Pambazuka News 480: Sonangol and the looting of Angola's oil
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Highlights from this issue
- Salim Ahmed Salim: Speaking Truth to Power: Honouring Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem
- Rafael Marques de Morais: Sonangol and the looting of Angola's oil
- Joan Baxter: Land grabs: Protecting investors, but what about the people?
- Sokari Ekine: Too much hype about mobile technology!
- Bernadette Iyodu: Uganda: The silent practice of deportations
COMMENT & ANALYSIS
- Nnimmo Bassey: Voices from Bolivia: World Peoples’ Climate Conference
- Hama Tuma: Homophobia? It is ‘demophobia’ really!
- Tim Wise: Imagine if the Tea Party was black
- Elyas Mulu Kiros: Proudly Amhara, proudly Ethiopian
- Horace Campbell: May Day and worker solidarity
- L. Muthoni Wanyeki: Ocampo’s coming, the witnesses are running
ADVOCACY & CAMPAIGNS
- Radical philosophy under threat in the UK
- World Press Freedom Day, Nigeria: 3 journalists murdered
LETTERS AND OPINIONS
- Church's hypocrisy on Kenya's draft constitution
AFRICAN WRITERS' CORNER
- Nancy Muigei: The Voiceless CryACTION ALERTS: 3 SA families remain homeless at the gates of Blikkiesdorp
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Discussion: Is democracy possibly here in the UK
ZIMBABWE UPDATE: Opposition infighting raises specter of violence
WOMEN & GENDER: The worst places to be a mother
CONFLICT AND EMERGENCIES: UN must continue to protect Chad’s civilians
HUMAN RIGHTS: Kinshasa rejects report of army atrocities
REFUGEES AND FORCED MIGRATION: Fahamu refugee e-newsletter – April 2010
EMERGING POWERS NEWS: Emerging powers news roundup
SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: Sign Jinn letter to Chevron CEO
AFRICA LABOUR NEWS: Transport strike looms in South Africa
ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE: Yar’Adua laid to rest
CORRUPTION: Does corruption create poverty?
HEALTH & HIV/AIDS: Activists ‘escorted’ out of Tanzania
DEVELOPMENT: World Economic Forum on Africa opens
EDUCATION: Textbooks for Angolan students
LGBTI: Being gay in Morocco
ENVIRONMENT: Somaliland needs climate change plan
LAND & LAND RIGHTS: Protecting investors, but what about the people?
MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Ugandan journalists under threat
SOCIAL WELFARE: Free care for mothers and children in Sierra Leone
INTERNET & TECHNOLOGY: Young Africans put technology to new uses
ENEWSLETTERS & MAILING LISTS: AfricaFocus Bulletin: Africa: Finance ministers vs. development goals
JOBS: Vacancy at Comic Relief
PLUS: Fundraising & useful resources, publications, courses, seminars and workshops
*Pambazuka News now has a Del.icio.us page, where you can view the various websites that we visit to keep our fingers on the pulse of Africa! Visit http://del.icio.us/pambazuka_news
South Africa: 3 families remain homeless at the gates of Tin Can Town
Three families have been living homeless, freezing weather, rain and all, at the gates of Blikkiesdorp for over 10 nights now. These families were evicted recently from backyards where they used to live in Delft. They came to Blikkiesdorp looking for a tin because they have nowhere else to go. Since the City of Cape Town will not accommodate them inside Blikkiesdorp, they have occupied some land at the entrance to the Phase 2 section of the TRA.
Joint Committee of Phase 2 in Blikkiesdorp
7 May 2010
Three families have been living homeless, freezing weather, rain and all, at the gates of Blikkiesdorp for over 10 nights now.
These families were evicted recently from backyards where they used to live in Delft. They came to Blikkiesdorp looking for a tin because they have nowhere else to go. Since the City of Cape Town will not accommodate them inside Blikkiesdorp, they have occupied some land at the entrance to the Phase 2 section of the TRA.
Recently, community representatives met with the City and the families. But the City refused to help the families. They are saying there is nothing they can do for them because all the structures in the TRA are already occupied.
However, as residents of Blikkiesdorp, we know this is a lie. There are scores of empty structures all over Phase 2. We realise that the City is lying to use because they are saving those structures for other people they plan to evict in the next few months in time for the World Cup. They intend on moving refugees into Blikkiesdorp and other people who are being evicted throughout the city.
In this same meeting with city, officials claimed that Blikkiesdorp is for people with nowhere else to go. We ask, how can homeless people sleeping in the cold and rain for over 10 nights not be considered vulnerable enough for emergency housing. No one would sleep for so long with their families in this kind of weather unless they were truly desperate ad had no alternatives.
So, we want the people all over Cape Town to know that these families are being ignored. We have realised that Blikkiesdorp is not a place for people who are already vulnerable and homeless. It is rather a place to dump people who the City make vulnerable and homeless through their recurring World Cup-related evictions.
Speaking Truth to Power: Honouring Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem
Salim Ahmed Salim
It is both an honour and a privilege to have been asked to write a preface to this much-needed collection of Pan-African postcards by Nigerian activist, scholar, columnist, campaigner and Pan- Africanist par excellence: the late Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem.
Tajudeen was born on 6 January 1961 in Funtua, Katsina state, Nigeria. He died tragically on African Liberation Day, 25 May 2009, in a motor accident in Nairobi, Kenya while on his way to the airport.
He graduated with a first class honours degree in political science from Bayero University Kano. After youth service, Tajudeen received a prestigious Rhodes fellowship and proceeded to Oxford University from where he graduated with a DPhil.
From Oxford, Tajudeen had unlimited career options, but he never wavered in his determination and focus. He chose to return to make his contribution to the rebuilding of the African continent. In 1992 Tajudeen was appointed general secretary for the secretariat organising the 7th Pan-African Congress in Kampala, Uganda. The congress he organised in 1994, with delegates from 47 countries, turned out to be one of the largest and most vibrant gatherings of Pan-Africanists in many years. Though its theme was ‘Africa: Facing the Future in Unity, Social Progress and Democracy’; the congress was overshadowed by the unfolding genocide in Rwanda.
Tajudeen accompanied a delegation from the Pan-African Movement to Rwanda for a first-hand assessment of what was going on in the country, but the delegation fell into an ambush near Kigali from which Tajudeen was lucky to escape unhurt.
Subsequent to the 1994 Pan-African Congress, Tajudeen remained engaged and dedicated to Pan-African causes. He used his position as general secretary of the Global Pan-African Movement to inspire an entire generation of Africans and Africanists. He was emphatic that the Pan-African effort must be coordinated from the African soil. His work with the Pan-African Movement involved travelling across the African continent and to the Americas and the Caribbean. Wherever Tajudeen found himself, he always identified with the concerns of the local community.
In his last job, Tajudeen served as deputy director for Africa of the United Nations’ Millennium Campaign. From this position, he kept a faithful vigil over the efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) across the continent – he spoke to African presidents, leaders, students, young people, women’s groups and ‘ordinary’ Africans. He was passionate about this campaign.
Tajudeen tackled issues head-on, had no sacred cows, and could be a fierce critic, even of his closest friends and comrades. At the time of his death he was working on a historical account and political analysis of some African liberation movements and where they had gone astray.
Tajudeen did not hesitate to speak the truth to those in power. He boldly and quite undiplomatically took to task African leaders who did not have the courage of their convictions, including taking-up issues with them in public.
What will never cease to amaze Taju’s friends, comrades and acquaintances was how he found time to write. He was a prolific author, writing a regular column, the ‘Thursday Postcard’, syndicated to many newspapers including Nigeria’s the Daily Trust and Pambazuka News. Taju remained faithful to his calling as a political scientist and thinker.
Even in death, Tajudeen still speaks and is recognised for his tremendous contributions to the development of the continent. The next generation will not grow up to see Tajudeen, therefore, we must work together to create a better society such that we can say to the next generation: this is the world Tajudeen helped to build. Perhaps if we take a moment to reflect on the most popular and most emphasised piece of advice Tajudeen ever offered, we would find in it lessons that still speak to us as individuals, to our countries and to our world today; it is his email signature – ‘Don’t agonise; organise!’
The publication of this book is an important step towards ensuring the maintenance of Tajudeen’s legacy. It should be essential reading for all Pan-African activists and for those who aspire to a world based on the principles of justice and freedom to which Tajudeen was so committed.
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* 'Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African Postcards' is now available from Pambazuka Press for £14.95.
* Dr Salim Ahmed Salim was prime minister of Tanzania (1984–85), secretary-general of the Organisation for African Unity (1989–2001) and African Union Special Envoy on the Darfur Conflict (2005–08). He is currently chairman of the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation and a member of the African Union’s Panel of the Wise.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Sonangol and the looting of Angola's oil
Rafael Marques de Morais
In 2008, Manuel Vicente, the chair of the board and director-general of the Angolan state oil company Sonangol, restructured the company and its main subsidiaries for his personal benefit.
The same year, petroleum exports exceeded US$62 billion, according to the World Bank, which accounted for 97.7 per cent of Angola’s exports. These figures demonstrate the crucial role of Sonangol in the country’s political economy as the only Angolan concession-holder in the industry.
Manuel Vicente did a business deal with himself when he illegally transferred a percentage of Sonangol Holdings into his own name, thus making himself a formal (private) shareholder in virtually all the multi-million dollar deals of the state-owned business. This action by the chair of Sonangol must first be put into context in the light of current legislation and the ruling MPLA’s (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) rhetoric on the supposed zero-tolerance policy towards corruption. Manuel Vicente is a member of MPLA’s politburo.
On 25 March 2010, the President of the Republic José Eduardo dos Santos signed into force the 'Law on Public Probity', which is intended to combat corruption. Basically, this new law brings together provisions that are scattered among various laws, including the 'Law on Crimes Committed by Public Office Bearers' (Law 21/90), the 'Law on State Discipline' (Law 22/90), and the 'Law on the Patrimonial Benefits of Public Officials' (Decree 24/90). These laws in themselves ought to have been enough to stop the large-scale looting of public assets by political leaders and public officials.
Still, through its outright control of the judicial system, the MPLA ensures that these laws are never enforced. So it would be wrong to see the new law as demonstrating the 35-year-old regime’s commitment to separating public interests from the private interests of its leaders. However, citizens need to advocate for the laws to be implemented, and demand that their leaders give account of how public money and assets are managed.
On 24 July 2008, Manuel Vicente restructured Sonangol’s charter and completely changed Sonangol Holdings’ social pact, and transferred 1 per cent of the shareholding that had previously been solely owned by the state company to his name.
Sonangol Holdings Ltd is a subsidiary of Sonangol that was created in 2004. Its current social objective is 'to carry out commercial and industrial activities, to manage the share portfolio itself, and to provide technical and administrative services to the designated companies'. Sonangol Holdings also holds shares in other companies. In fact, Sonangol Holdings controls the group’s subsidiaries.
As part of the restructuring process, Manuel Vicente arranged his own private participation in the main subsidiaries of the country’s largest public enterprise, as follows:
- On 23 July 2008, Sonangol transferred to Sonangol Holdings 10 per cent of its shares in Sonair, an aviation company that is 90 per cent owned by Sonangol, and which mostly serves petroleum multinationals and additionally operates executive flights, including flights for the president of the republic. This administrative deal happened the day before a percentage of Sonangol Holdings was transferred to Manuel Vicente.
- On 24 July 2008, Sonangol Research and Production increased its public shareholding and admitted a new shareholder, Sonangol Holdings, as well as restructuring its social pact. Sonangol Research and Production is the subsidiary responsible for prospecting, research and the production of hydrocarbons. This makes it the most important source of revenue for Sonangol, which holds 90 per cent of its shares, while Sonangol Holding holds the remaining 10 per cent.
The case of Sonangol Research and Production deserves more attention. The 10 per cent that Manuel Vicente transferred to Sonangol Holding had, since 1992, belonged to Albina Assis, who at the time was chair of Sonangol. She supposedly held the shares as the representative of the company’s employees and other beneficiaries.
In terms of the article dealing with capital subscription in the statute that established the Sonangol Research and Production on 26 November 1992, Sonangol should own 90 per cent of its capital, the remaining 10 per cent being held by its employees and private shareholders.
The transfer of 10 per cent of Sonangol Research and Production’s shares to a private group represented by Albina Assis occurred, according to official information, with the authorisation of Resolution 9/91 of the Permanent Commission of the Council of Ministers. (This appears to be an error; in fact, Resolution 4/91 deals with this matter). At the time, Albina Assis was chair of Sonangol’s board of directors. This is clearly in violation of the laws which forbid public officials from personally benefiting from deals with the state.
A month after the deal she became minister of petroleum, a role which she occupied until 1999. She is directly answerable for the hundreds of millions of dollars of Sonangol Research and Production revenue that constitute the 10 per cent supposedly intended for employees.
It is noteworthy to emphasise that there are no public records of any meeting of Sonangol staff to share the dividends from the 10 per cent of Sonangol Research and Production that they supposedly owned. It is also unknown who else was part of the consortium headed by Assis. All that is known is that she took control of the 10 per cent share.
- On 24 July 2008, Sonangol Holdings assumed a 10 per cent share in Sonangol Distribution, which distributes and markets fuel and gas for Angola’s internal consumption. Sonangol holds the remaining 90 per cent.
- On 8 September 2008, Sonangol Holdings took control of 10 per cent of Sonangol Logistics, which looks after the storage, marketing and transport of fuel 'at the level of the entire petroleum market'.
THE LAW ON PUBLIC PROBITY
Manuel Vicente’s self-dealing, as described above, blatantly breaks the law. Article 25 (a) of the 'Law on Public Probity' makes it illegal for a public official to receive a cut of a deal in which he or she has decision-making powers or influence. In the case of Manuel Vicente, he sold, offered or illegally transferred the Sonangol shares for his personal benefit. This act constitutes the crime of active corruption as defined in articles 318 and 321 of the Angolan Penal Code. Vicente received a percentage of Sonangol Holdings through a decision authorised by himself as chairman of the board of directors and director-general of Sonangol. The Penal Code provides for a prison sentence of between two and eight years for such cases of corruption.
Moreover, Article 26 (a) of the 'Law on Public Probity' sees an action of this kind as something that harms public goods by causing public assets to be transferred to a private individual. Article 31 (c) insists on the complete repayment of goods or funds alienated from the public purse. Manuel Vicente is legally required to hand back the percentage that was transferred into his name.
On 17 April 2010, the weekly paper Seminário Angolense exclusively published a summary of this investigation. Sonangol’s management responded on 20 April with the following statement:
1. 'Sonangol SGPS was established in September 2004 with the purpose of managing Sonangol EP’s investments in other firms.'
2. 'In 2007, Sonangol carried out a restructuring of the shareholding structure of its subsidiaries. During discussions on 5 March 2007 the board of Sonangol EP decided that 99% of the shares in Sonangol SGPS would be held by Sonangol EP and 1% by the chairman of its board. Its shareholding structure was duly changed in April 2007 and in July 2009 its statutes were completely overhauled, and its trading name changed to Sonangol Holdings. In this way Sonangol Research and Production was taken out of the company’s shareholding.'
3. 'Manuel Vicente was entrusted in the name of the state to hold 1% of the capital of Sonangol Holdings, since it is not permitted to set up or maintain companies with only one partner or shareholder.'
The arguments presented by Sonangol seem to suggest that one has to commit an illegal act in order to fulfil a legal requirement. There is no law in Angola that permits a citizen in his private capacity to represent the state’s financial participation in any business, public or private. Moreover, the bylaws of Sonangol Holdings – the document that is the legal guarantee of the firm’s existence – contains no clause that provides for Manuel Vicente’s participation as a representative of the state. The usual practice when creating or restructuring publicly owned companies is to form a partnership between two or more companies from the same group, or in partnership with others owned by the state. Sonangol is an example of this, having created and restructured various firms that have entered partnerships with Sonangol’s subsidiaries.
The government, for its part, clarified the doubts surrounding the representation of the state’s capital in business activities. It did so through despatch number 53/04 of 17 February 2004 by the Finance Ministry, which declares:
1. 'All business shares held directly by the state in various commercial companies will be held by the Angolan Institute of State Participation, in the name of and representing the state.' (Article 1)
2. 'The powers conferred by article 1 include the power to exercise the functions of a shareholder or partner.' (Article 3)
Apart from an obscure clause that grants autonomy to strategic companies, Angolan legislation makes no exceptions for Sonangol. Furthermore, Sonangol offered no explanation of the transfer of shares to Albina Assis. In April this year, Assis returned to Sonangol as a member of the board of directors.
Resolution 4/91 of the Permanent Commission of the Council of Ministers, signed by President José Eduardo dos Santos on 6 December 1991, unequivocally confirms (in article 4 of the preamble) the participation of workers and private shareholders in Sonangol Research and Production. Sonangol Research and Production’s own statues, approved by the president on the same day, confirm in article five that the company is to be owned 90 per cent by Sonangol, with the remaining 10 per cent of shares to be held by employees 'of Sonangol, of the company itself and other shareholders'.
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* Rafael Marques de Morais is an Angolan journalist and writer with a special interest in Angola's political economy and human rights. His website is makaangola.com.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 EP is the Portuguese abbreviation for 'public company'.
Protecting investors, but what about the people?
Dissecting the contradictions of agricultural investment in Sierra Leone
On 25 April 2010, representatives from a host of organisations and nations with the clout to shape policies and millions of lives around the world gathered for a Roundtable at the headquarters of the US Millennium Challenge Corporation in Washington. Among them were representatives from the World Bank Group, Japan, the US, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), African governments and the African Union Commission. Their stated aim was to ‘facilitate a dialogue among government representatives, multilateral agencies, civil society, and the private sector to further explore progress and advancement of ongoing work related to principles for responsible agricultural investment.’
Others prefer simpler language. They describe the form of agricultural investment under discussion at the Roundtable, which involves large-scale land acquisition for industrial-style agriculture in African and other developing countries, as a global ‘land grab’. They say there is no way it can be ‘responsible’ because it threatens food, seed and land sovereignty of family farmers, social stability, environmental health and biodiversity around the world.
According to Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN, the international NGO that has been drawing the world’s attention to the land-grab issue, the Roundtable was ‘a smoke and mirrors show to dampen the escalating social backlash threatening land grab investors.’ He was one of the activists who travelled to Washington to protest in front of the Roundtable venue in Washington. Well over 100 farmer, civil society and non-governmental organisations and broad-based coalitions around the world have signed onto the campaign, ‘Stop land grabbing now!’.
The investors and the proponents of this kind of agricultural investment in Africa deny it is a land grab. They say that the investments are positive, providing jobs and infrastructure, posing no threat to food security even if the food and agrofuels they produce are for export. Such a stance is understandable; it would be unrealistic to expect an objective assessment of such foreign direct investment from the nations, corporations, investment banks and funds, and billionaire tycoons that stand to profit from it.
What is perplexing, however, is that the same kind of rhetoric is coming from some whose job it is to protect Africa’s farmers’ rights and their farmland from exploitative foreign takeover. By this, I mean African heads of state and other elected representatives of the people, as well as some holding key positions in Africa’s regional economic and political bodies.
Take, for example, the views of Sindiso Ngwenya, secretary general of Comesa, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. He calls the agricultural investment in the region, particularly by Gulf States, a ‘win-win’ partnership. Egypt’s minister of investment, Mahmoud Mohieddin, says that if foreign investors exploit an African country, it’s the fault of the country itself because individual countries have the obligation to protect themselves. In the words of Minister Mohieddin, ‘If your country doesn’t provide this kind of policy priority in its investment policy, don’t blame those who are coming to exploit and extract. The issue of responsible investment lies with the government and all of these things should be established.’
Available from Pambazuka PressThe question is: Are African governments being responsible and putting protection of their own people ahead of, or at least on par with protection for the investors? Listening to some African leaders, it doesn’t look that way. Some defend the investors’ acquisition of land in their countries, saying it is ‘virgin’ or ‘under-utilised’ or ‘uncultivated’ or ‘degraded’ land and they applaud the ‘modernisation’ of agriculture with agribusiness that is heavy on the use of imported seed and environmentally destructive machinery, chemicals and irrigation. This suggests they know precious little about the importance of fallows and the resilience and diversity of agroforestry systems, or about sustainable agriculture and the knowledge base of their own farmers in using soil, tree, water and genetic resources wisely and productively, particularly in the face of climate change. It certainly shows they have not read or understood the world’s most comprehensive study of agriculture, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). It was done by 400 scientists over many years and it showed that agro-ecological farming is the best – the only – sustainable approach to land use. So did the recent study by the United Nations Environment Program on the appropriate response to the food crisis and to climate change.
Even less comprehensible is that some African leaders seem to be prostrating themselves at the feet of the investors, competing to outdo each other to court them with generous tax holidays and concessions. Such giveaways cast doubts on how cash-strapped African governments will benefit at all from such investments.
So the next question is: Why are Africa’s leaders so eager to sell out their own farmers by leasing their precious land (water, soils and other natural resources) to foreign interests? Is it just because of their own lack of understanding of the value of agro-ecological agriculture and environmental sustainability? Or are they also being influenced by imported ideology and neo-liberal ideologues from major international financial institutions? It appears the answer is both of the above.
THE WORLD BANK GROUP AND FOREIGN INVESTORS FIND FRIENDS IN SIERRA LEONE
Take the case of Sierra Leone. Its president, Ernest Bai Koroma, says that he wants to run his country ‘like a business’ and that his background in the private sector as an insurance broker gives him the know-how to do that. President Koroma recently praised the economic and political reforms that have made his country ‘climb 20 places in the World Bank's annual Doing Business rankings in the last three years, and made Sierra Leone one of the top 5 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa for investor protection and the ease of starting a business.’
The importance of ‘investor protection’ surfaces frequently in interviews with President Koroma’s business-friendly team. His special advisor on the private sector, Oluniyi Robbin-Coker, formerly of Citibank and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), refers to it so often during an interview about large-scale land acquisition and agricultural investment in Sierra Leone that I finally ask him if the government is so busy protecting investors that it is neglecting to protect itself and its people.
‘We have to take a long-term view and a broad view,’ he replies. ‘So in the short term, we may have to make some concessions in order to get the businesses up and running and profitable.’ He refused to say just what incentives or tax holidays the government of Sierra Leone was offering to Addax Bioenergy for its ‘flagship’ agricultural investment in the country, a giant sugarcane plantation to produce ethanol for export to Europe, to fuel European vehicles. Addax Bioenergy is part of the Addax & Oryx Group of Swiss billionaire, Jean Claude Gandur, who has a long record of oil and mining business in Africa.
Even if Robbin-Coker wouldn’t divulge what concessions had been made for Addax Bioenergy in Sierra Leone, the website of the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) said that agricultural investors enjoyed a 10-year corporate tax holiday (although that information later disappeared from the SLIEPA website, coincidentally, after I quoted it in the media).
SLIEPA itself makes an interesting study. According to its enthusiastic director of investor promotion, Raymond Kai-Gbekie, SLIEPA was established by an act of Sierra Leone’s parliament in 2007 and is financed by the IFC and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Like other such ‘one-stop-shops’ for investors that the IFC has been setting up in African nations (and around the world), SLIEPA’s mission to ‘assist and inform investors and exporters’ may initially look almost banal. How it assists investors, however, is more telling. SLIEPA boasts that a new Investment Code has gone into effect, which ‘was designed to provide more protection for companies investing in Sierra Leone … full foreign ownership is allowed … there is no discriminatory economic or industrial strategy against foreign investors, and no limit is imposed on foreign ownership or control.’
Kai-Gbekie becomes very animated when he recalls his meetings with illustrious billionaire investors, royalty and dignitaries who attended last year’s Sierra Leone Trade and Investment Forum, partly organised by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘charity’, the African Governance Initiative. Asked why the forum to promote and sell Sierra Leone’s assets to the world was held in London rather than in Freetown, Kai-Gbekie replies, ‘As a nation, backed by an ever-ready and energetic private-sector-led president, we had to go to London to make ourselves known, that we have no business being poor, and that we have 5.4 million hectares of land and less than 20 per cent is under cultivation.’
He admits there is ‘a lot of controversy’ on whether it is wise to invite, even bend over backwards to woo investors to lease huge tracts of Sierra Leone’s farmland to produce agrofuels for export in a country still trying to regain its own food security after a long civil war. Then he adds, ‘Against this backdrop we had to look for hired guns, brought in by IFC, two gentlemen, Simon Bell and Julien Haarman, they were here and they came up with strong arguments.’
So, SLIEPA and the IFC were using ‘hired guns’ to come up with ‘strong arguments’ to promote large-scale land acquisition for agrofuel production – from palm oil and sugarcane for export to Europe. One of them, Simon Bell, who presented the ‘Sugar Opportunity in Sierra Leone’ at the London Forum, was described as an ‘advisor to the Government of Sierra Leone on Sugar Investments’.
But the IFC with its one-stop-shops for investors and ‘hired guns’ within government ministries is just one of the tools the World Bank Group employs to open up the continent to direct foreign investment and press for reforms that benefit and protect foreign investors. There is also the IFC’s Investment Climate Advisory Service (FIAS), which ‘helps governments implement reforms to improve their business environment, and encourage and retain investment.’
Yet another is MIGA, the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. MIGA protects investors from losses caused for a host of reasons, including if a government were to take political action, say, to protect its own citizens when it sees an investor causing harm or social and environmental upheaval.
‘MIGA acts as a *potent restraint* on potentially damaging government actions,’ says DeRisk Advisory Services, an authorised marketing agent for MIGA. ‘MIGA’s leverage with host governments frequently enables the agency to resolve differences.’ [emphasis added]
With such powerful World Bank machinery working on behalf of the investors, and working so closely with and within African governments, it certainly seems that the playing field has been systematically tilted to favour the investors rather than local people. The Oakland Institute says the IFC and FIAS have been instrumental in promoting foreign access to developing countries’ land markets, threatening food security and local populations, and it calls for an investigation into the workings of the IFC and FIAS technical assistance and advisory services.
Meanwhile, African governments themselves and their one-stop-shop investment agencies seem to have become the investors’ most vocal cheerleaders.
That is certainly the impression Raymond Kai-Gbekie gives in the IFC- and DFID-backed SLIEPA office in Freetown. He dismisses my suggestions that the two IFC ‘hired guns’ promoting investment in land for agrofuels in his country might not be the most objective sources. Then he launches into another round of praise for both his president and the Addax Bioenergy project.
‘I want to tell you the time for change is here,’ he says. ‘We have a president who launched an agenda for change and that agenda for change is a package for even the poor.’ Kai-Gbekie sees the Addax project as part of this package, and tells me that it will have ‘6,000 employees’.
This figure contradicts ones that other officials have given for the project and it is one of many contradictions that abound about the Addax project. While Kai-Gbekie told me it would employ 6,000 people, a few weeks later a press release from the Office of President Koroma stated that the Addax project would assure 4,000 jobs and cost US$200 million. The same press release quotes Addax Bioenergy managing director Nikolai Germann as saying it would take ‘20,000 hectares of land’. But the Addax Bioenergy website says it will involve 10,000 hectares and cost about 200 million Euros, employing more than ‘2,000 people’. President Koroma says that it will cost US$400 million and involve 30,000 hectares. The official Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA) done by a South African consulting company for the Addax project says it will involve 15,500 hectares and directly employ 2,200 people. Oluniyi Robbin-Coker, the president’s special private sector advisor, told me it would eventually cover 40,000 hectares.
In 2008, Addax Bioenergy’s project manager, Andrew Turay went to Europe to give a presentation at the European Parliament Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuel Production in Tropical and Subtropical Countries. In his presentation he said the project would cover 26,000 hectares. And he made it clear the ethanol production was for the European market.
Yet in 2009, Turay told me that the ethanol would be for ‘local use and an export crop.’ He said that the sugarcane could produce both ethanol and sugar. He added, ‘We import a lot of sugar into this country’, implying that Addax could help Sierra Leone reduce those sugar imports. He also told me the project would produce between 30 and 60 MW of renewable energy from sugarcane residues, which would be pumped into the national grid. However, the Addax website says that the generation plant will be able to export (sell) about 15 MW to the national grid, and makes it clear that the sugarcane is for ethanol production only and the ethanol is for export.
