Join Friends of Pambazuka

Subscribe for Free!

Fahamu Bulletin Archive

About our Programmes

Donate to Pambazuka News!

Follow Us

delicious bookmarks facebook twitter

Pambazuka News Pambazuka News is produced by a pan-African community of some 2,600 citizens and organisations - academics, policy makers, social activists, women's organisations, civil society organisations, writers, artists, poets, bloggers, and commentators who together produce insightful, sharp and thoughtful analyses and make it one of the largest and most innovative and influential web forums for social justice in Africa.

Latest titles from Pambazuka Press

African Sexualities

Earth Grab A Reader
Sylvia Tamale
A groundbreaking book, accessible but scholarly, by African activists. It uses research, life stories and artistic expression to examine dominant and deviant sexualities, and investigate the intersections between sex, power, masculinities and femininities
Buy now

Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya

From Citizen to Refugee Horace Campbell
In this elegantly written and incisive account, scholar Horace Campbell investigates the political and economic crises of the early twenty-first century through the prism of NATO's intervention in Libya.
Buy now

Queer African Reader

Demystifying Aid Edited by Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas
A diverse collection of writing from across the continent exploring African LGBTI liberation: identity, tactics for activism, international solidarity, homophobia and global politics, religion and culture, and intersections with social justice movements. A richness of voices, a multiplicity of discourses, a quiverful of arguments. African queers writing for each other, theorising ourselves, making our ...more
Buy now

China and Angola

African Awakening A Marriage of Convenience?
Edited by Marcus Power, Ana Alves
This book focuses on the increased co-operation between Angola and China and shows that although relations with China might have bolstered regime stability and boosted the international standing of the Angolan government, China is not regarded as a long term strategic partner.
Buy now

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

To Cook a ContinentWalter Rodney
Rodney shows how the imperial countries of Europe, and subsequently the US, bear major responsibility for impoverishing Africa. They have been joined in this exploitation by agents or unwitting accomplices both in the North and in Africa.
Buy now

Pambazuka News Broadcasts

Pambazuka broadcasts feature audio and video content with cutting edge commentary and debate from social justice movements across the continent.

    See the list of episodes.


    This site has been established by Fahamu to provide regular feedback to African civil society organisations on what is happening with the African Union.

    Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

    Back Issues

    Pambazuka News 459: Land grabs, food security and Africa's resource curse

    The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa

    Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839

    CONTENTS: 1. Features, 2. Announcements, 3. Comment & analysis, 4. Pan-African Postcard, 5. Books & arts, 6. Letters & Opinions, 7. African Writers’ Corner, 8. Blogging Africa, 9. Emerging powers in Africa Watch, 10. Highlights French edition, 11. Highlights Portuguese edition, 12. Zimbabwe update, 13. Women & gender, 14. Human rights, 15. Refugees & forced migration, 16. Social movements, 17. Africa labour news, 18. Emerging powers news, 19. Elections & governance, 20. Corruption, 21. Development, 22. Health & HIV/AIDS, 23. Education, 24. 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, 25. Environment, 26. Land & land rights, 27. Food Justice, 28. Media & freedom of expression, 29. Conflict & emergencies, 30. Internet & technology, 31. Fundraising & useful resources, 32. Courses, seminars, & workshops

    Help Pambazuka News become independent. Become a supporting subscriber by taking out a paid subscription. Donate $30 a year.

    Highlights from this issue

    - Khadija Sharife asks whether land is Africa's new ‘resource curse’
    - Olivier De Schutter's contribution to the preparation of World Summit on Food Security Declaration
    - Civil Society Organisations call for food sovereignty
    - Henning Melber on the pathology of power and paranoia in Namibian politics
    - Nikolaj Nielsen on Eritrea, alone against the world
    + more

    - Public discussion with Pambazuka editors on online activism, hosted by Oxford Internet Institute

    - Stage set for ICC intervention in Kenya
    - Thoughts on Nyerere for young intellectuals
    + more

    - Concerned about South Africa's genetically modified potato
    - The kind of analysis Zimbabwe needs
    + more

    - An interview with Masimba Musodza, pioneer in Rastafarian literature
    + more

    AND LOTS MOREANNOUNCEMENT: Discussion on Internet and social activism in Africa
    ZIMBABWE UPDATE: Zuma appoints new Zimbabwe team
    WOMEN & GENDER: Zimbabwe’s women and children on decline
    CONFLICT AND EMERGENCIES: Congolese women live in fear of rape
    HUMAN RIGHTS: Kenya on collision course with UN
    REFUGEES AND FORCED MIGRATION: No end to displacement in Nigeria
    SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: UN calls for reversal of ban on Burundi Civil society group
    AFRICA LABOUR NEWS: Africa labour news roundup
    EMERGING POWERS NEWS: Emerging powers news roundup
    ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE: Group wins right to observe Namibia poll
    CORRUPTION: Angola to name corrupt officials
    HEALTH & HIV/AIDS: Punitive laws threaten HIV progress
    EDUCATION: African ministers meet to discuss progress
    DEVELOPMENT: Africa plans merger of trading blocs
    ENVIRONMENT: GE crops linked to pesticide increase
    LAND & LAND RIGHTS: Land grabbing in Ethiopia
    FOOD JUSTICE: FAO seeks stronger world food security
    MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Prominent Tunisian journalist jailed
    INTERNET& TECHNOLOGY: APC assesses 4th Internet Governance Forum
    PLUS: jobs, fundraising & useful resources, courses, seminars and workshops

    *Pambazuka News now has a page, where you can view the various websites that we visit to keep our fingers on the pulse of Africa! Visit


    Land grabs: Africa's new ‘resource curse’?

    Khadija Sharife


    cc D Maritz
    As developed nations attempt to secure supplies of food and biofuels to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the food and energy security of their populations, Khadija Sharife writes in this week’s Pambazuka News about the rush by foreign investors to buy up agricultural land across Africa, all too often at the expense of the wellbeing and livelihoods of local communities.

    It has been called the next golden commodity by investment firms, and ‘neocolonialism’ by the now repentant director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Jacques Diouf.

    The phenomenon better known as ‘land grabbing’ i.e.: Large-scale purchase or lease of farmland (often packaged as ‘idle’, ‘under-utilised’ and ‘uncultivated’) in ‘land-rich developing’ regions has catalysed a policy shift from geostrategic control over food production (institutionalised via structurally unjust trading mechanisms underpinning bodies such as the World Trade Organization), to that of sovereignty.

    Whereas the US$1 billion per day in protectionist (Northern) subsidies served to artificially depreciate the price of primary commodities from developing regions, ‘land grabs’ are motivated by the intent of developed governments in ‘land-poor’ nations and representative corporate entities – composing over 50 per cent of the world’s largest economies, to secure exclusive rights to the assets used to produce food.

    The global food crisis of 2008, forcing 100 million people below the poverty belt, may have been a catastrophe for the working poor of the world – peoples living in slums and on streets with no name, but for Wall Street, the ‘crisis’ – pushing up the price of grain by 140 per cent, was nothing less than the beginning of a new frontier: Harvesting power through dominion over farmland. Though the US squarely laid the blame for increased food prices on scarcity and the rapidly growing ‘middle class’ segment of both China and India – estimated at 650 million – a leaked document written by senior World Bank analyst Don Mitchell, revealed that 65-75 per cent of the increase was caused by the conversion of ‘crops for fuel’ ie: biofuels.

    Massive profits punctuated the poverty underpinning the crisis: Monsanto – the company which declared that people would have GM soy ‘whether they like it or not’ posted three-month profits of US$1.2 billion, an increase of about 50 per cent from US$543 million, with Cargill experiencing a similar jump. ADM, allegedly the largest agricultural processor and also known as ‘the supermarket to the world’, posted increases of 42 per cent.

    The precedent certainly existed: In 2007, for example, almost 40 billion litres of corn-based ethanol was produced in the US, which also produced 40 per cent of global corn trade. And the usual suspects profited in the build-up: During the last two years, reported profits from the world’s top three grain producers (ADM, Cargill and Bunge), controlling 90 per cent of global grain, rose by 103 per cent. Meanwhile, the profits of the top three seed/agro-chemicals (DuPont, Syngenta and Monsanto) and the top three global fertiliser companies (Yara, Mosaic and Potash) rose by 91 per cent and 139 per cent.

    This was not an accidental occurrence, but rather a well-planned strategy. As Dwayne Andreas, former chairman of ADM stated, ‘The competitor is our friend, the customer is our enemy. There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one.’

    Andreas should know – just as oil giants are subsidised to the tune of US$300 billion per annum, ADM remained a chief recipient of billions in subsidies from the US government injected into the corn industry – a policy backed by President Obama and subsidised by US taxpayers. Unsurprisingly, ADM – one of several bundlers financing Obama’s ‘yes we can’ platform, recently stated that the company expected the percentage of ethanol allowed in US fuel supplies to increase from 10 per cent to 12 per cent or more.

    The rising price of food dances in sync to that of oil – from 2004-2007, the prices of crude oil and food rose in tandem by 89 per cent and 84 per cent, revealing the interlocked need to secure oil resources. One tonne of US corn for example, utilises 160 litres of oil. This is synchronised with the corresponding rise in arms sales, exporting weaponry to regions rich in finite oil resources, and poor in rights. According to recent studies, there is a 92 per cent correlation with rising arms sales and oil prices and over 50 per cent of US clients in developing countries were ‘undemocratic governments or regimes that engaged in major human rights abuses.’

    Seen from this angle, the ‘food crisis’ appears to be quite selective, the consequence of policies composed of several intertwined tentacles (biofuels-oil-militarisation) operating in synchrony and broadly spanning ‘global traumas’ from the war in Iraq, to the expanding presence of US African Command (AFRICOM).

    Thanks to the ‘Made in Wall Street’ global recession, rooted in the deregulated trade in paper assets delinked from fundamentals, hedge fund specialists have hastened the pace in the financialising of ‘real assets’ with intrinsic value, and which constitute the basic building blocks of survival – farmland.

    The power of food security should not be underestimated. In the ever-fertile but desperately undernourished and ‘impoverished’ Congo, where 200 000 hectares of land have been provided free of charge to South African farmers (characterised by tax exemptions, repatriation of profits, no export restrictions and other subsidies), one year’s food security holds the power to reduce debt from 70 per cent to 40 per cent. The vast raft of exemptions granted – including 10 million hectares for the taking – marks no break from the ‘business as usual’ policy of the Congo’s rentier regime, lead by Denis Sassou-Nguesso.

    Generous as ever, Nguesso’s regime even offered to lend armed forces to securitise the ‘abandoned’ state farms, an offer quickly rejected by the farmers who were humbled by the warmth of the people. The 30 year lease, with priority access to a further 30 year period following assessments by a committee composed of six representatives – three from the Congolese state, and three from the commercial farmers unions, is the primary determining factor. Yet, at no time was the right of the Congo’s rentier regime to export ownership of farmland ever questioned, despite the Congo – a booming petro-state – being ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

    Studies by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) revealed, ‘Many countries do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect local rights and take account of local interests, livelihoods, and welfare. Moreover, local communities are rarely adequately informed about the land concessions that are made to private companies. Insecure local land rights, inaccessible registration procedures, vaguely defined productive use requirements, legislative gaps, and other factors all too often undermine the position of local people vis-à-vis international actors.’[1]

    Sadly, this situation is not unique in Africa: In Sudan, where 95 per cent of land is state-owned, the North-South and East-West conflicts, rooted in access to scarce ecosystem services such as water and grazing land, have been exacerbated by the exploitation of oil, militarising the region. In the North, lies the Chinese-backed Khartoum government; in the South, where the bulk of oil reserves are based, the US-backed Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Jarch Capital, acquired 400 000 hectares of land from the son of SPLM General Paulino Matip, with a further view for 400 000 hectares before end 2009. Jarch, headed by ex-Wall Street banker Phillip Heilberg, was described by the Financial Times, as ‘believing that several African states, Sudan included, but possibly also Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia, are likely to break apart in the next few years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded.’

    Not a little ironically, Heilberg’s second in command is Joe Wilson, former senior director for African Affairs at the US’s National Security Council. Though an ‘independence’ referendum has been scheduled for March 2011, SPLM Secretary Pagan Amum has already declared that South Sudan will breakaway, even if majority votes are not forthcoming. (Once again, oil plays a crucial role. Since China’s entrance into Sudan in the 1990s, the Khartoum government – ‘evicting’ Chevron in the early 1990s, became the US’s ‘number one security concern in Africa’ in 1997, according to John Prendergrast of the National Security Council. Meanwhile, the UN’s Jean Christophe revealed that the villages of the displaced in Darfur, a region straddled by China’s oil block, ‘marked the oil concessions on the land.’)

    African rentier regimes appear be using the same formula informing secretive development agreements, to exclusively negotiate and barter away natural resources, and relocating capital through tax competition.

    Since June 2008, over 180 deals have been reported, with foreign entities seeking or securing a ‘coup d’état’ over 37 million hectares of land during the past three years. Africa alone has experienced acquisitions to the tune of 30 million hectares, chiefly negotiated between African states – often rentier economies, dependent on unearned resource revenues or rents from extractive industries, and private investors. More than 40 per cent of all deals negotiated were South-South.

    In Africa, just 2-10 per cent of land is privately held, with the remainder constituting resources held in commons (aka the commons), large-scale land acquisitions, financialising agriculture, appears to recognise host communities only in the form of employment i.e.: a class of farm labourers, with ‘pre-existing users’ marginalised or displaced. The lack of land titles, of course, excludes the notion of compensation while in countries like Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania, where land is nationalised, even legal recourse is difficult. Despite the ‘win-win’ rhetoric espoused by international finance institutions such as the World Bank and FAO, fundamental issues such as land reform, food security, tax exemptions including cheapened access to water, and other externalities including pollution, continue to remain private affairs.

    In Madagascar, a 99-year lease on 3.2 million acres of land – 50 per cent of Madagascar’s arable land, granted to multinational Daewoo ‘ensuring food security’ for South Korea, lead to a coup. ‘In the constitution, it is stipulated that Madagascar’s land is neither for sale nor for rent, so the agreement with Daewoo is cancelled,’ said current president Andry Rajoelina, a baby-faced former DJ, backed by the army – and allegedly, the majority of Malagasys, 70 per cent of whom depend on farmland for income. ‘One of the biggest problems for farmers in Madagascar is land ownership, and we think it’s unfair for the government to be selling or leasing land to foreigners when local farmers do not have enough land,’ an official from Madagascar’s Farmer’s Confederation revealed to Reuters.

    The mentality of ‘grabbers’ could not be more different. ‘We are not farmers…’ stated an official from SLC Agricola, Brazil’s largest ‘farm’ corporation. ‘The same way you have shoemakers and computer manufacturers, we produce agricultural commodities.’

    For many citizens in Africa, farmland is not a means to an end – it is the lifeline used to survive life. The lack of basic service delivery – the intended consequence of states deliberately reduced to ‘enabling environments’ via structural adjustment reforms, manufactured an Africa impoverished. States are thus dependent on resource revenues, and citizens, on direct ecosystem services, such as fisheries and farmland – composing 70 per cent of citizen ‘wealth’. This is in contrast to high-income nations, deriving 80 per cent of ‘wealth’ from intangible capital. But with Africa losing an estimated US$148 billion in development finance each year, 60 per cent as a result of multinational mispricing, in addition to the direct servicing of odious debts – (amounting to a global figure of US$560 billion per annum of an outstanding US$2.9 trillion), little or no rents derived from the liquidation of exhaustible resources is redistributed in intangible capital. This is precisely because across Africa citizens are not required to finance the state budget – as occurs in high-income countries through intangible capital – they lack the political representation necessary to influence policies and usurped power structures.

    This is the primary reason why Africa remains on ‘the continent most vulnerable to climate change’ – despite 60 per cent of global ecosystems already having reached critical tipping points.

    According to the UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), African farmers will experience a 90 per cent decrease in crop revenue by 2100, mainly affecting small farmers. Globally speaking, 40 per cent of the world depends on agriculture for survival and income. This figure is 70 per cent in the ‘South’, where 1.5 billion small farmers depend on less than 2 hectares of land, with these farmers ‘constituting two-thirds of the world’s food producers’. And though the world already produces twice as much food as is required to feed its entire population, the primary problem remains access and cost.

    The terms differ from country to country, with the bulk of Ghana’s leased land allocated for export, in contrast to Ethiopia’s mixed status, but the issue remains one of control and exploitation, whether it is over local food monopolies or exported crops.

    While African nations constitute three of seven countries estimated to hold over 50 per cent of the world’s ‘net land’ balances, the selling price marketed by investors ranges from US$300-$800 dollars, as opposed to Argentina, another ‘land-rich’ nations at US$5000. Despite over one-third of Africa lacking access to clean water, the resource is yet another ‘pull’ for the region, sold on the cheap.

    Agriculture accounts for 70-90 per cent of water use annually. Though embedded water has yet to be taken into account, the 15,000 litres of water required for one kg of beef is a good indicator of hidden uses. But scarcity (real or perceived) is what defines the speculative profitability of markets. ‘Water is going to be a fantastically scarce asset,’ said Susan Payne, head of the UK-based Emergent Asset Management holding investments in Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Swaziland.

    Thus far, over 100 known specialised land funds and investments firms have embarked on ‘private sector’ land grabs, including well-known entities such as Morgan Stanley. Facilitating this process is the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank group, ensuring for investors the ‘enabling environments’ and positive ‘investment climates’ required for the extractive industries, such as repatriation of profits and tax ‘competition’. From 1991-2002, deregulation proposed by IFIs composed 95 per cent of changes implemented in host countries.

    According to the Bank’s Strategy for African Mining, ‘The private sector should take the lead. Private investors should own and operate mines. …Existing state mining companies should be privatised at the earliest opportunity. The overall drive of the Bank and donors should be directed at reducing country ‘risk’ for the investors.’ Part of this risk includes mandatory information exchange – revealing the source of illicit flight from countries, the various pit-stops and the end destinations i.e.: Secrecy jurisdictions connected to high-income nations such as the UK, head office to over one quarter of the world’s tax havens. Over 75 per cent of the world’s mining companies, for example, are headquartered in Canada and active in 100 host resource-rich host countries globally. Their presence is due to the country’s favourable law allowing for corporations to repatriate profits.

    But development finance siphoned from Africa, whether through the extractive industries, or land grabs, are unlikely to be revealed as the IMF scrapped mandatory information exchange. Global watchdogs, such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) remained beholden to high-income nations as a ‘subsidiary’ unit in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Meanwhile, the International Accounting Standard Board (IASB), founded and finance by the ‘big four’ accounting firms – maintaining units in secrecy jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands – prefers multinationals to self-regulate trade via arms length transfer. What this effectively does is enable multinationals, conducting 60 per cent of global trade within rather than between corporations, to determine the future of entire continents such as Africa, where primary commodities – extracted by corporations, account for 80 per cent of exports.

    On a global scale, identified trends include biofuels, emphasis on climate change spurring land-poor nations to secure sources of agriculture, geostrategic control of oil supplies, and the relocation of investment funds toward ‘real assets’ i.e.: land. This lends to the expansion of ‘usable’ resources in Africa, traditionally limited to the capital-intensive extractive industries, where contracts bartering land for infrastructure or nominal land fees are exclusively negotiated following the same secretive formula.

    It is in this context, amongst others, that ‘land grabbing’ should be contextualised. Certainly, Africa is already awake to this reality. But it is hard to stand your ground when it is being sold from right under your feet.


    * Khadija Sharife is a journalist and a visiting scholar at the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) based in South Africa. This paper was presented at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation conference ‘The Global Crisis and Africa: Struggles for Alternatives’ in Randburg, South Africa on 19 November 2009.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.


    [1] As quoted by the Oakland Institute

    Realising the right to food

    Contribution to the preparation of the Declaration of the World Summit on Food Security

    Olivier De Schutter


    cc E Labrador
    In a report prepared in the run-up to the World Summit on Food Security, which took place in Rome from 13-17 November, Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, called for the negotiation of a declaration that was ‘coherent, ambitious and unambiguous on five issues: The right to food, governance, sustainability, trade, and the strengthening of international cooperation.’ De Schutter noted that the declaration would determine ‘our ability to take the necessary steps towards a global food system that will make decisive progress towards realising the human right to adequate food and building our resilience against the risk of future economic shocks and increasing volatility of food prices’.


    Two weeks ahead of the World Summit on Food Security, the negotiations on the Draft Declaration of the Summit are entering their final stage. What is at stake is our ability to take the necessary steps towards a global food system that will make decisive progress towards realising the human right to adequate food and building our resilience against the risk of future economic shocks and increasing volatility of food prices. The Declaration should be coherent, ambitious and unambiguous on five issues: The right to food, governance, sustainability, trade, and the strengthening of international cooperation.


    The draft Declaration affirms the central role of the right to food in its list of principles. This is vital, because it signals the need to move beyond approaches to food security that emphasise only the need to increase aggregate levels of production, towards approaches that include the importance of increasing incomes of the poorest and of removing the obstacles to access to food by the most vulnerable groups. The call for the urgent implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security is also to be welcomed.

    Five years ago, the Guidelines were unanimously approved by the governments within the FAO Council. But their implementation has been uneven across countries, and all states should be supported in their attempts to make further progress in this direction. We can build on what has been achieved already. Dozens of countries have included this right in their constitutions. In Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, or Venezuela, national framework laws have been adopted, based upon its principles. National strategies based upon the Voluntary Guidelines are increasingly being seen as an indispensable component of policies aiming at the achievement of food security. In my capacity as Special Rapporteur, I shall in the future collect such good practices on a systematic basis, in order to accelerate collective learning by imitation. Experience has shown that the ‘twin tracks’ of feeding the hungry through emergency support schemes and of promoting agricultural and rural development can be ineffective at achieving the objective of food security for all unless guided by the right to adequate food and unless based on the principles of participation, accountability, and non-discrimination (Principle 3).


    I warmly welcome the reform of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The global food price crisis of 2007-8 has highlighted the need for improvements to the global governance of food security, and this reform is the single most important achievement of the international community to the crisis, along with the renewal of pledges to reinvest significantly in agriculture and rural development. As a member of the contact group on the reform of the CFS, I have been struck by the tremendous energy and goodwill of governments and international agencies in shaping a renewed CFS with an innovative role. The CFS should adopt a Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition, establish goals and benchmarks, promote transparency and accountability, and monitor the application of the Right to Food Guidelines and the progress towards the fulfilment of states’ and international organisations’ commitments. Country-led processes must have a central role; and the full participation of representatives of small food producers in the debates must be promoted both at country level and in the CFS itself. Governments should be encouraged to submit to the CFS national plans against hunger and malnutrition developed in participatory fashion and including clear benchmarks and timelines to mobilise all governmental agencies and enhance accountability. Only through such national strategies can the multidimensionality of hunger and malnutrition be addressed adequately: Food security should not be seen only as the concern of the departments of agriculture.

    - It is of the utmost importance that the Declaration confirms the central role of a renewed CFS in ensuring policy coherence towards achieving global food security. As I suggested in Rome in May, the CFS should become the multilateral body for coordination, learning and monitoring: Coordination is seriously needed because policies that influence food security emanate not only from all countries, but also from different organisations with different mandates. Having these policies managed at the international level in several fora that do not have a mandate to promote food security is anomalous and in some cases may lead to results that are dysfunctional: States should not be facing a set of conflicting expectations or incentives from various partners or organisations.

    - In this respect, the Declaration should make it clear that the multi-donor trust fund which, at its Summit of 24-25 September, the G-20 called for the World Bank to set up, should be administered in accordance with the global strategic framework agreed upon within the CFS, consistent with the view that the reformed CFS should constitute ‘the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for a range of committed stakeholders’, as noted in the draft Declaration (Strategic Objectives, para. 8). Monitoring is needed for accountability: Pledges that are made should be kept, and the commitment of each State to work towards improving food security should translate into concrete measures and progress that is measurable. Learning, finally, can result from pooling the results achieved at national and regional level, into a multilateral framework that encourages cooperation.


    I welcome the strong emphasis of the draft Declaration on the sustainability of agricultural investments. Such investments should aim not only at raising productivity, but also at increasing incomes of smallholders and at mitigating climate change. In this respect, I commend the reference in the draft Declaration of a reference to the need for investments in ‘rural infrastructure and support services, including but not limited to roads, storage, irrigation, communication infrastructure, education, technical support and health’ (Principle 3). Policies supporting private goods – such as input subsidies – have short-term effects, but it is the increases in public goods that benefit the most vulnerable; and have both short-term and long-term effects for the whole society.

    - Consistent with this commitment to sustainable reinvestments in agriculture, the Declaration should reflect the new consensus on the potential of agroecological farming approaches, which has been stated in 2008 and 2009 reports by IAASTD, UNEP, FAO and UNCTAD. It could refer to the need to mainstream agroforestry, low external-input agriculture, water-harvesting systems and other peer- reviewed sustainable farming techniques. The Declaration should also recognise farmers as partners in the reinvestment in agriculture. As proven by many programmes, including participatory plant breeding, participatory processes that put small farmers in the driver’s seat and recognise their important role as innovators can combine the best of science with the best experience of food producers, with a tremendous impact on food security at local level.


    I welcome the commitment to improving the functioning of domestic, regional and international markets and ensuring equitable access for all, especially smallholders and women farmers from developing countries; as well as the support to special measures for developing countries’ small farmers aimed at enabling them to compete on a more equal footing on international markets. I also support the view that ‘a timely and ambitious, comprehensive and balanced conclusion of the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations [...] would be important to improving food security’ (Principle 3).

    At the same time, I note that this statement begs the question of the relationship between trade and food security, although such a relationship is controversial and often not well understood. While trade liberalisation redistributes global economic welfare, there is little evidence to show trade liberalisation directly leads to improved food security outcomes. In particular, well functioning markets do not necessarily lead to improve food security outcomes for small producers unless other complementary social and economic policies are in place. On the contrary, grain traders, food processors and other transnational companies capture the bulk of the added value in most globalised food chains, and trade liberalisation leads to increased concentration of the production of food, when de-concentration is what is needed in the current situation. The realisation of the right to food requires strengthening the ability of smallholders to produce. If this is not done, large-scale agricultural producers, which have better access to information, credit, and can easier meet standards, volume and regularity constraints, will further benefit the situation. Increased rural exodus and deeper dualisation of agriculture will result. The end result would be less food security, not more.

    The global food economy of 2009 is very different from the one in 2001 when the Doha round began. Yet, the draft agriculture modalities within the WTO negotiations are premised on the old paradigm of falling prices and are ill-prepared to address present agricultural policy challenges. Considering WTO negotiations take an increasingly longer time to conclude, there is a danger for the international community to be hamstrung for decades by trade rules based on the problems of the 1990s, not the 2010s and beyond. In particular, we are witnessing the end of the post-WWII decline in food prices, and the World Bank, OECD, and independent economic assessments of the current Doha deal all predict higher cereal prices that will adversely impact low income, net-food importing developing countries. Recalling that higher food prices led to 1 billion food insecure people, there is a real danger the current deal on the table may arguably worsen the global food security situation.

    - In that context, caution is needed to ensure a completed trade deal does not come at the expense of the global food security. Calling for a simple conclusion of the Doha Round may be inadequate. The November WTO Ministerial should be used as an opportunity to examine how the Doha Round could be made coherent with achieving food security goals. States should use the opportunity of the upcoming WTO ministerial to undertake a systemic review of the Doha Work Programme to ensure coherence with multilateral efforts to eradicate hunger in half by 2025 and the recent structural changes in the global food economy as well as climate change. The Declaration of the World Food Summit could indicate the relevance of such a review process.


    - The Declaration should go further to tackle some of the most pressing issues. The sudden growth in demand and production of agrofuels, encouraged by subsidies and tax incentives in rich countries, were a major factor behind increasing the number of hungry people to above a billion people: Although agrofuels could contribute to development under certain conditions, their expansion should be more closely monitored in order to ensure that their negative impacts will not outweigh their benefits. There is an urgent need to reach a consensus at the international level on this issue, and it is in the very interest of the countries with a comparative advantage in this area to promote a multilateral approach in this respect. The fight against speculation on global agricultural commodity markets should also be strengthened. As confirmed by a recent US Senate report, speculation by commodity index funds drove up wheat prices and other commodities during the first semester of 2008. The mutualisation of national and regional food reserves enjoys strong support among certain groups of countries at regional level. Such initiatives should be supported and expanded at international level. Provided they are managed in conditions that ensure both transparency and accountability, the establishment of food reserves – including a strategic food reserve to answer the immediate needs of the World Food Programme in situations of emergency – could minimise price volatility and allow food producers to be guaranteed equitable prices.

    - On these three issues, the draft Declaration calls for more studies. This is a missed opportunity. Accountability starts now: The Declaration should include an agenda with clear deadlines for achievement of an international consensus on these issues. The disconnection of the food security and climate change agendas falls in the same category: States should ensure that food security and climate change policies are harmonised and that the outcomes of the negotiations on both issues shall be mutually supportive.


    In addition to these five issues which should be central in the Declaration, a coherent approach to escape the global food crisis should start with food served at the Summit itself. I have personally called upon the FAO to organise the first eco-friendly summit. In the recent past, World Food Summits have been pictured by mass media as gatherings of Heads of States enjoying luxurious feasts, with a huge detrimental impact for the public perception of these Summits. Just three weeks ahead of the Copenhagen Conference, the World Summit on Food Security could and should send another image. An eco-friendly Summit would promote responsible and sustainable modes of consumption, by featuring simplicity in meals, responsible meat consumption, seasonal products and possibly fair trade products. Italy has plenty of such products.

    This single decision would send a powerful message to all delegates and, through the media, to citizens. It would draw the attention to the shifts in the modes of consumption that are needed in rich countries, if we want to meet the challenge of feeding the planet in the future. As Professor Pachauri, the President of the IPCC, rightly emphasises, our current meat-rich diets are simply unsustainable if we want to avoid the major climatic disruptions that would affect our food security. The World Summit on Food Security must result in swift, significant progress in the war against hunger. The global food price crisis creates a historical opportunity for decision-makers to match intent with practice and unite their efforts towards the full realisation of the right to adequate food. To achieve this collective goal, the Summit must result in purposeful multilateral cooperation and strengthened global governance of food security, firmly rooted in prioritizing the needs of food insecure peoples in a sustainable manner.


    * Olivier De Schutter was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food in March 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He is independent from any government or organisation, and he reports to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    We demand food sovereignty now!

    Declaration from Social Movements/NGOs/CSOs Parallel Forum to the World Summit on Food Security, Rome, 13-17 November 2009


    cc O V I
    ‘Food sovereignty is the real solution to the tragedy of hunger in our world’, representatives from social movements, NGOs and CSOs have said in a declaration issued at a forum parallel to the World Summit on Food Security, which was held in Rome from 13-17 November 2009. The declaration asserts that ‘all people have a right and responsibility to participate in deciding how food is produced and distributed’ and that ‘governments must respect, protect and fulfil the right to food as the right to adequate, available, accessible, culturally acceptable and nutritious food’. It also sets out a series of civil society commitments to defending food security.

