Pambazuka News 568: Ruptures and changes in 2012
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African world view on revolutionary ruptures and pace of change in 2012
‘Egypt's popular revolution will change the world’
From time to time in the history of society one event or a series of social struggles point to a new direction in world politics. At the beginning of 2011, the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt were two such social and political struggles. By the end of the year the sustained struggle of workers to retain basic democratic rights of collective bargaining had placed the plutocrats of Wall Street on the defensive. When the spokespersons for the top one per cent met in Davos, Switzerland for the usual retreat of international power brokers in January 2012, there were clear signs that they had lost the political initiative. Timothy Geithner, Treasury Secretary of the United States, warned of ‘critical risks’ while there were recriminations between the various European spokespersons on the outcome of the proposed ‘austerity measures.’ George Soros, ever vigilant to maintain a system where he has made billions of dollars, warned that the ‘austerity Germany wants to impose will push Europe into a deflationary spiral, creating a ‘very dangerous political dynamic.’ Instead of pulling countries together, it would ‘drive them to mutual recrimination.’
Tim Geithner, George Soros, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron were exposing the deep divisions between the old traditional imperial overlords in the face of the sharp shift in the global order. Japan saw the ‘conflicts between Germany and France on one side’ and the other weaker states in Europe and is moving to escape the ‘dangerous political dynamic’ of the European project. Hence, we have witnessed the currency swap arrangements and new vigor to embrace China and other economic partners in Asia.
What should the progressive movement make of these changes and the journey towards a new distribution of global power?
Can a social democratic solution be reconstructed or are we on the verge of a 21st century form of fascism?
At the Davos meeting George Soros was calling for action to prevent a complete collapse where there will be need for strong arm tactics to maintain law and order which could lead to a ‘repressive political system.’ Overlooking the reality that he belonged to a class that has been at war against 99 per cent of humanity, Soros was warning other capitalists against a ‘coming class war’. The call was for cooperation among the western European and US capitalist barons to avoid ‘cataclysm in 2012.’
For billions, the depression and the repressive politics of neo-liberalism is not a future reality, but the lived experience over the past 30 years. The youth of Egypt and Tunisia have provided the torch to point towards the new road and Samir Amin has written on the theoretical and intellectual audacity needed for this new direction beyond the chronic crisis of capitalism. I was in Beijing when the editor of Pambazuka News sent the notes from a debate inside the United States on ‘worst case scenarios for 2012.’ This comment was entitled ‘Unrelenting Global Economic Crisis: A Doomsday View of 2012-The economic, political and social outlook for 2012 is profoundly negative’. It was written by the venerable anti-imperialist James Petras and ended with the statement that,
‘All indications point to 2012 being a turning point year of unrelenting economic crises spreading outward from Europe and the US to Asia and its dependencies in Africa and Latin America. The crises will be truly global. Inter-imperial confrontations and colonial wars will undermine any efforts to ameliorate this crisis. In response, mass movements will emerge which will move over time from protests and rebellions, hopefully to social revolutions and political power.’
While I was digesting this ‘doomsday view’ from James Petras, I read another from Immanuel Wallerstein which was a discussion on the ‘The World Left after 2011’ and the possible position of progressives to the unfolding electoral cycle in the United States.
I want to use this commentary to present the African point of view on the changes of 2011 and the implications in the short term for 2012. Already the eruptions of the Nigerian workers of the most populous state in Africa have sent signals that working people will stand up and will not tolerate the breakup of the society so that the looters can unleash more violence. I draw the inspiration and optimism from C.L.R James and Walter Rodney who taught us that the African people and their progressive intellectuals must develop their independent position on social struggles and how these struggles in one region can have an impact on the rest of the world
Africans and progressives everywhere are this year celebrating 100 years of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa. This ANC celebration is also another opportunity for progressive humans to learn from the sustained forms of struggle over generations and the reality that even after the coming to power of a black government, the struggle must continue to force the transformation of the present social system. In this regard, the Egyptian revolution has a lot to learn from the limited gains in South Africa. Yet it is the clarity of the tasks ahead that should guide us planning for prolonged organized activity for a new social system.
REVOLUTION AND WAR IN THE MIDST OF THE CAPITALIST DEPRESSION
When international media were broadcasting live video footage of Tunisians gathering in hundreds of thousands in front of the central office of the long terrifying Ministry of Home Security in Tunis, and chanting in one voice ‘the people want to bring down the regime,’ something had already changed and the world was not anymore the same. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutionary processes pointed to the ability of the people to organise, resist and set in motion new political directions. The recursive processes of self-organisation and self-mobilisation along with the new networking tools for political education had placed the initiative in the hands of the progressive forces internationally. Even reformist calls for regulations and for a financial transaction tax were being vigorously resisted because the ruling elements had believed the fiction of the unlimited possibilities of the ‘free market.’ By the end of the 2011 it became clear that the epicenter of the crisis was in Western Europe and that the old thinking about reconstructing capital could not salvage the outmoded forms of governance. The blind faith about the rationality of markets had plunged Europe into the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The European project was exposed and it was no longer possible to plunder Africa as the colonial masters did during the 1930s and 1940s when the African villages were looted to save capital. Invading Libya in order to freeze and hold hostage the US $150 billion of the Libyan people only served to expose the European and US capitalists further in the face of international public opinion. Nicholas Sarkozy was so energetic in attempting to save French banks that his actions deepened the capitalist divide with open war of words with the Turkish capitalists who had their own designs on Africa.
From inside the United States, the workers of Wisconsin took up the challenge thrown up by the youths of Tunisia and Egypt, dramatically exposing the fact that political change cannot come simply through elections. At the end of 2010 the forces of racism, sexism, homophobia and chauvinism had rallied in the United States of America under the banner of the Tea Party. Financed by billionaires who grasped the dangers of popular mobilisation, these billionaires such as the Koch brothers wanted to revitalise whiteness as the central platform of political engagement in the United States. Winning large victories in the Congressional elections of 2010, these barons of capital were pumping millions into the political struggles on all fronts through entities called Super PACs (political action committees). The conservative wing of US politics had mobilised to use the Congressional elections to elect leaders who stood ready to roll back the democratic rights of workers, especially the rights to collective bargaining. From Wisconsin to Ohio, the counter-revolution from the right energised workers in the United States so that there were new forms of mobilisation to the point where the Occupy Wall Street centralised itself as a political force of the future. Inside Western Europe the baggage of racism and xenophobia held back clarity from the left as the bankers and speculators removed governments at will in Greece and Italy. The specter of fascist rule in Greece loomed with warnings from writers
who warned of ‘Austerity and Fascism in Greece: the real 1 percent doctrine.’
Where in Africa the period of Structural Adjustment had attempted to roll back the gains of independence, in Europe the political leaders have registered their subservience to the bankers. It is from East Asia where the anchor of the world economy showed another dynamic. This was the potency of the planned economy and the ability of the Chinese society to withstand the vicissitudes of the capitalist depression. By the end of October 2011 with daily emissaries to China, it was clear that East Asia had become the centre of an evolving global order .The centre of the world economy shifted sharply from the Atlantic to the Asia Pacific region.
INTENSIFIED STRUGGLES IN CHINA
For the past 30 years the Chinese economy has registered an average of 10 per cent growth every year. This has been the most sustained transformation in any economy in the history of human societies and few of the western economists will accept the reality that it was the socialist foundations that guaranteed this impressive change and the ability of the society to lift hundreds of millions out of the crudest forms of exploitation (called poverty). The relevant point about the Chinese transformation is that the building of socialism is still in its infancy and that there are many different twists and turns in the struggle to build socialism; there has been no prescribed roadmap. Whether this search takes the form of Great Leaps Forward, the four modernisations or the new experimentation of opening to western capitalism, the reality is that it is the strength and cohesion of the Chinese socialist system that is the firewall against complete collapse in this historical moment.
In the last years of the leader Deng Xiaoping, some of the Chinese leaders embraced the idea that China must become more open to the ‘free market’ and make strategic partnerships with western capitalists. This partnership is now manifesting in the growth of a vibrant capitalist class within China. It is this small capitalist class that projects itself overseas and extended aspects of Chinese capitalism to all continents. These groups in China accepted the view that there was no alternative to capitalism. So when Lehman Brothers fell in 2008, these elements were seduced to purchasing worthless assets in the United States. The corporate forces in China, like their class allies in the West, were in denial and considered the crisis simply a cyclical downturn and were poised to ‘bail out’ European capitalists before there was an outcry inside the country that China had to bail out its own people before bailing out capitalists in Europe.
Moreover, when the Occupy Wall Street momentum reached the gates of China and took the streets of Asia, including Hong Kong, the top strategists of the Chinese Communist Party took a second look at the long term implications of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. By the end of 2011 there were new debates within China with President Hu Jintao repeating the official position that China was on the road to building socialism. This restatement was a reflection of the intensified debates within the Communist Party as the evidence of class polarisation, corruption, environmental decay, political restlessness from the workers and outright political struggles of workers and farmers were erupting with the now publicised occupation and demonstration of Wukan. After months of demonstrating for their rights the Communist Party leadership in Beijing retreated, exposing to the Chinese poor that they can win victories if they stood up for their rights.
These social struggles in China strengthened the left forces in the society who never abandoned the task of building a new social system. It is from the province of Chongqing where the Left is now seeking to challenge the reverence for private property. There is a conscious effort to reverse expropriation of land from poor farmers. This municipality is the weakest link in the chain of imperial planning. The capitalists have over extended themselves so there are rebellions all over the society. For the Communist party to remain relevant they will have to support the poor as they did in Zukan. This will strengthen the left that is now building an axis around Chongqing.
Our task in the anti-imperialist front is to know which China we are speaking to. Is it the China that is compromised by financialisation and their extension into Goldman Sachs and the overseas Chinese capitalists in Singapore, Hong Kong and the rest of Asia?
Internationally, the revolutionary forces will have to differentiate between the rising forces in China and be clear as to how our platform coincides with the desires of the Chinese working peoples. Our engagement with China through our networks will assist those inside China who want to understand the world beyond the idea of ‘modernisation.’ The African workers will have a lot to do to contribute to the consciousness of Chinese workers. It is this same consciousness that will push others just as the youth of Tahrir square became the forerunner to the present global resistance.
The internal political dynamics of the Chinese road to transformation is central to the current left strategy in the face of the growing information war against China by the most conservative militarists who are creating hype about Chinese military power in Asia. These conservative and anti-communist forces want to derail the pace of transformation in China by engulfing the world in war.
DEPRESSION AND WAR
There is a lot to be learnt from the last capitalist depression during the 1930s when some economists and political leaders believed, that militarism and investment in military capital could resolve the crisis. Indeed, some economists today credit the militarism of the German society with ending the crisis without mention of the huge price paid by humans in the Second World War. Between 1933 and 1939 the world witnessed trade wars, competitive devaluations and other protectionist measures that cascaded into open military confrontations. The military triggers that started with the Japanese invasion of China (1931) and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia- in 1935) must be studied so that the same slow motion to war does not overtake humanity. In this regard, it would be in the best interest of progressives everywhere to heed the warning of those who note that there are capitalists internationally who want the pretext for war against Iran so that a wider conflict could cascade from Iran and the Middle East to Pakistan and wider afield.
Progressives everywhere must penetrate and fully understand the western media hype about the attempts by Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Progressives must instead call for the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal in Israel. One of the most relevant lessons to be learnt from the German capitalists of the thirties is the fact that certain sections of the capitalist classes will go to war in order to save capitalism.
However, the US military has been degraded by the humiliations in Iraq and the war of attrition that bogs down more than one hundred thousand military personnel in Afghanistan. These reversals for the US military did not come about by accident and although the US boasts the strongest military force in the world, the military has suffered massive morale problems compounded by the fact that in many communities where veterans come from now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With the rise in mental illness from veterans,young US citizens have no appetite for war. It is for these reasons why the peace and justice forces are not simply following the war drums over Iran and sinking into despair but clarifying to the peace forces the need for contingency planning to inspire the ordinary US soldiers to oppose the present drumbeat of war against Iran and send clear signs of refusing to fight if the militarists actually create incidents to precipitate war.
James Petras, in his commentary on the scenarios 2012, focused our attention on the Israeli lobby and their allies in the military. The military information operations of the mainstream media are part of the psychological warfare against US citizens while a full blown covert war against Iran gathers pace. The focus of Petras on Iran and Israel is appropriate and different from commentators such as Michael Klare who are already pointing to scenarios about the closing of the Straits of Hormuz as if the progressive forces are simply bystanders in the face of the right wing call for war and tightening sanctions against Iran. Daily provocations against the people of Iran by the Israeli government continue with cyber-attacks, the assassination of scientists, threats against the leaders of Iran and a simmering war along with the same kind of information warfare against the citizens of the world that had been a prelude to the attack against Iraq. The major difference today is that the top sections of the US military are not on board with the vitriol that is emanating from the most conservative sections of the US military/financial complex.
If one follows closely the ravings of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, one can see that the ratcheting up of tensions against Iran is also part of a plan to suck in the political leadership in Washington and remove the presidency of Barack Obama. One writer for a Jewish newspaper explicitly commented that ‘Israel could order President Barack Obama assassinated so that it would be free to act against Iran. Andrew Adler of the Atlanta Jewish Times laid out the scenario as one of three options Israel has to ensure it can protect itself from a nuclear Iran.’
Although this editor has since resigned, it is an indication of the depth of feeling in some quarters of the United States and Israel that Barack Obama is an impediment to the all- out war against Iran. Implementation of unnecessary sanctions and the vacillation of Obama is not enough for these conservative forces. For this branch of the ruling plutocrats, the John F Kennedy option is on the table and this option follows the path of sections of the military and security establishment who want war to protect the ‘financialization of energy markets.’
ARE THERE MANY BRADLEY MANNINGS IN THE US MILITARY?
The progressive forces in all parts of the world must oppose the sanctions and militarism against Iran because this war has all of the hallmarks of escalating and cascading far beyond Iran. The interconnections between the Israeli lobby and those who are setting the belligerent tone of the US against China in the South China Sea can be seen from the output of some of the Washington think tanks, from the Inslamophobia forces, and from the branches of the armaments culture that thrive on war. There is a definite link between the New York Police Department training their officers with a film called the ‘Third Jihad’ and the build- up for war in the Middle East. Yet, every such action serves to mobilize peace and justice forces and isolate those intent on whipping up anti-Islam sentiments in preparation for war.
Not even the allies of the United States such as India, Japan, Korea and Brazil, will follow this aggressive rush to all out war, so in reality, it is the Israeli government along with their allies who are being isolated and not Iran. Pepe Escobar in his article ‘Banking on sanctions’ spelt out the lunacy of the US sanctions scheme and drew attention to the fact that this diplomatic ploy will only strengthen China in the international system.
Far sighted elements of Wall Street understand this just as Pepe Escobar so they are working on two options. On one side they are seducing the children of the leaders of China to be partners of Global Sachs while on the other leg there is preparation for war.
During the wars against the people of Vietnam, the peace and justice forces matured and developed tactics to educate all sections of the society. These tactics survived to educate the population on the lies that were being peddled to embark on the occupation of Iraq. Despite the humiliation of wasting thousands of lives and expending trillions of dollars in useless war, the impetus for war is so ingrained that United States is being pushed on to another war. The difference for the war planners at this moment is that the combined forces of peace and social justice forces are much stronger than the pessimists make out. So when George Soros is warning other billionaires to take preemptive action because financial collapse could bring clashes in the streets and lead to a crackdown and ‘strong arm tactics to maintain law and order,’ this is not a future scenario for black and brown peoples. This is the reality of the New Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex.
The progressive forces have inspired anti-war sentiments to the point that there are hundreds of Bradley Mannings in the US military. There are other veterans from the military who have served capital overseas only to see the reality at home. When ex-Marine, Scot Olsen was assaulted in the Bay area for expressing his right to participate in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, there were hundreds of serving Marines who listened to his interviews and took note that they will not fight to defend the banks. This assault further educated the rank and file of the military as to the true purpose of the military. The existence of sympathy for the Bradley Mannings and Scott Olsen among the top officer class of the US military ensures that the top echelons of the US military will not go along with Israeli lobby. They know the pulse of the armed forces and want to avoid a situation of 1860 where the officer corps was divided. While the conservatives are putting pressures on the US public to go to war against Iran, the generals and the top brass are pushing back against any planned attack to the point that in January, Barack Obama cancelled planned military exercises between Israel and the United States.
I have already given one indication of the deep divisions in my contribution to understanding the differences between the Rocks and Crusaders. Those sections of the US military who believe in the US Constitution are reading the implications of voices such as Andrew Adler of the Atlanta Jewish Times. This is not the place for progressives to spell out contingency planning to oppose wars, but our writings should not be of the doomsday type to demobilize our forces with ‘worst case scenarios.’ The plans to remove collective bargaining from workers and the drumbeat to war against Iran are two sides of the capitalist depression and progressives must continue to oppose austerity at home and war abroad.
THE SCRAMBLE IN AFRICA
Many on the left in the United States are now writing to oppose the war plans by the Israeli- lobby in the USA. However, because these writers excluded Africa there is no appreciation of how the revolution in Egypt has sharpened the alternatives in North Africa and Arabia. During the 20th century in every revolutionary situation capital fomented war to weaken the revolutionary forces. The pace of change in Egypt has created nervousness in Israel and war is one option to inoculate the Israeli population against long term protests for peace and justice inside Israel. It is the alliance between the peace and justice forces in Israel and Palestine along with the revolutionaries in Africa that will be biggest constraint on Israeli action in Iran. In order to whip up diversions, Israeli actors are busy in the Sudan and East Africa covertly working with the remnants of the US petroleum companies and private military corporations who want to recreate the international conditions for a war in terror.
Already, there are some quarters in the USA seeking to deepen the militarisation of Kenya by identifying Lamu as a potential military outpost for the Chinese. Anti-imperialist and progressive forces on the ground in Kenya and even those involved in the political game will have to be strategic in their planning, just as our forces have been strategic in Nigeria. There is a reason why we interred Tajudeen Abdul Raheem in Funtua, in the North of Nigeria. Tajudeen had worked tirelessly against the manipulation of religious differences and we should be publicising the book of the writings of Tajudeen in this revolutionary moment. We must keep his ideas alive as one part of our arsenal.
The objective conditions of real exploitation in Africa intensify social struggles for better conditions so that the contours of revolutionary change will expand. Thus while the media insists on delinking the Egyptian and Tunisian revolts from the wider African struggles by writing on the ‘Arab spring,’ worker protests enveloped numerous African states with those such as the struggles in Swaziland, Uganda, Burkina Fasso, Gabon, Kenya, Senegal, Mali, South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia percolating, awaiting the right moment for the maturation and regime intervention as in Egypt.
The contingency planners for international capital understand fully the implications of what Pambazuka has documented in the book, ‘African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions’. Hence, the US Africa Command is working overtime to build allies within certain social sections to prepare for these emerging revolutions while think tanks pontificate on possibilities of Egyptian style uprisings in other parts of Africa. From Africa to Arabia the stirrings and eruptions from Yemen to Bahrain, Syria and Saudi Arabia have signaled that there will be no quick return to the old neo-liberal order. For the strategic planners, while the Israeli conservatives plan covert war in Iran, the nightmare continues to be fear of revolt by the poor and exploited in Saudi Arabia.
What if the people of Saudi Arabia changed the political calculus and started their call to enter the spaces of political participation and expression? The questions of the politics of inclusion can and will shift decisively from Iran to Saudi Arabia. Is the left preparing for this by working with our allies in the mosques who will be ready for this entry on the political stage?
THE PROGRESSIVES AND THE US ELECTIONS
While the talking heads of the western media are wallowing in despair, peoples in all continents are seeking alternatives beyond neo-liberal domination. The current European struggles will sharpen the struggles in Latin America and Africa. In all of these arenas, neo-liberalism has been discredited so they have no answer but to call for more austerity. These calls also heighten the consciousness of workers. Black and indigenous persons in Latin America will push the democratic struggles to the point where the current content of the politics of Latin America will change considerably.
The consolidation of the limited democratic gains in Bolivia, Paraguay, Venezuela and Brazil will sharpen the choices before the peoples of Latin America. Haiti will remain a flashpoint of popular anti-imperial struggles and out of these struggles in the Caribbean, there will be pressures for the removal of the UN occupation forces.
At the same time, the peoples of South America are experimenting with new forms of economic relations while in East Asia there is no section of the political leadership (even the most avowed capitalists) that accepts neo-liberalism. In East Asia there are strong memories of colonialism and the prolonged wars of the 20th century. Subsequently, despite the propaganda against China there is no appetite for war in Asia.
It is from Africa where there is clarity on the tasks ahead. Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities, Samir Amin called for ‘Audacity and more audacity.’ His essay was the theoretical guide to support that mobilisation of the youths in the streets of Cairo and Wisconsin. In calling for the socialization of the ‘ownership of the monopolies,’ Amin spelt out how ‘the historical circumstances created by the implosion of contemporary capitalism requires the radical left, in the North as well as the South, to be bold in formulating its political alternative to the existing system.’ While economists in North America continuously complain that the barons of Wall Street socialise losses while privatising profits, Samir Amin spelt out in great details for citizens of all continents,
‘the alternative social project should be to reverse the direction of the current social order (social disorder) produced by the strategies of monopolies, in order to ensure maximum and stabilized employment, and to ensure decent wages growing in parallel with the productivity of social labor. This objective is simply impossible without the expropriation of the power of monopolies.’
If one reads an economist such as Samir Amin and others who are progressive (in the US context) such as Robert Reich, one can see that Amin is drawing from the depth of the oppression on the world scale to elaborate alternatives. The challenge of the left is to understand the outline of the alternative social project and translate this into practical day to day programs so that wherever one lives and works one should not succumb to despair and pessimism. Robert Reich critiqued Geithner’s view of critical risks by stating, ‘the European debt crisis and Iran pose risks to the American economy in 2012. But they aren’t the biggest risk. The biggest risk is right here at home – which most Americans will continue to languish.’ The word languish is but a mild way to describe what millions are suffering.
It is in the midst of this suffering where the formal process of the US Presidential elections is taking place. The power of US imperialism dictates that in all corners of the world humans are paying attention to this election in the midst of a depression.
Because of the depth of the economic crisis there are divisions among the left about their engagement with this process. Immanuel Wallerstein in his review, The World Left After 2011, spelt out the reality that as long as the rank and file relate to the electoral process, the left must find ways to promote the issues that clarify to the working the people that the push to remove basic rights such as collective bargaining cannot be separated from war planning.
In short, I would agree with the position of Wallerstein and urge that the progressives be engaged in the electoral processes in the USA in the same way that Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were engaged with Abraham Lincoln at the moment before the impending split in the military in 1860. Today, the progressives have better tools than Harriet Tubman, but with the kind of long term planning to isolate the racists.
With clarity the progressives can strengthen our access to cultural expressions and our links to the youth to sharpen the consciousness of the failures of Lloyd Blankfein, Corzine and Wall Street. Murdoch and the News Corp conglomerate will be weakened further. The planning of the insurgent internet revolutionaries who continue to inspire more Bradley Mannings and want the internet to be a highway for peace will challenge the subservient and fawning corporate media . There is no reason why the Murdoch networks should be free to foment hatred and divisions when these corporate forces should be before the court of law. Even in the midst of the elections the platforms of cable Television bear the hallmarks of inter-capitalist rivalry. On the wider cultural level, cultural artists are now coming out and will be just as engaged as Michael Moore,
The right wing conservatives have been so demoralised and discredited that the Republican Party cannot come up with a viable candidate. They have no coherent argument other than to call for the same deregulation of financial markets that hastened the current crisis. From within the ranks of the Republican Party they have thrown up the most racist elements. Newt Gingrich, (one of the contenders for leadership and former Speaker of the House of Representative) wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Congo during the time of the genocide of the Belgians and believes that King Leopold brought progress to Africa. Gingrich is supported by the most conservative Israeli forces and he has courted the most rabid anti Castro elements in Florida. It is here where I agree with Robert Reich that there must be total opposition to Newt Gingrich and one should not entertain even a 10 per cent chance of Gingrich becoming the US President.
Gingrich is attempting to win the hearts of white racists with a 21st century Southern Strategy, but the objective conditions of unemployment and insecurity have undermined old racist references for the mobilization of white supremacists. Mitt Romney, the standard bearer of Wall Street is so removed from the day-to-day reality of the lives of millions that he has openly boasted of his millions and offshore bank accounts. Romney openly stated that he does not care about the poor. The other two Republican candidates, Congressman Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, are public officials who have not been shy to express racist and misogynistic views.
With candidates such as Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, the Democratic Party has remained smug hoping that the working people will have no choice but to vote for Barack Obama. It is in this discussion of politics where ideas such as those put forward by the Occupy Wall Street movement must be promoted to point out that real democracy will emerge from the day to day struggles so that progressives are not focused on the election circus with the millions of dollars being spent by the corporate elements.
We must define the issues and we must ensure that the idea of the one per cent dominating the political spaces becomes the number one issue in the electoral campaign.
The progressive forces in the US made their voices heard in Ohio, Wisconsin and in other places. We of the left cannot pontificate on elections per se, but on the issues that will strengthen labour and the global rights campaign. Capital is global and acts as such to defend its interests. Working people must continue to organize and the global rights initiative of Bill Fletcher and other Pan African revolutionaries in the USA holds the seeds of the creation of a new and strengthened network against international capitalism.
Small victories over questions of the Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas and the struggles for environmental protection must be deepened so that the intellectual and political initiative remains with the progressive forces. In this way progressives will point the way that the election is not about the election of Obama but whether the society can be pushed into an unnecessary war abroad in order to implement austerity and political repression at home.
Progressives must brace for intensified struggles in 2012
In the final analysis we must go back to the Middle East where an alliance between women in Bahrain, Israel, Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia holds promise for a new platform. The women of Egypt gave us that notice when they mobilized to come out in forces across religious and class lines.
These women are opposed to fundamentalist who want women to cover up but will disrobe them and beat them if they fight for their rights.
Watch the Nigerian poor in 2012. In January of 2012, the baton had been taken from Cairo to Lagos with the Nigerian poor who were entering the new political stage. Their cultural artists such as Fela had led the way and the alliance between cultural workers and oppressed masses is creating a new dynamic in West Africa.
There will be skirmishes but no major war. Our forces should mobilise to ensure that if war comes the revolution that will shake the world will make 1917 look like the real Tea Party. We are culturally and intellectually prepared for that eventuality. Che Guevara, Walter Rodney and Mao inspired and prepared us for this capitalist depression. Now we need to go with Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman who were clear that all social struggles, whether at home or at the work place are interconnected. We are in a revolutionary moment and revolutionaries cannot be pessimistic. Walter Rodney taught us well.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of Barack Obama and Twenty First Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA. Professor Campbell was a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing for Fall 2011.See Horacecampbell.net.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
President Wade vs. the people: Senegal is in danger
‘Our Nation is going down that very ugly familiar lane…
Where we know only the start but not where it will lead.’
To all reading this, Senegal is in need of prayers today. Prayers to prevent us from going down that very ugly familiar lane where Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Kenya and a host of other African states preceded us… Down the ugly lane of pre-electoral violence.
The events going on in Senegal are defying the most basic assumptions held about Senegal’s democracy: Senegalese police officers firing on Senegalese citizens with live ammunition, and killing a young masters student, wounding at least ten others.
Police officers bitterly fighting with protesters across all the neighbourhoods of the capital until the wee hours of the night (in Khar Yalla, Baobab, Niary Talli, Ouakam, Colobane, the list goes on…)
All the neighbourhoods of Dakar ablaze… Overwhelmed police forces struggling to put out the multiple simultaneous hearths across the city, but barely succeeding..
At the heart of all this violence, a peaceful protest convened by the M23, and joined by hundreds of men, women, old and young, students and ordinary citizens of all faiths and political affiliations at The Place de l’Obélisque, which has become the symbol and seat of anti-Wade popular resistance, responded to with police tear gas…
In the middle of the protest, a police hot water hose tank runs into the crowd, crushing a young woman dead.
An ambulance ‘in operation’, carrying a victim severely wounded, fired with teargas by police forces.
Red Cross volunteers everywhere carrying wounded protesters and providing first aid.
All these images seem surreal even to the most seasoned analysts of Senegal’s political evolution. One does not believe this is really taking place in Senegal.
Pre-electoral violence in Senegal, brewing since the announcement of President Wade’s bid for a third term, exploded when Wade received the green light from Senegal’s Constitutional Court on Friday, 27 January, confirming him on the list of valid candidates for the next election to be held on 26 February, 2012.
BREWING POPULAR DISCONTENT
A multi-party competitive democracy since 1974, when many other African states were still reeling under the iron fist of dictators and bloody military coups, Senegal hoisted itself up to the level of a firm beacon of democracy in the region in 2000, when former president Abdou Diouf, head of a regime in power for 40 years, peacefully handed power over to Abdoulaye Wade, a close winner of the 2000 presidential election, and to his opposition coalition.
Much water has gone under the bridge since 2000, and Wade today is the most contested figure in the nation.
Following the 23 June 2011 popular uprising, which saw the historic unleashing of a sea of protesters in front the National Assembly to contest a constitutional makeover that would have instituted a vice-presidency (thought to have been created for Wade’s son, Karim Wade) and secured an easy victory for Wade at the 2012 presidential election (see Green Thursday in the Life of the Nation by same author), contestation has not died down.
Firm popular demands for the invalidation of Wade’s candidacy for the next election were stepped up in the run-up to 2012 presidential electoral campaign. On the grounds that the new constitution adopted in 2001 – drafted by President Wade himself one year following his rise to power – limited the number of terms of any president to a maximum of two, protesters took the streets multiple times to denounce what they saw as a constitutional coup d’état.
The calls for President Wade’s departure were in part fuelled by his age and doubts about his ability to assume the country’s leadership. Officially 85 years old, Wade is thought to be at least 90 years old by most people in Senegal. After another third term, he would thus be at least 97 years of age, a record even for an African village chief. Many also fear that Wade’s secret’s ploy is to seize power in 2012, but not finish his term – midway creating a vice-presidency position and appointing his son, Karim Wade, to the position, thus succeeding to impose his plan of a monarchic devolution of power that the Senegalese electorate rejected during the 2009 legislative elections and again on June 23, 2011.
Led by the ‘Y’en A Marre’ group and the M23, a popular citizen movement composed of all opposition parties, civil society groups and ordinary citizens, created to keep alive the spirit of the 23 June uprising, the protesters took the streets every 23rd day of the month between June and December 2011.
Wade showed no sign of retreat from his resolution to run for a third presidential bid, however. Changing the administrative partitioning of the country to downsize the districts where his party, the PDS, did not have a lead (for more click here), ransacking public coffers to fund his campaign, publicly announcing his retraction of his previous statement where that he would not run again in 2012, Wade appeared determined as ever to extend his stay in power for a third term. A series of political intimidations perpetrated against opposition political figureheads by heavy muscled youth also set the country in a tense mode of violence, escalating into the death of a PDS envoy and imprisonment of Wade’s fiercest youth opponent, Barthelemy Diaz, head of the Socialist Party’s Youth League (see link).
As a bitter constitutional debate took hold over the country, with the majority of Senegalese constitutionalists who took part in the writing of the 2001 constitution stating that Wade’s third bid was unconstitutional, while a minority, affiliated with Wade’s camp, maintained that Wade was exempt from the immediate application of the 2001 Constitution’s provisions, having been elected one year prior to its adoption, the final word on the constitutional validity or not of Wade’s third presidential bid was left to Senegal’s Constitutional Court.
Composed of the ‘five wise’ judges appointed by the president and copiously treated in the days preceding their decision with gifts of a limousine each and 5million CFA bonuses from the president, serious doubts were cast regarding the impartiality of the court’s decision.
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ALLOWS WADE TO RUN
On 27 January 2012, 29 days prior to election day, the Senegalese Constitutional Court’s ‘Five Wise’ published the final list of validated candidates for the 2012 presidential election. This list included Abdoulaye Wade, and excluded the notorious popular singer Youssou N’Dour who had announced his bid for the presidential seat at the 11th hour in a contested context.
The Constitutional Court’s court decision to approve Wade’s candidacy was immediately met by disappointment, then popular anger. Youth and M23 leaders assembled at the Place de l’Obélisque to await what they hoped would be the Constitutional’s Court historic turnover of Wade’s constitutional coup d’état, took in the news, then lashed out their anger in protest of the Court’s decision.
Many witnesses claim that as soon as the news was announced, commissioned envoys from the presidential camp who had infiltrated the M23 protest assaulted the main opposition leaders in attendance, forcing them to flee and lose face vis-à-vis the youth in need of leadership at that critical moment.
At the end of the Friday riots, many public edifices were destroyed in Dakar in protest, leaving one young police office, Fodé Ndiaye, dead. The riots spread over the weekend through to other parts of the country, Fatick, Kaolack, Matam, Tambacounda, Diourbel, Thies and Saint-Louis, where throngs took to the streets to denounce the constitutional coup d’état by the elderly president Wade. In Podor notably, Northern Senegal, a violent protest on Saturday left two dead, a young high school student in 8th grade and a 60-year old grandmother.
THE JANUARY 31 PROTEST
Faced with the tenacity of Wade’s decision to take part in the upcoming elections, the M23 in a final act called on all the forces of the nation to embark on a resistance against what they labelled as Senegal’s constitutional coup d’état, and called a peaceful protest on Tuesday, January 31 at 3pm, at the now infamous Place de l’Obélisque, Senegal’s Tahrir Square.
The Ministry of the Interior forbade the protest, boding of potential tensions and renewed clashes between national security forces and the mobilized youth.
From 3pm the protest ensued peacefully. At 6pm, however, tanks began to roll on the tight crowd assembled at the Place de l’Obélisque, as police officers targeted political opponents such as Moustapha Niasse, Youssou Ndour and others.
What ensued is now history.
All the neighborhoods of Dakar ablaze… Determined youth running all sides…
Police officers fighting with protesters in multiple homes of contestation..
Senegalese police officers firing on Senegalese citizens with live ammunition…
An ambulance ‘in operation’ fired at with teargas by police forces
Today Senegalese citizens are in shock at the scenes unfolding in the streets of Dakar, and across the main cities across the country.
Protesters at The Place de L’Obélisque on January 31 2012 denouncing the Constitutional Court’s decision to approve Wades’ third bid for presidency
A masters student, Mamadou Diop, 30, killed
Recent reports of the casualties from the January 31 riots establish its human toll at 10 wounded, five among which severely, and two dead according to Walfadjri. This is only a provisional count, however. Tomorrow as the Red Cross releases its final count the death toll is bound to rise.
One of the two killed on January 31 was a masters student at the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar (UCAD), Mamadou Diop, 30. He was allegedly run over by the police tank and smashed to death as the tank ran into the crowd assembled at the Place de l’Obélisque.
The bleak voice of Mamadou’s father can be heard through the wavelengths of Dakar’s mainstream radio station Walfadjri: ‘In the name of peace, I am begging Abdoulaye Wade to relinquish power. I am not wishing any other parent, any other human being, to go through what I am going through right now’, his voice squeaks.
In the distance, Mamadou’s mother, who just arrived from Mbour at the hospital, shrieks with hurt. ‘I believe in God.. But just let me see my son. I beg of you just let me see my son’. Who would have told this mother this morning that by day’s end, she would be called in to see her promising son’s corpse; she would perhaps not have believed it. The scene is surreal, and sad beyond words.
Mamadou Diop was an ordinary citizen who wanted to defend his constitution, informs one of his classmates at the Department of Classics. A group of Mamadou Diop’s classmates is assembled at SUMA-Assistance, sharing in the grief. Retribution from UCAD students, the historically fieriest social force to reckon with, is to be expected in the days ahead.
WHERE NEXT FROM HERE?
The last straw of hope, the country’s religious leaders, hitherto respected moral figures in this devoutly religious nation composed of a 95 percent Muslim majority, dashed all hopes when their spokesperson released a public statement asking the people of Senegal to respect the Constitutional Court’s decision. One notable exception came from the leader of the Niassene Leona Muslim brotherhood, whom we just heard calling upon the president to simply relinquish power, in the name of peace and stability.
‘Power is not worth this. It is not worth the death of even one of our sons. You have given us 11 good years. You cannot do anything short of what Senghor or Abdou Diouf achieved. For the sake of peace, Wade, we beg you to retract yourself’ (Walfadjri, Jan 31 2012).
Meanwhile, President Wade, object of all the tensions but still guardian of the nation, sits in his home. While many are calling on his leadership in these critical times, he is yet to be heard. He just flew back a few days ago from the Davos Economic Forum, which he never misses, a proud liberal… Even as his country is going down the ugly lane of pre-electoral violence.
Many call on his wisdom and leadership at this grave hour. In the name of all that we have given him (two elections in the best of conditions, an uncontested rule for 11 years, all the privileges of presidency), Wade is today asked to give back to his people the reigns of the nation which were handed on to him in 2000.
Others call on the wisdom of the Senegalese people, who’ve proven time and again the power of the ballot rather than of the mob.
No-one knows where today’s events will lead us to, and who will be thinking to avenge the dead today. Mbour, home of the killed University student, is in shock. Podor is still burying its two dead from the weekend’s riots. The security forces buried the young officer Fodé Ndiaye on Saturday. All Senegalese lives lost in the run-up to power… Violence only begets violence.
Whether nearly 100-year old President Wade comes to his senses and quells the ongoing violence with a declaration that he will withdraw his candidacy to the upcoming election, or whether the blazing electorate decides to peacefully return to their homes, and rather goes to vote en masse on February 26 to oust Wade through the ballot rather than the streets, proving the vitality of Senegalese democracy, Senegal’s hard conquered peace and stability of the past 50 years sits on a thin thread today.
The hour is grave.
The nation of Senegal is in need of prayers today.
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* Arame Tall is a consultant, Development, Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (CCA-DRR) in Africa, SAIS-The Johns Hopkins University.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Angola: CNN accepts ads from corrupt regime
Rafael Marques de Morais
Semba Comunicação, a private Angolan company, has been receiving millions of dollars directly from the presidency of the Republic of Angola’s budget to produce commercials to improve the image of Angola abroad. However, this company, incorporated on October 11, 2006, is owned by President José Eduardo dos Santos’ children, namely Welwitchea José dos Santos ‘Tchizé’ and José Paulino dos Santos ´Coréon Du.’ They are promoting the image of their father’s regime through campaigns broadcasted on CNN International. President Dos Santos has been in power for 32 years without ever being elected by the people.
The 2012 presidential budget alone allocates almost US $17 million for Semba Comunicação to engage in a contractual agreement with CNN International for a new advertisement campaign. Read the complete story at Maka Angola.
While two-thirds of the Angolan population survives on less than $2 a day, the President and his protégés, including his family, have been plundering the extensive natural resources of the country.
Transferring taxpayers’ money from the presidency budget to his children’s private company is only the latest of multiple and continuous acts of corruption, bribery, and embezzlement committed by the president and his cronies.
Tell CNN to stop accepting advertisement from the corrupt president José Eduardo dos Santos’ regime!
Write to Rani R. Raad, CNN Senior Vice President, Ad Sales ,and tell him that CNN should not broadcast any advertisement produced by Semba Comunicação.