Turay told me the Addax project would be producing ethanol for ‘the next 100 years’. Member of parliament for the project area, Martin Bangura, told me Addax would employ 4,000 people directly and that the initial lease was for 50 years, renewable for 21 years.
All of these are contradictions are coming from the people who are speaking on behalf of the project, who should, in theory, know of what they speak and be sure they are offering the public accurate information.
The Honourable Martin Bangura calls himself the ‘champion’ of Addax because he is the ‘bridge’ between Addax and his constituents. He tells me that to build confidence between the project and the people he sometimes had to ‘sleep two or three nights in villages’. His idea of consultation with the local people is apparently to offer them all kinds of reassurances, provided to him by Addax, that the project would bring only benefits. Although he claims he read the ESHIA, he seems unaware of the potential risks listed in the report. Asked about the potential health and environmental risks of the spraying of pesticides and herbicides on the plantations, the heavy use of fertilisers, the run-off into rivers and onto the pockets of land around them on which local people were assured they would still be able to farm their rice, Bangura responds by saying that Addax had set up ‘suggestion boxes’ and given local people one month to submit their concerns or suggestions. A woman in one of the villages in the area points out to me that the suggestion boxes ‘make no sense’ since the majority of the local people cannot read or write.
In villages in the project area, even among those young men who say they are eager for the project to start so they can be employed, I find no one who has any idea how much land or what lands are involved in the project. A local chief in the area, whose responsibility as custodian of the ancestral lands should really have propelled him to protect them from foreign takeover, has already accepted a job driving a tractor for Addax. Asked if he has any concerns about the potential noise, pollution, and disruption to local communities, farms and lives, he replies that he is ‘very happy’ because he now earns ‘200,000 Leones (about $US50) bulk’ a month and ‘besides, at the work site they have electricity and we don’t have to pay to charge our mobile phones.’
I meet women farming on the land, producing enough income to send their children to school and care for their families, who aren’t even aware the project is coming. No one I meet in the area is aware that there will be large-scale use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers on the sugarcane plantation that could affect their health or the health of their crops in surrounding lands, or that some communities will have to be resettled. No one has read the weighty ESHIA – hardly surprising with an illiteracy rate of close to 90 per cent and no access to the document. Some are afraid to speak to me at all for fear of repercussions from those who are promoting and hope to benefit from the project, either because of a job or by leasing land, for which Addax will pay US$12 per hectare per year, in a complex arrangement that divides it among landowners, District and Chiefdom Councils and the national government.
The ESHIA identifies several ‘issue/impacts’ – on human health, on the natural ecosystem, involving contamination of aquatic resources and soils by pesticides and fertilisers, that are described as ‘moderately severe’ despite recommended ‘mitigation measures’, which would have to be closely and independently monitored throughout the life of the project. It also points out that because the project is seeking funding from European development banks, it has been geared to meet ‘Performance Standards’ on environmental and social sustainability, as laid down by none other than the World Bank agency that has been so active in promoting the land deals – the IFC. The proverbial fox not just guarding but also setting the rules for the hens and the henhouse?
Given the chronic lack of resources in Sierra Leone for monitoring other extractive industries – particularly its diamond sector – one has to ask if it’s realistic to believe that the government will be able to carry out the requisite independent and credible monitoring of the Addax project.
GENUINE ‘RESPONSIBLE’ AGRICULTURAL INVESTMENT WOULD PROTECT FAMILY FARMERS AND FARMLAND
The Addax Bioenergy project in Sierra Leone is just one example of the agricultural investment on-going in that country, where at least three more European companies are each seeking to lease 40,000 hectares for palm oil for agrofuel for export. And it is just one relatively modest case in Africa where hundreds of large land deals have already been signed and sealed, giving foreign investors and nations control over many millions of hectares of African farmland.
But the Sierra Leone case does reveal much about the way the land deals are being made, the contradictory information being given out about them, what local people are actually being told (and not being told) about the high stakes involved. It also reveals the powerful machinery of the World Bank Group at work inside African governments that promotes the land deals, and the considerable powers of the investors awash in capital to sway government and public opinion.
Most importantly, it helps explain why, even if it is the obligation of African governments to protect their own people from exploitative investment – as Egypt’s minister of investment says – instead some seem intent on protecting the investors who are coming to their countries to ‘exploit and extract.’ Protection for local people, their land, soil, genetic resources and their water, has been whittled away piece-by-piece under the tutelage of the World Bank Group and its donor partners.
Until African governments recognise the immense potential of their own farmers and their sustainable, diverse family farming systems, that are so desperately in need of genuine ‘responsible’ agricultural investment to assure food and seed sovereignty and access to micro-credit and markets, it seems likely they will continue to protect and favour the powerful investors – and that their own rural populations will pay the terrible price of the land grabbing.
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* Joan Baxter is a Canadian journalist, development researcher and science writer, and an award-winning author who has lived and worked in Africa for 25 years. Her most recent book, Dust From Our Eyes, was shortlisted for the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize in the US.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 12 April 2010. Japan, US and AU to host ‘Roundtable on Responsible Agricultural Investment.
 Stop Land-grabbing immediately. 7 April – 19 May 2010. Campaign of FIAN (Fighting Hunger with Human Rights): ‘Do not support the principles of ‘responsible’ agribusiness investment promoted by the World Bank’. http://www.fian.org/cases/letter-campaigns/stop-land-grabbing-immediately
 Stop land grabbing now: Say NO to the principles of ‘responsible’ agro-enterprise investment promoted by the World Bank. http://farmlandgrab.org/12200
 Dulane, Abdirashid. 11 April 2010. No ‘land grab’ in Ethiopia. Japan Times
Virgo, Paul. 18 Nov. 2009. To Grab, Or To Invest. IPS News. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=49317
 Bladd, Joanne Bladd. 15 April 2010. Arabian Business. http://www.arabianbusiness.com/586105-gulfs-farmland-policy-seen-as-win-win-partnership-for-africa
 Ramkumar, K.S. 7 Aug. 2008. Ethiopia – Zenawi offers huge land to Saudis to grow cereals. Arab News. http://archive.arabnews.com/?page=6§ion=0&article=112524&d=7&m=8&y=2008
 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). http://agassessment.org/index.cfm?Page=IAASTD%20Reports&ItemID=2713
 2010. The Environmental Food Crisis: the environment’s role in averting future food crises. A UNEP Rapid Response Assessment. http://www.grida.no/publications/rr/food-crisis/
 BBC News. 18 Sept. 2007. New Sierra Leone leader sworn in. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6998687.stm
 Bai Koroma, Ernest (President of Sierra Leone). 22 March 2010. Time for Africa to Get Serious About Investment. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ernest-bai-koroma/time-for-africa-to-get-se_b_508463.html?view=print
 Helman, Christopher. 15 Oct. 2007. Trouble is my business. Forbes Magazine. http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2007/1015/099.html
 DFID and IFC. 18 Nov. 2009. Agenda: Sierra Leone Conference: Trade and Investment Forum. http://www.sliepa.org/sites/default/files/documents/Agenda_SLCTIF1_2009.pdf
 FIAS, The Investment Climate Advisory Service. http://www.fias.net/ifcext/fias.nsf/Content/Home
Daniel, Shepard with Mittal, Anuradha. 2010. (Mis)investment in Agriculture: the role of the International Finance Corporation in global land grabs. The Oakland Institute. http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/pdfs/misinvestment_web.pdf
 Political Risk Insurance. DeRisk. Reducing investment risk in frontier markets and assets. DeRisk Advisory Services.
 Daniel, Shepard with Mittal, Anuradha. 2010. pp 12 and 35
 The Press Secretariat, Office of the President, Sierra Leone. 21 Jan. 2009. Sierra Leone: U.S.$200 Million Bioenergy Project for the Country - 4,000 Jobs Assured. Concord Times
 Bai Koroma, Ernest (President of Sierra Leone). 22 March 2010. Time for Africa to Get Serious About Investment. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ernest-bai-koroma/time-for-africa-to-get-se_b_508463.html?view=print
 Sugar cane to ethanol project, Sierra Leone. (Draft) Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment. October 2009. http://www.cesnet.co.za/publicdocs.htm
 Turay, Andrew. 12 June 2008. Africa's potential of biomass and production of biofuels under EU sustainability criteria. European Parliament, Workshop: Sustainable biofuel production in tropical and sub-tropical countries. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/activities/committees/studies.do?language=EN p 17.
 Sugar cane to ethanol project, Sierra Leone. (Draft), p 159
 Daniel, Shepard with Mittal, Anuradha. 2010.
 Smillie, Ian (editor). Oct. 2009. Sierra Leone: Everyone wants to be in control and no one is. Diamonds and Human Security Annual Review. Partnership Africa Canada. pp 14 - 18
Baxter, Joan. 2010. Dust From Our Eyes: an unblinkered look at Africa. Hamilton, Canada: Wolsak & Wynn. Pp 236 – 244.
Too much hype about mobile technology!
I read an article from the online site Mobile Behaviour a few weeks ago in which the author made the very obvious observation ‘mobility connects one person to another’. I mention this because one of the drivers behind the mobile hype in Africa is the tendency to state the obvious and make it sound incredible. The other hype driver is to take one example and universalise it without any context. The author of the piece went on to say:
‘Mobile devices are a beacon of hope: The government might fail them, the education system might fail them, but this one connected device can access the world’s knowledge and help them catch up to their more developed counterparts.’
What I find irritating about these kind of mobile hype articles, usually written by technophiles or people in the development industry, is the absence of any real critical evaluation particularly in terms of sustainability and social hierarchies. I was therefore relieved to read a a blog post on AppFrica in which Jonathan Gosier writes about SMS and some of the limitations of this technology in an African context. Commenting on the Google SMS service in Uganda he writes:
‘Now, I am not criticising Google SMS per se, as it provides information that might be difficult or impossible to obtain elsewhere in rural areas in developing countries. It’s potential for receiving true widespread adoption is limited, however, by the fact that each SMS query sent to the service costs between 110 and 220 Ugandan Shillings (UGX). Google is already subsidizing Google SMS Tips, which is targeted primarily at low-income rural users, to reach the 110 UGX price point.
‘To truly understand this limitation, just think about how you or I perform a basic Google search. Very rarely do we find what we are looking for on the first try and, instead, it might take three or four queries to get to the right information. Assuming similar search behaviours in the Ugandan market, this would result in a cost somewhere closer to 400-800 UGX. Putting this in perspective, a basic local dish in Uganda may cost around 1000 UGX, which suggests that a simple Google search might cost around a half of what a low-income family pays for dinner.’
There is no doubt that there are some extremely valuable and innovative uses of mobile phones for advocacy etc but we just need to stand still for a while and observe the reality for much of the continent. Projects are out there being publicised but if one looks closely you find that really there isn’t that much happening – there is just too much hype.
Staying with development and yet another ridiculous idea from a do-gooder acting without consultation with people on the continent – the ‘One Million T-Shirts’ campaign – or as blogger TMS Ruge of African Diaspora’s Project Diaspora describes this misguided project –‘The 1 millionth stupid idea by wannabe do-gooders’:
‘The 1 Million T-shirts campaign aims to collect and “send 1 million t-shirts to the people of Africa.’ You know, those poor 1 billion shirtless inhabitants of the world’s only dark continent.
‘Quick! Send in your discarded Star Wars souvenir shirts before someone dies!! If you are feeling bold, how about envisioning that extra poser Abercrombie and Fitch shirt in the back of your closet on the back of an unsuspecting Kenyan.
‘This is a marketing gimmick from the word go. Not. 25 seconds into his promotional video, Jason Sadler, the brainchild behind this campaign, throws out a not-so subtle marketing pitch for his other company, iwearyour.com. Kudos for self-promotion, but come-on, seriously. We are not that stupid…’
However this time Africans hit back, yelled out loud with Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and ‘they’ had to listen. Instead of sending T-shirts to Africa why not be totally radical and actually BUY T-shirts from Africa? Buying stuff from Africa at a fair price might actually help people – I wonder why these guys and similar do-gooders haven’t come up with that revolutionary idea?
African Works reports on an interview by Angolian civic activist on the theft of oil revenue in Angola:
‘Marques is a lonely voice in the international community, battling against what seems like the impunity of Angola’s corrupt government officials. In his interview, Marques calls for more international pressure on Angola’s government – and not only over oil but also diamonds. A journalist for whom exposure is not enough, Marques wants to help change the behavior of Angola’s government as well mobilize the victims of Angola’s shameful misrule.
‘Marques is a curious invaluable figure on the landscape of African activism. He operates in the intersection of journalism and accountability, bearing witness to the wholesale thievery in which his benighted country functions with the explicit assistance of international oil companies and the very consumers of Angola’s oil – in China, in the U.S. and elsewhere – who do not take any responsibility for the crimes committed in the place where the oil originates. As Marques writes of his anti-corruption campaign, which he calls “Maka” from the word for complex problem in his indigenous Kimbundu language, “Maka is a response to the public’s silence, whether motivated by fear or by complicity, in the face of the looting and destruction brought about by the actions of the current leadership, and by the venal behaviour of the public administration in general.’
Sky, Soil & Everything In Between by KonWomyn is one of many blogs commenting about the recent documentary ‘Welcome to Lagos’. The Nigerian High Commission in UK has made a formal complaint to the BBC saying the programme was not balanced which is frankly ridiculous. It was a three-part documentary on the people who live in Lagos’s many ‘slums’ and try as the government may, they cannot and should not be hiding the poor. Professor Wole Soyinka also joined in the condemnation saying the programme was patronising and reinforced colonialist stereotypes. I don’t agree – yes I did find the commentary at times annoyingly patronising, but what the programme reinforced was the sense of community and trust amongst neighbours and traders and if anything, one felt proud to be Nigerian.
Fortunately the overwhelming response from Nigerians has been a positive one. Thinking about Chris Abani’s ‘Graceland’, one could use the same criticisms – except of course it is written by an ‘authentic voice’ – but the book deals with the invisible masses and underbelly of Lagos and Nigeria. KonWomyn agrees that the narration was patronising but not the programme itself:
‘I co-sign with Soyinka to an extent, but I also appreciate the docu for what it reinforced about the power of community, faith and culture. Significantly, the indomitable survival spirit of the Lagos slum dwellers is an observable truth that resonates in the narratives of poor people all over the planet. The docu also made a very salient point about the crucial importance telling one's own stories. Nigerian writers, Chris Abani and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie both convincingly argue that there is not one story that is truth, but many stories and stories that must be told by their owner.’
Black Looks has been blogging overtime this past week, so you can read a comment on the murdered of three Nigerian journalists on ‘Press Freedom Day’,a brief report back on The Call anti-homosexuality prayer meeting in Kampala last Sunday, and ‘Movement of Jah People’ on brutal repressive immigraion laws across the world.
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* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Uganda: The silent practice of deportations
The act of deportation does not occur in a vacuum but is rather inextricably linked to the wider policies, practices and trends of the asylum process. A thorough understanding of deportation thus encompasses asylum-determination procedures, access to legal representation, the adequacy of detention facilities and the use of detention during appeal, the use of force during deportation, and the security of deportees upon their return and removal. Within these various stages of the process, the potential human rights implications include torture, both physical and psychological, family disruptions, trauma, loss of livelihood and stigma, all of which violate the dignity and rights of the persons concerned.
The recent trend reveals that the number of asylum claims in industrialised countries has steadily decreased while the rate of deportation of failed asylum seekers nevertheless continues to increase. Almost all countries as sovereign entities legally reserve the right to deport illegal immigrants, but international law imposes several restrictions to this general rule, such as the principle of non-refoulement and the restrictions under the Convention against Torture. Amidst a 'global war on terror' and rising xenophobia however, states are increasingly abusing these restrictions in the name of national security.
DEPORTEES TO UGANDA
Once reaching Uganda, the outlook for deportees is grim at best. The Refugee Law Project has heard first-hand accounts of thes e experiences from deportees. One woman, having been repeatedly tortured and raped in Uganda, fled to the UK but was subsequently deported back. Upon her return, she was immediately taken to prison where she languished for nine months until a relative was able to bribe a guard. Another Ugandan deported from the UK was immediately detained for two weeks and then brought to the Head of Military Intelligence (CMI) and charged with various sham offences. She was finally acquitted one year later because no evidence was ever produced relating to these purported charges.
Currently, most deportees come from the UK, and the UK considers deportations to Uganda safe and legal due to assurances offered by President Yoweri Museveni. However, the personal accounts relayed to our office match a general pattern documented by experts and journalists:
'A failed asylum seeker, with a deportation certificate, arrives at Entebbe airport and is handed over to one of the security organisations. If suspected of political dissident activities, the person is taken to a safehouse for questioning. Rape, for women, is inevitable. Children over the age of three are taken from their mother and put in an orphanage. Detention can last weeks, or months; a number of people have "disappeared" from custody.'[ ]
In many instances, political ideology need not be the instigator for the mistreatment as people who have claimed asylum in the West are immediately regarded as a threat and are automatic targets. In the face of this evidence, the UK and other countries maintain a stance of wilful ignorance and continue to accept Museveni’s 'assurances' as sufficient.
DEPORTEES FROM UGANDA
Persons entering Uganda without proper documentation are at first instance arrested and detained as illegal or prohibited immigrants. Certain nationalities such as Rwandese and persons from Arab and Islamist States like Somalia and Iran are immediately regarded as security threats to the country by security agents and the immigration office and thus denied the right to seek asylum. Once arrested, the police and immigration are quick to have the suspect arraigned in court and charged for violating immigration laws, thus warranting a deportation. Regard is not had to the refugee laws in the country. All ‘illegal’ immigrants’ cases are taken by immigration or police officers for trial in the magistrates courts all over the country. Once court is informed that an application for a deportation has already been made, the court directs that the person be detained in custody for any period not exceeding 14 days. The deportation is signed by the minister of internal affairs and it is the same minister who has the power to vary or revoke the deportation order by a further order in writing.
In a recent case an Iranian who was due for deportation was arraigned in a Magistrates Court Grade I wherein he was found to be in violation of Uganda’s immigration laws for entering Uganda with forged travel documents. In the judgment he was ordered to pay a fine of 25 currency points (i.e., USh 500,000, the equivalent of US$250) or in the alternative serve a jail sentence of nine months, and additionally he was ordered to leave the country to his next destination within a period of two weeks upon paying the fine or getting released from prison. The accused paid the fine but could not leave the country within the specified time as he was re-arrested and detained by immigration again only a day after his release. He also could not leave the country because he had nowhere else to go and wanted to seek asylum in Uganda. His plea for asylum was not heard by immigration as a deportation order was already issued.
Upon the RLP’s (Refugee Law Project) intervention, an appeal was made to the minister of internal affairs to revoke the deportation order. This appeal was copied to various offices and agencies including the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the Office of the Prime Minister – Directorate of Refugees, Amnesty International, the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the commissioner legal & inspections, immigration. The commissioner legal & inspections had already made up her mind, based exclusively on information collected by state security agents that the accused ought to be deported without further ado. It should be noted that it is the commissioner legal & inspections who drafts the deportation orders based on information received from state security agents and forwards the same for signing to the minister for internal affairs for signature.
Securing appointments to see the minister was close to impossible. As a result, the RLP decided to engage the Uganda Human Rights Commission to help securing appointments and engage the minister in a discussion over the appeal and to revoke the order. Relying on the magistrate’s court judgment, the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission implored the minister to release or charge the suspect with fresh charges instead. Discussions were also held with the permanent secretary (PS). It took another third party who knew the first premier minister to involve him as well. A report from the chairperson was to the effect that neither the PS nor the minister of internal affairs was committed to releasing the accused because he was marked as a security risk to the country. Thus his release was pegged to a condition that the UNHCR make a written undertaking to grant him mandate status and resettle him in the near future as he is not wanted in the country.
The RLP met up with the UNHCR, who were cooperative and in a week’s time made the undertaking upon which the accused was released. The UNHCR stated that his resettlement could be procured in six months at the earliest, and/or at the latest one year. Currently, he has been officially recognised by the Office of the Prime Minister – Directorate of Refugees as an asylum seeker. The UNHCR wanted to relocate him to the camp. The RLP felt that it was too soon as he needed psychosocial assistance. Despite the fact that the Jesuit Refugee Services have agreed to accommodate him in Kampala for a period of three months so as to allow him get through his private counselling sessions with the RLP’s psychosocial unit, he has been sent to a camp.
It is illegal and unacceptable that the security of deportees is dependent on whether they are lucky enough to be taken into custody by a guard willing to accept bribes. The Home Office in the UK reported that in 2006 it deported 200 persons back to Uganda, and this number represents only a fraction of the total. One immigration official unofficially estimated the figure as over 600 for the year, which itself is a conservative estimate due to the number of undocumented flights that arrive at night. The systems of diplomatic assurances and post-return monitoring mechanisms have failed. The countries deporting these persons have violated their international legal obligations. These individuals deserve security and protection upon their arrival and return, access to legal representation and the support of an independent monitoring body committed to discovering the truth.
There is presently no organisation providing legal aid and psychosocial counselling to failed asylum seekers who are deported to and from Uganda apart from the RLP. The RLP started representing deportees in 2006 and it is difficult to estimate how many deportation cases have gone by unnoticed before the RLP started taking up deportation cases. Even with the RLP providing legal and psychosocial assistance to deportees, there are still many cases that come in on night flights and removals conducted in the wee hours of the night that have still gone by unnoticed. Despite the numbers of persons who have been wrongfully returned and removed to and from Uganda and elsewhere in the world without a chance of being heard and based on ‘diplomatic assurances’, the practice of deportation has not received the national, regional and international attention it deserves to curb it.
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* Bernadette Iyodu is the senior legal officer and the deportation and human trafficking programme coordinator of the Refugee Law Project, Faculty of Law, Makerere University.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 In the UK, the number of asylum applications has decreased by 72 per cent since its peak in 2002 at a steady rate from 84,130 in 2002, 49,405 in 2003, 33,960 in 2004, 25,710 in 2005, to 23,610 in 2006. In the same period, the number granted asylum or appeal allowed has also steadily decreased from 45,125 in 2002, 27,920 in 2003, 17,135 in 2004, 11,030 in 2005, to 8,035 in 2006, while the number of removals and voluntary departures increased from 10,740 in 2002, 13,005 in 2003, 12,595 in 2004, 13,730 in 2005, to 16,330 in 2006. Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Asylum Statistics United Kingdom 2006, at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs07/hosb1407.pdf
 Article 3 of the Convention against Torture ('No State Party shall expel, return ('refouler') or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.')
 See http://no-racism.net/article/1604/
 Caroline Moorhead, 'The End of All Hope', The Guardian, August 23, 2006. This pattern repeats itself in numerous countries; for examples of similar accounts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Burma c and Azerbaijan, see Liz Fekete, 'The Deportation Machine: Europe, asylum, and human rights', The Institute of Race Relations (2005).
 Uganda Immigration Act Chapter 63, Laws of Uganda – see section 10 (g). Section 10 also provides for various categories of prohibited immigrants.
 Immigration Act section 17(4).
 The UK officially reported 205 removals: 200 to Uganda and 5 to a non-EU state or to an unknown destination. Note that this is the figure for principal asylum applicants and does not include dependants (for which no official figure is reported), but for a rough approximation, in 2006, dependants made up 14.5 per cent of the total number of Ugandan applicants. This figure also encompasses assisted voluntary returns and voluntary departures. Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Asylum Statistics United Kingdom 2006, at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs07/hosb1407.pdf
 For more detailed analysis on the constraints and failings of these systems, see Human Rights Watch, 'Still at Risk: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard Against Torture', April 2005, particularly p. 24 The Limits of Post-Return Monitoring.
Africa and the 2010 UK elections: Party manifestos
Today on 6 May the United Kingdom is in the midst of election fever, as millions cast their votes in the country’s general and local elections. The election marks the culmination of weeks of campaigning on the part of political parties across the UK and will result in a significant shake-up of the local, regional and national political spheres.
Whether in the new televised debates between party leaders or coverage in the mainstream press, there has been little in the way of discussion of how the outcome of the election might affect Africa and the global South. In truth each of the major polls suggests that none of the main parties of Labour, the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats is on course to achieve an electoral majority, with a ‘hung parliament’ likely to result, in which party leaders Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg may seek coalitions to achieve support for their policies. Regardless of the final outcome, however, through taking a look at the manifestos of these parties we can glean some sense of attitudes towards engaging with other parts of the world and where parties see their priorities.
Great Britain, of course, has historically played a hugely significant role throughout much of Africa as a dominant colonial power, a power whose presence on the continent entailed the construction of self-interested economic infrastructures and the exploitation and subjugation of people and resources. As the UK faces up to a total budget deficit of upwards of £160 billion and an enormous national debt, party leaders’ focus has been on ‘making this country great again’, affirmation – if any were needed – that the UK government works first and foremost in its own interests.
Although since the decolonisation period the UK has essentially seen its role degraded from global imperial force to mere rich country, its geopolitical position within the world, economic and commercial interests and contemporary relationship with Africa continue to have significant implications for the continent and its peoples.
The UK’s dwindling importance notwithstanding, on the international stage it plays an important role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and member of the EU (European Union), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and the G8. Its interactions with other powers such as United States and China and institutional bodies such as the UN, the World Bank, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the WTO (World Trade Organisation) have far-reaching consequences for many around the world, as do its policies on issues as wide-ranging as trade, aid, climate change, conflict and terrorism.
In fact, in a year in which the UK is still gripped by a harsh recession, ‘international development’ – the sphere in which Africa is often discussed – has not really featured in pre-electoral media coverage in the country (although interestingly, each of the parties has committed not to cut overseas aid). Discussion of international affairs has largely been limited to references to the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan and the country’s role in the Iraq war, issues wrapped up in security and defence against terrorism. When it comes to domestic affairs of international reach, immigration has remained a hot topic in pre-election campaigning, albeit with each of the parties achieving the curious distinction of neither openly discussing the issue with UK voters in any depth or taking the opportunity to acknowledge the social, economic and cultural contribution of ‘skilled’ and 'unskilled' immigrants to the country. Indeed, Labour’s current emphasis on a 'points system' designed to only take in 'skilled' workers comes across as an unashamed example of state-sanctioned brain drain and plundering of poorer countries' human resources, one with no acknowledgement of the UK and the West's role in perpetuating the very economic conditions that often encourage people to migrate in search of opportunities.
If the UK is no longer the international force it once was and Africa no longer its ‘backyard’, it retains in the Commonwealth a clear institutional reminder of erstwhile colonial influence. While the Commonwealth does not overtly seek the concrete sphere of postcolonial influence of fellow former colonial power France’s Françafrique, much of the UK’s interaction with Africa has remained at best paternalistic (through misguided charitable ventures and dubious development projects), and at worst (in oil companies’ environmental degradation, odious debt and capital flight), in support of structures that would not unreasonably be described as ‘neocolonial’. Some 50 years after the independence of many anglophone African countries, it seems fitting to consider how political forces within the contemporary United Kingdom articulate the country’s continuing relationship with the African continent.
POLITICAL PARTIES’ MANIFESTOS
Labour is the UK’s ruling party, in power since 1997 when it won victory under Tony Blair. It is currently led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Its historical role as a working-class party and its roots as a political force many would associate with progressive socio-economic change notwithstanding, ‘New Labour’ is commonly regarded as having undertaken a significant shift to the right since coming to power. Despite the onset of the global recession and the widespread discrediting of un-regulated, free-market hyper-capitalism, rather than enabling a re-legitimation of left-wing thinking, Labour has baffled many by obediently leaping to bail out the UK’s banks and prop up a system entirely out of step with the interests of ordinary people. When it comes to Africa, Labour has arguably been at the forefront of efforts to keep a focus on ‘international development’ and poverty on the global stage, albeit often under an essentially non-reflective, paternalistic approach to ‘help Africa’ with little in the way of decision-making involvement for African government and civil society leaders.
Though slim on details, Labour’s 2010 manifesto comments on a number of areas of interest in relation to Africa. It highlights the need for reform to the EU budget, especially around ‘changes to the Common Agricultural Policy on the way to ending export subsidies'. It also underlines the need for reform to UN humanitarian agencies and to support the International Criminal Court (ICC) in bringing leaders involved in human rights abuses to justice (including, presumably, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir but excluding its own Tony Blair and former US president George W. Bush). The party’s manifesto also underlines the centrality of human rights and democracy to its foreign policy, and emphasises the responsibility of mature democracies to support the development of free societies across the world, without spelling out what the practical implications are of offering support for people’s rights to organise, advocate and represent themselves without fear of coming to harm. Likewise, it remains to be seen whether, in the same vein as its uncritical support for the Iraq war, Labour will continue to back the US in its ‘global war on terror’, a war which in the African continent is likely to see the escalation of the US’s AFRICOM (African Command) militarisation initiative and support for state efforts to suppress ‘dissident’ elements.
