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Pambazuka News 715: Vatican Lies, Malcolm X and White Empire

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Vatican owes Africa the truth

Could the Catholic Church's Ethnology Museum be holding artefacts with doubtful histories?

Kwame Opoku


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Churches supported the establishment of colonial regimes, especially through the destruction of societal, cultural and religious systems in Africa. Until today racist and ignorant assumptions about African cultures inform the justification of keeping artefacts that missionaries looted from Africa to create collections and museums in Europe.

“The central issue can be ascribed to the fact that most of these Europeans intended, consciously or unconsciously, to destroy what was given in the African cultural world so as to implant that which is considered, in their view, human, civilised, worthy, and valuable. The same African culture which was belittled by the Europeans had produced many objects and artefacts which both the colonialists and missionaries plundered and shipped to Europe. To date, these treasures remain in museums and mission houses throughout Europe”. Chibueze Udeani, Inculturation as Dialogue

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Mbulu-ngulu guardian of relics, Kota people, Gabon, now in Vatican Ethnology Museum, Vatican City, Italy.

When I first read in the excellent book by Dr. Jeanette Greenfield, ‘The Return of Cultural Treasures’, that the Vatican Ethnology Museum was holding African artefacts that were sent for an exhibition but were not all returned, I was shocked:

“In 1925 Pope Pius XI organized a missionary exhibition extolling missionary work all over the non-western world. About 100,000 items were sent and after the exhibition only about half were returned. The Pope proclaimed the formation of a new museum, the Pontifico Museu Missionario-Etnologico, so that the ‘dawn of faith among the infidel of today can be compared to the dawn of faith which… illuminated pagan Rome”. [1]

As is well-known, relations between Christian churches and African artefacts, above-all, sculptures, have not been without serious fundamental problems. Ludovic Lado, a Cameroonian Catholic priest, describes the contact between the Catholic Church and African religions as “a problematic encounter, ethnocentric” and the attitude of the Church as “iconoclastic in its attitudes towards African religions”:

“…the evangelization of sub-Saharan Africa took place within the context of colonisation. For all the benefits it brought (not only the preaching of the gospel, but also the foundation of schools and hospitals), it was essentially a violent enterprise. ‘Missionary societies tended to work in areas where their home governments were directly involved’, behaving often as cultural agents of their own nations. Indeed, in the nineteenth century, Christianity reached black Africa as part of the Western campaign of ‘civilisation’ meant to ‘redeem’ the ‘dark continent’ from the claws of ignorance and devilish superstition. The heroic commitment of Christian missionaries, not only to the preaching of the gospel but also to the implantation of schools and hospitals, was part of this general programme of elevating the ‘primitive’ African to the level of the ‘civilised’ Westerner.” [2]

Basically, the churches regarded African sculptures, as part of African culture, as elements of a heathen, pagan culture along with the “wild” dances and music, which accompanied pagan rites. They all had to go and be replaced by ‘Christian’ religion, which meant European culture. In this regard, the churches and the colonialist governments worked for the same final objective: de-africanize Africans and make them amenable to European domination.

Ajibade, Omon and Oloidi have written that “[t]he most compelling reason for the initial lack of acceptance of African sculptures as sculptures is the denial by western military and missionary colonizers who contemplated the works as fetish, tribal and nonsensical rather than as works of art demanding of merit.” [3]

It is common knowledge that during the colonial period, many Christian churches urged converted Africans to destroy sculptures that were considered pagan and therefore incompatible with the new religion of Christianity. To this end, many missionaries requested the new converts to bring their sculptures, termed fetishes (from the Portuguese feitiço) for burning. It is stated in the foreword to a catalogue of the Society of African Missions:

“It must be admitted that until the end of the 19th century and even into this century many Christian missionaries regarded the peoples and cultures among which they worked as inferior to those of the West. The artifacts of these peoples were often judged ugly and those having any connection with so-called pagan religious practices were often collected and burnt.” [4]

It was alleged that many priests burned part of the collected objects so that all could see that the so called pagan objects had been destroyed, but many of the objects remained intact with the priests and nobody knew whatever happened to them later. Apparently, those sculptures that were not destroyed were shipped secretly to Europe where we can to-day read that many museums received gifts from missionaries who had been in Africa. Documents from many museums indicate the pivotal role of the missionaries in creating collections or establishing museums. Thus we read in the catalogue of the Collection du Musée Africain de Lyon, Afrique en Résonance on an artefact: “Kente, Asante, Ghana, now in Vatican Ethnology Museum, Vatican, Italy.”

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It was therefore with great interest that I read the catalogue of the Vatican Ethnology Museum entitled ‘Ethnos: Vatican Museums Ethnological Collection’ which I received recently. [5]

The book starts with what is called “Index” that shows the contents. After a foreword, a presentation and preface, we are given a brief history of the Vatican Ethnological Museum. Then follows a chapter on “Indigenous Collections” which precedes chapters on “Australia: Reconnecting and Keeping Culture Alive”, “Christian Indigenous Art”, “Africa”, “Asia”, “Oceania” and “America”.

Then follow chapters entitled “Deep History Artefacts, Boats and Musical Instruments”, “Photographic Collections”, “ Oriental Collections”, ”Far East” “Southern Asia”, “South East Asia”, “Near and Middle East” and ”Christian Oriental Art”. I must confess I had some difficulty in going through all these titles and distinguishing them as well as finding the logic of the division of chapters. The catalogue seems to have had many problems at birth.

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I found certain statements in the foreword, presentation and preface remarkable. We read in the foreword that:

“Established by Pope Pius XI in 1926, the Ethnological Museum expresses the appreciation and positive outlook that the Catholic Church, since its very beginning, has had and continues to have toward all cultures around the world. The sentiment is reciprocal: it is not by chance that the majority of works held in the Ethnological Museum are the result of donations to the Pontiff throughout the centuries by people belonging to the most diverse cultures and religions, from anonymous Australian Aborigines to famous Heads of State.” [7]

The foreword continues to state:

“The catalogue has been enriched with photographs of people and landscapes, included with the precise aim of contextualising the objects described and giving a suggestion of what will be in more depth in successive catalogues, showing that these are expressions of living culture, immersed in a natural world that Pope Benedict XVI teaches us to admire and respect, as He teaches us to respect the culture and traditions of all peoples”. [8]

We read again:

“I present Ethos: Vatican Museums Ethnological Collection. It is a complex and refined work, reflecting the complexity and refinement of the cultures of the entire world, and the respect that the Catholic Church has for these cultures”. [9]

We also find in the preface by the Director of the museum a reference to respect for other cultures:

“My wish, shared also by Katherine Aigner and Nadia Fiussello, is that this catalogue might contribute to the worldwide battle to preserve not only the natural environment and the gifts of Mother Earth, but also and above all the beauty and variety of cultures of the world, against all attempts to destroy them or reduce them to a standard model of thought and lifestyles”. [10]

These various attempts to present the Catholic Church as always having been respectful of other peoples, their cultures and traditions, will not convince anyone with the faintest knowledge about Christian missionary work outside Europe and especially in Africa. The churches of Europe have always regarded people in Africa as heathens whose pagan traditions should be destroyed and replaced by Christian European religion and culture. This was the basic aim of missionary work and without this assumption, Christian missionary work and colonialism become difficult to understand. Indeed without this assumption much that has been written about Africa and Africans would be meaningless. Many classics such as Mongo Beti’s ‘Le pauvre Christ de Bomba’ (1956) would be incomprehensible without the assumption of European superiority and the efforts made by the colonialists and the missionaries to implement that assumption.

We are here not concerned with an evaluation of missionary work and with its basic aims but with the attempts in this catalogue to present the Church as having always been a defender of diversity of cultures and preservation of traditions in the non-European countries that came under colonial domination, an enterprise in which the churches played a major role. To attempt to replace the religions and cultures of Africans by European religions and cultures can surely not be presented as respect of African traditions. We are inclined to accept this statement from Dr. Greenfield cited already above:

“The Pope proclaimed the formation of a new museum, the Pontifico Museu Missionario-Etnologico, so that the ‘dawn of faith among the infidel of today can be compared to the dawn of faith which… illuminated pagan Rome”.

Christian missionaries could only carry on their work within the parameters set by the colonial government through pacification, that is, subjugation and domination by force of arms of African societies. The repetition of the Catholic Church’s respect for cultures and peoples can only create suspicion that we are facing here a massive attempt at intoxication and bending of the facts of history already recorded in many books in several languages.

According to the catalogue, “At the beginning of the 20th century Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) as a sign of Catholic Church’s respect for the culture, arts and religious traditions of the peoples throughout the world, wished to organize a major event: the 1925 Vatican Exhibition”. [11]

The catalogue attributes to the foundation of the museum principles that would only be adopted much later by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Father Jozef Penkowski states in the same source cited by Prof. Greenfield, ‘The Vatican Collections Papacy and Art,’ as follows:

“Moreover, the concept of mission work had changed radically, especially following the innovative ideas of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The goal was no longer to Europeanize the Third World, but instead to establish foundations of Christianity in local cultures. The position of the Church with repect to other religions had also changed, encouraging open dialogue rather than confrontation. Promoting an understanding of other religions was considered essential.” [12]

The idea of an inherent European superiority seems to be so embedded in European minds that even when writing about this changed policy, Penkowski could not help writing: “Works relating to the world’s higher religions are exhibited in both geographic and chronological arrangements and a rich collection of indigenous Christian art from Third World countries also is shown”. [13]

The exhibition that opened on 21 December 1924 was a great success and some 100,000 works were sent to the Vatican from all over the world. The success of the exhibition that ended on 10 January 1926 convinced the Pope to turn it into a permanent event in form of a museum. The new museum was opened in 21 December 1927. The museum had received donations and gifts from all over the world.

According to the catalogue, “The great religions and spirituality of Europe and Asia were represented on the first floor, and on the second, the other continents: Africa, America, Australia, Oceania, and the tribal groups of Asia.” [14]

The short account of the history of the Vatican Ethnology Museum ends with this statement: “The wish to culturally reconnect the objects with the peoples who donated them in the past, ideally closing a circle, means exactly the wish to give a voice to every people and culture on Earth through the wealth of works held in the Ethnological Museum.” [15]

That the peoples of the countries from which the objects came might wish to have them back so that they could tell their own history and development did not occur to the author of the short history of the Vatican Ethnology Museum. Here the museum is obviously following the well-known and discredited position of the so-called major museums as elaborated in the notorious ‘Declaration on the Importance and Value of the Universal Museums.’ [16]

I must state quite clearly that I was not at all impressed by the pages dealing with indigenous collections relating to Africa. The modern photos seemed to be mainly aimed at showing that African culture and civilization have remained at a certain level of development. A large photo covering two pages depicts a San man, almost naked and a cheetah, a Zulu, half naked making a shield, and two pages photo of women said to be performing initiation rites in Gabon. But what irritated me most was the reference to Africans worshipping their ancestors: “In many African religious traditions ancestors were and still are strongly worshipped. The importance of this cult is reflected in the philosophy that guided Fr. Penkowski’s choice of objects for exhibit in the Museum.” [17]

How often must Africans explain that reverence for ancestors is not worship of these important parents? Nor is the honour and reverence paid to ancestors worship or a cult of ancestors. Is the remembrance of All Souls Day a worship of those souls that have departed? Surely it is high time people abandoned erroneous ideas of early ethnologists and missionaries. In any case, intellectuals and museum officials should have abandoned such ideas in view of the abundant evidence existing long ago.

Frank Willet, a foremost scholar on Nigerian art, has written: “In general, Christian missionaries, even up to the present day have been culpably ignorant of indigenous African religions and in attempting to undermine them have often attacked the sculptures which gave expression to their ideas, in the mistaken belief that they were idols and objects of worship.” [18]

On turning to the chapter ‘Indigenous Collections-America’, I was surprised to find a presentation of the work of a sculptor who was not even from America but from Europe. [19] The work of artist Ferdinand Pettrich is given considerable space even though he was from Germany as the catalogue itself states. True, the artist had spent some eight years among the indigenous peoples and is said to have used indigenous persons as his models. But does this justify the inclusion of his work under indigenous collection? Many African artists have spent more than thirty years in European countries living among the indigenous peoples there. Would their work be included in works of the indigenous people of Europe? Classifications must have some meaning. It would have been better to treat the work of the German artist under a separate heading.

Still under indigenous collection, we have a section entitled ‘Deep History, Artefacts, Boats and Musical Instruments’, where we see some interesting stones, boats and musical instruments. I have difficulty in seeing the connections between these different objects and why they should be included in the same chapter. I found no explanation in the catalogue how boats and musical instruments are related. Similarly, a section entitled “Photographic Collection” shows us various photographs, presumably all taken by Europeans. I could not see why they come under indigenous collections.

The section on indigenous collection concludes with a statement that appears contestable: “The Ethnological Museum is there to give voice to all of them, and through its collection it is possible to hear their voices, the voices of all the different peoples and cultures of the world and the splendour of the natural world, which we share.” [20]

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We must confess that we did not hear the voices of the indigenous peoples, however one defines them on the pages we read. We could hear only the voices of the Western world that viewed the objects and the peoples discussed as less developed people the Europeans studied as objects of interest and curiosity. The photos in particular displayed a Western view of non-Western peoples and their way of life.

The rest of the catalogue, entitled “Oriental Collections” deals with Far East, Southern Asia, South-East Asia, Near and Middle East and ends with a chapter on “Christian Oriental Art”.

The Oriental collections have some very beautiful sculptures and vases. In this part of the catalogue, we read for the first time the names of some of the donors of artefacts who all happen to be Europeans. [21] Were there no African or Asian donors? If most of the objects in the museum were donations, surely there must be a record of the donors. We also see in this section very interesting photos of buildings and sites that are not part of the museum’s collections. [22]

It would have been interesting to receive some information about the individuals or communities that made the various gifts to the Pope. Their addresses must still be available since we have been informed that at least half the donations were returned. This must mean returned to the senders.

We were also disappointed that writing in this 21st Century there is no mention of restitution or return of cultural objects. Is the Vatican’s Ethnological Museum not part of the world of museums? We would indeed have expected the Vatican Ethnological Museum to take the lead in stressing to the other museums, especially, the European museums, that the injunction, Thou shall not steal, also applies to cultural objects and to European museums too. Now that we have a vast number of persons keen on destroying cultural artefacts of others or even of their own, we surely need to assert the presence and authority of moral prescriptions in this area. It is true though that many Western art critics and museums have banned morality from discussions on restitution and seek refuge in law.

In any case, the Vatican Ethnology Museum should look at its collections to ensure that there are no artefacts with doubtful histories. The great number of artefacts in the museum should be examined with a view to determine whether some of the artefacts should not be returned to the peoples and countries from where they originally came. Some of the artefacts may have been genuine gifts but given the colonial situation of structural violence many gifts may have been made reluctantly. Most artefacts were due to the collecting activities of the missionaries who wielded a lot of power over many Africans.

Those peoples who were assumed in the past not to be able to speak for themselves must now surely be in a position to do so and their artefacts could also be useful in that process of revival of their cultures after decades of colonial suppression.

The assumption that certain people could not speak for themselves is surely a purely imperialistic invention to justify the domination of non-European peoples. We know of no people in the history of mankind that could not speak for themselves. All peoples have a language, literature, poetry, music, religion, and a history. Museums and intellectuals should not contribute to solidifying imperialist inventions that only served to justify the domination of other peoples.

Anyone with some information or knowledge about Africa would be shocked by this arrogant assumption, which in the past was taken for granted and not questioned. If we consider the Asante (Ghana), their culture, religion, their military organization, their literature and political system, it would be impossible to think they were ever in their history of several centuries not able to speak for themselves. Similarly, if we consider, the history, religion and cosmology of the Yoruba (Nigeria), their culture, literature, songs and dance, theatre, much of which has survived across the Atlantic in Brazil, we cannot for a second doubt that they can speak for themselves. And what about Benin (Edo,Nigeria) with the centuries-old monarchy headed by the Obas and the splendid arts and culture exemplified by the fabulous Benin Bronzes now held hostage in Western museums? Can one for a second imagine that peoples that have produced such beautiful artworks were unable to speak for themselves?

Incidentally, why are there no European artefacts and art works in the Vatican Ethnology Museum? Are Europeans not part of our world? Do their artefacts not constitute an integral part of the diversity of cultures, which is often mentioned in the Catalogue? Where then is the equal respect of cultures?

Could it well be that the Europeans and their cultures are considered superior and in a special category that should not be mixed with the cultures and arts of peoples considered heathen, wild and primitive? A revised edition of the catalogue of the Vatican Ethnological Museum should clarify some of these points.

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* Kwame Opoku is an independent scholar and commentator on cultural affairs


[1] Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 100. Dr. Greenfield refers to official Vatican publication as the source for this observation. See The Vatican Collections, “The Papacy and Art”, official publication authorized by the Vatican Museums, New York, 1982, p. 226. The statement attributed to the Pope may be compared to the view of the notorious Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, Hugh Trevor-Roper on the role of history: “If all history is equal, as some now believe, there is no reason why we should study one section of it rather than another; for certainly we cannot study it all. Then indeed we may neglect our own history and amuse ourselves with the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe: tribes whose chief function in history, in my opinion, is to show to the present an image of the past from which, by history, it has escaped”. Hugh Trevor-Roper, “The Rise of Christian Europe”, Thames and Hudson, 1965, p.9.

[2] Ludovic Lado, “The Roman Catholic Church and African Religions: A Problematic Encounter”,, Lado discusses in greater detail the encounter between the Catholic religion and African religions in his, “Catholic Pentecostalism and the Paradoxes of Africanization: Process of Localization in a Catholic Charismatic Movement in Cameroon”, Brill N. V. Leiden, 2009.

A well-known Nigerian historian, Toyin Falola wrote “Almost everywhere during the last years of the nineteenth century, missionaries supported the partition of Africa in the belief that European rule would facilitate their work and enable them to demolish those aspects of African culture that stand in the way of Christianity. Indeed, there were missionaries who believed that the agenda of colonialism in Africa was similar to that of Christianity.”
In the words of one such person, the Rev. Jan H .Boer of the Sudan United Mission; "Colonialism is a form of imperialism based on a divine mandate and designed to bring liberation - spiritual, cultural, economic and political - by sharing the blessings of the Christ-inspired civilization of the West with a people suffering under satanic oppression, ignorance and disease, effected by a combination of political, economic and religious forces that cooperate under a regime seeking the benefit of both ruler and ruled.".

“Other missionaries might have made the point differently or less strongly, but the perception that their goals were colonial in spirit was very common”
Falola, Toyin (2001) “Violence in Nigeria: The Crisis of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies”, University of Rochester Press, p. 32.

Another Nigerian intellectual, teaching at Augsburg University, Germany, Professor Chibueze Udeani has written “Africa, as noted by H. Rucker, was just another name for non-Europe. African traditional religions were consequently non-Christian and a priori anti-Christendom. Consequently European culture was taken to be identical with Christianity and what was not European was seen as not Christian. African religiosity and cultural standards were judged then by Western theological standards. As a result Africans were seen as godless heathens. The Africans, in this sense, represented the antithesis of the humanity, for the standard of participation in humanity was determined by how near they stood to the European culture. Adjectives for Africans were mainly negative; the African life was seen as primitive and the Africans themselves, as H. Rucker continued, were seen as cannibals. Their religion was considered to be superstition, idolatry, devil’s mischief, magic, fetishism, animism, polytheism, ancestor worship, offspring/product of unenlightenment and blooming imagination. Their thought pattern was seen as pre-logical”.

“Udeani, Inculturation as Dialogue - Igbo Culture and the Message of Christ”, Editions Rodopi B. V., Amsterdam, New York, NY 2007, p. 81.

Okot P’Bitek, wrote in his famous book “Decolonizing African Religions”, 2011, Diasporic Africa Press, New York, (with foreword by the Ghanaian philosopher, Kwesi Wiredu p.25): “The Christian mission to Africa was double-edged. The missionaries came to preach gospel as well as to “civilize”, and in their role of “civilizers they were at one with the colonizing forces; indeed they were an important vehicle of Western imperialism, which readily lent to the churches its wealth, power and influence. As Beetham put it ”With the partition of Africa following the Berlin conference European rule began to provide an umbrella of law and order for missionary activity. A settled government, the telegraph the railway- all helped”

“The missionaries came with the same arrogant assumptions that they represented a “higher” civilization indeed perhaps that no civilization existed in Africa. Western values and customs were to them identical with Christian morality”

V.Y. Mudimbe wrote in “The Invention of Africa”, James Curry, London, 1988, p. 47: “Obviously the missionary’s objectives had to be co-extensive with his country’s political and cultural perspectives on colonization as well as with the Christian view of his mission. With equal enthusiasm he served as agent of a political empire a representative of a civilization and as an envoy of God. There is no essential contradiction between these roles. All of them implied the same purpose; the conversion of African minds and space A. J. Christopher rightly observes that ‘missionaries’ possibly more than members of other branches of the colonial establishment aimed at the radical transformation of indigenous society…They therefore sought, whether consciously or unconsciously, the destruction of pre-colonial societies and their replacement by new Christian societies in the image of Europe”.

Kwame Bediako, a Ghanaian intellectual, wrote “There are African intellectual who, reacting to the historical entanglement of the Christian missionary endeavour with western colonial dominance, have retained a suspicion of the Christian religion in Africa”. “Christianity in Africa”, Edinburgh University Press, 1995, p. 178. Dr Bediako who does not share this suspicion provides interesting arguments to oppose the position adopted by many African intellectuals. His book is worth reading.

See also on the involvement of missionaries in the colonial enterprise: Annie E.
Coombes, “Reinventing Africa”, Yale University Press, 1994, pp. 161-186.

[3] Babson Ajibade, Emekpe Omon and Wole Oloidi, “African Arts in Postcolonial Context: New Old Meaning for Sculptures in Nigeria,”, Pakistan Journal of Social Science, 2011, Vol.8, Issue 4, pp. 172-180

[4] “African Sculptures from the collection of the Society of African Missions”, See also, Julian Bondaz, “Autels et Fétiches”, Afrique en Résonance, 2014, 5 Continents Editions, p.61 “La circulation des images et des objets servait ainsi la mise en scène du prosélytisme et la mise en récit des conversions, de manière heureusement moins violente que la destruction des fétiches par certains missionnaire catholiques et surtout protestants (ainsi que par certain prophètes africains ou par des prédicateurs musulmans).”

Claude Prudhomme, “Europe-Afrique – Echange Inégale”, in L’Afrique de nos Réserves, 5 Continents Editions, 2011, p. 26 : “Destruction des objets et des rites accusées de rendre un culte a Satan, ou enfouissement de ceux-ci pour les recouvrir par les objets et les rites chrétiens. Le premier réflexe missionnaire n’incline pas à l’empathie pour les culture africaines”

[5] 2014, 5 Continents Edition, pp. 7, 10 ; see also A. E. Coombes, op. cit. pp. 161, 168. “What I want to suggest in this chapter is that it was through the careful cultivation of a distinct, though by no means disinterested, position in relation to the colonial enterprise, that the home mission was particularly effective in disseminating an image of Africa and the African that ultimately served imperial interests”.

“What the missionary in the field did not give, or sell, to the national or local ethnographic collection back home, they donated to their own society’s ethnographic collection. Two of the earliest museums in Britain, which were founded independently of any concern for forming stock for use in exhibitions, belonged t the London Missionary Society and the Wesley Missionary Society.”

[6] Nicola Mapelli, Katherine Aigner and Nadia Fiusello, Edizioni Musei Vaticani, 2012.

[7] Catalogue, p. 7.

[8] Ibid., p .9.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 17.

[11] Ibid., p. 21.

[12] The Vatican Collections The Papacy and Art, p .227

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., p. 25. Note the qualification of “great” which seems to be limited mainly to the religions of Europe and America.

[15] Ibid., p. 26.

[16] K. Opoku,” Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project”,

[17] Catalogue, p. 91.

[18] Frank Willet, African Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1971, p. 245.

[19] Catalogue, pp. 181-187.

[20] Ibid., p. 223.

[21] Ibid., pp. 257, 262, 282.
[22] Ibid, pp. 255, 260, 267, 290.

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The invasion of Benin Kingdom

Michelle Yaa Asantewa


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British colonial soldiers committed genocide in the Kingdom of Benin in 1897. They then looted some 4,000 pieces of art which have never been returned. A Nigerian film recreates the invasion, exposing the bestial brutality of Empire.


On Saturday 7 February, a packed British Film Institute (BFI) audience attended African Odyssey’s hosting of 'Grand Theft Africa: History of the Benin Bronzes.' It opened with a one-hour presentation by historian and Pan-Africanist Dr Ama Biney on the historic and continuing ‘scramble for Africa.’ The focus of her presentation and theme for the film that followed was the 1897 invasion of Benin, which contributed to the greater African holocaust enshrined in our experience of enslavement, colonialism and neo-colonialism. The brutal desecration of Benin lives and culture through the theft of over 4,000 of its artefacts by Western Europeans seems to be a known but yet untold story. It led to the demise of the Great Benin Kingdom, marking a most significant period in the continuing scramble for African resources. During the invasion the Oba (King) was deposed and deported to Calabar on 13 September 1897 where he died 16 years later. The Nollywood director, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen’s film captures the horrific invasion in which Benin's well organised governmental system, cultural and spiritual traditions, kept in place for thousands of years, were callously disrespected by the British invaders. The event at the BFI was well timed to correspond with the anniversary on 10 February of the invasion. What follows is a reflection of the event as I attempt to capture the impression it left on me.


One of the lasting messages of Dr Biney’s presentation was that the ‘past is not dead – that it lives on in the present.’ This is how she perceives the impact of history. The infamous ‘Scramble for Africa’ in which 14 European powers voraciously supped around the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference table is a haunting and living legacy impeding the struggle for sovereignty and self-determination for many African states. Yet their lack of self-determination is linked to the unnaturalness of their construction, as these states represent the demographically modified appendages of the European imperialist project. Since the Conference preceded the invasion of Benin by over a decade it might appear accidental – or fortuitous. Likewise since the conference was held 130 years ago the social, economic and political instabilities associated with these states might suggest some natural inability to self-govern. Clearly this would be an ill-conceived perspective ignoring the deliberate and lasting impact of the Scramble.

