Join Friends of Pambazuka

Subscribe for Free!

Fahamu Bulletin Archive

About our Programmes

Donate to Pambazuka News!

Follow Us

delicious bookmarks facebook twitter

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

Latest titles from Pambazuka Press

African Sexualities

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

Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya

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

Queer African Reader

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

China and Angola

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

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

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

Pambazuka News Broadcasts

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

    See the list of episodes.


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

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

      Back Issues

      Pambazuka News 564: Fanon, Biko and Sankara: The courage to invent the future

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

      Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839

      CONTENTS: 1. Features, 2. Announcements, 3. Comment & analysis, 4. Advocacy & campaigns, 5. Books & arts, 6. African Writers’ Corner

      Highlights from this issue

      This the last issue of Pambazuka News for 2011. A very big thank you to all our readers and contributors for your support this year. We're taking a short break and will be back fighting for freedom and and justice from Thursday 12 January 2012.

      Help keep Pambazuka free and independent by making a donation.


      50 years later: Fanon's legacy

      Nigel C Gibson


      The damnation of the world’s majority that Frantz Fanon spoke about did not end with the withdrawal of formal colonial rule. It continues in the razor wire transit camps, detention zones, rural pauperisation and in shanty towns, writes Nigel C Gibson.

      When I was asked by Dr. Keithley Woolward to address the question of Fanon’s contemporary relevance, I was reminded of a blurb on the back of my recent book Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo which reads, ‘This is not another meditation on Fanon’s continued relevance. Instead, it is an inquiry into how Fanon, the revolutionary, might think and act in the face of contemporary social crisis.’ My comments today should be considered in that spirit.

      ‘Relevance’ — from a Latin word ‘relevare’, to lift, from ‘lavare’, to raise, levitate — to levitate a living Fanon who died in the USA nearly 50 years ago this coming Tuesday in cognizance of his own injunction articulated in the opening sentence from his essay ‘On national culture’: ‘Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it’ (1968 206). The challenge was laid down at the opening of this year of Fanon’s 50th (as well as the 50th anniversary of his ‘The Wretched of the Earth’) which began with revolution — or at least a series of revolts and resistance across the region, known as the Arab Spring.

      Fanon begins ‘The Wretched’, as you know, writing of decolonisation as a program of complete disorder, an overturning of order — often against the odds — willed collectively from the bottom up. Without time or space for a transition, there is an absolute replacement of one ‘species’ by another (1968: 35). In a period of radical change such absolutes appear quite normal, when, in spite of everything thrown against it, ideas jump across frontiers and people begin again ‘to make history’ (1968: 69-71). In short, once the mind of the oppressed experiences freedom in and through collective actions, its reason becomes a force of revolution. As the Egyptians said of 25 January: ‘When we stopped being afraid we knew we would win. We will not again allow ourselves to be scared of a government. This is the revolution in our country, the revolution in our minds.’ What started with Tunisia and then Tahrir Square has become a new global revolt, spreading to Spain and the Indignados (indignants) movement, to Athens and the massive and continuous demonstrations against vicious structural adjustment, to the urban revolt in England, to the massive student mobilisation to end education for profit in Chile, to the ‘occupy’ movement of the 99 percent.

      And yet, as the revolts inevitably face new repression, elite compromises and political manoeuvrings, Fanonian questions — echoed across the postcolonial world — become more and more timely. (How can the revolution hold onto its epistemological moment, the rationality of revolt?) Surely the question is not whether Fanon is relevant, but why is Fanon relevant now?


      In the penultimate chapter of ‘Frantz Fanon: A Portrait’, Alice Cherki notes that Blida Psychiatric Hospital in Algiers still bears his name, that Fanon has a boulevard and a high school for girls named after him, though young people have no idea who he is. After independence in Algeria, Fanon was quite quickly marginalised. A new constitution identified the nation with Islam and that women were actively dissuaded from playing any part in public life did not jibe with Fanon’s vision of politics.

      Fanon was dead before Algeria gained its independence, yet ‘The Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ chapter of ‘The Wretched’ (based on his reflections on his West African experiences as well as his concerns about the Algerian revolution) is a fairly accurate portrayal of what Algeria became with oil money playing an enormously important role in pacifying the population and paying for a bloated and ubiquitous security force.

      To speak about relevance, then, is also to speak about historic context. Fanon was recruited into the FLN during the battle of Algiers. Although a committed anti-colonialist he had not moved to Algeria to join a revolution but to take up the job as director of psychiatry at Blida-Joinville Hospital. It was a job he wanted and he put enormous energy into fighting to reform how psychiatry was practiced in the hospital. He created space — both practical and intellectual (reading groups) for himself and his colleagues — to institute a kind of Tosquellean [1] inspired institutional sociotherapy to humanise the asylum where the patient would become ‘a subject in his or her liberation’ and the doctor an ‘equal partner in the fight for freedom’ (Cherki 36). In a sense, that would become Fanon’s political philosophy. The Algerian war of national liberation — declared a year after he arrived — politicised him and radicalised him, as he began to see and treat its effects in the hospital and in his work. He was asked by the FLN to use his skills as a therapist to treat those who had been tortured. He began to clandestinely treat the tortured while treating the torturer as part of his hospital work. Indeed his comments in ‘L’An cinq de la revolution Algérienne’ (‘Year Five of the Algerian revolution’ published as ‘A Dying Colonialism’ in English) bear this experience out not only on his withering critique of the medical profession involved in torture but also in his desire to find the human being behind the coloniser, believing that liberation would put an end to the colonised and the coloniser (1967c, 24) and his condemnation (though understanding) of those who have thrown themselves into revolutionary action with ‘physiological brutality that centuries of oppression give rise to and feed’ (1967c, 25). At Blida the situation became untenable and he simply couldn’t continue. As he wrote in his letter of resignation, how could he treat mental illness in a society that drives people to a desperate solution? Such a society, he added, needs to be replaced (1967b, 53). With the authorities closing in on the hospital, which was suspected as a hotbed of support for the FLN, he resigned before he was picked up and began to work full time for the revolution.

      This was part of Fanon’s context.

      At the same time it was not surprising that, when the opportunity arose, Fanon would join a revolutionary movement, or as Glissant put it (1999 25), to act on his ideas. [2] And yet, at the same time it was not only acting on ideas but that for Fanon ideas were always influenced by practice and also transformative. One can see in ‘Black Skin White Masks’ that he was in a sense already a revolutionary, and given the chance he would ‘take part in a revolution’, as Jean Ayme put it (quoted in Cherki 2006:94). But at the time Fanon was a revolutionary who was not deeply political. Fanon had been introduced to Ayme, a psychiatrist, anti-colonist activist and Trotskyist, in September 1956 when he had given his paper at the first Congress of Black Writers and Artists. And in Ayme’s Paris apartment, in early 1957 — where he stayed before leaving to join the FLN in Tunis — he spent his time reading about revolutionary politics.

      He had been recruited into the FLN by Ramdane Abane, the Kabylian leader of the FLN who became Fanon’s mentor. Abane, who has an airport named after him in Kabylia, had been a key figure in the 1956 FLN conference Soummam which had criticised the militarisation of the revolution, insisting on a collective political control, and put forward a vision of a future Algeria that remained Fanon’s. They both believed in the ‘revolutionary dismantling of the colonial state’ (Cherki 105). The principle adopted as the Soummam platform was a vision of the future Algeria as a secular democratic society with the ‘primacy of citizenship over identities (Arab, Amazigh, Muslim, [Jewish] Christian, European, etc.)’ (Abane 2011): ‘in the new society that is being built,’ Fanon wrote in italics in Year 5, ‘there are only Algerians. From the outset, therefore, every individual living in Algeria is an Algerian … We want an Algeria open to all, in which every kind of genius can grow’ (Fanon, 1967c 152, 32).

      Abane was liquidated by the FLN at the turn of 1958. Fanon died before Algeria gained its independence in 1962 and was quickly marginalized, then dismissed as irrelevant and out of touch for not understanding the power of Islam (a charge that has been repeated for 50 years). In France, the story was similar. ‘Les damnés de la terre’ was criticised as romantic and Fanon dismissed as an interloper to the Algerian revolution. The book only sold a few thousand copies.

      Translated into English in 1963 by an African-American poet, Constance Farrington, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ was published in 1965 in the United States, going through innumerable printings and becoming a best seller in the revolutionary year of 1968 when it was subtitled ‘a handbook for the Black revolution’.

      As Kathleen Cleaver puts it in ‘The Black Panther Party Reconsidered’, ‘The Wretched of the Earth became essential reading for Black revolutionaries in America and profoundly influenced their thinking. Fanon’s analysis seemed to explain and to justify the spontaneous violence ravaging across the country, and linked the incipient insurrections to the rise of a revolutionary movement’ (1998: 214). The colonial world that Fanon wrote about ‘bore a striking resemblance,’ she added, ‘to the world that American blacks lived’ (1998: 215). Of course the influence had been mutual since the descriptions of Black American life by writers such as Richard Wright played an important role in the development of Fanon’s ‘Black Skin White Masks’. For Cleaver, what was especially relevant to the Black Panthers ‘was Fanon’s analysis of colonialism and the necessity of violence’ (1998 216). And associating Algeria with Fanon, some Panthers fled to Algeria in the late 1960s. Thus it was through the Panthers that Fanon returned momentarily to Algeria, but noticeably shorn of his internal critique of the liberation movements and post-independence and thereby reduced to just another anti-colonial figure. Yet just as Eldridge Cleaver was opening the First Pan African Cultural Festival in 1969, Fanon had made his way across the Limpopo into the heart of settler colonial Africa — apartheid South Africa. As well as Black Power, Black theology writers provided an importantly link between Fanon and Biko and Fanon became essential for the development of Black Consciousness in South Africa; a movement that was explicitly a praxis oriented philosophy in outlook which became a crucial turning point in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.

      My recent work on Fanonian Practices in South Africa can be understood in terms of thinking about Fanon’s relevance. It begins with Biko’s engagement with Fanon. Biko, who has a hospital named after him in Pretoria, was murdered in 1977 and argued in a Fanonian vein in the early 1970s that it was possible to create a ‘capitalist black society, black middle class,’ in South Africa, and ‘succeed in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 percent of the population being underdogs.’ You see, hospitals, airports, roads and so on, can be renamed after revolutionaries, yet it turns out that not much changes for the bulk of the people. Now nearly 40 years after Biko’s statement, Fanon’s ‘The Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ — an essay written from within the Algerian revolution — which provides a forecast for the post-independent nation, a keen analysis of the dreadful cost of its failure, is an uncanny portrait of post-apartheid South Africa.

      So the second moment of Fanonian practice is a critique of contemporary postcolonial reality. In other words, the lasting value of employing Fanon’s critical insights and method. The source is not only ‘The Wretched’ where he calls the national bourgeoisie ‘unabashedly … antinational,’ opting, he adds, for an ‘abhorrent path of a conventional bourgeoisie, a bourgeois that is dismally, inanely and cynically bourgeois,’ but also ‘Black Skin White Masks’, which concludes with a critique of bourgeois life as sterile and suffocating. In the Antilles there have been struggles for freedom, he argues, but too often they have been conducted in terms and values given by the white master and creating profoundly ambivalent situations and neurotic symptoms described in ‘Black Skin’.

      Fanon left the Antilles to study in France, but after his World War Two experiences he already no longer believed in the French mission and profoundly disapproved of Césaire’s support for assimilation. Just recently I was reading Richard Wright’s collection, ‘White Man Listen’, published in 1957, specifically an essay ‘The psychological reactions of oppressed people’ as it articulates with ‘Black Skin White Masks’, specifically Fanon and Wright’s critique of Mannoni. [3] The book is interestingly dedicated to Eric Williams and to ‘the Westernised and tragic elite of Asia, Africa and the West Indies — men who are distrusted, misunderstood, maligned by left and right.’ Fanon wrote about these elites in ‘Black Skin’ and in ‘The Wretched’. Indeed they remain crucial to the post-independence situation, but in a review of the book in El Moudjahid in 1959 he was critical of Wright’s book because of its singular focus on the tragedy of these elites while real life and death struggles were taking place across the continent (see Cherki 159).


      The damnation of the world’s majority inscribed in the Manichean geographies so well described by Fanon in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ does not end with the negotiated settlement and the withdrawal of formal colonial rule. The violence that orders colonialism, the violence that follows the colonised home and enters every pore of their body, is reconfigured in the contemporary world of razor wire transit camps and detention zones, in rural pauperisation and in the shanty towns and shack settlements. It is the silent scream of much of the world’s population, who appear most of the time without solidarity, without agency, without speech. Beyond the gated citadels, beyond the zones of tourism, in the zone of often bare existence, there seems no way out. And yet, at a moment like ours in 2011, there is all of a sudden made absolutely clear the rationality of rebellion. So, the shocking relevance of a Fanonian political will.

      Yet more than a simple us-and-them, the ‘we’ for Fanon was always a creative ‘we,’ a ‘we’ of political action and praxis, thinking and reasoning. Indeed this was not only his critique of colonialism but also of the neo-colonial afterlife. ‘Colonialism is not a thinking machine,’ Fanon argues, but all too often its aftermath, the new nation, is mired in the same mindlessness, indeed a stupidity created by the national bourgeoisie’s will to power often mediated by crude force against the very people who made liberation possible. In contrast, Fanon’s ‘we,’ for example, is wonderfully articulated in Walcott’s poem, ‘the Schooner Flight’: ‘Either I’m nobody or I’m a nation.’ It is the nobodies, the damned, the impoverished and landless who for Fanon become the source, the basis, the truth of the ‘reality of the nation’ (the first title of ‘A Dying Colonialism’). As anti-eviction activists in South Africa say, ‘we are poor but not poor in mind’ and collectively ‘we think our own struggles.’

      The articulation of these movements with Fanon, is the third element of Fanonian practices. Since this notion of truth has created some concern among scholars, let me try to explain it, for it can’t be understood without a notion of how social change creates a radical mutation in consciousness, as Fanon puts it.

      In other words, in a period of social change what is now obvious seemed just a few months ago outrageous. Who could have imagined great political changes such as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of apartheid? Below these rather grand events are the local and grassroots movements that open up space for thinking that seem not only outside the realm of the possible but that also include voices that are often unheard.

      This week a UN conference on climate change is taking place in Durban, South Africa. The poor, who experience the full force of extreme weather and have to spend their time dealing with its effects, are not invited. A couple of days ago I received an article by Reverend Mavuso of the Rural Network in South Africa, an organisation of poor and landless rural people and part of the poor people’s alliance, that reminded me of Fanon’s critique of tourism, which he viewed as a quintessential postcolonial industry with the nationalist elites becoming the ‘organizers of parties.’ This is not just a Caribbean experience; it has become the experience of post-apartheid South Africa with private game parks and Safaris taking over land.

      Presented to the world as ‘eco-tourism’, Mavuso (2011) writes, ‘game farming and the tourism industry are evicting the poor, ‘rob[ing us of our] … land … and replac[ing us] … with animals’ (my emphasis). In post-apartheid South Africa, thousands are evicted with the promise of jobs but the jobs turn out to be few poorly paid domestic workers or security guards.

      In short, in contrast to exclusive global conferences, a truly humanist environmentalism begins with the needs and experiences of the poor. It is an epistemological challenge, a shift in the geography of reason.

      Fanon argues in the conclusion to ‘The Wretched’ that we have to work out new concepts. Where will those new concepts come from? How is political education developed? What is it for? Fifty years after ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ I am suggesting that we consider the maturity of the struggle that is expressed in the rationality of the rebellions. For Fanon, to engage this reason is not synonymous with systematising ‘indigenous knowledge’ or culture. It is the rebellion — which is at the same time always for Fanon a mental liberation — that encourages nuance and encourages radical intellectuals engaged in and with these movements to work out new concepts in a non-technical and non-professional language. Often in defiance to those (intellectuals and militants) who consider thinking a hindrance to action, the ‘opening of minds’ and imagination is encouraged.

      ‘We imagine cities where politicians, policy makers, engineers and urban planners think with us and not for us,’ argues S’bu Zikode, the former president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, expressing the right to the city in the most concrete terms. Abahlali baseMjondolo — part of the subtitle of ‘Fanonian Practices’, which translates as people who live in shacks, is an organisation of about 30,000 shack dwellers in South Africa that was created six years ago after the residents of one shack community realised that land that had been promised was being cleared for other buildings. The organization is decentralized, autonomous, self-reliant and deeply democratic. What is interesting about Abahlali now six years after its self-organization is its thinking born of experience and discussion in what they call the ‘university of the shacks.’ They call it living learning. Press statements are written collectively; and quite in contrast to technical education, learning is a collective and living thing that always needs to be nurtured. Their idea of ‘citizenship’ (including all who live in the shacks in democratic decision making regardless of ancestry, ethnicity, gender, age, etc.) connects with Fanon’s political notion of citizenship formed in the social struggle. So when Zikode speaks of imagination, it is one produced collectively by long discussions in the shack settlements. ‘We imagine cities where the social value of land is put before its commercial value,’ he continues. ‘We imagine cities where shack settlements are all offered the option of participatory upgrades and where people will only move elsewhere when that is their free choice. We imagine the quick improvement of local living conditions by the provision of water, electricity, paths, stairs and roads while housing is being discussed, planned and built. We imagine cities without evictions, without state violence being used to disconnect people from electricity and water and without any repression of organisations and movements. We imagine cities without the transit camps that have become the permanent alternative housing solution for many poor people since the declaration of the Millennium Development Goals by the United Nations. We reject, completely, the way in which the Millennium Development Goals have reduced the measure of progress to the numbers of 'housing opportunities delivered' when in fact progress should be measured in terms of people's dignity as this is understood by the people themselves’ (Zikode 2011).

      Such imaginings come from thinking and discussions that jibe with Fanon’s notion of political education. He presents what he calls the militant who wants to take shortcuts in the name of getting things done not only as anti-intellectual but atrocious, inhuman and sterile. Instead, he insists the search for truth is the ‘responsibility of the community’ (2004, 139). In ‘The Wretched’, Fanon speaks of the meeting, of this coming together, as the practical and ethical foundation of the liberated society, as ‘a liturgical act’ (un acte liturgique [2002, 185]); liturgical acts which ‘are privileged occasions given to a human being to listen and to speak … and put forward new ideas …’ (1968 195).

      Again at the local level, in ‘The Wretched’ Fanon gives the seemingly banal example of lentil production during the liberation struggle, writing of the creation of production/consumption committees among the peasants and FLN which he says encouraged theoretical questions about the accumulation of capital: ‘In the regions where we were able to conduct these enlightening experiments,’ he argues, ‘we witnessed the edification of man through revolutionary beginnings’ because people began to realize that ‘one works more with one’s brain and ones heart than with one’s muscles’ (2004, 133; see 1968, 292).

      Talking of the political economy of food he adds: ‘We did not have any technicians or planners coming from big Western universities; but in these liberated regions the daily ration went up to the hitherto unheard-of figure of 3,200 calories. [But t]he people were not content with [this] …. They started asking themselves theoretical questions: for example, why did certain districts never see an orange before the war of liberation, while thousands of tons are exported every year abroad? Why were grapes unknown to a great many Algerians whereas the European peoples enjoyed them by the million? Today, the people have a very clear notion of what belongs to them.’

      This type of shift in cognition represents a shift in epistemology.


      The mandate for the College of the Bahamas is to ‘foster the intellectual development of students and the wider community by encouraging critical analysis and independent thought’ and the meeting today is considered part of the project to attain university through contributing to that discussion. Yet critical and independent thought can never be guaranteed and certainly can’t be assured by a university. In this final section of my presentation I want to consider the problematic of a university in the post-colony as it articulates with movements and thinking outside of it.

      Real grassroots social movements open up new spaces for thinking. Yet on the other hand the global university of the 21st century not only often looks elsewhere but actively seeks to suppress these spaces. The quest to be ‘world class,’ such as that which the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal announces, is couched by the term excellence seen through a neo-colonial prism of donors and global elites. At best the new movements become researched — the paradigms often developed by the World Bank or other funding agencies — they are never allowed to ask theoretical questions. It is a neo-colonial arrangement.

