Pambazuka News 536: Polluters and corporates: Stealing the commons
The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa
Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839
CONTENTS: 1. Features, 2. Comment & analysis, 3. Advocacy & campaigns, 4. Books & arts, 5. Zimbabwe update, 6. African Union Monitor, 7. Women & gender, 8. Human rights, 9. Refugees & forced migration, 10. Elections & governance, 11. Corruption, 12. Development, 13. Health & HIV/AIDS, 14. Education, 15. LGBTI, 16. Environment, 17. Land & land rights, 18. Food Justice, 19. Media & freedom of expression, 20. Social welfare, 21. News from the diaspora, 22. Conflict & emergencies, 23. Internet & technology, 24. eNewsletters & mailing lists, 25. Fundraising & useful resources, 26. Courses, seminars, & workshops
Highlights from this issue
ZIMBABWE UPDATE: Drama over release of Tsvangirai aide
AFRICAN UNION MONITOR: Concern over lack of civil society events at AU summit
WOMEN AND GENDER: International Widows’ Day: The world must support its widows
HUMAN RIGHTS: ICC issues Gaddafi arrest warrant
REFUGEES AND FORCED MIGRATION: Criticism as North Africa migrant death toll reaches 1,000
ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE: News from Algeria, Botswana, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Africa
CORRUPTION: Tunisia’s Ben Ali sentenced in absentia
DEVELOPMENT: Egypt declines World Bank loan
HEALTH AND HIV/AIDS: Drug distribution policy fails Ugandan clinics
LGBTI: UN chief speaks out on corrective rape
ENVIRONMENT: Renewables growth outstrips coal, nuclear
LAND AND LAND RIGHTS: Hundreds of organisations say no to land grabbing
FOOD JUSTICE: Egypt proposes ban on export restrictions that undermine food security
MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: South Africa’s ANC backs down on information bill
SOCIAL WELFARE: Food security challenges in Mozambique in the spotlight
CONFLICT AND EMERGENCIES: News from Chad, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan
PLUS: Internet and Technology, eNewsletters and mailing lists, Fundraising and useful resources, Courses, seminars and workshops and Jobs…
From Bonn to Durban, climate meetings are conferences of polluters
Judging by what transpired at last week’s global climate negotiations in the former West German capital, Bonn, it appears certain that in just over five months time, the South African port city of Durban will host a conference of procrastinators, the ‘COP 17’ (Conference of Parties), dooming the earth to the frying pan. Further inaction on climate change will leave our city’s name as infamous for elite incompetence and political betrayal as is Oslo’s in the Middle East.
It appears certain that Pretoria’s alliance with Washington, Beijing, New Delhi and Brasilia, witnessed in the shameful 2009 Copenhagen Accord, will be extended to other saboteurs of the Kyoto Protocol, especially from Ottawa, Tokyo and Moscow, along with Brussels and London carbon traders.
What everyone now predicts is a conference of paralysis. Not only will the Kyoto Protocol be allowed to expire at the end of its first commitment period (2012). Far worse, Durban will primarily be a conference of profiteers, as carbon trading - the privatisation of the air, giving rich states and companies the property-right to pollute - is cemented as the foundation of the next decade’s global climate malgovernance.
Indeed, a telling diplomatic move in Bonn was when Pretoria negotiators, weighed down by team members from maxi-polluters Eskom, Sasol and the National Business Initiative, tried to break African solidarity against European Union plans for opening up new carbon markets (in exchange for Europe emitting much more Green House Gas pollution) - instead of doing the honourable thing by paying the EU’s vast climate debt to Africa straight up.
A local alignment is now approaching in which on the one hand Pretoria’s Bantustan-type politicians and officials will legitimise ‘climate apartheid’ once the COP17 begins at the Durban International Convention Centre, at the same time as they support every homegrown, climate-destroying action in sight:
- building two of the world’s four largest coal-fired power plants for $20-billion each at Kusile and Medupi (not to mention new nuclear power plants too);
- digging a vast new $14-billion port in South Durban, announced last week;
- constructing a new $12-billion heavy-oil refinery in Port Elizabeth; and
- offering shale-gas fracking exploration rights to South African, Norwegian and US firms in the fragile Drakensburg mountain range (just revealed last Friday by Durban’s two excellent green journalists, Tony Carnie and Colleen Dardagan).
To top it off, the promised $100-billion/year Green Climate Fund, far larger than any other financing source ever assembled, is co-chaired by another Northern-pliant Pretoria politician, national planning minister Trevor Manuel, a man who takes his responsibilities so lackadaisically that he offered no visible objection to these eco-catastrophic investments.
Indeed, as finance minister, Manuel repeatedly gave SA’s state power corporation Eskom the green light to continue supplying the world’s cheapest electricity to BHP Billiton and the Anglo American Corporation while raising poor people’s power prices to unaffordable heights so as to pay for the expensive plants.
Manuel apparently thought so highly of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) that in late April he preferred to stay home in Cape Town, unsuccessfully seeking votes for the ruling party (it lost to the conservative opposition in mid-May municipal elections), instead of going to the Mexico City conference where in absentia Manuel was given GCF design co-leadership. In all the talk of his joining the EU-rigged race for International Monetary Fund managing director, which Manuel quit on the last day, 10 June, not a word was uttered about climate or his GCF co-chair responsibilities.
The GCF may do far more harm than good, especially if Manuel’s team authorises the financing of ‘false solutions’ such as biotech, genetically modified trees and plants, timber plantations, nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage, or seeding the air with the coolant SO2 and the sea with iron filings to create algae blooms. He has already pronounced that the GCF should raise up to half its funds through carbon trading.
But Manuel will fail not only because of periodic carbon market collapses but because, as Third World Network director Meena Raman complained last week, ‘Only a few (6) days of negotiations have been set aside for the GCF Technical Committee between now and Durban, while there are many complex issues to resolve…[How can they] execute the difficult and important task in such a short period of time?’ At the 30 May GCF workshop in Bonn, only co-chair Kjetil Lund of Norway attended parts of the session, but Manuel and the third co-chair, Mexico’s Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, were no-shows.
This typifies the disrespect that state and business elites show for climate negotiations. Because Pretoria can’t be trusted to lead the world in December, says Michele Maynard of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, ‘African civil society is calling on the South African government to have an open, democratic and accountable process. That means saying when, where and who they are meeting and how they will let the people actually impacted by climate change have their say.’
Maynard continued, ‘This is all the more urgent as we hear that New Zealand and the US are driving the introduction of “soil carbon” markets into the negotiations. These markets are false solutions that will only fuel the land-grab in Africa and seriously undermine the ability of poor Africans to feed themselves.’
The Kyoto Protocol will be the first casualty of Durban, everyone predicts. The North wants a voluntary ‘political commitment’ sometimes called ‘pledge and review’ to replace the binding emissions reductions requirements made in 1997 in Kyoto.
To be sure, the civil society movement Climate Justice Now! is disgusted by Kyoto’s low targets (just 5 per cent decrease in emissions since 1990); ease of exit (especially by the world’s worst tar-sands polluter, Canada); lack of sanctions against big polluters for not participating (the US and Australia) or for missing even weak targets (nearly everyone); failure to penalise corporate beneficiaries of vast coal operations in sites like South Africa; and reliance on carbon markets to make emissions cuts more palatable to big capital, thanks to the sleazy deal done by Al Gore in 1997 in exchange for official US support (but the Senate vote against Kyoto was 95-0).
Still, a binding global deal is ultimately needed, and replacing Kyoto with a voluntary ‘Durban Package’ would be disastrous given the US, EU and Japanese track-record on underfunding, cheating and bribery. Thanks to last December’s release of US State Department cables by Julian Assange and Bradley Manning (presumably, as he remains uncharged in Leavenworth prison in Kansas), it is undeniable that Clinton underlings Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing are bullies who should be banned from all future negotiations. The EU’s Connie Hedegaard happily joined them to plot de-funding of the GCF in February 2010, according to WikiLeaks.
To meet scientific requirements for planet-saving emissions cuts requires a binding UN effort like that made in 1987 in Montreal to ban CFCs, the chemical that was widening the deadly ozone hole. But given the rise of neoliberalism (1990s), neoconservatism (2000s) and their subsequent fusion as the dominant ideologies within the United Nations, a repeat of the Montreal Protocol is not possible anytime soon.
So at the last two climate COPs, in Copenhagen (2009) and Cancún (2010), Pretoria lined up squarely with the worst environmental wreckers. The result, according to Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Sólon, at a Bonn press conference, are ‘commitments of emissions reductions that leads us to a scenario of [a temperature increase of] 4 degrees Celsius. And that is absolutely unacceptable. We need to come out of South Africa with commitments of emissions reductions that will put us in a scenario of between 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to preserve our planet and life as we know it.’
Concluded Sólon, one of the few negotiators brave enough to speak truth to power inside UN’s dead space, ‘South Africa is the place to fight against the new apartheid against Mother Earth and its vital systems.’
Local activists will join this fight knowing their politicians and officials are terribly destructive. One reason Durban will be regarded in future as the city that amplified climate apartheid, is the elites’ hunger to codify and even celebrate market-based environmental governance, including the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) programme.
According to Sólon, ‘There is a proposal in the Cancún agreement that focuses everything on…guidelines in the capacity of forests to capture CO2. We must not focus on how to prepare forests for a market mechanism, we must fight deforestation now.’
REDD’s most dogmatic advocate has been the World Bank, which is also the trustee for the Green Climate Fund, leading to civil society demands for its repulsion. ‘The World Bank is part of the climate problem, not the climate solution,’ Sebastian Valdomir of Friends of the Earth International said at Bonn. ‘Its appalling social and environmental track record should immediately disqualify it from playing any role whatsoever in designing the Green Climate Fund, and in climate finance more generally.’
Case in point: the Bank’s $3.75-billion loan to Eskom last year, mainly to fund the Medupi plant in spite of well-known conflicts of interest (African National Congress investments in Hitachi boiler construction) and worsening inability to pay for electricity by poor South Africans, who continue ‘service delivery protests’ at amongst the highest rate in the world.
Rather than expect the dubious bankers to tackle our greatest challenge, Sólon proposed an international financial transactions tax to fund climate aid. The North’s existing commitments, such as the supposed $30-billion in fast track funding pledged by Hillary Clinton at Copenhagen through 2012, is proving to be just as reliable as the G8’s Gleneagles Summit 2005 financing pledges to Africa.
Conferences of empty pledges, such as Clinton’s, as unveiled at Bonn by her own colleagues on 7 June (‘there will not be $100 billion a year in the GCF’), have one main purpose: to deflect the world’s justified anger at how Northern pollution threatens us all.
There is another deflection trick we can expect in Durban, just as at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, when Third World Network’s Martin Khor condemned the host chair (Thabo Mbeki) for importing the exclusionary methodology of the World Trade Organisation’s ‘Green Rooms’. Venezuela’s negotiators in Bonn last week criticised Pretoria’s ‘proliferation of innovative ideas’ that were hashed out beyond closed doors.
Against top-down disasters like these, can activists change the balance of forces? Last Friday as Bonn was drawing to a desultory close, the Durban-born leader of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, showed exactly the spirit required, while attempting delivery of a 50,000-strong petition to an offshore drilling rig run by Cairn Energy near Greenland.
As Naidoo approached the rig, the Leif Eriksson (named after a Scandinavian Viking, a tribe renowned for looting, pillaging and raping), he was hit by near-freezing water cannon blasts and then arrested ‘indefinitely’ for violating a court injunction.
Said Naidoo, ‘Arctic oil drilling is one of the defining environmental battles of our age. I’m an African but I care deeply about what’s happening up here. The rapidly melting cap of Arctic sea ice is a grave warning to all of us, so it’s nothing short of madness that companies like Cairn see it as a chance to drill for fossil fuels that got us into this climate change mess in the first place. We have to draw a line and say no more.’
The same line will have to be drawn against the Durban Conference of Polluters, and it appears Saturday, 3 December will be a global day of action. In Durban and in your hometown, the strongest possible stance will be needed to finally address the mess.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society in Durban and is author of the forthcoming book, Politics of Climate Justice, for UKZN Press.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News
'Transparency' hides Zambia's lost billions
cc EITIMining corporations' tax avoidance schemes cost African nations billions of dollars each year, says Khadija Sharife.
African nations such as Zambia are often seen as grossly corrupt. Yet it is corporate tax ‘avoidance’ on the part of mining companies that costs the nation hundreds of millions annually, while lining the pockets of middle-men in countries such as Switzerland. And the much-lauded Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) may help - rather than hinder - this reality.
Zambia recently became the 26th country to publish the EITI report, disclosing payments from mining companies for the year 2008. The EITI standard is meant to ‘facilitate transparency’ by assessing net discrepencies between resource rents - royalties and taxes remitted by multinationals and received by governments.
The primary intention of the EITI report, backed by many of the world's major extractive or resource-seeking multinationals including Shell, Chevron, Vale, BHP Billiton, Anglo-American and others, is to eliminate corruption by shining a light on the flow of revenue. Describing companies as ‘complicit’ in corruption limited to the environments in which they are required to operate, the EITI system claims that reduced reputational risk is a tremendous upside for foreign investors and corporate entities.
Currently, Zambia is one of 24 EITI candidate countries, of which more than half are African, including Tanzania, Gabon, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, and Burkina Faso - among others. Already, five of 11 EITI ‘compliant’ nations are African, many of them surprising choices like Nigeria, Niger, and Liberia.
According to Clare Short, head of the EITI system and former British secretary of state for international development, a ministry created under then-Prime Minister Tony Blair - who announced the initiative in 2002 as a joint project of the UK and the World Bank - once a country joins EITI, all companies operating within the ‘host’ country must make full disclosures.
The logic goes that, so long as there is disclosure of cash payments within national boundaries, transparency will act as a natural sanction - diminishing the potential for, and realisation of, corruption.
It is a logic that appears to bank on political or ‘demand-side’ corruption, chiefly innate to the developing country's character - with corporations simply ‘going along’ with the system - a kind of ‘when in Rome’ response.
But the EITI theory is vastly different from the reality and has more to do with corporate and ‘first world’ country supply-side corruption. Zambia's first report, for instance, revealed that mining companies remitted $463 million in payments to the government in 2008. The EITI report claims ‘significant discrepencies’, noting a net total of ‘unresolved discrepencies’ of $66 million.
In that same year, much of Zambia's exported copper, almost half of which was earmarked for Switzerland, never arrived at its destination - disappearing into thin air. Moreover, the pricing structure for Swiss copper - remarkably similar to Zambia's exported copper - was six times higher than the funds Zambia received, facilitating a potential loss of some $11.4bn. This is especially interesting when taking into account that Zambia's entire GDP for 2008 was $14.3bn.
GLENCORE’S LUCRATIVE POLICIES
This type of corporate corruption - known as transfer mispricing - made headlines recently when a leaked report authored by Grant Thornton at the request of the Zambia Revenue Agency (ZRA) unpacked how the lucrative Glencore-controlled Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) - a company which declared no profits - was cheating the country's tax base of copper revenue.
The auditors disclosed that MCM tried ‘resisting the pilot audit at every stage’, rendering them unable to access crucial data in many instances. MCM's chief executive, Emmanuel Mutati, claimed that the audit was not accurate, precisely because data was inaccurate. Yet Glencore, the world's largest commodity trader, controlling 50 per cent of the global copper market, is confident that MCM will be ‘exonerated’.
In all probability, Glencore will be saying that transfer pricing is perfectly legal and central to trade. But the nature of ‘arms-length transfer pricing’ within the current deregulated global financial architecture, enables multinationals (conducting as much as 60 per cent of global trade within - rather than between - corporations) to ‘self-regulate’ pricing.
So, though pricing, in theory, is determined according to ‘market values’, in reality, the ‘corporate veil’ facilitates tremendous mispricing when subsidiaries of the same company trade with one another - the means through which Glencore allegedly purchased grade +1 copper well below market prices, with MCM allegedly preferring, all too often,the lowest price offered by a Glencore subsidiary, described by the audit as an act likely for buyers, not sellers, who would experience diminished profits.
Glencore International AG, based in Switzerland, the world's leading secrecy jurisdiction, handpicked by Glencore founder and notorious commodity trader Marc Rich, further enables the company to take further advantage of little or no taxation.
Tax havens such as Switzerland are essential to resource-seeking corporations operating in Africa: more than 85 per cent of asset portfolios for sub-Saharan Africa passes through tax havens. In Zambia, MCM's structure - like that of Vedanta and others - keenly utilises tax havens as vehicles for shell companies able to access legal and financial opacity tools including banking secrecy, thin capitalisation, little or no taxation, zero disclosure of company accounts, use of nominees, and, best of all, high-level client confidentiality, all of which is entirely legal.
MINING AND TAX HAVENS
Thus, however illicit, by outsourcing the commercialised sovereignty of tax havens, transfer mispricing, when realised through tax avoidance, is legal within select jurisdictions. The financial geography of MCM is located almost entirely in tax havens: though a Zambian company, it is 73 per cent owned by Carlisa Investments (a British Virgin Islands company, 82 per cent owned by Bermuda-based Glencore Finance, which is 100 per cent owned by Glencore International AG). MCM's mining partner, holding 18 per cent of Carlisa, is another mining entity active globally and in Zambia - First Quantum.
And while the extractive industry is being promoted rather aggressively as the primary vehicle to kickstart Zambia's real economy, mining companies generate just 2.2 per cent of revenue collected by Zambian authorities, with the bigger percentage of tax derived from withheld taxes paid by workers. The result? Just 4.4 per cent of actual taxes remitted from the already minute sum paid by mining houses comprises corporate tax. This is a particularly nifty boutique tax product called Total Tax Contribution, created by auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which helps corporations avoid taxation.
Zambia's government acknowledged that the country missed cashing in on the 2004-2008 commodity boom, when copper prices more than tripled. But companies like MCM don't have to pay the new royalty rates of three per cent - as 20 year stability clauses from secretive development agreements issued soon after privatisation provided the company with arguably the world's lowest royalty rate at 0.6 per cent. This agreement will remain in force until the year 2020. Worse still, had these agreements not been leaked, it would never have come to light that corporate tax rates were effectively zero, thanks to deferments and royalties.
MCM is the largest copper mining operation in Zambia - and Glencore certainly stands to benefit from locking down the copper market, not simply because copper wires the modern world, but also because it is fundamental to renewable energy. In fact, shortages are estimated to drive up the price of copper from its current historic high at $9,000 per tonne, to that of about $11,000 by 2013, elevated in large parts by the demands of emerging nations such as China, the world's largest consumer.
SOLUTIONS TO COMPANY OPERATIONS
Thus, catching revenue leakage through EITI - off the mark by billions - is impossible because it does not focus on what multinationals ought to have paid, only what they have paid, and it never investigates the means through which corporations were able to circumvent taxation.
There are several reasons for this: EITI allows inconsistent standards, limited to national boundaries, despite the international nature of multinational economic activity. And the EITI system, for instance, provides national governments with choices that fragment the legitimacy and accuracy of conclusions - even insofar as they attempt to track cash payments, including whether reporting is mandatory, whether auditing is required, what should be published and the accounting policies used, materiality levels, et cetera.
Aggregated templates used by multinationals - and even the EITI system - prevent scrutiny, for example, of where problems are arising, where they are replicated, how they are realized, if problems are being sorted out, and how. The EITI system would easily allow another subsidiary of the same mining company, based in another jurisdiction, to make a corrupt payment to a politician in Zambia. It would allow a company within Zambia, created for shell purposes, to be paid for ‘services rendered’, diminishing tax. Thin capitalisaton would allow for one subsidiary of the same parent company to make high interest loans to the host country subsidiary, diminishing taxable profits. The possibilities are endless - and often utilised.
Of course, there are many solutions, namely that of corporate country-by-country reporting (CbC), created by Richard Murphy, a founder of the Tax Justice Network. This would involve real natural sanctions prohibiting companies from artificially using tax havens (by disclosing the lack of substantial economic activities in these jurisdictions) while also limiting the scope of transfer mispricing.
Elements of CbC include the names of each country in which the multinational operates; the names of all companies trading in each country in which the company operates; the financial performance in each country in which it operates; sales between third parties and other group companies; purchases split between third parties and intra-group transactions; labour costs and employee numbers; financing costs; pre-tax profits; deferred taxation liabilities for the country at the start and close of each accounting period; the actual payments to the government; the tax charge for the split between current and deferred tax and so on.
It is a method inspired by a system already in place in the US. Certainly, critics will claim that transfer mispricing is always possible, but the difference between CbC and EITI, is that with the former, it is exceedingly difficult, whereas with the latter, it is highly probable.
WORLD BANK’S PUSH
So why does the EITI allow for so many potential faultlines, vacuums and opt-outs? Like Chile, Zambia historically was one of the world's leading copper producers, extracting and exporting some 700,000 tonnes annually during its ‘golden peak’. Currently, Zambia has hit the 800,000 mark, pegged to exploit more than 1 million tonnes per annum in the next year or so.
Way back when Zambia's copper industry was being privatised, the World Bank pushed for the lowest possible tax and royalty rates, providing companies with the type of secretive development agreements mentioned above. The Bank claimed that the limited intervention of the Zambian government rendered the process the most successful in the region.
Describing Zambia's new system imposed by the ‘arm-twisting of the World Bank’, a 1996 New York Times piece stated: ‘All exchange controls, tariff barriers and food subsidies have been dropped in the shock-treatment switch-over to rampant capitalism… Virtually everything the state owned is for sale.’
For African citizens, the World Bank is perceived as the source of devastating structural adjustment programmes created conditions still haunting countries like Zambia. Until mid-1995, the Bank itself refused to acknowledge the ‘C-word’ - corruption - claiming such to be political and beyond the Bank's mandate.
This was despite the reality that 60 per cent of every dollar provided in external loans left the continent through illicit flight.
It has yet to factor illicit flight in accounting models. Had this been done, sub-Saharan Africa would be unpacked as a global net creditor - as the Bank itself disclosed in a report many years back.
As Treasure Islands author Nick Shaxson reveals in his book, though looted wealth is transformed to private wealth, the empty hole in the public purse is transformed to a public debt. He cites the example of Africans ‘bearing’ the public debts by describing the case of a pretty Angolan girl, forced to bear an infection rotting a hole the size of a golfball in her cheek, because she could not access public healthcare.
Meanwhile, EITI's other backer, the UK, is host to more than half of the world's tax havens: three as British Crown Dependencies (such as Jersey - the corporate hub from which Glencore recently launched an IPO), seven as British Overseas Territories (including world famous hubs such as the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, and Bermuda - where Zambia's multinationals have incorporated and maintained subsidiary entities), and 21 as members of the Commonwealth.
The City of London, a ring-fenced financial district, is one of the world's leading tax havens, previously described by the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) as ‘head office’ to some of the world's major tax havens.
Put simply, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, these actors - including the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) - comprising the world's most powerful nations and its leading donors, may be seen as benefitting from the impoverishment of African regions.
Each year, Africa loses a minimum of $148bn - almost four times the sum of foreign aid it receives, to capital flight - of which 60 per cent is due to corporate mispricing. Clearly, the solution toward enabling African countries to recover their lost revenue and become economically independent, is to block revenue leakages, rather than provide further loans and grants characterised by conditionalities that undermine development.
Yet, even as 60 per cent of non-grant revenue is generated by resource rents, constituting a main source of income for African nations, many of them ‘rent-seeking’ and dependent on resources for their tax base, the OECD has not implemented CbC, preferring the ‘arms-length system’ created by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) - itself operating from a tax haven, founded and financed by the world's leading accounting firms - such as PwC - and all of whom compete to create the best tax avoidance products for corporations.
Nick Shaxson said this to me in a recent email:
‘The role of the OECD is particularly strange in this respect. It jealously guards some of the main mechanisms and models for transparency and information exchange with respect to international financial flows, and with respect to international tax. And yet these models all, in important ways, significantly disadvantage developing countries.’
It is a disadvantage, locked into the EITI system, designed to present an illusion of accountability where none exists.
So, while EITI may be good news for the companies involved in Zambia, casting them in a clean light, the same cannot really be said for the country's citizens who are being shortchanged.
Short recently claimed that the EITI model, still evolving, would be complemented by such measures. But intimated along with this statement is the notion that EITI itself will not lead this charge. So much for transparency.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* This article was first published by Al Jazeera.
* Khadija Sharife is a journalist and visiting scholar at the Center for Civil Society (CCS) based in South Africa, and a contributor to the Tax Justice Network. She is the Southern Africa correspondent for The Africa Report magazine, assistant editor of the Harvard ‘World Poverty and Human Rights’ journal and author of ‘Tax Us If You Can Africa’.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News
Bringing Canadian mining to justice
Canadian mining investment in Africa has shown remarkable growth in the past decade. The continent currently receives roughly 20 per cent of Canadian overseas mining capital, which in 2009 was valued at over $20-billion. As with other mining regions, Africa is rife with complaints concerning human rights abuse and environmental destruction associated with these investments. Most recently, five people were fatally shot at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine in Tanzania and allegations have surfaced regarding sexual abuse at this operation. Barrick reports finding ‘credible evidence’ that its security guards and Tanzanian police sexually assaulted local women.
Canadian mining companies seem to enjoy impunity virtually everywhere that they operate overseas. Many governments are unable or unwilling to effectively regulate transnational corporations, and judicial institutions are often compromised by myriad issues. It’s not surprising then, that the victims of Canadian corporate abuse turn their sights on Canada. This is the jurisdiction where many mining companies are granted legal personality through incorporation. Canada is also the world’s greatest source of capital for the sector. The Canadian government proactively partners with the mining industry, funding and insuring overseas operations, both through domestic institutions and the multilateral development banks. Canada provides political support to its companies and is increasingly active in the overseas promotion of ‘corporate social responsibility’. The Canadian government is also an important shareholder in this sector via a public pension fund with assets valued at $148-billion.
Thus far, Canada has abdicated its governance responsibility regarding the overseas activities of the mining sector, refusing to regulate either the companies or the government agencies that support them, or to take legislative action to ensure that non-nationals who are prejudiced by the activities of Canadian companies are able to seek redress in Canada.
In 1997, a group of indigenous Guyanese initiated a suit in the Superior Court of Quebec. The Guyanese citizens were the victims of an environmental disaster at the Omai gold mine. They sued for negligence in Quebec, where the mine’s majority owner, Cambior, was incorporated. This was the first suit brought by non-nationals before a Canadian court concerning the overseas operations of a Canadian mining company. The court dismissed the case, declining to exercise jurisdiction. The judge ruled that Guyana was the appropriate venue for the suit, despite expert testimony regarding the inability of that country’s judiciary to provide the victims with a fair trial, and ordered the plaintiffs to pay the company special costs. Subsequent suits brought in Guyana were also dismissed, leaving the victims without remedy.
The Cambior decision cast a decided chill on litigation in Canada concerning overseas mining. Potential plaintiffs were discouraged by the precedent and by the adverse costs award.
Buoyed by record-setting mineral prices, Canadian companies sustain an unbridled expansion throughout the world, and allegations of human rights and environmental harm continue to surface in their wake. Over ten years since the Cambior decision, there is greater awareness in Canada regarding the impacts of the global mining industry, including in the legal community, and foreign nationals are once again testing the legal waters.
Since 2009, foreign plaintiffs have brought four cases against mining companies before Canadian courts. The first was launched in the province of Ontario by three Ecuadorians who were threatened and physically assaulted by security forces allegedly contracted by mining company Copper Mesa. The plaintiffs sued the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and two of the company’s directors in negligence. The Ontario Superior Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments that the defendants owed them a legal duty of care, meaning that neither the TSX nor the corporate directors had sufficient connection to the plaintiffs to establish an enforceable legal obligation. The decision was upheld on appeal.
Two additional cases involving Guatemalan plaintiffs have been launched in Ontario against mining company Hudbay Minerals Inc. The first concerns allegations that security guards employed by the company killed an indigenous leader who opposed the company’s operations. The second suit was brought by 11 indigenous women who claim to have been gang-raped by company security guards, police officers and army officers when their families were evicted to make way for the company’s operations. The Ontario Superior Court has yet to rule on whether it will accept jurisdiction and hear the Guatemalans’ claims.
Finally, last year, Congolese nationals filed a petition for certification as a class action before the Superior Court of Quebec, the same court that refused to hear the Guyanese petition. The case concerns egregious human rights violations that took place in 2004 in the Congolese town of Kilwa. At least 73 civilians were summarily executed when the Congolese Armed Forces attacked local residents. Others suffered torture and illegal detention. A UN investigation revealed that Canadian company, Anvil Mining, provided the army with planes, vehicles, personnel and food that were used during the attack.