When it comes to trade, Labour’s manifesto is big on backing ‘fair’ trade, ‘no enforced liberalisation for poor countries’ and enhancing duty- and quota-free access to the UK market. These are positive ideas, but it seems unlikely that opposing the liberalisation of poor countries’ economies would amount to much more than simply registering doubts with international financial institutions. On the aid front, Labour's financial commitments constitute £8.5 billion over eight years 'to help more children go to school'; £6 billion on health between 2008 and 2015; £1 billion through the Global Fund to Support the Fight Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; £1 billion for water and sanitation by 2013; and £1 billion on food security and agriculture.
Highlighting a changing world, Labour wants to ‘secure global change’ through ‘extending the G8’, though it is unclear whether this means bringing more countries into the club or enhancing the power of those already within it. It also stresses a clearer mandate for the World Bank to focus on the world’s poorest countries around low-carbon development and for the IMF to focus on financial stability, though you would have to suspect that most progressive forces in Africa would prefer to keep these institutions at arm’s length when it comes to meeting these challenges. Labour also proposes radical UN reform and new membership of the permanent Security Council, without suggesting whom might be invited, let alone questioning the very legitimacy of such an elite group in the first place. It underlines the need for reform of NATO as a security force, and mentions the importance of building ‘the capacity of regional security organisations including the African Union’ – though whether this would be envisaged as a subordinate or autonomous role is not indicated – as well as stressing the continuing role of the Commonwealth as a force for ‘understanding and trust’ among around a quarter of the world’s population.
THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY
The Conservatives, traditionally the other big political force in British politics, are a party of the right which pushes for low taxation, a small state and private-sector based solutions. Currently led by David Cameron, the Conservative party has generally been polling highest in the run-up to the election, without ever looking capable of attaining an outright parliamentary majority.
Intent on reviving Britain’s position within the world, the Conservative manifesto wraps its policies around international affairs within a section called ‘Promote our national interest’, and describes the UK’s seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council as an ‘asset’. The manifesto recognises the emergence of China and India as powerful nations with whom alliances should be sought, and proposes to 'support permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council for Japan, India, Germany, Brazil and African representation’. Like Labour, it too identifies the Commonwealth as a focus for the promotion of democratic values, albeit arguably with a hint of imperialist revivalist flair in underlining its ‘development’ role.
Interestingly, the Conservative manifesto mentions the creation of a ‘Pan-African Free Trade Area’, which – no matter your feelings about the validity of free-trade orthodoxy – seems a progressive-sounding concern for African countries to be able to trade more readily with each other. On the question of figures around overseas aid, the Conservative manifesto is much less forthcoming than Labour’s, simply making mention of ‘at least £500 million a year to tackle malaria’.
But it is in its general points on aid that the Conservative manifesto gives the strongest indication of the party’s attitude to poorer countries. While pledging to keep an independent Department for International Development (DfID) and aid unlinked to commercial concerns, the manifesto reveals shades of both paternalism and neocolonialism in its vision of Britain’s relationship with the developing world. As part of increasing accountability and transparency around aid, if in power the party would create a new ‘MyAid Fund’ designed to allow British taxpayers ‘a direct say’ in how aid is spent. It is not clear why British people need ‘more control’ over how money is spent in other countries, though lest there be concerns over the complete exclusion of aid recipients from this picture, the Conservatives promise ‘more say’ for developing countries. Equally, the Conservatives stress that: 'Our bargain with taxpayers is this: in return for contributing your hard-earned money to helping the world’s poorest people, it is our duty to spend every penny of aid effectively.' This, if it need be pointed out, is an understanding of aid framed entirely as rich people giving generously, with responsibility for its management exclusively to the givers rather than the populations of recipient countries where aid can be such a dysfunctional force.
These policies form the basis of an overall ‘One World Conservatism’ plan, the globally unified, mutually beneficial and harmonious ideal behind which is somewhat punctured by assertions that 'We will do so because it is in our national interest.' The Conservatives identify trade and economic growth as the only sustainable means by which countries can escape poverty, and pledge to put all efforts behind a pro-development global trade. The details of this deal are not outlined, but it seems unlikely that a Conservative government operating in ‘our national interest’ would prioritise African countries’ assessments of what would work best for them around global trade. When it comes to solving climate change worldwide, the Conservative manifesto merely pledges to ‘explore ways to help the very poorest developing countries take part in international climate change negotiations’, which in effect seems a commitment to simply perpetuate the marginalisation of those worst affected and with least responsibility for the crisis on the global sidelines.
The Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) represent the third force in British politics and are a party that commands significant support nationwide without ever really challenging Labour or the Conservatives for the reins for power. Being out of power nationally means the Lib Dems have escaped the mucky business of governing, something which arguably leaves them as an untainted and unknown quantity alike in the eyes of many voters. With the advent of televised debates during this election, the party’s leader Nick Clegg has taken advantage of new-found national exposure and has attempted to position the Lib Dems as a political force free of the old-style political trappings of the two traditionally strongest parties. The Lib Dems are commonly regarded as a pro-European, pro-local government centrist party, and are set to achieve a much higher number of votes than in the past through capitalising on voters’ disaffection with Labour and mistrust of the Conservatives.
With respect to international relations, the Lib Dems are highly critical of the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war and its role in the US-led ‘global war on terror’ – specifically, the rendition of suspected terrorists – and are dubious about the country’s ‘subservient relationship’ to the US. While this stance has left the party open to accusations of anti-Americanism, in truth it is the only one of the three parties that has come close to a critique of the US’s marauding abuses of human rights, albeit with a curious, historically myopic appeal to a glorious, squeaky-clean British past in this area ('British people used to be proud of what our country stood for’).
Like Labour the party highlights the need to get the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) back on track, and recognises climate change as 'the greatest challenge facing this generation’, as part of its ‘Your world’ section. While the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto does not directly mention the word ‘Africa’, its section on international affairs is in many respects the most detailed of the three parties, largely because of its focus on climate change. When it comes to facing up to environmental challenges, the party proposes harnessing the European Union to ensure that ‘the environment’ is an intrinsic part of the objectives of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. It seemingly acknowledges the industrialised world’s responsibilities to the developing world around climate change, stressing that it would ensure that adaptation and mitigation of the effects of the crisis are financed by the rich world. It also pledges to push for reform of the World Bank and IMF – without going into details – as well as proposing a global fund for social protection designed to support the development of ‘viable welfare systems’ in developing countries. Despite the general campaign use of the word ‘fair’ as the ideological Lib Dem glue, there is, oddly enough, no obvious mention of the importance of reforming global trade, an absence which contributes to an overall impression that developing countries are to be regarded as objects of charity and protection.
Still, the Lib Dem manifesto spells out an intention to revitalise international action around developing countries’ debt and to support ‘100 per cent cancellation of the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries’, as well as the need for measures against exploitative ‘vulture funds’. Such intentions are reflective of policies that are largely much more progressive and even radical than those of the other two main parties, but with the Lib Dems virtually guaranteed not to win the majority needed to push them through (or perhaps spared from having to follow through on them), these policies may well remain fringe ideas. With the distinct possibility of a ‘hung parliament’, the Lib Dems will be a prime target for a coalition deal for both Labour and the Conservatives. While the Lib Dems’ overall greater prominence at this election could well mean these policies retain a certain political weight behind them, it will be interesting to see what gets shelved if the party enters into a coalition government in which it would be obliged to compromise on the commitments outlined in its manifesto.
AFRICA AND THE UK ELECTIONS: LOOKING AFTER NUMBER ONE
In the wake of both a profound contemporary economic crisis and a longer-term retreat from international power in the aftermath of the Second World War, the UK has seen its ability to shape global affairs and exert its influence diminish considerably. Nevertheless, the UK’s global role remains significant, and whichever party triumphs in the current elections will bear responsibility for the country’s ideological and political thrust internationally, its attitude to trade, economic relations, human rights, terrorism and conflict, and its domestic policies on everything from climate change to immigration.
While many voters in the UK point to the absence of clear political differences between the main parties, each manifesto – a lack of details notwithstanding – hints at a particular ideological leaning in relation to other parts of the world. Highlighting its record while in power, Labour’s manifesto mentions the party’s prominent role in the debt cancellation for some 28 countries worldwide, and indeed – once you get past the focus on aid – it is the arena of economic justice that is perhaps of greatest significance to Africa. While movements around writing-off iniquitous debts are encouraging, debt cancellation should ultimately be but one feature of redressing Africa’s unjust position as perennial underdog within the global economic architecture. A Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report on ‘Illicit financial flows from Africa’ reveals conservative estimates of total illegal outflows from Africa of US$854 billion for the period 1970–2008. This figure would be enough, as AfricaFocus notes, to cover the region’s approximate external debt of US$250 billion (a December 2008 figure) while leaving US$600 billion in reserve for economic progress. But with Labour and other parties’ politicians alike incapable of developing effective checks-and-balances for the country’s own banking sector (or indeed of keeping their own parliamentary expenses under control), it seems tackling exploitative capital flight and offshore havens is unlikely to be a priority. In much the same vein, with the UK’s global role in decline it remains to be seen how each of the parties might unearth the strength to follow through on claims in their manifestos to usher progressive reform of the World Bank and IMF and stand up to unelected leaders of international financial institutions whose decisions and power hold so much sway over livelihoods around the world.
With the UK itself facing an enormous deficit and national debt, Labour’s capacity to advise and influence other governments on how to run an economy would seem somewhat limited, as would its ability to talk up to international financial institutions. The Conservatives are apparently unashamed in their desire to seek to control spending within countries receiving aid, with suggestions of an emphasis on a global free-trade agenda and an unwillingness to even consider offering poor countries’ governments greater representation on the international stage. If the Liberal Democrats arguably propose the most progressive policies of the main UK parties, as the traditional third party – albeit a resurgent one – it remains to be seen what level of momentum will remain behind pushing through new approaches. Parties’ commitments not to rescind on aid commitments aside, the UK’s deficit, economic slump and falling public expenditure will ensure that the victorious party will concern itself first and foremost with national recovery and ‘making the country great again’, a focus that is unlikely to leave much space for reflexive self-assessment of the UK’s relationship to Africa and the global South at large.
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* Alex Free is assistant editor of Pambazuka News.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ethiopia: The fire next time
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Encore performance! It is the same two-act play (farce) of May 2005. The stage is the same. The director is the same. The stagehands are the same. The script is the same. The players are the same stage veterans. The stagecraft (lighting, makeup, props) is the same. The audience is the same. Act I, last scene, 'End game'. (Kick the propaganda machine into overdrive and pump up the media volume! Ethiopian opposition leaders, enter stage right.)
On 28 April 2010, Reuters reported:
'The Ethiopian opposition may provoke violence during the first national elections since a disputed 2005 poll ended with street riots and the jailing of politicians, the ruling party has said. The government said in 2005 that the violence was planned to force an unconstitutional change after a vote in which both sides claimed victory.'
On 13 April 2010, dictator Meles Zenawi issued a thinly veiled threat to Ethiopian opposition leaders that he would hunt them out of their hiding places and burn them at the stake if they boycotted the May 2010 'election', or agitate the youth for political action:
'If my estimation is correct, some of you are walking this direction [boycotting the election]. I think you are making a huge mistake because to light the fire and at the last [moment] to go into hiding would not be good, because to light the fire and [be] behind it, and also to fight and use the blood of children, that would not be something that is useful.'
It is plain to see that the political and 'legal' stage is now set for a round-up of opposition leaders once an official victory is declared over the already-won 'election' scheduled for 23 May. (How else could Zenawi make such arrogantly confident threats unless he is absolutely certain that he has already won the 'election'?) A cascade of distortions, accusations and allegations of incitement to violence, charges of 'acting against the constitution' and other malicious hyperbole are flooding the media as part of a calculated pre-emptive campaign of pre-'election' intimidation of opposition leaders, and in preparation of public opinion for the inevitable incapacitation, neutralisation and paralysis of all opposition in Ethiopia in a post-'election' period.
Professor Beyene Petros, an opposition party leader for the past 18 years, is the most recent victim of accusations of inciting violence. He is alleged to have said that 'if the public is not happy with a government they can create some kind of problem, can protest and can bring down the government without elections.' He immediately rejected the allegations: 'Violence was not implied at all in my argument. I was just talking about normal democratic process. They [the ruling regime] have been trying to find something in an effort to incriminate us… I spoke of a public that votes into and votes out of power, all through the ballot box. And that is mandated by the constitution. There was no incitement to violence.' Eskinder Nega, the distinguished and highly respected Ethiopian journalist who, together with his equally distinguished and internationally acclaimed journalist wife Serkalem Fasil, has long suffered at the hands of the ruling dictatorship, in his latest piece in the series 'Letter from Ethiopia' described Beyene as 'one reliable politician, by universal consensus, that sincerely abhors any prospect of violence'.
A few months ago, opposition Medrek-coalition leaders Gizachew Shiferwa and Gebru Asrat were accused of allegedly declaring that they would boycott the May 2010 'election', drawing Zenawi’s ire and threats. They denied making any such declarations. Another Medrek leader, Seeye Abraha, is now the victim of a vilification campaign in Tembien district in Tigray where he is running for a parliamentary seat. Voters in Tembien are being told the reason they are getting only partial deliveries of foreign food aid is because Seeye has persuaded the Americans to cut back. Muktar Keder, head of the office of the ruling party, three days ago accused Seeye of 'paving the way for violence' by allegedly stating that if he did not win in Tembien district, it meant the elections would be rigged.
For the past year, Zenawi has repeatedly accused the opposition of bad faith in the international media: 'The intent of these individuals is to try and discredit the election process from day one,' declared Zenawi at a press conference on 16 September 2009. (It baffles the reasonable mind to comprehend the prospect of a credible election in May 2010 when in 2008 opposition candidates won just three of 3.6 million seats in local and by-elections. But facts and logic play no role in this political drama.) Zenawi has also accused opposition leaders of whipping up passions with inflammatory rhetoric, and charged that unnamed opposition elements were collaborating 'covertly and overtly' with Eritrea. When opposition leaders protested the harassment and intimidation they were facing at the hands of the ruling party and complained that over 200,000 monitors appointed for the May 'election' are either members or supporters of the ruling party, making it impossible to hold free-and-fair elections, Zenawi blasted them: 'These accusations are meant to incite public unrest and violence. I would like to remind you (opposition) that this would result in dire consequences on yourselves.' In the past few months, Zenawi and his spokesmen have repeatedly threatened to arrest and prosecute opposition party leaders who have violated the so-called election code of conduct after the 'election' is over.
All of the pre-election wrath and fury signifies two things: 1) intimidation of opposition leaders into permanent silence; and 2) if they insist on speaking up and challenging Zenawi, to set them up for kangaroo-court prosecution and imprisonment. The grand plan is now in place and the die cast to round up opposition leaders and jail them after the 'election', regardless of what they do or do not do. It is a question of when, not if.
We have seen this play (farce) staged time and again. They used the same frame-up to re-arrest and jail Birtukan Midekksa, the first female leader of a political party in Ethiopia’s history, in December 2009. Zenawi fabricated the most absurd and ridiculous charge one can possibly imagine as a pretext to knock her out of the running in the May 2010 election. He said she had denied receiving a pardon in July 2007 in a talk she gave in Sweden. She was ordered to retract. A big media buzz was created to stir up anxious anticipation. Then with the precision of a Delta Force commando unit, a horde of security thugs in unmarked vehicles literally snatched Birtukan off the street like some murderous terrorist for the ultimate Hollywood-style dramatic effect. She was immediately thrown into solitary confinement where she remained for six months.
The fact is that Birtukan had never denied receiving a pardon. In 'Q’ale' ('My testimony'), her last public statement issued a couple of days before her street-side abduction, she made full acknowledgement of receiving a pardon by signing an official document to that effect. The US State Department Human Rights Report (2010) stated that Birtukan 'was held in solitary confinement until June , despite a court ruling that indicated it was a violation of her constitutional rights'.
Flashback to November 2005. Zenawi ordered the arrest and imprisonment of nearly the entire opposition leadership, human rights advocates, journalists and civil society leaders. He said they had orchestrated street violence in the post-2005 election period that resulted in hundreds of casualties. He claimed they had incited the use of violence to change the government, the same charge levelled at Professor Beyene and other opposition leaders:
'It's very obvious now that the opposition tried to change the outcome of the election by unconstitutional means. We felt we had to clamp down. We detained them and we took them to court. In the process, many people died, including policemen. Many of our friends feel that we overreacted. We feel we did not. There is room for criticism nevertheless it does not change the fact that this process was a forward move towards democracy and not a reversal. Recent developments have simply reinforced that. The leaders of the opposition have realised they made a mistake. And they asked for a pardon, and the government has pardoned them all.'
The very official Inquiry Commission that Zenawi himself set up in 2005 to investigate the post-election violence totally and completely exonerated the opposition leaders and the demonstrators of any wrong-doing, and totally and completely pinned the blame on the security forces who were under Zenawi’s direct command and control:
'There was no property destroyed. There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs. The shots fired by government forces were not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.'
Of course, Zenawi knew the opposition had nothing to do with any street violence or insurrection in 2005. He had hatched a plan to jail the opposition leaders long before the 2005 election was ever held, as he is doing right now. For instance, on 6 May 2005, nine days before the elections and months before the occurrence of any street demonstrations, Reuters reported that Zenawi had accused opposition leaders of trying to cause a 'Rwanda-type genocide' by spreading ethnic hatred and strife, organising a violent uprising aimed at overthrowing the government, and treason. Indeed, after opposition leaders were arrested in November 2005, they were charged with genocide, which was dropped after the international legal community and media and unnamed diplomatic sources described the purported evidence of genocide as 'laughable'.
Zenawi was pretty candid about how he orchestrated the arrest of the opposition leaders in November 2005. Congressman Christopher Smith, chair of the house subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations, recounted a revealing conversation he had with Zenawi in his opening statement at a hearing (H.R. 4423 'Ethiopia Consolidation Act of 2005') on 28 March 2006:
'During my visit to Addis last August , I met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and I asked him why he had not investigated the June shootings of demonstrators by agents of his government. His response was that the investigation might require the arrest of opposition leaders, and he didn’t want to do that while by-elections were still scheduled. He went on to tell me that he had dossiers on all the opposition leaders and could arrest them for treason whenever he wanted. Thus, their arrests were all but certain even before the events that ostensibly led to their being incarcerated.'
What we are witnessing today is that same pre-planning that was set in motion in 2005 to swoop down and scoop up the opposition leaders who have challenged Zenawi after the election. For the past weeks, there has been a barrage of the same types of allegations, accusations and charges made in 2005. When Zenawi says opposition 'accusations are meant to incite public unrest and violence', he is setting them up for a charge of violation of Article 240 (armed rising or civil war). When he says opposition elements are 'covertly and overtly' collaborating with certain groups and countries, he is preparing to charge them with violations of Article 248 (high treason). When Sekoutore, the ruling dictatorship’s spokesperson, declared on 28 April that 'Any statements that propagate violence and illegal ways of changing government are banned by the code of conduct,' he is signalling a charge of violation of Article 238 ('Outrages against the constitution or the constitutional order').
Facts are being fabricated in the dirty tricks department of the ruling regime for election day shenanigans to charge opposition leaders with violations of Article 239 ('Obstruction of the exercise of constitutional powers'). There will likely be episodes manufactured between now and 'election' day to pin on the opposition allegations of sabotage or terroristic acts in violation of Article 247 ('Impairment of the defensive power of the state'). There is no question whatsoever that opposition leaders will be charged with violations of Article 269 (genocide) as it can be proven beyond a shadow of doubt that all of them have listened to the Voice of America Amharic Service programmes, which according to Zenawi 'has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda'.
In the last three weeks prior to the 'election', we are witnessing a repeat of the 2005 election endgame. It is all so obvious. The poor opposition leaders are being set up for the final coup de grace as they stand helplessly crying out for democracy and the rule of law.
They ruling dictatorship will crank up the propaganda machine to the max in the next three weeks to fabricate stories that will create a negative public perception of the opposition leaders. The regime will use every trick to put the opposition in a false and bad light in the media (while denying them an opportunity to respond to charges and allegations in the ruling party-run state media). They will distort, exaggerate and misrepresent the public statements of opposition leaders. They will ratchet up the general climate of fear, paranoia, anxiety and uncertainty in the country as election day approaches. There will be daily talk about threats of violence. There will be arrests of individuals committing violence. The spectre of 'Shabia' and 'Al-Shabab' conspiracies will be raised. Just yesterday, it was announced that the regime had arrested 10 members of the Somali Al-Shabab Islamist group and the Oromo Liberation Front as they were allegedly preparing to launch terrorist activities in Ethiopia ahead of the 'elections'. There will be reports of mysterious incidents of explosions in which the 'evidence' points to the opposition. Late last week, the ruling regime in a press conference accused Medrek of attempting to kill one of its party members in the Ilan Gelan woreda in the Western Showa Zone of Oromia region. There was a reported fight at Addis Ababa University (AAU) between regime and Medrek supporters, resulting in injuries in the last 48 hours.
The regime will seek out any convenient pretexts and excuses to declare a state of emergency, beginning at the close of the polls on 23 May, just as they did in 2005. Political gatherings of any kind will be prohibited for the months following the 'election'. The regime will declare victory on election day before all the votes are counted, and they will stage repeated delays in announcing the official election results in the following weeks to give the impression that meticulous vote-counting is being done. And on and on. Of course, all of this is also intended to give the international community an early warning of a massive crackdown that will take place, and to prepare them not to 'overreact' when the sledgehammer falls on the opposition’s head.
It is all déjà vu. We saw this farcical Kangaroo Theatre Production in 2005. When will they open up the 'dossiers' on the opposition leaders? When will the sledgehammer fall? When will they scoop them up? On 23 May? Maybe the 25th? 30 June? When will they join their leader Birtukan for a long post-election rest and relaxation at the Akaki Hilton Spa and Resort (AHSR) [AKA Akaki Federal Prison]?
There is an old prophesy told in the lyrics of a song of African slaves from the harrowing days of slavery in America: 'God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign: No more water. The fire next time!'
No Rainbow Sign for Ethiopia in 2010!
Intermission: Act II resumes on 23 May 2010.
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* Alemayehu G. Mariam is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles.
* This article was originally published by The Huffington Post.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?r109:1:./temp/~r1097PH6jS:: http://www.ethiomedia.com/courier/congressional_hearing_on_ethiopia.html
My house is your house
An interview with Tony Ehrenreich
Tony Ehrenreich, the COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) Western Cape provincial secretary, is considered by many to be a ‘nice guy’, ‘a truly outstanding guy’, ‘a compassionate guy' and a ‘working-class hero’. Indeed, all these descriptions, most particularly the last one, fit him.
He is seen as a ‘working-class hero’, mainly because of his many years in the labour movement. Before he became a unionist, he was active in student politics, especially during the late 1970s and early 1980s. His first march in 1976, like most youth back then, was against the usage of Afrikaans in schools. In 1989, he became a full-time shop steward for the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA). Ever since he left NUMSA in 1990, he has worked in different organising jobs at COSATU.
After being active for so many years, he says what stimulates and keeps him going is 'working with people and fighting for a cause that is bigger than oneself'. It is the belief that ‘another world is possible', a world where there will be 'a lot more solidarity amongst people, a society that is democratic, that has socialist values, that builds public services, education, health care … and ensuring that there is more social cohesion and less fragmentation within the society'.
Even if we were to live in a better society, he thinks that unions will still have a role to play. Unions official would play 'an advisory role … rather than acting in a top down way.' Furthermore, he thinks most union officials are 'overpaid', hence their salaries ought to be 'at least halved, so that they are relatively closer to the salaries of [their] members'. The wage gap between the workers and the union officials 'poses the real danger to the organization because it separates the officials from the base,' says Ehrenreich.
What makes Ehrenreich a ‘nice guy’, among other things, is the fact that he is not only concerned with issues that affect the workers, but he is also involved in community struggles, like campaigning against drug abuse. And in 2005, when over 10,000 residents of the Joe Slovo informal settlement were left homeless by a fire that destroyed over 3,000 shacks, Ehrenreich took many by surprise when he invited the 39-year-old Noni Mpahlwa and her four kids to stay with him in his house in Uitsig. The Mpahlwas stayed in Uitsig for a couple of months until they got a government-subsidised house in Delft.
Early this year, he again surprised a lot of people when he invited his comrades to make use of his holiday house. In an article entitled 'My house is your house, comrades; Cosatu official offers to open holiday home to all', the Sunday Times reported that Ehrenreich was offering 'his friends and comrades … the use of his holiday home in the picturesque town of Kleinmond in the Overberg'.
The ‘holiday home’ in Kleinmond is not just for his close friends, but it is also for those in need of a shelter. For instance, not long ago, Ehrenreich invited a homeless family – whose breadwinner was unjustly dismissed by her employer – to make use of his house. The Sunday Times reports, 'even though [Ehrenreich] managed to help the mother of two to be reinstated, she was left homeless and would be sharing his holiday home until she got back on her feet'.
Ehrenreich told the Sunday Times that a 'holiday home, for me, is an extravagance, so it is important to allow others to live there as well'.
He does not understand how people like the likes of Julius Malema claim to be ‘champions of the poor’ while he has a 'R200 000 watch on his arm? You can’t have people being so rich in such a poor country and then claim to be the leader of so many poor people,' says Ehrenreich. Indeed, the whole thing, as Ehrenreich notes, 'is absurd'.
However, when we are talking about socio-economic issues one hopes that we could go beyond the Malema phenomenon. By that, I mean that just focusing on one individual, Julius Malema, is, in a way, short-sighted. Yes, he might be foolish and a nuisance. But our problems are far bigger than Malema.
The issue here is not individuals per se, but the capitalist system that privileges a few over the ‘restless many’. The truth of the matter is that you get wealth by impoverishing people and we can’t have the rich without creating the poor class, and that’s how the system operates and that’s how it thrives.
So rather than trying to change the behaviour of certain capitalists, I think we should maybe spend our time and energy fighting and changing the capitalist system.
Though half the country is starving and living in appalling conditions, lack of housing and without any proper medical attention, not to mention the 'educational' system in working-class communities, Ehrenreich does not think that the ANC (African National Congress) is to be blamed for this. On the contrary, Ehrenreich thinks the ANC has progressive policies. The problem, he tells me, 'is with implementation and that is directed not to the ANC, but to the leadership and how they implement the policies, so there is a disjuncture between the leadership and what the ANC policies say and what the ANC membership desires'.
'I don’t think [Jacob] Zuma has done anything that has distinguished him as a radical… He does not have an orientation that will say the ANC must go more to the left. But [unlike the old ANC leadership] what is different is that is he is prepared to listen to the alliance and to listen to the ANC. I don’t think Mbeki had any inclination, once he was in power, to listen to the ANC or to the alliance,' remarks Ehrenreich.
Since Zuma took over as the leader of the ANC, 'there is much more of a functioning alliance,' says Ehrenreich.
What is ironic about this though is that Zuma’s policies are not that different from Mbeki’s government. Yes, Zuma might listen to the alliance, but our concern is not about who is listening to whom. What matters is what he does. The poor, just like two decades ago, are still living in appalling conditions, while, on the other hand, the business sector is reaping all the benefits. In other words, it is not a matter of listening, but it’s really about delivering the services that the people need. Can Zuma do that?
Well, Ehrenreich, just like any COSATU top-brass thinks that Zuma is well capable of serving the interests of the working class. 'How is Zuma going to be redirected?' he asks. 'I don’t think by any pressure from outside, it’s gonna be the pressure of the ANC as the mass based organization that will hopefully hold him to ANC’s policies.'
Ehrenreich thinks that the ANC is the only organisation that can bring about social change in the country. 'The ANC is the most popular and most powerful organisation in the country', hence to 'get things done I think the ANC is probably the route.' This is largely because the 'ANC has the legacy of the Mandelas, and the struggle credential that is incredibly popular among the ordinary people.'
