Pambazuka News 374: Africa Liberation Day: the people must prevail
The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa
Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839
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CONTENTS: 1. Announcements, 2. Features, 3. Comment & analysis, 4. Pan-African Postcard, 5. Obituaries
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Highlights from this issue
FEATURES: Horace Campbell on the importance of Africa Liberation Day
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Sokwanele calls for Zimbabwe "stand up" day
COMMENTS AND ANALYSIS:
- Freedom Road Socialist Organization on black leadership
- Eve Ensler on women, horror and hope in the Congo
- Emma Njoki Wamai reflects on the 16 days of Activism campaign
PAN-AFRICAN POSTCARD: Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem on why we must struggle against xenophobia
LETTERS: Readers' comments and announcements
OBITUARIES: Comrade Fatso remembers slain Zimbabwean activist Tonderai Ndira
Call to Action: Stand up for Zimbabwe
The 25 May is commemorated annually as Africa Day, recalling the founding of the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union, in 1963. Flowing from the communiqué issued by the African Civil Society Meeting held in Dar es Salaam in April 2008, we ask concerned organizations regionally and internationally to commemorate Africa Day, Sunday 25 May 2008, as one on which to show solidarity for the people of Zimbabwe – a “Stand Up (For) Zimbabwe” Day.
Although the concept originates with a group of southern Africa-based NGO’s, concerned for issues of democracy and human rights, in Zimbabwe, it is intended that people all over the world build on this concept and that the “Stand Up For Zimbabwe” campaign have varied and multiple dimensions.
On this day there would be protests and assemblies outside offices of the Zimbabwean government, like embassies; outside offices of SADC, the AU and the UN calling for stronger action; outside offices of those individual governments which have roles to play in resolving the crisis (specifically southern African governments). All such protests and assemblies are to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.
The campaign will also be carried out through other activities: through asking congregations assembled at places of worship to rise and stand in solidarity with those beaten, tortured and killed in the post-election violence in Zimbabwe;
HOW TO ORGANISE YOUR “STAND UP (FOR) ZIMBABWE” ACTIVITIES FOR 25 MAY 2008
The day in a nutshell:
We are asking organizations and people from around the world to “Stand up (for) Zimbabwe”, by planning and participating in a series of activities around the African continent and the world that seek to show solidarity with those Zimbabweans impacted by the unashamed attempt to subvert the people’s will who voted for a party of their choice and the escalating post-election violence. We ask that you plan these events to lead up to or coincide with the 25 May 2008, a day traditionally commemorated as Africa Day, being the day on which the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) was founded.
The theme of the International Day of Action is “Stand up (for) Zimbabwe” to highlight that the people of the region and the world are standing up and with the people of Zimbabwe in their desire for a democratic, peaceful transition of government and an end to the violence that is so much part of their lives.
On 25 May
1. We call on people to join TAC and other organisations from South Africa and from around the world to literally stand up at 12:00pm local time.
2. In South Africa TAC will be marching upon the Presidency on Sunday 25th May.
3. Mobilise, organise and popularize this mass event to STAND UP FOR ZIMBABWE
*For more information, please visit: http://www.sokwanele.com
*Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
African Liberation Day: the people must prevail
In this essay, Horace Campbell looks at the importance of Africa Liberation Day, its changing relevances as Africans are betrayed by the architects of first independence and how, through struggle, we can reclaim and fulfill its promise.
On May 25, 2008, peace loving peoples all over the world will celebrate African Liberation Day. This will be the fiftieth anniversary of the setting aside of a day to commemorate those who sacrificed for the liberation of the African peoples at home and abroad. In 1963, the Organization of African Unity was established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Then, the main emphasis was on the liberation of territories from colonial rule. At the end of apartheid in 1994 new ideas of liberation were placed on the agenda for Africa. Questions of health, food security, environmental justice, decent education, the rights of women, the politics of inclusion and cultural freedoms were placed as the core of the liberation of Africa. African women at the grassroots are campaigning for a new form of popular power where African peoples will have the voice to intervene in the political process where they live and where they work. These men and women at the grassroots seek to give meaning to political participation and realize the dream of C.L.R. James who envisioned that ‘every cook can govern.’ This form of politics elevates the political participation of the people beyond periodic voting. African youths at home and abroad are looking forward to new institutions and new sites where the ideas of peace, love and human dignity will prevail.
THE ORIGINS OF AFRICA DAY AND AFRICAN LIBERATION YESTERDAY
At the All African Peoples Conference, held in Ghana, in 1958 it was agreed that one-day would be set aside as a national day of remembrance for African freedom fighters. Ghana had achieved its independence in 1957 and one year later Kwame Nkrumah called a conference of African workers, freedom fighters and champions for justice. Nkrumah who had been inspired by Garveyism and the self mobilization and self organization of the people took up the idea of African Liberation day and successfully promoted the idea to the leaders who formed the Organization of African Unity. The first celebration of Africa Day had begun in Harlem, USA by the followers of Marcus Garvey who had called for African Unity from as far back as 1919.
When Ghana achieved its independence in 1957 Nkrumah maintained that the independence of Ghana would be “incomplete without the independence of all of Africa.” Together with the principal freedom fighters within Ghana, Nkrumah established a Pan-African Secretariat within the Ghanaian government and appointed George Padmore to run the secretariat. The task of the secretariat was to act as the coordinating point for the establishment of links with freedom fighters on the African continent and for the secretariat to be a center for information to support those fighting for freedom.
At that historical moment freedom was conceived of as freedom of the peoples and freedom of the states from colonial rule. To carry forward this task the Ghanaian government deployed the resources to support freedom fighters, trade unionists and political activists for independence. This was the spirit that inspired the calling of the All-African Peoples’ Conferences in 1958. It was at this meeting where Patrice Lumumba was introduced to the wider Pan African struggles. In tandem with this people-centered activity, Nkrumah also convened the conferences of Independent African States to establish a diplomatic framework for the political union of Africa.
Because most of the present governments in Africa are opposed to the liberation of the peoples and the Union of the peoples of Africa the detractors of African Union present the struggle for the United States of Africa as a Gadaffi Initiative. Instead of Africa Day becoming a day to honor and celebrate those who struggled for independence, the day has been taken away from the people and the officials use this as another opportunity to organize embassy parties and dinners to seek assistance from the imperialists who are today called ’donors.’ Nowhere is the idea of Pan Africanism more devalued than where Pan Africanists seek to use the name of Pan Africanism to establish NGO’s to seek assistance from the very same forces that undermine African independence. Yoweri Museveni has used the current Secretariat of the Pan African Movement in Kampala as political football.
AFRICA DAY AND THE OAU IN PRACTICE
Fifty years after the start of the celebration of Africa Day in 1958 there are still colonial territories in Africa. The most well known is the case of the Western Sahara. The military invasion and occupation of Iraq by the USA demonstrated clearly the reality that the days of colonial occupation are not yet over. In North Africa and in Palestine the legacies and problems of military occupation reinforce and support the dictatorial rule of the Egyptian ruling elite.
At the time of Kwame Nkrumah, Nasser and the peoples of Egypt represented one base of support for freedom fighters. Today, the leaders of Egypt seek to establish a dynasty and hinder the full support for those fighting against occupation whether in Palestine or in Iraq. Peace activists in North Africa like peace activists in the other parts of Africa oppose occupation and genocidal violence. It is this reversal for the peoples that ensure that the politics of retrogression thrives. With the absence of committed leadership, militarists seize the discourse of liberation to establish movements for emancipation and liberation to foment genocidal politics. Genocidal politics thrives when the politics of exploitation, exclusivism, racism, militarism, religious dogmatism, extremism, and patriarchy intersect in a nested loop to oppress the people. Sudan is one society where the recursive processes of genocidal thinking, genocidal institution, genocidal politics and genoicidal economic relations are reproduced to perpetuate war and the wanton destruction of human lives.
There is a new peace movement across the globe and the celebration of Africa Day is one component of the struggles against genocide and genocidal thinking. This peace movement in Africa must link up with the global movement for peace so that liberation in Africa will be associated with emancipation, peace, social justice and the well being of the people.
