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      Pambazuka News 416: American dreams, Palestinian nightmares

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      CONTENTS: 1. Action alerts, 2. Features, 3. Comment & analysis, 4. Pan-African Postcard, 5. Books & arts, 6. Letters & Opinions, 7. Emerging powers in Africa Watch, 8. Zimbabwe update, 9. Women & gender, 10. Human rights, 11. Refugees & forced migration, 12. Elections & governance, 13. Corruption, 14. Development, 15. Health & HIV/AIDS, 16. Education, 17. LGBTI, 18. Environment, 19. Land & land rights, 20. Food Justice, 21. Media & freedom of expression, 22. News from the diaspora, 23. Conflict & emergencies, 24. Internet & technology, 25. eNewsletters & mailing lists, 26. Fundraising & useful resources, 27. Courses, seminars, & workshops

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      Highlights from this issue

      FEATURES: Paul T. Zeleza on Obama and the promise and challenges from the world citizenry

      - From the archives: Mahatma Gandhi’s prescient perspectives on the Israeli-Palestine conflict
      - Annar Cassam on Israel road to madness
      - Demba Moussa Dembélé argues for Palestinian right to resist
      - Alan Singer looks at the future of struggle in the United States
      - Issa Shivji in conversation with Marc Wuyts
      - Bethany Ojalehto and Qaabata Boru on a Kanere refugee free independent press
      - Rob Cook looks at the Liberian refugees protest in Ghana

      ACTION ALERTS: Keep up on the Zimbabwe crisis with Pambazuka News Zimbabwe Alerts

      PAN-AFRICAN POSTCARD: Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem on Obama and our responsibilities

      LETTERS: Pambazuka readers on Obama, Palestine and much more

      - Stephen Marks on Obama and China
      - Sanusha Naidu says Beijing is reaffirming its commitment to AfricaACTION ALERTS: Latest news on Pambazuka Zimbabwe Action Alerts
      BOOKS & ARTS: Forced Displacement: Why Rights Matter?
      ZIMBABWE UPDATE: Cholera moves to rural areas
      WOMEN & GENDER: Banking on African women
      CONFLICT AND EMERGENCIES: Nkunda arrested
      HUMAN RIGHTS: Advocating for minority rights
      REFUGEES AND FORCED MIGRATION: 15 drown in Gulf of Aden
      ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE: Ghana president unveils cabinet list
      CHINA-AFRICA WATCH: Beijing reaffirms its African agenda
      CORRUPTION: Guinea calls corruption hearings
      DEVELOPMENT: A new approach to development
      HEALTH & HIV/AIDS: Food shortages threaten ARV adherence in Kenya
      EDUCATION: Zimbabwe teachers vow to remain on strike
      LGBTI: Global LGBT youth network launched
      ENVIRONMENT: Caterpillars threaten Liberia
      LAND & LAND RIGHTS: Tanzania slows down EAC integration over land concerns
      FOOD JUSTICE: Enterprise fund makes first grants
      MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Somali journalist released
      NEWS FROM THE DIASPORA: The high price of clean, cheap ethanol
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      The dawn of the Obama era: In memory of the ancestors

      Paul T Zeleza


      The Obama era has begun. Like millions of people in the United States and around the world today I sat glued to the television watching the historic inauguration, relishing the man and the moment, its substance and symbolism. Tomorrow, of course the hard work starts and the harsh realities facing the new president will break today's magical spell. America's daunting challenges will puncture the bubble of messianic expectations invested in the young president. The extraordinary euphoria that has gripped this nation and parts of the world is obviously unsustainable, and it will inevitably evaporate in the predictable whirlwind of stumbles, setbacks, even scandals, not to mention the structural obstacles, the systemic imperatives of this mighty but beleaguered capitalist country and imperial power that will constrain bold changes, truly progressive transformation.

      The challenges are immense indeed: ending two foreign wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have depleted the nation of treasure and trust and abandoning the misguided commitment to "war on terror" which even Britain one of America's staunchest allies thinks is a mistake; managing the economic crisis and administering an effective stimulus package that will halt the economic recession and restore growth; expanding access to health care and improving the quality of education and overcoming the inequities of the prison industrial complex that has devastated African American and other minority communities; pursuing sound and sustainable domestic and global environmental policies; and promoting smart foreign policies and allegiance to multilateralism. The biggest challenge facing President Obama is how to manage the relative historic decline of American global supremacy in a world of new emerging powers and growing intolerance against authoritarianism whether within or between nations; in short, a more global and nationalistic world impatient with the old injustices and hierarchies of power and well-being and hungry for development, democracy, and self-determination.

      The indefatigable anti-apartheid and human rights campaigner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it best on January 19th at a congregation of black leaders from around the world convened by the Congressional Black Caucus to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and the inauguration of President Barack Obama. He urged the new President "not to squander the promise of this moment, and to return America to the moral high ground once again. ‘The world is waiting for America to be a leader once again, but not an America of bully-boy tactics,' he urged.... ‘A leader that says, ‘Climate change is here, let's not pussyfoot around'...An America that won't tolerate abominations like Guantanamo Bay. No!...Torture is torture, the world is waiting for an America that says, ‘No to torture!' An America, he continued, that ratifies the International Criminal Court, sending a message to despots in places like Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma and Tibet that ‘there is no impunity, there is nowhere for you to hide.' If the impending inauguration of Obama is possible, Tutu said, then so is all of this. ‘God has been waiting,' Tutu said, ‘to hear us say: Yes We Can!'

      From his inaugural address, which invoked some key moments and motifs of American history, and crossed generational and racial divides, it is clear President Obama understands many of these challenges and he is eager to confront them as effectively as possible. The speech was more somber than soaring; eschewing the false optimism beloved by American presidents and politicians, he called for a new era of responsibility. He painted a grim picture of the problems facing the country: "That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

      He called for bold and swift action and strongly repudiated the policies of the Bush administration and the ideological bickering of the past few decades: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government. Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good."

      Finally, he promised a new compact with the world: "And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.... To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."

      Only the next few weeks and months and years will tell whether these promises will be kept, whether the faith placed in the Obama Administration by millions of people in the United States and around the world for transformative change is misplaced or not. The scholar in me does not expect profound changes in the conduct of America's domestic and foreign policies. But I celebrate the new president nonetheless. I have noticed many of my scholarly and activist colleagues and friends share the same ambivalence, a kind of cautious excitement. Excitement that the long history of struggle has brought this country to the point of having a black president, and caution that many of the country's structural features and deformities will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. Given the ugly weight of race in American history, the election of President Obama diminishes the symbolic and substantive stranglehold of race on American society and political economy. That is to be welcomed.

      But this is a day for rejoicing, not prognosticating the future. In the words of Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute, "this is the day for which so many prayed, so many marched and so many more sacrificed. This is a day of jubilation and celebration. This is the day to rejoice and recommit ourselves to restoring the American dream for us all.... Yes, of course, racism still exists in America. But if a black man can become president of the United States of America, then aren't all Americans now free to believe they can achieve any goal they set for themselves?" It is for these struggles and promises that this is indeed a historic day. In one of the most memorable lines in his address, President Obama reminded his audience of the historic gravity and possibilities of the moment: "why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

      A point stated with understated astonishment by Rupert Cornwell in the British paper, The Independent: "The most powerful man in the world is black.... Let us savor history today. Tomorrow for Barack Obama the hard part begins - the small matters of largely reinventing his country, trying to bring a semblance of order to an ever more turbulent world, and staving off economic Armageddon.... Today in one sense is a destination, the end of a journey lasting 233 years, from the very foundation of a country with its own original sin of slavery. There have been many milestones along the road: among them emancipation, Jackie Robinson and the integration from 1947 of baseball which truly was then the national pastime. Then came the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown vs Board of Education, that desegregated America's schools, followed by the great civil rights acts of the 1960s. The dream set out 45 years ago by Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial - at the opposite end of the Washington Mall from where Mr Obama will speak today - may not have been entirely realized. The color of a person's skin still does matter in America - but how far America has come."

      This is a deeply emotional moment for African Americans, unimaginable for centuries, inconceivable to their ancestors who endured the indescribable savagery of slavery and segregation, astounding even to the post-civil rights offspring often hindered by the abiding bigotries and excuses of low expectations. This day is a tribute to their struggles, their unshakeable faith in their humanity, their hopes that they could shift the trajectory of their nation's cruel history. Their slave ancestors built the Capitol where the new president was inaugurated and the White House where he will be living for the next four years and perhaps eight. It was in these buildings that the drama of African American subjugation and emancipation were played out, where new chapters of the American story were written in blood and tears, where European dreams and African nightmares confronted each other generation after generation.

      Connecting the two sites is Pennsylvania Avenue, which has been, as The Los Angeles Times noted yesterday, "the scene of hate, oppression, possibility and progress." The paper observed that the new president's triumphant motorcade "will retrace the path of Ku Klux Klan marches and roll past the ghosts of hotels and movie theaters that used to turn away people like him.... This historic stretch, bookended by the Capitol on one end and the White House on the other, has witnessed many of the milestones that made an Obama presidency possible. The Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were signed here. But it's doubtful that even a Harvard-educated wonder can get his arms around the scope of the civil-rights drama that has played out on this 1.2-mile slice of real estate. There are places more infamous for their scars - Selma, Birmingham - but none capture the sweep of the story the way Pennsylvania Avenue does, where laws were passed to enslave people and laws were passed to free them, and at least a dozen of Obama's predecessors would sooner have considered him a piece of property than a peer."

      It is a poignant coincidence that President Obama's inauguration came a day after the Martin Luther King Day. The Obama presidency was made possible by the civil rights movement symbolized by Dr. King's leadership. Writing in The Washington Post, Dr. King's son, Martin Luther King III, stated, "Forty-five years ago, my father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., proclaimed his dream for America ‘that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.' His words, spoken in Lincoln's shadow on Aug. 28, 1963, will echo profoundly on Jan. 20, 2009. The ideals that Abraham Lincoln and my father championed will advance when Barack Obama takes the presidential oath of office." But the civil rights leader concluded with a somber thought: "As bright a day as Nov. 4 was in our nation's history, it is important to remember that Barack Obama's election is not a panacea for race relations in this country. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, yet segregation ran rampant for a hundred years. Blacks were given the right to vote in 1965, but it took 43 years for an African American to rise to the nation's highest office. Though it carries us further down the path toward equality, Barack Obama's election does not render my father's dream realized."

      This caution was echoed by one of Dr. King's lieutenants and trail blazers for President Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, in which he asked: "What would Dr. King, who spent much of his life changing conditions so that African-Americans could vote without fear of death or intimidation, think of the rise of the nation's 44th president? I can say without reservation that he would be beaming. I am equally confident that he would not let the euphoria of the moment blind us to the unfinished business that lies ahead. And he would spell out those challenges in biblical terms: feed the hungry, clothe the naked and study war no more. Dr. King spent his 39th birthday working.... That's the model we should follow this week - and beyond. We should celebrate the election of our new president. And then we should get back to work to complete the unfinished business of making America a more perfect union."

      Clearly, President Obama owes much to Dr. King, but he is not the latter's predictable heir. The two not only belong to different generations, what President Obama himself calls the Moses and Joshua generations, they represent different political projects, that of revolutionaries seeking to get in by breaking the barricades of exclusion and reformists trying to fit in by shifting the furniture within. President Obama lacks Dr. King's burning moral and political fervor to overhaul American society and politics; his drive is to run the country more efficiently. For Dr. King, racism, poverty, and war were intertwined, American imperialism abroad and racism at home reproduced each other. But President Obama seems wedded to maintaining American power, albeit with softer gloves than the bare knuckled arrogance of the Bush-Cheney Administration. Warns Michael Honey: "Like Lyndon Johnson, Obama risks his domestic agenda by getting bogged down in a quagmire in Afghanistan." Already his lukewarm reaction to the Israeli invasion of Gaza is cooling enthusiasm for him in some parts of the world. Reports William J. Kole: "Muslims want to know why Obama hasn't joined the chorus of international criticism of Israel's Gaza offensive. Last week posters of him were set on fire in Tehran to shouts of "Death to Obama!"

      President Obama confronts progressives with challenges they didn't face with the manifestly banal and uncompromising President Bush. They must go beyond making predictable critiques if they wish to influence the new administration, to keep its feet to the fire in carrying out some of its own more enlightened campaign promises. They need to constantly engage both his administration and America. To quote John Nichols: "Obama knows not just the rough outlines of the left-labor-liberal-progressive agenda, but the specifics. He does not need to be presented with progressive ideas for responding appropriately to an economic downturn, to environmental and energy challenges, to global crises and democratic dysfunctions. He has, over the better part of a quarter century, spoken of, written about, and campaigned for them."

      He continues: "The way to influence Obama and his Administration is to speak not so much to him as to America. Get out ahead of the new President, and of his spin-drive communications team. Highlight the right appointees and the right responses to deal with the challenges that matter most. Don't just critique, but rather propose. Advance big ideas and organize on their behalf; identify allies in federal agencies, especially in Congress, and work with them to dial up the pressure for progress. Don't expect Obama or his aides to do the left thing. Indeed, take a lesson from rightwing pressure groups in their dealings with Republican administrations and recognize that it is always better to build the bandwagon than to jump on board one that is crafted with the tools of compromise. Smart groups and individuals are already at it."

      He concludes with a pertinent historical analogy: "Franklin Roosevelt's example is useful here. After his election in 1932, FDR met with Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders, many of them active Socialists with whom he had worked over the past decade or more. Hillman and his allies arrived with plans they wanted the new President to implement. Roosevelt told them: ‘I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.' It is reasonable for progressives to assume that Barack Obama agrees with them on many fundamental issues. He has said as much. It is equally reasonable for progressives to assume that Barack Obama wants to do the right thing. But it is necessary for progressives to understand that, as with Roosevelt, they will have to make Obama do it."

      As I watched the dignitaries from the three branches of government coming to be seated for the inauguration, the members of Congress and the Senate, justices of the Supreme Court, and some of the prospective cabinet secretaries the audacity of the moment was unmistakable: the new black president will be accompanied by only one black justice, the widely despised Clarence Thomas, and one black senator, Roland Burris, Senator Obama's briefly contentious replacement nominated by the impeached Illinois Governor. The contrast between the white faces of power and the colorful sea of people, estimated at nearly two million who stretched for two miles over the Washington Mall and all across the capital, was palpable.

      The two images underscore the symbolic significance of this moment that American history had turned, if not a new chapter, at least a new page. The festive crowds had turned out to witness history, to celebrate history, for their rendezvous with history. Their ecstasy on the mall and across the nation was as infectious as it was intense, almost unprecedented and not seen in the inaugurations of any of President Obama's immediate predecessors. That did not stop the pundits from trying to find parallels in past inaugurations, many settling on the mystique of John F. Kennedy, another youthful president with a beautiful family, and much promise. Indeed, for Matt Bai, the inauguration of President Obama marks the end of "America's 50-year quest to find a truly transformational leader" a la Kennedy.

      It is easy to be cynical about such theatrical political events as the inauguration, the ritualized performance in the American transfer of power. The claims trotted by pundits and the new president express the typical bombast of American exceptionalism. Writing yesterday, the astute British journalist, Gary Younge , puts it this way: "Not for the first time, ridiculous claims will be made for this particular historical moment. Some will say this could not happen anywhere else, without acknowledging that putting one in three black men born at the turn of this century in jail could not happen anywhere else either. A black man in the White House seems so unlikely precisely because a black man in prison, dead or impoverished is so much more likely. Some will claim that Obama's advance shows that anyone in America can make it, regardless of race or class, without acknowledging that, in fact, class fluidity and racial uplift are in fact in retreat, and have been for several years. And yet others will insist that a black face will help promote US interests abroad, without acknowledging that the face of American foreign policy for the last eight years has been Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Those who hold that America is a land of boundless opportunity and relentless progress are no fans of fact or history."

      But rituals and celebrations are the poetry in the prosaic lives of individuals, families, communities, and nations, the spice that seasons human existence. The explosive fervor for President Obama is not to be derided. To quote Younge again: "For those on the left who have sneered at this joy, tomorrow is their last chance to join the rest of the people whose liberation they claim to champion. Anxious to get their disappointment in early and avoid the rush, they have been keen to point out the various ways in which Obama will fail and betray. Their predictions may well prove correct. The best is not the same as adequate. He has been elected to represent the interests of the most powerful country in the world. Those will not be the same interests as those of the powerless. And yet, in the words of Friedrich Engels: ‘What childish innocence it is to present one's own impatience as a theoretically convincing argument.' Obama was the most progressive, viable candidate possible in these circumstances. A black American, propelled to office by a mass popular campaign pledging income redistribution and an end to torture and the war in Iraq, has defeated the Republicans and is about to replace the most reactionary president in at least a generation."

      The millions of Americans and others around the world who are rejoicing at Obama's accession to the presidency are not simply overjoyed by Obama's personal success, although many are, nor are they delusional optimists, although some may be, but they are also, in the most elemental sense, projecting their own hopes and dreams for different lives, for better futures. Younge again puts the point most eloquently. "The global outpouring of support for Obama suggests a constituency for a world free of racism and war, and desperate to shift the direction of global events that is in dire need of leadership and an agenda. Dancing in the streets tomorrow afternoon doesn't mean you can't take to those same streets in protest from Wednesday. As one African-American activist said shortly after election day: ‘As much hell as we've caught over the past few hundred years, we should enjoy this one.'"

      President Obama starts office with incredible support, with approval ratings of 83%! The poll ratings are simply dizzying, higher than for any incoming president in recent memory. Writes Jonathan Freedland: "79% [of Americans are] optimistic about the next four years, according to the New York Times, a degree of goodwill that trumps the numbers that greeted the previous five presidents." As befitting America, his image has become a hot commodity, stamped on all manner of merchandise. The new president serves, as political leaders and cultural icons tend to especially in moments of national crisis and angst, as the canvas upon which millions of people yearning for change seek to rewrite their collective lives. The fact that they are likely to be disappointed is not an argument against the dreams themselves, nor does it invalidate the struggles that made this moment possible.

      The presence of President Obama also recasts struggles and representations of the African diasporas in various parts of the world. We are all familiar with the electrifying impact of President Obama's election in countries in the Americas and Europe with large and often marginalized African diaspora populations. The excitement extends to Asia including Iraq, the burial ground of American imperial hubris, where the country's estimated 2 million Blacks have apparently made Barack Obama a model to follow to follow. Even in India, according to Lakshmi Chaudhry , where Indians of African descent tend to be racially despised, the country has "been overwhelmed by the undisguised pleasure of seeing a brown-skinned underdog triumph against all odds over a white establishment.... Many Indians believe Obama's victory makes all things possible for people of color everywhere - including the many American grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins who, thanks to globalization, are part of the Indian extended family."

      In another insightful article, What Obama Means to the World, Gary Younge reminds us of the special role African Americans have occupied in the global political and cultural imaginary, facilitated by the very global standing of the United States, as victims of oppression and beacons of redemption against American imperialism and racism, as powerful producers and custodians of American popular culture. The progressive image of African Americans was severely damaged by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who became the black faces of "the most reactionary US foreign policy in at least a generation. When Secretary of State Powell addressed the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in September 2002, he was jeered...." President Barack Obama reprises the more heroic image and role of African Americans.

      But he does more: his rise challenges Europe and other multiracial societies to look hard at their own histories and societies. "Political conversation in France, Britain and Germany, in particular, went almost effortlessly from how to keep immigrants out to how descendants of (mostly) immigrants could ascend to the highest office in the land - or why they could not... In almost every instance the simple, honest answer to the question ‘Could it happen here?' was no. The Obama story was indeed about race. But at its root it was essentially about white people. Would they vote for him? Would they kill him? It's not clear whether white Europeans would be any more comfortable with electing a black leader in their own countries than some Republicans were here. Having basked in a smug state of superiority over America's social, economic and racial disparities, Europeans were forced by Obama's victory and the passions it stoked to face hard realities about their own institutional discrimination, which was not better or worse - just different...."

