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Amnesty Intl.

Nigeria’s Boko Haram bombings, militants in the Niger Delta, attitudes towards homosexuality in Ghana, the censorship of internet pornography in Tunisia and a Canadian couple’s decision not to gender their child all feature in this week’s review of African blogs, compiled by Sokari Ekine.

The government of Goodluck Jonathan is facing internal conflict on two fronts – from the Niger Delta in the south east, and from Boko Haram which emerged in 2004 and whose base is in the Borno State in the north east. Since 2009, Boko Haram has engaged in a series of bombings, assassinations and armed attacks against the police and other security forces mainly but not exclusively in Borno state. The most recent of these was last Thursday’s bombing of the Nigerian police headquarters in Abuja. Two aspects of the latest bombing are particularly disturbing: The suspected use of a suicide bomber and secondly the arrest of 58 suspects in Maiduguri (Borno state capital), including Sudanese and Somalis as well as Nigerians, according to the Nigerian Tribune.

Max Siollun posts three video reports on the bombings, including a statement by the police. In more detail, al-Wasat has an article on state responses to the Boko Haram, which have ranged from killings and arrests, to ‘shutting down inflamatory rhetoric by controlling who could preach’, education – and even a suggested amnesty which the group declined.

‘As the government experiments with new ideas and attempts to refine its use of force, it faces criticism, especially from the press. Today’s editorial in Next attacks President Jonathan personally, and calls for “finding perpetrators of violence and bringing them to book” – a statement that reads to me as a call for mass arrests in the North. Next compares the situation in the North to the situation in the Niger Delta, but as a lament, not a model: “Boko Haram has quickly replaced the Nigeria Delta militants as the major crisis facing our nation’s people.” Domestic and international pressure on Nigeria’s state and federal authorities is increasing, making policymakers’ jobs even more difficult. Experiments with carrots and sticks will receive a great deal of scrutiny.’

It is a mistake to make comparisons with militants in the Niger Delta, as the differences far outweigh any similarities. Boko Haram is based on a fundamentalist ideology which rejects the legitimacy of the Nigerian state, rejects western education and insists on an Islamist state. The communities of the Niger Delta have been peaceful for over 25 years prior to the rise of militancy; they are calling for an equity share in the oil revenue, an end to environmental pollution, employment and development of the region.

Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa reports on the shooting of two Ogoni youth by the Nigerian police. The youths were part of a group of Ogoni’s protesting against the relocating of Bori camp military base to Ogoniland, which is seen as a return to the 1990s and an intensification of the militarisation of the area.

‘In recent weeks, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) stepped up its campaign against the military base, mobilising protestors across the region. Ogoni activists condemned Sunday’s violence and affirmed their committment to peaceful protest.......The planned military base is a highly controversial move by the Rivers State Government. Ogoniland is already under heavy security. On a typical journey from Port Harcourt villagers will be stopped by at least five or six police checkpoints and subjected to a routine of harrassment, extortion and intimidation. Increasing the level of security forces is widely seen as unnecessary and is deeply unpopular. Legborsi Pygbara of MOSOP argues:
It is illegal to site a military base in Ogoniland. Ogoni is an indigenous territory… If the government attempts to do this, it means it will fight the UN, which it can’t afford to.’

In a closely related report, Royal Dutch Shell posts a report by Friends of the Earth on Shell’s role in the conflict and corruption in Nigeria. The report provides examples of where Shell fuelled the violence and co-opted some militants as well as reports of corruption:

‘The role of the oil companies in fuelling corruption is significant. Numerous examples can be found in how companies seek to maintain their license to operate through short-term cash payments, giving in to monetary demands following facility closures, exorbitant homage payments, use of ghost workers, surveillance contract implementation, contracting procedures, employment processes, and kick-back schemes in community development projects.
− The role of the oil companies in fuelling perceived or actual discrimination is largely related to unclear communications, poor transparency, the non-fulfilment of obligations, as well as corporate arrogance.
− The role of the oil companies in fuelling inequitable distribution of revenue and infrastructure is largely related to the non-fulfilment of obligations.
− The role of the oil companies in fuelling social disintegration largely comprises the design of the benefit distribution process that allows groups to fight over access to cash, jobs, contracts and power.
The role of the oil companies in fuelling crime and criminal cartels is largely related to corruption in the contracting process and the payment of ransoms that make crime lucrative.’