This historical appendage made it possible for the Malian president to request help from France, its former colonial ruler, to intervene in the political crisis a couple years ago. Such interventions, whether sanctioned by African leaders or not, do not necessarily improve the conditions of the people they are supposedly called to assist; nor do they help to advance the sovereignty of African states. Historically, the image of ‘anarchy’ and destabilisation through the creation of proxy wars has been used by Western governments to justify interference in the affairs of other sovereign states. Similarly, parallels can be made of the moral arguments about fighting Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria and the 1897 invasion by the UK government. Some chaos or anarchy has to be created/detected for which the burden to solve becomes that of the all-saving Europeans. Their military power would give them unfair advantage and means to occupy. The ‘humanitarian’ guise of rescuing 300 school girls provided a perfect opportunity for the US-European military expansion to West Africa. Excessive foreign troops stretched across large areas of Africa means a military occupation that has little to do with ‘saving girls.’ The question is whether Western intervention is necessary or is this interference part of their imperialist strategy? In other words: Are matters made worse or better by their intervention?

In her talk, Dr Biney reminded us which European countries were among those 14 powers at the conference: France, Britain, Germany and Portugal. The map she used to more visibly imprint the dissection of the continent showed the dominance of the French and British. She allowed a resonant beat to sink into our hearts the poignant fact that around this inglorious table no African leader was present. Therefore it remains to be said that Africans should be left to resolve their own internal affairs. Their self-determination will always be blighted by the interventionist strategies of Western governments whose interests lie in the control of our resources.


What was striking from Dr Biney’s account was that prior to the 1897 invasion, between 1850-1880 there was a small European presence in Africa. They had coastal outposts from which they were exercising legitimate trade, particularly in palm oil and groundnuts. This trade had replaced the Trans-Atlantic Trade in human beings as slaves. The wanderlust of explorers, the crusading of missionaries and the avaricious traders combined to reshape the course of Africa’s history. The European countries involved in the trade sought to advance and protect their own interests, establishing military outposts that would later double as holding forts for enslaved Africans literally bound for the Atlantic. These outposts (forts) remain, as I observed during a trip to Cape Coast and Elmina Castles in Ghana. But those erected on the other side of the Atlantic also remain in the Caribbean islands. During a visit to some of these at the end of 2013 there was a sense that Africans (in the diaspora) had little claim to the land/islands but were forced to import everything and instead focus their economic interest on tourism – another way of saying exploration. At every corner of these islands there are churches – since the missionary project was supported by the respective European states.

Whilst they protected their claim along the coast, the real loot and ventures lay in the interior, which for many were yet unexplored. The increasing competition to discover and exploit Africa’s wealth naturally led explorers deeper into the interior. The Berlin Act, furthermore made it necessary for each European power to ‘inform each other of its claim’ to a portion of territory and establish the claim legitimately by ‘occupation.’ As we see today the interventionist strategy has its base in history whereby European governments used the internal disputes of African micro-states to push moral arguments about why they needed to be governed by external intermediaries. Some of the moral arguments were founded on the alleged principle of civilising Africans from their fetishisms and traditional practices, including human sacrifice. As Dr Biney noted, Europeans exaggerated these customs and practices in order to serve their own interests. Although the Europeans claimed to be concerned about internal slave trade and general conflicts in Africa, with the exception of the Yorubas no mention was made of internal slavery in the Berlin Act. Dr Biney argued that contrary to the supposed anarchy in Africa, most of West Africa was peaceful with well-organised states and strong rulers.


By the time of the invasion, Benin was expanding, having subsumed smaller states into its Kingdom through military force. The Edo region, in which the City of Benin was situated, was discovered by British explorers venturing deeper into the hinterland. The impressive cultural artefacts, along with the discovery of vast amounts of rubber leant fervour to the mission to totally colonise the region.

Oba Ovonramwen, who had inherited a kingdom at war not only with other states but with its own internal struggles, had to establish firm leadership but was loved and respected by his people. The British knew this. In 1891 the British Vice Consul H.L. Gallwey took a spurious treaty to Oba Ovonramwen. He didn’t sign the treaty but instead authorised one of his chiefs, who clearly couldn’t read English, to do so. According to Dr Biney the terms afforded protection for the Oba by Queen Victoria in return for loyalty to Britain; he could not entertain any other foreign power. There also had to be free trade with Britain and the kingdom had to receive missionaries. When the Oba flouted these terms a new treaty was devised aimed at forcing the Oba to submit to the British Empire.


Following his own orders, and perhaps owing to some despotic trait and loyalty to the British Crown, the Acting Vice Consul James Phillips ignored warnings not to enter Benin, when at this time a sacred ceremony was in swing. But he persisted to enter the City. This was regarded by the Benin chiefs as a challenge to the sovereignty of the kingdom for which they retaliated by killing Phillips and six other British men. This presented Britain with the opportunity of war against the kingdom and 1,500 soldiers primarily made up of Africans from other colonised territories were dispatched to avenge the killing of the seven Britons; two of them had escaped. The defeat of Benin, as Dr Biney explained, was due to the ‘superior technology’ of British weaponry. The Africans were admirable adversaries but their machetes, bows and arrows couldn’t compare. Though available on the continent, there was limited access to machine guns which would have aided their combat. Even if they could obtain the machine guns, there weren’t enough soldiers trained to use them. The outcome of this unfair advantage was genocide in which thousands Africans lost their lives. Shamefully this wholesale sacking of the Benin Empire also culminated in the grand theft of cultural artefacts bestowing the history and heritage of the Benin people.


Another striking observation in Dr Biney’s presentation was the citation by fellow historian, Toyin Falola, who attributed the defeat of Nigeria (Benin) to the series of ‘so-called little wars’ waged by Britain as a decided method that ‘boosted the idea of imperialism.’ In other words, these little wars were by design part of a bigger plan for total domination. Former African leaders, like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea Republic, posited pan-African unity, calling for a level of consciousness that would recognise the ‘totality of the European plan’ – a systematic, well-practiced strategy of divide and rule. Colonialism was replaced by neo-colonialism after extending pretentious arms of independence.

When Ghana gained its independence in 1957 as the first country in sub-saharan Africa to do so, Nkrumah made it clear that unless all African territories were liberated, none were. The vision of total liberation of its people and of all the macro and micro African states would be the appropriate response to this ‘totality of the plan’ by Britain, US and other Western European nations still intervening in African affairs.


It fulfilled a lifetime ambition of the Nollywood director Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen to produce a film about the invasion of Benin but also to screen it in the City of London. His diminutive figure was overshadowed by lofty aspirations and confidence as he beamed from the BFI podium. That the film, a Nollywood production, was even being screened at the BFI was another achievement he credited. In September last year filmmaker Nadia Denton curated a weekend centred on the rise of Nollywood. This was held in conjunction with the launch of her book, ‘The Nigerian Filmmaker’s Guide to Success: Beyond Nollywood’. This film builds on the commitment by the African Odyssey’s programme of ‘inspirational films by and about the people of Africa.’

The film opened with harrowing scenes of violence, with heads cleanly swiped by machetes and lobbed across my unsuspecting imagination early on. We were forewarned about the violence but I wasn’t prepared for the immediacy of it. These scenes of violence were interspersed in the film, building particularly during the invasion itself where graphic depictions of cannon explosions, bodies burning, machine gun killings, machete executions that exposed the impact of the devastation to African lives. Though the ‘white men’, as they were called in the film, lost their lives, this was disproportionate because Africans were fighting both for and against the British.


Apart from the recognisable Rudolph Walker and Charles (Chucky) Venn (both from Eastenders) most of the cast were unknown to UK audiences or were acting for the first time. This might explain the awkward staccato diction of some of the actors, especially those playing English soldiers who hardly seemed committed to the process. I wondered if this was to do with cultural allegiance – the difficulty or pressure to show one’s culture in its true (in this case negative) light. For me the most remarkable acting was by Mike Omoregbe who played Oba Ovonramwen. He was committed to portraying the strength, complexity and anxieties of the Benin leader. He brought to life the image of this proud, powerful warrior king that Dr Biney barely had time to show us during her talk. He was convincing in embodying the spirituality and beliefs in ancestral traditions that underscored the King’s life and that of his people. Surprisingly, we were later told it was Omoregbe’s first acting role and that he was a priest whose faith wouldn’t approve of the traditional spiritual practices the film promoted so well. This shows the open-mindedness of Omoregbe and further reveals the daringness of Imasuen who cast him.


After the brutal opening scene, the film moved into present day to encapsulate the umbilical link with the past. A Nigerian descendant attempts to retrieve one of the Benin Bronzes from the British Museum. During the court hearing he refuses to plead guilty of theft, because he claims that he was restoring the items, stolen by the British, on behalf of his family. It wasn’t intended to be but this was somewhat comical. Yet, I imagine many Africans who visit the British Museum feel the same compulsion. I do. To mark the centenary of the invasion in 2014, the film was screened at the museum, amidst some security anxieties about protests and demonstrations. This is another of Imasuen’s accomplishments and speaks of the unabashedness of the British authorities about their grand theft of African resources. Perhaps they consider this screening some kind of concession. I see it the way Dr Biney regards the presentness of the past which will continue to speak until justice is done. Indeed, the penultimate scene in the film in which Oba Ovonramwen is captured was ominous. Throughout the film his speeches were deliberately elevated by the use of proverbs and allegories in contrast to the bland exchanges between the British soldiers. In his last speech he expressed prophetic sentiments of exacting justice.


From the BFI podium and to welcome audience response Imasuen said he wanted to make a film that was unapologetically from the African perspective. He achieved this by privileging the views and motivations of the Africans, showing particularly that they were concerned with preserving their cultural heritage and protecting their sovereignty. The invaders on the other hand were ignorant, blood thirsty and greedy; ready to wage an unjust war to strengthen their own empire thousands of miles away. The visualisation of African courage during the invasion reinforced Dr Biney’s account about their bravery during combat; that they were not passive bystanders but ready warriors to defend their kingdom. Although many of the soldiers in the British army were Africans, I think the film was making a point in depicting this. The stark blue uniforms worn by the soldiers vividly conveyed a problem. As long as Africans see themselves as separate and divided, each state can be manipulated by the colonisers to commit soldiers to fight against the other. I’m trying to imagine a day I’d see a film whereby European soldiers (white) are en mass fighting on the side of Africans against another European aggressor. Africans need to be committed to identifying a unity of interest. When it comes to advancing their interests European leaders, as the film depicts, are two-faced and two-tongued. They conspire together, though they don’t always agree, to protective their collective and nationalistic aims. Somehow they’ve convinced African leaders they need to act differently.

Though he said the film was unapologetically from the African perspective there was a massive oversight by the director. In the last scene, in which the African descendent achieves victory in court for his alleged attempted larceny of the Benin Bronzes he is embraced by his European partner fully clad (in the court) in the cultural orange beading, including a crown, found in Nigeria. They hugged, once, twice and then they kissed long. I was disappointed by this seemingly out of place addition – gutted that after all the pronouncements against the ‘white men’ and the blatant caricaturing of Queen Victoria that Imasuen felt he needed to close the film with this lasting image. Throughout the film and in keeping with social history of the day there was lack of agency in the depiction of the African women. However, I wonder at the insensitivity to African women by reinforcing a tired stereotype of a successful African man (symbolised by the raised hand of victory, mirroring Nelson and Winnie after the former’s release from prison) and his European (white) woman. Imasuen tried to pass it off as a ‘cultural marriage’ claiming that he didn’t want to be seen to be preaching hate. But for me this scene was a wasted effort, no love angle of this kind was necessary. It seemed as though it was about compromise and a lack of total conviction.

The same could be said of the decision not to use a Nigerian language and maintain the subtitles (which were in English despite all the actors speaking in English). His rationale for this was about trying to ‘reach’ a wider audience. One wonders how far that reach needed to be given the 170 million population of Nigeria. The ‘reach’ ought to be seen as coming from those who are interested in evolving cultural representations, not our complicit perpetuation of cultural imperialism through the predominance of the English language. Still respect is due to him for producing a film that tells this true story intrinsically from the worldview of Africans.


We saw clipped scenes of not only British but other European soldiers grabbing the loot from the decimated City of Benin. As well as Britain Dr Biney mentioned Sweden, Holland, Germany and the US as being beneficiaries of this looting. Imasuen related a story about seeing one of the Benin pieces on sale in the US for $54,000 and tried to compute how this sum would transform the lives of contemporary Edo artisans. With regard to the artistic feel of the film, there was a moderate attempt at this. There were some shots of the landscape; the red earth beautifully contrasting the tropically green trees gave a sense of the place. This was complimented by simple yet striking cultural costumes like the white puffy bottom half robes of the chiefs, the elaborate warrior vestments, including the visible crafting of their machetes and the impressive garments worn by the Oba. The achievement of this is commendable especially because the project was self-funded.

Imasuen commented during the Q&A that the craft and skill of creating those stolen artefacts has not been lost. There were shots of the bronze smelting, as homage to the skill and craft involved in producing the looted Benin bronzes.


In her final remarks Dr Biney emphasised a call for reparations and restitution to account for the devastating loss of African life and the grand theft of thousands of Benin artefacts residing in the European museums and private collections Chicago. Despite attempts by the Edo people to secure the return of these treasures there has been no recognition of their claim. Imasuen recounted that during the build up to screening the film at the British Museum items were returned to the Benin Royal family by a descendant of one of the British men who looted the wares during the invasion. The emphasis on reparations highlighted the necessary and humane response in the 21st century to ameliorating the devastation of African cultural heritage under colonialism. This is part of a wider movement for reparations with which Dr Biney recommended young people to become involved.


The past does not only intrude but makes certain demands on the present. As I contemplate the stern face of Oba Ovonramwen, the confidence in his stature, I perceive an irrepressible spirit that will not rest until justice in some form is achieved for his people. In this way he can be said to embody the ancestral spirit of millions of Africans who perished during the holocaust or maafa (genocide). The combination of historical documentation from Dr Biney’s presentation and the artistic and cultural representation by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen’s film provided excellent insight about the circumstances of the invasion. This was followed by lively debate during the Q&A which included on the panel along with Dr Biney and Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, Nadia Denton, Mike Omoregbe (the Oba) and BFI’s David Somerset, Chairing.

I agreed with two memorable remarks. One stressed that the director didn’t have to pander to any suggestion he might be preaching hate in his film; that after all Africans were treated inhumanely in our brutal encounters with Europeans and we had nothing to apologise to them for; that in fact we’re still awaiting apology from them. The second asked that Imasuen took more care in the way he spoke about the value of African art. There was some miscommunication that suggested he would rather have compensation for the total value accumulated over one hundred years of theft, rather than having the artefacts themselves returned. The point was that we must appreciate both the artefact and their monetary worth, because if we didn’t and any slackness in our expressions about this would potentially send the wrong message and further hamper the campaign for reparations. I commend the effort of the African Odyssey team who brought the event to us in collaboration with Tony Warner of Black History Walks. Sponsors of the film, including Sapetra and Greenwich TV, and promoters j2 knosults were represented and to them too I express gratitude. Overall it was good to be there, the pre-screening presentation was great and despite some of its contradictions the film, as Nadia Denton summed up contributed to a necessary debate about the importance of history to the question of sovereignty and self-determination.

Click on the link to the official website for Invasion 1897.

* Dr Michelle Yaa Asantewa formerly taught English Literature, Editing and Creative Writing at London Metropolitan University and currently facilitates writing workshops as an Independent Scholar. Her first novel Elijah and poetry collection The Awakening and Other Poems were self-published and are the launch publications for Way Wive Wordz Publishing. A Pan-Africanist and writer activist her blog waywivewordzspiritualcreative fuses social, spiritual and cultural experiences with artistic expression.



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Malcolm X: Revolutionary voice of struggle and liberation

Five decades since his martyrdom the struggle continues by any means necessary

Abayomi Azikiwe


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50 years have passed since the shooting of Malcolm X, yet the institutionalized racism he fought against, as well as its resulting violence, poverty and inequality, still blight many African American communities in the US. It is time to revisit Malcolm X’s life, death, and legacy to find a way out.

Note: The following address was delivered at the annual African American History Month Forum in Detroit on Saturday 21 February 2015, which was sponsored by the Detroit branches of the Workers World Party and the Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) youth organization. This event was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. Attended by a standing-room-only audience, the event was chaired by Chae Davis of FIST and other speakers included Debbie Johnson of Workers World Party, Joe Mchahwar of FIST as well as community activist Marcina Cole who reported on the current effort to free Michigan political prisoner Rev Edward Pinkney.


This event today is one of the most significant that we have held this year. Some fifty years ago Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem before a crowd of over 400 people attending a meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).

Our organization has consistently upheld the legacy of Malcom X and many other heroic fighters, organizers and theoreticians of the African American Liberation Movement in the United States. This is our duty as a revolutionary party based inside the US where institutional racism, national oppression and class exploitation are still very much the order of the day.

We have seen much over the last six months across the country that provides hope for the strength and viability of the people’s struggle. In response to the blatant killing of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American youth in Ferguson, Missouri on 9 August, an upsurge in anti-racist demonstrations and rebellions spread throughout the empire.

The killing of Brown--who was unarmed and minding his own business--followed another outrageous police operation in Staten Island, New York, when Eric Garner was choked to death on 17 July. Although there were demonstrations initially in reaction to Garner’s killing, which was captured in full on a cell phone video camera, the rapid, militant and broad response to the Brown killing in Ferguson provided impetus for the African American people and their allies not only in the St Louis area but around the US.

It was not a unique occurrence that an African American was killed in public by the police. These incidents take place on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. What distinguished the killing of Brown was the mass outbreak of discontent that shook the corridors of the ruling class.

The US state and ruling class promotes the notion that America is a democratic country, that racism and national oppression have largely been overcome.

There, of course, is a president of African descent in the White House. This president appointed an African American attorney general, also the first in the history of the country.

Nonetheless, the fundamental nature of the system of racial capitalism has not changed and in many ways the structures of exploitation and oppression have been reinforced as a result of the overall trajectory of the economic character of the US. We see this very clearly in Detroit where people have and are still being driven out of the city through the loss of jobs, low wages, foreclosures and evictions; the theft of pensions and healthcare benefits; as well as the indifference to the plight of the majority by the imposed political leadership downtown.

A recent study by a human services organization, Bread for the World, reveals through data what we already know based on our experience and current outreach among the workers and oppressed in Detroit and across the country, that African Americans are facing near-starvation conditions in 2015. The cuts in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the increasing impoverishment of the working class, the rise in food prices and lack of availability of quality foods and mass incarceration are creating conditions that are not conducive to the health and well-being of a people.

As a result of these conditions of austerity in the US, the situation will only get worse. Those who claim to represent us in local, state and federal structures of supposed authority never raise these fundamental questions related to the access to food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, income and housing.

These conditions prevail despite the fact that President Barack Obama went before the people of the US and the world last month claiming that the economy has improved tremendously and that ‘America is back’. The issue is: back for whom? Passing references to income inequality absent of a program of redistribution of wealth from the rich to the workers and poor rings hollow indeed.

The situation involving food is critical and very basic just like water. In Detroit we have been subjected to massive water shut-offs over the last year. When this was brought to the attention of the country and the world, the rulers of the city were condemned for their failure to provide access to this essential need for all human beings. Without water we cannot live. Therefore, we raised the slogan that water is a human right and that no ruling class politician has a right to deny people access to it. Nor do they have a right to deny people food, considering the fact that warehouses and distribution centers are filled with food, a lot of which will be thrown out due to the lack of political will to deliver it to people who need it.

Therefore, we need to once again look at the revival of a ‘Food is a Right’ campaign as was done over thirty years ago during the Reagan era. We must re-emphasize that food belongs to the people and no one should be going hungry or suffering from malnutrition because the capitalist system cannot make a profit in distributing these fundamental needs.

These projects are related to our work in the area of political education. We have to change the character of the discussion and debate about the current economic crisis in the US and around the world.

This is why we have expressed our solidarity with the workers in Greece. The situation in Greece mirrors the crisis of capitalism in Detroit and the state of Michigan. We need a government that puts the interests of the people before the profits of the corporations and banks.

Consequently, this is why we need a revolutionary party to fuel the mass struggle of the people with socialist ideology and analysis. To point to the fact that under this exploitative system, the people cannot be genuinely free and therefore, we have to seek solutions outside the present social order.

Our newspaper is important in this entire process. We have to provide an alternative view of the global landscape that is based on the interest of the workers and the oppressed.


Of course Malcolm X is an example of what needs to be done. Malcolm X was an organizer.

What is often overlooked is that Malcolm came from a political family. His parents were active members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association—African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) founded by Marcus Garvey and Amy Ashwood Garvey in 1914 in Jamaica.

When Garvey moved the organization to the US in 1916, the country was undergoing a profound shift in industrial production and mass migration into the urban areas. Malcolm’s parents Earl and Louise Little met at a UNIA Convention in 1919 in Montreal.

Therefore, from his earliest memories he knew the importance of organization in the struggle for African liberation. He also knew from direct experience the repressive character of the US state through attacks on his family by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations who eventually killed his father in 1931 in Lansing, Michigan.

After his mother Louise was broken psychologically due to the pressure emanating from the white power structure and the social conditions prevailing at the time of the Great Depression, the family was disbanded and many were sent to live under foster care. Although Malcolm excelled in school under such circumstances, he was eventually discouraged from pursuing education by a white teacher who told him that he should not aspire to be a lawyer but to do something with his hands, to be a carpenter maybe, because the legal field was not practical for a N-word.

He would later move to Boston to live with his older sister Ella Collins. Working menial jobs and falling into petty criminal activity, Malcolm was convicted in 1946 for burglary and sentenced to eight to ten years in state prison. He served six-and-a-half years and was paroled in 1952.

During his time in prison he began to read and reflect upon his life and the conditions in the US and the world. By 1948 he was recruited into the Nation of Islam (NOI) by his siblings who had joined the organization.

The Nation of Islam was formed in 1930 in Detroit by WD Fard (Master Fard Muhammad). It taught a form of Islam that was not necessarily recognized by the Muslim communities in the East. After 1934 when Fard left Detroit under disputed circumstances, there was a power struggle inside the organization over succession. Elijah Muhammad wound up setting up headquarters in Chicago, later known as Temple or Mosque No. 2.

However, the organization had many positive characteristics, including refusal to serve in the military; it did not recognize the US government as the legitimate representative of the African American people and it sought to instill pride and self-respect into African Americans who had been inculcated with notions of inferiority and self-hate stemming from slavery and Jim Crow.

After Malcolm was paroled from prison he came to live in Inkster and Detroit. After working for several months at a furniture store with his older brother Wilfred and taking up several industrial jobs, such as at Ford Motor Company for a brief period, he began organizing for the NOI full-time.

He rose rapidly within the ranks of the NOI, which was not a large organization at the time. Elijah Muhammad appointed him as deputy minister over at the Detroit Temple No. 1 and later sent him as the chief minister to Philadelphia and Boston. By 1954, Malcolm was the minister in New York City at Temple No. 7.

He noted in his autobiography that New York at the time was the most difficult assignment he had taken since being paroled two years earlier. There were several nationalist organizations in Harlem that they had to compete with and the people were not quick to join a new group.

In one section describing this in his autobiography, he recounted that oftentimes after making a serious effort to win people over during his sermons, and when he would announce that the group was open for new membership, initially only one or two would come forward.

Nonetheless, after a few years things began to change. The broader movements for national independence, socialism and civil rights were taking hold in the US and across the world.

The 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia set the stage for the Non-Aligned Movement that was formed by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Sukarno of Indonesia in 1961. There was the Korean Revolution under Kim Il Sung in 1945, the Vietnamese Revolution beginning in 1945, the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the defeat of French imperialism at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the so-called Korean War of 1950-53 and the intervention of China as well as the rising tide of national independence movements in India, Algeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.

All of these developments were followed closely by Malcolm X and he brought these current events into his sermonic style in the mosques. Even as early as 1950 while he was still in prison in Massachusetts at the beginning of the Korean War, he was placed in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files after he wrote a letter to then-President Harry S Truman opposing the war saying that ‘I have always been a communist’. He went on to say that he had supported Japan during the Second World War and people have said all along that he was crazy.

Malcolm had been considered unsuitable for military service during WWII when at the selective service induction interview he told the officials that he couldn’t wait to get his hands on a weapon so he could shoot the first cracker he saw. He was immediately declared psychotic and exempted from the draft.

Later in New York after more people began to join the NOI there and across the country, he was designated as the national spokesman for Elijah Muhammad. He maintained this position until 1963 when he was suspended from the organization and later resigned.

Malcolm X’s constant study, organizing and travel on behalf of the NOI heightened the national profile of the organization and brought it to the attention of the corporate media. In 1959, Mike Wallace, at the aegis of African American journalist Louis Lomax, did a five-part news series on the NOI called ‘The Hate That Hate Produced’. The program brought the Muslims to the attention of millions across New York City and the US.

That same year Malcolm traveled abroad as an emissary of Elijah Muhammad to several countries in Africa and the Middle East including Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. He was increasingly receiving invitations to speak to major audiences at community gatherings, universities and in the radio and television media.

In 1960 Malcolm worked on founding a newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, which gained national and global notoriety for pioneering reporting. By 1961, the newspaper was being widely distributed as a weekly in African American communities across the country.

Malcolm X challenged the Civil Rights Movement over the issues of nonviolent direct action, the need for self-defense and integration. The program of the NOI that was published every week on the back page of the newspaper called for a separate state for Africans in the U.S. or outside the country.

His message was so powerful that many mainstream civil rights leaders would refuse to debate him publicly. Nonetheless, some did take him on in public forums that were widely publicized by the media over radio and television.

Some of the leaders who did debate him were Bayard Rustin, a longtime pacifist and labor organizer, who believed in the theory of nonviolent direct action to achieve social change. Others included the novelist and essayist James Baldwin, who he debated on numerous occasions, and James Farmer, the then-director of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE).

However, by 1963, Malcolm had run into many obstacles inside the NOI that restricted his development. Despite the organization’s strident rhetoric and program of self-determination, it did not directly engage in the burgeoning civil rights struggle sweeping the South and the North of the country.

When in April 1962, Mosque No. 27 in Los Angeles was attacked by the police and Secretary Ronald Stokes was killed in cold blood, Malcolm went immediately to California to build a case against the cops and city authorities. He called for a rally in the city to galvanize the people to wage a struggle and win justice for Stokes and six other Muslims who were either wounded or charged with assaulting the police.

