Pambazuka News 531: Lessons from the uprisings
The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa
Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839
CONTENTS: 1. Features, 2. Announcements, 3. Comment & analysis, 4. Tributes to Tajudeen, 5. Advocacy & campaigns, 6. Pan-African Postcard, 7. Obituaries, 8. Books & arts, 9. Letters & Opinions, 10. Highlights French edition
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Dear Pambazuka Reader,
Today, May 25th, is Africa Liberation Day. It is a day to celebrate what has been achieved, and to remind us what is yet to be done.
There is little doubt that political independence brought, for a while at least, progress to our people - a relief from the yoke of colonial domination.
But the movement for liberation has had its setbacks over the last 30 years as the imperialist North, in collusion with African governments, overhauled the entire structure of our economies through structural adjustment programmes. This has enabled finance capital and the giant corporations – the 500-700 oligopolies that control almost every aspect of our lives – to occupy our countries and extract wealth through exploitation of our natural resources, our land and our people. Through the privatisation of the commons they have engaged in massive accumulation by dispossession, leaving millions landless, homeless, unemployed, hungry, sick and angry.
And that anger is being manifested in the new awakenings that we have witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria, Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Djibouti, Botswana, Uganda, Swaziland, and South Africa. These awakenings are just one phase in the long struggle of the people of Africa to reassert control over our own destinies, to reassert their dignity, and to struggle for self-determination and emancipation. The governments of the North have not sat silently in the face of these uprisings – witness the invasions of Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, and the attempts to establish compliant regimes in Tunisia and Egypt that have, for the present, been resisted by the mass movements.
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Tunisian revolution did not come out of nowhere
The Tunisian revolution has been the detonator of the wave of protests and uprisings which have spread across North Africa and the Middle East since January, 2011. Sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17, 2010, the Tunisian revolution quickly spread from the towns in the central mining and agricultural regions of the country to the coastal cities, including the capital Tunis. Mass demonstrations, riots and strikes compelled President Ben Ali to flee the country on January 14. The ultimate outcome of the still fluid revolutionary process remains undetermined. So far popular mobilization and the forces activated by them - a series of parties, associations, unions, and intellectuals now organized in a loose coordinating committee (Le comité de salut public la tunisienne) have succeeded in forcing the retreat and partial dissolution of the networks of repression of the Ben Ali regime, changing the composition of the interim government a number of times and implementing their demand for a constituent assembly, from which Ben Ali's old ruling party, Le Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique (RCD) will be excluded for ten years. Governed by a new electoral law passed on April 11, elections for this assembly are scheduled for July 24.
Sadri Khiari is a Tunisian dissident now living in France, where he is a leading intellectual of Le Parti des Indigénes de la République (PIR), an anti-racist political party founded in 2010. He has published a number of books on Tunisia ‘Tunisie, le délitement de la cité - coercition, consentement, résistances’ (Paris: Karthala, 2003) and on the post-colonial situation in France [Pour une politique de la racaille (Paris: Textuel, 2006); La contre-révolution coloniale en France (Paris: La Fabrique, 2008), and Sainte Caroline contre Tariq Ramadan (Paris: La Revanche, 2011)].
BÉATRICE HIBOU: What is your interpretation of the Tunisian events?
SADRI KHIARI: One can explain a popular revolution as little as one can anticipate its beginning. It appears as a break in the normal course of things, an abrupt acceleration of political temporality, a historical rupture that expresses itself by the surging crowds that insert themselves into the centres of power in order to brutally push aside those who are supposed to lead and represent them. The popular revolution can thus be identified in the exceptional moment when politics dispenses with its mediations; direct democracy becomes reality, raw, tumultuous and alive. On the occasion of recent developments in Tunisia, numerous commentators remembered Lenin's famous formula: ‘a revolutionary period is characterized by the inability of those at the top to rule and govern in the old way and the stubborn refusal of those below to be governed in the old way.’ From this point of view, the revolution is the instant when the conflict between those ‘at the top’ and those ‘below’ reaches a boiling point.
The Tunisian revolution is no exception in this regard. Mohamed Bouazizi's tragic suicide represented this breaking point. But the strategist of Russia's October Revolution spoke of a ‘revolutionary period,’ not of revolution. He recalled the period of uncertainty when the conflict rages on but is not yet settled, when the relations of force are unstable and open up a horizon of multiple possibilities without guarantees. In Tunisia, the powerful popular mobilization that forced Ben Ali to take to his heels is a revolution, a moment in a revolutionary period which is obviously not over yet today. In ‘the land of Jasmin,’ the pot was about to boil over. The question that imposes itself is the following: why did we not see that the revolution was imminent?
BÉATRICE HIBOU: If one cannot explain the revolution, can one nevertheless explain why no one saw it coming, or, to put it differently, why the situation before the revolts was explosive?
SADRI KHIARI: If there was one country in the Arab world that appeared sheltered from revolutionary influence, it was Tunisia. Saturated with publicity about the peaceful tranquility of a Tunisia destined to produce sand and parasols, and a few golden-skinned waiters as well, European public opinion could not possibly imagine this country as the site of dramatic political conflicts. Tunisia seemed to be a country without history. This tourist imaginary did not necessarily determine all of the political, intellectual and media spheres, in which there was general confidence in the ‘stability’ of Tunisia. However, the blindness of these spheres undoubtedly grew out of a measure of self-delusion. One only sees what one wants to see and what one wants to show to others. Determined to support the regime of President Ben Ali, the big powers (U.S., France, the E.U.) and the international financial institutions never stopped promoting a discourse of Tunisian ‘stability’: proper levels of growth and satisfactory macro-economic equilibrium; slow but sure integration into the world market; the formation of a ‘middle class’ destined to play the role of social shock absorber; reasonable and peace-loving foreign policy; and, finally, a democratic transition, albeit one slowed by a lack of ‘transparency’ in ‘governance’ and hampered by the imperative of maintaining security against the ‘threat of Islam.’ In other words, the only potential of political destabilization was detected where it did not exist: in Islamic fundamentalism.
This type of discourse was carried widely by the big international media outlets and a good number of commentators and social scientists. It was not only a result of self-interested complacency vis-á-vis the Tunisian regime. It was also helped along by elitist, bureaucratic and state-centred ways of understanding society. There was little interest in observing the real development of public opinion among the disadvantaged strata of the Tunisian population; their (occasionally spectacular) forms of resistance garnered no, or very little, attention. All that analysts took into account were the attempts of organized oppositional forces to act in the ‘rational’ sphere of politics, even as they were either not officially recognized or severely repressed.
But no matter how active they were, political organizations and resistance groups represented an extremely small fringe of the population. In part because of repression, their marginality was frequently but wrongly interpreted as a sign indicating the absence of effective opposition against Ben Ali's regime. I could also evoke this suspect ideological representation of Tunisians as docile and peaceful, with a penchant for reform and negotiation. This form of culturalism is congruent with the tourist imaginary that confuses the professional servility of the elevator attendant with an almost natural tendency to prefer reconciliation to conflict. While I cannot elaborate further on this point, I would like to finish by pointing to the tendency of numerous researchers to focus only on structures, institutions and other mechanisms of power without taking into account the forms of resistance they provoke. Politics, understood as relations of force, is thus emptied of its content and Tunisian history appears condemned to eternal inertia.
BÉATRICE HIBOU: Did this appearance of stability only exist in the eyes of foreigners? Why did the domestic opposition not see the revolts coming?
SADRI KHIARI: Indeed, even in Tunisia, the explosive political situation was hardly recognized by observers, even those engaged in one resistance movement or another. Or, to be more precise, if a large-scale spontaneous revolt similar to the bread riot of 1984 was considered possible, this revolt was not expected to take on an explicitly political dimension, let alone lead to the downfall of the President of the Republic. Outside a few far left groups like the Communist Workers’ Party of Tunisia (Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens (PCOT)) directed by Hamma Hammami, or a personality like the former leader of the Tunisian human rights league, Moncef Marzouki, the prospect of large popular mobilization did not figure prominently in the strategic horizon of oppositional forces. In this light, it is significant that in 2008, during the revolt in the mining basin of the Gafsa region, the decisive moment I will come back to later, most opposition forces stayed quiet for a number of weeksbefore demonstrating timid support. This support was meant to underline the severity of the social situation and the urgent need to pass reforms rather than to widen the realm of popular contestation.
One could develop a sociological analysis of the parties and associations in question and note the degree to which their cadres belonged to relatively privileged sectors of Tunisian society, but such an approach, while not without pertinence, would ignore other equally important factors like the long history of political militancy of many of these cadres. For example, a number of Tunisian opposition leaders began their long trajectory in political groups whose revolutionary ambitions and attempts to appeal to the people had been systematically dashed. Also, the models of radical rupture to which they subscribed in the past collapsed or turned out to be ineffective when the myth of soft ‘democratic transition’ based on negotiations between certain fractions of power and ‘reasonable’ currents of the opposition started to spread.
I also need to underline that the Tunisian opposition, isolated and persecuted, was forced to seek support outside the country in the hope of exercising pressure on the regime. One of the perverse effects of this political choice was that strategies of lobbying for human rights became substitutes for attempts to change the relations of force in Tunisia. These are only a few dimensions of the problem but, in any event, it is clear that just as the signs of a political crisis were difficult to miss even for those without a sociological microscope, spontaneous or organized forms of mobilizing the disadvantaged strata of the population were not part of the political equation for most Tunisian opposition forces.
BÉATRICE HIBOU: Despite these signs of mobilization, the regime appeared solidly in place...
SADRI KHIARI: It is true that this may seem paradoxical. Allow me to use this opportunity to remind you of the fragile foundations that allowed Ben Ali to stay in power during a considerable twenty-three years. The success of the coup d'état on November 7, 1987, can be explained above all by the profound decomposition of the top layers of power within Habib Bourguiba's state. This was a crisis of succession prolonged and intensified by another crisis: the growing inadequacy of the sociopolitical pact put in place after independence in 1956 and the emergence of new social realities. Widely contested, the hegemony of the Destour movement was transformed into simple authority resting much more on coercion and clientelistic mechanisms than on consent, to use a Gramscian concept. Examples of this transformation were the alignment with power of the Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT) in 1985 and the ferocious repression of the Ennahdha party (political Islam) in the months preceding Ben
Ali's coup. Ben Ali moved into the Palais de Carthage, the presidential residence, while those ‘at the top’ appeared ‘incapable of governing as before’ and ‘those at the bottom,’ which were in ascendancy since the 1970s, suffered a grave defeat with the repression of their two principal forms of expression, the UGTT and Ennahdha.
Thin as a sheet of rolling paper, Ben Ali's legitimacy rested for a few months on the illusion that he was going to annul Bourguiba's last years and reform the regime by incorporating the different social and political forces. An apparent ‘trade union reconciliation,’ a democratic opening administered in homeopathic doses, and tolerance for the activities of the Ennahdha movement allowed him to neutralize opposition. The latter became more virulent toward the end of 1989, and then the Gulf War started. Ben Ali refused to participate in the anti-Iraqi military coalition and thus won momentary popularity; he managed to garner the support of certain elements of the democratic opposition while the leadership of Ennahdha was divided between pro- and anti-Saddam factions. The police apparatus was then set in motion, benefiting from the crisis of Ennahdha. Already begun before the Gulf War, the dismantling of the party accelerated and took a rare form of violence, particularly between1991 and 1994. The slogan ‘no freedom for the enemies of freedom’ allowed Ben Ali to benefit from a decade of passive complicity on the part of the overwhelming majority of the Tunisian democratic movement, and, until his downfall, the major Western powers. In lockstep with the repression of Ennahdha, the most combative trade union tendencies as well as all forms of democratic protest were brutally silenced.
This brief reminder of the first years of the Ben Ali regime is important, it seems to me, to understand some of the underlying reasons why Ben Ali was able to install authoritarian rule despite his notable incapacity to build a new moral legitimacy and a renewed social compromise. I will refrain from describing the mechanisms of repression, restriction, and control put in place in the 1990s to compensate for the lack of legitimacy of the regime. I must however add that the mafia-like practices at the highest levels of power – arbitrary police and administrative rule, generalized clientelism and corruption – contributed to a sense, widely shared among all social strata, that power was an incarnation of authority without moral standing. Ben Ali's regime was thus fundamentally different from Bourguiba's. In fact, the morality of Bourguiba as ‘supreme combattant’ (combatant supréme) was never questioned, not even when Bourguiba's rule was most contested. Everyone knew about the privileges the top layers of the bureaucracy claimed for themselves, but, unlike with Ben Ali, the system itself was never identified as one that functioned essentially to allow a morally corrupt family network to enrich itself illegally and claim absolute power.
BÉATRICE HIBOU: But how and since when did this perception of immorality spread?
SADRI KHIARI: In this case, too, the important moment was in the early 2000s, when illegal diversion of goods, a racket of corruption involving major enterprises, and suspicious accumulation of wealth became more widely known in the guise of satirical comments denouncing the nepotism of the ‘families’ around Ben Ali. This rumour, which was impossible to verify then, spread with ease because it was common knowledge that the various representatives of the Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique (RCD), the bureaucracy or the police had few scruples when it came to profiting from their positions of power. Quite often, the intricate links between the networks of power, money and delinquency (such as smuggling rings in the border regions) were there for everyone to see.
To illustrate, I think back to the revolt in the Gafsa region cities in 2008. This popular movement, which lasted six months, began in the small town of Redeyef and spread to the principal mining centres in the region before hitting a wall of repression. Importantly for my purposes, this revolt took off when a local job recruitment process was circumvented by company directors, administrative branches of the state and local representatives of the trade union. Of course, unemployment was a key background condition of the revolt but what sparked and amplified anger to such an extent were the practices of the regime, which were perceived to be contrary to social morality.
In the same vein, I have to mention also, and perhaps above all, the growing role of Leïla Ben Ali, a power- and money-hungry woman considered of low moral standards. Even more than the President himself, this woman symbolized the moral corruption of the system. Tunisians blamed the regime of Ben Ali for his immorality more than his authoritarianism. To put it differently, the regime not only lacked moral authority, it was perceived to be an authority without morals. An authority without moral standing is a form of power that imposes itself on society; it is seen as external to it, so to speak, and whoever possesses it is considered an usurpor driven by his personal interests, which he is willing to satisfy by any means possible. One does not criticize him for inadequate or unjust policies but for threatening society's moral foundation. One does not dismiss him, one brings him to justice. The perception of Ben Ali's power as an authority without morals is undoubtedly key to grasp some of the particularities of the Tunisian revolution, and the widespread consensus that supported it.
BÉATRICE HIBOU: Contrary to what many observers presupposed, ‘the social question’ was not the primary factor in the movement for you.
SADRI KHIARI: This is indeed an important point. In my opinion, a strictly socio-economic analysis of the Tunisian revolution is incapable of discerning its deep dynamic. It is true that the movement began in the most deprived regions of the country and social demands were formulated from the beginning (often by groups of politicized militants and trade unions). These demands, important as they were, were not at the heart of the process which led to the departure of the President. The same is true for the question of democracy. Any Tunisian dissident with a degree of experience can testify to the difficulty of translating the concerns of disadvantaged populations into the normative language of democracy, that of parties and civil rights groups. When this language is taken up at a mass scale, one needs to ask oneself what kind of expectations it corresponds to. Neither the socio-economic nor the democratic explanation (nor a combination of the two) suffices to explain the degree to which this sentiment against Ben Ali is shared across social cleavages. To understand this consensus, one needs to make use of a notion that is difficult to define and is often neglected, yet is at the heart of numerous currents of revolt: dignity.
I noted earlier that Ben Ali, his wife and those close to them were perceived to embody the moral corruption of the regime. I now need to add that each Tunisian was forced to be complicit with corruption to a certain degree. This phenomenon led to a form of collective and individual self-degradation. The system of repression and surveillance developed by Ben Ali thus led to a sentiment of indignity as much, if not more so, as fear. Multiple compromises, different ways of paying allegiance to power, even active participation in its networks (all of which were often necessary to find a job, get promoted, open a business, get administrative matters resolved, or simply avoid everyday problems) produced frustrations, humiliations, and feelings of disrespect for oneself and others in all social classes.
In Tunisia, power substituted institutionalized contempt for intersubjective and institutional recognition, which are necessary for all forms of ethical hegemony. The degrading of the collective self-image of Tunisians compounded the sense of degradation of each individual. The hero of the revolution, the young Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire, may have provoked such a widespread sense of identification not because he lived in misery but because he was purposely humiliated by a municipal bureaucrat who slapped him in the face after confiscating his merchandise. The revolt that followed in the wake of his act of desperation can in this sense be interpreted as carrying forward a demand for social recognition that everyone knew could not be satisfied by the regime and, in fact, required the ouster of Ben Ali as the architect of generalized indignity. Although various slogans chanted during the protests revealed concerns with democracy and economic matters, the Tunisian revolution expressed above all a will to recover a sense of individual and collective self-respect.
BÉATRICE HIBOU: You recently wrote ‘Tunisie: Le délitement de la cite. Coercition, consentement, résistance’ (Paris: Karthala, 2003). Was the revolution made possible by a disruption in the equilibrium that existed between these three components (coercion, consent and resistance)?
SADRI KHIARI: Contrary to superficial representations, Tunisia was not an inert and rather contented society. Only in non-revolutionary periods does there exist a more or less forceful integration of people into mechanisms of domination. But one has to admit that this integration, real as it often is, does not exclude insubordination. Docility, even collaboration, is itself mixed with a lack of discipline, transgression, or direct or masked forms of resistance, which remain hidden most of the time because they are individual or do not take the classic forms of protest or political action. If numerous Tunisians asked themselves every day ‘how to profit from the system,’ many, often the same ones, asked themselves also how to slip through the net and escape requests for collaboration, if not reject the machinery of power. These were the people who withstood the pressures to join the RCD and its satellite organizations, who ‘forgot’ to donate to the one of compulsory solidarity funds (Fonds de solidarité nationale, police raffles etc.), who refused to go through the mandatory intermediaries for the purposes of career advancement, or those who struggled to circumvent censorship on the web, those who stayed at home during RCD ceremonies or on election day, those in the office, at home or with friends who reported the latest jokes or rumours about the real or supposed depravities of the ruling ‘families,’ those who built networks of solidarity among family, in neighbourhoods and regions, the youth who risked clandestine emigration or the others who confronted the police in the stadia. Evasion, subterfuge, individual rebellion, and all the molecular forms of sedition that go along with authoritarian regimes continuously increased during the last years of the Ben Ali regime. To grasp this reality of everyday resistance, it was enough, methodologically speaking, to exhibit more empathy for ‘those below’ and show less fascination with power and its operations.
By the way, like individual rebellion, collective forms of resistance rarely made it onto the observers’ radar. Even though it did not grow in a linear fashion and faced much repression, more or less organized collective resistance has developed for at least ten years. Between 1999 and 2001, after a decade of repression and disarray, the democracy movement in Tunisia reinvigorated itself. The first sign of this was the founding of the Conseil national des libertés en Tunisie in December 1998, which was followed very quickly by the constitution of other independent organizations, the revival of the Tunisian Human Rights League, journalist Taoufik Ben Brik's hunger strike (which was widely reported in France), lawyer activism (the importance of which the mobilizations of the last few weeks have demonstrated), stirrings within the judiciary, the increased resolve of two of the legal opposition parties (PDP and Ettajdid) as new parties like the CPR or the FDTL emerged and PCOT and Ennahdha tried to restructure themselves.
These initiatives were covered in Tunisia by the Arab media such as Al-Jazeera and stimulated other forms of resistance. They remained largely confined to the traditional sphere of protest and failed to attract new generations of activists. Although the powerlessness of the opposition and the weakness of their influence over the population were often subject to ironic comments, the small margin of manoeuvre these forms of opposition managed to eke out since 1999 despite persecution and repression have undoubtedly helped to spread critical information among a growing public opinion. They also facilitated efforts to build spaces and networks of resistance, which, despite their intermittent and muddled character, were not without efficacy (as their participation in various mobilizations, including those at the beginning of the revolution, demonstrated).
It is also important to underline how in the last few years, political dissidence via internet networks emerged and rapidly expanded together with the generalization of cellphone usage. In spite of the sophistication of control and censorship, these new tools of communication also made it easier to spread information, create networks and virtual organizational forms which also became vectors of democratic contestation, particularly among youth. Also important to mention is the formation of a radical Islamic scene that broke with the Ennahdha party and rejected the regime's policies in its own way.
BÉATRICE HIBOU: You speak about a social movement but you only mention political parties!
SADRI KHIARI: Be patient, I am getting there. To this awakening of the democracy movement, one has to add the reconstitution of what one can call, for the lack of a better term, social movements, which are difficult to grasp given the scarcity and inaccessibility of information. It seems to me that social forms of resistance reemerged in two phases. Revolts by students and the unemployed in various cities in the early 2000s, organized strikes in the public sector and private sector enterprises, wildcat strikes and other forms of protest (particularly in the textile and tourist sectors) were expressions of change compared to the preceding decade. This renewal manifested itself in particularly striking ways since 2008 in the long struggle of inhabitants in the mining region of Gafsa that began to spread before being brutally repressed. This was undoubtedly the major turning point. Since then, Tunisia witnessed other, more limited, protest movements in Skhira, Feriana, Jebeniana, and, in the summer of 2010, in Ben Guerdane, as in many small towns in the most disadvantaged regions in the country. In the end, there was Sidi Bouzid and we all know the rest. Despite their sporadic character, weak if not inexistent media coverage, repression, defeat and the lame compromises that resulted from them, and despite the apparent lack of links between them, the social movements Tunisia witnessed in the last decade helped foment an atmosphere laden with protest, an accumulation of experiences and the construction of informal activist networks of which the Tunisian revolution is a product.
This schematic representation of social mobilization would be even more incomplete if I did not mention the struggles within the UGTT against the bureaucratic grip of its secretary general, Abdessalam Jrad, and against the trade union central's subservience to power. These struggles allowed the most militant labour activists to gain influence in certain sectors (postal service, education etc.) and in the local and regional branches of the labour movement. This made it possible for the UGTT to play a more important role in the revolution against the stated positions of the Secretary General, particularly in the last week of mobilization. As we know, the board (Commission administrative) of the UGTT ended up supporting the popular demands and the general strikes that proved decisive in setting in motion the revolutionary process, notably in Tunis and Sfax.
BÉATRICE HIBOU: Is it already possible to detect the lines of force in future developments?
SADRI KHIARI: Alhough the departure of Ben Ali was likely organized by a few leaders of the RCD and their foreign ‘advisers,’ there is no doubt that this scenario was only considered under the pressure of popular mobilization. The latter was also strong enough to force the departure of the RCD ministers in the first transition government after the President's escape and, more recently, the resignation of the Prime Minister and other members of government. While the fall of Hosni Mubarak and the revolutionary mobilizations in Libya have shown that the impact of the Tunisian revolution goes much beyond the Tunisian border, it is too early to evaluate the magnitude of internal political upheaval.
It seems clear to me, however, that a satisfactory understanding of current developments is not possible without questioning the modes of analysis that have shaped perspectives on Tunisia. More sustained attention needs to be given to the ‘politics from below,’ non-institutionalized forms of resistance, and, more generally, the more or less subterranean dynamics at work within the different layers of the population. Finally, and without wanting to unduly isolate and rank each of the multiple factors that have determined the popular explosion in Tunisia (growing economic difficulties, the weight of authoritarianism etc.), it appears pertinent that analyses of political processes and protest movements pay more careful attention to that intangible need for recognition and dignity.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* This interview was conducted by Béatrice Hibou. It was first published in Politique africaine no. 121, March 2011. The translation is by Stefan Kipfer.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 Bourguiba's old Parti socialiste destourien, which was taken over by the Ben Ali regime.
 Parti démocratique progressiste led by Ahmed Najib Chebbi, a lawyer and now a member of government.
 The new name of the Tunisian Communist Party after it opened its ranks to democratic and secular oppositional currents.
 Congrés pour la république, a non-recognized party founded in 2001 by Moncef Marzouki, the former president of the Tunisian Human Rights League (Ligue tunisienne des droits de l'homme).
 Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés, a legal party founded in 1994 by Mustapha Ben Jafaar, a former leader of the Mouvement des democrates socialistes, which split off from Bourguiba's party. The FDTL is a member of the Socialist International.
Lessons from the uprisings in the Maghreb
The Arab revolutions have taught us more than the various terms used to describe them. They constitute a phenomenon, in the literal sense of the word, hardly predictable, except a posteriori and which opens new horizons. We propose to highlight five lessons from which we can learn.
The first lesson is that the situation can perhaps be described as revolutionary. We already knew that we were in a crisis – a crisis of neoliberalism as a phase of capitalist globalisation, a crisis of the foundations of the capitalist system, a crisis of Western civilisation and its hegemony. The uprisings of the people of the Maghreb and the Mashriq regions show that it was not simply a crisis – in the sense that Lenin and Gramsci give to the definition of a revolutionary situation: ‘When the ones below no longer want to be governed and when those above can no longer govern.’
The second lesson is the assertion of the major demands – the social question, the refusal of corruption, freedoms and independence. It involves the confirmation of the contradictions of the current situation. The prevalence of social contradictions between the masses and the oligarchies, the explosion of social inequalities and corruption, the ideological contradictions surrounding the paramount question of freedoms, the geopolitical contradictions related to Western hegemony. Ecological contradictions are not to be spared either, notably with regards to raw materials, land and water. These are however less explicitly present in the Maghreb–Mashriq revolutions as they are in other revolutions in Latin America or Asia.
The uprisings bring to the fore the evolution of social contradictions. They reveal the fact that the oligarchies have divided the masses. In the Maghreb region, the oligarchies have been reduced to business clans who relied on the police, the militias and secret services to ensure that they are self-sufficient and do not need the armies that put them to power. The uprisings underline the fact that corruption, the result of the concentration of outrageous amounts of money in the hands of the oligarchy, is the structural result of neoliberalism and that it denigrates the economy and world politics.
The third lesson is that while revolting, a new generation took over the revolutionary torch. It is not the youth as would be described as an age bracket, but more of a cultural generation which associates itself with a situation and transforms the said situation. It is a generation that highlights major social transformations related to school demography which translates to, on the one hand, brain drain, and on the other hand by educated job seekers. The migrations connect this generation to the world and its contradictions in terms of consumption, cultures and values. The results are certainly contradictory but reduce seclusion and internment. The educated job seekers build a new alliance between children from the working class and those from the middle class.
This new generation builds a new political culture. It modifies the way factors are linked to social structures, classes to social layers, religions, national references and cultures, genre and age affiliations, migrations and diasporas as well as territories. It tries out new forms of organisation through controlling digital and social networks, attempts at self-organisation and horizontality. This new generation tries to define, in different contexts, forms of autonomy between political movements and authorities. Through its demands and inventive nature, this generation reminds us of the strong message in Frantz Fanon’s quote: ‘Each generation must discover its mission, in order to fulfil or betray it.’
The fourth lesson is that the challenge is that of democratisation at the regional level of the Maghreb–Mashriq region. From national situations, counting from the Tunisian catalyst to the Egyptian conflagration, the uprising spread with its own uniqueness. It is important to understand how, at one point, people were no longer afraid to revolt. It is at the regional level that the population revolted. They revealed the true nature of the dictatorships that ruled them while questioning the role reserved for them by the Western hegemony. They showed the reality of the four functions that these dictatorships occupied, the guarantee of access to raw materials, the guarantee to military agreements (notably treaties with Israel), the ‘containment’ of Islamism, the control of migratory trends. The revolt of the people translates to a revelation and the awakening of the people. It brings about the abolition of impossibilities. A new approach is essential and becomes possible.
Democratisation spreads at the level of geocultural regions, as was seen in other areas. Specific situations are national and are not eliminated by the scale at the region. It is at the national level that relations to states, institutions and other political authorities are defined – where alliances are formed and concepts undone, where transitions are created. For this reason, the regional scale is of great importance. As people build themselves through the history of their struggles, so does a region build itself from its transformation and the convergence to action of its people. The construction of the Maghreb region is underway.
It is not less interesting to refer to the Latin American example, which was still as recently as 30 years ago a continent filled with dictatorships. Mass revolutions toppled them over. Democracies succeeded these dictatorships. They were however controlled by the middle class, which set up regimes of neoliberal growth which matched the dominant logic at the time. What resulted was a little bit of democratisation and a lot of social struggles. The United States evolved their domination by learning how to move from controlling the dictatorships to controlling the democracies. However, in the process, new social movements and civilian uprisings developed, altering the situation in several of the Latin American countries and in the region at large. The evolution cannot be viewed over a few months but rather at the scale of a generation. What are the new social and civilian uprisings which will emerge in the Maghreb region?
The fifth lesson is that the new era opens to the possibility of a new phase of decolonisation. Neoliberalism started with an offensive against the first phase of decolonisation – an initiative of decolonisation built by the G7, which was then G5, a club of the old colonial powers, bent on controlling raw materials and dominating the global market. This onslaught was built around debt crisis management, structural adjustment plans, the interventions of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), not to mention, military operations. This recolonisation relied on repressive and oligarchic regimes of decolonised countries, born from broken alliances of national liberation between the people and the elite. This ‘bringing up to speed’ of people from the South was preceded by the adjustment of the world capital markets of workers from countries from the North through unemployment policies, precarisation and the blaming of welfare policies and public services.
The new phase of decolonisation relates to the passage from the independence of states to the self-determination of the people. As is stipulated in the Charter of Human Rights since 1976, each population has a right to external self-determination against any form of external dependence. Each population has a right to internal self-determination, that is, a democratic regime, by means of a regime that guarantees individual as well as collective freedoms. This new phase of decolonisation requires an advanced form of international solidarity. This solidarity is founded in convergence towards another possible world. It starts with the convergence of movements – labour movements, workers, peasants, women, for human rights, youth, indigenous people, ecologists, stateless people, immigrants, diasporas and inhabitants. This convergence progressed in worldwide social forums around a strategic orientation: invent the equality of rights for all at the global scale and affirm the democratic necessity. Many movements in the Maghreb–Mashriq region have taken an active role in these unions. What the revolutions of the Maghreb–Mashriq region have brought to light is the reality and the importance of the convergence of populations in movements.
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* This article comprises a speech at the solidarity meeting with the revolutions in the Arab world, Bourse du travail, Paris, 2 May 2011.
* Translated from French by Caroline Sipalla.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Political perspectives for Egyptian socialism
Egyptian Socialist Party
After the Egyptian Revolution broke out on January 25th, 2011, and successfully achieved its first goal of ousting the President and continued in its demand of toppling the whole corrupt regime, it was clear there was an urgent need to bring together all those who had the conviction that our Country really needed transformation into a Socialist Society that would help improve the social and economic conditions of the toiling masses, and reverse the trend of the old regime to subject the Country to the dictates of the Imperialist led International Financial Institutions. This meant there was an urgent need to create The Egyptian Socialist Party to bring together all those who had taken part in the revolution on an individual basis so as to unite their efforts, and crystallize their political and social perspective into a coherent strategy that would guide the people in the right direction.
The ruling class that led the Country for the last four decades has abandoned all the previous attempts at developing the agricultural and industrial possibilities, and instead, liquidated most of our past achievements through a program of mass privatizations to Egyptian and foreign “Investors” whose only aim was to get rid of the work force, gradually undermine the activity, and make huge profits out of speculation on the land property of the companies concerned.
After the industrial sector, privatization moved on to the banks (one public bank was privatized and another promised), then serious steps were taken to privatize education and health services so as to relieve the Government of all of its social responsibilities. Such policies were in complete compliance with the requirements of the IMF and World Bank, but were also in favor of the new tendencies of the ruling class that was intent on making money the easy way by speculation on the assets of the Country.
For almost a decade before the Revolution, the Country suffered from the continued deterioration of all industrial and agricultural activities and the domination of all speculative activities such as land speculation, creating tourist resorts instead of productive farming and improving the lot of 12 million slum dwellers. The number of unemployed stands at 6 millions (18% approx.), and the gap between rich and poor has reached unprecedented limits (the ratio of incomes among government employees is 500:1!!). Such conditions led to continued protest movements between workers of both public and private sectors all through the decade, and creation of Kefaya and 6th April movements and others.
In the country side the Agricultural Reform laws were abrogated and this resulted in land rent rising by 50 times (5000 %!), and the rural cooperatives were marginalized and the peasants were victimized by the commercial banks and capitalist suppliers of all their needs, and the sole buyers of their product. Again such policies were in compliance with the instructions of the International Institutions, but also for the benefit of the local capitalists whose sole interest became making money through speculation.
All citizens have suffered from the absence of democracy, ill treatment (amounting to torture) by the police and other government authorities. Their opinions were falsified by rigged up elections, and fake political parties. They also suffered under government sponsored religious riots to undermine the unity of the People.
