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    Pambazuka News 579: Senegal victory: Can Macky Sall deliver?

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    Senegal: I live in a democratic African country…

    Arame Tall


    cc Wikimedia
    Relief after news of Sall’s win and democratic transition following Senegal’s contested presidential election.

    Relief. Jubilation. Levity. And most of all: Liberation. These are the emotions that surged up as I, along with the 12 million Senegalese citizens in Senegal and abroad, heard the news at 21:30 GMT today that current President Abdoulaye Wade had congratulated his opponent, Macky Sall, on his victory at the presidential election.

    Indeed, as the first trends began to emerge, following day of voting in this second round of the presidential election that saw the participation of more than 3 million Senegalese voters (at least a million more than in the first round of voting), it became evident that Sall had crushed Wade in most polling stations, by a staggering average 70 percent for Sall to 30 percent for Wade, securing an easy win for Sall.

    As we heard that 85-year old President Wade had actually called his opponent, 50-year-old Macky Sall and his former Prime Minister and protégée, at 20:45 congratulating him on his victory, and thus admitting defeat even before the official proclamation of results, paving the way for Sall to become Senegal’s fourth president since Independence, a collective sigh of relief swept over the entire nation. Even the most pessimistic of us, prone to believing that politically savvy Wade had multiple tricks under his sleeve, had to let out a puff of relief.

    Spontaneous celebratory marches burst out onto the streets of Dakar, as people spilled out onto the streets en masse to celebrate in exuberance the birth of a new era for Senegal (see video).

    Many also stayed home, appeased smiles on faces, relieved that Senegal was definitively saved, and its democracy out of the woods. Peace has returned to Senegal.


    News of a defeated incumbent calling the new president elect in any other context would have perhaps not been breaking news. However they came against the background of much fear for the future of the nation of Senegal, beacon of stability and democracy in an unstable region, which boasts of a long tradition of multi-party elections and regime changes since 1974. Following the 40-year old socialist regime led by presidents Senghor then Diouf, Wade had been elected in 2000 under the mantra of SOPI, a Wolof word that translates into Change. After seven years into power, change however was not what was forthcoming; but rather a heinous attempt at grooming Wade’s son, Karim, to serve as his successor and next heir in line, turning the Republic into a monarchy.

    A popular resistance moment, coined the Mouvement du 23 juin –or M23 in short, rose in response to Wade’s attempt at changing the constitution on June 23, 2011, the first mass mobilization to oppose Wade’s attempt at constitutional changes. When it became clear that Wade was going to run for a third term, the M23 raised its tone, rallying the citizenry on the 23rd of every month under the banner of ‘DON’T TOUCH MY CONSTITUTION’, and under the even more resonant war cry of ‘Y’EN A MARRE’ (“we have had enough” in French), calling for substantive democracy with social and economic rights for all.

    Despite mounting popular pressure, Wade pressed on with his attempt at a third bid for the presidential chair. When the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, validated Wade’s candidacy on January 27, 2012, mass public protests erupted across Senegal, leaving 9 dead and dozens severely injured in the subsequent weeks (see article).

    Wade was an intruder in the electoral competition, the opposition and civil society maintained. But run Wade did –as if in an attempt to see for himself what he was still worth in the eyes of the voting youth that had parachuted him to power in the 2000 regime change–, securing a timid 34 percent majority in the first round of voting facing a divided opposition, followed in close second by Macky Sall who had secured 25 percent of the electorate.

    For the second round of voting however, all 13 opposition contenders rallied behind Sall, giving him a genuine chance at defeating the presidential incumbent in the final face-off. And defeat he did on March 25, in a crushing manner that defied even the most optimistic prognostics.


    After being held hostage for three months of electoral hold-up under now former president Abdoulaye Wade, whose unconstitutional bid for a third term had sent the country reeling in a bloody tempest of pre-electoral violence that left 9 dead in Dakar and throughout the country, Senegal has now emerged a stronger democracy.

    Indeed, Senegal’s young democracy was severely put to the test in the months past. But the Senegalese citizenry proved their maturity by peacefully going to the polls both on February 26 and in even larger numbers during the second run-off on March 25, proving the power of the ballot rather than that of the street or the rifle, and providing, for a second time, an exemplary lesson of democracy on the continent.

    The patriotism and professionalism of the Senegalese army, remarkable by its absence, was also notorious, leading many to think that the Senegalese army was really the silent hero of this second democratic transition in the nation. Indeed, a development such as that in neighboring Mali could have been easily imaginable had the army decided to come out of its barracks in the heights of Senegal’s politico-constitutional crisis.

    Senegal’s democracy is the big winner today– not Macky Sall, not even Abdoulaye Wade; but Popular Sovereignty, as demonstrated in this truly democratic African nation that Senegal comfortably sits as today, now more than ever. The People of Senegal have spoken today, and so loudly did they speak that their voice could not be ignored, indicating the way forward to resolve future political stalemates.

    Noteworthy also is that Senegal will now have its first fully-fledged Senegalese First Lady. Mrs. Sall, born Mareme Faye, is indeed a true daughter of the land, who will, as the talk of the town has it, bring the enchanting smell of Senegalese women’s incense to the Presidential Palace. This also breaks the long tradition of French first ladies, pervasive in this former French colonial prebend. Is this also an omen of an end to the “FrançAfrique”, the France-African political mafia infamous for its closed-door deals? Doubtful, given that some contend that Sall’s campaign financing came from the French group Bolloré, desperately trying to regain control of Dakar’s Autonomous Port, after former president Wade’s son, Karim, had placed it in the hands of the firm Dubai World.


    Whether or not this marks the end of the “FrançAfrique”, A new era now begins for the country of Senegal under its new, younger leadership. The challenges remain high and weighty: a dilapidated health sector, an education system in crisis, a non performing economy highly dependent on petroleum imports, an idle youthful population thirsty for jobs.

    Will Sall rise up to the task on all these challenges? Will he deliver on the substantive democracy that the Senegalese youth called for under their resonant slogan “Y’EN A MARRE”?

    Sall has five years to show his true mantle. And whatever ensues, one fact remains certain: the new type of Senegalese citizenry, which the M23 has given birth to and whom we saw fight for its democracy and constitutional sovereignty to death, will be watching over him, alert and vigilant.


    * Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

    * Arame Tall is a Senegalese commentator based at Johns Hopkins University.
    * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Senegal’s game of thrones: Whose Victory?



    cc S D

    cc E S
    Macky Sall should be supported, but people should be suspicious and vigilant. He is, after all, Wade's protégé.

    For peasants and petty traders living under feudal monarchies, the only thing worse than living with a plundering despotic king was not having one. When a king's excesses led dissidents to seek a pretender, everyone suffered. During wars, harvests were stolen and the youth disappeared into armies and prostitution. Perhaps, the best portrayal of these circumstances is Bertold Brecht's brilliant play, Mother Courage and Her Children, set amid Europe's "Thirty Years' War".

    For the majority of Senegalese citizens, the outcome of recent elections is seen as a victory insofar as it allows some calm to pervade the tense streets, as people return to their drudgery. There is no doubt the winner, Macky Sall, gained jubilant support. He proved himself an effective politician by maintaining coolness and professionalism, while the fantastical rhetoric of his opponent, Abdulaye Wade, increasingly revealed signs of senility. Macky on the other hand, showed a level of humility, an ability to work with others. He also made populist appeals, recognizing the fact that many in society are suffering.
    As the election results came in many were overtaken by a sense of euphoria and pride in the fact the country was able to ride through a tough political moment without descending into a crisis like that recently experienced in Cote d’Ivoire. Yet, aside from this, throughout the election process most people I spoke to were pretty cynical. They suspect all politicians to have been involved in stealing from the people. It appeared to most a lot like a turf war among drug lords. What matters to those elected did not seem to be the people on the street so much, as who gets to control the spoils.


    It is important, however, not to understate the significance of halting the rapid decay into authoritarianism that was previously taking place – and supported by vitriolic rhetoric by Wade, treating the protestors as scum needing to be swept up. As election results came through following the first round, showing Wade's massive decline, the authority of the police on the streets was immediately deflated - rather than occupying the centre of streets, surrounding Independence square, they were relegated to the sidelines. They even acted politely toward passerbys. Wade massively misjudged his capacity to win the election. Even as he applied every trick of fraud he could manage, he was far from being able to pull a Mugabe or shut the polls as Kenya’s Kibaki did in 2007 when he appeared to be losing.

    The protests and police violence in Dakar, made it clear that one should never underestimate the value of liberal-democratic freedoms, even if they are primarily symbolic and therefore don’t actually alter power relations in society. Even Wade supporters I spoke to were shocked by the events of Sunday, February 19, which saw spontaneous anger unleashed toward police in every part of the city.

    In Dakar's poorest suburb of Rufisque, a young man was shot dead with live police ammunition, bringing the total number of deaths in recent weeks to at least seven. Cities across the country faced similar situations. Perhaps most significantly, the youth had targeted the main transport routes. Whether they knew it or not, this was one of the critical tactics that led to independence in so many countries across this continent. This was probably the day Wade lost the election if he had not already by then.

    Macky Sall should be supported, insofar as he is clearly indicating a willingness to implement a number of changes to limit powers of the future president and to increase space for public political expression. Beyond that, people should be suspicious and vigilant. Sall is playing the media spotlight exceptionally well, but he is of course, Wade's protégé. He claims that he will work to alleviate poverty and address healthcare and education. The problem, however, is that he has been remarkably vague on how he expects to accomplish these. More importantly, his past actions show him to have been a key ally of the global one per cent.


    The basis of Senegal's current gang-war politics stem partly from the fact the state coffers are like Swiss cheese (Swiss Cheese was, quite appropriately, the name of the military paymaster in Brecht's Mother Courage). Idrissa Seck was Wade's former prime minister, but implicated in mismanagement of funds for road building and imprisoned in 2005, with Sall playing a key role as Wade's henchman.

    Seck then accused Sall of misappropriation of public funds, amounting to seven billion CFA francs ($3.5million). Charges against Seck were dropped, but Sall then fell out with Wade in 2008, when he started to ask questions about his son Karim's management of state building contracts.

    This is high-profile stuff, but the more insidious problem with the holes in state coffers is that much of the misuse of funds occurs somewhat legally. The liberalisation and privatisation agenda has seen public servants creating companies that pick up various outsource contracts at greatly inflated rates.
    Wade created an anti-corruption Authority for Regulating Public Contract in 2007, but the same year, it reported that more than 70 per cent of government deals were not properly vetted. When the authority found Karim Wade involved in a reportedly shady deal with US company Global Voice, the president claimed it did not have authority over presidential contracts.

    Money has flowed quite blatantly to Wade's son and daughter - the latter organising a massive international music and arts festival in 2010 that brought musicians from all over the world. Some have reportedly still not been paid. But it's the land deals and the telecommunications contracts that are much harder to dig up and challenge, in part because, the forms of corruption take place through private contracts, over which members of government have managed to use their control as a form of rent to write in percentages of profits to themselves. Wade even did this with his statue.


    The day after the first round of elections, Sall was still boasting of having been in Wade's inner circle. Yet the day after that, he was claiming that if he were to win, he would perform a full state audit and create more transparency in government. Even if he were involved in past thieving, this would no doubt be a positive step. But what kind of economy does he envision beyond that? More importantly, what portions of the economy is he not talking about?
    Sall also suggested that key aspects of his economic policy would be to lower the cost of living (you would think he might contemplate increasing wages here, but that has yet to be proposed by any candidate).

    He also said he would create jobs by spending 300 billion francs ($150 million) on investment and tourism development, a job-creation project to create 500,000 jobs via youth entrepreneurship in leisure activities and tourist crafts, give tax exemption to 80 per cent of retired ex-pat residents to draw them back to Senegal for six months a year, restructuring of the tourism sector (almost, without doubt leading to the privatisation of state resources) and an increase in VAT tax on tourism services.

    This should be seen as utterly offensive to most people in Senegal, especially so because this comes from a man who was a minister of mines and marine resources. People want restrictions placed upon foreign fishing vessels in their waters, so they can get their fishing industry back. They want their agriculture industry to be revived. They want decent wages from their employers.
    They would probably also like some of their mining resources to support secondary industries that could employ university graduates. The problem, however, is that many Senegalese are still unaware of the mining boom currently taking place in their country. The fact Sall is so quiet on this matter should lead people to ask some very significant questions about his role when he was the minister responsible.

    Macky Sall was also once the head of the state petroleum company, which you might think would make him a little sceptical about gambling the country's future on air travel, as global reserves are declining. Aside from the limited practicality of the plan, does he really think the youth in Ye'n a Marre are aspiring for careers as yes-men for European vacationers? Moreover, resort locations are already experiencing a downturn as a result of the financial crisis. People want dignity, not further servitude.


    The likely reason Sall is silent about Senegal's biggest prize is that he was allegedly involved in handing it over to the world's biggest polluters and human rights offenders. I'm referring here to the West African Birimian geological belt in Tambacounda, found to have more than 10 million ounces of gold resources.

    Sall was minister of mining when the constitution was changed to open it to international exploration. The Canadian company, Teranga Gold Corp, made off with a 1,500km claim, and has since suggested "Senegal is developing into a world-class gold district, for which Teranga Gold holds one of the largest land positions on the belt".

    Oxfam has claimed that the population displaced by an adjacent Australian firm now lives in extreme poverty [Fr]. No studies have examined the plight of those impacted by other mines. Extreme poverty among the local population really isn't so bad for the company, however, as it wants a compliant workforce to keep it operating 24 hours a day.

    The problem manifested itself when protests against poverty and a lack of jobs in 2008 turned into a riot, where 26 were arrested and two were killed.
    In Kedougou, where at least one person was fatally injured during rioting, the governor, Mamadou Diom, acknowledged that the unrest was caused, in part at least, at the perception of the mines not employing local workers.

    Diom is reported, in a leaked US cable marked "Confidential", to have said: "People need to understand that large scale gold mining is very new and that jobs, especially those needing skilled labour, won't be available overnight."
    He was later somewhat unsympathetic to his constituents. "They are lazy here," Diom is reported to have said. "All they want to do is strike it rich working in small time mines and then blow their money on women and booze." To be fair to the companies, they reportedly pay about three times the average national income and have comparatively strong records for worker safety, but there are additional questions about how long the mines operate, whether workers gain transferable skills. It is worth examining track-records.

    Among the executives at the region's Teranga gold mine, Kathy Sipos and Yani Roditis are two of the vice-presidents, both of whom have had extensive careers at Barrick Gold and have worked on mining operations in Peru, Chile and Argentina - a point I will come back to.

    Another Canadian and Saudi company, Iamgold, is taking part in the gold rush in Senegal. Its CEO is, Stephen JJ Letwin. Letwin is a former vice-president of Enbridge, the company building pipelines across North America to transport tar sands extractions [PDF]. One such pipeline is embroiled in controversies with some of Canada's first nation (native) communities who don't want it destroying their ecosystems.

    Benjamin Little, another former Barrick Gold employee, also sits on Iamgold's board. Little sits on the on Canada-Peru Chamber of Commerce. This brings us back to issues of Latin America.

    Canadian gold corporations have been key targets of massive indigenous resistance movements. In Peru, where Canadian companies have invested more than $2.3billion, a crackdown on indigenous protesters by the Peruvian government killed at least 50 people. One important comment on this has been written by Todd Gorden.

    Many Senegalese have been outraged by the seven deaths of protesters and have sought support from the international community to stop Wade's terror. The reality, however, is if Peru can get away with killing 50 protesters without an outcry from international officials, why would they care about seven in Senegal?
    These are the people who are making off with millions that could otherwise be used to support welfare programmes and economic diversification in Senegal. In 2003 one executive member, Paul Olmstead, pulled in a salary nearly $600,000 from Iamgold. That was before the deposits even turned up any gold and stock options are considered. How much are they making now and how much is going to their investors? What percentages are going to the Senegalese people and in what form?

    Sure enough, wages for miners are involved, but my own sources in Dakar tell me those are about $7000 a year – great when compared with the average annual income of $1100, but it sure doesn’t go far when just about everything is imported (even the national staples of rice, potatoes and onions). You would be very hard pressed to find a Senegalese person making $7000 who thinks this arrangement is fair. Stephen Letwin, is blatantly aware of the fact that “Over the course of time, they're going to want more of a take” .

    Beyond the lost potential revenues of these companies, one should question what the long-term environmental impacts might be. One key reason for doing this is that the annual reports of these companies make it quite clear they are planning a hit-and-run operation. Teranga’s are optimistic about only 10-15 years (this is a new projection, up from the mere 9 years they originally planned). But what then will happen to those who worked in the industry? What then will happen to those who lost their grazing land and who then will be responsible for cleaning up any environmental damage?

    The track-record of many of these players is not good. Chet Idziszek is the president and director of Oromin, another company involved. In 1990, he won "mining man of the year" award (I guess it is presumed they are always men) for his role in "developing" the Eskay Creek in British Columbia, Canada. The Eskay Creek Mine is in the headwaters of the Unuk River in British Columbia, the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation. Barrick purchased the mine in 2001 from Homestake, and opened it in 1995. It was reportedly depleted by 2008 and closed.

    For a short time, Tahltan enjoyed near full employment. But the native jobs tended towards truck driving, catering and chamber-maiding. By the time Barrick Gold called it quits in early 2008, the Tahltan Iskut community had little to show for it, except for two tailings lakes that, according to Mining Watch [PDF], are likely heavily polluted. One cannot know, however, because laws in Canada protect mining companies from having to tell the public details about their operations.

    These cases are particularly disturbing when one considers the fact that that most of this gold will not be used to develop electronics or teeth or anything useful to society – but will ultimately end up simply manufactured into bars, stored by the super-rich in bank vaults


    Macky Sall is himself a mining engineer. He was minister of mines when these companies were established in Senegal. One can only imagine he spent many hours dining with these executives who make off with so much of the country's wealth.
    Senegalese people should be asking what Sall thinks about the gross inequalities between the incomes of these mining executives and those of the Senegalese majority. They should also be asking whether they in fact supported his campaign, which has allowed him to travel continually around the country over the past two years.

    It might also be worth noting that elsewhere in Africa, governments are re-examining their taxation and ownership arrangements with mining companies. Zambia and South Africa are two examples, although Julius Malema was expelled from the ANC after he suggested nationalising the mines. Even the minority government of Australia managed to create a new mining tax.

    Unless Macky Sall openly states otherwise, Senegalese people should be aware that he has been cavorting with people who are deeply involved in human rights abuses and ecological destruction of monumental proportions. Moreover, they should be aware than a majority of foreigners brought into the country to work in mining are now done so using temporary work visas that offer no benefits from the state, though workers must pay taxes and are subject to discrimination. Even those who come in with come qualifications make $6.30 less than the average Canadian and face much higher unemployment.


    Sall has a daunting task to manage unemployment of massive proportions (reportedly as high as 50 per cent in some demographic sectors) without being able to do anything to alter the underlying economy. The predicament is remarkably similar to Frantz Fanon’s description as far back as 1961:
    The national economy of the period of independence is not set on a new footing. It is still concerned with the groundnut harvest, with the cocoa crop and the olive yield. In the same way there is no change in the marketing of basic products, and not a single industry is set up in the country. We go on sending out raw materials; we go on being Europe's small farmers, who specialize in unfinished products.

    Sall has not proposed any dramatic changes to this arrangement. So far he has only indicated that he thinks the unemployed youth will serve the cocktails and provide the sight seeing for the mining executives as they come in and out of the country. Currently in bars popular among engineers they are already outnumbered by sex-workers, while the boys are left to rap in the slums.

    A glance at the latest video, by Beuz Mc titled “fou rewmi dieum” (where are we going) suggests youth in Y’en’a Marre are much more attuned to the needs of the economy than the soon-to-be president. They show the need for infrastructure and public-sector jobs in waste treatment and sanitation, road construction, electricity that does not put the mining sector above nursing mothers, safe water, cheaper energy and health care and education (literacy rate is 42% - far below the “sub-saharan” rate of 62).

    The reality, however, is that none of this can come without curbing the power of a global 1% whose profits come at the expense of our children’s future. On this basis Sall does not show a willingness or ability to take on this task.


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    Macky Sall: Any lessons for the sleeping giant?

    Abdurazaq Magaji


    cc G P
    In Nigeria, the powers that be have decided that opposition politicians, people like Senegal's Macky Sall, will have to wait for sixty years before they can ever become president.

    Lucky man. Macky Sall, that is. Were he a Nigerian, he would certainly have had to wait till he was, at least, a hundred years old to become president. Even if he had all it takes to defeat a fumbling, less credible opponent and even when the electorate would have been happier to see the back of his opponent, he certainly would not have had the honour of a run off, talk less of recording a resounding victory. Chances are that he would have been rigged out in the first round and after endless court cases, he would have been told to go lick his wounds. In Nigeria, the powers that be have decided that opposition politicians, people like Macky Sall, will have to wait for sixty years before they can ever become president.

    In Nigeria, the beautiful ones are, indeed, not born yet. Going by simple arithmetic, and in line with the decision of the powers that be, a man the age of Macky Sall to become president is yet to be born. The new Senegalese president is 50 years old. So if you deduct 50 from 60, it means the next candidate from another party outside the ruling party to become president is not yet born; he will be born ten years from now. See why Macky Sall is a lucky man? The message here is that Nigerians are, permit the choice of word, stuck with a behemoth and there is about nothing anybody can do to change the prevailing socio economic miasma in the country; no matter the level of insensitivity and, certainly no matter the determination of Nigerians for a peaceful change through the ballot box.

    More vexing is the fact that Macky Sall will now have the honour of shaking the hands of leaders who make peaceful change impossible in their countries. Clearly, he must have received congratulatory messages from some of these leaders who, in private, see him as nothing but a spoiler for unseating a fumbling leader through the ballot box. Pray. What, on earth, did he think he has done by gate crashing into an elite club of fumblers? He is on his own if he expects a garland to be hanged on his neck for giving hope to citizens next door that peaceful change was possible. Beyond the façade of fake smiles from State Houses across the continent, Macky Sall should not delude himself that he is on the same page with fumbling democratically elected despots next door; he is not.

    The struggling people of Senegal, especially members of the Senegalese Armed Forces, must be congratulated for speaking through the ballot. For whatever reasons, members of the Armed Forces watched from the sides and watched their Commander in Chief destroyed in an election instead of rolling out the tanks to chase out an old man who did not know when it was time to say good bye. The soldiers could have driven out Abdoulaye Wade to the eternal gratitude of the Senegalese, as was the case in Niger Republic when Mamadou Tanja was thrown out after he changed the constitution to elongate his rule. That was Tanja’s undoing; few Nigeriens accused him of non performance in the ten years he ruled. He simply failed to go when he should have.

    For similar reasons, Abdoulaye Wade should be congratulated. Like any other fumbling leader, the old man did not do much to stem the tide of growing poverty in Senegal. And like his peers next door, he could have rigged the first ballot or caused the second ballot to be tinkered with. He did try to influence the run off; at least, there were credible reports of his field workers moving from one polling booth to the other with Ghana must go bags, the usual practice of desperate politicians, to hand out pittance to hungry voters. The voters must have taken the money and voted their conscience. But what apparently dissuaded old man Wade to go the whole hog to massively rig the election was the fear of a back lash from the Armed Forces. Mind you, few days to the run off, soldiers next door had thrown out Toumani Toure from State House, Bamako for his poor handling of the rebellion in northern Mali. And though some opposition politicians curiously justified the coup by citing poor handling of the Malian economy, the reason adduced by the soldiers to throw out Toumani Toure was a signal to Wade that a coup was possible in Senegal where there has been grumblings in the Armed Forces over the handling of a rebellion in the Casamance province.

    Any lessons here? One good thing going for fumbling leadership in the continent is that Africa has enough humanitarian crises on its hands than to watch akimbo and allow for more. Take Nigeria: you can imagine the humanitarian crisis in neighbouring countries if a quarter of its population, some 40 million people, are forced out to acquire refugee status. It has always been the fear of a humanitarian crisis, not a satisfaction with the performance of its leadership, that has been responsible for dubious pass marks awarded to fraudulent elections in Nigeria. It was this fear that brought Nigeria away from the brink over the June 12 crisis. Don’t blame Nigeria’s neighbours: they will always prevail on the international community to allow a sleeping giant to sleep on so as not to trigger a real long trek with its attendant dislocations. After all, a sleeping giant worries no one: the deeper it sleeps, the better the peace of its neighbours.

    There are two ways to ensure the giant continues to sleep. One is to quit pretending that a select few, in spite of their failings, will rule for eternity. Nigeria is top on the receding number of countries where fumbling governments continue to post ridiculous figures in elections. And by continuously telling the electorate to literally go to hell, we are consciously nudging the sleeping giant; we are riding the tiger. The other, of course, is good government, something you don’t get when ill-prepared people are imposed on the people. Or, when people get to leadership positions on compassionate grounds.

    Does this sound sensible enough?


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    Could abolishing tax havens solve Africa's financing needs?

    Charles Abugre


    cc epSos
    Increased financial transparency is critical to stem the illicit capital outflows that are crippling Africa.

    The past month, the spotlight has been on James Ibori, the governor of Nigeria's Delta state from 1999 to 2007, who pleaded guilty in a London court to 10 counts relating to conspiracy to launder funds from the state he governed.

    Ibori was accused of siphoning off an estimated $250m and laundering it in London through a number of offshore companies and financial intermediaries to fund his extravagant lifestyle of lavish mansions, expensive cars and private jets. This mode of illicit capital flight is by no means restricted to one rogue Nigerian governor or even African leaders at large, nor is it the most important means by which capital leaves the continent (and developing countries generally) illicitly.

    True, $250m from one source is substantial. But this pales into insignificance compared with the estimated $100bn that left Nigeria illicitly between 1970 and 2008, according to Global Financial Integrity (GFI). The bulk of this haemorrhage, contrary to popular belief, is not through the laundering of corrupt money but through commercial activities, and particularly through multinational corporations.

    According to GFI's conservative estimates, more than $1.8 trillion left African shores illicitly between 1970 and 2008. Of this, only 3 percent is attributable to bribery and theft by government officials, 30-35 percent results from the laundering of criminally acquired wealth (drugs, illegal arms sales, human trafficking, etc), and the bulk – 65-70 percent – is from commercial activities, especially through trade mis-pricing of goods.

    Over the last 10 years, the average annual outflows of this sort exceeded $50bn. This compares with annual aid inflows of less than $30bn. The outflows are largely to avoid or evade tax and to conceal wealth.

    This week's proposed change by the chancellor, George Osborne, on how foreign subsidiaries of multinationals based in the UK are taxed, will give even less incentive to keep money in poorer countries. Reform of these controlled foreign company rules in the upcoming budget would strengthen the financial case for shifting money to tax havens by making profits made by multinationals abroad and retained in offshore jurisdictions free from UK tax. This could cost developing countries £4bn a year in lost tax revenue, according to ActionAid estimates.

    These outflows undermine the rule of law, stifle trade and worsen macroeconomic conditions. They are facilitated by around 60 tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions that enable the creating and operating of millions of disguised corporations, shell companies, anonymous trust accounts and fake charitable foundations. They allow the likes of Ibori and many multinational corporations to cripple Africa financially and politically.

    Given that about 50 percent of global trade passes through tax havens, these jurisdictions facilitate trade mis-pricing by making it difficult for documentation to be traced. Transnational companies have the ability to set up multiple trusts and shell companies in these jurisdictions. This is significant because about 60 percent of global trade takes place between and within multinational companies. Secrecy also attracts criminal activity, and the laundering of corrupt money through concealment of the natural beneficiaries behind shell companies and trusts.

    Africa is experiencing economic growth, and for the increasing wealth to be channelled to public services, development and the achievement of the millennium development goals by 2015, it is urgent the problem of tax havens as a conduit for illicit outflows is addressed. The high-level panel set up by the African Union, the African Development Bank and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, is a significant step forward - and testifies to the importance of this issue for Africa's development. The ball is now in the court of the rich countries.


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    * Charles Abugre is the Africa Regional Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign (for the MDGs). These views should not be attributed to the United Nations.
    * This article was first published by The Guardian.
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    Africa: From Berlin to Brussels

    Will Europe underdevelop Africa again?

    Chukwuma Charles Soludo


    cc Wikimedia
    Almost all the flexibilities in policy choice that Africa and other developing countries won under the WTO are lost under the EPAs.

    Africa is in trouble. Its future is once again on the table, and it is Europe that holds the ace. Unlike the Berlin Conference of 1884 to 1885 which balkanized Africa among 13 European powers as guaranteed sources of raw materials and market, the current contraption under the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) spearheaded from Brussels is the modern day equivalent of the Berlin Conference. At issue in both Berlin and Brussels is whether or not Africa can be allowed latitude to conduct trade, industrial and development policies for her own development or for the development of Europe. A major difference is that the ‘agreement’ will now be signed by free people, under supposedly democratic regimes, and in contexts where the African people again have neither voice nor choice. Only about 10 out of 47 Sub-Saharan African countries (SSA) have either signed or initialled the EPAs. Trade ministers of the affected regions—the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries as well as African trade ministers and the African Union—have largely rejected the EPAs. Despite all of these, and the reported public protests in twenty countries against the raw deal, it seems all but certain to be rammed through. In private whisperings, not many Africans or policymakers are happy with the deal but there is a certain sense of helplessness.

