Pambazuka News 406: Obama: Avoiding cynicism and complacency
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Highlights from this issue
FEATURES: Tim Wise warns against cynicism about the significance of Obama's victory
COMMENTS AND ANALYSIS:
- Onyango Oloo on what the left can learn from Obama's victory
- Paul Tiyambe Zeleza on Obama and a maturing USA
- Pius Adesanmi on Obama and utopia versus dystopia for Africa
- Patrick Bond on Obama and growing concerns for Africa
- Stephen Zunes warns about the significance of Rahm Emanuel as Obama's chief of staff
- Kenya National Human Rights Commission statement on the Waki Kenya violence report
- Steve Sharra on Obama’s relationship to Africa
- Tajudeen Abdul Raheem on France's attempt at judicial vengance against Rwanda
LETTERS: Friends of the Congo, Sidi Music and more…
OBITUARIES: Miriam Makeba - Mama Afrika
BOOKS & ARTS: Tanja E. Bosch reviews Franz Kruger’s Radio Journalism tool kit
AFRICAN WRITER'S CORNER:
- Obama morning - poem by a Kenyan activist in exile
- Barracking for Obama – poem by Derek Fenton
- Interview with Christopher Mlalazi
BLOGGING AFRICA: Dibussi Tande rounds up African blogs
PODCASTS: On women getting a majority in Rwanda's parliament
AFRICAN UNION MONITOR: Great Lakes peace conference on the Congo and the UN
CHINA – AFRICA WATCH: Chinese three prong Ethiopia policyZIMBABWE UPDATE: Former ZAPU leaders opt out
WOMEN & GENDER: Kenyan women have to wait longer to claim funds
CONFLICT AND EMERGENCIES: DRC fighting causes humanitarian tragedy
HUMAN RIGHTS: Congolese children forced to fight
REFUGEES AND FORCED MIGRATION: Aid workers in DRC to relocate frontline refugees
SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: Kenyan activists arrested
ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE: Sata challenges Zambia poll result
CORRUPTION: Proposal to tax Kenya MP salaries withdrawn
DEVELOPMENT: World Bank in $100bn to poorest nations
HEALTH & HIV/AIDS: Global health inequity growing
EDUCATION: Bleak future for South African schools
LGBTI: Senegalese gay community regroups the demand rights
ENVIRONMENT: Cost of climate change in Namibia
LAND & LAND RIGHTS: Botswana’s Bushmen condemn Mo Ibrahim
MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Nigerien journalist freed with suspended sentence
INTERNET & TECHNOLOGY: Africa needs vernacular software
PLUS: e-newsletters and mailings lists; courses, seminars and workshops, and jobs
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Good, and now back to work
Avoiding cynicism and overconfidence in the age of Obama
cc. barakobamadotcomTonight, after Barack Obama was confirmed as the nation's president-elect, I looked in on my children, as they lay sleeping. Though they are about as politically astute as kids can be, having reached only the ages of seven and five, and there is no way they will be able to truly appreciate what has just happened in the land they call home. They do not possess the sense of history, or indeed, even a clear understanding of what history means, so as to adequately process what happened this evening, as they slumbered. Even as our oldest cast her first grade vote for Obama in school today, and even as our youngest has become somewhat notorious for pointing to pictures of Sarah Palin on magazines and saying ‘There's that crazy lady who hates polar bears’, they remain, still, naive as to the nation they have inherited. They do not really understand the tortured history of this place, especially as regards race. Oh they know more than most – to live as my children makes it hard not to – but still, the magnitude of this occasion will likely not catch up to them until Barack Obama is finishing at least his first, if not his second term as president.
But that's okay. Because I know what it means, and will make sure to tell them.
And before detailing what I perceive that meaning to be (both its expansiveness and limitations) let me say this, to some of those on the Left – some of my friends and long-time compatriots in the struggle for social justice – who insist that there is no difference between Obama and McCain, between Democrats and Republicans, between Biden and Palin: Screw you.
If you are incapable of mustering pride in this moment, and if you cannot appreciate how meaningful this day is for millions of black folks who stood in lines for up to seven hours to vote, then your cynicism has become such an encumbrance as to render you all but useless to the liberation movement. Indeed, those who cannot appreciate what has just transpired are so eaten up with nihilistic rage and hopelessness that I cannot but think that they are a waste of carbon, and actively thieving oxygen that could be put to better use by others.
This election does indeed matter. No, it is not the same as victory against the forces of injustice, and yes, Obama is a heavily compromised candidate, and yes, we will have to work hard to hold him accountable. But it matters nonetheless that he, and not the bloodthirsty bomber McCain, or the Christo-fascist, Palin, managed to emerge victorious.
Those who say it doesn't matter weren't with me on the south side of Chicago this past week, surrounded by a collection of amazing community organisers who go out and do the hard work every day of trying to help create a way out of no way for the marginalised. All of them know that an election is but a part of the solution, a tactic really, in a larger struggle of which they are a daily part, and none of them are so naive as to think that their jobs are now to become a cakewalk because of the election of Barack Obama. But all of them were looking forward to this moment. They haven't the luxury of believing in the quixotic campaigns of Dennis Kucinich, or waiting around for the Green Party to get its act together and become something other than a pathetic caricature, symbolised by the utterly irrelevant and increasingly narcissistic presence of Ralph Nader on the electoral scene. And while Cynthia McKinney remains a pivotal figure in the struggle, the party to which she was tethered this year shows no more ability to sustain movement activity than it did eight years ago, and most everyone working in oppressed communities in this nation knows it.
It's like this y'all: Jesse Jackson was weeping openly on national television. This is a man who was with Dr King when he was murdered and he was bawling like a baby. So don't tell me this doesn't matter.
John Lewis – who had his head cracked open, has been arrested more times, and has probably spilled far more blood for the cause of justice than all the white, dreadlocked, self-proclaimed anarchists in this country combined – couldn't be more thrilled at what has happened. If he can see it, then frankly, who the hell are we not to?
Those who say this election means nothing, who insist that Obama, because he cozied up to Wall Street, or big business, is just another kind of evil no different than any other, are in serious risk of political self-immolation, and it is a burning they will richly deserve. That the victorious presidential candidate is actually a capitalist (contrary to the fevered imaginations of the right) is no more newsworthy than the fact that rain falls down and grass grows skyward. It is to be properly placed in the ‘no shit Sherlock’ file. That anyone would think it possible for someone who didn't raise hundreds of millions of dollars to win – at this time in our history at least – only suggests that some on the Left would prefer to engage in politics from a place of aspirational innocence, rather than in the real world, where battles are won or lost.
So let us be clear as to what tonight meant: It was a defeat for the right-wing echo chamber and its rhetorical storm troopers, foremost among them Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.
It was a defeat for the crazed mobs ever-present at McCain-Palin rallies, what with their venomous libels against Obama, their hate-addled brains spewing forth one after another racist and religiously chauvinistic calumny upon his head and those of his supporters.
It was a defeat for the Internet rumour-pimps who insisted to all they could reach with a functioning email address that Obama was not really a citizen. Or perhaps he was, but he was a Muslim, or perhaps not a Muslim, but probably a black supremacist, or maybe not that either, but surely the anti-Christ, and most definitely a baby-killer.
It was a defeat for those who believed McCain and Palin would be delivered the victory by the hand of almighty God, because their theological and eschatological vacuity so regularly gets in the way of their ability to think. As such, it was a setback for the religious fascists in the far-Right Christian community whose belief that God is on their side has always made them especially dangerous. Now, having lost, perhaps at least some of these will be forced to ponder what went wrong. If we're lucky, perhaps some will suffer the kind of crisis of faith that often prefaces a complete nervous breakdown. Either way, it's nice just to ruin their young-earth-creationist-I-have-an-angel-on-my-shoulder day.
It was a defeat for the demagogues who tried in so many ways to push the buttons of white racism – the old-fashioned kind, or what I call Racism 1.0 – by using thinly-veiled racialised language throughout the campaign. Appeals to Joe Six-Pack, ‘values voters’, blue-collar voters, or hockey moms, though never explicitly racialised, were transparent to all but the most obtuse, as were terms like ‘terrorist’ when used to describe Obama. Likewise, the attempt to race-bait the economic crisis by blaming it on loans to poor folks of colour through the Community Reinvestment Act, or community activists like the folks at ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), failed, and this matters. No, it doesn't mean that white America has rejected racism. Indeed, I have been quite deliberate for months about pointing out the way that Racism 1.0 may be traded in, only to be replaced by Racism 2.0 (which allows whites to still view most folks of colour negatively but carve out exceptions for those few who make us feel comfortable and who we see as ‘different’). And yet, that tonight was a drubbing for that 1.0 version of racism still matters.
And tonight was a victory for a few things too.
It was a victory for youth, and their social and political sensibilities. It was the young, casting away the politics of their parents and even grandparents, and turning the corner to a new day, perhaps naively, and too optimistic about the road from here, but nonetheless in a way that has historically almost always been good for the country. Much as youth were inspired by a relatively moderate John F. Kennedy (who was, on balance, far less progressive than Obama in many ways), and much as they then formed the frontline troops for so much of the social justice activism of the following fifteen years, so too can such a thing be foreseen now. That Kennedy may have been quite restrained in his social justice sensibilities did not matter; the young people whose energy he helped unleash took things in their own direction and outgrew him rather quickly in their progression to the Left.
Tonight was also a victory for the possibility of greater cross-racial alliance building. Although Obama failed to win most white votes, and although it is no doubt true that many of the whites who did vote for him nonetheless hold onto any number of negative and racist stereotypes about the larger black and brown communities of this nation, it is still the case that black, brown and white worked together in this effort as they have rarely done before. And many whites who worked for Obama, precisely because they got to see, and hear, and feel the racist vitriol still animating far too many of our nation's people, will now be wiser for the experience when it comes to understanding how much more work remains to be done on the racial justice front. Let us build on that newfound knowledge, and that newfound energy, and create real white ally-ship with community-based leaders of colour as we move forward in the years to come.
But now for the other side of things.
First and foremost, please know that none of these victories will amount to much unless we do that which needs to be done so as to turn a singular event about one man, into a true social movement (which, despite what some claim, it is not yet and has never been).
And so it is back to work. Oh yes, we can savour the moment for a while, for a few days, perhaps a week. But well before inauguration day we will need to be back on the job, in the community, in the streets, where democracy is made, demanding equity and justice in places where it hasn't been seen in decades, if ever. Because for all the talk of hope and change, there is nothing – absolutely, positively nothing – about real change that is inevitable. And hope, absent real pressure and forward motion to actualise one's dreams, is sterile and even dangerous. Hope, absent commitment is the enemy of change, capable of translating to a giving away of one's agency, to a relinquishing of the need to do more than just show up every few years and push a button or pull a lever.
This means hooking up now with the grass roots organisations in the communities where we live, prioritising their struggles, joining and serving with their constituents, following leaders grounded in the community who are accountable not to Barack Obama, but the people who helped elect him. Let Obama follow, while the people lead, in other words.
For we who are white it means going back into our white spaces and challenging our brothers and sisters, parents, neighbours, colleagues and friends – and ourselves – on the racial biases that still too often permeate their and our lives, and making sure they know that the success of one man of colour does not equate to the eradication of systemic racial inequity.
So are we ready for the heavy lifting? This was, after all, merely the warm-up exercise, somewhat akin to stretching before a really long run. Or perhaps it was the first lap, but either way, now the baton has been handed to you, to us. We must not, cannot, afford to drop it. There is too much at stake.
The worst thing that could happen now would be for us to go back to sleep, to allow the cool poise of Obama's prose to lull us into slumber like the cool on the underside of the pillow. For in the light of day, when fully awake, it becomes impossible not to see the incompleteness of the task so far.
So let us begin.
* Tim Wise is the 2008 Oliver L. Brown Distinguished Visiting Scholar for Diversity Issues at Washburn University, in Topeka, Kansas. He is the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, and Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White. This article originally appeared at www.racialicious.com and can be found here.
What the global Left can learn from Obama's victory
On the Friday after the historic Tuesday, Kenyans were still ululating and gyrating to the beat of the Obama presidential landslide. There was a public holiday decreed by our doddering head of state (forgetting for a moment that Kibaki himself stole an equally fiercely contested election just a few months ago), while a market-savvy brewer promoted one of its labels from senator to president (albeit in a limited edition). In the same spirit, a backstreet smarts guerrilla music producer unleashed a breaking news Benga-tinged praise song awash with brand new footage from the Grant Park site of the acceptance speech by Illinois's most famous politician, and in the classifieds at the very back of the daily newspapers, an innovative ‘Obama Sale’ to entice and pamper politically primed penny pinchers appeared, while in the maternity wards of Kenya we saw the appearance of instant Baracks and Barakas, including a fresh pair of fraternal Kisumu twins with the monikers Michelle and Barack. And on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation's Kiswahili Service, an Obama campaign ditty by Trinidad's legendary calypso griot Mighty Sparrow continues the spirit of elation…
But in our excitement, some of us have propelled Obama to near messianic, almost mythical heights, even though the man himself (and his very down to earth spouse) frequently reminded his huge audiences that he is a very fallible human being with more than a couple of foibles just like the rest of us. In once in a life time global moments like this, we must pause and revisit the phenomenon of outstanding leaders and the historical circumstances which propel them to the national and world stages. It is my argument that if Barack Obama had never been born 47 years ago, history would still have invented him. Now, I know that I have just uttered what to some is a confusing and cryptic remark. What I am saying is that the concrete historical and material circumstances in the United States provided the fertiliser that allowed a neophyte first-time African-American senator like Barack Obama to knock on the doors of destiny in the early 21st century.
After eight years of the fascist, neoconservative and neoliberal Bush administration it was almost imperative that a leader would arise as an antidote to all those years of jingoistic and militaristic insanity, those delusions of prosperity spurred by oodles of snake oil from the crass neoliberal salesmen of global monopoly capitalism and the gross xenophobia of the bloodthirsty racists who denigrated Arabs and other people of colour using the canards of the Bush Doctrine. The specific set of socio-economic and political circumstances created the pre-conditions that allowed the talents, the vim, the fervour, the vigour, the inspiration, the charisma of a biracial Illinois constitutional professor turned senator to galvanise a grass roots movement and drive the pilots of the MV Project for a New American Century out of town and straight into the dustbins of political rejection. Remember, Obama has been living on this planet for almost half a century now. Eight years ago he failed miserably in his bid to be a member of the US Congress. Today he is on the brink of making history.
What is the difference? The time. Or rather the timing of his remarkable rise. It was important for Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice and co. to rise to power to enable Obama to make history.
He is a leader who is needed in the United States at this time. In the future there will be other Obamas who may or may not even make it past their local counties and state legislatures. That is what I meant when I said a moment ago that if Obama had never been born, the disaster known as the Bush reign of terror would have created him anyway. Philosophically, I am very much influenced by Marxist thought and I agree wholeheartedly with the excerpt I have included at length below:
‘The role of great men [and women – Oloo] in history can be understood only by examining their activity in relation to the class struggle, to the activity of large social groups and to the struggle between these groups. Outstanding public men [and women - Oloo] are not the creators of events and movements but the leaders of the masses, of social classes. The support they receive from large social groups is, in fact, the source of their strength. No matter how gifted and intelligent these leaders may be in themselves, without such support they are powerless and incapable of exercising any significant influence on the course of events... Whether people with exceptional abilities come to the fore or not is inseparably connected with the operation of historical law.
‘There are always talented, gifted people in society. But only the appearance of a social need for people possessing certain capabilities, certain qualities of mind and character, can bring such people to the fore and create the necessary conditions for this. This is seen particularly strikingly in an epoch of revolutions, when hundreds of thousands of people come to direct public affairs, people who shortly before were quite unknown and who under the conditions of the old system could find no application of their talents and abilities. In exactly the same way the social demand in time of war creates conditions for the promotion of people possessing qualities of generalship. Who it is who comes to the fore under certain social conditions remains, of course, a matter of chance, the actual fact of the promotion of people whose qualities correspond to the needs of the age has the character of a natural law... Whether a particular outstanding public figure arises or not is a matter of chance, but this does not mean that anybody could occupy his (or her) place and carry out (their) historical mission. To perform that task appropriate qualities and abilities are needed. It is usually therefore people possessing such qualities to a greater or lesser degree who come to the fore as leaders...’(1)
In other words, what I am also saying is that students of Obama-mania must also examine the role that US progressive forces, particularly anti-war activists, radical democrats, anti-racists, feminists, LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bi-Sexual-Transsexual) foot soldiers, youth advocates, environmentalists and other militant groups have played in confronting the excesses of Bush and his big business supporters. We must factor in democratic and anti-imperialist forces around the world, from Latin America, to Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, North America and Europe who have mobilised and organised against the neoliberal global agenda. It is not an accident that there were 200,000 people in Berlin to drink in Barack Obama's every word a few months ago. In today's globalised world, we are all Americans to the extent that US imperialist policies impact on every one of our countries and therefore we all had a life and death stake in helping decide whom the next occupant of the White House will be.
Lest we forget, Obama's triumph is not an isolated incident in the Americas. It follows the consolidation of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez, the success of the Movement Towards Socialism in Bolivia under Evo Morales – himself of indigenous stock, the ascendancy to the presidency in Paraguay of a left-wing outsider and pro-poor priest, a strike against the IMF and the World Bank in Ecuador and Argentina by progressive regimes, and the repeated success of Lula da Silva, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), and popular forces in Brazil (even with its centrist drift lately).
It is sweet but stale news by now that the world's candidate for the US presidency has prevailed, like Muhammad Ali in an unforgettable gruelling bout against a McCain-Sonny Liston from the yesteryears of the American political establishment.
Yes, let us savour that epic victory that is set to define an aspect of this epoch.
But will Obama deliver on all our dreams, aspirations and desires? Will he end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and stop the imperialist forays into Pakistan? Will he stop the meltdown of the global casino capitalist economy? Will he liberate Africa and the Third World from the peony, penury and pillory of the evil Bretton Woods twins? And end the Washington consensus against the Global South?
Will he restore the tens of thousands of foreclosed homes across the United States and guarantee full employment to his fellow Americans? Will he thwart the nuclear threat to human survival, sign the Kyoto Protocol, release Mumia Abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier and the Cuban Five? Will he shut down the Guantánamo Bay torture centre and take Bush and Rumsfeld to the International Criminal Court (ICC)?
This is where we all have to come crashing back to planet earth.
Yes, it is true that Obama has exceptional leadership qualities that allowed him to trounce the Clintons and all those Democratic Party big wigs in the race for his party's nomination. Yes, it is true that John McCain is running against eight years of failed Republican policies. Yes, it is true that progressive global humanity gave the much-needed impetus for Obama to rise to the top.
But, and this is an important caveat, Barack Obama would not have secured the Democratic ticket to run for president if the monopoly bourgeoisie in the United States felt that he posed a grave danger to their class interests in the United States and around the world. International finance capital vetted Obama and saw in him a pair of very steady hands at the helm of the US Empire.
I have not been surprised to see the evolution of Barack Obama Jr. from a left-of-centre progressive Democrat to a centre right mainstream politician who promises to bomb Pakistan, kill Osama bin Laden and support the apartheid regime in Israel to the hilt.
We are thus confronted with the surreal contradiction:
Obama, the antidote to Bush, has all but guaranteed that he will pursue policies that will ‘stabilise’ the rule of international finance capital. Is Obama therefore a political charlatan that we should guard against? Or did he move deliberately to the right in order not to antagonise the Zionist and big business lobbies who would have blocked his election as the 44th President of the United States?
Many leftwing voices, like the prominent American commentator James Petras, think that Barack Obama is no friend of anti-imperialist and radical forces around the world. In a recent piece, Petras gave 12 reasons why he was rejecting Obama and voting for either Cynthia McKinney (former US Congresswoman and now the flag bearer for the US Greens) or Ralph Nader, the perennial radical loser/spoiler. Ralph Nader himself unleashed an Open Letter to Obama on 3 November in which he had less than complimentary things to say to the new US president.
Given all this leftist disquiet around the world, why is Onyango Oloo, a dyed-in-the wool Kenyan Marxist-Leninist, rooting for Obama? Is it because he shares part of my Luo and Kenyan heritage?
I think it is because the Obama presidency represents a very significant democratic breakthrough in contemporary world politics. The symbolism of an African-American president goes beyond the shallowness of skin colour and the superficialities of ethnic identity or national origin. We have seen African-Americans at the citadels of US power before – Condoleeza Rice is arguably the most powerful woman in the world. But like her boss Bush, she is universally reviled, not withstanding the fact that she is African-American and a woman as well. And much as he later cut a suave, sober urbane figure, we could never forget the fact that General Colin Powell helped supervise the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.