All this led to a clear loss of status of Egypt that was before a beacon to the peoples of the region, and became a docile executor of American and Zionist policies in the Middle East. The vital question was: Where are the Egyptian Socialists from such a situation? In answer, the undersigned declare to the toiling masses and all other patriotic sections of the Egyptian People our resolve to create The Egyptian Socialist Party that will fulfill its role, along with all other forces of the Egyptian Revolution, in promoting the aspirations of our People for Liberty, Dignity, Social Justice and Progress. This Party shall link its struggle for National Freedom, Democracy, an end of Exploitation of Man by Man, with Progress on all social and cultural and economic fronts.
This initiative comes at a time of great flourishing of the revolutionary capacities of our People that developed its claims from simply toppling an autocratic regime to an all out social movement for progress, democracy and social justice. The Youth that played a prominent role in the Jan. 25th Revolution must find its due position within the ranks of the Socialist Party, and so must our Women who had always been in the first ranks of our freedom fighters. Both categories shall occupy their due rank among the leadership of the Socialist Party.
Egyptian Socialists, all through their long struggles from the 1920’s on, have been at the vanguard of Egyptian freedom fighters. Despite the continued status of illegality and defamation by the authorities, and campaigns of arrests and persecution by the police, Egyptian Socialists have presented a progressive outlook in social, economic, political and cultural fields. They also made a point of standing apart from many so called leftist parties that were in collaboration with the old regime and gave it the semblance of democracy.
Socialism is not just a planned economy of state owned companies, but is a system run by the workers and toiling masses for their own good, and developing with the latest achievements of science and technology.
Similarly, democracy is not just a system of free elections and multi parties, but means full participation of the citizens in running their social, political, economic and cultural life. Such a view extends from the local to the regional and global spheres, and should be a fully participatory continuous process.
THE PERSPECTIVES AND GOALS OF THE EGYPTIAN SOCIALIST PARTY
1. The Party adopts a view of Human Development that includes rebuilding of the industrial and agricultural structures, conservation of natural resources and redistribution of income in favor of the toiling masses. Such policies shall be implemented through full participatory democracy, and popular control;
2. Education and scientific research is fundamental for Development plans and must enjoy full academic freedom under Authorities independent of administrative shackles. Social participation in planning and overseeing scientific research is a governing principle;
3. The Party believes Health Care is not just an important Human Right, but is also essential for successful development efforts which should also enhance popular Health Care. Good health is also a guarantee of national security. The Party thus supports a universal health insurance system to cover all citizens against all illnesses. The cost of this system for the needy shall be borne completely by Government. The system shall be based on a comprehensive non profit structure that may in case of need issue contracts, in full transparency, to private sector medical concerns. Popular control of this system is essential.
4. The Party shall put an end to unequal development between the different governorates, and put emphasis on raising the levels of rural areas that were so far neglected, and that through democratic self rule and democratic elections at all levels of local government;
5. The Party encourages Egyptian Capital as well as foreign investment as long as they participate in and comply with the National Development Plans. Such participation must avoid any monopolistic measures and guarantee the rights of their workers, and accept democratic means of conflict resolution;
6. The Party shall strive to maintain the Ecology, and conserve and develop natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations;
7. The Party considers democracy to be a goal and an instrument at the same time, and shall militate to draw a new democratic constitution for a parliamentary republic based on full equality for all citizens regardless of ethnicity, color, gender or religion. It shall promote democratic principles in all social institutions;
8. The Party considers that democracy should be based on transparency, popular check up and participation in compliance with international human rights instruments ratified by Egypt;
9. The Party considers safeguarding national unity against all kinds of religious or ethnic discrimination an essential duty. Thus the Party rejects all propaganda in favor of sectarian religious regimes, as well as any foreign intervention on religious grounds. Such intervention aims at subverting national unity and shall be actively resisted by the Party which fully respects religious freedoms for all citizens, and provides full protection for such freedoms;
10. The Party militates for a comprehensive cultural revolution that promotes the values of science, equality, dialogue and implements the rights of all marginalized groups such as women, youth, the elderly and the disabled. It promotes cultural freedoms in thought, arts, and the media, and encourages young artists especially in the country side;
11. The Party does not claim itself as the only vanguard of the Egyptian People, but is intent on cooperating with all forces of true progress whether political parties, trade unions and federations of the toiling masses of workers, peasants, government employees, professionals, the unemployed and the disabled, to build a free Society of democracy and social justice and ultimately Socialism. To this end it will form close alliances with all such Movements;
12. The Party believes in the true revolutionary capacities expressed by the Egyptian Youth before, during and after the revolution, and shall strive to give a prominent role within its ranks. It shall provide the best opportunities for their political training to assume their due role in its leadership;
13. The Party strongly militates against capitalist globalization that tries to impose the neo liberal social, economic and political model that brought catastrophic results in Egypt and elsewhere. This model promotes the logic of profit over that of work, speculation over production, selfish individualism over altruism and cooperation. It transforms government into an instrument for the accumulation of wealth for the corrupt minority, while shedding any responsibility for providing services to the people. This model also leads to loss of National Sovereignty under the burden of foreign debts and the dictates of the IMF, the World Bank and WTO, that promote the interests of Imperialist Powers and Trans National Corporations against the Peoples of the Third World;
14. The Party stresses the Arab role of Egypt as both a choice and a necessity in view of the just rights of the Palestinian People in confronting Israeli colonialism that acts as the striking force for the imperialist powers in the region. The Party shall promote the common struggle with other revolutionary Arab forces to regain the rights of the Palestinian and Iraqi Peoples and other threatened minorities in the Arab World. Such a stand shall help regain Egypt’s leading role in the region;
15. The Party shall strive to strengthen the ties of common interest and struggle with Peoples of the Third World against all imperialist projects of domination of world capitalism as exemplified by the US, the EU and Japan. The Party shall strengthen solidarity with progressive forces all over the World, and follow the example of development and socialist experiences;
16. The Party shall strive to build a fully democratic party structure where the minority can exercise its full rights of expression and interaction. The Party mechanisms must be resilient and reject any bureaucratic or dogmatic practices, so as to be able to interact with the mass Movements.
The Parasitic Capitalism that ruled Egypt for the last four decades led the Country to a position of full subordination to the dictates of the US and the International Financial Institutions who own 86% of the foreign debts of Egypt that amount to 173 billion LEg., while the internal debt amounts to 761 billion LEg.
The share of the productive sectors of the economy (agriculture & industry) of the GDP fell in comparison with the services (commerce, transportation, communications, banking and finance, the Suez Canal revenues and the remittances of Egyptians abroad). Despite all the preferential policies, and the privatization of half the public sector companies, the share of the public sector in exports is still equal to that of the private sector. The latter failed to provide employment opportunities for the youth who were driven to mass unemployment or risking their lives in clandestine attempts at emigration. The capitalist model of development thus entered a dead alley, and submerged the Country under the burden of subordination and stagnation of production forces. The need for more just production relations that favor the toiling masses has become primordial. Socialism has thus become the only alternative that can end the crisis of development, and provide the best model for the effective utilization of our resources in order to be able to make use of the advanced technologies relying on a base of well-educated working class, and of local scientific and research structure.
The essential problem of Egypt is Development in favor of the toiling masses and with their active participation. For years we were told that our problem was the rise in population, and millions were squandered on family control projects while humans are our main wealth, if only we give them the proper education and health care and other services. We have the example of such countries as China, India and Malasia where the huge population is a boon to profit from and not to fight off.
Thus what we need is comprehensive social and economic transformation towards Socialist Production Relations with active participation of workers and peasants in planning, management and check up. This can only be achieved through full participatory democracy for the people and not profit. Such Development will suppress the long standing crises we have suffered from for decades. It shall promote public and cooperative ownership of means of production, foster private ownership and foreign investment in so far as they implement the National Development Social and Economic Plan.
The Egyptian Socialist Party therefore militates for:
1. THE ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE
The Party strives to achieve the following goals:
- Transforming the economic structure from one based on services promoting speculation and rent, to one promoting agriculture and industry;
- Developing agriculture for the aim of providing the food needs of the People, enhance productivity and land fertility, and conserving irrigation water as a vital resource not to be squandered. Providing agricultural inputs at subsidized prices, and promoting cooperative marketing of crops;
- Reconstructing Industry to provide all necessities of the people, and gradually develop heavy and communication industries. This should rely on a scientific base to promote egyptian Research and Development;
- Reassessing the past privatization measures and renationalize the companies that suffered from corrupt practices, and punishing those responsible for such corruption. All major projects shall be subject to public ownership and popular check up, especially by their workers;
- Full control of foreign economic relations and exchange transactions, so as to prevent speculation on our currency. The economic plan shall prevent our economy becoming an appendage of TN Corporations, and shall promote national products;
- Take all measures to conserve our environment and natural resources including Nile water, oil and gas, mineral resources and the fertility of our soil.
2. FOR THE WORKERS
- Employment is the right of all able citizens, and those unable to attain that right are entitled to unemployment benefits at the rate of 50% of the minimum wage;
- The Workers and the unemployed have the right to form their independent trade unions free from State control. The Unions have the right to freely write up their statutes, and form into federations on the local, regional and international levels free from state intervention;
- Suppress casual employment for all permanent jobs, and rectifying the cases of all casual workers from date of employment;
- Fix the minimum wage at 1500 LEg. a month, and the total income of the highest paid shall not exceed 15 times the minimum wage;
- Scaling wages with the rate of inflation, and maintain subsidized necessities for the People, and strict control of markets with popular participation, and suppressing monopolistic practices;
- Raise the minimum pension to 1500 LEg. ;
- Raise pensions by an amount commensurate with the rate of inflation;
- The Health Insurance system to cover all pensioners and their dependents at no extra cost;
- Abrogate the present social insurance law, and replace it by a more just one;
- The assets of the social security authority of more than 435 million shall return to the Authority and be invested in secure savings channels;
- The right of pensioners to form affiliations to defend their interests.
3. FOR THE PEASANTS
- Put an end to any encroachment on arable land except for essential services for the benefit of the residents in the country side;
- Fix a maximum on the ownership of agricultural land (old and reclaimed), and reinvigorate the agricultural reform law in this connection. Giving priority in assigning reclaimed land to those who had been ousted from their property under the law of 1992/96.;
- Handing property deeds to all land reform peasants who completed payment of their installments;
- Put an end to ousting peasants from their tenures (especially land reform), and preventing the Wakf Authority from selling its land handed to the Land Reform Authority under the Laws 152 of 1957, and 44 of 1962. These laws entrust the Wakf to manage such land, but not to sell it, and reinstating any peasants ousted from such land;
- Put an end to arbitrary estimates by the Wakf of the selling prices or rent for lands allotted for housing on the Wakf lands, The same prices should rule as for arable land;
- Providing all agricultural inputs at reasonable prices, and provide locally produced improved seeds to stop domination of our agriculture by the TN Corporations of the imperialist countries;
- Put a ceiling on the rents imposed on land tenure taking into consideration the cost of inputs, and ensuring a fair subsistence level for the peasant family. Land tenure contracts should last for a minimum of seven (7) years, and poor peasants (owning less than 3 feddan shall be exempted from land ownership tax;
- Returning the village banks to their original status as cooperative banks that lend peasants at no more than 5% interest rate, and reinvigorating the rural cooperatives to perform their services as before. Put an end to law suits against poor peasants (less than 3 feddan) for failure to pay their debts, and release of those imprisoned for such failure;
- Annul all unlawful measures to register land tenure in the names of lanowners and not the tenant peasants who are cultivating such land. Reinstate art. 90 of the Law 53 of the year 1966 in this connection;
- Annul the unlawful measures taken to register peasant members of village cooperatives as agricultural laborers, and reinstate them to their original status;
- Annul all measures taken to restrict the rights of peasants to create free trade unions and peasant unions;
- Stop any attempt at privatizing the supply of irrigation water and forcing poor peasants to pay the price of this service. Treat irrigation and potable water as a public utility under supervision of the beneficiaries.
4. PUBLIC UTILITIES AND SERVICES
- Raise public expenditure on Education, Public Health, Housing and Public communications for the benefit of the working masses in towns and countryside;
- Promote the education and culture of human development, and full respect of human rights and freedoms. Also stress the values of patriotism and respect of national heroes and past fights for national freedom, also valur of equal citizenship;
- Making public education really free at all stages, and develop curricula to enhance technical capabilities, and put emphasis on pure and applied science in order to catch up with the scientific and technological revolution. Make higher education available for every body in accordance with their capacity. Enhance the professional capacities of the teaching profession, and raise their financial status and remuneration;
- Develop Higher education and allocate enough resources, and promote values of democracy in campuses. Free election of all directors of universities, deans of faculties and heads of sections, as well as free elections for student federations and unions;
- Promote freedom of scientific research, and provide enough resources for researchers working on applied scientific advances for the benefit of our industrial structures and our social needs;
- The right of all citizens for access and participation in cultural life;
- Raise the budget of Public Health Service to 15% of GDP, and provide free health insurance to all citizens;
- Integrate all public hospitals and other health utilities into one non profit service structure, and raise standard of services rendered;
- The Government shall provide adequate housing for the popular classes against a just portion of the minimum wage to be agreed upon socially, through government and cooperative non profit projects;
- All housing shall be provided with all necessary potable and sewage water systems, gas and electricity networks, adequate roads and public transport and communication systems. Such systems shall be provided for the popular slum housing areas, with participation of the inhabitants;
- Annul immediately the so called Cairo 2050 Project, and stop all evacuation of popular housing areas to be replaced by speculative projects;
5. DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM
- Promulgating a new democratic Constitution for a Parliamentary Republic based on free citizenship and non discrimination. The Constitution to be drawn up by a freely elected constitutional assembly;
- Freedom of religious belief and practice guaranteed for all citizens;
- Free elections at all levels of local government from base up to Town Chiefs and Governors. The popular Councils to oversee all public expenditure;
- Abrogate all freedom restricting laws (emergency and martial laws, trade union and political party laws) as well as all exceptional courts;
- Guarantee freedom of protest action such as strikes sit ins and peaceful demonstration;
- Guarantee freedom of political action, and of association in parties, trade unions, federations and alliances for all categories of citizens;
- Guarantee freedom of opinion and public expression;
- Transform the police into a civil service subject to control of the Judiciary and the People.
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Algeria: Towards a common history
Half a century after independence, Algerians are still waiting for the history of that period which would enable them to understand where they come from, who they are and figure out where they are headed on the basis of objective facts and signposts. It is after all the history of Algeria that has made them who they are today. But to date, whether at school or elsewhere, they have only had access to stories or snippets of redacted stories forced upon them by the direct or indirect ‘representatives’ of the various conquerors, ruling powers and other enemies of Algeria.
Interwoven into this is the notion, depending on the needs or the authors, of an official history, a history of the defeated and a history of the victors. The Algerians therefore are still desperately seeking a history that would be their common heritage, which they can identify with and understand their own identity. As the saying goes, a people without history are a people without humanity. This search alone symbolises the instability that continues to plague the country, as well as the prejudices, misunderstandings and animosity it still triggers, both within and outside the country, especially in France and the uncertain future for its people, both individually and collectively. Because in Algeria as elsewhere, contemporary historical processes most often have their origins in the near or distant past. The present is pregnant with the past. That is why an objective response to these questions is so urgent.
Certainly there has been a lot of serious research with respect to this or that period, this or that event, leader or political party, conducted with utmost scientific rigour by several generations of historians. Salluste, Tacite or Tite-Live during the Roman period; there was the brilliant Ibn Khaldoun in the 14th century. The Ottoman period was chronicled by Diego de Haedo and Henri Delmas de Grammont. The French colonial conquest has been described by Hamdan Khodia, Amar Said Boulifa and Stephane Gsell. More recently, there have been important contributions from a plethora of writers one could call the ‘historians of decolonisation’. These include Charles-Andre Julien, Gilbert Meynier, Claude Liauzu, Fernand Braudel, Charles-Robert Ageron, Mahfoud Kaddache, Mohammed Harbi, Benjamin Stora, Merrouche Lemnouer, Malika Hachid and many others.
Despite this, there still isn’t a global and consensual version of Algerian history that everybody subscribes to, neither in the way it is perceived nor in its content. This is probably normal given the passions and contradictory interests of those who recount this history. It is also true that to try and put together such a consensual vision is both a gigantic and perilous, almost hopeless task, and even an army of scientists wouldn’t be able to come up with something without quarrelling endlessly amongst each other. One has to be humble therefore and proceed calmly, by adding successive and complementary touches and using appropriate methodologies, including those normally outside the domain of historians, highlighting convergences without masking divergences. In any event, given the wars of memory waged on the basis of selective amnesia which mask so many ‘burning’ reminiscences, and the attempts to manipulate history which periodically excite the milieu of politicians and the media on both sides of the Mediterranean, it is clear that a serenely written objective history of Algeria is essential for the future of the country and its people.
Even if it is true, as historian Gilbert Meynier suggests, that ‘there was no Algeria in antiquity, or before antiquity, because nations and modern states did not exist at that time’, it doesn’t change the fact that there was simultaneously a territory and its geographic reality, and a people and their political, economic and social reality. This in itself is not specific to Algeria or original. The same could be said of France (the first traces of statehood only appeared after the 15th century), the USA (the declaration of independence on 4 July 1776 was the act that inaugurated the American nation) and is even more relevant to Italy (the nation only came into being in 1870). In other words, in Algeria as elsewhere, there was an extremely ancient historic reality that goes beyond what is generally understood by the concept of the nation state. According to Malika Hachid, this goes back at least to ‘the Lower Palaeolithic, a period also known as the civilisation of the burin because this tool was typical of that era. This means there was a human presence in the Tassili region in very ancient times as these tools date back to two and half million years ago.’ Gilbert Meynier also estimates that this region was inhabited more than two million years ago, one of the cradles of humanity, adding that the ‘Neolithic revolution occurred 10,000 to 8,000 years BCE, probably before Europe.’
So, instead of squabbling over the definition of this territory, it would be more profitable to study the evolution of this historic reality of what progressively began to be known as Thamourth Imazighen, Berberie, Numidie, Dzaier, El Djazaiir or Algeria, depending on the language used and the way the people who lived through that period wrote about it. It is important that the distinction be maintained between the historic reality – it is illusory and probably useless to identify a precise point of departure – and scientific knowledge of that reality as it is conceptualised by scholars with their points of departure, epochs, events and other geographic, demographic, economic, political and military chronologies.
That is why – though I am not a historian – I have taken the risk of writing this article on the history of Algeria from a different angle – heritage. I am not certain that my expertise in economy, especially the history of economic thought, as well as my long experience with economic and political issues in Algeria, will suffice to give credibility to my contribution to scientific discourse. One could argue that this accumulated experience which makes me who I am, ‘a son of my times’ (Hegel) like each and every person and the baggage that I bring will inevitably impact on my analysis and perhaps prevent me from transcending my own political, even ideological convictions, thereby making me another participant in the intellectual squabbles that characterise historical reflection and theoretical debate. On the other hand, the fact that I am a relative outsider to the discipline could open up theoretical benefits for me and my readers – the advantage of not having any historical a priori for example, or the freedom of using less ‘traditional’ means and methods than those used by historians. Finally, it allows me to participate, alongside other historians, in the debunking of the ‘manipulators’ of history who proceed with negative subjectivity and propagate falsehoods in order to protect or serve hidden interests which as a rule subvert and run contrary to the legitimate aspirations of the Algerian people.
I am convinced that in this field, like in several others, a multidisciplinary approach is indispensable if one wants to understand the complexity of historic processes. My demarche is to understand things through reason and not affect; it is also an invitation to dialogue and collective mobilisation. For these reasons – and historians will understand this – this work is not strictly speaking a historian’s book. It would be pure pretentiousness on my part to present it as such. This is an essay which hopes to be a contribution to the identification of the essential elements and the main dynamics which I think have shaped the history of Algeria. This is one element among so many others that make up the ‘history of Algeria as the heritage of Algerians’.
From this perspective, my purpose is to look at historical heritage as content at a given moment in the movement of Algerian history. Throughout this essay, the historical narrative I present by juxtaposing a multitude of historical facts and taken from diverse sources is aimed at illustrating and identifying the sources and mechanisms which over the centuries allowed for the construction of a specific history, whose content represents the historical heritage – an interesting exercise given that even today, because it is discontinuous and manipulated inside and outside the country, this heritage has not yet been assumed and continues to divide Algerians and set one group against the other. Another of my convictions is that historical heritage possesses a key specificity – it is the only common heritage that can in fact unite Algerians. The history of Algeria is basically the history of individuals and the history of everybody. From this perspective, like Algeria itself, it is one and many, indivisible and non-negotiable. Therefore, there cannot be, as some have suggested, a ‘supermarket’ of history where each could choose, more or less for free, what items to put in the caddy, select their bit of history, and by the same token deprive others, make them feel guilty and humiliate, attack or subjugate them.
But the task of convincing Algerians that an objective rendering of this history is possible and that it is their history is an onerous one given the number of versions of Algerian history that are in currency. For many reasons, and not only methodological ones, the history of Algeria that is on display in scholarly works and specialised books, echoes of which can be found in historical literature and political discourse, is a truncated one, reduced, falsified, tweaked around and used as internal and external circumstances dictate. This has led to a situation where even today, we do not have a history of Algeria that has been scientifically and democratically ‘recognised’, but a multitude of partial histories, incomplete and partial, more or less ‘privatised’, ‘monopolised’, even confiscated by some people, groups or institutions inside and outside Algeria.
Under such circumstances, can Algerians everywhere have the same perception? It would appear not. One only has to look at the diversity of heritage exhibited or claimed by one or the other group and against each other. Most of these versions, consciously or unconsciously, are based on a selective reading of history, retaining only that which comforts their interpretation and consigning the rest, including whole chapters essential to Algeria’s historical heritage, to the dustbins of history. Small wonder there is so much of truncated and misleading accounts of heritage around, sometimes even fictional or artificially constructed descriptions that suit the needs of political, economic, legal or ideological lobbies. But historical truth cannot be subordinated to this kind of logic. A historical heritage is not an inheritance to be divided up amongst the ‘legitimate’ or ‘self-proclaimed’ heirs. Historical heritage is indivisible and belongs to the Algerian people, to be handed down to succeeding generations to be further enriched. In other words, understanding this heritage has to go beyond mere knowledge or memorisation – what is at stake here is for Algerians to individually and collectively appropriate this heritage in order to transmit it and the mark they have left on it to future generations.
So what is this history? How has it been constructed? History, and that of Algeria in particular, is a complex process with stops and starts that result from the momentum of people and events, whose bedrock is impacted by transformations over time and resistance movements of rival interest groups. History is a flux where the older, traditional base which anchors the society coexists with challenges to the established order and colliding internal and external interests – all these elements, divergent or complementary, play a decisive role in the making of history. For these reasons, history cannot be linear. It is constituted of advances and retreats, victory and defeat, progress and regression. The Algerians have inherited a history in movement that is not frozen or immobile.
The first chapter, which draws extensively on the work of several historians, is an attempt to clarify the relationship between historical reality, memory, history and heritage, before identifying the fundamental elements of this long, complex and sometimes contradictory heritage. The analysis shows that historical reality is first and foremost something lived, signs of which can be seen in rural and urban vestiges, archives (legal, economic, political, military), souvenirs, autobiographies and works of art that try to bear witness. But this history is also (if not principally) accessible through scientific research (notably that of historians) which attempts a rational account of all these life experiences – History with a capital H. From this angle, it is clear that this history, while integrating accounts of peoples’ stories, subjective and passionate, is fundamentally different from them. Because it proceeds from a scientific standpoint, it offers an objective representation of this reality. Moreover, as Pierre Nora points out: ‘History unites whereas memory divides.’ That is why it is the foundation of historical heritage. It legitimises it. Research has shown that from its earliest origins dating back to Carthage and Rome, the land, its wealth and people have been the object of predatory greed.
Taking into account the invasions, wars and other conquests sparked by greed, one can identify four key processes that have structured the history of Algeria from its inception: the process of settlements, transformations, resistance and internal rivalries. One could say that the Roman invasion and occupation sparked the emergence of Berber society. The research reveals the process of settlement-transformation based on tribal allegiance, visceral attachment to territory and language while remaining open to new ideas and exchange. It also brings to light a society that jealously protected its independence and liberty, always ready to repel greedy predators but fatally weakened by recurrent internal rivalries. This is to say that both opposition and submission to covetous outsiders are inscribed in a double contradiction – on the one hand, the movements of settlement-transformation which has resulted in the historical bedrock of the country, in terms of its territory, its people, social organisation, languages, economy and religions, and on the other, the dialectic of resistance and rivalry which marked each period and whose aims, objectives and results left an indelible impact on the process of settlement-transformation. One can see how these processes merged or collided with each other over the course of time with their corollary of mutually complementary or hostile relationships that formed and dissolved. Sometimes peaceful, but most often violent, tumultuous and tormented, these developments have made a major contribution to the specificity and meaning of Algerian history. They have served as catalysts for the course of history, but have also served to put a brake or diverting a movement from its original direction. Naturally, this history is also the business of men and women from diverse horizons who are or have been the actors of history. They are the subjects who carry the repository of the past, of the changes, resistance and rivalries. From this perspective, they are the key elements of historical heritage. Indeed, they are the very personification, and each in their own manner contribute to the construction of that heritage. An analysis which keeps all these contradictory factors in mind, individual and collective accounts of life experiences, permits us to understand the singularity and diversity of men and women, their real contribution to the history of Algeria and to their common heritage.
The second part takes off from this initial identification of Algeria’s historical heritage and attempts to understand how the Berber–Arab and Muslim heritage of the Berberie. The study shows the evolution of Berber and then Berber–Arab society through the juxtaposition of and interaction between ‘Berberness’, Islam and ‘Arabness’ from antiquity to the Ottoman period. The social set-up that resulted from this first foundation is significant. It lays bare one of the main underpinnings of Algerian history. By the end of the 14th century, the people had become mainly Berber–Arab and had converted massively to monotheist Islam. Plagued by internecine rivalries which were exacerbated by a mainly feudal, hence unproductive economy, Berberie – empires or Berber-Arab kingdoms – went into rapid decline and its economy was in its death throes. Weakened and marginalised and unable to resist the marauders from Christian countries, especially Spain, a few Berber tribes turned to the Barberousse brothers for help. This was to be a move fraught with consequences. To avoid Spanish domination, two of the Berber kingdoms (eastern and central) fell into the hands of the Ottomans. Against a backdrop of ‘an economy based on sea piracy’ and increased fiscal pressure on the tribes, internal rivalries intensified which in turn whetted Christian appetites. And with a Europe in full bloom thanks to the ‘discovery’ of the New World and two industrial revolutions, the central Berberie kingdom, which had by now become the Muslim kingdom of El Djazaiir, was about to enter one of its bleakest periods.
The third part looks at the evolution of this historical heritage in the light of resistance to France’s colonial adventure, which began in 1830. Essentially, this lays bare the violent and systematic destruction of the Berber–Arab and Muslim foundation of Algeria. Genocidal intentions aside, the process was marked by unprecedented brutality which resulted in huge massacres and the dispossession of huge swathes of territory and devastated the social, political and tribal organisation of the country, as well as its demographic structure and economy. The colonial chapter was marked by resistance and recurrent rivalries and the economic and political structures laid down by the colonial masters, the agrarian and financial capitalism introduced by them gave rise to grave injustices and inequalities which in turn provoked irrevocable economic, social and political schisms. A thorny question was which sections of the Algerian bedrock resistance movements could mobilise in order to oppose colonial rule? Why did one have to wait for the spark of November 1954 to finally set the independence movement into motion? Essentially, the analysis reveals the permanence of the underlying Berber notion of Thamourth (tribal territory) until Ottoman domination when the rapid Islamisation imposed on the El Djazaiir kingdom replaced that concept with the nation or ummah, the Islamic notion of commons or the community. The French tried to replace this with the colonial version of nation with its categories of ‘true’ and ‘naturalised’ French citizens and the indigenous Muslim subjects. Two major resistance movements emerged right at the outset of colonial conquest but they did not agree on the objectives of resistance. The dey Ahmed of Constantine wanted to go back to the kingdom of El Djazaiir and the ummah, whereas the Emir Abdelkader wanted to wage a jihad and create a new Muslim state, cut off both from French colonialism and the Islamic ummah (whose decision making centre was still in Istanbul). At the same time, this evolution of the nation had a profound impact on the form of state at any given time, going from a caliphate to monarchy and vice versa to culminate in the colonial republic. This in turn was the victim of its dichotomised structure (citizens/subjects) and a national resistance movement emerged despite ongoing rivalries between ‘indigenous’ factions. The question was what national foundation could be invoked to seal the rupture between the nation and the French colonial state.
The fourth part deals with the Algerian war of independence, which in fact incorporated three simultaneous conflicts. The first and most important was the declaration of 1 November 1954, which called for resistance to colonial occupation. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives, some after severe torture and summary executions. Several resistance leaders were killed during the ‘Battle of Algiers’. But the resistance held out and the head of the French state, General de Gaulle, was forced to enter into negotiations, which culminated in national independence in July 1962. The second conflict played out internally, pitting the FLN-ALN against the MNA, a political movement created by Messali Hadj, the father of Algerian nationalism after the PPA–MTLD crisis. Messali had refused to join the armed struggle in 1954. Other resistance groups took a similar position but joined the FLN when war broke out and before 1956. Messali still couldn’t make up his mind and was miffed that war had been declared without consulting him. This internal struggle also caused tens of thousands of casualties before the MNA was finally defeated. The third conflict, which started in 1956, was between comrades of the revolution and members of the FLN-ALN. Ignoring the principle of the political taking precedence over the military which they had agreed to at the famous Soummam meeting, this conflict led to dozens of political assassinations. The worst was that of Abane Ramdane, the organiser of the revolution who was strangled to death in Morocco. This final conflict was to have profound consequences for the independence movement, especially during the bloody summer of 1962. The army commanded by Houari Boumediene took power by force and installed Ben Bella as the head of state and of the FLN. This only confirmed that the contradictory logic of resistance and rivalry was to continue to dog Algerian history.
The fifth part focuses on the period after independence. It examines how post-independence Algeria simultaneously remained rooted in the four preceding historical phases while radically distancing itself from each of them. The result was that at independence, Algeria was perceived as an Arab–Muslim nation while the republican state itself incorporated its main elements from the kingdom of El Djazaiir under Ottoman rule, as well as from the French Jacobin republic and the Soviet ‘socialist system’. In economic terms this meant a return to a predatory and feudal system under the pretext of nationalisation. At the same time, tribal and regional pressures deepened political rivalries. A breeze of liberty seemed to blow over Algeria at the end of the 1980s when the government of Mouloud Hamrouche embarked on a series of wide-ranging reforms. But these were short-lived, and then came Islamic terrorism. One of the first victims was President Mohamed Boudiaf, whose assassination in June 1992 sparked years of bloodletting. The 1990s were the killing years and thousands of people were killed and disappeared as the army battled Islamic terrorism. It was thanks to the efforts of President Liamine Zeroual that the bloodshed finally ended after a compromise was reached with the AIS (Islamic Salvation Army). There followed a period of ‘civilian concord’ and national reconciliation under the leadership of the new head of state, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. However, despite a partial return to security and peace, this period has seen a new spate of revolts, scandals and riots, which shows how troubled the country really is. Despite the country’s immense wealth, with even more money pouring in from the exploitation of oil and gas, the vast majority of the population is mired in poverty and despair. How has one reached this point? How do the dynamics of resistance and rivalry work? Which part or parts of the national bedrock have they been able to tap into? Does this explain what several scholars call the incomplete rupture of the movement of national liberation?
Many questions remain. What has Algeria become today? What historical heritage have the Algerians inherited? To what extent does this historical heritage explain the exacerbation of social inequalities and internecine rivalries? More concretely, do Algerians have their fundamental freedoms and are they able to exercise them? The evidence suggests not. So apart from the suicidal status quo, what historical perspectives can Algerians derive inspiration from? Alongside its Berber–Arab and Muslim identity, Algeria also has to embrace democratic principles. Only this can transform the logic of resistance–rivalry into resistance–democratic rivalry, the only way for a peaceful resolution of conflicts inherent to all societies. This was what was pledged on 1 November 1954 – a promise to value the country’s historical heritage and contribute to the history of the future Algeria – where free men and women live in a free country.
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* Translated from French by Sputnik Kilambi.
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How might things move forward in Libya?
I ended the last column ’Whose dictator is Gaddafi?’ with the question: what now? How might things move forward in Libya? Before I deal with the question it is important to remind ourselves that Libya is a neocolonial state, and Gaddafi has objectively been a neocolonial dictator for global finance capital, even though subjectively he was and is anti-imperialist. The empire might have accommodated him, and indeed did rehabilitate him after his turnaround in 1999, over a decade ago, but the ‘Arab spring’ upset the programme of the empire, and it had to quickly take a u-turn and ditch Gaddafi.