After the coroner’s inquest exonerated the police, saying the killing of Stokes was justifiable, Malcolm sought to bring civil action against the authorities in Los Angeles. However, Elijah Muhammad withdrew him from Los Angeles sending him back to New York. It was during this period that Malcolm undoubtedly began to question the sincerity and viability of the NOI.

The failure to pursue a political struggle in Los Angeles--despite the fact that the entire African American community had condemned the police action--coupled with the revelations surrounding the personal life of Elijah Muhammad, brought him into conflict with the leader and members of his family. Over the period of ten years, and largely as a result of the work of Malcolm X, the NOI had become a fairly wealthy organization.

Elijah Muhammad was also suffering from serious health problems during 1961-63. At rallies across the country where Muhammad had been billed as the major attraction, Malcolm X would often have to speak in his absence. Questions of succession within the NOI rose to the surface.

With Malcolm having the highest profile both inside and outside the organization, the question became whether he was the heir apparent to Elijah Muhammad. This was potentially problematic for members of Muhammad’s family, other leading officials in the NOI, as well as the federal government.

The corporate media had for years designated and described Malcolm as the number two man in the organization. His militancy, articulate speech and dedication to the cause won him admiration not only among the members and followers of the NOI but among broader segments of the Civil Rights, Black Nationalist and Left Movements in the US.

Malcolm was a principled leader and lived a modest life at a home that was owned by the NOI in Elmhurst, Queens. He spent enormous amounts of time on the road working for the organization. His own family life was sacrificed for the cause of the NOI.

Of course many within the family of Elijah Muhammad were concerned that if Malcolm took over, their privileged positions could be jeopardized. The property accumulated by Muhammad and the organization was quite substantial including a mansion in Chicago’s Hyde Park and a luxurious home in Phoenix, Arizona.

Therefore in December 1963, Malcolm X was suspended from speaking by Elijah Muhammad, allegedly over statements made by Malcolm during a question-and-answer period at a rally held in the Manhattan Center in New York City. The statements were in response to a question about the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

Malcolm said that the US government had assassinated leaders of other countries including Patrice Lumumba of Congo and that the killing of Kennedy was a case of the ‘chickens coming home to roost’. This was a phrase often used in the African American community, meaning that if someone committed bad acts that they would come back upon them.

Supporters of Malcolm X felt that this was a pretext to have his authority curtailed and eventually silenced. Malcolm was suspended for ninety days and after that expired, the silencing was made indefinite.

Later in early March 1964, he announced that he was leaving the organization to establish another group in New York City called the Muslim Mosque, Inc. The following month, he went on the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage required of all devotees, which was not required by the NOI.

In doing this, Malcolm X authenticated himself as an orthodox Muslim in the eyes of those in Middle East, Asia and Africa. After making Hajj he traveled to several African states including Ghana and Egypt, which were citadels of the African Revolution during the 1960s.

After returning to the US in May 1964, he set out to establish another organization, this one secular and overtly political. The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) was actually conceived in Ghana during Malcolm’s visit there in May. While in Ghana, then under the leadership of Dr Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party (CPP), Malcolm met with Shirley Graham Du Bois, Julian Mayfield, Maya Angelou and other prominent African Americans living in Ghana at the time.

After the official formation of the OAAU on 28 June 1964 at the Audubon Ballroom, within three weeks Malcolm had left the country again for Cairo, Egypt, to attend the Second Annual Summit of the recently-formed Organization of African Unity (OAU), the continental agency formed the year before in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Malcolm summited an eight-page memorandum on behalf of the OAAU requesting support from 32 independent African states for the liberation struggle of African Americans in the US.

Malcolm stressed to the leaders that as the OAU was taking up the questions of colonialism fostered by the Portuguese in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, settler colonialism in Southern Africa and other issues of independence and sovereignty, they must also address the plight of the then 22 million Africans in the US who were also suffering under colonialism and apartheid in the form of second-class citizenship and Jim Crow.

He pointed out that African states after overturning classical colonialism must not fall victim to what he termed ‘American Dollarism’. Progressive states in Africa at the time such as Algeria, Egypt, Ghana and Guinea, took notice of his request and opened up their doors to him.

Malcolm during this period in Cairo spent time with some of the leading African liberation movement leaders such as Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, who founded in 1956 the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). His efforts made monumental contributions to the understanding and propagation of the aims and objectives of the African American Freedom Movement throughout Africa and the Middle East.

Malcolm X as the OAAU leader spent the next four months in Africa and the Middle East where he studied and held talks with various leaders and organizations. President Nasser met with him extensively and opened up avenues of Islamic educational resources for his usage.

When Malcolm returned to the US after stopping over in western Europe, where he spoke in England and France, he became a much greater threat to his enemies. Threats against his life intensified despite his absence for large periods during the year.


In examining the assassination of Malcolm X fifty years ago, we have to examine it within the broader context of the system of national oppression that routinely attacks, contains and liquidates those among the exploited in order to preserve the system of capitalism and imperialism. Although the official line of the ruling class in the US is that Malcolm died as a result of a conflict between him and the NOI, other key factors must be taken into consideration.

First, it is important to acknowledge that Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam were subjected to intense surveillance and destabilization tactics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other local law-enforcement agencies. As we mentioned earlier, a file was opened by the FBI on Malcolm in 1950 after he wrote a letter to President Truman opposing the Korean War.

There have been tens of thousands of pages of declassified files released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that provide a sharp picture of the role of the federal government in undermining the African American mass organizations during the 1950s and 1960s. Detailed reports on the activities, speeches, associations, travels and family life of Malcolm X and other Muslim members and leaders are chronicled in these files.

The FBI and other agencies were well aware of the internal workings of the NOI. They had access to the intimate family affairs of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.

In 1955 Malcolm was approached by at least two FBI agents who attempted to interrogate him about the NOI and its structures. In a detailed report on this confrontation, the FBI described his attitude as ‘uncooperative’.

According to the FBI report dated 10 January 1955, it says that ‘He refused to furnish any information concerning the officers, names of members, to furnish doctrines or beliefs of the MCI (Muslim Cult of Islam) or family background data on himself…. Subject considered the “Nation of Islam” higher and greater than the United States Government.’

The final page of the report provides a description of Malcolm X’s name and aliases from the past. His date of birth, race, sex, height, weight, eye color, hair, complexion, employment and facial marks are recorded. He was described from his 1943 selective service record as having a ‘Psychopathic Personality Inadequate—sexual perversion’ and that he was rejected for military service for psychiatric reasons. They had his social security number, finger prints and a photograph. In other words, the government was on his case.

This surveillance continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s, up until the time of his assassination. After leaving the NOI in 1964, the FBI recorded and transcribed his radio and television broadcasts and public speeches. There are facsimile copies of newspaper articles and leaflets reporting on his activities in the files.

A detailed analysis of the assassination is not possible within the framework of our meeting today. I would like to say that tremendous work has been done in this area over the last several decades and even more since the 1990s.

Talmadge Hayer, or Thomas Hagin, confessed to being one of the gunmen during the trial in 1966. The other two men sentenced in the assassination maintained their innocence and Hayer backed up their claims. Hayer, when asked on the stand, refused to divulge the names of the other gunmen who carried out the assassination.

Over a decade later, in the late 1970s, Hayer submitted an affidavit naming his accomplices. These individuals have been tracked down by independent researchers and journalists. Today on You Tube there are numerous reports on these individuals and other aspects of the assassination.

The OAAU was infiltrated by the Bureau of Special Services (BOSS), the intelligence arm of the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Gene Roberts was discovered during 1971 when he testified in the New York Panther 21 trial. Lawyers questioned him about his presence at the Audubon Ballroom as a guard for Malcolm X and he admitted he was there working on behalf of BOSS.

Two other key individuals are worthy of note. John Ali, the former national secretary of the NOI, who made the initial announcement about the suspension of Malcolm X in December 1963, was written about by Louis Lomax in the book When the Word Is Given on the Muslims published that same year. Lomax said in the book that John Ali was a former FBI agent. Whether he was an agent or an informant does not really matter.

The then-FBI-director J Edgar Hoover sent a directive to Lomax to change the allegation that Ali had been an FBI agent. Lomax never changed the assertion and some seven years later while working on a documentary on the assassination of Malcolm X, he was killed in a car accident.

Finally, recent attention has focused on William Bradley of Newark, New Jersey. Hayer in his affidavit claimed that Bradley was a part of the assassination team. Bradley was supposed to have been the one who fired the most deadly shots through a sawed-off shotgun recovered at the scene of the killing.

An article published on Sunday, 15 February 2015 in the New York Daily News examined the history and present lifestyle of Bradley, who lives well in Newark today. He refused to answer questions and referred all inquiries to his lawyer. He has claimed that he was not at the Audubon that day but analyses of archival film footage from outside the Ballroom appear to show Bradley.

How could these individuals escape law enforcement scrutiny all of these years? With the degree of infiltration and monitoring of the NOI and the OAAU coupled with the identification of a New York police intelligence officer at the scene of the killing, there is no way that the authorities were not aware of the plot to assassinate Malcolm X.

When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, requests were made to Attorney General Eric Holder to reopen a federal investigation of the case, since the actual shooters had been identified by the confessed killer who was captured at the scene of the crime. Of course, this was never done by Holder or the Obama administration.

This is not surprising since the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Aiyana Jones in Detroit have not resulted in any Justice Department indictments, arrests or prosecutions. It will be up to the independently organized force of the masses to win justice for Malcolm X, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, the recent victims of police violence and all others who died as a result of racism and national oppression.

* Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor of Pan-African News Wire.

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Malcolm X’s internationalism and the struggle for Haiti today

Ajamu Nangwaya


c c AJ
Internationalists who are in agreement with Malcolm X’s internationalism and global justice commitments ought to actively support the fight for self-determination, independence and development of the labouring classes in Haiti.

“…when you select heroes about which black children ought to be taught, let them be black heroes who have died fighting for the benefit of black people. We never were taught about Christophe or Dessalines. It was the slave revolt in Haiti when slaves, black slaves, had the soldiers of Napoleon tied down and forced him to sell one half of the American continent to the Americans. They don’t teach us that. This is the kind of history we want to learn.” – Malcolm X[1]

February 21, 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X who is firmly located within the ranks of the foremost luminaries of Pan-Afrikanism.[2] As such, he was very much concerned with the fate of Afrikans across the globe. The broadness of Malcolm’s humanity and sympathy informed his internationalism, which included all oppressed peoples, especially the racialized ones who have experienced the lashes of global white supremacy.[3]

This year, 2015, also marks the commencement of the 100th anniversary of the United States’ invasion and occupation of Haiti, the 11th anniversary of the Western-backed coup against the democratically-elected government Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the current MINUSTAH occupation, and the 5th anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The outlook of this ardent Pan-Afrikanist and internationalist, Malcolm X, ought to have relevance to the organized solidarity that anti-imperialists and Pan-Afrikanists should be demonstrating toward the labouring classes in Haiti.

One of the most important anti-imperialist struggles in the Americas today is the occupation of Haiti by western imperialism by way of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).[4] As long as this military occupation is in effect, the individuals and organizations who claim to be champions of the self-determination and independence of oppressed people should be organizing to end it. The people of Haiti are actively resisting the neocolonial regime and the occupation force that have been imposed on them. Are we, internationalists, playing our part as comrades-in-arms with “the wretched of the earth” in Haiti?

Haiti’s legacy of materially contributing to the independence struggles in South America and Central America, and accelerating the end to slavery in the Americas ought to inspire a higher level of commitment for its popular struggle on the ground. The Haitian Revolution clearly demonstrated the creative genius, boldness, resilience and self-reliance of a dispossessed people when they are motivated by a compelling idea or vision. Hence, the labouring classes in Haiti are heirs to a revolutionary tradition that affirms the capacity of the socially damned to assert themselves on the stage of history as dramatic actors.

It was not an accident that Malcolm made connection to the Haitian Revolution in his effort to achieve human rights for Afrikan Americans. He expressed admiration for its example of militancy and courage in checkmating white supremacy, enslavement and colonialism, “[Frederick] Douglass was great. I would rather have been taught about Toussaint L’Ouverture. We need to be taught about who fought, who bled for freedom and made others bleed.”[5] Malcolm told his followers that history was a very instructive and wise teacher and worthy of emulation. He encouraged them to “examine the historic method used all over the world by others who have problem similar to yours.”[6] The enslaved Afrikans in Haiti used revolutionary violence to assert that the slogan “equality, liberty and fraternity[solidarity]” was applicable to their struggle for emancipation.

One of the most admirable and central elements of Malcolm’s contribution to the Afrikan Revolutionary Tradition was his internationalist and Pan-Afrikanist thoughts and politics. Temkin states that there is much to learn from engaging the internationalist thoughts of Malcolm in areas such as “human rights, the politics of citizenship, the impact of decolonization, anti-imperialism, the global and black left, and the tension between geopolitics and individual or collective political action.”[7] This Afrikan revolutionary was preoccupied with strategically internationalizing the national struggle of Afrikans inside the United States.

He saw the significance of connecting the global struggles for emancipation of the peoples of Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Afrika. This ideological orientation is evidenced in this declaration:

1964 will see the Negro revolt evolve and merge into the worldwide black revolution that has been taking place on this earth since 1945. The so-called revolt will become a real black revolution. Now the black revolution has been taking place in Africa and Asia and Latin America; when I say black, I mean non-white – black, brown, red or yellow.[8]

The common experience of colonialism and white supremacy created the basis for unity of purpose in the eyes of Malcolm. This political sensibility informed his framing of the resistance of the racialized world to European colonialism and the thrust toward independence. It is important to note that this United States-based internationalist held the national resistance struggle of Afrikan Americans as an integral part of the “worldwide black revolution.”

This fight for liberation from white supremacy and imperialism made solidarity and mutual aid among the racialized world majority an objective and existential necessity, from the vantage point of Malcolm’s internationalist outlook. It is for the preceding reason that Malcolm lavished unbridled, albeit unnuanced, praise on the 1955 Bandung Conference that pulled together independent Afrikan and Asian states to further economic cooperation and provide collective resistance to the colonialism and hegemony of the white imperial or major powers.[9]

The work that took place at the Bandung Conference led to the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement of states that stood outside of the West and the former Soviet Union and its state socialist Eastern European allies. Bandung’s unity was seen by Malcolm as a “model for the same procedure you and I [Afrikans in America] can use to get our problem solved.”[10]

Malcolm’s extensive visits to Afrika and Western Asia (Middle East)[11] broadened his internationalist perspective and framing of issues such as black nationalism,[12] the emancipation of women,[13] capitalism as a predator,[14] imperialism as a global system of exploitation,[15] cooperation with whites,[16] and the role of one’s religious beliefs in the secular struggle for emancipation.[17] Malcolm’s political development led him to see the “worldwide revolution” in revolt against an “international western power structure” or a “giant international combine” (imperialism) that ruled the peoples and exploited the resources of the global South.[18] From the time of Malcolm’s Message to the Grassroots in late 1963 to his “worldwide revolution” speech on February 15, 1965, one can see a drastic shift from the overly racializing of the struggle against imperialism to the integration of an economic analysis into his understanding of global white supremacy and western imperialism.

Malcolm’s understanding of class and race oppression and a developing gender analysis informed his framing of Afrikan American oppression within a radical internationalist framework. This internationalizing of the struggle made him a dangerous figure in the eyes of the United States[19] and to the “international western power structure’ as evidenced by the French state denying him entry onto its national territory.[20] The preceding state of affairs which indicate the willingness of the forces of oppression to collaborate or act as one across borders in order to maintain their systems of domination. As such, it is a moral and political obligation, on the part of the oppressed, to strategize and cooperate transnationally, otherwise a revolution in one country would be quite vulnerable.

What lessons or insights should we draw from Malcolm’s international solidarity and global justice orientation on the question of MINUSTAH’s occupation of Haiti and the popular struggle against neoliberal capitalism and the occupier?

A central component of Malcolm’s attempt at internationalizing the struggle of Afrikans in the United States was to seek intervention before international bodies such as the United Nations (UN), the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Organization of American States.[21] He was especially fixated on the UN as the forum in which the classification of the racist oppression of Afrikan Americans as a struggle for human right as opposed to one for civil rights, would have placed it “completely out of the jurisdiction of the United States government.[22]

The OAU, a body of strongmen, neocolonial agents and kleptocrats, was seen by Malcolm as a body that would demonstrate solidarity with the human rights struggle of Afrikan Americans. However, when this continental group had the opportunity to openly and vigorously challenge the trampling of the human rights of Afrikan Americans, the OAU took the path of least resistance by passing a “moderate resolution against ‘‘racial oppression.’’”[23]

Malcolm overestimated inexplicably gave too much credit to the usefulness of the two-thirds votes of the “continent of Africa, coupled with the Asian and Arab bloc” in the General Assembly.[24] The Security Council is the seat of power and action at the UN and each of the five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) wields a veto over its decisions. For example, the UN’s Security Council intervention in the Congo in July 1960 was a classic case of the UN being used by western powers to retain this country within its sphere of influence[25] and checkmate the feared influence of the former Soviet Union and its military support to the Patrice Lumumba-led government.[26]

Given the current occupation of Haiti by the UN on behalf of western states such as Canada, France and the United States, it is clear that this international institution and its Security Council are not allies in the struggle for human rights in the global South. The UN’s General Assembly may serve, at best, as the conscience of the world and a place for moral victory for causes related to the oppressed. We could look at the case of the United States economic embargo against Cuba or the Palestinians’ quest for self-determination enjoys solid support in the General Assembly, but have foundered on the shore of inaction at the Security Council.

The UN tends to intervene in a country when it is in the interests of western states to do so. Its military presence in Haiti provides legitimacy to western powers’ and the local ruling elite’s attempt to weaken the development or strengthening of a people’s movement that might undermine capitalism and the geo-strategic interests of imperialism.

Malcolm’s appeal to states or international bodies and the questionable efficacy of such an approach ought to lead us in the direction of movements from below as the principal way to challenge imperialism in Haiti, and everywhere. The operators of the state are fearful of the autonomous organizing of the people. As such, they will seek to undermine the existence of independent, oppositional organizations and movements. The state might do so through co-opting the leaders with material incentives or use the security services to repress both leaders and members by way of the security services.

It was the mobilization of the masses or the fear of them being mobilized that pushed colonial powers such as France and Britain in Afrika[27] and the Caribbean to embark on the path of formal independence. Malcolm claimed that the pre-independence nationalism and consciousness of the people in Afrika had been “fanned from a spark into a roaring flame” and made things too hot for colonialism.[28]

Malcolm’s faith in the “grass roots out there in the streets” acting independently of the politically compromised leadership and driving fear in the power structure[29] is a more fruitful direction in which to oppose the occupation in Haiti. In fact, this is the very approach that the popular movement in Haiti has been using to challenge the western-backed president Michel Martelly and MINUSTAH’s occupation.[30] In 1986, a mobilized Haitian populace brought an end to the Duvalier regime and paved the way for the emergence of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the organizational expression of their self-determination in the form of Fanmi Lavalas.

In spite of state violence being directed at the masses in the streets, they continue to demand a future that centres their economic, social and political interests. Malcolm’s evolving international solidarity politics calls for active involvement with the masses in revolt. He would have encouraged people outside of Haiti to stand with the people of Haiti, given his admiration of the Haitian Revolution. He told a group at a public lecture in France that an effective way to help Afrikan Americans would be to intervene when the police “grab and arrest us, let them know, well, that they shouldn’t have done it.”[31] While Malcolm did not specify the range of actions that should be taken by these would-be internationalists, we have at our disposal a number of initiatives that can be taken to express our solidarity with the people in Haiti.[32]

After all, the struggle in Haiti is a part of the worldwide “black revolution” and the fight against the “international western power structure.” All freedom loving peoples across the globe, and especially those living in the Americas have an anti-imperialist obligation to support the people of Haiti as they resist the oppressive forces that are aligned against them.[33]

A number of Latin American states have contributed military and police personnel to MINUSTAH’s occupation of Haiti. Many organizations in that region have started to organize to force an end to the occupation of Haiti. Internationalists in North America, Europe, Afrika and Asia need to systematically mobilize, educate and organize the people to drive out the occupation and allow the people of Haiti to determine their own path to development. The victory of Haiti in ending slavery and asserting its political independence lit the flame of freedom across the Americas.

Haiti could once again become the trailblazer of emancipation and revolutionary fortitude. Internationalists who are in agreement with Malcolm X’s internationalism and global justice commitments ought to actively support the fight for self-determination, independence and development of the labouring classes in Haiti. It is not enough to issue meaningless praises for Malcolm’s internationalism or be infatuated with the Haitian Revolution. We need to demonstrate our international solidarity with Haiti by working in organizations in our respective countries to support and complement the work being carried out by Haitians to secure their liberation.

* Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is an educator and organizer. He is an organizer with the Campaign to End the Occupation in Haiti and the Toronto Haiti Action Committee.

[1] Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970/1992), 125.

[2] Hakim Adi & Marika Sherwood, Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787 (New York: Routledge, 2003), 123-128.

[3] George Breitman, ed., Malcom X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1965/1989), 217-218

[4] Kevin Edmonds and Ajamu Nangwaya, “The United Nations Will Fail Haiti Once Again: Pull Out the Occupation Troops,” CounterPunch, October 14, 2014. Retrieved from

[5] Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 124.

[6] Breitman, Malcom X Speaks, 8.

[7] Moshik Temkin, “From Black Revolution to ‘‘Radical Humanism’’: Malcolm X between Biography and International History,” Humanity Journal 3, 2, (2012): 268.

[8] Breitman, Malcom X Speaks, 49-50.

[9] Ibid., 5-6.

[10] Breitman, Malcolm X Speaks, 5.

[11] Temkin, From Black Revolution, 277. According to Temkin, the United States was startled by the leaders that Malcolm was associating with, “He met with a number of heads of state, including Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Ahmed Se ´kou Toure ´ of Guinea, and Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria—charismatic postcolonial leaders who saw themselves as defying the Western powers and whose varying fusions of African-style socialism and Pan-Africanism (or Pan-Arabism) appealed to Malcolm X’s evolving conception of power politics. What made American officials most nervous about Malcolm X’s comings and goings was that they considered all these leaders either potential or active allies of the Soviet Union” (p. 277).

[12] Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 159-60.

[13] Ibid., 179.

[14] Breitman, Malcom X Speaks, 120-122.

[15] Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 116-17.

[16] Bruce Perry, editor, Malcolm X: The Last Speeches, (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1989) 147.

[17] Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 180; Perry, The Last Speeches, 157.

[18] Perry, The Last Speeches, 127.

[19] Temkin, From Black Revolution, 277.

[20] Temkin, From Black Revolution, 282-83; Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 167-73;

[21] Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 87-88; Breitman, Malcom X Speaks, 72-87.

[22] Steve Clark, ed., Malcolm X Speaks to Young People: Speeches in the United States, Britain, and Africa, (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1965/2002) 79.

[23] Temkin, From Black Revolution, 277; [23] Breitman, Malcolm X Speaks, 84.

[24] Clark, Malcolm X Speaks to Young People, 80.

[25] Abayomi Azikiwe, “Congo still struggles for real independence,” Workers World, July 15, 2010. Retrieved from

[26] Tom Eley, “Fifty years since the murder of Patrice Lumumba,” World Socialist Web Site, January 22 2011, Retrieved from; Adam Hochschild, “An Assassination’s Long Shadow,” New York Times, January 16, 2011. Retrieved from

[27] Firoze Manji, “What’s Left in Africa? Reflections on the failure of left, working class movements to take root in most of Africa,” International Viewpoint, 5 February 2015. Retrieved from

[28] Clark, Malcolm X Speaks to Young People, 58.

[29] Breitman, Malcom X Speaks, 14,

[30] Kim Ives & Isabelle Papillon, “Haiti: Two Days of Demonstrations and General Strike: “Down with the UN Occupation”, “Down with the President and Prime Minister,”” Global Research, February 11, 2015. Retrieved from

[31] Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 126.

[32] Ajamu Nangwaya, “Transform your Global Justice Sentiments into Action to End the Occupation of Haiti,” Dissident Voice, October 23, 2014. Retrieved from

[33] Ajamu Nangwaya, “We have an anti-imperialist obligation to the people of Haiti,”, February 28, 2014. Retrieved from



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Introducing The Malcolm X Movement

Building towards a new wave of Global South decolonial anti-imperialist resistance in Britain

Sukant Chandan


c c MX
Inspired by the man himself, The Malcolm X Movement is a Black and Asian decolonial and anti-imperialist initiative launching in August 2015 in the UK, which is trying to develop unity among the peoples of the Global South in fighting all oppression.

Malcolm X is esteemed as a towering figure in the history of resistance against the ‘Western’ capitalist-colonial order for, in the main, two reasons: he and those he worked with took inspiration, leadership and positive examples from actually existing global ‘Third World’ or Black Resistance against colonialism and neo-colonialism and applied that to the struggle of Black people against the system of oppression.

Malcolm X brought a no compromising approach to the Black liberation struggle in the USA at a time when the Black masses were intensifying their struggle against the equally intensifying white supremacist resistance that withheld - and still withholds - the rights and liberation of our peoples. He took the example of the growing victories of Asia and especially Africa and explained that Black people in the USA should be taking a lead from them in terms of ideologies and organisational forms of struggle. At the same time Malcolm X advocated that the Third World or Global South liberation struggles and newly independent radical countries should come to support the struggle of the Black masses in the West against both sections against the common enemy.

It was for those reasons that Malcolm X, making serious headway in marrying the global and localised struggles, that the powers that be killed him and made him a martyr. Therefore across the planet people recognise Malcolm X as one of the highest personifications of the potentiality of struggle in the West. It is no wonder that he remains a primary inspiring example informing our understanding and struggles today, and for these reasons amongst others, some of us are developing the Malcolm X Movement in Britain.

Inspired by the man himself, The Malcolm X Movement is a Black and Asian decolonial and anti-imperialist initiative launching in August 2015, which is trying to develop unity among the peoples of the Global South. White comrades are involved in the MXM and work just as hard as any other members, but have no veto power in the structure of the MXM. The reason why we decided on this is that there is a dearth of radical Black and Asian organisations in Britain and a preponderance of white left and westernised left organisations who either are uninterested, hostile to or/and ignorant of the histories, legacies and on-going challenges and advances of the peoples, countries, movements and governments of the Global South against neo-colonialism and all the oppressions of the ‘colonial matrix of power’ including amongst others white supremacy, misogyny, environmental destruction and the physical and mental genocide against those resisting and being oppressed by neo-colonialism.

