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Pambazuka News 432: Redeeming the soul of Kenya

The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa

Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839

CONTENTS: 1. Features, 2. Comment & analysis, 3. Books & arts, 4. Letters & Opinions, 5. African Writers’ Corner, 6. Blogging Africa, 7. Zimbabwe update, 8. Women & gender, 9. Human rights, 10. Refugees & forced migration, 11. Social movements, 12. Emerging powers news, 13. Elections & governance, 14. Corruption, 15. Development, 16. Health & HIV/AIDS, 17. LGBTI, 18. Environment, 19. Land & land rights, 20. Food Justice, 21. Media & freedom of expression, 22. News from the diaspora, 23. Conflict & emergencies, 24. Internet & technology, 25. eNewsletters & mailing lists, 26. Fundraising & useful resources, 27. Courses, seminars, & workshops

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Highlights from this issue

FEATURES
- Njonjo Mue calls on Kenyans to reconstruct the soul of the nation

COMMENT AND ANALYSIS
- No to neo-liberalism, says Forum on the African Development Bank
- Mammo Muchie celebrates South African elections as an example for all
- Richard Kamidza fears Zimbabwe's new lease of life is under threat
- Ali M. Malau says Congo could be the Brazil of Africa
- Nnimmo Bassey asks if we are actually any closer to saving the planet
- Abena Asare notes growing criticism of Gambian govt human rights abuses
- Godwin Murunga responds to 'zip up and grow up'
- Richard Pithouse says the Slums Act dehumanises SA shackdwellers
- Corporate control of agri-food systems must end, say Via Campesina

LETTERS
- Adding fuel to the fire: Pambazuka readers respond
- Kenyan govt link to Samburu cattle raids

BOOKS AND ARTS
- Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru is wowed by 'master word artist' Shailja Patel

AFRICAN WRITERS’ CORNER
- Courttia Newland says 'sometimes we just want to imagine'ZIMBABWE UPDATE: MDC powerless to deal with ZANU-PF hardliners
WOMEN & GENDER: Have you ratified the Protocol?
CONFLICT AND EMERGENCIES: Heavy clashes cause displacement in Mogadishu
HUMAN RIGHTS: Kenya’s Mau Mau to sue UK for compensation
REFUGEES AND FORCED MIGRATION: Efforts to help DRC displaced
SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: Abahlali Western Cape statement
ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE: Ivorian elections for 29 November
CHINA-AFRICA WATCH: Sino-African news roundup
HEALTH & HIV/AIDS: Sexual violence against girls widespread in Swaziland
CORRUPTION: Nigerian MP panel in fraud charge
DEVELOPMENT: Turning agriculture into a business
LGBTI: Activists optimistic about pro-gay resolution
ENVIRONMENT: Shell: Stop gas-flaring now!
LAND & LAND RIGHTS: African land-grabbers on shaky ground
FOOD JUSTICE: Welcome shift in UN views of food sovereignty
NEWS FROM THE DIASPORA: Katrina victims face eviction
MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION:
ENEWSLTERS & MAILING LISTS: AfricaFocus:USA/Africa Underfunding global health
INTERNET& TECHNOLOGY: Great build-up to eLearning Africa
PLUS: seminars and workshops, and jobs

*Pambazuka News now has a Del.icio.us page, where you can view the various websites that we visit to keep our fingers on the pulse of Africa! Visit http://del.icio.us/pambazuka_news



Features

The messiah within: Redeeming the soul of the Kenyan nation

Njonjo Mue

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/56268


cc D B King
As Kenyans struggle to find meaning in the protracted troubles surrounding their body politic, Njonjo Mue challenges the nation’s youth to join an army of ordinary people to fight the good fight and to defend Kenyans’ freedom, dignity, heritage and their children’s future by engaging in brutal self-appraisal and refusing to permit decay. Mue’s article is a call to arms, for men to leave the bars long enough to know what their children will eat for supper, for women to cease their escapism and confront the problems facing Kenya’s communities, and for all Kenyans to individually take responsibility for the future of their country.

What is Kenya and what makes you a Kenyan? Is it your ID card? Your blue passport? The fact that you were born here? Do you feel connected? Do you belong? Are you more or less Luo, Kamba, Kipsigis, Mijikenda, Asian, Caucasian or Arab than Kenyan? Are you more or less male or female than Kenyan? Are you more or less Christian, Muslim or Hindu than Kenyan? How do these multiple identities materialise in your psyche? Do you feel the need to run away from any one of your identities in order to embrace your Kenyan-ness?

In other words, what is your identity and what real connection do you have with Kenya? What makes you proud to be a Kenyan? If you had a choice among all the multiple identities that you have, would you choose to retain or drop your Kenyan identity? Why or why not?

THE TIES THAT BIND…

Our parents’ generation comprises 42 different nationalities. However, our parents became Kenyans as they united to fight the common enemy, colonial domination. Once that enemy was defeated they proceeded to determine the terms of their social contract – in Lancaster House and at home – representing a commendable attempt to build a nation. Have they succeeded? How and where have they failed?

What about us? 45 years later, what common enemy do we face? On what basis shall we negotiate our new social contract? Will the glue that held our parents’ generation together remain strong enough to bind us?

The answer is clearly in the negative; we are surrounded by depressing and alarming evidence which indicates that the social compact that once defined Kenya is quickly deteriorating. The demon of political tribalism rears its ugly head with reckless abandon. Politicians declare that it is their turn to eat and then form all sorts of diabolical alliances to prepare the potential division of the spoils. The politicians appear determined to fight it out to the end, grabbing for power without caring if the nation falls apart in the process.

The need for renegotiating the social contract has been acknowledged by all, but there is seemingly no committed leadership with the courage and vision to lead us in navigating these uncharted waters. We wander aimlessly in the wilderness of our despair longing for our ‘land of promise’, but not even the mirage of social cohesion appears on the horizon.

Yet we have no choice in this matter. We must initiate a genuine national dialogue on how to define our new dispensation. I do not mean merely discussing how to share power, for a society is more than the power structure to which it subscribes. The more we prevaricate on the need for national dialogue, the more certain quarters of our society continue to hold destructive monologues that push us ever closer to the brink.

We cannot leave things to run their own course. The train of liberty does not roll forward on the wheels of inevitability; it must be pushed, sometimes pulled, but always kept on track and moving towards the goal of social justice and the true wholesome development of the human person.

The generation gone before us appears to have run out of ideas on how to do this. This is hardly surprising considering that those who call the shots have been on the scene forever – they are exhausted, old, and without a real stake in the future of our country. It is now up to us to take a stand and impose an environment of order to eliminate the daily chaos in our midst. In so doing, we will start to define a new vision for this country and to march decisively towards our collective sustainable future.

HEART OF THE COUNTRY OR SOUL OF THE NATION?

Politicians pretend to care a great deal about the need for a new constitution, but we all know that for them, the process is little more than glorified power play. Although the constitution is the heart of the country and from which the entire legal system gets its lifeblood, ultimately only a small number of people will dominate the constitution-making process. Further, even if they came up with the best document in the world, it would still only be half the job done.

The other more fundamental aspect is to reconstruct the soul of our nation. This is the responsibility of every citizen, and cannot be left to politicians and their gatekeepers alone. It is an exercise which defines what the essence of being Kenyan is. What is the soul of our nation? What are the ties that bind? What are the criteria for belonging? In other words, what are the core values that make us who we are, above our diverse ethnic nationalities and beneath our common citizenship of the human family? As our favourite native son, President Barack Obama reminds us, the constitution is not just a source of individual rights, but also a means of organising a democratic conversation around our collective future.

And so it is vital to reach a consensus on the values we espouse as Kenyans, for we cannot move forward as a nation until we know and internalise what that nationhood entails, until we each, individually and voluntarily, subscribe to a core set of beliefs. Once consensus on this is attained, then we can ascribe censure to those who choose to transgress our compact through mutually agreed coercion. This is the essence of a society governed by laws, not by men.

Currently, we only belong to Kenya largely by the accident of birth. We largely identify with the state only in its coercive sense; we see policemen telling us what to do on pain of punishment in accordance with a legal code we had little input in promulgating. We are also Kenyans by virtue of the fact that every 30 June we have a date with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) which comes knocking on our doors seeking to know how much income we earned the previous year and whether we have given to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. We also think we belong because we demand rights that are hardly recognised or protected, and services that the government is unwilling or unable to provide.

We understand the workings of government better today than we did 10 years ago. This has not made our lives better however, because in spite of more transparency there is no corresponding accountability on the part of the government or ourselves as citizens. We live in an age of lawlessness and impunity. Citizens feel no obligation to obey laws that do not bind those who make them. There is no sense of enlightened self-interest in making our systems work or in contributing to the public good. In addition, there are few role models left to follow, for we have allowed politicians to dominate our public space and to perpetually pollute our air with the stench of their incorrigibly bad manners.

Therefore, we need to find positive things that draw us to our Kenyan-ness, things that will make us assert confidently, ‘We are Kenyans by choice!’ We need to find a new focal point for our allegiance as citizens of Kenya.

WHAT IS KENYA AND WHO ARE KENYANS?

At its most basic, Kenya is a juridical fact in international law. The country is also a piece of real estate comprising 583,000 hectares occupied by some 37 million people who are as diverse as can be in ethnic belonging, religious affiliation, occupational persuasion, racial origin and social status.

In this dynamic mix, is there value in being called a Kenyan? By all means, I believe there is. But we are yet to fully appreciate it. That is why many of us continue to retreat into our ethnic cocoons whenever crises arise. We must begin to define that value; to clarify what value we, as a country and as a people, add to the world around us.

This cannot be done within a short period of time, for the search for nationhood is a long-term project. It is a conversation with ourselves that shall have no end – what constitutes Kenya and Kenyans will continue to evolve as the world around us changes. Nonetheless, as globalisation makes the world ever more homogenous, we need to identify and nurture our core values, those that make us uniquely Kenyan.

This exercise is not the preserve of any one person or group of people, however defined. The endeavour to define these values has to be a national exercise involving all who bear the name of Kenya, reaching across the strata of our nation. It will not be easy to arrive at a consensus. Yet we must remain faithfully on this course until we are able to define ourselves, to know and fully internalise who we really are.

For as long as we keep allowing others to define us – politicians and tribal chiefs, Western hegemonic geopolitical interests, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and myriad other amorphous interests and agendas – we shall remain buffeted by winds of change that make one demand of us one day and another the next. Instead of being the masters of our destiny, we shall forever react to the actions of others, always waiting for them to tell us who we are and what we must do next to water out the fire of self-destruction in our own homes.

In other words, we shall be enslaved to the whims of others. Tossed hither and thither by torrents of oppression and waves of despair, all the while becoming the laughing stock of neighbours near and far and the subject of after-dinner conversations from South Korea to South Africa, with merely whispers about a people who once seemed to be going somewhere but who became shipwrecked in the high seas of greed, economic collapse, socio-political confusion and moral decline.

If things appear desperate for us today, it is because they are. The road to our land of promise has been long and treacherous, and there is no end in sight. One’s heart will certainly bleed as one examines our country. Low intensity warfare and conflict violently and routinely disrupt the lives of innocent Kenyans in urban and rural areas. Meanwhile, Mungiki and other criminal gangs terrorise the populace with impunity and the tacit support of the political class. Trigger-happy policemen gun down perceived criminals and answer to no one but themselves.

Poverty, inequality and underdevelopment are the defining features of our age. Famine is a persistent reality in many communities, and hunger a constant companion to children across the land. HIV/Aids continues to devastate indiscriminately, ravaging our fragile economy, and leaving orphans to fend for themselves while frail grandmothers strive to look after helpless grandchildren. Crime and corruption are eating away at the soul of our nation, and responsible political leadership is a concept that has altogether eluded us. We have touched the nadir of despair, and darkness has fallen across the land.

We have become exiles and refugees within our own country. Internally displaced people continue to endure life in desolate transit camps, our children find solace in the streets where drugs or regular sniffs of glue help them to accept the morbidity of their daily existence, our men have taken refuge in bars to consume large quantities of liquor to dull the gnawing pain of helplessness and the silent pangs of despair, and our women have found shelter in religious crusades to be fed generous doses of the sweet by-and-by to enable them to endure the nasty now-and-now!

The rest of us have become so impoverished and bereft of ideas and morality that we have lost our way altogether and become predators ourselves. We have no qualms about robbing the poor and exploiting the weak in our midst. We have sadly fulfilled Mwalimu Nyerere’s prophecy about Kenya being a man-eat-man society.

Amidst all this confusion, we have pushed politics to the centre of our existence. We continually engage in a strange conversation where everyone is talking, albeit no one is really listening. We conspire against the poor when they cry out for real solutions to real problems. By forming endless commissions that only end up creating jobs for ourselves, the poor are forced to pay us astronomical salaries and benefits.

Our politics is a politics of the stomach, of greed and exploitation. Having presided over the wholesale dismantling of our collective hope, the political class can now set the rules, rules that revolve around money – stolen money in fact! Thus, this cycle of poverty goes round and round. I steal money today which I use to bribe you to send me to parliament or the local council tomorrow. I do this with the single aim of stealing more money to purchase my seat the next time round, and subsequently make a handsome profit in the process.

WHEN SHALL WE STOP THIS CYCLE OF MADNESS?

I say NOW! Now is the time to draw a line in the sand! Now is the time to say to anyone who subscribes to this madness, enough! Now is the time to take a stand against these predators! Now is the time to reclaim our human dignity! Now is the time to start our long march to our true land of promise!

What we do now will determine what kind of country our children will inherit. Do not be fooled by the perception that it does not matter what we do. The choices we make today shall have irreversible consequences for generations to come. We are the people who shall save or lose Kenya. We are not perfect and we will make mistakes, but the greatest mistake we can make now is to do nothing.

So, do something!

First, we must disregard the futile search for a messiah who will come and fix everything for us. The messiah we look for is to be found inside each one of us. We must each take personal responsibility in defining and enforcing our new social contract. We must say no to any person who seeks to exploit us and use us as a stepping stone to power. We must find the courage to believe in ourselves again and say no to their destructive favours and demeaning patronage for which we have hitherto sold our birth right. It is time to impose a new set of rules: a paradigm that puts country above personal comfort, and our children’s inheritance and collective security above individual gain.

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT

Kenya is at war. And this is a fact whether it is acknowledged or not. We may not see tanks and troops on the streets, we may not go to bed with the sound of gunfire ringing in our ears, but we are at war.

The enemies we face are more dangerous than a conventional army. They may not destroy our infrastructure or kill our mortal bodies, but they have stealthily found their way through our defences, and are slowly eating away at the soul of our nation. We boast a form of civilisation, but it is an empty shell and it is only a matter of time before the whole edifice comes tumbling down. The cost of that eventuality is too ghastly to contemplate.

Unlike politicians, I do not dangle the threat of cataclysmic implosion before your eyes in order to paralyse Kenyans into doing nothing, rather I do so in order to galvanise the population into action. We must urgently retake control of our destiny and our country, and start rebuilding the walls around our nationhood. It is not too late to reconstruct the soul of our nation, but the work must start now. Every moment of delay pushes us ever closer to the brink!

This is therefore a call-up notice. All Kenyan men and women are requested to enrol into the ‘army of ordinary people’. Our sole objective is to defend our heritage from enemies within and without, to reconstruct the soul of our nation, and to lay a firm foundation for our new republic.

And these are our rules of engagement. The primary theatre of action shall be within ourselves, for ‘There is only one small corner of the world that we can truly change and that is ourselves.’ We cannot impose rules on others that we are unwilling to adhere to ourselves. We must start by changing our own behaviour, attitudes and mindset. We must become the change that we seek.

The next theatre of action is the world around us, our homes, our schools and colleges, our workplace, our communities and on the road as we drive and commute. We must politely but firmly point out whenever someone transgresses the human dignity of others or of ourselves. However, we must also be careful not to demand of others higher standards than we ourselves faithfully subscribe to. We must seek to faithfully influence our colleagues to act in the best interests of Kenya. In everything we do, we must constantly ask, will it contribute to the reconstruction of the soul of our nation?

What weapons shall our army wield? Our conviction, our minds, and our bodies. We shall scale the citadels of oppression to proclaim our humanity to those who have forgotten what it is to be human. We shall shun violence in all its forms – violence of thought, language, and action. We shall engage in non-violent direct action when necessary to draw attention to our concerns and to bring about positive change. In everything we do, we shall conduct our struggle on the high plane of integrity and honour. This is not in seeking to conquer our opponents, but to convert them, for our fight is not against persons, but against injustice, against indignity and against oppression.

COUNTING THE COST: WHAT RISKS DO WE FACE?

The forces pitted against us are many, varied and vicious. Before we engage, we must count the cost. It will cost us – all of us – our very lives. The cause for which we fight will be here long after we have all passed the baton to a new generation. Some of us may have to go before others, for the entrenched forces we oppose are not benign. Therefore, like any other army, the army of ordinary people requires you to prepare to pay the supreme price for your convictions. You and I could die. This is a reality we must be prepared to come to terms with before signing up.

If we wage our struggle with honour and discipline, and raise our cause above ourselves, even if we die in the struggle, death becomes redemptive. Hundreds and thousands will rise up to take our place; our blood shall water the tree of freedom and invigorate our nation. Soon, our nation shall be truly free!

We could go to prison. But this should not perturb us unduly because for countless people who endure life in the slums or live under the spectre of urban insecurity or rural poverty, there is a sense in which our country is one large prison today. Should we end up behind bars, we should take solace in the fact that in those very prisons are men and women, both jailers and jailed, who need to hear our message of hope. We will go to prison willingly and shall ‘transform our jailhouses from dungeons of despair into havens of freedom’. Soon, both prisoner and prison warden shall be free.

We could endure physical injury, but this is not an unfamiliar occurrence. We are already bleeding from a thousand wounds. We suffer the daily indignities of hunger, oppression and disease. We must regard every blow that lands upon our unarmed bodies as the blow of a hammer and chisel that will shape the stones that wound us into the forms of people. In doing so, we may liberate both the oppressed and the oppressor, forever throwing off the shackles of fear and brutishness from around the neck of our nation. Soon, both the oppressor and the oppressed shall be free!

AND WHAT IS IN IT FOR US?

I can promise you only hardship and persecution. These are the only guarantees. Our country did not get to the dark place where it finds itself today overnight, nor will it escape from this reality overnight. It will get worse before it gets better. But I also promise you destiny. We were born for such a time as this. Future generations shall be beholden to the army of ordinary people – young men and women who had the courage of their convictions.

I call upon you to give up the material comforts of today to build a nation for tomorrow. I dare you to cross the line of the familiar and into the unknown in pursuit of a vision for another country, a better homeland. I challenge you to sow the seeds of a tree you may never personally sit under, that another generation may reap the fruit of dignity, security and prosperity for all. I call upon you to invest in a future we may both never see, that your children and mine might never again be called the children of a lesser god.

And may I remind you, my brothers and sisters, that Kenya was the first country in black Africa in which the colonial master was not just asked to leave, but was pushed out of the country, pushed out by young men and women who risked everything they had to wrest our country back from those who had stolen our land.

A generation has since passed. Our parents can at least claim to have attained that formal independence. What about us? Do we want to leave behind a legacy of having let our country disintegrate during our watch?

Amkeni ndugu zetu!

* Njonjo Mue is a human rights lawyer and the head of advocacy at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. Mue’s blog can be found at www.uhurugeneration.blogspot.com.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at www.pambazuka.org.




Comment & analysis

No to AfDB neoliberalism

Forum on the African Development Bank

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56271


cc World Bank
As the African Development Bank (AfDB) holds its 44th annual assembly, African civil society groups met at a forum in Dakar to express their deep dissatisfaction with the bank's policies. Forum participants allege that the bank does not fully understand the implications of the global financial crisis for Africa and that it has done nothing more than peddle the neoliberal line of institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). They also say that it has failed to come up with a single initiative of its own to tackle the African debt crisis. The forum stressed the need for the AfDB to be an institution committed first and foremost to the welfare of the African people if it is to promote sustainable development and food sovereignty successfully.

We the representatives of various African civil society groups, and our partners from the North, met in Dakar from the 10 to 12 May 2009 on the occasion of the 44th annual assembly of the African Development Bank (AfDB). At this meeting, we assessed the performance of the AfDB in a number of countries and the role that the bank has played thus far in mobilising resources for development on the continent. We analysed the multifaceted international crisis that has severely impacted the African continent, and the bank’s role in mitigating the effects thereof. We also looked at the bank’s relationship with African civil society, as well as its relationship with African and international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In the course of our in-depth discussions, it emerged that the AfDB has drifted away from its original mission of promoting the welfare of the African people and the development of the continent. In our view, the AfDB has become nothing more than a clone of the IFIs. Profitability has replaced meeting the basic needs of the population as the main criterion for project selection. The bank has submitted to the neoliberal agenda by subscribing to the tenets of market fundamentalism. The AfDB has further served to promote the very liberalisation and privatisation policies that have exacerbated the economic and social crisis on the continent. The bank has not come up with a single noteworthy initiative of its own to resolve the African debt crisis and has instead merely adopted the proposals put forward by the World Bank and the IMF.

In spite of the current negative sentiment towards neoliberalism occasioned by the current financial crisis, the AfDB continues to promote policies that have been jettisoned by other regions, including parts of the developed world. We are of the opinion that the bank does not fully understand the current crisis, or its implications for the continent.

The bank’s mission is linked to its incorporation of non-African countries. These new players have a level of influence that is not commensurate with their investment in the bank, to the extent that they have a virtual veto power over the orientation and the policies of the AfDB.

Declarations and good intentions notwithstanding, the AfDB does not engage in true dialogue with civil society, preferring to engage in fuzzy policies that avoid any critique by the African citizenry.

In light of these findings, We the participants of the Dakar Forum, declare that radical change is necessary if the AfDB is to fulfil its original mission. To achieve this, the AfDB must cease to emulate the World Bank and the IMF. It must maintain its autonomy from these two institutions, both in terms of research and the formulation of economic policy.

In the same vein, the AfDB must distance itself from the current climate where failure is a given and the disastrous fate of the continent is sealed.

The bank must therefore take a lucid and courageous look at what truly underpins the failure of the neoliberal system and challenge its suitability for the African continent.

The bank must encourage policies that promote food sovereignty and agro-ecological approaches, rather than investment in agro-fuels.

The bank must spearhead the elaboration of a new autonomous development paradigm for Africa, bringing together African researchers and civil society groups. Formalising the participation by civil society in the bank’s activities would contribute to achieving the desired change.

The bank is a public African institution that manages the monetary contributions of its African members. Consequently, it is accountable to the African people. We, the participants of the Dakar Forum, demand our right to participate in the process of project identification, follow-up and monitoring.

The participants demand:

- The establishment of a information-sharing policy
- The re-establishment of an independent environmental assessment mechanism
- The consideration of the long-term finance needs of African countries, within the context of sustainable development.

Yes to a bank dedicated to the development and welfare of the African people! No to a clone of the World Bank and the IMF!

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


The power of example: Lessons from South Africa’s election

Mammo Muchie

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56269


© Oryxmedia
In a piece considering the broader implications of the recent South African election for Africa at large, Mammo Muchie celebrates the calmness with which South Africans have consistently expressed their democratic and human rights. Encouraging other African parties to follow South African groups' example in ensuring political rivalries never descend into violent confrontation, Muchie salutes the country's ability to maintain a free and fair election process. Reflecting on the wider lessons for the African continent and his native Ethiopia in particular, the author stresses that the example of a free press and the right to criticise underpinning South Africa's success should be replicated across the continent.

Since 1994, South Africa has undergone three national elections with remarkable success and free from the incidents that often mar elections in much of Africa. Despite being under a peculiar form of racialist tyrannical rule prior to its democratically elected government in 1994, South Africa has surprised the rest of the world with the way its citizens have continued to express themselves peacefully. These citizens have maintained strong civic engagement and have harnessed their democratic rights through going to the polls and standing for hours in long lines with discipline and calm decency, all for the purpose of expressing their voices, making choices and casting their secret ballots to vote with record numbers.