So what now? The empire, with the connivance of sections of the Libyan population, had hoped to get rid of Gaddafi quickly. The limited ‘United Nations’ no-fly zone operation has metamorphosed into a ‘NATO’ (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) military operation, which is now in violation of its original mandate. The empire, in its hubris and delusion, had imagined for a while that the UN might extend its authority to allow ‘boots on the ground’. But this failed. Russia and China, who have veto power in the Security Council, argue that the NATO countries have gone far beyond their mandate. Gaddafi, the empire’s erstwhile dictator in Libya, whom they cuddled and kissed after 1999 turn around, has proven to be more resilient than expected. He is back on his anti-imperialist nationalist trail. The imperial war machine has failed to dislodge him.
Since March 2011 NATO has so far flown over 6,000 sorties into Libya, 2,400 of which involving bombing strikes. This is a staggering number by any measure. Faced with a protracted war, the empire is now using subterfuge, deceit and double-speak to illegally extend its military operation in Libya. It kills individuals targeted from the air but nonetheless denies doing so and continues to play the myth that it is only ‘protecting the civilians’. This is a blatant lie. It brazenly bombed Gaddafi’s personal compound in Tripoli on 22 March, hoping to kill him. Like in the case of Osama bin Laden, the empire has an awesomely simplistic and gruesome military strategy – cut off the head of the snake and the rest of the body will slither or wither away. During the 22 March bombing, however, the empire succeeded only in killing some of Gaddafi’s children, in what can without fear of contradiction be described as a criminal act. This ought to motivate Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the ICC (the International Criminal Court) to investigate and charge NATO leaders for criminal acts. Of course, we know this will not happen. In the international arena impunity has only one face, the imperial face.
So back to the question: what now of Libya?
Although it sounds like a cliché, it is a truism that ‘the future of Libya lies in the hands of the people of Libya’. Even the empire hypocritically endorses the principle – it has to, or else it will have no legitimacy, no excuse, for its action in Libya. But the fact of the matter is that the empire cannot allow self-determination to its neocolonies. That, by definition, would be the end of the neocolonies, and hence the death of the empire. The empire must divide and rule.
In Libya it has actively encouraged a section of the people to fight a proxy war for the empire. To put it starkly, Benghazi (a province) is fighting a war against Tripoli (the centre) on behalf of the empire. The French were active in Benghazi even before the UN Security Council resolution, and were the first imperial country to recognise the National Transitional Council (NTC) at Benghazi. But few countries have followed suit, and so, technically, the Gaddafi regime remains the only legally constituted actor in the conduct of Libya’s diplomatic relations. Against him, the empire uses ‘the people’ as an ideological metaphor to describe the entire ‘nation’ that is supposed to have revolted against Gaddafi. This is another myth. The media story, for example, that ‘the pro-democracy fighters in Misurata are engaged in trench warfare against Gaddafi’ is a loaded expression. It is aimed at conveying the message that the ‘pro-democracy’ forces are holding out against the dictator. It is also aimed to prepare the psychological and political ground to justify the empire’s open and clandestine military support to ‘the people’. The question to then ask is ‘which people’? Who among the NTC at Benghazi represent the ‘people’? The ‘people’ is a simplified presentation of a complex reality, because there must be people even in Benghazi who must have realised by now that they are hostages of the empire, that they cannot run the show on their own without the empire. But these ‘rebels among the rebels’ (if this is what they may be called) are probably marginalised by the coalition of political forces around the NTC at Benghazi. It is a complex issue; not as simple as the empire and its media makes out to be.
The hard reality is that as long as the empire dictates the terms and means of engagement with Gaddafi, ‘the people’ will never determine their future. It is as simple as that. When a nation has surrendered its sovereignty to the empire, it can recover it only when it liberates itself from the empire. When the streets revolted against the regime of Gaddafi, it was also revolting against the imperial order. But now the situation is out of the people’s control. The empire has taken over the task of removing Gaddafi from power and, apparently, helping ‘the people’ to put in power a more ‘democratic regime’. This new regime, the empire will make sure, is bound so tightly to the apron strings of the empire that it continues to service the empire’s economic and strategic interests in the region – including access to oil, stopping the inflow of boatloads of refugees to Europe and, above all, the protection of Israel, the empire’s outpost in the region against threats posed by, for example, Hamas, Syria and Iran.
So, then, back to the question: what is the possible way forward for the nation of Libya? Here, it might be helpful for the nation (a better term than ‘people’) to take a leaf from the experience of the nation of Palestine to move forward in their struggle for national self-determination. Palestine is an occupied nation. The people of Palestine cannot negotiate with Israel as long as their lands are occupied. And yet, this is what the empire has been encouraging the Palestinians to do for the last 60 years. It is an impossible situation. How can Palestine negotiate as an equal when it is occupied? The empire has come in to ‘mediate’ but it is not a neutral mediator. It is not an honest broker. Countries like Norway that have brokered negotiations between Palestine and Israel act as surrogates of the empire, in fact, as an integral part of the imperial system. The so-called Oslo Accord mediated by Norway, for example, was a partisan process on behalf of collective imperialism.
As Ziyad Clot, one-time adviser to the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), says: ‘The “peace negotiations” were a deceptive farce whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU. Far from enabling a negotiated and fair end to the conflict, the pursuit of the Oslo process deepened Israeli segregationist policies and justified the tightening of the security control imposed on the Palestinian population, as well as its geographical fragmentation. Far from preserving the land on which to build a state, it has tolerated the intensification of the colonisation of the Palestinian territory. Far from maintaining a national cohesion, the process I participated in, albeit briefly, was instrumental in creating and aggravating divisions among Palestinians. In its most recent developments, it became a cruel enterprise from which the Palestinians of Gaza have suffered the most. Last but not least, these negotiations excluded for the most part the great majority of the Palestinian people: the seven million Palestinian refugees. My experience over those 11 months in Ramallah confirmed that the PLO, given its structure, was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests’ (Ziyad Clot, ‘Why I blew the whistle about Palestine’, The Guardian, Saturday 14 May 2011).
Of course, nothing remains the same forever. Even after 60 years of sustained efforts by the empire to divide the nation of Palestine, to compel them to negotiate ‘peace terms’ with Israel with ‘aid’ funds and graft, and to force it accept its apartheid existence, the people of Palestine are finally united (at least for now, for the empire and Israel will continue their efforts to divide them). Hamas and Al Fatah have buried their hatchets, and are now (at the time of writing this piece) presenting a common front to Israel and the empire – what the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu disingenuously described as ‘a victory for terrorism’ and a ‘mortal blow to peace’.
A further word of advice from Ziyad Clot on Palestine applies to Libya too. Here is what he says: ‘Finally, I feel reassured that the people of Palestine overwhelmingly realise that the reconciliation between all their constituents must be the first step towards national liberation. The Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians in Israel and the Palestinians living in exile have a common future. The path to Palestinian self-determination will require the participation of all in a renewed political platform.’
The people of Libya will eventually also realise that the contradiction between ‘Tripoli’ and ‘Benghazi’ is a secondary contradiction between the peoples, fuelled by the empire in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention’ which is selectively applied in the case of Libya, but not, for instance, in the case of Bahrain or Yemen. They will realise that their principal AND immediate contradiction is with the empire. In the case of Palestine, the new regime in Egypt played a catalytic role in bringing Hamas and Fatah together. Perhaps they can play a similar role in Libya. Egypt can also play a role in mobilising the Arab League against NATO’s illegal bombing of Libya. Following the bombing of Tripoli, its Secretary General Amr Moussa said that the league’s approval of a no-fly zone on 12 March was based on a desire to prevent Gaddafi’s air force from attacking civilians and not designed to endorse the intense bombing and missile attacks — including on Tripoli and on Libyan ground forces.
The people of Libya must apply their own historical wisdom in resolving differences among themselves. The wisdom of the Orient is deep. One is the value of patience, especially in the desert. It takes a long time to reach your destination on camels, and you must prepare your journey properly and with care. Also, the desert is the arena for wars and fierce battles. But an oasis is different. An oasis is not only a break with the desert but also a neutral place of sanctity and peace inhabited mostly by women and children. Visitors never enter the life of the oasis; they leave the people in the oasis alone. It is taboo for visitors to interfere with the hospitality of the inhabitants of the oasis. This is not so with the Western empire. This is an empire historically born out of pillage and plunder. It is an empire of globalisation of interference; in this empire there is no room for an oasis of decency. The empire believes, wrongly, that it can bomb Afghanistan and Libya to force submission. The Western empire is an uncivilised culture. It displays its crass culture when it rejoices at the killing of Gaddafi’s children in their homes. The empire does not understand that though you can hold a grain of sand in the palm of hand and puff it away, it has taken millions of years to make the sand. Eastern civilisation is still young, but it has been there a long time, longer than the Western civilisation; you cannot just puff it away like a grain of sand. The empire is oblivious to the finer aspects of civilisation; it does not realise that though it may win in the short run, it may lose in the long run; what goes around comes around like a catapult.
And so back to Libya again. The Libyans must get back to their ‘oases culture’, find a place where they can leave their guns and camels outside the tents and sort out their differences and unite against the empire – like in Palestine.
The next question is whether there is a role for the larger international community in this sordid war? By the international community I do not mean the empire’s ‘coalition of the willing’. By it I mean the community outside the war coalition. How can the leaders of the Third World help for example? After the initial UN Security Council resolution, these countries have unfortunately allowed the United Nations to be used by the empire, with the blatant complicity of the current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. They must take control of the political and diplomatic processes of the UN.
How might they do so? First, they must bring the Libya issue back to the council for a review of the original mandate. Failing that they could bring the matter before the General Assembly under the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution which the Americans had first used in 1950 to get the UN’s endorsement for action in Korea. The UNGA resolution 377 (V), the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution, states that in cases where the UN Security Council fails to act owing to disagreement between its five permanent members, the matter ‘shall’ be addressed by the General Assembly, using the mechanism of the emergency special session. Secondly, the leaders of the Third World must also review the Security Council resolution 1674 of 28 April 2006. This resolution reaffirms paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document containing, among other things, the concept of the ‘responsibility to protect’, or R2P, which has been seriously abused by the empire in the case of Libya.
This, the concept of the ‘responsibility to protect’ and the concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’, are matters that I shall take up in the next issue of Pambazuka. The imperial dictators are inflicting carnage on Libya with complete impunity. What we are witnessing in Libya is not ‘audacity of hope’ but audacity of madness. This carnage and madness must stop.
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Tunisia: The ‘land of free people’
We stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere. High on a hill was a message in Arabic spelled out in white stones: ‘Welcome to Regueb, the land of free people'. Our busload of activists from the World Social Forum had reached the heartlands of Tunisia's democratic revolution. Around the next corner we came to Regueb itself, a town of only 8,000 people and the most fully mobilised, creative political space I have ever experienced.
Its tiny hall was filled with the spirit of early trade unionism. You could imagine chartists and jacobins speaking like this, as the speakers launched poetic internationalist visions under the linked-hands red-crescent logo of the UGTT, the General Union of Tunisian Workers which had brought us here. Two young women and three young men were killed by police bullets in these streets.
‘The tragic force of this uprising belongs to all humanity. That's why we gave our kids. Your visit shows that the revolution continues, it isn't just for Regueb and it doesn't stop there. In this little hall you see pictures of martyrs of 1952, people from here who died in the anti-colonial struggle; then you see our hand-painted Palestinian banner. This small hall is part of our daily life, home for our activists whether from Palestine or Regueb.’
The syndicalistes spoke beneath portraits of past labour heroes, while over the ceiling and walls were dotted far more recent images, CGI-inspired by the Palestinian intifada and increasingly the Tunisians' own. When young people left the meeting it was only to go outside and sing 'songs of the revolution'. We came out to find them under a magnificent photocollage of their lost friends, joined by Senegalese guest Cheikh Tidiane Dieye to perform a scurrilous number about the kleptocrats of the old regime.
As we walked out through Regueb an elderly woman in traditional dress came up to me, embraced me personally and asked me to stay. She was speaking Arabic but we understood each other. So she saw that now – with a jolt – we all had to get on the bus again. It is my final memory of the unique political space in Regueb, 'the land of free people' where every single person seems to be finding a new voice.
It came as no surprise to hear that one week later, Regueb's citizens came together and created a new town council to represent them in this dangerous gap between the fall of the old dictatorship in January and contested new elections in July. Nor to see pictures on YouTube of Regueb women from all ages and backgrounds filling their streets at the start of the Arab Spring, under banners spelling 'Je suis Femme, ne touche pas ma Liberte'.
But what could we do as solidarity visitors? All sorts of ideas and actions have already started and can be seen and joined. It took another guest from Dakar, Demba Moussa Dembele, to add 'We witnessed'. This is what the people we met are expecting from us: 'a proof that you care about the Tunisian revolution and the weaponless people who faced a criminal dictatorship, and sacrificed their lives and were injured, so that we can raise our voices today and say what we think should be said.' These are the words of Mohamed Salah Abidi, whose son Shadi was at the heart of the 'internet revolution' in Regueb and was disabled by bullets from a police sniper.
Those of us who visited from Europe have another obligation, to keep the gates of the fortress open. Leading trade unionist Alessandra Mecozzi from the radical Italian union, FIOM told our hosts in Regueb: 'We thank you and have great, great trust in you. We'll push our governments to freeze bank accounts and repatriate the money stolen from you. We don't want a closed Europe – we're ashamed of our government saying it wants to deport young Tunisians. Europe must welcome all these people.'
Here are some of the voices of the Tunisian revolution. We must keep our ears open as well as our borders.
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Memories on African liberation (1956 - 1975): Part 2
The year 1960 was of crucial importance to the National Liberation of Africa, not only because the Declaration of Independence of All Colonised Peoples was adopted by the United Nations on 14 December, but also because it was the year where much was achieved in the way of clarifying the difference between the concepts of formal independence and real national liberation.
In 1960 the Algerian revolution was advancing despite the fierce repression of the French colonialists after their recent defeat in Vietnam. The Algerians had created their government in exile, and that government had a strong representation in Egypt, and was recognised by Nasser as a legitimate government of an independent country. Before that France had maintained that Algeria was simply a French department, and tried to gain as many votes as possible in the UN to corroborate its claim.
Then all of a sudden it granted ‘independence’ to ten French colonies in Africa, hoping to muster their votes in the UN General Assembly, together with some other British colonies granted independence that year. All these newly independent African countries had to decide their position towards the French claim about Algeria, but only a few of them rallied to the strong stand of Egypt that year, despite the fact that world public opinion was slowly accepting the principle of independence for Algeria.
France had taken a violent attitude towards Guinea two years earlier when Sekou Toure refused the constitution proposed by France and unilaterally declared his country’s independence. I recall now the great impact of the articles published by the thinker Ahmed Baha Ed Dine on his return from the celebrations of Guinea’s independence that year. Sekou Toure was a trade union leader, and his clear understanding of the exploitation of colonialism and class struggle was an eye opener for our generation on the essence of liberation from colonialism. This differed greatly from our attitude towards ‘Mau-Mau’ resistance in Kenya under Kenyatta which bore a folkloric guise.
The national liberation countries in Africa were limited to Ghana, Guinea and Mali in sub-Saharan Africa, and Egypt and the Maghreb in North Africa together with the Algerian government in exile. This small group took a distinctive attitude in supporting the popular regime of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo against the imperialist supported Cazavubu and Moise Tshombe. I remember the workers and students’ demonstrations in Cairo against the Belgian Embassy. The name of Tshombe was considered an insult in Egypt at the time.
I must stress here that Egypt’s role in this liberation struggle was not just some fiery speeches of the type common in the Arab world but a serious sense of national responsibility that led to mobilisation of our military forces during the Congolese crisis, and involvement of our diplomatic personnel. I remember how Mohammad Abdel Aziz Ishak accompanied Lumumba’s widow and children, who were smuggled out of Congo by our diplomatic staff after the assassination. They were given the full support of the president, and I was detached to arrange for their accommodation in Cairo, and the proper schooling for the children. Nasser always cited the example of the Congo to stress Egypt’s commitment to help all liberation struggles and make sacrifices if necessary, and the Casablanca group mentioned above supported his position. This was the main topic among Egyptian public opinion, that made fun of Tshombe being ‘sequestrated’ in the Republican Palace when he came to attend the African Unity Summit in 1964.
Here I must make the parallel between the struggle of Lumumba and his comrades in defense of the mineral riches of their country that were coveted by imperialism, and the defense of the Egyptian people of the Suez Canal, which was also coveted by the same imperialism. Indeed, the picture of the assassinated Lumumba and his family as refugees in Egypt had an impact on our public opinion far in excess of any enthusiastic speeches.
The Congolese crisis led to a situation where the newly independent African States fell into two clear cut camps: the Casablanca Group and the Monrovia Group. The first took its name from the meeting held in that city in January 1961 when it was decided to support the legitimate government of Lumumba even by military action. The Casablanca Group had a special significance for our generation as it included the Arab North with various progressive countries both Francophone and Anglophone.
It also grouped the revolutionaries Nasser and Ben Bella with the nationalist King Mohammad the Fifth, and favoured the policies of revolutionary struggle advocated by Fanon. Indeed I was told that when Fanon attended the first Afro Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Conference in Accra in 1958, he was offended when he saw the slogans containing quotations by Nkrumah extolling positive action and non-violence and insisted they be removed.
At the time we were impressed by reading the Arabic translation of Fanon’s books, and thrilled by the revolt of Angolan political prisoners on a Portuguese ship. We were also dismayed by the abduction by France of the Algerian Leaders, but happy for the liberation of Kenyatta, the leader of Kenya. I had the privilege of attending the Uhuru celebrations of Tanganyika’s independence on 9/12/1961 (and later attended the celebration of Kenya and Zanzibar’s independence in January 1963). On such occasions I would wonder at the significance of the independence of this or that country for the peoples of the continent, or the role of this or that leader. At the time, Julius Nyerere was intent on the union of East Africa only, while Nkrumah was campaigning for the United States of Africa, and Tanganyika was somewhat worried by his support for the various liberation movements, many of which were neighbours to Dar es Salam. Nyerere was also worried about Nasser’s influence on Zanzibar and the Arabs of East Africa. Thus we were not very happy in Cairo with his policies until the social changes of Tanzania and the Arusha Declaration in 1966.
The representatives of most liberation movements were unhappy about the policies of Nyerere that did not seem revolutionary enough and in opposition to Nkrumah’s call for African unity. I was acquainted with Abdul Rahman Babu, the progressive from Zanzibar who maintained the necessity of change, and also acquainted with Ali Mohsen who was accused of being an advocate of Arabism there. I was not surprised when Babu with Salem Ahmed Salem led a secession in the Nationalist Party that led to the bloody events on that island. I was dismayed by those events as I had personally known the families of the 40 Zanzibari students in the East Africa House. I recall meeting Babu in a café in Dar es Salam in 1964 and he was frustrated after being ousted by the new regime in Zanzibar, and expected little good from Dar es Salam, such that he chose self exile in Britain as an internationalist who writes about socialism in Africa.
I must admit how I was thrilled when witnessing the British flag being drought down to be replaced by that of Kenya or Tanganyika and thought it was a huge step forward, surely to be followed by other social advances. However, I soon found Nyerere’s policies to be not so progressive and in collision with Nkrumah’s policy of united Africa.
The leaders of the Casablanca Group were also frustrated because of their failure in the events of Congo and the triumph of Tshombe and Mobuto and the fleeing of Gizinga and his colleagues to eastern Congo. Finally, Nkrumah accepted a compromise policy to succeed in gathering both progressive and moderate leaders, and with Nasser called for a summit in Addis Ababa where they declared the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Thus 25 May 1963 was celebrated as the birth of African unity that concentrated the political efforts against imperialism while putting off any social progress to a later stage.
In Egypt we had to face the problem of countering the role of Israel as an imperialist agent in Africa, and in the face of the support it gets from the former colonial states. We were pained in particular by the relation of Israel with Ghana of Nkrumah, while Israel boasted relations with Ethiopia and Tanzania as well. Israel at the time tried to present itself as a developing country, while the statements of the Afro- Asian conferences as well as the Casablanca Group exposed it as an advanced base of ‘new colonialism’.
In the OAU conference, Nasser declared he would not ask the African leaders present to state their standpoint against Israel, but asked them to find out for themselves its reality as an agent of imperialism. He succeeded in leading the conference to a moderate policy and struck the correct balance between Nkrumah and Nyerere and Cote d’Ivoire as three distinct trends in the meeting. Thus Nasser and Emperor Haile Selassie assumed the role of the Big Brothers to all their colleagues. Many were those who came to Cairo after the conference asking for support, especially as Cairo was chosen as the venue for the next meeting in May 1964 - supposed to be the first summit of the OAU. As a token of the organisation’s role in liquidating colonialism, the Coordination Committee for Liberation of the Colonies was created. Thus Cairo took a position between the leaders of Ghana and Tanzania, as well as between Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire.
Those were glorious days for African activity in Cairo. The Egyptian media showed great interest in the activities of the liberation movement’s offices in Zamalek. Liberation activity including armed struggle was acclaimed by everybody without fear of talk of ‘intervention’. A positive factor in this connection was the anecdote of sequestrating Tshombe in one of Cairo presidential palaces with the group of Belgian belles who accompanied him to prevent him from attending the OAU conference in 1964, which caused much fun for the public in Cairo, and compromised the Francophone group that arranged for his uninvited visit to Cairo.
The new liberation movements kept coming to Cairo, especially from the Portuguese colonies looking for support, which they readily got from Nasser, and I watched their happiness after such audiences. Indeed, Fayek and our group of his assistants did a good job in accommodating some 20 such offices. The big number was partly due to receiving more than one delegation from one country, and this was my personal dilemma as I had to coordinate their demands such as to render them acceptable to Fayek’s presidential bureau. Those demands included scholarships for students, military training, allotted time for broadcasting, etc. I was sometimes torn up by my happiness that Cairo was helpful to these young revolutionaries and having to decide who were worthy of that help and who were not, who were ‘authentic’ and who were not. The legitimacy of different levels of liberation struggle was a good reason for such variety, and Cairo was one of few capitals to accept this diversity. The deep reasons for such an attitude were to be understood by me in good time.
At times there were three movements from one country, such as the case of South Africa and Angola. Sometimes we accepted movements that were the outcome of a secession from another, as in the case of ZAPU and ZANU, or SWAPO and SWANU, or even movements that had no weight at all, such as COREMU in Mozambique. Thus some movements would group together as authentic, such as ZAPU, PAIGC, FRELIMO, SWAPO, MPLA and ANC. The others could not meet as authentic, and we labeled them pro Chinese. There was a real Cold War waged at the African Association where the socialist states were competing for the adherence of the different movements in a manner more open than that between the respective embassies.
This cold war would become quite hot when the AAPSO conferences were held, and the Soviets would provide air tickets and accommodation for everybody at the conference held in a friendly city. In such cases, their friends seemed in a strong position and would group as the only ‘authentics’. Such situations were somewhat embarrassing to me. I was a reader of Fanon and Mao Ze Dung and Lin Piao’s article on the centre and the peripheries where the countryside refuses the influence of the cities. In this context the countryside stands for China and the Third World, and the cities stand for the Western bourgeoisies and the imperialist socialists who emulate them.
To a ‘Fanonist’, this was an attractive presentation, but the pro Chinese group in Cairo presented little thought of value, and had little to boast of in the way of active struggle at home. On the other hand, the discussions with the authentic group were always deeper and reflected clear cut concepts, and concrete political and diplomatic action. Also the leftist movement in Egypt had not given much attention to the Chinese revolution and its Asiatic neighbours, and the Cultural Revolution and the red book were rather scorned. The Nasser regime and most Egyptian intellectuals accepted the Soviet concepts including the Non Capitalist Road for Development, the Democratic Revolutionaries and the Countries on the Road to Liberation. All such concepts were welcomed by the Nasser regime and other leaders of the Third World, but rather frustrating to any radical trends, and to radical youth, including myself.
The Sino-Soviet conflict was not the only cause for our concern in Cairo during the 1960s, as the Maoist Group soon began to lose ground as they failed to consolidate their organisations. They looked like a group of unruly persons whose main task was to expose their competitors in public meetings while they showed no progress in their respective fields of struggle. On the other hand the influence of the ‘authentics’ was on the rise and this gave them better ground to counter those ‘Maoists’.
I recall that Neto would not accept my invitation to the premises of the African Association because UNITA and GRAI had offices there, and he established his office and the lodging of his men outside that building. This position seemed more significant when he insisted on not signing the ceasefire agreement with Portugal in Lisbon. President Sam Njoma was more tolerant as he was bolstered by a UN resolution in favour of SWAPO, and the UN Namibia Institute in Lusaka gave him moral support such that the competing SWANU was soon liquidated as its leaders were not worthy of respect.
There seemed to me that there was some sort of competition between Cairo and Algiers over our relations with liberation movements. Cairo seemed more intent on national liberation policies in general, and providing diplomatic contacts and media coverage. Algeria on the other hand was more intent on military training and providing arms for the armed struggle through the Committee for Liberation of Colonies.
I asked Ben Bella about this in Bamako at the World Social Forum in 2003, and he confirmed there had been a sort of gentleman’s agreement with Nasser over a difference in the role played by each country.
I felt that creating the OAU had set aside the liberation activity to the benefit of the ruling bureaucracies, some of which were openly despotic. This was noticed in many cases, such as Ethiopia’s position towards Eritrea, or in the conflicts in Somalia and the Comores. As regards France’s treatment of its former colonies we reduced our former level of criticism as a token of our regard for Gaullist France. Indeed we gave a warm welcome to Senghor in 1966 while neglecting the progressive Cheikh Anta Diop, who extolled ancient Egyptian civilisation in his book. Zambia was oscillating between the role of a confrontational state, and some sort of acceptance of the racist regimes in southern Africa, while Egypt respected Kaunda’s nationalism and considered his dilemma with the racist South, that seemed somewhat similar to our dilemma with Israel. Thus Cairo welcomed Kaunda warmly and omitted taking issue with him as Ghana did - despite the decline of its influence in the OAU embraced by Heile Selassie, and the Committee for Liberation of the Colonies embraced by Nyerere. The liberation movements responded to Cairo’s moderation by deepening their direct ties with the Soviet Union and the states of Scandinavia. This policy of moderation was strengthened by the series of military coups that took place in the Congo, then in Ghana and some Francophone countries.
The moderate national regimes were weakened by this succession of setbacks during the 1960s, while the armed struggle in the Portuguese colonies was getting tougher under leaders such as Cabral, Neto and Mondlane who got active support from socialist countries. I recall that the late great leader Cabral told me in Accra (January 1973), only two weeks before his assassination, that they were on the point of getting anti-aircraft guns from the Soviets, and that would send a message to the Atlantic powers that Bissau would thus become a new Vietnam. I remembered this when only a short time later, these powers decided to get rid of the Salazar Regime when Spinola took over in a coup and decided to start negotiations with their colonies in the mid 1970s.
Njoma took advantage of this change and took a tougher stand towards the UN agencies and consolidated his ties with Angola to provide his guerillas with arms. He was also strengthened by the presence of Cuban forces in the region. As I had warm relations with Njoma I could understand his concerns on relations with the MPLA, due to be stronger after Angolan independence. When I met Netto during the independence anniversary in 1976, he explained to me much of the machinations of the racist regime in South Africa and their trying to sow differences between the nationalist forces in the region to whom most support came from the socialist countries. Indeed, even the Soviets were not so forthcoming in their aid and had to be urged by threats of asking for Chinese help to make good their deficiency.
The 1970s were very frustrating both for my personal duties and for my feelings towards Sadat’s position with regard to supporting liberation movements. At the time Sadat went hand in hand with the Americans in confronting what he called the communist influence in Africa. He stigmatised the Cuban presence in countries such as Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique.
All progressive forces in Egypt and most national liberation countries faced an impasse, and we would recall the atmosphere of the 1960s that we used to criticize as moderate. In those days, the liberation movements in the progressive countries were supported by popular forces, but the successive military coups changed the situation. The popular bases included the trade unionists in Egypt, Maghreb, Ghana, Tanzania, Sudan and Kenya. At times, there was competition that obstructed the smooth cooperation between Ahmed Fahim in Egypt, Al Sediky in Maghreb, Tettiga in Accra, Kambona in Dar Es Salam and Shafei in Sudan against the moderates such as Mboya in Kenya, Ashour in Tunis and others. The first group would ask the leader for help to liberation movements, and sometimes other forces such as the students in Dar es Salam University campus or the October revolution intellectuals in Sudan, but it was always the leader who took the decision. After the successive coups and the transformations of the 1970s these popular forces lost their influence.
To illustrate the contrast between the two situations, let us compare the reaction to the colonial action in Rhodesia in 1965, and the position towards the racist regime in South Africa in the late 1970s. I recall that when we heard about the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in Rhodesia in November 1965, Egypt was intent on socialist transformation, Ghana was actively developing by building the Volta Dam, in Tanzania there was the euphoria of the Committee for Liberation of the
Colonies, and we all considered UDI as a serious challenge to liberation of the colonies.
I recall that in my position as a researcher in an important institution, I received urgent instructions to gather all pertinent information about the event and in particular the role of Britain as protector and instigator. The same day, I felt similar fervour in the president’s bureau and the ministry of foreign affairs, and the next day a memorandum prepared by Fayek and with the president’s instruction was sent to explore with Ghana, Algeria, the Casablanca Group and others the possibility of severing political relations with Britain as being responsible for its colony Rhodesia. It was thought that the new independent state would bolster the similar type of colonisation of Palestine by foreign settlers, and that at a time of the rise of nationalist resistance in Palestine at the hands of the PLO and support of the Arab Liberation Countries (Egypt, Syria and Algeria), a strong and effective action would surely be taken within days.
Indeed, agreement was reached, and within two weeks Britain found its relations with 11 African countries severed. That action was the cause for great celebration at the African Association for all representatives of the liberation movements.
Indeed, I felt the deep contrast between such reactions and the very limited reaction of the African states at the UN General Assembly when trying to pass a strong resolution calling for Israeli withdrawal from the Egyptian and Arab occupied territories after the Israeli aggression of 1967, and Guinea was the only African country to sever its relations with Israel. Of course there was much American pressure on these African countries, but no doubt the main reason for such behaviour was the attitudes of the new regimes towards the liberation movements. This was a cause of great shame to us of African Affairs after all the support given to the liberation movements.
I remember that Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war with Israel came as the high point in the series of military coups that included Ghana, Mali, Uganda, Congo and the rest of the Francophone countries and seemed to be the demise of the national liberation movements, and the end of the Committee for Liberation of the Colonies. I felt miserable when meeting our Egyptian nationalist forces insisting on fighting popular war till the full liberation of Egyptian territories. Our only solace was to repeat the slogan coined by some leaders of the Portuguese colonies: ‘Luta Continua, Victoria Certe’ (The struggle shall continue, and victory is certain).
However, the armed struggle was progressing, especially in the Portuguese colonies, and eventually the Polisario Movement started in the Spanish colony of the Rio de Oro in the Western Sahara of Africa. At the same time, the Palestinians started some forms of liberation struggle including armed resistance, and these advances gave us new hope. I recall that the discourse around democracy and social transformations in these struggling colonies was reminiscent of our discourse about the democratisation of the Nasser regime. I would discuss with leftist friends, with a sense of pride as a protagonist of the African liberation movements, about the continuing national struggle, or defend Soviet-Egyptian cooperation. Some of these friends would argue that Nasser was unrealistic trying to go back to war with such a defeated army, but it was those same efforts that resulted in the successful war of 1973. It seems to me that Nasser at last understood the necessity of democratic freedoms as a basis for effective defense of the homeland, and he tried to remedy some shortcomings of his regime by appointing some leftist cadres at the head of some media institutions, and gave more latitude to democratic and leftist trends in theatre, the cinema and some publications.
This meant a more balanced attitude both in the internal situation and the military position as well. Soon, the armed struggle in the colonies began to show positive results, with active support from the Committee for Liberation of the Colonies, and we began to hear of ‘liberated territories’, and I felt great happiness on meeting some African activists who had visited these liberated territories. I was happy when I was nominated as Egypt’s representative in that committee, but ‘somebody’ intervened to block that nomination. I hoped this participation would give me the chance to visit some of these liberated territories, and that hope was eventually fulfilled when I visited some liberated areas in Eritrea in the company of some Eritrean revolutionaries in the late 1970s.
I recall that we the nationalist youth were frustrated by our defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, while we got some relief from the presence of many delegations that came to Cairo from many liberation movements from Palestine, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique and even Vietnam. The slogan coined by Nasser saying: ‘What was taken by force can only be retrieved by force’ had an encouraging significance and it meant strengthening the ties with the Soviet Union, as China was preoccupied with the consequences of the Cultural Revolution.
I must state here that we sometimes over estimated the social progress in the liberated territories, and the possibility such transformations would make a solid base for the regime after independence. I had little theoretical knowledge at the time except my readings of Cabral and cultural liberation, but I also heard some negative information about what took place in Mozambique or South Africa despite the high theoretical background of the revolutionaries there.