    ‘One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.’
    Tashunka Witko (1840–1877)

    We, 642 persons coming from 93 countries and representing 450 organisations of peasant and family farmers, small scale fisher folk, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, youth, women, the urban people, agricultural workers, local and international NGOs, and other social actors, gathered in Rome from the 13-17 of November, 2009 united in our determination to work for and demand food sovereignty in a moment in which the growing numbers of the hungry has surpassed the one billion mark. Food sovereignty is the real solution to the tragedy of hunger in our world.

    Food sovereignty entails transforming the current food system to ensure that those who produce food have equitable access to, and control over land, water, seeds, fisheries and agricultural biodiversity. All people have a right and responsibility to participate in deciding how food is produced and distributed. Governments must respect, protect and fulfil the right to food as the right to adequate, available, accessible, culturally acceptable and nutritious food.

    Governments have obligations to provide emergency aid. But this must not undermine food sovereignty and human rights. Emergency aid should be procured as locally as possible and must not be used to pressure countries into accepting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). Food must never be used as a political weapon.

    We call attention to the violations of rights of people, both urban and rural, living in areas under armed conflict or occupation and in emergency situations. The international community must urgently address violations of human rights like those related to forced displacement, confiscation and alien exploitation of property, land, and other productive resources, demographic manipulation and population transfers.


    We declare our support for the renewed Committee on World Food Security (CFS): We take particular note of the commitment those heads of state present at the FAO Summit have shown to this important body in their Declaration. We emphasise the fundamental importance of the renewed CFS as the foremost inclusive international policy body for food and agriculture within the UN system, and as an essential body where the knowledge and perspectives of those whose daily labours have fed humanity for generations are not only heard, but also acted upon. We assert the centrality of the Right to Food as a principle to guide all elements of the Committee on World Food Security’s work.

    We express concern that the CFS is not receiving the funding appropriate to the ambition of its work programme. We urge FAO member states to back their political commitment with financial resources. We also note that much work remains to be done within the CFS to ensure that there is coherence between the different organs of the global food and agricultural institutional architecture. In this regard, we are extremely concerned by the proposed World Bank Global Agriculture and Food Security programme, whose governance mechanism appears undemocratic, un-transparent, and destined to lead to a replication of past mistakes. As long as institutions such as the WTO continue to privilege commercial interests over the globally marginalised and malnourished, hunger will continue to stalk the world.

    Civil society has played a fundamentally important role in the CFS reform process, opening up a critical space, which we intend to fully occupy in a responsible and effective manner. In so doing we will ensure that the voices of the excluded continue to be heard at the heart of food and agricultural policy-making and governance, at all levels. However, whilst we value the work that has been done, and hold high expectations regarding the CFS’s future achievements, we will vigilantly monitor its work to ensure that member states follow through on their commitment to create an effective mechanism that is strong in its powers of coordination at all levels; able to hold its members to account; and start now to realise its commitment to develop a Global Strategic Framework for food security and nutrition.


    We reaffirm that our ecological food provision actually feeds the large majority of people all over the world in both rural and urban areas (more than 75 per cent). Our practices focus on food for people not profit for corporations. It is healthy, diverse, localised and cools the planet.

    We commit to strengthen and promote our ecological model of food provision in the framework of food sovereignty that feeds all populations including those in marginal zones like small islands and costal areas. Our practices, because they prioritise feeding people locally, minimise waste and losses of food and do not create the damage caused by industrial production systems. Peasant agriculture is resilient and can adapt to and mitigate climate change. We insist, however, that food and agriculture be kept out of the carbon market. We will defend and develop our agricultural, fisheries and animal biodiversity in the face of the aggressive commodification of nature, food and knowledge that is being facilitated by the ‘new Green Revolutions’. We call for a global moratorium on GMO. Governments must protect and properly regulate domestic food markets. Our practices require supply management policies in order to secure availability of food and to guarantee decent wages and fair prices. We are ready to discuss new legal frameworks to support our practices.

    We call for a reframing of research, using participatory methods that will support our ecological model of food provision. We are the innovators building on our knowledge and skills. We rehabilitate local seeds systems and livestock breeds and fish/aquatic species for a changing climate. We commit to promote the findings of IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development). We call for accountability by researchers. We reject corporations’ control of research and will not engage in forums that are dominated by them. We will promote our innovations through our media and outreach programmes for capacity building, education and information dissemination.

    We will strengthen our interconnecting rural–urban food webs. We will build alliances within a Complex Alimentarius – linking small-scale food providers, processors, scientists, institutions, consumers – to replace the reductionist approach of the Codex Alimentarius. We commit to shorten distances between food provider and consumer. We will strengthen urban food movements and advance urban and peri-urban agriculture. We will reclaim the language of food, emphasising nutrition and diversity in diets that exclude meat provided from industrial systems.


    Land grabbing by transnational capital must stop. Landlessness and land grabbing have intensified in the wake of the global food crisis, deforestation, sequestering of water bodies, privatisation of the sea inland waters and coastal zones. Land and water confiscation and isolation practiced by occupying forces must be stopped. Countries and companies are colluding in alarming land grabbing practices. In less than a year, over 40 million hectares of fertile land in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe have been usurped through these deals, displacing local food production for export interests. Instead of promoting large-scale industrial agricultural investments, we urge our governments and the FAO to implement structural changes implied in the Declaration of the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) and in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) must play a critical role in ensuring the effective participation of social movements and civil society organisations.

    We demand comprehensive agrarian reforms that uphold the individual and collective/community rights of access to and control over territories. All States must implement effective public policies that guarantee community (those whose derives their livelihood) control over all natural resources. Strong accountability mechanisms to redress violations of these rights need to be in place. Gender equity and the youth interests must be at the heart of genuine agrarian and aquatic reforms. Reforms should guarantee women and youth full equality of opportunities and rights to land and natural wealth, and redress historical and ongoing discrimination.

    Access to water is a human right. Water must remain in the ‘commons’ and not be subject to market mechanisms of use and governance. Aquatic reforms should give legal recognition, protection and enforcement of the collective rights of small-scale fishing communities to access and use fishing grounds and maritime resources.

    Closure of pastoralists routes and expropriation of lands, natural wealth and territories from local communities through economic concessions, big plantations, industrial agriculture and aquaculture, tourism and infrastructure projects and any other means must come to an end. Gathered food is also an important source to feed many of our communities and therefore deserves specific protection.

    The rights to territory for indigenous peoples encompass nature as a living being essential to the identity and culture of particular communities or peoples. As guaranteed by Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights, we call FAO to adopt a policy for Indigenous Peoples, to recognise Indigenous Peoples’ Territorial Rights, and to ensure their participation in resource decisions. We urge FAO and IFAD to create a Working Group with Indigenous Peoples in the CFS.

    We reject intellectual property rights over living resources including seeds, plants and animals. De facto biological monopolies – where the seed or breed is rendered sterile – must be banned. We will keep the seeds in our hands. We will keep freely exchanging and saving our seeds and breeds. We value our traditional knowledge as fishers, livestock keepers, Indigenous Peoples and peasants and we will further develop it to be able to feed our communities in a sustainable way. Our songs and tales express our cosmovision and are important to maintain our spiritual relationship with our lands.


    We commit ourselves to increase our level of organisation, build broad and strong alliances and promote joint actions, articulations, exchanges, and solidarity to speak with a strong voice for defending our food sovereignty. We are convinced that only the power of organised peoples and mobilisation can achieve the needed changes, thus our principal task is to inform, raise awareness, debate, organise and mobilise people. Women participants in the forum, noting the systematic oppression of women through the processes of globalisation and corporatisation of agriculture, fisheries and livestock, intensified by patriarchy, commit ourselves to achieving equality in representation and decision making bodies. We demand gender justice, peace and respect for the rights of women, including common property rights. Our rights over seeds, productive resources, our knowledge and our contributions to enhancing resilience must be respected, valued and protected. Women agricultural workers and their communities must be assured safe working conditions and fair wages.

    Youth participants of the forum reaffirm that young people are key to the development and implementation of ecologically and socially sustainable agriculture policies. All decision-making bodies must ensure the effective participation of young people. We insist on agricultural, fisheries and livestock education (formal and informal) from an early age, and the FAO and IFAD should provide adequate funds for capacity building training at all levels to address the needs of young people and rural women. Our commitment to food sovereignty includes a demand that the Committee on Food Security be transformed into the ‘Committee for Food Sovereignty’ and a call for a moratorium on agrofuels. We engage ourselves to collectively accept our responsibilities to mobilize from the local to the international levels in our struggles for food sovereignty. We claim the control and the autonomy of our processes of organisation and alliances and we will further enhance our mutual accountability by valuing the wealth of our diversity and in the respect for our autonomies. We recognise the essential role of the IPC in the facilitation of alliance building.

    We demand Food Sovereignty now!


    * The People’s Forum is a Civil Society Organisations Forum parallel to the World Summit on Food Security 2009.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    GM: The food of the future?

    Khadija Sharife


    cc P Blanchard
    As a range of eminent scientists back genetically modified crops as the answer to food security in Africa, Khadija Sharife asks in Pambazuka News whether proponents of the ‘Green Revolution’ have the interests of the continent’s people and the environment at heart, or are more concerned with generating profits for the companies that control the technology.

    Sir David King is the current director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University. His take on GM crops and food security in Africa is breathtaking. ‘The problem is that the Western world's move toward organic farming – a lifestyle choice for a community with surplus food – and against agricultural technology in general and GM in particular, has been adopted across the whole of Africa, with the exception of South Africa, with devastating consequences,’ he said at the BA Festival of Science in Liverpool.

    ‘The position taken by NGOs and international organisations,’ he continued, ‘is to support traditional agricultural technologies. These technologies will not deliver the food for the burgeoning population of Africa. Suffering within that continent is largely driven by attitudes in the West, which are anti-science and anti-technology. We have the technology to feed the population of the planet. Do we have the ability to understand what we have?’

    Sir David even thinks that GM crops could help Africa mirror the substantial increases in crop production seen in India and China. 'What was demonstrated in India and China was that modern agricultural technologies can multiply crop production per hectare.' Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne had said in August that 'growing GM crops in the developing world represents the biggest environmental disaster of all time' and that multinational corporations who were encouraging the growth of GM crops were conducting 'a gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong'.

    But as Daniel Howden, the Africa correspondent of UK newspaper the Independent, pointed out in a rebuttal of Sir David: ‘The root of the [food] problem in almost every case [in Africa] is political, not scientific. For agriculture in Africa, the real problems stem from a global trade system that favours richer countries and large corporations, chronic under-investment by governments, and the gross distortion of food prices caused in large part by the explosion of biofuels.

    ‘Trade inequality has seen rich countries dumping subsidised food onto African markets, while erecting barriers themselves ... The agribusiness giants who have developed and patented GM crops have long argued that their mission is to feed the world, rarely missing an opportunity to mention starving Africans. The mission is, in fact, to make a profit.’


    But William Gaud, the former executive vice president of the International Finance Corporation and administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), does not agree. ‘These [GM technologies] and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution,’ he says. ‘It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution.’

    And the leaders in this so-called revolution are the ‘Gene Giants’ – the life-science, biotech and agri-chemical corporations – who have fashioned patents and monopolies on the blueprints of flora and fauna: Human, animal, mammal and plant life, colonising and commodifying the structure and composition of life. And these days, these giants and their friends have their eyes on Africa.

    The original ‘Green Revolution’ was implemented in the 1960s by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations in conjunction with big industry scientists such as Norman Borlaug, the former DuPont microbiologist. United, they formed the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which was co-opted into the World Bank in 1972. According to John Vidal, the acclaimed environmental journalist for the Guardian (UK), ‘there are reasons to believe that the [Bill] Gates food agenda is now being shaped by US corporate and government interests’ –perhaps referring here to the CGIAR's decision to partner with US government institutions such as USAID and the Department of Agriculture. USAID is categorised as an independent government institution created to provide economic and humanitarian aid. Their website states: ‘The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programmes has always been the United States. Close to 80 per cent of the USAID contracts and grants go directly to American firms. Foreign assistance programmes have helped created major markets for agricultural goods, created new markets for American industrial exports, and [have] meant hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans.’

    The primary aim of the GM giants, as one of them has already admitted, is to ‘integrate GM into local food systems’, and ensure ‘technology transfer’ to developing countries. Leaked minutes of a meeting between the aid agencies and USAID officials, documented by GM Watch, reveal the political muscling that constitutes aid: Agencies are told to immediately report to the local USAID mission receiving governments questioning the GM content of food aid shipments. USAID promises to take action that has been interpreted by African officials as sanctions of various hues extending to restrictions of lending by multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and IMF.

    Food aid distributed by USAID is derived from subsidised corporations. Cumulatively, US and EU subsidies total over US$1bn per day, producing goods that are subsequently dumped on nascent industries in developing countries via WTO, IMF and World Bank trade mechanisms. Unfortunately for the GM multinationals, African farmers have never taken to GM seeds or agri-chemicals. After 30 years of the Green Revolution and prodding by GM enthusiasts, Africa's answer to GM crops remains a firm ‘NO’, save for South Africa, one of the six pivotal GM growers in the world. In 2002, even in the midst of a sweeping famine in Southern Africa, the Africans still rejected GM food aid, compelling the FAO director general, Jacques Diouf of Senegal, to almost commit sacrilege by asking the African countries attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002 to accept the GM food aid because it was safe for human consumption. Diouf said: ‘The FAO, together with the WHO and WFP takes the view, based on information from a variety of sources and current specific knowledge, that the food being offered to Southern African countries is not likely to present a human health risk and may be eaten.’ His plea didn’t convince a lot of governments and people in the then famine-hit Southern Africa.

    Green Revolution solutions were initially composed of agrichemicals and corporate-controlled hybrids, but have since expanded to include GM (or genetically modified organisms) in concert with aggressive herbicides.

    The FAO in face contradicts the proponents of the Green Revolution by stating that the world currently produces 1.5 times the food required to feed the planet – and this claim is in fact supported by a wealth of civil society and environmental watchdogs such as GRAIN. ‘Farmers across the world produced a record 2.3 billion tons of grain in 2007, up 4 per cent on the previous year,’ GRAIN asserts. ‘Since 1961, the world's cereal output has tripled, while the population has doubled. Today, roughly 70 per cent of all so-called developing countries are net importers of food. And of the estimated 845 million hungry people in the world, 80 per cent are small farmers.’

    ECOWAS recently revealed that food production in West Africa had doubled during the past two decades. A leaked report issued by the World Bank attributes high grain prices to the crops-for-fuel initiatives instituted by biotech companies to accelerate growth and dependence on corn, soya, and other GM monocultures, forcing 100 million below the poverty line.

    Paradoxically, Africa was self-sufficient in food in the early 1960s, complete with a billion dollar food surplus, and a net exporter of cereals, amongst other produce. Yet by 1990, Africa was a net importer of food, and in 2004, continental debt stood at US$165bn and a food deficit of US$11bn. As the former vice president of the World Bank, the economist Hollis Chenery, has stated: ‘The main objective of foreign assistance, as many other tools of foreign policy, is to produce the kind of political and economic environment in the world in which the US can best pursue its own goals.’ The business of biotechnology is intimately entwined with agri-chemicals; over 60 per cent of GM seeds are built to be pesticide and herbicide dependent. In 2005, global pesticide sales stood at US$5.4bn, mainly accrued by three companies.

    The new Green Revolution is propagated as the revolution of small farmers, focusing on products such as maize as opposed to the four major GM cash crops that constitute 90 per cent of all GM seeds, soya, canola, wheat and corn. Yet, reading between the lines, the motive behind the biotech industry's collaboration with CGIAR is to access the globe's largest gene bank in an attempt to patent seeds.


    In 1987, the US Patent Office granted applicants the right to patent or establish ownership over genetically modified organisms, effecting legal, accessible and exploitable vacuums via ‘finders keepers’ mechanisms, with ‘discoveries’ consequently patented as the property of corporations, irrespective of geography or circumstance. In an attempt to dismantle negative impressions of patents, Professor Karl Jorda stated: ‘The prevailing thought today, and the American Patent Code thus characterises it, is that a patent is a property-a property like a house or a car or a share of stock – and not a special privilege, a monopoly granted by the government.

    Yet patents constitute monopolised commerce within the context of genetic colonialism, precisely because the act establishes and accords the exclusive right of DNA to a select few through monetary acquisition, excluding and marginalising indigenous owners from their natural, innate and inherited existence.

    Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Biotech Century says: ‘The only reason for excluding patents on humans is that the US Constitution [now] forbids slavery. Living beings are no longer perceived as birds and bees but as bundles of genetic information. The laws of nature are being rewritten to conform with our latest manipulation of the natural world..."

    Corporations involved in the biotechnology, agri-chemical and pharmaceutical industries have formulated cartels by industrialising the food chain via vertical integration, leading to dumped goods, resulting in plummeting prices of raw commodities, and destroying developing countries' agriculture and industries by unfair competition.

    And of course, the Green Revolution does not occur in isolation: The WTO now demands reciprocal trade agreements, forcefully pitting debt-laden developing economies in direct competition with powerful, subsidised, industrialised economies.

    In 2008, the US Farm Bill scuppered the DOHA Round (of WTO trade talks) by approving over US$40bn in subsidies for agricultural corporations in the US, in contravention of the already unjust WTO legislation.

    In Europe, the proposed EU Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPA) have pressed for the same conclusion, demanding reciprocal non-preferential trade agreements for 80 per cent of EU goods in 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations. Cumulatively, EU and US subsidies amount to $1bn a day, channelled into the politically motivated mechanisms of tied aid, specifically food aid. According to FoodFirst, ‘in 2007, 99.3 per cent of US food aid was 'in-kind', that is, food procured in the US and shipped to recipient countries on corporate ships, rather than purchased with cash or coupons closer to recipients.’

    FoodFirst also states that, by law, 75 per cent of food aid in the US must be purchased, processed, transported and distributed by US companies. Bilateral trade agreements control 50-90 per cent of global food aid, forcing recipient countries to accept GM grain controlled in large part (75 per cent) by two multinationals contracted by the US government to distribute 30 per cent of food-aid grains. In all, four companies control the logistics of global food aid.

    Dr Henry Miller, a former official of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the primary regulating body in the US, said, ‘government agencies have done exactly what big agri business has asked them to do and told them to do’.


    But is GM food safe for human consumption? Andrew Taynton of SAFEAGE, a South African consumer movement, told New African: ‘Natural breeding techniques select plants or animals with desirable traits and cross breed within a species to create better crops or animals. GMs are developed in laboratories by splicing genes from unrelated species into the host organism.

    ‘For example, bacteria or virus genes are spliced into food crops and then reproduced in each and every cell in the plant. This carries several risks as it is a random and imprecise process. It can scramble the genome, cause mutations, fragments and multiple copies or turn neighbouring genes on or off. The main concerns about eating GM food are the development of new allergies, new toxins, new diseases, antibiotic resistance, and changed nutritional value.’

    Dr Arpad Pusztai agrees: ‘Genetic modification is not a science,’ he says, ‘it is an empirical method of gene splicing that produces a product that could be commercially sold.’

    Dr Pusztai is the world's foremost expert on plant lectins (defensive proteins that kill insects and other invaders), and author of over 270 published peer-reviewed studies, and former senior research fellow at the Rowett Institute in Scotland. In 1995, he was selected to head a US$1.6m research project charged with developing a model of assessing the safety of GM crops. Three years later, in 1998, Pusztai was invited to air his views on the UK's Granada Television's World in Action programme, with the permission of his director. His two-and-a-half-minute interview cautioning consumers on the dangers of GM consumption, already present in the food chain two years prior to the study, shocked the world and led to an intensive smear campaign and a gag order against him. According to him: ‘It is impossible to direct the modification into the part of the genome that the spliced transgene is built in. Not even the number of the incorporated transgene constructs can be predicted nor can scientists forecast how many of the plant's own genes are disturbed. In traditional breeding, it is only the parents' genes that are mixed up in the offspring and no genes foreign to the species are found. The current method of transgene splicing is a radically new method in which a gene from any organism could be transferred into any other plant's genome.’

    Basically, scientists have broken the barriers of evolution by transferring anti-freeze genes from fish to tomatoes, from pigs to rice and from daffodils to corn. ‘In that alien genetic environment, alternative splicing of the bacterial gene might give rise to multiple variants of the intended protein or even to proteins bearing little structural relationship to the original one, with unpredictable effects on ecosystems and human health,’ says Dr Barry Commoner, senior scientist at the US-based Centre for the Biology of Natural Systems, in an article entitled Unravelling the DNA myth. ‘The list of malfunctions gets little notice,’ Commoner continues. ‘Biotechnology companies are not in the habit of publicising studies that question the efficacy of their miraculous products.’

    Dr Pusztai agrees: ‘Just ask any scientist how difficult it is to publish results that are not to the liking of the GM biotechnology industry.’ His words are echoed by another scientist of note, Dr Shiv Chopra, a distinguished microbiologist, formerly at Health Canada and another GM whistleblower. Chopra too was subjected to an intense smear campaign and eventually fired even though his study, Gaps analysis, led to the EU and Canada banning the carcinogenic GM hormone, Posilac.

    Chopra says: ‘Selective breeding is not genetic modification because the first falls within the natural system and the second works against it. This kind of genetic crossing cannot survive by natural means, it will only result in sterility.’

    Which brings us to ‘V-Gurts’ (Varietal Genetic Use Restriction Technologies), also known as suicide seeds or terminator technology. These seeds are instrumental in the GM Round-Up Ready system (or RR), ensuring a continuous dependent market from those farmers no longer capable of harvesting crops without buying RR seeds and accessories such as the herbicide, glysophate.

    ‘In terms of self-sufficiency, African countries are unfortunately in the worst position,’ says Chopra. ‘GM seeds are made to be herbicide and pesticide dependent for corporate profit only. No one can predict how proteins thus produced will behave or how the native and foreign DNA will interact, except that new seed may possess previously unknown traits such as RR canola or soya bean, etc. Antimicrobial resistance genes to human pathogens can cause infections that cannot be treated by relevant antibiotics.’ And Pusztai warns: ‘If and when gene coding for an antibiotic still used in human or veterinary medicine is taken up by bacteria, thus made antibiotic resistant, the danger is that our medicinal antibiotics will be made useless.’

    The US Centres for Disease Control has been quoted as saying ‘at least 80 per cent of food-related illnesses are caused by viruses or pathogens that scientists cannot even identify.

    ‘And this correlates roughly to the same period in which humans have been made to unwittingly consume GM produce,’ says Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology.

    According to Andrew Taynton: ‘The GM revolution aims to give global corporations control of our food supply so that they can extract maximum profits through the use of patents. Christian Aid has pointed out that this will put too much control in the hands of too few people.’ But, unfortunately, it is unlikely that consumers – exposed to the commercial media, interlocked at board levels with biotech and pesticide multinationals – will ever find out.

    In an article, Suppressing dissent in science, Jonathan Matthews describes how funding accounts for 80-90 per cent of research in top British universities. He quotes the Institute for Professional Specialists which carried out a survey of scientists working in governments or public/private institutions as stating that 33 per cent had changed the results of their studies to suit the client's interest, whilst 10 per cent felt immense pressure to alter the outcome in order to secure the contract.

    'There are no regulations, stringent or otherwise, to monitor the damage being done by the applications of GM seeds anywhere,’ says Chopra. ‘Such information remains in the private and confidential domain of corporations which are actually being helped to keep it that way by big governments.’


    * This article first appeared in New African.
    * Khadija Sharife is a journalist and a visiting scholar at the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) based in South Africa.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Namibian politics: The pathology of power and paranoia

    Henning Melber


    cc Wikimedia
    With Namibia's parliamentary and presidential elections fast approaching on 27–28 November, Henning Melber discusses the paranoia currently gripping many within the ruling SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organisation) party. Many in the party seem to regard any form of political dissent as unpatriotic at best and as the act of an agent of outside imperialism at worst Melber notes, an all-consuming sentiment that is severely jeopardising the very liberation the party ostensibly once sought.

    With Namibia's parliamentary and presidential elections on 27–28 November, hype and obsession mount by the day. The assumption that democracy is about competition between contesting political programmes of parties seeking to convince voters that they have the best on offer for the political future and social welfare of the country and its people could not be more misplaced than in the current context of Namibia.

    Opposition parties have since independence failed to present a meaningful political alternative to those elected into political offices to govern. As comparative overviews by civil society institutions (the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU) in 1999 and the Namibia Institute for Democracy (NID) in 2004) have shown, it is difficult if not impossible to make any choices based on programmatic alternatives, hence voting boils down to preferences or dislikes as an emotional affair. In the absence of alternatives this is a political choice by identification (not uncommon in elections everywhere) and poses particular challenges to parties to act responsibly during the campaigning.

    The dynamite added to politics in Namibia is that it is largely based on and guided by either narrow-minded local or ethnic identities (for most among the minority parties) or gospel-like confessions about what 'the national' is supposed or has to be. Only the odd ones out (splinter groups with highly ideological but sectarian agendas, which at times border on the religiously confessional) are promoting a clear, politically defined mission. They rather unsuccessfully display similar features to SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organisation) as the dominant party, who cultivates its mystically elevated role as the liberator, which has accomplished salvation and hence claims to represent the holy shrine.

    The SWAPO website established mid-year is a striking illustration of this mindset. It provides almost unlimited space for the articulation of such an understanding. While being moderated – meaning that not everyone has access to sharing their view submitted for the blog, resulting in the conspicuous absence of any (self-)critical reflections – it displays a worrying panorama of views bordering on the fanatic.

    One submission posted is sufficient to illustrate the point: 'It is biblically tested that god created people in his own image and in Namibia the people are SWAPO and SWAPO is the people and now if you are not a SWAPO Party Member then what are you? Stop deceiving yourself with foreign funded political tribal political projects in the name of opposition parties … soon all opposition parties will be electro shocked through the ballot box and forever buried in a political scrap yard. It is a well known fact that all peace loving Namibian (sic) will always vote for SWAPO Party and SWAPO Party will win all 72 seats in the National Assembly and govern Namibia until the second coming of Jesus Christ, amen.'

    If one assumes that this is the odd view of some misguided individual, who just means to show their loyalty, one is taught a sobering lesson by the founding father of the Republic of Namibia, Sam Nujoma. While he is supposed to be the caring head of a family, which embodies as the Namibian nation a variety of people with different backgrounds, lifestyles and values, he maintained at a political rally in mid-November – according to a newspaper article in the party organ ‘Namibia Today’ – that 'the successes of the SWAPO Party government in all 13 regions of our country are clear for every genuine Namibian to see'.

    This sounds like a harmless statement during a political rally as part of the election campaign. But it discloses a profound flaw guiding Namibian politics by those in political control and power. Those not sharing the clear vision, it implies, do not qualify as genuine Namibians. The slogan of the struggle days that 'SWAPO is the nation and the nation is SWAPO' remains 20 years into independent (and supposedly democratic) Namibia the only notion guiding the political judgment of fellow Namibians. Deviation is tantamount to felony and singles one out as a traitor. The guilty verdict is passed without mercy.

    Those who for whatever (and admittedly not always the best or most honest) reasons feel motivated to campaign for other political parties or goals, are labelled as agents of foreign interests. The SWAPO website, which has to be considered as an authentic voice of the party, provides us with an example not even submitted by some outside individual to the blog but posted in its column 'The Spotlight'. This draws attention to issues considered to be of relevance. In early November it posted a text on the 'Presidential and National Assembly Elections', which reasoned: 'We must not forget that neo-imperialist forces are at work and have been dreaming to reduce the 2/3 majority of our ruling parties ANC, MPLA, FRELIMO, CCM, ZANU-PF and now SWAPO Party… what is now the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) is the brainchild of imperialist donors.'

    The dichotomy separates the Namibian reality and that in all other countries under former liberation movements into the good (the former liberation movement in power), and all others into the bad and the ugly. There is no in between. Everyone with differing opinions is at best unpatriotic, if not an agent of dark, outside forces. This includes not only the majority of the voting population in a country like Zimbabwe, but also Namibian diplomats who do not ensure that votes cast meet expectations, as if it is their personal responsibility to get it right. The oath they take is to represent the country abroad. The dominant perception held among the SWAPO officials however translates this into representing the party – the same logic as above.

    We have a permanent representative at the United Nations in New York, who represents Namibia in the best way possible. His reputation among those working locally within the UN system is impressive. His committed performance allows Namibia to punch way above its weight. Instead of praising him for this remarkable achievement, he is accused to be among the 'hibernators', who are suspected to be everywhere operating clandestinely against the party. Meanwhile, his assignment is as far away from any party-related politics as the moon is from the earth.

    There is simply no way that a UN post would allow for any party-related activity. But when the results from the earlier conducted elections at the diplomatic missions abroad were reported, mayhem broke loose over places where SWAPO obtained not much more than half of the votes (as if this would not represent success). Common sense could tell you that a place like New York might provide generally more fertile ground for pluralist policy notions among Namibians than those organised in the diaspora; let’s say in Moscow or Havana. Instead, a blogger on the SWAPO website urged, 'something has to be done in New York there are a lot of traitors there', and in response another blogger added: 'New York!! Who is the Head there at UN?? No wonder!!'

    One could dismiss such ill-conceived ramblings as the misguided conspiracy theories of some over eagerly loose cannons on the ground who seek to pose as the super-SWAPO loyal activists, not realising that their paranoid fantasies do so much more damage to Namibia’s image and the dominant party’s reputation abroad than any dissenting political voice could. The really worrying matter is, however, that the same mindset is reproduced among leading office-bearers, as the trade union and the party’s youth league demand illustrates that the head of state withdraws diplomats who happen to be based at missions where election results have not met expectations – as if these would expose themselves voluntarily and willingly to such a career-limiting move for a handful of votes in an election where the end result is made up of a million ballot papers cast!

    This is not only a politics of power at its worst, it is also a politics of paranoia which applies a conspiracy theory to everything not in line with the prescribed. It is as pathological as the euphoria over the successes celebrated. Since the overall results of the elections on the fishing boats and the diplomatic missions abroad did meet (foreseeable) expectations, it was considered justifiable to allow on the SWAPO website utterances of the following calibre: 'I felt pity for all the anti-SWAPO activists in Namibia!! It is a fact, not a myth, that our indeed almighty SWAPO Party is basically gonna put bullets into their heads comes 27-28 Nov elections. SWAPO is here to conquer.'

    The question is, to conquer what? Any democratic spirit, which we felt was a goal worth fighting for during the days of the anti-colonial struggle? Or were we never serious about the notion of democracy? Was it all about seizing power only to keep it at all costs for eternity, like in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where the people have to pay a horrendous price for being liberated? Is the constitution we adopted with all the fundamental rights respecting the freedom of organisation and the freedom of opinion not worth the paper on which it is printed? Is the freedom of opinion only the freedom for these opinions quoted?

