Pambazuka News 559: COP17: Temperatures set to rise
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Highlights from this issue
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties kicks off in Durban next week, from 28 November to 9 December. In addition to new articles in this week's edition of Pambazuka, do take another look at our COP17 special issue, produced in partnership with African Agenda, a publication of Third World Network-Africa, which focuses on the need for equity and justice for Africa.
One year since Cancun and days from Durban
Almost a year has gone by since the results of the climate change negotiations in Cancun were imposed with the objection of only Bolivia. It's time to take stock and see where we are now.
In Cancun, the developed countries listed their greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges for the 2012-2020 period. The United States and Canada said they would reduce emissions by 3 percent based on 1990 levels, the European Union between 20 and 30 percent, Japan 25, a percent nd Russia from 15 to 25 percent .
Adding up all the reduction pledges of the developed countries, the total reduction in emissions by 2020 would be 13-17 percent  based on 1990 levels. These greenhouse gas emission reduction ‘pledges’, according to the United Nations Environment Programme , the Stockholm Environment Institute  and even the Executive Secretary of the Climate Change Convention , would lead us to an average increase in global temperature of around 4°C or more. That is double the amount they established in Cancun: a maximum temperature increase of just 2°C.
With an increase of 2°C, the number of deaths per year attributed to climate change-related natural disasters, which was 350,000 in 2009 , could skyrocket into millions. Some 20-30 percent of animal and plant species would disappear. Many coastal zones and island states would end up below the ocean, and the glaciers in the Andes – which have already been reduced by one third with a temperature rise of just 0.8°C – would disappear entirely.
Can you imagine what would happen with an average global temperature increase of 4°C or more?  Nobody at the climate change negotiations defends or justifies an increase of that magnitude. However, Cancun opened the door to it. When Bolivia opposed this outcome, the negotiators told us that the important thing was to save the diplomatic process of negotiation and that the climate would be saved in Durban. Now we are just days away from the start of Durban, and it turns out the reduction pledges have not risen by a millimeter. Worse yet, some countries are announcing that they may stick toward the lower range of their pledge amounts.
Sadly, throughout 2011, the climate change negotiations held in Thailand, Germany and Panama have focused on form rather than content. What is being negotiated is not how the reduction pledges can be increased but rather how they can be formalised. The Cancun ‘agreements’ meant going from an obligatory system with global greenhouse gas reduction goals to a voluntary system with no global goals at all. It is as if one said to the inhabitants of a small town about to be washed away by a flood: ‘Bring whatever stones you may have and let's see how high a dam we can build!’ In reality, you must first determine how high the dam should be to stop the flood, and based on that, each family should be told how many stones it must bring to help save the whole town.
In Durban, they are talking about two different paths for formalising the voluntary regime of ‘anything goes’: one is to end the Kyoto Protocol and list in a COP-17 decision the greenhouse gas reduction pledges each country wishes to make. The other path is to do the same thing by hollowing out the content of the Kyoto Protocol. In both cases the agreement is to undo the Kyoto Protocol before 2020.
To better understand the second path, let me point out that the Kyoto Protocol currently includes a global goal of 5.2 percent emission reductions for the 2007-2012 period. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in order to limit the rise in temperature to the 2°C they have established we must reduce 25-40 percent of emissions for the 2013-2020 period.
Those that advocate for maintaining the Kyoto Protocol as an empty shell are the countries that fear the reaction of public opinion, those that believe they have to at least pretend that the Kyoto Protocol will continue in order to placate voters. But the other reason why they would want to maintain a Kyoto Protocol that is empty of emission reductions are its collapsing carbon market mechanisms.
The Kyoto Protocol has many weaknesses, but to turn it into an empty shell or make it disappear in Durban would be suicide. The only responsible alternative is to preserve the Kyoto Protocol with an emissions reductions goal that allows us to avoid incinerating the planet.
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* Pablo Solón is an international analyst and social activist. He was chief negotiator for climate change and ambassador to the United Nations for the Plurinational State of Bolivia from 2009 until June 2011.
* This article first appeared on Pablo Solon's blog, Hoy es Todavía.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 Document UNFCCC FCCC/SB/2011/INF.1  A minimum emissions reduction of 13% and a maximum of 17% for the 2013-2020 period.
 Unep report
 Oxfam report
 Cancun agreements
 4° C is a global average, but some continents such as Africa will see a temperature rise 8° C.
 Data from the Global Humanitarian Forum presided by former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan.
 IPPC publications
 IPPC publications
Time to Occupy Durban's COP17 climate summit
There they fell during 2011, one after the other in past-their-prime domino descent: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from Tunis, Hosni Mubarak from Cairo, Dominique Strauss-Kahn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Muammar Gaddafi from Tripoli, Georgios Papandreou from Athens, Silvio Berlusconi from Rome, US football guru and sex-crime cover-upper Joe Paterno from Penn State University – with media baron Rupert Murdoch, soccer supremo Sepp Blatter, Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad and Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh looking decidedly shaky, too.
However, let’s be frank: in many cases the courageous push by the 99 per cent against these 1 per cent personalities only dislodged the venal creatures, not the system, so replacements crawled right back in.
Egyptian generals are just as vicious, as illustrated at Tahrir Square last week, and many Libyan ‘rebels’ are racist thugs worthy of CIA support. The new IMF managing director, French conservative Christine Lagarde, is being investigated by the Court of Justice of the Republic for abuse of authority as finance minister when she allegedly gave a $580 million payout to an Adidas shoes tycoon close to the ruling party. Greek’s new ruler, Loukas Papademos, was formerly vice-president of the European Central Bank, the institution that joins the IMF as tormentors of poor and working-class Europeans. In Italy the same job was given to Mario Monti, a former EU Commissioner with a brutal banker mentality.
On the other hand, Arab Spring political democrats and Occupy economic democrats won’t let up the pressure. I visited Occupy Dublin’s Dame Street next to the Irish central bank late last month; and Occupy Washington two weeks ago; and the next day, Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan’s financial district, just prior to the New York police force’s illegal eviction of non-violent tent-residents.
In each case, the spirit reminded me of anti-apartheid movement determination, heart-felt principles and strategic clarity: no half-baked reforms like tri-cameral parliaments to polish apartheid’s chains will satisfy the occupiers, who are demanding fundamental system change, and who enjoy huge popular support.
Surprisingly perhaps, the argument to extend Occupy to Durban is advanced by a former manager of the Davos World Economic Forum and president of Costa Rica, José María Figueres, who is the brother of Christiana, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He was asked by OneWorld TV last week at the Climate Vulnerable Forum in Bangladesh: ‘You’ve expressed your sympathies with the Occupy Wall Street Movement and called for an Occupy Durban. What would that look like and what could it achieve?’
Figueres replied: ‘The riots of London, and the indignados of Madrid and the now growing global Occupy Wall Street movement is a sign of the frustration felt by many given that we are not addressing their economic needs. So with respect to climate maybe we need an Occupy Durban.’
Figueres wants to see ‘a sit in, by the delegations of those countries that are most affected by climate change, that are going from one COP to the next COP to the next COP without getting positive and concrete responses on the issues that they want dealt with.’
And outside Durban’s International Convention Centre, in the broader society, is there a potential for a Climate Spring like the Arab Spring? ‘The history of humanity shows us that it has always been a big crisis that has made us move,’ he responded.
That crisis is surely upon us, with more than 300,000 people dying annually because of climate change, according to demographers. Might the UNFCCC live up to global-governance potential - last realised in the 1987 Montreal Protocol that banned CFCs to save the ozone hole - or instead will Durban be known as the Conference of Polluters, the place the Kyoto Protocol’s mechanism for binding emissions-cut commitments died, while carbon trading remained the vehicle the 1 per cent chooses for its climate gambling?
Even though Zurich’s UBS bank last week predicted a total collapse of the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme in coming months, it looks like we will suffer the latter when COP17 closes on 9 December.
So in order to save the planet and people, the 99 per cent should challenge the UNFCCC’s for-profit mentality. An interesting email hit my inbox on November 10: ‘The Occupy movement that is sweeping the globe shines a light on the unjust systems which benefit a small group of elite individuals and corporations, consolidating wealth and power for the few to the extreme detriment to the majority of the world's inhabitants and the planet as a whole.’
The COP17 will, according to the email, ‘do nothing to address this imbalance of power and resources and instead would give those same people and institutions who have caused economic ruin control of our land, water and atmosphere to trade as nothing more than money-making commodities.’
One response, wrote the anonymous emailer, is to ‘Occupy COP17’, and a website (www.occupycop17.com), Facebook page (www.facebook.com/occupyCOP17) and Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/OccupyCOP17 and #occupycop17) are already operational. The Occupy movement considers the UNFCCC to be ‘United Nations Fools, Clowns and Carbon Criminals’ and it’s hard to argue against that based on 16 past performances.
There are many South Africans with genuine grievances who will be part of the anti-COP17 protest scene, in part because of Eskom’s mismanagement of energy (more coal-fired power plants as Greenpeace dramatised by blocking Eskom construction at Kusile recently) and electricity (high-priced for the masses, low-priced for Anglo American and BHP Billiton).
Others will show up just to make a fuss: Business Day last week headlined on the front page, ‘Malema supporters to “disrupt climate conference”’ in the wake of the thrashing the African National Congress disciplinary committee gave the Youth League leadership.
For those more serous about climate justice, some of the most interesting reflections of 99 per cent thinking and practical alternatives will be at the People’s Space, which was recently moved to the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College campus, starting with the Conference of the Youth (no relation to Juju) on 25-27 November, and then open to the public from 28 November until 9 December. A nightly teach-in from 7:30pm at our Centre for Civil Society adds academic rigour to activist passions. Delegates include hundreds from the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance and the Rural Women’s Assembly. A myriad of events can be perused at http://www.c17.org.za
All it takes to join People’s Space, Occupy Durban and the Global Day of Action march on 3 December is a healthy degree of skepticism for what the 1 per cent are cooking up inside the UNFCCC’s smoke-filled ICC rooms, and a genuine respect for the People’s Power that again and again rises in the least expected places.
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* Patrick Bond directs the Centre for Civil Society and authored/edited two new books: ‘Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis Above, Movement Below’ (UKZN Press) and ‘Durban's Climate Gamble: Trading Carbon, Betting the Earth’ (Unisa Press).
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Community people: COP17 is a ‘conference of polluters’
Communities demand democracy and accountability in climate negotiations
More than 100 community, union and NGO representatives gathered on 23 November to kick of the ‘The Dirty Energy Week’ gathering, organised by the South African based environment justice NGO groundWork, together with 14 national and international NGOs and community organisations . On the eve of the UN negotiations, they are gathering to discuss climate proofing communities and cleaner energy solutions.
One of the key issues addressed is the roles civil society, NGOs and the community play to ensure that the negotiators are not selling out communities and nations. The concern is that governments are not acting fast enough to combat the effects of climate change. COP17 is being labelled by community people as the ‘Conference of polluters’. It has been stated by the participants that many corporations who are part of the COP17 government delegations will be endangering the lives of people by negotiating on behalf of corporate interests rather than the interest of the people.
The conference was opened by Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International and the Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action, an NGO working with communities challenging the oil industry in the Niger Delta. Bassey, an environmental justice activist and author shared brief snippets of his soon to be released publication, ‘To Cook a Continent’.
Bassey stated that Africa is central to the climate change debate and they need to block emissions from South Africa to save the continent. ‘South
Africa is responsible for the majority of the total green house gas (GHG) emissions of the continent. We are advised that Africa should adapt to climate change, despite the fact that we have not contributed to this enormous problem. It is nothing but a slap in the face of Africans because climate change is externally inflicted on most of the continent,’ he said.
It was noted by presenters that corporations are working alongside governments, presenting an array of greenwash/marketing-hype that deepens the inequalities in societies. NGOs and community people play an important role in the climate debate as many of them live on the fence line of dirty industry and are suffering from crumbling communities and environments because of climate change. They present factual voices from the ground, with credible information of local suffering and they debunk the ‘jargon’, technical and deceptive debates at these climate negotiations.
Community people from around the world discussed their challenge with undemocratic local conditions as well as undemocratic international conditions that have led to corporations capturing the United Nations climate negotiations.
See the agenda which highlights issues that touch on the exploitation of people and the environment here.
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* For more information about the ‘Dirty Energy Week’ contact: Sharon Pillay, Media and Communications Manager, groundWork, Cell: 072 257 7 317; or email media[AT]groundwork.org.za
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 Alternative Information Development Centre; Centre for Civil Society,
UKZN; Earthlife Africa Jhb; Federation for Sustainable Environment;
Friends of the Earth International; Global Anti Incineration Alliance;
Greenpeace, Africa; groundWork; Oilchange; Oilwatch; Sierra Club; South
Durban Community Environmental Alliance; Vaal Environmental Justice
Alliance; Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)
The paralysis of climate change negotiations
Why has the left’s climate activism so far failed to force governments to change course? A self-consoling answer is that the left’s vision on climate change (CC) is not realisable in the short term. CC is a long-term project. This explanation, unfortunately, is not self-consoling; it is self-deluding. The truth is that the left does not know what it wants out of CC.
I illustrate this in relation to but one dimension of the problem – that between the south and the north. There is much confusion among the left, especially in the West, over what the people in the South want out of CC. For the people of the South CC is a significant issue, but it is one among several other, even more urgent, issues related to immediate survival. For a rural household in Uganda, for example, sustained more often than not by an aging woman whose older children have gone to the city to look for work, the choice between protecting the woods or cutting the trees to secure fuel for immediate needs is, to say the least, not something on which she wants advice from a CC activist.
The essential survival needs – access to food, water, housing and cheap energy – are the daily, hourly, preoccupations of the bulk of the people in the South, not excluding big countries such as India and China. It might be argued that that is what people all over the world want – in the US and Germany just as much as in Egypt or South Africa. Yes, but there are enormous differences. It is commonplace to state the obvious – the US and Germany are industrialised economies whereas Egypt and South Africa are at best semi-industrialised.
But there is something even more fundamental than the economic. The vital difference is political. The US and Germany are independent countries – the people are struggling against their own governments. Egypt and South Africa, on the other hand, are neo-colonies – here the people are still fighting for liberation from the clutches of imperialism. They struggle against their governments (like in Tahrir Square), but behind their governments lies American, European and Japanese – in other words, imperial – power. This fact is never fully understood either by the left in the West or by its several variants in Africa.
Some clarity of thinking on this matter is emerging, ironically, as a result of recent events in Europe following the financial/economic crises. The people in Greece have taken to the streets to fight their government against austerity measures only to discover, through praxis, that they are fighting against even bigger forces embodied in the European Central Bank, the European bureaucracy and the International Monetary Fund. People in Africa have a similar experience for decades through the ‘structural adjustment programmes’ and austerity measures imposed on them by the IMF and the so-called ‘donor’ credits, which are euphemistically called ‘development aid’. In fact, imperial capital has been sc***ing Africa since its partition by European colonisers following the fatal Berlin conference of 1884. For Africa, liberation from the Empire overrides all other issues. To view CC as an isolated issue, as the left CC activists tend to do, is dangerously myopic.
The African left activists who make common cause with the left in the Empire on CC should look at the broader landscape. ‘Know thyself’ sounds a simple prescriptive adage, but under it lies a profound crisis of identity of ‘the left’. The left in Africa needs to know where it comes from and where it must go.
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* Yash Tandon is a writer on development theory and practice, chairman of SEATINI and senior adviser to the South Centre.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Who said Gaddafi had to go?
So Gaddafi is dead and Nato has fought a war in North Africa for the first time since the FLN defeated France in 1962. The Arab world’s one and only State of the Masses, the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya, has ended badly. In contrast to the bloodless coup of 1 September 1969 that overthrew King Idris and brought Gaddafi and his colleagues to power, the combined rebellion/civil war/ Nato bombing campaign to protect civilians has occasioned several thousand (5000? 10,000? 25,000?) deaths, many thousands of injured and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, as well as massive damage to infrastructure. What if anything has Libya got in exchange for all the death and destruction that have been visited on it over the past seven and a half months?
The overthrow of Gaddafi & Co was far from being a straightforward revolution against tyranny, but the West’s latest military intervention can’t be debunked as being simply about oil. Presented by the National Transitional Council (NTC) and cheered on by the Western media as an integral part of the Arab Spring, and thus supposedly of a kind with the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan drama is rather an addition to the list of Western or Western-backed wars against hostile, ‘defiant’, insufficiently ‘compliant’, or ‘rogue’ regimes: Afghanistan I (v. the Communist regime, 1979-92), Iraq I (1990-91), the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (over Kosovo, 1999), Afghanistan II (v. the Taliban regime, 2001) and Iraq II (2003), to which we might, with qualifications, add the military interventions in Panama (1989-90), Sierra Leone (2000) and the Ivory Coast (2011). An older series of events we might bear in mind includes the Bay of Pigs (1961), the intervention by Western mercenaries in the Congo (1964), the British-assisted palace coup in Oman in 1970 and – last but not least – three abortive plots, farmed out to David Stirling and sundry other mercenaries under the initially benevolent eye of Western intelligence services, to overthrow the Gaddafi regime between 1971 and 1973 in an episode known as the Hilton Assignment.
At the same time, the story of Libya in 2011 gives rise to several different debates. The first of these, over the pros and cons of the military intervention, has tended to eclipse the others. But numerous states in Africa and Asia and no doubt Latin America as well (Cuba and Venezuela spring to mind) may wish to consider why the Jamahiriyya, despite mending its fences with Washington and London in 2003-4 and dealing reasonably with Paris and Rome, should have proved so vulnerable to their sudden hostility. And the Libyan war should also prompt us to examine what the actions of the Western powers in relation to Africa and Asia, and the Arab world in particular, are doing to democratic principles and the idea of the rule of law.
The Afghans who rebelled against the Communist regimes of Noor Mohammed Taraki, Hafizullah Amin and the Soviet-backed Babrak Karmal, and in 1992 overthrew Mohammed Najibullah before laying waste to Kabul in protracted factional warfare, called themselvesmujahedin, ‘fighters for the faith’. They were conducting a jihad against godless Marxists and saw no need to be coy about it in view of the enthusiastic media coverage as well as logistical support the West was giving them. But the Libyans who took up arms against Gaddafi’s Jamahiriyya have sedulously avoided this label, at least when near Western microphones. Religion had little to do with the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt: Islamists were almost entirely absent from the stage in Tunisia until the fall of Ben Ali; in Egypt the Muslim Brothers weren’t instigators of the protest movement (in which Coptic Christians also took part) and made sure their support remained discreet. And so the irrelevance of Islamism to the popular revolt against despotic regimes was part of the way the Arab Spring came to be read in the West. Libyan rebels and Gaddafi loyalists alike tacitly recognised this fact.
The Western media generally endorsed the rebels’ description of themselves as forward-looking liberal democrats, and dismissed Gaddafi’s exaggerated claim that al-Qaida was behind the revolt. But it has become impossible to ignore the fact that the rebellion has mobilised Islamists and acquired an Islamicist tinge. On his first visit to Tripoli, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the NTC, then still based in Benghazi, declared that all legislation of the future Libyan state would be grounded in the Sharia, pre-empting any elected body on this cardinal point. And Abdul Hakim Belhadj (alias Abu Abdallah al-Sadiq), whom the NTC appointed to the newly created post of military commander of Tripoli, is a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a movement which conducted a campaign of terrorism against the Libyan state in the 1990s and went on to provide recruits to al-Qaida. The democratic revolutionaries in Tunisia are now concerned that the re-emergence of the Islamist movement has diverted political debate from constitutional questions to toxic identity issues and may derail the country’s nascent democracy; in this light, the Islamist aspect of the Libyan rebellion should put us on our guard. It is among several reasons to ask whether what we have been witnessing is a revolution or a counter-revolution.
The rebels’ name has changed several times in the Western media’s lexicon: first they were peaceful demonstrators, democracy protesters, civilians; then (a belated admission) rebels; and, finally, revolutionaries. Revolutionaries – in Arabic, thuwwar (singular: tha’ir) – has been their preferred label at least since the fall of Tripoli. Tha’ir can simply mean ‘agitated’ or ‘excited’. The young men who spent much of the period between April and July careering up and down the coastal highway in Toyota pick-ups (and the whole of September running backwards and forwards around Bani Walid), while firing as much of their ammunition into the air as at the enemy, have certainly been excited. But how many veterans of revolutions elsewhere, as distinct from Western journalists, would recognise them as their counterparts?
The events in both Tunisia and Egypt have been revolutionary in intent, but the change that has occurred in Egypt falls well short of a genuine revolution: the army’s return to power means that the country’s politics has yet to transcend the logic of the Free Officers’ state established in 1952. But the way hundreds of thousands stood up against Mubarak last winter was a historic event Egyptians will never forget. The same is true of Tunisia, except that there a revolution has not only toppled Ben Ali but also ended the monopoly of the old ruling party. The Tunisians have entered the unknown. Whether they have the resources to cope with the Islamist movement may be their greatest test. The recent elections suggest they are coping pretty well.
Libya was part of the wider ‘Arab awakening’ in two respects. The unrest began on 15 February, three days after the fall of Mubarak: so there was a contagion effect. And clearly many of the Libyans who took to the streets over the next few days were animated by some of the same sentiments as their counterparts elsewhere. But the Libyan uprising diverged from the Tunisian and Egyptian templates in two ways: the rapidity with which it took on a violent aspect – the destruction of state buildings and xenophobic attacks on Egyptians, Serbs, Koreans and, above all, black Africans; and the extent to which, brandishing the old Libyan flag of the 1951-69 era, the protesters identified their cause with the monarchy Gaddafi & Co overthrew. This divergence owed a lot to external influences. But it also owed much to the character of Gaddafi’s state and regime.
Widely ridiculed as the bizarre creation of its eccentric if not lunatic ‘Guide’, the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya in fact shared many features with other Arab states. With the massive increase in oil revenues in the early 1970s, Libya became a ‘hydrocarbon society’ that resembled the states of the Gulf more than its North African neighbours. Libya’s oil revenues were distributed very widely, the new regime laying on a welfare state from which virtually all Libyans benefited, while also relying on oil wealth, as the Gulf States do, to buy in whatever it lacked in terms of technology and consumer goods, not to mention hundreds of thousands of foreign workers. For Gaddafi and his colleagues the state’s distributive role quickly became the central element in their strategy for governing the country.
The 1969 coup belonged to the series of upheavals that challenged the arrangements made by Britain and France to dominate the Arab world after the First World War and the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. These took on a new vigour in the wake of the defeats of the Second World War and the supersession of British by American hegemony in the Middle East. These arrangements entailed the sponsoring, safeguarding and manipulation of newly confected monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya and the Gulf statelets, and in most cases the challenges were precipitated by catastrophic developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Just as the Free Officers who deposed King Farouq and seized power in Egypt in 1952 were outraged at the incompetent way Egypt’s armed forces were led in 1948, and the revolution in Iraq in 1958 owed much to increased hostility to the pro-British monarchy after Suez, so the Arab defeat in 1967, and crucially, frustration at Libya’s absence from the Arab struggle, prompted Gaddafi and his colleagues to attempt their coup against the Libyan monarchy. However, beyond closing the US base at Wheelus Field and nationalising the oil, they didn’t really know what to do next.
Unlike his Hashemite counterparts, who came from Mecca and were foreigners in Jordan and Iraq, King Idris was at least a Libyan. He also had legitimacy as the head of the Sanussiyya religious order, which in the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries had established itself the length and breadth of eastern Libya, and had distinguished itself in the resistance to the Italian conquest from 1911 onwards. But like the Hashemites Idris came to the throne as a protégé of the British, who fished him out of Cairo, where he had spent more than 20 years in exile, to make him king and thereby recast Libya as a monarchy in 1951 when the UN finally decided what to do with the former Italian colony.
The Sanussiyya, originally an Islamic revivalist order, was set up in north-eastern Libya, the province the Italians called Cyrenaica, by an immigrant divine from western Algeria, Sayyid Mohammed ben Ali al-Sanussi al-Idrisi, who founded his order in Mecca in 1837 but moved it to Libya in 1843. It took root throughout the eastern province in the interstices of Bedouin tribal society and spread south along the trade routes that crossed the Sahara into Sudan, Chad and Niger. It had less of a presence in western Libya: in Tripolitania in the north-west, which had its own religious and political traditions based on the Ottoman connection, and Fezzan in the south-west. The two western provinces have always been considered part of the Maghreb (the Arab west), linked primarily to Tunisia and Algeria, while eastern Libya has always been part of the Mashreq (the Arab east) and oriented to Egypt and the rest of the Arab Levant.
The new monarchy’s internal social basis was thus markedly uneven and Idris was badly placed to promote a genuine process of national integration, opting instead for a federal constitution that left Libyan society much as he found it while, out of deference to his Western sponsors as well as alarm at the rise of radical Arab nationalism and Nasserism in particular, he insulated the country from the rest of the Arab world. Gaddafi’s coup was a revolt against this state of affairs, and the otherwise baffling flamboyance of his foreign policy was evidence of his determination that Libya should no longer be a backwater.
The new regime’s inner circle was drawn from a small number of tribes, above all the Gadadfa in central Libya, the Magarha from the Fezzan in the south-west and the Warfalla from south-eastern Tripolitania. This background did not dispose Gaddafi and his associates to identify with the political and cultural traditions of the Tripoli elites or those of Benghazi and the other towns of coastal Cyrenaica. As the elites saw it, the 1969 coup had been carried out by ‘Bedouin’ – that is, country bumpkins. For Gaddafi & Co, the traditions of the urban elites offered no recipe for governing Libya: they would only perpetuate its disunity.
The Mediterranean and the Middle East are not short of examples of lands made painfully into states based, not on the cosmopolitan societies of the seaboards, but on the bleak and hard regions of the interior. It was the austere society and sombre towns of the Castilian plateau, not sophisticated Barcelona or sunny Valencia or Granada, that brought forth the kingdom which, once joined to Aragon, united the rest of Spain at the expense of the rich culture of Andalucia in particular. In the same way Ibn Saud, ruler of the unforgiving Nejd plateau in the centre of the Arabian peninsula, had united the Arabs under the sword while forcing the townsmen of the Hijaz, near the Red Sea coast, who were nourished on the traditions of all four madhahib (legal schools) of Sunni Islam and well acquainted with the various Shia traditions, to bend the knee to Wahhabi dogmatism. Ibn Saud had the militant religious tradition of the muwahiddun, the disciples of the Nejdi religious reformer Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, behind him in his drive to unify Arabia by conquest. Even the revolutionaries of the FLN had religion going for them, not only because they were confronting a Christian colonial power but also as heirs to the al-Islah reform movement. But Gaddafi and his associates had no militant religious banner and organised Islam in Libya was minded to resist them.
Pre-empted in the religious sphere by both the Sanussiyya in the east and the pan-Islamic tradition of the Tripolitanian ’ulama, which dated from the Ottoman era, they were desperate to find a doctrinal source for the kind of ideological enthusiasm they needed to stir in order to reorder Libyan society. At the outset, they thought they had one in pan-Arabism, which, especially in its Nasserite version, had inspired enthusiasm across North Africa from 1952 onwards, putting the champions of Islam on the back foot. But Gaddafi & Co were latecomers to the Arab nationalist revolutionary ball and little more than a year after their seizure of power Nasser was dead. For some time Gaddafi persisted with the idea of a strategic relationship with Egypt, which would have helped to solve several of the new Libya’s problems, providing it with an ally and shoring up the regime’s efforts to deal with refractory currents in Cyrenaica. But Egypt under Sadat veered away from pan-Arabism and plans for an Egyptian-Libyan union, announced in August 1972, led nowhere. In late 1973 an anti-Egyptian campaign was launched in the Libyan press, and Libya’s embassy in Cairo was closed.
Gaddafi now tried to contract an alliance with his western neighbour, declaring a new ‘Arab-Islamic Republic’ with Tunisia’s Habib Bourguiba in January 1974. This too proved stillborn. Many wondered what on earth the worldly, Francophile, secular and moderate Bourguiba could have been thinking and Houari Boumediène, Algeria’s president, weighed in to remind Tunis that there could be no shift in the geopolitical balance of the Maghreb without Algeria’s agreement. Following this logic, Gaddafi secured an alliance with Algeria, and in 1975 Boumediène and Gaddafi signed a treaty of mutual friendship. It appeared that Libya had at last entered an alliance it could rely on. Two years later, after Sadat’s visit to Tel Aviv, Libya joined Algeria, Syria, South Yemen and the PLO in the Steadfastness Front, which was opposed to any rapprochement with Israel. But Boumediène died unexpectedly in late 1978. His successor, Chadli Bendjedid, emulating Sadat, abandoned Algeria’s revolutionary commitments and the protective alliance with Tripoli; Libya was alone again. Gaddafi’s desperation is evident in the short-lived treaty he signed with Morocco’s King Hassan in 1984. It was his last attempt to fit in with fellow North African and Arab states. Instead, he looked to sub-Saharan Africa, where the Jamahiriyya could play the benevolent patron.
All the states of North Africa have had African policies of a kind. And all but Tunisia have strategic hinterlands consisting of the countries to their south: for Egypt, the Sudan; for Algeria, the Sahel states (Niger, Mali and Mauritania); for Morocco, Mauritania, also a permanent bone of contention with Algeria. In pursuing their African policies, the North African states often compete with one another, but they have also been in competition with Western powers keen to preserve or, in the case of the US, to contract patron-client relations with these states. What distinguished Gaddafi’s Libya from its North African neighbours was the extent of its investment in this southern strategy, which became central to the regime’s conception of Libya’s mission in the world.
The Jamahiriyya’s African policy had a darker side. Gaddafi’s support for Idi Amin is the outstanding example, though even that seems less grotesque when weighed against the support of various Western governments for Mobutu Sese Seko. There was also Libya’s involvement in Chad’s civil war (and attempted annexation of the Aouzou Strip) and its sustained involvement in the Tuareg question in Niger and Mali. At the same time, it gave strong financial and practical support to the African Union, opposed the installation of the US military’s ‘Africom’ on the soil of any African country and funded a wide range of development projects in sub-Saharan countries. Gaddafi planned to exploit the immense water reserves under Libya’s Sahara, and to provide water to the Sahel countries, which could have transformed their economic prospects, but this possibility has now almost certainly been killed off by Nato’s intervention, since Western (and perhaps particularly French) water companies are lining up alongside Western oil firms for their slice of the Libyan action.
Gaddafi’s African policy gave Libya a firm geopolitical position and consolidated its strategic hinterland while also benefiting Africa. That many African countries appreciated Libya’s contribution to the continent’s affairs was made clear by the AU’s opposition to Nato’s intervention and its sustained efforts to broker a ceasefire and negotiations between the two sides of the civil war. These efforts were dismissed with scorn by Western governments and press, with African opposition to the military intervention cynically derided as Libya’s clients doing their duty to their patron, a self-serving judgment that was unfair to South Africa in particular. That the Arab League, whose support for a no-fly zone was invoked by London, Paris and Washington to claim Arab legitimation of Nato’s intervention, had a membership almost entirely confined to Western powers’ client states was never mentioned.
The situation was full of irony for Libya. Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam’s contemptuous comment on the Arab League’s resolution, ‘El-Arab? Toz fi el-Arab!’ (‘The Arabs? To hell with the Arabs!’), expressed the family’s bitter recognition that the pan-Arabism behind the 1969 revolution had long ago become obsolete as the majority of Arab states subsided into shamefaced submission to the Western powers. The problem for Gaddafi & Co was that the African perspective they had diligently pursued as a solution de rechange for defunct pan-Arabism consistent with their original anti-imperialist worldview meant little to the many Libyans who wanted Libya to approximate to Dubai, or, worse, stirred virulent resentment against the regime and black Africans alike. And so, in taking Libya into Africa while tending to remove it from Arab regional affairs, the Jamahiriyya’s foreign policy, like that of Idris’s monarchy, cut the Libyans off from other Arabs, especially the well-heeled Gulf Arabs whose lifestyle many middle-class Libyans aspired to. In this way, the regime’s foreign policy made it vulnerable to a revolt inspired by events elsewhere in the Arab world. But there was another reason for its vulnerability.
The authors of the 1969 coup initially took Nasser’s Egypt for their model, imitating its institutions and terminology – Free Officers, Revolutionary Command Council – and equipping themselves with a single ‘party’, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU), like Nasser’s prototype essentially a state apparatus providing a façade for the new regime. But within two years, Sadat’s de-Nasserisation purges were underway and he was mending fences with the Muslim Brothers, while the beginning of infitah – his policy of opening up the economy – announced the retreat from ‘Arab socialism’ and the rift with Moscow presaged the turn to America. Thus the Egyptian model evolved rapidly into an anti-model, while the experiment with the ASU proved an instructive failure. The idea of a single party seemed to make sense in Libya as it had originally made sense in Egypt and also Algeria. Leaders of military regimes needed to set up a civilian façade so that they could offer a degree of controlled representation and bring the politically ambitious into the new dispensation. But in Egypt and Algeria the architects of the new single party were dealing with comparatively politicised populations. Gaddafi & Co confronted a politically inert society, with little in the way of a state tradition, pulverised by a brutal colonial conquest and reduced to onlookers as the country became a battleground in World War Two, then liberated from colonial rule by external forces and finally tranquillised by the Sanussi monarchy. In trying to launch the ASU, the new regime found little to work with in terms of political talent or energy in the wider population; instead it was the old elites of Tripoli and Benghazi who invested in the party, which not only failed to mobilise popular enthusiasm but became a focus of resistance to the revolution Gaddafi had in mind.
Gaddafi accordingly began to develop an idea he voiced within weeks of seizing power in 1969: that representative democracy was unsuited to Libya. Other leaders in North Africa and the Middle East felt the same about their own countries. But in pretending to allow for representation they were acknowledging their vice in tacitly paying homage to virtue. In hisGreen Book, however, Gaddafi scandalised people by his refusal to be a hypocrite: he elevated his rejection of representation into an explicit constitutive principle which he called the State of the Masses. But the real problem was that his new course led Libya to a historic impasse.
He dispensed with the ASU and the idea of a single ruling party, promoting instead People’s Congresses and Revolutionary Committees as the key political institutions of the Jamahiriyya, which was proclaimed in 1977. The former were to assume responsibility for public administration and secure popular participation, the latter to keep the flame of the Revolution alive. The members of the People’s Congresses were elected, and these elections were taken seriously, at least at the local level and for a while. But voters were not, in theory, electing representatives, merely deciding who among the candidates on offer they wished to assume the mainly administrative responsibilities of the bodies in question. The system encouraged political and ideological unanimity, allowing no voice for dissident opinion except on trivial matters. It drew many ordinary Libyans into a sort of participation in public affairs, although this was waning by the mid-1990s, but it did not educate them in other aspects of politics, and did not work well on its own terms either.
Gaddafi’s State of the Masses drew on ideas developed elsewhere. The championing of direct over representative democracy was a prominent feature of the utopian outlook of young Western leftists in the 1960s. And the strategic decision to mobilise the ‘revolutionary’ energies of the young to outflank conservative party apparatuses was central to Mao’s Cultural Revolution and a feature of Boumediène’s ‘Révolution socialiste’. Where Gaddafi went further was in abolishing the ASU and outlawing parties altogether, but in this he could claim a doctrinal warrant: the notion that there should be no political parties in a Muslim country has long been advocated by some currents of Sunni Islamism, on the grounds that ‘party’ connotes fitna, or a division of the community of the faithful, the supreme danger. Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates allow no political parties to this day. (Gaddafi’s rule always had a more pronounced Islamic aspect than that of the regimes in Cairo and Algiers; his intolerance of Islamists owed a lot to the fact that he was intent on remaining the source of radicalism and unwilling to allow rivals.) Finally, the idea of direct popular participation in public administration could claim a local origin in the tradition of the Bedouin tribes known as hukumat ‘arabiyya (meaning here ‘people’s government’ not ‘Arab government’), in which every adult male can have his say.
The Jamahiriyya lasted 34 years (42 if backdated to 1969), a respectable innings. It did not work for foreign businessmen, diplomats and journalists, who found it more exasperating to deal with than the run of Arab and African states, and their views shaped the country’s image abroad. But the regime was not designed to work for foreigners and seems to have worked fairly well for many Libyans much of the time. It achieved more than a tripling of the total population (6.5 million today, up from 1.8 million in 1968), high standards of healthcare, high rates of schooling for girls as well as boys, a literacy rate of 88 per cent, a degree of social and occupational promotion for women that women in many other Arab countries might well envy and an annual per capita income of $12,000, the highest in Africa. But the point about these indices, routinely cited, naturally enough, by critics of the West’s intervention in reply to the propaganda that has relentlessly blackened the Gaddafi regime, is that they are in one crucial sense beside the point.
The socio-economic achievements of the regime can be attributed essentially to the distributive state: that is, the success of the hydrocarbons sector and of the mechanisms put in place early on to distribute petrodollars. But the central institutions of the Jamahiriyya, the tandem of People’s Congresses and Revolutionary Committees, did not make for effective government at all, in part because they involved a tension between two distinct notions and sources of legitimacy. The Congresses embodied the idea of the people as the source of legitimacy and the agent of legitimation. But the Committees embodied the very different idea of the Revolution as possessing a legitimacy that trumped all others. At the apex of the Revolution was Gaddafi himself, which is why it made sense for him to position himself outside the structure of Congresses and hence of the formal institutions of government, neither prime minister nor president but simply Murshid, Guide, Brother Leader. The position enabled him to mediate in free-wheeling fashion between the various components of the system and broader public opinion, criticising the government (and thereby articulating public restiveness) or deploring the ineffectiveness and correcting the mistakes of People’s Congresses and doing so always from the standpoint of the Revolution. The tradition of an Arab ruler making a virtue of siding with public opinion against his own ministers goes back to Haroun al-Rashid. But the way revolutionary legitimacy could override popular legitimacy in Gaddafi’s system also resembles Khomeini’s insistence that the interests of Iran’s revolution could override the precepts of the Sharia – i.e. that political considerations could trump Islamic dogma – and that he was the arbiter of when this was necessary. It is striking that Gaddafi considered that the interest of the Revolution required the hydrocarbons sector to be spared the ministrations of People’s Congresses and Revolutionary Committees alike.
Words such as ‘authoritarianism’, ‘tyranny’ (a favourite bugbear of the British) and ‘dictatorship’ have never really captured the particular character of this set-up but have instead relentlessly caricatured it. Gaddafi, unlike any other head of state, stood at the apex not of the pyramid of governing institutions but of the informal sector of the polity, which enjoyed a degree of hegemony over the formal sector that has no modern counterpart. It meant that the Jamahiriyya’s formal institutions were extremely weak, and that included the army, which Gaddafi mistrusted and marginalised.
One is tempted to say of Gaddafi, ‘L’état, c’était lui.’ But it was the more and more mystical idea of the Revolution, not heredity and divine right, that legitimated his power. And the intangible content of this Revolution, what Ruth First called its elusiveness, was closely connected to the fact that the Revolution was never over.
A distinction between revolutionary and constitutional government was made in 1793 by Robespierre, when he wrote: ‘The aim of constitutional government is to preserve the Republic; that of revolutionary government is to lay its foundation.’ The effective historical function of the revolutionary government in Libya was to ensure that, while the country was modernised in important respects, it did not and could not become a republic. The Libyan Revolution turned out to be permanent because its objects were imprecise, its architects had no form of law-bound, constitutional government in view as a final destination and no conception of a political role for themselves or anyone else after the Revolution. The State of the Masses, al-jamahiriyya, was presented as far superior to a mere republic – jumhuriyya – but in fact fell far short of one. And, in contrast to states that call themselves republics but fail to live up to the name, its pretensions signalled that there was never an intention to establish a real republic in which government would truly be the affair of the people. The State of the Masses was in reality little more than a game to occupy and contain ordinary Libyans while the grown-up business of politics was conducted behind the scenes, the affair of a mysterious and unaccountable elite.