THE OAU LIBERATION COMMITTEE
It was very significant that it was in those states that supported African liberation with moral, material and political support that this day was observed at the national level as a public holiday. After imperialism killed Patrice Lumumba and orchestrated a military coup d ‘etat against Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and the Tanzanian people stood out in the ways in which the idea of African Liberation was respected and the society made tremendous sacrifices for the liberation of Africa. Julius Nyerere established a tradition of self-sacrifice that was followed by those committed to ending all forms of exploitation. The Tanzanian society could not have supported liberation and hosted the OAU Liberation Committee to spearhead liberation without the mobilization and politicization of the ordinary people.
One can compare the sacrifices of the Tanzanian peoples with the present Xenophobia in states such as South Africa and Angola where former freedom fighters have used the history of the liberation struggles to hold on to political power, to enrich themselves and diminish the meaning of independence and liberation The attacks on African migrants in South Africa and the violence unleashed against poor workers in 2008 represented one example of how the former leaders of the African liberation process have become obstacles to the further emancipation of Africa. Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF leadership in Zimbabwe represents the extreme example of freedom fighters who started out on the side of the people but used state power to enrich a small clique while shouting about imperialism. Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea represent leaders who once used the language of liberation while setting up militaristic states to oppress the people of Africa.
WILL THE PEOPLE PREVAIL?
The momentum and energy of the poor ensured that the OAU through the liberation committee supported the process of decolonization in Africa despite the fact that the generals constituted the majority at the summit. The formation of the OAU in 1963 had been a compromise among member states that could not agree on how to respond to the clear external manipulation of the Congo after those representing the interests of Western mining capital murdered Patrice Lumumba in 1961.It was in this Congo where the traditions of militarism, corruption and genocide had taken deep roots.
Those who yesterday opposed African liberation and supported dictators such as Siad Barre (Somalia), Arap Moi (Kenya) Félix Houphouët-Boigny y (Ivory Coast) and Hastings Banda (Malawi) now write books on failed states in Africa. This language of corruption and notions of Africa representing a breeding ground for ‘terrorism’ is one component of psychological war against Africa. The objective of the propaganda is for the young to forget the imperial crimes in Africa. In this way the dream of the young is to escape Africa to Europe.
The imperialists who orchestrated and planned the assassination of Patrice Lumumba have reframed their role in the destabilization of Africa and now write books celebrating their role in the destruction of African sovereignty. Larry Devlin who was the Chief of Station of the Central Intelligence Agency in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) has written a book (Chief of Station) to cover up the crimes of US imperialism in Africa. Mobutu represented the biggest obstacle to African liberation and unity and for thirty five years Mobutism supported genocidal politics and genocidal leaders in Central Africa from Rwanda to Burundi and Uganda under Idi Amin. The clause of non-interference in the internal affairs of states was the expedient to protect the confraternity of dictators. Despite these setbacks, the people prevailed and are now placing the question of the union of the peoples of Africa as the urgent task of contemporary liberation.
The formation of the African Union in 2001 was a conscious effort to transcend the traditions of violence and militarism. Defeat through victory Just as how at the end of slavery in the British territories 1834 the slave masters were compensated, so in the period at the end of apartheid the West intensified the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation, liberalization and de regulation so that the architects of apartheid and their black allies could enrich themselves.
Firstly, through IMF and the World Bank the basic rights to education, housing, health care and decent wages have been eroded. This has meant that the African poor have borne the brunt of the world capitalist depression. When Alan Greenspan, (former head of the Federal Reserve in the USA) noted that this capitalist depression has been the worst since 1920, he neglected to note that the poor and the exploited in Africa bore the brunt of this capitalist depression. Food riots in Senegal, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Egypt, Somalia and the Cameroons are the outward signs of the stirrings of a new liberation movement where the peoples of Africa are demanding food, clothing, shelter and access to proper health care.
Secondly, African liberation now requires that the people control their governments and that issues of financial planning and budgeting are discussed in the villages, townships and cities of Africa. In Africa, the politics of retrogression has become the norm, and the leadership has taken – to cultural proportions - the tendency to turn their backs on the people as soon as they take office. Hence, though the African Union has stipulated that no leader can come to power through military coup leaders now resort to electoral theft as evidenced recently in Kenya and Zimbabwe. There is now an urgent need to create new democratic institutions to strengthen popular participation and representation. Parliamentary democracy on its own is not enough; it must be supplemented with and strengthened by other popular institutions and associations like the local governments, cooperative movements, independent workers, women, student and youth organizations, assemblies or organizations for the environmental concerns and for minority rights, and so forth A new leadership must ensure that this is the dominant political culture, with enough flexibility to allow for changes when changes are needed to strengthen and further consolidate that culture.
This new political culture will eventually shift power from the current corrupt and unrepresentative political groupings, to local communities whose chosen representatives will be accountable to the interests of these local communities first not those of a small center that monopolizes power in the national political groupings.
Thirdly, in the midst of the millions dying from the AIDS pandemic the African governments are being coerced to cut delivery of health care. The provision of health for the masses of the people represents one of the fundamental goals of liberation in this era. All across the continent the requirements for a healthy life are pressing when the poor are seeking environments with clean air, clean water, and neighbourhoods cleared of mosquito holding areas and homes that are not dilapidated.
LIBERATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL REPAIR
Environmental repair and environmental justice form the fourth link in the chain of liberation in this new century. All across the continent the present leaders glorify the extraction of petroleum resources without regard for the health and safety of the peoples. From the North of Africa down to the Namibian coast petroleum companies are looting African oil while destroying the environment. Nigeria represents an extreme example of where environmental racism abounds and where a small clique is enriched while the majority of the peoples are exploited.
As much as 76 per cent of all the natural gas from Petroleum production in Nigeria is flared compared to 0.6 per cent in USA, 4.3 per cent in the UK, 21.0 per cent in Libya. The flaring is one of the most severe of the numerous hazards to which the peoples of the Delta and the Rivers States are exposed. At temperatures of 1,300 to 1,400 degrees centigrade, the multitude of flares in the Delta heat up everything, causing noise pollution, and producing CO2, VOC, CO, NOx and particulates around the clock. The emission of CO2 from gas flaring in Nigeria releases 35 million tons of CO2 a year and 12 million tons of methane, which means that Nigerian oil fields contribute more in global warming than the rest of the world together. (Claude Ake, 1996)
It is in Africa where the petroleum companies are engaged in crimes against Africans and crimes against nature. Many of the gas flares are situated very close to villages, sometimes within a hundred metres of homes of ordinary citizens. Petroleum companies have been flaring at some sites for 24 hours a day for more than 30 years. Despite this record, the standard view of environmental management, is that the basic rights of private property and of profit maximization, come before the health and welfare of the peoples of Nigeria in general, and in particular, the peoples who live in the Niger Delta.
Concerns for environmental justice are kept subservient to concerns for economic efficiency and capital accumulation. Successive governments in Nigeria have been willing accomplices to this degradation, the oil companies are protected while the health and welfare of Nigerian society suffers irreparable. The cuts in the social wage of the population make it impossible for local communities to support health clinics and there is an absence of drugs in most rural hospitals. The oil revenue is recycled to prop up the political class. Since 1958, Royal Dutch Shell has extracted billions from the lands of the Niger Delta. It is in this situation where a movement has developed called Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.
Should African freedom fighters be supporting the armed struggles in the Niger Delta when we are presented with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta? Acts of militarism even in the face of the keenest oppression can only be supported in the present era when all other forms of popular political mobilization have been exhausted. This is the concrete lesson from the wars in Sierra Leone and “the revolutionary forces of Foday Sanko.” We have also learnt the limits of armed revolutionary struggles from the wars of liberation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From the military campaign of Kabila, the intervention by Wamba dia Wamba, the senseless wars between Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Namibia along with prolonged fighting in Eastern Congo there are clear lessons for liberation.
These acts of militarism and war force revolutionaries to grasp the meanings of liberation and liberation movements today.