In 2006, a Congolese military prosecutor charged Congolese soldiers implicated in the event with war crimes. Three expatriate employees of Anvil Mining were also indicted for their alleged complicity in the crimes. However, the military court acquitted all defendants, including the former general manager of Anvil’s Congolese subsidiary, Pierre Mercier, a Canadian national. The judicial proceedings were widely criticised. Louise Arbour, former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and then the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern regarding both the judicial process and its outcome.
The 2010 petition in Quebec was launched by an association comprised of Kilwa survivors and the relatives of victims. The plaintiffs allege that because Anvil provided the Congolese Armed Forces with logistical support in the commission of human rights violations, the company is therefore complicit. In particular, the plaintiffs allege that Anvil vehicles were used to transport civilians to the periphery of the town, where they were executed, and that airplanes leased to the company were used to bring soldiers to Kilwa, where the crimes were committed.
In March, Anvil sought to have the case dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. It argued that the connection between Quebec and the incidents in question was too tenuous for the Quebec court to assume jurisdiction. The company emphasised, for example, that its head office is located in Australia and that no decision-making regarding operations at its Dikilushi mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo were made in Quebec. Finally, Anvil argued that should the court find jurisdiction, it should decline to hear the case, deferring to more appropriate venues such as the DRC and Australia, as occurred in the Cambior suit.
The following month, the Superior Court denied Anvil’s motion for dismissal and assumed jurisdiction in the case. Justice Emery found that ‘it is impossible to determine that the authorities of the Congo or of Australia would clearly be more appropriate for hearing the case. In fact, at this stage in the proceedings, everything indicates that if the court were to refuse to accept the application […], there would be no other possibility for the victims' civil claim to be heard.’
The court’s decision is significant. It indicates a new openness on the part of the judiciary, at least in the province of Quebec, to consider cases involving foreign plaintiffs and events that occur outside Canada. However, in the latest chapter of what promises to be a hotly-contested process, the company was granted leave to appeal the court’s decision in early June.
The recent wave of litigation in Canada featuring foreign plaintiffs is an encouraging development that may offer victims some measure of redress for the damages they have suffered, while creating a deterrent for corporate malfeasance. While efforts advance to hold transnational corporations to account, the situation is far less encouraging with respect to another supranational actor - the international financial institutions.
In 2004, prior to the Kilwa massacre, the Multilateral Guarantee Investment Agency (MIGA) granted Anvil a US$13.6 million guarantee against the risk of war and civil disturbance for its Congolese mine. MIGA, which is part of the World Bank Group, facilitates private sector investment in developing and emerging markets. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), another World Bank agency, plays a similar role by providing private companies with loans and equity. In 2010, MIGA and the IFC provided the global mining industry with over US$900-million in support. Given the multilateral nature of these institutions, Canadian courts are unlikely to accept jurisdiction in cases involving allegations of their complicity in the misconduct of their clients.
The issue of access to remedy for the victims of corporate abuse requires urgent attention. An obvious priority is to strengthen judicial institutions in the countries where abuse takes place. However, it’s also critical that the judiciary in multinationals’ ‘home’ countries, such as Canada, hear cases involving the alleged negligence and criminal wrong-doing of their companies in foreign countries, especially when the victims lack other viable options. The role of home governments in facilitating human rights violations and other types of abuse should also be examined by domestic courts.
Finally, as with the private sector, the multinational nature of international financial institutions should no longer hinder judicial oversight.
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* Karyn Keenan is the program officer at Halifax Initiative Coalition
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News
 Almost 700 per cent between 2001 and 2009.
 All values in Canadian dollars except where otherwise indicated.
 Natural Resources Canada. Unpublished data.
 See Scott, Craig and Robert Wai, ‘Transnational Governance of Corporate Conduct through the Migration of Human Rights Norms: The Potential Contribution of Transnational “Private” Litigation,’ in C. Joerges, P. Sand and G. Teubner, eds., Transnational Governance and Constitutionalism (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2004) 287-319.
 The World Bank Group in Extractive Industries. 2010 Annual Review.
Saving Uganda from its oil
In 2006, Uganda confirmed the presence of enormous commercial petroleum reserves around Lake Albert along the country’s western border. Since then, geologists have proven at least two billion barrels. With only about 25 per cent of the region explored, some reports indicate that there could be as much as three times that amount - enough to make Uganda a major player in the African oil industry. The oil is set to begin flowing later this year, or perhaps in early 2012, with production targeted at around 200,000 barrels per day.
This discovery marks the beginning of a new epoch in Uganda’s history, and hopes are high across the country that the flow of oil will jumpstart development and ameliorate poverty. Historically speaking, these hopes are terribly misplaced, for the discovery of oil in Africa has rarely brought about positive socio-economic outcomes. Indeed, quite the opposite is true: regions with an abundance of non-renewable sub-surface resources nearly always experience declining development and less economic growth than countries with fewer such resources.
Nigeria offers a disturbing example of this trend. Since production began in the mid 1960s, Nigeria has seen an oil bonanza worth more than $340-billion. But the economy remains in absolute tatters: more than 70 per cent of Nigerians live in conditions of intractable poverty - earning less than a dollar a day - and the infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world. Indeed, Nigerians are significantly poorer today than they were at the start of the oil boom, when only 36 per cent lived below the poverty line. Despite ballooning petroleum revenues, per capita GDP in 2000 was at around 1965 levels. Similar problems plague Africa’s other major petroleum producers, like Chad, Angola, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea.
THE RESOURCE CURSE
Economists call this paradox of poverty amid plenty the ‘resource curse’. As economies become over-reliant on extractive industries, exchange rates appreciate and make imports cheap to the point of undercutting local producers and crippling economic diversification - a scenario known as the ‘Dutch Disease’. In addition, when states rely on rents instead of taxes for the bulk of their revenue, the social contract of accountability between government and citizens gradually erodes, and administrators have no incentive to invest in human resources, encourage industry, or promote the development of a middle class that would provide a sustainable tax base. Such states tend to become heavily repressive: oil-producing countries spend three times more on military force than developed countries, and ten times more than underdeveloped countries (as a proportion of GDP).
If careful controls are not put in place soon, Uganda will suffer exactly this fate. Instead of producing positive development outcomes, petroleum exploitation in Uganda (by Tullow Oil, Total, and China National Offshore Oil Corporation) is likely to deepen income inequalities, entrench poverty, contribute to economic degradation, and devastate the environment. Most importantly, the country’s robust small-scale farming sector - which accounts for around 70 per cent of employment - could be seriously undermined by the impending influx of foreign currency.
As these concerns gain popular traction, Ugandan policymakers have been scrambling to put together a legislative framework that will manage production and revenues once the oil hits the pipelines. In 2008 the government approved a new National Oil and Gas Policy framework, the ostensible goal of which is to ‘use the country’s oil and gas resources to contribute to early achievement of poverty eradication and create lasting value to society’.
Given the corruption that suffuses the regime of Yoweri Museveni, the framework is a surprisingly progressive document. Indeed, the minister of energy and mineral development drafted it in consultation with experts from Norway, which has pioneered some of the world’s best practices in the petroleum industry. For example, revenues from Norway’s oil production feed into a massive Future Generations Fund, support the country’s extensive welfare system, and keep the unemployment rate at around three per cent - one of the lowest in the world.
Any casual observer would be duly impressed with the language that the framework includes. It discusses environmental protection, proposes using revenues for future generations, and promises to ensure that Ugandans benefit from new employment opportunities. It also suggests that oil companies should invest in local human resources (Uganda presently lacks the skilled labour that the oil industry requires) and follow the standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
THE SMALL PRINT
On closer inspection, however, the National Oil and Gas Policy is dangerously vague and absolutely toothless. The framework does not bear the authority of law, and includes no mechanisms that would make its proposed regulations mandatory. Even if the framework’s proposals were to end up as actual legislation, it includes nothing that oil companies would not ordinarily promote in their attempts to erect a façade of legitimacy and burnish the image of an industry beleaguered by PR nightmares. In fact, the framework pays far more attention to creating a favourable investment climate for foreign companies than it does to ensuring the welfare of Ugandans.
The framework misses a monumental opportunity to forestall the resource curse and make Uganda’s oil work for the good of Uganda’s people. A policy dedicated to this goal might borrow language from Alaska’s constitution to require that natural resources be used for ‘the maximum benefit of the people’ and only according to principles of sustainability. Such provisions would arm Ugandans with powerful leverage to ensure that the country’s common wealth accrues to common citizens for generations to come.
On the regulatory side, local content rules should require all multinational companies to tier up over a set period to at least 80 per cent local contracts and labour, and to invest in local capacity even to the point of training local engineers. The Ugandan government should also raise environmental regulations to meet the highest international standards, and demand that both foreign and national oil companies pay regularly into an escrow account to cover the costs of spills and other environmental damage.
On the revenue side, the government should tax oil company profits at relatively high levels, beginning with Norway’s 78 per cent tax on net income and adjusting downward slightly to account for underdeveloped infrastructure and geopolitical risk to investors. These revenues should be paid into an independently audited account, with audits available to the public on a quarterly basis. At least 10 per cent of revenues should go to a Future Generations Fund - following the Norwegian and Alaskan models - to provide an investment base that will last until long after the oil is gone. The Fund should be heavily fortified against misuse by government officials, and the interest from the Fund should go back to citizens in the form of a pension scheme. Like Norway, the Fund should retain an ethics adviser to ensure that its investments meet conscientious environmental and labour standards, and promote local growth wherever possible.
Twenty per cent of revenues should be designated specifically for economic diversification. Using oil money to subsidise more sustainable sectors like agriculture and manufacturing would prevent the Dutch Disease, create widespread local employment (which the oil industry does not), and wean the state away from its dependence on rents to rely instead on taxes paid by a growing middle class. Finally, following international recommendations initially made for Chad, 50 per cent of revenues should be designated for priority human needs such as education, health, infrastructure, and rural development, with distribution subject to rigorous democratic oversight.
Policies along these lines should be clearly enshrined in the proposed Petroleum Exploration, Development, and Production Act, and the Public Finance and Accountability Law that the government is presently amending. Unfortunately, the process of drafting these laws has been conducted largely in secret, with little input from opposition parties or civil society leaders.
For Ugandans to reap the benefits of oil production, the country must actually receive the revenues it deserves. As it stands, the framework fails to protect Uganda from being plundered by the multinational corporations that will soon come to dominate the economy. A new study by Global Financial Integrity shows that commercial tax evasion and trade mispricing accounts for up to 65 per cent of illicit capital flight from Africa, compared to only three per cent through domestic corruption. Since 1970 - the beginning of the era of global market deregulation - as much as $1.17 trillion has disappeared from the continent through tax evasion and mispricing alone. This trend is most conspicuous in the case of petroleum-exporting countries where foreign multinationals have a strong presence, with Nigeria and Angola topping the list.
$1.17 trillion in resource theft amounts to many times more than the continent has ever received in aid. Figures like this demonstrate that there is nothing ‘natural’ or ‘given’ about poverty in Africa - it is the product of long-term, systematic extraction of wealth. Implementing the EITI would be a good first step toward solving this problem, as it requires regular publication and independent audit of all financial exchanges between oil companies and governments. But the EITI cannot prevent mispricing, and nor can it expose the common practice whereby companies launder money internally in order to report lower taxable profits. To plug these holes, Uganda would have to solicit the services of dedicated international watchdogs like the Tax Justice Network.
Franz Fanon, one of Africa’s greatest voices in the anti-colonial movement, recognised that ‘for a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.’ If Ugandans do not take immediate action to protect the yields of their land, the country may soon go the way of Nigeria and become yet another example of how - decades after the end of formal colonialism - profiteering companies continue to pillage Africa’s resources, leaving nothing in their wake but poverty, broken promises, and empty holes in the ground.
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* This article was originally published in Foreign Policy in Focus.
* Jason Hickel teaches courses in African studies at the University of Virginia while working on his doctoral dissertation in anthropology.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News
Senegal: Violent uprising in Dakar
Human rights activist Alioune Tine seriously wounded
Tidiane Kassé, Yellitaare
Alioune Tine is seriously wounded. He is now in the emergency section at the hospital. He was hit on his head. The guys who attacked him are supposed to be the body guards of a minister close to Abdoulaye Wade.
There is a violent uprising happening now here. In the city center of Dakar, in the suburbs and in the provincial areas. A lot of demonstrations and riots are happening.
As you may know, the people are opposed to a law the Members of Parliament are now discussing. If the pass it, it will change all the electoral process. It states that, for the next election in february, people will vote for a president and a vice-president. And one can win with 25% of the voters. This means Abdoulaye Wade will win without no doubt.
Political leaders and civil society organisations called for demonstrations today. A lot of people gathered in front of the National Assembly this morning and violence started there.
Now you have fire in the streets, some ministers houses are in fire, according to news in the radio some people have been shot.
The council of ministers met this morning and it seems that Abdoulaye Wade have change some points of the law. For example, the 25% level for a victory. But I don't think it will be enough to stop the uprising.
STATEMENT FROM YELLITAARE
With great concern, Yellitaare informs the national and international community of acts of harassment, persecution and psychological aggression against Mr Alioune Tine, the head of the Senegalese-based RADDHO rights group.
On Thursday, Senegal's ruling party changed the constitution to lower the percentage of votes a candidate needs to win an election and to create the office of vice president. The changes are being introduced just eight months ahead of the 2012 national election, prompting Dr Alioune Tine and the civil society leaders to deride the proposal as a “constitutional coup.” They said the amendment would favor incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade and his unpopular son. He has given an increasing share of power to his eldest child, Karim Wade, and critics claim the creation of the VP post would be a way to ensure his succession.
At 85, Wade is Africa's second oldest head of state and his bid for an extraconstitutional third term has been heavily contested.
In addition, the new law would allow Wade to be re-elected with just 25 percent of Senegal's approximately 5 million registered voters. This is significantly lower than the more than 50 percent of votes cast that the constitution currently requires to avoid a runoff.
In the 2007 election, Wade won a second term with around 1.9 million votes. He is expected to receive less in the 2012 contest due to growing discontent over frequent power cuts, high unemployment and the spiraling cost of living in Senegal. The new rule would mean Wade could win with just 1.2 million votes, if the number of registered voters stays the same.
On Saturday, at a press conference with representatives of other human rights groups, Dr Alioune Tine called for a “national, regional and international” campaign against the move. He said the opposition campaign would be dubbed: “Don't Touch my Constitution.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Senegalese Prime Minister, Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye, publicly attacked and threatened Dr Tine. There is today a real intention to kill Alioune Tine, the Voice of the Voiceless.
Since 2000, Alioune Tine have been subjected to severe harassment by the National Intelligence and Security Services offices in Dakar/Senegal, in the course of sessions of interrogation related to his activities for the defense of human rights. He has been arrested, interrogated and then released several times.
During the night of November 26 to 27, 2006, Mr. Alioune Tine, received three different phone calls by a person who introduced himself as Mr. X. This person urged Mr. Tine to cease his activities and “advised” him to “think a bit more about himself, his family and his children”.
In an increasingly tense pre-electoral context, these threats are indicative of the degradation of fundamental freedoms, in particular freedom of expression, in Senegal.
Therefore, We request that the national and international community urge the Senegalese government to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Alioune Tine, as well as put an end to any act of harassment against him
- Take immediate measures to provide effective and appropriate protection to
Alioune Tine and his family.
- Carry out its responsibility to guarantee human rights defenders, their
right to carry out their work without unjust restriction and without fear of
reprisal, as is established in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
as well as the resolutions of the Regional rights instruments signed and
ratified by Senegal
Please direct letters in French or English to:
Me Abdoulaye Wade
Présidence de la République
Avenue Léopold Sédar Senghor
Téléphone : 33 880 80 80
Ph.D Candidate USC
Human Rights Activist
President and Founder of Yellitaare
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* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Why Regime Change in Libya?
In light of the brutal death and destruction wrought on Libya by the relentless US/NATO bombardment, the professed claims of ‘humanitarian concerns’ as grounds for intervention can readily be dismissed as a blatantly specious imperialist ploy in pursuit of ‘regime change’ in that country.
There is undeniable evidence that contrary to the spontaneous, unarmed and peaceful protest demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain, the rebellion in Libya has been nurtured, armed and orchestrated largely from abroad, in collaboration with expat opposition groups and their local allies at home. Indeed, evidence shows that plans of ‘regime change’ in Libya were drawn long before the insurgency actually started in Benghazi; it has all the hallmarks of a well-orchestrated civil war.
It is very tempting to seek the answer to the question ‘why regime change in Libya?’ in oil/energy. While oil is undoubtedly a concern, it falls short of a satisfactory explanation because major Western oil companies were already extensively involved in the Libyan oil industry. Indeed, since Gaddafi relented to the US-UK pressure in 1993 and established ‘normal’ economic and diplomatic relations with these and other Western countries, major US and European oil companies struck quite lucrative deals with the National Oil Corporation of Libya.
So, the answer to the question ‘why the imperialist powers want to do away with Gaddafi’ has to go beyond oil, or the laughable ‘humanitarian concerns’. Perhaps the question can be answered best in the light of the following questions: why do these imperialist powers also want to overthrow Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Fidel Castro (and/or his successors) of Cuba, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Rafael Correa Delgado of Ecuador, Kim Jong-il of North Korea, Bashar Al-assad of Syria and Evo Morales of Bolivia? Or, why did they overthrow Mohammad Mossadeq of Iran, Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala, Kusno Sukarno of Indonesia, Salvador Allende of Chile, Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras?
What does Gaddafi have in common with these nationalist/populist leaders? The question is of course rhetorical and the answer is obvious: like them Gaddafi is guilty of insubordination to the proverbial godfather of the world: US imperialism, and its allies. Like them, he has committed the cardinal sin of challenging the unbridled reign of global capital, of not following the economic ‘guidelines’ of the captains of global finance, that is, of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and World Trade Organisation; as well as of refusing to join US military alliances in the region. Also like other nationalist/populist leaders, he advocates social safety net (or welfare state) programs - not for giant corporations, as is the case in imperialist countries, but for the people in need.
This means that the criminal agenda of Messrs Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy, and their complicit allies to overthrow or kill Mr. Gaddafi and other ‘insubordinate’ proponents of welfare state programs abroad is essentially part of the same evil agenda of dismantling such programs at home. While the form, the context and the means of destruction may be different, the thrust of the relentless attacks on the living standards of the Libyan, Iranian, Venezuelan or Cuban peoples are essentially the same as the equally brutal attacks on the living conditions of the poor and working people in the US, UK, France and other degenerate capitalist countries. In a subtle (but unmistakable) way they are all part of an ongoing unilateral class warfare on a global scale - whether they are carried out by military means and bombardments, or through the apparently ‘non-violent’ processes of judicial or legislative means does not make a substantial difference as far as the nature or the thrust of the attack on people's lives or livelihoods are concerned.
In their efforts to consolidate the reign of big capital worldwide, captains of global finance use a variety of methods. The preferred method is usually non-military, that is, the neoliberal strategies of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), carried out by representatives of big business disguised as elected officials, or by the multilateral institutions such as the IMF and the WTO. This is what is currently happening in the debt and deficit ridden economies of the United States and Europe. But if a country like Libya (or Venezuela or Iran or Cuba) does not go along with the neoliberal agenda of ‘structural adjustments’, of outsourcing and privatisation, and of allowing their financial system to be tied to the network of global banking cartel, then the military option is embarked upon to carry out the neoliberal agenda.
The powerful interests of global capitalism do not seem to feel comfortable to dismantle New Deal economics, Social Democratic reforms and welfare state programs in the core capitalist countries while people in smaller, less-developed countries such as Libya, Venezuela or Cuba enjoy strong, state-sponsored social safety net programs such as free or heavily-subsidised education and health care benefits. Indeed, guardians of the worldwide market mechanism have always been intolerant of any ‘undue’ government intervention in the economic affairs of any country in the world. ‘Regimented economies,’ declared President Harry Truman in a speech at Baylor University (1947), were the enemy of free enterprise, and ‘unless we act, and act decisively,’ he claimed those regimented economies would become ‘the pattern of the next century.’ To fend off that danger, Truman urged that ‘the whole world should adopt the American system’.The system of free enterprise, he went on, ‘can survive in America only if it becomes a world system’.
Before it was devastated by the imperialist-orchestrated civil war and destruction, Libya had the highest living standard in Africa. Using the United Nations statistics, Jean-Paul Pougala of Dissident Voice reports,
‘The country now ranks 53rd on the HDI [Human Development Index] index, better than all other African countries and also better than the richer and Western-backed Saudi Arabia… Although the media often refers to youth unemployment of 15 to 30 per cent, it does not mention that in Libya, in contrast to other countries, all have their subsistence guaranteed…The government provides all citizens with free health care and [has] achieved high coverage in the most basic health areas…The life expectancy rose to 74.5 years and is now the highest in Africa…The infant mortality rate declined to 17 deaths per 1,000 births and is not nearly as high as in Algeria (41) and also lower than in Saudi Arabia (21).
‘The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) certified that Libya has also made “a significant progress in gender equality”, particularly in the fields of education and health, while there is still much to do regarding representation in politics and the economy. With a relative low “index of gender inequality” the UNDP places the country in the Human Development Report 2010 concerning gender equality at rank 52 and thus also well ahead of Egypt (ranked 108), Algeria (70), Tunisia (56), Saudi Arabia (ranked 128) and Qatar (94)’.
It is true that after resisting the self-centered demands and onerous pressures from Western powers for more than 30 years, Gaddafi relented in 1993 and opened the Libyan economy to Western capital, carried out a number of neoliberal economic reforms, and granted lucrative business/investment deals to major oil companies of the West.
But, again, like the proverbial godfather, US/European imperialism requires total, unconditional subordination; half-hearted, grudging compliance with the global agenda of imperialism is not enough. To be considered a real ‘ally’, or a true ‘client state’, a country has to grant the US the right to ‘guide’ its economic, geopolitical and foreign policies, that is, to essentially forgo its national sovereignty. Despite some economic concessions since the early 1990s, Gaddafi failed this critical test of ‘full compliance’ with the imperialist designs in the region.
For example, he resisted joining a US/NATO-sponsored military alliance in the region. Libya (along with Syria) are the only two Mediterranean nations and the sole remaining Arab states that are not subordinated to US and NATO designs for control of the Mediterranean Sea Basin and the Middle East. Nor has Libya (or Syria) participated in NATO's almost ten-year-old Operation Active Endeavor naval patrols and exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and neither is a member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue military partnership which includes most regional countries: Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.
To the chagrin of US imperialism, Libya's Gaddafi also refused to join the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), designed to control valuable resources in Africa, safeguard trade and investment markets in the region, and contain or evict China from North Africa. ‘When the US formed AFRICOM in 2007, some 49 countries signed on to the US military charter for Africa but one country refused: Libya. Such a treacherous act by Libya's leader Moummar Qaddafi would only sow the seeds for a future conflict down the road in 2011.’
Furthermore, by promoting trade, development and industrialisation projects on a local, national, regional or African level, Gaddafi was viewed as an obstacle to the Western powers' strategies of unhindered trade and development projects on a global level. For example, Gaddafi's Libya played a leading role in ‘connecting the entire [African] continent by telephone, television, radio broadcasting and several other technological applications such as telemedicine and distance teaching. And thanks to the WMAX radio bridge, a low cost connection was made available across the continent, including in rural areas’.
The idea of launching a pan-African system of a technologically advanced network of telecommunication began in the early 1990s, ‘when 45 African nations established RASCOM (Regional African Satellite Communication Organisation) so that Africa would have its own satellite and slash communication costs in the continent. This was a time when phone calls to and from Africa were the most expensive in the world because of the annual $500 million fee pocketed by Europe for the use of its satellites like Intelsat for phone conversations, including those within the same country. An African satellite only cost a onetime payment of $400 million and the continent no longer had to pay a $500 million annual lease’.
In pursuit of financing this project, the African nations frequently pleaded with the IMF and the World Bank for assistance. As the empty promises of these financial giants dragged on for 14 years, ‘Gaddafi put an end to [the] futile pleas to the western 'benefactors' with their exorbitant interest rates. The Libyan guide put $300 million on the table; the African Development Bank added $50 million more and the West African Development Bank a further $27 million - and that's how Africa got its first communications satellite on 26 December 2007.
‘China and Russia followed suit and shared their technology and helped launch satellites for South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Algeria and a second African satellite was launched in July 2010. The first totally indigenously built satellite and manufactured on African soil, in Algeria, is set for 2020. This satellite is aimed at competing with the best in the world, but at ten times less the cost, a real challenge.
‘This is how a symbolic gesture of a mere $300-million changed the life of an entire continent. Gaddafi's Libya cost the West, not just depriving it of $500-million per year but the billions of dollars in debt and interest that the initial loan would generate for years to come and in an exponential manner, thereby helping maintain an occult system in order to plunder the continent.’
Architects of global finance, represented by the imperialist governments of the West, also viewed Gaddafi as a spoiler in the area of international or global money and banking. The forces of global capital tend to prefer a uniform, contiguous, or borderless global market to multiple sovereign markets at the local, national, regional or continental levels. Not only did Gaddafi's Libya maintain public ownership of its own central bank, and the authority to create its own national money, but it also worked assiduously to establish an African Monetary Fund, an African Central Bank, and an African Investment Bank.
The $30-billion of the Libyan money frozen by the Obama administration belongs to the Central Bank of Libya, which ‘had been earmarked as the Libyan contribution to three key projects which would add the finishing touches to the African Federation - the African Investment Bank in Syrte (Libya), the establishment in 2011 of the African Monetary Fund to be based in Yaoundé (Cameroon)…and the Abuja-based African Central Bank in Nigeria, which when it starts printing African money will ring the death knell for the CFA franc (the French currency) through which Paris has been able to maintain its hold on some African countries for the last 50 years. It is easy to understand the French wrath against Gaddafi.
‘The African Monetary Fund is expected to totally supplant the African activities of the International Monetary Fund which, with only $25 billion, was able to bring an entire continent to its knees and make it swallow questionable privatization like forcing African countries to move from public to private monopolies. No surprise then that on 16-17 December 2010, the Africans unanimously rejected attempts by Western countries to join the African Monetary Fund, saying it was open only to African nations.’
Western powers also viewed Gaddafi as an obstacle to their imperial strategies for yet another reason: standing in the way of their age-old policies of ‘divide and rule’. To counter Gaddafi's relentless efforts to establish a United States of Africa, the European Union tried to create the Union for the Mediterranean (UPM) region. ‘North Africa somehow had to be cut off from the rest of Africa, using the old tired racist clichés of the 18th and 19th centuries, which claimed that Africans of Arab origin were more evolved and civilized than the rest of the continent. This failed because Gaddafi refused to buy into it. He soon understood what game was being played when only a handful of African countries were invited to join the Mediterranean grouping without informing the African Union but inviting all 27 members of the European Union.’ Gaddafi also refused to buy into other imperialist-inspired/driven groupings in Africa such as ECOWAS, COMESA, UDEAC, SADC and the Great Maghreb, ‘which never saw the light of day thanks to Gaddafi who understood what was happening.’
Gaddafi further earned the wrath of Western powers for striking extensive trade and investment deals with BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), especially with China. According to Beijing's Ministry of Commerce, China's contracts in Libya (prior to imperialism's controlled demolition of that country) numbered no less than 50 large projects, involving contracts in excess of $18-billion. Even a cursory reading of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) strategic briefings shows that a major thrust of its mission is containment of China. ‘In effect, what we are witnessing here,’ points out Patrick Henningsten, ‘is the dawn of a New Cold War between the US-EURO powers and China. This new cold war will feature many of the same elements of the long and protracted US-USSR face-off we saw in the second half of the 20th century. It will take place off shore, in places like Africa, South America, Central Asia and through old flashpoints like Korea and the Middle East.’
It is obvious (from this brief discussion) that Gaddafi's sin for being placed on imperialism's death row consists largely of the challenges he posed to the free reign of Western capital in the region, of his refusal to relinquish Libya's national sovereignty to become another unconditional ‘client state’ of Western powers. His removal from power is therefore designed to eliminate all ‘barriers’ to the unhindered mobility of the US/European capital in the region by installing a more pliant regime in Libya.
Gaddafi's removal from power would serve yet another objective of US/European powers: to shorten or spoil the Arab Spring by derailing their peaceful protests, containing their non-violent revolutions and sabotaging their aspirations for self-determination. Soon after being caught by surprise by the glorious uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the imperialist powers (including the mini Zionist imperialism in Palestine) embarked on ‘damage control’. In pursuit of this objective, they adopted three simultaneous strategies. The first strategy was to half-heartedly ‘support’ the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia (of course, once they became unstoppable) in order to control them - hence, the military rule in those countries following the departure of Mubarak from Cairo and Ben Ali from Tunis. The second strategy of containment has been support and encouragement for the brutal crackdown of other spontaneous and peaceful uprisings in countries ruled by ‘client regimes’, for example, in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. And the third policy of sabotaging the Arab Spring has been to promote civil war and orchestrate chaos in countries such as Libya, Syria and Iran.