On 22 April 2009, for the third time, they did it again! They expressed their voices. They made their choices. After hearing spirited campaign debates, discussions and even heated exchanges (which in other places would possibly have descended into violence), they finally cast their ballot papers and voted.

Back in 2004 I witnessed the election in Durban whilst working at the University of KwaZulu Natal on a leave of absence from an English university in London. Then, as it is now, the citizens went out with huge numbers and voted.

Again in 2009, I saw the long lines of the election in Tshwane in person. There were lines almost everywhere in the city. I talked to a few voters. When I asked 'Whom are you going to vote for?', most answered that it was a secret ballot. A mother had a young child with her and I wondered if the child was going to vote too. His mother's earnest reply was to let the child begin to learn how people vote, and when his turn comes it will perhaps be a routine matter to go and vote. A 97-year-old woman, Jeminah Moshanyana, also voted, just as the dignified and frail African liberation hero Nelson Mandela did with both humility and pride. Former President Thabo Mbeki also voted with cheerful interest. Those who have led the country know even more than others the importance of acting in a way which demonstrates that they are very happy to be led also. The former leaders know both to lead and be led, and when voting seem to enjoy the role of being led!

The country continues to be among the highest scores – perhaps the highest in the world – for continuing to come out in massive numbers to vote. It looks that the cynic index in South Africa will not apply to the South African democratic voter! In Switzerland every person of voting age is legally obliged to vote. In South Africa, they vote without any legal compulsion. They vote from a deep commitment to civic engagement and expressing their citizenship rights, believing that their votes can make a difference. This is indeed a great achievement in itself, regardless of whether a winning party delivers on its programmes and promises.

SOUTH AFRICAN HISTORY CONTINUES FORWARDS

It appears that in South Africa history is neither repeating itself nor moving backwards. On the contrary, history seems to move irreversibly forwards making the journey to the future exemplary, full of possibilities, of optimism, desirable and even fun. Curiosity is growing across the world around how South Africa oversees such free, fair and peaceful elections with massive turnout and which take place without rancour, violence or destabilising quarrels. How is it that this country, for the third consecutive time, managed to achieve this level of democratic civilisation and history? This without any recognisable, reportable hitches or glitches in a country where the press would be waiting hungrily to report any small incident to have taken place, even by accident? How come a country suffering from a hostile media blitz goes in such massive numbers to an election and manages to vote, express its voice and choices without scarcely an incident during the process or afterwards?

One can only congratulate this important African nation for its remarkable and exemplary achievements in showing the world that it has embarked on an irreversible democratic journey, one that will long continue and that will overcome the test of time and the hazards of any foreseen and unforeseen misfortune.

We must be proud that we have at least one African country that is a super example in managing democratic elections, not only to Africa but to the rest of the world. South Africa is indeed a good example for all of us Africans the world over. We must all try to learn with great humility what brought this great historic achievement to this land. Above all, we must venture to ask: 'Can other African states learn from the power of South Africa’s example? Can other countries manage an amazing "incident and accident-free election", in an African context where it is still hugely difficult to pull off such free, fair and peaceful elections?'

All the pundits were this time predicting that the election would run into some trouble. But it did not. While the reasons why the election succeeded require deeper analyses, here we can briefly highlight some of the tricky moments which could have marred the South African election process this time round.

THE PERIOD OF DOUBT: COPE'S SPLIT FROM THE ANC

The democratic process in South Africa appeared to go through difficult times. There was a time when it looked unlikely that the process could turn out to be peaceful.

When some members of the African National Congress (ANC) broke away to form the Congress of the People (COPE) party, the media and some commentators tried to suggest that imminent violence would result were the ANC’s share of the votes to be reduced. The main story that was replayed time and time again was as follows: COPE’s strength was increasing at the expense of the ANC and the latter would not tolerate the shrinking of its electoral power. The rhetoric of the ANC Youth League leader and others was seized upon and the media's suggestions of potential difficulties intensified, propounding the notion that the election might not go as well as the previous two. Violence was feared, or even expected. Indeed, it was seen in some circles as perhaps even unavoidable.

As time went by, it appears that even those criticising the ANC still saw it as Africa’s oldest liberation movement, one with plans to deliver better housing, health, education, public services and job opportunities than other parties, including the newly formed COPE. The result is now obvious: the ANC has not alienated its base. Its support is still intact. It is likely to enjoy such support from the South African population for a long time if it continues to deliver on the things that matter to the electorate. The election's anticipated violence never materialised. The third South African election was as peaceful, disciplined, orderly and successful as the previous two.

The other extraordinary turn of events was the extreme vilification of the ANC leader and now president, Jacob Zuma. Even members of the foreign press like Britain's The Guardian got involved in the defamation. Nothing and nobody was spared. Undue focus on Zuma's personality, his lack of formal education, his private life, his family, his friends and so on became the delights of the media's daily features and stories. The media became hysterical before and around the time of the split of COPE from the ANC.

It is remarkable how any individual can weather the storm of such attacks and carry on as if it is business as usual. Some opposition parties campaigned literally on what they called a 'Stop Zuma’ slogan, using all these allegations and vilifications as data and storylines for their campaigns. They used skewed logic and fallacies, claiming for example that if Zuma were to be president, the state as a whole in South Africa would become also ’criminal and corrupt'. This is like saying that if the leaf is contaminated, the whole tree is also, or that if the tree is contaminated, then the whole forest is too. The fallacy of such reasoning is evident, but such a fallacy did not bar those pedalling such fabrications from continuing to use them. Nor however did Zuma or the ANC bother much about such claims against them; they did not draw them from focusing on their own core message. In other parts of Africa, such a level of tolerance is not likely to be found at all. It would generate violence. In South Africa however, it was seen as part of the occupational hazard of running a democratic election.

This is a country where there is a robust constitution, the rule of law, the separation of powers and an active and free press. In the ANC no individual seems to be above the party, something demonstrated at Polokwane when the then seated President Thabo Mbeki was replaced by Jacob Zuma. Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said he would not vote if Zuma was to be the next president, reversed his stance in the end and eventually voted. Zuma will be the president of both the ANC and South Africa for the next five years, whether one likes it or not.

After the election the heat cooled and the dust settled and we thought that South Africans would all work together, appearing as they do to be creative, tolerant and above all to regard their country’s unity as priceless. The power of the example of their election and democracy to the rest of Africa is too important to be soiled by other mundane concerns and personal distractions.

All these political gyrations, tumultuous commotions, emotions, logical fallacies, insults and splits did not affect the way the election ultimately went. That is what is extremely novel about South Africa’s election success; how in such a charged campaign did none of those involved not flip and take action to derail the election process? What can the rest of Africa learn from this remarkable process? What is the secret of this great success?

SOUTH AFRICA’S ELECTION AND AFRICA

In other parts of Africa it is hard to imagine that the level of insult witnessed in the South African election would be tolerated without those who hold or are near power misusing or abusing their power to derail the election. What makes South Africa interesting is that it is not one of these states in Africa to be distracted or to lose focus in the face of petty electioneering rhetoric. Those involved were able to ignore such rhetoric or use it to educate the public, instead of simply turning it into a fight amongst the parties.

It is fully demonstrated now that no matter what is said, South Africa can manage its elections despite or even because of any insults. It sounds counterintuitive, but it is this capable, collective management of a complex process in a complex society that strikes us as an extraordinary achievement. The election was not given to those who won on a silver platter, it was hard-fought. The winner earned the victory and was not given it. The process was free, fair and just. The losers have no complaints about the process. The winner has no grudges. As Africans we must feel proud that South Africa has attained this level of world class civilisation. We must feel enviable and wish that the rest of the continent reaches this level of achievement in the not-too-distant future. We cannot afford to be thin-skinned and turn violent in the face of the opposition's criticism, however unfair it is. Opposition parties are not enemies. Ruling parties are not enemies. They are opponents with different programmes. They want to win badly. In the process of an election they can use many tactics, which may not all be ethical. But as long as the right to reply is not denied, there is no reason to turn this into a violent engagement. From South Africa, the rest of Africa can learn this important lesson. The sooner the better for Africa’s democratic and united future.

LESSONS FOR ETHIOPIA AND THE REST OF AFRICA

Nearly all the pettiness and below-the-belt attacks that often trigger violence in elections in other parts of Africa (such as, for example, in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia) also took place in South Africa. But remarkably South Africa’s election did not degenerate into violence. Other countries wishing to undergo elections in Africa must learn from South Africa with humility. What is it is that made the South Africans prevent violence when it looked as though violence would come?

Ethiopia for example is due to have an election in 2010. It is important that both the incumbent party and the opposition learn from and even invite South Africans to help level out tricky moments during Ethiopia's election process. After all, for us Ethiopians the success of South Africa is like our own success. That is how we must feel, think, act and behave in relation to the South African achievement. Hopefully South Africans would also share the same sentiment that success in elections in other parts of Africa is also their own success. They too must feel, think, behave and act to get Africa moving forwards around knowing how to manage elections after half a century of post-colonial freedom. All communities in South Africa should share success with the rest of Africa. Democracy in South Africa is to be celebrated, but to sustain itself the rest of Africa must be democratic and collectively turn into a grand area of African democracy.

If South Africa can do it so well after half a generation of post-apartheid colonial freedom, how is it that much of Africa cannot do it after half a century of freedom from colonialism? It is even more surprising to consider that Ethiopia – the continent's oldest country and which has been at the forefront of the liberation from colonialism in the African imagination from the 15th to the 20th centuries – is still unable to run free and fair elections where results are uncontested. Is Ethiopia's 2005 election going to repeat itself in 2010?

If Ethiopia succeeds in running a free and fair election, history will move forward with hope and possibilities for the future of the country and Africa as a whole. But if Ethiopia fails to run such an election, history will repeat itself or even move further backwards, exacting a high cost on the future of the country's people and indeed Africa at large.

If 2010 is going to be like 2005 in Ethiopia, the country will once again be confronted with an electoral aftermath of death and tears. The election needs to be well managed beforehand – and there is still more than a year to get it right – and all efforts from all concerned must be deployed to make sure that 2005's outcome is never repeated. The cost of a repeat of the 2005 election in 2010 is just too much to bear thinking about. History must not repeat itself. It must move forwards with hope and the possibility of a bright future for all.

On the one hand, all efforts must be made for citizens to express their citizenship rights, and on the other, all the tricks from the ruling party to create a climate for citizen disengagement through spreading fear, arrests, tricks, blackmail and intimidation must be opposed. If the latter situation prevails over the former, Ethiopian citizens will probably be unlikely to vote. They will disengage from civic expression and involvement. Citizens withdrawing and finding politics dirty and spurious are the worst thing that can happen to any society. A ruling party that drives its citizens to withdraw from the public sphere is indeed doing a historic disservice to its society, people, nation and Africa as a whole. De-citizen-ising society by spreading fear and threats through the secret service and police, arresting opposition leaders on clumsy charges (such as giving an inaccurate interview to an Ethiopian–Swedish diaspora radio station, as happened to Birtukan Mideska) and creating unjust regulatory hurdles is likely to create a long-term cost to Ethiopian society and indeed wider Africa. The price of such a defeat for democracy is incalculable for Ethiopia.

Both regimes and opposition must desist from using the ethnic card, from using the politics of blackmail and from inferiorising particular communities while superiorising others. These are tactics that are only likely to sow the seeds of long-term mistrust and the prevention of social-capital construction. Social-capital cannot be built with ethnic and vernacular fragmentation. It is built with the expression of an integral Ethiopian-African citizenship and engagement in public life. The freedom of the citizen must not be subtracted. It must be consolidated by enjoying human rights, housing rights, jobs, education, health and public services. Integrated political, social, economic and cultural citizenship engagement in Ethiopia’s possibly emerging vibrant public life is much needed to get a society to unite together to undertake the difficult problems of overcoming underdevelopment in the country.

It is disingenuous for a government to say that the rate of economic growth is above 7 per cent and that this should be used to justify closing the democratic space! It is also equally disingenuous to use the developmental state to deny free democratic expression. A developmental state can also be democratic. South Africa is again the example for combining a developmental state with democracy.

It is equally important to know economic growth is not economic development. Economic growth made by exporting a few commodities such as coffee, flowers, leather or through constructing houses is not the same as changing the lives of the people. It is about solving problems in relation to food, jobs (especially youth employment), education, health, water, housing and public services that matter above all else. It is about not creating a rent-seeking political elite with its hands in the economy. Democracy, the rule of law, the separation of powers, free press and association – and not treating criticism with fear but with encouragement, even if it is sometimes unfair – are important to learn and embed as a culture and norm in the Ethiopian context. Here South Africa is a great example for Ethiopia to learn from as well.

What is extraordinary about South Africa is the presence of a high level of citizenship engagement and the extent to which the political process encourages rather than discourages citizens to enjoy expressing their rights, their choices, their voices and their votes. One has a single vote no what matter their class, race, gender or religion. This person enjoys exercising their franchise. Despite the existence of different identities along the lines of language, race and religion, there is one South African citizen identity.

POINTS OF CONCLUSION

It is hugely embarrassing to run elections in Africa and come out with violence and death as collateral damage from the very often rigged, unfair and unjust elections. Any lesson that can be drawn from successful elections in Africa, such as that which we saw in South Africa, must be promoted. Ways must be found to use such successes to replicate and create more successes in the rest of Africa.

When opposition and rulers cannot play the democratic game well, the latest formula on the block is the so-called national unity coalitions in places like Kenya and Zimbabwe. This new development is a stop-gap measure invented when those who enter the electoral game are unwilling to concede defeat or accept the victory of the opposition. It is a formula that puts opposition and ruling parties, who often loathe each other, together. It is created because the players are not respecting the very game they entered in the first place. They expect to win; when they lose, they find it difficult to concede. It may be useful to prevent bloodshed, but it certainly will not help to govern a country and carry out both economic and social development without the parties becoming embroiled in endless arguments through these contrived national unity regimes. The parties must learn that losing is at times even more respectable than winning. This culture must be embedded in their values. They can prepare and always try to come back, and they can return. They must not say, 'It's now or never!'

We know that South Africa had to overcome intricate barriers and incredible odds to achieve this latest third election. The harder and more difficult the barriers it surmounted in the process, the greater its success in the eyes of the world. It is not a good argument to say that South Africa is different. The difficulties South Africans overcame are even greater than those which often exist elsewhere in Africa. What is different is the capability, maturity, the handling and the institutions that worked together to neutralise these difficulties, in the end bringing out results which represented a shining example to the rest of Africa. That is what is different; not the scale of the problems, but the difference in the maturity exhibited in dealing with these problems.

The rest of Africa must try to learn closely and humbly from South Africa about how to manage an exemplary peaceful, orderly, disciplined, non-violent and optimistic election where voters turn out with joy to express their citizenship engagement.

Finally, ordinary people in Africa should never be underestimated. The African village is often poor and rural. It is often underestimated. But given the opportunity, African villagers choose intelligently and vote for the party that they know may address better their issues than other parties that do not. In South Africa rural voters are decisive in the election, as in other parts of Africa. It is the village that combines human possibility, solidarity and community and that has managed to survive against all obstacle with the ubuntu spirit.

The elites in Africa are mostly not a creative or democratic class. They are often self-seeking, not public-service seeking, but a rent-seeking elite. This is a class that prioritises rent-extraction over democratic and developmental achievement. Very often, elites try to commodify politics into private economic gain for themselves and their own families, local and foreign friends. This rent-seeking behaviour is buttressed strongly by the international aid system.

Countries like South Africa have much more independence than many other countries from this international aid system. There is thus a creative elite in South Africa, along perhaps with some rent-seekers. In the rest of Africa we have a serious problem of rent-seeking behaviour overshadowing creative, venturesome, risk-taking, innovative and entrepreneurial behaviour. There is thus a need to work hard to change the rent-seeking elite into creative, democratic, innovative, venturesome and developmental elite to establish democracy and unite Africa.

That work must be done by enlisting ordinary people’s power, and by harnessing the power of example provided by the great success of the third South African election. The rest of Africa must learn from South Africa, and South Africa should be prepared to share the secret of its extraordinary successes with the rest of Africa.

* Mammo Muchie is the chairperson of the Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES) and a professor at Aalborg University.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


Donors won’t cough up without change

Zim future in jeopardy amidst Unity government impasse

Richard Kamidza

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56257


cc FOCO
Zimbabwe’s new lease of life is under threat, as signatories to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) fail to implement the deal, writes Richard Kamidza. Fresh farm invasions, the re-arrest of political prisoners and disrespect for the pluralistic processes of democracy set out in AU and SADC statutes are sending out the wrong signal to investors and damaging the Unity Government’s ability to unlock financial and technical assistance from global donors and western governments, Kamidza argues. The Harare administration needs US$8 billion to revive the country’s social and economic sectors. Zimbabwe has a monthly public sector wage bill of US$400 million and revenue of just US$30 million.

Although the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) signed the Global Political Agreement (GPA) on 15 September 2008, tense political squabbling and mistrust delayed the formation of the Unity Government. Series of meetings were then convened by the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s facilitator and leadership to resolve the political impasse, which culminated in the swearing in of the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai and two deputy prime ministers, Arthur Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe on 11 February 2009. Subsequently, ministers and deputy ministers were sworn in and allocated their portfolios as stipulated in the GPA.

The above developments signalled a new beginning to Zimbabweans across the political divide who became optimistic about ‘a return to a normal social and economic life as well as free political activism’. Equally jovial about this development was the SADC leadership in particular, and their peers in Africa in general, who heralded the triumph of an ‘African solution to the African problem’, which has been systematically discredited for almost a decade by critics, especially from the developed governments and civil society groups. As a result, both the African Union (AU) and SADC leadership demanded immediate withdrawal of ‘smart sanctions’ against ZANU (PF) officials and their associates in addition to pledging help to the new Harare administration in mobilising the necessary external resources desperately needed to redress social, economic and humanitarian crisis facing the country.

But the western governments demanded ‘clear and practical evidence of power-sharing in Zimbabwe’ before coming to the party. Similarly, some civic groups and the donor community echoed the same call. In this respect, the donors, foreign governments and civic groups developed a set of benchmarks that also resonate with the relevant statutes of AU and SADC so as to evaluate the inclusive government’s commitment to political and economic transitional processes. The benchmarks include full and equal access to humanitarian assistance; development of macro-economic stabilisation policies; restoration of the rule of law, judiciary and respect for property rights; releasing of all political prisoners as well as an end to political violence; respecting media plurality, democratic process, human rights standards, freedom of expression and assembly; and timely elections to be held in accordance with international standards. They are also demanding ‘no cherry picking’, meaning that ‘all the principles’ should be treated with equal importance as stipulated by the GPA framework. As a result, the inclusive government’s re-engagement with foreign governments and donors entails a return to ‘pluralistic democratic processes’. Thus, success in this direction unlocks the necessary financial bailout packages from the international community to support sector projects, technical assistance and budgetary expenditures. In addition, proponents of pluralistic democratic processes are demanding national ownership of GPA in terms of consulting key constituencies such as civil society, business and consumers in designing and implementing any future socio-economic reform agenda as well as political reforms such as the constitutional process.

However, the inclusive government is making slow progress in implementing the GPA, as well as in addressing the concerns of foreign governments, donors and civic groups. Indeed, there is lack of commitment to implement the GPA as well as redressing the above outlined benchmarks, a development that suggests an elusive real power-sharing in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, this remains an impediment to accessing the international community’s financial bail-out in support of the country’s political and economic transition.

Implementing the GPA is being undermined by failure to resolve all outstanding issues, which the belligerent parties pledged to resolve once in office. Several meetings between the principals (Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirayi and Arthur Mutambara) to this deal have failed to resolve the contentious issues including the allocation and swearing in of the provincial governors; the appointment of the central bank governor, the attorney general, permanent secretaries and ambassadors; and the release of all the political prisoners. This list has since expanded to include Mugabe’s delaying tactics in swearing in the MDC designate deputy minister of agriculture, Roy Bennett, as well as his unilateral decision to transfer the information and communications technology (ICT) portfolio from the MDC designate minister, Nelson Chamisa, in favour of his party’s candidate, Nicholas Goche. To date, the principals remain miles apart, without any sign of movement in line with the spirit of GPA, despite imminent threats to confidence building process. A further wedge in the inclusive government emerged with the decision to re-detain all 18 political prisoners freed in March on bail, whose conditions they had not violated.

So, donors, western governments, most investors and civic groups have adopted the ‘wait and see attitude’, closely watching the resolution of the above issues. Their mistrust is further entrenched by the fact that Robert Mugabe, whose government presided over disastrous policies and programmes that authored the current socio-economic, political and humanitarian crisis, is thought to be deploying delaying tactics in implementing the GPA. The same donors, foreign governments, investors (foreign and local) and civic groups blame his regime for creating the environment that seriously undermined their confidence and trust in the economy, leading to their withdrawal from the country.

But smooth political and economic transition hinges on the implementation of GPA. Ironically both the AU and SADC – the guarantors of GPA – have remained silent, giving an impression of tacit approval to Zimbabwe’s president’s attitude of being non-committal to GPA. Unfortunately, this is crippling all the efforts by progressive elements within the inclusive government, particularly the prime minister and the minister of finance, Tendai Biti, to unlock external resources. Currently, the country desperately needs an estimated US$8 billion to redress current socio-economic challenges including infrastructural development; the revival of industrial activities and the social services sector (particularly education, health and sanitation); and to meet a monthly public service wage bill estimated at US$400 million. The country also desperately needs about US$200 and US$300 million urgent fiscal support and immediate humanitarian assistance, respectively.

Hopes of attracting significant balance of payment (BOP) inflows are fast fading away. To date the country has managed to attract pledges of only US$400 million from African countries. These pledges are not direct cash payments despite potential threats relating to demands for monthly salary review of public servants. Already, teachers are demanding a salary review, a development likely to trigger a wave of salary reviews in the public sector. The country in April 2009 generated about US$54 million against a projected figure of US$140 million, which is inadequate to meet its recurrent expenditure, hence the decision to give all government employees a meagre monthly salary of US$100, regardless of rank. At this juncture, the inclusive government can only plead with the dissatisfied public workforce to shelve nation-wide industrial action until the situation improves. The prime minister told the workers during the Workers Day that ‘the government is broke and can not meet salary-related demands’. The situation could have been better had the parties to the GPA put the country first by resolving all the contentious issues, thereby demonstrating to the international community their commitment to share power. The continued impasse stalls progress in political and economic transition, leaving the nation at a cross roads.

As such, at the SADC Summit held in Swaziland on 30 March 2009, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia pledged to build infrastructure, supply electricity and supply 9000 metric tonnes of maize, respectively. Similarly, South Africa’s bail-out packages included US$2 billion in short-term loans and aid to revive the economy and US$6.5 billion in long-term reconstruction finance. As a result, the country promised to identify bankable projects to be financed through the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). However, the pledges are a drop in the ocean in terms of meeting the financial needs of country’s socio-economic recovery demands. The above pledges also reflect displeasures on the calibre of the incumbent central bank governor, whose quasi-fiscal activities saw him publicly handing out tractors, combine harvesters, ploughs, farm inputs, vehicles and appliances to Mugabe loyalists including officials, MPs and judges as well as raiding foreign currency accounts of civil society organisations, businesses and farmers.

Most countries with the capacity to assist such as the USA and the European Union members have refused to come to the party until ‘there is real power-sharing’. Last week meetings between the finance minister, Tendai Biti and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) only resolved to set up the Zimbabwe Multi-Donor Trust Fund (Zim-MDTF), through which global banks and other donors could channel financial resources in support of the country’s economic recovery and development activities. Zim-MDTF wll be managed by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank (WB). This again shows displeasure over the unilateral decision to re-appoint the central bank governor by President Mugabe, hence the issue remains controversial. This also shows lack of trust between donors and the authorities. As such, the fund will be administered by the finance ministry with any expenditure requiring the approval of the donors. Zimbabwe has thus joined such countries like Liberia and Sudan where donors have an oversight on all aspects of fiscal spending.