CNN is owned by parent company Time Warner, and the U.S. news channel is a division of the Turner Broadcasting System. CNN is sometimes referred to as CNN/U.S. to distinguish the American channel from its international counterpart, CNN International.
Jim Walton is president of CNN Worldwide.
CNN PR Contacts are Bridget Leininger and [email@example.com]Lauren Cone[/email].
Dear Mr. Raad,
I write you to urge CNN International to stop accepting advertisement produced by Semba Comunicação promoting the Angolan regime. As a high profile and credible media outlet, CNN International should refuse to accept advertisement paid for with illicit transfers of Angolan taxpayers’ money.
Semba Comunicação, a private Angolan company run by President José Eduardo dos Santos’ children, has received millions of dollars from the Presidency’s budget. Previously, your TV station has aired ad campaigns on behalf of President Dos Santos’ regime, including “Angola, Grow With Us” which were produced by Semba Comunicação. Semba Comunicação was hired to promote the image of the Angolan regime abroad, including the production of the campaign “Angola, Grow With Us,” previously aired on CNN International.
The 2012 presidential budget alone allocates almost US $17 million to the regime’s publicity campaign that Semba Comunicação will produce, to be aired on CNN International.
Transferring taxpayers’ money from the presidency’s budget to his children’s private company is only the latest of multiple and continuous acts of corruption, bribery, and embezzlement committed by the President and his cronies.
Therefore, I urge CNN to stop accepting advertisement produced by Semba Comunicação and to exercise due scrutiny over any advertisement from the corrupt regime of President José Eduardo dos Santos.
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* Rafael Marques de Morais Founder of the anti-corruption watchdog Maka Angola
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Angola: Public official goes shopping with state money
Rafael Marques de Morais
Kero hypermarket, probably the biggest in Angola, might be considered a model private investment, thanks to the way it has improved the range and quality of consumer goods available in the country. But Kero, which has been operating for a year in Luanda’s Nova Vida suburb, has also proved to be a model example of how Angola’s top state officials ignore the distinction between public and private property and turn themselves into the country’s top entrepreneurs.
In an interview with the weekly paper ‘O País’, Kero’s Brazilian director general, João Santos, revealed how much had been invested by a group of Angolan businessmen in partnership with Banco Privado Atlântico: “The US$35 million is a combination of private capital and resources freed up by the partnership with Atlântico.”
The hypermarket occupies a surface area of 7,500 square metres and a total area of 11,000 square metres. A second outlet has already opened in Condomínio Cajú, in the Talatona neighbourhood.
More recently, on December 10, the minister of Trade, Idalina Valente, formally inaugurated the third branch of the Kero chain, in the new state housing project of Kilamba, in Luanda. This is the largest social housing project in the country, and it was executed by the Office of National Reconstruction, led by General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”. Currently, Kilamba is under the management of Sonangol, headed by Manuel Vicente.
Despite all the publicity that the opening of this large enterprise generated in the media and by means of billboards along the main routes in Luanda, there has been little mention of a company called Zahara, which owns the project.
A brief investigation by Maka Angola reveals that Zahara is one of many businesses belonging to a business empire known as Grupo Aquattro International, which owns 99.96 percent of Zahara. The group, which over the last three years has become the biggest player in the national economy, is owned exclusively by Manuel Vicente, chairman of the board of Sonangol; the minister of state and head of the Military Bureau in the presidency, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”; and his chief advisor, General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento.
These three men hold equal shares of 33.3 percent in Grupo Aquattro International. Colonel João Manuel Inglês, a senior official in the Military Bureau, and his brother Domingos Manuel Inglês, who is General Kopelipa’s private business assistant, hold a symbolic 0.5 percent token.
The company was established on behalf of the three shareholders by Ismênio Coelho Macedo, a Portuguese citizen who is a board member of Atlântico, the same bank that financed Kero. This conflict of interests puts the bank in breach of the Law on Financial Institutions, which prohibits (Art. 66, 1, 3, 7) the granting of credit to board members or to companies controlled by them, and to persons who directly or indirectly have qualified shareholdings in these companies.
Sonangol, the Angolan state-owned oil company, has a 7.5 percent qualified shareholding in Atlântico, where it is represented by Baptista Sumbe, a non-executive board member appointed by Sonangol, and who is Manuel Vicente’s subordinate. As a public servant, Manuel Vicente has an ongoing obligation to represent the interests of the state, through Sonangol. He must therefore not do private business with the bank for his own private gain, since the bank functions partly with Sonangol capital.
At the same time, the establishment of Kero in Condomínio Cajú makes Manuel Vincente liable for a further act of improbity. The condominium is a multi-million dollar project financed and overseen by Sonangol to provide accommodation for its employees as well as for the presidential family and the MPLA elite.
The Law on Public Probity defines as an act of illicit enrichment (Art. 25º, 1º, k, j) the inclusion of the assets of a public entity into private assets. Thus the use of land within Condomínio Cajú, paid for by state funds, for the building of Manuel Vicente’s supermarket, amounts to grabbing a public asset for his own benefit. Phone calls to Sonangol’s communication and public relations office to seek clarification about this were not answered.
General Kopelipa, for his part, also needs to explain to the justice system how Kero came to acquire the space to build Angola’s biggest hypermarket. This space forms part of the land that was entrusted to the Military Bureau to build housing intended for soldiers. Kopelipa is also involved in the same crime of the illegal use of public assets for his private business.
Both General Kopelipa and Manuel Vicente should be held accountable for the illegal use of a public property, in Kilamba Town, for their personal enrichment. These two public officials have in turn been the top decision makers for the management of the housing project. Kopelipa, Vicente and General Leopoldino Fragoso are also the owners of the private company Delta Imobiliária, contracted by the state to sell the social houses at unaffordable prices, ranging from US $120,000 to US $250,000 per unit. For now, however, Manuel Vicente and the generalsenjoy impunity since they benefit from the patronage of the President of the Republic, José Eduardo dos Santos, who both actively and tacitly encourages and protects acts of corruption on the part of his favourite henchmen.
For more information on Kero, see Opais.
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* Founder of the anti-corruption watchdog Maka Angola, Rafael Marques de Morais is currently a visiting scholar at the African Studies Department at the John Hopkins University (SAIS).
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
DRC: What next after corruption of truth and justice?
To whomever wants to listen to the voice of conscience in the Democratic Republic of Congo, be they from the DRC or other countries, it is clear that these voices of conscience emanate from the majority of the Congolese population, revolted by a fraudulent and criminal electoral process. It would be wrong to only see the hierarchical role of the Catholic Church in this revolt. Revolt is not too strong a word to describe the goings-on in DRC. The roots of this revolt are multiple, profound and secular. Belittling the importance of this revolt of consciences, as many press organs have tried to do, illustrates the degree of unconsciousness of forces which, from generation to generation, have enriched themselves on the back of the Congolese people.
It can be observed, even from a distance, that this time round the revolted consciences are organizing themselves in a manner to ensure that change in DRC does not experience the failings that have always marked the most historic of transitions in Africa. The iron fist, which is now clenched, can lead to a separation with secular practices, which have led today’s humanity to the point where its obsolescence is no longer a fact of philosophical speculation but rather one that challenges any person of conscience, anguished by the current situation of humanity, obsessed by the search for material profit through the imposition of the law of the strongest in all and everywhere.
Be it in DRC, Europe, Asia, in rich or poor countries, revolted consciences express the same message; that the dictatorship of corruption, injustice, falsehood and finance should cease. What should also cease are the attempts to liquidate the most vulnerable by the most rich. That the recourse to charity, humanitarianism to buy the most faithful of revolted consciences to maintain justice, truth and humanity should end.
These revolted consciences say that they have had enough of twisting of words which say one thing yet systematically practice the contrary. That justice and truth should prevail with neither division nor negotiation. For these revolted consciences, one objective seems to dominate; faultless fidelity to justice and truth that is defended patiently will put an end to all practises of corruption. So why think that the revolted consciences of the Congolese are carriers of ideas that are completely new?
A GLANCE OF DRC’S PLANS A AND B
The architects of dictatorship are frantically looking to implement Plan B given that Plan A, which entailed corrupting the elections, did not work as they hoped it would. Plan B should, for the dictator and his allies, compulsorily produce the results intended in Plan A.
The act of enriching oneself on back of the Congolese people is not a recent thing. To better resist future Plan Bs, it is important to recall that the history of Congo is specific as it is generic. Before the traffickers of black people decided to use Africa as their privileged hunting ground in search for slaves, their predatory concerns had reduced the indigenous population of the New World to a fraction of what it was before their arrival in 1492. (See Ch. Mann, 1491, David Stannard, The American Holocaust).
The practices of corrupting justice and truth go back 51 years, when the heirs of the enriched ones organized themselves to assassinate Patrice Emery Lumumba because he had committed himself to being true to justice and truth in defence of the interests of the Congolese people. There has always been only one humanity. By killing Lumumba, the ones who have enriched themselves on the back of the Congolese people were also killing a member of humanity.
In the period of our interest, the last half-century, the dictatorship of injustice and falsehood took its roots in slavery. This type of dictatorship is more powerful than the individuals who escaped the mass destruction of humanity, which started with the industrialization of human trafficking from Africa. The dictators leave, but the system which bore them remains.
Under slavery, colonization and neo-colonization, the dictatorship of injustice and falsehood found itself faced with the believers of justice and truth, known and unknown in the likes of Kimpa Vita, Kimbangu, Lumumba, Mulele, and thousands of others. Should we not then reflect on the lessons from our past? Kimpa Vita burnt alive for having denounced slavery, a body without a resting place; Patrice Emery Lumumba’s body was soaked in a bath of sulphuric acid, another body without a grave. From 2 July 1706 to 17 January 1961 the killing of two people denouncing the dehumanization of a system first termed slavery then colonization. Two consciences revolted by the situation they experienced in their path. Two consciences affirming their humanity but killed for not having bowed to the demands of a system supported by external factors: political, economic and religious.
In all transitions of our history without exception, we find a principal characteristic, notably that those who enriched themselves on the back of the Congolese people have always organized themselves in such a way that the changes do not affect the relations between the rich and the poor. The goal was always to maintain the status quo; Plan A.
In the event of doubt, we should review Louis Sala-Molins’ book (the Black Code or the Ordeal of Canaan p.277) which recalls how during the abolition of slavery, planters and abolitionists were in agreement as Tocqueville so nicely sums this up as follows: ‘If blacks have the right to become free, it is undeniable that colonies have the right to not be destroyed by the freedom of blacks’. Just in case you may think that this is a slip-of-the-tongue, Sala-Molins once again quotes the very Tocqueville: ‘Gentlemen, France will not destroy slavery to have the pain of seeing ruined Whites leaving colonies and Blacks falling back into barbarism’. And again in ‘Little wonder that we do not consider them (Blacks) as an intermediary between brute and man.’
For the nouveau riche, all change is acceptable as long as it does not alter their status, privileges and the power struggle that exists between them and those who have been impoverished, tortured and destroyed by their system. The latter should never fulfil their dream for a just society based on truth and solidarity. Vis-a-vis fidelity, justice, truth, solidarity and humanity, the nouveau riche respond with charity and humanitarianism, in other words relations of submissiveness of the poor towards the rich remain unchanged according to the rules (written or not) by themselves. The rules can even change but the unchangeable rule is that which brings out the submissiveness of the poor towards the rich.
GLOBAL IMPORTANCE OF EVENTS IN DRC
In the hierarchisation of history, the dominant tradition would relegate the history of countries like the DRC to an onlooker’s role. Statistics from the United Nations on the most corrupt countries in the World do not explain the various ways that led to the spread of corruption. Where did the corruption of humanity begin as one and indivisible? Where did the corruption of justice begin, that of truth and humanity?
When will the rich understand that at the origin of their wealth, crimes against humanity were committed; when will they admit that at the origin of their riches there was criminal corruption of justice, corruption of truth and that of humanity; when will a fair and true dialogue between the rich and the poor looking to abandon the hierarchy dictated by the rich begin? Only then will the healing of crimes against humanity begin, crimes that are reproduced every time the rich refuse to acknowledge how their justice and truth have spread in the name of civilisation with the passing of time; justice has transformed into the barbarism that is called globalisation. A barbarity that recreates by changing words; discriminations from acquired mentalities during slavery, colonization and apartheid. With a few rare exceptions, these mentalities are rooted in society because the impunity of injustice and falsehood of the rich remain the law. The revolted consciences of the Congolese people are saying that that kind of mentality should be eradicated.
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* Jacques Depelchin is executive director of The Otabenga Alliance.
* Translated from French for Pambazuka News by Caroline Sipalla.
Debate: Critiquing the critique on China in Zambia
Human Rights Watch and labour abuses in Chinese state-owned copper mines
In November 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report that examined labour abuses in the Chinese state-owned copper mines in Zambia. Our report was based on 143 interviews with miners in Zambia’s copper mining industry, as well as interviews with union representatives, medical professionals, government officials, police officials, business representatives, and academics. We also made extensive use of secondary materials, official documents, and national laws. The report showed that while China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation (CNMC) had brought impressive investment that spurred needed job growth, serious labour abuses marked the CNMC-run operations. The report also demonstrated that while labour abuses were not unique to the CNMC-run mines - miners at other foreign-owned companies likewise raised complaints discussed in the report - the CNMC-run companies generally had a worse record than their multinational competitors in their failure to honour Zambian and international law regarding worker safety, hours at work, and freedom of association.
The report’s findings are similar to those of the 2009 report from the African Labour Research Network (ALRN), a group of African trade union-linked researchers. While noting differing labour conditions in Chinese-owned companies across African countries and industries, ALRN said, ‘[T]here are some common trends, such as tense labour relations, hostile attitudes by Chinese employers towards trade unions, violations of workers’ rights, poor working conditions and unfair labour practices.’
Regarding Zambia in particular, ALRN said, ‘While most of [sic] Chinese companies could be said to have policy statements on occupational health and safety, the policies are not being implemented. A number of workers in Chinese companies interviewed at NCF Africa Mining and China Geo-Engineering Corporation felt that Chinese companies paid lip service to occupational health and safety issues.’ Our report provides greater detail about the precise nature of these problems.
Human Rights Watch welcomes any and all critiques of its work in the 90 countries in which we research human rights abuses. We appreciate the opportunity here to respond to a critique of our Zambia report by two Hong Kong-based academics, Barry Sautman and Hairong Yan, published in Pambazuka News. We believe their article makes claims that are not supported qualitatively or quantitatively. We stand by the findings in our report.
Poor safety practices were arguably the biggest labour concern raised in our interviews with CNMC’s miners. Miners repeatedly described safety as being treated as secondary, with preventable accidents and health consequences as a result.
The Sautman-Yan critique of our safety findings is based in part on a misstatement of our methodology. They state, ‘Those interviewed by HRW included some 95 who had worked only at a CNMC firm and 48 who had also worked elsewhere.’ This leads to a focal point of their critique: ‘Miners who formerly worked at other mines, may not necessarily make sound comparisons, as observations of safety practices experienced by a worker at KCM [Indian-owned Konkola Copper Mines] in 2008 and then at NFCA [CNMC-run Non-Ferrous Company Africa] in 2011 do not tell us about safety practices at NFCA in 2008 or KCM in 2011.’
In fact, our report’s methodology states: ‘This report draws from interviews with 143 miners, including 95 from the four Chinese copper operations and 48 from non-Chinese copper mining operations.’ In 2010 and 2011, we conducted research throughout the Copperbelt - both at CNMC-run companies and copper mining firms run by other multinationals. Forty-eight miners were interviewed who were working at that time for other multinational firms.
The 95 miners interviewed from CNMC did include a substantial percentage who had worked at KCM or Swiss/Canadian-run Mopani Copper Mines (Mopani) in 2008, and these miners did compare their experiences - universally saying that their previous companies had better safety practices than the CNMC-run company. However, our comparison does not rely solely on this information. It also compares the responses of miners who still work at other multinational firms to the responses of those working at CNMC-run mines. The comparison is not a worker at KCM in 2008 and at NFCA in 2011, but rather a worker at KCM in 2011 and a worker at NFCA the same year.
By interviewing miners from other foreign-owned firms, we examined the current safety practices throughout the industry as stated by the miners themselves. There were significant differences, discussed in greater detail in the report. For example,
- On personal protective equipment (PPE), miners at the Chinese-run companies complained almost unanimously about the companies' failure to replace damaged equipment before the end of a set timeframe (with the exception of China Luanshya Mine, as the report states). Miners from other multinationals said they could receive replacements without difficulty when PPE was damaged.
- On safety officers’ authority underground, there were stark differences in the responses. Safety officers at the CNMC-run companies were consistently described as having little to no authority to stop work in unsafe areas. At the other companies, miners had more positive responses about safety officers' authority and gave examples in which they had stopped work and even sanctioned managers who tried to push workers to continue in areas with insufficient support.
- On pressure from bosses to continue working in areas that miners considered unsafe underground, there were significant differences of the same variety. Miners at the CNMC-run companies routinely described an environment in which their jobs were threatened if they did not continue working in areas they reasonably perceived to be unsafe.
- No miner interviewed from another multinational ever had accepted or been offered, or knew anyone in his work group who had accepted or been offered, a bribe for not reporting an accident to the Mines Safety Department. At NFCA alone, we documented six such cases. Other miners at NFCA and CCS described receiving threats to not report accidents.
Thus, there are a number of areas in which there were clear, consistent differences related to safety practices - with the CNMC-run companies performing the worst. These differences exist in core areas of mine safety, and the substandard performance by CNMC often violates Zambian and international law.
Sautman and Yan critique our methodology’s qualitative, interview-driven approach and state that ‘[t]he single most important measure of whether a mining company is deficient in safety compared to other firms is whether (other things being equal) that firm accounts for a large disproportion of fatalities.’ The HRW report employed a qualitative methodology in part because it is extremely difficult to make reliable comparisons based on small samples of fatality statistics, particularly when unable to control for extraneous variables. Some underground mine shafts in Zambia are around 500-600 metres deep (e.g., CNMC’s Luanshya Mine), some are around 1,000 metres (e.g., CNMC’s NFCA), and several extend to 1,300 to 1,500 metres (e.g., Mopani’s Mufulira and Mindola mines, and KCM’s new deep mine). The deeper the mining work, the more unstable the shaft - and the more likely the accident. Moreover, some underground mine shafts are relatively new, and generally built with more modern technology, while others are decades old. Finally, some fatalities may be caused by companies’ bad safety practices, while others may occur entirely due to worker negligence. The inability to control for these extraneous variables makes fatality statistics a flawed way to compare safety practices between companies.
However, even accepting Sautman and Yan’s argument, the statistics support - rather than contradict - HRW’s qualitative findings. Sautman and Yan make this claim: ‘In 2010-2011, there are about 55,000 workers in Zambia’s foreign-owned mines, of whom 10.5 per cent, or 5,850, work for CNMC’s two mining companies. CNMC-firm fatalities in Zambia - 11.5 per cent of the country’s total from 2001 to late 2011 - are not a very disproportionate number, which contradicts the claim that CNMC mines’ safety conditions are markedly worse....’
In fact, a closer examination of the statistics as presented by Sautman and Yan indicates that the fatality statistics do show the CNMC mines to be markedly worse. The Sautman-Yan statement contains two errors that lead to their flawed conclusion:
Sautman and Yan use CNMC’s 2011 percentage of the total copper mining workforce in their comparison with 2001 to 2011 fatality statistics, despite the CNMC operations’ continuous growth. Sino Metals, which employs between 300 and 400 miners, became operational in September 2006. Chambishi Copper Smelter (CCS), which employs around 900 workers, became operational in 2009.
Moreover, between 2001 and 2009, the Luanshya Mine - which is one of the two CNMC mining companies at present - was owned by other foreign multinationals, including an Indian company and a Swiss company. Luanshya was sold to CNMC in 2009, and restarted operations at the end of that year. Thus, in the way that Sautman and Yan establish their comparison, workers at Luanshya mine are counted as part of the CNMC workforce even before 2009, while the fatalities at Luanshya from 2001 to 2009 are counted in the other-than-CNMC total. This skews the CNMC fatality percentage for most of the years for which fatalities were counted.
From 2001-2008, CNMC therefore did not have two mining companies (and two processing plants) with a population of 5,850. It essentially had one mining company, NFCA, with a workforce between 2,000 and 2,500. The total Zambian mining population during that period was slightly lower than at present - as other foreign firms have recently opened new mines - and varied between 35,000 and 48,000. That would indicate an average CNMC workforce percentage of around 5.5 per cent for those eight years. For 2001 to 2011, a more accurate estimate of the CNMC workforce among Zambia’s foreign-owned mines would be 6.9 per cent.
In counting fatalities, Sautman and Yan acknowledge omitting the biggest catastrophe in the Zambian copper industry from the last decade: the BGRIMM dynamite plant explosion in 2005, which killed at least 46 Zambians. As recognized by Sautman and Yan, NFCA owned a 40 per cent interest in the plant. While NFCA did not directly manage it, the BGRIMM facilities were on the NFCA-run Chambishi mine site (victims’ graves are now just outside the NFCA gate). The other 60 per cent of BGRIMM Zambia was owned by BGRIMM, another Chinese state-owned enterprise. Sautman and Yan defend their decision to omit these statistics by saying the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ) does not attribute them to NFCA. While even that is questionable, given NFCA’s joint ownership and control of the premises, MUZ’s categorizing would certainly not suggest the BGRIMM deaths are not attributable to Chinese state-owned companies operating in Zambia’s copper industry. Thus, whereas Sautman and Yan state that 11.5 per cent (25 of 217) of fatalities have occurred in CNMC-run operations, the appropriate figure is instead: between 2001 and 2011, 27.0 pe rcent (71 of 263) of industry fatalities have occurred in Chinese state-owned firms.
Correcting these two errors, the result is that with a 2001-2011 average of 6.9 per cent of the workforce, Chinese-run copper operations have been responsible for 27 per cent of fatalities if BGRIMM is included, and 11.5 per cent of fatalities even if BGRIMM is not included.
Moreover, Sautman and Yan imply, based on an interview with a Mines Safety Department official, that while there may have been problems during CNMC’s first years, these have been largely resolved. The statistics in Sautman and Yan’s table show that from 2009-2011, CNMC-run mines have been responsible for 22.9 per cent (11 of 48) of fatalities, despite having only 10.5 per cent of the workforce.
OTHER MULTINATIONAL COMPANIES
The Sautman-Yan critique places a strong emphasis on a statement by MUZ's new president, in which he said that other multinational companies likewise violate labour law. HRW’s report does not dispute that, and indeed the report includes sections detailing the main labour complaints we received from miners at other companies - including the issue of subcontracted work at KCM, which is a serious problem.
However, the qualitative and quantitative evidence indicates that the CNMC-run companies have greater safety problems than other foreign-owned copper mines. The HRW report includes quotes from several national union leaders - including MUZ’s officer in charge of safety - who state that the CNMC-run companies have been particularly problematic. Our in-depth interviews with miners currently working for the various multinationals showed the same. Even in the quote used by Sautman and Yan to critique our report, MUZ's president states, ‘They (the Chinese-run companies) have their own problems like mistreating workers and not following labour laws’ - the core premise that our report elaborates on.
Moreover, the Sautman-Yan critique ignores Zambian media reports quoting government and union officials who agreed with HRW’s findings. In the Times of Zambia, the president of the National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW) responded to a question about our report: ‘[NUMAW president Mundia Sikufele] said that the Human Rights Watch report revealing that Chinese run copper mining companies in Zambia routinely flout the country labour laws is correct…He said the report brought out issues which the union and other stakeholders raised in the previous government.’ Sikufele is also quoted as referring to the report as ‘authentic’ and pushing the government to implement its recommendations.
The HRW report details union busting by the two CNMC-run processing plants, Sino Metals and CCS, to keep out MUZ. The report is clear that NFCA and CLM have both unions present. The Sautman-Yan critique mostly skirts the issue of anti-union activity in stating, ‘The reason why MUZ is recognized by NFCA and CLM, but not by the two CNMC processing firms needs more investigation and HRW should have left it at that.’ Human Rights Watch’s work is based on in-depth investigations, not identifying potential problems and failing to look deeper.
In HRW’s report, workers at CCS and Sino Metals are quoted as having been threatened with being fired if they filed papers to establish a MUZ branch. MUZ national officials are quoted describing their failed efforts to establish a branch office, including taking the companies to court and receiving a favourable order. MUZ's president, whom Sautman and Yan use as support in their critique of our safety section, expressed the problem’s severity to Zambia's Post newspaper: ‘Munyenyembe stated that MUZ had faced significant “roadblocks” in its quest to have the affected mineworkers unionised adding that firms such as Chinese-run Chambishi Copper Smelter and Sino Metals had even defied court judgments passed in MUZ's favour to have the said workers unionised.’ According to national union officials and miners across the industry, no other multinational company in Zambia’s copper mining industry has blocked the establishment of a union branch office like this.
HRW’s findings were presented to CNMC in a letter In response, one CNMC-run company, CCS, wrote: ‘We have discussed this with NUMAW leaders who are of the opinion that that for a company like Chambishi Copper Smelter, where there are less than 1,000 workers, one union suffices.’ It is unclear why CCS would consult with NUMAW, MUZ’s competitor union, to determine whether MUZ’s presence was warranted - rather than allow the miners themselves to decide.
HRW did document prejudicial acts against union representatives by almost every company across Zambia’s copper mining industry. HRW’s report detailed these violations of labour law both by CNMC-run companies and by other foreign-owned firms.
Sautman and Yan critique the HRW report’s discussion of hours by disregarding the report’s nuance, and then argue the report lacks nuance. They say the ‘actual story of hours worked by Zambian miners does not at all correspond to the impression HRW creates of Chinese work-‘til-you-drop bosses in contrast to enlightened managers at Western-based firms.’ In fact, we never state that most CNMC employees - or all CNMC companies - have abusive hours.
The report section that discusses hours focuses on the two CNMC-run processing plants. The report is clear that the two underground mining companies employ eight-hour shifts, six days a week, in accordance with Zambian law and industry standards. However, the fact that NFCA and CLM have lawful hours does not exonerate CNMC from the fact that its two processing companies do not. Miners in the main departments of Sino Metals work 72-hour work weeks (six days of 12 hours), while miners in another department described working 365 days without an off day. Based on interviews with national union officials and miners across the industry, no other company in the Zambian copper mining industry has a 72-hour work week.
CCS likewise operates on 12-hour shifts. As the report states, the problems are less severe than at Sino Metals, as CCS provides two days of rest for every four days of work. However, given the concentration of dust and noxious chemicals in the smelter, resulting in health consequences, CCS’s 12-hour shift probably violates international labour law as well. Miners at CCS have made an 8-hour shift a priority for several years during collective bargaining, but the company has consistently refused. Thus, our statement that ‘several Chinese-run copper mining companies require miners to work brutally long hours’, which Sautman and Yan criticize, is supported by the facts.
The wage information provided in HRW’s report comes directly from each company’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement wage tables - they were obtained from either union representatives at the individual companies, or from the MUZ national office. Sautman and Yan state that their information on wages comes from interviews with CNMC officials (‘CNMC Company officials have said NFCA’s overall average basic pay is about half that at KCM while at CLM it is about 80 per cent of KCM’s level…’).
Human Rights Watch believes that wage data in each company’s wage table is probably more accurate than what CNMC’s officials say in an interview. Those wage tables show, as detailed in the report’s Annex, that at the time of our publication the CNMC-run processing operations - CCS and Sino Metals - generally paid one-third to one-sixth the salaries of their multinational competitors for similar work; and the CNMC-run underground mines paid about one-half to one-third what their competitors paid for underground work. As the report states, the Chinese-owned CLM paid more competitive wages than the Chinese-owned NFCA. The report also makes clear that CNMC-run companies have significantly increased their wages over the last five years, though Sautman and Yan ignore this in criticizing our findings and indeed cite a Zambian professor saying the same thing.
After our report’s release, media reports indicate Sino Metals and NFCA both gave impressive pay increases during collective bargaining negotiations for 2012, drastically reducing the prior discrepancy.
Sautman and Yan conclude by saying the report denotes a ‘political agenda’ from Human Rights Watch. As support, they state that the organization’s work on mining in Africa has focused solely upon Zimbabwe and CNMC. That is inaccurate, as an on-line search of HRW’s related work in Africa would indicate. In reality, the organization has consistently reported on abuses by Western companies and governments with the same vigour as for those from China and elsewhere in the world.
This information was readily accessible to Sautman and Yan, as a textbox in the Zambia report highlights other HRW reports on business and human rights. In Africa, this includes reports on the relationship between a murderous armed group in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a company in the UK-based mining conglomerate Anglo American seeking access to a gold-rich mining site; Western oil companies' role in abuses in Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria; labour abuses in [South Africa’s wine industry; and child gold mining in Mali, including the role of Western gold importers. Outside of Africa, our work includes documenting abuses by Canadian-owned Barrick Gold at a gold mine in Papua New Guinea; abuses by Philip Morris in Kazakhstan; the role]role of Enron Corporation in rights violations in India; American internet service providers' role in surveillance and censorship in China; labour rights violations by Wal-Mart in the United States; and labour rights violations by major European multinationals in the United States.
Sautman and Yan go even further in a second version of the critique, stating that, ‘While HRW criticizes the Chinese government per se, its reports on Western entities mostly focus on specific private companies or errant government officials.’ HRW’s report on CNMC in Zambia certainly does not criticize the Chinese government as such, but rather the ‘specific company’ CNMC. Moreover, in July 2011, HRW released a report entitled ‘Getting Away with Torture’, in which the highest-level US officials from the Bush administration, including former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, were cited as individually and jointly responsible for torture. HRW called for criminal investigations against them, and called on foreign countries to where they might travel to exercise universal jurisdiction. While perhaps the most high-profile of such reports, criticizing Western governments for human rights abuses is the norm, not an outlier.
Sautman and Yan’s critique makes broad-brush statements that distort the facts and ignore the nuance present in HRW’s report. The report repeatedly notes that the CNMC-run companies have improved labour conditions since beginning operations in 2001. The report highlights CNMC’s impressive investment, which has saved jobs at mines closed by other investors and created new jobs. None of this is acknowledged in their critique. Indeed, their critique goes far beyond what CNMC itself disagreed with us about in its detailed reply letter to HRW. While denying some abuses that HRW documented, CNMC welcomed the research and promised an in-depth investigation into the main findings. CNMC even acknowledged that NFCA’s underground mining unit, JCHX, had ‘resulted in NFCA being subject to repeated criticisms from Zambia government departments including the tax department, audit department, mining department and safety department.’
HRW’s report sought to move beyond the zealous claims from both sides of the ‘China-in-Africa’ debate and evaluate, from the perspective of miners in a large Chinese state-owned company in Zambia, the adherence to labour rights norms. The report’s conclusions are rooted in the belief expressed in every interview with CNMC's miners: with improved respect for labour rights, CNMC's role in Zambia would be extremely positive. But unfortunately, as our research shows, there remains much work to be done on that front - both by the CNMC-run companies and by the Zambian government’s Mines Safety Department, which has failed to protect workers’ rights adequately throughout the industry.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Human Rights Watch is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights around the world.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 African Labour Research Network, ‘Chinese Investments in Africa: A Labour Perspective’, Anthony Yaw Baah and Herbert Jauch, eds. (Windhoek: African Labour Research Network, 2009), p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 182
 Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, ‘Barking up the wrong tree: Human Rights Watch and Chinese copper mining in Zambia’, Pambazuka News, December 14, 2011, http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/78660
 This quote comes from a second, expanded version of the critique. Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, ‘Gilded Outside, Shoddy Within: The Human Rights Watch report on Chinese copper mining in Zambia’, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 9, December 26, 2011.
 Sautman and Yan, ‘Barking up the wrong tree’; Dow Jones Newswires, ‘Zambia KCM Completes Deep Mine Shaft, Targets 400,000 Tons of Copper’, June 30, 2011; Andrew Lanham, ‘Mopani spending $560m to triple production’, Miningweekly.com, August 26, 2005; D. O. del Castillo et al., ‘Refrigeration and Ventilation Design for the Deepening of Mindola Copper Mine’ (paper presented at The Third Southern African Conference on Base Metals), http://www.basemetals.org.za/Kitwe2005/281-296_delCastillo.pdf, p. 1.
 Sautman and Yan, ‘Gilded Outside, Shoddy Within’.
 CNMC, ‘Sino-Metal Leach Zambia Limited and Sino-Acid Products Zambia Limited’, August 20, 2009, http://www.cnmc.com.cn/detailen2.jsp?article_millseconds=1318946120095&column_no=011501
 Reuters, ‘Zambia's Chambishi smelter to start up in January’, December 30, 2008. Construction for CCS, which began in 2007, was done by the Chinese parastatal 15MCC, not CNMC. China No. 15 Metallurgical Construction Group Co., Ltd., ‘Zambia Chambishi Copper Smelter Put into Production’, February 25, 2009, http://www.cn15mcc.com/e_new_view.asp?id=449
 Sautman and Yan recognize this elsewhere in their critique. Sautman and Yan, ‘Barking up the wrong tree’.
 ‘CNMC successfully acquires Zambia's Luanshya Copper Mines’, People’s Daily Online, October 5, 2009, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90778/90861/6784721.html; Reuters, ‘Zambia's Baluba mine to resume output December 15’, November 13, 2009.
 Even the estimate of between 2,000 and 2,500 workers likely overstates the average CNMC employment between 2001 and 2008. Two reports released in 2007 place NFCA’s employment at around 2,100, which was an increase from its first years. Alastair Fraser and John Lungu, ‘For Whom the Windfalls?: Winners & losers in the privatisation of Zambia’s Copper Mines’, 2007; Austin Muneku & Grayson Koyi, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, ‘The Social and Economic Impact of Asian FDI in Zambia: A Case of Chinese and Indian Investments in the Extractive Industry in Zambia (1997-2007)’, 2007. NFCA did not even become operational until 2003. Xinhua, ‘CNMC kicks off production at copper mine in Zambia’, November 28, 2010. NFCA currently employs over 3,000 workers. Han Wei and Shen Hu, ‘Zambian Workers Return to Jobs at Chinese-Owned Copper Mine’, Caixin, October 23, 2011.
 Austin Muneku & Grayson Koyi, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, ‘The Social and Economic Impact of Asian FDI in Zambia: A Case of Chinese and Indian Investments in the Extractive Industry in Zambia’ (1997-2007), 2007, p. 21. Fraser and Lungu show NFCA as having just over 2,000 employees in 2006 out of around 40,000 miners at the five companies they surveyed in Appendix 4. NFCA’s percentage of the total copper mining population for that year would be around 5 percent, not 10.5 percent. Fraser and Lungu, ‘For Whom the Windfalls?’, p. 73.
 Sautman and Yan, ‘Barking up the wrong tree’, footnote 8. Reports varyingly place the BGRIMM death toll at 46, 49, or 51 people. As in our report, HRW uses the smallest figure here.
 Dow Jones Newswires, ‘Zambia's Miners Pay High Price For Copper Boom’, October 12, 2005; Deborah Brautigum, ‘The Dragon’s Gift: The real story of China in Africa’, January 2010, p. 5 (‘In April 2005, as many as fifty-one factory workers were killed in an explosion at the Chinese-owned BGRIMM explosives plant on the grounds of Chambishi.’); BBC News, ‘Dozens killed in Zambia explosion’, April 21, 2005 (‘The BGRIMM Explosives factory, located on the premises of the Chambishi mine…’).
 Jackie Range, ‘Zambia's Miners Pay High Price For Copper Boom’, Dow Jones Newswires, October 12, 2005.
 Sautman and Yan, ‘Barking up the wrong tree’ (with statistics through August 19, 2011).
 ‘Chinese Firms not that Bad, says Miners’ Union’, Daily Mail (Zambia), November 4, 2011.
 Kanyanta Katongo, ‘Work within law, Chinese told’, Daily Mail (Zambia), November 9, 2011 (quoting the Minister of Labour); Chusa Sichone, ‘Workers cry for improved conditions of service’, Times of Zambia, November 14, 2011 (quoting NUMAW’s vice national secretary Christopher Silute); Margaret Samulela, ‘We Are Good Guys – China’, Daily Mail, November 8, 2011 (quoting the Minister of Labour).
 ‘Report on Chinese firms right – NUMAW’, Times of Zambia, November 5, 2011, p. 3.
 This quote comes from Sautman and Yan, ‘Gilded Outside, Shoddy Within’.
 Mwila Chansa-Ntambi, ‘Enforce decent work agenda, MUZ urges gov’t,’ The Post (Zambia, July 26, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with miners from CCS and union officials, November 2010 and July 2011.
 Sautman and Yan, ‘Barking up the wrong tree’.
 Dow Jones Newswires, ‘Zambian Miners Agree Labor Deal With Sino Metals Plant’, January 9, 2012; Dow Jones Newswires, ‘Zambia Copper Miners Accept NCFA's 44% Pay Rise Offer-Unions’, January 2, 2012.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘The Curse of Gold’, June 1, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Well Oiled: Oil and Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea’, July 9, 2009; Human Rights Watch, ‘The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria’s Oil Producing Communities’, February 23, 1999.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries’, August 23, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘A Poisonous Mix: Child Labor, Mercury, and Artisanal Gold Mining in Mali’, December 6, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Papua New Guinea: Serious Abuses at Barrick Gold Mine’, February 1, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Hellish Work: Exploitation of Migrant Tobacco Workers in Kazakhstan’, July 13, 2010.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘The Enron Corporation: Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Violations’, January 1, 1999.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship’, August 9, 2006.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Discounting Rights: Wal-Mart’s Violation of US Workers’ Right to Freedom of Association’, April 30, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘A Strange Case: Violations of Workers’ Freedom of Association in the United States by European Multinational Corporations’, September 2, 2010.
 Sautman and Yan, “Gilded Outside, Shoddy Within.”
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees’, July 12, 2011. When former-President Bush visited Canada, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling for Canada to open a criminal investigation.
 See Human Rights Watch, ‘Cruel Britannia: British Complicity in the Torture and Ill-treatment of Terror Suspects in Pakistan’, November 24, 2009; Human Rights Watch, ‘No Questions Asked: Intelligence Cooperation with Countries that Torture’, June 28, 2010; Human Rights Watch, ‘Without Suspicion: Stop and Search under the Terrorism Act 2000’, July 4, 2010; Human Rights Watch, ‘Preempting Justice: Counterterrorism Laws and Procedures in France’, July 1, 2008; Human Rights Watch, ‘Discrimination in the Name of Neutrality: Headscarf Bans for Teachers and Civil Servants in Germany’, February 26, 2009.
Debate: The wrong answers to the wrong question
A response to HRW
Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) response to our critique of their report on copper mining in Zambia by subsidiaries of state-owned China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Corp. (CNMC) ignores our main criticisms of their empirical-methodological errors and its interpretation that attributes their ‘findings’ to Chinese trivializing safety and importing practices from China. It ignores too the effects of incitement of anti-Chinese racism in Zambia’s mining region by the now-ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and the effects of the bashing discourse of China-in-Africa promoted by Western politicians and media, to which the HRW report has quite predictably contributed. Its argument that CNMC firms, in contrast to Western-based mining companies in Zambia, are the ‘bad employers’ and ‘the worst’ in that country’s industry has no basis, when those relevant factors related to safety, unionization, hours, and wages that HRW continues to ignore are taken into account. Empirically and politically, the HRW report itself provides the wrong answers to the wrong question about China and human rights in Africa.