The genesis of the MXM starts in June 2012. A network of around 30 activists mostly in their late 20s came together from a variety of political backgrounds to plan launching the movement in 2015. The initiators of this process knew back then that 2015 was a big year as it is the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination.

Before the Malcolm X Movement (MXM) has even launched properly, we are delivering the first annual Malcolm X Film Festival in March-April and have conducted a year-long free course on white supremacy through the MXM initiative of the Assata-Tupac Liberation School, as well as our first public event, attended by nearly 200 overwhelmingly Black and Asian youth in June 2014, entitled Strike the Empire Back.

In late 2014 we began tentatively organising towards the first annual Malcolm X Film Festival as a three-day event only in London, which has now turned into a series of seven events in at least six cities including in occupied Ireland (‘Northern Ireland’) in Belfast with other cities as other activists wanted to host events. The film festival is a truly historical political event for radical Black and Asian politics on this island for several reasons. It is the biggest initiative of decolonial Black- and Brown-led politics on this island for the last 25 years or so. Unfortunately not since the last years of the radical Third World Bookfair has this country seen such.

The amount of support it has and is receiving is similarly unprecedented, with some 36 (and counting) organisations involved.

The event is being supported by some of the most inspiring political movements on the planet today fighting neo-colonialism such as the revolutionary Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Their iconic leader Leila Khaled will be speaking at an event. The Libyan Popular National Movement are also an official supporting organisation despite one of their main spokespersons – Dr Moussa Ibrahim - still being wanted by NATO! Speaking via video link he will be imparting how Malcolm X inspires the peoples of Libya to struggle against those who have lynched, raped and persecuted dark-skinned, Black Africans and Libyans and those opposing NATO’s project there.

Also important, we have the Black Panther veterans association, which gathers all the Black Panther veterans in the Black Panther Alumni, supporting the film festival. Members of Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic-Front) are also speaking from of one of the most effective decolonial Pan-African and radical anti-imperialist states on the continent. And of course it is a real honour to have someone from the Shabazz family speaking via video link at the Malcolm X Film, sister Ilyasah Shabazz, an articulate and inspiring political activist and author in her own right and one of the daughters of Malcolm X. One cannot underemphasise how powerful it is to have the Shabazz family, the PFLP, ZANU-PF, the Black Panthers and Irish revolutionaries and many others supporting such an event.

The Film Festival will feature three panels with related themed speeches and interviews from Malcolm X, especially from the last few years of his life. The speakers and discussions will echo the themes being discussed in the three panels:

• Civil Rights & Black Power
• Global Unity & Internationalism
• Legacy, Continuity and Challenges

The idea of the first annual Malcolm X Summer Festival came out of the simple recognition that there is no flagship annual event in Britain focused towards celebrating and learning about Black and Asian struggles, our culture of resistance and humanity and on-going challenges. The Malcolm X Summer Festival seeks to celebrate through a diversity of workshops, panels, film showings, and other cultural and political activities engaging thousands across the country.

The Assata-Tupac Liberation School is the educational arm of the MXM which starts another annual course this May hosted in central London but accessible to people beyond who cannot physically attend via live streams, podcasts, youtube uploads and reading outlines and reading lists delivered by revolutionary experts and participants of struggles of the Global South. And it’s free! The Liberation School is where young people can develop themselves with the ideological tools for becoming revolutionaries, no other organised structure other than this liberation school exists in this country which delivers an on-going professionally constructed and free educational course in basically: Revolution.

Furthermore to all of the above, the MXM is launching grassroots campaigns at the Malcolm X Summer Festival, which will address some of the direct and immediate problems that our communities are facing and exposing how they impact us on a global level.

The reason the MXM has conducted a liberation school course, a well attended and successful public event, a film festival and a summer festival before we have even launched, is that we have seen too many times when organisations seek to recruit and be active that they have actually done very little and have very little to offer. Rather, the MXM has sought to show people what we are capable of achieving, what we stand for, how we operate and who we are and what we strategically and tactically seek to do for the years ahead.

When the entire so-called ‘west’ is going deeper into crisis on all levels, as the west increasingly strikes, as its global positions of hegemony are slowly being whittled away by the growing capacity of the Global South, while the repression in the west in the forms of oppression of women and girls, of young people, white supremacy, housing and social problems all of which is an asymmetric mirror reflection, a microcosm, of the neo-colonial and NATO covert and overt wars against the peoples of the world, it is imperative more than ever to build a base of resistance to this order from right here in the UK, within the heart of whiteness. The MXM invites people to get involved, to contribute what we can in our modest way to the process of standing up against this system of oppression and standing with those who have and continue to effectively counter and destroy oppression and open up a new liberated future to Humanity.

• [url=]]Twitter[/url]
First Annual Malcolm X Film Festival
• VIDEOS: #StrikeTheEmpireBack

*Sukant Chandan is one of the coordinators of the Malcolm X Movement. He has been involved in global solidarity with struggles of the people of Global South against neo-colonialism for nearly twenty years including work around struggles in Palestine, Colombia, Korea, Turkey, Zimbabwe and Libya. He was one of the co-founders of the radical youth coup the Che-Leila Youth Brigades in the early 2000s, which was launched from occupied Ramallah, Palestine at the height of the Second Intifada in 2002. He has also been involved in grassroots work in initiatives such as the Culture Move and other projects around issues of police brutality and racist and religious hate crimes. He appears regularly on Russia Today and Press TV in advocating for the rights and resistance of peoples against neo-colonialism.



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Egypt is calling the West’s bluff over its phony war on ISIS

Dan Glazebrook


c c TPT
As Egyptian President Sisi calls for more support in the fight against NATO-funded militias in Libya, the West’s refusal to back him raises the question of their ultimate aims in entering the region. The West is complicity in enabling ISIS to gain a strong foothold and further destabilise Libya, Syria and, potentially, Egypt.
Western states are trumpeting ISIS as the latest threat to civilisation, claiming total commitment to their defeat, and using the group’s conquests in Syria and Iraq as a pretext for deepening their own military involvement in the Middle East. Yet as Libya seems to be following the same path as Syria – of ‘moderate’ anti-government militias backed by the West paving the way for ISIS takeover – Britain and the US seem reluctant to confront them there, immediately pouring cold water on Egyptian President Sisi’s request for an international coalition to halt their advances. By making the suggestion – and having it, predictably, spurned – Sisi is making clear Western duplicity over ISIS and the true nature of NATO policy in Libya.

On 29th August 2011, two months before the last vestiges of the Libyan state were destroyed and its leader executed, I was interviewed on Russia Today about the country’s future. I told the station: “There’s been a lot of talk about what will happen [in Libya after the ouster of Gaddafi] – will there be Sharia law, will there be a liberal democracy? What we have to understand is that what will replace the Libyan state won’t be any of those things. What will replace the Libyan state will be the same as what has replaced the state in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a dysfunctional government, complete lack of security, gang warfare and civil war. And this is not a mistake from NATO. They would prefer to see failed states than states that are powerful and independent and able to challenge their hegemony. And people who are fighting for the TNC, fighting for NATO, really need to understand that this is NATO’s vision for their country.” Friends at the time told me I was being overly pessimistic and cynical. I said I hoped to God that they were right. But my experiences over a decade following the results of my own country (Britain)’s wars of aggression in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq long after the mainstream media had lost interest, led me to believe otherwise.

Of course, it was not only me who was making such warnings. On March 6th 2011, several weeks before NATO began seven months of bombing, Gaddafi gave a prophetic interview with French newspaper Le Monde du Dimanche, in which he stated: “I want to make myself understood: if one threatens [Libya], if one seeks to destabilize [Libya], there will be chaos, Bin Laden, armed factions. That is what will happen. You will have immigration, thousands of people will invade Europe from Libya. And there will no longer be anyone to stop them. Bin Laden will base himself in North Africa and will leave Mullah Omar in Afghanistan and Pakistan. You will have Bin Laden at your doorstep.”

He specifically warned that Derna, a town that had already provided large numbers of suicide bombers to Iraq, would become an “Islamist emirate” on the Mediterranean. Gaddafi’s warnings were mocked in the Western media (although many intelligence experts, in under-reported comments, backed his assertions), and few in Europe had ever heard of Derna. Until November 2014, that is – when ISIS announced their takeover of the city, the first of three in Libya now under their control. Their most recent conquest, Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, was heralded by the posting on YouTube of the video of a beheading of 21 Coptic Christians they had captured there last December. They are widely believed to have been immigrant workers from one of the poorest parts of Egypt.

Sirte had been a pro-government stronghold during NATO’s onslaught in 2011, and one of the last cities to fall - the result of its ferocious resistance and zero support for the ‘rebels’. It was subjected to a massive siege and became the scene of some of the worst war crimes of the war, both by NATO and their allies on the ground. Now that the people of Sirte have been forced to live – and die – under the latest incarnation of NATO’s ‘heroic freedom fighters’, it is becoming ever clearer why they fought so hard to keep them out in the first place. Yet even this massacre is eclipsed by the almost 600 Libyan National Army soldiers killed by ISIS and their allies, in their battle to take Benghazi over the last three years.

This is the state of affairs NATO bequeathed to Libya, reversing the country’s trajectory as a stable, prosperous pan-African state that was a leading player in the African Union, and a thorn in the side of US and British attempts to re-establish military domination. And it is not only Libya that has suffered; the power vacuum resulting from NATO’s wholesale destruction of the Libyan state apparatus has dragged the whole region into the vortex. As Brendan O Neill has shown in detail, the daily horrors being perpetrated in Mali, Nigeria and now Cameroon are all a direct result of NATO’s bloodletting, as death squads from across the entire Sahel-Sahara region have been given free reign to set up training camps and loot weapons across the giant zone of lawlessness which NATO have sculpted out of Libya.

The result? African states that in 2010 were forging ahead economically, greatly benefitting from Chinese infrastructure and manufacturing investment, moving away from centuries of colonial and neo-colonial dependence on extortionate Western financial institutions, have been confronted with massive new terror threats from groups such as Boko Haram, flush with new weaponry and facilities courtesy of NATO’s humanitarianism. Algeria and Egypt, too, still governed by the same independent-minded movements which overthrew European colonialism, have seen their borders destabilised, setting the stage for ongoing debilitating attacks planned and executed from NATO’s new Libyan militocracy. This is the context in which Egypt is launching the regional fightback against NATO’s destabilisation strategy.

Over the past year in particular, Egyptians have witnessed their Western neighbour rapidly descending down the same path of ISIS takeover as Syria. In Syria, a civil war between a Western-sponsored insurgency and an elected secular government has seen the anti-government forces rapidly fall under the sway of ISIS, as the West’s supposed ‘moderates’ in the Free Syrian Army either join forces with ISIS (impressed by their military prowess, hi-tech weaponry, and massive funding) or find themselves overrun by them. In Libya, the same pattern is quickly developing. The latest phase in the Libyan disaster began last June when the militias who dominated the previous parliament (calling themselves the ‘Libya Dawn’ coalition) lost the election and refused to accept the results, torching the country’s airport and oil storage facilities as opening salvos in an ongoing civil war between them and the newly elected parliament. Both parliaments have the allegiance of various armed factions, and have set up their own rival governments, each controlling different parts of the country. But, starting in Derna last November, areas taken by the Libya Dawn faction have begun falling to ISIS. Last weekend’s capture of Sirte was the third major town to be taken by them, and there is no sign that it will be the last. This is the role that has consistently been played by the West’s proxies across the region – paving the way and laying the ground for ISIS takeover. Egyptian President Sisi’s intervention – airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya - aims to reverse this trajectory before it reaches Iraqi-Syrian proportions.

The internationally-recognised Libyan government based in Tobruk – the one appointed by the House of Representatives that won the election last summer - has welcomed the Egyptian intervention. Not only, they hope, will it help prevent ISIS takeover, but will also cement Egyptian support for their side in the ongoing civil war with ‘Libya Dawn’. Indeed, Egypt could, with some justification, claim that winning the war against ISIS requires a unified Libyan government committed to this goal, and that the Dawn’s refusal to recognise the elected parliament , not to mention their ‘ambiguous’ attitude towards ISIS, is the major obstacle to achieving such an outcome.

Does this mean that the Egyptian intervention will scupper the UN’s ‘Libya dialogue’ peace talks initiative? Not necessarily; in fact it could have the opposite effect. The first two rounds of the talks were boycotted by the General National Congress (GNC) - the Libya Dawn parliament- safe in the knowledge that they would continue to receive weapons and financing from NATO partners Qatar and Turkey whilst the internationally-recognised Tobruk government remained under an international arms embargo. As the UK’s envoy to the Libya Dialogue, Jonathan Powell, noted this week, the “sine qua non for a [peace] settlement” is a “mutually hurting stalemate”. By balancing up the scales in the civil war, Egyptian support military support for the Tobruk government may show the GNC that taking the talks seriously will be more in their interests than continuation of the fight.

Sisi’s call for the military support of the West in his intervention has effectively been rejected, as he very likely expected it to be. A joint statement by the US and Britain and their allies on Tuesday poured cold water on the idea, and no wonder – they did not go to all the bother of turning Libya into the centre of their regional destabilisation strategy only to then try to stabilise it just when it is starting to bear fruit. However, by forcing them to come out with such a statement, Sisi has called the West’s bluff. The US and Britain claim to be committed to the destruction of ISIS, a formation which is the product of the insurgency they have sponsored in Syria for the past four years, and Sisi is asking them to put their money where their mouth is. They have refused to do so. In the end, the Egyptian resolution to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday made no mention of calling for military intervention by other powers, and limited itself to calling for an end to the one-sided international arms embargo which prevents the arming of the elected government but does not seem to deter NATO’s regional partners from openly equipping the ‘Libya Dawn’ militias. Sisi has effectively forced the West to show its hand: their rejection of his proposal to support the intervention makes it clear to the world the two-faced nature of their supposed commitment to the destruction of ISIS.

There are, however, deep divisions on this issue in Europe. France is deepening its military presence in the Sahel-Sahara region, with 3000 troops based in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali and a massive new base opened on the Libyan border in Niger last October, and would likely welcome a pretext to extend its operations to its historic protectorate in Southern Libya. Italy, likewise, is getting cold feet about the destabilisation it helped to unleash, having not only damaged a valuable trading partner, but increasingly being faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the horror and destitution that NATO has gifted the region. But neither are likely to do anything without UNSC approval, which is likely to continue to be blocked by the US and Britain, who are more than happy to see countries like Russian-allied Egypt and Chinese-funded Nigeria weakened and their development retarded by terror bombings. Sisi’s actions will, it is hoped, not only make abundantly clear the West’s acquiescence in the horrors it has created – but also pave the way for an effective fightback against them.

Dan Glazebrook is a political analyst and author of “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis”. This article originally appeared on

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Bye, bye Karuturistan, Ethiopia!

Alemayehu G. Mariam


c c EP
Karuturi has nothing to show for his “investment”, except a humongous debt. Where are the tens of thousands of hectares of oil palm, sugar cane, rice, edible oils and maize and cotton he promised? Where are the 60,000 workers? They exist only in the warped imaginations of the corrupt state fat cats in Addis Ababa.

It was too good to be true. It is too bad it was true for the people of Gambella in western Ethiopia.

Last month, the ignoble demise of Karuturi Global, Ltd. (a/k/a “Ethiopian Meadows Plc.”, “Gambella Green Valley Plc (Ethiopia)”, “Karuturi Agro Products Plc (Ethiopia)) in Ethiopia was announced quietly and without fanfare.

Karuturi, an Indian agribusiness, is touted to be “the world’s largest producer and exporter of cut roses with operations spread across Ethiopia, Kenya and India.” In 2008, Karuturi “leased” 300,000 hectares in the western Ethiopia region of Gambella. The “lease” was ballyhooed as the stepping stone to Karuturi’s rise to become one of the world’s largest food producers. The Karuturi rose ultimately proved to be the titan arum (corpse flower) of Gambella.

When the Guardian newspaper did its eye opening report in 2011, it claimed Gambella is about the size of Wales (the land of the mythical King Arthur and his kingdom of Camelot) in the west of England. If Karuturi is going to OWN so much of Gambella for the next 99 years, I figured, in the interest of factual accuracy and to make official the change of ownership of the land, Gambella should be renamed “Karuturistan”.

Karuturi sealed its deal with the ruling Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (T-TPLF), which touted the Karuturi deal as an example of the wholesome foreign investment being made in Ethiopia. By 2011, the late T-TPLF leader, Meles Zenawi, was bloviating about how he had found the magic bullet to make Ethiopia food secure. Meles’ secret weapon against the Black Horseman of the Apocalypse spreading famine across the land for decades was Karuturi. Meles boldly bragged “within five years Ethiopia will no longer need food aid.”

Shortly after Meles rose to his “throne” in 1991, he declared he would consider his government a success if Ethiopians were able to eat three meals a day. The “Congressional Budget Justification Foreign Operations Appendix 2 for Fiscal Year 2015” reports, “Ethiopia is among the poorest countries in the world, with an annual per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $471 and it remains one of the top recipients of U.S. food and emergency assistance to respond to chronic food insecurity and under-nutrition.” So much for “not needing food aid”!

There are too many unanswered questions about the 300 thousand hectare “lease” (it was literally a gift) to Karuturi. That is not particularly surprising. The secretive T-TPLF leadership has always operated in the shadows (even when they were in the bush) without any transparency or accountability. Everything is a state secret to the T-TPLF. Meles’s cause of death is still a highly guarded state secret nearly three years after his passing. The state within the state in the T-TPLF is a sort of reverse skunkworks. At the core of the T-TPLF is a small group of the most cunning, conniving, wily, scheming, crooked, vicious, diabolical, wicked, shadowy and Machiavellian political operators to be found anywhere on the planet.

Few outside of the core T-TPLF leadership have any clue about the “negotiations” that led to the Karuturi or any other similar deals with "investors" from various Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Given the long history of secretiveness, it seems logical that the T-TPLF always has at least two deals going: the deal it presents for public consumption tongue-in-cheek and the real deal under the table. (I guess Meles and his T-TPLF got their cut and who cares about the rest!)

Frankly, my initial puzzlement over the Karuturi “lease” was whether the sly, cunning and cagey T-TPLF operators had hoodwinked Karuturi into “investing” in Gambella? Or could it be simple greed that blinded Karuturi into getting in the Gambella boondogle? Can anyone believe any representations by the T-TPLF about any “lease” it concluded with any “investor”?

The fact of the matter is that the T-TPLF and its late leader are the reincarnation of the Pseudologoi, the gods of lies in Greek mythology. They are the masters of deception, falsehood and disinformation. They are such bold faced liars and con artists that they almost hoodwinked the whole world into believing that Ethiopia soared the economic stratosphere with an 11 percent annual growth rate for the past ten years. (In my commentary, “The World Bank and Ethiopia’s “Growth and Transformation”, I proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the T-TPLF’s (and its booster clubs' claims, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, USAID and the Development Assistance Group (a/k/a international poverty pimps) claim of an 11 percent economic growth in Ethiopia over the past 10 years is a bold faced lie, a damned lie and a statislie (statistical lie)).

Nonetheless, with regards to what is known and unknown about land “leases” in Ethiopia including Karuturi’s, Dessalegn Rahmato, an Ethiopian scholar, raised a number of very important issues in his 2011 article “LAND TO INVESTORS: Large-Scale Land Transfers in Ethiopia.” Dessalegn argued, “MOARD [“Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development”] and the Regional Investment Commissions are responsible for signing contracts with investors. The contract documents are simple and do not demand heavy obligations on the part of investment projects. Investors are free to choose what crops to grow and where to market what they have grown, without any interference from their hosts. They are not obliged to supply the local or national market and strongly encouraged to export most or all of their products. There are no provisions in the contracts aimed at meeting the food security needs of the country. Project managers have no contractual obligations to provide social services to the communities concerned or invest in basic infrastructure… “ The environmental impact assessments for these projects are nominal, if any, and do little to “prevent damage the environment and the land” often resulting in “serious erosion and land degradation, and deprivation of local populations of valuable natural resources.” (Emphasis added.)


What were Karuturi’s specific contractual requirements in its 99-year “lease” in Gambella in light of Desalegn’s observations? Since the T-TPLF keeps everything secret, I have no way of verifying facts. However, the circumstantial evidence garnered from various analyses and studies paint an incredible picture of apparent naivite, wishful thinking, greed, gullibility and manipulation on the part of Karuturi.

When Karturi got its “leasehold” in Gambella in 2008, it was as though it had been served Manna (divine food) from Heaven on a golden plate. Karmjeet Sekhon, Karuturi’s head in Ethiopia explained, “We never saw the land. They gave it to us and we took it. Seriously, we did. We did not even see the land (cackling with triumphant laughter). They offered it. That’s all. It’s very good land. It’s quite cheap. In fact it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India.”

Sekhon’s euphoria confirms the fact that the T-TPLF delivered the crown jewels of the most fertile land in Ethiopia to Karuturi for “very cheap” and let Karuturi do whatever it wanted with the land. What is the logical thing one would do with a big winning lotto ticket in hand?!

There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that Karuturi undertook some due diligence work after it was “given the land without seeing it.” (For my readers who may not be familiar, "due diligence" is a process by which a purchaser, lessor or prospective investor would undertake reasonable inquiry into the commercial potential of a business venture as part of a comprehensive appraisal of assets, liabilities, etc,.)

By late 2009, Karuturi began infrastructure improvements on its “leasehold” (gift) in Gambella. To guard against catastrophic floods from the Baro River (known to the indigenous Anuak as Upeno River) with its tributaries, the Alwero and Jikawo Rivers, Karuturi built dykes (to block the natural flow of the water) and undertook other construction activities. Karuturi’s business strategy from the beginning was to skate on the thrifty side of things. It calculated it could import cheap agricultural equipment from India, but soon determined the Indian equipment was inappropriate for large scale commercial farming. In 2010, Karuturi placed orders with John Deere, the American multinational agricultural equipment manufacturer.

Karuturi apparently had not planned carefully enough in its due diligence for its skilled labor needs. It became clear to the company by late 2009 that getting skilled personnel to manage the Gambella project in a remote area with few modern amenities would prove to be exceedingly difficult. To complicate matters, the technical help it imported from India did not have much experience managing large commercial agricultural enterprises. These planning blunders soon became evident in increased costs, schedule delays, cost overruns and loss of revenue. There were also problems training the unskilled labor from the local area in modern agricultural techniques. The problems were piling up for Karuturi.

I first wrote about the T-TPLF-Karuturi deal in March 2011 in my commentary, “Ethiopia: A Country For Sale”. I could not believe the giveaway of the ancestral lands of the people of Gambella by the T-TPLF. There was no question in my mind the Karuturi “lease” was the deal of the century for any company. “For £150 a week ($245), you can lease more than 2,500 square kilometres of virgin, fertile land - an area the size of Dorset, England - for 50 years, plus generous tax breaks.” That was how John Vidal of The Guardian described the newly established “Karuturistan” (as I affectionately call it) complete with an onsite video of Karmjeet Sekhon, the rapturously giggling Karuturi representative.

Sekhon could barely contain himself in his euphoria as he explained Karuturi’s incredible fortune to Vidal. He bubbled with promises. “There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it. To start with there will be 20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton. We are building reservoirs, dykes, roads, towns of 15,000 people. This is phase one. In three years time we will have 300,000 hectares cultivated and maybe 60,000 workers. We could feed a nation here…” (Meles apparently bought the Karuturi puffery about feeding the nation hook, line and sinker when he declared Ethiopia will be self-sufficient in food in five years.)

By October 2011, Karuturi learned its first lesson best expressed in the verse of Alexander Pope: “ For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread./ Distrustful Sense with modest Caution speaks;…/”. Karuturi faced the “thundering Tyde” of the Baro (Upeno) River and its tributaries which overflowed their banks and submerged Karuturi’s 80km long system of protective dikes. In a flash, Karuturi saw its corn harvest of 50 thousand metric tons flushed down river without a paddle.

Karuturi CEO Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi announced his company took a $15 million “hit” from the floods. He was dumbfounded by the intensity of the calamity: “This kind of flooding we haven’t seen before. This is a crazy amount of water.” Who “crazy”!? The Baro River or Karuturi? Had Karuturi come down from his high horse and talked to the local people, he would have found out that most of the land he wanted to develop was in a flood plain. That is why the local people use it mostly for grazing and hunting. So much for Karuturi’s due diligence.


By April 2013, Karuturi was convicted of tax evasion in Kenya in the amount of USD$11 million. Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN, a non-profit organization that supports small farmers observed, “Not only are they fiscal cheats, but Karuturi has been accused of human rights abuses, poor labour practices, threats to the environment and so on… Even the World Bank Group did not grant Karuturi the political risk insurance it requested for its Ethiopian operations.”

By June 2013, it was becoming crystal clear that the Karuturi project in Gambella was facing insurmountable problems. That year Karuturi had cultivated only 5 per cent of the land area it had leased. The T-TPLF was hassling the company threatening to reduce its lease holdings. The company was accumulating debt and having difficulties obtaining working capital. Big investors were getting jittery over the management and the political problems brewing in the local community and quickly beat feet. Others who had promised to invest would not touch the Gambella project with a ten foot pole.

Karuturi was under investigation “for criminal activities” by local Gambella authorities. The land development plan and Karuturi’s farming practices were having visibly devastating environmental and demographic impact on the local flora and fauna. Thousands of displaced villagers were complaining bitterly about loss of crops and grazing lands. Local residents were complaining bitterly about the diminution of their communal grazing areas and restrictions on access to water for their livestock. Local resident were demanding Karuturi make good on its promises of modern amenities and respect their traditional lifestyle.

Their ancestral paradise of the people of Gambella was being transformed into a living nightmare.

The tiny local work force Karuturi had employed for its project was fighting for improved wages and working conditions. According to studies by the International Land Coalition, Karuturi paid “Ethiopian farm labourers at its Bako (its other plantation to the northeast of Gambella) farm ETB 10 per day (US$ 0.50) which compares with about ETB 20 per day (US$ 1.00) for labourers on commercial sesame farms in the country. Night guards for the company are said to be paid ETB 300 per month (US$ 15) if they own a gun and ETB 200 (US$ 10) per month if they do not.” Karuturi had also imported several hundred farm laborers from India to work which proved to be flashpoint.