In Egypt we were dismayed by the rejection by the Nasser regime of the idea of the popular resistance to the benefit of the regular army fighting to regain our lost territories. This meant relying on the Soviets supplying Egypt with advanced weapons, but this retains the supremacy of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie instead of developing the social action of the popular masses. However, Nasser’s personal leadership compensated for the great shortcomings arising from his compromises with the religious trends on one hand and the military hierarchy on the other hand.
A sudden end was put to this debate in the cultural and democratic circles by the sudden death Nasser on 28 September 1970. His successor Anwar Sadat made a complete turn around of all Nasser’s policies under the slogan that 99 per cent of the playing cards were held by the United States.
After relying on the Soviets to supply the advanced weapons that eventually helped secure the 1973 victory over Israel, he sent back the Soviet military mission that was training our soldiers on the use of such weapons; he used the limited success of this war to prepare the ground for a peace agreement with Israel; he even threatened to wage war against the regime in Ethiopia with the pretext that it threatened the supply of Nile water; he supported Mobuto against the revolutionaries in East and South Congo; he supported UNITA and Savimbi in Angola; he imported tobacco from the UDI regime in Southern Rhodesia; finally he replaced the development economy with an open capitalist liberal policy. All these policies were the exact opposite of the policies adopted by the previous Nasser regime.
The Bureau of African Affairs of the presidency was dissolved after the arrest of its leader Mohammad Fayek and his sentencing to ten years in prison for allegedly plotting against Sadat. All members of the bureau were scattered among the various government departments. After the 1973 war I was put on pension (after only 15 years of service) in a move to get rid of all Nasserists and Marxists in office.
After 1975, I embarked on a personal tour that took me to the Committee for the Defense of National Culture, the African Association of Political Sciences, the Council for Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESREA), teaching at Juba University in Southern Sudan, the Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO) in Tunis and finally founding the Arab African Research Centre (AARC) in Cairo in 1987.
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* Helmi Sharawy is the vice president of the Arab African Research Center, Cairo. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
AFRICAN LIBERATION MOVEMENTS IN CAIRO
African National Congress (ANC), South Africa
Basoto People’s Congress (BPC), Lesotho
Djibouti Liberation Movement (DLM), Djibouti
Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), Eritrea
Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), Eritrea
Etudiants de Tchad (ET) Tchad
Front do Liberacion do Mozambique (FRELIMO), Mozambique
Governamento do Angola Independente (GRAI), Angola
Kenya African National Union (KANU), Kenya
League for Liberation of Somalia (LIGA), Somalia
Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC), Congo
Movimento Popular do Liberacion do Angola (MPLA), Angola
Parti Africaine do Independence do Guinee, Capo Verde (PAIGC), Guinee and Cape Verde
Swaziland Peoples Party (SPP), Swaziland
South West Africa National Union (SWANU), Namibia
South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), Namibia
Uganda National Congress (UNC), Uganda
Union do Independente Angola (UNITA), Angola
United Northern Rhodesia Independence Party (UNRIP), Zambia
Zanzibar National Union (ZNU), Zanzibar
Zimbabwe African People’s Organization (ZAPO), Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), Zimbabwe
Arab Maghreb Office, Maghreb
Provisional Algerian Government, Algeria
(The last two offices were not affiliated with the African Association.)
Hypocritical Washington raises Middle East tensions
Can democracy activists undo US and IMF damage?
Here in Palestine, disgust expressed by civil society reformers about Barack Obama’s 19 May policy speech on the Middle East and North Africa confirms that political reconciliation between Washington and fast-rising Arab democrats is impossible.
Amidst many examples, consider the longstanding US tradition of blind, self-destructive support for Israel, which Obama has just amplified. Recognising a so-called ‘Jewish state’ as a matter of US policy, he introduced a new twist that denies foundational democratic rights for 1.4 million Palestinians living within Israel. For a Harvard-trained constitutional lawyer to sink so low on behalf of Zionist discrimination is shocking.
For although Obama mentioned the ‘1967 lines’ as the basis for two states and thereby appeared to annoy arch-Zionist leader Benjamin Netanyahu, this minimalist United Nations position was amended with a huge caveat: ‘with land swaps.’
Obama thus implicitly endorses illegal Israeli settlements (with their half-million reactionary residents) that pock the West Bank, confirming its status as a Bantustan for 2.5 million people, far more fragmented than even the old South African homelands. Another 1.6 million suffer in the isolated Gaza Strip.
Obama also claimed, ‘America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator,’ stretching credulity.
‘He was with the dictators until the very last minute,’ rebuts Ramallah-based liberation activist Omar Barghouti, regarding both Tunisia’s Ben-Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak. ‘He’s missed the point of the Arab Spring. It’s not just about the street vendor, it is about social justice. The pillage of the resources of the region by the US has to come to an end.’
Resource extraction and Israeli empowerment explain Obama’s recent flirtation with unreformable Libyan and Syrian tyrannies, as well as ongoing US sponsorship of brutal regimes in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. So it was impossible for the US president to avoid a subtle confession: ‘There will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision of the region.’
‘There will be times’? That’s the understatement of the year, considering ‘short-term interests’ reflect the corrupted character of corporate-purchased US politicians. (Obama needs to raise US$1 billion to finance his re-election campaign next year.)
Pursuit of such narrow interests gets Washington into perpetual trouble, including bolstering Israeli aggression, becoming dependent upon oil from despotic regimes, and dogmatically imposing free-market ideology on behalf of US-dominated multinational capital.
I am witnessing the results firsthand in Gaza and the West Bank, and was lucky to even get here, for last Tuesday, the day after I arrived at the main regional airport in Tel Aviv (with my white skin, multiple passports and non-Muslim surname), my friend Na’eem Jeenah also tried to enter Israel en route to Palestine with South African papers.
For four hours the Israeli border police detained Jeenah, a Johannesburg leader of the Palestine Solidarity Committee. Intervention by concerned SA diplomats couldn’t appease immigration officials, who forced him to board a flight to Istanbul where he waited for another day before returning home.
South Africans who get through immigration invariably confirm conditions here that deserve the label ‘Israeli apartheid’. Last month, Judge Richard Goldstone’s reputation-wrecking reversal on the UN Goldstone report, regarding the Israeli army’s intentional killing of Gaza civilians during the January 2009 ‘Operation Cast Lead’ invasion, cannot disguise 1,400 dead, of which no more than half were Hamas-aligned officials.
That massacre was, according to Israeli journalist Amira Hass, a chance for the army to practice high-tech urban warfare against a caged populace, replete with white phosphorous, combat robots, drones and other terror weapons.
Just as I crossed Gaza’s northern Erez border post last Friday, Israeli Defense Force soldiers fired on unarmed marchers who are Palestine’s unique contribution to the Arab Spring, leaving two wounded. The Sunday before, tens of thousands of these brave people, especially refugees, mobilised using Facebook and walked to several 1967 lines, resulting in 15 murders by trigger-happy Israeli soldiers.
Along with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions non-violent struggle against Israeli power, this Satyagraha-style movement, adopting strategies and tactics pioneered in Durban, South Africa by Mahatma Gandhi a century ago, must strike fear in the hearts of Tel Aviv securocrats. No longer can they portray their enemies as rocket-launching Islamic fundamentalists who worship Osama bin Laden.
What I also learned from Palestinian civil society activists is that the pillaging of this region by the West is being planned by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, following similar support to dictators last year – though with unintended consequences! – in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Evidence includes two documents presented by the IMF and Bank to an April 13 Brussels donor conference, spelling out Palestine’s wretched economic fate in technocratic terms. The IMF insists on lower civil service wages, electricity privatisation, subsidy cuts and a higher retirement age. The Bank advocates a free-trade regime which will demolish the tiny manufacturing base.
In his speech last Thursday, Obama endorsed an IMF/Bank document on the regional economy to be tabled at this week’s G8 meeting of industrial powers in France.
Although Washington promised US$1 billion in debt relief, it comes with conditions such as ‘supporting financial stability, supporting financial modernization and developing a framework for trade and investment relations with the EU and the US.’
Go ahead and snigger, but absurd as this sounds in the wake of the recent US-centered world financial meltdown, Obama’s gift is actually an ‘attempted bribe of the Egyptian democratic revolution,’ says Barghouti. In any case there is another US$33 billion of Mubarak’s ‘Odious Debt’ yet to be cancelled, and reparations to be paid.
Concludes Barghouti, ‘If anything, the US has played a very negative role. The best thing Obama can do for the region is leave it alone. We’ve seen US democracy-building in Afghanistan and Iraq, so no thank you.’
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* Patrick Bond is based at the University of KwaZulu Natal Centre for Civil Society. He travelled to Palestine courtesy of TIDA-Gaza and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Beyond the privatisation of liberation
South Africa is a society where the actions of political leaders in the state machinery are threatening to reverse of the popular struggles for liberation. Seventeen years ago, the formal shackles of apartheid were rattled. But the structural basis of apartheid was never dismantled. When Nelson Mandela became the head of state in 1994 there had been euphoria all over Africa, indeed all over the world, that a new road toward a non-racial democracy was being taken. The majority of the people wanted a better life: an end to racism, access to health, life, peace and a decent environment. However, very soon after the integration of the ANC (African National Congress) into the structures of apartheid, the political leadership of the African National Congress turned their backs on the ideas of transforming the society and embraced the ideas of liberalisation and the privatisation of the economy. The ANC embraced unbridled capitalism. Using the cover of reconciliation, the former powerful transnationals supported a class of blacks to enter banking, insurance and retailing as long as they accepted the standards of racist hierarchy and sent their children into the schools that taught Eurocentism.
The ANC was a party that was based on a tripartite alliance: the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Of these three partners the most forthright in calling for fundamental change was COSATU. The South African Communist Party aspired to be the intellectual and ideological standard bearer for the alliance. At one level the path toward liberalisation should have been opposed by the SACP, but the South African Communist Party found a convenient formulation to support the capitalist road. Their understanding of the stages theory of Marxism meant that South Africa had to pass through a period of capitalist development before the working class could be ready for an alternative to capitalism. This theoretical understanding of Marxism that twisted the revolutionary ideas of class struggles justified the support for the privatisation of large sections of the economy. In a very short time, international capital understood that the faces at the top may have changed but the conditions of exploitation and plunder would not fundamentally change.
Slowly, as a new class of political leaders became comrades in business and a new rhetoric of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) came into the popular parlance, the goals of providing houses, electricity and water for all were diluted. It became state policy to support big capital in South Africa while providing the enabling environment for a new class of African capitalists. These Africans gave cover for the expansion of South African corporations into the rest of Africa. NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) became the cover for this expansion of South African capitalism. Former apartheid capitalists were exultant as South Africa’s ‘entrepreneurs’ traversed the continent behind the diplomatic cover of the African Renaissance. The African capitalists fronting for the old apartheid structures accepted the rules of the capitalist system, the racist hierarchy and ethnic power bases and looked to ways to maintain the system while seemingly opposing the very same system that they propped up. The rhetoric and slogans were still brought out for elections but there was no fundamental change in the direction of society. Once the top leadership accepted the rules of private appropriation of wealth they moved into gated communities and built new connections for self-enrichment. Those with connections to the families of the former freedom supporters became the gate-keepers for tenders and contracts and jockeyed for resources at the lower interstices of the system. In the process of this jockeying, the push for privatisation reached the stage where liberation was being privatised as a basis for enrichment and conspicuous consumption. African liberation became a slogan to be supported by those sections of private capital that were on good terms with the political leadership.
PRIVATISING THE STRUGGLE
The road to the privatisation of liberation in Africa is not new. This strategy for the enrichment of former freedom fighters had been perfected in Kenya where the British and the USA worked hard to divide the forces of liberation. After silencing and neutralising those who wanted liberation to be meaningful for the people, the leaders of the Kenya liberation struggle celebrated obscene private ownership of wealth as Nairobi became the cockpit for imperial destabilisation of Africa.
In Zimbabwe, the integration of former freedom fighters into the circuits of the Rhodesian state found a new path. After integrating former freedom fighters into the civil service, into the university, into the army, into the police and into the wider bureaucracy, the freedom fighters wanted the land of the settlers. They turned to the language of third liberation to seize the land of the white farmers. What would have been a righteous act of reversing the theft of land from African workers and peasants became one more vehicle for the liberation fighters to become private capitalists. The conditions of the workers on the land did not change as the state became more repressive and intolerant of the wider society. Repression and the privatisation of liberation went hand in glove in Zimbabwe.
Mozambique, Namibia and Angola followed similar paths of the privatisation of liberation. These governments renounced ideas of planned transformation of the colonial relations and embraced neoliberalism with gusto. This meant that in Mozambique the structures of the popular organs such as the women, youth, workers and peasants were weakened. International and western non-governmental organisations invaded the rural communities while the working people were denied the basic democratic rights for collective bargaining and industrial democracy. Journalists who attempted to expose the rampant corruption at the top leadership were warned, and one was killed in order to send a message that there should be no opposition to the privatisation of liberation. Namibia became a caricature of this rush towards privatisation and the legitimation of neoliberal capitalism. As in Zimbabwe, the ruling party became an instrument of patronage and privilege while the leadership issued robust homophobic rhetoric to divert the attention of the poor.
Angola was a special case in the business of privatising liberation. Unlike the other societies, the stakes were much higher. The Angolan society is blessed with major resources on the land and in the sea. Today Angola is a top petroleum exporter in Africa. Oil, timber, diamonds, fish and a host of minerals gave the political class enough to bring the top generals into the business of plunder. Jonas Savimbi had fought tenaciously to be the standard bearer for Western capitalism in Angola. However, very early on the MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola – Labour Party) accepted the IMF (International Monetary Fund) terms and conditions for neoliberal capitalism. After the defeat of the Savimbi faction of the political leadership in February 2002, the MPLA leadership went all out to use the vast wealth to build a capitalist class. Their skills for negotiating with international capital had been honed in the fight to defeat Savimbi. Clandestine and new means of procuring weapons had to be developed and in the process the Angolan leadership learnt the inner workings of offshore banks, money launderers, gun running and the underworld of banking and finance. The MPLA leadership built relations with China to widen their bargaining position with international capital. However, this outreach to China and Brazil did not affect the privatisation process. In fact, Chinese private entities such as the Chinese Investment Fund strengthened the capitalist element of the party by importing conditions of labour relations that denied rights to Angolan and Chinese workers.
Liberation slogans were banded about to disguise the vast differences between the new rich and the 88 per cent of the people who remained poor and in wretched conditions. The Angolan state supported a vast business enterprise as it became state policy in Angola to ensure that the rulers and their families were enriched. Liberation was privatised and the wealth and power of the first family was one indication of the processes of privatisation. Liberation had become a business and the victories of the people were being distorted for the wealth and power of the ruling families. For the first 10 years after the end of apartheid, the Angolan political leaders kept the South African capitalists at arm’s length but after gaining confidence the overt forms of cooperation were sealed by a visit of José Eduardo dos Santos to South Africa in December 2010.
MIXED MESSAGES IN SOUTH AFRICA
In South Africa, because the aspirations of the people had been shaped by centuries of struggles for dignity and to end racism, the top leadership of the ANC had to constantly redeploy the language and slogans of liberation in order to maintain their support base. As in Angola the pie was bigger, so there were so many more resources because the field of capitalist accumulation spread all across Africa. The popular forces among the oppressed did not lose their traditions of organising independently of the ANC. Racism, xenophobia and crude ethnic manipulation became the tools for the local capitalists to divide the working peoples.
Protests intensified as the people saw that the new government was not interested in transforming the apartheid structures. Strikes, demonstrations, go-slow and other forms of political opposition increased as the people saw elections becoming another vehicle for the networking of capitalists. Service delivery protests and occupations in South Africa intensified as the people sent warnings to the ANC that the service delivery protests could converge into an Egyptian-style uprising in South Africa. The Communist Party became removed and cut off from the alternatives and it devolved to the youth to search for new forms of struggle beyond the vanguardism that gave sections of the ANC the idea that they should hold on to power.
In fact this call for divine assistance to support the ANC came from none other than Jacob Zuma, who told people during the last local government election that: ‘The ancestors will turn their backs against you and you will be bad luck forever if you leave the ANC unhappy.’
Jacob Zuma has demeaned the meaning of links to the ancestors by invoking the ancestral spirits on the side of capitalist accumulation. This appeal for ancestral support comes at a time when within the ANC there are tremendous realignments in order to ensure new processes of succession. There is now intense competition among those who will be at the top of the system of exploitation and domination. In the midst of this tussle between factions of the ANC, the South African Communist Party seeks to be primer inter pares while holding on to ideas of the non-capitalist path of development. These communists are involved with the top power struggles as to who would control the state. These communists worked inside the liberalised economy and talked left while supporting right-wing policies. The Communist Party did not show by their actions that they wanted an alternative, and in the absence of clarity the populist elements from the ANC Youth league filled the political vacuum by championing the cause of opposing white domination.
The overt racism of the white capitalists in South Africa knew no bounds. After a re-assessment of the new ANC government, these whites were emboldened to expand their political and racist ideas under the banner of neoliberalism. Within the church, the schools, universities, the old media and other intellectual and ideological institutions the struggles intensified but the white capitalists understood that the black capitalists supported the idea of the superiority of the capitalist mode of production. In essence, these blacks supported ideas of racial hierarchy and sent their children to schools that practised overt racial discrimination. So bold had the whites become that at one of the premier universities, the University of Cape Town, it was decided that there was no need to teach African studies.
In this political wasteland, Robert Mugabe appeared attractive and earned massive applause when he visited South Africa. Youths who considered themselves radical hailed the oppressive actions of the Zimbabwe political leadership. In particular, the leader of the ANC Youth league grew in stature as a power broker in South Africa political circles by his crude anti-white rhetoric. After a visit to Harare, Zimbabwe in 2010, this leader of the ANC-YL Julius Malema became even more forthright in his opposition to ‘white control’ of the southern African economy. It was in the tradition of anti-white rhetoric where Julius Malema called for the nationalisation of mines and the commanding heights of the economy. In the days prior to the 18 May local government elections, the ANC-YL released its discussion document on ‘economic transformation’, proposing to amend the constitution to empower the state to expropriate private property, particularly land and mines, without compensation.
In the midst of a capitalist crisis where there is an urgent need for popular control over the activities of capitalists, the call for nationalisation from South Africa sounds appealing, but this appeal must be grasped in the context of the inter-capitalist struggles at the top ranks of the ANC. Malema, sections of the Communist Party and other top leaders of the ANC are now in fact members of the capitalist class in South Africa. Their treatment of workers who labour in their enterprises does not differ from other capitalists. In this context, the calls for nationalisation must be supported by calls for worker control and for the transformation of the economic relations in South Africa.
RECLAIMING THE AFRICAN LIBERATION
In celebration of the 25 May African Liberation Day, I was the guest speaker at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. There are social forces in society who are working for peace, justice and social transformation. I was invited by the Umtapo Centre to deliver the Strinni Moodley Memorial Lecture. The title of the lecture was ‘Towards an Africa without borders in the 21st century: Without unity and peace, there is no future for Africa’. This event on African Liberation Day drew activists who celebrated the work of Strinni Moodley and Steve Biko. These activists are working across borders in Africa and want African liberation to be meaningful for the next generation.
The Umtapo Centre is seeking to strengthen the revolutionary understanding of ubuntu in order to harness new energies of the people for the prolonged popular struggles to transform South African society. This year the Umtapo Centre is 25 years old. As a formation that cut its teeth under apartheid, the Umtapo family is but one of the many networks in South Africa that are opposed to the privatisation of liberation. Throughout Africa it is imperative that education for transformation support the calls for social transformation. Private property cannot be nationalised with the same mindset that supports the crude consumption of the black capitalists in gated communities. These capitalists manipulate the workers of South Africa on the basis of racial and ethnic identification, and more significantly, these capitalists promote xenophobia to discriminate against other African workers who believe in the concept of Africa for the Africans. Today as South Africa is elevated to being a member of the emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China), there are sections of the political leadership in South Africa who want South Africa to be a regional hegemon in Africa. Such elements pay very little attention to the challenges of building a truly united Africa. There are now initiatives such as the Grand Free Trade area for Africa embracing 26 countries. After a summit in East Africa last year, the heads of states of the three regional blocs – the EAC (East African Community), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community, (SADC) – agreed on the expeditious establishment of a free trade bloc. These efforts will be stillborn because their ideas about trade do not involve the free movement of people across Africa. These leaders want to facilitate the free movement of trade and capital while they restrict the free movement of people.
After five decades of the privatisation of liberation from Kenya to South Africa the working poor in southern Africa are seeking new strategies for liberation. There is an urgent need for unity of the peoples of Africa and freedom of movement across borders. The workers in Swaziland and Botswana have embarked on prolonged struggles for change and it is imperative that as we celebrate African liberation this year we recognise that the African liberation struggle has taken a new course. The revolutionary directions in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired a new generation of liberation fighters. These forces of liberation understand, as Kwame Nkrumah did, that no one country can be free while other parts of Africa are dominated. It is important to remind readers that on this African liberation day there are still colonies in Africa (with the most glaring case that of the Western Sahara) along with over 28 colonial territories in the African diaspora in the Caribbean.
The present tasks of liberation are being defined by a new generation who do not want to be dehumanised in the 21st century. They want to reclaim the paths of emancipation and end the privatisation of liberation.
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* Horace Campbell is professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’. See www.horacecampbell.net.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
The Igbo genocide and 5 June 1969
Thankfully, for the interest of posterity, the Igbo genocide, perpetrated by the Nigeria state, is one of the most documented crimes against humanity. Leading university and public libraries across Europe (particularly in Britain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Denmark and Sweden) and North America have invaluable repositories of books, state papers (including, crucially, hitherto classified material now declassified as part of mandatory timeframe provisions and freedom-to-information legislations), church papers, human rights/anti-genocide/anti-war groups’ campaign papers, reports, photographs and interviews, Red Cross/other third sector papers, reports and photographs, newspaper/news magazine/radio/ television/video archives and sole individual depositories, some of which are classified as ‘anonymous contributors’.
These data variously include extensive coverage of news and analyses of varying features of the genocide between May 1966 and January 1970, as well as still photographs and reels and reels of film footage of the devastating impact of the genocidists’ ‘starvation weapon’ attack on Igbo children and older people, the genocidist air force’s carpet bombings of Igbo population centres (especially refugee establishments, churches, shrines, schools, hospitals, markets, homes, farmlands and playgrounds) and the haunting photographs and associated material that captures the sheer savagery of the slaughter of 100,000 Igbo in north Nigeria towns and villages and elsewhere in parts of west Nigeria (especially Lagos and its suburbs, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Oyo, Benin) during the first phase of the genocide in May to October 1966.
A stream of these archival references has flowed steadily onto the YouTube website, as well as other internet outlets, and much more material on the genocide will be available online in the months and years ahead. On the whole, these documentations are a treasure trove for the conscientious scholar and researcher of the genocide. For the would-be prosecutor of the perpetrators of this crime, they couldn’t have wished anything more for that crucial resource base to embark on their historic enterprise. A total of 3.1 million Igbo, or a quarter of the nation’s population at the time, were murdered in the genocide, the worst in Africa since the 19th century. On the morrow of 44 months of unrelenting slaughtering, Nigeria, the perpetrator, emerges as the undisputed obligatory haematophagous monster in this south-west-central region of Africa. Its death march on the Igbo and Igboland was soon relayed, tragically, across the continent – Uganda, the Congos, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur … resulting in the murder of an additional 12 million Africans in the subsequent 40 years.
Quite auspiciously, the record of those who ordered/executed the Igbo genocide makes no pretences, offers no excuses, whatsoever, about the goal of their dreadful mission – such was the maniacal insouciance and rabid Igbophobia that propelled the project. The principal language used in the prosecution of the genocide was Hausa. Appropriately, the words of the ghoulish anthem of the genocide, published and broadcast on Kaduna radio and television throughout the duration of the crime, are in Hausa: ‘Mu je mu kashe nyamiri/Mu kashe maza su da yan maza su/Mu chi mata su da yan mata su/Mu kwashe kaya su’ (‘Let’s go kill the damned Igbo/Kill off their men and boys/Rape their wives and daughters/Cart off their property’).
The Hausa word for war is yaki. Whilst Hausa speakers would employ this word to refer to the involvement/combat services of their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, sons, brothers, other relatives and friends in ‘Boma’ (reference to Second World War Burma [contemporary Myanmar] military campaigns/others in south-east Asia, fighting for the British against the Japanese) or even in the post-1960s Africa-based ‘peace-keeping’ military engagements in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan, they rarely use yaki to describe the 29 May 1966 – 12 January 1970 mass murder of Igbo people. In Hausaspeak, the latter is either referred to as ‘lokochi mu kashe nyamiri’ (‘when we murdered the damned Igbo’) or ‘lokochi muna kashe nyamiri’ (‘when we were murdering the damned Igbo’). Pointedly, this ‘lokochi’ (when, time) conflates the timeframes that encapsulate the two phases of the genocide (29 May 1966 – 29 October 1967 and 6 July 1967 – 12 January 1970), a reminder, if one is required, for those who bizarrely, if not mischievously, wish to break this organic link.
Elsewhere, genocidist documentation on this crime is equally malevolent and brazenly vulgar. A study of the genocide-time/‘post’-genocide era interviews, comments, broadcasts and writings on the campaign by key genocidist commanders, commandants and ‘theorists’ and propagandists such as Benjamin Adekunle, Yakubu Danjuma, Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Hassan Katsina, Ibrahim Haruna, Oluwole Rotimi, Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enaharo and Allison Ayida underscores the trend. A brief review of Obasanjo’s contribution (published in his memoirs, My Command) that focuses on his May 1969 direct orders to his air force to destroy an international Red Cross aircraft, carrying relief supplies to the encircled and blockaded Igbo, is crucially appropriate.
Obasanjo had ‘challenged’, to quote his words, Captain Gbadomosi King (genocidist air force pilot), whom he had known since 1966, to ‘produce results’ in stopping further international relief flight deliveries to the Igbo. Within a week of his infamous challenge, 5 June 1969, Obasanjo recalls nostalgically, Gbadomosi King ‘redeemed his promise’. Gbadomosi King had shot down a clearly marked, incoming relief-bearing International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) DC-7 plane near Eket, south Biafra, with the loss of its 3-person crew.
Obasanjo’s perverse satisfaction over the aftermath of this horrendous crime is fiendish, chillingly revolting. He writes: ‘The effect of [this] singular achievement of the Air Force especially on 3 Marine Commando Division [the notorious unit Obasanjo, who later becomes Nigeria’s head of regime for 11 years, commanded] was profound. It raised morale of all service personnel, especially of the Air Force detachment concerned and the troops they supported in [my] 3 Marine Commando Division.’
Yet despite the huffing and puffing, the raving commanding brute is essentially a coward who lacks the courage to face up to a world totally outraged by his gruesome crime. Instead, Obasanjo, the quintessential Caliban, cringes into a stupor and beacons to his Prospero, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson (as he, Obansanjo, indeed unashamedly acknowledges in his My Command) to ‘sort out’ the raging international outcry generated by the destruction of the ICRC plane…
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* Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is an independent scholar on inclusive state systems and the rights of constituent peoples. His new book ‘Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature’ will be published later in 2011.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Swazi workers step up challenge to royal elite
Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU)
Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU)
2nd Floor Office #4
20th May 2011
SWAZI TRADE UNIONS CALL FOR GLOBAL SOLIDARITY CONFERENCE DURING THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR CONFERENCE IN GENEVA
The Swazi trade union movement; SFTU, SFL (under the umbrella of Trade Union Congress of Swaziland - TUCOSWA) take this opportunity to pronounce its desire to take the Swazi struggle to new heights on a global scale. In doing so, we take pride in the renewed momentum inside Swaziland owing to the sacrifices by workers and the rest of the struggling and progressive fraternity of our country.
We note the strides made, including the SDC-led global week of action last year, the November 17th workers mass action, the 18th March action and the April 12th mass action and their impact on changing the political landscape of our country. In all these would count on trusted and genuine friends the world over, who never tire standing on our side and fighting in the same trenches expecting no gains in return.
These are the men and women of honour and integrity, whose names shall forever be embalmed in the walls of every Swazi corner as part of our life and history.
In this regard, working with our reliable allies in South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), our regional body, SATUCC and our continental organisation, ITUC-Africa, we shall be organizing a Global Solidarity Conference in Geneva during the 100th session of the ILC at a venue and time to be confirmed in due course. There is no other time to put the Swazi issue on the global agenda forcefully than now and we shall not hesitate to do so without further delay.
We note and welcome the ITUC report to the ILC, particularly on Swaziland and its observations that workers on a global scale have already and continue to actively support the Swazi trade union movement, when it says, ‘we need to continue to press for the realization of these demands, workers all over the world staged International Solidarity Actions for the struggle and cause of our fellow workers in Swaziland on 6, 7 and 8 September 2010, the beginning of these actions coinciding with the anniversary celebrations of Swaziland’s independence on 6 September.’
It goes on to state that, ‘Also, the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), which was launched in February 2010, and which is led by COSATU and strongly supported by ITUC affiliates and other progressive organisations in Southern Africa, has been active in championing this cause.’
Finally, it calls for decisive action when it affirms the, ‘Need to increase greater international media coverage and reporting on Swaziland and the SDC.
This will help to increase awareness, mobilise more support and solidarity and also sustain the pressure on the government to commit to reform. Achieving a genuine democratic outcome in Swaziland is key as experience continues to show that democracy and the ambience of rule of law are necessary and helpful to achieve rights' defence, protection and promotion. A proposal to this effect was already submitted by ITUC-Africa, as to organise a new series of Solidarity Exchange visits to several African countries to further deepen awareness of the SDC and mobilise for greater support and solidarity actions.’
This should present a lifetime opportunity for Swazi workers and our global counterparts to take stock of what has been done, what has not yet been done and what could be done better to make effective our campaign for democracy in Swaziland.
The highlight of all this should be the coming 2nd Global Week of action for democracy in Swaziland, schedule for the 5th to the 9th September, 2011 with the 6th September as the global day of action, meant to coincide with the 43rd anniversary of Swazi independence, which is nothing but a royal monopoly which for all these years, guaranteed the royalty exclusive control and benefit from our country’s wealth.
Therefore, we shall be marking 43 years of further suffering in the hands of royal elites after years of colonial bondage.
We invite all unions and even progressive governments and employers who shall be at the Geneva Conference to join us for a moment of serious dedication to the cause of the struggling and poor workers and people of our country. We plan to hold this Conference on the day before the appearance of Swaziland before the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS), but all details shall be confirmed in due course.
For further information, please contact:
Mduduzi Gina: SFTU Secretary General at: firstname.lastname@example.org /Barnes S. Dlamini: SFTU President at: email@example.com
Vincent Ncongwane: SFL Secretary General at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bongani Masuku: COSATU International Secretary at: email@example.com
Austin Muneku: SATUCC Executive Secretary at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Joel Odigie: ITUC Africa Human and Trade Union Rights Coordinator at: email@example.com
We count on your maximum participation for the success of this noble program.
Mduduzi C. Gina
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* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
South Africa: On democracy
Elections can be of critical importance but they’re not always all that they’re cracked up to be. No one who has lived under a dictatorship or entrenched corruption would ever dismiss the right to vote in a free and fair election as trivial. Elections like, for instance, the one that brought Adolf Hitler to power in Germany in 1932, can be decisive political events.
But while Emma Goldman’s famous observation that “If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal” looks more than a little silly in the midst of those elections in which there are real stakes for society, there are many elections in which it has more than a grain of truth. There is often a degree to which elections function as a public ritual that serves to legitimate the power of elites more than to offer any realistic prospect for ordinary people to challenge them.
The ‘established democracies’, which are supposed to be the horizon of our democratic aspirations, are often two party systems in which the electoral system, along with civil society and the media, are so distorted by the influence of money that voters are usually only able to choose between competing factions of the elite. There are many countries where no party can be a serious player without massive financial backing.
And many of the ‘established democracies’ are also imperial states that have no compunction about denying people in subordinate countries the right to freely elect their representatives. From Chile in 1973 to contemporary Haiti, the right to vote for the party of your choice has not extended to the right to vote for a party not approved of by the USA and its allies. But coups are not the only response to processes of popular and often highly democratic forms of political empowerment that threaten elite interests. It’s not unusual for the narrow version of democracy that takes the form of class rule mediated and legitimated via elections, civil society and courts without any real openings for direct popular participation to be deployed, precisely, as a reaction to popular mobilisation.
Every time South Africans go to the polls we’re subject to an incredible degree of mystification that presents the secular act of voting as a sacred ritual and invests it with all kinds of magical powers that it manifestly lacks. We’re told that if you don’t vote you can’t complain which is patently not true. Some of the most organised and effective complainers are organisations that boycott elections. We’re told that voting is a way of conveying our particular concerns upwards when in fact, unlike other forms of political activity, there’s no clear way to read the intention behind an individual vote. One person may vote for the ANC out of enthusiastic support for its steady degeneration into an increasingly demagogic and self-serving authoritarianism. The person behind her in the queue may cast the same vote but with a heavy heart and the real sense that this is the last time that she will give her support to the party if its degeneration continues. One person may vote for the DA out of racism and another in the hope of more efficient service delivery in a shack settlement.