      As is well known in Europe, "To this day ‘immigrant' and ‘nonwhite' are often used synonymously in France. Indeed, given the conflation of immigration and race in Europe, the fact that Obama's father was an immigrant was in some ways as significant as the fact that he was black. In that sense every country potentially has its Obama, depending on its social fault lines. For the broader symbolism of his win has less to do with race than with exclusion.... [Obama's] central appeal was not so much that he looked like other Americans as that he sounded so different - and not just in comparison to Bush. For if Obama represents a serious improvement over his predecessor, he also stands tall among other world leaders. At a time of poor leadership, he has given people a reason to feel passionate about politics. Brits, Italians, South Africans, French and Russians look at Obama and then at Gordon Brown, Silvio Berlusconi, Thabo Mbeki, Nicolas Sarkozy and Vladimir Putin and realize they could and should be doing a whole lot better.

      In conclusion, Younge observes: "Much of this is, of course, delusional. People's obsession with Obama always said more about them than him. Most wanted a paradigm shift in global politics, and, unable to elect governments that could fight for it, they simply assigned that role to Obama. His silence during the shelling of Gaza, however, was sobering for many. As a mainstream Democrat he stands at the head of a party that in any other Western nation would be on the right on foreign policy, the center on economic policy and the center-left on social policy. Come inauguration day, that final symbolic set piece, the transition will be complete. The rest of the world must become comfortable with a black American, not as a symbol of protest but of power. And not of any power but a superpower, albeit a broken and declining one. A black man with more power than they. How that will translate into the different political cultures around the globe, whom it will inspire, how it will inspire them and what difference that inspiration will make will vary. From inauguration day people's perceptions of Obama will no longer hinge on what he is but on what he does."

      Whatever indeed happens under the Obama Administration, its inauguration today has already changed the face of American politics. The African ancestors brought to these lands in chains are watching, but for once, probably with a smile. The long struggle for citizenship among their descendants has entered a new age, the Obama era.

      *Paul Tiyambe Zeleza is editor of The Zeleza Post where this essay first published.

      *Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Comment & analysis

      Mahatma Gandhi on Israel and Palestine

      Religious acts cannot be performed with bayonets and bombs

      Mahatma Gandhi


      With Palestine still facing brutal Israeli action, our attention has been drawn to a pair of articles on Zionist politics and the Palestinian plight written by Mahatma Gandhi in the period immediately preceding the creation of the Israeli state. Entitled simply ‘The Jews’ and ‘Jews and Palestine’ and written in 1938 and 1946 respectively, these articles outline Gandhi’s sympathy to the Jewish cause yet strong desire not to see Palestinians wronged. Deeply sceptical of the morality behind marginalising Palestinians through the formation of the Israeli state, the father of the Indian nation argues a more morally-legitimate course would be to insist on the just treatment of Jews wherever they are born and bred.

      The Jews [September 1938]

      Several letters have been received by me asking me to declare my views about the Arab–Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question.

      My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.

      But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?

      Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.

      The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French. If the Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world in which they are settled? Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colourable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.

      But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to... [text missing in original]

      Can the Jews resist this organized [...] and prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province.

      But if there can be no war against Germany, even for such a crime as is being committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be alliance between a nation which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one which is the declared enemy of both? Or is England drifting towards armed dictatorship and all it means?

      Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it looks in its nakedness [and] shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is. No person who has faith in a living God need feel helpless or forlorn. Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, the Mussalmans or the Hindus, though, as a matter of fact in essence, He is common to all and one without a second and beyond description. But as the Jews attribute personality to God and believe that He rules every action of theirs, they ought not to feel helpless. If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the godfearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.

      It is hardly necessary for me to point out that it is easier for the Jews than for the Czechs to follow my prescription. And they have in the Indian satyagraha campaign in South Africa an exact parallel. There the Indians occupied precisely the same place that the Jews occupy in Germany. The persecution had also a religious tinge. President Kruger used to say that the white Christians were the chosen of God and Indians were inferior beings created to serve the whites. A fundamental clause in the Transvaal constitution was that there should be no equality between the whites and coloured races including Asiatics. There too the Indians were consigned to ghettos described as locations. The other disabilities were almost of the same type as those of the Jews in Germany. The Indians, a mere handful, resorted to satyagraha without any backing from the world outside or the Indian Government. Indeed the British officials tried to dissuade the satyagrahis from their contemplated step. World opinion and the Indian Government came to their aid after eight years of fighting. And that too was by way of diplomatic pressure not of a threat of war.

      But the Jews of Germany can offer satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than the Indians of South Africa. The Jews are a compact, homogeneous community in Germany. They are far more gifted than the Indians of South Africa. And they have organized world opinion behind them. I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among them to lead them in non-violent action, the winter of their despair can in the twinkling of an eye be turned into the summer of hope. And what has today become a degrading man-hunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah. It will be then a truly religious resistance offered against the godless fury of dehumanized man. The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted the latter to an appreciation of human dignity. They will have rendered service to fellow-Germans and proved their title to be the real Germans as against those who are today dragging, however unknowingly, the German name into the mire.

      And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart. They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them. They will find the world opinion in their favour in their religious aspiration. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.

      I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.

      Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home including Palestine not by aggression but by loving service. A Jewish friend has sent me a book called The Jewish Contribution to Civilization by Cecil Roth. It gives a record of what the Jews have done to enrich the world's literature, art, music, drama, science, medicine, agriculture, etc. Given the will, the Jew can refuse to be treated as the outcaste of the West, to be despised or patronized. He can command the attention and respect of the world by being man, the chosen creation of God, instead of being man who is fast sinking to the brute and forsaken by God. They can add to their many contributions the surpassing contribution of non-violent action.

      Jews and Palestine [May 1946]

      Hitherto I have refrained practically from saying anything in public regarding the Jew–Arab controversy. I have done so for good reasons. That does not mean any want of interest in the question, but it does mean that I do not consider myself sufficiently equipped with knowledge for the purpose. For the same reason I have tried to evade many world events. Without airing my views on them, I have enough irons in the fire. But four lines of a newspaper column have done the trick and evoked a letter from a friend who has sent me a cutting which I would have missed but for the friend drawing my attention to it. It is true that I did say some such thing in the course of a long conversation with Mr. Louis Fischer on the subject.[1] I do believe that the Jews have been cruelly wronged by the world. "Ghetto" is, so far as I am aware, the name given to Jewish locations in many parts of Europe. But for their heartless persecution, probably no question of return to Palestine would ever have arisen. The world should have been their home, if only for the sake of their distinguished contribution to it.

      But, in my opinion, they have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism. Their citizenship of the world should have and would have made them honoured guests of any country. Their thrift, their varied talent, their great industry should have made them welcome anywhere. It is a blot on the Christian world that they have been singled out, owing to a wrong reading of the New Testament, for prejudice against them."If an individual Jew does a wrong, the whole Jewish world is to blame for it." If an individual Jew like Einstein makes a great discovery or another composes unsurpassable music, the merit goes to the authors and not to the community to which they belong.

      No wonder that my sympathy goes out to the Jews in their unenviably sad plight. But one would have thought adversity would teach them lessons of peace. Why should they depend upon American money or British arms for forcing themselves on an unwelcome land? Why should they resort to terrorism to make good their forcible landing in Palestine? If they were to adopt the matchless weapon of non-violence whose use their best Prophets have taught and which Jesus the Jew who gladly wore the crown of thorns bequeathed to a groaning world, their case would be the world's, and I have no doubt that among the many things that the Jews have given to the world, this would be the best and the brightest. It is twice blessed. It will make them happy and rich in the true sense of the word and it will be a soothing balm to the aching world.

      [1] According to the newspaper cutting, Louis Fischer had quoted Gandhi to the effect that the Jews had a good case but he hoped the Arabs too would not be wronged.

      * These passages are taken from the Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi (‘319. The Jews’, vol. 74, 9 September 1938 – 29 January 1939, pp. 239-242; and ‘331. Jews and Palestine’, vol. 91, 20 May 1946 – 8 August 1946, pp. 272–273).
      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Israel’s march to madness

      Questioning the sanity of the ‘promised land’

      Annar Cassam


      cc. Amir Farshad Ebrahimi
      Following Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s visit to French President Nicolas Sarkozy at beginning of the year, Annar Cassam questions Israeli’s self-identity as a member of the ‘free world’. Heavily critical of the state’s self-appointed role as a bastion of Western values restraining savage Arab hordes, Annar Cassam explores the parallels between current Israeli action and the history of the destructive, pseudo-civilising mission pursued by erstwhile Western colonial powers, underlining the power of ‘master race’ and ‘promised land’ ideologies in paving the way for domination. "Exactly like the Afrikaners," she writes,"the Israelis have come to Palestine from Europe with convictions about their own uniqueness and superiority which they have imposed on the local inhabitants on pain of death and destruction. The Jewish ‘homeland’ may have started out as a refuge for the persecuted but it has now become a law unto itself, a fanatical fortress to which no international standards and obligations apply."
      ‘My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her hometown in Germany; a German soldier shot her dead in her bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza.’
      Gerald Kaufman MP, speaking in the UK House of Commons, 16 January 2009

      On 1 January this year, the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made a flying visit to Paris to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy on the seventh day of her army's bombing campaign of Gaza. At the end of the meeting, according to the French press, she expressed satisfaction at the ‘comprehension’ shown by the French president regarding Israel's position, adding graciously that Israel was under attack from Gaza because it stood for ‘the values of the free world, to which France too belonged’.

      A few days later, in keeping with the values of that ‘free world’, the Israeli ground attack of Gaza began under a total media blackout. In defiance of the Israeli supreme court, no journalists could cover the destruction of Gaza and the daily carnage of its defenceless, starving civilians, most of them women and children.

      This is rather ungrateful of the Israelis, considering the decades of faithful service provided by the West's vast media network, always ready to promote Israeli versions of every aspect of the Palestinian conflict, no matter how far from reality those versions may be.

      Livni's patronising remark about her country and France belonging to the same exclusive club called the ‘free world’ is typical of the Israeli mindset; other such qualities this racist, military society claims for itself are ‘democratic’, ‘advanced’, ‘civilised’ and so on. Most importantly, Israelis believe that, in common with other parts of the West, they constitute the civilised world. Indeed, they are the very guardians of European and American values against backward Arab hordes who are Muslims, or ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ to use the current label.

      This line of thinking will be familiar to those who remember the struggle against apartheid in South Africa under racist Boer rule. The Afrikaners also claimed that they were part of the free (white) world, and that they were in Africa to uphold European values and to try and civilise the natives – the indigenous black populations – preferably down the barrel of a gun.

      The Afrikaners also believed that they had come from Holland to Africa by divine design, that their presence there was sanctified by the Almighty who had led them to this ‘promised land’. Thus it was their God-given mission to colonise and occupy the land, to domesticate the black man, to use him as a beast of burden and to promote Christianity in its purest form, that of the Dutch Reformed Church.

      This type of deification by a group of its own experiences of exile and settlement in the ‘new world’ was also common to the European settlers of the 17th century who left home for religious reasons to go to North America and South Africa. Upon arrival, they found lands ‘empty’ of European-type societies and so devised another ‘mission’, namely through possessing these territories as providential, God-given ‘homelands’ and dispossessing their original inhabitants.

      The subsequent land-grabs, population displacements and genocide visited upon the indigenous populations in these countries were also justified on religious grounds and over time, notions of racial, cultural, intellectual and physical superiority, civilising missions and so on developed into a form of collective megalomania.

      In South Africa, the Afrikaner sense of identity soon became detached from the original European heritage and engendered a sense of uniqueness in being the ‘white tribe’ of Africa. The belief in racial exclusiveness, purity and superiority became the basis of all Afrikaner thinking and the ethos of their entire range of institutions and political organisations. This process evolved over centuries to become a racial state or ‘volkstaat’ in Afrikaans.

      In Israel, the same ‘herrenvolk’ (master race) syndrome was already deeply installed in the psyche of the European Jews who came to settle in Palestine even before 1948, the date the UN (with an exclusively Northern membership) ‘created’ the Jewish homeland. The experience of the holocaust (another singularly European episode) gave a decisive motivation to this idea of a ‘homeland’, as did the geographical re-location of a religious tenet: a biblical ‘chosen race’ finding its ‘promised land.’ European Jews seemed to believe the land of Palestine was theirs before they had even reached it.

      Similarly, sixty years later, the continuing land and water-grabbing, racial persecution, physical brutality and ethnic cleansing directed at the Palestinians have been – and continue to be – justified on the basis of divine dispensations.

      In the name of God, the Israeli ‘volkstaat’ protects the rights of Jews from all over the world to grab Palestinian houses, farms and land while treating the Palestinian people as refugees in their own country. When the latter resist such treatment they are called ‘terrorists’. Israeli occupation of Palestine subsequent to 1948 has received total support from Europe, for obvious reasons, and from the US, itself originally a settler society. The Afrikaners, on the other hand, were not so lucky.

      After the end of the Second World War, Africa's ‘herrenvolk’ faced a rude awakening when the rest of the continent began the struggle for independence. As early as 1960, the Pretoria government was forced to withdraw from the hitherto all-white Commonwealth because of its racist policies, and over the next decades it acquired pariah status for the same reasons, in particular at the UN and the major international sporting organisations. As a result, the Boer state became more racist at home and apartheid became an ideology, then an obsession and eventually a source of paranoia.

      When the liberation movements of southern Africa, including the ANC, began to pose a serious challenge, the Afrikaners reacted with violent repression against the black population on the grounds that the militants were ‘terrorists’ and worse, communists. And when faced with criticism from anti-apartheid circles in capitalist Europe, the Boers pulled out the classical mantra of ‘European values’ which they claimed they were defending on behalf of the West against the blacks and their Marxist masters. The idea that the black majority population was fighting for its freedom in its own country was neither comprehensible nor acceptable to the ‘white tribe’.

      This is exactly the same argument that the Israelis have always used, and did again, as they butchered Palestinian infants with illegal bombs in the current siege of Gaza. Consequently, many Europeans are now confused at this link being made on their behalf between their humanist, egalitarian values and the barbaric and cowardly onslaughts of the soldiers of the ‘chosen race’ against civilians.

      The South African writer-poet, Breyten Breytenbach, living in exile in Paris in 1987, brilliantly dismantled the theory being purveyed at the time by the rulers in Pretoria that they were the champions of European values. He cautioned Europeans and Americans against this discourse. The Afrikaners may superficially resemble contemporary Western society in that they possess a certain level of intellectual accomplishment, a certain type of economic development and an impressive mastery of technology. However, Breytenbach explained, in reality they are living in the past and in total ignorance of the revolutions and changes in European thought and consciousness which have occurred over the last three centuries.

      The Boers, having left Europe centuries ago, had not participated, for example, in the age of Enlightenment, the debate over slavery, the scientific revolution under Darwin, the separation of church and state, the period of industrialisation and so on, all of which changed the way Europeans thought about the world and their place within it.

      Consequently, wrote Breytenbach, there was no way the Afrikaners could defend European values because they had no idea what these were. They were defending what they believed in, namely racial superiority, separate development, slavery and a primitive idea of Christianity that had also vanished from Europe ages ago.

      This analysis holds true for the Israelis who have succeeded in deluding the Europeans for the last six decades (the rest of us do not matter to them) because of the guilt over the holocaust. The automatic reaction this guilt produces in Europeans and Americans of all generations blocks their sense of objectivity.

      In Africa, Asia and Latin America, people remain lucid in the face of the dispossession and massacre of the Palestinians by the Israeli settlers and occupiers, as indeed was the case in the struggle of the people of South Africa.

      All stakeholders of the ‘herrenvolk’ worldview share the same pathology; they do not live in the real world. They either live in the past, like the Boers, or in a special fantasy enclosure of their own where they take their myths and legends for political realities, as do the Israelis.

      In this day and age, can a society seriously claim that it has been ‘chosen by God’ and that it can colonise and occupy a land because ‘God has promised it to us’ and still be considered mentally sound?

      How can an Israeli prime minister say that ‘there is no such thing as a Palestinian; they do not exist’, as Golda Meir once did, and not raise questions about that minister’s sense of reality? The same must be asked of Foreign Minister Livni who said ‘there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza’, ignoring the total blockade inflicted on the place, ignoring the daily shooting of ambulances and aid-workers, and ignoring the bombs dropped on homes and schools where children sheltered.

      What planet and which century are Israeli leaders inhabiting? Is the rest of the world to be held hostage to a people so obsessed with their own prerogatives and rights that they can no longer tell right from wrong?

      In their flight from rationality, the Israelis, like the Afrikaners during apartheid, have forgotten that like the rest of us, they are a product of human history, not of some supernatural or extra-terrestrial event! The persecution of the Jews of Europe under Nazi Germany came out of the history of that country and the state of Israel came about as a result of the Balfour Declaration, which was a decision over the British empire's carve-up of Palestine.

      Exactly like the Afrikaners, the Israelis have come to Palestine from Europe with convictions about their own uniqueness and superiority which they have imposed on the local inhabitants on pain of death and destruction. The Jewish ‘homeland’ may have started out as a refuge for the persecuted but it has now become a law unto itself, a fanatical fortress to which no international standards and obligations apply.

      For the last three weeks, the Israeli army has descended into an orgy of blood-letting in Gaza, especially of children and infants. The intensity of the hatred for Palestinians which inhabits the army and apparently the whole nation is surely a sign of racist paranoia. As Mahmood Abbas, prime minister of the Palestinian authority has said, ‘The Israelis want to wipe out our people.’

      The desire to ‘wipe out’ an entire people is a common trait of the ‘herrenvolk’ mindset; this is what Golda Meir meant when she uttered an obvious (to her) truism: ‘There is no such thing as a Palestinian.’

      The attack on the Gaza strip is not a war on ‘terrorists’; it is madness and a march of folly of a people locked in a world of their own.

      * Annar Cassam, a Tanzanian, is a former consultant at UNESCO/PEER Nairobi and former director of the UNESCO Office, Geneva.
      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Upholding Palestine's right to resistance

      Demba Moussa Dembélé


      cc. Mateus
      Since 27 December 2008, the Zionist state of Israel has embarked on an unprecedented onslaught against the residents of Gaza. The massive bombings have killed over 500 Palestinians and injured over 2,500 more. The Israeli air force has targeted hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, universities, mosques, and even markets. As with previous attacks, the Western media has carried fallacious reports, echoing the Israeli government’s official claim to be responding to, and defending itself against, Palestinian rocket attacks. The Gaza strip has been under both sustained military attack and an inhumane blockade for the last two years since Hamas’s victory over Fatah.
      The whole world knows that Israel has occupied Palestinian territory for the last 40 years, since the Arab–Israeli war of 1967. Since that time, Israel has held onto these territories, despite numerous UN resolutions on the matter. Israel has been supported by the US, its principal backer, along with Europe. It took heroic efforts on the part of the Palestinian people through Hamas to compel Israel to cede control and evacuate the Gaza strip, while the West Bank remains occupied. Unable to countenance its humiliation at having to evacuate Gaza, Israel nonetheless decided to maintain its stranglehold by means of an inhuman blockade that goes against international law.

      The truce signed last June between Israel and Hamas involved the lifting of the blockade. Hardly had the ink dried on the paper when Israel demonstrated no intention to respect the accord, violating it systematically – a fact recognised even by the UN agencies that continue to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees. These regular breaches understandably led Hamas to spurn efforts at renewing the accord. But given that the Western media obfuscates Israel’s lies and bad faith, the impression created is that it was the intransigence of Hamas that led to the current crisis.


      The truth is that the current atrocities are a mere continuation of a series of massacres and heinous crimes that the Zionist state has perpetrated since occupying Palestine in 1948. The world has not forgotten the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982, after the invasion of Lebanon, the headquarters of the late Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The massacres committed by the Lebanese Phalangists were ordered and planned by the war criminal former defence minister Ariel Sharon.