    Since 2002, the EU has been negotiating the EPAs with the ACP countries as a fully reciprocal trade arrangement to replace the previous non-reciprocal, preferential trade access of ACP countries to EU markets under the various Lome Conventions and the Cotonou agreement. The argument, according to the EU, is that such preferential access violated Article XXIV of GATT, and that the WTO waiver that allowed such preferences expired in December 2007. Consequently, the ACP countries are divided into seven regions (with five in Africa) for the purposes of the negotiations. As advertised, EPAs are “set out to help ACP countries integrate into the world economy and share in the opportunities offered by globalization”. The EU points to the ‘failures’ of the previous preferential arrangements to ‘boost local economies and stimulate growth in ACP countries’. Thus, the new reciprocal arrangement is expected to remedy the failures of the past and usher the Eldorado to Africa.

    Specifically, EPAs are expected to be "tailor-made" to suit specific regional circumstances; go beyond conventional free-trade agreements, focusing on ACP development, taking account of their socio-economic circumstances and include co-operation and assistance to help ACPs implement the Agreements; open up EU markets fully and immediately (unilaterally by the EU since 1st January 2008), but allowed ACPs 15 (and up to 25) years to open up to EU imports while providing protection for the sensitive 20% of imports; provide scope for wide-ranging trade co-operation on areas such as services and standards; and are also designed to be drivers of change that will kick-start reform and help strengthen rule of law in the economic field, thereby attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), so helping to create a "virtuous circle" of growth. The above sounds quite familiar, and anyone familiar with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) documents will recognize the language. Consequently, countries were rushed to initial interim EPAs before the end of 2007, and some countries went on to sign them later. These have mainly been single countries. Most of the sub-regions, as groups of countries, are still negotiating the regional EPAs (e.g. West Africa, Central Africa, SADC etc).

    Put simply, in order to continue to have access to European markets (on the terms that it had enjoyed for more than three decades) Africa is now required to eliminate tariffs on at least 80% of imports from the EU; in some cases, abolish all export duties and taxes, in others, countries can retain existing export taxes but not increase them or introduce new taxes; eliminate all quantitative restrictions ; and meet all kinds of other intrusive and destructive conditionalities that literally tie the hands of African governments to deploy the same kinds of instruments that all countries that have industrialized applied to build competitive national economies. Under the WTO, least developed countries (LDCs) are not required to further reduce their tariffs (at least they have the choice to decide whether and when to do so) but EPAs require at least 80% of them eliminated. Indeed, Africa is being asked to comply with more stringent conditions than Brazil, India and China are required to meet under the WTO. Almost all the flexibilities in policy choice that Africa and other developing countries won under the WTO are lost under the EPAs. Hitherto, the EU had also (in addition to the Cotonou agreement) granted a special concession to all African LDCs – the ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) - allowing them to export duty-free to the EU. This was the EU’s equivalent of the US Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) and African LDCs were not expected to reciprocate. With EPA, it means that EBA is effectively dead. LDCs would have to provide reciprocal market access opening. In addition, what the EU has failed to get under the WTO or issues that developing countries have rejected under the WTO are being foisted on Africa under the EPA. For example, the so-called trade-related issues (the Singapore issues) such as investment, competition and transparency in government procurement, which are dead under WTO are being smuggled into EPA.

    There are all kinds of studies on the possible effects of the EPAs on African economies. While it is fair to acknowledge that some of the presumed impacts (positive and negative) may be exaggerated, there is abundant evidence that the EPAs would be damaging. Africa’s nascent industrial sector and agriculture (which is the mainstay of the poor) would be damaged by the new import armada and dumping thereby exacerbating unemployment and poverty. In some countries, imports of sugar, dairy, poultry, rice, vegetable oil, etc have already increased four-fold. Tariff revenues will shrink; premature and permanent opening up of service sectors including financial services leaves them open to the full hazards of the perennial global financial bubbles; and it will badly hurt intra African economic integration. Africa would almost be consigned to be specialists in the export of raw materials. African countries cannot use government procurement and contracts to prop up and promote domestic companies as European companies would be required to be given equal treatment in competition for government contracts. The list of the damages is long and cannot be detailed here. Some independent studies by EU admit these damages, and one such study predicts that EPA could accelerate the collapse of manufacturing in West Africa. Perhaps, that is why the EU is promising ‘aid for trade’ – to sooth and compensate for some of the damages.

    What is worrying is that it is difficult to point to any significant net benefit of EPAs to Africa. Already 33 out of the 47 countries are LDCs and therefore qualify to export ‘everything but arms’ to the EU with 100% duty-free and quota-free. So, what is the additional benefit to these countries? For the remaining 14 non-LDC countries, it is curious why the EU cannot accede to the request by the African Union to treat Africa as the world’s archetypical LDC region and grant the same EBA to all of the countries. Or, alternatively there are several proposals about benchmarking and sequencing the conditionalities/liberalization to synchronize with economic advancement of these remaining 14 countries. So far, these proposals have not been accepted by the European Commission even for discussion.

    In any case, the EU’s peculiar interpretation of Article XXIV of GATT is a convenient one. The EU relies on this Article to argue that the WTO outlaws non-reciprocal, preferential trade to Africa under the Cotonou agreement. But the same Article refers to trade in goods, and so why has EU brought up all kinds of issues – services, investment, procurement into the EPA? Second, it must be noted that this article crafted in 1947 is itself still a subject of the Doha trade negotiations. Third and to be honest about it, the WTO does allow for non-reciprocal preferential trade arrangements if the motivation for EU’s action is to assist Africa. Currently there are more than 7 active waivers in the WTO provided to the US, EU and Canada for preferential trade schemes for developing countries and transition economies. For example, the US has a waiver for its AGOA for sub-Saharan Africa. Recently, the EU has obtained two waivers to grant non-reciprocal trade preferences to poorer European countries namely, Moldova, and another one to the Western Balkan transition economies (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo). It is remarkable to note the EU’s argument for applying for waiver to the WTO in respect of Moldova. According to the EU, “Moldova is the poorest country on the European continent… and does not have the competitive strength to take reciprocal obligations of a free-trade agreement with the European Communities” (WTO document of 29 February, 2008). But Moldova (the poorest European country with per capita income of about $2,300; life expectancy of 71 years and adult literacy rate of 99%) is far better than most sub-Saharan African countries, and not to talk of much richer ones like Croatia with about $10,000 per capita income. Compare this to much of Africa and even the 14 countries dubbed ‘non-LDC’ (Nigeria has a per capita income of about $1,200; Ghana $1,475; Kenya $1,125; etc and in all of these countries poverty incidence is at least 50%). Something is not adding up here. According to the EU, granting non-reciprocal preferential trade concessions to fellow European countries that are richer than most African countries does not violate WTO rules, but doing so for Africa does. Africa remains the world’s poorest region and perhaps the last development challenge. The EU needs to come up with a credible explanation. I can almost hear some people screaming… Double standards, or isn’t it?

    EU needs to come clean. It does not have to apologize about it because after all, it can argue that it is the way the world works. From the time of slavery to the Berlin conference, Africa has either been a source of free labour and profit or source of raw materials and market. Only the dynamics change but the substance has remained. After all, nation states hardly act out of love but in pursuit of self-interests.

    We appreciate that the global economy today is rumbling, with new tensions and challenges. As the old economic powers are largely broke, the emerging economies with cash are roaring. The BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are seen as the ‘new threats’. The global economic landscape is unravelling and recoupling in such a manner that would likely alter the economic, military, and geopolitical power in the medium term. With this has emerged new pressures and demand for exhaustible natural resources and markets to sustain national security and prosperity. Since the major powers are no longer able to make use of the WTO as they wish to impose new rules on developing countries, they are now resorting to bilateral and regional policies and agreements to try and get their way. There is a subtle war for ‘territories’ and Neo-mercantilism is the name of the game. The US is locking-in its neighbours in Latin America into one form of free trade agreement (FTA) or another. Africa has once again attracted attention as a theatre of the new struggle. China is accused by the West of either ‘invading’ or ‘exploiting’ Africa with its peculiar brand of ‘aid’. In this circumstance, it could only be expected that EU would move quickly to secure its possession—Africa. In the European Commission’s 2008 document entitled “The Raw Materials Initiative—Meeting our Critical Needs for Growth and Jobs in Europe” and presented to the European Parliament and the Council, one can get a clearer glimpse of the real impetus for EPA. Trust the sophistication of the negotiators, it is being branded as an initiative to ‘help’ or ‘develop’ Africa. History repeats itself in a funny way. Recall that the advertised ‘benefit’ to Africa of the Berlin conference that cemented colonization was to ‘help in suppressing slavery’. The rest is history!

    In terms of the technique deployed to coerce compliance by Africa, it is the old classic: divide and rule, and carrot and stick. EU negotiates as a bloc, but ACP countries are divided into seven regions, sometimes not exactly matching the regional integration arrangements. Even within the negotiating regions, each country is literally on its own: that way, it is easy to pick them off one by one. If Africa negotiates as a bloc, it may be difficult for EU to get its way easily. The principle of the early bird is applied to create what economists call the prisoner’s dilemma and thus making collective action difficult. Countries that have ‘signed’ are allowed to continue to enjoy their preferential access to European market while those that have not signed are under all kinds of threats. Those already in the privileged club do not want to lose their privileges and see themselves as ‘special’ while those excluded struggle to sign on the dotted lines. Different EPAs signed by different countries contain significant differences in terms of tariff lines, sequencing and speed of liberalization, depending on the negotiating capacity of the country/region. We understand that in some cases, the advisers to some countries’ negotiators are Europeans. Most countries still resist and now export under the EU Generalized System of Preferences (GSP); EBA for the LDCs; and the standard GSP for Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Gabon and some Pacific countries. South Africa continues with its old free trade arrangement with EU. Even the GSP for some countries is now under threat. Power is the issue here. Given the weaknesses of the states and structural vulnerabilities of most African countries, including dependence on aid and trade with Europe for many, it is evident that what is going on is not negotiation but dictation.

    The apparent sweetener to the bitter pill is the EU’s ‘promise’ of ‘EU Aid for Trade’ by which EU is to provide financial assistance to EPA countries to enable them to build capacity, including infrastructure, and facilitate their implementation of the new agreement. This new ‘promise’ for aid is indeed funny, and raises important questions. Is this going to be an ‘additional aid’ or a re-branding of existing but unmet commitments? Under the auspices of the United Nations, the rich industrial countries in 1970 committed to devote 0.7% of their Gross National Income to aid. Some 42 years now, it remains a promise not kept. Only five countries- Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, and Luxemburg have met the 0.7% of GNI in aid.

    We have lost count of the numerous conferences and summits for mobilizing resources for development and the numerous ‘promises’ of increased aid. None of the previous ‘promises’ of funding for Africa’s development has been met. Neither the Lagos Plan of Action nor the Africa’s Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programme (which was approved by UN-General Assembly) received any support. The UN New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s did not receive the promised financial assistance. By 2001, the African Union in Zambia launched its New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), and at the 2002 G-8 Summit in Kananaskis, Canada, NEPAD was adopted by G-8 leaders as “a bold and clear-sighted vision” for Africa and pledged financial assistance to ensure that NEPAD did not go the way of previous efforts. At the UN Conference on ‘Financing for Development (Monterrey, Mexico), more pledges were made. The result of all of these ‘pledges’ is that aid to Africa has fallen since the mid-1990s in nominal and real terms.

    A recent one was the EU’s ‘promise’ to increase aid to 0.56% of GNI by 2010 (aid to all countries not just Africa). Our question is whether the ‘aid for trade’ will be additional to the yet to be met 0.7% or is a new benchmark being ‘promised’? Without doubt Africa needs huge resources to develop intra and inter regional transportation networks to integrate the national markets as well as to address the myriad of critical supply bottlenecks that were decisive in preventing Africa from fully taking advantages of previous preferential trade arrangements. However, anyone following the developments in the EU as well as its history of delivering on previous ‘promises’ can make some judgements as to the credibility of a new ‘promise’.

    Beside the quantum of aid, the quality of its delivery is critical. The kind of ‘aid for trade’ that Africa needs should be in the quantum and delivery mechanism that should build the infrastructure to integrate the fragmented African markets into a common market. Currently, it is more expensive for many African countries to trade with fellow African countries than with Europe. But aid to Africa is largely country-specific and neither the EU nor the World Bank has a robust framework for regional aid or lending. Country based ‘aid for trade’ even when it is of any significant quantity and quality merely reinforces existing fragmentation, creating a hub and spoke framework whereby Europe is the hub and individual African countries constitute the spokes.
    On a related subject, is EPA going to happen in the context of the continued existence of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with its harmful subsidy regime? In 2006, a leading UK newspaper, The Independent, succinctly captured the travesty. According to the newspaper, the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) “lavishes subsidies on the UK's wealthiest farmers and biggest landowners at the expense of millions of poorest farmers in the developing world. The UK Government must lobby hard within the EU to agree an overhaul of the CAP by 2008 to put an end to the vicious cycle of overproduction and dumping. The £30bn-a-year EU agricultural subsidy regime is one of the biggest iniquities facing farmers in Africa and other developing countries. They cannot export their products because they compete with the lower prices made possible by payments. In addition, European countries dump thousands of tons of subsidised exports in Africa every year so that local producers cannot even compete on a level playing field in their own land. Meanwhile, governments of developing countries come under intense pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to scrap their own tariffs and subsidies as part of free trade rules”.

    How apt! As at 2011, the subsidy totalled about £48 billion per year (about US$75 billion) and it is expected to stay at this level until at least 2020. Yet African countries are expected to liberalize NOW. Some analysts have opined that the huge subsidy in Europe is an implicit tariff of hundreds of per cent on agricultural imports. Alternatively, some believe such subsidy amounts to banning imports of agricultural goods and promoting dumping in other countries—especially Africa. Agriculture is the sector where Africa has comparative advantage and with the right policies and incentives, can feed Europe cheaply.

    A regime that keeps the status quo of harmful agricultural subsidy and the pittance of misguided and largely consumption-oriented aid, and hopes to ‘develop’ Africa is, to put it mildly, suspect. The EU refuses to put the reduction or elimination of their agricultural subsidy on the EPA agenda. A clear signal from the EU here is that whenever its own interests are affected it is unwilling to make any concession. To make EPA a development agenda, agriculture must take centre stage.

    But humanity has experience in delivering aid that works. We can replicate it for an effective and truly development-oriented EPA. The most effective aid in human history was the US aid to Europe after the Second World War--- the Marshall Plan to rebuild the European infrastructure. The US felt a sense of obligation (given the historical ties with Europe) to provide a ‘big push’ to lift Europe up after devastation by the war. We are not sure if EU feels the same sense of obligation to Africa (given the history we all know too well). But just imagine for a second that EU feels a need to support Africa through a Marshall Plan kind of aid. Imagine that the EU were to stop its subsidy to agriculture and divert just three years’ subsidy fund to create African Fund for Transformation--- call it the ‘Brussels Plan for Africa’---and this will come to about $225billion. Alternatively, instead of stopping the subsidy abruptly, EU could go for a phased process, diverting just 50% of the subsidy fund into the Africa Fund over the first six years before finally phasing the subsidy out. If this Fund (akin to a sovereign wealth fund) is invested and the annual income proceeds invested (estimated at about $20 billion per annum in perpetuity), you could over time build highways and train networks linking all of Africa, and increasing the irrigation of its arable agricultural land from the current less than 5% to more than 50%. Let EU bring its own contractors—since it cares much about procurement, but let’s get this done. That way Africa can feed itself, Europe, and the world cheaply; lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, and you can create an environment for a truly ‘virtuous circle’ of growth and transformation. With a truly integrated African market, a new dynamism for quantum leap will have been created, and no one will be surprised that the combined African economy might become the next China or India. This is when the kind of FDI inflows romanticised about in EPA documents can be expected to kick-in.

    The point of the foregoing is that an alternative future between Africa and Europe is possible. Pervasive leadership failures have been at the heart of African underdevelopment in the last 50 years. Finally, there seem to be some flickers of light, and Africa is gradually pulling itself up by its own bootstraps. Africa has never had it better than in the last one decade, and compared to the lost decades it has begun to at least crawl. If EU cannot assist Africa to walk and run, the least it should do is not to hinder the nascent progress. Aggregate African economy is less than 2% of global GDP, and thus as a small open economy, it needs to integrate within and without: Africa needs the global market. But lessons of the last two decades have reconfirmed that there are right and wrong ways to integrate into the global market, especially for poor and fragile economies. While the world is yet to invent anything better than a market economy, it is also true that extreme market fundamentalism—that denies the existence of market failures and missing institutions—has brought more ruin than remedy. A more balanced approach has been the winning strategy for all countries that have developed in the last century. But EPA, as currently designed, is a poison chalice. Fragmenting Africa and ramming through deadly trade arrangements in a manner that undermines internal African integration, ties the hands of policymakers and circumscribes the policy space, and literally enslaves the African economy may be smart for Europe in the short-run but not wise in the long term.

    If EPA is meant to develop Africa, it needs to be owned by Africans. Currently, even in countries that have ‘signed’ or ‘initialled’ the document, there is little or no public discussion by the private sector, parliaments, and civil societies. We hope if EPAs are to be domesticated, it will not be the kind of charade of ‘rent a crowd’ consultations that were designed to rubber stamp the poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs). We now know better and must therefore do better.

    Africa and Europe need a “Development Summit”: we need to talk to each other frankly and directly. If the issue is ‘development’ of Africa, there are certainly superior alternative proposals for a more beneficial relationship between Europe and Africa. The African Union, various sub-regional groupings, and even the ACP ministers of trade have canvassed alternatives to EPA. History should not repeat itself. In the mid 1980s, Africa came up with the Africa’s Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programme (AAF-SAP). All African governments endorsed it; the United Nations General Assembly endorsed it, but the conventional SAPs were rammed through by the donor agencies which had the power of the purse. It took almost two decades of destruction for most development partners to admit that ‘mistakes were made’ and that ‘no one had all the answers’, and before major elements of AAF-SAP became part of the Washington orthodoxy. This kind of costly experiment must be avoided. It is the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans that are at stake again. It is time to sit down and talk. Other partners, such as China, India, and the US can join the Summit. So far, the EPA process and outcomes have more of the characteristics of a second scramble for Africa (that is, a second Berlin conference) than a development (Brussels’) initiative. That may not be what many stakeholders thought it was, but de facto, that is what is being delivered. We believe there is sufficient goodwill and technical capacity on both sides to craft a new rather than a raw deal. We believe also that many scholars, statesmen and women, civil society organizations etc may certainly not be fully aware of what is going on. Frankly, I do not believe that the UK, France, and the Nordic countries in particular, can, with all the recent talks about a new century for Africa, be part of this contraption. Those who care must rise to the occasion NOW, and not wait for years and then write post-mortem analyses of doom and gloom. Some 30 years ago, I read a depressing book by Walter Rodney entitled “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. At the turn of the 21st century, we must sing a new song. With sufficient will on both sides, I pray that my grandchildren will in the next few decades read a response to Rodney in a book to be entitled “How Europe developed Africa”.


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    * Chukwuma Charles Soludo is a Professor of Economics, has served as Chief Economic Adviser to the President of Nigeria as well as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He is currently on the Board of the South Centre, Geneva; Chairman of Board of the African Institute for Applied Economics; and a Member of the Chief Economist's Advisory Council, World Bank. This article was originally published by AfricaFocus Bulletin.

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    Rio+20, low-income women, and the green economy

    An interview with Nidhi Tandon

    Nidhi Tandon


    cc BBC
    Social policies and instruments will need to be developed to ensure that the Green Economy not only alleviates poverty and improves equity, but that the interests of the people who depend on Green Economy are deliberately safeguarded from the very outset.

    In 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the United Nations held its landmark Conference on Environment and Development. Also known as the Earth Summit, the Conference set the global environmental agenda for the next two decades. Now, twenty years on, the world’s governments, development practitioners, and environmental activists are set to reconvene once again, in Brazil, in June 2012, for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development-Rio +20.

    Along with the institutional framework for sustainable development, the Conference will be focusing on the theme of ‘a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication’. Given such an emphasis, what will Rio+20 mean for the many millions of poor women across the world, struggling with the effects of poverty, climate change, and environmental degradation?

    Here, Gender & Development journal asks Nidhi Tandon, G&D Editorial Advisory Board member, and author of the forthcoming UN Women’s paper on Rio+20 and the Green Economy, to explain the issues as she sees them.

    GENDER & DEVELOPMENT: Nidhi, before we go any further, can you tell us what exactly is meant by ‘green economy’?

    NIDHI TANDON: Well, the concept of the “Green Economy” is a complex one, and the international community has yet to come to a political consensus on its meaning, its use, usefulness, and the ensuing policy implications or, for that matter, what actually constitutes a green economy. The distinctions between ‘‘Green Economy’’, ‘‘Green Growth’’ (which refers to creating jobs and income generating opportunities in new, ‘green’ sectors of the economy, and minimising environmental impact), ‘‘Global Green New Deal’’ or ‘‘Green Recovery’’ are somewhat blurred; as is the distinction between ‘‘Qualitative Growth’’ and ‘‘Sustainable Economy’’. While they may share common core objectives, they tend to emphasise different aspects of ‘greening’ the economy. The term most commonly used in the international community is the ‘‘Green Economy’’.

    The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) believes that in order to achieve equitable and sustainable development, there needs to be a balance between the economy, society, and the environment. Looked at that way, the ‘‘Green Economy’’ embodies the concept of sustainability, while offering scope to debate the limits to growth, a debate which is taking place in both the industrialised and emerging economies.

    For me, ‘‘green economy’’ suggests an environmentally-friendly economy, sensitive to the need to restore and conserve natural resources; that minimises pollution, emissions and waste that damage the environment in the production pro- cess; and produces products and services that do not harm to the environment. By extension, not harming the environment also implies that all living beings, all species, including all humans, would thrive and even perhaps, flourish. Interpreted in a holistic manner, the Green Economy concept offers hope.

    Yet differing national circumstances and aspirations result in different responses to ‘greening’ the economy. The capital- and technology-intensive industrial economies, for instance, focus on the promises of future market and employment opportunities, while developing economies, by and large, are suspicious of potential environmentally-conditioned trade impositions that could compromise their own green economy agendas.

    Social policies and instruments will need to be developed to ensure that the Green Economy not only alleviates poverty and improves equity as a matter of course, but that the interests of the very same people who depend on Green Economy sectors like land, water or fisheries for instance are deliberately safeguarded and protected from the very outset. This means that we have to undo and reverse a lot of the structural formulations that already prevent people from living off and with the public commons.

    Right now, there is ample space for the women’s movement to take the Green Economy concept beyond the narrow concerns of today’s market economy, beyond ensuring that the ‘technicalities of a green economy’ might include wo- men and shape it instead into something that really addresses the fundamental structural issues of sustainable development for all.

    GENDER & DEVELOPMENT: What are your main concerns regarding poor women and a green economy?

    NIDHI TANDON: Robust green economies are not going to materialise if all that takes place is a ‘retrofitting’ of the prevailing economic system to secure the globalised, ‘‘green economy’’ interests of the powerful few, while providing the poor merely with supplemental social policies. I think that one of the Green Economy’s litmus tests will be whether it actually empowers and engages people every step of the way in its design and implementation, and whether it takes to heart the perspectives of poor communities and especially the interests, knowledge, and priorities of women in these communities. These are existential issues for poor people, for there are real perils and risks if the natural resources upon which these com- munities depend are brought into an economic value system that for all intents and purposes dismisses, negates, and displaces the value systems and priorities of the poor. The term ‘green economy’ runs the risk of polarising people. I suggest, therefore, that there are in fact a multitude of different green economies, and that we have to ensure that the interests of certain green economies do not undermine the interests of other green economies.

    The prevailing theory of financial markets, for example, holds that they tend towards equilibrium over time, and that, therefore, the pursuit of self-interest should be allowed free rein, and markets should be deregulated. But [US financier and philanthropist] George Soros, among others, has warned against the false premise of an unregulated financial market, saying that such a market serves the interests of the owners and managers of financial capital, and that global markets have allowed the free movement of financial capital, making it hard for individual states to tax it or regulate it. I would say, on current trends, it is safe to speculate that green finance capital would service simi- lar interests on a green label.

    GENDER & DEVELOPMENT: Looking beyond the financial mar- kets, what and where would you say are the markets in a Green Economy, and how will these markets be organised and regulated and on whose behalf?

    NIDHI TANDON: Preparing the Green Economy for 'the market of nature', for instance, re- quires placing a commercial metric on the 'value of nature'. While nature is invaluable, that is to say, priceless, to poor people on an everyday basis, it has mostly by-passed markets and has escaped pricing and valuation. There is a study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, which has at- tempted to offer a first, comprehensive, economic rationale for its valuation, and this potential valuation could run into the billions and trillions of US dollars. In a landmark study, The Value of the World's Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital, which was published in 1997, the total value of the world's ecosystems was estimated at 33 trillion US dollars; which was twice the global GDP then. The valuation of the world's ecosystem, how- ever, is not uniformly welcomed. How do we really allocate a quantifiable measurement to the infinite value of the earth's unique biosphere? How do you put a price on a frog, a bird, a tree? Some have been attempting to do just this. A decade after the 1997 study was published, Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Pro- gramme (UNEP), using data from the African Environment Outlook [published by the UN Environment Programme], something which he termed both a 'pre- investment document and a 'shareholder prospectus'-spoke about the valuation question, with Africa in mind. He argued that while Africa's wealth of natural resources had always been an asset- sustaining its people in good times and bad-its true value had always been in- visible in economic terms; for example, the value of the Zambezi River Basin, in terms of crops and agricultural potential, was worth close to USD50 million a year, and Africa's wetlands, in terms of fisheries, around USD 80 million. He went on to say that Africa, with its natural wealth, could be a leading player on such a multi-billion dollar stage. These estimations run in stark contrast to the absolute decrease in landholdings size in Malawi, and the growing rates of malnutrition in children in Zambia. Ultimately, the 'transfer of value' of this ''shareholder prospectus'' to those who are already losing their 'fair share' will be one of the key social challenges of an equitable Green Economy.

    GENDER & DEVELPOMENT: What do we need to see happen for a green economy to operate in the interests of poor women, and how hopeful are you that these things will take place?

    NIDHI TANDON: I have just returned from working with farming women in Dominica. They are the de- facto stewards of the land- they know that conserving crayfish through fishing permits is important, but as long as a poisonous herbicide like Gramoxone, banned in many coun- tries, is regularly used in banana cultiva- tion, and as long as that poisonous substance makes its way into the ground- water and into the crayfish habitats, conserving crayfish is a laughable, futile activity. Toxic side effects in humans have been noted in areas where paraquat the active ingredient in Gramoxone) has been used over time. Farmers are known to wash Gramoxone containers in rivers, with deadly results: dead fish bobbing on the river surface soon afterwards. Also, it is common knowledge that empty Gramoxone containers are frequently used in rural areas of Dominica to carry water to and from standpipes or rivers. The women talk about these issues, and they are moving beyond their anguish to absolute outrage and action, turning to farming systems that are not chemicalised, and practicing their versions of local organic farming and growing local for local consumption. Women farmers the world over are al- ways my source of optimism! What do we need to see happen? We need political consciousness-raising of the grassroots to stand up for what is at stake!


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    Financial autocracy and its media clergy

    Samir Amin


    cc P P
    ‘Their (media outlets') autonomy is reduced to the institutionalization of a functional casuistry that gives legitimacy to the powers that be. It is in this sense that I contend that the power of financial aristocracy is complemented by the power of media clergy’.

    I have calqued the title of this piece on a statement I heard at the M’PEP conference organized in October 2011. I believe the theme conveyed by that statement deserves to be developed. It seems to me that there is an irrefutable parallel between our contemporary society and the situation that prevailed in France on the eve of 1789. At that time, decision-making authority resided with the landed aristocracy (nobility who stood by their King). Nowadays, this power rests with the financial “plutocracy” in positions of power in capitalist monopolies the world over. In France of yesteryears, this power was the preserve of “nobles of the robe”— bourgeoisie dressed in aristocratic robes. Today, the power of capitalistic monopolies is in the hands of the “political class”, made up of bona fide financiers ( in the ordinary finance sense of the word), associated with politicians from the traditional right wing and those from the electoral left. As for the aristocratic/ monarchical political power of the Old Regime in France, it was sustained by the clergy (of the Catholic Church in France) whose role was to give the regime a semblance of legitimacy by developing an appropriate casuistic rhetoric. Today, the onus is on the media to play this role. And the casuistry that it develops to accomplish this task and give the dominant power a veneer of legitimacy is characteristic of traditional methods devised by the religious clergy.
    The purpose of this paper is to analyze the role played by “media clergy” in contemporary society. The subject of the “nobility of the robe” whose role is played today by politicians could be treated in the same vein.