In its early stages of development, capitalism promoted nation-state and/or national sovereignty in order to free itself from the constraints of the church and feudalism. Now that the imperatives of the highly advanced but degenerate global finance capital require unhindered mobility in a uniform or borderless world, national sovereignty is considered problematic - especially in places like Libya, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia and other countries that are not ruled by imperialism's ‘client states’. Why? Because unhindered global mobility of capital requires doing away with social safety net or welfare state programs; it means doing away with public domain properties or public sector enterprises and bringing them under the private ownership of the footloose-and-fancy-free global capital.
This explains why the corporate media, political pundits and other mouthpieces of imperialism are increasingly talking about Western powers' ‘responsibility to protect’, by which they mean that these powers have a responsibility to protect the Libyan (or Iranian or Venezuelan or Syrian or Cuban or…) citizens from their ‘dictatorial’ rulers by instigating regime change and promoting ‘democracy’ there. It further means that, in pursuit of this objective, the imperialist powers should not be bound by ‘constraints’ of national sovereignty because, they argue, ‘universal democratic rights take primacy over national sovereignty considerations’. In a notoriously selective fashion, this utilitarian use of the ‘responsibility to protect’ does not apply to nations or peoples ruled by imperialism's client states such as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.
This also means that the imperialist war against peoples and states such as Libya and Venezuela is essentially part of the same class war against peoples and states in the belly of the beast, that is, in the United States and Europe. In every instance or place, whether at home or abroad, whether in Libya or California or Wisconsin or Greece, the thrust of the relentless global class war is the same: to do away with subsistence-level guarantees, or social safety net programs, and redistribute the national or global resources in favour of the rich and powerful, especially the powerful interests vested in the finance capital and the military capital.
There is no question that global capitalism has thus woven together the fates and fortunes of the overwhelming majority of the world population in an increasingly intensifying struggle for subsistence and survival. No one can tell when this majority of the world population (the middle, lower-middle, poor and working classes) would come to the realisation that their seemingly separate struggles for economic survival are essentially part and parcel of the same struggle against the same class enemies, the guardians of world capitalism. One thing is clear, however: only when they come to such a liberating realisation, join forces together in a cross-border, global uprising against the forces of world capitalism, and seek to manage their economies independent of profitability imperatives of capitalist production - only then can they break free from the shackles of capitalism and control their future in a coordinated, people-centered mode of production, distribution and consumption.
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* This article was first published by Counter Punch.
* Ismael Hossein-Zadeh is the author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007) and teaches economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News
 Michel Chossudovsky, ‘When War Games Go Live: Staging a 'Humanitarian War' against 'SOUTHLAND' Under an Imaginary UN Security Council Resolution 3003,’ Global Research: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=24351
 D. F. Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins (New York: Double Day, 1961), p. 436.
 Jean-Paul Pougal, ‘Why the West Wants the Fall of Gaddafi?’ Dissident Voice: http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/04/why-is-gaddafi-being-demonized/
 Rick Rozoff, ‘Libyan Scenario for Syria: Towards A US-NATO 'Humanitarian Intervention' directed against Syria?’ Global Research:http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=24562
 Patrick Henningsten, ‘WEST vs. CHINA: A NEW COLD WAR BEGINS ON LIBYAN SOIL,’ 21st Century Wire:http://21stcenturywire.com/2011/04/12/2577/
 For an insightful and informative discussion of this issue see (1) F. William Engdahl, ‘Humanitarian Neo-colonialism: Framing Libya and Reframing War—Creative Destruction Part III,’ Global Research:http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=24617; (b) Marjorie Cohn, ‘The Responsibility to Protect - The Cases of Libya and Ivory Coast,’ Counter Punch: http://www.counterpunch.org/cohn05162011.html
Striking back at Egyptian workers
Mainstream narratives of the ongoing 2011 Egyptian revolution center around a “crisis of the state.” Among the elements of the crisis were the utter failure of top-down political reform, as shown in the shamelessly rigged 2010 legislative elections; mounting corruption and repression; emerging opportunities for collective action offered by networking sites like Facebook and Twitter; and the advent of neoliberal economic policies and the resulting constraints on the state’s capacity to deliver on its traditional obligations, such as social services, subsidies, price controls and guaranteed employment for college graduates. There is considerable consensus that the revolution is -- at least in part -- a backlash against the exclusionary economic order that the deposed president’s son Gamal Mubarak and his associates helped to erect over the last decade. Yet it remains unclear if the new, post-Mubarak Egypt can succeed in addressing the socio-economic grievances that helped to spark the January 25 uprising.
The prevailing discourse among Egyptian elites and opinion makers, however, already signals that the answer is no. The ambivalent, if not hostile, rhetoric directed toward demands for more humane standards of living points to the potential for continuity in the highly uneven economic order. While most believe that there will be no return to the pre-January 25 political system, even if post-Mubarak Egypt is not fully democratic, workers may continue to be marginalized by the economic liberalization begun under the previous regime.
LET THE WHEEL TURN
Shortly after the resignation of Husni Mubarak on February 11, Egypt witnessed the rise of what Egyptian authorities and media outlets began describing as ihtijajat fi’awiyya or small-group protests. The Arabic term fi’a simply means “group,” but has acquired negative connotations and might be compared with how the term “special interest” is used to disparage American labor. In post-Mubarak Egypt, officials have used its adjectival form fi’awi in reference to any demonstration, strike or sit-in advancing demands related to distribution of wealth, whether the protesters are blue- or white-collar employees, and whether they are calling for higher wages, greater benefits, improved working conditions or replacement of corrupt management personnel. The term’s recent usage seems to encompass the public and private sectors and to apply to collective action as limited as a protest in a single state-owned enterprise and as broad as a national strike by disgruntled members of a professional syndicate.
Over the past two months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, state officials and other elites have -- wittingly or not -- built a consensus around a narrative that condemns this class of political action and designates it a challenge to Egypt’s future security. Only three days after Mubarak’s resignation, the Supreme Council released Communiqué 5, which outlines the negative impact of continuing protests on the economy and calls on labor and professional syndicates to help bring about a return to normalcy in everyday life. A few days later, an army statement described “fi’awi demands” as illegitimate, pledging to deal with the agitators through legal means in the name of “protecting the security of the nation and its citizens.” On March 23, the government of Prime Minister ‘Isam Sharaf approved a law banning protests, assemblies and strikes that impede private and public business, and rendering such actions punishable with up to a year in prison and a fine that could reach a half-million Egyptian pounds.
Vocal figures outside of government have also taken a leading role in denouncing labor actions. Two days after the release of Communiqué 5, the Muslim Brothers’ spokesman Essam El-Erian accused fi’awi protests of undermining national consensus and expressed “understanding” for the army’s point of view. Usama Haykal, editor-in-chief of the liberal Wafd Party’s daily, warned that the demonstrations could “destroy” the gains of the revolution. In March, a group of correspondents in al-Fayyoum announced that they would not cover fi’awi demonstrations because “while legal, they are poorly timed.” In April, Egypt’s grand mufti, ‘Ali Gum‘a, went so far as to say that “instigators of fi’awi demonstrations violate the teachings of God.”
The dangers of fi’awi demands are said to be three. First, the workers who make them are accused of seeking to exploit the revolution to serve their own financial interest. Wahid ‘Abd al-Magid of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies has articulated this perspective on a number of televised occasions, chiding labor protesters for slaving away in silence for 30 years and then choosing a moment of crisis to press their case. Mainstream portrayals usually draw a contrast with the Tahrir Square gatherings that preceded the downfall of Mubarak, juxtaposing the selfless motives of Tahrir to fi’awi protests that put particular agendas ahead of the greater good. According to the columnist Khalid Muntasir, “Tahrir demonstrations raised a political slogan, ‘The people want to bring down the regime.’ All the slogans revolved around the meaning of freedom, as demonstrators set aside their fi’awi demands and summoned forth the spring of liberty. They did not ask for a raise or a bonus. They looked at the wider context and at the nation as a whole. The contagion of narrow viewpoints did not spread among them, as it did among those who engaged in continuous, hysterical and vengeful fi‘awi demonstrations.”
Second, bread-and-butter demands are presented as a major challenge to Egypt’s economic prosperity and, therefore, national security. Finance Minister Samir Radwan claims that fi’awi demonstrations have cost the treasury 7 billion Egyptian pounds and the tourism sector 13.5 billion -- making them largely responsible for Egypt’s budget deficit and decline in foreign direct investment. Critics of strikes regularly invoke the expression “the wheel of production must turn” as a means of telling protesters to go back to work. Supreme Council head Field Marshal Husayn Tantawi himself sounded this note in one of his few public appearances. Similarly, a week after Mubarak’s resignation, prominent salafi preacher Muhammad Hassan used the phrase in calling for an end to strikes and sit-ins. Even opinion makers who proclaim sympathy with the strikers’ demands often defer to elite consensus on this point. “Despite the legitimacy of these demands,” wrote journalist and talk show host Lamis al-Hadidi, “I believe that this is not the time for settling accounts or self-interest. Now Egypt must come first and this is not simply a slogan.... Now the wheel must turn.” Interestingly, during the lead-up to the March 19 constitutional referendum those who advocated the “yes” vote also referred to “turning the wheel of production” to argue that approving the amendments would help bring normalcy to the country’s economic life.
Third, so-called fi’awi protests, the narrative goes, take their cues from affiliates of the formerly ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) stirring up trouble to reverse the gains of the revolution. Eight days after Mubarak’s resignation, unidentified “informed sources” told al-Misri al-Yawm that three former regime figures were behind the “fi’awi demonstrations” in the state sector. The same week, the official news website of the Muslim Brothers reported that NDP members were inciting labor unrest, citing an unidentified source claiming that a dentist who held a leading position in the former ruling party had been calling on his colleagues to stage demonstrations. Government officials have corroborated claims of NDP involvement in inciting these activities, though they have yet to present any concrete evidence to back up the allegations. In March, Justice Minister Muhammad al-Gindi said that labor demonstrations are not spontaneous but a manifestation of an organized “counter-revolution” staged by remnants of the old regime. As the spring wore on, and sectarian tensions began to preoccupy the national political debate, it became standard practice for pundits and commentators to list fi‘awi protests together with sectarian strife as the two main channels through which forces of darkness are attempting to undermine the January 25 revolution.
What is most striking about the conventional narrative of fi’awi protests is not what it reveals, but rather what it conceals. While media reports take for granted the premise that “fi’awi protests” emerged after Mubarak’s ouster, what is new is not the phenomenon but the terminology. Labor strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins have been on the rise in Egypt for a good part of the last decade. According to the Land Center for Human Rights, the number of labor protests in Egypt rose from 222 in 2006 to 756 in 2007 and exceeded 700 in 2009. Stated differently, well before January 25, 2011 the victims of economic liberalization among workers and civil servants had been loudly voicing their grievances, sometimes in highly visible locations, such as before the parliamentary building in downtown Cairo. Interestingly, the end of 2010 witnessed a number of high-profile strikes that were similar in character to what were later described as fi’awi actions, but the stigmatizing term fi’awi was rarely invoked. One prominent example is the weeks-long strike by cargo truck drivers in December 2010, just two months before Mubarak’s ouster. Strikers were protesting new laws that, among other things, raised taxes and imposed hefty fines on truckers for carrying excess cargo. Because many industries relied on truckers for transportation of their raw materials and products, the strike imposed massive economic losses on the government and many businesses, and threatened to raise prices of basic food items and construction and agricultural material. The strike resulted in daily losses of 500 million Egyptian pounds, according to the Land Transportation Association. The stakes for key economic sectors were not negligible, given that the strike effectively froze significant imports and exports, as many companies that rely on truckers were unable to transport shipments from and to ports. Despite these serious economic repercussions, however, there was no talk among opposition elites of the urgent need to “turn the wheel of production” or for the strikers to set aside their demands for the sake of economic security. Instead, the blame was placed almost entirely on the incompetence of former Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif’s government in dealing with the dire situation. For example, while acknowledging the severe impact of the strike on Egypt’s economy, a former parliamentarian belonging to the Muslim Brothers criticized the government for dealing with the striking truckers in a “pedestrian way.” In fact, some NDP members openly blamed the government for the impasse and supported the strikers’ position. Five weeks before the January 25 uprising, the Popular Campaign to Support Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and opposition politician, described the strike as “an inspirational lesson” that showed how “Egyptians can in fact change their current conditions if they really want to.” The national consensus was so favorable to the strikers that Ahmad ‘Izz, the infamous businessman and ruling-party boss, complained of unreasonable bias toward truckers who were refusing to abide by the law.
The absence of criticism of the limited character of these strikes, despite the serious challenge they posed to Egypt’s economy, is quite revealing. While job actions were an important part of contentious politics in pre-January 25 Egypt, they were not demonized as fi’awi protests. Before the release of the army’s Communiqué 5, the mainstream media relied on terms like “demands-based protests” (ihtijajat matlabiyya) or labor sit-ins (i‘tisamat ‘ummaliyya) when discussing worker unrest. Yet the sudden proliferation of the phrase “fi’awi demands” in post-Mubarak Egypt began to obscure the long-standing nature of the grievances in question. Perplexed by the backlash, prominent blogger ‘Ala’ Sayf al-Islam wrote on May Day: “Although labor strikes and demonstrations have been on the rise since 2006 and have not stopped since, and even though workers played an important role in bringing down Mubarak, we find the term ‘fi’awiyya’ being used as an insult. And suddenly we find that demands for just wages and respectable working conditions are portrayed as selfish.... Others go so far as to portray the strikes of Egyptian workers and employees as part of the counter-revolution and a conspiracy by the National Democratic Party.”
THE ILLUSION OF PAROCHIALISM
By reinforcing the impression that the demands of discontented workers for more humane wages and working conditions are the mere product of parochial employee-management disputes inside various factories and bureaucracies, the term fi’awi does more than just stigmatize and dehistoricize these demands. Characterizing so-called fi’awi claims as the sum of a variety of disjointed narrow interests masks the serious national economic problems that these demonstrations and sit-ins collectively underscore.
The illusion of parochialism perhaps stems from the way that labor actions appear as chaotic efforts isolated from one another and from any national political agenda. The fragmentation of these efforts, however, is not an expression of insularity as much as it is a reflection of the long-standing absence of meaningful national advocacy for Egyptian workers’ rights. For decades, the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation enjoyed a legally sanctioned monopoly over the formal representation of workers and did more to rein in its members at the state’s behest than to lobby on their behalf. At the level of elite politics under Mubarak, there was scant opportunity to channel the needs of Egyptian workers into a coherent platform because licensed opposition parties that claimed to speak for labor, like the Tagammu‘ Party, were dominated by regime allies who sought to keep workers quiet. There has been some progress in overcoming this challenge, including the founding of the Independent Federation for Egyptian Workers in January and the formation of new parties proclaiming commitment to labor rights. Such efforts, however, remain a work in progress.
Meanwhile, the fact that workers’ protests and sit-ins are disconnected from each other does not reduce the problem at hand to a set of opportunistic attempts at rent seeking by special interests. The problem, first and foremost, is a national one, stemming from the failure of the state to deal with rising prices of basic goods such that a significant segment of Egyptian society remains stuck in a constant struggle to make ends meet. With inflation rates in recent years reaching levels unprecedented since the early 1990s and 40 percent of Egyptians living on less than $2 per day, the visible signs of socio-economic discontent, which so-called fi’awi protests epitomize, are not surprising. In fact, labor unrest is not the only expression of hardship: Riots over shortages in subsidized bread were widely reported in 2008 when bread sold at private bakeries became virtually unaffordable to many Egyptians after its price increased fivefold.
The continuing decline in quality and quantity of state social services has forced many families to spend a good chunk of their paychecks on services that Egyptians used to take for granted, such as health care and education. For example, it is estimated that Egyptian families spend 10-15 billion Egyptian pounds per year on private tutoring in order to compensate for the shortcomings of formal instruction at public and private schools. Estimates show that two thirds of schoolchildren in Egypt are privately tutored and 60 percent of families that rely on these services spend at least one third of their incomes on the lessons. It is not surprising, therefore, to observe chronic expressions of grievances revolving around the inadequacy of wages to keep up with rising prices and the cost of living. Further inflaming these grievances are frequent reports about the extreme disparity in pay across management and junior staff within individual organizations, notably in the banking sector, where angry employees have objected. The proliferation of the term fi’awi and its supporting assumptions diverts attention from the need for inclusive deliberation upon the urgent economic problems that touch people’s everyday lives. The unreflective deference that many opinion makers have awarded to “the wheel of production” helps to sideline these pressing concerns even as millions of Egyptians are crushed under the wheel’s grinding rotation. A lonely dissenting voice appeared in an opinion piece titled “The People Want Another Wheel of Production” by al-Shurouq writer Wa’il Gamal: “Egyptians have revolted to replace the old wheel of production because it is oppressive and creates poverty, ignorance and illness.”
In other words, the surge in worker unrest following Mubarak’s resignation highlights the extent to which labor rights had deteriorated during the preceding years of crony capitalism. Mass layoffs and slashing of wages and benefits took place during the post-2004 rush toward economic liberalization under the Nazif government, particularly in the privatization of public-sector enterprises. More and more workers are contingent and temporary: It is estimated that in 2010 3 million Egyptians were employed under contractual arrangements that give their employers the de facto right to dismiss them at any moment. One common practice is to compel new employees literally to sign a “resignation letter” at the outset of their employment. The absence of benefits such as health insurance in these contracts is quite alarming, since temporary employment is most concentrated in fields involving high-risk physical labor, including the agriculture, construction and mining sectors. Years if not decades ago, many Egyptians decided to enter into these insecure contractual arrangements in the state sector and put up with monthly salaries not exceeding 100 Egyptian pounds in the hope that eventually they would be hired as full-time state employees, affording them a higher salary, more benefits and -- someday -- a pension check. While the government has announced steps to grant temporary workers full employment rights in state agencies, much is yet to be done to address the difficulty that millions of Egyptian employees face due to the state’s ambivalence. The grievances of temporary employees, moreover, are but a sample of a broader problem in which considerable sectors of the economy are untouched by laws regulating labor rights. For example, the government’s decision in 2010 to raise the monthly minimum wage from its 1984 level of 35 to 400 Egyptian pounds, slightly above the poverty line at $67, was meaningless from the perspective of the 7 million Egyptians (including half the women in the work force) who work in the informal economy outside the reach of government scrutiny.
In the aforementioned May Day column, there was a powerful list of ordinary people from all walks of life enduring hardship: a “big-shot engineer with a masters degree” who had to sign a resignation letter on her first day of work; a high-school mathematics teacher of 18 years who “still rides a Vespa motorbike” and “would die of hunger” without the supplemental income from private tutoring; an assistant manager at a Kentucky Fried Chicken store who works from 9 am until 10 pm every day; a Ministry of Health doctor whose pension after a 30-year term of service was 900 pounds ($151); women who get only three months’ maternity leave. These people are not unlike the protesters dismissed in the press as selfish, except that many of the “fi’awi demonstrators” are even more beleaguered.
Finally, the popular assertion that labor unrest is at the root of Egypt’s post-Mubarak economic woes, as Egyptian officials often allege, is unpersuasive, to say the least. Official claims that an end to fi’awi protests would immediately steer foreign direct investment and tourists back to the Nile ignores the lawlessness following the disappearance of police from the streets during the January 25 uprising; the uncertainty of Egypt’s political future; sectarian tensions; travel advisories issued by foreign governments; and the inconvenience of living under curfew and martial law.
Opinion makers who have popularized the term “fi’awi demands” seem to be participating in writing an unusually selective historical account of the unfinished January 25 revolution.
In response to public outcry over the government’s decision to ban strikes and demonstrations, Prime Minister Sharaf told journalists in March that the purpose of the new law is to protect the revolution from fi‘awi demonstrations. A week later, a political activist told a newspaper that Sharaf assured the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution that the new law would not infringe upon their right to convene the mass demonstrations they usually hold in Tahrir Square almost every Friday. Implicit in the government’s approach is that the Tahrir rallies are an extension of the revolution, whereas labor demonstrations referred to as fi’awi support counter-revolution. The dichotomy drawn in these government statements reinforces the belief that demands for distributive justice played a limited role in bringing about Mubarak’s demise. This claim, while common, is flawed for three main reasons.
First, the month of January before the uprising witnessed an intensification of labor demonstrations and strikes. Whether these activities provided the impetus for mass participation in the uprising warrants further investigation, but at least these trends show that many signs of public discontent revolved around redistributive demands immediately before the uprising -- let alone years before it. A few examples of these activities include: a sit-in by 1,500 Mansoura University Hospital workers who demanded permanent employment after having worked more than 15 years as temporary employees; a strike of 300 workers in a wood factory in Dashna in demand of unpaid wages; a strike by 20 percent of the railway workshop employees in Cairo; a strike by 200 nurses and X-ray technicians at Ashmoun hospital in protest of slashed benefits; and a sit-in by al-Karakat Company workers in Ismailiyya and Port Said in protest of disparities in working hours among employees.
Second, working-class regions like Mahalla and Suez that had undergone major labor unrest saw demonstrations of thousands during the January 25 uprising, not to mention intense battles with security forces. This fact indicates that redistributive demands later characterized as fi’awi played a role in moving the masses in support of the revolution. It also suggests that workers have participated in the uprising, albeit as individuals and not as organized labor, as leading labor historian Joel Beinin and others have argued. Even though it is not possible to evaluate the role of redistributive demands precisely, the wide distance that certain opinion makers project between the revolution and calls for humane standards of living seems at the very least overblown. It is one thing to argue that demonstrators set aside their socio-economic demands and rallied behind a unified message calling on Mubarak to step down. It is another thing to argue that economic hardships were irrelevant to why people chose to take to the streets in the first place.
Third, the understandable focus of media reports on Tahrir Square and the cross-class unity there must not detract from the importance of labor unrest outside of the major squares during Mubarak’s final days. For example, after businesses reopened on February 7 for the first time since January 28, workers’ strikes and demonstrations became widespread throughout the governorates of Egypt. The demands of these protests were not unlike the “fi’awi demands” that many rushed to condemn shortly after February 11. Signs of labor unrest that occurred on February 9, one day before the Supreme Council released its first communiqué, include: demonstrations by thousands of workers in Helwan, Kafr al-Dawwar and Kafr al-Zayyat; a demonstration by temporary employees in front of the General Authority of Health Insurance building in Cairo in demand of permanent employment; a demonstration by over 500 employees of the Red Crescent on behalf of temporary workers on provisional contracts for 20 years; a strike by the Boulaq railway workshop’s workers who gathered to prevent trains from passing through; and a march by thousands of street cleaning personnel down Sudan Street in the Cairo neighborhood of Muhandisin to demand higher wages and better working conditions.
Some close observers, like the activist and blogger Hossam El-Hamalawy, believe that labor strikes in the last week of the uprising were the tipping point that forced Mubarak’s resignation. There is no credible account as yet of the exact chain of events that pushed Mubarak out of office. Yet the fact that one of the first things the Supreme Council tried to do after taking power was to bring an end to strikes suggests that work stoppages were a source of deep concern for the generals who surrounded Mubarak in his last days. The claim that these activities hastened Mubarak’s ouster is, therefore, quite plausible.
The proliferation of the term “fi’awi” to describe Egyptian workers’ demands and reduce them to parochial, even counter-revolutionary interests is more than just a denial of the right to a humane living standard. There is more at stake than just the absurdity of the assumptions on which the usage of this term is based. The ubiquity of the term signifies a mounting elite consensus that is rewriting the history of the ongoing Egyptian revolution, its meaning and its goals -- with the purpose of sidelining pressing socio-economic problems and the millions of Egyptians who suffer from them. While many believe that Egyptians revolted largely out of socio-economic discontent, the speed with which influential figures clung to the derogatory term fi’awi indicates that addressing these grievances in post-Mubarak Egypt -- let alone putting them on the national political agenda -- may not be as easy as one would have thought. It remains to be seen whether the emergence of new parties and independent unions and syndicates will give workers and their allies among advocates of distributive justice a shot at countering this wave of unreflective elitism. But, in any event, the trends suggest that what awaits Egyptian workers after the end of a decades-long bad romance with Mubarak’s authoritarianism is not a happy ending, but new challenges and greater uncertainty.
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* This article first appeared in the Middle East Report Issue #239
* Hesham Sallam is co-editor of Jadaliyya.com.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 The statement appears online at: http://www.sis.gov.eg/Ar/Story.aspx?sid=44125
 Al-Misri al-Yawm, February 16, 2011.
 Al-Wafd, March 9, 2011.
 Al-Yawm al-Sabi‘, April 1, 2011.
 Khalid Muntasir, “Tahrir Contagion,” al-Misri al-Yawm, March 4, 2011. [Arabic]
 Lamis al-Hadidi, “Good Morning, O Country,” al-Misri al-Yawm, February 15, 2011. [Arabic]
 Al-Misri al-Yawm, February 20, 2011.
 Al-Yawm al-Sabi‘, January 11, 2011.
 Al-Misri al-Yawm, December 29, 2010.
 Quoted in Bilal Fadl, “When Will the Workers Win?” al-Misri al-Yawm, May 1, 2011. [Arabic]
Ahmed Zewail, “Reflections on Arab Renaissance,” Cairo Review of Global Affairs (Spring 2011).
 Al-Ahram, September 21, 2011.
 Al-Ahram, April 28, 2011.
 Wa’il Gamal, “The People Want Another Wheel of Production,” al-Shurouq, April 26, 2011. [Arabic]
 Al-Misri al-Yawm, October 22, 2010.
 Al-Dustour al-Asli, April 6, 2011.
 See http://www.id3m.com for a full list of news stories about labor protests in Egypt since December 2010.
 Joel Beinin, “Egypt’s Workers Rise Up,” The Nation, March 7, 2011.
 The full list is in Husayn ‘Abd al-Wahid, Thawrat Misr: 18 yawman hazzat al-‘alam (Cairo: Dar Akhbar al-Yawm), pp. 50-54.
 “Interview with Hossam El-Hamalawy,” Jadaliyya, April 9, 2011.
Egypt: The old repression resurfaces
Jean-Bertrand Aristide described the process of revolution as an endless one. In many ways the first two stages – planning and overthrow of the state – are the easiest, the most clear-cut. It is in these times that solidarity and revolutionary love are able to flourish. Once the state is overthrown, revolutionary objectives increase in complexity, people drift and become complacent and if, as in the case of Tunisia and Egypt, power remains with remnants of the state or the military, we are left wading through murky waters. Often it is not long before the mechanisms of repression of the old state begin to appear once again.
In a recent documentary ‘Faces of an iRevolution’, CNN profiles some of the citizen journalists who played a key role in the uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere. It is important to emphasise the years of protests and planning which took place prior to the relative spontaneity of Tahrir Square and the removal of Hosni Mubarak. Since his removal and replacement by a military government, activists have been faced with a set of new of challenges in building a different Egypt – a new constitution, rights for women and other minorities, Palestine and Israel, secularisation and Islam and probably the most difficult, dismantling a military state of 40 years which continues to detain and torture Egyptians. If this is at all possible, it will be in large part due to the work of a group of committed online and offline activists.
Unpacking the many websites and blogs engaged in documenting past and present human rights abuses by the Egyptian state is just not possible in this small space, but I hope the few sites mentioned below go some way to understanding how activists have used online media in the Egyptian revolution. The sites also provide a model of activism and encouragement for those countries not yet organised, and some of the benefits and security risks of using social media. One point worth noting is that the Egyptian uprising as with others, is not an ‘online’ revolution. It is a revolution on the ground and those involved online and offline are in the majority the same people – but either way they have put their lives at risk in their revolutionary struggle.
In October 2008, blogger and activist, Hossam el-Hamalawy started an online campaign, Piggipedia, to ‘expose security officials suspected of committing crimes against civilians’.
‘In every single event, demonstration or strike we have to snap at least one photo of the police officers, corporals, and plainclothes thugs present. We have to profile them, put their faces on the web and circulate their photos. A police officer cannot show up for a demonstration, beat the hell of out of peaceful protestors, then walk home and go out in his neighborhood with his family to have fun. No! A State Security officer cannot spend the day electrocuting the balls of a detainee and inserting a stick up someone else’s ass and then just simply go out in the weekend with his kids to the park peacefully, or have shisha in a public coffee shop, while those around think of him as a “normal” human being. These are dangerous torturers and rapists whom we do not want as neighbors or friends. They have to be exposed in front of their children, parents, neighbors and peers. Their pictures have to be everywhere, from the internet to the streets. And just like in any respectable country when there’s a dangerous criminal at large statements are broadcast with advisories and warnings to the public, we should also alert the citizens to those dangerous criminals whom we can’t unfortunately report to the police coz they are the police… Their pictures have to reach the widest range possible.