Obama, on the other hand, is at the apex of a progressive national and international coalition against neoliberalism despite his overt ties to a section of the US big business interests. For me, I think the best analogy is to compare Obama to Mandela.
Now strictly speaking, Obama is not comparable to the great Nelson Mandela, the most widely respected world statesman still living. What I am referring to is the fact that Nelson Mandela towered above other global leaders despite the fact that strictly speaking his politics were really not that radical or revolutionary.
As a matter of historical record, Thabo Mbeki's discredited neoliberal policies known as Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) in South Africa were first initiated in 1996 when Nelson Mandela was still president. The South African Communist Party refers to these policies as the 1996 Class Project.
We still revere Mandela for pioneering the historic democratic breakthrough that triggered the collapse of the main pillars of the apartheid edifice in South Africa. Were we to examine his socio-economic policies under a harsh ideological lens, we would find that our beloved Madiba is completely culpable in the current spate of high unemployment, xenophobia and growing class contradictions gripping post-apartheid South Africa.
But we know that the Nelson Mandela that history will remember is not the co-architect of GEAR but rather the iconic ANC leader who endured 27 years in the dungeons and penitentiaries of the former apartheid state at the southern tip of our mother continent. Likewise, whatever else Barack Obama does with the 44th Presidency of the United States, posterity will remember the history he made on 4 November 2008.
Abraham Lincoln is credited with the legal emancipation of slaves in the United States. Who remembers his many, many significant flaws and drawbacks? Who remembers that George Washington was a slave owner?
Of course, Obama's complete legacy will not be determined nor can it be examined until after he leaves political office, whether it be after four years or two terms from now. Since that task is not only premature but impossible to carry out today, in early November, even before he has been sworn in, let us restrict ourselves to lifting our glasses in a toast to his famous victory for now at least.
But that is not all I have to say on the subject. For progressive, leftwing forces around the world I have the following observations to share:
As Vladimir Lenin and other Marxists said time and time again, the most direct path to socialism and revolution is through democracy. In other words, we must be swimming in the midst of the mass democratic tumult, participating in all the contemporary struggles in order not only to remain relevant, but keep the people vigilant about the long term tasks of progressive humanity. It is only by being part of these major struggles involving millions upon millions of fighting people that we can champion, in a credible way, our more radical and more sustainable agendas for social, economic, and political transformation.
If you were a German or a European in the 1930s and 1940s and did not take up against Hitler and Nazism, you forfeited any claims to be progressive. Likewise, you could not call yourself a ‘revolutionary’ in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s if you did not act in solidarity with South Africans in their struggle against apartheid or the Palestinians in their quest for national liberation. In the 2000s you were a bogus radical if you did not understand the importance of dislodging George Bush and his fascist Republican cabal from their perch and stranglehold of state power in the United States. To that extent supporting an Obama presidency was a democratic and even dare I say a revolutionary imperative for anyone – be they African, Asian, Caribbean, European, Latin or North American – who considered themselves even remotely ‘leftist’ (notwithstanding the ideological limitations of Barack Obama the individual). As he himself said, the election campaign was never really about him as a person, or even black people as a race.
The broad democratic movement in the United States which put together the grand coalition that voted out Bush's acolytes from office has important lessons to those of us in the Left who spend too much time navel-gazing and hair-splitting and far less time mobilising and organising ordinary people to fight for peace, democracy, and social transformation. I once read a quip (this was way back, perhaps in 1987) in the World Marxist Review from a Mexican communist decrying the fact that if only took two Leftists to come up with five political parties and ‘movements’ between them. Our challenge as communists, socialists, leftists, anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists, revolutionaries – whatever label we choose to pin on our lapels – is to combine our profound transformational visions with the hungry and urgent aspirations of millions of ordinary world citizens who have never heard of or read from Mao, Marx, Regis Debray, Che Guevara, Castro, Cabral, Chris Hani, Ho Chi Minh, Lenin, Angela Davis, Thomas Sankara, Maurice Bishop, Louis Althusser, György Lukács, Aijaz Ahmed, Terry Eagleton, CLR James, Kwame Nkrumah, Emmanuel ‘Blade’ Nzimande, Mahmood Mamdani, Yash Tandon, or Issa Shivji. We cannot afford the luxury of cynicism or the delusional complacency of insisting that our fractious little sects are the ones that will save global humanity from the perfidy of the capitalist monster.
This does not mean capitulating however to the wishy-washy liberal democrats or the flip-flopping rightward-drifting social democrats the world over. It does not mean, as it did for a whole bunch of communist and leftist parties in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, liquidating our revolutionary formations, abdicating our ideological principles, and stampeding to amorphous alliances.
Obama's historic triumph is therefore both a welcome democratic breakthrough as well as a challenge to all progressive humanity to keep their eyes on the ultimate democratic and revolutionary prize. This puts the accent on learning from and building on the massive, efficient machine that created the American popular movement for democracy, a machine that has now placed the son of a Kenyan foreign student and the daughter of American working-class parents in the most powerful office in the world.
* Onyango Oloo is a Kenyan political activist and former political prisoner.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
(1) Otto Kuusinen, Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, pp.222-7.
President Obama: America finally grows up
Paul Tiyambe Zeleza
America and the world have witnessed a historic victory in a historic election by a historic candidate. It was an amazing night, exhilarating in its significance and symbolism, electrifying in its sheer pleasure and possibilities, a rare moment when pure joy seemed to transcend, if only fleetingly, the cruel hierarchies and schisms of race, class, gender, and nationality that have stalked and scarred this vast, bounteous land of unfulfilled promises called the United States of America. I was there at Grant Park in downtown Chicago, when the young first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, accompanied by his beautiful family, ascended the stage before an ecstatic crowd of a quarter-million people gathered to bear witness to the rewriting of American history, overwhelmed and empowered by the once implausible and dizzying rendezvous with America's future.
Obama won a landslide victory, and his long coattails carried the Democratic Party to undivided power in Washington. In January the Democrats will control the White House, the Senate – to which they added six seats (4 Senate seats are yet to be declared as I write and if the Democrats win all four they will enjoy a filibuster proof majority) – bringing their total to 56. They also captured 20 House of Representatives seats raising their total to 255 against 173 for the Republicans (the results for seven seats are still pending). Following their traumatic defeat the infighting that had already started within the McCain-Palin campaign in the waning days of the election fuelled in part by angry defections by some leading conservative intellectuals appalled at Palin's selection is sure to erupt into a virtual civil war for the soul of the now rudderless Republican Party.
As I walked to the park with friends, the city roared with excitement I had not seen since I relocated here almost two years ago, car horns honked with musical abandon, the crammed streets danced with history, strangers greeted each other with screams of Obama, vendors briskly sold Obama t-shirts and memorabilia, giddy Obama smiles seemed to be everywhere, together with tears of incredulity. In the park Jesse Jackson cried, Oprah Winfrey cried, and many others cried with happiness unknown for years and decades and centuries since this country was founded as an imperfect union of European masters and African slaves. Elsewhere Condoleeza Rice, the current Secretary of State and her predecessor, Colin Powell, choked with tears, too. Now, a black man was about to speak as the president-elect. It was awe-inspiring indeed.
President-Elect Obama's striking presence and splendid speech seemed to lift the spirits and imaginations of an audience and a nation and a world hungry for change, exhausted from the ravages of the Bush years, indeed the legacies of the destructive divisions spawned by the original sin of slavery and the aggressive reflexes of unbridled capitalism and imperialism at home and abroad. ‘It has been a long time coming’, the newly elected president declared. And the crowds chanted, ‘Yes, we can!’ America had, at last, shattered the racial ceiling to the country's highest office and appeared ready to grow up and return to the world chastened by the calamities in the treacherous theatres of unwinnable wars fomented by misguided unilateralism.
The victory of President-Elect Obama is historic because he is the first African-American to scale to the pinnacle of power in the world's richest and most powerful country. Since the 1960s African-Americans have been breaking one barrier after another in fields ranging from sports to entertainment, academia to the arts, business to politics as mayors, members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, and governors, but the presidency seemed impregnable, a fortified zone for white males, certainly not open to a junior black senator with an exotic name who began his improbable quest twenty-two months ago just a few years after bursting onto the national scene with an inspiring speech at the 2004 Democratic Party convention. His vision of the indivisibility of the so-called blue states and red states – a metaphor for the need for both political and racial reconciliation – struck an instant and powerful chord.
President-Elect Obama enjoys other less momentous but significant firsts. He is the first northern liberal Democratic President since John F. Kennedy; Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were southerners. He won the biggest mandates in the popular vote and electoral vote since President Johnson. Educated at the Ivy League schools of Columbia and Harvard, and a former law professor at the renowned University of Chicago, Obama is an accomplished writer and sharp thinker, a man who exemplifies public intelligence in his preference for mature dialogue with the electorate in a political culture that was becoming dangerously captivated by the blissful anti-intellectualism of a George W. Bush and the banality of a Sarah Palin (who if the post-election Republican bloodletting is to be believed apparently didn't even know Africa was a continent!). And Obama is going to be the first post-baby boomer president, who was only a child when the cultural wars that have wrecked American political discourse and civility broke out, and whose unproductive polarisations he seems to disdain.
This has been a historic election because it represents a potential realignment in American politics, a reversal of the Republicanisation of America, which I wrote about on this site immediately after the 2004 elections. The Republican Party's anti-civil rights southern strategy and political stranglehold over national affairs has suffered a major, maybe even historic, defeat. President Johnson clearly understood that with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally enfranchised African-Americans, the Democratic Party would lose the South for a generation. If the Republican era emerged in the late 1960s out of the fragmentation of the liberal Democratic coalition, which had been dominant since the catastrophe of the Great Depression, this election has been a referendum on the modern Republican era, and may usher a new epoch in American politics. The victory of President-Elect Obama and the Democratic Party represents a repudiation of this period in modern American history, the demise of the Republican agenda that has held sway for four decades, notwithstanding brief interludes under the Democratic administrations of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
The Republican political and electoral hegemony – the marriage between neoliberalism and neoconservatism – created under Richard Nixon, consolidated under Ronald Reagan and crushed under George W. Bush reached its destructive apotheosis. The Republican dream of creating a permanent electoral majority collapsed under the onerous weight of hubris, lies, incompetence, and crisis. The Bush administration, arguably one of the worst in American history, squandered any superior Republican claims as custodians of the economy, national security, and moral values. The economy slowed as budget surpluses left by the Clinton administration turned into huge deficits, national debt doubled to $10 trillion, the rate of job creation declined while the ranks of those without health insurance increased, and wealth was distributed upwards with regressive tax policies that widened the gap between the rich and the rest. The economy finally cratered in the Wall Street meltdown of last September, which accelerated the slide towards recession and unleashed fears of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Suddenly, bankers and other high priests of capitalism became converts to the virtues of state intervention as they stretched their greedy hands for a public bailout of nearly $1 trillion.
In the meantime, the overstretched military was bogged down in two major wars including the long, costly and bungled war in Iraq launched under false pretences. Unilateralism, combined with the shameful scandals of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, had left the United States more despised than feared, more vulnerable to terrorist assault and global censure and irrelevance than ever before. Compassionate conservatism was buried in the wrath of Hurricane Katrina that showed the gross incompetence of the administration, the callousness of the roosting chickens of neoliberalism, and the explosive mix of race and class. Personal and political shenanigans including corruption, cronyism, and contempt for the law exposed the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of many a Republican leader, and their party's cynical manipulation of social issues from abortion to gay rights as divisive wedges in the unfinished cultural wars of the 1960s.
With such a tarnished record and a widely loathed president (one who suffered record low approval ratings), the Republican Party's chances of winning the elections were severely compromised. Such were the depths of the president's unpopularity that he was virtually quarantined from the campaign; hardly any republican candidate wanted to appear in public with him, not even the Republican nominee, John McCain. But there was no let up from the Obama-Biden and Democratic National Party campaigns, which relentlessly tied the Republican candidates and Senator McCain to their party's and president's records. The public heard the message that a McCain administration would represent the third term of the Bush presidency.
Senator McCain did not help his own candidacy by his rightward drift as he desperately sought to solidify support among the Republican base that had eluded him during the primaries and for much of a political career built on the vacuous label of ‘maverick'. The longer the campaign ran, the more the candidate became unglued and the electorate saw a grumpy old man given to erratic behaviour, dishonesty, condescension, a sense of entitlement, and bad judgment. He changed his message with impetuous frequency pandering to populist fears, rightwing pundits, racist paranoia, unfavourable polls, and unpredictable events, with no consistent narrative, no clear indication of what a McCain administration would entail beyond pursuing the discredited Republican mantra of national security, low taxes, and divisive patriotism.
This was revealed quite glaringly and alarmingly in his inept response to the financial crisis and his self-serving fictitious suspension of his campaign, and most damagingly by his reckless and cynical choice of the clearly unqualified and overzealous Sarah Palin, who succeeded in firing both the Republican and Democratic bases and dragging the ticket down as her negatives piled the more her ignorance and fanaticism were exposed. The more the public saw the two campaigns – the McCain-Palin ticket and the Obama-Biden ticket during the crucial presidential and vice-presidential debates – the more the latter took the shine for calm competence, for steady and safe, even inspired, leadership.
Cynicism turned into farce as Joe the Plumber was discovered and elevated into the putative everyman of white America, the bulwark against Obama's redistributionist economics of ‘welfare' and ‘socialism', codes in Republican thinking for undeserving racial minorities and Democratic profligacy. Joe the Plumber's proverbial fifteen minutes of fame came after earlier charges that Obama palled around with domestic terrorists seemed to leave no traction; indeed they appeared to backfire for their meanness and irrelevance. The choice of Professor Bill Ayers, a 1960s radical, as Obama's terrorist comrade revealed the unfinished cultural wars of the 1960s, especially the bitter struggle over Vietnam in which the two, McCain and Ayers, represented the lingering conflict between the soldier and the anti-war activist.
But it would be gravely mistaken to attribute the historic victory of President-Elect Obama and the Democrats simply to a vote against Senator McCain and the Republicans. Their victory is a tribute to their own actions and agency. Senator Obama has been a historic candidate because of his personal and political biographies and the organisational novelties of his incredible campaign that crushed the formidable Clintons in the Democratic Party during the primaries, a contest that prepared him for his epic battle with the ruthless Republican campaign during the presidential elections.
As I have written in several commentaries on this site, Senator Obama has been a compelling candidate because he represented better than virtually all his opponents the quintessential American of the 21st century at a time when the country becomes more diverse and undergoes profound changes in its demographic, economic, spatial, social, and ideological dynamics. This is to suggest that there are different Obamas that appeal to various constituencies among the electorate and the imaginaries that collectively constitute this exceedingly complex and fascinating country. This is what, in part, lies behind his amazing political attractiveness, his charisma, the Obamania that has gripped the United States and the rest of the world.
There is Obama the black man, who embodies the dreams of African-Americans for full citizenship and redress from a long history of exploitation, oppression, and marginalisation. The fact that Obama is not a descendant of enslaved Africans, explains the earlier discourses around him in black communities as to whether he was ‘black enough’, which disappeared as soon as he became a credible electoral hope for the race during the primaries beginning with his stunning victories in the Iowa caucuses and on Super Tuesday. It also accounts for his popularity among many whites comfortable with a black man untainted by the unrequited memories of slavery and looking for redemption and a post-racial future.
Obama as the son of a foreigner invokes the cherished migrant narrative of American history in which non-African-Americans tend to see themselves as descendants of brave or heroic migrants who often came with little and prospered in their new homeland and left their offspring with the possibilities of the American Dream. Thus, the migrant narrative serves to ennoble American history, sanitising it of the indelible stains of the forced migrations of the enslaved Africans, while also providing a convenient mode of distancing between the historic and new African diasporas in this land of overlapping diasporas.
The biracial Obama, the offspring of a black Kenyan man and a white Kansas woman, appeals to people of mixed race whether those from contemporary interracial marriages or from much older unions who are tired of the one-drop rule and anxious to embrace their dual or multiple racial heritages. The biracial identity was given official recognition in the 2000 census, a reflection of the fact that the US is moving away from its historic black-white racial system into a multiple racial system common in parts of Latin America and Africa, and in keeping with the country's growing diversity as a result of increased migrations from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. As a biracial, Obama escapes exclusive black appropriation and identification and is more acceptable to whites than a typically ‘black' candidate would have been.
For their part, recent African immigrants identify with Obama as one of them, a beacon of hope for their own offspring, a man whose life trajectory offsets the pains and perils of migration and affirms its opportunities and promises. This explains the enormous enthusiasm Obama's candidacy has generated among the new African diasporas many of whom for the first time began to actively participate in the American political process. President-Elect Obama's victory, it is safe to predict, will lead to more African immigrants in the United States to become citizens, to the strengthening of the often fraught relations between African-Americans and the new African immigrants.
Obamania extends to Africa itself and especially Kenya, the homeland of the new President-Elect's father. People across Africa have been following the elections with unusually avid interest. When Senator Obama's victory was announced celebrations broke throughout Kenya and elsewhere on the continent. Indeed, the entire world seems to have been electrified by this historic achievement, which has earned the United States some of the goodwill, the moral capital, it squandered so recklessly under the Bush years. The President-elect's global appeal springs in part from the fact that he is transnational in a way that none of his competitors in the primary and presidential elections were: he was brought up in Indonesia and has personal relatives scattered on several continents. The world has invested in Obama hopes of a more benevolent and multilateral America. For cosmopolitan Americans anxious for global respect, Obama offers an invaluable ticket to the world.
President-Elect Obama's historic victory owes much to the extraordinary prowess of his campaign, whose organisation is probably unmatched in American history. He and his managers built an electoral machinery of hope and audacity that was unprecedented in its innovativeness and reach by combining old-fashioned grassroots community organising, political rallies, and digital mobilisation from the Internet to cell phones in a seamless web of recruitment, networking and empowerment for campaign volunteers and supporters, voter registration drives, and fundraising. The results were astounding: they out-organised and out-fundraised the McCain campaign as they raked in more than $600 million from more than 3 million donors and opened thousands of offices across the country.
The fabled Republican electoral machine that had outperformed the Democrats in election after election with its Karl Rovian tactics of fear and voter micro-targeting was no match to Obama's Chicago boys. In the closing weeks of the election, save for the so-called blue-state of Pennsylvania, the Obama campaign was fighting offence in the so-called Republican red-states. Obama flipped nine of the red-states: Colorado and Nevada, and New Mexico in the West, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio in the Mid-West, and Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida in the South. It was a rout: McCain did not flip a single blue state.
The superior organisation, steely discipline, and strategic astuteness of the Obama campaign were complimented by the charismatic leadership, soaring eloquence, and unflappable temperament of the candidate himself. As the electorate got to know him better, Obama eroded any doubt they may have had about his readiness to be commander-in-chief. Ironically, it was the more experienced and better-known McCain who increasingly appeared indecisive and unreliable as the campaign unfolded. Obama's leadership qualities became particularly evident during the presidential debates and in the thoughtful manner in which he appeared to respond to the financial crisis on Wall Street and the rumbling storms of recession. As McCain frantically shifted from one campaign gimmick to another and ratcheted up negative attacks on Obama, the latter stuck to his message of hope and his focus on the economy. Little of the mud thrown at him by the McCain-Palin campaign and the Republican National Committee in the waning days of the campaign invoking the selective and once incendiary clips of Reverend Wright seemed to rattle his self-composure, to stick on the teflon-coated Obama.
Campaigns and leaders, however good they might be are, in the end, only successful if they respond effectively to their times. This, ultimately, is the explanation of Obama's historic victory. His campaign and candidacy captured and responded to the fierce urgency of a country in transition and crisis; the shifting racial, generational, gender, and class dynamics in the ecology of American society and politics, a proud nation of over-consumption gripped by dreadful economic fears as the unregulated chickens of neoliberalism have come home to roost. There was the growing diversity and decomposition of the binary racial system noted earlier; the rise of post-boomer and post-civil rights generations, including Obama himself, who were impatient with or oblivious to the cultural wars of the 1960s; growing familiarity among whites with professional and highly successful blacks in many walks of life, and the development of less racially polarised social spaces and encounters, notwithstanding the persistence of racialised social inequalities and injustices most savagely manifested in the growth of the prison industrial complex. This is why Obama won every demographic group except for those aged 65 and older.