      The world also remembers the Israeli army’s assault on Jenin, a martyred city that was laid waste and tens of people massacred, just as is happening today. The world still remembers the children gunned down on their way to school less than a year ago. We still remember the siege on Arafat’s PLO headquarters that he only left to die in Paris. We know the Zionist refrain that they targeted ‘enemy combatants’, whereas the majority of the casualties were civilians, mostly women and children. If Israel’s murderous antics are not stopped, the planned ground offensive will surely result in unprecedented carnage.


      All of these actions have been carried out with the tacit approval of the US and the European Union. The Zionist state continues to massacre Palestinians and turn its nose up at international opinion with impunity, thanks to the unflinching support of these countries. The entire world has witnessed the support that these countries continue to give Israel in the current conflict. Everyone knows that the US is Israel’s unconditional supporter; bolstering it politically, economically, financially, militarily, as well as diplomatically. In the face of the daily massacres that outraged the world, we heard Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice state that Hamas was ‘at fault’, thus indicating that the Israeli onslaught was planned and coordinated with the help of the US government.

      It is therefore clear that the Israel’s state-sponsored terror campaign is a function of Western global imperialism aimed at crushing the resistance of the Palestinian people, and hence establishing a ‘peace’ that suits Israel. The hypocrisy of the Bush administration and the European Union’s efforts at seeking a lasting peace does not fool anyone. We can still recall the plight of the Iraqi people at the hands of George W. Bush, according to whom there would be peace in the Middle East before he left the White House. We know what the situation is at present.


      Today, more than ever before, all who oppose oppression and injustice must reaffirm their support for the martyred Palestinian people. Silence in the face of the barbarism and cruelty of Israel makes us accessories to the monstrous crimes – and even the genocide – that it continues to perpetrate, in defiance of international law and inspite of repeated calls to cease the bombings and lift the blockade of Gaza. These organisations must make their voices heard, and pressure Israel and its supporters to change its barbaric policies towards a people who have suffered so much and are doing nothing more than asserting their legitimate right to exist within recognised boundaries.

      Finally, we at the African Forum for Alternatives demand:
      - An immediate cessation of the attacks and massacres perpetrated by Israel
      - An immediate and unconditional lifting of the blockade imposed on Gaza
      - The indictment of the Zionist leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity
      - An end to all aggression by Israel against the Palestinian people
      - An end to Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state that includes all territories claimed by the people, with Jerusalem as its capital.

      We are all Palestinian! Long live a Palestine state free from Zionist occupation!

      * Demba Moussa Dembélé is the director of the African Forum for Alternatives.
      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Towards a civil rights movement successor

      From Martin Luther King to Barack Obama and beyond

      Alan Singer


      cc. Black Heritage
      Questioning the validity of the linear from-Martin-Luther-King-to-Barack-Obama interpretation of the US civil rights movement featured within many mainstream channels, Alan Singer argues that the emphasis should in reality be on the role of mass participation in engendering progressive social change. In turbulent times of severe economic downturn, the author insists, it is up to individuals to provide the energy and momentum needed for climbing the mountains of social justice on the horizon.
      My name is Alan Singer and I am here to recruit you. Many of you have either seen the movie Milk, about Harvey Milk, a gay activist in San Francisco, or the movie trailers, where he tells audiences he wants to recruit them. It is a powerful line from a powerful movie. At another point in the movie Harvey Milk says, ‘Without hope life is not worth living – you’ve got to give them hope.’ Not only am I here today to recruit you, but I am here to share with you my hope for the future.

      It is fitting that I share it with you at this time – Martin Luther King’s Birthday and the African American Civil Rights Movement were celebrated on 15 January on Monday last week, and on Tuesday of this week, in a historic first, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, the first president who is not European-American. But while I respect these men and their achievements, my hope does not lie with Martin Luther King or Barack Obama. In fact I am sceptical about what President Obama will be able to achieve.

      My hope for the future actually lies with you. Because of the election of Barack Obama, there will be a lot of talk in the next few days that the civil rights movement has finally been successfully completed. As an activist and a historian, I disagree.

      The African-American civil rights movement in the United States was a major world historic event that motivated people to fight for social justice in this country and others. Its activism, ideology, and achievements contributed to the women’s rights movement, the gay and lesbian rights movement, the struggle for immigrant rights, and the anti-war movement in this country. It inspired anti-apartheid activists in South Africa and national liberation movements in Third World countries.

      In many ways, I am a product of the civil rights movement. I did not march in 1963 – I was only thirteen years old – but I did march at the 20th anniversary celebration in Washington, DC, in 1983 and at many other protests demanding an end to imperialist war, equality for all citizens, immigrant rights, and social justice. The last time I marched was on Sunday when I joined a group of people at Times Square in New York demanding an end to the US supported Israeli attack on Gaza and the occupation of Palestinian lands in Gaza and the West Bank. The traditional myth about the civil rights movement, the one that is taught in schools and promoted by politicians and the national media, is that Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up, and somehow the whole world changed. The new myth, currently being refined, adds the legend of Barack Obama to the equation.

      But the real story is that the civil rights movement was a mass democratic movement to expand human equality and guarantee citizenship rights for black Americans. While some individual activists stood out, it involved hundreds of thousands of people, including many white people, who could not abide the US history of racial oppression dating back to the days of slavery. It is worth noting that many of the whites involved in the civil rights movement were radicals – communists and socialists – who had been involved in earlier protest movements, particularly the building of the labour movement, and a disproportionate number were Jews who had their own experiences of racism and bigotry. King and Parks played crucial and symbolic roles in the civil rights movement, but so also did Thurgood Marshall, Myles Horton, Fanny Lou Hammer, Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph, Walther Reuther, Medger Evers, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, as well as activists who were critics of racial integration and non-violent civil disobedience such as Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers.

      The stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King have been sanitised to rob them of their radicalism and power. Rosa Parks was not a little old lady who sat down in the white-only section of a bus because she was tired. She was a trained organiser, a graduate of the Highlander school where she studied civil disobedience and social movements, and a leader of the Montgomery, Alabama National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She made a conscious choice to break an unjust law in order to provoke a response and promote a movement for social change. And she wasn’t even that old when she was arrested. She was only 42 when she refused to change her seat and made history.

      Martin Luther King, although you would never know it from next Monday’s commemoration, challenged the war in Vietnam, US imperialism, and laws that victimised working people and the poor, not just racial discrimination. When he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he was helping organise a sanitation workers union. If Dr King had not been assassinated, but had lived to become an old radical activist constantly questioning American policy, I suspect he would never have become so venerated. It is better for a country to have heroes who are dead, because they cannot make embarrassing statements opposing continuing injustice and unnecessary wars.

      The African-American civil rights movement is over. It ran its course and it had impressive achievements. It started in the 1940s when A. Philip Randolph and others challenged segregation in the military and in war-related industries. It picked up steam in the 1950s with the Brown vs Topeka, Kansas Board of Education decision and the Montgomery bus boycott. It peaked with the 1963 march on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery march that led to the 1965 voting rights act. The civil rights movement ended legal segregation in the United States and as I noted before, led to a generation of activism in many different areas. But it was a coalition of people with disparate goals and it gradually came apart after 1965. Many of its white allies felt the movement’s goals had been achieved with the Brown decision and passage of anti-discrimination laws and voting protection. Many blacks, including Reverend Martin Luther King, were disappointed with the limited impact of legal change. They felt that changes in the law were only a beginning and that these had to be followed with programmes to promote economic and social equality. In many urban centres, disappointment turned into rage and rage into rioting, further alienating whites who wanted blacks to be satisfied with incremental change and limited gains.

      While social inequality certainly continues, the African-American civil rights movement ended, probably with the assassination of Dr King in April 1968 and the abandonment of ‘Great Society’ social programmes by the Democratic Party. What kind of country is it when young black men are more likely to be incarcerated than in college, when inner city youth unemployment at the best of times hovers about 50 per cent, and children who already have internet access at home are the ones most likely to have it in school?

      I believe the United States needs a new social movement, a movement for social justice, and that is the movement I am recruiting you to join. I am not recruiting you to a particular ideology, political programme, or point of view. The world is constantly changing – you are constantly changing – and it would be foolish to pigeonhole you at the age of 12 or even 16 and demand that you support a particular cause for the rest of your lives. What I am recruiting you for is to make a commitment to three ways of looking at the world. I want you to be critical thinkers, to reject received truths, and to demand the right to evaluate evidence and underlying ideas. I am recruiting you to become thinking human beings.

      I am also recruiting you to become compassionate human beings with respect for diversity. You need to be concerned with the needs of others who share this planet with us, to recognise their humanity, and to understand that they want the same things for themselves and their families that you do, things like adequate food and housing, decent education and medical care, and hope for the future. You also need to understand that just because someone does not live your way, practice your religion, or make the same choices that you make, it does not mean they are wrong or of any less value than you.

      And finally, I am recruiting you to a life of civic activism, as full participants in shaping the future of a democratic society that supposedly values an interchange of ideas and an open expression of disagreement.

      At the 2004 Republican national convention in New York, I was marching with a group of teachers in protest against the war in Iraq. After we had been standing in one place for a while, a young social studies teacher asked me how long we had been marching. I thought for a few seconds and responded ‘forty years’. She laughed and said, ‘I mean really’. ‘Forty years,’ I said, ‘I’ve been marching for forty years’. I invite you all to march with me. It is time for a new social movement in the United States, a movement for social justice that ensures political, social, and economic rights for all people, citizens and non-citizens, Americans and everybody else, and I am here to recruit you.

      A big issue today in this region of the country is the rights of undocumented immigrants who live among us and play a crucial role in the workforce. Will you turn your backs on them, or will you advocate and organise to defend them? Each of you will have to make a decision. With the country and the global economy locked in a severe economic downturn that might turn into a Great Depression on the magnitude of the 1930s, the nation and the world have listened carefully to Obama’s inaugural address. Based on the past, we know that when difficulties such as this recession occur, working and poor people, youth and the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, and especially children, the people with the least, will be asked to bear the heaviest burdens.

      President Obama can choose to be a leader in the movement for social justice. He can choose to participate. But we have no guarantees. In fact, the only one you can really control is yourself. During the 1930s workers organizing labour unions sang: ‘You got to go down and join the union, you got to join it for yourself, nobody here can join it for you, you got to go down and join the union for yourself.’ You have to decide to be an activist for social justice committed to full participation in decision-making in a democratic society for yourself.

      In his last speech, Reverend Martin Luther King told his audience: ‘We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!’ Martin Luther King did not tell what the promised land would look like, but as a lifetime social activist I am sure that he knew.

      Some of you may remember the silly children’s song about the bear who went over the mountain to see what he could see. On the other side, he saw another mountain. Each time the bear climbed the mountain, he found another mountain that had to be climbed. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement climbed their mountain. It is time for you to start climbing yours.

      * Alan Singer a professor of secondary education and the director of social studies education at the Hofstra University School of Education and Allied Human Services. Singer is the author of New York and Slavery, Time to Teach the Truth
      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Reflections: An interview with Issa G Shivji

      Issa G. Shivji and Marc Wuyts


      cc. Quarsan
      In this interview conducted by Marc Wuyts, Issa Shivji, one of Africa's revolutionary scholars long before the term public intellectual became vogue, shares his intellectual history, his analysis of Ujamaa, his take on the land question in Africa and the state of African political economy and much more.
      Issa Shivji presently occupies the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Research Chair in Pan-African Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam. His books include Class Struggles in Tanzania (1976), Law, State and the Working Class in Tanzania: c. 1920–1964 (1986) and Not Yet Democracy: Land Tenure Reform in Tanzania (1998). Most recently, he has been working on the political economy of economic reforms in Tanzania. While mostly based in Tanzania, he has been visiting professor in various locations: El Colegio De Mexico, the University of Zimbabwe, the University of Warwick, the National Law School of India University, the University of Hong Kong, the Centre of African Studies of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and CODESRIA, Dakar, Senegal.

      Marc Wuyts: A distinctive and constant feature of your work, both past and present, is that you look at law from a (classical) political economy perspective. How did you come to develop this perspective?

      Issa Shivji: I was an active student in my high school, but a kind of nationalist. When I entered the Dar es Salaam campus of the University of East Africa in 1967, the place was in a big intellectual ferment because students had been expelled in October 1966 and Mwalimu Nyerere, the President, had just declared his Arusha Declaration, the socialist blueprint for Tanzanian development, in February 1967. The students, and not the faculty, were in the forefront of the debates. Debates themselves were not esoteric but related to the struggle for what we called the African Revolution. Among us militant students, moods changed depending on what we read in the morning newspaper about what Nyerere had said or done the day before. When he made some militant speech against imperialism, we all applauded; when he said something we considered naive or utterly bourgeois, we despaired. The discussion on campus also focused on the role of the university in a socialist Tanzania. This eventually resulted in the introduction of a course at the Faculty of Law on Social and Economic Problems of East Africa. This course exposed us as students to Marxist texts and to the writings of Nkrumah, Fanon and others. That is how I was exposed to political economy. We read a lot, organized ourselves into the University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF), involving people like Walter Rodney (1972), Yoweri Museveni and others, and conducted our own ideological classes. There was a lot of intellectual activity. USARF started its own mimeographed journal called Cheche — The Spark. The first issue carried my article called ‘The Educated Barbarians’—an unabashed attack on the compartmentalization of knowledge and the indifference of the student body to the major issues of the day — to the big questions, so to speak. As student debates proceeded, we, the students of the Faculty of Law, argued against what we called ‘black letter’ law. We argued that law should be taught in its social, economic and historical context. Eventually, this approach to the teaching of law became part of the University prospectus for the faculty. This is where my interest in understanding law in the context of political economy began.

      MW: What made the law faculty a catalyst for debate and change?

      IS: Yes, actually, many were surprised that the leading student body in this process came from the Faculty of Law. If I may conjecture — I think it was the rather peculiar combination of the 1967–70 cohort of law students coupled with a young faculty in the socio-economic course that provided the impetus. The student body was quite mixed and vibrant with students from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We had some brilliant young lecturers like Sol Piccioto who invited faculty from other disciplines — John Saul, Walter Rodney and others — to give lectures in this course. We had a sharp and profoundly intellectual lecturer from Hungary, for example, who analysed the law of torts and its feudal origins. We also had an optional course, called Law and Development, given by Robert Seidman. This course taught us much, because we disagreed with him and thus produced our own counter interpretations. It was in that course, by the way, that I wrote my first long essay on land law.

      MW: At the time, Tanzania was very much in the international limelight. Most writings on Tanzania, however, tended to focus on Nyerere and his particular blend of socialist policies — called Ujamaa. It is in this period that you wrote The Silent Class Struggle (Shivji, 1972), which—in contrast to the then existing practice—hardly mentioned Nyerere at all. What was your aim?

      IS: The basic thesis of The Silent Class Struggle was that revolution does not depend on a single individual and that its direction is determined by the course of class struggles and not by the inclinations of the leader. So I raised the question whether the so-called Ujamaa was really socialism: which class was its driving force, what characterized the nature of the State, and what shaped its accompanying processes of accumulation? It is in this context that I first argued that the nature of the class in power was a bureaucratic bourgeoisie in alliance with imperialism. It changed the nature of debate on the campus. When the Silent Class Struggle was published, both students and faculty commented on it. The next issue of Cheche carried comments by John Saul, Karim Hirji, Justinian Rweyememu, Thamas Szentes and others. The book Socialism in Tanzania: An Interdisciplinary Reader, edited by Lionel Cliffe and John Saul (1973), which was being published at the time, carried my piece and the comments in its second volume.

      MW: You mention the character of accumulation and the role of the State therein. What were your views on this at the time and how do you look at it now with hindsight?

      IS: The formulation of the argument was inspired by Baran’s (1957) The Political Economy of Growth. The emphasis was on the colonial, vertically integrated economy in which surplus generated in agriculture is siphoned off to the metropole where accumulation takes place. Internal accumulation is essentially commercial and compradorial, thus reproducing the colonial nature of the economy, giving rise to what Justinian Rweyemamu (1973) called ‘perverse capitalism’. I now think that in its essentials that argument was basically correct, although the formulations sometimes tended to be somewhat absolutist and not nuanced enough. The critique of economic development — agriculture as provider of primary commodities and the limits of import-substitution industrialization — was, I believe, also correct and was eventually partially accepted even by the State when it embarked on its so-called Basic Industries strategy, by which time it was too late. However, the issue was not simply one of economic strategy, but also centrally a political issue concerning the character of the State and its relation to class.

      MW: You mention that your argument was somewhat absolutist and lacking nuance. How do you now look at the role of leadership in shaping outcomes? More specifically, how would you typify Nyerere now?

      IS: Yes, indeed, I think one begins to appreciate the nature of the leadership with hindsight. I think Nyerere’s strength was his nationalism — his political strength. To some extent, he was able to carve out a relatively independent niche between the superpowers while gaining sympathy from the social democrats—Canadians, Scandinavians and others. But Nyerere had absolutely no idea of the political economy of imperialism and of the role and character of accumulation in the process of development. When you come down to his economic policies, really, you do not see a fundamental break with what I would now characterize as ‘disarticulated accumulation’. Furthermore, Nyerere failed to differentiate between national and compradorial capitalism while he was in power. I think it was only after he stepped down and subsequently came to head the South Commission that, for the first time, he began to understand, in a more nuanced way, the nature of capitalism and the processes of capitalist accumulation. Even then, he was still groping. In that regard, I think, the only leader who understood, in his own way, the nature of backward capitalism was Sokoine, the prime minister in the early 1980s, a period of intense economic crisis. The 1981 Party programme — in which I see, but cannot establish yet empirically, the influence of Sokoine—candidly analysed the prior fifteen years of developments since the Arusha Declaration and acknowledged that, under the umbrella of the public sector and parastatal development, a new class of capitalists had emerged that was then beginning to flex its muscles. I have a feeling that Nyerere could not have wholly subscribed to this thesis, but did not feel politically strong enough at the time to push his line.

      MW: Do you see the crisis of the early 1980s as an important watershed, a rupture with the past coherence and discipline of earlier policies and practices?

      IS: No doubt the economic crisis of 1980s brought out the limits of the early period — not only economic limits but even political limits. For the first time, the legitimacy of the State and of Nyerere’s regime began to be questioned. The 1982 attempted coup — in which some civilians were allegedly involved — came very close to succeeding. There was an attempt on the part of the ruling party to open up — cautiously though. But most interestingly, the crisis revealed that the party was not as monolithic as it appeared and that, under the flag of socialism and Ujamaa, a State-based class had emerged with capitalist ambitions — however immature and caricatured. In the earlier years, Nyerere no doubt provided the ground for coherence to the political class. But the crisis brought out factions within the party and opened up the space for neoliberalism, started under President Mwinyi, but subsequently becoming fully established under President Mkapa. The last period of Nyerere’s rule (1981–85) was the most interesting and momentous in the country’s history — both political and economic —and needs to be studied much more closely, both to understand the limits of the post-Arusha decade, the eventual fruition of neoliberalism and the nature of development under economic reforms.

      MW: A significant part of your work has been on land tenure in Tanzania. What is the nature of the land question in Tanzania? How does it differ, say, from the land question in Asia or Latin America? Or, closer to home, from that in Kenya or Uganda?