    The SWAPO vice-president added fuel to the flames when he accused opposition politicians during a recent public rally as suffering from 'Savimbi syndrome'. Given the connotations wilfully mobilised, this is tantamount to hate speech. He thereby showed in an unfortunate act of misjudgement that irresponsible elements out of order with any decent conduct of an election campaign taking place in a highly explosive emotional environment are not limited to the few rank-and-file activists abusing the party website for kindergarten polemics.

    Since its inception during mid-2009 this website has run a column, 'The Spotlight', operated by the web master. It therefore represents the authority of an official party line. Revealingly, it did initially not focus at all on any principled policy issues, which would convincingly document why a vote for SWAPO would be in the best interests of the country. Instead, it paraded for several weeks four individuals who were exposed because of what was considered as anti-Namibian (meaning anti-SWAPO) views and invited readers to submit comments on the blog. The result was an avalanche of personally offending insults tantamount to a witch-hunt of a medieval purge.

    None of the party officials in responsible public positions have, to my knowledge, gone on record dissociating themselves from a kind of vendetta bordering on fascist propaganda. Is this the alternative in political discourse we juxtapose to the apartheid era? Is this the liberating gospel we preached as the emancipation from the yoke of colonialism and its mindset? Is this the convenient but cowardly way of dealing with differing views in the 'Land of the Brave'? Is this the kind of freedom watered by the blood of those who sacrificed their lives? (Does, by the way, this include the blood of those who were denied a life in independent Namibia because they were suspected of being spies but never stood a chance to prove otherwise and as a result did not survive exile?)

    We have been engaged in an anti-colonial struggle for freedom. Thus, freedom should as an integral part respect the freedom of political choices. It should be our noble goal to convince the majority of Namibians that it is in their best interests to vote for SWAPO because SWAPO has the best political and social future to offer. But if the future is one in which the current practices of hate speech and witch-hunts against anything considered to be of another opinion are understood as the normal practice, we have not achieved a lot and liberation remains a remote goal.

    Those who see this intervention, which is indeed borne out of frustration and disappointment, as the ramblings of a grumpy, elderly man who displays his petty bourgeois liberal views should be reminded of the conviction held by Rosa Luxemburg against the orthodox dogma in the Communist Party she belonged to. In her unfinished, posthumously published manuscript on the Russian revolution, she conceded that every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings. But against Lenin and Trotsky she argued that the elimination of democracy as such is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure, for it stops the very living source from which alone can come the correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammelled, energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people.

    Rosa Luxemburg categorically stated that freedom solely for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of 'justice', but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when 'freedom' becomes a special privilege.

    Those who are quick at labelling this a typically Eurocentric notion are advised to go back to Frantz Fanon’s manifesto in 'The Wretched of the Earth' some 50 years ago. Writing at a time when the Algerian war of liberation had not even ended, Fanon prophesied the abuse of government power after the attainment of independence. In a chapter entitled 'The pitfalls of national consciousness', he predicted that the state, which by its robustness and at the same time its restraint should convey trust, disarm and calm, foists itself on people in a spectacular way, makes a big show of itself, harasses and mistreats its citizens and by this means shows that they are in permanent danger. He continues by criticising the abuse of power exercised by the party, which 'controls the masses, not in order to make sure that they really participate in the business of governing the nation, but in order to remind them constantly that the government expects from them obedience and discipline… The political party … instead of welcoming the expression of popular discontentment, instead of taking for its fundamental purpose the free flow of ideas from the people up to the government, forms a screen and forbids such ideas.'

    What a shame that half a century later we are not able to submit different evidence, which could make the point that we have truly liberated Namibia and its people.


    * Dr Henning Melber has been a member of SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organisation) since 1974. He was director of the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU) between 1992 and 2000 and is the current executive director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala, Sweden.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Eritrea: Alone against the world

    Nikolaj Nielsen


    cc C T Snow
    Commenting on events at a Brussels conference for the promotion of peace and human rights in Eritrea, Nikolaj Nielsen reports on a country which Reporters Without Borders ranks lower on press freedom than North Korea. 'Eritrea', Nielsen writes, 'was the promise that never evolved' and a country 'unable to come to terms with lasting peace'.

    Eritrea’s ambassador to the European Union, Girma Asmerom, was conspicuously absent. The Europe External Policy Advisors’ moderator had assured everyone that the invite was sent. In an interview published in the September/October issue of the Courier ACP, the ambassador claimed his country to be the most stable in the whole of Africa. But his seat remained empty at the Brussels conference for the promotion of peace and human rights in Eritrea.

    The Eritrean nation’s short legacy of attrition and torture could no longer simply be ignored. And yet, polemics and controversy hovered among the participants. The presence of ambassadors from Sudan, Djibouti and, of course, Ethiopia stirred sentiments among the Eritrean freedom fighters, one former US ambassador to Eritrea, Human Rights Watch and numerous civil society organisations and academics.

    Two envoys from the European Commission were also there, sitting and waiting for the inevitable barrage of questions on why they would give €120 million in aid from the European Development Fund to a regime that has held its population hostage for nearly two decades, to a regime that explicitly uses forced labour.

    Eritrea ranks last in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, worse than North Korea. This was the mix, and the crossed stares of disbelief and astonishing comments felt all the more surreal. Sitting in the back was Tsedal Yohannes, her eyes swollen with tears. Her presence cut straight through the statements of policy, the rhetoric and the palpable anger.

    'Every year it is getting worse', she told Pambazuka News. Yohannes hasn’t heard from her sister, Aster, who was abducted by Eritrean police when she stepped off the flight at Asmara airport in 2003. Aster had been assured by Girma Asmerom, as well as by Eritrea’s ambassador to the US, that she would have a safe passage.

    Aster wanted to see her children. Her husband, Petros Soloman, a renowned veteran fighter and former high government official, was already sitting in some dingy cell in one of the many prisons throughout the country, most likely at Eiraeiro, a jail located somewhere north-west of Ghatielay where the celebrated G15 EPLF/PFDJ are thought to languish.

    'No one, apart from people like me who live in the comfort of my home, not within reach of the government’s tentacles, can mention their names publicly. We have no information about her well-being, when will she be brought to a court of justice, what is she accused of,' she told the conference participants. She then broke down and eyes turned away. An uncomfortable silence ensued. The small conference room made the whole event feel all the more intimate. Shoulders were against shoulders on the fourth floor of Scotland House, the wall of windows looking out onto a frigid grey overcast sky that is so typical of the Belgian climate.

    Eritrea was the promise that never evolved. Three decades of guerrilla conflict, a struggle for independence hard won, the blood of tens of thousands spilled, for a brief semblance of peace and reconciliation in 1993 that has since been spoiled by a kleptocratic dictatorship and a Horn unable to come to terms with lasting peace. According to Professor Bereket Habte Saleassie, himself a former Eritrean freedom fighter, peace in this part of the world is defined simply as the temporary absence of war. The protracted border dispute with Ethiopia has implicated Eritrea’s leadership in countless human rights abuses upon its own people.

    Scattered in small communities throughout Eritrea’s western lowlands to north-western Ethiopia, the Kunama minority ethnic group, in particular, have had to endure the arbitrary violence inflicted upon them by the Christian dominant Tigrinya, partisan to the Afwerki leadership in its zealous pursuit of self-proclaimed cultural superiority. The brutality of the 1998–2000 war with Ethiopia, widely considered as the most devastating bilateral war on the African continent in recent decades, and the crackdown of political–civil opposition in September of 2001 has rescinded into chaos and a cruel, inhumane collective punishment.

    Even children as young as eight are not immune from arrests, says Alf Hansen from the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights. There are anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 political prisoners of an estimated population of 4 million. Once, there had been a window of hope – a dash of light into an otherwise obscure corridor of concentrated power. In the early 1990s, US President Bill Clinton placed the nascent nation on a throne, crowned the prince with the promise of stability, democracy and self-reliance. A partner in post-Cold War Africa was in the making. Shortly thereafter, first lady Hillary Clinton, along with top American brass, paid Afwerki numerous visits.

    'The taste of power', says Kjell Bondevik, president of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and a former prime minister of Norway, 'has since gripped Isaya Afwerki.' Bondevik had met the former freedom fighter and current Eritrean president in the 1970s, when Afwerki seemingly held true to his Marxist ideals. 'We are not their enemies and we must re-establish trust with Eritrea to encourage regime transition', Bondevik told Pambazuka News.

    Bondevik is pushing to open political dialogue to end Eritrea’s isolation and get the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur and an international commission of inquiry tasked to investigate human rights. Underlying the strategic policy directive proposed by Bondevik is to get the international community to place democracy and the promotion of human rights higher up on the international agenda. This includes the whole Horn of Africa.

    Whatever happened to Afwerki’s values and promises is mired in a nation that had itself been betrayed by the international community on too many occasions. But indications into the ruthlessness of his Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) surfaced when in 1974 they executed 11 dissidents – a calculating and portentous move.


    * Nikolaj Nielsen is a freelance journalist based in Brussels. His work has appeared in openDemocracy, Reuters AlertNet and other media. He writes the human rights blog at Foreign Policy Association.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Football and false consciousness

    Haidar Eid


    cc M Ramallah
    Lamenting the apparently greater importance accorded the recent Algeria–Egypt World Cup qualifying match than Palestinians' ongoing difficulties, Haidar Eid wonders why the prayers muttered by football supporters have far surpassed those for families in Gaza suffering 'till the last day of Israel's last and continuing genocidal war'.

    I had hoped with all my heart that neither the Egyptian nor the Algerian team would reach the World Cup finals that are to be held next year in South Africa. And, yes, by that I describe myself as being a 'traitor' to Arab nationalism and I declare my innocence of the kind of 'patriotism' embodied in the feet of a soccer player or the hands of a goalkeeper. Do we really want to measure national belonging and patriotism by the extent to which one exhibits passionate admiration for the moving legs of a football player?

    To watch the unprecedented 'mass mobilisation' for a football match – one that has far exceeded any recent political mass mobilisation – is not only frustrating, it is nauseating in the Sartre-esque sense of the word. It is nauseating to watch the dominant status quo controlled and manipulated by inauthentic social classes that shamelessly sell all that is truly national for their own narrow interests and transform common understandings of belonging and nationalism into an aggregate of collective hysteria rising to an artificially induced crescendo before 'the decisive historical moment': 14 November 2009.

    Eleven months ago, Israel heinously attacked the Gaza Strip. With battlefield tanks, massive air-power, phosphorus bombs and other types of anti-human weapons, Israel committed unspeakable massacres, killing 1,500 martyrs, most of whom were civilians, children and women, and injured more than 5,000, the majority of whom have become permanently physically challenged. This assault destroyed more than 40,000 homes and institutions, thousands of whose residents are still living in tents which were rendered ineffective by the heavy winter rain just last week! How did the official Arab regimes, those admirers of the football heroes, react to that? It is simply too painful, cruel and contentious to even compare.

    To many Egyptians, Algeria has 'conspired' against the Egyptian dream that they have struggled for. For as long as a week the Egyptian television stations continuously played national songs that celebrated 'Egypt the mother of the world' who awaits her children heroes, Emad Mut'ib (who scored the second goal against Algeria), Muhammad Zeidan and Essam Al-Hadary (the goalkeeper), to make up for the humiliation in Algeria when the Egyptian national team was defeated 3-1.

    Meanwhile, on the Algerian side, the slogan 'Viva Algeria,' which was once the inspiration for many in the struggle against French colonialism, has now become the inspiration for the new heroes: the Algerian football players that outsmarted the Egyptian team. Now Egypt’s flag, not Israel’s, has become a symbol for public burning.

    Discussion of an historical offensive created by a football match has dominated the media scene. After the intensive attack it launched against the starving population of Gaza who dared to challenged 'our national security', the Egyptian media machine that was taught by the likes of Mustafa Saïd, in a Goebbels-esque manner, now went on to launch a new strange and pretentious campaign: Friday the 13 of November 2009 is a decisive day for pilgrimage and prayer for the victory of 'our boys' – the football players!

    And so drowns Gaza in the deepest oblivion.

    The production of a cultural industry saturating us with video clips, movies, soap operas, advertisements, action films, sexual gossip about pop stars, popular songs and so on has developed enormously and overtaken revolutionary values in Algeria, with its millions of martyrs, as well as those of Nasserite Egypt. It has reached a point of creating an unprecedented false consciousness embodied in the latest media mobilisation and supported by the ruling classes. The average citizen has been made to question not the price of a loaf of bread, or the salvation of the people of Palestine and the best ways of breaking the siege of Gaza, but rather whether or not Abu Treikeh will achieve the 'national dream' of winning the match!

    And … patient number 400 in Gaza dies because of the suffocating siege, while simultaneously a Palestinian child in Gaza is killed on the eastern borders. The numbers of these new martyrs fade into insignificance when compared with the number of expected goals the match is to produce.

    These ruling classes have managed to commodify feelings of national belonging and have transformed allegiance with Palestinians into a saga of meaningless tears and slogans not put into action, an emotional outburst easily swept away by the legs of 11 football players. These football-playing legs have had the power to do what images of Huda Ghalyeh's family, the Sammounis, the Dardouneh children and Iman Hejju did not. The prayers muttered on the lips of the spectators, civilians and politicians, before and during the match have far superseded those prayers muttered for the families in Gaza from the first till the last day of Israel's last and continuing genocidal war against the Palestinians.


    * Haidar Eid is an independent political commentator and professor in the Department of English Literature at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza.
    * This article originally appeared on Ma’an in Arabic and was translated by Natalie Abu Shakra.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Waving the Ethiopian flag: Its beauty and contradictions

    Etyopian Simbiro


    cc Wikipedia
    Looking back on the historical and political significance of the Ethiopian flag, Etyopian Simbiro considers the role and use of the 'tri-colour' in developments in the country. The flag has proven a double-edged sword in its ability to both divide and unify, Simbiro contends, but should ultimately prove the inspiration for a new Ethiopia based on tolerance, trust and respect for the rule of law.

    The Ethiopian flag contains the universally recognised tri-colours (green, yellow, and red). Different regimes have always embellished it with emblems that define their political ideology. The founding fathers of the nation chose those tri-colours for political and religious reasons. The flag gave legitimacy to their monarchical rule and authenticity to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which practices a unique brand of Christianity, the official religion of the monarchy until 1974 – the military junta (1974–91) ended the church's monopoly as a state religion.

    Some foreigners, who love reggae music and admire Rastafarianism, have no clue that the tri-colours, which Bob Marley popularised, actually represent Ethiopia. I have met many people, young and old, who thought the tri-colours were Marley's patented colours; little did they know that both Marley and the Rastafarians drew their inspiration from Ethiopia, which also inspired Marcus Garvey, the early 'back to Africa' campaigner whose teachings influenced generations of African-Americans and other black people.


    Classic poems have been written revering the flag. Many writers and patriots throughout the world still squeeze their last drops of inks to coin mighty words of praise for their flags.

    The flag is synonymous with the nation. It defines the nation; the nation is the flag. Otherwise, angry protesters across the world would not bother burning it in order to release their anger, to express their frustration and to send a strong message to the particular nation they strongly oppose or detest. The flag epitomises nationalism and patriotism. It reflects almost everything that the nation consists of: the constitution, the government, the mainstream culture, the politics, the militarism, and the diversity or singularity of the people. It is not without reason that the flag is displayed almost everywhere in a given nation: from one's bedroom (not to mention one’s underwear, necklaces, bracelets or wrist bands) to major public spaces.

    Sports events and other activities that stir the national consciousness are always decorated with national flags. For example, it is common to see Ethiopia's world class athletes shed joyful tears during the green-yellow-red flag-hanging ceremonies after their major international wins. Those droplets of joyful tears have the power to agitate even the least patriotic person. Another great example is the United Nations. What makes the UN most special is the display of flags of the many nations.

    The flag (along with maps, anthems, the constitution, historical relics and other national symbols) gives legitimacy to the sovereignty of the state. People throughout the world have paid a bloody price for their flags. At every national struggle, either peaceful or violent, flags are always present, symbolising the strength of the struggle.

    For the ideologist or politician, the flag is a potent weapon with which to mobilise people and to rejuvenate a group consciousness. The flag embeds within itself the spirit of togetherness among different groups despite conflicting interests. It is a connecting thread. It transcends barriers. It serves as a guiding star of the nation, whether oppressive or democratic.

    The flag motivates the individual to persevere, and to either win or lose as part of the group that he or she belongs to. For instance, Abdissa Aga, the famous Second World War Ethiopian hero, was captured by fascist Italy during occupation and taken to a notorious prison in Sicily, but later escaped and became the leader of international dissidents, former prisoners like him. He and his colleagues fought against the fascist forces in both Italy and Germany, collaborating with the Allied forces. He surprised the British and the Americans, who gave him the rank of major. His group finally liberated Rome from the hands of the fascists and he drove around the city waving the Ethiopian flag. This same brave man, who deeply loved the flag, his country and his people, was later to be oppressed and stripped of his title upon his return by the then aristocrats, who considered his international stature a threat to their position and who perhaps thought of him as a second-class citizen because of his ethnic background: he was an Oromo from Wellega, Western Ethiopia.[1]

    Unfortunately, there has always been outrageous discrimination based on ethnicity in Ethiopia. Even the supposedly socialist regime did not escape from suppressing those who advocated for regional autonomy because of its fear that regionalism could overshadow Ethiopian nationalism, though in its final days it tried to negotiate with regionalists, but it was too late. Also today the status quo remains the same, despite having a regime that apparently recognises ethnic self-determination and acknowledges the historical marginalisation of the oppressed. The Zenawi regime ironically continues to repeat the same old mentality that politics is a zero-sum game and one group is destined to dominate others undemocratically. The constitution, which the regime fails to fully implement, acknowledges and states in its preamble:

    'Fully cognizant that our common destiny can best be served by rectifying historically unjust relationships and by further promoting our shared interests; convinced that to live as one economic community is necessary in order to create sustainable and mutually supportive conditions for ensuring respect for our rights and freedoms and for the collective promotion of our interests … have therefore adopted this constitution.'[2]

    Nevertheless, the rule of law and free and fair elections, which are the basic requirements of any democracy, are yet to be realised in Ethiopia.


    As much as the flag is a symbol of liberty and a source of national pride, it also carries the ills of the nation; it reminds of oppression, and awakens old wounds. For example, in the United States, while 'The Star Spangled Banner' stands for freedom, the Confederate flag represents a legacy of racism and slavery. Particularly for black people, the latter revives old memories, scars of racial and economic marginalisation.

    No doubt that the Ethiopian flag is the most politicised national symbol. The whole burden of Ethiopian nationalism rests heavily on it. It is not an exaggeration to say that the flag is at the centre of the Ethiopian political crisis.

    For Ethiopian conservatives, the national flag means the blood their ancestors spilled to build the empire and to free it from the jaws of external forces. It is the most idolised, perhaps next to God. Such idolisation has the potential to justify historical injustices and to only glorify the past, regardless of its contradictions.

    Right-wing nationalists still hold a grudge against Zenawi, who once bashed the flag as 'a piece of rag'. This statement and the 'self-determination up to secession' phrase in the constitution are perhaps the two most debated issues, other than the 2005 election, that have earned the former rebel the title, 'anti-Ethiopia'.

    A blogger for once wrote:

    'If things were to be judged by their prices, one of Zenawi's winter-time jackets would have been more valuable than a nylon flag. But that is not the case. When hard-line Somalians got angry at Meles led military intervention in their country, they did not look for one of his most expensive suits; they simply burned our Green-Yellow-Red because it stands for Ethiopianism.'[3]

    A supporter of Zenawi fired back:

    'The reality is that during a televised debate about the state of the union of Ethiopia's Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, the Prime Minister, in good faith, remarked that the moot point was not the fabric but what it carried with it. While his government had no qualms as far as the tri-color was concerned, today's Ethiopians were unwilling to come under the oppressive rule of an outlandish Lion embossed on the flag.'[4]

    One of the few successes of the military junta, or the Dergue, was its validation of the flag as the ultimate manifestation of Ethiopian nationalism. The popular motto 'One Ethiopia or death!' was to defend the flag but not the constitution, which did not even exist until the regime’s last days. The junta exploited the inflated nationalism to effectively mobilise the largest army in Africa during the Cold War era. Some sympathisers of the Dergue justify its crimes, arguing that it was okay for the regime to kill, bomb or destroy its own people because it fought against rural and urban guerrillas that threatened 'Ethiopia’s unity and the flag'. It seems they are unaware that it is the rule of law that keeps people together and protects the flag, but not the other way around; the bloodthirsty dictator only brought his own demise in the end. If one has to agree with Mengistu’s sympathisers, then one will have no choice but to accept Zenawi’s justification of locking up or destroying his opponents; after all, he also does it in the name of Ethiopia.

    For the proponents of ethnic self-determination, the national flag is the ultimate symbol of the contradictory nature of the Ethiopian state. The sociologist Asafa Jalata, an Oromo nationalist, argues, 'Although the historical meaning of Ethiopia is applicable to all Black peoples, its contemporary meaning applies mainly to Amharas and Tigrayans, who have successively dominated Ethiopian state power.'[5] This statement also implies that the national flag and other symbols that represent the state belong to the two mentioned groups.

    Although the two ethnic groups dominated state power, it is actually difficult to talk about contemporary Ethiopia without mentioning the numerous contributions of Oromos and other ethnicities that willingly or unwillingly participated in the making of the Ethiopian state. One of the notorious generals of Menelik II, Gobena Dache, for example, was an Oromo who succeeded in defeating forces that resisted surrendering to the king, though some Oromo nationalists consider him a sell-out who betrayed his own people.[6] It is believed that even Haile Sellasie had an Amhara, Gurage and Oromo heritage, though he dedicated his entire life to building an Amharic-speaking, Orthodox Christian nation like his predecessors; he was an ambitious empire builder who strongly believed in a unitary state.

    There were many notable Oromos and non-Oromos, including Eritreans, who sacrificed their lives while serving Ethiopia during and after the Italian invasion. When Haile Sellasie fled the country to save his life and to appeal to the League of Nations in 1936, what gave the Italians a heart attack was the resistance of rebels, comprised of various ethnic groups, such as the forgotten patriot Jagama Kello, whom the BBC profiled recently. These rebels fiercely engaged and obliterated the fascist forces from day one. But, unfortunately, Haile Sellasie, upon his return from exile, mistreated most of them because they advocated for a fair and democratic system, which the monarch saw it as a threat to his supremacy; some, such as Belay Zeleke, were even noosed because they dared to challenge his unjust rule and shameless favouritism.

    The student movement that led to the overthrow of the Haile Sellasie regime was also the product of the majority of ethnicities inside Ethiopia.

    It is true that despite all the sacrifices made in the name of Ethiopia, there has been an unequal distribution of power and wealth in the country. Even if that is the case, the solution is not to utterly abandon the idea that today’s Ethiopia belongs to both the oppressed and the oppressor. The acknowledgement of historical injustices and a formal reconciliation must be considered, which will not only resolve the national crisis but will also reaffirm the historical meaning of Ethiopia, a land that belongs to all black people. Today’s Ethiopia belongs to all of us and we all must fight for it. Those of us in the diaspora (left or right) must help those inside the country (either political parties or NGOs) financially, morally and through the transfer of knowledge. Those that fight for freedom inside the country are the ones who will ultimately bring the change we all desire. Preaching dangerous politics while enjoying our comfortable life in the West will only make matters worse domestically. It won’t help our poor people who have been behind bars despite regime changes.


    The official flag of the monarchy, which had the Lion of Judah emblem, signified the link between the church, the state and the people. The flag’s symbolism further validated the legend that the monarch descended directly from the kingdom of Solomon and that his God-given power was unquestionable.

    After Menelik II, the rise of Haile Sellasie to power and his effective foreign diplomacy and domestic centralisation further popularised the flag. The tri-colours on the flag had green for land and hope, yellow for church, peace, natural wealth and love, and red for power and faith. Additionally, the colours also had a religious connotation, symbolising the Trinity.[7]

    Once the military junta deposed the monarchy, it removed the Lion of Judah emblem from the flag, and eventually replaced it with its version of a socialist emblem. The military interpreted the tri-colours as green for the fertility of the land, yellow for freedom, and red for the blood sacrificed to keep the nation together.[8]

    Today, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church remains the definitive custodian of the feudal tradition; it is common to find the Lion of Judah flag displayed in some churches. In addition, Rastafarians and admirers of Haile Sellasie also revere this old flag; nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, those against the old system unequivocally reject it and they have their reasons.

    The former rebels that now control state affairs have also modified the flag, replacing the socialist emblem with their version while keeping the tri-colours.

    According to the current constitution (Article 3), 'The Ethiopian flag shall reflect the hope of the Nations, Nationalities, Peoples, and religious communities of Ethiopia to live together in equality and unity.'[9]

    Undeniably, there has been a significant change in the country, though most of it is still on paper. However, despite the progressive constitution that we currently have, which is subject to amendments, the country has not yet declared the superiority of the law above the individual who rules. The individual, either the local policeperson or the prime minister of the country, is still above the law practically. The democratisation process has not gone past its baby steps.

    The rule of law, free and fair elections, accountability and transparency seem dreams that may not come true anytime soon, even if the current regime is replaced. In a country where the adult literacy rate is 36 per cent (according to UNICEF’s 2000–07 report), where the citizens are not fully aware of their rights and responsibilities engraved in the constitution, and where the constitution’s superiority has not been genuinely declared, we will have a long walk to freedom. Ethiopia not only needs a non-violent political change, but also a non-violent cultural revolution. We have to renew our mentality. Sometimes, just like in any other Third World country, being in Ethiopia is like being one or two centuries behind the rest of the world. I would not be surprised if my hairs turn grey, like my father, without witnessing a fully democratised Ethiopia, where non-partisan politicians reign and where the police understand the meaning of human rights.

    Pessimism aside, I do believe that Ethiopian politicians (left and right) have a better chance today to move the country towards democracy. If they sincerely dedicate themselves to democratic ideals, they have the power to make the Ethiopian dream come true, and that, in my hope, is establishing a truly democratic state. An opportunistic mindset and ego aside, if they work together, then miracles can happen in that country.

    Some, who oppose the current regime, advocate that Ethiopia must copy Ghana’s centralist system. I am sure there is a lot Ethiopia can learn from Ghana, especially in the fields of building democratic institutions and respecting the rule of law, two of the many qualities that have made Ghana a shining star in the continent. However, it can be dangerous to wholeheartedly imitate Ghana’s centralist policies. Ethiopia has already welcomed a federal system that favours decentralisation in theory, though this has not been yet fully realised practically. In addition, everything that works in Ghana may not work in Ethiopia; the two countries have evident cultural and historical differences. I would argue that Ethiopia, as the second most populous country in Africa, could draw better lessons from other democratic yet federalist countries such as Canada, India, South Africa or the USA, whose diversity/geography-based political systems resemble ours comparatively. Nevertheless, the solution to end Ethiopia’s political crisis is not to simply imitate other countries but to look at our own values and traditions and to combine these native ideas with what we have learned or have borrowed from outsiders. We have been imitating others throughout our history; it is now time to think and act locally, while keeping our eyes open on the global.

    One of the successes of ethnic federalism, despite its obvious failures, is that it has revived an ethnic consciousness and has ingrained the idea of self-rule in the minds of Ethiopia’s diverse ethnic groups: two issues that are a 'dream come true' for the historically marginalised but a 'nightmare' for the historically dominant ethnic elites. Today, neither bringing back the Lion of Judah nor playing the pseudo-socialist or pseudo-democratic trick will have the significance to make the country a better place. However, in order to positively exploit the growing ethnic nationalism in Ethiopia, we have to come up with a better and all-encompassing democratic system, which can fully address present and future challenges. We must come into contact with reality and accept the fact that we cannot return back to square one. We must compromise, see the long-term benefits and advocate for the supremacy of the rule of law, which will have the power to decide whether we should redesign the national flag or should keep it the way it looks now.

    Politics aside, we all know that the Rastafarians use the tri-colours in the spirit of love and peace. After what Ethiopia has gone through, every Ethiopian, I am sure, is tired of old politics. It is time for change, time for a renewed Ethiopia. I believe the Ethiopian union is worth keeping, but should we want the union to prevail, we shall have to advocate for a real change to come, a change that leaves no room for dictatorship and corruption. Let the spirit of love guide us. As Erich Fromm once said, 'love is a union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.'

    Let’s say goodbye to the age-old Ethiopian mentality: character assassination, suspicion, vengeance, finger-pointing, holier-than-thou trickery, cynicism, stubbornness, empty pride, infighting, hate mongering and self-denial. Let’s instead listen to each other, respect one another, compromise, genuinely acknowledge past and present failures, reconcile, trust one another, forgive, celebrate our differences, agree to disagree, encourage a culture of debate or dialogue, walk the talk and advocate for the supremacy of the rule of law more than anything else!


    * Etyopian Simbiro is an Ethiopian student based in the US.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    [1] Abdissa Aga an Ethiopian Hero, Fikre Tolossa,
    [2] The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,
    [5] Being in and out of Africa: the Impact of Duality of Ethiopianism, Asafa Jalata, Journal of Black Studies, (Nov 2009)
    [6] A critical review of the political and stereotypical portrayals of the Oromo in the Ethiopian Historiography, Jeylan Welyie Hussein, Nordic Journal of African Studies 15(3): 256-276 (2006),
    [8] See [7]
    [9] See [2]

    Witness for Ethiopia's future: Honouring Meles Zenawi's victims

    Alemayehu G. Mariam


    cc A Heavens
    In the wake of the May 2005 Ethiopian parliamentary elections, paramilitary forces under the command of Meles Zenawi orchestrated the massacre of 193 innocent men, women and children and wounded a further 763 people involved in civil protest, writes Alemayehu G. Mariam. Ignoring the efforts of the country's regime to besmirch their memory, Ethiopians must honour these victims of oppression as patriots, Mariam stresses, and recognise their sacrifices as profound inspiration for future generations.

    In his book 'Night', Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and the man the Nobel committee called the 'messenger to mankind' when it awarded him the peace prize in 1986, wrote:

    'For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future.'

    On November 9–10 1938, the Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses throughout Germany, killing nearly 100 and arresting and deporting some 30,000 to concentration camps. That was Krystallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), the forerunner to the Holocaust. On 2 March 1960, apartheid security forces in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa, fired 705 bullets in two minutes to disperse a crowd of protesting Africans. When the shooting spree stopped, 69 black Africans lay dead, shot in the back, and 186 suffered severe gunshot wounds.

    Following the May 2005 Ethiopian parliamentary elections, paramilitary forces under the direct command and control of regime leader Meles Zenawi massacred 193 innocent men, women and children and wounded 763 persons engaged in ordinary civil protest. Nearly all of the victims shot and killed died from injuries to their heads or upper torso, and there was evidence that sharpshooters were used in the indiscriminate and wanton attack on the protesters. On 3 November 2005, during an alleged disturbance at the infamous Kality prison near Addis Ababa, guards sprayed more than 1,500 bullets into inmate cells in 15 minutes, killing 17 and severely wounding 53. These facts were meticulously documented by a 10-member Inquiry Commission established by Zenawi himself after examining 16,990 documents, receiving testimony from 1,300 witnesses and undertaking months of investigation in the field.