The legacies of the defeat in the Congo The Congo stands at the heart of Africa and peace in the Congo will have a tremendous impact on social reconstruction and transformation in Africa. Regional cooperation between truly democratic states will change the African Union and there will be a quantum change in the politics of Africa when the ideas and principles of African wildfire spread to all parts of the continent. In order to forestall the full operation of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, the United States has established the US Africa command to remilitarize Africa at the moment when the driving force behind African liberation is the peace and social justice movements. It is this peace and justice movement that inspired the continent wide opposition to the Africa command so much so that the US government has to resort to covert agreements to shore up the allies who are secretly colluding with western militarism.
Potentially were countries such as Angola, the DR Congo and the Sudan democratic states, they could collectively put together a major program of self-development, funded entirely by them for the whole Eastern and Southern Africa region. The West understands this and it is for this reason that the European Union and the USA are not supporters of peace and demilitarisation in Africa. In the face of the crisis of US capitalism the Chinese have emerged as a major force in the political economy of Africa. This new engagement has been significantly different from the period when the political leaders of China had supported the decolonization of Africa and provided support for Tanzania to build the Tazara railroad.
From liberation to emancipation As we come to the end of the first decade of a new century this moment provides one other opportunity to reflect on the tasks of liberation in the last fifty years and to assess how far the tasks and goals of liberation were realized. The crisis of the nature of human existence is manifest in all spheres of social relations; in the relations between humans (men and women), in the relationship between humans and the environment and in the forms of economic organization. It is now clearer that African liberation is not possible within the capitalist mode of production. When Walter Rodney wrote the book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, he had stated unequivocally that capitalism stands in the path of further human transformation. Now this is even clearer with the nested loop of environmental crimes, food crisis, economic terrorism, pandemics and the absence of representative democratic forms.
African women are leading the call for a new definition of liberation beyond one where African males occupy the positions of power of European and send their children to schools to be educated in European languages and in the ideas of patriarchy, domination over nature and private property. Since the period of the anti-apartheid struggles there has been a deepening of the understanding of liberation to encompass issues that are common on both sides of the Atlantic such as regional economic integration, democratisation, the end to genocide, reparations, the emancipation of women, the end to sexism and heterosexism, the humanization of the male and the humanization of the planet. The African Liberation Struggle of Tomorrow How can Africans be validated as human beings and lay the foundations for a new sense of personhood? This question has been sharpened by the major turning point in human transformations with the revolutionary technological changes that carried potential for healing as well as the potential for destruction. Books on Apartheid medicine have pointed to the ways in which Africans are being used as guinea pigs. The questions of the worth of the value of African life, of human life will be contested in the 21st century.
Millions are dying from preventable diseases and the health infrastructure has deteriorated while health workers leave Africa in droves. Where Information technology and robotics are changing the nature of work, education and leisure and the traditional understanding economics, the advances in gene splitting technologies are changing the very ways in which plants and animals are produced. The information revolution is bringing telecommunications technology to most communities across the continent and the peoples are now able to keep in constant contact with their village communities. African youths are using this technology to bring knowledge and information to others in order to break the control over information. Imperialism seeks to tap into the cognitive skills of the peoples while the governments look to Europe for models of education.
Africa is the home of the richest biodiversity on the planet. While some leaders are struggling for land, the biotech and pharmaceutical companies are patenting African medicinal plants. The threat of the major biotech companies to patent life forms along with the new rules of the World Trade Organization relating to intellectual property rights contain the seeds of undermining all of the gains that were made in the context of the struggle for self determination. By presenting life as an “invention” the biotechnical companies and the food corporations seek to eliminate the African farmer altogether. It is against this background that Africa is providing the lead in the World Trade Organization against the patenting of life forms. In the book, the Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, Samir Amin has warned of the dangers to the pauperization of the majority of farmers in Africa if African government follow the model of agriculture of Europe and the United States.
AFRICAN LIBERATION AND THE CENTRALITY OF GRASSROOTS WOMEN
Whether it is in the area of food production, health care, care for the sick or the education of the youth there is a disproportionate burden that is carried by women of the grassroots. One of the most important new development in the debates on revolution and transformation in the 21st century lies in the centrality of the place of the black women of the producing classes in the struggle for social transformation. This discussion which is going on in Africa and in the Americas emanates from a long tradition of struggle by black women and the determination that the black woman would never be again be marginalized in the African revolution.
The ensuing debates on women’s rights, racism, class alliances, environmental racism, gender and social reproduction hold the seeds of the most profound understanding of the limits of the concentration on productive forces that was the hallmark of radical politics for the generation after 1917. The question of how the understanding of the oppression of women is linked to the household as a site of politics brings home the point that one cannot be politically progressive and support any form of domination or intolerance. The women's movement successfully challenged the labor theory of value and influenced our understanding of the centrality of household production in the capitalist labor process. These revolutionary women have deepened our understanding of the importance of care and that the discipline of economics will remain one branch of capitalist ideas unless it takes into consideration care and reproductive capabilities of women.
Female labor power was never calculated in the economic models of nineteenth century revolutionaries. Black women such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman yesterday and women such as Angela Davis and Nawal El Saadawi today placed the question of the liberation of women on the political agenda. Throughout the twentieth century the women’s movement internationally made great strides in placing the gender, care and housework as fundamental questions of revolution. However, in the main, this mainstream movement was dominated by conceptions of progress and reason that emanated from Western Europe.
It was the radical black feminists who have reflected on how the growth of emancipatory ideas has contributed towards the project of our collective emancipation. By framing and ending the separation of the woman question from the other sites of struggles and making gender transformation the central question of the struggle, the progressive women inside the left movement and in the radical formations have taken the political lead in the fight for justice. Hence in Africa today, the combined energies of the women from all parts of the Sudan are seeking to place the issues of rape, sexual terrorism, violation and gender oppression at the center of the debate on the future of the Sudan. Fundamentalism of all forms represents one component of the counter revolutionary period in which we live.
There is need for a new orientation on liberation to conceptualize the values of ubuntu as the basis for liberation. The concept incorporates values of sharing, cooperation and spiritual health. Ubuntu, emancipatory politics and reparations are the key concepts for liberation tomorrow. The attainment of ubuntu is bound up with the political union of Africa. The concrete understanding of the cultural unity of Africa and the contributions of the African peoples towards human transformation are being refined every day through day to day struggles. Cheik Anta Diop who has studied the linguistic basis of African Unity emphasized the importance of African languages in the push for continental unity. African Liberation will be meaningless if it is not rooted in African languages and in the genius of the African woman. The aspirations of Diop, which were outlined in his book on the Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State, form the core of the African Union of tomorrow. Diop was clear that his idea on industrialization and regeneration of Africa was not based simply on the development of the productive forces without reference to the working people of Africa. Diop wrote clearly of the requirement of effective representation of women at all levels of governance.
The future of African liberation will be informed by a new mode of politics where ordinary African men, women and children will be able to revel in the idea of Africa for the Africans at home and abroad and tear down the borders of oppression and control which were created in 1885. The future of Pan Africanism and the AU must reinforce the traditional respect for the elders and should raise up a new tradition, respect for young people. This new tradition calls for Africa to lead the world in the use of all means to support the emancipation of African women and girls and to end all forms of oppression.
This is the essence of reparations, peace and justice!
*Horace Campbell is the author of the well known book, Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. His latest book, Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation is published by David Philip of Cape Town, South Africa.
**Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Towards African-American Unity and a Black United Front
Commemorating Malcolm X's Birthday, appraise existing African American leadership and call for a Black united front that can shake the foundation of a border-less neoliberal globalization.
"Power never takes a back step--only in the face of more power."
"Dr. King wants the same thing I want--Freedom." --Malcolm X
On what would have been Malcolm's eighty-third birthday, it is appropriate that we speak to the urgency for unity and the critical need for a functional national Black united front. Malcolm argued for unity across religious, class and ideological lines on the basis of nationality. Our movement has attempted to implement organizational expressions of his call for unity. Such vehicles like the Congress of African People (CAP), the National Black Assembly (NBA) with its Black Agenda, the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC), and the Black Radical Congress (BRC) with its Freedom Agenda have all met with varying degrees of success but with little sustainability. We have to turn the corner on building united front organizations to those that are actually sustainable--the conditions of our people demand it.