He is, nonetheless quick to note that this does not necessarily mean that issue-based organisations have no role to play. In fact, he thinks it is essential for people to build up 'issue-based campaigns, and put more pressure on the ANC and generate a participatory democracy. But if you want to change the world, change South Africa then the ANC is certainly the most important vehicle in which to be effective…'
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Phumlani Majavu is among other things a freelance journalist.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
No band-aid solution for South Africa’s racial problems
Given South Africa’s long and bitter history of racial oppression and its continued legacy, it is astonishing that the country is yet to have an open and transparent public discussion about race. In fact the only people who talk publicly about race are the extremists on both ends of the colour line, which in the end does not make rational debate possible; but without it, we cannot cobble together lasting solutions. Neither will we be able to agree on basic elements of policies to redress issues, be it in sport or in the workplace.
Of course, we should not be imprisoned by the past, but we cannot simply argue to let bygones be bygones, or say ‘I did not benefit from apartheid’, or did not know, as if 1994 was simply Year Zero, when we all started from the same slate in terms of education, property and social capital.
Because South Africans do not talk about the past, white South Africans will remain trapped in fear about the future and guilt about the past. Black South Africans will continue to be resentful and angry.
There has been no unequivocal apology for apartheid, from former apartheid era leaders, such as the former President FW De Klerk. South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which dealt with racial abuses during the last three decades of the apartheid, but the process, for all its success to at least lift the lid on apartheid atrocities, was ultimately limited. For example, it only concentrated on gross human rights abuses over a very limited period.
The fact that poverty still runs along racial lines, with blacks mostly poor and whites mostly better-off, is a real obstacle to reconciliation. Racial reconciliation is unlikely to take place, unless it is accompanied with social justice. Although former President Nelson Mandela initiated a far-reaching policy of reconciliation, and former President Thabo Mbeki in a more limited manner also, this has not been accompanied by economic reparations for those who still suffer most from the apartheid legacy of limited education, the repossession of land and property and broken families. The fact that economic inequalities run along racial lines, helps perpetuate racism.
South Africa’s economic downturn will increase racial tensions. Naturally, many whites who fall into economic difficulties will be tempted to blame a black-dominated ANC government for being ‘against’ them. Poorer black South Africans may also be seduced to turn their anger solely on whites in general, rather than seeing it as a combination of the legacy of apartheid inequities and misguided policies by black-dominated democratic governments. Black economic empowerment for the few, as currently practiced, is only likely to increase the wealth gap between a small group of well-off blacks and the majority – and increase the latter’s resentment.
What is often under-estimated is that centuries of racism often also have an impact on its recipients. Some blacks often overcompensate for white prejudice. Mbeki often responded in an exaggerated manner to perceived white racism. For example, Mbeki’s adopted his ineffective quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe, partly because some South African whites unfairly compared neighbouring Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF’s disgusting reign to what could happen to whites under the ANC, and mostly focused on the plight of white Zimbabweans. In the end, the very people who suffered the brunt of Mugabe’s autocratic rule, black Zimbabweans, suffered even more with Mugabe’s continued tyranny, a reign which Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy ironically has helped to prolong.
We should not hide behind racial solidarity to support often very undemocratic practices. For example, should the appointment of a black judge be applauded just because he is or she is black, even though they for example act untransformed? A case in point is the fact that in many rape judgements, many black judges’ values were as conservative as some of their old-style white colleagues. Many black and white judges and magistrates still astonishingly blame the victims of rapes for being responsible for being raped. Surely, in such these cases, a black magistrate and judge cannot be supported merely on the basis of his or her blackness, even if their judgements are blatantly against the letter of the constitution.
Furthermore, to deal with racism we must also be able to point out when an unskilled or inexperienced black person is put in a position where they are not performing – rather than keep silent, because at least ‘he or she is black’. Of course, competence is not a white preserve, either. Black excellence must be acknowledged. When blacks do well, it should not be dismissed as because of their ‘political connections’, and so on. White instances of incompetence cannot be ignored, either. The poor ultimately pay the price for incompetence, whether it is white or black incompetence. The American scholar of race, Cornel West warns against the pitfalls of what he calls a resort to black ‘authenticity’ politics, whereby everything issue is reduced to ‘racial reasoning’. He argues rightly we must ‘replace racial reasoning with moral reasoning, to understand the black-freedom struggle not as an affair of skin pigmentation and racial phenotype but rather as a matter of ethical principles and wise politics’.
Shouting ‘racism’ to sideline rivals, for self-enrichment at the expense of the public good, or to deflect attention from our own wrongdoing is simply wrong – and will only increase racial tension. There appears to be increasing incidents of ‘crying wolf’ cases of racism, which are clearly for purely opportunistic reasons. White South Africans – for example those who call for the protection of Afrikaans – will have to do this not on the basis of racial exclusivity, but must genuinely include black Afrikaans speakers, and fight for the right of other indigenous languages, such as isiZulu, Venda or Shangaan to be protected too.
Poorer black South Africans bear the brunt of racism, but don’t have the power to respond to it. If you are poor and black, it is unlikely that one will know how to access institutions, neither will one have the money to do so, that can help seek redress against racism. But one way to deal with racism is for victims to be able to seek more redress against racial discrimination through courts, watchdog institutions and other formal institutions. This will mean that such institutions must become more accessible and supportive to the poorest who suffer from racism most – which they are not at the moment.
To breakdown racial stereotypes, there has to be greater integration, whether in clubs, social events or community organisations. Joint action on all levels, whether in government or the school committees, can do much to break down racial misunderstanding. Children will have to be taught in schools about the negative effects of racial discrimination. But adults, especially in the workplace, must also be educated about it. Whites will have to show a deeper understanding for the still very deep legacy of racial discrimination. Blacks will have to understand that whites have legitimate fears.
In the long-term, lifting the economic and skills level of the poorest will be one of the surest ways to boost black confidence – and reconciliation. In the short-term, government must base the criteria for recipients of poverty-alleviation measures on the extent of their poverty, rather than on race. Because the majority of blacks are in absolute poverty, they would naturally be the largest recipients of poverty alleviation measures. As a social justice measure, we must introduce a basic income grant to all families – black or white – that are desperately poor.
Recipients of a basic income could in turn be required to work in the community for a minimum period. Affirmative action must be honestly implemented – in both the public and private sectors, and targeted to advance those who are genuinely poor. It should be suspended in sectors in the economy identified as high-growth areas, those areas critical to service delivery, and where there is a scarcity of skills. We should have a clear timeframe for when the policy should be dropped.
Furthermore, we should abandon black economic empowerment (BEE) as a policy, and reward predominantly white companies for how much they invest in job creation, education, skills transfer, housing and uplifting the physical and social infrastructure of townships and rural areas; and for supporting the 5 million odd (mostly black) entrepreneurs in the informal sector. But we must also demand the beneficiaries of the current narrow BEE to plough back their political capital in the same way into economic development, and eschew the ‘bling’ culture and conspicuous consumption. To slay racism, whether from within South Africa or outside, the ANC government must govern better. Finally, to tackle racism effectively demands honesty, courage, social justice and pragmatism. There should be no place for easy stereotyping, generalisations and prejudices – from either blacks or whites.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* William Gumede is co-editor (with Leslie Dikeni) of the recently released The Poverty of Ideas, published by Jacana Media (ISBN 978-1-77009-775-9).
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
AFRICOM and the US's hidden battle for Africa
What is the current meaning of the 'War against Terror' for Africa? The true intention of America's recent military interventions in the African continent (both covert and open) is nothing other than the expansion and consolidation of Western capital. It all started in 2001 when George W. Bush declared his 'War on Terror' in the continent, but has developed in a manner that has gone beyond human imagination in the body counts on the streets of Somalia, in the jungles of Uganda and the DR Congo, and deserts of Sudan. The chief of the US African Command, General E. Ward, explained this in language more clear than that of any US politician when he stated that an Africa in which 'African populations are able to provide for themselves, contribute to global economic development and are allowed access to markets in free, fair, and competitive ways, is good for America and the world…'
AFRICOM (or USAFRICOM) is a Unified Combatant Command of the US Department of Defense, responsible for US military operations and military relations with 53 African nations (excepting Egypt). African Command was established on 1 October 2007 and formally activated on 1 October 2008 at a public ceremony at the Pentagon attended by representatives of African nations. It has become clear that the idea was not primarily to fight against Islamic terror, which was said to be growing in influence, but to protect and help expand American military and economic (mainly energy) interests.
Pending legislation, 'The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act 2009,' being pushed by Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) would empower AFRICOM not only to give technical support but to physically go to war with the armed groups that both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo forces have not been able to dislodge. Royce said:
'Africa's emerging potential as a major oil producer and supplier to the United States, has been of interest to the Sub-Committee on Africa that I've chaired for some time. The sub-committee held a hearing to look at this topic in 2000. It's clearly in our national interest to diversify our energy supply, especially given the turbulent political climate in key parts of the world today. The expansion of energy production in Africa matches to that interest…'
This is big-money talk rather than a humanitarian outrage. On 2 January 2002, a Washington DC symposium held to discuss African oil came up with a document entitled 'African oil: A priority for US national security and African development', which paved the way for the rest to happen. It was attended by Washington's Africa heavyweights, people like: Barry Schutz, a Bush administration specialist on Africa; Lieutenant-Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, a high-ranking air force officer; and Water Kansteiner, Bush's under-secretary of state for African affairs. The Christian Science Monitor reported on the symposium thus:
'In January last year , the IASPS [Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies] hosted a symposium in Houston, Texas, which was attended by government and oil industry representatives. An influential working group called the African Oil Policy Initiative Group (AOPIG) co-chaired by IASPS researchers Barry Schutz and Paul Michael Wihbey, which has been largely responsible for driving American governmental policy concerning west African oil, emerged from the symposium… The document urges Congress and the Bush administration to encourage greater extraction of oil across Africa, and to declare the Gulf of Guinea "a area of vital interest" to the US.'
We have now definitely entered the aggressive birth of AFRICOM. The man who is put in charge of this task, General William E. 'Kip' Ward, is not new to the battlefields of Africa. He was in Somalia in 1993 when US forces were seriously bitten by small insurgent groups, forcing the US to withdraw from that crisis.
AFRICOM IN ACTION
AFRICOM justifies its presence in Africa on its website as follows:
'Africa is growing in military, strategic and economic importance in global affairs. However, many nations on the African continent continue to rely on the international community for assistance with security concerns. From the US perspective, it makes strategic sense to help build the capability for African partners, and organizations such as the African Standby Force, to take the lead in establishing a security environment. This security, will, in turn, set the groundwork for increased political stability and economic growth.'
This helps explain why the AFRICOM budget rose from US$50 million in the fiscal year of 2007 to US$310 million in the 2009 fiscal year – in running costs, not military aid to the member countries. It also shows the significance of this programme for the US government. The command gave the US military the possibility of having a physical presence in numerous African countries and assigning Defense Department personnel to US embassies and diplomatic missions to coordinate Defense Department programmes. The US African Command is now spending billions in training and arm supplies. It is expecting to spend nothing less than US$20 billion in 2010, and this will benefit the armies of a very many repressive regimes.
Take the case of Sudan. Openly, Western governments, including the US, have never been more critical of the regime in Khartoum, even accusing it of committing genocide in Darfur. The fact that the head of Sudan's intelligence agency, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was secretly jetted to the US by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) to discuss military interests in the Horn of Africa was one of the most disgusting acts of hypocrisy by the Bush administration.
The right-wing Republican lobbyists for AFRICOM never made their intentions secret. They have said time and again that America cannot rely on the unconquered Middle East for its oil supply; for them, Africa is the answer. But the aggressive nature of this thirst for African oil and other resources has no doubt also been fuelled by the presence of China in key strategic areas.
Today, US African Command is involved in almost 38 African countries, with the presumed agenda of training anti-terrorist forces. These include Chad, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. The expansion of the AFRICOM central command in Djibouti adds to the significance that the US government puts into this project. According to AFRICOM, 'US Central Command maintains its traditional relationship with Egypt, but AFRICOM coordinates with Egypt on issues relating to Africa security.' In Egypt, the US state is spending billions of American taxpayers' money in military equipment and training to arm one of the most repressive military forces in the continent. All of this speaks for itself rather than the simple and cheap rhetoric of bringing stability to the continent in the name of the 'war against terror'.
The 2006 invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian forces was clearly a proxy war, with AFRICOM providing the logistics – allowing a criminal organisation like al-Shabab to claim a legitimate reason for its war and brutal terror against the very people both sides claim to be freeing: poor, ordinary Somalis. It is significant that as debate was held on where the headquarters of AFRICOM should be located, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared that Ethiopia will be willing to work closely with the command. According to a UN situation report of 5 February 2010, an estimated 3.2 million people in Somalia are in need of emergency food aid, one in six children are seriously malnourished and the internally displaced population is in the millions and continuing to rise.
The planned assault on Mogadishu has registered its first civilian casualties this March, forcing more civilians to flee the capital. The aim of this military operation is to retake control of the capital from the al-Shabab militants. The Obama administration has been planning this assault for a while now. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson is said to have been instrumental in the preparation. He nonetheless said: 'This is not an American offensive … the US military is not on the ground in Somalia. Full stop.'
In another press briefing Carson held with Ertharin Cousin, US ambassador to the UN Mission in Rome, he said:
'We have provided limited military support to the Transitional Federal Government [TFG]… We do so in the firm belief that the TFG seeks to end the violence in Somalia that is caused by al-Shabaab and other extremist organizations…'
True, there might not be any US troops on the ground, but it is an American war contracted to some Somalis, African Union forces and Ethiopians. The US has been training intelligence forces, providing surveillance, logistics support and money to buy bullets and guns, and there is even speculation that American forces might provide aerial bombing of militant positions.
This is against the recent advice given to the Obama administration, which warns of a need for a change of approach from US support to the Transitional Federal Government headed by Sheik Ahmed Sharif. The report, 'Somalia: A new approach', prepared by the Council on Foreign Relations, advised the administration to engage in 'constructive disengagement' rather than spending so much on an ineffective government that has very little support among the Somali population. Critics might be right to say that the Obama administration is playing into the hands of the Islamic extremists.
This was the case too with 'Operation Lightning Thunder' in 2008, involving Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the liberated Southern Sudan. It was clear to all sincere analysts that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was cornered and pacified, and that 'Operation Lightning Thunder' was no more than the clearing of the oil fields. Dr Jendayi Frazer, then an assistant secretary of state in the Bush government, was said to have been the main initiator of that operation. Riek Machar, vice-president of Southern Sudan, said as much in a documentary aired by Al Jazeera TV. Ugandan military commanders have openly confirmed that they have received logistics support from the Americans, including satellite phones, GPS (global positioning system) receivers, maps and US contributions to fuel costs of the military vehicles involved in the operation. The results: over 1,000 civilians dead and the internal displacement of an estimated half a million people. All this followed the 2006 failed operation by a UN team of US-trained Guatemalan commandos to assassinate Joseph Kone, leader of LRA, in which all members of the commando unit were killed by the LRA. Southern Sudan refused to actively take part, only closing their borders to avoid the crossing of armed groups into their territory.
When the Chad–Cameroon pipeline project was put on the table in the prelude to AFRICOM's unveiling, the oil companies made sure of IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank support. This was not because of a lack of capital. These two institutions are the most reliable and effective discipliners of the African nations involved should they at any time violate the contract against the interests of the big oil companies involved in the project. The arrangement was never designed for transparency, and when the initial funds of the project were embezzled in the member countries there was never a call to halt the project, even though the World Bank had put in a code of conduct as a condition for the funding.
There is nothing new in armies conquering territories before the looting begins. For centuries states have been using their armies in foreign adventures in the interests of capital. The modern world has just surpassed the crude methods that were used in centuries past, and is now utilising sophisticated techniques consciously designed to confuse the human mind. With the 'moral high ground' of free-market capitalism, the African bourgeoisie are content with being sub-contractors; the whole mathematics becomes easier, especially when it comes to the 'ethical sharing' of the wealth from the looting. To say that Africans are benefiting from the project through employment and the creation of a middle class are fine words that defy the lawlessness and suffering on the continent.
But the fact of AFRICOM's involvement in any battleground on the continent strengthens the resolve of the African people to define their struggle on their own.
* This article was published by World War 4 Report.
* This story first appeared in a slightly longer form on 19 March in the journal The Hobgoblin.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Is democracy possible here in the UK?
Is democracy possible here in the UK?
13 May Post-Election Reflections
Reflections on what the recent UK election tells us about the health, or
otherwise, of democracy in the UK with:
Firoze Manji, Editor in Chief, Pambazuka News
Colin Leys (Goldsmiths and Queens University, Ontario, author of
Market-Driven Politics, 2000)
Hilary Wainwright, Editor, Red Pepper
Heather Wakefield, UNISON
Chaired by Nick Couldry, Goldsmiths, University of London
5.30pm Goldsmiths main building RHB 309
For more details, write to Nick Couldry, n.couldry[at]gold.ac.uk of visit
Voices from Bolivia: World Peoples’ Climate Conference
Nnimmo Bassey and Sharif Abdel Kouddous
NNIMMO BASSEY: I’m here because this peoples’ summit is the most important event in the struggle against climate change. And it’s been so inspiring to find people from all around the world gathered with the same objective. We don’t have corporate lobby – maybe they’re hiding, but certainly they are not openly lobbying as they did in Copenhagen. So this is a real opening for fresh breath, for peoples and governments who are sensitive about the issues to talk to one another and forge a way forward.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you were at the Copenhagen summit, the UN summit. Friends of the Earth was expelled, as were you. Now you’re here. Your thoughts on the difference between the two?
NNIMMO BASSEY: The difference between the two, Copenhagen and Cochabamba, is so huge. In Copenhagen, I was kicked out, locked out a number of days. And here, you see a real sense that government wants to speak to people, wants to listen to people. In Copenhagen, this was not possible. Copenhagen was the question of secret dealings in secret rooms called 'green rooms', which are more like grey rooms. And there was no openness. They asked us to raise our voices, but then they muffled us. So this is so – the only thing that is similar between Cochabamba and Copenhagen is that both start with letter C, and they both have 10 letters. Otherwise, the difference is so huge.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what do you think the point of this conference is? There’s no binding agreement that will come out of it, and the United States and the world’s biggest polluters are not being represented here in a government form. What do you think is the point of the conference?
NNIMMO BASSEY: Yeah, I think the point of this conference is not to come out with an agreement, the type that we fought for in Copenhagen, which did not happen. The point of this is to provide a space for the environmental justice movement, for peoples’ movements, [inaudible] movement, environmental movement, to take a step ahead of what they did on the streets of Copenhagen and really organise, to show that this is the real alternative, this is the real space, and the voice of the people just must be listened to.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Africa is on the front line of climate change. How has your continent been affected by global warming?
NNIMMO BASSEY: You know, Africa is the most vulnerable continent. And what came out of Copenhagen was Copenhagen Accord, with no binding agreement with suggestions about emissions cut. Governments could do whatever they want to do. From what I’ve heard, the acknowledgement we got is that if Copenhagen Accord stands, we’re going to have global temperature increase of more than four degrees, and this will mean for Africa over four degrees centigrade. That will mean roasting Africa, destroying African people, destroying African environment, and simply, possibly, just having a continent on the map with nobody in it. So Africa has – we have real interest in this conference to make our case and then to get people from around the world to stand together and really, really take this struggle of climate change.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you just came from speaking at the main inauguration rally at the stadium. There’s been some criticism of the Bolivian government, which is looking to expand oil and gas extraction, expand lithium extraction. What are your thoughts about the fact that Evo Morales, the president, is hosting this conference, and yet continuing to extract raw materials which may hurt the environment?
NNIMMO BASSEY: You know, we love Evo Morales. We love the government of Bolivia. The positive things that the government is doing is much – very inspiring. But when it comes to the issue of extracting further, deepening and widening extension of fossil fuels, like gas and so on, of course that’s also a concern. And we believe that, like any other government, that issue, they have to struggle with. And we are going to press for leaving the oil in the soil, coal in the hole, tar sands in the sand. It doesn’t matter which government, no matter how much we love the government, we will look at the government of Bolivia in the face and say, 'No, this is one way you should not go.'
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Thank you very much.
NNIMMO BASSEY: Thank you.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Nnimmo Bassey is the chair of Friends of the Earth International.
* This interview was originally published by Democracy Now!
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Homophobia? It is ‘demophobia’ really!
The dictators have not had enough – we call them tyrants, butchers, thieves and robbers, corrupt and adulterers, cruel barbarians and more but they want more. The latest epithet they want us to attach to their unholy names is that of homophobe. All of a sudden, as if coordinated, from the east to the southern regions of the continent, the tyrants have started a chorus of foul words against gays or homosexuals who, by all account, are a few million in the whole of Africa compared to the hundreds of millions wanting their so-called leaders to address themselves to the burdensome continental problems of democracy and under-development.
The dictator in the Sudan, who started out by cutting limbs of petty thieves and appointing bigger ones as ministers, has resorted to Sharia – and homosexuality leads to death. Sudan? Really? Where even Revolutionary Council members, dour military men, had male lovers? No one has said hypocrisy is dead. Down South, the number one enemy of gays, the man whose president was found to be gay, strongman Mugabe, has gone on record calling gays pigs and dogs and asking the world at large ‘can men procreate?’ and if not then being gay will just ‘turn our ancestors in their graves’.
Something to be avoided as the hapless ancestors in the graves, the very many martyrs of the struggle against the Ian Smith racist regime have been spinning in their graves as Mugabe persistently ruined his country aided and abetted by vindictive Western powers. As Brutus did not say, Mugabe is not an honourable man but the other contender to the title of, no not honourable but, democrat, that is to say the Harvard-educated (a two week course on good governance) Morgan Tsvangirai has also joined his nemesis and attacked gays in no uncertain and rather crude terms (men breathing on top of other men and the like). 38 African countries criminalise homosexual relations and Uganda recently tried to punish gays with the death sentence following a visit to Uganda by well-heeled American Christian fundamentalists. Money talks and had not the outcry been very loud, Uganda would have been busy these days shooting gays just like Baganda demonstrators opposing the rule of Museveni (going for his third election after amending the constitution). Down in Malawi two gays tried a symbolic marriage and face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.
Now, the uninformed in this world maybe excused if they conclude that the primary problem of Africans is the existence of gays or that African tyrants and legislators have nothing else to do other than turn homophobe and bash the victims. Actually, the loud homophobia comes right out of the very coveted secret manual of African dictators under the chapter of ‘Diverting Public Opinion’. Diverting public opinion is an art and though few can do it as well as the late Idi Amin and Bokassa (what a show the duo staged over time!) they are trying hard. Massacres and jailing of dissidents have become too ordinary to attract that much attention or to generate much uproar. The world is now used to African genocides and carnages and is only surprised by reports of development for which it has no ears anyway. Hence, the resort to gay bashing. It is not that the tyrants have nothing else to worry about. Uganda has its murderous LRA and serious dissatisfaction by the majority of the populace that considers Museveni's rule dictatorial to boot. Sudan is a mess and al-Bashir detested; let us not talk of Darfur and possible secession and war in the South in the near future. Mugabe's problem is well known and Malawi of Kamuzu Banda fame has more serious problems than two gays getting married and trying to confront their miserable lives as the majority of Malawians. Africa surely has more serious concerns and problems, including the very fact that the stigmatisation of the gays has a negative impact on the control of the AIDS ravaging many of these countries.
Diversion is a must, though, given the problems. The gays are not many and they are helpless and the macho society has little sympathy for them. For once, the tyrants will be joined by priests, sheikhs and the populace at large (barring South Africa and Burundi that have refused to criminalise gays) to engage in a collective orgy of violence and repression.
As the French would say ‘Haro sur les Homos’ or ‘Curse on their homo heads’. There are those who say that some of our literal (does not mean literate in this instance) top officials believe that gay in this context means happy and refers to people who are happy or gay without the expressed permission of the state that has a monopoly on joy in many African countries. That aside, the gay issue is useful for diversion in that there is a loud and organised gay community in the donor countries and it will raise hell against African leaders persecuting gays instead of attacking them on the absence of good governance or democracy.
As the gays in Africa get their own Geldof or Bono and the outcry increases, the shout against, say Museveni, will not be ‘stop killing demonstrators and protestors’ but rather ‘end the repression against gays’ which is a slogan that, sadly or otherwise, will not stir that much of emotion amongst many Ugandans including their Catholic clergy. Ditto for Mugabe and the others, Diversion par excellence. And if the homophobia stops working, the tyrants have many others diversions up their sleeves to hide their real malady, which is fear of democracy or ‘demophobia’, a malady cured only by a revolution, alas for them.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Hama Tuma is an Ethiopian political activist and writer.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Imagine if the Tea Party was black
Let's play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called 'Imagine'. The way it's played is simple: we'll envision recent happenings in the US news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we'll conjure – the ones who are driving the action – we'll envision black folks or other people of colour instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents if the main actors were of colour, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.
So let's begin.
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and the White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters – the black protesters – spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict, in the event that laws they didn't like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters – these black protesters with guns – be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that's what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation's capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country's political leaders if the need arose.
Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.
Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: 'He's a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.' Because that's what the white – very vocal critic of liberals – rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.
Imagine that a prominent mainstream black political commentator had long employed an overt bigot as the executive director of his organisation, and that this bigot regularly participated in black separatist conferences, and once assaulted a white person while calling them by a racial slur. When that prominent black commentator and his sister – who also works for the organisation – defended the bigot as a good guy who was misunderstood and 'going through a tough time in his life', would anyone accept their excuse-making? Would that commentator still have a place on a mainstream network? Because that's what happened in the real world, when Pat Buchanan employed as executive director of his group, America's Cause, a blatant racist who did all these things, or at least their white equivalents: attending white separatist conferences and attacking a black woman while calling her the n-word.
Imagine that a black radio host were to suggest that the only way to get promoted in the administration of a white president is by 'hating black people', or that a prominent white person had only endorsed a white presidential candidate as an act of racial bonding, or blamed a white president for a fight on a school bus in which a black kid was jumped by two white kids, or said that he wouldn't want to kill all conservatives, but rather, would like to leave just enough – 'living fossils' as he called them – 'so we will never forget what these people stood for'. After all, these are things that Rush Limbaugh has said about Barack Obama's administration, Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama, a fight on a school bus in Belleville, Illinois, in which two black kids beat up a white kid, and about liberals generally.
Imagine that a black pastor, formerly a member of the US military, were to declare, as part of his opposition to a white president's policies, that he was ready to 'suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do'. This is, after all, what Pastor Stan Craig said recently at a Tea Party rally in Greenville, South Carolina.
Imagine a black radio talk-show host gleefully predicting a revolution by people of colour if the government continues to be dominated by the rich white men who have been 'destroying' the country, or if said radio personality were to call Christians or Jews 'non-humans', or say that when it came to conservatives, the best solution would be to 'hang 'em high'. And what would happen to any congressional representative who praised that commentator for 'speaking common sense' and likened his hate-talk to 'American values'? After all, those are among the things said by radio host and best-selling author Michael Savage, predicting white revolution in the face of multiculturalism, or said by Savage about Muslims and liberals, respectively. And it was Congressman John Culberson, from Texas, who praised Savage in that way, despite his hateful rhetoric.
Imagine a black political commentator suggesting that the only thing the guy who flew his plane into the Austin, Texas, IRS building did wrong was not blowing up Fox News instead. This is, after all, what Anne Coulter said about Tim McVeigh, when she noted that his only mistake was not blowing up The New York Times.
Imagine that a popular black liberal website posted comments about the daughter of a white president, calling her 'typical redneck trash' or a 'whore' whose mother entertains her by 'making monkey sounds'. After all that's comparable to what conservatives posted about Malia Obama on freerepublic.com last year, when they referred to her as 'ghetto trash'.
Imagine that black protesters at a large political rally were walking around with signs calling for the lynching of their congressional enemies. Because that's what white conservatives did last year, in reference to Democratic Party leaders in Congress.
In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of colour. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behaviour, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of colour?
To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark 'other' does so, however, it isn't viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights, a statement that erases the normalcy and 'American-ness' of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.
