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

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Perspectives on Emerging Powers in Africa: December 2011 newsletter

Deborah Brautigam provides an overview and description of China's development finance to Africa. "Looking at the nature of Chinese development aid - and non-aid - to Africa provides insights into China's strategic approach to outward investment and economic diplomacy, even if exact figures and strategies are not easily ascertained", she states as she describes China's provision of grants, zero-interest loans and concessional loans. Pambazuka Press recently released a publication titled India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power, and Oliver Stuenkel provides his review of the book.
The December edition available here.

The 2010 issues: September, October, November, December, and the 2011 issues: January, February, March , April, May , June , July , August , September, October and November issues are all available for download.

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Western Sahara: Moroccan shame at UN human rights council

Malainin lakhal


cc MWN
The UN has over the past decades appeared to pursue a just solution to the crisis in Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony still illegally occupied by Morocco. But it now emerges that Moroccan diplomacy at the world body has employed corruption to push its agenda against Western Sahara.

The machinations undertaken by Moroccan diplomacy continue to be unveiled by the Moroccan hacker, who uses the pseudonym "Chris Coleman24" on his Twitter account. Through this account, details of the shameful strategies and conspiracies of Moroccan diplomats in New York and Geneva have been revealed. The information exposed by the mysterious hacker on the Moroccan actions within the office of Navi Pillay, the immediate former High Commissioner for Human Rights, disclose an unprecedented scandal. Navi served as head of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) between 2008 and 2014.

Documents recently uploaded on the hacker’s Twitter account show that the Moroccan Mission to Geneva, led by its Ambassador Mr. Omar Hilale, has for long employed dishonorable methods to influence some high officials of the UN Human Rights Council against the interests of Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony still occupied by Morocco.

We learn thus that the Moroccan ambassador had infiltrated the entourage of the former High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, and could manipulate all her actions and positions concerning the case of human rights violations in Western Sahara.


The Moroccan ambassador did not hesitate to financially support Pillay and the members of her office to dissuade her from adopting any action that may go against the wishes of Morocco. Therefore Ms. Pillay seemed to be “very sensitive” to the wishes or orders of her generous Moroccan friends.

"I would like to remind of the imperative need to transfer the amount of $250,000 under the title of Morocco's contribution to the budget of the OHCHR for 2011, which the High Commissioner had twice expressed the wish to receive (my faxes). This transfer will help make Pillay more attentive to our concerns about the content of the contribution of her office in the next report of the UN Secretary General on the Sahara," Omar Hilale wrote in one of the diplomatic cables sent to his minister in January 2012.

The Moroccan ambassador did not hesitate to use financial means as a way to stop Navi Pillay from paying much attention to the repeated requests by her representative in New York, Evan Simonovic, and even by Christopher Ross. The two diplomats had tried in vain to convince her to visit Western Sahara.


The Moroccan mission did not only use money, paid in the form of donations to the Council. The Moroccan Ambassador reveals in his messages to his superiors that he had succeeded to recruit "very good friends" within the staff of Mrs Pillay. The two main “friends” of Morocco are the Swedish Anders Kompass, Director of Field Operations, and the Senegalese, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Director of Special Procedures. According to Omar Hilale, the two men are more than just “friends”. They showed limitless zeal to serve the Moroccan plans and manipulations within the Human Rights Council against any attempt or opportunities to improve human rights in Western Sahara

“Thanks to the strategy followed by this Mission [Moroccan’s] to lock the entourage of Pillay, all the high officials of the High Commissioner in Geneva abide by the Moroccan concerns. However, the weakness of Ms. Pillay in front of Simonovic is the Achilles heel of our strategy," Hilale reports.

Worse, in other cables from the Moroccan ambassador, we find out how he managed to obtain crucial information from his informants, Kompass and Ndiaye, two pawns who do not hesitate to bring their Moroccan friend secret information at his own embassy. For example, they provided him with crucial information about a meeting between Christopher Ross and Navanethem Pillay, the Secretary General's Personal Envoy to Western Sahara having apparently been trying to convince the High Commissioner to visit the occupied territory. Another example, revealed by the cables was about the conspirers’ meeting devoted to discuss the visit that the Saharawi President, Mohamed Abdelaziz, was about to undertake to the Human Rights Council in May 2013 to meet Navanethem Pillay. In both cases, the ambassador and his two friends maneuvered together to limit the impact of these two visits and influenced Pillay so as not to react positively to her two guests’ requests. The two pawns even suggested to their Moroccan friend ideas and arguments to use to convince Pillay.


The documents also reveal how the “friends” of Morocco in the Human Rights Council managed to neutralize all honest officials, who tried to honorably do their duty, such as the Tunisian Frej Fennish, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Section in the OHCHR. The latter was considered by Omar Hilale as an enemy to the interests of Morocco. The Tunisian has apparently suffered from a secret campaign led by the Moroccan Embassy and its “friends” to discredit him before Pillay and therefore neutralize him.

Kompass and Ndiaye also used their authority to advise and act within the Council to discredit the Polisario and impede any possibility of support to the expansion of the mandate of MINURSO – the UN peacekeeping mission - to contain the protection of human rights.

Therefore, the two pawns - and other officials who were not cited by Hilale in his messages- influenced Navanethem Pillay in all her decisions following direct instructions from the Moroccan Embassy.

They acted, for example, to dissuade Pillay from undertaking a visit to Western Sahara in 2014. They ensured that the contribution of OHCHR to the report of the UN Secretary General on Western Sahara was fully in favour of Morocco. They lobbied to prevent Pilay from giving any "concessions" to the President of the Saharawi Republic, Mohamed Abdelaziz, during their meeting in Geneva on May 23, 2013. Kompass further insisted on Pillay to send a technical mission to Western Sahara in May 2014 under his lead so as not to allow the Representative of the Office in New York, Evan Simonovic, to lead this mission he had been calling for many times before, simply because Simonovic is considered by Morocco to be unfriendly.


These dangerous and compromising disclosures that undermine the reputation of the former High Commissioner and the two officials mentioned in this article corroborate, once again, the dishonorable and mafia-like methods used by the representatives of "his majesty" worldwide. Methods established on the corruption of some officials of the international bodies.

The case of the Senegalese, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Director of the Special Procedures in the OHCHR, is revealing. He confessed to his friend Hilale his resolved allegiance to Morocco, considering himself a fervent "believer and follower of the Tijania Sufi brotherhood”. In fact, he admitted to Hilale his "dream" to go to Fez because: "he could not make the pilgrimage for 20 years." It was a mere formality for the Moroccan ambassador, who immediately requested his Department of Foreign Affairs to send a formal invitation to Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye to fulfill the fervent believer’s dream.

Despite of the financial scandals and corruption that have come to light thanks to these leaked documents (Morocco has not denied their authenticity), the Sahrawi people continue suffering systematic violations of their basic rights. How many Sahrawi victims will continue enduring the worst violations committed by Morocco because of the corruption and lack of integrity within the UN bodies, which are supposed to ensure the respect of human rights in the world? What is worse is that those responsible for these shameful plotting will go unpunished as usual.

* Malainin Mohamed Lakhal, a journalist and translator, is a member of the Saharawi Natural Resource Watch (SNRW).



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LUCHA: Youth movement in Congo demands social justice

Marta Iñiguez de Heredia


cc LR
Marta Iñiguez de Heredia, from the University of Cambridge, interviews three members of Lutte pour le Changement (Struggle for Change, or LUCHA), which self-identifies as a citizens’ movement. Their members speak about their ideas and the trajectory of this movement since its creation in 2012.

LUCHA is an organisation created in Goma, the capital of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in June 2012. Both its location and the time if its founding correspond with the height of the M23 rebellion, led by renegade Congolese soldiers and backed by Rwanda. LUCHA’s members affirm the need to take action, not by taking up arms, but by critical popular mobilisation through an open and horizontal organisational structure.

The group has already demonstrated its mobilisation capacity. In June 2014, LUCHA organised a march demanding drinking water for Goma residents, with a turnout of 3000 people. During the summer months, the city was covered in posters; banners; and messages on cars, vans, water containers and t-shirts reading ‘Goma inataka maji’, or ‘Goma wants water’. More recently, the group coordinated a protest on Saturday, 18 October demanding action against the latest killings perpetrated by still unknown actors in the territory of Beni, north of North Kivu; this action also garnered significant support. Throughout it’s existence, LUCHA has captured the interest of the international press while suffering repression by the Congolese government.

Last September, the city of Goma celebrated Peace One Day, hosting a concert by singer Akon, for which Goma airport was shut down. Members of LUCHA found the demands of the official event vague and empty. At the concert, LUCHA members attempted to display signs and banners stating that peace needs social justice and democracy, and to demand the reform of the Congolese army; a political solution to the problem of Rwandan refugees in the DRC; and a solution to the presence of the FDLR, a group of ex-Rwandan genocidaires and Rwandan dissidents in Eastern DRC.

Despite the spirit and aims of the day, the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) intercepted their actions and arrested three members, who were later released with no charges filed. This repression of freedom of expression and debate is certainly contradictory to the idea of peace promotion, and prevented dissident voices to contribute to discussions around what peace means.

This is not the first time that this movement has seen their actions repressed, and it will probably not be the last. In the last two years, LUCHA has organised sit-ins, the writing of open letters, marches, rallies and other activities. These actions are based on the need to act and to demand their rights. As indicated in the interview below, LUCHA declares itself a non-violent active citizens’ movement. In spite of this civic approach, authorities and security forces have responded to the actions of this group in violent form, with beatings, bullets and arrests. Despite this, the movement has not stopped growing.

As a movement organised in a horizontal manner, LUCHA follows a trend that seems to have become a referent in Africa. Movements such as Y’en a Marre in Senegal, the Coalition Contre la vie Chère in Burkina Faso and the Landless People's Movement in South Africa have been organised in this way. Others in Europe, the US and Australia, including the Occupy movement and other indignados, have also followed this formula.

Three LUCHA members, Fred Bahuma, Micheline Mwendike and Luc Nkulula, speak of the trajectory of the movement and its aspirations.

MARTA IÑIGUEZ (MI): How did LUCHA come about?

FRED BAHUMA (FB): LUCHA was created by a group of young people that decided to rebel against the situation of their country; young people that live in a degrading situation, without dignity; young people that live in a rich country, while they live in the most abject poverty; young people that ultimately have observed the contrast between the potentialities of their country and their everyday reality. LUCHA was created from the realisation that in the DRC there’s more than 70% unemployment and about 90% youth unemployment. We live without electricity, while we could have one of the biggest hydroelectric dams in the world; we do not have access to drinking water, while we are called the water paradise because we have permanent sources of drinking water between rivers and regions with regular rain throughout the year; we live in insecurity, while we could be one of the political giants of Africa. There are deaths at each moment, and we’ve got tired of counting the people that have died around us. So a group of young people got together to say that we had to do something, something different to expose the gravity of this situation. Often in this country, there are people who claim to be the spokesperson of the people, but this is dubious. They are politicians, who are themselves implicated in keeping this system, or the so-called ‘civil society’ representatives that only act for the interests of their organisations. We thought that we should do something different, to take action, not through violent means, nor through empty discourses or by joining the same organisations that so far have given us close to nothing.

MI: What does it mean ‘a citizens’ movement’?

MICHELINE MWENDIKE (MM): It means that we want to create spaces of expression and action with the objective of changing our country. We reject the path of violence, as well as the path of power. We are not here to be known, nor to get a job or earn money. We want to be the alternative for Congo, a group of engaged people that accept the challenge of telling the truth and speak for ourselves.

MI: Could you please explain a bit more your rejection of violence?

MM: We have realised that the use of violence has failed in this country. Some armed groups had valid demands, but their methods have created others problems. In any case, we want to be part of the solution. Violence also requires a lot of resources and much human sacrifice. The DRC requires committed and robust actions, but in this moment those actions do not imply the use of violence.

MI: Despite your civic approach, your actions have suffered much repression.

FB: Yes, we’ve been beaten up and arrested from the start. On Peace One Day, the ANR prevented us from showing our signs and banners at the gig, and three of our members were arrested. Last year, the police shot against demonstrators with real bullets, hurting one taxi driver who was there as a bystander. Several members of LUCHA were also arrested that day as well, and stayed in cells for eight days. That action consisted only of standing next to images that showed the atrocities that our country has suffered. During their eight days of incarceration, many of our members lost their jobs. However, we had a lot of support. Some people stayed outside the cells of the ANR, demanding that either all of none should be arrested. Finally, the arrestees were released without charges.

MI: What are the aims of LUCHA?

LUC NKULULUA (LN): The political aim of LUCHA is to work for political change through the youth. Young people have an interest in changing things. We believe in the future, because the youth dreams and is creative.

MM: Young people keep their hopes, and are less contaminated by the vices of society. We are less marked by the struggle for survival that adults have. We struggle for a better and different future. We can say that we have three aims or values, which are the dignity of the person, social justice and political change.

MI: What does that mean?

MM: First, for us, dignity means to consider the person as a human being. For example, when we speak of development, humanitarian assistance or refugee settlements, it seems that the human condition is reduced to eating and sleeping. We need to respect and consider people in their human needs, such as the need for political decision-making, not just the economic or material needs. Second, in the DRC there is no justice. For us, justice is something more social than the juridical, though the betterment of the judicial system in the DRC remains an important demand. Social justice means access to the resources around us to enjoy, consume, manage and distribute; it also means access to employment and education, and the access to social services. We must also take part in decision-making processes. Without social justice and social dignity, democracy, socialism and all those beautiful ideologies are empty discourses. For example, in the context of our current democracies, there was fraud during the elections; people were lied to, and the costs associated with all of those processes have been enormous and have not achieved anything.

MI: How do you organise? And, how much support do you think you have?

LN: We are an informal movement. We are now more than 1,500 members and our demonstrations, for example the march we did in June for drinking water, gathered over 3000 people. We make decisions through a general assembly, meetings where everyone can propose and decide. There is not a president or an executive. We manage our movement, our ideological basis, practices and objectives in a collegial and collective manner.

MI: What is the proportion of women in the movement?

LN: More or less 30%, but those that are here are very engaged.

MM: The participation of women in the movement, as in other spaces and political activities, is not well regarded by families and society in general. They constantly say to you that you have to take your place, that if you continue like that you’re going to be left without a husband… It is difficult.

MI: Women then suffer a double repression, both political and social.

MM: Yes, even at work. I have suffered several problems at work when I stayed the eighty days in the cell last year. I could not go to work and I lost my employment.

MI: What kind of activities do you organise, and which are your priorities at the moment?

LN: For 2014, our priorities are security, drinking water and accountability. This last objective is very important because we not only think that in a democracy the representatives should be accountable to their constituency, but also because we want to make the Congolese population a demanding population. If you do not claim your rights, you will have nothing. In this sense, LUCHA also does consciousness-raising work. Drinking water is also a principal front this year. The DRC already has 40% of the entire drinking water reserves found on the African continent. Here in Goma, we live next to a very large lake, yet we do not have water on our taps. One of the actions we did was to go to the public institution that regulates and manages water [Regideso]. We taught them the national hymn to tell them that water distribution must match the grandeur of our country, like the hymn says. They have told us that the problem of not having water in Goma is because Goma is more elevated with respect to water level, and so water needs to be pumped up to reach the households. However, as there is no electricity, the pumps cannot work. It happens that recently humanitarian organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the US development agency [USAID], and Mercy Corps have financed several projects, buying pumps and engines to bring water to the city. We think that all of that money has gotten lost, and as a result we have stayed as we were, without water. Yet we believe all that money could have covered the costs of permanent drinking water in Goma.

MM: The other priorities, security and peace, have various aspects. To start with, it is worth pointing out that peace has turned into a job-seeking activity and an activity to earn money. Additionally, the Congo has been caricatured, with many programmes that are not effective or that do not point to the true causes of war. The same policemen that repressed us have been trained by the European Union [Since 2007, the cities of Goma and Kinshasa have been the targets of an EU programme, EUPOL Dr Congo, bringing reform, training and accompaniment to the police]. Our army is an assemblage of armed groups.

LN: We think that the army needs to be reformed. However, there is no solution to this. For us, the presence of MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo] is a form of taking responsibility off the Congolese state. The Congolese state has to feel responsible before its own problems. Therefore, one of our demands for peace is to tell MONUSCO to start packing and to leave the DRC to confront its own problems.

MI: What has been the impact of those actions?

FB: We think that our actions have already resonated. For example, in 2012, as the M23 [a Rwandan-backed movement of renegade Congolese army members] started taking shape, the solution given by the international community, via MONUSCO, was to create a ‘neutral force’ made up of Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC. We thought that in the current circumstances and the recent history, those forces in reality are part of the conflict, and hence could not possibly constitute a neutral force. We also did not understand why it was necessary to add ‘a neutral force’, which effectively means to have one military force too many. Instead of creating a new force, instead of over-militarising a region that is already sufficiently militarised between the Congolese army, the UN troops, the dozens of armed groups, etc, we thought that the MONUSCO could be given a more offensive mandate, with real capacity to react against the situation. The main argument MONUSCO had in order not to have an offensive mandate is that it cannot replace the Congolese army. In the war context that we had throughout 2012 and 2013, they claimed that it was not their responsibility to confront an armed group, such as the M23, because there was already the army. However, for us, that was a contradiction. If MONUSCO exists, it is because there is a weakness of the state; if that is not the case, we do not need the mission. To us, this was nothing but an excuse to not do anything, while the UN mission is maintained with US$1 billion per year. On this occasion we insisted, going several times to the headquarters of MONUSCO, to the provincial government, and pulled out banners when UN representatives, including the Secretary General, visited the region. Finally, they created the Intervention Brigade, which was not formed for any of those countries [found in the ‘neutral force’]. We cannot say that it was because of us, but we think that somehow we have influenced the way things are seen. In any case, for us, peace goes through a political dialogue with Rwanda, through a political solution for the problem of Hutu refugees and the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda], as well as through the transformation of the state in a way that allows people to take part in the decisions made on politics and resource management and distribution.

You can support and follow LUCHA through Facebook: LuchaRDCongo and on Twitter: @luchardc.

Haiti: Transform your global justice sentiments into action

Ajamu Nangwaya


cc NPR
The UN has extended the presence of its deeply resented occupation force in Haiti for another year. Progressive forces need to organise in a global solidarity campaign to end the occupation and to restore the right of self-determination to the Haitian people.
"In overthrowing me you have cut down in Saint Domingue [Haiti] only the trunk of the tree of liberty; it will spring up again from the roots, for they are many and they are deep." — Toussaint L’Ouverture

The people of Haiti have been living under a military occupation for over ten years by way of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). However, this military imposition has not generated sustained organizing and mobilizing of resources from anti-war, Pan-Afrikanist/nationalist, socialist, trade unions, international solidarity activists, organizations or movements located in the imperialist centres of Europe and North America.

It is critically important for Western-based progressive forces to question themselves on the reason behind their failure to challenge the military occupation as an imperialist assault on the labouring classes, and as an attempt to prevent the emergence of a non-capitalist development agenda in Haiti. Where is the required and expected solidarity from these activist groups or social movements?