Zimbabweans have suffered enough, and rightly so, deserve caring and sensitive leadership. Some ‘progressive elements in the inclusive government’ are mindful of the limited choice associated with re-engaging the international community amid a socio-economic and humanitarian crisis of such magnitude. They fully comprehend the benchmarks and any other conditions attached to any level of financial and technical assistance. As a result, they are making frantic effort to market the country to the international community. They are also trying their level best to counter negative actions that not only undermine the GPA, but also portray the country in a bad light. For instance, the ZANU (PF) minister of tourism, Walter Mzembi castigated the agenda of former war veterans on the land question, which is undermining efforts to market the country. Similarly, the deputy prime minister, Arthur Mutambara clashed with war veterans over continued dispossession of white commercial farmers on the strength of ‘dubious offer letters’. Those pursuing farm invasions are labelling ‘progressive elements’ calling for an end to farm disruptions ‘anti-revolutionaries’. It appears that the inclusive government currently lack the teeth to bite forces outside government which display disdain to the new political transition and hence are determined to scuttle the deal.

Donors and investors are looking for value enhancing opportunities that are sustainable and predictable. To date sceptics view the country as too volatile to guarantee minimum protection to invested social and economic capital. There is still lack of respect for private property rights. Land entitlements emerged as the most contested sector, and as before, raise fears that investors may target sectors that may also fall victim to political expedience. This is putting some investors (both foreign and local) at bay. In this instance, South African investors who have shown eagerness to transfer their Rands to Zimbabwe await the outcome of the investment guarantees that is being crafted by the Harare Administration. Those interested in economic investment are also worried about the levels of disposable incomes, which in the event of failing to unlock significant donor resources may in the short- to medium-run limit the necessary stimulus to the economy. Investors are chasing the purchasing power of the population.

Infighting in the inclusive government is sending conflicting messages not only to Zimbabweans, but also to the international community which have the resource basket to support socio-economic growth and development. The “pocket of resistance” has in many instances succeeded in frustrating GPA implementation without any censor by their ‘principal – Robert Mugabe’. This reflects lack of sincerity to improve pluralistic democratic credentials as well as ending the resurgence of property rights violations that is undermining all efforts towards confidence building measures. Failure to act is putting the country’s political and economic transition at the cross roads. Among Zimbabweans, confidence in the inclusive government remains in short supply. For instance, some Zimbabweans still squirrel their foreign currency savings abroad fearing that their wealth could be confiscated again ‘if Mugabe experiences a sudden change of heart’. There is also growing pessimism from the international community about the sincerity of political actors to the political and economic transitional processes. The begging nation should therefore show practical commitment to implementation GPA. The continued breach of GPA not only put the political and economic transition at the cross roads, but also point to lack of political will to end a decade-long socio-economic and humanitarian crisis. Surely, this is within the political capacity of all the belligerent parties.

On numerous occasions the ‘progressive elements’ have linked the restoration of the rule of law to the restoration of investor confidence. Indeed, the above are the pillars to confidence building measures. Recently, the Human Rights Watch demanded that “donors should withhold development aid until Zimbabwe improves its rights record by cracking down on violence on white-owned farms as well as intimidation of activists”. These are the voices that have significant influence to foreign governments and global donors, which unfortunately, those still resisting transformation have chosen to ignore.

It is therefore justified why donors, foreign governments and civic groups are demanding broad economic and political reforms that support the economic and political transition. Recent waves of farm invasions targeting few remaining white farmers by senior ZANU (PF) officials send a strong message that dent the image of the inclusive administration despite tireless effort by ‘progressive elements in cabinet’ to re-engage the international community. Some analysts are linking the “pocket of resistance” to the well-thought out strategy and delaying tactics aimed at stalling the reforms spearheaded by progressive elements in government until such time that ZANU (PF) has access to its assets frozen under targeted sanctions or that the foreign governments lift the smart sanctions.

Thus, the country’s challenges show lack of shared political vision for the country. Failure to attract significant flows of external resources in support of the country needs risk shattering the expectation of Zimbabweans that characterised the formation of the inclusive government. This will also dent the image of regional and continental leadership, who systematically support the regime even at its sunset phase. The high rate of poverty and unemployment requires huge inflows from investors as well as donors targeting social and economic growth and development. This the belligerent parties are aware of, and continued political impasse limit the new government’s ability to develop and implement pro-poor macroeconomic policies and/or pro-development strategies capable to absorb an estimated 94% of the total labour force. The country needs massive investment in public works, social and economic infrastructures, social service delivery and industrial activities, which in turn stimulate economic activities leading to more employment opportunities. Significant inflows of resources also facilitate non-partisan citizen mobilisation and participation in public policy formulation and other structural and institutional reforms that are necessary in support of political and economic transition. This also not only ensures the implementation of appropriate mix of polices, but also guarantees a representative voice of the marginalised groups in society as well as the working poor. But until such time the leadership in Zimbabwe commit themselves to the GPA and display practical commitment to serve the people of Zimbabwe, the political and economic transition will remain at the cross roads.

* Richard Kamidza is the Economy in Transition Programme Associate of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe (IDAZIM) and a PhD student with the School of Development at KwaZu-Natal University.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


Congo: We should be Africa’s Brazil

Give us a fighting chance to live up to our potential

Ali M. Malau

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56258


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It's true that Congo is a disappointment, says Ali M. Malau, responding to There is No Congo, an article which advocates carving up the country described as ‘a collection of peoples, groups, interests, and pillagers who coexist at best’. But that’s no reason to write off its potential to succeed as a nation-state of a country that should rival rising powers like South Africa and Brazil with its wealth of natural and human resources. Malau argues that Congo’s failure is the result of a Western campaign to weaken it in order to ‘perpetuate the systematic plunder of Congo's resources’ by foreign interests. Since 1885, says Malau, the affairs of the Congo have never truly been left to the Congolese people. With a great deal of work and investment from its people, Malau believes Congo could still become a ‘powerful engine for the development, and the industrialisation of the entire continent’.

Foreign Policy magazine recently published a rather disturbing article, There is No Congo, by Jeffrey Herbst of Miami University of Ohio, and Greg Mills who directs the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. The article makes a case against Congo as a unified entity. As a Congolese citizen, I could not disagree more with their arguments, and I believe they warrant an appropriate rebuttal.

Their article is a perfect illustration of the flawed approach with which much of the so-called international community, and some scholars on Africa, have analysed the situation in the Congo since its nominal independence in 1960, and frankly, part of the reason why they never get it right. It is often not due to inaccurate facts, or lack of knowledge on the region, but more due to inadequate prisms moulded in the inside-think of Western-world-centric academia.

In my view, and to illustrate some of the points I am rebutting, the article boils down to the following citations:

‘ … And indeed, for centuries, this is precisely what Congo's colonial occupiers, its neighbours, and even some of its people have done: Eaten away at Congo's vast mineral wealth with little concern for the coherency of the country left behind. Congo has none of the things that make a nation-state: Interconnectedness, a government that is able to exert authority consistently in territory beyond the capital, a shared culture that promotes national unity, or a common language. Instead, Congo has become a collection of peoples, groups, interests, and pillagers who coexist at best.

‘The very concept of a Congolese state has outlived its usefulness. For an international community that has far too long made wishful thinking the enemy of pragmatism, acting on reality rather than diplomatic theory would be a good start.’

There is one general sense in this article that is right: The Congo has been a disappointment. With the vast swathes of fauna, flora, mineral, agricultural, hydroelectric, and human resources it inherited at its independence, one would expect the Congo today to rival, if not exceed, such rising powers as South Africa, Brazil, India, China, Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia or the UAE. Instead, as the article justly points out, the level of deliquescence in Congo today is almost unprecedented; not acknowledging that reality would be intellectually dubious.

Nevertheless, what is equally dubious, is the misdiagnosis of the root causes of the current situation. The authors of this article repeatedly, and I believe questionably, confuse causes and consequences, to support and justify a desire, long-held in certain circles, for the balkanisation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The authors point out the weakness of the Congolese central state in governing the vast country, without fully and honestly addressing the international geo-strategic reasons why that reality came to be. The authors point out the various secessions and minor uprisings during the past 40+ years to justify their diagnosis of the Congo. Yet they fail to shine a light on the multiple foreign state and corporate backers that participated in those early attempts at derailing the Congo. The authors claim that ‘the Congolese government's inability to control its territory has resulted in one of the world's longest and most violent wars’, without actually addressing the reasons why the government was – and still is – not able to control its territory in the first place.

My contention is quite simple. The current conflict(s) in the Congo, the deliquescence of the state, the lack of infrastructures and ‘interconnectedness’, are not merely unforeseen, pathological consequences of bad colonial and/or cold war policy gone awry. The current situation is a direct, calculated, and progressively manufactured result of a long-standing operation by Western nations to maintain a weak state in this vast mineral rich swath of land in the heart of Africa and perpetuate the systematic plunder of Congo's resources by various foreign interests, and their proxies in the local elite.

Seems far-fetched? Let us consider that, until proven otherwise, the Congo is a sovereign country, recognised as such by international law, the United Nations, and, in theory, every country on the planet. Yet despite that, over the past five decades, these very countries, (including supposed champions of the rule of law like the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and South Africa), have allowed their mining companies (like Banro, Freeport-McMoran, Anglo American, DeBeers, and others) to enter into odious contracts with corrupt elements of the leadership in Kinshasa, and worse, with murderous warlords, and near-genocidal militias, unhindered, and unpunished. Furthermore, several of these very countries and their corporations have provided the military, logistical and ideological support to the secessionist regimes in the 60s and 70s, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, their proxy militias AND/OR their rival militias, thus destabilising and creating a de facto partition of the country, and further guaranteeing maximised profits through cheap/slave/child labour under warlords. That is not happenstance, but cold, calculated, predatory business planning. In fact, one only has to examine the history of the ties between the Oppenheimer mining magnate family of South Africa – which founded, and finances, the Brenthurst foundation that one of the authors of There is No Congo, Greg Mills, leads - and the various regimes and rebellions we have seen in the Congo, to understand how integral these foreign corporate and state interests are to the conduct of ANY business in the Congo.

I contend that it is not so much that there is no Congo; nor is it that the Congo as a country is not possible. I contend that since 1959, it was deemed too much of a potential threat to several world and regional powers, and to the coffers of their corporate acolytes, to allow the rise of a strong, large, potential Brazil-type power, in the heart of Africa. And we can see why. Let us consider the Congo today. Despite being one of the poorest, most badly-managed countries in the world, by virtue of its position and of its potential, the country is poised – should there be a great deal of change in leadership – to be a major guarantor of the development of a truly functional African continent, and African Union. As Herbst and Mills themselves justly point out, ‘the country is the region's vortex’. Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki notes ‘There cannot be a new Africa without a new Congo’. President Barack Obama himself rightly notes ‘If Africa is to achieve its promise, resolving the problem in the Congo will be critical’.

Over the years, despite all the adversity the Congo faces, and despite the desires they secretly harbour to see the Congo disintegrate to begin annexing its pieces, its neighbours in the region were forced to recognise its central and crucial position for the advent of further economic development for the entire continent. As a result, despite currently being, admittedly, an economic drag on all of them, the countries of Southern, Central, and Eastern Africa have all secured some form of regional economic/political supranational alliance with the Congo, whether through SADC, CEPGL, CEEAC or COMESA (all groups that constitute regional clusters in the building of the larger African Union).

There lies the issue for this country. Left to its own devices, a big, strong, unified Congo would be a powerful engine for the development, and the industrialisation of the entire continent. Herbst and Mills, I believe justly state that ‘economically, the various outlying parts of Congo are better integrated with their neighbours than with the rest of the country’. But that is not in Congo's disfavour. Whether in terms of its abundant precious and strategic minerals, the tremendous amount of renewable energy that could be generated by the Inga dam project on the Congo river, the natural gas in Lake Kivu or the geo-thermal potential of the volcanic mountains in the east, the second lung of our planet that is its rainforest, or the extraordinary – and exhaustively demonstrated – resilience of its people, the Congo has everything to be the central pillar around which Africa rises. Should the people of the Congo find a way to build the infrastructure to interconnect its outlying parts, the country would instantly become the key piece in regional development. That prospect has always unsettled many, whose interests might not be as well served should there be a strong government, a functioning army and police, and rule of law.

Herbst and Mills claim that ‘the very concept of a Congolese state has outlived its usefulness’. When was it ever truly – and democratically – implemented, I ask? When, since 1885, have the affairs of the Congo ever truly been left to the Congolese people? See, I contend that the Congo has, intentionally, never even been given a fighting chance to live up to its potential. Its challenge since 1885 has been both an internal and external one. Under colonial rule, the people were voluntarily under-educated, and the infrastructure built was limited to basic transportation needs for minerals, and the comfort of colonisers. Under Mobutu, the regime, backed by Western powers, ruled with an iron fist, promoted corruption, allowed the deliquescence of the already meagre infrastructure and mining industry, and progressively engineered a weakening of the state apparatus, the army and the police, in order to strengthen and impose Mobutu's personal rule, and better protect the mechanisms of the systematic plundering of the country's resources. The Congo today is the result of a systematic, documented, and fully reversible process of manufactured under-development, with roots in colonial and neo-colonial policies, but more importantly, in greed. Fomenting and perpetuating misery, turmoil, tribalism, destructive autocratic rule, and angling for the ‘Somalisation’ of the Congo, was more profitable to key greedy domestic elites and foreign groups, and more dependable for key foreign powers, than actually allowing this country to build the infrastructure it needed – and still needs – to succeed.

That is a far more accurate prism to consider the events that have befallen the Congo over the decades. It explains the secession of Katanga, the mineral rich southern province, only seven days after independence in 1960, with the help of Belgium, the very colonial power the people of the entire country had just successfully sought to get rid of. It also explains the assassination of the first democratically elected Prime Minister, Patrice E. Lumumba, with, at the very least, the tacit backing of Belgium and the United States. It explains, for instance, the documented contacts between the Oppenheimer family of South Africa and Albert Kalonji Mulopwe, the 'Emperor’ of the secessionist South-Kasai, Moise Tshombe, leader of the Katanga secession, and rebel groups of more recent years. Finally, and most tragically, it explains how the Congo's neighbours – Rwanda, Uganda, and to some degree Angola – their proxy militias, their rival militias, and corrupt elements of the so-called leadership of the Congo and their militias, have been not only allowed by the international community, but backed and supported primarily by the United States and Britain:

- to systematically destroy, ransack and plunder an entire country, unhindered and unpunished;
- to brutally rape and sexually terrorise tens of thousands of women in front of their sons, fathers and husbands, unhindered and unpunished;
- to turn children into soldiers, unhindered and unpunished;
- and to cause the death of nearly 6 million people – a scale for another century – to this day, seamlessly, unhindered and unpunished.

All the above has been accomplished in blatant violation of every principle of international law, and every principle of human decency, and in full view of the inadequately-led, inadequately-sized, ineffective, inept, overhyped, overpriced and overpaid so-called ‘largest United Nations peacekeeping force’ (MONUC), and with logistical support from Western powers, and recently, the dreaded Africa Command (AFRICOM) of the United States. Herbst and Mills argue that ‘the international community does not have the will or the resources to construct a functional Congo’? It seems more accurate to say that over the years, the international community has been – more or less intentionally – actively, and systematically undermining a functional Congo. It is for this reason that Antonio Guterres, high commissioner of the UNCHR reminded us in his interview with the Financial Times, in January 2008, that we must not forget that ‘the international community has systematically looted the Congo’ and that is a far different and, in my opinion, far more easily remediable problem.

The ultimate solution to the Congolese situation lies in investing on a key element that Herbst and Mills discount too quickly, and wrongly so: The Congolese people, their sense of citizenship, and their resilience. Through all the humiliations of colonialism and dictatorships, the scheming, the gaming, the profiteering, the raping, the oppression, the daily humiliations of poverty, the hunger, the injustice, the corruption, the tribalism and the morbid reality of living in a needlessly war-torn country, the Congolese people have emerged as resilient people, AND cohesive people; at least as cohesive as can be expected for any multi-cultural people, whether in the Congo, in South Africa, or in the United States. Congo may yet have ‘none of the things that make a nation-state’, but I contend that you would be hard-pressed to find a Congolese citizen, rural or urban, who does not identify with the Congolese nation, and the ’boundaries that the king of Belgium helped establish in 1885’.

Yes, the lack of infrastructure makes the task to establish and solidify the regal functions of a strong, centralised state on the entire territory, unusually daunting. But the Congo is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, multi-cultural nation, that has to, in its formative years, struggle with translating their sense of national identity into stable, and accepted state institutions. It may be hard, but the argument that it is not worth thriving for, fighting for, and supporting, is simply untenable; especially coming from two scholars from the two countries in the world - the United States and South Africa - that symbolise the most (and I admire them for that) the possibility of overcoming tremendous and varying odds to build united and strong countries, that combine multi-cultural peoples, and effective, democratic states. Maybe the Congolese can learn from them, and Brazil, and India, and establish a strong, but truly federal state. When the Congo's affairs are left to the Congolese people, the possibilities are endless.

Now, that is definitely not to say it will be a cakewalk. The Congo we envision, thrive and advocate for is possible, but it will entail a great deal of work and investment from the Congolese people. Those in the ‘learned class’ – economists, agronomists, engineers, teachers, doctors, etc – that have managed to maintain their integrity by not partaking in the plunder of the Congo, will have to outgrow this sense of cynicism, hopelessness and apathy that has seeped into their consciousness due to years of despair and lack of prospects for change, and roll-up their sleeves. The Congolese will need to revitalise the education sector, so as to ensure that the coming generations have access to the knowledge they need to continue the task of rebuilding their country. They will also need to organise education/training initiatives for urban and rural adults, in various fields, among which – and most importantly – sustainable agriculture, construction, urbanization, sanitation, and salubrity. They will need to reinforce notions of civics, citizenship, human rights, civil and civic rights, law and order, and respect for women, which years of oppression and mis-education, of Leopoldism, colonialism, Mobutism and other -isms have caused to somewhat crumble away in the general consciousness. Finally, on a national level, they will need to seek worthy partners to do all the above, and also begin the work of reconnecting the Congo to the main grids of modern technology, starting with the electrification of the country, through the rehabilitation and completion of the Inga hydroelectric complex. The task is not complex for the Congolese people; it is simply tedious. The prescriptions we put forth imply a laborious, time-consuming but necessary grassroots work, that needs to start yesterday, but is absolutely achievable. And given a true opportunity, I believe the Congolese people are up to the task.

So, instead of giving up on the Congo, and dismissing it as an irredeemable failure, I say let the Congo and its people truly amaze you. Give the Congo a fighting chance. It is quite simple, really. Intel, Nokia, Dell, T-Mobile, IBM, Banro, Freeport-McMoran, Anglo American, Chevron, Tullow and all the other companies identified in the Financial Times and United Nations Reports from 2001-2003, that romp through Congo for coltan, cassiterite, tin cobalt, gold, diamonds, oil, etc, should cease and desist from buying minerals illegally from warlords, from neighbouring countries that have looted our resources, or through odious or illegal contracts. By all means, invest in Congo, but be deliberate and intentional about doing it through the proper channels. Stop financing and arming warlords. All people of goodwill should discourage the Congo's neighbours from meddling in its affairs and support and finance education and healthcare institutions. Support local institutions, and help the civil society hold the central government, the provincial governments and the security forces truly accountable.

And finally this time, this time, help the Congolese ensure that they conduct truly free, fair, transparent and democratic elections in 2011. The International Crisis Group's 2007 report Congo: Consolidating the Peace, shows quite clearly that the last time around, the International community was more concerned about access to lucrative mining contracts as opposed to a democratic process that would reflect the interests of the people. Let us all thrive to prevent a repetition of that. The Congolese have an imperfect constitution, with imperfect prescriptions, and imperfect institutions, but they are all theirs to perfect. Let the Congolese people choose their own leaders, and manage their own territory. Give them the chance they have never had: To demonstrate their capacity to be a viable nation, and establish for themselves a state that helps their country live up to its full potential. Is that really a concept that has outlived its usefulness? I dare think not.

* Ali Malau is an adviser to The Friends of the Congo (FOTC).
* This article first appeared in AllAfrica.com
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


Full speed in the wrong direction

Has the world made real progress since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit?

Nnimmo Bassey

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56259


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CSD-17 presents a unique opportunity for global governance to rise above the selfish interests of individual countries and regional blocks to work towards sustainable development worldwide, writes Nnimmo Bassey. But, he warns, a complicated negotiation text lacking in ideas to galvanise nations into acting in solidarity, is likely to maintain the status quo. Bassey expresses dismay at G-77 references to ‘national laws and cultural contexts’ when the Commission for Sustainable Development ‘should be raising the bar, not subjecting universal ideals to parochial local regimes’. Bassey suggests that restoring confidence in global governance and democracy is an important part of tackling the food, climate and economic crises on every delegates’ mind. What is even more problematic to the negotiations, however, is the lack of unanimity in defining what ‘sustainability’ actually is.

It was a bumpy ride on the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) highway last week, as delegates appeared to be driving forward with their eyes fixed on their rear-view mirrors. Considering events in the world, everyone agrees that the themes of the last CSD cycle and those of the present one have proven to be prescient and timely. The last one focused on energy and climate change, while we are here in CSD-17 talking about agriculture, land, rural development, drought, desertification and particularly Africa

This week offers clear opportunities for delegates to take a good look at the road ahead and avoid the obvious, as well as the hidden, bumps and potholes. Throughout last week, delegates recognised the convergence of crises confronting the world today and the urgent need for concrete action to be taken. There were repeated talks about the food crisis, the climate crisis and the economic crisis. The other crisis that did not show up is the crisis of the growing deficit of confidence in global governance and, in some cases, the deficit of democracy. And this should worry our governments. The world sorely needs to regain confidence in internal governance, in an era where financial and transnational institutions are enjoying massive bailouts, while the citizens of this world are out in the cold, hungry and unprotected

The CSD presents a unique platform for global governance to rise up beyond individual countries’ or regional blocks’ selfish interests. Unfortunately, the bright spots in this regard have been few and far between. As we listened to delegates go through the chair’s negotiation text last week, we could not help but wonder how they would find their way out of the maze of brackets and additions that have so riddled the texts, and if the final outcome will be recognisable.

Obviously, this is the way negotiations of this nature go, but we are concerned that additions and subtractions on the text do not appear to be introducing ideas that would galvanize nations into acting in solidarity. What we see are grounds being set for competition and business as usual. The world sorely needs inspiration to empower and engineer actions. So far, memorable texts would need to be ferreted out with the aid of a Hubble telescope. We would agree that delegates are not wordsmiths, but what is the point in introducing texts without clearly seeing how the jigsaw fits or unravels? The transformation of the world will not be built on episodic entries that focus on maintaining the status quo and preserving narrow interests and privileges of some nations and blocs.

The G-77 kept bringing up references to national laws and cultural contexts to cap some provisions. These may sound progressive, but in reality they may prove obstructive to the attainment of justice and higher ideals of liberty. For example, when G-77 speaks about rights of women, they add ‘in accordance with national legislation’. The CSD should be raising the bar, not subjecting universal ideals to parochial local regimes. The picture that comes through all this is an insidious resistance to change under the cover of tradition.

Right from the preamble to the negotiated text, G-77 and China inserted a highly volatile piece of text on the sovereign right of states to exploit their natural resources. There is nothing unusual about states having the sovereign right to exploit their resources, but we could raise the issue of what would be the case for countries whose political setting is not settled. And what about those whose sovereignty is threatened or subverted? It appears that basic questions, including the prior right of communities and indigenous peoples, even before the rights of states, need to be settled on this issue.

Given the themes of CSD-17, one would be right to assume that G-77 would drive for the best texts that would guarantee the right context for the citizens of this bloc. We note that the bulk of the work done to improve the section on Africa was done by the delegations from the USA and the EU. The most outstanding contribution of the G-77 and China in that section was when they asked that the proposal to encourage broad public participation of civil society as a partner be removed, in particular in responding to food insecurity. This was very curious.