In short, the class restructuring of the African-American community and the society at large facilitated by the civil rights movement and settlement of the 1960s helped pluralise blackness and disentangle it from the homogenising pathologisations of segregation. This is the context that made an Obama victory possible, but also means that his victory does not entail the end of racialised class inequalities for African-Americans. His election does not herald the end of racism, some aspects of which could even increase as the wider society prides itself in its historic achievement and abandons efforts to ameliorate the historic effects and contemporary manifestations of racial inequality. In electing Obama America has indeed grown up, but a post-racial future remains a distant mirage. However, there is no denying that many whites and blacks will see themselves differently.
As I walked with the ebullient crowd from Grant Park in the unseasonably pleasant air of this historic night back to my car parked a couple or so miles away, I thought of the two other occasions I had experienced similar euphoria. The first was in April 1994, when like millions of people around the world, I sat glued to the television and watched South Africans cast the yoke of apartheid into the dustbin of history as Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country's first democratically elected president. The second was also in 1994, in May, when I returned to my homeland, Malawi, after seventeen years of self-imposed exile from the Banda dictatorship, to witness the country's first post-independence democratic elections, which the opposition party proceeded to win.
On those two previous occasions, like last night, the future seemed brighter than we had dared imagine only a few short years before. But the structural weight of the past soon cast its shadows on this future. The challenges ahead for President Obama are immense indeed: to rebuild the economy, repair the welfare state, heal the divided nation, rejoin the world without squandering this brief moment of global celebration of America's democratic self-renewal with imperial arrogance and misguided wars. But for now, one could be forgiven for basking in the glory of the moment, in Obama's incredible victory, in America's Mandela moment, which was unimaginable until it actually happened.
* Paul Tiyambe Zeleza is Professor of African Studies and History, Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of more than twenty books and winner of the 1994 Noma Award and the 1998 Special Commendation of the Noma Award for two of the books.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
We are now in charge: ‘That one’, utopia, and Africa
The Obama window of opportunity?
And it came to pass that Senator McCain’s ‘That One!’ made history. For himself. For his family. For America. For the black race. For all of us. A great deal of ink has already flown on the significance of this epochal event and I do not intend to rehash the broad themes of our collective euphoria. So seismic is Barack Obama’s acension to the most powerful political office in the world – and in so phenomenal a manner – that a reputable Nigerian pundit, Rudolf Okonkwo, has already suggested we discard the temporal markers BC and AD for BO and AO – Before Obama and After Obama. I use the word euphoria to draw attention to the need for vigilance and remembrance. Remembrance of a time not too long ago when we, Africans, waxed euphoric and ecstatic over what was then the most significant event for African humanity: independence from colonialism. That euphoria gave way to disillusion and all the benumbing bastardies that subsequently became the hallmark of the African condition. Looking back now, that path of inexorable continental decline was foreseeable. Inchoate conceptualisations of independence rolled into chaotic definitions of democracy and its dividends. Expectations were not properly canalised.
The same disturbing inchoateness has begun to characterise discursive engagements of Obama’s in-coming presidency in terms of what exactly it is supposed to mean for the continent of Africa. There is so much chaotic internet lather over what’s in it for Africa. ‘We are now in charge!!!’ That’s how a friend calling from Lagos – he has never ventured beyond the shores of Nigeria – gleefully screamed into the telephone, almost rending my eardrums. The naturalness with which he pronounced his ‘we’ immediately activated my scholarly instincts. He was calling from a beer parlour, where folks had declared an all-night Obama drinking spree. As he screamed, I could hear excited voices in the background, all seamless discursive appropriations of the American present: ‘winner ooo, winner, we don win’, ‘our son is in!’ Possessive adjectives seemed to be on sale and every Nigerian was grabbing one from the shelves. The ‘we’ that came over the phone from Lagos is indicative of the degree of Africa’s emotional investment in the Obama project. We have moved, at least temporarily, from expecting the ‘dividends of democracy’ – always a mirage – to anticipating the dividends of Obama. Somehow, the dividends of Obama are being framed as more vectorial of immediate and concrete results for the continent than the dysfunctional and effete democracies in place.
These scenarios underscore the need for African thinkers to pause and begin to frame coherent agendas around the question of African agency in the Obama era. Such strategic thinking should be cognizant of what Africans should feel sufficiently enamoured to expect from this scenario: a bi-racial black man becomes the leader of the free world and the second most important icon of black humanity, coming only after Nelson Mandela. He is however bound to defend the constitution of the United States of America, defend the doctrine of American exceptionalism, and elevate the strategic interests of the United States and Israel to the level of faith – that which you accept without questioning. Yet American exceptionalism and America’s strategic interests have always functioned – especially in the hands of neoconservative jihadists – as negations of the dignity and humanity of the non-American other as evidenced by the behaviour of the American state in Latin America and Africa for much of the 20th and 21st centuries. These are the contradictions and realities that must frame our expectations and agendas.
In essence, those Africans who, dancing in the streets of Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa, Abidjan, Tshwane, have already farmed themselves into Obama’s ‘we’ based on the phatic instrumentality of race and history should ask if Ireland has ever made it to the top of America’s agenda despite a long list of American presidents of Irish descent, notably John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. It would be a mistake to allow the current euphoria to crystallise into expectations of Africa’s promotion to the ranks of The Chosen under President Obama. Such expectations would fly in the face of reality and President Obama’s margin of manoeuvre. More than all his predecessors combined, he is more susceptible to that singular move that could become a kiss of death. For obvious reasons. Any in-your-face flirtation with Africa – beyond the allowable ritual of a noise-making, five-nation African tour during an American president’s second term in office – is a potential kiss of death for Obama. Remember, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and their patriotic Christian followers are wounded lions. They are dangerous. We have only just learnt that Sarah Palin asked her handlers if South Africa was a region ‘of the country of Africa’. There are hundreds of thousands of furious mini-Palins in the pro-America areas of America who are ready to lynch a President Obama who demonstrates too much of a soft spot for his ‘Islamic country of Africa’.
Our expectations, hopes, and agendas should therefore devolve from the sort of body language that President Obama could marshal in ways that could have a graduated positive influence on the fortunes of African humanity in the course of, hopefully, his two terms. The catchword here is African humanity, not Africa. ‘Africa’, Chinua Achebe reminds us, ‘is people’. And that is the problem. The philosophical basis from which Africa is approached has never moved beyond geography and resources. Africans have never really been in the picture since the continent’s dastardly encounter with the alterity of Europe and her entrance into the ‘world system’. All the historical themes of this long period were never about Africa-as-people. Even slavery was not about Africa-as-people. The Africans involved were not people: they were commodity, goods transported for profit by capitalism. Colonialism was equally not about people. It was more about regimenting and policing people in order to prevent them from serving as obstacles to what was more important – resources.
Slavery may have ended. Colonialism may have ended. Self-inflicted injuries, in cahoots with neocolonialism, may have replaced both all over the continent. What has remained unaltered for more than five centuries is the philosophy that privileges geography and its riches over people in Africa. For the world system or the international community, Africa has always been much more important than Africans. If rubber and ivory were more important to King Leopold than the Congolese, coltan is certainly more important to local militia groups, the postcolonial state in the Congo, and the international community than the Congolese. Ditto for Nigeria. Oil is far more important to Nigeria’s murderous federal government and her Western masters than the Nigerian people could ever hope to be.
In no other continent do you currently find this philosophy at work. The French are more important than France. Germans are more important than Germany. Americans are infinitely more important than the United States of America. People. People. People. The geo-space and the resources of these countries exist and have value only insofar as they are servicers of the wellbeing of the people. The world system does not conceive of Americans, the French, or the Japanese as counterproductive obstacles on the path of the resources of those places. While capitalism may be obsessed with profit and will dehumanise to obtain it anywhere, irrespective of race, it is sensible enough to understand how to behave in climes where people are more important than their physical space and resources. Despite its stubbornness, capitalism does get the message in places where emphasis is on the human. Where it pretends to be deaf, class action lawsuits and costly fines imposed by the state are there to remind it of the importance of people.
Beyond the current effusions of chaotic euphoria, can African thought form a consensus on the need to work towards the truncation of this philosophy during the Obama window of opportunity? Can the Obama presidency usher in an era that would truncate an iron cast philosophy that has always imagined Africa without the problematic impediments and obstacles called Africans? Imagine Sierra Leone, Congo, and South Africa without the peoples of those places. Ah, diamonds! Gold unlimited! Imagine Nigeria and Angola without Nigerians and Angolans! Ah, unlimited crude! Enough crude to put us in the position to tell Hugo Chávez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and those Saudi sheikhs to kiss our behinds! This philosophy explains why Africa’s contemptible rulers see themselves mainly as paid security guards of the international system authored by Bretton Woods. They see themselves as existing only to contain their people and clear them away from the path of capital, while making immense and corrupt personal gains. Nigeria’s President Yar’Adua and his Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta are excellent examples of this phenomenon.
A lot of things can happen if all workers in Africa’s community of conscience begin to labour in a way that would make President Obama understand the need to focus, for once in five hundred years, on Africans and not Africa. This would involve thinking of practical and interventionist ways of preventing him from shaping his Africa policy based on the soporific language of those champagne-drinking, cocktail-loving, diplomatese-infested African delegations to the UN. A presidential body language that privileges the peoples of Africa could have considerable consequences, given the immense power of Obama’s office. For starters, if Africa’s leadership comes to understand that the new tenant of the White House would snub any imbecile who privileges resources and loot over his people, they may begin to beat themselves into shape. Similarly, if Shell and other oil multinationals come to understand that the people of the Niger Delta are now more important to the Federal Government of Nigeria than oil, they will begin to raise the level of their extractive practices to at least minimally approach the routine standards they maintain in the Western world – where they believe they are dealing with human beings.
A White House snub is the ultimate nightmare of any African leader. Conversely, a white house pat on the back is the ultimate legitimation they need of their crimes against their people. It is noteworthy that while President Obasanjo’s soldiers razed the villages of Odi and Zaki Biam in October 2001, he gave a press conference – with President Bush grinning beside him – on the lawn of the White House to explain to the world why ‘those disgruntled elements’ needed to be ‘cleared’ by the Nigerian army! An African leader rationalising crimes against humanity beside a smiling American president in the White House! Part of giving a decisive body language that profit could be made in Africa without degrading Africans would be to shun illegitimate African leaders in the ilk of President Yar’Adua and his predecessor. These are of course symbolic gestures that, if pursued systematically and in conjunction with other measures in the course of Obama’s presidency, could begin relocate value from Africa to Africans in the international economy of meaning. Is it utopian to expect an American president to usher in a new international ethics of Africa? Well, before 11 pm on 4 November 2008, it was utopian to expect a black president of the United States of America.
* Pius Adesanmi is an associate professor of English and the director of Project on New African Literatures at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Apart from his academic work, Adesanmi publishes opinion articles regularly in various internet fora. He has contributed to Counterpunch, Slepton and Chimurenga online.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Obama’s economic advisors: Will well-tested enemies of Africa prevail?
One of Barack Obama’s leading advisors has done more damage to Africa, its economies and its people than anyone I can think of in world history, including even Cecil John Rhodes. That charge may surprise readers, but hear me out.
His name is Paul Volcker, and although he is relatively unknown around the world, the 82 year-old banker was recommended as ‘a legend!’ to Obama by Austan Goolsbee, the president-elect’s chief economic advisor (and a professor at the University of Chicago). Volcker was recently profiled by the Wall Street Journal: ‘The cigar-chomping central banker from 1979 to 1987, he received blame for driving up interest rates and tipping the US into the deepest recession since the Great Depression.’
We’ll consider the impact of Volcker’s rule on Africa in a moment. But why dredge up crimes nearly thirty years old? This kind of reckoning is important, as three current examples suggest:
• Reparations lawsuits are now being heard in New York by victims of apartheid who are collectively requesting $400 billion in damages from three dozen US corporations who profited from South African operations during the same period. Supreme Court justices had so many investments in these companies that in May they had to bounce the case back to a lower New York court to decide, effectively throwing out an earlier judgment against the plaintiffs: the Jubilee anti-debt movement, the Khulumani Support Group for apartheid victims, and 17,000 other black South Africans.
• Last month a San Francisco court began considering a similar reparations lawsuit – under the Alien Tort Claims Act – filed by Larry Bowoto and the Ilaje people of the Niger Delta against Chevron for 1998 murders similar to those that took the life of Ken Saro-Wiwa on 10 November 1995.
• In Boston last month, Harvard University’s Pride Chigwedere released a study into preventable deaths – at least 330,000 – caused by Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS policies during the early 2000s. The ex-president has ‘blood on his hands’, according to Zackie Achmat of the Treatment Action Campaign, requesting a judicial inquiry.
The same critical treatment is appropriate for Volcker, because of the awesome financial destruction he imposed, within most Africans’ living memory. His policies stunted the continent’s growth when it most needed internal economic coherence.
Even the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) official history cannot avoid using the famous phrase most associated with the federal chair’s name: ‘The origins of the debt crisis of the 1980s may be traced back to and through the lurching efforts of the world’s governments to cope with the economic instabilities of the 1970s… [including the] monetary contraction in the United States (the “Volcker Shock”) that brought a sharp rise in world interest rates and a sustained appreciation of the dollar.’
Volcker’s decision to raise rates so high to rid the US economy of inflation and strengthen the fast-falling dollar had special significance in Africa, write British academics Sarah Bracking and Graham Harrison: ‘1979 marked a radical change in global economic policy, inaugurated with the “Volcker Shock” (so called after Paul Volcker, then chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve) when the United States suddenly and dramatically raised interest rates, [which] increased the cost of African debt precipitously, since a majority of debt stock was held in dollars. The majority of the newly independent states had been effectively delivered into at least twenty years of indentured labor. From that point on access to finance became a key policing mechanism directed at African populations.’
Adds journalist Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine: ‘In developing countries carrying heavy debt loads, the Volcker Shock was like a giant Taser gun fired from Washington, sending the developing world into convulsions. Soaring interest rates meant higher interest payments on foreign debts, and often the higher payments could only be met by taking on more loans... It was after the Volcker Shock that Brazil’s debt exploded, doubling from $50 billion to $100 billion in six years. Many African countries, having borrowed heavily in the seventies, found themselves in similar straits: Nigeria’s debt in the same short time period went from $9 billion to $29 billion.’
The numbers involved were daunting for low-income countries. According to University of California economic geographer Gillian Hart: ‘Medium and long-term public debt shot up from $75.1 billion in 1970 to $634.4 billion in 1983. It was the so-called Volcker Shock…that ushered in the debt crisis, the neoliberal counterrevolution, and vastly changed roles of the World Bank and IMF in Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia.’
Elmar Altvater of Berlin’s Free University recalls how the world ‘slid into the debt crisis of the 1980s after the US Federal Reserve tripled interest rates (the so called “Volcker Shock”), leading to what later has been described as the “lost decade” for the developing world.’
How ‘lost’? The British Medical Journal complained in 1999 of orthodox World Bank structural adjustment policies that immediately followed: “According to Unicef, a drop of 10-25% in average incomes in the 1980s—the decade noted for structural adjustment lending—in Africa and Latin America, and a 25% reduction in spending per capita on health and a 50% reduction per capita on education in the poorest countries of the world, are mostly attributable to structural adjustment policies. Unicef has estimated that such adverse effects on progress in developing countries resulted in the deaths of half a million young children—and in just a 12 month period.’
A few honest mainstream economists also explain Africa’s economic crisis in these terms. ‘The external shock that might have precipitated the developing country slowdown is the increase in real interest rates after the Volcker Shock in 1979’, wrote World Bank senior researcher William Easterly in 2001, and ‘[t]he interest on external debt as a ratio to GDP has a statistically significant and negative effect on growth.’
A few blocks away from the Federal Reserve, one of Volcker’s closest allies was World Bank president Tom Clausen, formerly Bank of America chief executive officer. As the Volcker Shock wore on, in 1983, Clausen offered his board of directors this frank confession: ‘We must ask ourselves: How much pressure can these nations be expected to bear? How far can the poorest peoples be pushed into further reducing their meagre standards of living? How resilient are the political systems and institutions in these countries in the face of steadily worsening conditions? I don’t have the answers to these important questions. But if these countries are pushed too far, and too much is demanded of them without the provision of substantial assistance in their adjustment efforts, we must face the consequences. And those will surely exact a cost in terms of human suffering and political instability.’
At that point, ‘Africa was not even on my radar screen’, Volcker told interviewers Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin.
Meanwhile, the Bank’s sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, was described by Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere as ‘a neo-colonial institution which exploits the poor to make them poorer and serves the rich to become richer.’ Volcker had, ironically, played a central role in the destruction of the Bretton Woods system’s dollar-gold convertibility arrangement, effectively a US$80 billion default on holders of dollars abroad, when in 1971 he served Richard Nixon as under-secretary of the Treasury.
Eight years later, he was chosen to chair the Federal Reserve, which sets US (and by extension world) interest rates. As Jimmy Carter’s domestic policy advisor Stuart Eizenstat explained: ‘Volcker was selected because he was the candidate of Wall Street. This was their price, in effect.’
In 1985, Ronald Reagan offered Clausen’s job to Volcker, but he decided to stay on at the Fed until 1987, when he went back to a high-paid Wall Street job.
Now he is back, and according to a recent profile by the Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama is increasingly relying on Mr. Volcker. His staff now routinely reviews policy proposals and speeches with Mr. Volcker. Conference calls and face-to-face meetings of the Obama economic team are often reorganized to accommodate his schedule. When the team discusses the financial crisis, [t]he most important question to Obama [is] “What does Paul Volcker think?”’ says Jason Furman, the campaign’s economic-policy director. When Senator Obama raised the prospect of a package of spending and tax measures to ‘stimulate’ the economy, Mr Volcker disapproved. ‘Americans are spending beyond their means’, he told the group. A stimulus package would delay the belt-tightening and savings needed, he added, proposing instead better regulation and assistance to banks.
By 8 November, the odds of Volcker being appointed Treasury Secretary were 10%, according to the Journal’s betting pool. The race was between New York Federal Reserve Bank president Tim Geithner and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, at 40% odds each. Geithner served under Summers and Robert Rubin in Bill Clinton’s Treasury Department during the 1990s.
Summers is best known for the sexism controversy which cost him the presidency of Harvard in 2006. But fifteen years earlier he gained infamy as an advocate of African genocide and environmental racism, thanks to a confidential World Bank memo he signed when he was the institution’s senior vice-president and chief economist: ‘I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that… I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted, their air quality is vastly inefficiently low...’
After all, Summers continued, inhabitants of low-income countries typically die before the age at which they would begin suffering prostate cancer associated with toxic dumping. And in any event, using marginal productivity of labour as a measure, low-income Africans are not worth very much anyhow. Nor are Africans’ aesthetic concerns with air pollution likely to be as substantive as they are for wealthy northerners.
Such arguments were said by Summers to be made in an ‘ironic’ way (and in his defence, he may have simply plagiarised the memo from a colleague, Lant Pritchett). Yet their internal logic was pursued with a vengeance by the World Bank and IMF long after Summers moved over to the Clinton Treasury Department, where in 1999 he insisted that Joseph Stiglitz be fired by Bank president James Wolfensohn, for speaking out against the impeccable economic logic of the Washington Consensus.
Volcker, Summers and a whole crew of similar capitalist economists are whispering in Obama’s ear for a resurgent US based on brutal national self-interest. They need Obama to re-legitimate shock-doctrinaire neoliberalism – and in turn, they need Obama’s Africa advisors (like Witney Schneidman) to promote military imperialism in the form of the Africa Command.
Can Obama instead hear supporters like Bill Fletcher, Imani Countess and Danny Glover, who made TransAfrica (as one example) a visionary economic justice organisation, by fighting the policies of Volcker and Summers? Can AfricaAction, the Institute for Policy Studies, the American Friends Service Committee, Jubilee USA, ActionAid and other genuine advocates for the continent get a word in edgewise, between fits of cackling from the corporate liberals who think they own Obama? Will the president-elect ever get advice from economists James K. Galbraith of the University of Texas or Center for Economic and Policy Research co-directors Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot, who correctly read the various financial crises way ahead of time, and whose records promoting social justice would serve Africa far better?
Probably not. So it is vital for Africans to wake up to the danger that the likes of Volcker and Summers represent. Anyone paying attention to the continent’s economic decline since 1980 knows the damage they did, but Obama apparently needs to hear more of their sins against his father’s people before he chooses his Treasury Secretary next week. And while he’s at it, how about a revision of Obama’s utterly neoliberal ‘fundamental objective’ for the continent, which is ‘to accelerate Africa’s integration into the global economy’?