The mobilisation of society in the French Revolution threw up several independent-minded leaders – Danton, Marat, Hébert et al as well as Robespierre – which made it psychologically possible for fellow Jacobins to rebel against Robespierre and set in train the tortuous process of superseding revolutionary by constitutional government. Something similar, up to a point, can be said of Algeria (where the independence struggle threw up a superabundance of strong-minded revolutionaries), although 49 years on, the winding road to the democratic republic still stretches far ahead, as it did in France. But the political inertia of Libyan society meant that its Revolution had one and only one leader. Gaddafi’s closest colleagues no doubt had personal influence but only one of them, Abdessalam Jalloud, had it in him to disagree openly with Gaddafi on major issues (and he finally quit on his own terms in 1995). And so Gaddafi’s rule can be seen as an extreme instance of what Rosa Luxemburg called ‘substitutionism’: the informal government that was the real government of Libya was a one-man show. Incarnating the nebulous Revolution, the imprecise interest of the nation and the inarticulate will of the people at the same time, Gaddafi clearly believed he needed to make the show interesting. His flamboyance had a political purpose. But how long can colourfulness command consent, let alone loyalty? A Pied Piper leading Libyans – mostly well fed, housed and schooled, but maintained in perpetual political infancy – to no destination in particular. The wonder of it is that the show had such a long run.
Gaddafi seems to have realised years ago what he had done – the quasi-utopian dead end he had got Libya and himself into – and tried to escape its implications. As early as 1987 he was experimenting with liberalisation: allowing private trading, reining in the Revolutionary Committees and reducing their powers, allowing Libyans to travel to neighbouring countries, returning confiscated passports, releasing hundreds of political prisoners, inviting exiles to return with assurances that they would not be persecuted, and even meeting opposition leaders to explore the possibility of reconciliation while acknowledging that serious abuses had occurred and that Libya lacked the rule of law. These reforms implied a shift towards constitutional government, the most notable elements being Gaddafi’s proposals for the codification of citizens’ rights and punishable crimes, which were meant to put an end to arbitrary arrests. This line of development was cut short by the imposition of international sanctions in 1992 in the wake of the Lockerbie bombing: a national emergency that reinforced the regime’s conservative wing and ruled out risky reform for more than a decade. It was only in 2003-4, after Tripoli had paid a massive sum in compensation to the bereaved families in 2002 (having already surrendered Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhima for trial in 1999), that sanctions were lifted, at which point a new reforming current headed by Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam emerged within the regime.
It was the fashion some years ago in circles close to the Blair government – in the media, principally, and among academics – to talk up Saif al-Islam’s commitment to reform and it is the fashion now to heap opprobrium on him as his awful father’s son. Neither judgment is accurate, both are self-serving. Saif al-Islam had begun to play a significant and constructive role in Libyan affairs of state, persuading the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group to end its terrorist campaign in return for the release of LIFG prisoners in 2008, promoting a range of practical reforms and broaching the idea that the regime should formally recognise the country’s Berbers. While it was always unrealistic to suppose that he could have remade Libya into a liberal democracy had he succeeded his father, he certainly recognised the problems of the Jamahiriyya and the need for substantial reform. The prospect of a reformist path under Saif was ruled out by this spring’s events. Is there a parallel with the way international sanctions in the wake of Lockerbie put paid to the earlier reform initiative?
Since February, it has been relentlessly asserted that the Libyan government was responsible both for the bombing of a Berlin disco on 5 April 1986 and the Lockerbie bombing on 21 December 1988. News of Gaddafi’s violent end was greeted with satisfaction by the families of the American victims of Lockerbie, understandably full of bitterness towards the man they have been assured by the US government and the press ordered the bombing of Pan Am 103. But many informed observers have long wondered about these two stories, especially Lockerbie. Jim Swire, the spokesman of UK Families Flight 103, whose daughter was killed in the bombing, has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the official version. Hans Köchler, an Austrian jurist appointed by the UN as an independent observer at the trial, expressed concern about the way it was conducted (notably about the role of two US Justice Department officials who sat next to the Scottish prosecuting counsel throughout and appeared to be giving them instructions). Köchler described al-Megrahi’s conviction as ‘a spectacular miscarriage of justice’. Swire, who also sat through the trial, subsequently launched the Justice for Megrahi campaign. In a resumé of Gaddafi’s career shown on BBC World Service Television on the night of 20 October, John Simpson stopped well short of endorsing either charge, noting of the Berlin bombing that ‘it may or may not have been Colonel Gaddafi’s work,’ an honest formula that acknowledged the room for doubt. Of Lockerbie he remarked cautiously that Libya subsequently ‘got the full blame’, a statement that is quite true.
It is often claimed by British and American government personnel and the Western press that Libya admitted responsibility for Lockerbie in 2003-4. This is untrue. As part of the deal with Washington and London, which included Libya paying $2.7 billion to the 270 victims’ families, the Libyan government in a letter to the president of the UN Security Council stated that Libya ‘has facilitated the bringing to justice of the two suspects charged with the bombing of Pan Am 103, and accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials’. That this formula was agreed in negotiations between the Libyan and British (if not also American) governments was made clear when it was echoed word for word by Jack Straw in the House of Commons. The formula allowed the government to give the public the impression that Libya was indeed guilty, while also allowing Tripoli to say that it had admitted nothing of the kind. The statement does not even mention al-Megrahi by name, much less acknowledge his guilt or that of the Libyan government, and any self-respecting government would sign up to the general principle that it is responsible for the actions of its officials. Tripoli’s position was spelled out by the prime minister, Shukri Ghanem, on 24 February 2004 on the Todayprogramme: he made it clear that the payment of compensation did not imply an admission of guilt and explained that the Libyan government had ‘bought peace’.
The standards of proof underpinning Western judgments of Gaddafi’s Libya have not been high. The doubt over the Lockerbie trial verdict has encouraged rival theories about who really ordered the bombing, which have predictably been dubbed ‘conspiracy theories’. But the prosecution case in the Lockerbie trial was itself a conspiracy theory. And the meagre evidence adduced would have warranted acquittal on grounds of reasonable doubt, or, at most, the ‘not proven’ verdict that Scottish law allows for, rather than the unequivocally ‘guilty’ verdict brought in, oddly, on one defendant but not the other. I do not claim to know the truth of the Lockerbie affair, but the British are slow to forgive the authors of atrocities committed against them and their friends. So I find it hard to believe that a British government would have fallen over itself as it did in 2003-5 to welcome Libya back into the fold had it really held Gaddafi responsible. And in view of the number of Scottish victims of the bombing, it is equally hard to believe that SNP politicians would have countenanced al-Megrahi’s release if they believed the guilty verdict had been sound. The hypothesis that Libya and Gaddafi and al-Megrahi were framed is to be taken very seriously indeed. And if it were the case, it would follow that the greatly diminished prospect of reform from 1989 onwards as the regime battened down the hatches to weather international sanctions, the material suffering of the Libyan people during this period, and the aggravation of internal conflict (notably the Islamist terrorist campaign waged by the LIFG between 1995 and 1998) can all in some measure be laid at the West’s door.
Wherever the blame lies, the Jamahiriyya survived up to 2011 fundamentally unchanged in its key political features: the absence of political parties, the absence of independent associations, newspapers and publishing houses and the corresponding weakness of civil society, the dysfunctional character of the formal institutions of government, the weakness of the armed forces and the indispensability of Gaddafi himself as the originator of the Revolution that constituted the state. After 42 years of Gaddafi’s rule, the people of Libya were, politically speaking, not much further forward than they were on 31 August 1969. And so the Jamahiriyya was vulnerable to internal challenge the moment Arab mass movements making an issue of human dignity and citizens’ rights got going. The tragic irony is that the features of the Jamahiriyya that made it vulnerable to the Arab Spring also, in their combination, completely ruled out any emulation of the Tunisian and Egyptian scenarios. The factors that enabled a fundamentally positive evolution to occur in both these countries once the mass protest movement started were absent from Libya. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the population’s greater experience of political action gave the protests a degree of sophistication, coherence and organisational flair. The fact that neither president had been a founding figure allowed for a distinction to be made between a protest against the president and his cronies and a rebellion against the state: the patriotism of the protesters was never put in question. And in both cases the role of the armed forces was crucial: being loyal to the state and the nation rather than to a particular leader, they were disposed to act as arbiters and facilitate a resolution without the existence of the state being put in jeopardy.
None of this applied to Libya. Gaddafi was the founder of the Jamahiriyya and the guarantor of its continued existence. The armed forces were incapable of playing an independent political role. The absence of any tradition of non-violent opposition and independent organisation ensured that the revolt at the popular level was a raw affair, incapable of formulating any demands that the regime might be able to negotiate. On the contrary, the revolt was a challenge to Gaddafi and to the Jamahiriyya as a whole (and thus to what existed in the way of a state).
The situation that developed over the weekend following the initial unrest on 15 February suggested three possible scenarios: a rapid collapse of the regime as the popular uprising spread; the crushing of the revolt as the regime got its act together; or – in the absence of an early resolution – the onset of civil war. Had the revolt been crushed straightaway, the implications for the Arab Spring would have been serious, but not necessarily more damaging than events in Bahrain, Yemen or Syria; Arab public opinion, long used to the idea that Libya was a place apart, was insulated against the exemplary effect of events there. Had the revolt rapidly brought about the collapse of the regime, Libya might have tumbled into anarchy. An oil-rich Somalistan on the Mediterranean would have had destabilising repercussions for all its neighbours and prejudiced the prospects for democratic development in Tunisia in particular. A long civil war, while costly in terms of human life, might have given the rebellion time to cohere as a rival centre of state formation and thus prepared it for the task of establishing a functional Libyan state in the event of victory. And, even if defeated, such a rebellion would have undermined the premises of the Jamahiriyya and ensured its demise. None of these scenarios took place. A military intervention by the Western powers under the cloak of Nato and the authority of the United Nations happened instead.
How should we evaluate this fourth scenario in terms of the democratic principles that have been invoked to justify the military intervention? There is no doubt that many Libyans consider Nato their saviour and that some of them genuinely aspire to a democratic future for their country. Even so I felt great alarm when intervention started to be suggested and remain opposed to it even now despite its apparent triumph, because I considered that the balance of democratic argument favoured an entirely different course of action.
The claim that the ‘international community’ had no choice but to intervene militarily and that the alternative was to do nothing is false. An active, practical, non-violent alternative was proposed, and deliberately rejected. The argument for a no-fly zone and then for a military intervention employing ‘all necessary measures’ was that only this could stop the regime’s repression and protect civilians. Yet many argued that the way to protect civilians was not to intensify the conflict by intervening on one side or the other, but to end it by securing a ceasefire followed by political negotiations. A number of proposals were put forward. The International Crisis Group, for instance, where I worked at the time, published a statement on 10 March arguing for a two-point initiative: (i) the formation of a contact group or committee drawn from Libya’s North African neighbours and other African states with a mandate to broker an immediate ceasefire; (ii) negotiations between the protagonists to be initiated by the contact group and aimed at replacing the current regime with a more accountable, representative and law-abiding government. This proposal was echoed by the African Union and was consistent with the views of many major non-African states – Russia, China, Brazil and India, not to mention Germany and Turkey. It was restated by the ICG in more detail (adding provision for the deployment under a UN mandate of an international peacekeeping force to secure the ceasefire) in an open letter to the UN Security Council on 16 March, the eve of the debate which concluded with the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1973. In short, before the Security Council voted to approve the military intervention, a worked-out proposal had been put forward which addressed the need to protect civilians by seeking a rapid end to the fighting, and set out the main elements of an orderly transition to a more legitimate form of government, one that would avoid the danger of an abrupt collapse into anarchy, with all it might mean for Tunisia’s revolution, the security of Libya’s other neighbours and the wider region. The imposition of a no-fly zone would be an act of war: as the US defense secretary, Robert Gates, told Congress on 2 March, it required the disabling of Libya’s air defences as an indispensable preliminary. In authorising this and ‘all necessary measures’, the Security Council was choosing war when no other policy had even been tried. Why?
Many critics of Nato’s intervention have complained that it departed from the terms of Resolution 1973 and was for that reason illegal; that the resolution authorised neither regime change nor the introduction of troops on the ground. This is a misreading. Article 4 ruled out the introduction of an occupying force. But Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations states that ‘territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army,’ a definition conserved by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. What Resolution 1973 ruled out was the introduction of a force intended to take full political and legal responsibility for the place, but that was never the intention; ground forces were indeed eventually introduced, but they have at no point accepted political or legal responsibility for anything and so fall short of the conventional definition of an occupying force. It may be that this misreading of the resolution was connived at by the governments that drafted it in order to secure the best (or least bad) tally of votes in favour on 17 March; this would of course be only one instance of the sophistry to which the metteurs en scène of intervention have resorted. And regime change was tacitly covered by the phrase ‘all necessary measures’. That this was the right way to read the resolution had already been made clear by the stentorian rhetoric of Cameron and Hague, Sarkozy and Juppé, and Obama and Clinton in advance of the Security Council vote. Since the issue was defined from the outset as protecting civilians from Gaddafi’s murderous onslaught ‘on his own people’, it followed that effective protection required the elimination of the threat, which was Gaddafi himself for as long as he was in power (subsequently revised to ‘for as long as he is in Libya’ before finally becoming ‘for as long as he is alive’). From the attitudes struck by the Western powers in the run-up to the Security Council debate, it was evident that the cleverly drafted resolution tacitly authorised a war to effect regime change. Those who subsequently said that they did not know that regime change had been authorised either did not understand the logic of events or were pretending to misunderstand in order to excuse their failure to oppose it. By inserting ‘all necessary measures’ into the resolution, London, Paris and Washington licensed themselves, with Nato as their proxy, to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted in the full knowledge that they would never be held to account, since as permanent veto-holding members of the Security Council they are above all laws.
In two respects the conduct of the Western powers and Nato did indeed appear explicitly to violate the terms of Security Council resolutions. The first instance was the repeated supply of arms to the rebellion by France, Qatar, Egypt (according to the Wall Street Journal) and no doubt various other members of the ‘coalition of the willing’ in what seemed a clear breach of the arms embargo imposed by the Security Council in Articles 9, 10 and 11 of Resolution 1970 passed on 26 February and reiterated in Articles 13, 14 and 15 of Resolution 1973. It was later explained that Resolution 1973 superseded 1970 in this respect and that the magic phrase ‘all necessary measures’ licensed the violation of the arms embargo; thus Article 4 of Resolution 1973 trumped Articles 13 to 15 of the same resolution. In this way it was arranged that any state might supply arms to the rebels while none might do so to the Libyan government, which by that time had been decreed illegitimate by London, Paris and Washington. Scarcely anyone has drawn attention to the second violation.
The efforts of the ICG and others seeking an alternative to war did not go entirely unnoticed. Apparently their proposals made some impression on the less gung-ho members of the Security Council, and so a left-handed homage was paid them by the drafters of Resolution 1973. In the final version – unlike any earlier ones – the idea of a peaceful solution was incorporated in the first two articles, which read:
[The Security Council …]
(1) Demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians; (2) Stresses the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people and notes the decisions of the secretary-general to send his special envoy to Libya and of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union to send its ad hoc High Level Committee to Libya with the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution.
In this way Resolution 1973 seemed to be actively envisaging a peaceful alternative as its first preference, while authorising military intervention as a fallback if a ceasefire was refused. In reality, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Resolution 1973 was passed in New York late in the evening of 17 March. The next day, Gaddafi, whose forces were camped on the southern edge of Benghazi, announced a ceasefire in conformity with Article 1 and proposed a political dialogue in line with Article 2. What the Security Council demanded and suggested, he provided in a matter of hours. His ceasefire was immediately rejected on behalf of the NTC by a senior rebel commander, Khalifa Haftar, and dismissed by Western governments. ‘We will judge him by his actions not his words,’ David Cameron declared, implying that Gaddafi was expected to deliver a complete ceasefire by himself: that is, not only order his troops to cease fire but ensure this ceasefire was maintained indefinitely despite the fact that the NTC was refusing to reciprocate. Cameron’s comment also took no account of the fact that Article 1 of Resolution 1973 did not of course place the burden of a ceasefire exclusively on Gaddafi. No sooner had Cameron covered for the NTC’s unmistakable violation of Resolution 1973 than Obama weighed in, insisting that for Gaddafi’s ceasefire to count for anything he would (in addition to sustaining it indefinitely, single-handed, irrespective of the NTC) have to withdraw his forces not only from Benghazi but also from Misrata and from the most important towns his troops had retaken from the rebellion, Ajdabiya in the east and Zawiya in the west – in other words, he had to accept strategic defeat in advance. These conditions, which were impossible for Gaddafi to accept, were absent from Article 1.
Cameron and Obama had made clear that the last thing they wanted was a ceasefire, that the NTC could violate Article 1 of the resolution with impunity and that in doing so it would be acting with the agreement of its Security Council sponsors. Gaddafi’s first ceasefire offer came to nothing, as did his second offer of 20 March. A week later, Turkey, which had been working within the Nato framework to help organise the provision of humanitarian aid to Benghazi, announced that it had been talking to both sides and offered to broker a ceasefire. The offer was given what Ernest Bevin would have called ‘a complete ignoral’ and nothing came of it either, as nothing came of a later initiative, seeking a ceasefire and negotiations (to which Gaddafi explicitly agreed), undertaken by the African Union in April. It too was rejected out of hand by the NTC, which demanded Gaddafi’s resignation as a condition of any ceasefire. This demand went beyond even Obama’s earlier list of conditions, none of which had figured in Resolution 1973. More to the point, it was a demand that made a ceasefire impossible, since securing a ceasefire requires commanders with decisive authority over their armies, and removing Gaddafi would have meant that no one any longer had overall authority over the regime’s forces.
By incorporating the alternative non-violent policy proposals in its text, the Western war party had been pulling a confidence trick, stringing along a few undecided states to get them to vote for the resolution on 17 March: a war to the finish, violent regime change and the end of Gaddafi had been the policy from the outset. All subsequent offers of a ceasefire by Gaddafi – on 30 April, 26 May and 9 June – were treated with the same contempt.
Those who believe in ‘international law’ and are happy with wars they consider ‘legal’ may wish to make something of this. But the crucial point here has to do with the logic of events and the policy choices associated with them. In incorporating the ICG’s – or, more generally, the peace party’s – suggestions into the revised text of Resolution 1973, London, Paris and Washington deftly headed off a real debate in the Security Council, one that would have considered alternatives, at the price of making their own resolution incoherent.
London, Paris and Washington could not allow a ceasefire because it would have involved negotiations, first about peace lines, peacekeepers and so forth, and then about fundamental political differences. And all this would have subverted the possibility of the kind of regime change that interested the Western powers. The sight of representatives of the rebellion sitting down to talks with representatives of Gaddafi’s regime, Libyans talking to Libyans, would have called the demonisation of Gaddafi into question. The moment he became once more someone people talked to and negotiated with, he would in effect have been rehabilitated. And that would have ruled out violent – revolutionary? – regime change and so denied the Western powers their chance of a major intervention in North Africa’s Spring, and the whole interventionist scheme would have flopped. The logic of the demonisation of Gaddafi in late February, crowned by the referral of his alleged crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court by Resolution 1970 and then by France’s decision on 10 March to recognise the NTC as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, meant that Gaddafi was banished for ever from the realm of international political discourse, never to be negotiated with, not even about the surrender of Tripoli when in August he offered to talk terms to spare the city further destruction, an offer once more dismissed with contempt. And this logic was preserved from start to finish, as the death toll of civilians in Tripoli and above all Sirte proves. The mission was always regime change, a truth obscured by the hullabaloo over the supposedly imminent massacre at Benghazi.
The official version is that it was the prospect of a ‘second Srebrenica’ or even ‘another Rwanda’ in Benghazi were Gaddafi allowed to retake the city that forced the ‘international community’ (minus Russia, China, India, Brazil, Germany, Turkey et al) to act. What grounds were there for supposing that, once Gaddafi’s forces had retaken Benghazi, they would be ordered to embark on a general massacre?
Gaddafi dealt with many revolts over the years. He invariably quashed them by force and usually executed the ringleaders. The NTC and other rebel leaders had good reason to fear that once Benghazi had fallen to government troops they would be rounded up and made to pay the price. So it was natural that they should try to convince the ‘international community’ that it was not only their lives that were at stake, but those of thousands of ordinary civilians. But in retaking the towns that the uprising had briefly wrested from the government’s control, Gaddafi’s forces had committed no massacres at all; the fighting had been bitter and bloody, but there had been nothing remotely resembling the slaughter at Srebrenica, let alone in Rwanda. The only known massacre carried out during Gaddafi’s rule was the killing of some 1200 Islamist prisoners at Abu Salim prison in 1996. This was a very dark affair, and whether or not Gaddafi ordered it, it is fair to hold him responsible for it. It was therefore reasonable to be concerned about what the regime might do and how its forces would behave in Benghazi once they had retaken it, and to deter Gaddafi from ordering or allowing any excesses. But that is not what was decided. What was decided was to declare Gaddafi guilty in advance of a massacre of defenceless civilians and instigate the process of destroying his regime and him (and his family) by way of punishment of a crime he was yet to commit, and actually unlikely to commit, and to persist with this process despite his repeated offers to suspend military action.
There was no question of anything that could properly be described as ethnic cleansing or genocide in the Libyan context. All Libyans are Muslims, the majority of Arab-Berber descent, and while the small Berber-speaking minority had a grievance concerning recognition of its language and identity (its members are Ibadi, not Sunni, Muslims), this was not what the conflict was about. The conflict was not ethnic or racial but political, between defenders and opponents of the Gaddafi regime; whichever side won could be expected to deal roughly with its adversaries, but the premises for a large-scale massacre of civilians on grounds of their ethnic or racial identity were absent. All the talk about another Srebrenica or Rwanda was extreme hyperbole clearly intended to panic various governments into supporting the war party’s project of a military intervention in order to save the rebellion from imminent defeat.
Why did the panic factor work so well with international, or at any rate Western, public opinion and especially governments? It is reliably reported that Obama’s fear of being accused of allowing another Srebrenica tipped the scales in Washington when not only Robert Gates but also, initially, Hillary Clinton had resisted US involvement. I believe the answer is that Gaddafi had already been so thoroughly demonised that the wildest accusations about his likely (or, as many claimed, certain) future conduct would be believed whatever his actual behaviour. This demonisation took place on 21 February, the day all the important cards were dealt.
On 21 February the world was shocked by the news that the Gaddafi regime was using its airforce to slaughter peaceful demonstrators in Tripoli and other cities. The main purveyor of this story was al-Jazeera, but the story was quickly taken up by the Sky network, CNN, the BBC, ITN et al. Before the day was over the idea of imposing a no-fly zone on Libya was widely accepted, as was the idea of a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions and an arms embargo, freezing Libya’s assets and referring Gaddafi and his associates to the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity. Resolution 1970 was duly passed five days later and the no-fly zone proposal monopolised international discussion of the Libyan crisis from then on.
Many other things happened on 21 February. Zawiya was reported to be in chaos. The minister of justice, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, resigned. Fifty Serbian workers were attacked by looters. Canada condemned ‘the violent crackdowns on innocent demonstrators’. Two airforce pilots flew their fighters to Malta claiming they did so to avoid carrying out an order to bomb and strafe demonstrators. By late afternoon regime troops and snipers were reliably reported to be firing on crowds in Tripoli. Eighteen Korean workers were wounded when their place of work was attacked by a hundred armed men. The European Union condemned the repression, followed by Ban Ki-moon, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi. Ten Egyptians were reported to have been killed by armed men in Tobruk. William Hague, who had condemned the repression the previous day (as had Hillary Clinton), announced at a press conference that he had information that Gaddafi had fled Libya and was en route to Venezuela. The Libyan ambassador to Poland stated that defections from the armed forces as well as the government could not be stopped and Gaddafi’s days were numbered. Numerous media outlets carried the story that Libya’s largest tribe, the Warfalla, had joined the rebellion. Libya’s ambassadors to Washington, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia all resigned, and its deputy ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, rounded off the day by calling a news conference at Libya’s mission in New York and claimed that Gaddafi had ‘already started the genocide against the Libyan people’ and was flying in African mercenaries. It was Dabbashi more than anyone else who, having primed his audience in this way, launched the idea that the UN should impose a no-fly zone and the ICC should investigate Gaddafi’s ‘crimes against humanity and crimes of war’.
At this point the total death toll since 15 February was 233, according to Human Rights Watch. The Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme suggested between 300 and 400 (but it also announced the same day that Sirte had fallen to the rebels). We can compare these figures with the total death toll in Tunisia (300) and Egypt (at least 846). We can also compare both HRW’s and FIDH’s figures with the death toll, plausibly estimated at between 500 and 600, of the seven days of rioting in Algeria in October 1988, when the French government rigorously refrained from making any comment on events. But the figures were beside the point on 21 February; it was impressions that counted. The impression made by the story that Gaddafi’s airforce was slaughtering peaceful protesters was huge, and it was natural to take the resignations of Abdul Jalil and the ambassadors, the flight of the two pilots, and especially Dabbashi’s dramatic declaration about genocide as corroborating al-Jazeera’s story.
Goodies and baddies (to use Tony Blair’s categories) had been clearly identified, the Western media’s outraged attention totally engaged, the Security Council urgently seized of the matter, the ICC primed to stand by, and a fundamental shift towards intervention had been made – all in a matter of hours. And quite right too, many may say. Except that the al-Jazeera story was untrue, just as the story of the Warfalla’s siding with the rebellion was untrue and Hague’s story that Gaddafi was fleeing to Caracas was untrue. And, of course, Dabbashi’s ‘genocide’ claim was histrionic rubbish which none of the organisations with an interest in the use of the term was moved to challenge.
These considerations raise awkward questions. If the reason cited by these ambassadors and other regime personnel for defecting on 21 February was false, what really prompted them to defect and make the declarations they did? What was al-Jazeera up to? And what was Hague up to? A serious history of this affair when more evidence comes to light will seek answers to these questions. But I don’t find it hard to understand that Gaddafi and his son should suddenly have resorted to such fierce rhetoric. They clearly believed that, far from confronting merely ‘innocent demonstrators’ as the Canadians had it, they were being destabilised by forces acting to a plan with international ramifications. It is possible that they were mistaken and that everything was spontaneous and accidental and a chaotic muddle; I do not pretend to know for sure. But there had been plans to destabilise their regime before, and they had grounds for thinking that they were being destabilised again. The slanted coverage in the British media in particular, notably the insistence that the regime was faced only by peaceful demonstrators when, in addition to ordinary Libyans trying to make their voices heard non-violently, it was facing politically motivated as well as random violence (e.g. the lynching of 50 alleged mercenaries in al-Baida on 19 February), was consistent with the destabilisation theory. And on the evidence I have since been able to collect, I am inclined to think that destabilisation is exactly what was happening.
In the days that followed I made efforts to check the al-Jazeera story for myself. One source I consulted was the well-regarded blog Informed Comment, maintained and updated every day by Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan. This carried a post on 21 February entitled ‘Qaddafi’s bombardments recall Mussolini’s’, which made the point that ‘in 1933-40, Italo Balbo championed aerial warfare as the best means to deal with uppity colonial populations.’ The post began: ‘The strafing and bombardment in Tripoli of civilian demonstrators by Muammar Gaddafi’s fighter jets on Monday …’, with the underlined words linking to an article by Sarah El Deeb and Maggie Michael for Associated Press published at 9 p.m. on 21 February. This article provided no corroboration of Cole’s claim that Gaddafi’s fighter jets (or any other aircraft) had strafed or bombed anyone in Tripoli or anywhere else. The same is true of every source indicated in the other items on Libya relaying the aerial onslaught story which Cole posted that same day.
I was in Egypt for most of the time, but since many journalists visiting Libya were transiting through Cairo, I made a point of asking those I could get hold of what they had picked up in the field. None of them had found any corroboration of the story. I especially remember on 18 March asking the British North Africa expert Jon Marks, just back from an extended tour of Cyrenaica (taking in Ajdabiya, Benghazi, Brega, Derna and Ras Lanuf), what he had heard about the story. He told me that no one he had spoken to had mentioned it. Four days later, on 22 March, USA Today carried a striking article by Alan Kuperman, the author of The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention and coeditor of Gambling on Humanitarian Intervention. The article, ‘Five Things the US Should Consider in Libya’, provided a powerful critique of the Nato intervention as violating the conditions that needed to be observed for a humanitarian intervention to be justified or successful. But what interested me most was his statement that ‘despite ubiquitous cellphone cameras, there are no images of genocidal violence, a claim that smacks of rebel propaganda.’ So, four weeks on, I was not alone in finding no evidence for the aerial slaughter story. I subsequently discovered that the issue had come up more than a fortnight earlier, on 2 March, in hearings in the US Congress when Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were testifying. They told Congress that they had no confirmation of reports of aircraft controlled by Gaddafi firing on citizens.
The story was untrue, just as the story that went round the world in August 1990 that Iraqi troops were slaughtering Kuwaiti babies by turning off their incubators was untrue and the claims in the sexed-up dossier on Saddam’s WMD were untrue. But as Mohammed Khider, one of the founders of the FLN, once remarked, ‘when everyone takes up a falsehood, it becomes a reality.’ The rush to regime change by war was on and could not be stopped.
The intervention tarnished every one of the principles the war party invoked to justify it. It occasioned the deaths of thousands of civilians, debased the idea of democracy, debased the idea of law and passed off a counterfeit revolution as the real thing. Two assertions that were endlessly reiterated – they were fundamental to the Western powers’ case for war – were that Gaddafi was engaged in ‘killing his own people’ and that he had ‘lost all legitimacy’, the latter presented as the corollary of the former. Both assertions involved mystifications.
‘Killing his own people’ is a hand-me-down line from the previous regime change war against Saddam Hussein. In both cases it suggested two things: that the despot was a monster and that he represented nothing in the society he ruled. It is tendentious and dishonest to say simply that Gaddafi was ‘killing his own people’; he was killing those of his people who were rebelling. He was doing in this respect what every government in history has done when faced with a rebellion. We are all free to prefer the rebels to the government in any given case. But the relative merits of the two sides aren’t the issue in such situations: the issue is the right of a state to defend itself against violent subversion. That right, once taken for granted as the corollary of sovereignty, is now compromised. Theoretically, it is qualified by certain rules. But, as we have seen, the invocation of rules (e.g. no genocide) can go together with a cynical exaggeration and distortion of the facts by other states. There are in fact no reliable rules. A state may repress a revolt if the permanent veto-holding powers on the Security Council allow it to (e.g. Bahrain, but also Sri Lanka) and not otherwise. And if a state thinks it can take this informal authorisation to defend itself as read because it is on good terms with London, Paris and Washington and is honouring all its agreements with them, as Libya was, it had better beware. Terms can change without warning from one day to the next. The matter is now arbitrary, and arbitrariness is the opposite of law.
The idea that Gaddafi represented nothing in Libyan society, that he was taking on his entire people and his people were all against him was another distortion of the facts. As we now know from the length of the war, the huge pro-Gaddafi demonstration in Tripoli on 1 July, the fierce resistance Gaddafi’s forces put up, the month it took the rebels to get anywhere at all at Bani Walid and the further month at Sirte, Gaddafi’s regime enjoyed a substantial measure of support, as the NTC did. Libyan society was divided and political division was in itself a hopeful development since it signified the end of the old political unanimity enjoined and maintained by the Jamahiriyya. In this light, the Western governments’ portrayal of ‘the Libyan people’ as uniformly ranged against Gaddafi had a sinister implication, precisely because it insinuated a new Western-sponsored unanimity back into Libyan life. This profoundly undemocratic idea followed naturally from the equally undemocratic idea that, in the absence of electoral consultation or even an opinion poll to ascertain the Libyans’ actual views, the British, French and American governments had the right and authority to determine who was part of the Libyan people and who wasn’t. No one supporting the Gaddafi regime counted. Because they were not part of ‘the Libyan people’ they could not be among the civilians to be protected, even if they were civilians as a matter of mere fact. And they were not protected; they were killed by Nato air strikes as well as by uncontrolled rebel units. The number of such civilian victims on the wrong side of the war must be many times the total death toll as of 21 February. But they don’t count, any more than the thousands of young men in Gaddafi’s army who innocently imagined that they too were part of ‘the Libyan people’ and were only doing their duty to the state counted when they were incinerated by Nato’s planes or extra-judicially executed en masse after capture, as in Sirte.
The same contempt for democratic principle characterised the repeated declarations in the West that Gaddafi had ‘lost all legitimacy’. Every state needs international recognition and to that extent depends on external sources of legitimation. But the democratic idea gives priority to national over international legitimacy. With their claim of lost legitimacy the Western powers were not only pre-empting an eventual election in Libya which would ascertain the true balance of public opinion, they were mimicking the Gaddafi regime: in the Jamahiriyya the people were liable to be trumped by the Revolution as a source of superior legitimacy.
‘If you break it, you own it,’ Colin Powell famously remarked, in order to alert the Beltway to the risks of a renewed war against Iraq. The lesson of the mess in Iraq has been learned, at least to the extent that the Western powers and Nato have repeatedly insisted that the Libyan people – the NTC and the revolutionary militias – own their revolution. So, not owning Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, Nato and London and Paris and Washington cannot be accused of breaking it or be held responsible for the debris. The result is a shadow play. The NTC occupies centre stage in Libya, but since February every key decision has been made in the Western capitals in consultation with the other, especially Arab, members of the ‘contact group’ meeting in London or Paris or Doha. It is unlikely that the structure of power and the system of decision-making which have guided the ‘revolution’ since March are going to change radically. And so unless something happens to upset the calculations that have brought Nato and the NTC this far, what will probably emerge is a system of dual power in some ways analogous to that of the Jamahiriyya itself, and similarly inimical to democratic accountability. That is, a system of formal decision-making about secondary matters acting as a façade for a separate and independent, because offshore, system of decision-making about everything that really counts (oil, gas, water, finance, trade, security, geopolitics) behind the scenes. Libya’s formal government will be a junior partner of the new Libya’s Western sponsors. This will be more of a return to the old ways of the monarchy than to those of the Jamahiriyya.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* © London Review of Books
* This article first appeared in the London Review of Books (Vol. 33 No. 22 · 17 November 2011).
* Hugh Roberts was the director of the International Crisis Group’s North Africa Project from 2002 to 2007 and from February to July 2011. He is about to take up the post of Edward Keller Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Back to Tahrir Square
When former Vice President (and intelligence chief) Omar Suleiman announced on state television last February 11the transfer of power from Hosni Mubarak to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), millions of Egyptians began celebrating in the streets the culmination of their revolution that rid them of their dictator. The demonstrators’ chant then was ‘the people and the army are one.’ Indeed, the role of SCAF in refusing to crack down on protestors and forcing the resignation of Mubarak proved decisive in the three-week revolt.
Nine months later, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians are back in Tahrir Square and streets across the country. Ironically, their chant is now ‘The police and the army are one,’ in a clear rejection of the violent tactics employed by the police against the demonstrators. In three days of confrontation since November 20 at least forty people were killed and more than 2,000 injured at the hands of the security forces. But this time the Egyptian youth will not pack up and go home. They are determined to reclaim their revolution and force the transfer of power from the military to a real civilian government.
But how did we get from there to here?
Shortly after Mubarak was deposed, SCAF promised to stay in power no longer than six months. It subsequently called for a popular referendum on March 19 that called for parliamentary elections, followed by writing a new constitution, and then presidential elections. Championed by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and other Islamic factions, the public approved the referendum with an overwhelming majority of 77 per cent, although secular parties wanted to first draft the constitution for the fear that Islamic parties would have an edge over them after the elections.
During this brief campaign it became clear to all political trends that the Islamically oriented parties, led by the MB, are better organized, well financed, and have the abilities and skills to mobilize the public to their cause. This fact prompted fear and panic not only from the secular, leftist, and liberal parties within Egypt but also from other Western powers led by the United States.
Furthermore, the traditional secular and liberal parties expressed their concern that if the elections were held soon, the Islamists were poised to win a large share of seats and dictate a new constitution that might curtail some freedoms or favor the application of Islamic laws. Despite the pronouncement by most Islamic parties, including the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the MB, that the constitution writing committee would include all political parties and trends, most secular parties did not believe such assurances.
Throughout the summer most secular and liberal parties pressured SCAF to issue a decree that would impose supra-constitutional principles and thus foist them on the future parliament. The opponents of this argued that, on its face, this practice is undemocratic, usurps the rights of the people, and tramples upon their right to express their free will. They also argue that it is unnecessary since all parties have agreed on the nature of the state, namely to be a democratic and civil one.
Nevertheless, the proponents of this approach pushed hard to impose their vision. Consequently, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Al-Silmi, backed by SCAF, called for a conference of all political parties to approve his plan for the future constitution. But remarkably this document also called for a special constitutional privilege for the military, effectively according it a sovereign status. In effect, it called for its budget to be outside the purview of parliament and for a veto power over any strategic decision by the government. In short, it was similar to the role that the Turkish military played in the country since the military coup of 1960 until Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party was elected in 2002.
The rejection of Al-Silmi’s proposed document was swift and sweeping not only in principle by the Islamic parties, but also from other nationalist and secular parties because of its tilt towards the military. It was a disguised effort to keep the military outside the control and supervision of the future democratic institutions of the state.
But this was the latest episode of SCAF’s many attempts to manipulate the future course of Egypt. Since the very beginning it has been laggard in implementing the objectives of the revolution. The despised emergency laws were never repealed. While changing the name of the security apparatus, much of its senior personnel and tactics were retained. Over 12,000 civilians were charged and tried swiftly in military trials facing harsh sentences, while the most corrupt leaders of the Mubarak regime – including the deposed president and his sons – have been tried grudgingly in slow civilian courts.
Moreover, none of the reforms announced by SCAF came out of its own initiative. It either reluctantly adhered to final court rulings by the judiciary, or yielded to the demands of the people, built up over many weeks, eventually culminating in large demonstrations and sit-ins. To wit:
The sacking of Mubarak’s cabinet in favor of a new government supported by the people. The banning of Mubarak’s corrupt party and confiscating its assets. The dismissal of thousands of corrupt officials from local councils. The trial of senior leaders and ministers of the deposed regime. The opening of the Rafah crossing to ease the blockade on Gaza. Setting definite election dates after many delays. Changing elections laws to include parties’ list as well as individual candidates. Allowing expatriate citizens to vote outside of Egypt. Pointedly, none of these demands, as well as many others, were met without taking the matter to the streets. Often times, their decisions were too little too late, or with ineffective or inconsequential results.
For instance, all political parties have been calling for the activation of a law that bans from politics all individuals who were previously engaged in political corruption- effectively excluding all Mubarak’s Nationalist Democratic Party (NDP) officials. But SCAF dragged its feet for months while hundreds of those same NDP officials filed to contest the elections next week either as independents or as part of the lists of six new parties tied to the old regime. Ultimately, this past Monday, just one week before the elections, SCAF issued the Political Corruption Law that would make it almost impossible to impeach any candidate since they have to be disqualified only through the slow Egyptian judiciary.