    Under constant threat by the regime and afraid to make these facts public in Ethiopia, the commission's chairman Judge Frehiwot Samuel, vice chair Woldemichael Meshesha and member attorney Teshome Mitiku fled the country with the evidence. They made their findings public on 16 November 2006 before a committee of the US Congress. Their report completely exonerated the protesters and pinned the blame for the massacres entirely on the regime and its security forces. No protesters possessed, used or attempted to use firearms, explosives or any other objects that could be used as a weapon. No protester set or attempted to set fire to public or private property, robbed or attempted to rob a bank.[1]

    The victims of the post-election massacres were not faceless and nameless images in the crowd. They were individuals with identities. Among the victims were Tensae Zegeye, age 14; Habtamu Tola, age 16; Binyam Degefa, age 18; Behailu Tesfaye, age 20; Kasim Ali Rashid, age 21; Teodros Giday Hailu, age 23; Adissu Belachew, age 25; Milion Kebede Robi, age 32; Desta Umma Birru, age 37; Tiruwork G. Tsadik, age 41; Elfnesh Tekle, age 45; Abebeth Huletu, age 50; Regassa Feyessa, age 55; Teshome Addis Kidane, age 65; victim no. 21762, age 75, female; and victim no. 21760, male, age unknown and many dozens more.[2]

    Ethiopians have a special duty to bear witness for these innocent victims who died as eyewitnesses to the theft of an election and the mugging of democracy in Ethiopia in 2005. They went into the streets to peacefully defend their right to vote, have their votes count and defend the first democratic election in Ethiopia's 3,000-year history. We must force ourselves to testify for them not just as victims of monstrous crimes but also as true patriots. For they acted out of a sense of duty, honour, love of country and deep concern for the future of Ethiopia. They died so that 80 million Ethiopians could live free.

    Ethiopia's dictators would have the world believe that the victims of their carnage were nobodies who did not matter. It is true they were all ordinary people of the humblest origins. But we value them not for their wealth and social status but for their patriotism and sacrifices in the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights.

    Elie Weisel is absolutely right. We have a duty to bear witness against those who commit crimes against humanity and for the innocent victims of tyranny and dictatorship. We have to 'force' ourselves to testify not only for the dead but also 'for the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow'. We do not want the massacres of 2005 to become the future of Ethiopia.

    When we bear witness for Ethiopia's innocent victims, we bear witness for all victims of tyranny and dictatorships. For the cause of the innocent transcends race, ethnicity, religion, language, country or continent. It even transcends time and space because the innocent represent humanity's infinite capacity for virtue as dictators and tyrants represent humanity's dregs. When we bear witness for them, we also testify on our own behalf against that evil lurking secretly and deep in our souls and hearts. But by not forcing ourselves to testify against evil, we become an inseparable part of it. As Dr Martin Luther King said, 'He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.' That is also the essential message of Elie Weisel.

    Let us bear witness now for Zenawi's victims. Let us tell the world that they cry out for justice from the grave. Let us testify that they died on the bloody battlefield of dictatorship with nothing in their hands, but peace and love in their hearts, justice in their minds and passion for the cause of freedom and democracy in their spirits and bodies. Let us remember and honour them, not in sorrow, but in gratitude and eternal indebtedness. Let us make sure that their sacrifices will tell generations of Ethiopians to come stories of personal bravery and courage and an abiding and unflinching faith in democracy and the rule of law. And when we despair over what appears to be the victory of evil over good, let us be inspired by Gandhi's words: 'There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it, ALWAYS.' Let us remind ourselves every day that 'All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men and women do nothing.'


    * Alemayehu G. Mariam is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles.
    * This article was originally published by The Huffington Post.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    [1] These victims were documented by the Inquiry Commission in its investigation into shootings of unarmed protesters in Addis Ababa on 8 June and 1–10 and 14–16 November 2005 in Oromia and Amhara 'regional states'.

    Getting out of the political leadership trap

    William Gumede


    cc D B King
    South Africans and Africans define leadership too narrowly – that it is why societies on the continent time and time again end up with the most terribly disappointing leaders, William Gumede writes in this week’s Pambazuka News.

    In poor countries, competent political leadership is a scarce skill that matters even more than in industrial nations. Industrial nations, where power is dispersed across the society, can tolerate bad leaders better. Better still, bad leaders can generally be outvoted.

    Since independence, African leaders usually come to power when their countries are in great crisis – which demands extraordinarily capable leadership. Most African leaders have had to – amidst great expectations from long-suffering citizens – unite ethnically diverse societies, where one group was often advantaged by the departing colonial powers, and equitably transform poor economies. They must also build lasting democracies, through creating new institutions. While doing this, they must steer their countries through hostile global political minefields.

    Take the example of South Africa. Our country is stuck in a number of interlocking crises: Broken families, communities and society; an HIV/Aids pandemic that has been neglected; soaring poverty, unemployment and crime; a pervasive air of public corruption; rising racial animosity; battered democratic institutions; rapidly declining public confidence in government’s ability to deliver services; and looming economic problems ahead.

    Furthermore, South Africa is struggling with the consequences of broken, one-parent and child-headed families. We need progressive responses to how to foster stable families, how to make gender equality as set out in the constitution real, how to set a progressive example of male identity that confirms with the values of the constitution, and how to involve men in childrearing.

    The country must deal with these problems in an increasingly complex, dangerous and economically volatile world.

    A national leader should be able to tick most of these boxes – to have a good grasp of most of these complexities. But to deal with these issues will need new ideas, direction and energy. But it also needs leadership that can mobilise diverse talent across the ethnic, ideological and political divide to tackle these problems. With all these problems, the leadership must in all instances act in the widest possible interest of all of South Africa, not only a small component thereof. But we also need honest leaders.

    On their own, any of these challenges are difficult enough – combined they are Herculean. All these problems at the same time, demands that African countries secure special leaders that can lead their countries through these multiple crises. The right kind of leader in fractious, ethnical diverse and underdeveloped African countries, can be a rallying force that helps binds them together, and helps unleash the country’s productive energies.

    A bad leader, in the context of fragile democratic institutions, ethnic diversity, and underdevelopment, can be terribly destructive – holding back democracy, growth and nation-building. Worse, in African countries bad leaders are difficult to rid of, and remain a drain on the system long after they are eventually gone.

    To respond to these challenges, many citizens of African countries rightly demand ‘strong’ leaders. But ‘strong’ leadership is often confused with militancy, tough political rhetoric and silky oratory. Leaders that shone in opposition in the struggle for liberation and independence, where tough rhetoric and militancy were often necessary to counter the brutality of colonial powers or white-minority governments may not be the kind of leaders needed to reconstruct a crisis post-independence African society.

    Most African countries cannot get out of a political leadership trap: Members of political movements, citizens and interest groups often want the tough talking kind of leader, even if he (mostly he) has no competency on the majority of the other almost intractable country challenges. The problem in most African countries is that there is a mismatch between the kind of leaders pushed forward by political movements, and the kind of the leaders these countries really need to tackle their enormous challenges.


    * This article first appeared in the Sowetan.
    * William Gumede is co-editor with Leslie Dikeni of the recently released The Poverty of Ideas, which will be launched in Johannesburg, South Africa on 3 December, at 5.30pm at Exclusive Books, Killarney.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.


    Medium and message: The internet and social activism in Africa


    Join the editors of Pambazuka News, an award-winning online platform for social justice in Africa based in Oxford, Dakar, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro, for a discussion on using the web to facilitate and transform activism and citizen journalism across the continent. Firoze Manji, Tidiane Kassé, Joshua Ogada and Alyxandra Gomes will share their experiences of electronic activism in Lusophone, Francophone and Anglophone Africa with the Oxford Internet Institute's Dr Mark Graham on Tuesday 1 December.

    DATE: Tuesday, 1 December 2009, 17:00 – 18:00


    Firoze Manji - Editor in chief, Pambazuka News
    Tidiane Kassé - Editor, Pambazuka News, French edition
    Joshua Ogada - Editor, Links and Resources, Pambazuka News
    Alyxandra Gomes - Editor, Pambazuka News, Portuguese edition
    Dr Mark Graham - Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute

    LOCATION: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, 1 St Giles Oxford OX1 3JS. If you would like to attend please email your name and affiliation, if any, to: [email protected]


    Pambazuka News

    Whether it's Kenya's electoral crisis or the mass killings in Darfur, Pambazuka News is the source of authentic voices of Africa's social activists and analysts - an online platform for voices that challenge mainstream perceptions and biases. Published in English, French and Portuguese and with a readership of over 500,000, Pambazuka comprises a social network of more than 1,500 academics, activists, women's rights campaigners, bloggers, artists and commentators who together produce insightful and thoughtful analyses that make it one of the most innovative and influential sites for social justice in Africa. Pambazuka fosters a community of African citizens who hold their governments to account, supports pan-African campaigns for human rights and social justice, and enables African women and marginalised groups to develop their own blogs, podcasts and mobile phone campaigns.

    Firoze Manji - Editor in chief, Pambazuka News
    Firoze, a Kenyan, is founder and executive director of Fahamu and editor of Pambazuka News. He has formerly worked as programme director for the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, CEO for Aga Khan Foundation UK, and regional representative for health for IDRC's office for Eastern and Southern Africa.

    Tidiane Kassé - Editor, Pambazuka News, French edition
    Tidiane is a Senegalese journalist. Chief editor at the Senegalese Press Group Wal Fadjri, he is also a media consultant specialising in HIV and Aids. Since 1996, he has worked as a trainer and workshop facilitator in journalism and communication related to development issues.

    Joshua Ogada - Editor, Links and Resources, Pambazuka News, English edition
    Joshua, from Kenya, is doctoral candidate in Mass Communication and Public Affairs at the Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University (ABD), currently based in Cape Town.

    Alyxandra Gomes - Editor, Pambazuka News, Portuguese edition
    Alyxandra is an Afro-Brazilian teacher and a PhD fellow at the Center of Afro-Oriental Studies (CEAO) in Bahia, Brazil. She has campaigned for African studies all over Brazil and believes that Portuguese is the cement which connects all the lusophone countries in Africa and the diaspora.

    Dr Mark Graham is a Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute. His work focuses on the geographies of the Internet and uses of ICT for development. 

    Comment & analysis

    Stage set for ICC intervention in Kenya

    Stephen Kabera Karanja


    cc Tom Maruko
    Stephen Kabera Karanja looks at the legal principles underpinning the ICC’s intervention in Kenya and the objectives of Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo’s visit to the country earlier in November.

    Pursuant to his decision, on 5 November 2009 the ICC Prosecutor Mr Luis Moreno Ocampo notified the court of his intention to submit a request for authorisation of an investigation into that situation under article 15, paragraph 3 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court by 1 December 2009. The court on its part expeditiously decided on 6 November 2009 to assign the situation in the Republic of Kenya to Pre-Trial Chamber II with immediate effect. According to the court, the request is based on the prosecutor's determination that ‘there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in the Republic of Kenya in relation to the post-election violence of 2007-2008’.

    Kenya ratified the Rome Statute on 15 March 2005, which entered into force for Kenya on 1 June 2005. In December 2008 Kenya domesticated the statute by enacting the International Crimes Act of 2008. The Act, however, entered into force on 1 January 2009 and therefore it does not apply to the post election violence crimes, according to the retrospective principle in the Constitution. The international jurisdiction of the ICC, however, applies to Kenya under the complementarity principle. According to this principle, the ICC may intervene only if there are no national proceedings against those responsible for the crimes. This is the assurance Mr Ocampo sought from the Kenyan authorities during his visit. But the response from the government was equivocal. While they promised to cooperate with the ICC, they at the same time refused to refer the matter to the ICC but expressed their commitment to pursue national mechanism to deal with impunity.

    The events in Kenya are of interest to international criminal justice and jurisprudence. Firstly, this is the first time the ICC Prosecutor is invoking the powers conferred to him under Article 15 to open proprio motu investigations on a situation occurring in a state party to the ICC. The other situations under ICC investigation and prosecution, respective state parties namely Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) referred the matter to the ICC and the United Nations Security Council referred the situation in Darfur, Sudan (a non-State Party). Moreover, the situation in Kenya presents the ICC with its first case in which a request for authorisation has been made by the prosecutor. The determination of the case will be precedent setting, irrespective of the outcome.

    Secondly, the application of the complementarity principle in the situation in Kenya will be interesting to explore. According to the principle, states remain the primary enforcers of international criminal law, and the ICC is only a court of last resort, established to complement national systems where they fail to conduct adequate investigations and prosecutions. The ICC cannot intervene if the state is willing and able to fulfil its primary responsibility. The question is whether Kenya has failed to conduct adequate investigations and prosecutions against those criminally responsible? The answer may seem quite obvious but the reasons may not be apparent. In my opinion, a thorough examination and analysis of reasons and thinking of the Kenya government and the prosecutor could elucidate the issue further.

    The Government of Kenya may be playing hide and seek game with the ICC, but its options have run out. Despite prosecutor’s indulgence on complimentarity basis, the government has failed to establish a special court to deal with post-election impunity as required by the Waki Commission Report (Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence (CIPEV). The government declines to admit it has failed. Its double-edged statement after the meeting with the ICC prosecutor in Nairobi confirms government’s motives. The government could be thinking that by allowing the prosecutor to take the initiative, they still have room for manoeuvre if within the 30 days of notification of authorisation by the prosecutor of commencement of investigations it claims to have put in place local mechanisms by setting up a local tribunal. Such a move could slow down the ICC process but will not stall it as the prosecutor could notwithstanding seek Court’s authorisation to proceed. As argued below he has adequate reasons to do so.

    From a political perspective the government’s refusal to refer the matter to the ICC may have been triggered by the fear of being declared a failed state. The motive of the government is not to be seen to have failed in its primary responsibility of punishing impunity. Otherwise, it will rank with other failed states such as DRC, CAR and Sudan. But covertly the government seems to want the intervention by the ICC.

    The ICC prosecutor seems to operate from a number of convictions. The first is that the government has failed in its primary responsibility of investigating and prosecuting those bearing greatest criminal responsibility and the ICC’s intervention is inevitable. The prosecutor mission to Nairobi was to inform about the way forward to the government, not to negotiate with it on national mechanisms. It was the prosecutor’s expectation that the government would refer the matter to the ICC, and on their failure to do so, that he would refer the matter to the ICC. His prompt action to request authorisation from the ICC was an anticipated reaction.

    The second conviction was repeated in his statement in Nairobi. The prosecutor said that he is of the opinion that crimes against humanity have been committed in Kenya. ‘In accordance with his preliminary examination of the situation, there is reasonable basis to believe that the attacks against Kenyan civilians during the post election violence, constitutes crimes against humanity under the jurisdiction of the ICC. In accordance to Article 7 of the Rome Statute, a crime against humanity means a widespread of systematic attack directed against the civilian population.’

    The third conviction is based on the mandate of the ICC ‘to put an end to impunity and thereby contribute to prevention of future crimes’ as provided in the Preamble of the Rome Statute. The prosecutor is convinced of the urgency of investigations and prosecutions in the situation in Kenya because, according to him, it will contribute to justice and prevention of impunity in the coming general election 2012. He does not believe that a national process would act expeditiously and decisively before the next general election in 2012. As he has always insisted ‘the ICC is ready to make Kenya a model example in prevention of impunity’. This is an opportunity he would not like to slip away.

    The fourth conviction is that ICC proceedings should go hand in hand with complementary investigations and prosecutions at the national level as well as healing and reconciliation processes. The prosecutor does not exclude national proceedings aimed at dealing with numerous cases of impunity which the ICC cannot address. This is the basis for the prosecutor’s three-prong approach: The ICC to try those bearing the greatest responsibility, a local tribunal to prosecute other offenders, and the non-prosecutorial Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission for healing and reconciliation. Impunity is so deeply ingrained in the Kenyan society that a single process such as the ICC will not undo it. A combination of mechanisms is, therefore, appropriate.

    The fifth conviction is that the Kenya government is committed to cooperate with the ICC. The litmus test for the government’s seriousness, however, will come when the warrants of arrest are issued. If the government does not comply with the arrest orders then its assurances will amount to mere political gimmicks and theatricals. The process is, however, inexorable.

    Configuration of the factors above has set the stage for ICC intervention in the situation in Kenya. Political intrigues and interests will undoubtedly attempt to derail the process but this tactics might not succeed this time. Even if politicians dither, the ICC prosecutor is committed to ensure impunity is punished and future crimes are prevented. Besides, the ICC process has the support of the public and the international community. The engagement of the ICC in the situation in Kenya is also an assurance to the victims that those bearing the greatest responsibility will not win again.


    * Stephen Kabera Karanja is a senior researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Thoughts on Nyerere for young intellectuals

    Marie M. Shaba


    Young African intellectuals should revisit the philosophies of visionary leaders like Nyerere and Nkrumah for inspiration and a sense of self-belief, rather than looking to ideas from outside the continent, Marie M. Shaba argues in this week’s Pambazuka News.

    To the young intellectuals and village intellectuals like me. First of all let me openly declare my full allegiance to Mwalimu JKN, because he was in many ways a student of Hon Marcus Mosiah Garvey, another Afrikan philosopher who has been abused by many anti Africanist documentalists! Judging others is very tricky, especially when you know them through others. It becomes even more serious when these others are leaders who lead through others using modern day philosophies like representative democracy and not like our ‘under the neem tree’ free democracy!

    It becomes even worse when some of these extended leaders have not been blessed with the intellectual capacity to at least question and try to understand the visionary leader who seems to be many years ahead of them. Because then they would try to translate the vision into workable strategies and tactics, and develop programmes which will make people became agents of their own development and empowerment.

    What Marcus Garvey did and those before him or after him – the Nkrumahs and Nyereres as the first generation of leaders after independence – was outstanding. There were no internets or cellphones, fast boats or aeroplanes, very few professors or literary scholars! But yet we got inspired and believed in tomorrow.

    What saddens me is that, instead of improving on the philosophies they were developing so that we can also develop our own development models in tune with who we are or want to be, we find it easy to be copycats of other people’s inventions and experiments. We don’t know about who we are and worse we don’t even know the nature of those who enslaved and colonised us! If we knew where they come from, may be we would have a little of race pride and confidence.

    I know it is always tempting to blame someone or this abstract thing called the government or religion, customs and traditions. If we want to make a worthwhile contribution, let’s not make blanket statements without an analysis of the context and the environment that our leaders and those around them were living in. Some of you will know because Kanyama Chiume wrote an article when Mwalimu died saying that at the height of the treason trial which involved Kambona, Kamaliza, Titi and others, some officials from the CID went to his house and told him that his life was on danger, because Nyerere is very angry with all the Wanyasas, and he has signed an order for their arrest and imprisonment. So you better run away while you and your other colleagues have the time.

    Instead of running away, he decided to call Mwalimu and make an appointment – which he got. He told Mwalimu point blank that you don’t have to send people to arrest me, here I am – you can kill me if you want! Mwalimu was shocked and called those from the CID, wanting to know who did that. But the most interesting part was when Mwalimu said ‘Am tired of this, every good hardworking person is against me and is for Kambona. Who is for Nyerere?’

    Chiume concluded that he was lucky he decided to challenge Mwalimu and had a chance to see him; but how many fell victims to the malicious crew which was all out to destroy other people’s lives in the name of Mwalimu? My assumption is may be even this treason case was just a hoax to separate Mwalimu from his friends – the double dealers will tell both friends that the other is planning to kill you, and will make sure you never meet eye to eye like in a soap opera!

    Bibi Titi also told me the same story that some people arranged for her transport to go into hiding, because Mwalimu was jealous and purging all those who struggled with him for independence. So she pressured to leave immediately. Her humble conclusion later on was that Mwalimu was misled! My own father Austin Shaba, then a cabinet Minister, was also approached by an agent who told him that Mwalimu had declared war on all the Wanyasas and that he as Minister for Housing and Local government had taken bribes from the Germans during the housing operation in Mwananyamala, Magomeni, Kinondoni and elsewhere. So better run away before the law catches up with him. They told him Kambona and others are now safe outside the country.

    Later on he told me he did not see any reason why he should run away, because he was not guilty. Besides he had a big family – two wives and many children and dependants – how could he abandon them? So he decided to remain in the country and wait for any consequence. The most he had to do was to step down as a minister because he was not a citizen! And he mused, if he had run away, then the invisible enemies would have told Mwalimu, ‘You see, Shaba is a traitor like the others. If he was not guilty why did he run away?’

    Agents like those in the 60s and 70s are still at play at different levels, and they are more vicious now than ever before. We have to remain focused and correct the wrongs by doing the right things. The truth must be told in the right context, and who knows, we might unearth the culprits that made Ujamaa na Kujitegemea fail, and for what reasons.

    I believe Ujamaa na Kujitegemea as our political and economic philosophy is still valid. The problem was and still depends from which and whose perspective you are looking at it. You can’t say Christianity and Islam are bad just because of what Christian George Bush and Muslim bin Laden have done to humankind today. Most critical for me is Afrika/Tanzania before the likes of Mwalimu – how has that impacted on us today? We have to force ourselves to know the truth about our past in order to move beyond now, who is our real enemy, this colourless, raceles, faceless creature who is making us degrade ourselves rather than exposing it/him/her?


    * Marie M Shaba is a daughter of the Afrikan Revolution.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Pan-African Postcard

    Kenya's nationalist electoral system

    L. Muthoni Wanyeki


    With a mere 30 days remaining until Kenya's Harmonised Draft Constitution makes its way to Parliament, L. Muthoni Wanyeki stresses that throwing out the idea of proportional representation altogether would ignore the efforts of the report's Committee of Experts to address potential concerns with the system.

    The Harmonised Draft Constitution is finally out! And now we all have 30 days to read it and submit any last comments we might have on the same before the process moves from the Committee of Experts (CoE) to Parliament.

    I have not finished reading it, having so far focused, like most people will, I imagine, only on the areas of particular interest to me. But even with what I’ve read, the first bit of advice I’d offer (unsolicited) is that we all also read the accompanying Preliminary Report of the Committee of Experts. Because the draft contains some surprises, even for those who’ve followed the process quite closely. And some of those surprises are explained in the accompanying report.

    One such surprise has to do with the electoral system, particularly given the recommendations of the Independent Review Commission last year on the electoral system as a whole. For the draft does not give us, as anticipated, a move towards a more proportional system. It gives us the current system, but now obviously at three levels, with clear stipulations on women’s political representation (framed in a gender-neutral manner), as well as on the political representation of people with disabilities and the youth.

    What happened?

    The explanation is found in the accompanying report. The report notes that all three of its core reference documents – the CKRC (Constitution of Kenya Review Commission) draft, the Bomas draft and the so-called Wako draft – propose slightly different electoral systems. The CKRC draft proposed mixed member proportional representation. The Bomas draft proposed direct representation (constituency-based), but with the direct representation of women from each district and the representation of 14 persons from marginalised groups elected from electoral colleges of the same. And the so-called Wako draft reverted to the CKRC proposal, with the addition of ‘special constituencies’ for women’s direct representation as well as the allocation of some seats in proportion to the votes received by political parties.

    So far, so good. Where the CoE arguably went wrong is in analysing the three proposals from only the standpoint of how best to ensure women’s political representation – and the political representation of other marginalised groups – namely, in its mind, people with disabilities and the youth, as well as (albeit more implicitly) ethnic minorities.

    For the report notes that the resistance to proportional representation was twofold: that it would place responsibility for determining women’s political representation in the hands of political parties that are, as it puts it, ‘notorious for having reneged on their representation promises to women'; and that proportional representation, simplistically understood, ran the risk of ignoring the manner in which discrimination can compound on multiple grounds – that is to say, for example, that a political party required to nominate women could potentially nominate all women from the same ethnic community.

    Both assertions and concerns are fair. But the solution – throwing out the idea of proportional representation altogether – ignores the ways in which the CoE clearly addressed these concerns in other sections of the draft. The provisions on political parties, for instance, stipulate that they must ‘respect and promote … gender equality and equity’, and that they cannot ‘be founded on a … linguistic, racial, ethnic, gender or regional basis’, implying that intersectionality (addressing compounded or multiple discrimination) would be taken into account. It further stipulates that they will ‘not be eligible for financial support … if more than two thirds of its registered national office holders are of the same gender'. And so on.

    What the report – and therefore the draft – ignores is that mixed-member proportional representation was also proposed for reasons other than more equitable political representation. It was also proposed because citizens wanted both parliamentarians whose primary purpose was to respond to constituency-based needs as well as parliamentarians better suited to responding to national needs. And the latter – politicians with a more nationalist bent – have no small difficulty getting in under direct representation. Just take Professor Wangari Mathaai, for example. My own family, who happen to come from her constituency, expressed no small amount of irritation at her trying to explain to them, post-Nobel Prize, why she would now have to focus on issues of less parochial concern. They did what they saw as the necessary and resolutely booted her out in the next election. And yet, clearly our legislature also needs politicians of her ilk.

    Despite the three different levels of legislature proposed by the draft, this need is clearly not addressed. The members of the National Assembly come from the constituencies, meaning that those of Mathaai’s ilk would still have to fight it out at that level to get in. Excuse the anecdotal example – it is merely to make the point. And the separation of legislative responsibilities between the three levels is not, I think, sufficiently clear.

    What is to be done?

    We need to engage and submit on the choices made and why, and to remind ourselves – as I’m trying to do on this issue – that the ultimate choice made is not about form, but about substance, whether or not the motivation for change – or rather, motivations plural – are best served by that choice. I’m sure the draft will reveal many more surprises. Let us all make the best use we can of our 30 days (fewer now) to address them.


    * L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Books & arts

    How Africa found its voice at Ibadan

    The rise of modern African literature

    John Otim


    It was ‘from Ibadan that modern African literature rose’, John Otim writes in this week’s Pambazuka News. ‘There was a buzz, people sat up and took note. They examined the new thing, seeking out signs of deference to Empire, some acknowledgement, some appeal to European authority. Things Fall Apart showed none of that. It was Africa recreating Africa. The college and the city of Ibadan had found its voice’.

    We are looking in at a dinner party at the home of the head of the department of English at the newly created University College of Ibadan in Nigeria. At the dinner table was the entire faculty. The year is 1948.

    Ibadan was the lone university institution in the country, one of only a handful in all Africa. The men and women gathered, were as academics go a good bunch their subsequent careers showed. Their formal appearance despite the warm evening was a matter of pride and tradition. But their dress style was intended as well to fend off tropical night insects, especially the feared mosquito, the pest that after all had kept the entire region free of white settlement.

    For the host and his wife and the guests, the dinner was an opportunity to think aloud without inhibitions, to talk shop in a homely, friendly milieu. They compared notes of their experiences in what was for them a strange, albeit enormously exciting and rewarding, environment. Africa was fun. But Africa was in 1948 for many white people a place out there on the fringes, teaming with the unknown. Joyce Carry’s novel Mr Johnson, set in Nigeria and published in 1948, presented the popular view of Africa championed by Joseph Conrad in the much acclaimed novella Heart of Darkness.

    Dinner was over, the drinks session well underway. Life in the colonies was lavish. The dinner hall was a large colonial room with high ceilings and large low windows typical of the period. White clad black servants hurried about dispensing drinks and delicacies. The entire hall buzzed with small talk – naturally about Africa, about their own role as teachers, as pioneers in the heart of darkness. To be white in Africa was to be Lord. The novel Lord Jim was not set in Africa but Conrad may as well have set this story in Africa. The idea of the civilising mission, of the white man’s burden – though not now proclaimed – was never far from the mind. It was easy for these men and women, themselves mostly young people like Lord Jim before them, to feel that they were missionaries in the heart of darkness. The habit of forms of thoughts dies hard.

    The conversation and the partying ate deep into the night. Beyond the gates, a parallel world buzzed, full of its own life, with its own habits, traditions and institutions. Barring Harlem, Ibadan was the largest black conglomerate there was. Chaotic, slummy even. But Ibadan was exploding, as few other places on the continent were, with what it meant to be African in the middle of the twentieth century. There were musicians, dancers, theatre groups, artists, and politicians, all struggling for social space. The cocoa economy ensured that there was in the city a degree of affluence.

    From where they caroused, the guests could hear distinctly the beat of Yoruba talking drums, borne in the night air, irrepressible in its melodic force, recalling the days when the names of Oyo and Ife Ill Ife were synonymous with pomp and glory, the days when Timbuktu was a sought after centre of learning. The guests could feel the rhythm of the music of high-life throbbing like a torrent. High-life was the African jazz form that Nkrumah and his guests danced to while they celebrated independence a decade later. Ibadan was not Nairobi. Nairobi was known for its troupes of big game hunters that converged at the Norfolk Hotel, while lines of African carriers in rag tags waited outside in the severe highland chill. Ibadan was Ibadan but Ibadan was not alone. Much of the country was in those days teaming and alive.

    The tie clad gentlemen and the long gowned ladies of the dinner party were entirely surrounded by the aroma and the sounds of Africa. African night birds serenaded, numerous night insects competed for attention. It was a night as could be had only in Africa. But at the dinner table guests and hosts were impervious, preoccupied, consumed with their own role in Africa. Africa as Africa was closed to them, barring one or two exceptions. Their Africa was the Africa of the textbook of the day.

    Now the lady of the house made an announcement. All the ladies were to proceed to the ladies’ room to powder their noses. Merrily the women trooped away. Left on their own the men were invited to enter – as the host put it with a chuckle – darkest Africa. The men trooped to the garden outside. Facing the star-studded night, they lined up and began to pee into the darkness. With grins on their faces, the men dribbled through the heart of darkness, or thought they did.

    Modern African literature got going at the University College of Ibadan in the years following the dinner party. Poetry and short stories were printed on the pages of crudely produced student magazines, supported and encouraged by the faculty. The academics were dedicated to their calling, but they had no great expectations of their students. ‘These are Africans, operating at most at the level of fifth formers’. These were the sentiments. Robert Wren captures the mood in his informative work, Ibadan, the early magic years.

    But it was from here, from Ibadan that modern African literature rose. Suddenly like a space bound rocket it shot up. There was a buzz, people sat up and took note. They examined the new thing, seeking out signs of deference to Empire, some acknowledgement, some appeal to European authority. Things Fall Apart showed none of that. It was Africa recreating Africa. The college and the city of Ibadan had found its voice. Easily effortlessly Chinua Achebe had launched the African novel and with it the movement that became modern African literature. For a young man of 27, it was a remarkable feat. Achebe had found a way into the heart of that throbbing life that was the country called Nigeria and drawn energy out of it.

    Chinua Achebe was not alone. In Ibadan, Achebe was part of a group of young people centred on the new University College. People who had graduated from, or passed through, or were still students at the University College. Among them, were the poet and dramatist J.P. Clerk, the poet Christopher Okigbo, the dramatist Wole Soyinka who later won the Nobel prize, the novelist Elchi Ahmadi and the critic Leslie Ogundipe.