In this period of neoliberal globalization, in which we see the gutting of social-welfare programs that due to national oppression never fully provided for the needs of Black people, our communities are faced with stagnant or declining incomes, double-digit unemployment, a crisis of home foreclosures and bankruptcies. Add to these depression-like conditions the fact that Black males are facing a criminal justice system that incarcerates them at more than eight times the rate of whites. If they are not locking our young men up, they are shooting them down in cold blood with no fear of prosecution. The Sean Bell case in New York City is just the latest case in point. Moreover, there is the federal government's criminal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the growing attacks on our communities through gentrification, the use of our youth as cannon fodder for imperialist wars, and the criminalization of our youth. This latter phenomenon is causing our community elders to fear their own children and grandchildren. It's clear that that we need an instrument of struggle to fight back.
While some may argue that there is a vacuum of leadership in our communities, we would argue that there is leadership, but it is one that has retreated from the progressive agenda of the Civil Rights and Black Power eras. As Brother Malcolm would say, "I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they'll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action." Today, through corporate and government funding from the likes of groups like Wal-Mart and regional and local developers, we have organizations doing for our people rather than empowering them to do for themselves. The result is demobilization and fragmentation within the Black Liberation Movement (BLM). The national Black community's response to Katrina is indicative of this condition.
During the Civil Rights movement, it was the program and tactics of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the left wing of that movement, which played a leading role during that period. They were not the groups that got all the press and money but they were some of the forces that set the line of march for the movement. Similarly, it was revolutionary nationalists and developing Marxists who set the direction within CAP, the National Black Political Assembly, and ALSC during the '70s.
The Achilles Heel of these young radicals was their lack of a basic united-front framework that would engage the many organizations and activists in developing programs, tactical plans and slogans to guide coalitions and campaigns. Instead, sectarian maneuvering and struggling with allies as if they were the enemy became the practice of the day, which has led to our current situation where the middle and right wings of the BLM are playing the leading roles. While we cannot ignore the role of the state in damaging these efforts, more forces having had a basic united-front approach would have allowed us to better withstand the state's penetration of our efforts.
Having correctly summed up the sectarian, undemocratic membership policies and patriarchal error of the '70s New Communist Movement, Black, Asian, Latina/o and Anglo-American leftists entered the Rainbow Coalition Presidential candidacy of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. However, the Black Left was not playing the leading role in the Jackson Campaign. It was the National Black petit bourgeoisie that was taking the lead and fighting for a more prominent role in the Democratic Party. Despite their hard work on issue development and grassroots mobilization, some of these forces, like Jackson, were seduced by their class origin to become "power brokers" for their nationality and class in the Democratic Party. Instead of creating counter-hegemonic and popular forms of organizations, they relied exclusively on the Jackson campaign organizations for their education and mobilization of the masses. So, as Jackson sought to pull the reins on the "Rainbow Challenge" in the interests of the Democratic Party, the left forces were not able to challenge Jackson's retreat from the Rainbow program.
As the Black Left entered the '90s, the increased power of neoliberal globalization; the massacre in Tiananmen Square in China; the demise of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; and the question raised at the anti-globalization protest in Seattle, "Where are the People of Color?" were indications of the fragmentation, the lack of a coherent approach to Black Liberation in the US and the overall weakness of the Left in the era of postmodern identity politics with its aversion to a guiding political narrative.
In the mid-'90s the Nation of Islam, under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan and Minister Ben (Chavis) Muhammad, stepped into this vacuum of leadership in the BLM to propose the Million Man March. Held on October 16, 1995, the march attracted some 1.5 million men. Many speakers spoke in support of voter registration and Black self-help programs. They were also very critical of the Republican so-called Contract with America, which was seen as an attack on programs like welfare, Medicaid, housing programs and student aid programs. However, its male-only focus, religious overtones, and the Nation of Islam's top-down organizing style kept many Black leftists away or at arm's length. Two years later, fed up with unemployment, homelessness, teen pregnancy and Black-on-Black crime fueled by the crack epidemic ravaging our communities, several hundred thousand Black women gathered in Philadelphia on October 24 for the Million Woman March. Broader in composition and led by grassroots women from the East Coast, South and mid-West, this march was held without the slick marketing and big-name speakers at the Million Man March. This march was followed in 1998 by the million Youth March and the Million Worker March in 2004. However, a major weakness of these efforts was the lack of organizational development after the demonstrations, as well as declining numbers after the success of the Million Woman March.
The formation of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) in June 1998, drawing some 2000 participants, would break the cycle of "show up but no follow-up" associated with the Million More Marches. The BRC was inclusive of the various ideological trends in the BLM, e.g. socialists, communists, LGBT, feminists, and revolutionary Black nationalists. In the years following its formation, the BRC would develop over a dozen chapters and carry out local and national campaigns like Education Not Incarceration and Fightback against the War. It was also involved in issues like HIV/AIDS, police violence and in defense of the Charleston, SC dock workers (who had been charged with inciting to riot as they sought to defend their rights and living standards.)
However, in the last five years it has become increasingly clear that some of the initial leaders of the BRC were overextended and needed to pull back. It has also become clear that the infrastructure envisioned at the founding Congress could not be sustained with limited resources and a volunteer staff. So while it has seen a reduction in the number in chapters and Local Organizing Committees, the BRC has advanced a radical analysis on various topics through its listserve, leaflets and newsletters.
This June 20-22 the Black Radical Congress will hold its 10th anniversary congress at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. At this congress, the BRC will address such issues as the state of the Black Liberation Movement and what the BRC should look like as an organization in order to respond to the current crisis facing Black people. Other issues to be addressed are how one funds an effective organization with independence and sustainability as guiding principles. Lastly, the congress will deal with leadership and governance for the organization. Notwithstanding the good work of the BRC, it remains just another organization in the fragmented Black Liberation Movement and has not lived up to its initial hope and potential as a space that successfully and for a sustained period brought together diverse radical ideological currents within the Black Liberation Movement.
Although the devastation and neglect caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast provided a golden opportunity for a united approach, this has not been realized. As Malcolm would say, "Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods, or tactics, or strategy. We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society." Thus, there have been struggles around issues like organizing methodology, leadership accountability, patriarchy, how to promote grassroots leadership, and the role of "base building" in the context of building the Black united front on the ground in the Gulf Coast Reconstruction efforts.
This has led some of the Black left forces associated with Katrina Solidarity work to call for a Black Left Gathering on May 30-June 1 at the Sonia Hayes Stone Center at the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill. This gathering will look at the current state of the BLM, the Gulf Coast Situation, and its relationship to the overall building of a national Black united front. It will also look at the issues of the war in Iraq and its impact on the delivery of basic human services to Blacks, other people of color and the general working class.
While much of the attention of the masses is focused on the Obama campaign, we salute the Black left forces who are planning to meet to strategize on how to build unity of action of the Left and radicals of the Black Nation. Both of these motions are composed of activists and revolutionaries who have grasped Malcolm's message and are correctly summing up the errors of the movements of the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s and are in the process of trying to regroup and to rebuild a potent and effective Black Liberation Movement. In fact, Freedom Road has members working in both of these formations. We believe that these two motions need to come together in the spirit of Malcolm's call for a functional national Black united front. At the same time, we recognize that building such unity on the ground and in practice is a process rather an event. Thus, we applaud both efforts for participating in each other's events as speaker and participants.
Moreover, both gatherings will address the aftermath of Katrina and the failure to implement an adequate, democratic and rapid reconstruction. Each will examine the assaults on Black communities across the country through police murder of youth, gentrification and more. It is here that we urge that the two groups, regardless of what organizational forms they decide on for their work, combine efforts in a community-based national campaign. The "We Charge Genocide" campaign, which is up and running, presents at this moment the greatest possibility for cooperation, addresses some of the most pressing needs of our people, and can contribute in a powerful way to the rebuilding of the Black Liberation Movement.
If the Obama campaign and all that it has inspired is to have a lasting impact, it will necessitate the existence of a mass-based, viable Black Left that practices a united-front approach. If there is to be anything to build upon after the November elections, irrespective of who wins, there will need to be a strong left presence, and there will especially need to be a Black left motion that is pushing the envelope. Malcolm's orientation was toward the building of a broader and broader movement. This is as relevant today as it was in 1965. Just as relevant is the notion that if the radicals in any movement do not cohere, the forces in the middle will start to vacillate, and those on the right will gain dominance. We have seen that before, and we must not let it happen again.