The Guinea-Bissau/Cape Verde revolutionary adult educator, theoretician, military strategist, and practitioner Amilcar Cabral calls for a solidarity from the global North that is based on mutual interest and a “common enemy”:

‘If, as would seem from all the evidence, imperialism exists and is trying simultaneously to dominate the working class in all the advanced countries and smother the national liberation movements in all the underdeveloped countries, then there is only one enemy against whom we are fighting. If we are fighting together, then I think the main aspect of our solidarity is extremely simple: it is to fight – I don’t think there is any need to discuss this very much. We are struggling in Guinea with guns in our hands, you must struggle in your countries as well – I don’t say with guns in your hands, I’m not going to tell you how to struggle, that’s your business; but you must find the best means and the best forms of fighting against our common enemy: this is the best form of solidarity.’

On the question of MINUSTAH’s occupation of Haiti, it would be hard for peace and global justice organizations to declare that they are using the “best means and the best forms of fighting” to end the 10-year military intervention scheme by the United States and its allies, and the United Nations. On October 14, 2014, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to extend the presence of the occupation force for another year. It was done without significant mobilization and opposition from peace, global justice and international solidarity activists and organizations.

The people across the world who are committed to the self-determination of oppressed peoples should work to ensure that this imperial military mission ends before October 15, 2015. Some members of the public might be puzzled by the triggering event(s) that led to the occupation.

The reformist or populist government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas were committed to pursuing economic and social policies that opposed the unfettered neoliberal capitalist agenda of Canada, the United States, and France, international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the local Haitian elite.

In spite of the hostility to the developmental agenda of Aristide by local elite and certain Western states, and the channeling of development funds and economic aid through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) instead of the Haitian state, positive developments were made in the areas of education, healthcare, economic justice, infrastructure development, women’s rights, the status of children, and official recognition of the indigenous religion Voudou. The economic and social outcomes of the administrations of Fanmi Lavalas from 1994 to 2004 are captured in the booklet ‘We Will Not Forget: The Achievements of Lavalas in Haiti.’

However, the unholy alliance of Canada, France, and the United States met in Ottawa on January 31, 2003 and February 1, 2003 and resolved to engineer a regime change in Haiti[/url=]. On February 29, 2004, a coup, facilitated by the George Bush regime in Washington and his allies, was effected against the democratically elected government. President Aristide has consistently claimed that he was [url=]kidnapped and forced into exile in the Central Afrikan Republic by armed personnel of the government of the United States.

Washington and its allies imposed an occupation force the Multinational Interim Force on Haiti, which was replaced by MINUSTAH in June 2004. MINUSTAH has played an active role in forcefully suppressing the resistance of the pro-Aristide and pro-Fanmi Lavalas majority. The occupation has brought suffering to the labouring classes in Haiti. MINUSTAH serves as a cover for the agenda of economic exploitation and political subjugation of the masses, and the geo-strategic and economic interests of the United States and its partners.

People of good conscience have no other option, but to build campaigns in their cities and towns to force the withdrawal of MINUSTAH from Haiti. MINUSTAH’s documented cases of abuse and wrongdoing against the people of Haiti provide the moral and political justification for an end to this occupation.

International solidarity, peace, and global justice organizations and movements need to undertake practical steps in their communities and countries to force an end to MINUSTAH’s military occupation. Below are some concrete actions that might be used in organizing campaigns against the occupation, and support the self-determination of the working-class and rural communities in Haiti.

ORGANIZE A BROAD-BASED GROUP: If the convenors of the initial organizing meetings are interested in developing a broad-based anti-occupation/MINUSTAH campaign to educate and mobilize opinion in their city or town, the call for action should be directed at a wide range of progressive individuals and organizations that are interested in international solidarity, global justice, anti-war activism, Afrikan affairs, alternative development, and anti-imperialism. By casting their outreach net widely, they will be able to reach into the multiple constituencies that are present in the community.

PREPARE WORKSHOP AND LECTURE PRESENTATIONS AND PUBLIC EDUCATION MATERIALS: In winning extensive support within the local community and across the country for the termination of the United Nations’ occupation of Haiti, the campaign will need to methodically carry out public education and awareness activities. The anti-occupation projects could prepare PowerPoint presentations and workshop curriculums on a range of topics such as (1) “the Haitian Revolution and its Contribution to Freedom in the Americas”; (2) “How France, the United States and the Colonial Powers Underdeveloped Post-revolutionary Haiti”; (3) “The 411 on the Military Occupation of Haiti by MINUSTAH”; (4) “The Nuts and Bolts of Building the Campaign to End the Occupation of Haiti”; (5) “Why the West Fears the Haitian People’s Struggle for Self-determination”; (6) “Practical People-to-People Solidarity Actions with Haiti’s Grassroots”; (7) “Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Fanmi Lavalas and Social Reform in Haiti”; (8) and “The Strategic Value of Haiti to the United States and its Allies.”

The development of prepared presentations would make it easier to communicate a consistent message to the public. It would also make it easier to train a large pool of organizers to become workshop facilitators and public speakers on the subject of the military occupation and other relevant topics on Haiti. The campaign will need to develop public educational materials in the form of fact sheets, brochures, pamphlets, and videos.

DIVERSE POOL OF FACILITATORS OR ANIMATORS: The task of going out into the community and across the country to educate the people about MINUSTAH and the neoliberal capitalist agenda needs a lot people. Therefore, this international solidarity project should train and develop a diverse pool of facilitators or animators, and public speakers to educate, mobilize, and organize the people against the occupation and its conservative agenda. The people who do this educational work ought to reflect the demographic characteristics in the broader society. In communities where Haitians are present, the campaign should strive to have this section of the community as active participants in all levels of the campaign.

TARGET MEMBERSHIP-BASED ORGANIZATIONS: In order to build mass support within the community and across the country, give strong attention to speaking before membership-based groups such as trade unions, professional associations, faculty associations and unions, community-based organizations, religious groups, student unions, students in high schools, colleges and universities. The aim of this tactic is to inspire members to include the campaign to end the occupation as a part of the organization’s ongoing organizational activities. Many member-based organizations, especially those paying dues, have human and other resources to execute international solidarity or global justice work. These membership based organizations are potential financial and in-kind donors to the campaign.

ENGENDER ANTI-OCCUPATION STUDENT CLUBS: The campaign should seek to work with global justice or international solidarity student organizers to form “End the Occupation of Haiti” student clubs on high school, college, and university campuses. Students were important allies in the fight against settler-colonialism/apartheid in Azania/South Afrika as they are now in the boycott, divestment and sanctions ([url=]BDS[/url=]) movement against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Students have the time, access to financial resources, and skills and knowledge that can be used to create public awareness and opposition to the occupation of Haiti.

KEY THRUST OF THE MESSAGE: It should be emphasized in the campaign’s messaging that the forces that are opposed to the public provision of education, health care, and social services, government ownership of public utilities and other commercial enterprises, and a livable minimum wage in Haiti have a similar agenda in global North countries. The agents of the neoliberal capitalist project in Canada, the United States, and Europe lobby for reduced government spending on post-secondary education, tighter eligibility rules for unemployment benefits, private sector provision of childcare, lower taxes on profits, wealth, and higher income, and the general retreat of government from providing adequate social welfare programmes.

Drive home the message to the public that neoliberal capitalism in Haiti and the global North is contributing to social and economic hardship to the people who sell their labour to the captains of industry and commerce in exchange for wages, or are dependent on income security programmes. The labouring classes in Haiti and the global North are fighting “one enemy” as Cabral would have it. In the words of Brian Latour, “given the rise of neoliberal globalization at the hands of the forces of international capital – global capitalism requires a global response, and international solidarity is necessary for global resistance.”

USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA OUTLETS: Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have emerged as significant communication instruments for the sharing of information with the public. The campaign should use social media to inform and educate, but most importantly the overarching goal ought to be focused on inspiring people to join the campaign or participate in or support its public activities or actions.

CONSTANTLY WRITE ABOUT HAITI: The campaign ought to undertake measures to produce a steady stream of articles on Haiti that highlights the negative impact of the occupation, and the ways in which the current neoliberal capitalist social and economic policies are affecting the lives of Haitians. The campaign should make an effort to develop an in-house stable of writers as well as pitch story ideas to sympathetic writers who cover global justice, human writers, and international solidarity issues.

HOST FILM SERIES: Many people love to learn or acquire information visually by way of films or videos. The hosting of periodic film series on Haiti over a weekend or four consecutive Fridays or Saturdays would be a way to build awareness of the occupation, the Haitian Revolution, women’s labour and the sweatshops, the 1991 and 2004 coups against Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas, and the struggle of Haitians for self-determination. The screening of a film could be coupled with a panel discussion or a guest speaker so as to direct participants’ attention to what must be done to fight the occupation and the neoliberal capitalist agenda. A film series may be used to recruit new participants into the campaign, as well as raise funds to execute its activities.

BUILD AWARENESS OF UN’S CHOLERA DEATHS: The campaign ought to highlight one of the most prominent cases of the negative impact of the occupation on the lives of Haitians. The United Nations has steadfastly refused to accept legal liability for the cholera tragedy. In October 2010, MINUSTAH’s soldiers dumped untreated sewage into the Artibonite River, and it led to the introduction of cholera in Haiti. To date, there are over 9,000 deaths and over 750,000 cases of infection. This MINUSTAH disaster may be used to rally support for the class action lawsuit levied against the UN by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. The refusal of the UN to accept responsibility for the cholera outbreak could serve as an indictment of the occupation.

TARGET AND RECRUIT OPINION LEADERS: The campaign should strive to win the support of individuals and organizations that have the capacity to influence public opinion to endorse the call for the withdrawal of the occupation force. This course of action by opinion makers and thought leaders might lead to people gaining awareness of MINUSTAH, embracing an anti-occupation outlook, or inspiring active involvement in the campaign. The value of opinion makers to a cause may be gleaned from the response to critiques by public notables and celebrities of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu’s public characterization of the oppression of Palestinians as being similar to that imposed on Afrikans under apartheid in South Afrika might have positively influenced or changed minds on the Palestinians’ struggle for self-determination.

DEVELOP MEDIA WATCH CAPACITY: In order to maintain a vigilance on how the occupation and news out of Haiti are being framed in the mainstream media, a “Haiti Media Watch” function ought to be developed within the campaign. The committee would develop the ability to swiftly and accurately respond to stories in newspapers, on television and radio, as well as on social media outlets. It is critically important to link news coming out of Haiti to the United States and its allies’ desire to impose the neoliberal capitalist agenda on Haitians, and the demand for the withdrawal of MINUSTAH.

ORGANIZE SPEAKING TOURS: It is necessary to organize speaking tours on the occupation and the neoliberal capitalist agenda in Haiti. The facilitators and speakers involved in the campaign would be the main people called upon to speak to organizations or do workshops. The campaign may also put together speaking tours with speakers directly from Haiti to educate and raise the awareness of the situation inside the country. Religious groups, faculty associations or unions, student organizations, and trade unions are ideal candidates to cosponsor speaking tours with international speakers from Haiti or Haitian activists who are in exile.

MOBILIZE THROUGH PROTEST ACTIONS: The anti-occupation organizing group may use important anniversaries connected to the coups of 1991 and 2004, significant moments in Haitian history, and dates that are relevant to the occupation to organize marches, demonstrations, rallies, and teach-ins. Public protest actions are ways to demonstrate the level of community or public support for the withdrawal of MINUSTAH’s occupation force.

PICKET OFFICIALS FROM MINUSTAH CONTRIBUTING STATES: Officials from states that contribute military or police personnel to MINUSTAH should be picketed when they visit countries with anti-occupation campaigns. It is fundamentally necessary for these states to know that people of good conscience are demanding the withdrawal of their contingent of troops or police. It is also a way to inform or remind the public that a military occupation is in effect against a people who would love to freely and democratically elect the party of their choice.

PHONE-IN AND FAX-IN PROTEST: Coordinated protest action in the form of phone-in or fax-in may be used against consulates and embassies of states that are participating in the occupation. This type of protest is aimed at reinforcing the call for an end to the occupation, and disrupting the operation of the consulates and embassies. It could be done in tandem with informational leafleting or picketing at the respective locations of these official bodies of states that enable MINUSTAH’s occupation.

FORCE HAITI ONTO THE LEGISLATIVE RADAR: Since the contributing MINUSTAH states would need to make a political decision about withdrawing from the occupation, it is essential to generate massive public pressure on the political directorate to do so. The public should be mobilized to write letters and make calls to the members of the national legislature, especially those representing their respective electoral districts, ridings or constituencies. It is better to encourage people to send personally scripted messages as opposed to signing and sending a form letter. The former will get a greater of degree of attention and response from the legislators. It would be helpful to provide talking points or fact sheets from which letter writers or people making phone calls may craft their personal messages demanding the termination of the occupation of Haiti.

PARTICIPATE IN INTERNATIONAL DELEGATIONS: The organizing of fact-finding international delegations to Haiti is a way to encourage active participation of some visiting organizations or delegates to the anti-occupation campaign at home. International delegations also demonstrate to Haitian grassroots organizations that there is support for their struggle for self-determination. Returning delegates may be empowered and motivated to hit the speaking circuit by way of speaking tours and media interviews. The returning delegates ought to be encouraged to write articles that highlight their observations, insights, learnings, and experiences of the occupation, and the state of political, social and economic events inside the country.

MATERIAL AND MORAL SUPPORT TO HAITIAN ORGANIZATIONS: The anti-occupation campaign should encourage the development of people-to-people relations between organizations and movements in Haiti and their counterparts in Canada, the United States and other countries. While the principal or primary solidarity expected from organizations in the global North is domestically fighting imperialism’s ability to impose its will on Haiti and other countries, “secondary forms of solidarity” as articulated by Cabral, are needed.

The provision of material support to organizations representing women, youth, workers, farmers, and other groups from the popular sectors would expand their capacity and capability to fight for an alternative development agenda. When MINUSTAH is forced out of Haiti, the organizations of the people will still be faced with the task of charting a development path that will likely be opposed by the United States and its allies.

CREATE SOCIAL EXPRESSION PRODUCTS TO RAISE MONEY: Financial resources are needed to carry out the campaign’s public education work. Therefore, money may be raised through the development of social expression products such a T-shirts, mugs, buttons, refrigerator magnets, and stickers that would be sold to the public. Membership-based organizations could become a main outlet for moving these products. These goods would promote the message of the campaign, and they are ideal items because of their functional nature.

MAKE LINKS WITH OTHER ANTI-OCCUPATION CAMPAIGNS: The struggle to rid Haiti of MINUSTAH should strive to become a worldwide movement. After all, the troops and police personnel are represented by states from across the world (for example, Russia, China, Spain, Jamaica, Nigeria, France, Pakistan, Cameroon, Brazil, Chile, Turkey, Egypt, Canada, and the United States). In developing ties among the global forces fighting the occupation, the campaigns would benefit from sharing information, strategy, tactics and other resources, and the coordination of their actions. In the Americas, the Haití NO Minustah is encouraging a region-wide opposition to the occupation of Haiti, and many groups across Central America, South America, and the Caribbean have signed on to the campaign.

It is not the mere words or beliefs that define an activist’s commitment to international solidarity or global justice. The anti-imperialist sentiments of a person of good conscience ought to be measured by her or his actions against oppressive condition such as MINUSTAH’s occupation of Haiti, which is preparing the fertile soil for an entrenched neoliberal capitalist development path. Hopefully, the proposed actions above might inspire you to become a participant in a campaign to bring MINUSTAH’s occupation to an end, or contribute to the work of anti-occupation organizations.

* Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is an educator. He is an organizer with the Campaign to End the Occupation of Haiti.



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Haiti membership in the UN needs to be reconsidered

Max A. Joseph


The UN is a by-product of a murderous war started by European powers vying for supremacy. It has become the epitome of what it was set up, in theory, to eradicate: the predatory behavior of powerful entities. Haitians should now review their membership.

Haiti is at an “important juncture” in the consolidation of stability and democracy, the UN Security Council has decided. On Oct. 14, the self-styled Lord Protector of all living species extended the mandate of the Minustah (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) for another year; although by the Council’s own standard, democracy is to be cherished and defended, not practiced.

Resolution 2180, adopted without the input of representatives of Haiti’s civil societies, the government or the opposition, was a mere formality. The whole session lasted only 25 minutes, even though the matter is of utmost importance to the millions of Haitians living under the decade-long U.N occupation. Shockingly, the mandate, unwarranted and illegal under the UN Charter, remains a non-issue within Haiti’s political establishment whose primary concern has always been self-preservation.

The renewal of the infamous mandate came days before the 208th anniversary of the shameless assassination of Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s founding father, by the same forces that aided and abetted the current occupation of the country. It is as if the shameful event of Oct. 17, 1806 is being repeated over and over to reinforce a point that the international community sees as having been lost on Haitians. It was not by happenstance that the occupation of Haiti, which has been in the offing since the 1960s, coincided with the bi-centennial of its rejection of slavery and white supremacy in 1804.

By virtue of its strategic location in the Caribbean Sea, exceptional origin, and wretched economic conditions, which earned it the unenviable status of “poorest country of the Western hemisphere; Haiti remains a major factor in the international arena, and will always be an object of desire, resentment and loathing. Aptly, Haiti’s weaknesses could be converted into strength, as 12 million impoverished Haitians cannot be made to disappear, nor the ecologically exhausted and overpopulated island towed to another location.

What the country presently needs is ingenious leaders that can take advantage of this delicate situation and make it work to the benefits of its people. Sadly, the political establishment, accustomed to being led and told what is best for Haiti, remains oblivious of this extraordinary game-changing option.

Notwithstanding the thousands of dead Haitians under the occupation, the implication being that ten years into “the mandate,” the political favors and billions promised in backroom deals among its architects and troop-contributing nations, the UN Security Council still considers Haitians a threat to world peace.

In light of this obviously racist and paternalistic decision and the noted indifference of the political establishment, has Haiti’s membership in the UN become a burden that Haitians can no longer afford? Because the cost-benefit analysis of being a member of the UN is disproportionate and detrimental for small countries like Haiti, the subject should be thoroughly debated and ultimately decided by a referendum.

A by-product of a murderous war started by European powers vying for supremacy, the UN has become the epitome of what it was set up, in theory, to eradicate: the predatory behavior of powerful entities which spanned the entire history of humanity. Hence any small country’s continued membership in such organization, whose scope and power surpass anything the world has ever seen or experienced, amounts to voluntary servitude. Must Haiti, a nation founded on the inspiring principle of “resistance to oppression,” abandon its raison d’être and comply with this unsettling geopolitical reality?

Because of the seemingly indispensable role of UN apparatus such as the IMF and the World Bank in the lives of the world’s inhabitants, extricating a nation from the grid is a daunting undertaking. Nevertheless, the law of unintended consequences makes it an achievable one, as the excesses of the UN Security Council continue to alienate everyone except its permanent members. Presently the organization credibility is at an all-time low; its Charter has lost much of its appeals, if not relevancy, and many nations would like nothing more than its dissolution as a vestige of an archaic geopolitical Order.