Apart from the brilliant addition to the introduction of the section on desertification, this has not often been the case. When G-77 suggested that desertification ‘is a global problem that requires a global response through concerted efforts’, that really shone. However, some of the areas bracketed or deferred by G-77 raised some worries. Why would G-77, for example, need to defer immediate acceptance of a clauses such as ‘mindful of the growing scarcities of many natural resources and the competing claims to their use’, and on building ‘the resilience of rural communities to cope with and recover from natural disasters and conflicts’? In many other sections, we find an unwillingness to assume responsibilities, but rather a readiness to push implementation burden on to the ‘international community’.

The issue of the right to food was firmly raised by the UN rapporteur on the right to food when he addressed the session on 7 May. He affirmed that the right to adequate food is a human right and emphasised that the CSD should recommend measures that would promote the adoption of national right to food strategies and for states to implement the findings of the IAASTD. He also strongly recommended that states should realise the centrality of the role of smallholder farmers in meeting the food needs of the world. The ideas pushed by the rapporteur found echoes in a few submissions of Switzerland and G-77 during the negotiations.

On the whole, the EU has made substantial additions on forests, drought and desertification. They underlined the need for the UNFCCC parties to utilise the UNCCD framework in combating drought and desertification. G-77’s reference to the UNCCD was mainly on the imperative of the industrialised world to meet their commitments with regard to provision of resources.

The USA, Canada, Australia and Japan worked often in tandem, but Australia must be given the medal for fighting to foist WTO rules as a damper on more progressive trade and business relations.

In a bid not to mention genetic engineering by name, delegates have taken the convoluted route and left everyone wondering what they are really talking about. The G-77, for example, ‘supports efforts to increase the nutrition content of food’. While that is not a bad idea on its own, we must be wary of falling into the hoax of the so-called golden rice, or the new experiments with genetically modified super cassava, both engineered to have enhanced levels of vitamin A for poor people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The strong underlying hands of what has been termed philanthropic capitalism keeps excessive pressure on the staple foods of vulnerable peoples with utter disregard of the precautionary principle that is cardinal in biodiversity protection. Mexico recommended the using of plantations of non-native species of trees to combat the spread of sand dunes.

Sadly quite a number of trite additions were brought into the section on rural development. It is hoped that such will be thrown out during the negotiations.

With a week to go in the negotiations, it is hoped that delegates will safely disentangle from the web of brackets with a clear road map and not just a pack of words. We note that in the course of last week, delegates queried the possible meanings of otherwise simple words or concepts and answers were sometimes immediately offered or deferred until the following day. In one case, the USA brought up the concept of using smart growth techniques in Working Group 2 [PDF]. G-77 asked to know what that meant. USA explained the following day that they have found out that the smart growth concept had several meanings and therefore withdrew the submission. That was a good example of helping make progress and ensuring that obscure terminology are not used to conceal hidden examples.

If it was just that a concept such as the ‘green revolution’ has become obfuscated, we would not have a reason to worry too much. But the CSD-17 has also revealed that there may not be unanimity of understanding of the very concept of sustainability. In a conversation on the lobby, a veteran participant said that she was always of the view that Rio 1992 outcomes were very tame, but now she can see that it was far more radical than what may be expected of CSD-17. And she asked the question: Are we making progress in reverse gear?

Delegates have the duty of giving an answer to this question next week. Already there are talks of a possible 20th anniversary session of the CSD in 2012, and Brazil may possibly be the host. Will this be a date to celebrate a revival, or one to place Rio 1992 on the funeral pyre?

* Nnimmo Bassey is executive director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria. Pambazuka Press is publishing his book To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa in January 2010.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


Gambia: Time to stop the abuse

Popular criticism of Jammeh government swells

Abena Ampofoa Asare

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56262


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State-sanctioned witch-hunts in March have triggered growing popular criticism of Gambia’s repressive Jammeh government on the ground as well as internationally, writes Abena Ampofoa Asare. Detailing the failure of regional and continental mechanisms from the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) court to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to respond effectively to human-rights abuses in a deteriorating political situation, Asare calls for the issue to be addressed at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights annual meeting on 13 May.

As state repression has become a marker of life in the Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh’s ballooning authority has been duly noted and criticised by Africa-wide justice mechanisms. The days when the Organisation of African Unity tolerated self-appointed African leaders, regardless of how cruelly they wielded power, are past. In the era of the African Union, human rights are at the centre of the continent's program for progress and development. Though protection of human rights is now part of every country’s rhetoric, the consequences for leaders who abuse state power are as murky as ever. In the 21st century, enforcing human rights norms continues to be a challenge throughout the continent.

When the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) court called for the Gambian government to release a disappeared journalist in 2008, the regional court system's lack of enforcement mechanisms was on display. The journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh was allegedly detained for writing an article critical of the government. Almost a year after the ECOWAS ruling, Manneh has not been released and recent rumours suggest that he has already been killed. The Gambian government's position has moved from silence to a cynical recalcitrance. Claiming to have no knowledge of Manneh’s whereabouts, Jammeh’s government has announced its intention to appeal the ECOWAS court’s ruling.

Meanwhile, the trial of news editor Pap Saine continues. The government’s claim that Saine is Senegalese and subject to deportation is a thinly-veiled attempt to rid the country of one of its most critical voices. President Jammeh’s intolerance of personal criticism seems to know no bounds. Even a Dutch national's comment that the President has greedily increased taxi fares for white people has spurred a sedition trial.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) which, ironically, has its permanent headquarters in Banjul, has not been silent in the face of the Gambia’s deteriorating politics. This past November, the ACHPR urged the Gambian government to heed the ECOWAS ruling, release Manneh, and investigate all allegations of torture and extrajudicial execution. Six months after this resolution, the Gambian government has not given the slightest indication of changing course. In fact, as President Jammeh has eased into impunity, his rule of terror seems to have reached new heights. with the introduction of witch-hunts.

In March, Amnesty International reported that approximately 1000 Gambians were detained and tortured in state-sanctioned witch-hunts. In an unholy marriage of state power and dehumanising superstition, witch-hunters, flanked by government security agents, combed the Gambian countryside, detaining and torturing ‘witches’. Supposedly, the death of President Jammeh’s aunt was the catalyst for these political exhibitions of raw state power. Though the witch-hunts were halted and the prisoners were released in the face of international disapproval, the Jammeh government has yet to apologise for or denounce these activities.

However, these witch-hunts did not only terrorise the Gambian people, they also set the stage for popular criticism of the Gambian government. No longer are journalists and human rights activists the only ones questioning the government’s authority. In early April, a local newspaper, Foroyaa, printed an article about an elderly man who died shortly after his witch hunt ordeal. The relatives of this ‘very dignified, respectable, gentle and considerate old man’ shared their disappointment with the government’s silence and demanded an investigation of this atrocity.

Throughout March and April, the Gambian newspapers have been full of the horrific testimonies of individuals and families who suffered during the witch-hunts. Village imams were forced to drink poisonous concoctions; the elderly were abused by persons young enough to be their children or grandchildren. The brutality and arbitrariness of the witch-hunts has broken through the Jammeh government's censure of dissent; and individuals at the most local levels of Gambian society are speaking out. One Foroyaa reader boldly questioned the government. ‘Are we living in the olden days? Are we in the Jahiliya period? Are we living in a Holocaust camp? Are we living in a lawless society? What about modern civilisation which empowers us with democracy, equality, freedom of speech and assembly, protection of our rights?’ In the aftermath of the witch-hunts, the small fissures in Jammeh’s suppression of public dissent have begun to widen. Popular criticism of the witch-hunts has created a new opportunity for human rights enforcement in the Gambia.

On 13 May 2009, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) will hold its 45th ordinary session in Banjul, the Gambia. During this meeting, Africa’s human rights leaders should join Gambian citizens in demanding a full explanation and apology for the witch-hunts. Fanning the flames of popular dissent is perhaps the most effective means of highlighting the limits of the Jammeh regime’s power. Where judicial rulings and commission resolutions have failed, perhaps the righteous anger of the Gambian people, supported by African governance institutions, will succeed.

* Abena Ampofoa Asare is a PhD candidate in History and a freelance writer based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


Beyond mere 'brotherhood' and 'sisterhood'

Godwin Murunga

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56265


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In a response to 'Kenyan men should zip up and grow up' in last week's Pambazuka, Godwin Murunga charges that Wandia Njoya's letter smacks of intellectual laziness. Suggesting that Njoya's argument ignores entirely the attitudinal gains in gender relations made over previous years, Murunga emphasises that it is highly misleading to cast all men as equal recipients of 'patriarchal dividends'. Stressing that the problem of 'flawed masculinity' is in some respects actively fuelled by women themselves, Murunga underlines the inherent destructiveness of short-sighted generalisations.

Wandia Njoya's 'Kenyan men should zip up and grow up' is a rather pathetic and annoying article about a very important topic. In the first instance, the author speaks of ‘Kenyan men’ and of ‘men’ in general. I find this a lazy way of addressing an important issue and an added ammunition for those same idiotic ‘men’ to accuse those of us who celebrate feminism for intellectual laziness. I do not think there is a universal category of men who experience the same levels of power and privilege or a universal category of women who experience the same levels of powerlessness and deprivation. So who are these Kenyan men? Can, say, 20 callers to one radio station add up to Kenyan men? How do we take 20 or even 100 to mean and represent all Kenyan men? What kind of sampling is this?

Second, doesn’t this approach damage the very struggle of transforming the nature of gender relations in society that we all are engaged in? The feminist movement in Africa has long made significant gains in challenging patriarchy and sexism. Some men, admittedly few, have always understood and supported the struggle from the onset. Other men, again few, have been convinced to support the struggle as a result of the message from feminists. There are many others who will profess to be concerned but who assume the struggle is between feminists and those sexist persons (men and women) who abuse, violate and downgrade women. Theirs is an apolitical exercise based solely on declarations of concern but with no action. In other words, the process of men unlearning their internalised superiority and embracing new forms of positive masculinity continues with different levels of achievement, success and speed. Indeed, it is no longer possible for the young male generation today to behave like their grandfathers did decades ago. In essence, this represents the gains of feminism. Haven’t these gains chipped away something from patriarchy? Does patriarchy look the same even after years of feminist struggles? Can we still talk of men as if the many years of feminist struggle have made no significant difference?



By far the most disturbing thing about this generalised dressing-down of ‘the men’ is the assumption that the only source of gender troubles in Africa are men. Of course, all men enjoy some ‘patriarchal dividends’ by virtue of being male. But we kid ourselves if we assume that these dividends are evenly distributed among all men. As Wangari Maathai once said:

'We can talk about the position of women in Africa and see how miserable it is; quite often we forget that these miserable women are married to miserable men. They are oppressed together, and it is only a small group of elite middle-class Africans who can say that they have made it.'

It is often also conveniently ignored that masculinised structures can instil women with flawed masculinity? I am thinking here about women who, intentionally or otherwise, teach their sons to behave like men. Women can be as much a cause of frustration for other women as the men. Yes, I am aware the degrees differ and men might be worse when compared to women, but that is not a reason to lump people into analytically empty categories like that of ‘Kenyan men’.

It is often also conveniently ignored that some women can be the beneficiaries of flawed masculinity. Flawed masculinity is automatically associated with men as though it is an innate biological attribute which every man has or must acquire. As such, when 20 or so men deride Kenya's G10 coalition of women's groups, all men become responsible. As for the recommendation that ‘good’ men should ‘talk some sense’ into the ‘bad’ men, I wonder if it is instead possible, for instance, that the mothers of the ‘bad’ men might in fact have a far greater influence on them than ‘good’ men who have no relationship to them at all? Is it possible that the sisters and aunties to the ‘bad’ men might be better able to talk sense into their brothers or nephews? Of what analytical value would this be if we have to understand the nature of gender relations in our society? Is it possible that I enjoy greater affections and friendship and give my sister a keener ear than I do other men? Is it possible that my sister enjoys greater affection and friendship with me than she does with other women? Can we still talk of sisterhood as a female thing and brotherhood as a male thing and treat them as distinct in real life? We need to get real.

My point is that the nature of gender relations in society does not allow for the assumption that all women stand at one end in opposition to all men. Even in cases where men raped women during the post-election violence in Kenya, one comes across stories of women who defend such rape as a necessary lesson directed against those from other enemy communities, just as one also conversely comes across Kalenjin women who shielded Kikuyu women at great risk to themselves. In other words, it is not the black-and-white thing the author implies. There is enough research now to show that women from different communities viewed rape differently depending on the political stand their community, family or preferred politician adopted. To assume that all women, by virtue of being female, have the same position about rape in the post-election context and all men, by virtue of being male, have an opposing opinion about those incidences of rape is to exhibit a level of intellectual dishonesty that must trouble us all.

* Godwin Murunga is the editor of Issa G. Shivji's Where is Uhuru?, published by Pambazuka Press.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


The KwaZulu Natal Slums Act: Bloody legislation against the expropriated

Richard Pithouse

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56267


cc Arne Boell
With South Africa's Constitutional Court today set to hear the efforts of the Abahlali baseMjondolo shackdweller movement to have the KwaZulu Natal Slums Act declared unlawful, Richard Pithouse reflects on the state's routine willingness to evict occupiers of informal housing in contravention of the protection afforded by the country's constitution. Stressing the destruction engendered through forcing people out of their communities, Pithouse discusses the state's flawed assumption that blindly razing settlements without fully accommodating their inhabitants amounts to progress. Highlighting the similarities of the 2007 Slums Act with apartheid-era legislation, the author criticises a technocratic act that regards the poor as the problem rather than the material and political realities they face, and proposes the implementation of measures aimed at privileging the social value of urban land over commercial concerns.

Today on 14 May 2009 the Constitutional Court will hear the attempt by the shackdweller’s movement Abahlali baseMjondolo to have the KwaZulu Natal Slums Act declared unlawful. Other provinces have been mandated to develop similar legislation and the decision of the court may have a significant impact on the future of our cities.

Thabo Mbeki’s government built a lot of houses. But this does not mean that we have been building democratic and inclusive cities. On the contrary, it is a major mistake to assume that the resolution of the crisis in our cities is a simple question of building houses. We should recall that the apartheid state built a lot of houses and that around the world authoritarian regimes, like the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, have often built a lot of houses.

Lindiwe Sisulu, Mbeki’s housing minister, in fact left the state’s housing programme in a catastrophic mess. The Breaking New Ground Policy, officially adopted in 2004, recommends democratic engagement with communities with a view to upgrading settlements where they are. It has never been implemented. The constitution protects unlawful occupiers of land against summary eviction, but the state is the primary perpetrator of systematically unlawful evictions. The state’s actions are, in strict legal terms, routinely criminal.

Both policy and law have been ignored in favour of an increasingly authoritarian discourse around eliminating or eradicating slums. This has led to a deliberate reduction in the provision of basic services to shack settlements, as well as often unlawful and violent evictions and forced removals to out-of-town housing developments and prison-like ‘transit camps’. Evictions leave people destitute and bereft of community, expulsion from the cities takes people away from work and schools and the reduction of basic services like electricity, toilets and water actively subjects people to relentless fires and the loss of their children to something as easily avoidable as diarrhoea.

One of the many pernicious consequences of the slum clearance discourse is that the government ends up measuring its progress on the resolution of the urban crisis via two metrics, the first being the reduction in the number of shacks. So if, as often happens, only half the residents of a settlement are accommodated in a new housing development and the rest are left homeless as their settlement is razed, the state will measure that as progress. The other way that progress is measured is by the number of people moved into state-controlled spaces. This is problematic enough given the well-known fact that a well located shack is often much better for people than a poorly located government house. But in a perverse Orwellian move some municipalities are compounding the damage done and turning the urban question into a numbers-game by calling the new and deservedly notorious transit camps, or even tents, ‘housing opportunities’. So even when people are forced out of shacks and into transit camps against their will and at gunpoint the statistics will simply show that they have ‘accessed a housing opportunity’.

It is unsurprising that this technocratic approach to development, an approach that is incapable of measuring the human consequences of state action, has been subject to sustained resistance. Shackdwellers across the country – some organised into movements and others acting independently – have been blocking roads, marching on councillors and, on the rare occasions when they can access the judicial system, taking the government to court. Entirely legal forms of protest have often been responded to with unlawful state repression.

The Slums Act, passed into law in 2007, is an attempt to give legal sanction to the turn to an outright authoritarian and anti-poor response to the crisis of our cities. It has direct connections to similar colonial and apartheid legislation, like the 1951 Prevention of Squatting Act. It compels municipalities and private landowners to evict, gives legal sanction to the notorious transit camps and criminalises shackdwellers’ movements. It assumes that shack settlements, rather than the material and political realities that give rise to shack settlements, are the problem and so rather than seeking to reduce injustice it attacks ordinary people’s attempts to survive in an unjust society. Shackdwellers' organisations across the country and across the political spectrum have emphatically rejected the Slums Act. People have been beaten, shot at with rubber bullets and arrested while marching against it.

In his study of the rise of capitalism in England, Karl Marx called the legislation aimed at controlling peasants who had moved into the cities after being forced off the land ‘bloody legislation against the expropriated’. The Slums Act is certainly not as bloodthirsty as the laws of the English kings that rained down beatings, whippings, brandings, enslavement, imprisonment and execution on people forced into vagabondage after the enclosure of their land, but it does demand that state violence be directed against the dispossessed. It is legislation against the expropriated. Its function is, quite clearly, to martial state and private forces against the poor in order to reassert the absolute control of the state and capital over urban planning and urban land use.

There are currently no grounds for optimism that Jacob Zuma’s government will seek a more just and democratic resolution of the urban crisis than that imagined by Mbeki. On the contrary, the African National Congress's (ANC) Polokwane resolutions actively endorse the extension of the Slums Act to other provinces.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The state could, along with meaningful and pro-poor rural land reform, actively support the efforts of poor people to hold their ground in our cities. It could, for instance, attempt to actually implement the Breaking New Ground policy. Or it could take a larger step forward and, following examples in Brazil and the Philippines, implement measures to put the social value of urban land before its commercial value.

Grassroots activists will be making their way to the Constitutional Court for the hearing on 14 May from shacks settlements around Johannesburg as well as Durban and Cape Town. We will have to wait and see how the court decides to measure their humanity. We will also have to wait and see how it decides to weigh that humanity against the demand for legislation that can only, when it comes down to the practicalities of sending out men with guns to banish the poor from our cities, be a bloody business.

* Richard Pithouse is an independent writer and researcher based in Durban.
* This article was originally published by The South African Civil Society Information Service.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


Food sovereignty: A new model for a human right

Vía Campesina and Friends of the Earth International

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/56270


cc Oxfam
Following UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter's comments at the 17th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), Vía Campesina and Friends of the Earth International give their response to the special rapporteur's comments. While highlighting the recommendations and broad understanding that they share with De Schutter, the authors' statement emphasises the centrality of 'food sovereignty', namely, the right of different communities and peoples to control their own territories. This the authors contend is a process that goes beyond producers' mere 'participation' in high-level decision-making; it is one which actively positions farmers and peasants at the centre of agricultural production and control.

On 4 May UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter highlighted the unique role of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in current discussions about the future of agricultural development. His statements were made during a presentation at the 17th session of the commission, which is focused on agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa.

De Schutter stated that in order for agricultural development to be sustainable, a focus on human rights is essential, and for that reason it is necessary to move towards a model in which the right to adequate food is a human right. This is what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

De Schutter's proposal promotes a model which prioritises the needs of the most vulnerable people, which defines its reference points not only by the levels of production achieved but also by its impact on the diverse methods of food production, and which bases decision-making processes on participatory mechanisms.

'Increased investments in agriculture, particularly in Africa, are necessary, yet this must be thought out seriously. The experience gained from the crisis showed that the key question is not merely that of increasing budgets allocated to agriculture but rather that of choosing from different models of agricultural development which may have different impacts and benefit various groups differently', stated De Schutter to the CSD.

This new model must protect, promote and ensure the access to and the control over small farmer and peasant land. It should also promote agrarian reform, ensure access to production resources and protect people against large-scale transnational acquisitions.

This model needs to put into practice alternatives for production that do not contribute to climate change. 'Increasing agricultural production must go hand in hand with increasing the incomes of the poorest, particularly small-scale farmers, and switching to modes of production which do not contribute to climate change', De Schutter highlighted.

All in all, it is a model that promotes and ensures, in a sustainable way, the right to food as a fundamental right of communities to produce food and to define what food they want to consume. A model which is 'more about "how to help the world feed itself" than about 'how to feed the world', he added.

TIME FOR RECOMMENDATIONS

In his recommendations to the CSD, De Schutter included 'the need not only to increase food production but to reorient agro-food systems and the regulations that influence them at national and international levels, towards sustainability and the progressive realization towards the right to food'.

He also recommended a reorientation of the agrarian sciences, policies and institutions and a need to anticipate the effects of climate change in agriculture, and emphasised the need for a diversity of agricultural systems able to cope with climate disruptions, including agro-ecological systems.

In addition, De Schutter called for a world food summit with a broad agenda to encourage the international community to address the structural causes of the food crisis and fill in the gaps left by the fragmentation of current global governance. The agenda should also include, according to the special rapporteur, issues related to the insufficient or inadequate investment in agriculture, the deregulation of markets, financial speculation on the futures markets of agricultural commodities, the weak protection of workers of the sector and a search for adequate regulation of the agri-food chain.

He also urged the CSD to promote the adoption of national strategies to the right to food that are comprehensive and meant for the creation of sustainable agri-food systems, including production, transformation and consumption.

Finally, De Schutter highlighted the fact that the CSD must contribute to improving the international community's recognition of small farmers' right to access land. He added that for that to happen it is necessary to highlight the unique role of agrarian reform and adopt international guidelines on large-scale, offshore land purchases.

OUR PATH: FOOD SOVEREIGNTY

There are many common opinions on De Schutter's presentation shared by La Vía Campesina and Friends of the Earth International.

We are agreed in defending the right of the people to adequate food, highlighting that this implies a recognition that food must be sufficient, nutritious, healthy and produced in an ecologically and culturally appropriate way. It also implies the right to produce food and the right of peasants and small farmers to produce food for themselves and their communities. Peasants, small farmers and artisan fishers have to play a central role in any strategy to resolve the problem of hunger and poverty.

We are also agreed on the need to ensure the right of the people to access land, and with that aim it is crucial to put an end to offshore land takeovers. We understand that massive land takeovers or acquisitions meant for agro-fuel production, animal feed, tree plantations to produce pulp and paper and for wood and mining projects are taking from indigenous peoples, fishermen and small farmers the possibility of accessing these resources. In addition, these acquisitions are the cause of dangerous effects on the environment and on communities' ability to maintain sustainable lifestyles. In short, on their food sovereignty.

But furthermore, the right to access water must be ensured and it must be recognised that people should control their own territories. This implies much more than the search for mechanisms to promote their participation in decision-making processes; it entails the control of these processes.

Moreover, we agree on promoting genuine solutions to help the world feed itself, to enable communities to produce their own food rather than simply adhering to the 'solutions' of those who aim at feeding them. This is because we defend the rights of the people to define and control their food and food production systems, whether local, national, ecological, fair and sovereign. This is food sovereignty, the ability for people to choose what and how to produce and how to trade the result. This includes the need for regulation to push back the influence of the corporate sector, a sector whose goal is 'to feed the world' through their industrial and destructive model of production.

Likewise, we support De Schutter when he prioritises the most vulnerable people. Those who produce and consume food must be centre-stage in food policy, and should be prioritised over trade and business interests in order to emphasise local and national economies. It is about giving priority to food sovereignty and the right to food over trade agreements and other international political and economic instruments.

In the same way, we agree with the special rapporteur on the need to promote production models that do not contribute to climate change. This means, among other things, promoting agri-food systems that are less dependent on fossil fuels and thus on agro-chemicals, machinery and systems reliant on genetically modified organisms. Equally, food should not travel long distances from its site of production to where it is consumed due to the polluting emissions this causes.

