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The life and work of Thomas Sankara can be taken as a reminder of both the power and potential for human agency to enact transformation.

I would like to situate my ideas within the geo-political context of the popular uprisings that continue to take place around the world as people organise against neoliberal policies of advanced capitalism and their resultant gross inequalities in wealth, health and education. Accompanying the intensifying neoliberal crises - manifested through the financial crisis, food security crisis, and struggles over land reform and landed property - is an ever expanding militarisation. The US military now has more bases and more personnel stations in more countries than ever in its history. The US Africa Command is one component of the US military's current phase of expansion, including millions of dollars of military equipment, arms and training in African nations.

This is our contemporary moment as we approach the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Thomas Sankara.

The revolutionary transformation of the West African country Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (what is known as the August revolution of 1983) occurred during a previous neoliberal crisis, that of the 1980s African debt crisis. Sankara vehemently and publicly denounced odious debt and rallied African political leaders to do the same.

Sankara's politics and political leadership challenged the idea that the global capitalist system cannot be undone. During four years as the president of Burkina Faso, he worked with the people to construct an emancipatory politics informed by human, social, ecological and planetary wellbeing. The people-centred revolution was a pivotal point for a shift towards new societies on the continent. We have much to learn from the Burkinabé revolution.

What distinguishes Sankara from many other revolutionary leaders was his confidence in the revolutionary capabilities of ordinary human beings. He did not see himself as a messiah or prophet, as he famously said before the United Nations General Assembly in October of 1984. It is worth quoting from Sankara at length, when before the delegation of 159 nations, he said:

'I make no claim to lay out any doctrines here. I am neither a messiah nor a prophet. I possess no truths. My only aspiration is...to speak on behalf of my people...to speak on behalf of the "great disinherited people of the world", those who belong to the world so ironically christened the Third World. And to state, though I may not succeed in making them understood, the reasons for our revolt'.

Furthermore, Sankara placed women's resistance agency at the centre of the revolution. He saw women's struggles for equal rights as a focal point of a more egalitarian politics on the continent.

Meaningful social transformation cannot endure without the active support and participation of women. While it is true that women have been deeply involved in each of the great social revolutions of human history, their support and participation has historically often gone relatively unacknowledged by movement leaders. This was the case when Russian women united to march in St. Petersburg in February of 1917, demanding bread. Similarly, French women marched to Versailles in 1789, again to demand bread. Despite significant contributions to revolutionary movements, women remained second-class citizens. Oftentimes women's political organisations were chastised by formalised male-led revolutionary groups.

Women mobilised for freedom against colonial and neocolonial oppressions In revolutionary and social struggles across the African continent. Again, many male leaders either omitted or failed to recognise the vital nature of the work carried out by women to mobilise and maintain social movements.

Sankara was somewhat unique as a revolutionary leader - and particularly as a president - in attributing the success of the revolution to the obtainment of gender equality. Sankara said, 'The revolution and women's liberation go together. We do not talk of women's emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph'.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The West African country of Upper Volta, a former French colony with more than seven million inhabitants, was among the poorest countries in the world at the time of the popular uprising on 4 August 1983. At 280 deaths for every 1,000 births, it had the world's highest infant mortality rate. School attendance hovered around 12 per cent and was even lower for girls. Thomas Sankara, a Burkinabé with military training, had witnessed the student and worker-led uprisings in Madagascar. He was influenced by what he witnessed there as a young man and returned to Upper Volta with an anti-imperialist worldview, founding in a strong notion and respect for the power of the grassroots. This put him at odds with the ruling party of Upper Volta and he was imprisoned in 1983. The people demonstrated in mass to protest his arrest and on 4 August 1983, Blaise Compaoré and some 250 soldiers freed Sankara. Sankara took over as president and formed the National Council of Revolution (NCR). He was 33 years old at the time. One year later the people of Upper Volta embraced a new national name, that of Burkina Faso - meaning the land of upright men.

During four years as the president, peasants, urban and rural workers, women, youth, the elderly and all ranks of Burkinabé society mobilised to create a more egalitarian and human-centred society. Sankara focused especially on the political education of the masses. A literacy campaign was organised and school attendance doubled in two years. He nationalised all land and oil wealth as a means of ending oppressive class relations based on landed property. An anti-corruption campaign was implemented. A massive reforestation project was undertaken as millions of tree saplings were planted to halt desertification. They sunk wells, built houses, and immunised 2.5 million children, including children from bordering countries.