HRW fails to understand that it is unsound to rely on comparisons that miner interviewees made about safety conditions in CNMC-owned mines and other mines. Most interviewees have worked either at CNMC-owned mines or the mines of other foreign owners, but not both. Their comparisons are thus speculative, based on hearsay. HRW nevertheless uses such comparisons to claim that safety conditions at CNMC facilities are ‘the worse.’
A minority of HRW interviewees worked in 2008 at two of the other foreign-owned mines, UK/Indian-owned KCM and Swiss/Canadian-run MCM, before they came to CNMC. Those who were laid-off by KCM or MCM and hired by CNMC firms during this period would mostly have been among the nearly 10,0000 permanent workers shed by other mine owners (on job loss in the financial crisis, see below). Thus those who HRW interviewed likely experienced the safety conditions that permanent employees had in KCM or MCM. HRW ignores that contract workers are half or more of KCM and MCM’s workforces and have much worse conditions of service than permanent employees. Those who HRW interviewed might be representative of permanent workers at KCM and MCM in 2008, but are not at all representative of all workers at these two companies. Thus they cannot authoritatively compare safety at CNMC firms with safety at KCM and MCM, not to speak of safety at the several other foreign-owned firms.
HRW also ignores that their miner interviewees not only do not have an experiential basis for drawing safety comparisons, they also cannot be relied upon, because many are likely biased against Chinese. Zambians generally and miners particularly have been subjected to a six-year barrage of vituperative anti-Chinese racism by PF head and now-President Michael Sata and workers at CNMC enterprises have shown through their use of anti-Chinese slogans that they are influenced by the PF and Western anti-Chinese discourse. While strikes are commonplace and violent protests are occasional in Zambia’s copper industry, racialized slogans are uniquely present in strikes at CNMC’s subsidiaries. It is not rare for Zambians to perceive that those of their countrymen who work for Chinese firms are mostly anti-Chinese, a perception confirmed by researchers in Zambia. Where workers have a conscious or unconscious racial animus against employers, they may not accurately depict even conditions they say they experienced or saw. Studies have shown that racialized discourse shapes attitudes and distorts evaluations on a wide range of issues.
We argue that with a sufficient sample size, the soundest way to determine whether a company’s safety practices are markedly worse than other firms’ is to use fatality rates. HRW calls such a method flawed because there are ‘extraneous variables’. It is not merely we who argue that the fatality rate is the best measure of safety: the leading sociologist of industrial injuries has put it that: ‘The data which are the most reliable indication of safety are those for fatalities.’ In Zambia injuries may be underreported, but fatalities cannot be hidden.
Variables must be taken into account when considering the implications of fatality rates, but are not ‘extraneous’: factors such as whether mines being compared are open cast (OC, a.k.a. ‘surface’ and ‘open pit’) or underground (UG) are basic to safety comparisons. HRW ignores those factors that cut against its argument that CNMC firms are the worst. CNMC is alone in having its two mines, NFCA Chambishi and CNMC Luanshya (CLM), both UG; all other foreign-owned mining firms have either only OC or mixed OC/UG mines. UG mines are notoriously less safe places than OC mines; in the US, for example, the fatality rate of underground mining is nearly three times that of OC mining.
Factoring in CNMC mines being both UG, one would thus expect that fatality rates at CNMC mines would be markedly worse than the average rate for all foreign-owned mines, but they are not. The scale of the Zambian copper industry is not large enough so that year-by-year company-by-company comparison of fatality rates is meaningless. However, it becomes meaningful if we compare CNMC’s 10-year cumulative average (2001-2011) against the cumulative average of the entire foreign-operated industry over the same period. This comparison shows that the rates are roughly the same, even before taking into account the wholly UG nature of CNMC firms’ mines. HRW notes that CNMC firms had fewer workers before 2009 than they have had since, but so too did other mines. From 2001-2008, before CNMC acquired CLM and operationalized CCS, we estimate that its firms averaged 2,800 employees (including those constructing Sino-Metal and CCS) - 7.2 per cent of foreign-owned firm employees, which averaged 39,000. CNMC firms had a corresponding 8.2 per cent of the 169 fatalities in Zambian copper mining from 2001-2008.
In 2009-2011, the proportion of CNMC fatalities was somewhat higher than before, because CNMC firm workforces grew and incorporated more workers, while other mines reduced their workforces during the financial crisis and retained experienced workers. New mines were being built at Chambishi and Luanshya. More workers doing construction raises the likelihood of fatalities, as mine construction is more dangerous than mine operation. At any rate, fatality comparisons for such a short period (2009-2011) in the Zambian context are meaningless.
In an attempt to fudge the fatality comparisons, HRW’s response makes much of the BGRIMM dynamite plant explosion of 2005. The Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ), in its statistics on fatalities, does not attribute that accident to NFCA because NFCA played no role in managing the dynamite plant. BGRIMM, a non-CNMC firm, managed it and was thus automatically held responsible for the accident, irrespective of whether worker negligence caused it, because the legal doctrine of liability without regard to fault (strict liability) applies where deaths or injuries occur in the course of such ultra-hazardous activity as dynamite-making. If HRW research indeed focuses on ‘the specific company’ CNMC as it claims to do, then there is no reason for HRW to drag in the BGRIMM tragedy. The only logic to aggregate the two would be an ethnic/racial one: that of their being Chinese. HRW fails to resist this temptation and thus allows this ethnic/racial lens to prevail over its professed focus on CNMC.
HRW’s discussion of safety violations at CNMC firms concerns failure to replace personal protective equipment (PPE) at three of four CNMC firms, safety officer authority, pressures to work in areas miners deem unsafe and bribes offered for not reporting an accident. Such practices are to be deplored and ended, but hardly amount to human rights violations in the sense most people understand the phrase. Given the deadliness of indisputable human rights violations in mining in many African states, one should wonder why the Africa division of a major human rights organization would focus on such low-level violations, other than the fact that the firm it chose to critique was not a random or ordinary Chinese company involved in extractive industries in Africa, but one already at the center of an anti-Chinese and China-bashing campaign by Western politicians and media. More importantly, we challenge the implication that the practices HRW discusses only occur at Chinese-owned firms, in Zambia or elsewhere. For example, according to the Zambian Confederation of Trade Unions, the failure to provide PPE is common throughout Zambian industry, only a tiny proportion of which consists of Chinese-owned firms. That, in broader terms, is what the MUZ president indicated when he stated that CNMC firms ‘have their own problems like mistreating workers and not following labor laws, but other mining houses are also culprits in this area. It is not only the Chinese mining companies.’
Long-term fatalities comparison indicates that CNMC firms’ safety records are about the same as other foreign-owned Zambia copper mining companies. Firm-level studies by NGOs of safety conditions at Zambian copper mines, including KCM, MCM, and Chibuluma mine, owned by South Africa’s Metorex, all found serious safety problems. HRW’s continued assertion that CNMC firms are ‘the worst’ in the face of our having shown elementary methodological mistakes in its report - e.g. the failure to take into account the effects of UG versus OC mining - shows a lack of intellectual honesty that carries over to other aspects of the response.
The HRW response discusses MUZ not representing workers at two CNMC-owned copper processing plants, CCS and Sino-Metals, to make out a case that CNMC firms, but not Western-based ones, are ‘anti-union’. The other miners’ union, the National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW), is the bargaining agent at CCS and Sino-Metals. Some 80 per cent of CNMC-firm employees work at CNMC’s NFCA Chambishi and CLM mines, where both unions are recognized and bargain together.
HRW ignores our question of why CNMC would be ‘anti-union’ only as to one of the two unions and only at its relatively small processing firms, but not anti-union as to the two unions at its two mines. It ignores our query because there is no logical answer; all that is known with certainty is that MUZ wants in at CCS and Sino-Metals and that these firms have said that MUZ hasn’t filed papers indicating the necessary worker support. Whether CCS and Sino-Metals have uniquely ‘blocked the establishment of a union branch office’, as HRW alleges, thus remains an open question. Again, however, it is far-fetched to raise to the level of a human rights violation a situation where most workers have the choice of one or the other of two independent unions and a minority are represented by one of those unions.
We are of the view that resolution of this dispute by allowing workers to have a choice of unions is the better option. Having only one independent union at a firm or even in industry is not however widely regarded as a human rights violation. Both the previous Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD)-led government (1991-2011) and the present PF government have had policies of encouraging representation by only one union at each firm (MMD) or in each industry (PF). At the South African-owned Chibuluma mine, there was, as of 2009, only one union (MUZ) and a study found that workers were convinced that having everyone in the same union increased their leverage in bargaining with the bosses. Indeed, Zambia’s Democratic Governance and Human Rights Advocates head Gerald Mutelo has stated that ‘having one union will represent the workers effectively’.
The HRW report, in dealing with the question of long hours at CNMC firms, does not claim that all their employees work 72-hour weeks or 365 days a year, but its author did generalize at a widely-viewed website that ‘several Chinese-run copper mining companies require miners to work brutally long hours - 72-hour work week for some, 365 days without an off day for others…’ In fact, the HRW report states that miners at the two CNMC-owned mines work the Zambian standard of eight hours a day, six days a week, that only one of several departments at Sino Metals requires a 72-hour work week, and that CCS has four 12-hour work days, followed by two days off. A 72-hour work week is something no firm would want to continue unless it felt it had no choice, given that Zambian law requires time and a half or double time pay for hours beyond 48 a week. As for CCS, an employee has written that:
‘[workers in CCS] have 48-hour work weeks and work 20-21 days a month. The reason for doing 12-hour shifts is for the sake of the smooth operation of the kinds of machines that we currently have. As CCS is a new plant, most local employees cannot yet independently operate the machines. So there are still Chinese at each shift, overseeing the operations. Not enough Chinese are around to be spread to supervise 3 shifts. Zambian workers prefer to work 8-hour shifts. The management has considered it, but it would be possible only when local workers have adequate skill for independent operation. So the management is pushing for localization of skills.’
What the HRW response also ignores, in another lapse in intellectual honesty, is all evidence that directly contradicts its assertion that no other company in Zambian copper mining requires long hours of its workers. In 2007, KCM miners reported they worked more than eight hours, often up to 12 hours, without overtime pay. In 2008, a Zambian seeking employment at Chambishi stated that ‘his countrymen prefer to be employed by the NFCA rather than other foreign companies. They say they would rather work the eight hours demanded of them by the NFCA than the 12 hours which is commonplace in other companies.’ In 2009, KCM miners worked four 12-hour days, then two days off. In 2010, a permanent employee miner at Lumwana mine said her colleagues work four 12-hour day shifts, then four 12-hour night shifts, followed by four days off. In 2012, miners who struck at Kansanshi demanded that their 12-hours shifts be cut to eight hours.
A 2011 UK newspaper account of MCM noted that miners there ‘toil six-and-a-half days a week in the rock underneath Mufulira’, i.e. more hours per week than do NFCA or CLM underground miners and, in effect, up to 365 days a year. Presumably, thousands of miners at MCM work that schedule, as the MCM workforce totals about 16,500 compared to a total of less than 6,000 at all CNMC firms. Workers in one Sino Metals department who claimed to HRW that they work every day are far fewer. Media reports about the HRW study have predictably asserted that long shifts are a general practice of Chinese-owned mining firms in Zambia and Chinese-owned mining firms alone, while the HRW report itself tells readers they should infer something from it about Chinese practices in Africa more generally.
On hours, as on safety then, the CNMC firms are about the same as other firms. They may even be a bit better, as a smaller part of the total CNMC workforce seems to work long hours than the total workforces at other, larger firms.
The HRW report (p. 24) contends there is a large pay gap between CNMC-owned firms and other foreign investors, asserting that ‘Chinese copper mining companies offer base salaries around one-fourth of their competitors for the same work’. In HRW’s response, it is put that CNMC firms pay one-sixth to one-half the salaries paid by other firms. A wage gap exists and should not be excused on moral/political grounds, but due to the presence of numerous low-paid contract workers at several non-CNMC mines, the gap is not nearly as large as HRW claims.
A long academic paper critiquing the HRW report that we are writing has an elaborate discussion of why wages have been lower at CNMC firms than among permanent employees at Zambia’s other mining firms. We can only summarize that discussion here. We do not question the wage schedules shown in HRW’s appendix. We do take issue with HRW’s taking it at its face value. There is more than what meets the eye. HRW continues to ignore the critical fact, stated in our earlier critique, that significant proportions of workforces at the other firms are low-paid or super low-paid contract workers.
In early 2012, Zambia’s Minister of Labour ‘bemoaned the high levels of casualization of labor in mining companies…’ At non-CNMC firms, contract workers are 25-57 per cent of the workforces. NGO researchers have said that ‘When we visited [MCM’s main mine] Mufulira in 2009 and 2010, the miners confirmed that their wages were still far from sufficient, and that those employed by sub-contractors could be paid as little as half the wages of permanent employees, for the same work.’ Zambia’s Deputy Commissioner of Labour stated in 2011 that contractor’s workers may get as little as one-fourth the pay of permanent employees. A UK journalist who interviewed MCM miners in 2011 said they were ‘typically paid’ three British pounds per day, about US$120 a month. That is too low a figure for regular MCM employees, but likely the salary of contract workers, who constitute half MCM’s workforce. In 2011, the Labour Ministry reported that ‘[L]abor offices have recorded a number of reports, especially in areas such as Mopani Copper Mines and Konkola Copper Mines, where several sub-contracted companies have been paying below the Government's minimum wage requirements’ of K419,000 or $82 a month. When KCM contract workers struck in 2011, they stated that no contract worker was paid more than K500,000 or about US$100 a month. In 2012, striking Kansanshi miners demanded an end to contract work and added that they were paid between K1m-5m monthly, indicating that the contract workers among them likely received half or less of permanent employees’ pay.
In contrast, workers at the two CNMC mines, where 80 per cent of CNMC workers are employed, are permanent and pensionable. When account is taken that CNMC mines employ permanent workers and KCM, MCM and other larger firms employ many low-paid contract workers, the actual wage gap between Chinese-owned firms and these much larger ones diminishes significantly. Yet the HRW report simplistically bases its conclusions only on the apparent wage scales differential and ignores how the actual compositions of workforces impact actual average basic pay.
Two other pay-influencing factors were also ignored by HRW: productivity and profit levels. Productivity in tons of copper per worker per year produced by non-CNMC firms in 2010 ranged from 10.4 to 58.3, while the two CNMC-owned mines had 7.1 and 7.7. The difference largely results from the UG nature and low copper content of CNMC-owned mines. There is a global tendency for highly productive enterprises to pay higher wages than less productive ones. For example, productivity and wages in Zambia are low by Canadian standards. In 2009, Canada’s Highland Valley Copper (HVC) produced 118,000t with 880 employees, 134t per worker, more than twice the level of productivity at the Canadian-owned Kansanshi mine in Zambia, more than 10 times the Zambia average, and about 18 times the average at CNMC’s Zambia mines. Basic salaries for HVC miners in 2011 were $5,700 a month or some 14 times those at CNMC Zambia mines.
The world over, more profitable enterprises also tend to pay more than less profitable ones. Kansanshi in 2010 had an operating profit of $997m, while NFCA’s was about $40m. NFCA’s profits began in 2005, seven years after CNMC bought Chambishi mine. The firm stated in 2011 that it had made a total about $200m in profits over the years and reinvested it at Chambishi. Productivity at CNMC’s other mine, CLM, is about the same as at NFCA, so CLM profits are likely to be no higher. As we show in our academic paper, while Kansanshi profits were 25 times those of NFCA, KCM’s profits were 13.2 times those of NFCA and the Australian/Canadian owned Lumwana mines’ profits were 7.7 times as high as NFCA’s. CNMC investments have also been high, due to a unique need for a substantial rehabilitation of the mines it acquired and subsequent expansion. NFCA alone reckons that it has invested US$1.4b since it entered Zambia in 1998. In contrast, the only mine roughly comparable to NFCA in annual production, Chibuluma, estimated in 2008 that its total investments from 1997-2015 would amount to only $157m.
When factors ignored by HRW, such as contract workers, productivity and profits, are taken into account, the wage gap narrows and is explicable in terms other than what HRW has claimed, namely that CNMC insists on exporting Chinese labour standards to Zambia. The wage gap in the two CNMC processing plants has been wider, but again, is explicable. A group of CCS Chinese employees stated in 2011 that pay is affected by CCS not having its own mine, unlike KCM and MCM, whose production is more than sufficient to feed those firms’ smelters. The 40,000 tons per year production of CNMC-owned mines is insufficient to feed CCS, which opened with a 150,000t per year capacity and is expanding to 250,000t. CCS thus must continue to seek to process, for a small fee, copper from larger firms’ mines. It was stated in 2011 that ‘the company experienced a shortage of raw materials which were in erratic supply from the mining companies’, that it ‘was also considering putting up a mine which should supply the smelter with raw materials unlike currently where it depended largely on other mining firms’ and that it would have to work with small-scale miners.
MUZ told us in 2011 that CNMC intended to reach the ‘industry standard’ in salaries in 2012. That does not necessarily involve uniform pay, as a wide range of mining wages is found in most countries; for example, underground miners basic wages in the US in 2010 ranged from $15-$37 an hour. In January, 2012, NFCA agreed to a 44 per cent raise and Sino Metals provided a K800,000 pay rise that is a 100-150 per cent increase for the vast majority of its workers. If the two other CNMC companies follow suit, the wage gap will be significantly diminished, as other firms are apt to agree to smaller increases: Kansanshi’s owners agreed to a 27 per cent increase and KCM gave 17 per cent to its employees, with the lowest-paid (permanent employee) miner now reportedly receiving K3m a month. Their respective salary increases mean that in 2012 the lowest-paid NFCA worker will earn almost three-fourths the salary of the lowest-paid permanent worker at the much more profitable KCM.
If the CNMC firms have been worse on pay and about the same on safety and hours, they have been better than other firms on job security, a right ignored by HRW, but deemed very important by workers. There were 63,000 workers in Zambia’s copper mines when the financial crisis hit in late 2008. By spring 2009, 30 per cent (19,000 workers) were laid off, but only by non-CNMC firms. During the crisis, nearly half the industry’s 20,000 permanent employees were laid-off. After the recovery, some firms did not hire back many workers they had laid off: KCM had 11,978 of its own employees in 2008, but 9,696 in 2010. In 2008, MCM had 10,000 of its own employees, but by May 2009 it pared down to 7,500 permanent employees and in 2011 had about 8,250 permanent workers. CNMC however adopted a ‘three not’s’ (san bu) policy: to not lay off workers, not cut back on planned investment, and not hesitate to make new investments. CNMC firms not only did not lay off workers, they hired more, when CNMC acquired Luanshya mine during the financial crisis. In contrast, when Luanshya’s former owner, the Swiss firm J&W (Enya) had acquired Luanshya in 2004, it re-hired only 1,000 of the 4,000 workers who had been employed there previously. It contracted mining development to a South African firm that hired over 1,000 workers at half the regular wage. After CLM took over however, it got rid of the contractor and made the 1,000 workers into CLM’s own employees, doubling their salaries.
If the CNMC firms are worse on some practices, about the same on others and better on still others, one can hardly pretend that they are ‘the worst’. That however is precisely what HRW does. Even when shortcomings in its report, from the standpoint of basic social science methodology, are pointed out, HRW arrogantly rejects every aspect of the critique, making a mockery of its claim that it ‘welcomes any and all critiques of its work…’ The root of HRW’s continuing defense of its report, is politics, in this case the politics of China-bashing.
HRW’s response avers that its ‘report on CNMC in Zambia certainly does not criticize the Chinese government as such, but rather the ‘specific company’ CNMC. That is not so: the HRW report states (p.1) that it ‘begin[s] to paint a picture of China’s broader role in Africa’ and describes itself (p. 13) as ‘a useful magnifying lens into Chinese labor practices in Africa’. Its author told us the report was written in response to enquiries by policymakers, media and human rights advocates about human rights implications of Chinese investments in Africa, not about one ‘specific company’. Western media know the report was intended to say something about China-in-Africa and China more generally, as only specialists would be interested in CNMC activities in Zambia in isolation. The media, following HRW’s cues, have emphasized that ‘China’, ‘the Chinese’ and ‘Chinese companies’ uniquely oppress African workers.
HRW’s approach is perhaps to be expected, as it is exclusively Western-funded and immersed in Western liberal ideology. That does not preclude it from criticizing the activities of Western governments and sometimes effectively, but it is a critique of a different order from its consistent pattern in about 60 reports of criticizing the Chinese government per se. For example, HRW’s criticism of unpopular Bush administration officials for engaging in torture is not a criticism of the US government (now under a different administration), not to speak of the US-led global hegemony that gives rise to repeated wars on and hardship in countries of the developing world. It is also not surprising that with regard to labour abuses in Zambia, HRW, as a liberalist organization, focuses only on a Chinese SOE, rather than on the privatization of mining, as the chief generative factor in abuses, even though careful studies of the deterioration of workers’ rights in Zambian mining have found that it has been neo-liberal privatization, not actions by companies of one nationality, that has been responsible.
HRW’s report was written in response to queries that probes human rights implications about Chinese investments in Africa. Linking ‘Chinese’ investments with human rights concern smacks racial profiling and reflects China-in-Africa discourse bias. Racial profiling is a form of policing that links criminality and other malpractices with a specific race, ethnicity or national origin. It is thus a wrong question for starting off an investigation. The HRW report addresses this question by singling out CNMC and focusing on its firms’ malpractices, while neither similarly investigating wrongdoing at non-Chinese-owned operations nor comprehensively evaluating how Chinese-owned firms may differ from other companies. With the wrong question to begin with, it goes on to provide wrong answers about matters that implicate abuses such as poor safety conditions, low pay and long hours that are common throughout Zambia’s mining industry. By singling out firms based on nationality and making a conclusion about it, HRW approached its Zambia study differently from how other NGOs have done firm-level studies of foreign copper mining companies there. NGOs that studied KCM did so ‘because of its sheer size’. Their report shows that development of Zambia copper mining has not benefited society at large, but has brought suffering and disadvantages. They did not focus on KCM because it is UK-based or ethnic Indian-owned, nor did they critically distinguish KCM from other firms. A study of MCM’s misbehavior, while specific, fundamentally questions ‘the link between development and mining in general’ and makes nothing of the fact that MCM is a Swiss citizen or that all its top officers are whites. The study points out moreover that MCM is ‘far from a stand-alone case’. The HRW report, in contrast, has constructed and promoted a binary of CNMC, as a Chinese firm versus the rest, thereby inserting its report into the skewed China-in-Africa discourse. Having done so, HRW portrays itself to be moderate and balanced.
HRW’s response paints the report as nuanced and avoiding ‘zealous claims from both sides of the “China in Africa” debate…’ The idea is that HRW’s approach is ‘moderate’, while our critique ‘goes far beyond’ what CNMC said in response to the HRW report. The report however is not nuanced; it makes such basic mistakes by ignoring key structural conditions that explain differences between the practices of the CNMC and other firms. The culturalist explanation offered by the HRW report about CNMC behavior is spurious and fanciful. There is a need to go beyond what CNMC itself has said about the report, because CNMC has neither the background in social science nor the political leeway to craft a thoroughgoing critique.
There are not ‘zealous claims from both sides’ in the China-in-Africa discourse. As it stands, in Western politics and media at least, it is a one-sided negative assault on ‘the Chinese’. The scholars who have ably critiqued this discourse have not done so out of zeal, but because it is empirically inaccurate and politically perilous. The zealots are those who jump into the discourse so as to ‘prove’ that China, even as represented by one firm, is uniquely oppressive in Africa. In doing so, they help to keep alive the racist myths about Chinese cruelty and disregard for human life that have long existed in the West and have been spread to Africa, myths that prevent a focused effort on the actual causes of the grave human rights problems that exist in mining on the continent.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
** Barry Sautman is associate professor, Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Yan Hairong is an anthropologist in the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 Konkola Resources Plc, ‘Announcement of Initital Public Offering on the London Stock Exchange,’: 2, s.d. Nov. 2010?, www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=conewsstory&tkr=VED:LN&sid=amCdCr5Nlf4M; Rob Davies, ‘The Other Face of Glencore Mining that Investors Never See,’ Daily Mail (UK), Nov. 21, 2011.
 Han Wei and Shen Hu, ‘China’s Harsh Squeeze in Zambia’s Copperbelt,’ Caixin, Nov. 10, 2011, http://china-wire.org/?p=16823; Han Wei and Shen Hu, ‘Zambian Workers Return to Jobs at Chinese-owned Mine,’ Caixin Online, Oct. 23, 2011, http://english.caixin.cn/2011-10-23/100316622.html; ‘Chinese-Zambians in Fists of Fury,’ Lusaka Times (Zambia), Mar. 4, 2008.
 Interview, Alex Mwale, National Union of Miners and Allied Workers branch chairman at Non-Ferrous Company Africa (NFCA) and local PF politician. Chingola, Aug. 20, 2011. We discuss anti-Chinese violence during strikes and protests at NFCA, CCM, and a KCM construction site in a paper in progress ‘Bashing the Chinese: Contextualizing Zambia’s Collum Coal Mine Shooting.’
 See Sarah Hardus, ‘China in Africa: Consequences for Traditional Donor Aid,’ unpub’d M.A. thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2009: 62.
 For example, in the US, as to how people evaluate welfare measures, job applicants and politicians. Paul Kellestedt, The Mass Media and the Dynamics of American Racial Attitudes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullianathan, ‘Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,’ American Economic Review 94:4 (2004): 991- 1013; Spencer Piston, ‘How Explicit Racial Prejudice Hurt Obama in the 2008 Presidential Election,’ Political Behavior 32:4 (2010): 431-451.
 Theo Nichols, The Sociology of Industrial Injury (London: Mansell, 1997): 126.
 See table ‘Mining Fatalities: All U.S. Mines Accident/Injury Classes’ in ‘Briefing Book for the Niosh Mining Program’ (section 1.4 ‘Research Needs’) (Atlanta: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005), http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nas/mining/pdfs/whatis-researchneeds.pdf (We calculate fatality ratios for 1990-2004 using 1992-2002 employment figures).
 Nicholas Wilson, ‘Economic Growth and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic: Evidence from the Early 21st Century Copper Boom,’ 2010: Table 4, mitsloan.mit.edu/neudc/papers/paper_302.pdf. Our estimate of CNMC’s average workforce from 2001-2008 is based on scattered Zambian news reports of the total number of workers (miners, mine construction and other workers whose deaths can be counted as mining fatalities) at NFCA, CCS and Sino-Metals.
 ‘Strikes are Avoidable: ZCTU,’ The Post (Zambia), Jan. 12, 2012.
 ‘Chinese Firms not that Bad, says Miners’ Union,’ DM, Nov. 4, 2011. See also ‘Minister, Union Defend Chinese Labor Conditions,’ Zambia Watchdog, Nov. 5, 2011 (‘[Deputy Minister of Labor Rayford Mbulu] says not only Chinese mining companies have been flouting labor laws but all employers should try and ensure their workers are properly looked after’), www.zambianwatchdog.com/archives/25835 The statement by the head of NUMAW quoted in HRW’s response that Chinese-run copper mining firms ‘routinely flout the country’s labor laws’ does not at all mean that he does not also believe other firms do likewise.
 Action for Southern Africa, et al., ‘Undermining Development? Copper Mining in Zambia, Oct. 2007, www.actsa.org/Pictures/UpImages/ pdf/Undermining%20development%20report.pdf; Counter Balance, ‘The Mopani Copper Mine, Zambia: How European Development Money has Fed a Mining Scandal,’ Dec. 2010: 16-17, www.counterbalance-eib.org/?p=347; Austin Muneku, ‘South African Multinationals in Zambia: the Case of Chibuluma Mines, Plc,’ in Devan Pillay (ed.) ‘South African MNCs Labour and Social Performance’, 2005: 258-283 (275), www.gurn.info/.../mining-africa-south-african-mncs-labour-and-society; Rozemarijn Apotheker, ‘Foreign Copper Mining Companies in Zambia: Who Benefits?’ unpub’d MA thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2009: 63, dare.uva.nl/document/134161.
 Debate, Mar. 22, 2011, www.parliament gov.zm/ index.php?option=com_ content&task=view&id=1410& Itemid=86&limit=1& limitstart=1; ‘Shamenda Warns Companies Flouting Labor Laws,’ Daily Mail (Zambia), Nov. 28, 2011.
 John Lungu and Sumbye Kapena, ‘South African Mining Corporate Governance Practice in Zambia: the Case of Chibuluma Mine Plc,’ in South African Research Watch, ‘South African Mining Companies in Southern Africa: Corporate Governance and Social Responsibilities,’ 2010, 47-97 (88), www.boell.org.za/downloads/SARWbookFA.pdf
 ‘Splinter Unions Setback to Bargaining Power,’ Times of Zambia (TOZ), Dec. 29, 2011.
 Matt Wells, ‘China in Zambia: Trouble Down in the Mines,’ Huff Post World, Nov. 21, 2011, www.huffingtopost.com/matt-wells/chia-in-zambia-trouble-d_b_1102080.html
 Zambian Development Agency, ‘Labor Considerations,’ s.d., 2006?, http://zamcom.smetoolkit.org/zambia /en/content/en/2647/Labour-Considerations.
 E-mail from a CCS manager to authors, Nov. 14, 2011.
 Undermining Development?: 14-15.
 ‘China in Zambia: from Comrades to Capitalists?’ World News Review, October, 2008, http://new-review blogspot.com_10_01_archive.html.
 Jean-Christophe Servant, ‘Mined Out in Zambia,’ Le Monde Diplomatique, May 9, 2009.
 Kevin van Niekerk, ‘Facing and Overcoming Challenges,’ Discover Zambia 5: 24-29.
 ‘Miners Paralyze Kansanshi Ops,’ TOZ, Jan. 3, 2012.
 Davies, The Other Face.
 ‘Expatriates Face ‘Audit,’’ DM, Jan. 8, 2012.
 Counter Balance, The Mopani: 17.
 Interview, Venus Seti, Lusaka, Aug. 10, 2011.
 Davies, The Other Face.
 ‘Labor Ministry ‘War-Front’ Opens over Minimum Wages,’ TOZ, Oct. 1, 2011.
 ‘KCM Contractors’ Workers Down Tools,’ The Post, Oct. 18, 2011. See also ‘Zambia Conned for Copper,’ Azaonline, Dec. 4, 2011, www.azaonline.org/ index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=68:zambia-conned-for-copper&catid=35:demo-content (‘Subcontracted laborers at Vedanta’s KCM mine receive an average of £63 a month [$95], but often less’); ‘Konkola Copper Mines, Zambia,’ www.banktrack.org, Apr. 18, 2011, (‘some sub-contracted skilled laborers [say] they are paid as little as £37 per month’), www.banktrack org/show/dodgydeals/konkola _copper _ mines/_blank.
 ‘Miners Paralyze Kansanshi Ops,’ TOZ, Jan. 3, 2012.
 ‘Strike Halts FQM Copper Production,’ DM, Jan. 3, 2012.
 ’Highland Valley Mines,’ 2011, www.informine.com/minesite.asp?site=hvc
 ‘Highland Valley Workers Approve ‘Unprecedented’ Five-Year Contract,’ Kamploops Daily News (Canada), Oct. 17, 2011.
 See ‘ZCCM-IH Presentation: 15 June 2011,’ http://forum/aboutzccmih.com/viewtopic .php?f=78&t =4747.
 Zhang Zhe, ‘Chaoyue zhengyi de Feizhou kaifa: Zhongguo zai Zambiya zhenshi cunzai’ (Beyond the controversy of Africa’s Opening up: China’s actual situation in Zambia), Nanfang Zhuomo, Nov. 4, 2010.
 Han and Shen, China’s Harsh.
 ‘NFCA to Invest $600m in Geology,’ TOZ, Nov. 30, 2010.
 ‘Metorex Investor Visit to Chibuluma Mine,’ Apr. 15, 2008, .pdf]www.metorexgroup.com/.../EMounsey-080416%20ChibVisit.pdf
 Interview, CCS Chinese employees, Chambishi, Aug. 19, 2011.
 ‘$220m Chambishi Copper Smelter on Track,’ TOZ, Jan. 3, 2012.
 Interview, Charles Mukuka, Acting President, MUZ, Lusaka, Aug. 15, 2011.
 Jack Caldwell, ‘2011 US Mine Wages,’ I Think Mining, Jan. 14, 2011, http://ithinkmining.com/2011/ 01/14/2011-u-s-mine-wages-are-you-earning-your-worth-in-mining./.
 ‘Zambia Copper Mine Unions Accept NFCA’s 44% Pay Hike Offer: Union,’ Dow Jones Network (DJN), Jan. 2, 2012.
 ‘Zambian Miners Agree Labor Deal with Chinese-owned Sino Metals Plant,’ DJN, Jan. 9, 2012; HRW Report: 128.
 ‘Kansanshi Miners Resume Work,’ TOZ, Jan. 6, 2012; ‘Kansanshi Mine Strike Ends,’ DM, Jan. 6, 2012.
 ‘KCM Workers Get 17 p.c. Pay Rise,’ TOZ, Jan. 27, 2012.
 Crispin Matenga, ‘The Impact of the Global Financial and Economic Crisis on Job Losses and Conditions of Work in the Mining Sector in Zambia,’ ILO, Lusaka, 2010: Charles Muchimba, ‘The Zambian Mining Industry: a Status Report Ten Years after Privatization,’ Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Lusaka, 2010: 27.
 Servant, Mined Out; ‘Zambian Copperbelt Reels from Global Crisis,’ Washington Post, Mar. 25, 2009.
 ‘KCM Employees Reduced,’ TOZ, June 1, 2011.
 Zambian Parliament, ‘Report of the Committee on Economic Affairs and Labor . . . September 23, 2010,’: 18, www.parliament.gov.zm/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=867 18; ‘Copper Mine Pares More Jobs,’ TOZ, May 6, 2009; Davies, The Other Face.
 Judith Fessehaie, ‘Development and Knowledge Intensification of Industries Upstream of Zambia’s Copper Mining Sector,’ University of Cape Town, MMCP Discussion Paper No. 3, 2011: 26, www.cssr.uct.ac.za/.../ MMCP%20Paper%203_0.pdf. See also ‘Chibuluma to Keep Workers,’ TOZ, Dec. 19, 2008.
 ‘Casual Labor Blamed on Weak Policy,’ TOZ, May 1, 2004.
 Gao Xiang interview. Luanshya MUZ branch chairman Stanislas Mwinbe confirmed this information. Interview, Luanshya, Aug. 17, 2011.
 Of donations to HRW, ‘almost 75 percent comes from North America and about 25 percent from Western Europe.’ ‘Human Rights Watch Visit to Saudi Arabia,’ July 17, 2009, www.hrw.org/en/ node/84512.
 See, e.g., Alastair Fraser and John Lungu, ‘For Whom the Windfalls: Winners and Losers in the Privatization of Zambia’s Copper Mines,’ Civil Society Trade Network of Zambia, 2008, www.liberationafrique.org/IMG/.../ Minewatchzambia.php.
 Undermining Development?
 Counter Balance, The Mopani.
 See, e.g. Deborah Brautigam, The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Ian Taylor, China’s New Role in Africa (Boulder: Lynne Reiner, 2009); Axel Harneit-Sievers, et al. (eds.), Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa (Oxford: Fahamu Books, 2010).
Beyond ICC and Kenya’s divisive politics
It seems that the last has not been heard about the implications of the recent confirmation of charges against three prominent Kenyan politicians and a journalist at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. Two of those involved have just stepped aside from their roles in the Grand Coalition Government. The leader of Kenya African National Union (KANU) and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta stepped aside from his role as Finance Minister, while Francis Mathaura stepped aside from his role as the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet. However, Mr. Kenyatta still retains his role as Deputy Prime Minister and may be vying for presidency under Party of National Unity (PNU) Alliance party. There was intense public pressure on both leaders to step aside when the charges against them were confirmed.
It is not clear at the moment the sort of repercussions the expected trial may have on Mr. Kenyatta’s political ambition and that of the former Education Minister Mr. William Ruto, who is also among those charged. In the last few days there have been a lot of political permutations and engineering, whose result remains unpredictable. Pundits have continuously cautioned both politicians and citizens to do everything not to allow the situation from derailing to conflict.
Some observers believe that the fact that charges have been confirmed against the Uhuru and Ruto may make them ineligible for the elections especially with reference to the limits set by Chapter six of the new constitution on leadership and integrity. The Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr. Mutula Kilonzo, made reference to this in a recent statement. However both Uhuru and Ruto have appealed the confirmation of charges as they continued to maintain their innocence. They have even vowed to go ahead with their campaigns.
Kenya’s Attorney General Prof. Githu Muigai argued that nothing could be done to them until the pending appeal is determined. This view is also held by the Constitution Implementation Commission whose chairperson Charles Nyachae recently stated that Article 99 of the constitution which sets out conditions under which a candidate can be disqualified does not bar Uhuru and Ruto from seeking Kenya’s highest political office.
Divisive politics have been a reoccurring decimal in Kenya. The Kikuyus and Kalenjins, for instance, have a long history of intertribal antagonism. They were also the two main tribes that were involved in the post-election violence in 2007 especially within the Rift Valley Province. However, political expediency at this time may force them to quickly consider forgiving each other and realign towards a common goal. Mr Kenyatta is the leader of the Kikuyus and Mr Ruto is also seen as the de-facto leader of the Kalenjins. As it stands now in their current travails, both men may decide to forget their past and team up against Prime Minster Raila Odinga, who is seen by many as a possible beneficiary of the ICC trials. Another relevant factor is Mr. Mathaura who stepped aside as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Public Service and who is a Meru-born top bureaucrat. His ethnic group is considered as an ancestral cousin of the Kikuyus. Going by that relationship, they could be seen as possible allies during the next political season.
One other interesting scenario is the possible emergence of a dark horse in the name of Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, the current Vice President. Though he is free of any political baggage in theory, many Kenyans see him as a political opportunist having been referred to by his opponents as ‘watermelon’ during the campaigns for the constitution. Mr. Kalonzo, who is from the Kamba tribe (which constitutes about 11. 42 percent of the population), ran for the presidency in 2007 against Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki. It is believed that his insistence in participating in the elections and the 879,899 votes he scored contributed greatly in denying both front-runners an outright win. Supporters of PM Raila Odinga from the Luo ethnic group consider him a political traitor – a perception shared by many Kenyans and which may become the biggest impediment to his possible emergence as president. Despite all these, it will be politically perilous to dismiss a man of his statue and political experience.
A conservative segment within the Kenyan political elite is sceptical about the ICC and perceive it as a tool that Western powers want to use to pave way for their preferred candidate. Some of them consider PM Raila Odinga a ‘puppet of the West’ and even point to the fact that US President Barack Obama’s ancestral origin is traceable to the Luo ethnic group and that may be a reason for the implicit support of the Obama administration for Raila Odinga’s candidature. They believe that the four Kenyan suspects could have gotten a fairer trial back home where recent reforms seem to have produced an improved and seemingly impartial judiciary.