      Recognising that the colonised intellectual committed to social change is fundamentally alienated from the people, Fanon suggests a methodology that fundamentally challenges the elitism, internalised values and ways of thinking they have imbibed. Perhaps the same, often depending on context, can be said of the postcolonial intellectual. In ‘Black Skin White Masks’, for example, Fanon argues that this alienation and neurosis is quite normal; that is to say a product of books, newspapers, schools, and their texts, advertisements, films, radio — what we might call hegemonic culture. How then do we go about creating space for a critical humanities as a consciously decolonizing project (by decolonizing I do not simply mean the formal end of colonialism but, following Fanon, the form and content of pedagogies and practices devoted to the decolonization of the mind)? Since such a conception runs counter to the university in the global market place that judges itself in those terms, what is to be done within the situation and places we find ourselves? Also on what philosophic ground and from what principle do we ask the question? Certainly, we cannot take the existence of a public sphere, of public intellectuals, and any claim of intellectual autonomy as either guaranteed or unproblematic.

      For Fanon education is always political education. In practice all education is political and education is political in all its forms of socialization and in its disciplines. In other words education helps us organize our lives, helps us think and act, help us think and create images of justice. Fanon means something different by political education. Just as for Fanon culture has to become a fighting culture, education has to become about total liberation. De-colonial education has to be a total critique and a transformative experiential process. Indeed this notion of education as transformative is often recognized on the private level in the rhetoric of individual entrepreneurship that often powers the discourse of the university’s value, but the issue for a de-colonial national education is an education that helps create a social consciousness and a social individual. Fanon is not concerned with educating the power elites to lead but to promote self-confidence among the mass of people, to teach the masses, as he puts it, that everything depends on them. This is not simply a version of community or adult education and certainly not of a hyperdermic notion of conscientization. Let me give an example that focuses less on content than form. In ‘Year 5 of the Algerian Revolution’ (‘A Dying Colonialism’) Fanon has an essay on the radio, ‘the voice of Algeria.’ What becomes clear is the importance of the form of the meeting. He describes a room of people listening to the radio, and the militant — namely the teacher — is among them, but (jammed by the French) there is only white noise on the radio. After a long discussion the participants agree about what has taken place; the teacher becomes an informed discussant, not a director. The form of the classroom is a democratic space, and the result is in a sense the point that political education is about self-empowerment as social individuals. It is a new collectivity, a new solidarity. The reference to the voice of Algeria is simply an example that helps to emphasize the processes at stake. The wider issue of the politics of pedagogy and curriculum must include the geography of the postcolonial university, its buildings, its gates, its barriers, its classrooms and all its spatial set ups. Colonialism, Fanon argues, is totalitarian. It inhabits every relationship and every space. The university produces and reproduces reification and thus has to be thoroughly reconsidered. But that reconsideration doesn’t come in one fell swoop; it is a process and a praxis, but one that also must include its philosophy and its raison d’être.

      This is not a call to the barricades even if it is a call to ideological combat to have one’s ears open, to not confine new development in a priori categories. In other words, a de-colonial praxis would have to begin from the movement from practice not simply where the people dwell in those thousands of revolts taking place across the country but in their self-organization. Ideological combat, or a fighting culture, as Fanon explains in ‘The Wretched’, is quite simply engaged intellectual work. In other words, and this is obvious, it is not about intellectuals going to the rural areas to pick up a scythe and be with the people. I am not saying that that can’t be done, but that is not intellectual work, and it certainly does not challenge the division between mental and manual labour. So to conclude, what makes possible the intellectual capacity to see into the reasons for popular action, or in short, the rationality of revolt?

      In the revolutionary moment of the anti-colonial struggle Fanon writes of the ‘honest intellectual,’ who, committed to social change, enters what he calls an ‘occult zone,’ engaging the notion of the transformation of reality with a real sense of uncertainty while also coming to understand what is humanly possible. This zone is a space that is being shaped by a movement which, he says, in ‘On National Culture,’ is beginning to call everything into question (1968, 227). ‘The zone of hidden fluctuation’ (2004, 163) or ‘occult instability’ (1968, 227) [C’est dans ce lieu de déséquilibre occulte 2002 215] ‘where the people dwell’ is not a ghostly movement but corporeally alive. If honest intellectuals feel the instability of it, it is because they cannot really take a living role, that is to say a disalienated role, in this movement unless they recognise the extent of their alienation from it (1968, 226). But the intellectual’s role need not be a mysterious one. Rather it can be quite practical, grounded in a sharing of reason where trust is implicit. This of course means that the intellectual must give up the position of privilege and begin to comprehend that the ‘workless,’ ‘less than human’ and ‘useless’ people do think concretely in terms of social transformation (see 1968 127). After all this new zone of movement and self-movement — what one might also call a radical zone of dialectical leaps in thought and activity (see James 1980) — is a space where souls ‘are crystallized and perceptions and lives transfigured’ (translation altered 227; 2004,163). Fanon’s language is almost transcendental here, and one may argue that such heavenly ‘authenticity’ born of this revolutionary moment seems as impossible as the idea of the excluded, the uncounted and unaccountable, the damned of the earth, upsetting the household arrangements of the here and now, creating a genuine moment (and zone) or community where trust and the sharing of reason is implicit. Fanon is not speaking of some heavenly space of some future afterlife; he locates the space very much in the contingent now and that is being lived, quite practically and unstably, in the present. This ramshackle movement from practice as a form of theory (see Dunayevskaya 1988), that is to say as both force and reason, is inherently uncertain and also, at the same time, unexceptional. It challenges reason as it is commonly accepted (instrumental, technical or even the professionally ‘critical’) and decenters it, moving it closer to the reason or reasoning of so many of those who have been considered unreasonable, but who in a dialectical logic are implicitly proposing a new humanism.

      One of the challenges of Fanonian Practices in South Africa, from Biko to Abahlali is epistemological; it is to think of thinking from the underside, if you will. The struggle school is a struggle, as Richard Pithouse puts it. And let’s be clear sometimes that school comes into contradiction with the university system and can have dire costs both in terms of employment and in terms of threats of violence. Fanon talks about ‘snatching’ knowledge from the colonial universities; he is also aware of the great sacrifices that this can entail. In ‘The Wretched’ he makes a point to distinguish between the hobnobbing postcolonial intelligentsia and the honest intellectual who abhors careerism, distrusts the race for positions, and who is still committed to fundamental change even if he or she presently does not see its possibility.

      What if the vaunted position of ‘intellectual’ does not require a degree from a ‘world class’ institution? The public intellectual without a university accreditation is becoming almost unthinkable. But to be relevant the national university has to be transformative, self-critical and also open to the experiences and minds of the common people who have been often excluded; not simply an accrediting agency for service industries, the university instead must be dedicated to the growth of every kind of genius.


      * This was a keynote address delivered at the Critical Caribbean Symposium Series ‘50 Years Later: Frantz Fanon’s Legacy to the Caribbean and the Bahamas,’ Friday 2, December 2011 at The College of the Bahamas. It was first published in Thinking Africa.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


      1. Abane, Beläid. 2011 in Nigel C. Gibson, editor, Living Fanon. New York: Palgrave
      2. Cherki, Alice. 2006. Fanon: A Portrait. Ithaca: Cornell University Press
      Cleaver, Kathleen, Neal. 1998. “Back to Africa: The Evolution of the International Section of the Black Panther Party” in Charles E. Jones eds. The Black Panther Party Reconsidered. Baltimore MD: Black Classic Press
      3. Dunayevskaya. Raya. 1988. Marxism and Freedom. New York: Columbia University Press
      4. Fanon, Frantz. 2002. Les damnés de la terre. Paris: La Découverte, 2002.
      5. __________. 1967a. Black Skin White Masks. Translated by Lars Markman. New York: Grove.
      6. __________. 1967b. Toward the African Revolution. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove.
      7. __________. 1967c. A Dying Colonialism. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove.
      8. __________. 1968. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove.
      9. __________. 2004. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove.
      10. Glissant, E 1999. Caribbean Discourses: Selected Essays. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999.
      11. James, C.L.R. 1980. Notes on Dialectics London: Allison and Busby.
      Reverend Mavuso. 2011. “Climate Change and Global Warming are perpetuated by the capitalists to oppress the poor to make profit”.
      12. Wright, Richard. 1956. “The Neuroses of Conquest,” The Nation, October 20. pp. 33-331
      13. Wright, Richard. 1995. White Man Listen. New York: Harper Collins.
      Zikode, S’bu. 2011. “Upgrades v Evictions,” September 29 at


      [1] Fanon studied and practiced with Tosquelles before leaving France for Algiers. Tosquelles who was carrying out a revolution in psychiatry at Saint Alban and was an anticolonialist grew up in Catalonia and had been an active anti-stalinist during the Spanish civil war.
      [2] Glissant writes that “it is difficult for a French Caribbean individual to be the brother, friend, or quite simply the associate or fellow countryman of Fanon. Because, of all the French Caribbean intellectuals, he is the only one to have acted on his ideas, through his involvement in the Algerian struggle” (1999 25). Fanon made a “complete break” and yet Martinican intellectuals have failed to recognize him almost at all. He adds that they could not find in Fanon a figure who “awakened (in the deepest sense of the word) the peoples of the contemporary world” (1999 69).
      [3] Wright’s review of the English translation of Mannoni’s book (which was published in 1956) in The Nation (Oct 20, 1956) was similar to Fanon’s critique in Black Skin White Masks. Titled “The Neuroses of Conquest,” Wright praised Mannoni’s book for focusing on the psychology of the “restless” Europeans who set out for world “that would permit free play for their repressed instincts” but he criticized Mannoni for creating the impression that the Madagascar “natives are somehow the White man’s Burden.” Like Fanon’s alienated Black, the native, Wright argues, vainly attempts “to embrace the world of white faces that rejects it” and in reaction to this rejection ”seeks refuge in tradition. But he concludes “but it is too late” there is “haven in neither.”

      A tribute to Steve Bantu Biko

      To mark the 65th anniversary of his birth

      Roy Trivedy


      cc M B
      ‘Steve Biko’s words had a profound effect on me. They helped shape my personal outlook and political beliefs,’ writes Roy Trivedy. ‘They also played a key role in helping me decide what I wanted to contribute in life.’

      On 15 October 1977, a month after Steve Biko’s death in detention, The Times (a national newspaper in the UK) published a full one page spread titled ‘Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity’. The article reproduced some of Steve’s writing. It summarised the origins of the Black Consciousness movement, its historic role in the struggle against apartheid and the fight for liberation and freedom. It explained the economic basis of racism and the way in which social, political and cultural means were systematically used by the state to subjugate the Black majority in South Africa. The article also talked about the critical role of youth and the churches in the struggle for freedom and about international solidarity.

      I was 17 at the time and studying Economics, Politics and Sociology as a sixth form student. I had come to the UK from Kenya, eight years before this, with my family; a family that had its origins in India but had spent the best part of three generations in East Africa with dual Kenyan-British nationality. In 1969, my parents had chosen to migrate to the UK and become naturalised British citizens. As a teenager I was aware of my Indian and African roots. I was also aware of the anti-colonial struggles in many parts of globe, the importance of fighting oppression wherever it occurred, of solidarity and for standing up for the values of justice and liberty.

      I had seen television programmes previously about Steve Biko’s death but prior to reading the article, I had not been aware of the Black Consciousness movement, what it stood for and why it was important. I read and re-read the article several times over that day and have returned to it subsequently. The same article was later published in the book ‘Steve Biko - I write what I Like’, Heinemann 1978. The chapter on Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity states:

      ‘For the liberals, the thesis is apartheid, the antithesis is non-racialism and the synthesis is very feebly defined. They want to tell blacks that they see integration as the ideal solution. Black Consciousness defines the situation differently. The thesis is in strong white racism and therefore the antithesis must….be strong solidarity amongst blacks. Out of these two situations we can hope to reach some kind of balance, a new humanity where power politics will have no place..

      Freedom is the ability to define oneself with one’s possibilities held back not by the power of other people over one but only by one’s relationship to God and to natural surroundings..’

      Steve Biko’s words had a profound effect on me. They helped shape my personal outlook and political beliefs. They also played a key role in helping me decide what I wanted to contribute in life. At university I studied law and was active in the Ant-Apartheid Movement. Since 1981 I have worked in a variety of roles contributing to international development in various parts of the world including Malawi, India, Mozambique, Central Asia and Tanzania. In all of my roles for the past 30 years, I have also sought to work with Black and ethnic minority communities (including tribal communities).

      I have been fortunate in working in east and southern Africa, India and the UK. Through my work and activities, I have sought to practice Steve Biko’s quest for a true humanity:

      ‘We have set out on a quest for a true humanity, and somewhere on a distant horizon we can see the glittering prize.’

      Steve Biko was a brilliant thinker, a truly courageous freedom fighter and an inspirational leader. He played a key role in the fight against apartheid but his words also influenced many people, including myself, across the world. As we continue to strive in the quest for a true humanity, Steve Biko’s words are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them.


      * Roy Trivedy is head of Civil Society Department and co-chair of the Black and Ethnic Minority Network, Department for International Development, UK.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Biko’s legacy lives on in Swaziland’s civil society

      Peter Kenworthy


      © Free Maxwell
      Father of South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement Steve Biko would have been 65 on 18 December. Peter Kenworthy looks at the influence of his ideas on Swazi civil society today.

      Looking at South Africa today, it is clear that the approach of the ANC has not ensured socio-economic justice for the majority of South Africa’s blacks. Indeed, the rich-poor divide has broadened, and South Africa has become the most unequal country in the world.

      The same can be said of many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. But as South Africa’s tiny neighbour, Swaziland, is finding out, the solution might lie in the past, so to speak, more than in a future that has failed the test of time.

      The ideas of Steve Biko certainly seem to be popular in Swaziland’s democratic movement. One of Swaziland’s prominent pro-democracy activists, student leader and political prisoner, Maxwell Dlamini, professes to be heavily inspired by Biko, and the main vehicle for civic education in Swaziland, the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice, uses an approach to raising consciousness amongst people in Swaziland that is akin to, if not inspired by, that of Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement in the nineteen-seventies.


      Steve Biko grew up in the Ginsberg Location near King Williams Town, where nearly two hundred families shared around 40 communal taps and toilets. He also studied medicine and law at university, and was therefore acquainted with the plight of all walks of live in apartheid South Africa.

      Biko was the father of the Black Consciousness Movement, as well as its main thinker and key catalyst, although he deliberately tried not to be dominant to enable others to assume responsibility and discourage a personality cult.

      Biko’s general fearlessness in openly opposing the authorities such as during the SASO-BPC trial (where the apartheid government prosecuted and convicted nine members of the BCM for “subversion by intent”) in 1976, his unhesitant response to insult and his disregarding of his banning were probably contributing factors to his early death - he died in police custody in September, having been tortured and severely beaten. On the other hand, showing that he was not afraid of the authorities was also an important contributing factor in fostering the culture of fearlessness that helped end apartheid.

      According to Biko, “the type of black man we have today [in the early seventies] … accepts what he regards as [his] inevitable position.” Biko believed that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor” was “the mind of the oppressed.” Black Consciousness was meant to enable blacks to fight this defeatism, develop hope, and build up their humanity and urging them to be their own “authorities rather than wait to be interpreted by others.”

      Black Consciousness “no longer seek[s] to reform the system because so doing implies acceptance of the major points around which the system revolves,” said Biko. Liberation is not simply being about freedom from material conditions, but about “liberation … first from psychological oppression … and secondly from physical oppression.” “Ill distribution of wealth” and “a mere change of face of those in governing positions,” said Biko, would make any political freedom meaningless.


      Biko therefore helped form the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) – an all-black organisation (the term “black” including all the oppressed South Africans; Africans, Coloureds, and Indians) - in 1968, Biko began working for the Black Community Programmes (BCP) in 1972, and he remained thoroughly active within the movement to help facilitate concrete programmes and organisations that could and would bring about first psychological, and secondly material, change.

      The Black Community Programmes covered the fields of health, education, leadership training, publications, home industries and childcare, and especially the educational programmes were meant to introduce the message of self-reliance and Black Consciousness. The BCP were thus meant to give practical effect to the philosophy of self-reliance.

      The ideas and practice of Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement was an important contributor to the dismantling of apartheid, especially to the psychological side of the liberation movement, where they successfully helped to diminish the element of fear in the minds of black South Africans who, prior to the manifestation of Black Consciousness in the late sixties were terribly scared of involvement in politics.

      One of Biko’s main legacies was thus that development – both at the national and the personal level - was not merely about economics or other material conditions, but also about consciousness and self-belief. He saw that any true liberation must be founded on a psychological one – an insight that is highly relevant to Swaziland.


      A strict traditional hierarchy and conservatism, illiteracy, lack of access to education and poverty in general has hindered democratic and rights-based consciousness in especially the rural areas of Swaziland. Furthermore, a repressive society such as Swaziland’s is domesticating, so to speak, as the oppressed tend to internalise the oppressor’s image of themselves and become fearful of freedom. Civic education in Swaziland’s rural areas is therefore essential, not only for the struggle for democracy, but also to ensure that a mental liberation precedes a physical one, and that the nature of a future Swazi democracy is inclusive and ultimately successful once the fight for democracy has been won.

      Swazis are therefore in dire need of a political consciousness, that will help bring about democracy, observance of basic rights, and socio-economic justice in general. The problems in ensuring this are man-fold. Two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line – many on food aid from the UN, life expectancy is at under 40 years due to Swaziland’s extremely high prevalence of HIV, the country effectively bankrupt to serious financial mismanagement, the media is either heavily censored or self-censored, and the population has generally been unable or unwilling to connect their poverty and lacking influence to Swaziland’s filthy-rich monarchy.

      All of this is changing, however, due to a combination of the population’s increasing desperation with the regime’s handling of the situation – cutting back on social services and brutalizing those within the democratic movement who dare to call for democratic reform.


      Until recently there has been no programme focusing specifically on inclusive civic education. For this reason, the Foundation for Socio Economic Justice was founded in 2003 as an organization to initiate “broad civic education programmes to encourage democratic participation and raise awareness on human- and constitutional rights amongst the rural populations, with an understanding on how this leads to poverty eradication”.

      The overall goal of the Foundation is to “build a mass-based democratic force” through a bottom-up approach that includes partnership with, and capacity building of, marginalized, rural based organisations.

      The Foundation’s Rural Civic Education programme is the cornerstone of the Foundation’s work and the civic educators are in the front-line of its work. The educational team covers a variety of democracy- and rights-related subjects on e.g. the history of Swaziland, the history of the unions, the political history of Swaziland, and issues about rural community organisation. The discussions that this education spawns also covers more concrete issues such as the lack of health facilities, schools, classrooms, water and employment that are then tied to the more overall topics.

      As in apartheid South Africa, the conditions under which the lessons are given are difficult, however. Community leaders and Chiefs in some places victimize the educators and participants as they are seen as a threat to their authority and there is police surveillance of most meetings.

      The result of this education can be seen in the fact that people to a much larger degree dare speak up in the presence of authorities such as headmen, chiefs and police officers, and that some have even stopped partaking in the traditionally sanctioned system of forced labour by i.e. refusing to plough the chief’s land for free.

      And they can be seen in the persistent calls for democracy that have been heard in recent years – especially since this years so-called ‘April 12 Uprising’, where thousands demonstrated for democracy and socio-economic justice.

      The Foundation has thus made great strides and progress in areas where the discussion of political issues or standing up to the authoritarian traditional system was previously impossible – very much like Biko’s Black Consciousness did in apartheid South Africa in the seventies.


      * On 18 December 2011, Steve Biko would have been 65 years old. This article is written in commemoration of him.
      * Read Peter Kenworthy’s ‘Bikoism vs. Mbekism – the role of Black Consciousness in Mbeki’s South Africa’ [PDF].

      Egypt: Where they have burned books…

      Adham Hafez


      cc A M
      Set on fire on 17 December, the Egyptian Scientific Institute was another casualty of last week’s clashes between the military and protestors in Cairo. Lillian Boctor speaks to artist Adham Hafez [MP3 – 7.8MB], one of the volunteers working to save books and manuscripts from the damaged building.
      On 16 December 2011, Egyptian military forces violently attacked the three-week sit-in at the Cabinet building in Cairo. The protesters were demanding that the military ruling council hand over power to civilians.