    A cursory look at global reality across historical timeframes would reveal the coexistence of multiple power structures. For example, in our contemporary world, economic power exists side by side with political power structures—legislative, executive, judiciary—exercised through established institutions that may be democratic or undemocratic. An example would be the power that ideological schools of thought and beliefs (religious and others) wield over people. Another example would be the power of the media that disseminates information, selects and, makes commentary about it.

    Recognizing this plurality is an extremely banal task. The real question that begs to be asked is the following: how do these powers, diverse as they are, get organized to complement each other in the functions they fulfill in the construction of the social fabric, or otherwise enter into confrontation in the field? Undoubtedly, the response to this question can only be concrete; in other words, it deals with specific societies at specific historical periods. The reflections that follow focus on the articulation of relations between media powers and facets of social power structures in contemporary capitalist societies.

    One more word on the notion of media power: there is abundant literature out there that analyzes the diverse qualifications of human beings, including their homo comunicans character. The implication of this is that the volume and intensity of information to which human beings have access, without taking into account what they were in the past, would have really transformed human beings and society. This may be an exaggeration, given that from the onset, human beings have always identified with the power of speech, means of communication par excellence. It ensues from this affirmation that the proposition regarding the volume and intensity of information are by its own definition correct and by this token endows the media, which is the essence of its existence, some power as well as increasing moral, political and social responsibilities. However, this observation does not preclude the pertinence of the following question: how does this power relate to others?


    Media power like all power structures, is not—has never been, and cannot be “independent.” I am not implying that media power is “under the aegis” of another power structure (political, religious, or economic). No, media power can be—and actually is generally autonomous. What I meant to say is that in its functions it enjoys some autonomy that is inherent to it; which is distinct from the reproductive logic of other power structures. This autonomy is analogous with the autonomy enjoyed by the Catholic clergy in France under the Old Regime. The clergy in France functioned like other religious clergies of the time. This is the role the new media clergy plays today.

    Media autonomy translates into ethical deontology. In this perspective, there are media outlets that are at the “beck and call” of others; there are some that are not. This notwithstanding, this autonomy — which is a democratic ideal for its practitioners—is not synonymous with the notion of media independence, which is an absolute concept, whereas the concept of autonomy implies articulation (interdependence) between different powers, including the media. Thus, the whole notion of articulation remains central and unavoidable.

    Now, I maintain that in the contemporary capitalist system (the one in which we have lived, for about forty years), a superior power appears to have imposed itself on the rest. It subordinates all these other powers and makes them comply with its dictates. Of course, I am referring to a strong trend and not a state of fait accompli. This is because resistance to the articulation of this tendency is strong, and perhaps becomes re-enforced over time.

    The supreme power to which I am making reference here is that of “globalized financial monopolies.” For more precision on each of the notions raised above I would refer readers to my recent work “La crise, sortir de la crise du capitalisme ou sortir du capitalisme en crise” (Amin, 2008).

    In brief, I would say that we are dealing here with economic power, and this power is the product of the evolution that results in the extreme centralization of prosperity and management of capital, with no similarity to what it was only half a century ago. These monopolies (or oligopolies if you prefer to use this term) directly or indirectly control the entirety of the productive systems (and this is new), not only at the level of dominant traditional capitalist ventures (the most “developed countries” brought together under the umbrella of the triad United States/ Europe/Japan) but also at global level. Certainly, this tendency is taking concrete shape through economic and political action strategies—and has to face resistance from emerging economies like China and others).

    This qualitative transformation has reduced the relative space of autonomy that political power traditionally benefitted from within the triad under consideration (an autonomy that gave meaning and significance to “bourgeois democracy,” worldview, current trends, “consensus”, on religious beliefs, in short, “trends of the time”).

    To put this differently, what is unfolding is not what is called “a market economy,” rather it is a “market-oriented society.”

    Within this framework, the media—as well as political organizations—realize that its autonomy has diminished, relatively speaking. Without necessarily becoming instruments “at the beck and call” of others, they find themselves in situations where they have to fulfill useful functions that are necessary to guarantee the success of deployments of supreme powers of global monopolies.

    Thus, we are not living in an era of advanced democracy; on the contrary, we are witnessing the disfigurement and retrogression of democratic values. A citizen who tries to understand the true state of affairs is subjected to tribulations that make him feel depoliticized. But there is no democracy without politically savvy citizens who are capable of thinking creatively and conceiving alternative ways of doing things coherently and differently. In lieu of these kinds of individuals one finds passive people (devoid of authentic freedom) reduced to the status of passive consumers/spectators. These individuals are often asked to endorse a consensus, in fact, a false consensus which is nothing but a reflection of the sacrosanct demands of the executives in global monopolies. In this scenario, elections are transformed into a farce, in which “candidates” whose managerial modus operandi in the organization of power structures shows signs of the existence of para-personnel aligned behind the same consensus. The apogee of this farce is reached when “notation agencies” (in other words, employees of these monopolies) identify the limits of feasibility.

    Now, sadly enough, major media networks are part and parcel of the distillation of this unilateral thought pattern, the stark contrast of critical thinking. Certainly, the media does not resort to falsehood. Respectable media outlets steer clear of malpractices. But they do pick and choose, and their commentaries constitute the messages the public expects from them. Therefore, their autonomy is reduced to the institutionalization of a functional casuistry that gives legitimacy to the powers that be. It is in this sense that I contend that the power of financial aristocracy is complemented by the power of media clergy. One could provide countless examples of instances of media casuistry that hails criminal judges as champions of democracy (like the judge in Libya who passed a death sentence on Bulgarian nurses), and presents Arabs such as the Sultan of Qatar and the King of Saudi Arabia as advocates of democracy. It is hard to imagine a more effective farce than this one.

    An example of casuistry by media clergy is the question of intervention (military, humanitarian, economic, etc) by imperialists in the affairs of the South. It is forbidden to open a debate on the real motives behind these interventions, notably in matters relating to access to the natural resources of the countries in question, or the establishment of military bases there. It should be noted that the reasons for these interventions are often only those given by Western powers. As far as democratic precepts are concerned, these powers expect southerners to take their word at face value. “Democrats” do not tell lies. They make you believe or make believe that these interventions have been agreed upon by the international community. It is forbidden to remind people that this international community is represented by no one else but the ambassador of the United States as well as ambassadors from small allies from the European Union/ NATO, at times supported by a few countries like Qatar. It is necessary to believe or make believe that the real motives behind these interventions are presented to us by intervening forces: liberate a people caught in the lair of a bloody dictatorship, promote democracy, come to the aid of victims of repression. From the onset, the media assumes the posture of “analyst” (in fact, of phony analysts of reality). The role of the public, then, is to observe to see whether or not the intended objectives have been achieved; whether serious blunders have been committed and whether unforeseen obstacles have stymied the accomplishment of set goals. Great casuistry that prevents role-players from taking the debate to the field: what the real motives behind these interventions are.


    During the French Revolution, members of the “lower clergy” dissociated themselves from the hierarchy of the aristocracy of the time to contribute to the formation of a new citizenry endowed with the capacity to engage in real critical thinking. A similar process is noticeable in the media today. There is no question that proponents of media’s new deal that would be truly democratic are up against stiff competition from the “big media” that has access to huge financial resources. One can only salute and support the contributions made by this minority.

    An honorable media power conceives its responsibility as analogous to that of independent and politically conscious citizens who have the wherewithal to contribute to the construction of what I have code-named with peers in the Forum Mondial des Alternatives the convergence of struggles with respect for diversity. The point here is not to subscribe to a single school of thought—that which strives to provide legitimacy for the practices of global monopolies—another singular thought pattern. It is not an appeal to juxtapose ideas and projects that are considered equally legitimate. The point is to engage in patient and sustained work in a bid to contribute to the development of critical thought that is likely to give direction to social and political struggles geared toward the emancipation of spirits and human beings, individually and collectively, in their common struggle. The notion of diversity as used here is not restricted to the choice of specific battlefields. Our conceptualization of diversity harbors the idea of appreciating instruments of social theory conceived to deepen the analytical thought pattern on the real world. It also takes into account the meaning provided by all and sundry on the perception of desired emancipation. Then and only then would the media acquire power that could be wielded responsibly in order to give recognition to the quest and definition of immediate objectives in the struggle and in long-term perspectives to which the media wants to subscribe.


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    * This article was translated from French for Pambazuka News by Peter Vakunta, PhD.
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    Amin, S. (2008). “La crise, sortir de la crise du capitalisme ou sortir du capitalisme en crise”, Le Temps des Cerises”

    African countries set to reform their mining sector

    Social Watch


    cc E P
    Mining is still a good business in Africa. But over the decades, it is outsiders who have benefited from the continent’s resources. Now governments have pledged to change this.

    African ministers of mineral resources resolved, in a conference in Addis Ababa last December, to move into action to reform the sector to the benefit of the people. The action plan they approved includes amendments to the fiscal framework in order to optimize those benefits. "The days when mining in Africa was seen as rent-seeking activity are drawing to a close with the call by most of the countries to make mining a broad-based growth and development activity that is a key component of a diversified, vibrant and industrializing economy," explains African Agenda, Third World Network-Africa's bi-monthly magazine, in the editorial of its last edition.

    "In the pre-independence era, mineral rich African countries as colonized entities had no say in the exploration of their minerals by such colonizers as Britain in the case of Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and Belgium in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo," adds the editorial. "Indeed, the minerals of these countries were looted by their colonial masters without much regard for using them to develop these countries. Immediately after independence, most African countries in reaction to the centuries of 'rape' by the colonial masters decided to nationalize the mining operations."

    "Unfortunately, given that they lack the know-how, the technology, the capital among others to keep the mines in operation as well as machinations by the colonial masters, they could not sustain the operations of these mines. By the 1980s most of the mines had collapsed and this coincided with the economic difficulties that most African countries found themselves in at that time," according to African Agenda.

    But mining is still a good business. Stephen Karingi, of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), cited figures that show how much the mining companies are making in Africa: "In 2010 alone, net profits for the top 40 mining companies grew by 156 percent to $110 billion and the net asset base of these companies now exceeds $1 trillion."

    Mining has come to dominate the export earnings of many African countries, said Mark Jeffery, officer of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union. In 2005 minerals accounted for more than 80 percent of exports in Botswana, Congo, DRC, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and more than 50 percent in Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. By 2008 sustained demand from a burgeoning Chinese economy had seen prices for minerals reach new heights, Jeffery said to Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, editor of the online newspaper

    "Despite this wealth, it is known that Africa is poor, while the companies mostly foreign that exploit these minerals on the continent are very rich," added Dogbevi.

    Moreover, Africa consumes very little of its own mineral resources and exports most of it as raw materials, "with little or no local value addition and beneficiation," evaluated Jean Noel Francois, acting director of the Department of Trade and Industry at the African Union (AU) Commission. Even though Africa's mineral resources are fuelling growth and development of the many industrialized and emerging economies of the world, Africa still remains poor, under-developed and dependent on donor assistance for national budget support, he added.


    According to studies quoted by African Agenda, the continent produces more than 60 metal and mineral products and is a major producer of several of the world's most important minerals and metals including gold, PGE's, diamonds, uranium, manganese, chromium, nickel, bauxite and cobalt. Platinum, coal, and phosphates are also mined on the continent. Some of the largest, and richest, mineral deposits in the world have been found in Africa.

    The ministerial conference in Addis Ababa set a brand new vision apparent in its action plan that includes these six points:

    * Member States should reform the fiscal framework in order to optimize benefits from the mineral sector;

    * Member States should explore the possibility of renegotiating existing contracts to secure a fair share of the rent;

    * Member States should align their development strategies to their long term national development goals;

    * Member States should ensure transparency in the collection and use of mining revenues;

    * Governments could explore the use of equity participation in mineral ventures to capture a greater share of benefits;

    * Governments in collaboration with partners should build capacity of oversight bodies.

    Along with the action plan, the ministers reasserted the African Mining Vision (AMV) approved by the February 2009 African Union Summit.

    What sets the AMV apart, Mark Jeffery writes, is that it extends policy beyond a narrow focus on mining itself. For the AMV there is more to it than to managing the extraction of resources and then finding optimal ways to collect and apportion the revenue. Central to the AMV approach is to put development outcomes at the heart of mineral regimes. The rationale is that this would stimulate the local economy and help prevent mines operating as enclave enterprises.

    The experts present at the conference including civil society representatives urged African governments to strengthen transparency, accountability and access to information, improve public participation and provide capacity building programmes for local communities.

    Meanwhile, an International Study Group created by UNECA has affirmed the need for Africa to transform its mining sector from an enclave of raw material supplies to an integrated industry with great prospects for the continent's socio-economic development. The continent can make great strides in its development if just like the Nordic countries in their resource-based industrialization, it take steps to redress "the mining sector's isolation from mainstream social and economic activities," according to the Study Group.

    In their forward to the report titled, Minerals and Africa's Development, Abdoulie Janneh (Executive Secretary, UNECA) and Jean Ping (Chairperson of the African Union Commission) noted that Africa's continuous supply of raw minerals to the global market without linking 'mineral extraction to infrastructure development and manufacture of products' would not meet Africa's development needs.

    The report takes a comprehensive look at Africa's mining record over the years from the pre-colonial, colonial, post-independence, and the 1980s till current attempts to turn round the situation through such initiatives as the African Mining Vision, adopted by the African Union Commission in 2009. These historical deficiencies inherent in Africa's mining industry, made the industry, 'a supplier of strategic minerals to industrialized countries' with 'inadequate returns to the continent' and an 'enclave' industry with no direct linkages to Africa's economy.

    African Agenda's editorial note observes that "booms in mineral prices rather profited the companies more with no difference in returns for African countries," but "this is what has prompted countries like Zambia to introduce windfall taxes, Tanzania to increase royalty rates, Guinea to review its mining code and the abrogation of some mining contracts by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government of Ghana in its 2012 budget has also indicated increases in royalties and a windfall tax among other measures to rake in some more revenue from the mining sector. These efforts at redressing the balance in terms of returns from the mining sector have rankled the mining companies who have not hidden the fact that they would not accept these measures without a fight," but "the good news is that African countries have since 2007 recognised the need to turn the tables as far as Mining Codes in use in Africa are concerned."


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    Notes from Western Sahara

    An interview with Fatma El-Mehdi

    Bhakti Shringarpure


    © ASVDH
    ‘When we think about our past, we can only find violence, but I think it is precisely this condition that makes one realize that what is important is peace.’

    As the Arab Spring spread across several countries in the Middle East and North Africa, American philosopher Noam Chomsky argued that it did not originate in Tunisia, as is commonly understood. “In fact, the current wave of protests actually began last November in Western Sahara, which is under Moroccan rule, after a brutal invasion and occupation,” Chomsky stated. “The Moroccan forces came in, carried out - destroyed tent cities, a lot of killed and wounded and so on. And then it spread.”

    The Gdeim Izik protests started in October 2010 when approximately five thousand Saharawi citizens set up temporary “Camps of Justice” to protest the Moroccan occupation and abuses, and peacefully assert independence. The number soon rose to 15,000 and the United Nations estimated that, at its peak, the camp may have held up to 6,600 tents. The Kingdom of Morocco responded with a violent crackdown on the protesters. Soldiers surrounded the camps in an effort to prohibit food, water and medicine. One month later, the camp was dismantled by Moroccan police and three thousand arrests were made.

    One of the lesser-known independence movements in the world, Western Sahara experienced Spanish colonization in the late 19th century. The territory was partitioned into neighboring Morocco and Mauritania in 1976, after Spain exited. Mauritania withdrew three years later. Since then, there has been an ongoing conflict between Western Sahara’s governing body, the Polisario Front, and Moroccan forces. It has been over twenty years since the UN-sponsored ceasefire of 1991, which promised a referendum on self-determination that is yet to be carried out.

    This month, Fatma El-Mehdi, Secretary General of the Sahrawi National Union of Women, came to New York from the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, as a representative of the Pan-African association Women Advancement for Economic Leadership Empowerment (WAELE) to attend the Fifty-sixth Commission on the Status of Women held at the UN. This was an historic occasion for Western Sahara, the first time a Sahrawi representative was scheduled to attend an international conference at the UN.

    El-Mehdi was only seven years old in 1975 when the conflict entered her life. She was evacuated as planes dropped bombs on the city of El Aaiún. After days spent walking with a small group of men and women without food or water, the young girl found herself in one the first Sahrawi refugee camps. She has spent her entire life in the camps. El-Mehdi is now a tireless and dedicated activist defending women’s rights and human rights, and forging various cultural and leadership initiatives not just in the Sahrawi refugee camps, but also in the broader African community. I met her briefly in New York to discuss the history and politics of Western Sahara, the struggles that lay ahead, the role of women in pursuing these and the deep emotional toll the conflict has taken on her family.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: It is a momentous occasion that you are here in New York to attend the Fifty-sixth Commission on the Status of Women held at the UN. However you were not able to go. What happened?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: As you know, our republic is not yet recognized by the United Nations. We are still in the process of getting our independence as a nation-state. When we heard about the UN's conference on women, we wanted to participate because it is a space for women from all over the world. We also thought that it would be a very important occasion to talk about our reality and our experiences as women from the Arab world who are working to build rights. But we’ve encountered a lot of problems. For the first time, we wanted to get support from the African Union commission so we could participate in the meeting they organized for African women. Unfortunately, we lost that opportunity. Eventually, we did get to participate in the activities that the UN organized for the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. The theme was climate change and empowerment of rural women. It was very interesting because we could hear other voices, especially of rural women whose situation is very similar to ours and whose experiences are very important for us.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Why do you think Western Sahara is not on people’s radar?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I will start by saying that we have always been victims of information, of the media. All of the local media is controlled by Morocco. I remember in 2001, with the support of Spanish women, we visited three countries: Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. We could meet a lot of groups, women’s groups, but nobody could talk about this visit in the media. I think the media is very important to create visibility. That’s what we need.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: There seems to be a case for autonomy of Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. I’ve heard that it might be the best the kingdom may offer. What do you make of this idea?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I think when we wanted our own country in 1975, it was so that we could have independence and the right to self-determination. I think what we really need is to have an opportunity to talk, to make our voices heard, even if the Sahrawi people are to be part of the Moroccan population. More than anything else, we need to celebrate having a referendum, which is the only way to help people express their needs. We don’t understand why the Moroccan king is frightened of the referendum.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Why do you think?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I think it’s because of what the result of this referendum might be.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: What is the likely result?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I cannot know the result but all the Sahrawi people will accept the results of the referendum, even if it different from what they expect. Why doesn’t the Moroccan king let us celebrate the referendum?

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: With regards to the question of nationhood, how does one convince the international community about Western Sahara?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I think our case is not well known enough yet. I think we have to create our own media, because we cannot count on international media. This way we will be able to travel, make connections, and make ourselves visible. I think that’s what we need.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: What, according to you, is Morocco’s vested interest in Western Sahara? Do you think it’s an economic interest in phosphate reserves? Do you think it’s ethnic or cultural? What is it specifically that enables this particular relationship?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I think it is because of our resources of petroleum, phosphates and fish that they are continuing to hurt our country. Morocco has a very big population, but very poor land resources. They think that Western Sahara has a very small population and a very rich territory, and they believe that we do not deserve this territory. They want to share it and take control of it. And, thanks to international interest in our resources, Morocco today has a very important agreement with European Union and with France. They are now fishing from our waters, from our coasts, illegally.

    This is why this agreement could not be renewed this year. Some European countries that are our friends brought attention to these illegalities. But now, since March, it seems that some of the other countries that are victims of the annulment of this agreement are trying to renew the plan.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: It seems that oil exploration in Western Sahara was not that successful. A few decades ago, Spain and a few other countries had set up oilrigs but that didn’t really work out. But now the focus is on phosphates?


    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: I find that, generally, in any kind of political history, a kind of narrative is built up, and once that narrative has been decided, it becomes impossible to change it. It becomes harder and harder to go back in time and try to really figure out what exactly happened or why things happened. Most narratives about Western Sahara claim that the main rupture took place in 1975. That’s when this situation was born. Do you agree with that as a starting point, or do you think there were some pivotal moments before that which led to where we are now?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: When we talk about 1975, it means we are talking about the birth of our relationship with Morocco. But the problem did not start at that time. It started before that, with Spain. Western Sahara was a Spanish colony from 1884 to 1975, and in this period the Sahara’s case had been made in the UN because the idea of a referendum was proposed to Spain before that time. But Spain, instead of celebrating the referendum, decided to leave the land in another way, and to leave the land to another power with which Spain could share the responsibility and the benefits. We had a very important moment in our history in 1970, which was when the Sahrawi revolution started. It got visibility as a revolution because of our leader, Muhammad Bassiri, who was subsequently disappeared and has not been seen to date. Spain had to leave, not because they wanted to leave. It was because of the Sahrawi revolution that began in 1970. The proclamation of the Polisario Front happened in May of 1973. Even the name Polisario is a Spanish word, not an Arabic word.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Do you feel that historically Western Sahara, because of its location and the way it’s been sandwiched between many big powers, has always been a place where violence has been a part of daily life? Has Western Sahara known an existence without violence?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: In fact, when we think about our history, our past, we can only think about violence because we lived this violence with Spain. And even before Spain, there were other forces, like France and Portugal, which tried to invade us. Before Spain, there were Morocco and Mauritania. When we think about our past, we can only find violence, but I think it is precisely this condition that makes one realize that what is important is peace. But unity also becomes very important. I think we have very solid social values, due to which we have been able to survive all of this violence.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: In my research, I have found that when a place experiences a lot of violence over a long span of time, and even when its people finally achieve the statehood that they want, they are not able to achieve peace. Violence continues to afflict such a space. This is one of the biggest problems when you think about so many African and Asian civil wars after colonialism. Do you think Western Sahara will fall into that trap? What does an independent state of Western Sahara look like, and what will happen to all this legacy of violence?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: When the Polisario Front decided to proclaim the nation-state, even while they’re still fighting, they also want to emphasize that this is a movement, a political movement. Now we have the two systems. We are a movement, but also we are a nation-state. The objective is to try to build and construct our nation-state while we are fighting to get independence. And that is also why, as women, we are trying to reconstruct our new society. We aren't only dealing with the problem of managing and securing peace, but also with the process of improving human rights and women's rights after the independence.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: In the history of revolutions and freedom movements, women’s participation and involvement is pivotal. But once the revolution dies, women tend to be left out of the history and they are pushed into traditional roles as if they never actively participated in the history. Do you feel that with the way you have structured the movement and the way in which the women of Western Sahara are mobilizing that you might be able to avoid this category?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: In 1991, when the peace process began in Western Sahara, this was one of the very important issues that we discussed as women. Until that time, women were alone in the camps and had gotten a lot of responsibility as leaders. But after that, because of the ceasefire, the men returned to the camps. They stayed in the camps much longer than before. This new situation showed us that our progress was threatened and we started to organize a discussion space between the women in the camps, and also with other women all over the world, to reflect on our experience. And we discussed how to be the pillars of the resistance, and how to guarantee our participation and involvement in our future independent state. I think it was our biggest achievement during the peace process period. We agreed to rebuild our strategy and tried to change our roles in the society because we were responsible for all the activities in the camps. We have a lot of social assistance, education and health programs. But we have not had enough time to dedicate to very important issues like women’s rights, leadership, and empowerment. In that moment, we also decided to improve our participation in the government, to build a special ministry for social affairs, and to also improve our participation in the parliament. We built spaces for women in all the camps, and offered them the chance to participate in training for service teams, leadership, empowerment and communication, and to reinforce and build capacity within them for now and for the future.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: You spoke a little bit about having solidarity with women across the world. Do you feel there is a tension between the way Western feminism and Western women engage with the struggle of the women from marginalized, poorer, more religious or traditional societies?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I think the relationship between the two is very tense, partially because there are a lot of problems that women experience across the world. That means we need to create ways to organize all the women. When we go to international forums where women are talking about domestic violence, we feel uncomfortable when we want to talk about self-determination.


    FATMA EL MEHDI: Because they are not seeing that there is another problem, another big problem for women. They are suffering from one problem, and do not have the space to hear ours.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Are you implying that it is a lesser problem or you are just saying there is no space?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: For other women, domestic violence is the biggest problem. In this case, they are forgetting other groups who are still struggling with another issue, maybe a more fundamental one. We [first] need to have a place where we can live. We need to be recognized as human beings before talking about violence towards women.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: So the Polisario have recently been accused of collaborating with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Your response?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I cannot believe this! Not just Polisario, but our movement in general is trying to introduce ideas like women’s rights, human rights, and democracy. That’s why, as a movement, we are not welcomed by a lot of Arabic and Islamic groups. They think that we are breaking the rules of Islam; for example, in my society, there would be no problem if I were to shake hands with a man. This, for certain Muslims, is a very big sin. Also, there is an opposition to our relations with Europe, with another religion. In the camps we welcome contact with other religions and religious dialogue. Al-Qaeda is against all of these ideas, and because of this, we cannot have any relation with Al-Qaeda. I think there are other groups that are trying to fabricate the connection between terrorism and Polisario.

    I will give you another example. We have a very beautiful program called Vacations of Peace. We send our children - around ten thousand Sahrawi children - to spend their summer holidays with families in Spain, in France, in Italy, even in United States. All these groups are against such initiatives, while we are very open to other cultures.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Are people in your region feeling the effects or echoes of the Arab Spring?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I think in my country, we know that the Arab Spring didn’t start in Tunisia. But even if all the people in the world think it started in Tunisia, this kind of struggle, this kind of voice, is very important for us. They are trying to make visible all the things that we have been working on.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Which are the specific struggles that are going on now in the world that you, from Western Sahara, identify with in a more special way?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: I would say the experience of South Africa and Namibia. I think we share the same kind of foreign invasion and a lot of similar problems. For example, Morocco has now invested a lot of money in Western Sahara and cannot [simply] leave it. The British had made a lot of money in South Africa, and finally they had to leave it. The movement of ANC (African National Congress) or the movement of SWAPO (South West African People’s Organization) of Namibia started much like our movement.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Morocco has now actually built a wall. Can you tell me a little about the wall?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: It’s a very large wall that runs from North to South. It is 2,700 kilometers long and divides the territory between two parts. There are a lot of military groups along the wall and millions of landmines. It is one of the largest landmine fields in the world. There is no access from the inside to the outside, or vice versa. The idea comes from Israel. It is basically a kind of weapon against the nomadic Bedouin people, especially women and children. If they ignore the landmines, the children start to play with them, and there have been a lot of victims. Also, it becomes impossible to get water from the land, since it's dangerous. People have also lost their animals. The nomads’ animals cannot be controlled, so they end up dying.

    Now the United Nations is trying to organize visits between the camps and the occupied territory to unify families separated by the wall. It's a very small program, and very few people can benefit from it since it depends upon a tiny plane that takes them across. This is not the right approach, because if they can annihilate the wall, there is no need to invest a lot of money to make trips by plane. But they do not want to do that.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: We know that conflicts destroy family life. Can you tell me a little bit about the impact it’s had on your family, when you were small, and then on your children?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: My story is not the worst of stories. My family is one of those families who left for another part in the occupied territory. I have aunts in the occupied territory, though I have only heard their names. I’ve never seen them.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Your children are with you now?

    FATMA EL MEHDI: No, they are studying. There is only primary school in the camps. And after that, they need to be sent to another country to continue their studies. My family, it’s like a small planet. Some members speak Spanish, and others only Arabic, and others only Spanish. Some of them have Sahrawi culture, others European culture. I think that’s the situation of the Sahrawi society. It’s a society where all the cultures have come to be included. There are students who were studying in Europe or Latin America, and we have a lot of our students who are studying in Cuba. Cuba was one of the countries who began supporting the Sahrawi people in the seventies. I think all these things can be very important things to make the Sahrawi society a very rich society.

    BHAKTI SHRINGARPURE: Emotionally, it must be hard, though…

    FATMA EL MEHDI: It’s very difficult, and it’s very bitter when you know that my grandmother and my mother, their life was very difficult. I am now adding my story to theirs. For me, that’s a very dark side of our history. But my worry is not my life; my worry is the life of my children and their children. This gives me the strength to fight—to enable them to someday have another kind of life.

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    Trayvon Martin’s Murder sparks remobilization

    Horace Campbell


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    The killing of Trayvon Martin serves as an inspiration for those who want to speak out against the demagoguery and hatred that has been spread in the United States in the midst of the capitalist depression.

    Trayvon Martin was shot and killed on February 26, 2012 in Sanford Florida while walking from a neighbourhood store. The murder and the clumsy attempts by the police to cover up the real circumstances have exposed the callous and deep racism of sections of the criminal justice system. The information on the circumstances of the murder has sparked a new phase of mobilization against racism, racial profiling and hate crimes in the United States as details of the nature of his death becomes more widely known.

    Trayvon Martin was targeted because he was a black youth and his murder highlights the structural and open violence in the United States. This murder reminded all who were talking about post-racial USA of the deep entrenched racism. Blacks face this racism in all areas of life, from kindergarten, in the school system, on the streets, where they live and in this case how they end their lives. Whether it was the case of Amadou Diallo who was shot with 41 bullets by the New York Police, James Bryd (chained in Texas and dragged through the streets), Anthony Hill (lynched in Mississippi) or the thousands of other innocent black males who have been killed in cold blood, these murders expose the dangers of living and walking while black in the United States.

