The UN’s Latest Questionable Decision

Another post from the University of Warwick’s newspaper The Boar where I look at the United Nations General Assembly’s next President, Mr. Sam Kutesa, and his questionable track record on LGBTQ+ rights, corruption and views on human rights in general: http://theboar.org/2014/07/06/dis-united-nations-appoint-homophobe-president/#.U71s3vldVFM

Since its inception, the UN has strived to represent the best of humanity. It was meant to be a beacon of hope, taking the idealism of its predecessor, the League of Nations, while learning from its mistakes. While some of its bodies like UNICEF and UNESCO have been able to fulfil their potential, the more well-known organisations have unfortunately come to epitomise the very worst of political strong-arming and sycophancy.

With its current reputation for being an ineffective political entity, it is difficult to imagine the UN disappointing anyone with a bad decision. It is a mark of how horrible their latest move really is then, that disappointment would have been the optimal reaction they could have hoped for. This is because Uganda’s Foreign Minister, Sam Kutesa, has been appointed the next President of the UN General Assembly, the so-called “world parliament”, starting in September of this year.

The UNGA President is rotated between five geographical groups (Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Western Europe and Other States) on a yearly basis. Under their guidance, the UN’s largest organ elects the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, members of the Economic and Social Council and judges for the International Court of Justice. It also votes on a range of non-binding international resolutions.

The role of the President is arguably largely ceremonial. Although they can influence the direction of debate, they have no executive authority or any veto. Nonetheless, they are supposed the be the spokesperson for the largest supra-governmental body on the planet and that does not come without some degree of influence. It is, therefore, particularly worrying that Mr. Kutesa has been chosen for this role.

As Uganda’s Foreign Minister, he was instrumental in pushing forward his country’s laws regarding the criminalisation of homosexuality. A vocal opponent of any “unnatural” human interactions, Mr. Kutesa is credited with being one of the people who convinced the Cabinet not to scrap the law even under international pressure. With LGBTQ+ rights being such a crucial topic around the world at this moment, the next UNGA head is expected to have to handle various discussions and resolutions on issues such as commitments to equal sexual rights.

His track record on that one significant issue is bad enough of course, but Mr. Kutesa is no poster child for any subject, never mind the fact that his outrage against homosexuality stems from a supposed belief in moral good. His record on corruption is shameful, amassing millions in a country that has significant poverty. He has regressive views on HIV/AIDS and he does not endorse the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights,* calling the latter a matter of ethical superiority rather than unimpeachable truths.

Sam Kutesa is, by any modern standards, a loathsome individual. He has actively worked to hamper equality and he has almost medieval views on authority and privilege. If the UN’s justification for selecting him is that it is purely a formality, then the implication is that they really are a symbolic body with no power at all. The alternative is that the UNGA which elected him consists of bigots like himself. It is difficult to think which is worse.

*Based on a comment made regarding the newspaper article, I feel I must make one addition. While I concede that the UN Declaration of Human Rights is itself an arbitrary document, which therefore does not make it an unimpeachable truth, it is the basis for rights across the world and is also the basis for any burgeoning equality movement in the contemporary world. For Mr. Kutesa to so openly mock it and still get elected to the position he has now been elevated to is problematic.

Banksy and the Co-Option of Rebellion

A recent piece for the University of Warwick newspaper The Boar looks at whether Banksy is still as subversive as he was when he started. As part of the paper’s tete a tete series, it provides two arguments and I was fortunate to have looked at one side of the debate: http://theboar.org/2014/07/05/tete-tete-banksy-sold/#.U7lxnfldVFM

At this moment, Banksy, the great recluse and sole artiste (with an e, thank you) whose preferred medium is graffiti, is being celebrated with a series of auctions, a gallery retrospective by one of his former acquaintances and a series of LEGO recreations. It is a sign of the movement he represents that the last of the three should be the most fitting tribute. In reality, however, Banksy is no longer as subversive as we would like him to be.

This is not his fault, if that is the right word we are looking for. In a world where any form of rebellion is either snuffed out or made mainstream, it is difficult for anyone as radical as him to maintain their vision for such a long time. Punk fashion went from being about deconstructing boundaries to being taken up by designer labels as a theme. The intellectual left became radicalised to the point where they are either misunderstood or submissive.

With Banksy, his co-option by the so-called practitioners of “high art” happened the minute it became unforgiveable to paint over his work. For the record, on a purely amateur basis of understanding art, I can admire the beauty in his work. If I take the politics out of it, I can objectively agree with the idea of putting his work in the Tate Modern. At the very least, I can agree with the decision to keep his work intact. The problem is that Banksy is supposed to be so much more than that.

His pieces tackle very heavy topics; the surveillance state (One Nation Under CCTV), the Arab-Israeli conflict (murals on the West Bank Barrier), and sexual health (Naked Man) are all areas he has looked at. As an outspoken critic of capitalism, his entire process is based on the idea of taking over public space, a form of guerrilla warfare against the class system in which the elites have to come face-to-face with eyesores.
All well and good, except for the fact that his work is revered.

While individual critics do resort to calling him a vandal, Banksy’s art is among the most sought-after pieces in the contemporary world. He wants to help dismantle capitalism. Good for him. I wonder how well he is achieving it when his pieces are being so shamelessly commoditised. At the same time, graffiti as a whole is still considered vandalism, which is one of the loudest, and weakest, arguments against the dismantling (or relocation) of the skate park in South Bank.

It would be wrong of me to say that Banksy has directly sold himself out. At the end of the day though, it does not matter. As soon as his work went from being “graffiti” to “art”, we lost him.