      Military police and central security forces continued to brutally attack, kidnap, kill, detain and torture protesters at Tahrir and in the surrounding downtown Cairo area, as well as systematically sexually assault and beat women. L'Institut d’Egypte, or the Egyptian Scientific Institute, was set on fire on Saturday morning, 17 December 2011.

      L'Institute d’Egypte was a research centre created by Napoleon Bonaparte during the 18th century French Invasion of Egypt. It was home to thousands of rare books and manuscripts, including Napoleon’s historic ‘Description de l’Egypte.’ Protesters and volunteers have been working non-stop to try and salvage the manuscripts and books.

      The building is severely damaged and is located at the frontline of the clashes between military and security forces and protesters. The books, manuscripts and documents are being brought to the National Library and Archives of Egypt (Dar el Kutuub wa Dar el Wathaiq) in the ongoing effort to try and save them.

      Adham Hafez is an artist working in the field of contemporary dance and music and the director of HaRaKa dance development and research. He is part of a volunteer committee working to save the books and manuscripts from the burnt Egyptian Scientific Institute. He also coordinated the Tahrir field hospitals in the November uprising.

      Lillian Boctor spoke to him [MP3 – 7.8MB] on 19 December 2011, by phone from Cairo, while he was in front of the National Library and Archives of Egypt.

      Follow Adham Hafez on Twitter @adhamhafez
      Hastag: #savebooks


      * Lillian Boctor is a freelance journalist based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She is a reporter for Free Speech Radio News and has worked as a journalist, associate producer and researcher at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) and Radio Canada International (RCI).
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      On Thomas Sankara's birthday

      Aziz Salmone Fall


      cc Cribb 10
      Burkina Faso’s first president was assassinated nearly 25 years ago but the identity of his killers remains unresolved. Marking the anniversary of his birth, campaigners draw attention to the continuing struggle for justice for Sankara.

      October 15 was the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s first president. His grave had been vandalised a few days earlier but no one was charged for the crime. Sankara’s comrades celebrate his birthday on December 21, knowing how useful his presence would have been for 21st century Africa if he were still alive. Nevertheless, his message and work remain relevant, both for our continent and the world.

      Thomas Sankara embodied the hope for change that was based primarily on the efforts of the people of his country, his fellow citizens. Theirs was the last African revolution, interrupted by the bloodshed of 1987, just as it was starting to bear promising fruit. At 37, like Che Guevara, Sankara joined the pantheon of revolutionaries. The former Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso, is landlocked; its development is externally driven and dependent on international finance. It is a society in permanent quest for food self-suffiency; people of working age are obliged to emigrate, continuing the country’s vocation as a regional provider of cheap labour; and the elite maintains the status quo. In other words, a society with the characteristics of neo-colonial development.

      Thomas Sankara, among other priorities, focused on agriculture and farmers to stimulate national revival. He sought to create an internal market for a variety of consumer goods accessible to the masses and meet the greatest number of basic needs. He promoted women’s emancipation and changes in men’s attitudes toward women. He took a patriotic approach to managing public funds, campaigning against debt and the impoverishment of Africa, and agitating for internationalism that challenged the subordination of Africa by the global economic system. In short, he took on many radical initiatives that confronted the norms of the global system. He quickly alienated himself from local, regional and international supporters, especially from within his own backyard in Francafrique.

      Sankara’s assassination, along with ten of his comrades, and the wave of political crimes which followed, brought a bloody end to one of Africa’s last revolutionary experiences. The people of Burkina Faso, Africa and the international community are still waiting to find out how the assassination happened and who was responsible for it. It’s likely there was a joint international and local plot was behind the killing of Sankara and his ten comrades. His death certificate cites ‘natural causes’ – at the same time as 12 other people – no explanation for their deaths has ever been given and to this day no-one knows exactly where he is buried. Suspicion for the assassination falls on his best friend, Blaise Compaoré, backed by a network of external supporters. Minister of Justice at the time of Sankara’s death, Compaoré is now president of Burkina Faso.

      It is in this context that the Sankara family and our group have taken a historic initiative. The impunity built into the system in Burkina Faso has been shaken by CIJS’s (International Justice for Sankara Campaign) 14-year international campaign, Justice for Sankara. Having exhausted all legal channels in Burkina Faso, our legal community brought the matter to the UN Human Rights Committee, which set a precedent in Africa and within the United Nations when is recognised the violations of the state:

      ‘The refusal to lead an enquiry into the death of Thomas Sankara, the lack of official recognition at the place of his death, and the failure to correct his death certificate constitute inhumane treatment of Madame Sankara and her sons, in contradiction of Article 7 of the agreement (12.2). The family of Thomas Sankara has the right to know the circumstances of his death (…) The Committee considers that the refusal to lead an enquiry into the death of Thomas Sankara, the lack of official recognition at the place of his death, and the failure to correct his death certificate constitute inhumane treatment of Madame Sankara and her sons…)’

      But the Human Rights Committee did not retain the right to demand an enquiry, nor did it demand compensation or recognition of Sankara’s burial place. Paradoxically, Burkina Faso has not provided any evidence to prove the authenticity of the burial place. The compensation offered to the family came to 43,445 FCFA – around €66,231 or US$65,000. Some experts estimate that the sum was more generous ($650,000/434 450 FCFA) and that the State made an effort by crossing out the word ‘natural’ on the odious death certificate, which claimed that Sankara had died of natural causes. Despite the amendment of the figure by lawyers and the fact that Sankara pilgrims to a grave in the cemetery are not proof that he is buried there, the Human Rights Committee declared in April 2008 that it was satisfied with its findings and had no intention of taking the matter any further.

      But the CIJS pursued the fight against impunity, especially as Burkina Faso continued to rack up other prosecutable violations; an enquiry should have been opened following new revelations from the protagonists in these sinister events –at the very least, they should have finally officially given their version of events.

      Statements made by General Tarnue, already assigned as evidence bu CIJS, have been corroborated by unpublished revelations by Liberia’s Senator Johnson at a reconciliation commission, charging President Compaoré and his regime with the murder of Sankara, in conspiracy with former Liberia president Taylor.

      In Taylor’s final cross-examination at the criminal tribunal at the Hague on 25 August 2009 (see page 27602), he denied involvement, alleging that he was under arrest in Ghana at the time, but he erred on the guilt of Compaoré during his interrogation, before retracting his statements. (‘I was still in jail when Blaise Compaoré killed them -- during the killing of Thomas Sankara, because I can't say he killed, but he didn't do it himself. I was in prison in Ghana…’)

      In RAI’s documentary ‘Ombre Africane’, another Liberian General Momo Jiba who was Compaoré’s bodyguard, follows in the direction of Tarnue and Johnson, providing new insights into Sankara’s assassination and claiming, in front of a hidden camera, that Compaoré fired personally during the killing, and that the coup was an international plot supported by the CIA. In an interview with journalist Keith Harmon Snow, his colleague Norbert Zongo – since assassinated by the Compaoré regime – also reported the involvement of Mossad and the CIA in the assassination.

      All these witnesses said they feared for their lives and refused to give more details about the matter. The truth must be known so that the Burkinabe can move on from an era of impunity.

      President Compaoré, Sankara’s suspected killer, has recently been named mediator in the Guinea crisis. On Radio France International, he declared without missing a beat: ‘We cannot tolerate that there are still discussions in Guinea about disappeared people whose bodies have not been found’.

      Thomas Sankara’s body was never found and that’s why Me Nkounkou introduced a confinement request procedure, which the authorities still have not responded to.

      Following up on UN decision, CIJS is still waiting for the authorities to prove that the supposed tomb of Sankara is indeed his. On 15 October 2009, the legal committee of the CIJS, represented by Me Nzeppa, filed a request for a subpoena and order for the DNA of the corpse in the sepulchre, erected by the Burkina Faso government, to be compared with that of Sankara’s children.

      We are still waiting for the state to make a decision on our request; it is possible that the act of vandalism against Sankara’s supposed tomb is linked to our request. But the fight against impunity must continue. Impunity perpetuates the assassination of internationalists who dare influence the development of their people towards meeting basic needs. Sankara embodied a self-directed, Pan-African development; making a radical break with the previous disorder but also from rigid cultural attitudes. A project which needed popular support, the enthusiasm of the masses, a sense of sacrifice by the ‘haves’ – in short a set of conditions that made of Thomas, like certain other of his illustrious pan-African predecessors, visionaries ahead of their time. Not that their vision of society is not still valid. It is just as vital to have national and popular support; vicious episodes are inherent in any break with compradorisation’ and capitalist globalisation, in which many laudable initiatives across the continent have perished. Thomas’s mistake was perhaps to believe that he had strong enough alliances, but also to have underestimated the reactionary fringe that was plotting against him.

      Recently French comrades issued a petition calling people to support our campaign and demanding an inquiry into France’s role in the Sankara affair. We encourage you to sign it, on the occasion of the birthday of Thomas Isidore Sankara.

      In a thank-you letter to GRILA and the lawyers, Thomas’ widow Mariam Sankara, wrote: ‘You are pioneers in defending the memory of my spouse. If many others have taken up the torch again, it is thanks to you. You have the merit and the courage to continue my quest for the truth about the assassination of Thomas Sankara… this quotation from Seneca illustrates it: ‘It is not because it is difficult that people don’t dare. It is because we don’t dare that it is difficult’.

      In a message addressed to her people, Mariam Sankara, repeating the popular saying, insisted, ‘Whatever the length of the night, the day will appear’. She continues to call for unity, resistance and determination, remembering how much Sankara’s message and objectives remain current. In Latin America, new forms of regional integration still resonate with the Africa-Latin America Summit, where Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez quoted Sankara at length in his 1984 speech:

      ‘We could look for the best forms of organisation, better suited to our civilisation, rejecting in a clear and definitive way all forms of external imposition, to create proper conditions, to match our ambitions. No longer focused on surviving, we release the pressure, free our campaign from mediaeval inaction, democratise society, awaken our minds to a universe of collective responsibility, to dare to invent the future.’


      * Aziz Salmone Fall is coordinator of CIJS (The International Campaign for Justice for Sankara) with the Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA).
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Africa lies naked to euro-American military offensive

      The US and its allies are positioned to 'take' much of the continent

      Glen Ford


      cc N I
      American military influence has fanned out across Africa during 2011, thanks in large part to assistance from African governments.

      As the U.S. and its NATO allies move southward to further consolidate their grip on Africa, following the seizure of Libya and its vast oil fields, most of the continent’s leadership seems to welcome re-absorption into empire. “Africa is the most vulnerable region in America’s warpath, a continent ripe for the plucking due to the multitudinous entanglements of Africa’s political and military classes with imperialism.” AFRICOM is already in the cat-bird seat, placed there by Africans, themselves.

      The United States and its allies are engaged in an Asian and African offensive, a multi-pronged assault thinly camouflaged as humanitarian intervention that, in some regions, looks like a blitzkrieg. This frenzied aggression, still in its first year, saw NATO transformed into an expeditionary force to crush the unoffending Gaddafi regime in Libya and is now poised to topple the secular order in Syria. Although drawing on longstanding schemes for overt and covert regime change in selected countries, and fully consistent with global capital’s historic imperative to bludgeon the planet into one malleable market subordinate to Washington, London and Paris, the current offensive had a particular genesis in time: the nightmare vision of an Arab awakening.

      The prospect of an Arab Spring at the dawn of 2011 sparked a general hysteria in imperial capitals. Suddenly, they stared in the face of geopolitical death at the hands of the Arab “street.” Washington understands full well that the emergence of Arab governments that reflect the will of the people would soon result, as Noam Chomsky is fond of saying, in the U.S. being “thrown out” of the region – the final toll of the bell, not just for the oil-hungry West, but for international capital’s annexes in the autocratic cesspools of the Persian Gulf.

      With centuries of Euro-American domination flashing before their eyes, Washington, London and Paris quickly configured NATO to unleash Shock and Awe on the victim of choice in North Africa: Muammar Gaddafi. The momentum of that show of force has led an expanding cast of imperial actors to the gates of Damascus. But Africa is the most vulnerable region in America’s warpath, a continent ripe for the plucking due to the multitudinous entanglements of Africa’s political and military classes with imperialism. The awful truth is, the United States and its allies, principally the French, are positioned to “take” much of the continent with the collaboration of most of its governments and, especially, its soldiers.

      AFRICOM, established in 2008 by the Bush administration and now fully the creature of President Obama’s “humanitarian” interventionist doctrine, claims military responsibility for the entire continent except Egypt. The U.S. military command has assembled a dizzying array of alliances with regional organizations and blocs of countries that, together, encompass all but a few nations on the continent – leaving those holdouts with crosshairs on their backs. As the U.S. bullies its way southward in the wake of the seizure of Libya, its path has been smoothed by the Africans, themselves.

      The long U.S. war against Somalia, dramatically intensified with American backing for the Ethiopian invasion in late 2006, is now sanctioned by IGAD, the International Authority on Development in East Africa, comprised of Ethiopia; the puppet government in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu; Kenya; Uganda; the de facto French and U.S. military protectorate, Djibouti; and, nominally, Sudan.

      This year’s French-led, but nominally United Nations operation to oust the regime of Laurent Gbagbo, in Ivory Coast, was vouchsafed by ECOWAS, the 16-member Economic Community of West African States, including Benin Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

      AFRICOM stages a huge, annual military exercise called African Endeavor, which trains African militaries to use “standard communications practices.” African armies are taught U.S. command-and-control procedures, on American-made equipment, that is serviced by American advisors. In 2009, the militaries of 25 African nations took part in the exercise. This year, 40 nations joined Operation African Endeavor, accounting for the vast bulk of the continent’s men under arms.

      More insidiously, through AFRICOM’s “soldier-to-soldier” doctrine, U.S. and African military peers are encouraged to forge one-on-one relationship up and down the levels of command: general-to-general, colonel-to-colonel, major-to-major, and even captain-to-captain. AFRICOM hopes these peer partnerings will forge personal relationships with African armed forces over the long haul, regardless of whatever regime is in power.

      In the Sahel, AFRICOM maintains close relationships with virtually every nation along the vast band of land south of the Sahara desert that stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, all under the heading of “anti-terrorism.” These include Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger, plus Nigeria and Senegal. To the north, AFRICOM has similar ties to the Maghreb countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and, until this year, Gaddafi’s Libya.

      AFRICOM is often the real power behind nominally African missions. AMISOM, officially the African Union’s so-called peace keeping force in Somalia, is in fact comprised of troops from Uganda and Burundi, U.S. client states that act as mercenaries for Washington, and paid for mainly by the Americans. They are soon to be joined by 500 soldiers from Djibouti. For years, AMISOM was all that saved the puppet regime in Mogadishu from instant annihilation in its tiny enclaves at the hands of the Shabab resistance. Today, the reinforced “African Union” fighters are on the offensive, along with Kenyan and Ethiopian invaders, aimed at smashing the Shabab in a pincer movement. U.S. drones based in Ethiopia and Djibouti bring death from overhead. Thus, a force nominally fielded by the African Union is an active belligerent in a U.S. engineered war that has set the Horn of Africa ablaze – a conflict also sanctioned by IGAD, the regional cooperative body.

      It is only a matter of time before Eritrea, an adversary of Ethiopia and one of the few African nations outside the AFRICOM orbit, is attacked – doubtless by nominally African forces backed by the U.S. and French. Certainly, the thoroughly compromised African Union will be in no position to object.

      No sooner than the last loyalist stronghold fell in Libya, President Obama extended his “humanitarian” interventionist reach deep into central Africa, sending 100 Special Forces troops to Uganda for later assignment to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the new nation of South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, the French neocolonial outpost where the Americans sent Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide after kidnapping him in 2004. Supposedly, the American Green Berets will hunt for the 2,000 or so fighters of the Lord’s Liberation Army – a force the Ugandans themselves could snuff out if they were not busy acting as America’s mercenaries elsewhere on the continent. (Washington’s other loyal hit man in the region, Rwanda, was cited by a United Nations report as bearing responsibility for some of the millions slaughtered in Congo.)

      NATO’s aggression in Libya was made inevitable when Nigeria, South Africa and Gabon dishonored themselves at the United Nations Security Council by voting in favor of the bogus “No Fly Zone.” The momentum of the Euro-American offensive flows southward, and will soon set much of the continent afire. The Horn of Africa is already a carnal house of flame and famine, engineered by the Americans but fully joined by Africans and their regional institutions. In the west, ECOWAS legitimizes imperial policies, while in the Sahel, Africans scramble to identify targets for the Americans. Each year, most of the continent’s militaries gather round the Americans to learn how to command and control their own troops, thus making their armies useless to resist the real enemy: the U.S. and NATO.

      Betrayed by a political/military class eager to integrate itself into the imperial system on any terms, Africa lies naked to the Euro-Americans.

      It will be up to the slums and the bush to reverse this catastrophe. If the Americans and Europeans are to be resisted, Africans will have to fight their own governments, first.


      * Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford[at]BlackAgendaReport[dot]com
      * This article first appeared at Black Agenda Report.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Measuring African capital flight

      Léonce Ndikumana and James K. Boyce


      cc F S
      ‘Africa is bleeding money, as capital flows into the private accounts of African elites and their accomplices in Western financial centres,’ write Léonce Ndikumana and James K. Boyce, in an excerpt from their new book.

      In March 2010, the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa jointly convened the annual Conference of African Ministers of Finance in Lilongwe, Malawi, around the theme of 'Promoting high level sustainable growth to reduce unemployment in Africa'. The agenda included a high level session on 'the phenomenon of illicit financial flows from Africa and its devastating impact on development prospects'. [1] This reflected increasing recognition that capital flight poses a major development challenge for African countries. The issue is at the heart of discussions of development finance, transparency in public resource management, and the sustainability of external borrowing.

      The magnitude of African capital flight is staggering both in absolute monetary values and relative to GDP. For the thirty-three sub-Saharan African countries for which we have data, we find that more than $700 billion fled the continent between 1970 and 2008. If this capital was invested abroad and earned interest at the going market rates, the accumulated capital loss for these countries over the thirty-nine-year period was $944 billion. By comparison, total GDP for all of sub-Saharan Africa in 2008 stood at $997 billion. [2] Comparisons to Asia and Latin America have found that capital flight from Africa is smaller in sheer dollar terms, but larger relative to the size of the African economy. [3]


      Measurement of capital flight poses daunting challenges, and requires some rather sophisticated statistical detective work. Funds that are acquired illegally, or funnelled abroad illegally, or both, are not entered into the official accounts of African countries. At the same time, the perpetrators of capital flight benefit from the complicity of bankers and other operators who assist in the placement of the funds in foreign havens. The identities of asset holders are often concealed through proxies and by taking advantage of legal screens available in bank secrecy jurisdictions. Nevertheless, researchers have made substantial progress in developing ways to estimate the magnitude of capital flight. This section reviews the methods used in this book. [4]


      Our starting point is the balance of payments (BoP), each country's official record of inflows and outflows of foreign exchange. These data are compiled annually by the IMF on the basis of reports from the central banks of its member governments. The 'current account' of the BoP records international flows arising from trade in goods and services, interest payments and transfers - transactions that do not lead to future claims on resources. The 'capital account' records flows of loans, investments and other financial transactions that entail future claims. Outflows of foreign exchange to the rest of the world, such as debt service or payments for imports, are recorded as debits (denoted by a negative sign). Inflows, such as loan disbursements or payments for exports, are recorded as credits (with a positive sign). [5] The net sum of the current account and the capital account gives the country's overall BoP position, which in principle corresponds to the net change in the country's official reserves of foreign exchange. A BoP surplus, when foreign exchange inflows exceed outflows, translates into a gain in international reserves. A BoP deficit, when outflows exceed inflows, translates into a loss of reserves. In practice, recorded inflows and outflows of foreign exchange seldom match exactly the changes in the country's official foreign exchange reserves. The missing money, or residual, is labelled 'net errors and omissions' in the BoP.