Nothing in the UN Charter prevents a member-state from leaving the organization specially if is done to accommodate the will of its people. Haiti preceded the UN by 141 years and, during that period, survived some of the worst punishments ever meted out to defenseless countries by predatory powers: i.e. economic embargoes, naval blockades, military invasions, fomented insurrections, cultural genocide, extortion, and imposition of foreign customs on its people. Hence the notion of the UN engaging in nation-building in Haiti is at best pretentious and illusionary. Most importantly, what else can the predatory powers/UNSC possibly do to Haiti that would be a worse alternative to the nightmare Haitians are actually experiencing?

As I reflect on the troop-contributing nations helping the UNSC in this unlawful endeavor, the words of an anti-Nazi clergyman, Martin Niemoller (1892-1984), came to mind.

“First they (the Nazis) came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

These gullible nations might be unaware of Niemoller quote, but they would one day come up with a similar conclusion.

* This article was previously published by [url=]]Haitian Times[/url].



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Indebted to death

Vanessa Burger


cc TG
Over 11 million South African citizens are currently in debt, due to the entrenchment of aggressive capitalist policies. Most debt experiences, such as the author’s, are extremely painful. It is time for the country to rise up against big banking and end the cycle of debt.

I will not bore you with the run-up to my financial demise, suffice to say, ordinary life circumstances brought me to the doors of the Blue Bank’s financial advice department in 2011, not a fleet of Lamborghinis or a taste for Johnny Walker Blue.

I was already over-indebted and struggling to meet monthly debt repayments yet had been faced with urgent surgery costs for my mother for the removal of an aggressive tumour. My mother, a state pensioner, could have undergone the operation for free at a public health facility, but we had been warned of a year long waiting period. Time was not on my mother’s side, I explained to the bank’s immaculately dressed financial consultant. Despite explaining my existing financial difficulties, the consultant shrugged elegantly, advised strongly against debt counseling, and prescribed a personal loan, failing which, she said, there was nothing more she could do. In the absence of other options, I took the loan.

A year later, conflict with my sociopathic employer and unbearable working conditions left me unemployed, burnt out, stressed out, unable to receive unemployment benefits and extremely ill. It took me five months to recover, during which time my debt ballooned and I fell into arrears on all my accounts.

I dutifully obtained further advice from the bank, sought a ‘holiday’ period on my home loan and applied for credit consolidation. My credit consolidation application was lost and the process dragged on for three months as opposed to the ten-day period listed in the bank’s glossy brochures. My debt blossomed further, fed by penalties on stop orders when the bank had failed to cancel several fraudulent transactions, choosing to reward their own criminality.

When, out of desperation, I eventually lodged a complaint, my credit consolidation application was miraculously processed – and immediately refused – within days of the expiry of my home loan repayment ‘holiday’ period. Unable to cope with the sustained telephone harassment of almost twenty calls per day from the bank’s numerous debt collection call centres, I voluntarily placed myself under debt review.

At the time, I was working on a freelance basis while applying for full time employment. The extortionist repayment terms, which the debt counselor suggested were suitably ‘attractive’ to ensure the bank’s acceptance, quickly liquidated most of my movable assets. On one meal a day, my mother and I grew to know hunger and electricity disconnections, the loss of dignity in being poor. We experienced what it is like to have to accept handouts, the stigma of being in debt, the logistical acrobatics one is forced to perform when one finds that even the simplest tasks such as providing the bank with an affidavit requires money.

We were slowly starving but hey, I was repaying the debt! Well, until a non-profit organization reneged on payment for work undertaken, and I spectacularly defaulted on the freshly granted debt rearrangement court order. In blind panic I sought the debt counselor’s advice. Nothing doing, I was told, ‘You’re now in contempt of court.’

I frantically applied to the bank for a repayment leniency period while I continued to seek employment. I tried to sell my house, not knowing where we could live without a fixed, or even liveable salary. My mother aged before my eyes. Never a good sleeper, I utilized my now chronic insomnia to undertake work I was unable to do during the day – days were spent at the bank, on the phone to the bank, writing letters to the bank, preparing documents for the bank, bank call centres, bank attorneys, bank Bank Bank BANK – my life revolved around the bank. I now fully appreciate how the desperation of hungry mouths can feed petty and ‘social’ crime such as sex work.

After two signed offers on my property expired and I was prevented from taking up employment in another city, I gave up the unequal struggle of trying to extract crucial advice regarding the sale of my home from the faceless, departmentally hydra-headed, call-centre-dominated juggernaut. During this time I had lost a considerable amount of money and productive time and if we were to survive at all, it became essential to focus on making a living.

I managed to negotiate minimum repayment terms with the bank’s attorneys on my unsecured credit accounts – all of which had, by then, been handed over. I began to obtain a little more work and our electricity and telephone was not cut off quite so regularly. I even managed to buy a little more food.

Although I was paying back every cent I could manage, my financial recovery, however, was not fast enough for the bank.

In true big banking-style disregard for the law, one day I found court papers balanced on my postbox, an application for the execution of sale on my property. Standard Bank had finally responded to my queries of a year previously regarding the sale of my house and decided they would now take it. I had received no prior notifications, no lawyers’ letters, no demands, no summons, no account statements, nothing whatsoever in writing as is required in terms of the Just Administration Act. I had not been provided the opportunity of attempting to negotiate repayment terms, had been denied any right to defend myself and had indeed been most fortunate to have discovered the court papers before they blew away and we were faced with sudden eviction. I also learned that a thirty-year judgement had been awarded against me some months previously – again without my knowledge. A judgement essentially precludes one from all financial transactions and one may not even enter into a cellphone contract or rental agreement.

The nightmare got worse. The case was for some incomprehensible reason in the Pietermaritzburg High Court so I had to find urgent funds for transport. I discovered I did not qualify for legal aid because, although I was earning less than half the qualifying threshold, my house was valued at more than the R350,000 property limit, irrespective of the fact that my debt far exceeded its value!

With a little third-hand legal advice, I represented myself in court and managed to get the case removed from the roll pending my negotiation of repayment terms with the bank’s attorneys, or if agreement could not be reached, my obtaining legal representation.

That was a over a month ago and the bank’s attorneys have, to date, consistently ignored all attempts to follow the High Court’s directive. This is another déjà vu big banking experience, as the law, consumer and constitutional rights and due process are usurped in favour of corporate greed. Although the original loan had been repaid five times over, loan extensions, a criminal compound interest rate and the bank’s failure to enable the sale of my property since last year had led to the accumulation of a further R100,000 debt in less than a year. As I have not received a bank statement in eighteen months, I will employ our president’s Nkandla logic – that I cannot repay an amount I am unaware of.

At the same time this horror story was unfolding, I was informed by another of the bank’s call-centre debt collector attorneys that the amount I was currently repaying on one of my accounts had been deemed insufficient and that I was to increase the amount by a minimum of 250 per cent or the bank would seek to attach my movable assets.

Needless to say, addressing the latest economic implosion has again led to a loss of productivity and earning potential. Each struggling step forward through the morass of debt is accompanied by a rapid twenty-five backwards, as the bank’s unyielding bureaucratic supremacy and ‘ethic’ of greed pushes one further into the quagmire of total economic and personal devastation.

I cannot begin to fully describe the untold and apparently never-ending stress, indignity and misery that has, to date, been meted out by the Blue Bank. I will fight it to the bitter end because I literally have everything to lose. If the bank attaches my movable assets I will be prevented from working and unable to support myself and my mother. If the bank succeeds in its application for the execution of sale of my property, we will be evicted. The illegal judgement precludes my signing a rental, or any other financial agreement, even in the event that I could afford to pay rent. So I am fighting for my right not to be transformed from a productive human being into a life of vagrancy by a morally reprehensible, ethically bankrupt and deeply irrational financial system that has, from the outset, been designed and protected by the insatiable capitalist system for the benefit of a select few, while condemning millions to the misery of financial slavery and the trauma of economic violence.

With 11 million over-indebted South Africans, the numbers are in this instance very much on our side. Is it not time we fought for our economic freedom from this deeply corrupt system, nurtured by socially unjust, extractive, non-sustainable and economically harmful government policies, such as the National Development Plan and Operation Phakisa, by instituting some of the very same strategies we used during the fight against apartheid – the 1990s bond boycotts?

The simultaneous default of 11 million South Africans united in our rejection of a system that has proven to be nothing but usury would topple the power of parasitic financial institutions and ensure an end to the debt bondage from which, for many, death will bring our only escape.

* Vanessa Burger is a Dennis Brutus Community Scholar at the Centre for Civil Society based at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, a provincial member of the Democratic Left Front and Right2Know Campaign and works closely with organisations such as the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, uBunye Bamahostel, the Poor Flat Dwellers Movement and the KZN Violence Monitor.

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The meaning of protest art to society

Karest Lewela and Humphrey Sipalla


cc K24
Protest art may not necessarily spur revolutions, but as a change agent its immense value lies in speaking truth to power. It is also educational, cathartic and empowering in situations of injustice.

Protest art exists across all the genres of art. In visual and audio arts, from stand-up comedy to paintings and rap music, protest art is unified by its socially conscious message and bold challenges to injustice and malgovernance. For African musicians, cartoonists, comedians, novelists and playwrights, there is hardly a lack of material to comment on. From Ivorian reggae artist Alpha Blondy through the apartheid struggle songs to young Kenyan rap artists like Juliani, satirical cartoonists like South African Zapiro and Tanzanian Gado – as they are publicly known, from Ferdinand Oyono’s ‘Old man and the medal’ to recent musings in the literary journal, Kwani?, art never fails to protest at the injustice and malgovernance that pervades Africa’s recent history. Yet for all this eloquent recording of the struggles and protestations of African folk, there is very little of tangible social change to celebrate.

Back in 1986, Ugandan writer Okot p’Bitek argued that the place of art in society is not one to be gainsaid. In Artist the Ruler, p’Bitek asserted that through their craft, artists promulgate laws and order society. In their descriptive – what society is – and prescriptive – what society should be – art, artists hold the power to craft society. A significant part of this power lies in the classic nature of their musings. For instance, British singer Sting’s 1985 song ‘Russians’ is true today for a number of international concerns: North-South Korea, US-Russia over Ukraine, Israel-Iran.

In a world that insists on empirical returns ad infinitum for all consumption: quarterly profits, GDP growth and so on, it is very tempting to defend the dismissal of the value of art and its protest variant by a rejoinder showing empirical results. Such a temptation confronted us at a conference at the University of Pretoria on multi-disciplinary approaches to international human rights law, when, over a cup of coffee an eminent scholar in the field, wondered aloud why any value should be attached to what his son called “pub talk”, that is, the less than analytical rumblings of ordinary folk in various stages of sobriety. We were presenting a paper on human rights and law enforcement in Kenyan popular art whose main thesis was that the human rights situation in any society can be reliably gauged not by its constitutional and statutory provisions or international treaties ratified – as state reports to international treaty bodies recount ad nauseam – but through a survey of its popular art, audio and visual, from hardcore rap to comedy.

Protest art is not good at tangible results. Even when empiricism can be shown, as in Bob Marley’s One Love Peace Concert in April 1978 that brought together warring Jamaican political parties, such results are ephemeral. But protest art does have returns, and invaluable ones at that, if only we resist the temptation of empiricism. One key function of art is educational, and just like education, health, security and other social goods, its value to society cannot always be judged by returns per capita. In such matters, the principle of synergy best describes value. The whole is greater than the sum of the constituent parts.

Protest art keeps the discussions termed subversive or seditious alive during the times when state suppression is at its highest. In such times, protest art is forced to use allegory and caricature, like the precious Kenyan weekly column in the 1990s of the late Wahome ‘Whispers’ Mutahi or Tanzanian Shabaan Robert’s Kusadikika novel, British George Orwell’s Animal Farm; or to the periphery of public discourses like the very irreverent beer-drinking parodies that took a poke at the personality cult of former Kenyan President Moi. At such times, the centre of public discourse is inundated with politically correct praise songs – many of which were the subject of the irreverent parodies mentioned above, innocuous dramas on any other social matter other than malgovernance and injustice, like ‘Plot 10’ and ‘Vitimbi’ in Kenya and state broadcaster produced reportages showing ‘development efforts’ that were as entertaining and informative as Vogon poetry (A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

When protest art begins to move towards the centre, it signals the opening up of democratic space, a phenomenon we saw in Kenya with comedies like ‘Redikyulass’, which, in our view, did more than any political rally or constitutional review process, to demystify the edifice of Moi’s personality cult, paving the way to Kenyan society’s imagination that change could truly come.

The problem with evaluating protest art’s meaningfulness lies in no small measure to the matters it treats. It is not only speaking truth to power but speaking of matters that themselves have no easy solutions. Kalamashaka’s Mungu wangu niokoe, Mashifta’s Majambazi or recently Juliani and Sarabi Band’s Sheria treat social ills so entrenched and injustices so close to the powers-that-be that their solutions cannot be expected in a couple of election cycles. It is nevertheless great to see younger artists like Juliani take on the speech that need be said. He, like Isaac Newton, stands on the shoulders of giants.

How can protest art as a change agent account for the apathy Kenyan society, for instance, finds itself in? Although legally more empowered than ever, we find injustices and malgovernance cohabiting quite comfortably at the centre of public discourse with free speech enjoying protest art. True, every so often, there is a backlash, such as the one experienced by South African satirical cartoonist Zapiro, but cohabiting is the norm. Such cohabiting is insidious as it gives the impression that protest art has lost its sting or worse, that injustice has reverse engineered an anti-venom from that very sting. The answer may lie in the words of former Kenyan anti-corruption czar, John Githongo: corruption fights back. Injustice and malgovernance and the powers that perpetrate these can and have changed tact. They now give slick speeches, attend court sessions and obey some rulings, but employ the same beguiling behaviour of utopian promises and burying substance in procedure.

Protest art, however, need not change tact. Its value as a change agent lies not in spurring revolutions, for nothing could be as disastrous as rapid uncontrolled change – and Egypt and Libya stand testament to this. Value is to be found rather, first in recording injustices and malgovernance for posterity. The wheels of justice turn slowly after all. Protest art precedes human rights monitoring, which in the words of former UN Special Rapporteur on ExtraJudicial Executions Prof. Philip Aston, is “not required to demonstrate guilt as a prosecutor must, or judge as a court would. But that does not mean that their contents can be ignored…” In other words, protest art raises suspicion and human rights monitoring establishes ‘reasons to believe’ for the relevant state organs to investigate, prosecute and judge.

Protest art is also cathartic and empowering. The power to name that which oppresses you is central to justice seeking. It gives back the dignity that injustice strips away from a victim’s humanity. It is not only in exorcisms and trauma counseling where this method is useful. Truth commissions from Peru through South Africa to Kenya bear witness to this fact. At the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, allowing the victim to speak from the heart to the court and not just as material witnesses recounting facts for lawyers, is an indispensable and the most powerful part of its hearings. It is for this reason that suspicions are heightened when a seemingly law-abiding government seeks to gag the media or raise obstacles to speech that is neither hate inciting nor child pornography.

But true to its educational function, protest art finds its greatest value as change agent in opening closed minds and awakening dormant ones. We remember quite vividly (we were in high school then in 1998) our thoughts and emotions when we first heard Kalamashaka’s Mungu wangu niokoe on radio or when we, each Sunday, waited impatiently for the next episode of Redikyulass. We could scarcely believe our ears. In fact, even now, we can scarcely believe the accompanying video in Jliani’s Sheria to the lines “machozi ya perpetrator inaeza dilute damu ya victim ilimwagika?(the tears of the perpetrator can dilute the blood of victims; did it even pour?)” And we still cannot get enough laughter from the piercing truth in Eric Omondi’s parodies Ocampo and Mapenzi ya kura and XYZShow’s political hits.

In a time when mass detentions are done, despite the entrenchment of the rights to fair trial and habeas corpus and the prohibition of inhumane treatment as non-derogable rights in the Kenyan Constitution, not in remote airfields but in the nation’s flagship stadium, the value of protest art to speak that which cannot be easily spoken cannot be gainsaid.
Maybe we are closer than we think to a time when protest art and its creators are once again driven from the centre into the periphery of seedy bars and seemingly harmless allegories. When that dark day comes, we can always rely on protest art to keep up non violent non-confrontational dissent.

* Karest Lewela and Humphrey Sipalla are authors of “Policed perceptions, masked realities: Using popular art to uncover and monitor human rights violations by the police in Kenya” published in Beyond the Law: Multi-disciplinary Perspectives on Human Rights (Pretoria University Law Press, 2012)



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Ebola’s villain and victim

Amira Ali


cc Harrison McClary/Reuters
Varying Western mainstream media styles of reporting on Ebola confirm how narratives are spaces of domination. The African Ebola patient is classically “othered” and portrayed as a villain and perpetrator, while the American Ebola patient is depicted as a victim.

Currently, narrating human tragedy may sound more like fiction, and perhaps fiction may have more humanity.

Whilst sensationalizing headlines regarding all things related to African tragedy is a common place for western mainstream media, the news coverage on the current “war on Ebola” is pervasively flooding. Much like scenes from a chilling movie with endless fear-inducing images of workers in hazmat costumes, reinforced with invasive stigmatizing, reductive images, and unclear language of medical folklore, the purpose seems to confuse and mount public anxiety.

More often than not, with the ubiquity of whiteness narrating Africa – popular imagination inherited during the colonial era of mass idea dissemination – while tramping local (African) agents, pervasively, we see the dissemination of a “single story”. By and large, in the dangerously monotone styled narration the villain is usually the African and the hero looks much like the western narrator; and such has been the dominant trajectory of white-scripted history.

Yes, the Ebola hemorrhagic fever is ravaging West Africa, and yes some have said it is spiraling out of control, undermining the social structures and exposing weak public institutions. Having said that, we are reminded by Mandisi Majavu that “the poor health situation in Africa exists largely due to colonialism, imperialism and global inequality”; underpinned by what Frantz Fanon calls “the contingencies -the discursive practices carried on from colonial times, economic drives, and institutional configurations.” And further weakening structures, catastrophes such as epidemics have been said, get managed out of “playbooks”; seemingly formulated by design to destroy and dismantle local structures. Hence, the reported mistrust in some West African countries concerning the spread of the Ebola disease is of no surprise, and is perhaps with merit.


Varying American mainstream media styles of reporting on Ebola confirm how narratives are spaces of domination. As scenarios and stories of the arrival of the virus from Africa into the U.S. rapidly varies, the inundation of sensationalized features that objectify the African body, much for the benefit of western readers, is consistently troublesome but not surprising. Bleakly evident is how human beings are portrayed; for some of us, the language of the inhumane voice and the circulating reductive images are more than uncomfortable; they’re mutilating. Emphasizing “the prevailing narrative that black Africans living in western countries are the diseased ‘other’ who pose a threat to the health of whites”, while the local African population is portrayed as unqualified and in dire need of being saved by the west.