    The killer of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, admitted that he had killed the young 17-year-old, claiming that he shot Trayvon in self-defense. Decent people all across the USA have been outraged as many parents have identified with the parents of Trayvon who lost their son. The remobilization has taken the form of protests, demonstrations, teach-ins, prayer vigils, marches and other forms of expressions that are calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman. The media is going overboard linking this episode to one person, but this killing has brought out in the open the depth of the issue of racism in the United States. We will agree with Frantz Fanon,

    ‘Racism is not the whole but the most visible, the most day-to-day, the crudest element of a given structure....We must look for the consequences of this racism on the cultural level. Racism, as we have seen, is only one element of a vaster whole: that of the systematized oppression of a people.’

    In our commentary we draw attention to the escalation of hate crimes and violence in the United States in the past five years. For the oppressed forces, the killing of Trayvon Martin is serving as on inspiration for those who want to speak out against the demagoguery and hatred that has been spread in the United States in the midst of the capitalist depression. This case is again bringing attention to the world that 21st century racism and violence against the black people in the United States is still rampant.


    On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Florida High School student was shot and killed in a gated community in Florida. Gated communities abound in areas such as Florida where the protection of private property is more important than human lives. George Zimmerman, the killer, claimed that he shot Trayvon in self-defense. Zimmerman, 28, a self -appointed neighborhood watch captain is more than ten years older and weighs 80 pounds(about 30 kilos) more that Trayvon Martin. The police first took him into custody but at the direction of the prosecutor failed to book him. Zimmerman was not arraigned nor administered a drug or alcohol test. They also did not run a background check on Zimmerman.

    Trayvon was in this community, the Retreat of Twin Lakes, to visit his father. He had gone to the neighborhood store to purchase skittles (candy) and a drink and was walking back to the abode of his father. This was when Zimmerman saw the teenager.

    There is evidence now to show that Trayvon Martin was singled out because in the United States young black males are profiled as criminals. This is especially the case for young black males wearing hoodies. A hoodie is a sweat shirt with a hood, which has become part of the apparel of youth in the United States. The 911 transcripts clearly show that Zimmerman viewed the young African American as a criminal and his communications with the police showed that he believed that he could take the law in his own hands. The Miami Herald newspaper reported that Zimmerman was a "habitual caller" to the police, making 46 calls since January 2011. He was out on his in the neighborhood as a self-appointed watchman, packing his concealed 9mm pistol, when he called 911:

    ‘We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy … this guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something.’

    Later in the call, Zimmerman exclaims:

    ‘OK. These assholes always get away … [Expletive], he's running.’

    Sounds of Zimmerman moving follow, along with a controversial utterance from Zimmerman, under his breath, considered by many to be "[Expletive] coons." The sound of his running prompted the 911 operator to ask, ‘Are you following him?’ Zimmerman replied, ‘Yeah,’ to which the dispatcher said, ‘OK, we don't need you to do that.’

    Despite being told by the police dispatcher not to follow the youth, Zimmerman follows in his sports utility vehicle.

    There are racial epithets that were being used by Zimmerman to show that his actions were motivated by racial hatred. The recording brings us the words (expletive) coon. The word coon is the derogatory term that had been used by white racists in the Jim Crow era of the United States.

    The youth knew that he was being followed and was speaking to his girlfriend at the time. In this cell phone conversation between Trayvon and his 16-year-old girlfriend in Miami, we know that, far from seeking a confrontation, the youth had become aware that he was being followed and was seeking to get away as fast as he could without drawing attention by running. He was on the phone with his girlfriend so we have one view of what happened next.

    When Zimmerman got closer to Martin, she told her boyfriend to run, but Martin told her that he was not going to run, she said.

    ‘What are you stopping me for?’ Martin asked Zimmerman, according to the girl.
    ‘What are you doing around here?’ Zimmerman asked in response.

    The girl said she then got the impression that an altercation was taking place and that someone had pushed Martin, because the headset fell out of his ear, and the phone shut off.

    Next we have another 911 recording from a woman who hears someone crying for help, then a gunshot. The police arrive. They accept the story of Zimmerman. The body of Trayvon Martin was taken to the Morgue. He was killed for walking while black.

    The parents of Trayvon Martin are distraught. They became the point for the mobilization against the police handling of the case and after public pressure; the city of Sanford played the tapes for Martin's family, then released the audio recordings.

    It is now emerging after one month that the lead homicide investigator had filed an affidavit urging that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter. The prosecutor, however, told the officer to not file the charge because there was not enough evidence for conviction.


    The killing of Trayvon Martin follows the modern day lynchings of young blacks in the United States. Since the elections of 2008, racial violence has intensified in the United States. This has been manifest both in anti-black violence and in anti-Muslim violence. Last week Saturday, Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant and mother of five, died after being taken off life support, On the previous Wednesday, the 32-year-old was brutally attacked in her El Cajon home in Southern California. Alawadi’s teenage daughter, 17, came home to find her mother unconscious on the dining-room floor, having been beaten in the head with a tire iron. She had been targeted because of her religion.

    These hate crimes have increased after the US media gave the nod to the conservative right wing forces in the society. Hate groups and hate crimes are on the increase since the election of Barack Obama with these hate crimes increasing from 608 in 2000 to 1,018 in 2011.These crimes have been backed up by the polluted atmosphere of the conservatives where racist demagoguery has been employed to justify police and vigilante-style violence, culminating in the passage of legislation like Florida’s notorious “Stand Your Ground” law and similar laws in over 17 other states. Characteristically, it was under the conservative Governorship of Jeb Bush when the state of Florida in 2005 passed a broad "stand your ground" law, which allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation.
    A 2010 study by the Tampa Bay Times found that "justifiable homicides" had tripled in the state since the law went into effect. These laws sanction the use of deadly force in public places by individuals if they have a “reasonable fear” that an assailant could seriously harm them or someone else.


    In many ways the mobilization around the murder of Trayvon Martin is reminiscent of the massive organization that developed in the United States after the murder of Emmitt Till in Mississippi in 1955. On August 20, 1955, Emmitt Till, a 14 year-old, African-American boy from Chicago, had gone to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi, a tiny cotton gin town on the eastern edge of the Mississippi Delta. His mutilated corpse was returned to Chicago in a coffin less than two weeks later. He had been killed by racists because he was supposed to have whistled at a white woman. The national attention that came from the work of his mother had a significant impact on the civil rights movement. His mother had left the coffin open for the world to see how the white racists had killed and mutilated the body of her son.

    The parents of Trayvon Davis are not traditional activists. There are no reports that they have been active politically but in the pursuit of the truth about their child they have sparked a national outrage.

    These parents have pressured the society and are leading the call for the arrest and detention of George Zimmerman. In the process they have been able to expose the Sanford police department, the prosecutor, and their history of racist oppression. Mother Jones Magazine reported that,

    ‘Sanford PD's officers have suffered a series of public missteps in recent years, according to local reporters. In 2006 two private security guards—the son of a Sanford police officer, and a volunteer for the department—killed a black teen with a single gunshot in his back. Even though they admitted to never identifying themselves, the guards were released without charges. In 2009, after an assailant allegedly attempted to rape a child in her home, the department was called to task for sitting on the suspect's fingerprints, delaying identification and pursuit of the attacker.’

    The record pointed to numerous incidents where the police department supported killers of black people. In this case, the pressures and national outcry has forced the police chief, Bill Lee to temporarily step aside. A single on-line petition calling for Trayvon killer’s arrest has nearly 2 million signatures and growing every day. There have been continuous demonstrations with a new sense of organizing at every level of the black community in the United States. On Monday afternoon, on my campus more than 300 students held a vigil on the main quad, all dressing in hoodies to show their solidarity with the murdered youth. They wore signs stating “we are Trayvon Martin.” Last week, tens of thousands marched in Sanford , Florida and thousands more rallied in cities across the US.

    This form of mobilization is now taking place with every rally, young black youth telling stories of their profiling. Mothers are telling stories of how they have to train their black children how to walk and respond to strangers on the streets. In my own community, the black chief of police has recounted how he himself has been profiled and followed in a store.


    When the story broke, the mainstream news media tried to avoid the issues but a few journalists supported the parents and the story is now dominant. But the corporate media has been forced by the massive outcry by black people at every level of the society. Black Congress persons wore hoodies to the House of Representative.

    It became so pressing that last Friday, President Obama was compelled to comment on the killing of Trayvon Martin. On March 23, addressing the media during a Rose Garden press conference to announce his nomination of Dartmouth President Jim Young Kim to run the World Bank, President Obama spoke publicly about the case, expressing relief that the Department of Justice was on the case and saying it was ‘absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.’

    ‘I can only imagine what these parents are going through,’ he said. ‘And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.’

    ‘I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.’

    He added, ‘When I think about that boy, I think about my own kids...If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness this deserves and get to the bottom of what happened.’

    It is from the massive demonstration across the country that forced the justice Department to launch an investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin.


    The case of Trayvon has brought to the forefront the issues of racial profiling and living while black in the United States. Many politicians from different sides of the political divide have declared the killing a tragedy, but after the statement by Barack Obama the right wing forces have doubled down to discredit Trayvon Martin and sully his character. Right wing sources are spreading stories that he had traces of marijuana in his bag and that he had been suspended from school. As if to say that these were justifications for his killings.

    The mobilization is mounting and the conservative media is now working overtime to dampen the massive organizing that is going on in the black communities. The right wing is scheming to deepen the divisions among the working peoples and to exploit the tensions so that black, white and Latino working peoples do not organize against the forces that benefit from the killing and profiling of young blacks.

    The capitalist crisis has brought the questions of racism and white supremacy to the forefront of the society. In the past, white supremacy bound white people together but the insecurity generated by the deepening depression has broken the fundamental ideas that legitimized this society. The idea that the society is dominated by one per cent must now be linked to the connections between whiteness and private property. Progressive whites have been able to critique the deformities of whiteness in the United States and how this has affected the intellectual culture. Institutionalized racism (especially in the areas of education, medicine and the prison industrial complex) has deepened in this period of crisis.

    Driving while black was dangerous in most parts of the United States because of the constant harassment by the police. Today, walking while black is a hazard and in spaces such as New York City 90 per cent of those who are stopped and frisked are young black and brown peoples. This racial profiling and ‘the war on drugs’ ensured that one in three black persons in the US under 25 will become enmeshed in the courts, prison or post prison experience. Of all U.S. prisoners, about 67% are people of color, although people of color make up only about 30% of the U.S. population. The United States imprisons more persons per capita than any other society on earth. Black men and women are disproportionately held within the system of courts, prisons, surveillance.

    Institutionalized racism ensured that in every area of social engagement- housing, education, employment, health, and police interface- black and Latino people were worse off than in the period of the Civil Rights revolution. Conservative public policy under successive governments rolled back social programs as neo-liberalism gave more support to racists.

    The Occupy Wall Street Movement led the way against corporate greed and it is now the moment to bring to the forefront the links between capitalism and racism. The confrontation with racism and sexism has also brought to the forefront the ideas and practices of those who in the past were called the Left. Materialism and linear thinking of the radical left meant that the race question was made subsidiary to the class question. It is now the moment to return to the view of Frantz Fanon that in order to end the kind of killings and murder such as that of Trayvon Martin the society must go through a period of cleansing , “It has had to undergo the fate of the cultural whole that informed it.”


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    * Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University.
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    Trayvon Martin is today’s Emmett Till

    William Finnegan


    cc D S
    In 1955, openly racist, all-white juries made certain that the confessed killers of Emmett Till walked free in Mississippi. In Florida today, the Stand Your Ground law may yet block the workings of justice.

    The killing of Trayvon Martin nearly went down the memory hole. He had just turned seventeen when he was shot dead late last month in Sanford, Florida. His killer, a neighborhood-watch volunteer named George Zimmerman, was not even arrested. Zimmerman told the police that he had fired his nine-millimetre handgun in self-defense. The police actually knew better. They knew that Trayvon Martin had been unarmed. They knew that Zimmerman, who is twenty-eight, outweighed Martin by more than a hundred pounds. They knew, because Zimmerman had called them when he spotted a “black male” in a gated townhouse community, that Martin had been on foot while Zimmerman tracked him in his S.U.V., and that Zimmerman had ignored the police dispatcher’s request that he stop following Martin. And yet self-defense is a potent claim under a 2005 Florida law known as “Stand Your Ground.” “If we arrest, we open ourselves to a lawsuit,” said Sergeant Dave Morgenstern, of the Sanford Police Department, presumably unaware of how pitiful (and pitiless) that sounded. Zimmerman wasn’t even tested for drugs or alcohol. Those tests were conducted on Trayvon Martin’s body, after he was sent to the medical examiner as a John Doe.

    Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, found him only after checking the local hospitals and reporting him missing. He and Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, in their grief, found the police unsympathetic and inert. It didn’t seem to matter that Trayvon, a junior in high school, had no criminal record (Zimmerman, who was once arrested for assaulting a police officer, was described by the police as “squeaky clean”), or that Trayvon had simply been walking back to his father’s fiancée’s house from a convenience store, carrying Skittles and a can of iced tea. (Zimmerman had called the police forty-six times in fourteen months, most often to report a “suspicious” person.)

    Six different people had apparently called 911 to report the shooting. Could they at least hear the 911 tapes? No, the police said. Trayvon’s parents hired lawyers and filed suit to gain access to the recordings. A witness said that police had questioned her account, with officers suggesting that she had heard Zimmerman, not Martin, crying for help. The N.A.A.C.P. and the A.C.L.U. got involved and, almost entirely because of the efforts of Trayvon’s parents, the local press—Sanford is a suburb of Orlando—kept asking questions. But an online petition demanding Zimmerman’s arrest languished, and the investigation seemed stalled at best.

    Slowly, though, the story began to gain national traction. It was so stark, and so inescapably racial. Did anybody really believe that, if a black man had killed a white youth in similar circumstances, he would not have been arrested? Zimmerman wasn’t speaking to reporters, but his father sent a letter to the Orlando Sentinel saying that his son was not a racist—that he was, in fact, half-Latino. Then the Sanford police, under growing pressure, released the 911 tapes, including a recording of Zimmerman’s call immediately before the killing. His words were a study in fearful, hopped-up racial profiling. “These assholes, they always get away,” he said. He declined to say where he would meet the officers being dispatched. He left his vehicle, armed.

    After the tragedy, Tracy Martin had the sense to check his son’s cell-phone records, something the police had not done. He found that Trayvon had been talking to his girlfriend less than five minutes before he died. She was able to take up the story from Trayvon’s perspective.

    She told ABC News that Trayvon had said that he was being followed: “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast.” She heard him being confronted. “Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone.” The girl, who is sixteen, was afraid to give her name. The 911 tapes make harrowing listening. Desperate cries for help are punctuated by two shots. The second bullet pierced Trayvon’s chest, killing him. There had been a scuffle, and Zimmerman told the police that the cries for help were his. But Trayvon’s parents had no doubt whose voice was whose. Sybrina Fulton said, “It just broke my heart again to hear him screaming out for help and pleading for his life.”

    With the picture filling in, Trayvon’s death became big news. Charles Blow wrote a powerful column in the Times. The online petition began to gather signatures at a record clip, nearing a million and a half last night. The Justice Department opened a civil-rights investigation this week, and the Seminole County state attorney said he would refer the case to a grand jury. Even the White House, responding to a question at a press conference, said that it was “monitoring” the situation through the central Florida office of the F.B.I. On Wednesday, Trayvon’s parents spoke at a rally and march in Union Square. (Matthew McKnight and Jelani Cobb weighed in for The New Yorker.) The next day, the police chief in Sanford said he would “temporarily remove” himself from the job. With this breadth and level of public attention and outrage, it is becoming possible to imagine the death of Trayvon Martin taking its place alongside, say, the death of Emmett Till as a terrible marker of the ongoing peril of being young, black, and male in this country.

    Openly racist, all-white juries made certain that the confessed killers of Emmett Till (who was fourteen) walked free in Mississippi in 1955. In Florida today, the Stand Your Ground law may yet block the workings of justice. The law extends the traditional Castle Doctrine, under which the use of force is permitted to defend one’s home, to the highways and beaches and bars, affording legal immunity to someone who uses “deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” Note the freewheeling vigilantism invited by the last phrase, “or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” This is a true “shoot first” law. It even bars civil suits by the family of the deceased. Its passage was strongly backed and loudly celebrated by the National Rifle Association, whose leaders vowed to replicate Stand Your Ground in other states. To date, with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a secretive, corporate-funded, right-wing pressure group, the N.R.A. has succeeded in getting Stand Your Ground laws passed in some twenty states.

    Can the American gun-rights movement ever go too far, politically? In Florida, prosecutors and police associations opposed Stand Your Ground, to no effect. Since the law was passed, the number of “justifiable homicides” has tripled. Last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times, “twice a week, on average, someone’s killing was considered warranted.” This week, the state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, told the Times, “The consequences of the law have been devastating around the state. It’s almost insane what we are having to deal with.” Gang members, drug dealers, and road-rage killers are, according to Meggs, all successfully invoking Stand Your Ground. “The person who is alive always says, ‘I was in fear that he was going to hurt me.’ … And the other person would say, ‘I wasn’t going to hurt anyone.’ But he is dead. That is the problem they are wrestling with in Sanford.”

    That is one of the problems they are wrestling with in Sanford.


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


    Breaking the silence around racial abuse

    H. Samy Alim


    cc L G P
    Not only must we speak out when the victims can no longer speak for themselves, but by breaking the silence around racial abuse, we can begin a healing process that addresses our collective hurt and humiliation and restores our humanity.

    Over the last week, the nation has been gripped with the murder of Trayvon Martin. Everyone from the Children’s Defense Fund’s Marian Wright Edelman to boxing legend Muhammad Ali have photographed themselves in black hoodies, symbolizing both their solidarity with Trayvon and their stance against the stereotype-driven suspicion that haunts people of color. Hip Hop artists and celebrities, from Young Jeezy to Jamie Foxx, are helping attract attention to the case. Even Barack Obama -— whom nearly everyone thought would run from this like it was the plague (at least if he wanted to avoid Republican race-baiters like Newt Gingrich) -— spoke out powerfully.

    “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” he said.

    Despite all of this attention, some of my friends still cannot understand why I have been “so obsessed,” in their words, with the murder of Trayvon Martin. I and others are so concerned with this case for obvious reasons. All of the details that have emerged in the media—recorded 911 calls, ear-witness testimonies, potential police misconduct, and racial slurs paint Trayvon’s murder as a racially motivated crime carried out in the context of an institutional racism that sanctions violence against black bodies.

    But aside from the specifics of this case —- and the many insightful analyses that have emerged —- there remains one reason above all others why this case has struck such a chord with communities of color.

    While there have been numerous articles about the legal, political, and sociological aspects of this case, very little has been said about the emotional dimensions at the heart of all this huge outpouring of support. What is behind the outrage? What is it about this case that has triggered (and I hate to even use that word) such a strong response from so many people?

    Trayvon Martin's parents at the Million Hoodies MarchWhile there are many possible answers to these questions, it is clear that the murder of Trayvon Martin provides us with a moment to deal with the personal and collective trauma of racial abuse. Very rarely are our narratives of racial abuse and racial violence heard in the public sphere. And while the following narratives are personal -— thus exposing my vulnerability -— I believe sharing them is necessary in order to help break the silence around racial abuse. And to help explain why so many people of color are “obsessed” with the murder of Trayvon Martin.

    I posted a story on Facebook one evening earlier this winter. I had been trying to live a healthier lifestyle by walking, as opposed to driving, to nearby establishments in my “nice,” “suburban,” neighborhood. After a long day’s work at Stanford University, where I teach, I decided to walk to the local Whole Foods to grab some dinner. After my walk home, I posted:

    I just inadvertently scared the HELL out of a couple while walkin' home from dinner tonight - gotta love my neighborhood... Sorry, I'll try to look less menacing next time [I was wearing khakis, brown dress shoes, a black jacket and even had my Steve Urkel glasses on -- AND I was carrying a book! LOL!]... A serious thought there: Taking up the practice of walking to local places has shown me a new side to my neighbors -- the twisted irony is how someone else's fear of you can actually make YOU fear for your own safety... Think on that...

    This was the first experience I thought of when I heard of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Even though I tried to laugh it off in my post, I remembered the fear -— the very real fear -— that gripped me just a few months ago as I realized that the couple (a white couple; I de-raced them in an effort not to offend my white Facebook friends) was deathly afraid of me. Why were they running away from me and nervously looking over their shoulder every five seconds? Would the man try to “protect” his wife from the imagined violence that my brown body would inflict upon her? And then the one that made my heart literally skip a beat: Would they call the police? I did not want to end up being harassed, or in jail, or worse yet -— dead -— so I literally ran straight home with my heart racing.

    My fear of the police stretches back for many years. And while I cannot yet share the most humiliating stories, I can begin with this.

    As a graduate student, I often burned the midnight oil. One night I decided to take a break to the local Jack-in-the-Box to pick up some jalapeno poppers. As I waited at the drive-through window for my order, I saw a white man crossing the street in front of the restaurant. He was wearing blue jeans and a brown sports jacket with a button-down shirt underneath. I thought nothing of it; he was just a man crossing the street. After all, this is Palo Alto -- a wealthy, predominantly white suburb with very low crime rates -- so I had no reason to fear, right? So, the man crossed the street and continued to walk toward the restaurant. Then, strangely, he approached the side of my car and, out of nowhere, began POUNDING FEROCIOUSLY on my windshield, screaming, “GIVE ME THE KEYS!” over and over again in wildly slurred speech. Then he reached for the passenger side door handle. With adrenaline rushing through my body, I reached over quickly and lock the doors, barely beating him to it. As he continued to beat my windshield, I began to fear that he was going to actually break it; he was smashing it so hard that his hand was bloody. Then the fool actually started climbing on my car, looking into the window, screaming, “GIVE ME THE KEYS!” Without thinking, I slammed on the gas and he rolled off my windshield and onto the street. I started to call the police —- but I hesitated. After all, I thought to myself, I was safe, right, so what’s the point?

    My sense of civic duty wouldn’t let me leave the scene. After all, my attacker might be a danger to other citizens. So, I called 911 and waited. Eight minutes passed. No cops. I followed my initial instinct and said, “Let me just forget the whole thing,” and I drove off. As I was leaving, though, the police showed up. I walked over to them but they wanted to talk to my attacker first. He was curled up on the ground, probably drunk. After a few minutes, they walked over in my direction and began interrogating me.

    “Can we see your knuckles, sir?”

    “Huh?” I was honestly confused. “Why?”

    “Show us your knuckles,” the officer said sternly.

    So, I raised my hands up so they could see my knuckles. The officer closest to me grabbed my hands and began closely examining my skin. He asked, “Did you assault this gentleman?”


    “Did you beat this gentleman?” he asked again loudly.

    “What? No! Wait, I’m the one who called 911! I was the one who was attacked!”

    “Your hands look like they might be swollen,” he continued.

    I thought to myself angrily, “Swollen? From what? Typing too much?!” The officer —- against all common sense (why would ANYONE call 911 if they were the attacker?) -— told me that the man’s hands were bloody and so I must have started a fist fight with him. Needless to say, my jaw dropped open in disbelief; I was furious!

    To make a long story short: Here I was, the victim of a car-jacking where I could not only have lost my car, but my life, and the police were accusing me of being the aggressor?! By the next morning, my feelings of terror and outrage had evolved into a profound sadness -— one that sometimes still haunts me. Not only was I the victim of an attempted car-jacking, but the system that was designed to protect me from such violence was inflicting its own form of violence upon me.

    Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee (L) speaks while announcing he will temporarily step down in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing as Sanford city manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. (R) stands by on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.It was then that I remembered why I initially hesitated to call the police. At the time, questions had quickly flashed through my mind: Would they do anything when they got here? Would they even believe me? I remember pushing these questions aside in order to “do the right thing.” I said to myself, If anything, the video camera on the drive-through window would exonerate me.

    Like many people of color, I had numerous experiences that have taught me not to always trust the police. My fear and distrust was to such a degree that I even had to think about providing sources of evidence to exonerate myself just in case the police didn’t believe me. The racist hermeneutics of suspicion at play here -— demonstrated by the police’s line of questioning -— only served as a reminder of the value placed on my humanity in the eyes of the law. My drunk, white attacker -— not me, a graduate student working on his dissertation -— deserved protection. Was this “justice, or “just us”?

    And so, don’t ask me why I had a fear response to that white couple’s fear of me in my own neighborhood. And please don’t ask me why I care so much about Trayvon Martin, a boy that I “don’t even know.” I may not know Trayvon Martin, but I know his fear all too well. For many of us, the Trayvon Martin case has reopened the scab on our souls created by the continual experiences of racial abuse at the hands of our “fellow Americans” and institutions designed to protect us. Every Trayvon Martin case triggers the trauma, reminding us of the fear, pain, suffering, and humiliation that we have long silenced and suppressed. Some of us may share our narratives of racial abuse in private spaces where we feel safe. But far too many of us remain silent, especially in the public sphere. How do we challenge individual acts and systems of racial abuse if we remain silent? Moreover, how do we do so in a society that tells us that we are “overly sensitive” about race? Or that we talk too much about it? Or worse, that we are the racist ones because we “insist” on seeing everything through the lens of race? Or worse still, that we brought the violence upon ourselves because of the way we were dressed?

    Sadly, the hoodie now occupies the same space racially that the mini-skirt occupies in gendered narratives that blame the victim of sexual violence. In a society that tells us that we deserve the violence because of our fashion choices, or that we need to stop “crying wolf” over racial injustice, or that we “complain” too much about racism, the tragic irony is that you ain’t even heard the half.

    Protesters pray at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.But for those suffering under continual racial abuse -— one that is denied vehemently by society at large -— how do we share our narratives with our abusers?

    Yes, the Trayvon Martin case has become a focal point for so many of us because we can debate U.S. racial politics, whether or not President Obama will call Trayvon’s parents, the value of black life, the need to repeal the “stand your ground” laws so that racialized (and other) minorities can feel safe, etc.

    Yes, it is interesting for all of these legal, political, and sociological reasons. But, for many of us -— and this is a point that has been ignored thus far -— this case is a focal point because it is a way for us to tell our stories without exposing our own fear and vulnerability. We regularly silence our pain, ignore our fear, avoid dealing with the hurt. But in this case, because there appears to be so much evidence of racial abuse and misconduct, coupled with the fact that he was just a young boy, we feel empowered to speak out on behalf of Trayvon -— even if we cannot yet speak out on behalf of ourselves.

    This is precisely my point. We are Trayvon Martin. So not only must we speak out when the victims can no longer speak for themselves, but by breaking the silence around racial abuse, we can begin a healing process that addresses our collective hurt and humiliation and restores our humanity. We -— all who have suffered similar experiences, regardless of race -— can begin sharing our racial abuse narratives in the public sphere. By doing so, we can hope that others will stop seeing racial abuse as something that happens only to so-called deserving ghetto black kids (whatever that means) and start empathizing with black suffering by seeing it as part of the human experience. By sharing our narratives, we can begin showing how systems of racial abuse create traumatic memories for some, deep depression and hopelessness in others, and a silencing of our collective suffering around issues of racialized violence.

    So, while society thinks we already talk too much about racism, the real stories, and the trauma associated with them, have yet to be heard.

    Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.As I write this, the sharing has already begun. Twitter hashtags like #WeAreTrayvonMartin and sites like I Could Be Trayvon are just beginning to appear. High school and university students around the nation -— including those at “The Black House” at Stanford University -— are coming together not just to protest racial abuse, but, importantly, to process it.

    Together we can all share our stories and collectively break the silence around racial abuse. In the name of Trayvon Martin, and for the sake of his family, we must.

    #WeAreTrayvonMartin. #Justice4Trayvon.


    * Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

    * H. Samy Alim directs the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Language (CREAL) and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA) at Stanford University. His forthcoming book, “Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.,” written with Geneva Smitherman, examines the racial politics of the Obama presidency through a linguistic lens.
    * This article was first published by Current.

    A fresh look at Malcolm X

    A presentation to the Left Forum, New York City, Saturday March 17, 2012

    Bill Fletcher, Jr


    cc C F
    Bill Fletcher Jr. addresses some of the key issues raised in Manning Marable’s acclaimed, yet for some controversial, biography ‘Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention’ published in April 2011.

    Good afternoon. My thanks to Herb Boyd for inviting me to participate on this panel and my thanks to Herb and Haki Madhubuti for inviting me to contribute to the book of essays in response to the publication of Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.

    Once we have established that Malcolm X (MX) was not the Messiah, nor was he the Mahdi in either the Sunni or Shia traditions, it should, at least theoretically, be possible to engage in a discussion about MX and his legacy.

    The one obstacle to such a discussion, however, was summed up by one activist when they proclaimed - in condemning Marable’s ‘Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention’ - that the people need icons. When I read this I realized that what it meant was that some people believe that it is neither possible nor appropriate to undertake a materialist examination of our beloved brother. And further, that anything that suggests that MX was anything less than perfect somehow betrays our love and respect for our brother.

