following the events of the  Second World War – the Holocaust and the Arab leadership in Palestine alignment with Nazi Germany (a decision undoubtedly influenced by Britain’s ‘betrayal’ of the Palestinian cause after the First World War), the overall consensus of the recently formed United Nations was to partition Palestine into an independent Jewish and Arab state. This decision was widely objected by the Arabs, particularly due to the fact that the Jewish population in Palestine was a minority at the time. As a result of the creation of Israel, a large portion of the Arab population would be enclosed within the new Jewish state. The post-war world were defiant that the Jewish population’s call for a home would be accepted – particularly in response to the atrocities Jews had suffered, who were unwilling to compromise their newfound home against Arab objections to the partitioning of Palestine. Thus, the eventual declaration of the Jewish state of Israel on 14 May 1948, as supported by the United Nations would sow the seeds to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Throughout the last 65 years war, has continuously broken out in the region between Israeli and Arab populations as a result of  the creation of the Jewish state, leading to mass killings and millions of citizens forcibly being expelled or fleeing from their homelands in both Israel and in the Palestinian territories. In 1948 war broke out between Israel and Palestine (backed by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq), however only a year later Israel defeated its Arab neighbours and in turn, seized further territory within Palestine which were later incorporated into the new Jewish state. Furthermore, despite their defeat the Arab states divided the Palestinian territory amongst themselves, with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank being incorporated by Egypt and Jordan respectively.

Seemingly, this was  an opportunity for Palestine’s neighbours to share the spoils in the newly independent territory. Without the intervention of the United States – who were engaging in a global power struggle with the Soviet Union, and the lacklustre attempts by the United Nations to cease fighting, the future of Palestine was once again determined without legitimate consideration for the Palestinian people. This was compounded by the Tripartite Declaration in 1950, which was a joint statement by the United States, France and Britain which cemented the territorial agreement in Palestine after the war of 1948-49. This was despite the fact that the West would aid Israel economically and militarily during this 1950s, as well the Soviet Union’s own efforts to strengthen the Egyptian army. The Suez Crisis in 1956 also demonstrated Egypt’s own intention to maximise its own strengths in Palestine under the leadership of Nasser, further elucidating the impact of foreign intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel would be victorious once again against the Arab states during the Six Day War in 1967, resulting in further territory being captured, including the remaining Arab lands of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the incredibly fractious Jerusalem, effectively incorporating the whole of the Palestine in the process. It also demonstrated the  unwillingness of the Arab states to support the Palestinian cause.  The ultimate repercussions would be a strenuous relationship between the Palestinian freedom fighters and its Arab neighbours – signified during the Jordanian-Palestinian War and the Lebanese War. The United States perceived support for Israel, especially during Johnson’s tenure as president has only damaged relations further between Israel and Palestine, and by extension the rest of the Arab world. Significantly, although the peace process began in the 1990s after years of further animosities in the region – giving Palestine greater autonomy in the area in the process, as of yet neither side has been able to co-exist in amity and tensions continue today.

I090203-Jewish-peace-1[1]n conclusion, before we simply jump on to the ‘anti-Israeli’ and ‘Free Palestine’ bandwagon, it is important to assess the impact of foreign powers in solidifying the untenable relationship between Israel and Palestine.  Although it would be foolish to ignore that there are obvious nationalist motivations that have exacerbating the conflict from either side, the actions of foreign nations have only contributed in intensifying the internal differences as a consequence of their egotistical nature of their individual agendas. Ultimately, if we are to solve the enigma of the Israel/Palestine conflict in which both sides can have their nationalist potential realised, the nations of the world must avoid dwelling into the narrow-mindedness that has existed in the resolution process in the past, and give fair consideration to the claims of either side before we can even begin to hope for peace.