Further, the current discourse around the outbreak, beyond medical racism, the politicized and racialized delivery –what Teju Cole calls “the Fox News of explosive incontinence”, attempts to remind us of how “the scourge of anti-Blackness is savage, deadly, and global”. As it purports to be concerned about health but lacking genuineness, western mainstream media has not been short on reporting the African story nevertheless failing to visualize beyond the historico-racial schema that is deep-rooted in social consciousness. And as Narcisse Jean Alcide Nana states, “Major clichés and few strong allegories conjure up the spasms of this ongoing malaise to the point of oversimplifying the field of African security.”

cc DCH

New York Fashion Week models show off Chanel’s new contamination prevention Ready-to-wear collection in preparation for the Ebola apocalypse. Image obtained here


Telling of a common representational style, the African Ebola patient is classically “othered” and portrayed as a villain and perpetrator, while the American Ebola patient is depicted as a victim.

Not short on stigmatizing – treating Africa as dirty and disease infested, rather disturbingly, Newsweek’s August 2014 magazine cover features an image of a chimpanzee with the words, A Back Door for Ebola: Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark a U.S. Epidemic. Overall, as the ignorant and racialized message behind the image is a common place for western media, the meaning behind the illustration is saturated with a historically pathological and racial depiction whereas the story illuminates incompetent and immoral journalistic performance.

While such and other sources fuel panic and racist reactions in and beyond the American borders, as authored in the Washington Post by Ishmael Bah, we have been made aware of how “in Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “’we apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment’”.

And yet again, on October 5, 2014, the New York Times in an article titled Ebola Victim’s Journey From Liberian War to ‘Fight for Life in U.S’, a peculiar feature regarding Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who while visiting the U.S. was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas, the article written prior to his fatality attempts to sell, on and after the heading, a story that’s more than Ebola –underscoring the U.S. as “the savior of life”. But beyond the health status and concern of the patient, from a title that sets the tone and a story that reflects on its premise, in a disturbing and intrusive approach, senselessly, delves into the private history of the patient also weaving in the story of his child’s mother. Sensationalizing the story further, it reports irrelevant accounts such as describing the interior of the apartment – living space furnishings, types of furniture, color of floor, etc. – where Duncan was staying during his visit in the U.S. Additionally, as it further disregards the patient’s privacy, it publicizes a full graphic of the apartment layout.

Meanwhile, there have been articles written about American Ebola patients featured in a brief and humane tone, adhering to respect and safeguard of the patients’ privacy. On October 6, 2014, CNN, in an article titled Who are the American Ebola patients, the feature lists the American patient’s name; age; organization he/she works for; where he/she was infected, and the current health status of the patient. And in fact, on September 9, 2014, when Fox News reported the arrival of another American Ebola patient, it announced how based on Emory University Hospital “the identity and status remains confidential”.

All in all, selling the rare and exotic disease story of Africa with sensationalized stories that inspire headlines like “The ISIS of Biological Agents” and “Why Obama is allowing Ebolaphobia to spread” by media houses like Fox News and CNN has been bellyful. All while, sounding geographically unknowledgeable, on September 9, 2014, Fox News had a difficult time making the distinction between Liberia and Nigeria.

cc CNN

With no concern to western mainstream media of being informed, geographically speaking or with reference to other facts, rather, capitalizing on mounting fear and anxiety Ebola is portrayed as the disease of the diseased black man and a burden for the rest. Meanwhile, the American patients are represented in a rather “white-savior industrial complex” manner; as Aid workers or volunteers who’ve journeyed to Liberia to save lives and now implicated, all while they were doing-good and offering charitable service. Telling their story in a sentimental tone, as victims of the “African” malady.

Characteristically, the indicated written accounts and others not mentioned further highlight how narratives are spaces for dominant groups to take on the role of defining the out-group’s identity. And far from educating the public and taking responsible media action on the outbreak that is projected to infect “more than 1.4 million persons in the next few weeks”, it has taken the opportunity to drive fear. Insisting on coverage that speaks to the militarization of West African epicenters of Ebola and all else that incites panic, while as stated by Horace Campbell “placing no attention on measures for public education,” with no sight to foster and address the overwhelming need “to diminish the racialization of Ebola to clarify that the first recognized outbreak took place not in Africa, but in Marburg Germany, hence the name given to Ebola as Marburg Virus”.


Having said all of that, beyond western stigmatization and military intervention, in the end, what we [Africans and friends of Africa] prominently ought to demand and what will matter the most is how to contain this lethal virus and how Africans can be mobilized to save their own. Pointing towards how the most effective action and solution has to be within, from a type of African leadership that values the lives of its citizens and takes appropriate measures to respond; to educate and mobilize.

Significantly, as stated by Horace Campbell, “The very same institutions and organizations that have been at the forefront of bioeconomic warfare in Africa cannot lead the mobilization against Ebola,” and furthermore, “ECOWAS has been able in the past to intervene in Liberia and Sierra Leone to bring peace. Collectively, ECOWAS and the AU possess the technical and medical capabilities to be more vigorous in response to Ebola. There is the mistaken perception abroad that Africa does not have the medical personnel to fight this epidemic. However, the ability to mobilize the resources in Africa for a more robust response depends on political will.”



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Ebola in Africa: A product of history, not a natural phenomenon

August H. Nimtz


cc CBC
There is nothing inevitable about the Ebola epidemic now devastating parts of Africa. Like other disasters, it too is the product of history, of the decisions that governments have made in the past as well as the present.

Modern African history teaches, often tragically, the need to distinguish between what might be called natural phenomena from those that are essentially socio-economic-political. The droughts that ravaged many parts of the continent in the early 1970s were an example of the former. (I leave aside the issue of human actions and global warming.) As drought-stricken California presently shows, the famines and the tens of thousands of lives lost that came in their wake were not, however, inevitable. That horrific outcome was largely the product of the policies put in place by colonial governments and dutifully and sadly reproduced by post-colonial regimes.

The same lesson is being taught, again, tragically, by the continent’s latest scourge. Human pathogens have existed in Africa ever since our species began to evolve there and they too evolve, sometimes resulting in viruses like Ebola. But there’s nothing inevitable about the Ebola epidemic that’s still unfolding. Like famines, it too is the product of history, the decisions that governments have made in the past as well as the present. The relevant question is whose interests are prioritized in those choices? How a society responds to that most natural of processes, the evolution of human pathogens, testifies to the answers it gives to that question.

Colonial regimes, in place from about the last quarter of the nineteenth century to a decade or so after the Second World War, were, above all else, designed to extract Africa’s natural resources in the most lucrative way. Social services that might have benefited the colonial subjects, such as healthcare and education, were, to save costs, kept to a minimum—if that. This explains the profoundly undemocratic character of those regimes. The last thing the extractors wanted is for the subjects to have some say-so about how they were governed and, hence, how their natural resources should be utilized. These were the arrangements that post-colonial elites not only inherited and readily embraced but deepened to advance their own narrow class interests. In the case of Liberia, a semi-colony of the U.S.—nominally independent since 1847—its elite (the descendants of repatriated slaves from America) ensured that Firestone Rubber would reap enormous profits from its operations there. Thus, the outrageously ironic situation today where, in one of the world’s leading rubber producers, there are not enough rubber gloves to protect its citizens from the scourge.

In recent decades, in the name of fighting wasteful government spending and corruption, international lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund have demanded as a condition for getting new funding African governments must reduce their spending. African elites have willingly agreed to do so with resulting cuts in healthcare and education—helping to create the perfect storm for the Ebola virus.

Lest it be assumed that only poor or underdeveloped countries are afflicted with such tragic outcomes, consider what happened in the richest country in the world in 2005. In the wake of a natural phenomenon, Hurricane Katrina—global warming again notwithstanding—more than 1,600 people (and still counting for those of us intimately familiar with what happened) lost their lives in New Orleans and environs. Yet two months earlier a hurricane of greater intensity, Dennis, struck Cuba twice and only 15 of its citizens perished. Neither outcome was inevitable. The difference, rather, evidenced the deep going structural transformations in Cuban society after 1959—its revolution. For the first time in Cuba’s history, its toilers had a government that prioritized their interests and not those of a tiny elite. Their life chances, as measured by, for example, infant mortality rates, life expectancy, levels of education, dramatically improved, despite the fact that Cuba is still poor and underdeveloped. The starkly different aftermaths of the two hurricanes in both societies spoke volumes about what Cuba’s toilers had achieved and what their apparently better-off counterparts 400 miles to the north had not.

Neither is it a coincidence that Cuba has stepped forward, unlike any other country, to commit healthcare personnel to fight the Ebola scourge. Four hundred and sixty-one Cubans are either on their way or already in the affected areas. They were selected from 15,000 of their 11 million citizens who volunteered to go. That’s tellingly in contrast to, as of this week, the 2,700 U.S. citizens, out of a population of 316 million, who, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, have volunteered to do the same. For Cubans there is nothing unusual about what they are doing since four thousand of their healthcare workers already serve in 38 African countries and about 45,000 in 28 countries elsewhere. Thus, the political choices a society makes have consequences not only for the life chances of its own citizens but also for those of other countries. And therein is the most important lesson. Until the toilers not only in Africa but elsewhere have governments that serve their interests they risk being once again needless victims of natural phenomena.

* August H. Nimtz is a professor of political science and African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota.



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Comment & analysis

For a moment, world embraces the Cuba model – and slaps Empire

Glen Ford


Cuba’s exemplary conduct in the world has made the yearly UN vote on the U.S. embargo a singular opportunity for all the world body’s members, except Israel, to chastise the superpower that seeks full domination of the planet. It is the rarest of occasions, a time of virtual global unanimity on an evil in which the Empire is engaged.

Revolutionary Cuba has always been a miracle and gift to all humankind. This week, the nations of the world – with two savage exceptions – instructed their emissaries at the UN General Assembly to tell the world’s self-designated “indispensable” country to end its 54-year-long trade embargo against Cuba. The virtually unanimous global rebuke to the American superpower, in combination with the extraordinary breadth and depth of acclamation accorded Havana, tells us that it is Cuba, not the U.S., that is the truly “exceptional” nation on the planet.

It was the 23rd time that the United Nations has rejected the embargo. The outcome was identical to last year’s tally, with only the United States and Israel voting against the non-binding resolution. Although the list of American allies on the Cuban embargo issue could not possibly get any smaller – Israel, after all, can only exist if joined at the U.S. hip – this year’s political environment was even less deferential to the reigning military colossus. In recognition of its singular commitment to the fight against Ebola in Africa, Cuba soared, once again – the hero nation.

Despite having suffered cumulative economic damages of more than $1 trillion at U.S. hands over the last half-century, the island nation of 11 million people has made itself a medical superpower that shares its life-saving resources with the world. No country or combination of nations and NGOs comes close to the speed, size and quality of Cuba’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. With 461 doctors, nurses and other health professionals either already on site or soon to be sent to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Cuba sets the standard for international first-response. The Cuban contingent of medical professionals providing direct treatment to sick people outnumbers that of the African Union and all individual countries and private organizations, including the Red Cross. (Few of the 4,000 U.S. military personnel to be deployed in the region will ever lay a well-protected hand on an Ebola patient. Instead, the troops build field hospitals for others to staff.)

Doctors Without Borders is second to Cuba in terms of health professionals. But the French NGO is a swiftly revolving door, churning doctors and nurses in and out every six weeks because of the extreme work and safety conditions. Cuba’s health brigades are made of different stuff. Every volunteer is expected to remain on duty in the Ebola zone for six months. Moreover, if any of the Cubans contract Ebola or any other disease, they will be treated at the hospitals where they work, alongside their African patients, rather than sent home. (One Cuban died of cerebral malaria, in Guinea, last Sunday.)

It goes without saying that the Cubans are committed for the duration of the Ebola crisis; they have been at Africa’s service since the first years of the revolution. President Raul Castro reports that 76,000 Cuban medical specialists have served in 39 African countries over the years. Four thousand were stationed in 32 African countries when the current Ebola epidemic broke out. (Worldwide, Cuba’s “white-robed army” of care-givers numbers more than 50,000, in 66 countries – amid constant U.S. pressures on host countries to expel them.)

In sheer numbers, the Cuban medical posture in Africa is surpassed in scope only by the armed presence of AFRICOM, the U.S. military command, which has relationships with every country on the continent except Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Sudan. The governments of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone collaborate militarily with AFRICOM, but the heavily-armed Americans were of no use when Ebola hit. (According to a Liberian newspaper account, the Americans caused the epidemic, a widely held belief in the region.)

Indeed, the Euro-American legacy in Africa, from colonialism (Liberia has been a de facto colony of the U.S. since the days of President Monroe) to western-imposed financial “structural adjustments” that starved public health systems, is the root reason Liberia and Guinea have only one doctor for every 100,000 people, and Sierra Leone has just two.

Cuba knows colonialism well, having seen its independence struggle from Spain aborted by the United States in 1898, followed by six decades as a U.S. semi-colony. For Cuba, service to oppressed and exploited peoples is a revolutionary act of the highest moral caliber. That’s why, when the call went out, 15,000 Cubans competed for the honor to battle Ebola in Africa. As reported in The Guardian, doctors like Leonardo Fernandez were eager to fulfill their moral and professional mission. “We know that we are fighting against something that we don’t totally understand,” he said. “We know what can happen. We know we’re going to a hostile environment. But it is our duty. That’s how we’ve been educated.”

In the same way and for the same reasons, 425,000 Cubans volunteered for military service in Angola, from 1975 to 1991, leaving only after Angola was secure, Namibia had held its first free elections and South Africa was firmly on the road to majority rule. These Cubans were preceded by the doctor and soldier Che Guevara and 100 other fighters who journeyed to Congo in 1965 to join an unsuccessful guerilla war against the American-backed Mobutu regime.
“In sheer numbers, the Cuban medical posture in Africa is surpassed in scope only by the armed presence of AFRICOM, the U.S. military command.”

Cuba has been selfless in defense of others, whether against marauding microbes or imperial aggression. “We never took any natural resources,” said Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez, Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations and a veteran of the war against white-ruled South Africa’s army in Angola. “We never took any salary, because in no way were we to be perceived to be mercenaries or on any kind of military adventure.”

For the United States, military adventure and the imperative to seize other countries’ natural resources or strangle their economies, are defining national characteristics – in complete contrast to Cuba. The U.S. embargo of its island neighbor is among the world’s longest-running morality plays, with Washington as villain. On this issue, the world’s biggest economic and military power could neither buy nor bully a single ally other than the Zionist state deformity.

Even Djibouti, the wedge of a nation between Eritrea and Somalia that hosts the biggest U.S. (and French) military base in Africa, spoke against the embargo on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Lithuania, a rabidly anti-Russian Baltic state, voiced the European Union’s objections to the embargo. Ethiopia, Washington’s henchman in the Horn of Africa, nevertheless opposed U.S. policy toward Cuba on behalf of the UN’s “Africa Group.” Tiny Fiji articulated the Group of 77 and China’s opposition to the trade blockade. Venezuela, Cuba’s major health partner in Latin America, voiced the anti-embargo position of Mercosur, the Common Market of the South.

Cuba’s neighbors in CARICOM, the Caribbean Economic Community, were represented by Saint Kitts and Nevis, whose ambassador pointed to Cuban-built hospitals and clinics throughout the region; the hundreds of Cuban doctors that have provided the only medical services available to many of Haiti’s poor before, during and after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010; and the thousands of Caribbean students that have benefited from free university education in Cuba.

Cuba’s exemplary conduct in the world has made the yearly UN vote on the U.S. embargo a singular opportunity for all the world body’s members, except one, to chastise the superpower that seeks full spectrum domination of the planet. It is the rarest of occasions, a time of virtual global unanimity on an evil in which the Empire is currently engaged. Once a year, the world – in both effect and intent – salutes the Cuban model. For a moment, humanity’s potential to organize itself for the common good illuminates the global forum.

This year, the model glows brightly in the darkness of microbial pestilence. When 15,000 Cuban health care workers do not hesitate to step into the Ebola pit, the New Man and Woman may already exist – and there is hope for the rest of us.

* Glen Ford is executive editor of [url= Agenda Report[/url], where this article was previously published.



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The great Ethiopian famine of 1984 remembered

There is famine in Ethiopia in 2014, but it is known by other fancy names

Alemayehu G. Mariam


With the connivance of the ‘international community’ and a phalanx of aid people, successive Ethiopian regimes have succeeded to hide the reality of famine facing millions of its people every year. The regimes have also prevented critical interrogation of the political dimensions of these recurrent food crises.

Famine in Ethiopia is a topic that horrifies me. Over the years, I have written long commentaries on the subject often challenging with incontrovertible facts the fabricated and false claims of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front and its late leader Meles Zenawi that there has been no famine in Ethiopia since they took power in 1991. Of course, there has been famine in Ethiopia every year since 1991. They just don’t call famine, famine. They have fancy names for it like “extreme malnutrition”, “severe under-nutrition”, “extreme food shortage”, “catastrophic food shortages” and other clever misnomers. However, famine in Ethiopia sugarcoated with fancy words and phrases is still famine!

Food is the quintessential human right. All human beings have a God-given right to food. Without food and water there is no life; and those who control food and water control life itself. The problem in Ethiopia for over one-half century has been that the governments and regimes in power who controlled the supply of food have pleaded congenital ignorance when it comes to famine. H.I.M. Haile Selassie said he did not know there was famine in northern Ethiopia in 1973-74. In 1984-85, military strongman Mengistu Hailemariam said exactly the same thing. “Yo no sabía…” Meles Zenawi in 2008 said, “We did not know there was famine in Southern Ethiopia until emaciated children began to appear.” Oh! The curse of know nothing and do nothing governments and regimes in Ethiopia!

Since I joined the human rights struggle in Ethiopia after the 2005 election after the late Meles Zenawi ordered the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters, I have used my pen (keyboard) to hold Meles and his Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) disciples accountable if not before a court of international law, at least before the court of international public opinion. Their ongoing depraved indifference to millions of Ethiopians facing famine year after year is a testament to their continuing and monumental crimes against humanity.

In his first press conference in Addis Ababa after Meles and his gang seized power, Meles declared that the litmus test for the success of his regime should be whether Ethiopians were able to eat three meals a day. (See video here.) Two decades later in 2011, Meles pompously declared, “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.”

“Three meals a day” in 2014 Ethiopia is pie in the sky for the vast majority of Ethiopians. There is no chance that Ethiopia will feed itself “without the need for massive food aid” by 2015, which is two months from now. In fact, Ethiopia today is 123 out of 125 worst fed countries in the world. According to a 2014 Oxfam report, “while the Netherlands ranks number one in the world for having the most plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable diet, Chad is last on 125th behind Ethiopia and Angola.”

For years, the TPLF leaders have been promising to end “food shortages caused by drought” in a very short time. In 2009, Simon Mechale, head of the country's “Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency”, proudly declared: “Ethiopia will soon fully ensure its food security.” Meles’ “plan to produce surplus” was by “leasing” out millions of hectares of the country’s prime agricultural land to so-called international investors (land grabbers) whose only aim is to raise crops for export. Ethiopia will produce food to feed other nations while Ethiopians starve. Meles and his TPLF gang have adamantly opposed private ownership of land, which by all expert accounts is the single most important factor in ensuring food security in any nation. In 2010, food inflation in Ethiopia remained at 47.4 percent.