The biggest challenge before all the contenders is to eschew divisive politics laced with hateful utterances, which can threaten the fragile peace in the country. Prime Minister Raila Odinga should take the lead through campaigns of forgiveness, reconciliation, inter-ethnic harmony, unity and amity. Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto must learn to exercise verbal restraint during their defence at The Hague and back home. There is a need to watch out for early warning signals either among the dominant Luo communities in the Kibera slum or among the mesh of Kalenjin, Maasai and Kikuyu communities in the Rift Valley Province. The time has come for forward-looking politics of accountability and inclusion; one that is less abrasive and shuns judgemental ethnicity and impunity. The emergence of such a political class in Kenya will galvanise the confidence of ordinary Kenyans in their political leadership, rekindle patriotism and accelerate the country towards genuine healing that will lead to a departure from the dysfunctional politics of the past . The world is watching.
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* Uche Igwe is a governance expert.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Time to focus on post-election violence victims
Now that Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Francis Muthaura have resigned from their posts, it is about time the government focused its attention on the real victims of the post-election violence of 2007/8.
The government should not waste any more taxpayers’ money on legal teams to advise it on how to handle the charges confirmed by the International Criminal Court.
What should concern us as a nation is not the political and personal fate of the suspects but that of the thousands of victims who are still nursing their wounds four years after the crimes were committed, and the millions of Kenyans who were indirectly affected.
Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced by the violence, more than 1,000 lost their lives, and some 2,000 women, girls, boys and men were gang raped. They are still waiting for justice; none have been adequately compensated.
The horror stories emerging from the violence have been documented in the report, ‘‘On the Brink of a Precipice’’ by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which gives a harrowing account of the role played by State and non-State agencies in funding, organising and carrying out the violence.
The crisis has also been pictorially depicted in the book, Kenya Burning, and in the documentary, The Burden of Peace.
The latter documents the stories of the mainly female victims, whose suffering took on multiple dimensions.
Women, who were the main caregivers in IDP camps, had to endure the brunt of the indignities and brutalities of the crisis.
Take the case of Anastacia Mmbone, who was living in an IDP camp near Kibera when she went to look for her eight-year-old son.
He was lying by the rail tracks, blinded by teargas. A gang appeared and raped her.
When it was over, she carried her son and walked four kilometres in the nude to seek help. She could not speak about it for days. She is now infected with HIV.
Twenty-nine-year-old Alice Atieno, when returning from work, was shot through the nape outside her house in Kisumu’s Manyatta area.
The bullet left her body through her jaw. For nine months, she could not eat or drink.
Seventy-five-year-old Phyllis Nyawira fled from her home, a seven-acre sugar cane farm in Kipkelion when the violence broke out. She now lives in a rented shack in Kakuret, Naromoru.
Dorcas Githua lost 15 years of investments and hard work in Kisumu. She continues to pay a mortgage on a house she does not live in because it is occupied by strangers.
There are other heart-breaking stories such as that of Rosemary Akinyi, a 40-year-old widowed mother of five. When paramilitary police broke down her door in Kibera, she begged them to spare her teen daughter, and rape her instead. They did, and she is now infected with HIV.
A similar story is that of Patricia Nduku who was at home with her husband in rural Mombasa when neighbours locked him in the house, took her out to the farm, and gang-raped her.
They returned three times to loot her property. Every day, she looks across her hibiscus hedge, and sees her attackers still walking free.
Unfortunately, most politicians, analysts and commentators have failed to grasp that the real shame for the country is not the fact that high-level government officials are being charged by an international court for the gravest of crimes, but that the government has failed to either arrest or charge a single one for carrying out the crimes.
Contrast this with Rwanda, which has tried as many as a million people through the traditional Gacaca court system since the genocide in 1994.
The stories above remind us that the perpetrators of the violence are present in all communities in all parts of the country.
The four suspects may be the most culpable, but there are a whole range of people who should be in the dock with them, starting with the Electoral Commission chairman Samuel Kivuitu to the petty slumlords and village thugs who were hired to kill, maim and rape.
President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga – as leaders of the warring parties – must also take responsibility for allowing the violence to escalate.
Kenyans cannot forget that they and their teams insisted on playing hardball while Kenyans were being slaughtered.
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Rasna Warah is a columnist with Nation newspaper in Kenya where this article was first published.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
The new landlessness and the lessons of Biafra
Abena Ampofoa Asare
Forty-five years after the self-proclaimed independence of the Republic of Biafra, Odumegwu Ojukwu, the spokesman and architect of the Land of the Rising Sun, died in a London hospital. Ojukwu’s legacy, like Biafra itself, remains cloaked in controversy.
For some, Biafra is a stymied self-determination movement, an example of the constrained freedom of Africa’s unwieldy colonial borders. For others, Biafra warns of the potential balkanization of multiethnic states. And then there are the images; pictures of malnourished children and mass graves that testify to a starker reality of devastating violence. Although Biafra has not been forgotten, its lessons have not been adequately learned.
This is the standard narrative: a few Igbo military men orchestrate a state takeover and execute many of Nigeria’s leading politicians including the President and the Northern Premier. In response, a cadre of Northern soldiers stage a counter-coup, and anti-Igbo pogroms begin throughout Nigeria. The problem with this narrative is that by reducing the Biafra conflagration to an atavistic conflict between warring ‘tribes’, it obscures the political significance of the rupture between the Nigerian state and the Igbo community.
In 1968, Chinua Achebe described the formation of Biafra as the expression of the Nigerian government’s rejection of the Igbo community. The unpunished anti-Igbo massacres in the north and west spurred what Achebe described as a ‘retreat home’. In the same vein, Ojukwu asserted, at Biafran independence, that the Igbo could no longer be protected in their lives and property by any government based outside Eastern Nigeria. Biafra was rooted in the volatile belief that the only way to protect a community’s lives and interests is to seize or create a state government.
Oil-rich southeastern land was central to the Igbo leaders’ belief that Biafra could stand on its own. This land was also at the heart of Nigeria’s fierce determination to quell the secession and the British government’s decision to back Lagos’ bloody solution of knitting the country together by force. Exclusive control of this territory was the road ‘home’ for Igbo leaders who believed their national government unable or unwilling to contain the aspirations of their community.
Almost half a century later in a revised scramble for Africa, state leaders auction African land to the highest bidder. In a continent still confronting widespread food insecurity, this trend is economically troubling. In light of Biafra’s lesson that state conduct may propel ethnic, religious, or other sub-national identities to the forefront, it is also politically disturbing.
By selling, leasing, and loaning huge swaths of lands to multinational companies and foreign governments, these leaders, brick by brick, lay the foundation for political instability in their countries. After all, the thousands of hectares acquired by Qatar, United Arab Emirates, agribusiness, and biofuel companies are not vacant. Recent studies show that land reform deals take a disproportionate toll on indigenous communities without providing commensurate benefits.
Although African state leaders view these land reform deals as an alternative to the dependency of the international aid economy and ostensibly plan to use the funds gained for national development, ten years of research show that the livelihood and rights of rural communities are jeopardized by this new land rush. As fertile lands pass out of the hands of African peasants, herders, and fisherfolk, indigenous communities are demanding a vision of development that incorporates rather than ignores their existence and potential. These African government alliances with international finance at the expense of local rights, communicate a steady rejection of indigenous people throughout the continent. At what point will these local communities, like the Biafrans of the mid-20th century, decide that they can no longer be protected in their lives and property by their federal government and seek their own ‘home’?
Among a plethora of overlapping identities, the nation-state does not everywhere and always compel allegiance, particularly when a supposedly-representative government rides roughshod over one’s rights and way of life. When African leaders play fast and loose with non-renewable natural resources, often at the behest of foreign interests, they drive a wedge between local communities and state government.
Recently, a group of self-described ‘peasants, pastoralists and indigenous peoples’ from throughout the world met in Nyeleni, Mali to organize against the new land rush. The Global Alliance against Land-Grabbing was launched on 19 November 2011 in the shadow of Mali’s recent commitment to lease 800,000 hectares of land to business investors. In their final resolution, the Alliance frankly challenged Mali’s right to make decisions concerning indigenous land. After all, local communities had occupied land for generations; how could a Mali state which had ‘only existed since the 1960s’, claim sovereignty? Clearly, these nation-states of recent vintage and troubled tenure ignore the political fallout of land grabs at their own peril. The new landlessness is driving local people to take refuge in their identities as indigenous people and challenging the legitimacy of state governments. However, this does not necessarily constitute a move toward balkanization.
In Mali, beleaguered local agriculturalists did not ‘retreat home’. Instead, they are claiming a place within a supra-national international community of indigenous activists in order to urge their governments to fulfill human rights obligations. In calling for closer connections between indigenous farmers and pension fund members, international press, academics, international finance institutions, and other human rights activists, the Nyeleni declaration outlines shared problems and calls for common solutions. This time around, as indigenous peoples look around, above, and beyond the nation-state for justice, they are seeking a sovereignty rooted in global networks of solidarity rather than secession.
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* Abena Ampofoa Asare is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus and a doctoral candidate at New York University's History Department. Her dissertation focuses on transitional justice and human rights in Ghana.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
What Westerners don't understand about modern economy
Social dumping, unfair competition, undervaluation of the Chinese currency, the Yuan...these is some of the blame that most Western economists and politicians are laying on China. What about if this small beautiful world was off-target?
The growth of China and its strategic position as the first world emerging power have caused unprecedented disarray among the former powerful nations and a consistent visual navigation among Western economists and politicians who were undeniably a few years ago a reference for the success of their economic model which seemed to be irreplaceable. There was a state of complete disarray over 10 years in developed countries struggling to find a compass to better guide their ideas and understand where the position of the East is over the 21st century.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF COMPETITIVENESS TOOK A NEW FACE?
It is disconcerting to see Western economists take childish considerations to explain their lack of competitiveness with China and saying that a huge industrial desert seems to have comfortably established itself in the West and arguing that employees are low wage-earners in China. It is not true. This assertion is wrong because wages are twice lower in Africa and South America than in China, although these two regions of the world do not attract the same amount of investments. The real reasons lie elsewhere.
1. There is a strong state in China exercising influence in almost all the economic process with clear and visible objectives to help millions of Chinese out of poverty.
2. In the make-up of product cost, labour accounts for about 2 to 4 percent or 10 percent at most. It is absurd that in the West, people use the issue of alleged high wages as an excuse to justify non-competitiveness of businesses. If an Italian producer put an item in the market for 100 Euros, whereas his/her Chinese rival is able to sell the same item for 25 Euros, the 200 percent difference cannot be justified as 10 percent of labour cost. Even if wage cost was granted for free to Europeans producers, there will always be a 190 percent gap to be filled. Focusing on the value, the West will possibly find an initial solution to its current economic crisis which is, unfortunately, at its beginning; a solution to the costs of industrial architecture in the country, purchase of raw materials, the quality of vocational training and logistics to capture the customers who are at the other side of the world. We will review this issue below.
3. State purchased raw materials: Each manufacturer in the West has to find inputs on his own throughout the world, but China is using other methods through state giants to combine all purchases and, therefore enabling the country to be more successful and enjoy the best purchase conditions than a private Western individual waging a humanitarian war.
4 State semi-finished products: A car manufacturing company, for example, in the West has to get supplies from sub-contractors, but in China the government provides necessary stuff and bike manufacturers, for instance, will buy state-provided parts. It is the same case for air-conditioner manufacturers and other key economic sectors; where an Italian manufacturer has to ensure alone the whole production, his Chinese counterpart, with whom he will be competing in the market, will only deal with a part of the production process, very often, when it comes to assembling and selling items. The parts that Chinese assemble in their factories are donated by their government in need of more revenues by creating more jobs with a view of revitalizing the national economy.
5. Energy is not sold in the opinion of the Chinese. In terms of stock exchange capitalisation, according to the news article published in the magazine Fortune Global for 2010, among the seven largest companies in the world, six of them are dealing with energy: American, British and Dutch companies and the three others are Chinese. But the most interesting thing is the gap between Western and Chinese companies regarding the profits made by the former; they are higher than for the latter. For example, oil company Shell with 97,000 employees makes $20.116 billion in profits; Exxon Mobile with 103,000 employees generated a net profit of $30.40 billion. The Chinese company Sinopec seems to lag behind; with its 640,000 employees it made only $7.63 billion while its counterpart China National Petroleum, employing 1.5 million people, made just a profit of $14.37 billion.
According to conventional assessments in the West, Shell and Exxon are to be praised for their good job. However, in the pragmatic view of the Chinese, high profits are an indicator of impediment to nation to remain competitive. Chinese authorities consider that business competitiveness begins with energy cost. Companies operating in the energy sector should make profits to conduct their own market research and to explore potential customers, whereas in the West, generating huge profits will delight shareholders, because their names will be on the list of richest individuals in the world.
This different view on the economy was even more acute in 2008 during the crisis marked by a rapid rise in crude oil prices in the markets enabling all Western oil companies to make historically high profits. Exxon Mobile, for example, says there has been an 11 percent increase in its profits last year, $45 billion compared with 2007’s figures in France. During the same year, the French company Total said that its profits were $22 billion (17 billion Euros), but its Chinese rival, Petrochina, a leader in terms of quantity of petroleum products, lost money because, I think, a very smart political decision made by Beijing government on freezing fuel prices led to a drastic drop of 22 percent in the net income in order to allow Chinese companies to remain always the most competitive in the world.
It is obvious that many petroleum products, such as plastic toys, car accessories, and packaging materials are made in China. Labour costs are not cheaper in the country, but the government expects real benefits at the end of the production line in terms of job creation, accumulating foreign currencies and trade surplus. China is not speculating foolishly in everything that moves, because it can cause a hard blow to the economy following the current situation of the West. China has set a clear objective to distribute generated wealth, to contribute to help millions of people out of poverty, and not to praise the glory of people whose names are on the annual list of the world billionaires in Forbes news.
In terms of petroleum products in Europe, it seems that those in power want to have their cake and eat it at the same time. We want business competitiveness, but at the same time put a 77 percent tax on energy products, accounting for nearly 40 percent in the make-up of the cost of finished products to be transported to the shop and delivered; even the travelling cost incurred by the buyer can also be taken into consideration.
The rise in oil prices is similar to this, but it is even worse in the electricity sector in China, which is almost free of charge. In 2010, power company State Grid Beijing Corporation, the top in the world, with its 1,564,000 employees and hundreds of millions of subscribers, made only $4.56 billion in profits, that is to say less than $5 billion generated by EDF, the French Power company, in 2009 (before it plummeted to 74 percent in 2010 due to setbacks suffered in foreign markets). This company has 158,000 employees, 10 times less people working for its Chinese rival and the number of its subscribers as well is 20 times fewer. The truth is that EDF, a state-owned company’s subscribers are like pigeons that need to be plucked with increases at the beginning of each year by using various pretexts, such as approval is to be obtained for a change in the oil price when it rises.
LOGISTICS AS A GEOSTRATEGIC TOOL FOR POWER
China has got sea behemoths that determine very often political prices. It is not dumping, but operators are just charged at cost price. For example, China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), owner of 201 container ships equivalent of 900,000 20-feet average size of a container, allowing freight forwarders to charge 20-40 feet containers from China for delivery in any port in Europe at incredibly low prices, in line with the goals the Chinese government wants to achieve in terms of export. It means that COSCO, a state-owned company, is not looking for profits for itself but looking for benefits of the whole Chinese nation. It is a very powerful geostrategic instrument contributing to the achievement of objectives, winning potential markets in order to bring the Chinese coasts closer to the rest of the world. So, the paradoxical thing is that the cost of land transport within Europe is often four times more expensive than a 30-day maritime transport from China to Europe. We know that 75 percent of trades in Europe are done between European countries and it is easy to guess that this represents an opportunity for China in the coming years if nothing is done by European economists to find a long-term solution to the current economic situation.
On 7 June, 2010, Cosco purchased parcels of land for 1.90 billion Yuan sold by Shanghai local authorities, meaning that this area will become in 10 years the first financial centre in the world. The real estate business is still under the Chinese government control. In fact, out of 11 parcels of land offered for sale, nine were purchased at auction by state-owned companies and only two were purchased by Chinese private companies.
The image of Cosco reflects the versatility of Chinese state-owned giant companies controlling almost everything in the industrial sector, ranging from port management ($ 3.4 billion to handle containers in the port of Piraeus in Greece in 2008) to real estate through the construction of ships and manufacture of containers. This type of business provides the company with great advantages relating to competitiveness of Chinese businesses while their rivals have to go through a wide range of specializations, let’s say, to make as much profit as possible, according to the capitalist development model. For example, the French branch of COSCO, headquartered in Paris, has been operating in all the French port cities, primarily as a shipping company in the field of consignment, ship repair and air freight in order to achieve the same objective as a new product out of a Chinese factory and it should reach every destination without suffering any penalties regarding transportation or logistics.
In June 2011, 52 Airbus A320 were built in a new plant in Tianjin, China. Once again COSCO acted as a major contractor to execute programmes of Tianjin Airbus Company and was responsible for shipping heavy pieces from Europe to Tianjin, especially barge, inland and maritime transportation of containers, including domestic air transport to the unit in Tianjin.
Once again, the choice of a Chinese state-owned company is not made by chance, but it is the result of a geostrategic decision carefully thought out. In fact, COSCO has been chosen to conduct the same operation, but in the opposite direction, from China to Africa, for assembling an aircraft called XIAN MA-60, with which China pledged to replace the bad habits of Africans who buy only old airplanes from the West. This type of airplanes have been proved as real flying coffins over Africa and are paradoxically more expensive than the new ones built in China. The Chinese company, Xia MA-60, has already been providing equipment to Zimbabwe, Burkina, Burundi and South African airlines.
The Chinese People Daily newspaper of May 25, 2011 said that British Caledonian and Laos Airline and Sri Lankan Air-Force are serving about a hundred destinations and several companies in Asia, Africa and South America. Some indiscreet sources in Beijing report that COSCO will shortly transport aircraft pieces from Chinese coasts to Africa, in the port city of Kribi in Cameroon, where a deep water port is being built to dock large boats.
When the European Aeronautic and Defence Space (EADS) was installed in China, the Chinese government required this company to purchase a large number of its aircraft, but the country is planning to build airplanes for Africa to be used on African soil. Chinese economists and strategists are showing that they understand what Western economists are still struggling to understand about modern economy. The West cannot persist to be successful alone while everything goes perfectly. It's the right time to help them build new partnerships with other countries to help them when tough times come, because you can provide them with means and opportunity to find a way out.
If the democracy of universal suffrage was something so wonderful, there’s no doubt that the West would prefer to keep it or even hide it as a military secret with a view of using its advantage over the rest of the world. If democracy of universal suffrage could allow the development of a nation, it is obvious that the West would not commit itself to back ad hoc opposition groups in such countries to help them become redoubtable rivals in terms of industrial and intellectual production. The truth is quite different and much bitterer. The West understands that one reason for its decline is universal suffrage democracy which brought to power the most mediocre personalities, provided that they are supported by rich people who rarely serve public interest.
The mediocrity of politicians was accompanied by economists trapped over the alleged unwavering superiority of ultra-liberalism. We saw famous economists in Spain, Greece, Portugal, France and Italy arguing that Germany should provide financial assistance to European countries in crisis, because they believe that Germany has been generating huge revenues from the sale of large saloon cars in those countries. This kind of reasoning betrays the state of collapse of the economists who are unable to understand that Germany cannot afford to save itself and the beginning of its economic crisis is a matter of time; all Western countries seem to be unaffected by this situation because they are governed by the same economic models. The worst is that, the same nations are planning to compete with China. How can they achieve if they refuse to do the easiest exercise in order to share profits generated by Germany, and they have to wonder if they can manage to sell their items in Germany, the first marketplace in the European Union?
The truth is that these economists have already surrendered themselves and given up fighting for lack of ideas. They are moving on to the secondary plan saying that the West would become a tourist destination for people coming from developing countries. President Barack Obama revealed on January 18, 2012 at a tourist park in Florida that he wants to make the United States the first tourist destination in the world in order to boost employment. Mr. Obama does not know that tourism has never helped a country to develop. He is challenging France as the first tourist destination in the world with 77 million visitors in 2010 (against 59 million in the United States, the second), but the country would not have faced the current financial crisis if tourism was a magic wand. Western economists who believe they have found a miraculous plan to end the crisis by predisposing infrastructure to house rich people from China, India and Brazil, will ask themselves why the French Riviera, the prestigious place for tourist attraction in Paca region where the number of poor people is paradoxically the highest than in the rest of the country.
No country will be able to fight poverty if some people refuse to be in the production trade. Even the richest tourist in the world is not going to consume alone food for five people and if he has to import it to meet his needs, he will return to the starting point, regardless of the difficulty he will encounter to become a specialist on rich people. As some Western paedophiles visited Thailand, the Mauritius government fearing the spread of sex tourism in the country decided to promote luxury tourism. Unfortunately, 30 years later, drugs are being smuggled into the capital Port Louis by luxury yachts and private jet aircraft, which are not controlled by the authorities who do not want to offend the rich. Nevertheless, we wonder if the current crisis in the West can transform institutional racism because only white people could enter the United States without a visa. The keen interest of the American president in tourism will be a progress for the world, primarily Taiwan, a long-standing US ally, will be the first country to benefit from it. The truth is that the North in crisis is no longer attracting many people, even the poor from the South.
According to an article by Christine Murris published in Valeurs Actuelles, a French magazine, dated 19 January 2012, in France only 14,700 students enrolled at engineering schools out of 16,800 seats available in 2011. The worst thing happened to graduate engineers in 2010: only 42 percent of them have been able to create wealth. The others have been hired by job speculators in the financial sector. Before students’ graduation, several insurance companies and banking institutions are interested in their mathematical skills to make them earn more money without making any efforts.
At the same time, nine universities out of 11 in Tianjin, the third largest city in China, provide engineering education. In the West, political power is held by people who studied law or literature, whereas in Chine political power is in the hands of engineers. So, we can now understand why Chinese and Western young people are keenly interested in a wealth creating profession. However, both parties are competing with each other. It is surprising to see that all measures taken against industrial desertification in the West will not affect the true values of the whole society.
Today, there is a real intellectual competition among nations. A nation will develop if it has the ability to be ahead of the competition by making sure that sufficient numbers of people are trained and are available to work for factories where they can imagine and create things.
The West believed for over two centuries that intelligence was related to the DNA of so-called white Caucasians. The West is unable to take up a huge challenge represented by the East; that is to say engineers’ competition. A computer and a phone get old after three months of use, that’s the challenge. Symbols are not going to change things.
NATIONALLY COMMUNIST AND INTERNATIONALLY CAPITALIST
In the 2011-2012 report of the forum of 1600 European companies operating in China, it is said that China is a communist country on the national level and capitalistic abroad. This severe report says that ‘it must be particularly good for China to practice the most unbridled export-oriented economic liberalism policy while building up fundamentals of state-controlled economic system in the domestic market following the examples of the Soviet.’ This 338-page report signed by the chairman of European Union Chamber of Commerce, Davide Cucino, and his general secretary, Dirk Moens, reflects the frustration of all Western entrepreneurs operating in China in the hope of getting a billion Chinese consumers. They have no choice other than exporting from China to their native countries.
We are all concerned by this and we need to review thoroughly any economic theories of the two previous centuries taking no consideration of a country’s possibility to play two roles simultaneously: A communist system practiced within the country and unbridled capitalism abroad. Without this rewriting, there is no solution to competitiveness of Western businesses. It may even reduce to nothing the labour cost in the West and will not change significantly the path of the race towards the wall when the issue is vitiated by an uncontrolled variable, such as the role played by the state in modern economy.
WHAT LESSONS FOR AFRICA?
Mandatory privatisation urged by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are monumental blunders not be made. For example, the privatisation of the state-owned power company, SONEL, in Cameroon taken over by AES, a US private company, was a strategic mistake of great importance because not only electricity cuts continued but also in a country that intends to develop from its industries, the energy price, especially for electricity, should be determined in comprehensive policy measures to ensure that businesses remain competitive and are better prepared to operate and increase their shares in the international market.
The recipe that Western-educated Africans applied providing that tax should be levied on everything that moves is another strategic mistake that leads straight to failure.
The urgency for Africa is to produce wealth and the government should make sure that production is effective on a large-scale and distributing it will be easier if there is something to share. Africa must export its finished products in order to get foreign currencies necessary to the welfare of its people. The strategic energy prices (gas, diesel, electricity) are more important than the low cost of labour. Taxing people trading at the edge of paved roads may give the illusion of alleviating the state financial burden in Africa. This is a wrong revenue economic system in the West that impedes African competitiveness.
The issue Westerners are faced with is the morality of their system. African economists must endeavour to draft their own economic theories that take into consideration the African interests and realities, instead of being in a permanent standby in order to occupy a subordinate position in Western institutions .In my opinion, what is needed is the courage and independence of African economists to distance themselves from the formulas developed by bureaucrats in Washington to find their own way through new African variables. These variables modified in the context of the 21st century would do a great honour to intellectuals who have the ambition to be creators of a new Africa. So, an international institution acting against the interest of Africa but dedicated to defend the interest of the West will be created. Africans must ask themselves why the European Union failed to prevent China from investing in Africa. Why the US administration, as well, failed to slow Chinese investment in Africa. Regardless of this, everybody wants to work in the future for Western institutions. How is it that Africa will be out of poverty with Chinese investment than the International Monetary Fund (IMF) turning everything upside down by taking a stand?
In early August 2011 in Nouakchott, Mauritania, the African Caucus was held, a meeting of African countries and their creditors, led by the IMF director. What can be remembered from the meeting is the excitement about a thousand billion dollars that China had drawn from its reserves to inject into the African economy (as a comparison, the famous Marshall Plan worth of $100 billion, is 10 times lower than the former). There was astounding news from Burundian authorities, very happy for signing contracts with China, they feared reprisals from the IMF. On December 21, 2010 in virtue of a decree, the US President Barak Obama excluded the Democratic Republic of Congo from the list of African countries eligible for the AGOA project and no duty-free export to the United States from the country was possible, because of massive Chinese investments in DR Congo, even if the official reasons for this were the decline of democracy in the country.
Paradoxically, while taking advantage of AGOA and exporting finished products to the United States, authorities in Congo really needed someone to invest in their country to set up processing plants. How can we blame them for accepting Chinese funds?
African municipalities must compete in a smart way to create wealth and therefore create jobs for their own people. Ninety percent of the Bibles used by many religious groups in the United States are printed in China. Most of those printers are owned by local governments deriving income from this business to pave new roads and create more jobs. Municipalities are able to create resources that can ensure the emergence of a strong state in a position to resist and stop the selfish and individualist force. Otherwise, it is not excluded that the continent will free itself from the yoke of the West and to see an internal yoke of a few clans who cheerfully install a revenue economy, exactly the same model that is leading the West into a wall.
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*Jean-Paul Pougala, a Cameroonian, is director of the Institute of Geostrategic Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.
* This article was translated from French for Pambazuka News by Amadou Timbine.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
We blacks are failing our own people
Reflecting on his own contribution to the Russian Revolution, the Realist writer, Nikolai Ostrovsky, wrote thus:
‘Man's dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world- the fight for the Liberation of Mankind.’
At the time of writing these immortal words, I doubt Ostrovsky was thinking about our people’s struggle for liberation in South Africa and even though this may not have been one of the things on his mind at the time, there is, however, a sense in which his words aptly describe the kind of consciousness that drove those who gave their all for our liberation.
Our people's quest for liberation was essentially a struggle to restore the dignity of the oppressed (black people) and from there to build a society in which all citizens lived a life of dignity. In pursuit of this vision, our people, individually and collectively, engaged in various forms of struggles, and at various times, formed a number of organisations, all of which were intended to become instruments through which they would attain their liberation.
One of the things that gave these various organisations their prestige and honour in the eyes of our people was not just the intuitive belief that they existed to serve a higher cause but also the understanding that those who led them like Oliver Tambo, Mangaliso Sobukwe and Steve Biko were imbued with a special quality – selflessness.
Consistent with this conception, one of the organisations that was also part of our people’s liberatory efforts, the African National Congress, recently celebrated its centenary. As part of this historic celebration the ANC selected ‘selflessness’ as one of the themes to mark this milestone. This was perhaps a fitting theme, particularly considering some of the grotesque tendencies that have come to characterise our national politics.
Both in the run-up and after the main celebration, held recently in Mangaung, many of the senior leaders of the ANC who addressed various gatherings indicated that this celebration was not just for members of the ANC and that all South Africans should share in these celebrations. Given the fact that a liberation struggle is actually a collective effort by an oppressed people, this was an appropriate message to convey, except that it is now debatable whether, of late, the ANC is truly guided by this kind of collectivism in what it does.
Naturally, as part of its centenary celebrations, one of the obvious questions that the ANC has had to grapple with is whether those who hold leadership positions within its ranks are still true to the founding vision and values of those who founded this organisation of our people, in particular the value of selflessness.
To help answer this potentially vexing question, I wish to reflect on some of the worrying developments that have come to shape our national politics, which in my view raise serious questions about the commitment of some who lead our country to the values of selflessness and service.
Sometime last year, we read in the newspapers that, in the settlement of Verdwaal situated 25 kilometres from Lichtenberg in North West province four young black children, Onkarabile, Nkune,Sebengu and Mapule, aged two, six, seven and nine, left their home and undertook a fatal 18 kilometre journey in the sweltering heat in search of their mother and food. They never reached their destination and, a couple of days later, their tiny, lifeless bodies were found in the veld, badly dehydrated and with hardly any food in their stomachs.
It was later established that they had died of hunger and dehydration and this was exacerbated by the extreme heat on that day. It took the police and the community about two weeks to find all the bodies and when the last two were discovered by a farmer who was ploughing his fields, the policeman who came to scene described what he saw as follows:
‘They were so badly decomposed they were nothing more than skin and bones. They lay on the ground facing each other, as if they were plotting their next line of action.’
Given their age, Onkarabile, Nkune, Sebengu and Mapule were supposed to be part of that fortunate section of our youth who were born into freedom, but unfortunately they also died in the era freedom. It is scandalous for children, who are so young, to die of hunger in a wealthy country like South Africa.
Interestingly, the name Verdwaal means to get or be lost in Afrikaans and in a sense perfectly describes the fate of the Mmupele children, a tragedy that is the face of the daily hardships faced by thousands other black children across our country.
Then, towards the end of last year, our television screens were awash with disturbing stories of how the education system in the Eastern Cape was on the brink of collapse and the negative impact that this was having on the schooling of children from poor areas who were hopelessly dependent on these schools not only for their education but also for the daily meals they were getting as part of the education department’s school feeding scheme.
Although it was a bit late, through the President and the Minister of Basic Education, national government intervened and not surprisingly, their efforts were met with all kinds of resistance from those who were supposed to be their comrades in SADTU.
As if this was not enough then earlier this year, desperate to study, hundreds of young black young people, some accompanied by their parents, stormed the main gate at the University of Johannesburg. This resulted not just in many of them sustaining serious injuries but one parent, Gloria Sekwena, actually lost her life as a result of the stampede that ensued. Regardless of whom we want to blame, this kind of thing should not be happening at a time when we as blacks are in charge of higher education.
To add to this national depression, this past week, through the media, the reports of the Minister of Finance and Auditor-General brought us face to face with the horrific details of the financial rot in some of our provinces and how these have brought basic services to a complete halt. These reports also revealed, in great detail, how some of our provincial governments were failing to do basic things like keeping receipts for purchases.
In a number of instances, financial regulations were deliberately flouted to enable serving politicians and those connected to them to benefit from lucrative state tenders. As a result of this, the Hawks, SARS and Public Protector are now involved in laborious investigations across the country.
Interestingly, just like in the Eastern Cape, in Limpopo when national government intervened they were met with fierce resistance. This was very ironic because those opposing them were not just their own comrades but their counterparts at provincial level. So, logically, one would have expected the ANC leaders in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo to support the intervention by national government and not resist it because this is one government and the rules are supposed to be applied consistently at all levels.
In fact, there have even been suggestions that some people have deliberately sabotaged service delivery in the affected provinces, with the intention of discrediting the intervention by national government. If this is not the highest manifestation of counter-revolutionary activity, then I don’t know what is. This kind of conduct is not just inhuman, but also fundamentally contradicts key ANC documents like ‘Through The Eye of The Needle’, which states that a leader of the ANC:
‘..should lead by example. He or she should be above reproach in his/her political and social conduct as defined by our revolutionary morality. He/she should act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike… (This includes) not only being free of corrupt practices; it also means actively fighting against corruption.’
It becomes even more paradoxical if one considers the fact that some of the ANC leaders who engage in these acts that are calculated to undermine service delivery are affectionately called ‘cadres’. This is very odd because one of the distinguishing qualities of a true cadre is not just his/her unconditional love for the masses but also his/her selfless commitment to serving the people with no intention of personal gain or recognition. The kinds of ‘cadres’ we have today are indeed a strange breed.
There is, however, something else that all of this says about us blacks: that in our quest to enrich ourselves, we are more than willing to jeopardise the welfare of the very people who have given us the privilege of leading them. There is definitely something wrong with the psyche of some of our leaders.
These potholes in our nation’s politics are a manifestation of a bigger historical and sociological problem. First, with the transfer of state power from the white minority to the black majority it became increasingly easy for blacks, especially those in the middle class, to amass material wealth. And it does also seem that, in an effort to entrench its hegemony, the ANC progressively lowered its membership admission requirements and as a result attracted individuals from all social backgrounds who brought with them all kinds of tendencies.
This perhaps explains why it is no longer shocking that, at some of the exclusive social gatherings, after a couple drinks, some of our country’s instant millionaires are not shy to declare that they got their ANC membership cards purely to advance their personal interests.
Second, because of the quality (moral and intellectual) of some of the people who have been appointed to manage our public institutions since 1994, a perception has developed amongst some of our people, both within and outside government that, when we look at the state, all we must see is a cow that must be milked by all who wish to do so and this must not just be done with impunity but also by all means possible.
This perception is also reinforced by the uncritical support that we blacks sometimes give to those high-profile leaders who are accused of high-level corruption. And because of the growing political obesity amongst some within our country’s ruling elite and our political timidity as citizens, we now live in what is referred to by some as the ‘age of looting’.
Third, as in most of post-colonial Africa in our own country there is also a perception amongst some of our leaders that they can’t be held accountable and that, if they are held accountable, it should be done on terms designed by them and not according to the applicable laws. This is very ironic because in our political system mayors, premiers and ministers are actually the ones who make the laws that govern the public sector and it is strange that it should be them who behave as though these laws apply to everybody else except them.
Fourth, all this has been worsened by the practice of appointing individuals to key positions in the state with little or no regard for their ability to do the job. Instead, their political loyalty at the time is considered. This partly explains why the Constitutional Court recently invalidated some of the key appointments that were made by the state president. In fact, both the Auditor-General and Association of Accounting Technicians SA cited this as one of the reasons why billions of rands are wasted in the public sector.
Our politics have now become a deadly game of character assassination, rapacious self-enrichment and factionalism. The situation is so terrible that those who seek to uphold the principles of accountability and transparency risk losing their reputations, their jobs or a legitimate business opportunity.
Whichever way we choose to look at it, our fate as a nation is now firmly in the hands of the leaders of the various ANC factions that are currently busy throttling each other for state resources. And because of the cancer of factionalism, some who call themselves the leaders of our people are busy eroding everything that people like Mangaliso Sobukwe, Chris Hani, Steve Biko and many others lived and died for.
If truth be told, we blacks are failing our own people and are desperately in need of a radical mindset shift that will enable us to realise that, to achieve the kind of South Africa many of our people dream of, we must first rid ourselves of the greed, mediocrity, narrow-mindedness and arrogance that is throttling our ability to build a better country. If we fail to do this, then we must perhaps prepare ourselves to deal with the kind of upheaval that Tunisia was dealing with twelve months ago.
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* Veli Mbele is a writer and social commentator.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
In defence of the new AU headquarters
It is interesting to see a new post-Cold War wrath against Africa accepting a gift of a building from a China that is on the rampage across Africa digging roads, laying railway lines, building bridges, hauling copper out of Zambia, hunting for oil in Sudan, Uganda, Angola and the Niger Delta and aluminiumm in Liberia etc.
I do not recall such wrath when China came to the rescue of Kenneth Kaunda's economy by building a railway line from Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania to Lusaka in land-locked Zambia. The combined military assault by Ian Smith's rebel army and that of John Vorster in apartheid South Africa had sought to break the roll southwards of the liberation wave from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was very central to the realisation of that project.
The talk about Africa's leaders grovelling to China for a gift that costs a mere $ 124 million is worth noting. One immediate question it raises is why all the Africans in the Diaspora could not have taken the initiative to raise such a paltry sum. In countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Angola there are officials who have deposited in their personal bank accounts more funds they defrauded from government budgets. The African Diaspora has been rather silent about pushing for a new United Nations convention mandating that beneficiary countries transfer such funds to the construction of infrastructure projects and industrial take-off in Africa. The wrath being expended could be usefully redirected to this challenge.
Prime Minister (he is not president) Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia was pushed into turning to China by Muamar Gaddafi's plan to build the AU headquarters in Sitre, his hometown. It is worth noting that the late President Omar Bongo and Angola's oil-rich leaders failed to offer that small amount from their oil earnings in billions of dollars. The current anger by non-governmental organisations that are ‘running dogs’ of Euro-American-Japanese multinational corporations are angry that Angola is flirting too cosily with Chinese capital have quoted the huge figure of $32 billion in that country as lost to corruption. That is a sum that would have built AU headquarters in many African capitals, not to talk of trans-African railway lines. The curses being hurled at Zenawi should also be usefully directed at those 85 Euro-American multinational corporations which have looted vital minerals (including coltran, diamond and gold) from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and hindered that country's ability to give the paltry $124 million to Zenawi for building the AU headquarters.
The anger against a possible existence of a helicopter-landing pad on top of the building should consider the opportunity it offers leaders to see Ethiopia's effort in overcoming slums as a portion of her urban housing – at least in Addis Ababa. It is reasonable to assume that it will shield leaders from seeing the poverty of ordinary Ethiopians. It is not clear that official limousines with curtains and darkened glasses are less efficient in achieving the nefarious result of shielding eyes and minds of Africa's visiting leaders from viewing Ethiopia's ‘great unwashed’.
The focus on China is worth extending to new invasions by China's shopkeepers and farmers across Africa. Zambia's market women complaining against being displaced by Chinese traders who reach local markets a little after mid-night and undermine local craftsmen with cheap plastic imports, demands calls for officials who negotiate agreements, including WTO agreements, to pay attention to what they are signing away. Sovereignty has cost much blood. It is a shame that Haile Sellasie did not borrow from China's liberation struggle and Cultural Revolution for the growth of Ethiopia. That failure has now allowed China's imports to displace stagnant capital-denied locally made shoes out of local markets across Ethiopia.
A useful wrath should also be directed at demanding that Ethiopia build a model society that is a fitting host to Africa's policy capital and a school for New Ideas for building the rennaisant Africa.