We’re told that voting is all about making our own choice when in fact it is, in most cases, a very limited choice between two competing factions of the elite that are equally invested in scaling back people’s legitimate aspirations for a just society into an insanely unequal society contained with state violence, new forms of spatial segregation and ‘service delivery’. At its best ‘service delivery’ may be considerably better than nothing but surviving with a child support grant, a toilet and a prepaid water meter in a tiny RDP house that’s falling apart in the middle of nowhere is not exactly concrete confirmation that South Africa really belongs to all who live in it. It would be entirely perverse to present this as the realisation of the social justice envisaged in some of the strands of the struggles against apartheid.
We’re told that voting is the central act of good citizenship when in fact patient labour on a school governing body, or a direct challenge to racism, homophobia or the renascent xenophobia of the Greater Gauteng Business Forum, is likely to be a far more effective contribution. We’re told, relentlessly if implicitly, that the form of electoral democracy that we have is democracy when in fact it is a very limited form of democracy and one which is systemically weighted towards elite interests. We’re told that so many people struggled with so much courage for so many years for this democracy when, plainly, there are significant ways in which this democracy is a betrayal of those struggles.
Examples of the ways in which voting is spun into an act with all kinds of significance that it clearly doesn’t hold can be multiplied with ease. But in a country that was founded on racialised conquest, dispossession and exploitation, and which remains profoundly structured in inequality, the ritual of voting is an attractive one in that, in that moment, every person’s inscription on their ballot paper counts as one. The fact that neither of the two parties in our emerging two party system has any commitment, at all, to building a society in which each person counts as one in day to day life doesn’t mean that, as with a carnival, there is not something attractive and valuable about the moment of exception. And, of course, it’s true that when a ruling party is willing to accept defeat at the polls the prospect of losing power can and does discipline some of its more obviously anti-social tendencies from below. It’s equally clear that without the prospect of losing support at the ballot box the excesses of both the ANC and the DA would be more extreme. Neither party is likely to build more open toilets.
But these facts should not lead us to uncritically conclude that with each passing election democracy is, as the cliché goes, consolidating in South Africa. Both the ANC and the DA are committed to a top down and authoritarian mode of development planned by experts rather than attempts to democratise governance and enable the meaningful participation of ordinary people in decision-making. In fact, both parties habitually respond to popular challenges to the service delivery model, a model that requires citizens to become endlessly patient and passive recipients of services delivered from above, with state violence rather than negotiation.
In the days before the election the DA was sending out the police to deal with the land occupation in Tafelsig in Cape Town. Two days after the election the ANC was evicting, illegally, in Cato Manor in Durban. The rapid slide into the language of authoritarian populism in the ANC is entirely anti-democratic. There are some places where the party’s direct or tacit support for outright thuggery against attempts at organising outside of party control have reached the point at which it would be both empirically erroneous and ethically irresponsible to refer to the party as a democratic organisation.
The popular ferment that characterised this election took the form of struggles within the party, boycotts, decisions to run independent candidates and, in some places, a degree of movement from the ANC to the DA. All of these cracks slowly spreading across the hegemony of the ANC are certainly significant. But we need to bring the same attention to the practice of democracy outside of the electoral arena that we bring to elections. For as long as we continue to fetishise elections as democracy rather than understanding that they are just one part of our limited form of democracy our public conversation will be unable to comprehend the full significance of the competing responses to the failures of our democracy to realise the legitimate aspirations of the majority.
One response, typified by people like Julius Malema and Nceba Faku, is a move to a demagogic and authoritarian populism that is clearly and unashamedly anti-democratic. Another, supported by the DA and some strands in the ANC, is to use the courts and state violence to defend the sole right of technocrats allied to political and commercial elites to govern society. This is democratic in that it accepts that elites must accept the results of elections, but it is a mode of democracy that is so elitist that it has no prospects for redeeming the popular hopes that have been invested in our democracy. A third response is made up of various attempts, many of them under siege, to deepen and expand democracy by organising and empowering ordinary people against the elites in the party, state, civil society and business.
Elections are not irrelevant to the contestation between these different responses to the failures of our democracy but they are certainly only one part of the story.
And while there could come a time when an election is a decisive event in our society, it could also well be the case that our future is shaped to a greater degree by the vigorous contestation already under way outside of electoral politics than it is by any election.
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* This article was first published by The South African Civil Society Information Service (www.sacsis.org.za).
* Richard Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University.
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Put your shoes into my shoes
From the poor man to the rich man to conciliate the grounds of where we come from
Sharon and Conway Payn
Put your shoes into my shoes and wear me like a human being would wear another human being.
I say to anybody, try for one night and sleep outside without a blanket, try for one night, you lawful people, to sleep outside without a blanket, try for one night and take your wife with you and your kids, and sleep outside without a blanket, without eating, and you’ll feel exactly what it feels like to be in my shoes….
I was confused, scared, and disabled to maintain my family, in which, the only choice of decision that came to mind was to take the law into my own hands as the law has deprived me of my rights. In which it wasn’t a simple step to take because I knew that there were consequences behind it that would jeopardize my family and, most importantly, my kids, the tomorrows future. Because of blatant promises of houses that were promised to us 15 years ago from when Mandela had taken the chair of the apartheid system in order to de-racialise it.
In which, the promises made are not are not fulfilled due to the economy and the corruption of the higher guys in the higher positions that are still provoking, undermining, and threatening to the underprivilaged people such as I. In which, it makes it impossible as a poor person to walk into a bank and ask to be finalised for a home loan due to the finances that we receive are to low a wage to maintain the banks’ profits.
As a result, there we find ourselves in a situation of where we have to forcefully take on grounds that are not ours. Because if you look at other options to try to rent a house in which the rental in Cape Town is very high (nothing less than 1,600 rand in a backyard of where you do not have your own freedom and your children do not have a playing space for freedom due to the owners only require for your children to be in a specific area of within that backyard house of where they are not allowed to break or damage any property or else you will be held responsible for the cost of damages that your kids may have damaged).
Now, why I am on the way of Symphony Way is because even when I know that I have taken up space that belongs to the government, I know that the government owes me a home because he promised me that.
And not only that, but for the mere fact that I am free. I am free because I have choice, because I have opportunity, and mostly because I am suppressed in my position as a poor person.
The beauty of this place is when you see wrong being done you can go up to your fellow neighbour, in which your neighbour is your friend, your colleague, your supervisor, and your neighbour is also the law because we all fight for what is right. This is the feeling of being free. Ultimately you are free here on Symphony Way.
Try this and put a dog in a corner or an alley of where it does not have a way out but through you will be its only way of escape. I can bet you, that that dog will challenge you in its fearfulness that will become courage, and through faith, I assure you, it will pass you or else, most probably kill you.
Now why I say this? It is that you cannot, as a rich man, withhold me from my rights of having a home since seeing that you have promised it. Because then, if you hold back, then think of that dog and place me in that dogs position and I am human. I will by no doubt lash back and lash back hard because you are cornering not only me but the thing I love the most, my kids. Thats the best way to victimise a man and treat him like a dog in which I don’t think that you want to be that person standing in his way.
The road that we live on, on Symphony Way. I finally came to terms of understanding pure nature. Reason being: snakes walk into my house and walk out of my house, freely. Scorpions, the same. And even more, the other animals that I have not seen yet with my naked eye, also have the freedom of my home that I now live. And the only way of survival is to understand nature. Now, its a life threatening and dangerous position for the rich man to live amongst such venomous and poisonous animals. But yet, my kids, and my fellow brothers and sisters and families of Symphony Way are living it to a reality. But yet still, we are underminded, interrogated, and frustrated by the outsider called the rich man that the law abiding citizens such as the SAP/SAPS that want to evict us from our freedom to put us into misery or something even worse than my freedom, like a shack in Blikkiesdorp.
Now who gives them the right to take our freedom of choice and happiness away from us instead of giving us houses and lock us up like dogs in a place we are not familiar with. Are they not asking for us to lash out in every way possible? To make them feel the same pain and anguish that we now are going through. Nevertheless, we are also law abiding citizens. But there’s one thing I can say, that we, fight for what is right and not otherwise. That is why, we are here on Symphony Way, with choice. Because of what was promised to us years ago we are still waiting. Its insensible to take us from one shack and put us into another shack instead of a house.
Now, for the person that is wealthy, I’d say, that you are very high and mighty but you are very small-minded. As a result, I am not the fool you think I am to undermine me and make me want to live in a zinc shack. I am happy where I am and the only place I will move to from here on will be in the promised home that I deserve for my family and for the future that was promised to us as a new South Africa.
Viva South Africa! Viva! Make my dream become a reality and make me feel part of the new South Africa, the new millennium that we all speak of.
I am not a foreigner, nor an illegal alien, so I dont expect to be treated like one, that has no root and has no home (not that anyone should be treated that way that in turn makes you feel like a slave to someone else’s country). And yet, I am a human being and each human being should be treated like a human being and not a slave.
Now for you rich people, lounging with the cat (the government) upon your lap, stretching out your slippers to the fire, and giving a sleepy yawn, and stating: Oh Bother! Why are they living that way? If for a moment, you put yourself into my shoes and for a moment of time come out of your warm position and visit me or even spend a day when it is raining in my hokkie, then you will feel the emotional distress of whereby I think that even you (the same person that I pay for through VAT) are likely to cry bitter tears because of the pain that you see of someone that doesn’t want to be in this position but has no money to afford a better position. Someone that has a dream but because of suppression from the rich man makes it impossible for them to pull through that dream.
I think its because of shear selfishness. What I learned in the old days, that if you have plentiful, then you should give to the poor and you will be blessed in many ways. That it will overflow in many ways. That is why this world is so corrupt. Because the rich man has become so stingy and still wants to suppress the poor making it impossible for the poor man to survive on the little he has and that is why we are still here in waiting to fulfill that dream.
The rich man must let go of his wealth so that the week may become strong and a better nation for tomorrows future. Its called sharing. The simplest word you can find in the simplitic way of announcing. Sharing as a whole, bring a nation together as one. ‘Ubuntu’: Umuntu ngu buntu wa bantu. Because a person is a person by people. And we will all live in harmony because we are also human beings with understanding, initiatives, feelings, and dreams.
We have learned to know that patience is virtue and virtue is patient. In which we have patiently waited long enough. And in the struggle we have learned a lot by sharing with the families of Symphony Way. And uniting us together as one. One nation, one home, one vote. That has pulled us on this road so far and so long.
Luck tapped upon a cottage door. A gentle quiet tap. And Laziness who lounged within, the cat upon his lap Stretched out his slippers to the fire, And gave a sleepy yawn. O Bother! he says, let him knock again! But luck was gone.
Luck tapped more faintly still Upon another door, Where Industries was hard at work Mending his cottage floor. The door was open wide, at once. Come in, the worker cried. And luck was taken by the hand And gladly pulled inside.
He still is there, this wondrous guest, Whose out his magic hand, Fortune flows fast you know, But Laziness can never understand How Industries found such a friend.
Luck never came my way, he sized. But quite forgetting the knock upon his door that day.
This has been a feeling. When I feel. That I feel. I am going to feel a feeling that I’ve never felt before – by taking what is rightfully mine.
If only they will know now that our patience has run out. We can also divert and take what rightfully belongs to us. Our freedom of right to live in better homes because the rich man refuses to give. So the only best solution to solve this problem is to take back. Until the rich man can give, then the poor man can stop taking. But if he does not give, we won’t stop taking until they feel our pain.
Its the same thing as example: we manufacture and make the bread. But if you are not going to allow us to have a piece of that bread that we make, automatically, we are going to be hungry and eventually we gonna look at bread so much, in our hunger, that we end up taking it. And we dont just take the least, we take the most because we have a family to feed as well.
So give me what I want, then you won’t have to suffer the pain of knowing what I will do, when I do it, that I do best – taking what rightfully belongs to me. I learned it from you, the rich man. Where you have taken mine, and you have not brought it back. Limitedlessly, as Symphony Way, we have built up the courage, the strength, and the power, to take back what rightfully belongs to us.
This has really been the pain that has been bottled up and needs to be exposed. Its so traumatic, words are not enough to express it. Its a sad South Africa.
Sharing is necessary. It is because we have watched ourselves being robbed broad daylight in front of our eyes, that we have had enough.
Conway (in action with) Payn (on Symphony Way)
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Written by the Symphony Way pavement dwellers, 'No Land! No House! No Vote! Voices from Symphony Way' is published by Pambazuka Press.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Breaking Borders: Extraordinary stories of migrants
Launched on Africa Day (25 May), a new five-part series of radio documentaries chronicling the lives, challenges, dreams, and positive contributions of migrants living in South Africa, is hitting the airwaves. In ‘Breaking Borders’, five migrants tell their stories of where they came from, what life is like for them in their new home, and what their goals are for the future.
Produced by CMFD (Community Media for Development) Productions for FAHAMU Networks for Social Justice, with support from the Open Society Foundation (OSF), the Breaking Borders project brought together South African community radio journalists and both internal and external migrants to collaboratively produce the documentaries. By working together, migrants had an opportunity to access media and tell their stories, while building capacity of radio journalists to report on migration issues with a human face.
Southern Africa has a long history of mobile populations. Economic and political instability in neighbouring countries means that South Africa is at the focal point of this movement. Many come from countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, etc, looking for a better life, yet often find difficulties and hardships. Migration is an important part of South Africa’s social fabric. Yet we rarely hear the stories of how it is for a Zimbabwean to leave their home, or what it is like to be a refugee from Congo, qualified to be a teacher or nurse, and unable to find any kind of work in their new home country. This project aimed to address this gap in media access.
In her story, Jenny Ndamwemezi,* tells of how in 1994 she and her younger sister fled Burundi after their parents were killed in the civil war. When they arrived in South Africa they had nowhere to go and the young girls slept on the streets until a family friend found them and took them in. Two years later, she was brutally gang raped while walking home from school. She was only 14.
Like many migrants who suffer sexual abuse, she did not report the incident to the police, or go to a hospital. She still struggles to cope with the psychological effects of the rape. ‘Sometimes I used to blame myself, even now, I do blame myself sometimes,’ she says, ‘but when I sit, I say no it was not my fault. It was nobody’s fault.’ Yet like many who seek a better life in peaceful countries Ndamwemezi has worked hard to overcome the trauma she experienced. She now volunteers her time helping other refugees, especially women, resettle.
Similarly, Darius Kwigomba is a 32-year old refugee activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo. When Kwigomba arrived in South Africa, he struggled to access services available for refugees because he did not know what rights he had. He is now working as a refugee activist helping other migrants and refugees. ‘I have joined an organisation called co-coordinating body of refugee and migrant communities (CBMRC),’ he says. ‘We try to help refugees to know their rights. Most of them they don’t know their rights so the CBMRC is willing to help them.’
Other stories tell of what it is like to be young and on your own in the big city, with big dreams of a future career that combines sports and education, as well as overcoming the traumatic experiences of xenophobia. Not all migration is from outside, and Ana Ndlomo talks about coming to Joburg from Mpumalanga, and the work that she now does around HIV awareness in the city centre.
The touching stories share insights into what it is like to leave home - from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Congo, Burundi, and even from within the country - and journey far away to the bright lights and big city of Johannesburg, a place full of both challenges and opportunities. What is clear from each story is that life is not easy for migrants living in Johannesburg, yet the contributions to the social, economic and cultural fabric of the country are as varied as they are.
The documentaries are being distributed free of charge to radio stations, along with a presenters’ guide to facilitate discussion.
To read more or listen online, find Breaking Borders on www.cmfd.org
To request more information or a copy of the CD, contact:
Community Media for Development (CMFD) Productions
PO Box 66193, Broadway 2020, JHB
+27 (0)73 132 7032
Jenny Ndamwemezi is a 25-year old refugee from Burundi. She and her younger sister were forced to leave their home in 1994 after their parents were killed in the civil war. When they arrived in South Africa four years later, they had nowhere to go and slept on the streets. Fortunately, a family friend found them and took them in. Two years later, Jenny was brutally gang raped while walking home from school. She was only 14. Like many migrants who suffer sexual abuse, she did not report the incident to the police, or go to a hospital. Jenny still struggles to cope with the psychological effects of the rape. She currently volunteers with Islamic Relief, assisting other refugees – particularly women and orphans like herself – and works hard to support her two loving children. LISTEN HERE...
Onyebuchi Onyejieke is a 20-year old Nigerian basketball player living in Johannesburg. He has lived in South Africa since he was 13 and is the sole provider for himself and his younger sister. He works as a basketball and soccer coach at a local high school to make ends meet. Onye dreams of one day playing professional basketball overseas, but knows that his sister’s welfare will always come first. Onye is one of thousands of young migrants making it on their own in South Africa. He is also one among hundreds of migrant athletes searching for better opportunities. LISTEN HERE...
Ana Ndlomo is a young woman from Mpumalanga who migrated to Johannesburg in 2004. Soon after she arrived, she met Connie, who helped her find a place to stay and some work. In 2004, Ana discovered she was HIV positive, and probably contracted the disease from her husband. Ana struggled with the diagnosis, but eventually came to accept that it did not mean the end of her life. She now works part time with the sex worker’s advocacy organisation Sisonke, educating sex workers in hotels and on the streets about safer sex, condom use, and HIV counseling and testing. LISTEN HERE...
Darius Kwigomba is a 32-year old refugee activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo. When civil war broke out in 1998 he was forced to flee the country, and came to Johannesburg. When he arrived, he knew no one, had no place to stay, no food and no job. He struggled to access services available for refugees because he didn’t know what rights he had. He worked hard selling vegetables and working as a security guard to pay for college. He now works with the Coordinating Body of Migrant and Refugee Communities defending the rights of other refugees and migrants. LISTEN HERE...
Farai Chinomwe is a Zimbanwean musician living in Johannesburg. He came to the city after being given the opportunity to study. After his study plans fell through, he began to make his living playing the mbira – or finger piano. Farai is passionate about the mbira, understanding its spiritual significance. He is also passionate about music, and the ability of music to speak all languages and cross all cultures. In May 2008, Farai’s mbiras, as well as his home, were destroyed during the xenophobic attacks. The loss crushed his spirit. Since then, he has been working to bring people and communities together by planting trees and getting back to nature. LISTEN HERE...
South Africa: Framing the Hangberg Uprising
On 21 and 22 September 2010 South African police forces in collaboration with the Cape Town Metro Police conducted an operation in Hangberg, Hout Bay that amounted to an occupation by hostile forces of enemy territory. Thousands of rounds of rubber bullets were fired indiscriminately into crowds of residents of the area, resulting in four people having their eyes shot out. The entire action was conducted without a court order under the direct orders of Western Cape Premiere Helen Zille and Councillor J.P. Smith of the Democratic Alliance. The ostensible reason for this attack – which was tantamount to a civil war situation – was to evict people from dwellings built in a so-called ‘firebreak’ on the mountainside above the Hangberg community. After the police action, which destroyed all the dwellings, none of the broken dwellings were ever cleared away, and to this day the rubble and ruin of the two-day action constitutes a far greater fire hazard than when those dwellings were the proud homes of hundreds of people.
My colleague film-maker Dylan Valley and I went into Hangberg to piece together the true story of what happened on those two fateful days. We were dissatisfied with the mainstream television, radio and newspaper reports that were entirely circumscribed by the language of the City and Police press releases, defining the people of Hangberg as ‘hooligans’ and claiming that the violence was started by the people and not by the police. The result of our investigation is an 86 minute documentary called ‘The Uprising of Hangberg’ that was first screened in October 2010 in a rough edit and has been used tactically as a means of waking people up to the completely out of control police force in the Western Cape that operates with impunity against the poor, against the disadvantaged and against the landless, serving only the interests of the moneyed classes.
I was interviewed by email in January 2011 by a trade publication called Screen Africa but was really surprised to receive indication from them that my interview had been considerably cut into after a ‘legal person’ had advised the publication that ‘it would be defamatory to keep the Hellen Zille statements in.’ Pambazuka readers can read the entire text of the interview as published by Screen Africa here:
‘Police brutality seen from above’
It is really fascinating to compare what was published there with the complete unexpurgated answers that I sent to the publication, published below. What for me was most salient was question 4, where my answer touched upon the issue of how white power is entirely protected by the machinery of state force in so-called ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa. This answer was tellingly omitted from the published interview, a striking example of how white power always camouflages itself and its workings in its own media.
COMPLETE UNEDITED INTERVIEW BETWEEN KAREN VAN SCHALKWYK AND ARYAN KAGANOF ABOUT THE UPRISING OF HANGBERG
SCREEN AFRICA (1): You mention that you want to communicate to an audience what happened in hangberg 21/22 sep – what was your main reasons in making this doc?
ARYAN KAGANOF: ten years ago i lived for six months next to hangberg and my experiences with the community there were extremely positive. it’s a very friendly, tight-knit community of fisherfolk that does not in any way resemble what i read about in the newspapers on 21 and 22 september – the so-called “hooligans” who were “out of control”. my colleague film maker dylan valley and i went into hangberg with young student film maker reza salie with the intention of finding out for ourselves what was really going on, and why the police force had shot thousands of rounds of rubber bullets indiscriminately into this community, causing 75 people to be injured with 4 people having their eyes shot out.
SCREEN AFRICA (2): you want to give a voice to the voiceless/the community. in what way did the media/broadcaster act unfairly in their reports on hangberg?
ARYAN KAGANOF: the reporting on the atrocities committed by the police in hangberg is no different really from what passes for “journalism” in south africa today. so-called journalists simply re-gurgitate official police statementsf as “news”. there is no culture of interrogation of authority. when the city of cape town, and in particular councillor jp smith, issued entirely defamatory statements and photographs attempting to prove that ikram halim and delon egypt (who both had their left eyes shot out by trigger-happy thugs called “policemen”) were stone throwers, the journalists never investigated the accusations, but simply printed the photographs and accusations as “news”, thereby defaming innocent victims of police brutality. in fact ikram halim was a hero of the day as his purpose for being on the battlefield was to help evacuate schoolchildren from the line of fire. yes, the police were firing into crowds where schoolchildren were on their way to school. and all of this under direct orders of the premier of the western cape, helen zille.
SCREEN AFRICA (3): what in instigated the incident at hangberg and what do you think could have been done to prevent the brutality?
ARYAN KAGANOF: the ostensible reason for the incident was to take down a number of informal dwellings that were a “fire hazard”. however the city authorities merely demolished the dwellings and left the piles of wood and furniture where the homes had been standing – in fact a far greater fire hazard than before! my personal opinion is that the show of force was a clear example of the premier of the western cape wanting to punish the community of hangberg for not playing ball with her designs on the area. it was clearly an abuse of power, especially since most of the dwellings that were demolished were not even standing on city owned land, but in fact on land owned by sa parks board. this abuse of state power, in a normal functioning democracy, would have resulted in the immediate resignation and/or dismissal of western cape premier helen zille from her position. simply as a democratic fact in terms of how accountability works. perversely in south africa nothing has happened. is this because the hangberg community are khoisan people? (previously described as so-called “coloured” in apartheid nomenclature).
SCREEN AFRICA (4): Generally the police and politician have no respect for the citizens – what can this and does it lead to in your opinion?
ARYAN KAGANOF: i cannot agree with this statement. i think that in the south africa we live in today the police and politicians have the utmost respect for so-called “white” citizens. if the citizens of hangberg were so-called “whites” nobody would have been shot at on 21 and 22 september 2010.
SCREEN AFRICA (5): What did you shoot the doc on – camera and edit on – any challenges?
ARYAN KAGANOF: dylan valley and reza salie shot on a combination of sony hdv and canon 7d cameras whilst i shot on my nokia n95 mobile phone camera. we also used a lot of material shot on a panasonic dv camcorder by greg louw, a community acitivist who was filming the events leading up to the police brutality of 21 and 22 september, as well as exhaustively filming both of those days. furthermore a number of hangberg residents provided us with mobile phone footage they had taken of the police force’s violations of human rights and indiscriminate shooting into crowds etc. we also got some excellent hdv footage from hout bay resident suzette bell-roberts who was watching the entire event from her house above hangberg. what is unique about these events is that hangberg is on a mountain slope and so, inlike in a normal flat township situation when police brutality generally goes unrecorded, here the actions of the police could be filmed from above – in some instances very very clearly! what neither the city, nor the police, nor the western cape premier seem to have realized is that we live in the media age where everybody has access to filming media. this is not the time of apartheid where the state had complete control of all access to media information.
SCREEN AFRICA (6): What were the greatest challenges in making this doc?
ARYAN KAGANOF: it was very important to have this documentary out as soon as possible. we had the first public screening of an 18min edit of the material in a cinema in observatory within a week of the events happening. we wanted the documentary to be used by the people of hangberg to give their side of the story, to balance out the incorrect version of events that the city and state media had been propagated. so it was very very tense, working around the clock for a couple of weeks.
SCREEN AFRICA (7): how did you go about shooting the doc – everyday at the uprising, after the event, interviews, footage etc?
ARYAN KAGANOF: we all took turns going into hangberg and working with the community. we were greatly helped by young film maker nadine cloete who came in with us and assisted us with the shoot. in fact it was amazing how many film makers rallied around to help us. craig matthew loaned us a massive hard drive to dump all the material onto and llewelyn roderick gave enormous technical help putting it all together. even damir radovic, a joburg based film producer who happened to be in hangberg just before the uprising, made the material he had shot there available to us. so that was extremely gratifying – to find out that in this cut throat industry there was still so much generosity of human spirit and willingness to work together against a clear example of police and state injustice to weak and vulnerable people.
SCREEN AFRICA (8): How was the doc financed and budget?
ARYAN KAGANOF: there was no finance and budget! dylan and i spent our own money. there simply was no time to go through the normal film financing channels.
SCREEN AFRICA (9): Where will you distribute – libraries, school and internationally – where internationally? More detail and the feedback so far on the doc.
ARYAN KAGANOF: david forbes has graciously offered to represent the film internationally and so hopefully it will find an audience out there. we are currently speaking to dan jawitz of fireworx about national distribution. thus far we have organized all screenings ourselves, including community screenings in kayamandi (in collaboration with domus at stellenbosch university and the ekhaya trust), the labia cinema in cape town (thanks to ludi krauss) and one upcoming at idasa on 3 february (thanks to andreas spath).
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Aryan Kaganof is a South African artist, writer and filmmaker.
* This transcript was first published on kagablog.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
All roads lead back to China
Across Africa, China has become known as the agent of mass construction, wisely bartering infrastructural development – chiefly mining-specific – for long-term access to strategic resources. In the process, China foregoes the usual Western opium, of capital returns from the sale of resources.
But then China has no need for capital returns. One primary reason for Beijing's policy banks such as China Export-Import Bank (China Exim) earmarking 79 per cent of investment to mining-specific development (including mega-dams, railways, roads, and ports) is to recycle Beijing's foreign exchange reserves (estimated at US$3 trillion) into Africa. Another, as outlined by the China Exim clause, is redirecting China's cheapened goods – such as cement, and labour, to Africa, amounting to no less than 50 per cent of total contract value.
Through this mechanism, Ghanaian cocoa, Gabonese iron and Congolese oil have been swapped for construction of dams (Bui, Poubara, and River Dam), allowing Chinese corporations such as Sinohydro to capture the bulk of Africa's hydropower market. The 'barter system' thus enables China to export goods and labour, facilitating for China the opportunity to 'import' their recycled project capital in addition to African resources. In the process, China has activated arguably the same 'Western' capitalist vehicles of engagement but with one noticeable difference: Prior to Beijing's entrance, just 4 per cent of foreign direct investment was earmarked for infrastructure. But China leaves behind more than an empty hole in the ground; it has constructed stadiums across the continent, as well as buildings and special economic zones (SEZ). Some scholars say this is beneficial as China has shown just one 'face' in their dealings, driving to create in Africa, special economic zones of the type that catalysed China's own growth and industrialisation.
Since inception, China's leading SEZ Shenzhen – shaped under Communist Party leader Deng Xiaopeng, has attracted powerful names and foreign investment portfolios of Western corporations such as Walmart. These days, Shenzhen hosts a population of more than 4.5 million people. But while China has auctioned their 'Open Door Policy' of the late 1980s to Africa – the corporate fiscal and para-fiscal paradise in all its glory – aligning the characteristics of these political economies would be a mistake.
Unlike in Zambia, for instance, where China lobbied for and established a special economic zone, the home country government is not in the driver’s seat. Rather, it remains a rent-seeking entity, capitulating to enclave 'tax advantageous' economic zones designed to export resources beneficiated by Chinese companies back to China, while remitting the bulk of export revenue to said companies. While the chief interest of Western corporations operating in China is the SEZ, for the China, SEZs are a peripheral element to the central 'Going Out' policy, shifting 'over-compensated' industries, no longer economically advantageous to China, to developing countries. China's line is that selective industrialisation will benefit developing countries through beneficiation and reduced import of cheap goods.
Ten African governments allegedly expressed an interest in setting up SEZs. While Tanzania and Cape Verde were rejected, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mauritius and Zambia were given the green light. The SEZs differ in ownership: Some, like Ethiopia and Mauritius are owned outright while others like Nigeria's Ogun State hold shares (18 per cent). Chinese companies took the lead with over 120 companies bidding, hosted by the Ministry of Commerce, People's Republic of China (MOFCOM). In Zambia, the SEZ was located in Chambishi (with a subzone in Lusaka), and developed by China Nonferrous Mining Group (CNMC). Initiated in 2003, the Chambishi SEZ has grown from 2km2 to 11.58 km2, focusing on copper and cobalt processing. The Lusaka SEZ (5km2) focuses on garments, food, appliances, tobacco and electronics.
As Deborah Brautigam, a leading specialist on China disclosed, perks for Chinese corporate developers include access to US$29-44 million in grants and long-terms loans of up to US$294 million. Other performance-based subsidies included reimbursement for half of their moving expense; 30 per cent of the costs of SEZ development including preconstruction (securing land, preparing tender bids, feasibility studies etc) and implementation (insurance, rent or purchase of land, facilities etc). Corporate developers may also benefit from provincial subsidies (accounting for Ethiopia's US$14m grant from Suzhou) or from another policy entity, such as the China Africa Development Fund under the umbrella of the China Development Bank. Brautigam notes that although many Chinese companies are state-owned, the company may be the main actor. Brautigam refers to Dan Haglund (2009) quote from a financial profession on Beijing's role in the Chambishi zone: ‘Usually you have representation coming through the Chinese government, through the CNMC then they will have chats with the government [of Zambia], just like when they were signing in this Chambishi SEZ.’ Yet, even if promoted as private investment, most – if not all – Chinese equity is intertwined with State-State capital, rendering the intent deeply political.
The CNMC itself, for instance, is a large state-owned entity under the direct supervision China's State-owned Asset Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), a government arm. Haglund writes that while the Chinese government does not get involved in the day-to-day operation of overseas Chinese enterprises, Beijing has a strong interest in setting policy objectives and monitoring firms alignment with said strategies. ‘Policy implementation takes place through an institutional framework of bureaucratic entities under the PRC State Council. However this system may not be as formalized as suggested...In a highly hierarchical state structure where strategically important firms are closely associated with political decision makers, some SOE executives are higher up the chain of command than SASAC officials.’
A deputy director working for the Ministry of Commerce notes: ‘Some of the managers/CEOs of the big SOEs, their position in the system of China’s officials is higher than the leader of the SASAC – so it is difficult, if the SASAC wants to change that person, maybe they have to get the support of the Premier. And sometimes they will even require President Hu Jintao.’
But China is eager to appear fair: When Zambia's Minister of Trade and Industry offered to create special Chinese-only enclaves, China responded by welcoming foreign investors. At Chambishi, the CNMC – aiming for 40 Chinese, and 10 foreign entities by 2011 – has established 13 subsidiary companies designed to process minerals and otherwise closely connected to mined resources, allegedly creating 2,000 jobs in the process. In exchange for building the Chambishi Copper Smelter, pegged to process 150,000 tonnes annually, and create 600 jobs, Chinese companies receive an SEZ tax rate of 0 per cent.
Deep in the heart of Zambia's copperbelt, the previously closed Chambishi mine, holding 33 million tonnes of proved copper reserves and a further 100 million tonnes of potential reserves, was re-opened by China in 2005. CNMC owns 85 per cent of the mine with the remaining 15 per cent held by Zambia's ZCCM Holdings. Copper concentrates from Chambishi and other mines will be transported to the smelter, projected to generate an additional US$300 million in export revenue accruing to the owners (CNMC holds a 60 per cent share). But who ultimately pays the price of development and what sort of mispricing occurs? Governance specialist Lena Hasle said about perks allocated to China, ‘no one here knew about it, including all those people in the donor community who speak to the Ministry of Finance every day …It was completely unannounced beforehand, nobody knew that Zambia has to have export-processing zones where you had no taxes.’