Meanwhile, SCAF has been vulnerable to the tremendous pressures applied by foreign governments for different motives. Some Arab governments led by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the U.A.E. used their financial leverage to bail out the deposed president by halting or slowing down his trial because of their strong ties to him. In addition, the U.S. and other Western countries insisted that SCAF give specific assurances regarding Western and Israeli interests, as well as secure certain concessions from the political Islamic parties. For example, under U.S. prodding, SCAF demanded and received assurance from the MB in late April that the group would not contest future presidential elections.
By June, SCAF was demanding that the group not advance one of its own to the position of Prime Minister, even if it won the elections. In August, the MB was told yet again that in any future government it should not push for senior posts such as foreign or interior ministries so as not to antagonize the West. While the group reluctantly agreed not to contest the posts of head of state or government, it was extremely dismayed and refused to adhere to further restrictions on its participation in politics.
Last July, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee earmarked $1.55 billion to Egypt on the condition that such aid should in part be used for ‘border security programs and activities in the Sinai’ in order to insure Israel’s security concerns. It also directed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certifies the humiliating demand that the Government of Egypt (supposedly democratically elected) ‘is not controlled by a foreign terrorist organization, or its affiliates or supporters, is implementing the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, and is taking steps to detect and destroy the smuggling network and tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza strip.’ Thus, when the Egyptian authorities acceded in late May to the demand by the Egyptian public to open the Rafah crossing and ease the blockade on Gaza, the crossing was closed again within just three days, due to U.S. and Israeli pressure. The status of the Rafah crossing is not currently very different from the Mubarak era.
By late September, SCAF finally set the parliamentary elections date for November 28. But it called for a staggered elections process to be implemented over three stages for the lower house as well as two stages for the upper house, effectively ending the elections process in March 2012. Many political parties and pro-democracy movements voiced their concerns that within such a system (with the banning of international elections monitors), the elections could be manipulated, especially when the same interior ministry (packed by Mubarak’s appointees) would supervise major parts of the electoral process.
To secure free and fair elections, SCAF started tacitly requesting concessions from the major political parties, especially the MB and other Islamically oriented parties. In return for their support of Al-Silmi’s supra-constitutional principles, SCAF pledged to guarantee free and fair parliamentary elections. But the MB and other Salafist parties refused even to show up to discuss the document. Meanwhile, other pro-democracy liberal and youth groups were extremely concerned about the extra constitutional powers given to the military in that document. Fearing the attempted power grab, most political parties and movements were actually united in their rejection, and called for a million-man demonstration in Tahrir square on Friday, November 18, insisting on the restoration of the objectives of the revolution. Recalling the early days of the revolution, hundreds of thousands of people gathered that afternoon not only in Tahrir, but also in other major cities including Alexandria, Suez, and across the Nile Delta.
After the impressive showing by all political factions: Islamic, secular, liberal, leftist, and youth groups, SCAF had no option but to withdraw the document. By Saturday, a few thousand activists from the youth movements that actually ignited the revolution last January, decided to stay in Tahrir square and stage a sit-in to demand the dismissal of the ineffective SCAF-controlled government, headed by Dr. Esam Sharaf since March, and call for the end of military rule.
That evening, for reasons that remain unclear, the security forces decided to evacuate the few thousand demonstrators by force. In doing so, they employed all the Mubarak-era tactics: teargas, rubber bullets, clubs, beatings, mass arrests, pepper spray, and physical and verbal humiliations. But the demonstrators refused to evacuate, fought back, and called for reinforcements after suffering many casualties. Within hours, Tahrir was again filled with tens of thousands of people raising their demands yet again.
If there was a lesson to be learned from the ousting of Mubarak, it was that when the people’s demands are denied, the ceiling of their demands are raised. By the third day of this manufactured confrontation, most political groups, with the exception of the MB, were not only protesting in Tahrir Square, but also across Egypt. The angry demonstrators now demanded the complete dismissal of the government, and the ouster of the military council to be replaced with an interim civilian presidential council.
The MB announced that although it supported the demands of the people it would not participate so as not to escalate the dangerous situation with the security forces. In its pragmatic calculation, the MB saw this latest episode as a deliberate attempt by the military to use the induced violence to postpone yet again the elections, which many believed the party would win. Similar to the agreement the MB struck with Suleiman in the days before Mubarak?s ouster, once again the MB thought of its immediate gains rather than the national consensus to force the end of military rule. As it reversed its decision last February within two days due to pressure from the streets, many of its members and supporters in the streets are openly demanding that they participate alongside the other young revolutionaries.
By Tuesday, November 22, SCAF head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief-of-Staff Gen. Sami Anan, met with all political parties and prospective presidential candidates. After a five-hour marathon meeting, SCAF capitulated, and agreed to all the demands: To declare an immediate cease-fire; to release thousands of protesters that have been detained since Saturday; to treat all the injured and provide compensations to the families of the deceased; and to bring to justice all those responsible for the violence. On the political demands they further agreed to dismiss the government of Dr. Sharaf and appoint a national-unity government; to hold the elections on time starting next week; to guarantee free and fair elections; and to give a definite date for the transfer to civilian rule by holding presidential elections no later than June 30, 2012.
When Tantawi delivered his speech that evening by promising a new government, keeping the elections date intact, and the end of military rule by next June, people in Tahrir were no longer satisfied. They kept shouting, ‘You leave, we’re staying,’ the same chant that eventually caught up with Mubarak.
The immediate problem now is the total lack of trust between the people in the streets and the military council. The people are tired of the cat and mouse game played by SCAF, where every major demand is only conceded through much struggle. Although it is true that SCAF was instrumental in accelerating the ouster of Mubarak, it is also now quite clear to the revolutionaries that SCAF has had a different agenda that oftentimes conflicts with the objectives of their revolution.
Now the revolutionaries have vowed to stay in Tahrir until SCAF cedes effective power long before next year to a new civilian national-unity government empowered to supervise the elections, supervise the writing of the constitution, and implement all their objectives without any interference or dictation by the military.
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* This article first appeared in CounterPunch.
* Esam Al-Amin can be reached at alamin1919[AT]gmail.com.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Unfinished revolution: Egyptian activists in Tahrir Square
An interview with Sherif Joseph Rizk, Yehia El Gammal and Shahira Abouellail
The second wave of the Revolution has come back to Tahrir Square. After the massive demonstration on Friday, 18 November 2011, calling for an end to military rule, about 200 people, mainly family members of martyrs who died in the January 25 uprisings and people who were previously injured, staged a sit-in at Tahrir Square. Central Security Forces and Egyptian military police violently dismantled the sit-in, and since then, thousands have come together to reoccupy Tahrir Square. The police and military continue to attack protesters with live bullets, extremely potent tear gas and invisible gas, bird shot, rubber bullets and other ammunition.
As of Thursday 24 November 2011, the Egyptian Ministry of Health has confirmed at least 38 dead and thousands wounded. The protesters vow to continue their occupation of Tahrir Square until the ruling military council, or SCAF, steps down. Protests against ongoing military rule are happening throughout Egypt, and security forces and the military are reacting violently to those protests as well.
I spoke by phone to two Egyptian activists and members of the New Republic Project, Sherif Joseph Rizk and Yehia El Gammal, on early Monday morning, 21 November 2011. They had spent the last three days and nights in Tahrir Square and are continuing to protest. Sherif Joseph Rizk starts out by telling me what has happened since Friday, 18 November 2011, in Tahrir Square, and Yehia El Gammal begins by saying there are piles of dead bodies at the morgue, victims of the attacks by Central Security Forces and military police.
I also spoke by phone to Shahira Abouellail, an Egyptian activist and one of the founders of No Military Trials for Civilians, on early Tuesday morning from Cairo. She speaks about protesting in Tahrir, her visit to the Zeinhom morgue to accompany family members who had lost their children and loved ones, the vicious attacks by security forces and the military on protesters and the end of the relationship between the military and the Egyptian people.
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* Lillian Boctor is a freelance journalist based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She is a reporter for Free Speech Radio News and has worked as a journalist, associate producer and researcher at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) and Radio Canada International (RCI).
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Egyptians in revolution
Eight months after the removal of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian revolutionaries have returned to Tahrir Square as hundreds of thousands protest, calling for an end to military rule. It is useful to briefly mention the extent of the US government’s role in maintaining the Egyptian military and the similarities in response by both Egypt and the US to peaceful protest by their citizens. Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel. It receives US$2 billion annually, most of which goes to the military complex for training and military hardware – including the tear gas and other weaponry being used against ordinary citizens.
To date over 12,000 people have been detained and sent to military courts and subjected to torture. The number of killed and injured is impossible to tell but according to Democracy Now! the numbers could well be in the hundreds and thousands respectively. As hundreds of thousands of protesters continue to gather in Tahrir Square, fierce battles continue to take place on the side streets leading to the square where most of the deaths and injuries are taking place.
Pan-African News reported on the use of Israeli-made weapons:
‘“There is ample evidence showing that the security forces use prohibited weapons against the citizens, which have recently been imported from Israel and the US," Taqadom al-Khatib told FNA.
‘Also, another senior Egyptian politician said on Tuesday that the country's interim authorities were using Israeli-made weapons and riot gear, including tear gas canisters, against the people.’
Canisters of CR Gas made in the US and which have expired for as much as five years have been found. The gas, which is listed as being banned, has also been used in the US, Israel and Sri Lanka.
CR gas causes severe pulmonary damage, as well as causing damage to the heart and liver. It is also reported to increase the risk of miscarriages, according to international studies of the substance.
A lethal does can be inhaled within minutes if in a poorly ventilated area.
According to the United States Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, CR emits ‘very toxic fumes’ when heated to decomposition, and at specified concentrations CR gas is an immediate danger to life and health. The report also stated that those exposed to CR gas should ‘seek medical attention immediately.’
In large doses, human tissues have also revealed that cyanide levels in the body are discovered. It can also ‘melt’ one’s skin if sweat on the body comes into contact with the substance.
In a statement on the determination of the protestors Hossam El-Hamalawy (Arabawy) wrote:
‘It's an intifada a la 25 Jan now.. three friends have lost their eyes, and more in coma . . . the attack by the army is very brutal but the resistance is impressive. More soon.’
El-Hamalawy explains the demands of the people for the removal of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the mobilisation which is taking place across the country including the call for a general strike. Just as Mubarak was brought down by a massive general strike, so the people believe this action will bring down the military.
In Egypt and in the global Occupy Movement party politics and politics in general are becoming increasingly marginal to the power of the social forces occupying on the streets, squares, universities, blocks and church steps. This is not to say the forthcoming elections are not taken seriously but as the chart by The Arabist shows, they are not a priority for everyone at this moment and much work has to be done in building trust between people and potential political leaders.
Alongside the continuing protests over the past four days, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights together with four other human rights organisations announced they have begun to collect evidence and testimonies of the ‘deliberate violence’ being committed by military and civilian officials and they intend to prosecute those involved in the brutal attacks against protestors:
‘The signatory organizations denounced the fallacious statements made by military officials to the media yesterday, in which they claimed that the role of the military police was limited to securing the Interior Ministry building without engaging with demonstrators. The organizations confirmed that their representatives had themselves witnessed military police forces storming Tahrir Square at around 5pm on Sunday 20th November and brutally assaulting demonstrators with batons, before setting fire to tents and demonstrators' belongings, along with a number of motorbikes. Video clips broadcast on the al-Masry al-Youm website and al-Jazeera Live Egypt show members of the military and civilian police attacking unarmed demonstrators from three sides of the square, using armed personnel carriers, tear gas bombs and batons. They show police hitting demonstrators a number of times on their heads with batons and their feet, after they had fallen to the ground, until demonstrators had completely stopped moving.’
The No Military Trials for Civilians has published a list of detainees (in Arabic) and a list of upcoming solidarity actions in cities across the world. One of the thousands of detainees, blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah has written another blog entry from the prison where he has been held since October 30th. The post provides us with a different way of understanding the similarities and differences between Egypt and Tunisia both of which he sees as being held hostage by the State:
‘...if the Constitution is delayed Presidential elections are delayed and military rule extended. But as soon as work on the Constitution starts the polarization will start, parliament and the parties will be pulled into it, and we can forget any legislative reforms or any real control on the performance of the military or the government.
‘Like Tunis, our revolution did not seize power, and like Tunis the counter-revolution and the remnants of the old regime have taken the State hostage.......It’s time to admit that Egypt is like Tunis; that a revolution without a central command, a revolution that embraces profoundly differing currents which have no broad mass base to ease the resolving of these differences – will not seize power except through elections. Negotiating with SCAF will not resolve this, and attempts to find common ground before the elections will not work............If we accept that Egypt is like Tunis, we should do what Tunis did: we pull together and press for full power to be invested in the first elected body; the legitimacy of the representatives of the people should cancel every other legitimacy…’
Last week Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, betrayed by his guide, was captured by Zintan rebels forces somewhere south of the country in the Sahara. He is presently being held in Zintan and according to one report at ‘grave risk’. Pro Gaddafi blog, Libya 360, which may or may not be run by a non-Libyan, has published a petition calling for the safety and surrender of Gaddafi’s son to the ICC. In what is beginning to sound like a tragicomedy, another blog Libyans Against SuperPower Media asks readers not to sign the petition as this implies Gaddafi is guilty of crimes against humanity. Their desperation is palpable as they claim Gaddafi is safer with the Zintan elders than with the National Transitional Council (NTC) or the International Criminal Court (ICC).
I doubt there will be many signings and even if there were, it’s doubtful the NTC or NATO countries would listen anyway. Of course Gaddafi still has his supporters – who have now become the ‘rebels’ or ‘resistance’ known as the ‘Green Force’ fighting for a ‘free Libya’!
In a strange speech, we are shown Saif discussing his capture:
‘It was agreed that I would be treated here in Zintan because there is a medical facility and there was anesthetic for the operation that I needed. We are sitting here with our families, with our brothers and there is no problem. We have talked a lot regarding my medical condition’.
In a second video, also in Zintan, he is seen with a group of Libyan fighters being treated very well as one helps him with his clothes. He talks to them about the NTC saying he has ‘walked through the valley they are now trying to climb up’. He seems relaxed, almost holding court as he informs them of his betrayal by members of the NTC who defected from Gaddafi, implying they are not to be trusted and nothing good will come of following them. In a situation where there are tensions between the various factions of former rebels, this appears to be a divisive tactic on his part.
It will be interesting to see where these blogs and the ‘Libyan Resistance’ are in three to six months time!
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* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
The democratic fraud and the universalist alternative
1. THE DEMOCRATIC FRAUD CHALLENGES US TO INVENT TOMORROW’S DEMOCRACY
Universal suffrage is a recent conquest, beginning with workers’ struggles in a few European countries (England, France, Holland, and Belgium) and then progressively extending throughout the world. Today, everywhere on the planet, it goes without saying that the demand for delegating supreme power to an honestly elected, multiparty assembly defines the democratic aspiration and guarantees its realization—or so it is claimed.
Marx himself put great hopes on such universal suffrage as a possible “peaceful path to socialism.” Yet, I have noted that on this score Marx’s expectations were refuted by history (cf. Marx et la démocratie).
I think that the reason for the failure of electoral democracy to produce real change is not hard to find: all hitherto existing societies have been based on a dual system of exploitation of labor (in various forms) and of concentration of the state’s powers on behalf of the ruling class. This fundamental reality results in a relative “depoliticization/disacculturation” of very large segments of society. And this result, broadly designed and implemented to fulfill the systemic function expected of it, is simultaneously the condition for reproduction of the system without changes other than those it can control and absorb—the condition of its stability. What is called the “grass roots,” so to speak, signifies a country in deep slumber. Elections by universal suffrage under these conditions are guaranteed to produce a sure victory for conservatism, albeit sometimes a “reformist” conservatism.
This is why never in history has there been real change resulting from this mode of governance based on “consensus” (i.e. the absence of change). All changes tending toward real social transformation, even radical reforms, have resulted from struggles waged by what, in electoral terms, may appear to be “minorities.” Without the initiative of such minorities, the motive force of society, no change is possible. Such struggles, engaged in by such “minorities,” always end up—when the alternatives proposed are clearly and correctly defined—by carrying along (previously silent) majorities and may by universal suffrage receive ratification, which arrives after—never before—victory.
In our contemporary world “consensus” (its boundaries defined by universal suffrage) is more conservative than ever. In the centers of the world-system the consensus is pro-imperialist. Not in the sense that it implies hatred or contempt for the other peoples who are its victims, but in the everyday sense that the permanence of the flow of imperialist rent is accepted because that is the condition for overall social reproduction, the guarantor of its “opulence” in contrast to the poverty of the others. In the peripheries, the responses of peoples to the challenge (pauperization resulting from the process of capitalist/imperialist accumulation) is still muddled, in the sense that they are fated always to carry with them a dose of retrograde illusions of a return to a better past.
In these conditions, recourse to “elections” is always conceived by the dominant powers as the best possible way to rein in the movement, to end the possibility that the struggles become radicalized. In 1968 some said that “elections are for assholes,” and that view was not unconfirmed by the facts. An elected assembly, right away—as today in Tunisia and Egypt—serves only to put an end to “disorder,” to “restore stability.” To change everything so that nothing changes.
So should we give up on elections? Not at all. But how to bring together new, rich, inventive forms of democratization through which elections can be used in a way other than is conceived by the conservative forces? Such is the challenge.
THE DEMOCRATIC FARCE’S STAGE SCENERY
This stage scenery was invented by the Founding Fathers of the United States, with the very clearly expressed intention of keeping electoral democracy from becoming an instrument that could be used by the people to call in question the social order based on private property (and slavery!).
With that in mind, their Constitution was based on (indirect) election of a president (a sort of “elective monarch”) holding in his hands some essential powers. Presidential election campaigns under these conditions naturally gravitate to “bipartisanism,” which tends progressively to become what it now is: the expression of a “single party.” Of course, ever since the end of the nineteenth century this has represented the interest of monopoly capital, addressing itself to “clienteles” that view themselves as having differing interests.
The democratic fraud then displays itself as offering “alternatives” (in this case, the Democrats and the Republicans) that cannot ever rise to the level required by a real alternative (offering the possibility of new, radically different, options). But without the presence of real alternative perspectives democracy is nonexistent. The farce is based on “consensus”(!) ideology, which excludes by definition serious conflicts between interests and between visions of the future. The invention of “party primaries” inviting the whole electorate (whether its components are said to be leftist or rightist!) to express its choices of candidates for the two false adversaries accentuates still further that deviation so annihilating for the meaning of elections.
Jean Monnet, a true anti-democrat is honored today in Brussels, where his intentions to copy the U.S. model were fully understood, as the founder of the “new European democracy.” Monnet deployed all his efforts, which were scrupulously implemented in the European Union, to deprive elected assemblies of their powers and transfer them to “committees of technocrats.”
To be sure, the democratic fraud works without big problems in the opulent societies of the imperialist triad (the United States, Western Europe, and Japan) precisely because it is underwritten by the imperialist rent (see my book The Law of Worldwide Value). But its persuasive authority is also bolstered by the consensus “individualist” ideology; by the respect for “rights” (themselves acquired by struggles, as we are never told), and by the institution of an independent judiciary (even though that of the United States is partially based—as in most of the “sovereign” states—on elected judges who have to finance their election campaigns by appealing to the ruling class and its opinion-makers); and by the complex structure of the pyramidal institutions charged with guaranteeing rights.
Historically, continental Europe has not long experienced the calm waters of the democratic farce. In the nineteenth century (and even up to 1945) struggles for democracy, both those inspired by the capitalist and middle-class bourgeoisies and those expressing the working masses, ran up against resistance from the anciens régimes. Hence their chaotic pattern of advances and retreats. Marx thought that such resistance was an obstacle fortunately unknown in the United States. He was wrong, and underestimated the extent to which, in a “pure” capitalist system (like that of the United States in comparison to Europe) the “overdetermination” of political processes, that is to say the automatic conformity of changes in the ideological and political superstructure to those required for management of society by the capitalist monopolies, would inevitably lead to what conventional sociologists call “totalitarianism.” This is a term that applies even more to the capitalist imperialist world than anywhere else. (I here refer back to what I have written elsewhere about “overdetermination” and the openings which it makes available.)
In nineteenth century Europe (and also, though to a lesser degree, in the United States) the historical coalitions put together to ensure the power of capital were, by the force of circumstance—the diversity of classes and of sub-classes—complex and changeable. Accordingly, electoral combats could sometimes appear to be really democratic. But over time, as the diversity of capitalist coalitions gave way to the domination of monopoly capital, those appearances dwindled away. The Liberal Virus (as one of my books is titled) did the rest: Europe aligned itself more and more on the U.S. model.
Conflicts among the major capitalist powers helped cement the components of the historical coalitions, bringing about, by way of nationalism, the domination of capital. It even happened—Germany and Italy being particularly exemplary—that “national consensus” was made to replace the democratic program of the bourgeois revolution.
This deformation of democracy is now virtually complete. The Communist parties of the Third International tried in their way to oppose it, even though their “alternative” (modeled on the USSR) remained of questionable attractiveness. Having failed to build lasting alternative coalitions, they ended up capitulating—submitting to the system of democratic electoral farce. So doing, the part of the radical left consisting of their heirs (in Europe, the “United Left” grouping in the Strasbourg parliament) gave up any perspective of real “electoral victory.” It is happy to survive on the second-class seats allotted to “minorities” (at most 5–10% of the “voting population”). Transformed into coteries of elected representatives whose sole concern—taking the place of “strategy”—is to hang on to these wretched places in the system, this radical left gives up on really being anything of the sort. That this plays into the hands of neofascist demagogues is, in these conditions, unsurprising.
A discourse styling itself “postmodernist,” which quite simply refuses to recognize the scope of the democratic farce’s destructive effects, incorporates submission to it. What matter elections, they say, what counts is elsewhere: in “civil society” (a muddled concept to which I shall return) where individuals are what the liberal virus claims them—falsely—to be, the active subjects of history. Antonio Negri’s “philosophy,” which I have criticized elsewhere, is an expression of this desertion.
But the democratic farce, unchallenged in the opulent societies of the imperialist triad, does not work in the system’s peripheries. There, in the storm zone, the established order does not enjoy any legitimacy sufficient to stabilize society. Does the possibility of a real alternative then reveal itself in the watermark of the paper on which the “Southern awakenings” that characterized the twentieth century (and which go on making their way in the twenty-first century) are written by history?
THEORIES AND PRACTICES OF THE VANGUARDS AND OF THE ENLIGHTENED DESPOTISMS
The current storm is not synonymous with revolution, but is only the potential carrier of revolutionary advances.
Not simple are the responses of the peripheral peoples, whether inspired by radical socialist ideals—at first, anyway (Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cuba)—or by national liberation and social progress (in Latin America, in Asia and Africa during the Bandung period). They bring, to varying degrees, components with a universalist and progressive outlook together with others of a deeply retrogressive nature. To unravel the conflicting and/or complementary interferences among these tendencies will help us to formulate—further on in this text—some possible forms of genuine democratic advances.
The historical Marxisms of the Third International (Russian Marxism-Leninism and Chinese Maoism) deliberately and completely rejected any retrograde outlook. They chose to look toward the future, in what was in the full sense of the term a universalist emancipating spirit. This option was undoubtedly made easier, in Russia, by a long preparatory period in which the (bourgeois) “Westernizers” vanquished the “Slavophile” and “Eurasian” allies of the autocracy; in China, by the Taiping Uprising (I here refer you to my work: The Paris Commune and the Taiping Revolution).
At the same time, those historical Marxisms committed themselves to a certain conceptualization of the role of “vanguards” in social transformation. They gave an institutionalized form to that option, symbolized as “The Party.” It cannot be said that this option was ineffective. Quite to the contrary, it was certainly at the origin of the victory of those revolutions. The hypothesis that the minority vanguard would win support from the immense majority proved to be well founded. But it is equally true that later history showed the limits of such effectiveness. For it is certain that maintenance of centralized power in the hands of these “vanguards” was far from uninvolved in the subsequent derailment of the “socialist” systems that they claimed to have established.
Did “enlightened despotism” constitute the theory and practice of those historical Marxisms? One can say so only on condition of specifying what were and—progressively—became the aims of those “enlightened despotisms.” In any case, they were resolutely opposed to völkisch nostalgia. Their behavior in regard to religion—which they viewed as nothing but obscurantism—testifies to that. I have expressed myself elsewhere ( “L’internationale de l’obscurantisme”) about the qualifications which need be appended to that judgment.
The vanguard concept was also broadly adopted elsewhere beyond those (Chinese and Russian) revolutionary societies. It was the basis for the Communist parties of the whole world as they existed between 1920 and 1980. It found its place in the contemporary national/populist third-world regimes.
Moreover, this vanguard concept gave decisive importance to theory and ideology, implying in turn putting similar importance on the role of (revolutionary) “intellectuals” or, rather, of the intelligentsia. “Intelligentsia” is not synonymous with the educated middle classes, still less with the managers, bureaucrats, technocrats, or professoriate (in Anglo-Saxon jargon, the “elites”). It refers to a social group that emerges as such in some societies under specific conditions and becomes then an active, sometimes decisive, agent. Outside Russia and China, analogous formations could be recognized in France, in Italy, and perhaps in other countries—but certainly not in Great Britain, the United States, nor generally in northern Europe.
In France, during most of the twentieth century, the intelligentsia held a major place in the country’s history, as, for that matter, is recognized by the best historians. This was, perhaps, an indirect effect of the Paris Commune during which the ideal of building a more advanced stage of civilization beyond capitalism found expression as nowhere else (see my article on the Commune).
In Italy the post-fascist Communist Party had an analogous function. As Luciana Castillana lucidly analyzes it, the Communists—a vanguard strongly supported by the working class but always an electoral minority—were actually the sole makers of Italian democracy. They exercised “in opposition”—at the time—a real power in society much greater than when associated with “government” subsequently! Their actual suicide, inexplicable otherwise than as result of the mediocrity of their post-Berlinguer leadership, buried with them both the Italian State and Italian democracy.
This intelligentsia phenomenon never existed in the United States nor in Protestant Northern Europe. What is called there “the elite”—the terminology is significant—scarcely comprises anyone but lackeys (including “reforming” ones) of the system. The empiricist/pragmatist philosophy, holding the entire stage as far as social thought is concerned, has certainly reinforced the conservative effects of the Protestant Reformation—whose critique I stated in Eurocentrism. Rudolf Rocker, the German anarchist, is one of the few European thinkers to have expressed a judgment close to mine; but since Weber (and despite Marx) it is has been fashionable to unthinkingly celebrate the Reformation as a progressive advance.
In the peripheral societies in general, beyond the flagrant cases of Russia and China, and for the same reasons, the initiatives taken by “vanguards,” often intelligentsia-like, profited from the adhesion and support of broad popular majorities. The most frequent form of those political crystallizations whose interventions were decisive for the “Southern Awakening” was that of populism. A theory and practice scoffed at by the (Anglo-Saxon style, i.e., pro-system) “elites,” but defended and accordingly rehabilitated by Ernesto Laclau with solid arguments that I will very largely make my own.
Of course, there are as many “populisms” as there are historical experiences that can be called such. Populisms are often linked to “charismatic” figures whose “thought” is accepted, undiscussed, as authoritative. The real social and national advances linked to them under some specific conditions have led me to term them “national/populist” regimes. But it must be understood that those advances were never based on ordinary “bourgeois” democratic practices—still less on the inception of practices going still further, like those possible ones which I will outline further on in this text. Such was the case in Ataturk’s Turkey, probably the initiator of this model in the Middle East, and later in Nasser’s Egypt, the Baathist (Iraqi and Syrian) regimes in their initial stages, and Algeria under the FLN. During the 1940s and 1950s, under different conditions, similar experiments were undertaken in Latin America. This “formula,” because it answers to real needs and possibilities, is far from having lost its chance of renewal. So I gladly use the term “national/populist” for certain ongoing experiments in Latin America without neglecting to point out that on the level of democratization they have incontestably entered on advances unknown to those earlier “national/populisms.”
I have put forward analyses dealing with the reasons for the success of advances realized in this domain by several Middle-Eastern countries (Afghanistan, South Yemen, Sudan, and Iraq) which appeared more promising than others, and also the causes of their tragic failures.
Whatever the case, one must be on guard against generalizations and simplifications like those of most Western commentators, who look only at the “democracy question” as boiled down to the formula that I have described as the democratic farce. In the peripheral countries the farce sometimes appears as a fantastic burlesque. Without being “democrats” some leaders, charismatic or not, of national/populist regimes have been progressive “big reformers.” Nasser was exemplary of these. But others have scarcely been anything but incoherent clowns (Khaddafi) or ordinary “unenlightened” despots (quite uncharismatic, to boot) like Ben Ali, Mubarak, and many others. For that matter, those dictators initiated no national/populist experiments. All they did was to organize the pillage of their countries by mafias personally associated with them. Thus, like Suharto and Marcos, they were simply executive agents of the imperialist powers which, moreover, hailed them and supported their powers to the very end.
THE IDEOLOGY OF CULTURAL NOSTALGIA, ENEMY OF DEMOCRACY
The specific limits of each and of all national/populist experiments worthy of the name “populist” originate in the objective conditions characterizing the societies comprising the periphery of today’s capitalist/imperialist world—conditions obviously diverse. But beyond that diversity some major converging factors shed some light on the reasons for those experiments’ successes and then for their retrogressions.
That aspirations for a “Return to the Past” persist is not the result of thoroughgoing “backwardness” (as in the usual discourse on this subject) among the peoples involved. Their persistence gives a correct measure of the challenge to be confronted. All the peoples and nations of the peripheries were not only subject to fierce economic exploitation by imperialist capital: they were, by the same token, equally subjected to cultural aggression. With the greatest contempt the dignity of their cultures, their languages, their customs, and their histories were negated. There is nothing surprising in these victims of external or internal colonialism (notably the Indian populations of the Americas) naturally linking their political and social liberation to the restoration of their national dignity.
But in turn, these legitimate aspirations are a temptation to look exclusively toward the past in hope of there finding the solution to today’s and tomorrow’s problems. So there is a real risk of seeing the movements of awakening and liberation among these peoples getting stuck in tragic blind alleys as soon as they mistake retrogressive nostalgia for their sought-for highroad of renewal.
The history of contemporary Egypt illustrates perfectly the transformation from a necessary complementarity between a universalist vision open to the future, yet linked to the restoration of past dignity, into a conflict between two options formulated in absolute terms: either “Westernize!” (in the common usage of that term, implying denial of the past) or else (uncritically) “Back To The Past!”
The Viceroy Mohamed Ali (1804–1849) and, until the 1870s, the Khedives, chose a modernization that would be open to the adoption of formulas reflecting European models. It cannot be said that this choice was one of “Westernization” on the cheap. The heads of the Egyptian state gave the highest importance to modern industrialization of the country as against merely adopting the European model of consumer markets. They committed themselves to assimilation of European models, linking it with renewal of their national culture to whose evolution in a secular direction it would contribute. Their attempts to support linguistic renovation bear witness to that. Of course, their European model was that of capitalism and no doubt they had no accurate conception of the imperialist nature of European capitalism. But they should bear no reproach for that. When Khedive Ismail proclaimed his aim “to make Egypt into a European country,” he was fifty years ahead of Ataturk. He saw “Europeanization” as part of national rebirth, not as a renunciation of it.
The inadequacies of that epoch’s cultural Nahda (its inability to grasp the meaning of the European Renaissance), and the retrograde nostalgia embodied in its main concepts—on which I have expressed myself elsewhere—are no mystery.
Indeed, it is precisely this retrograde outlook which was to take hold over the national-renewal movement at the end of the nineteenth century. I have put forward an explanation for this: with the defeat of the “modernist” project that had held the scene from 1800 to 1870 Egypt was plunged into regression. But the ideology that tried to counter that decline took shape in this retrogressive period and was marked by all the birth defects implicit in that fact. Moustapha Kamel and Mohamed Farid, the founders of the new National Party (Al hisb al watani), chose back-to-the-past as the focal point of their combat—as their “Ottomanist” (seeking the support of Istanbul against the English) illusions, as well as others, reveal.
History was to prove the futility of that option. The popular and national revolution of 1919–1920 was not led by the Nationalist Party but by its “modernist” rival, the Wafd. Taha Hussein even adopted the slogan of Khedive Ismail—“Europeanize Egypt”—and to that end supported the formation of a new university to marginalize Al Azhar.
The retrograde tendency, legacy of the Nationalist Party, then slipped into insignificance. Its leader, Ahmad Hussein, was in the 1930s merely the head of a minuscule, pro-fascist, party. But this tendency was to undergo a strong revival among the group of “Free Officers” that overthrew the monarchy in 1952.
The ambiguity of the Nasserist project resulted from this regression in the debate over the nature of the challenge to be confronted. Nasser tried to link a certain industrialization-based modernization, once again not on the cheap, with support to retrograde cultural illusions. It mattered little that the Nasserists thought of their project as being within a socialist (obviously beyond a nineteenth century ken) perspective. Their attraction to völkisch cultural illusion was always there. This was demonstrated by their choices concerning the “modernization of Al Azhar,” of which I did a critique.
Currently, the conflict between the “modernist, universalist” visions of some and the “integrally medievalistic” visions of others holds center-stage in Egypt. The former are henceforward advocated mainly by the radical left (in Egypt the communist tradition, powerful in the immediate years after Second World War) and getting a broad audience among the enlightened middle classes, the labor unions, and, even more so, by the new generations. The back-to-the-past vision has slipped even further to the right with the Muslim Brotherhood, and has adopted its stance from the most archaic conception of Islam, the Wahhabism promoted by the Saudis.
It is not very difficult to contrast the evolution that shut Egypt into its blind alley to the path chosen by China since the Taiping revolution, taken up and deepened by Maoism: that the construction of the future starts with radical critique of the past. “Emergence” into the modern world—and, accordingly, deploying effective responses to its challenges including entrance onto the path of democratization, guidelines for which I will put forward further on in this text—has as its precondition the refusal to allow retrograde cultural nostalgia to obscure the central focus of renewal.
So it is not by chance that China finds itself at the vanguard of today’s “emerging” countries. Nor is it by chance that in the Middle East it is Turkey, not Egypt, that is pedaling in the race. Turkey, even that of the “Islamist” AKP, profits from Kemalism’s earlier breakaway. But there is a decisive difference between China and Turkey; China’s “modernist” option is supposed to reflect a “socialist” perspective (and China is in a hegemonic conflict with the United States, that is to say, with the collective imperialism of the Triad) conveying a chance for progress. While the “modernity” option of today’s Turkey, in which no escape from the logic of contemporary globalization is envisaged, has no future. It seems successful, but only provisionally so.
In all the countries of the broader South (the peripheries) the combination of modernist and retrogressive tendencies, obviously in very diverse forms, is to be found. The confusion resulting from this association finds one of its most striking displays in the profusion of inept discourses about supposed “democratic forms in past societies,” uncritically praised to the skies. Thus independent India sings praises to the panchayat, Muslims to the shura, and Africans to the “Speaking Tree,” as though these outlived social forms had anything to do with the challenges of the modern world. Is India really the biggest (in number of voters) democracy in the world? Well, this electoral democracy is and will remain a farce until radical criticism of the caste system (a very real legacy of its past) has been carried through to the end: the abolition of the castes themselves. Shura remains the vehicle for implementation of Sharia (Islamic canonical law), interpreted in that word’s most reactionary sense—the enemy of democracy.
The Latin American peoples are today confronted with the same problem. It is easy, once one realizes the nature of Iberian internal colonialism, to understand the legitimacy of the “indigenist” demands. Still, some of those “indigenist” discourses are very uncritical of the Indian pasts at issue. But others are indeed critical and propose concepts linking in a radically progressive way the requirements of universalism to the potential to be found in the evolution of their historical legacy. In this regard, the current Bolivian discussions are probably able to make a rich contribution. François Houtart (El concepto de Sumak Kawsay) has made an enlightening critical analysis of the indigenist discourse in question. All ambiguity vanishes in the light of this remarkable study, which reviews what, as it seems to me, is probably the totality of discourse on this subject.
The contribution—a negative one—of retrograde cultural illusion in relation to the construction of the modern world, such as it is, cannot be attributed primarily to the peoples of the periphery. In Europe, outside its northwestern quadrant, the bourgeoisies were too weak to carry out revolutions like those of England and France. The “national” goal, especially in Germany and Italy and, later, elsewhere in the eastern and southern parts of the continent, functioned as means of popular mobilization while screening off the nature of such nationalism as a compromise, half bourgeois/half ancien régime. The retrograde cultural illusions in these cases were not so much “religious” as “ethnic,” and were based on an ethnocentric definition of the nation (Germany) or on a mythologized reading of Roman history (Italy). Fascism and Nazism—there is the disaster that illustrates the arch-reactionary, surely anti-democratic, nature of völkisch cultural nostalgia in its “national” forms.
2. THE UNIVERSALIST ALTERNATIVE: FULL AND AUTHENTIC DEMOCRATIZATION AND THE SOCIALIST PERSPECTIVE
I am going to speak here of democratization, not of democracy. The latter, reduced as it is to formulas imposed by the dominant powers, is a farce, as I have said (in “The Democratic Fraud Challenges Us to Invent Tomorrow’s Democracy”—see above). The electoral farce produces an impotent pseudo-parliament and a government responsible only to the IMF and the WTO, the instruments of the imperialist triad’s monopolies. The democratic farce is then capped off with a “human-rightsish” discourse on the right to protest—on condition that protest never gets close to mounting a real challenge to the supreme power of the monopolies. Beyond that line it is to be labeled “terrorism” and criminalized.
Democratization, in contrast, considered as full and complete—that is, democratization involving all aspects of social life including, of course, economic management—can only be an unending and unbounded process, the result of popular struggles and popular inventiveness. Democratization has no meaning, no reality, unless it mobilizes those inventive powers in the perspective of building a more advanced stage of human civilization. Thus, it can never be clothed in a rigid, formulaic, ready-to-wear outfit. Nevertheless, it is no less necessary to trace out the governing lines of movement for its general direction and the definition of the strategic objectives for its possible stages.
The fight for democratization is a combat. It therefore requires mobilization, organization, strategic vision, tactical sense, choice of actions, and politicization of struggles. Undoubtedly these forms of activity cannot be decreed in advance starting from sanctified dogma. But the need to identify them is unavoidable. For it really is a matter of driving back the established systems of power with the perspective of replacing them with a different system of powers. Undoubtedly any sanctified formula of the revolution which would completely and at once substitute the power of the people for the capitalist order is to be abandoned. Revolutionary advances are possible, on the basis of the development of real, new, people’s powers that would drive back those power centers that continue to protect the principles underlying and reproducing social inequality. Besides which, Marx never expounded any theory of “the great day of revolution and definitive solutions”; to the contrary, he always insisted that revolution is a long transition marked by a conflict between powers—the former ones in decline and the new powers on the rise.
To give up on the question of power is to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Only someone of extreme naïvete could ever believe that society can be transformed without destroying, albeit progressively, the established system of power. As long as the established powers remain what they are, social change, far from dispossessing them, leaves them able to co-opt it, to take it over, to make it reinforce, rather than weaken, capitalist power. The sad fate of environmentalism, made into a new field for the expansion of capital, bears witness. To dodge the question of power is to place social movements in a situation in which they cannot go on the offensive because they are forced to remain on the defensive in resistance to the attacks of the power-holders who, as such, retain the initiative. Nothing astonishing, then, in Antonio Negri, the “prophet” of that modish anti-power litany, fleeing back from Marx to St. Francis of Assisi, his original starting point. Nor anything surprising in that his theses should be played up by the New York Times.
