Like many people around the world, Sokari Ekine is ‘elated’ by the news that Malawian couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, have been pardoned and freed. But, asks Ekine, ‘How can we claim justice has been done when the law used to convict the couple has not been successfully challenged?’ In this week’s round-up of the African blogosphere, Ekine finds her sentiments echoed by others across the continent.
Two stories have dominated Africa this week – the pardoning of Malawian couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga who were sentenced to 14 years hard labour for loving each other and Africa Liberation Day – May 25th. The day was also the first year anniversary of the tragic death of Pan-Africanist Tajudeen Abdul- Raheem. I will start with two posts which speak directly to the sovereignty and autonomy of post-colonial African states and questions how near to ‘liberation’ are we 50 years after the independence movements.
Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth League’s Africa Day statement began with a long quotation from Thabo Mbeki’s ‘I am an African’ speech of 1996 (given on the eve of the launch of the South African constitution). They ask what happened to these ideals, and in direct reference to Steven and Tiwonge, ask what happened to the notion of inclusive citizenship:
‘What happened to the idea that Africa belongs to all who live in it? What happened to the idea that our heroes should be those that fight for the full inclusion of everyone and never those that fight to exclude some people?
‘Right now two Malawian gays have been sentenced for 14 years for coming out. None of the African heads of state have stepped forward to condemn this doing of the Malawi government. When we ask why it seems that the answer is because they all believe that “being Gay is unAfrican”. But there are many Gay people in Africa and therefore it cannot be ‘unAfrican to be Gay’.
‘As the Youth of Abahlali baseMjondolo we are sending solidarities to that Gay couple who will face 14 years imprisonment for being who they are, having the courage to be open about who they are and to believe in what they believe in. It is so wrong that innocent people who have harmed no one are sent to jail while the criminals are being protected outside and allowed to continue abusing innocent people.’
Like many people across the world I was elated by the news Steven and Tiwonge had been pardoned and were free. However two conflicting questions came to mind:
‘How can we claim justice has been done when the law used to convict the couple has not been successfully challenged? On the other hand how can we not cheer and feel relieved that Steven and Tiwonge are free no matter what the circumstances?’
Writing in Black Looks human rights lawyer, Sibongile Ndashe expands on the need to reconcile the ‘triumph of human rights’ against ‘succumbing to international pressure and donor coercion’:
‘Stepping outside of Malawi, questions are asked on why neo-imperialism is able to triumph in this manner long after the continent has struggled to free itself from the bonds of colonialism and imperialism.
‘Presidential pardons tend to undermine the rule of law, just like amnesties. It makes the law look uncertain. It makes the law look like whatever the donors and the international community say should be the law.The idea that someone can be “asked” to do something when no is not a real option is what makes the situation ugly. This just does not look good on the sovereignty and autonomy front.
‘Why do we keep on giving the west a basis to come in and threaten us with aid and make them look like they are here to save brown people from other brown people? Why do we allow the west to continue cleansing itself of its culpability for the conditions that they have made possible to thrive? Why is the west allowed to continue playing saviour here? Who is giving the west a right to intervene and get Tiwonge outside prison? It’s the laws that the legislature have left in the statute books. It’s the laws that are being used to persecute a group.’
Gukira responds to one of the many attempts by western columnists to ‘explain African Homophobia’ including why they feel the need to explain it in the first place and why they are so angry about it. (Gukira also wrote a second article published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper).
‘We might begin with the expression of concern that opens the article, and that strange word “rightly.” I am puzzled at why there is “rightly huge concern and anger in the west” about homophobia. Puzzled because “the west” has been “rightly” concerned about everything in Africa for as long as I can remember: women’s roles, AIDS, polygamy, corruption, disease, hunger.
‘Being “rightly” concerned is, as far as I can tell, a full time occupation where Africa is concerned. To be western, Ms. Bunting suggests, is to have “the right” to be concerned and angry about what happens in Africa. 40 years after African’s independence from colonialism, I remain puzzled at what gives “the west” any rights over Africa. And because I am an intellectual, I wonder at Ms. Bunting’s need to posit an autonomous “west” against a knowable “Africa,” even after more than 30 years of scholarship that has emphasized the cross-hybridization of these two spaces.’
Moving to a slightly different topic, Method To The Madnesscompares the Exxon Valdez oil spill to the oil spills in the Niger Delta:
‘Anyone remember that Exxon Valdez spill in the US? Were you wondering how bad that was in comparison to the destruction in the Niger-Delta? Well in 2006…Up to 1.5 million tons of oil, 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster, has been spilt in the ecologically precious Niger Delta over the past 50 years, it was revealed yesterday.
‘A panel of independent experts who travelled to the increasingly tense and lawless region said damage to the fragile mangrove forests over the past 50 years was tantamount to a catastrophic oil spill occurring every 12 months in what is one of the world's most important ecosystems.’
One of my favourite blogs – African Digital Art posts a video of a ‘broadcast/telly spot for the lauded broadway musical FELA’.
http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/484/june03_06_imagen.gifFinally this week a link to a new blog promoting African Literature - Imagenations Imagenations which along with Bookalholic are two excellent literature blogs. Both are also on Twitter at twitter.com/freduagyeman and twitter.com/BookaholicBlog.
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