*Prepared by the Nationalities Commission, Freedom Road Socialist Organization/OSCL. For more information, please visit http://freedomroad.org/content/view/516/1/lang,en/
*Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Women left for dead—and the man who’s saving them
In the Congo, where tens of thousands of women are brutally raped every year, Dr. Denis Mukwege repairs their broken bodies and souls. Eve Ensler visits him and finds hope amid the horror.
I have just returned from hell. I am trying for the life of me to figure out how to communicate what I have seen and heard in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How do I convey these stories of atrocities without your shutting down, quickly turning the page or feeling too disturbed?
How do I tell you of girls as young as nine raped by gangs of soldiers, of women whose insides were blown apart by rifle blasts and whose bodies now leak uncontrollable streams of urine and feces?
This journey was a departure for me. It began with a man, Dr. Denis Mukwege, and a conversation we had in New York City in December 2006, when he came to speak about his work helping women at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. It began with my rusty French and his limited English. It began with the quiet anguish in his bloodshot eyes, eyes that seemed to me to be bleeding from the horrors he’d witnessed.
Something happened in this conversation that compelled me to go halfway around the world to visit the doctor, this holy man who was sewing up women as fast as the mad militiamen could rip them apart.
I am going to tell the stories of the patients he saves so that the faceless, generic, raped women of war become Alfonsine and Nadine—women with names and memories and dreams. I am going to ask you to stay with me, to open your hearts, to be as outraged and nauseated as I felt sitting in Panzi Hospital in faraway Bukavu.
Before I went to the Congo, I’d spent the past 10 years working on V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls. I’d traveled to the rape mines of the world, places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti, where rape has been used as a tool of war. But nothing I ever experienced felt as ghastly, terrifying and complete as the sexual torture and attempted destruction of the female species here. It is not too strong to call this a femicide, to say that the future of the Congo’s women is in serious jeopardy.
I learned from my trip that there are men who take their sorrow and helplessness and destroy women’s bodies—and there are others with the same feelings who devote their lives to healing and serving. I do not know all the reasons men end up in one or the other of these groups, but I do know that one good man can create many more. One good man can inspire other men to ache for women, to fight for them and protect them. One good man can win the trust of a community of raped women—and in doing so, keep their faith in humanity alive.
Dr. Mukwege picks me up at 6:30 A.M. It is a lush, clean morning. Eastern Congo, where Panzi Hospital is located, is wildly fertile. You can almost hear the vegetation growing. There are banana trees and cartoon-colored birds. And there is Lake Kivu, a vast body of water that contains enough methane to power a good portion of the sub-Sahara—yet the city of Bukavu on its banks has only sporadic electricity. This is a theme in the Congo. There are more natural resources than almost anywhere else on the planet, yet 80 percent of the people make less than a dollar a day. More rain falls than one can imagine, but for millions, clean drinking water is scarce. The earth is gorgeously abundant, and yet almost one third of the population is starving.
As we drive along the semblance of road, the doctor tells me how different things were when he was a child. “In the sixties 50,000 people lived here in Bukavu. It was a relaxed place. There were rich people who had speedy boats in the lakes. There were gorillas in the mountains.” Now there are at least a million displaced Congolese, many of whom arrive in the city daily, fleeing the numerous armed groups that have ravaged the countryside since fighting erupted in 1996. What started as a civil war to overthrow dictator Mobutu Sese Seko soon became “Africa’s first world war,” as observers have called it, with soldiers from neighboring countries joining in the mayhem. The troops have various agendas: Many are fighting for control of the region’s extraordinary mineral wealth. Others are out to grab whatever they can get.
But you have to go back further than 1996 to understand what is going on in the Congo today. This country has been tortured for more than 120 years, beginning with King Leopold II of Belgium, who “acquired” the Congo and, between 1885 and 1908, exterminated an estimated 10 million people, about half the population. The violent consequences of genocide and colonialism have had a profound impact on the psyche of the Congolese. Despite a 2003 peace agreement and recent elections, armed groups continue to terrorize the eastern half of the country. Overall the war has left nearly 4 million people dead—more than in any other conflict since World War II—and resulted in the rape of hundreds of thousands of women and girls.
In Bukavu, the people escaping the fighting walk from early morning to late at night. They walk and walk, searching for a way to buy or sell a tomato, or for a banana for their baby. It is a relentless river of humans, anxious and hungry. “People used to eat three meals a day,” says Dr. Mukwege. “Now they are lucky to eat one.”
Everyone knows the doctor, an ob-gyn. He waves and stops to inquire about this person’s health, that person’s mother. Most doctors, teachers and lawyers fled the Congo after the wars started. It never occurred to Dr. Mukwege to leave his people at their most desperate hour.
He first became aware of the epidemic of rape in 1996. “I saw women who had been raped in an extremely barbaric way,” he recalls. “First, the women were raped in front of their children, their husbands and neighbors. Second, the rapes were done by many men at the same time. Third, not only were the women raped, but their vaginas were mutilated with guns and sticks. These situations show that sex was being used as a weapon that is cheap.
“When rape is done in front of your family,” he continues, “it destroys everyone. I have seen men suffer who watched their wives raped; they are not mentally stable anymore. The children are in even worse condition. Most of the time, when a woman suffers this much violence, she is not able to bear children afterward. Clearly these rapes are not done to satisfy any sexual desire but to destroy the soul. The whole family and community are broken.”
We arrive at Panzi Hospital, a spread-out complex of about a dozen buildings. Eight years ago Dr. Mukwege created a special maternity ward here with an operating room. Panzi as a whole has 334 beds, 250 of which now hold female victims of sexual violence. The hospital and its surrounding property have become, essentially, a village of raped women. The grounds are overwhelmed with children and hunger and need. Every day at least two children here die from malnutrition. Then there are the many problems that result from severe trauma: women with nightmares and insomnia, women rejected by their husbands, women who have no interest in nurturing the babies of their rapists, women and children with nowhere to go.
It is early morning, and the hospital courtyard has been transformed into a temporary church. Women dressed in their most colorful, or perhaps only, pagne (a six-yard piece of brightly patterned cloth that can be wrapped into a dress or skirt) sit waiting for the doctor to arrive and lead the prayer service that begins each day. A dedicated staff of female nurses and social workers are there as well, dressed in their starched white jackets. There is singing, a combination of Pentecostal calls and Swahili rhythms, Sunday-morning voices calling up Jesus.
This morning service is a kind of daily gathering of strength and unity. When the women sing, everything else seems to disappear. They are with the sun, the sky, the drums, each other. They are alive in their bodies, momentarily safe and free.
As they sing, Dr. Mukwege tells me stories about the women in the chorus. Many were naked when they arrived, or starving. Many were so badly damaged he is amazed they are singing at all. He takes enormous pride in their recovery. “I will never be ashamed,” the women sing. “God gave me a new heart that I can be very strong.”
“At the beginning I used to hear patients’ stories,” Dr. Mukwege tells me. “Now I abstain.” I soon understand why. I meet Nadine (like others in this story, she agreed to be photographed, but asked that her name be changed, as she could be subject to reprisals for speaking out), who tells me a tale so horrendous it will haunt me for years to come.
When we begin talking, Nadine seems utterly disassociated from her surroundings—far away. “I’m 29,” she begins. “I am from the village of Nindja. Normally there was insecurity in our area. We would hide many nights in the bush. The soldiers found us there. They killed our village chief and his children. We were 50 women. I was with my three children and my older brother; they told him to have sex with me. He refused, so they cut his head and he died.”
Nadine’s body is trembling. It is hard to believe these words are coming out of a woman who is still alive and breathing. She tells me how one of the soldiers forced her to drink his urine and eat his feces, how the soldiers killed 10 of her friends and then murdered her children: her four-year-old and two-year-old boys and her one-year-old girl. “They flung my baby’s body on the ground like she was garbage,” Nadine says. “One after another they raped me. From that my vagina and anus were ripped apart.”