      In the wake of the 1983 Third World debt crisis, it was discovered that the inflows of foreign borrowing recorded in the official BoP were often understated by substantial amounts. As a result, the total stock of external debt, built up over years of borrowing, often exceeded the cumulative borrowing as reported in the BoP. The World Bank independently assembles annual data on the stock of debt. This information, contained in a World Bank database called Global Development Finance (GDF), provides the basis for corrections to the BoP figures. By taking GDF data on changes in debt stocks, substituting this for the BoP data on foreign borrowing, and recalculating net errors and omissions, we can obtain a new residual estimate of missing money. The World Bank (1985) and others pioneered this technique to derive a measure of capital flight. [6]


      In addition to incomplete recording of debt inflows, another well-known source of errors in the official BoP accounts is trade misinvoicing. This can take several forms. Both importers and exporters may manipulate the reported values of their transactions in order to conceal foreign exchange transactions from the country's monetary authorities. In the case of exporters, under-invoicing (by falsely underreporting the quantity of goods exported and/or the price received) evades tax liabilities and reduces the amount of foreign exchange that must be surrendered to the authorities from export receipts. In the case of importers, over-invoicing (by inflating the quantity and/or price of imports) increases the amount of foreign exchange they can obtain on favourable terms from the central bank to pay for imports. Both export under-invoicing and import over-invoicing are important mechanisms for capital flight. When exporters understate the value of their export revenues, they often retain abroad the difference between the true value and the declared value. Similarly, when importers send extra foreign exchange abroad, ostensibly to pay for imports, the excess (minus a commission for their partners) is often deposited in a designated foreign bank account.

      The extent of trade misinvoicing can be estimated by comparing the export and import data provided by an African country to the corresponding import and export data of its trading partners. Both sets of figures are reported in another annual IMF publication, Direction of Trade Statistics. If we assume that the trade data provided to the IMF by the industrialized countries are relatively accurate, the discrepancy between these figures and the data from their African trading partners yields a measure of trade misinvoicing.


      One more item in the BoP statistics that can be an important source of error is workers' remittances. Over the past few decades, many African countries have recorded large and increasing inflows of remittances from their citizens who are working in other African countries, Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States and other industrialized countries. In some African countries, remittances are now larger than conventional external financing from aid or foreign direct investment. However, a substantial fraction of remittance inflows is transferred through informal channels that escape recording in official BoP statistics. The World Bank estimates that unrecorded remittances in African countries account for more than half of total remittance inflows. [11]

      Adjusting for remittance discrepancies is important for accurate measurement of capital flight, as the unrecorded inflows increase the amount of foreign exchange that is available to the country. The effect of unrecorded remittances thus is similar to that of unreported export earnings: the amount of foreign exchange actually entering the African country is greater than what is captured in the official BoP.

      The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has computed alternative measures of workers' remittance inflows by using survey data. [12] The IFAD estimates were derived by combining data on total numbers and locations of migrant workers in 2006 with survey data for various host origin country pairs on the percentage of migrants who send remittances and the average amount sent. The results indicate that the true magnitude of remittance inflows to Africa is substantially underestimated in the BoP data. For example, IFAD estimates that remittance inflows from industrialized countries to Nigeria in 2006 amounted to $5.4 billion, compared to $3.3 billion reported in the official BoP statistics. For Angola, the BoP reports no remittances whatsoever in that year, whereas the IFAD estimate shows an inflow of $969 million.


      To obtain measures for the period from 1970 to 2008, the final step is to convert the annual flows into figures that are comparable across different years, since a dollar outflow in 1970 is not the same as a dollar outflow in 2008.


      Using the method described above, we estimated the amount of capital flight from thirty-three sub-Saharan African countries for which adequate data are available for most years. [16] The numbers are eye opening. Total capital flight from these countries over the 1970-2008 period (in 2008 US dollars) amounted to $735 billion. This is equivalent to roughly 80 per cent of the combined GDP of these countries in 2008.

      If the funds that left African countries during this period were invested in assets that earned the interest rate on short-term US treasury bills, the cumulative stock of flight capital with imputed interest earnings in 2008 would amount to $944 billion. In practice, of course, the fate of the missing money in most cases is unknown. Undoubtedly some of it was not invested, but instead was dissipated in Parisian shopping sprees and other consumption. On the other hand, some may have yielded returns above the fairly conservative US treasury bill rate. Whatever the rate of return that accrued on average to African flight capital, its cumulative stock with imputed interest earnings is a reasonable indicator of the opportunity cost of the failure to invest these funds productively in Africa. It also provides the most appropriate measure for comparison to Africa's external debts, since these accrue interest regardless of how the borrowed money was used.

      Our $944 billion estimate of the cumulative stock of African flight capital closely matches the total wealth of Africa's high net worth individuals (HNWIs) as reported in World Wealth Report, an annual publication of the financial services firms Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management which tracks the holdings of HNWIs around the globe. The report defines HNWIs as people with investable personal assets of $1 million or more. The total wealth of Africa's HNWIs peaked, according to this source, at $1 trillion in 2007 before slipping to $800 billion in 2008 as a result of the global financial crisis. [17]

      Table 2.2 African capital flight: the top ten [table abridged to show only total real capital flight, in $ billion]

      Source: Authors' computations


      Focusing on the dollar amount of capital flight may give a misleading sense of relative burdens, since in smaller economies even a modest outflow could represent a substantial drain. For example, total capital flight over the period was equivalent to 614 per cent of the 2008 GDP for São Tomé and Príncipe, 493 per cent for Seychelles, 384 per cent for Burundi, and 312 per cent for Sierra Leone. By this measure the burden of capital flight was substantial for a number of large economies, too: 807 per cent of 2008 GDP for Zimbabwe, 265 per cent for the Democratic Republic of Congo, 223 per cent for the Republic of Congo, and 194 per cent for Côte d'Ivoire.


      It is now time to balance the books. How much net financial wealth does Africa have, given its external assets and liabilities? To answer this question, we compare external assets, as measured by the cumulative stock of capital flight, to external debt. The assets accumulated by means of capital flight are private, while the external debts are public liabilities owed to the creditors by the people of Africa through 'their' governments.

      Not all of the capital that fled sub-Saharan Africa can be presumed to have been saved and invested so as to earn normal rates of return. As we have noted, some of the money was spent on consumption, and some savings may have earned sub-normal rates of return. Our measure of cumulative capital flight, including interest earnings, therefore does not exactly equal the external assets held by private Africans today. We nonetheless believe that a comparison between the stock of capital flight and the external debt can provide a reasonable indicator of Africa's net wealth. By this measure, sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world by a substantial margin. The cumulative stock of capital flight from the thirty-three countries covered in this book stood at $944 billion in 2008, compared to external debts of $177 billion. By this measure, these countries had positive net external assets to the tune of $767 billion (see Table 2.2). In other words, the rest of the world owes more to these African countries than they owe to the rest of the world. This suggests that Africa could expunge its entire stock of foreign debt if it could recover only a fraction of the wealth held by Africans in foreign financial centres around the world.

      Many millions of Africans are desperately poor. But the continent is rich. According to the World Wealth Report, the continent had roughly 100,000 high net worth individuals in 2008, twice as many as a decade before. Of these, about 1,800 were 'ultra-high net worth individuals', with at least $30 million each in investable assets. [24] Together these rich Africans held about $800 billion in investable assets in 2008.

      Compared to other regions, African private wealth holders exhibit a stronger preference for foreign assets as opposed to domestic assets. According to a study by researchers at the World Bank and IMF, an astonishing 40 per cent of Africa's total private wealth was held abroad as flight capital in 1990. The corresponding figure for South Asia was 5 per cent. For East Asia it was 6 per cent, and for Latin America 10 per cent. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia had similar levels of total private wealth per worker, but in sub-Saharan Africa capital flight amounted to $696 per worker whereas in South Asia it was only $90 per worker. As a result, private domestic capital per worker in Africa was less than 60 per cent of what it was in South Asia. [25]

      High net worth individuals typically have more internationally diversified portfolios than their poorer countrymen. According to the World Wealth Report, high net worth individuals in the Asia-Pacific region hold 32 per cent of their assets abroad and those in Latin America hold 55 per cent abroad, percentages roughly five times higher than the overall averages for these regions reported by the World Bank and the IMF. [26] If the same pattern holds in Africa, this would suggest that the greater part of the wealth of high net worth Africans is invested abroad. In this respect, the ultra-rich of Africa today are unlike the robber barons of years gone by in the industrialized countries, who whatever their misdeeds at least did invest in their nations' economies.

      The preference for foreign assets and aversion to domestic investment comes at a high opportunity cost to African economies. In the case of legally acquired assets, the continent is deprived of the gains that would accrue from investment at home, not only losing income and jobs, but also forgoing government revenue that could fund public services. In the case of illegally acquired assets, African countries lose twice: first, they are robbed through fraud and embezzlement; then they are further deprived of any benefits that would trickle down if the loot were invested at home.


      Africa is bleeding money, as capital flows into the private accounts of African elites and their accomplices in Western financial centres. At the same time, the continent is in dire need of financing. For Africa to overcome widespread and extreme poverty, it needs sustained and sustainable economic growth. This will require very large increases in the levels of domestic investment, especially in infrastructure. [27]

      Researchers and development institutions have invested considerable time and energy to prove that African countries need more resources to meet their infrastructure financing needs. The 2009 Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic report concluded that Africa's middle-income countries need investment of about 10 per cent of GDP per year in infrastructure alone. [28] Investment needs for low-income African countries are higher at about 15 per cent of GDP annually. To achieve these levels, the continent's investment would need to be scaled up by at least $100 billion per year to nearly double the current level.

      To get a first-hand sense of the immensity of the problem, one need only experience any of the cities in sub-Saharan Africa. In July 2009, one of the authors of this book, Léonce Ndikumana, visited Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, to attend a meeting of the African Caucus of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. Although this was his first trip to Sierra Leone, he did not expect any surprises; after all, he was going to an African country, and he had been in quite a number of them. But the visit to Freetown turned out to be an opportunity to experience something new: a city that is effectively cut off from its own airport. To get from the airport to the city, there are three options: a very long road trip around the bay that separates the two; a ferry that is subject to long waits and the risk of capsizing due to overloading; or a seven-minute ride in a helicopter, which is most convenient (for those who can afford it) but also risky, since these have been known to drop in bad weather with no survivors. On this occasion, the helicopter made the journey safely. The cost of building a bridge to link the city to the airport has been estimated at $400 million, a modest fraction of the $6 billion in capital flight that has left Sierra Leone since 1970. [29] Despite the economic benefits that such a bridge would bring to the country and the region, the government has not been able to mobilize the necessary money.

      Sierra Leone is by no means alone in its dire lack of basic infrastructure. In fact, apart from the helicopter, Ndikumana's experience in Sierra Leone was little different from what he encounters in his native country, Burundi, when he visits his commune of Vugizo in the south. The commune has the agricultural potential to feed the towns and cities in the province and beyond, but it is landlocked and has poor access to markets. During the rainy season, it can take two hours to drive the 40-kilometre stretch of dirt track linking it to the nearest paved road. [30]

      The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving extreme poverty by 2015 remains elusive for much of Africa. The MDG Africa Steering Group estimated in 2008 that for Africa to achieve this and related development goals, public external financing would have to increase by $72 billion per year in the medium term. [31] Were Africa able to recoup only a fraction of what it has lost in capital flight, this would go a long way towards filling this gap. The United Nations Economic Commission on Africa estimated in 1999 that an investment/GDP ratio of 34 per cent would be required to achieve a 7 per cent GDP growth rate in Africa, which would cut poverty by half by 2015. [32] This investment target is in reach for African countries if they can manage to stem capital flight and recoup some of the money stolen in the past. [33] Otherwise, efforts to mobilize additional development financing for growth and poverty reduction will yield only limited results.


      Sub-Saharan African governments badly need tax revenue to bridge the large deficits in the provision of public goods, including not only infrastructure but also health and education. [34] Some resource-rich countries have seen revenue gains thanks to natural resource booms, but these may prove to be transient. Meanwhile, very few non-resource-rich African countries have recorded sustained increases in revenue. [35]

      Countries with higher capital flight tend to have lower tax revenue, as can be seen in Figure 2.3. There are two reasons for this negative relationship. First, capital flight directly erodes the tax base by subtracting from it private wealth and income earnings on that wealth. Second, high capital flight is symptomatic of an environment characterized by corruption and weak regulation, circumstances that both promote capital flight and undermine tax administration. (In contrast, if capital flight were motivated primarily by a desire to escape high taxes, one would expect the opposite correlation: countries with less tax revenue would tend to have less capital flight.)

      If we look at the 'tax effort' - the ratio of the actual tax revenue to the potential revenue based on the country's economic structure and level of development - we find that actual tax performance in sub-Saharan Africa generally remains well below potential, and that resource-rich countries tend to perform even worse in this respect than resource-scarce countries. [36] In the case of Nigeria, for example, when oil rents are excluded, the tax effort index is 0.44, meaning that the country is generating only 44 per cent of its potential tax revenue from non-oil sectors. In Angola, the corresponding index is 0.39. Natural resource revenues are often poorly mobilized, too. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, it is reported that gold exports can reach up to one billion dollars a year, but these exports generate a negligible $37,000 in tax revenue. [37]

      Rampant tax exemptions contribute to low revenues. Often exemptions are awarded not on the basis of the criteria set by the law - which typically aim to stimulate private economic activity, for example by means of tax incentives - but rather on the basis of the political influence of individuals and firms. As a result, tax revenue may not follow the expansion of private sector activity and private wealth. A case study on Ethiopia, where resource inflows to the private sector are increasing but the proceeds from corporate taxation are declining, estimates that the revenue forgone through exemptions doubled between 2005 and 2007. [38] At the same time, Ethiopia has a relatively high nominal income tax rate, which may contribute to greater tax fraud. Taxes that are high in theory thus can be low in practice, owing to both legal exemptions and illegal evasion.

      Capital flight has substantial adverse distributional effects, too, exacerbating gaps between rich and poor. The rich, by virtue of the fact that they hold a larger share of their assets abroad, are shielded from the wealth effects of devaluation of the national currency. Indeed, they may benefit from devaluation, as this allows them to reap windfall gains if they bring some of their capital back into the country. Since capital flight itself puts pressure on the exchange rate, it increases the likelihood of this exchange rate effect.

      At the same time, by depressing government tax revenue, capital flight adversely affects the poorer segments of the population who depend most heavily on publicly funded services. For example, when the government is unable to provide adequate medical supplies and qualified health personnel for public hospitals, the poor who cannot afford the alternative of going to private clinics suffer the most. The same goes for education.


      * Excerpted with permission of the authors from: ‘Africa's Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent’, by Léonce Ndikumana and James K. Boyce. Zed Books, 2011.
      * This excerpt was first published by AfricaFocus Bulletin, an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on US and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Foreign aid to mining firms

      CIDA teams up with NGOs to do development work at mine sites

      Gwendolyn Schulman and Roberto Nieto


      cc R O
      A new Canadian funding approach raises some serious ethical and political questions about the role of NGOs and constitutes a veritable PR coup for a mining industry discredited for environmental and human rights abuses.

      As excavators, heavy haulers and chemical treatment plants dig made-in-Canada mines around the world, Ottawa has taken new steps to ease growing criticism of Canada’s extractive sector.

      The Harper government recently announced a publicly funded agreement between three of Canada’s mining giants and three of Canada’s leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The agreement, which marks a significant shift in how mining and politics mix, elicited little more than a yawn from the media. But a closer look reveals this partnership is transforming Canada’s aid landscape — with disturbing implications.

      ‘The Canadian government is using aid to support the expansion of Canadian mining...[and] to determine development paths inside countries according to the logic of mining companies,’ Yao Graham of Third World Network Africa, a research and advocacy organization based in Ghana, told The Dominion. Graham has seen many communities in Africa ravaged by the exploitative labour practices and lax environmental practices that often accompany mining megaprojects.

      In the first phase of this new program, the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) has partnered Rio Tinto Alcan; Plan Canada is paired up with IAMGOLD; and World Vision Canada has joined forces with Barrick Gold. This new funding approach raises some serious ethical and political questions about the role of NGOs, and constitutes a veritable PR coup for a mining industry that has racked up quite the rap sheet of environmental and human rights abuses.

      Critics argue that under this new dispensation, industry can counter resistance to its activities by claiming that its presence has brought development to impoverished communities. Cash-strapped NGOs, in an era of shrinking government funding for international development, have found a funding niche. Last but not least, the Canadian government is able to deflect demands for more stringent — and potentially profit-damaging — controls over one of its most lucrative industries.

      In the past, while NGOs were bound by financial ties to the state, they still had some nominal autonomy to bear witness to that abuse. Now, they are increasingly tied to government funds earmarked to further Canada’s mining interests, topped up by money from the mining industry itself.

      ‘When a mine goes in, there is a development deficit created immediately because there are impacts that can last literally thousands of years on water, on land, on the air,’ said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. ‘And these impacts can be devastating. It can mean that people literally have to leave that area and live somewhere else because they can’t live there anymore.’

      Coumans, who has kept a watchful eye on this evolving relationship, argues that whatever project an NGO gets up and running in one of these mining communities cannot even begin to redress the damage caused by the mining company’s presence there. She calls the NGO presence at mining sites ‘a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.’

      Chris Eaton, the Executive Director of WUSC, sees things differently. He argues that this closer working relationship between NGOs and the mining sector will be an opportunity for organizations like WUSC to ‘nudge along good practice.’ He is confident that WUSC’s role in building the capacity of local government to engage with mining companies will reap greater benefits for local people.

      Plan Canada, another beneficiary under the new government initiative, did not return our calls. Plan Canada will receive $5.7 million from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to fund activities relating to IAMGOLD’s mining activities in 13 communities in Burkina Faso.

      Plan Canada could be in for a rough ride. Last May, IAMGOLD had to close down operations at its Essakane mine in Burkina Faso due to labour unrest. The company’s CEO, Steve Letwin, warned that he would not tolerate an ‘illegal’ strike ‘and as they will find out, will not tolerate anything that has a negative impact on our stakeholders.’

      Given Plan Canada’s stated commitment to ‘work in the best interests of children and the communities in which we work’ will they be prepared to risk their multi-million dollar funding to speak out in protection of their ‘stakeholders’ — namely the communities in which they work — should labour unrest become an issue there?

      For the Canadian government, this new troika is simply the latest step in a long process of prying open the door on the planet’s mineral wealth to the benefit of the extractive industry. The last decade saw the Canadian government provide technical and financial support to create industry-friendly mining codes around the world. The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability documented how government initiatives in Colombia and Tanzania have translated into weaker environmental and social safeguards, reduced royalties for the host countries and new tax holidays.

      Canadian cash, technocrats and know-how have also been involved in rewriting mining codes in Malawi, Ghana, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (with, in this last case, civil war as a backdrop). All this has led to rising profits for Canadian companies and dwindling revenues for host countries.

      Now that many official hurdles to access to overseas mineral wealth have come down, the government has turned its attention to partnering NGOs with mining firms. At the local level, this kind of agreement is cause for suspicion.

      The Canadian government is turning its back on a deeper examination of the structural problems in the relationship between First World mining firms and Third World resources, says Third World Network’s Graham, instead opting for what he calls a ‘palliative’ approach. “It’s a way of sidestepping the need for companies to pay more revenue because they can say, ‘We are doing so much for the community. Why do we have to put more into the central treasury?’”

      The mining industry’s dismal reputation is its Achilles heel. Concern about its poor track record overseas is growing — even the mainstream media is starting to take note.

      Despite the clarion call from Canadians to put guidelines and mechanisms in place to keep the industry in check, the government has opted for optics instead. ‘The Canadian government is very anxious about the reputation of mining companies and instead of accountability, it is putting money into projects that show that mining leads to development,’ said Coumans. In her view, it is now taxpayers that are footing the bill to polish a tarnished corporate image.

      ‘CIDA has always worked government-to-government,’ said Coumans. ‘Now what CIDA is doing is channelling Canadian taxpayer money directly to the mine site and basically paying for corporate social responsibility projects, and that is very bizarre.’