* Patrick Bond directs the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, South Africa.
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Is Obama screwing his base with the Rahm Emanuel selection?
I had really wanted to celebrate Barack Obama's remarkable victory for a day or so before becoming cynical again. I really did.
And yet, less than 24 hours after the first polls closed, the president-elect chose as his chief of staff – perhaps the most powerful single position in any administration – Rahm Emanuel, one of the most conservative Democratic members of Congress.
The chief of staff essentially acts as the president's gatekeeper, determining with whom he has access for advice and analysis. Obama is known as a good listener who has been open to hearing from and considering the perspectives of those on the Left as well as those with a more centrist or conservative perspective. How much access he will actually have as president to more progressive voices, however, is now seriously in question.
Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel is a member of the so-called New Democrat Coalition (NDC), of group of centre-right pro-business congressional Democrats affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Conference, which is dedicated to moving the Democratic Party away from its more liberal and progressive base. Numbering only 58 members out of 236 Democrats in the current House of Representatives, the NDC has worked closely with its Republican colleagues in pushing through and passing such legislation as those providing President Bush with ‘fast-track’ trade authority in order to bypass efforts by labour, environmentalists and other public interest groups to promote fairer trade policy.
Emanuel began his political career as a senior adviser and chief fundraiser for the successful 1989 Chicago mayoral campaign of Richard M. Daley to seize back City Hall from reformists who had challenged the corrupt political machine of his father, Richard J. Daley. Emanuel later became a senior adviser to Bill Clinton at the White House from 1993 to 1998, serving as Assistant to the President for Political Affairs and then Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy, and was credited with playing a major role in shifting the Clinton administration's foreign and domestic policy agenda to the right. Emanuel was the single most important official involved in pushing through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the bill ending Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and Clinton's draconian crime bill, among other legislation.
Leaving the administration in 1998, Emanuel worked as an investment banker in Chicago, where he amassed an $18 million fortune in less than three years prior to being elected to Congress.
As head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee since 2004, Emanuel has promoted pro-war and pro-business centre-right candidates against anti-war and pro-labour candidates in the primaries, pouring millions of dollars of donations from Democrats across the country into the campaigns of his favoured conservative minions to defeat more progressive challengers.
Emanuel was a major supporter of the Iraq War resolution that authorised the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, he was the only one of nine Democratic members of Congress from Illinois who backed granting Bush this unprecedented authority to invade a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to the United States at the time. Even more disturbingly, when asked by Tim Russert on ‘Meet the Press’ whether he would have voted to authorise the invasion ‘knowing that there are no weapons of mass destruction’, Emanuel answered that he indeed would have done so, effectively acknowledging that his support for the war was not about national security, but about oil and empire. Not surprisingly, he has also voted with the Republicans in support of unconditional funding to continue the Iraq War and has consistently opposed efforts by other Democrats to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US occupation forces from that country and related Congressional efforts to end the war.
At a time of record budget deficits, Emanuel has been a passionate supporter of increased spending for the Pentagon and has resisted efforts by fellow Democrats to trim excesses in the Bush administration's bloated military budget. For example, he has repeatedly voted against amendments to cut funding for Bush's dangerously destabilising missile defence and even voted against an amendment to identify unnecessary Pentagon spending by examining the need, relevance and cost of Cold War weapons systems designed to fight the former Soviet Union.
A major hawk regarding Iran, Emanuel has also voted against Democratic efforts to prevent the Bush administration from launching military action against that country and has joined the administration in exaggerated claims about Iran's alleged nuclear threat. He is not opposed to nuclear proliferation if it involves US allies, however. Emanuel has consistently voted against a series of Democratic amendments that would have strengthened safeguards in the Bush administration's nuclear cooperation agreement with India to prevent US assistance from supporting India's nuclear weapons program.
Emanuel is also a prominent hawk regarding Israel, attacking the Bush administration from the right for criticising Israel's assassination policies and other human rights abuses. He was also a prominent supporter of Israel's 2006 attacks on Lebanon, even challenging the credibility of Amnesty International and other human rights groups that reported Israeli violations of international humanitarian law. Emanuel's father had emigrated from Israel in the 1950s, where he had been a member of the terrorist group Irgun, which had been responsible for a series of terrorist attacks against Palestinian and British civilians in mandatory Palestine during the 1940s. Emanuel himself served in a civilian capacity as a volunteer for the Israeli army in the early 1990s.
It is unclear how serious of a blow Obama's selection of Emanuel is to those who hoped that Obama might actually steer the country in a more progressive direction. It's easy to see it as nothing less than a slap in the face of the progressive anti-war elements of the party to whom Obama owes his election, particularly following his selection of Senator Joe Biden as vice-president. (See my articles ‘Biden's Foreign Policy “Experience”’ and ‘Biden, Iraq, and Obama's Betrayal’).
However, this does not necessarily mean that Obama as president will pursue nothing better than a Clinton-esque centre-right agenda. Someone with Obama's intelligence, knowledge and leadership qualities need not be unduly restricted by the influence of his chief of staff as less able presidents have. At the same time, this shocking appointment of Emanuel is illustrative of the need for the progressive base that brought him to power to not celebrate too long and to refocus our energies into pushing hard to ensure that the change Obama promised is something we really can believe in.
* Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus. This article is published courtesy of Alternet.org, and can be found here in its original form here.
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KNCHR position on the Waki Report
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has over the last two weeks been carefully and closely following the debate on the Waki report. KNCHR is perturbed by the twist and turns and the political ping-ponging of politicians and political parties attempting to discredit the Waki report and subvert justice. The debate within the political class aimed at the non-implementation of the Waki report is morally fraudulent and a shameless and treasonable attempt to perpetuate impunity. As a nation we must therefore be firm and be prepared to take the necessary steps and make the necessary sacrifices to end impunity and to put the country back on the path of a constitutional democracy.
In this regard, KNCHR reiterates its support for the Waki report and its recommendations and renews its call for the total and expeditious implementation of the recommendations. As a public body established to promote and protect human rights in Kenya, KNCHR stands for full accountability, from all individuals and institutions that may have provoked or orchestrated violence against Kenyans. We therefore join other Kenyans in making demands for justice for victims through investigation and prosecution of all persons, regardless of their official position, for all acts of commission of violence whether direct or indirect, for acts of omission as well as dereliction of official duty. We further demand for speedy implementation of all the structural reforms proposed by the report with regard to the security sector agencies and especially the Kenya Police.
We have noted with concern that some key parties to the National Accord & Reconciliation Agreement have elected to be barriers to Kenya's search for truth by purportedly rejecting the Waki Report. More particularly, we strongly castigate political actors and parties who opted to renege on commitments made under the Kenya National Dialogue & Reconciliation Process mediated by His Excellency Kofi Annan. Opting to reject the Waki report in its totality contravenes the commitments of 1 February 2008 to agenda item 3, and agenda to which all parties affixed their signatures and sought ‘a solution towards resolving the political crisis arising from the disputed presidential election results as well as the ensuing violence in Kenya.’ We therefore urge the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) parliamentary group and all other political actors to rethink their position and embrace the drive towards the full implementation of the Waki report.
No individual or entity was on trial before the Commission of Inquiry on Post Election Violence (CIPEV) and we find the moves by some politicians presumptive since the proceedings in question were not those of a court of law that would determine the actual guilt of anyone with finality. In response to this targeted onslaught on the Waki Report, we reiterate that for anyone implicated by CIPEV, this in no way affects the presumption of innocence in their favour. No one has been condemned unheard and all those fingered in the report will have their day before the Special Tribunal proposed with all the necessary guarantees for a fair hearing. KNCHR therefore calls upon all Kenyans to refrain from innuendos that negate the presumption of innocence for those who may be called to account.
KNCHR wishes to note that we conducted lengthy investigations, the findings from which are not dissimilar to those contained in the Waki Report. Likewise, KNCHR has continuously spoken against Kenya's perverse culture where exposure of inappropriate conduct in public life typically brings little more than fleeting embarrassment for powerful public officials.
We are unable to fathom why some politicians, and especially the ODM parliamentary group, should be so intent on blocking the fight against impunity by reneging on recommendations that provide for enquiry and follow up on allegations for acts of commission and omission and reform of the institutions that failed Kenyans. Are the ODM parliamentary group and some Party of National Unity (PNU) politicians telling those who supported them and those who did not that no action should be taken against those in senior levels within government, security agencies or politicians responsible for acts of omission and commission that precipitated the violence? KNCHR equally believes that the ambiguous and shifting positions taken by politicians and political parties are a betrayal to the people of Kenya and a characteristic of inept leadership in steering the process forward.
We remind Kenyans that the last line of defence for democracy is a vigilant, politically aware and informed citizenry ready to challenge those who abuse power. Avoiding a reckoning and instead opting for the easy path, the language of ‘forgive and forget’ would set an extremely bad precedent and KNCHR demands that those in power must not be allowed to trade their immunity in return for peace. Indeed Kenyans must stand tall against those who propagate the fear that the nation's search for justice will lead to chaos and disintegration. Justice can never be cowed and our prospects for peace are only made possible through justice.
We can only conclude that perhaps the politicians are suffering from amnesia, that there was no severe humanitarian crisis in the country, that no armed raiders attacked helpless civilians, that no women were raped, that the police did not shoot or rape anybody, that no homes were torched, that there are no homeless Kenyans living in camps or squatting with relatives, and that no livelihoods were destroyed. In a nutshell, by rejecting the report, we understand the politicians to be telling Kenyans that:
a) They do not want national catharsis, healing of the nation or a clean break from the past
b) They support the lack of national morality in politics and do not believe in the culture of humanity
c) They would prefer to reinforce Kenya's culture of impunity by hiding the concealed painful truth of the post-election violence
d) They are against justice, reparation, restoration and retribution through prosecuting the perpetrators under due process of law over the most outrageous violations and crimes
e) They desire to renege on its earlier commitment to create a culture of accountability and human rights focussed on governance
f) The post-election violence did not encompass serious offences or constitute attacks on the most fundamental aspects of human dignity
g) The violence was an isolated event, not large scale, and there was no massive infringements of human dignity or a broader practice of misconduct by anyone
h) There was no complicity, connivance, or toleration of the violence by people in positions of leadership and authority.
We remind the political class that time is ticking; an agreement for the special tribunal must be signed within 60 days of the presentation of the report to the president and the tribunal created by law within 45 days thereafter. The threat by politicians or any other party that they will not allow their members to be extradited for trial outside Kenya in case of default is laughable.
Kenya's obligations under the Rome Treaty are more than clear after signing up in 1999 and ratifying in 2005. This means that any incriminated acts committed in Kenya after 2005 fall within the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) jurisdiction. Politicians cannot therefore shield themselves or the persons concerned from criminal responsibility for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Rome Statute. Kenyans must appreciate the prevailing mood in the world today informed by this solidarity among nations which places an obligation on Kenya to prosecute persons accused of serious international crimes as an essential interest of the international community as a whole. If politicians wish to sabotage this process, then the futility of their endeavour is amazing in its naivety. Being a state party to the Rome Statute, the ICC prosecutor could intervene if we have neither the desire nor the means to initiate and conduct proceedings.
We therefore remind all parliamentarians that the first and best option for justice is for Kenya to try its own. If parliamentarians do not wish Kenya to meet its obligations, then the ICC Prosecutor may supplant our national jurisdiction and investigate crimes that fall within the Court’s jurisdiction. We are putting all parliamentarians on notice that unless they speedily enact the 2008 ICC Crimes Bill and the enabling legislation to set up the proposed special tribunal, our national sovereignty risks encroachment under the doctrine of complementarity where the ICC could take the place of our national courts as a court of last resort.
Hassan Omar Hassan
11 November 2008
* The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) is an autonomous National Human Rights Institution established by an Act of Parliament in 2002. Its core mandate is to further the protection and promotion of human rights in Kenya.
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Auntie Zeituni and Obama's African burden
I was still digesting the news of Obama's auntie Zeituni, living in the US illegally since 2004, when the doorbell rang. It was after 5pm on Saturday afternoon, and I wasn't expecting anybody on a cold November day at the onset of the Michigan winter. I went to see who it was, and was greeted by a tall elderly man, in a baseball cap. ‘I support Obama,’ he announced, ‘and I am here to ask you to vote for him on Tuesday. Are you registered to vote?’ We talked a little bit, before I thanked him and wished him good luck in his efforts.
My mind went back to auntie Zeituni, whom I first encountered on the pages of Obama's first autobiography, Dreams From My Father. It struck me as quite intriguing that an auntie, a blood relation of the person widely expected to become the next president of the United States of America, was an illegal immigrant in the very country her nephew was poised to be the most powerful person. If the information was indeed leaked, as was suggested by Congressman John Conyers, chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary, what specific damage to Obama was the leak supposed to inflict? That Obama was keeping an illegal immigrant? That Obama had relatives who were not 'American'? Or that Obama was indeed not ‘one of us,’ as had been not so subtly suggested during the campaign?
Obama's presidential campaign has taught a lot of us some really important, if not paradoxical, lessons about American politics. Clearly, something has moved in the galaxy as far as race relations are concerned since the civil rights era. At the same time, clearly very little has changed insofar as the associations many Americans make with the continent of Africa and African people. And Obama has been perceptive enough to know how to keep his distance from that continent throughout the campaign. How does one explain that paradox? Even commentators and news analysts, especially in Kenya where Obama has blood ties, have been cautious, warning that Obama is first and foremost an American, and not an African.
While Obama was movingly sanguine about Kenya and Africa in his first autobiography, Dreams From My Father, he was much less so in the second autobiography, The Audacity of Hope. But even then, he did not hesitate to inform his readers about the global face that his extended family represents. He wrote:
‘As the child of a black man and a white woman, someone who was born in the racial melting pot of Hawaii, with a sister who's half Indonesian but who's usually mistaken for Mexican or Puerto Rican, and a brother-in-law and a niece of Chinese descent, with some blood relatives who resemble Margaret Thatcher and others who could pass for Bernie Mac, so that family get-togethers over Christmas take on the appearance of a UN General Assembly meeting, I've never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe’. (p.231)
On 17 March 2008, the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote of Obama's global profile: ‘If elected, Obama would be the first genuinely 21st-century leader. The China-Indonesia-Kenya-Britain-Hawaii web mirrors a world in flux.’ At the time, one would have imagined that cosmopolitan aspect of Obama's biography to have been an attractive trait of an American presidential candidate. It clearly hasn't been; if anything, it was one more potential bomb waiting to explode and sink Obama's campaign.
A few days after that column's publication in the New York Times, which was also a few days after Obama's much-praised speech on race in America, I sat on a plane from Johannesburg to Amsterdam. I had picked up a number of newspapers to read about Obama's speech, and had downloaded the video of the speech whilst in the field in a remote, rural part of Malawi. The gentleman next to me introduced himself, and we got talking. I asked if he had heard of Obama's speech, and he said he hadn't. He hadn't used the Internet for two weeks, he said, during which time he had been doing missionary work in rural parts of South Africa. His two teenage daughters had accompanied him on the trip to bring the Christian gospel to black South Africans and help them build a church. He also confessed that he did not vote Democrat, and therefore did not have much interest in a Democratic presidential candidate anyway.
He went on to tell me that he did not understand where all the talk about racism in the US came from; if black Americans didn't work hard enough to uplift themselves, they should really not blame racism for holding them down. He pointed to his daughters as evidence that there was no racism in the United States: ‘those two daughters of mine, they don't know what racism is. They have friends of all races.’ His words left me fearing for what was really going on in latter-day missionary endeavours in Africa. I didn't know whether his daughters' lack of awareness of racism was the same thing as an absence of racism in the United States, which seemed to be his conclusion. Were young Americans today less racist because racism was dying in America, or was it rather because its existence was being denied strongly enough, as it had always been, that young Americans were being shielded from its existence?
How about the arrests of the two neo-Nazi youths in Tennessee recently who had mounted a plan to steal guns and use them to massacre African-American students, culminating, according to the plot, in an assassination of Obama himself? After initially dismissing the story as another insignificant episode in what was probably a one-off prank, I later learned from a National Public Radio interview that in fact there was increasing agitation amongst white supremacist groups who believe that the election of Obama would force Armageddon. His election to the presidency will be the ultimate threat to white power, said a former white supremacist during the radio interview, which will galvanise all white supremacists to act, rise up and retake the country.
In February 2007 Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), spoke at a University of Michigan social justice forum, in Ann Arbor, about the proliferation of hate groups in the United States. He said hate groups had increased by 30 per cent between 2002 and 2007. He said immigration was the biggest motivator for the proliferation. Hearing Mr. Dees describe how the SPLC uses a criminal justice approach to dealing with hate crime in the United States, it led me to wonder what that really entails. Is it possible to end hate by mere recourse to law and criminal justice? Does this approach challenge racism and bigotry, transforming people into love-filled individuals who embrace and appreciate racial, ethnic, religious and gender diversity?
I ask these questions because I do think that there's a role for the criminal justice and corrections system, but there's also a far greater need for long-term, transformative change beyond corrections. I am not sure that the law is enough without a personal effort to transform oneself and rid oneself of hate and bigotry. As one student told our class recently, there's a whole family and community structure where such vices are bred and cultivated. Clearly there are many young people who indeed embrace love and an appreciation for diversity, who are also aware of the real and practical existence of racism and its consequences locally and globally. But there are also those whose belief in diversity has been more a result of the denials of the existence of racism than a true transformation and awareness.
Coming back to aunt Zeituni, the entire question about her having been served with deportation orders four years ago speaks to the hierarchical ladder the fabrication of races has manifested. In the documentary Life and Debt about the effects of IMF's structural adjustment policies on Third World economies, by Stephanie Black, there's a contrast made about what it takes for an American to enter Jamaica, and what it takes for a Jamaican to enter the US. For the former, it is a mere driver's license at the port of entry. For the latter, as with most Third World people around the world, it is a Herculean, heart-rending process that stretches for months. Several thousands of visa applications get rejected every single day, each of them having paid the equivalent of a non-refundable US$100. The inside of the embassy itself is a place that reduces one to fear and humiliation, requiring one to prove one's humanity before one is considered worthy of entry.
Obviously there's a good argument to be made about the impossibility of granting a visa to each and every applicant, given the enormity of the numbers of people who want to come to the United States of America. However, the whole atmosphere attached to the process and to some inexplicable visa denials can be filled with dread and heartache for some.
Still, something has moved at a galactic level, and a lot of people around the world are filled with undeniable greater hope and admiration for the United States of America. The burden for the kind of change the world is anticipating ought not to be carried by Obama alone, if at all. As Dr Makau Mutua, dean and professor of law at New York’s State University at Buffalo wrote in June 2008, the US presidency is very different from the African presidency, and most other presidencies for that matter. Now elected, Obama's constituency will be the numerous interest groups who wield influence in US domestic and foreign policy. Obama may personally understand the importance of changing the image of Africa and Africans in the eyes of Americans, but it will have to be a slow, gradual, deliberate process, or else it may merely provoke unintended consequences. And in the meantime, aunt Zeituni has to accept her place in the hierarchy, follow the law, and return to Kenya.
* Steve Sharra is a visiting assistant professor, Peace and Justice Studies, Department of Philosophy, Michigan State University.
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Rwanda vs. France: Who is trying whom?
France seeking absolution through judicial vendetta
The recent arrest in Frankfurt, Germany, of the chief of protocol of the president of Rwanda, Lieutenant Colonel Rose Kabuye, has brought to a head the protracted political battle between France and Rwanda since the end of the Rwandan genocide and the coming to power of the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front)/RPA (Rwandan Patriotic Army) in 1994.
Her trial will be both about the uses and abuses of international law but unfortunately it may be more of the latter than the former. Who can try whom?
The previous genocidaire regime of President Juvénal Habyarimana was a most trusted French ally even among the abundant French lackeys in Africa of the post-neocolonial/cold war era. France's neocolonial interests in Africa were not just at the economic, political, security and intelligence levels but at personal and social levels with many of the leaders. Many of them denied pluralism and freedom of expression and punished harshly, any indication of dissension to their citizens but when it came to relations with France they were cross party. It did not matter whether it was the conservatives or the 'socialists', whether the government was the result of cohabitation or alliances of the Right or the Left, the francophone leaders maintained their alliance and influence in Paris.