    The controversy that surrounded the publication of Marable’s book was extraordinary, less due to the content of the controversy and more due to the tone. Leaving aside that Marable had just died, the anger, homophobia, and indeed hatred, was venomous. It was noteworthy in that attacks on Marable’s character and politics were undertaken not only by historic opponents but also, at least in some cases, by individuals who Marable considered to have been friends and comrades, individuals who in some cases Marable generously supported in various ways.

    I decided, in speaking here today, not to go tit-for-tat in this odd debate except to make a few points, after which I want to address some of the key issues raised in Marable’s book that I believe are truly worthy of exploration.

    First, this will not be the last MX book. However, the standard set by Marable for research will be difficult to match by any subsequent writers.

    Second, it is clear, should we wish to be honest, that the attacks are largely about Marable himself. I have written some about this and will not belabour the point. The bottom line is that MX was commodified after his death not only by capitalists (in the 1980s) but even by some on the Left and nationalist movements. These individuals, either through conferences, bookstores, or other items, came to believe that they, and only they, could lay claim to the legacy of MX. Marable, in that sense, was an interloper as far as they were concerned, not to mention an academic at a prestigious university.

    But a related point is that Marable dared to push the life and work of MX onto the mainstream stage, but from the Left. For some individuals, that was simply impermissible. MX was to be worshipped in private, or at best, within an all-black arena.

    Third, some of the criticisms are simply silly, if not examples of sophistry. Let me offer an example that struck me. One former colleague of Marable criticised the book for allegedly distorting MX’s life and legacy. One example pointed to was Marable’s reference to how MX would have supported the United Nations World Conference against Racism (UNWCAR) held in Durban in 2001. This writer indicated that MX would never have supported a dialogue with imperialists.

    If you read what Marable actually said it will indicate that this critic was simply wrong in their interpretation, not to mention their intent. Marable was talking about the NGO forum that was connected with the UNWCAR where progressive forces from around the world gathered. Yet, I do not believe that this critic could not have known this. I think that this was simply a jab at Marable; an attempt to take him down a peg and to delegitimize the book. Well, the attempt failed.

    Another example, often touted by some well-intentioned comrades, was the reference in the final chapter to MX adopting an alleged ‘race neutral’ approach to his theory, with Pan Africanism and Third World solidarity used as examples. Marable was jumped upon like white on rice for this reference.

    Now, the reference is peculiar. I read an earlier draft and that reference was not there. I concluded that one of two things happened. It was either a poor choice of words by Marable or the editor made the change. But let’s assume that it was a poor choice of words. Is there anything in the work and writings of Marable to lead any person not suffering from Alzheimer’s to believe that Marable could possibly have meant ‘race neutral’ in the way that the term is used in the USA? Of course not. Marable was pointing to the challenge that MX himself acknowledged of how to describe his evolving politics. They were some combination of revolutionary nationalist, pro-socialist, Pan Africanist, and Third Worldist, with a bit of Islamism thrown in there for good measure. But MX acknowledged, after speaking with a North African, light-skinned revolutionary, that ‘black nationalist’ might not adequately describe his evolving views.

    Perhaps ‘race neutral’ was an editor’s interpretation of the expression ‘non-racial’, a term that is used in South Africa to describe anti-racist politics, but a term that we do not use here in the USA. Given Marable’s affinity with the South African movement he may have used it. Having had my own issues with editors I can believe that this might have been changed by a US editor attempting to - unsuccessfully - make this clearer to a US audience.

    In any case, there are other people who were much more intimately involved with the writing of the book, such as Zaheer Ali, who can go head to head with anyone on the particulars of the book. Let me suggest that the book stands as a marvelous contribution to the on-going discussion of the life and work of MX. Perhaps when my generation is dead, a generation that venerated MX; a generation that had MX at the heart of our politics; perhaps only then will we be able to step back and truly examine MX’s life and work without obscene and infantile efforts to impugn the character of this or that writer.

    Let me shift to a few of the critical points in the book that I believe to be worthy of serious discussion:
    • the circumstances of the assassination
    • questions of organisation
    • gender
    • reform and revolution.

    The assassination is worthy of discussion alone not only due to the information that Marable reveals about the possible assailants but also about the circumstances that made the assassination possible. Marable proposes that three forces had an interest in MX’s demise: the Nation of Islam (NOI), the State, and some elements within his own organisation.

    MX found himself in a cul-de-sac by late 1964. He was moving at light speed compared with much of his organisation. He was also driven by a fury at circumstances within the NOI that had led to his having been driven out. What was striking in reading the book was that you want to yell at MX and beg him to pull up; to be more careful, tactically. Yet he kept prodding the NOI.

    The State clearly wanted his demise, so there is little to discuss there.

    But it was this question of people within his own organisation that caught my attention and it relates to several other matters. MX had a set of loyal followers who were not necessarily with him politically. As MX evolved, they did not necessarily also evolve, and precisely on the matter of gender, as women were starting to rise within the Organization of Afro-American Unity. This created tension with some of the older, male followers. On top of this, MX had two organisations that he was attempting to manage.

    It is, in fact, this matter of organisation that jumps out at the reader. MX needed to have a general secretary or executive director who was clearly empowered to lead the organisation. Yet MX appears to have been unclear about the division of labour between himself and some of his chief aids.

    This challenge reminded me of the story of the building of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the division of labour - which succeeded - between its President, A. Philip Randolph, and its chief organizer, Milton P. Webster. Detailed in the book Keeping the Faith (by William H. Harris), what struck me is that while Randolph was clearly the political leader of the Brotherhood, the organisation would have gone nowhere without the brilliance of Webster who was the person who awoke every morning thinking about the challenges of organisation. The relationship between these two individuals was critical.

    The matter of gender, as discussed by Marable, has been sensitive on several grounds but is no less important. I am not going to engage in the discussion about Malcolm’s possible same-sex relationship. When I read the draft of the book, that section was so unimportant that when the controversy arose with its publication I thought that it was a different book.

    MX was, for much of his life, not at the vanguard of the struggle against male supremacy. He had a complicated view of his mother as well as of various women partners. He, apparently, had a caring relationship with Betty Shabazz, but one that was not entirely satisfying. He was willing to seek help in trying to work through the issues in this relationship, but some of those issues appear to have revolved around unresolved matters concerning another woman he loved and wanted to marry, but who ended up pregnant with Elijah Muhammad’s child.

    But the story does not end there. During the final period of his life his views seemed to change and he actively engaged women in the construction of his ultimate political project, the Organisation for Afro-American Unity. This takes us full circle to the circumstances surrounding his murder. His breaking with the crude misogynism of his Nation of Islam days was linked to an evolution in his politics that started - and we must say started - to envision a liberated view of women. This journey was far from complete.

    Finally, the issue of reform and revolution. Some critics have suggested that Marable attempted to describe a MX that looked like Marable. I found this humorous. Though Marable worshipped MX, he was enough in touch with his ego and personality, not to mention his politics, to know that he and MX were quite different.

    MX was grappling with the interaction of reform and revolutionary politics and practices. The combination of global solidarity and anti-imperialism on the one hand, with his interest in electoral politics points towards a political practice along the lines of the National Black Political Assembly (NBPA). In other words, the NBPA was a logical conclusion from a set of MX’s politics. While it is true that Marable was connected with the outgrowth of the NBPA - the National Black Independent Political Party - Marable was not describing his own evolution.

    MX was attempting to address what it meant to engage in pro-black, progressive politics in a non-revolutionary situation. He seemed to be open to various coalitions, but his views were, frankly and with all due respect, too undeveloped to draw any major conclusions.

    I, for one, am interested in exploring these issues. Whether Marable sufficiently applauded other writers who examined the life and work of Malcolm X is less my concern. I have been going over Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and noticed that he spent very little time commenting on other writers of US history. Zinn was interested in presenting a narrative before the people to spark debate and answer many questions with which activists and regular people have been grappling. Manning had a similar objective. There is little doubt that despite the protests and hurt feelings on the part of some who believe that they and only they hold the MX franchise, Marable succeeded.


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    * Bill Fletcher Jr. is a longtime labour, racial justice and international activist. He is an Editorial Board member and columnist for and a Senior Scholar for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.
    * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    The ANC transformed

    Mercia Andrews


    cc W E C
    The ANC has been transformed from a broad based liberation movement to a governing party, largely serving the interests of local and international capital.

    The ANC celebrated its 100th anniversary on 8 January 2012. This is indeed a major achievement for the oldest liberation movement in Africa. In its history it has had to negotiate many difficult challenges, perhaps none more so than retaining a broad unity while maintaining the ability to act and implement strategy. This is a remarkable part of the history of the ANC and bears testimony to generations of extraordinary leaders who shaped and guided the ANC.

    Celebrations, though, often have blind spots. One such blind spot is the tendency to overlook the fact that the struggle for liberation in South Africa had many impulses, different currents, divergent voices and positions which existed both inside and outside the ANC and which ultimately helped define the ANC. Another is to ask why socialist forces, mainly the South African Communist Party (SACP) – which has devoted much of its existence to building and influencing the ANC – have been unable to ensure an anti-capitalist orientation to the movement. This is a critical question to pose for forces on the left. Joining in the celebration of 100 years of the ANC requires us to reflect on both of these questions.


    At the beginning of the 20th century, the ANC started out as a moderate organisation of the black middle classes based on African Nationalism. It developed from a respectful lobbying group to a mass campaigning organisation, a revolutionary force and eventually a party of government. While it initially paid little heed to the needs of the rural poor and black working class, the emergence of trade union organisation and specifically the rise of the Industrial Commercial Workers Union (ICU) helped to reorient the organisation towards the dispossessed masses.

    It was predominantly in the 1950s, when, influenced by African independence struggles and the then-banned SACP, which started to play a leading role inside the ANC, that the ANC began to embrace militant mass action requiring the mobilisation of working-class constituencies, other organisations and movements. To broaden its support base amongst other oppressed layers of society, it began to build alliances with like-minded movements such as the Natal Indian Congress, Coloured People’s Congress and the (white) Congress of Democrats. Very significantly, the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) joined the Congress Alliance and made up its trade union wing.

    The adoption of the Freedom Charter brought these and other movements together and enabled the ANC to operate as a broad church in which nationalists, communists, and liberals, etc. united around the goal of overthrowing the apartheid state.


    Despite the fact that the socialist currents in South Africa were divided along international divisions associated with the split of the Comintern, forces aligned to Soviet socialism, Trotskyism and other independent Marxist currents influenced South African politics greatly. The history of the socialist movement in South Africa was greatly determined by the strategy and tactics of linking the struggle for socialism with the movement for national liberation. In the conditions of South Africa, where capitalism developed through land dispossession of the indigenous people and through the prism of racism and racial division, it was widely understood that socialism and its narrative of working class unity needed to be articulated in ways that took into account the conditions of colonial and national oppression.

    It is this struggle to indigenise Marxism that has such a rich and varied history; an indigenised Marxism that both enriched Marxism as well as the actual struggle for national liberation. Here we can highlight the debates on the land and national question, theories of the development of capitalism in the underdeveloped world (articulation of modes of production), transition to socialism, etc.

    It is especially important to recognise the contribution of two movements which in post-1994 South Africa are increasingly ignored or falsified.

    The Non European Unity Movement was formed in 1943. It was a movement which aimed to unite, on a federal basis, members of the three main black population groups – Africans, ‘Coloureds’ and Indians – irrespective of religion, caste or tribes. The unifying factors would be a programme of democratic demands contained in its Ten Point Programme. The ANC-led Congress of the People and adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955 were obviously influenced and inspired by the example of the Unity Movement.

    The Unity Movement’s legacy was expressed through the politics of non-collaboration and the tactic of the boycott, which became a critical instrument of resistance to the apartheid government’s divide and rule and co-optation attempts via its Bantustan strategy of the 1970s and 1980s. It was also found in the politics of non-racialism, meaning the rejection of race as a base for organising, and in the construction of a united single nation with perspectives on the language and land questions that influenced all formations of the liberation movement. Yet, because of splits, weak organic links to black working-class communities (with some exceptions) and the dominance of middle-class professionals in its ranks and leadership, it largely failed to make these ideas and tactics a material force in the struggle.

    It was left to the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), led by Steve Biko, and the rise of the independent trade union movement to give effect to some of the more important ideas of the Unity Movement and to give them mass impact. The BCM was centred on an ideological position that espoused the importance of self-reliance, reawakened a sense of pride and self-esteem in black people and challenged the apartheid categories of ‘Non-White’ or ‘African’, ‘Coloured’ and ‘Indian’. The BCM saw all the oppressed as black and in effect gave expression to the need to overcome apartheid’s divide and rule strategy by uniting all the oppressed in a struggle for national liberation. In essence, this was at the heart of the strategy advanced by the early proponents of non-racialism and endorsed by science’s rejection of race as a valid biological category.

    This was taken forward by the rise of the independent trade union movement in the 1970s and early 1980s that eventually led to the formation of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU). FOSATU was a militant trade union federation formed in 1979. It championed workers’ control and democracy within the union and at the work place. FOSATU believed that unions should be non-racial and was one of the first trade union federations to effectively organise across the colour line.

    The 1976 student uprising, followed in the 1980s by waves of mass strikes and township protests, signalled the beginning of the end of the apartheid system. Anti-capitalist politics were taking root in South Africa and the mass movement was challenging the State from many fronts. A revolutionary situation was maturing and it was clear that the ruling class could not rule in the old way and that the masses refused to be ruled in the old way.

    For the first time in the history of the liberation movement, popular mobilisations, mass revolts, self-defence groups and workers’ struggles not only co-existed but created political conditions that went beyond the demand for one person, one vote. It was a period of heightened consciousness which transformed and radicalised the ANC. This was captured in the ANC’s call to make the country ungovernable. It was also seen in the ANC’s analysis of the South African situation at the time as one of dual power, i.e. the mass revolts led by township-based street committees, people’s courts and the paralysis of local government structures versus the state and its repressive apparatus. Taking power was being forced on to the national agenda.

    In this situation, socialist forces were increasingly becoming hegemonic in the broad mass movement that was being forged in struggle on the ground in South Africa. The strategy of building a broad alliance of popular forces in the form of the mass democratic movement and more particularly in the United Democratic Front (UDF) held out the possibility of ensuring a socialist hegemony in the struggle against apartheid.

    Yet this never materialised, and in just a few years the radicalisation of the mass movement and the ANC was to be undone by both objective and subjective factors. The collapse of the Soviet Union was devastating for the ANC and the SACP, which had become so dependent on it for material and ideological support. It was not just the ANC that was affected by the changed international balance of forces; national liberation forces from Ireland, Palestine, El Salvador and many others were forced to reinvent themselves, given the changed situation. The collapse of the Soviet Union created an ideological crisis for the left. The crisis of credibility of socialism had a devastating impact on the SACP. Leading members of its Central Committee, including Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, left the Party. The leadership of the SACP retreated.

    The ANC seized the opportunity to enter into negotiations with the apartheid government when De Klerk eventually crossed the Rubicon, but in the negotiations and subsequent transition from apartheid it was unable to create the space for on-going struggle that would open a transition to a much more radical transformation of the existing system. Instead, the ANC leadership, with sections of the UDF, demobilised and displaced popular resistance. Like a tap, popular voices and mass organisations were turned on and off according to the requirements of negotiating a settlement with the apartheid regime. The dynamic of mass mobilisation and working-class power that shaped the politics of liberation in the 1980s was consciously side-lined as the political transition and the negotiations took centre-stage.

    Initially, in the first years of the negotiations, the ANC retained a radical public posture. In the first public statements of Nelson Mandela after his release, he confirmed that nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy remained ANC policy. This was also echoed by Chris Hani, Harry Gwala and many leaders of the popular movements. However, as the negotiations unfolded, the ANC agreed to revoke armed struggle and denounce violence. In this period the moderate exiled leadership and reformist elements in the internal structures of the ANC converged and became the dominant force which led the ANC in reaching a settlement with the apartheid government.

    The iconic status of Mandela, Tambo and Slovo, who were in favour of an accommodation with the ruling class, was sufficient to paper over the deep class differences and class interests within the mass democratic movement. Based on their leadership as well as the ideology of African nationalism – the glue that held the broad church of the ANC together – they were able to sideline radical forces within the ANC and outside that opposed the settlement with the apartheid regime.

    The left outside of the ANC boycotted the negotiations, demanding instead a constituent assembly, and made the mistake of staying aloof from the negotiations. Retaining their purity, they lost influence in the broader society and became more and more marginalised. The ANC was given a free hand to make significant compromises without having to pay a political price in terms of their support among the masses. The successful concluding of the negotiations and the fact that they led to a one person, one vote election meant that the ANC was able to appear as the movement of liberation.


    It is clear that the past twenty years has transformed the ANC from a movement embedded in the struggle for freedom and resistance (the movement that led bus boycotts, the women’s anti-pass march on Pretoria, mineworker strikes, campaigns to free political prisoners, convoking the Congress of the People and the adoption of the Freedom Charter) to a political party that is ultimately responsive to the needs of international and local capital. This is true even if aspirant sections of the petty bourgeoisie rooted in the state bureaucracy and state enterprises rest on the ANC’s support in the working class.

    In power, the ANC has failed to break up the monopolies that dominate the South African economy when it was on the agenda, allowed the biggest corporations to de-list from South Africa and re-invent themselves as foreign corporations, corporatised and privatised key state enterprises and functions, and delivered our economy to the WTO and the needs of predatory finance capital.

    Under successive GEAR-like policies, the liberalisation of the South African economy has led to the deepening of inequality (South Africa is now regarded as the most unequal country in the world), and unemployment has more than doubled, with real unemployment today being closer to 40% – one of the highest rates in the world. And it is under the ANC’s watch that almost 40% of the workforce is now employed through labour brokers. By prioritising Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and the promotion of a black capitalist class (as its strategy for deracialising the economy) the phenomenon of tenderpreneurial corruption has come to paralyse state capacity, creating deep crises in the education and health systems and eroding local government capacity.

    The crisis in delivery of basic services such as housing, sanitation and electricity have given rise to, according to police statistics, more than 6,000 protests last year alone. A new wave of class struggle driven by the precariat on the one hand and organised labour in defence of jobs and wages on the other hand, cries out for political coordination and unity in action – something the ANC-of-struggle provided previously. The SACP, which still sees itself as the ‘vanguard of the working class’, rather than recognising the significance of these struggles for determining a new working-class agenda in the yet to be transformed South Africa, has liquidated itself into the Zuma project, taking responsibility for governing over South Africa’s post-apartheid tragedy.

    In the past two decades, the ANC has shifted its base from the masses to a dependence on the state bureaucracy, the party machinery and a new elite in both rural and urban areas. Increasingly the ANC is becoming a party of the new elite.

    Change can no longer come from within the ANC. Polokwane was an example of the inability of the left inside the ANC to bring about any meaningful change. Polokwane, as an attempt to re-invigorate a democratic culture and reconnect the organisation with the general membership, so as to replace the ‘1996 class project’ (neoliberalism) with a radical strategy of wealth redistribution, has been blocked by the hold of a bureaucracy within the state and in the ANC itself. The predatory elite (tenderpreneurs) have undermined any progressive change in economic policy. The pace of land reform remains the same. Even the discredited willing-buyer, willing-seller policy remains in place and the promised National Health Insurance is very far from being realised.

    Unless social movements, strong unions and radical initiatives such as the recently formed Democratic Left Front exist and mobilise around alternatives for a broad-based anti-capitalist platform, we will not see the fruits of 100 years of struggle.


    * Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka NOW and help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

    * Mercia Andrews works as a land rights activist and is a member of the Democratic Left Front.

    * This article was first published in the latest issue of Amandla (Amandla 24) as part of a feature on the centenary of the ANC, "from popular power to state power". The magazine can be found online at [url= online]]online[/url][/url] and throughout bookstores in South Africa. Contact [email protected] for comments.

    ANC a product of its own policies

    Z. Pallo Jordan


    cc BBC
    A capacity for ‘introspection, self-criticism and grasping the nettle of corrective action’ ensured the ANC’s success as a national revolutionary movement. These attributes can help the ANC to manage the tensions created by its own policies.

    In 1956, in an article in the journal Liberation, Nelson Mandela explained aspects of the Freedom Charter:
    The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class. For the first time in the history of this country the Non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mills and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.
    The monopolies targeted in the Freedom Charter remain largely unchanged. A policy paper for the 1997 National Conference said: ‘the economic sphere [is] a critical centre of power. Its transformation, including through de-racialisation of ownership and control of wealth, is an important element of the process of social transformation’.
    The 1994 democratic breakthrough radically changed every facet of South African life. Political freedom created opportunities for self-advancement and opened up careers in professions hitherto closed, especially to Africans. A new dynamic unfolded, not least in the ANC itself, as its leaders, members and supporters could now compete on more equal terms with their white counterparts – in the professions, in business and for state and government posts.
    From among the ANC’s support base, its membership and its leaders, a new black elite has taken shape, as captains of industry heading private and state-owned corporations, as judges, government ministers, well-paid professionals and high-ranking civil servants, etc.
    Personal ambition and careerism inspire the actions of many. Some even descending to ethnic mobilisation. At the 1997 Mafeking Conference, for example, whispers about the need to resist domination of the ANC by the Xhosa ethnic group emanated from certain quarters.
    Tensions, instability and conflict necessarily accompany the growth of any movement. The ANC was founded as a multi-class formation initially for African men, but in time it also admitted women. It sought and built cross-cutting alliances with Indian and coloured movements and activists, with white liberals, with communists, with international bodies and movements. The movement’s history consequently abounds with the stresses intrinsic to growth and development.

    During its history, the ANC made three significant strategic shifts, driven by disillusionment, failure and rising hope. Like every liberation movement in the colonies, it initially sought to reform the colonial state by making it more inclusive and incrementally integrating the Africans, coloureds and Indians into its institutions. By 1943 the scales had dropped from its eyes.

    The first strategic shift occurred at the height of World War II. Disillusioned by the flabbiness of its white liberal allies and their deference to white racist opinion, the movement sought new alliances with the other oppressed black communities and with committed white democrats. A letter by Dr A.B. Xuma addressed to Professor R.F.A. Hoernle, head of the South African Institute of Race Relations, in 1942, captures his exasperation: ‘One cannot wait for public opinion to be ready for reforms. One must lead public opinion to see the need for reforms by stating the case to its final and logical conclusions no matter whose interests it affects.’

    Under Xuma’s stewardship the ANC adopted ‘The Africans’ Claims’, a wide-ranging statement of its perspectives that anticipated many of the themes of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    The Smuts government’s response to the 1946 African mineworkers' strike encapsulates the attitude South Africa’s white rulers adopted towards all forms of black protest and resistance after 1945. The election of Malan’s National Party (NP) in 1948 inaugurated a decade of repression, culminating in the massacre at Sharpeville on 21 March 1960. Eighteen days later, the apartheid regime banned the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), imposed a five-month State of Emergency and detained some 1,800 persons, black and white, occasioning a second strategic shift for the ANC.

    In 1961, after the apartheid state suppressed a stay-at-home strike by mobilising its police, the defence force and military reservists, the ANC leadership took the decision to adopt armed struggle and create uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), the nucleus of a national liberation army.

    MK’s actions on 16 December 1961 were a declaration of war, but the movement was careful not to paint itself into a strategic corner. It pronounced its readiness to discontinue the war on condition that the regime demonstrated a willingness to negotiate a democratic constitution in earnest. Negotiations were an aspect of this new strategy from the outset.

    After the Rivonia arrests and convictions, the movement suffered terrible reverses, compounded by the death in 1967 of its president, Chief A.J. Luthuli. Brutal repression dismembered the movement inside South Africa, and consequently a viable ANC organisation had to be initiated and implemented from outside. This resulted in serious tensions between the movement’s leadership and the trained fighters of MK, eager to return home to confront the enemy. The 1969 Morogoro consultative conference was convened to resolve this friction. A second consultative conference at Kabwe, in 1985, grappled with similar problems.
    The movement’s strategy aimed to achieve four inter-related goals:
    • making the ANC an organised presence among the people of South Africa while generalising among them an appreciation that revolutionary violence was not only necessary but could be successfully deployed against what appeared to be a formidable enemy;
    • inspiring self-organisation through every form of mass organisation for active engagement in the struggle to overthrow the apartheid regime;
    • stimulating among them understanding that without their active support and protection the armed cadres of the movement could not hope to survive in the country; and
    • creating secure lines of communication between units on the ground and the leadership for purposes of intelligence and counter-intelligence.

    To succeed, the armed liberation struggle would have to be built on four interdependent pillars – the ANC underground; mass political mobilisation; armed struggle; and international solidarity.

    For 30 years, between 1960 and 1990, the movement resisted pressure from the continent and other supporters in the world community to unite with the PAC. The ANC argued that meaningful unity could only grow in struggle among political forces actually engaging the enemy. It adopted the same attitude in discussions with dissidents from the Unity Movement and with representatives of the Black Consciousness Movement. The emergence of the mass democratic movement after 1984 made it possible to translate that principle into practice.
    The terrain on which the ANC had to operate after it was un-banned was not all of its own making. The apartheid regime had devised a plethora of counter-insurgency strategies to defeat the liberation movement. Among the whites it presented itself as the champion of reform, eager to discover reasonable (as opposed to ‘extremist’) black leaders with whom it could negotiate. During the 1980s it excavated a ploy first devised, then discarded, by Hertzog in 1929, to co-opt the two black minority communities.
    To the regime’s right were die-hard racists and neo-fascist formations, intent on preserving undisguised white supremacy by force of arms. Amongst its securocrats, some hoped to defeat the liberation movement by stepped-up repression. Both groups threatened a negotiated settlement. In response, the ANC adopted tactics to keep the negotiations on course by strengthening the regime’s hand against the far right and hardliners, but maintaining pressure to compel it to negotiate.
    Thus during the ‘whites only’ referendum of 1992, though opposed to ‘whites only’ referenda in principle, the ANC encouraged whites to vote in support of keeping negotiations on track.
    The movement also tried to define a common bottom-line on which liberation formations could agree, urging a ‘Patriotic Front’ to include the PAC, Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), and various progressive homeland parties, such as Inyandza from kaNgwane and the military junta led by Holomisa in the Transkei. The upshot was that after agreeing to a Patriotic Front in 1992, both PAC and AZAPO later withdrew.
    These events unfolded in the context of terrible violence, orchestrated by the Bittereinders in the security services, aimed at demoralising the ANC’s supporters and disrupting its efforts to reconstitute itself organisationally. The movement responded by placing maximum pressure on De Klerk to clean out the hardliners, compelling the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leadership to commit themselves to peace, while organising effective self-defence among the affected communities.
    Despite the tensions of 1990-94, the democratic elections took place in an atmosphere of peace. The ANC received the landslide majority it has since retained and constituted the core of the democratic government.
    Judging by the 1994 elections, the ANC’s constituency was disproportionately located in the urban areas and was overwhelmingly African working class. The elections brought to light the depth of support the ANC enjoyed among the rural African populations, outside KwaZulu-Natal, but the results also confirmed that the coloured and Indian working classes did not identify with the ANC, preferring to support the NP. Sections of the Indian middle strata supported the Democratic Party (DP), while sections of the coloured professional classes supported the ANC.
    The democratic elections imposed yet another strategic shift on the ANC. As government, it inherited a massive public debt incurred over decades by the apartheid regime. Governing a country recovering from mass struggles inspired and instigated by the ANC over the previous 15 years, it had to restore stability while delivering on election promises.
    The ANC evolved as a revolutionary national movement because it had the courage to critically review its experience, retracing its steps when necessary and absorbing the bitter lessons of its defeat. A capacity for introspection, self-criticism and grasping the nettle of corrective action when necessary ensured that the ANC remained relevant while other movements withered.
    The tensions afflicting ANC today are rooted in the changing material conditions of life of the various strata that make up its constituency. They reflect the recently acquired social mobility among black South Africans and the unscrupulous means some are prepared to employ in order to rise.
    Because the constituency of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is blue collar, there is continuing pressure that the ANC tilt in favour of the working class, generating tensions with its principal alliance partners.
    An unfortunate reluctance to study the outcomes of freedom make it less able to anticipate potential points of tension and conflict and to manage the contradictions produced by its own policies.
    The ANC’s capacity to lead will depend on how it addresses the societal changes its own policies have generated.


    * Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka NOW and help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

    * Pallo Jordan was the Minister of Arts and Culture of South Africa from 29 April 2004 to 10 May 2009. This article was first published by Amandla magazine.
    * This article was first published in the latest issue of Amandla (Amandla 24) as part of a feature on the centenary of the ANC, "from popular power to state power". The magazine can be found online at [url= online]]online[/url][/url] and throughout bookstores in South Africa. Contact [email protected] for comments.

    John Saul’s empty chalice

    Jeremy Cronin


    cc M W
    Jeremy Cronin contests the assertion by John S. Saul in his article, ‘A Poisoned Chalice’, that the ANC is a lost cause and that a new political formation is needed to continue the liberation struggle.