The TPLF and the international poverty pimps that coddle and protect the TPLF would like the world to believe in a rosy fairy tale about “double-digit economic growth”, “construction of massive infrastructure” and “leadership in the fight against terrorism”. They will never talk about the famine that has stalked Ethiopia for decades now. Those poverty pimps are so clever that they have invented a whole set of words and phrases not to call famine, famine. The word “famine” is banned from their official reports. It has been replaced by such phrases as “severe malnutrition”, “food deficit”, “acute food insecurity”, “extreme food consumption gaps” and many others deceptive euphemisms.

In its August 15, 2014 report USAID wants us to believe that the thing that walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck is NOT a duck. USAID says, “Despite a fast-growing economy… Ethiopia… experiences high levels of both chronic and acute food insecurity, particularly among rural populations and smallholder farmers. Approximately 44% percent of children under 5 years of age in Ethiopia are severely chronically malnourished, or stunted. The long-term effects of chronic malnutrition are estimated to cost the Government of Ethiopia approximately 16.5 percent of its GDP every year according to the UN World Food Program (WFP).”

What does this bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo actually mean? Many in rural areas are facing famine-like conditions? Babies, toddlers and small children are starving? It makes me sick to my stomach! USAID and the rest of international poverty pimp network members think we are too dumb and too stupid not to see their stupid word and phrase games about famine in Ethiopia. They should know that we are not as dumb as we look. (Are we!?!? Just wondering.) “That which we call a rose, any other name would smell as sweet”, but USAID and the rest of the international poverty pimps should know that they cannot sugarcoat famine in Ethiopia by calling it “extreme malnutrition” and expect to fool anybody.


For me the best way to remember the Great 1984 Ethiopian Famine today is by remembering the hidden Ethiopian famine of Ethiopia in 2014. In October 1984, the BBC released a documentary on the “Ethiopian famine that shocked the world.” Describing that famine as “shocking” is a gross understatement of the reality. It was disgraceful, dreadful, ghastly, sickening, monstrous, scandalous and unspeakably horrifying. BBC reporter Michael Buerk described it as a “biblical famine”. His documentary today is considered as “one of the most famous television reports of the late 20th Century.” Watching the video of that famine is psychologically devastating today as it was 30 years ago when it happened.

An estimated one-half million people in northern Ethiopia died as a result of the 1984 famine. Some 600 thousand people were forcibly transported by military truck from their home villages and farms to various regions in the southern part of the country. Tens of thousands of peasants died in the transportation process and at the various settlement camps. The military Derg regime also used the opportunity to depopulate certain areas considered sympathetic to rebels by creating a “villagization” program. The outcome of the Derg’s response to that famine was an unmitigated disaster.

In 1987, Time Magazine wrote about famine in Ethiopia that year questioning what was really going on in Ethiopia. “Three years ago [1984], a famine began to strike Ethiopia with apocalyptic force. Westerners watched in horror as the images of death filled their TV screens: the rows of fly-haunted corpses, the skeletal orphans crouched in pain… Today Ethiopia is in the midst of another drought… Ethiopia, which has earned the unhappy honor of being rated the globe's poorest country by the World Bank… is on the brink of disaster again. At least 6 million of its 46 million people face starvation, and only a relief effort on the scale of the one launched three years ago will save them… As the cry [for aid] goes out once more for food and money, the sympathetic cannot be faulted for wondering why this is happening all over again. Is the latest famine wholly the result of cruel nature, or are other, man-made forces at work that worsen the catastrophe?”


For years, Meles and his TPLF disciples have been advertising their “Productive Safety Net Programme” (driven by foreign aid in the form of budget support supposedly) as the silver bullet against famine. That program presumably “prevents asset depletion at the household level and creates productive assets at the community level accelerating the end of the cycle of dependence on food aid”.

In October 2011, Meles told his party faithful: “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.” His “plan to produce surplus” was to be implemented by “leasing” out millions of hectares of the country’s prime agricultural land to so-called international investors (land grabbers) whose only aim is to raise crops to feed people in India and the Middle East. So much for the TPLF's hype of "ending the cycle of dependence on food aid."

The facts speak for themselves. According to the World Food Programme report (WFP) (the branch of the United Nations and the world's largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security), in 2014, 2.7 million Ethiopians need food assistance and that WFP plans to assist nearly 6.5 million vulnerable Ethiopians with food and special nutritional assistance, including school children, farmers, people living with HIV/AIDS, mothers and infants, refugees and others. In 2012, there were 3.76 million people in need of emergency food aid; in 2011, the number was 4.5 million; 5 million in 2010 and 2009 and 6 million in 2008. According to a 2013 U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report, “34 million Ethiopians--40 percent of the population--are considered chronically hungry.” To be “chronically hungry” means to go without food for a very long time. Isn’t that what we used to call starvation and famine in 1984?


In honor and remembrance of the victims of the Great Ethiopian Famine of 1984 and those who died needlessly since then, I review a few of the many commentaries I have written over the years on hunger, starvation and famine in Ethiopia. I do so not to self-congratulate or to seek recognition for my miniscule efforts to raise public awareness. I do it for the same reason I do all of my human rights advocacy: To speak truth to power and abusers of power.

For years, I have relentlessly criticized the late Meles Zenawi and his TPLF regime for their depraved indifference to the issue of famine and starvation in Ethiopia. In 2008, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The art of denial (lying)”. I argued that Meles and his TPLF crew deserve credit for perfecting the art of denial (lying) just like the smooth career criminals who deny everything when caught. When Meles was confronted by the facts of famine in Ethiopia, his response was, “What famine?” In an interview with Time Magazin on August 7, 2008, Meles flatly denied the existence of famine in Ethiopia: “Famine has wreaked havoc in Ethiopia for so long, it would be stupid not to be sensitive to the risk of such things occurring. But there has not been a famine on our watch -- emergencies, but no famines." (“Stupid is as stupid does,” said Forrest Gump, the character in the movie by the same name.)

Meles’ deputy, Addisu Legesse, following his boss groused, “Institutions that exaggerate the food shortage in Ethiopia and report inflated figures of the needy are intent on belittling the economic growth of the country and calculating their interests.” Mitiku Kassa, Meles’ “Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development” was equally adamant: “In the Ethiopian context, there is no hunger, no famine... It is baseless [to claim famine], it is contrary to the situation on the ground. It is not evidence-based.”

In An interview with journalist Peter Gill on August 22, 2012, Meles said he was clueless of the famine engulfing Southern Ethiopia. “That was a failure on our part. We were late in recognising we had an emergency on our hands. We did not know that a crisis was brewing in these specific areas until emaciated children began to appear.” For Meles, the proof of famine is “emaciated children”. Everything else is at worst an “emergency”. All of the talk of famine is merely a figment of the overactive imagination of the foreign media and humanitarian organizations.

In November 2009, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Famine and the Noisome Beast in Ethiopia”. I wondered out loud how successive Ethiopian governments and regimes over the past one-half century could blame famine on “acts of God.” The TPLF regime even today blames “poor and erratic rains,” “drought conditions,” “deforestation and soil erosion,” “overgrazing,” and other “natural factors” for “severe malnutrition” and “chronic food shortages” in Ethiopia. They shrug their soulders and say, "It ain't us. It's God who did it! He forgot to send the rains."

In April 2010, in my commentary, “The ‘Silently’ Creeping Famine in Ethiopia”, I vehemently protested the dishonesty of the international organizations, bureaucrats and officials who use euphemisms to hide the ugly truth about famines and mass-scale hunger in Ethiopia. I accused the heartless international poverty pimps of inventing a lexicon of mumbo-jumbo words and phrases to conceal the public fact that large numbers of people in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa are dying simply because they have nothing or very little food to eat. The international poverty pimps cannot hide the truth about famine by talking nonsense about “food insecurity”, “food scarcity”, “food insufficiency”, “food deprivation”, “severe food shortages”, “chronic dietary deficiency”, “endemic malnutrition” and so on just to avoid using the “F”amine word. They got to call a spade, a spade!

FEWSNET (Famine Early Warning Systems Network”, a creation of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), has invented a ridiculous taxonomy to describe hungry people in places like Ethiopia. According to FEWSNET, when it comes to food, there are people who are generally food secure, moderately food insecure, highly food insecure, extremely food insecure and those facing famine. Translated into ordinary English and applied to countries like Ethiopia, these nonsensical categories seem to equate those who eat once a day as generally food secure, followed by the moderately food secure who eat one meal every other day. The highly food insecure eat once every three days. The extremely food insecure eat once a week. Those who never eat face famine and die! The kind of madness that masquerades as “science”!

In March 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Moral Hazard of U.S. Policy in Africa” arguing that the TPLF regime is so heavily dependent on the safety net of foreign aid, massive infusion of multilateral loans and a perpetual supply of humanitarian assistance that were it left to its own devices it will likely behave very differently (more responsibly). Why shouldn’t the donors and loaners leave the TPLF to deal with the consequences of its mismanagement of the economy and debilitating corruption? The fact of the matter is that for over two decades, the TPLF regime has gone out into the international community with bowls begging for food to feed millions of Ethiopians without being held accountable by the donors and loaners. As a result, the regime has been completely indifferent to the plight of the people.

In July 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Apocalypse Now or in 40 Years?” I was and still am concerned whether there will be an “Ethiopia” in 2050. I argued that whether Ethiopia survives as a viable nation in 2050 free of war, disease, pestilence and famine will not depend on an imaginary “double-digit” economic growth or a ludicrous 99.6 percent election victory. It will depend on what is done to deal with the little big 3 percent problem. In other words, overpopulation poses the single most critical problem and decisive issue in Ethiopia today and the years to come.

In 2011, U.S. Census Bureau made the frightening prediction that Ethiopia's population by 2050 will more than triple to 278 million. Ethiopia’s chronic “food insecurity” is expected to get increasingly worse culminating in a “Malthusian catastrophe” (where disease, starvation, war, etc. will reduce the population to the level of food production). The TPLF has failed to implement a national family planning program which will avert such a catastrophe. The bottom line is that Ethiopia’s population is growing by 3 percent every year. If Ethiopia cannot adequately feed, clothe and shelter 90 million of its people today, is there any way in God’s green earth that she will be able to feed 278 million in just 35 years?

In my August 8, 2011, commentary entitled, “Meles Zenawi and the Weaponization of Famine”, I argued that Meles and his TPLF gang were insidiously manipulating famine as a political and military weapon to cling to power. I argued that famine is not just about images of skeletal children gasping for their last breath of air as their mothers gaze into nothingness in the sun baked landscape. Famine is also a military and political weapon. Meles and his TPLF have used denial of food aid to “rebel areas” in the south/southeast as did Mengistu to “rebel areas” in the north back in his day. That is the classic strategic lesson Meles learned from Mengistu. Famine can be used both as a tactical and strategic weapon against one’s opponents.

My August 15, 2011, commentary entitled, “Starve the Beast, Feed the People!” was a call to action. I urged Ethiopians to stand up to the Western donors and loaners who continue to support the criminal regime of Meles Zenawi and the TPLF in Ethiopia and declare, “Starve the TPLF Beast, Feed the People!” No more aid to a regime that clings to power by digging its fingers into the ribs of starving children. No more aid to torturers and human rights violators. No aid to election thieves. No aid to those who roll out a feast to feed their supporters and watch their opponents starve to death. Let’s shout in a collective voice to the West -- America, England, Germany, the European Union, the IMF, World Bank and the rest of them—“Starve the bloated TPLF-beast that is feeding on the Ethiopian body politics, and help feed the starving people."

In my August 22, 2011, commentary entitled, “Why are Ethiopians Starving Again in 2011?”, I gave ten reasons why Ethiopians are still starving in 2011, (and in 2014 as well): 1) Famine is not merely a humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia; it is a powerful political and military weapon. 2) Famine is a recurrent fact in Ethiopia because that country has been in an endless cycle of dictatorship for decades. 3) Famine in Ethiopia is an annual crisis because the TPLF dictators do not give a damn if the people die one by one or by the millions. 4) Famine is a structural part of the Ethiopian economy because the “government” owns all the land. 5) Famine persists in Ethiopia because massive human rights abuses persist. 6) Famine persists in Ethiopia because Meles Zenawi’s TPLF regime has succeeded in keeping the famine hidden. 7) Famine persists in Ethiopia because there is a “conspiracy of silence” or a “conspiracy of turn a blind eye”by Western aid agencies, timid NGOs and a mindless international press. 8) Famine persists in Ethiopia because the regime in power for over two decades has failed to devise and implement an effective family planning policy. 9) Famine in Ethiopia is good business for the TPLF. 10) It is true “a hungry man/woman is an angry man/woman.”

In my August 29, 2011 commentary entitled, “What Should the World Do To Save Starving Ethiopians?”, I offered 10 reasonable recommendations to save starving Ethiopians. 1) Take the moral hazard out of Western aid in Ethiopia. 2) Put humanity and human rights back in Western humanitarian aid in Ethiopia. 3) Promote and support a stable and healthy Ethiopian society through aid, not entrench an iron-fisted and malignant dictatorship. 4) Never bankroll bad actions by dictators with good Western taxpayer money. 5) Make partnership with the Ethiopian people, not the Meles Zenawi TPLF dictatorship. 6) Hold the local paymasters of aid accountable. 7) Condition aid and loans on the implementation of comprehensive family planning programs in Ethiopia. 8) To help the starving people of Ethiopia, help Ethiopian women. 9) To help the starving people of Ethiopia, help Ethiopia’s youth (70 percent of Ethiopians are under age 35.) 10) Starve the (TPLF) Beast, Feed the People.

In October 2012, I rang the alarm bell in my commentary “Ethiopia: An Early Warning of a Famine in 2013”. By carefully piecing data, analyses and findings from various sources including the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), Oxfam, the U.N. World Food Programme, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and reports of the New England Complex Systems Institute, [NECSI] (a group of academics from Harvard and MIT who specialize in predicting how changes in environment can lead to political instability and upheavals), I warned that 2013 was likely to be the threshold year for the onset of famine or “catastrophic food crises”. I also challenged the ridiculous classifications of the international poverty pimps and their pseudo-scientific stages of food deprivation, e.g. “acute Food Insecurity”, “Stressed” situations, “Crises” mode, etc.

In May 2012, I argued in my commentary, African Hunger Games at Camp David, that food has been used as a political weapon in Ethiopia. Hunger has been the new weapon of choice to generate support for the TPLF regime and to decimate their political rivals. Meles and his TPLF have been pretty successful in crushing the hearts, minds and spirits of the people by keeping their stomachs empty. Those who oppose the TPLF are not only denied humanitarian food and relief aid, they are also victimized through a system of evictions, denial of land or reduction in plot size as well as denial of access to loans, fertilizers, seeds, etc. In the case of the people of Gambella in western Ethiopia, entire communities have been forced off the land to make way for Indian “investors” in violation of international conventions that protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

In February 2014, I wrote a commentary entitled, “A Glimpse of the Creeping Famine in Ethiopia”. That month an investigative report by NBC news stated, “[Ethiopia] is the face of the world food crises. In a village in Southern Ethiopia, mothers cue with their malnourished children for emergency rations of food. They can’t afford to feed their babies and now it seems neither can the outside world. The distended stomachs, a symptom of the hunger so many here are suffering after two poor harvests in a row, and there are more new cases everyday… They were given food rations ten days ago… The government reserves ran out long ago, and now the U.N. supply is thinning too.” (In 2008, Meles Zenawi said, he knew nothing about the famine in Southern Ethiopia. They still did not know of the famine in February 2014. They believe there is famine only when skeletal children wander the streets and countryside.) The curse of a know nothing do nothing regime!

I recently challenged President Barack Obama for making patently false statements on September 23 that he knew or should have reasonably known to be untrue when he made them. “We have seen enormous progress in a country [Ethiopia] that once had great difficulty feeding itself. It’s now not only leading the pack in terms of agricultural production in the region, but will soon be an exporter potentially not just of agriculture, but also power because of the development that’s been taking place there.” I should like to believe he was grossly misinformed because USAID’s August 15, 2014 report completely contradicts him. “Despite a fast-growing economy, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It experiences high levels of both chronic and acute food insecurity, particularly among rural populations and smallholder farmers.”


In 2011, Wolfgang Fengler, a lead economist for the World Bank, in a refreshingly honest moment for an international banker said, “The famine in the Horn of Africa is a result of artificially high prices for food and civil conflict than natural and environmental causes. This crisis is manmade. Droughts have occurred over and again, but you need bad policy making for that to lead to a famine.”

In other words, it is bad and poor governance that is at the core of the famine problem in Ethiopia, not drought or other environmental causes. For the past 23 years, the TPLF has mis-governed, mis-administered and mismanaged Ethiopian society, politics and economy. Penny Lawrence, Oxfam's international director, after visiting Ethiopia in May 2012 observed: “Drought does not need to mean hunger and destitution. If communities have irrigation for crops, grain stores, and wells to harvest rains then they can survive despite what the elements throw at them.” Martin Plaut, BBC World Service News Africa editor, similarly explained that the “current [2012 Ethiopian food] crisis is in part the result of policies designed to keep farmers on the land, which belongs to the state and cannot be sold.” The entire responsibility for Ethiopia’s famine (or whatever sugarcoated word they want to use to disguise famine) rests at the feet of the TPLF leaders.

So the obvious questions are:

Why does a regime that has rejected socialism and is presumably committed to a free market economy insist on complete state ownership of land?

Why is there not an adequate system of irrigation for crops, grain storages and wells to harvest rains throughout the country?

Where is the TPLF leaders’ plan for food security for the country?

Do TPLF leaders really think that by giving away millions of hectares of land to so-called investors for commercialized export agriculture they will prevent famine or ensure food security in Ethiopia?

Do the international poverty pimps believe that they can make Ethiopia self-sufficient by giving the TPLF food aid which the TPLF in turn will weaponize to maintain itself in power?

Do the international poverty pimps believe that they can fill the bellies of starving Ethiopians with assurances that they are only suffering from “extreme malnutrition”?


I find it extremely distressing to see few Ethiopians taking the lead in remembering the great tragedies of the Ethiopian people over the past several decades. I am grateful that the BBC has taken media leadership today to commemorate the Great Ethiopia Famine of 1984. I am ashamed (but eternally grateful to our Western friends) that Ethiopia’s defenders in times of great tragedy are Western institutions and personalities. When our human rights are violated, our defenders are organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House, Genocide Watch and others. When our independent journalists are jailed and exiled, it is the Committee to Protect Journalists that mans the defensive lines. When our rivers and indigenous people are facing extinction, it is International Rivers and the Oakland Institute that come to our defense. The double shame of it is that few of us are even donating members of the very organizations that defend our rights and dignity. (The truth hurts, doesn’t it?!)

Perhaps some of my readers may disagree, but I see few CIVIC-SOCIETY organizations toiling to defend human rights or press rights in Ethiopia. I see few civic organizations standing up to prevent genocide in Gambella, the Ogaden and many other parts of Ethiopia. I see few civic organizations dedicated to the promotion of youth issues or women’s causes. I am aware of only one civic organization dedicated to celebrating the achievements of distinguished Ethiopians. Why can’t we stand for ourselves? What is that our Western friends got that we ain’t got? Is it money, knowledge, commitment….? What? Why can’t we stand and defend out rights against thugs?