    Robert Wren pursues the question. How come modern African literature first got going in Ibadan and in no other places in Africa or the Caribbean? University colleges existed in other places, including Makerere in Uganda, Lagon in Accra – then capital of the Gold Coast, and Furah Bay in Sire Leon. Why Ibadan alone?

    For an answer, Robert Wren interviewed the people who made the history, or played a part, or were generally around when it happened. When Wren was making his investigation, many of the expatriate teachers who taught at Ibadan were still living and still active in academia. First Wren talked to them. Next Wren talked to the students they taught, the writers (including Achebe, J.P Clerk and Elchi Ahmadi) along with their school fellows.

    Lastly Wren talked to the people who handled or published those early works, especially the London publishers of Achebe’s great novel. Wren allows history to talk for itself. Reading Wren’s work, we hear the voices of the people he interacted with. But Wren’s method in the end could not go all the way. We long for the final authorial voice. But by then Robert Wren had tragically died in a plane crash.

    What we learn from Wren we may summarise as follows. The new University College at Ibadan permitted for the first time in Nigerian history a sizeable group of young people who had reached a certain level of literacy, had attained a certain degree of knowledge and who came from all parts of the country, to gather together and freely interact with one another. This, plus the guidance of the expatriate academics, provided the stimulus. Thus was the new literature born?

    Wren explains. Ibadan was able to accomplish this because the young men and women assembled were self-made people, ‘just emerged out of the bush’, relatively free of the colonial thing. This was not the case at the University College of Lagon in Accra, where the process of Anglicisation had gone deeper, Wren explains. In Wren’s analysis this was also the situation at Furah Bay, and presumably, although Wren does not say so, at Makerere University College in Uganda.

    No, Mr. Johnson did not make me a writer,’ Chinua Achebe had asserted when asked if he wrote because of Joyce Carry’s novel on Nigeria. ‘I was born that way,’ Achebe said. We know of course that if ever a writer was a natural, Chinua Achebe is. Nevertheless the significance of the arrival of the novel Mr. Johnson at the University College of Ibadan, at the point of its London publication, amidst the critical uproar the work generated in Europe and America, cannot be dismissed. Time Magazine had it on the cover, calling it the best novel about Africa for the last fifty years. To heat up things even more, the faculty at the English the department at Ibadan joined in the celebration.

    Years later Achebe would testify how reading Mr Johnson made them realise how hopeless the situation was. It brought home to them the fact of the absolute dictatorial powers a writer had. If he were bent on it, a writer could marshal together any figment of fantasy and pass them off as authentic. Heart of Darkness was a fine example of the display of such powers. Of course Achebe and his colleagues realised that such powers were potent because a tradition existed that had vilified Africa. Here now was Joyce Carry taking a potshot, and now specifically at Nigeria. The lecturers at the University College were saying, what a wonderful work.‘Hey, wait a minute. This is not us; it is not us at all.’ It was a rare unanimity among the disparate body of students, always at loggerheads with one another. From that point on, it was just a matter of time before one of them or any number of them told their own story. When Things Fall Apart appeared in 1958, people recognised it at once. And so was modern African literature born.

    In the late 1960s while they both taught at Makerere University in Uganda, Paul Theroux and his mentor V.S Naipaul enjoyed mocking others, especially Africans. ‘What do you think of African literature?’ Theroux knowingly provoked the Master. ‘Is there any?’ The great writer rose to the occasion: ‘Achebe, Soyinka, Okigbo,’ said Theroux. His patience tried and now feeling thoroughly disgusted, the master said, ‘You cannot write a national literature by beating on a drum.’ The national Heartbeat Dance Troupe was that week thrilling audiences at the national theatre in downtown Kampala.

    Modern African literature rose out of the drum beats of the city of Ibadan. The talking drums were the incarnation of that pulsating life that was within earshot of the faculty of the department of English of the new university college, even as faculty ritualistically entered the heart of darkness, or thought they did. The new literature as it emerged asserted against all negations the validity of the African world.


    * John Otim is a Ugandan teaching at Nigeria's Ahmadu Bello University.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Hip Hop, youth culture and globalisation

    Review of Mwenda Ntarangwi's 'East African Hip Hop – Youth Culture and Globalization'

    Caroline Mose


    Caroline Mose reviews Mwenda Ntarangwi's 'East African Hip Hop – Youth Culture and Globalization', a book she regards as a 'welcome addition to the scanty but growing academic work on popular music and popular culture in East Africa'.

    Mwenda Ntarangwi, associate professor of anthropology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, compiles this welcome ethnography of East African popular music. Backed by research conducted in the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania over the past nine years, Ntarangwi makes his arguments regarding globalisation and cross-border cultural and musical flows using 143 song lyrics from a variety of artists in the region. This book is a welcome addition to the scanty but growing academic work on popular music and popular culture in East Africa. In six comprehensive chapters, Ntarangwi articulates the issues that popular culture – and Hiphop in particular – seeks to address, including agency, identity, gender, politico-economic issues, morality and the social roles of Hiphop. He mainly uses anthropological tools of analysis in this work, making reference to Clifford Geertz, Sherry Ortner and William Sewell.

    The core stone upon which Ntarangwi builds his arguments in this book is the process of globalisation, which, he argues, has opened up cross-border cultural exchanges and local African markets to mostly Western cultural products like movies and music (p. 5). This means that Western influences have impacted on local musical cultures, which have themselves evolved and emerged, having incorporated traditional and modern forms. One of these emergent forms is Hiphop music, which, he argues, has become a site for negotiating identity and agency for youth, a demographic historically marginalised from power and participation.

    His chapter on identity is a thorough analysis of the ways in which popular artists negotiate a personal and African identity in relation to a global meta-narrative. Ntarangwi begins by giving an excellent historical and political context of East Africa from the 1980s and 1990s, going further to give a refreshing Afro-historical background of Hiphop music that goes beyond the now-common associations with the Griot traditions of West Africa. He highlights specific eastern African musical traditions that have influenced modern popular and Hiphop music in the region. He also discusses the tensions and anxieties that popular and Hiphop artists face as they negotiate an identity that is both local and global all at once.

    The chapter on gender and Hiphop is a welcome contribution to debates around the patriarchal hegemony in Hiphop culture, where a predominantly male voice has and continues to define femininity, womanhood and gender. Here again, the tensions between traditional and modern perceptions of femininity are negotiated and discussed, albeit with a male voice that, according to Ntarangwi, is beginning to be challenged by the rising number of female popular and hip-hop artists in East Africa. However, he is also quick to point out that female artists are overwhelmed by male narratives of gender and unwittingly continue to perpetuate stereotypical discourses steeped in phallocratic ideas of ‘woman’.

    Perhaps among the most interesting chapters in this book is that on economic change and political deception, which pits Hiphop and popular artists with the nation-state and politicians. The relationship between artist and politician has, historically, been an interesting one. In this case, Hiphop and popular artists both heavily critique corrupt leaders and systems, while at the same time benefiting from them in a relationship that is uneasy and ambivalent at best. Ntarangwi highlights this relationship, pointing out the ways in which young people are manipulated and marginalised in a politico-economic system that does not empower them. In turn, popular musicians, he notes, gain agency and symbolic capital in the process, using this capital to critique systems and leaders that are corrupt and avaricious. Also of key interest is his discussion of HIV and the silences around sexuality and stigma, a discussion which is solidly and sensitively done, supported by lyrics by undisputed Hiphop artists like Tanzania’s Professa Jay and Wagosi wa Kaya. These chapters are wrapped up by a compelling treatise on hip-hop’s enduring social role, reiterating that artists are the mirrors of society and continue to critique and address issues of that society.

    With such comprehensive research done, it is surprising that Ntarangwi overlooks certain issues, making the work slightly problematic.

    First, and most fundamentally, is the use of the term ‘hip hop’. In talking about ‘Hiphop’ (which the artist KRS One insists is a proper noun in his scholarly writing), a background context to the origin of the word and the elements of a term that has evolved into a cultural phenomenon worldwide are a must. Among these elements is that of rap, the most visible and vocal elements among DJ-ing, street dance, graffiti and MC-ing – and increasingly, street entrepreneurship and theatre. The element of rap, together with its sister practices of the freestyle and ‘spitting of rhymes’ (the ability to compose relevant, poetic lyrics that match a beat on demand), remains the most important definers of a Hiphop artist, both globally and locally.

    In this book Ntarangwi curiously stays away from any discussion on these fundamental signifiers of Hiphop culture, music and artists. Instead, he defines Hiphop music in his book as ‘the popular music in East Africa that emerged, in different phases and forms, at the end of the 1980s and broke ranks with erstwhile traditional or local styles associated with regions or ethnic groups such as benga, muziki wa dansi or cavacha’. This is a very problematic definition, as it in one fell swoop includes all emergent musical forms in the region post-1980s, and it ignores the universality of Hiphop cultural elements that give Hiphop its global appeal. Ntarangwi perhaps does this to give himself room to analyse music and artists that are not Hiphop at all, something he acknowledges by invoking the authenticity debate that, he says, classifies some music as not being ‘real’ Hiphop (p. ix). In many ways, this kitchen-sink approach to the artists and music that Ntarangwi generally calls ‘hip hop’ robs the book of its potential validity. Artists like Kenya’s Mercy Myra, Tattuu, Zanaziki, Wahu and Nameless, or Tanzania’s Lady Jay Dee or TID cannot be considered Hiphop artists, and neither can their music.

    While the author says that his inclusion of these artists is to support his focus on ‘social issues and reconstitution of youth agency through their music’ (p. ix), his ensuing conclusions based on data collected from these artists becomes problematic. For instance, while his argument that gender is a performed entity challenging a hitherto male hegemony in Hiphop that defines femininity on behalf of women is valid and long overdue, his use of non-Hiphop female artists tends to rob that very argument of its potency. The extensive use of the non-Hiphop artist Wahu’s lyrics becomes invalid, meaning that that male hegemony in Hiphop still exists and continues to define femininity and gender.

    One therefore questions whether this is an ethnography of Hiphop music and Hiphop culture, or simply (and perhaps broadly) of East African popular music.

    Ntarangwi also speaks of the contextualising of lyrics, but then proceeds to write most of the song lyrics in his book in English, when the majority of them are written and performed in Swahili, urban slang and other local languages. This in itself robs the songs of their contextuality and also becomes suspect when some translations appear to be erroneous. For instance, Kalamashaka’s ‘Tafsiri Hii’ (p. 25) has been wrongly translated to mean that ‘life here in the city is tough’, while the original ‘maisha kule "D" ni mazii’ translates to ‘life here in Dandora is terrible’. This speaks directly of life in Dandora, a low-income housing area east of Nairobi that lacks many social amenities and serves as the main dumping site for the city’s waste. In that regard, Tafsiri Hii is a critique of a government that has neglected Dandora, but Ntarangwi’s translation tends to minimise that by broadly speaking of the ‘city’ instead of ‘Dandora’ as the song directly does.

    Ntarangwi also falls casualty to over-used arguments that are losing relevance with current Hiphop scholarship and emerging evidence. For instance, he uncritically states that FM radio stations tend to play songs that have less socially conscious messages (p. 25; p. 34; p. 119). However, this statement does not take into account the rise of radio stations like Ghetto Radio and 89.5 FM, whose general manager is the Hiphop artist Mwafrika. Ghetto Radio broadly plays local Hiphop, has a wide audience and its presenters speak Sheng, a Kenyan urban slang language, the majority of the time. Other stations like Koch FM and Ghetto FM that broadcast in the slums and ghettos of Nairobi also broadcast local Hiphop songs of all kinds, and have in their employ local Hiphop artists, providing them opportunities to include many local songs considered ‘political’ on their playlists. Ntarangwi also unproblematically uses the classical 'underground/politically conscious v. mainstream/party-themed' dichotomy that classifies the former group of artists as being ‘more serious’ and by implication, more authentic, and the latter as banal and ‘gangsta’. This is also an over-used argument that is slowly losing credence as evidence emerges to suggest that this dichotomy is irrelevant in African Hiphop and is in fact erroneous.

    Finally, Ntarangwi insists on cross-border exchanges and blurred boundaries, and while one appreciates his use of ‘East Africa’, one also notes that he ends up being boxed by the old boundaries that define ‘East Africa’ as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. One may have loved to see a further analysis of lyrics by Hiphop artists like Somalia’s K-Naan and South Sudan’s Immanuel Jal for instance. These artists have a huge following in East Africa and are a demonstration of the fluidity of boundaries and the embodiment of the ‘field’ as Ntarangwi defines it, that is, not as physical spaces per se, but as ‘fluid and flexible locations and productions of place’ (p. viii).

    Overall, this is a solid piece of writing on popular music in East Africa. Its discussion of topics like sexuality, gender and identity, and the background political contexts in each of the three countries – especially in the chapters in ‘hip hop and African identity’ and ‘economic change and political deception’ – are very well done and offer insight that is rare in other, similar pieces of writing. As a groundbreaking book on popular culture, it gives very useful insights into the disciplinary approaches necessary in studying popular and Hiphop culture. As one may be aware, Hiphop scholarship is caught in a multi-disciplinary web that threatens to make it homeless and invalid in academia. Ntarangwi’s anthropological treatment offers a fantastic starting point for many scholars and readers of popular culture and Hiphop culture. With, perhaps, a second edition addressing some of these concerns, this book is certain to be the text to refer to when it comes to East African popular culture, and by extension, Hiphop culture.


    * Mwenda Ntarangwi, 'East African Hip Hop – Youth Culture and Globalization', University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2009, xi, 158 pp, paper, ISBN 978-0-252-07653-4.
    * Caroline Mose is a PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Somaliland and the struggle for nationhood

    Review of Iqbal D. Jhazbhay's 'Somaliland: an African Struggle for Nationhood and International Recognition'

    Hussein M. Adam


    Hussein M. Adam reviews Iqbal D. Jhazbhay's 'Somaliland: an African Struggle for Nationhood and International Recognition', a book he finds to be 'highly original, relevant, valid and timely'.

    This book review takes the form of an extended commentary highlighting some of the book's important issues by way of discussing the author's theory, narrative and analysis.

    According to Iqbal D. Jhazbhay, 'the central hypothesis underlying this study is the importance of Somaliland's example as a case study in the efficacy of the internally-driven, “bottom-up” approach to post-conflict nation-building and regional stability and the implications this approach holds for prioritizing domestic reconciliation between indigenous culture and traditions, and modernity in achieving relative stability and international recognition in the nation-building project' (p. 19). Given my familiarity with Somali studies literature, as well as my participant observation of Somali affairs, I find this study to be highly original, relevant, valid and timely. The originality is partly because both the Somaliland domestic and international experiences are unique. As the author states, this is a mid-level theory intended to qualitatively illuminate a case study that could be used in future as a building block towards a grand theory.

    The author provides as an analytical tool what he terms a 'quadrilateral framework': reconciliation–reconstruction–religion–recognition. This allows him to compile a huge pile of data, dates and events and to present them in a structured and organised manner. All this leads to an original sub-theory of the dialectic between international relations and internal factors.

    There are several articles on narrow aspects of the Somaliland experience and a few general reports by the War-torn Society's Project and the International Crisis Group, whose works are cited here. From my perspective, this is the first scholarly and substantial manuscript on Somaliland covering both domestic and international topics. Its survey of existing literature – books, articles, reports, newspapers, websites – is simply breathtaking. The author's nine fieldtrips over a period of several years have allowed him to check and recheck most of the data collected from various sources. He has conducted interviews with an impressive list of personalities, including heads of state, ministers, diplomats, Somali studies experts and other academics such as heads of research institutes. I happen to know many of them and they are relevant and knowledgeable.

    Professor Jhazbhay is correct in pointing out that the elders are the engine that drives all reconciliation efforts in Somaliland; their absence in Somalia is partly responsible for the chaos in the south. This marriage of 'tradition' and 'modernity' is what allowed the north to survive two civil wars and now enjoy 18 years of peace. At the centre of the elders movement is the Council of Elders (the Guurti). Somali culture is rich in traditional institutions, evidenced in its systems of land management, agricultural and grazing systems, conflict mediation, legal adjudication and many related functions.

    What facilitated the modern role of traditional elders? This study mentions the role of British colonialism. The British wanted colonialism 'on the cheap', therefore they practiced 'indirect rule', allowing traditional elders to manage grassroots politics. Jhazbhay sees this as a secondary rationale. After all, the British colonised India and Nigeria (where the term 'indirect rule' itself was coined), yet India emerged with a liberal democracy while Nigeria experienced decades of military rule. The thesis points to the existential compromise between the liberating Somali National Movement (SNM) and the elders as the primary rationale. The SNM is also unique in being the only liberation movement that has voluntarily dissolved itself and allowed the elders to give power to a veteran politician, Mohamed Egal. The five-month-long gathering in Borama in 1993 was a Guurti project that laid the basis for a constitution. This study notes: 'In the case of Somaliland, clan leadership ascendancy was facilitated by the modernizing nationalism of the SNM which, ideologically, sought to bridge the cultural gap between tradition and modernity and which, from the standpoint of self-reliant pragmatic survival, depended on the clan elders as pillars of support in mobilizing the social base of insurgency and post-conflict governance' (p. 55). Somaliland has gone on to adopt a constitution by referendum and to hold local government elections followed by presidential and parliamentary elections.

    With regard to reconstruction in Somaliland, the author suggests that the engine for it is a free (almost) unregulated market economy. The expansion of the free market has been facilitated by the provision of security, which is also a product of reconciliation. Women with piles of various currencies transact business in open markets. There is a need for limited and appropriate regulation and light but suitable taxation. The author is right to observe that in both Somaliland and Somalia there is a climate of opinion in favour of decentralisation and power-sharing institutions. The focus on the diaspora is critical. 'Roughly half of Somaliland's 3.5 million nationals have been estimated to live outside its borders' (p. 96). This diaspora provides remittances that sustain the country. For example, the export of livestock to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states is critical to the Somaliland economy. However, it is also its Achilles heel; from time to time Saudi Arabia bans such exports. On one such occasion, the ban lasted 14 months and the number of animals exported from Somaliland fell sharply from 2.9 million in 1997 to just over 1 million in 1998.

    The chapter on religion (Islam) is crucial given recent events. Analysing the chapter, I come up with the following options before the Islamists: (a) The civil society strategy – for example: 'The Waxda movement has adapted a long-term strategy of developing a Muslim society by influencing by example via schools, charitable work, trade, etc., much in the same way of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt' (p. 116); (b) The Jihadist option – those who want to impose, top-down, an Islamic state by all means, including violence and militarism. In Somalia this movement, led by Hassan Dahir Aweys, captured Mogadishu and several parts of the south in June 2006 but were evicted by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ethiopian troops in December 2006. This study covered these events in the form of 2006 reflections. I do not see a future for jihadists in Somaliland as explained and analysed in the thesis; (c) The Islamic courts movement – a large faction saw this as a civil society option and was willing to compromise with the TFG. However, a minority of jihadists hijacked the whole Sharia courts movement which led to the confrontation with Ethiopia; (d) The constitutional, democratic option like Turkey – this alternative is compatible with Somaliland's democratic political culture. Women are playing an increasingly prominent role in Somaliland civil society (and in Somalia too). These initiatives have won general respect. During the post-Siyad era, women have assumed key roles in the economy, including taking jobs in retailing, money-changing and the local distribution of imported goods. They have played critical roles in peacemaking. They continue to prosper in teaching and medical professions. This study shows, however, that women are highly under-represented in political life, including among the three main political parties. As far as women's roles are concerned, there is the need to tilt the tradition–modernity dialectic a little more towards modernity. Their contribution in education has made this sector the most self-reliant.

    The chapter on recognition provides a great deal of new information, with brilliant analysis. I come out with the conclusion that, while aiming for full recognition, Somaliland may have to opt for an interim special status. Nations sympathetic to Somaliland include Ethiopia, South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya (with some question marks) and the United Kingdom. Rwanda, in a recent African Union session, tabled a resolution to discuss Somaliland. Arab States – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Sudan – are generally against the recognition of Somaliland. This is mostly due to Egypt's anti-Ethiopian politics over the Nile. Ethiopia is in a delicate position; it has used its military power to impose the TFG in Mogadishu. Will it allow the TFG to impose itself over Hargeisa? If it does so, it will reopen the Pandora's box of Somali irredentism which will eventually consume Ethiopia's Somali Region 5 (the Ogaden). If it recognises Somaliland too soon, it will alienate the TFG 'puppet' regime. In any case, the fate of Somaliland and Somalia is in Ethiopian hands. This is contained in the analysis provided. What is preventing a dialogue between the north and south is a clash of political cultures. Deriving inspiration from its traditional reconciliation practices, Somaliland has evolved a secular democratic political culture. Somalia, for almost 15 years, was suffocated by a brutal warlord culture. For a brief period it experienced a radical Islamist, jihadi political culture, and is now confronted by authoritarianism and neo-Siyadism.

    This book facilitates the development of a new sub-field of international relations dealing with the 'internationalization of domestic transformation' (p. 17). Somaliland's stability and democratisation needs recognition, and recognition will strengthen and sustain Somaliland's stability and democratisation.

    I summarise with one of the most insightful observations: the struggle for recognition helps to discipline Somaliland's internal politics and society. The author provides concrete examples of this domestic–international linkage and the disciplining of Somaliland politics and society. For example, Somalilanders turned out in record numbers to vote in the constitution referendum because they are acutely aware of the international struggle for recognition. The domestic disciplining involves the elders, the business sector and leaders of civil society. The acceptance of the extremely narrow results (80 votes difference) in the presidential elections is due to these domestic actors plus awareness of the struggle for recognition. The same thing explains the very cordial and civil relations between the opposition parties (with a majority in parliament) and the ruling party. Since the hypothesis is confirmed, we may go on to predict that the disciplining of Somaliland is bound to increase as a result of the drastic events in Mogadishu and the coming to power of the hostile Abdulahi Yusuf.

    The Somaliland experience is summed up by the observation 'Whether one embraces, rejects, or is ambivalent about Somaliland's bid for recognition, Somaliland's progress in democratization, stability, and economic recovery constitutes one of the few pieces of genuinely good news in the troubled Horn of Africa' (p. 153).

    As a contribution to a new sub-field in international relations and a penetrating original analysis of a unique socio-political experiment, I hereby commend this book with great enthusiasm.


    * Iqbal D. Jhazbhay, 'Somaliland: an African Struggle for Nationhood and International Recognition', Institute for Global Dialogue and South African Institute of International Affairs, Johannesburg, 2009, 243 pp, $25.00, ISBN 978-1-920216-20-7.
    * Hussein M. Adam is based at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts and the founding president of the Somali Studies International Association.
    * © 2009 Hussein M. Adam.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Literature and independence

    Kenyan poets on 'Literature and independence' at the Stockholm International Poetry Festival

    Shailja Patel


    Stockholm's International Poetry Festival in October had a special focus on Kenyan women poets. Ngwatilo Mawiyoo and Shailja Patel shared poems and reflections on 'Literature and independence in Kenya' at the festival's headline seminar. The audience represented a sizeable contingent of Africans based in Stockholm, including Okoth Osewe, whose Kenya Stockholm Blog is the go-to resource for all things Kenyan in Sweden. Osewe videotaped portions of the seminar, and has generously made them available to the public.

    Watch the seminar on YouTube:

    Part I: Introduction by Madeleine Grieve, director of the Stockholm International Poetry Festival, and Ngwatilo's richly melodic poem on exile, belonging, identity, goat meat....

    Part II: Shailja Patel performs 'Offering', which first appeared in Pambazuka News.

    Part III: Discussion on the Kenya crisis and post-election violence.


    * Award-winning poet Shailja Patel's personal website is
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    'TRANS: Transgender life stories from South Africa', eds Ruth Morgan, Charl Marais and Joy Rosemary Wellbeloved; Jacana Media


    A new book published by Jacana Media takes the reader on a journey into the many worlds inhabited by transgender South Africans. The life stories recounted in this collection are both inspiring and compelling and reveal the courage and strength of each of the story tellers involved. The narratives detail the constant challenges of living in a country, that, despite its progressive constitution, is still host to myriad prejudices and misunderstandings when it comes to trans people.


    Most people have the luxury of taking gender for granted; but for more and more people whose gender either challenges them or challenges others, gender is a wellspring of thought-provoking experience. The reflections on the experience of gender contained in this book will enrich readers’ understanding and deepen their awareness of the kind of very human quest that transgender people and those who love them have been undertaking for centuries.

    ‘These words and images tell of the pain they have suffered when others have shunned or disrespected them, and of the strength they have summoned so they can endure and thrive. Their silence is broken now, and transgender people the world over are letting their voices be heard. It is not a fearful thing; it is beautiful, spiritual; it is human. Listen! Their compassion is never far below the surface. Let it in! You will not regret it.’ (Jamison Green, author of Becoming a Visible Man)

    TRANS: Transgender life stories from South Africa takes the reader on a journey into the many worlds inhabited by transgender South Africans. The life stories recounted in this collection are both inspiring and compelling and reveal the courage and strength of each of the story tellers involved. The narratives detail the constant challenges of living in a country, that, despite its progressive constitution, is still host to myriad prejudices and misunderstandings when it comes to trans people.

    With more than twenty original voices from the trans community in South Africa, the book is a journal of shared experiences for trans people and a fascinating point of departure for interested members of the general public. The contributors who ‘transitioned, are transitioning or will transition’, have all been actively involved in the process of making the book and have a great deal to say about their personal experiences of being transgender today. Their illuminating and touching life stories are complemented by the extraordinary photographs by renowned photographer, Robert Hamblin.

    Many of the stories collected here touch on the isolation that transgender people often feel in their communities. Transgender issues are a taboo subject for discussion, which are either ignored by the media, or covered in an invasive, insensitive and sensationalist way. The stories stress the need to provide accurate information, counter negative stereotypes, reduce discrimination, provide transgender people with honest representations of their lives, and offer visible, positive role models.

    This book brings us all a small step closer to a future where no young transgender person in South Africa grows up in isolation and despair.

    Published by Fanele (an imprint of Jacana Media), Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) and Gender DynamiX, and funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies.

    The book will be launched in Johannesburg, South Africa on 28 November 2009 at Constitution Hill.


    Ruth Morgan is currently a freelance researcher and writer. She was the director of Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) from 2002-2008. She has a PhD in linguistic anthropology from The American University, Washington D.C. Her work has focused on collecting and analysing life stories of LGBTI and Deaf people for the past twenty years.

    Charl Marais is the secretary of the Gender Dynamix Board. Charl is a trans man and a journalist.

    Joy Wellbeloved, known as ‘The Cat Lady’, is employed by her four cats. Retired from the IT industry, she spends her time reading, listening to classical music, and dreaming of taking stunning wildlife photographs. Joy is a trans woman who transitioned in 1985.


    Based at the University of the Witwatersrand, GALA believes that the advancement, development and rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people depend on an accurate record and representation of their struggles. GALA aims to mobilise memory by documenting and popularising the lives and histories of LGBTI South Africans, to support the development of pride, challenge homophobia and trans-phobia, and to help entrench the rights of LGBTI people. GALA is at the forefront of stimulating new avenues of academic enquiry into sexuality and gender identity in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent. For more information contact Anthony Manion.


    Gender DynamiX is a human rights organisation promoting freedom of expression of gender identity, focusing on transgender, transsexual and gender non-conforming identities. Gender DynamiX is currently the only registered organisation in Africa which specifically advocates for transgender individuals, and aims to increase awareness and visibility of transgenderism in South Africa. For more information contact Liesl Theron.

    * TRANS: Transgender life stories from South Africa (EAN/ISBN-13: 978-1-920196-22-6) is published by Jacana Media.
    * For all media enquiries, review copies, or interview requests please contact:
    Oageng Tsatsi.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Letters & Opinions

    Concerned about AfricaBio: South Africa's genetically modified potato

    Trevor Wells


    Trevor Wells writes of his problems with AfricaBio's opposition to consumers knowing what they are eating and its attempts to manipulate farmers' views.

    I would like to raise a concern I have about SAPA's (South African Press Association) article 'GM [genetically modified] potato rejected', which was published on the Business News webpage on 12 Thursday November 2009. My concern is with the superficial coverage the article provides and what I would see as clear public relations manipulation of the SAPA journalist.

    The article is based overwhelmingly around the views and comments of GM industry lobbyist Jocelyn Webster, who is employed by AfricaBio.

    The article quotes AfricaBio's website which claims it is a 'non-profit biotechnology organisation, aimed at promoting safe, ethical and responsible research, development and application of biotechnology and its products', the implication being that AfricaBio is not related to profit-motivated organisations.

    However, according to AfricaBio's Section 21 Company constitution, business members have five votes, while research organisations and non-business members have, respectively, two votes and one vote. From this it is clear that AfricaBio is dominated by the industry. In fact, the seed giant Monsanto – South Africa has considerably more than five deciding votes as it has South African subsidiary companies as members too.

    It is also clear from their continued lobbying to prevent the labelling of GM food that AfricaBio is opposed to consumers knowing what they are eating.

    The article implied that Webster was reacting to 'anti-GMO activists' who claimed that the GM potato was rejected only on safety grounds. The media release from the 'activists' the African Centre for Biosafety clearly lists the 11 reasons listed in the minutes of the Executive Council for the rejection. The majority of these reasons were directly related to safety issues, both to health and the environment.

    The article further implied that the tuber moth was a major concern to farmers and quoted Webster as saying that GM potatoes would lead to significant cost savings for farmers and, to a large extent, eliminate insecticide spraying. The Department of Agriculture however concluded that commercial farmers do not anticipate this event to present a significant lowering of inputs as the same spraying regime is required to manage other pests which the GM potato does not target. It further concluded that rodents were more of a pest than the tuber moth.

    As far back as 2005 the Executive Director of the Chamber of Milling Jannie de Villiers complained: 'The export situation in South Africa is complicated by a "cocktail" of non-GM and GM maize. Some countries want GM maize, others do not.' 'But', added de Villiers, 'South Africa's system does not cater for differentiation, making it even more difficult to dispose of a surplus.' It is significant that the potato farmers themselves requested the department to reject the GM potato because the 'segregation of GM from non-GM potatoes would require an identity preservation system which is currently not in place'.

    The article states that Webster said the improved potato was developed and tested with public funding for the benefit of all farmers. This would lead the average South African reader to erroneously conclude that South African taxpayers paid for the development of this potato to benefit South African farmers. Webster fails to put this into its true context.

    For example, this particular GM potato project was a Trojan-horse strategy of the Southern Africa Regional Biosafety (SARB) programme. SARB is a sub-unit of a much larger USAID-funded project, the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP), managed originally by Michigan State University and more recently by Cornell (ABSP II). ABSP’s private sector partners have included Asgrow, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred and DNA Plant Technology (DNAP). USAID states that SARB’s objective is to provide the 'regulatory foundation to support field testing of genetically engineered products'.