We also want to bring again to your attention the important recommendations of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). In this respect, we stress the need to promote sustainable agri-food systems in their production, transformation and consumption stages. We believe such sustainability lies in local and diversified agro-ecological food production, and on the urgency of moving from an intensive, large-scale industrial agricultural system to local and regional systems that are environmentally sound and diverse. In the urban context, such sustainability entails the possibility of buying this kind of food in a network of diverse retail markets, creating bridges between people and food and links between those who produce it and those who consume it.

Sustainability is completely impossible if the right of the people to recover, defend, reproduce, exchange, improve and grow their own seeds is not recognised. Seeds must be the heritage of the people to the service of humankind.

INTERFERING ACTORS

Clearly, there are key actors that militate against food sovereignty, like the export-oriented production model led by big transnational corporations. International financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and regional development banks, along with multilateral organisations promoting free trade like the World Trade Organization (WTO), are key actors against food sovereignty. The policies of the United States and European Union also run against food sovereignty

In addition to this, there are a series of initiatives we refer to as 'false solutions' which go against people's food sovereignty. Among these are the certification schemes which aim at implementing unsustainable production models, along with mechanisms that aim at the commodification of nature (such as the clean development mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change), carbon trading, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), agro-fuels themselves and the new 'green revolution' driven in Africa by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

NEXT STEPS

This is the time to defend a sustainable and egalitarian production and consumption model and bring to an end the production model driven by big corporations and promoted and financed by the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO.

Such corporate control of our agri-food systems must end.

There is a need to unmask and resist the promoters of false models which block the right to food and food sovereignty. These policies have led us to the current crisis, and these actors should not be part of the 'international community' looking for solutions.

We call for a collective defence of the right of the people to access land, seeds and water and to push for agrarian reform.

* Vía Campesina can be contacted at [email protected], while Friends of the Earth International can be reached at [email protected].
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.




Books & arts

Like a goddess rides a tiger

Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/books/56261

Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru is ‘totally enthralled’ by poet Shailja Patel’s performance about Zanzibari musician Bi Kidude at an Africa Literature Association conference in April. She describes here her experience of watching what the Igbo call ‘oha kara lama’, an event whose memory travellers carry and disperse in distant lands.

In thirty years of attendance at African Literature Association conferences, I have never been so totally enthralled by any literary artist ‘performing’ her work. This year, I watched Shailja Patel, a new face at ALA, thrill the audience with her performance of her Drum Rider.

Most appropriately, she was ushered on to the microphone with a griotic rhapsody by Alhaji Papa Susso, to the accompaniment of a kora and an African village made xylophone. An apparition in a white boubou, armed with a colorful khanga, Shailja stepped to the microphone to begin her bombardment of the aesthetic feelings of her unsuspecting audience. She introduced the subject of her poem – ninety-year-old Zanzibari musician, Bi Kidude, a veritable Mzee who claims to be one hundred and twenty.

Shailja mimed the greater portion of the first movement during which Bi Kidude sets up for her drumming:

‘Twisted a soft worn khanga round her hips / The woman harnessed her hips to the drum / Rocked it aslant between her straddled legs / Settled into position.’

Shailja’s physical theatre invoked a drill sergeant commanding his soldiers to fall in line and stand at ease. I saw people in the audience, like me, jerk their bodies straight, thrusting out their chests, to Shailja’s command. Her streams of freshly-coined words took the audience to ‘Planet Kidude‘, to re-live decades of trekking the length and breadth of Tanzania to perform even as Bi Kidude:

‘fought off terror, insults, mockery / the soul-destroying silence / only the strongest fire survives.’

The poet captures the strength and ruggedness of this old woman who:

‘has walked more miles than most of us have driven.’

But who is also soft, as she wraps her music round the lives of the powerless, to whom her drum gives voice:

‘in language of street and market poetry buried in the bodies of women.’

Shailja concludes the description of Kidude with a comet-shower of similes:

‘I have never seen a woman ride a drum before / like a goddess rides a tiger / like creation rides the cosmos / I have never seen an artist / male or female / own their instrument like / it grew out of their belly, like it was welded / to their thighs.

The poet’s reaction to Bi Kidude’s drumming equals my reaction to Shailja’s performance. I have never seen any poet perform her work this way before. What makes Shailja so captivating is her weaving of insightful, biting commentaries into her poetry. Thus, the dancers:

‘slipped into movement / as a bhajia slips into hot oil / rises to the surface / starts to sizzle.’

These dancers become the avenue for denouncing society’s abuse of women. As they work their hips via Shailja, I watch members of the audience, like me again, work their hips in synch with the performer. It is a heart-rending presentation of these dancers dancing:

‘for all women whose bodies have been stolen from them.’

But the poet gives them back their lives. She makes them:

‘thrust their succulent buttocks out/ with democratic largesse’

as they tease the on-lookers and reclaim other abused women, such as waitresses trapped in uncomfortable uniforms, or skinny ‘women who check their bodies daily for criminal fat’.

They also dance for those who succumb to reconstructive surgery, starvation, for they have been brainwashed to believe that:

‘beauty equals self-annihilation’.

The poet left no underdog woman unspoken for. She made the dancers do it for those infected with HIV by:

‘a man who values her life / less than his gratification.’

In the end, the dancers stake a claim for the natural woman’s right to be whole and wholesome as they:

‘shake the bounty /of women’s bodies back into the world.’

Like others spellbound by the performance, I nod until the back of my neck creaks and hurts. The final movement comes like an explosion, with its irreligious utterance:

‘I believe in Bi Kidude/the way I don’t believe in god.’

‘Wow!’ I exclaim, only to listen to the most hilarious pre-conditions that could reconvert the poet to god. I stop myself from laughing out loud at an outpouring of qualities that god cannot even aspire to possess. But if god managed somehow to meet the poet’s demands:

‘then maybe I would believe / in that god. That god who is only a name / for the genius in all of us / that makes us our own imam and prophet / our own divinity / I would call the faithful to prayer: Bomba Kidude! Kidude Saafi!’

Like Bi Kidude, Shailja’s was the performance no other artist would want to follow. Fortunately it was a fitting precursor for the keynote speech by the famous Ghanaian philosopher, scholar and Princeton Professor, Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Shailja’s performance is what the Igbo call ‘oha kara lama’ - an event whose memory travellers carry and disperse in distant lands. Just as the poet became a believer in Kidude, I became a believer in Shailja’s poetry. I couldn’t wait to get home and read her Migritude, which I devoured in one sitting and gulped down in one mouthful.

* Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru is professor of English Loyola University, New Orleans, USA.
* Kenyan poet Shailja Patel performed Drum rider: A tribute to Bi Kidude at a conference held by the African Literature Association in Vermont (USA) in April 2009.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


Shailja Patel: Rebel and renaissance woman

Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/books/56260

Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru is awed by Kenyan poet Shailja Patel’s ‘eye-popping phraseology’ in Migritude, a volume of work around the theme of migration and its impact on human relationships. ‘Too delicate and too good to be touched’, Egejuru warns that the book may make painful reading for those who experienced direct colonisation, as Patel takes the reader ‘through years of exploitation…in Africa and Asia’. It is however ‘a must-read’, devoured by Ejeguru in one sitting, which ‘forges fresh expressions that invigorate and inspire budding poets to take risks and experiment’.

When my eyes caught the title Migritude, the word Negritude sprang to my mind. The introduction explains Migritude as a combination of ‘migrant’ and ‘attitude’, a loaded word in US parlance. To me, both connotations serve the poet’s intention. Nurtured on Negritude philosophy, I find it easy to see the link between Patel’s view and that of the founders and proponents of Negritude. Like them, Patel recognises and reclaims her state of being a migrant, along with the consequences attendant upon that reclamation.

Its combative stance notwithstanding, Migritude is adorable in its rebelliousness. For behind this tough-talking rebel is a thought-provoking Renaissance woman with an encyclopaedic knowledge of our world, past and present. No one is spared from her scathing criticism. From oppressive colonisers to neo-colonial exploiters, to strict parents who want the best for their children, Patel admonishes, rejects, or offers advice and reconciliation.

Migritude’s forty-nine pages could be a manifesto for the revision of world history. It deftly packs in two centuries of ravage and pillage of the so-called ‘undevelopable’ peoples of the world by a handful of European bandit nations. It also castigates independent African countries that have become the current oppressors and exploiters of their own citizens.

The volume is in two parts of seven and ten pieces respectively. It is a mesh of varying genres, unified by the poet’s eye-popping phraseology, inlaid with biographic footnotes. Though I devoured the volume in one sitting, reviewing it is a more difficult task. It is too delicate and too good to be touched. One doesn’t know what to focus on or what to ignore.

Patel is a veritable ‘onye oka okwu’ - a master word artist. Her philosophy is beyond her years, and she puts it out there in unique thought and word combinations. Many of her jaw-dropping lines and words jump out at you, but the poet warns:

‘before you claim a word, you steep it/in terror and shit / in hope and joy and grief / …you have to sweat and curse it / …pray and keen it / …you have to earn/its meaning.

One asks ‘What kind of new thinking is this?’

For many readers who experienced direct colonisation, Migritude will make painful reading. It is a throwback to when we were less than nothing, or at best, robotic machines serving inhumane masters who uprooted light at gun point, sowed darkness across the world.

How Ambi Became Paisley takes the reader through years of exploitation carried out in the most unthinkable ways in Africa and Asia. The poet asks:

‘Have you ever sliced a heart on a curve? Which piece would you keep? How many ways can you clone an empire? Dice a people, digit by digit? How do you price a country? What’s the mark-up on the shapes of fruit in the dreams of its people?’

And how does one handle these types of questions?

In Idi Amin, the poet speaks for the entire Indian population of East Africa, who suffered the atrocities unleashed by the tyrant, backed by Britain, the US and Israel, countries that could do business with him.

In The Jewellery, she talks briefly about the mother, the central pillar of the family who struggles to save family’s meagre fortune in jewellery. She travels in winter to Britain to put the savings in Midlands Bank for her daughters. The poet returns to Kenyan history, the rapes and torture perpetrated by the British on women in the Mau Mau liberation struggle. Perhaps the fate of these women inspired Swore I’d ever Wear Clothes I couldn’t Run or Fight in. Here, she takes on the sari, the traditional garment that:

‘made you vulnerable. A walking target. Saris made you weak.’

She asks:

‘How could I run if a man attacked me, and I was wearing a sari? How would I fight?’

Shilling Love is perhaps my favourite piece. It speaks for most third world parents who act their love for their children instead of speaking it:

‘They never said / they loved us/those words were not / in any language / spoken by my parents. 1975 / fifteen Kenyan shillings to the British pound / my mother speaks battle. Love is a luxury / priced in hard currency / ringed by tariffs…’

Though the tension between mother and daughter is thick, the poet still pays loving homage to her mother, the family soldier who arms her daughters with education so they can:

‘take on every citadel.’

The hard-working silent father is also honoured for he gave up his dream job to:

‘wring profit from underneath cars’
to feed his family. He is a man of honor who claims:

‘you must / finish what you start you must / march until you drop you must / give your life for those / you bring in to the world.’

This first half of the book ends on a sad note of what it means to be a brown citizen of East Africa:

‘I learn like a stone in my gut that / third-generation Asian Kenyan will never / be a Kenyan enough / all my patriotic fervour / will not turn my skin black’

Part Two of Migritude opens with The Making/Migrant Song/Sound the Alarm. It contains the most memorable thoughts of the poet for her parents, as well as what I consider the most beautiful line in the book. Thus, to sound the alarm [you]

‘make it out of the sari that wraps you / in tender celebration / like the mother you long for / make it out of the mother you got / in all her wounded magnificence…Distill it from the offering / of his hands / to fifty years of labour to guarantee / that his daughters would never / have to work with theirs make it / to find out / what your own hands are good for.'

In one breath she celebrates her parents, in the other she takes on arrogant American attitude towards new immigrants. Once more, Patel speaks for the poor and deprived of this world, as she tries to share the philosophy of her people with these Americans who have:

‘never seen anyone divide a doughnut into three pieces.’

She explains:

‘We calibrate hunger precisely. Define ‘enough’ differently from you. Enough is what’s available shared between everyone present. We are incapable of saying, as you can so easily: Sorry, there’s not enough for you.

She proceeds to lecture them on the wisdom of deprived peoples and of American presumptions about immigrants:

‘How much we can do without is our strength – but you find it comic. Pitiable. Miserly. You ‘just can’t imagine’ how a family of eight lives in a one-room apartment…You mistake austerity, living without waste, for deprivation. You see, it’s our job to protect you from the discomfort of seeing inequality…’

This segment is compelling because every poor person, including non-immigrants, can identify with the poet’s observations of how wealthy Americans exploit immigrants by underpaying them for their services. As if that were not enough, they treat them as homeless beggars on whom they can dump their refuse. The poet literally explodes with anger in this segment. Fortunately, her sister comes to the rescue with a birthday gift for her in Sister/Cape. It is a scarlet wool cape, which cost fifty pounds, with which her sister said to her:

‘I see you. I believe in you. You shine.’

Though she wore this gift to every interview and every exam:

‘I didn’t make it. I failed the exams. I lost my work permit. I burned all my boats. I came to America.’

In America her aunt teaches her the importance of family, for the family forms a protective wall around you. Thus the poet knows:

‘what I carry in my suitcase. I carry my family. I carry my history. Over my saris, I wear my sisters.’

Maasai Women returns to the history of assault on Kenyan women by British soldiers, from1965 to 2001. Survivor One, an aspiring student, is raped by soldiers, and gives birth to a red-skinned baby; her education is over.

She still wonders if they attacked her because she greeted them in English, the language that was supposed to be her key to the world.

Dreaming in Gujurati retraces the poet’s childhood days when white children called her names and her elders made fun of her broken Gujurati. She brags of her father who speaks five languages stretching from India to East Africa:

‘Yet English / shrinks him down / before white men / who think their flat cold spiky words / make the only reality.’

She comes back with a challenge question for all immigrants:

‘If we cannot name it does it exist? What happens to a tongue of heavy-milk cows, earthen pots…when its children grow up in Silicon Valley?’

She will retrieve from Gujurati:

‘words I can weep and howl and devour / words I can kiss and taste and dream / this tongue / I take back.’

Here then is the return to the source for inspiration that Negritude advocates.

Shilling Love Part Two deals with what every immigrant fears the most – the US immigration service, which stifles immigrants’ efforts to bring over their loved ones for reunion. In this movement we can feel the angst of both parents and daughters as they wait feverishly for reunion at the airport. But:

‘four hours after / their plane landed / they have not emerged. And we know with hopeless rage / of third-world citizens / African passport holders / that the sum of their lives and labour / dreams and sacrifice / was measured sifted weighed found / wanting / by the INS.'

Finally the exhausted and exasperated father exclaims:

‘take the passports / take them / stamp them / no readmission EVER / just let me out to see my daughters.’

The volume ends with a Mother’s Letter and Shailja’s Response: Born to A Law. In her letter, the mother accepts that Shailja will probably never get married. Therefore she decides to give Shailja her Mangal Sutra (traditional marriage necklace):

‘Since you have stubbornly refused to get married, it seems your mangal sutra has to come from your mother instead of your husband!’

She is proud of her daughters though, for her friends always

‘say that each of my daughters is two sons put together!’

Shailja’s response:

‘Mother, I am forging a ship of glittering songs to sail your jewels in. Staking a masthead of verbs to fly your saris from! This work which snakes across borders, dodges visa controls / this is my intention, declaration, lifelong execution…’

Migritude forges fresh expressions that invigorate and inspire budding poets to take risks, experiment. My advice to readers would be ‘Don’t gulp it down in one sitting, it can be emotionally draining’, but Migritude is a must-read for all of who are tired of centuries-old traditional English poetry forms.

* Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru is professor of English at Loyola University in New Orleans, USA.
* Shailja Patel is a Kenyan poet.
* Migritude is published by Lietocolle in a bilingual English-Italian edition (ISBN 978-88-7848-400-9).
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.




Letters & Opinions

Adding fuel to the fire

Letters to the editor

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/letters/56272

The need for Haiti and Africa to build alliances, ‘hardcore ideology’ in South Africa, the bad habit of ‘hyena culture’ and Mahmood Mamdani are among the subjects discussed in this week's round-up of reader responses to recent stories in Pambazuka News.

Haiti and Africa must connect, fight for stronger and less corrupt governments, and build a common cause and alliances, says Gregory Desmarrattes.

Kwesi Prah is adding fuel to the fire rather than helping solve Sudan’s problems, writes Nadir Salem, while Ahmed M. Mohamedain asks why Mahmood Mamdani lays most of the blame for the Darfur crisis on external factors.

Over in Kenya, Kiki Leya is sad that the truth will never be known about Bantu Mwaura’s death. Death has denied us access to one of the steady sources of reason in our time, says JKS Makokha. But Bertha Kadenyi Amisi reminds fellow mourners that ‘we do Bantu honour by picking up where he left‘off.

New Generation argues that the Kikuyu need to stay united as a matter of survival, jjmapili furaha says Uganda's aggression is interfering with economic activities of a group of Kenyans, and Lillian Kantai agrees that transsexuals should have the right to healthcare.

Meanwhile, Stewart Waller says the inflexibility of any hardcore ideology is the biggest obstacle to progress for South Africans. Tokwe says its time to to think of properly and cultivate honest ways of survival and abandon the bad habit of ‘hyena culture’ .
And finally, the editor of Inari Media says: 'thanks for noticing my blog!'


Kenya govt link to Samburu cattle raids

Mike Rainy & Pakuo

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/letters/56264

Mike Rainy writes to thank Pambazuka for its coverage of cattle raids in Samburu and to forward us an update from Pakuo, who attended a community meeting about the issue at the end of April.

Keep the spotlight on! You were the first to announce these raids to the world, thought you would be interested in this summary of the Archer's Post meeting on 30 April 2009, provided by Pakuo:

‘Dear Baba Jessica,

We left Maralal with Leretin and Lati at about 8pm on the 29 April and arrived at midnight at Archer's Post. I have about eight points that I want to make.

The first is that the meetings went very well indeed, ‘Gesobat Oleng’.

Twenty-one Samburu spoke, and the four ‘wazungu’ – guided by Rachel – heard many of our points. Rachel is an ‘ngaiwani’ (a lady bull – that's a huge compliment).

The Kishili Counciller, Lelekoili, (I think from Ngilai) spoke very well, but was hesitant to expose direct GoK (government of Kenya) involvement.

Lenangkerra, a Mwoli from Lerata, was clearest about exposing the government involvement. He followed the police lorries five times to Isiolo. And in each case, the cattle were taken in the same lorries further south. He regrets that he didn't think to take any pictures. Only a few cows were given to Meru. The others were taken to be sold. This was confirmed by Leretin, as they talked by phone when Lenankerra was in Isiolo.

Another young woman called Mary spoke, but I didn't catch her name because she spoke softly, but she told very clearly how badly they were all treated by the police.

Rachel said, “We want to know exactly what happened and who you think did it.”

I myself had a chance to speak and I made two points:

1) The raids of our cattle in the west by the Pokot, supported by the government in the background, which have gone on for over three years and still continue, are one problem and are connected to the raids that took place more recently in the east.

I am a man now 60 years old and during that time I have seen a lot. I well remember in the early seventies when poaching started, led by the Somalis. They killed rhinos for their horns, and after one year they were finished. They also killed many elephants for their tusks and there are still many areas where you don't find a single elephant. The elephants were killed and others moved to different places, but where they were killed for their tusks they were finished. It was also like that for cheetahs who were killed for their skins, and they too are gone from the areas where they were hunted.

2) Now I can see that our cattle are like that. Our cattle are being stolen by poachers who use the power of our government, and our cattle are being finished like the rhino, the elephant and the cheetah. And when our cattle are gone, our Samburu people too will be finished. Please help us protect our cattle from these thieves.

Many others spoke. This meeting was too long to summarise. We will talk more when we meet. I am now on my way to Laikipia.

Rachel told us “We will report what we have seen and what we have heard. And we will contact you to say what can be done. But be assured that the whole world now knows what happened.” ‘

Pakuo than recalled that a total of 4122 Samburu cattle were reported taken by the recent GOK raids, and these were taken to pay back the 52 which the Samburu attempted to return to the DO and the OPCD before the raids started. But the government officers said they didn't want the Meru cattle. We think this was because the raids against us were already being planned.

Pakuo then recalled that Lenangkerra made two other very important points: Lenangkerra said that if the governent wants to solve this problem, the first thing they must do is remove Hassan Noor Hassan as the provincial commissioner for the Rift Valley Province.

Secondly the Government should also be aware that the so-called Borana MP for Isiolo is in fact a Somali, and he manipulates the Borana to attack us. Both Borana and Samburu suffer because of this.

Pakuo was greatly encouraged by the reception they all had. They left before the meeting was finished when Rachel were taking details of the number of people that were affected. They had hoped to meet with Tina, but several people said she was trying her best not to be associated with the meeting because she was afraid of recriminations.

Pakuo expressed his gratitude for the work that Tina and others had done to assist the victims of these attacks and encouraged her and others to have the courage to continue with her work.




African Writers’ Corner

An interview with Courttia Newland

Conversations with Writers

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/African_Writers/56266

In an interview with Conversations with Writers, Courttia Newland talks about the influences behind his writing and giving a voice to those left outside of mainstream fiction.

Conversations with Writers: When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

Courttia Newland: Although I had been writing for many years as a 'hobby', I only turned to serious writing when I was 21. I had tried various avenues for making money and none of them had worked. I really wanted to build a music studio, so I decided to write a book and sell it, and then build my studio from the proceeds. As you can see, I had no idea what a writer's life was like. Luckily for me I enjoyed writing the book so much I gave up on music.

Conversations with Writers: Who would you say influenced you the most?

Courttia Newland: On a personal level, my grandfather. He taught me a lot about the world and strengthened my political views with an emphasis on being black in this country [the UK]. In a literary sense, Chester Himes – his books convinced me I could write about working-class black people without having to apologise about it.

Conversations with Writers: Most of your novels, short stories, and plays have black people as main or major characters. Is there a particular reason for this?

Courttia Newland: I write about people who have been left out of mainstream fiction. When I was first published I felt that these people had no voice, so I wanted to try and capture that. I write to tell stories, to validate and chronicle our untold lives.

Conversations with Writers: How did you come up with the title of your latest book, Music For the Off-Key: Twelve Macabre Short Stories?

Courttia Newland: In my part of London (west) the word 'off-key' has been floating around for a while. It means when something or someone is weird or a little unusual. I wanted a title reminiscent of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected, so I came up with Music For The Off-Key. It's funny because it sounds strange to most people, but working-class Londoners tend to get it right away!

Conversations with Writers: How long did it take you to come up with the 12 stories that make up the collection?

Courttia Newland: A long time – I've been writing different collections since I published The Scholar – Music is just the latest version. I had the stories for Music together back in 2002, but publishers have been slow to pick this one up and so I swapped a few of the stories around and wrote a few new ones. This line-up has only been in existence since last year.

Conversations with Writers: Which would you say was the most difficult to write? Why was this so?

Courttia Newland: They all flowed quite easily. 'Gold' took the longest because I was working so much, but they were all quite painless.

Conversations with Writers: Which did you enjoy working on most? Why do you think this was so?

Courttia Newland: 'The Double Room'. Even when I was writing it, it came out exactly as I imagined it. That's quite rare for me.

Conversations with Writers: What would you say sets Music for the Off-Key apart from the other books you have written?

Courttia Newland: The characters are all subversive, along with their stories. I tried to stay away from any restrictions I might place on myself and push the boundaries for these people, taking them away from the everyday and placing them in abnormal situations.

I suppose I got tired of having to be 'authentic'. It's a terrible burden to place on a writer. Sometimes we just want to imagine. [To] create.

Conversations with Writers: In what way is it similar to the others?

Courttia Newland: It's black Britain, but not as we know it! I tried to make these characters inhabit the same world as the one in my previous books – so The Dying Wish, a novella starring Ervine James of Snakeskin, crosses over with 'Suicide Note', the first story in Music for the Off-Key. I'm still writing about inner-city London, but from a new angle.