As we remember the 1984 Great Ethiopian famine in 2014, I want my readers to be very aware that there is famine going on in various parts of Ethiopia today. Just because the BBC or some other investigative body is not reporting it does not mean it is not occurring. One of the reasons the TPLF regime has clamped down so hard on the independent press is to prevent such reports from going out into the international media.

I also want my readers to be aware that the international poverty pimps that pump billions in food aid into Ethiopia every year have a “conspiracy” of silence not to use the “F”amine word. They want to skin over the ghastly face of FAMINE in Ethiopia with discombobulating bureaucratic phrases and words.

On a personal note, I find it mind-boggling that one person’s voice should be heard week after week for years on so many important topics affecting Ethiopia and Ethiopians when there are so many Ethiopians scholars and men and women of learning throughout the world who could also have their voices heard. People are “amazed “that I have written long commentaries on so many topics every single week, without missing a single week, for years and expressed my voice and views. I do not find that amazing at all. What I find mind-bogglingly amazing is the fact that so many learned and intellectually accomplished Ethiopians have chosen to speak their minds every single week, without missing a single week, year after year, with their thunderous silence.

Commitment and passion for any cause are unique to the individual, but I believe every Ethiopian, particularly those blessed with great learning, have a duty to man up and woman up to the cause of human rights and dignity in Ethiopia, Africa and elsewhere. I am afraid that when future generations of Ethiopians look back at our generation, they will all stand up, point their collective index fingers and resoundingly shout out, “We Accuse!”

La luta continua! (The struggle continues!)

Famine in Ethiopia sugarcoated by fancy words and phrases is still famine!

* Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.



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30 years on: Ethiopia and the business of hunger

Nick Dearden


30 years after images of Ethiopian famine haunted British TV screens, they still shape how we see Africa - and ensure we fail to understand.

It’s 30 years since Michael Buerke’s harrowing report of a ‘biblical famine’ reached BBC TV screens. Following a year of cynical government inaction and silence, Bob Geldof launched a frenzied celebrity campaign to get aid to the famine-hit regions.

Money from the public, if not the government, poured into the country. But in the process, the politics of what was happening in Ethiopia was completely erased, and our ideas of ‘charity’, ‘hunger’ and indeed ‘Africa’, were changed in fundamental ways which to this day are difficult to challenge.

The BBC remains proud of its reporting of Ethiopia’s famine, and certainly it directed public attention to a horrific situation. But it did this at the price of understanding what was really happening in Ethiopia, a problem compounded by Bob Geldof who insisted on seeing the famine as a terrible ‘natural disaster’.

In fact Ethiopia’s authoritarian government under Mengistu Haile Mariam, heavily armed by the Soviet Union as a key proxy player in the Cold War, was waging a war against Eritrean and Tigrayan freedom fighters. Drought was being used by Mengistu as one tool to starve and defeat the rebel areas.

Yet when aid started flowing in, it largely went to the Ethiopian government itself, which further used that aid to forcibly displace thousands of opponents. In an excellent article for the Guardian, former BBC journalist Suzanne Franks makes clear just how problematic the aid effort was:

“Victims of famine were lured into feeding camps only to be forced on to planes and transported far away from their homes. Some estimate the number of deaths from this policy to be higher than those from famine.”

As Franks says, Médecins sans Frontières refused to play along – a principled position they have maintained in humanitarian emergencies ever since. War on Want sent aid directly to rebel areas, where it was administered by the rebel infrastructures and senior Labour Party figures like Glenys Kinnock continued to support the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and expose the horrific circumstances they were facing.

But by and large, aid agencies played along with the politics as the best chance they had of getting aid in. Indeed, the Ethiopian famine played a huge role in the enormous growth of the aid industry over the next few years.

Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that such a situation would be tackled more honestly today. Partly that’s because the way Ethiopia was treated fundamentally shaped the way we view Africa. Our idea of starving Ethiopians – helpless, passive and in desperate need of Western salvation – became our image of Africa as a whole. Media and governments played a role, but the biggest culprit was the aid organisations themselves, who understood it was untruthful, but found it an incredibly successful way of raising money.

In a report commissioned several years ago called ‘Finding Frames’, researchers found that this framing of Africa – what they describe as the ‘Live Aid’ legacy – remains incredibly strong today. Swept away is the political context of Africa – the decades of Empire and slavery through to structural adjustment and debt crisis. Also ignored are the many examples of African resistance and success – from the national liberation governments of the 1950 through to Thomas Sankara’s transformation of Burkina Faso up to 1987. Africa’s agency is marginalised.

The idea that we are a ‘Powerful Giver’ to ‘Grateful Receiver’ continues to dominate the aid discourse today, constantly reinforced by some aid agencies who still insist of perpetuating offensive imagery in order to raise funds.

It’s important we use the anniversary of the Ethiopian famine not simply to show ‘how far Ethiopia has come’, after all Ethiopian civilisation long precedes our own. Rather we should use it to review our image of, and relationship towards Africa, and refuse to support those organisations which still grow rich on the ‘Live Aid’ legacy.

* Nick Dearden is director of the World Development Movement. This article previously appeared in [url=]]Open Democracy[/url].



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ANC and SACP are behind attempts to split Cosatu

Shaheed Mahomed


Under the guise of ‘mediation’ the ANC is seeking to split Cosatu and weaken the workers’ movement. For the ANC and the SACP, the prospect of Numsa and its radical proposals gaining dominance in Cosatu is an intolerable threat to imperial capitalism and the electoral dominance of the alliance itself.

For weeks, ANC leaders have been attempting to ‘mediate’ between the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) and the African National Congress (ANC)/South African Communist Party (SACP) faction within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). What they were really trying to do is to get Numsa to give up on its Congress resolution to break with the ANC and SACP and to form a workers’ party.

The ANC-SACP leaders have neither concern for workers’ unity nor for respecting workers’ democratic processes; they only have self-interest at heart. Put simply, the ANC-SACP leaders need to continue to use Cosatu as a conveyor belt so that their own privileges from parliament and business can continue. Now that the ANC and SACP leaders realise they cannot persuade Numsa members to go back on their decision, they are fighting for their lives. Without Cosatu, the ANC is dead; they will be nothing else but a black Democratic Alliance (DA) or a new Congress of the People (COPE). Thus the ANC and SACP leaders are fighting tooth and nail to prevent a special Congress of Cosatu. Imagine if the Congress sits and not only removes the current leadership but also breaks the alliance with the ANC and SACP, and sets up a new workers’ party. If the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) could gain a million votes within a few months from the fringes of the ANC and without deep roots in the workers movement, what would a Cosatu-formed workers party get? It could almost overnight become the ruling party, Socialism would be placed on the agenda and the path would be open for expropriation of the commanding heights of the economy. The support for a workers’ party is confirmed through the study commissioned by Cosatu in 2012, which started before the Marikana massacre, which showed that more than 60% of Cosatu would support a workers’ party against the ANC. With each passing attack by the ANC government, the support for a new workers’ party is likely to grow.


Due to the danger that a Cosatu workers’ party would pose, big capital and imperialism, support the split of Cosatu. Thus, instead of being faced with a Cosatu-formed workers’ party, imperialism would be faced only with a Numsa-led workers’ party. This would be a significantly smaller threat and would mean that the advanced layers of the working class would be split. This further split of the advanced layers of the working class is necessary for the imperialists to carry out their plans of extensive attacks on the masses. It is no accident that the recent Medium term Budget statement of the ANC government carries within it plans for massive attacks against the working class. It is also no accident that the ANC plans to spend an extra R3 billion to further militarise the police. Imperialism knows that by next year Cosatu will be further split and weakened, and thus unable to launch a sustained campaign of defence.

Some of the planned attacks by the ANC govt on behalf of big capital are as follows:

· Large scale privatisation of state-owned entities, including water and electricity;

· Further youth slavery through labour brokers [it has emerged that most of the 219 000 youth subsidies paid out by the state so far, have gone to labour brokers];

· Handing over of workers’ providend funds to the banks and denial of access of workers to their own funds until the age of 65;

· Cutting of thousands of vacant posts in the public sector;

· The cutting of public sector salaries in real terms;

· Ensuring that the pace of housing construction is slow enough to maintain the high house prices, benefiting the construction monopolies and banks.


The alliance between the workers movement, the Communist parties and nationalist-multiclass parties has its origin in the days of Stalin when Communists were directed to form ‘people’s fronts’, bury working class interests and put ahead the interest of the local lumpen bourgeoisie. This was part of a trade-off with imperialism to allow the Stalinised Soviet Union to exist, while Communist parties spearheaded the betrayal of revolutions to prevent the working class from taking power on a global scale. This is the origin of the ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance that has successfully allowed imperialist rule to continue for the past 20 years in South Africa. The local lumpen bourgeoisie (Ruperts, Oppenheimers, Motsepes, Ramaphosas, etc) has identical interests with imperialism.


The 7 November 2014 Cosatu Central Executive Committee (CEC) has as its first point a charge that Numsa should explain why it should not be expelled. This shows that the ANC is directly behind the expulsion of Numsa and thus the split of Cosatu. Numsa has no case to answer. On the contrary, the leadership of National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) and other affiliates, should be explaining why they should still be in the leadership of their own unions. These ANC and SACP union leaders should explain to the masses why they still support a regime which has carried out the Marikana massacre and which is planning more massacres. They should explain why Cosatu still maintains links with the ANC regime which has openly declared its dedication to maintaining links with Israel, which supports bantustans for Palestinians and which has just indicated that it will not prosecute SA citizens who serve in the genocidal Israeli army. Why do they maintain links with the ANC regime that is dumping our youth into labour broker slavery? Why do they maintain links with a regime that is sabotaging service delivery so that private companies can benefit? Why are they expelling Numsa when in the previous public sector strike, it was only the threat of a secondary strike by the industrial sectors, led by Numsa, that forced the ANC regime to agree to workers’ demands?

Even if you support the ANC, what right have the Nehawu, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Popcru and Sadtu leaders to give an ultimatum to Numsa to give up on its democratic Congress decision or face expulsion? Surely what should be done is the calling of a Special Congress of Cosatu so that workers can debate and reach their own conclusion.

We call on workers from all affiliates of Cosatu, and all the masses suffering from poor service delivery and unemployment, to go to the Cosatu head office on 7 November to demand an end to the victimisation of Numsa and to support the calling of a special Congress.

If the ANC still goes ahead and splits Cosatu, we propose the following measures:

1. We call for the setting up of workers’ committees in every workplace, which would unite workers irrespective of union and political affiliation; it is not a question of a numbers game of recruiting more members to Numsa or to the rump of Cosatu, but of building and maintaining the maximum unity in action. We should avoid, at all costs, falling into the trap that imperialism is setting for us, namely for worker to attack worker, or for this to become a terrain for inter-union rivalry and recruitment. Thus we would oppose the formation of a rival federation, as this would only entrench divisions among the working class.

2. The Numsa United Front should invite workers in Cosatu to join up with its structures, not by joining Numsa but as members of their Cosatu unions, as they have done with other unions up to now. Thus, even if expelled, Numsa should still show solidarity with the public sector, or any other affiliate of Cosatu, when they go on strike next year or in the future. Thus there would still be de facto unity of Cosatu members as an organised force, despite the divisive efforts of the ANC and SACP leaders. We call for a new way of policy formulation through discussions determined from the shopfloor upwards.

3. But the central call should be for all workers to join up in discussions with Numsa to help shape and form a revolutionary working class party as part of a new International to be set up in future. There is a long history of advanced workers in unions supporting a workers’ party. This party should be set up based on the lessons of the past experience of the pro-capitalist, multi-class alliance of the ANC-SACP-Cosatu. The working class fighters need to be united in a revolutionary working class party to face off the coming massive attacks by big capital. Unions are limited in their scope and often, when a period of radicalism passes, tend to become the best defenders of capitalism. The history of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe, the Workers’ Party (PT) in Brasil, the Bolivarian parties in South America, and their role in sustaining capitalism, needs to be learnt from. Imperialism will try everything to weaken a new workers’ party, including from within, but this should not deter us from actively working for a truly revolutionary working class party – the only chance we have to ensure a decisive advance to Socialism.

* Shaheed Mahomed works with the Workers International Vanguard Party
(formerly Workers International Vanguard League). See website



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Lindiwe Sisulu and the new denialism

Richard Pithouse


The assertion that people under 40 have lost nothing to apartheid is one of the most extraordinary statements from the mouth of a cabinet minister since 1994. The pretense that apartheid’s consequences came to an end in 1994 is sheer denialism that is so out of touch with reality.

In 2005, early in her first term as Minister of Housing, Lindiwe Sisulu announced that the state had resolved to ‘eradicate slums’ by 2014. This was a time when the technocratic ideal had more credibility than it does now and officials and politicians often spoke, with genuine conviction, as if it were an established fact that this aspiration would translate into reality. It was not unusual for people trying to engage the state around questions of urban land and housing to be rebuffed as troublemakers, either ignorant or malicious, on the grounds that it was an established fact that there would be no more shacks by 2014.

As we head towards the end of 2014 there are considerably more people living in shacks than there were in 2005, in 1994 or at any point in our history. The gulf between the state’s aspirations to shape society and what actually happens in society have also been starkly illustrated at the more local level. Sisulu’s flagship housing project, the N2 Gateway project in Cape Town, resulted in acute conflict and remains in various kinds of crisis to this day.

One of the lessons to be learnt from the denialism around the nature and scale of the urban crisis that characterised Thabo Mbeki’s Presidency is that although the state is certainly a powerful actor, it has often been profoundly wrong about its capacity to understand and to shape social reality.

But Sisulu’s first term as the Minister of Housing is not only remembered for her failure to grasp either the scale of the demand for urban land and housing or the limits of the state’s response. There was also a marked authoritarianism to her approach. She did not oppose the escalating and consistently unlawful violence with which municipalities across the country were attempting to contain the physical manifestation of the urban crisis via land occupations.

Sisulu also offered her full support to the failed attempt, first proposed in the Polokwane Resolutions, and then taken forward in the KwaZulu-Natal parliament in the form of the Slums Act in 2007, to roll back some of the limited rights that had been conceded in the early years of democracy to people occupying land without the consent of the state or private land owners. At the same time she also earned some notoriety for her unilateral, and clearly unlawful, declaration in 2007 that residents of the Joe Slovo settlement in Cape Town would be permanently removed from the (entirely mythical) ‘housing list’ for opposing forced removal. She was also silent in the face of the violence marshalled through party structures against shack dwellers who had had the temerity to organise around issues of urban land and housing independently of the ANC in both Durban and on the East Rand in 2009 and 2010.

Her second term as Minister, in a portfolio now termed Human Settlements, has been marked by a similar silence in response to the even more brazen forms of repression, including assassination, now visited on people organised outside of the ANC in shack settlements in Durban. But there have been some important shifts in her position. One is that like her predecessor Tokyo Sexwale, she no longer speaks as if the ‘eradication of slums’ is imminent. In this regard the state has developed a more realistic understanding of the situation it confronts. Another shift is Sisulu’s opposition to unlawful evictions in Cape Town. This is, given her on-going silence in response to violent and unlawful evictions elsewhere in the country, clearly an expedient rather than a principled position. But in a context where land occupations are routinely misrepresented through the lens of criminality or political conspiracy her framing of her opposition to eviction in Cape Town in the language of justice may open some space in elite publics to politicise the contestation over urban land, something that is relentlessly expelled from the terrain of the political by a variety of elite actors.

But it is Sisulu’s recent declaration that the state intends to do away with the provision of free housing and that people under forty will no longer be eligible for public housing that has been particularly controversial. Both aspects of this comment position her in direct contradiction to the law and the policies to which the government is, at least in principle, committed. This is nothing new. When it comes to its response to the urban land occupation the state routinely speaks and acts in direct contradiction to both law and policy. What is significant here is the indication that the state, increasingly short of cash, intends to step back from some of its commitments to sustain some forms of public welfare.

Sisulu is presenting the state’s public housing programme as if it were a temporary state response to apartheid, which now that things have been normalised, can be abandoned. Both parts of this equation are seriously problematic. The ANC, in a posture that these days is simply farcical given that it is Putin rather than Lenin that restores the sparkle to Zuma’s eyes in tough times, likes to pretend to itself that it is a revolutionary organisation. But public housing, far from being some kind of unique and temporary South African exception to the general status quo, is a standard part of even basic social democratic programmes.

Countries in the South like Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela all have public housing programmes of various kinds. These programmes all have serious flaws, but the fact that they exist and that other states are committed to public housing as a principle, should not be denied. In Venezuela the public housing programme includes housing that is entirely free for entirely impoverished people. There are also governments in the South that have actively sought to legalise land occupations and support the improvement of conditions in shack settlements.

Sisulu’s assertion that people under forty “have lost nothing [to apartheid]" is one of the most extraordinary statements to have escaped from the mouth of a cabinet minister since 1994. The pretence that apartheid’s consequences came to an end in 1994 is the sort of denialism that is so out of touch with reality - and in a way that works to naturalise inequalities inherited from a long history of brutal oppression that turned race into class - that it’s almost obscene to even engage it as if it were a serious proposition.

In a situation in which millions of people cannot access housing through the market, the state should recognise the social value of land occupations, offer all the support that it can to improve conditions in shack settlements and develop the best and most extensive public housing programme possible.

But if the state continues to see most land occupations as criminal and to curtail its own public housing programme, it will place millions of people in a situation that is just not viable. The inevitable consequence of the state committing itself to an urban agenda that simply has no place for millions of people will be a radical escalation of the already intense conflict in our cities. To put it plainly guns will become even more central to how our cities are governed. Sisulu’s comments amount to a declaration of war.

* Dr. Richard Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University, South Africa. This article was previously published by [url=]]South African Centre for Civil Society Information Service[/url].



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Contextualising Nyerere’s Ujamaa as a liberating political philosophy

Elly Wanda


In his role as a philosopher, intellectual, political figure and teacher, Nyerere’s philosophy was centered on humanity and unity of the African people to achieve liberation and build African societies. His legacy remains highly relevant in today’s struggles for unity, justice and peace.

The story of Africa in the last century is one characterized by action and response. It was a century in which Western actions towards Africa were met with an African reply, and vice-versa. In the ensuing socio-cultural-political struggles, no African leader’s philosophic premise was more visible in showcasing Africanity than the late Tanzanian President Julius Kambarage Nyerere. It is now nearly 30 years since he peacefully relinquished political power through his Chama Cha Mapinduzi party (an achievement in itself) and 15 years since the curtains came down on his illustrious existence. How best, as young learners and scholars alike, do we situate his immense contributions to humanity?


To begin with, Nyerere made us conscious of the vocabulary of language as a window into the universe of knowledge of its speakers and their view of the world around them. Words are taken as a label of aspects of culture, he would often say, adding that they are thus an index of the cultural world of society. His statements - “One should live so that in dying one can say: I gave all my strength for the liberation of humanity” - and “our role is to transform our societies and to give content to human dignity” – give us a deep inception and clarity to the humanistic basis of his Ujamaa philosophy.