Nadine holds onto my hand as if she were drowning in a tsunami of memory. As devastated as she is, it is clear that she needs to be telling this story, needs me to listen to what she is saying. She closes her eyes and says something I cannot believe I’m hearing. “One of the soldiers cut open a pregnant woman,” she says. “It was a mature baby and they killed it. They cooked it and forced us to eat it.”
Incredibly, Nadine was the only one of the 50 women to escape. “When I got away from the soldiers, there was a man passing. He said, ‘What is that bad smell?’ It was me; because of my wounds, I couldn’t control my urine or feces. I explained what had happened. The man wept right there. He and some others brought me to the Panzi Hospital.”
She stops. Neither of us has breathed. Nadine looks at me, longing for me to make sense of what she’s related. She says, “When I got here I had no hope. But this hospital helped me so much. Whenever I thought about what happened, I became mad. I believed I would lose my mind. I asked God to kill me. Dr. Mukwege told me: Maybe God didn’t want me to lose my life.”
Nadine later tells me that the doctor was right. As she fled the slaughter, she says, she saw an infant lying on the ground next to her slain parents. Nadine rescued the girl; now having a child to care for gives her reason to keep going. “I can’t go back to my village. It’s too dangerous. But if I had a place to live I could go to school. I lost my children but I’m raising this child as my own. This girl is my future.”
I stay for a week at Panzi. Women line up to tell me their stories. They come into the interview numb, distant, glazed over, dead. They leave alive, grateful, empowered. I begin to understand that the deepest wound for them is the sense that they have been forgotten, that they are invisible and that their suffering has no meaning. The simple act of listening to them has enormous impact. The slightest touch or kindness restores their faith and energy. The strength of these women is remarkable, as is their unparalleled resiliency. Dr. Mukwege tells me I need to meet Alfonsine (her name also has been changed). “Her story really touched me,” he says. “Her body, her case is the worst I have ever seen, but she has given us all courage.”
Alfonsine is thin and poised, profoundly calm. She tells me she was walking through the forest when she encountered a lone soldier. “He followed me and then forced me to lie down. He said he would kill me. I struggled with him hard; it went on for a long time. Then he went for his rifle, pressed it on the outside of my vagina and shot his entire cartridge into me. I just heard the voice of bullets. My clothes were glued to me with blood. I passed out.”
Dr. Mukwege tells me, “I never saw such destruction. Her colon, bladder, vagina and rectum were basically gone. She had lost her mind. I was sure she wouldn’t make it. I rebuilt her bladder. Sometimes you don’t even know where you are going. There’s no map. I operated on her six times, and then I sent her to Ethiopia so they could heal the incontinence problem, and they did.”
“I was in bed when I first met Dr. Mukwege,” Alfonsine says. “He caressed my face. I lived at Panzi for six months. He helped me spiritually. He showed me how many times God makes miracles. He built me up morally.”
I look at Alfonsine’s petite body and imagine the scars beneath her humble white clothes. I imagine the reconstructed flesh, the agony she experienced after being shot. I listen carefully. I cannot detect a drop of bitterness or any desire for revenge. Instead, her attention is fixed on transforming the future. She tells me with great pride, “I am now studying to be a nurse. My first choice is to work at Panzi. It was the nurses who nurtured me day after day, who loved me back into living.”
Alfonsine has ambitions that go beyond Panzi: “I feel like a big person in my community; I can do something for my people. Women must lead our country. They know the way.”
Every day about a dozen new women arrive at Panzi Hospital. Most come for surgery to repair a fistula, a rip in their internal tissue. There are two types of fistulas seen here: One is the aftermath of brutal rape, the other the result of birth complications, something that could be prevented if there were adequate maternity health care. These obstetric fistulas are the result of abnormal tearing during the birth process. Many occur when women flee the militias while they are in labor; there is no time to give birth, and the baby dies inside. The women who make it here are the lucky ones. They limp on homemade canes made from tree branches; they trudge slowly in deep pain. Some have walked 40 miles. Because it takes so long to get to the hospital, women have no chance to receive the anti-HIV medications that must be taken within 48 hours after rape. Health experts fear that in a few years, there will be an explosion of AIDS in the Congo.
Dr. Mukwege was once the only doctor at Panzi Hospital able to perform fistula surgery; now he has trained four others. The hospital does 1,000 such operations a year.
I sit in on a typical operation in a clean, safe, but seriously underequipped operating room (nurses use torn pieces of a green dressing gown to tie the woman’s ankles to the stirrups). I am able to see the fistula—a hole in the tissue between the woman’s vaginal wall and bladder. A hole in her body. A hole in her soul. A hole where her confidence, her esteem, her spirit, her light, her urine leak out.
Because of the prevalence of fistulas, the Panzi complex is soaked in urine. The smell pervades everything. Pee spills out of women in a huge, dirt-floored hangarlike space where hundreds sit all day. Pee spills out in classrooms, leaving puddles on the floor. The women are always wet. Their legs chafe and their skin burns. There are many little girls in pee-stained dresses roaming around Panzi; shy and ashamed, they, too, are victims of rape. The week of my visit, a state agency had turned off the water for the hospital after billing Panzi $70,000 (an insane amount by Congolese standards) because it heard that the hospital, which is private, was receiving money from the West. Staff had to bring in buckets of water from the surrounding neighborhood. To have hundreds of women with fistula-caused incontinence and no water seemed like a crime upon a crime.
I can’t help wondering what happened in Dr. Mukwege’s life that compelled him to work here, sometimes 14 hours a day. “I was born in Bukavu on March 1, 1955,” he tells me. “During my young age my mother was suffering with asthma. In the night when she became ill, I was the one who would go and look for a nurse or bring her medication. We all thought she would die. Even now, each birthday she celebrates, I am so happy to see her alive.
“My father was a pastor. He was very gentle, very human. From him I got the caring to treat patients. When we would go and visit sick people together, he would pray. I would ask, ‘Why can’t you give them tablets or prescriptions?’ He said, ‘I am not a doctor.’ I decided then that prayer is not enough. People must take things into their own hands. Asking God does not change anything. He gives us the ability to say yes or no. You must use your hands, your mind. When I receive women here who are hungry, I can’t say, ‘God bless you.’ I have to give them something to eat. When someone is suffering, I can’t tell her about God, I have to treat her pain. You can’t hide yourself in religion. Not a solution.”
Dr. Mukwege began as a general practitioner, focusing on pediatrics. When he worked in a clinic in Lemera, a village south of Bukavu, he saw dreadful things happening in maternity. “Women were coming in bleeding day after day, many with severe infections. A woman had a baby and carried it dead in her vagina for a week. It was terrible. This helped me make a total engagement in a new career.”
He went back to school to study gynecology in Angers, France, and then returned to Lemera to train the staff in obstetrics and gynecology. After he moved to Bukavu he created a special maternity ward at Panzi. Women who were victims of extreme sexual violence began to arrive. The number grew every day.
Who was—and is—raping the women? The better question might be, who isn’t?
The perpetrators include the Interahamwe, the Hutu fighters who fled neighboring Rwanda in 1994 after committing genocide there; the Congolese army; a loose assortment of armed civilians; even U.N. peacekeepers. Christine Schuler Deschryver, who works for a German aid organization and is a fierce advocate for Panzi Hospital and Congolese women, says, “All of them are raping women. It is a country sport. Any person in uniform is an enemy to women.”
Many women do not even report the violations, because they are afraid of rejection by their husbands and families. Although there are laws against rape in the Congo, if a woman reports her rape and her rapist is arrested, he can pay his way out and come back and rape her again. Or murder her.
Dr. Mukwege, in contrast, is motivating a different kind of healing army. I speak with a hospital employee named Bonane. “I was in Uganda,” he says. “I saw the doctor on TV. He was explaining the atrocities. I realized these are my mothers and sisters. I was so inspired, I came here to work with him.”
Dr. Mukwege is married with five children, but his brother, Herman, tells me his family doesn’t see him much because his devotion to the women has consumed his life. Although the doctor’s energy never flags, I notice an underlying exhaustion in his face and his being, a sleepless despair that comes from dwelling constantly amid violence and cruelty. He says to me, “When you rape a woman, you destroy life and you destroy your own life. Animals don’t do this. When a pigeon has sex with another pigeon, it is kind. I am wondering how man has the power of such destruction.”