      IS: The land question in sub-Saharan Africa has been most intriguing. The Left was traditionally used to classify the land question in terms of feudal or semi-feudal relationships (Asia) or latifundias (Latin America). In many small-peasant economies like Tanzania, you couldn’t find either. In such formations, therefore, the inevitable conclusion was that there was no land question, but only an agrarian question. The Presidential Commission, which involved visiting peasant and pastoral communities, for the first time, I think, clarified to me that there was a land question, even in a small-peasant economy like Tanzania’s; that the central player in this scenario was the State acting as the landlord; and that the relationship between the peasant producer and industrial/ financial metropolitan capital was mediated by merchant capital. The land question thus expressed itself as a land tenure question and land tenure is primarily structured by law and legal rules. Two essential aspects of the Tanzanian colonial formation determined its system of land tenure, which also made it different from Kenya and Uganda. One was the nature of the economy—essentially a small-peasant economy only partially integrated in the world market and the other was Tanganyika’s international status as a trust territory under which ‘native’ interest was supposed to be paramount. Consequently, the colonial State had to give the peasant apparent security against alienation embedded in his/her customary law which at the same time could be shown as a fulfilment of its mandate obligations. The basic contours of the land tenure established by the British in 1923 under which the radical title in land was vested in the State, making the State a superior landlord, survived for some seventy-five years. Throughout, the State remained the ultimate landlord, regulating peasant production through criminal law while facilitating surplus extraction by controlling merchant capital, or, as during the era of the Arusha Declaration, the State becoming both the landlord and the merchant.

      MW: The way you view the land question in Tanzania — that is, as a question of land tenure — appears to contain two components. First, with ownership vested in the State, the State has the means to make land occupation conditional upon its use, thus facilitating surplus extraction. Second, the peasantry remains inherently insecure about land use: at any time, the State can decide to reallocate the land to others for other purposes. Is this correct? IS: Yes, in essence, that is correct. The State here acts as a landlord with an entitlement to ground rent. The peasant does not pay the ground rent directly; instead the ground rent is hidden in what the State appropriates through the price differential. In Tanzania, the classical method was to pay the peasant much less than the world market price. The peasant’s insecurity—and the constant threat of land alienation, the second component—take different forms depending on the form and means of accumulation, which change over time. During the current phase, under neoliberalism, where ‘accumulation by dispossession’ — a form of primitive accumulation — dominates, it is the under- and over-ground resources of land which are preyed upon both by local merchants and foreign predatory capital. With the control over land vested in the State, the State bureaucracy reaps political rents, a form of monopoly rent. More recently, land itself has suddenly become important for multinationals for the agro fuel industry. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land are being earmarked for alienation to agro-chemical and oil multinationals. What is now contested is the means by which to expropriate peasant lands: either through the market by commoditizing and privatizing land, or through the force of the State by alienating it from the peasantry. Under the existing land regime as stipulated in the new land legislation, the latter implies that the President first transfers village land into general land and then allocates this general land to an investor, through the ‘Tanzania Investment Centre’, which by law is authorized to allocate land to an investor which is considered to be in the ‘public interest’.

      MW: How, then, did the recommendations from the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters in Tanzania, which carried out its work from 1991 to 1992, differ from what ultimately became the new 1999 Land Laws?

      IS: One of the major recommendations of the Commission was to democratize the land tenure system. It recommended that the radical title be divested from the State; and be diversified thus: the radical title in village lands would be vested in the village assemblies — the most democratic organs at the village level — and the radical title in national lands would be vested in a semi-autonomous Land Commission, de-linked from the Executive, but linked to the Legislature, the most representative and open organ at the national level. The government’s subsequent land policy rejected these two major recommendations, Interview with Issa Shivji 1085 while accepting many other minor recommendations. The subsequent land laws — the Land Act and the Village Land Act enacted in 1999 —were the direct outcomes of this land policy.

      MW: The Tanzanian State clearly resisted the recommendation that land ownership should be divested from the President. But what arguments did the State actually use to reject the two major recommendations from the Land Commission?

      IS: It is no wonder that the State strongly resisted the Land Commission’s recommendation that the radical title in land be divested from the President. In fact, the land policy says that vesting of the radical title in the President had served well for the past seventy years and therefore there was no need to change it. Moreover, and most importantly, ‘the President cannot be turned into a beggar for land’ is how they put it.

      MW: But did this insistence on the part of the State that ownership of land remain vested in the President not create tensions between the so-called donor community — the World Bank, in particular — and the Tanzanian State concerning peasant land holdings: the former favouring the commodification of land and the latter its forced alienation?

      IS: Actually, the relationship between donors and the State is a lot more contradictory. In any peasant society, it is extremely difficult to commoditize land. The idea of individualizing and titling land (the typical World Bank trajectory) is sold to the peasantry in the language of being able to borrow money for development. But as soon as the peasant hears the possibility of foreclosure on default, it immediately turns away. Or, as happened in Kenya, the Banks cannot enforce foreclosure simply because the bailiffs would be chased away by spear-wielding peasants or, as happens more often, they find the situation on the ground to be very different from that in the land registry. While the land registry may show that a piece of land belongs to X, and has been mortgaged to Bank S, on the ground this piece of land may, for example, already have been parceled out among several male children in inheritance under customary law. So, the World Bank and the erstwhile donors then quietly take a leaf from Goran Hyden’s (1980) ‘economy-of-affection’ thesis, and silently condone State force to ‘capture’ the peasantry, while continuing to make public noises about the market and human rights. At the end of the day, we are back to what the old man Marx said: land is an artificial/unnatural commodity!

      MW: Would you say that, in an era of neoliberal reforms, this continued ownership of land vested in the President gives the State—and, more specifically, its decision makers and those with access to these decision makers—the means to partake in private capital accumulation without having access to capital themselves?

      IS: Yes, it allows those close to decision makers to get exclusive access to land and then use it as some kind of equity for joint ventures with foreign capital. At least that was the intention of the local elites when they argued during the 1990s debates that only citizens can own land. But these big companies are not interested in joint ventures — they would rather deal directly with the State. There is another interesting twist with respect to accumulation that I should mention at this stage. It concerns how the financialization of the global capitalist economy in the neoliberal phase has expressed itself with regard to land. Historically, from 1923, the land tenure system of Tanzania — the right of occupancy system — was premised on the principle that land security was dependent on use. The right that was given was the right to occupy and use land. Thus the titled occupier could not sell bare land; he or she could only sell the developments made on it. That principle was embodied even in the new land laws. The banks were very much against this. The ostensible argument was that they could not take the right of occupancy as a collateral. Eventually the banks and their advocates succeeded and the law was amended in 2004, thus, for the first time, allowing for the sale of bare land. I say the banks’ rationale about collateral is ostensible because in practice this will only enable speculators, first, to obtain land through political connection (corruption), then to mortgage it to get loans, and, finally, to use the finance thus obtained for speculative purposes—for example, by ‘investing’ that money where interest rates are high, like in treasury bills, or returns are certain, like in speculative real estate in urban areas. Thus money deals in money to make more money — George Soros style — rather than being invested in land to produce commodities!

      MW: More recently you have been working on the political economy of economic reforms in Tanzania, initiated from the 1980s onwards. Are these reforms just donor-driven—a matter of externally imposed conditionality— or do they also reflect a distinctive Tanzanian character, reflective of internal political processes of change?

      IS: I think it is always slippery to polarize between external and internal causes and conditions in a peripheral political economy like Tanzania’s. One has to carefully analyse the state of internal political struggles during different periods while at the same time contextualizing them in the imperial political economy. Given that Tanzania does not have a strong — or even a relatively strong — bourgeoisie, the so-called donors do play a very important role in driving the reforms. After Nyerere’s exit, even the political class, which used to be more nationalist and a bit more independent in policy making, became more fractionalized. Thus the donor factor has become pretty dominant. This does not mean that the outcomes were and are always as donors planned or desired. History does not work in that kind of conspiratorial way.

      MW: How did reforms under President Mwinyi in the early reform period — mid-1980s to mid-1990s — differ from those under President Mkapa in the later period? Was it just a matter of degree or different dynamics?

      IS: I think both. Post-Nyerere Tanzania under Mwinyi had emerged from a period of very serious crisis. There was a ‘goods famine’. Liberalization of imports, which brought in its wake the large-scale importation of cheap textiles, including second-hand clothing, had an immediate impact. For a while Mwinyi did become very popular. He also legitimized the former ‘smugglers and economic saboteurs’, who had stashed away their ill-gotten funds in foreign banks, by inaugurating the so-called own-currency imports without questions being asked. He further allowed the Bank of Tanzania to buy gold from small miners with no questions asked, thus boosting revenue. He went rather slow on privatizing, but let the parastatals collapse. And he was lax on collecting taxes from the new ‘own-currency importers’—or what we at the time used to call ‘the container bourgeoisie’. But these points did not endear him to the donors who wanted to fast-track privatization, open up mineral resources to foreign investors, collect taxes to balance the budget and pay debts. In short, these forces wanted to make the neoliberal reforms irreversible. Mwinyi’s lingering nationalism was an irritation, not only to the external, but also to the internal neoliberal elites. In this respect, Mkapa’s subsequent ten years of government were seen as a godsend.

      MW: From what you say, Mwinyi’s era thrived on a process of informalization, chaotic for sure, but also more inclusive, and made possible by creating economic loopholes and thus dismantling the system of regulation, thereby promoting multiple pockets of uncontrolled accumulation fuelled by the reflux of previous illegal capital exports and tax evasion. Mkapa, in contrast, sought to control and formalize the nature of accumulation, while centralizing it in fewer hands. In other words, did more broad-based accumulation from below under Mwinyi shift towards more centralized accumulation from above under Mkapa?

      IS: An interesting idea. But I think we have to look at the process of accumulation during the Mwinyi period in a more differentiated manner. First, there was the liberalization of import trade, specifically own currency imports. Immediately, this helped to alleviate the goods famine while at the same time, ironically, it struck the last nail in the coffin of import-substitution industrialization. But availability of basic goods — for example, used clothes — must also have acted as 1088 Marc Wuyts an incentive to bring back peasant production into mainstream market away from parallel markets at home and smuggling across the borders. Second, there was the promotion of small-scale production — for example, in gold mining. It seems to me that this cannot be considered ‘informal’ in the same way. There is the so-called informal within the functioning neoliberal economy where actually it only goes to subsidize capital, a form of primitive accumulation by cutting into the necessary consumption of labour. But the informal during the Mwinyi period, for a while, was actually de-linked from the main capital circuits. Small gold-diggers got reasonable returns from the Bank of Tanzania, thus making the risk of smuggling not worth taking; while the State through the Bank of Tanzania got gold at a reasonable price compared to the world market, having cut out the middlemen and smugglers. This specific example could perhaps be described as some kind of ‘accumulation from below’. But of course it could not exist for too long. The two main conditions that underwrote it — its operation outside merchant capitalist circuits premised on supportive State intervention—were both destroyed under Mkapa who sought to return to dependent/disarticulated forms of accumulation from above. Small miners were flushed out as large mining conglomerates were given long-term concessions. Foreign big predatory capital, local merchant capital and local political/bureaucratic elites were back in the saddle to reproduce forms of accumulation by dispossession from above.

      MW: What does this imply for the peasantry? Does it lead to its marginalization — pushed back on smaller pockets of land, living mainly from agrarian production for own subsistence coupled with pockets of off-farm employment— or its proletarianization, or both?

      IS: I think more marginalization then proletarianization. That is precisely the dilemma of a peripheral African economy. While the peasantry is flushed out of land — not because of a rise in productivity, but precisely because of the lack of it (and as a result of dispossession) — there is insufficient concomitant industrial development to absorb it as proletarians. All in all, the dominant form of accumulation is of the primitive kind, not of expanded reproduction. And the nature of primitive accumulation itself is not a kind of precursor to, for example, industrial accumulation, but actually stifles it. Superimposed on this process are new forms of primitive accumulation—financially based—spurned by liberalizing capital and the operation of currency accounts. I think we have now begun to see the ugly face of neoliberal forms of accumulation during the current phase, the groundwork for which was laid during the Mkapa period.

      MW: Thus provoking greater polarization?

      IS: Yes, extreme polarization. The kind of polarization that is shaking the very political structures. For the first time, one can feel in one’s bones that people have turned very cynical. There is a crisis of political legitimacy with the political class fractionalized and the people individualized. Cynicism is an individual, not a collective, response to a crisis. I wouldn’t say though that the situation is hopeless. In Tanzania, we still have pockets of people and even elites who are raising questions, looking for alternatives, making critical interventions. The point of course is for these pockets of resistance to turn into people’s solidarities.

      MW: What are the implications for the State of democracy and its future in Tanzania?

      IS: Huge. Once the State and State positions become the vehicle, or the means, for accumulation, political rents come into their own; separation between economics and politics, however threadbare, which is the basis for political legitimacy and the popular perception that the State is neutral over the divisions of civil society, is grossly compromised; instability sets in; the democratic pretensions of liberal democracy— which in any case is incongruent with the actually existing conditions — are exposed. In the absence of alternatives, there is the danger of populism and demagoguery filling the vacuum. Donors get frustrated, abandon their showpiece and move elsewhere. Hegemonic militarist powers find ways of fishing in troubled waters. In short, an alarmist scenario preceding the so-called ‘failed State’. Tanzania is not yet in that situation, but the tendencies are there. Fortunately, the country still has voices which blow the siren, however muted.

      MW: As you say, there is growing cynicism in Tanzania. What role do intellectuals play in all this? What happened to intellectual debate in Tanzania?

      IS: Ironically, we had more debates under the so-called one-party rule then under the heyday of multiparty liberal democracy. Neoliberalism’s structural adjustment programme took its toll on the institutions of higher education. The University campus was starved of resources. The globalization hegemony dictated that the ‘villages’ of the globalizing world did not need thinkers, but only purveyors of thought generated elsewhere. We became the consultants and the counterparts of consultants on poverty alleviation! Intellectual debates were replaced by policy dialogue workshops while sustained fieldwork was overtaken by rapid appraisals and opinion polls. But, I believe, the neoliberal honeymoon is over. There is a clear groping for understanding the ‘bigger picture’. I am optimistic—not in the half-full/half-empty glass sense — but in the sense that we are beginning to ask questions about the nature of the water itself and the container that carries it. In other words, we are again beginning to ask more fundamental questions on development, the role of the State, the nature of the global political economy, and the processes and character of accumulation beyond the neoliberal fascination with markets and money.

      * This interview was first published in the journal Development and Change (39(6): 1079–1090 (2008)).
      * Marc Wuyts is Professor of Quantitative Applied Economics at the Institute of Social Studies (PO Box 29776, 2502 LT The Hague, The Netherlands). His area of expertise is the political economy of economic reforms and development, with special emphasis on Tanzania and Mozambique.
      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at


      Baran, P.A. (1957) The Political Economy of Growth. New York: Monthly Review Press.

      Cliffe, L. and J. Saul (eds) (1973) Socialism in Tanzania: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Nairobi: East African Publishing House.

      Hyden, G. (1980) Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania: Underdevelopment and an Uncaptured Peasantry. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

      Rodney, W. (1972) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle L’Ouverture Publications; Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

      Rweyemamu, J. (1973) Underdevelopment and Industrialization in Tanzania. A Study of Perverse Capitalist Industrial Development. Nairobi: Oxford University Press. Shivji, I.G. (1972) The Silent Class Struggle. Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

      Reprinted in L. Cliffe and J. Saul (eds) (1973) Socialism in Tanzania: An Interdisciplinary Reader, Vol 2. pp. 304–30. Nairobi: East African Publishing House and Heinemann Educational Books.

      Shivji, I.G. (1976) Class Struggles in Tanzania. London: Heinemann.

      Shivji, I.G. (1986) Law, State and the Working Class in Tanzania: c. 1920–1964. London: James Currey; Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann; Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

      Shivji, I.G. (1993) Intellectuals at the Hill: Essays and Talks 1969–1993. Dar es Salaam: DUP.

      Shivji, I.G. (1998) Not Yet Democracy: Land Tenure Reform in Tanzania. London: IIED; Dar es Salaam: Faculty of Law and HAKIARDHI.

      Shivji, I.G. (2006) Let The People Speak: Tanzania Down the Road to Neo-Liberalism. Dakar: CODESRIA.

      Shivji, I.G. (2008) ‘Accumulation in an African Periphery: A Theoretical Framework’. Paper presented to the 13th REPOA Workshop at Whitesands, Dar es Salaam (2–3 April).

      Support KANERE for an independent refugee press

      Bethany Ojalehto and Qaabata Boru


      cc. IRIN
      Kakuma News Reflector (KANERE) is an independent news magazine produced by Ethiopian, Congolese, Ugandan, Rwandan, Somali, Sudanese and Kenyan journalists operating in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. KANERE urgently seeks the support of international organisations and advocacy groups everywhere, as the group is facing pressure from local organisations that do not fully support an independent refugee press.
      ‘It will be a candlelight in this refugee camp,’ says a refugee of the new free press in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. The Kakuma News Reflector, known as KANERE, is a refugee newspaper devoted to independent reporting on human rights and encampment. The refugees in Kakuma camp have been warehoused for almost two decades without a voice. Now, KANERE seeks to change that reality.

      Kakuma Refugee Camp, like many others around the world, is administered by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Although UNHCR publishes occasional reports on the camp, there is no regular media coverage of refugee encampment. KANERE represents one of the first refugee news outlets to reach an international audience from a refugee camp.

      Although refugee camps are considered a form of humanitarian aid, conditions of life are miserable. The 50,000 refugees in Kakuma camp rely on UNHCR for food, water, shelter, education, movement passes, and legal protection. In turn, they have almost no say in the policies affecting their lives. There is little independent monitoring of human rights in the camp.
      ‘In exercising a refugee free press,’ their vision states, ‘we speak in respect of human rights and the rule of law in order to create a more open society in refugee camps and to develop a forum for fair public debate on refugee affairs.’

      This is not the first time refugees in Kakuma have spoken out. Since 1993, the Kakuma News Bulletin served as a means of refugee expression locally within the camp. It lost momentum by 2005, leaving a small group of journalists to keep the spirit of independent reporting alive. When a Fulbright researcher arrived in Kakuma in October 2008, these journalists suggested collaboration and the seeds of a refugee newspaper were born. By January 2009, KANERE is now 15 members strong with representatives from every major camp community.

      The maiden issue of KANERE was published online on 22 December 2008. The print run, projected at 1,000 copies, has not yet begun due to a lack of funds. Few refugees are able to access the publication online. Currently, all journalists work on a voluntary basis without access to computers, internet, or basic office supplies. The group is petitioning international organisations and the US embassy for funding support.

      KANERE will publish both a print and online version of the monthly paper. The online news blog,, aims to raise awareness of refugee warehousing and to serve as a forum for public debate on refugee affairs. The print newspaper seeks to inform refugees, give them a voice, and raise awareness of human rights so refugees can more effectively monitor their own situation and seek redress of grievances.

      For many refugees who feel imprisoned in Kakuma camp, KANERE represents a hope for change. As one refugee says, ‘Challenges are always there in my life, but no response is given by the Kenyan Government or UNHCR… Now we can start to address our life problems democratically when it comes to decision making.’

      KANERE urgently seeks the support of international organizations and
      advocacy groups everywhere, as the group is facing pressure from local
      organizations that do not fully support an independent refugee press.

      * KANERE’S online news blog can be found at

      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Liberian refugees protest in Ghana

      Rob Cook


      cc. Miss Bax
      Do refugees have a rights, or are they eternally bound to the status of victimhood and homelessness, asks Rob Cook. The severe crackdown and mass deportation by the Ghanaian authorities over a protest by Liberian refugees who demanded a larger say has highlighted the ineffective solutions provided by UNHCR, whose reaction is evidence of an outdated mode of thinking towards the problems affecting refugees around the world, the author argues.
      'The identity of the refugee is at… risk of being lost in… the new pragmatism, which view[s] the refugee no longer as a woman, a man or a child in need of protection, but rather as a unit of flight, a unit of displacement, to be contained and thereafter channelled down whatever humanitarian corridor leads to whatever political end.'

      Guy Goodwin-Gill (1999) 'Refugee identity and protection's fading prospect'

      In early 2008 Liberian refugees in Buduburam camp in Ghana did something highly upsetting to the status quo: they held a protest requesting a larger say over the durable solution to their situation and specifically asking for greater material help in repatriation. The reaction of both the host government and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to this unexpected new voice highlights problems currently afflicting the global refugee regime.