Conversations with Writers: As a writer, what would you say are the major challenges that you face and how do you deal with these?

Courttia Newland: Tying money to creativity. Finding time to write. Breaking the limitations placed on me by the outside world and sometimes myself. The fight between instinct and the intellect.

Conversations with Writers: What would you say has been your greatest achievement so far? And how did you get there?

Courttia Newland: Five books and counting! It's all about the work, I think. I've just put my head down and told stories.

Conversations with Writers: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Courttia Newland: More books and a larger bank account!

* Courttia Newland is the author of Music for the Off-Key: Twelve Macabre Short Stories (2006).
* This interview was originally published by Conversations with Writers.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.




Blogging Africa

Review of the African Blogosphere – May 14, 2009

Dibussi Tande

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/blog/56319

Yashvin writes about the changing media landscape in Mauritius:

“Everything started with the introduction of private radios some years back.
Later on, the rude competition for a better ISP lead to the explosion of blogs and growing use of social networking sites. More recently, newspapers have increased their presence on the net…

We have heard a lot about “TV Privée” since the last months, so lets wait a bit more, hoping that it will soon become a reality…

This boom in the media has created much change in the life of Mauritians…

Nowadays, anyone can participate in sharing information… interactively and in real time!
No need to be a journalist! Nor a blogger, you can even share on facebook, twitter and the other social networking sites…”

Island Crisis, another blog from Mauritius questions why the state funds religious and socio-cultural groups:

About 5 days ago, Clency Lajoie, adviser at the municipality of Curepipe decided to move with a proposition to stop the funding of religious groups and their activities by the municipality money aka YOUR MONEY!

His main proposition was that instead of funding religious groups and activities, why don’t we use this money to do real social activities that will help everyone. However after a municipal vote proceeded the next day, his proposition was rejected…

The question is that why can’t this money be used where it should be used! Rs 100000 for Chinese festival! Why can’t the Rs100000 be used to help students of the region? Why can’t it be used instead to buy food for the needy? Why can’t the money be used to help where it is really needed?!”

David Ajao reviews “Gatorpeeps”, the microblogging platform recently launched by Afrigator:
“I had the privilege of witnessing Justin Hartman announce Gatorpeeps.com to the world during BarCamp Nigeria 2009 in Lagos Nigeria. After a few weeks of use, I am still excited about it. Gatorpeeps - essentially a subset of Afrigator - is a micro-blogging platform that enables users to share their thoughts in just 140 characters and also network with one another.

A glance at gatorpeeps.com brings a name to one’s mind - Twitter. Matter of fact, Afrigator once connected to Twitter and republished Afrigator users’ twits. Gatorpeeps has now effectively replaced Twitter in that area. Gatorpeeps is African and more relevant to African bloggers...

Gatorpeeps is basically about social networking, and it does that very well. There are several communities of interest one could join, one could follow friend’s blog posts, it includes one’s latest blog posts in every peep, there are multiple tools to enable you integrate your peeps into your blog(s) and other social networking platforms.”

Ethan Zuckerman writes about the TED Open Translation Project:

“My friends at TED have launched an exciting new project today, the TED Open Translation Project. It’s a powerful system to allow the “social translation” of their video content. This tool demonstrates the state of the art in social translation on the web today, and I think there are a lot of lessons in the tool and thinking behind it for anyone who hopes to make the polyglot internet more comprehensible, and for anyone thinking about online cooperation...

The internet is huge, growing, and being built by people who speak hundreds of different languages... Unless we find scaleable, inexpensive ways to translate, we’re each going to face an internet that’s grows everyday, where we find less of the content understandable. Until we figure out better solutions to translation, we’re fooling ourselves into believing we’re more cosmopolitan and connected than we actually are.”


In Scribbles from the Den, novelist Patrice Nganang writes about state-sponsored "literature Apartheid" in Cameroon:

"An intellectual crime is being committed in our country: that of segregation against Anglophone Cameroon Literature. The crime is unfolding before the very eyes of our national Intellectuals, with our consent as stakeholders and, often spurred by our most respected, yet conniving francophone Intellectuals. Salient in mind are Achille Mbembe’s fumble in an article he published on the Anglophone issue. The fact, therefore, that a francophone student can complete education, beginning at Nursery school right up to a University degree – twenty years in all – without so much as touching a poetry collection, a work of prose or a drama piece published by an Anglophone writer is illustrative of the magnitude of the literary apartheid which has been used by our educational system to brainwash us.

The opposite likely holds true for Anglophones, who may have been subjected to the same form of segregation by the doings of a so-called ‘‘bilingual” State (in a country with over 200 languages), which actually inculcates segregation in the minds of its citizens through school syllabi it controls single handed.”

* Dibussi Tande, a writer and activist from Cameroon, produces the blog Scribbles from the Den

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at www.pambazuka.org/




Zimbabwe update

Hear Us – Zimbabwean women affected by political violence speak out

2009-05-15

http://hub.witness.org/en/HearUs-ViolenceAgainstWomeninZimbabwe2

In 2008, political violence erupted throughout Zimbabwe as a result of the contested national elections. Zimbabwean women of all ages, targeted for their political affiliations, were abducted from their workplaces and homes, raped, tortured, and beaten in secret torture centers. It is estimated that from May to July, state-sanctioned groups raped over 2,000 women and girls. The local police have ignored these women's pleas for protection and justice, and national leaders have been equally unresponsive to local and international demands for an end to the violence.


MDC powerless to deal with ZANU PF hardliners

2009-05-15

http://www.swradioafrica.com/news140509/mdcpowerless140509.htm

The MDC is fully aware that some of the top civil servants and cabinet ministers from ZANU PF are working against the inclusive government, but are powerless to deal with them. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Wednesday said that hard-liners left over from the old regime were endangering the country's future. The MDC leader blamed what he termed ‘residual elements from the old government’ for violating the rule of law and the agreement that created the inclusive government.


Prominent human rights lawyer arrested

2009-05-15

http://zimbabwejournalists.com/story.php?art_id=5606

A prominent Zimbabwean human rights lawyer was arrested Thursday at a court in Harare, colleagues said. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Irene Petras said Alec Muchadehama was arrested at a magistrates court where he had gone to work.




Women & gender

Africa: Call for nominations: "Multiplying faces, amplifying voices"

2009-05-15

http://www.osisa.org/content/call-nominations-multiplying-faces-amplifying-voices

Across the continent, African women play a significant role in improving the quality of life of their communities. From grandmothers to young girls, there are women in each country on the continent whose achievements have been stellar, whether in a small community, in their nation or across the continent. Yet many of these women and their achievements go unrecognised and unlauded.


Africa: Have you ratified the Protocol?

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/wgender/56316

EASSI is a member of Solidarity of African Women’s Rights (SOAWR), an organisation made up of 26 members bent on advocating for the ratification of the AU Protocol of Women’s Rights. Beverley Nambozo met with Faiza Mohammed, the African Regional Director of Equality Now, who shared how the Protocol is being used as a practical advocacy tool for women’s and girls’ rights. Faiza shares that as of December 2008, Guinea Bissau was the last to ratify the Protocol bringing the total number of countries to 26. She congratulates all members of SOAWR upon this achievement.
HAVE YOU RATIFIED THE PROTOCOL?
EASSI
EASSI is a member of Solidarity of African Women’s Rights (SOAWR), an organisation made up of 26 members bent on advocating for the ratification of the AU Protocol of Women’s Rights. Beverley Nambozo met with Faiza Mohammed, the African Regional Director of Equality Now, who shared how the Protocol is being used as a practical advocacy tool for women’s and girls’ rights. Faiza shares that as of December 2008, Guinea Bissau was the last to ratify the Protocol bringing the total number of countries to 26. She congratulates all members of SOAWR upon this achievement. As a feminist, Faiza encourages young feminists to be assertive and not be afraid to challenge the older feminists. The older ones should involve them more and I also believe that the concept of solidarity works very well.
Furthermore, Equality Now started a programme, Adolescent Girls legal Defence Fund that ad vocates for the legal protection of vulnerable girls espe-cially those who are unable to fend for themselves. In Zambia, one thirteen year old school girl was raped by a teacher after he tricked her to his house to collect class work.
The detailed story below was shared by Faiza
Mohammed to SOAWR members:
In February 2006, a thirteen year old schoolgirl, R.M., was raped by her teacher, Edson Hakasenke when she went to his house to collect her school papers upon his request. Mr. Hakasenke told her not to report the inci-dent as she would be thrown out of school and he would lose his job. R.M. did not report the rape until several weeks later after she was treated for a sexually transmit-ted infection that she had contracted as a result of the rape. Her aunt/guardian filed a complaint with the head-master. When confronted, Mr. Hakasenke claimed R.M. was his “girlfriend.” The headmaster indicated this was not the first such incident involving Mr. Hakasenke, but maintained that whatever misconduct had taken place in R.M.’s case had happened outside school hours and therefore it was a “personal” matter. He also claimed that the children were warned to keep their distance from teachers, particularly those of the opposite sex who make advances, because of the fear of HIV/AIDS. Mr. Hakasenke fled the country soon after the complaint was filed. On his return to Zambia, he was arrested but then released on the basis that too much time had elapsed between the incident and its reporting. R.M.’s aunt subsequently consulted a lawyer who took the case pro bono and instituted a civil suit against the teacher, the school, the Zambian Ministry of Education and the Attorney General as legal advisor to the govern-ment. In the civil suit, R.M claimed damages from Mr. Hakasenke for personal injury and emotional distress.
She also requested that the school and the Ministry of Education be held accountable for their negligence and that the Ministry of Education set guidelines to prevent incidents of teacher rape in the future. Through its Adolescent Girls’ legal Defense Fund, Equality Now advised R.M.’s lawyer on applicable international and regional law that would be relevant to her case. Equality Now also convened and strategized with a coalition of civil society organizations in Zambia to develop a program to address cases of violence against girls by teachers.

These efforts bore fruit when, on 30 June 2008, Judge Phillip Musonda of the High Court of Zambia delivered his judgment and awarded R.M. total damages worth K45,000,OOO($14,000). He called the failure to prosecute Mr. Hakasenke a “dereliction of duty” considering the weight of the evidence. The judge noted that the abuse amounted to “enduring psychological brutalization.” He referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecution for possible criminal prosecution of Mr. Hakasenke and called on the Ministry of Education to issue regulations which would “stem such acts in the future.”
Activists in Zambia have called this a landmark decision. Since this case reached the courts, R.M:s lawyer has received several calls from other girls and their families seeking help for cases of defilement (rape of minors). Girls have also approached R.M. quietly for advice on their own situations of incest and teacher abuse, illustrating all too clearly how the government needs to address this issue urgently. However, on 29 July 2008, the Attorney General filed a Notice of Appeal indicating that he intended to appeal the part of the judgment that holds his office vicariously liable for the acts of Mr. Hakasenke. The Attorney General has not yet submitted to the court a brief on the grounds for appeal.
A sexual behavior survey undertaken by the Government of Zambia in 2003 revealed that 16.3% of female respondents from all age groups had experienced forced sexual encounters, with 17.7%of the youngest age sample (15 to 19 years old) reporting “forced sex:’ In a 2007 study undertaken by the non-governmental organization Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust- Zambia (WLSA-Zambia),schoolgirls indicated there was violence in schools ranging from verbal sexual harassment to rape. Of ten girls from the same school participating in one forum, seven had been sexually molested by the same teacher and none had reported it for fear of being victimized or further harassed. Lack of knowledge and information on where to report was also said to be a major limitation. One of the recommendations made by the girls themselves was that schools should take all reports of sexual harassment by teachers seriously and should punish any teacher found to have harassed girls sexually. They also proposed that there be specific procedures to tackle pupils’ reports of harassment.

Defilement of girls under 16 years of age is punishable by imprisonment of up to life under Zambia’s Penal Code. The right to protection of the law and protection of young persons from exploitation is also provided under Article 11 of Zambia’s Constitution. Article 12 of the Protocol to the African Charter on
Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the “Protocol”), which Zambia ratified in 2006, obliges States Parties to take all appropriate measures to “protect...the girl-child from all forms of abuse, including sexual harassment in schools and other educational institutions and provide for sanctions against the perpetrators of such practices.” Article4 of the Protocol, which was cited in the court decision in R.M.’s case, obliges Zambia to prevent, punish and eradicate all forms of violence, “including un-wanted or forced sex.” Zambia is also obligated under Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to take all measures to protect children from all forms of violence, including sexual abuse, “while in the care of parents, legal guardians, or any other person who has the care of the child.” Yet the rape of girls in schools in Zambia is a frequent occurrence and is rarely punished.
The coalition convened by Equality Now continues to work on R.M.’s case, in the hope of making a change in the lives of schoolgirls all over Zambia. Coalition members have engaged in various advocacy efforts and strategic activities aimed at publicizing this landmark case. Zambia Media Women’s Association (ZAMWA) is developing a series of call-in radio shows aimed at furthering public education on the issue of teacher rape. The Young Women Christian Association (YWCA)is starting a hotline for girls facing sexual abuse. The coalition is exploring ways to put pressure on the Attorney General to drop the appeal in R.M.’scase and to push for the prosecution of Mr. Hakansenke. Their cause can be significantly strengthened by international activism.
“Woman is born free and her rights are the same as those of man...

(Olympe de Gouges (1748-93) French writer and revolutionary
....


Africa: Women are born leaders

2009-05-15

http://www.ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=46843

When Margaret Mensah-Williams walked down the steps after presiding over the Namibian parliament for the first time, male parliamentarians rushed to ask her how she became so good at chairing the house. "I told them women are born leaders," says Mensah, Vice Chairperson of the National Council.


Africa: Women's bodies have been battlefields

2009-05-15

http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46701

Religion, cultural norms and tradition promote discrimination and unequal power relations between men and women in Africa. Akina Mama wa Afrika's Christine Butegwa doesn't hesitate when asked what explains the horrific levels of sexual violence against women in conflict-affected areas on the continent.


Global: US: Act to prevent rape in war

2009-05-15

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/13/us-act-prevent-rape-war

The United States Senate should move beyond collecting testimony in its commitment to help prevent and punish rape in conflict, Human Rights Watch has said in a written submission to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The US is in a strong position to provide active global leadership and to press for international action, Human Rights Watch said.


Liberia: Rural women confront hunger gap, their own way

2009-05-15

http://www.ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=46859

Three brightly-clothed women walk slowly around the fallen, charred trees strewn haphazardly across the blackened clearing, each carrying seashells filled with indigenous rice seed to bury in the rich soil. The women belong to a local cooperative, Women and Children Development Secretariat (WOCDES), and wake early for the 5-km hike down the dirt road to their farm near Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, in Liberia’s vast forest region on the Ivorian border.


Mauritania: Rape victims seek justice, find jail

2009-05-15

http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=84302

Women in Mauritania who press charges for sexual assault face the risk of jail time because of poorly defined laws and stigma that criminalise victims rather than offenders, according to a local UN-funded non-profit. The subject of rape is still so taboo in Mauritania that there is no mention of it in the law and the word is absent from government documents, according to the NGO Mauritanian Association for Maternal and Child Health, based in the capital Nouakchott.


South Africa: Jobs for the girls or gender equality for SA?

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/wgender/56307

South Africa’s new president Jacob Zuma did his best to follow the footsteps of his nemesis Thabo Mbeki when he announced a cabinet edging towards gender parity on 10 May. But gender advocates note with concern the lack of parity in top structures of government; the declining proportion of women deputy ministers; questionable credentials of some women ministers and the establishment of a women’s ministry.
South Africa’s new president Jacob Zuma did his best to follow the footsteps of his nemesis Thabo Mbeki when he announced a cabinet edging towards gender parity on 10 May. But gender advocates note with concern the lack of parity in top structures of government; the declining proportion of women deputy ministers; questionable credentials of some women ministers and the establishment of a women’s ministry.

Women constitute 14 out of 34 or 41% of cabinet, compared to 42% under Mbeki and 43% during the caretaker administration of President Kgalema Motlanthe. Women continue to be deployed to non-traditional ministries, a practise also started under Mbeki.

Of the 14 women ministers, at least 8 head ministries that are generally male dominated in other parts of the world. These include correctional services; defence and military veterans; energy; home affairs; international relations and co-operation; mining; public enterprises; science and technology.

Zuma has retained some talented and experienced women ministers. These include former Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma (now heading Home Affairs) and former Minister of Education Naledi Pandor (now heading Science and Technology). The retention of former Minister of Health Barbara Hogan after she publicly criticised the government for barring the Dalai Lama from visiting South Africa (although she later apologised internally) is a welcome sign that ministers of her calibre have a place in the new dispensation.

While she will be missed in health, where in a few months she restored confidence after the disastrous policies of her predecessor Manto Thsabalala-Msimang, her deployment to the troubled public enterprises portfolio, in need of “action skills” has been welcomed by the business community. As former chair of the finance portfolio committee Hogan is well placed to tackle this challenge, which is a good example of women entering the mainstream in South Africa.

While the establishment of a Women’s Ministry is regrettable, the appointment of former National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU) President Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, one of the most powerful and influential women in the trade union movement, to this post is commendable.

Mayende-Sibiya also serves as a co-convener for the South African Progressive Women. She has a clear understanding of the need to bring women into the mainstream of the South African economy and national life, and is an advocate for the recognition of the unwaged work of women.

There are, however, a number of concerns about the new cabinet. While President Mbeki had more women than men as deputy ministers (60%) arguing that this is an important training ground for women ministers, under Zuma, women constitute 11 of the 28 deputy ministers (39% of the total). While it is commendable that a number of these are in non-traditional sectors such as economic development, trade and industry, the fact that the parity principle did not carry through to this level is a concern.

The parity principle has also not been carried through to the presidency, the pinnacle of power. While South Africa had women deputy presidents under Mbeki and Motlanthe, the former caretaker president is now deputy president.

Former Deputy President Baleka Mbete has resigned amid much media hype about her “cashing in” and opting for her deputy presidential pension rather than demotion to a minister. The bigger unraised issue is the ANC reneging on the 50/50 principle at this level. This is not necessarily an argument for Mbete’s retention, but for the party and its president to honour the decisions taken at the Polokwane conference.

The calibre of some of the new women ministers is another concern. In particular, the new minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoane-Mashabane, the former high commissioner to India and MEC for housing in Limpopo, is an unknown quantity in her new portfolio. Comments she made during the trials of her late husband Norman Shabane, former ambassador to Indonesia who she stood by in the face of a conviction on sexual harassment, raises concerns for gender activists.

The new Minister of Basic Education Angie Mothekga, former Provincial Minister of Education has been an uncritical supporter of Zuma through his rape and corruption trials, and a lacklustre performer in her former portfolios.

Another ominous sign is the resignation from parliament of Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. High up on the ANC’s election list, yet nowhere in cabinet or parliament, Madlala-Routledge now appears to be in the political wilderness.

A veteran women’s rights activist who raised the ire of Mbeki for her stance on HIV and AIDS as Deputy Minister of Health and went on to serve as Deputy Speaker, Madlala-Routledge has close links with civil society and is always principled in her stance despite hailing from the same traditional Kwa Zulu Natal province as Zuma.

The conversion of the Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Affairs to Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs is also worrisome. Never before has “traditional affairs” enjoyed cabinet status in South Africa.

While the Constitution respects all traditions and cultures, it is also clear that where these are in violation of the Bill of Rights, the latter takes precedence. The elevation of traditional affairs to such a level by a president who is openly defensive of his polygamous life style is a concern.

The creation of a Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Disability is similarly fraught with questions. There has been much debate globally over where structures for advancing the rights of women, which cut across all sectors, should ideally be placed. International best practise (which South Africa followed in the establishment of the Office of the Status of Women (OSW) in the presidency) is to place gender in a prominent, cross cutting location.

This is now reversed, with minimal debate among stakeholders compared to the consultations that preceded the establishment of the OSW. The clustering of issues of women, youth, disability and children in one ministry is also problematic. Placing women and children in the same governance structure is patronising to women, who need to be empowered to claim their rights, whereas adults – women and men - should defend and protect children.

A related concern is the dysfunctional status of the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE), an independent body established by the Constitution to “promote and protect” the attainment of gender equality with wide powers to take up cases of discrimination and promote debate on the tough issues like polygamy, gay rights and sex work.

With a president whose credentials on women’s rights are already sorely in question, the South African cabinet, and women ministers in particular, will need to work exceptionally hard to convince the sceptics that what we have witnessed is not just a case of jobs for the girls, rather than gender equality for the nation.

* Colleen Lowe Morna is executive director of Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.




Human rights

Africa: Support efforts to fight impunity and end the current legal affront against HRDs

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/rights/56327

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) should focus on demanding accountability and supporting efforts to tackle impunity, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) declares in an intervention to the 45th Session of the Commission. The intervention focuses on Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, countries in the East and Horn of Africa region where the present human rights situation is of particular concern.
EAST AND HORN OF AFRICA HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS NETWORK

Oral Statement

EHAHRD-Net Index: UGA 011/008/2009

13th May 2009

Banjul: Support efforts to fight impunity and end the current legal affront against HRDs

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) should focus on demanding accountability and supporting efforts to tackle impunity, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) declares in an intervention to the 45th Session of the Commission.

The intervention focuses on Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, countries in the East and Horn of Africa region where the present human rights situation is of particular concern.

Based on a wider report produced by East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) for the NGO forum and the Commission, Mr Hassan Shire Sheikh’s, Chairperson of EHAHRD-Net, intervention reveals how the human rights situation in the region has seen very few improvements in the last six months and significant deteriorations in the countries above mentioned.

According to EHAHRD-Net the Commission can help to fully address the issue of impunity by calling for the establishment of independent and impartial accountability mechanisms in countries where an impartial national investigation is unlikely to take place and by offering support to national, regional and international efforts aimed at bringing an end to the culture of impunity; a culture which clearly perpetuates human rights violations in the region.

The intervention also highlights the deteriorating legal and security environment for human rights defenders (HRDs) throughout the region. As Mr Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairperson of EHAHRD-Net, points out: “This dire human rights situation clearly goes hand in hand with a deterioration in several countries of the situation facing HRDs since the November 2008 Commission Session, notably as a result of increasing legislative measures against defenders as well as recent attacks on the right to life of HRDs. This reality is of particular concern at a time when their work is more vital than ever before.”

The intervention therefore also encourages the ACHPR to use its influence in order to guarantee that current restrictions on HRDs notably on freedom of expression and association are brought to an immediate end.

Reference is made to the recent Johannesburg + 10 All African Human Rights Defenders Conference, which took place from the 20th-23RD of April 2009 in Kampala, organised by EHAHRDP under the auspices of Mme Alapini-Gansou, the Special Rapporteur of the ACHPR on HRDs, as an example of the momentous efforts underway by African HRDs themselves to enhance collaboration and their protection across the continent.

For more information please contact Mr Hassan Shire Sheikh, Executive Director of EHAHRDP on +256 772 753 753 or +220 790 1605 or Ms Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Officer at EHAHRDP on +257 79 29 7806/ [email protected]

Please see the intervention below and visit www.defenddefenders.org/publications where the report drafted by EHAHRDP for the 45th Session of the ACHPR will be available shortly.

On the occasion of the 45th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Banjul, The Gambia

13th May 2009

Presented by:

Hassan Shire Sheikh
Chairperson
The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
(EHAHRDP/Net)

Mme Chairperson,

EHAHRD-Net welcomes the opportunity offered by the 45th Session of the African Commission on Human and People´s Rights (ACHPR) to highlight some of the current human rights situations in the East and Horn of Africa region of utmost concern. To put it bluntly there have been very few significant improvements in the field of human rights in this region over the course of the last six months. The positive steps that have been taken, notably the abolition of the Death Penalty in Burundi, have gone hand in hand with significant steps back on the road to furthering the rights identified in the UDHR. This dire situation clearly goes hand in hand with a deterioration in the situation of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) since the November 2008 Commission Session. These attacks on HRDs are of particular concern at a time when their work is more vital than ever before.