The major international human rights and environmental groups were weighing in on the human rights abuses occurring in Gambella. In 2012, Human Rights Watch published its report, “’Waiting Here for Death’ Forced Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region” documenting the “forcible moving tens of thousands of indigenous people in the western Gambella region from their homes to new villages under a ‘villagization’ program.”

In 2012, the Oakland Institute published its “briefing paper”, “UNHEARD VOICES THE HUMAN RIGHTS IMPACT OF LAND INVESTMENTS ON INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES IN GAMBELLA” providing an “overview of the human rights impacts of land investment and villagization” in Gambella.

In October 2014, Cultural Survival reported on “death, dispossession and the continuing struggle of indigenous peoples in Gambella, Ethiopia.” That report highlighted that the “villagization” problem had deeper roots preceding the T-TPLF. In 1986, Cultural Survival in its quarterly had reported that the “Ethiopian government had resettled ‘17,553 heads of families from Tigray … to unoccupied ‘virgin, fertile’ lands in the Gambella region’ and that nowhere did the government say that these lands were the ‘traditional homelands of the Anuak people.’”

Karuturi denied all allegations of abuse and misconduct in its Gambella project. It denied any connection between his company's activities and the T-TPLF’s villagisation program. He characterized the accusations as “hogwash” and “a completely jaundiced western vision”.

By April 2014, the UK’s Department for International Development and the World Bank were facing legal accountability or internal inquiries for funding projects that were causing massive harm to the people of Gambella. In a letter dated September 24, 2012, unnamed Anuak refugees alleged that they have been severely harmed by the World Bank-financed “Ethiopia Protection of Basic Services Project (PBS)” and demanded an investigation. An investigation was instituted and in November 2014, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel issued a confidential report which found its way online. The Panel report confirmed that the World Bank’s project, through acts of commission and omission, had caused harm to the people of Gambella.

By January 2015, Karuturi had apparently gone belly up. The T-TPLF Director of Agricultural Investment and Land Administration Agency, Abera Mulat, was quoted by The Reporter as saying, “Karuturi has gone bankrupt following internal management crisis.” According to the same report, Ram Karuturi, the Chief Executive Officer, said he was “selling out machineries and equipment worth some 15 million birr to repay debts the company has incurred here. Karuturi is known for borrowing from CBE, Dashen and Zemen banks. The loan extended to the company exceeds 170 million birr (in monopoly money) and the CEO said that his company is set to settle the debts by the end of this month.”


The T-TPLF land “lease” (gift) to Karuturi reminds me of the land scams of the 1960s and 70s in the U.S., particularly in the State Florida. Back then, land scammers would advertise for a fe hundred dollas “acres of pristine forestland in sunny Florida perfect for building homes”. They would puff up the value of the land with ecofriendly descriptions. That “pristine forestland” was actually swampland. Those who braved to travel to Florida to see their purchases or prospective buyers were met by squinting salesmen who would point into the horizon and tell their victims that their property is just beyond the tree line. They would assure them roads, utility lines and subdivisions would soon be built; but they better sign up today or the deal was off the table. Thousands bought acres of swampland over the phone and sent in their checks in thinking they had made the deal of the century only to find out that it was useless investment.

I have also learned about other real estate scams run by the T-TPLF over the past few years involving numerous wide-eyed Diaspora Ethiopian “investors”. One popular scam requires substantial cash down payments in U.S. currency (not local birr). Many such victims have lost their “cash down payments” and their promised condos never materialized.

Another incredible real estate scam with Diaspora Ethiopians seeking residential property in Addis Ababa involves substantial down payments in U.S. currency to begin construction on a condo. As the construction approaches completion, the scammer would tell the Diaspora investor to come up with more money (as much as three times the contract price) or take his initial deposit back. The scammer, having used the initial down payments for construction, can now sell the nearly completed condo for a much a higer price since the housing market has gone up significantly. When the initial investors ask to take possession of the unfinished condo, the scammers refuse. When the investors sue, and even win, the scammers appeal and have the case reviewed by a judge who often rules in their favor. What a scam! What heartache Diaspora home builders have gone through in the T-TPLF real estate scam!

The urban real estate scams remind me of the so-called “Nigerian 419 scams”. (In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I represented a few clients in what proved to be a wild goose chase of the slickest and untraceable financial fraudsters to ever infest the fax machine.) The scammers would fax official-looking letters from the “Director” of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation or from an alleged Nigerian prince, general or royalty seeking to transfer a large sum of money (often in the millions) out of Nigeria. The scam victim is promised a substantial percentage of the money to be transferred once the transfer is complete. There is only one hitch: The victim is asked to send several thousand dollars as processing fee. Unfortunately, after the scammers get the “fee”, they disappeared into thin air. Just like the condo scammers in Addis Ababa!

I am still not sure if Karuturi was a (willing) victim of a Florida-type land scam. It is unimaginable to me how any company would invest so many millions of dollars in an area known to all to be a floodplain. Didn’t Karuturi complete an environmental (including impact) study? Didn’t it talk to the local elders and people? Maybe it did and arrogantly forged ahead full speed, damn the torpedoes. If it had done so, it would have certainly found out that the land designated for the Karuturi project has always been used for grazing and hunting, and not so much for farming, precisely because of seasonal flooding problems. How could Karuturi possibly believe its little mickey mouse dykes, irrigation drains and ditches could could possibly contain the fury of the mighty Baro (Upeno) River and its tributaries? Perhaps I should not be so incredulous. Many of the die hard land owners in the Florida land scams also believed they could drain the swampland and make it usable. Is there much of a difference between swampland and a flood plain? P.T. Barnum, the great circus master, once said, “There is a sucker born every minute”.


Until 2006, I did not know much about Gambella or the people living there. I was not even aware of the “murder, rape and torture against the Anuak population in the remote southwestern region of Gambella since December 2003” perpetrated by the Meles Zenawi and his T-TPLF and documented in the Human Rights Watch report, “Crimes Against Humanity in Gambella Region”. In fact, until the Meles Zenawi Massacre of unarmed protesters in the aftermath of the election in Ethiopia in 2005, I had only passing interest in Ethiopian politics. The Meles Massacres became a defining moment in my life causing me to plunge headlong into Ethiopian human rights advocacy.

It was in September 2006 that I first became fully aware of the crimes against humanity that were being committed in Gambella. The Meles Massacres were fresh in my mind when Obang Metho, the young Ethiopian human rights advocate and director of the Anuak Justice Council from Gambella, invited me to speak at the premier of his documentary “Betrayal of Democracy” at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Obang had produced that documentary in association with the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. Obang described the documentary as a record of “human rights abuses in Ethiopia that continue to go on today to the Anuak and throughout the country despite the government’s claim to be a democracy.”

I met Obang for the first time in the Spring of 2006 after the hearing on H.R. 4423 (Ethiopia Consolidation Act of 2005) held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa was adjourned. I recounted that day in the subcommittee hearing room in my speech at the UCLA event.

As Obang began to testify, I observed him from the back of the gallery. He seemed to be a man in pain. “I will talk today about the Anuak. I am an Anuak. I grew up in Gambella. Please bear with me if I am emotional.”

Obang glanced towards the gallery of the large hearing room filled with many Ethiopian spectators, and continued: “As I am speaking, most of you may look at my face today and most of you would say I am not Ethiopian. To some Ethiopians, I could pass for German. I have been excluded even today. The only person who mentioned the word Anuak was Chairman Smith.”

His words hot me like a thunderbolt. I knew exactly what he was talking about, but I was not prepared to see an exhibition of our dirty laundry in public, in all places in the U.S. Congress where they keep a record of everything. I was not prepared to handle the truth Obang had declared so openly and courageously. Undaunted, Obang continued with the reckless confidence of a true patriot. “The Anuaks belong in Ethiopia. They are Ethiopian citizens. Ethiopians have to accept that reality.” I could only bow my head and look at the floor with shame. I knew he told the truth but I did not have the courage to look up into the gallery to see how many other Ethiopians were holding their heads in shame like me gazing at the floor.

Obang went on to plead the cause of the Anuak people with passion and fervor. “We are a very tiny minority. There are no more than 100,000 Anuaks. That is including me.” He said he has appeared before Congress to have his cry for justice for the Anuak people heard by the American people. He said he has come to seek the help of Congress to save his people from annihilation by the Ethiopian “government”. He said 1,600 hundred of his brothers, sisters, relatives, friends and neighbors had been murdered, massacred by Ethiopian “government” troops. Countless thousands have become refugees. He sat in that hearing room as the lonely voice of a tiny minority which now sat precariously on the precipice of ethnic annihilation.

Obang spoke of the despair of the Anuak people: “Right now, the Anuak have lost hope. And the international community has failed them.”

No one could have made a more passionate plea for justice than Obang that day in Congress. As I sat in the back of the gallery, I found myself in a state of shame.

The fact of the matter is that there are many who consider themselves Ethiopians but do not accept the Anuak or other indigenous minorities including the Omotic peoples in southern Ethiopia as Ethiopians. There is still much prejudice, and even worse, complete indifference, to minority ethnic groups in Ethiopia even today. In a way, ten years later, I still find myself in a state of shame. I am ashamed of anyone who claims Ethiopian heritage and does not fully and unreservedly accept the brotherhood and sisterhood of the people of Gambella or the Omotic people. It is a shame that the T-TPLF should feel free to sell, lease and squander the ancestral lands of the people of Gambella like a Florida-type swampland scam. It is a shame the people of Gambella should be “villagized” and massacred. It is a shame…

We should all cry, shout and scratch when the rights of the people of Gambella or the Omo River basin are flagrantly violated by the T-TPLF and its shadowy “scamvestors” (my latest contribution to the English language, scammers in investor vestments) . We should never keep quite.

Like the people of Gambella, the people who live in the Omo River Basin in Southwestern Ethiopia are today facing an environmental disaster that “could push them not only to hunger, starvation, dislocation and conflict, but potentially to extinction through habitat destruction.” A report released by International Rivers last week warned of dire consequences on the people and ecosystem in the Lower Omo Valley from the filling of the Gibe III dam reservoir. We must not close our eyes, plug our ears and purse our lips as the T-TPLF commits genocide-by-destruction-of-ecosystem in broad daylight against Omotic peoples. We must speak out and loudly!

Who is to be held accountable for the genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the people of Gambella?

There is no doubt in my mind that crimes against humanity and genocide have been committed against the people of Gambella in flagrant violation of the Rome Statute. Article 15 of the Rome Statute authorizes the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court to “initiate investigations proprio motu [in the discretion of the Prosecutor] on the basis of information on crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.” The crime of genocide under Article 6 (c) of the Statute requires proof of “deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction” of a population. Under Article 6 (b), genocide could also be inflicted “by causing serious bodily or mental harm to a population.” The crime of crimes against humanity under Article 7 (1) (d) requires proof of “deportation or forcible transfer of population” and commission of “other inhumane acts (Article 7 (1) (k)).

Art. 28 of the Ethiopian Constitution defines “crimes against humanity” as such crimes are “so defined by international agreements ratified by Ethiopia and by other laws of Ethiopia… [The crime of genocide] shall not be barred by statute of limitation…” Art. 269 of the Ethiopian Penal Code provides, “Whoever, in time of war or in time of peace, with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a nation, nationality, ethnical, racial, national, colour, religious or political group, organizes, orders or engages in (a) killing, bodily harm or serious injury to the physical or mental health of members of the group, in any way whatsoever or causing them to disappear; … is punishable with rigorous imprisonment from five years to twenty five years, or, in more serious cases, with life imprisonment or death.” (Emphasis added.)

Not long ago, the bumbling marionette “prime minister of Ethiopia”, Hailemariam Desalegn said, “Our institutional process and our laws and regulations are perfect. It is not the law that hinders but the implementation of these laws.” Borrowing from the wisdom of Hailemariam, I would argue that the constitutional and legal processes for the investigation and prosecution of genocide and crimes against humanity in Ethiopia are perfect. It is not the law that hinders but the implementation of these laws. Then who, what is hindering the implementation of the laws?!?


In my October 2011 commentary, “Karuturistan, Ethiopia: The Fire Next Time?”, I echoed the bitter complaints of the people of Gambella that, despite millions of dollars in investments by Karuturi (and the odious World Bank), they have seen few jobs, schools, clinics or clean water facilities for their use. I argued that at the end of the day, the people of Gambella will be the ones suffering the long-term effects of deforestation (land clearance by burning), reduction of ecological diversity, loss of local species, and environmental contamination caused by herbicides and pesticides used in large-scale commercial farming.

I made a specific recommendation to Karuturi in my commentary. Dump the current land acquisition and ownership deal and replace it with contract farming and deal directly with the farmers of Gambella. Provide training to farmers in Gambella and enhance their expertise to make them more productive. By doing so, Karuturi could supply grains and other agricultural commodities for the Ethiopian market profitably and over the long term maintain a sustainable and ecologically balanced agricultural venture. Karuturi could have made Gambella the archetype of responsible, prudent and profitable investment in Africa.

In concluding my commentary, I warned Karuturi by invoking a prophesy told in the lyrics of a song of African slaves toiling on vast cotton and tobacco plantations in the southern states of America. "God gave Noah the rainbow sign: No more water. The fire next time!”

In 2015, Karuturi has nothing to show for its “investment” except 170 million birr debt, if the T-TPLF alleged claim is credible. Where are the tens of thousands of hectares of oil palm, sugar cane, rice, edible oils and maize and cotton promised by Karuturi? Where are the 60 thousand workers? They exist only in the warped imaginations of the T-TPLF leaders.

God gave Karuturi a rainbow sign over the Baro (Upeno) River in October 2011. Karuturi did not heed the sign. Today Karuturi broils in the fires of bankruptcy.

As for the others who have troubled the Ethiopian house by “villagizing” and massacring the people , I have prophesied they shall inherit and be gone with the wind.

Bye, Bye Karuturistan! Hello! And welcome back Gambella, Ethiopia!

* Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino.



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Desertec: The renewable energy grab?

Hamza Hamouchene


c c GP
A plan to power Europe from Saharan solar plants seems to have stalled, but several large North African solar projects are still going ahead despite local concerns. Hamza Hamouchene asks: where did the Desertec project go wrong, and can desert solar power yet play a role in a democratic and sustainable future?

If you use social media, you may well have seen a graphic going around, showing a tiny square in the Sahara desert with the caption: ‘This much solar power in the Sahara would provide enough energy for the whole world!’

Can this really be true? It’s based on data from a research thesis written by Nadine May in 2005 for the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany.

According to May, an area of 3.49 million km² is potentially available for concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in the North African countries Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. She argues that an area of 254 kilometres x 254 kilometres (the biggest box on the image) would be enough to meet the total electricity demand of the world. The amount of electricity needed by the EU-25 states could be produced on an area of 110 kilometres x 110 kilometres (assuming solar collectors that could capture 100 per cent of the energy). A more realistic estimation by the Land Art Generator Initiative assumed a 20-per-cent capture rate and put forward an area approximately eight times bigger than the May study for meeting the world’s energy needs. Nevertheless, the map is a good illustration of the potential of solar power and how little space would be needed to power the entire planet.

This isn’t a new idea. Back in 1913, the American engineer Frank Shuman presented plans for the world’s first solar thermal power station to Egypt’s colonial elite, including the British consul-general Lord Kitchener. The power station would have pumped water from the Nile River to the adjacent fields where Egypt’s lucrative cotton crop was grown, but the outbreak of the First World War abruptly ended this dream.

The idea was explored again in the 1980s by German particle physicist Gerhard Knies, who was the first person to estimate how much solar energy was required to meet humanity’s demand for electricity. In 1986, in direct response to the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he arrived at the following remarkable conclusion: in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year. These ideas laid the groundwork for Desertec.


For the sake of clarity, it is worth differentiating between the Desertec Foundation and the Desertec Industrial Initiative. The non-profit Desertec Foundation was founded in January 2009 by a network of scientists, politicians and economists from around the Mediterranean. Its aim is to supply as many people and businesses as possible with renewable energy from the world’s deserts. This should, they hope, provide opportunities for prosperity and help protect the climate.

In the autumn of 2009, an ‘international’ consortium of companies formed the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii), with weighty players such as E.ON, Munich Re, Siemens and Deutsche Bank all signing up as ‘shareholders’. It was formed as a largely German-led private-sector initiative with the aim of translating the Desertec concept into a profitable business project, by providing around 20 per cent of Europe’s electricity by 2050 through a vast network of solar- and windfarms stretching right across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. These generators would be connected to continental Europe via special high voltage, direct current transmission cables. The tentative total cost of this project has been estimated at €400 billion ($472 billion).

To understand the thinking behind Desertec, we need to consider some history. Between 1998 and 2006, a set of Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements were formed between the EU and Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia. Their stated aim was the ‘gradual liberalization of trade’ in the region and the establishment of a Mediterranean free trade area. A project with similar goals called the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) was championed by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2008, to strengthen the ‘interdependence’ between the EU and the southern Mediterranean.

This goal of ‘interdependence’ is reminiscent of previous French prime minister Edgar Fouré’s famous coinage back in 1956, ‘L’indépendance dans l’interdépendance’, (independence in interdependence), a strategy promoted by successive French governments to maintain control and domination of the new ‘independent’ African countries. The UfM is designed to follow in their footsteps, furthering EU economic interests and reducing the need for energy imports from Russia. Promoting a renewable energy partnership was seen as a priority core project towards achieving these goals.

It is within this context of pro-corporate trade deals and a scramble for influence and energy resources that we should understand the Desertec project and especially its industrial arm, the Dii. Desertec could play a role in diversifying energy sources away from Russia as well as contributing to EU targets of reducing carbon emissions – and what better region to achieve these aims than MENA, an area well endowed with natural resources, from fossil fuels to sun and wind. It seems that a familiar ‘colonial’ scheme is being rolled in front of our eyes: the unrestricted flow of cheap natural resources from the Global South to the rich industrialized North, maintaining a profoundly unjust international division of labour.

This is a genuine concern given the language used in different articles and publications describing the potential of the Sahara in powering the whole world. The Sahara is described as a vast empty land, sparsely populated; constituting a golden opportunity to provide Europe with electricity so it can continue its extravagant consumerist lifestyle and profligate energy consumption. This is the same language used by colonial powers to justify their civilizing mission and, as an African myself, I cannot help but be very suspicious of such megaprojects and their ‘well-intentioned’ motives that are often sugar-coating brutal exploitation and sheer robbery. Such sentiments were also raised by Daniel Ayuk Mbi Egbe of the African Network for Solar Energy in 2011. ‘Many Africans are sceptical about Desertec,’ he said. ‘Europeans make promises, but at the end of the day, they bring their engineers, they bring their equipment, and they go. It’s a new form of resource exploitation, just like in the past.’ The Tunisian trade unionist Mansour Cherni made similar points at the World Social Forum 2013 (WSF) held in Tunis when he asked: ‘Where will the energy produced here be used?…Where will the water come from that will cool the solar power plants? And what do the locals get from it all?’


There is nothing inherently wrong or dishonest in the Desertec idea. On the contrary, the goal of providing sustainable clean energy for the planet to fight global warming is to be lauded. But like any other idea, the questions of who uses it, how it is implemented, for what agenda and in which context it is being promoted, are of great importance.

Desertec was presented as a response to the issues of climate change, the Russian-Ukrainian gas conflicts in 2006 and 2009, fears of peak oil, and the global food crisis of 2009. However, if Desertec is really serious about addressing those crises, it needs to target their structural causes. Being an apolitical techno-fix, it promises to overcome these problems without fundamental change, basically maintaining the status quo and the contradictions of the global system that led to these crises in the first place. Moreover, by presenting the Euro-Med region as a unified community (we are all friends now and we need to fight against a common enemy!), it masks the real enemy of the MENA region, which is oppressive European hegemony and Western domination.

Big engineering-focused ‘solutions’ like Desertec tend to present climate change as a shared problem with no political or socio-economic context. This perspective hides the historical responsibilities of the industrialized West, the problems of the capitalist energy model, and the different vulnerabilities between countries of the North and the South. The MENA region is one of the regions hardest hit by climate change, despite producing less than 5 per cent of global carbon emissions, with water supplies in the area being particularly affected. The spread of solar energy initiatives that further plunder these increasingly-scarce water resources would be a great injustice. Desertec also provides PR cover to major energy businesses and oil and gas-fuelled regimes. Supporting big ‘clean energy’ projects lets them present themselves as environmental protectors rather than climate culprits.

The website of the foundation (which came up with the concept and gave it its name) states: ‘Desertec has never been about delivering electricity from Africa to Europe, but to supply companies in desert regions with energy from the sun instead of oil and gas.’ Despite this, the Dii consortium of (mainly European) companies was openly geared towards delivering energy from Africa to Europe. Eventually, however, the fall in the price of solar panels and wind turbines in the EU led the consortium to concede in 2013 that Europe can provide for most of its clean energy needs indigenously. The tensions between the foundation and Dii culminated in a divorce between the two in July 2013 as the former preferred to distance itself from the management crisis and disorientation of the industrial consortium. As a result of these developments, Dii shrank from 17 partners to only three by the end of 2014 (German RWE, Saudi Acwa Power and China State Grid).


For some people, the shrinking of Dii signalled the demise of Desertec. However, with or without Dii, the Desertec vision is still going ahead with projects in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Despite its stated ideals about powering Africa, the Desertec foundation is backing the Tunur project in Tunisia, a joint venture between Nur Energy, a British-based solar developer and a group of Maltese and Tunisian investors in the oil and gas sector. It explicitly describes itself as a large solar power export project linking the Sahara desert to Europe that will dispatch power to European consumers starting in 2018. Given that Tunisia depends on its neighbour Algeria for its energy needs and that it faces increasingly frequent power cuts, it would be outrageous (to say the least) to proceed with exports rather than producing for the local market. According to Med Dhia Hammami, a Tunisian investigative journalist working in the energy sector, the project seeks to take advantage of new Tunisian legislation allowing the liberalization of green energy production and distribution, breaking the monopoly of the state company STEG (Société Tunisienne d’Electricité et de Gaz) and opening the way to direct export of electricity by private companies. He describes it as ‘state prostitution’ and a confirmation of the Tunisian government’s submission to corporate diktats that go against the national interest.

Meanwhile, the Moroccan government, with help from Dii consortium members, has attracted funding from international lenders to develop the world’s largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plant at Ourzazate. It was originally envisioned as an export project, but failed to secure Spanish government support for an undersea cable; the project is now promoted as a means for Morocco to increase its own renewable energy supply. However, the role of transnational companies in the project is still attracting criticism. M Jawad, a campaigner from ATTAC/CADTM Morocco, is concerned about the increasing control exerted by transnationals on electrical energy production in his country. He sees projects like Ourzazate as a threat to national sovereignty in the clean energy sector, because crucial decisions that affect the whole population are being taken by a handful of technocrats, far from any democratic process or consultation.


The assumption that economic liberalization and ‘development’ necessarily lead to prosperity, stability and democracy – as if neoliberalism and the (under)development agenda of the West had nothing to do with the Arab Uprisings – is preposterous. Any project concerned with producing sustainable energy must be rooted in local communities, geared towards providing and catering for their needs and centred around energy and environmental justice.

This is even more important when we think about the issue in the context of the Arab Uprisings and the demands of the revolutions: bread, freedom, social justice and national sovereignty. Projects involving large transnationals tend to take a top-down approach, increasing the risk of displacement, land-grabbing and local pollution. Without community involvement, there is no guarantee that such schemes will help with alleviating poverty, reducing unemployment or preserving a safe environment.

This has been a major failing of the Desertec initiative. Only a few actors from the South of the Mediterranean were involved in its development, and most of them represented public institutions and central authorities, not the local communities who would be affected by the project.

The Desertec foundation did publish a set of criteria to ensure that large-scale solar projects in desert regions are implemented in an environmentally and socially responsible way. However, in the absence of democratic control, transparency and citizen participation in decision making in the MENA region, those criteria will remain ink on paper.

Another important question is: will these projects transfer the knowledge, expertise and designs of the renewable technology to the countries in this region? This seems unlikely given the transnationals’ usual reticence in doing so and questions of intellectual property around such technologies. As an example, the glass troughs (solar thermal collectors) for North African CSP plants are all made in Germany, and the patents for the glass tube receivers are held by German companies. Without fair access to such technologies, MENA countries will remain dependent on the West and transnationals for future renewable development.


To come back to the Arab uprisings, Desertec presented itself as a possible way out of the crisis, by bringing new opportunities to the region. This is baffling given that the project co-operated with corrupt elites and authoritarian regimes, some of which have since been overthrown, and others of which continue to oppress their populations.

Instead of providing a route to ‘develop’ away from repressive governments, the centralized nature of large CSP plants makes them an ideal source of income for corrupt and authoritarian regimes in the region (such as Algeria, Egypt and Morocco) and thus could help to keep them in power. To illustrate this risk, let’s take Algeria as an example.

Oil and gas have provided income for the Algerian regime for decades, and are used to buy social peace and maintain its grip on power. As the brutal Algerian civil war (a war against civilians, to be more accurate) was raging, with systematic violence from both the state and Islamist fundamentalists, BP finalized a contract worth $3 billion in December 1995, giving it the right to exploit gas deposits in the Sahara for the next 30 years. Total completed a similar deal worth $1.5 billion one month later, and in November 1996 a new pipeline supplying gas to the EU was opened, the Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline through Spain and Portugal. These contracts undoubtedly bolstered the regime as it exerted systematic violence across the country and at a time of international isolation.

Tied to Algeria through huge investments, these companies and the EU had a clear interest in making sure that the repressive regime did not go under and acquiesced to the Algerian regime’s ‘Dirty War’ of the 1990s. A renewable megaproject like Desertec that ties European economies to corrupt MENA governments would create exactly the same kind of problems.

Whether fossil fuelled or renewable, energy schemes that don’t benefit the people where the energy is extracted, that serve to prop up authoritarian and repressive regimes or only enrich a tiny minority of voracious elites and transnationals are scandalous and must be resisted.