      WUSC-Rio Tinto Alcan project
      Total budget: $928,000 over 3 years
      CIDA: $500,000
      WUSC/Rio Tinto Alcan: $428,000
      Rio Tinto net profit in 2010: $726,000,000

      Plan Canada-IAMGOLD project
      Total budget: $7.6 million over 5.5 years
      CIDA: $5.7 million
      Plan Canada: $0.9 million
      IAMGOLD: $1 million
      IAMGOLD gross profit in 2010: $597,000,000

      World Vision-Barrick Gold project
      Total budget: $1 million over 3.5 years
      CIDA: $500,000
      World Vision/Barrick Gold: $500,000
      Barrick Gold net profit in 2010: $3,279,000,000

      Source: Canadian International Development Agency,

      Eaton insists that WUSC’s work is about community empowerment, not corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. ‘I don’t think the government should be funding NGOs to do the CSR of mining firms, and I don’t see ourselves doing that in the context of this initiative,’ he said.

      In the swirl of controversy around this corporate shift in government aid policy, one thing is clear: the Canadian mining sector has emerged the big winner.

      Last year the Canadian mining sector led a successful lobby effort to defeat Bill C-300, the Bill that would have seen the introduction of minor controls on the unregulated overseas activities of Canada’s mining industry.

      Now, this same powerful sector has access to even more government funds as well as NGO know-how to help revamp its public image. Little wonder the Mining Association of Canada recently issued a press release encouraging the federal government to continue its support for Canada’s CSR Strategy. It knows a good thing when it sees it.


      * This article was first published in The Dominion.
      * Roberto Nieto is a Montreal-based independent journalist and activist who has worked for unions, and as an organizer in support of migrant workers. He is a regular contributor to Amandla!, Canada’s longest running African current affairs radio show. Gwendolyn Schulman is co-founder and co-host of Amandla!
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      In search of the voice of the South

      Vijay Prashad


      cc Wikimedia
      With international diplomacy at the UN deadlocked on issues like climate change, new regional formations offer a way forward.

      An air of busyness fills the conference chamber of the United Nations in Geneva. Arabic dances past French on the escalators, as delegates from the UN Missions and from accredited NGOs go from meeting room to meeting room, with an occasional stop at the café that overlooks the beautifully appointed Ariana Park. The Palais des Nations was built in the 1930s to house the League of Nations, the ill-fated body that was swept away by the second European war. When the United Nations was formed, the Palais became its second home, after New York City. Bizarrely, Switzerland only joined the UN in 2002 (many things puzzle one about Switzerland, such as women only got the right to vote in 1971).

      Building E in the Palais is marked by its era, namely the 1960s. One room, the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilization Room was recently redecorated with money from the Spanish government. It is where the Human Rights Council meets. The temperature around the room was white hot in the first days of December. The Council was discussing Syria. The European Union with pressure from the United States had called for the special session (the Arab League was also there, playing a similar role as with Libya).

      The resolution that came to the table seemed photocopied from the UN resolution on Libya: it called upon the Secretary General of the UN to take “all necessary measures” to support the Arab League’s posture against Syria. Thirty-seven of the forty-seven countries on the Council voted for the measure. That Russia and China joined Cuba and Ecuador to vote against the resolution means that there is no chance of a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize military intervention. The Russians and the Chinese worried of “unforeseen and very serious consequences” if such an intervention took place. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, took a strong stand against Syria, warning that the State’s “ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into full-fledged civil war.” Unlike with Libya, Pillay did not use the word “genocide.” As I trolled the hallways a serious diplomat said that his government would not allow itself to be used as it had over Libya. For some, the Libyan adventure presents a Model for intervention; for others it is an example of being taken for a ride.

      * * *

      Elsewhere in the building, delegates sat as if paralyzed in a meeting on climate change. This meeting was being held concurrent with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-17) conference in Durban, South Africa. No agenda seemed possible in either Durban or Geneva. The situation was so bleak that Dr. Kosi Latu, a leader of the small island states, complained about the direction of the debate. Of course, he said, development, poverty reduction and building green economies should be on the agenda, “but for us in the Pacific, it’s more than that. I’m talking about the survival of our peoples in the sense that due to climate change impacts, we stand to lose our land, our histories and cultures, our nationalities.”

      Geneva, on December 1, seemed extraordinarily warm to me. There was no sign of snow, and little chill in the air. Would a warm Europe mean the submergence of more small islands? Last year, the Bay of Bengal Island (which India calls New Moore Island and Bangladesh calls South Talpatti) vanished. As India and Bangladesh quarreled about names and ownership, the ocean reclaimed the land. The UN predicts that at current rates about seventeen percent of Bangladesh will similarly be lost, with twenty million people displaced. The UN has been hampered on the climate refugee front on two grounds. The first is empirical with a 2005 predication that there might be fifty million such refugees by 2010 come to naught (the UN has now said that the real date is 2020). The second is political and it is derives fuel from the empirical errors. The Atlantic powers do not want to see the International Organisation for Migration increase their definition to include “climate refugees” and so to force the North to absorb more such asylum seekers in the future.

      Martin Khor of the South Centre expressed guarded hope in Bonn earlier this year that some kind of framework might emerge out of the Durban meeting on climate change. Part of this hope seemed to come from his assessment that “Durban is the last chance to continue with the Kyoto Protocol without a gap,” for the United States seemed eager to let Kyoto lapse which would give everyone else less motivation to make any effort on reducing carbon emissions.

      With only five percent of the world’s population, the United States takes up a quarter of world’s energy consumption; absent serious reductions of carbon use in the U. S. means that any carbon policy for the planet will be seriously compromised. Egypt’s Ambassador in Geneva, Hisham Badr, who survived the Arab Spring to keep his old job, was much more despondent. No deal would be possible he said “short of a miracle or a last minute package coming down from a parachute.”

      To “green” has come to mean nuclear and biofuels, geo-engineering and alternative oils (shale, tar sands) – it is the corporate capture of the Green idea. Much of this was on display. The level of mendacity is hard to measure or capture. For every bureaucrat there seemed to be a consultant, and one of these consultants told me that they want to “public-private” the Green business (with “public-private being a convenient cover for privatization,” he put it proudly). Consultants like to use nouns as verbs (what linguists call “verbing”). They see it as innovation and dynamism.
Obama’s top man at Durban, Jonathan Pershing sugarcoated the U. S. intransigence. “We are late in the game,” he said, “but we are doing real things to catch up” (such as auto emission standards and a smoke and mirrors energy efficiency policy). The crucial statement was that there are “infinite pathways” to a new deal on Climate, and these do not include carbon cuts before 2020. There was no talk of cap-and-trade, the summum bonum of liberal environmentalism. The 2020 date is convenient. It is after Obama’s putative second presidential term. He has effectively kicked the ball out of his own ballpark.

      * * *

      An old UN hand once described the electric mood in the hallways in New York and Geneva when the Soviet Union was in existence and when the Non-Aligned Movement had energy. Ideological differences gave room for debate and disagreement. What you have now is sullenness with most of the world defensive and annoyed with the arrogance of the United States and the other members of the Group of Seven (mainly Britain and France).
In 1955, Time captured a sense of the diplomatic world of the Cold War, “Among the occupational temptations that befall diplomats is the desire to keep up appearances after it becomes impossible to keep up negotiations. Despite this itch to preserve a fictitious continuity, at certain moments in history pretense halts, and a cold finality can be plainly seen.” There is no such pretense today. The Cold Finality is the general condition of international diplomacy.

I was at a UN Special Session on the 50th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The NAM was founded in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1961 as the spear of the Third World Project. For its first twenty years, the NAM played a crucial role in building up the integrity of the United Nations and placing the NAM agenda of social development and peace on the UN’s central tables. Because of the Third World Project, the UN created the International Atomic Energy Agency (1957) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (1964). These were crucial to the creation of a way for the vast mass of nations outside the Cold War between the West and the East. By the 1980s, and particularly after the debt crisis, the Third World Project collapsed and NAM went into a Rip Van Winkle sleep. It has not woken up yet.

A veteran of the NAM, Algerian diplomat Idriss Jazairy sharpened his rapier as he spoke at the Special Session. Current world powers, he stressed, have “distorted interpretations of legitimate international concepts.” In 1973, the Algerians proposed a radical measure, the New International Economic Order (NIEO), to reshape the political and economic policy between states. Jazairy was at that time the advisor to the Algerian president on International and Economic matters. NIEO was close to his heart. No wonder that it was Jazairy who told the gathering that the Third World’s thrust had gone from “seeking transformation to being told to be in compliance of norms.”

      None of the Atlantic powers graced the room. They had made their peace with the UN. When Henry Kissinger gave Daniel Patrick Moynihan his brief for the UN post in 1973, he said, “We need a strategy. In principle, I think we should move things from the General Assembly to the Security Council. It is important to see that we have our confidence and nerve.” Kissinger wanted Moynihan to “get hold of the Specialized Agencies,” such as UNCTAD and UNESCO. When the UN General Assembly passed a resolution in 1975 arguing that Zionism is Racism, Moynihan used it to demonize the UN General Assembly (his memoir on his UN years is called A Dangerous Place). The U. S. proceeded to clean house, using its power to excise the NAM agenda from the UN agencies and cordoning off serious discussions from the General Assembly. The paralysis at the UN has been the greatest success of American imperial ambitions.

      Inside the room for the seminar co-sponsored by UNCTAD and an NGO (the Energy Pact Foundation) a young Chinese diplomat, a lawyer by training, took extensive notes and expressed interest in the history that he did not otherwise know. Ambassador Sayed Mohammed Reza Sajjadi spoke at the opening panel as the incoming chair of the NAM, and for his presence the Iranian delegation stayed in the room. A bored-looking Saudi diplomat sat at one end, and an engaged young Algerian at the other. A few Asian representatives sat near a few African ones. The young man who represented the Holy See was poised, and well disposed to the humanist thrust in the room. A number of UN bureaucrats went in and out, and one of them, UNCTAD’s chief of the Unit on Economic Cooperation Richard Kozul-Wright offered a remedial introduction to the now submerged UNCTAD line that was first formulated by the remarkable Raul Prebisch in the 1960s. UNCTAD had warned against finance-driven globalization, he pointed out, and hoped for development-led globalization.

      Stepping away from nostalgia was the Bolivian ambassador, Angélica Navarro Llanos, who provided a polished analysis of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas). Ambassador Navarro indicated how much of the discussion about ALBA takes place around its political impact (this kind of thing was intensified the next day, when in Caracas Hugo Chavez spearheaded the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a political alliance absent the United States and Canada that is designed to undermine the Organization of the American States). ALBA, Ambassador Navarro pointed out, also has an economic agenda – with the creation of the virtual sucre currency for cross-border trade and with the increase in mutual trade rather than reliance upon the United States and Europe for private final consumption (the Atlantic world accounts for two thirds of all such consumption, with China only able to absorb three percent).

The NAM is exhausted, but it is regional formations such as the ALBA and the new Community that offer a way ahead.

      * * *

      Not often do I get to run into an Iranian diplomat. The attack on the British embassy in Tehran had just taken place. Michelle Bachmann had said that if she becomes president, she would close down the U. S. embassy in Iran (the U. S. has not had an embassy there since 1979). The diplomat looked puzzled when I asked him what he thought of Bachmann. “Who is she,” he asked? Who indeed.


      * This article was first published by Counter Punch.
      * Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. His most recent book, ‘The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World’, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad[at]trincoll[dot]edu
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      The Durban denouement

      How South Africa's COP presidency served EU

      Yoke Ling Chee

      Third World Network


      cc UN Climate Change
      Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in her capacity as president of the COP 17, was a key player, writes Yoke Ling Chee. It is hard to not conclude that the EU agenda was at the forefront of the presidency’s preoccupations.


      This summary by Third World Network's Yoke Ling Chee is very useful for giving so-far unreported details on the power blocs that formed in Durban's closing hours: Nkoana-Mashabane, in her capacity as president of the COP 17/CMP 7 was a key player. It was hard over the 15 days to not conclude that the EU agenda was at the forefront of the presidency’s preoccupations... the only change that entered the document was from the EU to include an option of an eight-year commitment period as opposed to five years (this was in the Chair’s draft and reflects the position of almost all developing countries because low pledges over a longer period means even less real emissions reduction)... many developing country parties are concerned that there is still no legally binding second commitment period as envisaged under the Kyoto Protocol; the ambition level is too low compared to what is required by science; there is no aggregate number for the overall greenhouse gases reduction with each Party free to set its own level; and the length of the commitment period is uncertain (it can be five or eight years to be decided in 2012).

      Some expert observers are of the view that the essentially voluntary nature of the Durban decision, with no political support for any more commitment periods, will mark the effective end of the Kyoto Protocol. This weak decision was nevertheless adopted in a manner that poses a serious threat to the multilateral, open, inclusive and transparent decision-making processes that we expect of the UN. The South African presidency, the Chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWGKP) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWGLCA) (Daniel Reifsnyder of the US) and some who would never be officially named wielded considerable influence by ultimately shaping draft decisions that they considered were ‘balanced’ and ‘politically achievable’.)


      (Chee Yoke Ling)

      The Kyoto Protocol was given a political boost in Durban.

      In Cancun last year the climate talks ended with the protocol relegated to intensive care. As the Durban climate conference was extended officially by an extra day, and finally closed after 6am on Sunday 11 December after another all-nighter, pressures mounted and an injection was given that allowed an official announcement of ‘success’ in adopting a decision on the next round of greenhouse gases emissions cut by developed countries.

      But what did Durban actually deliver?

      Unfortunately, what emerged were still pledges by developed countries that have indicated their intention to take on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (KP) to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. Even these are conditional on the domestic processes of some developed country parties or a new legally binding agreement on greenhouse gases emissions reduction that would effectively replace the KP.

      Those under a legal obligation to take on cuts are developed countries and countries with economies in transition listed in Annex 1 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Of the Annex 1 countries that are parties to the KP, the United States is notably absent.

      But the US agreed in 2007 at the Bali climate conference that it would take ‘comparable efforts’ to KP parties in reducing its own huge emissions. The quid pro quo was that developing countries would take nationally appropriate mitigation actions (with financial and technology support from developed countries including the US) as a trade-off to pull in the US into the global mitigation effort. This set of actions under the UNFCCC would complement the KP second commitment period of emissions cuts so that we move more quickly to slow down global temperature increase.

      Meanwhile the KP legal regime was designed to avoid a gap between the first and second commitment periods, and so in December 2005 the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWGKP) was mandated to ‘to consider further commitments for Parties included in Annex I for the period beyond 2012 in accordance with Article 3, paragraph 9, of the Protocol’. The specific mandate is to agree on the reduction targets in aggregate and individually or jointly of Annex 1 Parties.

      The first commitment period ran from 2008 and ends on 31 December 2012. As thousands of participants arrived in Durban, more than five years of negotiations in the AWGKP failed to yield an agreement, with only very low pledges made by mainly European countries. Since 2007 Annex 1 Parties had also increased their demands and conditions on developing countries such as China and India to take on mitigation commitments in a new legally binding treaty, with the mistaken hope that this would also pull the US into taking action. As many observers and developing country delegates remarked again and again, if the US Administration cannot even get a domestic climate law passed in the US Congress how can it be part of any new international treaty?

      However, before Durban, the European Union already made it clear that it wanted its ‘roadmap’ adopted in Durban: it would accept a ‘political’ second commitment period (not a finalized legal amendment to the KP to be adopted in Durban to incorporate a second commitment period) on the condition that a new treaty process be launched. This new treaty would replace the KP.

      On the other hand, developing countries were one voice in strongly insisting that the level of mitigation ambition of the second commitment must be in accordance with the requirements of science and there must be no gap after 2012 (as agreed by all KP Parties). The KP must be kept alive and its implementation strengthened – the fact that the KP covers only Annex 1 Parties is because of their historical responsibility for global warming and equity requires them to take the lead to do more.

      Besides, since 2010 with the Cancun decisions, developing countries (except for least developed countries and small island states) have already committed to take mitigation actions that will be subject to international transparency requirements, beyond their UNFCCC obligations. So the pressure was intense in Durban as to who will be responsible for ‘killing’ the KP if no second commitment period was accepted.

      The South African government that hosted the 17th and 7th meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UNFCCC, and the COP serving as the Meeting of Parties to the KP (CMP 7), respectively, was determined to have a success under their watch. Foreign Minister Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in her capacity as president of the COP 17/CMP 7 was a key player. It was hard over the 15 days to not conclude that the EU agenda was at the forefront of the presidency’s preoccupations.

      At an informal joint plenary of the COP and CMP on the night of 10 December, the ‘Durban package’ was presented to parties comprising: (i) the second commitment period for emissions reductions by Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol; (ii) a decision on the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWGLCA); (iii) a decision on the Green Climate Fund; and (iv) an agreement on the establishment of a new ad hoc working group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (to develop ‘a protocol or other legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force’. The ‘Durban Platform’ document triggered strong statements, disagreements among developed and developing countries and considerable frustration and confusion.

      Mashabane asked parties to adopt each of the decisions without further debate and amendments when they are presented during the formal sessions of the COP and the CMP respectively, saying that parties required ‘assurances from each other to agree to all the draft decisions’, clearly suggesting a take-it-or-leave-it approach.

      Up until the last hours of the conference, when the AWGKP met after the informal joint plenary, there was still no consensus on the draft decision on the second commitment period prepared by the AWGKP Chair, Adrian Macey of New Zealand. Proposals by several developing countries to strengthen the decision were not accepted, and the only change that entered the document was from the EU to include an option of an eight-year commitment period as opposed to five years (this was in the Chair’s draft and reflects the position of almost all developing countries because low pledges over a longer period means even less real emissions reduction).

      After a heated debate, with several developing country parties expressing frustration and disappointment, Macey decided to transmit the draft decision under his own responsibility for approval by the CMP 7.

      As the dust settles in the aftermath of the Durban conference, many developing country parties are concerned that there is still no legally binding second commitment period as envisaged under the KP; the ambition level is too low compared to what is required by science; there is no aggregate number for the overall greenhouse gases reduction with each party free to set its own level; and the length of the commitment period is uncertain (it can be five or eight years to be decided in 2012). Some expert observers are of the view that the essentially voluntary nature of the Durban decision, with no political support for any more commitment periods, will mark the effective end of the KP.

      This weak decision was nevertheless adopted in a manner that poses a serious threat to the multilateral, open, inclusive and transparent decision-making processes that we expect of the UN. The South African Presidency, the Chairs of the AWGKP and the AWGLCA (Daniel Reifsnyder of the US) and some who would never be officially named wielded considerable influence by ultimately shaping draft decisions that they considered were ‘balanced’ and ‘politically achievable’.

      During the AWGKP plenary from about 6.30pm to 8.15pm, Nicaragua, on behalf of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Bolivia and Kenya proposed specific amendments to strengthen the draft decision, expressing deep concerns over the weak operative paragraphs through the use of terms such as ‘takes note’ (rather than ‘acknowledge’) and ‘invites’ (rather than ‘mandate’).

      The paragraphs concerned and later adopted by the CMP 7 without any change are as follows:

      Para 3: ‘Takes note of the proposed amendments to the Kyoto Protocol’ developed by the AWGKP contained in the Annexes of the Decision;

      Para 4: ‘Further takes note of the quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets to be implemented by Parties included in Annex I as communicated by them … and of the intention of these Parties to convert these targets to quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives (QELROs) for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol’;

      Para 5: ‘Invites Parties included in Annex I listed in Annex 1 to this decision to submit information on their QELROs for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol by 1 May 2012 for consideration by” the AWGKP in its 17th session in 2012’.

      Other Parties including Venezuela and Saudi Arabia also spoke strongly on the weakness of these paragraphs as a way forward for the KP.

      Bolivia also pointed out that the weakness of preambular paragraph nine that states, ‘Aiming to ensure that aggregate emissions of greenhouse gases by Parties included in Annex I are reduced by at least 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 …’

      It expressed concern that this range (25-40 percent) is too big; it does not give a clear answer of how much of the greenhouse gases should be reduced for the next years. What is needed are single numbers of intention of how much reduction will be made, Bolivia said.