Some weeks ago, a story emerged in Ghana claiming that 8,000 homosexuals were registered with health NGOs in two provinces, many of whom had HIV. In 2008 the numbered of registered gays and lesbians was only 2,900. The rise in HIV and other STDs was said to be due to the majority of the registered being bi-sexual. Following the usual sensationalist reporting that follows any mention of homosexuality, the Ghanaian Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) announced it would be investigating ‘the issue’. Ato Kwamena Dadzie – Atokd – is clearly irritated by what he considers a spurious exercise but more so by the ridiculous hellfire and brimstone type statements from some sectors:

‘As the BNI launches its spurious investigation, I hear a doctor from Kumasi proclaiming that homosexuality should be checked otherwise it would destroy the moral fibre of our society. He says homosexuality could also lead to a decline in population because people will stop giving birth if men decide to have anal sex. Give me a break! The moral fibre of our society is constantly on the decline and it has nothing to do with men and women choosing to be gay.

‘I also don’t see the correlation between the increasing number of gay people and population decline. In any case, the national population is growing way too fast and so if the claim that gay men and women will contribute in any way to reducing our burgeoning population is true, shouldn’t we be thinking of conferring national honours on them?

‘We also hear all sorts of religious mumbo about how God will not bless us if we do not stop the homosexuals or discourage homosexuality. Really?

‘If that were the case, no Western country will be blessed and they would wake up every morning to face the wrath of God. Holland, America and Italy have large communities of gay men and women, yet if you asked me I’d say they seem more blessed than Ghana or any African country has ever been – or will ever be.

‘I don’t know how God chooses to bless nations but I don’t think he uses any gay index to determine where to pour his bounties. The Vatican is in Rome. Have the homophobes in Ghana ever wondered how many gay men and women there are in the so-called “Holy City”. Perhaps, we should send Reverend Monsignor Raphael Owusu of Kumasi to go and do a head count. After that, he might just shut up and stop urging our government to ignore human rights campaigners who say society should leave the gay people alone.

‘No doubt homosexuality is taboo subject in this country. But the rising tide of hatred for homosexuals must be stopped before it gets out of hand. The BNI’s decision to get involved in this matter doesn’t help matters in any way. They claim it’s even against the law because it amounts to “unnatural carnal knowledge”. Who decided that putting a penis in a vagina is more natural than penis-to-anus? If anal sex is taboo, what do we do about the men who have anal sex with women?’

Magharebia reports on the possible return to internet censorship in Tunisia. After Ben Ali was removed, internet controls were removed however following complaints and a lawsuit which found in their favour. However the Tunisian Internet Agency initially refused to implement the ruling but have now agreed to block pornography sites. Is this the beginning of a slide back into the censorship days of the Ben Ali regime?

Blocking the controversial web pages raised concern on the Tunisian street, with some saying that visiting such sites was a personal freedom and that shutting them down would do nothing to tackle corruption or other pressing issues.

"Frankly, such judicial lawsuits make me sick and make me laugh," commented Mounir Belkacem, a young Tunisian. "Those who want access to such porn sites or to watch pornographic films have many solutions. These lawyers are promoting the theory of 'everything prohibited is desirable,' and Tunisian youth are intelligent and skilled in technology and will find many ways to access such sites."

Media student Lobna Sassi told Magharebia, "Shutting down these sites may be the beginning of going backward and returning to the rejection of control of the internet proclaimed with the demise of the former regime."

"It is better for those who decided to close these sites to educate young people about their danger and psychological and physiological impact," Sassi added.

Mia Nikasimo of Black Looks comments on the decision by Canadian parents, in a ‘tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation’ not to gender their child.

‘The parental position is remarkable. Against all odds Storms parent are saying an emphatic, “fuck off” to the adversarial socialisation that is cis-supremacy. Touche to them both. Actually, by the time Storm comes of age in Canada bullying zir will be a punishable offence. The paranoia of the press is typical… They offer more scaremongering than substance and that’s a shame.

‘I commend Storm’s parents and the attention they have brought to this issue. How many transpeople do you know that are not in hiding? Why do some have to hide? And to what end? Passing is a form of hiding. We must all learn from what Storm’s parent are offering. We also need to accept that we cannot “fix” every aspect of nature using the tools of cultural construction… Nature will have its way whatever paranoid cranks like the press get up to. You do not know how long I have waited for someone to take this very stand. And Canada is the place for it. The spotlight is on how the rest of the world go forward. Waow!’


* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.