Then on 15 October 1987, Captain Blaise Compaoré led a military coup against Sankara. It is widely accepted that the coup was in the interests of the landed and upper classes, whose domination was threatened by the revolution. Sankara and 12 of his aides were assassinated.

Blaise Compaoré remains the president of Burkina Faso today and has been implicated in conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, and in arms trafficking and the trafficking of diamonds. There has been no independent investigation into Thomas Sankara's assassination, despite repeated requests by the judiciary committee of the International Campaign for Justice for Thomas Sankara, a legal group working in the name of the Sankara family. The UN Committee for Human Rights closed Sankara's record in April of 2008, without conducting an investigation into the crimes.

SANKARA AND GENDER

To a rally of several thousand women in Ouagadougou commemorating International Women's Day on 8 March 1987, Thomas Sankara took a distinctive position as a revolutionary leader and addressed in great detail women's oppression. He outlined the historical origins of women's oppression and the ways in which acts of oppression continued to be perpetuated during his lifetime.

He said:

'Imbued with the invigorating sap of freedom, the men of Burkina, the humiliated and outlawed of yesterday, received the stamp of what is most precious in the world: honor and dignity. From this moment on, happiness became accessible. Every day we advance toward it, heady with the first fruits of our struggles, themselves proof of the great strides we have already taken. But the selfish happiness is an illusion. There is something crucial missing: women. They have been excluded from the joyful procession...The revolution's promises are already a reality for men. But for women, they are still merely a rumor. And yet the authenticity and the future of our revolution depend on women. Nothing definitive or lasting can be accomplished in our country as long as a crucial part of ourselves is kept in this condition of subjugation - a condition imposed...by various systems of exploitation.

Posing the question of women in Burkinabe society today means posing the abolition of the system of slavery to which they have been subjected for millennia. The first step is to try to understand how this system functions, to grasp its real nature in all its subtlety, in order then to work out a line of action that can lead to women's total emancipation.

We must understand how the struggle of Burkinabe women today is part of the worldwide struggle of all women and, beyond that, part of the struggle for the full rehabilitation of our continent. The condition of women is therefore at the heart of the question of humanity itself, here, there, and everywhere.'

His words display a profound understanding of, and active solidarity with, women's struggles, of which he posits as a struggle belonging to all of humanity.

He locates the roots of African women's oppression in the historical processes of European colonialism and the unequal social relations of capitalism and capital exploitation. Most importantly, he stressed the importance of women's equal mobilisation. He urges Burkinabé women into revolutionary action, not as passive victims but as respected, equal partners in the revolution and wellbeing of the nation. He acknowledges the central space of African women in African society and demanded that other Burkinabé men do the same.

In an interview with the Cameroonian anticolonial historian Mongo Beti, he said, 'We are fighting for the equality of men and women - not a mechanical, mathematical equality but making women the equal of men before the law and especially in relation to wage labor. The emancipation of women requires their education and their gaining economic power. In this way, labor on an equal footing with men on all levels, having the same responsibilities and the same rights and obligations...'.

This means that while the revolutionary government included a large number of women, Sankara did not believe that an increase in female representation was an automatic indicator of gender equality. He truly believed in grassroots organising and that change had to originate with the energy and actions of the people themselves.

He urged his sisters to be more compassionate with each other, less judging and more understanding. He questioned the need to pressure women into marriage, saying that there is nothing more natural about the married state than the single. He criticised the oppressive gendered nature of the capitalist system, where women (particularly women with children to support) make an ideal labour force because the need to support their families renders them malleable and controllable to exploitative labour practices. He characterised the system as a 'cycle of violence' and emphasised that 'inequality can be done away with only by establishing a new society, where men and women enjoy equal rights'.

HIs focus on labour rights and the gendered means of production was symbolised through the day of solidarity that he established with Burkinabé housewives. On this day, men were to adopt the roles of their wives, going to the marketplace, working in the family agricultural plot and taking responsibility for the household work.