I will here put forward several major strategic objectives for the theoretical and political discussion about social and political struggles (inseparable one from the other), which must perpetually confront the practical problems of those struggles, of their successes and failures.
First of all, to reinforce the powers of workers in their workplaces, in their daily struggles against capital. That, it is said, is what they have trade-unions for. Indeed, but only if the unions are real instrumentalities for struggle—which they scarcely ever are any more, especially the “big unions” that are supposedly powerful because they group together large majorities among their target groups of workers. Such seeming strength derived from numbers is really their weakness, because those unions believe themselves bound to make only “consensus” demands that are extremely modest.
What reason is there to be astonished that the working classes of Germany and Great Britain (called “strong union” countries) have accepted the drastic downward adjustments imposed by capital over the course of the last thirty years whereas the “French unions,” grouping as members only minorities of the class and thus supposedly “weak,” have better (or less badly) resisted such adjustments? This reality simply reminds us that organizations of activists, by definition minoritarian (since it is impossible that the class as a whole should be made up of activists), are more able than “mass” (and thus made up largely of non-activists) unions to lead majorities into struggle.
Another possible field of struggle to establish new forms of power is that of local government. I certainly want to avoid hasty generalizations in this area—either by affirming that decentralization is always a gain for democracy or, on the other hand, that centralization is needed to “change the power-structure.” Decentralization may well be co-opted by “local notables,” often no less reactionary than the agents of the central power. But it can also, as a result of the strategic actions of progressive forces in struggle and of local conditions—sometimes favorable, sometimes unfavorable—fill out or substitute for general advances in the creation of new popular power structures.
The Paris Commune understood this and so projected a federation of Communes. The communards knew that on this question they were carrying forward the tradition of the Mountain (Jacobins) of Year One (1793). For the latter, contrary to what is unreflectingly said (how often do we hear that the Jacobin “centralists” completed the work of the Monarchy!), were federalists (is the Fête de la Fédération to be forgotten?). “Centralization” was the later work of the Thermidorian Reaction, capped off by Bonaparte.
But “decentralization” is still a dubious term if it is counterposed as an absolute to another absolute, that of “centralization.” The challenge confronting the struggle for democratization is to link the two concepts to each other.
The problem of multiple—local and central—power centers is of crucial importance for those countries that, for various historical reasons, exist as heterogeneous agglomerations. In the Andean countries, and more generally in “Latin America”—which ought to be termed Indo/Afro/Latin America—the construction of specific power structures (“specific” here denoting that they are endowed with areas of genuine autonomy) is the necessary condition for the rebirth of the Indian nations, without which social emancipation has scarcely any meaning.
Feminism and environmentalism are likewise fields of conflict between social forces whose perspective is that of overall social emancipation and the conservative or reformist power centers consecrated to the perpetuation of the conditions for perpetual reproduction of the capitalist system. It is certainly out of place to treat them as “specialized” struggles, because the apparently specialized demands that they put forward are inseparable from overall social transformation. However, not all movements that consider themselves feminist or environmentalist see matters that way.
Coherent linkage of struggles in the diverse fields mentioned here—as well as others—requires constructing institutionalized forms of their interdependence. It is a matter, again, of displaying creative imagination. There is no need to wait for permission from the actual laws to start setting up institutionalized systems (informal, maybe “illegal”), by permanent and de facto compulsory employer/employee negotiation, for example, to impose equality between men and women, or to subject all important public or private investment decisions to thorough environmental review.
Real advances in the directions here advocated would create a duality of powers—like that which Marx envisioned for the long socialist transition to the higher stage of human civilization, communism. They would allow elections by universal suffrage to go in a direction quite different from that offered by democracy-as-farce. But in this case, as in others, truly meaningful elections can take place only after victory, not before.
The propositions put forward here—and many other possible ones—have no place in the dominant discourse about “civil society.” Rather, they run counter to that discourse which—rather like “postmodernist” ravings à la Negri—is the direct heir of the U.S. “consensus” ideological tradition. A discourse promoted, uncritically repeated, by tens of thousands of NGOs and by their requisite representatives at all the Social Forums. We’re dealing with an ideology that accepts the existing regime (i.e. monopoly capitalism) in all its essentials. It thus has a useful role to play on behalf of capitalist power. It keeps its gears provided with oil. It pretends to “change the world” while promoting a sort of “opposition” with no power to change anything.
The virus of liberalism still has devastating effects. It has resulted in an “ideological adjustment” perfectly fitted to promoting the expansion of capitalism, an expansion becoming ever more barbaric. It has persuaded big majorities, even among the younger generation, that they have to content themselves with “living in the present moment,” to grasp whatever is immediately at hand, to forget the past, and to pay no heed to the future—on the pretext that utopian imaginings might produce monsters. It has convinced them that the established system allows “the flourishing of the individual” (which it really does not). Pretentious, supposedly novel, academic formulations—“postmodernism,” “postcolonialism,” “cultural studies,” Negri-like animadversions—confer patents of legitimacy to capitulation of the critical spirit and the inventive imagination.
The disarray stemming from such interiorized submission is certainly among the causes of the “religious revival.” By that I refer to the recrudescence of conservative and reactionary interpretations, religious and quasi-religious, ritualistic and “communitarian.” As I have written, the One God (monotheism) remarries with alacrity the One Mammon (moneytheism). Of course I exclude from this judgment those interpretations of religion that deploy their sense of spirituality to justify taking sides with all social forces struggling for emancipation. But the former are dominant, the latter a minority and often marginalized. Other, no less reactionary, ideological formulas make up in the same way for the void left by the liberal virus. Of this, “nationalisms” and ethnic or quasi-ethnic communalisms are splendid examples.
Diversity is, most fortunately, one of the world’s finest realities. But its thoughtless praise entails dangerous confusions. For my part, I have suggested making conspicuous the heritage-diversities which are what they are, and can only be distinguished as positive for the project of emancipation after being critically examined. I want to avoid confusing such diversity of heritage with the diversity of formulations that look toward invention of the future and toward emancipation. For in that regard there is as much diversity both of analyses, with their underlying cultural and ideological bases, and of proposals for strategic lines of struggle.
The First International counted Marx, Bakunin, and followers of Proudhon within its ranks. A fifth international will likewise have to choose diversity as its trump suit. I envisage that it cannot “exclude”: it must be a regroupment of the various schools of Marxists (including even marked “dogmatists”); of authentic radical reformers who nevertheless prefer to concentrate on goals that are possible in the short term, rather than on distant perspectives; of liberation theologians; of thinkers and activists promoting national renewal within the perspective of universal emancipation; and of feminists and environmentalists who likewise are committed to that perspective. To become clearly conscious of the imperialist nature of the established system is the fundamental condition without which there is no possibility of such a regroupment of activists really working together for a single cause. A fifth international cannot but be clearly anti-imperialist. It cannot content itself with remaining at the level of “humanitarian” interventions like those that the dominant powers offer in place of solidarity and support to the liberation struggles of the periphery’s peoples, nations, and states. And even beyond such regroupment, broad alliances will have to be sought with all democratic forces and movements struggling against democracy-farce’s betrayals.
If I insist on the anti-imperialist dimension of the combat to be waged, it is because that is the condition without which no convergence is possible between the struggles within the North and those within the South of the planet. I have already said that the weakness—and that is the least one can say—of Northern anti-imperialist consciousness was the main reason for the limited nature of the advances that the periphery’s peoples have hitherto been able to realize, and then of their retrogression.
The construction of a perspective of convergent struggles runs up against difficulties whose mortal peril to it must not be underestimated.
In the North it runs up against the still broad adhesion to the consensus ideology that legitimizes the democratic farce and is made acceptable thanks to the corrupting effects of the imperialist rent. Nevertheless, the ongoing offensive of monopoly capital against the Northern workers themselves might well help them to become conscious that the imperialist monopolies are indeed their common enemy.
Will the unfolding movements toward organized and politicized reconstruction go so far as to understand and teach that the capitalist monopolies are to be expropriated, nationalized in order to be socialized? Until that breaking point has been reached the ultimate power of the capitalist/imperialist monopolies will remain untouched. Any defeats that the South might inflict on those monopolies, reducing the amounts siphoned from them in imperialist rent, can only increase the chances of Northern peoples getting out of their rut.
But in the South it still runs up against conflicting expressions of an envisioned future: universalist or backward-looking? Until that conflict has been decided in favor of the former, whatever the Southern peoples might gain in their liberation struggles will remain fragile, limited, and vulnerable.
Only serious advances North and South in the directions here indicated will make it possible for the progressive historic bloc to be born.
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* This article first appeared in Amandla!.
* Read this article in PDF format [350kb].
* Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum. A selection of his books is available from Pambazuka Press.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
LIST OF SUGGESTED ADDITIONAL READINGS
Hassan Riad, L’Egypte nassérienne (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1964).
Samir Amin, La nation arabe (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1976).
—, A Life Looking Forward, Memoirs of an Independent Marxist (London: Zed Books, 2006).
—, L’éveil du Sud (Paris: Le temps des cerises, 2008). The reader will find there my interpretations of the achievements of the viceroy Muhammad Ali (1805–1848) and of the Khedives who succeeded him, especially Ismail (1867–1879); of the Wafd (1920–1952); of the positions taken by Egyptian communists in regard to Nasserism; and of the deviation represented by the Nahda from Afghani to Rachid Reda.
Gilbert Achcar, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2009).
The best analysis of the components of political Islam (Rachid Reda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the modern Salafists).
Concerning the relationship between the North/South conflict and the opposition between the beginning of a socialist transition and the strategic organization of capitalism, see:
Samir Amin, La crise, sortir de la crise du capitalisme ou sortir du capitalisme en crise? (Paris: Le Temps des Cerises, 2009).
—, The Law of Worldwide Value (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011).
—, The World We Wish to See (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008).
—, “The Trajectory of Historical Capitalism and Marxism’s Tricontinental Vocation,” Monthly Review, 62, no. 9 (February 2011).
Gilbert Achcar, Le choc des barbaries. Bruxelles (Paris: Complexe, 2011).
South Africa: Lower house passes information bill
Mandela, Tutu, journalists and protesters reject law
Committee to Protect Journalists
The South African National Assembly on 22 November passed an information bill which would sanction unauthorized possession and publication of classified state information with a prison term of up to 25 years, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the upper house of parliament to reject the bill, which has been criticised by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Nelson Mandela, among others.
The ruling African National Congress, which controls two-thirds of the 400-seat National Assembly, recorded 229 votes in support of the Protection of State Information Bill, with 107 against and two abstentions, according to news reports. The upper house, the National Council of the Provinces, must approve the measure before President Jacob Zuma can sign it into law; the Council has power to reject the bill or make revisions, but such a move would be unusual, reports said. The upper chamber will likely take up the bill next year, the BBC said.
‘The Protection of State Information bill will criminalise investigative journalism and deny South Africans a means to hold their leaders accountable,’ said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. ‘We call on the upper house of parliament to reject the bill, which runs counter to the country's constitution.’
Protesters, including journalists, rallied in major cities across South Africa to protest the bill today, a day they called ‘Black Tuesday,’ likening the National Assembly's passage of bill to the ‘Black Wednesday’ in October 1977 when the apartheid government silenced newspapers and dissent, according to news reports.
South African Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, who introduced the bill in March 2010, has presented it as an amendment to an apartheid-era law to safeguard state secrets and national security, and has claimed that it aims to curb espionage and not the media. However, clauses allowing officials unchecked discretion to classify information for the sake of vaguely-defined ‘national interest’ and prison penalties for whistleblowers and journalists, without the possibility of raising public interest as a defense, drew considerable public opposition that led the ANC to delay the vote pending further public consultations. However, the party reintroduced the bill last week amid ongoing protests.
In November 16 remarks to parliament, Cwele said the party had narrowed the scope of classification from ‘national interest’ to ‘national security,’ but rejected demands to include a public interest defense for journalists. ‘We have looked at international best practices and there is no country which practises such reckless practice,’ he said. In the same speech, he accused unspecified ‘foreign spies,’ of funding ‘local proxies’ to oppose the bill, which he said would criminalise ‘information peddling,’ according to news reports. On Monday, Brian Dube, spokesman for South Africa's State Security Agency, dismissed criticism of the bill as unfounded and sensationalist. ‘To argue that life under the Protection of State Information Bill will be characterised by censorship and information blackouts is sensationalizing of the highest order,’ Dube told the press.
Prominent voices including Nobel Peace laureates Tutu and Mandela and Nobel prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer have condemned the bill. ‘It is insulting to all South Africans to be asked to stomach legislation that could be used to outlaw whistle-blowing and investigative journalism,’ Tutu declared, according to press reports. In a statement, the office of ANC founder and former President Mandela also criticised the vote, saying ‘some aspects of the bill are unconstitutional,’ according to news reports.
i) SJC and partners reject the secrecy bill
ii) Secrecy bill not ready to be signed into law
Stop the secrecy bill
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* CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. Contact: Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator, Tel. +1.212.465.1004 ext. 117; email mkeita[AT]cpj.org
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
The Martha manifesto: An Ethiopian woman's dream
Elyas Mulu Kiros
I have just finished reading ‘Terarochin Yanketekete Tiwild’ (The Generation that Shook the Mountains), a compilation of biographies of some of Ethiopia's revolutionaries of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – young minds that passionately fought against injustice, inequality and oppression, and eventually brought down King Haile Sellasie and dictator Mengistu Hailemariam. Among those amazing, selfless martyrs mentioned in the book is Martha Mebrahtu whose tragic murder not only angered but also inspired thousands of young men and women who stood up and waged a bitter struggle for democracy and gave Ethiopia's oppressed the chance to finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
Martha was the daughter of a brigadier-general who hailed from the province of Eritrea (Eritrea was then part of Ethiopia). She was a beautiful and intelligent medical student at Haile Sellasie I University (now Addis Abeba University) back in the 1970s (or 1960s in the Ethiopian calendar). She entered college when she was only 15 years old. And a few months away from graduating, the government murdered her.
In addition to her academic excellence, Martha was an elected president of the university's medical students' association; one of the fiercest critics of the feudal system that exploited the poor (some years after she died, her father admitted that she always challenged and criticised him for being a part of an oppressive system); an advocate for women's rights (her peers affectionately called her the Angela Davis of Ethiopia); and an active member of the then fledgling university students movement, which gradually matured and became Emperor Haile Sellasie's worst nightmare.
Martha was born in Addis Ababa and as a young girl she had a chance to study in Nigeria and to visit the US as an exchange student. Her US exposure as a high school student, in particular, introduced her to the civil rights and feminist movements, the reasons of the movements and the individuals who spearheaded them, such as Angela Davis. Upon her return and later on joining the university, it was obvious that she would become a passionate advocate for social change.
The 1950s and the 1960s were tough times in Ethiopia as students and teachers began to challenge the monarchy that ruled the country for over 3,000 years. Girmame and Mengstu Neway, brothers and army commanders who revolted against Haile Sellassie, and other African students who struggled for independence from colonialism, were some of the key inspirations for those young Ethiopians. The feudal lords, of course, didn't waste time to suppress the growing student movement from the word go, though their violent suppression only speeded their downfall.
With an unsuccessful attempt to hijack a plane on the 8 December 1972, Martha and her peers sacrificed their precious lives (the secret police on board gruesomely murdered nearly all of them, except one, just when they started ordering the pilot to change direction). But their sacrifice wasn't in vain; it paved the way for other activists; it awakened the consciousness of the mass, proving to the then emperor and the dictator who took power after him that one can kill a person, but never an idea whose time has come. It is important to mention here that the plan to hijack the plane was never meant to harm anyone on board, but to only make legitimate demands on the imperial government.
The night before the hijacking attempt (Thursday, 7 December 1972), Martha wrote her manifesto, the reasons that compelled her to make sacrifice on the next day. She put her thoughts in words, and laid down her dreams. Martha wrote (roughly translated from Amharic):
‘We, women of Ethiopia and Eritrea, have made our life ready to participate in a struggle and we would like to explain the nature of our struggle to our sisters and brothers all over the world.
‘Our struggle demands a bitter sacrifice in order to liberate our oppressed and exploited people from the yokes of feudalism and imperialism. In this struggle we have to be bold and merciless. Our enemies can only understand such a language.
‘We, women of Ethiopia and Eritrea, are not only exploited as members of the working classes and peasants, we are also victims of gender inequality, treated as second class citizens. Therefore, our participation in this struggle must double the efforts of other oppressed groups; we must fight harder, we must be at the forefront.
‘We must equally participate in the struggle for economic and social justice that our brothers have waged. We have a responsibility to become a formidable force in the revolutionary army.
‘The rights for freedom and equality are not manna from heaven. We, women, have to be organised and have to make ourselves ready for any armed struggle. This fight will need financial, material and moral support of progressive international women's associations. We reach out to our sisters in other parts of the world so you can help us achieve this goal; we hope your support will reach us as we need it.
‘We affirm our full support for the oppressed people of the world who are struggling to free themselves from imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism and racism! We stand by the freedom fighters in Vietnam, Palestine, Guinea-Bissau and in other African and Latin American countries; we also support the civil rights leaders in North America.
‘Victory to the popular struggle of the people! May the people's movement for freedom in both Ethiopia and Eritrea live forever! My sisters and my brothers, let's keep on fighting!’
That was Martha's manifesto, Martha's dream. Although she left the world tragically, her vision stayed on and inspired many tigresses like her who not only broke down the shackles of oppression, but also proved to their men that they were equally capable of destroying the enemy. Martha gave birth to thousands of other Marthas through her martyrdom. Her commitment, discipline, and selfless mentality made her not only a great revolutionary, but also a role model to others who followed her footsteps!
Today, both Ethiopia and Eritrea need more Marthas who can shake the mountains of the present time. May she rest in peace, and live forever in our minds!
‘Martha Lemin Motech? Lemin, Lemin Motech? ... Why did Martha die? Why? Why did she die?’ was a popular song, call it an anthem, that was sang in Ethiopia right after her death. Those who knew the answer were the ones who followed her example and brought a change in both Ethiopia and Eritrea, a change that still needs to be fully realised. Today, we, the young generation, must ask ourselves that same question and come up with an answer in order to tackle the problems of our times, applying contemporary methods.
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* Elyas Mulu Kiros blogs at kweschn.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Give me liberty or give me death!
Yenesew Gebre, an Ethiopian patriot
Alemayehu G. Mariam
On 11/11/11, Yenesew Gebre, a 29 year-old Ethiopian school teacher and human rights activist set himself ablaze outside a public meeting hall in the town of Tarcha located in Dawro Zone in Southern Ethiopia. He died three days later from his injuries. In an interview with the Voice of America Amharic program, a witness described the horrific event:
‘Teacher Yenesew Gebre was in the meeting hall telling officials that the young people were being held in detention for 15 days without their right to bail being honored. On Friday, the young detainees were expected to have a hearing. Yenesew said “the young detainees have been held for a very long time and their rights should be protected and honored. They must not be imprisoned; they must be released.” When he demanded that they [officials] told him, “here is 200 birr, go and enjoy yourself. We are busy at this meeting.” He said, “I am not going to sell my conscience. I do not want money. I want my people released.” He told them: “In a country where there is no justice and no fair administration, where human rights are not respected, I will sacrifice myself so that these young people will be set free.” He went outside and set himself on fire. They put out the fire and rushed him to the hospital. He died yesterday and was buried today at 2 p.m. under police cordon.’
Others witnesses reported that Yenesew walked out of the meeting and addressed a group of people before setting himself on fire:
‘I want to show to all that death is preferable than a life without justice and liberty and I call upon my fellow compatriots to fear nothing and rise up to wrest their freedom and rights from the hands of the local and national tyrants.’
Give me liberty or give me death! Such were the last words spoken by a young Ethiopian patriot and martyr to the ruthless tyrants that cling to power in Ethiopia today.
Yenesew remained under police guard while he was hospitalized for two days. The attending physician recommended that he be transferred to a facility in the capital where he could receive a higher level of care for second degree burns and very likely save his life. That recommendation was disregarded for fear that news of his self-immolation in the capital could spark spontaneous public protests. No one was allowed to visit Yenesew at the hospital (clinic). His family, friends and neighbors were warned to stay away. Officials denied his family’s request for a decent public burial. They also banned family members, friends, neighbors and community folks from attending the funeral fearing a spontaneous public demonstration.
Dictator Meles Zenawi sent a reinforcement of some 300 police officers, imposed a complete news blackout and sealed off the town. Telephone services to the town were cut in a futile attempt to stonewall all news of Yenesew’s sacrifice from spreading throughout Ethiopia.
Yenesew was buried by the very sadistic police and administrative thugs who had harassed, threatened and persecuted him for so long. By preventing a public funeral and burying Yenesew in an unmarked grave, Zenawi hoped the story will blow over and Yenesew soon forgotten. But Zenawi could not have been more wrong! Yenesew lived and died a freedom fighter and a hero. Though Zenawi had his body buried in an unmarked grave, Yenesew’s spirit of liberty, his love for his compatriots, his vision of democracy and his yearning for justice shall live forever in the hearts and minds of 90 million of his fellow citizens. Long Live Yenesew Gebre!
HUMAN RIGHTS MATTERS IN ETHIOPIA
Yenesews’ self-immolation illuminates not only the serious and widespread human rights abuses by Zenawi’s regime but also Zenawi’s hubris and depraved indifference to the demands of the people at the local and regional levels. According to reports, Yenesew had been a human rights activist for some time and clashed on various occasions with the local representatives of Zenawi’s regime. It is believed that the 50 or so young people in detention on whose behalf Yenesew spoke at the public meeting were suspected of supplying critical information used in a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) in Southern Ethiopia in August. The BIJ and BBC Newsnight covert investigation “uncovered evidence that the Ethiopian government is using billions of dollars of development aid as a tool for political oppression.”
The arrest and detention of the young people came on the heels of a petition submitted by community elders to authorities to reclassify the local area to its previous status as a sub-district (woreda). After local and regional authorities ignored the petition, the elders travelled to Addis Ababa to seek help from “federal” authorities; but their petition fell on deaf ears. When the elders returned, the local authorities jailed them. A second delegation of elders travelled to Addis Ababa to pursue their appeal with high-level Zenawi officials. In the meantime, the local authorities had rounded up and jailed some 50 young people without charge or bail. Yenesew attended that public meeting to protest their imprisonment and to demand their release.
THE MAD MAN AND THE PATRIOT
In a brazen attempt to deny the truth and confuse the population, Zenawi cranked up his pathetic propaganda machine to scandalize Yenesew’s name. To add insult to injury, Zenawi's propagandists “interviewed” a woman who described herself as the town's financial officer and Yenesew’s sister. She stated that Yenesew had lived with her family since he was seven years old. She gave very little positive information on Yenesew, but repeatedly emphasized that "since childhood he had a mental disorder" and violent tendencies which she believed caused his self-immolation. She did not indicate that Yenesew had ever been under any type of medical or psychiatric supervision for his alleged long-standing "mental disorder". But the available evidence suggests that the “sister” was given the option of making the slanderous statement against Yenesew or be booted out of her job as town financial officer. Another man claiming to be Yenesew’s father gave a telephone interview only to nauseatingly repeat the same dastardly allegation. The propagandists also produced an alleged “death certificate” prepared in English which indicated Yenesew's cause of death to be “severe sepsis” (“blood poisoning”). There is evidence to show that the attending physician in the tiny hospital refused to sign the falsified certificate. The signature on the certificate is said to be that of a hospital administrator with a prior criminal record.
Zenawi took a page straight out of Soviet psychiatry to scandalize, discredit, dishonor and slander the name of a great Ethiopian patriot and martyr. The Soviet state specialized in using dirty tricks to silence dissent and conveniently remove and ostracize critics from the public eye. A favorite trick was to label and portray dissidents and critics as mentally deranged, mad or insane. In 1970, the Soviet state falsely labeled dissident Zhores Medvedev, the most famous of Soviet human rights activists and agitators of his time, as mentally deranged (“split personality”) and committed him to an insane asylum/prison. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, another famed Russian dissident who suffered illegal imprisonment in the Gulag (forced labor), condemned the “servile psychiatrists who are able to describe concern for social problems as mental illness, and declaring a man insane.” Solzhenitsyn warned: “This could happen tomorrow to any one of us. This way of settling accounts has become fashionable [by the Soviet state].”
It is obvious that Zenawi is launching a new fashion to settle accounts with his critics and dissidents who oppose his ruthless dictatorship: Label them all psychotic, deranged, crazed and insane, and soil, scandalize and dishonor their names. But as Zenawi points his index finger at Patriot Yenesew to call him a mad man and mentally ill, he should take note that three fingers are pointing directly at him. Truth be told, it is no vice to be mad as hell at dictatorship and tyranny!
It is hard to imagine how anyone can stoop so low or be devoid of even microscopic traces of moral virtue. It has been said that “the difference between guilt and shame is that we feel guilty for what we do and we feel shame for what we are.” Zenawi is guilty for soiling and scandalizing Yenesew’s name, and he should be ashamed of such a low-down, cheap, mean-spirited, pitiful, despicable, immoral, vulgar, vile and ignominious act of slander.
YENESEW GEBRE, TRUE ETHIOPIAN PATRIOT!
Bertrand Russell, arguably the greatest philosopher of the Twentieth Century and a relentless advocate of world peace and human rights said, “Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country.”
Patriot Yenesew not only talked about dying for his country, he died for his country. Yenesew died for his people, for democracy, for freedom, for human rights, for justice and for the rule of law in Ethiopia. That is why Yenesew Gebre shall remain an eternal symbol of patriotism for his generation and his people. A true patriot like Yenesew is outraged by injustice and tyranny. A true patriot is inflamed by attacks on constitutional and human rights and the dignity of any human being. A true patriot rises to defend not only his/her rights, but even more vigorously, the rights of his/her people. A true patriot stands by the side of those in his/her community who are defenseless, voiceless and nameless. A true patriot embraces the unity of his/her nation and appreciates its cultural diversity. A true patriot believes government should fear the people and the people should never fear their government. A true patriot loves his/her people but hates inhumanity, atrocity, cruelty, brutality, barbarity, criminality, illegality, impunity, inequity, immorality, enmity, indignity, duplicity and ethnocentricity. These are the supreme qualities that make Yenesew a true Ethiopian patriot and a world-class human rights defender!
Yenesew is the latest reincarnation of heroic freedom fighters in world history who have sacrificed themselves to oppose tyranny and Evil. Before Yenesew, there was a 27 year-old Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire in December 2010 to protest abuse, harassment, humiliation and violation of his basic human rights by a ruthless dictatorship. The fire that consumed Bouazizi’s body in less than a year consumed the entire Middle East region.
Long before Yenesew and Bouazizi, an American patriot facing similar tyranny, dehumanization, persecution, demoralization and humiliation gave all oppressed peoples of the world a timeless slogan in the struggle for freedom and against tyranny and dictatorship. In 1775, one year before the American Revolution, Patrick Henry affirmed:
‘We have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! … It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth… in a great and arduous struggle for liberty…
‘Are we disposed to be of the numbers of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not?
‘Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!’
Yenesew, (My Man); Yegñasew (Our Man)!
Long Live Ethiopian Patriot Yenesew Gebre!
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* This story first appeared in AL MARIAM’S CORNER.
* Alemayehu G. Mariam is professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Nigeria’s same-sex marriage bill violates human rights
Sanyu Awori and Rithika Nair
Law-makers in Nigeria are subjecting the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community to a bad case of déjà-vu. On 31 October 2011, the Nigerian Senate began public hearings on legislation intended to criminalise same sex conduct. The Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Bill, spear-headed by Senator Domingo Obende, imposes sanctions on persons who enter a ‘same gender marriage contract.’ This is defined as the ‘coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of living together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sex relationship.’ Couples can be convicted to serve three years imprisonment. Individuals or groups that ‘witness’, ‘abet’ or ‘aid’ such a relationship also risk a fine and/or five years imprisonment.
This expansive approach also has the potential to criminalise human rights defenders who work to promote and protect the rights of sexual minorities – who are recognised by the international community through the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders. The proposed law is broad and ambiguous and can easily lead to arbitrary arrests and harassment of sexual minorities and those who defend their rights.
Unfortunately, this is not the first anti-homosexuality legislation to be introduced in Nigeria. Bills have been proposed twice before, in 2006 and 2008. The draft legislation in 2006 proposed to take an even stronger stance and ban organisations, clubs and societies for sexual minorities. It also intended to forbid any media that showed same-sex relations. However, local and international actors responded in protest and the outcry prevented both draft bills from becoming law.
Adult same-sex conduct is already prohibited under the Nigerian Criminal Code and carries a penalty of 14 years imprisonment. In some regions in the north where Sharia law applies, same-sex conduct is punishable by death. It must be questioned why the Nigerian senate is debating legislation on already criminalised conduct.
The Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Bill serves to undo the rights enshrined in the national constitution and human rights instruments that Nigeria is a state party to. Human rights standards as expressed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights amongst others clearly prohibit such discrimination. By acceding to these instruments, Nigeria has pledged to protect the dignity and equality of all persons. Nigeria’s obligations render the draft bill superfluous and it needs a clear signal that the criminalisation of same-sex conduct grossly impinges on the dignity and rights of sexual minorities.
While the LGBTI community has spoken out against the proposed bill, homophobia remains deeply entrenched within Nigerian society. Sexual minorities are marginalised and vulnerable to threats and harassment, abuse and violence. In solidarity with local LGBTI activists, the NGO forum at the recently concluded 50th African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution condemning human rights violations against the LGBTI community, including the proposed bill in Nigeria, and called on the ACHPR to take a strong, visible and proactive stance.
Homophobia in Africa is no secret. The Ugandan ‘Kill the gays Bill’, submitted by parliamentarian David Bahati, has resurfaced time and again, like a dormant volcano awaiting a potential eruption. In Malawi, President Bingu wa Mutharika, due to international pressure, pardoned a young gay couple that were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, but his regime still does not support nor accept homosexuality. Former President of Botswana Festus Mogae has publicly admitted that he did not take up LGBTI rights when in office for fear of losing national elections.
Nigeria’s proposed bill comes at a time when the UK government has threatened to cut foreign aid to countries that restrict the rights of sexual minorities and discriminate based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The UK position is intended to pressure African governments in particular to repeal legislation that criminalises same sex conduct. Instead of bowing to this pressure, political leaders such as in Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia have publicly vowed not to give in to what they deem as coercive measures. The Nigerian government, by re-introducing this bill, appears to harbour sentiments similar to its African counterparts.
It, however, would be incorrect to call such rigid positioning a pan-African phenomenon. Some African countries like Rwanda and Mozambique have spoken out against the criminalisation of homosexuality. South Africa goes even further: its constitution protects the rights of persons to be free of discrimination based on their sexual orientation. South Africa also became the first African country to propose a resolution to the UN Human Rights Council defending the rights of LGBTI persons.
The criminalisation of same sex-conduct is endemic to the Commonwealth. Homosexuality is illegal in 41 out of 54 Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2011 held at Perth recently saw Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, allude to the human rights gaps created by discriminatory laws based on sexual orientation and gender. Commonwealth Heads have, however, delayed to adopt a proposal made by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) in their report, ‘A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform’, wherein they recommended the ‘repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to HIV/AIDS epidemic…’ This proposal has instead been deferred to a task force of ministers for deliberations. The CHOGM communiqué makes no mention of LGBTI rights, nor does it condemn alarming legislation, abuse and attacks faced by LGBTI persons in the Commonwealth.
As the dust settles after the CHOGM, Commonwealth government leaders need to rise to fulfil their fundamental obligations and responsibilities to the citizens of the Commonwealth to overcome this colossal human rights violation and protect the rights and dignity of all, including sexual minorities.
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* Sanyu Awori and Rithika Nair work for the Strategic Initiatives Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
US & French air strikes raise human toll in Somalia
United States and French military involvement in Africa is taking a deadly toll in Somalia. Despite Washington’s denials, the people of this nation are suffering under the impact of yet another imperialist-driven war.
Kenyan army units crossed over into southern Somalia in October in an operation aimed at eliminating the bases of the Al-Shabaab Islamic resistance movement, which controls large sections of this Horn of Africa nation.
French military spokesperson Col. Thierry Burkhard confirmed recently that Paris was flying equipment to reinforce the Kenyan soldiers. France in recent months has been involved in overthrowing the government of Ivory Coast, regime change in Libya and curbing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa.
The Somali conflict is part of ongoing campaigns by the Pentagon and NATO to secure large sections of Africa that have strategic value to US and European imperialism. The White House has justified its aggression by labelling Al-Shabaab a ‘terrorist organization’ affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Two US administrations have armed and financed the so-called African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), which has 9,000 troops in Mogadishu protecting a Washington-backed regime.
US DRONES MASSACRE SOMALI CIVILIANS
Daily drone attacks in Somalia have reportedly resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths in recent weeks. Press TV reported that 79 more people have been killed in US assassination drone attacks in southern Somalia, bringing the deaths to 146 over the past two days. The US military launched terror drone attacks on Bilis Qooqaani town, which is located 278 miles southwest of the Somali capital
Mogadishu on 11 November.
In addition, on the same day a French military helicopter crashed near the southern port city of Kismayo, killing nine people. The military chopper went down while providing cover for Kenyan military units attacking Al-Shabaab bases in the vicinity.
These increased air strikes in Somalia are related to deployment of US personnel and weapons in the Horn of Africa, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Drones are being launched in at least five other countries in these regions.
The Washington Post reported on 27 October that the US has been secretly flying Reaper drones from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethiopia, spending millions of dollars to update an airfield in Arba Minch. The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over neighbouring Somalia. The Pentagon has denied that the drones are armed, saying they are being used only for surveillance, but the Post article adds that the pilotless planes can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs.
Despite the massacres carried out by Washington in Somalia, the Al-Shabaab fighters have continued to launch operations against the Kenyan military forces. On 11 November, the Islamic resistance movement said it had killed 30 Kenyan troops and six military trucks in an ambush of a military convoy.
Israel is also getting into the war, and will be participating with Kenya in intensified offensives inside neighboring Somalia. (Press TV, 11 November.)
This further militarisation of southern Somalia coincides with the spread of cholera in the areas of Jilib Town and Hoomboy, where 81 people have died from the waterborne disease. Somali physicians reported that within a 24-hour period starting 12 November, 670 children entered medical centres in Mareerey northeast of Jilib.
These areas have been severely impacted by flooding as well. River waters have rushed into districts near Jilib, destroying hundreds of homes. Doctors report increased cases of malaria as well due to the Juba and Shabelle rivers overflowing into many districts.
The AMISOM forces, composed of 9,000 troops from the US-backed regimes of Uganda and Burundi,are working to prop up Somilia’s Transitional Federal Government and its military and police. On 12 November, a grenade hit patrolling pro-TFG soldiers in Mogadishu, killing at least six.
Also in the northern Mogadishu district of Huriwa, Al-Shabaab was reported to have killed 20 soldiers from TFG units in an exchange of mortar fire. In other fighting in the Dayniile district at least 14 civilians died after the shelling of a residential area from an unknown source.
The human toll from yet another imperialist-sponsored war in Africa grows daily.
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* Abayomi Azikiwe is editor, Pan-African News Wire
* Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ugandans wonder: Is US after Kony, or oil?
Jackee Budesta Batanda
Ugandans greeted President Obama’s decision last month to deploy 100 US military advisers to central Africa to assist in the manhunt for rebel leader Joseph Kony with mixed feelings. Immediately, social media outlets were abuzz with the fear that the United States was only interested in Uganda’s nascent oil sector.
In addition, Obama’s announcement could not have come at a worse time in Uganda’s political history. The country has been rocked by corruption scandals in the oil sector, with parliament calling for the country’s ministers to resign while it investigated charges that they took bribes from a British oil company. The scandal also exposed the deepening rift within the ruling National Resistance Movement government, which has been in power for over 26 years, as well as the public’s dissatisfaction at the corruption-marred liberation government.
Many people questioned why America was giving support now, when it could have intervened much earlier in the fight against Kony’s guerrilla group, the Lords Resistance Army, or LRA, which is accused of widespread atrocities. President Yoweri Museveni called a press conference in the wake of the announcement to dismiss claims that American troops would fight in the war, saying he would never allow foreign troops to fight a war for him.
The US Embassy in Kampala also called a press conference to dispute the criticisms that the US assistance was sparked by its interest in Uganda’s oil. The New Vision, the state-owned newspaper, quoted Virginia Blaser of the US Embassy: ‘The United States is deeply committed to supporting Uganda’s effort to eliminate the threat of LRA and providing humanitarian assistance to LRA-affected regions’. Since 2008, the LRA has been responsible for at least 2,400 attacks and over 3,400 abductions. According to the United Nations, there have been approximately 250 attacks attributed to the LRA this year.
Peace activists on the ground are skeptical of a move that seems to champion military approaches over finding peaceful resolutions to the conflicts. Stephen Oola, a Kampala-based human rights lawyer and interim coordinator of the Advisory Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity, said, ‘it is unfortunate that President Obama’s first tangible action under the LRA Disarmament Act is to send military advisers instead of a credible peace delegation. It is a typical Washington solution.’
Since 2008, the US government has invested more than $40 million to help hunt down Kony, who remains on the run and continues to commit atrocities in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Oola credits the current peace in Northern Uganda to the peace talks held in 2006, and sees peace processes as a more viable option than military efforts.
Ugandans remember other unsuccessful military campaigns – backed with US money – that the Ugandan army has embarked upon in trying to take out Kony. They question is how effective this new strategy will be.
In terms of the impact of the US deployment of troops, Oola asks, ‘What message is the American government sending to Ugandans disgruntled by the regime’s performance? I have no doubt in my mind that for many Ugandans, if there is a need for Americas help, it would be to get rid of corrupt government officials siphoning billions of shillings in oil contracts to their foreign bank accounts, [not] for advisers to hunt Joseph Kony and his abductees.’
The Obama administration’s use of military action ignores, undermines, and unravels the work of local players seeking to end the conflict through the resumption of peace talks. Previous military interventions have always resulted in retaliatory attacks on the communities where the rebels have operated. What will this intervention do differently to ensure that there are limited civilian casualties?
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* Jackee Budesta Batanda is the 2011-2012 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer fellow at the Center for International Studies at MIT. Follow her on Twitter
* This article first appeared in the Boston Globe.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Occupy has the power to effect change
Occupy movements in the US went on the offensive last week, a few days after police forcibly cleared tents in cities from New York to Oakland. In addition to holding their ground in the face of violent intimidation, they began to interrupt business as usual. Rejecting the logic that compels the poor to bail out the rich, they restricted access to New York's stock exchange, they marched on bridges and subway stations, they targeted banks and corporations, they overwhelmed university campuses. Meanwhile, in defiance of an eviction order, Occupy London undertook a "public repossession" of an abandoned office building and began its conversion into a "bank of ideas"; in its first couple of days, this new variation on a public university has already arranged a full schedule of meetings and talks about privatisation, tax havens, globalisation, direct democracy, the Tobin tax, photography and contemporary fiction. More forceful protests against neoliberal austerity measures and other forms of tyranny, meanwhile, have continued in Tahrir Square and in cities across Europe and the Middle East.