      According to the governments and international agencies who assume charge of these refugees, the civil war in Liberia is over and any refugees currently remaining in Ghana are safe to return home. They are indeed positively encouraged to do so, and yet up to 2008 (five years after the war is supposed to have ended) repatriation numbers have been lower than expected. In UNHCR's view, the lack of repatriates meant that local integration needed to be encouraged as another option for these refugees, and so this has been increasingly promoted. It must have come as a shock to the agency then when, in February 2008, several hundred Liberian women convened on a football field in Buduburam camp holding banners with slogans such as 'Integration? No! Repatriation plus $1000? Yes! Yes! Resettlement? Why not' (UNHCR had been offering $100 with repatriation). It seemed not to have occurred to UNHCR that the refugees might want repatriation, but that they would also want a say over the circumstances in which it was carried out.

      The demonstrations continued for about four weeks before the Ghanaian authorities took action, arresting over 600 protestors on 17 March, and 70 more the next day. Of the latter group, 16 were deported on 23 March on the grounds that they were illegally present in the country and posed a national security threat, despite the fact that UNHCR afterwards confirmed that 13 of the 16 were registered refugees. The government believed the deportees were a security threat because they were 'ex-combatants' from the war in Liberia. However, the government's case here is much weakened due to the fact that it hasn't produced compelling evidence either that the deportees are 'ex-combatants', or why some refugees being 'ex-combatants' should constitute a national security threat to Ghana. Indeed UNHCR themselves condemned the deportations.

      On 1 April the Ghanaian Minister of the Interior Kwamena Bartels made a speech in which he repeatedly criticised the actions of refugees in Ghana, and announced the government's intention to invoke the cessation clause regarding refugees, which states that those refugees who could avail themselves of the protection of their state but continue not to do so could have their refugee status removed. As mentioned above it was the Ghanaian's government belief that war was over in Liberia. Furthermore, Bartels sweepingly asserted that all the Liberians in Ghana were there due to the generalised insecurity of war, and not due to persecution, and as such it was the government's view that all could safely return home. Once again we find the government making an unsubstantiated claim, and one which we must find hard to credit. Just because somebody hasn't fled persecution, it does not mean that they won't face it on return. The government of Ghana has to produce evidence that they won't. Sahen has argued that there are direct family members of former political leaders seeking refuge in Ghana who may face such persecution on return. Furthermore, there exist historical accounts of Liberians who fled for reasons of persecution (see Nagbe, K. M. (1996) Bulk challenge: the sorrow, the shame, the shock, the smile).

      As the International Refugee Rights Initiative has made clear, the critical point is that although the cessation clause is a legal mechanism that the Ghanaian government has the right to invoke, from a legal perspective this 'must be based on a substantive assessment of conditions and circumstances in the home country'. Having failed to do this, Ghana finds itself on shaky legal grounds.

      Note that if we accept these conclusions, suddenly the deportations described above become even more sinister. Though we cannot say a priori whether these were cases of refoulement, they may well have been, and there is at least a case that needs to be answered. Yet where is UNHCR's voice in all this? Yes, they briefly condemned the above deportations, but reading their briefing notes on the demonstrations and Ghana's response, they largely express concern regarding the actions of the demonstrators, and nowhere do they mention the possibility of refoulement and that there is a case that must be investigated. Refoulement is a serious violation of international law, and it is surprising to find that the international body charged with overseeing legal protection of refugees would turn such a blind eye to its possible cases. This is not to mention the various reports of police brutality towards the refugees which have gone unchallenged as well.

      Regardless of the legal questions concerning the treatment of the Liberian refugees, the case described offers up some more general concerns over UNHCR's reaction to the protests. As already mentioned their response was in large part one of condemnation. They admonish the refugees for not staying within Ghanaian law, without noting that the very idea that they have strayed outside the law is a suspect one. The Ghanaian government can be found at different times claiming that the law was broken because the protest wasn't peaceful, because it posed a national security threat, and because it hadn't been reported to them beforehand.

      These kinds of schizophrenic justifications, all of which are debatable, should arguably have been questioned and challenged by UNHCR. Yet at no point does the body suggest that there might be perfectly legitimate reasons for the refugees to raise their voices in protest. They seem to consider that the refugees should be grateful for being helped to repatriate at all, and that they are getting ideas above their station by asking for different terms. This kind of reaction is no more than many refugees have come to expect. As Shelly Dick has described, 'proper refugees' are those who conform to the image of an 'exemplary victim'.

      Refugees are not expected to have an interest in how their repatriation is carried out, or really to fight for anything above their basic needs. Protest is considered subversive, where for a citizen group it would have much more opportunity of being viewed as legitimate. Again though, this is a strange response from an agency whose purpose is to protect the rights of refugees. We might have expected a protection agency to have responded to the protests by questioning whether the refugees had good cause for such action. Such an investigation might, for example, have uncovered the terrible conditions awaiting many repatriates to Liberia, and have made it clearer to all sides the rationality behind the refugees demanding more money to repatriate.

      This article is hardly the first to note the surprisingly toothless actions of UNHCR in protecting refugee rights. Goodwin-Gill argues that there has been a trend in this direction since the early 1990s, and as his quote at the beginning of this article makes clear, this has been a result of UNHCR getting increasingly comfortable in its position as humanitarian actor and losing its focus on protection issues. In particular it has increasingly become preoccupied with achieving efficient political solutions to situations, rather than those which are best for the well-being of refugees. This helps explain its reticence to criticise the Ghanaian government's reaction to the protests, as it hopes to keep powerful actors onside in order to help engineer an efficient political solution in the future. Within this perspective, refugees, who aren't powerful actors, stop being the main focus of UNHCR policy and become a problem to solve, rather than people with a problem which needs to be solved.

      UNHCR's failure to act like an effective refugee protection agency has left gaps which other institutions are starting to fill. Since 2007 a number of NGOs and other actors have been involved in the Southern Refugee Legal Aid Network (SRLAN) which, under the guidance of Barbara Harrell-Bond, aims to build a network of organisations which can provide legal aid for refugees in the global South. In her piece introducing the project, Harrell-Bond notes that UNHCR has effectively abdicated responsibility for refugee protection in areas such as Refugee Status Determination (RSD). In many countries UNHCR has taken responsibility for this process and thus left a protection vacuum. If UNHCR is carrying out RSD they are no longer in a position to protect refugees whose rights are violated during such determinations, and so there is a need for NGOs to provide this service. SRLAN also puts its focus on widening the teaching of refugee law in universities, and producing assessments of countries' domestic refugee legislation with reference to the major international instruments of refugee law.

      While the aims of the SRLAN are well-placed, it would be so much the better for the global protection of refugees if UNHCR could move in a similar direction, ideally helping to strengthen the network by supporting and taking part in it, and in the process becoming more like the effective protection agency it was created to be. In the case of the Liberian refugees in Ghana this could have ensured greater protection against the rights abuses they appear to have suffered. It is vital that all those who view refugee rights protection as the most empowering and effective way of promoting refugee well-being continue to push for these changes if they are to be achieved.

      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Pan-African Postcard

      Obama cannot be our Saviour: We have to save ourselves

      Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem


      While calling on Obama to “pursue a policy change that we can believe in” Tajudeen also argues against our seeing Obama as a messiah who will solve all of the world’s problems. Rather his election should give “both Americans and the rest of us a chance to look at things afresh and probably find a solution that we can all live with even if it may not be perfect.”

      It will be difficult to discuss anything this week but the inauguration of the first Blackman to be elected President of the United States of America. It is an election that is resonating with historical symbolisms and promises of new beginning and great expectations. A nation whose wealth was built on genocide of the indigenous peoples and slavery of Africans has elected, not a direct descendant of these slaves but a descendant of the enslaved peoples as its president. America does not disguise its White hegemony which it proclaims more symbolically in the name given to its seat of power: WHITE HOUSE. That house built on slave labour and proceeds of slavery is to have a Black Man calling the shots. Talk of poetic justice!

      But beyond the symbolism and the historical proportions of Obama’s remarkable ascendancy to the Presidency of the USA there are many challenges. One’s disappointments are usually directly proportional to one’s expectations. Obama is not a messiah even though that is what many expect him to be. He cannot solve all the problems of the world. He cannot even solve all the problems of America. However potentially his election gives both Americans and the rest of us a chance to look at things afresh and probably find a solution that we can all live with even if it may not be perfect.

      In a Presidency replete with all kinds of havoc both internally and internationally one of the most disastrous things George Bush did to America and the world is to make unilateralism on all issues his default position. Even where other countries may agree with him he made it difficult by insisting that only his way would count. The world was very simple to him: ‘You are either for us or against us’. Even the powerful need friends. The expectation of many peoples across the world is that Obama will listen more and lecture or hector less. America cannot bomb all its enemies, real or imagined. Military might alone cannot win hearts and minds. That strategy made George Bush the effective Organising secretary for Al Qaeda wining it many converts. Countries that did not have terrorists quickly become breeding ground for them the moment Bush comes calling. Obama has to ask himself why the so-called terrorists come predominantly from countries whose leaders are allies of America.

      There are other areas in which Obama has to pursue a policy change that we can believe in. The illusions of many in the Middle East is already dampened by the loud silence from the President Elect over Gaza. When terrorist bombings were inflicted on Mumbai residents he was quick to condemn it but when it came to Gaza he claimed there could only be one President at a time. For a candidate and President elect that had an opinion on everything maintaining silence over Gaza merely showed where the heavy weight of Zionist influence in American Middle East policy is. If he really wants to make a difference he needs to redress the balance in favour of just lasting solution. For now America is not an honest broker because it is on the side of Israel, right or wrong. His campaign declaration that ‘the security of the state of Israel is sacrosanct’ means continuing Israelisation or Zionisation of US Policy and more conflict. He needs to use his leverage to convince Israel that like America it cannot bomb all its enemies into submission.

      Finally Africa may be more disappointed than most regions because our expectations from government houses to the streets, markets, beer parlous, matatu or Danfo driver to street hawkers, are just too high. Obama is not our saviour. Our capacity to leverage anything from Washington beyond good intentions will depend on how clear we are in terms of our own interests. We should deal on a Pan African multilateral level instead of lining up as Obama’s ‘bestest’ country or ally. Maybe the biggest disappointment will be in Kenya. One other area we can benefit from is Obama’s commitment to the MDGs. Multilateralism is better than bilateralism, which often shores up our dictators.

      One thing may change with Obama. African leaders’ who guilt trip western leaders for being interfering colonialists may have to find other default responses. Many of them who acted as Bush’s henchmen in Africa are worried about Obama. Therefore he has to avoid the well meaning Liberal patronage of Clinton’s regime in Africa. Many of Clinton friends in our state houses graduated to becoming even closer allies of Bush. If Obama chooses the easy option of relying on Clinton’s Men and women for his Africa policy as many of his key appointments have indicated so far then Africa should be prepared for an early rude shock in Africa-USA relations.

      Meanwhile enjoy the honey moon and celebrations. If nothing changes under Obama we cannot take one thing away from him: he has made hope and possibility of change more desirable. From the Obamas of America may be inspiration for other Obamas in Africa and across the world. Change is no longer a dirty word and those who say ‘No change’ had better be on notice.

      * Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is general secretary of the Global Pan-African Movement, based in Kampala, Uganda, and is also director of Justice Africa, based in London, UK.

      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Books & arts

      Forced Displacement: Why Rights Matter?


      Uprootedness, exile and forced displacement, be they due to conflict, persecution or even so-called \'development\', are conditions which characterize the lives of millions of people across the globe. While the international community has largely been concerned with refugees crossing borders to flee persecution, violence, impoverishment and brutal regimes, less attention has been paid to internally displaced populations. This book problematises both policies and rights frameworks in processes of displacement, while bridging the divide that exists between refugee and development induced displacement studies.

      Kenya: All set for first Film Awards


      The maiden Kenya Film and Television awards would be taking place early this year. Stakeholders in the film industry said they are bent on witnessing the event being organized by the Kenya Film Commission. The annual event is to celebrate and recognize excellence in production of local Kenyan movies and stars. At the moment the Commission is receiving entries from prospective award winners.

      Senegal: Pre-FESPACO activities begin in Dakar


      Activities leading to the 21st edition of the Panafrican Cinema and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), scheduled for 28 February to 7 March in the Burkinabe capital, began here Thursday, according to a press communiqué by the organisers transmitted to PANA. The two-day programme will feature a news conference, an exhibition on the late Senegalese filmmaker, Ousmane Sembène, and a number of films relevant to the FESPACO whose theme is "African cinema: Tourism and Cultural heritages".

      UNPROTECTED: Palestinians in Egypt since 1948


      Based on personal interviews with Palestinian families, Oroub El-Abed examines the effects of displacement and the livelihood strategies that Palestinians have employed while living in Egypt. The author also analyzes the impact of fluctuating Egyptian government policies on the Palestinian way of life. With limited basic human rights and in the context of very poor living conditions for Egyptians in general, Palestinians in Egypt have had to employ an array of both tangible and intangible assets to survive.

      Letters & Opinions

      A world without conscience

      Matthew Panamkat


      I agree fully with Ochieng M. Khairallah in his assessment of A world without conscience. In no area of human endeavor is there a trace of honesty and truth. If anyone feels he has a good conscience, it must surely be the play of a bad memory. Of all things, religion seems to have jettisoned conscience altogether.
      Respect the

      Be fair and balanced!

      Liza Bennett


      In Obama and US policy towards Africa Horace Campbell writes:

      "Obama, unlike many of his predecessors, has the opportunity to recognise the rights of the Palestinian people to real self-determination."

      Unlike most of his predecessors? That sentence alone makes your article laughable. Somehow Bush, Clinton, and the rest had less of an opportunity to do the right thing than Obama? Please tell us how. Look, we get that you don't like Obama (or are envious of him? resentful?), but please at least attempt to write a fair and balanced article.

      Your bias is glaringly apparent. For the record, I too am in favor of BDS.

      Change in Africa

      Abel Desalegn


      Obama and US policy towards Africa by Horace Campbell is a great article and I would love to be part of this movement to unite Africa. Please send me an email on what I can do to help Africa move in to Change that we all believe in like President OBAMA said.

      Empty neocolonial politics

      Lennox Odiemo-Munara


      Horace Campbell’s Mamdani, Mugabe and the African scholarly community is a timely and necessary call on the African person to seriously reflect the Zimbabwean condition in the light of the so-called neocolonial/neo-imperialist politics.

      While we do not deny the horrors of these 'neo-influences', we sadly underline the tendency to over-emphasise them and the failure to see Mugabe & Co.'s ugliness. I was participant in the CODESSRIA Conference, and, yes, the argument by Mamdani, Shivji... (lead proponents of the Statement) about Zimbabwe seemed intellectually so strained (a colleague saw it as vacuous!).

      Of course to talk of military intervention in Zimbabwe is naive, but to continue praising Mugabe's banal conceptualisation of 'independent Zimbabwe' is surely a madness.

      Ideology is a skeleton that desperately needs flesh!

      Françoise Gerard


      A very beautiful and meaningful article about Thomas Sankara, Sankara 20 years later: A tribute to integrity, by Demba Moussa Dembélé…However, as a woman with a specific female sensibility, I suffer to read about "the masses" and the word "révolution" every ten words. To me it is an old "wooden tongue" which carries too often the abstraction of each human being. Ideology is a skeleton that desperately needs flesh


      Gacheke Gachihi


      I salute you comrade Horace Campbell: Obama and US policy towards Africa. I agree with your great advise for progressive forces in Africa to organize to bring social change in Africa. The agenda for Reparations very crucial to Africa recovery as the modern imperialism is build on blood and slave labour of African people and the people of the south.

      The issue of illegitimate debt will be also a concern for Obama administration. We must in Africa dismantle also the instruments of Imperial control , that World Bank, IMF and many others. The Congo story is horrible. I hope Obama as he confesses the atrocities caused to his Grandfather in Kenya by British colonial forces will extend the same touch to the people of Congo … and also offer apologies for the historical injustices committed to Africa by the past USA regime.

      The Obama administration must start with accounting on evils committed by USA security agencies in the World ...But time will tell the jury is out for Obama...But we must organize and organize!

      Solidarity is not automatic

      Mohamed Cassam


      In response to Black American politicians vote for War on Gaza by Glen Ford:

      I have lived in the US for 45 years, and conclude that the majority of white (Christian) Americans remain racists. While there is less racism toward African Americans, the bias against Muslims and especially Palestinians has grown tremendously, orchestrated by the Jewish lobby. Blacks are Christians, totally influenced by the pro-Israeli media, are anti Palestinians.

      In other words they are as American as the whites and so the CBC reflects this. Just because American blacks suffered under the whites does not at all make them sympathetic to those non Africans who suffer even more so under white imperialism.

      The essence of humanity

      Lennox Odiemo-Munara


      Simiyu Barasa ‘s Kenyan women targets of violence reminds us of the extreme care we ought to take as human beings to ensure that sanity is an everyday leitmotif in our existences.

      Haply, in every sense, recoursing back to Immanuel Kant, even in the most desperate of our conditions, to reaffirm that we still cherish the 'essence of humanity' and aspire towards a 'highness'.

      Toward peace

      Fred Smilek


      In response to Respect the Kenyan constitution and mediation process: It is great to see them making strides towards peace.

      Victory or loss?

      Syd Warren


      In response to Horace Campbell’s Cuito Cuanavale: A Tribute to Fidel Castro and the African Revolution:

      Hopefully our younger generation have a little more integrity that Horace Campbell. If they do some independent research they'll know Campbell is lying. Fidel Castro is at least more honest. At the end of 1988 he gave a two-hour speech to a full Council of State meeting in Havana. The speech was also broadcast in its entirety on Cuba's domestic radio and television services. Here are some highlights of Castro's speech:

      # The next day (13 January 1988) the SADF mounted a strong attack east of the river at Cuito, along a very extended frontline defended by three FAPLA brigades - the 21st, 59th and 25th. There was a 5km gap between the brigades. South Africa dislodged the 21st brigade and the other brigades were threatened. # St Valentine's Day, 14 February, South Africa launched its big offensive against the 59th brigade. The South African's smashed through the lines, marched through the 5km gap between the 21st and 59 brigades and began to surround the 59th brigade. Castro said: "A very difficult situation emerged. They could have gone as far as the bridge and cut off three entire brigades." [Note: Castro seems to be a smart guy. The initial plan that was planned for January was to do just that! One deliberate, phased attack by the two SADF mechanised battalion groups would have resulted in the three FAPLA brigades being cut off, routed and destroyed. Pretoria in its "wisdom" countered this approach and opted for a battle concept that relied on a cautious approach over a protracted period].

      # Castro continued: A Cuban tank battalion together with FAPLA tanks launched a violent counter attack. The counter attack stopped the SADF but in the process the Cuban/FAPLA company lost all seven of its tanks and 14 Cubans were killed. The three FAPLA brigades retreated towards the river. [Note: Campbell's version would have the SADF basically defeated at this stage with heavy losses].

      # Castro sent a cable to General Ochoa (he was executed for his poor performance) saying: "I will not hide from you the fact that here we are bitter over what happened because it had been foreseen and words of caution were issued on several occasions. We insisted on the readjustment of the frontlines for almost one entire month." [Note: Again Castro is correct and honest - 21 brigade suffered heavy losses and was dislodged on 13 January].

      # The situation was extremely dangerous for the FAPLA brigades. Castro sent a cable on 20 February which warned that if South Africa broke through the line of defence, the Angolan forces would find themselves with their back to the river and would face casualties from drowning, attacks and the prisoners could be countless. # Castro said he could not understand why, since 14 February, only two battalions of 21st brigade had gone West of the river, whilst about 3500 FAPLA soldiers were still on the East. "What will happen if tomorrow the enemy breaks through the lines and used all ist strength against the river area,"? Castro raged.

      This account by Castro concerning the routing of the three brigades, including very heavy losses inflicted on 59 brigade can easily be verified from the recorded speech. The largely ineffective attacks by the SADF in March 1988 to force all or most FAPLA/Cuban forces West of the Cuito river is well-known. By then, the heart of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale had been won by the SADF (from a purely military strategic and tactical perspective) and the stand-off between the two forces would go on for a few months, from which no victor emerged. Of course the geo-political situation led to the demise of apartheid, but then, who's defending apartheid?