The French establishment also had remarkable continuity in its Africa policy. Habyarimana was a close family friend of former President Mitterrand's son who was also the top advisor to his father on Africa! France had such close relationship with its former colonies that its colonial rival, Britain, envied it. France successfully intervened militarily, changed governments, removed and later restored 'errant' presidents like disposable towels: David Dacko or Jean Bedel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, Hissène Habré in Chad to mention just two countries. London had the same ambitions but was not really as successful as its Parisian cousins. French citizens held senior positions in many of the former French colonies in very sensitive ministries and departments, including security, intelligence, the presidential guards, finance, and defence. It used to be said that the old OAU (Organization of African Unity) was in reality a Franco-Africa Forum. At the height of the cold war the French–Africa summits used to be held in the shadow of the OAU so that whatever consensus the Africans reached could be undone by diktat from Paris. France's claim to being a global power rested on the loyalty of its African neocolonial allies, who with very few exceptions (such as Algeria and Guinea-Conakry, and later radical leaders like Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, who broke ranks with tragic consequences) would vote for it at the UN Security Council or even in the OAU or ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States). For its part it guaranteed the longevity of the dictators, whether their citizens liked them or not. Even many of the opposition leaders in these countries were of the same frame of mind. They wanted to replace their rivals as the ‘darling of Paris’ and not to renegotiate the unequal terms. A classic case is President Abdoulaye Wade who used to come at election times to taunt former President Senghor, but soon after the election he would retire in Versailles, until the wind of change of the 1990s broke the unholy alliance and France began a forcible retreat from Africa.
'Tiny' Rwanda was one of the first bitter lessons that were to force France to reconsider its neocolonial project in Africa. On the 1 October 1990, rebel Rwandan soldiers who had been refugees in Uganda – and many of them part of the Uganda NRA army (National Resistance Army) – launched attack on Rwanda with the aim of returning to the country where their parents had been forced into exile as a result of genocide aided and abetted by the Belgians and the French. It was a David and Goliath battle and no one gave the rebels any chance. Even their only backer Uganda initially believed that the military pressure was necessary to force the Habyarimana government to negotiate with the rebels, integrate them into the army, and stop the government from discriminating against its own citizens or killing them. No one thought that the RPF/RPA could ever capture power. Hence the negotiations for peace under the auspices of the OAU in Arusha. It was a painstaking process but by the time the final documents were signed in Arusha both the political and military situation had overtaken the negotiations. Extremists within the Akazu (family cabal) that Habyarimana was hostage to accused him giving away too much. There were divisions within the ruling MRND (Mouvement républicain national pour le développement et la démocratie) and the various ruling cliques. It was the blasting furnace of a house divided against itself that Habyarimana was returning to from Arusha (with Burundi's president) when his plane was brought down with parts of it falling on his luscious presidential gardens. Within hours genocide against the minority Tutsi population and non-genocidaire so-called moderate Hutus including the prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and other prominent Hutus began and in 100 days 1,000,000 Rwandans had been slaughtered by the Interahamwe militia with the full backing and orchestration of their own leaders. The state was against its own people.
Against all odds the RPF/RPA ended genocide, defeated the army that was backed by France, Belgium and some African countries in June 1994. To forestall total defeat the French launched Opération Turquoise which provided the defeated army opportunity to regroup while the Interahamwe was able to march people from Rwanda into the Congo. Fugitives and refugees came together and the former held sway in the camps but also had the support of the crumbling state of Mobutu. France could not forgive the RPF/RPA in Rwanda and two years later another French ally, Mobutu, (supposedly leading the largest francophone country in the world!) was removed from power by a coalition of regional military alliance led by Rwanda and Uganda. France could neither save Habyarimana nor Mobutu. Meanwhile post-cold war winds of democratic change were sweeping across the rest of Africa, including former French colonies, making France unsure of its role. It lost its nerves and was no longer able to proclaim its idealism of égalité and fraternité drowned as it was in the blood of innocent Africans as a result of its alliance with some of the most brutal regimes across Africa. Instead of reading the signs of the times it fell back on the colonial default of rivalry with the British and their American cousins. It could not accept that African armies defeated it in both Rwanda and Zaire and was therefore of the view that it must have been the CIA and the British, a smokescreen that many Africans unfortunately swallowed. This is not to say that the British and the Americans and other vested interests were not involved, but the essential root and initial solution to the conflicts were dictated by Africans. The politics of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ later propelled different kinds of convenient alliances. But both Mobutu and Habyarimana were consumed by the fires of xenophobia and genocide that they ignited.
Since 1994 France has been trying to wash its conscience of the genocide in Rwanda through denial and counter-narrative. Finally in 2006 a judge sitting in some obscure village in France issued an indictment against President Kagame and nine other top RPA officials for bringing down Habyarimana's plane. Even if that was true, for which only the French have the evidence, how could the plane crash have led to genocide if genocide was not already being planned? Have people forgotten the famous fax to the UN saying 'we will all be killed' which was never acted upon? The government of Rwanda and its military and political allies in the French and Belgians, the OAU, Bill Clinton's White House, the UK government, the UN, the UN Security Council and most of the powerful people, countries and institutions who could have prevented the genocide failed the people of Rwanda. Some of them are now overcompensating by pouring aid into Rwanda and also by being too cautious or ashamed to lecture Kagame's regime on democracy and human rights. But the French have not only been reluctant to accept their complicity but have also been shamelessly and tirelessly trying to nail Kagame as a means to reverse the defeat he inflicted on them – not once but twice – and accelerating their retreat from Africa. Politically they have continued to provide cover for genocidaire elements who still believe that they could return to power in Kigali.
Whatever our opinion of Kagame's regime we should not be deceived that the French indictments have anything to do with justice. It is the guilt trip of a former imperial power whose hands are drenched with the blood of innocent Africans. But now that they have got Lieutenat Colonel Rose – who went to Germany knowing full well that she could be arrested – it is a challenge to the French to put their much vaunted evidence in the public domain. She has shown extreme courage by insisting that she should be tried in France. The same France that has not cooperated with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha trying the genocidaire suspect leaders is putting all efforts into knowing who killed the chief genocidaire. The same France who along with Belgium and other countries including Germany and some African countries that is still harbouring many of the leaders of the genocide is now indicting those who ended it.
Rwanda has its own list of wanted people and indicted French soldiers and politicians which no one is helping it to enforce, but France can indict and arrest whoever it pleases. What kind of international law is this? And for how long must poachers continue to play game park-keepers? How can there be respect for international law when powerful countries treat its principles like an à la carte menu? Instead of confessing its sins, demonstrating genuine remorse before asking for forgiveness, France is demanding absolution through judicial vendetta.
* Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is general secretary of the Global Pan-African Movement, based in Kampala, Uganda, and is also director of Justice Africa, based in London, UK.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Find Your Feet in food production
In response to The world food crisis: a 'silent tsunami' : Our experience working with small-scale farmers in developing countries for the past 60 years confirms that farming is about far more than the production of food. It’s about stewardship of the land. It’s about stimulating the growth of local economy. It’s about feeling that you have a voice in your community and that you have skills to offer in building a better future for that community.
For Edwin Nyirenda, a farmer from Mwamuwilri village in Northern Malawi, the issues were clear. “I have seen tobacco farming take over the land we need and I have also seen the depletion of trees and the erosion of the soil.” As the farmers in his community lost control of the natural resources on which their livelihoods had depended they struggled to produce enough to feed their families. They lost confidence as farmers and increasingly gave up on their vision for a community in which natural resources including trees, water and land were “available for as long as the Mwamuwiliri village exists.”
Edwin’s story is one among many. Modern industrial agriculture, with its focus on increasing production at any cost, has caused tremendous pollution, rural displacement, widespread loss of agricultural and biological diversity and growing corporate concentration throughout the agricultural sector. This focus seems particularly short sighted in light of the fact that the current world food crisis is as much about increased world oil prices and climate change as it is about the production of food.
Now more than ever, there is a need for an approach that understands farming not only as a means of producing food, but as central to the preservation of delicate eco systems and to empowering farmers to have a voice in their community.
Find Your Feet is currently supporting 30,000 Malawian farmers like Edwin Nyrienda to practice sustainable farming based on local innovation, farmer exchange and the sharing of information. This approach has reduced dependence on external inputs such as fertilizers and hybrid seeds, has enabled adaptation to increasingly erratic weather patterns and has helped farmers to preserve the productivity of the soil for future generations.
Since working with FYF, says Edwin “I have produced enough food to feed my family and have even grown a surplus. I have sold this and now have an income to buy clothing and medication for my family.” As a result he and his fellow farmers have regained their pride in being farmers and custodians of the land.
More on Sidi music
The essay, Bantu origins of the Sidis of India was a fair and informative article about a group I've always wanted to know more about. The article makes references to Sidi music groups and cultural troupes. Who are these performers? Are there recordings or other resources available that discuss their music?
The United States in the Congo
My cousin, Project Censored Award Winner Bob Nichols here is teasing me about my "legendary" scholarship and understanding of Congo. He means legendary among our circle of friends who are also Friends of the Congo - letters
However, this week, after studying U.S. uses of the geostrategic minerals so densely concentrated in Congo, especially the cobalt in Congo's Katanga Province and in neighboring Zambia, I finally feel confident enough to speak more publicly about Congo, especially here in America and the rest of the English-speaking West, where we must start speaking out, not only about Rwanda, but about the U.S. role in Congo, where General Laurent Nkunda and the Rwandan Army fight proxy wars for U.S. corporate, military industrial, and military interests, whose infinite hunger for government contracts and subsidies crushes the hopes of Americans as well as those of the Congolese. Ordinary Americans are in pain not only because of our reckless financial sector but also because of our huge, wasteful, and lethal, military budget.
Goodbye, Mama Afrika
Tajudeen Abdul Raheem
Miriam makeba was an icon who used music to serve Africa and the cause of humanity. The ancestors woould be pleased to recieve her as a worthy daughter who gave her best. She lived through apartheid, fought it and survived to see a liberated multiracial dsemocratic state, was part of the liberation wars against colonialism across Africa and civil rights in America and she dies after the election of the first Black person to be president of the USA. She will have a lot to report to the ancestors. An how proud they will be that she was on the right side of all these struggles. Go well, Mama Afrika, your memory is forever green and your music everlasting.
Radio Journalism Toolkit by Franz Kruger
Tanja E. Bosch
Radio is still often described as the most powerful medium in developing countries, particularly as it is often more accessible than television or print. In South Africa for example, an often-quoted statistic tells us that there are more radio sets than mattresses in the country.
Radio is still often described as the most powerful medium in developing countries, particularly as it is often more accessible than television or print. In South Africa for example, an often-quoted statistic tells us that there are more radio sets than mattresses in the country.
There are several books and chapters dealing with the practice of radio production, but these are often based in North America or Europe, drawing on examples from those contexts. Moreover, much of the literature on radio often deals only with very specific aspects of the field e.g. a number of sources deal exclusively with radio interviews.
The Radio Journalism Toolkit fills a gap in existing literature by providing a clearly written and user-friendly guide to radio production, targeting students and new community radio journalists. The book has been structured to cover information needed to acquire the national certificate in journalism in South Africa (as accepted by the SA Qualifications Authority – SAQA), developed for people who work or intend to work as junior journalists.
The toolkit is divided into 12 chapters. They deal with a wide range of subjects including producing news for radio, writing for radio, radio interviews, producing features and current affairs shows, as well as tips on radio presentation. In addition, the book also covers technical aspects such as field recording and studio equipment, particularly useful as a reference guide to novice broadcasters. The “Do It” section at the end of each chapter lists exercises to allow students to practice and consolidate the material covered in each chapter, and serves as a useful resource for radio trainers. In addition, the author provides (in Appendix 3) a template for a 10-day training course, as a rough guide for trainers who wish to use this book as their primary resource.
The author also provides a list of suggested reading materials for each section, which could be prescribed to students, or used by the trainers themselves as a supplement to the toolkit. Besides providing practical information, Chapter 13 also deals with the responsibilities of radio journalists, with important information about ethics and the law. A radio journalism vocabulary glossary at the end of the book provides definitions of some of the most used terms in the radio industry. But the accompanying CD is probably what makes this book most useful, as it allows readers to listen to practical examples of the theories covered in the book. The CD (which works on Mac and PC) gives examples of common audio problems, radio documentaries for students to listen to, internet links to useful websites for radio journalists, as well as audio editing exercises,.
The Radio Journalism Toolkit is targeted at trainee radio broadcasters in South Africa, but may also be useful to community radio journalists in other parts of the continent (and elsewhere); particularly as most chapters include suggestions for handling issues “on a shoestring”, with little money and few resources. However, one limitation is that while the theoretical underpinning of the book is clear (radio for development), it does not provide clear guidelines for producing radio for social change, or on the practice of civic journalism. But it does provide a clear and simple introduction to the medium, covering the most important subjects trainee ournalists are likely to encounter in the field. However, the term ‘toolkit’ is a bit of a misnomer, as not enough information is really provided to allow citizen journalists to be radio broadcasters. In addition, its prohibitive cost would probably make it out of the reach of much of the target audience, and the author and publisher would do well to consider making it available online.
* Radio Journalism Toolkit by Franz Kruger. 2006. IAJ: STE Publishers.
* Tanja E. Bosch is a lecturer at the Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town
Swaziland: Film: Swazi grandmothers shore up a crumbling society
In a country barely the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey, a disease has taken hold. Nearly 40 percent of Swaziland's population is HIV-positive, and the other 60 percent lives at constant risk for the disease. HIV is a constant presence, weighing down on the lives of the estimated one million Swazis and the future of their country.
Barracking* for Obama
It feels like it did all those years ago:
close your eyes and picture the quiff and smile.
Promise of Camelot, no hint of guile,
until that day in November, a blow
to baby boomers’ hopes for the future.
Now barrack for Obama, a new dawn,
a surgeon for the brave new world is born
fixing gaping wounds with a suture.
Country like a patient anaesthetised:
a trusting smile on a slumbering face
surrendering itself to healing hands;
but what lurks on that table disguised
waiting to ride on a needle stick trace?
A virus we hope Obama withstands.
* An Australian expression for supporting or rooting for.
* Derek Fenton was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and now lives in Australia where he teaches Mathematics and English as a Second Language. His poetry is informed by the experience of being a migrant and the difficulties of adjustment to a new country and alienation from the old. Fenton has had poems published by Les Murray in Quadrant magazine and a poem short-listed for publication in the Westerly.
Interview with Christopher Mlalazi
Conversations with Writers
Christopher Mlalazi has written plays for Zimbabwean performing arts groups that include Amakhosi Theatre; Umkhathi Theatre; Sadalala Amajekete Theatre and the Khayalethu Performing Arts Project. His poems and short stories have been published in newspapers, magazine and websites that include Crossing Borders Magazine, Poetry International Web, the Sunday News and The Zimbabwean newspaper. Others have been featured in anthologies that include Short Writings From Bulawayo: Volumes I, II and III (Ama’books Publishers, 2003, 2004 and 2005), Writing Now (Weaver Press, 2005), and The Obituary Tango: Selection of Writing from the Caine Prize for African Writing 2005 (New Internationalist Publications, 2006, Jacana Media ,2006). Mlalazi spoke with Conversations with Writers about his work.
Conversations with Writers: One of your most recent short stories, ‘Election Day’, was published in the Edinburgh Review. What is the story about? How long did it take you to write it?
Christopher Mlalazi: The story is about election rigging in an unnamed African country. This story was inspired by accusations of election rigging that always follow presidential elections.
There is no given timeframe in which to write a short story, one can even write it in an hour. At the 2006 Caine Prize workshop in Kenya, we were required to write a 3,000 word short story in ten days flat.
It took me almost a month to write ‘Election Day’ because I had about three versions of it and was failing to decide which was the best. Then I did a theatre adaptation of the same story, which helped further develop it, and after that, I came back to the prose version and worked on it until I came up with the draft which was happily and instantly accepted by the Edinburgh Review.
The story is set in a single room. Maintaining excitement through 3,000 words in such kind of a situation is really demanding: one has to dig deep into one’s resources, always planting hooks to keep the reader absorbed. At the end, when I looked back I loved what I had done.
I had really been concentrating on the extra-personal but I later discovered that my story had both inner and personal conflict. The protagonist in the story is a president during the last day of presidential elections. The opposition is clearly winning, and everyone belonging to the ruling party, even the First Lady, has panicked and they want to flee the country before it is too late, because they had been ruling unjustly. That is the surface of the story, the extra-personal conflict. Now, this panic has led to the president’s compatriots to look at their relationship with him. That is the personal conflict. Going further down, these people also look at their inner lives, and that is the inner conflict.
Conversations with Writers: What are your main concerns as a writer?
Christopher Mlalazi: Seeing an ever declining book-reading culture, that’s one – and in Zimbabwe, the video or DVD is mainly responsible for that. It’s becoming rare to see someone carrying a novel on the streets these days; it's always the DVD or video cassette.
My second concern is seeing African writers (and I am one of the culprits) shunning writing in their mother tongues and preferring Western languages. Are we not, as artists, custodians of our own cultures? Most young writers are shunning writing in the vernacular because they see it as a sign of backwardness, which I think is being naïve – they think writing in English is the in thing, that it’s fashionable.
A program should be put in place that supports writing in vernacular languages, a sort of audience-building project as is being done with theatre, and it must be supported by the government. Children should also be encouraged to read books written in the vernacular, both at school and at home, so that when they grow up they will value them.
Conversations with Writers: What does being a writer mean to you? And in what way are writers custodians of cultures?
Christopher Mlalazi: I have never really given it much thought, what being a writer means to me.
I have always thought that I must write something. I have always had this unexplainable urge to produce something artistically – which led me to break-dance, a little bit of vernacular rap, writing poetry, writing plays, stories – just writing. I have even attempted to write an academic paper that attempts to analyse story structure.
Writing has opened my eyes to things I don’t think I would have given much thought to had I not been a writer, things like, ‘Is everything okay around us? And if they are not, how can I address that through my writing?’
We are custodians of culture in the sense that it is our duty to record our way of life and transmit it to posterity. Ways of life evolve, we can’t remove that, but what can we save? Obviously not all, because there are traditions which hinder progress, but the little that we save must be given its due respect through celebration in an artistic form, just like it used to be done in the past in the celebration of the first harvest or in the rain dance, etc.
Conversations with Writers: How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?
Christopher Mlalazi: Growing up in a Zimbabwe in political turmoil has dramatically influenced my writing in the sense that, as writing thrives on conflict, there is plenty of that around to pick from – also the hunger and disease.
Conversations with Writers: What are the biggest challenges that you face?
Christopher Mlalazi: Getting an audience nationally, continentally and internationally. Africa has a wealth of stories and the challenge for the African writer is to seduce the world by the way we tell them. We have to overcome the corruption of power that pulls us back and often shuts our mouths and breaks our pens.
I am still yet to publish my first novel, but on the short story genre I can confidently say I have been successful, with several national and international short story anthology inclusions under my belt. I think my success on the short story genre rests on my being able to write without any reservations whatsoever. Also interacting with other writers internationally through the internet assists, because one gets to hear of a publishing deal here and there.
Conversations with Writers: When did you start writing?
Christopher Mlalazi: At High School where I dabbled in amateurish writing just for the love of seeing my words providing aesthetic entertainment.
At that stage, I was writing for my classmates – they always seemed amused by my stories. I remember when I was in form four, I started writing a novel and kept at it for three years. When it was finished, I submitted it to the Literature Bureau, who rejected it. I put the manuscript away and forgot all about it. Sometimes I come across scraps of it around the house, and when I read them, I smile at myself. The story was an investigation, inspired by the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Three Investigators, James Hardly Chase, James Bond – books which I read voraciously at that time.
Conversations with Writers: In the writing that you are doing, who would you say has influenced you the most?
Christopher Mlalazi: My late father, who was a master folklore storyteller.
I grew up in the township of Pumula and it had no electricity before independence. Food was cooked on an open fire in a lean-to. Sometimes, on hot days, after supper, we would sit by the fire and father always made it a point to tell us tales and almost all of them came with beautiful songs. Also, if relatives visited from the rural areas, he would ask them to tell us tales, which I enjoyed listening to very much. On other days father would ask us to recite the tales to him, correcting us where we made errors, and through that way I too became a good storyteller. At school the teacher would sometimes require us to tell stories.
Conversations with Writers: Do you write everyday?
Christopher Mlalazi: Yes, I write everyday. I spend about five hours on it per day.