      Kenya proposed the insertion in the preamble paragraph eight the words: ‘to ensure no gap between the first and second commitment periods of the KP’. It asked for replacement of preamble paragraph nine with, ‘Reaffirming that immediate action shall be taken by Annex 1 Parties to ensure that the emissions reduction commitments are science-based and sufficient to contribute in an equitable manner towards limiting the global average temperature increase to well below below 1.5 degrees Centigrade above industrial levels in a time frame that protects the ecosystem, food production and sustainable development’.

      It concurred with those who find the language in paragraphs 3, 4, 5 and 6 as weak and this should be strengthened. It also proposed paragraph 6b: ‘Decides that the second CP shall apply to all Parties immediately upon the conclusion of the first commitment period … and shall apply on a provisional basis until entry into force of the amendment of each Party’.

      Nicaragua made several proposals that it repeated at the CMP 7 final plenary (see below).

      The European Union made three amendment proposals. The first was to include the option of ending the second commitment period in 2020 (Macey’s text stated 2017) and this was accepted even though several countries including Grenada, Bolivia, Gambia, Kenya and Colombia had spoken against the change.

      Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s Climate Change Commissioner, said it had been raised in the ministerial consultations and that there is a general understanding that there has to be a symmetry between what we do in the KP and the LCA (long term cooperative action under the UNFCCC that is addressed by a separate ad hoc working group), and so it must be 2020.

      (The year 2020 relates to the decision subsequently adopted by the UNFCCC COP on a new process of negotiations to commence work in the first half of 2012 and to be completed no later than 2015 in order for the adoption of a protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention, applicable to all Parties, in 2015 and for it to come into effect and be implemented from 2020. See TWN Durban Update No. 25: Major clash of paradigms in launch of new climate talks.)

      The EU’s other amendments were to delete part of a paragraph relating to units acquired from emissions trading under the Article 17 of the KP and to include a paragraph on land use, land-use change and forestry.

      Japan and the Russian Federation also had proposals for amendments.

      Saudi Arabia had some proposals but the Chair did not allow the delegate to proceed stating that, ‘we have passed the time for amendments. Any amendments that Parties really want to propose will have to be done in the plenary’.

      When Saudi Arabia retorted that the Chair had accepted from other parties proposals that went into brackets (referring to the EU), the Chair responded by saying that he had not accepted proposals from other parties. ‘They were read out quickly. I listen to other proposals. It is unlikely that any of the proposals can achieve consensus and that remains my view. We are past the stage to listen to long lists of amendments,’ Macey said.

      Venezuela’s climate envoy, Claudia Salerno Caldera, intervened at this stage and asked for some clarity on the procedures. ‘I have been very patient in this room listening to developed countries putting ideas forward, on bracket ideas put forward, and actually anchoring their low levels of ambition and then developing country parties are not allowed to talk about what they think about this future we are heading to. I have seen you give (time for consideration of their positions) to developed country parties. So can you explain please what stage of democracy in this process we are in?’ she asked, to applause in the hall.

      The EU’s Hedegaard responded that everybody would know the EU would not give empty pledges. ‘I think that it will be hard to find anyone here with all their pledges as ambitious as our national leg. We are very much ready, and that is also in the text, still to have a 30 percent proposal on the table. It is not that the commitment period is empty because of the EU. We are actually one of the few ones who will be in the second commitment period. It is fair to state that.’

      To that, Venezuela said: ‘To be very frank, the only thing that we are having from the EU is actually what they already have in their national legislation, so they are not offering anything to this body. Let us just be clear about that. They already have a legal system that is based on that number (20 percent reduction from 1990 levels) that they are generously offering to us.

      ‘But now I will underline this. The only thing that we are going to have here tonight is the continuation and the insurance that we are going to protect the only legal regime we have until I don’t know if 2017 or 2020, and the having that as the only thing actually is what the EU is offering.

      ‘We are actually in a legally binding agreement where we ‘take note of a proposed amendment’ – is that language that you honestly think we can reach consensus? ‘Further takes note of an intention…’ – what kind of language is that to a legally binding regime? Can you tell me where the consensus lie? Because I don’t understand’.

      The only change that was allowed finally was the proposal by the EU to include the option of 2020 as the end of the second commitment period.

      The adopted decision now reads: ‘Decides that the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol shall begin on 1 January 2013 and end either on 31 December 2017 or 31 December 2020, to be decided by the AWGKP at its 17th session (in 2012)’.


      In addition to the weak nature of the operational paragraphs 3 to 5 of the decision that developing countries had raised, what currently exist are only pledges and even then, not all Annex 1 Parties have submitted those.

      Annex 1 to the CMP 7 decision contains a table that is to be the new Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol setting out the greenhouse gases emissions reduction targets of developed countries and countries with economies in transition that are Parties to the Protocol. Annex B is designed to contain the quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives (QELROs) of each party concerned.

      [The QELRO, expressed as a percentage in relation to a base year (1990 for the first commitment period), denotes the average level of emissions that an Annex B Party could emit on an annual basis during a given commitment period. Pledges represent the end point of a trajectory of emissions that a party sets itself to achieve. The transformation of pledges into QELROs situates the pledges in the context of a commitment period and related accounting of emissions and removals under the KP. In practical terms, it involves calculating the average annual emissions relative to a base year that would fit the emissions trajectory leading to the pledged target. Source: UNFCCC Secretariat.]

      The EU has inscribed its 20 percent emissions reduction pledge in Annex 1 of the CMP decision, which is already legislated as its own internally agreed emissions reduction target. ‘As part of a global and comprehensive agreement for the period beyond 2012’, the EU makes ‘a conditional offer to move to a 30 percent reduction by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and developing countries contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities’ [footnote (g) in Annex 1 of the Decision].

      Australia and New Zealand have not inscribed any numbers and indicate they are ‘prepared to consider’ submitting information on their QELRO pursuant to the CMP Decision ‘following the necessary domestic processes and taking into account’ the rest of the Durban package and the new decisions on the accounting and other rules under the KP [footnotes (a) and (l) in Annex 1 of the Decision].

      Whether there will be QEROLS from all Annex 1 Parties by 1 May 2012 (the deadline for submission) remains to be seen.

      Meanwhile on 8 June 2011, Canada had notified the UNFCCC Secretariat that it did not intend to participate in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. This was followed by an announcement on 12 December (the day after the Durban conference ended) by Environment Minister Peter Kent that Canada is invoking its legal right to withdraw from the Protocol. Kent was in Durban.

      (Canada is not able to meet its first commitment period reduction target by 2012 when the period ends.)

      In December 2010 the Russian Federation and Japan were the first to inform the UNFCCC Secretariat that they did not intend to take on a second commitment period.


      Despite the continued efforts by some developing countries to strengthen the decision during the final formal CMP 7 plenary, the take-it-or-leave-it approach to the adoption of all the key decisions in Durban also played out for this one.

      In her opening remarks when the plenary convened in the early hours of Sunday, 11 December, South African Foreign Minister Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in her capacity as president of the COP/CMP reminded parties of the undertaking that was made on the work of the AWGKP (referring to the informal joint plenary of the COP 17 and CMP 7 a few hours earlier where she urged Parties to adopt the ‘Durban package’ without further debate and amendments at the formal sessions of the COP and the CMP respectively.)

      Macey as Chair of the AWGKP reported on the work during the past year on other issues and said that unfortunately the group was not able to agree on the text (on the second commitment period) which he had presented under his own responsibility and based on his best assessment of what is a balanced and achievable outcome. He then said he was forwarding that text to the CMP for its consideration.

      He said further that during the closing plenary of the AWGKP parties indicated a number of areas where they would like changes made. He reviewed these carefully aiming to assess which changes could be agreed and whether these could impact on the delicate political balance needed to be achieved.

      Macey said that a primary issue of concern to parties was the length of the commitment period, pointing to the option of five or eight years have been left in brackets – 2017 and 2020 – in the text. This would be decided at the next session of the AWGKP in 2012.

      Bolivia said that in the AWGKP plenary it had supported a party (Gambia on behalf of LDCs) that suggested the deletion or bracketing of para 12bis (to be added to Article 3 of the KP). This had not been done and Bolivia asked for an explanation.

      (Paragraph 12bis reads: ‘Any units generated from market-based mechanisms to be established under the Convention or its instruments may be used by Parties included in Annex I to assist them in achieving compliance with their quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments under Article 3. Any such units which a Party acquires from another Party to the Convention shall be added to the assigned amount for the acquiring Party and subtracted from the quantity of units held by the transferring Party’.)

      Bolivia was not given any response to its query.

      Papua New Guinea said that it was very comfortable to work with Bolivia on non- market options and we will expect that they will work with us on market options. It is not about vetoing one country’s ideas against another’s. It did not accept deletion.

      Bolivia replied that its observation on paragraph 12bis was not because it is linked with market mechanisms of the KP but because it makes a linkage with future market based mechanisms under the Convention. It implies the possibility – that is a question – to have those mechanisms in the context of the AWGLCA work. We still have to consider those documents in the context of the AWGLCA; it is written in future terms, market-based mechanisms that we have not designed yet. We have not approved it yet. We suggest to put that paragraph in brackets.

      Bolivia’s request was ignored.

      Nicaragua (on behalf of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America, ALBA) said the group had proposed amendments in both the ministerial meeting and on the floor in the AWGKP. To have a truly binding second commitment period paragraph 4 should be ‘acknowledges commitments’ rather than ‘takes note’ of ‘intention’. Furthermore if we have amendments to the KP, paragraph 3 that states ‘takes note of the proposed amendments’ should be ‘approves the proposed amendments’.

      On paragraph 1 that decides that the second commitment period shall begin on 1 January 2013 and end on 31 December 2017 and paragraph 5 where QELROs will be decided by 2012, Nicaragua said ratification would not be available for all Parties between May 2012 and 1 January 2013. This would open up the issue of a gap. So we had requested amendment to eliminate the gap because there was a consensus of all concerned to avoid a gap.

      It was also concerned in the preamble about noting the importance of developing a comprehensive global response to climate change – we see this as contradictory with Article 10 (of KP on common but differentiated responsibilities). It added that language needs to be introduced to reinforce that we are not abandoning under any circumstances CBDR nor should this be interpreted as leading to merging both tracks (KP and LCA) or erasing everything from the blackboard and starting again. So instead of global response there should be language to reflect CBDR.

      Nicaragua stressed it was disconcerted that after the two presentations (at the ministerial and AWGKP) not one of ALBA’s proposed changes had been introduced into the text. Nor were we given any explanation why they were not. So we raise once again for the third time the serious concerns we have. The purpose is to get to agreement, we want to reach agreement, but under conditions that we can all accept.

      The EU said it was a little bit surprised by this discussion because in the light of the package that we have adopted why are we spending so much time on this? Of course I can also make a little change dear to our heart on page 9 para 12 ter to delete “If these units are acquired under Art 17”. I am happy to take that back if we all stick to the package that we just approved a few moments ago.

      At this point the COP president said she thought questions were asked for clarity which she was going to give to the AWGKP Chair to quickly respond to. ‘We’ve spent hours on this in the joint informal plenary on the package. If you are to open one side of the package we are inviting other delegations to go back to open – and we start tit for tit and then back to chicken and egg and then we will get ourselves back to where we started which will not be correct,’ she said.

      Macey said that in the course of the last few days and most recently at the plenary of the AWGKP Parties would be very well aware of the major concerns of Parties on parts of our text. It is a difficult process to reach consensus here. He reiterated that he did review very carefully all proposals and suggestions heard at the (AWGKP) plenary and he needed to assess if any of the changes could be agreed and whether this could disturb the very delicate political balance that we have achieved. He reiterated that the text before the CMP was his assessment of where consensus could be found.

      The president then continued to read the other elements of the decision (on matters related to emissions trading, greenhouse gases inventories etc) and proposed that these decisions be a part of our comprehensive Durban outcome.

      She gave lead and in the midst of applause Bolivia asked to speak.

      Bolivia said it asked for the floor and waited respectfully for the President to finish. I was referring to the document to make observations and suddenly it is approved. We as Parties have the right to make observations. We do not want to be an obstacle to that but we have the right to present observations. We want an outcome. Please register that Bolivia does not agree with para 3, 12 bis of the last document that you have approved. It has to be registered that we do not agree with that. We are a Party and we ask you please to respect our opinion.

      Mashabane told Bolivia its request would be noted and immediately proceeded to resume the COP 17 session to adopt COP decisions. (The COP was convened right after the CMP but done in such a hurried fashion and without first acknowledging those who still wanted to speak that there was confusion over the formalities of the two legally distinct plenaries.)

      The secretariat at this point drew her attention to Nicaragua that had also asked to speak.

      Nicaragua said it also had asked for the floor previously. It clarified that the ALBA group had made its proposal twice, once in the ministerial and the second time in the AWGKP meeting. Therefore we would expect that if the (Chair) had his observation, that (Parties) could receive an explanation for why the Chair of the working group was not in agreement rather than having a wholesale elimination of all the proposals. This is essential so that the approval by the (Parties) is done with full information and that our queries and our preoccupations, our concerns can be addressed in a spirit of frank, open and fraternal dialogue looking at producing a real consensus and not an apparent consensus.

      It said that when our concerns here have not been clarified - we have had no dialogue on them – this even becomes a matter of whether the consultation processes are real when we present something two times and they are ignored. It does not mean every recommendation is going to be approved. Quite obviously, you win some and you lose some. But to lose them all, and you do not get any explanation really does not seem to be appropriate.

      As for the package that the EU mentioned – how can this be the case – not all of us were in on the package. There are not two classes of sovereign states here– those in the package and those outside. Our opinions are just as worthy in international law and just as worthy in reaching these decisions as those inside the package.

      Nicaragua said that the AWGKP Chair does not have to waste time and could dialogue with us on our proposals. We could do so in the spirit of improving and fortifying the document as well as addressing our concerns.

      Mashabane said she would allow the AWGKP chair to dialogue with Nicaragua and went on to say with your permission I ask that we continue, and I thank you for your contribution and your understanding.

      Japan then said that it is in a position to follow the consensus but wanted to make sure it is not in a position to submit its QELRO and will send a letter to the Secretary to make sure its position is respected (i.e. it will not take part in the second commitment period).

      With that the CMP 7 plenary was ended.


      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Climate Zombie tripped by dying carbon markets

      Patrick Bond


      cc S A
      'As the soul-deprived, brain-dead, heartless climate-policy Zombie stumbled off the Durban platform in the direction of Qatar for the COP18 next year, it immediately tripped on the crumpled carbon markets,' writes Patrick Bond.

      Looking back now that the dust has settled, South Africa’s COP17 presidency appears disastrous. This was confirmed not only by Durban’s delayed, diplomatically-decrepit denouement, but by plummeting carbon markets in the days immediately following the conference’s ignoble end.

      Of course it is tempting to ignore the stench of failure and declare Durban ‘an outstanding success,’ as did South African environment minister Edna Molewa. ‘We have significantly strengthened the international adaptation agenda,’ she explained about the near-empty Green Climate Fund. ‘The design of the fund includes innovative mechanisms for bringing private sector and market mechanisms into play to increase the potential flow of funding into climate change responses.’

      Because the $100 billion promised by Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen two years ago is apparently fictional (aside from minor commitments by South Korea, Germany and Denmark), Molewa’s two crucial albeit unintended words are ‘play’ and ‘potential.’ In our new book, ‘Durban’s Climate Gamble: Trading Carbon, Betting the Earth’, critical researchers show why emissions markets are as comatose as the Kyoto Protocol. Only a casino drunkard would put money – much less the planet – on the odds of a death-bed resurrection.

      Bolivia’s former UN ambassador Pablo Solon scolded the hosts for turning Kyoto into a ‘Zombie, a soulless undead.’ The 1997 treaty’s soul was a commitment that emissions cuts would be binding, but several of the richest polluting countries – the US, Canada, Japan, Russia, Australia and New Zealand – won’t sign on the second commitment period. To sabotage Kyoto, Washington continues its voluntary ‘pledge and review’ policy pantomime. Kyoto’s original brain contained a species survival mechanism: a pledge to keep the earth’s temperature at a livable level. Now, the Durban Platform contains ‘less than half of the necessary cuts to keep the temperature increase below 2°C,’ says Solon.

      As the soul-deprived, brain-dead, heartless climate-policy Zombie stumbled off the Durban Platform last week in the direction of Qatar for the COP18 next year, it immediately tripped on the crumpled carbon markets. The emissions trade is failing not only in Europe but also in our own Durban backyard. An Africa Report investigation unveiled South Africa’s highest-profile pilot Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project as a scam.

      At Bisasar Road landfill in the Clare Estate neighbourhood, the R100+ million methane-to-electricity CDM project was despised because it kept the continent’s largest official dump open far beyond the point it should have been closed. Instead of being burned and flared on-site, methane gas from Bisasar’s rotting rubbish should have been piped out for industrial use, far away from residential areas, according to the late community activist Sajida Khan. Before dying of cancer caused by the dump in 2007, she tirelessly campaigned to close Bisasar dump and thus end one of Africa’s most notorious cases of environmental racism.

      Khan failed, because in 2001 the World Bank promised funding for methane extraction that would keep the dump operational. The crucial factor, according to Durban officials, is that ‘Landfill gas offers a viable renewable energy source only when linked to carbon finance or CDM.’

      Based on the assumption that without outside funds, the project could not be justified, in 2006 the United Nations listed Bisasar Road as an active supplier of CDM credits through at least 2014. It turns out this was a fib. On an official tour of Bisasar on November 30, journalists from Africa Report and San Francisco-based Pacifica News interviewed Durban Solid Waste manager John Parkin, who admitted that, ‘We started the project prior to the CDM. We were already down the road. It just made it come faster because the funding was there.’

      Why is this scandalous? Africa Report interprets: ‘It is questionable as to whether the project should have been approved as a CDM initiative at all, as approval requires the existence of ‘additionality’. According to the UN, ‘Additionality is the cornerstone of any credible CDM project, basically answering the question whether a project is additional, or would it proceed anyway, without the CDM.’ That is, without qualification as an additionality, the CDM shouldn’t be approved.’

      Parkin confirmed to the journalists that, ‘We already started the project and we were going ahead no matter what. So whether CDM became a reality or not, the project was going to go ahead.’

      Such a whimsical approach to climate finance is why hopes by Molewa and Manuel for filling the Green Climate Fund with carbon trade revenues will be dashed. CDM trading volumes are down 80 percent from their 2007 peak, and the European Union’s carbon futures market – once above €35/tonne – hovered between €11-14/tonne through 2010-11 but crashed to €4.4/tonne on December 13.

      Remarked Susanna Twidale of the Point Carbon news service: ‘While a lot of the focus of the last fortnight of UN meetings was on supply of carbon credits, not one country deepened its carbon target, leaving international carbon offset prices languishing at near record lows.’ Reuters news service confirmed: ‘Carbon markets are still on life support’, quoting a leading trader: ‘A sick market needs a cure and instead of deciding which cure to use, the doctors keep using pain relief to gain more time to make the final prognosis.’

      Back in Durban, 20,000 carbon credits are being issued from the Bisasar Road CDM each month. According to Parkin, ‘We don’t have a partner to buy them at the moment. But we’ll probably get €8 to €9 if we’re lucky.’ Durban is unlucky to have Parkin gambling with city finances, the air in Clare Estate, and the planet’s health.

      What the late Vaclav Havel said once about Soviet-era politics – ‘a monstrous, ramshackle, stinking machine’ whose worst legacy was a ‘spoiled moral environment’ – applies equally to Bisasar Road, to the UN’s Conference of Polluters and to those who departed Durban without hanging their heads in shame. All they have to show for their work, during this planetary emergency, is creation of a dangerous Zombie.

      In this milieu, Parkin was brutally frank, at least: ‘As the City, if we can make some money out of it, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be done and the whole moral issue is separate from the project. The project is successful. The moral issue, I have no influence on that – as a technocrat, I do my job.’


      * Patrick Bond edited ‘Durban’s Climate Gamble’ (UNISA Press), authored ‘Politics of Climate Justice’ (UKZN Press), and directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society in Durban. This article appeared first at
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Trinidad and Tobago: A PR disaster for the US

      Norman Girvan


      cc T-N-E
      Early this month, the US repaid Trinidad and Tobago’s hospitality by acutely embarrassing the Caribbean nation in the presence of regional leaders. But, as Norman Girvan reports, it was America’s image that suffered the most.