And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of colour would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.
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* Tim Wise is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and activists in the US. His latest book is called 'Between Barack and a Hard Place'.
* This article was originally published by Ephphatha Poetry.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Why should one be proud of one's identity or country?
Elyas Mulu Kiros
‘I am a citizen of humanity first and by necessity, and a citizen of France second, and only by accident.’ – Montesquieu
First, let me state clearly that I am an expert neither on identity nor on nationalism; I am only a student who is interested in issues related to Ethiopia; this article is just a reflection of what I feel as a young Ethiopian.
Because Ethiopia is our birthplace, whatever happens there, it affects us deeply. When we hear or see good news, we feel happiness and pride. Similarly, when bad news hits, we feel anger, sadness, and shame. Among these various feelings that we experience, ‘pride’ stands out.
PRIDE AND IDENTITY
One of the definitions of ‘pride’ found in the Oxford dictionary:
‘A feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.’
Being proud is always challenging as much as it’s important; it’s challenging because wherever there is pride, there is prejudice; it’s important because pride (i.e. self-respect) boosts self-confidence, and vice versa. However, excessive pride results in exaggerated self-importance and is a recipe for a disaster. Comparably, excessive humility destroys creative and productive potential. There is a saying in Amharic: ‘Yekerere Yibetesal’ (i.e. extremism of any kind self-destroys).
Consider the question: What makes one (a proud) Ethiopian? This question was raised before I was even born, and still remains debatable despite the dozens of books and articles that have been written about it. Today, the duality of ethnic heritage and national identity is very common in Ethiopia; this dual identity is more or less similar to an American identifying herself as Latino-American, Korean-American, Polish-American, Black-American, Caucasian-American, and so forth – the ethnic or racial heritage does not diminish her ‘Americanness’, but embellishes it.
Individual and collective identities can coexist as long as one does not destroy the other – this was the exact reason why individuals like Wallelign Mekonnen addressed the national question aggressively and sacrificed their precious lives in the 1960s, clearing the path for others to follow in their footsteps; though some people argue that those young people were ‘just in love’ with the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ ideals, it is difficult to completely discredit the genuineness of the youth movement and the crucial questions raised during that critical period in the history of Ethiopia.
If the coexistence of ethnic and national identity appears impossible, consider your body as Ethiopia and the various organs that exist in it as the different ethnic groups; each organ has its own unique identity, but they also act as one. The individual identity and the collective identity can be a source of pride in a positive way when one tolerates the other and when fairness exists. But then the collective identity could become a source of discontent, forcing one to cling to one’s individual identity, while allowing opportunist minds to turn things around for their advantage, which could in turn lead everyone involved to identity crisis, to exaggerated self-awareness, or to unnecessary and bloody conflicts. Discontent happens when one oppresses and considers itself more important than the other, instead of celebrating diversity, tolerating differences, and sharing political and economic power fairly.
My friend wrote me the following after reading the draft copy of this article:
‘The ethnic and national identity thing has also been an issue for me since I was a child. I was born in a Muslim Oromo dominated Bale. We had Muslim Oromo neighbours on all four directions. But I always sensed the underlying uneasy feeling my parents had about living in that province. My mother is Amhara through and through, my father believes he is Oromo – I say that because he claims his ethnic background from an Oromo grandfather who adopted his Amhara father, but his mother is Amhara through and through. So what does that make me? That was a question that always bugged me. Things got real when official circumstances needed that data. When I went to get my ID from kebele, my mother asked me which ethnicity I want indicated there, then when the census people showed up at our house and asked for ethnic backgrounds, there I was contemplating the issue again. My father’s slight disappointment that I identified myself as Amhara didn’t help the situation. But I got to that conclusion using the same way that he chose. He chose to be Oromo, despite knowing that he has no Oromo blood. So I just made a decision, I chose to be Amhara. I could have also said, my dad is Oromo so I am Oromo. But the thing is, I don’t think he is, he chose to be.’
Another friend added:
‘I grew up in a family that sympathises with the old idea of Ethiopia and which feels threatened by issues that arise based on ethnicity. Both my parents are fluent in Oromic and Amharic and have Oromo blood and they still hold their ground steadfast when it comes to their national pride. I always consider myself Ethiopian first and do not even want to think about my ethnicity; I have no tolerance towards people who are more proud about their ethnic background. May be it is through an extensive discourse we can get to the point where we feel comfortable about the existence of other groups with different ideologies.’
I admire my friends’ honesty and crisp writing. They not only capture the identity dilemma that Ethiopians face today, they also delicately suggest, as shown in the second comment, one of the remedies for our nagging national problem: Extensive discourse. I am sure that many agree with their stand just as many others would disagree. However, their openness is a great example of the extra mile this generation is willing to take in order to resolve conflicting ideas through debate and dialogue instead of the tried and tested methods of the past that have kept us in an unstable political environment.
MIXED ETHNIC (OR NATIONAL) IDENTITY AND PRIDE
As many individuals have argued, a mixed background, though during the time of peace considered a source of cultural pride, during the time of political chaos could become a source of anguish and identity crisis; it could also force the individual to either pick sides or to remain neutral, both difficult options depending on the situation. Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric and activist, once said: ‘If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.’
Consider the Ethio-Eritrea case: Now almost all Eritreans happily celebrate their independence from Ethiopia. The ‘liberation,’ regardless of Eritrea’s domestic problems, has been a source of national pride, especially for those who fought during the war and for the young who were born after the war. The separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia, on the other hand, remains a thorny issue for Ethiopians who still desire to reunite the two countries for political, cultural, and economic reasons. The situation makes life more complicated for a child born from both Ethiopian and Eritrean parents, especially when the parents file for divorce because of the politics. It is even worse when you look at it from the perspective of Meles Zenawi, for example, who is half Ethiopian and half Eritrean – no wonder why some see him as ‘a cold Machiavellian rationalist,’ an expression borrowed from a third friend of mine.
A mixed background, apart from serving as a source of cultural pride, can force individuals like Meles to develop a calculating mindset because people are more likely to distrust them even when they are genuine, a case that Jawar Mohammed cleverly articulated in his recent article: ‘Tigrean Nationalism: From Revolutionary Force to Weapon of Repression’.
WHY SHOULD I BE PROUD? LEMIN? LIMINTAY? MAALIF?
Should I be proud of being Ethiopian? No doubt, I should, but it has to be in a realistic manner; I have to carefully discern my source of pride. What is that makes me proud? In the Western media, Ethiopia has been synonymous with civil war, hunger, drought, population explosion, environmental degradation, diseases, and all the bad things that one could imagine, which for sure are not a source of pride, but humiliation. And there is the positive part: The cultural and linguistic diversity; the presence of Abrahamic and indigenous religions; the endurance and hospitality of our people; the capital city, which has always been a melting pot of contemporary art and politics, African or otherwise; the brave and patriotic freedom fighters who defeated colonial and oppressive forces; our food and traditional dresses; the unique flora and fauna; fascinating anthropological, archaeological, and historical sites; beautiful landscapes, lakes and mountains; untapped human talent and natural resources; and all the other exotic things we have, which absolutely are sources of national pride.
Should I also be proud of my ethnic ancestry? No question, I should, because that is part of who I am; repressing or destroying my ethnic identity is impossible; I did not choose it, either – like Montesquieu, I could say it was by accident. However, I have to be careful with it, too, so to avoid ethnocentrism.
My parents speak three languages fluently: Amharic, Afaan Oromo and Tigrigna; my mother has also been exposed to Anuak language and culture. They never found it a problem to speak this or that language and to cross between theirs and their neighbours’ culture. They do sympathise with the old idea of Ethiopia like my friend’s parents; they also take pride in their ethnic heritage.
When I was little, my parents taught me their language so I can communicate with them; my father also made me recite the names of his ancestors until the 8th generation, which I barely remember now – he wanted continuity in tradition.
My parents’ experience shows that there is an apparent difference between genuine ethnic pride and ethnocentrism; the former is concerned about self-awareness and cultural heritage, the latter is similar to religious fundamentalism, which undermines the common bond one has with others.
My parents have seen bad times during the monarchy, derg, and now under ethnic federalism. They constantly warn me to stay away from politics because of the pain they endure (here I am breaking their rule).
ETHNIC FEDERALISM AND PRIDE
Apart from my parents’ influence, I grew up hearing ‘ethnic federalism’ like a mosquito buzz – just as children of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s were raised with ‘marxist and leninist’ slogans. I am aware of the potential danger ethnic federalism poses to the nation-state. That it can destabilise the country through fragmentation of society unless the system is reformed. I say this not because I have the desire to sound like a prophet of doom, but I have witnessed how things could easily go from good to bad to worse where I grew up.
However, I am also aware why the effects of ethnic politics will last for a long time to come even if the leaders are replaced. Seen from the perspective of the ‘oppressed’ ethnic groups, ethnic consciousness is a gain, not a loss, because it has helped them re-embrace their cultural pride, and more than that, it can be used as an instrument to mobilise people and to achieve full-blown economic and political influence in the nation-state that proponents of ethnic federalism once labelled as ‘prison-house of nations and nationalities’.
Ethnic federalism has remained the mantra of this generation. The average elementary school student knows something about ethnic federalism, and the one in high school is as ethnic conscious as the one in college. I was one of those students; some of our teachers used to call us ‘guinea pigs’ – it was a fitting title.
I remember when my pen friends in Addis took their 8th grade national exam in English, I took mine in Amharic, others in Afaan Oromo, in Tigrigna, etc. I would have proudly considered learning in one’s language a breakthrough had the government not rushed, poorly implemented, and politicised the program – we did not even have text books when we started; as we passed from one grade to the other, books were still scarce and arriving late. I remember how our teachers struggled, but their dedication and determination helped us overcome the challenge. It is obvious that for a radical change to take effect someone has to pay the price, but when that someone is ‘you’, it is not fun, of course; no wonder today's scientists test drugs first on guinea pigs or other animals.
The Ethiopia that my 8th grader pen pal from Addis knew perhaps was not the same as the one I knew; for sure he or she did not see the bloody ethnic clashes that I saw in my own eyes in a remote village, in Oromia, in the mid-1990s (for which both the ruling party and its regional opponents of the time were responsible; only few people outside that zonal area knew what happened there) – I am not talking about Arsi (a place which has been referenced several times either fairly or unfairly), but about events that transpired in Jimma zone. I am not also here to blame this or that ethnic group for the damage caused because the poor people who got involved (Gurague, Oromo, Tigray, Amhara, etc) were all victims – one group was sacrificed as a scapegoat, while the other was used as a weapon of revenge, and vice versa; I would only blame the political actors of our historical past and present.
Politicians (particularly from the ruling party) still treat people, especially in regional towns and villages, like pawns on a chessboard. The people constantly live in fear that anything bad could happen at any time – perhaps, instilling fear is one of the chosen techniques of the ruling party (just like the old regime) to stay in power; or, maybe crippling fear and sporadic ethnic disharmony are the unavoidable by-products of ethnic federalism in its current form.
Cesar Chavez, the Mexican-American civil rights activist, argued, ‘once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.’ This is true in Ethiopia’s case. Today, ethnic consciousness is pervasive and entrenched in the regions; even the capital city, where supposedly an enormous national pride overshadows ethnic identity, has remained the centre of debates concerning ethnic federalism.
My friend from Bale, quoted above, also included the following observation:
‘Everyday I get the feeling that we have made a U-turn somewhere, and whoever wants to go back on the previous lane is going to face a major opposition now. Because, now, people know. They know they can proudly say who they are and no one can tell them someone else is better than them based on their ethnic identity. We are all parts that make up the whole. I just wish we had the same vision for this ‘whole’ that contains us all and also makes up the major part of who we are.’
I could not have said it better than her.
When Ethiopian regimes change, what has been a gain for one has been a loss for others (or it has been perceived that way); a ‘change everyone believes in’ still has to happen. When that happens, we may amend what has been damaged, keep what has worked, and discard what has failed; this will eventually strengthen our common bond. As the saying goes, no one can easily break the sticks when there are two or more in a bundle.
We must aspire a ‘more perfect union’ where the past remains history and the future looks promising. We already know extreme suspicion, division, mistrust and egoism will never let us move forward. For a lasting peace and sustainable democracy, we must encourage and support anyone who fights fire with water.
I recently read an article that Dereje Alemayehu wrote in 1993; the writer gave the following piece of advice to individuals who live outside Ethiopia:
‘The Ethiopians in the diaspora have many special responsibilities and can help the cause of peace in our country in different ways. First of all, as we are living away from the scene of action, we should try to help de-emotionalise and de- personalise the political debates. Whichever of the contending parties we may support, an appeal for de-escalation and reconciliation has to be our primary concern. Consequently, instead of jumping on the bandwagon of nationalist movements, we should try to be ‘bridges’. Those of us who are not involved in organisations should try to facilitate discussions instead of being partisans…
‘…our most important contribution towards peace and democracy should be directed to democratising the decision-making process and cultivating the culture of solving all political problems by peaceful means. In economic theory, they say that it is not wealth as such, but the capacity to produce wealth that is fundamental. A solution can be outdated quickly. If the methods of seeking other solutions to every new challenge is not democratised, the country can go back to square once again. Finding workable solutions to the burning problems of Ethiopia depends on the success of democratising and pacifying the decision-making process.’
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* Elyas Mulu Kiros is an Ethiopian student currently based in the USA.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 ‘A Diktat or a perspective for a democratic discourse? (A reply of a ‘national-nihilist’ to a mature neopatriot)’, Dereje.
April: Remembering genocide
April is the cruellest month for genocide survivors. When Canada’s Governor-General Michaëlle Jean was in Rwanda acknowledging the country’s feeble efforts during the 1994 genocide, she found herself in the middle of the country's annual period of commemorative mourning. I've been there several Aprils and it's a grim, trying, often traumatic time for victims and perpetrators alike.
Why April? By some weird fluke, both the Armenian genocide and the Jewish Holocaust also have anniversaries in April. So the memorialisation of the three indisputably classic genocides of the 20th century, those that fit every criterion of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, all occur within the same 30-day period.
Last week I spoke at a memorial service at Tufts University in Boston. Jewish and Rwandan survivors and the granddaughter of Armenian survivors were joined by a survivor of the Cambodian killing fields for a deeply affecting evening. We first remember the past to honour the victims, and every one of the speakers lost a mind-numbing number of family in his or her respective apocalypse.
We also hope to learn lessons for the future, since everyone who commemorates genocides is also by definition committed to genocide prevention. Despite all the experience of this past century of genocide, how well humankind is doing in preventing such atrocities is by no means clear.
All across the world, memorial ceremonies during April are more common than many know. But Tufts was unusual for this unexpected fact: Rarely do the various survivors' communities attend the same memorials. In general, each bears witness in isolation from the others.
Five years ago, I was asked by the Toronto Armenian community to be the keynote speaker at their commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. I had only just closed down a virtual international organisation, Remembering Rwanda, that I had founded and that I ran with my Rwandan partner Louise Mushikiwabo, whose family had suffered unimaginable losses in 1994. Louise, then a private citizen living in Washington, returned to Rwanda and is now minister of foreign affairs. Our initiative sought to ensure that the world would not forget Rwanda, above all the key role of the international community in enabling its genocide.
But as I pointed out frankly to my Armenian audience, around the world only a handful of Armenians or Jews bothered with Remembering Rwanda. Most were too preoccupied by their own tragedy to have room for or interest in the others. (Many North American Jews attempted to atone for their dereliction by spearheading the Darfur solidarity movement.) Few wanted their own suffering to be diminished, as they saw it, by the suffering of others. Professor Peter Novick, a Jewish American historian, in his superb book ‘The Holocaust In American Life’, called this the Olympics of victimisation. Instead of a competition among victims, I challenged my audience to embrace the solidarity of among them. Who should be more sympathetic to the plight of genocide survivors than other genocide survivors?
That's what the hushed and attentive crowd got at Tufts University. What was remarkable about the four testimonies was, on the one hand, the uniqueness of each experience, yet on the other the extraordinary similarities of each of them. They demonstrated that no one wins the race of the victims. There is no continuum of horror, with some atrocities more heinous than others. There is just the same ultimate goal: The total annihilation of an entire species of humanity for what it is rather than anything it might have done.
Time after time the survivors told virtually identical tales: Being classified as some kind of filthy insect that needs to be eliminated in order to cleanse society, to make it pure. The sudden transformation of neighbour, friend or teacher into mortal enemy. Your physical separation from the larger whole. Losing track of other members of your family. Witnessing a beloved relative murdered before your eyes. The peculiarly gruesome, sadistic nature of the killings.
The desperate escape to anywhere else. Hiding in the marsh, the forest, the hills. Living in holes in the ground like an animal. Taking refuge in disgusting outhouses. The numbing of the senses. The disappearance of everyone else of your kind. The terror. The isolation.
The interminable wait for the victors – the RPF, the Viet Cong, the Soviet or American armies. The miraculous appearance of one of the mob as a furtive protector. Being saved just when you were sure it was over. The complete disorientation of rescue. The search for family. The confirmation of the most terrible fears. Being saved yet being the living dead. The search for justice. The need to survive. The shock of grotesque genocide denial. The realisation that the world moves on, with or without you.
These were the common themes that played themselves out in Boston last week, as they do wherever and whenever survivors gather to tell their stories. They remind us that human nature knows no distinctions based on race or colour or nationality or ethnicity or religion. When there are humans there is the capacity for evil. That's the first lesson re-learned from genocide survivors every April. Prevention begins with the knowledge that it has happened before and, if we let it, it can happen again.
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* Gerald Caplan has a PhD in African history. He recently published The Betrayal of Africa.
* This article first appeared in The Globe and Mail.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
May Day: Building a Nigerian Labour Party as a people’s voice
As workers in Nigeria celebrate this year’s Workers’ Day, the political challenges before the working and poor people are today more vital than ever before. That the capitalist political class has severely and collectively plundered the huge resources of the nation, while poor people go hungry, is nothing new. For the past almost 11 years of civil rule, workers have fought tooth-and-nail to gain a better living, but every workers' demand in this regard is met with stiff opposition from the capitalist ruling class at all levels. While the Nigerian government was forced to concede that it has not implemented the teachers’ salary scale (TSS) in many states of the federation, the demand of the workers for a substantial wage increase from the meagre N5,500 (Naira – about US$37) a month to N52,200 (about US$234) is stubbornly opposed by all tiers of government.
Yet despite the unprecedented monetary resources that have been accrued in the nation’s purse since 1999, nothing fundamental has improved in the living standards of the average Nigerian, just as the country itself is in seeming absolute infrastructural collapse. The hundreds of billions being sunk into road construction, power generation and funding education have found mysterious routes back to the private accounts of money-bag politicians and businessmen. Despite a plethora of anti-graft agencies (the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), the ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission), the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Special Anti-Fraud Unit and the judiciary), pervasive corruption still remains the way of life of politicians and big business. Aside all this are the continued attacks on the working and poor people, the latest of which is the deregulation of the oil industry and, more importantly, the deregulation of fuel pricing.
Commendably, Nigerian workers and the oppressed have waged countless battles against malfeasance and attacks on their living conditions. But the more they fight a policy, the more anti-poor policies are launched against them. In this milieu, the question then arises of why workers will allow looters, anti-poor politicians and bankrupt public officers into power in the first place. Nigerian workers, with their social, organisational and numerical strength, can change the political landscape in the interest of the poor people if their mass organisations (trade unions and their leaderships) are prepared to build a working-class political platform that will challenge the bankrupt capitalist political class. Events have shown that when Nigerian workers and the poor enter the arena of struggle or politics, the atmosphere will definitely change. This is clearly shown by the power of general strikes organised by workers, where even the busiest roads are turned into football pitches. This shows the popularity and the strength Nigerian workers enjoy among the oppressed; if only this is turned into a vital asset to unseat anti-poor politicians and the system they represent.
However, as a result of the absence of a working-class political party, various sections of the capitalist political class, who have been sidelined from the centre of resource control, coupled with some big business-funded NGOs (non-governmental organisations), have turned this into an opportunity to pose as an alternative. In a practical sense, there is fundamentally no difference between the ruling PDP (People's Democratic Party) and the opposition parties. Take Lagos State for instance, where the opposition AC (Action Congress) is in control, education has been commercialised, the health infrastructure is comatose and roads are still in a deplorable condition. The so-called mega-city project of Fashola has meant the destruction of the livelihoods of several poor artisans and petty traders without an alternative means of survival. The party itself is controlled by a few money-bags. Thus, such a party cannot be the alternative structure needed by the working and poor people to liberate themselves from the stranglehold of poverty and misery.
This brings us to the question of the Labour Party, which was founded by trade union leaders. This party, as the name suggests, is supposed to be the party of the working and poor people. But the trade union leadership, aside from handing the party over to some traditional politicians, has refused to mobilise the forces of the workers to build the party as a genuine working-class political platform, with clearly different economic and social programmes. This has made the party attractive to many money-bag politicians, who have failed to achieve their goals in other corrupt political parties. The implication of this is that the Labour Party is gradually losing its pristine outlook. The same labour leadership that is failing to build the Labour Party is conveniently involved in a ‘strategic partnership’ with the government that is attacking the welfare interests of workers and poor people.
In fact, many capitalist parties, having seen the enormous strength that a Labour Party can pull in the coming period, have started romancing the party with an idea of electoral collaboration or mega-party project. This is unfortunate as the Labour Party itself is a mega-party by orientation, if built in this line. What the Labour Party needs today is a summit of the labour movement, pro-labour organisations (especially in LASCO (Labour and Civil Society Coalition)), the students’ movement and socialist movements, where the task of building a viable, politically strong Labour Party will be charted out and work will start in earnest as the 2011 elections fast approach. We need to build a Labour Party that will be completely different in its form of party organisation and working. We need a Labour Party that will be democratically controlled and funded by rank-and-file members through a genuine internal democracy. This can only make sense when workers, youth, students, artisans, peasants and the unemployed join the party en masse. This can be achieved easily if the central labour unions (the NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) and the TUC (Trade Union Congress)) and other trade unions mobilise their members to the party.
More importantly, in order for the party to truly stand as a strong opposition to other anti-worker, anti-poor capitalist political parties – including those claiming to be in the opposition – it needs to stand for economic and political policies that will be different from other parties. These include standing against all anti-poor policies comprising the privatisation of public enterprise and utilities; the commercialisation of social services like education, health and roads; the deregulation of the oil industry; and the retrenchment and casualisation of workers, among others.
On the contrary, the party must stand for the re-nationalisation of all privatised public enterprises and utilities, massively develop them and put all public enterprises and utilities under the democratic control and management of workers, community (where they operate) and consumers, as a deterrent against the mismanagement of these enterprises. This means that managers and officials of the enterprises, corporation and utility firms will come from the democratic decisions of workers and communities and will be subject to recall if found incapable or unworthy. Furthermore, the party will stand for massive funding and development of social services like free and quality education at all levels, free health services at the point of use, massive and integrated road construction, and massive public and cheap housing programmes, among others. With this millions of youths will be gainfully employed while the economy will expand.
The party must adopt a working-class and democratic means of running the party. This means that the party officials, either within the party or in government, will earn the average salary of a skilled worker, and will be subject to recall if found going against the party principle and manifestos. Furthermore, a public office holder under the Labour Party platform will publish his or her assets to the public regularly.
The party, from the grassroots to the national level, will serve as a platform of struggle for workers, youth, students and the oppressed people, against all anti-poor policies of government. This means that the Labour Party in local government will agitate against and lead struggles around the lack of infrastructure, joblessness and the mismanagement of funds at the local level, while doing the same for state and national structures of the party.
The party must be built in workplaces, schools, villages and communities.
It is these kinds of programmes that can make the Labour Party become the real alternative and mega-party of the majority of Nigerians who are living in abject penury, despite the enormous wealth of the country. This is the only way to build a movement against the rigging of election, because a genuine mass party of workers and poor people can hardly be rigged. The reason rigging is prevalent today is because workers and poor people have been ostracised from a political role.
This is calling to working-class activists and labour leaders to move towards building the Labour Party as a true labourers’ party by mobilising workers, peasants, artisans, okada riders, petty traders, youth and students to the party. We must collectively ensure that the party is not handed over to money-bag politicians. We call on the NLC, the TUC and other trade unions to build the Labour Party as a workers’ party. This is the only way to prevent anti-poor politicians from ruling us again.
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* Kola Ibrahim is an activist based at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Enuwa, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Radical philosophy under threat in the UK
As some of you will already know the news broke today that the Philosophy Department at Middlesex University in London is to be closed down on the grounds that their work "made no ‘measurable’ contribution to the University." To my mind this has been, for a while, the most important philosophy department in the English speaking world. Many might say the same about the journal that has, for some time, largely, been produced from the Department i.e. Radical Philosophy. Those of you in South Africa might remember that Rick Turner published his famous paper Dialectical Reason in the 4th issue of the journal in 1972.
There is some more information here - some of which, unfortunately, can only offer resistance within the language and world view of the university managers that took this decision - but no doubt that will change soon:
Updates on the responses to this move, which are flowing in fast, as well as on the plans to mount some resistance, are at http://www.cinestatic.com/infinitethought/ There is a facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=119102561449990&v=info
It has been suggested that people can send messages of support to Professor Peter Osborne at email@example.com
Messages of opposition can be sent to the Dean who took this decision, Ed Eshe, at firstname.lastname@example.org
The work done in the Middlesex Philosophy Department by people like Eric Alliez, Peter Hallward, Mark Kelly, Christian Kerslake, Peter Osborne and Stella Sandford needs no instrumental justification. But it is not irrelevant that, as many of you know very well, on more than one occasion the work done at Middlesex, or in the journal, has filtered into popular struggles in South Africa. On one occasion an account of those struggles has filtered into Radical Philosophy. Peter Hallward is one of the staff members at Middlesex and when Abahlali baseMjondolo was able to elect two delegates to travel to London last year they stayed in Peter Hallward's flat. When Abahlali baseMjondolo were attacked Peter organised a statement by Chomsky, Zizek et al which helped to wake up some local academics from their dogmatic slumbers in civil society and the stupid sects and personality cults that make so much of the middle class left such a farce. Peter drew from the intellectual work done in Abahlali baseMjondolo in his paper on The Will of the People and Abahlali baseMjondolo discussed The Will of the People at a University of Abahlali baseMjondolo seminar on 'a living communism' in the Kennedy Road shack settlement. Last year I prescribed that paper to my students here in Grahamstown and they read it and debated with real commitment. Some of the best theoretical academic work done in South Africa in recent years - work by people like Michael Neocosmos and Raj Patel is indebted to the Middlesex project. No doubt there are similar lines of connection to struggles elsewhere. An injury to one most certainly is an injury to all.
There is more at stake here than the fate of one amongst many philosophy departments. Middlesex has come to stand, for people very far away, and for people with no interest in doing academic work but with a real interest in the power of militant thought, for a real and collective living fidelity to the best of the critical tradition in continental philosophy - a tradition which has been extinguished, fragmented or entirely corrupted in many places. The Philosophy Department at Middlesex is an academic project that we should defend.
World Press Freedom Day, Nigeria: Three journalists murdered
Over the past 15 years 1,500 journalists have been killed whilst working. Some of these have been Nigerians and though more than 24 years ago we should still remember Dele Giwa who was killed by a parcel bomb in October 1986. The three latest journalist murdered are : Edo Ugbagwu, Nathan Dabak and Sunday Gyang Bwede.
Edo Ugbagwu, 42, a court reporter with the Nation, was shot dead at his home in Lagos after men broke in and began arguing with him. According to Lawal Ogienagbon, a deputy editor at the Nation, Ugbagwu had not been working on any controversial stories and had received no threats.
On the same day, Nathan S Dabak, 36, and Sunday Gyang Bwede, 39, working for the Christian newspaper the Light Bearer, were stabbed to death while on their way to Jos, the central Nigerian city which has seen the deaths of hundreds of Christians and Muslims.
Shortly after the murder of the three Nigerian journalists another four jounalists received death threats by SMS.
“We will deal with you soon. Remember Dele Giwa, Bayo Ohu, and Edo Ugbagwu?” the text messages said, invoking three unsolved Nigerian journalist murders, according to local reports. The reporters who received the message were: Yusuf Ali of The Nation, Olusola Fabiyi of The Punch, Chuks Okocha of ThisDay and Gbenga Aruleba of Africa Independent Television (AIT).