    As we mark the centenary of the ANC there are, as we might expect, idealised versions of its history being trotted out. These tend to present the ANC’s hundred years as a righteous procession from early beginnings, through persecution and heroic resistance, to inevitable triumph. Across 12 presidents, the ANC marches forward with God and history on its side.

    This clearly isn’t John Saul’s view of the organisation. He feels the ANC has let him and his cohort down personally. Unfortunately, rather than being an effective antidote to the dangers of centenary hagiography, Saul’s dismissal of the current relevance of the ANC is, in many ways, just a sophisticated flip-side of the crude pro-ANC versions of its history and present relevance. Both the uncritical eulogies and Saul turn the ANC into a monolithic entity, an essence either wholly good or wholly bad - or at least gone completely rotten. This organisational fetishism removes internal complexity, contradiction and struggle.

    True, Saul does allow for some complexity by reminding us (correctly) that the struggle always had many more organisational protagonists than the ANC. But the complexity is presented as essentially outside of the ANC. Saul mentions the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU), the Unity Movement, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), the Black Consciousness Movement, and later the unions and United Democratic Front (UDF), before they were ‘swallowed’ by the ANC. What, I inevitably wondered as I read for the first time Saul’s second paragraph, happened to other organisations he might have mentioned, like 90 years of Communist Party struggle in South Africa? The answer to that question comes many paragraphs later: ‘The SACP was already well within the ANC’s tent of power ... [and] soon COSATU felt compelled to yoke itself as a junior partner to the political juggernaut that the ANC had become.’ In short, for the purposes of Saul’s argument, these formations can now simply be waved off into irrelevance.

    The only heterodoxy that Saul allows exists outside a supposedly monolithic ANC. This is not essentially different from the most dyed-in-the-wool, Jesuitical ANC dogmatist (if such exists) who would insist that anyone who does not give one hundred per cent unblinking assent to every sentence emanating from Luthuli House is beyond the pale.
    Of course the ANC has always been, and remains, a contested, uneven but real – and therefore imperfect – political force. For most of its early decades, the ANC was led by mission-school educated progressive professionals – teachers, journalists, lawyers, religious ministers – who were Westernising modernisers. They argued the case of the ‘civilized’, those who had been unjustly excluded from citizenship rights by the Act of Union on the grounds of race. Theirs was essentially a struggle for inclusion. But, with all of their inevitable historical and class limitations, from the beginning they introduced the seeds of three potentially radical positions. First, through their journalism, speeches, and sermons they recorded and critiqued the deepening racial oppression of South Africa’s majority – the Land Act, pass laws, the colour bar. Second, they critiqued narrow tribalism, and launched an organisation (the ANC) to forge in struggle a new African identity. In so doing they were advancing (implicitly) a post-modernist understanding of identity – not something fixed biologically at birth, but rather a complex process shaped by social interaction and active organisation. This effectively post-modernist understanding also lies at the heart of what remains (in contest, of course) of the ANC’s longstanding and (given South Africa’s history) remarkable espousal of non-racialism.

    Then there is a third, paradoxical legacy bestowed on any contemporary South African left-wing project by ten decades of ANC activism. The Christian liberalism that informed the founders of the ANC was in effect the appropriation of a discourse of universal human rights in a semi-colonial context. It was a context that was bound to expose the limits of liberalism itself and force an increasing radicalisation of any rights-based discourse. That radicalisation can be traced through the 1955 Freedom Charter down to the fundamentally progressive South African Constitution and Bill of Rights of 1996.

    To appreciate the value of this legacy for the present, it is important to recall the generally poor record in government of both communist parties and former national liberation movements through much of the 20th century. There are many reasons why formerly heroic fighting formations, once in power, often declined into bureaucratism, stagnation and corrosive corruption, if not worse. The unending aggressive destabilisation of popular advances by imperialism was obviously the major factor. But internal weaknesses, including the neglect, suspension or deliberate distortion of key constitutional safeguards for popular democracy, were surely another important factor. It is one of many ironies of our contemporary South African reality that, in part as a result of mistakes and ambiguities from the side of the ANC, this legacy is now being claimed (and dumbed down) by anti-majoritarian neoliberals. The idea that the South African Constitution is essentially ‘liberal’ is gravely mistaken; even the most moderately inclined of clauses in the Bill of Rights, the so-called property clause, expressly allows for expropriation on terms other than market-value. One of the tasks of the left in our current reality is to actively espouse the Constitution and advance it for what it is – a clarion call for ongoing radical transformation.

    Since becoming a ruling party, the ANC has by its own admission been beset with many of the familiar challenges of incumbency – careerism, factionalism and corruption. What is to be done? Here I begin to agree, in part, with Saul. We need the vigilance, the checking-and-balancing of a re-invigorated, broad-based popular movement. But where I disagree with Saul is his insistence that it should be in opposition to and exclusively outside of the ANC. Genuine popular protagonism cannot be quarantined within the formal structures of any political formation, and the role of a radical political formation is not to ‘own’ the working class, or popular forces, but to provide as much unifying and transformational leadership as possible to what are often disparate local actions and grievances.

    Cases in point, mentioned by Saul citing Peter Alexander, are the thousands of ‘local protests amounting to a rebellion of the poor’. Directed typically, as Alexander puts it, against ‘uncaring, self-serving and corrupt leaders of the municipalities’, they are ‘widespread and intense, reaching insurrectionary proportions in some cases’. There is one important correction to this otherwise valid characterisation of these protests – none have reached ‘insurrectionary proportions’. Among the reasons for this is the same factor that ensured that even at the height of popular militant action through the 1970s and 1980s, the wave upon wave of uprisings were only ever quasi-insurrectionary in character. Then, as now, the South African working class and urban poor, largely confined to peripheral dormitory townships, are not in relatively easy marching distance of a Winter Palace. (I don’t have current statistics for St Petersburg, but the average working class commute in today’s Moscow is 7km, for instance; compare this to Tshwane’s 25km).

    Persisting apartheid-style, dormitory townships at distance from work, amenities, resources and other loci of power continue to ensure the reproduction of a displaced and disadvantaged working class. The ‘township service delivery protests’ (and each one of those four words tells a symptomatic story) are essentially inwardly turned – demanding ‘delivery’ into the township rather than the radical transformation of urban space itself. They end up being fights over the scraps. Backyard dwellers compete against those in informal settlements for a place on the housing list. One taxi association fights another over a route and a rank. Local spaza shop owners mobilise against non-South African traders. The civic organisation attacks the ANC branch, or one faction of the local ANC is pitted against another, disputing over a list process and the right to hand out tenders and jobs. Many local councillors, often the prime targets of protest, may well be ’uncaring, self-serving and corrupt’, as Saul and Alexander would have it. But many did not start out that way – they find themselves caught in an under-resourced situation (the big budgetary allocations go elsewhere), dealing with a bursting pressure-cooker reality of overcrowded townships. All of the research suggests, interestingly, that ‘service delivery protests’ tend to occur not in the most destitute townships, but in those in which there has been some ‘delivery’, but which is, of course, never ‘enough’.

    There has been a political failure to mobilise legitimate popular aspirations into a politics that is not so much about delivery into a township as the democratic transformation of, for instance, the totality of urban space itself. While corruption needs to be roundly condemned, the over-emphasis on subjective factors results in a moralising discourse that fails to recognise the structural realities that require radical transformation through both popular agency and the determined use of state power.

    I agree with Saul that ‘liberation must be about more than racial and national assertion’. I agree that it must, amongst other things, be about ‘employment strategies, redistribution, education, health, water and electricity supply, and of a more internally focused and need-driven industrial strategy – that exemplify some real attempt to overcome the great inequalities that no mere tinkering with such things as “basic income grants” can paper over’.

    To imagine that these challenges can be met by conjuring up some nebulous new ‘movement’ is far-fetched. To imagine that all that is wrong in the current South African reality is subjective failure on the part of the ANC is equally misplaced. There are no guarantees in history, but Saul’s dogmatic certainty that the ANC is a lost cause is consistent with his positioning on the ANC over the past decade-and-a-half. It is a positioning infused with the bitterness of a romanticism that feels betrayed. It calls to mind Slavoj Zizek’s biting comment on certain scholars: ‘They allow themselves to pursue their well-paid academic careers in the West, while using an idealized Other (like Cuba, Nicaragua, Tito’s Yugoslavia [or Mandela’s ANC?]) as the stuff of their ideological fantasy: they dream through the Other, and [this is the kick in the tail] rage against it if it in any way disturbs their complacency.’


    * Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka NOW and help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

    * Jeremy Cronin is SACP deputy general secretary, ANC NEC member and Deputy Transport Minister. This article was first published by Amandla magazine.
    * This article was first published in the latest issue of Amandla (Amandla 24) as part of a feature on the centenary of the ANC, "from popular power to state power". The magazine can be found online at [url= online]]online[/url][/url] and throughout bookstores in South Africa. Contact [email protected] for comments.

    The ‘mother of all bombs’ and the road to disaster

    Fidel Castro Ruz


    cc Wikimedia
    This reflection could be written today, tomorrow or any other day without the risk of being mistaken. Our species faces new problems.

    When 20 years ago I stated at the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro that a species was in danger of extinction, I had fewer reasons than today for warning about a danger that I was seeing perhaps 100 years away. At that time, a handful of leaders of the most powerful countries were in charge of the world. They applauded my words as a matter of mere courtesy and placidly continued to dig for the burial of our species.

    It seemed that on our planet, common sense and order reigned. For a while economic development, backed by technology and science, appeared to be the Alpha and Omega of human society.

    Today, everything is much clearer. Profound truths have been surfacing. Almost 200 states, supposedly independent, constitute the political organization which in theory has the job of governing the destiny of the world.

    Approximately 25,000 nuclear weapons in the hands of allied or enemy forces ready to defend the changing order, by interest or necessity, virtually reduce to zero the rights of billions of people.

    I shall not commit the naïveté of assigning the blame to Russia or China for the development of that kind of weaponry, after the monstrous massacre at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ordered by Truman after Roosevelt’s death.

    Nor shall I fall prey to the error of denying the Holocaust that signified the deaths of millions of children and adults, men or women, mainly Jews, gypsies, Russians or other nationalities, who were victims of Nazism. For that reason the odious policy of those who deny the Palestinian people their right to exist is repugnant.

    Does anyone by chance think that the United States will be capable of acting with the independence that will keep it from the inevitable disaster awaiting it?

    In a few weeks, the $40 million President Obama promised to collect for his electoral campaign will only serve to show that the currency of his country is greatly devalued, and that the US, with its unusual growing public debt drawing close to $20 quadrillion, is living on the money it prints and not on the money it produces. The rest of the world pays for what they waste.

    Nor does anyone believe that the Democratic candidate would be any better or worse than his Republican foes: whether they are called Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. Light years separate the three characters as important as Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King. It is really unheard-of to observe such a technologically powerful nation and a government so bereft of both ideas and moral values.

    Iran has no nuclear weapons. It is being accused of producing enriched uranium that serves as fuel energy or components for medical uses. Whatever one can say, its possession or production is not equivalent to the production of nuclear weapons. Dozens of countries use enriched uranium as an energy source, but this cannot be used in the manufacture of a nuclear weapon without a prior complicated purification process.

    However, Israel, with the aid and cooperation of the United States, manufactured nuclear weaponry without informing or accounting to anybody, today not admitting their possession of these weapons, they have hundreds of them. To prevent the development of research in neighbouring Arab countries, they attacked and destroyed reactors in Iraq and Syria. They have also declared their aim of attacking and destroying the production centres for nuclear fuel in Iran.

    International politics have been revolving around that crucial topic in that complex and dangerous part of the world, where most of the fuel that moves the world economy is produced and supplied.

    The selective elimination of Iran’s most eminent scientists by Israel and their NATO allies has become a practice that motivates hatred and feelings of revenge.

    The Israeli government has openly stated its objective to attack the plant manufacturing Iran’s enriched uranium, and the government of the United States has invested billions of dollars to manufacture a bomb for that purpose.

    On March 16, 2012, Michel Chossudovsky and Finian Cunningham published an article revealing that “A top US Air Force General has described the largest conventional bomb – the re-invented bunkers of 13.6 tones – as ‘fantastic’ for a military attack on Iran.

    “Such an eloquent comment on the massive killer-artefact took place in the same week that President Barack Obama appeared to warn against ‘easy words’ on the Persian Gulf War.”

    “…Herbert Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for US Air Force operations […] added that probably the bomb would be used in any attack on Iran ordered by Washington.

    “The MOP, also referred to as ‘The Mother of All Bombs’, is designed to drill through 60 metres of concrete before it detonates its massive bomb. It is believed to be the largest conventional weapon, non-nuclear, in the US arsenal.”

    “The Pentagon is planning a process of wide destruction of Iran’s infrastructure and massive civilian victims through the combined use of tactical nuclear bombs and monstrous conventional bombs with mushroom-shaped clouds, including the MOABs and the larger GBU-57A/B or Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) that exceeds the MOAB in destructive capacity.

    “The MOP is described as ‘a powerful new bomb that aims straight at subterranean Iranian and North Korean nuclear facilities. The giant bomb –longer than 11 persons shoulder to shoulder, or more than 6 metres from end to end’.”

    I ask the reader to excuse me for this complicated military jargon.

    As one can see, such calculations arise from the supposition that the Iranian combatants, numbering millions of men and women well-known for their religious zeal and their fighting traditions, surrender without firing a shot.

    In recent days, the Iranians have seen how US soldiers occupying Afghanistan, in just three weeks, urinated on the corpses of killed Afghans, burned copies of the Koran and murdered more than 15 defenceless citizens.

    Let us imagine US forces launching monstrous bombs on industrial institutions, capable of penetrating through 60 metres of concrete. Never has such an undertaking ever been conceived.

    Not one word more is needed to understand the gravity of such a policy. In that way, our species will be inexorably led towards disaster.

    If we do not learn how to understand, we shall never learn how to survive.

    As for me, I harbour not the slightest doubt that the United States is about to commit and lead the world towards the greatest mistake in its history.


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    Conversations with my stream of consciousness (3)

    Remembering Chief Obafemi Awolowo

    Cameron Duodu


    cc Wikimedia
    In the unstable Nigeria of the 1970s, this journalist met Chief Awolowo and tried to press him over the political situation in the country. Only later did the writer realize the meaning of Awolowo’s intransigence.

    STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: In our last conversation, I stopped you from telling us about a great number of historical characters. I know you fear to be labelled as a 'name-dropper,' but why is that so? The world is full of interesting people, some of whom are more interesting than others. If your work as a journalist has enabled you to meet some of the more famous – or even notorious – fellows, why shouldn't you feel free to tell others about them?

    ME: If you understood that, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You see, some of us were trained to be modest. We are not like something called ‘Stream of Consciousness’ which was trained in the school of ‘Let it all hang out!’

    SOC: Ouch! That was below the belt. Now, now – let's move on quickly, if you please, shall we? Before we get trapped into total recall re your first pair of shorts and the plastic belt that was so fragile that it couldn't hold the shorts up and how you had to pull them up after every five or six steps – ha! ha! Oh school days in the bush! How delicious! But do tell me – did you actually meet General Sani Abacha, 'A-butcher of Abuja'?

    ME: No. But I did breathe the same air as him once. I was in Lagos doing a story for The London Sunday Times Magazine and Haroun Adamu, Political Editor of the Lagos Daily Times….

    SOC: Very interesting chap in his own right, no?

    ME: Yes. Haroun was one of the most erudite political writers of the Daily Times at the time (1974). Although Nigeria was still under military rule, Haroun Adamu and other members of a band of amazingly irrepressible Daily Times journalists – Femi Ogunsanwo, Effiong Essien and Segun Osoba among them – refused to recognise that Nigeria had become a military dictatorship like say, neighbouring Ghana and they wrote as if they were living in the vibrant democracy that Nigeria had been before the January 1966 military coup.

    Going there from Ghana – where the media were so docile that even the arrest – or dismissal – of their own journalists by the military government could be suppressed by the very newspaper or organ on which they worked (because reporting the arrest would be deemed ‘embarrassing’ to the government that had victimised them) I felt as if I had been liberated into journalistic heaven.

    Apparently, most of the Nigerian military officers respected good journalists. Nigeria is such a huge country – and political interests there are of such a multifarious nature – that it was dangerous for journalists to become sycophantic to any political ‘faction’ they adopted. Journalists could not tell with exactitude whether a government measure had been opposed in the ruling Supreme Military Council or not, and by whom, and how powerful those dissidents were. So if they presumed to play a guessing game and blindly supported any measure, they might find that they had rather offended some very powerful people who had opposed the measure in council and lost out. In fact, playing a guessing game was an exercise in futility. So the best thing for everyone was for the journalists to write precisely what they thought, as objectively as they could.

    SOC: And you couldn't do that in Ghana?

    ME: Do me a favour! Of course, not every powerful solder in Nigeria could agree with everything written by every journalist all the time, and indeed, some journalists were jailed. One was even whipped brutally by the orderlies of a military governor. But such acts were publicised and condemned by the rest of the media, and eventually the bright people in the military came to accept that it would be in everybody’s interest if the journalists were left free to write what they really thought. They couldn't possibly write against everyone's interests all of the time, so the truth would shine out in the long run to the benefit of everyone.

    The biggest newspaper, the Daily Times, was lucky to have as its chairman and managing director Alhaji Babatunde Jose. I met him in 1993 in the London home of Chief M K O Abiola....

    SOC: Here we go again. If you start on Abiola, we shall be here for six days, right? Very big colourful man with loads of stories about him, no? But could we just return to Abacha please?

    ME: Ok, ok! Now, Alhaji Babatunde Jose had been with the paper almost since it was founded by the Daily Mirror group in London in the late 1940s and regarded it as his personal baby, which he tried to nourish with the unadulterated milk of pure intellect. (It was the same company that had founded the Daily Graphic in Ghana, but alas, the Graphic was not blessed with anyone as visionary as Alhaji Jose, and was always a soft option).

    Jose courted and recruited young university graduates who had a good turn of phrase, trained them at the paper's own journalists' training school (which he'd set up with the help of the London Daily Mirror), and then set them loose on Nigerian society. He also paid the young journalists very well, so that they carried no inferiority complex whatsoever when they met the ogas [chieftains] of Nigerian politics and business. Indeed, some of his ‘boys’ were later to become prominent in Nigeria politics themselves. (For instance, the former governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba, was the paper’s social affairs editor when I first met him in 1974); Effiong Essien was economics editor but later worked in a high capacity for the government of his state. And Femi Ogunsanwo, was a political correspondent who knew everybody in Lagos (it was through his friendship with Chief Awolowo’s secretary, Odia Ofeimun, that I met the chief one day, flanked by his famous lieutenants, Bola Ige and Lateef Jakande) and later became a sort of king-maker himself in Lagos state. It was Femi who took me to witness how elections were rigged in Nigeria. In a local council poll at Ekpe, a town on Lagos mainland, I saw people voting for a rich Otunba (traditional 'chief') the night BEFORE voting was due to take place officially! They each pocketed a sum of money after casting their votes. Election officials in the chief's pocket were to stuff the ballots into ballot boxes and smuggle them into the polling centres the next day, when official voting took place. Because he had bought all the election officials and the police, as well as the polling agents of his rivals, he won the election hands down.

    SOC: Wasn’t Bola Ige, whom you say you met, the man who became Federal Attorney-General and was murdered by unknown assailants on 23 December 2001at his home in Ibadan? How could a very powerful federal minister have such a weak system of personal security that he could be murdered like any commoner? Was he not supposed to be so clever that he was called ‘The Socrates of Esaoke?’

    ME: Ahah! That's Nigeria for you! Now you're beginning to understand that big but puzzling country. You can only understand a country through what happens to its people. The Bola Ige murder case was never resolved satisfactorily – though it was a political murder of the most blatant type.

    SOC: Lateef Jakande became a relatively successful governor of Lagos, didn't he?

    ME: Haha! It is now you who wants to divert my attention to people you would like to know about? Yes, he was known for building a lot of schools in Lagos. Many of his teachers were imported from Ghana. Femi once – but I'd better not go there!

    SOC: Hey, cut it out! How many people can truthfully say they have shaken the hand of people of this type, who fill the pages of their country's history? I mean you just mentioned three people whom everyone in Yorubaland –and beyond – would like to hear something about first-hand!

    ME: Well, I ….

    SOC: No ifs and buts, my friend. You were saying that you met Awolowo, Jakande and Ige at one sitting, and you want to gloss over it?

    ME: Yes – I greeted them and was surprised to find that they all knew my name. Nigerian politicians, unlike some others, do read. I asked Chief Awolowo what he thought of General Gowon's decision, announced on 1 October 1974, that he was postponing ‘indefinitely’ the programme by which he had promised to hand over power to a civilian government. Awolowo was quite intransigent: he wouldn't comment publicly on the issue. In fact he discomfited me, somewhat, by recalling that ‘I told you on the phone that I would not comment on it. And you are asking me again?’ I shot back, ‘But the situation has changed, sir. And I thought you might have had a change of plan.’ He would still not be moved, however.
    I should have known better than to press him. For serious conspiracy was afoot in the land, and no politician worth his salt would show his hand to a journalist. In just over six months, General Gowon had been overthrown by a junta headed by General Murtala Muhammed. Gowon's charge? That he had disgraced the Nigerian army by pledging publicly to hand over power and then peremptorily breaking the pledge. I saw him at Accra airport, when he arrived there to catch a plane to London. I was with Bridget Bloom the Financial Times correspondent who knew everyone who was anyone in Nigeria. She had a confidential conversation with Gowon, which I overheard, but...

    SOC: I see you're checking your appointments? You're not leaving?

    Me: Yes, alas – time and tide and all that – you know? But God willing.....!


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    Pambazuka Press seeks Oxford-based volunteer


    Pambazuka Press is able to offer three months' unpaid work experience to a part-time, Oxford-based volunteer who would like to gain experience of working in a small, hard-working publishing team, mainly on marketing and promotions.

    Pambazuka Press, the imprint of Fahamu, is a small Pan-African publisher based in Oxford.

    We are able to offer three months' unpaid work experience to a part-time, Oxford-based volunteer who would like to gain experience of working in a small, hard-working publishing team, mainly on marketing and promotions:

    · Helping to get our new contacts database running smoothly (inputting and correcting data, spotting and correcting errors)
    · Identifying, preparing for and organising marketing opportunities
    · Obtaining and collating reviews of books in academic and other media
    · Disseminating marketing materials
    · Occasionally staffing bookstalls at events

    For a candidate with the right skills we could also offer limited editorial work, such as proofreading.

    Person specification

    · Methodical and logical
    · Accurate with detail
    · Competent with standard office software – we use Macs
    · Good at written English
    · Commited to the values of Fahamu
    · Team worker


    7-14 hours per week, in days or half-days, on any day except Tuesday.

    Apply to

    [email protected] with a CV of no more than two pages and a covering letter of no more than 400 words.

    Monday 2 April 2012

    For more on information on Pambazuka Press and the type of books we publish, please see our website:

    Sierra Leone: Support small land owners


    Between 1-4 April, hundreds of Sierra Leonean small land owners and community members from all over the country will come together in Freetown to organize against land grabs. Join the Oakland Institute in our pledge to raise $10,000 to fund travel, food, and lodging for 100 participants.

    Comment & analysis

    ‘Water belongs to everyone’

    The role of the private sector in tackling global issues surrounding water


    cc W B
    A declaration at the end of the forum included commitments to speed up access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all, boosting efforts to cut water pollution, reusing wastewater and enhancing the coherence between water, food and energy policies.

    The 6th edition of the World Water Forum took place in Marseille last week and brought together stakeholders in an attempt to mobilise creativity, innovation and know-how for tackling global issues surrounding water. The attendance list of the event, which has been held every three years since 1997, included thousands of industry representatives (e.g. of the water industry), government ministers, international representatives and civic organizations from some 130-180 countries.

    According to the UN World Water Development Report launched at the Forum, increasing demand and ongoing climate change are threatening global water supplies. Not only is water access an imperative chapter for sustainable development and poverty eradication, but it is a human right recognised by 189 countries within the UN.

    U.S. scientists concur with the fact that climate change brings unsustainable demands on the world's groundwater supply. This is used as nearly half of the world’s drinking water but recharges much more slowly than above groundwater sources. In some cases it is not renewable. “It is clear that groundwater will play a critical role in society's adaption to climate change”, said San Francisco State University geo-science Professor Jason Gurdak, who co-led a U.N.-sponsored group of scientists now calling on increasing regulations and conservation measures on non-renewable groundwater.

    An Alternative World Water Forum (FAME) also took place in Marseille in parallel. Promoting a motto of “water belongs to everyone,” the trade unions, corporate watchdog groups and environmentalists behind FAME accuse the World Water Forum of “hijacking” their agenda with its calls for universal water access and sustainability. “Whoever controls water controls a great source of power and of course a great source of profit,” João Ferreira, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament from the European United Left group, said Tuesday at a Brussels meeting called by FAME organisers. “This resource cannot be managed privately … and untamed privatisation will lead to a disaster,” Ferreira said.

    According to a video message by Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN, recorded before the event which gathers policy-makers as well as water industry representatives, the high-level World Water Forum “is an important opportunity to find solutions to help us to attain millennium goals”.

    The adoption of a declaration on Tuesday included commitments to speed up access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all, focusing on the most vulnerable. Furthermore it acknowledged the imperatives of boosting efforts to cut water pollution, of reusing wastewater and of enhancing the coherence between water, food and energy policies, as well as implementing more flexible and integrated land and water resources management in order to build resilience to climate change.

    Still earlier, Amnesty International and WASH-United, an international partnership for safe drinking water and sanitation, had warned that, if the declaration failed to reflect a full commitment to the rights to water and sanitation, “the Forum will have failed to even begin to meet its aspiration of providing solutions for those without access to water and sanitation”.

    Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N.’s first special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, expressed disappointed and attested that the declaration did not “recognise the human right to water and sanitation that has been explicitly recognised at the UN”.

    According to Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of the small U.S.-based NGO “Food & Water Watch” who attended the corporate forum, in “no place there was the cause of pollution mentioned”. To the contrary, instead of addressing water pollution issues , she said, the event “more clearly than ever” was a “corporate tradeshow parading as a multilateral forum” with the main objective of the water industry “to sell expensive services and products”, thus the organizers regarding “pollution as a profit centre to be cleaned by a range of technologies”. In her final evaluation she describes the declaration as “a step backwards for water justice”.


    Disaster News Network (1)
    Disaster News Network (2)
    World Water Council
    6th World Water Forum
    6th World Water Forum - Europe Region Preparatory Process (pdf)
    China Daily
    Huffington Post


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    Advocacy & campaigns

    Celebrating Earth Hour in Nairobi

    Patrick Kamotho


    Earth Hour is the largest global environmental action. Everyone should take part to express their personal commitment to the planet.

    Dear Comrades,

    On Saturday, 31 March 2012 at 8:30pm,the President Supreme Court and Chief Justice Republic of Kenya, Dr.Willy Mutunga and hundreds of millions of people across the globe will be switching off the lights of their working environment for one hour. Earth Hour, the world’s largest public environmental action. Commencing the hour we will be holding a 12-bout boxing tournament in Muthurwa Market, Nairobi. By taking part in this global ‘lights out’ event Baraza La Taifa will be acknowledging its commitment to operational actions that benefit the planet in the year ahead.

    I am proud to work for African Views (Kenya Chapter) and Baraza La Taifa, a social movement that is showing leadership in solutions to our environmental challenges and will join them in taking part in Earth Hour 2012. I would like to invite you, as a valued colleague, to join me and other staff members of your network in what promises to be an amazing and inspiring global celebration of our collective commitment to the planet.

    In the lead up to Earth Hour 2012, I plan to take a close look at ways I can waste less and reduce my ecological footprint – both at home and in the workplace – and will share my actions with the world on Earth Hour as my personal commitment to go beyond the hour for Earth Hour 2012.

    Earth Hour began as a single-city initiative – in Sydney, Australia – in 2007 and has since grown into a global movement with hundreds of millions of people from more than 5,000 cities and towns in 135 countries/territories across every continent switching off their lights for Earth Hour 2011, creating history as the world’s greatest ever environmental action.

    Some of the world’s most famous man-made marvels and natural wonders, including China’s Forbidden City, Eiffel Tower, Table Mountain, Great Pyramids of Egypt, Buckingham Palace, Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue, Niagara and Victoria Falls, Empire State Building, Sydney Opera House and many more global icons stood in darkness as a powerful symbol of landmark environmental action.

    Earth Hour 2012 will be even bigger. It is a global call to action to every individual throughout the world to take responsibility for their environmental impact and join a growing international community who are committed to leading global environmental change. To get a better sense of the magnitude and inspiring nature of the event, please take a moment to watch the Earth Hour 2012 official video.

    I’m excited about Earth Hour 2012, both as a member of Baraza La Taifa Social Movement and as an individual. I hope you will join me and your colleagues in this important global initiative and encourage your family and friends to switch off their lights for Earth Hour at 8.30pm on Saturday 31 March 2012 and make a commitment to an action that benefits the planet beyond.

    Participating in Earth Hour is easy, fun and absolutely free. To get more information visit Earth Hour, where you can sign up to switch off, share your action and celebrate with the people of the world your commitment to the one thing we all have in common – the planet.