In action after action, Occupy has already sent shockwaves through established centres of power all over the world. If further actions continue and spread they may soon begin to elude the coercive mechanisms designed to hold them in check.
It's increasingly obvious, after Obama's budget compromises, after crackdowns in Egypt and Bahrain, after the recent usurpations in Greece and Italy, that only direct action on a mass scale now offers any prospect of an alternative to local variations on market-imposed plutocracy. Small victories can sometimes pave the way for much larger mobilisations. From the call for a general strike in Oakland on 3 November to the virtual implementation of such a strike in the UK on 30 November, this month may one day be remembered as marking yet another qualitative threshold in the revolutionary year of 2011.
The millions of us who are fighting one way or another to cross this threshold will prevail if we can succeed in doing two related things. We will need, first of all, to convert the polemical clarity of the new slogan – "we are the 99%" – into a commanding political standpoint, one that confines the opposing standpoint to the marginality it deserves. As Anindya Bhattacharyya points out, "the slogan doesn't so much describe a state of affairs as prescribe a course of action", one that may eventually unite the people against our enemies. We need to take full account of the fact that we are forced to live and work in a system designed to benefit those few who exclude themselves from our "we".
Karl Marx was right to argue that the logic of capitalist exploitation will tend over time, unevenly but inexorably, to polarize humanity into two and only two classes of people: exploiter and exploited. Competition among exploiters will tend to concentrate their numbers towards the isolation (and hence vulnerability) of the 1%; at the same time, aggressive erosion of the difference between the exploited and the unemployed or excluded will tend to unite, slowly but surely, "the immense majority of the people". As György Lukács recognised with particular clarity in the wake of Russia's revolution, Marx was also right to argue that the exploited majority will only acquire the power needed to change this system when we are prepared consciously and deliberately to make and to take this power, in full awareness of what this implies.
Our second task, then, is to develop forms of collective action that exceed the repressive mechanisms set up to contain them. Rallies, protests and the occupation of symbolic spaces can change the balance of power, but they do not exhaust our range of strategic options. Nine months ago, the people who won the battle to defend Tahrir Square demonstrated the scale and kind of action required to hold a public space against direct assault, but so long as an occupation or a protest remains small enough for it to be surrounded or "kettled", so long as politicians are prepared to issue eviction orders (and so long as their police are prepared to carry them out) then the limits of these actions are clear enough. The demands that are beginning to emerge out of the global Occupy movement – demands that will help to end patterns of exploitation and start to reverse the consequences of neoliberal assault – will only prevail if they are made through forms of collective action that cannot be kettled or cleared. If they are to endure, occupations need to spread and escalate, and be complemented by other forms of action.
Our struggle will prevail once we begin not only to deplore or condemn but also to interrupt the mechanisms that exploit the labour and resources of the immense majority. When workers withhold their labour or take control of their workplace, when the unemployed refuse the exclusion to which they are condemned, when students refuse to pay their fees and debts, when immigrants rebel against discrimination, when householders defend their homes against foreclosure – when civil disobedience and noncompliance acquires a depth and scale that no police operation can break – then the fundamental isolation of the tendential 1% will be exposed for all to see.
In addition to the example set in northern Africa earlier this year, at this juncture we might do well to remember some of the tactics developed at the other pole of that continent in an earlier assertion of "people power": the mix of strikes, blockades, sit-ins, boycotts and "stayaways" organised in the mid-1980s by South Africa's UDF and other grassroots organisations as part of a struggle to render their country "ungovernable". Situations vary, but a collective determination to interrupt work or school, to blockade an institution or a university, to withhold payment of rents and debts, can take all kinds of forms in all kinds of places. Stayaways can concentrate around a particular site, or spread through emulation towards a mass strike. There are few logistical limits on participation in a stayaway, and as participants invent the forms of organisation required to sustain them their duration can range from a symbolic interruption of work or class to an indefinite boycott, walk-out or shut-down.
One way or another, growing numbers of British, American and European students may soon begin to follow in the footsteps of their Chilean counterparts, and start challenging an educational system that offers most of them little more than a precarious chance to pay off a lifetime of debt. At the same time, at a pace and level of integration that defies historical comparison, millions of precariously or unemployed people all over the world are coming up with their own ways of making the point that "we're all in this together" – and acting like it.
No matter how emphatic its elite bias or "market mandate", there is no government that could resist a co-ordinated combination of occupations and sit-ins on the one hand, and of mass strikes and stayaways on the other. Where there's a political will there's a political way. For the 99%, the power is ours to make and to take.
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* © Guardian News & Media Ltd
* This article first appeared in The Guardian.
* Peter Hallward teaches at the centre for research in modern European philosophy at Kingston University London, and is a member of the Education Activist Network. His book on The Will of the People is forthcoming from Verso in 2012.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
The Occupy Wall Street uprising and the US labour movement
An interview with Steve Early, Jon Flanders, Stephanie Luce, and Jim Straub
Farooque Chowdhury and Michael D. Yates
The Occupy Wall Street uprising has taken the nation by storm, beginning in the Financial District in Manhattan and then spreading to cities and towns in every part of the country and around the world. The anger over growing inequality and the political power of the rich that has been bubbling under the surface for the past several years has finally burst into the open. Suddenly, everything seems different, and a political opening for more radical thinking and acting is certainly at hand.
One especially important opening is the possible alliance between those who are organizing OWS efforts and the labor movement. Workers are the 99 percent, and their organization as workers within the OWS framework could help to transform an uprising into a movement for a radical transformation of what is a sick and dehumanizing social system. Most OWS organizers, participants, and supporters are members of the working class, and thousands of rank-and-file union members have participated in and offered material aid to OWS. And recently, OWS encampments in various places have taken up specific labor struggles, while labor OWS contingents have spearheaded other concrete actions. These have included OWS Atlanta support for people facing foreclosures, New York City OWS protests on behalf of workers at Sotheby's, and, most dramatically, OWS Oakland's massive march that shut the Port of Oakland. An "Out of the Park and Into the Streets" demonstration called by Occupy Wall Street in New York City for November 17 has been endorsed by scores of unions.
Workers, simply as a function of their daily activities on the job, can do what no one else can -- stop production and the flow of profits that are the lifeblood of capitalist economies. Nothing would shake the powers that be more than the threat of a militant, organized working class, ready to demonstrate, picket, strike, boycott, and agitate against every manner of corporate and political outrage, from unconscionable bank fees to unbearable student loans to the super-exploitation of immigrants to wars to, well, you name it.
However, if the embrace of OWS by the labor movement is an exciting prospect, it is not without its problems. United Auto Workers dissident Greg Shotwell put it bluntly and directly when he said,
Occupiers should be wary of trusting union leaders who have consistently undermined, sold out, and betrayed every militant uprising or cry for more democracy in the labor movement. Most union leaders in the U.S. are wedded to the prostitution of social ideals. Every union in the United States is in thrall to the number one pimp on Wall Street, the Democratic Party. Concession and compromise to the One Percent is the M.O. of U.S. unions. Rank-and-file workers should be able to see themselves in the bloody skull of Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, struck dumb by Oakland police. Every day workers make heroic sacrifices to provide a dignified life for their families. Every day union leaders shoot down workers' aspirations and incapacitate any chance workers have to shield their families from the latest act of economic terrorism.
Where is the union leader in the United States today who has the temerity to defy the capitalist oligarchy? For the most part, we don't have genuine union leaders, we have corporate servants with union titles and six-figure salaries. When U.S. corporations invested profits "Made in America" overseas, labor unions in the U.S. cut wages for new hires and blamed foreign competition. When U.S. corporations underfunded pensions, U.S. labor leaders forced retirees to make sacrifices.
The operative word for rank-and-file workers isn't competition, concession, or compromise. The operative word is Occupy.
In order to assess the connections between OWS and the labor movement, we conducted email interviews with four labor activists during the first two weeks of November 2012. Collectively, our interviewees have spent many decades agitating, organizing, negotiating, writing, and teaching on behalf of the working class. Steve Early worked as a New England-based organizer and international representative for the Communications Workers of America between 1980 and 2007. He is the author of Embedded with Organized Labor (Monthly Review Press, 2009) and The Civil Wars in U.S. Labot (Haymarket Books, 2011). Jon Flanders is a railroad machinist, past president of his IAM local, co-chair of Railroad Workers United, a cross-craft caucus of railroaders, and Trustee of the Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Stephanie Luce is an Associate Professor at the Murphy Institute, City University of New York. She was a founding member of the Student Labor Action Coalition in Madison, Wisconsin, and active in the Teaching Assistants Association. She is the author of Fighting for a Living Wage and co-author of The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy and A Measure of Fairness as well as many articles and book chapters on low-wage work, globalization, and labor and community organizing. Jim Straub has been active in the anti-war, global AIDS treatment, and labor movements for more than a decade. Since 2004 he has worked for the US union of healthcare, building service and public sector workers SEIU, in Ohio, Nevada, Los Angeles and Washington state. He lives in Tacoma, Washington.
(Note that the interviewees were able to choose which of our questions they answered. So each question has not been answered by each interviewee.)
CHOWDHURY AND YATES (hereinafter C&Y): What are your impressions of the OWS Uprising?
STEPHANIE LUCE: Occupy Wall Street is the moment we've been waiting for. It isn't perfect and it is often messy, but it somehow has become the message and movement to unite hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of isolated individuals who have been suffering in the worsening economy and feeling alienated and demoralized.
In the past decade, labor and left leaders have been scrambling to find the thing that would catch on: national networks, new slogans, targeted campaigns. Some had limited success but nothing seemed to click. Why this?
I'd argue that one reason the OWS has flourished is precisely because it wasn't coordinated and imposed from above. There was no consultant hired to "message" the movement, no mass-produced signs and t-shirts. Those who joined the initial occupation on September 17, and probably everyone who has participated since, have felt some ownership of this movement.
JON FLANDERS: The occupation movement represents both a generational shift and a beginning of much broader class consciousness in the United States.
Generational, because, for the first time, a movement has emerged that is not led by boomers of the anti-Vietnam War era. After the initial huge outpouring of opposition to the Iraq war, everything quieted down, despite the best efforts of experienced organizers who thought that history would repeat itself. Instead, it became clear that the young people did not see this war as an issue for them, partly because there was no draft, but also because they were preoccupied with getting a start in life in an increasingly difficult economy.
Class-conscious, because the realization finally sank in for the young ones that things were not going to get better, that in fact they were dealing with a corrupt and rigged political system that had no place for them, except as indentured debt slaves. The initial awakening was in Wisconsin, now it has spread countrywide, and the class genie is out of the bottle.
C&Y: Do you think that the Chicago factory occupation (United Electrical Workers) and the Wisconsin uprising were important precursors of OWS? If so, how?
STEVE EARLY: OWS is a very worthy successor to the Wisconsin uprising (and UE's 2008 plant occupation) and will be long remembered even if it leaves no other historical footprints than its brilliant popular "framing" of the deepening class divide in this country.
JON FLANDERS: Yes, they were both important, Wisconsin more so I would say. Although in the long run, perhaps the factory occupation will be more important, since to really have an impact on power, workers must weigh in. Wisconsin had more influence with capitol. A leading young trade union activist from this area went out to Madison, slept on the floor, and came back inspired. Now he is marching to NYC from Albany with a group of Communication Workers of America (CWA).
JIM STRAUB: I do not think the Republic Windows occupation was a precursor. Honestly I think that event was significantly overhyped by leftists who projected their own fantasies onto what was essentially a very small, marginal struggle, by a left-wing union that unfortunately has practically no members left.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, I think was a very remarkable mass uprising; I spent a month there working on the struggle for SEIU, and it was among the greatest experiences of my life. I think Wisconsin's eruption may go down in history as being the decisive thing that helped stop the Republican's attempt to essentially abolish what remains of labor unions at this moment in America. We all owe the "cheeseheads" a debt of gratitude for that.
I am not sure how much it is a precursor, though -- Wisconsin is a very particular sort of state, with a deeply ingrained tradition of progressive politics, active public-sector unions, and a distinctive regional culture that values people pulling together for the common good. For instance, I often warn people that if the Republicans win the presidency next year and pass a Wisconsin-style bill nationwide, I do NOT think there would be forty-nine big eruptions in the rest of the country similar to the one in Wisconsin. In that sense, we should all thank the Republicans for making such a foolish choice of a location to have their showdown against the unions.
However, I think you could say this: the enthusiasm a large portion of the public has shown for both the Chicago Republic Windows action, and the Wisconsin uprising, is part and parcel of a sense of anger about wealth inequality and the erosion of the middle class that has been building for some time but which has not been addressed by anything in mainstream politics. That same growing sense of unease is, I think, behind the surprisingly high public support for OWS.
C&Y: Have rank-and file union participants and supporters of OWS been active in OWS as visible union members or simply as concerned citizens? Is there a difference between leadership and rank-and-file support for OWS?
STEPHANIE LUCE: In the early days of OWS, there were a number of union members who participated. They were not representing their unions, but a number of them identify strongly as labor activists. A few of those people were members of Transport Workers Union Local 100, and they were instrumental in getting their union to come out in support of OWS a week and a half into the occupation.
As the movement has flourished, we've seen a large number of union members get involved. Some come on their own time and sit at the union table in the park. Some are in working groups. Some come to bring supplies. But when there are specific actions or marches, we also see people participating as union members, such as the October 5 rally and march, or the black/brown unity march sponsored by the Coalition of Black Trade Unions and other AFL-CIO affinity organizations. Union members showed up on the morning that Bloomberg threatened to kick out the protestors to clean the park. Union leaders and staff have been present at these events too -- sometimes leading delegations, and occasionally there on their own.
STEVE EARLY: During the two-week strike by 45,000 Verizon workers in August, union PR people issued leaflets urging support for their "fight to defend middle-class jobs." This characterization of strike goals enabled Verizon to run newspaper ads claiming that the $75,000 a year or more earned by telephone technicians made them part of the "upper middle class" -- and thus, apparently not worthy of sympathy from customers or members of the public whose jobs provide family incomes closer to the national or regional average.
By late October, telephone workers, who are part of a reform movement in CWA Local 1101, had marched through lower Manhattan in solidarity with OWS; similar linkage between occupation activity and the IBEW-CWA Verizon contract struggle occurred in Boston. Meanwhile, in upstate New York, members of CWA Local 1118 held a "corporate pig roast" several weeks ago -- right around the corner from "Cuomoville," the OWS encampment located in downtown Albany (where vegan and vegetarian fare prevails over pork).
At this OWS-inspired and related event, Verizon workers were brandishing new contract campaign signs with a far better, more universalist message: "We are the 99 percent!"
JIM STRAUB: In terms of the first question, a little of both. In any active union, you have a handful of very active activists, who would be involved in left protest politics no matter what; when these folks participate in their various left activities, they often make a point of making their union membership a visible part of who they are. I would bet you have some folks like that who have been hanging out at the occupation camps, going to assemblies, etc. And then if you checked everyone sleeping over at the occupations, I'm sure you'd find a few people who are union members in their work life. But like I said, the larger portion of union member involvement has been more limited -- going to one of the big OWS affiliate marches with their union contingent, etc.
The original New York City Wall Street occupation was planned by folks from the protest-oriented radical left, without early involvement from unions. I think most expected it to have the small, limited impact that the average left demo does (I know some of the early organizers from years back). However, social media videos of NYPD officers attacking the demonstrators gave it wider exposure, and when its message against wealth inequality and the finance industry got out there, it struck a chord with the public in general.
When this happened and the demonstration blew up, many of the more active unions got involved, to different degrees depending on the city and the union. For instance, in New York City and many other cities, the unions have mobilized thousands of members to big marches connected to the OWS; in a number of cities activists from unions have been integral part of the organization of the actual occupation camps; and in many other places, the unions provide assistance by donating food and tents and tarps or otherwise. For example, my friend Heather is helping run the food kitchen at OWS in New York, and just texted me that SEIU's big powerhouse healthcare workers' union there, 1199, donated 500 chicken dinners and brought members down to help serve. Another example is Pittsburgh, where some people I know at the SEIU local there have been using their personal time to mobilize the people at the occupation camp to do protests at various banks, and have been working to broaden the appeal of the camp beyond its mainly subcultural youth participants. The situation I know best is here in Seattle. My local, SEIU 775, has mobilized a few hundred people four times for demonstrations at the occupation; we donated a lot of ponchos and tents; and we used our good relationship with Seattle's mayor to intervene a few times and try to negotiate for him to let the tents stay up (ultimately unsuccessful). We probably have a handful of activists who've been involved at the occupation camp and general assemblies, but only just a few. One thing I would note is that while the OWS message is resonating with average working people, the occupation camps and general assemblies are much more geared to subcultural youth and hardcore leftists; I suspect, for all labor's involvement in the ways I described above, there have still been very few actual union members camping out and hanging out at the occupations.
One thing I would like to point out that isn't common knowledge: the union I work for, SEIU, is known in the United States for being one of the few unions still able to organize and grow, even in the private sector. But ironically, for the past year, we have directed a lot of the resources we normally put into new organizing into a campaign we call "The Fight for a Fair Economy." This has involved canvassing working-class neighborhoods and organizing lots of protests in lots of cities around economic issues in general. Anyway, there is some humorous irony in the fact that SEIU has been expending all this organizational resource and effort into trying to spark an upsurge of economic anger in politics, and then along comes some protesters occupying Wall Street, and they have the success SEIU was trying to generate! Anyway, we haven't been jealous or whatever and we basically have just folded our Fight For A Fair Economy protest activity into the occupations all over the country. Who knows if our own efforts were part of laying the groundwork in public sentiment for the enthusiasm over OWS? Regardless, I think you could say that it's a rare moment of unions and the radical protest left having perfectly converging goals that result in success for all.
C&Y: What role has the leadership of organized labor been playing in the OWS uprising?
STEVE EARLY: As reported in the New York Times on Nov. 9, 2011, union leaders have been making regular visits to our new Lourdes -- aka Zuccotti Park -- and similar high-profile camping sites around the country. Earlier this year, they were jetting into Cairo-by-the Lake in Wisconsin (aka Madison) in a similar quest for an infusion of young blood and "new energy" out there. I'm personally a little skeptical about what miraculous transformations are likely to occur among the organizationally old, blind, and lame of American labor, as a result of either pilgrimage. RWDSU president Stuart Applebaum claims that "the Occupy movement has changed unions," both in the area of membership mobilization and "messaging." See more thoughts below on OWS's helpful influence in the latter area. As for mainstream unions suddenly embracing greater direct action and militancy by their own rank and file, that kind of changes usually comes from the bottom up, not the top down.
JIM STRAUB: Most active, progressive-oriented unions have supported the occupation protests to varying degrees, which I think reflects the leadership's enthusiasm that finally someone has managed to put the issue of wealth inequality front and center in the public eye.
Among the rank and file, well, I think it would be difficult to generalize accurately about rank-and-file workers' view of OWS. Many I am sure are simply unaware -- the U.S. public remains deeply depoliticized, without a present-day tradition of mass struggle or collective action improving standards of living. However, opinion polls have shown that roughly a majority of respondents in the United States today have a positive view of OWS and agree with some of the message. I would strongly suspect that that percentage goes way up among poorer people, urban people, people of color, women, and progressives. And the portion of union membership that is dynamic and growing is among those demographics. So I think we can infer that, to the degree that union members are aware and interested, there is significant support for the OWS. I can tell you that in my own day-to-day work as a rep for a nursing home workers' union, two times a member has brought the topic up to me unsolicited and talked about how great they think it is. One of those times, the worker's views were that he was excited the unions were getting involved in Occupy Wall Street, so that "it didn't just look like a bunch of hippies." I think this was a very telling comment -- in the United States, the public often sees left protest as being for countercultural types, rebellious college students going through a phase, etc, and when protesters seem for whatever reason to be culturally different from average working people, it plays into this stereotype and limits the ability of the protest to grow.
C&Y: How can OWS and organize labor best interact? What about selective strikes and similar actions? Do you think that rank-and-file movements in unions could be strengthened by OWS? Can unions learn anything from the way OWS is structured?
STEPHANIE LUCE: One of the amazing things about OWS in New York has been the degree to which organized labor has come on in support, and been able to intersect some of its own organizing with that of OWS. There is a long way to go, but this level of interaction seems remarkable to me in this city where unions have been known to be insular and not good at working with others. Unions have already contributed support in a variety of ways: offering money, food, medical training, supplies, meeting space, storage space, and publicity.
And OWS has participated in ongoing labor activities, from the campaign to get a contract at Verizon, to supporting locked-out Teamsters at Sotheby's. Public-sector unions have been fighting to extend the millionaire's tax in New York, and on October 11, 2011, the 99 percent and unions joined together for a march against the millionaires and billionaires.
The general assembly, consensus model has drawbacks. It can be used poorly in ways that allow a small minority to block consensus and control decisions. With large groups of people, it can be possible for small cliques to develop and function in non-transparent ways. But the same can be said for our other models of functioning -- notably, traditional union structures.
Despite its weaknesses, the Occupy model can provide tremendous inspiration for rank-and-file unionists. It has worked so far to allow "ordinary people" to feel they are participating in democratic decision-making for the first time in their lives. They have seen how it's possible to develop an idea and run with it, working to organize with others to make their vision a reality. The horizontalist model is new for many union members, and will take some work to learn and develop, but is a tool that can strengthen movements.
OWS provides another important lesson for unions, which I think expands on the UE fight at Republic Windows and Doors and the fight-back in Wisconsin. The lesson is that we should not be afraid of "the public." Unions have been spending millions of dollars on consultants, polls, and focus groups to craft a careful message that will play with the public. But the messages that come out of these tend to be ones that people have been hearing in the media and from politicians. They tend to be conservative, backward-looking messages, and not ones that push people to new ideas and greater possibilities.
No focus group would have come up with the "message" of a plant takeover in Chicago. And no poll would have predicted that a mass teacher walkout and citizen takeover of the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin was a wise public relations strategy.
Instead, the labor movement has been trying to frame itself as "reasonable." Top union leaders in Wisconsin stated emphatically that they were "only asking for the right to collective bargaining." The same is true with the Verizon strike in August, where union leaders said they were on strike "for the right to bargain." Unions and labor coalitions declare that they are just trying to save the middle class or reclaim the American Dream: nothing radical, nothing confrontational.
OWS turns that idea on its head, and within a few weeks, with no consultants and no polling, asserts a very bold and expansive "message": we are the 99 percent, we are in a class war against the 1 percent, we demand public space, we demand the right to protest, we want another world. OWS uses images that link its fight with the Arab Spring, suggesting that our fight is a fundamental struggle for democracy and basic human rights. These are bold, visionary demands, and ones that ignite the public imagination.
STEVE EARLY: See Verizon-related examples of positive interaction at the rank-and-file level above. Yes, the model of more democratic decision-making, direct action, civil disobedience is very helpful. It shows how collective activity can be organized differently from staff and full-time officials running everything -- or trying to. Real challenge will be transferring OWS approach to the traditional arena of union struggle.
I think one labor leader quoted in the New York Times really nailed that challenge well. Said Los Angeles Central Labor Council's Elena Durazo:
The question is: can the labor movement or the occupy movement move its message about inequality down to the workplace, where workers confront low wages, low benefits, and little power? Can we use it organize workers where it really matters, in the workplace, to help their everyday life?
JIM STRAUB: I think the interaction has been pretty good. About strikes, we should remember that, given the extreme weakness of U.S. unions, most unions can't win a strike in defense of their own immediate needs, much less leverage their strike power to advance larger political goals. Given that unions now represent something like 12 percent of the workforce, and are having extreme trouble in a good portion of that 12 percent, I think it would be a silly and potentially disastrous miscalculation for us to try to use strikes to advance political goals. Strikes are inherently divisive both among members and the public in general, and give an opponent aid in tarnishing your reputation and even legal grounds to dissolve your formal collective bargaining status. Labor needs to rebuild to something like 25, 30 percent before it can start using mass strikes as a useful political weapon again.
In terms of unions learning from the OWS structure, I guess it depends on what you mean by OWS structure. If you mean the large group assemblies, using some version of modified consensus to make decisions and "mic check" and all that, I would say, definitely not. I spent many years in such meetings when I was an activist in various left groups, and I can say from my experience it is the worst, most counterproductive form of decision-making or organization-building in the world.
JON FLANDERS: Both OWS and labor need each other. OWS needs labor's muscle; labor needs the creativity and energy of OWS youth. And, of course, mutual aid works; witness the labor mobilization that kept Mayor Bloomberg from shutting down OWS, and the aforementioned solidarity actions by OWS with locked-out Teamsters.
I think a real test in New York City will come around a possible transit strike. The president of TWU 100 has said they will make no concessions if New York does not re-instate the millionaire's tax. Cuomo will not back down on this, so some kind of confrontation seems inevitable. Here we will have the confluence of a workers' struggle very much tied to the OWS agenda vis-à-vis Wall Street. We can only imagine the scenes that might unfold in NYC if the subways and buses stop running and people are forced to walk to work. There will be plenty of chances for workers and OWS activists to interact and work on targets of opportunity.
C&Y: Given labor's ties to the Democratic Party, are there reasons for OWS to be distrustful of organized labor's support for OWS?
STEPHANIE LUCE: Many people -- including some rank-and-file union members and union staff -- are wary that unions will try to channel OWS energy into electoral work. Polls show that a large number of OWS participants are disgruntled Democrats, moved to action out of disappointment in Obama. But OWS has been a truly democratic space. In this sense, it will be hard to coopt the movement without some serious internal organizing. While union leaders have control over where they put their own energy and resources, the same is not true in the Occupy movement. If they propose an action that people don't want to do, no one will show up.
STEVE EARLY: In his 1974 memoir and union history, Jim Matles, a founder of the UE, reminded readers that labor struggles are about "them and us" -- or, as OWS puts it, "the 1 percent" vs. the "99 percent." Unfortunately, most other unions have long relied on high-priced Democratic Party consultants, their focus groups and opinion polling, to shape labor's public "messaging" in much less effective fashion. The results of this collaboration have been unhelpful, to say the least. Organizations that are supposed to the voice of the working-class majority have instead positioned themselves -- narrowly and confusedly -- as defenders of America's "middle class," an always fuzzy construct now being rendered even less meaningful by the recession-driven downward mobility of millions of people.
As SUNY professor Michael Zweig has argued in his book, The Working Class Majority: America's Best-Kept Secret (Cornell ILR Press, 2000), labor's never-ending mantra about the "middle class" leaves class relations -- and the actual class position of most of the population -- shrouded in rhetorical fog. Zweig acknowledges that the working class in America today looks quite different than the blue-collar proletariat of the last century, which leads many to believe that differences in "status, income, or lifestyles" define where they stand on the economic and social ladder. But "the real basis of social class lies in the varying amounts of power people have at work and in the larger society. . . . The sooner we realize that classes exist and understand the power relations that are driving the economic and political changes swirling around us, the sooner we will be able to build . . . an openly working class politics."
As Zweig would agree, I'm sure, labor's "framing" not only lacks the clear resonance of that employed by the new anti-capitalist campaigners of OWS; "one of the great weaknesses" of the standard union view of class "is that it confuses the target of political conflict." When the working class disappears into an amorphous "middle class," not only do the "working poor" (a mere 46 million strong) drop out of the picture, but "the capitalist class disappears into 'the rich.' And when the capitalist class disappears from view, it cannot be a target."
Well, thanks to OWS -- but not most unions -- that target is back in view, big time. So now, even some union officials are racing to catch up with a grassroots movement that has provided a far more favorable public opinion context for waging key contract fights like the ongoing CWA-IBEW battle with Verizon.
JON FLANDERS: Certainly union leaders are hoping that they can corral some of this energy into 2012 political campaigns. They were successful in doing this in Wisconsin, with the less-then-inspiring recall effort. Now, however, they are up against the reality that the occupiers, who probably in their majority were supporters of Obama, are now deeply disappointed and no longer believe that elections mean that much. I seriously doubt that they can win many of them to be campaign foot soldiers. Instead I suspect that occupations will morph into new direct actions, like opposing evictions, strike solidarity etc.
JIM STRAUB: Haha, I think the unions would love to have as close ties to the Democratic Party as most leftists allege. They no longer have much juice at all with the Dems. I look at it this way: in the United States, we have a center party and a far-right party. Attempts to start other parties have met with roughly zero success, and our political structure makes smaller parties fairly useless. So because the far-right party will absolutely attempt to wipe them out of existence (as in Wisconsin and Ohio last year, for instance), labor goes to great efforts to try to make sure the center party beats the far-right one. Is the center party also part of our problem? Certainly. After all, some of what has been so popular about OWS is it is attacking finance, which the Dems cannot do because they are if anything more owned by the financial sector that the Republicans. But, at the end of the day, I don't think anyone has a good plan for how to deal with the problems our political system poses for the left and for unions.
One thing I would point out, though, is that from polls that have been done of the attendees at Occupy protests, we have learned that a large portion are left-leaning Democratic voters who are unhappy with their party, and who say they want OWS to pull the Dems to the left just like the Tea Party has pulled the Republicans further right. I think that would be a good goal.
How do you see OWS unfolding? Can OWS continue to expand without the active involvement of organized labor?
STEPHANIE LUCE: OWS continues to surprise and amaze me, making it hard to predict where it is going. Every day it seems possible that the movement will die, given police brutality and political crackdowns. There are infiltrators and provocateurs, and serious debates about direction and strategy. There are internal problems related to living in tight quarters and having to learn how to self-govern in communities of strangers. The cold weather is brutal.
Yet the movement keeps going and expanding! In many cities, the occupations have begun to intersect with already existing organizations and activism, such as fights against foreclosures and tuition hikes. Even if the occupation camps themselves dwindle, it is hard to believe there is any going backwards from here.
The labor movement will not be able to revitalize itself by coopting OWS. It will only benefit if it remains flexible and open, allowing the energy of Occupy to pull the labor movement to the left, to more radical demands and more militant tactics. Occupy must serve as a home base to unite seemingly disparate struggles, providing a larger narrative and maintaining a more revolutionary vision of how to do politics and how to rebuild the world. We've been failing in our struggles in part because we've been atomized, leading unions to believe that they can focus energy on a contract fight to "save the middle class," while ignoring the growing poverty among their unemployed neighbors. Unions believed they can change the world by turning out voters to elect labor-endorsed candidates who then build more prisons and allow more deportations.
For many decades, the left has been without a competing vision for the world. With the supposed triumph of capitalism we had nothing to point to as an alternative. Occupy encampments have their challenges, but as people do the hard work to communicate and work together, to feed and care for one another, to learn how to collectivize space and self-govern, perhaps they can provide some reality to the slogan "Another World is Possible."
STEVE EARLY: The occupation movement has been unfairly but predictably criticized in the mainstream media for having an ill-defined political agenda and no clear path to institutionalizing its struggle against longstanding abuses of corporate power in America. While all that gets sorted out in its free-wheeling "general assemblies around the country, Occupy Wall Street has already given our timorous, unimaginative, and often politically confused unions a much-needed ideological dope slap, as noted above in discussion of pre- and post-OWS "framing" of key labor struggles. Organizationally, OWS would do well to attach itself -- and that's already happened in places like Portland, Oregon -- to Jobs with Justice, the "action faction" of the labor movement most capable of interacting productively with more amorphous student/community forces.
JON FLANDERS: Occupations will have to reach out to workers if they want to become truly powerful. Right now, they are attracting some young workers and getting them excited about direct democracy, something that is sorely missing in most unions. Workers who are not hanging out with occupations will need to see concrete acts of solidarity coming their way, as the Teamsters at Sotheby's in New York City have done.
JIM STRAUB: I don't know that OWS needs to continue expanding. It was a protest wave that succeeded far beyond anyone's hopes and has shown us that there is a hunger out there in America for somebody to stick it to the banks. But at some point camping out in these particular places will outlive its usefulness as a visibility tactic. I don't know what will be the next big protest wave, but I know we will need one to resist the coming demands for austerity and cutbacks. Is it important that whatever happens next be called "occupy so and so" and include campouts and such? Maybe, but also maybe something else.
We on the left have a weakness for getting stuck on something if it seems to work once. For instance, after the anti-corporate protests against the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999, the entire U.S. left threw all its energy into attempting to shut down other meetings of trade bodies for the next five years, with a declining rate of success and relevance.
I think most cities will have their police clear the protest camps out of the visible downtown locations over the next couple weeks. Those encampments that remain will dwindle in the cold weather and eventually be abandoned. Eventually, the fickle public majority that has expressed support will move on. The pattern of the protest-based left in the United States seems to be that, every few years, the left is part of an eruption of protest around an issue that captivates a large portion of the country in a dramatic way and then recedes without having left behind any ongoing organization. The anti-corporate globalization protests of 99-01, the antiwar protests of 04, the immigrant protests of 06, Wisconsin and OWS in '12. Who knows what the next one will be, but I bet it will erupt in two to four years.
Regardless, my own opinion is that we need to rebuild the ongoing, day-to-day institutions of a mass left, like the labor movement. So I spend a lot more of my political energy trying to help grow the power of the union for which I work than going to protests anymore. But it was been a wonderful thing, in Wisconsin and then during the Occupy thing, going to some great inspiring protests again. I hope these upsurges come more often and with more intensity.
C&Y: Thank you all for your remarks. We think that readers are going to find them of great interest.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* This interview first appeared in MRzine (15 November 2011).
* Farooque Chowdhury, associated with Bangla Monthly Review, is editor of Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured, and Selected Essays by Paul Sweezy (in Bangla), co-editor of People's Report on Bangladesh Environment (2001 and 2002-2003), author of The Age of Crisis, and co-author (with Fred Magdoff) of a Bangla book on food crisis.
* Michael D. Yates is Associate Editor of Monthly Review and Editorial Director of Monthly Review Press. He is the author of Why Unions Matter, 2nd Edition (2009) and editor of Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (forthcoming), both published by Monthly Review Press. His blog is at blog.cheapmotelsandahotplate.org.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Minister Teta and the Angolan technology scam
Rafael Marques de Morais
Angola’s vice-minister of Science and Technology, Dr Pedro Sebastião Teta, has been energetically promoting projects aimed at the modernisation of the country’s information technology infrastructure, particularly for use by the public sector. To this end he has created a series of private businesses for his own personal enrichment in the area that falls under his ministerial portfolio.
On 17 December 2007, the vice-minister set up the private company Torque IT in partnership with his wife, Mirela Virgínia Teta, and with the company Protic, owned by the Portuguese-Angolan Eurico Alves Gomes. Dr and Mrs Teta hold 80 percent of the shares, while Protic holds the remaining 20 percent. However, just over a month earlier, on 13 November 2007, Dr Teta in his capacity as vice-minister had approved Torque IT’s accreditation with the National Information Technology Commission (CNTI), which he co-ordinates. In other words, the company was accredited to do business with the Angolan state a month before it legally existed.
Torque IT’s own documentation indicates that the company began to operate only in March 2009. Yet on 20 August 2008 Torque IT charged CNTI $150,000 (invoice 001) for training courses in e-mail software, which the company says it taught on behalf of state institutions. These courses were meant to teach civil servants how to use Microsoft Office Outlook at intermediate level.
However, two months later on 20 October, Torque IT issued another invoice to CNTI with the same number, 001, again for $150,000, but this time for 500 intermediate user courses in the spreadsheet software Microsoft Office Excel. Invoice number 002, also dated 20 October, charged a further $150,000 for another 500 intermediate user courses in Microsoft Office Excel. Then on 18 December invoice number 003 was issued to demand payment of $150,000 for 500 courses in Microsoft Word. Thus before Torque IT had begun operating, it had received a total of US$600,000 in payments supposedly for the training of 500 people in Excel, Outlook and Word. The company did not deliver the courses because it only started operating in March 2009, as it publicly acknowledges on its website.
Torque IT had a zero balance in its account 4062839731001, until it received the first payments from CNTI. A series of bank statements demonstrated that, until 2010 almost all of Torque IT revenues came from CNTI.
What is more, Torque IT’s invoices are inconsistent in regard to the cost of the courses in relation to the number of participants. Invoice six, dated 17 July 2009, charges a total of $109,606.63 to CNTI for four two-week intermediate courses (in Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and Word) for 50 people.
At the time when these invoices were issued, the person in charge of CNTI’s finances was none other than Filomena Teta, sister of the vice-minister, who appointed her as director of the commission. During the course of 2009, the Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technology, José de Carvalho da Rocha, removed Filomena Teta from her post and replaced her with an official by the name of João Leão, whom he trusted. According to official correspondence, Mr Leão blocked the payment of two invoices (number 6 and number 11) submitted by Torque IT to a total value of US$132,788.76, as he suspected fraud and non-deliverance of the training courses.
On June 11 2010, the executive manager of Torque IT, Bruno da Silva, complained in a letter to CNTI, copied to minister José de Carvalho da Rocha, that the company had “’high costs, specifically for manuals, travel, trainers’ accommodation, daily meals for the trainees, etc and now has to bear these earlier costs and the financial costs of the debt’.
Close attention to Torque IT’s financial transactions tells a different story. Out of the total of $606,427.25 received from CNTI in 2008, Torque IT transferred a total of $400,000 to Dr and Mrs Teta’s accounts on February 3 and 5 2009. Eurico Alves Gomes, the other shareholder and director general of the company, ordered the transfer of $100,000 to his private account on February 5.
On April 8 2009, CNTI transferred more than $450,000 to Torque IT’s account. Out of this money, the company transferred a total of $126,000 in equal share to the Tetas’ and to Mr Gomes’s personal accounts. Torque IT transferred a further $100,000 to other private businesses owned by the Tetas and to Mr Gomes’s company Protic. In other words, more than half of the $450,000 payment ended up being for the exclusive benefit of the vice-minister, his wife and his business partner.
As for the cost of the courses, there is an invoice for $27,980.29, dated 16 October 2009, which Torque IT Angola paid to Torque IT South Africa with respect to the courses in question and other sundry expenses. Dr Teta’s company has a representation agreement with Torque IT South Africa, which is owned by the Kelly Group, South Africa’s main employment agency.
Vice-minister Pedro Sebastião Teta has broken Angolan law by committing an act of illicit enrichment, proscribed by Article 25, 1, j, of the Law on Public Probity, by incorporating money belonging to the public institution that he directed, into his private finances.
Ironically, the President of the republic and the Attorney General of have publically expressed regret over the lack of proof regarding alleged acts of corruption involving senior government officials. Citizens ought to congratulate Dr Teta, a renowned computer expert, for robbing state coffers in such a blatant manner, and for the tacit complicity of his boss, the President.
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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. In 2000 he won the distinguished Percy Qoboza Award for Outstanding Courage from the National Association of Black Journalists (US). In 2006, he received the Civil Courage Prize, from the Train Foundation (US) for his human rights activities.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Angola: Sonangol’s hotel bill doesn’t add up
Rafael Marques de Morais
The national oil company Sonangol, which is the largest state-owned company, has been regarded internationally as an oasis of competence and good management practice in Angola. At the same time, Sonangol has also been accused from abroad of being the main vehicle for the looting and disappearance of billions of dollars in oil revenues. However, Angolans themselves need to pay closer scrutiny to the current management of Sonangol, which supplies about half of the funds that make up the country’s annual state budget.
In 2010, Sonangol picked up a bill of over US$1 million for nine days’ worth of accommodation and expenses at the Suite Hotel Maianga in Luanda. The hotel bills (see the table) amounting to US$1,346,022.50 were paid through Banco Africano de Investimentos (BAI), of which Sonangol is the main shareholder, with an 18.5 percent share.