Advocates for benign-sounding clean energy export projects like Desertec need to be careful they’re not supporting a new ‘renewable energy grab’: after oil, gas, gold, diamonds and cotton, is it now the turn of solar energy to maintain the global imperial dominance of the West over the rest of the planet?

Advocates for benign-sounding clean energy export projects like Desertec need to be careful they’re not supporting a new ‘renewable energy grab’: after oil, gas, gold, diamonds and cotton, is it now the turn of solar energy to maintain the global imperial dominance of the West over the rest of the planet?

* Hamza Hamouchene is an Algerian activist and co-founder of the London-based Algeria Solidarity Campaign. This article was previously published in the [url=]]New Internationalist[/url]



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Racism, classism and elitism are alive and well in South Africa

Dhiru Soni and Mark Hay


c c TIA
Despite the fact that apartheid officially ended in 1994 in South Africa, new forms of racism and elitism continue to linger on, grounded in enduring asymmetries of power. Such power relations continue to serve the interests of elites whilst marginalising millions of indigent people.

This article deals with the contemporary South African political economy of higher education in order to show how problems and challenges such as access and equity are compounded and convoluted through the intervention of elitist institutions and actors. It is a shortened form of an article which was addressed to Professor Walter Baets, Chairperson of the African Business Schools Association (AABS) and Dean of the Graduate School of Business (GSB) at the University of Cape Town University. <>

The prime purpose of this article is to show through theoretical underpinnings how racism and elitism continue to prevail in this country, though in a more ‘veiled’ form. The perpetrators of this ‘concealed’ elitism and racism, thus, become the bearers of a new pernicious form of racial bigotry. In short, these new agents of racial prejudice have now become ‘illusionists’ who remain ‘within our gates’. We need to peel away at their masks to expose and demystify their real being.

This article, therefore, proceeds on the understanding that despite the fact that apartheid officially ended in 1994 in South Africa, new forms of racism and elitism continue to linger on, grounded in enduring asymmetries of power. Such power relations continue to serve the interests of elites whilst marginalising, as a corollary, millions of indigent people in the country. The point of departure, though, is that covert elitism and racism is shrouded in mystification and is inordinately difficult to identify and define, unless one makes a concerted effort to peel off the various layers that embalm the nefarious creature which sociologists refer to as ‘racism’. As Bonilla-Silva (1996) states,‘the new racism exists without racists ... Today, racial segregation and division often result from habits, policies, and institutions that are not explicitly designed to discriminate. Contrary to popular belief, discrimination or segregation do not require animus. They thrive even in the absence of prejudice or ill will. It’s common to have racism without racists ... Unlike the discriminatory racism of the past, the new racism is disconnected’.

The new ‘elitism’ excludes rather than oppresses. It is stealthy and gentle in appearance, but brutal and steadfast in its mission. It is only when we peel away the ‘gentle’ surface that our sensory organs begin to see and feel the rancid core. The rot is clearly evident – it is like a cancerous cell which, left unchecked, can spread and become cumulatively destructive . It stinks in every sense of the word.

In a broader sense, racism and elitism include support for and cooperation with laws, policies and practices that put groups at a disadvantage because of their race, ethnicity or culture. In the post-apartheid era in South Africa, racism and elitism have more to do with power relationships between groups in society. The power association, almost equivalent to that of a master and slave relationship, allows the dominant group to wield power to such an extent that it prescribes who makes decisions and who accedes to these demands. It allows a member of the dominant group to take on responsibility when it is not democratically acquired. The new ‘elitists’ thus assume that they have the power to decide on the fate of others, including disadvantaged black students, presumably because they believe they have the monopoly over power and knowledge. The power relationship allows these protagonists to get away with many things – chief amongst them is the belief that they have the right to shamefully pronounce on others, especially those who are vulnerable and in invidious positions. Generally relationships of power imbued with a deep sense of racism can be overt or covert. In the case of apartheid it was overt because the laws of South Africa at that time sanctioned it. In a post apartheid period, the relationship of power and racism becomes covert.

Despite the fact that it is now some twenty years into a post-apartheid dispensation, racial elitists continue to benefit from race-based social inequality in South Africa. McKinney (2007: 216) notes that continuing race-based social inequality largely makes it impossible for South Africans to ‘”exit race” or even … think about “race” differently’. As such, race not only continues to play a significant role in how South Africans use it as an identity marker, but racial categorising remains a common basis of self and other-identification in social interaction in South Africa (Collier, 2005). Within this convoluted system, racial lines are socially constructed and those who have the ‘social power’ falsely act as the sole purveyors of knowledge and insidiously pretend to hold the monopoly over decision-making. Thus racism and elitism are not seen as phenomena operating at the individual level, but are regarded as systemic conditions that structure institutional relationships.

The case study of Professor Baets clearly indicates that the power relations in the new South Africa are still determined inter alia by control over social and cultural structures such as higher education institutions in order to systematise and ensure an unequal distribution of privilege, resources and power. In this regard, Bonilla-Silva’s (1996) theory goes a long way in contributing to an understanding of the social and systemic nature of elitism and racism. It also informs the conceptualisation of the structured nature of white privilege in a more nuanced way. Hence, according to Van den Berg et al (2011), current educational outcomes, such as issues of access and equity in higher education reflect a perpetuation and reinforcement of the inequalities of the apartheid legacy.

In terms of Baets’ ‘secured space’ and authority in institutional settings, vis-a-vis his position as the Dean of the Business School and his leadership at AABS, Van Dijk (1992) offers an insightful analysis about the ways in which racists and elitists structure and reproduce their whiteness and the inferior status of ‘non-whites’. Van Dijk's provocative analysis reminds us of the subtle and embedded forms of racism that often get ignored due to the ways in which perpetrators of elitism and racism are able to deflect cause and effect through their privileged status and resources. His observations have much to offer in terms of explaining how elites create and reproduce racial inequality, illuminating, in terms of theoretical explanation, the paradigms of the less powerful classes as well as for major institutional forms. Van Dijk reminds the reader about the need to understand how racialist and elitist discourse produces racialist class structures that deeply mark the stratification and social organisational character of race-centred societies. Racism informs and is informed by its very actions.

Increasingly, complaints of racism in higher education are increasing throughout the world. For instance, Tracy McVeigh (2002), writing in the Guardian Sustainable Business, notes that in the UK there have been several high-profile cases of racist incidents. Particularly, there is the controversy over the University of Sussex's decision not to sack Professor Geoffrey Sampson, who wrote an article on his website entitled 'There's nothing wrong with racism', and said there was evidence that blacks were less intelligent than whites.

In more recent years, it would seem that racists and elitists have found new ways in which to absolve themselves from any racist actions. Herein is a strange contradiction, as Albert Memmi (1999) quotes,‘There is a strange kind of enigma associated with the problem of racism. No one, or almost no one, wishes to see themselves as racist; still, racism persists, real and tenacious.’ It would seem that these perpetrators find ‘new explanations’ which in a sense become justifications for racial prejudice. It is what Bonilla-Silva (2008) refers to as the new racial ideology commonly referred to as ‘colour blind racism’. She explains the contemporary racial inequality as the outcomes of non racial dynamics; contemporary racial inequality is reproduced through ‘‘New Racism’’ practices that are subtle, institutional, and apparently non-racial. Today racial practices operate in ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ fashion.

The new ‘colour blind’ racism serves today as the ideological armour for a covert and institutionalised system of elitism and racism in the post apartheid era. Yet this new ideology has become a formidable political tool for the maintenance of the new ‘racial order’. In effect, this new ‘colour blind’ ideology assists in the maintenance of white privilege without much commotion. It enshrouds the architects of these new racist and elitist acts, to the extent that they becomes very difficult to recognise. As a white person of ‘authority’, one, for example, could become a self appointed ‘gatekeeper’ without proper democratic sanction.

It is important for these new racists and elitists to remember, as former president Thabo Mbeki remarked, ‘The majority of our people understood that liberation from apartheid and colonialism must and had to mean creating the possibility for the millions of ordinary South Africans and Africans to enjoy better lives free from poverty, as well as the restoration of our full dignity as human beings’. Blacks can simply not be treated as second class citizens in the land of their birth, especially by people who are ‘foreigners’ in our country.

In a similar fashion, Secretary General of the ANC, Mr Gwede Mantasha has made it known that during the apartheid years there was a determination to preserve white privilege on the ill-conceived view that whites are superior to blacks. Gradually, as our society transforms, the white minority is discovering it is not superior. The numerical minority cannot continue to be the cultural majority. Twenty years on in a post-apartheid South Africa, the numerical majority is slowly beginning to take on the status of a cultural majority.

Bonilla-Silva (2008) notes, correctly, that ‘the so called colour blind white elitists should not be allowed to claim through their “clever” explanations and justifications the right to exculpate themselves from any responsibility of racism’, whether overtly or covertly.

Given the insidious nature of the new veiled racism, the role of intellectuals in exposing the dastardly deeds of racists and elitists becomes imperative. In this respect, intellectuals, especially from the higher education sector, need to play a cogent role in exposing the bigotry that exists in their ranks and within the wider ambit of society. We cannot simply say we live in a post apartheid society which is ‘non racialist’ and free from prejudice. Racism is real. Racism involves all who live in South Africa, and it will take a concerted effort to eradicate it.

Universities promote the idea and achievement of graduate attributes by students during their time at university. Knowledge, skills and attitudes (including qualities and values) are expected to be attained by our students. It is indeed ironic that we perhaps need to ask about the attainment at universities of leadership and staff attributes, particularly of shared values and human qualities that enhance the public good notion of the university and society!

Within the context of the above, how is it possible that a senior academic, a manager of an academic unit at a university and a chairperson of a business schools’ association can negatively pronounce and generalise on the quality of students in South Africa and on the academic offerings at other accredited member institutions without researched justification? Where is the collegiality in such leadership? Is this the quality of leadership that we should emulate and advocate? What can such a person teach us about the intrinsic values of leadership? The issues of access and equity in higher education are too important to be left to insidious individuals who would prefer to hide behind ‘veils of racism and elitism’ and prevent our future leaders an equal opportunity to succeed in life.

In terms of leadership, the case of Professor Baets has alerted us to the skills challenges in South Africa and the world at large. This is no longer just a leadership challenge, but a major development challenge: how to grow bigger minds. It would seem that leadership development has come to a point of being too individually focused and elitist. We need to fast track a new paradigm in leadership which recommends the theory that leadership is a collective process which should be spread throughout networks of people, organisations and institutions.

Finally we would like to use Noam Chomsky’s (1967) exhortation to intellectuals to make their mark in sustaining the hard fought freedom which South Africa realised in 1994:

“Let me finally return to Dwight Macdonald and the responsibility of intellectuals. Macdonald quotes an interview with a death-camp paymaster who burst into tears when told that the Russians would hang him. ‘Why should they? What have I done?’ he asked. Macdonald concludes: ‘Only those who are willing to resist authority themselves when it conflicts too intolerably with their personal moral code, only they have the right to condemn the death-camp paymaster.’ The question, ‘What have I done?’ is one that we may well ask ourselves, as we read each day of fresh atrocities in Vietnam—as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defence of freedom.”


Bonilla-Silva, E. 1996. Rethinking Racism: Toward a Structural Interpretation. American Sociological Review, 62, 465-480.

Bonilla-Silva, E. 2006. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Chomsky, N. 1967. The Responsibility of Intellectuals. The New York Review of Books.

Collier, M. J. 2005. Context, Privilege, and Contingent Cultural Identifications in South African Group Interview Discourses. Western Journal of Communication, 69, 215-231

du Toit 2000. From autonomy to accountability: Academic freedom under threat in South Africa. Social Dynamics, 26, 76-133.

Mckinney, C. 2007. Caught between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’? Talking about ‘race’ in a post‐apartheid university classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 10.

Memmi, A. 1999. Racism. Minnesota Books, Minnesota USA.

Puwar, N. 2004. Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place Bloomsbury Academic.

van-Dijk, T. A. 1992. Elite Discourse and Racism SAGE Publications: Sage Series on Race and Ethnic Relations, 6.

* Dhiru Soni was formerly head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Science, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research at the erstwhile University of Durban Westville, Executive Director of Outreach at the University of KwaZulu Natal and currently is a Consultant to the Higher Education Sector. He can be contacted at:

* Mark Hay former Executive Director of the Council of Higher Education (CHE), Higher Education Consultant in Quality Assurance for past ten years and currently Consultant to the higher education sector in South Africa



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Give us back our land

Motsoko Pheko


c c BBC
The issue of land ownership in South Africa has been on the minds of millions of Africans for many decades, some with no place to bury their dead while being surrounded by luxurious golf courses and palatial hotels. This must change.

On 12 February 2015 President Jacob Zuma announced that his ANC government would soon be tabling the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, which will limit land ownership by South Africans to 1200 acres and will no longer allow foreigners to own land in South Africa.

After 20 years, is this not too little too late and what will happen to land foreigners already own? Why did the ANC leaders abandon the land question in 1955 and chose to raise it now? Why was the equitable redistribution of land not even mentioned during the “negotiations” with the apartheid colonialist regime?

Why did the ANC accept a constitution that provided a “property clause” in section 25 for those who had acquired land colonially but said nothing about those who were colonially dispossessed of their land for over three hundred years? Why did the constitution of “New South Africa” allow land claims from before June 1913? A massive 87 per cent of land was colonially expropriated long before this date.

President Zuma has said that his Rural Development and Land Affairs Minister Gugile Kwinti’s proposed plan to force farmers to share 50 per cent of their land ownership with farm workers will be allowed. Not long ago the ANC dangled the policy of “willing seller, willing buyer”, a policy that failed as dismally as it did in Zimbabwe because White farmers just inflated prices and the government that was wrongly buying back this African land ran out money.


Cicero, a Roman historian and philosopher wrote, “To remain ignorant of things before you were born is to remain a child.” Dr. Antony Muziwakhe Lembede, the first president of the 1912 ANC Youth League under whom people like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu served advised, “One who wants to create a future must not forget the past.”

People who ignore historical facts are like a doctor who does not cure the disease of a patient; constantly dealing with the symptoms of the disease instead of the disease itself. Life must be lived forward but it can only be understood backwards.

Indeed, that great African-American scholar Dr. Hendrik John Clarke was right when he said, “History is a clock that tells a people their historical time of the day. It is a compass that people use to locate themselves on the map of human geography. A people’s history tells them where they have been, where they are now … more importantly, where they still must go.”


The unresolved land question in South Africa is a ticking bomb. Those who colonised Africans must respond to the justice and truth this situation demands; something that would not have been very difficult if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not a fraudulent exercise in appeasement.

This land issue is getting so huge in South Africa that there is now not enough land for Africans to bury their dead and the ANC Government is persuading communities to accept cremation or to be buried on top of other people. This is in a country that is not only rich but is four times the size of Britain and Northern Ireland and Africans bury their dead in the land culturally.


The ongoing land controversy in South Africa started with the Berlin Act of 26 February 1885 through which this African country became a British colony. And even though colonialists called it the spreading of “Western Christian Civilisation” it was, in fact, colonial terrorism.

This pseudo civilisation was followed by a British colonial law called the Union of South Africa Act 1909. Its main aim was to unite the four British colonies of Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State to fight the “native danger” (African resistance against European colonialism). This act immediately legalised racial discrimination against Africans. Section 44 read, “The qualifications of a Member of the House of Assembly shall … be a British subject of European descent.”

Within four years of the Union of South Africa Act, the colonial parliament, with the approval of the British Government, passed the racist and genocide colonial law allocating a paltry seven per cent of their own country to over five million Africans and giving the remaining 93 per cent of the African land to 349,837 European colonial settlers. This was done through the Native Land Act 1913.

Sol Plaatje who was a writer as well as the first secretary of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) explained why this genocide law was made. “In the beginning of the last decade [of the 19th century], there was panic among White farmers because it was discovered that some Natives had garnered three thousand bags of wheat … in a neighbourhood where their White neighbours reaped only 300 to 400 bags. ‘Where will we get servants?’ it was asked, ‘if Kaffirs are allowed to become skilled … if they are inclined to herd pedigree stock, let them improve their master’s (White man’s) cattle and cultivate for[White] land owners – not for themselves.’”

In July 1914 Sol Plaatje, John Dube and three other leaders of SANNC arrived in London to present a petition to King George V. They demanded that Africans be put in possession of land according to population numbers and on the same conditions as the Europeans. The English king, whose country had colonised this African country, gave the African leaders neither sympathy nor any kind of help. They returned from Britain empty handed.

A London daily newspaper, however, was sympathetic and reported the plight of the dispossessed Africans in South Africa. “In carving out estates for themselves in Africa, the White races have shown little regard for the claims of the Black man. They have expropriated his land and have left him in a worse case than they found him … the Blacks as compared to Whites are in proportion of four to one but are in legal occupation of only one fifteenth of the land.”

The 1943 document Africans’ Claims in South Africa and The Bill of Rights, by the Youth League of the 1912 ANC, under the leadership of Dr. Antony Muziwakhe Lembede and A.P. Mda, reads:

“We demand the right to an equal share of all the material resources of the country and urge that the present allocation of 13 per cent of the surface area to eight million Africans against two million Europeans is unjust … demand a fair redistribution of land.”

The 1944 Youth League Manifesto inter alia states, “The White race possessing superior military power… has arrogated to itself the ownership of the land and country. This has meant that the African who owned the land before the advent of the Whites has been deprived of all security, which may guarantee or ensure his leading a free and hampered life.”


In July 1959, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, who had earlier played a leading role in the Youth League and was now the leader of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania along with his colleagues P.K. Leballo, Zephania Mothopeng, Jafta Masemola, Nyati Pokela and Selby Ngendane, paid tribute to all African kings. They were the first freedom fighters against European colonialism in this country.

Sobukwe said: “Sons and daughters of Africa, we are going down the corridor of time renewing our acquaintance with the heroes of Africa’s past – those men and women who nourished the tree of African freedom and independence with their blood, those great sons and daughters of Africa who died in order that we may be free in the land of our birth. We meet here today to rededicate ourselves to the cause of Africa, to establish contact beyond the grave with the great African heroes and assure them that their struggle was not in vain. We have met here sons and daughters of the beloved land to drink from the fountain of African achievement, to remember the men and women who begot us, to remind ourselves of where we come from and restate our goals. We are here to draw inspiration from the heroes of Thaba Bosiu, Isandlwana, Sandile’s Kop and numerous other battlefields where our forefathers fell before the bullets of the foreign invader…”


There are lots of denials about land dispossession of the African people by colonialism that was never overthrown in South Africa. But there are some honest White people who have affirmed land dispossession of the African people. Surprisingly one of these is Jan Smuts who was one time Prime Minister of Colonial South Africa who in 1930 confessed, “The mistake we have made in South Africa in the past was our failure in not reserving sufficient land for the future of the rapidly increasing natives (indigenous Africans) and the land problem we have in consequence on our hands…” (J.C. Smuts, Africa and Some World Problems 1930, page 60)

For his part Sir Godfrey Lagden, author of The Basutos (1909) volume II, page 642, has written, “The active seizure, by force or guile, of lands actually in possession of the Africans, was a political blunder of the first magnitude as well as an act of injustice.”

C.G. Fichardt who was a member of the colonial parliament in Cape Town categorically proclaimed, “If we are to deal with the natives of this country, then according to population we should give them four fifths of the country.”(See Sol Plaatje – Native Life in South Africa, pages 339-340)

In June 1955, despite the overwhelming evidence of colonial land dispossession of the African people, a strange document emerged. Zephania Mothopeng, a veteran of the African liberation struggle in South Africa, called it “notorious”. Its preamble reads:

“We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white… And therefore, we, the people of South Africa black and white together, equals, countrymen and brothers adopt the charter…”

This document was represented as more progressive than the 1912 documents. This was not correct. The main purpose of the Freedom Charter was to derail the land question. It succeeded because from that time the 1955 ANC abandoned the land question. Their “negotiations” in CODESA also created a “New South Africa” with 87 percent of land and mineral resources still intact in the hands of the White minority of the country just like from day one of Union of South Africa 1909 and Native Land Act 1913.

Chief Albert Luthuli who was president of the 1912 ANC wrote in his book, Let My People Go, 1st edition. “The Freedom Charter is open to criticism … I can only speak vaguely about the preparations that went before it… The result is that the declaration is UNEVEN.”

Dr Wilson Conco, who was Luthuli’s deputy and was present at Kliptown where the notorious document was adopted, said he did not know who had drafted it. Jordan K. Ngubane, who had been an active leader in the 1912 ANC Youth League and was the author of An African Explains Apartheid, has written, “People who sat in the inner circles of this alliance stated privately that the ANC tended to accept instructions from White liberals rather than participate in the formulation of policies.”

The Freedom Charter caused a split in the liberation movement. Pan Africanists rejected the preamble in the charter. Sobukwe called it, “A colossal fraud ever perpetrated upon the exploited and degraded people. It clearly bears the stamp of its origin. It is a product of the slave mentality and colonialist orientation.”


Some authors of the ANC Freedom Charter have been named, such as Rusty Beinstein, Joe Slovo, Ben Turok, Arthur Goldreich and other Whites. Slovo was chief commander of the 1955 ANC military wing for many years until he handed over to Chris Hani.

In 2009 Turok confirmed his own authorship of the Freedom Charter. He wrote, “I was not a ‘typist’ of the economic clause of the Freedom Charter… As vice chairman of the Cape Provincial Acting Council and full organiser of the Congress of the People, I was invited to a meeting of the National Council of the Congress on the eve of the eventual event. A draft Freedom Charter was put to the meeting for approval and I proposed and Billy Nair seconded an amended version, which was adopted there and then … I had been asked previously to introduce the economic clause at the congress.”

And of course, President Albert Luthuli and his deputy Dr Wilson Conco did not know anything about this.

The White leaders of the Communist Party of South Africa had always been hostile to demand by Africans for repossession of their land. They also did not recognise that Africans in South Africa were colonised by Britain. As far as they were concerned there was no colonialism in South Africa. They were wrong historically as well as according to the principles of international law. These neo-liberals parading as “Communists” were exposed for what they really were at the Sixth World Congress of the Comintern (Communist International).

This congress observed that, “A characteristic feature of the colonial type of the country [South Africa] is almost complete landlessness of the African population. The Africans hold only one eighth of the land while seven eighths of land has been expropriated by the white population.” (Independent Black Republic Thesis of the Communist International 1928)

The delegation of White settler Communist Party of South Africa to this congress was composed of Sydney Bunting and his wife Rebecca. They were unhappy about the position of the Comintern. Sydney Bunting said, “Expressions like ‘South Africa is Black country’ though correct as general statements, invite criticism by the working class and peasant minority.”

It is not clear whether Bunting was ignorant of the situation in South Africa at the time or was deliberately dishonest. The slogan of the white workers was: “Workers of the World Unite! Keep South Africa White!”

Anyway, Harry Haywood an African American who attended the Sixth World Congress of the Comintern has written, “Rebecca Bunting spoke in the commission session. Addressing the land question, she denied that the land (South Africa) belonged to the Africans in the first place. Both Africans and Whites from Central Africa and Cape Town respectively forced the aboriginal Hottentots and Bushmen off their land. Thus there is no Native land question.” Haywood concludes, “We listened to her in amazement and a laugh went through the audience.” (Black Bolshevik, Harry Haywood, pages 237,271 and 272. Liberator Press, Chicago Illinois.)

Now in 2015 Africans cannot even find a place to bury their dead except by being burned or laid on top of one another. And it is only then the president of the ANC and of “New South Africa” raises the land question. From day one of colonialism in Azania (South Africa), the liberation was about land repossession by Africans based on equitable distribution of land and its riches according to population numbers.

It is treacherous in the extreme that after 20 years of ANC rule Africans today have no land to bury their dead. Yet the country is full of golf fields where Whites play their golf luxuriously and without a pinch of conscience for the plight of the landless poor.


I was a member of the South African Parliament for 10 years. On behalf of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the land dispossessed African majority I made many speeches on the land question. Let me pull one extract from one of the many of the kind, “Chairman, because of my limited speaking time, I will talk only about the mother – the land and not the daughter – agriculture (laughter).

The budget vote on land and agriculture is the most important to the majority poor and landless of our country. The Pan Africanist Congress supports this budget but we repeat that there will never be enough money to buy back our own land, even after all prescribed land claims have been met. The land question will not go away. If the ANC Government can get only one thing right in the task of undoing apartheid, it has to be equitable redistribution of land and its riches…

The present land policy, however, has failed because its architects have ignored the history of colonial land dispossession. Land is economy. All over the world land is a critically sensitive issue because there is connection between land and economic power and true liberation…

Meanwhile, land is being sold to foreigners while its rightful owners do not have even a piece of land for decent homes. This parliament must make a law to stop this foolishness (applause)…”

* Dr Motsoko Pheko is author of several books such as, ‘Land is Money’ and ‘Power and Apartheid: The Story of A Dispossessed People’. He is a former member of the South African Parliament as well as former representative of the victims of apartheid and colonialism at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

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Katuna: A paradigm of political economy of cross-border trade and regional integration in Africa

Odomaro Mubangizi


c c PZ
In the quest for regional integration, it is helpful to look at some of the less known yet strategic locations such as Katuna for models of emulation and improvement. Katuna offers a model of integration from below.


It is now a truism that regional integration holds the key to Africa’s political and economic fortunes. All kinds of regional integration models are in vogue: at the continental level—AU; at regional levels—SADC, EAC, ECOWAS, COMESA, and IGAD. The argument for regional integration goes as follows: the tiny, poor and numerous African states that were curved at the Berlin Conference cannot compete favorably with the large world economies, they are better off pulling together their meager resources and hence increase both their market and competitiveness. Very appealing assertion and yet there are some African countries, for the reasons best known to themselves, that are still dragging their feet, while others are more than excited to jump on the bandwagon of regional integration. Little attention has been paid to the role of small border towns that are in fact paradigms of regional integration from below. One such border town is Katuna, at the border of Rwanda and Uganda. Hopefully regional leaders, business people, and development agencies will begin to look at these small border towns as engines of cross-border trade and regional integration and give them the attention they deserve.