    Prior to the South African project the ABSP financed the testing of the same Spunta GM potato in Egypt for 8 years. In 1998 independent tests carried out by the Egyptian University revealed that rats fed GM potatoes developed lesions in their small intestines. Although this potato was not the ABSP Spunta potato, it contained a similar Bt gene. The Egyptian government subsequently refused approval. ABSP then set their sites on the South African regulatory system and used their SARB employee Muffy Koch to guide their application through the regulatory system. Koch applied privately on behalf of the Agricultural Research Council, using her company name Golden Genetics. There was much criticism of this in the local newspapers at the time. Not only was it strange that she was employed by SARB but she had also served on the advisory committee of the South African GMO (genetically modified organism) regulatory authority. The strategy was to use the Agricultural Research Council as the applicant to overcome public resistance to large American-owned seed companies. In July 2008 industry press agent Hans Lombard even tried to pass this off as 'Africa's first GM crop' 'developed by South Africans' using an unwitting or corrupt IOL journalist. If this project was accepted it would open the flood gates for these big seed companies to bring more and more GM products into Africa.

    Hence the continued play on the words 'public-funded' by the plotters of this deception.

    Webster further attempts to achieve SARB's objective to apply pressure to the regulators through this false statement: 'By denying the application at this stage, the South African regulators have effectively decided on behalf of farmers and circumvented the farmers' access to an evaluation of the improved potato.' Once more another untruth even more blatant than the disproved estimates which Webster claims farmers suffer. To the credit of the ARC, Potato South Africa, representing both commercial and small-scale farmers, have been participating all along in this process and have been kept fully informed of all evaluations. It is the farmers who have opposed this GM potato.


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

    The kind of analysis Zimbabwe needs

    Proudly Zimbabwean


    Zimbabwe will be a better country in the not far distant future, if the country’s politicians have access to papers with the same level of indepth, balanced analysis as Mary Ndlovu’s recent article, writes Proudly Zimbabwean.

    I think Mary Ndlovu's analysis in the article Tsvangirai’s terrifying gamble has depth and she should keep up such balanced analysis. If we get three to five papers carrying out such level of analysis, our politicians will be guided properly and Zimbabwe will be a better country in the not far distant future.

    There are no easy solutions to the Zimbabwean complex problem. What we need is to be less emotional and accept some compromises no matter which side of the political divide one belongs to. I believe we have a generational problem in which 'same age boys' do not respect each other. I mean the generation that was old enough (and young enough) to hold a gun during the liberation struggle. This generation has too many camps, trained in the Russian way of doing things under the Soviet Union, trained in Chinese way of doing things, trained in the British way under many commonwealth scholarships, trained in the Rhodesian way under various programmes of counter insurgency etc.

    These camps do not seem to see eye to eye, and hence the lack of consensus on leadership change even in Zanu PF. The fact that Tsvangirai belongs to that generation complicates things. More so that some of his key leaders belong to one or more of the camps I have put forward. Do you think Dumi, Solo, Ema, Mogi, Simba, Pat, Jonzo, Giles, Paul etc (all from this generation belonging to different camps) will sit down and agree who should take over the running of our country from our aged leader? If these guys were able to do so, do you think Mugabe would refuse to call it a day? If you research the doctrines, rivalry etc of the regimes that trained these camps during the period of the liberation struggle you will understand what I mean.

    As Zimbabweans we need patience to manage this generation. Mugabe may be a problem (for failing to let go of leadership), but his generation was not a problem. I think these are some of the issues that need investigation, so as for us to be able to understand some of the major causes of our current situation, and perhaps offer us a way out of the problem.

    The young generation of leaders such as Tendai Biti, Authur Mutambara, Nelson Chamisa and the newly elected Zanu PF youth league should put the nation first and not be swallowed by the rivalry of the older generation that goes beyond our current problems back to an unfinished battle from the liberation struggle. They should not support their political parties blindly at the expense of the nation. They too may become a lost generation, a generation that is made to fight amongst themselves by their leaders and sponsors, and ending up confused on what is right for their country.

    Why are these young leaders failing to build consensus on the evil of violence during elections and the imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe by the western countries? If they are not careful, they will be like the lost generation I have mentioned, not knowing what is good for their country. They should sit down and look at all sections of ZIDERA and see if they are all good for Zimbabwe. Also they should sit down and look at the evidence of violence during elections and see if it is good for Zimbabwe.


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

    African Writers’ Corner

    Masimba Musodza: A pioneer in Rastafarian literature

    Masimba Musodza


    Zimbabwean wordsmith Masimba Musodza talks to Conversations with Writers about the ‘distinguished honour of being a pioneer in Rastafarian literature’ and persuading his parents that writing ‘is as respectable a profession as the ones they had in mind’ for him.

    Zimbabwean screenwriter and author, Julius Masimba Musodza was born in 1976 and attended Avondale Primary School in Harare, and St Mary Magdalene’s High School in Nyanga.

    Some of his early work appeared in school magazines as well as in the young people's newspaper, The New Generation.

    After high school, Musodza majored in screenwriting and directing at the Vision Valley Film Video & Television Institute. He also studied with Edgar Langeveldt’s Nexus Talent Agency, the African Script Development Fund, the Zimbabwe International Film Festival and the Raindance Institute.

    He sold his first screenplay in 2002 and is now working to put some of his own writing to screen as a producer/director.

    In this interview, Masimba Musodza talks about his writing.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: When did you start writing?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: I seem to have taught myself to read and write before I started school and that scared the hell out of my folks!

    I tried to get a novel published in the Pacesetters series, but that was when they stopped publishing.

    I started my professional writing career around 2000, when I sold my first screenplay. I did the occasional short story or essay in one magazine or the other, and had novel-length manuscripts piling up. But it wasn't until I came to England, and having to do the ‘rese-rese’ career that I realised I had to put my name out there now or be another miserable, overworked, overqualified Zimba in London for many years to come. So, I put together some of the stories I had written over the years about the experiences of Rastafarian people in Zimbabwe and published them as an anthology.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: How would you describe your writing?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: I would describe it as doing the one thing that I am actually good at.

    I am a Rastafarian so it is natural that I will come up with main characters who are Rastafarians or see the world with Rastafarian eyes. There is a tendency to keep us on the periphery, except as amusing eccentrics. I am saying a Rastafarian is a person as good as the next. But I don't want to be remembered as just a Rastafarian writer. I am very mainstream.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: Who is your target audience?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: Anyone who takes the time to read. I see myself at this stage as writing in the dark – so I cannot define my audience, just yet. I am trying to reach as much of the world as possible, which is why I am working towards getting some of my work translated into other languages.

    Of course, I do have the distinguished honour of being a pioneer in Rastafarian literature. But I reach out to a wider readership.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: Which writers influenced you most?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: I have been described in one review as ‘the Rastafarian Hemmingway’. But I cite many influences on my website... from our own [Tsitsi] Dangarembga, [M. A.] Hamutyinei... even Wilbur Smith, (though it is not very politically-correct to say that)... to the English and American writers, and the African masters, and most recently Chimamanda Adichie. The list is very long.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: What are your main concerns as a writer?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: Right now, I have a book being sold illegally on the internet by my former publisher.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: How are you dealing with this?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: What can I do? It is a small publishing house, but I am even smaller and they know that if I am to try and force them to honour their obligations, whatever it is they cough up will be swallowed by the legal costs I might have to pay. All I can do is appeal to people not to purchase any book from a company calling itself Meadow Books, Exposure Publishing or Diggory Press with my name on it, as I am getting nothing for them.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: I think it shows in the writing. It is fiction, but it is based on reality. Take my new detective novel, for instance. I am talking about the greed and materialism of Zimbabwean society, about the Rastafarian people's struggle for recognition as a bona fide religious and cultural community in a multi-cultural Zimbabwe, and about how Zimbabweans living abroad will have a brighter future if they return home.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: What are the biggest challenges that you face?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: Zimbabwe is in a straight-jacket. I am pushing boundaries on many fields, and that scares the hell out of a lot of people. Then, when you go out there, you find that the world also has deep-seated prejudices about what a Zimbabwean writer ought to be.

    Despite institutional censorship in Zimbabwe, I have at my disposal the internet. I don't have to go mainstream to be a success. Most Zimbabweans have never heard of me, but I have been well received in Italy and Australia, among other places.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: Do you write everyday?


    I spend the whole day outlining a chapter or a story. Then, after midnight when all is calm, I am at my computer and just sort of put down what I have already written in my head.

    Often, I will do a chapter of each of the novels I am working on at the moment. There are always other things to write as well. Then, at around dawn, I will crawl back into bed and wake up in the morning like a normal person. (Should go down well on the first morning of matrimony...)

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: How many books have you written so far?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: The Man who turned in to a Rastafarian, an anthology. First published in 2007 by Exposure Publishing. Republished by Lion Press. A pioneering work of Rastafari-oriented fiction.

    - Uriah's Vengeance, 2009, Lion Press. The first in a series about Chenai ‘Ce-Ce’ Chisango and her brother Farai of the Dread Eye Detective Agency. They are assigned by the wife of a wealthy businessman to protect him from a possible attempt on his life by an extortionist. Despite their efforts, the businessman is brutally murdered in one of his homes and they have to find his killer. Clues point to a quest for revenge for a terrible wrong dating back to Zimbabwe's war for independence. However, as the brother and sister duo uncover the past, shocking discoveries suggest a motive much closer to the ethos of contemporary society – sheer avarice.

    I wrote the screenplay about a decade ago. At that time, I had just finished film school and it looked like we were going to have a film and TV industry in Zimbabwe. Now, we don't even have an industry of any sort…

    - Mhuka Huru. Lion Press, Publishing date held back for a few months. A Shona language sci-fi/horror, weaving topical issues such as the environment and sustainable development, the spectre of global famine, the role of global food cartels and their GM crops and the mythology of the Zimbabwean people.

    In the novel, villagers living around the River Hacha begin to shun it as word spreads that a mermaid now occupies one of its deep pools. So, there is no one to witness the abnormal growth of the flora and fauna in the vicinity. No one to note that even the animals are scared to go near the river, scared of the dark hulks lurking beneath the surface of the pool…

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Uriah's Vengeance?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: Trying to keep in mind that most Zimbabweans haven't the foggiest about Rastafarian culture. I had to offer explanations without allowing a work of fiction to become a dictionary.

    I suppose if you are trying to push down barriers of ignorance and misconception, you have to climb down from yours as well.

    COVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS: What will your next book be about?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: Another Shona language horror, this time revolving around the subject of sexual abuse and how our justice system seems to have difficulty in dealing with abuse of this kind.

    What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

    MASIMBA MUSODZA: My folks finally admitting that writing is as respectable a profession as the ones they had in mind for me!


    * This article first appeared in Conversations with Writers.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Blogging Africa

    Inventiveness in the streets of Nairobi

    Dibussi Tande


    In this week's blogging roundup by Dibussi Tande, Nairobi's power outages call for innovative local solutions, Adidas launches a new Kente-theme line of footwear, but gets the history wrong, and the recent stoning of a young Somali woman calls into question the justness of Sharia law and its application.

    Afrigadget writes about a Kenyan street vendor who has come up with an ingenious solution to Nairobi’s frequent blackouts:
    “It’s no secret that Kenya’s rivers are running dry as a result of forest destruction and environmental degradation which has led to a season of blackouts in the capital city Nairobi.
    Typical of the ingenious people of Nairobi, one street vendor has cashed in on the crisis with this wonderful gadget which he markets as ‘Perfect for Nairobi black out’.
    As you can see I could actually read by the light of this lamp which is made from a used tin can, some pieces of wire to make the connections. And the battery compartment is ingeniously crafted from a circle cut from a retired flip flop.
    I love my juakali lamp and everyone that I know in Nairobi needs one of these lamps. Everything about it is so true to the juakali spirit – hand crafted using colourful recycled tins, and designed for a real purpose with a handle so you can move it around from room to room or hang it up. The vendor tried to sell it to me for Ksh 350 but we settled on Ksh 200 (about $2.50) though I’m sure he would have gone cheaper but the traffic was moving and I had to go.
    If you want one, visit the Nyayo stadium roundabout. They stand out amongst the Chinese junk that vendors are selling...”

    Ghana Hype is disappointed with the way in which Adidas handled the launching of its Nizza 2 Hi sneakers which features a Kente theme:
    “As an African Designer I was also extremely excited by the release of Jeremy Scott’s Africa Themed apparel. I was excited when I saw the African Inspired Nizza 2 Hi sneakers, however, I was saddened by the wrong description of the material used. The Adidas description stated that it was a unique 'Kenta' cloth. Unfortunately Adidas has got it all wrong; the cloth used on the shoe in question is actually the 'kente' cloth and not the 'kenta' cloth as has been published in all materials pertaining to the shoes.
    This lack of respect for the name and history of Ghana's national cloth shows how little research and consideration was taken in fashioning or mimicking this shoe as an authentic African product.
    Kente is the trendiest and most renowned cloth in Ghana and possibly in all of Africa. The strip-woven cloth made by the Akan people of Ghana and the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo, is the best known of all African textiles. Its fame has spread globally where it is now one of the most admired of all fabrics in many parts of the world…
    If conglomerates like Adidas wish to take inspiration from African art and textiles for their products the least they could do was provide an accurate historical description of the 'borrowed' design.”
    In a follow-up posting, Ghana Hype publishes a letter from Adidas apologizing for its error:
    “Dear Mr. Kwabena,
    Thank you for contacting Adidas regarding the Jeremy Scott, Originals by Originals shoe Nizza 2 Hi; and for correcting us on the incorrectly referenced Kente cloth. We regrettably made an error in the copywriting process when describing this shoe. I can assure you that this was not meant to be disrespectful in any way, but a simple human error when creating copy which would be used to describe the shoe…”

    Holli’s Ramblings uses the case of Teodoro Obiang, son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, to make the case that America’s Africa policy is characterized by a double standard:
    “His country is the third richest in oil in Africa, just below Angola and Nigeria. There is a tiny population of half a million people. In 2007, the government sold USD$4.3 Billion in oil. Yet 90% of the 500,000 inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day.
    … Mr. Obiang travels freely between his little country and the USA, to his Malibu Mansion, commonly carrying millions in cash each time he enters the states (normally punishable by a 5-year prison term), despite supposed laws in the states that deny entry to corrupt foreign officials. He keeps quite a few millions in bank accounts in America as well.
    These laws are enforced, when it comes to guys like Mugabe – Zimbabwe’s tyrannical despot.
    Why the double standard then?
    Oil. And America’s interest in it.”

    Akin comments on the case of the Somali woman recently stoned to death for committing adultery:
    “This aspect of Islam is one I find so unfamiliar and devoid of any iota humanity, it loses the real function of religion and lets a kind of evil barbarity lose on a hapless people.
    A 20-year old “adulteress” was stoned in Somalia whilst her boyfriend was given 100 lashes of the blessed rod for his sins.
    Sometimes I wonder who gives the judges the domineering influence over people to the extent that they can take life without mercy on the premise of the adherence to a religion or creed…
    Does Sharia law know mercy?
    This was a 20-year old girl who really could have been mercifully forgiven, put under the care of a matriarch who could help her mend her “immoral” ways and make her a better citizen in the society in which she lives…
    What I even find most primitive as to label it Neanderthal is that they can find people who would willingly pick up stones and stone a half-buried woman to death with all the blood, screaming and goriness of it all – is our humanity really that inured to any feeling that people cannot for once constrain themselves and jointly appeal for some sympathy?”

    27 Months profiles and interviews Djorwe Temoa, one of the rare software developers in Northern Cameroon:
    “The Extreme North of Cameroon is aptly named for a variety of reasons, apart from being the remote northern terminus of the country. It is, in many respects, a land of extremes with a vastly different character from the Grand South. Situated at the edge of Sahelian Africa, the climate is typically hot and arid with dry season temperatures reaching highs of 118°F (48°C). During this period, the rain ceases to fall in any appreciable amount for months on end, replaced by Harmattan dust whipped up from the depths of the Sahara Desert. When the rains return, bone dry mayos (rivers) and plains are subject to flash floods that may displace entire villages. Lacking any viable roads linking it to the south, travel to the region is achieved only by booking a flight on a small plane (fast and expensive) or an overnight train from Yaoundé followed by an 8 hour bus trip (slow and affordable).
    With all its challenges—the climate, geographic isolation, poverty, poor infrastructure—it’s about as unlikely a place as any to find a nascent mobile software scene…
    Until Djorwe Temoa arrived, that is…
    Just when I think I have the software landscape in Cameroon pretty well figured out, a guy like Djorwe comes along to turn all my assumptions upside-down. If iPhone development can be done in Cameroon’s Extreme North—about as harsh a computing environment as one is likely to find anywhere—it opens up a vast range of potential footholds for software engineering elsewhere on the continent.”

    * Dibussi Tande, a writer and activist from Cameroon, produces the blog Scribbles from the Den.

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

    Emerging powers in Africa Watch

    Paving the way for the next stage in China-Africa relations

    Chris Alden


    Chris Alden reviews the recent Forum for China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) ministerial held in Sharm El Sheik in early November this year, highlighting China's plans for greater economic ties with the continent and efforts to defend itself against what it considers unfair criticism.

    An enduring image of the recent Forum for China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) ministerial held in Sharm El Sheik in early November was the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, responding to the accusations of neo-colonialism by Western journalists. His visible frustration at these persistent efforts to cast Chinese activities in Africa in a negative light captured the growing consternation felt by Chinese from all walks of life at these challenges to their aims and actions on the continent. For as the Premier said, ‘China is not the largest importer of Africa’s oil…(w)hy should China be singled out for criticism?’

    Bolstering Wen Jiabao’s public declaration of Chinese good intentions is a raft of new initiatives that form the basis of the fourth ministerial between Chinese and African officials. Wrapped in the now familiar diplomatic language of ‘win-win’ and ‘mutual benefit’ – a lexicon which through constant use is tending more to obscure rather than to illuminate – the FOCAC provides scaffolding upon which the next stage of the relationship is to be realised. These include a US$10 billion package of concessional loans, commitments to raise African agricultural productivity, to reduce or eliminate tariff barriers for Africa’s poorest countries, build hospitals and schools, new or expanded training programmes to address human development, provisions for 100 clean energy projects and greater support for peace and security.

    What is striking about the contents of the FOCAC declaration is the degree to which these initiatives reflect a growing and deliberately constructed convergence between African development needs and Chinese economic interests. For instance, in agriculture – a sector long recognised to be an area where Africa’s potential comparative advantages have remained under-invested and under-utilised – the Chinese propose to introduce new techniques, seed varieties and training programmes which are derived from their own experience of raising productivity amongst their farmers. To facilitate this process, the Chinese government is rolling out an additional ten agricultural training centres across the continent in countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Senegal. Coupled to this are additional financial means – the aforementioned US$10 billion as well as existing sources like the China Africa Development Fund – aimed at providing financial support for commercial enterprises.. Raising Africa’s agricultural productivity will not only dramatically enhance the livelihoods of rural communities in Africa through improvements in income generation and employment, but it can address a growing problem of food security in China itself.

    Another example is the targeting of Africa’s small and medium enterprises for development and growth through a special US$1 billion special fund. Moreover, signalling that they understand that a focus on the supply side is not enough to make real development gains, Beijing has agreed to scrap tariffs on 95% of all products from Africa’s less developed countries. This decision to open up China’s market to African commerce has the potential to, when linked with the support for African business, set off a virtuous chain of development. This redirecting of African capabilities towards the accessing the Chinese market could lay the foundation for a more balanced, long term trading relationship than has been the case so far. At the same time, it bears mentioning that it could end up like the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gave preferential access to the American market in sectors like clothing that contributed to a surge not so much in African but rather Asian based investment. Africans will nevertheless have to be nimble investors to make the most out of what seems to be genuinely liberal terms on offer. Indeed, they may even find that they are competing with the growing Chinese communities within their midst who proven entrepreneurial acumen and understanding of the Chinese domestic market has fuelled China’s own economic transformation.

    Cutting through the lofty conference rhetoric, it seems that many features of past Chinese practices remain intact at the same time that there are indications of alterations and innovations of prevailing approaches. Infrastructure continues to be seen as a crucial dimension in Chinese involvement in African development. The emphasis seems to be retained on project-based assistance, most if not all of which will be presumably be provided by Chinese firms and funded out of these expanded financial sources. Building more classrooms and health clinics will continue to be supplemented by an expansion of technical training programmes aimed at improving skills amongst Africans. Recognition that Chinese firms have not always conducted themselves well brought with it a renewed call for them to better integrate corporate social responsibility into their local business practices in Africa. A desire to improve aid efficiency and link Chinese action to meeting the Millennium Development Goals sounds remarkably like traditional donor concerns and reflects African input. Even a new focus on conditionalities has crept into the conference discussions, with a deliberate intonation of China’s commitment to avoiding ‘political conditionalities’ leaving it apparent that there are economic or financial conditions which either could or do operate. This latter distinction is not a surprising position for China to take, especially to ensure the maintenance and security of its widening range of investments across the continent.

    What was left out of FOCAC is perhaps as significant as the content that made it to the final declaration. For instance, a few months ago there circulated the idea in Beijing that China would itself would draw upon its US$2.1 trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves and sponsor a ‘Marshall Plan for Africa’. This notion, if it was ever taken seriously in policy making circles, surely fell victim to the twin pressures of the impact of the global financial crisis on China’s export-led economy and the accompanying domestic stimulus package. While much of the media attention was focused on what happened within the halls of the FOCAC ministerial and the press conferences, the FOCAC Business Forum met on the fringes of the event. Missing, however, was the once mooted inclusion of a parallel Chinese-African Civil Society Forum process (now taking place in Nairobi under Fahamu auspices).

    Moreover, the growing diversity of Chinese actors in Africa – contrary to the presumptions of the notion of ‘China-Africa’ as two unitary entities – poses a dilemma in structuring and managing the relationship. Once shaped and led at the top by Beijing’s political elites at the top in conjunction with their African counterparts, the steady diffusion of economic power to semi-autonomous State Owned Enterprises, provincial authorities and a sometime rapacious profit-seeking private sector has introduced diversity of interests and practice that are as often at odds with Chinese foreign policy aims as they are contiguous to them. The actions of murky investment houses like the China International Fund which has sought to secure a huge stake in the mining sector from the illegal military regime in Guinea raises troubling questions about aspects of the long term impact of China’s role on the continent. Operating on the margins of respectability, these sort of organisations can damage the positive intentions on display at FOCAC IV in their unwavering pursuit of profit and wilful distain for African sensibilities (as was the case in Guinea, which was under censure by African regional organisations). In the Western context, the role of guardian of the underlying values which inform national foreign policies is partially played by a vibrant and active civil society operating both in the West and complemented by civil society partners in Africa. Unabashedly critical of the state and private capital – and undoubtedly the bane of authoritarian and, at times, democratic governments alike – these sometimes self-appointed ‘voices of the people’ nonetheless serve a tremendously important function in re-asserting the moral purpose of foreign policy actions. In Africa, China has seemingly exported many features of its own domestic setting (such as opaque business and financial practices) and this includes a weak civil society whose boundaries of action are circumscribed to varying degrees by the state. Whether the current situation, which places the burden of responsibility solely on the party leadership and bureaucracy to anticipate, manage and ameliorate the conduct of a plethora of Chinese actors in Africa, is sufficient remains to be seen.

    Change and adaptability remain the hallmarks of China-Africa relations and, to the credit of the Chinese government whose willingness to revisit and revise specific initiatives in light of experience on the ground, give the FOCAC process a dynamism lacking in many other trans-regional initiatives. Bargaining with China, as most African diplomats and businessmen will testify, is not easy as the Chinese are acutely aware of their interests, how to promote them and insist on recognisable gains for any concessions made. China’s willingness to maintain its focus on building a long term economic relationship with the continent, despite the adverse global economic climate, makes such negotiations all the more important for Africa. But coming to terms with the diversity of Chinese actors and their narrower, and often self-serving, interests is a challenge to ensuring that this carefully constructed relationship stays on course.

    *Dr Chris Alden teaches and researches on foreign policy and the international politics of Africa at the University of the Witwatersrand and, currently, at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

    * This article is based in part on an article published in ChinAfrica Magazine December 2009.

    Highlights French edition

    Pambazuka News 124: Vingt ans après le Mur de Berlin, le capitalisme en ruines


    Highlights Portuguese edition

    Pambazuka News 24: O jogo das relações raciais no Brasil e o embate com a branquitude


    Zimbabwe update

    Talks in break as Mbeki role ends


    Zimbabwe’s three governing parties have suspended until Saturday their negotiations on outstanding issues impeding the work of the unity government after three days of marathon meetings.

    Zuma appoints new team to monitor Zimbabwe


    President Jacob Zuma has appointed a new team to monitor Zimbabwe's embattled unity government accord, effectively ending former president Thabo Mbeki's mediation role. Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said that as part of the evaluation process, the facilitation team would be visiting Zimbabwe in the near future.

    Women & gender

    Global: Launch of Respect, Protect and Fulfill


    The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is proud to announce the launch of this two-volume legislative resource that offers concrete ways to reform laws to tackle sexual and domestic violence, and family and property issues and protect women’s human rights. The launch of Respect, Protect and Fulfill is timed to coincide with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign

    Global: Nobel Peace Prize 2010 for African Women


    Women are the backbone of Africa. They have never known life to be different, accustomed throughout the ages to a responsibility, that they must cope with the problems of daily life and their families’ struggle for survival. The international community must find a way to make a crucial difference. This includes awarding the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 to the African Woman so that her daily struggle might be better publicized, appreciated and held as an example to facilitate human growth in Africa and the world.

    Kenya: "Gender Against Men" documentary wins award


    The Refugee Law Project (RLP) documentary "Gender Against Men" has won the prize for BEST DOCUMENTARY at the Kenya International Film Festival which was held from 21 to 31 October 2009. The festival, which had the theme of "celebrating our cultural diversity through cinema", attracted over 300 entries this year.
    The Refugee Law Project (RLP) documentary "Gender Against Men" has won the prize for BEST DOCUMENTARY at the Kenya International Film Festival which was held from 21 to 31 October 2009. The festival, which had the theme of "celebrating our cultural diversity through cinema", attracted over 300 entries this year.

    The Jury's verdict, which can be found at announces as follows:

    Best documentary: Gender against men, Uganda, 2009, 43mins
    Director: Daniel Neumann,

    For the surprising and yet obvious theme and the ability of using witnesses with discretion and respect, in a well documented structure.

    This film was entirely produced by Refugee Law Project staff. As well as congratulating Dan himself as the director, and his collaborators on the project Otim Patrick and Ann Chang, we would also give special thanks to the individuals who were able to tell their stories, and to Angella Nabwowe and Christine Mbawa for the narration. We also wish to thank our funders who enabled this work, including Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fund for Global Human Rights, Christian Aid and other donors who wish to remain anonymous.

    For those who have not yet seen the documentary and would like to do so, please contact us at [email protected]

    Zimbabwe: Women and children on decline - UN


    Some 100 children under five years of age will die today in Zimbabwe, a bleak statistic that is part of new social development data released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Government, revealing that the situation there for women and children has deteriorated in the past five years.

    Human rights

    DRC: ICC trial of former leaders to begin


    The trial against two former Congolese rebel leaders for crimes allegedly committed by their militias in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2003 is set to begin in The Hague at the International Criminal Court.

    East Africa: Kenya on collision course with UN


    Kenya could once again find itself in a United Nations agency’s bad books for failing to submit a crucial report on torture. The UN Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment or punishment (UNCAT) last November gave the government a year to put in place measures to guard against state-sanctioned torture as well as opening avenues for justice to victims.

    Kenya: Human rights violations of the Samburu people


    Kenya has had a deplorable record of honoring the rights of its Indigenous citizens, both during colonization and after. For most of 2009 the government’s treatment of its Indigenous populations has been especially egregious, with massive and well-organized attacks on Samburu villages by combined police and military forces and the use of government-funded mercenaries from Somalia.

    Kenya: Threats to victims, human rights defenders

    International Center for Policy and Conflict


    International Center for Policy and Conflict express concern on the deepen crisis in Kenya of human rights defenders and victims of post-election violence threats and intimidation. This is unacceptable and in contradiction of all human rights instruments ratified by Kenya.
    Threats to Victims, Human Rights Defenders meant to undermine justice for Post-Election Violence.

    International Center for Policy and Conflict express concern on the deepen crisis in Kenya of human rights defenders and victims of post-election violence threats and intimidation. This is unacceptable and in contradiction of all human rights instruments ratified by Kenya. Threats are contributing to the stigmatization of human rights defenders in the country and raise grave concern about the protection and promotion of human rights in the Kenya as well as brining to justice those responsible for fragrant human rights violations.
    It is not a coincidence that the threats are escalating when all indicators show that Members of Parliament and their accomplices have crafted an elaborate plan in Parliament to sabotage, undermine and defeat the enactment of the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2009 to establish the Special Tribunal for Kenya.

    Further, the International Criminal Court has just formally issued public communication urging the victims to submit their evidence to the Court to enable successful proceedings in the Pre-Trial Chambers of the Court.

    Government of Kenya stands complicit unless it unequivocally states its position on the Bill, commitment to fully cooperate with ICC including providing the requisite information requested by the Court and demonstrates tangible actions to protect human rights defenders and victims of post-election violence.

    We urge the Kenyan Government to take all necessary steps to secure the right to freedom of opinion and expression of all persons, including human rights defenders, in accordance with fundamental principles as set forth in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and reiterated in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, ICPC demands that the government should make an unequivocal public statement to the effect that there will be no attacks or intimidation, physical or otherwise, of human rights defenders and victims in Kenya.

    ICPC believe that criminal accountability is the only way to put an end to impunity and political violence. It would act as an effective deterrence to politicians establishing and using militias for their own political gain and to the vicious manipulation of ethnic divides, all creating long-term grievances for short term political gains.

    Human Right defenders should be free to condemn human rights violations, to express themselves freely, to carry out their investigative and legal work, to defend victims of violence, to protect the civilian population, to demand respect for International human rights law, and to promote sustainable peace through accountability and justice.

    Signed by
    Ndung’u Wainaina
    Executive Director
    International Center for Policy and Conflict
    L. Muthoni Wanyeki
    Executive Director
    Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)

    Morocco: Saharawi activist refuses Madrid refugee offer


    Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar has declined an offer by Madrid to grant her refugee status following her expulsion from the territory by Morocco, a representative said Saturday. Jose Morales Brum, a trade union leader in Spain's Canary Islands, said that Haidar, a winner of several human rights awards, was continuing the hunger strike she began at midnight on Sunday.

    South Africa: Government deports Israeli airline official spying on citizens


    South Africa has deported an Israeli airline official following allegations that Israel's secret police, the Shin Bet, had infiltrated Johannesburg international airport in an effort to gather information on South African citizens, particularly black and Muslim travelers.

    Refugees & forced migration

    Nigeria: No end to internal displacement


    Internal displacement caused by both communal violence and internal armed conflict is a recurrent phenomenon in most states in Nigeria. The parties to the fighting have sought political, economic and social advantages in a country with endemic poverty, low levels of education and a huge and alienated youth population.