    This initiative has been supported by WWF Eastern &Southern Africa, Weetabix East Africa Ltd.African Views (Kenya) Chapter, Fahamu organization, Akiba Uhaki Foundation, Baraza La Taifa social movement

    Contact: Patrick Kamotho, 0753 154154 / 0723033334; Skype:barazalataifa; Twitter:@barazalataifa


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    Commemorating Palestinian Land Day

    Palestinian BDS National Committee


    Join the BDS Global Day of Action on 30 March 2012!

    Commemorating Land Day, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) invites people of conscience around the world to unite for a BDS Global Day of Action on 30 March 2012 in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality and for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fully complies with its obligations under international law.

    Let’s showcase our BDS successes through creative actions and media efforts and mobilize for the World Social Forum Free Palestine in November 2012.

    First launched at the World Social Forum in 2009, the BDS Global Day of Action on 30 March coincides with Palestinian Land Day, initiated in 1976, when Israeli security forces shot and killed six Palestinian citizens of Israel and injured many in an attempt to crush popular protest against ongoing theft of Palestinian-owned land. Thirty-six years on, Israel continues to entrench its regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid and intensify its grave violations of the basic rights of Palestinians everywhere, whether those living under occupation, citizens of Israel, or the majority of the Palestinians, the refugees.

    In the past year we have continued to witness a historic outburst of people power motivated by the desire for justice and freedom from tyranny and corporate greed. There is renewed belief in popular struggles as a means to achieve human emancipation and empowerment. Ordinary people have bravely stood up to the decades-old regimes of the Arab region, overcoming their fears and challenging their longstanding subjugation. Largely inspired by the Arab popular upheavals and earlier, similar uprisings across Latin America, people across the world have vocally “occupied” the centers of corporate exploitation or otherwise mobilized to demand social justice and an end to devastating wars. The ‘Arab Spring’ has given new impetus to the ongoing struggle against imperial hegemony in the global south and a new reach for the alternatives to neoliberalism. The global 99% are further uniting and connecting their struggles for justice, rights and dignity.

    In this spirit of shared struggle, we invite Palestine solidarity activists and all those active in social justice and human rights causes worldwide to use this day of action to launch a far reaching mobilization effort towards the upcoming World Social Forum Free Palestine to be held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in November 2012 and to take action to highlight and develop the key campaigns of our global movement.

    The Forum will provide a unique space for discussion of a unified global strategy to uphold the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and end Israeli violations of international law.


    The BDS Global Day of Action is an opportunity to showcase the achievements of our diverse and global movement through visible and creative actions. The BNC calls on supporters of Palestinian rights to focus on developing thoroughly researched, broad based and strategic BDS campaigns that are based on the three operational principles of the movement: context-sensitivity, gradualness and sustainability. Developing such a long-term vision is essential for the growth and sustainable success of the movement.

    With these criteria in mind, the BNC suggests the following forms of action for this BDS Global Day of Action:

    1. Organize a visible and creative protest, flash mob or action that promotes an existing long-term campaign to a new audience;

    2. Prepare outreach meetings or events or media initiatives that seek to bring BDS to new audiences;

    3. Launch mobilization initiatives for the WSF Free Palestine, to be held in late November in Port Alegre, Brazil. Consider announcing the formation of national, regional or sector mobilizing committees and to start public and media outreach. The mobilizing committees for the WSF Free Palestine serve to mobilize and to discuss how to use this opportunity to strengthen local solidarity efforts and provide them with global reach and exposure. More information here.

    4. Where possible, use the Global BDS Day of Action as a launching pad for new BDS campaign initiatives;

    5. Call on governments to implement incremental sanctions against Israel, by heeding the call from Palestinian civil society for a military embargo on Israel or by suspending free trade agreements or other agreements;

    6. Publicize, promote and make use of the recently published report issued by EU heads of mission to occupied Jerusalem calling for preventing and discouraging “financial transactions in support of [Israeli] settlement activity.” This can be accurately interpreted as a call for a ban on colonial settlement products from entering the EU market and for effective measures against all actors implicated in Israel’s colonization of East Jerusalem and the rest of the OPT.

    Join the BDS Global Day of Action on Land Day, 30 March 2012!

    For information on how to join this global event and how to develop ongoing BDS action in your country, organization and network, please contact the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) at: [email protected].

    We’ll be highlighting all of the day’s actions on the website, so please send any information about planned actions ahead of time to [email protected].

    On the day itself, let’s all use Twitter hashtag #bds to promote our actions and don’t forget to follow @bdsmovement to follow the action as it unfolds!


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    Protest greets results of UN Commission on Status of Women


    Statement of Feminist and Women's Organisations on the very Limited and Concerning Results of the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

    We, the undersigned organisations and individuals across the globe, are alarmed and disappointed that the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) failed to adopt agreed conclusions at its 56th session. This failure has diminished the considerable work, energy, time and costs that women all over the world invested on the 56th session of the CSW. The advancement of women’s human rights should not be put on hold because of political battles between states. We say NO to any re-opening of negotiations on the already established international agreements on women’s human rights and call on all governments to demonstrate their commitments to promote, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms of women.

    We are particularly concerned to learn that our governments failed to reach a consensus on the basis of safeguarding “traditional values” at the expense of human rights and fundamental freedoms of women. We remind governments that all Member States of the United Nations (UN) have accepted that “the human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and individual part of universal human rights” as adopted by the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. Governments must not condone any tradition, cultural or religious arguments which deny human rights and fundamental freedoms of any person. After more than 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was embraced and adopted by the UN, the relationship between traditional values and human rights remains highly contested. We affirm the UDHR as not only ‘a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations’ but a common standard of assessment for all traditional values. The UDHR is an embodiment of positive traditional values that are universally held by this community of nations and are consistent with the inherent dignity of all human beings. We remind governments that under the Charter of the United Nations, gender equality has been proclaimed as a fundamental human right. States cannot contravene the UN Charter by enacting or enforcing discriminatory laws directly or through religious courts nor can allow any other private actors or groups imposing their religious fundamentalist agenda in violation of the UN Charter.

    “No one may invoke cultural diversity to infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law, nor limit their scope. Not all cultural practices accord with international human rights law and, although it is not always easy to identify exactly which cultural practices may be contrary to human rights, the endeavour always must be to modify and/or discard all practices pursued in the name of culture that impede the enjoyment of human rights by any individual.” (Statement by Ms. Farida Shaheed, the Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights, to the Human Rights Council at its 14th session 31 May 2010)

    Amongst other things, it is alarming that some governments have evoked so-called “moral” values to deny women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Sexual and reproductive rights are a crucial and fundamental part of women’s full enjoyment of all rights as well as integral to gender equality, development and social justice. Social and religious morals and patriarchal values have been employed to justify violations against women. Violence against women, coercion and deprivation of legal and other protections of women, marital rape, honour crimes, son preference, female genital mutilation, ‘dowry’ or ‘bride price’, forced and early marriages and ‘corrective rapes’ of lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and inter-sexed persons have all been justified by reference to ‘traditional values’.

    We remind governments that the CSW is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women with the sole aim of promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. Its mandate is to ensure the full implementation of existing international agreements on women’s human rights and gender equality as enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action as well as other international humanitarian and human rights law.

    We strongly demand all governments and the international community to reject any attempt to invoke traditional values or morals to infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law, nor to limit their scope. Customs, tradition or religious considerations must not be tolerated to justify discrimination and violence against women and girls whether committed by State authorities or by non-state actors. In particular, we urge governments to ensure that the health and human rights of girls and women are secured and reaffirmed at the coming Commission on Population and Development and the International Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Any future international negotiations must move forward implementation of policies and programmes that secure the human rights of girls and women.

    We call upon the member states of the UN and the various UN human rights and development entities to recognise and support the important role of women’s groups and organisations working at the forefront of challenging traditional values and practices that are intolerant to fundamental human rights norms, standards and principles.


    Please click here to add your name to the list.

    Statement in support of Trayvon Martin protests

    Association of Black Sociologists


    Fifty-seven years after the murder of Emmitt Till and 49 years after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Trayvon's murder is yet another galvanising, public call to action to combat ongoing inequities and foster justice.

    The February 26, 2012 slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida reminds us of the continued manifestation of racism, as well as the ongoing prevalence of gun violence, in the United States. Trayvon's murder is also a poignant reminder of the dangers all African American youth, and young African American males in particular, chronically face as a result of racial stereotyping and profiling. The local police's failure to detain Zimmerman, coupled with suspicions of police bias, provoked outrage amongst Americans, especially those in the African American community, resulting in nationwide protest.

    As an organization historically committed to community action and social transformation, the Association of Black Sociologists (ABS) stands in support of these protest efforts. We encourage all ABS members to contact your local, state and national legislators to continue to challenge the Justice Department and FBI to thoroughly investigate the crime, apprehend Zimmerman and secure justice not only for Trayvon Martin and his family, but also for the nation as a whole. Furthermore, continued pressure is required to amend, reevaluate and in many cases repeal "Stand Your Ground" legislation across this country – laws tantamount to state-sanctioned use of deadly force against innocent individuals.

    ABS members are encouraged to remain vigilant in the continued struggle to monitor and proactively respond to all forms of inequality experienced by marginalized people. It is imperative that our grief and anguish over racial micro-aggressions and deleterious systemic forces be harnessed in tangible ways that benefit marginalized communities. Fifty-seven years after the murder of Emmitt Till and 49 years after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, Trayvon's murder is yet another galvanizing, public call to action to combat ongoing inequities and foster justice.

    ABS sends our condolences to Trayvon Martin's family and to the myriad African American families whose children have been taken from them as a result of racism and violence. For further information, refer to You can also provide your support on Facebook at the "Justice for Trayvon Martin" page or tweet your support with hashtags "justice4trayvon" and "tweetforjustice." I challenge each of you as citizens and ABS members to support this effort for redress as well as policies and leaders committed to creating safe spaces for all youth.

    Sandra L. Barnes: 2011-2012 ABS President (March 25, 2012).


    * Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

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

    Zimbabwe: Book Café Campaign


    'People determined to reclaim their dignity through art and free expression cannot be stopped.'

    Dear Friends,

    Harare’s community home for artists and audiences, Book Cafe, has been threatened for years. It represents the power of culture and people. For 30 years it has celebrated the creativity of mind and art, and has become a national beacon of dignity, joy and freedom in Zimbabwe; the antithesis of an insidious militarized repression and looting of national resources.

    In 2008, the government stole Book Cafe’s funds. The purpose was to punish Book Cafe and artists, destroy it, just one of a litany of threats and intimidation over many years. These artists funds were used (with other ransacked accounts), to bankroll a blood-stained election that killed hundreds, displaced thousands and traumatised millions. Read the Prime Minister’s statement.

    Last December we were evicted from our 15-year premises to a national public outcry, the latest attempt to stop Book Cafe. We are not giving up. Within 10 weeks we moved location, re-opened and we are re-building, fast. It has taken every possible resource we have to do this. Our Artists Benefit Concert raised $5000 (almost every major musician in Zimbabwe performed free). Now we have reverted to “crowd funding”, small amounts from well-wishers and friends worldwide. We have started a campaign on IndieGoGo asking friends to spread this appeal. Together we can do this.

    Please help us grow this campaign, send to your network and friends and send a message: people determined to reclaim their dignity through art and free expression cannot be stopped.

    Simple facts: 1200 artists work from Book Cafe. 350 based their livelihood there. 950 events and concerts have been organised annually. 54,000 audience attended in 2011. Almost every major music and spoken word artist to emerge in the last 10-15 years started at Book Cafe. If you want to find out more search “Book Cafe Harare”, “Book Cafe Zimbabwe” or “Pamberi Trust”. You will find everything.

    To donate.
    Search “Book Cafe”. It is under “Community”.

    See also.

    Letters & Opinions

    Tshisekedi is no nationalist as claimed

    Antoine Lokongo


    Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja is misleading Pambazuka's readers about Tshisekedi.

    He writes: "Given the importance of the DRC as a land of considerable natural wealth, the major powers prefer leaders with no national constituency who are easy to manipulate like Joseph Kabila to those like Etienne Tshisekedi who are unapologetically nationalist."

    Thsisekedi is not a nationalist. With Mobutu, he betrayed Patrice Lumumba. He called Patrice Lumumba "a frog that must be gotten rid off". Is this being unapologetically nationalist?

    Would Obasanjo understand peace if he saw it? – Dakar update

    Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe


    Opposition candidate Macky Sall defeats Abdoulaye Wade, Sénégal’s president, in the country’s second round, election. Once again, the Sénégalese electorate, arguably Africa’s most sophisticated and resilient, has shown that it can be done! A salute to this beacon! This electorate has not only stopped Wade from his attempt to unconstitutionally extend his maximum two-term duration in office, implicitly supported by Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo (the AU and ECOWAS so-called mediating envoy to Sénégal), it has, also, resoundingly voted against the president despite that much bandied, seeming armour of certitude so beloved by Africa’s dictators – ‘incumbency’.

    African Writers’ Corner


    Elyas Mulu Kiros


    ‘Mona’ is a work of fiction, based on the based on stories of Ethiopian women who have been to the Middle East as domestic workers.

    Mona is under police custody. She looks distraught and depressed. Her once long hair has been cut short. She appears as if she just came out of a fight club. Her face is terribly bruised. Her eyes are swollen. She wants to make a call to Ethiopia. But that is only a dream as she is currently locked in a maximum-security prison somewhere in the Middle East. She must find a way to let her relatives know what has happened to her. She has to get in touch with Salima, her close friend. But how? Her eyes are filled with tears again. The realization that she may never see her relatives again is already killing her; before even facing the death penalty that those who imprisoned her are talking about…

    Mona comes from a small town in Ethiopia. She met her best friend Salima at a Christian worship center here in the Middle East. Mona and Salima have been close friends ever since they met each other. Their real names back in Ethiopia were Monaliza (after Mona Lisa) and Selamawit (peaceful one). They had to modify their names before they came to the Middle East so that their employers would think they were Muslims. It was their broker’s idea. He ordered them to remove the cross necklace from their neck too. Otherwise, he threatened, he would give the opportunity to other girls. He said that the employers preferred Muslim maids or those who were willing to convert. “You want to make money or not? Keep your faith to yourself and act like a Muslim.” the man shouted. They listened to him, and they obeyed what he ordered them to do. They needed no obstacle in the way of their “Middle East Dream.” They had borrowed so much money, most of which had already been used for various expenses- including a broker’s fee and airline ticket. They had to get out of the country by any means necessary, and paying back that money was their priority. Thus, Monaliza became Mona, after the Arabic name Muna, meaning wish, desire. And Selamawit became Salima, the same meaning as the original one.

    Alima and Ayesha are two other friends of Mona. They have always been Muslims. Alima was born in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Abeba, and Ayesha in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. Because the best place for these two to meet their fellow Ethiopian and Eritrean sisters is at the worship center, they too go there whenever they can, and that is how they first met Mona and Salima. The four of them are now very close friends. For these young migrant workers, national and religious differences have no place because in this harsh environment, they need each other’s support more than anything else in the world as they work as domestic workers, maids, in (upper) middle class Middle Eastern households.

    Salima and Mona work in the same neighborhood. Also Alima and Ayesha work more or less close to each other. Salima and Alima are the lucky ones from the group; they both have very kind employers that pay them well and treat them nicely. Unfortunately, for Mona and Ayesha, the situation is very different; they have been dealing with disturbingly abusive households.

    Ayesha has been working for a four family household since her arrival from Khartoum after she ran away from Eritrea’s labor camp, risking her life. She now takes care of two small kids in a household of four. The husband and the kids are nice to her. She speaks good Arabic because of her stay in Khartoum. But the wife is very mean to her. She treats her worse than a wicked witch. This lady finds excuses to physically and verbally abuse Ayesha. One of the reasons is that she can’t stand the fact that Ayesha is a beautiful African woman. She hates seeing her face. She spits on her when she feels like it. She tries everything to break Ayesha’ spirit. She is paranoid that her husband might sleep with Ayesha. The husband is a nice gentleman, and is aware of his wife’s jealousy. He has done everything possible to tame her insecurity. But the lady is impossible to tame. The man has never crossed his line. He only admires Ayesha’s hard work and how she is good at dealing with the children. His two kids love Ayesha like crazy. But the wife fails to appreciate that. Ayesha is a threat to her. So she abuses her whenever she can since she cannot fire her without her husband’s consent. Once she hit her with a hot skillet; the marks are still visible on Ayesha’s skin. And this has never been reported to anyone. The husband did take Ayesha to a clinic for a check up, but he told the doctor she had an accident, and that was it. And when the wife found out the husband took Ayesha to the clinic, she was furious. She told her husband to stay out of it. “Let her rot!”, she said. Despite the never-ending abuse, Ayesha still works there because she likes the husband and the kids. She is willing to tolerate the abuse until she finds a better place.

    Mona’s case is worse. She has switched employers twice. It has only gotten horrible. She has slaved for over a year and she still has not paid back the money she owes people in Ethiopia—the reason why she is still here, though she wants to leave this hell. Mona’s first employers were a family of five: Three sons, wife and husband. Here, not only was she abused by the wife, but the three sons also harassed her, attacking her with racial slurs and attempting to rape her. One day she was almost raped by the older son as she was cleaning his room, but before it happened the wife luckily showed up. However, when Mona complained about the son, the wife beat her up with an electric cord, and accused her, “how could you dishonor my innocent son?” Mona ran away from that household. She never went back and she never claimed her nine months worth of salary, which she was told she would be paid at the end of the year instead of every month.

    Mona had a tough childhood. Born from a working class family, she joined the work force when she was just six years old, selling fruits in the streets. Because she was beautiful, they named her Monaliza. Mona’s father was an elementary school teacher. And her mother worked as a traditional midwife. Four other children were born after Mona. As an eldest child, Mona had to carry the burden of the family on her shoulder, as she grew older. In addition to looking after the four children, she had to help her mother dealing with household tasks. Mona’s dream was to finish school and to go to university so she could study engineering like her neighbor’s son. She was a top student in school. But the household tasks made it impossible for her to focus on studies. Her father retired early because of a car accident. That left her and her mother to be in charge of the whole family. She was forced to quit school from the 9th grade, after passing the 8th grade national exam with high scores. And when her mother saw the constant harassment Mona was facing from rude men, she gave her up to one man who promised to be a good husband.
    Mr. Husband soon decided that Mona must go to the Middle East like the other girls and make money for the family. He borrowed a large sum from his friends to fund her trip. Mona spoke no Arabic. She barely knew English. She was only good at her native tongue, Amharic. Let alone go to the Middle East; she had never left her small town. She did not want to leave. But for the sake of her family, and the husband, she convinced herself she could do it. After she arrived here, she wanted to go back right away. She was totally lost. Confused. It was painful to go through the culture shock, never mind the added abuse. One day she telephoned her husband crying, “I don’t want to stay here. I want to come home.” Husband responded, “Are you crazy? What about my money, and the money I borrowed? Who is going to repay it? You better stay there. Don’t you come over here. Or else I will sue you and your family!” She cried every day and every night. She talked to her mother as well. Her mother cried over the phone, “I wish you could come back, daughter. But …” It was pointless. She understood that nobody wanted her over there. Even though she hated it over here, she realized she had to endure the suffering until at least she made enough money. Unfortunately, the longer she stayed, she wasn’t even getting paid despite working like a donkey.

    After she ran away from the first place she worked, she found a new household. In this household, there are three people: A husband, a wife, and a daughter who studies abroad. Sadly, it seems Mona’s luck only leads her to the wrong place. Here, the husband and the wife have been harassing her, one after the other. The husband does inappropriate things that make Mona uncomfortable and the wife angry. His irresponsible behavior has created a friction between the two women. The wife never confronts her husband. But when he steps out, she becomes the devil incarnate against her maid. Do this, do that, non-stop. If Mona says she is tired, she gets beaten. And the lady sends her away to clean her friends’ mess.

    Yesterday, something terrible happened. As Mona was washing dishes, the husband sneaked behind her and grabbed her bosom. She screamed. The wife came in. She saw her husband standing very close to Mona. She questioned, “Is everything okay?” He told her to ask the maid why she was rude to him. And he walked out. Then the wife began beating Mona. Finally, Mona couldn’t take the abuse any longer. She retaliated. She hit back. But she hit the lady so bad that she knocked her down. The lady fell on the floor, unconscious. And Mona panicked. She shook the lady. The lady did not wake up. She screamed for help. But no one appeared. She then called police, and the lady was confirmed dead. Mona was taken to police station. The husband went to the prison, and shouted, “Murderer. Murderer.” And the media reported, “An Ethiopian maid murdered her employer’s wife. She will be facing the death penalty, no doubt.”

    Mona now sits in the cold prison cell. All alone. Her tears fall like the two rivers that pass through her small town. “I’m not a murderer, I’m not a murderer. She hit me, and I hit her back. It was an accident. I’m not a murderer.” She keeps telling the wall. The wall listens. But everyone calls her a murderer. She is not even allowed to have a visitor.

    How Mona misses her close friend Salima. She misses Ayesha and Amina too. She is particularly worried about Ayesha.

    No one is around to tell Mona, “It’s okay, you will be alright.” Instead, she has been charged guilty before any trial.


    *Alem Dechasa, the maid in Lebanon who recently passed away, was screaming for help in front of the Ethiopian consulate. But what did the consulate do? Nothing until she was dead. She was beaten and dragged into a car by criminals who later on forced her to check into a mental hospital. And after she had already “committed suicide”—she was killed in my opinion—the consulate officials tried to save face by telling the media that they would sue the abusers.

    When other countries stop sending maids to the Middle East, demanding the governments improve their laws to protect the rights of foreign workers, the Ethiopian government is busy taking a counterproductive measure.

    FYI: Ethiopia plans to send 45, 000 women domestic workers to Saudi Arabia every month. Government officials are determined to increase revenue by sending our poor women to the Middle East, but they have done nothing so far to ensure that the women’s human and civil rights are protected in those countries. All the promises that you read in this article are just empty talks.


    * Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka NOW and help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT

    * Elyas Muru Kiros’ blogs at Kweschn.
    * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

    Podcasts & Videos

    Africa: On migrant rights and global justice


    In this programme, Africa Today interviews Colin Rajah, the Director of International Migrant Rights and Global Justice Program at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) on global migration and immigration.

    Nigeria: Looking back on Occupy Nigeria


    Blog Africa is a Country highlights how Nigerian producers Chris Dada and Funmi Iyanda, the creators of which documented fuel subsidy protests in Nigeria, have stitched together their short viral films and video-blog diary made during the protests. What ChopCassava’s reporting made increasingly clear was, says Africa is a Country, was that the protests developed into the question of 'the way how we are governed as a people'.

    South Africa: Zaphamban’ izindlela!


    What happens when a corrupt old policeman and a market woman switch bodies? The latest in the 'Crossroads' series hit the airwaves for Women’s Month in South Africa. Community Media for Development (CMFD) produced the isiZulu, South African adaptation for People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), supported by Oxfam GB. Previously produced in English, Swahili, French and Portuguese, the drama uses humour to get people thinking, and talking, about women’s rights. POWA is facilitating discussion groups, listening on stations such as Alex FM, Kasie FM, Eldoz FM and Ndofaya FM.

    Zimbabwe update

    South Africa: Activists push SA to try Zimbabwe rights crimes


    Rights activists have begun a legal bid to compel South Africa to investigate and prosecute citizens of neighbouring Zimbabwe suspected of crimes against humanity. The activists argue that South Africa is failing to meet its obligations in international law. A court ruling in their favour would cause a headache for South Africa, which could see its courts clogged with prosecutions and its diplomacy with the power-sharing government in Harare hobbled.

    Women & gender

    Cameroon: Women encouraged to run in elections


    In Cameroon’s Northwest region, citizens, organizations and local officials are taking part in campaigns and speaking out to encourage women to run for office in the legislative and municipal elections anticipated for this year. Though a date has yet to be set for the elections, International Women’s Day this month stirred up excitement for women’s campaigns.

    Global: Saying no to safeguarding 'traditional values' at the expense of the human rights

    Statement of feminist and women's rights organisations


    This month the UN Commission on the Status of Women failed to adopt agreed conclusions at its 56th session on the basis of safeguarding 'traditional values' at the expense of human rights and fundamental freedoms of women. 'Together with our partner feminist and women's rights organisations, we say NO to any re-opening of negotiations on the already established international agreements on women’s human rights and call on all governments to demonstrate their commitments to promote, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms of women.'

    Human rights

    Africa: Is Africa on trial?


    This BBC Africa page examines the controversy surrounding the perceived bias of the ICC in focusing only on cases involving Africans. It has the views of two experts, one who argues that the ICC is not biased and the other who argues that it is. 'Ordinary Africans are not complaining. Many have suffered at the hands of the perpetrators of mass crimes - and know that there is little chance that they will see justice done without international tribunals like the ICC,' argues Abdul Tejan-Cole, a former prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. 'The International Criminal Court is in fact a pathetic continuation of an imperial tradition, a way for western powers to pretend they are protecting human rights in Africa, that they are teaching Africans right from wrong,' argues Zaya Yeebo, a writer and commentator on Africa.

    Angola: Group to campaign for right to protests


    An Angolan human rights group has said it is launching a campaign for the right to protest amid a state crackdown. Jose Patrocinio, Omunga co-ordinator, cited recent violent break-ups of demonstrations in Benguela, the capital Luanda and the oil-rich Cabinda enclave. The Benguela-based group also plan to hand a petition to the Supreme Court to stop lower courts from acting against jailed demonstrators.

    Egypt: Children on trial


    Egypt’s military courts have investigated or tried at least 43 children over the past year, Human Rights Watch says, including the pending trial of 13-year-old Ahmed Hamdy Abdel Aziz in connection with the Port Said football riots. Children prosecuted in military courts have not had access to lawyers, and often to their families, until after military authorities have investigated and sentenced them. Since coming to power in February 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has referred over 12,000 civilians for prosecution by military courts before military judges, though these courts fail to meet minimum due process standards.

    Equatorial Guinea: Doctor remains in detention


    Dr. Wenceslao Mansogo, a medical doctor, prominent human rights defender and opposition party leader, has been detained since February 9 over allegations of professional negligence and mutilation of a body. Amnesty International considers Dr. Mansogo a prisoner of conscience. Dr. Mansogo has not been ill-treated and he is allowed to receive visitors.

    Namibia: Reparation bid fails in Bundestag


    German Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul apologised in August 2004 at a big rally in Okakarara for the genocide committed 100 years ago by the German imperial army. Almost eight years later the German parliament (Bundestag) rejected two motions by three opposition parties for a formal apology of the German parliament and so refused to acknowledge the genocide in contradiction to the assessment of historians.

    South Africa: Miners may face huge class action case


    A South African lawyer has said he was preparing a class action lawsuit against leading gold mining firms on behalf of thousands of former miners who say they contracted silicosis, a debilitating lung disease, through negligent health and safety. Attorney Richard Spoor, whose legal battle against a South African asbestos-mining company led to a $100m settlement in 2003, said he would file class action papers with the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg 'within the next few months'.

    Tunisia: Rights groups pressure Tunisia lawmakers


    Human rights groups and political entities are calling on Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly to enshrine human rights treaties in the new constitution. Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the assembly March 19th urging it to solidify international rights treaties in the constitution. The group also urged parliamentarians to avoid vague wording, such as 'must exercise the rights as required by law', as well as providing mechanisms for the application of human rights, which could include establishment of a constitutional court and imposition of the obligation of all courts and state institutions to respect the human rights enshrined by the Constitution.

    Uganda: Opposition leader given bail


    Court has given bail to Forum for Democratic Change leader, Dr Kizza Besigye on charges of unlawful assembly in connection with the death of Assistant Inspector of Police John Michael Ariong. Dr Besigye appeared in court with only three of his co accused who are; FDC women league leader Ingrid Turinawe and Kampala Woman MP Nabilah Naggayi and Kawempe Division chairperson Mubarak Munyagwa. The four have been given bail after pleading not guilty to the charges and submitting their substantial sureties to court.

    Refugees & forced migration

    Africa: Migrants left to die after catalogue of failures, says report


    A catalogue of failures by Nato warships and European coastguards led to the deaths of dozens of migrants left adrift at sea, according to a damning official report into the fate of a refugee boat in the Mediterranean whose distress calls went unanswered for days. A nine-month investigation by the Council of Europe – the continent's 47-nation human rights watchdog, which oversees the European court of human rights – has unearthed human and institutional failings that condemned the boat's occupants to their fate.

    Global: Asylum claims in industrialized countries up sharply in 2011


    A report released on Tuesday 27 March by the UN refugee agency shows that new conflicts and a rising outflow from older crisis spots such as Afghanistan together contributed to a 20 per cent rise in asylum claims in industrialized countries in 2011. UNHCR's report, 'Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries 2011', says that an estimated 441,300 asylum claims were recorded last year compared to 368,000 in 2010. The report covers 44 countries in Europe, North America, Australasia and north-east Asia.

    Global: Has the Refugee Convention outlived its usefulness?