The journalists received identical messages after covering Acting President Jonathan Goodluck’s decision to remove the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Maurice Iwu.
A brief look at the International Press Institute reports on Nigeria highlights the culture of media repression in Nigeria and shows an alarming number of suspensions and arrests of Nigerian journalists.
As conflict broke out in several areas of the country, violations against press freedom in Nigeria were increasingly prevalent this year with journalists being suspended, assaulted, threatened, arrested and deported by aggressive police and security forces. The escalation of politically motivated violence against journalists was representative of the instability that spread throughout the country.
Looking at the reasons behind the harassment and detention of journalists it is clear that their “crimes” were reporting the truth such as election rigging, strikes, political disputes between the President and other members of government, or as in the case of Gbenga Faturoti of the Daily Independent, beaten almost unconscious for failing to turn off his mobile phone whilst in the Osun State Assembly. Altogether 21 journalists were victims of either the police or SSS in 2004 – arrested, beaten, threatened, detained. Most were tortured. All were released without charge after period of 24 hours to 1 week. In addition 2 radio stations in Anambra State were vandalised and staff beaten up and the offices of Insider Weekly and Global Star were also vandalised and staff arrested.
A common factor behind all of the above is the lack of accountability for the actions by the security forces and by implication the State and Federal government including the then president, Obasanjo. Why did Nigeria’s the national media fail to report the kidnapping of Jonathan Elendu? Was it for fear of intimidation by the authorities? However the Nigerian Press continues to refuse to acknowledge that it’s freedoms are being seriously curtailed. In that sense the Nigerian media have in the past and at present colluded with the state in their own oppression by not only failing to speak in defense of their fellow journalists but possibly worse, presenting the illusion of a free press. With the rise of sites such as Nigerian Village Square and Sahara Reporters as well as the growing number of Nigerian bloggers particularly those writing from the Disapora, it has become increasingly more difficult to keep up the pretense of a free press. Whilst the new online media and bloggers are prepared to take on the government, albeit from afar and in most cases anonymously, this does not excuse the failure of traditional media to challenge the government on freedom of speech, through the media itself or the courts.
May Day and worker solidarity
1 May is celebrated by workers in all parts of the world as a day of struggle and solidarity. Throughout Africa on 1 May 2010, there were rallies and demonstrations to remind the world of the continued exploitation of working peoples. In South Africa, where the memories of apartheid conditions of social existence are manifest everywhere, the workers rallied and warned: 'Our workers are employed as slaves.'
This slogan summarised the conditions of the majority of the working peoples in Africa in the midst of this capitalist depression. Workers in the advanced capitalist countries are now facing the full impact of the intense forms of exploitation of capitalism as there are increased unemployment, homelessness, environmental degradation, violation of basic rights of workers along with the unleashing of racial, ethnic, religious and other divisions. Africans have always felt the burdens of super-exploitation, but this depression is exacerbating the condition of literally 'sucking the blood' of the working poor. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers and peasants. While hiding behind the mantra of the free market and democracy, the varying cycles of capitalism, boom, inflation recession and depression were used by the strongest sections of the capitalist class to rig the system so that the capitalists are always in power.
In times of capitalist crisis, the ruling classes drop the mask of liberal democracy and unleash the clenched fist of despotism. Along with this clenched fist comes militarism and war. It is in the context of the intensified crisis of capitalism that the 1 May 2010 celebrations took on added significance. Workers in many countries from China to Ukraine and from Spain to Russia were demonstrating in the streets for their rights. Questions of the quality of life, decent wages, health, safety, freedom of assembly and collective bargaining are now on the agenda as the democratic questions of this period. It is no longer possible to refer to democracy as simply the holding of elections. Workers remember that it was in the midst of a capitalist depression that Adolf Hitler ‘won the elections in Germany'. Dictators and constitutional dictators all over Africa have developed the tactic of holding elections that would guarantee their hold on power. These autocrats rule on behalf of international capital, and from the Cape to Cairo working peoples are again rising and building new organisations and developing new tactics of struggle. African workers remember that the depression conditions were never far from their day-to-day reality and the form of capitalism that comes with racism, bigotry, militarism, war and plunder. It is now imperative that we teach the youths the historical lessons of the last major depression when in 1935, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia marked the intensification of militaristic responses to capitalism. In these moments new political formations come into being, and throughout Africa the old NGO (non-governmental) de-politicisation of people are being overtaken by strikes, demonstrations and other forms of popular protest.
During the last depression, it was the movement for peace, along with the movement for independence, that opposed forced labour in Africa. Now, 1 May 2010 is serving as a new marker for the African workers to take the struggles to a higher level of political mobilisation and organisation to ensure that capitalism will not be reconstituted and recomposed on the dead bodies of millions of Africans.
MAY DAY 2010
The marches and demonstrations in Africa were part of a worldwide movement of workers. It was as if people were remembering the call, 'workers of the world unite'. As the living conditions of people everywhere become intolerable, there are signs that workers are gaining new confidence. In Greece there were clashes between the workers and the police as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the EU (European Union) consider the transfer of the cost of the recovery of capitalism on the shoulders of Greek workers. The general strike is again coming back as one form of people's struggle. In all parts of Europe, the denizens of high finance and banking are being exposed as fraudsters, in short ‘criminals'. Workers and their spokespersons are challenging the call for the subsidisation of these bankers. While the mainstream media uses the old scare-tactics to frighten workers, the democratic masks are being removed to further the oppression of workers in Britain, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and all of those societies that previously boasted the success of free market. From Portugal, workers demonstrated, while in socialist Cuba, May Day was celebrated as one more example of the superiority of the collective form of social organisation over the divisions of working peoples. Workers in Europe are presented with the bogey of immigrants and black hordes in order to divide and confuse them. It was in the United States that the continued division of the working people on the basis of race was brought to the fore by the new legislation in the state of Arizona.
Despite the fact that the inspiration behind the celebration of May Day emanated from the struggles for the eight-hour day in the United States (after the Chicago Haymarket massacres), this is one of the few countries where 1 May is not a holiday for the workers. From the beginning of capitalism in the United States, workers from Europe were given the stamp of whiteness as a way to gain their support for the enslavement of Africans and the genocidal destruction of the First Nation peoples. US capitalists have always manipulated the division between black and white workers to blunt workers’ militancy. After the build-up of the militancy of the US workers, Labor Day was turned into a day of revelry, picnic and eating. In essence, the majority of white workers in the US were mobilised as the support base for racial terror-imperialism and militarism as the super-profits enabled US white workers to enjoy a high standard of living.
Now, in the midst of the worse capitalist depression since 1932, the most retrograde and conservative sections of the US population are falling back on racist and fascist instincts to divide workers. In April, the State of Arizona passed a law that authorised police to stop and search anyone they suspect of being in the US illegally. Many mainstream newspapers have compared this law to the laws passed against the Jews in Germany as fascism took root among German workers. This law mirrors the former South African pass laws. On 1 May, hundreds of thousands of Latino workers took to the streets in the US to oppose the Arizona law.
MAY DAY AND WORLD PEACE
The same mindset which is fomenting racism and fascism in the US is also the same mindset behind the call for the deployment of US military forces in Africa under the banner of the so-called African Command (AFRICOM). African activists now have added ammunition in their opposition to the militarisation of Africa. General William Ward and his forces can be challenged to answer where they stand on the question of the rise of fascist tendencies in the United States. In the face of the de-legitimisation of the International Monetary Fund and the policies of privatisation and liberalisation, Africans must collectively work to strengthen the International Labour Organisation (ILO) so that questions of the rights of workers are connected to environmental justice and peace. When the idea of the ILO was mooted in 1919 after the first imperialist war, the question of the rights of workers was directly linked to demilitarisation and peace. The preamble of the ILO constitution stated clearly that it was an organisation founded on the belief that 'universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice'. There was general agreement that labour peace was central to world peace. This was the moment when George Padmore wrote the book, 'Africa and World Peace' (1937). The world did not listen then and humanity paid a heavy price with the conflagration of the Second World War and the Nazi Holocaust.
Today, African workers in all parts of the world are at the forefront of reminding the world that peace at the place of work is central to world peace. It is not accidental that workers in South Africa echoed the slogan: 'Our workers are employed as slaves.'
This slogan is a reminder that while workers in Europe and North America were struggling for the eight-hour day, the concessions made for the eight-hour day and the forty-eight-hour week were never available for African workers. In fact, international standards relating to the abolition of child labour, forced labour and the establishment of safety and security for workers are still questions on the table in every African country. African women were super-exploited because workers were never paid a living wage and their families were brought into the nexus of exploitation. The spokespersons for international capitalism seek to mask this reality by trumpeting the so-called informal sector and micro-credit. Under neoliberalism and privatisation, many of the social rights that were won with political independence have been stripped from African men and women at the grassroots.
Struggles for basic rights, indeed for life itself, are being waged in all parts of Africa. It is in the societies with the massive working classes where the struggles are sharpest: Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These societies stand at the border of deeper exploitation, militarism and divisions on one side and on the other, peace, reconstruction and the unleashing of the creative potentialities of the African working peoples. These are the same societies where ‘big labour’ is being unmasked. Militants for the poor identify big labour as those trade union bureaucrats who yearn for a place at the table of the capitalists so that these labour bureaucrats can also join in the plunder. Both South Africa and Nigeria are societies where working-class movements are very strong and there are pressures for a new democracy among the workers so that the plunder and humiliation of all peoples will end.
MAY DAY AND DEMOCRATIC STRUGGLES IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Although we have identified the limits of the top leaders of the sell-outs from among the trade union bureaucracy, these societies are only the clear manifestation of the ideological crisis facing the working poor in Africa. It is in Zimbabwe that the leaders of the working poor have exposed their ideological subservience to Western concepts of poverty alleviation and ‘governance'. Although the rank-and-file of the Zimbabwean workers want a new democratic dispensation that starts from the working peoples (especially the plantation and agricultural workers), the neoliberal approach to political struggles has crippled sections that yesterday were called the left and the trade union movement. This led Africa to a situation where Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition, from the trade union movement finds support from among the most conservative section of imperialism, instead of from the solidarity of other oppressed workers in Africa and other parts of the world of capitalist oppression.
The militarisation of politics in Africa has served to remind progressives that democracy can only come when there are rights for all members of the society. During the last capitalist depression, Africans linked their struggle for collective bargaining and for freedom of assembly to independence. It was correctly calculated that democratic rights could not be gained under the colonial state. In this period of depression, the struggle for the rights of African workers is not only against the imperialists, but also against the local collaborators of capitalism.
The capitalist system of production can never guarantee democratic rights and participation for the African worker. While workers in Europe and North America were free from bonded labour and free to enter the market place, capitalism in Africa was always based on force. Forced labour gave way to the banning and restrictions on trade unions. Force in production gave way to militarisation and authoritarianism in politics, the institutionalisation of violence and to the militarisation of the state. For these reasons, wars and militarism dominate the agenda as divisions based on religion, ethnicity and regions are used to divide workers from each other.
SOLIDARITY IN AFRICA AND GLOBAL SOLIDARITY
African workers will follow carefully the struggles in Asia, Europe and the Americas as they unfold with a view towards strengthening the international solidarity of workers. The conditions of mining and the extraction of petroleum are forcing new forms of mobilisation. It is not by accident that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of South Africa is protesting against the casualisation of labour. Whether it is in the mining of coltan in the Congo or the picking of tea in Kenya, the conditions of the most exploited have not changed significantly from the colonial period.
Workers in South Africa are showing the way by their day-to-day battles for water, electricity, decent housing and decent education (what is called 'service delivery'). These struggles have been accentuated as the former freedom fighters from the African National Congress (ANC) find allies in the World Bank to consolidate a variant of black capitalism under the misnomer of ‘black economic empowerment'. Some of these same leaders exploit domestic household help in ways that are reminiscent of enslavement. This betrayal in South Africa has been the main lesson as all of the so-called freedom fighters in Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia expose the dead-end of the old liberation reference points.
It is the new solidarity among African people that will strengthen African unity as African people demand that Africa for the Africans be meaningful so that the tremendous wealth of Africa is not plundered. These working people are struggling for freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and the freedom to organise. These are the freedoms that will enrich the unity of the peoples of Africa in their societies and across the fake borders. All of the rising powers see Africa as the space for unlimited accumulation of super-profits. For the capitalist classes in Brazil, India, Russia, China, the US and the European Union to reconstitute global capitalism, African labour, mineral and genetic resources are needed. The May Day demonstrations in Africa are one reminder that the questions of the quality of life of the African are not negotiable. From Africa there are calls for a new internationalism. It is the non-negotiation of freedom that is breaking out in slow and imperceptible ways that forms the kernel of the African revolution that will explode. When and from where this will come cannot be foretold.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Horace Campbell is a peace activist who is working to realise the dream of the late Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem of building African unity by 2015.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ocampo’s coming, the witnesses are running
L. Muthoni Wanyeki
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, will be in town this week.
Naturally, his visit, although touted as investigative, will really be more about the formalities.
Still, it will be important symbolically – particularly in terms of how it is received and responded to by the relevant state agencies, departments and ministries.
On the surface of things, all seems well so far.
The attorney general and relevant ministers have made the right kind of public pronouncements following the decision of the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber.
Parliament passed the required amendments to the Witness Protection Act with no visible dissent.
But the devil is always in the detail. And detail is still clearly lacking over the role of Kenya’s security services with respect to both the investigative process and witness protection.
The Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence found the security services – particularly the Administration Police and the General Service Unit – to have been responsible for no less than a third of the deaths that occurred.
It also found that the security services did not document complaints against themselves, let alone report or act decisively on them.
This is obviously a cause for concern for the ICC’s own investigative process – how will its investigators know whom to trust under the co-operation framework?
Meanwhile, it is clear that, even in the absence of publicly known data and evidence on witnesses requiring protection, that there is grave cause for concern.
A formerly high ranking officer of the AP has left the country, following well publicised reports of his knowledge of the extra-legal training exercise conducted at the AP’s training school prior to the elections.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which conducted the most comprehensive documentation of the violence prior to the CIPEV report, has been shaken by reports of leakages of what should be protected information about its own witnesses.
And, most disturbing are reports of community level and political mobilisation in affected areas to intimidate and threaten victims of the violence – who have the capacity to at least bear witness to the consequences of the violence, if not its planning, financing and execution.
The result is that those who have the most to gain from an accountability process are, in fact, being victimised once again.
On top of this they also will be the least likely to be supported by either the ICC’s witness protection programme or the state’s witness protection agency.
Because both programmes are, for obvious reasons of law, most interested in the kinds of witnesses who can connect the dots and establish chain of command for the organised violence and the equally organised counter-attacks.
And such witnesses, who would have had to be in the know, so to speak, are not likely to be terribly savoury characters themselves.
It is a painful irony.
So let us not take the appropriate pronouncements being so smoothly made at the highest state levels as a given.
Some of the internally displaced are, in fact, on the move again.
They have learnt not to take intimidation and threat lightly. But some of them really have nowhere else to go.
Let us be prepared to do what we can to mitigate the obvious backlash (including renewed violence) that this investigative process is already setting off.
But let that preparation not cause us to take our eyes off the prize – accountability is the only way through to this never happening again. No justice, no peace.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* This article first appeared in The East African.
* L. Muthoni Wanyeki is executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Church’s hypocrisy on Kenya constitution
Responses to ‘Women's rights and Kenya's constitution: Challenging “men of faith”’
Ciiru Njehu, Nzilani, Kĩriakũ wa Kĩnyua
Articles like these should be circulated as part of the civil education going on prior to the referendum!
I agree that the anti-constitution campaign being led by leaders of various Christian churches in Kenya is an attempt at exerting their authority and power in the face of the government (another equally masculinist entity); competing masculinities. This is clear from the claims they are making which are NOT based on written fact and their disconnection from what happens in the everyday lives of so many Kenyan women. These church leaders should be dealing with the root causes of all the unexpected pregnancies (which have been well outlines in the article), before they start pretending to provide "solutions" to problems which they are in fact part and parcel of!
Ladies, Thank you for the great article. It is my hope that the church's attempt to derail the constitution will fail. The church's main role should be teaching about good morals to their congregations, which would go a long way in addressing some of the root causes of the unplanned pregnancies, rapes, defilements that lead to the abortions they strongly oppose. Unfortunately, since their primary role of teaching morality has failed miserably, they are forced to choose a cause that is enshrined in the 10 commandments, "thou shall not kill" by targeting what is actually majority of their followers and the most oppressed group in our nation.
The irony of it all is, apart from the Catholic Church that has taken an official stand against the death penalty, the protestant churches that are members of NCCK; do not protect the sanctity of life when it comes to criminals. Where are the press conferences expressing their outrage at extrajudicial killings and mob lynching of suspected criminals?? Of course, the irony is lost as our own media, that is supposed to be educating the public, is too lazy to do their homework and call them out on the double standards!
The idea of including all aspects of our society in writing the Bomas Draft was noble and this business of inclusion should have ended there. The final making of the constitution should have been left to the experts, but in the Kenyan case, I’m not sure the Committee of Experts are the best choice as they could not even decide on the obvious matter of the structure of the executive. The United States of America, which is arguably the best constitution in the world, was written by a very small group of people. 200 years later, the document is still evolving because the myth of a perfect constitution does not exist!!
I hope Kenyans will recognise the hypocrisy of the church leaders and refuse to answer their call and be able to recognise the good that is in this draft.
I thank you for your thoughtful article. Isn’t it amazing that most of us “men of the cloth” almost always pretend to speak on behave of the “voiceless”! As Gayatri Spivak asks, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” It is time for the “voiceless” to speak-out for themselves!
I would like to add that the issue of religion in most occasions raises people’s emotions that we at times are unable to think rationally. I think the underlying problem is a psychological one. Psychologists refer to it as compensation or simply passing the buck. In this case we fail to acknowledge our own failures and simply blame it on the pro-abortionists and Muslims. I was in Kenya recently, and was surprised by the kind of lifestyle lived by the ministers of the Gospel. One needs to visit his local pastor's home and then visit a couple of the ministers' parishioners and you will be surprised by the economic disparities thereof. Ministry is no longer a calling or a passion but a lifestyle. No wonder our Christian leaders are quick to blame the Kadhi courts and Islamic expansionism for the rapid rise in Islam mainly in our poor communities such as Kibera.
The second point that I would want to draw your attention to is a political one. When I read such ultimatums as the ones given by church leaders, I see political mischief in the guise of Christian activism. The issues on abortion and the Kadhi court are more political than religious. The Christian leaders’ perspective is based on limited knowledge on misinformation, ignorance of constitutional making and prejudice. Their position is backed by half-truths and misrepresentations. It compares to fear-mongering evident in America today - which is basically championed by the American Religious Right. Christian fundamentalism is as dangerous as Islamic fundamentalism! The current Christian leadership in Kenya is behaving as though it was the left wing of the Jihadists in Somali or Nigeria only this time clothed in cassocks and holding Bibles (instead of wearing turbans and holding guns).
Although Kenyans’ amnesia is astounding, one does not need to seek far and wide to read this political mischief. Before 2007 general election and the violent events that followed, most of the Christian leaders now marshalling support against abortion and Kadhi court were busy rallying their troops behind candidate “A” (mainly the one from their tribe) while opposing the “enemy” of their candidate. But did the Christian leaders answer to their higher calling? The IDPs are still languishing in hovels and abject poverty. The Church seems to have lost its moral voice. Unimagined scale of violence continues to bother every right thinking Kenyan; people are being murdered at will; Mũngĩkĩ killers who are now hailed as Christian converts remain free – and what have the Christian leadership done about these things? Your guess is as good as mine.
Brothers and sisters, what is my point? It is simply this, before we can accuse others of the speck in their eyes, we must first take care of the log that continues to hinder our beatific vision of the Kingdom of God. We need to wear sackcloth instead of mourning the expansion of Islam. We need to return to the God of old, who still demands that we walk upright, love justice and walk humbly before Yahweh. God cannot be mock! Kenya’s destiny is in God’s hands and no Kadhi court or Islamic scholar or Muhammad’s sword can sway the hand of Yahweh. Let us do our part and let God be God! God will take care of God’s own. God is the Author and the Finisher of our Faith! We should not be casting stones at Islamic fundamentalism while we ourselves live in glass houses. The God I worship has no time for such “righteous” grandstanding. God is interested in a humble and a contrite spirit - a spirit that bears the Spirit of the Living Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the one whom the Father raised by the Power of His Mighty Hand.
KĨRIAKŨ WA KĨNYUA
The way forward for Kenyan civil society
A response to ‘Kenya's civil society needs a new vision’
Since independence, Kenyans have tried to avoid use of violence as a means of achieving meaningful change.
Progressive Kenyans are used to Civil Society Organisation as an avenue of achieving non-violence way of change. In our situation, the civil society organisations seem to be always on opposing sides with the government and to some extend corporate sector since early 80s and throughout 90s. While ordinary Kenyans appreciated and embraced the new changes as part of life, the civil society staff failed to notice new developments taking place in Kenya and they got stuck in the old ways of doing things. The new change taking place required we start engaging the two bodies (government and corporate sector) if we really mean to establish a meaningful and sustainable change. In Kenya, we also failed to learn from countries such as South Africa and Poland the importance of having strong trade unions.
The civil society organisations have been successful in drawing support of donors as opposed to involving people who are in organised settings such as trade unions, youth and women groups, social movements, manufacturing industries and farmers.
- Civil Society Organisations should strengthen morbid trade unions, youth and women groups, establish strong community social audit teams to respond to the needs and aspirations of Kenyans
- Civil Society Organisations establish better working relationship with government and corporate sector. We could learn from the prisons reforms and establishment HIV/AIDS workplace policy
- Civil Society Organisations establish mechanism of attracting funding locally from either the government or corporate sector. International NGOs also depend on the two for funding.
The Voiceless Cry
The silent cries of the innocent,
Abandoned in the dark,
Stabbed in the night,
Shot by the wayside,
By masked men in ‘plain clothes’
We not know their names
We know their masters
Actions of intimidation
The voiceless cry!
Seekers of truth strangled
Maimed in daylight…
We have seen them,
We know them
But in little whispers we talk of them;
Intimidated by the lack of;
Crucified for the act of;
Bailing for the blood of the innocent
Kill and maim for what they cannot provide
The voice of the voiceless
Crying in the silent wilderness
Strangled by very powers we pay
We have seen them abduct kill and maim
We have seen them tap and disconnect
In fears we live
In confidence we cry
Yet the voiceless die in the silent
Those with voice are now in borders
Those with voice never will return – Oulu, Kingara
Those with voice fear
When will the new dawn rise?
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* Nancy Muigei is a poet and a youth activist.
* Nancy Muigei © 2010.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Deepening Africa-China engagement: The African Journalist Study Tour
Hayley Herman and Sanusha Naidu
The Fahamu Emerging Powers in Africa Programme recently initiated and conducted probably the first non-state sponsored African Journalist Study Tour to Beijing, providing four African journalists – selected from over 60 applicants – with the opportunity to experience a week-long visit to China.
The study tour was timely following the conclusion of the fourth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in November 2009 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The Forum concluded with African and Chinese representatives agreeing to the implementation of the Sharm El Sheikh Action Plan and showing political will towards the commitments through the signing of the Sharm El Sheikh Declaration. The study tour thus received further impetus through the commitments forged at the FOCAC Summit and aimed to provide an important link in the growing engagement between China and African media exchanges. The tour was further encouraged through the contextualisation of the role of people-to-people exchanges in the broader framework of Sino-African ties as Premier Wen Jiabao emphasised the need for ‘closer interactions among non-governmental organisations, news media and academic institutions’ at the opening of FOCAC. This was supported through the inclusion of several commitments related to the need for greater people-to-people engagement and social interaction, including media exchanges in order to allow ‘news media of the two sides to step up objective and fair coverage on China and Africa’.
The FOCAC Summit thus provided greater impetus towards the objective of the study tour, to provide support towards the creation of an objective and independent African voice and perspective in reporting on Sino-African relations. It can be noted that coverage of Sino-African engagement has largely been driven by Western media. Reports have been dominated not only by the burgeoning commercial and political engagements between African and Chinese stakeholders, but have also served as a powerful tool in the development of perceptions between people in Africa and China of each other. However, as interactions between Africa and China have continued to deepen and expand, so too has the realisation that cultural and social understanding, through media reporting, will play an increasingly important role in fostering greater understanding between both sides.
The study tour allowed participants to discuss and better understand the role of Chinese and African media in political and economic reporting on China-Africa, as well as the role of media in shaping perceptions of China and Africa. In particular, it was found that perceptions of Africa in China, and China in Africa are driven largely by Western media coverage. Great interest was noted during discussions between the African participants and Chinese counterparts, for greater awareness of African news sources and information. The expansion and representation of Chinese media organisations such as Xinhua, CCTV and China Radio International was given detailed attention during meetings with Chinese media representatives, and academia in particular. Chinese media organisations have given priority to expanding not only Chinese journalist coverage of African news, but also the need to identify and expand its use of African correspondents and interaction between local media organisations. The mutual interest from both Africa and China was noted throughout the tour and provided encouragement to establish wider networks of engagement between African and Chinese journalists.
Interest among Chinese organisations, media, academia and students were evident during the week-long visit. However particular curiosity and attention was noted specifically towards Africa itself, including its socio-economic conditions, economic development and culture. The level of interest towards these issues was concentrated on basic knowledge and understanding of Africa, the lives of African people, as well as their similar struggles for social services. The understanding of Chinese activities in Africa was largely set aside as basic facts and knowledge of Africa domestic issues took precedence among Chinese counterparts. The African journalists were encouraged by the high level of interest towards Africa and noted the scope and possibilities for reporting and making these stories available to Chinese readers. The need for an increased awareness of African stories was further discussed during meetings with Chinese counterparts, and encouragement was given from the Chinese publications, particularly those focusing on China-Africa issues, to provide informative articles in future. In addition, the African journalists learnt more about the coverage and perspectives of Chinese media towards the coverage of African news. This in particular created a better understanding of China’s perceptions of Africa, as well as the implementation of its Africa policy.
As questions surrounding issues of African development, livelihoods, economic development and culture were continuously brought to the fore during meetings with various Chinese organisations, an equal level of interest in Chinese socio-economic issues, and Chinese traditions and history was evident amongst the African journalists. A mutual interest in basic knowledge around these areas was highlighted throughout the visit as it became clear that Chinese and African societies not only had a mutual interest in the others history and current development, but that the lack of understanding regarding these issues had reinforced stereotypes, misunderstanding and lack of awareness that Chinese and African people were largely focused on the same mutual goals and struggles, including social services, employment, effects of urbanisation, access to education, and respect of human rights. These areas of mutual interest gave greater impetus towards the need for greater coverage of these areas of concern between Chinese and African media not only to dispel many of the existing misrepresentations of China and Africa in the Western media, but also to develop better understanding of Chinese and African society, beyond the focus of aid, trade and corporate activities between the two sides.
The meetings held during the course of the study tour made clear the possibilities for deepening and expanding engagements between Chinese and African media, as well as the interest and will to pursue such partnerships in the future. The visit provided the African journalists with encouragement to follow through with better communication amongst Chinese organisations and publications to further this objective. It showed great scope and need for more people-to-people exchange parallel to the ever expanding and solidifying ties between Chinese and African governments and the corporate interests.
Over the next few weeks we will be publishing the commentaries by the four journalists as part of our inaugural launch of the African Perspectives on the Emerging powers in Africa newsletter. Moreover, it is anticipated that while the four journalists will share their experiences from the trip and outline to what extent certain preconceived views of China have been dispelled, it also envisaged that newsletter will become the platform for the voice of social movements, social activists and other strategic actors who can tell their stories and experiences vis-à-vis the footprint of the Emerging Powers in Africa.
By assessing how the four journalists are going to take this experience and replicate what they have learnt back to their respective countries through the networks, associations, and work environments that they are involved in, we intend developing the newsletter into an African peoples’ dialogue where the African voice can be nurtured and heard. Come share your opinions, stories, advocacy and experiences.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Hayley Herman is programme officer based with the Emerging Powers in Africa programme based in South Africa. She was the coordinator of the African Journalist Study Tour to China that was conducted from the 24 April–1 May 2010.