For me, Nyererean philosophy, if I can call it that, is one punctuated by modest dreams of freedom of which he endeavored to sidestep as well as to demolish the allure of the nation-state and the false prerogative of progress in Africa – somehow echoing Walter Rodney’s classic How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1973), or Professor Rene Dumont’s False Start in Africa (1962) and Professor David Basildon’s Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State (1992). All these classic texts examined the formation of modern African states. And argued, contrary to popular opinion that pre-colonial African states existed with the capacity to integrate themselves organically into the global order on their own terms. Professor Davidson, for instance, dwells extensively on the Asante nation-state to illustrate the vibrancy of the pre-colonial states and concludes that “this organic process would have led to a much more positive end but it was aborted by the invasion of Africa by Imperial powers (driven partly by greed and partly by a racist worldview) and the subsequent imposition of “alien” political structures, completely divorced from, and hostile towards “traditional” African institutions and society.


The conjectural basis of Nyerere’s philosophic work stressed the importance of sociolinguistic, social capital as well as tacit knowledge in connection to culture. Any learner or scholar for that matter, who takes Nyerere’s Ujamaa premise seriously has no option but to start the task of deconstructing and reconstructing the imaginary supremacy of Western intellectual experts who behave like priests by issuing universal prescriptions of philosophy. In Ujamaa, the Western tradition of shutting out every emotion, intuition, sentiment in the name of objectivity has been found to not only be merely inadequate and unrealistic, but factually in error. For no human being, no great thinker has succeeded, or can succeed, in doing all these since that would mean his stopping to be human. The Mtu ni Utu concept teaches us of the significant value of emotion in role of thinking. Thinking, it is argued, involves using all of human faculties: imagination, intuition, and sentiment come into play, no matter how dispassionate and strict a thinker we may try to be.


As a transdisciplinary learner and instructor, Nyerere’s conscientious support as the first Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam, later referred to as the ‘Dar Salaam School’- for its vigorous social sciences and radical approach towards humanities that cultivated a homegrown intellectual arsenal -stands out as the most significant feat among many of his other social, cultural and political achievements. For those who knew him, Nyerere’s quest for unity both nationally and continentally was a lifetime undertaking and commitment. “Unity was the lifeline for the emancipation and development of the African people”, he would often say. The University managed to attract the attention of scholar activists from all parts of the world, some of whom included the famous Walter Rodney whose book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is still compulsory reading for most Africa programmes in universities across the world. Dar also attracted a number of other scholars of significant reputation, chief among them the late Dani Nabudere, whom I had the pleasure of working closely with until his sudden death in November 2011. Professor Nabudere used Nyerere’s Ujamaa platform in the 1970s and early 80s to launch his artillery towards the underlying characteristics of the epistemological and methodological texture of Western sciences in their dealing with the non-Western world.

Dethroning condescending Western language and cultural views and placing Africans centre-stage in the history of the continent was perceived as an urgent task not only by Nabudere, but by many other scholars inspired by Nyerere’s vision in Africa and in the diaspora, who constructed an intellectual arsenal aimed at liberating and decolonizing the African mind. Books such as Imperialism in East Africa (1977), followed by Pan Africanism and Integration (2002) as well as Afrikology, Philosophy and Wholeness (2011) are some of Nabudere’s work in point that were in part inspired by Nyerere’s judicious ideas of the community. Other writers, Cheik Anta Diop‘s Precolonial Black Africa (1974) and East Africa’s godfather of the written word Ngugi wa Thiongo’s Decolonizing the Mind (1986), were (among many others) publications that also aimed at advancing Nyerere’s ambition of reinstating the African intellectual memory. Nyerere will forever be remembered for pushing and spearheading the growth of Kiswahili in East and Central Africa, which epitomized his belief that Kiswahili could promote African unity, just as it had done in Tanzania. He gave content and meaning to Tanzania`s independence by recognising the role of an indigenous language in the development of cultural authenticity and national unity. To him, pan-Africanism meant self-determination in political, economic, ideological, social and cultural spheres.


Today, out there in the margins, demands for new theories of freedom, expanded definitions of Ujamaa inspired Mtu ni Utu philosophy, sharpened understandings of the notion and practice of justice as well as understandings of context, diversity, difference and culture continue to emerge from discredited coffins of modernization and other western paradigms. As British political sociologist Frank Furedi puts it: ‘paradoxically, the more the world becomes internationalized, with every region brought into an intimate relationship with the world market forces, the more the singularity of the experience of the parish-pump is insisted upon’. We do well to remember Mwalimu Julius Nyerere as a relentless Africanist who sought the unity of communities with a passion and cared about everyone everywhere. Or, as once summarized by the South African president Jacob Zuma, his philosophy “taught the world about peace, democracy and unity, laying the foundation for Africa to start its long and arduous road towards peace and unity”.

His death in October 1999, coincided with the time I was making preparations to begin my undergraduate studies in Political Science in England, where he died. At the time of his death at London’s St. Thomas Hospital, he was reportedly busy translating The Republic by Plato into Kiswahili as he lay in bed; he went through the manuscript, made the necessary corrections and completed them before he died. He was a keen reader, a dedicated philosopher, and, in spite of his illness (leukemia – that eventually killed him), a prolific writer.

* Elly Wanda is a cultural animator and a transdisciplinary scholar based in Taveta, Kenya. Twitter: elly_wanda

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Somalia’s future befouled by failed initiatives

Mohamud M Uluso


Nearly two decades of foreign interventions have failed to build peace or a viable state. International engagement has served to deepen the humanitarian and political crisis in Somalia.

Despite an unprecedented number of foreign interventions particularly since 2000, Somalia lingers on as a failed state, which is a threat to the international peace and security. The installation of a permanent federal government in 2012 and the victories over the terrorist group Al Shabab did not change Somalia’s misfortune because Somalia’ future is befouled by the outcomes of failed peace processes or initiatives. Foreign actors decided to welcome and applaud disreputable and lately unconstitutional agreements that sully Somali politics. Wittingly or unwittingly, they are deepening Somalia’s crisis.

Generally there has been common consensus that the peace and reconciliation conferences sponsored by the international community from 2000 to date have failed and have not produced positive durable results. But donors and neighboring countries continue to claim success and progress on the basis of disreputable agreements that became instrumental and justifications for prolonged foreign interventions.

In 2010, Conciliation Resources (CR) – a UK International NGO - in collaboration with Interpeace published a review of the international peace processes in Somalia. The review edited by Mark Bradbury and Sally Healy was titled “Whose peace is it anyway?” The central conclusion of the review is: “Nearly two decades of foreign interventions have failed to build peace or a viable state. International engagement has served to deepen the humanitarian and political crisis in Somalia.” This well documented conclusion is still valid as of today.

In 2011 the international community sponsored the roadmap process for ending the transition period and formed a permanent national government based on a provisional constitution. Puntland President Professor Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gas was the cheerleader of the process. Today, he distrusts, trashes and mutilates the outcomes of the process, which are the provisional constitution and the federal government. The process has been seen as a failure.

When the federal government lost moral and political compass, the international actors - IGAD, UN, EU, and US - stepped in to run the “Vision 2016” show. Except for President Hassan Sheikh who announced in 2014 his presidential candidacy for 2016 election, hardly anyone believes in the integrity, legitimacy, and endgame of this new initiative. Professors Hassan Sheikh, Mohamed Sheikh Osman Jawari, Abdiweli Gas, and many others had the intellectual capacity, political acumen and opportunity to foresee what is wrong with each process. But they decided for personal interest to close their minds and eyes and throw their people and country into a ditch of disputes and indignity.

IGAD, UN and the EU solicited Garowe agreement between the federal government and Puntland regional state (a show produced for Copenhagen, Denmark international conference on Somalia) is another instrument to shame the Somali people for their lack of a sense of nationalism and good conscience as the foundation for nation building. Foreign representatives witnessed the conference posters and clan images displayed during the 3-day meeting to prove that Somalis like to exist as clans rather than as a nation. IGAD is delegated to be the enforcer of clan segregation (clan federalism) in Somalia.

Granting the important point about the inadequate consultation on the scope of “Secret Vision 2016” among all Somali stakeholders, the agreement seeks to make the federal government a fiefdom and reinstate the territorial divisions of Somalia into South Central, Somaliland, and Puntland enclaves. In fact, with the signing of Garowe agreement by the Prime Minister and Deputy speaker of parliament with IGAD, UN, EU, the federal government has lost the vestiges of national legitimate authority. The question is, who does the federal government represent?

A far more distrustful perspective has been identified in Puntland by researchers of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies during their field research on federalism and reconciliation in Garowe on September 18. They reported, “A common theme in our public and private conversations was the urgent need for social and political reconciliation among the Somali people. The scars of the civil war were all too evident in people’s minds and hearts. Federating the country was repeatedly referred to as a secondary priority to reconciliation.” This observation supports the public discourse in which each clan accuses other clan or clans for real, perceived, or fabricated crimes and abuses committed by a member or members of the accused clan or clans in public or private capacity. This happens after more than 17 peace processes. Without prejudice to the gravity of abuses inflicted on any clan, adversarial accusations flying among clans are:

1. Darod holds grievances against Hawiye, Isaq, Digil and Mirifle, and Minority groups;
2. Hawiye holds grievances against Darod;
3. Digil and Mirifle holds grievances against Darod and Hawiye;
4. Minority groups hold grievance against Hawiye, Darod, and Digil and Mirifle;
5. Isaq holds grievance against Southerners- Darod, Hawiye, Digil and Mirifle, and Minority groups but forgave grievances against Northerner clans - Dhulbahante and Warsangeli (Darod) in exchange for their support to Somaliland secession.

Despite these inter-clan grievances, clans are not separated and have intense economic and social ties. But clan federalism destroys these ties. Divisive clan politics encouraged by foreign powers fuel social, political, and institutional fragmentation and chaos.

The Somali misfortune is also exacerbated by a dangerous confusion on understanding and appreciating the civil war concepts such as conflict resolution, national reconciliation, peace, and statebuilding. This confusion represents an obstacle to statebuilding. Somalis miss to appreciate that reconciliation is not only a goal but a process carried out for social integration and cooperation without external interventions through indigenous institutions established during the process of conflict resolution. The aim of reconciliation is to promote a shared narrative about the civil war and the future under the rule of a democratic state. The shared narrative about the civil war prohibits repetition of group narratives developed before conflict resolution.

Furthermore, the cited observation of the Heritage researchers questions the raison d’être of the federal government and the aptness to form federal member states on clan identity. The shared aspirations of the Somali citizens are to get true justice, equality, accountability and effective participation in the political process at all levels and places. Somaliland and Puntland provide empirical evidence for exclusion and marginalization. Poverty, hunger, social injustice, corruption, and abuse of power, human rights violations are all considered violence.

The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephan Harper, said in his speech at the 2014 UN General Assembly meeting that: “Where human misery abounds, where grinding poverty is the rule, where justice is systematically denied, there is no real peace, only the seeds of future conflict. We understand how the worst of human nature – perverse ideologies, religious extremism, and the lust for power and plunder – can rob people in so many places of property, of hope, and of life itself.” Humanitarian organizations are warning of famine and acute economic deprivation in Mogadishu.

The released 2014 report of the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) details incredible levels of misappropriation of public funds used for partisan agendas which constitute threats to peace and security. The rate of misappropriation is estimated at between 70 and 80 percent, while around a third (1/3) of domestic revenues from Mogadishu port cannot be accounted for. More alarming, the report reveals that Al Shabab receives a lion share of $ 250 million revenue from the charcoal exported in 2013-2014 through seaports controlled by African Union and Somali government forces. Secret foreign contracts with foreign private companies became major sources of dirty financial resources outside the public financial management control. These unprecedented scandals could bring down the federal government before 2016 election.

The solution could be a Somali owned initiative that responds to the principles of the New Deal Strategy endorsed by the international community. Clan based governments are recipe for corruption and clan antagonism that will perpetuate the failed state condition.



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Ebola: A shocker to Kenya's tourism

Mickie Ojijo


No case of Ebola has been reported in Kenya, despite several scares. But that is not how tourists see it. The numbers of arrivals are going down.

Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the countries most affected by the outbreak of Ebola virus are geographically far from Kenya, but to the countries we depend on for tourists, Ebola is in Africa and so is Kenya.

The disease has drastically affected domestic economic activities in that part of West Africa and trade between Africa and the rest of the world is not spared either.

The epidemic is scaring away potential tourists and jeopardizing exports of Agro-produce from the continent. A number of airlines serving these routes have also been hit hard.

Tourism, a vital segment of our economy has been performing badly for a long time. Latest report shows, a declined of 13 per cent in arrivals – 428,585 compared to 497,978 the same period last year. This paints a bleak economic picture of a sector raking in foreign exchange and existential to a big fraction Kenya's workforce.

As one of the countries that did not issue a travel ban yet alongside Britain, France and the US early this year Germany has not disclosed its position on the Ebola issue but a cursory check with tour and travel agents shows upward cancellations are constantly trickling in - others pick Arab countries in the north.

The ripple effect is spreading far and wide. Thirty-two major tour operators in the US have lost more than $3m from cancellations. Mr. Andre Steynberg, the Vice President of Sales for Allure Africa announced that in September alone the company lost a total of $350,000 from both postponement and cancellations.

As Governor Amazon Kingi of Kilifi County discovered during his promotion engagement in Italy recently, the disease is bound to have a profound impact on the ailing and fragile tourism sector.

The Governor was quoted saying that Italians are scared of Ebola in Kenya, an issue Kenya's ambassador to Italy just needed Press briefing to dispel the fear. Unfortunately, our diplomats desist from contradicting public opinion in donor countries regardless of the substance another major handicap making them completely oblivious of negative opinion about their country is the language.

Governments in the EU bloc are seeking effective ways of keeping off the infection from their border points but public opinion is divided whether to impose total travel ban or to screen people at entry points.

Complicating the issue is the virus incubation period of 21 days, bringing to question the efficacy to screen passengers since some may be affected but are not showing the symptoms at the time of screening. Subjecting passengers from elsewhere to joint travel routes with those from the affected regions is complicating the issue further.

The decision to admit Ebola patients in some German hospitals recently led to public outcry and public debate. People are questioning the wisdom of the hospitals concerned.

The virus has reportedly claimed the lives of 10,000 people but independent observers place the death toll above 30,000. Some have also estimated that possibily 10,000 may die every week, if the epidemic is not contained.

Kenya's deafening silence is not helping matters either. It is hard to tell whether it is solidarity or simply burying the head in the sand hoping the disease will go away, or waiting for external intervention.

Kenya's missions abroad have failed the country. None has summoned the Press to inform the public that Kenya is in East Africa, along Indian Ocean - 5,300km away from Ebola contaminated West coast states on Atlantic Ocean which is only 3,600km to Western Hemisphere or American continent.

Like our diplomatic missions the Africa Union has conveniently gone mum leaving the West it perennially derides for its ‘imperialistic tendency’ to tackle the disease and deliver vaccine and its cure.

It is worth noting that it is the scare of the virulent pestilence that is forcing the West to tame the virus at its source to protect their citizens back at home – otherwise Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), Leprosy, Food-borne trematodiases, all of which World Health Organisation has classified as tropical diseases, would have been long eradicated.

The question now is whether Kenya Government has contingency plans to protect the dying image without feeding the public with glossy projections of the rosy future of our hospitality industry.

* Mickie Ojijo is Secretary, Kenya Development Associates, Frankfurt, Germany.



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Advocacy & campaigns

Declaration of the Extraordinary ALBA-TCP Summit on Ebola


Last week, heads of state from Latin America and the Caribean met in Cuba explore ways to help the fight against the Ebola outbreak in Africa and to avoid its propagation to other regions.

The member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America –Peoples’ Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP in its Spanish acronym), meeting in Havana on October 20th, 2014, on the occasion of the Extraordinary Summit to deal with the Ebola epidemic;

Profoundly concerned about the humanitarian catastrophe in West Africa caused by the Ebola epidemic, which is been considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a “public health emergency” of international concern, with the threat of spreading to other countries and regions of the world;

Aware of the urgency with which the international community as a whole, in full cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) is undertaking actions to deal with this scourge using all necessary resources;

Clearly understanding with concern that the international resources required in order to undertake rapid and efficacious actions to deal with the Ebola epidemic are continuing to be insufficient to confront what could become one of the most serious pandemics in the history of humanity;

Reaffirming that ALBA-TCP is sustained on principles of solidarity, true cooperation and complementarity among our countries, and commitment to the most vulnerable peoples and the preservation of life on this planet;

Convinced that it is vital to adopt efficacious and urgent cooperation measures that, through coordinated actions of the health sector and other sectors, can contribute to prevent the Ebola epidemic from spreading to the countries of our hemisphere;

Remembering stipulations established in the International Health Regulation (2005) and in the WHO Roadmap for Response to Ebola on August 28th of 2014, whose aim is to stop transmission of Ebola on a global scale and to confront the consequences of any new international spread;

Taking note of WHO protocols for the prevention of transmission of Ebola among persons, organizations and population groups;

Emphasizing that it is possible to contain the Ebola outbreak, especially by applying the established interventions in matters of health and safety and other preventative measures that have demonstrated their efficacy;

We hereby agree:

1. To coordinate our efforts to prevent and deal with the Ebola epidemic, including rapidly providing and sharing assistance among our countries, with healthcare workers and relevant supplies and materials.

2. To meet, as a priority, the special needs of our sister countries in the Caribbean, allowing them to benefit from cooperation for preventing and confronting Ebola that are agreed upon by ALBA-TCP countries.

3. To immediately activate ALBA-TCP’s Epidemiological Surveillance Network, the creation of which was agreed to at the First Meeting of Health Ministers of the Alliance held on this past February 25th, 2014 in Caracas.

4. To decisively support the voluntary medical brigades specialized in dealing with disasters and major epidemics, the Henry Reeve Contingent of the Republic of Cuba, working in the countries of Africa. In this regard, we express our willingness, as the Bolivarian Alliance, to contribute with highly qualified health personnel to join the efforts of this contingent on tasks that are required in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean.

5. To establish national mechanisms to rapidly diagnose and isolate suspected cases of Ebola, taking into account the initial clinical manifestations of the disease, the travel and/or exposure history reported by the patient or obtained by epidemiological investigation.

6. To share and generate capacity for the diagnosis of diseases which require laboratories of appropriate bio-safety levels.

7. To design and carry out public education campaigns about the prevention of and response to Ebola, directed toward increasing the preparedness of the population and to promote their trust.

8. To provide and reinforce preventive measures for the detection and mitigation of exposure to Ebola infection and to provide treatment and effective medical services for response team personnel.

9. To reinforce measures of epidemiological surveillance at borders, particularly at ports and airports.

10. To contribute to the training of health care workers specialized in the prevention and control of Ebola in the ALBA-TCP countries and the Caribbean, on the basis of accumulated experience.

11. To create a cadre of professionals from different specialties to train healthcare workers in the areas of bio-safety, including the use of personal protective equipment to be used for suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, care of hemorrhagic diseases and critical patients, who may serve as facilitators and advisors in their respective countries.

12. To ensure the deployment of all possible health services, reserve medical teams and the vital consumables to confront the disease.

13. To encourage scientific, epidemiological and biological research on Ebola within the ALBA-TCP framework, and promote cooperation in this field with other countries, as a contribution to international efforts directed towards confronting the epidemic and with the objective of consolidating the scientific, medical and health independence of the countries of the Alliance.