Conversations with Writers: What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
Christopher Mlalazi: I am currently published in nine short story anthologies, with two more already confirmed for 2007. Another of my short stories has also been short-listed for a major short story writing award for African writers.
I was also invited to the 2006 Caine Prize Workshop which was held at Cater Lake, a remote and tranquil resort in Kenya. Basically, what we did there was to write, then everyday after dinner there were readings of the stories by the writers, which were followed by group criticism to assist the writer develop his or her story.
There were ten writers at the workshop and two mentors/animateurs. The writers were drawn from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and two came from the UK. All the stories that were written at the workshop have been published in the 2006 Caine Prize Anthology titled The Obituary Tango. My short story is titled ‘Dancing with Life’, and it is a political and socio-economic satire.
In 2004, another of my short stories, ‘The River of Life’, was awarded the Highly Recommended citation in the Sable Lit Short Story Competition. The story is fantasy, a recreation of Genesis, postulating mankind as coming from stars.
In 2005 I also attended the Uganda Beyond Borders Literature Festival, which was a British Council initiative. At this festival, I facilitated a creative writing workshop for primary school students in Kampala, and also did a public reading. I had a great time there, and rubbed shoulders with some of Africa’s writing giants: Shimmer Chinodya (Zimbabwe), Helon Habila (Nigeria), Professor Taban Lo Liyong (Sudan), Veronique Tadjo (Ivory Coast), Bernardine Evaristo (Nigeria, UK) to name but a few.
* This interview appears courtesy of Conversations with Writers. If you are a writer interested in participating, please contact
Ambrose Musiyiwa at this email: firstname.lastname@example.org This original interview can be found here.
* Chris Mlalazi is a playwright and fiction writer from Bulawayo. His work has been featured in the Crossing Borders project and several publications. His story, Broken Wings, has been shortlisted for the HSBC/SA PEN Literary Award 2007.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Obama morning - yes we will
A Kenyan exile in the UK
Yes, we can because
It is written in blood
On your hand
We will because
The time has come
and cannot be held back
we owe it
and we are many
we are bold
and bolder still
and our time too has come
and we will
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/
Review of the African Blogosphere – September 13, 2008
The election of Barack Obama as US president is still one of the most discussed topics on the African blogosphere, although the giddy post-election euphoria is steadily giving way to more subdued analyses and observations.
Thoughts argues that Obama’s victory is bittersweet for Nigeria and most of Africa:
“…while we rejoice that YES WE CAN, it is sad that apparently in Africa it seems that NO WE CANNOT, at least not yet. Not that we cannot, as such, but we won’t have the opportunity to, at least not likely in this generation. The seeds of today were planted years ago, probably in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Barack Obama was born in 1961… the modern period of the struggle for the political and social emancipation of the African-American, the anti-apartheid struggle and the political (not economic) independence of African nations. Clearly, Nigeria and much of Africa are NOT effectively planting seeds now for tomorrow…
As the ancient Chinese proverb says, ‘If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.’ Today, we must educate our people and leverage global tools such as Information Communication Technologies to foster the requisite education for all people at all levels regardless of background, age, sex, physical and mental characteristics, creed, tribe, religion, status, income or any other social divide. Today, our competition is no longer local but global, and our core limiting factors are ourselves, our education and the opportunities we create.”
Kamer Stories argues that the jubilation in Africa over Obama’s victory have been over the top and are out of sync with the realities on the continent:
“We have an ongoing war in Congo, I hardly see Africans saying anything about it, much less doing anything. Hunger and poverty is still a reality in many parts of our continent, and until that is greatly reduced, I do not see why we should be in such a celebratory mood. Let me come closer to home. In my country, we have a president who has been on the ‘throne’ since before I was born (and I am in my twenties) and all attempts till date to make him see the error of his ways have come to naught. How can we be celebrating in such a manner, when all this is happening in out own backyard? …
Many Cameroonians (my parents included) are over the moon even as I write; they are still in a state of limbo. I’m not sure when they’ll get out of it. When I asked them why they’ve taken this celebration to such a level (they’ve been celebrating for five days now to the exclusion of everything else, mind you), they retorted that ‘this should show Biya!’ Show Biya what? I asked. ‘He should follow America’s example and let him let a minority rule. It would show him that a minority can also rule in this country’. I don’t even know where to begin.”
Dr. Ethiopia praises the Bush Administration’s “tireless effort and initiatives in transforming Africa” and list’s President Bush’s achievements in Africa which he describes as the most impressive of any US administration:
“It is supremely hard to follow that. But most importantly you have delivered a great deal in Africa in your eight years as president of the U.S.
The challenges in Africa are clear, and president-elect Obama will have to meet this high expectation and deliver even further more. We all should be grateful for what Bush has done and accomplished in Africa, but we are also keenly aware that our better days are yet to come.
Obama’s time to walk-the-walk in, Darfur and all corners of Africa has arrived. The urgency of Africa’s pressing issues cannot wait another day, another hour or another minute.
Well done President Bush, and farewell sir. It is my hope that as a civilian you would carry on this vision of yours in Africa, and elsewhere.”
Angry African comments on the life and death of African music legend Miriam Makeba:
“Mama Africa never forgot about the fight for justice. Never. She didn’t die at home. She died in Castel Volturno in Italy, in the evening of 9 November 2008, of a heart attack, shortly after taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation. Camorra finances itself through drug trafficking, extortion, protection and racketeering. It is the oldest organized criminal organization in Italy. Mama Africa… Mama World… Mama Ubuntu… No matter where you were, she was with you in your fight for justice, freedom, liberty and equality for all.
She died just after singing Pata Pata. She died on stage.
In the words of Mama Africa, “I will sing until the last day of my life.”
So she is gone. But live on. Always.
Viva Mama Africa! Viva! Long Live Miriam Makeba! Long Live!”
Elie Smith, the France-based blogger, writes about his recent trip to Sudan which changed some of his long-held assumptions about that country and its people:
“I considered Sudan… as an Arab state. For, the Western media do present Sudan as an Arab state and the crises in Darfur as a racial war. They present Sudan to be at best, a sort of Saudi Arabia or at worst, a kind of Afghanistan that doesn’t want to accept its name. But the Sudan that I saw for the first time on the 1st of November 2008 is not an Arab country, but a purely and proudly black African country proud of her multiple black African heritages. It is true that, in Northern Sudan, where Khartoum is located, the lingua franca is Arabic, but that doesn’t in any way mean that the Sudanese, be they from north, east and west and south, are not proud of the black African ancestry...
The western media made me think that the Sudanese were Arabs, which to me, meant White Arab from Saudi Arabia or northern Egypt. I discovered that the Sudanese were black and also discovered on Saturday November 2nd during the away finals of the 12th edition of the MTN CAF Champions League that the Sudanese were truly proud of their black African ancestry, even though a majority of them are practicing Muslims.”
Scribbles from the Den republishes an article from the Guardian newspaper which explains how the Obama campaign harnessed the power of the internet to create the powerful grassroots movement that propelled the democratic candidate into the White House:
“Obama's masterful leveraging of web 2.0 platforms marks a major e-ruption in electoral politics – in America and elsewhere - as campaigning shifts from old-style political machines, focused on charming those at the top of organisations, towards the horizontal dynamics of online social networks. The web, a perfect medium for genuine grassroots political movements, is transforming the power dynamics of politics. There are no barriers to entry on sites like Facebook and YouTube. Power is diffused towards the edges because everybody can participate. It's being used not only for vote-getting but - as the Obama campaign demonstrated - for grassroots fundraising too totalling more than $160m (£80m) from people who gave comparatively tiny amounts - $200 or less.”
* Dibussi Tande, a writer and activist from Cameroon, produces the blog Scribbles from the Den
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at www.pambazuka.org/
Women majority in parliament
Rwandan women come out on top in parliamentary elections
This programme looks at the significance of the recent Rwandan elections which made history as women gained a majority in parliament - what do ordinary Rwandan women think of and expect from this success and what inspiration or message for the rest of Africa.
China announces $586bn investment programme
Stephen Marks and Sanusha Naidu
The world’s financial markets took a boost this week when China announced a $586bn programme of investment in infrastructure and social welfare amounting to 7 percent of GDP in each of the next two years.
The new investment was expected to concentrate on low-income housing, water, electricity and transport, including a big increase in railways.
The keen welcome by global markets eager for good news was a tribute to China’s emerging economic muscle. But the timing of the announcement, originally planned to follow a Beijing summit of China’s economic policymakers later this month, pointed to the flipside of China’s new strength.
Financial Times reported, ‘Anecdotal evidence from a range of different companies in China suggests that the economy slowed sharply in October and some economists had downgraded next year’s growth estimate to 5-6 per cent in the absence of strong fiscal action. Economists say the government wanted to deliver a strong signal about its spending plans before the official October data were released’.
China’s more regulated banking system has preserved it from the direct impact of the ‘credit crunch’. But its export dependence has exposed it to the impact of the depression the crunch has triggered.
A wave of factory closures in the Pearl River Delta has led local officials to pre-empt possible industrial unrest by setting up emergency funds to pay sacked workers their unpaid wages, and to monitor local factories to identify firms in danger before they collapse.
As well as offsetting the immediate impact of the depression, the spending and investment boost could mark a shift to boosting domestic living standards and consumption to reduce China’s exposure to global turbulence.
But this will not mark a turn to isolation. According to US Treasury figures as of February this year Asian countries between them held more than half of all US public debt. Japan is the major purchaser with $1,197bn but China is in second place with $922bn, and total dollar reserves of $2trillion - more than two thirds of its annual production.
‘The US government decision to bail out the mortgage giants
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September came - according to
rumour - after a phone call in which the Chinese president,
Hu Jintao, threatened President George Bush that if they were
not rescued, China would stop buying US Treasury bills. The
US government denies the story. The Chinese point to the
facts: Fannie and Freddie were saved and the Chinese loans,
$595.9bn, were guaranteed. The story is emblematic of the
current changes in the geopolitics of capital.’ [Martine Bulard ‘Financial realities after the Dollar’ Le Monde Diplomatique November 2008.]
Yet the stimulus package represents more than just a response to the global financial crisis. Coined as ‘The New Deal for China’, it represents a sobering analysis of China’s export led growth strategy. It is believed that this could be the defining moment in Beijing’s economic model that reduces dependence on exports in favour of a heathier path.
Indeed, the speculation that China is the only country that can weather the financial crisis with its US$1 trillion plus foreign reserves means that advancing the prospects of harmonious development domestically remains the top priority for President Hu Jintao’s administration. This is particularly so given the need to defuse social protests. So the financial package could be the start of a more disciplined fiscal policy in Beijing aimed at strengthening domestic social safety nets.
What does this mean for Africa?
The stimulus package is geared towards injecting capital into the domestic economy, particularly within the services sector. But some are hoping that it will also anchor China’s demand for Africa’s commodities. Of course, the volatile oil market also has energy pundits thinking that this could be a boost for the price of the black gold. The fact that the stimulus package is intended to strengthen domestic demand and fuel greater infrastructure development , could well mean that China’s African interests are not at risk and instead offer . greater opportunities.
The recent visit by the Chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, Mr. Wu Banggao, could be seen in this light.
Invited by five African countries, Mr. Wu reaffirmed relations with the five countries that invited him (Algeria, Ethiopia, Gabon, Madagascar and Seychelles) and concluded further deals with them. In Algeria the Hong Kong listed company Great Wall Motors has entered into , a deal to ship 700 luxury vehicles to the North African country. With domestic demand taking a dip, this contract could help ease some of the negative effects for the car maker.
In other developments Mr. Wu discussed boosting cooperation with , Madagascar signed an economic and technical pact with Gabon that will see further large-scale projects in mineral production, power production and a gymnasium construction, and proposed a three point plan for co-operation with . Ethiopia.
The real thrust of Mr. Wu’s visit was the official ground-breaaking ceremony for the African Union conference centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Pledged at the 2006 FOCAC Summit, the Conference Centre is seen as a first step towards strengthening dialogue and cooperation between China and the AU.
But all eyes will now be on this weekend’s Global Crisis G20. With China, India, Brazil, and South Africa in attendance, there has been a quiet storm brewing in Africa around the Continent’s exclusion This could be an important opportunity for China to step up to the plate and place Africa’s concerns on the table. It will be interesting to see in the wake of the crisis meeting and China’s stimulus package, whether this has ben the occasion of a maturing of its relations with African countries.
Many are predicting that China’s engagement with Africa has not been affected by the global financial crisis, and indeed that it could stimulate further interests in Africa’s infrastructure development and still remain a significant growth factor.
But perhaps we should also be asking whether we will see further large-scale loan packages like the mineral backed DRC loan. From the African side expectations that an Obama Presidency will renew confidence in Africa’s exports to the American market will depend how the new Obama administration and Beijing calibrate their economic interdependence.
For the moment with demand slowing down in the US, it may interesting to explore whether Africa will become the export destination of second choice for Chinese companies who are experiencing negative returns as a result of domestic slowdown, as in the case of Great Wall Motors. But, for how long - and what about the purchasing power parity of Africa’s consumers, outside of the small elites?.
∗ Stephen Marks is a research associate and Sanusha Naidu is research director of Fahamu’s China in Africa programme.
China to the rescue?
China’s $570bn expansion package has been [url=http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-11/12/content_10344247.htm]
welcomed[/url] by World Bank President Robert Zoellick, particularly as it was announced in advance of this weekend’s top-level meeting of the G20 group of nations to discuss the growing global economic crisis.
The package announcement also followed a flurry of regional and inter-regional meetings on the crisis by top bankers and officials which brought to the fore the eclipse of the traditional economic domination of the USA and the other OECD countries; the rise of the new Asian and ‘Southern’ powers; and the uncertain implications for the poorer developing countries, especially in Africa.
On October 24 and 25 Asian and European leaders gathered in Beijing for their regular ASEM meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao confirmed that China would ‘actively participate’ in next weekend’s Washington meeting and echoed the call by European Commission President Barroso that ‘we swim together or we sink together’.
One idea floated by Asian countries at the ASEM meeting was for an $80bn Asian fund to help countries in the region deal with liquidity problems. But there is scepticism about whether the participating nations will be able to agree on the details. Meanwhile, though there have been calls in the Chinese press for the US to give up its control over the IMF in return for Chinese assistance. Official statements have been more cautious, referring tactfully to the need to ‘diversify’ the global currency system.
The call for reform was echoed by African officials at the African Development Bank’s meeting of finance ministers and central bank heads in Tunis this week. The ADB reduced its forecast for economic growth in expectation of a slowdown in aid, exports and remittances from overseas as the global crisis begins to bite.
In particular, as Jean Ping, head of the AU’s Executive Commission pointed out, Africa had not been invited to this weekend’s Washington summit except for South Africa, which will be present as an emerging country on a par with Brazil or China.
"Africa ... was not associated even slightly with the preparation when it's a question of deciding the future of the world to which this continent belongs, in fact and by right," he protested.
Fears about the impact on Africa were confirmed in a new survey of the impact of the global crisis on the ‘global south’ conducted by the Institute of Development Studies [IDS] at Sussex University. IDS asked 21 experts from 14 developing countries - including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa - to present ‘snapshots’ on how the crisis is impacting their countries, and on the policy debate on how to respond.
An overview of the likely impact on African economies, by three researchers from the African Economic Research Consortium in Nairobi, predicts a slowdown in Africa’s recent growth as the global slowdown hits raw material prices, with a resulting blow to tax revenues.
Aid flows and FDI will also be hit, as will tourism earnings. While the few African countries with direct exposure to the global financial system, such as Nigeria and South Africa, have already experienced the impact through their stock markets, the other will not be spared.
Africa’s response, they argue, should start from ‘the need for pragmatism instead of the mistake of the 1980s where dogmatic reliance on market mechanisms
was actively promoted by the Bretton Woods institutions’.
In particular, they argue, African leaders should call for an urgent special summit of AU Finance Ministers and Heads of State to design a common African response. ‘This time, Africa should not ask what the developed world can do for them. Instead, they should articulate what they need from the developed world in support of their own efforts. Similarly, Africa should not wait to be told how to address the impending challenges. Instead, they should embark on their own remedial actions and seek assistance of the development partners without dogmatic
But what sort of hearing would Africa’s case receive - even assuming Africa’s leaders could get their act together sufficiently to present it? Here China’s role could be crucial. It is the purchase of US Treasury Bonds by China and other Asian countries which has financed the USA’s chronic deficits, and thus enabled the inflated and now burst speculative credit bubble. And China’s $3trillion reserves have a crucial role to play in coming to the rescue - for which China will have every justification for insisting on a price, hiowever restrained the language in which it does so.
Senior Chinese Economist Professor Lan Xue of Beijing’s Tsinghua University summarises the range of Chinese opinion in his contribution to the IDS round-up;
‘In the popular media and the Internet, there are various interpretations of the root cause and the long term consequences of the crisis. Many have blamed the American economy over-leveraging its economic power at the cost of the global community and questioned the fairness and the usefulness of current global financial institutions. Some believe that American financial institutions have used financial tools to transfer about one third of their losses to the global financial market. Others see this financial crisis as evidence of the fundamental flaws of global capitalism and the need to rethink the spread of capitalism as we know it in developing countries’.
Some, he says, have argued that ‘China should take this opportunity to play a leadership role in reforming the current global financial order’. Others, mindful of China’s own domestic problems, are more cautious. But these problems themselves could and should be a spur to global reform.
However, if the ‘emerging powers’ of China, together with India, Brazil and South Africa, do succeed in gaining places at the top table of the World Bank and IMF, and in influencing the shape of a reformed global economic order, how far will their interests and demands coincide with the needs of the rest of Africa, and of other poorer countries? If Africa does not develop its common voice, there is no guarantee that any new framework will meet its needs much better than the old.
∗ Stephen Marks is a research associate with Fahamu’s China in Africa programme.
Ethiopia: China offers three-point proposal to boost ties
China offered a three-point proposal to boost its relations with Ethiopia, calling on the two sides to expand substantial cooperation to promote the all-round and cooperative partnership to a higher level. The offer was made during Chinese top legislator Wu Bangguo's official visit to the country from 8-10 November. China suggested that the two countries to work closer to maintain high-level exchange, cement substantial cooperation and strengthen the coordination on world affairs to safeguard the interests of the two and the other developing countries.
And meanwhile Zimbabweans starve…
Some rural folk in Zimbabwe are now relying on wild fruits which are quickly running out. Quite a number of them have died from hunger and starvation. If only the goevernment had not banned the NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations) who were donating food to the poor the number of deaths would not be that much.
Erosion of the Rule of Law in Zimbabwe
This 47-page report documents how ZANU-PF has compromised the independence and impartiality of judges, magistrates and prosecutors and transformed the police into an openly partisan and unaccountable arm of ZANU-PF. The report also documents how police routinely and arbitrarily arrest and detain MDC activists, using harassment and detention without charge as a form of persecution.
Former Zapu leaders opt out
The Zanu PF politburo on Wednesday tasked national chairman John Nkomo to meet disgruntled former PF Zapu leaders today in Bulawayo to find ways of addressing their concerns. Sources in Zanu PF said the politburo made the decision after the ex-PF Zapu leaders at the weekend declared the unity accord with Zanu PF dead and vowed to revive the late Joshua Nkomo-led party next month.
MDC set for crucial party meeting
All is set for Friday’s national executive and national council meeting of the MDC in Harare, in what has been described as ‘the most important and crucial’ gathering of the party’s top bodies since its formation nine years ago. Analysts predict it is almost certain that the two bodies will endorse the position expressed by the negotiating team and party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, after the SADC summit in Johannesburg on Sunday.
Starving Zimbabweans raid food lorries
Starving Zimbabweans have stormed lorries carrying food across the border with South Africa. Ten 30-tonne vehicles carrying private imports of the staple maize meal at the Zimbabwean side of the Beit Bridge border post were besieged by hundreds of Zimbabweans desperate for something to eat. Witnesses said that the crowd ripped the stolen bags open to stuff the uncooked cereal into their mouths.
Violence returns as talks flounder
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government is launching another wave of attacks against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a spokesman for the opposition party told IRIN, after a much vaunted power-sharing deal appeared to be on the verge of collapse
ZANU-PF asks Mugabe to form new government
Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF asked President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday to form a new government with immediate effect, a fresh sign that a power-sharing agreement with political rivals is collapsing. Zimbabweans, faced with the world's worst inflation and acute food shortages, hoped that a September 15 deal would end the southern African country's ruinous political and economic crisis.