The failure of democracy in Africa

As I begin to dig deep into the wealth of history cemented in Africa’s past, one subject that has particularly troubled me (and surely troubled the minds of many other historians, political analysts and social theorists) is the failure of democracy in the continent. Since the Gold Coast severed the chains of colonialism in 1957 stimulating the end of the European stronghold over the resource-rich continent, African countries have generally struggled to adapt to their newfound independence, and over the last half century have commonly dissolved into an array of brutal dictatorships, exemplified through wide scale corruption, mass murder and extreme incidences of poverty. However, can reasoning be found for the breakdown in democratic rule on such a scale? and if so, does the responsibility solely lie with the negligent and ‘unenlightened’ minds of African leaders and its civilians?

Firstly, it would be important to open a discussion on the development of democracy in other areas of the world in recent history. Although democracy largely originates from the writings of classical antiquity, its modern form stems from the gradual shift in power in England from the monarchy to its parliament after the Civil War of the 17th century, and the popular demand for the ascendancy of liberalism across Europe and the Americas during the 18th and 19th century – signified by the revolutions of 1848. However, the overall success of democracy in these areas is somewhat questionable, particularly in its early implementation. France – although arguably the frontrunner in solidifying the ideas of democracy as early as 1792, quickly fell under the unrivalled governance of Napoleon who would establish a French Empire spearheaded by his dictatorial and aggressive leadership.

The end of the First World War demonstrated further the failures of democracy in Europe, with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco all under the banner of Fascism adopting ruthlessly totalitarian regimes in Italy, Germany and Spain respectively. Furthermore, the newly autonomous Eastern European states repeatedly flirted with authoritarian rule, sandwiched by the despotic leadership of Stalin in the Soviet Union.  Although Britain and the United States did not fall into the dictatorial trap prior to the mid-20 century, universal suffrage was a particularly contentious issue (as was the case in other European countries) particularly for freed slaves, women and the lower classes. Furthermore, throughout the 20th century democracy failed to gain a foothold in the Americas or Asia, who were both plagued by an onslaught of military dictatorships and one party regimes. Therefore, it is clear from examples external to Africa that the application of democracy is not often without turmoil and as history has illustrated, democracy has failed time and time again and has frequently resulted in the eminence of dictators.

I would also like to raise the point (as noted in my other article Is socialism the solution to the problems of Africa) that Africa has long been divided internally by the intricate tribal, linguistic, religious, cultural associations, with its uneasy unification undoubtedly a detriment to the success of democracy. It was the ‘Scramble for Africa’ of the late 19th and early 20th century that largely enforced the borders of African nations, drawn up by a detached and disconnected European leadership apathetic with regard to the complex ethnic arrangements in the continent, and were more concerned with the extensive riches they now had access too. However, unlike future African leaders who would be given the task of governing this substantial mixture of peoples democratically, European imperialists could once rule Africa’s diverse population ruthlessly with an iron first, with largely no attempt being made to effectively amalgamate the cultural dissimilarities. Compounded by the fact that historically tribal leadership in Africa was often executed in an autocratic way, the anticipated success of democracy in Africa after its ’emancipation’ was largely unfeasible for a population who was not only accustomed to an undemocratic form of governance but had also recognised this form of rule as a why of bypassing the incredibly complicated ethnic differences.

It would also be difficult to deny that economic and social instability has played a decisive role in the failure of democracy in Africa. As many African countries struggled to adapt to post-colonialism, compounded by a weight of foreign debt amassed in an attempt to build their economies, democracy often failed as a solution to the economic and social disparities in Africa and as a consequence alternative forms of rule – particularly military dictatorship, were generally accepted as the viable option in quelling such issues (albeit largely unsuccessful).

Robert Mugabe – although initially presented as one of the great revolutionaries against African oppression, abused democracy to quickly set up a one-party state during which he eliminated all opposition and initiated an ethnic cleansing program, whilst poor economic reform resulted in the eradication of Zimbabwe’s economy. Moreover, in 1965 the United States and Belgium supported a coup by Mobutu Sese Seko against the democratically elected Patrice Lumumba in Zaire, however he also swiftly seized power under a highly centralised dictatorship, during which he extensively exploited the wealth of his country through fraud and corruption. Even the great Kwame Nkrumah turned away from democracy in favour of authoritarianism in response to the increasing economic and social pressures in Ghana in the early 1960s.