In spite of the current situation facing human rights defenders, a significant milestone in the protection of defenders in Africa was taken by the recent Johannesburg+ 10 All African Human Rights Defenders Conference in Kampala, organised by EHAHRD- Net under the auspices of Mme Alapini-Gansou, the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on HRDs, and in coordination with the different African HRD regional networks. The Conference brought together over 100 HRDs from throughout Africa and helped to identify shared challenges and common strategies for the promotion of the rights of HRDs. The members of the Steering Committee of the conference have agreed to work towards the implementation of the main recommendations of the conference and efforts are already underway to put in place a more clear structure to ensure these efforts are sustainable. I would like to thank Mme Alapini-Gansou once again for her support.

I will now offer an overview (thematic and country) of the situation.

The rights of LGBTI persons in the East and Horn of African region continue to be violated on a daily basis. Developments in Uganda and in Burundi are of particular concern. The recent passing of a new penal code by the Burundian President, in spite of significant mobilisation both by national human rights organisations, the media and international actors, which criminalises same sex relationships between consenting adults must be highlighted. This provision is in clear violation of Burundi’s national, regional and international standards notably regarding the right to privacy and freedom from non-discrimination. In Uganda the threat stems primarily from everyday discrimination against LGBTI persons including persistent harassment, intimidation and assaults.

The situation in Sudan has significantly deteriorated since the attacks by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on the 10th May 2008 on greater Khartoum, and more recently as a result of the issuance by the International Criminal Court of an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir. Staunch curtailments on freedom of expression and press persist, restrictions which are being formalised notably through a Draft Press Law which is at odds with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Behind the widely publicised expulsion of 13 international humanitarian organisations in March 2009 has been a more silent crackdown on national human rights organisations and activists. Several key HR organizations have been shut down, other organisations been made more or less inoperable and activists subjected to continual harassment; three key activists were in fact arrested and two of them tortured last November during interrogations concerning their alleged involvement with the ICC investigations.

The human rights record of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and security forces remain poor, notably in the Ogaden and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. Of particular concern are the efforts by the EPRDF to clampdown on all forms of democratic space and independent civil society. The Proclamation on Charities and Societies which was passed by the EPRDF-dominated parliament in January 2009 threatens the very future of legitimate human rights work in the country. This is by far the most restrictive of such laws in the region. Under this bill, organisations receiving more than 10% of their funding from abroad will not be allowed to carry out any human rights work. The Ethiopian authorities are putting in place other legislative measures to justify their clampdown on civil and political rights in the country, notably a Draft Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. More recently the authorities resorted to more traditional measures- notably carrying out a series of arbitrary arrests of presumed or alleged members of an opposition party and of potential dissenters within the army. Given the current situation, it is doubtful whether the 2010 elections will be free and fair. In spite of the authorities’ disregard for their national, regional and international responsibilities, the international community continues to largely turn a blind eye to the record of this regime with whom many have diplomatic, economic and military ties and who is seen by certain States as a key ally in the war against terror.

The well entrenched culture of impunity in Kenya is proving difficult to surmount. The recent report by the Waki Commission of Inquiry does offer significant hope that past violations will be investigated yet until now the Kenyan government has not taken the necessary measures to implement its recommendations; notably by failing to pass a draft legislation which would have brought about the establishment of a constitutionally entrenched national Special Tribunal to hold those responsible for the 2007 election and post-election violence to account. The authorities have also failed to hold the security forces, both the police and the military, to account for mass violations, notably widespread extrajudicial killings. The situation facing HRDs in Kenya, notably their security, is of grave concern witnessed by the recent killings of two human rights activists involved in investigations into extrajudicial killings by the police.

Since reporting at the November 2008 Forum the human rights situation in Somalia has shown no improvements in spite of the signing of a peace agreement between the TFG and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) in Djibouti which lead to the election of Mr. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, former President of the ARS, as the country’s president and the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in January 2009. Warfare between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces and the insurgency, notably Al-Shabab persists. Fighting has continued in civilian areas of Mogadishu whilst also intensifying in towns in South and Central Somalia. Impunity prevails. Attacks and targeted killings of human rights defenders, particularly journalists, continue to occur, most notably at the hands of Al-Shabab.

Finally the situation in Eritrea has shown no changes whatsoever since the last report: freedom of expression, thought, media, religion and movement are inexistent and all forms of activism has been entirely crushed forcing an ever increasing number of Eritreans from all walks of life to risk their lives and flee abroad. In spite of this, the international community, and most notably the European Union, has so far failed to abide by its own principles, notably the Cotonou Agreements, and ensure that aid to Eritrea is made conditional on the respect of basic human rights.

EHAHRDP-Net therefore calls on the African Commission on Human and People´s Rights to:

Make the fight against impunity a key focus of the ACHPR and its special mechanisms; Provide support - logistical, material and political- to entities and bodies that can help to establish accountability mechanisms and to international and regional efforts aimed at ensuring that those responsible for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law are held to account notably in Somalia, Sudan and Kenya;

· Promote the establishment of international criminal investigations into the human rights violations being committed in countries where an impartial national investigation is unlikely to take place- notably in Kenya, Somalia and Sudan; Strongly condemn actions by state and non-state actors which thwart and curtail humanitarian assistance, notably in Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia; Ensure that human rights is at the heart of all diplomatic and peace and reconciliation dialogues, notably in Somalia, Kenya and Sudan; Encourage African Union member States to offer standing invitations to the ACHPR´s special mechanisms and to provide them with necessary assistance in the course of eventual visits whilst ensuring the protection of all witnesses meet by the mandate holders in the course of their missions; Publicly condemn the continuing harassment and discrimination of LGBTI persons; Continue monitoring the situation facing human rights defenders( HRDs) most particularly in Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Burundi and Ethiopia; Call for an end to all practices, notably legal restrictions, which threaten the fundamental rights, in particular the freedom of expression, and legitimate work of HRDs; Call on member States to ensure the protection of Human Rights Defenders, notably by observing the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and other human rights treaties to which most of these countries are signatory; Support initiatives by HRDs to strengthen their position, notably by calling on national NGOs to present their assessment of their country situations prior to and during country missions.

Hassan Shire Sheikh
Chairperson, EHAHRDP/Net

The Gambia, May 2009

Regional Coordination Office
EAST AND HORN OF AFRICA HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS PROJECT (EHAHRDP)
Human Rights House, Plot 1853, Lulume Rd., Nsambya
P.O. Box 70356 Kampala, Uganda
Phone: +256-312-265820/1/2/3/4
Fax: +256-312-265825
E-mail: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
Website: http://www.yorku.ca/crs/AHRDP/index.html


Africa: UN: Highlight rights and justice on Africa trip

2009-05-15

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/11/un-highlight-rights-and-justice-africa-trip

The United Nations Security Council should focus on the protection of civilians, justice, and human rights during its upcoming visit to Africa, from May 14-21, 2009, Human Rights Watch has said in a letter to the council member states. The 15 members of the Security Council will visit Liberia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and meet with African Union officials in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, about the crises in Somalia and Sudan.


Burundi: Over 200 political prisoners in released

2009-05-15

http://www.afrol.com/articles/33249

The Burundian government has released 203 National Liberation Front political prisoners as part of the ceasefire agreement signed between the government and the former rebel group, Ministry of Justice has said late yesterday in a statement.


Egypt: Fears rise over spate of missing children

2009-05-15

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46856

'Provinces on fire with kidnapping rumours; every day more stories of missing children', read the May 1 headline of independent daily Al-Dustour. For months now, the independent press has been carrying reports of the disappearance of young children, mostly from Egypt's rural provinces. On Apr. 11 two children from the Sharqiya province vanished without a trace; on Apr. 28, four young children - three of them under six years old - were reported missing in the northern city Mansoura. Dozens of other cases have been reported through this period.


Kenya: Mau Mau to sue UK for compensation

2009-05-15

http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/595996/-/u67str/-/index.html

The much anticipated lawsuit against the British government for the atrocities committed against freedom fighters in Kenya during the colonial period will be filed next month. The Kenya Human Rights Commission has instructed London-based solicitors, Leigh Day & Co to commence the process. If successful, it would lead to the compensation of the surviving freedom fighters.


Tanzania: 2008 Tanzania Human Rights Report

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/oawp8d

In 2008, Tanzania, along with the rest of the world, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. During this celebration, Tanzania had the opportunity to consider the improvements and failures in its efforts to achieve the goal of realizing justice, liberty and human rights for all. While Tanzania is committed to upholding the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, this commitment does not always seem to translate into reality.


West Africa: Gambia rejects compensation for murdered Ghanaians

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/pz9t6p

Gambia has rejected a joint United Nations-Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) report on the alleged murder of more than 50 West African nationals, including 44 Ghanaians, in the Gambia in 2005, which dem a nded compensation be paid to the relatives of the victims. According to Ghana’s foreign minister Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, the report of the committee prepared after eight months of investigations was presented to the two countries in Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday.




Refugees & forced migration

DRC: ICRC steps up efforts to help displaced people and their host communities

2009-05-15

http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/ASAZ-7S3CFR?OpenDocument

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is stepping up its humanitarian activities in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in response to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation that has taken place since autumn 2008. The lack of security arising from ongoing clashes and military operations is exacerbating the already bleak conditions for displaced people (IDPs) – estimated to number more than 300,000 – and their host communities in North Kivu and is having a devastating impact on people's livelihoods.




Social movements

Global: A Brief Report of the WSF-IC Meeting at Rabat

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/socialmovements/56323

Morocco had been decided as the venue of this meeting towards the end of the
previous IC meeting held in Belem just after the WSF 2009 in January. Morocco, which had held the Maghreb Social Forum earlier, had made the request for an IC meeting there as, in their opinion, it would strengthen their efforts in consolidating the Magreb-Mashrik process, encompassing the Arab world.
A Brief Report of the WSF-IC Meeting at Rabat, Morocco
May 6 to 9, 2009

Morocco had been decided as the venue of this meeting towards the end of the previous IC meeting held in Belem just after the WSF 2009 in January. Morocco, which had held the Maghreb Social Forum earlier, had made the request for an IC meeting there as, in their opinion, it would strengthen their efforts in consolidating the Magreb-Mashrik process, encompassing the Arab world.
The meeting was however clouded in a controversy since COSATU had called for a boycott of the meeting pointing out to the occupation of Western Sahara by the monarchy led Morocco state. In their opinion, an international meeting in Morocco could be interpreted as a legitimisation of the Moroccon occupation by the international movements. This had led to a certain debate within the WSF process, without however altering the decision to go ahead with the meeting. COSATU had been requested to reconsider their decision to boycott the meeting. In the end, COSATU expectedly did not come to the meeting, but it was not clear if any other movement or group had kept away on the basis of their boycott call. The attendance at the meeting was pretty good.
The Maghreb-Mashrik Process
Perhaps because of this backdrop, the two day Maghreb-Mashrik meeting
preceding the IC meeting - May 4 and 5 - was significant, since it brought
together many movements and groups from the region, including from Iraq,
Palestine, Western Sahara, Lebanon and Egypt, in addition to the Maghreb
groups from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco etc. Attempts were made at the meeting
to identify the convergences and divergences of the region in order to
clarify relevant approaches in bringing together the social movements of the
region. In the end, the problems in defining the ‘Arab’ identity, the manner
in which ‘political Islam’ should be dealt with, along with the ways to deal
with the question of integrating or rejecting groups within Israel that are
opposed to the Israeli regime emerged as major issues with divergent
viewpoints. However, the general feeling was that the debate on such
contentious issues that the two day conference provided was very healthy and
welcome. An appeal, signed by over 500 groups in the Maghreb region on the
West Sahara issue was circulated. About 20 members of the IC from outside
the region participated in this two day meeting

The IC meeting

Belem Evaluation: The four day meeting began with an evaluation of the Belem forum. It was reported that the forum had had a good impact at the local, pan-Amazonian level. The five head of states forum did not disturb the forum process much; but it was reiterated that political parties/persons should be present only on invitation from the movements, and the practice of not allowing them space for their own events should continue. Concerns were expressed about the ‘criminalization’ of the local population through preventive arrests and other oppressive measures by the local authorities, but it was reported that the local anger against these measures were directed not at the Forum but at the local authorities and police. It was also felt that the 6th day process, of Assembly declarations and action plans, requires a much better evaluation before future repetition, since it appeared chaotic and somewhat ineffective.
Global Crisis: The outlining of the financial crisis that has led to the larger global crisis had been initiated in Belem, but there was no time for discussions there. The Strategy Commission had in the meanwhile prepared a brief draft for discussion that had been circulated in advance. The issues were presented by members of the Strategy Commission in three parts: The Crisis (Gus), the impact on people (Vinod), the possible response from the Forum process (Ana Maria). This was followed by a three hour debate on the issues, on the second day, the 5th . It was decided that the Strategy Commission would prepare a summary of this political debate retaining all the divergent views and circulate it, and outline the strategic inputs that could inform forum events in 2009 and 2010. In particular, the suggestion of calling one day of the US Social Forum in June 2010 as the ‘Global Day on Global Crisis’ will be explored with the US social forum organisers. There was also some talk of preparing similar strategic inputs on the ‘Ecological Crisis’ that could be incorporated into the WSF2011.

Forthcoming Events
Members representing various movements across the world presented their plans for events in 2009 and 2010. Some of them are as follows:
1. Indigenous People’s Forum (Crisis Of Civilization); Bolivia, 2010
2. World Education Forum; Palestine, October 2010
3. Forum of Social Movements (Maghreb-Mashrik; e-joussour), Morocco
4. Thematic Forum in Niamey (Niger); 2010 (leading up to the 2011 World forum)
5. 10 years of WSF - all over Porto Alegre in January 2010
6. Forum on Financial Crisis; Mexico, 2010
7. European Social Forum; Istanbul 2010
8. A forum in Catalunya - coinciding with 2010 Davos dates
9. US Social Forum; Detroit, June 22-26, 2010
10. South Asia Forum; Kathmandu
11. A possible forum on Democracy, Bangladesh.

The US, Palestine, Maghreb-Mashrik and the Crisis of Civilization forums particularly sought the support of the international community to make these forums effective.

WSF 2011 Venue

As decided in the Berlin meeting of the IC, the venue was to be somewhere in Africa. It was informed that three candidates had been discussed in the Africa Social Forum Council - South Africa, Niger and Senegal. Of these, South Africa withdrew earlier on and the Council had finally decided on Senegal, keeping in mind the logistics of international travel. But Niger would hold a thematic forum in 2010 in Niamey as a prelude to the World Forum in Senegal. The IC unanimously accepted the decision of the Africa Council that Dakar would be the venue of the 2011 forum, with the hope that the inclusion process in Senegal would be broad-based. The Dakar organisers said they would be holding a seminar in July 2009 with international participation to flag off the process.

The Dakar organisers also mentioned that the 2011 forum would focus on South-South unity, but some of the members ( e.g.via campesina) found this disconcerting and didn’t want the forum to bring up North/South divisions in the social movements.


South Africa: Abahlali Western Cape statement

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/socialmovements/56329

The second day of the cleaning campaign on our land in Macassar was even more successful than the first. The police ceased more or less from their intimidatory tactics and there were even more community members present to clean the land
Abahlali base Mjondolo of the Western Cape:


The second day of the cleaning campaign on our land in Macassar was even more successful than the first. The police ceased more or less from their intimidatory tactics and there were even more community members present to clean the land.

At six in the evening the community met on the land to plan for the intended picnic and sports event on Saturday. To everyone’s surprise, a municipal bakkie came and parked itself near us in the middle of the meeting. Then a young man and woman got out of the bakkie, with the woman claiming she was from the City of Cape Town’s “Anti-Land Invasion Unit.” She asked what we were meeting about and we told her. She said she had heard we would be putting up poles for goal-posts for soccer, rugby and netball fields and wished to stress that we could not do that without the permission of the municipality! We asked if she wanted to stop the kids playing sports, would the municipality rather that they were smoking tik. She claimed the meeting was illegal. People protested that this was a free country. She claimed we were not allowed to meet on municipal ‘premises’. (Premises includes a building but there was no building there!). People asked where were they supposed to meet to plan for the picnic and sports event on Saturday: there was no community hall. This was like the prohibition of meetings under apartheid. She was confused and left. But, just as we were closing the meeting, the bakkie returned and she repeated that it was an illegal meeting and since we refused to disperse, she was calling the SAPS. The meeting was already ending, so we closed it and waited around. After about twenty minutes an SAPS van arrived with its blue lights flashing. They conversed with the “Anti-Land Invasion” people for about ten minutes and then drove off, after which the municipality bakkie drove off down the road and stopped. We all walked after it to see if they were buying their supper in a shop but then they drove off.

We demand that the media ask the municipality for an answer as to on what authority and under what law this municipal employee declared the meeting illegal. To prevent free assembly and free speech is a violation of the constitution.

We also demand that the media should find out what plans the municipality has for this big stretch of open land that they are so jealously protecting, when there are thousands of people desperate for housing.

If this apartheid repression of free assembly and free speech is a foretaste of what the Zille provincial regime holds in store, then we are in for a huge fight.

Stop apartheid repression! Disband the Anti-Land Invasion Unit! Stop evictions! Provide community halls, sports facilities, and housing for all!

For comment contact: Mzonke Poni ABM WC chairperson


South Africa: Durban Sings - Call for response: Make a conversation across the lines

2009-05-15

http://durbansings.wordpress.com/

The DURBAN SINGS project asks for your attention: Can you lend your ear to the "Singing Durbanites" on www.durbansings.wordpress.com? Can you write an audio letter to audio activists of the southern hemisphere? Can you pick up on their songs, stories, proverbs and histories, take them to yours, add from your songs, stories, proverbs and histories and post your re-telling re-mix back to them?


South Africa: The KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act: Bloody legislation against the expropriated

2009-05-15

http://sacsis.org.za/site/News/detail.asp?iChannel=1&nChannel=News&iCat=253&iData=283

On 14 May 2009 the Constitutional Court will hear the attempt by the shack dweller’s movement Abahlali baseMjondolo to have the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act declared unlawful. Other provinces have been mandated to develop similar legislation and the decision of the court may have a significant impact on the future of our cities.




Emerging powers news

China- Africa watch news roundup

Sanusha Naidu

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/emplayersnews/56335

Sanusha Naidu compiles a list of the top stories on Sino-African relations.
Cheap freight, OPEC boost Asia use of W.Africa oil
Asia oil giants eye $3 billion stake in Kosmos Energy: sources
Ethiopia: Kenya and India sign IT transfer deal
Tibet's Dalai Lama welcome in SAfrica: New FM
New challenges of Chinese foreign and security policy
Distant Holy Grail: China's Consumers
China’s Heart of Gold
The Almighty Renminbi?
China's Affluent Youth Boom
Interview: China sets up example for Africans to create miracle through self-reliance
Eritrea: Ambassador Alem Holds Talks With Singaporean Government Officials
India and China just BRICs in the wall
Donors look to infrastructure to save Africa from recession
Standard Bank, ICBC to fund Botswana power plant
African academics call for the establishment of a strategy with China
Chinese exports fall sharply
First Rand wins banking licence in India
European biofuels firms scramble for 'idle' lands in poor countries
Uganda Opens Avenues of Growth for Indian SMEs
AFRICA: Tractored out by “land grabs”?
EIB and EU-Africa Infrastructure trust fund in Mozambique
China’s “String of Pearls” strategy around India in tatters
Roads Minister leaves for China
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Meets with Egyptian Senior Coordinators for Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Affairs
India asks Africa to keep doors open to generic drug imports
58,000 mass incidents in China in first quarter as unrest grows to largest ever recorded
Zambia Sees ‘Glimmer of Hope’ for Economy as Copper Rebounds
Zambia NFC Africa Mining To Take Over Luanshya –Union
White paper released on foreign aid policy
China quake: From rubble, civil society builds
Chinese deal threatens IMF aid for Congo
Angola: Bengo province to have a further 100 factories




Elections & governance

Cote d'Ivoire: Presidential election planned for 29 November

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/p9d97h

The first ballot in the presidential election in Côte d'Ivoire will take place on 29 November 2009, sources at the Council of ministers at the presidential palace, said on Thursday in Abidjan.


Madagascar: UN proposes neutral, peaceful transition

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/r2jfqn

International mediators led by UN special envoy Tiebile Drame have called for a neutral, peaceful and consensual transition in Madagascar before the next national election in 14 months. According to a draft agreement, the mediators tasked the transitional authority, led by former Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina, to organise fair and transparent elections and establish democratic and stable institutions.


Malawi: African elections project launched

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/qwojxb

As Malawi prepares for elections in four days, The International Institute for Journalism, based in Ghana, has launched the first ever elections project for that country. The president of the institute, Kwami Ahiabenu, said it's designed to promote the use of ICT in generating election information.


Togo: Presidential elections for February, March, 2010

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/poxkrg

Togo will hold presidential elections between 18 February and 5 March, 2010, a statement by Aboudou Assouma, chairman of the Constitutional Court, issued on Thursday in Lomé said.


Uganda: Opposition parties demand electoral reforms

2009-05-15

http://www.afrol.com/articles/33250

Uganda's opposition parties are demanding reforms in the electoral commission as the country prepares for the presidential polls in 2011. The statement presented to parliament yesterday by Forum for Democratic Change president, Kizza Besigye, suggests major facelifts in the way elections are conducted, the announcement of winners, while also calling for the reinstatement of the presidential term limits.




Corruption

Nigeria: MP panel in fraud charge

2009-05-15

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8051602.stm

Members of the Nigerian National Assembly in charge of investigating the country's electricity crisis have been charged with fraud. The 10 MPs denied charges of siphoning off $42m (£27m) of public funds in a hearing that stretched over two days.




Development

Africa: Africa backs new body to boost knowledge management

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/qnhxxe

African science researchers and policy advisers have agreed to set up a foundation, endorsed by a range of African-based banks, to promote the use of scientific and other forms of knowledge by both public and private decision-makers in the continent. The body, to be known as the Knowledge Management Africa (KMA) Foundation, will be under the auspices of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) based in Johannesburg, South Africa.


Africa: Grain crisis and political economy of a new scramble for Africa

2009-05-15

http://www.thisday.co.tz/News/5739.html

Signs are emerging of a far reaching crisis not just in the financial systems of the developed world but also food security in a number of Asian countries, either on account of having vast desert lands or small sizes on which farming becomes a problem. There is also the threat from biofuel needs that pushed up prices of grain, and scarcity of water makes large scale farming of grain in many Asian states unfeasible or uneconomic, thus compelling them to seek land elsewhere. Africa is the choice continent, but it is brittle.


Africa: Turning agriculture into a business

2009-05-15

http://africanpress.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/africa-turning-agriculture-into-a-business/

A plan by the Africa Commission to side-step African governments and target the private sector to invigorate the continent’s business and agricultural capacity, thereby stimulating job creation, was launched in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, on 6 May. According to the Commission’s committee members – heads of state, members of civil society, academia and international and regional organisations, mainly from Africa – the proposals break from the ever-growing catalogue of help schemes for the world’s poorest continent.


Cameroon: UN funds multi-million dollar scheme to boost rural employment

2009-05-15

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=30758

The rural poor across Cameroon are set to receive a cash injection of close to $14 million from the United Nations in an effort to reduce poverty, increase income and improve livelihoods. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) will support the Rural Microfinance Development project in the West African country with a $13.5 million loan and $200,000 grant.


Malawi: Separating the poor from the ultra-poor - why?

2009-05-15

http://www.ipsterraviva.net/europe/article.aspx?id=7365

A group of civil society organisations in Malawi is pushing for changes to the country's controversial social cash transfer scheme which has caused tension in communities as it attempts to separate the poor from the "very poor" in a country where some 65 percent of people live on less than a dollar a day. Pilot programmes to test the scheme are underway in seven of Malawi's 27 districts.




Health & HIV/AIDS

DRC: Toxic toad scam killing patients

2009-05-15

http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=84354

Many people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are dying of treatable diseases because they attribute their symptoms to a poison they believe only traditional healers can cure, according to health officials. "Many people are dying in this region because of this phobia whose current spread has to do with the environment we are living in and the wars we have experienced," said North Kivu provincial medical inspector Dominique Bahago.