* Sanusha Naidu is the research director of the emerging powers in Africa programme based in South Africa.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Pambazuka News 144: La CPI et les massacres du 28 septembre en Guinée
Diamond company official abducted
Andrew Cranswick, the CEO of African Consolidated Resources (ACR), the company at the centre of a legal battle over the Chiadzwa diamonds claim, says one of their officials was abducted from the ACR offices in Harare on Thursday. He told SW Radio Africa that ACR Financial Officer Ian Harris was abducted at 4pm by members of Mines Minister Obert Mpofu's private police, the CID Mineral Squad. Cranswick said the police are refusing to tell lawyers where Harris has been taken.
MDC youth leader out on free bail after allegedly insulting Mugabe
MDC provincial youth chairman for Mashonaland Central, Tonderai Samhu, appeared in court on Tuesday facing allegations of insulting Robert Mugabe. Samhu handed himself over to the law and order section in Bindura on Monday. Police had been hunting him down since he organized a rally in Mvurwi last week Wednesday to bid farewell to the late MDC provincial Chairman Biggie Chigonero.
Opposition infighting raises spectre of violence
A public disagreement between Zimbabwe's Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, and Finance Minister Tendai Biti over pay increases in public servants' salaries is being seen as evidence of greater divisions between two of the most senior leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Zimbabwe leaders unite over sanctions
Zimbabwe's three leading figures have condemned international sanctions on the country at a World Economic Forum conference in Tanzania. In a rare show of unity, President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara appealed for investment. Only Mr Tsvangirai had been expected to represent Zimbabwe at the forum in Dar es Salaam.
Zimbabwe shelves key privatisation
Zimbabwe has announced it was shelving the privatisation of the country's huge iron and steel company, in what is suspected to be a growing bickering in Zimbabwe's coalition government. Arcelor Mittal, the world's biggest iron and steel company, and India's Jindal Steel and Power company, had been short-listed to buy a controlling stake in the loss-making Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (Zisco).
Burkina Faso: Project boosts education, health care for women farmers
A United Nations-backed pilot programme that supplies electric generators to rural women farmers in Burkina Faso, freeing them from lengthy chores so that they can devote more time to education, childcare and health care, is to be adopted on a national scale.
Global: The worst places to be a mother
Eight of the bottom 10-ranked countries in Save the Children’s annual Mothers Index, which ranks the best and worst places to be a mother, are in sub-Saharan Africa, says the NGO. Afghanistan, Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea form the bottom 10; while Norway, Australia, Iceland and Sweden come top.
South Africa: Community radio takes on gender and World Cup
The world’s media eyes will soon squarely focus on South Africa, with millions from across the globe tuning in via multimillion-dollar broadcasts. Yet, as Deborah Walter points out, even as the international media and big broadcasters move in, and journalists descend from all over the world, in South Africa, like much of Africa, community radio is still a key source of information and news for many communities, linking local activities and issues with international perspectives.
The world’s media eyes will soon squarely focus on South Africa, with millions from across the globe tuning in via multimillion-dollar broadcasts. Yet, even as the international media and big broadcasters move in, and journalists descend from all over the world, in South Africa, like much of Africa, community radio is still a key source of information and news for many communities, linking local activities and issues with international perspectives.
While other news media, especially print, struggle to keep audiences, community radio listenership in South Africa is continuously rising. According to the South African Advertising Research Foundation, community radio is improving its weekly reach, rising from 7.340-million listeners to 7.713-million between February and May this year alone.
One of the contributing factors cited is the increasing listenership among youth and women. Perhaps it is because, although we live in an increasingly globalised world, audiences still crave community issues and information relevant to their everyday lives.
Community radio is often more likely than mainstream media to include voices form community-based sources, and women sources. For example, monitoring of community media by Gender Links during the April 2009 elections showed that women constituted 34% of news sources, compared to 20% in monitoring of the mainstream media conducted by Media Monitoring Africa over the same period
In celebration of 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. Gender Links, South Africa’s National Community Radio Forum (NCRF) and the Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET) conducted a debate to tackle the convergence of these issues – community media, gender, and the upcoming World Cup 2010.
According to NCRF director Frankilin Huizies, while community stations may not have the much sought after and very expensive broadcast rights, there’s many creative ways to make sure local listeners get in on the World Cup action. “How can we take advantage of the World Cup?” Huizies challenged the audience comprising mostly of community broadcasters.
“Stations can do live broadcasts form unofficial fan parks, cover other activities around the tournament, and even teach their communities to speak the greetings of the incoming visitors,” suggested Huizies.
Brenda Leonard of Bush Radio echoed these thoughts, explaining that Bush’s strong commitment to gender equality and ensuring the participation of women means they often get the interesting stories that everyone else misses. For example, an all woman work force was responsible for installing the stadium’s beautiful and complex glass ceiling, a story that Bush sought out to cover.
Human trafficking and possible dangers to children during the event has been a serious source of concern for the government and parents. Even before the advent of the Cup. Bush has a strategy in place to deal with such emergencies. “We have a policy that if anyone goes missing, at any time, any programme is immediately stopped and that information goes out on air,” explained Leanord. “The first four hours are the most crucial, so the information is urgent.”
According to Leonard, community radio’s job is also to tackle the big issues, what’s gone wrong. She explained that one of the stories Bush has followed closely is the displacement of informal traders, often resulting from strict FIFA by-laws about where business can take place in and around stadiums. “All the traders are gone,” she said. “We need to talk about where they are now.”
One such trader is Cecilia Dube, who was part of the crew of women that provided refreshments for workers during the construction at Soccer City outside of Johannesburg. Dube is frustrated with media, recalling many interviews that did nothing to stop the forcible removal of her and her colleagues from spaces they occupied for four years.
For Dube, the displacement is bad enough, but adding insult to injury is the lack of recognition of the vital role such traders played. “I may not have touched a brick on that stadium,” she says, “but I helped to build it. Without me and other traders, those workers would have had to travel far for food, and the job would not have been done.” She wonders why all of the advertisements and television programmes have missed talking about the contribution of such women.
Dube remembers sadly that she was “one of the people who jumped sky high” at the announcement of South Africa as host. She puzzles at why the traders are suddenly deemed “unsightly” and unwanted by the government. “They forget that many doctors and lawyers were raised on the earnings of such traders,” she points out. “Many traders are women who are the only breadwinners in the family, and losing their income means not food or clothes for their children,” she pointed out.
Dube says the traders, or as she prefers, small business operators, are most disappointed because many thought the World Cup would mean the much needed capital to become formalised. “Provide us with an office and capital and we’ll show you how informal we are,” she challenged.
According to Nomasonto Magwaza, Programme Coordinator at ESSET, the displacement has not yet ended. “We have heard that traders from Bree Mall have now been told to leave. On 21 Mach, traders were forcibly removed form Park Stations,” she said. “Yet renovations slated to begin 1 May have not yet stated, and traders are asking why?”
This kind of displacement has not received widespread coverage in the media, and there is a certain reticence to “spoiling the party” yet as those present at the debate discussed, it is important to highlight the good stories, while pointing out what needs to be done differently for any future events, anywhere on the continent
As Kubi Rama, deputy Director of Gender Links pointed out, “it is the voices of the Cecilia Dube’s across the country that we need to hear.” She recalled the recent incident where security barred a female Sowetan photographer Vathiswa Ruselo from entering a section of Orlando Stadium, stating that “You are a woman. Women have their places and that is where you belong.” Rama questions, “What does this mean for overage of the World Cup?”
For community radio, the need to cover these stories leaves a gap. “Most community radio constituents are those who can not afford tickets, said Rama. “These are the most important people to ensure access to coverage.”
Even without the big broadcast rights, community radio is sure to be at the centre of the action. For the hosts of the debate there is renewed commitment to ensure that community voices, especially those of women, are among those heard during all of the World Cup festivities. They agreed that while they can’t change the rules of the World Cup, they can help raise the voice of public opinion, making every voice count during World Cup and beyond.
* Deborah Walter is the Editor of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service and Director of CMFD Productions. This article is part of the GL Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.
South Africa: Women shut out of the labour market
South Africa has one of the highest rates in the world of unemployment for comparable middle-income countries. The latest official statistics show that by December 2009, around 4,2 million people, out of a total labour force of 17 million, were officially unemployed. Yet, this figure does not include almost two million individuals who have simply lost hope of ever finding a job. For women, the situation is nothing but drastic, writes Kimani Nding'u.
South Africa has one of the highest rates in the world of unemployment for comparable middle-income countries. The latest official statistics show that by December 2009, around 4,2 million people, out of a total labour force of 17 million, were officially unemployed. Yet, this figure does not include almost two million individuals who have simply lost hope of ever finding a job. For women, the situation is nothing but drastic.
Not only do women experience a higher rate of unemployment compared to men, but women also make up about two of every three discouraged work seekers. The recent economic crisis has also disproportionately affected women, with the number of females who are no longer economically active rising sharply between 2008 and 2009.
South Africa’s long running problem of structural unemployment affects African women in particular. While there are no current composite statistics showing unemployment by race and gender, official data published two years ago indicated that by September 2007, the rate of unemployment among black African women was 31%, while for those classified as Coloureds, Indians and Whites, it was respectively 21%, 11%, and 4.5%. This means that for every one white woman without a job in South Africa, there was at least seven unemployed black African women.
Lack of employment opportunities and the absence of an independent source of income means that many women are forced to rely on their spouses, immediate family members, relatives or friends for survival. Furthermore, our country’s social security system offers no form of income support to indigent people between the age of 17 and 60 years unless, that is, they have a disability.
The fact that many women have to live off someone else has a multiplicity of negative social consequences, including the loss of independence, dignity and being forced to remain in abusive relationships.
On the other hand, whil historically, the South African labour market excluded women from almost completely from participating in the economy, since 1995, slightly over two million women have found employment. A report published by the Department of Labour (DOL) a few years ago showed that the rate of women’S participation in the labour market has been significantly higher when compared with that of men.
However, these statistics can be misleading because most women workers have been absorbed in the fast growing services sector, informal work and private households. To illustrate the point, between 2004 and 2007 when the South African economy was again growing at its fastest pace since the 1970s, the number of women working in the informal sector rose by a dramatic 105 000 to 1,1 million. On the other hand, the number of men working in this sector rose by only 15 000 to 1,3 million.
Interestingly, the DOL review mentioned above argued that the highest rate of women’s participation in the labour force occurred in the 45-54 years age category due to a multiplicity of “push factors.” This included more women choosing to remain longer in the labour market, women having no alternative but to stay in jobs, the need to continue to work as they become older, and the decline of female access to male income resulting from increased unemployment among males. In addition, the impact of HIV/AIDS has led to a rise in female-headed households, and consequently, more women forced to look for work in order to support their families.
Despite growing numbers of women working, gender equality is still far from being realised in the workplace. Twelve years since the passing of employment equity legislation and affirmative action measures, women continue to be seriously under-represented in the management and skilled trade categories. Women make up only 23% of all employers and a mere 30% of all managers in the workplace. On the other hand, almost 97% of all domestic workers in South Africa are women.
For young women, pregnancy, marriage and family commitments, among other factors, have a bearing on their ability to continue with education and consequently, to find employment. The latest General Household Survey published by Statistics South Africa in September 2009 showed a considerable number of young women between the ages of 13 and 19 years who were not attending an educational institution. While lack of money was the main reason for not doing so, the reasons cited above together with failed exams were also cited as important factors.
Female unemployment is not a distinctively South African phenomenon, but it has a unique dimension in this country since race, class and gender have intersected powerfully to deny many women a foothold in the labour market. If we want to continue to develop as a country, this needs to be accounted for and factored into national economic planning.
* Kimani Ndungu is a Senior Researcher at the National Labour and Development Institute (NALEDI) in South Africa. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.
Africa: FAO head calls for more focus on hunger, malnutrition
The head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has appealed for greater attention to be focused on the food security situation in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly one third of the population is hungry. With nearly 270 million people malnourished out of a total population in the region of more than 800 million, “this situation clearly demands our urgent and undivided attention,” Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General, told government ministers at the agency’s regional conference in Luanda, Angola.
DRC: Death penalty verdict prompts concern
Congolese authorities have been urged to ensure two soldiers and a civilian sentenced to death for murdering a reporter face some form of punishment. A right groups says it fears as there is a moratorium on death penalties in the Democratic Republic of Congo those found guilty this week may be freed.
DRC: Kinshasa rejects report of army atrocities
A report alleging that government troops summarily executed fifty civilians in early April in fighting around Mbandaka, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo's northwestern Équateur Province has been rejected by the government. "About fifty Congolese civilians were killed without warning by the Congolese Armed Forces (known by its French acronym, FARDC) in April 2010," says a report by human rights group ASADHO (Association africaine de défense des droits de l’homme), a group based in Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
North Africa: Campaign spotlights disabled Tunisians' right to work
Many disabled Tunisians face towering obstacles in their daily lives, especially in finding jobs. But for some, having a handicap is just another challenge to overcome. "We need to stop begging and appearing pathetic," visually impaired student Beshir Nasri told Magharebia during the Saturday (May 1st) wrap-up of the "2010 Hope" campaign.
Rwandan: Genocide suspects in Zambia: A call for justice
African Rights, REDRESS and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre have sent a confidential report to President Rupiah Banda of Zambia detailing the names and roles of 16 key suspects of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda who are believed to be living in Zambia. The report follows a visit of President Banda to Rwanda in mid- January 2010 during which he expressed determination to take timely and effective action to ensure that Zambia is no longer a safe haven for individuals who are alleged to have taken part in planning, organizing and executing the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
South Africa: Domestic workers in South Africa: It's modern day slavery
There are approximately one million, mainly black women, who are domestic workers in South Africa. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) is the overarching piece of legislation that regulates their wages and working conditions in addition to, broadly speaking, all unorganised workers in South Africa.
Ethiopia: Major water project for Somali refugees
UNHCR has completed and inaugurated a multi-million dollar water and electrification project that will benefit tens of thousands of people, including Somali refugees and members of the local community, in a semi-arid region of eastern Ethiopia. The US$5 million Jarrar Valley Water Supply scheme in the country's Somali region is using electricity to pump 1.3 million litres of fresh water a day to 51,000 people, including 16,000 refugees.
Fahamu refugee e-newsletter
The April edition of the Fahamu refugee e-newsletter, Rwandan refugees in Uganda fear forced repatriation as threat of Cessation Clause looms, Ethiopians repatriated from Puntland, urgent action needed to save lives of Saharawi activists, and Kakuma Refugee Free Press threatened.
South Africa: Refugee's wife raped after he speaks to press
Michael Uredi, 37, a cabinet maker, came to South Africa from the Eastern Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) eight years ago. He is a member of the Bembe ethnic group, married to a woman from the Banyamulenge, so he is not welcome at home and his wife was raped by his "own people" before they fled. This is his story.
Southern Africa: The ugly face of Botswana
Were it not for the police men in blue tunics with a Botswana coat of arms patrolling the cordoned off area, most visitors to the Dukwi refugee camp would barely realize that they are in Botswana. The camp, which is synonymous with Botswana’s hard line policy towards refugees, is a grim hovel where those inside have different rights from those outside. Residents can not move out of the camp without an official pass.
West Africa: Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees feel abandoned in Guinea
I had met Vincent "Sheku" Sawaneh in Faranah, a town in Southern Guinea, where he was staying with the brother of another Sierra Leonean refugee that he knew from the camp.
"The war may have ended in 2002 but it still affects our lives. How can I go back to a country where I have nothing left? How can people return to the places where their limbs were amputated or their relatives were killed? How will they feel when they meet in the streets the perpetrators of those atrocities? The killers and torturers now live freely in their same villages and towns, thanks to a general amnesty that was granted as part of the peace agreement only eight years ago," Sheku told me.
"On the other hand, because I’ve spent most of my life in the camps, I cannot consider myself Guinean. I don’t belong here. We don’t have the same rights and whenever there’s a problem, the refugees are the usual suspects. Ideally, I’d like to go to a third country where I could go to a university and start a new life." He proudly showed me his high school diploma, granted by the International Rescue Committee educational authorities. He also had certificates of attendance to courses on issues such as human rights, refugee law, HIV/Aids prevention, drug abuse, and understanding trauma. Although he does not have access to libraries or the internet, he is extremely knowledgeable of current international affairs. He spends hours on end listening to the BBC World Service and other foreign radio stations, and he dreams of the day when he will be able to continue his studies.
Sheku calculates that he is around 26 years old. "I must have been 7 or 8 when the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) came to my village, in the north of Sierra Leone, and started killing people. I remember it clearly because it was the first time I heard the sound of machine guns. I managed to escape with my uncle and his wife, but my parents and my brothers were captured in the bush. Later I heard that they all had been killed. Someone told me that two of my brothers were shot dead at the same time because they refused to have sex with their own mother. My aunt died shortly after we reached Guinea and my uncle went back to Sierra Leone, and I believe that he is also dead".
I was told that there are more than 600 refugees still living in Kountaya. The majority of them are Sierra Leoneans who, like Sheku, have refused for various reasons to return to their country of origin or to take part in the official process of integration into the Guinean society. Many of them regard as cautionary tales the cases of other former refugees who volunteered to go back to Sierra Leone or to move to Guinean cities and later came back to the camp because they did not feel welcome elsewhere.
"I went to live in the Guinean town of Kissidougou but it didn't take me long to realise that as a refugee I wouldn't have any favourable conditions. For months, I've been ill and almost starving and didn't get any of the help I had been promised if I accepted to integrate. I couldn't even communicate, as I only speak Mende, a language from the south of Sierra Leone, and people in Kissidougou speak Malinké, Fula, Kissi or French. That's why I decided to come back to the camp. At least here we are all in the same boat", said Aruna Kallen, a man in his 50s that looked very sick and frail. One could almost count the ribs on his chest.
Another man, Martin Sahr Musa, 63, told me that one of his brothers had gone back to Sierra Leone and had been victimised by members of the rival clan who are now in power in his village. According to him, they are former RUF rebels. "He had to escape again and now lives in Liberia. I am too old to go through that once more. I have an additional problem: I'm a Christian but some members of my family in Sierra Leone practise juju (witchcraft), and I believe they're involved in secret societies that perform human sacrifices. I don't want to have anything to do with them." Coincidentally, just two weeks before I had met in Sierra Leone the district attorney of Kenema –a city not far from where Mr. Musa comes from- and he told me that he had just managed to get three people sentenced to death because of their involvement in ritual killings.
According to Omaru B. Kamara, one of the 22 members of a committee chosen by the refugees to manage the camp since UNHCR left, there are also around 26 Liberian families in Kountaya. "From 2001 to 2005 there were thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees here but in 2006 UNCHR started to relocate the Liberians to a camp called Kouankan, in Macenta, Guinea. The Liberians who are still here are in the same conditions as the Sierra Leoneans or perhaps worse: they have yet to start the process of integration. Guinean representatives of the UN came here in December 2009 and told the Liberian refugees that they were going to give them some help before integrating them into the local communities, but they haven't been back", he said.
I met a Liberian woman, Finda Kamara, 55 years old, who told me that for more than two months she has been suffering a terrible abdominal pain that moves from one side of her body to the other but has been unable to get any medical assistance. When I visited her, she was lying on a mattress that was stamped with the name of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Another member of the camp committee, Fahindo M. Briman, said that the nearest medical centre is about 14 kilometres away, but that it normally only assists pregnant women. "They usually have to walk all the way there and back because we don't have our own transport or the means to pay a local motor driver to take them", he told me.
For many of the Kountaya refugees it is an odyssey to go to the nearest town, Kissidougou, located some 80 kilometres away. In addition to the dismal conditions of the dirt track, which are exacerbated during the rainy season, they have to pay huge amounts of money for the ride. A driver from Kissidougou, who used to go regularly to the camp during the UNHCR days, told me that the prices have gone up exponentially because, as the refugees now do not have any money, if he takes someone to the camp he would have to go back to town with no passengers.
Many of the refugees have a stronger reason not to leave the camp: they do not possess any valid identification documents. Although most of them still have a letter ("Certificat de Reconnaissance") from the Guinean government that acknowledges their status as refugees, and some have a Carte d'Identité pour les Refugiés given to them by UNHCR, they say that the local authorities have stopped recognising these documents as IDs. As a result, if they have to travel even for medical reasons they run the risk of having to pay exorbitant sums in bribes to the Guinean police and military, especially at the ubiquitous checkpoints that have spread throughout the country like a cancer.
I have been fortunate enough to travel by land almost all over the world, and I had never encountered the levels of corruption that I have just seen on the Guinean roads. Although I had my British passport and my yellow fever certificate in order, plus a visiting card from a high-ranking official of the Guinean Ministry of Tourism, I was harassed on numerous occasions and even threatened a few times by drunken soldiers because I refused to pay them bribes. The local people, and especially the few refugees with whom I was travelling by public transport, lack the protection of a foreign passport or a ministerial contact and cannot escape paying the bribes.
I was told in Kountaya that the only camp residents that have passports are the Sierra Leoneans who accepted the offer to integrate into the Guinean society, and later came back. Nobody seems to have UNHCR travel documents or even to know that they exist. Furthermore, many of them now have a letter from the Commission National pour l'Intégration et le Suivi des Réfugiés (CNISR – National Commission for the Integration and the Follow-Up Care of Refugees) notifying them that they are no longer recognized by the Guinean government as refugees. The letters are dated "2009" but do not state the day or month when the decision was taken.
According to Fahindo M. Briman, "in 2008 UN representatives came here and gave some of the refugees a form in which they had to explain why they didn't want to go back to Sierra Leone or to integrate into the local community. Many other refugees were away when the officials arrived and they were not given these forms. A year later the functionaries came back –unannounced- to say that all the applications had been rejected. Although the CNISR letters they brought said that people had seven days to appeal, the officials were here only for two days, from the 12th to the 14th of November 2009. About 180 family heads appealed. They were not given any legal advice on to how to fill the forms. Then the CNISR representatives left and we haven't heard from them again."
The refugees who were not at the camp at the time complain that they missed their only chance to appeal. On the other hand, those who did not fill the original form in 2008 seem to have no idea what their legal status is. They still have the Certificat de Reconnaissance which says that they are refugees.
Another group claiming they are in a legal limbo are the former refugees who had gone back to Sierra Leone and later decided to return to the camp. Some of them have a small piece of paper, apparently given to them by UNHCR in 2007, with a ticket number, their names and, handwritten, the numbers of their original refugee cards. According to them, this is the only identification they have. Some of them believe that they are being considered again as asylum-seekers. They say that they have not heard from UNHCR in the last three years.
The refugee leaders said that they are also worried about the many children who were born in the camp and have no papers whatsoever. "At some point the Guinean authorities came and said that they could issue birth certificates for a fee. Parents would have to pay 2.000 francs (.30 US$) for kids up to five years old and 5.000 francs (.94US$) for older children. Although that may seem a small amount, it should be remembered that many of these people cannot even afford to buy medicines for their children, let alone birth certificates," Mr. Briman said.
"It breaks my heart to see that all these children are growing up without a proper education," added Denis F. Musa, a qualified teacher who lives in the camp. "There are several teachers here but we have to work as farmers to survive. Our lands have been overexploited and are no longer fertile, so we have to work very hard to feed our families. Luckily we have good relations with our host community, the Telikoro village, and some of our children go to a local school three or four kilometres away from here but they're learning very little because they're taught in French and at the camp we only speak the Sierra Leonean languages and English."
Another refugee, Joseph Bundor, said: "We are begging the international community to help us to get out of here. We don't feel safe in this country, especially in the current climate of political violence. Some of the Guinean authorities say that we don't want to go back to Sierra Leone because we're former rebels. In reality we had to escape from the rebels that now roam free all over our country. Why have so many refugees been abandoned like this for nearly five years? We were given three options: to integrate, to repatriate or to stay as refugees. We were told that we were not forced to take any of these options. But now we feel that they're playing a waiting game in order not to fulfil their international obligations. In the meantime, we're nearly starving and many of us are getting sick."
As I was leaving the camp, three women ran in front of our motorbike waiving some papers. "No, auntie," Sheku told the oldest of them, "he is not from UNHCR. He's just a tourist that wanted to see how we live." They looked sad and disappointed and went back to their daily chores in the former primary school building that is now their home.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Manuel Toledo works as a journalist for the BBC World Service. In January 2010 he took a career break in order to travel in Africa for a year.
26th FAO Regional Conference for Africa
Civil Society Parallel Consultation Declaration in Luanda – 4 May 2010
We, representatives of organizations of farmers, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, pastoralists, women’s groups, NGOs and other civil society organizations met on May 4 2010 here in Luanda to deliberate on issues affecting food security in Africa during the 26 FAO Regional Conference for Africa. The objective of civil society’s engagement in this process is to contribute critically and provide own perspectives informed by social organisations and communities experiences in their efforts to achieve food security and food sovereignty.
The objective of civil society’s engagement in this process is to contribute critically and provide own perspectives informed by social organisations and communities experiences in their efforts to achieve food security and food sovereignty. The agenda of this conference is indeed rich, and the issues to be discussed are both timely and important, with some requiring immediate and urgent actions to put Africa back on growth and productivity curve.
Considering the on-going efforts both internationally and regionally that aim to address hunger and chronic food insecurity;
Appreciating the renewal of and central role given to the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) as a platform for the deliberations on global agriculture and food security policies;
Recognizing the strides already taken in some countries to formulate national and regional food security policies and laws that have the potential to foster the use of rights based approaches to create an enabling environment;
Concerned that sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where per capita food production has been declining with rising numbers of people that are chronically hungry and undernourished currently estimated at more than 265 million;
Recognizing that halving hunger in Africa requires drastic increase in both quality and quantity of public and donor investments to the agricultural sector;
Concerned that about 7 out of 53 countries have met the minimum 10% budgetary target under the Maputo Declaration commitment, and that the average total governments’ investment in agricultural sector is 6.6% most of which constitutes the recurrent expenses;
Noting that some countries that have surpassed the Maputo Declaration budgetary target but have not been able to keep hunger and chronic food insecurity at bay;
Recalling that green revolution had negative effects on sustainable agriculture development in other regions of the world and noting further that increased food production in sub-Saharan Africa through the green revolution is not sufficient in eliminating chronic food insecurity;
Acknowledging the fisherfolk, indigenous people and women’s struggle to access, control and have ownership over land, water and other natural resources for sustainable food production is central to household food security;
Recognizing that achieving women’s rights to land and livelihood is key to achieving Africa’s overall food security;
Concerned that large tracks of African land have been allocated to foreign governments and multinational companies for agrofuel production and,
Recognizing that achieving food sovereignty in Africa shall require serious land reforms;
We wish to call upon FAO and African governments present here today to consider the following specifically with regard to:
a) Committee on World Food Security:
• Appeal for greater accountability from African representatives within the CFS structure.
• Call for greater involvement and commitment of African governments to the CFS.
• Urge our governments to uphold a spirit of genuine partnership and greater inclusivity of small-scale food producer organizations in food security fora at regional level (CAADP process) and CFS national and regional discussions;
• Appeal for increased awareness on CFS to facilitate wider engagement by key stakeholders particularly producer organizations and their networks and, civil society organizations in Africa;
• Call for more resource allocation to support activities of the CFS.
b) Land reform. Land grabbing and Agrofuel
• Call on governments to fully implement the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) recommendations that promote, among others, agrarian land reforms that empower women and farming communities, to have full control, ownership and inclusive decision making processes over land and land use policies.
• Recommend the government promotion of policies that respect the collective rights to land and protect communities against land grabbing.
• Urge the African governments to place a moratorium on further expansion of industrial agrofuel production and investment in Africa and other regions.
• Further urge the governments and relevant UN agencies to call for an end to agrofuel targets and financial incentives for industrial agrofuel in the developed countries.