‘We need everyone’s help in that campaign… For a start, click on the banner below and begin uploading ya shabab… I’m sure many of you have tons of pictures on your hard drives of previous demos that may have clear shots of the faces of police agents present in the scene… Don’t leave them lying there… Start uploading whatever you have to the Piggipedia… Try to include in the captions and/or tags the place of the protest/event and whether you have any additional information about those police officers…’
Following the removal of President Mubarak, the website 25 Leaks was set up to expose state security officers by publishing their photos as well as provide an archive of state security documents. Reading through the list of documents which date back to the 1950s, is an insight into the repressive mindset of the Mubarak’s government ranging from plans to investigate Islamist activists including the Muslim Brotherhood, to get rid of a group of lawyers (presumably speaking out against the government), manipulate the actions of the State Assembly and infiltrate and monitor students and university professors and includes the names of Cairo University professors who collaborated with the government.
The Egyptian Blog for Human Rights was created by blogger Ramy Raoof (@ramyraoof) to disseminate information about human rights abuses and highlight issues related to bloggers, online media, security and digital activism. One of the first tents to be set up in Tahrir Square was the media tent, which acted as a hub for the uploading and disseminating of information gathered by protestors. On the importance of citizens media Raoof writes:
‘For me, gathering content from people and making it available online via different means was very important because i believed that making those pictures and videos public will help everyone to really understand whats happening on the ground, follow-up the situation and be able to judge, as well as have an overview of what happened in different cities in Egypt as those people who had pictures or videos were not only from Cairo.
‘Providing this content also helped to prove that the government at that time was just spreading lies, rumors and fake images. The importance of these content is also because of the violations that can be proven through a video (showing a police shooting peaceful demonstrators) or a picture (showing sniper pointing at someone)’.
An article by Rasha Azb (@RashaPress) on Tahrir Diaries leaves us in no doubt that the struggle against repression and human rights abuses is far from over.
‘…and we cannot continue to simply call for demands and rights that we earned by blood and spirit – we cannot sell the most precious part of our revolution – our pride – it’s simply not acceptable that we close the prisons of the ministry of the interior only to open up new military prisons – and we cannot allow the Central Military Judiciary Area to become the new Lazoghly (the National Security HQ where torture was common). The activists and the revolutionaries continue their battle against torture and against the military trials of civilians, against the authority of any entity that tries to control the gains that millions of Egyptians achieved for themselves. This is the message that was delivered to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in the recent meeting which was attended by several activists and which ended with three important recommendations that are waiting for a time-table.’
The writer reflects on the early days of Tahrir when the army tanks cruised through the square and surrounding streets to the chants of “The army and people are one”. This he considers, was a ploy to pacify the protestors:
‘…a quintessentially Egyptian way of neutralizing the new actor whose role and alliances were as yet undetermined. So the chant came out to secure the peace and to avoid another battle in what was a very volatile situation.’
On 9 March things began to go wrong, as the relationship between the protestors and army became more confrontational as they attempted to disperse the crowds and ultimately led to the arrest and torture of 20 activists. The publication of a file detailing the torture and abuse particularly relating to female prisoners, which he describes as ‘the mine that blew up the relationship between the revolutionaries and the SCAF during the last period.’ To date there are thousands of protestors imprisoned with no legal rights, harassed and tortured. One particularly nasty form of abuse was forcing women to have virginity tests. Initially the government denied this but later justified it by ‘othering’ the women, and implying that only non-virgins could be raped – and if they were, it wasn't that big a deal anyway – which pretty much sums up the misogyny of the security services and armed forces.
‘…the women “were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters. The general also told CNN that the reason for the ‘tests’ was “[w]e didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place.’
This was not the first incidence of state sponsored sexual assault as Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy wrote in the Guardian, once again reinforcing the fact that the present regime is a direct continuation of the past.
‘Almost exactly five years ago, Mubarak unwittingly politicised many previously apolitical Egyptians when his security forces and their hired thugs began to deliberately target for sexual assault female activists and journalists at demonstrations. In conservative Egypt, where most women endured daily street sexual harassment in silence, the regime was determined to fondle and grope women in the hope it would shame them back home. Instead, women held up their skirts torn into pieces for the media to see. It's one thing to be groped and harassed by passers-by, but when the state gropes you, it gives a green light that you are fair game.
‘The next year, mass sexual assaults in downtown Cairo targeted girls and women during a religious festival. The police watched and did nothing. The state denied the assaults took place, but bloggers at the scene exposed that lie; this encouraged women to speak out and forced men to listen. For many Egyptian men, this was the first time they realised what it meant for their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters to navigate the battlefield that Egyptian streets had become. More than 80% of women now say they've been street sexually harassed, and more than 60% of men admit to having done so.’
In June the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] announced that a law criminalising protests, public gatherings and strikes would be now enforced. However so far this has not been the case. The high visibility of the Egyptian protests, the high profile internet and social media presence must have some influence on public actions by the SCAF and in some way go towards protecting those high profile activists. Nonetheless people continue to be detained and tortured and in fact in many ways the repression is becoming worse.
And social media sites have not always been supportive of Egyptian and other activists. For example, Egyptian video activist, Wael Abbas (@waelabbas) who has been arrested repeatedly by the Mubarak regime has had both his YouTube (where he posted videos of police torture) and Facebook accounts deleted, though both have since been reinstated.
I end with a blog post by Mona Seif (@monasosh) on ma3t – which she started on 31 January. Like the Egyptian revolution, it is ‘a story that is still in progress, still unfolding and still wonderfully dazzling me with surprises’.
‘When I wrote here a week ago asking people to be part of January 25th protest the reason I gave was that each one of us deserves to live this special moment where you chant in unity with strangers as you are walking down the streets feeling that you own these streets. I had never expected this moment I was urging everyone to seek to extend for 7 continuous days, and I certainly wouldn't have predicted that to be overwhelmingly powerful and warm. I love this country. When I was young I formed several images of it, and over the years my main concern was to keep those images as pure as possible and Unspoilt. It was hard. It was so damn hard. I had dreams for me here that were repeatedly smashed and I was afraid of the day I'd be too exhausted to collect the pieces. That I will just give up, pack and leave. I wanted to work in a country where i do not have to wait several Moths, going through a Rediculous amount of bureaucratic paperwork just to get my salary which is little anyway. I wanted to give birth to kids in a country without fearing I would lose them like said Khaled's mom lost her precious son. I wanted to live in a country where if i got harassed in the street I wouldn't refrain from complaining to the police for fear of more harassment. My brother once told me I have Romanticized my perception of Egypt, I Realise situation in so many that I did. It was my only way of surviving, living Egypt blind to the cruel side of it. But this time, these days, I am really living Egypt and Egypt is really beautiful. The people are great, and every day they present me with new surprise.Jan25th I was Amazed’.
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* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
1] Note that most of the sites are in Arabic and while Google translator is very good it is not that great!
Senegal: The coming of age of an heir apparent
The picture of Karim Wade being introduced to US President Obama during the last G8 Summit in Deauville by Nicolas Sarkozy was at once a banal case of society events and a scandalous gesture of powerful symbolism that reeks of conspiracy, arrogance, neocolonialism and the sort of all too common western meddling which has produced illegitimate leaders across Africa, especially in former French colonies. This picture shocked the Senegalese public beyond words. The geopolitics behind it may have been nothing surprising given that President Wade, one of the closest and long-term allies of Gaddafi, has not only recognised the Transitional Council as the only legitimate Libyan authority, he has dealt a blow to the African Union’s consensus on mediation by visiting Benghazi, something that even Sarkozy has done. But as befuddling as Wade’s U-turn could be, it cannot justify the apparent indulgence of both France and America towards a senile president’s desire to fulfil his project to make his son president of Senegal.
Karim Wade is a 43 years old French-Senegalese, whose only professional experience seems to be some brief, obscure job at a banking institution in London. His only merit, it needs to be stressed, is to be the son of Abdoulaye Wade, democratically elected in 2000 and who put an end to the 20-year rule of Abdou Diouf. President Obama could be forgiven for not having been properly briefed about the putrefying abscess about to burst in Senegal.
That young man, beaming and basking in the glory of his introduction to the big boys club, is the face of the future of unrelenting looting, of economic debauchery, of hopeless perspectives for millions of Senegalese, that is being staged by an authoritarian imagination cast in old ways. After all, in France’s pre-carré (backyard), dynastical succession is not only possible –Togo's Faure Gnassingbé and Gabon's Ali Bongo are living examples of this – it ensures the maintaining of the ‘special relationship’ between France and its former colonies, hence the perpetuation of a servile political elite, sweetheart deals and preferential treatment for French businesses, all for the glory of a country that is struggling to come to terms with the fact of post-colonisation.
France’s dream of grandeur, or rather its imperial pretention, predominantly rests on real and imaginary control over the political destiny of francophone Africa. It has long ceased to be a great power. Senegal’s young urban, postcolonial voters, see France just as it is: Nothing more than another declining European country crippled with economic recession, mass unemployment and a gaping deficit. France’s latest success in installing, through forceful military assistance, Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast may have convinced Paris that it still determines the course of francophone Africa, but Africans are hungry for real democracy and for social justice, they will no longer accept that their leaders be elected in Paris, or in this occasion in the muffled corridors of Deauville.
The rise of Karim to the highest level of decision-making in itself is patent case of abusive nepotism. Karim met with a bitter loss in his first attempt to test his popularity in Senegal during the 22 March local elections. As a consolation, Daddy Wade made him super-minister in May 2009, entrusting him with International Cooperation, Urban and Regional Development, Air Transport, and Infrastructure, in other words, half of the government. To this was added, in October 2010, the energy and biofuels portfolio, an area into which billions of CFA francs have since been pumped with no improvement, despite repeated riots of populations deprived of electricity, sometimes for over 10 hours in a day.
In his mismanaging of the electricity problem and others, Karim is only confirming what the Senegalese have known for a long time. That no matter how much money is invested to give him a helping hand, he will always disappoint. When Karim struggled to put together the Organisation of the Islamic Conference for years (2004-08), Papa dipped into the depths of the public coffer, borrowed here and there in order to save face. A few kilometres of road done up here and there, a tunnel and a couple of bridges were the justification for the biggest infrastructural investment ever made in this small country whose population does not live off pebbles, sawdust and rhetoric, but on broken low-quality imported rice the price of which is ever increasing, and of fish hard to come by these days of unregulated fishing licenses that allow European and Asian ships to scrape the Atlantic coast clean of the good fish. Needless to say, nobody is accountable for all these economic crimes.
The rise of Karim Wade is the sum of a decade of crippled democracy, of crimes, economic and political, that have gone unpunished, the latest one being the murder, on 30 May, of 32 year old Malick Ba, by a policeman, at a peaceful rally against a government’s decision to install a special delegation at a locality with a democratically elected council.
Under President Wade, corruption has become so pervasive and reached such proportions that it has become an issue of national security. The Senegalese state has literally ceased to function as the national budget is gnawed away by a rapacious ruling class sundered from the reality of its own irrelevance. The state is merely hanging over a time-bomb, and nobody knows when it is going to explode.
The resolve of millions of Senegalese, crystallised by the arrogance of a ruling class, the wailing of thousands of women who lost sons and husbands to a voracious Atlantic ocean on their way to Europe in order to escape the oppressive grip of poverty, may not have reached the walls of the White House, but America could not ignore the Senegalese people’s burning desire for social justice and for a functioning democracy, by supporting another monarchical devolution that does not bode well for the future of democracy in Africa.
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* Amy Niang is a PhD candidate at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ethiopia: Press freedom, the law and democracy
Interview with Dawit Kebede
Dawit Kebede (b. 1980) is editor-in-chief of the Awramba Times, a weekly newspaper in Amharic which has the second-largest circulation of any Ethiopian paper, and which is also the sole remaining dissident print newspaper inside the country. Kebede is the recipient of a 2010 International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Dawit met me at my hotel, The Jerusalem, during the evening of 25 January 25 2011. I never visited his workplace, but, according to a recent video, Awramba’s ‘office‘ is a hole in the wall; the toilet, literally a hole in the floor. His staff of 12, poorly paid, some part-time, are said to perform a ‘labor of love.’
Dawit seemed very happy to talk and was very forthcoming, although his story was, to some extent, a litany of misfortune. We spoke for almost two hours. Highlights of the interview include his attitude toward the law and the detailed story of his 2005 arrest, his release 21 months later, conditional pardon, and long struggle to get a license for a new paper. Also noteworthy is his impassioned complaint against the US government and American academic ‘experts’ for their failure to support Ethiopian democracy. Kebede represents the younger generation of Ethiopian dissident journalists, so his story complements that of his older compatriot, Eskinder Nega.
JOURNALISM AND THE LAW
RON SINGER: How has the government been treating you lately?
DAWIT KEBEDE: They are not happy, especially after the announcement of the [CPJ] award.
[He had just spent the day in the Ethiopian High Court filing a libel suit against the state-owned Addis Zemen, which wrote that the award proved he was an American agent, and was thus guilty of high treason.]
RON SINGER: ‘American agent!?’ Nonsense! You think everyone in the US even likes the CPJ?
DAWIT KEBEDE: Narrow-minded arrogance! When Addis Neger ceased publication [in November 2009], the same accusation was against Awramba and them, that we were trying to subvert the constitutional system. Two or three times a week, they wrote against us. They might call that ‘freedom of expression,’ but criminalisation is a different thing. We wrote a response many times, but they couldn’t stop, so we took them to Court. Of course, this will not be an ultimate solution because you know how independent the Court is! The Civil Service College from which almost all judges graduate is an EPRDF [ruling party] college. Even judges from other, private colleges are called for government training, and they have to be party members to be judges or prosecutors.
RON SINGER: Then why did you go to Court today?
DAWIT KEBEDE: Even though the result is already known, we have chosen to exercise our right based on their system. Doing this testifies that we respect the laws of the nation. It shows them we are not against those institutions.
RON SINGER: But who’s going to know about that except for people like Mohamed [Keita, of the CPJ]? Does he know you did this today?
DAWIT KEBEDE: I emailed him yesterday. Friday, they wrote that we were supporting opposition groups based in Eritrea. But in reality, our article said that it [using Eritrea as a base] was not a good way to bring democracy to Ethiopia, because the Eritrean government violates basic human rights and uses these groups for their own benefit. So Eritrean-based opposition groups could not bring real change to Ethiopia. They said we were supporting these groups. Groups like the Oromo Liberation Front. Supporting such groups is high treason.
RON SINGER: Do you have a lawyer?
DAWIT KEBEDE: Yes. The Anti-Terrorism Law is a historic mistake.
THE 2005 ELECTIONS AND THEIR AFTERMATH
DAWIT KEBEDE: My first newspaper was called Hadar. That is our word for the first known human, Lucy. It means ‘Origin.’ My uncle was a businessman, importer-exporter, Aregawi Tsegay. I asked him to start a newspaper. He said, ‘Okay.’ My uncle was not political, a businessman. But he was not happy with what was going on here, so he was a full supporter of this independent newspaper.
We started Hadar in November 2004. Unfortunately, after the third issue, in February 2005, he passed away of bronchitis, something like that. He was 45. But I had been managing everything when he was alive. He was sick for two months. He allocated the capital to carry on.
Hadar was critical of Meles [Zenawi]. In the aftermath of the elections, I wrote an article asking why people were being killed in the streets of Addis for peacefully protesting. Article 15 of the Constitution says no one can lose their lives unless they commit a capital crime and a certain court sentences him to death. In 2005, the government also prosecuted thousands of opposition supporters and senior leaders. I was one of the fifteen editors arrested. The charges were high treason and genocide.
RON SINGER: Geno-suicide.
DAWIT KEBEDE: And subverting the constitutional system. On 1 November 2005, the Government shut down Hadar. I was put in prison, in Addis, 350 people in one hallway. Finally, in July, 2007, we signed a document for a presidential pardon. Twenty-one months like that. You have no choice but to sign. A conditional pardon, the government can revoke it anytime. We all signed the same things. The only difference was the name and the signature. I said I’m fully responsible for all the violence, all those killings. Sometimes, to get your freedom, one and one is six.
RON SINGER: After that, why didn’t you stop and run away?
DAWIT KEBEDE: Running away, I would not be satisfied. When CPJ asked for three things about me, the first is that I cannot live without the position I have now. The second is that I don’t want to run away unless it’s a question of life and death. The third is that I’m not an opposition [figure], I’m a journalist. I would never hesitate to criticise the regime – whatever the regime – for the betterment of my nation.
Two days after my release, I went to the newspaper organisation (i.e. government) and said, ‘Okay, I’m here, and I want to reorganise my newspaper.’ Everybody was laughing. ‘Are you serious? We closed this newspaper. Okay, put your name here, we’ll call you.’ Clerks, not high-up people.
After six months, I went and asked, ‘Where is my case?’ ‘Okay, I think officials of the Ministry of Justice should comment about it, we sent the file there.’ Or sometimes, ‘Okay, our boss should see it and say something. Don’t bother, we’ll call you. ‘ And finally they called me and told me it was not allowed because officials are not happy. I said, ‘I got out by signing a pardon. That pardon allows me to exercise my democratic, constitutional rights. What’s the reason?’ ‘Our boss did not offer a reason, he told us to tell you that this is simply not allowed.’
I informed CPJ and other international rights groups. CPJ executive director Joel Simon wrote a letter to our prime minister, repeating that my pardon included the right to exercise constitutional and democratic rights, so Meles should use his administrative authority to grant this license. Four or five days later, the official who had denied the license called and said, ‘Do you have the pardon certificate? Can you bring it with a photocopy and a statement of editorial policy? ‘ I asked, ‘Why do you want to see our editorial policy? That belongs to our staff.’ He said, ‘That’s mandatory.’
I don’t know why he wanted it. As a matter pf principle, I did not want to give it to them, it’s an independent newspaper. But I brought it, and the pardon certificate signed by the president. Then, they said, ‘As it is your constitutional right, we are going to grant you a license.’ So they granted it, and I said ‘Thank you,’ and got out of that office! So Awramba started because they clearly told me that I could not operate my previous newspaper. It was blacklisted. I had to organise another publishing company and give it another name. The name didn’t matter; the principle, the policy, was the same.
A COMPLAINT ABOUT THE US
DAWIT KEBEDE: This government is one of the largest recipients of US military assistance, to fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa. This money comes from the American taxpayers, and it’s used to terrorise Ethiopia’s own people. That’s immoral. And big professors like Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs support Meles. When I met William Easterly of New York University, he asked me about those guys. Those guys are living in a democratic society, the US but they are witnessing the good side of our government. It’s painful seeing their freedom when they don’t care about freedom here.
RON SINGER: And they’re very influential.
DAWIT KEBEDE: I know how prominent they are!
RON SINGER: Are they ignorant, or do they have some agenda that makes them pretend?
DAWIT KEBEDE: I don't have a moral ground to libel those high-ranking professors ‘ignorant,’ but if you asked me the reason for their adherence, only God knows their reason.
RON SINGER: Is it the same old argument, that we need all the friends we can get in this sensitive area, the Horn of Africa? That was the argument about Haile Selassie when the Russians were our enemies. We had spy satellites in Asmara, and when we put them in space, we didn’t need him anymore. Maybe, when we defeat Al Qaeda, we won’t need Meles anymore. Not anytime soon! People don’t pay enough attention to conditions on the ground.
DAWIT KEBEDE: Attention to detail. In the aftermath of 2005, nearly 800 people were killed in Addis, the capital, for peaceful protests. The Ethiopian army did that, using American vehicles, Humvees, given to this government for anti-terrorism activity in Somalia or somewhere.
RON SINGER: That’s one main purpose of my book, to get people to pay attention. Well, thank you very much.
DAWIT KEBEDE: I enjoyed talking with you.
The government’s going after Dawit Kebede for trying to subvert the Constitution is ironic, since he is a strict legalist. Government press attacks of his article about Ethiopian opposition groups that operate from Eritrea implicitly point to Ethiopia’s alarmingly broad Anti-Terrorism law, which extends even to mentioning outlawed groups by name. Kebede’s article also implicitly endorses widespread criticism of the weak, flawed opposition. The recent turn toward bellicosity in official Ethiopian policy toward Eritrea may explain why the Government chose to attack Kebede for this article.
His account of how he went about regaining his press license in 2007 also underlines his respect for law. But this respect is at least partly tactical. As he says, he ‘testifies,’ which is a way to expose the flaws in Ethiopia’s legal system. However, to a more extreme dissident, Eskinder Nega, this tactic compromises Kebede’s effectiveness.
Like many others to whom I spoke in both Ethiopia and Kenya, Dawit Kebede seems to idealise American democracy. Even his specific criticisms imply that the US remains a beacon for democratic activists. Understandably, perhaps, the needs of beleaguered Ethiopian journalists may partly blind them to the serious failings of their model.
* This interview with Dawit Kebede will be incorporated into a chapter about the press in Ethiopia in Ron Singer’s forthcoming book, ‘Uhuru Revisited’ (Africa World Press/Red Sea Press).
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Contextualising Hillary Clinton’s ‘New Colonialism’ remark
Last week Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, embarked on an official African trip that took her to Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia. In a press conference in Lusaka Clinton is reported to have warned her host continent about ‘new colonialism’ in Africa from external actors and investors interested only in extracting Africa’s natural resources (see The Huffington Post.)‘We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave…We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa,’ Clinton said in Lusaka. ‘When people come to Africa to make investments, we want them to do well but also want them to do good…We don’t want them to undermine good governance in Africa,’ she said.
Clinton did not mention China by name, but as her officials later confirmed to reporters, she wanted to stress that African countries should beware of the Chinese and hold their investors to high standards. Thus the US is concerned that China’s foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance.
Clinton’s remark on Chinese ‘new colonialism’ and her offer of the United States as the best partner to help African countries improve themselves will receive diverse reactions among different observers, including African and Chinese leaders and investors. Rightly or wrongly, for some (African) sceptics Clinton’s remark is hypocritical; as a western policy maker she lacks the moral right to make such comments about other external actors, considering US and European foreign practices and policy priorities in Africa over the years. Chinese leaders may fume over her comments, which seem to imply that China is not investing for the long run, or is only interested in narrowly investing in African elites. Chinese officials may claim that their multiple visits to countries across Africa over the past five decades, the numerous infrastructure projects and business investments in multiple sectors of African economies, suggest a much longer, deeper, and broader set of interests than Clinton appears to acknowledge.
Whichever way one chooses to interpret Clinton’s comments her bold advice to African leaders is impressive. In fact her concern about Africa's political and economic governance is commendable. However, many observers of Africa’s international relations would wish she had shown the same concern about other external actors’ foreign policy practices including US foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa. One is tempted to ask: Why is the US so concerned about the role of China in Africa? Is China the only ‘bad guy’ in town? Aren’t some Western actors complicit of the same activities in Africa? (Deborah Brautigam addresses these questions in her book, ‘The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa’.)
Obviously there is plenty to criticise in China's practices in Africa and human rights record at home and in Africa, and plenty of room for improvement as Chinese leaders take uncertain and inconsistent steps toward being a responsible partner with Africans. But in my view Clinton’s remarks need to be placed within the broader context of the evolving narrative/discourse on China’s rise on the global stage, in particular its increasing engagement with African countries, in the past decade.
Certainly, Africa-China relations are multifaceted and complex. However, in the growing narrative among many observers, including some academics and western policy makers, there has been a tendency to reduce China-Africa policies to either ‘China is the worst’ or ‘China is the best.’ With such a reductionist approach some important questions are not receiving much attention and more importantly the ‘real’ intentions of some of these commentators are obscured. For example, Chinese leaders and the press seek to present an all-rosy picture of China-Africa relations, based on friendship and mutual benefit. And while some African journalists and local business owners are much more sceptical, some African leaders have a positive view about the benefits of embracing China (see BBC Survey).
More importantly, in line with Clinton’s remark in Lusaka, much of the commentary emanating from Western media and policy makers on China’s engagements in Africa has been dismissive. China has been described as a ‘rogue donor’ offering ‘toxic aid’ to Africans. In one of the Wikileaks cables released late last year US Ambassador Johnnie Carson described China as ‘a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor…[with] no morals’ in Africa (See www.bbc.co.uk) Is this really the whole picture of China’s engagements in Africa?
As some have suggested, in the waves of hasty conclusions and (sometimes) show of ignorance on the real Chinese impact in Africa, some if not most of Western policy makers ‘accounts of the aggressive expansion of Chinese interests into African countries and societies and their collaboration with local autocratic elites and despots have a hypocritical taste or at least bear traces of amnesia…One therefore is tempted to wonder, if the concern expressed is actually not more about Western interests than about the welfare of the African people, given that what we witness today is anything but new with regard to its forms and effects’ (Henning Melber, 2007 p.6).
This is not to suggest that one cannot criticise certain practices and strategies of the Chinese in Africa simply because the remarks come from a Western actor. But it does suggest that the legitimacy of the critique itself may well depend on the underlying interests of those criticising. It is not realistic to assume that Chinese foreign policy and development aid is interest-driven whereas in general the critique of these practices is not.
Granted that the overall objective of such criticisms must be the well-being of the African people, the self-legitimisation of such discourse through the ‘we care about Africans’ rhetoric cannot be a credible motive for opposition to Chinese practices in Africa. The historical experience, that humanitarian concerns are highlighted by the West when it is strategically most opportune, determines the credibility of many official voices now articulating their concerns about the possible impact of ‘new’ actors in Africa, particularly China.
Clinton rightly recognised that ‘China’s foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance’. Indeed China has a lot to do to rationalise and improve upon its multi-faceted engagements with African countries, but so too does the US (and other western actors, including multinational banks and oil companies). Aren’t countries with poor records on democracy and governance - Egypt and Ethiopia - beneficiaries of US aid in Africa over the years? Is it not the case that energy security concerns sometimes trump good governance in relations between the US government and Equatorial Guinea? Is this consistent with generally accepted international norms of good governance?
It could be said that the strategic goals and interests of China differ little from other external actors readily open to African countries than Clinton will have us believe. A deeper and careful analysis of China’s relations with African countries may reveal that China is ‘doing’ politics or ‘development’ in a seemingly ‘similar’ yet unexpectedly ‘different’ way.
Over-fixation on the ‘Chinese exceptionalism’ as a way of legitimising one’s strategic interests and objectives in Africa is not the way to go. Such warnings will be more credible to Africans if the US and other external actors get their records straight. Otherwise such remarks may not only get some observers fuming over the underlying interests of those criticising, but it may also embolden China.
That said, Africans should be under no illusions about Chinese (US or EU) goals in their countries. The Chinese, like any other external actor, act in a ‘realist’, ie self-interest manner. But precisely because China acts in an interest-oriented manner and, for historical reasons, cannot apply the same ‘salvation rhetoric’ and strategies as the West does to legitimise their ‘intervention’ in Africa, there is incredible potential for a great partnership between the Chinese and Africans. Africans must unlock this potential. Africa cannot afford to allow China-Africa relations to be on China's (or anybody’s) terms. It has to be on our terms. We need not wait to be warned or lectured by some self-interested actor somewhere before we act. China is real. It’s time to ask what is Africa doing about China, not what is China not doing, or doing in Africa.
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* Isaac Odoom is a graduate student at the University of Alberta in Canada. kojo.odoom[at]gmail.com
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News
Boko Haram: Nigeria’s new national crisis?
The government of Goodluck Jonathan is facing internal conflict on two fronts – from the Niger Delta in the south east, and from Boko Haram which emerged in 2004 and whose base is in the Borno State in the north east. Since 2009, Boko Haram has engaged in a series of bombings, assassinations and armed attacks against the police and other security forces mainly but not exclusively in Borno state. The most recent of these was last Thursday’s bombing of the Nigerian police headquarters in Abuja. Two aspects of the latest bombing are particularly disturbing: The suspected use of a suicide bomber and secondly the arrest of 58 suspects in Maiduguri (Borno state capital), including Sudanese and Somalis as well as Nigerians, according to the Nigerian Tribune.
Max Siollun posts three video reports on the bombings, including a statement by the police. In more detail, al-Wasat has an article on state responses to the Boko Haram, which have ranged from killings and arrests, to ‘shutting down inflamatory rhetoric by controlling who could preach’, education – and even a suggested amnesty which the group declined.