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* Okello Oculi is executive director of Africa Vision 525 Initiative.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
New AU headquarters: A tribute to China-Africa relations
A response to Chika Ezeanya
Antoine Roger Lokongo
In her article published in Pambazuka News on 26 January 2012 and titled ‘Tragedy of the new AU headquarters’, Chika Ezeanya (an African I presume) reckons that it is an insult to the African Union and to every African that in 2012 a building as symbolic as the AU headquarters is designed, built and maintained by a foreign country – it does not matter which.
My initial reaction as a journalist was to get the information right. First of all, the new AU headquarters was inaugurated on 28 January 2012 by Jia Qinglin, chairman of China’s political advisory body, the People’s Political Consultative Conference, not by President Hu Jintao. Second, the project cost $200 million in total, not $124 million as Chika Ezeanya reports. Third, although the construction of the building which started in 2009 was fully funded by the Chinese government at a cost of $200 million, a team of up to 1,200 Chinese and Ethiopian workers laboured around the clock in two or three shifts to finish it on schedule. 
Is this not analogous to the gift of the Statue of Liberty from France to the United States on the occasion of the latter’s independence which was a joint effort, whereby over 120,000 Americans led by Joseph Pulitzer contributed funds for the construction of the pedestal in 1885? Fantalun Michael, the project coordinator is an African himself. So, Fantalun and his team should have an idea of how the building was wired, unless Chika Ezeanya does not trust them too and thinks they are just manipulated Ethiopians. Can the Ethiopians take such an insult?
Perhaps Chika should also tell us what guarantee the Nigerian and Ivorian governments, for instance, have that most of their big national edifices which were designed and built by Western companies are not compromised. The master plan for Nigeria’s Abuja and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was developed by International Planning Associates (IPA), a consortium of three American firms: Planning Research Corporation; Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd; and Archisystems, a division of the Hughes Organization, none of which is Nigerian. More detailed design of the central areas of the capital, particularly its monumental core, was accomplished by Kenzo Tange, a renowned Japanese architect, with his team of city planners at Kenzo Tange and Urtec company. They just handed the symbolic keys to the Nigerian government. 
Apart from the fact that a tunnel links the French embassy and the presidential palace in Abidjan, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, in Ivory Coast, was built by Dumez, a French construction company. All the marble was imported from Italy and the 7,000 square metres (75,000 sq ft) of contemporary stained glass from France. The structure, which cost $300 million, was also criticized due to the comparison between the lavish building and the impoverished surroundings. 
If the new AU headquarters project was coordinated by an African, it becomes factually untrue to say that the building was fully designed, built and will be maintained by the Chinese without African input. The only issue that can be raised here is that, except for Ethiopians, no other African experts were involved in the implementation of this project of continental impact.
Chika quotes Fantahun Hailemikael reporting that among the several luxuries of the building is a ‘helicopter landing pad so visiting dignitaries will be flown from the airport’ (let us also mention that there are three conference centres and office space for 700 people). Chika draws the conclusion according to which ‘the dignitaries, of course, will be spared the sight of the slum that much of Addis Ababa is’. Well, since helicopters will not be flown in very high altitude above the city of Addis, the dignitaries will have a much better opportunity to see the slums of Addis from the air. Moreover, what else is there to see in Addis but slums as Chika Ezeanya puts it? It is time we started to campaign for an Africa without slums which all the major African cities boast. I therefore seize this opportunity to pay tribute to Muammar Gaddafi who transformed Libya into the ‘Switzerland of Africa’. Tripoli before the US/NATO invasion was about the only city in Africa that had no shanty towns.
The analogy of the ‘Trojan Horse’ used by Chika Ezeanya is out of place because unlike the Greeks who killed the Trojans, the Chinese are not about to kill Africans while they are partying at the new AU headquarters and set fire to Addis. This is an insult if you consider the fact that it is the US and NATO allies who, under the pretext of ‘restoring democracy’ or ‘humanitarian intervention’, are killing Africans for oil, cocoa and minerals in Libya, Ivory Coast, Eastern Congo…. Let the ancient and modern history of donation of buildings and structures from one nation to another be filled with intrigues and subterfuges, conquests, diplomatic scheming, espionage and counter-espionage, economic manipulations, political statements and dominations. But to suggest that the Chinese, like the crafty Odysseus, have devised a plan through the new AU headquarters that ultimately will doom Africans is venal thinking; the likes of Hilary Clinton who warned Africans recently against China’s neocolonialism. The very people who themselves colonised Africa, stole its land, sucked it dry of whatever resources it could lay its hands on, ran the genocidal Trans-Atlantic slave trade and carved up its territories like slices of wedding cake at the Berlin Conference at the close of the nineteenth century are telling us that China is the new coloniser of Africa. 
Chika Ezeanya can be as much averse to the new AU headquarters edifice as she likes to be, but evoking the construction of American embassies all over the world as underlying America’s geo-strategic interests and attributing the same intentions to China is conspiracy theory in its worst. Unlike America, China has not invaded Iraq, Afghanistan and building its biggest embassies in the world there beside the abuses in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the booming opium trade in Afghanistan, the rape of Afghan kids by UK soldiers, the urinating on Taliban militants’ corpses by US Marines and other unacceptable abuses. Unlike America, China has not built one of the biggest embassies in Africa, specifically in Kigali, Rwanda, immediately after Kagame’s RPF took power.
So, how come an African like Chika Ezeanya sees the new AU headquarters only as an insult, a discredit or an act of descending to a new low by African leaders when Americans, Greeks, British, Spanish, Portuguese… in short our colonial masters who now borrow money from China and benefit from Chinese investments do not? For Chika Ezeanya’s information, in the US the new 2,050 ft-long bridge that will connect San Francisco to Oakland on the other side of the bay is being built in China. The four enormous steel skeletons, the last of the 12 segments of the bridge, will be shipped 6,500 miles from Shanghai to San Francisco before being assembled on site.  In fact, China’s economy is now nearly half as big as the US economy and may surpass US before 2020.  The world can no longer afford to ignore China.
During this global financial crisis, China is proving that it is Africa’s friend in need and therefore a true friend indeed. What have we Africans got to show for staying with the West for centuries? We should have ‘looked east’ long time ago. If Angola’s is Africa’s fastest growing economy in Africa now (Angola is now offering to bail out her former colonial master Portugal from her debt crisis), it is thanks to sino-Angolan cooperation. Chika Ezeanya is barking up the wrong tree.
The relationship between China and Africa has always been one of mutual support and Africa’s support to China has been invaluable. This is what young Chinese and young Africans must be taught and reminded. China has never come to Africa as a coloniser and has never enslaved African people. In fact, Chinese people were brought to Africa as slaves by British imperialism to work the gold mines of South Africa and to build King Leopold’s first railway in Congo at the turn of the twentieth century. Back in the fifteenth century, Zheng He, a famous Chinese Muslim Admiral, sailed with his fleet as far as East Africa. They traded their goods and went away. The modern relations between China and Africa begin and are defined by the liberation struggles of the two peoples against colonialism and imperialism. Most of the prominent leaders of the African liberation struggle have also been supporters of the Chinese revolution, a revolution they have also seen as having direct significance for their own struggle, especially against apartheid. The Black Panther Party were also staunch supporters of socialist China and of Mao’s teachings and did everything they could to popularise them in their communities. The Chinese insisted on hosting a delegation from the Panthers, led by Huey P Newton before Nixon’s visit. In the 1930s, Langston Hughes, the great poet of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote poetry lauding the heroic resistance of the Chinese people against invasion by Japan. A little later, Paul Robeson learned and sang in Chinese the words that were to become the national anthem after the People’s Republic was founded, to express his solidarity with the Chinese people in their revolutionary war. The great scholar Dr WEB Du Bois broke the US blockade to celebrate his 91st birthday in China.
During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, when many countries shunned China, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia were among the very few heads of state to visit. Chika Ezeanya’s empty rhetoric therefore reached its climax when she caricatured Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s political philosophy, writing that indigenous Bantu culture abhors dependence on others for sustenance. A favorite Swahili proverb of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s was ‘Mgeni siku mbili; siku ya tatu mpe jembe’, which means: ‘treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day give him a hoe.’ Indigenous African tradition largely abhors dependency of any kind. It is exactly because, like Mao Zedong, Nyerere advocated self-reliance that he and Mao Zedong became great friends and Nyerere won the respect of the Chinese people. So how does Chika Ezeanya’s rhetoric apply to China-Africa relations? Why did we not give a hoe to the White man the moment he overstayed his welcome in Africa? Instead we let him subdue us for centuries, leaving us with the legacy of slave mentality and a dependency syndrome deeply ingrained in minds and so difficult to free ourselves from now despite the flag and anthems of independence we achieved.
At the start of the 1970s, the People’s Republic finally won the right to take its lawful seat in the United Nations and on the Security Council. It was the votes of the African countries that were crucial in securing that victory for China.
Whenever China has been under attack from hostile western forces, the overwhelming majority of African countries have always sided with China and shown their support for its vital interests. China was liberated in 1949, a time when the overwhelming majority of African countries were yet to win their political independence. At the time of liberation, China was a desperately poor country, needing to overcome more than a century of humiliation and decades of war, yet to recover all of its national territory, its industry and agriculture in ruins, and the majority of its people illiterate, hungry and disease-ridden. Moreover, just a year after its founding, the People’s Republic was forced into a vicious war in Korea against the might of the United States and 15 of its allied and satellite countries. Yet this mountain of problems did not stop China from expressing its support for the national liberation struggles in Africa.
In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela recalls that in 1953 he sent Walter Sisulu to China to secure China’s support for the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1955, contacts were made between the Chinese leaders and many leaders of the African liberation struggle at the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia. China recognised the provisional government of Algeria on the very day of its founding, the first country to do so, and long before the French were driven out. When Patrice Lumumba was murdered in Congo, Mao made a personal statement in solidarity with the Congolese people. Millions of people demonstrated in China and China supported the armed liberation struggle in the Congo led by figures such as Pierre Mulele and Laurent Kabila.
On 18 August 2011, celebrations were held to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Friendship Treaty between China and Ghana, signed by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, independent Ghana’s first leader and founding father of the African Union and Chinese President Liu Shaoqi in front of tens of thousands of people in the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing. It is right that a bronze statue of pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah has been unveiled in his honour at the site of the new AU headquarters.
Between 1970-75, when China was still a very poor country and going through difficult days, she built the Tan-Zam railway, which the West had refused to build. Zambia and Tanzania were being crippled economically by their support for the anti-apartheid, anti-imperialist struggle. Landlocked Zambia could only export its copper through what was then Rhodesia and South Africa. The Tan-Zam railway gave Zambia another outlet to the sea. The West said the railway was logistically impractical and too expensive to build. A still impoverished China proved them wrong.
The greatest contribution to the liberation of Mozambique and Zimbabwe by any non-African country came from China and fighters of nearly every African liberation movement were trained in China in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of them are today leaders of their countries, such as the current President of Eritrea. 
So instead of lambasting China, Africans should take their own responsibility. How come 60 years ago, Africans and Chinese had the same standard of living but China has become the world’s second biggest economy while Africa cannot even feed its people in the 21st century? Why is the African Union always cash-strapped making it a toothless organisation that takes decisions but has no means to implement them and therefore nobody can take it seriously? Here again Gaddafi’s total commitment to the establishment of an African Monetary Fund is to be commended (Gaddafi has been bankrolling the always cash-strapped African Union). Why are African governments not regularly paying their membership dues to the African Union as they do so promptly with the Commonwealth, Francophony or Lusophony, all these vestiges of colonisation in Africa? Africa has been hit by the global financial crisis it is not responsible for since it has been caused by the corruption of the Western financial system. Which other friend of Africa would be willing to fund, design, build and maintain a new $200 million AU headquarters in the middle of a global financial crisis of such magnitude besides bailing out individual African countries or investing there in the middle of the crisis?
It is indeed true that China needs many of the resources that Africa possesses in such abundance (although countries like Ethiopia are not so rich in natural resources, they have become China’s great partners). But China’s win-win, infrastructures for natural resources exchange has given a remarkable boost to Sino-African economic cooperation. While America is building military bases under the African Command scheme (Africom), China is championing a developmental approach in its relation with Africa. Bilateral trade between China and Africa reached over $150 billion in 2011, a jump from less than $20 billion a decade earlier. 
So far, China is the only partner that Africa has which exports its products to Africa but at the same time transfers technology to Africa, builds houses, roads, bridges, railways, airports, ports, telecommunications, power networks, water supply, sewage and drainage systems, low-cost housing and hospitals, specialised laboratories for biology, computer science, analytical chemistry, food preservation and processing, horticulture and civil engineering. This is concretely happening at a time when Obama is talking about ‘going around the world to create markets for American products’. 
It is only through its close relationship with China – the brother who has gone ahead and whose valuable experience, especially in the agricultural sector, is desperately needed – that Africa will be able to achieve its second independence; that is to say, its economic independence. Western economists are already unanimously concurring that China and Africa is going to be the centre of world trade.  The Chinese too are fully aware of the growing interdependence between their nation and Africa. Not only has China completed numerous vital infrastructure projects for African countries, it has also trained tens of thousands of skilled workers for them to sustain their comprehensive development (China awards 5,000 scholarships a year to African students). Moreover, Africa’s modernization and the future of the Chinese economy are inseparable as Africa’s modernization boosts China’s manufacturing and construction industry, while China’s engagement promotes Africa’s rapid modernization. 
Some Africans have now become the mouthpieces of Western powers and they endlessly repeat that China is coming to exploit Africa – they add ‘just like the West did’ only for convenience. It is true that not all Chinese who come privately to Africa ‘to get rich quickly’ are good. Some are involved in poaching and other illicit activities with the complicity of Africans themselves and it is up to African governments to report them to the Chinese government to rein in on them. But As a Congolese (DRC), I can only say that of all mining contracts our government has signed with external partners, the stakes of the Congolese state do not go beyond 17 percent in all mining contracts signed with Western companies. It is only in the contracts that Congo has signed with China that the stakes of the Congolese state reach at least 32 percent. President Mugabe has said that whether you are Asian or Westerner, if you want mining concessions in Zimbabwe, the stakes of the Zimbabwean state must reach at least 51 percent. And the Chinese say they are OK with that. What about the Westerners? You can judge for yourselves from the way Mugabe has been demonised in the West. And so, I have asked the Congolese government many times. ‘Why don’t you do like Mugabe then? In that way you will increase the revenues to rebuild the country’. I have not received any reply so far (…).
So, it is up to our governments! Targeting China, I believe, is a cover up for something else. People are paid by Western lobbies and secret services and by Taiwan just to do that (…). It has become a big business among Africans from all over the world. Many Africans made the issue of whether the South African government should or not grant a visa to the Dalai Lama their very own battle. We saw it.
Perhaps Chika Ezeanya has a problem with ‘China’s gift to Africa’ as the new AU headquarters is termed. He sees in the new AU headquarters only a ‘poisoned or poisonous gift’. However, in the Chinese culture, gift giving is a way to express your friendship, gratitude, loyalty or hospitality to one another. China has built ‘Friendship Hospitals’ and ‘Friendship Schools’ almost in every African country. Would Chika Ezeanya then suggest that we close them because they were designed, built and maintained by the Chinese?
A building as symbolic as the AU headquarters, as Chika Ezeanya puts it, has been designed and built mainly by the Chinese. But there is still room for improvement. I suggest that an AU City be built around the new AU headquarters for dignitaries to stay in during the summits and for other purposes such discussion meetings related to the issues African masses are facing; funded, designed, built and maintained by Africans themselves and hope that we will not wait until cows come home.
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* Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and PhD candidate at the School of International Studies, Centre for African Studies, Peking University, Beijing, China.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 Vaughan, Jenny. 2012. New AU headquarters marks strong China-Africa ties.
 Abuja: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
 Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
 Brar, Halpar . 2011. China in Africa: A building block of a new anti-imperialist world order. Lalkar Online.
 Moore, Malcolm. 2011. New San Francisco bridge built in China to be shipped to US. The Telegraph, June 28, Work News Section. UK Edition.
 Karlsson, Stefan. 2012. China’s economy may surpass US before 2020. The Christian Science Monitor.
 Brar, Halpar, Loc. Cit.,
 Vaughan, Jenny. Loc. Cit.,
 Doug, Palmer. 2012. Obama plans new team to get tough on China trade. Reuters.
 Fletcher and Ahmed. 2012. Davos 2012: China and Africa to be centre of world trade. The Telegraph, January 26, Finance Section, UK Edition.
 Lu Hui . 2012. Commentary: A top-level visit to enhance China-Africa friendship amid growing interdependence. Xinhua.
LGBT: David Kato Award goes to Jamaican activist
I would like to start off with a number of humble thank-yous. Thank you all for the tremendous honour bestowed on me this evening. Thank you to the International Planned Parenthood Federation for the vision in establishing and creating this award. (Thank you Kevin for planting the seed a little over a year ago to the day!) To all on the Steering Committee (and to Frank its chairperson) and supporters who helped give a tangible shape to that vision. To all the fabulous people who worked tirelessly to organize this equally fabulous event — thanks in particular to Alastair, Daniel, Fiona, and the resource mobilization team at IPPF — you have all done David’s memory proud.
I would also like to thank my organization, AIDS-Free World, for allowing me to do the job that I love; Metropolitan Community Churches, in Toronto and around the world, for innumerable expressions of concern about my safety; my dear husband Tom for his nervous caution about my well-being; all the brave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and around the world who remain unbowed in their determination to realize their full human rights; my still divided family for at least remaining open to me; my students for being curious about tolerance; and my country Jamaica for allowing a remarkable dialogue to take place about the very sensitive issue of human rights for homosexuals.
Pioneer and pariah are just two of the epithets I am sure that have been used to describe David Kato, because of his unwavering commitment to advocating for the full human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. However, I prefer to think David desperately fought, and ultimately gave his life, simply to make it easier for people like him, to go about our regular mundane lives contributing to the development of our families, countries, regions and the world. David sought to do this in his quiet unassuming way; focusing on documenting, educating about and responding to human rights abuses against LGBT in his beautiful country of Uganda. I try to do the same thing in my equally wonderful homeland Jamaica, which this year is celebrating its 50th year of independence. I think what motivated David was a deep and abiding faith in the goodness of all humankind, especially his fellow countrymen. I am sure he felt that if his people only knew what tremendous harm intolerance and homophobia were causing to countless of their fellow citizens — including the spread of HIV as a result of vulnerable groups being forced underground away from effective prevention, treatment, care and support interventions — then all Ugandans would, in one voice, call for an end to such acts of cruel inhumanity. That is why he vigorously opposed the draconian and despicably medieval anti-homosexuality bill which was before the Ugandan parliament. And that is quite possibly why he was so savagely murdered.
Jamaica has been described as the most homophobic place on earth; one Ugandan commented that David’s murder reminded him of the type of homophobic attacks usually reported from Jamaica. One such attack was the brutal and barbaric slaying on October 18, 2011 of a 16-year-old youth, Oshane Gordon, in the resort city of Montego Bay. Early in the morning, a gang of thugs barged into Oshane’s home and slashed him on his foot to slow his escape as he tried to flee through a window. When they caught up with Oshane, the men finished him off with several more blows from their machetes. Oshane was killed because of “questionable relations” with another man and his mother was also severely cut up for harbouring him.
Since 2009, AIDS-Free World has been engaged in an ambitious and aggressive programme in partnership with the major LGBT group on the island, J-FLAG, aimed at documenting human rights abuses against homosexual Jamaicans. We were motivated to undertake this work by the vastly disproportionate level of HIV prevalence among Jamaican MSM (about 32 percent) as against a prevalence rate of 1.6 percent in the general population. This MSM HIV prevalence rate is about the highest in the world and there is evidence that the country’s notorious homophobia is a major contributor. Between 2009 and 2011 there has been a near 300 percent increase in the number of human rights violations against LGBT reported to J-FLAG, and highlighting these abuses has resulted in very supportive statements for the human rights of LGBT by Jamaican leaders of all stripes.
Most noteworthy was a declaration during the December 2011 election leadership debate by Jamaica’s new Prime Minister, the Honourable Portia Simpson-Miller, that she rejected the homophobia of her predecessor, Bruce Golding, and would have no objections to appointing gays to her cabinet. She also stated that she would bring the matter of reviewing the country’s nineteenth century British colonial anti-sodomy law to a conscience vote in Parliament. While she was viciously attacked for her leadership on this contentious issue during the election campaign, she bravely stood her ground and the Jamaican electorate rewarded her and her party with a 2/3 majority in Parliament.
I see Prime Minister Simpson-Miller’s views as representing what I and my dear mother consider the true Jamaican “One Love” culture. As my mother tells it, during her youth, everyone knew at least one person in the village who was gay, but no one cared. People respected the privacy of others and the anti-sodomy law was rarely, if ever, invoked. There certainly were no marauding mobs seeking to eradicate gays from the society. However, all this changed during the 1980s and 1990s when there was a coarsening of Jamaican society through a deliberate export of hate and intolerance to Jamaica by, ironically, American televangelists. These preachers spawned sick replicas of themselves in the form of local religious leaders who poured a steady stream of poisoning homophobia into the ears of their congregants on an almost weekly basis. Many of their parishioners and choristers consisted of young impressionable individuals who would later go on to record some of the most hateful homophobic songs on earth. These songs (over 200 of them at last count) contributed to a vortex of hate that swirled unchecked for many years and resulted in numerous assaults, mob attacks, extortion and murder of Jamaican LGBT.
The previously unused law then became a fixture, and police — who are after all products of their society — started to extort, attack, or ignore attacks on gays who were perceived as unapprehended criminals. Despite the obvious harm caused by the existence of the anti-sodomy law, our independence constitution exempted it from judicial review. Last year, Jamaica completed a 12-year process of reviewing the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, but, sadly, the anti-sodomy law was once again “saved” from review by any domestic courts. So in August 2011, AIDS-Free World, on behalf of two gay Jamaicans, filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the grounds that the anti-buggery law violates numerous human rights found in the American Convention on Human Rights to which Jamaica is a party. I hope the new Jamaican PM will make this legal challenge redundant by simply calling for the conscience vote as she has promised.
A repeal of the law will not result in an immediate end to homophobia in Jamaica, in the same way homophobia still persists in the UK decades after the law was consigned to history. Sadly, evangelical Christian groups from North America are still funding and supporting a vicious fight to deny the human rights of Jamaican LGBT. However, one thing the law’s repeal will do is provide gay Jamaicans leverage when they seek assistance from police in the face of attack. When I first started receiving death threats as a result of my advocacy, I made an initial report to the police. The officer who received my report went off on a homophobic tirade stating, among other things, that he hates gays and that they make him sick. As a lawyer, I sat there stunned at the level of sheer unprofessionalism displayed by this agent of law enforcement. I later reported the matter to an Assistant Commissioner of Police (who was recruited from Britain and is financially supported by the UK) and he told me that such attitudes are unfortunate but they will not change until the law changes. The fact is, the anti-buggery law makes me — at least to Jamaican police — an unapprehended criminal with few, if any, human rights.
I fled Jamaica on January 10, 2011 after my marriage to Tom was made public when the Jamaica Observer newspaper (which is owned by Butch Stewart of “Sandals” Resort fame) published an unauthorized photo of our wedding on their website. Even though I requested that the newspaper remove the picture because of the real threats it posed to my safety, they have refused. Since then I have started receiving a steady stream of death threats. I would like to return to Jamaica to continue teaching law at the University of Technology, Jamaica, as well as assist J-FLAG with their documentation and reporting of LGBT human rights violations, but I simply do not feel that the Jamaican police force would protect me. The Inter-American Commission has written to them twice on my behalf and they have failed to respond. So I may have to continue my work in exile, away from my mother, students, and my home. But I hope one day this vortex of hate will end, and I can once again return to the warmth of my amazing country, to teach my inspiring students, and be able to sit and chat with my mother after a wonderful bowl of her fabulous “Saturday soup.”
Until then, Mr. Chair, I promise, in David Kato's name, that I will never abandon my role in the struggle for the full human rights of LGBT until those rights are universally achieved.
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* These were remarks by Maurice Tomlinson, AIDS-Free World’s Legal Advisor on Marginalized Groups, upon receiving the inaugural ‘David Kato Vision and Voice Award’, London, UK, January 29, 2012.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ethiopia: Concerns about Gibe 3 Dam
The River Omo (also known as Gibe in its upper and middle basins) rises in the well-watered western highlands of Ethiopia at about the same latitude as Addis Ababa. It flows for nearly 1000km. and drops 1,600m from its source to its end point in Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, which lies wholly within Kenya. The climatic and topographic features of the Omo-Gibe basin give it a hydropower potential second only to that of the Blue Nile Basin, which accounts for half the hydropower potential of the entire country (Kloos and Legesse, 2010, p. 77). So far, however, only one dam has been completed along the Omo-Gibe. Known as Gilgil (‘Lesser’) Gibe 1, this began operating in 2004 and is currently Ethiopia’s single largest supplier of electricity. In 2010 a power plant known as Gibe II was opened further downstream. This does not have its own dam but draws water through a 26km. tunnel from the Gibe I reservoir.
Gibe I and Gibe II will be dwarfed in every sense by Gibe III. At 240m high it will be the tallest dam in Africa. With an ‘installed capacity’ of 1,870 megawatts (meaning its turbines will produce electricity at this level continuously), it will double Ethiopia’s current generating capacity which will then greatly exceed domestic demand. It is therefore planned to export up to 50 percent of the electricity generated by Gibe III to neighbouring countries. Two more hydropower dams will eventually complete the Omo-Gibe ‘cascade’.
Gibe III represents a huge financial investment (1.7 billion US) and an impressive feat of civil engineering which it is hoped will bring great economic benefits to Ethiopia. But it will have a potentially devastating impact on the downstream population by regulating the highly seasonal flow of the Omo, thereby ending the annual flood. This will directly affect all residents of the Omo flood plain and delta – around 100,000 people – who depend on the flood for their agricultural and pastoral activities (SOGREAH, 2010: 37). The ending of the flood will also indirectly displace many of these people from their existing farmland and grazing areas, by making possible the development of large-scale commercial irrigation schemes which are planned to occupy over 200,000 hectares of the Lower Omo. Since the Omo supplies 90 per cent of the water entering Lake Turkana, irrigation on this scale will significantly reduce the level of the Lake and increase its salinity. This in turn will adversely affect the livelihoods of another 300,000 or so people who live in northern Kenya and who depend on the lake for pastoralism and fishing (Johnston, 2010).
Any dam-building project that displaces a large number of people and/or restricts their access to vital resources would normally be expected to include a comprehensive plan to improve or at least maintain their long-term economic and social wellbeing. The downstream ‘mitigation plan’ so far proposed by the Gibe III project falls very far short of this expectation. It seems to be assumed by the project managers that those who are displaced from their land, livelihoods and resources will automatically benefit from generalised economic development and ‘modern’ forms of agriculture. This assumption is flatly contradicted by empirical evidence from other cases, to be found in countless academic studies and ex-post assessment reports by development agencies. These show that projects which displace people or restrict their access to vital resources and do not include comprehensive and fully budgeted livelihood reconstruction and development plans will result – at best - in the increased impoverishment of the affected population.
Not much time is left to avoid such an outcome in the lower Omo. The filling of the dam reservoir is expected to begin in June 2012 and the first of its ten turbines to begin operating in September 2013. Work should therefore begin as soon as possible on a livelihood reconstruction and development plan for the downstream population, designed to ensure that those who will carry the main burden of this project, on behalf of the nation at large, will be amongst the first to benefit from it. I want to explain in this paper why such a plan is needed and suggest specific steps that could be taken now towards achieving it.
DIRECT IMPACT OF THE DAM: ELIMINATION OF THE ANNUAL FLOOD
All the groups living along the lower Omo (Bodi, Mursi, Kwegu, Muguji, Kara, Nyangatom and Daasanach) depend on ‘flood retreat’ or ‘recession’ agriculture. Some, such as the Daasanach and Kara, are able to produce all the grain they need from flood cultivation while others, such as the Bodi and Mursi, must supplement it with rain-fed cultivation. But none could survive without the contribution made by flood cultivation to the household economy. The Daasanach, who live in the more arid southern part of the lower basin, also depend on the flood for the annual rejuvenation of their dry-season pastures.
These facts were not recognised by the Gibe III project until two years after dam construction had begun, when a revised Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was completed (CESI, 2009), together with an Additional study of downstream impacts (Agriconsulting S.p.A., 2009). The solution proposed was an artificial or ‘controlled’ flood, to be released annually over a ten-day period and timed to coincide with the natural flood. This, it was claimed, would ‘mitigate.....all adverse effects’ on the livelihood systems of the downstream population. But it later emerged that the controlled flood would in fact be a temporary measure, to be withdrawn ‘when deemed appropriate’. This information was contained (one might say the cat was let out of the bag) in a press release issued by the dam builder, Salini Costruttori, in March 2010, and has not, to the best of my knowledge, been officially confirmed by the Gibe 3 project office.
The effectiveness of the proposed controlled flood was, in any case, seriously questioned in an independent review (SOGREAH, 2010) of the Gibe 3 documentation, commissioned by the European Investment Bank (EIB). This concluded that the controlled flood had been planned without an adequate study either of the problem it was intended to solve or of its likely effectiveness. The review concluded that information needed to design an effective downstream mitigation plan was ‘still dramatically missing’ (SOGREAH, 2010: 120). It recommended that a number of further studies be carried out to make good these deficiencies, and that a detailed livelihood development plan should be prepared. Soon after the review was completed, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China offered a 450,000 USD loan to the project, which prompted the EIB to cease giving any further consideration to making a loan itself. The additional studies recommended in the SOGREAH review were therefore not proceeded with.
The lack of a convincing livelihoods reconstruction and development plan for the downstream population will ring alarm bells for anyone familiar with the extensive literature on the human and environmental costs of large dams. This literature provides overwhelming evidence that the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalized members of a country’s population, particularly ethnic minorities, are disproportionately affected by large dams and that most of those affected become even poorer, more vulnerable and more marginalized as a result. On present evidence, it is impossible to think that the Gibe 3 project will have a different outcome for the people of the lower Omo.
INDIRECT IMPACT OF THE DAM: LARGE-SCALE IRRIGATED PLANTATIONS
On 25 January 2011 the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, made a speech in Jinka, the capital of South Omo Zone, in which he announced that the government was about to establish sugar cane plantations in the Lower Omo, covering an area of 150,000 ha. (See details here). Since at least another 70,000 ha had already been leased to private investors in the southern half of the lower basin, the total area now earmarked for large-scale commercial agriculture in the Lower Omo has reached well over 200,000 ha. The Prime Minister also announced that local agro-pastoralists, who will lose all their best agricultural land to the plantations, would be given an unspecified amount of irrigable land for their own use. It has since become clear that what is intended is the forced ‘villagization’ of this supposedly ‘backward’ population in permanent resettlement sites, to make way for the take over of their land, without compensation, by government and private investors. The number of prospective re-settlers was not mentioned in the speech but, according to the 2007 census, the total agro-pastoral population of the South Omo Zone (Bodi, Mursi, Nyangatom and Daasanach) amounts to just under 90,000 individuals (FDRE, 2008, Table 5: 98-99), which is almost certainly an under-estimate.
In making his announcement, the Prime Minister referred to ‘the good results’ achieved by large-scale irrigation in the Awash Valley of Eastern Ethiopia. But these results have been far from good for the local Karrayyu and Afar pastoralists. Studies of the impact of commercial plantations on local people and the environment in the Awash valley have shown beyond any doubt that the majority of the local population has become poorer and more vulnerable to food insecurity as a result. (Kloos, 1982; Ayelew and Getachew, 2009; Kloos et al. 2010). The same studies make it clear that this could have been avoided if two conditions had been met. First, detailed feasibility studies and socio-economic impact assessments should have been completed and made publicly available, before the plans were finalised. Second, local people should have been genuinely involved in the planning process, so that their needs and interests could have been fully and systematically addressed, from the start. These lessons have clearly not been learnt by those setting up sugar plantations in the lower Omo. Planning has been entirely top-down and implementation has been surrounded by a wall of secrecy. According to reports coming from the area, strenuous efforts have been made by local administrators to stifle criticism and neutralise opposition from local people. It is also reported that these efforts have included the heavy-handed use of direct physical intimidation by police and the military. It is difficult to see, in these circumstances, how irrigation development in the Omo Valley will have any less disastrous consequences for local people and the environment than it has had in the Awash Valley.
Large-scale irrigation in the Lower Omo will also affect the 300,000 or so people who live around Lake Turkana, in northern Kenya, and depend on its waters for pastoralism and fisheries. No attempt was made in the ESIA to calculate the impact of potential irrigation schemes on the lake level but a calculation was made in an independent report commissioned by the African Development Bank (Avery, 2010). Data presented in this report suggest that an irrigated area of 150,000 ha in the lower basin could lead to a drop in lake level of twenty metres (3-14), leading to more than a halving of the lake’s volume and more than a doubling of its salinity level (2-50). Such a drastic drop in lake level and volume could lead to violent trans-boundary conflict between neighbouring groups, such as Daasanach and Turkana, because of increased competition for vital subsistence resources (Johnston, 2010). Nor is it difficult to imagine an interminable dispute developing between Ethiopia and Kenya over the equitable use of the water resources of the Omo Basin, as the impact of irrigation schemes on the level of Lake Turkana becomes increasingly apparent.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
It is far from unusual for the most well-intentioned scheme to improve the human condition to end in tragic consequences for those whom it was intended to benefit. As James C. Scott (1998) has shown, this is particularly likely to happen when an autocratic regime is intent on pushing through its chosen policy ‘for the good of the nation’, using all the power at its disposal and in the absence of a functioning civil society. Given that these are the conditions that prevail in Ethiopia today, the question ‘What can be done?’ may appear ‘academic’ in the extreme. It nevertheless seems worth suggesting what could be done, even at this late stage and given the necessary political will, to ensure that the dam and the irrigation schemes bring real and sustainable economic benefits to the local population.
First, the additional investigations recommended by the SOGREAH review should be completed as soon as possible. These studies would provide the data needed to design a sustainable livelihood reconstruction and development programme for the downstream population.
Second, the plan to establish commercial sugar plantations in the Lower Omo, which is already being implemented, should be put on hold while a livelihood reconstruction and development programme is being designed. This will allow detailed land capability studies and socio-economic impact assessments to be completed and made available for public discussion and consultation. Above all, it is vital that affected communities are genuinely consulted - not simply informed of decisions that have already been made by the planners.
Third, the wellknown public health risks associated with large-scale irrigation schemes should be fully investigated and, again, publicly discussed with the affected population. These include the increased transmission potential of vector-borne diseases (especially malaria which is already endemic in the Lower Omo), the spread of disease agents (such as HIV) through the influx of large numbers of migrant workers, and the contamination of ground and surface water by factory emissions, fertilizers and crop protection chemicals.
The argument for ensuring that river-basin development brings real development opportunities for local people is fundamentally an ethical one: these are the people who must carry the main burden of the project, on behalf of the nation at large. But there is also a pragmatic argument. Projects which ignore standard safeguards intended to protect the environment and the interests of vulnerable local people risk not only impoverishing these people still further, but also creating irreversible and unnecessary environmental damage and tarnishing the public image and international standing of the state in question. Unless something is done to avoid these outcomes in the Lower Omo it is likely that Gibe III will come to be seen as a textbook example of how not to do river-basin development. This will not make it any easier for Ethiopia to achieve its ambitious energy generation goals, which depend so heavily on hydropower.
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* David Turton is a senior research fellow at African Studies Centre, University of Oxford.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
We are building a new way of organising
‘This is our Common, not yours’ - member of Friends of Rondebosch Common
The ‘Take Back the Commons Movement’, which organised last week's march and attempted occupation of iconic Rondebosch Common, has been vilified by many. Rate payers feared the possible introduction of poor black shackdwellers to their neighbourhood. Friends of Rondebosch Common feared the destruction of their open space and their fynbos. Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille feared the transformation of the DA's discourse on service delivery into a more challenging and authentic conversation about racism, inequality and segregation.
While asserting that those who participated in the actions were dividing and destroying everything she has been working for, de Lille was really asserting a politics of anti-commons. Like the member of Friends of Rondebosch Common, de Lille was fighting for injustice in the name of peace, for inequality in the name of progress, and for a Common that is its opposite.
Yet despite the fact that the People's Land, Housing and Jobs Summit never materialised - prevented by the actions of the police who disrupted and violently arrested marchers en route - communities and activists have managed to alter the way we think about the commons in our city. We have asserted a politics of decolonisation and immediate equality.
What is a politics of the commons? Marco Deseriis and Jodi Dean, in a influential Occupy article defined it as such: ‘A politics of the commons acknowledges division in that it begins from the shocking recognition that the commons does not exist. Destroyed and privatised by over two centuries of capitalist enclosure and accumulation by dispossession...the idea of the commons asserts the primacy of collectivity and the general interest’.
Still, we cannot call for a politics of the commons, of equality, of anti-racism and of anti-patriarchy, without looking within at ourselves and at one another within our movement.
Take Back the Commons began with its own challenges. Many of us have been in the struggle for decades and while this experience is important to the movement, it also forces us into older and often more stagnant and hierarchical ways of organising.
In particular, here in South Africa, we have a culture of hero-worship. From Mandela to Tutu to Zille, there is an expectation that those within an organisation must unquestioningly defend not only the person but also the role of the leader.
And because our movement is a reflection of society at large, many of us remain stuck in that same mindset. Even though we recently, as a movement, adopted a set of guiding principles which claims, for instance, that ‘we are all leaders’, we have sometimes allowed individuals to push forward and claim central roles and responsibilities. Thus, even as we work day in and day out towards building a non-hierarchial decision-making structure within our movement, it is often the most charismatic and articulate person that people gravitate towards – he or she provides a safe space where members don't need to think critically and take responsibility.
This has been exacerbated by the media and by the mayor herself who have placed Mario Wanza as the central figure in our movement. Even though we have no elected leadership and decisions are made collectively in our meetings, Mr Wanza has been called our 'chairperson' and our 'spokesperson' by newspapers and radio stations. This has left him extremely vulnerable to attacks on his character and is arguably the reason he was specifically targeted by police halfway through our 20km march to the Common.
This has also left the movement vulnerable to being hijacked by other groups and political parties. For instance, because some of our perceived leaders have a political history and even an ongoing relationship with the ANC, we have been labelled as a pro-ANC movement. Confusion over what our principled ‘we are non-party political’ stance means in practice, has also led individual members to invite party-oriented groups and people to come and support the movement.
Tony Ehrenreich, leader of COSATU in the Western Cape and the ANC in Cape Town, was invited by a member to support us after 42 of our protesting activists were arrested. However, when he arrived, he unilaterally took control of our meeting and attempted to change the direction of our actions and guide us towards a COSATU controlled occupation the following week.
As a result, we went back and resolved in our general meeting to distance ourselves from Mr Ehrenreirch and make very clear that he is not welcome as a member of the ANC or COSATU but may participate in our movement only as an individual without the special treatment that his role often engenders for him.
So what led to the overblown response by Patricia de Lille and the City of Cape Town against our attempt to hold a People's Summit on Rondebosch Common? While we were expecting at least a thousand people to march to the Common, we had clearly stated our intention to not build shacks on the land, to be non-violent, to protecting the environment - it was, after all, the police casspirs that crushed indigenous plants and bird’s nests while roaming the area – and to be engaged in constructive rather than destructive behaviour.