14. To improve information mechanisms among our countries so that we may remain up to date on the epidemiological situation of ALBA-TCP countries, and so that acquired experiences may be disseminated with greater ease.

15. To decisively support initiatives of the United Nations, particularly WHO/PAHO and UNMEER, for implementation of the recommendations of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee.

16. To promote cooperation with other countries of the hemisphere in order to face and prevent Ebola, and undertake joint programmes that would contribute to that end.

17. To urgently convene a technical meeting of specialists and directors of ALBA-TCP countries, in Havana, on 29 and 30 October, to exchange experiences and knowledge, as well as to draft prevention and control strategies for the threat of the Ebola epidemic.

18. To charge the Ministers of Health of the ALBA-TCP countries to draft an Action Plan in the light of the proposals of the technical meeting of specialists and directors, and its immediate application, in coordination with PAHO/WHO. This Plan must be presented for consideration by the heads of state and government of the ALBA-TCP, at the latest on 5 November, 2014.

19. To use all the resources available to the ALBA-TCP Executive Secretariat to support the agreed initiatives.

20. To congratulate the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for the donation of five million dollars to combat Ebola, and which was delivered to UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, on 16 October, 2014.

21. To congratulate the Republic of Cuba and its people for the demonstration of solidarity with the sister countries of West Africa by sending Cuban medical personnel.

22. To propose that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) promotes regional efforts for prevention and control of the threat of the Ebola epidemic.

23. To continue collaborating with the countries of Africa affected by the epidemic, to maintain existing cooperation with those who are not affected and to incorporate the experiences of the brigades specialized in confronting disasters and major epidemics who are at work there.

Havana, 20 October, 2014

Equal Rights Trust urges President of the Gambia not to sign homophobic bill


The Bill discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, denying them equal rights to which they are entitled under international law. It will have a devastating impact upon the lives of LGBT people in the Gambia

The Equal Rights Trust has today written to the President of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, urging him not to sign the Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill 2014 which includes a provision criminalising “aggravated homosexuality” and punishing it with life imprisonment.

On 25 August 2014, the National Assembly of the Gambia passed the Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill which, inter alia, creates an offence of “aggravated homosexuality”, committed where a person engages in same-sex sexual activity and, for example, is a “serial offender” or has HIV. The offence is punishable by life imprisonment.

The Equal Rights Trust has led the calls of human rights organisations worldwide in condemning the Bill, with Dr Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Trust, stating:

“The Bill discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, denying them equal rights to which they are entitled under international law. It will have a devastating impact upon the lives of LGBT people in the Gambia who, already suffering persecution, will now face the daily threat of life imprisonment.”

This Bill is part of a homophobic trend, following similar draconian legislation in Nigeria and Uganda. The Equal Rights Trust will work in solidarity with its partners in Africa and elsewhere to counteract this trend and ensure all people their rights to freedom, dignity and equality.

Today, the Equal Rights Trust has written to President Jammeh, setting out how the Bill would violate the Gambia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and would legitimise, institutionalise, increase and perpetuate the profound discrimination and gross inequality suffered by gay and bisexual men in the country.

The letter also calls upon the Gambian authorities to repeal and amend all other existent provisions of the criminal law which punish consensual same-sex intimacy.

To read the Equal Rights Trust’s letter to President Jammeh, please click here.

Stoning in Lower Shebelle: Recent incidents highlight continued brutality


SIHA is calling for action from both parties within and outside Somalia to prevent stoning and other form of torture and violence from continuing to cripple the ability of Somali people to lead viable lives

23 October 2014

In a series of actions that violate human rights norms and humanitarian, customary, domestic, and Islamic forms of law, al-Shabab militants operating in rural areas of Lower Shebelle region of Somalia recently stoned to death Safia Ahmed Jimale, a 33-year old mother found guilty of adultery (zina) and 18-year old Hasan Ahmad Ali, who was found guilty of rape.

'The stoning emphasizes the continued suffering of Somali civilians in the name of dubious and militant interpretations of Islamic law,’ said Hala Elkarib, Director of SIHA. The stoning also represents a broader trend, which SIHA regularly confronts, whereby militancy is used by select groups despite the presence and validity of peaceful and social-justice oriented interpretations of Islam which carry currency for far larger segments of the global Muslim population.

Further, in Ms. Jimale’s case, she was alleged by al-Shabaab authorities to have confessed to the crime of adultery. A confession by an alleged adulterer negates the obligation of the accusing tribunal to ‘prove’ that the adultery occurred, with proof of adultery typically relying on the testimony of four witnesses said to have directly witnessed the illicit act. In Somalia and other areas of the world where stoning has occurred, the confessions of the accused have often been fabricated to make up for a lack acceptable proof the act occurred. In 2008, 13-year old Aisha Duhulow’s filing of a police report after she was gang raped by three armed men was considered by al-Shabab as evidence of her ‘confession’ to the crime of adultery and led to her execution by stoning. Similar ‘confessions’ have led to stoning sentences in other contexts in recent years. The tribunal verdict issued in regards to Mr. Ali demonstrates that even in absence of a supposed confession, the proving of accused’s guilt as mandated by Islamic law is not a priority – Mr. Ali denied that he had raped anyone, had said the sex was consensual, yet was judged guilty and executed nonetheless without the required witnesses which Islamic law says are necessary to file a guilty verdict on charges of adultery or rape.

Additionally, SIHA has established that Ms. Jimale was mentally unfit to stand trial, make confessions for crimes, or receive punishment for crimes. A small-scale trader from Barawe who witnessed Ms. Jimale’s execution told SIHA that it was widely-known in Barawe that Ms. Jimale was mentally unwell, and that her family repeatedly communicated this fact with al-Shabab prior to the sentencing and execution. In Islamic law, mentally unwell individuals, referred to as majnun, are said to lack legal responsibility (taklif) for their actions, and thus are not eligible for the punishments mandated by Islamic law for mentally well adults. Violations of Islamic law committed by majnun, such as the alleged adultery committed by Ms. Jimale, are viewed in Islamic jurisprudence as unintentional acts and are therefore not punishable. Despite there being a clear process in place in Islamic jurisprudence for establishing the mental capacity of the accused to stand trial, no such process appears to have been engaged in by al-Shabab tribunal members prior to the stoning.

A closer look at classical and Islamic jurisprudence emerging from madhhahib as early as the 8th century reveals scholarship discouraging the brutality of stoning. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century the decisions to stone a person to death is still being made in any part of the Muslim world despite a wealth of accumulated knowledge, wisdom and interpretations of Islam not supporting the practice.

The brutality of stoning lacks, therefore, a foundation in Islamic law, and acts of stoning carried out against Somali citizens ought to be understood not as something which select groups are compelled to do because of religious affiliation but more simply as the preference of some to employ violence as a means of intimidation and population control.

SIHA is calling for action from both parties within and outside Somalia to prevent stoning and other form of torture and violence from continuing to cripple the ability of Somali people to lead viable lives and contribute to the rebuilding of their country.


The continuation of stoning carried out in the name of Islam must be challenged by Muslim communities and countries around the world. [url=]Stoning is not part of the legal system in most Muslim countries[/url=]; these States should share their experience with countries in the Horn of Africa which are resistant or unable to pursue abolishing the practice.


Respond proactively to incidents of stoning and other terror occurring in Somalia and advocate for the referencing the universality of human rights protections like the UN Convention Against Torture which is binding whether or not a State or party is present as a signatory;
Develop means of receiving information from communities which have experienced violence through strengthened communication and funding channels to locally based human rights defenders and organizations;

Maintain pressure on the Government of Somalia as well as the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to improve on their capacity to improve security in regions across Somalia;

Ensure AMISOM forces work towards the establishing security of Somalia and avoid becoming perpetrators in human rights violations themselves. Encourage, by liaising with donor nations contributing to AMISOM, the development of stronger oversight and justice mechanisms for any armed forced discovered to be committing human rights violations, particularly sexual violence and extrajudicial killing.


Ensure that the Human Rights Commission mandated by the Constitution receives necessary parliamentary support to become an effective body by which human rights violations like stoning can be investigated and perpetrators of human right violations brought to relevant judiciary bodies;

Work to build and maintain security corridors by which qualified human rights agencies, humanitarian actors, and key stakeholders can gain better access to key regions in southern Somalia where significant human right violations are known to occur in an atmosphere of impunity. Increasing the ‘footprint’ of human right and humanitarian actors is an established means of deterring extremism and supporting isolated communities suffering under it.


In terms of Human Rights Law (HRL), the broadly reaching Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in instructive regarding punishments like stoning; acts of torture committed by any party constitute violations of a variety of articles of the UDHR, particularly those protecting against violations of human dignity (Article 1), protecting against torture and cruel punishment (Article 5), and guaranteeing fair trial (Article 10) and Article 30, which broadly prohibits acts of individual States or groups to attempt to destroy or invalidate human rights contained in the UDHR. In Customary International Law (CIL), the most relevant instrument regarding stoning is likely the UN Convention Against Torture, which is increasingly becoming absorbed into customary law world over and also underpins other international prohibitions (see: Article 5, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights) against punishments like stoning. Given that Somalia is beset by a non-international armed conflict, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), is also a key consideration. At the time of Ms. Jimale’s execution in Barawe, al-Shabab was the de facto controlling force in what was at the time their last stronghold in southern Somalia. IHL regarding occupying forces is most clearly spelled out in the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Under these obligations, occupying forces ‘must respect the laws in force in the occupied territory,’ ‘must take measures to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety,’ and must comply with [url=]a variety of prohibitions against torture[/url=] and other forms of ill treatment, all regulations which are violated by the stoning of civilians.

Somali domestic law, represented by the Provisional Constitution adopted in 2012, also has important prohibitions against violence against women, torture, and inhumane treatment (Article 15.2). Additionally, the Constitution mandates the forming, in the face of clear incidents of human right violations occurring within Somalia, of a Human Rights Commission charged with identifying and investigating allegations of human rights violations (Article 41.1-2). Yet, despite extreme violence and human rights violations occurring throughout Somalia since the adoption of the Constitution, the Somali Parliament has consistently lagged behind to form a viable Human Rights Commission and to clearly define leadership, roles, and objectives of the Commission.


Ali Mazrui, 1933-2014: A tribute

Toyin Falola


Mazrui was a Creolite, that is, one who had the capacity to mix languages, and became entangled in the cultures as well as the identities of these languages. He was a language bargainer, shopping for the appropriate genre in which to negotiate in the marketplace of ideas.

Laa ilaaha illal-lahuu
Muhammadur Rasuulullah

["There is no good example except Allah (SWT).
Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah (SWT)."]

Inna lillaahi maa akhaza,
wa lillaahi maa a'ataa,
wa kullun indahu,
bi ajalim musamman,
faltasbir waltahtasib.

["Verily everything belongs to Allah (SWT)
that He hath taken away,
And belongs to Allah that He hath given.
Allah (SWT) is with him for an appointed time;
forbear and except reward."]

Innalilaahi wainalaihi rajioon

(It is from Him did we come and it is Him shall we return).

The colossus with the feet of steel joined his ancestors in the early hours of October 13, 2014. Ali Mazrui was larger than life! The most prodigious scholar of African politics, his multiple talents combined creative work in elegant prose and poetry with polemics. A teacher, orator, journalist, filmmaker, and public intellectual, he was arguably the most connected and best known African scholar for over half a century. There will be a legion of tributes in his honor all over Africa and elsewhere. My tribute will be limited to the place of language in his long writing and scholarly career.

Growing up in Christian homes, many Africans believe that they would hear about Babel only in Christian parlance-or, if you will, in Christendom - where it refers to the countless tongues when the "Tower of Babel" was being built. However, in this tribute, I crave your indulgence to allow me to use the opportunity of Mazrui's passing to re-introduce ‘The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience’ published by the University of Chicago Press in 1998. This seminal book was co-authored by Professors Ali A. Mazrui and Alamin M. Mazrui (two Mazruis, needing only one more to create a triple heritage of names!). I would like to use this book to pay tribute to a legend, to talk more broadly about the power and ambiguity of languages, how word choice connects you and me to society, and how language opens a window into the world of politics. Baba Mazrui used languages to distinguish himself.

Autobiography is connected with language. Mwalimu Ali Mazrui (also honorifically called Nana in Ghanaian royal parlance) was born and raised in East Africa, where he learned English, Swahili, and Arabic. He was a Creolite, that is, one who had the capacity to mix languages, and became entangled in the cultures as well as the identities of these languages. Years later, when he became a respected scholar, he formulated his eclectic language background into what he called Africa's "triple heritage": indigenous, Islamic, and Western. That triple heritage, as he defined it, has a foundation in language. Undoubtedly, the Creolite in Mazrui came across very forcefully in this articulation of the triple heritage in a successful documentary film series on Africa.

Orality is critical, and it is sometimes presented as the use of African languages or their revival to advance the agenda of modernity. The endorsement of the creative power in orality becomes a sort of theatrical performance itself. The people whom he wrote about are grounded in orality, and they represent this orality in conversations and text. Mazrui was able to capture their imaginations and reality.

To Mazrui, English was a vehicle to mobility, modernity, and intellectual power. His prolificacy was facilitated by the infrastructure of the English language. His works are focused on African politics and economy, the search for change agents, and the understanding of processes in the longue durée.

The languages of Mazrui, a Creolite, embedded the narrative of the self in that of the nation. Although he did not pursue his work in a chronological fashion, the genealogies are clear. There was the autobiography of childhood in the TV series, (The Africans: A Triple Heritage) one that talked about his family, and how that family was connected to an identity. This is how orality structures a narrative. He possessed a nostalgia for Mombasa, Kenya, and lamented the passing of many of its cultural elements into oblivion, just as the Griot in Senegal would present a storyline. Mazrui was fond of placing stress on space and memory which, although presented in the colonial language of English, he always grounded in orality.

Orality recognizes the organic relationship between the environment and human beings, as humans use the powerful animals in the jungle to describe themselves. Human beings developed a strong understanding of everything around them, from insects to trees, and call upon the resources of the environment to organize their religions and rituals. This connection with the environment can be characterized as sensing nature itself, and in doing so, using a language that draws heavily on all available objects and elements and working them into idioms, proverbs, and parables.

Moving into the school system, the language of orality is not discarded but expanded upon. English and Swahili become juxtaposed, and indigenous languages may be added to create a creolization. One sees in a number of Mazrui's writings this juxtaposition. Strikingly, he also brought in poetic stanzas, woven into prose, stylistic choices that embroidered an argument or were used as transitional connecting points in building an assembly of ideas.

In Mazrui's work, poetry reveals creolization, the unconscious recourse to the multiplicity of languages and creative genres. This brings the otherwise estranged languages of the farmers and the professor closer to a mutual understanding. Mazrui was a language bargainer, shopping for the appropriate genre in which to negotiate in the marketplace of ideas. He was indeed a smart bargainer, as he drew from so many diverse sources.

Orality is about dialogue, and Swahili is conversational. Thus, Mazrui often wrote as if he were engaged in dialogue, with a few sentences forming short paragraphs. These shorter paragraphs tended to invite another set of dialogues, a style not drawn from the European languages but from East African oral culture. When you "call out" in orality, it takes the form of a performance. Orality does not encourage monologue. Orality is spontaneous and creative, and one sees the deployment of both aspects in the way Mazrui answered questions in seminars and conferences. He could be theatrical, using imaginative and figurative language.

Mazrui's intellectual assembly was a combination of the plurality of issues, the plurality of subjects, the plurality of perspectives, and the plurality of languages. But that plurality of languages was enfolded in what I have identified as the recourse to orality, the constant references to fragmented histories and memory. But as Mazrui deployed the English language, he needed to fracture and fragment himself, that is, his own being and body; his presentation of the past, grounded in orality, sometimes became "mythical." Indeed, he often took the Islamic as "indigenous," thus casting its impact in mythical ways as well. This is where Mazrui not only betrayed his preference but his transparency: the Western and the Christian became patriarchal and masculine, in opposition to the innocence and femininity of the mythical.

The dominance and status of the English language in Mazrui's work are clear. The English language was used to present Africa to Africans and to the world, and to re-Africanize Africans in drawing from lost traditions. A blended language, the "Englishes" with doses of Swahili and Arabic revealed creativity but drew attention to curiosity as well. Creativity and curiosity raised questions not just about intellectual innovations, but the content of ideas. A language has such a powerful linkage with culture that writing in English does not mean a rejection of one's cultural immersion. Let me illustrate this point with a citation from The Power of Babel:

“Where do the 'pronouns' come in? Languages betray the cultures from which they spring. Pronouns are part of that story. In referring to a third person English is gender-conscious-so the pronoun he refers to the male and the pronoun she refers to the female. In many African languages pronouns are gender-neutral. The words for 'he' or 'she' are fused into one. To the present day many Africans competent in the English language sometimes refer to a third person female as 'he' when speaking in English because of the linguistic influence of their own mother tongues.” [210.]

And there are cultural nuances:

“Most African languages do not have separate words for 'nephews' and 'nieces' because your sister's children are supposed to be equivalent of your own biological children. The same word which is used for your child (mtoto in Kiswahili) is used for your niece or nephew. Very few African languages have a word for 'cousin'. Your uncle's daughter or son is the equivalent of your sister or brother, so cousins are counted almost as siblings. Once again language betrays the tightness of kinship ties in the African extended family.” [The Power of Babel, 210.]

May Allah forgive his failings

And reward his contributions to the human spirit

May Allah (SWT) grant Mwalimu Mazrui Jannat

May the Mzee be received by all our ancestors

May Allah provide those of us he has left behind

The fortitude to continue the Nana's work.

Let us proclaim today as the beginning of a new ideology: Pax Mazruiana!

Jazakumu Allahu Khayrain!

* Dr Toyin Falola teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.



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Campaigner – Central Africa

Remuneration: €38,198 per annum Dakar, Senegal


Amnesty International


cc A I
We're looking for a campaigner to contribute to our campaign against human rights violations in Central Africa. Working as part of the West and Central Africa Team at the Regional Office in Dakar, you will work on a range of projects, including our campaign on impunity in Central African Republic, conditions of detention in Chad and the rights of LGBTI groups in Cameroon. You will act as a focal point providing advice and support to our worldwide membership, including devising campaigning strategies, preparing written and other campaigning materials and providing research support.


You will have excellent campaigning and communication skills, along with strong research skills and an understanding of NGOs and similar organizations. You are dynamic, hardworking and organized, capable of working both on your own initiative and as a member of the team, often under pressure. A strong affinity or experience of economic, social and cultural rights issues would be a plus. While there is no line management responsibility, you will participate in coordinating the work of the team. Fluency in French is also essential.


Our aim is simple: an end to human rights abuses. Independent, international and influential, we campaign for justice, fairness, freedom and truth wherever they're denied. Already our network of almost three million members and supporters is making a difference in 150 countries. And whether we're applying pressure through powerful research or direct lobbying, mass demonstrations or online campaigning, we're all inspired by hope for a better world. One where human rights are respected and protected by everyone, everywhere.

To Apply: Please visit

Closing Date:12th November 2014

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