‘As the government experiments with new ideas and attempts to refine its use of force, it faces criticism, especially from the press. Today’s editorial in Next attacks President Jonathan personally, and calls for “finding perpetrators of violence and bringing them to book” – a statement that reads to me as a call for mass arrests in the North. Next compares the situation in the North to the situation in the Niger Delta, but as a lament, not a model: “Boko Haram has quickly replaced the Nigeria Delta militants as the major crisis facing our nation’s people.” Domestic and international pressure on Nigeria’s state and federal authorities is increasing, making policymakers’ jobs even more difficult. Experiments with carrots and sticks will receive a great deal of scrutiny.’
It is a mistake to make comparisons with militants in the Niger Delta, as the differences far outweigh any similarities. Boko Haram is based on a fundamentalist ideology which rejects the legitimacy of the Nigerian state, rejects western education and insists on an Islamist state. The communities of the Niger Delta have been peaceful for over 25 years prior to the rise of militancy; they are calling for an equity share in the oil revenue, an end to environmental pollution, employment and development of the region.
Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa reports on the shooting of two Ogoni youth by the Nigerian police. The youths were part of a group of Ogoni’s protesting against the relocating of Bori camp military base to Ogoniland, which is seen as a return to the 1990s and an intensification of the militarisation of the area.
‘In recent weeks, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) stepped up its campaign against the military base, mobilising protestors across the region. Ogoni activists condemned Sunday’s violence and affirmed their committment to peaceful protest.......The planned military base is a highly controversial move by the Rivers State Government. Ogoniland is already under heavy security. On a typical journey from Port Harcourt villagers will be stopped by at least five or six police checkpoints and subjected to a routine of harrassment, extortion and intimidation. Increasing the level of security forces is widely seen as unnecessary and is deeply unpopular. Legborsi Pygbara of MOSOP argues:
It is illegal to site a military base in Ogoniland. Ogoni is an indigenous territory… If the government attempts to do this, it means it will fight the UN, which it can’t afford to.’
In a closely related report, Royal Dutch Shell posts a report by Friends of the Earth on Shell’s role in the conflict and corruption in Nigeria. The report provides examples of where Shell fuelled the violence and co-opted some militants as well as reports of corruption:
‘The role of the oil companies in fuelling corruption is significant. Numerous examples can be found in how companies seek to maintain their license to operate through short-term cash payments, giving in to monetary demands following facility closures, exorbitant homage payments, use of ghost workers, surveillance contract implementation, contracting procedures, employment processes, and kick-back schemes in community development projects.
− The role of the oil companies in fuelling perceived or actual discrimination is largely related to unclear communications, poor transparency, the non-fulfilment of obligations, as well as corporate arrogance.
− The role of the oil companies in fuelling inequitable distribution of revenue and infrastructure is largely related to the non-fulfilment of obligations.
− The role of the oil companies in fuelling social disintegration largely comprises the design of the benefit distribution process that allows groups to fight over access to cash, jobs, contracts and power.
The role of the oil companies in fuelling crime and criminal cartels is largely related to corruption in the contracting process and the payment of ransoms that make crime lucrative.’
Some weeks ago, a story emerged in Ghana claiming that 8,000 homosexuals were registered with health NGOs in two provinces, many of whom had HIV. In 2008 the numbered of registered gays and lesbians was only 2,900. The rise in HIV and other STDs was said to be due to the majority of the registered being bi-sexual. Following the usual sensationalist reporting that follows any mention of homosexuality, the Ghanaian Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) announced it would be investigating ‘the issue’. Ato Kwamena Dadzie – Atokd – is clearly irritated by what he considers a spurious exercise but more so by the ridiculous hellfire and brimstone type statements from some sectors:
‘As the BNI launches its spurious investigation, I hear a doctor from Kumasi proclaiming that homosexuality should be checked otherwise it would destroy the moral fibre of our society. He says homosexuality could also lead to a decline in population because people will stop giving birth if men decide to have anal sex. Give me a break! The moral fibre of our society is constantly on the decline and it has nothing to do with men and women choosing to be gay.
‘I also don’t see the correlation between the increasing number of gay people and population decline. In any case, the national population is growing way too fast and so if the claim that gay men and women will contribute in any way to reducing our burgeoning population is true, shouldn’t we be thinking of conferring national honours on them?
‘We also hear all sorts of religious mumbo about how God will not bless us if we do not stop the homosexuals or discourage homosexuality. Really?
‘If that were the case, no Western country will be blessed and they would wake up every morning to face the wrath of God. Holland, America and Italy have large communities of gay men and women, yet if you asked me I’d say they seem more blessed than Ghana or any African country has ever been – or will ever be.
‘I don’t know how God chooses to bless nations but I don’t think he uses any gay index to determine where to pour his bounties. The Vatican is in Rome. Have the homophobes in Ghana ever wondered how many gay men and women there are in the so-called “Holy City”. Perhaps, we should send Reverend Monsignor Raphael Owusu of Kumasi to go and do a head count. After that, he might just shut up and stop urging our government to ignore human rights campaigners who say society should leave the gay people alone.
‘No doubt homosexuality is taboo subject in this country. But the rising tide of hatred for homosexuals must be stopped before it gets out of hand. The BNI’s decision to get involved in this matter doesn’t help matters in any way. They claim it’s even against the law because it amounts to “unnatural carnal knowledge”. Who decided that putting a penis in a vagina is more natural than penis-to-anus? If anal sex is taboo, what do we do about the men who have anal sex with women?’
Magharebia reports on the possible return to internet censorship in Tunisia. After Ben Ali was removed, internet controls were removed however following complaints and a lawsuit which found in their favour. However the Tunisian Internet Agency initially refused to implement the ruling but have now agreed to block pornography sites. Is this the beginning of a slide back into the censorship days of the Ben Ali regime?
Blocking the controversial web pages raised concern on the Tunisian street, with some saying that visiting such sites was a personal freedom and that shutting them down would do nothing to tackle corruption or other pressing issues.
"Frankly, such judicial lawsuits make me sick and make me laugh," commented Mounir Belkacem, a young Tunisian. "Those who want access to such porn sites or to watch pornographic films have many solutions. These lawyers are promoting the theory of 'everything prohibited is desirable,' and Tunisian youth are intelligent and skilled in technology and will find many ways to access such sites."
Media student Lobna Sassi told Magharebia, "Shutting down these sites may be the beginning of going backward and returning to the rejection of control of the internet proclaimed with the demise of the former regime."
"It is better for those who decided to close these sites to educate young people about their danger and psychological and physiological impact," Sassi added.
Mia Nikasimo of Black Looks comments on the decision by Canadian parents, in a ‘tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation’ not to gender their child.
‘The parental position is remarkable. Against all odds Storms parent are saying an emphatic, “fuck off” to the adversarial socialisation that is cis-supremacy. Touche to them both. Actually, by the time Storm comes of age in Canada bullying zir will be a punishable offence. The paranoia of the press is typical… They offer more scaremongering than substance and that’s a shame.
‘I commend Storm’s parents and the attention they have brought to this issue. How many transpeople do you know that are not in hiding? Why do some have to hide? And to what end? Passing is a form of hiding. We must all learn from what Storm’s parent are offering. We also need to accept that we cannot “fix” every aspect of nature using the tools of cultural construction… Nature will have its way whatever paranoid cranks like the press get up to. You do not know how long I have waited for someone to take this very stand. And Canada is the place for it. The spotlight is on how the rest of the world go forward. Waow!’
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* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Why the AU is wrong to hold its summit in Equatorial Guinea
While Equatorial Guinea blows money on the AU summit, it's people live in poverty
Over the next week, Africa’s leaders will troop to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, for the 17th African Union Summit. On the agenda are issues of youth empowerment, implementation of AU decisions by Governments, female genital mutilation and the culture of impunity for human rights violations.
The context of Equatorial Guinea today could not be further from the values and principles of the African Union. The conditions under which the Summit looks set to occur leave many wondering if there any minimum conditions for chairing the Presidency and hosting an African Union Summit?
Sixty-five per cent of seven million Equatorial Guineans live in abject poverty and are denied basic freedoms and rights in one of Africa’s richest countries. Despite a rapidly growing oil, timber and mining industry, the country has poor infrastructure and inadequate social services for the majority of Guineans. While the Constitution guarantees non-discrimination and equal rights between men and women, there is under-representation of women in public and private spaces. Only four of the forty-one Cabinet members are women. Only six of the country’s 100 parliamentarians are women. Boys outnumber girls in schools by five to one.
The country is mismanaged by the Nguema clan with several of the President’s relatives occupying Cabinet positions. The most notorious of the Nguema clan is the son of the President, Teodorin Obiang, widely seen to be the President’s heir to the throne. The personal wealth of Nguema junior is considered to be in the range of US$600-million. His extravagant lifestyle currently includes a $35-million-dollar mansion in Malibu, California, a $33-million jet and a fleet of luxury cars. Not bad, given that he earns a monthly salary of $6,799 as agriculture minister and public servant. If there is an example of ‘self-service’ or a ‘self-servant’ as opposed to a public service and a public servant, it is in Equatorial Guinea that this term finds fullest expression. The country is literally being sold to transnational companies and the proceeds pocketed by the elite.
The preparations for the upcoming summit are consistent with this blatant disregard for the majority of Guineans. On the streets and buildings, banners are going up proclaiming the upcoming Summit. A huge set of 52 luxury presidential villas, a conference hall, an artificial beach, a luxury hotel and the country’s 18-hole golf course has been built in Sipopo, 20 minutes from Malabo.
Ironically, in a summit called to discuss the empowerment of the youth, the host government is spending more on the summit than it does on education and health per year combined. Yet, the investment may leave national delegations with the impression of a country of prosperity. The reality could not be further from the truth.
What the delegates will not see are the 1,000 families that have been evicted over the last few years to make way for new private investment. Most of these families have been neither compensated nor re-housed with alternative accommodation. Schools have been closed for a month now to ensure that students cannot participate in the summit, express their views or act independently. In the last few weeks, over 100 students and political opposition leaders have been arrested.
Public participation in the Malabo Summit will be distinctly different from previous summits. For many years now, most AU summits have been accompanied by citizens groups and civil society side meetings to popularise AU policy standards. Over the last five years, side meetings have enabled non-state actors and citizens to deliberate and feed recommendations into the formal processes of the summit. These recommendations have included gender equality, agriculture, water and sanitation, maternal health, peace in Somalia and the DRC, democratic governance and climate change, among other issues.
Travel visas are reportedly set at US$500 dollars and hotel rooms will be set at likewise exorbitant rates. The government has made clear that no side meetings can take place without the express authorisation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Guineans planning to hold any meeting, whether in public or in private homes, require authorisation to do so. Even the proposed pre-summit civil society meeting convened by the African Union Commission has had to be cancelled as authorisation was not forthcoming from the government.
These state actions are in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights adopted as far back as 1981. They especially flout articles on Association (Art.10), Assembly (Art.11) and movement (Art.12) contained in the Charter.
More seriously perhaps is the degree to which the conditions prevailing in Equatorial Guinea fall short of the Constitutive Act of the AU itself. One of the founding principles of the Act is the participation of the African peoples in the activities of the Union. Article 3.A of the Constitutive Act states that the AU will promote and protect the rights in accordance of the African Charter on Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments. Under these conditions neither Guinean nor African citizens will be able to participate independently in the summit.
With this understanding, the obvious question is, why would the AU select Nguema for the Presidency and Equatorial Guinea to host the summit? The decision on the Presidency is taken on a rotational basis by region and for a period of one year. Equatorial Guinea was put forward by its neighbours in the Central African region and the rest of Africa’s leaders accepted this in January 2011. The decision to host the Summit, which often coincides with the selection of the Presidency, is based on countries putting themselves forward to host. The AU Commission establishes a team who pursue a host agreement and preparations are jointly undertaken.
In taking these two decisions administratively, the AU has sacrificed its core values and principles and reduced the stature of the Union. No negotiation seems to have taken place with the authorities to ensure that the relative freedom and political space enjoyed in other African countries would be visited on Equatorial Guinea even for the fortnight of the summit.
Holding a summit in which the host has ratified less than 12 of over 100 of the AU’s treaties is one thing. Holding it in a country in which the host is actively violating the Constitutive Act and key treaties is another. For this and other reasons above, this July’s summit falls far short of the meaningful conditions for holding a summit of African’s leaders. Serious questions need to be asked in the AU’s organs on the whether the time has come for some minimum standards for hosting a Presidency and the summit. One thing is for sure, I for one, shall not be participating in this summit.
While it is unclear which Heads of States have confirmed to travel to this troubled central African country, Libya’s Mummar Gaddafi, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunsia’s Zine Ben Ali will not be among them. The three have been swept from their state houses in popular rebellions early in the year. Perhaps, frustrated by the massive theft of their country and human rights violations, the people of Equatorial Guinea will rise up and Nguema will be sent packing too.
Should this happen, he and his government would not be missed by Africa.
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* Geoffrey Njora is an independent Pan Africanist policy analyst who is not attending the 17th African Union Summit in Malabo.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News
The Malabo extravaganza, the AU and a ‘sacrificed agenda’
The coming two weeks (23 June – 2 July 2011) are busy weeks for African Union (AU). It is organising the 17th ordinary Heads of States and Governments Summit, which is taking place in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The highly echoed topic of the summit is ‘Accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development’. The topic is very fancy on its own and very easy to be manipulated by the African political economic elite to paint their image in a good manner – but only for those who do not know them or resist to know them deep. Given what has happened within the AU framework with regard to the topic of youth, I wonder what we (I) can expect from the activities around the 17th session. Could there be any significance to come out from the summit for the African youth? What are the existing material conditions both enabling and disenabling for the realisation of the so called ‘youth empowerment’? A lot can be said with this regard but this is not my focus for now.
Last week I read a news item on the preparation of hosting the summit by Equatorial Guinea’s government. It is reported in the newspaper that young people and especially students are made to finish their schooling ahead of the original schedule and to leave a ‘peaceful’ space for the ‘guests’ coming to discuss issues on their behalf. The inauguration of a multi-million dollar luxury complex to host the ‘presidents’ and their cliques is may be one of its kind with 52 presidential villas, artificial beach and 18-hole golf course. Though it is not mentioned how much this huge investment costs, you don’t need to be very smart to guess. Actually, if we relate the extravagancy of the Equatorial Guinea’s government with some factual issues we may not be surprised that much. A president who’s been in office since 1979 (more than 3 decades), winning ideally fake elections with more than 95 per cent, accused for outrageous violence of peoples’ rights and dignity and exploiting the natural resource revenue of the country for his own benefits, is more than qualified to be in such position. In a country where more than 70 per cent of the population lives under poverty, deprivation and socio-economic malaises, investing millions of dollars for two weeks event is a cruel action.
The AU has a principle in its constitutive act where it showed its commitment to curtail outrageous violence against human dignity and crimes against humanity with the mandate of interfering into a member state’s internal affairs when such things are happening. By electing the current chairperson of the African Union, Equatorial Guinea’s president, the Union has explicitly violated its own principles. A person who has a huge record of rights violation and displays the ideal characters of a dictator is given the mandate to chair. And he is showing them his sincere respect by building a luxury villa for each one of them by taking the money from the people that could have been used for a wide range of social services for citizens. Should one necessarily get shot by a bullet and bleed to death for a crime against humanity to be recognised? What about the preventable deaths out of poverty and inequality? How many lives could have been saved if the money was used to build hospitals or health facilities? How genuinely would young people in Equatorial Guinea benefit from the conference or from the social services that could be financed by the money wasted to build presidential villas and artificial beach?
The delegates will attend the summit and pass some declarations, which will never be implemented simply echoed like slogans. And the usual life of Africans will continue and without any thing changed. Most African governments are disjointed from their citizens and so is the African Union. How much does it show its moral sentiment to the miseries of people in its member states? What about the horrendous situation in which African citizens are living in under the yoke of dictatorship and authoritarianism? Should we wait for situations till they go out of our control and be an excuse for imperialists to wage war on our continent, as in Libya?
I honestly think that it is almost a general knowledge that extreme inequality will eventually give birth to conflict and crisis. The inequality in power, access to resources, access to state institutions, access to decision making etc, have always been the core factors for most social strife we witnessed in our continent. Yet still no one is taking the lead in addressing the issue and so far every call and effort is falling on deaf ears. I think the case that we are having at Equatorial Guinea should be a valid entry point to keep on addressing the issues of responsible, accountable and responsive governance system in our respective countries once again.
And the AU should consider living up to its principles in a comprehensive and responsible manner. I still have an optimist’s view towards the institutional make-up and presence of the AU. But the fact that the General Assembly constituted by the heads of states and governments is the highest body in decision-making makes it always less efficient, more hypocritical and untrustworthy. How shall we differentiate the former OAU, ‘Trade Union of Dictators’ (Taju,☺) from the new AU, in which almost the same people sit on top and make decisions (Mugabe, Obiang, Gaddafi, Museveni, Bia, to mention some). The AU is rewarding these people for their deeds by being ignorant of the unjust system they are leading.
Finally, as I mentioned it above, the summit topic is very appealing. But let’s not forget that this summit is happening in the middle of lots of other hot issues; the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the conflict in Libya and bombing of NATO, the just ended crisis of Ivory Cost, the emergence of new member state South Sudan, the gloomy relationship with North Sudan, and the ongoing crises in Somalia, Darfur and Northern Uganda. At the same time, external players like China and the US and European Union will also take this opportunity to pass on their influence both implicitly and explicitly to maintain their power in the global scene and win more camaraderie. Hence, for me, the youth topic will be on the margins of most delegates’ agendas. I assume that youth is a ‘sacrificed agenda’.
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* Eyob Balcha blogs at Reflect, Share and Re-reflect!!.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Living on the Coke side of life in Swaziland
Coca-Cola is one of the largest and wealthiest companies in the world, as well as being one of the world’s best-known brands. The desperate situation of the poverty-stricken workers in the sugar cane fields in Swaziland, who harvest the sugar cane that is the most important ingredient of African Coke, on the other hand, is a well kept secret.
Their plight is not deemed newsworthy. They live their lives in a brutal and repressive absolute monarchy where King Mswati III and a small elite live in luxury while the majority of Swazis live in abject poverty.
LET THEM DRINK COKE
Over one billion cans or bottles of Coca-Cola are consumed every day and the Coca-Cola Company makes huge profits every year, over $15-billion in 2005.
Due to the lessening of growth potential in Western markets, where the American market had been dropping off since 1984, Coca-Cola has delved into the markets of developing countries, not least in Africa. Here growth potential is higher and competition less fierce.
‘Business is growing [but]…nowhere is it growing faster, however, than in our Eurasia & Africa group,’ states the company’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Muhtar Kent, in Coca-Cola’s 2010 Annual Review.
Coca-Cola can be bought all over Africa, where the Coca-Cola Company is one of the largest employers with over 160 plants and nearly 70,000 employees. I remember seeing Coca Cola on sale in even the smallest, most remote villages when I was in the Monze East district of rural Zambia 15 years ago, and the supply of Coke hasn’t lessened in the years gone by.
‘In most of Africa,’ says Constance Hays, author of ‘Truth and power at the Coca-Cola company,’ Coca-Cola ‘didn’t have to persuade people to drink Coke instead of Pepsi. [They] had to persuade people who had next to no money to spare, and whose nutritional and health issues were enormous, to take the rands or the shillings out of their pockets and spend them…on a Coca-Cola.’
Coca-Cola has therefore had a huge impact on the economies of both many African countries and their citizens in recent years. Not least in Swaziland, where Coca-Cola contributes over 40 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The Coca-Cola concentrate that is the most important ingredient in the Coca-Cola that is consumed in Africa and parts of Asia and Australia comes from a huge industrial plant in Mapatsa, Swaziland.
The Coca-Cola Company chose Swaziland because of the favourable tax arrangement that the regime gives it, as well as the country’s abundance of cheap labour and raw sugar.
‘Coca-Cola can blackmail Swaziland at any moment it likes. If it doesn’t get its way it simply has to threaten to take its business elsewhere,’ as Richard Rooney, a former associate professor at the University of Swaziland puts it. And if Coca-Cola doesn’t punish Swaziland, others will. The liberal open-market policy that Swaziland has implemented is self-reinforcing, as any attempt to reverse it is instantly punished by the markets.
Swaziland has been ‘Coca-colonised’, so to speak. Not that Swaziland’s absolute ruler, King Mswati III, needs to be coerced - he is said to be on good personal terms with the Coca-Cola Company and visits its headquarters in Atlanta every year. Mswati has also made sure that the ever-louder calls for human rights and socio-economic justice do not interfere with business in Swaziland.
‘Coca-Cola has been accused of dehydrating local communities in its pursuit of water resources to feed its own plants, drying up farmers’ wells and destroying local agriculture…it takes almost three litres of water to make one litre of Coca-Cola,” says English anti-poverty and human rights organisation, War on Want, in a report on Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola and its affiliates have also been accused of abusing ‘countless fundamental human rights’, according to a HRCI research report, such as anti-union violence, discriminatory practises and union busting.
THE BENEVOLENT MULTI-NATIONAL?
Coca-Cola, for their part, claims that it acts altruistically in Africa, especially through the so-called Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, of which King Mswati III is a patron.
‘Any good we secure for ourselves is uncertain until it is secured for us all. That is the fundamental belief of the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation,’ one can read on the foundation’s website, ‘so that we are able to give back to segments of our local communities most in need of assistance,’ said Coke CEO, Fanus Nothnagel, in a 2009 sustainability review.
‘We feel a deep responsibility to ensure all the work we are doing…is creating tangible value…for the communities we serve,’ said the company’s 2010 annual review, which also speaks of ‘making a positive difference in the communities in which we operate’.
The foundation also donates medical equipment to the Swazi government, supports community projects focusing on education and initiated a water development project last year.
The real point, though, is that Coca-Cola is probably in Swaziland because it is a dictatorship that oppresses its unions and population. This allows wages to be kept low and unemployment high.
Coca-Cola is certainly happy with their relationship with the autocratic Swazi regime. ‘I would like to convey our sincere appreciation to the Kingdom of Swaziland,’ The Coca-Cola Foundation’s Supply Chain Manager, Thembinkosi Thwala told Swaziland’s Prime Minister, Sibusiso Dlamini, in 2010. ‘We are looking forward to the continuation of a solid relationship.’
THE POVERTY-STRICKEN SUGAR CANE WORKERS
That this ‘solid relationship’ meant to make ‘a positive difference in the communities’ in which Coca-Cola operates did not extend to embattled sugar cane workers became only too obvious when in September 2010 I visited a sugar cane field in Eastern Swaziland.
‘Cutting cane is backbreaking work, and accidents are common,’ states a 2004 Human Rights Watch report on sugar cane workers. ‘Of all forms of agricultural work, sugar cane is the most hazardous.’ This certainly also applies to Swaziland, according to the sugar cane workers.
The area that I visited, Vuvulane, is managed by the Vuvulane Irrigated Farms (VIF) but the sugar cane fields are under the auspices of the Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise and the Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation, who lease them to individual farmers, who in turn employ casual labourers.
In a small village in Vuvulane, most of the adults worked in the sugar fields as casual labourers for between 400 and 550 rand per month. ‘This is not enough to pay for medicine, proper food or school fees for our children,’ one villager told me. ‘Sometimes we do not eat for days. We used to have our own vegetable gardens but these were confiscated by the sugar company. We sometimes fish in the nearby dam in the evening, when it is dark. If we are caught we will be arrested as the dam is owned by the sugar cane company,’ another villager said.
Practically none of the children in the village, who were clad in dirty and ripped clothes and looked underfed, attended school and many of the villagers receive food aid. In addition to this, the water supply is controlled by a privately owned company that readily closes the water supply from the village if they are not paid on time.
NO ONE SPEAKS UP
Companies such as Coca-Cola always claim that ‘we didn’t know’ about the human rights violations that their line of production causes. ‘Coca-Colas guiding principles apply only to its direct suppliers,’ the company told Human Rights Watch in 2004.
But this excuse is no better than that of a person buying stolen goods from someone on the street who has clearly stolen them.
Unfortunately, the media in Swaziland, who should be giving balanced analyses of important issues such as the immense power of the Coca-Cola Company in Swaziland and the abysmal conditions that those workers who produce the sugar cane work under, are usually blatantly positive and uncritical when reporting about the company.
‘Coca Cola joined the rest of the world in celebrating the soft drink which has contributed immensely to the international economy,’ wrote The Times of Swaziland on 21 May in a typically non-critical article. ‘Ploughing back to communities is one of Coca-Cola’s greatest attributes,’ the government-owned Swazi Observer chipped in.
The international community in Swaziland is not much better. The US embassy in Swaziland spoke last year of Coca-Cola Swaziland’s ‘commitment to recognise and encourage corporate social responsibility…and democratic values’.
But is Swaziland really an example of corporate social responsibility and democratic values? And does Swaziland really benefit from having the Coca-Cola Company effectively propping up its royal dictatorship? Yes, the Coca-Cola Company might provide a large part of Swaziland’s annual GDP, but what good is this to the impoverished sugar cane worker or the average Swazi who can barely make ends meet? What good is it when much of this GDP ends up in the pockets of a small elite?
When Coca-Cola Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mukhtar Kent, said that he ‘sense[d] a better day…for society, communities and humanity’ in 2011 he surely could not have been thinking of Swaziland.
DEMANDING SOCIO-ECONOMIC JUSTICE
The workers in the sugar cane fields are more or less left to fend for themselves - together with the Swazi unions and democratic movement, plus a few foreign-based solidarity organisations and friends.
But there has been some indication of an improved political consciousness and willingness to brave the prospects of being clamped down upon by a brutal regime. This consciousness has, amongst other things, been brought about by an extensive campaign of democratic and rights-based civic education in Swaziland’s rural areas by organisations such as the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice.
This improved consciousness has enabled Swazi workers to link their poverty, poor working conditions and the low wages that the multinationals pay to regime and company neglect and neo-liberalism. And the workers of Swaziland have therefore been more open and clear in their demands in recent years.
Examples of this are the massive strikes by over 16,000 underpaid, and frequently abused, (mostly) female textile workers, in 2008, and the recent historically large demonstrations for socio-economic justice and democracy in March and April 2011.
Swazi workers might previously have seen their struggle against Coca-Cola and the Swazi regime as akin to David’s struggle against Goliath. But recent events seem to prove that they are slowly waking up to the fact that David ended up winning that battle.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Peter Kenworthy is an activist with Africa Contact.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News
Gabon in ruins: A democracy devastated
Open letter to US President Barack Obama
Marc Ona Essangui
Gabonese President Bongo Odimba’s visit to the US from 6-9 June has generated an outcry in Gabonese civil society. Its members sent a letter of inquiry to President Barack Obama asking him to take stock of a country with a democracy devastated by ruinous governance, but also to remind him of the meaning of his speech in Accra, which must be the basis of relations with African leaders.
Excellency, Mr President
It is in the name of the cardinal democratic values that are the foundation of the United States of America that Gabonese civil society comes to you as you prepare to receive Mr Ali Bongo Odimba, President of the Republic of Gabon, in order to expose to you, who presides over the Security Council of the United Nations, the catastrophic situation of governance and democracy in Gabon. Independent since 1960, Gabon suffers from two principal pathologies which affect all segments of society.
1. THE SICK STATE OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE
The main characteristic of this disease lies in the state’s refusal to allow any democratic change, through the confiscation of power by fraud; rigged elections; the results of elections being known in advance; the housing of the electoral list in the Ministry of Interior, where it is subject to systematic manipulation; and trafficking of all kinds in order to maintain a corrupt system hated by the people. Ballot results are thus reversed in favour of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), the party-state, in power for 44 years and one of the last remnants of political monolithism in Africa, which has been responsible for the widespread bankruptcy and ruin of the country.
Yes, Mr President, Gabon is in ruins; democracy is devastated.
Institutions as a whole have no credibility because they are ideologically and politically loyal to the Gabonese Democratic Party. Their sole purpose is the survival of the regime. The last constitutional amendement, decided upon unilaterally by the PDG, was for the sole purpose of strengthening the unlimited power of, and creating a life presidency for, Mr Ali Bongo. This is a perfect example of the democratic stagnation of Gabon.
Similarly, the Constitutional Court is one of the obstacles keeping Gabon from a real march towards democracy and the rule of law. This institution, headed by the lovely mother of Ali Bongo and composed of former chiefs of the ruling party, firmly blocks democracy. She stubbornly refuses the establishment of legal mechanisms for holding reliable, transparent and democratic elections with the direct involvement of civil society in all phases of democratic elections (pre-electoral, electoral, and post-election) in the country. The Constitutional Court has consistently opposed the introduction of biometrics in the electoral system, whereas all political actors and the civil society have unanimously made the providential choice in favor of biometrics.