Need for a stronger UN mandate in the DR Congo
AU Monitor Weekly Roundup: Issue 158, 2008
Heads of State and government of the Great Lakes peace conference met in Nairobi, Kenya in a summit organised by the UN Secretary-General and the African Union (AU) to deal with the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. The region recommended a stronger mandate for the UN troops present in the country and resolved to send a team of senior diplomats. Leaders from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) also held an extraordinary summit in South Africa to discuss the crisis in the DRC as well as the stalemate in the power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai stalled over the allocation of key cabinet ministries. However, the summit failed to come up with a solution other than the creation of two home affairs ministries to break the deadlock, a proposition that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) strongly rejects. Negotiations between the two parties are also meant to resolve the issue of appointments of other key official positions and the amendment of the constitution to facilitate the agreement. In a SADC communiqué, the extraordinary summit decided that the ministry of home affairs be co-managed between the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the MDC and resolved to endorse the statement of the heads of State of the Great Lakes region summit on the situation in the DRC. Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia, mentioning that his mission learnt of attempts to undermine the Somali peace agreement, urged all Somali people to support the on-going efforts to implement the Djibouti peace accord.
At the end of the first session of the conference of ministers in charge of social development, convened by the social affairs department of the AU Commission and under the theme ‘Towards a sustainable social development agenda for Africa’, ministers adopted the social policy framework, to guide member states on the development and implementation of appropriate national strategies and programs aimed at enhancing social protection and security for all. During the official closing of the tenth session of the Pan African Parliament (PAP), Honourable Gertrude Mongella, the President of PAP, warned African states that the PAP would not tolerate ‘negotiated democracies’ where defeated leaders resort to negotiations to prolong their stay in power. She urged parliamentarians to adequately prepare for the eleventh session that would review the protocol establishing the PAP.
In development and finance related news, humanitarian experts and analysts are concerned over severe impact that the world financial crisis could have on humanitarian funding with official development assistance projected to be cut up to 30 per cent or more. Ethiopia will host the eleventh meeting of the Africa Partnership Forum that will bring together over 100 high-level representatives from Africa, G8 and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries to discuss key issues for Africa’s development and to highlight priorities for progress. In addition, German President Horst Kohler, speaking at the end of the fourth German-African forum that resolved to improve economic, political and social development in Africa; fight against poverty, climate change, migration, regional conflicts and terrorism, referred to cooperation as a key element in the partnership between Africa and Europe.
In other news, the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa are jointly organising the fourth meeting of the council of ministers responsible for civil aviation in Accra to discuss aviation safety and security and agree on modalities for realising the full liberalisation of air transport markets in the two regions. Finally, the AU Commission chairman, Jean Ping, on behalf of the AU, has congratulated President-elect of the United States of America Barack Obama for his historic election.
Africa: Maghreb citizens outraged by stoning
Many Maghreb citizens, Islamic scholars and human rights activists have vigorously condemned the stoning death last week of a 13-year-old Somali rape victim judged guilty of adultery. Some have expressed utter astonishment at how such an act of barbarism could be directed at a child in the name of religion.
Egypt: The Women of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood
Islamist women, increasingly restless with their subordinate status in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, are pushing for greater representation and a wider role, according to a new paper from the Carnegie Middle East Center. Omayma Abdel-Latif explores the role of women within the movement, including recent debates following the release of the 2007 draft party platform that denied women the right to the country’s top position.
Kenya: Widows have to wait longer to claim funds
Thousands of widows and orphans will have to wait a little longer for the Government to finalise mechanisms on how to reclaim financial assets left behind by their husbands or fathers. A taskforce set up in March 2008 to come up with recommendations on how Sh38 billion in unclaimed financial assets should be handled is yet to submit its report, the House heard.
Southern Africa: Politics in Swaziland: Hide and seek
Swazi gender activists are angry that King Mswati III and the newly elected Parliament have betrayed their hopes, and the Constitution, by not appointing more women to the House of Assembly and the Senate. In the September elections, just seven women were elected to the Assembly, which numbers 55 members (MPs)
Zimbabwe: The atrocities of the practice of “kuripa ngozi”
The African continent has diverse cultural backgrounds and in contemporary Zimbabwean culture, traditional customary practices have a strong foothold and remain an integral part of the everyday lives of many Zimbabweans. In this regard, women in Zimbabwe are still vulnerable to some entrenched customary practices, despite the legal prohibitions which have since been enacted by the Zimbabwe judicial system.
DRC: Congolese children forced to fight
In the last few months, fighting between the Congolese army and rebels has escalated, and more and more children are being kidnapped to bolster numbers amongst the various militia.
DRC: OMCT intervention ahead of ACHPR
Since August, the conflict in Nord Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), between the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) and the troops of rebel general Laurent Nkunda of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (Congrès national pour la défense du people, CNDP) has intensified and has been accompanied by grave and massive human rights violations of the civilian population.
The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Intervention before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), during the 44th Ordinary Session, Abuja, Nigeria, 10th – 24th November 2008
Item 4 d): The Situation of Human Rights in Africa
Mrs. Chair, Honourable Commission, Distinguished Delegates and Participants, as the largest coalition of non governmental organisations fighting against torture and all other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) would like to share its concern on the situation of human rights prevailing on the African continent.
Since August, the conflict in Nord Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), between the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) and the troops of rebel general Laurent Nkunda of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (Congrès national pour la défense du people, CNDP) has intensified and has been accompanied by grave and massive human rights violations of the civilian population. Furthermore, whilst the DRC has, in principle, recently reinforced its legal framework for the protection of human rights at the internal, regional and international level, this improvement is not reflected in practice, and the situation of human rights on the ground has deteriorated dramatically. For instance, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions are commonplace in different parts of DRC. Torture and ill-treatment are also being perpetrated by State agents at security service offices, police stations and prison facilities, as well as by non state actors, in a climate of impunity.
OMCT calls on the Government and all relevant actors to solve this crisis by peaceful means and to take strong immediate measures to ensure the protection at all times, including in times of upheaval, of the right of every person to respect for his or her life, to be free from torture and other forms of ill-treatment and to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention.
With regard to Tunisia, on the systematic use of torture and ill-treatment by police during questioning of suspects and the refusal to conduct effective independent and impartial inquiries into complaints of torture and ill-treatment, it remains far below the strict international legal standards on these matters. Furthermore, the definitions contained in the Law on Terrorism from 2003 are being used to limit the freedom of expression and association and avoid any political dissent, even peacefully expressed. Finally, in spite of a reform of the High Council of the Judiciary, the magistrates remain under the influence of the executive power and unable to apply Tunisian law in general according to their professional deontology. More than the law itself, major shortcomings in its application by state agents remain an extremely serious preoccupation.
OMCT calls on Tunisia to urgently take immediate and determined measures to prevent and eradicate all forms of torture and ill-treatment in the country, to create effective independent complaints mechanisms for persons deprived of liberty and to establish independent and impartial investigations into all forms of ill-treatment that will be also be competent to prosecute persons suspected of ill-treatment.
In Sudan, although the government has agreed to new policies, this has failed to impact on the ground where gross violations continue. Laws which violate the Constitution and international human rights standards are still in use. In this respect, OMCT is particularly concerned about cases of women sentenced to death by stoning on adultery charges in application of the penal code.
Under the National Security Act, arbitrary arrests and detentions are carried out. Acts of torture and ill-treatment in custody have been reported.
The conditions in the newly formed ’Special Courts’, set up to try suspected rebels underSudan’s 2001 Anti-terrorism law, violate both national and international human rights standards. Defendants don’t have a fair trial, access to lawyers has been denied and confessions extracted by force in custody accepted as evidence.
The situation in Darfur continues to be a key focus particularly after the ICC Prosecutor issued the indictments against President Al-Bashir, including on the basis of genocide. Currently the security situation in Darfur is deteriorating: internal displacement, attacks on civilians perpetrated by government forces and widespread incidences of sexual violence have been reported. Such crimes remain uninvestigated with existing legislation often granting immunity to state officials.
To achieve widespread peace and stability in Sudan, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) must be implemented, the Interim National Constitution fully applied, impunity firmly rejected and human rights law respected at all times.
In Zimbabwe, the power-sharing discussions between the country’s rival political parties have reached a deadlock, while extreme hunger affects more and more of the country’s population. OMCT expresses the sincere hope that a breakthrough will be made in these discussions and that finally there will be an opportunity to begin building a culture of human rights and, crucially, to end impunity for those who are responsible for torture, abuse and arbitrary killings.
The lead-up to Zimbabwe’s presidential elections in March and the period of political uncertainty that followed have been marked by high levels of politically motivated killings, torture, abductions and forced evictions. Many of these atrocities were carried out against the opposition and its supporters by pro-Government militia such as the Zanu-PF youth militia and so-called “War Veterans” and by elements within the Police, including certain notorious homicide squads. Corruption and political bias within the judiciary have helped to ensure that perpetrators of these human rights abuses have not been brought to justice, while lawyers who have sought to represent victims of these acts have themselves been put at risk.
In addition to these politically-motivated human rights abuses that have been a focus for international media, OMCT wishes to underline that torture is also routinely employed by police in Zimbabwe as a means of obtaining confessions from alleged criminals.
OMCT encourages the African Commission to urge Zimbabwe to, inter alia, establish a free and independent commission to investigate politically-motivated torture and killings, to ensure an effective system of punitive justice for individuals responsible for these and other human rights abuses and to urgently undertake a review of police investigation practices.
Mrs. Chair, honourable Commission, distinguished delegates and participants, in May of this year representatives of 17 prominent human rights organisations from across Africa met inMaputo, Mozambique, to take part in an OMCT seminar to examine and address the root causes of torture and ill-treatment. During this seminar, and in response to their deep concern at the widespread practice of torture on this continent, these human rights defenders drafted a declaration that calls, inter alia, on African Governments to end torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and to make Africa a continent free from such practices.
The Maputo Declaration against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, which now enjoys the support of some 50 human rights organisations, addresses in particular two issues that require urgent attention.
The first of these is the fact that, across Africa, violations of economic, social and cultural rights are very often the root causes of torture and other forms of violence.
The second issue of particular concern is the current attempts by certain States and scholars to erode the absolute legal prohibition of torture. OMCT wishes to recall that the prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm, that torture can never be justified under any circumstances; there are no political, economic or ideological arguments that make this practice acceptable. Freedom from torture is a non-derogable right, affirmed by all relevant international and regional instruments.
In spite of the clear legal prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment under international law, we have, in the last years, seen an unprecedented connivance in the commission of, and/or unwillingness to investigate, prosecute, punish and remedy such crimes by many countries, and this, in spite of their multiple legal obligations to do so. In this respect, OMCT would like to stress that, while there have in the last years been attempts by certain States and scholars to erode the absolute legal prohibition of torture, judgments by international courts and legal opinions adopted by other monitoring organs have consistently rejected such attempts.
OMCT acknowledges the legitimacy of the fight against terrorism. Indeed, it is the duty of States to ensure the security of their populations, but this security must be ensured on the basis of a democratic constitutional order, the Rule of Law and a strict respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in general and the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment in particular.
It is contrary to the fundamental principles of international human rights law to allow perpetrators of human rights violations to act with impunity. Impunity sends the wrong message to persons committing torture and ill-treatment that they are above the law. Impunity also denies the victims and their relatives the right to have the truth established, the right to see justice done and the right to reparation. To end impunity, those guilty, directly or indirectly, of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have to be identified, prosecuted and punished, and to ensure justice, victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have to have access to effective remedies, reparation, assistance and rehabilitation.
While many obstacles exist to ending impunity, all too often simply the political will is lacking to fully investigate crimes of torture and to bring perpetrators to justice. OMCT recalls that States are responsible before the international community for effectively outlawing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for preventing their occurrence, for prosecuting and punishing those guilty of such acts and for providing reparation to the victims.
Drawing inspiration from the principles contained in the Maputo Declaration, OMCT urges the Member States, the National institutions, the Commission and the NGO community to undertake all necessary efforts to ensure compliance by the States of their obligations under international and regional instruments regarding the absolute prohibition of torture and to take all necessary steps to ensure that freedom from torture, as a non-derogable right, is enjoyed by each and every individual on the African Continent, irrespective of his or her civil, political, economic, social or cultural status.
Thank you, Mrs. Chair.
Guinea-Bissau: A detrimental environment to the work of human rights defenders
In the run-up to the November 16 legislative elections in Guinea-Bissau, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), publishes today a mission report entitled Guinea-Bissau: A Detrimental Environment to the Work of Human Rights Defenders.
Kenya: Government's lack of commitment to ending torture
“The Government of Kenya is failing to take the necessary steps to stamp out torture in our country.” This is the central message of the reports prepared by a group of Kenyan NGOs, together with the World Organisation Against Torture, to inform the United Nations Committee Against Torture as it begins its examination of Kenya’s record on the prevention and eradication of torture, in Geneva, Switzerland.
KENYAN AND INTERNATIONAL NGOS CONDEMN THE GOVERNMENT OF KENYA’S LACK OF COMMITMENT TO ENDING TORTURE
A Joint Press statement on torture in Kenya issued by the Children Legal Action Network (CLAN), the Coalition on Violence against Women (COVAW), the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), the International Commission of Jurists, Kenya Section (ICJ-Kenya), and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT).
Geneva, Thursday 13 November 2008
“The Government of Kenya is failing to take the necessary steps to stamp out torture in our country.” This is the central message of the reports prepared by a group of Kenyan NGOs, together with the World Organisation Against Torture, to inform the United Nations Committee Against Torture as it begins its examination of Kenya’s record on the prevention and eradication of torture, in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Children Legal Action Network (CLAN) on behalf of the Coalition of Child Rights national NGOs, the Coalition on Violence against Women (COVAW), the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ), and the Kenya Human Rights Commission have come together to brief the Committee Against Torture on the national situation and to follow the presentation and examination of the Kenyan Government’s report to this Committee on 13 and 14 November.
The NGO group asserts that the people of Kenya, including women and children, are all too often victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Sam Mohochi, Executive Director of IMLU, states that, “efforts to stamp out this scourge have been severely hampered, not only by a culture of impunity that enables those responsible for acts of torture to go unpunished, but also by the lack of specific legislation to prohibit torture.” Of particular concern to the NGO group is the increase in the numbers of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance of civilians in Kenya, which the Government has vehemently denied and, consequently, failed to address. “The Kenyan police continue to violate the law with impunity and there seems to be a lack of political good will to resolve this matter. Members of Parliament appear set on disregarding the recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry into the Post Election Violence to create a police oversight body,” explains Wilfred Nderitu, Chairman of ICJ-Kenya.
Mr. Nderitu also points out that, “there has been a distinct evolution in the profile of victims of torture in Kenya, and they are now more clearly identifiable according to socio-economic criteria rather than political status. In other words, it is increasingly the poorest and most marginalised Kenyans who are most vulnerable to torture.”
Sandra Musoga of COVAW warns that the situation of women and children is a serious concern, “in particular as regards trafficking, child labour, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, rape and violence in the context of conflict situations.”
Even as the high-level delegation from the Kenyan Government presents its report to the UN Committee in Geneva, there are disturbing reports from the Mandera District in North EasternProvince that Kenyan security forces, already implicated in mass human rights abuses inMount Elgon, are once more engaged in acts of torture against members of pastoralist communities. On behalf of the NGO group, Sam Mohochi of IMLU condemned the Mandera military operation, as well as all other cases of torture deriving from land conflict, and called for it to be halted immediately. “We further ask the Government to account for the operation ‘okoa maisha’ which has also led to massive arrests and gross human rights violations,” he added. The NGO group expresses its strong opposition to this new development that sees the involvement of the Kenya military in maintaining law and order, a role which is not envisaged under military laws.
The NGOs gathering in Geneva urge the Government to see the examination of its report by the UN Committee Against Torture as an opportunity to begin a decisive campaign to end torture and other forms of violence in Kenya and to construct a society on the firm foundation of respect for human rights.
Sam Mohochi, IMLU
Tel.: +254 722 818 420
Wilfred Nderitu, ICJ/Kenya
Tel.: +254 722 5161 98
Sandra Musoga, COVAW
Tel.: +254 (0) 20 387 4357
Michael Miller, OMCT
Tel: +41 (0)78 7457782
Kenya: Human rights violations in prisons
The KHRC has been a moving force in advocating for Kenyan prison reform and prisoner’s rights. However, even though relations between human rights organizations and the Prison Department have improved over the last few years, prison conditions are still inhumane and in stark violation of human rights laws.
Kenya: Try suspects, says Rwanda tribunal official
The Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Adama Dieng has said Kenya must try those implicated in the Waki Report on post-election violence. He said civilians; politicians, security officers and their senior commanders are in the crosshairs of war crimes and crimes against humanity investigations and indictment in the Waki Report. Dieng said forgiving suspects named by Justice Philip Waki "in the name of peace and reconciliation" would breed impunity and future violence.
Nigeria: Anniversary of Ken Saro Wiwa hanging
This week marks the 13th anniversary of the death of famed Nigerian activist, Ken Saro Wiwa. On November 10, 1995 Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni activists, known as the Ogoni 9 were ruthlessly executed by the then Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha. Wiwa and his colleagues were members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) who peacefully protested against Shell Oil and the Nigerian government for human rights abuses and environmental damage in their community.
Sierra Leone: Child war victim shows courage to go on
Mariatu Kamara is 22, pays close attention to fashion, makeup and hairstyles, and, like many young women in Canada, is starting college. But, unlike others at her downtown campus, Kamara is doing it all without hands. Hers were hacked off in a machete attack in her native Sierra Leone a decade ago.
Tanzania: Man tries to sell albino wife
Police in southern Tanzania say they have arrested a man accused of attempting to sell his albino wife. The man was allegedly planning to sell his wife to two Congolese businessmen for around $3,000. Albinos have been living in fear in Tanzania after a series of killings due to a belief their body parts can make magic potions more effective.
Algeria: Deputies scrap term limit
The Algerian parliament has approved a constitutional amendment that abolishes a two-term limit for the president. The change opens the way for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a third term in elections due next April.
DRC: Aid workers to relocate frontline refugees
Tens of thousands of refugees at a frontline camp in eastern Congo will be urgently moved to prevent them being caught in crossfire between rebels and the army, aid officials said on Thursday. More than 65,000 civilians who have fled weeks of fighting are camped at Kibati, a few kilometres south of combat lines between Tutsi rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda and government troops.
DRC: UNHCR flies vital shelter aid to North Kivu
A UNHCR-chartered aircraft carrying vital shelter aid for thousands of displaced civilians arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) troubled North Kivu province on Thursday. The flight touched down in the provincial capital, Goma, after leaving Entebbe Airport in Uganda earlier in the day carrying 1,500 bales of plastic sheeting and three giant portable warehouses, known as Rubb halls, from UNHCR's regional stockpile in Dubai.
Egypt: End ‘Shoot to Stop’ practice at Sinai border crossings
Since June 2007, Egyptian border guards have killed at least 32 African migrants trying to cross into Israel, and Israel has forcibly returned at least 139 border crossers to Egypt, Human Rights Watch has said in a report. Egypt has detained those returned, not revealed their whereabouts, and reportedly deported some to their home countries where they face a substantial risk of persecution.
Kenya: Protect Somali refugees
The Kenyan government, foreign donors, and United Nations agencies should rapidly increase their response to the worsening Somali refugee crisis in Kenya, Human Rights Watch has said. More than 65,000 Somali refugees will have sought refuge in Kenya by the end of this year, up from 19,000 in 2007. New arrivals face extortion and abuses when trying to cross Kenya’s officially closed border and are received in appalling conditions in overcrowded, underserviced refugee camps.
Africa: Elections to ECOSOCC Permanent General Assembly
The official launch of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) General Assembly of the African Union (AU) took place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 9 September 2008. Subsequently, the Permanent General Assembly at its orientation meeting in Nairobi, Kenya from 15 to 18 October 2008 decided to resume the ECOSOCC electoral process in countries and regions where elections have not yet been held.
Kenya: Activists arrested
Activists Wangui Mbatia and Ken Ochieng Onguka have just been arrested by the Kenya Police at Jeevanjee Gardens and have been taken to the Central Police Station where they are now being detained. Wangui Mbatia and Ken Ochieng Onguka were arrested for distributing t- shirts on the controversial taxes for Members of Parliament , and DVD's advocating for the full implementation of the Waki Commission Report. The activity is part of the ongoing activities by the Partnership for Change. STOP PRESS: News received shortly before going to press indicates that these activists have now been released.