Around 2012 Katuna border town, the last town in South Western Uganda on the Mombasa Kigali High Way, was raised to the status of a town council. It is about 500 Kms from Kampala. On the Rwandan side the name used is Gatuna. This goes to show how strategic this small town is. Is it two border towns, or one split by the border? The neighboring areas that serve as hinterlands of Katuna include: Kamuganguzi trading center just about 2 kms from Katuna towards Kabale town-the District Municipal Town; Karujanga trading center also about 3 kms from Katuna but deep inside close to the Rwandan border; and Kakoma trading center—about 3kms from Katuna. Most importantly, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda is about 2 hours’ drive from Katuna.

Sociologically, Katuna is a fascinating town. It can qualify as a global town--in fact there is a small market close-by known as ‘a world market’, because it has people from all over the region who come to buy goods: Rwandese, Ugandans, Congolese, Kenyans, Burundians, Somalis; some are Europeans and Americans who pass by as tourists. Residents of Katuna and neighboring areas are of mixed nationalities—very common to find some with Rwandese roots, others with some Congolese roots, and others with Burundian roots. But the dominant ethnic group in Katuna are the Bakiga with three main clans: Abasigi, Abungura and Abagyesera. But being a cosmopolitan town, one can find people from other parts of Uganda: Baganda, Banyankore, Batooro, Acholi, Luo, Langi, etc. Since there is also an immigration post and police post, most tribes of Uganda are represented at Katuna. The fact that the people of Katuna have been able to marry across borders is a good model of the affective dimension of regional integration. Regional integration can only work when there is love.

The geographical terrain of Katuna is also a wonder to behold. It is located in the valley that stretches for about 27 kms from Kabale Town. This valley is a fertile wetland that has been reclaimed for diary and crop farming. Katuna is located at the foot of a massive rocky mountain that makes construction of houses exceedingly difficult. With the notoriously high density of population in Kabale, Katuna is no exception. On average the population density is about 400 people per square km.

When one stands at Katuna border, the site of imposing hills of Rwanda a few meters away, leaves one speechless. Then there is the Kisaasa range of hills across the swampy valley that conceal the Rwene and Nyabisika that lie beyond the high hills. Early in the morning these hills and valleys are covered with mist that clears around 10:00 am. And the place can be cold—morning and night temperatures can be as low as 5 degrees centigrade.

Being a gateway to Rwanda, Katuna is a very old border town dating back to the colonial period. It was in fact part of Rwanda way back in the 1920s. Residents of Katuna and the neighbouring areas trace their origins to parts of Rwanda: Mukaniga, Byumba, Ruhengyeri, and Murindi. People in Katuna easily switch from Kinyarwanda to Rukiga. From as far as people can recall, people of Katuna have always engaged in cross-border trade using the system of barter trade or exchanging goods between Rwanda and Uganda. Way back from the 1960s to the 1980s, the main commodities of barter trade were salt, food, clothes, and domestic utensils such as cooking pots, plates, and cups. In the 1970s when Idi Amin was in power, Katuna became a major trading town specializing in informal/illegal trade in fuel, second hand clothes and food. After the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power in 1986, the illegal cross-border trade was stopped.


Katuna is a business hub. Traders from the East African region flock to the place. In fact in the 1970s before the East African Community collapse, there were headquarters of EAC at Katuna. The dilapidated buildings are still there as evidence of the grim reminder of a once booming regional block that even had a common currency. What kind of trade and economic activities go on at Katuna? Appearances deceive. On a casual glance, there does not seem to be too much going on at Katuna except the large number of massive trucks carrying merchandise from Mombasa and some few hotels and lodgings. On close inspection one notices a battalion of money changers with all major currencies of the world: US dollars; British pounds, Euros, Kenyan shillings, Rwandese Francs, Tanzanian shillings, and more. It is hard to estimate the amount of forex that is at Katuna border. The few houses at the border also do not tell the full story, since the majority of business people come to Katuna just for work and then head home later in the evening.

Katuna has produced some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the Kabale town and in the rest of Uganda, and some have even moved over to Kampala to set up bigger businesses in real estate and retail shops. Daily, trucks carrying Irish Potatoes, beans, wood, sorghum, and vegetables, are seen heading from Katuna to Kabale and Kampala. Katuna is also endowed with fertile soils and plenty of rains. The place is ever green. The rich hinterland that supplies food includes: Kyasano, Mugobore, Karujanga, Rubaya, Rwanyena, Kibuga, Kikore, Nyarubira, and Kisibo. Close to Katuna there are at least ten large dairy farms with both local and exotic cattle that supply plenty of milk to Katuna and Kabale town.

People of Katuna have always practiced sustainable agriculture, combining soil conservation methods such as mixed cropping, terracing, furrow, and afforestation. It is this strategy that despite the limited land and a high density of population, the soil has remained relatively fertile. Diversity of food crops also helps: sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, beans, peas, sorghum, millet, wheat, vegetables such cabbages, bananas, dairy cattle, fruit trees such as avocados and papaya.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the people from Katuna has enabled them to diversify their economic activities. From retail to construction, from hotels to farming, from tree planting to agriculture, from clinics to tailoring and design. While way back in the 1970s business was the main economic activity, some parents also invested in education. The attraction of cross-border trade was rather too much for many who could not stay long in school even to complete grade school (primary school). In the vicinity of Katuna there are five secondary schools. In Kabale town (just 27 kms from Katuna town) there are three universities. Some farsighted parents who invested in higher education have their sons and daughters now teaching in those universities and even as far as Kampala at the national university of Makerere.

The other economic activity around Katuna is tourism. This is not yet fully developed. Tourists stop-over on their way to the famous Lake Bunyonyi and Bwindi the impenetrable forest for Gorilla tracking. Tourism potential is high. Mountain hiking and camping are yet to be explored. Crafts are also a great possibility. Katuna has a wide variety of birds—bird viewers can have good time as well. Mountains and hills of Katuna are breath-taking as scenic attractions, but some camping sites and resorts have to be constructed. Fortunately, Katuna and its neighboring areas are supplied by rural electricity program.


In 2013 Uganda got a credit facility from International Development Association to construct a one-stop border post at Katuna. The project is meant to ease the clearance of long distance trucks that come from Mombasa and from Kigali. The plan is to clear trucks once on either side of the border—if from Rwanda, they are cleared once on the Rwandan side, and from Uganda, they are cleared once from the Ugandan side. Part of the project is to expand the border post to the size of other border towns like Malaba and Busia at the Kenya-Uganda border in the east.

The benefits of the one-stop border post are enormous. Doing business across the border will be expedited and made much cheaper. This move is therefore part of the strategy to implement the EAC Common Market protocol. The Northern Corridor Fast-Track process is in full swing. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are resolved to expedite regional integration and hence the creation of the one-stop border posts, such as Katuna. Katuna also now operates 24 hours.


Truly Katuna border post provides a paradigm for political economy of cross-border trade and regional integration for small border towns of Africa. What else needs to be done is to enhance its capacity. The creation of a one-stop border facility is a welcome initiative and will go a long way to make Katuna more prosperous in the entire region. The hinterland of Katuna also needs to develop more and expand to increase touristic and other social services. The neighbouring areas of Katuna are still underdeveloped and with plenty of underutilized land.

In the quest for regional integration, it is helpful to look at some of the less known yet strategic locations such as Katuna for models of emulation and improvement. Katuna offers a model of regional integration from below. Think regionally but act locally.

* Odomaro Mubangizi, teaches philosophy and theology at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa, where he is also Dean of the Philosophy Department.

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African Higher Education Summit: Revitalizing higher education for Africa’s future


The Summit in Dakar, Senegal, March 10-12, 2015 seeks to build a movement of like-minded institutions to transform the African higher education sector.

On June 7, 2014, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) African Humanities Program convened a Forum on the Humanities in Africa at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. At the AHP/Unisa forum, leading academics on the continent assessed the consequences of the marginalization of the humanities and offered suggestions to reverse this trend.

Suggestions were of two kinds. The first, addressed to members of the humanities community, recommended actions to be taken by individuals, departments, and cross-institutional networks, without the need for external funding. The second, directed to international stakeholders and national governments, identified policy changes and targets for investment of resources.

The resulting Reinvigorating the Humanities in Africa will be presented to national and higher education policymakers at the upcoming African Higher Education Summit in Dakar, Senegal, March 10-12, 2015.

The Summit, being convened by TrustAfrica, is planned as a three-day event with the theme “revitalizing higher education for Africa’s future.” The Summit seeks to build a movement of like-minded institutions to transform the African higher education sector.

To download Reinvigorating the Humanities in Africa, click through the link above or click [url=]]here[/url].

For more on the summit, see

Read more about the African Humanities Program and visit the AHP on Facebook.

To join the AHP mailing list, please contact

Call for papers


International Conference on Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Environmental Ethics: Implications for Peace-building and Sustainable Development: 28-30 April 2015, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, South Africa.


The Africa Regional Programme of the United Nations University for Peace (UPEACE) in collaboration with the DST-NRF Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Systems (University of KwaZulu Natal) and the University of Rwanda (Rwanda).


·Environmental governance and implications for Peace, Justice and Human Rights
·Knowledge Systems and Environmental Ethics in the Context of Educational Transformation,
·Rural Development and Sustainable Livelihood
·Communication, Indigenous Languages and Power Relations
·Human Rights, Environmental Ethics and Peace-building
·Science and Technological Development: Implications on Environmental Ethics
·Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Climate Change and Food Security Systems: Implications on
Environmental Ethics.
·Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Gender and Environmental Ethics: Implications on Peace-Building,
Human Rights and Sustainable livelihood.
·Environmental Ethics: Implications on Global Health


·Submission of draft papers: Friday, 06 March 2015
.Inform the selected papers: Friday, 13 March 2015
·Submission of final papers by : Friday, 10 April, 2015


·Postgraduate students
·Managers and policy-makers in Government, Inter-governmental and Non-governmental Organizations
·Research administrators
·Staff of Research Councils and Agencies
·Government Stakeholders
·Indigenous Knowledge holders and practitioners
·Development Agencies
·Private Sector
·Civic Organizations including the youth, women and disabled



All manuscripts must be written in British English. Manuscripts submitted in American English will be edited for consistency.


Finished manuscripts should be between 6.000-7.000 words, including references. This will be somewhere between 20-25 single-sided, double-spaced manuscript pages. Papers exceeding 7.000 words will be edited for length.


For notes and references, use the short-title system (not the author-date system) as per Butcher’s Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for editors, Copy-editors and proof readers, 4th edn (2006). Example:
·Atiyah, PS, The Damages Lottery (Oxford, Hart Publishing, 1997)
·Atiyah, PS, ‘Personal Injuries in the Twenty-First Century: Thinking the Unthinkable’ in P Birks (ed), Wrongs and Remedies in the Twenty-First Century (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996) 5–38


While the content and purpose of the chapter will ultimately dictate the arrangement of the material, we offer the following paper structure as a starting place. Keep this and any specific requests from the conference organizers in mind as you draft the paper.



A brief overview of the paper, its theme, and purpose.


What are the primary or related issues? Why is this topic important? Include historical or theoretical background or reference current debate, if relevant.


Examples of model practice, ideas, or programs. Practical ideas that can be implemented on other areas are especially helpful.
Conclusions and recommendations to readers.


In some cases, you may find that tables, figures, or appendices are needed to fully develop a topic or make it more accessible to the reader. However the use of tables and figures should be limited. All tables, figures, and appendices should be appropriately referenced in the text and submitted with the manuscript for editorial review. While tables and figures may be embedded in the text, they should also be sent as separate files in the program in which they were created (e.g., Excel) so that they can be reformatted, if necessary, during the final production process.


All material taken from previously published sources—whether quoted directly or paraphrased—should be appropriately cited in the text and be accompanied by a corresponding citation in the reference list. Quotes of more than 40 words are treated as blocks. Extracts of 300 words or more require the permission of the copyright holder to be included. Similarly, figures or tables that are reprinted from previously published work require the permission of the copyright holder to be included. You are responsible for securing the necessary permissions for such material.


Authors should include full names, brief biography (with institutional affiliation, and contact details, including mailing address and telephone number. The editors reserve the right to alter all manuscripts to conform to the guidelines to improve accuracy, eliminate mistakes and ambiguity, and to bring the manuscript in line with the tenets of plain English language.


For submissions and any clarifications please refer to any of the following contact persons:
1. Dr Mayashree Chinsamy –
2. Dr Chika Ezeanya –
3. Ms Tsega Desta –

Special Issue: Where next for the Millenuim Development Goals?

African perspectives on the Post-2015 development agenda process


Pambazuka News invites articles on the evaluation of the Millennium Development Goals and the question of the post-2015 Development Agenda in Africa to help readers make sense of the debate in order to influence the UN’s construction of a Post-2015 Development with Africa as an active partner.

Much debate in the recent past in scholarly spaces has revealed the failure of the Millennium Development Goals to achieve its aims based on a lack of focus on historical and structural factors not being taken into account at their conception.

While the desire to find solutions to global development at an international level has not abated, the failure to meet some of these targets has seen a recent revival in African-centric developmental models. While globally, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day has halved (achieving target 1.A of the MDGs) in Africa, the percentage has only dropped from 56% to 48%.[1]

Debates surrounding the reason for such a failure to achieve dramatic change globally have raised questions about the sustainability of such goals: how many there should be, whether we even need global goals or should focus on regional bodies to produce regional goals and strategies to meet them.

The focus on the millennium development goals from local and national NGOs, governments, and international organisations (profit and non-profit making) as a route of funding and thus where their focus has rested show the importance of African engagement in the creation of future goals. The funding has been driven to the 10 MDG’s often at the expense of other areas of necessity. It has been declared as a goal of the Post-2015 Agenda that there will be an attempt to incorporate the Global South equally in the negotiating process.

This declaration provides scope for the voices of Africa to be heard at the negotiating table. This opportunity must be taken to ensure that a new thinking is taken in the production of sustainable and long-term approaches to questions of development in the post-2015 development agenda.


• Why were Africans excluded from the construction of the Millennium Development Goals? Is this why they failed? Or do their successes outweigh the failures?
• Did they fail on account of the fact that development is considered to be gender neutral, despite the fact that the vast majority of agricultural work in Africa is performed by women? Is there a gender blindness when examining “development”?
• To what extent can the post-2015 Agenda transform the role of women in Africa as second class citizens? This year has been designated by the AU as the "Year of Women's Empowerment and Development Towards Africa's Agenda 2063"
• When talking about “Post-development,” whose “development” are we focusing on? What is meant by “development”?
• Is it possible to marry the desires of green, ecologically sustainable development, and industrial development? Is it possible to copy the dramatic poverty reduction of China without the environmental damage? Can “development” be attained without social justice, freedom and equality?
• Is it possible to have one Global South voice? Or even only one African voice? And is it necessary to be heard?
• Should Africa focus on regional or continental goals rather than global ones?
• What is the role of the international community, (including the global north but also the increasing influence of BRICS) in setting the “development” agenda for Africa? What should it be and is it ethical for the North to set this agenda?
• How important is it to recognise the colonial past to address the existing structural and patriarchal inequalities prevalent in Africa and globally?
• Can there be self-sustaining African-centric post-development agenda?
• Is there need for a return to the Lagos plan of 1986? Or does Africa need to construct a new plan for the 21st century, and if so what should this plan look like?

Pambazuka News Editorial Team alongside AfricAvenir invites articles on these and related questions for a special issue on the Post-2015 Agenda Process in Africa planned for ….. 2015.


LENGTH OF ARTICLES: Articles should be written in Microsoft Word, Font: Times, size 12 and be between 1000-3000 words

Please submit a biography of two lines at the end of your article and send it

Join Mapinduzi Afrika!


Fahamu has launched Mapinduzi Afrika Mailing List for progressive individuals and groups throughout the pan-African world to share their thoughts, experiences, events, strategies, struggles, opportunities and updates in the ongoing efforts to destroy entrenched oppressive, anti-people systems. Sign up!

‘You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. Besides, it took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen!’

These famous words of Captain Thomas Noel Isidore Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, best capture the spirit of the African revolutionary tradition: The courage to invent the future. Nonconformity. Radical organising. Confronting unjust power.

Mapinduzi is Swahili for Revolution; if you like, the “madness” that is essential to bring about fundamental change.

The objective of a true revolutionary is not to find a comfortable place within an unjust order. Or to hope that fundamental change will come about some day through a miracle or the rise of a redeemer. A true revolutionary thinks, works, suffers, sacrifices to destroy the unjust order so that all people may fully enjoy a dignified life. It is a radical commitment.

Fahamu has launched the Mapinduzi Afrika Mailing List for progressive individuals and groups throughout the pan-African world – for Africa is a global reality - to share their thoughts, experiences, events, strategies, struggles, opportunities, activities and updates in the ongoing efforts to destroy entrenched oppressive, anti-people systems.

This is an open forum. We hope that through this forum, individuals and movements in the pan-African world will be able to connect, share, dream and learn from one another to amplify the struggles for social justice – so that we can liberate ourselves from all forms of oppression. So that we can truly be free!

Viva Afrika!

Submit emails for addition to the Mapinduzi Afrika Mailing List to or

Comment & analysis

Prison Note: A search for justice or residential vendetta?

Charles Tonbra Okah


Denied bail, Nigerian bombing suspect Charles Okah has spent four years in jail as his case drags on. He denies the charges leveled against him and accuses President Goodluck Jonathan of a vendetta, whose details he does not disclose.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Okah is the alleged mastermind of the Nigerian Independence Day 2010 bombings. At least 12 people were killed and 36 others injured in the attacks. Charles, with his co-accused Obi Nwabueze, is charged with treason and terrorism. His brother Henry Okah was sentenced in 2013 by a South African court to 24 years in jail. Henry , former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Mend, was found guilty of 13 terrorism-related charges over the twin car bombings on Nigeria’s independence day.


As with all human beings we are fallible. We are not perfect. But insofar as the bombing of 1 October 2010 is concerned, we are innocent. This also includes the Warri bombing. Sadly, it is very difficult for Nigerians to believe that my brother, Henry, and I did not commit these crimes. Several years of damaging and devious propaganda by the Jonathan administration and mercenaries from the Niger Delta have convinced many Nigerians that we are guilty. We are not! In any case, we’ll leave that for the courts to decide.

Ever since the said bombings, I have been incarcerated. It’s been more than four years – four years without trial and without bail in the pit of hell. Depending on the outcome of the March 2015 election, this mental and physical punishment may end in 2015 or 2019. What manner of justice is this? Since 2010, the Jonathan government has locked me up (sometimes under inhumane conditions) on the pretext that I am a terrorist, a murderer. But the fact is that I am none of what the government is alleging.

However, if the government believes I am, then it behooves her to accord me a free and speedy trial as dictated by the Nigerian laws and international conventions. But this has not been the case. Instead, the Jonathan administration has, on several occasions, accused me of delay tactics: they accused me of employing tricks that make my prosecution difficult, if not outright impossible. How could this be? How could this be when I am not the police, the State Security Service (SSS), the prosecutor or the judge?

The fact is that the Nigerian government does not have evidence that directly or indirectly links me or my brother to the said events. What this government has are false and made up evidence; and in the process they induced and/or threatened their so-called witnesses to bear false witness against us. Goodluck Jonathan will not be happy unless we rot in jail. But what system of law or democracy allows for the personalization of the rule of law?

My continued incarceration is not about justice. This is not about finding the truth. This is not about prosecuting and punishing those who carried out the symbolic events of October 2010. No! This is plain and simple a vendetta, retribution and punishment for the things my brother and I refused to do for Jonathan and against the interest and wellbeing of Nigeria.

My most recent court appearances were on Thursday, 4 December 2014 and Thursday 19 February 2015 before Justice Gabriel Kolawole. Unlike previous appearances, things seem to be “improving.” The intervention of the International Red Cross Society and the British High Commission made a lot of difference. For that I am eternally grateful! In addressing the Justice Kolawole court, I made the following statements:

1. I have not been able to secure the services of a lawyer to represent me because I am broke. The few I have approached have been sympathetic, but declined to represent me pro bono. My continued incarceration is making it very difficult for me to raise funds considering that my family has relocated from Nigeria due to constant harassment.

2. If I had been granted bail like the Boko Haram suspect, Senator Ali Mbume, who still receives his monthly salary, fringe benefits and allowances from the government, my financial situation will not have been this pathetic.

3. Considering my current indigent status, I am requesting for a state assisted lawyer to defend me, preferably one that is of an equivalent status to the one the state provided for the prosecution, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

4. I am making this request based on the simple premise that a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. So what is good for the prosecution is equally good for the defense.

5. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the mere act of filing charges - even trumped up charges - carries along with it a strong presumption of guilt. Yet the scale held in the hand of the Statue of Justice is balanced 50-50 - a level playing field.

6. It is unfair that the state, whose agents of persecution have crippled and destroyed my business of over two decades, impounded and continues to hold on to my goods of legitimate import, and opposed my bail application vehemently but will provide on one end of the scale a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who comes to court with a train of 8, 10, and sometimes 12 lawyers!

7. And provide on the other end of the scale, something less for the defense. It is only by providing a counsel of equivalent status for the defense that the scale of justice will be balanced. My Lord, whichever direction the pendulum swings, it will always be a win-win situation for the state, whether the state wins or the state loses.

8. If the state wins because the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, there is a cause for celebration. A villain, a mad man, psychopath, a terrorist whose ideology is to maim, to kill and to destroy would have been put where he belongs. In short, good riddance to bad rubbish and justice would have prevailed.

9. On the other hand, if the state loses, because the prosecution never brought its case before the court bona fide in the first place instead of relying on assumptions, hear-say, wild conjecture, and a shoddy investigation, the state still remains a winner and there is cause for an even bigger celebration - an innocent citizen, a Joseph, would have been vindicated, discharged and acquitted. Justice will also have prevailed.

10. There is no one in this courtroom that desires desperately for this trial to commence and end as much as the two defendants standing inside your dock today. For four years, we have been subjected to gross human rights violations and petty cruelties from the agents of the state acting on orders from above.

11. Their actions led to the death of a co-accused, Mr. Francis Osuwo, who I only met after my arrest, as well as injuries to my health, which I have recovered from today. It had to take the intervention of the International Red Cross, the British High Commission, who were appalled at our confinement conditions, providing us mattress, blankets and a bunk bed, replacement of a light bulb deliberately removed from the 6ft by 4ft cell, and the renovation of the entire cell block to make it fit for human habitation.

12. A rights suit I filed against the Nigerian Prison and Interior Minister brought about succor and changes we are enjoying today. We now have access to exercise, worship, books to read etc., which were previously denied.

13. If my 5-year-old son is brought inside the courtroom now, I will not recognize him. Even though I do not mind, my older daughter minds that her fiancé does not make his intentions known to his future father-in-law through the irons mesh of a prisons visitation room.

14. This scar running from my back down to my navel area is the mark of the sacrifice of love I made 32 years ago when I donated my left kidney to save another life. For 32 years, I have been like a traveler who embarked on a journey without a spare tire. Ideally I should have an annual check-up in the hospital where the donor’s nephrectomy was performed or an active transplant center.

15. If the National Hospital Abuja had started its kidney transplant program, as was the original intent when my company, Tombra Life Support Company Ltd, established their dialysis center in 1999 and provided a blueprint for a transplant program, I would have had my check-up done there during this period of my incarceration.

16. During the four years we have been awaiting trial, I have often heard the prosecution mention something about its evidence and witnesses, which always leaves me perplexed. I am always baffled because I have no idea what they are referring to. It is only during a fair trial, in an impartial court such as yours, that the so-called evidence will be revealed.

17. It is then we will determine whether this evidence has any relationship or relevance to the charges of treason and terrorism levied against me or what they have been clutching onto for the past four years has been nothing more than Joseph's abandoned coat.

18. Similarly, it is during the trial that we will establish whether these witnesses are truthful men or women whose testimony is relevant to the charges levied against me, whether they have been bribed or intimidated, or they are unscrupulous like the biblical Ms. Potiphar, the pathological liar who was so adroit at weaving webs of lies around the smallest circumstantial evidence she had in her clutches.

19. My reputation is at stake here. From the day of my arrest on Saturday, 16 October 2010, the negative publicity and images seen on national television where I was bound in chains carrying my cross and surrounded by armed security operatives left a trail of confusion in its wake. Confusion beginning from my immediate family, relatives, neighbors, members of my church, business associates, old boys of my Alma mater St. Gregory's College Lagos, and several others who still believe in me.

20. Even the United States embassy, which had previously awarded my company a contract, revoked it after my arrest. It is only after a fair and impartial trial that my reputation will be forever doomed or my reputation will be redeemed.

21. My Lord, the ship of State is heading deeper and deeper into an enveloping fog of lies being told by government functionaries whose careers will be destroyed by the truth. Allow me close with a simple prayer to the Supreme Power that made our frames, sustains our lives, and through all earthly change survives.

22. May He bless our beloved country with more men and more women of truth, character, and integrity giving them the courage to stand firm in the difficult season. May He also expose the Potiphar amongst us whose false accusations and trumped up charges have sent and continue to send countless of our innocent compatriots to the gallows and the prisons. May God save Nigeria, Amen!


Just recently, President Jonathan alleged that my brother was hired to assassinate him. What a baseless and unimaginative accusation! Why wasn’t this allegation made before now? Why wait until this moment, why wait until political campaign begin? It is not nothing but a cheap shot. Did he mention the said plot to the intelligence and security agencies? And if he did, why didn’t they act on such a grave and sensitive matter? After all, planning to or actually threatening the life of the President, or any citizen for that matter, is not only terroristic, it is criminal.

Soon, my brother will speak for himself (by way of an interview with Dr. Sabella Abidde) on this and other matters. But let me tell you this: my brother and I are being persecuted and punished for refusing to partake in political machinations with roots in the Niger Delta Crisis and with the hope that such actions would benefit Jonathan during the 2015 presidential elections. We refused to be pawns, hence this unending reprisal and incessant campaign of calumny against us.

Charles Tonbra Okah iKuje Prison, Abuja

* This Prison Note comes by way of Sabella Abidde, a friend and confidant of Charles Okah and Henry Okah. Mr. Abidde resides in Alabama and can be reached at:



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

Africa rising: Myth or reality?

Sungu Oyoo


Most African countries have failed to transform the much-trumpeted economic growth into economic development for their citizens. Africa’s rising therefore mainly benefits multi-national corporations and local elites.