Global: Criminalising HIV positive women violates human rights

2009-05-15

http://www.eldis.org/go/country-profiles&id=43376&type=Document

This document outlines a presentation given by the Salamander Trust at a meeting on women and AIDS at the House of Commons in Westminster. The presenter details how, because of global attitudes, women with HIV/AIDS have seen their reproductive health rights and rights to liberty systematically and institutionally eroded. The document shows how some countries are now sterilising young positive women, coercing them to sign consent forms when in labour, so that after delivery when they go for contraception, they learn that this is no longer needed.


Swaziland: Sexual violence against girls widespread

2009-05-15

http://www.aidsmap.com/en/news/D7AC972C-E1EE-4ADD-B4E4-C3FF64418D8D.asp

A third of girls in Swaziland have experienced sexual violence by the age of 18, according to a study published in the May 9th edition of The Lancet. Such violence was strongly associated with sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy complications or miscarriages, unwanted pregnancy and mental health problems.


Tanzania: Bars get condom dispensers

2009-05-15

http://www.plusnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=84411

Bars and nightclubs in several Tanzanian cities will soon have condom vending machines in the bathrooms as part of national efforts to combat HIV. "Our goal is to make condoms widely available to the people. The programme will start in Dar es Salaam [Tanzania's commercial capital] before it is scaled up to various upcountry regions," Stan Mwamaja, a ministry of health official, told IRIN/PlusNews.


Tanzania: Zanzibar faces serious nurses shortage

2009-05-15

http://www.dailynews.co.tz/home/?n=1852&cat=home

Zanzibar nurses have said they were facing serious challenges in carrying out their duties, as the ratio of a nurse to patients stands at 1:50. In their message during the occasion to mark World’s Nurses Day, they expressed the need for the government to consider employing more nurses in health facilities for them, to be able to provide standard services.


West Africa: Nigeria moves to protect PLWAs from discrimination

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/r96t9w

Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua has sent a bill to the national assembly (parliament) which, if passed into law, will make it an offence to discriminate against any person on the grounds of actual or perceived HIV status. The bill makes it an offence for employers of labour, religious houses and operators of other public places to discriminate against those living with or affecte d by HIV and AIDS.


Zimbabwe: HIV-positive nurses go it alone

2009-05-15

http://www.plusnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=84410

For the past year, Olive Mutabeni's home in Chitungwiza, a low-income suburb 20km outside Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, has been the makeshift centre of operations for the Life Empowerment Support Organisation (LESO). After 23 years as a nurse in the public health sector, most recently as the coordinator of prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) services at Chitungwiza Central Hospital, Mutabeni quit her job and started LESO to provide the sick and elderly in her community with emotional, medical and practical support. Four other nurses soon joined her.




LGBTI

Global: Activists optimistic about pro-gay resolution

2009-05-15

http://www.mask.org.za/article.php?cat=gambia&id=2135

African LGBTI human rights defenders attending the 45th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) currently underway in Banjul, Gambia, are optimistic that a resolution aimed at ending all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa will be adopted by the African Commission. On 14 May, the panel presented the resolution which has been continuously barred during the preceding ordinary sessions.




Environment

Nigeria: Shell: Stop Gas Flaring Now!

2009-05-15

http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/703/t/9302/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=27234

On May 26, oil giant Shell will face a groundbreaking trial in U.S. federal court for complicity in human rights abuses. Shell faces a number of serious charges, including conspiring with a Nigerian military dictatorship to bring about the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow activists who led a mass movement against Shell's environmental devastation of their homeland in the oil-rich Niger Delta.


Tanzania: Major emergency at Barrick's North Mara mine

2009-05-15

http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=20825

It is reported that there has been a major spill of toxic sludge from Barrick's Mara mining operation into River Thigithe that flows into the Mara River. This happened Monday the 11th of May and nearby residents have reported that there are dead fish and all kinds of other dead water life along the river.




Land & land rights

Africa: African land grabbers on shaky ground

2009-05-15

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10571697

In the past two years, various non-African countries - China, India, South Korea, Britain and the Arab Gulf states lead the pack - have been taking over huge tracts of farmland in Africa by lease or purchase, to produce food or biofuels for their own use. Critics call them "neo-colonialists", but they will not be as successful as the old ones.


Burundi: A sharing approach to land disputes

2009-05-15

http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=84272

Returning to Burundi after years as a refugee in Tanzania, Jonas Saya knew it would be difficult to reclaim his land from former neighbours who had settled on it. "I wanted my children to get a home of their own," he said. Saya, 56, returned with six children after spending 37 years in Ulyankulu old settlement, western Tanzania.




Food Justice

Global: A welcome shift in united nations views on food sovereignty

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/pnnohw

Social and environmental organizations reacted positively to proposals by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, during the 17th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development of the United Nations in New York. Schutter's proposals strongly echo the new production model that La Vía Campesina and Friends of the Earth International have been promoting for years.




Media & freedom of expression

Angola: Newspaper editor forbidden to leave country

2009-05-15

http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=31289

Reporters Without Borders condemns the foreign travel ban that has been placed on William Tonet, the editor of the independent Luanda-based biweekly Folha 8 (F8), whose passport was seized when he tried to cross by land into Namibia on 9 May. Tonet has been harassed by the authorities ever since the newspaper’s creation in 1995.


Kenya: The Storymoja Blog schedule is back on

2009-05-15

http://storymojaafrica.co.ke/main/

The Storymoja Blog has been off schedule for a while, due to the unfortunate illness of one of the editors. We are back now, with a few changes. The blog stories will go up every Monday.Please send in your stories before each Friday at 4pm. This will allow the editors to read, choose and edit the stories that will go up on the blog on Monday. All stories on the blog will be considered for nomination to the Story of the Week. The editors will make their comments and all readers will have a chance to vote for the story of their choice. The story with the most votes will be awarded the STORY OF THE WEEK crown and will be posted on
both the blog front as well as the Storymoja website.


Madagascar: Detained Radio Mada reporter charged and transferred to prison

2009-05-15

http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=31238

Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the decision to keep Radio Mada sports reporter Evariste Ramanantsoavina in detention and charge him with “inciting revolt against the republic’s institutions,” defamation and disseminating false information. He was arrested on 5 May and forced to reveal the location from which the radio was broadcasting in defiance of a closure order.


Mauritania: Editor narrowly escapes death

2009-05-15

http://www.afrol.com/articles/33247

Reporters Without Borders has condemned an attempted murder of the editor of the independent Arab-language daily, El Wattan, and radio presenter Mohamed Ould Zeine in Mauritania. Mr Ould Zeine was allegedly attacked by two men with baseball bats and knives on the evening of 12 May. He reportedly suffered very serious injuries to his left hand.


Somalia: IFJ condemns threats and intimidation against journalists

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/qkagy7

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the threats and intimidations against journalists in Somalia after the head of an Islamic militia group in Somalia warned journalists against reports which are critical of the movement. “We condemn this climate of terror and intimidation against journalists in Somalia,” said Gabriel Baglo, Director of IFJ Africa Office. “It is against press freedom and ethical journalism to interfere in journalists’ work.”


Zimbabwe: AG ordered arrest of journalists

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/olfmbj

The two Zimbabwean journalists arrested on Monday were detained on the orders of the Attorney-General, Johannes Tomana, the Minister of Home Affairs Giles Mutsekwa has revealed. Mutsekwa's revelation is contained in the Parliamentary Hansard in response to a Member of the House of Assembly, Blessing Chebundo's inquiry.




News from the diaspora

Katrina victims face eviction

Don’t leave people homeless, group urges government

Ajamu Baraka

2009-05-14

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/diaspora/56263

Following reports of federal government plans to repossess temporary housing from Katrina victims, theUS Human Rights Network has called for the Obama administration to reverse this decision and provide those affected with substantive directive support.
It is a sad commentary on our priorities when our government can find billions of dollars to bail out banks but cannot come up with the funds to house families and individuals that were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. To take the most vulnerable victims of Katrina and leave them to fend for themselves is not only unconscionable, it is a violation of the government’s obligation under international law to protect people from arbitrary displacement from their homes. Additionally, the status of Katrina victims has been the subject of international scrutiny by both the UN Human Rights Committee in 2006 and the Convention on the elimination of racial discrimination in 2007, and it will be referred to in a report to the Human Rights Council by the UN special rapporteur on racism next month.

Thousands of persons – not unsurprisingly principally people of colour – are still displaced from their Gulf Coast region home and the federal government has the primary responsibility to provide assistance to these displaced persons throughout the duration of their displacement. The government also has the responsibility to create the conditions that allow displaced persons to either resettle or return to their communities; the government has failed to do both. We call on the Obama Administration to reverse this decision and to commit itself to providing substantive direct support to the victims of this disaster.

It is time to recognise the ongoing situation of Katrina survivors as an issue of basic human rights and ensure that this most vulnerable constituency is protected. The best way to do that is to adhere to our obligations under international law since, clearly, federal law and the federal government continue to fail.

* Ajamu Baraka is executive director of the US Human Rights Network.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.




Conflict & emergencies

Congo: Five Priorities for a Peacebuilding Strategy

2009-05-15

http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6095&l=1

This latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the situation on the ground in the wake of the five-week joint military operation between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda against Rwandan Hutu rebels, the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), in the Kivus. That effort did not produce significant results and highlights the need for a new tack. The report presents a five-point strategy to drive a renewed process forward.


DRC: Congo Ignored: When 5 million dead aren't worth two stories a year

2009-05-15

http://www.sacsis.org.za/site/article/284.1

The wars that have wracked the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1996, killing well over 5 million people (International Rescue Committee, 1/08) in what may be the deadliest conflict since World War II, are officially over. A peace agreement was signed in 2002, and general elections were held in 2006.


Nigeria: Gunboats exchange fire with oil militants

2009-05-15

http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE54E0IG20090515

Nigerian gunboats exchanged fire with militants in the western Niger Delta on Friday, security sources and a prominent ethnic activist said, the latest sign of deepening unrest at the heart of Africa's biggest oil industry. More than a dozen navy gunboats opened fire on militants along Chanomi Creek in Delta state, the sources said. The region is home to U.S. energy giant Chevron's Escravos export terminal and Nigeria's 125,000 barrels per day Warri refinery.


Somalia: Heavy clashes cause fresh displacement in Mogadishu

2009-05-15

http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/PSLG-7S3FT3?OpenDocument

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the week-long clashes in the Somali capital Mogadishu that have claimed many civilian lives and sparked a new wave of displacement. The latest fighting, some of the heaviest seen in Mogadishu this year, between forces loyal to the Transitional Federal Government and opposition groups, erupted last week and have so far claimed the lives of more than 135 people and 315 injured, while dislocating an estimated 30,000 people.


Sudan: Darfur: African Union-UN envoy concerned over surge in factional violence

2009-05-15

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=30775

The joint African Union-United Nations envoy to Darfur has expressed concern over recent armed clashes between various factions in the northern part of the war-ravaged Sudanese region. AU-UN Special Representative Rodolphe Adada called on the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudanese Liberation Army/Minni Minawi wing (SLA/MM) to end hostilities, which flared up over the weekend in the North Darfur town of Umm Baru.




Internet & technology

Africa: Great build-up to eLearning Africa

2009-05-15

http://www.elearning-africa.com/newsportal/english/news185.php

Over one thousand registered participants and speakers are looking forward to this year’s eLearning Africa conference in Dakar! Taking place from May 27th – 29th, this conference is THE event in the field of ICT-supported learning and training! High-level participants from ministries, organisations and companies from all over the world are coming to Dakar. Don’t miss out on this unique conference and the chance to network and share the latest on learning and technology.


West Africa: Europe’s e-waste in Africa

2009-05-15

http://ghanabusinessnews.com/2009/05/09/europes-e-waste-in-africa/

Despite the international regulations to prevent electronic waste from being dumped in developing countries, mountains of western e-waste are rising higher in Africa. Especially Ghana and Nigeria have emerged as new target countries for our used electronics. The implications of this waste industry are shocking for both environment and human health.




eNewsletters & mailing lists

Africa: New Books 2009

AfricaFocus Bulletin May 14, 2009 (090514)

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/enewsl/56383

This issue of AfricaFocus features brief notices of 15 books published so far in 2009 that AfricaFocus readers are likely to be interested in. This listing, including 10 on continent-wide issues or countries outside South Africa and 5 on South Africa, is far from comprehensive. But it includes a good selection of thoughtful analyses by both African writers and experienced non-African observers of the African scene.


USA/Africa: Underfunding Global Health

AfricaFocus Bulletin May 10, 2009 (090510)

2009-05-15

http://www.africafocus.org/docs09/gh0905.php

President Obama's global health budget plan, pegged at $63 billion over six years and announced on May 5, one day in advance of the full budget statement, met with predictably mixed responses. The administration spin was that it was a major new commitment to a comprehensive approach; health activist groups charged that it actually marked a cut from prior commitments made in campaign promises and by Congressional pledges.




Fundraising & useful resources

Global: Geotourism Challenge 2009: Power of Place

Ashoka Changemakers

2009-05-15

http://changemakers.net/en-us/competition/geotourism

Ashoka’s Changemakers, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, have launched an exciting online competition entitled “Geotourism Challenge 2009: Power of Place – Sustaining Future Destinations". Our aim is to search for global innovative ideas in tourism that celebrate the distinct destinations of the world by honoring culture, cherishing history and enhancing the environment. Submit your entry by May 20, 2009 at www.changemakers.net to take advantage of the funding opportunities and global exposure, while contributing to the next big change!




Courses, seminars, & workshops

Africa: CODESRIA at the 8th Nigeria International Book fair (NIBF)

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/courses/56306

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to invite all visitors to the 8th Nigeria International Book fair (NIBF) to the book exhibition that it is organizing during the NIBF. The 8th Nigeria International Book Fair (NIBF 2009) is scheduled to hold from May 11th - 16th, 2009 at the Multi-purpose Halls of the University of Lagos.
CODESRIA at the 8th Nigeria International Book fair (NIBF)

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to invite all visitors to the 8th Nigeria International Book fair (NIBF) to the book exhibition that it is organizing during the NIBF.

The 8th Nigeria International Book Fair (NIBF 2009) is scheduled to hold from May 11th - 16th, 2009 at the Multi-purpose Halls of the University of Lagos.

The theme for NIBF 2009 is: “The Book Chain and National Development.” It is geared towards promoting literacy and facilitating book availability in Africa. This fits in well with the CODESRIA objectives of promoting the work of African scholars, who have researched and published extensively on almost all aspects of national development and regional integration in Africa.

The theme of the 8th NIBF is also closely related to the umbrella theme of CODESRIA’s Strategic Plan for 2007-2011, which is “Rethinking Development and Reviving Development Thinking in Africa”.

Books produced by CODESRIA National Working Groups, Comparative Research Networks, Multinational Working Groups, and other CODESRIA programmes such as the South-South, Gender Research, Children and Youth, Economic Policies, and Health, Politics and Society programmes, will be on exhibition at the CODESRIA Stand. So will be recent issues of Africa Development, the Journal of Higher Education in Africa, the African Sociological Review, CODESRIA Bulletin, the Africa Review of Books, and other CODESRIA journals.


Africa: Academy for Constitutional Law and Justice in Africa

2009-05-15

http://www.citizens-governance.org/spip.php?article18&lang=en

In order to overcome the constitutional deficit in Africa and contribute to the dynamism of the teaching of constitutional practice in the Continent has developed a programme on « Constitutionalism and Constitutional Rights », which includes the organising of a yearly Academy aimed at improving the knowledge and understanding of institutional mechanisms by the wider public. The Second Session of the ACLJA will be held under the theme “Constitution and Citizenship”


Africa: FAWE Gender in African Education Research Fellowship

2009-05-15

http://tinyurl.com/qjscm5

FAWE is offering a 12-month postdoctoral Gender in African Education Research Fellowship at its Regional Secretariat in Nairobi, Kenya, from July 2009. The fellowship will contribute to a FAWE research initiative that aims to build African research capacity on gender in education in Africa with a view to improving girls’ and women’s education on the continent.


Global: Call for Abstracts: 8th International Conference on Urban Health (ICUH 2009)

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/courses/56344

The 8th International Conference on Urban Health (ICUH) will take place between October 18-23, 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya. It is being organized by the International Society for Urban Health (ISUH) in partnership with the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and the Government of the Republic of Kenya, through the Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development. This will be the first time the Conference is held out of North America and Europe. Previous conferences took place in Toronto (2002), New York (2003), Boston (2004), Toronto (2005), Amsterdam (2006), Baltimore (2007), and Vancouver (2008).
Call for Abstracts: 8th International Conference on Urban Health (ICUH 2009)

The 8th International Conference on Urban Health (ICUH) will take place between October 18-23, 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya. It is being organized by the International Society for Urban Health (ISUH) in partnership with the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and the Government of the Republic of Kenya, through the Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development. This will be the first time the Conference is held out of North America and Europe. Previous conferences took place in Toronto (2002), New York (2003), Boston (2004), Toronto (2005), Amsterdam (2006), Baltimore (2007), and Vancouver (2008).

As the world urbanizes, public health issues need to be viewed through the urban lens. From the population perspective, migration and natural growth without matching resources has produced unprecedented formation of informal settlements characterized by poor physical infrastructure for the provision of basic services such as water, sanitation, housing, energy, and transportation; and high levels of morbidity and mortality. Because of a lack of access to quality health services, reproductive health and child health are compromised; the urban health systems have multiple issues that need to be addressed including organization of service delivery, increasing demand and supply, financing, and legal and regulatory barriers; and varying levels of food security and food availability often lead to malnutrition or obesity, depending on context. Climate change poses another public health threat and cities are particularly vulnerable. Addressing these and other issues requires innovations in governance and partnerships for healthy and resilient cities. The 2009 International Conference on Urban Health (ICUH) will bring together the leaders of urban health research, practice, side by side with community voices to frame these issues, provide clear insight, and offer direction and best practices toward healthy urbanization.

The annual ICUH meetings provide an international forum for knowledge exchange among urban health stakeholders. They address issues pertaining to urban health, with emphasis on interventions that help to alleviate barriers to urban health care and to promote strategies and policies that enhance the health of urban populations. The ultimate goal of the ICUH is to mobilize and energize like-minded professionals addressing the effects of urbanization and urban environments on the health of urban populations.

For themes please follow link: http://www.icuh2009.org/Documents/call%20for%20abstract%20brochure%20fnl.pdf

The submission documents will consist of 1) a short abstract of no more than 300 words; and 2) an extended abstracts of 2-4 pages maximum (font size of 10/11 and line spacing of 1.5). Abstracts can be submitted in English or French. Authors may submit an unlimited number of abstracts; all abstracts must be submitted online at www.icuh2009.org . Specific submission instructions are detailed on the website. Abstracts will be treated with confidentiality. No information about an abstract under consideration will be disclosed to anyone except as part of the normal review process under the supervision of the Scientific Committee. The deadline for submission of Abstracts is May 30th 2009.


Kenya: CODESRIA Writing the History of Women in Africa: Past, Present and Future

2009-05-15

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/courses/56310

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to announce the second edition of its annual conference on critical themes in the history of Africa. The conference is part of CODESRIA’s initiative aimed at achieving the triple objective of promoting the study of the history of Africa, mobilising support for the discipline of history in African higher education, and networking African historians both for these purposes and also as a worthy cause in its own right.
CODESRIA Conference Announcement

Theme: Writing the History of Women in Africa: Past, Present and Future
Venue: Nairobi, Kenya
Date: 18-20 October 2009.

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to announce the second edition of its annual conference on critical themes in the history of Africa. The conference is part of CODESRIA’s initiative aimed at achieving the triple objective of promoting the study of the history of Africa, mobilising support for the discipline of history in African higher education, and networking African historians both for these purposes and also as a worthy cause in its own right. Packaged under the label ‘SOS African History’, the initiative is motivated by the strongly held view of the CODESRIA membership that the current conjuncture in the development of Africa marks a moment when the continent is, more than ever before, in need of history and historians. Given the fact that across Africa, engagement with the history of the continent, the financing of historical research, and the teaching of History are severely endangered, the CODESRIA SOS African History initiative is designed to galvanise local and continental responses that could add up to stem and reverse the tide of decline that has been underway for at least two decades.

The inaugural conference within the CODESRIA initiative on African History was held on the 27th- 29th of October 2008 in Kampala, Uganda, on the theme: Re-Reading the History and Historiography of Domination and Resistance in Africa. The second conference scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya will have as its theme: Writing the History of Women in Africa: Past, Present and Future. The study of women in Africa has in recent years experienced a great leap forward in terms of output, theoretical development and visibility. The changes which can be principally attributed to the adoption of new frameworks such as life-histories, oral histories, genealogies, religious records, cultural lore and fables, and a focus on women’s resistance have challenged the silences on African women in African history. The new approaches, though not without their limitations, have stimulated a renewed interest in the study and writing of the history of African women; and are, more importantly, acting as a catalyst for the revitalisation of African history and historiography by stimulating a re-examination of familiar themes in African history, such as African labour history and class relations, colonialism, African economic history, African elites and African religions.

Despite the success of efforts to restore women to African history, African women’s history is still largely absent from mainstream African historiography and is consistently confronted with the possibility of disciplinary provincialism. Furthermore, limitations of scope to the 19th and 20th centuries, and the absence of studies on women before the 1800s, restrict efforts to integrate and properly situate women’s history into African history. However, African women are making their own history and writing it. They are also actors in the making of African history. Part of this has been captured in a number of publications including the “Women Writing Africa series”. The writing of the history of African women is also not the exclusive preserve of historians as contributions from anthropology, political science, gender studies and sociology have widened the scope and deepened the content of African women’s history.

The continued marginalisation of African women in African historiography, despite advances in theory and method, is a source of concern; especially at a time when African history itself is facing the threat of obscurity, giving the reduced significance of its research works on other historiographies and the severely endangered nature of popular and academic engagement with history on the continent, due to poor financing of historical research, which itself is a consequence of a devaluation of the discipline in favour of more “marketable” ones.

What then can be done to move the history of women in Africa beyond the stage of compensation or that of writing women into African history? What lessons can be learnt from the greater attention in African history to craft, theory and diverse sources linking the past to the present that has been observed in recent years? What can be learnt from theoretical advancements in women’s studies in anthropology, sociology and political science? Through a critical examination of recent developments in the history and historiography of African women, African scholars are being invited to engage with issues of representation, sources, methodology and periodisation, class, labour and economic history, and political mobilisation in African history. They are most especially encouraged to assess the consequences of recent theoretical developments in the history and historiography of African women, for the future of African history, and the rescuing of the study of Africa from faulty analogies drawn from a unilineal reading of the history of Europe and the United States of America. The conference is expected to act as a forum for assessing the state-of-the art in African women’s history; that is, draw attention to new questions, reassess old ones and suggest new ways of proceeding in African women’s history in particular, and African history in general.

Researchers with an active interest in African history who wish to be part of the conference are invited to send abstracts of the papers they wish to present to CODESRIA by 20th June, 2009. In developing their abstracts, potential conference participants are encouraged to focus on, but not limit themselves to, any of the following sub-themes:

1. Historiography of African Women’s History
2. Women, Law and Justice in Africa
3. Women in African Colonial Histories
4. Women and Migration in Africa
5. Women in African Labour History
6. Women and Politics in Africa
7. Women, Sexuality and Emancipation in Africa
8. Women and the Economy in Africa

Authors of abstracts that are deemed suitable by CODESRIA for development into full papers will be notified by 30th June, 2009. Full papers from those whose abstracts have been selected must reach the CODESRIA Secretariat by 31st August, 2009. The participation costs of those whose papers are accepted for presentation at the conference will be covered fully or partially by CODESRIA. All abstracts and papers should be addressed to:

CODESRIA
(SOS African History)
BP 3304, Dakar CP 18524, Senegal
Tel.: +221-33 825 9822/23
Fax: +221-33 824 1289
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: http//www.codesria.org





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