The three-star hotel has 54 rooms including two executive suites and has been open to the public since its inauguration in 2009, according to the reception staff. The state news agency, Angop, names Sonangol as the owner of the hotel.
Hypothetically speaking, even if Sonangol had occupied the entire hotel for nine days and paid the maximum price of a king room (US$450) for each of the rooms, the bill would have come to US $218,700, including breakfast. Catering costs cannot account for the rest of the bill: the restaurant at the Suite Hotel Maianga is small and modest, with prices that are reasonable by Luanda standards.
Sonangol must explain why, despite having paid for the education of thousands of Angolans in Western and other foreign universities, it appears incapable of performing simple addition and multiplication sums with the public money entrusted to it.
Several calls to the media and the public relations office at Sonangol in an attempt to seek clarification were met with the same response: ‘The boss is in a meeting.’
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* For more information about the hotel see: portalangop.co.ao.
* Rafael Marques de Morais is an Angolan journalist and writer with a special interest in Angola's political economy and human rights. In 2000 he won the distinguished Percy Qoboza Award for Outstanding Courage from the National Association of Black Journalists (US). In 2006, he received the Civil Courage Prize, from the Train Foundation (US) for his human rights activities.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Nigeria: The way forward
Nigeria’s massive problems are common knowledge. Negative stereotypes and jokes about scams and inefficiencies reverberate around the globe. In crime-ridden Johannesburg, for instance, Nigerians are regarded as primus inter pares. Hand-wringing books and articles also abound. Two examples are Karl Maier’s dystopian travelogue, ‘This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria’ (New York: Public Affairs, 2000); and Eliza Griswold’s ‘The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line between Christianity and Islam’ (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), an alarming account of the primarily religious fault line running around the world, including through conflict-ridden Jos. When we read of the recent depredations of the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram (‘Western Education is bad’), we may feel that this could be the final nail in a sick nation’s coffin.
Less well-known – perhaps because bad news sells newspapers, boosts TV ratings, and multiplies online clicks – are the people who are working to do something about one of Nigeria’s root problems: Corruption. No one, of course, has a magic bullet (unfortunate metaphor), but four pro-democratic activists with whom I spoke in Nigeria in October 2011 not only have important ideas for reform, but are also working effectively to implement them. These ideas span politics, law and economics. The interviewees comprise three anti-corruption reformers working for NGOs and a sitting governor who started one of these NGOs. As it happens, the four activists also represent four of Nigeria’s largest ethnic groups.
Before this set of interviews, I had already interviewed three major Nigerian reformers then resident in the US: Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; recently deceased elder statesman of Nigerian democracy, Chief Anthony ‘Pa’ Enahoro (1923-2010); and the first Head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu. (Titles and links for these interviews are listed at the end of this article.)
Here are some excerpts from my interviews with the four Nigerian reformers:
1. CHANGES IN THE LAW
DR JIBRIN IBRAHIM: DIRECTOR, CENTRE FOR DEMOCRACY & DEVELOPMENT-NIGERIA
The problem we had was that, for 30 years, nobody who could hire a SAN, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, lawyers who have been recognised by their peers… for the 30 years preceding when Nuhu Ribadu came to the EFCC – seasoned lawyers like Femi Falana told me this – nobody who had enough money to hire a SAN was jailed for corruption. This had to do with the capacity of the judiciary. One of the problems was the procedural element that allowed people with good lawyers to take continuous interlocutory injunctions that allowed a corruption case to drag for ten, 15, 20 years, till it exhausted the judiciary. That was a systemic fault. It was not that the judges were being corrupted. When the ICPC [Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission] was founded [by Obasanjo in 2000], it had exactly the same rules as the judiciary. So they were also unable to prosecute successfully. The EFCC was set up under a different law, which enabled them to stop these endless interlocutory injunctions and address the substantive issue. So you have to be careful in assessing Ribadu. It was not just that he was a tough guy. It was a combination of the enabling law and Nuhu’s own tenacity that produced results.
2. LOCAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
DAUDA GARUBA, NIGERIA PROGRAMME COORDINATOR, REVENUE WATCH INSTITUTE
RON SINGER: What does your organisation do?
DAUDA GARUBA: We work in the areas of oil, gas, and mining revenues with a view to enhancing public good. You know, there is a relationship between natural resources and conflict. If you manage these revenues well, you free yourself from the kinds of crisis you have had over the years in Sierre Leone, Liberia, and so on. Our organisation, Revenue Watch, provides technical assistance to governments, as well as working with the demand side. We try to persuade companies to put pressure on government to use its resources in a way that is beneficial to the people.
RON SINGER: Has the Nigerian government used your services?
DAUDA GARUBA: What we’ve been doing in Nigeria is more at the sub-national level; we are just scaling up to national level. We have pilot projects in four countries, Nigeria, Peru, Ghana, and Indonesia. We are studying how sub-national governments are using their resources. We also want to see how we can enhance the process by helping these governments maximise revenues accruing from their resources for public good. Since the projects are pilots, they take into consideration the particularities of each country.
RON SINGER: For instance, in Nigeria?
DAUDA GARUBA: In Nigeria, we are approaching our work at three levels and on two prongs. The first level is the states, like our work with Bayelsa, through what we call the Bayelsa Extractive and Income Transparency Initiative. The second is budget analysis work at the level of selected Niger Delta states with our partner organisations, while the third is responding to natural resource management issues with policy briefs at the national level. The last level has just been expanded through our collaboration on a new consortium with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) called Facility for Oil Sector Transparency (FOSTER). The two-pronged side to our work is provision of technical assistance to governments (free of charge) on request, and to civil society organisations (with grants) to help drive the demand side of any assistance we provide.
RON SINGER: So you help the state governments manage the money from the oil etc?
DAUDA GARUBA: No, we try to show them how best to utilise their [natural] resources, how to involve local people in the governance of these resources.
RON SINGER: That’s what Chief Enahoro was all about.
DAUDA GARUBA: Yes, of course. Chief Enahoro was much more interested in how ethnic nationalities will take charge of their destinies.
RON SINGER: He said two very interesting things to me. One is that, if you rob locally, people will catch and punish you. If you rob the Federal government and bring the booty home, you will be a hero.
DAUDA GARUBA: Of course, in those days, it was possible to steal from the national government, and nothing happened. But nobody put his hand into the local purse because everybody in the community knows him/her.
RON SINGER: The other thing he said was, put the money into local coffers directly, and let them pay the tax to the Federal government, the same amount the Federal government is now supposedly getting. Instead of vice-versa, the way it has been.
DAUDA GARUBA: That is tied to the entire question of resource control, which has been an issue since the return to civil rule in 1999.
RON SINGER: But why is it assumed that the local people will be more honest than the Federal ones? Chief Enahoro said that, if they did turn out to steal the money, at least they could no longer blame others for their problems.
DAUDA GARUBA: Well, local rulers have local affinities. They are tied to local institutions and have respect for their culture. More than the larger, formal government organisations. People know themselves [i.e. each other] much more.
RON SINGER: But a governor in one of those states who is a big thief is not robbing from his own people?
DAUDA GARUBA: Yes, that’s true, but it takes formal institutions for a big thief to survive. In a local place, if you are seen with something your income couldn’t provide, society will ask where you got it from. Your parents, your community, will reject you. Of course, people steal money in office and decide to stay in Abuja and never come back home, except during festivals and public holidays.
3. MAKING PUBLIC SERVANTS SERVE THE PUBLIC
CLEMENT NWANKWO, DIRECTOR, POLICY AND LEGAL ADVOCACY CENTRE
CLEMENT NWANKWO: We identify what we call ‘pro-poor target committees’: committees that have an impact on poverty issues: agriculture, health, education.
RON SINGER: Are the members of those committees necessarily people who want progress in those areas?
CLEMENT NWANKWO: A mixed bag, all sorts of people. The key thing is to get them to understand their responsibilities to legislate for the poor, the people. The tendency a lot of times is for them to get elected and see their election as an end in itself and an opportunity to make profit.
RON SINGER: How do you persuade them to change?
CLEMENT NWANKWO: We help them understand what their responsibilities are. We also draw attention to what they’re doing by publicising their activities to the public.
RON SINGER: Enforced transparency.
CLEMENT NWANKWO: Yes. If, for instance, they award themselves huge emoluments, we want to make sure the public knows this.
RON SINGER: Don’t they get huge salaries?
CLEMENT NWANKWO: No, not really. What happens is that they get what is called a constituency allowance, which is to enable them to work in their constituencies. These run into millions of dollars. They use them as they please, without accountability.
RON SINGER: Is another part of what you do to push for new laws to control things like that?
CLEMENT NWANKWO: Well, by putting out this information, we have made the legislators respond by asking themselves how they can better account for the use of the money.
RON SINGER: Getting the information out pushes them to change?
CLEMENT NWANKWO: A lot of civil society organisations, plus the media, are raising concerns about this issue. Since the inauguration of the present legislature in June, they have reduced by more than 30 per cent these amounts that they have paid to themselves.
4. FISCAL FEDERALISM: THE DEVOLUTION OF POWER
DR JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI, GOVERNOR, EKITI STATE; FOUNDER, CENTRE FOR DEMOCRACY & DEVELOPMENT, NIGERIA
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Some things are not going to go away. The principle of fiscal federalism is one that even governors are now drawn toward. And we are mainstream, even if we come from a history of being outsiders.
RON SINGER: How many governors agree to it?
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Many of us.
RON SINGER: Huh! Is that right?
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Oh, yes. When it comes down to it, you see that the governor has difficulty ruling. The resources you’re supposed to get, you’re not getting. So it’s no longer a romantic notion, it’s a reality, on the ground.
RON SINGER: And you see how poor so many services of the Federal Government are – you go on the roads…
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Exactly. They have the bulk of this money, and they are not doing jack with it. And they’re not even expected to. The people who see you as governor want you to deliver the goods. They don’t care about Abuja. Ninety-nine per cent of my people in Ekiti have never been to Abuja.
RON SINGER: So you can get blamed for what Abuja is not doing.
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Yes. Not that I can, I do get blamed. They’re experiencing bad roads. All they know is that they have a governor. They don’t know that the roads are a federal responsibility.
RON SINGER: But you’re used to criticism. When you were an outsider, you got it from inside. Now you’re inside, and you get it from everybody.
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Oh, yes, everybody criticises me. And what I do is, I go ahead and look for money to fix the roads, which is not my job.
RON SINGER: That’s an argument for fiscal federalism, isn’t it?
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Precisely. And we’re all in the same boat, which is why the majority of us are on the same page regarding fiscal federalism. … My take on it [fiscal federalism] has always been that we need to devolve powers as much as possible, to the lower levels, particularly the state level, and then at the zonal level, especially where there are contiguity and economies of scale to be achieved. For example, the states in southwestern Nigeria are involved in a regional integration plan. All the states – Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Lagos, Oshun – we form a bloc.
RON SINGER: For economies of scale. But doesn’t that go counter to idea of the devolution of power to the local level?
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: No, because it doesn’t remove the states.
RON SINGER: I see. It just means you share things where you can.
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: So there are things that Lagos does much better than the rest of us, so we take those. We [Ekiti] have social security for the elderly, for example, which everybody wants to find out about. Ondo has something good on maternal and child mortality that has even garnered an award at the World Bank. Oshun has something good on youth employment. So we each have a comparative advantage in one thing or the other. Then, we also have so-called legacy projects. We are trying to build a railway that will cut across the entire zone I just mentioned.
RON SINGER: That’s wonderful.
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: It’s a mega-expensive project. But a legacy project for all of us. We feel that we owe our people something more fundamental than fixing potholes and doing all this drudgery that they call governance. Because its not good governance.
RON SINGER: And it wastes so much money. When you talk about the expense of the railroad, at least you have something. They’ve been fixing potholes in the zone since at least when I was here, in the 60s, and, if anything, they’re worse. And they seemed bad, then! … . Lagos to Lokoja?
JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Lagos to Warri. The Delta.
Governor Fayemi’s efforts are part of an important push for reform in Nigeria, which began in Lagos with then-Governor Bola Tinubu (1999-2007), and has been continued by his successor, Babatunde Fashola. This effort has been taken up by several state rulers, notably Governor Fayemi, who fought in the courts from 2007-10 to gain the Ekiti governorship usurped by Segun Oni of the PDP (People’s Democratic Party), the party that has ruled Nigeria’s federal government since 1999. Even before running for this office, Fayemi had been a lifelong reformer, active in local tenants-rights movements in London when he was a student there, and, then, in the course of opposing Nigeria’s military dictators, founding the Nigerian chapter of the Centre for Democracy & Development.
Since most of the reforming governors belong to the opposition ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) party, and since they are also mostly Yorubas, the question arises as to whether the progress they achieve in their own states can create a bandwagon for cleaner, more efficient government that will extend beyond Yoruba states and Governors. There is some evidence that this is already happening, and many people outside of government, such as three Globacom reps I met in Accra, Ghana (where the Nigerian telcoms giant is about to set up shop) see hope in the Governors’ reform movement.
According to the three Globacom reps, who I met over breakfast at our hotel in Accra, another significant basis for reducing corruption in Nigeria involves those sectors of the economy, including telecoms, which are immune to political pressures, including demands for bribes. This immunity stems from the fact that these sectors fall under the purview of independent regulators. In fact, the trio expressed pride and relief that they did not have to bribe Nigerian politicians, which suggests that many other businessmen are not so fortunate. The contrast is great between independently regulated sectors and others where, notoriously, regulation is politically tainted, such as the oil industry.
Seconding the views of the interviewee who currently holds public office (Fayemi), and the other three, who work for pro-democracy NGOs, the three businessmen felt that the end of the Abacha regime had definitely set Nigeria on the road to far more effective, corruption-free governance.
However, a reform governor like Kayode Fayemi wrestles with terrible problems, such as having inherited inflated, fraudulent contracts that he must let run their course because it would be too expensive to undo them and start the projects over. As he said, he also finds himself blamed for problems that should not be his to solve, such as bad roads. Many of his main ideas for reform address this issue of federal versus state responsibility, a core issue in Nigerian governance since Independence in 1960.
Although reformers like these four abound in Nigeria, no one thinks the country is even close to finding its way out of the woods. However, as Governor Fayemi puts it, ‘You should not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.’
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* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ron Singer visited Nigeria and Ghana in October-November 2011 to interview reformers for his book, ‘Uhuru Revisited’ (Africa World Press/Red Sea Press). The promise of uhuru, or freedom, represented by Independence from colonial powers, which began a half-century ago (Ghana, 1957, and from dynastic rule (Ethiopia, 1974) and minority rule (South Africa, 1994), has been realized very unevenly across the African continent. Uhuru Revisited will provide readers with a sense of the range of social and political problems in Africa today and the variety of responses among activists. In hopes of redressing negative stereotypes of Africa in the U.S. and Europe, the book will celebrate the work of a group of very dedicated people, including the four quoted in this article.
Two sections of the book have been completed in draft. The first is based on a visit to southern Africa from February-April, 2010, and focuses on remedies for economic inequality. The second is based upon January-February 2011 interviews in East Africa and the Horn (the practice of journalism). Singer has already published the following articles on the theme of Nigerian corruption:
- “An Interview with Nuhu Ribadu, Nigeria’s Corruption Fighter,” The Faster Times, Feb. 24, 2010: thefastertimes.com/.../an-interview-with-nuhu-ribadu-nigeria’s- corruption- fighter/
- Interview with Wole Soyinka, opendemocracy.net, 8/25/06.
- "Champion of Democracy: An Interview with Chief Anthony Enahoro," Friends of Nigeria Newsletter, 2000 (reprinted in African Link).
Mao Zedong and modern China
Last weekend, 18-22 November, our department, the Department of International Relations of Tsinghua University took a school trip to Changsha and Shaoshan in Hunan Province, the birthplace of Mao Zedong. Mao, known to many older non-Chinese as Mao Tse-Tung was one of the great revolutionary leaders of the 20th century who led the Chinese Communist Party to a tortuous victory in 1949. Sixty years ago, the writings and teachings of Mao were very popular, especially his dictum that:
‘Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.’
As a Chinese leader who had emerged out of civil wars and revolutions, the Little Red Book of Mao had been popular in the 1960s. In a new era of revolution, (now expressed in the protracted battles in Egypt with reverberations around the world) this trip afforded us to reflect collectively on the contribution of Mao, despite the fact that his legacy is bound up with controversies on the paths forward for the transformation of China in the 21st century.
Although many in China and in the West seek to disfigure his contributions to revolutionary thought, it is important that in this era of the intellectual and political ferment unleashed by the capitalist depression, we are able to grasp the strength and weaknesses of Mao in order to build on the positive contributions that were made in relation to revolutionary theory and practice. Socialist values and the new culture that appreciates humans over commodities are now being discussed in a period of anxiety and uncertainties.
As we travelled on Lake Dongting Hu and appreciated the majestic architecture and art of the old Yueyang Lou Tower along the shore, we could see the traffic on this lake with the hundreds of barges transporting sand and coal on the water highway in the middle of China. This striking hothouse of commercial and industrial activity was an indication of the economic engine of China working overtime.
But this activity brought to my mind the realities of coal-fired energy and that China is now the world’s number one air polluter. This question of CO2 emissions underlined one of the primary questions of contemporary China, that is, the energy use is part of a wider carpet that is leading to the destruction of the planet earth. I reflected on how such intense activity is forcing humans to retreat from the ‘growth’ and ‘modernisation’ mantra.
When we returned to Beijing we read the news that the government had published a ‘White Paper on China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change.’ Grounded in the language of ‘mitigating climate change,’ this White Paper spelt out great plans for the building of a Green Economy and creation of over 9.5 million new jobs in the next five years. This document prepared for next week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban is comprehensive, but the plans embedded in this new direction cannot go forward without a major debate on the priorities for the construction of a society beyond capitalism. As the editorial in China Daily correctly noted on November 23:
‘For such a populous developing country such as China, the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection has never been so intense. That 70 per cent of China’s rivers have been polluted to different degrees reveals the propensity of many local governments to prioritize economic growth at the expense of environmental protection during the last two decades. ‘
On this trip we saw the practical example of the impact of the ’modernisation and industrialisation’ based on 19th and 20th century technologies as we sailed on Dongting Hu in Hunan Province.
It is my contention that this trip to the birthplace of Mao was and is inscribed in the debate on what kind of society China will build as China’s rise impact on Asia and the rest of the world. It is in the interest of all progressive persons to engage this internal debate in China because the politics of China will have a decisive influence on international politics in the next three generations.
OUR JOURNEY TO SHANGSHA
As we boarded the bus that took all 16 of us from Tsinghua University to the Beijing West Railway station, I could not but reflect on the values of cooperation that are still surviving in the People’s Republic of China. I was looking at this assemblage of faculty, members of staff and two children and wondered if a dean in our university in Syracuse, New York would consider a university-supported excursion to the birthplace of a great US revolutionary such as John Brown, Abraham Lincoln or Harriet Tubman.
I shared this observation with my colleague Martin Jacques who was until this week another short-term visiting faculty member in the School of International Relations. I had been sharing an office with Jacques who is the author of ‘When China Rules the World: the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order’. Jacques, also the former editor of British publication, ‘Marxism Today’ has been in China reflecting on how to update his book for the paperback edition.
Thus among the 16 people on the trip, there were faculty and staff from differing ideological and political persuasions, from free market (cut taxes) ideas of the US conservatives to old line cadres of the party school of the Chinese Communist Party. Both Martin and I grasped the importance of the intellectual leadership of Shi Zhiqin, professor and chancellor of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and dean of the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University. During the journeys it was clear that here was a scholar who wanted his school to be built with the understanding of differing intellectual traditions in the current world, yet one who supported a new internationalism and solidarity with peoples of the world.
We travelled overnight by train to Shangsha Railway Station in Hunan Province. Hunan Province, situated in the Yangtze River valley area of China, is famous for its rich agricultural traditions; its name (‘South of a lake’) is derived from the geographic location in China, lying to the south of Dongting Lake, one of the three largest lakes in China. Bordering five provinces, it was one of the strong revolutionary bases in the anti-imperialist struggles from 1931-1949. We learnt from our colleagues the importance of this province in Chinese history and culture.
Separated into different cabins, sleeping four to a cabin, the wide-ranging discussions reflected the optimism of people who lived in a society with a project. This project, one which is to transform China, has been built on the thousand year’s history of China with the most recent foundations of the Maoist period of China. Whatever the intellectual and ideological view of our group, we shared the view that Mao Zedong was an important historical figure and our pilgrimage was a testament to this fact.
Some played cards, the children played games and the train rolled on through the night. When the lights were turned on there was the discussion on the birthplace of Mao and the contribution of Mao to building the present Chinese society. Our two young Chinese colleagues who were in the cabin with Jacques and I preferred to sing revolutionary and nationalistic songs. The song that was sung with gusto was ‘Liuyang He’, the popular Chinese song with a theme that relates to the Liuyang River and nearby village of Shaoshan where Mao Zedung was born. We learnt that this was a song sung all over and is a praise song celebrating Chairman Mao's great contribution to China. Africans are accustomed to praise songs of leaders, but it is rare to have such positive and strong support for leaders after they leave power, even more so when they depart this mortal life.
After singing a number of songs, our Chinese friends asked Jacques and I to sing some songs. Our efforts could not compare to the healthy numbers offered by our colleagues. Jacques sang the ‘Internationale’; I could only muster a brief rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’.
The singing ended as night rolled in, with the train rushing into a new day after a 13-hour journey. We checked into a hotel near the train station in downtown Changsha and after a brief and quick breakfast and freshening up we were on the bus to Shaoshan, the birthplace of Chairman Mao.
SHAOSHAN, THE BIRTHPLACE OF CHAIRMAN MAO
We boarded a bus to go by road from Shangsha to Shaoshan City in Hunan Province, 104 kilometres away. One could see along the way the reality that China is still predominantly a peasant society. All along the 100 kilometres one could see peasants toiling in the fields. Discussion continued on the bus and the excitement was palpable as we approached Shaoshan City because again our colleagues broke out in song. There were many songs but the song ‘Liuyang He’ was again the one that stood out. Martin and I sang the Internationale again and as the bus approached the bronze statue of Mao, we were both singing the Internationale in English while our Chinese friends sang along in Chinese.
MAO ZEDONG BRONZE STATUE SQUARE
After this short journey we arrived at the Mao Zedong Bronze Statue Square. This square was built to mark the occasion of Mao’s 100th birth anniversary in 1993 and it is located in the centre of the core scenic area of Shaoshan. Our party joined in the queue to pay our respects with the rituals associated with paying homage to Mao. There was another big party of young soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army who were paying their respects. Local party officials from the town had come out to welcome our group from Tsinghua and we lined up behind two soldiers who were slow marching with a big wreath. Our group followed the established ritual with the obligatory bowing and genuflecting before this statue of Mao Zedong.
From the square we travelled to two cottages in the nearby mountains to Di Shuidong where Mao had come to retreats twice while he was the head of state, once for ten days in 1966 and another time in 1973. The two cottages, now called the Di Shuidong Museum, carry a distinct political message with the memorabilia associated with the simple and humble life that Mao followed, even while he was the head of the Communist Party of China. We walked through this museum with the modest rooms where Mao slept and hosted local party officials. One of the striking pictures on the wall was a picture of Mao with the poor peasants of Shaoshan. There was one peasant who was barefooted and Mao wrote that he wanted to be in this picture to send back a message to the party leaders about the suffering of the peasantry. This picture reminded one of one of the popular quotations of Mao, ‘Let the people speak up. If they have good arguments, we listen to them; if they don't, we refute them.’
One could also see from these two cottages how the Chinese had lived in the shadow of war, as we travelled through an underground bunker that was built to protect the Chinese leader.
Of the pictures of Mao with foreign leaders, one was a picture of Mao with former President Kaunda of Zambia in 1974. I reflected that Mao would be saying I told you so, when people now speak of the sweat-shop conditions of workers in Zambia who worked in enterprises owned by contemporary Chinese capitalists.
GOING TO THE BIRTH HOME OF MAO
After lunch we went across to the other side of Shaoshan where Mao Zedong was born on 26 December 1893. Our privilege as visitors from Tsinghua University was manifest by the fact that our local party officials enabled us to escape the two-hour line to get to walk through the home where Mao grew up. Here then, our team walked through the exhibits of the conditions in which Mao and his family grew at the turn of the 20th century.
It was the home of a peasant, with rooms for pigs, cows and poultry. There are 13 and a half rooms in the former residence, which include one and a half central rooms, a kitchen, a dining room, three family bedrooms and a guest room. Within the rooms are various personal effects of Mao and his parents, as well as photos from Mao’s life. This tour reinforced the importance and centrality of work in the founding worldview of Mao. There is the kitchen, where Mao often helped his mother to do housework in his childhood. Leading from the kitchen was Mao’s parent’s bedroom. There are two photos of Chairman Mao’s parents on the inner wall, and it was in this room that he was born. There are also pictures of the brothers of Mao, Mao Zemin and Mao Zetan. Both brothers of Mao Zedong were killed in warfare, one in 1935 and the other in 1943. Both were also members of the communist party.
There was a small pond on the property. The size of the house was a clear sign that Mao was not from the poor peasantry. If one could reflect back on that time, this was middle or close to rich peasant family that from time to time employed other peasants to work, especially during harvest time. We learnt that as a youth, Mao was a voracious reader. At age 13, after five years of education in the local primary school, he was forced by his father to leave school and return to the farm. Mao continued to study on his own and at age 16 left home to complete his elementary school training in Changsha, the capital of Hunan.
It is from this visit to the farm and the land where one could discern how Mao could appreciate the importance of the peasantry in revolutionary struggles. In Europe, Marxists had determined that it was impossible to mobilise the peasantry and that the peasants were like a sack of potatoes, but Mao appreciated the fact that the China that he was growing up in did not have a large working class.
GROWING UP IN A REVOLUTIONARY ERA
From Shaoshan we boarded the bus back to Shangsha to visit the 1,000 year-old Yeulu Academy, which had been founded in AD 976 (Song Dynasty). We toured this academy, which is now part of Hunan University. When the Xinhai Revolution against the Qing Dynasty broke out in 1911, Mao joined the Revolutionary Army in Hunan. In the spring of 1912, the war ended, the Republic of China was founded and Mao left the army. Mao went back to school and finished his schooling by 1918. From our tour of Yeulu Academy we walked through the room where Mao lived and planned with Cai Hesen. The inscription said that both Mao and Hesen had planned to go to France to study but were caught up in the intellectual and revolutionary ferment of the May Fourth Movement. Mao moved from Hunan to Peking and worked briefly in the library of the University where he was introduced to the ideas of Marxism and revolution. Although he was not a student at Peking University he expended his energies on reading, writing, and talking about revolution. By the time he was 27, Mao was already a seasoned nationalist who now gravitated towards ideas of socialism. Earlier in my visit to Shanghai in August of this year I had visited the place where Mao had attended the first session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai in 1921. Two years later when he was only 29, he was elected as one of the five commissars of the Central Committee of the Party during the third Congress session.
This is not the place to spell out the details of the life of Mao and the evolution of the Chinese Communist Party, from the period of the Long March, the struggles against the Kuomintang, the anti-imperialist wars and the eventual victory in 1949. Last week I reflected on the anti-imperialist war and the impact of the Japanese invasion. Suffice to say, it was Mao, from the humble peasant background of Shoashan, who emerged as the leader of the party and led China from 1949-76. There are still deep differences on the exact meanings of the initiatives of Mao such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
Inevitably, as we moved from place to place, the full implications of the long career of Mao as a revolutionary leader came up in the discussion. There are varying opinions with the emphasis of the ‘mistakes’ of Mao when he became the leader of the Party. For some there is an elaborate formula on whether he was 50 per cent good and 50 per cent bad, or whether he was 20 per cent good and 80 per cent bad. It became apparent in small discussions, that the degree to which his ‘mistakes’ outweighed his contribution, depended on whether there was support for the idea of building a socialist project in China, a mixed market socialism or simply a recomposition of capitalism. For the Marxists from the Party school, the confusion about the place of Mao was most evident. The official line about market socialism and prosperity had taken such deformed paths that one could not have a clear discussion on the real challenges facing the building of a society with the real implications of financialisation and militarism in the midst of a capitalist depression. Whatever the balance sheet, there is universal agreement that Mao’s idea of a cultural revolution had been an unmitigated disaster for the Chinese people.
The cult of the personality that had been fostered by some elements in thepParty shut down serious debate and for those Africans who were following, the ideas of Mao on Soviet Social Imperialism had implications in the foreign policy area leading to opportunists such as Jonas Savimbi proclaiming himself as a follower of Mao in opposition to the MPLA because the MPLA received support from the-then Soviet Union. One other major discussion that continues to rage is the real meaning of the impact of Stalin on the Bolshevik Revolutionary project and the relationship between Stalinism and Mao ZeDong’s thought.
Today, there are still avid Maoists in Nepal and parts of India. Some of these Maoists are waging legitimate struggles but the era of debate of revolutionary struggle has diminished considerably. As an avid reader of Mao back when we were growing up in the 1960s, I consumed voraciously the ideas of Mao, especially his essays ‘On Democracy,’ ‘On contradictions’ and his ideas about ‘Protracted War’. If one were to go back to read and reflect on these writings, it is most important to place these writings within the state of knowledge of the world at that time. Because China was basically a poor peasant society, the complex writings were broken down into simple maxims in the Little Red Book and there was for some the reverential attitude toward Mao as if he were a super human.
Undoubtedly, Mao had weaknesses and there are those who will highlight these, but for younger people, it is important to study the works and ideas of Mao Ze Dong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Amilcar Cabral and the other great revolutionaries of the 20th century. Today in the new period of revolutionary change it is urgent to study the meaning of revolution and the idea that ‘A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another’.
The new revolutionary moment in world history is testing the idea that revolution must be an act of violence. In this era, there are now protracted revolutionary struggles that will not go away and one can interrogate Mao’s dictum that, ‘Every just, revolutionary war is endowed with tremendous power and can transform many things or clear the way for their transformation.’
I would exchange the word war for movement today to say that every revolutionary movement is endowed with tremendous power and can transform many things or clear the way for their transformation.
CLEARING THE WAY FOR TRANSFORMATION
Since the revolution in 1949, Chinese society has been going through the zigs and zags and twists and turns of a society that has undergone revolutionary change. One fundamental outcome out of these struggles has been a rise in the standard of living of the ordinary Chinese. Every international body has acknowledged that under socialism, China has lifted the largest number of persons out of exploitation and ‘poverty.’ The elements of raising the standard of living include near universal access to primary education and free education for all levels in society, up to university, seeking to ensure universal housing, abolishing unemployment and inflation, increasing health care access, and dramatically raising life expectancy.
The debate of Chinese rise and economic transformation is raging in all parts of the world but I am partial to the interventions of Samir Amin who has studied the impressive growth of China. In an essay on Post-Maoist China, Amin noted:
‘Without the achievements and foundations of the Maoist period, the contemporary miracle would have been unthinkable. Besides, it is precisely because India has not undergone similar reconstructions, in spite of being far more capitalist and open to the world order than China, that it has not fared so well and continues to fail to do so at all the levels in terms of efficiency as well as in terms of social justice or independence.’
Samir Amin is communicating to a younger generation that whatever the direction of China, it cannot escape the achievements and foundations of the Maoist period. Indeed, one could see both the achievements in the impressive infrastructure of China today as we travelled the next day from Changsha to Lake Dongting, the second largest Lake in China. The Lake itself is a beehive of activity and the traffic between the Lake and the Yangtze River with the massive coal industry using this artery brought home the realities of the kind of pollution of the rivers and water supply system in China. One of the fundamental challenges of Chinese society is to transform this fossil fuel economy to the new green economy.
As we travelled on the bus back to Shangsha, there was a discussion on why the Left in Europe has been decimated by neoliberalism and the post-modern trends.
Old-style Marxist ideas of the ‘development of the productive forces’ and industrialisation have found fruition in China, even with the new directions on ‘reform’ that were offered by Deng Xiao Ping. The current global crisis, including the financial and environmental crisis is clearing the way for new transformations. One direction could be seen in the content of the new White paper on Climate Change that was put out on November 22. The party leadership continue to hide behind the statistics that on a per capita basis, the average Chinese emits just 3.5 tonnes of CO2 per year, whereas Britons emit nearly 10 tonnes and North Americans 20 tonnes each. What these statistics cannot communicate is that the Planet Earth cannot support 7 billion people emitting one ton of CO2 per year.
China’s climate change efforts are on paper laudable, but there is an inherent contradiction between the ideas expressed in the White paper on Climate Change and the current rush to industrialise and modernise China in the image of North America and Western Europe. The impressive research and investment in alternative energy resources places China in a commanding position to beak from the fossil fuel trap. Indeed, with the present energy mix in the society with massive application of solar technologies, China is in a position to take off in a new direction when the people are mobilised to beak from party dogmas about harmonious development and peaceful rise.
LEARNING FROM THE DEBATES
In this moment of revolution and great possibilities in the 21st century, the energy revolution will speed up the possibilities for transformation beyond capitalism. China is at present the anchor of a dynamic East Asia region. After visiting the old magnificent architecture of the Yueyang Lou tower on the lake, we discussed at great length the military triggers that are everywhere present in this depression There was agreement that President Obama’s speech on the deployment of US troops in Australia was an unnecessary provocation that is being dressed up under the so called Trans Pacific Partnership. Undoubtedly, there are many of the neighbours of China who have become nervous about the rapid rise of China but the main challenge for the people of Asia will be to test and engage the Chinese on the precise meanings of ‘harmonious and peaceful development.’
Africans can learn a lot not only from China, but also from the rest of East Asia. The principal lesson is that none of these societies have been able to lift the standard of living of the people without clear and strong intervention by the state to direct resources. These Asian societies eschewed the crude and vulgar ideas of neoliberal capitalism, and even if they followed a capitalist path, insisted on following paths consistent with their cultural realities. Mao Zedong was a leader who had embarked on a socialist project. Those sections of the political leadership who opened up to the West so that China became a reservoir of cheap labour are now faced with the daily information of the deepening depression and the rise of conservative and semi-fascist individuals and parties all over Europe. There is still a left section of Chinese society and it is my view that the trip to the birthplace of Mao was embedded in that ongoing debate on the paths for China in the 21st century.
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* Horace Campbell is professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. See horacecampbell.net. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’ and a contributing author to ‘African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions’. He is currently a visiting professor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Uganda: We need to guard against ethnic polarisation
My friend Angela has been an ardent supporter of Uganda’s opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party and has together with her husband vigorously campaigned for Dr Kizza Besigye and Jack Sabiiti in all the three past elections. But in a sudden twist of events, she met me last November and told me she had defected to the Museveni camp. Angela went ahead to accuse meof being President Museveni’s supporter Let him reign and thereafter his son and his grandson should takeover’, she said. Reason? She was exasperated by some elites from Buganda who travelled with her in a taxi and vowed to ruthlessly crush all westerners should Museveni quit power. When she reportedly said she has never supported Museveni, the other passengers reportedly told her to shut up. ‘We know you. You are all the same’, they charged.
I understand Angela’s exasperation with the anti-Museveni camp, especially those from outside western Uganda. I have personally been stigmatised, abused and suspected by my would-be allies because I hail from Ankole. However, I told her that that’s the most important reason why she should continue to strongly oppose Museveni and dissuade many other people from supporting him. But Angela rejected my reasoning.
WE ARE ALL LOSERS
And that is the gist of my article. To begin with, it’s amazing that, despite the fact that the most acerbic critics of the National Resistance Movement and Museveni are from the west, many non-westerners have not appreciated the fact that the west as a region has lost almost as much as the other regions during Museveni’s regime. During currency reform, all Ugandans lost 30 percent of their money; when banks were raided by the bush war fighters, all Ugandans lost; the adoption of structural adjustment programmes and the botched privatisation policy made all of us losers; and when cooperatives died, the Banyankole Kweterana also died. When the government sanctioned the increment of fees in public universities by up to 126 percent in August 2009, some Banyankole and Bakiga children dropped out of college.
Yet we have people who naively think that, when there are no drugs in the national referral hospital at Mulago, western region’s referral hospitals and other health centres there have drugs. That’s an illusion. There are people who naively think that all Bakiga and Banyankole (who by the way are like identical, if not Siamese, twins) have their children accessing state house scholarships; there are people who think that corruption is a project by the ruling NRM party aimed at enriching the westerners; there are also people who believe that all westerners that oppose Museveni are implanted into the opposition as spies. I know of some friends in Uganda Young Democrats (UYD), a youth wing of the Democratic Party, who used to think I was one such spy but I also know that many of the UYDs knew that I was genuinely opposed to injustice and that I cherished the principles of truth and justice – principles espoused by the Democratic Party.
On Monday, 14 November, I had a discussion with Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman Ibin Ssenkumbi and he told me: ‘As a person from Ankole, you even have a road paved up to your home; you went to Makerere University on government sponsorship; you are favoured and you shouldn’t criticise this government’. Sadly, that’s many Ugandans’ mentality. I never wanted to waste time refuting allegations that as westerners we are favoured. What I told him instead was that that’s exactly the reason why I criticise the establishment: it has divided Ugandans rather than unite us. I said I cherish justice, which entails social justice, economic justice and equal opportunity. I know as a social scientist equality is an ideal that is impossible to realise. But equality among equals is an ideal, a value that we must cherish and fight to realise. Equality among equals means, for instance, that all Ugandans should have access to quality education, quality healthcare and decent standards of living; they should also be equal before the law since they are all citizens. Equality among equals also means that if Nuwagaba, a son of peasants from Kanyabwanga and Bitereko in Busheny,i has a master’s degree, he should stand equal chances of getting opportunities as, say Francis Musinguzi Otafiire, a son of a minister. If they apply for a job, it should be given on merit. If there are two people with similar credentials who put in similar efforts at work, they should be paid an equal amount of money regardless of what departments they work for – that’s equal pay for equal value of work.
Equality among equals means that scholarships should also be given on the basis of merit and need. But shockingly, in Uganda scholarships are given to ministers’ children and foreigners. You well know that we have an ethnic group known as Banyarwanda in Uganda. When the Banyarwanda of Uganda go to Rwanda, they remain Banyarwanda and when those from Rwanda come to Uganda they become Ugandans. And we have many Banyarwanda getting state house scholarships. Recently, a young man found me in some Makerere university professor’s office and bragged about how he was not bothered with tuition because he was on a state house scholarship. After his departure, the professor asked me: ‘What is this, that you people fail to raise fees when our taxes are used to pay fees for Rwandans?’ These developments annoy Banyankole, Bakiga, Banyoro and Batooro as much as they annoy all other Ugandans. It’s morally repugnant and politically imprudent that we westerners can be targeted for stigma just because of our region. In any case, we didn’t apply to be westerners.
PIECE OF ADVICE
I have a word for those who make inflammatory statements about westerners that they will ‘crush them’. Please be reasonable. All Ugandans are very accommodative people and I must say the Baganda have accommodated all Ugandan ethnic groups, including foreigners. The elites shouldn’t debase themselves by fanning ethnic sentiments. We must advocate individual responsibility for individual actions. If President Museveni or my area MP Otafiire wronged anyone, what does it have to do with me? Is it criminal to come from the same region with the president and other political rulers?