    Zimbabwe: Mapfumo to mount camapign on refugees


    Thomas ‘Mukanya’ Mapfumo, the legendary king of Chimurenga music will address a gathering in Bristol this Saturday where he is expected to highlight the plight of people seeking sanctuary in particular those from Zimbabwe, his homeland.

    Social movements

    Burundi: Reverse ban on civil society group


    Burundian authorities should immediately retract an ordinance outlawing the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC), an umbrella organization representing 146 Burundian civil society associations, said Amnesty International, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, and Human Rights Watch in a joint statement.

    Global: WTO : Cooking up crises !

    Peasant mobilizations against the WTO


    From November 27 to December 3, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina and Uniterre will gather for the 7th Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. Thirty delegates from Africa, Asia and Europe will be present to remind ministers of their responsibilities in the current food, financial, economic and climate crises.
    From November 27 to December 3, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina and Uniterre will gather for the 7th Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. Thirty delegates from Africa, Asia and Europe will be present to remind ministers of their responsibilities in the current food, financial, economic and climate crises. WTO policies and free trade agreements are causing fundamental systemic problems for small farmers and peasants world wide. The Doha round, often referred to as the “development round,” is producing more crises than it is progress in development. Pascal Lamy, Director General of WTO, consistently presents the policies of his organization as a panacea for the economies of the world. However, after 15 years of opposition to WTO policies, farmers and peasants reaffirm that the WTO is fundamentally oriented towards interests that benefit large corporations and businesses at the expense of small farmers and peasants.

    In Europe, the WTO requirements are responsible for the ultra-liberal policy of the European Commission that puts the European small farmer community at risk of bankruptcy. The recent milk strike by dairy farmers from 21 European countries is directly linked to the dismantling of milk quotas imposed by the WTO. Since mid-September, many farmers in Switzerland have begun a "peasant's revolt" to denounce the lower farm-gate prices and the stranglehold on distribution by intermediaries in the sales chain. In India, many peasants are also on the verge of bankruptcy. In early September 50,000 farmers flooded on to the streets of Delhi to protest their government’s contradictions. The Indian trade minister has promised to protect Indian agriculture, but endorsed WTO negotiations that endanger the livelihood of more than two thirds of the Indian population. In Korea, farmers and peasants face difficulties similar to European and Indian farmers because the price they are paid for rice does not cover their production's costs.

    Leaders of these different struggles will be in Geneva to deliver their message of despair, desperation, and rebellion to the WTO ministers. They will also present alternative solutions for the current food crisis and climate: Food sovereignty, the right of small farmers and peasants to produce food locally and sustainably to feed themselves and their communities.

    Invitation for journalists:

    November 27 at 3:30 pm: 25 rue des Gares. Press Conference to introduce the delegation of La Via Campesina in Geneva and its objectives.

    November 28 : participation of the La Via Campesina delegation and UNITERRE members with tractors in the great social movements rally. Departure 2pm Place Neuve.

    November 30 to December 2, every day daily from 12 am to 2 pm, La Via Campesina delegates will be available for interviews in the tent located at the crossroads of Varembe Street and France Avenue. Symbolic actions will also take place.

    November 30: 9 am to 1 pm, La Via Campesina delegates will accompany the Fisherfolks rally.

    December 1: Agriculture Day. Press conference at 10 am, 25 rue des Gares to announce the actions of December 1.

    December 2: 2 pm, 25 rue des Gares, common press conference of peasant women of La Via Campesina and of delegates to the World March of Women.

    Press Contacts:

    Valentina Hemmeler (Uniterre / Via Campesina): +41 79 672 14 07 – [email protected]

    Solenne Piriou (La Via Campesina) : + 41 76 752 73 62 – [email protected]

    South Africa: Protest against state repression planned

    Western Cape Anti-eviction Campaign


    Our movement is under serious attack in Durban. Our comrades in Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban have been attacked and had their homes destroyed by an armed ANC militia supported by the local police and politicians. We will be holding a protest against state repression at New Road, Maccassar Village, from 11:00 on Saturday 28 November 2009.
    Abahlali base, Mjondolo of the Western Cape

    Press Statement, Friday 27 November 2009

    We will be holding a protest against state repression at New Road, Maccassar Village, from 11:00 on Saturday 28 November 2009.

    Our movement is under serious attack in Durban. Our comrades in Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban have been attacked and had their homes destroyed by an armed ANC militia supported by the local police and politicians. They have also been arrested, denied bail, beaten while in custody and attacked and seriously beaten by the police while going about their ordinary activities in their communities. Many of our comrades are living under death threats and have been turned into refugees. Many of our comrades are no longer able to appear in public in Durban. There have been longstanding problems with democracy in Durban but it is now clear that there is no longer any democracy in Durban. Durban ceased to be a democratic city on 26 November 2009 when this wave of violent repression was launched against our movement.

    This is the worst case of state repression in post-apartheid South Africa but it is far from the first case. Over the years all of the movements in The Poor People's Alliance have had their marches banned and been subject to arrest, assault and even torture at the hands of the police. We are all very familiar with rubber bullet, tear gas, holding cells and courts. We all confront regular illegal and violent evictions at the hands of the state. Here in Cape Town Abahlali baseMjondolo has recently confronted mysterious violent attacks, illegal and violent evictions from the state and arrests and police violence. Neither the criminalistion of the poor nor the criminalisation of dissent are new.

    Our protest is in support of our comrades in Durban and we are demanding the immediate restoration of democracy in Durban. We also support the demand for an independent inquiry into all the attacks on our movement in Durban including those from both the militia and the police.

    Our protest is also in defence of our own struggle here in the Western Cape. We also face repression here and it is clear that if we allow democracy to be done away with in Durban it will not be long before democracy is also done away with in Cape Town, in Johannesburg and across the country.

    Silence is the speech of the defeated. We are not defeated and we will not be defeated. We are organised and we will remain organised. South Africa belongs to all who live in it and therefore we will continue to take our place in the cities and in all discussions affecting our communities and our lives. Our position is that each person's life and intelligence counts the same and no ward councillor, police officer or land invasions unit will succeed to make us deviate from this position.

    For more information and comment please contact:

    Mzonke Poni: 073 256 2036
    Mthobeli Qona: 076 875 9533

    Kenyan civil society to undergo peer review

    Zaya Yeebo


    cc Shimriz
    Following the completion of the Democratic Governance Civil Society Week (DG–CSW) in Kisumu, Western Province, Kenya, Zaya Yeebo rounds up the discussions and highlights the increasingly recognised need for civil society to demand the same accountability of itself that it does of the country's government.

    The tent for the public forum was packed with at least 150 eager listeners in the part-searing heat, part-drizzling weather in Kisumu, Western Province, most of whom were ordinary members of the public. Bishop Winni Awity thundered, admonished, cajoled and pleaded for Kenyans to forget the past and live in unity. 'We are many tribes, but we are all Kenyans', she said with certainty.

    This forum was an attestation of the reason for the four-day civil society week held in Kisumu (from 3 to 6 November 2009 at the Imperial Hotel), and attended by over 200 civil society organisations from across the country. And when it came to question time, many talked about the feelings of despair, of disappointment with the political elite, of problems facing the internally displaced, of women with no means of livelihood, and of the need to live together as one nation, one people. The youth wanted a future in Kenya, not one torn apart by ethnic hatred.

    When Amkeni Wakenya organised a four-day civil society week in Kisumu many doubted its significance in view of the fact that similar public events have gone unnoticed by the public. But Moses Omondi, director of the Pillars of Kibera Youth, captured the mood and feeling of many grassroots organisations in kenya when he said 'I would like to appreciate Amkeni Wakenya for organising and inviting Pillars of Kibera for the CSO [civil society organisation] week in Kisumu. This was a commendable week full of new ideas and new network. This also enhanced my creativity in composing more spoken word to reach out to the hearts of Kenyan citizens in demanding for reforms. Thank you so much.'

    Organised by the Civil Society Democratic Governance Facility, which has been rebranded and renamed AMKENI WAKENYA, the Democratic Governance Civil Society Week (DG–CSW) offered an opportunity for over 200 representatives of civil society organisations, mainly those from the rural areas, to showcase their work through an exhibition lasting four days and through a series of interactive workshops, a public forum and debates about the role of civil society in the current reform process.

    In planning the civil society week, Amkeni Wakenya was in part recognising that the contribution and participation of special groups – such as persons with disabilities, women, the youth, children and minorities – is critical to the attainment of democratic governance, human rights, the rule of law, access to justice and constitutionalism in Kenya and that mainstreaming issues of persons with disabilities, women, the youth, children and minorities is an integral part of all efforts and strategies aimed at attaining these ends. This event had to acknowledge and recognise that Kenya is today at a 'major crossroads; for the first time since independence, the country’s very existence, foundation and the fabric that holds the nation together is being put to severe test'. An event as monumental as this also had to recall and deal with the unfortunate events of the bloodshed, displacements and other human rights violations that were witnessed after the disputed presidential elections of 2007.

    In recent years, civil society has been on the receiving end of criticism, at the top of which is the often-asked question 'Who guards the guardians?' This question was effectively answered when CSOs meeting in Kisumu resolved to demanding 'for increased accountability within our own sector in the same way that we demand for accountability from the state through encouraging internal democracy and promoting sound governance practices within our organisations, finding innovative ways of reducing over-dependency on donor funding and increasing reliance on local resources and capacities to improve [the] sustainability of our interventions'.

    Addressing the four-day meeting, Lawrence Muite, a commissioner of the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, called for the 'total disclosure of partnerships through a peer review mechanism' and called on the sector to 'shield civil society from groups which might use civil society for a different agenda'. Muite said civil society could 'adopt a universal periodic review of their activities, and use an inter-sectoral approach to deal with issues of discrimination'.

    Speaking to a crowed of eager listeners, the commissioner further appealed to Kenyan civil society actors to reject 'Western models which emphasise the individual, and locate their work within [a] social justice' framework.

    The civil society week resolved to work for greater involvement of women in governance processes at grassroots, regional and national levels by mobilising women to participate more actively and effectively in governance at grassroots, regional and national levels, and working with all other interest groups including men, youth, persons with disabilities and minority groups and their organisations as partners in women’s empowerment. Civil society further committed itself to working with other stakeholders and participate 'more effectively in ongoing constitutional, legal, policy, institutional and administrative reforms to pave the way for improved and lasting women’s participation in reforms'.

    Addressing the participants, the acting ambassador of the Netherlands embassy, Hans Docter, appealed to civil society actors to be part of the reform process, adding that some policy-makers have been 'sleeping on their jobs'. Annika Jayawardena, Sweden’s councillor and country director of development cooperation, appealed to civil society to become agents of the change agenda. The civil society week was also addressed by luminaries such as Bishop Winny Owiti, Henry Kiriwa, the UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) ambassador, Betty Okero, coordinator of the Civil Society Organisations Network in Kisumu, Morris Odhiambo, director of the Centre for Law Reform, and Gilbert Onyango, chairman of the Stakeholder Reference Group.

    We reaffirmed our commitment to the inherent dignity and worth of the human person and the equal, universal, inalienable and indivisible human rights of all persons including the human rights of persons with disabilities, women, children, the youth and minorities.

    Groups representing people with disabilities argued for a rethinking in the way people with disabilities are treated in society. Peter Wango Opany, an advocate of the rights of persons with disabilities, said that 'for a long time the capacities and freedoms of persons with disabilities in Kenya to live in and take part in ordinary life activities have been pushed to the very fringes of society. The entire field in disability work in Kenya is very little known about by policy-makers and those in a position to influence affirmative action. Consequently the quality of life enjoyed by persons with disabilities is potentially less fulfilling or rewarding than the quality of life enjoyed by able-bodied persons. There is no welfare system in the form of social security income or allowance to cover any aspect of the life of an individual with disabilities.'

    Peter Wango Opany observed that although up to 25 per cent of Kenyans are disabled, neither the youth nor women’s groups have addressed issues pertinent to those who are disabled, hardly any voter education specific to the sector of persons with disabilities takes place and no political party has a concrete agenda addressing the issues of persons with disabilities. He told a workshop that 'It is necessary here that the civil society governance democracy facilitation address these issues affecting the rights of persons with disabilities in present and coming civil society week by observing the immediate and medium term of objectives to promote the welfare of persons with disabilities.' Participants resolved to 'champion the rights of all persons in an inclusive manner without demarcating any artificial boundaries on the basis of gender, disability; to work towards mainstreaming disability issues and enhancing the human rights of persons with disabilities within our organisations and in the country as a whole by undertaking to raise awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities as part and parcel of all our programmes'. Civil society groups also resolved to 'lobby the government for the full domestication of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities including the full implementation of the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act 2003'.

    An issue of recurring interest was the role of youth in the current reform process. Addressing a workshop on 'Youth in democratic governance', Stella Agara, programme officer of the Africa Youth Trust, called on civil society organisations 'to advocate, mobilise, fundraise, draw strategies and undertake activities to ensure the establishment a national youth council that is elected and governed by the youth themselves by December 2010'. Hope Muli of the Young Women’s Christian Associatio and Amkeni Wakenya called on civil society 'to commence civic education and mobilisation of the youth to ensure their effective participation in the democratisation processes in the country including in the general elections of 2012'.

    Responding to the recurring theme of change, the Kisumu declaration resolved to 'strengthen our partnerships with all actors working in the sector including civil society, the media, development partners and organisations providing technical assistance with a view to harnessing all available resources to bring about the desired change'.

    Grace Osewe, programme coordinator of the Endelevu Community Development Services based in Kisumu, spoke for many grassroots members when she observed: 'as local NGOs, we are used to being locked out of major events. The information and experience shared has greatly impacted us and is a pivotal point for us as an organisation.'


    * Zaya Yeebo is programme manager for the Civil Society Democratic Governance (CSDG) programme. He writes in his own capacity.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Africa labour news

    Africa labour news roundup


    In this week’s labour news from the African continent and beyond [mp3], South African domestic workers get wage increase, Mozambican unions decry paltry fine for workers’ deaths, and Zimbabwe’s unions demand parliamentary inquiry into worker shootings. This bulletin is part of a partnership between Worker’s World Media Productions and Pambazuka News that seeks to highlight labour issues affecting Africa’s workers.

    Emerging powers news

    Emerging powers news Roundup

    Stephen Marks


    In this week's emerging powers news roundup, China seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions, increases investment in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, and Africa's trade with the BRIC countries show a marked increase of the last eight years.

    China has unveiled its first firm target for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, two weeks before the global summit on climate change in Copenhagen. Beijing said it would aim to reduce its "carbon intensity" by 40-45% by the year 2020, compared with 2005 levels. But it does not mean China's overall levels of carbon dioxide will start falling.Yang Ailun, Greenpeace China's climate campaign manager, told AFP news agency: "This is definitely a very positive step China is taking, but we think China can do more than this." More

    China has also invited key developing country partners for talks on climate change ahead of the UN negotiations that commence in Copenhagen on December 7. More


    Zimbabwe and China have signed five investment deals worth US$8 billion, whose implementation can turn around the economy, ruined by years of sanctions, analysts said. More

    Ehiopia and China signed a grant agreement amounting to about 112.5 million Birr [US$8.93 million]. Ethiopia’s Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Sufian Ahmed said the grant was secured under the agreement reached by the two countries at the 4th China Africa Forum held in Egypt from Nov.8-9, 2009. More

    China and African countries should pay more attention to African regional integration in a bid to have the two partners benefit more from their cooperation, according to Zimbabwe’s deputy secretary for foreign affairs Godfrey Magwenzi. More

    China Railway Construction Co. Ltd (CRCC), one of top 500 largest corporations in the world, has 209 projects in 35 countries, most of them in Africa where the CRCC and its sub companies employed more than 30,000 people and provided over 100,000 job opportunities in related industries, according to Zhao Guangfa, CRCC’s president and CEO, who was leading a delegation on a 10-day visit in Nigeria. More

    Zhou Yongkang, a senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC), has met leaders of the Seychelles during a stopover after visits to Sudan and South Africa. Seychelles vice president Joseph Belmont said he expected more investment from Chinese companies in the country's tourism sector. More

    So far this year, the Beijing government has secretly awarded scholarships to study in China to the offspring of nine top officials, including to the daughter of Namibia’s president, Hifikepunye Pohamba. Two young relatives of Namibia’s former president and national patriarch, Sam Nujoma, also received grants. The disclosure of the scholarships, first revealed by a feisty Namibian newspaper, has unleashed a wave of fury from the nation’s civil society groups and youth organizations. More


    German tire and car parts maker Continental AG is just the latest to join the long line of multinationals to open a R&D facility in China. The multinationals are way ahead of popular wisdom that technology is developed in the West and ripped off in the East. In reality, development has long left the building and has taken up shop in China. More

    On Monday, the first issue of Caijing magazine following the departure of outspoken editor Hu Shuli and most of its staff hit the newsstands, featuring Obama on the cover and a letter from the editor by Wang Boming, the magazine’s longtime publisher. He pledged the ‘new Caijing’ would maintain the same values as the old. More


    Africa's trade with the world's four largest emerging markets, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC countries), has grown from $20.3bn in 2001 to about $162bn in 2008, said South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) in an economic report on Wednesday. More

    At a joint South Korea-Africa cooperation forum in Seoul, South Korea pledged to double aid to African nations over the next three years. The government said that by 2012 they would double the $107 million in annual official development aid they gave in 2008. More

    Africa has not benefited from its links with rich nations and should ensure economic interactions with others are not one-sided, South Africa's Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel told a conference on the continent's relations with China. Africa would continue to pursue relations which the United States and Europe, but the "centre of geo-economic gravity" was shifting to Asia and Latin America, he argued.More

    India has pledged to expand and strengthen its relations with Cape Verde and has offered the sub-Saharan African country its continued support through technical cooperation and official development assistance in its quest for speedier development. The former Portuguese colony offered its support for India's candidature for a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council for the term 2011-12, for which elections will be held next October.

    India has offered a concessional Line of Credit of $ 5 million to Cape Verde for setting up of a Technological Park and a grant of Rs 10 million in the education sector. India also offered to set up an Information and Communication Technology Centre of Excellence in Cape Verde. More

    India is rapidly losing one of its clear economic advantages over China, with the number of Chinese able to speak English on par with its neighbour and rival.
    A new study published by the British Council says China may already have more English speakers than India, a remarkable development, given the language legacy of British colonial rule in south Asia.

    Brazil is seen as an economic success story and its people revere President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva like a star. He is on a mission to turn the country into one of the world's five biggest economies through reforms, giant infrastructure projects and by tapping vast oil reserves. But he faces hurdles. More


    Only a quarter of Ethiopia's estimated 175 million fertile acres is being farmed. Desperate for foreign currency, the government of former Marxist rebels who once proclaimed "land to the tiller!" has set aside more than 6 million acres for agribusiness. Lured with 40-year leases and tax holidays, investors are going on farm shopping sprees, crisscrossing the country on chartered flights to pick out their swaths of Ethiopian soil. Especially Indian companies, which have committed $4.2 billion so far. More

    A recent Saudi-sponsored exhibition and Saudi-East African Forum in Addis Ababa seems to herald a drive by the Saudis to buy and develop Ethiopian farmland with support from the country’s Investors Support Directorate, which is responsible for giving large tracts of land to investors. More

    * Stephen Marks is research associate and project coordinator with Fahamu's China in Africa Project.
    * Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Elections & governance

    Côte d’Ivoire: UN calls for speedy new date for yet-again-delayed elections


    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on all parties in Côte d’Ivoire to fix a new date as soon as possible for their much-delayed elections, now postponed yet again from their latest deadline of this month.

    Kenya: ICC prosecutor seeks OK on inquiry


    The request by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor to the court's judges to open a Kenya investigation is a decisive step toward justice for the country's 2007 post-election violence, Human Rights Watch has said.

    Namibia: Group allowed to observe vote as polls open


    A court in Namibia has ruled that the National Society for Human Rights must have its status as an election observer reinstated, hours after polls opened. The electoral commission withdrew the group's status days before the vote, saying it was not impartial.


    Angola: Government to name officials involved in graft


    Angola will name Treasury and Finance Ministry officials involved in the illegal transfer of government funds abroad after concluding investigations in 45 days, a prosecutor has said.


    Africa: New report on development cooperation lauded


    Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has lauded a new report which outlines steps to be taken by Africa and its development partners to help lift millions of people across the continent out of poverty.

    Africa: Plans for merger of three top trading blocs stepped up


    Countries across Eastern and Southern Africa have stepped up plans for the establishment of Africa’s largest economic bloc with the opening of negotiations that may culminate in a Free Trade Area (FTA) spanning Cape to Cairo by May 2010.

    Angola: Government mulling Norway-style oil fund


    Angola is considering setting up a Norwegian-style sovereign wealth fund to manage its oil revenues. Angola has said it plans to have the new sovereign wealth fund ready to invest its oil money abroad this year but has yet to announce a date for its launch.

    Global: 1.5 billion people live in darkness - UN


    A new report by the UN has said almost a quarter of the global population, or 1.5 billion people, live without electricity, and that 80 per cent of those people live in the least developed countries (LDCs) of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

    Kenya: Job losses, collapsing sectors in the wake of Doha


    The consequences of the Doha Round of trade talks for larger developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa could include job losses and deindustrialisation if a new study forecasting how Kenya is set to be affected is anything to go by.

    Nigeria: World Bank projects collapse in Lagos


    With a whopping credit facility of $200 million (N25.2 billion), World Bank Assisted Improvement projects in Lagos State have reportedly not lived up to expectations. Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) supervised and executed most of the projects under the World Bank-Assisted Road Improvement Scheme, towards the end of the administration of former Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, between 2006 and 2007.

    Health & HIV/AIDS

    Africa: Home-based care as effective as clinical care


    A new Ugandan study adds to a growing body of evidence that providing home-based antiretroviral (ARV) care in low-income settings can be as effective as facility-based interventions.

    Africa: New tools to improve access to healthcare services for the worst-off


    What can be done to ensure that the poorest Africans have access to a healthcare system that charges user fees? Many options have been proposed to address this situation, but currently the decision-makers involved have little or no access to these. To support them in their reflection, a team of researchers from the University of Montreal, with support from the international NGO HELP (Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe e.V.), has produced a thorough compilation of all existing knowledge on this subject, in four bilingual policy briefs.

    Global: Criminalising HIV transmission harms women, undermines universal access - ActionAid

    World Aids Day


    A growing trend towards criminalising transmission of HIV – including transmission from mother to child – puts women at risk and will undermine progress in fighting AIDS, warns international development agency ActionAid.

    Global: HIV treatment preventing deaths; infections fall by 17% - report


    Increasing access to antiretroviral therapy is starting to have a major impact on the global AIDS epidemic, according to a report released by UNAIDS and WHO. Prevention is also having an impact on new infections, although some of the decline in new infections is due to the natural course of the epidemic.

    Global: World AIDS Day: Punitive laws threaten HIV progress


    HIV prevention efforts - and the promise of antiretroviral therapy as prevention - are being undermined by punitive laws targeting those infected with and at risk of HIV, Human Rights Watch has said on the eve of World AIDS Day.

    Global: World facing multiple and evolving HIV epidemics - UNAIDS


    The United Nations Project on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and World Health Organisation (WHO) AIDS Global Epidemic update shows that sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by HIV. In addition, the number of new infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has increased massively since 2001, and HIV incidence amongst gay men remains high in western countries.

    South Africa: Male circumcision plan almost there


    South Africa has moved swiftly to develop a male circumcision plan that would have buy-in from all stakeholders and will go beyond being a purely medical intervention, ideally also engaging men on among others HIV prevention, gender issues and alcohol abuse.

    Southern Africa: Zimbabwe gets US$180m for AIDS


    Health authorities in Zimbabwe announced that the country would get US$180 million from the Global Fund to fight HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.


    Africa: Education ministers discuss continent's progress, prospects


    Education ministers from member states of the African Union (AU) have converged in Mombasa, Kenya, for two-day meeting on the continent's progress and prospect in education, the AU has said.

    16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

    "I" Stories: Rape will not be my daughter’s legacy!


    Thandeka*: I was fourteen when I was first raped. The perpetrator was in his early thirties. My friend and I were walking to the shop to buy bread when a man came out of the long grass. He showed us a gun and told us to do what ever he said or we did. My friend and I went with him. He then started to ask us questions about sex.
    Thandeka*: I was fourteen when I was first raped. The perpetrator was in his early thirties. My friend and I were walking to the shop to buy bread when a man came out of the long grass. He showed us a gun and told us to do what ever he said or we did. My friend and I went with him. He then started to ask us questions about sex.

    We were so uncomfortable because we had never spoken nor thought about sex at our age. He took us to the nearest bush. He told me that he would start with me because I was the clever one. While he was raping me he put his fingers inside my friend’s vagina. When he was done with me he went to my friend and told me that he was coming back to me. I saw an opportunity to take the gun and run, and I did.

    While he was chasing me asking for his gun back my friend ran the opposite direction. She got to my mom and told them what had happened. My family then went out looking for me. I ran to a nearby house and they accompanied me home.

    When I got home I was told that I should immediately take a bath. After that I was taken to the hospital but then the doctor said he could not make any conclusions because all the evidence had been removed.

    My mother told me that I must forget about it because she and my grandmother had been raped. This is something that just happens in the family. After that day it was never talked about. No one asked me how I felt. As a result I felt dirty and had low self esteem.

    Two years later, I was date raped. Unfortunately, this time I got pregnant. This was only the second time I had sex. I didn’t want a baby because I was a baby. I needed taking care of myself. Destiny had called and I had to grow up quickly. I became a parent at sixteen.

    I never told any one about the rape. Everyone thought I was an out of control teenager who was sexually promiscuous. I was badly treated by the perpetrator’s family. When his mother heard about the pregnancy she shouted on the street telling people that her son would never impregnate a girl. She said I was the uncontrollable one.

    As a result there was feud between the families, when my baby came into the world she was very ill she had to be hospitalised in the intensive care unit. When I left the hospital that morning I went home and I didn’t know how to feel. I knelt down and prayed. For the first time I prayed to God, to do what ever was right for this baby. A month later she was better and discharged.

    I did not have a connection with her at first. I guess I was still in denial. My relationship with my daughter really started when she was four. I realised I was a mother.

    I felt that I was nothing, worthless. I dated men and was never able to say no to a man when he wanted to have sex. I knew that he would have it whether I wanted to or not and sometimes I could see them holding a gun and would just give in.

    Today, I have found my self after a long journey of looking for me. I have finally found me and I now know that I do not need a man to define who I am. I love my daughter. I know now that God brought her in my life for a reason, and only I can make my self happy and no one else.

    * Not her real name. This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

    "I" Stories: Using my body for freedom


    Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service


    Mooshoo*: “intoni ingxaki?” That is what the taxi driver said to me after he had repeatedly spoken to me in Xhosa since I had first hopped into the taxi. I usually just ignore them. I say where I am going, give them the correct change and keep quiet. But this time, there was no chance of that happening.
    “intoni ingxaki?” That is what the taxi driver said to me after he had repeatedly spoken to me in Xhosa since I had first hopped into the taxi. I usually just ignore them. I say where I am going, give them the correct change and keep quiet. But this time, there was no chance of that happening.

    As I sat in the taxi my mind flashed back to the day I left Zimbabwe for South Africa. Coming from the dire situation in my country, South Africa seemed to be the land of opportunity, and I was desperate for a chance at a normal life.

    I thought I’d just the driver I’m a foreigner and he would leave me alone. But that didn’t work. “Uyathetha?” “Uyakhuluma”, “Wabulabula?” None of these languages was my mother tongue; what was I going to say? The coloured man next to me, in his heavy Capetonian accent, said, “Driver, can’t you tell she not from here, man?”

    As the taxi stopped to pick up another passenger, the taxi driver turned to me and asked “Sisi, where are you from?” This was the worst question I could possibly be asked. I am a born and bred Zimbabwean, and am as proud as can be – or at least I used to be. But since I left home in 2006 I am not sure about exactly who I am or where I am from...

    When I left, my heart felt like it would stop at any minute for the entire journey, there was no time to catch my breath. There were so many of us running away from what had become to seem like a foreign place, not the place we had grown up in, our home. We were running away from the torture, poverty, starvation and exploitation, in search of anything remotely better.

    While I have never felt like I belonged here in South Africa, I have always felt that I was safe. At least that’s what I thought, until I heard screaming in the townships, and I saw the Somalis run for their lives. The word travelled fast that “they were after us next.” What had we done wrong now?

    This was supposed to be our only hope, our chance to have a decent life; but now we were being blamed for AIDS, the drugs, the crime... they say the men took their wives, and now we must all go back to where we came from.

    The apprehension I experience here in South Africa is different from what I felt at home. I do not have to hustle for food or for a job, because such things are readily available. Instead, I have to hustle my way out of landing up at the police station or being deported, or worse, bumping into someone who realises I am a Kwere Kwere and decides to show me that I do not belong.

    Whenever an official of some sort asks for my papers, I always ask in return if there is anything I can do for him. The issue surrounding my status in this country disappears after simply performing a few “favours” in a store room or in a dark alley. The darker the place, the better - that way I don’t have to see his face, and as soon as it is over I can go about my business until the next time…

    I used to have hopes and dreams that I would come to this country and be welcomed with open arms. I dreamt that we would no longer hustle to survive, that we would all be able to be free to work and live in this new South Africa. Instead, I left one form of imprisonment for another.

    If had remained in Zimbabwe, I would have had to worry about what and when l would eat, I would worry about my home, the son that left with my parents, and when I would get a decent job so that I could take care of them. Here, I worry about how I will send them money, or when I will see them again. I dread the next time that I am noticed as a foreigner, and I find myself using my body to buy my freedom, whilst losing my dignity bit by bit.

    So when taxi drivers ask me, “Iintoni ingxaki,” which means, “What is wrong with you?” in Xhosa, do I say that I am just trying to get to a destination? Or do I tell him that I am a victim of political violence and economic turmoil? Do I keep quiet for my own safety and hope that he relents? Either way, he won’t realise and probably will never understand what he is asking me, and why I find it so difficult to give him an answer.

    *By 'Mooshoo'. This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

    Give me back my movement!

    Everjoice J. Win


    "We must involve the bosses. We can not move without them. The bosses are our partners. Many of them are just victims of the system too. Most of the employers mean well. All we need to do is raise their awareness and they will be ok. We did a workshop with some of the most senior bosses last year, just one workshop.
    "We must involve the bosses. We can not move without them. The bosses are our partners. Many of them are just victims of the system too. Most of the employers mean well. All we need to do is raise their awareness and they will be ok. We did a workshop with some of the most senior bosses last year, just one workshop. And I remember two of them standing up and saying, ‘This workshop has been a real eye opener to the suffering endured by the workers. We did not know that running sweatshops, under paying workers, and sexual harassment of female workers is wrong. We really did not know. We will change from this minute on. You can count on us.’ Since that discussion, we now have so many employers on our shop floor committees. One is even the chairperson of my equal wages sub-committee. Another provides counseling to women who are sexually harassed."