Yet, on the orders of the mayor, the City deployed hundreds of police throughout the Cape Flats and on the Common itself. Even while the summit was called off, a dozen police remained the entire weekend 'guarding' the Common.
It seems the paranoia came from elsewhere:
• The fear that a rogue community leader would use the event to deliver our communities into the hands of the ANC.
• The fear that putting racism, inequality and segregation on the political agenda would refute the DA's so-called ‘Open Opportunity Society for All’.
• The fear that we would become another Occupy movement challenging the legitimacy of the government with regards to their ability to divide, manage and control people and space.
The Democratic Alliance's ability to govern the City of Cape Town is contingent upon these three key points without which they are nothing. The pervasive violence by police last Friday and the baseless arrest of 42 peaceful demonstrators therefore were part of de Lille's plan of vilifying the movement through the person whom she appointed as it's leader. What she did not expect, however, was that her public relations exercise would backfire and the DA's violence and authoritarianism would be exposed.
UNITY IN DIVISION
We would be lying to ourselves and to others if we claimed that our movement speaks with one voice, that we all agree on everything and that there are not internal conflicts. However, as with the Occupy movement and other new movements that organise horizontally without a leadership clique, confusion, divisions and disagreements are part of the process of building consensus.
As Deseriis and Dean have written, ‘rather than a liability to be denied or avoided, division becomes a strength, a way that the movement becomes powerful as our movement, the movement of us toward a common end.’
While we as a young movement try to build radically new forms of direct democracy within by challenging the old guard, we will also be able to strengthen accountability and the authority of the decisions we make as a collective. We say ‘we are all leaders’ and thus we cannot allow what feminist Jo Freeman has called a 'tyranny of structurelessness', a situation where an aversion to structure altogether results in abuse by the most assertive personalities.
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* Jared Sacks is an activist with the Take Back the Commons Movement and works at the Children of South Africa. He writes only in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the movement.
* This article will be published in the Argus on 3 February, 2012.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
South Africa: Charges against protesters withdrawn
Public violence charges against 41 Cape Town protesters have been withdrawn following their arrest on Friday, when police dispersed an unsanctioned protest being held on Rondesbosch Common.
The 41 demonstrators appeared in the Wynberg magistrate's court on Monday morning, after they were arrested last week while taking part in what was deemed by authorities to be an illegal protest, but described by organisers as a ‘summit’ on land, jobs, housing and other issues pertinent to Cape Town's poor.
To underscore their issues, participants had decided to meet at Rondebosch Common, a public space they said was seen to be the exclusive property of a moneyed and predominantly white elite of the southern suburbs.
The protest itself emerged from encounters between several grassroots organisations, including Proudly Mannenberg. The protesters, unlike in previous Occupy South Africa protests, which had been criticised for being attended mostly by white, middle-class demonstrators, were mostly black and coloured, and from working class backgrounds.
Police had been waiting along the route for the protesters who were marching to the Common from as far away as Athlone, Mitchells Plain and Kraaifontein.
A total of 41 protesters – of whom 26 were women – were jailed, including organiser Mario Wanza, who was arrested at around 10am while still in Mannenberg. All were released soon afterwards – except Wanza who had previously been singled out as an instigator by Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, and remained in jail until his Monday morning court appearance.
At the common itself, protesters were significantly outnumbered by a police presence of about 200 officers, who used water cannons loaded with blue dye to disperse the gathering. When protester Niall Reddy questioned the police about which law was being violated, police cited a court order, but were apparently unable to produce any documentation.
According to the Freedom of Expression Institute's Na'eem Jeenah, the Democratic Alliance-run Cape Town has a history of denying citizens the right to assemble.
Christopher McMichael, who has written on both the DA's response to dissent and "securitisation" in the country, said the Cape Town authorities' actions were "indicative of the police response to the Occupy phenomenon throughout the world".
"They have shown how they can keep up with the 'world class' standard set in Oakland or New York," said McMichael. "The response was based upon a militarised outlook of pre-emption."
Jane Duncan of the Rhodes University Journalism and Media Studies department said that such attitudes towards public gatherings were not exclusive to a single party: "It has become patently obvious that local authorities are manipulating the RGA [Regulations of Gatherings Act] to frustrate gatherings, rather than enable them, and that this cuts across ANC and DA-controlled municipalities".
'Agents of division'
While supporters of the protest argued that their meeting posed no threat to public safety, the city had declared the movement a threat.
De Lille described the protesters as "agents of division" and singled out Wanza as someone who will "act destructively, who will undo the good work of others to pursue selfish political motives", describing him as a "would-be but failed public servant who claims to speak on behalf of the people of the Cape Flats".
De Lille further claimed that Wanza was allied to her former mayoral rival in last year's municipal election, councillor Tony Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich, who also leads Cosatu in the province, later showed up at the protest offering to help to those arrested, before being shouted down by angry protesters who claimed he was attempting to hijack the protest on behalf of Cosatu and its alliance partner, the ANC.
According to protesters, neither Cosatu nor Ehrenreich was involved until he showed up on the day of the protest. Organisers had decided not to back any particular political party.
Video footage purports to show the police employing excessive force in their handling of several female protesters.
Richard October, a Cape Town-based community activist and member of Occupy Cape Town was among those taken into custody: "I got arrested when four big policemen were being brutal to a 19-year-old girl, I confronted them about their excessive behavior and they arrested me."
Fiery Khayelitsha pastor Xola Skonsana claimed that he had "escaped imprisonment by the skin of my teeth, saved by the clerical shirt and the religious look ... they sprayed some blue substance on our clothes, I'm tempted to say that's DA Blood."
Organisers of the protest said they would lodge a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission on Monday, claiming that the city's show of force was "overkill" and "illegal". -- Additional reporting by Sapa
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* Benjamin Fogelis a freelance writer.
* This article was first published in the Mail & Guardian.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Kenya: Bunge la Mwananchi movement and its challenges
There is nothing uniquely so human as the meeting of the ordinary minds whose membership base cuts across different social groups and classes and is plural, diversified by gender, ethnicity, cultures, generations and physical capacities. The people meet for friendly debates regularly in an open space to critically discuss political and socio-economic events. A time comes when ordinary citizens stop complaining and take upon themselves the responsibilities of identifying their problems, coming together for consultative meetings, discussing the problems and proposing solutions.
Bunge la Mwananchi, a pro-poor social movement historically related to popular social struggles for empowerment and participatory democracy in Kenya since early 1990s has remained focused on this core value of organizing the citizenry to demand social equality and participatory democracy as a prerequisite for sustainable development. The movement have engaged citizens in public discussions on pertinent issues which have become a permanent process of seeking and building alternatives.
The movement was started and fronted by people who felt deprived of social justice and decent living conditions: the unemployed, petty traders, squatters and low paid workers who through regular social interactions and transactions expressed resentment and resisted the adoption by former President Daniel arap Moi’s government of IMF and World Bank economic reforms which emphasized regulation of the state, privatization and liberalization of the economy together with the adoption of managerial approaches to governance which deepened the crisis in Kenya’s economy. The devaluation of the Kenya’s currency had eroded people’s purchasing power and fuelled inflation which placed the prices of most items, particularly food, beyond the rich of the vast majority. The deregulation of the Kenyan state also meant that subsidies for essential services including health, education, infrastructure and essential commodities such as food, fuel and electricity were drastically reduced or removed entirely, leading to social misery and pauperization.
The imports-dependent industries reeled under the impact of devaluation and the falling of prices of Kenya’s traditional exports in the international market undermined the amount of foreign exchange available to fund importation of raw materials. The result of this was exploitation of workers by multinationals who took advantage of deregulation of the economy to make more profit, unemployment, poor children dropping out of school, retrenchment and adoption of multiple survival or coping strategies by the impoverished middle class and the poorest of the poor.
It was in this context of sharp social contradictions and struggles for survival, partly as a result of structural adjustments programmes by IMF and the World Bank, coupled with the KANU dictatorship, corruption and misrule, that the unemployed, petty traders, squatters and low paid workers came together to call themselves ‘parliament of the ordinary people’, or Bunge la Mwananachi in Swahili. It is a non-economic and non-state platform which gives visibility and voice to the disadvantaged, dispossessed and deprived citizens. The platform enables them to protest their exclusion, stake claims and defend the rights to gain access to basic needs.
The movement was among the visible and invisible, formal and informal networks that were doing collective mobilization for satisfaction of basic needs and respect for basic rights as well as greater democracy in early 1990s. Nobody could contest the fact that the movement has grown organically through the concept of organizing communities in terms of here-and-now accomplishments and not rhetoric. The movement introduced the concept of ‘organizing practices’ to capture both the diversity of forms that collective action can take and the argument that a socially equitable society can be contested in many ways and many public spheres.
Currently Bunge la Mwananchi is prominent in the national stage and has remained an important player in popular contestation nationwide because of its impact on pertinent issues: social justice, equality, poverty elimination, greater participatory democracy, access to water, housing, food, land, health, sanitation, employment and education. The movement is now crowded with an assortment of diverse social forces, actors and agencies, with multiple and sometimes contradictory agendas but united in operational techniques. The movement is non-confessional, non-governmental and non-partisan and interrelates non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, trade unions, sports clubs and non-governmental individuals who are engaged in concrete actions. The reason why the movement has survived is because it is home-grown and is fronted by the masses themselves whose concern is more oriented to the local and national levels than global. Nevertheless the movement also acts at the global level through formal and informal networks that mobilize at the world and regional summits. There is no ‘personality cult’ or ‘messianic mentality’ within the movement. It was formed by the masses for the masses.
All social movements in Kenya of early 1980s and 1990s largely came to a halt in 2002. The coming of NARC government into power marked the end of vibrant social movements. The pioneers and actors of those social movements entered the political arena and transformed themselves into political actors, leaving a vacuum in social movements. Some actors demobilized social movements completely considering that they had achieved their personal objectives. They were actors who saw social movements primarily as organizational and political opportunities. Some of those movements disappeared like mist in the noon day sun because the nature and the directions of those movements was a one-person agenda and they were co-opted into the new NARC government, abandoning the vehicles, mechanisms, sets of values or agendas that they had pursued. Other social movements were being shaped and influenced at times by international processes and actors. Those processes and actors had a direct bearing on the nature and outcomes of those social movements beyond their immediate actions as they were being taken up by international agendas and not ordinary people’s agendas. When international agendas were achieved those movements died their natural deaths; and that is why Bunge La Mwananchi came from below and filled that void. It has become the only surviving and vibrant social movement in Kenya today.
Unlike other institutionalized movements which have norms, standards and doctrines Bunge la Mwananchi is complex and heterogeneous. This is shown by what members of the movement value, their expectations and demands. Some of them denounce economic globalization, free trading, privatization and the accentuation of poverty and social inequalities as the causes of their problems; while others focus on ecological and spiritual issues and disregard social-political causes. Some accept the movement as the basis for dialogue with the government and international multilateral institutions and see it as a platform from which to solve their problems, while others reject it on the basis of a substantive critique not only of the prevalent economic model but of the civilization mode as well and propose an alternative. This divergence of perspectives and the difficulties of reaching a consensual agenda is what has continued to sustain Bunge La Mwananchi.
Like any other pro-poor social movement, Bunge la Mwananchi is faced with numerous challenges that have hindered the movement from mounting forceful and sustainable actions to produce intended results for the greater benefit of the poor. Being a movement of community voluntarism and driven by selflessness and a civic spirit by the disadvantaged, dispossessed and deprived members of Kenyan society who are not able to satisfy their basic needs, the movement have come under increased financial pressure from its members which has made its social base to remain highly unstable. Due to acute economic and social crisis, poverty and unemployment, there is a belief within the movement and without that Bunge la Mwananchi has become a ‘gun for hire’ for ‘flashy’ NGOs in Kenya and other structural and formal institus that have enough economic resources which have permeated Bunge la Mwananchi in attempts to co-opt it. While Bunge la Mwananchi members are being used as ‘ammunition’ to push for these institutions’ agendas, this has continued to weaken and divide the movement and has made public perception of the movement at best vague and at worst negative.
The greatest challenge for Bunge la Mwananachi social movement is that within the it there are different views and perceptions in terms of the nature and scales of reforms to be pursued; critical internal divisions persist between the reformists, the radical forces and those who claim that they are the architects of the movement. As the movement takes a more reformist orientation by seeking to work with the system, various contradictions and tension always arise. First, the movement is highly heterogeneous. Second, its popular legitimacy has negatively affected the movement as it appears to foster its contacts with formal institutions while failing to bring social change in the latter. This has made the population concerned to feel deprived of social justice and decent living conditions. Social change spearheaded by the movement is slow and results are less than expected; As a result frustrations are rising among members and the public. Some of its social actors have decided to leave the movement and form their own formal organizations, while other members have sought to radicalize it.
Bunge la Mwananchi being an open platform, there are always open conflicts and disagreements on pertinent issues. The movement has numerous overlapping agendas and this has often brought a lot of open conflicts in its basic approaches, means and strategies in areas of activism which has not helped to put forward core claims and demands in a more coordinated manner. The movement has no physical office, documents ,reports, declarations or written expressions made by Bunge la Mwananchi when arguing in favour or against any issue. Its mode of operation, that is who should coordinate the associated projects and supervise funds, is always intertwined with conflicts of interests. Bunge la Mwananchi varies greatly with respect to sensitivity and purposes of actors, fluid actions and unpredictable reactions of opponents and authorities which has made Bunge la Mwananchi to remain vague in its range of goals. For a long time the movement has been wandering in the wilderness of fragmentation and competition. Some members who had formed their own institutionalized organizations are still clinging and retain their distinctiveness within Bunge la Mwananchi, while claiming to be the drivers of the movement, which puts their loyalties into question. At the same time the drivers of the movement are always immersed in a struggle between the moderates and radical elements within the movement. For its vehement critiques, the movement is no more than a gathering of ‘irresponsible left wingers’. Similarly, cracks among the drivers of the movement are exploited by institutionalised and formal organisations to divide and weaken the movement for their selfish ends. This has made Bunge la Mwananchi's future prospects inexorably compromised.
The movement has sought to advance diverse propositions and assert itself to be ‘alternative’ rather than ‘anti’ everything which has made it gain influence among political leaders, political parties and the government. But certain forces that form part of the movement back combative views with a consistent claim for immediate rapture with capitalism, the logic of profit, wage economy and money. The militancy of this small percentage of radicals who include anarchists, extreme leftists, militant trade unionists and deep ecologists who would like the present Kenya capitalistic system to be destroyed and replaced with a Utopian or another form of political system is sometimes overhwhelming. While others have the views of non-violent struggles, democratic practices, social justice, peace, solidarity and so forth, hence not a total break with, or violent revolutions against, the present Kenya's economic and political order, this divergence of perspectives is a great challenge for Bunge la Mwananchi.
While public influence of Bunge la Mwananchi has increased, taken as a whole, its activities remain highly spontaneous and informal. The movement has frequently been criticized as being weak in postulating concrete propositions. The movement has not been able to press forward and implement various specific propositions, or achieve in the end a certain degree of professionalism in the use of media and Internet and self-confidence in dealing with Kenya's political forces, with political parties and institutions. A major paradox that Bunge la Mwananachi faces is that, while on one hand it chooses to follow the tradition of highly informal and at times spontaneous nature of social actions, on the other hand it is increasingly informed by the need for institutionalization. This contradiction has hindered enhancement of common links between coordination and grassroots elements as an efficient contact to mount joint actions.
Bunge la Mwananachi social movement lacks coherent organizational structure that would allow it to conceive and implement proposals in a systematic manner including negotiations with authorities for necessary resources. This is notable with variations in the pace of their actions. This situation makes it difficult to conduct and operationalize legal and political agreements and plan with the government and other formal institutions which usually function within a more structured management frameworks, timing and directions. As far as the rule of social movement is concerned, Bunge la Mwananchi is primarily incapable of negotiating because it does not have anything to offer in return for any concessions made to its demands.
Lack of institutionalization in part is linked to the general disorientation within Bunge la Mwananachi regarding the role the movement should play in the existing political system. Some social actors of the movement have deliberately distanced themselves from the political arena because they consider Bunge to be NGO-type grouping that is always in opposition to the Kenyan government and political parties. The lack of serious reflection on the issue of political participation has now become a theme of increased debate within Bunge la Mwananachi between those who desire to become a major ‘locus power’ in the form of a political party or a new ‘post-new Kenya constitution activism’ and others seeking to maintain it in the present form purely as a mechanism for exchanging, disseminating and debating ideas. Some would like the movement to be associated with anarchists and call for a clear rejection of capitalism and trade agreements and Kenya’s promotion of destructive globalization and propose localized actions. It is logical that these social actors would not want to collaborate with development or political institutions; their agenda is to abstain from political parties, electoral politics and state institutions.
This phenomenon of a deep-rooted opposition to centralized legal and formal social actions is by no means common within Bunge la Mwananachi social, but it does become more problematic when the movement moves away from protest actions to elaboration and implementation of concrete plans. The movement lacks a legally approved organizational base or entity to respect any formal deal, to formulate, sanction or implement relevant laws, treaties and agreements on pertinent issues. For this, the movement have often looked for support and collaboration from government and other formalised institutions, although some antagonism together with some hostility towards authority and established institutions persist within the movement.
The structure and functioning of Kenya's political institutions represents numerous constraints in responding to the various claims emerging from Bunge la Mwananachi social movement. The Kenyan political system remains essentially hostile to the movement since collective action must be conducted in terms of social relations. As such there is the repressive apparatus of the Kenyan state and mechanisms of social control that strive to obstruct, contain and repress Bunge la Mwananachi's collective actions. In a sense Bunge la Mwananachi is seen as trouble makers.
These are some of underlying ambiguities and strains that have made the movement to be abused, misquoted, misinterpreted and misunderstood. What is more, distorted or at best incomplete reporting has overtime invested the movement with sinister connotations such as a gun and ammunition for hire. Overcoming these challenges is intricate as Bunge needs to tackle not only the organizational structure and linkages between coordination and the grassroots at various levels but also many of the contradictions and tensions already inherent. Bunge la mwananachi therefore has an uphill task of convincing the Kenyan population that it has the potential to change their lives to the better.
The goal of Bunge La Mwananchi is to create larger networks from existing ones and establishment of a more coordinated and sustained movement resulting in ‘networks of networks’. To have in place regular open forums in all the villages in the country and in all the neighborhoods in the urban areas and the full participation of all adults, where members meet daily in equal terms to conduct good debates in impassionate and yet guided by respectful and rationale conversations on pertinent issues on the current political and social-economic affairs of Kenya,for reflective thinking,formulations of proposals free exchange of experiences and ideas which will act as a capacity building, civic education, empowerment, advocacy and interlinking for effective actions. In such forums ordinary citizens will be able to build a broad- based consensus for collective mobilization,identifying leaders at every level of the community,and if need be make them their representative. Bunge la Mwananchi need this cadre of leaders to access the instrument of power and to have the authority to transform the entire Kenyan state when the time is right.
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Julius Okoth is a community mobiliser with Bunge la Mwananchi.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Libya and Syria: Lizzie Phelan on her reporting
Lizzie Phelan was video interviewed over Skype by New York Times journalist Robert Mackey about her coverage of events in Libya and Syria and her criticisms of the mainstream western and GCC media in relation to events in those countries.
This was her first interview by a mainstream Western media organisation. Prior to the interview Lizzie was sent three questions outlining the general topics that would be covered. In some ways the interview veered away from those topics and so she decided to publish the questions that were outlined prior to the interview and her full answers to them because she felt it is important that full responses are given to the questions in particular, and while she made most of these points in the interview, there are some points that she omitted.
ROBERT MACKEY: Since your impressions of what is happening in Syria seem to be strikingly different from those of many foreign reporters who have worked there recently, I wanted to ask you about how you found your sources and what you think accounts for the different picture painted of the conflict by other journalists.
LIZZIE PHELAN: First of all I hope that you will give me the opportunity to answer all of your questions in full, so that the context, which is always lacking, can be provided. I also hope that you will ask all the questions that you proposed when I agreed to do this interview. If not I will myself publish the full questions and my full answers.
This question is flawed, because what you really mean is that my impressions of what is happening in Syria seem to be strikingly different from those reporters from the NATO and GCC countries [council for Arab states of the Gulf], which have a vested interest in destabilising Syria. Of course my impressions are actually shared by the majority people of this world, from those countries outside of NATO and the GCC and particularly those which are victims of these powers. But because they do not own a powerful media their voices are drowned out by the impressions of the minority reflected in the mainstream media of the NATO and GCC countries.
So in relation to my sources, I find my sources through a number of different means, but my main means is I talk to ordinary people everywhere I go and in Syria this is not difficult because people are really keen to speak about the crisis in their country, especially to foreigners who they feel strongly have a false impression about their country and current events. This was overwhelmingly, but of course not exclusively, the point of view that I encountered. And this is reflected in my reporting.
In fact, like in Libya, I was so overwhelmed by the volume of people that wanted to talk about their anger at the fabrications in the media of the NATO and GCC countries that my colleague Mostafa Afzalzadeh and I decided to make a documentary so that we could reflect what ordinary Syrian people are really saying. This documentary will actually expose how, if it was not for such media, the crisis in Syria would have been over before it started and the people of Syria would be living in peace now.
The difference with journalists from mainstream media in NATO and GCC countries is that they come with an agenda, and that agenda is to cover what they call a ‘revolution’ happening inside Syria and to give substance to the false claims that the Syrian government is a threat to the Syrian people. So if, for example, they walk down the street and they have 10 people telling them there is no revolution happening in Syria and actually the people want the army to protect them from the terrorists that are flooding the country, and then they have one person who tells them that there is no democracy in Syria, they will discard the 10 as government spies and run with the one person who said something different. I witnessed this myself.
If they were to do the reverse and reflect the majority view on the street, then this would undermine the coverage of their media organisations over the previous 10 months that have painted a picture of a government hated by its people, and in turn it would undermine their own credibility as journalists working for those organisations.
But in time they will not be able to suppress the truth. However, like in Libya the danger is that the truth only comes out when it is too late, when a country has been successfully destroyed by the NATO and GCC countries, with the vital help of their media. Then the western media can afford to be more honest, although never entirely, because the aims, for example of regime change, of their paymasters have been achieved.
I am, on the other hand, not concerned about toeing a line in order to ‘make it’ as a journalist working for one of the world’s most respected media organisations. I became a journalist in order to reflect the truth at whatever cost that may come. The only thing I am loyal to is my conscience.
ROBERT MACKEY: Since you have appeared on Press TV and Russia Today, as well as Syria state television, do you have any concern that you might seem to be endorsing the governments that finance those channels, or do you see your role more as that of an activist, opposing the policies of the US and UK, than as a neutral reporter?
LIZZIE PHELAN: This question in itself is a very deceitful and loaded question, and it is taken out of all context. It implies that BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera etc and the journalists who work for those organisations are independent from their financiers. If I worked for BBC does that mean that I am endorsing the British government which funds it and that government’s centuries long and present abuses across the world?
Why is the NYT concerned about my work for Russia Today and Press TV? I challenge you to find me specific examples of journalists that work for these organisations that have engaged in bad journalistic practise. Why are you not concerned about journalists who work for Al Jazeera that is funded by and reflects the foreign policy of the Qatari emir and royal family? Al Jazeera has been proven many times over in the past few months to have published false reports about events in the region, not least Libya.
How can their journalists be neutral when their employer hosts the largest US military base in the region, and has been responsible for sending thousands of fighters, weapons and a lot of money to kill and destroy in Libya and is now doing the same in Syria in addition to having called for Arab troops to invade the country? Likewise, I have yet to hear the NYT question the ‘neutrality’ of journalists who work with the British state-funded BBC, or journalists who work for the Murdoch Press, which is well documented to have strong connections with all the major Western powers which are responsible for the greatest violations of international law.
So the question should start from the premise that no news organisations are neutral, and each represent a certain ideology. So if you ask me if I feel more at peace working for news channels which reflect the ideology of states that are defending themselves from constant attack by the West, that is, an ideology that opposes foreign interference in their affairs and promotes their own independence, or would I feel more comfortable working for media organisations that reflect the arrogant ideology that Western civilisation is superior and should be imposed across the world by any means necessary, then I think any person with the slightest understanding of global politics and at least recent history would say the former.
An additional deception in this question is that there is such a thing as neutrality and that journalists are able to separate their own beliefs in what they choose to cover and how they cover it, or indeed the pretence that journalists do not hold an opinion.
As I said, I am not concerned about others’ perceptions of these things, because anyone who perceives that because I have worked for Russia Today or Press TV it means that I am in someone’s pocket, whereas if I was working for a western organisation I would be ‘neutral,’ is deceiving themselves and choosing to look at a tiny portion of a whole picture.
Incidentally, when I was stuck in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli with those 35 other journalists, one of the days, two American journalists rushed into the hotel and swiftly exited when they realised that the hotel was being defended by Gaddafi supporters. Actually one of the two in particular was worried about the Gaddafi supporters harming him, but they requested that they just leave. Why was he so worried? Because, he said, he was related to somebody senior in the NTC no less. I have never seen his neutrality being called into question by the mainstream media.
Finally, what is an activist? If it means that the role you play has the effect of agitating events, then I would say that we are all in some shape or form activists. For anyone to think that their actions are benign and have no repercussions, is at best naïve. This is particularly true for all journalists, whose actions as reporters have greater repercussions than other ordinary citizens of this world. And this is of course because their voice is afforded a special platform, and when you study journalism you are taught that a reporter should act as the eyes and ears of the general public, and thus you have greater influence than the ordinary citizen.
So you either use that platform to promote justice and the principles of international law which are fundamental for everyone's well being, or you bury your head in the sand about the responsibility that comes with that platform and you use it to promote your own personal career or interests.
ROBERT MACKEY: I also wanted to find out more about your reporting from Libya, and ask how you respond to allegations that you supported the government of Col. Qaddafi. All in all, I'm trying to get a better understanding of what drives you to speak out against Western governments but apparently lend your support to governments, like those in Iran, Russia and Syria now, that have been accused of serious human rights abuses.
LIZZIE PHELAN: Again this is another deceitful question and epitomises the manipulative approach of the world’s powerful media, such as newspapers like the NYT.
Here you are asking me this question because the West’s major powers and media criminalised Muammar Gaddafi, Iran etc by accusing them of abusing human rights.
So you are trying to put me into this trap by saying that if I support Muammar Gaddafi, and Iran I also support abuses against human rights.
But first of all this question of human rights is an absolute fallacy and is at present the number one stick used to bash leaders of independent developing countries in order to provide a moral justification for the imposition of the Western system upon those countries.
My colleague Dan Glazebrook did an interview on Russia Today last week following the decision by Doctors Without Borders to stop their work in Libya in despair at the appalling torture against tens of thousands of pro-Gaddafi Libyans by those rebels who have been cheered on for the past year by the Western media. He reminded the public that according to HRW reports from the past five years, there were three possible cases of deaths in custody in Libya, which is really exemplary, but in Britain there were four cases last month alone. So I would be far more concerned about being associated with the British government and thus its appalling human rights record. And that is just Britain - the rest of the NATO countries, particularly the US and also Israel and the GCC countries, fare no better.
Factually speaking Libya was a paradise for human rights and Muammar Gaddafi was due to receive a human rights award prior to the NATO onslaught. And of course Libya had the highest standard of living in Africa and much of the region, including a much higher standard of living than Saudi Arabia which hardly ever is in the spotlight in the mainstream Western press.
Nonetheless, you wouldn’t dream of implying that a journalist who works for the Sun or the Guardian in Britain, both of which take a position of supporting one way or another the Conservative Party or the Labour Party, of supporting abuses on human rights because they work for papers which support parties that have committed some of the greatest injustices known to man throughout history all across the world and up until this present day. Injustices which far outstrip any injustices that have occurred at the hands of any leader of a developing country.
So why the two-faces? This is all part of the prejudice in Western media that Western civilisation is superior to anything else and therefore those responsible for the injustices committed by the West need not be held accountable, and anyone who speaks out against that should have their name dragged through the mud.
Malcolm X famously said ‘if you are not careful, the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the oppressor’, and that quote rings true more than ever today most recently in the way that the western and GCC media has covered events in Libya and Syria.
But to respond to your question directly, as I have stated, what I support is respect for international law, and the most important principle in international law, and one of the main stated aims for the body that was set up to uphold international law, the now redundant UN, is respect for the sovereignty of nations and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. Recent history shows that the root of the greatest injustices known to man is the violation of these principles and so anyone who violates these principles is a criminal and should be treated as such, and anyone who is a victim of such violations should be defended.
Now not only these principles but all relevant international laws and norms were violated in the case of Libya and the West’s treatment of Muammar Gaddafi, and this has been well documented. The same violations are playing out against the Syrian government.
How is it that one can moralise about human rights, but not give a second’s thought to the fact that a senior member of the US government, Hilary Clinton, called for the death of another head of state, Muammar Gaddafi, just two days before he was assassinated? I hope I don’t need to tell you that that was entirely illegal and abhorrent.
I am wholly against such violations, just as anybody who believes in international law and justice would be, and therefore I will support the right of anyone to defend themselves against this violation by any means necessary.
I have been accused by some of being a mouthpiece for the Libyan government but now the truth is coming out. We know that the essence of the former Libyan government's analysis has been proved correct, whilst almost everything reported by the mainstream Western media has been proved wrong:
• The rebellion was indeed armed from the very first day of the uprising (this was confirmed in Amnesty's in-depth report from late last year) - not a peaceful movement
• The rebels were working hand in glove with Western intelligence agencies to facilitate a NATO blitzkrieg
• The NTC are disunited and incapable of governing the country.
• The rebels do have a racist, even genocidal, policy towards sub-Saharan African migrants and a third of the Libyan population is dark skinned
• Gaddafi's government was not conducting aerial attacks against protesters or mass rape (or indeed any rape, according to Amnesty)
• There had not been 10,000 people killed in Benghazi by Gaddafi's government during the uprising (as the NTC claimed), but 110 (Amnesty figures again) killed on both sides prior to NATO's attack,
• etc etc.
On every major issue, the Gaddafi government's analysis and figures have been proven far closer to the truth than the NTC's and the Western media’s initial and unequivocal position. So any journalist telling the truth about these issues would have ‘sounded like a mouthpiece of the regime’, because the government's analysis was essentially correct, and has now been proven correct.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Lizzie Phelan is an independent journalist from the UK.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Somaliland and the London conference on Somalia
Ahmed M.I. Egal
The upcoming London Conference on Somalia, and the UK’s urging of the Somaliland government to attend, has understandably generated a lot of debate and comment within the Somaliland community, both within and outside the country. One of the stated objectives of the conference, according to Matt Baugh, senior representative for Somalia, is to ‘...reinforce the relative stability in areas of Somalia, such as Somaliland and Puntland and in the south…’.
This statement has, again understandably, aroused the ire of the people of Somaliland since they recovered their sovereignty from the erstwhile Republic of Somalia in 1991, and have steadfastly maintained their distance from the anarchy, state collapse and war that have engulfed Somalia ever since, despite repeated attempts often involving violence (e.g. Al-Shabaab’s attacks in Hargeisa and upon expatriates in Somaliland) to drag them into this unending maelstrom.
Somaliland and its people expected more from their former colonial protector, and it is either a reflection of the insensitivity of the current Foreign and Colonial Office to the aspirations of the people of Somaliland, or simply of their lack of knowledge of the politics of the Horn of Africa, that they refer to Somaliland as a region of Somalia, as Puntland is. The interpretation that many hard line, anti-Somaliland politicians within Somalia have given this British insensitivity or ignorance, is that the British have coerced the Somaliland government to attend the conference as a regional authority, just like Puntland, Galmudug etc. Whatever the explanation for this impolitic language, and it is likely to be a combination of all three outlined herein, the fact is that the British government has put the Silanyo administration in a very difficult spot indeed. If they attend the conference, as they have stated they will, then they will reap the wrath of the vast majority of their people; if they don’t, and they may yet be forced to a volte face, then they will look weak and will reap the wrath of Albion through curtailment of aid and a downgrade of bilateral ties.
Leaving aside the issue of Somaliland’s attendance for the moment, it is instructive to consider what this latest conference on Somalia is meant to achieve and the likelihood of it achieving its stated objectives, which have been set out as follows:
- Security: sustainable funding for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and support for Somali security and justice sectors.
- Political Process: agreement to what should succeed the transitional institutions in Mogadishu in August 2012 and the establishment of a Joint Financial Management Board.
- Local Stability: a coordinated international package of support to Somalia’s regions.
- Counter-terrorism: renewed commitment to tackle collectively the terrorist threat emanating from Somalia.
- Piracy: breaking the piracy business model.
- Humanitarian: renewed commitment to tackling Somalia’s humanitarian crisis.
- International coordination: agreement on improved international handling of Somalia issues.
This is quite a challenge and it is clear that no single conference can be expected to achieve these gargantuan goals, so we must question what the British government actually hopes to achieve at this conference. According to Chris Allen, UK deputy ambassador to Ethiopia, more than 40 senior government officials and multilateral organizations, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are expected to attend the conference. Clearly, Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague have invested considerable political capital and much personal credibility in this conference.
The fact is that there have been some 17 or 18 conferences (depending upon one’s criteria on what constitutes a conference) held to effect reconciliation and establish a credible, effective government for Somalia since 1991, including the latest one earlier this month in Garowe. All of these conferences can be said to have failed miserably since Somalia remains the very definition of a failed state with no central state authority in control of the country. Yet, the British government has raised expectations internationally and within East Africa by hosting this conference and prevailing upon heads of state and government, the foreign donor community and the current Somali leadership, such as it is, to attend. On the face of it, given the near debacle of abject failure at the recent Garowe conference, which was only avoided by the UN acceding to the opposing demands of the two camps into which the participants divided regarding the basis upon which a future government of Somalia would be formed, the prospects for success seem rather dim.
So what do the British have up their sleeve, as it were, that leads them to believe that this conference will bear the sweet fruit of success where all the others have failed? Firstly, they have been dangling the enticing carrot of increased international aid for ‘peaceful’ regions, which has resulted in a sudden proliferation of regional states announced by aspirant diaspora would-be ‘leaders’ seeking their fleeting 15 minutes of fame (or perhaps infamy might be a more apt term) on the world stage, or in this case, the London stage and a briefcase of money - courtesy of the foreign donors. This opportunistic gold rush of regional statehood has even infected the peaceful parts of the erstwhile Somali Republic (i.e. Somaliland and Puntland) with the recent moves to legitimise the dangerous, diaspora-driven, political mischief-making disguised as Awdal State and Khatumo 2.
Thus, while the direct responsibility for the recent deaths of security personnel and civilians in Buhoodle in Somaliland can be laid at the door of the naked ambition and greed of the Somali Diaspora carpet-baggers seeking a place at the London conference, the British government must accept its indirect, if unintentional, culpability. To quote a much-misused political axiom of our times, actions have consequences.
Secondly, with the support of the US and UN Security Council (UNSC), the British hope to revisit the agreement reached at Garowe wherein all things were promised to all parties. At Garowe, a further interim period of four years was agreed, during which Somalia would be ‘governed’ by a new interim government formed on the basis of the 4.5 clan model upon which the present TFG was formed. Thereafter, in 2016, a permanent government for Somalia will be formed based upon regional representation and not the 4.5 clan structure. The foreign donor community had intended that the Garowe conference would form the permanent government that has been pushed back four years, although any rational observer with knowledge of Somali history and politics, particularly during the period since the collapse of the Siyad Barre dictatorship, would have seen the chasm between these intentions and the hard reality on the ground. What, in effect, the foreign donors were attempting to effect was to construct the edifice of a permanent government upon quicksand, since the basis upon which a new Somali state was to be formed had not even been addressed.
The London Conference seeks to revisit the political agreement on the formation of a permanent government for Somalia, because the issue was ducked at Garowe, and the prospect of another four years of anarchy and political stasis under yet another interim government is unpalatable to the foreign donors. However, since the core issues underlying the collapse of the Somali state have not been addressed - and are not tabled to be addressed at the conference - it is destined to fail. These issues revolve around the rationale for the existence of the state itself, i.e. what is the underlying basis for political consent in Somalia? The rationale for the creation of the erstwhile Republic was the irredentist dream of Greater Somalia, and this dream has been consigned to the dustbin of history for a whole host of reasons, both internal and external, which are beyond the scope of this paper to delve into. However, despite the lingering passion of some Somalis for this mirage of the past, and the false, in-name-only adherence of some regional powers seeking to advance their own self interested, political calculations, this discredited and empty irredentism can no longer further the political aspirations and hopes for a better future of a new generation of Somalis.
Succeeding generations of young Somalis, which have been robbed of any and all opportunity for betterment while observing both their own misery and the changing world around them are no longer inspired by dreams of Greater Somalia. The call to their political loyalty is to their sub-clan and the call to their faith is to a medieval nihilism masquerading as Islam. They demand a life and the chance for betterment now and a faith that connects them to humanity and human progress, not one that not only denies it, but cuts them off from it in the name of piety. The lucky few that can muster the necessary payments, vote with their feet and join the millions of illegal migrants that are preyed upon by human traffickers each year. The unlucky are forced to choose between death, beggary and fighting for one side or the other in the interminable war that has come to define Somalia. This conference will, as did all of its predecessors, focus upon the symptoms of Somalia’s malaise - the anarchy, lack of governance, corruption of the self-serving and self-appointed leadership, the nihilist menace of Al-Shabaab and maritime piracy - without ever addressing the root cause of the disease.
Addressing the root cause of the disease requires asking the question: in the absence of the irredentist dream, what is the basis for the existence of a Somali state, and on what terms will the people of Somalia, particularly the young, accord to such a state their political consent? This question cannot be sensibly or productively debated and concluded in a couple of days at a swank conference hall in London by unelected and unrepresentative Somali ‘politicians’ in the pay of the UN, senior representatives of the foreign donors (however well intentioned), and senior members of the international aid nomenclature. These questions can only be sensibly and productively debated and concluded by the people of Somalia through their genuine, indigenous socio-political and cultural leadership. Such a genuine, grass-root, Somali-owned process does not lend itself readily to Western notions and perceptions of structured political debate and negotiation. Rather, it harks back to traditional Somali culture of clan meetings, dispute settlement and peace making under the galool tree that has endured for hundreds of years. These meetings and discussions are open to all, although respect and deference is afforded to the elders. However to quote a Somali adage pertaining to such meetings, participants are urged to ‘da’ ha raadininee, dunta raadiya’, or seek and follow wisdom, not longevity.
To return to the issue of Somaliland’s attendance of the London conference, it is accepted wisdom among most Somalilanders, that attendance should be rebuffed. This is largely an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the arrogance/ignorance of Britain in referring to the country as a region of Somalia and then exerting strong pressure for attendance upon the Silanyo regime, which it has successfully inveigled into attending previous meetings for Somalia to Silanyo’s domestic political cost. The overwhelming majority of Somaliland citizens, and especially the young who have much less attachment to Britain and no fond memories of the relatively benign colonial protectorate administration, would like their government to cock a snoot at Albion’s perfidy and shun attendance. However, this would be a mistake since an emotional response to another’s slight (intentional or otherwise), while often satisfying, is rarely wise and almost never in one’s long term self interest.