Johan Lagerkvist, a senior research fellow from the Swedish Institute for International Affairs quoted a Zambian economist who stated with irritation, ‘On paper the zone looks good, and if implemented it would also be good. But later on the initial Chinese contractor for the zone, said it was no longer feasible – it was too expensive. So now they wanted Zambia to borrow money from China to pay for the buildup.’ Lagerkvist put the same question to a local official in Ndola, the capital of the Copperbelt who responded, ‘I can tell you that in fact everyone is in the dark. You know, even if you are a boss from cabinet office they still won’t let you into their zone! Even when the minister of the Copperbelt was to attend an enterprise presentation, the Chinese delegation did not care about translation.’
Though Zambia was pegged as the third largest recipient of Chinese investment in Africa, Zambian labour unions appear to less thrilled with the premise of Chinese FDI as the means of national development, stating, ‘Chinese FDI has had modest impact on national development…with overall negative impacts on the labour market.’ Critics say that China has heeded complaints with CNMC now increasing salaries by 12-15 per cent. But of the 10 per cent of labour in Zambia utilised by mines, the bulk is subcontracted, often deferred for months, and remitting just US$30- US$50 per month to miners when salaries are paid. On the subject of 'exported' Chinese labour and its effect on Zambian workers, Zambia's former Minister of Commerce argued that China was, ‘displacing local people and causing a lot of friction. You have Chinese laborers here moving wheelbarrows. That’s not the kind of investment we need.’
But China certainly needs Zambia to need China. The country is Africa's largest copper exporter, producing over 800,000 tonnes a year (2010); and China leads the world's demand, elevating price per tonne (ppt) to a high of US$10,000. In contrast to another major copper producer, Chile, Zambia's copper industry is largely privatised, previously hosting one of the world's lowest royalty rates (0.6 per cent) with a corporate tax rate of 'effectively zero' according to the World Bank's IFC (once deferments etc were factored in).
Despite Zambia since increasing copper royalty rates to 3 per cent, after missing out on the five year commodity boom, Zambian president Rupiah Banda has ruled out windfall taxes and generally opposed measures designed to prevent mispricing and other forms of revenue leakages. Copper is said to contribute just under 3 per cent of the Zambian government's real revenue. As the agent of mass construction, China is certainly leaving behind a tangible footprint. And thus far, all roads, railways and SEZs appear to lead back to China.
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* Khadija Sharife is southern Africa correspondent for The Africa Report.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Françafrique: We’ll go when we’ve finished
In 2006 Oxfam published a report ‘Up in Smoke’ on the impact of climate change in Africa, which stated although the continent had played ‘virtually no role in global warming’, it would suffer the most. It lays the blame squarely with the economic activity of ‘rich industrialized nations’.
‘Climate change is overwhelming the situation in Africa... unless we take genuine steps now to reduce our emissions, people in the developed world will be condemning millions to hunger, starvation and death,’ campaign group Friends of the Earth’s Tony Juniper added. Five years later, Ethiopian Feminist posts an excellent in depth report on the vulnerability to climate change on women in Ethiopia. She lists land degradation, soil erosion, droughts, floods, water shortages and pollution as the main areas of concern.
‘Women in Ethiopia make up 50% of the total population according to a 2007 Central Statistics Agency report. As approximately 85% of the Ethiopian population resides in the rural areas, most women therefore are engaged in subsistence form of agriculture. The interaction of women in Ethiopia with their environment is multifaceted. Like in most rural communities, women have been socially assigned the task of safeguarding and tending to their family’s basic needs in the provision of food, health and hygiene maintenance. Where poverty is rampant in rural communities women do not have access to technological facilities or mechanisms that reduce the amount of labour that goes into their house work or food production. Often women have to walk very far distances to gain access to water for drinking and other household needs as well as to collect fuel wood for cooking or for sale. Their involvement in subsistence farming also directly engages them to their natural environment where production for the household and provision of food for the home is solely their responsibility. In terms of biodiversity, Ethiopian women are also engaged in livestock management especially in pastoralist communities where their livelihood is livestock dependent. Additionally, from a spiritual perspective, tree species, mountains and river streams are important to the Oromo ethnic group of Ethiopia, some of whom practice an ancient spiritual tradition that entails performing sacred rituals in the presence of natures attributes aforementioned. The preservation of a healthy and functioning ecosystem is therefore critical to the country’s well being generally but also specifically to Ethiopian women’s safety, socio-economic and spiritual dimensions of their existence.’
Nigerian blogger The Activist reports from Kenya on a water based project ‘Carbon for Water’. The Activist is one of three bloggers chosen to visit Kakamega in the west of Kenya and report on the project.
‘The Carbon For Water project in Kakamega will cost over 30 million USD with distributions of LifeStraw water filters reaching nearly one million people in five weeks with 4,000 community workers and 4,000 transporters involved. All in all,4.5 million people will benefit! This project will be run for ten years and families will be offered free replacement of the LifeStraws when they wear out.’
The funders of the project, Vestergaard Frandsen, are hoping to recuperate their costs through a system of carbon credits (carbon trading) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the global south. However wonderful this may sound on paper, the fact remains that it does very little to address the problems of climate change such as the continued use of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal). It remains far easier to buy carbon credits than it is to make the necessary industrial and infrastructural changes. (For more on carbon trading see Oil Watch Dog.
Justice in Nigeria reports on environmental activists from oil- producing regions speaking out against Chevron’s harmful operation in their communities. From Nigeria, Emem Okon says:
‘I am here to represent the women of the Niger Delta who live in communities near gas flares and who suffer health issues of infertility, early menopause, miscarriages, cancer, rashes; women who fish in waters polluted by Chevron; who drink Chevron polluted water because there is no other source of drinking water; women whose traditional means of livelihood of farming and fishing have been destroyed by Chevron oil business activities; the women who confronted Chevron years back over the injustice perpetrated by Chevron in their communities. Chevron claims to recognize the value of fresh water as a fundamental social, environmental and economic resource but Chevron pollutes the fresh water in the Niger Delta with impunity. I have questions from the Niger Delta women: WHEN WILL CHEVRON STOP ENVIRONMENTAL VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN? WHEN WILL CHEVRON STOP THE TOXIC FLARES IN THE NIGER DELTA? WHEN WILL CHEVRON STOP DESTROYING THE HEALTH AND WELL BEING OF THE WOMEN IN THE NIGER DELTA REGION? If Chevron is not ready to stop the toxic flares, Niger Delta Women say: “LEAVE THE OIL IN THE SOIL”’.
Africa on the Blog posts on the truth about biofuels made from a shrub called Jatropha, described as ‘green gold in a shrub’, and its use in Africa:
‘Governments in both Africa and Europe have failed to factor in the social costs of a biofuel-heavy agricultural development agenda in the former or sustainability strategy in the latter. No one is holding big business to account as it fills up marshes, cuts down trees and displaces people. According to a joint briefing paper released by the aforementioned charities, “The EU criteria potentially allow up to 50% of global forested areas to be eligible for conversion for biofuels.” As one British member of parliament, vehemently opposed to RED’s targets puts it: “there is a sustainability question about the sustainability policy.”
So here’s the truth, well at least through the prism of my understanding and experience: biofuels are not the enemy. Energy consumption in the developed world and among BRIC countries is undoubtedly leading to climate change, the impacts of which are felt hardest by the poorest, so something has got to give and in the aviation industry, for example, biofuels are the only viable alternative. In the same breathe, the seemingly arbitrary way in which the EU has set its targets for reducing emissions and increasing energy sources from biofuels is creating yet another market in which the few profit at the expense of the many. Industry is never altruistic. If profit is not to come at the expense of people then the rights of local communities must be spelt out in the law and protected to the letter.’
Southern Perlo publishes an interview with Liberian activist, Leymah Gboween who was one of the main women leaders in bringing peace to Liberia as dipicted in the film ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’. Here she speaks of her work with child soldiers.
‘During the years of engagement with these little boys, it became very clear how patriarchy as a system first influenced first their decision to join the rebellion. John (not his real name) told me he had joined the rebellion because his older brother joined, and that every time he came back from the war front, the community hailed him as a “real man”, and he also at 12 wanted to prove that he was a real man. When we met at 19, he had lost an eye and had many physiological scars that would render him unfit to achieve his full life’s potentials.
‘Joseph’s story is also similar; “the boys who joined the rebellion came back and were really respected and were seen often in the company of the elders and community leaders. When we came around we were told we were little boys and could not sit in the company of men. I wanted to prove that I too could sit in the company of elders, so I joined to rebellion”. Joseph lost a leg during the war, and now lives in Monrovia as a shoemaker.’
This is Africa publishes a post on how France continues to live off Africa:
‘Just before France conceded to African demands for independence in the 1960s, it carefully organised its former colonies (CFA countries) in a system of "compulsory solidarity" which consisted of obliging the 14 African states to put 65% of their foreign currency reserves into the French Treasury, plus another 20% for financial liabilities. This means these 14 African countries only ever have access to 15% of their own money! If they need more they have to borrow their own money from the French at commercial rates! And this has been the case since the 1960
‘As a result of the “colonial pact” former French colonies are tied into selling their natural resources to France and in awarding government contracts, French companies must be considered first.
‘Overall the Colonial Pact gives the French a dominant and privileged position over Francophone Africa, but in Côte d'Ivoire, the jewel of the former French possessions in Africa, the French are overly dominant. Outside parliament, almost all the major utilities - water, electricity, telephone, transport, ports and major banks - are run by French companies or French interests. The same story is found in commerce, construction, and agriculture..........In short, the Colonial Pact has created a legal mechanism under which France obtains a special place in the political and economic life of its former colonies.’
In Black Looks, Mia Nikasimo publishes a piece of prose on the need for an increased dialogue with the ‘T’ in LGBTIQ:
‘The day after the night before the unlocking of the activist’s jaws “Sweet!” said she to say goodbye and welcome in one voice, one. I am transgender, not a transgenderist, a transsexual woman! No Butcher than butch, no femme® than femme, me: a lesbian at arms, No Less; not less, no more baby, have no fear, have no fear, just be!
Don’t be afraid to let me change ala Leslie Feinberg, warrior dame! No side bitching bitches will unsettle the earth from its axial perch, The diversity of the unit depends on us uniting; no back talking… Yes, so I admit to being a lesbian albeit fearful of your nationalism You and your fag hag bitching like we weren’t even here together.
The night was a success, I can feel me: black, transsexual, woman A lesbian. Why did you ask? Why didn’t she answer? Why not fly Free in the face of it all. Cautiously treading these uncharted tides. How long was I sat there without voice? Is there a lesbian panelist? I was there doing the personal is the political… Not speaking yet.
In me, speaking my voice in us; raising consciousness that we know, That we speak out, we exist in this world, respect ourselves, others When admissions arise, “what is transgenderism, any how? Answer: Come one, come all under one umbrella and unite; speak one voice. Tracy O’Keefe said it best, “Trans X u all”1 watch this active fist.’
Finally an excellent informative post from Buala on the ‘Role of Music in African Cinema’.
‘Since the early days of African cinema, music has formed part of a (self) conscious discourse concerning the problematic realities of Africa. Its use has rarely been gratuitous and goes far beyond the traditional—and much less experimental—Western customs of dramatic punctuation, of evocation of place, of establishing an emotional relationship with the spectator in which the image is almost always predominant, or as accompaniment to the never-ceasing rush of action that hardly leaves one time to think… In African cinema, music is stressed in terms of its cultural, poetic, and artistic functions in relation to oral tradition, with reference to such figures as the griot; it is used to critique the reductive commonplace of tradition versus modernity employed by partisans of a fabricated, purist, and ultimately nefarious—in its insistence on the notion of an “unadulterated essence”— “return to the roots”; it is blended into narration as an essential component and as a marker for critical moments; it works to evoke spaces where time slackens and opens up, giving way for ambiguity and reflection; and it mirrors the continuing urbanization of every aspect of African life, its constant contact with a West for which music is often a tool of domestication, of modernization, and of cultural imperialism.’
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* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Event: Women and Security Governance in Africa
UK book launch
Funmi Olonisakin, director of the Conflict, Security and Development Group at King’s College London. She initiated the establishment of the African Leadership Centre, which aims to build the next generation of African scholars generating cutting-edge knowledge on peace, security and development.
Awino Okech, doctoral fellow and lecturer with the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town.
Ecoma Alaga, co-founder and director of programmes of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-Africa) based in Accra, Ghana.
Ekaette Ikpe, research associate with the Conflict, Security and Development Group at King’s College London.
Chaired by Patricia Daley, lecturer in geography at the University of Oxford, whose work includes research on the state and violence in Central Africa.
Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter - June issue
Dispatch From Tripoli: NATO's Feast of Blood
While serving on the House International Relations Committee from 1993 to 2003, it became clear to me that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was an anachronism. Founded in 1945 at the end of World War II, NATO was founded by the United States in response to the Soviet Union's survival as a Communist state. NATO was the U.S. insurance policy that capitalist ownership and domination of European, Asian, and African economies would continue. This also would ensure the survival of the then-extant global apartheid.
NATO is a collective security pact wherein member states pledge that an attack upon one is an attack against all. Therefore, should the Soviet Union have attacked any European Member State, the United States military shield would be activated. The Soviet Response was the Warsaw Pact that maintained a "cordon sanitaire" around the Russian Heartland should NATO ever attack. Thus, the world was broken into blocs which gave rise to the "Cold War."
Avowed "Cold Warriors" of today still view the world in these terms and, unfortunately, cannot move past Communist China and an amputated Soviet Empire as enemy states of the U.S. whose moves any where on the planet are to be contested. The collapse of the Soviet Union provided an accelerated opportunity to exert U.S. hegemony in an area of previous Russian influence. Africa and the Eurasian landmass containing former Soviet satellite states and Afghanistan and Pakistan along with the many other "stans" of the region, have always factored prominently in the theories of "containment" or "rollback" guiding U.S. policy up to today.
With that as background, last night's NATO rocket attack on Tripoli is inexplicable. A civilian metropolitan area of around 2 million people, Tripoli sustained 22 to 25 bombings last night, rattling and breaking windows and glass and shaking the foundation of my hotel.
I left my room at the Rexis Al Nasr Hotel and walked outside the hotel and I could smell the exploded bombs. There were local people everywhere milling with foreign journalists from around the world. As we stood there more bombs struck around the city. The sky flashed red with explosions and more rockets from NATO jets cut through low cloud before exploding.
I could taste the thick dust stirred up by the exploded bombs. I immediately thought about the depleted uranium munitions reportedly being used here--along with white phosphorus. If depleted uranium weapons were being used what affect on the local civilians?
Women carrying young children ran out of the hotel. Others ran to wash the dust from their eyes. With sirens blaring, emergency vehicles made their way to the scene of the attack. Car alarms, set off by the repeated blasts, could be heard underneath the defiant chants of the people.
Sporadic gunfire broke out and it seemed everywhere around me. Euronews showed video of nurses and doctors chanting even at the hospitals as they treated those injured from NATO's latest installation of shock and awe. Suddenly, the streets around my hotel became full of chanting people, car horns blowing, I could not tell how many were walking, how many were driving. Inside the hotel, one Libyan woman carrying a baby came to me and asked me why are they doing this to us?
Whatever the military objectives of the attack (and I and many others question the military value of these attacks) the fact remains the air attack was launched a major city packed with hundreds of thousands of civilians.
I did wonder too if the any of the politicians who had authorized this air attack had themselves ever been on the receiving end of laser guided depleted uranium munitions. Had they ever seen the awful damage that these weapons do a city and its population? Perhaps if they actually been in the city of air attack and felt the concussion from these bombs and saw the mayhem caused they just might not be so inclined to authorize an attack on a civilian population.
I am confident that NATO would not have been so reckless with human life if they had called on to attack a major western city. Indeed, I am confident that would not be called upon ever to attack a western city. NATO only attacks (as does the US and its allies) the poor and underprivileged of the 3rd world.
Only the day before, at a women's event in Tripoli, one woman came up to me with tears in her eyes: her mother is in Benghazi and she can't get back to see if her mother is OK or not. People from the east and west of the country lived with each other, loved each other, intermarried, and now, because of NATO's "humanitarian intervention," artificial divisions are becoming hardened. NATO's recruitment of allies in eastern Libya smacks of the same strain of cold warriorism that sought to assassinate Fidel Castro and overthrow the Cuban Revolution with "homegrown" Cubans willing to commit acts of terror against their former home country. More recently, Democratic Republic of Congo has been amputated de facto after Laurent Kabila refused a request from the Clinton Administration to formally shave off the eastern part of his country. Laurent Kabila personally recounted the meeting at which this request and refusal were delivered. This plan to balkanize and amputate an African country (as has been done in Sudan) did not work because Kabila said "no" while Congolese around the world organized to protect the "territorial integrity" of their country.
I was horrified to learn that NATO allies (the Rebels) in Libya have reportedly lynched, butchered and then their darker-skinned compatriots after U.S. press reports labeled Black Libyans as "Black mercenaries." Now, tell me this, pray tell. How are you going to take Blacks out of Africa? Press reports have suggested that Americans were "surprised" to see dark-skinned people in Africa. Now, what does that tell us about them?
The sad fact, however, is that it is the Libyans themselves, who have been insulted, terrorized, lynched, and murdered as a result of the press reports that hyper-sensationalized this base ignorance. Who will be held accountable for the lives lost in the bloodletting frenzy unleashed as a result of these lies?
Which brings me back to the lady's question: why is this happening? Honestly, I could not give her the educated reasoned response that she was looking for. In my view the international public is struggling to answer "Why?".
What we do know, and what is quite clear, is this: what I experienced last night is no "humanitarian intervention."
Many suspect it is about all the oil under Libya. Call me skeptical but I have to wonder why the combined armed sea, land and air forces of NATO and the US costing billions of dollars are being arraigned against a relatively small North African country and we're expected to believe its in the defense of democracy.
What I have seen in long lines to get fuel is not "humanitarian intervention." Refusal to allow purchases of medicine for the hospitals is not "humanitarian intervention." What is most sad is that I cannot give a cogent explanation of why to people now terrified by NATO's bombs, but it is transparently clear now that NATO has exceeded its mandate, lied about its intentions, is guilty of extra-judicial killings--all in the name of "humanitarian intervention." Where is the Congress as the President exceeds his war-making authority? Where is the "Conscience of the Congress?"
For those of who disagree with Dick Cheney's warning to us to prepare for war for the next generation, please support any one who will stop this madness. Please organize and then vote for peace. People around the world need us to stand up and speak out for ourselves and them because Iran and Venezuela are also in the cross-hairs. Libyans don't need NATO helicopter gunships, smart bombs, cruise missiles, and depleted uranium to settle their differences. NATO's "humanitarian intervention" needs to be exposed for what it is with the bright, shining light of the truth.
As dusk descends on Tripoli, let me prepare myself with the local civilian population for some more NATO humanitarianism.
Stop bombing Africa and the poor of the world!
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* This article first appeared in CounterPunch.
* Cynthia McKinney is a former member of Congress from Georgia. She can
be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Burkina Faso: People no longer afraid
Since the assassination of Thomas Sankara in 1987 and the reversing of the country’s revolutionary momentum, Blaise Compaoré has sustained himself through the use of terror and crime as a means of perpetuating his predatory regime, a regime marked by neglect, corruption and clan-based politics. Since February his regime has faltered in the face of the strength of a social movement which has brought together nearly all parts of society and revived the revolutionary slogan ‘the struggle goes on!’
Though the big Western drums – the great channels of global disinformation – make little noise, Burkina Faso has been in turmoil since February. Such channels, we well know, know how to be silent or lie about the real causes and the true figures within popular movements whose disarmament is sought elsewhere.
In this ‘land of honest men’, discontent has grown over the course of many years to the point where, with the catalyst of 20 February in Koudougou in the country’s Centre-West, the death of a young student protestor at the local police station, Justin Zongo, set things alight. In Burkina Faso’s third city, the youth have since been in a state of electric revolt, confronted by the violent repression of the police, which has led to numerous people in its ranks being killed by bullets and has put a flame under the provincial governorship.
On the ground, the local authorities are being employed to calm the inacceptable through lies – Zongo’s death was the result of ‘meningitis’! – and simple omissions of responsibility with respect the brutality of the Compaoré regime. The balance is heavier still: further deaths, in addition to the at least 100 injured, some of whom remain in a serious condition. The revolt has spread like wildfire, engulfing Ouagadougou, the capital, and other towns such as Poa and Ouahigouya.
Beyond such turbulent symptoms, the core reason for this challenge from the country’s youth is clear. Since 1987 – the year of Compaoré’s coup – from the assassination of Thomas Sankara and the reactionary, bloody and villainous reversal of the revolutionary momentum of the left, a regime negligent at its very core, corrupt and responsible for a series of nameless brutalities and the hidden deaths of opponents has been maintained despite everything, thanks to a politics of carrot and stick. Its appropriation of the state for its own profit has confirmed the true nature of a regime which starves its population and represses its youth, re-electing itself some four times since 1991 despite outcomes contested by its opponents – 24 years of a regime of tyranny and a highly effective mission to defend strategic French neocolonial interests in West Africa until its power becomes obsolete.
In this context, the youth’s frustrations and the general social disintegration have crystallised dangerously in the shape of coordinated confrontations with the symbols of the regime. The mutiny of the presidential guard on 14 April (and then in other military camps in Kaya, Pô and Tekodogo) has met a violent response from local traders furious at the looting of rebel soldiers, leading ultimately to demonstrators from various sectors coming together to burn down the headquarters of the party in power – the CDP (Congress for Democracy and Progress) – and the government and the mayor of Ouagadougou. In response, Compaoré imposed a curfew in the capital, retreated to his hometown, dissolved the government and dismissed the army chiefs. On 27 April, it was the turn of the police to rebel, as the school pupils, students and youth broaden their movement.
These protests each give rise to very different demands: the pupils and students demonstrate against police violence following the deaths of many among their number, the unions oppose the high cost of living and the soldiers of the presidential guard call for their housing allowance. In fact, the current Burkinabe social movement resembles a near complete cross-section of the population: youth, pupils and students, health workers, magistrates, cotton producers, traders, military personnel and now the police, protesting against the high cost of living, impunity, corruption and the predatory clan-based politics that Compaoré has systemised, unemployment and the lot of the masses.
The intensification of repression and the closing of schools and universities are a clear provocation for a youth and population aspiring for access to healthcare, food and drinkable water, a workable school and education system, a proper living space and quality public services.
One piece of excellent news is that the political opposition has since February appeared to have been working with the current social movement, a development confirmed on 30 April following the big demonstration it called in Ouagadougou ‘for Blaise Compaoré to go’. Blaise Compaoré is clearly the problem in Burkina Faso – but, after these three months of mounting protest, it’s clear that the Burkinabe people are no longer afraid! The struggle goes on!
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* Pierre Sidy is a sociologist and editor of Afrique en lutte. This article appeared in the April–May 2011 edition.
* Translated from French by Alex Free.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Outlaws and in-laws: Women, wives and money
May 25 is Africa Day. Why should this matter to me, an African woman?
About 24 years ago Richard Otieno Kwach is quoted in the New York Times published on 16 May 1987 to have remarked the following: ‘This is a very fantastic ruling by the court. This goes a long way to confirm the fact that a woman cannot be the head of an African family. Customary law must prevail.’
What was the context of such remarks? Mr Otieno Kwach was commenting on the verdict passed by the highest court in Kenya over a suit brought by Virginia Wambui Otieno following the death of her famous lawyer husband, Silvanio M. Otieno. She, the widow and mother of his children wanted to bury her late husband on the farm they shared together since they married in 1963; the place where he had expressed a desire to be laid to rest. Sadly, her in-laws felt they knew better and fought to have his body extradited to his birthplace to be buried as a Luo.
While denying Mrs Otieno’s wish to bury her husband the Kenya’s Highest Court, the Court of Appeals, declared that his tribe had a stronger claim to Otieno's body than his widow. The legal battle was messy and few in Kenya (openly) supported her stance. By defying her in-laws and the clan, Mrs Otieno had done the unthinkable and had caused herself to fall in disrepute in what remained a conservative and deeply parochial society that refused to acknowledged the revolutionary inclinations of Mrs Otieno and her husband from the time they decided to wed at the dawn of Kenya’s Independence.
Ms Virginia Wambui Otieno did, however, not just melt in the background as her in-laws expected. Following the verdict she issued her own statement and she is quoted in the same NY Times piece to have declared, ‘There is discrimination in Kenya, contrary to the United Nations convention for the elimination of discrimination against women, which Kenya ratified in 1984.’
While many refer to Wambui Otieno as the wife of a big lawyer, many forget she is a personality in her own right. Ironically that fact that she was a prominent personality in her own right and treasurer of the Third UN Conference held in Nairobi in 1985 did not mean she was immune to the very issues the ‘Nairobi Looking Strategies’ sought to address, chief among them being the debilitating gender bias and gender discrimination women faced institutionally and in their constitutional and legal frameworks – and the lack of political will to address the anomaly.
Since Ms Virginia Wambui Otieno uttered these words, little has changed for women in Kenya or Africa. In a press conference in Nairobi on 12 January 1987, she is quoted to have said about her ordeal, ‘Every woman in Kenya should look at this case keenly. There is no need of getting married if this is the way women will be treated when their husbands die’. In protest to the court’s ruling, she boycotted the burial and the rest is history.
Well, almost – until the ghosts the Luos thought they had buried came back to haunt us all. The ongoing row between Teresia Njeri, the widow of marathon runner the late Samuel Wanjiru, and his mother, Anna Wanjiru has for some time been headline news. It is also déjà vu. Indeed this is not the first time Kenya has experienced anguish of this nature after the death of one of their very famous and powerful personalities.
Other than the case involving Ms Wambui Otieno, we can also point to the trauma the wife of the then Kenyan vice president, Michael Kijana Walmalwa, Yvonne, was put through immediately after he died in London where a decision over his burial place also became centre stage.
Of course, there were other aspects of the Wamalwa’s case that I, a non-Kenyan, but a woman of African descent found troubling. It was, for example, particularly shocking, that a nation would sit idly by as their potential first lady (her runner-up status being undone by the demise of her husband) was publicly disrespected in the most humiliating of ways by the trivia of greedy relatives. This was unfathomable even in my ‘backward’ country (as our Nairobi ndugu tend to categorise most of us from Tanzania). After all, Yvonne would be considered Mama wa Taifa (Mother of the Nation) to be accorded her maternal due.
Also, disturbing and deafening was the silence from the feminist, women’s and human rights circles on her assault. Let us remember that this also happened at a time when Kenya had embarked in its Bomas process, and spirits about a new Kenya were high. It seems that most were then preoccupied with scoring political points in the fragile Kenyan’s political reality rather than upsetting the status quo. Yvonne the widow was crucified, while the man who put her in her predicament was absolved of whatever shortcomings he had and declared in countless eulogies a national saint and hero.
After writing a strong rebuke about this experience, I had thought that Kenyans had learnt from their shameful past. At least I expected that the much hyped New Constitution would address some of the anomalies in the legal status of couples to at least minimise the unnecessary legal wrangles that sought to make dead men better Luos than they were in life – or better Muslims for that matter, in the case of my own country, where religion is often used to deny a wife or partner influence over the affairs of her other half upon his demise, irrespective of how they may have chosen to live previously.
Of course the battle presently being waged is between two women in the late Samuel Wanjiru’s life, his mother and partner for about six years. To discredit Njeri, the mother claims another woman is the wife of her son. In the Wamalwa’s case countless women also claimed to be his wives or mothers of his ever-expanding colony of children raising questions about the motivation of such women to suddenly show up and expect recognition and a share of someone else’s inheritance.
I, however, do not see it as solely a problem between two women. Rather, one way we can understand the ongoing saga between the mother of the later Sam Wanjiru and his wife is to approach it as a manifestation of the outcome of having legal and social systems that reduce women to perpetual dependants – as wives or as daughters.
The fact that women are constantly kept in the background and have to prove their entitlement to their spouse/partners wealth even when they acquired the same jointly confirms that, by and large, sexist attitudes still prevail. In Wanjiru’s case this has been amplified because there is BIG money at stake and the mother risks loosing out to the wife under the laws of Kenya. Let us remember that she did get lucky with her son’s success and not while in her matrimonial relationship, which if anything left her struggling.
Thus in order to reduce the possibility of all the money going to the wife, it is strategic to accuse her of killing her husband. But if this seems flimsy she can bring in other women who can also contest for what there is and, maybe through them, as the ‘protective mother-in-law’, she is in a stronger position to negotiate a handsome share for herself.
But why should she resort to such measures? Shouldn’t a grieving mother be more interested in the welfare of his offspring? I am reluctant to blame the mother-in-law directly, even though I am disgusted by her behaviour. I understand that it is the system of inequality that has prompted her to lash for survival the way she has. If the laws on matrimonial property were fairer, mothers and daughters-in-law would not have to fight one another for the scraps, which commonly men control with little consideration of what becomes of their wives and children when they are dead
Had the legal system fully recognised the status of a wife, as it does of a husband, then other relatives would have no locus to meddle in matrimonial affairs they played little part in while the marriage lasted, but who, when it ends, feel a great urge to play financial adviser or managers, so that they can access hard-won wealth to the exclusion of those to whom it should really belong.
Incidentally, the death of Samuel Wanjiru from a tragic fall happened a few hours after the former International Monetary Fund Chief, Mr Strauss-Kahn also fell from grace after being charged of sexually assaulting an immigrant woman of African descent in a New York hotel near Times Square on 14 May. The coincidence of the two men falling tragically led me to ponder whether African women have to traverse great oceans to get some semblance of justice?
Why does justice at home remain elusive for the majority of women in Africa? Why is personal security such a struggle for women in Africa living in conflict zones, as well as in countries that are relatively stable and peaceful? In the DRC, for example, there are massive allegations of rape instigated by different power bases- be they government, militia, or rebels. Although the use of rape as a weapon of war has been condemned, we are yet to hear of women from affected communities winning legal victories over their rapists or violators even though the physical and emotional scars are still too evident to ignore.
In the Sudan, Northern Uganda and most recently North African women face countless sexual violations in political reprisals between opposing political factions. In South Africa, it is now just dangerous to be a woman – period. The risk of being violated is too high, whether straight or gay. In fact women who have expressed their sexual identity have been gang-raped or killed for not making themselves accessible exclusively for the male organ. These crimes are largely silenced and by so being they are normalised, regularised and condoned.
Alas, the mental and institutional psyche in the continent remains sexist and as such violence against women is not just normalised but is upheld as a symbol of the dominant patriarchal institution. It is also an institution that Africans purport to support unreservedly, although one wonders what would have happened if men were the ones on the receiving end and women were entitled to all the unquestioned privileges men currently enjoy.
Again, I ask, will African women have to traverse great oceans to get justice? Or some respect? I do not say this naively but intentionally. Surely it is telling that on the other side of the Atlantic, a yet unnamed African woman has so far managed to do the impossible: Her allegations of sexual assault have managed to put one of the most powerful figures representing capitalist hegemony behind bars. He has subsequently resigned his post resulting in a flurry of political activity both in his native France and in the IMF.
Already there are numerous theories about a set up, against Mr Strauss Kahn. That is not what interests me here. What I wish to focus on is how an insignificant immigrant woman was able first to get her own establishment/employer to take her seriously about her complaint; then to act on an allegation of an assault from a ‘powerful’ client; and they in turn were able to get the law enforcement system in motion to act and get this important man off his plane to answer the charges before him all in a matter of hours.
I wonder how many victims and survivors of sexual and other types of gender based violence are able to get the system to respond this quickly, especially when they are the ones without the money to trigger money happy forms of justice. Certainly, it is in sharp contrast to my own experience with the law enforcement and justice system even when the assault is not a mere allegation but happens in plain sight and thus not in dispute as to whether it happened or not.
Largely in Africa, the legal and judicial systems continue to fail womenfolk as they uphold the status quo through their pronouncements as well as their lived practice. Cases such as those of Wanjiru are but a reflection of the state in which our realities as women are predicated. Sadly, it is a reality that most of our leaders, officially or unofficially, conform to making the prospect of tying the bell on the cat’s neck a hard prospect. Fidelity? Monogamy? Will-writing? Joint ownership? These are concepts alien even to the most highly educated of the ruling class. Wamalwa was no exception nor was Wanjiru and possibly countless others ‘bright, brilliant, exceptional and talented’ men.
I ask again how can Africa women celebrate Africa Day if African women fail to be celebrated in the most intimate of spaces such as in the family or their communities? How can future Africa Days commemorated in the midst of the Women’s Decade signal Africa Women’s emancipation?
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* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
419s and the afterlife scam
‘Good morning!’ the headline greeted one cheerily. It then asked the question: ‘Are we now in the next life?’
The writer, an anonymous Ghanaian wit, was referring to the fact that the world was supposed to have ended on the previous day, 21 May 2011. That was the ‘prophecy’ made by an 89-year-old preacher who operates in Oakland, California, in the USA, called Harold Camping.