      Stupid, petty, vindictive, short sighted, counter-productive, a huge diplomatic faux pas. These are some of the words that could be used to describe the US decision not to issue a special license to allow the Trinidad Hilton hotel to host the Cuba-CARICOM Summit in Port of Spain on 8 December.

      This was a meeting of 15 heads of state; 14 of who lead countries with which the United States has friendly relations. Cooperation extends across a wide range of subjects, especially security. Diplomatically speaking, the US government gave each of these leaders a slap in the face.

      The host country, Trinidad and Tobago, is one of Washington’s best friends in the region. It is a principal supplier of natural gas to the United States and a close ally in the ‘war on terror’. It is the only Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country to have been visited by President Obama, when it hosted the Summit of the Americas in 2009. Just two months ago there was a visit from US Attorney General Eric Holder, who held cordial discussions with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

      The Prime Minister’s — and Trinidad and Tobago’s – hospitality have now been repaid by being acutely embarrassed in the presence of other CARICOM leaders and their Cuban guest.

      The official US explanation — that the request for a special licence came too late to be properly processed — beggars belief. How far up the chain of command did this matter go? Did it reach Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? To President Obama? Was Attorney General Holder consulted? Was Ambassador Beatrice Welters in Port of Spain brought into the picture, and if so, did she offer counsel to her superiors on the possible political fallout?

      Was this, as many believe, a deliberate political act meant to signal Washington’s displeasure with the cordial relations that exist between CARICOM nations and Cuba, or even to sabotage the summit? The US decision was communicated on the very eve of the meeting, forcing alternative arrangements to be hurriedly set in place.

      If that was Washington’s intention, it certainly backfired. In a separate statement, the assembled leaders jointly declared themselves ‘affronted by the intrusion of the United States against the sovereignty of Trinidad and Tobago’; going on to note that the action ‘could have impacted on the success of the Summit, but thanks to the commitment and solidarity of the Member States of the Caribbean Community we can celebrate an outcome which reinforces the strong fraternal bonds between CARICOM and Cuba.’

      The US action actually succeeded in educating and galvanising public opinion against the obnoxious extra-territorial reach of the Helms-Burton law, as well as US embargo itself. Media coverage of the action has been extensive; and uniformly negative. The Cubans on their own could hardly have accomplished such a public relations feat.

      The pretentiousness of the US action may be illustrated by the following example. Suppose a Trinidad and Tobago-based company were to have a contract to manage an American company based in Washington, D.C. The American company not only transacts business with the US government, it is actually owned by the US government. It enters into a particular transaction with the US government, which the Trinidad and Tobago government then seeks to nullify on the grounds that this particular transaction contravenes Trinidad and Tobago law.

      The very idea is laughable! The Trinidadians would be packing their bags the next day.

      Even if we accept the official US explanation, this raises other questions. Are we to believe that US officials were simply unaware of the potential embarrassment for themselves, and for a friendly government, that was brewing right under their noses? Was the US envoy in Port of Spain asleep on the watch? And what steps did the Trinidad and Tobago government take to bring the matter urgently to the attention of the US ambassador, the State Department and the White House?

      This is not a matter of ‘respect for international law’. Helms-Burton is US domestic law, and has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations General Assembly.

      Nor is it an issue of the exercise of ‘US sovereignty’, which does not — or ought not to — extend to Trinidad and Tobago.

      There are several diplomatic tools available to a government that has been so slighted, to show its displeasure and to salvage its dignity.

      A separate, firmly worded statement can be issued. A strong diplomatic note can be sent. Port of Spain’s ambassador in Washington can be recalled for ‘consultations’. The foreign minister can suddenly become unavailable for meetings with the US ambassador. Diplomatic receptions by the US embassy can be diplomatically avoided. The Hilton management contract can be reviewed.

      If an apology was called for, it should have been from the US government to the 14 CARICOM leaders; and a separate one to the host government. A personal phone call to the Prime Minister from President Obama or Secretary Clinton, blaming bureaucratic foul-ups, would not have been inappropriate. This is what one expects in a world of mutual respect among nations having friendly relations with one another.

      Can we expect this to happen? Sure. And one day, pigs will fly.


      * Norman Girvan is professor emeritus at the University of the West Indies. He is a former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      South Africa: ‘Yes we know it’s Christmas’

      Musicians record a response to Band Aid


      cc World Bank
      A group of South African musicians has recorded a response to Bob Geldof’s 1984 song. Proceeds from the new single will go towards teaching discipline, literacy and contraception at British schools.

      After 28 years of silently tolerating it, a group of unemployed local musicians have joined forces to release a Christmas single, entitled ‘Yes we do,’ in response to the Bob Geldof inspired Band Aid song, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’

      Speaking at the launch of their song, the musicians praised Geldof’s relentless quest for an answer and said they hoped their collaboration would free the Irishman and his friends to start looking for solutions to new and more important questions.

      “Like, Do they know about climate change in America? Or did Kim Jong-il have time to write down the abort codes for the nukes before he died? Or perhaps he can revert to the time-honoured classic – ‘Tell me why I don’t like Mondays’.”

      Speaking at the launch of the single, whose proceeds will go towards teaching discipline, literacy and contraception at British schools, composer and singer Boomtown Gundane said that for years he had been irked by Geldof’s assumption that hungry Africans were also stupid.

      ‘Or was he just saying that Africans were stupid? Of course we knew it was Christmas.’

      He said despite the poverty and hunger that had inspired Geldof and his friends to create the song back in 1984, Africans had developed their own ways to remember Christmas.

      ‘Just because we don’t have Boney M or Christmas advertising in September doesn’t mean we are oblivious to it,’ said Gundane who went on to suggest that Africans were a lot like the Irish.

      ‘They made it through disasters like the potato blight and the invention of the Protestant church without forgetting Christmas – why did they think we would forget it?’

      When asked why the ensemble of African musicians, who have called themselves Plaster Cast, had taken so long to come up with a response to the Band Aid song Gundane said it had taken a while for them to realise that it wasn’t actually an elaborate joke.

      ‘We kept waiting for them to laugh,’ he said, ‘But the punch-line never arrived.’

      Gundane said he hoped that his involvement with the song would turn him into an expert on British politics and economics in the same way ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ had turned Geldof and Bono into the world’s leading experts on Africa.

      ‘If I’m not sharing a platform with the Queen and David Cameron by this time next year, or headlining at Glastonbury, then I will have done something very wrong,’ said Gundane.


      * This article was first published by
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


      From OAU to AU: The new millennium and the state of democracy in Africa

      Call for papers: for a panel at the 8th Iberian Conference of African Studies, ICAS8/CIEA8


      In July 2002, African leaders dissolved the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and created the African Union (AU). By emphasising on democracy, good governance and respect for human rights as necessary pre-requisites for development, the AU makes a significant departure, at least in theory, from the modes operandi of its predecessor which was known for its long-held principle of ‘non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.’ In July 2012, the AU will celebrate its tenth anniversary. The event is an opportune moment in stocktaking the state of democracy in Africa since the establishment of the AU.

      In July 2002, African leaders dissolved the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and created the African Union (AU). By emphasising on democracy, good governance and respect for human rights as necessary pre-requisites for development, the AU makes a significant departure, at least in theory, from the modes operandi of its predecessor which was known for its long-held principle of ‘non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.’ In July 2012, the AU will celebrate its tenth anniversary. The event is an opportune moment in stocktaking the state of democracy in Africa since the establishment of the AU.

      Initially the formation of the AU was described as a dawn of a new era in Africa. However, some critiques argue that the change of name from OAU to AU was a mere cosmetic gimmick devoid of any substance. Is this perceived bias or a well-grounded concern? With the objective of exploring this central question in a holistic manner, the panel encourages submissions of academic or policy papers focusing on the broader theme of ICAS8/CIEA8, particularly by giving attention to the following important issues:

      - Has the AU lived up to its expectations in the first decade since its formation?
      - Has the AU succeeded in becoming a people-centred organisation as opposed to its predecessor, which was frequently criticised for being ‘the exclusive club of dictators’?
      - Is the AU ‘another toothless bulldog’ or is it an organisation with effective enforcement mechanisms, particularly as regards the prevention of ferocious conflicts and catastrophic natural disasters in the continent?
      - How far has the AU gone in promoting democratic institutions, enhancing popular participation and good governance through its ‘peer review process/mechanism’?
      - Or has it become a victim of ‘African politics’ and the adage of ‘old habits die-hard’?

      Contributions are expected to address the above fundamental questions in line with the broader objectives of ICAS8/CIEA8. While these are meant only to provide the blueprint of the panel discussions, writers are encouraged to broaden the debate by addressing other important issues related to the main theme of the panel and the broader objectives of the conference. Contributions are also expected to provide the basis for re-orienting the state of democracy in Africa. By bringing speakers and participants from a diverse background, the panel strives to provide a means to fostering dialogue on the state of democracy in Africa.

      Key words: accountability, democracy, dictatorship, good governance, human rights, sovereignty, Africa, African Union

      Abstracts of no more 400 words can be submitted at the online submission form of the conference page: on or before 31 January 2012. Full papers are to be submitted on or before 15 May 2012. While the primary language of this particular panel is English, submissions in Portuguese or Spanish will also be accommodated.

      For any questions, please contact the panel chair, Dr. Daniel R. Mekonnen at: [email protected]

      The Young Feminist Fund grants


      The goal of The Young Feminist Fund (FRIDA) is to provide accessible, strategic and responsive funding for young feminist-led initiatives. FRIDA invites applications from groups led by young women and transgender youth under 30 years for grants of up to US$5,000.

      Call for Proposals 2011/2012

      The Young Feminist Fund mobilizes resources, funds and strengthens the participation and leadership of young feminist activists globally. The goal of The Young Feminist Fund (FRIDA) is to provide accessible, strategic and responsive funding for young feminist-led initiatives, and to strengthen the capacity of young feminist organizations to both leverage their own resources and increase their social change impact. FRIDA invites applications from groups led by young women and transgender youth under 30 years for grants of up to
      USD 5,000.

      Who Can Participate?

      Informal and formal groups founded and led by young women or transgender youth (under 30 years) that are committed to:

      - Advancing and defending women’s human rights;
      - Improving the lives of young women/transgender youth at local, national, regional or international levels;
      - Inclusive organizing, collective action and movement building.
      - Informal and formal groups, networks, or collectives based in the Global South (Africa, Asia and the Pacific, The Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean and Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States).

      Priority will be given to:

      - Small, emerging grassroots groups, networks, or collectives with little or no access to funding from larger donors.
      - Groups, networks, or collectives that are working on emerging or issues that otherwise get limited funding.
      - Groups, networks, or collectives located in remote underserved areas.
      - Groups, networks, or collectives that are diverse in their membership and made up of and/or working with socially marginalized young women including but not limited to: refugees, ethnic, national and caste minorities, rural women, urban poor, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, women living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers, women with disabilities, women living in armed conflicts and post conflict zones.

      Who is NOT supported by FRIDA?

      - Groups or organizations that display an intolerant attitude towards others on the basis of identity including age, religion, sex, race/ethnicity, disability, class or sexual orientation.
      - Groups working with young women and transgender youth but led by adults (over 30 years of age).
      - Scholarships, internship or school fees.
      - Doctoral or other research.
      - Groups with access to large funders.
      - Proposals submitted by individuals, government institutions, political organizations or religious groups.

      Funding Amounts and Length of Grant

      FRIDA provides grants of up to USD 5,000. They are general support grants to be used over a period of 12 months but are open to renewal.

      Be Part of the Selection Process…You Decide!

      As part of our commitment to movement building FRIDA engages young feminist activists in the grant decision-making process. We view this as a collective decision-making process. Applicants who meet FRIDA’s criteria are expected to vote for their top proposal choices and give comments on their selections (groups may not vote for their own proposals). In voting, we ask that groups keep in mind what they think is important for the promotion and defense of the rights of young women in their region and globally. After voting the results are tallied and grantees are selected.

      How the FRIDA Grantmaking Process works:

      - Call for Proposals
      - Submit your application
      - FRIDA Staff Process and Screen Applications
      - You Vote Online
      - Grants Awarded
      - FRIDA provides capacity building support/successful groups carry out activities

      Expectations of Successful Groups:

      All grantees will be required to sign a grant agreement, which will outline accounting, reporting, and other terms and conditions regarding how funds will be distributed. Further details on reporting will be provided after grants have been approved.

      Important Things To Remember:

      - Before completing the application, please read the application guidelines to determine your eligibility. Also, you can review the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the FRIDA Website at
      - You do not need to be a legally registered group to apply but you will need to have access to a bank account that can receive international funds. FRIDA is financially hosted by the Tides Foundation (a 501c3 in the United States). If your proposal is successful grant payments will be made through this Foundation.
      - All applications must directly benefit young women and/or transgender youth and must address issues central to women’s human rights.
      - Proposals should reflect FRIDA’s vision and mission. You can review our core values and principles on the FRIDA website at
      - Grant requests should not exceed USD 5,000 (or be below USD 500) and your request should be submitted in US Dollars.
      - You may submit your application in ONE of the following languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.
      - You can submit only ONE proposal in each funding cycle per group.

      FRIDA recognizes the value of general support and encourages groups to prioritize resources according to their own needs. For example some groups may consider using FRIDA funds to cover staff, administration, or organizational costs while others may use funds to support establishing infrastructure or project related costs. FRIDA is committed to funding feminist activism and will cover costs that allow groups to engage in their work more effectively.

      Applications must be received by FRIDAY 20th January 2012

      The grant decision-making process will be completed by March 2012. Funds will be distributed shortly after.


      The deadline for applying is FRIDAY JANUARY 20th 2012. If you think your group is eligible to apply for a grant from FRIDA, you can submit your application by: Email, Mail or Fax.

      All Applications must be received by 5pm EST.

      Email: You may email your completed application to: [email protected]

      You will find the Word Version of the application form on our website:


      Mail & Fax your application to:

      FRIDA, The Young Feminist Fund

      c/o The Association for Women’s Rights in Development

      215 Spadina Avenue., Suite 150, Toronto, ON

      M5T 2C7 Canada

      Tel: +416.594.3773

      Fax: +416. 594. 0330

      NOTE: Please read the form thoroughly beforehand and fill it out as completely as possible. We strongly encourage you to submit your application by email. All applicants will receive a confirmation email indicating that we have received your proposal.

      For more information, please email: [email protected]

      Comment & analysis

      South Africa: ANC leadership battles should be open and democratic

      William Gumede


      cc L D
      Much of the infighting in South Africa’s ANC, which is paralysing both government and the party, is the result of outdated codes, traditions and rituals governing the elections of leaders of the party, especially that of the president, writes William Gumede.

      The opacity, secrecy and lack of transparency in internal ANC elections open the system to manipulation, corruption and the abuse of state institutions such as the intelligence services, the police and the judiciary, and also raises the possibility of selective prosecutions to sideline rivals. Because of the rules' opacity, incumbents and dominant factions can rewrite and manipulate the rules to favour their leadership campaigns and to undermine opponents.

      The problem faced by many African liberation movements is that the top leadership is usually selected by very small cliques and presented to branches and national conferences for rubber-stamping. The leadership candidates are usually presented as one slate with the preferred presidential leader at the head (in some cases a two-slate system was allowed). These practices usually stem from a time when these movements operated as clandestine opposition parties, when such practices were defended as preventing disunity and fostering cohesion. In many cases, including that of the ANC, such practices continue -- even now that these movements are in government. This devalues democracy.

      President Jacob Zuma and ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe have banned all public talk about the leadership succession in the party, saying such talk is premature. Yet the reality is that almost every political manoeuvre by the ANC leadership now is aimed at influencing the direction of the party's leadership election at the 2012 national elective conference in Bloemfontein.

      No matter what one's views are of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, it is fair to say that if he still supported a second term for Zuma it is most unlikely he would have been suspended. Some kind of face-saving compromise would have been cobbled together.

      Zuma says he would "never defy" a nomination for a second term as ANC and South African president. Meanwhile, one has to be politically blind not to see he is running a tough and determined campaign. The other day, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe unexpectedly issued a statement that as a "loyal and disciplined member of the ANC" he is "not involved in any campaigning or lobbying for the presidency of the ANC", but meanwhile others are running spirited campaigns on his behalf.

      Worse, since the 2007 Polokwane conference, presidential candidates are mobilised around a slate of candidates to the ANC's national executive committee (NEC). Then, in 2007, the slate was limited to one for then-president Thabo Mbeki and the other for Zuma, with one candidate for each position on either the Mbeki or the Zuma slate. This meant that individuals were not elected on merit but on the basis of their allegiances. In such a situation, mediocre candidates are usually elected to key senior positions in the ANC.

      It is likely that the ANC's 2012 leadership election will be decided on slates, probably two only: one slate for a second presidential term for Zuma, the other against. But democracy within the ANC and in the country generally would be better served if the ANC democratised the way it elects leaders.

      'Mandates questioned'
      The very obvious problem with the current flawed system of internal elections in the ANC is that elected presidential and other leadership candidates will always have their mandates questioned. Losing groups will always feel afterwards that the winning candidates won unfairly. The winners will continually be challenged by those who lose out, especially in situations such as that now faced by the ANC, where the winning slate monopolises state patronage, positions and business deals, and could even hound out those on the losing slate.

      Democratising the ANC's presidential elections would bring better leaders to the fore.

      There is a higher premium on quality leaders in infant democracies such as South Africa, where democratic institutions, political cultures and nation-building efforts are still nascent and where undemocratic leaders can damage the system.

      Among the worst failings of the system of African liberation movements, whereby leaders are chosen by small cliques, is that the most talented, those with the best ideas, especially young leaders from outside the old patronage networks, are almost never elected to the top leadership. This is because the cliques that supervise elections fear they may shake up existing, lucrative patronage networks.

      In fact, in most cases the leaders chosen by such small cliques in these liberation movements are not selected for their holistic leadership qualities, such as the ability to bring new ideas or leadership to the party and the country, but for how best they can balance factional interests.

      Thus, African liberation movements may have quality leaders but they almost never rise to the presidency. The criteria for leadership nomination are narrowly delineated to produce leaders who may have struggle credentials but little skill in leading complex and changing societies. In the environment of increasing global uncertainty, and in a world driven by technology, the certainties of the past cannot offer a reliable guide to the future. The existing system favours patriarchy and older leaders, or it favours younger leaders who mimic the old in their thinking and behaviour. Partly as a result of this phenomenon, very few African countries since independence have been able to elect new, younger and more dynamic leaders.

      South Africa's democracy would be much enhanced if the ANC were to introduce the idea of American-style party primaries into its presidential election campaign, with presidential hopefuls going directly to both the ANC membership and their own supporters, making a case for why they should be elected as president.

      Groups within the tripartite alliance -- trade unions, civic groups, communists -- could nominate candidates. A period could then be set for campaigning and defending manifestos. All party members could then vote. All parties receiving public money should be required to prove that their internal elections are conducted in ways that are in keeping with the democratic norms of South Africa's Constitution.

      More broadly, and moving beyond the internal elections of parties such as the ANC, South Africa's current electoral system of proportional representation should be changed into a constituency-based system. This would make members of Parliament, legislatures and local government directly accountable to those in their constituencies who elected them, not to party leaders, as is now the case.

      The Congress of South African Trade Unions, in a prescient argument in a 2006 discussion paper, said that the current system "undermines independent thought", because individual careers depend on endorsement by the party leadership and by the ANC deployment committee. The document argued that unless the system changes "the movement towards sycophancy is inevitable".

      Proportional representation reinforces the party's power to make or break the careers of independent-minded leaders, even if they are competent. It makes it possible to protect leaders who are incompetent but who are perceived to be loyal to the party leader.

      Both the Mbeki and Zuma presidencies have ignored the very useful proposals made by a government task team appointed in 2002 to investigate the most suitable electoral system for South Africa. The team, led by the late Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, proposed that three quarters of the current 400 MPs be elected on the basis of a constituency system.