We make the bitter report that the actions, methods, and practices of the Gabonese government are contrary to international norms and standards of democracy.
Journalists are imprisoned and threatened with death simply because they expose corruption and anti-democratic actions and accuse people from the government or the president’s family. The journalist Désiré Ename, managing director of the weekly ‘Voices of the North’, was abducted and detained by the police, an act instrumentalised by a relative of the president, Frederik Bongo. Thanks to the rapid mobilisation of the civil society, Désiré Ename was released.
Every day, the freedom to unionise is threatened. Trade unionists defending their rights have been imprisoned. Some trade unionists, members of CONASYCED, saw their salaries suspended for several months for demanding that the government respect the commitments made to them.
Newspapers that are heavily critical of those in power are suspended or destroyed by agents in the service of power. Meanwhile, the two public television channels conduct a shameless manipulation of public opinion.
Forms of democratic expression such as peace marches are banned or brutally suppressed by security forces, whose treatment of the civilian population is similar to forces of occupation and repression.
The opposition parties are also marginalised, and their activities subject to numerous disturbances. Several members and supporters of a dissolved opposition party were removed from the public service or prosecuted.
As can be seen, Gabon is not a democracy. Political power is dictatorial, based on fraud and the repression of democratic forces, as the mechanisms used for sustaining political power are at odds with the democratic values on which the United States are based. It is indeed this same family which confiscates power and diverts public funds for the sole benefit of its small barony.
2. THE CORRUPTION OF THE RULING ELITE, WHO ENRICH THEMSELVES INDEFINITELY, AND THE EXTREME POVERTY OF THE GROWING POPULATION
Since the arrival of Mr Ali Bongo Odimba, many decisions to improve the management of the state have been announced, but the implementation of these initiatives is still pending.
Meanwhile, corruption, particularly related to public procurement and management of revenues from extractive industries, is affecting all segments of the Gabonese government. The most significant example this year concerns deals for the 2012 CAN football tournament: The companies who have secured the largest contracts, SOCOBE and Entraco, both belong to the president’s family. Similarly, oil revenues are completely in the hands of the president’s family or relatives.
In the same trend of diversion, these rotating festivals, a true financial drain which has absorbed more than 500 billion CFA, have allowed various political barons and deans to shamelessly use the state’s coffers with impunity. Most recently, the president has even built, at the taxpayer’s expense, a sumptuous building in Paris worth €100 million, while Gabonese children suffer from poor education and social inequality continues to grow.
Additionally, audit measures undertaken by the National Audit Office show the extent of embezzlement and economic crimes attached to festivals in Gabon. At the institutional level, the National Commission for the Fight Against Illicit Enrichment lacks effectiveness, independence, and the means of action to match its ambitions, for lack of political will. While the barons of the regime empty the coffers of the state, poverty is increasing by leaps and bounds. The country lacks everything.
The work of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initative (EITI) has come to a halt and the government does not seem to attach importance to this noble venture, whose last conciliation report was conducted in 2006.
Mr President, as you see, Gabon is in ruins. Gabon is strongly affected by these two conditions – bad governance based on a fraudulent electoral system, and the corruption of the regime. The country was recently ranked highest among African countries in a corruption index.
Faced with this situation, civil society denounces in the strongest terms the intention to organise the next elections under the current fraudulent and anti-democratic conditions. It recommends on the one hand, the return of two rounds of voting for all elections, and on the other hand, the establishment of limitations for presidential mandates, the legislature, and the constitutional bodies of the state.
Armed with this, consider your historic speech to Africa in Accra, where you said: ‘Governments that respect the will of their people, who govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous and more stable than those who do not.’
‘It is not just a matter of holding elections; we must see what happens between elections. Punishment takes many forms and too many countries, even those that hold elections, are experiencing problems that condemn their people to poverty.’
‘Nobody wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the law of the jungle and to corruption. This is not democracy; this is tyranny, and even if we occasionally sow an election here and there, it is time that this style of government disappears.’ You added that ‘a strong democratic country is based on the stability of its democratic institutions and not politicians.’
Your speech in Accra resonates in our ears and was favourably received from those Gabonese who aspire to live in a country freed from tyranny and corruption; a country where citizens can express their views freely; a country that will see the advent of reliable and democratic institutions. Gabon today is trapped in a predatory and corrupt system which steals billions of dollars in state resources.
Mr President, such a system should no longer prosper. You must, on behalf of democracy and freedom, tell Mr Ali Bongo Odimba of your opposition to the militarisation of Gabon, to the installation of a reign of terror where the forces of the second and third categories are deployed on the street daily, like in a country under seige!
With this in mind, kindly send a clear message to Mr Ali Bongo Odimba on democracy and freedom and committing to:
- Organising impartial democratic elections with the involvement of the civil society and under the supervision of the international community to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy, desired by the entire population of Gabon.
– Adopt the institutional reforms proposed by the civil society to strengthen democracy through international standards of responsible governance specific to democratic systems.
Libreville, 8 June 2011
For Gabonese civil society:
– Ona Essangui, President of Brainforest, Goldman Environment Prize 2009: (241) 07294140: [email protected]
– Georges Mpaga, Chairman of the Board of Directors Network of Civil Society Free for Good Governance in Gabon (ROLBG): (241) 07519932: [email protected]
– Alain Moupopa, President of African NGO Horizons of Human Rights: (241) 07751503
– Dieudonné Minlama Mintogo, President of the National Observatory of Democracy: (241) 07948719: [email protected]
– Joel Celestin Mamboundou, President of the NGO Governance Democracy and Environmental Health (DILDOS) and TAI Network Coordinator: (241) 07943034
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Translated from French by Ifeoma Morah.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Unga Revolution: Report on solidarity visit to Taita Taveta County
The right to food and access to national resources
MONDAY, 20 JUNE 2011
Members of the Unga revolution committee in Nairobi received invitation of solidarity from Taita Taveta community leaders to visit there area on the violations of their rights to food by increasing number of elephants from Kenya wildlife service that stray from the Tsavo National park during every planting and harvesting seasons and destroying acres of mature crops from the peasants farmers who depend on this farming for their livelihood, this destruction of their livelihood by elephants from KWS has made them to depend on the unaffordable maize flour that is costing Ksh 160 per 2kg, in the local shops and government relief food that is used by the local political class to manipulate the resident of the Taita Taveta county during election. The systematic destruction of the maize crops during this season has exposed the said peasants farmers in Taveta to food insecurity and hunger this year which is gross violation of the their constitutional right to food that in anchored in the constitution in article 43, on the right to food and protection of livelihood which is part of the Unga revolution countrywide campaign, for the government to implement the its obligation as spelt out in the constitution.
Taita Taveta county is embodiment of neo-colonial poverty, that is obscured by large scale sisal estate plantation and animal Ranch that cover an area of 4,073km and the Tsavo National park which occupies the largest area 10,539 km from 16,975km, with remaining small part being habited by the Taita –Taveta county population people of 300,000 people in the four constituency named Taveta, Wundayi, Mwatate, and Voi., which make Taita –Taveta whole as County.
The history of this exploitation dates to the first and second world war when the British settler soldier were settled in Taita Taveta, then followed by Kenyatta regime, that extended undemocratic controll and exploitation of the land in Taita Taveta and the National Resources, The former MP of the area Basil Criticos and the Kenyatta family own the 70 percent of the Land in Taveta, which was intialialy owned by Colonial settler Col Grogon as retirement package from the British Colonial government in 1930, But in 1959 the Land was acquired by Basils Criticos father who turned it to sisal estate. When in1971 Kenyatta acquired 24000 of acres adjacent to Basil Criticos estate using the British government Funds, where the Kenyatta family today owns the mines in Taita Taveta, with the local ruling political class.
The economic disempowerment and marginalization of the people of the Taita- Taveta and systematic destruction of their livelihood by Kenya wildlife’s services elephants every year, which undermine their right to food and threat by Coalition government to settle large number of the 2007 post election violence internally displaced people (IDP) in the area, has promoted the community leaders of Taita –Taveta council of elders ( Waghosi wa Isanga ), and the local councilors to seek solidarity with the unga revolution movement in demanding the government and the Magemement of the Kenya Widlifes services to account on the gross violation of human rights to the people of Taita- Taveta, especially the right to food and access to national resources as in the constitution.
The resident of Mwaktau Location, Mwatate Constituency took to the street early June to demand accountability from the Kenya wildilfes service management and number of the villagers were injured by the Kenya police at Voi- Taveta road, in violations of their constitutional rights to assemble, picket and petition authorities, this happened on 3rd June 2011 while conducting a non-violent protest action of the sit-in at Voi –Taveta road to pressure the government and the KWs to take action on the systematic destruction of their livelihoods.
Mr Alfan Mborioa community leader and Waghosi wa Isaga council of elders who hosted the Unga revolution committee from Nairobi, in assessing the impact and damage caused by the elephants informed the team the school attendance in Mwakitau and Mwashuma areas classes were affected because of the fear of the pupils being attached by the said elephants while going to the schools in the morning and the evening while going back home. Which also is compounded by hunger.
ACTION THAT WAS TO BE TAKEN BY THE UNGA REVOLUTION COMMITTEE IN NAIROBI AND TAITA TAVETA COMMUNITY LEADERS LOCAL COUNCILLORSWAGHOSI WA ISANGA ELDERS AND THE PEASANTS FARMERS IN THE AREA.
1. Documentation of the destruction of the crops and affected people and the number of plots in all areas within Taita taveta county, that border the Tsavo national park.
2. Community participatory in social audit on the Kenya wildlife service in the Taita –Taveta County, Tsavo National park on the violation of right to food and access to national resources by the people of Taita Taveta.
3. Instituting a classic legal action case against the Kenya government andKenya wildlife service on the violations of right to food and destruction of property in the area.
4. That the government should not settle 2007 post election victims (IDP) in the area because it amount to gross human rights violations and historicsal injustice to the people of Taita- Taveta who were originally displaced and rendered landless in the Taita-Taveta area by Britist colonial govermemt and subsequent government of Kenyatta Moi and Kibaki regime.
UNGA REVOLUTION TEAM WITH RESIDENTS AND TEACHERS OF MWAKITAU SECONDARY SCHOOLIN TAITA TAVETA.
1. Petition the government and Kenya Wildlife service under the Article 37 of the constitution to compensate and pay damages on the said victims of right to food, and respect the constitutional right to food as anchored in the constitution of Kenya.
2. Participation of the affected people in the decision making processes, in order to identify the real needs of the right to food are responded to effectively and all victims of the right to food affected are compensated.
3. The residents affected were to make a delegation to Kenya wildlife service headquarters to petition the KWS director Dr. Julias Kipngetich on the said human rights violations.
4. The team were to advance the Saba saba(7/7/2011) commemoration in the respect to right to food by petitioning authorities in picketing, organizing sit in and rallies in the governments offices to demand accountability and respect of our rights as stipulated in the new constitution.
Reports By Unga Revolution Committee.
1. Francis Sakwa, Unga Revolution Mathare Committee
2. James Kamau (Jemu ) Unga Revolution Mukuru Committee
3. Vincent Madegwa Kidaha Unga Revolution Kibera Committee
4. Cidi Otieno - Convener Unga Revolution
5. Gacheke Gachihi Convener Bunge La Mwananchi social movement
Email: [email protected]
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* This article first appeared on Gacheke Gachihi’s blog.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Arrest of the Angolan civil society activist Agostinho Chicaia
OSI Angola, AJPD
Statement by Open Society Institute (OSI) Angola, Omunga and Association for Justice Peace and Democracy (AJPD)
Luanda, 21 July 2011
OSI Angola, Omunga and AJPD have been alerted to the detention, in unclear circumstances, of Agostinho Chicaia (ex-President of the now defunct Cabindan civil society organization MPALABANDA and currently Coordinator of the UN Maiombe Project) in Ndjili Airport in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mr Chicaia was detained by the migration service when he was about to depart on a business trip to Harare, Zimbabwe.
OSI-Angola, Omunga and AJPD have ascertained that the arrest was carried out at the request of the Angolan authorities. We consider that Mr Chicaia has been arrested because of his activities as a promoter and defender of human rights, the well being of citizens and a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Cabinda region of Angola.
For this reason, we call on the Angolan and DRC authorities to state clearly what are the circumstances and the legal grounds for Mr Chicaia’s detention.
We also call on the authorities of both countries to release Mr Chicaia and to guarantee his security and physical wellbeing.
Antonio Ventura, President, AJPD
Katila Pinto de Andrade, OSI Angola
Jose Antonio Martins Patrocinio, Omunga
Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity
Palais des Nations
17 June 2011
I have the honour to introduce resolution L9 rev 1 entitled ‘Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity’. South Africa believes that dialogue is an extremely powerful tool when dealing with difficult subject matter or situations. Our history has taught us the importance of dialogue and the need to engage and listen to one another.
South Africa believes that no-one should be subjected to discrimination or violence based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. No-one should have to fear for their lives because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. No-one should be denied services because of sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution before us today does not seek to impose values on Member States but it seeks to initiate a dialogue which will contribute towards ending discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In South Africa non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is constitutionally guaranteed, yet we still have challenges related to violent acts against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We believe that inter-governmental dialogue on this subject could provide a platform to find ways to address this subject.
South Africa is a multiracial, multicultural, multi-religious society in which all enjoy fundamental freedoms. Although South Africa is predominantly Christian society, about 80 per cent, all religions are treated the same. Every time when our Parliament opens, all religious leaders, Hindu, Islamic, Judaism and Christian, are given equal time to pray for our Parliament. South Africa is predominantly a Black country, about 79 per cent of the population, but all racial groups enjoy equal rights and fundamental freedom.
All of us, who were engaged in liberation struggles, without exception, drew our aspiration from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose very opening preambular paragraphs became a clarion call to fight for freedom. It says and I quote, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and right and that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms set forth in that Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.’
When we were imprisoned, tortured and forced into exile, we received moral, political and material support from all sections of society all over the world. We never said we cannot accept your support due to gender identity. Our migrants, refugees and those who are continuously visited by severe hunger, receive help from everyone and we never say, we don’t want help from you due to your sexual orientation and gender identity. When we seek jobs, investments, capacity building and technology, we never say only from that section of society and not from that section of society, depending on gender identity.
There is no region or regional organisation that has called for or has tolerance to discrimination. There is no region one knows, that is opposed to dialogue. The United Nations is our common Parliament - the Parliament of the World. The UN Human Rights Council is a world parliament to discuss human rights issues; complex issues, difficult and sensitive issues. To conduct dialogue.
The preambular paragraph in L9 Rev 1 recalls the principles that we all embrace: universality, interdependence, indivisibility and inter-relatedness of human rights and concerns of acts of violence and discrimination against individuals in all our regions, because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
This resolution calls for the UN Human Rights Council to offer the opportunity for all of us to have factual based dialogue relating to discrimination against those who have different sexual orientation and have a different gender identity. Consequently, the resolution requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a fact-based study in all our regions and for the outcome of that study to form the basis of the panel discussion during the 19th Session in 2012.
This resolution enjoins us to dialogue about the discrimination and violence meted to our brothers and sisters in all regions and all countries of the world, including my own, whose only crime seems to be their choice in life. This dialogue will be about reaching out to one another, understanding one another in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’
Having deferred the resolution from the 16th session to the 17th session as requested by members present, South Africa convened three open-ended informal consultations, as well as numerous bilateral consultations. Extensive consultations were also conducted with civil society and NGOs both domestically and in Geneva in order to gather as many views as possible. We wish to thank the numerous delegations and stakeholders which engaged in these consultations and who have co-sponsored the resolution.
As the main sponsor of the resolution, we would like to mention that the following countries have sponsored the resolution: Brazil, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Austria, Finland, Timor-Leste, Germany, Serbia, Belgium, Albania, United States of America, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Netherlands, Portugal, Czech Republic, Israel, Canada, Argentina, Italy, Croatia, Luxembourg, Ireland Switzerland and Greece. I believe Norway, France, Sweden and Slovenia are already listed as co-sponsors in the L9 Rev.1 circulated in the room.
South Africa hopes that the resolution will be adopted by the Council today and that the ensuing study and panel discussion will contribute positively to the elimination of discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Mr President, it is now my pleasure to pass the floor to the Permanent Representative of Brazil, Ambassador Maria Azevedo.
I thank you, Mr President.
Gay Kenya congratulates UN on resolution on LGBT human rights
Gay Kenya Trust
Member of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK)
P.O Box 13005 Nairobi (00100) Tel: 020 809330 Cell: 0700 718585
Gay Kenya congratulates UN on resolution on LGBT human rights
Gay Kenya extends its congratulation to the United Nation Human Rights Council that has just passed a resolution that protects and defends the human rights of LGBT persons. The UN Human Rights Council resolution sought equal rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, marking progress for gay rights despite strong Arab and African opposition.
The resolution was passed narrowly with 23 votes in favour, 19 against and three abstentions.
Presenting the text, South Africa said that ‘no one should be subject to discrimination or violence due to sexual orientation or gender identity’.
It also stressed that the resolution ‘does not seek to impose values on states, but seeks to initiate
dialogue’ on the issue.
Even though it’s not clear on how Kenya voted, Gay Kenya led a petition to ask Kenya’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council to vote YES or at least co-sponsor the resolution. The petition, signed by leading civil society groups and LGBT groups was presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is in charge of Kenya’s representation at the UN.
17 June 2011
Public & Media Affairs Officer | (Acting) Programs Officer
P.O. Box 13005-00100 GPO, Nairobi-Kenya
Office Cell: 0700 71 85 85
Email: nzioka[at]gaykenya.com Website: www.gaykenya.com
Stop NATO from using your domain for their killings in Libya!
Open letter to Twitter
June 19, 2011
During this past week a number of articles have reported on the use of Twitter to provide Target Acquisition information to NATO:
"How social media users are helping NATO fight Gadhafi in Libya" *1)
"Libya air strikes: Nato uses Twitter to help gather targets" *2)
"NATO draws on Twitter for Libya strikes" *3)
This means NATO is using YOUR DOMAIN to target civilian sites to destroy and cause mass casualties and deaths of Libyan civilians!!!
A random check made clear NATO gets their information, i.e. latitude and longitude information of Libyan government forces and other strategic/logistic information, from tweets like these:
which information is tweeted to: @NATO, @NATOpress, @NATOlibrary,@NATOchannel, @NATOSource, @AndersFoghR, @SteveMcCluskey, @UKMilOps and/or @HMS_Nonsuch.
The war on Libya is widely regarded as ILLEGAL, both under international law and under US statutes including the War Powers Resolution. (seehttp://www.accuracy.org/release/libya-war-illegal/)
Therefore, anyone collaborating in acts of violence connected to this war is arguably a criminal conspirator; his/her actions are analogous to those of a gang member using online communication to inform a contract killer of the location of his victim.
Under US federal law, transmitting information containing threats of injury or death is a criminal offense:
"Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing ... any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."
18 U.S.C. § 875 (c)
Courts have held that this statute applies, not only to the person sending the illegal communication, but also to any Internet Service Provider that transmits the communication. See https://www2.bc.edu/~yen/ISPLiab.pdf
Simply by transmitting bombing coordinates posted by its users, therefore, Twitter may be in violation of federal criminal law.
Moreover, Twitter’s Terms of Service - the so-called "Twitter Rules" *4) - clearly state:
"You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others"
as well as
"You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or for promotion of illegal activities."
Therefore Twitter appears to be in VIOLATION, not only of the law, but also of its own Terms of Service.
We therefore urgently request you to take action against twitter accounts that directly contribute to the destruction of Libya and the casualties and deaths of thousands of Libyan people.
2011 Caine Prize: Ikhide’s complaint
Nigerian born writer Ikhide R. Ikheloa made it a point to ‘diss’ the shortlisted stories for the 2011 Caine Prize, which, by the way, is not the first time we have been served with his opinionated criticism. In response, I intend to make the case that there are deeper concerns than the sweeping conclusions he makes in his short essays, ‘How not to Write about Africa’ and ‘The Caine Prize and Unintended Consequences.’ He complains that, ‘The creation of a Prize for ‘African Writing’ may have created the unintended effect of breeding writers writing to stereotype Africa for glory.’ And he goes further to assert that the stories ‘celebrate orthodoxy and mediocrity,’ that ‘they are a riot of exhausted clichés even as ancient conflicts and anxieties fade into the past tense: huts, moons, rapes, wars and poverty.’ Then he praises Medalie’s ‘The Mistress’s Dog’ because it narrates an ‘Africa without kwashiorkor.’ The imagery he presents is stimulating, pitching Medalie’s ‘Africa without kwashiorkor’ against NoViolet Bulawayo’s ‘sniffing around Africa’s sewers.’ This ‘sniffing’ is by ‘good writers showcasing good prose and great dialogue’ stuck in the ‘fog of stereotypes.’ I implore the reader to take a look at those essays. I am more concerned about the implications of Mr. Ikheloa’s complaint(s) than about his affronts to the ‘good writers’ and the Caine Prize which ‘has come to stay.’ I will, however, return a few more times to his considerations.
The dilemma we face is the challenge of distinguishing between writing a ‘story’ and writing ‘stereotypes.’ It is clear that the divide, and the constructs, exist. It is also clear that both merge and are almost inseparable. For instance, I might decide to write a story about incest and child witch-hunt in Esit Eket, thereby writing an African ‘stereotype’ or I might decide to tell a story of a deaf man who hears a single song, thereby writing a ‘story.’ This is a fashionable divide, sometimes bedevilling, other times accommodating. But I consider this divide more intricate than superficial.
Let me make assumptions for what it takes to write stereotypes, and write a story. To write a stereotype, one mixes fact with fiction – narrating, on the one hand, a considerable navigation of the known world and on the other creatively repeating that known world. This is perhaps an art in itself, and essentially accommodating, I think. Or perhaps stereotypes get their essentials from ‘political correctness’ – which suggests that ‘stereotypes’ can fall within the category that encompasses the media, Westernization, Neo-colonialism, and whatnot. The other realm, of stories, demands extended imagination – we find ourselves making our special known worlds, giving no quarter to political correctness, living in a (re)imagined state. This second realm, unlike the first, becomes celebrated only because those who read us find in it an escape from ‘reality.’
But would I be wrong to ask which of these realms demands greater guts? How fearless must we be to write a stereotype into a story? Is the necessity for fearlessness greater in the first realm and lesser in the second? Put more succinctly, how much guts did it take Rushdie to write ‘The Satanic Verses’, and how did that differ from, say the stories of Graham Greene or Raymond Chandler? Unfortunately, I find it increasingly difficult to defer to this divide because I do not know if there are stories which purely narrate ‘issues’ and those that purely function in the field of the imaginative. Perhaps, this is one difficulty with Ben Okri; how there is the impossibility of establishing a definite realm for his stories.
I think it is a very complex problem, because I live on Earth and not on Mars and I cannot imagine something out of the known world. I create faces from faces that appear in my head after I have seen a face, and a leg and a table too. And perhaps it is not as easy as I have been made to believe, that it is possible to write a story that is a story and has no trace of the issues that bedevil humanity. But maybe our conception of ‘stereotypes’ is stuck in a slot in a negative contraption. We have learnt Chimamanda Adichie that there are ‘dangers of a single story.’ We know how important it is that Africa is not thought of as a country, but as a continent. And we know how important it is to tell stories that do not convey the ‘dark’ side of Africa, stories that do well with a ‘Western audience’; or to avoid stories that portray Africa as an ‘issue-laden continent.’ Then, these issues that we talk about are issues of negativity and not, well, rich ethnicity and functioning social life. These stories, that are only stories, are those that tell of ‘normal’ lives, that are not clichés. It is safe to assume that stories that are issue-laden are those that explore the details of a much-talked about negative life, a portrayal that is both politically and socio-culturally incorrect, though demeaning.
But whose story are we supposed to write? The stories in our head? The stories that we imagine are in the heads of our countrymen? The story of the town our parents were born in, or our country, or where we have lived? Three words, then, appear relevant – memory, fraternity and essence. Memory because I think I am a collage of what I was yesterday; of places, people and things I engaged with in the past (incidentally there is an essay by celebrated atheist Sam Harris, ‘Morality without Freewill’ that navigates the proposition that our actions, intentions, beliefs and desires arise not from freewill but from prior-causes). Fraternity because I do not live alone, and I do not exist in a space void of community, language, ethnicity and social structure. And essence because I think I belong to a larger scheme of things, because I am fool to think I exist only within a sphere that is self-attributive. This, then, can mark the intersection between the private and the public, that arena where I think I am writing for myself and others tell me my work appeals to them. I tell myself that I must not set out with the objective to tell another’s story, but I find that when I tell the story that seems individual, others say I tell their stories too. I like to call this subconscious fraternity, and it is not impossible that there is a single thread of (un)conscious memory and essence that runs through all of us.
I must digress. When we speak of telling stories that are not stereotypes, or when we address Ikhide’s complaint, we are faced with the question of whether NoViolet Bulawayo’s ‘Hitting Budapest’ is a story that is as much hers as it is Africa’s. We know that the Caine Prize is the ‘African Booker,’ and so it must represent, essentially, what is ‘African’ about Africa. Good, then. Did Bulawayo write a story that was in her head which found an intersection with what was ‘real’ about Africa? Or did she tell another story, one that is real to the West, one that the West believes as their ‘African’ story? Mr. Ikheloa further complains that ‘the West is now busily forcing our stories into a particularly obnoxious trajectory.’
I am simply asking: How real can we be about Africa? And how real can we be to Africa? Now, I am careful to use ‘Africa’ because we are a set of 54 countries with different histories and fractured perspectives. I am also careful because I suppose I am as strange to a Tunisian as that Tunisian is to a Canadian. So if we are speaking of Africa’s tale, we are in the danger of writing the tale of say Darfur or Uganda or Rwanda and not that of Bauchi, Afikpo or Ile-Ife. Africa seems to be a generalized word, a permissible one, and I am wary of the associations that have come off it. Thus, I fall back to the assumption that issues are only issues in a generalized sense used for defining Africa as ‘the sick baby of the world.’ But it is dangerous to conclusively assume that these cliché stories (issue-laden stories) are written because ‘needy African writers’ are hungry. Perhaps they are written in the voice of a writer for whom the generalized Africa is a particularized one. Ikhide complains that there is a lot of lamentation in supposedly contemporary African narratives. Thus, I am wont to question the relevance and expedience of these cliché stories – is there a purpose to stereotype-stories, even in the long term? I hate, however, to be a judge of these things.
We know from Granta that ‘How to Write about Africa’ ranks amongst the most popular of all their online essays. It is understandable that Binyavanga Wainaina feeds into the essay sarcastic details of an Africa that resonates in Western-controlled media (and we know that he who controls the media controls perception). I am fine with the contents of the essay, and I have been a fan of it since 2007. Yet I think it must count for something that the essay is very popular on the Granta site. I want to think that a new stereotype is emerging – a stereotype that wants to address ‘Africa’ in the way it should be addressed; because we are angry, perhaps ashamed, of the manner in which Africa has been written about. I assume this because this generation of writers did not invent this stereotype. We are affected by the Achebe-Conrad war. Agreed, our claims are justifiable, as we do not want to be defined, or as Mr. Ikheloa wrote once, we do not want to be italicized. We do not want our language explained at the back of a book that purportedly celebrates us. Yet, is this not going to become what we are avoiding? Is our definition of ourselves by ourselves not going to become a stereotype? Is the story we are going to tell that is pleasing, and acceptable, and real, not going to become a cliché story too? I believe this must be considered urgently, because ‘screwing’ boundaries and prizes and ‘just writing’ suggests that there is another story we are not telling. One pointer we get to this other story – this emerging stereotype – is the fact that (as Ikhide writes), ‘outside of the destructive force of organized religion, wars and diseases, the internet and cell phone technology are the most powerful forces in the ongoing restructuring of African communities.’ Then if we move from this destructive telling, we are yet to find a template to build our efforts at telling stories upon, a template that screws boundaries and prizes. Even Mr. Ikheloa does not provide such template. Except, of course, he suggests that good writing about Africa is writing that addresses the forces of the internet and cell phone technology – and this would be suicidal because Ivor Hartman (in One Ghana One Voice’s Roundtable Discussion #6) states that ‘up to 89.1 per cent of Africa do not have online access.’
The problem is that, as my friend Adebiyi Olusolape muses, our collective view is influenced more by sensational media coverage than by anything else. Of Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’, in relation to her treatment of an Islamic subject, Olusolape notes that ‘It’s always the Muslims. But was this the case at the time the book was being written, pre-9/11, before it became ‘official’ that Muslims be made the handy bogeymen?’ In essence, assuming there was no 9/11, terrorism might be defined differently and ‘terrorists’ accorded less bogeyness. So, put in perspective, assuming we had the pre-colonial opportunity to define ourselves, there might be little clamour, as there now is, for self-definition and narratives that sing the collective song of the people. This, however, was not the case. We were defined against our wish. My fear is that in an attempt to re-define and assert ourselves, despite our pitfalls and failures, we would lose fluidity and individualization.