Instead, the Silanyo administration should attend the conference with the aim of telling truth to power and challenging the international community to honestly address why the Somali state collapsed in the aftermath of the Siyad Barre dictatorship and in doing so return ownership of the process of reconciliation and establishment of a new, 21st century rationale for the state to the people of Somalia. Somaliland has unique experience of this type of genuine, grass-root, democratic peace making and reconciliation rooted in local culture, traditions and religious faith. The Borama Conference of 1992, which laid the foundations for the re-emergence of Somaliland as a peaceful, democratic and free republic lasted for over four months, was rooted in local culture and history, ensured that all sections and groups within society, including those historically not accorded a voice, were represented and were heard. In addition, this conference called upon the skills, experience and knowledge of those from the diaspora as equal citizens and not as fortune or position-seeking carpet baggers. The representatives/participants at this conference included clan elders and leaders, traditional Sultans, intellectuals and poets, business people and professionals.
The conference had no formal agenda, but everyone knew that the central topic of discussion was the terms upon which the people of this country were prepared to live together in peace and fraternity in a post-dictatorship, post-irredentist future. The first item that was agreed, which set the tone and stage for the subsequent reconciliation and agreement to form a representative government, was that all previous political and clan disputes between the peoples and clans of Somaliland, whether rooted in the defunct dictatorship or in the subsequent liberation war, were null and void, were consigned to history and that it was ‘xaraam’, a sin, to ever raise them again. The people of Somaliland have a lot to offer in assisting the international community in developing a workable road map for genuine reconciliation in Somalia, and they are prepared to put this experience, expertise and their good offices as an honest broker between the warring parties on the table.
However, the international community has to come to the realisation that the continued failures of its efforts towards re-establishing a viable Somali state over the last two decades are neither accidental nor due to any bad luck or lack of effort. Rather, they have been doomed to failure because they have sought to paper over the cracks of a political edifice that cannot be resurrected because its very foundation has disappeared. Somaliland’s willingness to play the role of peace broker, impartial adjudicator and host of the reconciliation process for its brothers to the south is genuine and heartfelt. Equally, its commitment to its sovereignty and independence is unconditional and also genuine and is not subject to question or debate by others. Somaliland won back its independence and freedom at the barrel of a gun, after a long war, and with the precious blood and treasure of its people. Somaliland’s freedom and recovery of its sovereignty was neither negotiated at a conference table nor granted by fiat, and it will not be surrendered on any terms. International recognition may not come today, or this year, and the powers represented at the conference may choose to ignore the will of the people of Somaliland for as long as they wish, but this will neither deter them from their chosen destiny nor dismay them from their choice.
It does not often come to pass that a leader is presented by history with a chance to represent the wishes of his people and the justice of their cause to the international community by issuing a challenge, so honest, so heartfelt and so rooted in the basic humanity shared by all peoples, that it marks a turning point in international diplomacy and modern history. Such a moment was presented to Emperor Haile Selassie at the League of Nations in 1936 and the challenge he issued to a world community dominated by European colonial powers on behalf of the Ethiopian people suffering under a brutal onslaught by fascist Italy, brought a destitute, backward and impoverished African country into the League as a charter member and changed the course of history. In 1974, Yasser Arafat went to the UN and said: ‘Today I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter's gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat, do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.’ The world never saw the struggle for Palestinian rights and the creation of a Palestinian state through the same prism again.
President Silanyo has such an opportunity at the London conference. He must challenge the world to deny the self evident will of the people of Somaliland and their unique achievement of creating a democratic, post-irredentist Somali state, imperfect as it may be, adjacent to the longest-running failed state in modern history. He must point out that the denial of Somaliland’s rights and the continued consignment of the people of Somalia to a never-ending nightmare of anarchy, terrorism and war are two sides of the same coin. The Somali people have the ingenuity and the will to solve their seemingly intractable problems if provided by the international community with the means. The missing ingredient is the imagination and creativity to step back and let the Somalis do it for themselves. Somaliland’s message to the London conference is simple: if the definition of madness is repeating the same action again and again yet expecting a different result each time, then we are your sanity pill; ignore us at your peril.
The world may ignore Somaliland’s right to recover its sovereignty, but we have the solution to our brothers’ troubles, and we stand ready with an open hand to offer it, if you will let us. The prolonged misery of Somalia and Somaliland’s continued prodigality are linked and both the result of the lack of imagination and creativity on the part of the international community, which has for too long consigned the ‘Somali issue’ to the back burner. If the world is now serious about finding a solution for the problems of the Somali people of the Horn of Africa, then it should open not only its heart, but also its mind and its ears, because Somaliland has been shouting the solution for years to deaf ears. Somaliland’s attendance of the London Conference must challenge the status quo, not only with respect to its own situation, but also with respect to the situation in Somalia. Somaliland, as the first post-irredentist Somali nation-state, must deliver this message and deliver it emphatically. Who knows, forcing the world to properly address the ‘Somali Issue’ may just save the conference and save the credibility of Albion.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Ahmed M.I. is a Somalilander who grew up in Europe. Egal has a BA (Economics & Politics) from Warwick University and an MA (Area Studies [African Development]) from London University.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Will neoliberalism make a comeback in Africa via Tunisia?
Patrick Bond and Khadija Sharife
With International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde visiting Tunis today, the stage is set for ideological war over the progress of democratic revolutions.
Until 27 year-old fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi committed suicide by immolation in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia was packaged as an IMF success story. In 2008, dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was embraced by Lagarde’s predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn: ‘Economic policy adopted here is a sound policy and is the best model for many emerging countries.’
Ben Ali’s regime was the ‘best model’ for two other Washington institutions: the State Department just a few blocks from the IMF headquarters, and the Pentagon. From within Hillary Clinton’s lair, as WikiLeaks revealed in 2010, ‘The United States and Tunisia have an active schedule of joint military exercises. US security assistance historically has played an important role in cementing relations.’ (Clinton is a leading candidate for World Bank president, to be chosen in mid-2012.)
Also in 2010, the IMF celebrated Ben Ali’s commitment ‘to reduce tax rates on businesses and to offset those reductions by increasing the standard Value Added Tax (VAT) rate,’ which hurts poor people most. The IMF advised the tyrant to ‘contain subsidies of food and fuel products.’ While squeezing the poor, the IMF diplomatically turned a blind eye to widespread corruption by Ben Ali and his wife’s notorious Trabelsi family, the two families’ extreme level of business concentration, the regime’s reliance upon murderous security forces to defend Tunisian crony capitalism, and the hedonistic lifestyle for which Ben Ali’s clan had become famous.
The informal sector is vibrant in Tunisia, about half the size of the formal Gross Domestic Product, but doesn’t contribute to the 18 percent VAT rate. So like in South Africa where the state just announced tax filings by a record four million people, the pressure is intense for authorities to bring survivalist home-production businesses into the net. Police harassment worsened, and Bouazizi killed himself after his fruit cart was overturned and goods confiscated. He had borrowed $200 the night before to buy the produce, and with the meager earnings, he supported a family of four. He died of the burn wounds last January 4.
Before long, another self-immolation occurred, politically, when the former IMF chief Strauss-Kahn allegedly raped a 32-year old Guinean maid, Nafissatou Diallo, who fought back with a charge that, ultimately, could not be prosecuted in the criminal courts, though a civil trial looms.
But the legacies represented by both immolations continue: high-risk pro-dictatorial neoliberalism and courageous popular resistance. A month ago, Strauss-Kahn’s successor Christine Lagarde, also a former French finance minister, visited Abuja to offer neoliberal advice to Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan on fuel subsidy cuts. Lagarde was effusive about Jonathan. ‘I was extremely impressed’, she said, ‘with the energy and pace at which he wants to transform the economy.’
However, as for Nigeria’s very low fuel price, as the BBC reported, ‘The IMF has long urged Nigeria’s government to remove the subsidy, which costs a reported $8 billion a year.‘ Lagarde also emphasized this ‘reform’, and the result was nearly Tunisian in scale: a national popular struggle, Occupy Nigeria, that shook the country to the point of Jonathan’s overthrow before civilized society – the trade unions – called off protests, agreeing to a government fuel price concession.
The preceding paragraphs are based upon leftist ideological argumentation, but this is not the only narrative about Tunisia. The Third World’s most celebrated neoliberal is probably Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto. He blames the series of revolutionary uprisings in North Africa on limited access to capital.
In an interview last year, de Soto told us, ‘Bouazizi immolated himself in a terrible suicide because he never got a right to the land his house was built on, which could have been used for credit to develop his business, for example, to buy a truck. He was never able to get an official right to put a stall in a public place and so, he never had a property right to it. The only way to get the police to accept it was to pay off a bribe of several dinars every day. When they take that away from him, the space, he knows he does not have much of a future anymore.’
De Soto also blames Islam for the inability of Bouazizi’s mother to benefit from belated municipal recognition of his home: ‘When he died, she wasn't able to pass the title from his name to her name, because the paper that recognises the property is hard to transfer and in the process, someone could do very dirty tricks. Should she wish to sell it, to rent it, to use it as a guarantee to get capital for credit, she's got a problem. The kind of papers that the Municipality dishes out are not good enough for the bank. So women are not protected because of Shariah laws of the country, where property would go to the eldest son, even if the son is not able to benefit from the asset.’
But one fatal flaw in his argument, as shenanigans at Muhammed Yunus’ Grameen Bank and recent suicides by 250,000 over-indebted Andra Pradesh farmers suggest, is that microcredit can just as easily add to the woes of ordinary people, amplifying the deeper economic contradictions. Moreover, Tunisia’s system was structured to diminish the power of citizens in order to sustain a dictatorship, with an estimated 17 percent of one major Tunisian bank in the hands of Ben Ali’s son.
Thus, the poverty innate to the IMF’s best model, Tunisia, cannot be solved by paper rights aiming to integrate poor people into a rotting ‘formal’ economy locked up by political and military elites. The same is true in Egypt, where repression by the post-Mubarak military against progressive democrats has worsened. The majority of parliament represented by Islamic parties is not yet sufficiently powerful to support the democrats – if that is their wont. The re-emergence of political Islam in the Middle East and North Africa, especially Tunisia where progressives do have influence over economic policy, requires new narratives. The revolutionary alliance in several countries between political Islam and democratic civil society, against Washington-backed dictators, has not yet ended.
In a speech last December, Lagarde attempted to co-opt the ideas of the Arab Spring. Speaking of Bouazizi, she asked, ‘Who could have predicted that his tragic death would herald a whole new Middle East? Who would have foreseen that this act of desperation against a violation of human dignity would ignite a flame that would eventually illuminate the entire region, toppling governments and leading to mass awakening of social consciousness?’
But for Lagarde, the awakening was dangerous: ‘This is naturally a risky and uncertain period. It is a period when hard choices must be made, when post-revolutionary euphoria must give some way to practical concerns.’
Her concern was partly about Tunisia, where yesterday she seemed to be making progress. ‘It will be important to manage this difficult transition in an orderly way. And here, I want to pay tribute especially to the people of Tunisia, who are going through a smooth and inclusive process of transition. Just as Tunisia provided the first spark of the Arab Spring, so now can it light the path forward for other countries in the region.’
Will that light include the kinds of subsidy cuts and privatisation strategies her institution backed in pre-revolutionary Tunisia? After all, said Lagarde in her December speech praising the Arab Spring, ‘We are offering the best policy advice possible. We will provide financial help if requested. And with our technical assistance, we are helping countries build better institutions for a better world. Some examples: We are helping Egypt make its tax system more equitable. We are helping Libya develop a modern system of government payments. We are helping Tunisia improve its financial sector. And we are helping Jordan with fuel subsidy reform.’
Then Jordan will surely follow Nigeria in protest. But in Tunisia the pitch is insidious, for yesterday, interim Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali was quoted in the local press as ‘commending the IMF's active and constructive support to Tunisia's economy particularly after the revolution.’
But Jebali’s former advisor, and current spokesperson of the ruling Al-Nahda party, Said Ferjani, offered a more balanced view yesterday during a talk in Durban, South Africa: ‘The IMF was bad in describing Ben Ali as a model.’
Although he conceded there were no plans to cut ties to the IMF, ‘We won’t be in a situation where we will be blackmailed by anything. Across Africa they pushed for privatization of the safety net. We will never listen to such things. We will not accept anything that compromises our national interest. The poor people of Tunisia are the prime priority for us because at the end of the day those are our people and we will not bow to any pressure or any kind of policies that would exacerbate the plight of the poor people. The IMF can say what they want but we will do what is right for our people. It’s the aim of our revolution.’
If the likes of Lagarde continue their visits to African capitals – including Pretoria last month when who knows what advice she chummily proffered to South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan – then we need to hear more from Tunisians, Egyptians, Nigerians and so many others about how underlying causes of revolt, especially inequality and neoliberalism, can fuse opposition from diverse traditions. After all, no country exemplifies neoliberalism, inequality and multifaceted protest – and resulting political confusion – as acutely as South Africa.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Patrick Bond and Khadija Sharife are researchers at the University of KwaZulu Natal Centre for Civil Society.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Latest edition of Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid newsletter available
The latest edition of the Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid newsletter produced by the Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Network is now available on their blog. The latest issue includes the following highlights:
- United States practice advisory concerning asylum applications for long term residency or family reunification put on hold under the Tier III provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act
- Somalis in Kenya suffer the consequences of Kenyan war in Somalia
- Life in exile: challenges facing refugees and organisations working to support them in Cape Town
- Arbitrariness regarding access to the asylum procedure in Bulgaria
- Longing to repatriate or resettle? Bhutanese refugees in Nepal
- How language testing used to authenticate asylum claims fails to recognise the reality and complexity of language.
Announcement: Transitioning Africa
Gender DynamiX (GDX) and the Support Initiative for People with atypical sexual Development (SIPD) have taken their collaboration in the Exchange Programmes in 2010 and 2011 a step further and, together with Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA), will concentrate its efforts mainly on advocacy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Forming the tripartite will further solidify and strengthen their work in Africa and a specific mission and vision for the new partnership has been formulated.
The main focus of this new entity is to support a growing transgender and intersex movement and to engage regionally in advocacy for the human rights of transgender and intersex people. While forming a platform for all regional work of the three organisations, Transitioning Africa is not a new NGO but will remain a formal partnership of the three organisations and thus retain autonomy locally and regionally and the capacity for its activities will be provided by the three organisations in the implementation of its activities, such as capacity building workshops, advocacy support to other organisations, exchange programmes and mentorships.
The vision of Transitioning Africa is to see a strong transgender and intersex movement in Sub-Saharan Africa, based on human rights principles, while the mission is to strive for gender recognition within social movements in Africa. It aims to build transgender and intersex leadership and capacity, by supporting both individual transgender and intersex activists, as well as transgender and intersex organisations on the continent. The mission further states that Transitioning Africa will advocate for transgender and intersex issues within regional and international platforms, directly, and support local advocacy efforts when invited. It will also aim to document the history of the transgender and intersex movement in Africa.
An Advisory Committee advises Transitioning Africa on its work. This Committee will consist of 6 members, including the Directors of the 3 partner organisations. Three members will be recruited strategically to bring in knowledge and/or skills for the benefit of Transitioning Africa.
More organisational information below:
GENDER DYNAMIX, founded 2005, was the first organisation in South Africa and Africa which specifically advocates for transgender individuals. GDX provides resources and information about transgender, transsexual and gender non-conforming individuals and seeks to promote awareness within mainstream society by means of educating and empowering people from diverse communities, including government departments, service providers, medical professionals, journalists, academia and refugees. GDX also reaches out to parents, partners, children, co-workers and people who journey alongside trans people.
SUPPORT INITIATIVE FOR PEOPLE WITH ATYPICAL SEX DEVELOPMENT, was founded in 2007 by Julius Kaggwa, a Ugandan intersex activist. This Human Rights organisation is the only intersex health and rights organisation in Uganda and the East African region that specifically addresses the human rights of intersex people and provides reliable and objective information on the plight of intersex and gender non-conforming persons in Uganda. SIPD advocates, mediates and provides services for intersex people throughout Uganda. Their objectives are to advance intersex people’s rights through national legislation. A primary goal of SIPD is to end the stigma and secrecy surrounding intersex people, affording them freedom of choice and decision regarding their gender identity.
TRANSGENDER AND INTERSEX AFRICA is an organisation that has been initiated by black transgender individuals to focus on black transgender and intersex issues in South Africa in 2010 and was funded in 2011 by mama cash. Our aim is to break the silence and stop ignorance about the existence of the black Transgender and Intersex community in South Africa especially in the rural areas and black townships. TIA also want to bring the knowledge of applicable terminologies and a better understanding of the condition, however not dismissing the indigenous knowledge of African transgender and intersex identity. The founder, Tebogo Nkoana worked previously at Gender DynamiX and was an Exchange Programme participant.
For more information please contact:
Julius Kaggwa, Director of SIPD
Tebogo Nkoana, Director of TIA
Liesl Theron, Director of GDX
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* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Ethiopia: Death penalty for blogger, prison for journalists
New York, 26 January 2012
Elias Kifle, exiled Ethiopian editor of the Washington-based opposition website Ethiopian Review, was handed a death sentence in absentia today, which followed a 2007 life sentence given to him also in absentia on charges of treason for his coverage of the government's brutal repression of 2005 post-election protests, CPJ research shows. A court in the capital, Addis Ababa, sentenced Reeyot Alemu, a columnist with the independent weekly Feteh, and Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the now-defunct weekly Awramba Times, to 14 years in prison and 33,000 birrs (US$1,500), news reports said.
‘The death penalty for Elias Kifle and the prison sentences for Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye are based on their writings about political dissent. This verdict has little to do with justice,’ said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. ‘We condemn this politicised prosecution designed to cow critical voices into silence and call on the Supreme Court to reverse all the convictions.’
The three journalists were charged in September with lending support to an underground network of banned opposition groups, which has been criminalised under the country's 2009 anti-terrorism law. Alemu and Taye were arrested in June and held for weeks on government accusations of plotting to sabotage telephone and electricity lines before they were charged. In the trial, government prosecutors presented as evidence intercepted emails and phone calls between the journalists, as well as more than 25 Ethiopian Review articles on the activities of opposition groups, CPJ research shows.
Eskinder Nega, another Ethiopian blogger, has been imprisoned since September and could be sentenced to death if convicted of similar politicised terrorism charges in connection with his coverage of banned opposition groups.
Kifle is the first journalist to be handed a death sentence in Ethiopia, according to CPJ research. Since 1992, only two people have been executed after being given the death penalty, while other death sentences have been commuted to life in prison, according to an Ethiopian legal expert.
* CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organisation that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.
Africa Advocacy Coordinator
East Africa Consultant
Recent stripping of women in Malawi condemned
Statement by the Solidarity of African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) Coalition
Women’s rights in Malawi are guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1982, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women that entered into force on 22 December 2000, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa of 2003 and the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, especially Chapter 4, sections 20 and 24 which focuses on the rights of women.
The above instruments have been ratified by the Government of Malawi in their bid to promote and protect women’s rights. For this reason, the SOAWR coalition finds it appalling that men in Malawi are publicly stripping women. This is a violation of women’s bodily integrity, dignity and freedom to self-expression. In addition, these acts intimidate women and therefore limit their freedom of movement.
We are reassured that the Office of the President of Malawi, the Minister of Gender and the Minister of Communication have publicly condemned the violations and the law enforcement agencies have arrested suspects.
We urge the Government of Malawi and security agencies to be vigilant and protect women in Malawi. We further call upon the Government of Malawi to prosecute the accused within due process and to exercise zero tolerance to violations of women’s rights. In order to prevent a reoccurrence of these and other violations of women’s rights, the Government must announce a programme of long- term sensitisation campaigns to change negative attitudes and behaviours.
We stand in solidarity with the women of Africa and the women of Malawi in particular to ensure their rights are respected and protected.
Done on 25 January 2012 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) Coalition is a pan-African regional network comprised of 39 national, regional and international civil society organisations based in 18 countries, working towards the promotion and protection of women’s human rights in Africa. Since its inauguration in 2004 SOAWR’s main area of focus has been to compel African states to urgently ratify, domesticate and implement the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Protocol has thus far been ratified by 31 of the 54 African Union member states, the latest of which are Gabon and Equatorial Guinea who ratified the Protocol in February and June 2011 respectively. The Coalition has committed itself to utilising the platform of the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) to intensify efforts to compel African states to deliver on their commitments to women’s human rights, through ratification of the Protocol, accelerating implementation through a multi-sectoral approach, and prioritising the promotion and protection of women’s bodily integrity and dignity, as well as their participation in governance, peace and security processes and structures.
Faiza Mohamed, Director, Equality Now (SOAWR Secretariat), P.O. Box 2018-00202, Nairobi Kenya, Tel. +254-20- 2719832/2719913, Fax: +254-20-2719868, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.equalitynow.org, www.soawr.org
Statement on the government’s plan to relocate refugees back to Somalia
The Refugee Consortium of Kenya
27 January 2012
Nairobi: The Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) is deeply concerned by the government’s plan to move over 600,000 refugees based at the Dadaab camps to areas alleged to be ‘safe havens’ in Somalia as reported in both The Standard and Nation newspapers on 23 January 2012. We fear that these planned relocations may amount to the forced return of refugees, subjecting them to further risk of insecurity.
RCK appreciates the concern that the government has in restoring security in Kenya and specifically in the refugee camps in the North Eastern region to eliminate any potential terrorist attacks. We commend the efforts and sacrifices that the Kenya security agencies have had to endure for our collective security including that of persons living here as asylum seekers and refugees. We laud the on-going profiling exercise which should enable the government to distinguish persons living within the refugee population who might be a danger to the security of the country.
We are however concerned that the blanket condemnation of refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to our national security could lead to increased harassment and heightened xenophobic attitudes towards refugees by the Kenyan population. We argue that this is misinformed and urge the Government to put measures in place to address the security problem instead of presuming refugees to be the cause. We have noted an increase in police-round ups, arbitrary arrests and harassment of refugees and people of Somali ethnic origin by security officers in the Dadaab camps, in Nairobi and other major towns in Kenya. These violations have also been documented by other human rights organizations and highlighted by the media.
We strongly remind the government of its obligation under the Constitution which extends rights to all persons living in Kenya including refugees and asylum seekers. Article 29 of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution provides that every person has the right to freedom and security of person. Article 29(d) includes the right not to be subjected to torture in any manner, whether physical or psychological. Section 18 of the Refugees Act 2006 specifically provides for the non-return of refugees, their families or other persons.
‘No person shall be refused entry into Kenya, expelled, extradited from Kenya or returned to any other country or be subjected to any similar measure if as a result of such refusal, expulsion, return or other measure, such person is compelled to return to or remain in a country where –
a) the person may be subject to persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion or
b) the person’s life, physical integrity or liberty would be threatened on account of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously affecting public order in part or the whole of that country.’
Kenya is also obligated under Section 16 of the Refugees Act to protect the rights of refugees and their family members in Kenya in line with the obligations contained in the international Conventions to which Kenya is party.
The article reports that the relocation would be done in liaison with UNHCR and the international community. We question the modalities in relation to this relocation and the process informing this conclusion. We are totally opposed to any relocation of refugees and asylum seekers lawfully living in Kenya without regard to the due processes and without involvement of other stakeholders in the decision making.
Refugees are equally affected by the same threats that the Kenyan Government seeks to eliminate. As a matter of fact, they have fled into Kenya because of dangers to their lives brought about by insecurity in their own countries, including elements such as Al-Shabaab. The inability to be protected in their countries of origin causes them to seek asylum in Kenya and in other countries. It is the responsibility of countries of asylum to ensure this protection by not subjecting them to further human rights abuses such as undue harassment, revocation of refugee status and forceful return.
We remind the Government that these interventions should be conducted with an application of human rights and humanitarian principles, and that the interests of national security do not preclude adherence to the law and to due process owed to every individual.
Refugee Consortium of Kenya
Tel: 020-2088060/020 – 208 8067 E-mail: email@example.com www.rckkenya.org
Statement to the National Council of Provinces Hearing on the Secrecy Bill
Unemployed People's Movement
2 February 2012 Port Elizabeth
We are clear that this bill will compromise our democracy in important ways. Democracy means the free and open participation of all people in the life of the country. Any attempt to privatise access to information or to intimidate people from sharing information is inherently anti-democratic.
We have asked ourselves why this Bill has come at this point. There is no evidence that the state is under threat from foreign intelligence agencies. The claims that are often made about the rebellion of the poor, and the poor people's movements that have emerged from this rebellion, being controlled by foreign governments are baseless. People are rebelling because they have no jobs, no houses and no future. People are rebelling because they have been lied to and betrayed.
In our view the real reason why the Bill has come at this point is because (1) the government has realised that popular protest will continue to develop and (2) the media will continue to expose the rampant corruption that began with the arms deal and has most recently resulted in the wholesale plunder of Limpopo. The government is moving to protect itself against dissent and debate by militarising the police, repressing poor people's movements and clamping down on media freedom and the free flow of information.
We all know that almost twenty years in to democracy it is clear that the current version of democracy has failed most of the people. But the solution to this is to deepen democracy rather than to weaken it.
Instead of censoring and intimidating the media that currently exists we need to diversify the media and create proper support for independent and diverse community controlled media.
Instead of allowing officials to keep important matters secret we need legislation to enhance openness.
Instead of allowing party politics to become corrupted and dominated by the interests of big money we need to stop private and secret funding for political parties.
Instead of thinking that democracy means voting every few years we need to democratise schools, work places and communities. Democracy must be an everyday part of our lives and not something that only happens at elections.
The Secrecy Bill, like the proposed media tribunal, like the militarising of policing and like the politicisation of the intelligence agencies is a serious threat to our democracy. We wish to place on record our complete rejection of the bill.
We also wish to note that while the ANC has been elected to power its violent intolerance towards popular dissent has been well documented. The repression of movements like Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Landless People's Movement by the ANC has been well documented. The gross misuse of the criminal justice system to repress these movements has also been noted. We too have suffered repression including violence at the hands of the police and the misuse of the criminal justice system for political ends. The ANC has been elected but this does not mean that it is a democratic organisation. It cannot claim that because it has been elected everything that it does is therefore democratic. In fact the real measure of whether or not a government is really is democratic is whether or not it gives the people freedom to criticise it and to organise against it.
The government can't forever claim that everything that it does is democratic because there are elections. The arrest of Mzilikazi wa Afrika and the murder of Andries Tatane have taken the hidden culture of repression into the light. When the Western Cape Anti-Eviction was repressed in 2000 and the Landless People's Movement activists were tortured in 2004 it happened in secret. But these days repression is happening in public and on TV. The truth is now there for everyone to see.The days when some people could be blind to state repression have passed.
We do not accept the argument that is being made which states that because other countries, like the USA, have repressive laws we to should have these laws. Since when was the USA, the most violent and ruthless imperialist power in the world today, the standard for our democracy? The USA has attacked democratic movements and governments around the world for years and years. Since when did we allow oppressors to set the standard for what counts as democracy? This argument is disgraceful.
We call on the members of the National Council of Provinces to break ranks with their party bosses and to, instead, declare their solidarity with the people of South Africa and to reject this bill in its entirety.
If this bill is passed we will support mass action against it and in support of democracy as well as an appeal to the Constitutional Court to have it declared unconstitutional.
Pammy Isaac 084 781 5832
Ayanda Kota 078 625 6462
Ben Mafani 078 087 5177
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
'The Help' disregards agency of black women
Liepollo Lebohang Pheko
‘The Help’ is a movie that tells the story of black domestic workers who quite literally hold up the economic and social sky of their employers in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. Their lives intersect with those of the privileged white women whose homes they clean, meals they prepare and whose children they raise.
The Oscar-nominated movie made waves at the recent Golden Globe Awards ceremony when Octavia Spencer, who plays feisty domestic worker Minnie Jackson, walked away with the ‘best actor in a supporting role’ award – prompting America’s National Domestic Workers Alliance to issue a statement, which said:
‘Domestic workers around the country watched with pride…after generations of exclusion and invisibility, we are so grateful to Octavia for helping bring recognition and light to this workforce. And we're thankful for all of the performances in 'The Help' that gave life and dignity to domestic workers stories.’
For South Africans, there is familiarity and resonance in some of the issues the film raises, however inadequately it may engage with them. In one incisive comment on social conditions, a white protagonist states: ‘We are separate but equal.’ This is an ideology familiar to most South Africans and repugnant to the enlightened amongst us. Jim Crow and certain elements of apartheid were founded on these foul toxins.
PARALLELS WITH SOUTH AFRICA
A striking feature of the movie is the strong parallels between South Africa (SA) and the US with respect to the dynamics of race, class and power and how these are played out in the lives of the domestic workers. The often hidden and furtive nature of the abuse of domestic workers, as depicted in the film, is the experience of many women in this country too. The paternalistic relationships between employers and their employees are often accompanied by constant accusations of wrongdoing, acts of violence and threats of sudden dismissal.
According to the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 88 per cent of domestic workers in SA are African and 89 per cent female. Like the women depicted in The Help, most are uneducated, already from impoverished backgrounds and with few prospects for improving their lives. And just as in the film, they are strongly discouraged from hoping for more. Similar to SA, those who are migrants are doubly vulnerable to abuse.
While laws aimed at improving the lot of domestic workers in SA, such as the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the establishment of a minimum wage, were slow in the making, are inadequate and poorly enforced, South Africans may be surprised to learn that laws for the advancement of domestic workers’ rights, such as a minimum wage and better conditions of employment, are still largely being debated in the US. The state of New York only signed into law the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in August 2010. A year later, the bill was still being debated in California - and there’s the rest of the country that apparently still needs to get on board with the issue.
ABSENCE OF MEN
A puzzling feature of the film is the absence of men in the core of the narrative. The white men are often seen retreating, letting the women deal with their squabbles while black men are unseen, but abusive and menacing somewhere in the background.
Both depictions are problematic in the extreme not least because the men in the film represent the architects of white privilege and supremacy. These were the men who created and enforced the apartheid-like ideology of Jim Crow from 1877 to 1965 through the judiciary, the church, the media, the workplace, living arrangements, social etiquette and social spaces. Jim Crow asserted a white supremacy where black people were never allowed to aspire to more than servitude; could never be addressed with honourifics as adults, or interact with whites romantically and sexually. Much of Jim Crow was premised on the fear that black men were intent on ravaging white women - the very ones seen in the film.
These husbands, brothers and fathers, in fact, were some of the men who often donned sheets at night and publicly took the lives of black men with impunity. Far from being passive participants in their over-indulged wives’ tantrums against ‘the help’, they participated in bolstering a hateful and even murderous socio-economic structure.
The film’s air brushing of this historical truth is troubling and dishonest.
AGENCY OF WOMEN OF COLOUR
In the same vein, the film takes place just as the civil rights movement is making history and influencing social, economic and race relations across the US. In the period depicted in the film, NAACP activist Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus had already been the catalyst for a bus boycott that lasted 381 days. The courageous Little Rock Nine group had already endured spitting, beating and harassment as the first black students at a previously whites-only high school in Arkansas. As it turns out, only one endured this strain and graduated.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 when the film was set. And yet the references to the civil rights movement are extremely low key. These are the very people whose churches collected and organised for the movement and in all likelihood at least some of them were actively, albeit secretly, involved. But not one black character among the main protagonists is depicted as being overtly politically conscious.
This is unconvincing and cuts to the heart of one of the strongest and widespread critiques of the film, which is the tried and tested device of using a white protagonist to validate and articulate black experiences.
The central plot of the movie revolves around a young white protagonist, Skeeter, played by 21-year-old Emma Stone, who decides to document the stories of these African-American women. It is a device used in most anti-apartheid and civil rights movies in an irony that seems wasted on filmmakers.
The issue has raised much controversy for ‘The Help’. However, its cast, as demonstrated by Spencer, have been woefully inadequate at responding to the critique. Her weak response during the Q&A session at the Globe Awards ceremony does nothing to address this assessment of the dislocation of black agency from the events that unfolded in Jackson, Mississippi.
The film also panders to some disturbingly Mammy-ish depictions of black women who will sacrifice all for the white children they raise, often, while masking the pain of absence from their own children.
The depiction of the stoic suffering of Aibileen Clark (played by Viola Davis), as a badge of honour in contrast to the feisty Minnie is a troubling feature of the movie. The weight of abuse, disrespect, exploitation and dehumanisation that domestic workers face cannot be reduced to a crude though amusing plot device, where Minnie feeds chocolate pie laced with human faeces to her cruel former boss.
Although the film concludes through the prism of Aibileen, it is premised on Skeeter’s desire to tell the women’s stories. It is gratifying that the film depicts her sharing her royalties equally among all the women who shared their stories, but one is left wondering why they needed her to gather their courage.
In reality, at the time, Dorothy Bolden, the African American organiser, was in the process of founding the National Domestic Workers Union and although it was formed in 1968, about five years after the film is set, the ground swell was pregnant.
Black women across the world have been self-organising in labour and political spaces under the most difficult conditions throughout modern history. This film removes our agency, our courage and our brilliance and places our fate in the pen of a young white woman with nothing to lose and a career to build. In 2011, this is altogether unacceptable and takes the black women’s struggle discourse backwards.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Liepollo Lebohang Pheko is executive director at the Trade Collective, a NGO/think-tank, and is Africa co-convener of the World Dignity Forum.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Africa: Africa Today interviews Third World Network's Yao Graham
Africa Today on KPFA 94.1 FM carries an interview with Yao Graham, executive director of the Third World Network in Accra, Ghana. Graham has written extensively on development and the role of extractive industries in Africa.
Africa: Racism against Africans in Israel shown in new report
This video report for the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) on the mistreatment of asylum seekers in Israel was submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on 30 January 2012. It presents evidence of racial discrimination towards African asylum seekers and refugees who have walked across Israel's open border with Egypt.
Global: Bio-fuels, Speculation, Land Grabs = Food Crisis
This edition of The Real News Network interviews the authors of a new report that calls for sweeping agricultural reform. The report states that the fundamental causes of the global food crisis remain. 'We sit poised on the verge of another food price spike that could push millions into poverty and hunger,' says one of the authors. Three of the main issues raised are the use of biofuels, which have driven up demand, financial speculation in the food system and land grabs.
Global: Taxcast, a new monthly podcast
The Tax Justice Network has launched a new monthly podcast. In each 15 minute show, they discuss the latest news relating to tax evasion, tax avoidance and the shadow banking system. The January edition deals with the Vodafone vs India landmark tax case, compares Bill Gates and Mitt Romney’s attitudes to taxation and talks about Egypt's offshore wealth.
South Africa: Limpopo, falling through the cracks
In the context of the recent takeover of South Africa's Limpopo province by the country's national treasury, apparently because the province was bankrupt, the Mail and Guardian newspaper visited the province and have published this multimedia package showing how the lives of ordinary people are effected by a lack of service delivery.
Zimbabwe: Ncube denies conniving with Mbeki to split MDC
Professor Welshman Ncube has once again denied claims contained in a book by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that he and former South African President Thabo Mbeki connived to split the MDC into two factions in 2005. In the book ‘At the Deep End’ Tsvangirai claims that Mbeki was a central player in hatching a plot that would have seen an MDC faction led by Ncube forming an alliance with the ZANU PF faction led by Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai issues strong letter to Mugabe
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has written a strongly-worded letter to to President Robert Mugabe outlining his problems with the coalition government. The leaked letter addresses areas such as land, violent acts, diplomatic protocol, arrest of ministers, appointment of government staff, hate speech, media laws and elections.
Zimbabwe: Typhoid stalks Harare
Over the past few weeks some 900 residents of the Zimbabwean capital Harare have been diagnosed with typhoid, and about 60 have been admitted to hospital, say health authorities. There have been no confirmed fatalities from the disease, although senior health officials, who declined to be identified, told IRIN they were investigating the cause of some deaths at hospitals.
Africa: AU extends mandate of top executive official
The African Union has extended the mandate of its top official Jean Ping after an election, in which he was challenged by South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, deadlocked. Intense campaigns had preceded the vote for commission chief which dominated the AU summit in the Ethiopia capital, where leaders gathered to discuss broadening trade within Africa and tackling conflict hot spots.
Africa: AU summit concludes with package of agreements
The 18th African Union summit ended 31 January in the Ethiopian capital with adoption of a series of agreements concerning Africa's economic, political and security issues. Africa will speed up its infrastructure development and put related policies and laws in place to boost the integration process, according to the 'Declaration on the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa.' The declaration said the summit recognises 'the vital role of infrastructure and related services in the political and social-economic development, and physical integration of the continent', especially given the population growth and economic demand.
Africa: French interference cost Ping his job
It was French interference in the election of the African Union Commission chairperson which cost the incumbent, former Gabonese foreign minister Jean Ping, his job. Asked about foreign interference, Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi declined to mention France by name, but told reporters that it was indeed outside pressure that angered enough African leaders to deprive Ping of the necessary two thirds majority. Ping faced a challenge from South African Home Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, backed by SADC (Southern African Development Community).
Cameroon: Rape victims discouraged to report
This Global Press Institute article says that few rape cases result in conviction in Cameroon. 'Doctors, police officers and lawyers say frequent false reports make it difficult to confirm when rapes occur. But this culture of skepticism leads to underreporting as victims say they doubt anyone will believe them.'
DRC: Massacre survivors to pursue justice at the Supreme Court of Canada
The Canadian Association Against Impunity (CAAI), expressed its profound disappointment with last week’s decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal overturning the decision of the Quebec Superior Court in the case against Anvil Mining Limited. While acknowledging the difficulties that the victims have encountered in their attempt to obtain justice, the appeal Court ruled that they lack the necessary legislation to allow the case to proceed in Quebec. Anvil Mining, a Canadian corporation, is accused of providing logistical support to the Congolese army who raped, murdered and brutalised the people of Kilwa in the DRC. According to the United Nations, an estimated 100 civilians died as a direct result of the military action, including some who were executed and thrown in mass graves. The CAAI, an NGO coalition representing relatives of victims of the 2004 Kilwa massacre, filed a class action in 2010 against Anvil Mining for its alleged role in the massacre. Anvil Mining denies any wrongdoing.
Ethiopia: Future of last remaining human rights monitoring NGO in the balance
On 3 February 2012, the Cassation Bench of the Federal Supreme Court of Ethiopia will hear a petition by the Human Rights Council (HRCO), Ethiopia’s oldest human rights organisation, to admit an appeal against the freezing of its bank accounts. Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and Human Rights Watch have expressed deep concern at the obstacles and restrictions to which HRCO and other human rights organizations in Ethiopia are now subjected, as illustrated by this case. The decision of the Supreme Court will be of great significance for the future of HRCO's vital work and for the wider promotion and protection of human rights in Ethiopia.
Libya: Diplomat dies after torture: rights group
A Libyan diplomat who served as ambassador to France for Muammar Gaddafi died from torture within a day of being detained by a militia from Zintan, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Friday. On 26 January, humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had stopped its work in detention centers in the city of Misrata because its medical staff were being asked to patch up detainees mid-way through torture sessions so they could go back for more abuse.