The phrase ‘Africa rising’ is often used to refer to the positive trend of economic growth across the continent. Majority of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa. Six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies in the past decade were African nations. The IMF meanwhile projects a growth rate of 5.4 percent for sub-Saharan Africa, which is above global growth predictions of 3.6 percent. Most of the recent and projected growth has been attributed to increased investment, regional trade, a burgeoning middle class with more disposable income, not forgetting increased innovation. That’s the tale of Africa rising.

But is Africa really rising? Is its economic growth sustainable and inclusive? Has its economic growth translated into improved quality of life for its people? If at all Africa is rising, who is enjoying the benefits of this rise?

Forty eight per cent of Africans still live on less than $1.25 a day. This is the result of Africa’s immense economic growth being outpaced by the growth in inequality. Most African countries have failed to transform economic growth into economic development for their citizenry. The idea of Africa rising and its consequent economic growth has mainly been of benefit to multi-national corporations and local bourgeois classes.

We must differentiate between economic growth and economic development. Economic development is wholesome, and its growth accompanied by advancements in healthcare, education, working conditions and living standards among other areas that directly impact and improve human welfare across the board.

Some practices across the continent continue to stifle wholesome growth that would result in social and economic transformation for the populace. These practices include, but are not limited to, gross human rights violations, exploitative deals surrounding oil and mineral extraction, land grabs, inhumane working conditions, insecurity, just to mention but a few. To list them all would be to write a small book.

Some authoritarian regimes across Africa continually engage in practices that suppress the democratic will of the masses. Their international allies are content to look aside, as blatant and flagrant human rights violations are perpetrated, for as long as their interests in such nations are protected. Gross human rights violations thus continue unabated in many countries. Political and economic reforms are urgently needed in parts of the continent if freedom, justice and liberty are to prevail.

Unfair working conditions and mistreatment of labour have also continued unabated in parts of Africa. Human welfare and dignity should be considered a key aspect of economic development. That most countries have poor labour laws, which make it possible for employers to overwork and underpay workers, negates this fundamental tenet of economic development. Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in many African countries have also continued to exploit workers while benefitting from unjust tax exemptions.

Many developing nations the world over have entered into land deals with other nations and corporations which have led to the alienation of large tracts of land to grow crops and bio-fuels for profit. What’s not considered by most regimes is the effect of such actions, ranging from dispossessing communities of the land they depend on for economic sustenance, to climate change due to the clearing of ecosystems which speeds up desertification and its effects. Africa is thus sliding from a previous situation of food security to a situation that forces many countries to rely on food aid when drought strikes. That per capita food production has slumped since the independence years should be worrying for us. We have become a net importer of food despite having swathes of fertile land.

Many African countries have discovered oil and mineral deposits over the past decade. However, only the political elite and multi-national corporations have benefitted from these minerals. This is due to exploitative oil and mineral extraction deals, followed by plunder of mineral earnings by corrupt government mandarins. African countries have a proclivity for mining deals which are not only of very little economic and social benefit to the populace, but which also excel at failing to put in place considerations to protect the ecology. He who fails to plan, plans to fail. We must think about climate change and the future. We must think about our children and future generations.

Most mining deals are shrouded in secrecy. This results in a situation where revenues from mining activities are mostly unknown to the general populace. This inhibits any demands for accountability in their use. Investors in the mining industry should be compelled to sign the Foreign Industries Transparency Initiative, which seeks to make public what foreign firms pay for the minerals they exploit. This would enable the push for transparency while also helping curb illicit financial flows from the continent, which are currently estimated at $50 billion by the UNECA high level panel on illicit financial flows, and which is generally considered a conservative estimate. This forgone revenue has greatly hampered social transformation across the continent.

Security, or rather insecurity, has also been a major headache for most nations in Africa, from decades of planned tribal and religious conflicts, to civil wars. Fast-forward to the current global threat posed by terrorism. We cannot talk of Africa rising while militias and terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab roam free as they kill, maim, rape and confine millions to squalid refugee camps across the continent. No, we simply cannot do so!
Two questions worth asking: Who are the perpetrators of all these ills? Who are the men or organisations behind these injustices that hold us back? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a neoliberal agenda bent on rewarding the oppressors and disenfranchising the masses. Unless the above-mentioned issues are addressed, a greater majority of Africa’s people shall not benefit from Africa rising. It will be but a myth to them!

Viva Africa!

* Sungu Oyoo is a social and economic justice advocate. Follow him @Sungu_Oyoo and his blog at



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Burundi's bid to silence critical voices

Another piece in the puzzle of shrinking space for civic freedoms in East Africa?

Aloys Habimana


Step by step Burundi is reverting to the police state of the 1980s and 1990s during which human rights defenders and journalists were routinely portrayed publicly as enemies of the state. This is now the trend in East Africa.

The welcome announcement of the provisional release of human rights defender and journalist Bob Rugurika was a rare piece of good news in an otherwise gloomy environment for human rights defenders in Burundi. But the fact remains that the case against him is still pending. He was only released on payment of an exceptionally high bail bond of 15 million francs (approx $9,600) and is subject to restrictions which make it extremely difficult for him to do his job as a journalist. His case is in many ways similar to that of Pierre Claver Mbonimba who was released on health grounds but is also subject to stringent restrictions which prevent him from travelling, going to the airport or even going on air.

The cases against Bob Rugurika and Pierre Claver Mbonimpa are just the latest attacks on freedom of expression and the media in Burundi. In June 2013, the Burundian government passed a new media law which grants the state unchecked authority to ban publication of any information it deems detrimental to national security, public safety, morality, and the national economy. The law also allows the state to control news coverage by giving it the authority to issue press cards and accreditation to journalists.

According to a recent report published by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, “Human rights defenders in Burundi are operating in one of the most restrictive and hostile environments in East Africa as evidenced by an alarming pattern of harassment, intimidation, threats, and legislative reforms, all targeting Burundian human rights defenders”. Step by step Burundi is reverting to the police state of the 1980s and 1990s during which human rights defenders and journalists were routinely portrayed publicly as enemies of the state.

Human rights defenders in Burundi speak of “an undeniable, extremely concerning, and worsening pattern of harassment, stigmatisation, intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders, and a marked narrowing of the space for civil society more broadly”. Recent developments such as the prohibition of public gatherings and attacks on members of opposition political parties raise concerns about a further escalation of violence in the run up to the June 2015 elections. The restrictions on NGOs, the silencing of the independent media and the creation of pro-government NGOs, set up to counteract the criticism of government policies by established human rights defenders, demonstrate clearly the government's determination to brook no opposition.

The cases of Bob Rugurika and Pierre Claver Mbonimpa reflect a dangerous trend across East Africa where an increasing number of human rights defenders are being targeted because they speak out for human rights and demand accountability from government. This regional trend is itself part of a global backlash against human rights defenders and civil society.

In the last two years more than 50 countries have either introduced or debated the introduction of restrictive NGO legislation targeting in particular those NGOs working on issues of accountability, governance and human rights. Though they seek to uphold international and domestic legal standards, civil society actors and human rights defenders are portrayed as sources of political opposition and it is no coincidence that the term foreign agent is increasingly used to smear them.

This trend is particularly clear in a number of countries in the East and Horn of Africa region. In Ethiopia, civil society has been effectively shut down as restrictive NGO and funding laws make it impossible for them to carry out their work. The Zone 9 bloggers are currently facing trial on charges of terrorism and conspiracy for using basic online encryption tools that journalists routinely use to protect their sources. In Uganda, the right to freedom of assembly has come under attack through the Public Order Management Act, which imposes wide-ranging restrictions on public meetings. This legislation has led to police suppressing gatherings involving political opposition groups and crackdowns on activists.

In Rwanda, civil society organisations have long suffered from state intimidation and infiltration. The takeover in 2013 of the leadership of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR) by members sympathetic to the government signalled an end to effective human rights activism in the country. Until then, LIPRODHOR was widely seen as the country's only remaining rights group committed to its independence.

In Kenya, the proposed 15 percent budget limit on the receipt of foreign funding by NGOs, eventually rejected by parliament, was a worrying attempt to restrict the capacity and activities of NGOs. Persistent threats to reintroduce an amendment in that regard raise serious concerns that Kenya might eventually take a leaf from Ethiopia, where a similar law that brought virtually all human rights organisations to their knees was enacted in 2009.

In a region devastated by war, internal conflict and attacks on civilian targets by illegal armed groups, the widespread introduction of such repressive legislation accompanied by attacks on political opposition and the silencing of independent or critical voices can only create the conditions for further violence.

As the East Africa Court of Justice ponders whether to challenge Burundi's restrictive press law the question is – where to from here, not only for Burundi but for the region. The only way to block or even challenge this sinister trend is for NGOs to stand together and support each other. But what is needed more than anything else is courageous and principled political leadership from rulers who are prepared to defend the rights of their people against kleptocrats and bullies – and to remove from their governments those who only serve in order to enrich themselves.

Meanwhile the dropping of all remaining charges against Bob Rugurika and Pierre Claver Mbonimpa would be a good starting point.

* Aloys Habimana is Protection Coordinator for Africa at Front Line Defenders.



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Boko Haram: Playing politics with human lives

Abdulrazaq Magaji


Recent gains in the fight against Boko Haram have justified growing calls for appropriate sanctions for those found complicit in playing politics with an insurgency that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, placed hundreds in captivity, displaced thousands and virtually grounded the economy of Nigeria’s northeast.

After months of turning the blind eye to the criminality in the northeast, Nigeria’s embattled president, Goodluck Jonathan, confessed last week that his government all along took Boko Haram for granted! The president, with his tongue in his cheeks, even issued a presidential order to Nigerian troops to capture Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, before election day! This is a radical departure from the president’s usual recriminations! It is as well proof, if more was needed, that the government all along took Nigerians for granted by playing politics with an insurgency that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, placed hundreds in captivity, displaced thousands and virtually grounded the economy of the northeast.

Of course, Boko Haram is not Mr. Jonathan’s creation; he inherited it. But then, the Boko Haram insurgency was one of the inherited ills the president consistently swore to tackle since his inauguration in 2011. What is more, he has effectively been in the saddle for five years. Is it the blood of 13,000 Nigerians that has suddenly awoken the president to the danger posed by Boko Haram? Or is it the reality of March 28 that suddenly stirred him? For all Nigerians cared, Mr. Jonathan could have passed the buck as usual, especially as he did with shifting the February 14 elections, by claiming that he was not consulted on the security situation.

It has not been all gloom and doom and Nigerians are realising that man too can bite dog. At least, Nigerians are excited to learn that their soldiers no longer flee and abandon their weapons at the rumoured approach of Boko Haram fighters. Troops from neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger have made that possible. But for these liberating troops, chances are that Boko Haram would have further entrenched and captured more territory. Nigerians, especially those caught in the web of Boko Haram insurgency, would forever remain grateful to the liberating troops who took the initiative in the fight against the insurgents so that Nigerians can live peace.

But, while Nigerians praise the foreign troops, generals at Nigeria’s defence headquarters saw the need to join issues with home governments of these liberating troops over who dislodged Boko Haram fighters from where. Rather than bickering needlessly, one would have expected the generals to blame a system that was deliberately designed to make soldiers scamper from the battlefront. Soldiers are not politicians; it is politicians that revel in turning their chests into drums to celebrate emptiness. This apparently explains why Nigerians are justifiably scandalized that politicians prefer to employ soldiers not to rout insurgents but to intimidate innocent voters at polling booths especially at a time of heightened allegations that soldiers were used to rig the Ekiti governorship election.

If anything, recent ‘gains’ against Boko Haram further firm the belief that the civilised world was not unduly hysterical in accusing Nigerian authorities of playing politics with the insurgency. It is repulsive enough for a clueless government to resort to intimidation of voters in its attempt to cling to power. But the line is crossed the moment government turns a blind eye to, and is even desirous of scoring cheap political point from, the decimation of its most-prized resource. Whoever turned the blind eye as Boko Haram members abducted, raped, maimed and killed Nigerians and despoiled the northeast is complicit And much of the blame should be placed at the doorstep of President Goodluck Jonathan, a man who has a special knack for regional and parochial politics.

The president’s adroitness at playing regional politics is unrivaled. He barely conceals his disdain for national leadership and appears to find no fault with some of his misguided tribesmen who depict him as life president of his native Ijaw ethnic group. Mr. Jonathan will go down as one Nigerian leader who did not even pretend to aspire to being a Nigerian hero. Of course, the president most probably would remain a hero in his native Bayelsa State where many Nigerians would have wished he restricted his politics. But for luck that catapulted him to national political limelight, Mr. Jonathan would have saved Nigerians a lot of pain and embarrassment had his estranged mentor and former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, allowed him to wallow in the political backwaters of Bayelsa State. All that changed after Mr. Jonathan, then deputy governor of Bayelsa, undid his larcenous boss, Diepriye Alemeiseigha. Even incompetent politicians do not fail to seize an opportunity for a free ride on the back of others.

Now, a word for attention-seeking publicists who flaunt President Jonathan’s veiled meekness as his main qualification for leadership. Lest we need being reminded, no great leader was ever described as meek, unassuming or incapable of hurting a fly. Nelson Mandela never turned the other cheek and, despite his gentle disposition, Mahatma Gandhi was never meek. So were the world’s best-known political leaders in whose class starry-eyed publicists lamely wish to place President Jonathan. When the chips are down, what really matters is when supposedly good men prove incapable of doing any good.

It is as well that the expression of serious concerns about Mr. Jonathan’s competence is coming from his best fans. Many Nigerians who campaigned and voted for Mr. Jonathan in 2011 have now seen the light; they have realized that the government’s so-called transformation agenda was a hoax; a weird and deceitful agenda designed to fool Nigerians. Even President Obasanjo who begged Nigerians to vote for his protégé in 2011 is today being advertised as a motor park tout and always at the receiving end of the caustic tongue of the president and his handlers. The destiny of Nigeria is at stake and the leadership Nigerians desire is one on a clear mission of salvation. And let no one serve up the crap that Nigeria is safe in the hands of a leadership that has a disdain for excellence.

The choice before Nigerians on March 28 is clear: it is either to back a tested race horse or an untested, patently incompetent cart horse. Sadly, even some of its best known supporters consider the idea of Nigeria’s present ruling class and vision as a contradiction. Four years ago and, for obvious reasons, a dark, cart horse was chosen for a crucial race. The decision left Nigerians in a lurch. Today, those who backed the race horse are not standing alone; next month, they will be joined by millions who were fooled, cajoled and threatened into making a costly mistake. After the self-imposed and avoidable miasma of the past sixteen years, the election of an incorruptible and visionary statesman will be a welcome balm on the country’s jaded nerves.

Now, a prayer for Nigeria: God! Direct Nigerians to elect leaders who will not play politics with the lives of their subjects. May March 28 not produce ill-prepared and divisive leaders who employ religion and ethnicity to cloak their incompetence! Can somebody say Amen?

* Abdulrazaq Magaji is based in Abuja, Nigeria.



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The fundamentalist trap

Fatou Sow


Fundamentalism rooted in politics, religion and culture, allows and justifies unbearable violence now reported in many parts of Africa. We are potential victims. We must have the audacity to denounce it.

The terrorist attacks of 7 and 9 January against Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris have caused deep emotions and hurt feelings. Those events were experienced almost live by many Africans via the media. Across Africa, fundamentalism allows and justifies unbearable violence. We must have the audacity to denounce it.

On the 11 January, the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, along with other African and foreign heads of state participated in the march that was organized in Paris to protest against the attacks. On his return to Dakar, President Sall was vigorously questioned about his participation. He claimed that in participating in this march, he was expressing his solidarity against terrorism. After vigorous criticism of his attendance by religious leaders and a good part of the Senegalese public opinion not familiar with the caricatures, the President banned the publication of the special release of Charlie Hebdo. The edition was perceived as an insult towards Islam.

Demonstrations then took place on the 16 and 23 January in Dakar and other cities. While some people could regret that the attacks were committed in the name of Islam, the crowd was obviously not there “for Charlie”. People were actually holding banners hostile to the caricatures.

The Prime Minister, political and religious leaders, and civil society actors participated at the forefront of the march of 23 January. The marches were quite noisy but very well contained. No incidents were to deplore. The only signs of violence to mention were anti-French slogans and French flags being burned. It is most likely that the President had sent his Prime Minister to legitimate his presence in Paris. The condemnation of the caricatures during the demonstrations seemed like a pretext to challenge secularism, democracy and fundamental liberties. It also went to the extent of proposing a law for the protection of worship. Is this not a new form of ‘defamation of religion’ law?

In Niger, however, whose President also participated in the Paris the march, there were intense acts of violence during their demonstrations, causing the death of a dozen persons. Within two days, some 20 churches were burned, Christian believers brutalised, buildings and shops ransacked. These acts of violence caused dozens of people to be killed or wounded. The same deplorable acts of violence happened in different Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia.


We felt touched by these events and were angry for diverse reasons depending on the context, our beliefs and concerns. All the challenges Women Living Under Muslim Law face as a network have culminated in the most violent way. Those events occur or come on top of other painful and unbearable events. These include mass murders committed by Boko Haram which is actually laying siege to Maiduguri in Northern Nigeria; executions of demonstrators across the world, and the arrest, trial, convictions and brutal execution of human rights defenders (with or without a trial) of all ages.

As a woman from Sub-Saharan Africa, I could also have mentioned the atrocities committed by the rebellions in the name of religion, manipulated as a political weapon and to which states are responding in an equally violent way. The Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, presents itself as a Christian movement. Since 1988, on behalf of God or Jesus, they have perpetrated in Uganda, Sudan, Eastern Congo, and Central Africa, massacres, abductions of adults, youth and children of either sex to be used as soldiers or slaves.

Since December 2012, the rebels from Seleka labelled “Muslim” and the Anti-Balaka labelled “Christian” are fighting extremely violently for power in Central Africa, causing thousands of deaths. What is there to say about the jihadists from Mali? In 2012, they split the country in two in order to apply iniquitous Muslim laws in the territory they controlled. So many acts of violence were committed during that time in the name of Islam, that the government had to proclaim loud and clear that secularism was a constitutional principle. Under the pressure of very conservative Muslim organisations, the state seriously breached the secularism principle in 2009 by replacing the relatively progressive family code with an ultra archaic Muslim code.

How can we understand these events and determine where the responsibilities lie in an appropriately sophisticated way?

It is extremely useful to take this a little further by going beyond the obvious. Even though colonialism, post-colonialism, imperialism, the West and its modernity have played an important role in those events and therefore undertake a great part of the responsibility, it is too easy to blame them solely. But it appears more difficult to go beyond Islamophobia. Islamophobia indeed exists, but it cannot be used to justify the human rights violations or crimes committed by the extreme-right fundamentalists of our countries and regions.

We cannot pass over in silence or ignore political, religious or cultural ideologies and their dangerous incarnations. The growth of cultural and religious fundamentalism is a daily threat. Too much disruption and persecution is being committed in the name of religion. We all are potential victims. The Islamism that we know has proven during the demonstrations that no matter the circumstances, it will support crimes committed in the name of Islam.

The thousands of victims of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria are experiencing the same fate as the victims of the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria during the 1990 Black Decade. A ten-year-old little girl blew herself up in a market in Maiduguri: she was executed as well as the students who had their throats cut in their dormitory. “Adulterous” couples were stoned to death in Northern Mali while a lot of other people were hunted, martyred, wounded, and killed. The children of Peshawar were executed. The caricaturists of Charlie Hebdo were executed. Asia Bibi in Pakistan and Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkheitir in Mauritania, accused of apostasy, are waiting for their turn.

Fundamentalism allows and justifies unbearable violence. We must have the audacity to denounce it.

* Fatou Sow, International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws.



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Visiting Africa: A short guide for researchers

Keguro Macharia


Are you heading out to Africa to carry out some research? Well, you are not the first one, as you might know. That has been going on for ages. But certain tendencies that insult the African people persist. Here are some:

1. Prepare. Prepare as you would for an important job interview. If a formal institution has invited you, read about the institution. If a department has invited you, read about the department. If specific scholars have invited you, read their work. Know it well. Have something to say about it.

2. You’re coming to co-create knowledge. Co-create.

3. Map the intellectual terrain. African intellectual work happens across multiple spaces, not simply in North American or European peer-reviewed journals and monographs. Look for exciting intellectual work on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube. Figure out how to engage that work. If you’re a very traditional scholar, get digital. And quickly.

4. You have been invited to share your research AND to speak to particular audiences. Do not forget your audience. Make your audience a priority. If no one tries to engage you, you have lost your audience.

5. Your hosts will probably know a lot about your country. We have friends and family living across the globe. We track their lives. Most African countries have digital newspapers online. Read. You don’t have to know everything, but you’re a researcher, not a tourist. Research.

6. You are a researcher, not a tourist. Don’t act like a tourist.

7. Do not be condescending. Do not tell your hosts that they are “clever” or “bright” or “intelligent.” Do not act surprised when your conceptual paradigms are challenged. Engage those who challenge you.

8. Don’t turn us into native informants. Respect us as intellectual equals. Ask us the same kinds of questions you’d ask people you consider intellectual equals. Be rigorous. We can take it. Expect the same.

9. Do not discover us for us. Stop it. If you’re planning to say anything that starts with, “I discovered,” or “no one has ever done this before me,” or “I am the first to find this object here,” stop. Do not do it. You are wrong. Do not discover us for us.

10. Never ever presume to tell us what is “wrong with us” and how we can “fix” ourselves. If you’re tempted to “offer solutions,” resist the temptation. Figure out the work that’s being done. Try to find a way to enter existing conversations.

11. Do not presume that you have the right to access our most intimate lives. We may be hospitable, but we also have boundaries.

12. We are not on some train headed toward your version of the world. If you’re tempted to tell us how we can become more like you, don’t.

13. Be curious. Find out what we’re interested in. What we value. What we think is intellectually exciting. Learn from us.

* This article was previously published by The New Inquiry.



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Advocacy & campaigns



Regarding the repeated and contemptuous silence of the different Tunisian governments, which have taken place since the revolution, to requests from families to know the fate of hundreds of missing young Tunisians who have been lost at sea since the revolution, we call on you to organize an international solidarity movement with the activities they have decided to initiate today Tuesday, February 24, 2015 in Tunis; a rally at the seat of government in the Kasbah area of Tunis.

After the fall of the regime, tens of thousands of young Tunisians from working class districts have crossed the Mediterranean on small boats in search of a better future they can’t find in their country. Thousands could reach the coasts, but hundreds have disappeared and many remained at sea. Four years after these dramatic events, families are still helpless, their sufferings have deepened day by day at the refusal of the successive governments, including the current one, to respond to their request to create a commission of inquiry equipped with the necessary means and skills to know the truth about the missing young Tunisians. We suggest that you send your support to the following address: and organize all actions that you consider useful and rallies in front of consulates and embassies in Tunisia Wednesday, March 4, 2015.


Letters & Opinions

Rwanda genocide: Reply to Erlinder and Black

Odora-Obote Alex


The position that whenever a prosecutor makes decisions that are unpopular to the defence Counsels, then such decisions are political is bizarre. Defence counsels ought to separate legal issues from their own political views about Rwanda.

I have read, with interest, the replies of former ICTR Defence Counsels Mr Peter Erlinder and Mr Christopher Black. The issues they raise are not new but a repetition of positions peddled by a number of other former ICTR Defence Counsels over the years. Both Erlinder and Black conveniently fail to address legal reasons offered by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) not to pursue further investigations in the shooting down of the plane. Second, the two defence lawyers appear deliberately blind to the fact that ICTR has a mandate to prosecute only crimes as stipulated in the ICTR Statutes, and not necessarily all crimes.

With respect to the shooting down of the plane, the relevant legal issue is not whether the shooting down of the plane was a crime. Rather, it is whether the act of shooting the plane constitutes a war crime as stipulated in Article 4 of the ICTR Statute. Both Prosecutors Louise Arbour and Carla Del Ponte reached correct legal conclusions that it was not a war crime within the meaning of Article 4 of the ICTR Statute. In her Memoir, Carla Del Ponte wrote, and I quote extensively thus:

“After reading about Bruguier’s investigation of the incident in Rwanda, I asked my aides whether the Rwanda Tribunal was investigating the attack on the French aircraft. The answer was no, and for good reason. My predecessor, Louise Arbour, had done an analysis of the attack and decided that, even if the prosecution could show that Tutsis had shot down the plane, it would be difficult to make a case before the tribunal against the persons responsible, because assassinating a president, while a crime, is not necessarily a war crime, and the tribunal’s jurisdiction, roughly put, was limited to war crimes.

“I concurred with Arbour’s assessment. The prosecution, I thought, could only prove that assassinating President Habayarimana amounted to a war crime if it could show that the persons who shot down his plane had calculated that this act would trigger a genocide from which they could benefit politically. This scenario is almost too Machiavellian to imagine.”[1]

Mr Erlinder and Mr Black are entitled to disagree with Prosecutors Arbour and Del Ponte’s legal reasoning and conclusions, but that does not make the Prosecutors’ decisions political. The view of the OTP, based on sound legal reasoning, remains that the shooting down of the plane was not a war crime falling within the ICTR Statute.

On conspiracy to commit genocide, Article 2(3) (b) of the ICTR Statute does not require, or indeed include an element, that a crime of conspiracy to commit genocide must pre-date 7 April 1994. The Statue covers crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994. Further, the shooting down of the plane has no direct nexus with the crime of conspiracy to commit genocide as stipulated in the ICTR Statute. In any event, a holistic reading of the Bagosora judgement referred to by Mr Erlinder limits its judgement to that particular case and leaves open the possibility of conviction for conspiracy to commit genocide in other cases. And, as a fact, other ministers had been convicted of that crime. I will not therefore belabour the point save to point out that ICTR Defence Counsels have generally continued to be dismissive of Prime Minister Jean Kambanda’s conviction for conspiracy to commit genocide long after Appeals Chamber confirmed it.

The position that whenever a Prosecutor makes decisions that are unpopular to the Defence Counsels, then such decisions are political is bizarre. Overall, it is helpful for ICTR Defence Counsels, including Erlinder and Black, to separate legal issues from their political views about Rwanda. The OTP works within legal framework as provided in the Tribunal’s Statute and nothing more.

* Dr Obote-Odora, Independent Law Consultant.


[1] Carla Del Ponte in collaboration with Chuck Sudetic (2009), Madame Prosecutor, Confrontation with Humanity’s Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity (Other Press, New York) at p.180.



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