    Can an international convention drafted 60 years ago to protect a limited number of Europeans uprooted by World War II continue to provide protection to the millions of people around the world today forced to flee their countries for a variety of reasons? Today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is providing assistance and protection to over 15 million refugees throughout the world and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees remains the cornerstone of that protection. However, millions more people have fled their countries for reasons that the drafters of the Convention could not have predicted.

    Kenya: Refugees set conditions for return


    Post-election violence victims living in Uganda want the government to help them return home. The more than 1,500 Kenyans at Kiryandogo camp, about 300km from Kampala, however, want assurances of safety and that they will be given land. 'We have been in Uganda for four years and we believe there can never be peace and reconciliation when some of the affected people are languishing in poverty outside Kenya,' the group said in a memorandum to Special Programmes minister Esther Murugi.

    Mauritania: Civil society looks to bridge local, refugee divide


    With hundreds of thousands fleeing the conflict in northern Mali, civil society groups in Mauritania are working to ensure the refugee community integrates peacefully with local residents. 'Solidarity for all in Mauritania', a conglomerate of civil society organisations, held a Nouakchott seminar March 20th on activities to support the local population in the border towns of Fassala and Bassiknou. The forum discussed how best to reduce the repercussions of the poor living conditions in areas in light of the dual crises.

    Sahel: Malian refugees risk being 'forgotten'


    Mali is facing its 'worst humanitarian crisis for 20 years', brought on by a combination of food insecurity affecting around three million, some 93,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Mali, whose whereabouts and status is uncertain, and 113,000 refugees who have fled conflict in the north to neighbouring countries. Between 175,000 and 220,000 children will be acutely malnourished this year and access to northern Mali and the refugee destinations across the borders is problematic, all of which is topped off by a perennial lack of real interest in the Sahel.

    South Sudan: Israel seeks to return refugees


    Israel was swift to recognize the new state of South Sudan in July 2011, reports the LA Times. 'Following the formation of the state, Israel ended collective protection for those from South Sudan and wants asylum seekers to leave the country. The window for voluntary departure and a $1,300 incentive closes March 31; those still in Israel would be deported after that.'

    Elections & governance

    Egypt: 'Constitution for All' protest


    Fifteen Egypt political groups and movements including the most prominent leftist and liberal political parties the Free Egyptians, the Democratic Front and al-Tagammu announced on Monday the formation of 'Constitution for All Egyptians Front', which aims to 'defend Egyptians right to draft a national constitution that ensures them their them their basic rights to freedom, dignity and social equality and also guarantees the representation of all the spectra and forces of the society and consensus over its drafting'.

    Egypt: Liberal party warns gov’t of uprising over shortages


    Egypt’s Free Egyptians liberal political party issued a statement on Monday warning the government of serious repercussions from the shortage of basic commodities and the rise in prices across the country. The party said that the shortages 'have become a huge burden on the shoulders of the Egyptian family, especially the poor and low-income workers.' It said an uprising of the poor could take place if the government is not careful.

    Malawi: No rallies during volatile situations, says government


    Government says it will continue stopping political rallies in the country if the security situation is volatile. But when quizzed why only opposition rallies are blocked, some officials have explained that ruling party rallies are always peaceful as hooligans can hardly hijack them.

    Senegal: Political transition hinges on fulfilling economic dreams of the young


    Senegal's political transition will be affected by its response to the youth. Nearly 44 per cent of the population is under the age of 15. Like many other African countries, Senegal will need to find ways to address the challenges facing the majority of the populace – typically employed in agriculture – while also addressing young people's needs, says this article on The Guardian UK blog.

    Zambia: Western Province seeks secession


    All seven districts in Barotseland, the western region of Zambia, where a two day mass rally was convened Monday, have backed calls for the region to secede from the rest of Zambia, state radio reported Tuesday 27 March. The Barotse National Council which called for the meeting said Mongu,Sesheke,Kalabo, Senanga,Kaoma,Shangombo and Lukulu supported the secession of Barotseland.


    Burundi: A deepening corruption crisis


    Despite the establishment of anti-corruption agencies, Burundi is facing a deepening corruption crisis, says the International Crisis Group. 'The "neopatrimonialist" practices of the party in office since 2005 has relegated Burundi to the lowest governance rankings, reduced its appeal to foreign investors, damaged relations with donors; and contributed to social discontent. More worrying still, neopatrimonialism is undermining the credibility of post-conflict institutions, relations between former Tutsi and new Hutu elites and cohesion within the ruling party, whose leaders are regularly involved in corruption scandals.'

    Equatorial Guinea: French judges seek arrest of leader’s son


    Two French judges sought an international arrest warrant for the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema on money laundering charges, a judicial source said on Tuesday 27 March. The two judges, Roger Le Loire and Rene Grouman, consider there are grounds to suspect that Teodorin Obiang, who is agriculture minister in the small, oil-rich central African country, acquired real estate in France by fraudulent means.

    Kenya: Minister’s firm sold Turkana oil block for Sh800m


    A company associated with a Cabinet minister sold the block, where oil was found in Turkana, for a fortune. In 2010, Turkana Drilling Company, associated with a cabinet minister who was affected in Monday’s reshuffle, sold Block 10BB for $10 million (Sh840 million) to Africa Oil. Turkana Drilling’s case is just an example of how small firms might be using influence in government to make hundreds of millions of shillings by trading in oil prospecting licences.

    Uganda: Activists vow to continue battle for disclosure of oil agreements


    Oil transparency activists have vowed to continue a legal battle to require the government of Uganda to publish Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) that it has reached with international oil companies. This comes after a court rejected an application from the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) and three other civil society organisations for permission to present evidence at an appeal by two journalists against a separate ruling which denied them access to the PSAs.

    Zambia: World Bank to hand over names of Zambian officials who received bribes


    The World Bank has said that it will soon hand over to the Zambian government details and names of senior government officials in the previous MMD government who received a bribe from Alstom Corporation of France. The World Bank slapped a hefty 9.5 million dollars fine on the Alstom Corporation, a major French engineering company and blacklisted two of its subsidiaries, Alstom Hydro France and Alstom Network Schweiz AG (Switzerland), after it admitted to bribing a Senior Zambian government official.


    Africa: 'Euro crisis to impact heavily on ODA to Africa'


    The Euro crisis is expected to weigh heavily on Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa because the European Union (EU) is the largest aid provider to the continent, an Economic Report on Africa 2012, released by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) warns. The report, 'Unleashing Africa’s Potential as a Pole of Global Growth', released at the ongoing meeting of African Finance Ministers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, notes that a handful of countries, such as France and Italy, had already reduced bilateral assistance to Africa because of the global economic crisis.

    Global: From privatisation to corporatisation of water


    There has been a development and shift away from privatisation as the dominant strategy towards the so-called corporatisation and commercialisation of public water services. The main purpose of this report is to analyse the strategic development in policy that has taken place, the World Bank's neoliberal strategy on corporatisation of urban water services and concrete case studies of corporatisation projects in Sub-Saharan Africa as examples of this strategy.

    Global: Not enough IMF change after the crisis


    IMF policy recommendations are often criticised for being too restrictive, procyclical and paying little attention to country-specific circumstances. In the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, the Fund showed some policy rethinking, bringing about expectations of change. However, Rathin Roy and Raquel A. Ramos of the UNDP Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth analyse IMF policy recommendations given to developing countries and conclude that headquarters’ receptiveness to new approaches has not been translated into policy analysis or recommendations.

    Mozambique: Africa's 'resource curse' throws shadow over Mozambique's energy bonanza


    Some remain sceptical of what a massive gas find will mean for Mozambique's 23 million people, reports the UK Guardian. They question whether the government will direct enough of its new revenue towards infrastructure, which is still sorely lacking, and improving agricultural productivity – the biggest single tool for reducing poverty. Erik Charas, director of @Verdade (the Truth), Mozambique's biggest circulation newspaper, warned: 'There is a lack of transparency in these deals. They're making deals for generations to come and I have no idea about them. The lack of transparency is a major flaw. The people in power are negotiating on their own behalf. We might end up with 50 billionaires who own private planes and the rest of the population impoverished. That is our biggest fear.'

    Nigeria: The unpopular finance minister who would be president


    The African Union has added their backing to Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s run at becoming World Bank President. This post from blog Africa is a Country says there are those who would be pleased to see her get the job simply so that Nigeria could be rid of her. Her opponents accuse her 'of acting as an agent for global financial instutions, she was widely seen as the instigator of the removal of the fuel subsidy in January that led to the eruption of the Occupy Nigeria movement.'

    South Africa: The nightmare nuclear bill


    Blog Ndifuna Ukwazi reports on an article in the Mail and Guardian that further illustrates the uncertainty surrounding the actual cost of procuring nuclear power. The article highlights the lack of consensus amongst experts in the field as to what the overall cost for nuclear power can be. Focusing on South Africa, the article shows that costs could range anywhere between R322- billion to R1.4- trillion. The construction cost alone would place a considerable strain on South Africa’s resources with no return for 10 to 15 years, the expected time for constructing six reactors.

    Health & HIV/AIDS

    Global: Activists call for emergency Global Fund donor meeting


    Almost a thousand Swazi and South African HIV activists marched to the United States consulate in Johannesburg on 22 March 2012 to demand that the US continue supporting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria, and safeguard funding of its President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which US President Barack Obama's latest proposed budget will cut by 12 per cent. The march organizers - a coalition of international and regional HIV organizations, including the global medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the World AIDS Campaign, and the AIDS Rights Alliance Southern Africa - also called on the British and Australian governments to join their American counterparts in kick-starting a response to solve the Global Fund's financial crisis.

    Kenya: Hospitals have enough drugs, says minister


    The government has denied reports that public hospitals are experiencing drug shortages. On Tuesday 27 March, doctors took to the streets to demonstrate against drug shortage and lack of adequate medical personnel in public hospitals. The doctors marched from the University of Nairobi to Treasury to demand that the government clearly states when it intends to post medical personnel to public health institutions.

    South Africa: Zille's health 'refugee'


    Western Cape premier Helen Zille has sparked a fresh war of words with officials in the Eastern Cape, this time on the health front. Just days after referring to Eastern Cape pupils attending Western Cape schools as 'refugees', Zille said she had had to facilitate the transfer of an elderly patient from that province because of the poor treatment the woman had received from its collapsed health service. But the Eastern Cape says at least nine doctors attended to the patient, and that Zille is merely trying to score political points.

    Uganda: HIV services in western refugee camps overwhelmed


    Health workers manning five health centres in two refugee camps in the southwestern Ugandan district of Isingiro say they are overwhelmed by the high number of refugees and local residents in need of HIV services. Severe personnel shortages in Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee settlements have led to long queues at the clinics and placed a heavy burden on the few health workers available, many of whom often have to take double shifts to meet demand.


    Côte d'Ivoire: The ticket to an education


    The births of tens of thousands of children during Côte d'Ivoire's eight-year rebellion were not formally recorded. While many families take a lax attitude towards registering new babies, the gaps in birth and other records are particularly serious in the central, northern and western parts of Côte d'Ivoire, where government functions were effectively suspended by the rebellion between 2002 and 2010. As children born during this period move up through the school system, they have run into problems.


    Nigeria: Nigerian-born asylum seeker deported from UK


    A Nigerian-born asylum seeker in the United Kingdom, John Abraham, was finally deported on Friday 16 March, despite the intervention of organisations that pursue LGBT migrants’ issues in the UK and across Europe. Prior to the deportation, Abraham was detained at the Coinbrook Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow airport, West London and was initially due to be deported to Nigeria on 8 March.

    Racism & xenophobia

    South Africa: Basson hearing continues


    Cardiologist Wouter Basson is appearing before the Health Professions Council of SA to face a remaining four charges of unprofessional and unethical conduct. The charges relate to his conduct as a medical doctor when he headed the country's chemical and biological warfare research programme for the defence force in the 1980s and early 1990s during the apartheid era.

    South Africa: Residents protect Somali traders from local business owners


    Residents in Khayelitsha came to the defence of Somali traders when local business owners threatened to burn down the Somali-owned shops. In an attempt to enforce a 2008 agreement between Zanokhanyo Retailers Association and Somalian shopkeepers following that year’s xenophobic attacks that no new Somali-owned shops would open, local business owners in Harare threatened to burn down Somali shops to force their closure. But local residents stood in front of the nine shops under threat, preventing the local business owners from taking action.


    Kenya: Nuclear energy drive to boost electricity supply


    Kenya is gearing up for a revision of its energy policy to establish a regulatory system for overseeing the potential opening of the country's first private-sector nuclear power plant. Despite warnings that the world's nuclear waste is growing at alarming rates and with most of the current facilities having outlived their usefulness, a director of a government board said several Kenyan scientists were already receiving training.

    Kenya: Oil find in northern Kenya


    Tullow Oil, the British multinational, has struck oil in northern Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, the country’s president, announced on Tuesday 27 March at an oil, gas and energy conference in Nairobi. At the conference in the Kenyan capital, some of the world’s biggest oil companies discussed their exploration plans for East Africa, which has attracted significant interest from energy multinationals as well as national and independent oil and gas companies.

    Kenya: Work on Africa's biggest wind farm in Kenya to begin


    The construction of what is to become Africa's biggest wind farm will start by June in an arid region of northern Kenya, the project's officials said. A total of 365 wind turbines will be erected near Lake Turkana, where winds blow predictably and regularly, averaging speeds of 11 metres per second, reports AFP.

    Land & land rights

    DRC: Landmines hurting farmers’ livelihoods


    Landmines planted about a decade ago in parts of Kabalo territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) southeastern Katanga Province are adversely affecting farming livelihoods, and an important World Food Programme (WFP) project. 'In our area, there are villages where we get much harvest but the road leading to those villages [has] landmines,' a food trader from Kabalo said. Lorries often get blown up by the landmines, Birindwa Murhula, a leader of one of the local food traders’ associations, told IRIN.

    Global: UN moves to curb farmland grabs


    The UN has proposed that countries set limits on the size of agriculture land sales to regulate the growing trend of so-called farmland grabs. The new voluntary guidelines won the consensus of nearly 100 countries this month after three years of negotiations and are now set to be ratified in May at a special session in Rome of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. The guidelines, which officials say are largely pro-business, nonetheless state that countries should 'provide safeguards' to protect tenure rights.

    South Africa: Rescuing emerging farmers in South Africa?


    The South African agriculture economy has little or no room for emerging farmers; with no strong support system, being an emerging farmer in South Africa can be a hopeless adventure, writes Davison Chikazunga on the blog Another Countryside. 'Introducing market liberalisation in 1992 has aggravated the difficulties; it was naïve for the country to introduce such measures at the dawn of democracy when the state presence needed to do much to establish new black farmers. South Africa’s agriculture economy under apartheid blossomed because of state subsidies, and similar support programs in America and Europe helped their agricultural economies to thrive.'

    Food Justice

    Global: Food sovereignty slams UKs DFID


    The report contrasts the UK government’s preferred approach of ‘food security’, based on free markets supplemented by aid, with the positive alternative of food sovereignty, which returns control over the food system to farmers. It shows how the government has driven a free trade agenda at the international level, while pressing countries to remove social protections that would reduce suffering. Far from relieving hunger among the world’s poorest, the Department for International Development (DFID) funds development of new crop technologies that deepen farmers’ reliance on those companies’ seed and agrochemicals at ever greater prices, leading to hunger on an unprecedented scale.

    Media & freedom of expression

    Djibouti: RSF asks UN rapporteur to help end journalist's torture


    Reporters Without Borders has written to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, to inform him of its deep concern about the persecution of journalists in Djibouti. The press freedom organization asked the UN official to intervene urgently on behalf of radio journalist Farah Abadid Hildid, who works for the Europe-based station 'La Voix de Djibouti'. The station broadcasted on short wave and is now available on the Internet, although access to its website is blocked in Djibouti.

    Global: Mapping internet rights and freedom of expression


    The intersection between the internet and human rights, including freedoms of expression and association, is increasingly important as the internet becomes more universal, and increasingly complex as the internet affects more aspects of society, economy, politics and culture. This report suggests two ways to map this intersection, and raises a number of questions that need to be considered by those concerned with the internet, with rights, and with wider public policy.

    Sierra Leone: TV cameraman attacked by opposition party supporters


    Jerry Cole, a senior television cameraman of the state-owned Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), was on 12 March attacked by some supporters of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in Freetown, the capital. Cole and his colleague reporter, Unisa Deen Kargbo, had gone to record an interview with the SLPP officials at the party’s headquarters on the ongoing voter registration exercise for the 17 November general election.

    South Africa: Lobby groups push for public interest defence


    Public hearings on the 'secrecy' bill kicked off in the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday 27 March with strenuous demands for the inclusion of a public interest defence. The absence of a public interest defence for the protection of whistle-blowers and investigative journalists has been cited as one of the most serious remaining flaws in the bill. The Open Democracy Advice Centre (Odac), the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and Print Media South Africa (PMSA) all argued before the Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of State Information Bill that a public interest defence should be included in the bill.

    Swaziland: Mswati III cracks the whip on social media


    Swaziland is planning a censorship law that will ban Facebook and Twitter users from criticising its autocratic ruler, King Mswati III. Africa's last absolute monarch is facing growing protests over his undemocratic regime which has pushed the tiny mountain kingdom to the brink of bankruptcy. But Mswati's justice minister, Mgwagwa Gamedze, told the Swazi senate: 'We will be tough on those who write bad things about the king on Twitter and Facebook. We want to set an example.'

    Swaziland: Newspaper censors itself over WikiLeaks


    The Times of Swaziland censored itself when it reported Wikileaks was asking people in the kingdom to leak documents to its website. The Times, the only independent daily newspaper in Swaziland, reported 26 March that Wikileaks asked people to send it documents relating to the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a banned organisation in Swaziland where King Mwsati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. But, what it did not report was that Wikileaks had a higher priority from Swaziland than PUDEMO on its wanted-information list: ‘Expense accounts of King Mswati, the Queen Mother and the King's wives.’

    Conflict & emergencies

    Africa: US hits Iran firms for Africa, Syria weapons trade


    The US government on Tuesday 27 March announced sanctions against an Iranian cargo airline, a trading company and military officials for allegedly shipping weapons to Syria and Africa. The Treasury Department laid down sanctions against Yas Air, Behineh Trading and three members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Yas Air is accused of transporting a consignment of Kalashnikov AK-47s, machine guns, mortars and ammunition to Syria under cover of humanitarian aid or 'auto spare parts'.

    Global: Don't bank the bomb


    Each year, the nine nuclear-armed nations spend a combined total of more than US$100 billion on their nuclear forces – assembling new warheads, modernizing old ones, and building ballistic missiles, bombers and submarines to launch them. Much of this work is being carried out by private companies. How can we stop it? 'Don’t Bank on the Bomb' is the first major global report on the financing of companies that manufacture, modernize and maintain nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles. It identifies more than 300 banks, insurance companies, pension funds and asset managers from 30 countries that invest significantly in 20 major nuclear weapons producers.

    Mali: Civil society condemns coup


    'Following the events that occurred in the night of March 21, 2012 in Bamako and in the regions, the Forum of Civil Society Organisations of Mali has held a meeting at its headquarters. After analysis and review of the situation, the Forum of Civil Society Organizations condemns, as a principle all forms of coup d'état and acts of violence for the settlement of problems within the Malian nation.'

    Mali: West African leaders say they will send ‘strong signal’ to coup group


    The heads of state of the countries neighbouring Mali said Tuesday 27 March they want to send a 'strong signal' to the mutinous soldiers who seized power last week, overturning over 20 years of democracy in this African nation. Already, the United States, the European Union and France have cut off aid. Additional sanctions from the region would be a further blow to the junta.

    Sudan: Summit suspended after border clashes


    Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has suspended an April summit with his southern counterpart following renewed clashes between the two armies on the border. The government announced that it suspended Bashir's visit to Juba after the South Sudanese army attacked (the oil-rich territory of) Heglig,' state radio reported. The two leaders had been due to meet on 3 April.

    Internet & technology

    Africa: New map overlays conflict, climate change and aid in Africa


    A pilot version of an online mapping tool has been launched in Africa which enables researchers and policymakers to identify how climate change vulnerability, conflict, and aid intersect. Researchers from the Strauss Center's Climate Change and African Political Stability (CCAPS) programme, United States, integrated data from areas of climate change vulnerability and active aid-funded projects in Malawi, and mapped this information onto the locations of Malawian conflicts up to 2010.

    Fundraising & useful resources

    East Africa Philanthropy Awards

    Call for nominations


    The East Africa Association of Grantmakers (EAAG) is elated to announce the call for nominations for the inaugural East Africa Philanthropy Awards (EAPA) 2012. Launched in 2011, the Awards seek to identify, recognize and celebrate outstanding contributions of individuals and organizations to strategic social development and to the growth of the philanthropic movement in East Africa.

    The Awards will be given to those who through their planned and structured giving of money, time, information, goods and services; and voice and influence improve the wellbeing of humanity and the communities they live in. These philanthropists motivate and inspire the East African people ever closer to the renewal of a healthy tradition of giving and philanthropy. Through their compelling philanthropic acts, these individuals and organizations should have set a standard of excellence that is an inspiration for others to follow.

    Award categories
    · Award for Community philanthropy
    · Award for individual philanthropy
    · Award for Family Philanthropy
    · Award for Corporate philanthropy
    · Award for Faith Based Philanthropy
    · Award for youth in philanthropy
    · Award for Reporting in philanthropy

    Nominations can be done through the online submission form available on our website ( or by downloading the nomination form and submitting via email to [email protected] and a copy to [email protected] or collect the nomination form from our offices. Deadline for submission of nominations is 13th April 2012.

    Should you require further information about the awards, kindly send us an email [email protected] or visit our website.

    We kindly request that you share this information with your wider networks within the East Africa region.

    Regional Research grants on Global Health Diplomacy

    Call for Applicants, Regional Network for Equity in Health in East and Southern Africa (EQUINET)

    2012-03-29 research Call final.pdf

    This call is for applicants for grants for policy research into global health diplomacy , and particularly in relation to the manner in which African interests around equitable health systems are being advanced through health diplomacy.

    Courses, seminars, & workshops

    Building Capacity for a New Generation: The Case for Youth Leadership in Africa

    Pan-African Conference, 5 May 2012, University of Oxford, UK


    The 2012 Conference focuses on building the type of leadership Africa needs to successfully face challenges in the 21st century. The conference will bring together young and emerging academics, students, entrepreneurs, activists, and politicians to discuss and debate the challenges of the day in Africa.

    Date: Saturday, 5 May 2012 (9am-5pm)
    Venue: University of Oxford, UK

    The Oxford African Society is proud to announce that early bird registration for the the pan-African conference is now open:

    We warmly encourage young Africans from Dakar to Dar es Salaam, from Cairo to Cape Town to join us.

    The 2012 Conference focuses on building the type of leadership Africa needs to successfully face challenges in the 21st century. The conference will bring together young and emerging academics, students, entrepreneurs, activists, and politicians to discuss and debate the challenges of the day in Africa. These discussions will help develop concrete strategies to nurture and sustain youth leadership in Africa and in African communities worldwide.

    Speakers include:

    Vera Songwe (World Bank Country Director)
    Arthur Mutambara (Deputy Prime Minister, Zimbabwe)
    Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria)
    He Liehui (Chairman, Touchroad International Holdings Group, China)
    June Arunga (CEO, Open Quest Media, 100 Most Creative People in Business)
    Matthew Hassan Kukah (Human Rights Activist & Social Exponent)
    Gbenga Sesan (Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, Nigeria)
    Patrick Awuah (Founder, Ashesi University, Ghana)
    Hadeel Ibrahim (Director of Strategy and External Relations, Mo Ibrahim Foundation)

    We are proudly sponsored by Google, Business Connection, Think Africa Press, and the Oxford African Studies Centre.

    Be sure to visit our website for all the latest news:

    The political economy of poverty and social transformations of the Global South

    Call for papers, 10-12 December 2012, Cairo, Egypt


    This workshop aims to enhance our understanding of the nature of social change and transformations (at global, national or local levels) in which poverty alleviation, eradication, and prevention is either the axis of a social strategy or a tangible result.

    Poverty has been a persisting phenomenon in human history. Economic, social and political transformations aimed at eliminating poverty over the past century not only failed, but actually contributed to the exacerbation of this social problem. On the eve of the 21st century the world had more than one billion human beings suffering extreme poverty and hunger. Existing social systems have proved unable to eradicate this kind of misery. This is not merely a question of resources.

    The world has never in its history had more available means to ensure decent living standards for all. At the start of its Decade for the Eradication of Poverty in 1997 the UN estimated that the cost of providing universal access to basic social services and transfers to alleviate income poverty would cost roughly $80 billion -- less than the combined net worth of the seven richest people in the world.

    However, poverty continues to take the life of millions and the dignity of billions. Explanations and analysis of this phenomenon have produced an abundant literature on poverty. But despite unrelenting interventions by scholars, governmental and non-governmental agencies it is evident that our social systems (both at national and international levels) are incapable, or unwilling, to produce a meaningful and sustainable change toward poverty eradication. Why is this?

    Structures, institutions and agents operating within existing systems interact to produce and sustain poverty at unacceptable levels. Is it thus reasonable to expect changes within these systems? Although critical theoretical engagements and social justice projects have addressed this question in the past, current global trends and processes (like recurrent financial crises, protest movements involving many parts of the globe, the concentration of wealth and power, and the increasing inequality gap to an extent never registered in the history of the world) force the question yet again with urgency.

    Social transformation seems to be the obvious response to the persistence of poverty. In this call for papers, social transformation refers to any significant alteration in structures, behavioural patterns, and rules aimed at producing a particular social result: poverty eradication. Poverty is a structural problem inseparable from power relations that have defined the making and re-making of political economy and society over the last four centuries -- and magnified during the past one. Our socio-economic systems are the results of the evolution of patterns forged – among others – by the industrial, democratic and information revolutions. They produced unprecedented quantity of resources and a high standard of living for just a portion of the world’s population, while keeping the vast majority in poverty. Arguably, poverty functions to uphold the existing patterns of accumulation and distribution of wealth and power. Therefore, poverty eradication could be an objective quite difficult to attain without altering the ideological, material and institutional basis of the current social systems as well as the global patterns of production, circulation, and consumption.

    The world is struggling to adjust to the forces of globalization. Social movements channel demands from different sectors which could be a driving force for social change in different parts of the world. Their relentless efforts to challenge structures of power have revealed cracks in the global order. Is this the beginning of a different “order of things” with the potential for new imaginings of poverty and means for its eradication?

    This workshop aims to enhance our understanding of the nature of social change and transformations (at global, national or local levels) in which poverty alleviation, eradication, and prevention is either the axis of a social strategy or a tangible result. In this sense, the workshop will focus on, but is not limited to, questions like:

    - What are the main sources of social change in the global South?
    - Who are its actors, and how do they express their agenda and action?
    - What were the ideological and material conditions for poverty eradication in
    exceptional cases like the Scandinavian countries?
    - Is it possible to find ideological and material conditions for poverty eradication in the South?
    - Which experiences in the South provide an alternative path toward poverty alleviation, eradication, and prevention?
    - Does the current geo-political mapping of the world render a South-based project for poverty eradication possible?
    - Has neoliberalism changed the meaning and manifestation of poverty and its eradication?
    - How is resistance to changes dealt with within the current political systems?
    - How is the position of vested interests expressed in contemporary societies? How do they maintain the status quo and how successful are they in the face of protest and resistance?
    - What is the role of the media?

    The workshop will approach social change toward poverty eradication and prevention in an interdisciplinary and critical way taking current politics as the point of reference. The organizers are especially interested in empirical and theoretical research that focuses on progressive social change and real-world applications of such ideas in the “global South”.

    The workshop will bring together a maximum of 22 participants from across all university disciplines. This call for papers is open to all although preference will be given to researchers based in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Participants are expected to actively participate with presentations and in discussions of all the papers.

    Participants are responsible for their own travel expenses and health insurance. Board and lodging will be covered. A limited number of travel grants will be assigned according to geographic origin and the relevance, quality, and originality of the submitted abstracts. In the case of co-authored papers, only one author may compete for a travel grant. The seminar will be conducted in English.

    The abstract should not exceed 500 words (one page) and must include: the title of the proposed paper and a summary of its theme, including its central argument and research question. In addition, a brief resume (max. one page) clearly indicating your name, title, nationality, and contact information as well as a list of recent publications.
    The abstract and resume should be sent by e-mail to both: CROP Secretariat ([email protected]) and the American University of Cairo ([email protected]). Submissions exceeding two pages will not be considered.


    Accepted participants will be notified by the Academic Committee regarding format/guidelines for the final paper, which must be submitted by Monday Oct. 22, 2012.

    University of Oxford: Part-time Masters in International Human Rights Law

    Admissions open for five scholarships for candidates from African Commonwealth countries


    The Department for Continuing Education and the Faculty of Law at Oxford University are very pleased to announce that admissions are now open for five scholarships for candidates from African Commonwealth countries to study for the part-time Masters in International Human Rights Law at the
    University of Oxford, starting September 2012. The course website can be found at and details about the scholarships, including eligibility criteria and how to apply, can be found on the Fees and Funding pages at

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