And yet, the status of women in the Congo was dismal long before the wars started. The women work all day in the field and market, carrying the Congo on their backs (sometimes up to 200 pounds in bags strapped to their foreheads). They prepare the dinner, wash the clothes, clean the house, take care of the children, have mandatory sex with their husbands. They have no power, no rights and no value. Many women I talk to ask why I am “wasting my time” with them.
I interview a man who is the keeper of a gorilla preserve. He tells me that when dangerous militias began staking out territory in the park, he went to their commanders and asked if their soldiers would work with him to protect the gorillas. In the end they all agreed. I ask him why he didn’t feel compelled to do the same for the women. The question surprised him. He had no answer.
I ask the doctor about the Congo’s leader, Joseph Kabila, who in November 2006 became the country’s first democratically elected president in 46 years and promised to be the “craftsman of peace.” Are things getting better?
Dr. Mukwege sighs. “Kabila,” he says, “has done nothing. The fighting here in the east has not stopped. During 2004 my life was threatened; I got phone calls warning me to stop my work or die. The calls have ceased, but it is still very dangerous.
“Visitors come from the international community,” he continues. “They eat sandwiches and cry, but they do not come back with help. Even President Kabila has never put his foot here. His wife was here. She wept, but she has done nothing.”
UNICEF, ECHO (the humanitarian aid office of the European Commission) and PMU (a Swedish humanitarian organization) are the major supporters of Panzi. Although the hospital can always use more money, the real need is for a political response to the violence. Barring that, Dr. Mukwege would at least like to get real protection for the women once they leave the hospital. “I patch them up and send them back home,” he says, “but there is no guarantee they will not be raped again. There have been several cases where women have come back a second time, more destroyed than the first.”
On my last day, the doctor asks me if I will lead some exercises for the women that will help alleviate their trauma. We go to the hangarlike building where 250 depressed and sick women are waiting. We begin with breathing. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Then we attach a noise to the breath. Other noises follow. One after another, noise after noise. Then we attach a movement. There is stomping. There is punching. There is mad waving of arms. The women are up on their feet, screaming, releasing guttural sounds of sorrow, rage, terror. In a matter of minutes, I watch them go from broken, mute women to wild, laughing, ferocious beings.
In the midst of this energy, Dr. Mukwege challenges the women to a dance contest. Celebration and power explode from their bodies. A part of each woman is fierce, unbreakable. No one has killed their spirits. The doctor whispers to me, “When I see this joy, this life in the women, I know why I must come back here every day.”
The women’s frenzy builds and builds. They dance in the hot African sun. They dance in the open road. They literally dance us up a steep hill, hundreds of women and children moving in a single, radiant feminine mass.
If 250 women who have been raped, torn, starved and tortured can find the strength to dance us up a mountain, surely the rest of us can find the resources and will to guarantee their future.
*Eve Ensler is a playwright, an activist and the founder of V-Day. Her latest book is Insecure at Last. This essay first appeared in Glamour Magazine (http://www.glamour.com).
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Reflections on 16 days of Activism
Emma Njoki Wamai
Emma Njoki Wamai reflects on the 2007 I6 Days of Activism Campaign and notes the positive impact on Sauti Ya Wanawake (The Voice of Women) such as strengthening the organization's relationship with the provincial administration. This has led to police and the chiefs’ working together with SYW on cases of sexual and gender based violence.
The Sauti Ya Wanawake grassroots women’s movement members recount their experiences with sexual and gender based violence with an uncomfortable familiarity. In the dusty and desolate sisal plantations, national parks and the savanna grasslands in Taveta, Taita and Kinango districts in the Kenyan Coast, everyday women and children are sexually abused at an alarming rate.
In Taita, Taveta, Kwale and Kinango Districts in Kenya, sexual and gender based violence has been rampant for a long time due to retrogressive cultural practices and poverty which deprives the most vulnerable people, mostly women and children their human rights. In 2007 alone, 62 girls and women and 2 boys were defiled and raped (Children’s Department, Taita Taveta District). According to the Children’s Officer and the Sauti ya Wanawake movement in the region, reported rape and defilement of children is excercabeted in the district by the complacent culture of wazee wa vigogoni laxity of provincial administration, entry of illicit drugs and brews from neighbouring Tanzania. Of these 62, only 20 cases were taken to court. It is notable that these were reported cases and many other cases especially where women were violated, were not reported to the police since the perpetrators are normally relatives and fear of castigation by the community.
Coincidentally, the theme of the 2007 16 days of activism campaign, ‘Demanding Implementation, Challenging Obstacles: End Violence against Women’ could not have been more appropriate to the sisters and mothers of Taita Taveta who have watched helplessly as their children’s childhood is hurriedly ended by lurking man made beasts.
Inspired by the need to end violence against women in their communities, they sought partnership with like minded organizations such as the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) ,a non governmental organization whose vision is promoting and protecting human rights and the Canadian International Development Agency Gender Equity Support Project (CIDA-GESP) to mainstream strategic and practical gender issues in the existing pre election promises by aspiring candidates and to raise awareness on legal forms of redress such as the New Sexual Offences Act through dialogue forums and community radio stations. They also trained local village elders, local provincial administration, religious leaders, youth and women on the effects of violence against women and erected 4 information billboards in remote villages offering community members safe spaces to deposit information on violence against women and children.
Mama Dorcas Jibran, the coordinator of the Sauti Ya Wanawake says that the impact of the 16days of Activism 2007 is profound on the safety of women and children in the three districts barely 3 months later. Mama Dorcas shared these achievements of the 2007, 16 days of Activism campaign which include;
- Sustainable Partnerships. This project has strengthened Sauti ya Wanawake’s relationship with the provincial administration and as a result, Sauti ya Wanawake, police and the chiefs’ work together on cases of sexual and gender based violence. The Divisional Officer’s office (DO) has been facilitating Sauti ya Wanawake to visit remote places incase of an alarm and they have also been making follow-ups together. Mama Dorcas is currently working with the chiefs and the Councilors to establish modalities of setting up information boxes in every location.
- The grassroot women’s movement now has the capacity to articulate issues and the village representatives are called upon to advice on gender issues in churches and local development committees. For example, Mama Dorcas and Mama Emma Mailus are normally called upon by their local police posts to advice and train the police when a sex offender is arrested.
- Lastly, Sauti Ya Wanawake and the residents of Taita, Taveta and Kinango have benefited from the information billboards which are positioned in every constituency. Mama Docras Jibran has already received five cases on violence against women and children and succession issues from women and she has referred the individuals for further support to Police and the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Mombassa Office.
There is need for the Africa Union Members states to fully domesticate the numerous instruments and regional charters that recognize the hardships women like Mama Dorcas face.
The Convention on Elimination against All forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) is one such instrument. The African Women’s Protocol of the African peoples Human Rights Charter is another that criminalizes any violence committed against women.
The time is now!
*Emma Njoki Wamai is a Programme Associate in the Kenya Human Rights Commission
**Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
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1) A local women’s movement whose Swahili name means the voice of women that was formed to organize women around issues in Taita Taveta.
3) Local village male elders who arbitrate over civil and domestic cases using patriarchal cultural values as the standards.
Why we must struggle against Xenophobia!
Tajudeen Abdul Raheem
In this Africa Liberation Day Postcard, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem warns that "if care is not taken to take decisive action to stop the violence against other Africans and challenge the widespread xenophobia, South African businesses and other interests across Africa will soon become legitimate targets, not just for demonstrations, but for campaigns of boycott and who knows, even targets for sabotage and revenge attacks across this continent."
This Sunday, 25 May 2008, is Africa Liberation Day. This year’s celebration marks the 50th anniversary of this day set aside for reflection, celebration and rededication to the cause of Africa and Africans’ total liberation from social, economic and political injustices, initially by external colonialists but later neo-colonialists and their local agents. Today the struggle continues against the local oppressors and their foreign patrons in a renewed attempt at re-colonising Africa - through the combined forces of unpatriotic national leaders who sell our countries to anti-people globalisation and uncritical adoption of neo-liberal policies that continues to impoverish our peoples and ensures that the majority of Africans remain poor, even though ours is one of the richest continents in the whole world.