Similarly, when we look at the greatest failure of democracy in Europe as a consequence of the Great Depression during the 1920s and 1930s, authoritarian rule was seen as the saviour against the widespread financial hardships and somewhat galvanised nations to their ‘former glories.’ In comparison, democracy failed to emanate strength and decisiveness and although not entirely addressing the social and economic issues (in some cases not at all) in both Europe and Africa, dictatorships at least provided a solid political foundation for nations that civilians could look upon as a sign of  stability.

To conclude, as demonstrated in this article there are many issues that the continent has had to encounter that has detracted from the successful implementation of democratic political doctrines. However, since the turn of the 21st century democracy has thrived in Africa and the long-standing association between the region and dictatorships is slowly being extinguished. Undoubtedly with patience, Africa will surely leave the dark episode of failed democracies in its relatively chaotic post-colonial history, provided that it is given the time and support to develop its political structures, alongside solving its economic, social and cultural difficulties.

Is socialism the solution to the problems in Africa?…

As we move further into the 21st century, the problems in Africa remain; a continent plagued with economic, political and social deficiencies, compounded by the ever-present obstacle of poverty. However, for centuries Africa has been the cornerstone of the world’s natural resources, aided by the gradual advancements in technology and science. Undeniably, the abundance of resources could turn Africa into a “paradise on Earth,” where its riches could finally save a region that has long been dominated by foreign intervention. Yet, in reality Africa has been nothing more than an object, continually raped of its freedom and prevented from fulfilling its potential. Despite being considered as the ‘motherland by many, its place in the world is much like an abused child crying for help. So, how can Africa ever escape from its imprisonment? Socialism.

Of course, in the current political climate this may seem absurd, largely due to the disintegration, or indeed the inefficiencies of the “communist” regimes of yesteryear – most evidently in the Eastern Europe. Moreover, capitalism has been magnified on a global scale, with its ideological tenants being expanded throughout all areas of the world. However, I believe socialism can be successfully implemented without conflicting the global capitalist trend , while providing a prosperous future for a continent striving for an ounce of hope. Africa fits perfectly.
The first process of African socialism would undoubtedly involve a strong, centralised government that emphasised state ownership of most, if not all of the country’s assets and industry, thus allowing the African states to sufficiently control their own resources. Too often do we see much of Africa’s resources incorporated into the schemes of private investors to maximise their own profits, taking away what is rightfully theirs. Furthermore, the African people must deviate from the tribal rivalries that have plagued its existence for far too long. There must be a unification of language, culture and ideas, avoiding the possibility of internal tensions such as in the case of Rwanda, D.R Congo and Nigeria. African nations should negate the modern ideas of nationalism and disintegrate their tribal lineages, and instead should attempt to enforce a continent-wide identity based on Pan-Africanism. By doing this, Africa could enter into a common communal relationship – like the E.U, where African nations could  aid each other by sharing resources adequately.

With Africa effectively under ‘self-control,’ the socialist governments could provide the necessary living standards for all its people; such things as free education through state schools, public housing and free healthcare would be the normative objectives. African countries could then trade their natural resources with the rest of the world – effectively posing as “state corporations.” The African states could become their own “companies,” selling any excess materials around the globe, thus producing the surplus profits that could then be implemented into state schemes, advancing the lives of Africans as a whole. China is a successful model of inward socialism and outward capitalism that Africa could not only replicate, but improve due to geographical advantage.

In the space of 400 years, Africa had been stripped of its resources and manpower, all of which had developed the Western nations to an extent the African’s could only dream of reaching. However, this idea could turn the fortunes of Africa around and claw back the years of misery. Though, undoubtedly it will be long and dedicated struggle to finally see Africa shine.