      Campbell hopes to re-write history. However, Castro, in his bid to boost his own "heroic role" in the Cuito battle, confirms the hiding given to FAPLA/Cuba and gives us a pretty accurate military historical view.

      Viva Castro!

      Who won?



      In response to Horace Campbell’s Cuito Cuanavale: A Tribute to Fidel Castro and the African Revolution: Unfortunately there are a tremendous amount of lies being floated on Cuito and the ramifications of Cuito. Fortunately one can at least find the accurate records of what came out of Cuito by looking at the original UN resolution 430 and the final signed outcome of Resolution 430. By simply reading the history of resolution 430 you can immediately see that it was not the Cubans that won the day for the liberation of Angola, Namibia and even South Africa.

      Instead those racist South Africans were able to overturn resolution 430 to ensure that Namibia would be a democratic multi party system based on a capitialist economy and the same for Angola. The reality for all to see is that it was the racist South Africans that changed Angola to a multi-party democracy (based on capitalistic economy), Namibia and South Africa while ensuring that the last bastion of communism (Cuba) was evicted from Africa.

      Emerging powers in Africa Watch

      Africa left to face commodity price storm storm largely on it own


      The first has to do with commodity prices. The second is the seeming retreat from Africa of investors and entrepreneurs from China, which is surprising. Until recently, it appeared that Africa's dependence on commodity exports would not hinder its economic rise. Growth rates of more than 5 percent for the last few years have been fuelled by the large increases in international commodity prices.

      Beijing reaffirms its African agenda

      Sanusha Naidu


      Amidst the deepening international financial crisis, China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, allayed African fears that Beijing would be downscaling its trade and investments across the continent. Speaking during the final leg of his African visit in South Africa, Yang confirmed that China ‘would continue providing assistance to African countries’. He also added that Africa was not insulated from the global credit crisis and therefore by working together in international meetings, China and African governments can lead the way towards reforming the international financial architecture and contribute to global economic stability.
      In this spirit, Yang urged the international community not to withdraw its financial assistance from Africa.

      This of course produced some positive results for the four African countries that Yang visited. In Rwanda, Yang pledged to increase China’s financial commitment to the value of US$7.8 million. While no precise details were given about how this economic package would be utilised, a Rwandan spokesperson indicated that the Rwandan government would like to see more Chinese involvement in the investment and technology sectors, outside of the current support Beijing lends to infrastructure, agriculture and education.

      During his visit to Uganda, Yang signed a US$77 million low interest aid package to ‘in a renewed bid to boost the East African country’s development’. The aid deal ‘includes a framework agreement on provision of a concessional loan for the construction of e-governance project worth US$60 million and procurement of engineering equipment for Kampala City Council worth ten million dollars’. The rest of the aid money will be used for an economic and technical cooperation agreement to construct a hospital and government offices.

      In Malawi, foreign minister Joyce Banda requested that China invest in the ‘processing of raw materials within the country to improve the quality of local products and create jobs’. Switching diplomatic ties in late December 2007, Malawi reaffirmed its commitment to the one-China policy and hoped to benefit from China’s investment largesse in boosting its value added production, especially within the agro-processing industry.

      On the final stop of his visit, Yang, was reassured by South Africa’s foreign minister, Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma that the forthcoming national elections ‘were unlikely to change her country’s political scene’. In effect the visit to South Africa was more designed to strengthen the strategic partnership between Pretoria and Beijing. Recognising that South Africa holds a significant presence within international fora, Yang and Dlamini reiterated their common positions around working together in the UN Security Council as ‘regards major international and regional issues and hotspots’, as well as confirming their respective roles in the developing world and with respect to the international financial crisis.

      The visit by the foreign minister to Rwanda and Uganda was a strategic choice in that both countries are members of the East African Community (EAC). With Rwanda being the current chair of the EAC, China has been able to make significant inroads into the region by creating valuable market access across a west-east corridor, ranging from Angola to Uganda and Kenya. To this end China is perhaps advancing its grand strategy in the region by consolidating its mineral interests across Angola, the DR Congo and Zambia. This was underscored by the less-than-conspicuous visit by the Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deminz to Kenya, Angola and Zambia concurrently during the foreign minister Yang’s tour.

      Following on from his visit to Kenya, Chen’s next stop in his itinerary was Zambia. During the visit Chen signed a package of assistance agreements which provides a new set of loans and grants to the Zambian government. Intended to fund various projects including some symbolic infrastructure like a national sport stadium, an international conference centre as well as a government building complex, the assistance agreements are also meant to assist the country in developing its agricultural industry through the exchange of Chinese agricultural experts.

      But perhaps the real highlight of Chen’s visit was the launch by the Zambia–China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone (ZCCZ) of a sub-zone of a sub-zone in Lusaka, which promises to attract more investment into the country. The sub-zone is intended to expand Chinese investment in Zambia through establishing partnerships with local businesses as well as enabling Chinese investors to access local expertise, knowledge and culture. What remains unclear is the relationship between the sub-zone and the main industrial zone in Chambishi, the Copperbelt province. Perhaps it would act as an extension of the Chambishi Special Economic Zone, which recently received a pledge from 10 Chinese-funded companies to invest US$700 million in the Multi-Facility Economic Zone.

      The last stop in Chen’s African visit was a two-day visit to the Angolan capital, Luanda. The visit underscored China’s continued relations with the oil rich nation, following closely on President Dos Santos’s trip to Beijing at the end of last year to seek further financial assistance to meet budgetary spending commitments in the area of infrastructure.

      But Chen’s trip also marked the importance of Angola as China’s most significant trade partner in Africa in 2008. According to the latest trade information, Angola became China’s top trading partner in 2008. Bilateral trade between the two countries stood at an impressive US$23.5 billion. This was an all-time high for both sides, while China’s overall trade with Africa hit an astonishing high of US$106.8 billion at the end of 2008, with investments for the same period topping ‘over 5 million dollars’. This was well in advance of reaching the US$100 billion trade target by 2010.

      What signals the visit by both Chinese ministers is delivery on the 2006 FOCAC measures. It seems that China has delivered on most of the eight measures which Chen noted were remarkable achievements. Of particular note was the official announcement that the construction of the five special economic or free trade zones were on track. Putting speculation to rest, the commerce minister confirmed that the five zones are located as follows: the Zambia–China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, the Guangdong Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone and the Lekky Duty Free Trade Zone in Lagos, Nigeria, the Egypt-Suez Economic and Trade Zone and the Ethiopian Orient Industrial Park.

      But in a week of economic confidence, China was confronted by the blacklisting of two state-owned companies accused by the World Bank of collusion in bank funding in the Philippines. The two companies, China Road and Bridge Corporation and China State Construction Engineering Corporation, have considerable investments in Africa’s infrastructure sector, some of which were a result of World Bank tenders. The blacklisting means that these companies will not be eligible to tender for World Bank projects for several years, although some analysts did not see this as limiting China’s continued investments in Africa and believed that this was just a bump in the road for China.


      While China was making its usual diplomatic foray in the continent, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and Information and Broadcasting Anand Sharma paid a visit to Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. The visit was seen as strengthening ties with the two west African nations through series of bilateral agreements including agriculture, education and IT and broadening multilateral interests.

      To further the India–Africa dialogue, India also hosted a two-day India-Africa Business Partnership Summit in New Delhi. Speaking at the inauguration of the Summit, Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee called for increased economic co-operation between the two sides while the junior minister, Anand Sharma, emphasised that the global economic slowdown will not affect India’s trade relationship, which is projected to reach US$100 billion over the next few years.

      It also seems that India is seeking to cement ties with the eastern and southern African markets. The Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, was invited to give the keynote address at the summit.

      And in a veiled attempt to push Indian companies to compete with Chinese corporates, the minister of state for commerce and power, Jairam Ramesh, urged India Inc. to shift their focus from trade to more investments in Africa. This is perhaps the first official indication by the Indian government that China is seen a potential competitor to India’s economic interests in Africa. This is a significant development that should not be lost on African governments.

      * Sanusha Naidu is research director of the China-in-Africa programme at Fahamu and is based in Cape Town.
      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      China ever more implicated in dispute settlement


      China has lost its first ever WTO dispute on auto parts and faces a new challenge on alleged export subsidies to a broad range of consumer goods. On the offensive side, Beijing has initiated a case against US countervailing duties on steel and other products.

      Construction of economic and trade cooperation zones proceeds smoothly


      The work to establish three to five economic and trade cooperation zones in Africa has proceeded smoothly, China’s Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said recently. The China-Africa Development Fund, aimed at encouraging and supporting Chinese enterprises investing in Africa, has also already invested nearly 400 million USD.

      India plans to triple trade with Africa, deepen ties


      India expects to triple trade with Africa over the next five years to reach $100 billion, officials said on Wednesday, as it tries to strengthen ties in a region where Asian rival China has made rapid inroads. Despite an economic slowdown, India is planning a slew of projects in agriculture, small industry, mining, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), oil pipelines, chemical industry, power generation and transmission among others.

      India Tanzania Joint Commission meeting


      The Seventh Session of India-Tanzania Joint Commission on Economic, Technical and Scientific Cooperation was held in New Delhi from 13-14 January 2009. The Indian delegation was led by Mr. Nalin Surie, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs and the Tanzanian delegation by Hon. Prof. David H. Mwakyusa, MP, Minister of Health & Social Welfare of Tanzania.

      Kenyan contractors to reap from ban on Chinese firms


      Four Chinese contractors have become the latest casualties of a global purge on corruption in World Bank-funded projects with a huge impact on Kenya’s construction scene. Caught in a corruption muddle that was instigated by a construction tender award scandal in the Philippines are two Chinese companies — China Road and Bridge Corporation and China Wu Yi — that control a significant share of the Kenyan construction market.

      Obama and China – small clouds on bright horizon?

      Stephen Marks


      For Stephen Marks, given the interdependency between the United States and China, President Obama will have to tread carefully on trade as well human rights issues. He cautions there is a “danger of mounting economic crisis converting into political instability in which the smallest miscalculation, in Washington or Beijing could have unforeseen consequences.”

      President Obama has got off to a flying start on his foreign relations commitments; drawing up an order to close Guantanamo, announcing his readiness to talk to Teheran without preconditions, ordering the military to draw up plans for a full withdrawal from Iraq, and contacting Middle East leaders in what was promoted as a move to revive the ‘peace process’.

      Cynics and the ungrateful might cavil that he also pledged to send more troops to Afghanistan, and made no mention of talking to Hamas. But there again, he was acting consistently with his pre-election pledges. Which should remind us that holding successful candidates to their pledges is not a risk-free operation.

      China is another policy area where a literal adherence to pre-election rhetoric by the new Administration might aggravate international tension rather than the opposite - which helps to explain the apparent contrast between the enthusiasm of many ordinary Chinese at the prospect of the Obama Presidency, and the caution of official circles.

      As David Schlesinger, Editor in Chief of Reuters News, pointed out in a talk this week at Chatham House in London, the Obama Administration's relationship with Beijing will be increasingly important for the global economy and for global security.

      As the new century began, the contrast between booming China and the stagnating USA led to fantasies of ‘decoupling’ between the economies of China and the other booming ‘Asian tigers’, and that of the US and the West as a whole. But since then the global crisis has brought out the reality of an interdependent world, where China is the biggest holder of US Treasury bonds, and the USA is the biggest purchaser of Chinese exports - an interdependence which the historian Niall Ferguson has dubbed ‘Chimerica’.

      As the slowdown deepens in China as well as in the US, latest figures show China’s economic growth in the last quarter slowing to an annual rate of 6.8% - the weakest growth rate for seven years. For 2008 as a whole the economy grew by 9%, down from a revised figure of 13% for 2007. [Financial Times 22 January 2009].

      China’s official jobless rate jumped for the first time since 2003 and was predicted to reach a 30 year high at 4.2% - and that excludes unregistered workers, mainly rural migrants. If they are included, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the total could exceed 9.4% this year. As a result, economists were predicting that the government might not be able to meet its job creation target. China’s Premier Wen was quoted as saying that China was facing its most challenging year so far this century and the government needed to urgently reverse the economic slide

      As the Wall Street Journal reported, the resulting wave of factory closures in the industrial powerhouses of Guangzhou and Shenzhen has led to pressure to relax implementation of China’s new Labour Contract Law, which extends employee rights .

      So as David Schlesinger pointed out, redundant workers in the US rustbelt and in a factory in Guangzhou face a common situation. But as he also added ‘a common situation does not mean common cause’.

      Which brings us back to Obama’s campaign pledges. "China's human rights violations and failure to enforce labor, environment and meaningful product safety standards are unacceptable," Obama told a Fair Trade conference last year. "Unlike our current president, I will take trade enforcement seriously."

      Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, Obama's appointee as U.S. trade representative, also promised to focus on workers rights. Obama said commending him; "He knows there is nothing inconsistent about standing up for free trade and standing up for American workers," and promised not to sign any new trade pacts unless they have enforceable labor and environmental provisions

      The AFL-CIO labour federation has pledged to raise the issue with President Obama early in his administration. It aims to revive a petition it filed with the Bush Administration in 2004 and again in 2006 requesting an official investigation into whether China’s denial of workers’ rights constituted an ‘unfair trade advantage’ that would warrant US trade sanctions in return. The petition estimated the alleged loss of US jobs from this ‘unfair’ competition at over 1 million.

      The Bush Administration rejected the appeal on both occasions, arguing that quiet diplomacy was more effective in changing China’s attitudes, and pointing to real advances in the enforcement of existing laws and in the prospect, now reality, of a new labour law extending workers’ rights.

      On this issue at least the Bush Administration might have had a point - even if the modest improvement in China’s labour rights record owes less to quiet pressure from Washington than to the pressures of a tight labour market strengthening the hands of labour and impelling Beijing to forestall the growth of independent organisations and unofficial strikes.

      Certainly direct and public threats from Washington are the least likely way to produce a change of policy in Beijing. So the most likely result of President Obama acting on the AFL-CIO's petition would be to reinforce the possible trend to protectionism by erecting barriers against Chinese imports - which cynics might assume was actually the union’s intention.

      This of course would only increase the rising unemployment tally in China, thus weakening labour’s hand still further - as well as increasing pressure from Chinese public opinion to save Chinese jobs by depreciating the Yuan to boost Chinese exports, leading to a spiralling trade war.

      So far Beijing has resisted this pressure, confining itself to desisting from its previous policy of permitting a gradual appreciation of the Yuan. Instead there have been encouraging signs that Beijing has adopted the opposite strategy, of responding to falling export earnings by reorienting to developing the internal market.

      One recent sign of this was last week’s announcement that Beijing intends to spend $123 billion by 2011 to establish a universal health care system - mirroring a similar election pledge by candidate Obama. As the New York Times pointed out;

      ‘Providing universal health care is seen by some economists as a way to stimulate domestic spending during the current economic downturn. The Chinese have a high savings rate, and one of the reasons usually cited is their worry about possible medical expenses because China lacks a social safety net, including affordable health care.

      ‘Bai Zhongen, chairman of the economics department at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing, said that establishing universal health care with government-financed insurance would increase general consumer spending. He said the school did a survey in 2007 about the effect of rural health insurance on consumer behaviour and “found that in government-sponsored health insurance areas, people are spending more.”

      So what are the indicators we should look for in judging which way the new Administration will jump? One key test, according to Schlesinger, will be on 15 April, when the US Treasury is due to issue its semi-annual currency report in which it is required to adjudicate on whether any foreign country is judged to be manipulating its exchange rate so as to gain an unfair trade advantage. Here too an adverse finding could trigger trade reprisals.

      But Paul Geithner the new Treasury Secretary has the reputation of an ‘old Asia hand’ and is judged unlikely to rock the boat at a time when Washington needs Beijing to continue buying US Treasuries. Nonetheless Congressional pressure could still be brought to bear.

      Taiwan has also been a flashpoint in US-China relations in the past. Fortunately the likelihood of tension increasing on this front has diminished since the return of the KMT in Taiwan’s recent elections. Indeed Taiwan's military have recently announced plans to cut their armed forces.

      Another source of possible friction is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose vociferous record on human rights issues, in championing Chinese dissidents and on Tibet led to China’s official Xinhua news agency describing her as ‘disgusting’ and ‘detested by most Chinese’. Tibet has also been an issue for Obama himself, who according to Schlesinger was the first Presidential candidate to speak out on the issue during the campaign.

      Here the key question is not whether Obama or Pelosi will suddenly stay silent on these issues - though democratic reformers within China may wonder if public pressure from the US Administration is the best way to further their cause. The question is rather whether there is any risk of these issues being used as a pretext for a trade war. As David Schlesinger advises, ‘making this relationship a political plaything will not work’.

      But one should never underestimate the danger of mounting economic crisis converting into political instability in which the smallest miscalculation, in Washington or Beijing could have unforeseen consequences. However unlikely, a return to confrontation between Washington and Beijing could have disastrous consequences - not least for Africa.

      ∗Stephen Marks is a research associate with Fahamu’s China in Africa programme.

      * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

      Sanctions against Chinese firms causing jitters


      The World Bank’s decision to shut out four Chinese firms from taking part in any of its projects around the world is likely to draw a cold reaction from African countries, many of which have turned to the Far East for economic partnerships. Political analysts say the World Bank’s move against the firms – three of which have lucrative infrastructure contracts in Kenya – is bound to be interpreted as a move against China’s growing political and economic clout in Africa by Western economic powers.

      Zimbabwe update

      Cholera moves to rural areas


      The cholera epidemic has continued to rage out of control across the country with the official death toll fast approaching the 3000 mark – and the mortality rate is not expected to slow down any time soon. Within just a week the reported, and therefore official number of deaths, has increased to 2744 and the new figures come as international aid agencies have expressed fears that the threat has taken over the country’s rural areas.

      Hunger strike for Zimbabwe change


      Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among activists in southern Africa who have launched a fast and hunger strike in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. The new Save Zimbabwe Now movement says African leaders must abandon the policy of quiet diplomacy and recognise there is no legal government in Zimbabwe.

      More die of cholera


      Over 2,700 people are reported to have now died in Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic - a 20% rise in a week, the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) says. WHO says about 50,000 people have been infected with the preventable disease. The start of the rainy season could lead to even more infections, as water sources become contaminated, aid workers have warned.

      Regime plans forced removal of Chiadzwa villagers


      Plans are afoot by the regime to forcibly remove 5000 villagers from the Chiadzwa area in Manicaland province, to facilitate unfettered access to the diamond fields. Newsreel learnt on Thursday that a meeting between Governor Christopher Mushowe and some chiefs and headmen from the area is set to be held on Saturday. Almost all those invited, including the provincial administrator and district administrator for Marange, have close links to the Mugabe regime.

      SADC to balme for deaths in Zimbabwe - Machel


      "The blood of those dying on daily basis in Zimbabwe will be laid on the feet of Southern African Development Community (SADC) leadership as they are failing to undertake duties they are elected to do" said rights activist Graça Machel in Johannesburg. Machel who is also a member of elders's group who were barred from entering Zimbabwe last Novemember by the Mugabe regime was speaking at the launch of a regional fasting that is meant to last for three months over the Zimbabwe crisis. Organisers of this fasting period believe 'politicians alone could not solve the crisis.'

      WOZA leaders in court for remand hearing


      On Thursday, a Bulawayo magistrate set aside a ruling on a case against the leaders of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), who are facing two ‘nuisance’ charges for organizing demonstrations. Jennie Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were arrested in October 2008 and June 2008 and were charged under the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act and Miscellaneous Offences Act respectively.

      Women & gender

      Africa: Banking on African women


      "We are not waiting. We are moving", says Pilda Modjadji, a founding member of the Pankop Women Farmers Forum in Mpumalanga, South Africa. "We mean business." The Pankop group, which now has 300 members, started with the humble goal of growing fruit collectively and using the proceeds to supplement family diets, raise incomes and pay school tuition fees. But the women quickly realized that the village offered few job prospects for graduates — their children were going off to the cities.