Chris Abani says the story is fluid and belongs to no one person. This is important in his contemplation of what I think of as the ‘human narrative’ – an attempt to universalize the human condition into any narrative, but essentially within an ethnic context. So I write a story from an Igbo viewpoint, questioning my Igboness, because I know someone would question his Giyukuness. Abani writes, ‘This sometimes happens to us, that we write the song that sings our mother across to the other side. That the narrative is beyond even the ethical work we wanted it to be. That it is sometimes a good yarn, that it sometimes brings comfort to others, that it sometimes makes our people proud of us.’ I will return to a consideration of this.
Does the story of the real Africa belong to only one person? If we choose to write a story about Darfur, does it mean we have told a story that should not be told because it affirms a skewed Western thought or affords a validation of Western-stereotypic consciousness? I remember someone saying that ‘Jimmy Carter’s Eyes’ was a better story than ‘Waiting.’ And that Osondu wrote the latter to ‘win’ the Caine. Good, agreed. He won the Caine. He wrote a story. Perhaps one is more important than the other (or perhaps the decision of the Judges is most important). I am thinking this could be equated with what Emeka Okereke, Nigerian photographer, blogs about in relation to a project organized by an organization named AECID affiliated with the Spanish Ministry of Culture: ‘You have what I want, you want what I have.’ Thus, I give the Caine people what they ‘want’ in exchange for the prestige and literary stardom that comes with the prize. Yet, it appears that it is increasingly difficult to draw a line between the stories that should be told and the stories that should not, because we are a set of generalized people that are finding their voice; of course I disagree with Mr. Ikheloa because he seems to think this line is easily discernable. Is this not a case for saying that we must explore all options, all alternatives to narration?
I believe what is more important is the objective of the story. I assume it is unhelpful to draw a line on what a writer’s process/objective is by his story. Granted, critics do this continuously – yet in the final analysis if we can define a ‘grand’ objective of ‘the story’ we can go past these questions of stories that dance to a Western tune. And what is the West, anyway? And what is even human? So our grand objective must transcend western lines, become human, and take a more particularized stance. Can this grand objective be grasped? I propose that memory, fraternity and essence are merged, so that every writer, of whatever African descent, plugs his narrative into this fusion. Hopefully.
Directly connected to this is whether the generation of writers I belong to could either conform to standards set by post-colonial writers or choose to be dissident. This is interesting for me because I grew up in post-postcolonial Nigeria, at the dusk of the military regime. So what I know is not a Nigeria just off colonialism, and therefore I cannot tell the politics that was evident in that time or become a social-critic as was the praiseworthy fashion of that time. I have grappled with the question of how socially active my writing must be, how protestant and dissident. Essentially, I find that if I confine myself to telling ‘activism’ in my writing, I could be telling the story of another, confronting another’s reality, as I have never been imprisoned, brutalized or assaulted (perhaps an experience of any of this would change me?) What bothers me is not necessarily how failed the system is, but how this system has stripped us of some of our humanity or how we are human despite the system.
Since I have raised the question of political relevance, it is appropriate to consider the extent to which such relevance is useful. Is this relevance a clamour for anti-Government (protest) writing? As we know, in Nigeria for instance, a civilian government has not shown a greater zeal for the Nigerian people than their military counterpart. And so, we have enough reason to display dissidence, ‘incorruptible dissidence’ like Soyinka. We have the option to write ‘politically,’ fight the government of our time. Yet, there appears to be an over-documentation of protest. As such, there could (or should) be a different slant in my head aside ‘the prejudice of colonialism, racism, anxieties about postcolonial life and the painful alienation of exile.’ However, I am making the case that what I feel in my head could be anything from the preoccupations of the older writers to the reality of an internet age, and my choice of either should not invalidate my writing.
I return to Emeka Okereke because he makes a case for ‘the concept of freedom of manoeuvre within the volatile abundance of the creative magnetic field.’ What does this imply? Does it suggest that our freedom as writers, or artists, extends to the need to deal with matters we find ‘fulfilling’ (in terms of Caine prestige and monetarily)? Or does it start and end at questioning personal and collective unrest in a manner that is not ‘politically’ correct? Indeed, where does that ‘manoeuvre’ begin, and end? What are the parameters of our artistic freedom? How right can my story be? And how wrong? Which is wrong – my story or me? As we see, this is an open-ended conundrum.
A simpler knot might be a question of style, and if I may be preposterous, ‘individual artistic libertarianism.’ Raymond Carver’s ‘Principles of a Story’ is a fine masterpiece on the art of short story writing. He notes: ‘It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.’ Here we find that he makes a distinction between ‘style’ and ‘signature.’ He goes further to consider that a writer, with a unique lasting signature, has a way of looking at his world. Just as it is that a myopic sprinter cannot see the finish line the way non-myopic sprinters can. And it is amazing that, using this analogy, we might have difficulties judging the view of that myopic sprinter by that of his fellows. Put more contextually, how do we judge a writer if we cannot place a thumb on his ‘signature’ and how he looks at the world? A friend told me that being a Christian would blur the range of my fiction. I laughed because I could not imagine how being a believer in a ‘non-Christian God,’ as he claimed he was, would broaden the range of my fiction.
My contemplation of individual artistic vision could be dangerous. I would have wished that we look at the world the way we wish to, and not be judged on the question of whether our view represents ‘a true and collective African voice’ (who even defines this?) But we understand that if this is the case we would have no complaint from Ikhide, and we do need him to complain (?) Yet we also need to, as writers, find a way to speak. I care less if I am accused of making a case for ‘writing to please the West.’ For me, it is more dangerous to make a case for ‘African writing’ when being an artist begins from an individual standpoint than from the collective. As such, it is arguable that Adichie corroborates this in ‘The Thing around Your Neck’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and Habila in his short story ‘The Immigrant’ and Evans in ‘26a.’ Important, then, is the subject of identity. Identity is often an imagined state, so it gives room for very innovative ways to look at Self. We agree that we are who we are different from others because, for instance, we have the same language, live within each other, have knowledge that our parents and their parents before them lived in the place we now live or the place we call ‘home.’ This is changing very much. For instance, I speak the Igbo language badly, although I hail from Afikpo. I have lived in up to seven cities, and my parents visit our hometown irregularly. Does this make me fractured? Yes, I think, very much. I agree that there is every need to locate myself within an ethnic space and maybe speak from that space, but I disagree that I must be more conscious of a collective identity than my fractured self.
How then does this resolve? First, this does not resolve, and it should not. An artistic life as individual as mine cannot be explained collectively, neither can a creative process be ascertained with mathematical precision. So I am thinking that Arundhati Roy is right when she speaks of ‘deploying a private language.’ In her Guernica interview she suggests that it is interesting to try walking the path between honing language to make it as private as possible, and looking around, seeing what is happening to millions, and deploying that private language to speak from the heart of a crowd. And I add that this private language could then become public, spoken by the crowd to the crowd and for the crowd. There can be (and should be) attempts to judge the deployment of my private language. But whoever is interested in judging must give room for his (blissful) ignorance, for even the Devil, as I was told in my undergraduate law class, does not know the mind of a man.
Second, I agree that there can be the ‘ethics of narrative.’ Abani makes this case in his essay in Witness Magazine – ‘Ethics and Narrative: the Human and Other’ – which suggests that we must find the intersection between our capacity as artists and our capacity as humans (that is, I should write the story that leads your mother to the other side). If this can be incorporated in our grand objective of story-telling or Caine Prize-writing, whether or not there are Ikhide Complaints, I trust we would be fine. More so, it is very human and ethical for the narrative to be true to itself – If we go to the places described in the story, in Beatrice Lamwaka’s Uganda for instance, would we find characters as those she created in ‘Butterfly Dreams’? And third, this funnels into the idea that I am first human before anything else, towering above every other purpose. Therefore I am content with finding it difficult to define this humanness, because I am always groping for who I am and how best to narrate who I am within a fraternal space.
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* Emmanuel Iduma holds a degree in Law, and has been published online and in print. He co-publishes Saraba Magazine.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Bringing Nkrumah to the people
Review Of ‘The Mind of Kwame Nkrumah: Manual for the Study of Consciencism’
Centre for Consciencist Studies and Analyses
Certainly a new wind is blowing over Africa. The spirit of Kwame Nkrumah is awakened. This renewed presence is acknowledged across the continents. Not only are academics and intellectuals reviving their interest in Kwame Nkrumah. They have also questioned and are questioning the decades of neglect in the study of the ideas of the man. Agitations are afoot at centres of learning to incorporate such studies into the curriculum of university studies in Africa. The agitations do not resist the continued studies of Western philosophers like Thales, Plato, Aristotle and others. They make a just and positive demand that Kwame Nkrumah be added to them.
In the politics of Ghana today the spirit of Kwame Nkrumah looms large. Even political parties which were opposed to the policies of the man today seek a certain accommodation with his commitments. Not only has the current president instituted Founder’s Day in the annual political calendar to immortalise the works and ideals of Kwame Nkrumah but also the flag bearer of the main opposition party has stated his commitment to the Pan-African project of the foremost Pan-African Proponent, Kwame Nkrumah. No longer are the old folks of that opposition secure in their age-old condemnations of the Man of African Destiny in the face of the rising and increasing youth acknowledgement of that man in their own ranks.
This renewed and wide spreading interest in Kwame Nkrumah has occasioned discomfort, however, in the souls of certain persons who have taken the strategic option of attacking the very intellectual foundations of the man in the name of the man. This transparent mission to distort and revise Nkrumah’s fundamental ideas and commitments in favour of what he stands against is targeted at the youth of Africa and of the Diaspora. But the spirit of Kwame Nkrumah, awakened by this wicked design of low political spirits, has invoked a quick response in ‘THE MIND OF KWAME NKRUMAH: Manual for the Study of Consciencism’.
This manual does not only simplify the reading and understanding of the statement of Kwame Nkrumah’s fundamental ideas in his book, ‘Consciencism’, through guiding the reader over its pages, chapter by chapter, but also engages in a radical and militant combat of that distortionist and revisionist trend promoted by fifth columnists who have taken positions within what Kwame Afful calls the Kwame Nkrumah movement. Addressed to the youth of Africa and the Diaspora, the manual is the first of its kind to break down the technical philosophical language of Kwame Nkrumah into easily accessible terms of ordinary language. It is to be read alongside the book ‘Consciencism’ itself.
In its opening pages, the manual addresses the youth and explains the necessity of reading Nkrumah’s book in the flesh rather than the second hand or interpretative versions of it. The foreword traces a brief history of attitudes towards philosophy in general and particularly towards ‘Consciencism’ within the public domain as well as within the intelligentsia. These are attitudes that have not facilitated the appreciation of the profundity of Kwame Nkrumah’s thought and practice. In the preface, vital concepts of the book are explained prior to the in-depth treatment of the chapters.
This is followed with guiding the reader through the Introduction of the book, ‘Consciencism’. In this respect, a portion of Nkrumah’s quotation from Friedrich Engels’ letter that he leaves out is recalled to provide a better understanding of what he says. The importance of the Introduction rests in the fact of its revealing Kwame Nkrumah’s anxiety to quicken the liberation and reconstruction of Africa through the conscious use or application of principles of thought to understand the dynamics of society in scientific terms in order to effectively change it. This special feature in Nkrumah’s intellectual attitude is well understood in comparison to the physical scientist’s attitude towards applicable research. This part of the manual urges the student to ‘resist and reject the unenlightened opportunism of projecting Kwame Nkrumah, the author, as a latter-day, post-coup Marxist...’
In the first chapter, the manual explains the difficulties of Kwame Nkrumah’s presentation style and devices a strategy for following the presentation easily. In this way, it leads the reader along the themes that Nkrumah explores in his development of the history of Western intellectual thought. It identifies the main themes and then the sub-themes. The reader is then led to follow the development of themes and sub-themes individually all over the chapter and shows how they are connected with each other in a logical flow. This interesting pursuit of themes and sub-themes in the pages of the book is in the nature of hunting an animal and the unforgettable experience of landing at the catch makes the idea stick and memorable.
But if the first chapter explores the history of abstract thought in Western intellectual history, the second chapter shows the immediate concrete nature of those thoughts through illustrations of their social content. So that what had hitherto appeared as mind-splitting about nothing immediately comes alive with passions being aroused in this to that direction. Here, the themes and sub-themes are again in display and such themes as the concepts of egalitarianism and revolution are portrayed in their evolution within the demands of the struggles to free man from clerical restrictions and then the clerical-oligarchic diarchy that compromised increased production and freedom for the human spirit.
Chapter three then takes the reader through and focuses their attention on the role of ideology in the pursuit of the perfect society and therefore in the everyday life of the individual and society. The definition of ideology offered is innovative. Every society exhibits one or more. The manual simplifies the explanation and, ideology, in Kwame Nkrumah’s terms, is understood not essentially as a written statement but as the total set of values, written and largely unwritten, that man develops for the conduct and direction of all for the freedom and fulfilment of society and the individual. The need for such an ideology out of the historically-conditioned conflicting ideologies in Africa is then advocated.
The details of that ideology are outlined in chapter four. With the understanding that an ideology is displayed in and permeates every sphere of the socio-political life of a society and is exhibited in the philosophical system and theories in all studies, The manual systematically shows those outlines. The book ‘Consciencism’ finally emerges as a philosophical statement that elucidates and theoretically defends scientific socialist ideology to guide the African Revolution. The Manual, in this portrayal of ‘Consciencism’, sees ‘Consciencism’ not as solely concerned with the fusion of the three dominant strands of African culture but as a complete thought system for every socio-political purpose.
The final chapter of The Manual portrays the combat against contemporary revisionism and neglect conducted in cyberspace. It is a defence of the principles of ‘Consciencism’ by the author of The Manual against the revisionism and neglect of apparently influential figures in the Nkrumaist and Pan-African movement. The featured figures are Christian Kwami Agbodza, the self-appointed Professor of Consciencism, and Elder Chinweizu Chinweizu, respectively.
Vern Westgate, a review specialist of Strategic Book Group in the USA, recently observed and wrote that the author had ‘written a very comprehensive, extensively researched, and well explained manual in providing enlightenment for the philosophy of Kwame Nkrumah’s book, Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for De-Colonisation.”’
The author of the manual, Lang T.K.A. Nubuor, the general secretary of the erstwhile People’s Revolutionary League of Ghana, was a member of the Secretariat of the National Defence Committee that attempted to build an alternate State to replace the neo-colonial state structure through a system of People’s and Workers’ Defence Committees upon the inception of the December 31, 1981 coup d’état in Ghana.
He says of himself in the manual thus: ‘I must, on my part, submit that since I started reading Consciencism in my third year at the secondary school, these past four years have been the most fruitful of my life. I wish that my current insight had come to me decades ago. I would have acted quite differently and more patiently but also more purposefully though with the same aims in mind.
‘This is where the youth of today have the advantage with the publication of the Manual. I am particularly glad that some young men have found its level of language expression accessible. That was the area where I had my greatest apprehensions since not a few have expressed concern over my style of expression in published articles in some national newspapers and journals.’
The spirit of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is indeed awakened! It knows no rest until the neo-colonial states of Africa and of the rest of the world are replaced.
To pre-order the Manual for your private or public library browse to the author website of Strategic Book Marketing.
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* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Zimbabwe: Drama as court orders Timba’s release
The High Court on Sunday freed Jameson Timba, a key aide of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai but there was drama outside the courts as lawyers and MDC-T officials tried to prevent what they feared was a ploy by the police to re-arrest him. Timba, a minister of state in Tsvangirai's office, was detained on Friday after he allegedly called President Robert Mugabe a liar.
Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe defiant over right to export gems
Zimbabwe has vowed to defy moves for international monitoring of diamond sales from its disputed Marange fields, at a meeting of the global 'blood diamond' watchdog, state media reported. Mines minister Obert Mpofu said the Southern African nation must be allowed to export gems without any monitoring, insisting Zimbabwe has met the minimum requirements of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which seeks to prevent diamond sales from financing conflicts. The Marange fields, touted as Africa's richest diamond find of the decade, have been at the centre of a years-long controversy over reported abuses by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's military.
Zimbabwe: Zuma turns up the heat on Mugabe
The announcement by SADC in its final communique on 12 June that it would immediately deploy monitors to Zimbabwe and raise money to assist the country's cash-strapped Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee, JOMIC, has unnerved Mugabe, says this article, which argues that South African President Jacob Zuma is getting tough on Mugabe. 'JOMIC is a tripartite body created under the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) to monitor cases of continuing violence, intimidation and other violations of the power-sharing deal brokered by SA on behalf of SADC and endorsed by Mugabe, Arthur Mutambara and Morgan Tsvangirai, the perceived winner of the disputed poll.'
Africa: Support justice for gravest crimes, civil society tells AU
Civil society groups from more than 25 countries in Africa issued a report on 27 June urging African member countries of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to show support for the court at the upcoming African Union (AU) summit meeting. The report, 'Observations and Recommendations on the ICC', is endorsed by 125 African organisations and international groups with a presence in Africa. The 17th AU summit will hold its assembly of heads of state from 30 June to 1 July 2011, in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Meetings of ministry-level officials in advance of the heads of state discussions began on 23 June.
Equatorial Guinea: Concern over lack of civil society events at AU summit
Letter to H.E. Dr. Jean Ping, Chairperson, African Union Commission
'We write to express our grave disappointment that the African Union Summit currently taking place in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, unlike previous summits, does not include a parallel civil society gathering for foreign and domestic groups.'
H.E. Dr. Jean Ping,
Chairperson, African Union Commission
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
June 23, 2011
We write to express our grave disappointment that the African Union Summit currently taking place in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, unlike previous summits, does not include a parallel civil society gathering for foreign and domestic groups.
Civil society organisations submitted applications to the government of Equatorial Guinea for authorisation to hold a number of civil society events and training seminars in advance of the summit in Malabo. The government of Equatorial Guinea failed to respond to the requests, effectively preventing these civil society activities from taking place.
The lack of pre-summit civil society activities at the 17th African Union Summit in Malabo marks an unfortunate break from established practice and the values of the African Union, and is inconsistent with recent statements on the part of the current African Union chairman, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
Historically, under the auspices of the Citizens and Diaspora Directorate of the African Union Commission (CIDO), the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC), and the Centre for Citizens’ Participation in the African Union, civil society organisations have participated in pre-summit activities designed to share information and to strengthen their capacity to address common challenges.
The lack of civil society events at this summer’s summit stands in stark contrast to the preamble to the African Union’s Constitutive Act, which emphasises ‘the need to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society…in order to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our peoples,’ as well as the African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation, which stresses the importance of ‘the full and effective participation of the people in charting their development policies, programmes and processes and contributing to their realisation.’
The paucity of civil society participation prior to the summit is particularly notable given the current chairman’s promises and obligations to uphold the values of the African Union. In his January 30, 2011 inaugural speech, Teodoro Obiang Nguema stressed that Africa must assume a leading role in the ‘promotion of democracy and good governance.’ As the chairman of the African Union, Mr. Obiang is obligated to advance the objectives of the African Union, including the promotion of democratic principles, popular participation, and the sharing of information and knowledge.
At a time when citizens across Africa are expressing their desire for a more active role in choosing their destinies, we find it deeply troubling that the government of Equatorial Guinea, led by the current African Union chairman, would stand in the way of robust civil society participation in pre-summit activities in Equatorial Guinea. The failure of Equatoguinean government authorities to authorise the civil society events comes at the precise moment that both Africans and the international community are focused on Equatorial Guinea as it hosts the African Union Summit. The fact that the Equatoguinean government is unwilling to permit civil society participation, even at this time of increased global attention, raises serious questions about whether it will allow local civil society groups to operate unimpeded in the future, when the global spotlight is focused
In fact, the government’s denial of parallel civil society events at the summit is just the latest in a systematic effort by Equatoguinean government authorities to curtail civil society activity inside the country. As documented in a detailed report published by EG Justice in March 2011, the government uses a variety of tactics to monitor, intimidate, and obfuscate the activities of domestic civil society organisations. In addition, the government’s frequent negative rhetoric against international civil society organisations further highlights its disregard for and misunderstanding of the role of civil society.
We therefore respectfully ask you, on behalf of the people of Equatorial Guinea and all Africans who support civic participation, to urge the African Union chairman and his government to immediately start taking verifiable and measurable steps to allow the active and independent participation of local and international civil society organisations inside the country.
Thank you for your consideration.
Senior Vice President for Social
Research and Policy, Calvert Group
Chairman of the Board, EG Justice
Africa: New light shed on male sex work
Commercial sex work, dominated by a focus on women, could be redefined as new research launched in Nairobi, Kenya, sheds light on the complicated HIV prevention needs of what may be Africa’s most deeply underground group at high risk of HIV - male sex workers. The report co-authored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and South Africa's Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) seeks to better understand the social contexts, sexual practices and risks, including that of HIV, among these men. The professional debut of many of the 70 male sex workers surveyed in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe was often prompted by the family rejecting the men’s sexual orientation; for others, it was a way to survive in a foreign country.
Africa: Women urged to make money from trees, says new study
Women in Africa may be the backbone of the continent’s agricultural production, but they are not profiting as much as they should from agroforestry - the growing of trees on agricultural land, according to a study by the World Agroforestry Centre. It recommends women increase their income by moving into producing high end items like soap and wine from the same products they currently sell as raw materials.
Global: The world must support its widows
There are 245 million widows in the world, yet their problems are often ignored, states this article in The Guardian UK on the occasion of International Widows Day on 23 June. 115 million widows still live in extreme poverty. In many cases, their children have to leave school to go to work to plug the gap in the household income left by their father's death; their daughters, in particular, are therefore often at a high risk of sexual exploitation.
Global: Women danger poll ignites global debate
Igniting a firestorm of global debate, the results of a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll identifying the five most dangerous countries for women are generating controversy in the blogosphere and on news organisations’ websites around the world. Conducted by the Foundation’s TrustLaw legal news service and released on 15 June, the perception poll of more than 200 experts on women’s rights and issues on five continents found that, overall, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia posed the greatest danger to women, in that order. On Salon.com, blogger Natasha Lennard said, the TrustLaw survey 'at best offers a snapshot of genuinely concerning situations across the world, but lacks any real or valuable analysis; at worst it betrays [concerning] cultural and racial biases.”
Liberia: Tackling sexual violence head on
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first female president, has been proactive about fighting sexual and gender-based violence. The Liberian government and the United Nations jointly committed to reducing gender-based violence by 30 per cent by the end of 2011. The Ministry of Gender and Development also has a special unit dedicated to tackling sexual and gender-based violence, the Gender-Based Violence Task Force, which aims to coordinate violence prevention and response. Despite the end of the nation's civil war, many Liberian women still face violence daily.
South Africa: Malema's court-ordered apology accepted
The Sonke Gender Justice Network has welcomed Julius Malema’s court ordered apology to rape survivors, despite it being 15-months late. Malema, the ANC Youth League President, who had been sued by Sonke apologised to all women, particularly the woman known publicly only as Kwezi, who in 2006 accused then deputy president Jacob Zuma of rape. Malema told students in 2009 that Zuma’s accuser had had a 'nice time' because 'those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money'.
Cote d'Ivoire: Gbagbo associates charged with crimes
Fifteen associates of Cote d'Ivoire's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, including two former ministers, have been charged with harming state authority, setting up armed gangs and economic crimes, the Abidjan prosecutor said Sunday. Those charged this week included former prime minister Gilbert Ake N'Gbo, former foreign minister Alcide Djedje and Philippe-Henri Dacoury-Tabley, a former governor of the Central Bank of West African States, Simplice Koffi added.
Cote d'Ivoire: Gbagbo associates released
Cote d’Ivoire authorities have released 17 associates of deposed president Laurent Gbagbo who had been detained inside an Abidjan hotel. Gbagbo and his wife Simone and about 50 of their relatives and associates, remain under house arrest in five cities across the country. According to the Justice ministry, they could be charged as early as this week. They face charges of economic mismanagement, and involvement in post-election violence or collaboration with an 'illegitimate' regime.
Egypt: End military trials, scrap repressive laws
The Egyptian authorities must earn the trust of the people by abolishing repressive laws and ending abusive practices, the Secretary General of Amnesty International said in Cairo. Speaking after his week-long visit to Egypt, his first official trip to the Middle East and North Africa, Salil Shetty called on the Egyptian authorities, including the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to use the post-Mubarak transition period to carry out urgent reforms and lift new repressive steps such as the law banning strikes and the use of military trials against civilians.
Equatorial Guinea: Abuses ahead of AU summit
Equatorial Guinea's government has spent lavishly on diplomatic accommodations while neglecting the rights of the country's poor in the lead-up to hosting the African Union summit, Human Rights Watch and EG Justice said. The government has also sharply limited public dissent and critical reporting. While most citizens of Equatorial Guinea languish in poverty, President Teodoro Obiang's government, which holds the revolving AU chairmanship, spent more than US$830 million to construct a luxury complex for the summit outside the nation's capital, Malabo.
Gambia: Missing ex-minister found, charged with treason
Dr Amadou Scattered Janneh, a detained former Minister of Information and Communication and three others have been charged with treason for allegedly distributing anti-Jammeh materials, demanding an end to the authoritarian rule of President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia. Dr Janneh, an outspoken former minister went missing after his arrest on 7 June 2011. Dr. Janneh was whisked towards Banjul, the capital to an unknown location. On 13 June 2001, he was seen publicly for the first time after his arrest.
Libya: ICC issues Gaddafi arrest warrant
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and two of his confidants, citing evidence of crimes against humanity committed against opponents of the Libyan regime. Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng announced the decision on behalf of a three-judge panel in The Hague on Monday, saying the warrants were meant to force Gaddafi, his son and his intelligence chief to appear before the court and prevent the possibility of a cover-up.
Rwanda: Woman sentenced for genocide
Judges at the UN court for Rwanda have sentenced a former Rwandan minister for women's affairs, to life in prison for genocide and incitement to rape. The ruling by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) means that Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, 65, is the first women to be ever convicted of genocide. She was found guilty on seven of the 11 genocide charges she faced for atrocities committed in Rwanda's southern Butare region in 1994.
Sudan: Concern over human rights violations in South Kordofan
Minority Rights Group International has expressed serious concern regarding the worsening situation of Nuba people trapped and displaced in recent heavy fighting in South Kordofan. Fighting during the last couple of weeks in South Kordofan has left approximately 60,000 displaced and there are reports emerging of serious human rights violations directed at Nuba people, MRG says.
Africa: New refugee search system launched
Safaricom subscribers can search for and reconnect with their loved ones using their mobile phone via an application provided by Ericsson and Refugees United. The system enables refugees to use mobile phones to register themselves, search for loved ones, and subsequently reconnect via an anonymous database.
DRC: Militias and the displaced
Bandits, militias, and alleged abuses by the army are causing access problems for aid workers trying to help large concentrations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the territory of Irumu, part of the Ituri region in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Among the 130,000 IDPs in the Ituri region, 89,864 (69 per cent) are in the territory of Irumu, about 40km southwest of Bunia, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Global: Refugee statistics mapped
The latest statistics from the UNHCR show where refugees come from, where they go to and how many return. The Guardian UK has created a map that explores the data by region and country.
Global: Studying the mental health of refugee women
As a result of the migration process, many immigrant and refugee women suffer serious mental illness such as depression, schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, suicide, and psychosis. The purpose of this Canadian study was to increase understanding of the mental health care experiences of immigrant and refugee women by acquiring information regarding factors that either support or inhibit coping.
Kenya: 20,000 Somali refugees arrive in two weeks
The UNHCR says it is alarmed by a dramatic rise in the number of new refugee arrivals from Somalia into Kenya. Over the past two weeks the Dadaab refugee complex in northern Kenya has received more than 20,000 Somali refugees. The new arrivals are mostly farmers and animal herders from Lower Juba and the city of Dhobley. During 2010, Dadaab received an average of 6,000 to 8,000 Somalis every month. This year the monthly average has increased to 10,000 refugees.
North Africa: Criticism as migrant death toll reaches 1,000
Following a series of shipwrecks and deaths, as well as reports in the Guardian newspaper about the failure to rescue migrants in boats or dinghies that are adrift by ships and patrols deployed in the Mediterranean by NATO and the EU to stop migrants reaching Europe, Migreurop has issued a press release to mark the fact that over 1,000 people have died in this context since January 2011. It argues that the failure to assist migrants who are in distress at sea is in violation of the 1951 Geneva Convention and international maritime law.