Almost all the mainstream media in the Western world had published something about what Camping called ‘The Rapture’, which was supposed to occur on 21 May 2011. On that day, the good Christians – led, of course, by the faithful followers of Camping – were to have been spirited into the air to meet the Lord Jesus Christ. He would catch them unto Himself and fly with them ‘home’ to Heaven. Meanwhile trumpets would sound like universal sirens to announce the beginning of the end of the world.
The beginning? Yes. First would come ‘The Rapture’. The end itself would occur on 21 October 2011, when the ‘sinners’ or ‘unbelievers’ left behind on the earth, would be struck by ‘Armageddon’. That would mean the destruction of the earth, preceded by a pestilence of locusts (assisted, no doubt, by armies of whining mosquitoes and itch-spreading sand-flies, as far as Africa is concerned!) famine, floods, fires, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, plus everything horrible that can happen to humans (And poor, dumb animals, for that matter).
Now, ‘Prophet’ Harold Camping is a former civil engineer, and he gains credence from many people because he deploys mathematical terms that seem to lend a scientific ring to his ‘prophecies’. He has a wide audience, for he runs ‘Family Radio’, one of the extreme right-wing radio networks that have succeeded in hijacking much of America’s political discourse. It is on such stations that irrelevant non-issues, such as the alleged ‘Muslim faith’ secretly held by President Barack Obama and Obama’s alleged birth outside the USA. (Those who believe this are called ‘birthers’ and they maintain that Obama is not constitutionally qualified to be president because he is ‘not a US citizen by birth’, although the Obama has, unusually, published his actual birth certificate for everyone to see.)
Any crackpot notion that comes into the head of a journalist or politician is given air time on such radio stations – so long as the speaker is against ‘socialist’ ideas like free health care, cheaper life insurance and state-assisted mortgage repayments, but supports tax cuts for the rich, or the withdrawal of food stamps and other social security benefits. It is these stations that have given power to bigoted right-wing ‘pundits’ like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
Thus, when Harold Camping announced that the date for the end of the world would come in two stages in 2011, he had a ready audience that stretched – according to an article on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website – ‘from the Bay Area [in California] to China.’ Camping’s claim is that he has scrutinised the Bible for almost 70 years and developed a ‘mathematical system’ to interpret the prophecies hidden within it.
‘One night a few years ago, Camping crunched the numbers and … found [out that] The world would end on May 21, 2011’, the website reports. The surprising thing is that Camping’s claim was believed by his followers, although this was not the first time he had prophesied the precise date Judgement Day would occur. He’d made precisely such a prediction before: Only that the earlier date was to have been 6 September 1994! On that day, scores of Camping's believers gathered inside the Veterans Memorial Building in Alameda, California to await the return of Christ.
Followers dressed children in their Sunday best and held Bibles open-faced toward heaven. But when there was no sign of Christ’s return, was Camping abashed or repentant? No! He merely shrugged off the non-fulfilment of his prophecy as the result of ‘a mathematical error’ he had made.
Everyone can make a mathematical error, right? So he spent the next decade poring over new calculations. And bingo! His new numbers game came up with – 21 May 2011.
‘Because I was an engineer, I was very interested in the numbers,’ Camping boasted. ‘I'd wonder, “Why did God put this number in, or that number in?” It was not a question of unbelief, it was a question of, “There must be a reason for it.”’
If Camping had been preying on the public mind in this fashion in Nigeria, and thereby gaining a reported US$80 million in donations, the world’s media would have accused him of doing a ‘419’. In neighbouring Ghana too, he would have been charged with doing what is popularly known as ‘sakawa’. Both terms apply to fraud by devious and/or false pretences.
In a typical 419 – or ‘advanced fee fraud – for example, a person who happens to have obtained or ‘hacked’ one’s email address, sends one an email, politely apologising for writing to one out of the blue. A vague suggestion would then be thrown into the air that one’s name had been suggested by a mutual friend as a trustworthy person, who could be relied upon to carry out any business transaction with integrity, and also, in strict confidence.
The writer would then outline his proposal: Millions of dollars belonging to someone who had completed work on a contract in Nigeria, but had died in an air crash before he could collect his payment, was waiting to be transferred abroad. If the recipient of the email supplied the writer with his/her bank details, the writer, who was the only authorised paymaster – would transfer the money into the supplied account. The contract price was US$40 million and the recipient’s share would be US$5 million, while the writer would pocket US$35 million!
Fair enough, wasn’t it? US$5 million without sweat. If one was a fantasist, one’s mind would immediately go to the mansion one dreamt of. Or the Ferrari/Maybach/Rolls Royce/Bentley car one lusted after. Or the beautiful young lady with long eyelashes and perfect, white teeth…
Apparently, about 25 per cent of the recipients of such emails do decide to co-operate with the writer of the email, in order ‘to see’ what would happen. So much so that the US Secret Service runs a special operation track those who set such traps for American citizens. Once they ‘bite’, the receivers of 419 emails are suckered into a series of carefully-wrought deceptions, all aimed at emptying the money in the bank account(s) provided.
Sometimes, the stories told by the email writers are extremely imaginative. ‘I am the concubine of Saddam Hussein’, an email may begin. And it will tell you that before the Americans invaded Iraq, Saddam, aware that he might be forced to go and live in exile abroad, had packed huge quantities of foreign exchange into a big chest/shipping container/articulated truck, whose hiding-place was only known to the writer. If the recipient of the email decided to ‘co-operate’, by providing a bank account into which the money could be paid, his or her share would be US$7,500,000...or whatever, depending on the sum the writer chose to name as the amount waiting to be transferred.
The Nigerian and Ghanaian Governments are clamping down hard on the users of the internet for fraudulent entrapment of this type. But is the US government also looking in to the activities of people like Harold Camping? After all, Camping’s website solicitations are alleged to have attracted US$80 million in support of his ‘message’. Is he not a threat gullible people worldwide? And yet, in the US, he will be protected, on the grounds that he is exercising his constitutional right to practise ‘freedom of religion’.
Not all the coverage of his activities in the mainstream media of the world denounce him as a fraud. But he is being subjected to ridicule on the Internet. For instance, after Camping’s latest prophecy had failed to materialise, a message about him on Twitter (the social network on the Internet that is the rage in many parts of the world) read:
‘Knew Camping didn’t believe his own prophecy when he rejected cash offer for his car and house!’
Another message said:
‘If the Rapture is happening Saturday, why is the guy still soliciting donations on his website?’
By the way – after his 21 May 2011 debacle, Harold Camping did not clamp up but came up with another new date – ‘The Rapture’, he said, would now occur on 21 October 2011. The earlier date had – you’ve guessed it – been the result of a numerical error, he said.
Yeah. That is an open-ended proposition par excellence. Everyone can miscalculate – to infinity! – when it comes to mathematics, no?
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* Cameron Duodu is a commentator and writer.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Africa: Cause looking for rebels
Alemayehu G. Mariam
I have been asked to comment on youth political apathy and how to transform apathy into constructive action. That is a very tall order, but I am glad to be able to share with you my views on a subject that has defied and puzzled political scientists and pundits for generations.
The general allegation is that young people are uninterested, unconcerned and indifferent about matters of politics and government. Political apathy (crudely defined as lack of interest and involvement in the political process and general passivity and indifference to political and social phenomena in one’s environment) among youth is said to be the product of many factors, including lack of political awareness and knowledge, absence of civic institutions that cultivate youth political action and involvement and the prevailing cultural imperatives of consumerism and the media. Simply stated, young people are said to be self-absorbed, short attention-spanned and preoccupied and distracted by popular culture, social networking, leisurely activities and the ordinary demands of daily life to pay serious attention to politics.
Longitudinal studies of youth political apathy in the US suggest that many young people are politically disengaged because they believe politics is about ‘money and lying and they don’t want to involve themselves in it’. Many young Americans complain that politicians ignore young people and have little youth-oriented communication. They accuse politicians of being in the back pockets of big money and that their votes are inconsequential in determining the outcome of any significant issues in society. Feeling powerless, they retreat to cynicism and apathy.
In contrast, in the 1960s young Americans led the ‘counter-culture revolution’ and were the tips of the spear of the civil rights movement. The free speech movement, which began at the University of California, Berkeley, was transformed from student protests for expressive and academic freedom on campus to a powerful nationwide anti-war movement on American college campuses and in the streets. Young African-Americans advanced the cause of the civil rights movement by employing the powerful tools and techniques of civil disobedience, staging sit-ins and boycotts to desegregate lunch counters and other public accommodations. On 4 May 1961, 50 years to the month today, young inter-racial freedom riders set out to challenge local laws and customs that enforced segregation in public transportation in the American south, and succeeded in eliminating racial segregation in public transportation at considerable personal risk. Young people in the black power movement in the late 1960s demanded racial equality dignity, economic and political self-sufficiency and advocated black nationalism.
A similar pattern of youth activism is evident for African youths. In many African countries, students and other young people have been in the vanguard of social forces demanding political changes. University students in Ethiopia agitated and mobilised for the revolution that overthrew the monarchy in 1974. It is ironic that the very individuals who hold the reins of power in Ethiopia today were among those university students who fought and died for democracy and human rights in the early 1970s. In 2005, these former university students ordered a massacre which resulted in the killing of at least 193 unarmed, largely youth protesters and the wounding of 763 others. In 1976 in South Africa, 176 students and other young people protesting apartheid were killed in Soweto. In recent months we have seen young people leading non-violent uprising in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries to remove decades-old dictatorships. In Uganda today, the young followers of Kizza Besigye (Museveni’s challenger in the recent elections) are at the centre of the ‘walk to work’ civil disobedience campaign protesting economic hardships and a quarter-century of Yoweri Museveni’s dictatorship.
THE AFRICAN YOUTH CHARTER
Africa has been described as the ‘youngest region of the world’. The African youth population is estimated to be 70 per cent of the total population (nearly 50 per cent of them under age 15). Virtually 100 per cent of the top political leadership in Africa belongs to the ‘over-the-hill’ gang. Robert Mugabe still clings to power in Zimbabwe at age 86. It is manifestly hard to demand higher levels of political participation and involvement among African youths when they come of age in societies controlled and stifled by dictators long in the tooth. But there is no question that youth apathy is the greatest threat to the institution and consolidation of democracy in Africa.
There may be a glimmer of hope for African youths in the African Union’s ‘Youth Charter’, which provides comprehensive protections for Africa’s young people. Article 11 (‘Youth Participation’) is of special significance. It requires signatory states to ensure ‘every young person’ has the ‘right to participate in all spheres of society’. This requires state parties to ‘guarantee the participation of youth in parliament and other decision-making bodies’, access to ‘decision-making at local, national, regional, and continental levels of governance’ and requires ‘youth advocacy and volunteerism’ and peer-to-peer programmes for marginalised youth’. States are required to ‘provide access to information such that young people become aware of their rights and of opportunities to participate in decision-making and civic life’. Africa’s youths should hold their doddering dictators accountable under the charter.
TRANSFORMING YOUTH APATHY INTO YOUTH ACTION?
I have no ready prescriptions to convert youth apathy into youth action. My view of the issue is very simple. The word apathy has roots in a Greek word ‘apathea’ denoting lack of emotion. Young people in America, Africa or elsewhere are apathetic because they are ‘not fired up and raring to go’. They lack that ‘fire in the belly’. They find themselves in a state of political paralysis unable to act. So, how can African youth escape the political doldrums of apathy on a sea of cynicism, pessimism, negativism and disillusionment? The short answer is that they need to find the issues in society they care about and pursue them passionately. The long answer revolves around a few basic principles:
Be idealistic – Robert Kennedy said: ‘There are those who look at things and ask why. I dream of things and ask why not.’ Nelson Mandela said: ‘I dream of an Africa at peace with itself.’ Bob Marley said, there will be no peace until ‘the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned’, ‘there no longer are first class and second class citizens of any nation’ and ‘basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all.’ Young Africas should dream of an Africa free from the bondage of ethnic politics, scourge of dictatorship, debilitating poverty and flagrant human rights violations. Why are these youthful dreams not possible? As Gandhi said, when you are idealistic, ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.’
Examine your lives – When Socrates was put on trial for encouraging his young students to question authority and accepted beliefs, he said: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ It is important for Africa’s young people to question their beliefs and actions. If they are indifferent to the suffering of their people, they should question themselves. Part of that self-examination is knowing if one is doing the right or wrong thing, and making corrections when mistakes are made. Unless we question our values and actions, we end up doing things mechanically, impulsively and blindly.
‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ – Gandhi said these simple but powerful words. The revolution we want to see in the world begins with us when we strive to relate to others on the basis of high moral and ethical standards. If we want to see a just, fair and compassionate world, we must begin by practicing those values ourselves. I want to congratulate the UCLA Habesha Student Association for bringing together young Ethiopians and Eritreans in one organisational setting to work cooperatively and harmoniously on issues of common interest and concern. Such collaboration sets an extraordinary example for all young people in the Horn of Africa to follow because the UCLA students have been able to relate with each other at the most fundamental human level instead of as members of opposing camps nursing historical enmities. It is a great mindset to be able to see beyond ethnicity and national boundaries, and most importantly not to be sucked into the vortex of historical grievances kept alive by the older generation.
Be independent thinkers and empower yourselves – Always ask questions and follow-up questions. One of the things those of us in the older generation do not do well is ask the right questions. Often we do not base our opinions on facts. Africa’s young people should think for themselves and creatively. The Buddha said: ‘We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.’ It is easy and comfortable for others to do the thinking for us. The alternative is for the older generation to do the thinking for the youth. Do Africa’s youths want that? To think independently means to keep an open mind and tolerate opposing viewpoints. Africa’s dictators fear young independent thinkers because the young trumpet the truth.
Stand for something – Rosa Parks, the great icon of the American civil rights movement, is credited for modifying the old adage by saying: ‘Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that held its ground.’ Young people of courage, character and determination today are the seeds of great leaders tomorrow. Africa’s young people need to take a stand for human rights, democracy, freedom and peace. They also need to take a stand against all forms of violence, ethnic politics and the politics of intolerance, hate and fear.
Network with other young people and learn techniques of grassroots organising – The UCLA HSA is committed to self-help through networking. That is important and very useful. But networking can be used for political activism and advocacy as well. Using technology and social media, young people can create effective virtual and actual communities to enhance their political participation and be more actively engaged in the political process. Grassroots organising is the most elementary and one of the most effective methods of youth political action. Youth grassroots organising won the day during the civil rights movement 50 years ago, and it won the day in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria.
Become a voice for the voiceless – There are hundreds of millions of Africans whose voices are stolen at the ballot box every year and remain forgotten as political prisoners in the jails of Africa’s dictators. Corruption, abuse of power, lack of accountability and transparency are the hallmarks of many contemporary African states. Young Africans must raise their voices and be heard on these issues. The great international human rights organisations are today the voices of the voiceless in Africa. They investigate the criminality of African regimes and present their findings to the world. Africa’s youths must take over part of the heavy lifting from these organisations. It is not fair to expect international human rights organisations to be the voice boxes of Africa’s masses.
Never give up – It is important for young people to appreciate and practice the virtues of tenacity, courage, determination and perseverance. In 1941, Winston Churchill, speaking to young people at a school, inspired them with these timeless words: ‘Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.’ Churchill’s words ring true for every generation of young people everywhere. For Africa’s youth, the message is simple: ‘Never yield to force.’
CAUSE LOOKING FOR REBELS
If I have any words of wisdom, it is that young Africans must rebel against apathy itself through a process of self-examination. I believe a successful rebellion against one’s own apathy will be the defining moment in the pursuit of the greatest cause of this generation, the struggle for human rights. The cause of human rights in Africa and elsewhere needs armies of young rebels to stand up in defense of human dignity, the rule of law and liberty and against tyranny and despotism. To stand up for free and fair elections is to stand up for human rights. To fight for women’s rights is to fight for human rights. To defend children’s rights is to defend human rights. To uphold human rights is to uphold ethnic rights, religious rights, linguistic rights, free press rights, individual rights…
Ralph Nader, the implacable American consumer advocate, warned: ‘To the youth of America, I say, beware of being trivialized by the commercial culture that tempts you daily. I hear you saying often that you’re not turned on to politics. If you do not turn on to politics, politics will turn on you.’ That can be said equally of African youths. I say defend human rights, speak truth to power!
Think global, act local. Think local, act global.
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* This commentary is based on talk given at the first annual University of California, Los Angeles Habesha Student Association (HSA) Networking Night event held at Ackerman Union on 14 May 2011.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
A Cuban postcard for African Liberation Day
This is a tribute to Motherland Africa, and one of her sons, Dr Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, wherever he now be.
On 25 May, we celebrated African Liberation Day. When I say ‘we’ I mean those African citizens up there in Motherland Africa, and ‘we’ African Descendents across the Atlantic Ocean, in the Western Hemisphere; in the Caribbean Sea; in Cuba.
This year is a special celebration of African Liberation Day, because it also marks the International Year of African Descendents, declared by UNESCO. Here in the African Diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is a celebration of our African heritage, in culture and life.
Every 25 May in Cuba – and even days before to 25 May, a whole week of events – there different events all over the Island. As part of the African Diaspora we preserve the legacy of those who came from so far away to mix in a magnificent melting pot to form what we call the Cuban National Identity, an ethnic-cultural phenomenon, know in Cuba as ‘transculturation’.
Congos, Mandinkas, Bantus, Ewes, Igbos, Efiks – as many as 200 ethnic groups came from Africa, to mix with other ethnic groups that even came from as far as the Middle East – Palestine, Syria and Lebanon – to form what are well-known as ‘Cubanos’ (Cubans in English).
Africa is everywhere in Cuba. You can find it in the glamorous, elegant way of walking of women; the braveness of men; the taste and smell of food; the way we create our family; the care of elder people; the ornament plants in houses, buildings and cities; the way we worship African Orishas; it is in every corner of this crocodile-shaped island in the Caribbean Sea.
No matter the colour of the skin, either white or black, you can find traces of Africa in Cuban faces.
As African daughters and sons, we embarked once in a liberation endeavour, and crossed the seas, and we went to the deep forest and savannas of Motherland Africa, to help our brothers and sisters to let them be free. On 23 April 1963, Cuban medical doctors landed in Algiers; on 24 April, 1965, Che Guevara and his groups of combatants reached Congo; Cuban internationalist combatants also went to Angola and Ethiopia, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and other African countries. We decided to pay our debt with Humanity, because African slaves fought alongside Cubans headed by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, on 10 October 1868 to free Cuba from Europe’s Colonialism.
As I previously wrote, this is my tribute to Africa and one of her sons who passed away two years now, on African Liberation Day on 2009: Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem; my dear brother, brother of so many Africans and Cubans.
I hope this message will get to him wherever he might be now; let the spirit of Pan-Africanism get to all of us, and ‘Organize, Do Not Agonize!’ for a world of justice and peace, as Tajudeen wanted for all of us.
This is my Cuban Postcard for Africa and my brothers and sisters in Motherland, for this African Liberation Day.
Long Live Africa and Cuba!
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* Daisy Díaz is executive secretary of Cuban-African Friendship Association.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem's immortal words 'Don't agonise! Organise!' ring particularly true in today’s political climate. What would Taju have done if he was here now? What would he have thought as uprisings and demonstrations built up a wave of popular support across the African continent? And what would he have written each week about Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, as well as the less reported uprisings in Benin, Gabon, Senegal, Swaziland, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda and in other parts of the African continent, all driven by the will of the people? Questions were a constant part of Taju’s rhetoric, with his aim to encourage reflection, discussion and forward-thinking action. As a supporter of Gandhi, he would have wished for a peaceful resolution to the current bloodshed in Libya, but as a witness to the immediacy of genocide in Rwanda, he would not shy away from facing up to the violence as it was happening.
His untimely death on African Liberation Day 2009 stunned the Pan-African world. But any who sorrowfully noted ‘Insha’Allah’ – ‘It is God’s will’ – after the death of our dear departed friend should have felt him turn over in his grave. As a constant proponent of action, Taju pushed for African people to unite, react and take their future into their own hands, no longer waiting for God or the North or for the leaders of corruption to do it for them.
Tajudeen’s determination to speak truth to power, his vociferous belief in the potential of Africa and African people and his discerning analysis of developments in the global and Pan-African world were demonstrated in his weekly Pan-African Postcards, which have been brought together in one collection by the progressive Pan-African publisher Pambazuka Press. ‘Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African Postcards’ presents Tajudeen’s philosophy on diverse but intersecting themes: his fundamental respect for the capabilities, potential and contribution of women in transforming Africa; penetrating truths directed at African politicians and their conduct; and deliberations on the institutional progress towards African union. He reflects on culture and emphasises the commonalities of African people. Also represented are his denunciations of international financial institutions, the G8 and NGOs in Africa, with incisive analysis of imperialism's manifestations and impact on the lives of African people, and his passion for eliminating poverty in Africa.
From humble beginnings in Nigeria, he soon proved himself to be a powerful thinker and speaker. He achieved a first-class degree from Bayero University, became a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University and earned his PhD from the University at Buffalo. Despite his international academic success, he was determined to return to his home continent where he engaged fully in Pan-African politics – as the general secretary of the Pan-African Movement, the director of Justice Africa and the deputy director of United Nations Millennium Campaign for Africa – as well as being a prolific writer.
In the aftermath of his death, tributes amassed from across the world:
'Taju spoke truth to those in power. He boldly took to task leaders who did not have the courage of their convictions.'
Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, former secretary general of the Organisation of African Unity (1989–2001)
'Tajudeen believed in the common citizenship of all humans and he used all of the resources available to him to stand up for dignity and common citizenship.'
Horace G. Campbell, professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University
With his exceptional ability to express complex ideas in an engaging manner, his Postcards demonstrated the brilliant wordsmith that he was and his steadfast commitment to Pan-Africanism. They offer a legacy of his political, social and cultural thought and the book has won accolades from near and far. Desmond Davies in News Africa on 31 March 2011 writes: 'For those who never had the privilege of reading Taju's column, Pambazuka Press … has published a compilation of his Pan-African Postcards. It must have been an arduous task for Ama Biney and Adebayo Olukoshi who selected the Postcards because every column of Taju’s was a gem. This compilation will keep his indomitable pan-African spirit alive.' And Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo, in the Journal of African and Asian Studies, asserts 'Speaking Truth to Power is a testimony of a committed individual's contribution to Africa and the world. I highly recommend the excellent book to all those who would like to learn more about contemporary Africa as well as national and international institutions and political leaders from an unapologetic critical perspective.'
Tajudeen’s death was a tragic loss to the people of Africa but his influence and spirit have not died. 25 May arrives again to a continent that is ready to demand its liberation. And Tajudeen’s truths live on…
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* ‘Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African Postcards’ is available from Pambazuka Press.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Two long years without the boss
On 24 May 2009, I was traveling on a mission from Moroto to Kotido in the impoverished Karamoja sub-region of north-east Uganda when my phone rang. It was my wife calling and her voice sounded very worried. She broke the sad news that calamity had occurred and that my boss, friend and brother Taju was dead. I was too shocked to react. As soon as I gathered myself I asked her what happened and she explained that the information that she could gather was that he had died on his way to Jomo Kenyatta airport to board a flight to Kigali on an official assignment. His car fell into a ditch and overturned several times. I called some friends in Nairobi and they confirmed the sad news. Taju was indeed dead.
How time flies – it is now two years without Taju.
When I was in London recently and went to visit his wife and young daughters the sadness of Taju's demise struck me ever so much. Taju in his lifetime lived a fulfilled life and spoke truth to power. He was a passionate activist for change and development and championed the cause for the poor and neglected. Even though Taju is no more we that knew him and his family feel blessed that we were privileged to have known him and shared in his vision. As we remember Tajudeen on the second anniversary of his death on 24 May 2011, let us remember his family and pray that God will keep them, bless them and give them the fortitude to bear the monumental loss of a giant, husband and father.
May your great soul continue to rest in the bosom of the lord Oga Taju.
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* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Hauwa Memorial College: A dying legacy
Hauwa Memorial College (HMC), Funtua, Katsina State, still stands. Founded by the late pan-African, Dr. Tajudeen Abdulraheem (1961-2009), the symbol of one man’s passion to make quality education accessible at little or no cost to the African child, inches closer to its second anniversary even as it languishes in abject disrepair.
Wednesday, May 25, as the school marks its second anniversary, it seeks to draw attention to its pathetic state.
Although the school prides itself on its academic excellence, it has not changed the fact that it is under the threat of closure due to the absence of the bequest that is provided annually to support the dream by Abdulraheem.
It has, in fact, negatively affected the school’s purse. Since the founder’s death, the school has been operating with money generated from its tuition fee, which is N4, 000 per term. This, the principal said, is not enough to run the school. "I am the highest paid staff in the school and my salary is N14, 000 even with a Master’s degree in History. We had to cut down staff salaries to be able to stay afloat. It has not been easy as we have lost a lot of staff due to the pay cut. Those who are around are doing it for charity.
"I am able to bear it because I believe in Dr. Tajudeen’s dream. He taught us to sacrifice. We still follow his legacies like scholarship awards and waivers to the letter… The school fee is N4, 000; while excursion fee is N100. We used to have a school bus when he was alive but that has since packed up. We hope things will improve. We are not unaware of the fact that we need to improve on the staff welfare, but what can we do than to manage the little that is coming in? He is dead; and we do not have another sponsor."
HMC is currently operating from a rented property, although the school has a permanent site located in the town. The site was acquired in 2003, said the principal. "Tajudeen planned on building an ultramodern boarding school on the 15 plots. The fence was actually started three days before his death," he said. The land currently lays bare without fencing or any structure on it, thus making it vulnerable to encroachment.
Aside the challenge of salaries, the school still manages to pay rent of N100,000 yearly. Notwithstanding, the property remains in a sorry state. The open spaces that were intended to serve as windows are covered, albeit inadequately, with rusty iron rods, planks, old zincs, cartons, decrepit doors and so on. There are holes in the ceilings as well as other parts of the structure screaming for repairs.
In an area like Funtua that experiences extreme weather conditions like sandstorms and heavy rain storms, the circumstances are usually stringent in the thick of the storm. "You are lucky you came by this time when the sandstorms, as a result of the whirlwind, have subsided. The windows are usually blown away and the glass doors are broken. The whirlwind usually carries a lot of sand into the classes and the whole place gets filled with sand. We are forced to spend quality time packing the sand out of the classes. We are used to it."
Even though, other regions like Abuja and Zaria have gone past the Harmattan season, it was still blowing harshly in Funtua so harsh that the wind greatly upsets the nostrils, with biting cold and sand.
However, the sunny days are even worse. On such days, not even the cartons and planks are able to save them from the heat, disclosed Abubakar. "The heat is much as the sun is very hot and penetrates the windows freely and there are no ceilings, especially in the JSS3 class, because the class directly faces the sun. We try our best but it has not been easy."
It is the same when it rains. The HMC principal said that they often pray that the wind does not blow the rain towards where the windows and doors are located. If that happens, oftentimes, the children get wet inside their classrooms because some of the roofs are leaking.
To cushion the effect, Abubakar said they usually move the students to the side of the class that is not leaking. "So we are forced to mix the girls and the boys together. This usually takes up to as long as such the weather would last, and sometimes it could last three months. If we are lucky, the wind may not be blowing the rain towards where the windows are located. We use planks and also buy cartons to block the windows, but the wind always blows them away thus we often have to keep changing and replacing them. The weather here is always extreme," he noted.
Their greatest dread, the students revealed, is the raining season. "Rain comes into our class when it rains because our roof is leaking. I fear it because it makes us cold. I wish they would help us change the windows and the zinc," said Baba Shittu, a JSS Two student on scholarship in the school.
According to Babangida Dabai, SSS Two, "My school is very good and the teachers are trying; but since the death of Dr. Tajudeen, many things in our classroom have spoilt, especially the windows and doors. Rain and sand blows in."
However, the whole scenario presents a comic relief for the Head Boy, Kenneth Peter. According to him, "The experiences make me burst into laughter whenever our class turns into a war zone where people are running helter-skelter because of lizards or rain. It is terrible when it rains because of the broken windows and doors. But that has not affected our studies. Our teachers are determined to give us the best and we intend to make distinction in our papers."
Typical of modern schools, HMC also has a computer laboratory. However, the place has just about 10 computers placed on makeshift tables and the students sit on benches without backrests. It also has a multipurpose science laboratory used for all science subjects which is also in deplorable state.
According to the science teacher, Abdul-rasaq Temitope, "We always have to wait until WAEC brings out lists of specimen so that we would know what to buy. We usually buy only the ones we need for the examination."
For the school’s management, maintenance of the property has become another major challenge. The school faces a dilemma on how to handle the issue. Further findings revealed that the place once had windows that are constantly broken because of the harshness of the weather. So, the management often has to replace them until it could no longer afford to finance such luxury, particularly after the demise of its founder.
"However, the property owner is not helping matters as he has refused to make repairs. The school currently pays N100, 000 yearly to the landlord. When we complain about the decrepit state of the structures, the landlord tells us that if we don’t like it, we should find another place," the principal said.
Mushbahu Abdulraheem, the school’s Bursar, also decried the state of the school, saying: "We make repairs every term. The owner has refused to do any repairs. Before his death, my brother wanted to buy it but he refused to sell. There was a day the wind and rain blew off the roof in JSS3. I brought a carpenter to repair it because if the landlord knew that the roof was blown off, he would threaten to lease the place out to another tenant and send us away. You see, he made it clear that it is either we repair it or find another place."
A WELCOME INITIATIVE
About three months ago, the Tajudeen Abdulraheem Education Trust Fund (ETF) was launched in Abuja. Geared to support Abdulraheem’s dream, the event was spearheaded by the renowned poet, Odia Ofeimum, among other friends of the deceased. The fund, they said, is meant to renovate and restructure HMC. According to them, they are seeking an ETF grant to raise about N500 million meant to build a befitting structure for HMC at its permanent site. And even though, they are yet to achieve their objective, Ofeimun said he is optimistic. "It is achievable," he said.
Abubakar praised the efforts of Abdulraheem’s friends, saying: "I hope it succeeds because it would help relieve us of our suffering. And so doing, the dream will not die."
As a former Deputy Coordinator of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa, Abdulraheem established the school to offer subsidised quality education to children of the poor in the area. Hence, 24 HMC’s students are on waivers and scholarships, a legacy that is still being maintained two years after his death. Established as a high-profile school, the school also parades children from relatively privileged backgrounds from across the country. Hence, it is often referred to as a ‘Nigerian School’.
Owing to the high standards set by its founder, the school, it was gathered, is one of the best in the state as it usually occupies the top three categories in competitions. Its recent outing was at the Nigerian Breweries National Reading Competition where it was selected to represent the North-West Zone in the national category.
The students are usually treated to excursions and symposiums that are witnessed by professionals and eminent personalities in the area. According to HMC Principal, Alhaji Garba Abubakar, its symposia have hosted the likes of Dr. Mahmoud Lawal, one-time Public Relations Officer of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Bayero University, Kano (BUK); Dr. Tukur Idris, a member of the National Assembly representing Bakori/Danja; Prof. Wilmot Patrick and Dr. Horace Campbell, visited and awarded scholarship to some students.
Come Wednesday, May 25, friends of the late pan African would be marking the second anniversary of his death in grand style at the Cyprian Ekwensi Cultural Centre, Abuja. The event would feature a symposium in the morning and Ofeimum’s drama, A feast of Returns in the evening. The organisers said they hope it would inspire more contributions towards the funds.
In spite of the sorry state of the school, its academic performance is commendable. According to the principal, 70 per cent of its students make five credit passes and above yearly.
If renovated, the bursar and younger brother to the deceased said the school would be conducive for learning. "The location is a good environment for learning since it is situated away from the noise in the town. And it has a lot of space for the students to play in. It is not easy getting a good place in town now. In any case, we may not be able to afford it. What can we do, then? We all are working towards keeping my brother’s dream of giving the children quality education at all cost alive.
"In spite of the meager salaries, the staff are putting in their best to see that the children get the best of education. We know, one day things would change, especially when the permanent site is developed. Like the principal said we need sponsors to keep the dream alive. And we are hopeful."
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* This article first appeared in The Nation.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Declaration on the condition of the African continent
Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA)
Kenya: 'Unga-30 Bob' Rally
Bunge La Mwananchi
Do you know that you have a constitutional right to eat a healthy meal everyday?
Do you know that you have a constitutional right to have a good house?
Do you know that the state should pay for you if you are unable to pay for yourself?
Why do you allow your human and constitutional rights to be violated?
Why do we suffer in silence as our leaders watch?
For real answers, join all other Kenyans at:
'Unga-30 Bob' Rally
Date: 31 May 2011
Venue: Outside Harambee House, Harambee Avenue
President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga are invited to explain to all Kenyans!
Petition: Feminists Demand Let Justice Be Done
Attached is a petition started by a group of us in the United States and posted yesterday at:
Hundreds of women from around the world have already signed it with numbers growing hourly. Countries include the United States, Canada, France, Brazil, Senegal, Indonesia, Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, and more.