This speech provides a powerful heritage of political leadership and stands as a source of political ideas and inspiration for liberation movements on the continent. Sankara offers a possibility for continued male political engagement and solidarity with women's oppression.

MILITARISM

Radical feminist theorists Barbara Sutton and Julie Novkov (2008) explain militarization as 'how societies become dependent on and imbued by the logic of military institutions, in ways that permeate language, popular culture, economic priorities, educational systems, government policies, and national values and identities'. US-backed militarisation of Africa takes a couple of different forms. First, it means an increase in troops on the ground. US Special Ops and US military personnel have been deployed in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Mauritania, South Sudan, and (potentially) Nigeria.

Second, US military personnel conduct training sequences with African militaries. Training is underway in Algeria, Burundi, Djibouti, Chad, Namibia, Somalia, South Africa and many others. This is often presented as a 'counterterrorism' effort to stifle the spread of Al Qaeda across North Africa but it is a political tool. Bolstering local military capabilities in un-democratic nations is one means to ensure the control and suppression of local populations, who are often labeled as 'terrorists' to justify brutal crackdowns on social and political protests.

Third, the US military funds social science research into African society, culture and politics. This takes various forms, one of which is the use of SCRATs (or Sociocultural Advisory Teams) for the purposes of preparing US military personnel for deployment and missions. This can be understood through the same framework of contemporary counterinsurgency-style warfare in Afghanistan (and previously in Iraq), where winning the 'hearts and minds' requires in-depth knowledge of local peoples and cultures (what the military refers to as 'human terrain'). British and French counterrevolutionary theorists during the anti-colonial period of the 1950s and 1960s also promoted the need for in-depth knowledge of local revolutionary culture and social organisation as a means of anticipating and controlling anti-colonial social unrest.

Although the US government claims that the US Africa Command is an extension of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid, an historical analysis of US intervention on the continent indicates otherwise. At every instance of African agency the US was willing and ready to intervene on the side of the colonisers.

In our contemporary moment, neoliberal promises and free-market policies have failed to return on their promises of increased wealth and progress. But more than this, they have caused increased social inequalities that is accompanied by a dangerous militarism. Scholars (see Sutton and Novkov 2008, for example) have explored the ways that increased poverty and the narrowing job markets caused by neoliberal policies pushes people into the military as a means of economic survival. This is true in the so-called Global North as it is in the so-called Global South.

The process of militarism is accompanied by gender-specific inequalities and disadvantages. Horace Campbell in his article, 'Remilitarisation of African Societies: Analysis of the planning behind proposed US Africa Command', (2008) explains, 'Sexual terrorism...finds its echo in Africa where insecurities generated by warfare, ethnic hatred, rape, sexual terrorism and religious fundamentalism increase violence and lead to unnecessary military mobilization'.

The voices of African women activists and intellectuals are particularly necessary as the interconnections between militarism, masculinity and violence become clearer. Patricia McFadden writes, 'By imbuing the notion of rampancy with political weight in terms of its use as a gendered and supremacist practice within militarism...[it] facilitates both class consolidation and accumulation, as well as gendered exclusion of women and working communities in Africa'. Women have been combating their exclusion through both organized and non-organized action.

A strong military structure paves the way for the resource plunder and large scale dispossessions that are seen in neoliberal states in the so-called Global South. In this system, the state ensures profit for class elites (both international and domestic) by guaranteeing the super-exploitation of labour and the dispossession of millions of people of their lands and livelihoods for resource extraction at serious costs to local ecology, health and wellbeing. This guarantee can only be made through an increased militarism that stifles political mobilisation.

But Thomas Sankara and the August Revolution of 1983 tells us another story. They provide a different way of thinking about social organisation. Sankara understood that capitalism is dependent upon the unequal deployment of and distribution of power, particularly state power. But, as he showed us, the state is not unalterable. The state is a complex system of human relationships that are maintained through violent power/coercion and persuasion. And what Sankara did was work to bring the state apparatus down to the level of the people, so to speak. He encouraged people to engage with the state and to change the unequal power relations embedded in the state structure. He did this - as demonstrated earlier through the example of gender empowerment - by exposing the ways that power is generated, controlled and dispensed and then identifying alternative forms of social relations. This is what the August Revolution of 1983 sought to perform in Burkina Faso.