      Liberia: Three strikes - Female, HIV-positive and unemployed


      In Liberia unemployed women who are HIV-positive face three hurdles to job security: a tough post-war economy, gender discrimination and demands at home aggravated by HIV, say social service providers and some HIV-positive women. While up to half of the estimated 100,000 HIV-positive people in Liberia are women, “little is known about how HIV is affecting vulnerable populations [women, youth, rural residents, orphans and children]”, according to a 2008 government report.

      Morocco: New petition, bill drive change in domestic violence law


      With a domestic violence bill currently under review by the government, Morocco continues to lead the Arab world in its defence of women's rights. In addition, the Union of Women's Action (UAF) organised forums across Casablanca on Saturday (January 17th) to raise public awareness of violence and to lobby local groups to protect victimised women.

      Mozambique: Government repatriates Zimbabwean sex workers


      A narrow hallway leads to a makeshift wooden counter where a shelf displays a few empty beer cans and soft drink bottles; a side door opens to a corridor with a series of bedrooms, almost all of them occupied. This is the 25 de Setembro Social Centre, one of the largest brothels in Chimoio, capital of Mozambique's central province of Manica.

      Sudan: Dafur women saved from attempted abduction


      A group of Darfuri women was saved from the hands of bandits who are believed to have been on a mission to take them hostages or possible war slaves. The Un reports said troops from the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, tasked with protecting civilians and suppressing the bloody conflict in the region, foiled an attempted abduction of several women who had strayed outside a makeshift camp in the war-torn western flank of Sudan.

      Human rights

      Africa: Advocating for minority rights


      The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the subsequent African human rights treaties do not consider minorities as a legal category recognised in African human rights law. This guide outlines regional opportunities for minority rights protection in Africa, highlighting the legal as well as the institutional framework that is in place

      South Africa: Unlocking the power of constitutional rights


      South Africa's constitution is often celebrated for its protection of social and economic rights; but how readily can this protection be invoked by the most vulnerable? This question is one that may be considered at the first ever World Conference on Constitutional Justice, taking place in Cape Town on Feb. 23-24. Senior legal personnel from 93 countries will discuss the influence of constitutional courts on societies around the world and the development of global human rights jurisprudence.

      Uganda: Activists plan Geneva summit for democracy, human rights and tolerance


      East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP), as part of a multinational coalition of 25 human rights organizations, will gather leading human rights, democracy and anti-racism activists from around the world for a summit in Geneva on April 19, 2009, on the eve of the U.N. Durban Review Conference, and today launched a new interactive website to publicize the event.
      East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP), as part of a multinational coalition of 25 human rights organizations, will gather leading human rights, democracy and anti-racism activists from around the world for a summit in Geneva on April 19, 2009, on the eve of the U.N. Durban Review Conference, and today launched a new interactive website to publicize the event.

      Entitled the Geneva Summit for Democracy, Human Rights and Tolerance, the activist gathering will be held one day before the UN world conference on racism, to support its objectives of promoting universal human rights through the eradication of discrimination, intolerance and persecution. Diplomats in Geneva today opened a weeklong session of negotiations on a draft of the Durban Review Conference’s outcome declaration.

      “The Geneva Summit will be a unique opportunity for activists to place on the international agenda some of the world’s most pressing human rights issues and situations, notably increasing restrictions on Freedom of Expression, to ensure that the U.N. makes the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a reality for millions of victims of discrimination and repression around the globe,” said Mr Hassan Shire, Executive Director of EHAHRDP.

      The summit will bring under one roof some of the most well-known figures in the struggle for human rights, democracy and tolerance, including Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Burmese dissident and 2008 Human Rights Watch honouree Bo Kyi, U.S. free speech advocate Floyd Abrams, and Rwandese genocide survivor Ester Murawajo. Also invited are the Dalai Lama, former Czech president and dissident Vaclav Havel, former UN Secretary-General Koffi Annan, film star and Darfur activist Mia Farrow, and Cuban cyber-dissident Yoani Sanchez. For full list of speakers, visit

      The coalition organizing the Summit is comprised of diverse non-governmental associations from around the globe, including:

      * The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)
      * Avega – Association des Veuves du Genocide (Rwanda),
      * Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (U.S.)
      * Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (South America)
      * Darfur Peace and Development Center (Switzerland)
      * Directorio Democratico Cubano (U.S.)
      * The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders
      * Fondation Généreuse Développement (Cameroon)
      * Freedom House (U.S.)
      * Freedom Now (U.S.)
      * Global Zimbabwe Forum (Switzerland)
      * Groupe des Anciens membres de l’Association des Etudiants Réscapés du Genocide (Rwanda)
      * Human Rights Without Frontiers (Belgium)
      * Ibuka (Rwanda)
      * Ingenieurs de Monde (Switzerland)
      * International Federation of Liberal Youth (U.K.)
      * Int’l Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth & Student Org. (Belgium)
      * Ligue International Contre le Racisme (France)
      * SOS Racisme (France)
      * Stop Child Executions (Iran)
      * UN Watch

      The event is already supported by:
      * Genocide Watch (US)
      * The International Campaign to End Genocide (US)
      * The International Association of Genocide Scholars (US)
      * Inter-African Committee (Senegal)
      * Urgence Darfour (France)

      In addition, representatives of numerous other human rights organizations will be participating at the event.

      For more information, including on how to register, visit or contact Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Officer, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, [email protected]

      Uganda: Court keeps death penalty


      Uganda's Supreme Court has ruled in a case involving more than 400 death row inmates that the death penalty is constitutional. However, it said that hanging was cruel and recommended that parliament consider another means of execution. The judges also said it was unreasonable to keep convicts on death row for more than three years.

      Uganda: Mandatory death penalty ruled unconstitutional


      The Supreme Court of Uganda upheld the judgment of the Ugandan Constitutional Court on Wednesday, that the mandatory application of the death penalty is unconstitutional. However, the court ruled that the death penalty per se remains constitutional, rejecting both Government and death row prisoners’ appeals.

      Refugees & forced migration

      Africa: 15 drown in Gulf of Aden


      Two smugglers' boats carrying Somalis and Ethiopians have capsized in the high seas separating the Horn of Africa and Yemen, leaving at least 15 people dead and a dozen missing, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said. The boats were transporting 270 people when they foundered in separate incidents over the weekend in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

      East Africa: Congolese displaced by Ugandan rebels to receive UN aid


      The flood of Congolese civilians fleeing raids by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are in dire need of food, shelter, medicines, clothes and other aid items, and United Nations’ relief will begin reaching them tomorrow despite immense logistical challenges, the Organization’s refugee agency has said today.

      Elections & governance

      Ghana: President unveils initial list of cabinet


      Ghanaian President John Evans Atta Mills on Thursday released the initial list of the names of his cabinet and gave an indication that he would fulfil his pledge of 40 per cent of them being women. The list, which included a blend of old and new faces, has been forwarded to parliament for vetting.

      Kenya: Kibaki names ally Kenyatta as finance minister


      Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki named a close ally, former trade minister Uhuru Kenyatta, on Friday as finance minister of east Africa's biggest economy. Former finance minister Amos Kimunya stepped down last July over the controversial sale of a luxury hotel, but was later cleared of any wrongdoing. On Friday, Kibaki returned Kimunya to the cabinet as his new trade minister.

      Kenya: MPs to consider poll court


      Kenya's parliament is reconvening shortly, two months before it was due to end its recess to pass legislation setting up a poll violence tribunal. The court will seek to try the ringleaders of the unrest that broke out after the December 2007 elections. This was the recommendation of a commission of inquiry into the clashes.

      Mauritania: Party nominates presidential candidate


      One of Mauritania's political parties, the Alternative Party, has nominated its president, Mohamed Yehdi Ould Moctar Hacen, as its flag bearer in the 30 May 2009 presidential election in the country, the party said in a statement here Thursday.

      Nigeria: Main opposition party disowns presidential candidate


      Nigeria's main opposition Action Congress (AC) has disowned its presidential candidate in the 2007 general elections and party chief Atiku Abubakar, after he paid a well-publicised visit to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday. In a statement issued in the capital city of Abuja Wednesday, AC said while it could not decide who its members can visit or determine their friends, the visit was not in the overall interest of the party.

      Senegal: President's son to succeed him


      The first son of Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade, is reported to have entered into active politics to succeed his father. Long standing rumours that Karim Wade would be taking to his father's heels settled when he decided to contest the seat of mayor of Dakar.

      West Africa: "Broke" Ghana spends lavishly on ex-presidents


      The New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration approved lavish benefits for outgoing President John Kufuor, parliament heard on Monday, a move critics said could burden the country's struggling economy. The package, approved on the previous parliament's final day, gives each former president two furnished houses, six chauffeur-driven cars, a tax-free payment linked to time served in office, as well as money for entertainment and foreign travel.


      Guinea: Government calls corruption hearings


      Guinea's new military government has summoned several ex-ministers and business leaders to appear before a commission investigating graft claims. Some 14 people, including the former ministers for sport and finance and the ex-chief of protocol under the late president, have been called.

      Kenya: Probe into missing oil imports begins


      Kenyan authorities have launched an investigation into the disappearance of $100m in oil imports as part of a corruption scandal that threatens to disrupt fuel supplies to east Africa. According to the Kenyan energy ministry, the oil was allegedly released – and sold – without the authorisation of the banks and trading houses that financed it.

      Mozambique: Government identifies corruption as its most dangerous problem


      The Director of Mozambique's Central Office for the Fight Against Corruption, Ana Maria Gemo, warned on Tuesday "corruption is not the only ill that undermines the development of the state, but it is certainly the most dangerous". Giving a lecture to an audience of over 500 in Maputo on "Corruption as an obstacle to development", Gemo said what is often referred to as "petty corruption" is widespread and "makes life impossible for citizens".


      Africa: A new approach to development


      What causes the continued endemic poverty in Africa - a continent rich with natural resources? This paper also argues for a historical materialist approach, which exposes the condition of widespread routine poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and inequality to be a modern world-historical product, the outcome of five centuries of global capitalist expansion under relations of imperialism. The author attempts to reach an alternative approach to the development of the African society.

      Africa: African renewable energy attracts attention


      The potential for renewable energy development in Africa is growing as both investors and regional leaders seek a new clean energy frontier. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the continent could become a "gold mine" for renewable energy due to abundant hydro, solar and wind resources. This is because the continent has substantial new and renewable energy resources, most of which are under-exploited.

      Africa: Laying Africa’s roads to prosperity


      From outer space the vast Cahora Bassa hydroelectric complex on the Zambezi River in Mozambique is easy to see. Originally built by the Portuguese colonial authorities and later transferred to Mozambican ownership, the dam has huge turbines that generate enough electricity to power millions of homes and businesses in South Africa and the surrounding region.

      Ghana: "Beware of World Bank praises"


      The new government of Ghana has been warned to be mindful of the World Bank and other international donors' eulogies. Anthony Akoto-Osei, former Minister of State at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, urged the Atta-Mills government to remain focused on its agenda. The former minister said the government should not rely exclusively on advises from global financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, saying they throw around loans that may tie down the country in circles of debts.

      Kenya: Government signs deal with Qatar to make airport African hub


      The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) has signed a Shs 27.3 billion (US$ 350 million) deal with Qatar’s Afro-Asia Investment Corporation (AAIC) for the development of a high class airport hotel and a conference centre. Signing the deal at the KAA offices, Managing Director, George Muhoho, said the investment was in line with the ongoing expansion programme at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi.

      Nigeria, Dubai ink $16b oil infrastructure deal


      Nigeria and Dubai have signed a preliminary agreement worth $16 billion to develop oil and gas infrastructure in Africa’s top crude producer, officials said. The deal will see Dubai World Corporation (DWC) wholly-owned by Dubai emirate, investing in projects in the restive Niger Delta, Africa’s oil and gas heartland, which accounts for nearly all of Nigeria’s around 2.0 million barrels of crude per day.

      South Africa: EDC meeting promotes cooperation between Dubai and Gauteng


      The Dubai Export Development Corporation (EDC) met with a delegation from South Africa to explore bilateral trade opportunities between the emirate of Dubai and the Province of Gauteng. The South African delegation was led by Her Excellency Agnes Nyamande-Pitso, the South African Consul General and Mr Blake Mosley-Lefatola, CEO of the Gauteng Economic Development Agency (GEDA) and included several other high ranking Gauteng officials.

      Health & HIV/AIDS

      Africa: Better education improves health of mothers and children


      A new UNICEF report reveals there is still much to be done to reduce infant and maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. Failure to improve care for pregnant women and newborns threatens to undermine progress on all health-related development goals. "Newborn deaths account for up to 40 percent of all under-five deaths around the world," UNICEF Chief of Health Peter Salama told IPS in Johannesburg.

      Kenya: Food shortages threaten ARV adherence


      Makueni District Hospital in eastern Kenya has recorded a significant drop in the weight of several of its HIV-positive patients in the past three months, which nutritionists ascribe to severe food shortages across much of the country. "We have a large number of patients with a BMI [body mass index, a measure of nutritional status] below the healthy cut-off of 18.5," Fransiscah Yula, a nutritionist at the hospital, told IRIN/PlusNews.

      Malawi: Rains expose poor sanitation


      Zimbabwe - where cholera has claimed more than 2,700 lives so far according to the Red Cross - is not the only southern African country facing increased disease as rains set in across the region. Malawi is also battling a cholera outbreak which has killed 19 people since the onset of the rainy season, an unusually high death toll. Up to 485 cases of the epidemic have since been registered and treated.

      South Africa: Crisis looms on Aids drugs


      The government’s AIDS programme is heading for a funding crisis, deputy chairman of the South African National AIDS Council Mark Heywood has warned. Speaking to members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU’s) advisory committee on HIV/AIDS in Parliament yesterday, Heywood said the government had failed to budget in line with the cost estimates laid out in its National Strategic AIDS Plan (NSP). The five-year plan was launched 18 months ago, and put a R45bn price tag on meeting its targets, which include treating four-fifths of those in need by 2011.

      Swaziland: Patients fail to adhere to TB treatment


      Every five minutes she gives a hacking cough. Ndlaleni Ndzinisa (70) says she has continuously suffered from tuberculosis for the past five years. Because she cannot afford to pay for transport to the nearest hospital, she has repeatedly failed to adhere to her tuberculosis (TB) treatment. Ndzinisa’s doctor, Franklin Ackom, says it is highly unusual that she has not been diagnosed with the difficult-to-treat, multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extremely-drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), which are strains that are resistant to treatment by first-line and second-line drugs, including Isoniazid and Rifampicin.

      Togo: Moving past HIV


      The government estimates that nearly 180,000 people in Togo are HIV-positive as of 2008 – about 3.2 percent of the population. Some 60 percent are women, and almost 13,000 are children under 14. In December 2008, one month after the government made life-saving antiretroviral medication (ARV) free, IRIN met with some people living with HIV in the capital Lomé.

      Uganda: Scores dead as meningitis epidemic strikes


      At least 35 people have died in a meningitis epidemic that has hit several districts in western and north-western Uganda over the past two weeks, a health ministry official said. "Cumulatively we have recorded 47 cases of meningitis with 13 dead in Hoima District," Paul Kaggwa, a spokesman for the ministry, said. "Another 150 cases have been reported in Arua, with 18 dead, and 14 in Masindi, with four deaths."


      Africa: African research collaborations must be fair and equal


      Research collaborations with African institutions must be equal, fair and meaningful, says Damtew Teferra. Africa's capacity for research and creating knowledge has always been the most marginalised and least competitive in the world.

      Zimbabwe: Teachers vow to remain on strike


      Striking Zimbabwe teachers on Thursday vowed to remain on strike until the government pays them salaries foreign currency, a teachers union said. "Our industrial action continues unless we are paid 2,200 US dollars per month,"Takavafira Zhou, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president said at a media briefing.


      Global: Global LGBT youth network launched


      Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer young people from all over the world can sign up to send and receive messages with other activists. Members will be encouraged to share their experiences, ideas and expertise, and to work together to solve problems and run projects. The working languages of the list are English, Spanish and French.

      South Africa: ANC elections manifesto disappoints gay community


      Some gay rights groups and individuals are disappointed by the ANC’s 2009 Elections Manifesto which they say is mum on issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. According to these groups the manifesto, which the ruling party claims was drafted in consultation with the people of South Africa, considering their input, fails to address issues facing the LGBTI community such as hate crimes and homophobia, despite a submission made by this community at the party’s Polokwane Conference in 2007.

      Uganda: Court ruling affirms lgbti rights


      Ugandan gay rights activist Victor Mukasa is pleased with Judge Stella Arach’s December 23 ruling which he says affirms the rights of LGBTI people in Uganda. Arach’s ruling, citing constitutional violations of rights to privacy, property and fundamental rights of women, was a result of a case filed by Mukasa and Oyo Yvonne against Ugandan Attorney General after an “illegal” raid at Mukasa’s home four years ago.


      West Africa: Hordes of caterpillars threaten Liberia, possible risk to wider region


      In what is being described by the United Nations as Liberia’s worst plague in 30 years, hordes of caterpillars are destroying crops and vegetation in northern areas of the country and posing a major threat to the already precarious food security situation in the country and the wider region. The situation in Liberia is a national emergency and is likely to escalate into a regional crisis involving neighbouring Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire, according to the Representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Liberia, Winfred Hammond.

      Land & land rights

      Global: Fuelling exclusion? The biofuels boom and poor people's access to land


      The global oil crisis together with the need to look for cleaner sources of energy due to massive climate change impact has boosted the use and production of ‘biofuels’ as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. This has been translated in a huge demand for ‘biofuels’ from the rich world – especially the country members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who account for 56% of the planet’s energy consumption – that is being produced in the South, especially Latin America and South Asia.

      Tanzania: Slowing down EAC integration over land concerns?


      In its objections to proposed land and passport regulations at the latest East Africa Legislative Assembly session, Tanzania reveals a longstanding reluctance to fully commit to an accelerated regional integration in the East African Community (EAC). However, is this really about land? What are the options for Tanzania – in or out?

      Food Justice

      Africa: Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund makes its first grants


      The first six grants have been awarded by the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), totalling about $6.5m and covering over five countries, including Uganda, Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Malawi. The estimated number of rural households expected to benefit from this round directly total 1,240,000.

      Africa: Massive hydro scheme for Africa's food, energy security focus of UN Forum


      A senior United Nations official today told a meeting of African ministers that harnessing the continent's largely untapped water resources is critical in feeding and providing for its people, as delegates consider a multi-billion dollar, long-term irrigation and hydroelectricity program.

      Africa: Reducing food insecurity in East and Southern Africa


      There is an increase of food crises and hunger emergencies in Eastern and Southern Africa, caused by a combination of climate change, conflicts and political factors. The complexity of today’s hunger in Africa means there is no simple answer for how to eradicate it. This paper focuses on these two regions and tries to illustrate some of the factors that contribute to food insecurity.

      Global: UN votes on right to food


      By a vote of 180 in favor to 1 against (United States) and no abstentions, the Committee approved a resolution on the right to food. The resolution "consider(s) it intolerable" that more than 6 million children still die every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday, and that the number of undernourished people had grown to about 923 million worldwide, at the same time the planet could produce enough food to feed 12 billion people, or twice the world's present population.

      Media & freedom of expression

      Global: Towards an emergency news agency?


      The 2005 World Disasters Report stated that “information is a vital form of ait in itself [since] disaster affected people need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter. Information can save lives, livelihoods and resources. ”As we know only too well, information is often one of the first casualties in crises: crippled communications and shattered transportation links present significant obstacles. Communication with beneficiaries is rarely high on the priority lists of many relief responders.