We are urging folks to also send contributions to help the housekeeper who is now, of course, unable to work, and her fifteen year old daughter. We are working in tandem with the union and with her attorney. Please join us in signing and forwarding to others. Contributions may be sent to Judson Memorial Church, Attn: Women's Fund, 55 Washington Square South, New York, New York 10012-1018.
Santa Cruz, CA
Feminists Demand Freedom from Sexual Assault and Harassment
Rape is always about power and domination; it is sexualized violence.
Rape and sexual harassment of women are pervasive at all strata of society and in all corners of the globe. Women will never be fully free and able to enjoy equality with men until this ends. As feminists, we see the arrest of former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sexual assault charges as an opportunity to increase public awareness and as a wake-up call to renew action against sexual violence, not only in the US where his arrest occurred and in France, where media and many public figures are portraying him as the victim, but around the world.
We join French feminists in saying that just as Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proven guilty, his accuser must also be respected and believed to be credible unless proven false.
We commend her employer, Sofitel, and the action of the NYC Police for taking her complaint seriously. We call for feminists around the world to join with her union (New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council Local 6) in collecting funds for legal and daily expenses, as her work is now curbed and life circumstances vastly altered. Contributions can be sent to Judson Memorial Church (attention Women's Fund) 55 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012-1018.
We also share French feminist indignation at the deliberate and opportunistic confusion of seduction and sexual violence, from Strauss-Kahn's declaration that he "loves women," to the journalists and politicians who rally behind this "Great Seducer." It is outrageous that the allegation of attempted rape during the course of a housekeeper's work day raises issues about any woman's life story and sexual history. And portraying powerful Strauss-Kahn as "too civilized" to commit a violent crime plays upon colonial and racist stereotypes vis-a-vis an African immigrant woman.
We adamantly oppose all harassment, sexual violence and rape, and we know that when there is a large discrepancy between the power, the wealth and racial hierarchy of the parties involved, justice is even harder to come by. All rapists and harassers believe they are entitled, and often when they are part of the power elite they assume that influence will outweigh the legal protection and freedom from coercion all women should enjoy. Feminists around the world demand that justice be done.
Women of all countries, unite!
This statement was initiated by the following feminists:
Bettina Aptheker, CA, U.S.
Lori Askeland, OH, U.S.
Eleanor J. Bader, NY, U.S.
Rosalyn Baxandall, NY, U.S.
Halina Bendkowski, Berlin, Germany
Saliha Boussedra, Toulouse, France
Eileen Boris, CA, U.S.
Ariel Dougherty, NM, U.S.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, CA, U.S.
Judith Ezekiel, Toulouse, France
Francisca de Haan, Amsterdam, the Netherlands Myrna Hill, CA, U.S.
Merle Hoffman, NY, U.S.
Barrie Karp, NY, U.S.
Bea Kreloff, NY, U.S.
Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Frankfurt, Germany Ilana Lowy, Paris France Fran
Luck, NY, U.S.
Claire G. Moses, VA, U.S.
Marge Piercy, MA, U.S.
Fanette Pollack, NY, U.S.
Marilyn Porter, Newfoundland, Canada
Deborah Rosenfelt, MD, US
Kathryn Scarbrough, NJ, U.S.
Donna Schaper, NY, U.S.
Lise Vogel, NY, U.S.
Suzanna Walters, IN, U.S.
Naomi Weisstein, NY, U.S.
Barbara Winslow, NY, U.S.
Laura X, CA, U.S.
Also signed by
Carol Hanisch, NY, U.S.
Jane Barry, PA, U.S.
Nancy Krieger, MA, U.S.
Vicki Nichols, VA, U.S.
Mary Carlson, CA, U.S.
Shailja Patel, Nairobi, Kenya
Elaine Shinbrot, NJ, U.S.
Barbara Rylko-Bauer, MI, U.S.
Amanda Frisken, NY, U.S.
Dabney Evans, GA, U.S.
Trude Bennett, NC, U.S.
Amy Kessleman , NY, U.S.
Therese McGinn, NY, U.S.
Carolina Neiva Viancello, Brussels, Belgium Comfort Momoh, London, UK Naana
Otoo-Otortoy, London, UK Abebah Tekleab, Stockholm, Sweden Khady Koita,
Tervuren, Belgium Ambara Hashi Nur, Aarhus, Denmark Etenesh Hadis, Vienna,
Austria Batulo Essek, Helsinki, Finland Julie Kakiese, Brussels, Belgium
Fana Habteab, Uppsala, Sweden Maretta Short, NJ, USA Martha Vicinus, MA, USA
Rosalind Petchesky, NY, U.S.
Lauri Andress, TX, U.S
Susan Reverby, MA, U.S.
Leslie Dubbin, CA, U.S.
Ellen Ross, NY, U.S.
Temma Kaplan, NY, U.S.
Troy Shinbrot, NJ, U.S.
Roberta Salper, MA, U.S.
Stephanie Gilmore, DE, U.S.
Susan Brownmiller, NY, U.S.
Laura Anker, NY, U.S.
Kathleen Slaon, CT, U.S.
Chris Coombe, MI, US
Abby Lippman, Quebec, Canada
Linda Stein, NY, U.S.
Rosemary Szegda, NJ, U.S.
Estelle Regolsky, MA, U.S.
Brigitte Bramie, Paris France
Guylene Deasy, NC, U.S.
Monique Dental, Paris, France.
Alice Ngyone Endamne, CA, U.S.
Jules Falquet, Paris, France
Suzy Rojtman, Paris, France
Maya Surduts, Paris, France.
Anne-Marie Viossat, Paris, France
Rebecca Whisnant, OH, US
Bronwyn Winter, Sydney Australia
Estelle B. Freedman, CA, U.S.
Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Ontario, Canada
Juliet Ash, London, England
Barbara Garson, NY, U.S.
Laura Flanders, NY, U.S.
Marilyn Zivian, CA, U.S.
Nisia Trindade Lima, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Heather Booth, Washington, DC,
Eve Ensler, Paris, France
Leila J. Rupp, CA, U.S.
Kathryn Kish Sklar, NY, U.S.
Joan Ditzion, MA, U.S.
Sonia Fuentes, FL, U.S.
Chandra L. Ford, CA, U.S.
Aida Hurtado, CA, U.S.
Alison Williams, NJ, U.S.
Elizabeth Pleck, IL, U.S.
Shelley Fisher Fishkin CA, U.S.
Leslie J. Reagan, IL, U.S.
Leisa D. Meyer, VA, U.S.
Katha Pollitt, NY, U.S.
Yanar Mohammed, Baghdad, Iraq
Sonia Jaffe Robbins, NY, U.S.
Alia Shinbrough, NJ, U.S.
JoAnn Jaffe, Saskatchewan, CA
Dee Appleby, SC, U.S.
William Scarbrough III, SC, U.S.
Teresa Scarbrough, CA, U.S.
Patricia Rackowski, Boston, MA
Nalini Visvanathan, Washington, DC
Barbara M. Sow, Dakar Senegal
Beth E. Rivin, Seattle, Washington, USA
Ana Maria Carrillo Farga, Mexico
Alison Katz, Geneva, Switzerland
Megan McLaughlin, IL, U.S.
Fatou Sow, Dakar Senegal
Dula F. Pacquiao, NJ, U.S.
Inti Maria Tidball-Binz, Bs As, Argentina Emily May, NY, U.S.
Evelyn Torton Beck, Washington, DC USA
Dana Rabin, IL, U.S.
Sarah E. Huertas, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Jesse Lemisch, NY, U.S.
Josephine Soumah, France
Claire Bond Potter, CT U.S.
Carina Ray, NJ, U.S.
Deborah Rossum, IA, U.S.
Maria E. Cotera, MI, U.S.
Barbara Molony, CA, U.S.
Kristy Rawson, MI, U.S.
Antoinette Burton, IL, U.S.
Mary Nolan, NY, U.S.
Ruth Rosen, CA, U.S.
Julie Laut, IL, U.S.
Erik McDuffie, IL, U.S.
Yxta Maya Murray, CA, U.S.
Jo Salas, NY, U.S.
Barbara Leon, CA, U.S.
Edwina Barvosa, CA, U.S.
Maureen H. Williams, CA, U,S,
Bob Weil, CA, U.S.
Anica Leon-Weil, CA, U.S.
Finn Mackay, Bristol, England
Regan Kramer, Paris, France
Dominique Tripet, Orleans, France
Sandrine Goldschmidt, Paris, France
Didier Epsztajn, France
B. Chical, Paris, France
C. Steinmuller, Paris, France
Emmanuelle Cesari,Paris, France
Rhania Azzouz, Montreuil-Sous-Bois, France Nelly Trumel, Paris, France
Flores Espinola, Artemisa, Paris, France.
Claire Desaint, Varades, France
Anne Mogensen, Paris, France
Cecile Vermot, Paris, France
Marie- Claire Lotrian, France
Francoise Leclerc, Montrouge, France
Khursheed Wadia, Birmingham, Uk.
Danielle Michel-Chich, France
Barbara Wolman, Toulouse, France
Anne Larue, Paris, France
Suzy Candido,Toulouse, France
Marie Frantz Joachim, Port Au Prince, Haiti Sylvie Duverger, Paris, France
Dominique Pineau, France Christiane Marty, France Nathalie Harran, Paris,
France Michele Loup,Paris, France Malka Marcovich Paris, France Emmanuelle
Piet, Bondy, France Marie-France Casalis, Fresnes, France Francoise Bellot,
Fresnes, France Lena Lavinas, Rio De Janeiro, Bresil.
Lourdes Bandeira, Brasilia - Bresil
Martine Noel, Paris, France
Jamileh Nedai, France
Trine Korsvik, Oslo, Norvege
Saadia Majdi-Jollivet, Paris, France
Marie Josee Pepin, Paris, France
Francoise Leclerc, France
Natacha Henry, Paris, France
Jocelyne Fildard, Grigny, France
Claude Viguie, Bergerac, France
Aline Silvestre, France
Bila Sorj, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Nathalie Adato Paris, France
Anais Becquelin, France
Ingrid Darroman, Tarbes, France
Fiona Rescan, Toulouse, France
Nicole Johnson, Fez, Morocco.
Francoise Mariotti, Montpellier, France
Gilles D'elia, France
Raphaelle Legrand, Paris, France
Laurence De Cock, France
Danielle Charest, Paris, France
Rose-Marie Lagrave, Paris, France
Paula Dumont, France
Christele Rocher, Marseille, France
Jacqueline Julien, Toulouse, France
Patricia Cartier-Millon, France
Anne Chantran, Paris, France
Sophie Chauveau, Paris, France
Julie Poupe, France
Michele Dayras, France
Sarah Nassera Oussekine, Saint Denis, France Barbara Wolman, Toulouse,
France Christine Aubree, France Francoise Stichelbaut, Bruxelles, Belgique
Therese Gracieuse Gentil, NICE, France Yvette Claveranne, Paris, France
Nelly Trumel, Paris, France Jean SYLVESTRE, Paris, France Isabelle Moulins
Marseille, France Anita Freudiger Marseille, France Ashinsa Bopearachchi,
France Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, Paris, France Catherine Caudal, Paris, France
Sofi Plisson, Toulouse, France Laurence Pujol, Toulouse France
Benloucif-Ouali Taous, Nancy, France Henriet Genin, France Zahia Aitbachir,
France Claire Michard, Montrouge, France Constance Durocher, Quebec, Canada
Gisele Bourret,Montreal (Quebec),Canada Rayhana, Paris, France Elsa
Petit-Hassan, Blois, France Agnes Montier, Alencon, France Marie Claude
Rousseau, Le Mans, France Christine Delphy, Paris, France Frances Auda,
Paris, France Elisabeth Maugars, Saint-Pierre-Des-Corps, France
Crisis resolution in Madagascar
CCOC (Collective of Citizens and Civic Organizations)
MEMORANDUM OF CCOC (Collective of Citizens and Civic Organizations) ON THE CRISIS RESOLUTION IN MADAGASCAR
19 MAY 2011
The CCOC was created in February 2009 to help solve the crisis in Madagascar (which was at its beginning) and prevent the return of cyclical crises.
It is convinced that,
- Respect for human dignity, freedom and fundamental rights guaranteeing social peace;
- Restoration of a genuine rule of law;
- Economic recovery and hence the creation of jobs;
- Recovery of the functioning of the Civil Service;
- Establishing of a legal framework for national dialogue
are the only cornerstones of sustainable solutions to the crisis and help prevent its return.
Currently, more than two years after the onset of the crisis, Madagascar is far from those solutions and the economic, social and structural damages are getting deeper and deeper.
The CCOC expresses openly its significant skepticism about the roadmap being implemented unilaterally by the de facto authorities. Indeed:
- The roadmap is reduced to the single step of trying to give a possible international recognition of the de facto authorities;
- It does not take into account the real needs and desires of the people and processes a superficial and partial substantive issues;
- It ignores the concerns of other stakeholders in the national life of Madagascar, in particular, the private sector and civil society in all its components.
The CCOC recalls here the necessary conditions to ensure a sustainable exit from crisis:
- The establishment of a consensus agreement and inclusive management of the transition;
- The return to an atmosphere of peace and confidence throughout the territory that will be achieved through the adoption of a general amnesty (under the roadmap);
- CENI (Independent Elections Committee) truly independent and impartial;
- An elections timetable set out in common;
- The Heads of institutions of the Transition and 4 movements Heads cannot stand for presidential and legislative elections;
- The establishment of a framework credible, neutral and transparent rules-based under international supervision and with UN technical, financial, material and logistical (to provide the means to dispel any suspicion of manipulation);
- The establishment of an independent and neutral body to monitor and to control the implementation schedule and the work of the Executive
The CCOC warns the decision to endorse the elections carried out unilaterally, that would solve the situation in the short term but would lead sooner or later again on a crisis.
The crisis has failed to get solved so far because of lack of a clear / proven political will to adopt compromises from politicians who are more concerned about their guaranteed privileges than by finding solutions in favor of the country interests and of the people of Madagascar: so they do not mind taking the present and the future of twenty millions of Malagasy hostages.
The CCOC again urges politicians to put national interest above all other considerations and to reach a consensual and inclusive agreement for the leading of the Transition to truly credible and transparent elections.
The CCOC is grateful to the international community as a whole to maintain its role as guardian of democratic principles and to stay firm before the inclination of some countries to recognize a unilateral transition.
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* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
After local government elections: Evictions and intimidation continue
On the day after the election, 19 May 2011, the eThekwini Municipality’s Land Invasion Unit arrived in our settlements. Mr Mdletshe from the Land Invasion Unit arrived with his team to demolish shacks in Arnett Drive, Reservoir Hills. When talking to residents there Mdletshe was very rude and violent to Abahlali. He pointed at Sam Jaca and threatened him saying he is the one that took him to the High Court. Mdletshe's team them demolished two shacks leaving the families homeless. They had no court order and were acting without any respect for the law, the court, the community or the families that they left homeless.
This is not the first time in recent weeks that Mdletshe has threatened our members. On the 1st of May 2011 an umhlali was brunt to death in eMmaus in Pinetown. On the 4th, 12th, 13th and 16th of May Mdletshe came to the eMmaus occupation to threaten residents and undermine them. When he was challenged he said that he does not speak to shack dwellers.
On Tuesday, 17 May 2011 Mdletshe's team went to our newly launched Abahlali branch in Intake View and threatened residents there with eviction.
Our Richmond Farm branch, by KwaMashu, was also visited on Thursday, 19 June 2011 and shacks were demolished without an Order of the Court.
It is not only our members that are under attack. On 20 May 2011, two days after the election, around thirty shacks were demolished in Mayville, Cato Manor leaving many people homeless. As usual there was no court order and the evictions were illegal and criminal acts. One family had been living in their shack since 1986.
We are told that we must vote for a better life. We are told that voting is the only legitimate way to make our complaints. We are told that voting is the way to make our voices count. But the day after we are expected to vote we are attacked violently and unlawfully by the government. Both the DA and the ANC treat the poor with the same lack of respect and the same lack of legality. We have sent messages of support to the people evicted from the Taflesig land occupation in Cape Town. Under the DA and the ANC there is no meaningful consultation with the poor. There is just violence, intimidation, destruction and contempt. Why must we vote for parties that are united in their decision to fight an illegal war against the poor? As we have said before there is no democracy for the poor in South Africa. The government thinks that it is above the law and that we are below the law. Our voices and our humanity count for nothing. This is why people are in rebellion all over the county.
In the Kennedy Road settlement intimidation continues. There is a R350 million road projects that has began and, as usual, development is being openly abused for party political purposes. As usual the local ANC members have been given control over employment on the project and, as usual, they demand ANC membership cards for community members to be employed. The contractor has also been threatened that their offices will be fire bombed if they employ any local community members without the approval of the local ANC. The situation is very volatile now.
Abahlali warn that this issue of the local ANC wanting control over all employment opportunities is precisely what sparked the attack on our movement in September 2009. We had developed a very fair way to allocate jobs. We did it via a lottery. The local ANC could not accept this. They demand ANC cards and public demonstrations of ANC support for access to jobs, fire relief, food parcels and houses. In 2009 and 2010 they were openly issuing death threats against our members and destroying their homes.
The new and elected leadership in Kennedy Road has approached the KRDC in exile to seek their support as they face this attack by local party leaders. We advise the newly elected councillor to intervene with fairness and transparency. If he believes in democracy he will clearly and publicly state that the local ANC has no right to only allow their own members to get jobs and he will take action to ensure that access to jobs is not controlled by the local party leaders.
Contact the Abahlali office on 031-3046420
The African city in European eyes
H. Nanjala Nyabola
‘… the African human experience constantly appears in the discourse of our times as an experience that can only be understood through a negative interpretation. Africa is never seen as possessing things and attributes properly part of ‘human nature.’ Or, when it is, its things and attributes are generally of lesser value, little importance, and poor quality. It is this elementariness and primitiveness that makes Africa the world par excellence of all that is incomplete, mutilated, and unﬁnished, its history reduced to a series of setbacks of nature in its quest for humankind.’ – Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony
I chaired a small conference two weeks ago broadly on the theme of ‘Nairobi’. Without prejudice to the people who presented at the conference – and I mentioned this while in the room – I left thinking more about the people who study Africa than Africa itself. You see, in a panel of seven academic papers – six of which were written by Europeans or North Americans – five were on Kibera or informal settlements in general, and only one did not deal explicitly with a development style topic. An entire city of almost 4 million inhabitants with a rich and complex history; a microcosm of the entire region that combines all that is good and terrible about the place and takes it to the next level – but all that researchers seem to see when they look at Nairobi is the slums. What does that say about the people who study African cities?
For some time now academics, including V.Y. Mudimbe and Mahmood Mamdani have wondered in their writings what the way we think about Africa says about us – usually European trained – academics. It has been rightfully argued that the conception of Africa that dominates academia is nothing more than a projection of the image that Europeans have of themselves, continuing a colonial legacy of dichotomising and atomising the African experience through the lens of European institutions. We study that which is alien or ‘wrong’ when compared to that which we think is ‘normal’ or ‘right’ – the perceived poverty of the African urban experience relative to the humdrum of suburban living in Europe and North America. The obsession with failed formality in particular seems indicative of academia’s own obsession with studying that which can be studied, resulting in the regurgitation of meaningless tropes in the name of inter-disciplinarity. Instead of complex analyses of the relationships between power and people, we end up with rehashed conjectures on ‘ethnicity’ or ‘gender’ that are neither informative, nor in many cases, that interesting. Instead of considering what possibility lies in the African city as a site of contestation but also conciliation and social change, we end up with fixations on rather essentialist assessments of poverty that imply that nothing else of significance happens in these cities.
Middle class and urban Africa in particular has only recently merited the attention of the World Bank, and continues to be treated as anomalous to the national character of African countries by the people who research and therefore determine the agenda on Africa. The stories that are told about places like Nairobi or Johannesburg intentionally overlook the contributions of the small middle class, instead focusing on the tension between the very rich and the very poor. While this may have the ‘advantage’ of isolating sources of conflict – arguing for more equitable distribution of services, for instance – it also polarises the discourse on development in these cities, and in fact in the country in general, because the focus of development shifts to helping the very poor ‘struggle’ against the ‘exploitative’ very rich. Meanwhile those in the middle, who pay taxes on their meagre wages and have to walk when fuel prices rise are viewed as exceptions that do not merit any further engagement.
Anyone who has observed an election in Nairobi will tell you that politicos have co-opted this narrative and turned into a political goldmine. The curious case of Lang’ata constituency is a good example of this. The constituency comprises Karen, perhaps the most affluent suburb in East Africa; Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Africa south of Cairo (this is up for debate but that’s another subject for another day); and Lang’ata ‘proper’, a substantial middle-class community of terraced houses and apartment blocks. This is Prime Minister Odinga’s electoral base but whenever he comes campaigning, he never goes to Karen (even though he lives there) or Lang’ata proper. Instead, he spends the bulk of his time making unsustainable promises of ‘development’ to the people of Kibera, as he has been for almost two decades. It may just be a numbers game, as inhabitants of Kibera do outnumber those of the other two quarters significantly, but in the process it delegitimises the concerns of the residents of the other two quarters – Lang’ata proper went without running water for nearly a decade, but this was never discussed in parliament. Kibera is still trotted out at international donor meetings as an argument for continued intervention in Kenya even though the impact of such interventions is highly questionable.
The focus on Kibera has serious consequences for those who study Nairobi as well. It is an extremely over-researched community – as a teacher there I always marvelled at how many white people there were walking around in small groups – usually headed up by a black man – and how my students who struggled with high school English could drop social science terminology casually into conversation. Many of the young people of Kibera have mastered the art of selling their stories to those who pay a good price for them, and who can blame them when they are simply supplying what the market demands? Young, relatively educated men especially seem to find this a viable alternative to crime. But it also compels them to ‘otherise’ their own communities, to pathologise their existence and to dislocate themselves from their day-to-day reality in order to sell convincing stories. We can only wait and see what the impact of this will be on the communities over time.
My experience with the Nairobi conference may well have been a curious coincidence. University departments are, after all, often ideological ghettoes where people with similar ideas on the manner in which the world works seek each other out and reinforce their pre-existing notions. Similarly, my own deep personal connection to the subject matter is perhaps the antithesis of what social scientists have in mind when they preach ‘objectivity’. Still would it be too much to ask for people to look at the African city and see more than just poverty?
Happy Africa Day.
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Glenn Cowley: An appreciation of a South African publisher
Footballers (and author) huddling in an unusual pose – not on the playing field, but around their publisher, Glenn Cowley. The scene – Ike’s Bookshop, Durban, May 2004, just a few days before FIFA awarded South Africa the right to host the 2010 World Cup. Glenn is beaming next to Henry ‘Black Cat’ Cele, the former goalkeeper, at the launch of Peter Alegi’s ‘Laduma! Soccer, Politics and Society in South Africa’. Bald of head, bronzed, tense of movement, rimless spectacles flashing in the light stands the man who transformed University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. During the 11 years (1998–2009) that he ran it, Glenn Cowley turned it from an inconspicuous, sleepy little university publisher – just one among several in post-apartheid, newly democratic South Africa – into a significant force in both scholarly publishing and other serious books with a wider appeal.
Or another glimpse of this very private of men, this one from a lifetime ago. The year, 1966. Senator Bobby Kennedy, wearing the mantle of his murdered brother, President JFK, daring the brutal and clumsy apartheid government of the day to deny entry to the man who looked like being the next United States president. Barnstorming into the country to defy segregation and celebrate liberty, if not liberation. And the young Glenn Cowley, still in his twenties, president of the Students Representative Council of the University of Natal, welcoming him to the campus in Durban. It may sound like just an exciting moment in a student leader’s life, welcoming the ‘big man’ politician. But in South Africa it was an act of courage, and defiance of the whole apartheid system.
So who was this young man? Educated at the exclusive boys school, the Diocesan College, in Cape Town, Glenn Cowley went on to the University of Natal. Like so many sensitive, politically aware and highly able young South Africans of his day, he went overseas – in Glenn’s case, to Harvard in the United States. And he never returned to his native country until the long decades of heroic struggle by so many thousands upon thousands of nameless South Africans eventually broke the will of the regime, and the difficult democratic transition began in the years following Mandela’s release in 1990. In New York, where Glenn settled after graduating, he joined one of America’s largest and most famous publishers, Random House. But after a number of years there, his determination to pursue his own path led him to the courageous decision to set up, with a friend, an independent literary agency in that city. On returning eventually to South Africa, he settled in Johannesburg. There he became involved in the glossy Enterprise magazine which was very much in keeping with the sudden explosion in numbers of the black South African business class. And he also acted as a publishing consultant.
Glenn brought to the University of Kwazulu-Natal Press, when asked to become its publisher in 1998, an unusually broad experience of the world of publishing. Unlike any other South African publisher, he knew the American scene from his long years in New York, and moved easily in international publishing circles. Perhaps the single most important thing he brought to his new role, and where he made the most significant contribution to South African scholarly publishing, was his acute awareness that successful publishing of intellectual books means never letting up on the importance of marketing. Selecting ‘good’ manuscripts or ‘impressive scholars’ as authors is only the beginning; giving a real voice to an author requires attention to the intellectually less glamorous work of marketing. Glenn believed that a university publisher had no secure future as an independent voice unless it abandoned being subsidised by its parent university. This was particularly important in South Africa where financial pressures soon made such self-indulgent funding almost impossible. Instead, he brought to South Africa the lesson of so many successful North American university presses. These, in addition to their scholarly output, often developed a complementary publishing programme that produced high quality, non-fiction ‘trade’ books that reached out to a much wider readership. The books Glenn brought out at UKZN Press on soccer and cricket, as well as history, are good examples of how he translated this strategy into the South African context. And it was this that has given the Press a much more secure financial future, an unprecedented expansion in its scale of operation and a significant trade presence in South African publishing.
I had the pleasure of knowing Glenn at both ends of his life – as a schoolboy all those years ago, and again as a publisher when he regularly travelled overseas and sold rights on his titles to Zed Books and other publishers in the United States and Britain, and also bought books from us for the South African market. I remember with great affection his sense of humour, and trenchant turn of phrase – striking, funny, uncompromisingly clearsighted. He was a very able man, energetic and with all the confidence of having successfully operated in the sharply competitive world of New York publishing. He was comfortable with, and aware of, the new political and intellectual context of democratic South Africa. And like all the best people in publishing, he refused to see books as just another ‘product’ (an attitude large corporations in the publishing world are too often tempted to fall for). Instead, he was a lover of the process in all its aspects, someone who liked and appreciated his authors and a man who valued the place books can play in the unfolding life of a country.
‘Hamba kahle’, Glenn – ‘Go well’. ‘Malume’ (‘Uncle’) not just to the nephews and nieces who loved you greatly, but to a whole number of young South Africans in publishing who learned from you so much of their craft.
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‘Our South Africa moment has finally arrived’
Review of 'Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions' by Omar Barghouti
‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights’ is the first book to document the monumental rise of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement. The book begins with a quote from the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish: ‘Besiege your siege … there is no other way.’
Yet even the author, Omar Barghouti, could never have envisioned the speed with which the BDS siege would spread. It is worth remembering that the call by the African National Congress for an academic boycott of South Africa was made in 1958, taking 42 years before it was adopted by the United Nations. The call for BDS by 171 Palestinian civil society organisations was made on 9 July 2005.
Since then BDS has been supported by Desmond Tutu, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Mike Leigh, Judith Butler, Arundhati Roy and most recently Pink Floyd's Roger Waters.
In March 2011 the University of Johannesburg severed all links with Israel. In April 2011 Veolia, a French company involved in the building of a tramway linking illegal settlements, was dumped from a £1 billion contract in Wimbledon.
The book is divided into 16 chapters that tackle different aspects of the history of arguments for and against BDS and strategies for the movement today.
The first two chapters, ‘Why Now’ and ‘Why BDS’, outline the three demands of the movement: end the occupation of Arab lands since 1967 and dismantle the Wall; recognise the rights of Arabs within Israel to full equality; and respect the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. BDS does not offer a solution to the conflict. While individual members are one-state or two-state supporters it is not a precondition to being part of the movement.
Barghouti does what only the finest writers can do. He shifts smoothly between the local, anecdotal stories of BDS struggles to a broader, general analysis of the movement.
Another strong theme is the promotion of Palestinian agency. Barghouti is scathingly dismissive of ‘unelected, unrepresentative, unprincipled and visionless Palestinian “leadership”’ and so-called mediation groups, and argues that, ‘peace without justice is equivalent to institutionalising injustice’.
His reference to the Israeli left and their feelings of betrayal after Palestinians were so impertinent as to take their own initiative is also equally informative.
Barghouti's book is the first to document the growing movement that will most likely define Palestinian and international politics in the decades to come. It has the potential to become a piece of history itself. Barghouti is right: ‘Our South Africa moment has finally arrived.’
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* Omar Barghouti's 'Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights' is published by Haymarket Books (ISBN: 978-1-60846-114-1, 320 pages, $16.00).
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De-politicising the project of unity
radio continental drift
Dear Professor Mamdani,
I’ve read your article ‘An African reflection on Tahrir Square’ with great interest and delight gaining much food for thought from your insightful writing. One urging question has remained in my mind though that I’d like to raise.
I had to swallow it, somehow, each time when I was reading the word ‘politicized’ in your analysis – and it was used quite often in the course of the text. Each time the word seems to be paraphrasing the result of the strategic moves by a ruling political power to ‘divide & rule’.
Each time I found myself puzzling over the question whether those results were truly in effect ‘politicizing’ ones; or, if another word could be or should be used…? And if those ‘politicizing’ effects were not, - also?, ultimately? - de-politicizing…? … since, if they were politicizing, then, if I followed the argument rightly, only in the limited way of a militantly sectarian one…? And until now I’ve failed to come up with a convincing term resolving the puzzle.
Each time you seem to be referring to a certain effect of a directed politicization from above under the prefix that culture was indeed territorial.
Perhaps , this could be called a fascist, or fascist-oid politicization…?
While, if I’m following your reading correctly, the effects of ‘Tahrir Square’ could be said to be a politicization from below – or, in your sense perhaps, a re-politicization – of the project of unity as a common of everyone considering him/herself a citizen.
I’m following the latter with great interest against a background of having lived in the UK for a number of years as a cultural worker (with an activist head) over a period in which the ruling political powers managed to, I’d say, de-politicize the project of unity among its diverse citizens, and quasi domesticate it in/as a solely cultural domain (satirically speaking, in to a kind of multi-cultural zoo).
Thinking about it a bit further, what happens then, or threatens to happen, in result is a perverse ‘individualization’ of the project of unity under the auspices of a highly professionalized cultural industry. And, since that highly professionalized cultural industry is also globalised, the effects I think can also already be seen - travelling old colonial trading routes as well as global culture-industry infrastructure - exported to, and replicated on the African continent.
Wondering, how these thoughts & questions might resonate…
Enraged by the treatment of Haitians
I am only a white nurse in Kansas City that travels to Haiti every year to provide medical care, I am enraged by the treatment of the Haitians.
When I was there after the earthquake, the NGO I was with repeatedly said that it was too dangerous to provide water and care in some areas. I begged and harassed them into going to one neighborhood but they came back saying it was too big a job for them.
So, I begged and harassed people to get them to notify the U.N. of the area, but when I contacted the doctor I met in Haiti, he said no one had come. So, I got medicine donated took more money and went to his neighborhood to have 2 clinics.
I am very interested in the rights of the Haitians and would like to do whatever I can to support them.
Please let me know if there is something I can do to help.
Libya: On democracy, destruction and diplomacy
Well done Jean-Paul.
The current Libya invasion by the West is absolute portrayal of their failed impracticable democratic ideologies. NATO's operations in Libya defeat the very fundamentals of the perfect laws of liberty democracy is believed to achieve. How would 'properly practicing' democratic nations destroy another sovereign country whiles no diplomatic options were explored and for that matter exhausted?
I personally have every reason to believe there are more insidious motives behind the operation by which Africa in general would bear the brunt of it. Look at present Iraq. After suppressing and massaging all evidence, the Chilcot Iraqi Inquiry in UK still finds the Iraqi invasion by the West unlawful because it contravenes UN and other International laws. But yet still who dare thinks about sending the masterminds George W Bush and Tony Blair to Hague? Meanwhile, these world overseers find it convenient to seek warrant for Gadaffi's arrest. How many civilians died in the unlawful invasion of Iraq? Only the fastest computer invented in China recently can calculate!
I'm not against any practice that promotes human liberty. But I believe me the West understanding of democracy is only expedient for their manipulative 'animal farm' world. It is only the faulty thinking and baseless assumptions of the West can democracy be viewed as ideal yardstick to measure liberty and peace in all divergent and complex human societies just as traffic light.
Pambazuka News 190: Lessons from the 'Arab Spring'
Fahamu - Networks For Social Justice
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