While studying the unification of Germany and Italy, I learnt that Germany and Italy had similar problems and had to adopt similar means to solve them. Likewise, Ugandans face similar problems of poverty, graduate unemployment, corruption, a collapsed healthcare system, a disoriented education system, an unjust and selective criminal justice system, meagre wages for workers resulting into the phenomenon of the working poor, and general misery instead of general happiness. We can only solve these ills by focusing on things that unite us rather than those that divide us. Let’s focus on things over which we have control such as ideological paradigms not those over which we cannot have control, such as ethnicity. We must preach and practise love, unity, justice, transparency, honesty and brotherhood. Lyandro Komakech and Opobo Wilfred from Acholiland helped me so much while at campus; Asuman Basalirwa has always been there for me when the state attempted to dump me in Luzira Prison; Livingstone Sewanyana gave me a job that helped me pay for my masters’ degree. So many Acholi, Iteso, Karamajong, Baganda and Basoga have been there for me. Likewise Banyankole, Bakiga, Batooro, Banyoro, etc have stood by me. I don’t think they do that because I am from their region but because I am a human being entitled to human dignity. We should harness our cultural and ethnic differences to enrich our society. Why can’t we advocate intermarriage and ensure a great mix of Ugandans?
Finally, to Angela and all my brothers and sisters from Ankole, Kigezi, Mpororo, Tooro, Bunyoro and Bukonzo, if we support Museveni we will only postpone the danger but will make it real at any time. Accordingly, we should be at the vanguard of opposing NRM’s injustices. I am sure before Museveni, Uganda was not so polarised along ethnic lines. We had many northerners and easterners studying in the west, westerners studying in the north, and that enhanced social and political cohesion in spite of cultural diversity. From my own district of Bushenyi during President Obote’s regime, we had five ministers and other key government figures. Tell me any single district outside western Uganda with three ministers. Surprisingly, those ministers hardly help us as westerners they only endanger us. When Obote lost power, the Luo suffered; when Amin lost power the Kakwa and Nubians reportedly suffered. We as westerners shouldn’t suffer after Museveni has lost power. We can forestall the suffering when we distance ourselves from him as his government commits atrocities. For God and my country!
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* Vincent Nuwagaba blogs at www.vnuwagaba.blogspot.com. He can be reached via email at mpvessynuwagaba[AT]gmail.co.ug
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
We are still here
Occupy Cape Town attempts to decolonise Thibault Square
On 28 October, the Mail & Guardian published a critical reflection I wrote on our first attempt at building an Occupy Cape Town movement. This piece, titled ‘Why are some 'occupiers' more equal than others?’, attempted to engage our organising practices and the manner in which we attempted to inspire South Africans to join this worldwide movement against inequality and oppression by the ‘1%’ of people who politically and economically control the rest of the world.
A number of the occupiers who read my article not only flat-out disagreed with what I had to say, but they were also particularly upset that I chose to ‘go public’ with the criticism. They believed that it would undermine the movement we were attempting to build.
However, many of those who have remained involved in Occupy Cape Town, and have participated in our actions on a weekly basis, have taken such constructive criticism to heart.
Moving forward, there has been a shift from attempting to speak for other people's struggles towards speaking first and foremost for ourselves as people who are every day experiencing a broken, upside-down world.
In the past few weeks, we have shifted our site of occupation from parliament's Company Gardens to another site of elitist power in Cape Town: Thibault Square.
Louis Michel Thibault (1750-1815) was a French-born South African architect, engineer and cartographer who played an important role in expanding the British presence in the Cape Colony. It is telling that the colonial government commissioned Thibault to survey land on the peninsula and organise it into land that was privately owned by Europeans and land that was to be the property of the colonial government. In doing so, Thibault was instrumental in not only building the most important buildings in this growing outpost of the British Empire, but also in the administrative and legalised dispossession of the Cape Peninsula from the native Khoisan who originally inhabited the space.
It is apt that this square that has been named after such an important figure of colonialism has also become a citadel of South African neo-colonial capitalism, hosting ABSA, FNB, Standard Bank, Engen, BP, and various other large corporations and foreign consulates.
Shifting our occupation to Thibault Square has also shifted our mindset from being interested in having a liberal ‘give peace a chance’ picnic orientation to a more serious occupation of privatised space - a political act that has often found itself on the wrong side of the law. While this has meant a significant drop in participants - particularly those from a privileged middle-class perspective - the movement has coalesced around an increasingly diverse and radicalised group of participants. We now realise that even though we are the 99 per cent, our oppression varies according to the extent of our privilege (or lack thereof). We can't merely assume solidarity with others. This solidarity must be negotiated as we simultaneously look inward and dismantle our own contribution toward the oppression of others.
Last Friday, 11.11.11 (a date which had a strange spiritual and cult-like significance to some), 100 or so people, mostly from areas such as Mannenberg and Mitchell's Plain, descended on Thibault Square to stage a colourful occupation and protest, complete with music and dance. The most diehard among us (about 20 activists) set up camp and remained in the square to occupy it through the night, attempting to maintain our occupation. Our relatively diverse group was joined by homeless residents of Thibault Square, with whom we connected in a shared desire to ward off the wrath of Central City Improvement District (CCID) security guards.
While the original purpose of our occupation was to say something about inequality, the big banks and the 1 per cent, the occupation quickly became a critique of the privatisation of public space by corporations. No longer was Thibault Square only a space for bankers and other working professionals to sit and have coffee. Nor was it only for well-funded organisations to fork out thousands of rand to rent out the square for the day. Now ‘the public’ -especially those among us who had no ‘business’ being there - could usurp the space for our own use.
At 4am, however, we were woken from our sleep and surrounded by security guards, who had called the police to remove us from the square. The police that arrived claimed that because we had fallen asleep we had violated a City of Cape Town bylaw and had to leave the square.
As we drove home that morning, my main concern was where our homeless comrades were going to sleep, as they too were removed from the square. One of the things I learned as an activist during that occupation was just how difficult the basic necessities of life are for the thousands of homeless people living on Cape Town's streets. Their only source of income is their everyday hustle on the streets of the CBD. Yet, they are not welcome here. They have no right to this city as they are not considered human enough to occupy public space. When they sit in Thibault Square, they are deemed ‘loiterers’ because they do not contribute financially to the businesses that control the space.
Comrades Colin and Mava, who joined us that evening at the occupation, told us about their nightly experiences of attempting to sleep in public space in the CBD: every hour or so the CCID security guards wake them up, harass them, sometimes beat them, and then tell them to move to a new sleeping location. Where were Colin and Mava, native Khoisans and amaXhosas, whose ancestors were dispossessed from their land in South Africa, meant to sleep after we had left for our homes?
Says John Holloway: ‘All rebellious movements are movements against invisibility…The first step in struggling against invisibility is to turn the world upside down, to think from the perspective of struggle, to take sides.’
Along with thousands of residents of Cape Town's CBD who live on the streets, Colin and Mava are invisible, even as they are forcibly moved around the nooks and crannies of the CBD.
Perhaps then, Occupy Cape Town is also becoming a movement about decolonising this city; about reversing the dispossession of Cape Town from its inhabitants and making visible those that become hidden between the skyscrapers. The more space becomes privatised in the CBD, the more we as people become invisible and the more we will find it necessary to reclaim our right to the city.
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* Jared Sacks is a Cape Town-based activist working with community-based social movements and the Occupy Cape Town movement.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
MINUSTAH out! Joint action for the sovereignty of Haiti
Resolution adopted by the Caribbean conference, 18 November 2011
We, the various trade unions, political and popular movements in the Caribbean including Guadeloupe, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Martinique, the United States of America, France and Haiti as well as representatives of Association of Workers and Peoples of the Caribbean (ATPC) and the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples' Rights, meeting in Cap Haitien on 16, 17 and 18 November 2011 following the introduction in September 2009 in Port- au-Prince International Commission of Investigation and Monitoring Committee to better understand and fight against the occupation suffered by Haiti for over seven years and look together for ways to end the occupation of MINUSTAH and adopt appropriate resolutions. During this conference, we have analysed and understood:
1 The consequences of the military occupation of Haiti and MINUSTAH shame is the ‘arm of imperialist domination’;
2 The need for a constant struggle against the presence of occupation forces, for the immediate departure of MINUSTAH and the restoration of full sovereignty of the Haitian people, which fight should be national but also international and Caribbean;
3 The need to build on the monitoring committee of the international commission of inquiry leading to the formation of a coherent national structure capable of carrying the fight to the end;
We have heard from fellow trade unionists, political groups and associations present at the conference evidence which allowed us to better understand the true policy of privatisation and development zones for the benefit of multinational workers requiring a plan of operations without the right to organise and without warranty office outside of legal norms and conventions of Haitian the International Labour Organisation (ILO). We also saw the destruction of domestic agricultural production to multinational corporations (for example, rice production). The coverage of food consumption needs of the Haitian people by the national agricultural production rose less than 25 percent within 20 years. We have also found the evidence of the exploitation of mineral resources across the country by foreign companies, which constitutes a serious attack on the sovereignty of the first independent black republic.
At this historic moment in the life of the Haitian people, on the occasion of the celebration of the commemorative date of the Battle of Vertières, we find that:
-The occupying forces of the United Nations are illegal and illegitimate;
-Many crimes are committed by agents of the MINUSTAH (hanging of the young Gerald Jean Gilles in the MINUSTAH base in Cap-Haitien, on sexual violence in Port Hi Johny John recently; without enumerating the many cases of rape exercised against girls, women and young Haitians);
-The Haitian people are stigmatised because of the spread of the epidemic of cholera, for which the military of the United Nations is solely responsible. The epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 7,000 Haitians and infected more people 500,000;
-The solidarity of the people against the occupation of Haiti is the essential tool that can advance the fight until the total liberation and final passing first by the immediate departure of MINUSTAH;
-The current Haitian government has shown no desire to seek the departure of MINUSTAH nor does it show any willingness to comply with Haitian law in the free zones, such as refusing to compel the owners of the zone to return CODEVI unionists fired for union activities;
-The IHRC, co-chaired by Bill Clinton (also chairman of the newly created Advisory Board by puppet President Joseph Michel Martelly) is a tool of international imperialism to make permanent the occupation of Haiti and deny democracy and sovereignty to the Haitian people
-More than 600,000 people (children, women, youth, older people) are still languishing in tents in dehumanizing living conditions nearly two years after the earthquake and are subject to threats and illegal evictions.
With these findings, in the spirit of the heroes of Vertieres, we adopt the resolutions as follows:
1 Make 1 June 2012, the eighth anniversary of the occupation of Haiti by the MINUSTAH, a real day of continental and international advocacy towards governments (primarily those directly involved in the occupation) to require the immediate departure of MINUSTAH. Thus, we endorse the commitment of the conference participants in Sao Paulo;
2 Justice and compensation for all victims of cholera in particular and all other crimes by MINUSTAH in general;
3 Development in Haiti and in all countries involved in the occupation of Haiti and more generally wherever possible wide committees and unit preparation for this day;
4 Strengthen the debates, exchanges between organisations that met at the conference;
5 - To help strengthen the national network of trade unions and popular movements, women's groups formed as part of the Monitoring Committee;
6 Contribute to the strengthening of the Association of Workers and Peoples of the Caribbean (ATPC) around the regular publication of its newsletter ‘Tribune Free Caribbean’ as a tool for discussion and information on current initiatives in the various countries and the establishment of effective coordination of CLTS provided at this stage jointly by the General Union of Workers of Guadeloupe (UGTG) and the Mouvman Nonm Travayè e Peyizan, press correspondents in each country in the Caribbean ;
7 We appeal to international democratic workers' movement to demand the reinstatement of two officials of the Union of Workers and Employees Free Zone Ouanaminthe SOFEZO-CODEVI and six (6) activists Sendika Ouvriye Tekstil Abiman ak (SOTA), unfairly dismissed for their union activities in Mills subcontracting in the metropolitan area;
8 We also call on the international democratic workers' movement to demand that the French government stop trade union repression in Guadeloupe particularly against the activists of UGTG;
9 We condemn all forms of repression directed against Haitian militant unionists;
10 We demand that light be shed on the disappearance of the student at the Faculty of Humanities Onald Augustus;
11 Information held in Algiers in an emergency conference against interference in the internal affairs of countries to defend the integrity and sovereignty of nations, we decide to support this conference which aims to meet ours;
12 We also demand the restitution of the independence debt imposed by France to the young republic of Haiti.
Live free or die! Nou pa pap peye DWE new!
For authentication: Robert Fabert Numa Guy; CLTS / Monitoring Committee Guadeloupe / Haiti
Haiti: SM, CATH, Antena Ouvriye, candles, Batay Ouvriye, Tet Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen, Tet Kole Oganizasyon Popilè yo, FRAKKA, KPN, FGPB, CMD-OD, MODOD, KRPN, APDNE, MPB, RPRC, KIWO / nodes, fpdns, KRNPSE, ODCM, OPGB, KPNA, SOEN, MODECADEC, KTTMA, OPAM, Sek Gramsci, AVS, RPS, Moja, OFALA, OPK, JPO, OPJL, SPPP, OFPS, AKP, Defenders Oppressed / Oppressed (DOP) FESEV, OPDHG, OJEPODEBL, APABET, MOPP, ASPPP, MRCP, ACREPH, OLAJEKA, SOFEZO-CODEVI, PTA, RHCS, FEMODEK, RHCS, OD4SS, SPPTCN, Morea, KPSKBM, JGA, OFDF, ODTR, MJDD.
Guadeloupe: COTA, General Union of Workers of Guadeloupe (UGTG) Mouvman Nonm, Travayè e Peyizan,
Trinidad and Tobago: OWTU (Official Trade Workers Union)
Martinique: worker-peasant alliance (PDO),
Dominique: National Workers UNID,
United States: Guadeloupe, Haiti United States Tour Committee,
France: Independent Labour Party / International Society of Workers and Peoples
Alain Philoctetes firstname.lastname@example.org
African folklore: Tradition and transformation
A review of 'The Uncoiling Python: South African Storytellers and Resistance'
Peter Wuteh Vakunta
Unlike some of his unimaginative peers who collect African folklore in order to imprison it, thus delimiting its potential implacability to literary thought, Harold Scheub takes cognizance of the fact that the import of collection is to make possible interpretation, which expands on the possibilities inherent in the primary (oral) texts. My fascination with oral literature led me to the reading of Scheub’s recent work on oral tales from Southern Africa. This book can be seen as a scholarly return to a study of the nexus between folklore and literary criticism. Using oral tales culled from various ethnic groups in South Africa (San or Bushmen, Zulu, Nguni, Swati, and Xhosa), Scheub establishes an interface between oral traditions and contemporary African literature.
He starts off by underscoring the seemingly insuperable challenges that transcribers of oral literature may face in the task of translating orality into the written word: ‘The problems for the translator of oral materials into the written form are enormous, some of them insurmountable except by extensive multimedia productions, and even then the impact of the original performance is diminished.’ (p.116) Scheub further points out that the task of developing literary correspondence for oral non-verbal artistic techniques are staggering, the more so because the translation of a single narrative performance involves profound transformations from the oral form to the written word.
He notes that the transcriber of oral traditions must not only be aware of the images developed on the surface of the story but also of the metaphorical connotations embedded in the oral narratives. Better yet, the transcriber must be sensitive to the aesthetic principles that guide the creation of the work, for as Scheub would have it ‘what might appear on the written page as an awkwardly conceived-of fragmented story may not be so regarded during its actual performance’. (p.118) In short, what initially appears as simply a matter of verbal equivalence may actually be that unique trope that the unwary translator would inadvertently bungle. Scheub resorts to the trope of ‘the uncoiling python’ to adumbrate some key features of South African oral performance.
He observes that the uncoiling python is a reference to those traditions that are necessary for the survival of autochthonous people. When traditions are broken, he posits, society as a whole is broken. The storyteller arrests time and brings the audience into the presence of history, the heart and substance of the culture. Storytelling is, therefore, not a memorised art: ‘Oral performers take images from the present and wed them to the past and in that way the past regularly shapes our experience of the present.’ (p.105) In short, storytellers are the repositories of the memories of the people.
Reference to the Xhosa story titled ‘The Magician’s Daughter’ (p.135-141), Scheub notes that the uncoiling python in this particular case is an allusion to the tradition of the youth, a tradition that, with the allied force of nature, deals with that intrusive force in the lives of adolescents. The snake’s significance becomes evident in tales in which the python is used as a symbol of transformation - of the transition of young people from childhood to adulthood. The python is the poetic image of rebirth. As Scheub puts it, ‘In the praises of kings and other significant figures, this is a common image…’ (p.2)
The metaphor of the uncoiling python is not the exclusive preserve of Xhosa storytellers. Scheub observes that Nguni narratives are the means whereby a people become uncoiling pythons. In his own words, ‘the word poetically evokes the…symbol of rebirth, as is evident in a series of stories performed by Nguni people of Southern Africa.’ (p.119) Oral stories are not obvious preachments; they are much more complex, some serving as tools of resistance. Scheub states that ‘as major means of combating the racist system of apartheid, they were, for 350 years, splendidly effective. These stories were the force within the uncoiling python.’ (p.206) The uncoiling python becomes the poetic image of the slowly uncoiling resistance to what was transpiring in South Africa during the apartheid era.
‘The Uncoiling Python: South African Storytellers and Resistance’ is fascinating in many respects but the aspect that grabs the attention of the reader most firmly is Scheub’s discourse on the social functions of African folklore. Oral tales encapsulate the most deeply felt emotions of the people whose lives are mirrored in the stories. Stories show us the way to wholesomeness. They chronicle our way in the world, log the trajectory as we make life’s corrections and move through our personal and national rites of passage. During the momentous rites of passage - birth, puberty, marriage, death - and all of the other crises that erupt in life, storytellers are there to provide imaged explanations and emotional cushioning. In other words, the stories become our means of making those corrections in movement through our life cycles. They are the mirrors of our nature, the guardians of our ideals, the means whereby we find our connections.
The stories that make up the corpus in ‘The Uncoiling Python: South African Storytellers and Resistance’ take us into the innermost recesses of our souls and, by means of their luminous images, cast soul-shattering light into our deepest and most secret places. As Scheub would have it, ‘storytelling chronicles our great transformations and helps us to undertake periodic transfigurations’. (p.198) At the explosive centre of the storyteller’s art can be found our most profound hopes and dreams, the quintessence of life. Oral tales create a continuum from the past to the present. Scheub postulates that ‘it is the task of the storyteller to forge the phantasmagorical images of the past into masks of the realistic images of the present, thus, enabling the performer to pitch the present to the past, to visualize the present within a context of and, therefore, in terms of the past.’ (p.201)
A number of salient themes constitute the matrix on which Scheub’s appreciation of South African oral tales is anchored. The concept of humanism is a leitmotif in all the stories revisited in this book. Scheub contends that ‘storytelling contains the humanism of the people, keeps them and their traditions alive despite life’s vicissitudes’. (p.198) The theme of reconciliation is also ubiquitous in the stories analysed by Scheub, who underscores the fact that these stories reflect ‘the way we remember, the way we make judgments’. (p.196) And perhaps, because they touch the heart, the stories ‘point the way to forgiveness and understanding’. (p.196)
In the Xhosa story ‘The House with Seven Heads’ (p.166-180) Scheub broaches the theme of cohabitation of good with evil. Interestingly, this story is the narrative of the struggle between benevolent and malevolent forces in action. The question that begs to be asked in the reading of this story is whether Sathana’s daughter is a harbinger of good or evil. This existential question is posed consistently throughout the narrative in a bid to underscore the theme of duality in the community of humans.
The theme of transmutation weaves through this book. The oral stories of the San and Nguni people of Southern Africa are essentially constructed around the theme of transformation. Scheub points out that constant reference to transformation sheds light on the way the people of the region survived the onslaught of colonialism. The retelling of the oral tales of the people serves as an indication of the way they withstood the humiliations of the colonial administration.
San myths deal with the transformation of humans into birds or beasts. Scheub notes that ‘the majority of San myths…have to do with the origin of and differentiation between men and animals…’ (p.49) The transformation activity occurs as one character becomes another. At the core of these stories is transmutation, the essential metaphorical movement. ‘That movement runs a gamut in these stories from realistic to mystical’ (p.35), to borrow words from Scheub. In the story by Kholekile (p.20-24), the transition deals with the ritual movement from childhood to adulthood, with the two sisters representing the two sides of the equation. The fantasy level of this tale is the movement of Mambakamaqula from snake to human. In the story by Lydia umkaSethemba (p.24-31), the transformation of Mamba from snake to human is a mirror of the girl’s passage from adolescence to womanhood.
Scheub sheds ample light on the importance of historicity in the oral narratives that constitute the bull’s eye in his book. The interplay of history and story has been a pulse through time. The one informs the other; the one is composed of shards of the other and then is developed into a fictional metaphor of the other.
In a nutshell, ‘Scheub’s The Uncoiling Python: South African Storytellers and Resistance’ is yet another tour de force accomplished by a literary virtuoso. Written with a certain gusto and savoir-faire, and reveling in hermeneutics and explication, Scheub’s book offers readers new prisms through which to perceive and appreciate oral literature from Africa. What he has accomplished is to unravel the mysticism that surrounds the trope of the uncoiling python in South African oral narrative. This book is a treasure trove of information for both the casual and the experienced reader. It is undoubtedly a fascinating work to read.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Harold Scheub’s 'The Uncoiling Python: South African Storytellers and Resistance' is published by Athens: Ohio University Press (ISBN 978-0-8214-1922-9).
* Dr Vakunta is professor of modern languages at the US Department Defense Language Institute in California. He is the author of numerous books including ‘Cry My Beloved Africa: Essays on the Postcolonial Aura in Africa’ (2007), ‘No Love Lost’ (2008), ‘Ntarikon’ (2009) and ‘Indigenization of Language in the Francophone Novel of Africa: A New Literary Canon’ (2011). He blogs at http://www.vakunta.blogspot.com
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Egypt: Footage from November 19 – 22
People ferry the wounded to hospital by motorcycle; a man in riot gear beats a crowd with what looks like a chair; a lifeless body is dragged out of the middle of a road; a morgue is filled with bodies. This amateur footage from pulsemedia.org shows protests between 19-22 November.
Mozambique: Video on female literacy
In Angola and Mozambique, if women are to improve their lives and escape poverty, they need to have access to quality literacy and education which are amongst others the key tools to participate in political, social and economic life. This Video Documentary shows an example of the work being done in the Female Literacy Angola and Mozambique Project- FELITAMO.
Zimbabwe: Hard times in Matabeleland
Nationally, Zimbabwe is more food secure at the end of 2011 than it has been for several years. However, parts of Zimbabwe suffered serious crop failure earlier this year and a million people are still predicted to need supplementary feeding. In Gwanda, Matabeleland South, the authors of this study by the Solidarity Peace Trust found that almost half of households indicated a day without food in the recent past.
Zimbabwe: Nuclear scare as Iran plans to share technology
In what has ignited strong fears of nuclear resource transfer between Zimbabwe and Tehran, the nuclear-power pursuing nation, Iran, has stated that it intends to share technology and scientific resources and expertise with the nation of Zimbabwe. This was revealed by the the Islamic Republic’s Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi in Tehran.
Egypt: Fighting against militarism
Human rights organisation statement on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
'Women in this second wave of the revolution are participating more, although it is more violent, they are challenging the protective circles that are built around them by the patriarchal society...On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women we are asking for your support to the Egyptian revolution, in its second wave, to move into a peaceful stage and continue our role in building our country and continue playing our role.'
Egypt: The nude revolution
Sophia Azeb comments on the blog Africa is a Country about the Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy in Egypt, who decided to post nude photos of herself on her blog to 'defy restrictions on freedom'. Responses from Egypt and the West were equally confused, Azeb writes, with the April 6 movement saying: 'The movement does not have any members who engage in such behavior and the girl is only an agent of State Security. They want to tarnish our image after our role during the revolution and the increasing support we get from the Egyptian people.' Meanwhile, the New York Daily News wrote that while placing provocative pictures on the Web rarely raise eyebrows in the West, in an increasingly conservative Egypt what Elmahdy did was an unprecedented act of defiance. 'Oh brother,' writes Azeb, 'Doesn’t anyone watch Egyptian music videos anymore?'
Global: Gender and torture report
Torture has been widely viewed in the past in terms of pain and suffering inflicted on a person – usually assumed to be male – in the custody of the state. However, this narrow understanding excludes many forms of severe pain and suffering deliberately inflicted on women and girls. This report summarizes a two-day conference on the gender dimensions of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Global: Mapping violence against women
Marking International Day Against Violence Against Women, Take Back the Tech! has launched an online map to document stories and experiences of women and girls who face violence online. Visit the website to find out more.
South Africa: Offensive tweets draw ire from social media landscape
Condom brand Durex has issued a hasty apology over an offensive, misogynist tweet apparently sent out by their public relations company on Friday. Blog memeburn.com breaks down the various reactions to the controversy over the tweets, which came just before the launch of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. The post quotes from another blog, FeministsSA: 'It’s sad though that Durex’s actions were able to bolster the opinions of those who already thought that using your penis to shut someone up is not rape, and to give them a small semblance of credence. I hope that everyone realises that in the first place, the sentiment that women need to be shut up at all is only valid or valuable in an extremely sexist society.'
Uganda: Midwife speaks to current health needs in
The facts in much of Uganda and Sub-Saharan Africa present a harsh reality: only 28 per cent of all health centres have the required supplies and equipment to offer basic emergency obstetric care, while 32 per cent of hospitals in the districts have the supplies, equipment and staff to offer patients caesarean sections. Challenges for midwives with transportation, improper or non-functional medical equipment and lack of doctors and supporting medical staff are ongoing, says this article, which profiles a dedicated Ugandan midwife.
Zimbabwe: Women whose names do not appear on title deeds face hardships
Women whose names do not appear on title deeds face hardships in Zimbabwe. The legal situation is such that husbands whose names appear on the title deeds can sell the immovable property to the detriment of the wife. The law only 'intervenes' at death in terms of the inheritance laws that state that the immovable property goes to the surviving spouse. Upon divorce, the immovable property is shared equitably using the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act. Women and Law in Southern Africa and the Property and Inheritance Rights Network of Zimbabwe has prepared a position paper for submission to the Law Development Commission.
Burundi: 300 killed by death squads, rights group claims
Government-backed death squads have killed more than 300 members of Burundi’s former rebel group and opposition supporters in covert operations over the past five months, a rights group said. The group, Government Action Observatory, a coalition of civil society groups, said the Central African country’s regime and its proxies have waged a systematic campaign of extrajudicial killings against the former rebels, who went back to the bush after pulling out of 2010 polls over fraud claims.
Egypt: Tear gas used in Egypt causes liver, heart damage, miscarriages
The tear gas being employed by the Egyptian military and police in the past 48 hours, beyond being expired for at least five years, according to canisters obtained by Bikyamasr.com, cause severe pulmonary damage, as well as causing damage to the heart and liver. It is also reported to increase the risk of miscarriages, according to international studies of the substance, known as CR gas. A lethal does can be inhaled within minutes if in a poorly ventilated area. The US company producing the gas refused to respond to Bikyamasr.com requests for information.
Egypt: UK firm denies 'cyber-spy' deal with Egypt
A UK firm offered to supply 'cyber-spy' software used by Egypt to target activists, the BBC has learned. Documents found in the headquarters of the country's security service suggest it was used for a five-month trial period at the end of last year. Hampshire-based Gamma International UK denies actually supplying the program, which infects computers with a virus that bugs online voice calls and email.
Equatorial Guinea: Reforms ring hollow ahead of summit
Latin American and African dignitaries gathering in Equatorial Guinea for a cross-regional meeting should press their host, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasago, on his human rights record, EG Justice and Human Rights Watch said. This ahead of a Africa-South America Summit that took place between 22-25 November 2011.
Ethiopia: Man sets himself on fire in protest against government
An Ethiopian man has died from his injuries after he set himself on fire in a protest against the government following mass arrests of youths from his local area. Residents of Dawro area in south west Ethiopia said 29-year-old school teacher Yenesew Gebre poured flammable petroleum distillate Benzine on his body in front of the local government building in Waka town on 11 November, dying three days later in hospital.
Libya: Ex-rebels hold 7,000 detainees, says UN chief
Libya's former rebels are holding some 7,000 detainees, many of them sub-Saharan Africans, without access to due legal process after the country's civil war, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a new report. Ban cited reports that some detainees had been tortured, that some people had been targeted because of their skin color, that women were held under male supervision without female guards and that children were being detained alongside adults.
Libya: Libya and the ICC: What Next?
It has now been confirmed that the two remaining Libyan suspects wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi, have been detained by national authorities. What happens now? Under international law, Libyan officials are required to surrender the two suspects to The Hague. However, members of the Transitional National Council (TNC) have stated their intention to hold the two accused in custody for trial in Libya. Resolving this apparent clash of jurisdictions will be the first and critical step for the new Libyan regime in demonstrating their commitment to international justice, says this Open Society blog post.
Nigeria: Niger Delta still unstable despite amnesty
Two years after the Nigerian government granted amnesty to militants fighting mainly for development and job opportunities in the oil-rich Niger River Delta, violence has diminished, and oil revenues - which dropped at the height of the conflict - have increased. But analysts argue that the amnesty programme is flawed and will not lead to long-term peace. In the delta, former fighters are picking up their guns again, and resentment brews among those not included.
Uganda: Compensation to Acholi war claimants not enough
While the payment of compensation to 30,000 Acholi war claimants is welcomed after two years of waiting, further reparations are required for victims of the northern Uganda conflict, says this article form Uganda's Monitor newspaper. 'Providing compensation to 30,000 victims only represents the tip of the iceberg...Others suffered from mutilation, abductions, killings, torture and looting committed by both the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the UPDF. Yet, for all this suffering, victims have received little or no reparations for their harm or loss, leaving many impoverished and suffering from the physical and psychological harm as well as economic loss without any redress.'
Africa: Refugees in Italy live in poor conditions, says report
Refugees in Italy - both asylum seekers, as well as those who already have obtained a protection status - live largely in absolute misery and homelessness. Most of them are ejected from the Italian basic accommodation system for asylum seekers after a maximum of six months and end up without any assistance to speak of.
CAR: More than 21,000 displaced by LRA violence, new OCHA map reveals
Widescale violence by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has forced more than 21,000 people to flee their homes in the Central African Republic (CAR), a new OCHA map reveals. Across Central Africa, including South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), CAR and Uganda, as many as 440,000 people are currently displaced by violent LRA activities. They range from killings, mutilations, abductions and sexual slavery, to the burning of houses and the looting of food and other commodities.
Côte d'Ivoire: Months after fleeing post-election violence, Ivorians begin return home
Hundreds of families who sought refuge from post-election violence in Ivory Coast at a church compound in the western town of Duékoué have started returning to their communities, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said in a statement. At the height of the violence in April up to 25,000 people were staying in and around the Catholic Mission in Duékoué, about 400 km west of Abidjan, which aid groups described as overcrowded and lacking the sanitation facilities to host such a population. Security improvements in western Ivory Coast have encouraged many displaced persons to consider returning to villages, with many families excited at the prospect of returning home, IOM said.
Egypt: Egypt to deport 118 Eritreans
Egyptian authorities will deport 118 Eritrean refugees currently detained by Cairo, officials said. A lobby group, the Eritrean Refugee Solidarity Movement coordinator, Mr Muse Bahremariam, told AfricaReview.com that the Eritreans had been detained as a prelude to their being handed over to Asmara, in disregard to the international human rights conventions.
Ethiopia: Cautionary migration tales are no deterrent
Ethiopians are on the move. Not only are more rural people relocating to towns and cities, but the number of Ethiopians leaving the country has also ballooned in the last few years. Many are trying to reach Saudi Arabia via Yemen, while thousands of others head for South Africa, Israel and Europe, crossing deserts and seas and placing their lives in the hands of smugglers who often have little regard for their well-being.
South Sudan: Yida refugees feel left out in the cold
Thousands of civilians who fled conflict in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan across the border into the new country of South Sudan continue to face insecurity and a reduced humanitarian presence following a bombing raid, according to the refugees and aid workers. Some 23,000 ethnic Nuba are staying at a site in Yida, just a few kilometers from the border, which came under aerial bombardment on 10 November. The Sudanese armed forces were widely blamed, but denied responsibility.
Zimbabwe: Deportees stretching capacity
Zimbabwean Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede has told Parliament’s committee on home affairs that deportations of Zimbabweans from South Africa and Botswana were stretching his department’s capacities, forcing it to operate seven days a week. Mudede said his staff now worked long hours to process documents for deported citizens. He said his office was overloaded, even though last year staffers went to South Africa to document Zimbabweans without passports who sought permits to reside there.
South Africa: Floods, destruction and despair in the shacks
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Release
'Abahlali welcomes the world in our country, our province and in our city. We also welcome progressive delegates to our homes, our settlements and our flooded shacks. Last night after heavy rain some of our shack settlements were flooded leaving shack dwellers, stranded, hopeless and with all their belonging swept away through floods. We have had enough shack fires already. We have had enough rat bites. We have had enough electricity disconnection. We have had enough of being excluded from the rest of our society and today the storm, the full force of what extreme weather does to the poor, proves itself to the world during the first day of the Conference of the Parties.'
Monday, 28 November 2011
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Release
Floods, destruction and despair in the shacks
Abahlali welcomes the world in our country, our province and in our city. We also welcome progressive delegates to our homes, our settlements and our flooded shacks.
Last night after heavy rain some of our shack settlements were flooded leaving shack dwellers, stranded, hopeless and with all their belonging swept away through floods. We have had enough shack fires already. We have had enough rat bites. We have had enough electricity disconnection. We have had enough of being excluded from the rest of our society and today the storm, the full force of what extreme weather does to the poor, proves itself to the world during the first day of the Conference of the Parties.
Whose interests will this Conference of the Parties serve if the poor are outside busy dealing with effect of the floods which are the direct result of our vulnerability to bad weather in the shacks? How can the world begin these talks without going and experiencing the effect and the reality of how the change in climate will affect the people in Durban whose lives are already most precarious? This morning the rich woke up in their houses dry and safe while many poor people faced more disaster. Today it is clear that these talks will take us no where if they ignores the reality that those who will suffer the consequences of the change in climate the most are the poor. So, excluding the
poor in these talks will not help any of us.
The Quarry Road West settlement (kwaMamsuthu) in the Clare Hills, Clare Estate, is the shack community that has been most affected by the floods. Residents did not sleep last night having to watch how far the water level reached. It was unbearable to hear people screaming for help helplessly. At least around 300 people are busy searching for the remains of their belongings, clothing, furniture, food and even important documents that went flooded. Witnessing this was a heart sore. In Kennedy Road some of the shacks were flooded down at the little river in between the settlement. Abahlali fear that this rain may return in its full force and that this may only be a warning.
We are appealing to businesses, churches, NGOs and individuals who can lend their hand of support. Although Abahlali warns that this is not a minor issue that has only to do with charity. We have been struggling for years not to see such disasters not only in our life time but for our future generation. We are calling for the state and eThekwini Municipality to immediately start taking Abahlali seriously before it is to late, before they can regret.
For how many years must we keep saying that human beings cannot live in fire and floods, amongst giant rats and in the mud? For how many years must we keep saying that we are being forced to live in life threatening conditions everyday while millions and millions are spent on stadiums, airports, conferences and incredible salaries for the super-rich? For how long will our demand for our humanity to be recognised by treated as criminal and treasonous?
The rich have caused and are causing climate change but it is us, the poor, who will pay the greatest price. The rich, in South Africa and around the world, have to be called to order. Our safety depends on this.
For more information on the flooding in the Quarry Road settlement last night contact Mr Thulani Myeni on 072 8867544 or Mr Jali on 078 3675855.
For more information on flooding in the Kennedy Road settlement contact Miss Ma Felubala Maluleka on 073 2344281 or Busisiwe Gogo 078 1913021.
The Abahlali baseMjondolo Head Office can be contacted on 031 3046420.
South Africa: Occupations currently underway in Hillary, KwaMashu and Pinetown
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement
'As a movement we are struggling to build a society in which there is an economic system where human beings come before profit and a political system in which leaders take direction from below. We are struggling to build a society in which there will be a fair distribution of land and decent housing for all. But we are alive now, our children are growing now. We are living in the rain and with shack fires now. Therefore it is clear that we also have to take direct action to struggle for what land and housing we can get right now even as we continue the long struggle for a more democratic and just world.'
27 November 2011
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement
Occupations Currently Underway in Hillary, KwaMashu and Pinetown
We are human beings, not dogs, and every human being has a right to a decent home and a right, if they choose, to a place in the city. Economic, political and legal systems that deny these rights are a threat to our humanity and must be resisted. There is enough money and space in this world for every person to have a decent home. The problem is that the money and space are being held by the few to exclude the many. If the few continue to exclude the many then it is our responsibility to ourselves, our families and our communities to resist this oppression.
In South Africa the state uses violent demolitions and evictions to prevent poor people from developing land and building informal homes on our own. The economic system prevents those without money from buying or renting formal homes. The state promises formal houses to the poor but the number of people without houses is growing, most of the houses built by the state are unfit for human beings and in the rural peripheries of the cities. For some people the promise of a house has turned into the nightmare of forced removal to a transit camp.
We are in the middle of the Sixteen Days of Activism to end violence against women and children. Many conferences are being held. There are many discussions on television. Yet who will stand with the poor, with poor women and their children, when the state or private landowners send out the police or security guards to evict them, demolish their homes and steal their building materials? We do not see or hear from all these NGOs that are talking about the rights of women and children when the state and private landowners use violence to deny poor women and their children the right to a home.
As a movement we are struggling to build a society in which there is an economic system where human beings come before profit and a political system in which leaders take direction from below. We are struggling to build a society in which there will be a fair distribution of land and decent housing for all. But we are alive now, our children are growing now. We are living in the rain and with shack fires now. Therefore it is clear that we also have to take direct action to struggle for what land and housing we can get right now even as we continue the long struggle for a more democratic and just world.
Four weeks ago 77 people were evicted from the Valley View flats in Hillary. These flats are owned by SOHCO which is a social housing company. Social housing was set up to cover those who don't qualify for RDP houses but are too poor to qualify for bonds. It is called a 'public private partnership'. But the
private side of this arrangement has taken over the public side. Tenants are being exploited by paying rentals that will, over their lives, be worth much more than the value of the flats and those that are falling behind are being evicted. They remain unable to get RDP houses and unable to get housing through the market and are therefore being excluded from access to housing. Social housing is therefore failing and it will continue to fail until the alliance between the government and private investors looking to make private profit is abandoned and replaced with an alliance between the government and co-operatives of people needing housing.
Last night 50 of the evicted people returned to the flats to occupy them. The police succeeded in forcing them out again. Tonight they have returned to reoccupy the flats. If they are evicted again they will return tomorrow night.
Contact Details for the Hillary Occupation:
S'fiso: 079 818 1987
Nomfundo: 082 541 0855
The KwaMashu comrades were first evicted from eBhandeni, which was in Siyanda in KwaMashu in 2009. They were evicted by Nandi Mandela as a road was being built. It was said that the road was important for the 2010 World Cup and that the poor people would have to make way. They were never given alternative accommodation as demanded by the law and were just left homeless.
They have tried several times to engage with the councilor, Mr Lucky Mdlalose who has neglected them. After a long time of failing to get any help from the councilor they decided to occupy the vacant land which is next to the school called Thobile Primary School. On Wednesday last week the shacks that they had built on the land were demolished by people from the Municipality. The cars that there were driving had these number plates: NDM 6902, NDM 6903 and NDM 6999. The comrades were brave and they rebuilt their shacks the next day.