      Such a system would increase accountability in our electoral system, allowing communities to elect their representatives directly and to recall them if they are felt to be failing that community.

      This far into South Africa's post-1994 democracy, voters, especially ANC members and supporters, have simply stayed away from the polls if they are unhappy with the party. Many ANC members and supporters view other parties as inadequate. A vote means little if opposition parties are weak -- the norm in many poorly governed African and developing countries.

      Perhaps we could add to every South African ballot paper a box that gives voters the opportunity to vote for none of the parties on the ballot paper. In this way, they can still exercise their vote while expressing their disapproval of the quality of all the political parties and leaders up for election.


      * This article first appeared in Mail&Guardian, Johannesburg.
      * William Gumede is honorary associate professor, Graduate School of Public and Development Management, Wits, and co-editor of ‘The Poverty of Ideas’ (Jacana).
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Advocacy & campaigns

      Committee to Protect Journalists condemns trial of Swedish journalists in Ethiopia


      Two Swedish photojournalists have been convicted by an Ethiopian court for supporting terrorism, but the Committee to Protect Journalists contends they are the victims of a politicised trial.

      News Alert


      Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns trial of Swedish journalists in Ethiopia

      New York, December 21, 2011

      The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns an Ethiopian court's decision to convict two Swedish photojournalists today in what appears to be a politicized trial.

      Judge Shemsu Sirgaga found photojournalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson guilty of supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally, local journalists told CPJ. The convictions could lead to a sentence of up to 18 years. They are expected to be sentenced on December 27.

      The convictions come amid a crackdown on independent reporting in Ethiopia, whether by local or foreign reporters, in what local journalists suspect is linked to government fears of a civil uprising as witnessed in North Africa. Ethiopian authorities have charged 10 journalists with trumped-up terrorism charges since June 2011, CPJ research shows. With seven journalists in prison, the country holds the ignominious title of the second leading jailer of journalists in Africa, second only to its neighbor Eritrea.

      "Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were simply doing their job as journalists and should not have spent a day in jail," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes.

      "Their trial is politicized and designed to curb any reporting on the sensitive Ogaden area. CPJ calls on authorities to release these journalists immediately."

      Swedish Prime Minister Frederick Reinfeldt said his administration is making contact with the Ethiopian government over the matter, maintaining that the two were on a journalistic mission and should be released immediately.

      Ethiopian authorities arrested Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, contributors to the Swedish photojournalism agency Kontinent, in July after they crossed with rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) into the oil-rich province of Ogaden.

      Judge Sirgaga claimed the ONLF - a group classified by the government as a terrorist organization - had arranged the journalists' journey from Somalia to Ethiopia, local journalists told CPJ. Under the 2009 anti-terrorism law, journalists risk up to 20 years in prison if the government deems their reporting favorable to groups designated as terrorists.

      Last month, the court dropped original charges of terrorism due to a lack of evidence. The journalists both testified that they were in the country to report on the activities of Swedish oil company Lundin Oil, which operates in the Ogaden region. The Ethiopian government prohibits journalists and aid workers from entering the region, where a protracted war between authorities and the separatist ONLF rebels is taking place.

      CPJ has documented violations of due process and the politicization of their trial. In October, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi publicly accused the two journalists of being accomplices to terrorists in an interview with the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

      Later in the month during a parliamentary session, Zenawi accused journalists working in Ethiopia of being "messengers" with "terrorists" groups, following similar statements made by state media. In November, state prosecutors were forced to admit that footage used as evidence against the journalists had been edited and gunshots added to the audio, to make it appear as if the journalists were participating in weapons training, according to local journalists and reports.

      "Guilty as charged, period, unanimous vote. They have shown that they are esteemed journalists, but we cannot conclude that someone with a good reputation doesn't engage in criminal acts," Judge Shemsu Sirgaga told the court, according to wire reports.

      * CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization 
that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.

Mohamed Keita 

      Africa Advocacy Coordinator

      Tel. +1.212.465.1004 ext. 117

      Email: [email protected]

      Egypt: Alarming reports of kidnapping, death threats, and assault of activists


      Human rights organisations in Egypt are increasingly concerned about the safety of protesters and activists after a series of brutal attacks.

      Press Release

      World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

      Egypt: Alarming reports of kidnapping, death threats, and assault of activists and protesters
      15 December 2011 - The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in particular within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, and FIDH member organisation, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), are alarmed by the multiplication of cases of kidnapping and physical assault targeting activists and protesters in Egypt.

      In the past two weeks, there have been three reported incidents where activists and protesters were kidnapped and assaulted by unknown men. According to victims testimonies gathered by local NGOs there are strong reasons to consider the individuals behind the attacks to be government-affiliated.

      Firstly, in the night of 29 November 2011, Mr. Abdelrahman Amin El-Din (known among activists as Nadim), a member of the ‘No to Military Trials for Civilians’ group was kidnapped and physically assaulted. According to Amin El Din's testimony, after he left Tahrir Square and reached Cairo University, he was dragged violently into a blue Jeep by two men who blind folded him, gagged him, and then tied his hands and legs behind his back and proceeded to physically assault him. During the assault, they insulted him and directed random accusations to him. Later, the car picked up a fourth man, who searched Amin El-Din once again. During the remaining hours of the night, the men adjusted his position, tying his hands and legs to his front and left him lying on the floor of the car. According to the activist’s testimony, the men received several phone calls, for which they had to get out of the car to answer until they finally untied him and dumped him in a street off of the Isamiliya desert road.

      Secondly, on 9 December 2011, Mr. Zeyad Salem, another member of the ‘No to Military Trials for Civilians’ group in Alexandria was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by two men.

      According to Salem's testimony, at 9.40 pm, as he was on his way home from the Corniche, 300 metres away from the Alexandria Library, a micro-bus stopped and asked him about his destination. Assuming it was a regular micro-bus, he entered and paid the fare. There were two men in the bus, other than the driver, who then took a different route, and moments later one of the two men threw himself on Salem and the second guy moved towards Salem to corner him. The first man, who had a knife, asked Salem for his name. Salem provided him with a different name however the man replied, ‘No your name is Zeyad and we know you.’ The first man started to sexually assault Salem, put the knife towards his neck, and threatened to kill him. The man told Salem that ‘you (in plural form) are the reason my brother is in prison’, while the other said ‘you (in plural form) ruined the life of my cousin’. He was later dumped on a highway with his bag. All his belongings, which included his wallet, a Blackberry, I-pod and a silver key-chain, were all untouched; only the ‘No to Military Trials For Civilians’ group phone was taken. Salem also stated that he had received threats on the ‘No to Military Trials for Civilians’ group hot-line in the past but that he had always disregarded them. 

      Thirdly, on 12 December, Mr. Abdel Rahman Zein El-Din, 19, was kidnapped from his house and then taken to an apartment where he was tortured. He was asked by the perpetrators why he goes to Tahrir Square and he was asked to give information on two other protesters in Tahrir Square. His friends later found him in Al Abasseya and took him to a hospital. There were signs of electrocution on his body, bruises and cuts on his chest, and an injury on his head. Salma Said, an activist and a friend of Zein El-Din's who delivered his testimony to FIDH, believes that he was kidnapped by government-affiliated forces. However she insisted that the purpose was not to extract information but rather to intimidate the young protesters and deter them from joining future protests.

      We fear that these events are a prelude to a new chapter, which we thought had ended with the fall of Mubarak, of kidnapping activists and subjecting them to torture and other forms of ill-treatment and intimidations to intimidate and break them. Our organisations call upon the authorities to start independent, prompt and impartial investigations into these alarming allegations, more importantly since according to reports collected the attacks were backed by authorities, to ensure that the perpetrators will be held accountable, and the victims given adequate redress and compensation. FIDH, OMCT and CIHRS stress that such incidents cannot go unpunished as it sets a highly dangerous precedent for the safety of activists and protesters, whose safety and protection are the direct responsibility of the government. Our organisations remind the Egyptian authorities of their obligation to guarantee the respect of the right to freedoms of expression, association and assembly under any circumstances.
      For further information, please contact:

      FIDH: Karine Appy/Arthur Manet: + 33 1 43 55 14 12/+33 1 43 55 90 19
      OMCT: Alexandra Kossin/Delphine Reculeau: + 41 22 809 49 39

      Justice for Sankara, Justice for Africa


      Nearly 25 years after the death of Thomas Sankara, signatories to the following petition continue the call for an independent investigation into his assassination.

      Many witnesses, often ex-associates of Charles Taylor, implicate Blaise Compaoré in the assassination of Thomas Sankara, which was carried out with the complicity of Houphouet Boigny, other African personalities, France and the CIA.

      In April 2006, the UN Committee for Human Rights, spurred on by the Judiciary committee of the International Campaign for Justice for Thomas Sankara (ICJS), working in the name of the family, concluded in favor of the plaintiffs. It further asked the state of Burkina Faso to elucidate the facts behind the assassination, in order to provide the family with a means for impartial justice, to correct his death certificate, to prove where he was buried, to compensate the family for the trauma they have suffered and to publicly divulge the committee’s decision.

      On April 21, 2008, the UN Committee for Human Rights, in complete contradiction with the preceding decision closed the record without an investigation having been carried out. Such a decision does no honor to this institution.

      Certain members of the international community pretend to see in Blaise Compaoré a man of peace, even though he is notoriously implicated in conflicts in Liberia and in Sierra Leone, in the arms’ traffic and the trafficking of diamonds for Jonas Sawimbi’s l’UNITA, then under UN embargo, and more recently in the conflict that has torn apart the Ivory Coast.

      This same international community asks us to cry over the, in fact, extremely rich continent, which is Africa, all the while working to perpetuate its submission. In reality the causes of Africa’s difficulties can be traced back to the international networks which initiate wars and assassinations in order to maintain their control over the continent’s resources — this, with the complicity of many western countries and certain African leaders.

      More than 22 years after the assassination of Sankara, a historical personality, first rate african leader who is more and more seen as a reference for an honest, determined, creative and courageous leader; precursor of the fight for the preservation of the environment, the Burkina F. revolution has become a model for development. Sankara was assassinated because he denounced the odious debt and the diktat of the western powers but also because he engaged in an independent policy, oriented toward the needs of his country, for the satisfaction of the people of his country, while at the same time opening up to a pan-Africanism.

      For these reasons we call for the support of the Judiciary Committee of the ICJS’s initiatives. For more than 12 years, the committee has relentlessly filed legal actions together with the Sankara family.

      We demand that an independent investigation into Thomas Sankara’s assassination be carried out. It is the international community’s duty, the right of the Sankara family, and a necessity for the growth of the nation’s youth. Without such an investigation, with a history expunged of the true story concerning one of the major episodes of the 20th century, the prospects of the continent cannot be fully realized.

      We call the youth, the democratic parties, the social movements in Africa and beyond to continue to mobilize in order that the light be finally shed on this assassination. Justice needs to be done so that Africa can move towards an end to impunity.


      Other organizations : CADTM, SURVIE, Coalition des Alternatives Africaines Dette et Développement (CAD-Mali), ATTAC Afrique, CEDETIM, AFASPA, CETIM, l’Etrange Rencontre, Mouvement des africains à Rome, Collectif Afrique de Lille, Casa della sinistra Thomas Sankara, Forum Sinistra Europea Genova, Associazione Culturale Punto Rosso Genova, Circolo ARCI Thomas Sankara, Fratelli Dell’Uomo ong, Association « Carlo Giuliani »

      Parties : Italy : Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (Italie) ; Burkina : UNIR/PS, FFS, PAI ; France : NPA, Les Verts, PCF ; RND (Sénégal), Parti communiste du Québec,

      Trade Unions : Solidaires (France), Syndicat National des Agents des Douanes du Niger SNAD (Niger )

      People : Eric Toussaint , Jean Ziegler, Guy-Patrice Lumumba, Blandine Sankara, Robin Shuffield (cinéaste), Benéwendé Sankara, Fidel Toe, Nkodo Maurice, Abdoulaye Diallo (cinéaste), Moussa Demba Dembele, Camille de Vitry (documentariste), Antonio Lozano (écrivain), Jacques Jouet (écrivain), Alex Zanotelli (Missionario comboniano), Luigi Ciotti (Presidente di LIBERA), Haidi Gaggio Giuliani (Politica), Silvestro Montanaro (Giornalista, Documentarista), Roberto Silvestri (Giornalista), Sabina Guzzanti (Attrice-actrice), Luigi De Magistris (Europarlamentare, Presidente della Commissione per il controllo del bilancio comunitario), Carlo Bata (traduttore, scrittore), Davide Ferrario (regista), Renato Nicolini (Politico, drammaturgo), Roberto Faenza (Regista), Joël Vernet (écrivain)

      contacts : ccontactjusticepoursankara (at) ; Solidaires/ CADTM Pointe-Noire, Congo Brazaville, jlemvo (at) et solasso (at) ; Comité Sankara, España, alozano956 (at) ; Collectif Sankara Ile de France, France, collectifthomsank (at) ; Comité Sankara de Montpellier, France, comitesankara (at) ; Comitato Italiano SankaraXX, Italie, sankara.italia (at) ; Sankara Tribute (Washington), USA, Sankaratribute (at) ; Groupe Thomas Sankara de Liège, Belgique, pauline (at) ; GRILA, Groupe de recherche et d’initiatives pour la libération de l’Afrique, Canada, admin (at) ; ATTAC Togo, Togo, attactogo (at) ; Arbeitskreis Panafrikanismus München (AKPM), Allemagne, sekretariat (at) ; RAID ATTAC Tunisie, Tunisie, fatcham (at) ; FNDP (forum national sur la dette et la pauvreté), Côte d’Ivoire, fndp11 (at) ; RNDD ( Réseau National Dette et Développement), Niger, rnddniger (at) ; Club Sankara du Sud-Ouest, Burkina, sanksudouest (at), CETIM (Centre Europe Tiers Monde), Suisse, cetim (at)

      Books & arts

      Zimbabwe: Book Cafe and Mannenberg to close

      Paul Brickhill

      Book Cafe and Mannenberg


      Harare’s iconic music and performing arts centre will close its doors to the public in Fife Avenue Shopping Mall. It will be moved to new premises.


      Managing Creativity ~ Home-grown Resources


      Paul Brickhill, Creative Director
      Tel: +263-4-336377
      [email protected]

      After 7,500 concerts and functions in books, poetry and music, 650 public discussions, over 70 book launches, 35 theatre productions, staging of 250 international touring acts and countless new local acts and collaborations that emerged within Harare’s iconic music and performing arts centre, Book Cafe and Mannenberg, will close its doors to the public in Fife Avenue Shopping Mall.

      I returned from an overseas trip recently to news that the owners of our shopping centre, OK Zimbabwe Pension Fund and its agents Old Mutual Property, had served notice on all tenants in the building that they intend to occupy the premises from 2012. Representations to owners and agents have proved to no avail.

      We are aware we could have legally fought eviction, which is not fully transparent in our opinion, and motivated some kind of mass petition locally and abroad. But ‘taking on’ financial, property and retail conglomerates may not have been easy.

      Suffice to say that we are satisfied we have acquitted our obligations for 15 years, paying more rent than the property is worth; I am not sure the same would be said of our landlords, who acted without understanding of cultural or civic needs of the city, outside what may constitute public interest, with profit uppermost, enforcing 500-700 percent rent increments in four years during the ‘recovery period’ of economic collapse, and not having repaired a single feature of our premises that we can recall. I could go on.

      Therefore, we have quietly and effectively laid plans for our future. We will announce our new premises soon. There will be a brief hiatus, since moving this kind of operation is never easy, and quite costly. There are, however, specific advantages to this move, and while it has been forced on us, “re-invention” is sometimes welcome. We hope, for example, to re-open the bookshop, and expand core elements of the operation. We will take the opportunity to adjust and improve every part of the venue and development activities, with performance, workshop, meeting and training spaces, food and beverage, and some new activities.

      Therefore, we are positive and resolute and not at all downhearted. It will be our fourth move in 30 years. In the coming year, we will do everything we can to purchase a permanent home because we don’t want to be dependent on landlords.

      Please read the attached press release. More information will follow.

      Esteemed artists and arts partners, please be assured that the artists’ and arts development future at Book Cafe is secured and bookings will follow shortly.

      Paul Brickhill, Creative Director


      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      African Writers’ Corner

      A Prayer for Bigwala

      Natty Mark Samuels


      Dedicated to the remaining few, in Busoga, Uganda.

      We beg your assistance
      In our endeavours.
      To find the next players
      Of your trumpets called bigwala.
      Please intercede on our behalf
      To the creator Kibumba.

      Just a few of us left now
      As we grow closer to the grave.
      And one day we'll be gone
      To our rendezvous with ancestor.
      When that time comes
      Busoga will be sadder.
      Who will play at the local festivities?
      Who will perform for the Kyabazinga?

      This instrument of long-necked gourd
      From an ancient trumpet quintet.
      Trumpets of the one-tone -
      I play the one called Enhana.
      I've played since early boyhood
      Learning from my father.
      Who played for the Gabula Kings
      In the palace of Bugabula.

      Soon we shall bid them farewell
      But who will remember bigwala?
      Only our ancestors
      And the museum curator.
      An ancient tradition
      Gone forever.
      Exiled to academia
      From a place called Iganga.

      People of beloved Busoga
      Don't silence your song.
      That I've heard all my life
      Between lakes Kyoga and Nyanza.
      From a culture of centuries
      The farmer -
      The banana leaf thatcher.
      Alongside the potter, the smith and the basket weaver.

      We beg your assistance
      In our endeavours.
      To find the next players
      Of your trumpets called bigwala.
      Please intercede on our behalf
      To the creator Kibumba.

      © Natty Mark Samuels, 2011.


      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      torture song

      Devorah Major



      can you hear it pull
      the wires and plugs
      out of our ear sockets...


      can you hear it pull
      the wires and plugs
      out of our ear sockets

      can you feel it
      cut through
      our waxed delusions

      a ragged scream
      pouring like hot oil
      inside and around
      our blistering spirits

      someone is screaming

      right now
      at this moment

      can’t you
      hear the screams
      coming from that man

      the one who is
      across the world
      and yet next door

      his screams burn through
      dark-hooded thick-walled
      iron-bolted citadels

      and when he screams
      he is alone

      except for the one
      who beats him

      shackled and alone

      except for the one
      who watches him get beaten

      tortured and alone

      except for us
      who can hear him
      underneath the news reports
      in a corner of our memory

      someone is screaming

      right now
      at this moment

      we can hear him weeping
      and begging and praying

      until he is stilled
      and another takes his place
      and another joins in
      and another until
      the dissonant chords
      of their knotted howl
      begin to strangle us

      or maybe it is not
      those screams we are hearing
      maybe it is a mother
      screaming as her son
      is dragged away from her

      or maybe it is his children
      their waking and sleeping hours both
      wearing the same nightmare face

      what I know for sure is
      someone is screaming
      right now

      at this moment
      some one is being
      tortured and reviled
      in the name of a country
      or in the name of a god
      or in the name of you or me

      someone is screaming

      and if it is not us
      yelling back
      calling out
      if it is not you
      if it is not me
      screaming stop
      screaming no more

      screaming louder and louder
      until we are heard
      until we have stopped
      this torture song

      who will be left
      to hear
      to listen

      i know you can hear it
      we all can hear it

      we can cover our ears
      or turn the music up higher
      but the screams will not go away
      until we stop them

      someone is screaming

      right now
      at this moment
      hear them


      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Fahamu - Networks For Social Justice

      Pambazuka News is published by Fahamu Ltd.

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

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

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

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

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

      With around 2,600 contributors and an estimated 600,000 readers, Pambazuka News is the authoritative pan-African electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa providing cutting edge commentary and in-depth analysis on politics and current affairs, development, human rights, refugees, gender issues and culture in Africa.

      Order cutting-edge climate titles from Pambazuka Press:

      'Earth Grab: Geopiracy, the New Biomassters and Capturing Climate Genes' – OUT NOW

      To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa – OUT NOW

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

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

      ISSN 1753-6839 Pambazuka News English Edition

      ISSN 1753-6847 Pambazuka News en Français

      ISSN 1757-6504 Pambazuka News em Português

      © 2009 Fahamu -