Activists Wangui Mbatia and Ken Ochieng Onguka have just been arrested by the Kenya Police at Jeevanjee Gardens and have been taken to the Central Police Station where they are now being detained.
STOP PRESS: News received shortly before going to press indicates that these activists have now been released.
Wangui Mbatia and Ken Ochieng Onguka were arrested for distributing t- shirts on the controversial taxes for Members of Parliament , and DVD’s advocating for the full implementation of the Waki Commission Report. The activity is part of the ongoing activities by the Partnership for Change.
We understand that they will be charged with unlawful assembly this afternoon at 2.30 pm, we are not sure where, but possibly at the High Court of Kenya.
Agenda 1 of the National Accord restored our civil liberties, and arresting citizens for wearing t-shirts that say “Yes to Waki” and “No taxes for MP’S, No taxes for Us” cannot constitute a crime of unlawful assembly.
Kenyans wearing these t-shirts are now in danger of being arrested. There are several of these shirts in circulation and thus several Kenyans are in danger of being arrested. The Police cannot be allowed to continue to harass peaceful Kenyan citizens.
Wangui Mbatia is the Executive Director of KENGO. The Partnership for Change is an initiative of Mars Group Kenya and the KENGO network.
We, peasants of the world demand our own convention!
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60 on the 10th of December 2008. As the declaration represents the worldwide expression of the rights which all human beings are inherently entitled to, it is important for the peasants to also commemorate this occasion.
Call to action on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 2008
We, peasants of the world demand our own convention!
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60 on the 10th of December 2008. As the declaration represents the worldwide expression of the rights which all human beings are inherently entitled to, it is important for the peasants to also commemorate this occasion.
Peassants represent almost half of the population on earth and we are the basis of the world's food system. We are working hard to fill people's plates every day—but we face the hard reality of the food, energy, climate and financial crises. Thoses crises also create massive and systematic violations of the rights of the peasants.
The current crises occurred because the old modes of production and consumption have been disastrous to people and the planet. In the agricultural sector, it came with trade liberalisation, support for chemical fertilizers and industrial seeds, green revolution, food aid, and rapid expansion of agrofuels. At the grass roots level, these policies manifest in the expropriation and privatisation of land, the destruction of the integrity of rural public services, food imports, and the lack of protection of local markets. These policies and practices lead by neo-liberal governments, transnational corporations (TNCs), and individuals have also hurt women peasants—who suffer double marginalisation: as women and as peasants.
In Indonesia, on the 29th of January 2008, 35 security guards of the National Plantation PTPN IV Adolina backed by 70 police officers from Deli Serdang district destroyed 30 hectares of land planted with corn and cassava belonging to small farmers. Seven farmers were arrested trying to defend their crops (they are now released). The company has cleared the land in order to grow palm oil.
In Mexico, free trade policies have led to massive low cost corn imports from the US. Local farmers, unable to compete, have lost their livelihood. The recent rise in corn prices on the world market has drastically increased the number of hungry people in Mexico.
Meanwhile, small farms are disappearing all over the world. In Turkey, one farming family leaves the land every 50 seconds. Two years ago farmers unable to repay their bank loans started to commit suicide; this situation has dramatically increased since.
In Brazil, it is estimated that 4,340 families have been expelled from their land by private companies in 2007, 28 people were assassinated and 259 people received death threats in land conflicts. In November 2007, Valmir Mota d'Oliveira, a peasant leader from Via Campesina Brazil was assassinated during a land occupation by the security guards employed by the TNC Syngenta.
The peasants all over the world have to put an end to the the corporate takeover of our land, water, and territory. We want a clear condemnation of the
governments, TNCs and individuals that are responsible for these crises, and for the violations of human rights they have conducted in the name of greed and capital accumulation.
Enough is enough! We have to keep struggling and be more organised to uphold our rights as peasants. That is why in light of the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, we demand our own convention. The future convention on the rights of the peasants will contain the basic values which will have to be respected, protected, and fulfilled by governments and international institutions. Among the basic rights are the right to live and proper living standard, right to
the agrarian resources, right on the seed and agriculture, right for capital and means of agricultural production, right to access the information and agriculture technology, right for freedom in determining price and market for agricultural production, right for protection of agriculture values, right for biological diversity, right for environmental preservation, and right for freedom of association. These rights are now getting recognised and
presented to the UN human rights system by La Via Campesina and its allies. These respective rights are also essential in order to accomplish people's food sovereignty.
We are committed to take this initiative at national, regional and international level in order to raise awareness, mobilise support and build alliances with not only peasants, but all of the people. We are sure that the rights of the peasants are fundamental for the sake of humankind in the planet.
We call all members of La Via Campesina and their allies to get mobilised in your respective countries to demand the institutionalisation of the rights of the peasants!
Uphold the rights of the peasants! Food sovereignty based on agrarian reform now!
Mozambique: Calm continues with isolated violence
A generally calm campaign for local elections on 19 November continues to be marred by incidents of violence and arrests, notably in Sofala, where 21 people are detained, and Tete provinces. In some places, both main parties seem to be encouraging youngsters (below voting age) to pull down posters and disrupt marches of the other party – and in a few case even to throw stones at members of other parties.
Mozambique: Increased transparency for observers
National and foreign election observers have been given increased access in new observer regulations published last month. A wide range of formerly secret election commission documents are now public, and observers are now allowed to watch the previously secret summation process by election commissions. But the new regulations also impose new restrictions on observers.
South Africa: ANC rebels vow to win poll
A breakaway faction of South Africa's governing African National Congress has vowed to win next year's general election. Senior politicians in the faction are moving to launch a new party to challenge the ANC, which has dominated South Africa's political landscape since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994.
South Africa: Record voter registration
South Africa's 2009 elections are engaging voters as the country's political landscape is changing and the ruling ANC for the first time may experience a serious challenge. Over 21.6 million South Africans have already registered to vote next year.During the weekend, 19,000 voter registration stations first opened their doors throughout the country to allow for new voters to enrol.
Zambia: Catholic priest arrested
A Kitwe based Roman Catholic Church priest Father Frank Bwalya has been arrested and detained on Wednesday for airing what is being deemed as biased post election analysis. He was charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of peace amid violent protests in the mining town of Zambia
Zambia: Sata challenges presidential poll result
Zambia's main opposition leader Michael Sata launched on Friday a court challenge to demand a recount of the vote in the October 30 presidential election, his party's lawyer said. "I know that (my colleagues) are currently in court filing a petition. I am now working on some more documents which we will submit to the court next week," Winter Kabimba, lawyer for Sata's Patriotic Front, told Reuters.
Zambia:m EISA statement on the elections
In response to an invitation extended by the Government of Zambia, the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) deployed a short term Observer Mission to the Presidential and Mwansabombwe and Ndola Central Parliamentary By Elections in Zambia of 30th October 2008. Under the leadership of Mr Leshele Thoahlane, Chairperson of the EISA Board of Directors and Former Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission of Lesotho, the EISA Election Observer Mission consisted of 20 members from different African countries.
Kenya: Proposal to tax MPs’ salaries withdrawn
Members of Parliament have done it again. For the third time last night, they arm-twisted acting Finance minister John Michuki into dropping the proposal to tax their hefty allowances. Michuki told Parliament that he would withdraw the proposal to tax members’ allowances alongside those of constitutional office holders such as judges.
Africa: Africans should confront ''blind governments'' on EPAs
African governments came under fire for "blindly" negotiating the controversial economic partnership agreements (EPAs) and not making an effort to educate "ordinary people" on what they were negotiating. The politicians, who gather in Geneva for World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings and in Brussels for EPA talks, should know that they are there on behalf of their citizens and not themselves, said Rangarirai Machemedze, director of the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI). SEATINI helps to build African capacity in world trade talks.
Global: World Bank makes $100bn pledge to poorest nations
The World Bank said last night it was gearing up to lend $100bn (£63bn) over the next three years to protect developing nations from the economic contagion spreading from richer western countries. Dashing hopes that the world's emerging economies might escape relatively unscathed from the downturn, the Bank said it expected almost 40 million people to fall into poverty as a result of the turmoil caused by the global credit crunch.
Mozambique: Living with poverty
Mozambique has seen political stability and economic recovery since the end of its devastating civil war, yet it remains one of the world's poorest countries (168th of the 177 nations on UNDP's 2007 human development index). Average life expectancy is 39 years. Less than half of adults can read and write, and the infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world.
Nigeria: World Bank offers $3bn loan
The World Bank has offered Nigeria $3 billion facility to enable the President Umaru Yar’Adua improve education, health, roads, and agriculture with a view to reducing the nation’s poverty rate and living standards of the people. If accepted by the president, the loan would be provided under the International Development Assistance (IDA) and would be in three tranches of $ 1 billion, annually, between 2009 and 2011.
Angola: Prevention made in China
The lack of HIV prevention campaigns for Chinese workers in Angola is remarkable, considering how far away they are from their families, the length of time they spend away from home, and the extra cash they have left at the end of the month. Angola has an HIV prevalence rate of 2.5 percent, but it can reach 10 percent in some border areas.
Ghana: Meningitis outbreak kills 10
Ten people have been confirmed dead and two are hospitalised following an outbreak of meningitis in north-central Ghana. The disease broke out on 25 October in Yaw Bronya farming community in the Ashanti Region, 250km north of the capital Accra. Local authorities have closed down schools and banned all public gatherings. “We are treating this as an epidemic,” the head of the Ashanti regional health directorate, Mohammed Bin Ibrahim, told IRIN.
Global: Global health inequity growing
A staggering 854-million people were undernourished between 2001 and 2003 while at the other end of the scale 700-million people are likely to be obese by 2015, according to the Global Health Watch (GHW) 2. Launched in Cape Town, the Global Health Watch 2 is an alternative world health report and includes the voices of civil society organisations and scientists from around the world.
Indian Ocean: Climbing HIV figures show a changing picture
Over 500 people from Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion Island, the Comoros and Seychelles attended the seventh conference on AIDS in Indian Ocean, and shared their growing concern over the impact of AIDS in their respective countries. The Indian Ocean region has been much less affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic than countries in neighbouring Africa, but this could be changing, delegates at the conference in Mauritius from 10 to 12 November heard.
Kenya: One in five patients suffers major interactions with HIV drugs
Nearly 20% of patients in an HIV treatment programme in Kenya have suffered major interactions between their HIV drugs and other prescribed medicines, a study has found. In half of these cases the result of the interaction was to significantly lower the levels of antiretrovirals in the blood. The retrospective survey of patient case-notes in the AMPATH (Academic Model for the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS) found that altogether 30% of patients had suffered major or minor consequences from drug interactions.
Malawi: Medic charged with unauthorised drug trials
Police have arrested a hospital technician on charges of conducting unauthorised and unsupervised chemotherapy drug trials on cancer-suffering HIV/AIDS patients in a hospital in southern Malawi. Investigations are underway into six deaths among 20 patients being treated for AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma at St Luke's Hospital near Mount Malosa.
Uganda: Most child deaths "easily preventable"
A new study looking into Uganda's high child mortality rate concludes that the "vast majority" of under-five children deaths are easily preventable, only needing relatively low-expense prevention programmes. The "2007 Uganda Child Verbal Autopsy Study", just released by the US agency Measure DHS and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, documents grave failures by the Ugandan health sector to address the country's high child mortality rates. Most could have been saved by easy, low-cost means.
DRC: 150,000 children miss school as violence continues in the east
Fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has forced most schools in Rutshuru territory to close, leaving an estimated 150,000 children out of class, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said. "Most children have been displaced," Jaya Murthy, UNICEF communications specialist, told IRIN. "Other children are in the area but unable to attend school."
Kenya: Drought forcing children to quit school
Under normal circumstances, 14-year-old Paul Katana would be in school, but not today. Katana is instead flagging down vehicles along the Mombasa-Malindi highway, hoping to sell sacks of charcoal he is hawking. About 2km down the road, a young boy watches over his mother's goats, while another is hawking brooms.
South Africa: Bleak future for schools
Despite overcrowding and teacher shortages, South African students at the Katlehong Technical High School are determined to do well in their end-of-year examinations. But last year, final year students at the school managed only a disappointing 16% pass rate, making Katlehong Technical High the worst-performing school in the country's financial heartland province of Gauteng.
Senegal: Gay community regroups to demand rights
The gay and lesbian community in Senegal last year shattered last year, after the local press published private photos of a gay wedding, causing fierce reactions from the police, religious leaders and ordinary citizens. Now, the community gathers strength to start fighting for gay rights in Senegal.
Kenya: Dumpsite threatens health and environment
The Dandora municipal waste site east of Nairobi continues to pose environmental and health risks even after a study recommended its closure, said specialists. “The dumpsite is a big, big health problem and it has had a very bad impact on the environment,” Njoroge Kimani, a biochemist, said, adding that the unrestricted dumping of domestic, industrial, hospital and agricultural waste at the city’s main dumping site was cause for concern.
Namibia: Climate change costs
Poor nations will suffer most from climate change, in part because of heavy reliance on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fishing. Up to 30 per cent of Namibia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), for example, depends on the environment. Ironically, poor nations have contributed least to climate change. Namibia was estimated to be a net carbon dioxide sink in 1994 due to uptake by trees.
Botswana: Bushmen condemn Mo Ibrahim
Kalahari Bushmen who were evicted from their land by the government of Botswana’s former President Festus Mogae have condemned African billionaire Mo Ibrahim and his Foundation for giving Mogae their ‘Achievement In Africa Leadership Award’. The Award will be given to Mogae at a ceremony in Alexandria, Egypt, on Saturday 15 November.
Namibia: Land reform reaping fruits despite problems
Almost two decades after independence Namibia’s land reform shows positive results and is guided by fair laws, but bureaucracy, slow progress in transformation of land ownership and unclear criteria for expropriation are overshadowing successes. Government plans to spend 370 million dollars over the next 12 years to acquire 10,3 million hectares of commercial farmland to resettle 6,730 families by 2020.
DRC: IFJ condemns the killing and kidnapping of journalists
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has warned that journalists in Democratic Republic of Congo are facing extreme danger after Congolese journalist Alfred Nzonzo Bitwahiki Munyamariza was killed in the town of Rutshuru and Belgian journalist Thomas Scheen was kidnapped nearby.
Niger: Editor freed, given suspended sentence
Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that Zakari Alzouma, the editor the independent weekly Opinions, has been released but is astonished that he was given a three-month suspended prison sentence for supposedly libelling interior minister Albadé Abouba.
Somaliland: Authorities urged to explain journalist's detention
Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to explain the detention of freelance journalist Hadis Mohammed Hadis for the past ten days in Hargeisa, the capital of the northern breakaway region of Somaliland. Hadis was arrested while filming at Hargeisa airport on 3 November, five days after 25 people were killed in a suicide bombing in the city.
Tunisia: Reporter charged for revealing labour conflict
Fahem Boukadous, a reporter for the independent Tunisian television station 'Al-Hiwar Attounsi' is wanted by the authorities on charges of "belonging to a criminal association" for his coverage of protests earlier this year in the Gafsa mining region and because he put foreign news media in contact with labour leaders in the region.
Zambia: Media freedom violations during presidential by-election
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia expresses concern over the sharp rise in the number of media freedom violations recorded during the just ended presidential by-election of 30 October, 2008. During the pre and immediate post election period, between September and November 2008, MISA-Zambia recorded and reported 16 media freedom violations compared to six (6) between January and August 2008.
Zimbabwe: Soldiers assault radio DJ
Tafadzwa Sikwila, a DJ employed by ZBC’s Power FM Radio, sustained serious head injuries after being brutally assaulted by four Zimbabwe National Army soldiers in Gweru on 25th October. According to reports which only surfaced this week the soldiers accused him of wearing replica military camouflage trousers, without permission (under Zimbabwe’s obscure defence Act, civilians are prohibited from wearing camouflage).
DRC: Fighting causes humantiarian tragedy
Fighting continues on several fronts in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo despite a unilateral ceasefire declared by the armed group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), on 29 October. The CNDP's offensive in October forced a routed government army and hundreds of thousands of civilians down roads towards the provincial capital, Goma.
DRC: Foreign troops 'drawn into Congo'
Evidence is increasing that foreign forces are being drawn into the conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eyewitnesses told the BBC Angolan and Zimbabwean troops were on the ground. While journalists report that some of Laurent Nkunda's rebel fighters are in the pay of the Rwandan army.
DRC: Protect civilians from brutal rebel attacks
The UN Security Council should urgently increase the number of peacekeepers to help protect civilians in northern Democratic Republic of Congo following renewed attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), four international and national human rights organizations has said. Human Rights Watch, Enough, Resolve Uganda, and the Justice and Peace Commission of Dungu/Doruma also called on the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, and governments in the region to develop and carry out an arrest strategy for LRA leaders wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Somalia: Somali Islamists move closer to Mogadishu
Islamist rebels moved on Friday into a small town on the outskirts of Somalia's capital near a checkpoint manned by Ethiopian troops, sparking fears among residents of renewed fighting. This week's advance by al Shabaab militants towards the capital Mogadishu is a potential setback for a fledgling U.N.-brokered peace process to end 17 years of conflict in the Horn of Africa nation.
Sudan: Cautious optimism over Darfur ceasefire call
The Sudanese government’s announcement of a ceasefire in Darfur would not alone solve a crisis that has lasted nearly six years and left hundreds of thousands of people dead - but it offered a glimmer of hope, analysts said. President Omar el-Bashir announced an "immediate, unconditional ceasefire" in Darfur on 12 November. He called for an immediate campaign to disarm militias accused of committing some of the worst atrocities during the conflict.
Sudan: Egyptian troops to bolster UN-AU force
More than 160 Egyptian personnel arrived in Darfur today as part of a large battalion that will boost the strength of the joint United Nations-African Union force deployed earlier this year in an attempt to quell the fighting and humanitarian suffering in the strife-torn Sudanese region.
Sudan: The Sudan People's Initiative - A flicker of optimism
When a solution comes to the Darfur crisis–as with Sudan’s national crisis–it will be a domestic solution, created and led by Sudanese, with the internationals in a supporting role. There is a flicker of a chance that the Sudan People’s Initiative marks the beginning of Sudanese taking ownership of the Darfur crisis and finding a way towards a solution.
Africa: Mobile telephony and the entrepreneur: An African perspective
With penetration rates in excess of 30%, and handset sales among the highest in the world, Sub-Saharan Africa is witnessing a new kind of home grown, mobile-driven economic development. The numbers may not be that big – yet – but the impact on the ground is obvious and the difference it is making in people’s lives is clear. Farmers are now able to access market information through their phones, increasing income in some cases by up to 40%.
Africa: “Africa needs vernacular software”
The time had now come for Africa to produce open software in its major local languages to make ICT accessible to all. John Schoneboon, ICT project associate at the partnership for higher education in Africa of the US, said it would help push Africa forward on the information technology highway.
Global: Greenstar Solar Community Center
Greenstar builds a solar-powered community center that delivers electricity, pure water, health and education information, and a wireless Internet connection, to villages in the developing world. Greenstar records art, music, photography, legends and storytelling in traditional communities, and bring these unique, priceless products to global markets. Revenues from this "digital culture" are returned to the village to support their ongoing, independent development.
Nigeria: Satellite in trouble
Africa's and Nigeria's first geosynchronous communication satellite NigComSat-1 may have been lost for ever, although operators hold it only suffers from a flat battery, which can be fixed. The Chinese-build satellite had cost at least US$ 340 million.
South Africa: E-Waste in South Africa
In a bid to tackle the problem of electronic-waste (e-waste) in South Africa, the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) hosted a one-day conference on 7 November 2008 in Johannesburg. The conference was aimed at providing a platform to discuss the successes and lessons learnt while implementing electronic waste (e-waste) management systems. It also served as an opportunity for the project team to report on progress made thus far.
Global: UNDEF Third Round of Funding open for applications
United Nations Democracy Fund invites civil society organizations to apply for fundingThe United Nations Democracy Fund hereby invites civil society organizations to apply for funding for projects to promote democracy. Project proposals may be submitted on-line beginning 10 November through 31 December 2008. This is the third round of funding to be launched by UNDEF, which was established by the Secretary-General in 2005 as a United Nations General Trust Fund.
Kenya: Making change happen
Challenges for peacebuilding practice - 9-18 February 2009
The Coalition for Peace in Africa and Responding to Conflict are offering a new course for practitioners to deepen their understanding of the processes of social change and conflict transformation, to explore the strengths, limitations, and challenges of their work, and new ways for implementation in the future.
Fahamu - Networks For Social Justice
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