On Friday the municipality came with cars that had these number plates: NDM 6963 and NDM 6903. They demolished the shacks again and this time they also stole the people's building material. The community went to the police station to open a case of theft. The police refused to open a case but one police officer did call the councilor who responded by saying that as there is COP 17 coming the councilors have been given a mandate to make sure that no one is dirtying the community and that they must take care of the animals and nature. Later there was a debate on Vibe FM between the councilor and Bandile Mdlalose, the AbM Secretary General. During that debate the councilor said that he would make arrangements for alternative accommodation but he has not contacted them. Around thirty people have now decided that on Monday morning they are going to occupy the KwaMashu community hall with their children as there were all made homeless by Nandi Mandela and then again by the Municipality and the Councilor is doing nothing to protect them. The occupation will start at around 7 a.m. Tomorrow.
Contact details for the KwaMashu Occupation:
Jabulile : 074 542 5939
Mama Mdlalose 073 501 4200
The eMmaus land occupation, in Pinetown, was founded in September 2010. These people had previously been evicted by the Mahogany Ridge 2 Property Owners' Association and before that by the Roman Catholic Church after it sold its land to industry. They had been left homeless after these evictions and needed a place to stay. Since then they have suffered more demolition and theft of their
building material. The Mahogany Ridge 2 Property Owners' Association has also put an electric fence around the occupation which is very dangerous for children. The land owners are currently trying to get the people evicted through the courts. AbM is fighting the case in the courts and on the 19th of
October 2011 the movement organised a mass march on the landlords in defense of the land occupation.
Contact details for the Pinetown Occupation:
Khanyi Dlamuka, eMmaus AbM Coordinator: 071 218 3007
It is clear that to many people in government, and to many rich people, the poor remain dirt, something to swept out of the cities. If housing is to be given to us it is housing that is unfit for human beings and will hide us away in rural human dumping grounds. In Durban our attempts to organise and struggle for land and housing have been met with serious and violent repression from the state and the ruling party. Neither the economic system nor the political system are working for the poor and therefore we will continue to struggle for justice. We invite all the comrades who are in Durban for the COP 17 meeting to come and show their solidarity for the occupations in Hillary, KwaMashu and eMmaus and for our struggle for the right to organise for land and housing and to be able to engage the state meaningfully.
For further comment contact Abahlali baseMjondolo at: 031 304 6420.
Zambia: Striking Zambian miners win back jobs and pay hike
Zambian miners ended a two week old strike for better pay in early November, winning back their jobs and a pay hike from a Chinese firm. Union officials said it was a sign that Chinese-owned companies in Zambia are starting to bow to government pressure over worker rights. Management at the Non-Ferrous China Africa locked out the workers who had gone on strike for a 100 percent raise from their base pay of $200 monthly. Zambia has seen a rash of strikes at Chinese and Indian-owned plants after newly-elected President Michael Sata proposed raising the minimum wage from the current rate of $84 a month.
Latest edition: emerging powers news roundup
In this week's edition of the Emerging Powers News Round-Up, read a comprehensive list of news stories and opinion pieces related to China, India and other emerging powers...
Uganda's Chinese, Indian, Somali Immigrants on the run
The East African nation claims that foreigners, particularly Somalis and Asians, moved to Uganda claiming they were large investors, yet they moved into "petty trade" depriving locals. This has seen several illegal immigrants going into hiding following the government's decision to arrest and deport them. The Foreign nationals are reportedly avoiding being seen in public after an official from the Ministry of Trade, Levi Adra said Ugandan traders had complained that they were losing business to illegal immigrants.
2. China in Africa
Congo Rep says China interested in economic zones
China has signalled it could help finance construction of the four special economic zones (SEZs) on which Congo Republic is banking to diversify its economy away from oil, the central African country said on Sunday. The four SEZ sites are due to be launched next year, and Congo has already charged Singapore Cooperation Enterprise to create feasibility studies for the projects.
CNMC making massive Zambia investment increase
The China Nonferrous Metal Mining (Group) Co Ltd (CNMC) plans to significantly increase its investment in Zambia, over the next few years, by the equivalent of what it has spent there over the past 12 years, according to a senior executive of the company. CNMC, one of the earliest Chinese companies in the non-ferrous metals industry to adopt a "go-aboard" policy, plans to make a nearly $2-billion investment in Zambia, during the 2011-2015 period, its vice-president, Tao Xinghu, said.
China seeks to invest USD 700 million into Zimbabwe mining sector
It is reported that as the Chinese appetite for natural resources continues to grow, Zambia’s neighbor, Zimbabwe has joined hands with various Chinese investors and secured loans worth more than USD 700 million who are interested in the extracting and processing of minerals in that country. Prince Mupazviriho permanent secretary of mines and mining development said while speaking in the aftermath of his recent visit to China that he and his delegation were overwhelmed by the enquiries from investors willing to invest in the country’s mining sector.
Chinese in diamond challenge to Harare
China's interest in Zimbabwe's alluvial diamond mining is posing a challenge to Harare. Zimbabwe last year said it would take over all alluvial diamond activities in the country. Savior Kasukuwere, the Minister of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment, said alluvial diamonds were the preserve of the state and "must benefit the people of Zimbabwe".
East Africa bloc looks to China for funding
The East African Community (EAC) has pleaded to China to invest in its infrastructural projects which it says require approximately $80 billion up to 2018. Secretary general Richard Sezibera said governments in the region were reforming in order to encourage private partnerships with the public sector targeting infrastructure development. He said during a visit of a delegation of China to the EAC headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania this week that the investment required for the dilapidated infrastructure cannot be raised in the region alone.
Chinese banking heavyweight opens Cape Town office
Standard Bank's 20% shareholder the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has expanded its presence in SA by opening a representative office in Cape Town. Launched on Thursday, the aim of the office was to strengthen ICBC's ties with Standard Bank and to deepen its understanding of the African markets in general, said ICBC chairman Jiang Jianqing. ICBC is one of China's big four state-owned banks and is the largest in the world in terms of profit and market capitalisation.
US diplomat tells China to act responsibly in Africa
The top US diplomat for Africa said Tuesday that China should act responsibly on the continent as it buys up African oil, gas and minerals to fuel its booming economy. Speaking after his return from US-China talks on Africa, Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said his message to Beijing is: "Act as a responsible player."
Ghana arrests 24 Chinese 'illegal' miners
Ghana’s Immigration Service (GIS) has ordered the arrest of 24 Chinese nationals for allegedly engaging in illegal mining activities, locally called ‘gallamsey’. GIS official Francis Palmdeti further said the 24 had entered the country illegally and had neither residence nor work permits. A profile of all of them showed they came from Guangxi Province of China.
3. India in Africa
India-Africa strategic dialogue begins Thursday
Months after the second Africa-India forum summit, a host of experts, academics and retired diplomats will gather here Thursday for a two-day conference that seeks to expand the strategic dialogue between two of the fast growing regions of the world and firm up a road-map for accelerating this crucial engagement. The conference, organised by defence ministry-funded think tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, will kick off Thursday with an inaugural address by M. Ganapathi, secretary (West) and the senior-most official in charge of Africa in India's external affairs ministry.
South Africa and India sign programme of cooperation
The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, signed a programme of cooperation with her Indian counterpart, the Minister of Science, Technology and Earth Sciences, Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, in Cape Town, on 13 November 2011. South Africa's science and technology relations with India were formalised through the signing of an agreement on scientific and technological cooperation in July 1995. The agreement is implemented through a programme of cooperation, which is renewed every three years. The first programme of cooperation was signed in March 2001 and the second in February 2008.
4. In Other Emerging Powers News
Brazil wants to consolidate partnership with Angola
The Brazilian minister of Development, Industry and External Trade, Fernando Pimentel, said Wednesday in Luanda that his country wants to continue to be an active partner in the development of Angola, in particular, and Africa in general. Speaking at the opening of the third edition of the exhibition dubbed "Brasil Casas Design", Fernando Pimentel said there are strong ties and friendship between Angolans and Brazilians.
Brazil has a US$5 billion credit line for Angolan mining and industry
The Angolan mining and industrial sectors stand to benefit substantially from the news that Brazil has a credit line for Angola of over US$5 billion, which may be increased if necessary, according to the country’s minister for development, industry and foreign trade.
SA backs Brics common currency plan
South Africa is backing plans for a single currency unit within the exclusive Brics grouping that the emerging giants could use to trade among themselves and circumvent the need for euro and dollar conversions. The idea, first mooted in April when South Africa joined Brazil, Russia, India and China as a member of the group, could cause consternation given the eurozone crisis, which has brought into question the wisdom of single monetary units not backed by a centralised fiscus.
On COP17 Climate Change Conference, Brazil Keeping The Faith
A signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, Brazil has its own set of national laws that bind the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in new, cleaner tech. The country’s ambassador for the UN Climate Change Conference, Luis Alberto Figueiredo Machado, said that the country feels no pressure to reduce carbon emissions to meet international Kyoto agreements. They’re going to meet those goals easily.
China urges progress on financing for $100 billion climate change fund
China is worried the financial crisis is draining contributions to a multibillion-dollar global warming fund but hopes basic financing to help developing countries deal with climate change can be hammered out this month. Delegates at a U.N.-sponsored climate change conference that starts Nov. 28 in Durban, South Africa, are to consider ways to raise $100 billion a year for the Green Climate Fund. Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission and China’s lead climate official, told a news conference in Beijing that some countries may not be able to pledge as much as originally planned but he hopes there will be progress in determining how the fund is allocated and managed in the long-term.
5. Blogs, Opinions, Presentations and Publications
Through Chinese eyes: He Wenping (Part 1)
Armed with your questions, Peter Martin and David Cohen from Sinocentric speak to the Director of African Studies at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, He Wenping.
Through Chinese eyes: He Wenping (Part 2)
China’s neutral approach outpaces West in Africa
One of the most talked about issues in the international development and commerce circles today is the rising role of China in Africa. With China and African countries announcing ever increasing areas of cooperation while consolidating engagements already in place, the West has been forced back to the drawing board. The question being asked in Western capitals is "Why and how has China overtaken us as the most preferred economic partner in Africa?"
Looking to Durban: China’s Climate Change Policy Progress Since Cancun
As its negotiators head to Durban, South Africa for the next round of the UNFCCC climate negotiations, China can point to significant progress in domestic climate policy since the Cancun negotiations a year ago. March, 2011 saw the adoption of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, binding domestically China’s first phase of its Copenhagen and Cancun commitments to reduce its carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020.
Cameroon: President must make reforms to avoid ‘Cameroon Spring’
Barely a few weeks after incumbent president Biya won another seven year mandate after 28 years in power, many Cameroonians would prefer to allow the dust to settle than to be drawn into worrying headlines, says this article posted on the www.africafiles.org site. The article highlights some concerns in a number of areas; the electoral process, socio-economic and regional tensions within the country which might push Cameroonians to street protest. Should Mr Biya listen?
Côte d'Ivoire: Ivorian parliamentary vote list closes without FPI
The list of candidates for Ivory Coast's parliamentary election closed on Monday with 1,182 candidates vying for 255 seats, but the former ruling FPI party boycotted the process, the election commission said. The FPI ran the country while leader Laurent Gbagbo was president from 2000 until earlier this year.
DRC: Election watch guide to aid civil society
The Election Watch from Idasa is designed to aid civil society groups in the DRC and the region in holding governmental institutions accountable and ensuring a free and fair election. The Election Watch is based on the SADC principles and guidelines for conducting elections. It holds countries to the standards that they originated and agreed to abide by as members of the regional community.
DRC: Voting begins
Voting is under way across the Democratic Republic of Congo where presidential and legislative elections are expected to provide a stern challenge to President Joseph Kabila's leadership. More than 31 million people are eligible to vote on Monday in the country's second elections since the end of the conflict-stricken country's devastating war in 2002, with some 19,000 candidates competing for 500 legislative seats, while 11 candidates are vying for the presidency.
Egypt: Elections begin; activists wear black
Millions of Egyptians are expected to head to voting polls Monday, in Egypt’s first parliamentary elections since the uprising that toppled the former Hosni Mubarak regime earlier this year. A sum of 70 people died and over 3,000 were injured in fighting leading up to the poll. Protesters demanded an end to military rule and a transition of power to civil elected authority. The week long protests brought down the cabinet.
Gambia: Jammeh wins disputed elections
Gambia's election commission has declared incumbent President Yahya Jammeh winner of elections, paving the way for him to begin a new five-year term in the West African country. Jammeh, who has been in power for 17 years, scored a landslide 72 per cent victory, according to results read out on Friday by Alhagie Mustapha Carayol, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission. The vote was regionally criticised as it was marred by intimidation of voters and the opposition.
Kenya: Outrage over $13m payout plan for Kenya MPs
Kenyan MPs will pocket $13.3 million (Sh2.1 billion) if elections are held in August next year. The payout, described as 'immoral' by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), will be compensation for having their terms, in the view of some, cut short. Each MP will be paid $88,600 (Sh8 million) for each of the eight months they will be asked to 'forfeit' if the election is held in August as stipulated in the Constitution, as well as the $11,100 (Sh1.5m) 'winding up allowance' they voted themselves.
Madagascar: Former president back from nine-year exile
Former Madagascar President Didier Ratsiraka has arrived home from a nine-year exile in France. His return follows the formation of a a unity government in the crisis-hit Indian Ocean island nation. Mr Ratsiraka, 75, has lived in luxurious villa in Paris since 2002 and took part in talks to end the political crisis that has gripped Madagascar since 2009. However, members of his party refused to sign the roadmap to new elections put forward by mediators from the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), pointing out that they could not take part in any political process until their 'chief' returned from France.
Malawi: Bingu dodges Zambia-Malawi diplomatic stand-off
President Bingu wa Mutharika failed to give a comprehensive answer on the diplomatic stand-off between Malawi and Zambia arising from a 2007 deportation of Zambia’s President Michael Sata when he was opposition leader then. The Head of State accused journalists in the country of concentrating on backbiting and gossiping instead of concentrating on developmental issues. Ruling party functionaries booed journalists at the press conference and some intimidated them.
Morocco: Islamic party wins Morocco parliamentary vote
The Party of Justice and Development (PJD), a moderate Islamic party has taken a resounding victory in Morocco's parliamentary elections, Taib Cherkaoui, the country's interior minister, has announced. Cherkaoui told a press conference on Saturday that PJD had won 80 seats from 288 seats announced out of the 395 up for grabs in the nationwide vote. That is nearly double the 45 seats won by Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi's Independence Party which finished second and has headed a five-party coalition government since 2007.
Nigeria: Removal of fuel subsidy, not a solution to challenges facing Nigeria, says labour
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has said the removal of fuel subsidy will not address the numerous challenges facing the country. Issa Aremu, the vice president of the NLC, made this known in Abuja at a ceremony organised by an NGO, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. He listed the non remittance of tax by multinational companies operating in the country, crude oil theft, the petroleum income bill pending before the National Assembly and the issue of local content as some of the problems facing the country.
DRC: State mining company refuses to release info on contracts
Gecamines, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state-owned copper miner, rejected a directive by the government and International Monetary Fund to publish its mining contracts because any disclosure may result in legal action, reports Bloomberg. In May, Congolese Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito ordered that all contracts involving mineral, timber, oil and gas concessions be made public within 60 days of signing to increase transparency. The Mines Ministry reiterated the demand in a 8 September letter to Gecamines, and the IMF and World Bank have also requested the company publish the documents.
Global: Cizens ask governments to make budgets open
On 18 November 2011 nearly 100 civil society groups from as many countries and 12 international organisations, including the International Budget Partnership, Greenpeace, and the ONE Campaign, launched a global effort to make public budgets transparent, participatory, and accountable. The effort centers on building an integrated and vibrant movement of organisations that will work at the local, national, and international level to promote government budgeting that is open and accountable to the public.
South Africa: Mac's dodgy millions
Jacob Zuma's spokesman Mac Maharaj stands accused of receiving millions in bribes from French weapons maker Thales, the company that will be at the centre of the government's arms deal inquiry next year. A two-month Sunday Times investigation has uncovered a paper trail that leads from the arms company to Maharaj and his wife Zarina. Schabir Shaik, Zuma's former financial adviser who was convicted of corruption in the arms deal trial, was the conduit used by Thales to channel the money to Zarina Maharaj.
Tanzania: UK cuts aid budget
Tanzania’s government could be headed for hot soup following announcements that the British government will be cutting aid due to corruption. According to reports the Tanzanian government should brace for a cut of up to 30 per cent of United Kingdom aid money channeled through its Department for International Development (DFID) for the year 2011/12 budget. Currently donors contribute between 24 to 30 per cent of the total government budget. A large percentage of these funds support development expenditure - implying that any cut will jeopardise Tanzania’s development aspirations.
Uganda: New details in oil bribes inquiry
The lead petitioners in the ongoing oil sector probe have tabled what they said was more evidence implicating the three ministers accused of taking bribes from oil firms. Testifying before the House ad hoc committee, they presented letters linking Minister Hilary Onek to a $3 billion deal to construct an oil pipeline to connect Uganda, Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo to the Lake Albert region. The petitioners, who revealed they are carrying out a parallel investigation on the sector, said the minister’s involvement was contrary to the national policy to have a refinery.
Africa: Report spotlights European policy incoherence
EU policies are continuing to seriously undermine rights in developing countries says a new report by CONCORD, the confederation of European development NGOs. The report shows incoherencies between EU development objectives and other policies, coming at an important time as the EU reforms its agricultural, trade and development policies.
Africa: Sign EPAs and you lose, study shows
This study provides a simple cost-benefit analysis of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between African countries and the European Union. It compares the costs of signing an EPA - measured as tariff revenue losses, versus the 'gains' of signing an EPA - measured as duties African countries would avoid paying if they were to export to the EU market under the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme. The paper shows that even with this simple cost-benefit analysis (looking only at one dimension of the costs), for most African countries, the tariff revenue losses are higher than the duties at the EU border if there is no EPA.
Africa: Who are Africa's richest men?
Forbes recently published its first list of Africa’s 40 Richest people. This blog post takes a more detailed look at the lists and notes the enormous concentration of wealth on the list, that those on the list come from only six countries, that there is a huge spread of wealth even amongst the richest and that the list is an all-male cast.
Angola: Angola pours oil money into debt-ridden Portugal
President Eduardo dos Santos said Angola was prepared to invest its burgeoning petrodollars in Portugal, which has been ordered to privatise struggling state-owned firms under a €80bn (£70bn) International Monetary Fund bailout. Visiting Portuguese prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, said the country was looking to privatise [state utility company] Energias de Portugal and [national grid] REN. Other state-owned entities up for grabs include the national airline Tap and the Banco Português de Negócios. Banco BIC of Angola is set to buy the distressed bank for €40m – less than a fifth of its original market value. Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the long-serving president, is a part owner of BIC. Some Angolans have criticised the growing financial ties between Lisbon and Luanda, amid worries of capital flight and Angola's own yawning poverty gap. In 2008, two-thirds of Angolans lived on less than €1 a day, while only 25 per cent of children are enrolled in primary school.
China: Dam investments span 70 countries
In the China Overseas Dams List, International Rivers Network documents 289 overseas dam projects in which China is involved. For the large part, most of these projects have been proposed and/or built in the past 10 years. Forty-two per cent of the projects are in South-east Asia, 30 per cent in Africa, and growing steadily in number are the number of projects in Latin America.
Global: Beyond repair? Bank lobbies for carbon markets
As UN climate talks loom, the Bank is lobbying G20 countries to resuscitate shrinking carbon markets through controversial measures, including using public climate finance to stimulate demand and creating markets for soil and forest carbon.The Bank will use the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in Durban, South Africa, in late November to launch the Carbon Initiative for Development fund. This aims to provide up front finance for carbon-credit-generating projects in least developed countries. The Bank is also expected to continue to lobby for international agreements to support the viability of carbon markets, which allow countries and companies to claim a reduction in carbon emissions by purchasing credits generated by emissions reductions from other sources.
Global: New reports question World Bank's coal investments
As the November climate talks in South Africa approach, the World Bank continues to be overshadowed by past and prospective loans for fossil-fuel power plants. An October report by the Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED) and US NGO Sierra Club has sharply criticised the Bank’s cost projections for a proposed lignite-fired power plant outside the Kosovan capital Pristina, which the Bank is considering funding. Meanwhile, the Bank has approved $250 million for renewable energy projects in South Africa, due to host the Durban climate talks, part of a widely-criticised $3.75 billion loan mainly targeted to the country‘s Medupi coal-fired plant.
Global: What happens after the MDGs?
This paper examines some of the debates taking place as we approach 2015, the target date for attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It provides reflections, drawn from discussions with donor agencies and international NGOs, on what the focus will be for international development work after that date. Will it be more of the same – nationally based targets to reduce poverty?
Africa: Financial crisis threatens malaria control
The Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria partnership, Awa-Marie Coll-Seck, has expressed fears that the current international financial crisis could shift the commitments of donors from malaria control in Africa.'The international community strongly mobilized to increase its commitments from 100 million dollars in 2000 to almost 1.5 billion dollars now. Today we have fears to see this dynamics called into question as a result of the financial crisis which can lead to a change in national priorities,' she told PANA in Paris.
Global: Cash crunch hits global Aids fund
Because donor funding for global HIV/AIDS and the Global Fund has been declining, the Fund is in the most dire financial situation it has ever seen since its creation ten years ago, says Médecins Sans Frontières. As a result, the Global Fund board decided to effectively cancel its 11th funding round due to lack of resources – an unprecedented act in its history. 'Yet on the ground in hard-hit countries where MSF works, the devastating effects of the overall funding crunch are becoming apparent – for example, Cameroon and Zimbabwe are facing shortfalls in the near future to support people already on treatment, and the Democratic Republic of Congo severely caps the number of people able to start on life-saving HIV treatment.'
Kenya: Slow pace of talks irks doctors
Kenyan doctors are concerned at the slow pace of talks with the government meant to avert a national strike slated for 5. December. The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union said the government was dragging it’s feet in kick-starting negotiations. The 2,300 doctors in Kenya’s public hospitals have issued a 19-day strike notice.
Nigeria: Polio in Nigeria 'shows big increase'
A four-fold increase in polio has been reported in Nigeria, with the disease spreading to other countries, a World Health Organisation official says. Forty-three cases were reported in Nigeria this year, compared to 11 last year, the official, Thomas Moran, said. Curbing the polio virus in Nigeria is key to eradicating the crippling disease in Africa, he said.
Tanzania: North-South partnerships are not the answer
Government cuts in research and development (R&D) funding for higher education institutions have compelled public universities in Sub-Saharan Africa to establish extensive partnerships with universities, technology and research centres in the North. But, asks Johnson M. Ishengoma on www.scidev.net, have these North-South partnerships and funding streams strengthened higher education and capacity building? 'I argue that in Tanzania, they have had limited impact. They have not contributed to meaningful capacity building either by expanding student enrolment, increasing the quantity and quality of higher education support infrastructure, or helping develop and retain academic staff.'
Cameroon: Call for jailed men to be released
The Cameroonian authorities must immediately release two men who have been sentenced to five years in prison by a court in Yaounde for homosexual acts, Amnesty International said. A third man was sentenced without being present after jumping bail. The men were arrested in July after police alleged they were caught in a sexual act in a car.
Nigeria: Confusion over same-sex marriage bill
Unconfirmed reports about the Nigerian National Assembly claim that the Nigerian Senate may have already voted on the controversial prohibition of Same-sex Marriage Bill. However, Nigeria LGBT human rights activists are uncertain about information on the status of the bill, which many believe to still be at the Senate committee on human rights and judicial matters.
South Africa: Interrogating the notion of ‘corrective rape’
Recent media reports have shown a rise in attacks against lesbian women in townships across South Africa. The nature of the violence includes assault, often with grievous bodily harm, rape, murder or any combination of these. The sexual violence perpetrated against these women has become a particular focal point in media coverage, crudely termed ‘corrective’ or ‘curative rape’. This Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI) brief argues that contemporary media and the public should rethink their understanding of ‘corrective rape’ and the discourse used to engage this notion. The paper problematises the language of ‘corrective rape’, arguing that it inadvertently further reinforces and re-inscribes patriarchal, heterosexist and racist power through its construction of the phenomenon as sexual violence inflicted by black township men against black lesbian women.
South Africa: Sentencing postponed in lesbian murder case
Four men convicted of murdering a lesbian near Cape Town will receive their sentences just before Christmas. Zoliswa Nkonyana,19, was stabbed and stoned to death in Khayelitsha on 4 February 2006. Since the trial began, gay rights campaigners and residents from the town have continued to picket outside Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court.
Africa: Letter to African agriculture and environment ministers
No soil carbon markets
'We, the undersigned civil society organisations from Africa and around the world, strongly object to a decision in Durban for an agriculture work programme focused on mitigation, which would lead to agricultural soils and agroecological practices being turned into commodities to be sold on carbon markets, or used as sinks to enable industrialised countries to continue to avoid reducing emissions. African ministers have been urged by the World Bank to endorse this approach, coined as “climate smart” agriculture. Yet legitimizing soil carbon offsets through a mitigation-based agriculture work programme will further destabilize the climate, fail to tackle the real causes of agriculture emissions, present a major distraction from the need to generate public finance, and exacerbate social injustice by shifting the burden of mitigation onto developing countries – especially their small producers. Soil carbon offsets also have the potential to drive a new speculative land grab, further undermining food sovereignty and the right to food.'
Global: Civil society to unite against climate change
The Civil Society Committee for COP17 (C17) is calling on the global community to unite against climate change by participating in this year’s Global Day of Climate Action (GDA). The GDA is a traditional and important event during the United Nations climate change negotiations and takes place at the Conference of the Parties (COP) each year. The primary action – a mass march of international and national community, labour, women, youth, academic, religious and environmental organisations and activists – demonstrates civil society’s common determination to tackle climate change.
Global: Rich Nations 'Give Up' on New Climate Treaty Until 2020
Governments of the world's richest countries have given up on forging a new treaty on climate change to take effect this decade, with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment through global warming, reports this article on www.commondreams.org Most of the world's leading economies now privately admit that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016 at the earliest, and that even if it were negotiated by then, they would stipulate it could not come into force until 2020.
Global: World Bank manoeuvres to influence climate finance debates
The World Bank is advocating the use of private sector finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and pushing multilateral development banks as delivery mechanisms. An early October report on mobilising climate finance was coordinated and produced for the G20 by the World Bank in the run up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Durban, South Africa. The G20 had previously avoided taking an active role, as developing country members were concerned doing so could undermine the UN process. The report, 'Mobilising climate finance', highlights the importance of eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies and of implementing a carbon tax on aviation and shipping, which have long been demanded by civil society groups.
South Africa: Are Durban climate talks worth the bother?
With climate talks set to open Monday, African civil society activists are alarmed, writes Nnimmo Bassey for the New Internationalist. 'The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zewani, who is the spokesperson for the African Union, is credited with saying that Africa will be "flexible" in the negotiations. This announcement would considerably weaken the hands of African negotiators who have taken a strong stance against the failure of developed countries to deliver on their moral and legal obligations for climate action.' Should African civil society bother turning up at all?
South Africa: Cop17 is a ‘Conference of Polluters’
Corporations have colluded with governments to capture climate change negotiations for their own interest. At the start of the ‘Dirty Energy Week’ in South Africa, participants called for real commitment to heal the Earth. More than 100 community, union and NGO representatives gathered on 23 November to kick of the ‘The Dirty Energy Week’ gathering, organised by the South African based environment justice NGO groundWork, together with 14 national and international NGOs and community organisations. On the eve of the UN negotiations, they gathered to discuss climate proofing communities and cleaner energy solutions.
South Africa: Cop17 is a ‘Conference of Polluters’
Visit http://durbanclimatejustice.wordpress.com/ for news and event information about COP17, currently taking place in Durban, South Africa.
Africa: The great 'water grab'
Foreign investors aren't just after land in Africa. Access to water is essential – which can bring them into direct competition with the needs of local communities. Ongoing research from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development seeks to redress this blindspot, honing in on how such land deals might affect water access for fishing, farming and pastoralist communities. In a policy paper out on Thursday, the IIED's Jamie Skinner and Lorenzo Cotula warn that an alarming number of African governments seem to be signing away water rights for decades, with major implications for local communities.
Africa: Women and land, securing rights for a better future
'Women’s Land Rights', published by the International Development Research Centre, draws from the outcomes of the three year collaborative project entitled 'Securing Women’s Access to Land: Linking Research and Action', coordinated by the International Land Coalition (ILC), the Makerere Institute for Social Studies (MISR) of Makerere University in Uganda, and the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) of the University of Western Cape in South Africa, and funded by IDRC. 'Land is an important source of security against poverty across the developing world, but, in many places, unequal rights to land put women at a disadvantage, perpetuates poverty, and entrenches gender inequality. Surprisingly little detailed information exists on women’s relationship to land, and even less is informed by women themselves. This book aims to help fill that gap, drawing on research funded by IDRC over many years.'
Mali: Foreign investment in Mali's arable land jumps by 60 per cent
Foreign investment in arable land in Mali increased by 60 per cent between 2009 and 2010, says a report published to coincide with the first international farmers' conference to tackle the global rush for land. The report, by the US-based Oakland Institute and the Malian national farmers organisation, estimates that more than 544,500 hectares of Malian land have been leased or were under negotiation for lease by the end of 2010.
Senegal: Conflict over biofuel land grab
Conflict had been brewing in the village of Fanaye in northern Senegal for months before clashes broke out in late October. The launch of a project by an Italian-Senegalese company to grow crops for biofuels on 20,000 acres of local land had been met with scepticism and anger by some villagers; protesters called it 'a form of slavery'. When work began on the project in September, a young man attacked a plantation worker with a sword. A local council meeting descended into violence, buildings were burned and two people died as villagers fought each other with sticks and machetes.
South Africa: Toxic ripple effects of mining in Mokopane
Sheltered from the fierce heat of the Namboomspruit sun, 16 Mokopane community members gathered for an Earth Forum in the cool shadows of an oasis of tall palm trees. These participants formed part of a community action group called Jubilee, which aims to address critical incidences of environmental injustice, particularly around the effect of mining on human and environmental well-being. According to Phillipos Dolo, co-ordinator of Jubilee, the mining has deprived these people of access to land. 'In rural areas we depend on the land for ploughing. The mining companies took all the land we worked on without any compensation.'
Horn of Africa: Understanding the politics of the famine
While it is known the famine is in the five countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan in the Horn of Africa, the epicenter is Southern Somalia. The story of Somalia is not a simple one and cannot be told in the framework of famine alone. The protracted conflict in Southern Somalia, US foreign policy toward the region, lack of a national government and of course the presence of Al Shabab are all attributed to contributing to the worse famine in the country’s history. This Priority Africa Network document provides resources for understanding the famine.
Kenya: Food security concern as farmers switch from maize to coffee
The switch by many farmers in Kenya's Rift Valley province from staple cereals to more profitable coffee is likely to increase the country's dependence on grain imports and possibly affect food security, agricultural experts have warned. 'It is unsafe to use our land for crops with the hopes of being fed by other countries,' said James Nyoro, managing director for Africa of the Rockefeller Foundation. Kenya will have to import 2.3 million tonnes of cereal during the 2011-2012 marketing year to meet demand, a year-on-year increase of 37 per cent, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, which estimated domestic harvests of maize - a staple for 90 per cent of Kenyans - at 2.5 million tonnes, down 18 per cent because of poor weather.
Burundi: Stop menacing the media
Burundi government officials should halt their intensifying pressure on journalists, Human Rights Watch said. In the last few weeks, journalists have been summonsed by state prosecuting authorities for questioning with increasing frequency in response to radio broadcasts implicating state agents in alleged human rights abuses. Senior government officials, including three ministers, have stepped up public warnings against the media in recent days, threatening them with legal action.
Djibouti: Two radio reporters freed conditionally after being held for four days, tortured
'La Voix de Djibouti' correspondents Farah Abadid Hildid and Houssein Robleh Dabar were released provisionally recently after being held by the gendarmerie for four days, during which time they were both reportedly tortured.
DRC: Concern about media environment
With attacks on journalists and media continuing in the final run-up to the 28 November presidential and parliamentary elections and an opposition parliamentarian’s murder in Kinshasa adding to the tension, Reporters Without Borders appeals again to all parties to do their best to ensure that the elections are not marred by violence and that media freedom is respected. 'The initial results of the media monitoring by Journalist in Danger, our local partner organization, are quite clear,' Reporters Without Borders said. 'They show beyond any doubt that, as well as attacks on journalists and repeated closures of news outlets, many media are being turned into propaganda tools, thereby heightening the tension in a climate that has already worsened dramatically in recent weeks.'
DRC: Radio stations in Katanga closed
Journaliste en danger (JED) has expressed surprise over local authorities' decision to close, without warning, five community and faith-based radio stations in Kambove, located about 22 km from Likasi, the second largest city in Katanga province, southeastern DRC. Territorial administrator Brigitte Luta moved to close Radio Télé Jedidja (RTJ), Radio Fondation Thérèse Lukenge Kapuibwe, Radio Communautaire de Kapolowe, Radio Rocher du Salut and Radio Plein Evangile on 18 November on the orders of provincial media and communications chief Mulanya Ilunga after they were accused of failing to pay required broadcast licencing fees.
Ethiopia: Journalist flees country for fear of arrest after tip off
Dawit Kebede, managing editor of Awramba Times, one of Ethiopia's two remaining independent Amharic-language newspapers offering critical analysis of local politics, announced that he was forced to leave the country after he received a tip last week about alleged government plans to re-imprison him. Kebede also said that the paper was unlikely to continue publishing.
South Africa: Cosatu challenges secrecy bill
COSATU plans to challenge the draconian Protection of Information Bill in the Constitutional Court. The bill, dubbed the 'Secrecy Bill' by the media, was pushed through the National Assembly by an ANC majority on Tuesday last week despite widespread condemnation.
South Africa: Factbox, a look at South Africa's secrecy bill
South Africa's parliament passed legislation last week aimed at better protecting state secrets but the measure has been widely criticised for provisions that could help the government hide corruption. Reuters has a useful fact page that details the major provisions of the Protection of Information Bill.
South Africa: FXI condemns info bill vote
Freedom of Expression Institute Statement
'The Freedom of Expression Institute wish to register our disappointment in the ruling ANC for voting in favour of the bill in its current form. We are particularly disappointed since the ruling party promised more consultation on the bill when the bill was withdrawn from parliament a few weeks ago.'
South Africa: Why the information bill matters
This article explains why South Africa's controversial information bill, passed in the National Assembly last week, matters for a youth organisation working in townships to equip learners for tertiary education. 'The problem with the Information Bill (or at least one of the problems) is that it introduces a new barrier to creating the kind of community we long for in South Africa (and we’ve got more than enough barriers already). It makes it harder for us to be engaged active citizens even assuming that there may be some highly-specific pieces of information justifiably held by the state.'
South Africa: Exploring the impact of climate change on children
Climate change will exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities of children in South Africa, unless mitigation and adaptation strategies are child-sensitive and implemented in a timely manner, UNICEF said. ‘Exploring the Impact of Climate Change on Children in South Africa’ was commissioned by UNICEF in partnership with the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, and the Department of Environmental Affairs and highlights the likely impact of climate change on children’s health, education, nutrition, safety and access to adequate housing and sanitation in South Africa - both directly and indirectly.
Burundi: Troops kill 18 in clashes, says official
Burundian troops killed 18 gunmen in fierce clashes, a government official said on Tuesday 22 November, stoking fears that a new rebellion may erupt in the central African nation. The coffee-producing country has enjoyed relative peace since the Hutu rebel group, Forces for National Liberation, laid down its weapons and joined the government in 2009 after almost two decades of war. But attacks on civilians and soldiers have intensified since elections last year were widely boycotted by the opposition.
CAR: UN envoy sees momentum on releasing child soldiers
A Central African rebel group's agreement to release an estimated 1,500 child soldiers is a sign that momentum is gathering in the strife-torn country for all armed groups to soon end the recruitment and use of under-age fighters, a senior United Nations envoy said. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said up to six groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) could release the child soldiers within their ranks over the next year. Speaking after the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) signed an action plan to release its child soldiers, Coomaraswamy noted the deal followed a similar recent agreement involving the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (known as APRD).
Egypt: 71 dead in Cairo alone, medical sources
A medical source in the Zeinhom morgue near Cairo’s Tahrir Square has told Bikyamasr.com that 71 Egyptians have been killed since clashes erupted. This was as fierce fighting between protesters calling for an end to military rule and the police and the army continued last week.
Nigeria: Police link Boko Haram sect to politicians
Nigeria's secret police have said Boko Haram Islamic militants are receiving funding from certain politicians in the north. The intelligence agency said it had arrested an alleged spokesman for the group, who told them he was sponsored by a politician in Borno state. Boko Haram is blamed for a growing number of deadly attacks in Nigeria. These include the UN headquarters bombing in Abuja in August, which killed 24 people.
Nigeria: Town burns in Islamist sect attack-police
Churches, homes and the police headquarters in the small northeast Nigerian town of Geidam were set ablaze in a wave of night time gun and bomb attacks by a radical Islamist sect, the police said on Sunday. 'Four policemen were killed, 20 wounded, eight churches and 20 market stalls as well as Geidam council secretariat are completely destroyed,' a police spokesperson said.
Zimbabwe: China delivers AK's, handcuffs
The Zimbabwean Defence Force has taken delivery of 20,000 AK-47s, uniforms, 12-15 trucks and about 21,000 pairs of handcuffs, says this article from Black Business Quarterly. The arms were delivered from China via a secret circuitous route, avoiding countries such as Mozambique and South Africa where the trade unions have in the recent past prevented Chinese arms shipments from reaching Zimbabwe.
Global: Panel identifies crucial link between online safety and social activism
How many times have enthusiasm and activism sidelined questions about online safety? The opportunities for participation offered by the Internet can be easily used to identify, monitor, control and harass opponents because of their political or religious and philosophical stances or even their lifestyles. In the panel on 'Social movements and data security' held on 10 November at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Costa Rica, representatives of various forums, networks and organisations discussed the issue, taking into account that every day there are more controls on the Internet pushed by governments, companies, information services and undemocratic lobby groups that seek to limit freedom of expression and citizen participation in public affairs.
DRC: Explore the DRC in maps and graphs
Use these maps and graphics to explore the DRC as it prepares for just its second general elections in four decades.
UN Trust Fund 2011 Call for Proposals
The United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women is accepting applications for its 16th grant cycle (2011) from government authorities, civil society organizations and networks - including non-governmental, women’s and community-based organizations and coalitions, and operational research institutions - and UN Country Teams (in partnership with governments and civil society organizations).
The United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women is accepting applications for its 16th grant cycle (2011) from government authorities, civil society organizations and networks - including non-governmental, women’s and community-based organizations and coalitions, and operational research institutions - and UN Country Teams (in partnership with governments and civil society organizations).
The 2011 UN Trust Fund Call invites proposals in the following areas of action:
- Closing the Gap on the Implementation of National and Local Laws, Policies and Action Plans that Address Violence against Women
- Addressing Violence against Women in Conflict, Post-conflict and Transitional Settings
Applicants are invited to submit grant proposals for a minimum of US$100,000 up to a maximum of US$1 million for a period of two to three years. The application deadline is 19 January 2012.
The complete Call for Proposals detailing criteria, eligibility requirements and application guidelines is available at: http://www.unwomen.org/how-we-work/un-trust-fund/application-guidelines/ or via the UN Women homepage.
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