Libya: Human rights mission raises concerns
In January 2012 the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) went to Libya on an information gathering mission and to establish contact with the new, rapidly growing civil society in the country. The mission went to Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi and held lengthy discussions with the representatives of the interim government, members of the National Transition Council (NTC), lawyers, journalists and representatives of human rights organisations. The mission noted the NTC was being increasingly reproached for its political incompetence and its lack of transparency, both in managing current affairs and in taking political decisions. FIDH is also worried about the growing disconnect between Tripoli and the Eastern part of the country.
Nigeria: Abacha aide to hang
A close aide to former Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha has been sentenced to hang for killing the wife of politician Moshood Abiola in 1996. Major Hamza al-Mustapha has been in detention since 1999 over the killing. Abiola is widely believed to have won the 1993 election, which was annulled by Nigeria's junta. His wife Kudirat was shot dead in 1996.
Nigeria: South Africa postpones MEND trial
The man accused of masterminding two deadly bombings at Nigeria's 50th independence celebrations will face trial in October after a South African court delayed his case by nine months. Nigerian national Henry Okah is facing trial in South Africa, where he has permanent residence, on charges that he orchestrated the twin car bombings - which killed 12 people in Abuja on 1 October 2010 - from his home in Johannesburg. Okah has denied involvement in the attacks, which were claimed by the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
Senegal: Opposition activist Alioune Tine freed
Prominent Senegalese opposition activist Alioune Tine has been released after spending two days in detention. Tine is a member of the opposition June 23 Movement (M23), formed after countrywide protests last year against incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade's plans to run for a third term. Tine told the AFP agency he had been freed without charge.
Western Sahara: Greenpeace names worst firms
The organisation Greenpeace has chosen the firm Mercadona as one of the worst firms of 2011 due to the fact that this company has taken advantage of the resources of Western Sahara, occupied by Morocco, and in acquiring 30 million tins of sardines, Mercadona has been supporting the occupation and thereby the ensuing oppressive rule by Morocco.
Africa: Just Justice? Civil society, international justice and the search for accountability
The International Refugee Rights (IRRI)’s experience over the last seven years is that in the enthusiasm to embrace the promise of international justice there has often been inadequate space for honest reflection on the practice and reality of international justice, particularly from the perspective of local advocates and local communities in Africa. This lack of debate has, not least, stunted assessment of how the objectives of international justice might be more effectively pursued. In response, IRRI is launching a discussion paper series entitled 'Just Justice? Civil society, international justice and the search for accountability in Africa'. The series will reflect local perspectives on international justice as it is being experienced in Africa.
DRC: UNHCR alarmed at reports of atrocities against displaced Congolese
The UN refugee agency said Friday 3 February it was alarmed by recent reports that Congolese civilians have been tortured and killed by armed groups entering camps for the internally displaced in the volatile province of North Kivu. The agency called for more security in and around the camps.
Mauritania: Touareg refugees pour into Mauritania
Thousands of Touareg refugees fleeing clashes in northern Mali entered Mauritania in recent days, escaping the fighting between the Malian army and Touareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azaouad (MNLA). 'Since January 28th, a lot of Touareg refugees have moved in here. Most of them have arrived on vehicles,' said Sheikh Ould Ahmed, a teacher in the border town of Fassala.
Somaliland: Sexual violence on rise in Hargeisa IDP camps
Cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), as well as domestic violence, are increasing in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Hargeisa, capital of the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, with social workers attributing the trend to hard economic times made worse by recent drought in the region.
South Africa: Police slammed for refusing to help beaten Zim man
South Africa’s police force is facing criticism for refusing to help a Zimbabwean man, who was beaten by security guards at a refugee reception office in that country last week. The man, Lucky Dube, was trying to sort out his asylum documents at the Maitland Refugee Reception Office in the Western Cape, after making an application late last year.
South Africa: Refugee children miss out on school
While the quality of education available in refugee camps varies, the difficulties of accessing education in urban settings are generally greater. In addition to legal and policy barriers and the often prohibitive costs of sending a child to a local school, a UNHCR report has noted that: 'Refugee children often have less support than in a camp-based school in adjusting to a new curriculum, learning a new language, accessing psychosocial support, and addressing discrimination, harassment, and bullying from teachers and peers. They may also encounter a lack of familiarity by local school authorities for the processes of admitting refugee children and recognizing prior learning.' A year-long, yet-to-be published study by the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg into the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants to education in South Africa found that schools often demanded documents to enrol a child which are not legally required.
South Africa: Occupy Cape Town distances itself from COSATU
The Occupy Cape Town movement has distanced itself from a Cosatu event held at Rondebosch Common. 'Our principles clearly state: We do not recognise leaders or celebrity speakers. We are not party political. We are not destructive - we want to protect our shared natural and cultural heritage. The way this event is being managed contravenes these principles.'
Latest edition: emerging powers news roundup
1. China in Africa
Rebels in Sudan capture Chinese workers
More than 20 Chinese road builders have been captured by rebels in Sudan, highlighting the growing risks faced by Chinese companies that have poured billions of dollars and thousands of workers into some of Africa’s most volatile areas. The attack occurred Saturday in Sudan’s South Kordofan — a region rich in oil that abuts the newly established South Sudan— and escalated tensions between the two countries, one largely Muslim, the other dominated by Christians. China has extensive interests, mostly in petroleum production and construction, on both sides of the ill-defined border.
China to ask South Sudan for help on kidnapped workers: report
China will press South Sudan for help in securing the release of 29 Chinese workers held captive for five days and may appeal to the African Union and other parties to mediate in negotiations, state media reported on Thursday. The construction workers were captured by rebels in the Sudanese border state of South Kordofan last Saturday -- apparently held as pawns in a dispute between Sudan and rebels allied with the newly independent and oil-rich South Sudan.
Chinese investors eye Djibouti market
The President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh on Wednesday received two large Chinese delegations in the space of 48 hours as the country gears up for Chinese enterprises. Led by Mr. Chi Jianxin, Chief Executive Officer of the China Africa Development (CAD) Fund, the delegates composed of executives of large multinational companies and Chinese senior officials from CAD.
Zambia-China Trade Zone generates $500m in tax revenue
The Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone (ZCCZ) has generated around $500 million in tax revenue over the last five years, according to a press release from a ceremony held Friday to celebrate the zone's five-year anniversary. Data from the press release showed that the zone has realized $4.35 billion in total sales revenues and created 12,000 jobs for Zambia in the past five years.
China Workers Abroad Becoming Easy Prey
The capture of 54 Chinese citizens in Egypt and Sudan signals growing concern for China as its economic power expands abroad and it sends more people to work on infrastructure projects in dangerous places overseas. Rebels in Sudan seized 29 Chinese hostages Jan. 28 after they attacked the camp of a Chinese road-building company, and 25 Chinese nationals working at a cement plant in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula were released after being detained yesterday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Criticism of China's attempt to recolonise Africa dispelled
Alhaji Mohamed Mumuni, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, on Tuesday discounted criticisms that China was endeavouring to re-colonise Africa with its increased interest in the economies African countries. He explained that China's interest in Africa was a demonstration of strategic partnership, and a symbol of South-South co-operation.
2. India in Africa
India's Dabur to invest $20 mln in African plants
Dabur India, a maker of personal care and food products, plans to invest about $20 million to build plants in Africa as competition intensifies in its home market. Dabur's international business, which contributes about a third of the company's sales, grew 38 percent in the third-quarter to Dec. 31, excluding acquisitions. The growth was led by its business in Nigeria, where sales rose 33 percent.
India’s big push for Africa, Indian Ocean strategy
India is giving a big push to its Africa and Indian Ocean strategy even as there appear to be signs of a Chinese reassessment of its approach to Africa. On Wednesday, India will welcome the president of Seychelles James Michel, who, though ostensibly here for the sustainability summit, will hold talks on Indian Ocean security with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Michel's visit comes after reports that China has been given permission to set up a naval base in the island nation.
As China-built AU centre opens, India focuses on quiet Africa diplomacy
As the glitzy China-built African Union building opened in the Ethiopian capital, India was quietly engaged in intense consultations with delegations from around 25 African countries, including foreign office talks with Ethiopia, to fast-track implementation of key projects agreed at the second India-Africa summit. M. Ganapathy, secretary (west) in India's external affairs ministry and Gurjit Singh, additional secretary (East and South Africa), led the Indian delegation in talks with officials from various African countries.
Resurgent Ethiopia invites investments from India
Ethiopian Ambassador to India, Gennet Zewide, on Tuesday sought investments in the areas of textiles, leather, healthcare, milk and dairy products, tourism and chemicals to catch up with fastest growing countries such as India and China. Addressing government officials, business leaders and chamber representatives to mark the opening of the Honorary Consulate in Chennai, she said the new office would enable them to attract more Indian businesses and investments in priority sectors such as textile, leather, pharma, chemicals, manufacturing and automobile as these areas were found to be in abundance in Chennai.
3. In Other Emerging Powers News
Brazil opens 97 million dollar credit to Mozambique
The credit is part of the Ministry of Agrarian Development’s “More Food Programme” and will be supported by technical assistance. The funds will come from the Foreign Trade Board (Camex), and will take the form of concessional loans. The loans will be paid off over seventeen years with a five year grace period, and incur an interest rate of two per cent.
BRICS trade Ministers to meet ahead of Delhi Summit
The Trade Ministers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) are likely to meet ahead of the Summit level meeting of BRICS leaders, a senior official of the Ministry has said. India is to host the Summit at the end of March. Addressing a seminar, Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Sudhir Vyas, said that just before the Summit there were also plans to have a financial forum meeting in which the central and development banks will come together.
BRICS summit to focus on fixing global recession: Govt
Ahead of the fourth BRICS summit of the five emerging powers, India on Tuesday said the reform of the global governance institutions and ways to fix the festering recession will top the agenda when the leaders of India, China, Brazil, Russia and South Africa meet here for talks in March. "How we handle the world financial situation will be on top of the agenda. The summit will be looking at issues related to the global financial crisis in a macro-economic manner," Sudhir Vyas, secretary (economic affairs) in the external affairs ministry, said here ahead of the BRICS summit in New Delhi March 29.
Indian, Chinese navies unite to tackle piracy
India and China have quietly taken a major step in their military ties, with both sides agreeing to carry out coordinated military activity in international waters. According to Navy sources, India, China and Japan, the three independent patrollers against piracy, have started coordinated patrolling in the piracy infested waters off Horn of Africa to improve efficacy of their operations.
State of the Nation: Zuma adopts Chinese model
President Jacob Zuma is likely to look East with his State of the Nation address in Cape Town next Thursday. A new focus on infrastructure, similar to the Chinese model of state capitalism, will be the centrepiece.
4. Blogs, Opinions, Presentations and Publications
AU Optimistic on FOCAC Membership
This year, the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) will be held in China. Recently, Ambassador John Kayode Shinkaiye, Chief of Staff, Bureau of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), shared his thoughts with ChinAfrica reporter Liu Wei on the role that FOCAC has played in strengthening Sino-African relations, at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Africa's New AU Building: How Many Chinese Workers?
I was in Ethiopia in February and November, and both times, it was clear to me that there were a lot of Ethiopian workers on the site. Other construction projects I visited overwhelmingly conformed to the usual pattern of Chinese managers and Ethiopian workers. But if this figure was firm, I wanted to add it to my collection of anecdotes-into-data on Chinese workers in Africa.
Angola: Appointment of election head was impartial
Angola's ruling MPLA party has defended the re-appointment of the electoral commission chief and said opposition criticism was aimed at causing instability before an election this year. UNITA lawmakers and those of three smaller opposition parties walked out of parliament in protest as the election commission members were sworn in earlier on Wednesday, the state news agency Angop reported.
DRC: Opposition makes election gains
The Democratic Republic of Congo's ruling party and its allies won a reduced parliamentary majority in November elections, according to results released two months after the disputed polls. The electoral commission announced the figures saying President Joseph Kabila's People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and its allies captured an absolute majority of about 260 seats in the 500-seat National Assembly. The opposition won about 110 seats, the results from the 28 November vote showed.
Egypt: FJP dominating parliament sub-committees
Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls a near majority of seats in the Egyptian Parliament, won more than half of the committees of the Lower House on 31 January. The Speaker of the Parliament Mohammed Saad el–Katatni, also a member of the FJP, announced the results of the internal elections of the parliament’s sub-committees, where 9 out of 19 committees are to be headed by senior members of the FJP bloc.
Ethiopia: Ethiopia and the APRM: a path to nowhere?
Ethiopia joined the APRM in 2003. However, in this AfriMAP publication authors Tigist Fisseha and Medhane Tadesse, whilst acknowledging the government of Ethiopia’s leadership within the APRM at continental level, argue that the mere fact that the APRM process itself, is little known by the Ethiopian citizenry, and that those that are aware of the process, are reluctant to engage with it, points to the total control of the process by executive power. They also argue that the only way the Ethiopia’s APRM process can be meaningful is if its participatory processes are opened to all citizens, especially civil society, who ultimately have a say as how they wish to be governed.
Kenya: Court gags debate on Uhuru, Ruto bid for top seat
The Constitutional Court has issued an order barring public discussion on the candidature of Deputy Prime Minister and William Ruto in the next presidential elections until a case before it is heard and determined. Justice Isaac Lenaola issued the orders on Thursday 2 February in response to a petition by three voters and two civil societies seeking to block Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto from vying for the Presidency in the next elections.
Mauritania: Call for an end to military rule
The incumbent chairman of the opposition umbrella in Mauritania, Mamadou Alassane Ba, has called for an end to military rule in the country. Ba, who leads the Mauritanian Coordination of Democratic Opposition (COD), an umbrella of 12 political parties, called “for the withdrawal of the military system in power in Mauritania for 30 years to end the misery and suffering of the people.
Senegal: Police fire tear gas to break up anti-Wade rally
Senegalese riot police fired tear gas to break up a tense, thousands-strong rally 31 January in Dakar demanding that President Abdoulaye Wade drop plans to seek a third term in office. Opposition groups united under the June 23 Movement (M23), had called for mass resistance after a decision last Friday by the country's top judges allowing 85-year-old Wade to seek a third mandate in the February 26 polls. Thousands had gathered by late afternoon in a square in the working class suburb of Colobane, where tension rose and angry youths hurled rocks at scores of riot police keeping watch from afar.
South Africa: ANC denies Malema appeal
South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has upheld the membership suspension of one of its prominent youth leaders convicted of causing rifts within the bloc. A panel rejected an appeal on Saturday by Julius Malema, who was found guilty by the disciplinary committee in November and was seeking to overturn the five-year suspension, but it said he could seek a lighter sentence. The suspension effectively curtails the career of Malema, one of the country's most renowned politicians whose calls for a major transformation of Africa's largest economy unnerved investors and drew serious criticism from some ANC leaders.
Africa: Major continental infrastructure programme endorsed
African Heads of State have endorsed the launch of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), a multi-billion dollar initiative that will run through 2040. In a statement at their 18th summit held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the Heads of State approved the implementation of the recommendations in the study on PIDA presented to the summit. The study was a joint initiative of the African Union, the African Development Bank and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) Planning and Coordination Agency. Endorsement by the AU summit will now be followed by more detailed planning on the actual implementation of PIDA.
Angola: Angola wants restructuring of Portugese bank
Angola's state-controlled oil company Sonangol - the largest single shareholder in Portugal's Millennium bcp - wants the bank to gain global scale in a restructuring that involves a management shakeup, Expresso weekly said. The lender - Portugal's largest by assets - is hampered at home by the country's debt crisis and deep austerity imposed by a 78-billion-euro bailout. It needs to find fresh capital in the next few months to comply with new European rules, with cash from rapidly-growing Angola seen as one possible solution.
Global: How male global elites work hard to fix the economy
Meet the Davos Man in this www.alternet.org article and hear about the same old song being played at the recent World Economic Forum. With global retrenchments and a Eurozone in crisis, was system change a subject for debate. '...the system, as we know by now, is one designed so very carefully for the benefit of the 1 per cent. So things like, for example, prosecuting financial fraud, redesigning incentives for corporate predation, and, well, reining in a capitalist system that is sucking the world's real economy dry, are just not on the table.'
Namibia: Illicit flows cost Namibia N$6-billion
Namibia is estimated to have lost US$750 million (over N$5.8 billion) between 2000 and 2009 in illicit dealings such as trade mis-pricing, tax evasions, corruption, bribery and kickbacks. The syndicate - reports research and advocacy group Global Financial Integrity (GFI) - involves foreign companies that are doing business in Namibia, most of which are headquartered in the West. GFI reports that these companies are bedfellows of corrupt local officials, with whom they struck ill-fated cordial relations meant to ease the flow of money from Namibia to foreign destinations.
Tanzania: Donors scale back budget support
Donors and development partners have reduced their General Budget Support (GBS) to the government as they announced a commitment of 800bn/- for the 2012/2013 financial year. The support has slightly been scaled down compared to the 1.1tr/- pledged for the 2009/2010 fiscal year, 822bn/- for the 2010/2011 financial year and 840bn/- committed to budget support for the current financial year.
Zambia: Libya's stake in Zamtel nationalised
Libya will do all it can to protect its 75 per cent stake in Zamtel, the fixed-line telecoms firm in Zambia, whose government announced plans last week to seize Libya's stake in the firm, Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour bin Khayyal said Monday. 'The Zambian government has taken a unilateral action by nationalizing this company,' Khayyal said, adding he had spoken to his Zambian counterpart about the issue at the African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital. The previous Zambian government had sold the 75 percent stake to LAP Green Networks for $257 million in 2010. Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour bin Khayyal said: 'Definitely this money is Libyan money, and owned by the Libyan people. We will exercise all our efforts to protect this money.'
Africa: Men who have sex with men may now be the highest-risk group for HIV, study
Men who have sex with men may now be at considerably higher risk of acquiring HIV than other at-risk groups such as female sex workers or young people of either sex, if findings by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) of HIV incidence at two centres in Kenya can be generalised to other populations. The study, which compared the Kenyan populations with a largely heterosexual group from South Africa, also found lower-than-expected HIV incidence amongst female sex workers and their clients. The researchers also found that recruiting MSM into the study was easier than expected, but note that there was a particularly high dropout rate in MSM.
DRC: Alarm bells over poor funding for HIV treatment
The lives of thousands of HIV-positive people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are at risk as the country faces declining donor funding and a severe shortage of HIV treatment, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF recently launched a year-long advocacy campaign to raise awareness of the DRC's HIV crisis. 'The problem is quite old in the DRC; the country has always been minimized by donors who have not seen it as a priority, mainly because HIV prevalence is relatively low at between 3 and 4 percent,' Thierry Dethier, advocacy manager for MSF Belgium in the DRC, told IRIN/PlusNews.
Global: Group comments on Global Fund crisis
The UNAIDS Reference Group on HIV and Human Rights has released an independent statement in response to the crisis facing the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. It states: 'The November 2011 announcement of the cancellation of the 11th round of funding of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria because of the Fund’s financial difficulties presents the international community with both a health and a human rights crisis. Since its first round of funding in 2002, the Global Fund has played an indispensable role in advancing the health and human rights goals of the global HIV response. The Global Fund’s financial difficulties are part of a broader global HIV funding crisis.'
Global: Malaria mortality 'underestimated'
A new attempt to quantify malaria deaths over the past 30 years suggests the death toll, especially among adults, has been greatly underestimated. The figures also show the fragility of the gains made in fighting the disease. Collecting data on malaria deaths is notoriously tricky; the countries where the disease is most prevalent have the weakest statistics. And even where causes of death were recorded, the researchers found many deaths were simply attributed to 'fever' – probably malaria, but possibly not. In addition, a malaria infection is often a contributory cause of death along with other health problems.
Somalia: Mortality rates among world's highest in Somaliland
The self-declared Republic of Somaliland is grappling with high child and maternal mortality rates, malnutrition and inadequate medical personnel, health officials told IRIN. 'Somaliland has one of the worst maternal mortality ratios in the world, estimated to be between 10,443 and 14,004 per 100,000 live births,' said Ettie Higgins, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) field office in Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland. 'The infant mortality rate is 73/1,000 while the under-five mortality [rate] is about 117/1,000. Fully immunized children represent a mere five per cent. Environmental sanitation is highly challenged,' she said.
South Africa: 'Faulty' ANC celebration condoms recalled
South Africa's leading HIV group has warned that large numbers of 'faulty' condoms are in circulation in the Bloemfontein area, despite a recall. The problem with the condoms was discovered after people complained to the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). Health authorities have recalled more than one million condoms handed out ahead of the recent African National Congress centenary celebrations.
Uganda: Ugandans battle neglected tropical disease
Health services in northern Uganda are still scarce in the wake of the region's 20-year civil war, leaving many battling diseases that could be cured with proper medical treatment. Elephantiasis is a widespread disease caused by a parasite that causes limbs to swell up, leaving sufferers in pain and often ostracised from their communities. According to the World Health Organisation [WHO], neglected tropical diseases, such as elephantiasis, affect more than one billion people, primarily poor populations living in tropical and subtropical climates.
Zimbabwe: Mugabe's party says typhoid outbreak 'biological warfare'
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has attributed the typhoid outbreak that has affected 1,500 people in the capital Harare to biological warfare and Western sanctions. The claim was made by a Zanu-PF spokesperson in Harare Mr Claudious Mutero as Health and Child Welfare Minister Dr Henry Madzorera warned the outbreak would spread to other towns because of collapsing water and sewer infrastructure.
Swaziland: Students clash with police
Police in Swaziland fired teargas on Monday 30 January at students protesting their university's failure to open for the semester, injuring several people, a student leader said. Police arrested at least four demonstrators after students of the University of Swaziland vowed to occupy the labour ministry and clashed with peers from a teachers college who refused to join their protest. The university announced last week it would not be able to open as scheduled, the second time in two semesters it has postponed its opening.
Africa: Pan-African alliance formed
Three African transgender and intersex rights advocacy organizations have formed an alliance to enhance the trans and intersex movement on the continent. The organizations include South African based Gender DynamiX (GDX), Uganda’s Support Initiative for People with atypical Sexual Development (SIPD) and Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA).
Africa: UN chief urges respect for gay rights
While speaking to delegates at the African Union’s summit, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged stronger protection of homosexual rights. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend urged African leaders to respect gay rights. Ban told the on-going African Union summit in Addis Ababa that discrimination based on sexual orientation had been ignored or even sanctioned by many states for too long.
Ghana: Mills rules out legalising homosexuality
The President of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills, has stated that as a responsible leader he will ensure that gay marriages are never legalised in the country and on the African continent as a whole. President Mills’ comments come after the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressing the Heads of States at the African Union Summit at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia called on African leaders to respect gay rights in their respective countries.
South Africa: Lesbian killers jailed
Four men were jailed for 18 years on Wednesday for stabbing and stoning 19-year-old lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana to death in 2006. Lubabalo Ntlabathi, Sicelo Mase, Luyanda Londzi and Mbulelo Damba were sentenced by the Khayelitsha Regional Court to 18 years, four of which were suspended for five years. A crowd outside the court cheered, sang, raised their fists and danced when news came that the men had been sentenced. The National Prosecuting Authority had asked for the men to be sentenced to 15 years each.
South Africa: Student anti-racism poster causes a stir
The Democratic Alliance Students Organisation (DASO) recently released a controversial poster as part of their anti-racism campaign. The 'In OUR future, you wouldn't look twice' poster shows a naked mixed-race couple embracing. The poster has caused a huge stir on Facebook, Twitter and blogs and even generated viral spoof posters. Global Voices Online has summed up the online reactions and posted some of the spoofs.
South Africa: Tension at ET trial
The trial of murdered rightwing leader Eugene Terre'Blanche resumed in the Ventersdorp Magistrate's Court on 30 January. Just before lunch there was a standoff between AWB supporters attending the trial and black residents over the singing of Bobbejaan klim die berg by the AWB to which the residents responded with Awuleth' Umshini wami. Chris Mahlangu and a minor are accused of beating and hacking 69-year-old Terre'Blanche to death with a panga and metal pipe in his farmhouse on April 3 2010. Both have pleaded not guilty to murder, housebreaking and robbery with aggravating circumstances. Mahlangu claims he acted in self defence. The teenager has denied involvement in the crime.
South Sudan: Economic migrants battle xenophobia
There are about one million Ugandans living in South Sudan, according to the Kampala City Traders’ Association (KCTA). But life is not easy for the Ugandan traders who supply South Sudan with many essential goods. On a side road at the market, a Southern Sudanese policeman wearing orange fatigues strikes a passing Ugandan with his rubber whip a few times, seemingly without any provocation. The Ugandan winces and then continues on his way. Ugandan migrants say such incidents - and much worse - are not uncommon. They say they have been beaten, arrested without cause and faced a plethora of other forms of harassment by Southern Sudanese security forces.
East Africa: Law on trans-boundary ecosystems
Aiming to enhance the quality of the environment and ensure sustainable utilisation of shared natural resources in the five-nation East African Community (EAC), the East African Legislative Assembly has moved a step closer to enacting a regional law on the management of trans-boundary ecosystems. Currently holding its session in Kampala, Uganda, the Assembly has passed the East African Community Trans-boundary Ecosystems Bill 2010 after its third reading.
Global: How big agriculture is trying to kill you
Energy-intensive industrial farming practices that rely on toxic chemicals and genetically engineered crops are not just undermining public health, they’re destroying the planet.
Africa: Warning of unrest, new study shows millions risk losing lands in Africa
New studies released in London 1 February suggest that the frenzied sell-off of forests and other prime lands to buyers hungry for the developing world's natural resources risk sparking widespread civil unrest - unless national leaders and investors recognize the customary rights of millions of poor people who have lived on and worked these lands for centuries. 'Controversial land acquisitions were a key factor triggering the civil wars in Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and there is every reason to be concerned that conditions are ripe for new conflicts to occur in many other places,' said Jeffrey Hatcher, director of global programs for the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), which sponsored an expert panel today at the Royal Society on the trends shaping rural lands and rights worldwide.
Ethiopia: 'Spoof-o-mercial' on investing in Ethiopia
Bargain prices on Ethiopia's prime farmland! Who's down for some land grabbing?! Anybody? This spoof commercial follows a Human Rights Watch report stating that the Ethiopian government under its 'villagization' program is forcibly relocating approximately 70,000 indigenous people from the western Gambella region to new villages that lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare, and educational facilities.
Morocco: 'We'll do everything to stop the agri-agreement with Morocco'
Mozambique: Understanding land investment
Mozambique granted concessions to investors for more than 2.5 million hectares (ha) of land between 2004 and the end of 2009, says the Oakland Institute's country report on Mozambique, which forms part of a multi-country study on understanding land investment deals in Africa. 'Mozambique’s history of Portuguese colonialism, three wars, and then the imposition by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund of a harsh neo-liberal economic model led the government in the 1990s to accept the idea that the only way to promote development and end poverty was through encouraging foreign investment. Mozambique was identified by the World Bank as one of five sparsely populated African countries with large tracts of land available for rainfed cultivation. After 2000 rising food and fuel prices and new climate change-related attention on forests triggered the interest of investors in Mozambique, particularly for trees (for paper, timber and carbon credits) and agrofuels (notably sugar and jatropha).'
Djibouti: Radio journalist threatened and tortured for 24 hours
Reporters Without Borders has roundly condemned radio journalist Farah Abadid Hildid’s abduction by the police and the threats and torture to which he was subjected during the 24 hours he was held. Hildid works for La Voix de Djibouti, a radio station that broadcasts on the shortwave from Europe and is now also available on the Internet.
Egypt: Egyptians continue sit-in to protest pro-junta media outlet
Egyptians have continued a sit-in outside the country's state TV building to protest the media's pro-junta programs, calling for the purging of the state media from anti-revolutionary officials, Press TV reports. The protesters believe that even after the popular revolution which led to the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak back in February last year, the state media outlet is still the voice of the country's ruling junta and part and parcel of its propaganda machine.
Ghana: Radio static for Ghana’s community stations
Members of the Ghana Community Radio Network (GCRN) and the Coalition for Transparency of the Airwaves (COTA) have demanded that government answer to the limited frequency allocation being given to community radio stations. Across the country, there are 11 community radio stations on air with 14 more waiting to receive their frequency.
Global: Twitter policy that restricts tweets sparks outrage
Twitter announced last week that it would begin restricting tweets in specific countries if they violated local laws, setting off claims of censorship by IFEX members Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). Previously, Twitter had to remove a tweet from its entire network if it received a takedown request from a government. But the company said in a blog post published on 26 January that it now has the ability to selectively block a tweet from appearing to users in one country.
Malawi: Plunge in press freedom rating
Malawi has dropped 67 places on the 2011/2012 press freedom index as a result of the 'totalitarian tendencies' of President Bingu wa Mutharika, French based media watchdog Reporters Without Boarders (RWB) has said. Malawi is now at position 146 alongside Indonesia out of 225 assessed countries.
South Africa: Cosatu attacks 'capitalist' press
Cosatu has mirrored the ANC's offensive on the print media faithfully, finding that the three major newspaper groups 'reflect the outlook and prejudices of the capitalist class' and backing calls for tougher regulation of the press. In a six-page submission to the Press Freedom Commission (PFC), the federation praises the ANC for having 'opened up an important public debate' on its 2007 Polokwane conference resolution on the media, and particularly for its investigation of a statutory media appeals tribunal.
South Africa: Press freedom hearings to resume
Several political parties, including the DA and ANC, are expected to make representations to the Press Freedom Commission (PFC), when it resumes hearings. Monday 30 January marked the start of the latest and final round of hearings on how best to regulate the print media. Possible models include independent regulation, co-regulation, self-regulation, and statutory regulation.
Zimbabwe: Artists continue work despite extrajudicial threats
Zimbabwean artists operate in one of the most politically repressive environments in the world. But despite the monumental challenges, art continues to thrive here as artists say they are determined to shape the future of the country by expressing themselves, says this report from the Global Press Institute.
Global: One billion people still lack electricity, says report
More than a billion people in the world still lack access to electricity, while another one billion have unreliable access stalling efforts for improving health, livelihoods and conserve the environment. Findings from a new research published by the Worldwatch Institute (WI) urge governments and development organisations to invest in electrification to achieve critical health, environmental, and livelihood outcomes, a statement released by the Institute said.
Malawi: Consumers have a right to fuel and forex black market
The black market for foreign exchange and fuel is booming in the midst of an acute scarcity in Malawi. The shortage is so severe that even the Consumer Association of Malawi, an influential consumer rights body, has come out in support of the black market. Malawi continues to reel under severe economic problems after the country’s major donors cut aid to the country last year. Up to 40 percent of Malawi’s national budget has been dependent on donors and donors funded 80 percent of the country’s development budget.
South Africa: Design isn’t just about shiny objects
Cape Town has been awarded the right to host the World Design Capital 2014 (WDC2014), but the City of Cape Town’s recent announcement that it will lead the management and coordination of WDC2014 threatens this vision, writes Gavin Silber of the Social Justice Coalition. 'The City is one of the main providers of Cape Town's basic services including sanitation, water, electricity, roads, safety and (increasingly) housing. It also approves most design plans. As a service provider, whose leadership will always have re-election as a foremost concern, it should not be leading this process; it is a plain conflict of interest. The city has too much vested in promoting its own way of doing things to the exclusion of critics.'
Uganda: Power hikes to last
Power tariffs will remain high despite the anticipated commissioning of Bujagali Hydro Electricity Dam in July, State Minister for Energy Simon D’Ujanga said. The Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) last month increased consumer tariffs by 36 per cent and commercial dues by 69.7 per cent.
Global: Discussions on the 'The Warmth of Other Suns'
This February, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), in partnership with the Applied Research Center’s Drop the I-Word campaign against the pejorative 'illegals', will be hosting an online nationwide book discussion about the critically acclaimed book 'The Warmth Of Other Suns', by author and Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson. The book chronicles the Great Migration, in which an estimated six million African-Americans migrated to cities in the north and west to escape oppressive conditions of the south’s Jim Crow caste system between the 1910s and 1970s.
Africa: Latest AU peace, security report available
With the 18th ordinary summit of the Assembly of the African Union just concluding, the Peace and Security Council Report No 31 covers the rising terrorist attacks that Boko Haram has continued to perpetrate in Nigeria in recent months, the rising tension between Sudan and South Sudan, and has an analysis on Côte d’Ivoire.
Algeria: Algeria freezes Mali military support
Algeria withdrew military advisors from northern Mali last week in an effort to force a political solution to the Touareg revolt. The Algerian troops were partaking in joint counter-terror efforts, including training and equipment maintenance, and were flown home on an Algerian air force plane last weekend, El Khabar reported. Algeria's decision to freeze military support to Mali came after the country halted counter-terror operations in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu and redirected troops towards areas now in rebellion.
Egypt: Anger in Egypt over deadly football riot
Egypt has declared three days of mourning for at least 74 people who died at a football stadium amid violent clashes between rival supporters in the northern city of Port Said. Earlier, Essam el-Erian, a politician from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, said the military and police were complicit in the violence, accusing them of trying to show that emergency regulations giving security forces wide-ranging powers must be maintained.
Egypt: Clashes resume around interior ministry despite calls for truce
A number of truce initiatives succeeded to temporarily stop the violence near the Ministry of Interior (MOI) as sporadic clashes continued on Sunday. A tense calm earlier in the day followed fierce clashes on Saturday night despite other calls for calm. Hundreds of women organized a march in downtown Cairo, taking off from Qasr El-Aini Street in the vicinity of the Cabinet and the People's Assembly condemning the violence. (http://bit.ly/zM7Vde)
A number of truce initiatives succeeded to temporarily stop the violence near the Ministry of Interior (MOI) as sporadic clashes continued on Sunday. A tense calm earlier in the day followed fierce clashes on Saturday night despite other calls for calm. Hundreds of women organized a march in downtown Cairo, taking off from Qasr El-Aini Street in the vicinity of the Cabinet and the People's Assembly condemning the violence. (http://bit.ly/zM7Vde)
Kenya: Clashes highlight dangers of devolution
Politically motivated violence in the northern Kenyan town of Moyale, which has left dozens dead and tens of thousands displaced in recent weeks, shows little sign of abating and there are fears that the clashes could continue until elections are held for new local government positions. But by many accounts, an unintended consequence of Kenya’s new devolutionary constitution has raised the stakes considerably. The prospect of real political and budgetary power - concentrated since independence in distant Nairobi - rather than water, pasture and cattle-raid vendettas, now drives the violence.
Kenya: Kenya claims hit on rebel convoy
Kenya's military has struck al Shabaab targets in one of the most devastating attacks against the al Qaeda-linked insurgents since it launched an operation in Somalia to crush the rebels last October, a Kenyan army officer said on Saturday. Military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir said the force estimated that more than 100 al Shabaab fighters were killed in the attack. Al Shabaab dismissed the military statements as propaganda.
Libya: Rival groups clash in Tripoli
A gun battle between rival groups has raged near office buildings and five-star hotels in central Tripoli, in the latest sign of unrest in Libya following the overthrow and killing of Muammar Gaddafi. Witnesses said gunfire could be heard on Wednesday 1 February coming from near the beach house of Gaddafi's son, Saadi, on the Mediterranean Sea at Tripoli. Thick smoke spewed out from near the house, and ambulance sirens could be has heard as rival groups, using heavy machine guns, clashed in the mostly business district of Tripoli.
Mozambique: Storms death toll rises to 40
About 40 people have died and more than 100,000 are affected by twin storms that struck Mozambique 18-26 January, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Tropical Cyclone Funso struck northern Mozambique, 'affecting about 64,663 people and causing floods and damage of houses, schools and health centres. In southern Mozambique, high river flows from upstream countries… combined with heavy rainfall due to tropical storm Dando, affected about 51,670 people,' it said on 27 January.
Nigeria: Mend threatens SA firms
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation says it will investigate threats against South African companies with investments in Nigeria by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend). The movement has threatened to attack the holdings of companies including MTN, Africa’s biggest cellphone network operator, and SacOil, an oil and gas exploration company, saying that President Jacob Zuma is interfering 'in the legitimate fight for justice' in the Niger River delta region.
Nigeria: Soldier, policemen killed in fresh Borno attacks
A wave of fresh attacks by suspected gunmen of the Boko Haram sect has claimed the lives of a soldier, two policemen and two civilians. Two other policemen and a soldier have also been injured. The sect attacked the Gambouru/Ngala Police Station, Joint Task Force (JTF) checkpoint and the Nigeria Air Force Barracks, Maiduguri on Monday 30 January.
Senegal: Rights groups condemn violence
Human-rights groups in Senegal, including the local branch of the UK-based Amnesty International, have condemned police violence during an opposition rally in which one person was killed. Officers used tear gas and water cannons to break up the protest in the capital, Dakar, on Tuesday night, attended by an estimated 10,000 people in what until now had been one of Africa's most stable countries.
Somalia: Government forces seize strategic town
Somali government forces backed by Kenyan troops have reportedly captured a strategic town in southern Somalia after al-Shabab fighters vacated the town without any resistance, Press TV reported. 'Several pro-government forces, including Kenyan soldiers and Ahlu-Sunna fighters are now based in Howsingow town,' said Mohamed Khalif, a Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) military official.
South Sudan: Khartoum accused over deadly raid
South Sudan has accused the government of neighbouring Sudan of arming gunmen alleged to have killed dozens of people in a cattle raid, as the UN warned that tensions between the two sides risked regional peace. 'A militia group from Unity state penetrated into Warrap state... and attacked people in a cattle camp, killing over 40,' Alison Manani Magaya, South Sudan's interior minister, said on Monday following the latest violence in the world's newest nation, which ceded from Sudan last year.
Kenya: Google Kenya boss quits after data scandal
Google Kenya country manager Olga Arara-Kimani has left the firm days after the Internet giant said it had taken action against employees implicated in a recent data poaching scandal. Arara-Kimani, who had been at the helm of the firm’s Kenyan operations when the scandal broke, said someone had to take responsibility. Two weeks ago, Kenyan online business directory firm Mocality accused Google of fraudulently using its data to sell competing product to clients.
Zambia: Lap Green Networks sues Zambian government
Libya's Lap Green Networks has dragged the Zambian government to court over its decision to take over telecoms and Internet service provider Zamtel. The Libyan government says the takeover is illegal, as the company was genuinely acquired and rightly belongs to the Libyan people. A report by a Zambian commission of inquiry, which was constituted by that country's president Michael Sata last year, concluded that the sale of Zamtel to Lap Green Networks by the previous government was 'fraudulent and irregular'.
Kenya: Africa’s Golden Jubilee: Assessing 50 Years of Scholarship and Development in Africa
26-30 June, Nairobi, Kenya
http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/568/Call for Papers - International Conference June 2012.doc
The Catholic University of Eastern Africa is organizing for an International conference 26-30 June at their main campus in Nairobi under the theme 'Africa’s Golden Jubilee: Assessing 50 Years of Scholarship and Development in Africa'. Please click on the link provided to read more information.
Africa: Understanding the impact of genetically modified crops in Africa
This handbook from the African Centre for Biosafety will enable readers to:
1. Know the field and articulate your position;
2. Familiarise yourself with the regulatory issues;
3. Identify your allies;
4. Interact with the process;
5. Keep the pressure on.
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