      Global: UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize


      Inviting member states, regional and international organisations, and professional and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the field of journalism and freedom of expression to nominate candidates for the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. The US$25,000 award honours a journalist or organisation that has made a notable contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially if this involved risk. The prize is awarded every year on World Press Freedom Day. Deadline: January 31 2009

      Nigeria: Journalist escapes attack


      Reporters Without Borders has voiced its concern after armed men burst into the apartment block of Janet Mba, editor of the magazine The Scroll in Arepo in Ogun State in south-western Nigeria. She escaped attack because she managed to call the police before they could strike. The worldwide press freedom organisation recorded at least 10 cases of physical assaults and eight cases of threats against journalists in the country during 2008.

      Nigeria: Judicial police to probe journalist murder


      The investigation into the murder of Paul Abayomi Ogundeji, journalist on the privately-owned daily Thisday, and member of its editorial committee, has been handed to the judicial police, regional authorities in Lagos State said on 20 January. The journalist was shot dead in the Dopemu district of the capital Lagos on 17 August 2008 as he was returning home in his car.

      Senegal: Media gets a taste of taser


      A French weapons firm has acknowledged for the first time that it has sold stun-guns to Senegal, where they have been reportedly used against journalists covering football matches and political protests. At least twice during 2008 Senegalese reporters complained that they were attacked by police clutching tasers -- electronic devices that can immobilise the person at whom they are aimed.

      Sierra Leone: IFJ Condemns recent wave of threats and attacks on journalists


      The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the recent wave of threats and attacks on journalists in Sierra alone. Three journalists, namely Gibril Gottor of Radio Kollenten in Kambia, Alex James of Citizen Radio in Freetown and Mama Jalloh of the United Nations radio in Freetown have all received threat messages as a result of their work.
      The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the recent wave of threats and attacks on journalists in Sierra alone.

      Three journalists, namely Gibril Gottor of Radio Kollenten in Kambia, Alex James of Citizen Radio in Freetown and Mama Jalloh of the United Nations radio in Freetown have all received threat messages as a result of their work.

      According to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), these threats are proffered two weeks after an incident where a journalist was beaten up in Pujehun by a supporter of the People’s Party, an opposition political party in Sierra Leone and another attack on Radio Wanjei also in Pujehun allegedly by APC supporters.

      “This threats and attacks are unwarranted,” said Gabriel Baglo, Director of the IFJ Africa Office. “The Media in Sierra Leone has played a tremendous role in the democratic process. These significant gains that had been made cannot be allowed to be trampled by individuals who feel offended by the reports of the media.”

      The IFJ calls on the authorities in Sierra Leone, to guarantee the safety of journalists and to ensure that those who willfully threaten and attack journalists are arrested and prosecuted in a competent court of law.

      Somalia: IFJ welcomes release of journalist


      The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has welcomed the release of Somali journalist, Abdifatah Mohamed Elmi, after 146 days in captivity. Photojournalist, Abdifatah Mohamed Elmi, was abducted on August 23, 2008 with two foreign journalists, namely Amanda Lindout of Canada and Nigel Brenan of Australia. Elmi's two drivers, Mohad Isse and Marwali were also abducted.

      Zimbabwe: Newspapers licensed to sell in foreign currency


      Zimbabwe media organisations have been licensed to sell their newspapers and other products in both local and foreign currency. With effect from 22 January 2009, a copy of The Herald was selling at US$1 or the equivalent in pound sterling, pula or rand. The Zimbabwe dollar price would be determined by the market rate of the day. On the same day, the weekly privately owned Financial Gazette also started selling its 22-28 January edition at US$2 a copy.

      News from the diaspora

      Brazil: The high price of clean, cheap ethanol


      Brazil hopes to supply drivers worldwide with the fuel of the future - cheap ethanol derived from sugarcane. It is considered an effective antidote to climate change, but hundreds of thousands of Brazilian plantation workers harvest the cane at slave wages.

      Conflict & emergencies

      DRC: Nkunda arrested


      Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has been arrested in Rwandan territory after he tried to resist a joint Rwandan-Congolese military operation in eastern Congo, the operation's joint command said on Friday. The arrest of Nkunda, who has led a Tutsi rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 2004, occurred during a joint Congolese-Rwandan military operation launched this week to hunt Rwandan Hutu rebels operating in Congo.

      DRC: UN assessing impact of rebel violence on Congolese civilians


      The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been terrorizing the Haut Uélé area of Orientale province in north-east DRC in recent months. The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), along with partner agencies, visited affected areas from 16-17 January to help them set up an appropriate humanitarian response. In Faradje, the team assessed the damage to property and spoke to those remaining in the town following the deadly LRA attacks, noting the need for protection and psychosocial assistance for civilians.

      Kenya: National food emergency grips


      As Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki announces a national emergency and declares that 10 million people don’t have enough food to eat, results of an International Rescue Committee survey show that an alarming 22% of children under five are malnourished in one part of the country worst affected by the food crisis. The IRC’s survey in Kakuma division, Turkana north, found that almost 40% of local people were surviving on just one meal a day. Malnutrition rates among children under the age of five were 22% — that’s much higher than the 15% rate which the World Health Organization uses to determine an emergency situation.

      Sudan: African states bolster Darfur peacekeeping force


      African states will contribute additional troops to the United Nations, African Union Hybrid force in Darfur (UNAMID) in the coming months, with an advance party expected from Tanzania, the force said Wednesday. Some African states, among them Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nigeria are expected to deploy hundreds more troops within the next two months as part of the Mission's efforts to speed up deployment in Darfur to ensure better safety and protection of local civilians, UNAMID said.

      Sudan: UN, AU to ramp up deployment of peacekeepers in troubled Darfur


      Hundreds more troops will arrive in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region within the next two months in an effort to boost protection of civilians, the African Union-United Nations mission there, known as UNAMID, has said. Additional troops are expected to arrive by March from Egypt, South Africa, Senegal and Bangladesh, and later this year, further troops will arrive from Nepal, Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia, UNAMID said.

      Internet & technology

      Africa: Technology in Government in Africa (TIGA) Awards


      Recognising the work of African governments in the effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for public services delivery. Initiated by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Canada Fund for Africa, the award is an effort to create greater awareness on the role of ICTs in public services and the development process within the framework of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI). Deadline: January 31 2009

      Africa: The contribution of ICT to development and poverty reduction


      This report looks at the ways in which ICTs can contribute to development and poverty reduction. It explicitly reviews and builds upon research conducted by the FAO in 2001, which sought to document the uptake and impact of ICTs in small communities. This research asked whether these communities had been able to take ownership of, and appropriate ICTs for their own benefit.

      Africa: What can Africa learn from India’s IT miracle?


      The South-South Experience Exchange Facility is a new multi donor trust fund that promotes the idea that the development successes in one country can be replicated in another. The trust fund has identified other areas suited for this financing including managing commodity windfalls; developing efficient tax systems; adapting to new technologies; creating social safety nets that benefit the poor; and trade integration and investment climate.

      Ethiopia: The elephant in the room slows down ICT development


      The Ethiopian Government was one of the first to embrace the use of ICT as a way to change Government and improve the efficiency of the economy. The country has a burgeoning ICT sector but it is being held back by the impact of Government policy. However laudable the Government’s intentions, there is an overwhelming mismatch between its rhetoric and the results. Our correspondent takes a look at the elephant in the room that isn’t being dealt with.

      Global: Tech awards


      Awarding innovators from around the world who use technology to benefit humanity. Individuals, for-profit companies, and not-for-profit organisations are eligible to apply. The purpose of the Tech Awards programme is to inspire future scientists, technologists, and dreamers to harness the power and "promise of technology to solve the challenges that confront us at the dawn of the 21st Century". Deadline: March 27 2009

      Libya: Web access leap


      Libya's only internet service provider is launching its first commercial wireless network which it says is one of the most advanced in the world. The state-owned firm said only a handful of countries have rolled out the advanced internet connection known as WiMax on such a wide scale. Libya Telecom and Technology aims to start with WiMax coverage, including a mobile feature, in 18 cities.

      Nigeria: Chinese company to replace failed satellite


      The Chinese Great Wall Industry Corporation is to replace Nigeria's first-ever communications satellite, which failed in orbit 10 Nov. 2008, according to local media reports. The agreement to replace the satellite, tagged 'NigComSat-1', was signed by the Chinese firm and the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited 12 Dec. 2008.

      South Africa: Tata-led consortium to build optical fibre network


      The Tata-led Neotel consortium and mobile phone giant MTN South Africa have signed an agreement to jointly build a 2 billion rand ($202 million) 5,000-km optical fibre network that will connect all major centres across this country.

      eNewsletters & mailing lists


      Newsletter for the African Agroecological Alternatives to the Green Revolution


      AAAGRrrr! is an e-newsletter for information on African agroecological alternatives for food sovereignty: the right of all people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. This newsletter provides updated information on AGRA- The Alliance for a New Green Revolution in Africa, a $500 million project to re-introduce the decades-old Green Revolution into African food systems. This new Green Revolution is being led by seed and fertilizer companies, is targeting traditional African food crops, and plans to prepare African agriculture for the widespread introduction of genetically modified seeds.

      Pambazuka News will feature extracts relevant for Africa from this newsletter in our new section Food Justice.

      Fundraising & useful resources

      Africa: SLUM-TV Video Competition


      Soliciting 3-minute videos on the subject of how you would prepare for a stay in one of the largest African slums, Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya, if given the prize of a visit. The award is a 10-day stay, "all inclusive", in Mathare, where this Slum-TV project is based. Interested participants need to respond to a video available online (please see the full posting for details). Responses need to be in a video format. Deadline: February 21 2009

      Global: Change the game for women in sport - Ashoka Changemakers


      Join Ashoka's Changemakers competition "GameChangers: Change the Game for Women in Sport," a search to identify sport innovations that challenge the barriers girls and women face around the world. Submit your entry by February 11, 2009 at to take advantage of the funding opportunities and global exposure, while contributing to the next big change!

      Global: Excellence in Media Award for Global Health


      Awarding a journalist (print, electronic, and/or visual) who has in the prior year most effectively captured the essence of a major issue in global health and conveyed it to a broad audience. The Global Health Council recognises the vital role played by the media in informing the public, as well as decision-makers, and seeks through this award to highlight the important contributions to understanding and action made by the winner of the award.
      Deadline: January 30 2009

      Global: Grants for Human Rights and International Justice


      Seeking organisations to expand and strengthen the network of human rights organisations in Nigeria, Mexico, and Russia that provide the basic infrastructure for a national human rights culture based on the rule of law. Grants are awarded only to organisations that define clear objectives for their work and measures of progress toward those objectives. The foundation provides multi-year support. Deadline: Rolling deadline.

      Kenya: Digitizing Kenya - Wajibu: Volume 24, Issue I

      Call for submissions


      WAJIBU: a journal of social and ethical concern, is a Kenyan journal that has been published in Kenya for the past 22 years and has subscribers not only in Kenya but in various other countries in Africa and abroad. We invite submissions on all aspects of how digital technology is shaping public discourse, culture, politics and economy in Kenya.
      Wajibu: Volume 24, Issue I

      Digitizing Kenya – The impact of multimedia on the socio-cultural and political landscape in Kenya

      Calling for Submissions

      Words: 1200 – 2000

      Deadline: February 25th 2009

      Publication Date: Mid-March

      “To many in the developed world, the ‘networked public sphere’ connotes the potential for a more public discourse, increased transparency, and positive cooperation of all kinds. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa where artificial borders and legacies of ethnic strife have yet to solidify many countries into nations, the narrative is more complicated…The internet and mobile phone have lowered barriers to participations and increased opportunities for many-to-many communication…” (Goldstein and Rotich: Digitally Networked Technology in Kenya’s 2007-2008 Post-Election Crises)

      We invite submissions on all aspects of how digital technology is shaping public discourse, culture, politics and economy in Kenya. Topics of particular (but not exclusive) interest are:

      · The internet and social justice

      · How development operates within the new face of communications

      · Integrating digital technologies into mainstream media

      · Trade and economy

      · Civil society interactions

      · ‘Good governance’ and human rights discourses

      · Cultural interactions

      · The evolution of content

      About Wajibu

      WAJIBU: a journal of social and ethical concern, is a Kenyan journal that has been published in Kenya for the past 22 years and has subscribers not only in Kenya but in various other countries in Africa and abroad. Every three months readers are treated to an array of in-depth analytical coverage of issues such as “Peacebuilding: gaining or losing?” “The Millennium development goals,” “Education: a constant challenge,” “Roadmap to a just society,” “Culture and values,” “Traditional African wisdom and modern life,” “Human dignity and the value of one life,” and other issues of major concern to Africans and those who love Africa .

      Southern Africa: Southern African Journalists' Bursary


      Offering a bursary to as many as 6 young Southern African and as many as 5 young German journalists. The Southern African-German Journalists' Programme is an effort to shape an integrated understanding of another country and region and to foster relations between Africa and Germany. Deadline: January 31 2009

      Courses, seminars, & workshops

      Africa: CODESRIA Small grants programme for thesis writing 2009


      The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to announce the seventeenth competition under its Small Grants Programme for Thesis Writing. The grants are designed to contribute to the development of the social sciences in Africa, and the continuous renewal and strengthening of research capacities in African universities through the funding of primary research conducted by post-graduate students and professionals.
      OBJECTIVES: The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to announce the seventeenth competition under its Small Grants Programme for Thesis Writing. The grants are designed to contribute to the development of the social sciences in Africa, and the continuous renewal and strengthening of research capacities in African universities through the funding of primary research conducted by post-graduate students and professionals. In this connection, candidates whose applications are successful are encouraged to use the resources available under the grants to cover the cost of their fieldwork, the acquisition of books and documents, the processing of data which they have collected and the printing of their thesis/dissertation. As the Council has a strong interest in encouraging African researchers to engage one another on a sustained basis, recipients of the small grants will also be supported to order books and journals produced by African scholarly publishers, including CODESRIA itself.

      ELIGIBILITY: The Programme is open to graduate students and professionals currently registered in African universities preparing their theses and dissertations in all social science fields and in other disciplines involving social or economic analysis.

      APPLICATION PROCEDURES: Grants are awarded solely on the strength of the applications received by CODESRIA. All applicants are required to use the application forms designed by CODESRIA and available with this announcement. The application forms can also be downloaded from the CODESRIA website ( In filling out the forms, applicants are requested to keep the following guidelines in mind:

      RESEARCH PROPOSAL: The presentation by candidates of their research proposals should contain a clear statement of the research hypotheses, a critical review of the existing literature, the methodology to be used, the expected results of the work, and a detailed work plan and timetable. The research proposal should be based on an innovative problematic which sets out the originality of the theme in relation to on-going research in the same area;

      BUDGET: Applicants should present a detailed budget with expenses clearly linked to specific phases of their research. The budget should not exceed USD 3000 for those preparing a PhD, USD 2500 for those preparing an MPhil, and USD 2000 for those preparing an MA or MSc. Apart from trips for fieldwork in the country in which the research is actually conducted, travel abroad is not funded under the grant.

      STATEMENT OF INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT: A statement is required from the applicant’s institution of affiliation giving approval for the proposed research and an assurance of continued institutional support throughout the preparation of the thesis/dissertation. This statement of institutional support should be done on the institutional letterhead and must carry the official stamp;

      LETTERS OF REFERENCE: Two letters of reference must accompany each application, one from the thesis/dissertation supervisor assessing the applicant’s research proposal and abilities and another from a faculty member assessing the applicant in relation to other graduate students and commenting on the scientific merit and validity of the proposed research;

      CURRICULUM VITAE: Applicants should include a current curriculum vitae which, among other things, indicates their discipline and nationality, and provides a list of their recent publications and on-going research activities in which they are involved.

      APPLICATION DEADLINE AND SELECTION PROCEDURES: The deadline for the receipt of applications is Friday 15 May, 2009. Applications found to be incomplete or which arrive after the deadline will not be taken into consideration. The independent Selection Committee charged with screening all applications received will meet in Dakar, Senegal, from 26 to 30 June, 2009 and the results of its deliberations will be announced shortly thereafter.

      All applications should be submitted to:

      The Small Grants Programme for Thesis Writing
      BP 3304, CP 18524,
      Dakar, Senegal.
      Tel.: +221-33 825 98.22/23
      Fax: +221-33 824 12.89
      E-mail: [email protected]

      Egypt: Advanced International Refugee Law

      AUC 2009 Summer short courses


      The course will cover various advanced topics in international refugee law. Topics to be covered include ethical and professional obligations while representing clients undergoing refugee status determination; the "nexus" requirement of the refugee definition; the expanded grounds for protection under the OAU Convention and UNHCR's mandate; the possibility of socio-economic "persecution"; the distinction between prosecution and "persecution"; the non-refoulement and expulsion provisions of the Convention; refugee rights guaranteed by the Convention; and, the interaction between the Convention and domestic and international human rights protections.

      Egypt: International law on migrant and refugee women and children

      AUC 2009 Summer short courses


      This course aims at giving the students a thorough overview and understanding of international law instruments pertaining to migration movements and to migrant and refugee women and children in particular. The course will have a human rights focus. The course will be structured around an examination of two groups and their rights; women and children. No single international treaty governs migration and migrants’ rights, but that does not mean that there is no “international migration law”.

      Egypt: Meeting the Psychosocial Needs of Refugees

      AUC 2009 Summer short courses


      In this course, participants will increase their understanding of the psychosocial and mental health issues of refugees and learn how to implement effective interventions. Topics will include: Review of international research about the psychosocial and mental health consequences of war and violence; Implications for working with various cultures and contexts; Skills for assessment of need; Culturally sensitive interviewing skills; Methods for working with translators; Introduction to individual, family, group and community interventions; Overview of methods for monitoring and evaluating the impact of intervention; and Specific mechanisms workers and organizations can use to minimize staff burnout and maximize organizational effectiveness.

      South Africa: Issue 6: Gender, Diversity, Elections and the Media

      Call for submissions


      The sixth edition of the Gender and Media Diversity Journal will focus on the topic of “Gender, Diversity, Elections and the Media.” This topic is particularly relevant given the large number of elections happening in the SADC region in the next few years, the August 2008 signing of the SADC Gender Protocol (which includes commitments from leaders to 50% women in decision-making), and Gender Links’ ongoing work with media and politicians around gender and elections. Submission of abstract: 2 February
      Deadline for submission of commissioned articles: 2 March
      Deadline for revisions: 20 March

      Uganda:Invitation to the Inaugural Beyond Juba distinguished lecture series


      We are writing to invite you to join us in the upcoming inaugural Beyond Juba Distinguished Lecture Series, which will be held on Wednesday, 28 January, 2009 from 2:30pm to 5:00pm at the Faculty of Law Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala.
      We are writing to invite you to join us in the upcoming inaugural Beyond Juba Distinguished Lecture Series, which will be held on Wednesday, 28 January, 2009 from 2:30pm to 5:00pm at the Faculty of Law Auditorium, Makerere University, Kampala.

      Guest speaker Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) ofSouth Africa, will be delivering the first lecture in the series, 'Do Truth and Reconciliation Bodies Deliver?' A renowned international lawyer and human rights activist, she has served as a commissioner on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and an international observer to the Sierra Leone Truth Commission. Professor Joseph Kakooza, the chairman Uganda Law Reform Commission, will join Ms Sooka in this discussion.

      The Beyond Juba Distinguished Lecture Series is a forum for eminent national and international leaders, academics and policy makers to share their knowledge and perspectives on leading issues related to the growing field of transitional justice. Designed to increase awareness of transitional justice policies and practices more broadly, this series offers an opportunity for university students and the Ugandan community to engage and share experiences with leaders who have participated in or contributed towards developing cutting-edge transitional justice policies and practices. Ultimately, the intention is to forge new paths towards embedding transitional justice in Uganda as a mechanism that could contribute towards creation of sustainable peace, while also stimulating and encouraging academic debate around the key transitional justice issues. The inaugural lecture will be held at Makerere University, but subsequent lectures will rotate to different university campuses throughout Uganda. The series is funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

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