The life and work of Thomas Sankara can be taken as a reminder of both the power and potential for human agency to enact transformation and as a reminder of our obligation to engagement of and for human wellbeing. As the social mobilisations taking place across the world are demonstrating right now, this engagement for human wellbeing means refusing to submit to neoliberal policies that see humans in terms of labour and profit.

CONCLUSION

I've been told that the first time that my daughter's paternal grandfather cried was at the news of Thomas Sankara's assassination. It was certainly the first time that my daughter's father saw his father cry. He recalls, even at the age of seven, his sense of confusion and sadness over Sankara's death.

The image of my daughter's grandfather entering his home and collapsing onto the sofa, holding his face in his hands and crying emerges in my head each time I think of Sankara. This image of a middle aged Cameroonian man, Jacque Ndewa, thousands of miles away, who had never travelled to Burkina Faso, crying quietly on his sofa. This is the resonance that Sankara had, across the African continent and among disenfranchised and dispossessed people everywhere.

In honour of his memory, I praise and celebrate his fearlessness, his resilience and his political leadership for human emancipation.

This text is from a presentation by Amber Murrey, candidate for a doctorate in geography and environment at the University of Oxford in England at a Revival of Pan-Africanism Forum conference entitled 'Celebrating the Life of Thomas Sankara' and held at Jesus College, University of Oxford on June 8, 2012.

On the videotape with the sound crackles, it looks like a hiccup in history. Military out of another era announce the dissolution of institutions and political parties in Côte d'Ivoire, and the seizure of power by a Council for national sovereignty.

A junta supporting Gbagbo currently overthrows President Ouattara in Abidjan, while ordering the closing of borders and the hunt for "enemies"? This is not fiction, but it's not reality either.

Presented on national television on the evening of June 12, as part of an interview with the interior minister, Hamed Bakayoko, this "document", presented as a seizure of the intelligence services, would be proof of the existence of a draft coup by Ivorian soldiers in exile who have not accepted the defeat of Laurent Gbagbo, first in the polls in November 2010 by the international community and again in the streets during the battle of Abidjan in April - May 2011 by the United Nations and France troops with pro-Ouattara rebels.

Why an interior minister feels he needs to show on television these men who want to take power? According to Hamed Bakayoko, it was to show "the truth" to Ivorians and report that the coup failed. The speaker on the videotape would have been "stopped", but his whereabouts are unknown. The conspiracy is alleged to have been designed in neighboring Ghana.

Côte d'Ivoire has gone to bed with little truth, many questions and some concerns. Friday, June 8, an attack by militiamen from neighboring Liberia has killed seven Nigerian peacekeepers in western countries, around the Taï forest, and at least ten people in the region. Even at the height of the crisis and civil war, the UN had never registered as heavy losses in the country. In the vicinity of Tai, the case is not over. People continue to flee, and operations are underway to attempt to control this little known militia group.

How does a country that has experienced violence manage to seek closure? More than a year after the battle for Abidjan, the crisis, and more than 3,000 deaths, it seems to move away from these issues while the country regains its status as "locomotive" of regional West Africa. But if the antagonism between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara groups fades, there are still extremists. Are these the ones who are trying to execute the coup d'etat? According to several sources, former Ivorian military who remain loyal to Laurent Gbagbo (who is imprisoned in The Hague pending a hearing to decide whether he is eligible to be set free) would try for several months to organize an armed embryo movement in Liberia, a nursery for pro-Gbagbo militia for many years, with the complicity of local fighters capable of launching attacks in western Ivory Coast.

More than 1,000 miles away, the Gbagbo regime in exile, particularly Ghana, would act as financiers and agitators. Among them, there are military, politicians and religious leaders who multiply "prophecies", published clandestinely in Ivory Coast, announcing an upcoming reversal of power. Several "training camps" were dismantled in the country. They were rather modest. But there remains militiamen who have hidden their weapons when the former president was arrested in April 2011. Other soldiers of fortune could be associated with this nucleus for a new adventure of promised looting and extortion.