    Can you imagine this testimony coming from the head of any trade union movement? Anywhere in the world? Substitute workers and trade unions for landless people’s associations, or the Dalit movement, or an anti-racism movement: can you imagine them saying this? Why not? Tell me your eyes don’t water at the prospect of workers and exploitative bosses holding hands nicely and singing, "We shall over-come?" Like Martin Luther King, isn’t your "dream" that of landless, half-naked peoples and the few landed, be-suited, corporate bosses sharing leadership roles in one another’s organizations? The landless speaking on behalf of the corporate landowner, the landowner chairing the landless people’s movement?

    Sound unlikely? Why not? We have done it in the women’s movement. To paraphrase Idi Amin, if the women’s movement did it, why can’t every other movement of marginalized and excluded peoples do it too? I know I am not doing the deep analysis and giving the nuanced complexities of so-called "involving men and boys" that has become the overwhelming refrain in "gender work." I am not an academic. I don’t sit in spaces where I have the luxury – yes, luxury – of going into deep theoretical analysis. I just tells it as I sees it. I live and work in the real world of simplicity and sound bites. This is the world where one word from a donor or the media, and everyone around you turns phrases into a program, and soon enough, into expected practice. Where we hear things said in workshops, and suddenly they become the norm, nay, a requirement. In this world we learn from one another. It is not that we are stupid, it’s just that we don’t have time or space to go into political analysis. More importantly, in this world, labels and naming matter. Inclusion of men and boys equals a good thing done by gender activists; protecting women’s spaces and talking about power equals bad thing done by those awful feminists! Who isn’t afraid of being seen as a bad, strident woman?

    My safe space called the women’s movement is going, or even gone. It’s been taken over by men. And I am scared and angry. To paraphrase them racists, let me say it one more time – I love men. Some of the best people I’ve had sex with are men. So there. I believe progressive, non-patriarchal, non-sexist men have a positive role to play in the struggle for women’s human rights. There are a few of them out there. But they are not yet in a majority, and a few good men do not a system make. Patriarchy in all its forms is still alive and doing quite well by my last diagnosis. The majority of men and boys continue to have access to all kinds of power, resources, and privileges, which they don’t hesitate to use to exert their control over women’s and girls’ lives and bodies.

    When any marginalized and excluded group creates a safe space for themselves, it is their space. Let me repeat, it is their SAFE space. The notion of safe space is deeply political. To badly translate a wonderful song by Thomas Mapfumo, "There are some stories you don’t tell in the midst of certain listeners, otherwise they take oil and start preparing their hands…" I will not go into all those caveats about how not all men are bad etc. Women’s space is women’s space. It is the one place where I can have a conversation with other women about vaginas. It is the place where women seek unadulterated advice when they have problems in their heterosexual relationships. When we experience violence of any kind, and we turn up for counseling at a women’s center, the last person we expect to find sitting behind that desk is someone who looks exactly like the one I just ran away from. He might be nice, or the sweetest gay man, but do I trust that he will hear my story? Even if it’s a magazine to which I am writing a letter, or a phone-in radio program, I want another woman at the end of the line. I need to feel SAFE.

    I work in a mainstream development INGO. I have seen, despite our best intentions, that it is very hard to recruit, retain and support women in the organization. The default is to think of men first. When women’s rights are mentioned in a meeting, everyone still turns to look at me or whoever’s job title is 'women’s rights.' We don’t turn to look at the heads of other themes when those are mentioned. Consistently keeping women’s rights on the agenda remains a struggle. And trust me, my organization is one of the best in the INGO stable, if I say so myself. Our language is firmly about women’s rights, and our political rhetoric is up there with the best. But I know this is not a women’s organization and its natural default is not to think of women first. I know the limits of what can be achieved in this space. When I want to have certain conversations and when I expect a particular, firm political direction, I look to the women’s movement.

    The women’s movement is still the only place I expect to give women a shot at employment. A women’s organization is the last place I expect to compete with a man for an office messenger post, let alone a directorship. Call it sheltered employment if you must. We still need it because patriarchy and sexism have not been eradicated. Who else is going to give women opportunities if not their own organizations? Yet everywhere I look, women’s organizations are giving jobs to the men, and in large numbers. In some cases, male staff out-numbers female. The range of jobs being given to men is equally frightening. A colleague with a donor agency recently went to Zambia and she reported that a large number of women’s organizations are now directed by men! She also noted that in some organizations men outnumber women in providing psycho-social counseling and support to female survivors of violence. It was the same story in several organizations in Mozambique. In several countries too, government gender machineries are led by men. All in the name of "gender is about men and women…." We shall return to this half sentence later.

    Even more frightening is the latest fad, men on the boards of women’s organizations. I will be the first to admit that I am given to hyperbole, but it’s become an epidemic! A seat on the board is about power and leadership. Where are women ever going to get a chance to learn leadership skills and how to exercise power? Are there no other ways to ‘include men’ besides handing over our hard-created organizations to them? At the same time we complain about women being excluded from decision-making positions in the public arena. When we are asked to give names of experienced women to fill leadership positions in the same public arena, we can’t even name five! It would be interesting to take stock of the values, beliefs and behaviors of some of these men on women’s organizations’ boards. Let me just leave it there. Point made.

    Over the last few years, I keep wanting to sing my own version of Jacob Zuma’s dreadful song, "mshini wam’, mshini wam’, awu’leth’ u’mshini wam’! (My machine gun, my machine gun; give me my machine gun.) My song would go; Movement yam’, movement yam,’ awu leth’ i – movement yam’! (My movement, my movement; give me (back) my movement.) Where has the notion of safe spaces for women gone? What has happened to the politics that should be the foundation of our movements? Is it that it was never political? Not deep enough? We were fighting this struggle because it sounded like a nice idea, and therefore the strategy was to be nice?

    When did we become this depoliticized? Let me go back to where I started. Why is the women’s movement the only space where you expect to hear the kind of depoliticized testimony that I quoted in the first paragraph? Why do we celebrate this kind of stuff in so many ways? As for their eyes being opened after only one workshop, I for one, would love to hear how sustainably open those eyes have remained and what transformation has occurred as a result. I stand to be convinced about the power of the one-workshop-one-pamphlet wonder. To think we have wasted all this energy understanding power when all it takes is a half-day discussion. Ah.

    It is time to reclaim women’s spaces and re-politicize our movements with feminist politics. We can only do this if we put back onto the table, the fact that this is about POWER. Repeat after me….Gender is about men and women, and the UNEQUAL power relations between them. It’s back to feminism 001. Sadly.

    *Everjoice J. Win is a feminist from Zimbabwe, and is currently the Head of Women’s Rights in Action Aid International. She writes this in her personal capacity. Action Aid International is a member of the international coalition of the Women WON'T wait. End HIV and Violence Against Women. NOW. campaign. To find out about Action Aid go to:

    Southern Africa: Halve gender violence by 2015

    Score a goal for gender equality


    Gender Links has urged Southern African governments to put prevention at the centre of national action plans to end gender violence during the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence. It has also called on governments to ensure that these plans include comprehensive legislation and services, harness the energies of all sectors of society, are based on baseline surveys with measurable indicators and are adequately funded.
    Gender Links has urged Southern African governments to put prevention at the centre of national action plans to end gender violence during the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

    It has also called on governments to ensure that these plans include comprehensive legislation and services, harness the energies of all sectors of society, are based on baseline surveys with measurable indicators and are adequately funded.

    Noting the positive trend towards stretching the Sixteen Days of Activism campaign to 365 days of action across the region GL has also urged local government and community based organisations to come forward with innovative campaigns for ending GBV at the local level to be featured at a Gender Justice and Local Government Summit in March 2009.

    In a statement GL said that its slogan this year will be "halve gender violence by 2015: score a goal for gender equality" in line with the target set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development and as a way of linking this to the upcoming Soccer 2010.

    GL is also linking its campaign to the call by the UN Secretary General on all governments to develop integrated plans with specific targets and timeframes as part of his global UNite to End Violence Against Women Campaign.

    According to a baseline barometer conducted by the Southern African Protocol Alliance that campaigned for the gender protocol and is coordinated by GL "thanks to collaboration between civil society and governments, all SADC countries now have in place multi sector action plans to end gender violence."

    The SADC Gender Protocol Baseline Barometer notes however that "specific targets and indicators need to be strengthened. More resources and effort needs to go towards prevention."
    Other key findings (see attached detailed matrix) include:

    * Nine of the SADC countries currently have legislation on domestic violence.
    * Only seven SADC countries currently have specific legislation that relates to sexual offences.
    * Only one country, South Africa, has specific provisions for Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
    * Only five SADC countries have legislation to prevent human trafficking: Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Mauritius and Zambia.
    * Ten SADC countries have some form of legislation to address sexual harassment; most of this in.
    * There is no legal aid for survivors of gender violence in at least five SADC countries; in all SADC countries NGOs carry the major burden of providing advisory services.
    * No places of safety in four SADC countries; in all SADC countries these facilities have little or state support.
    * There is now a concerted move to stretch Sixteen Day of Activism campaigns to year long campaigns to end violence that are better monitored and evaluated.

    However, the report notes that "the unreliable and sporadic data on the extent of all forms of GBV points to the need to escalate the pilot project for developing GBV indicators started in South Africa, Botswana and Mauritius."
    The project, initiated by GL with government and civil society partners in the three countries, includes a prevalence and attitude survey, as well as a burden study, that will provide more accurate data on the extent, effect and response to GBV than is available through police and court data. The study will also
    Key initiatives of GL this year include:

    * The regional cyber dialogues starting on 25 November with a Taking Stock exercise and running throughout the Sixteen Days on different themes. These are being run in partnership with the City of Johannesburg and the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network.
    * The Take Back the Night campaign in partnership with local councils in several countries.
    * The call for entries for the Gender Justice and local government summit in March 2009 as a way of showacasing innovative community strategies and localising national action plans for ending gender justice.
    * Kicking off the Gender and Soccer 2010 campaign: Score a Goal for Gender Equality in a major event at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium.

    Speaking out can set you free

    Colleen Lowe Morna

    Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service


    What do you think of when you see a butterfly? Beautiful colours! Freedom after the struggle to break out of a cocoon! The sky is the limit! Reaching up; reaching out! These were just a few of the answers given by survivors of gender violence who over the last five years have come out to tell their stories. Gathered together at a workshop convened by Gender Links (GL) ahead of the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence from 25 November (International Day of No Violence Against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day), the women took some time to pause to recall what speaking out has meant to them.
    What do you think of when you see a butterfly? Beautiful colours! Freedom after the struggle to break out of a cocoon! The sky is the limit! Reaching up; reaching out!

    These were just a few of the answers given by survivors of gender violence who over the last five years have come out to tell their stories. Gathered together at a workshop convened by Gender Links (GL) ahead of the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence from 25 November (International Day of No Violence Against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day), the women took some time to pause to recall what speaking out has meant to them.

    The butterfly is the symbol of the “I” Stories brand that these women have created, as well as a profound metaphor for their lives. As facilitator Mmatshilo Motsei (a long-time gender activist assisting survivors to recover and regain their health and well-being), sketched out the life cycle of a butterfly, lights went on in the eyes of the 25 women who had come together to take stock of their healing journey.

    “The caterpillar is a victim whose hopelessness is compounded when it closes up in a cocoon,” Motsei said. “The butterfly that emerges is a survivor with new found freedom and possibilities. That does not mean your flight will always be a smooth one. Sometimes the most profound lessons are learned from taking the wrong turn. We think of healing as a destination but it is a journey, with several land marks along the way. Talking is the beginning of that journey.”

    When the “healing through writing project” in first started in 2004, it was fraught with risks. What if women who came out to tell their stories, especially through the media, suffered even more violence at the hands of abusive partners? What would happen after the near celebrity status accorded by the Sixteen Days came to an end? How would we respond to expectations raised for jobs and security?

    Each year as Sixteen Days approaches, in collaboration with support and counseling organisations, GL puts out a call to anyone wishing to share their story. Gathering together in a workshop setting, survivors first tell each other their stories. They then go off and write them with the support of a team of editors, before the stories are finally sent to the mainstream media.

    The stories are widely disseminated and published by newspapers and online outlets. Many stories also generate requests for interviews by the electronic media and survivors are often asked to speak at public events, lead marches and get involved in gender violence campaigns.

    The stories of over 55 survivors that GL has worked with in South Africa, chronicled in four “butterfly” books that also include stories from other Southern African countries, cover every race and age group. They range from a woman who had her jail sentence lifted after murdering a sadistic partner following years of physical and emotional torture, to another forced to watch her husband having sex with his girlfriend in the same bed.

    This year, even as equally gruesome “I” Stories started to pour in ahead of the Sixteen Days, we decided to follow up on past participants to get some idea of what effect speaking out has had on their lives. Some could not be traced. Others preferred not to continue to be associated with gender violence related work.

    However, the half who responded to the alumni call and spent a weekend writing follow up “I” stories shared uplifting stories of what breaking out of the cocoon has meant for them. At least three have become counselors at the shelters where they once took refuge. Rehanna, a Muslim woman living with HIV and a participant in the very first “I” story workshop, is now a well-known advocate of disclosing one’s HIV status.

    Rose Thamae’s three-generation story of enlisting her daughter and granddaughter to the cause after a gang rape left her with HIV has inspired hundreds here and abroad. She leads Lets Grow, a vibrant community-based HIV and AIDS care network in Orange Farm with branches in Lesotho.

    Thamae has spoken on global stages from India to the United Nations in New York. Her young granddaughter Kgomotso says, “Even though I am sometimes stigmatised because of my grandmother’s experiences, I would much rather have them out in the open than the subject of rumours and gossip. Mothers should be honest with their daughters. The truth will set you free.”

    Marco Ndlovu, a lesbian who has suffered untold pain at the hands of her family and a community determined to “fix her” has written Zulu poems and become a gay rights activist, marching recently to the Uganda embassy to demand the repealing of a bill to stamp out homosexuality in the East African nation.

    Participants at the weekend workshop pointed out that putting painful experiences to paper helps you to think through, understand, and come to terms with what has happened. Noting that “a story told is a burden shared” one participant said that reading other stories helped her realise that things could have been worse. Two participants said that documenting their experiences helped their perpetrators to see the light. In one case, in-laws, previously unaware of their son’s conduct, came to apologise.

    When Sweetness Gwebu first participated in the “I” Story project in 2007 after 37 years of living in an abusive relationship, she did not want her name used. The following year, her image and name graced the foreword to the 2008 “I” Stories book. Now she is writing a book that probes deeper into the causes of gender violence. “What I have found not even a psychiatrist would know,” she said.

    Grace Maleka who became disabled because of a car accident, recounts how after her story of abuse aired on ETV, she received several calls from community members saying she had lied. Written story in hand, she stood her ground and has gone on to give dozens of media interviews, especially with local community radio stations, and become a leading for disabled women, especially on issues of gender violence.

    The experience of participating in cyber dialogues, and having her story posted on Women 24 where it received many comments has opened her eyes to the potential power of information technology in the campaign for women’s rights.

    Maleka compares herself to a driver who looks in the right mirror, the left mirror, and the rear view mirror before overtaking a car on the highway. “When you have done all that, there is only one way to go and that is forward,” she said. “For me, there is no turning back.”

    * Colleen Lowe Morna is Executive Director of Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh views on every day news. More information on the Sixteen Days of Activism campaign can be found on Gender Links.

    Unsung heroes need resources to fight gender violence

    Perpetual Sichikwenkwe


    As we commemorate 16 Days of Activism, along with highlighting how extensive the problem still is, we also need to pause a moment to thank the people who work tirelessly 365 days a year to help and support survivors. Iriss Phiri, whose home in Lusaka's Chilulu residential area is a haven for women fleeing violence, is one such person.
    As we commemorate 16 Days of Activism, along with highlighting how extensive the problem still is, we also need to pause a moment to thank the people who work tirelessly 365 days a year to help and support survivors. Iriss Phiri, whose home in Lusaka's Chilulu residential area is a haven for women fleeing violence, is one such person.

    Phiri and her family very often find themselves sharing their home, food, and money to assist women in the area. For Phiri, helping women and girls has been a longtime commitment.

    “Helping women, especially those who are victims of violence, started years back when I was employed as a matron at the Lusaka's Evelyn Hone College,” she recalls. “As a matron for a co-education college, I used to handle a lot of cases of female students beaten by their boyfriends. They would rush to my house for help, since as I was the nearest parent figure they could seek refuge from.”

    Phiri, who worked for the college from 1985-2007, says that this experience inspired her to take action. “One thing I thought was causing a lot of conflicts in relations was lack of counselling among women and men and in 1997, while I was still working for the college, I started my own organisation known as the Alangizi National Association of Zambia.”

    According to Phiri, the problem of gender violence is rising. She recalls women coming to her after their husbands decide to take another wife or girlfriend, and even bring these women into the matrimonial bed. When a woman complains, the husband would beat and chase the woman from her home.

    She found that most of such cases were from high density areas, which was one of the reasons she chose to build a house in a highly populated residential area - so she could be in constant touch with such women and children.

    “Sometimes, I would be enjoying the evening with my family when we just hear a loud knock on the gate of our house. We would rush there only to find a truck full offloading in my yard,” recounts Phiri. “Before I even ask what is happening and where the things are going, I see a miserable woman and her children who have been chased and sometimes beaten by the husband and they have no where to go.”

    However, despite her passion and commitment, helping others takes a personal toll on Phiri, who receives little support for the work she does. “It is not always easy to provide food and other necessities, but since I have nowhere to send them, especially in the night, they have to live with us,” she says.

    Most of the women who leave the home with nothing. Phiri recalls a case of one women, whose husband took her best friend as a second wife. When the women complained, the man stopped providing for her and her children. The woman was left with little hope until Phiri counseled her about how to get help.

    According to Phiri, she refers most of the cases to organisations such as Women in Law in Southern Africa, Women in Law and Development, the police, or the YWCA. However, sometimes the YWCA shelters are full. This leaves her with no option but keep some victims in her house. Phiri credits such organisations with helping to guide her in her activities.

    Phiri says most women who seek assistance from her are homemakers who are poor and uneducated. “At least every week I receive reports where women are beaten, divorced and they have to beg for food and money from their own husbands even to take their children to school. Because of poverty, they can not leave their abusive husbands.”

    Phiri tries to empower women through skills such as making beads, but the resources available are too limited to cater for all those in need. Her limited resources also take an emotional toll on her.

    “I feel very bad to see children who even stop school because their parents have broken up and their mothers have no money to take them to school. Because of the same, I ended up opening a community school (from nursery to grade 7) but the resources are not enough to cater for teachers' salaries and other needs”.

    According to Phiri, despite several and numerous efforts that are being put in place to fight gender violence, she feels the scourge is still rife in places like Chilulu because efforts often do not reach isolated communities. She has hope though, saying that it is not too late to win the fight against violence, “because today the fight is a step further than it was yesterday.”

    People like Iriss Phiri show that indeed, one person can make a difference. And they can make an even bigger difference, if they get the resources and support they need.

    *Perpetual Sichikwenkwe writes from Zambia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.


    Global: New report shows link between GE crops and pesticide increase


    Genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybeans and cotton have increased use of weed-killing herbicides — a type of pesticide — by 383 million pounds in the U.S. from 1996 to 2008, according to a new report titled “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years” announced by The Organic Center (TOC), the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

    Global: RealClimate: Commentary site on climate change


    RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science. All posts are signed by the author(s), except ‘group’ posts which are collective efforts from the whole team. This is a moderated forum.

    Kenya: Saviour trees turn scourge


    A tree introduced to Kenya to combat desertification has itself become a problem, invading farmland and damaging farmers' livelihoods. Prosopsis juliflora, known as the 'devil tree' in some areas, was introduced from Latin America to semi-arid districts of Kenya by nongovernmental organisations in the 1980s.

    Land & land rights

    Ethiopia: ‘Land to the Grabber’

    The Rise of the Neo-Gebbar System


    In recent years, powerful and rich middle-east and Asian countries have been on a quest for the ultimate ‘breadbasket’ of grains to feed their growing population and to combat rising food prices. These powerful and rich Asian countries have gone to poor African countries, such as Ethiopia, with corrupt governments to grab farmland for the purpose of growing grains there, and then exporting them to feed their own people.

    Morocco – Drop in foreign farm investment


    Morocco has the resources to press ahead with farm sector reform, even if many foreign investors are unwilling to commit for now, industry officials said. Foreign investment in the north African country had fallen by a third in September compared to a year earlier, according to government figures, as the global banking crisis made investors loath to venture into new markets,

    Food Justice

    Global: FAO seeks stronger world food security


    The Food and Agriculture Organization's top governing body has cleared the way for setting up a stronger and more effective system of global food security governance.

    Media & freedom of expression

    Cote d'Ivoire: Press Council bans publication of polls on election


    The Ivorian National Press Council (CNP) has banned the publication of opinion polls conducted on presidential candidates for the forthcoming election. "Within the framework of the electoral process, the National Press Council informs the media that in accordance with Article 39 of Ruling Né 2008-133 of 14 April 2008 on adjustments to the electoral code for out of crisis elections, it is prohibited to publish or issue estimates of vote or conduct polls of any kind, from any place, based on the provisional electoral roll,' a statement from the Press Council said.

    Guinea: Independent press group threatened by military


    Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has raised alarm with the safety and protection of the media in Guinea following an alleged plot by the military junta, targeting the independent media.

    Somalia: Two foreign journalists released


    Somali gunmen have released two foreign journalists who were held for 14 months in the capital city of Mogadishu of war-torn Somalia. Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan and Canadian freelance reporter Amanda Lindhout were abducted in Mogadishu in August 2008 while they were visiting a refugee camp outside of the capital.

    Tunisia: Prominent journalist jailed


    A Tunisian journalist has been sentenced to six months imprisonment on for slander and assault after a trial criticised by rights groups. Accused of assaulting a woman in public, Taoufik Ben Brik, 49, was arrested on October 29, four days after Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was re-elected with nearly 90 per cent of the vote.

    Conflict & emergencies

    CAR: Town 'empty' after rebel raid


    Most residents have fled Ndele town in northern Central African Republic after clashes between rebels and the army. The CPJP rebels attacked at dawn on Thursday but the army is now in control. Casualty numbers are unclear.

    DRC: Women live in fear of rape


    Julie* had just blown out the kerosene lamp and was lying in bed next to her husband when suddenly the stillness of the night was pierced by enraged shouts and the sound of a door being kicked open. Eight armed men burst into her house in a small village in Congo’s North Kivu province, wielding machetes and automatic rifles.

    Guinea: Soldiers raped 100 in crackdown, says group


    Guinean soldiers raped at least 100 women during a crackdown on protesters in September, a human rights group has said. The findings were released as United Nations experts began to investigate the repression, in which about 160 people were killed. The crackdown has drawn widespread condemnation and brought sanctions against the ruling military junta.

    Nigeria: Prosecute killings by security forces


    The Nigerian government has not brought a single prosecution or even begun investigations a year after Nigerian policemen and soldiers killed more than 130 civilians in responding to deadly sectarian clashes in the central Nigerian city of Jos, Human Rights Watch has said.

    Somalia: Rebels seize key border town


    Islamist hardliners in Somalia have taken over the control of strategic town, Dobley, a southern border between Somalia and Kenya, after clashes with a rival group, reports say on Thursday. Al-shabaab fighters attacked and took over the town in the early hours of Wednesday from rival group Hizbul Islam.

    Sudan: Over 300 former combatants discharged


    More than 300 former combatants in Darfur, including women and disabled persons, have participated in a three-day discharge programme organized by the Government of Sudan with support from the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur.

    Internet & technology

    Global: Fourth Internet Governance Forum - APC assessment


    This year the fourth internet governance forum was playing it safe – perhaps because next year could be its last – but we still saw real progress. Privacy no longer plays second fiddle to security, people’s rights online are recognised as central by all sides. Social networking was the new star centre stage.

    Fundraising & useful resources

    Africa: Fitzgerald Prize


    The FitzGerald Prize is a scholarship set up by Reuters outgoing Board to honour Niall FitzGerald, its Chairman, and now Deputy Chairman of Thomson Reuters. Niall has a long-standing interest in Africa, having served as CEO of Unilever’s foods business in South Africa in the early 1980s. He also co-chairs the Investment Climate Facility for Africa
    The FitzGerald Prize is a scholarship set up by Reuters outgoing Board to honour Niall FitzGerald, its Chairman, and now Deputy Chairman of Thomson Reuters. Niall has a long-standing interest in Africa, having served as CEO of Unilever’s foods business in South Africa in the early 1980s. He also co-chairs the Investment Climate Facility for Africa

    The award enables a young African journalist to attend an honours course in journalism at Wits University in Johannesburg. In order to be considered for the scholarship the journalist must have a degree or 3 years solid journalism experience. Once the year long honours course is finished the successful applicant will work for 6 months as a paid intern in a Reuters bureau in Africa, such as Johannesburg or Nairobi.

    The scholarship pays all the University fees plus granting the winner living expenses to cover rent, books, food etc. The bursary is approximately £7000 per year.

    The prize is advertised on the Thomson Reuters Foundation website, the Wits University website as well as via our local offices around Africa.

    Our inaugural winner is a young lady called Olivia Kumwenda, a 26 year old Malawian journalist working with Nation Publications Ltd. She is about to complete her year in Wits and will soon move to our main news bureau in Johannesburg.

    Application Process

    The next winner will start at Wits in February 2010.

    We are in the final stages of choosing the winner but if you are aware of any particularly strong candidates please encourage them to contact Shan Kelly ([email protected]; +44 7990 560513) as soon as possible. We would be particularly interested in candidates from West Africa.

    Global: Poverty and Economic Policy (PEP) research network 2010 competition


    The Poverty and Economic Policy (PEP) research network announces a call for proposals for its 2010 competition for research grants with a total vlaue of up to $CAN 50,000 each.

    Global: Survivors Connect


    Survivors Connect is a collaborative project to build global advocacy & support networks of survivors and activists working to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Survivors Connect uses innovative instruments such as social media, new technologies and other interactive media to empower and enhance protection, prosecution and prevention efforts.

    Courses, seminars, & workshops

    Global: Dorothy Marcus Senesh Fellowship


    The International Peace Research Association Foundation invites applications for the Dorothy Marchus Senesh Fellowship in Peace and Development Studies for Third World Women. Dorothy Senesh was a long-time activist for international peace and justice. Her husband Lawrence established this fellowship following her death in 1989. The first award was made at the IPRA 25th Anniversary meeting, July 1990, in Groningen, Netherlands and has been made biennially since. The eleventh award will be made at the 23nd biennial IPRA meeting in Syndey, Australia.

    South Africa: Durban International Film Festival 2010


    The Durban International Film Festival's 31 st edition will take place from 22 July to 1 August 2010 and will present over 200 screenings of films from around the world, with a focus on films from South Africa and Africa. Screenings will take place throughout Durban including township areas where cinemas are non-existent.

    South Africa: Masters, Doctoral & Post-Doctoral Study - PLAAS


    Professor Ben Cousins of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at UWC has been awarded the South African Research Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (funded by the Department of Science and Technology and administered by the National Research Foundation.) This will allow him to support and supervise a number of post-doctoral fellows and masters and doctoral students, who will undertake field research in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces. Applications are invited for these positions.

    South Africa: PDFs and studentships with NRF Chair in social change


    Universtiy of Johannesburg’s Professor Peter Alexander has been awarded the South African Research Chair in Social Change (funded by the Department of Science and Technology and administered by the National Research Foundation). This prestigious chair will enable him to support: three post-doctoral fellows, three doctoral students, three masters students and two honours students. Applications are invited for all of these positions.
    Honours, Masters, Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Study with the South African Research Chair in Social Change

    UJ’s Professor Peter Alexander has been awarded the South African Research Chair in Social Change (funded by the Department of Science and Technology and administered by the National Research Foundation). This prestigious chair will enable him to support: three post-doctoral fellows, three doctoral students, three masters students and two honours students. Applications are invited for all of these positions.

    The study of social change is extensive in its spatial and temporal horizons, it is diverse in its concerns, and it works across disciplinary boundaries to grapple with inter-relationships between different dynamics. The Chair will begin to address this complexity by focussing on social change in contemporary South Africa, undertaking this in a way that recognises the importance of cross-national and historically grounded research. It has a particular interest in class and its intersections; comparative labour history; immigration, xenophobia and super-diversity; civil society, protest and democracy; and the sociology of the state.

    PDFs and doctoral and masters students will be supervised or co-supervised by Prof. Alexander and honours students will be employed as research assistants. If students are not yet registered on an appropriate programme, registration will be facilitated by the Chair. Stipends for full-time students (including support from UJ and Faculty of Humanities)* are as follows:

    Post-doctoral fellows: R180,000 p.a. Doctoral students: R95,000 p.a. Masters students: R55,000 p.a. Honours students: R31,000 p.a.

    Students may also apply for a UJ New Generation Scholarship (applications close on 30 November) and for a Humanities Faculty Merit Bursary. All PDFs and doctoral and MA students will be provided with a lap-top and other hardware, financial support for research and conference attendance, and office space.

    To apply, send your cv, the names of three academic referees and a letter of motivation to [email protected] The closing date is 30 November 2009. For further information, call Ms Annelize Naidoo on 011 559 4250 or email her [email protected]

    Fahamu - Networks For Social Justice

    Pambazuka News is published by Fahamu Ltd.

    © Unless otherwise indicated, all materials published are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. For further details see:

    Pambazuka news can be viewed online: English language edition
    Edição em língua Portuguesa
    Edition française
    RSS Feeds available at

    Pambazuka News is published with the support of a number of funders, details of which can be obtained at

    or send a message to [email protected] with the word SUBSCRIBE or UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line as appropriate.

    The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Pambazuka News or Fahamu.

    With over 1000 contributors and an estimated 500,000 readers Pambazuka News is the authoritative pan African electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa providing cutting edge commentary and in-depth analysis on politics and current affairs, development, human rights, refugees, gender issues and culture in Africa.

    In addition to its online store, Fahamu Books is pleased to announce that Yash Tandon’s Ending Aid Dependence is now available for purchase in bookstores in Tanzania, Ghana, Zambia, Malaysia, and Mauritius. For more information on the location of these stores, please visit Where to buy our books on the Fahamu Books website, or purchase online.

    *Pambazuka News has now joined Twitter. By following 'pambazuka' on Twitter you can receive headlines from our 'Features' and 'Comment & Analysis' sections as they are published, and can even receive our headlines via SMS. Visit our Twitter page for more information:

    *Pambazuka News now has a page, where you can view the various websites that we visit to keep our fingers on the pulse of Africa! Visit

    ISSN 1753-6839

    ISSN 1753-6839 Pambazuka News English Edition

    ISSN 1753-6847 Pambazuka News en Français

    ISSN 1757-6504 Pambazuka News em Português

    © 2009 Fahamu -