• Urge governments to embrace genuine partnership with civil society and more innovative ways to stem the rise in number of people who are hungry and undernourished by respecting, protecting and promoting their right to food.
c) Access, control and ownership of natural resources
• Appeal to the government to reinforce value of small scale food producers, especially women, in achieving food security. Women provide the largest percentage of agricultural labor yet have limited access to, control and ownership of land and other natural resources;
• Urge governments to promote the approval of national laws promoting biodiversity and regulate the commercialization and use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
• Demand recognition of the role that indigenous people play in the conservation of environment biodiversity
d) Requisite Infrastructure and investment
• Call on governments to put in place the necessary requisite infrastructure including storage, transportation, marketing and fair pricing mechanisms in support of sustainable agricultural production, food and livelihood security;
• Urge the governments to embrace and implement the recommendations of International Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technological Development (IAASTD);
• Call for increased channeling of investments into research, rural extension, affordable rural credit, technical assistance and extension services to small-scale food producers;
Finally, we call on governments, UN agencies and all to promote food sovereignty as an approach that recognizes the centrality of small scale food producers, women’s groups, family farming, fisherfolk and pastoralists in the eradication of
chronic hunger and food insecurity.
CSO Consultation parallel to the 26 FAO Regional Conference for Africa
4th of May 2010
Composed by: ABN – Africa Biodiversity Network (Kenya); ACORD; ActionAid International; ADRA - Acção para o Desenvolvimento Rural e Ambiente; Africa Right to Food Network; CLUSA - Liga das Cooperativas dos Estados Unidos da América; CNOP-CAM - Concertation Nationale des Organisations Paysannes du Cameroun; Conferência Nacional da Sociedade Civil (Angola); COWFA ESAFF - East and Southem Africa Farmer's Federation (Zambia); IFSN - International Food Security Network (West Africa); Oxfam; PELUM Rede das Organizações do IFSN dos PALOPs; PROPAC - Plateforme sous-régionale des.Organisations Paysannes d’Afrique Centrale; Rede Terra; ROSA - Rede de Organizações da Sociedade Civil para a Soberania Alimentar; TWN - Third World Network; UNAC - União Nacional de Camponeses (Moçambique); UNACA - União Nacional das Associações de Camponeses de Angola; VECO (Uganda); Via Campesina África; WFF - World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fisher Workers;
Facilitated by: IPC - International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty
For a United and Active African Civil Society fighting for Food Sovereignty
Nigeria: Sign JINN's Letter to Chevron's CEO
In the Niger Delta, Chevron’s operations have devastated communities’ local economies and environment. Chevron engages in gas flaring, the burning of associated gas that comes out of the ground when oil is extracted. People live literally next door to the toxic, roaring, ground-level flares—burning 24 hours a day, some for 40 years. Chevron is among the worst offenders in Nigeria, flaring over 84% of its gas in 2008. Sign and add your own comments to this letter to Chevron's CEO.
South Africa: Transnet ups wage offer to avert strike
A South African workers' union said on Friday that logistics group Transnet had improved a wage offer to its workers in a bid to avert a strike that could cripple rail, pipeline and port operations in the country. A strike at monopoly Transnet could paralyse coal and iron ore exports, distribution of fuel and interrupt shipping at ports in Africa's biggest economy.
Tanzania: Dar’s 100% pay hike sparks labour-capital battle
The Trade Unions Confederation of Tanzania has called for a nationwide strike over government’s reluctance to implement a minimum 100 per cent pay hike proposal for workers in the private sector. The government had, after a series of negotiations with sector players and an industry survey settled for a minimum wage of Tsh120,000 ($88.8).
China Global Investment Tracker: 2010
China's financial behavior is increasingly important to the United States and the international community. The China Global Investment Tracker created by The Heritage Foundation is the only publicly available, comprehensive dataset of large worldwide Chinese investments and contracts beyond Treasury bonds. Details are available on over 200 attempted transactions -- failed and successful -- over $100 million in all major industries, including energy, mining, transportation and banking.
Emerging Actors in Africa news round-up
Global: Two years on from the Forum Summit
The future of Africa-India engagement
This conference took place on the second anniversary of the first India-Africa Forum held in New Delhi in 2008. Although India and the African continent have been closely linked through long-established trade roots, there has been too little debate and analysis on India in Africa and this conference was an effort to provide a platform for a more balanced and focused debate, away from the existing overemphasis on China and its efforts in Africa.
Tracking where China invests
The People's Republic of China will be among the world's largest investors for a long time to come, writes Derek Scissors. Its official foreign exchange reserves are closing in on $2.5 trillion and its financial institutions hold hundreds of billions more.
The People's Republic of China will be among the world's largest investors for a long time to come. Its official foreign exchange reserves are closing in on $2.5 trillion and its financial institutions hold hundreds of billions more. The bulk of this investment is in U.S. Treasuries and other U.S. government securities, but those bonds serve more as places to park the money than as valuable assets. To the extent it can, China over the next decade will increasingly seek to divert its horde of dollars and euros to nonbond investments at home and abroad.
Where? China is investing in shares of non-Chinese multinationals, in joint ventures with those companies and in physical assets such as coalmines. Chinese state-owned enterprises, especially, are interested in American financial companies and natural resources around the world.
Chinese outward investment will likely set a single-year record of more than $60 billion in 2010, but, as is often the case, official Chinese data on this investment are flawed. Publication is often delayed and always revised sharply higher. (See "Ten Myths About China.") The data are also not useful in evaluating where the money is going: Beijing's statisticians say that two-thirds of Chinese outward investment is into Hong Kong, but most of that money is merely routed through Hong Kong on its way elsewhere.
To inform American policy concerning China's rise as an investor overseas, The Heritage Foundation created the China Global Investment Tracker. It includes $175 billion in transactions since 2005, when Chinese nonbond investment began to accelerate. The data set contains all confirmed transactions of $100 million or more, tracking spending to its final destination. The Heritage data set also includes engineering and construction contracts and a large subset of attempted investments that failed for a variety of reasons. Confirmation of a deal consists of a reliably sourced news story or a press release available to the public.
The Heritage data set confirms some conventional wisdom about Chinese investment while also revealing deviations from received wisdom. Growth was strong from 2005 to 2008, then the Great Recession brought about a small contraction in 2009. Beijing turned the green light back on in May 2009 and Chinese investment has remained vibrant since. In fact, March 2010 looks like the busiest month on record.
Energy investments took the prime spot, with more than $70 billion invested from 2005 through 2009. But China has been interested almost as much in metals, especially iron ore, investing more than $60 billion. The other main area is finance and real estate, at over $30 billion.
China's hefty investments in sub-Saharan Africa have received deserved attention, but its investment in Latin America has been overblown by some. One reason is a common event in bilateral commercial transactions--grand announcements that never come to fruition. In mid-April Venezuela proclaimed a $20 billion oil-for-loans deal with China, but Caracas' track record in this area encourages skepticism. China has little investment in the Arab world, which is perhaps surprising in light of its focus on energy, but it has sizable engineering and construction contracts there. Australia, at $30 billion, is the single biggest draw for Chinese investment. The U.S. is second at $21 billion, Iran third at $11 billion.
The places where the Chinese have invested most often are also the places where their investments have been most often thwarted: Australia, the U.S. and Iran, in that order. Failures stem from a variety of causes, such as nationalist reactions in host countries, objections by Chinese regulators and mistakes by the Chinese firms themselves. According to the Heritage tracker, the value of failed investments from 2005 to 2009 is a staggering $130 billion. Chinese investment could have been a full 40% larger than it was had the failed deals closed.
* this article by Derek Scissors was originally published in Forbes magazine on 21-04-2010
Burundi: France gives 90,000 Euros for elections
The French government has provided financial assistance to the tune of 90,000 euros to Burundi for the organisation of the series of elections planned in the coming four months, an official source said in Bujumbura.
Cote d’Ivoire: Securing the Electoral Process
This latest report from the International Crisis Group, warns of the risks involved after President Laurent Gbagbo recently dissolved the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) and the government. Preparations are now at a virtual standstill, and the process of identifying who is eligible to vote carries serious risks of violence.
Guinea Bissau: ECOWAS military chiefs on fact-finding mission
A four-member delegation of ECOWAS Chiefs of Defence Staff arrived in Guinea Bissau on Monday, on a fact-finding mission in connection with the 1 April incident by a section of the country's armed forces that resulted in the brief detention of the Prime Minister and the Chief of Defence Staff.
Mauritius: Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam wins election
Opposition leader Paul Berenger has conceeded defeat in parliamentary elections in Mauritius.
Confirmed results gave incumbent Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam's Labour alliance 41 out of the 62 parliamentary seats that were being contested. Economic and constitutional reform, fraud, corruption, drug trafficking and ethnicity were some of the main issues of the election.
Nigeria: Yar'Adua laid to rest
The remains of late Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua were laid to rest Thursday evening in his home town of Katsina in the country's northern part. After funeral prayers led by the Chief Imam of Katsina, Mohammed Aliu, the body, draped in the national flag, was taken by foot some six kilometres away to the Dan Marna cemetery, one of the top cemeteries in the ancient town.
Sudan: Regional perspectives on the prospect of southern independence
This latest background report from the International Crisis Group examines the historical relationships, strategic interests, and recent engagement of key regional states as well as their views on the possible independence of the South. Many of Sudan’s bordering states were involved in, or affected by its civil wars, and each would be directly affected by either peaceful separation or a return to conflict.
Togo: PM resigns
The Togolese Prime Minister, Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, has presented his resignation and that of his government to President Faure Gnassingbé as a constitutional requirement following the investiture on Monday of the country's elected president for a second five-year term.
West Africa: Nigeria swears in new president
Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's acting president, has been sworn in as the country's new leader following the death of Umaru Yar'Adua. Jonathan took the oath of office at a ceremony in the capital, Abuja, on Thursday, just hours after officials announced the death of Yar'Adua following a long illness.
Africa: Macmillan admits to bribery over World Bank Sudan aid deal
A Macmillan Education representative made the undisclosed bribery payments to a local official in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the multi-million pound contract for an education project in southern Sudan. The World Bank said it had banned Macmillan from bidding for any of its contracts for six years.
Egypt: Corruption muddies labour pool
Saeed El-Masry was born poor, raised poor and, unless he can get ‘kosa,’ will probably die poor. Kosa is the Arabic word for zucchini, but it also means someone in a position of power who can open doors to gainful employment. "There are no good jobs unless you know a cabinet minister or pay off a high-ranking official," El-Masry resigns. "That’s the way it’s always been in Egypt."
Global: Does corruption create poverty?
The issue of corruption resonates in developing countries, writes Walden Bello. In the Philippines, for instance, the slogan of the coalition that is likely to win the 2010 presidential elections is "Without corrupt officials, there are no poor people."
Kenya: Kenya's corruption tax
Kepher Otieno, lead reporter in Kenya for the Global Integrity Report: 2009, is concerned with the lack of financial accountability in his country. Yet he doubts that legal reform alone will curb graft in Kenya. Speaking to this impunity, Kepher describes his Mashup Challenge entry as an attempt to "dig into possible solutions" including coupling tax law reform with greater levels of auditing and citizen input in resource allocation decisions.
Nigeria: State drops corruption fighter Nuhu Ribadu charges
Authorities in Nigeria have dropped charges against the former head of the country's anti-corruption agency. Nuhu Ribadu had been accused of not declaring his assets while in office. He was named head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, but was removed when he stood down in 2007.
Africa: What will continent export if it leases farmland to Arabs?
When Citadel Capital announced its plan to open an eastern Africa office in Nairobi by January this year, there was little excitement even as the Egyptian firm went ahead to explain that its interest in the region will extend to food transport. By the time the announcement was made late last year, Citadel Capital was already a household name in the region –just fresh from acquiring a stake in struggling Rift Valley Railways (RVR).
Africa: World Economic Forum on Africa opens
More than 10 African heads of state and government were converging here Wednesday for the three-day conference of the World Economic Forum that is specifically dedicated to the continent's economic future. A brainstorming session on 'Turning Vision into Reality' was billed to kick- start the meeting by examining the current, changing global landscape and identify opportunities that can unlock Africa's growth potential and the barriers to social and economic progress in the coming year.
East Africa: Don't kill the Uganda Millennium Science Initiative
Government indifference threatens to put an end to the Uganda Millennium Science Initiative (MSI) project, says former executive director of the Africa Academy of Sciences, Tom Egwang. The US$30 million MSI programme, financed by the World Bank and launched in 2006, has made great progress in many areas including malaria vaccines, fisheries, climate change and agri-biotechnology, says Egwan.
Global: Does anti-poverty aid really work?
Governments and charities have spent billions to try to wipe out poverty, but award-winning economist Esther Duflo says we really don't know if that money has been well spent. But as a result of Duflo's pioneering work, we may be getting some answers to that question. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor has led the way in showing how the scientific method can be applied to determining what policies actually work.
South Africa: Half the country living in poverty
About half of South Africa's population is living in poverty, a problem that is not going to be solved overnight, says the Deputy Director-General of Social Development, Selwyn Jehoma. He said the poverty situation in the country was "very significant" and most people believed it would take about a generation to solve.
South Africa: Mixed feelings about 2010 opportunities
The announcement that South Africa would host the 2010 World Cup prompted a whirlwind of heavy investment in infrastructure, with high expectations for an economic boom. Obviously, the 2010 World Cup will also boost tourism, but how far will these benefit society as a whole, not just a privileged few? asks Nasser Kigwangallah.
The announcement that South Africa would host the 2010 World Cup prompted a whirlwind of heavy investment in infrastructure, with high expectations for an economic boom. Obviously, the 2010 World Cup will also boost tourism, but how far will these benefit society as a whole, not just a privileged few?
Some in the country are skeptical about how widespread economic opportunities will really be during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Others, point out that their businesses are already booming.
Christina Buthelezi, a 61-year-old Dry Cleaning Assistant at Lemmy’s Dry Cleaners in Johannesburg’s suburb of Soweto, feels that very few women entrepreneurs will benefit. She says that in her own opinion, the situation for women will not change much during the world cup football matches. “Only a few women, particularly those engaged in hotel businesses would see a slight difference by hosting foreign visitors to their hotels,” argues Buthelezi.
However, Buthelezi does agree that the hotel industry will be booming. “While most tourists to the 2010 FIFA World Cup will make use of four and five star accommodation facilities, there will also be a market for simple, clean and affordable accommodation, located in townships such as Soweto,” she adds.
Buthelezi’s belief that only a small segment of the population, such as those in the accommodation industry, stand to benefit from the upcoming World Cup is a sentiment expressed by many, especially informal traders. Most of the nation’s host cities have dislodged such traders from around prime-trading stadium areas, either because of FIFA regulations, or to make way for new developments.
Enid Gayizana is an informal trader in Cape Town whose hopes for profiting from the World Cup were all but shattered when she was moved from her space at a busy taxi rank. “2010 means a lot to me,” she says. “And I do not know if I lose my opportunity now, where I can find myself in the future. I am also interested to be part of history, to say, ‘Oh yes, that 2010 gave us such an opportunity.’”
On the other hand, entrepreneurs such as Morwamatime Matsimala, a taxi operator in Johannesburg, are more optimistic. Matsimala says he will gain a lot by ferrying football fans during the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. He says because of that, he was very excited when his country was selected by FIFA to hold the World Cup.
“I have purchased a new Mercedes car ML 320 which will be used to carry football fans from foreign countries during the forthcoming event,” he says. He says he and his colleague in the transport sector are more than prepared to keep busy during the mega-event.
For the FIFA World Cup, smooth and efficient transport systems are required for football tourists, which should operate daily from the opening match to the closing match. “Transport facilities must be properly planned for, with regard to appropriate location, safety and security management, disaster management and traders,” he points out.
For Paulinal Tema, a 30-year-old assistant manager at Lolo’s Guest House in Soweto, the World Cup means big business. Tema says her guest house is fully booked. “We have refurbished our guest house, ready to attend our guests who will be coming to South Africa for the football match,” she says.
Although she is not the owner of the business, Tema is very excited about the event and its possibilities. She added that this was is a one-in-a-lifetime occasion. “I am very happy to be serving them in this accommodation.”
Tema says that levels of interest in sport are generally higher among males than females, but points out that fans are at the heart of any sporting event. “Sport fans and consumers are the pivot upon which sport leverages its popularity,” she says.
She says she will be watching live television broadcasts, listen to radio commentary; read the sports pagers of the daily newspapers and see sports websites to see the winning teams. She remarked, “I will be very happy if South African football team wins the finals and bring the FIFA World Cup trophy.”
Tema says on the other side football fans will also buy goods and sport branded merchandise and travel extensively to attend these events, which will boost the tourism sector. “Sport fans can be divided; some will be watching TV and using the internet to watch the games and keep up with the scores, because everyone cannot afford to go to the stadium,” she says.
There are also services such as translation needed. As tourists need to be able to communicate in a variety of languages, this will provide opportunities for local and foreign language speakers to provide services.
There is no doubt that some in the country stand to gain tremendously from the World Cup, while others may even lose. Across the country there are ongoing work being done to ensure that as many gain as possible, and in the last days ahead, there is a need to ensure that there is as much progress as possible.
* Nasser Kigwangallah is a journalist from Tanzania. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, produced during a “Business Unusual” workshop
Southern Africa: Namibia, Angola to build $1.1 bln dam
Namibia and Angola have partnered to build a US$1.1 billion hydropower plant on a river that runs along their common borders. The move is to help end power disruptions that have plagued their economies for decades.
Swaziland: Not much benefit in preferential trade agreement
A decade after the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), a preferential US trade agreement, became law on 18 May 2000, there are questions over the benefits, if any, derived from the initiative. AGOA was touted by the US government as offering "tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets"; in return, selected countries could access US markets without restrictive quotas or import taxes.
West Africa: Mali gets FCFA 9.3 billion for vocational training
Canada will grant Mali CFA F 9.3 billion to enable the African country train health professionals for a period of six months, according to a memorandum of understanding (MOU), signed Wednesday in Bamako, the capital, between the two countries. The grant will also enable Mali to implement its Programme for Health and Social Development (PRODESS) and the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategic Framework(GPRSF).
East Africa: Activists 'escorted' out of Tanzania
A group of Aids activists arrived in Johannesburg on Thursday afternoon after attending meetings related to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Dar es Salam. They had been detained by Tanzanian authorities in the country's capital and escorted to the airport.
Ethiopia: In search of "made-to-measure" HIV prevention
With more than half of all Ethiopian adults tested for HIV in the past five years and a campaign for behaviour change in place, specialists are now calling for a more targeted approach. “Most-at-risk populations” (MARPs) have to be targeted through better understanding of how the epidemic is affecting them and in turn, to develop a more specific response.
Global: Headaches for HIV-positive travellers
China recently became the latest country to lift travel restrictions on people living with HIV, following in the footsteps of the United States. "Every individual should have equal access to freedom of movement, regardless of HIV status," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé commented on China's decision.
Global: Male cut: Some protection against high-risk HPV
Adult male circumcision appears to have some protective effect against high-risk strains of human papilloma virus, according to two studies published in the May 15th edition of the Journal of Infectious Diseases. In HIV-positive men, circumcision reduced the prevalence and incidence of multiple high-risk penile human papilloma virus infections. Circumcision also had these benefits for HIV-negative men, and was also associated with clearance of infections.
Malawi: PMTCT battles missing drugs, moms
Services to prevent the mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV are gaining ground in Malawi but the country continues to battle drug shortages and mothers and infants that disappear to follow-up and treatment. In 2005 only three percent of HIV-positive mothers were using PMTCT services, and mother-to-child transmission of HIV accounted for 30 percent of all new infections nationally.
South Africa: Clinical research in "serious decline"
Clinical research in South Africa is in serious decline because of two decades of "disinvestment" — leading to an ageing workforce, "chronic underfunding" of its Medical Research Council and "grossly insufficient" funding for research professorships, says a report.
South Africa: Therapeutic TB vaccine could reduce latent TB treatment to 1 month
A vaccine designed to be used alongside isoniazid preventive therapy to shorten the course of drug treatment in people with latent TB will shortly undergo trials in South Africa, manufacturer Archivel Farma announced this week. Latent infection with tuberculosis, in which the bacteria which cause the disease are walled off and unable to multiply in the lungs, is present in around one-third of the world’s population.
Southern Africa: Malawi battles measles outbreak
Malawi is urgently looking for US$4.1 million to fight a measles outbreak that is on the increase in the southern African country. So far, according to Health Secretary Chris Kang'ombe, over 2, 000 cases have been recorded.
Southern Africa: Zambia pushes anti-counterfeit bill despite health danger
Zambia is pushing forward with formulating an anti-counterfeit draft law which will include medicines, despite the controversy that has surrounded similar laws in East Africa and despite having existing legislation which has been used to successfully prosecute counterfeiters of medicines
Southern Africa: 210,000 textbooks for Angolan students
About 210,000 primary school students from eight of Angola's 18 provinces will benefit from two million text-books offered to the Ministry of Education by the European Union (EU).
North Africa: Being gay in Morocco
Samir Bergachi is unstoppable. Barely 23 years old, the young Moroccan is simply not content to live his homosexuality openly in a country where it is considered as a crime. For the past 6 years, Samir has been running the first Moroccan gay association, kif-kif. And only a month ago, he caused a real stir: the launching of Mithly, the first gay magazine in the Arab world. Some find his initiatives inadmissible. Others admire his courage.
Zambia: Channel funds to projects, not gay rights, donors urged
Northmead Assemblies of God Bishop Joshua Banda has advised the donor community to channel their funds to development programmes rather than supporting practises such as homosexuality that are alien to the Zambian society. And Bishop Joe Imakando of Bread of Life Church International said homosexuals and lesbians had no room in society because Zambia had been declared a Christian nation.
Global: World ecosystems to pay high price with increased globalisation
With increased globalisation, urbanisation and growing prosperity, the world's ecosystems will continue to pay a high price as the toll has never been greater, according to two new UN reports.
Horn of Africa: Somaliland needs climate change plan
The human and environmental disruption wreaked by drought in Somaliland, where more than 60 percent of people raise livestock for a living, means the self-declared, but barely recognized, independent state should draw up its own plan for climate change adaptation, according to a new report.
Sierra Leone: Protecting investors, but what about the people?
The large-scale acquisition for industrial agriculture in African and other developing countries has been described as a global land grab, ‘threatening food, seed and land sovereignty of family farmers, social stability, environmental health and biodiversity around the world’, writes Joan Baxter. While it is understandable that investors deny that this kind of agricultural investment is a ‘land grab’, says Baxter, what is perplexing is that ‘the same kind of rhetoric is coming from some whose job it is to protect Africa’s farmers’ rights and their farmland from exploitative foreign takeover’.
Sudan: German company brought to justice over abuses in dam?
The Merowe Dam on the Nile in Northern Sudan is one of the largest and most destructive hydropower projects in Africa. Commissioned in 2009, the project affects up to 70,000 people, many of whom were displaced from the fertile Nile Valley to arid desert locations. Thousands of people were flushed out of their houses by raising waters before they were properly resettled.
Cameroon: Open letter to Paul Biya
Reporters Without Borders has written to President Paul Biya calling for exceptional measures and bold, deep-seated reforms to improve press freedom in Cameroon. The Cameroonian authorities cannot continue to take no action in response to the death two weeks ago of journalist Ngota Ngota Germain, also known as Bibi Ngota, in Yaoundé’s Kondengui prison, the letter said.
Egypt: Anger at Islamist call to ban Arabian Nights
Egyptian writers have condemned a call by a group of Islamic lawyers for the classic book Arabian Nights to be banned because it is "obscene". The group, Lawyers Without Shackles, filed a complaint with Egypt's prosecutor general after the collection of folk tales was republished.
Nigeria: Cameraman found dead
Reporters Without Borders has expressed deep shock at the death in unexplained circumstances of cameraman Jerry Usanga of Channels Television, whose body was found on the roadside by passers-by, on 4 May 2010. The spot where Usanga’s body was found, in Calabar, Cross River state in the south-east of the country, is close to the headquarters of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
North Africa: Maghreb journalists mark World Press Freedom Day
Government officials, civil society leaders and journalists from across the Maghreb gathered in Nouakchott Monday (May 3rd) for a large regional celebration of World Press Freedom Day, held under the banner, "Freedom of information and right to know, what future for the Maghreb?"
Somalia: Tribute to Sheikh Noor Mohamed Abkey
Jubbaland Independent Journalists Association
The chairman of Jubbaland Independent Journalists Association (JIJA) Mr. Ali Yasin Gurbe together with all the other members of this association hereby send an obituary to the family and friends of the slain famous Somali Journalist in Mogadishu Mr. Sheikh Noor Mohamed Abkey. Abkey was a senior journalist and had a reputation within the Somali journalists. Indeed, we shall miss him. Also the Somali people will miss his noble service. We are also very worried of the ever increasing persecution against the Somali journalists. May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace.
Uganda: Journalists under threat
Supporters of Uganda's ruling party, including government officials, are threatening and intimidating journalists in an effort to curb criticism of the government, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch urged the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) government to honor World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2010, by publicly condemning such practices and amending laws to protect free expression in the lead-up to the 2011 elections.
CAR: Civilians fleeing clashes in moved to Chad refugee camp
In a remote southern part of Chad, the UNHCR began this week the transfer of some 1,100 newly arrived Central African refugees from the border to a refugee camp where they can be assisted. These refugees crossed into southern Chad's Moyen Chari province two weeks ago, after violence forced them from villages in northern Central African Republic (CAR).
Chad: The UN must continue to protect civilians
Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people living in eastern Chad, including more than 450,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur and internally displaced Chadians, are at risk if the UN mission in Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) leaves or no longer has a mandate to protect civilians.
Djibouti: Half rural population need emergency food aid
About half of Djibouti’s rural population will need emergency food assistance this year due to the combined effects of drought, livestock losses, unfavourable livestock-to-cereal terms of trade and high staple food prices, according to an assessment by the government and UN agencies.
DRC: Dozens dead as boat capsizes
Dozens of people are dead or missing after a boat capsized in a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The boat, carrying 125 people, overturned on Wednesday evening in the Congo River near the city of Kindu, the capital of Congo's eastern Maniema province.
DRC: Minor rebels, major terror
They may number as few as 100 men, women and adolescents, but Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) units scattered across the forests of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo's Orientale Province have sown sufficient terror to make some 318,000 people take flight, abandoning their homes and fields, in many cases to the uncertain sanctuary of urban centres.
Kenya: Your guns or your freedom, please
Thousands of security personnel have been deployed across northern Kenya to confiscate weapons after a voluntary disarmament exercise netted only a small fraction of the 50,000 guns thought to be in civilian hands. Firearms are widespread among pastoralist communities in east Africa, where police are rare and cattle theft and intercommunal conflict is common. Similar operations are taking place in neighbouring Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. Borders between these countries have been temporarily sealed.
Southern Africa: Botswana battles Okavango flood as villagers evacuate
Twenty villages in Botswana have been evacuated after the Okavango River burst its banks. Water in the river, which starts in Angola, passes through Namibia and empties into Botswana's Okavango swamp, has reached unprecedented levels.
Sudan: Armed men ambush Darfur peacekeepers, two killed
Armed men ambushed U.N.-African Union peacekeepers in Darfur on Friday, killing two soldiers and seriously injuring three in Sudan's troubled west, the latest in a wave of attacks on the under-equipped force. Separately Darfur's main rebel group said on Friday it had clashed twice with government troops in the past three days, warning more attacks would mean "all-out war" and the collapse of a fragile peace process.
Sudan: Rebels 'freeze' peace talks
Sudan's largest rebel group says it will suspend peace talks with the Sudanese government because of alleged violence in the west of the country. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) accuses the Sudanese government of bombing its positions in West Darfur state, near the Chadian border.
Africa: Finance ministers vs. development goals
AfricaFocus Bulletin May 4, 2010 (100504)
"After two heated debates during the recent African ministers of finance meeting in Malawi, national delegations from South Africa, Rwanda and Egypt succeeded in deleting any reference to budgetary targets for education, health, agriculture and water in the Common Position on MDGs and the conference report and resolutions. Their action brings into question the extent to which African finance ministers are committed to continental integration, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the declarations and resolutions of their own heads of state." - Geoffrey Njora
Africa: Great Lakes field course
The first Great Lakes Field Course will take place 17-23 July 2010 in Bujumbura, Burundi. The course is a graduate-level, residential programme designed for aid workers, peacekeepers, researchers and diplomats – those already living and working in the region and those about to start. Taught in French and English, with interpretation available, the course will offer a full programme of talks, seminars and visits to sites of interest, with many opportunities for informal discussion with the teaching staff and other participants. Please download a prospectus below. To request an application form, please write to the Great Lakes Course Administrator. The application deadline is 7 May 2010.
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