Central to the agenda of Africa’s liberation is the notion of ‘Africa for Africans’ and the unification of Africa ‘from Cape to Cairo’. As symbols go, both points were chosen not because they are the most symbolic representation of Africa, but because of the extreme geographic poles of this vast continent and its diversities. Yet both cities and the countries they are in have, at best, contested Africaness. Cape Town never fails to remind us that it remains a European enclave (that may apply to leave the AU and join the EU, if that is possible!). While a trip to the vibrant souks of Cairo by an African visitor is not complete without at least one Egyptian trader asking: ‘Are you from Africa?’; completely oblivious to the fact that Egypt is in Africa and that the proud civilisation that makes them feel superior to others, including other Arabs, was very much an African civilisation.
However, ambiguities about being African are not limited to the two cities or countries. 45 years after the OAU was headquartered in Addis, many Ethiopians still talk of, or see Africans, as others. In Egypt and South Africa, the anti-Africa feelings extend to areas that are ‘more African’ than both cities. The tragic events unfolding in South Africa around townships close to Johannesburg may have come as a surprise to those not familiar with the ‘rainbow’ nation after 1994, but not to Africans living there. We were all on a high about the end of apartheid, and swallowed the triumphalism and claims of exceptionalism as the legitimating ideology of the new post-apartheid state. If ever there was an inappropriate slogan ‘rainbow nation’ (later discovered not to include the colour black in it), this was it. It invited everybody but the majority black people.
I have been a regular visitor to South Africa since the inauguration of Mandela and have seen the rise in anti-African xenophobia, bigotry and discrimination against Africans. This took the form, from day one, of an anti-African racist immigration and visa regime.
Unfortunately as with everything else, the ANC leadership particularly Thabo Mbeki, tried to intellectualise the problem instead of addressing it. Remember, this is a President who claimed he had never known a person who had died of AIDS; and when confronted by a grim rise in crime, he retorted by asking whether crime was rising or it was more regularly reported. Government propagandists even suggested that there was some conspiracy by enemies of the new government to discourage investment and undermine the new dispensation. While there may be some truth in this, given the skewed media ownership and control in the country, one must beg the issue. Media does not create crime waves.
The denial default of the Thabo leadership means that problems are not nipped in the bud but rather debated endlessly, subjected to all kinds of panels, probes and investigations without end.
The anti-African xenophobia went through these motions. Initially it was thought that xenophobia was limited to some illiterate citizens (ignoring the ugly heads of university campuses, public parastatals, NGOs and board rooms). Illiterate citizens who would soon be rid of their ignorance as prosperity spread a la neo-liberal economic policies predicated on perpetual growth, with enough economic crumbs dropping off the tables of the new black bourgeois elite for the masses. Of course this is not how it is turning out. The new elite have proven to be more rapacious and the economic model they chose is not delivering as envisaged. But instead of the excluded masses turning on their elite, they find it convenient to vent for their anger and frustration in refugees - migrants from Africa who they blame for their inadequate housing or for stealing their jobs.
It is instructive that this violence is directed predominantly at other black Africans principally Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Somalis, Mozambicans and other southern Africans. They are the majority of other Africans in the country. How come this ‘anger’ has not extended to white immigrants from Europe and the former Soviet Union? Why it is not directed at new immigrants from Asia including Chinese and Indians?
It is encouraging that after initial shock sections of the South African establishment (the Human Rights Commission for example), and more importantly parts of the civil society, especially the churches led by the Methodist Church (that has been providing refuge to African refugees and asylum seekers before this crisis) are beginning to speak out openly. There are also attempts by local communities to reclaim the streets from criminal bigots. President Thabo Mbeki’s reaction remains professorial: ‘What is behind this? Who is behind it?’ I heard him asking on SABC Africa. Why can he not understand that we do not expect questions from our leaders? We expect answers and actions; concrete actions. If the South African political leadership is failing us, why are African leaders whose citizens are being killed not saying anything? Can you imagine if even one European, Canadian or American citizen had been attacked, what the noise would have been like?
And what about our busybody civil society? Why are there no demonstrations in front of South African embassies and High Commissions across this continent and abroad? Are they waiting for donors? Did we need donors to demonstrate against white apartheid? Why are we silent in the face of this creeping black apartheid? There is no point in making moral claims by reminding South Africans how the rest of Africa sacrificed in cash and kind for their liberation. Their memory has proven too short for that. There is no point reminding them that many of them were refugees in the rest of Africa and there was no similar incident of mass xenophobia against them.
What we need to do is to demystify the widely held belief that every African wants to emigrate there and that Africans in South Africa are taking jobs away from South Africans. The University faculties are full of other Africans, especially Southern and Western Africans. Would South Africa be able to sustain the entire educational system without the skills of these academics? The Somali stores that are being burnt grew because of a niche in the market not being met. South Africans also need to be made aware that the prosperity of their country, which they think the rest of Africa is coveting, is not wholly generated from within; prosperity, internal and external jobs are increasingly dependent on the rest of Africa. DSTV, MTN, South African Airways, Shoprite, water and management corporations, farmers, banks and other South African businesses, are rapidly expanding and minting money across Africa.
If care is not taken to take decisive action to stop the violence against other Africans and challenge the widespread xenophobia, South African businesses and other interests across Africa will soon become legitimate targets, not just for demonstrations, but for campaigns of boycott and who knows, even targets for sabotage and revenge attacks across this continent. A country that sees itself as the beacon of African renaissance, originator of NEPAD and chief lecturer on human rights, democracy and constitutionalism should be ashamed of itself for treating other Africans so appallingly. Especially in light of the fact that many of their leaders were themselves refugees or migrants in other African countries for several years. The bigger shame, however, will go to other Africans, should they remain silent in the face of this brutality and gross abuse of their rights.
On Africa day say “No!” to an attack on any African, from Cape Town to Cairo, wherever you may be. You can do something. Do so now.
*Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is the Deputy Director of the UN Millennium Campaign in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He writes this article in his personal capacity as a concerned Pan-Africanist.
*Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Remembering Tonderai Ndira
Here below, Comrade Fatso remembers Tonderai Ndira, described by Voice of America as Zimbabwe's best-known activists. Speaking of Ndirai the VOA report says "his family and friends believe he has been arrested at least 35 times, certainly a record in Zimbabwe's political history. (And) last year he spent five months in detention.
Dead. A cold body in a mortuary. That’s how they found Tonde today. Abducted last week, he was tortured and beaten to death. An inspiring, young township freedom fighter whose words were in my ears last week, his breathing body in my eyes. Today the breath has been beaten out of him because he dared to believe that his people could be free. And dreams here are criminal things these days.
Tonderai Ndira was an example of everything that this military junta is trying to weed out and destroy. An energetic township organizer for the MDC, Tonde was inspiring to watch as he would lead us through his tree-lined Mabvuku suburb showing us his community’s problems and how they were determined to solve them. He was a true community activist, greeted by all who walked by and more popular than the local MP.
Once me and other comrades joined him for one of the most creative actions I’ve been in here. Mabvuku has had endless water shortages due to a corrupt City Council so letters supposedly from the Council were sent out to residents calling on them to come to the local Mabvuku council offices to discuss their plight. Soon there was a gathering at the offices of hundreds of Mabvuku residents, from water-bucket-on-head grandmothers to dread-locked scud-in-hand youths. The council representatives were overwhelmed and denied ever sending the letters. Angry residents told the officials and police where they wanted to stick their empty water buckets. Tonde, as usual, was in the forefront. The young and the old were united in their disdain for the answer-less officials. The riot police were called in. Santana trucks began hungrily chasing us and other township youths as we all evaporated into the sprawled out veins of dusty Mabvuku. But the point was made. No justice for us. No respect for you. And that is the message that Tonde’s activism has left written in the soil of his much-loved Mabvuku.
* Samm Farai Monro, better known as Comrade Fatso, is one of the most popular poets in the Zimbabwe arts scene. You can visit his blog at: http://comradefatso.vox.com
*Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
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