Algeria: Unrest sweeps country
Algeria has witnessed unprecedented unrest in the past few months. Since the beginning of this year, law enforcement officers have carried out no fewer than 2,777 riot control operations. A record was set in March, when more than 70 rallies and sit-ins were staged. In response, the government has issued calls for dialogue, bowed to demands for pay hikes and promised greater political freedom.
Botswana: Legislation amended to stop strikes
The Botswana government said on 20 June that it had amended legislation classifying essential services workers to include teachers in an effort to prevent more civil servants from striking. Making the announcement through a government gazette, Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Peter Siele said that veterinary services, teaching services, diamond sorting, cutting and selling services and all supporting services connected to them have now been placed under the essential services.
Senegal: New law dropped amid protests
The Sengalese president has dropped a controversial electoral law amid opposition protests in the capital, Dakar. The current law requires that a candidate be elected with a 50 per cent majority in the first round of voting to avoid facing a run-off. The draft law would reduce that number to only 25 per cent and create a position of vice-president, leaving Wade's rivals concerned that he has plans to bring his 42-year-old son, Karim, into power.
Senegal: The day everything changed
'Thursday June 23 was indeed a historic day in the life of the Nation that we the youth of Senegal will never forget,' says this article on the afro-optimism blog. 'The Nation came out, in all of its glory and fury, men and women, youth and old, poor and rich, swift politicians and lay common men/women, and took to the streets together as one to contest a law proposal orchestrated by the Presidency that was to change the rules of the electoral game to enable an easy reelection for Abdoulaye Wade for a third seven-year term in the upcoming February 2012 election.'
Sierra Leone: Opposition threatens to reject 2012 poll results
Sierra Leone`s main opposition party has said it will not accept the outcome of the 2012 general election. Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) said there are indications that the process would be flawed if the current head of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Ms Christiana Thorpe, presides over the polls. The SLPP, who lost power to the ruling All People`s Congress (APC) party in 2007, continues to blame Ms Thorpe for their defeat. The electoral body had rejected 477 votes cast in some polling stations in the eastern region of the country, an area considered to be SLPP stronghold.
South Africa: Malema sets stage for 2012 takeover bid
Julius Malema’s recent attack on ANC policies at the opening of the ANC Youth League’s 24th national congress struck at the very core of the ruling party, setting the stage for a bruising battle in the run-up to the 2012 conference over the future direction of the party, writes Jabulani Sikhakhane in the Sunday Independent. 'Borrowing from Hugo Chavez and other populists, Malema built his narrative this week on three pillars: he tapped into and stoked the anger and feelings of social despair among the black majority; framed poverty as a function of conflict between the powerful elite (white people in this case) and the majority (poor, landless black people who own very little of the economy); and then presented the youth league, if not himself, as capable of radically transforming the lives of the poor.'
Kenya: Activists arrested for locking Ongeri's office
A group of civil society activists who had locked Education minister Sam Ongeri's office to demand his resignation have been arrested. The activists had been camping at the reception of Ongeri’s office demanding his resignation or sacking and be made to face charges following a Ministry of Finance audit report showing Sh4.6 billion was lost in the Ministry of Education.
South Africa: Hawks to reopen arms deal probe?
The Hawks have stopped short of promising to reopen their investigation into the arms deal following last week's revelations that a R24-million alleged bribe was paid by a weapons dealer to a local 'consultant'. Last week the CEO of Swedish arms manufacturer Saab, Hakan Bushke, revealed that British Aerospace Systems had made a R24-million payment to a South African 'consultant' on the arms deal. But Hawks chief Anwar Dramat's spokesman, McIntosh Polela, would not be drawn on further details: 'We will assess the information and see where it takes us going forward.'
Tunisia: Ben Ali sentenced to jail in absentia
A Tunisian court has sentenced former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila to 35 years in jail for embezzlement and misusing public funds. The couple, who fled to Saudi Arabia in January after a popular uprising, were also fined $66m (£41m). The one-day trial in absentia focused on $27m of cash and jewels reportedly found inside one of their palaces.
Africa: SABMiller to discuss unsettled tax claims
SABMiller Plc (SAB), the world’s second-biggest brewer by volume, has denied allegations that it dodged taxes in some African countries, including Tanzania, and said it’s prepared to discuss the matter with authorities. Officials from South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana and Mauritius are to meet later this month to discuss tax payments made by the London-based SABMiller, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing Logan Wort of the African Tax Administration Forum. The meeting will be held on 28 June in Cape Town in the wake of a report by ActionAid, a UK non-profit group, which challenged the way the brewer paid taxes in those countries, the newspaper said.
Egypt: Egypt declines World Bank loan
The government has declined a loan from the World Bank because it found the terms of the loan incompatible with the national interest, Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abul Naga said. The minister added that the government would not accept conditions dictated by the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, especially since the 18-day uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.
Global: WikiLeaks revelations expose corporatism dominating American diplomacy
In the context of corporate government corruption, one of WikiLeaks' greatest achievements has been to expose the exorbitant amount of influence that multinational corporations have over Washington's diplomacy, says this AlterNet article. 'Many of the WikiLeaks US embassy cables reveal the naked intervention by our ambassadorial staff in the business of foreign countries on behalf of US corporations. From mining companies in Peru to pharmaceutical companies in Ecuador, one WikiLeaks embassy cable after the next illuminates a pattern of US diplomats shilling for corporate interests abroad in the most underhanded and sleazy ways imaginable.'
Global: World's wealthiest people now richer than before the credit crunch
We are not all in this together, begins this article in the UK's The Guardian newspaper. 'The UK economy is flat, the US is weak and the Greek debt crisis, according to some commentators, is threatening another Lehman Brothers-style meltdown. But a new report shows the world's wealthiest people are getting more prosperous - and more numerous - by the day. The globe's richest have now recouped the losses they suffered after the 2008 banking crisis. They are richer than ever, and there are more of them - nearly 11 million - than before the recession struck.'
Namibia: All systems go for Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart has wrapped up its much contested merger with Massmart, paving the way for the retailer to take-over Game, Makro, Windhoek Cash & Carry and Builders Warehouse in Namibia. The US giant issued a statement saying it has completed its acquisition of 51 per cent of the shares in Massmart in a N$16,5 billion transaction. Lucius Murorua, chairman of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC), confirmed that the latest development also allows Wal-Mart to enter the Namibian market.
Congo: Measles kills 32, infects hundreds
At least 32 people have died and 800 others have been infected following an outbreak of measles in the southern Pointe Noire and Kouilou regions of the Republic of Congo, say health officials. 'The total of 32 deaths and 800 cases of measles has not changed,' said Hermann Boris Didi-Ngossaki, head of the World Health Organisation’s Expanded Programme on Vaccination. At least 3,000 cases of measles were recorded in a 2006-2007 outbreak.
Ghana: Ghana blames Chinese companies for dumping fake anti-malaria drugs
Some Chinese companies are being blamed for importing fake anti-malaria drugs into Ghana, a country where China has so far enjoyed a very good name for its massive economic investment. On 19 June, Ghana’s Food and Drugs Board (FDB) issued a statement to warn the public against the sale of counterfeit Artesunate tablets on the market which laboratory analysis had confirmed contained no active anti-malaria ingredient.
Kenya: HIV and Aids tribunal sworn in
It will no longer be business as usual for those who have been discriminating against Aids patients, reports The Daily Nation. That was the message by the seven-member HIV and Aids Tribunal after they were sworn in at the High Court by deputy registrar Rose Ougo. Lawyer Ambrose Otieno Rachier, who will chair the tribunal, said it was a great occasion and a new dawn for those who have been victimised as a result of their HIV status, adding, the time for silent suffering was over. 'The tribunal is going to address fundamental human rights abuses as a result of an individual’s HIV status and come with remedies to redress the injustices,' Mr Rachier said.
Kenya: Poor adherence threatens paediatric ARV programme
As Kenya puts more HIV-positive children on life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, experts are warning that unless more effort is put into ensuring the medicines are taken regularly, widespread treatment failure could result. 'It is very hard to maintain adherence in children because they rely on others to give them medicine, some change regimens as they grow into adolescence and they can hardly cope with the many drugs they are expected to take,' said Dr Andrew Suleh, medical superintendent at the Mbagathi District Hospital in the capital, Nairobi.
Swaziland: No hospital care for cancer patients
More than 300 Swazi cancer patients being treated in South African hospitals have been repatriated, according to the Cancer Association of Swaziland, (CANASWA), after the government of King Mswati III could not meet their medical costs. Most of the cancer patients in South Africa were recipients of a special fund for the poor - in the absence of a national health system - but Health Minister Benedict Xaba told parliament recently the fund was exhausted.
Uganda: Distribution policy means not enough drugs for clinics
The nurse at Najembe Health Centre in Buikwe district says the centre’s supply of malaria drugs will be finished in two days. A malaria epidemic has hit the area and the demand for the drugs is high. But the centre, which serves the entire sub-county, will have to wait up to six weeks before their supply will be replenished. The Ugandan government changed the policy of distributing drugs to parish and sub-county health centres in 2009 by implementing a policy where the National Medical Stores decides what drugs to supply and in what quantities. (A parish health centre is a clinic that provides medical treatment for up to 12 villages.) Previously heads of these health centres requisitioned the drugs, depending on their needs. The National Medical Stores supply 70 per cent of the drugs in public health centres and district health officials locally procure the remaining 30 per cent.
Tanzania: Climate of non disclosure could be undermining accountability in schools
A climate of non-disclosure pervades the sharing of basic school related information despite policies and pronouncements to the contrary. In a research brief titled 'Funding of Dar es Salaam Primary Schools: How accessible is school level information?', Uwazi at Twaweza shows that because of a climate of non disclosure, 80 per cent of the teachers interviewed could not correctly state the capitation grant amount entitlement per pupil, which is pegged at US$10 per year according to the Primary Education Development Programme.
Africa: LGBTI rights in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi
Naome Ruzindana is a feminist and founding member of the Coalition of African Lesbians. She presented her paper 'The Great Lakes of Africa: Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and their Position Towards LGBTI Rights' at the ILGA panel 'The Growing Consensus: Towards the End of Criminalisation and Human Rights Violations based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity' at the 17th session of the Human Rights Council 7 June 2011 at Palais des Nations, Geneva. You can read the full presentation from the Behind the Mask website.
South Africa: UN chief speaks out on corrective rape
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay has publicly condemned the scourge of corrective rapes in South Africa saying they are 'a serious crime that should never be tolerated nor condoned.' In an article published on 14 June by The Star newspaper in South Africa, Pillay asserted that South Africa had 'given the world some powerful ideas, among them the concept of the Rainbow Nation, where diversity is a source of strength and everyone is entitled to equal rights and respect.' She added, 'However it is saddening that the country reborn under Nelson Mandela’s watchful eye should now be the setting for corrective rape, a far more sinister phenomenon that undermines everything the Rainbow Nation stands for.'
Burkina Faso: Thousands of hectares of forests lost each year
The Burkina Faso authorities have sounded the alarm over the increased rate of degradation of forests in this Sahelian country. According to a study by the Ministry for the Environment and Sustainable Development, some 110,550 hectares of forest are destroyed each year, just over four per cent of the country's total wooded area – around three-quarters of this annual loss linked to farming. The data covers forest loss between 1992 and 2002, but the trend continues, according the ministry.
Global: Bottom-up perspectives on smart renewable energy
In order to meet the intensifying climate challenge, the global energy system must undergo a fundamental transformation, with a rapid increase of renewable energy worldwide, states this working paper. 'Developing countries are at the forefront of this challenge, since they are expected to add around 80 per cent of all new electric generation capacity worldwide in the next two decades...This working paper seeks to assist in this process, by identifying key components of smart renewable energy policy in developing countries, focusing on the power sector.'
Global: Is the Green Climate Fund a faulty model?
At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Cancún in December 2010, the World Bank was granted the interim trusteeship of the newly established Green Climate Fund (GCF). Recent events indicate that the Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) will also have an influential role in the design of the fund. The Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), a collaborative MDB climate finance initiative housed at the Bank, are being pointed to as ‘a best practice’ model for the GCF. This paper critically assesses the appropriateness of the CIFs as a model for a global climate finance fund. It finds that in terms of institutional arrangements the CIFs have achieved some notable progress that acknowledges some of the critical issues raised by civil society groups. However, in operations and performance there are serious concerns.
Globals: Renewables growth outstrips coal, nuclear
A new analysis of the global power plant market launched by Greenpeace International shows that since the 1990s, installations of wind and solar grew faster than any other power plant technology. In addition, renewable energy expanded rapidly, to reach its biggest market share in 2010 and providing enough capacity to supply electricity to the equivalent of one third of Europe. The Greenpeace report, 'The Silent Energy Revolution: 20 Years in the Making', also highlights how renewable energy power plants accounted for more than a quarter (26 per cent) of all new power plants added to the worldwide electricity grid over the past decade, compared to nuclear power stations representing just two per cent of new installations in the same period.
Kenya: Unga Revolution tackles right to food in Taita Taveta
Members of the Unga revolution committee in Nairobi received an invitation of solidarity from Taita Taveta community leaders to visit their area to witness the violation of their rights to food by an increasing number of elephants that stray from the Tsavo National park during planting and harvesting seasons. 'The systematic destruction of the maize crops during this season has exposed the said peasant farmers in Taveta to food insecurity and hunger.'
Tanzania: Serengeti highway cancelled
In what is being hailed as a victory for conservationists and the wildlife of the Serengeti, the Tanzanian government has cancelled plans for a controversial highway that would have dissected the Serengeti National Park. According to scientists, the road would have severed the migration route of 1.5 million wildebeest and a half million other antelope and zebra, with indirect impacts, such as poaching and new development, exacerbating the situation.
Uganda: Farmers reject genetically modified crops
Farmers in the eastern districts of Uganda that constitute the Elgon zone have rejected a proposal by Arthur Makala, the executive director at Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development, to start engaging in the cultivation of genetically modified crops that are supposed to be drought resistant and give high yields. Makala had suggested that farmers should embrace the Genetically Modified Crops [GMC] for better yields but the farmers rejected it saying GMCs are contaminated with chemicals that may be harmful to their health.
Global: Hundreds of organisations say no to land grabbing
Hundreds of civil society organisations, including farmers' movements, women's groups and non-governmental organisations, will launch a global appeal against farmland grabbing during the G20 meeting on agriculture in Paris on 22 and 23 June. Over 500 organisations from around the world have joined the 'Dakar Appeal Against Land Grabbing' that was originally drawn up at the World Social Forum in Dakar last February. While agriculture ministers from the world's 20 richest countries are discussing what to do about food price volatility and the growing hunger crisis, millions of hectares of fertile land, along with their water resources, are being grabbed from peasants, pastoralists, herders, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples to be converted into massive agribusiness operations by private investors who want to produce food supplies or agro-fuels for international markets. As a consequence, millions of peasant families and other rural and indigenous folk are being thrown off their lands and deprived of their livelihoods.
Global: World Bank told report on land grabs is dubious
The World Bank has been told its report on the robustly reported land grabs by foreigners in Africa and elsewhere is questionable. 'The report is both a disappointment and a failure. Everyone was expecting the Bank to provide new and solid on-the-ground data about these large-scale land acquisitions that have created so much controversy since 2008,' said GRAIN, an international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.
Egypt: Ban proposed on export restrictions that undermine food security
Egypt has initiated a proposal in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ban export restrictions on farm products to poor countries that are net food importers. The Group of 20 has also exhorted the upcoming WTO ministerial conference to adopt a specific resolution on export restrictions. After Egypt’s democratic uprising earlier this year, food security has become a main aim in its quest to achieve social justice. Therefore, Cairo has initiated a proposal at the WTO to ban export restrictions of agricultural products to net food importing developing countries (NFIDC).
Global: Food summit meeting disappoints
The agriculture ministers of major economies, rich as well as emerging, meeting for the first time as the world verges on another food crisis in only four years, have disappointed. Their decisions, summed up in a 24-page Action Plan on Food Price Volatility and Agriculture, lacked the teeth to bite the neck of the crisis, according to food experts and NGOs. Shenggen Fan, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRPRI), a US-based think-tank, who was in Paris for the meeting, said the G20 did not identify the 'most pressing priorities', nor provide details on how to deal with them to help everyone move beyond 'words and rhetoric to action and implementation'.
Kenya: Re-discovering cassava during drought
The current drought in Kenya and the Horn of Africa is expected to affect millions. Farm Radio Weekly has a story that tells how affected families in a semi-arid region of Kenya are changing their opinions about cassava. Once stigmatized as a crop for the desperately poor, it is now feeding families in areas with insufficient rain to grow maize.
Djibouti: Six radio station contributors released
Reporters Without Borders says it is relieved to learn that six contributors to opposition radio station La Voix de Djibouti – Farah Abadid Hildid, Houssein Ahmed Farah, Houssein Robleh Dabar, Abdillahi Aden Ali, Moustapha Abdourahman Houssein and Mohamed Ibrahim Waïss – have been released after more than four months in Djibouti’s Gabode prison. After several appeals to Djibouti’s supreme court, an appeal court ruled on 22 June that they should be released conditionally and placed under judicial control pending trial.
DRC: Community radio journalist gunned down
Reporters Without Borders says it is deeply saddened by the murder of Kambale Musonia, a journalist working for Radio Communautaire de Lubero Sud in Kirumba, in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu. Aged 29, Musonia was shot three times in the chest at close range by three unidentified men who were waiting for him outside his home as he returned from work.
Ethiopia: Journalist likely held under anti-terrorism law
Ethiopian authorities have been holding a newspaper columnist incommunicado since Tuesday (21 June), local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reeyot Alemu, a regular contributor to the independent weekly Feteh, was expected to spend the next four weeks in preventive detention under what appears to be Ethiopia's sweeping anti-terrorism law.
Libya: Birth of 'free media' in eastern Libya
Reporters Without Borders visited eastern Libya in April to evaluate the situation of the media in Benghazi and the surrounding region and, in particular, to report on the extraordinary vigour of the new media that have been emerging in this part of the country since its liberation from Muammar Gaddafi’s oppressive rule. 'The current media are essentially citizen media consisting of young activists who have played a key role in the war, activists such as Mohamed Al-Nabbous, the creator of the Web TV Libya Al-Hurra, who was killed by a sniper on 19 March,' Reporters Without Borders said.
Sierra Leone: Newspaper editor attacked by ruling party militants
Mohamed Kai, acting editor of The Satellite, a privately-owned Freetown-based newspaper, was on the night of 13 June 2011 violently assaulted and injured by armed assailants believed to be militants of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) Party. Kai sustained bruises all over his body especially his chest and arms. His face was also swollen. Kai was treated and discharged from hospital.
South Africa: 'Good news indeed' as ANC backs down on info Bill
The African National Congress (ANC) bowed to pressure on the Protection of Information Bill and promised major concessions to bring the legislation in line with the Constitution. The ruling party agreed to restrict the power to classify, which it had previously sought to extend to all organs of state, to bodies dealing directly with security and to scrap mandatory prison sentences for leaking secret information.
South Africa: Secrecy Bill should be scrapped, says former ANC minister
Former ANC minister Kader Asmal has come out against South Africa's controversial Protection of Information Bill. In a letter to the Right2Know campaign, Asmal wrote that: 'This Bill is so deeply flawed that tinkering with its preamble or accepting a minor change here or there will not alter its fundamental nature, that it does not pay sufficient attention to the nature of freedom of expression.'
Tunisia: Scars of oppression run deep in the Tunisian media
If Tunisians are to play an informed part in the transition phase and beyond, they need a free and independent media and a strong, democratic and open civil society to hold power to account, according to a new report published by the 21 members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange -Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), including ARTICLE 19. 'The Scars of Oppression Run Deep: Assessing the Critical Requirements for Freedom of Expression in Tunisia’s Democratic Transition' report was released on 16 June, 2011 to national and international media as well as local civil society groups at a press conference held in Tunis. It provides a sample of opinions gathered from a broad
cross-section of over 60 media professionals, civil society advocates and authorities interviewed in Tunisia during the course of a mission that took place from 9 to 16 April.
Madagascar: Poverty and malnutrition on sisal plantations
At the Centre for Treatment of Acute Malnutrition with Complications (CRENI) in the town of Amboasary Sud in the Anosy region of southeastern Madagascar, Samina Tahiaritsoa, 20, cradles her son, Lambo, 3, who still weighs less than six kilograms after 10 days at the centre. According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), two out of three Malagasy live in poverty and 50 per cent of children younger than five have stunted growth due to malnutrition.
Mozambique: Food security challenges under spotlight
Reports from the southern Mozambican province of Inhambane indicate that acute hunger is worsening in several districts. Families have resorted to eating wild fruits and roots due to irregular rains and wild animals destroying the little production in the area. Though there are no reports of famine-related deaths, state television, TVM, has reported that if measures are not quickly taken, the situation will become catastrophic.
Haiti: Wikileaks exposes US profiteering after Haiti earthquake
On 15 June, the whistleblower web site WikiLeaks began releasing US diplomatic cables from the period immediately following the devastating Haitian earthquake of January 2010. The cables, from among the 251,287 in WikiLeaks’ possession, provide important information on the machinations of US politicians, on their tight control over Haitian government functions, and about their drive to reopen Haiti to capitalist exploitation. WikiLeaks has reached an agreement with Haiti Liberté, a weekly paper and web site published by Haitian immigrants in the US, under which the paper has first access to the Haitian cables and also helps to post them on the WikiLeaks web site.
Chad: Plan signed to end children in the military
On 16 June the government of Chad signed an action plan to end recruitment and use of children in its national army and security forces. The new action plan is an agreement between the Chadian Government and the United Nations to end recruitment and use of child soldiers. The action plan spells out concrete steps, which when taken, will result in Chad being removed from the Secretary-General’s list of parties who recruit and use children.
DRC: Grim prospects of DRC's female child soldiers
Girl soldiers, who are often forced to marry militia commanders, tend to have difficulties leaving and reintegrating into civilian life. In 2004, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF launched a national programme to help former child soldiers adjust to their new circumstances. But since it started, only two per cent of those it has assisted have been women. Juvénal Munubo, head of a child soldiers reintegration programme for the NGO Caritas in Goma, eastern DRC, argues that this is disproportionally low, compared to the number of women that are estimated to be members armed units.
Eritrea: Ethiopia slammed for AU summit plot allegations
Eritrea has rejected Ethiopian claims it trained the rebels who plotted to carry out bombings during an African Union summit in Addis Ababa in February. Ethiopia routinely accuses Asmara of supporting rebel groups, and declared in April it would support Eritrean guerrillas fighting to overthrow President Isaias Afewerki. Both sides have often traded tough rhetoric since their 1998-2000 border war, which killed around 80,000 people and left the frontier demarcation unresolved.
Libya: AU meets to chart way forward on Libya
The African Union panel on Libya met on Sunday in Pretoria on mediation efforts to end the four-month war, after South African President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Tripoli last month failed to reach a deal. The leaders of Mauritania, Uganda and Mali as well as Congo-Brazzaville’s foreign minister met with Zuma as Libyan rebels said they expect to receive an offer from Muammer Gaddafi 'very soon' that could end the four-month war.
Libya: Zuma slams Nato over bombing
South African President Jacob Zuma slammed Nato’s operation in Libya at the opening of the African Union’s (AU) Libya panel meeting in Pretoria. Rebels said they expected a proposal from Moamer Kadhafi 'very soon' through French and South African intermediaries. The UN resolution authorising the Nato bombing campaign 'was not to authorise a campaign for regime change or political assassination', Zuma reportedly told opening talks of the AU panel on Libya.
Nigeria: Deadly bomb blasts hit Nigerian city
Authorities in Nigeria have said that three separate bomb explosions in the country's northeast have killed at least 25 people and wounded many others. The attack on Sunday targeted outdoor beer gardens in the city of Maiduguri. Authorities have accused the Boko Haram group, which demands the adoption of sharia law, or Islamic law, throughout Nigeria, of being behind the attacks.
Sudan: North and South Sudan sign pact over Abyei
North and south Sudan have signed an agreement to demilitarise the disputed Abyei region and allow in Ethiopian peacekeeping forces, former South African president Thabo Mbeki said on 20 June.
Sudan: Sudan threatens to block oil flow from South
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has threatened to shut down pipelines carrying oil from South Sudan if there is no deal on oil before its independence next month. 'I give the south three alternatives for the oil. The North is to continue getting its share, or the North gets fees for every barrel that the South sends to Port Sudan,' Bashir said in a televised speech. 'If they don't accept either of these, we are going to block the pipeline,' he told his supporters in Port Sudan, the main terminal for all of Sudan's oil exports.
Africa: Is cyberspace a key to Africa's development, or a sideshow?
Google Trends, a tool to track internet searching patterns, is a window onto the internet habits of nations, states this article, which examines what can be learned about Africa by using Google Trends. 'By assessing people's searches, and the frequency of key terms in internet news media, it is possible to construct a picture of what matters to people, when, and where. Generally, the patterns that emerge with regards Africa are predictable: an apathetic, uninterested world, whose only interest in the continent appears during the World Cup, or when a ship is hijacked by Somali pirates. Beyond this, however, we can track the associations of global internet users between certain terms to gain a sense of connections between places and events.'
Global: An overview of Muslim women and social media
Research from social and digital media research firm Mediabadger on the role of Muslim women in social media concludes that: 'Muslim women are a multi-dimensional part of societies all over the world and this is no exception in social media. They enjoy a rich, complex and overall positive presence online. They are very engaged and have adopted social technologies as rapidly as any societal group. The roles of Muslim women in Islamic and Western societies are changing drastically, perhaps more than any other online demographic we have researched to date. With the changes in Egypt, Muslim women there are working to better define their role and emancipation.'
Malawi: Citizens 'fuel' Facebook for gas updates
As one way of updating one another on latest fuel supplies at gas stations, Malawians are using Facebook in advising where they can fill up their tanks. Over 210 subscribers share updates on an open group called Malawi Fuel Watch, reports Global Voices. Malawians have been queuing up for hours for fuel since last year.
West Africa: New rights registry project launched
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry has announced a project to build a common digital platform which will help streamline the identification of protected musical works across 11 West African countries, helping creators from these countries get paid for their work through a simplified and standardised rights registration system. US firm Google will be WIPO’s technology partner in developing this new web-based system, which builds upon WIPOCOS (WIPO Software for Collective Management of Copyright and Related Rights).
June 2011 Biowatch Bulletin available
The latest issue of the Biowatch Bulletin is out and includes the following:
- Planned US control of SA seed supply threatens food security
- SA GM update
- Biowatch comments on SA's climate change response Green paper
- World Social Forum, COP 17 and other events
- Agro-ecology - workshops and trainings
Visit http://www.biowatch.org.za for more information.
Reporting for Change: A Handbook for Local Journalists in Crisis Areas
'Handbook for Local Journalists in Crisis Areas' is a practical guide for journalists in crisis areas, which is based on the wide experience of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in training and working with journalists in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The handbook teaches international reporting standards, explaining the journalistic process clearly, from subject choice to final editing. The modules are enhanced with examples and extracts from previously published IWPR stories from around the world.
Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures in South Dayi
2 July 2011
An initiative to have Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures in every constituency in Ghana is starting with a Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lecture in the South Dayi District in Volta Region. This event is being coordinated by Constance Ayer, an Nkrumaist based in the constituency.
Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures in South Dayi
2009 marked the centenary of the birth of the first President of Ghana and widely recognised Pan- Africanist strategist, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah. The centenary event was marked officially by the Government of Ghana under President J.E.A. Mills and the African Union. Kwame Nkrumah was also chosen as the African Millenium by a BBC poll of listeners in 1999.
A number of Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures have been held in Cape Coast, Accra (Legon), Kumasi, Tamale, London (UK) and Manchester (UK) since the death of Kwame Nkrumah. Kwame Nkrumah died on 27 April 1972 in Romania.
Since the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence Kwame Nkrumah has attracted increased attention from even many in the younger generation who were not born during his lifetime.
An initiative to have Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures in every constituency in Ghana is starting with a Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lecture in the South Dayi District in Volta Region. This event is being coordinated by Constance Ayer, an Nkrumaist based in the constituency.
The Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lecture in South Dayi takes place on Saturday 2 July 2011 to coincide with the Republic day activities. The venue is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Wudome-Peki, Volta Region, Ghana and is at 2pm. Speakers include Kwesi Pratt Jnr, Managing Editor of The Insight Newspaper, and Explo Nani-Kofi, Coordinator of Kilombo Community Education Project.
Kwesi Pratt has spoken at Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures in Ghana and the UK. Explo Nani-Kofi was the coordinator of the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures in the UK.
For further information, those interested can contact Constance Ayer on 0246236729 or Explo Nani-Kofi on 0241498912.
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