We found, a few months ago, one of these men. Let's call him Musa. Commander in the Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI), the new national army, he was a veteran of the " invisible commando", the anti-Gbagbo rebellion in Abidjan during the crisis in early 2011. With its mystical "protections" and a hundred men, he was part of the neighborhood of Abobo (pro-Ouattara). He had managed to destroy a tank with RPG shots. A triumph, then.

In the post-civil war, we meet again in Abidjan, in a little police station near by stripped of everything, starting from its legal occupants. The few men in police uniform, believed to be still loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, were relegated outside the station, sitting on small school desk planted in the yard. Inside, former rebels FRCI were installed in the position most convenient for their current activities: smoking, eating, and complaining. Two of them were sleeping on the counter of what was to be at the origin, the place for the depositions.

In an office at the gate guarded by a man in dreadlocks and dark glasses, the commander Musa spoke of his exploits in the invisible commando. Then, without transition, expressed his frustration at not being recognized at fair value. He neglected to state that at the beginning of the crisis, he was not a soldier, but an auto mechanic. He took care of technical control in Abidjan ... Not exactly a breeding ground for future senior leaders.

Ulcerated for not being celebrated as a hero, he had "made contact" with pro-Gbagbo insurgents. "One of my recent tasks was in Ghana to meet Abehi [a pro-Gbagbo exiled officer]. Another act was to talk to people in Tai." As proof, he called from one of his mobile phones one of his men there, who certified that new attacks were being prepared.

African Diplomacy Staff/Le Monde

SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME: CFA franc

Posted by: pelikay in Opinions

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pelikay
Imagine that one spends all season working hard on the farm: tilling the soil, planting, weeding, praying for rain and sunshine in appropriate quantities, cultivating the crops and then finally harvesting them.

One week to market day, the well-tended tuberous cassava roots, for example, are harvested, peeled and prepared; they are well ground; the best garri in the world is crafted; the garri looks nice and smells even better--the yellowish one fried with palm oil, and the white one too; the type of garri that will go down even without sugar well , well .

On market day, the journey is made to the market; the garri is sold for say 10,000CFA francs. Now one begins to consider what can be done with that money: buy bread and eggs for breakfast, pay for school uniforms and fees, purchase medicines etc. One can even imagine relaxing with some nice palm wine at night. Honest work, honest money earned.

But wait!

On the way out of the market, a strange person standing at the gate of the market decides to extort significant concessions from your hard work and enterprise. This strange person demands that you give 6,500CFA francs of the 10,000CFA francs for him to keep in a bank account controlled by him alone. Then asks that you give him another, 2,000CFA francs as liability for the njangi or any other business venture you may want to use your money for. That is 8,500CFA francs of your 10,000CFA francs.

The person then takes that 8,500CFA francs and go play his own njangis , invest in other businesses, manufacture arms and train others, including some of your own brothers and sisters to make sure that each time he meets you at the gate of the market you will offer no resistance to his demands. If and when he feels like it, he gives you 50CFA francs called "l'aide au dévelopment" and tells you how lazy and stupid (he may have a point here) you are. But he also tells you and the world that he is your best friend and protector.

So you get home with 1,500CFA francs in your pocket: Pikin di hongri, money no dey! Papa and mama di sick, money no dey! School fees time don come, money no dey!

Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to the Communauté Financière de l'Afrique ( CFA ), where this is how things have been working for over sixty years. The January 2008 edition of the pan-African magazine, New African, reports that "the tale of this currency is extraordinarily mind-numbing!" and inspires this special commentary.

The CFA was created in 1945 by Gaullist officials in Paris. The CFA franc remains the currency of eight west African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo (UMEAO) and six central African countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon (CEMAC). In west Africa, the Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO) issues the currency, while in central Africa, it is the Banque des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale (BEAC).

Reporter, Regina Jere Malanda, begins the New African exposé on the CFA franc thus:

"If you think it is bad enough that the majority of the former French colonies in Africa fall in the "Bottom 50" of the least developed countries in the world, spare a thought for this fact: Poor as they are, they have, for over six decades, been depositing 65% of their foreign reserves in the French Treasury in Paris - thanks to an archaic colonial arrangement linking their local currency, the CFA franc , to the French franc and now the euro." Later on, it is learned that "another 20% of reserves [go] to cover financial liabilities."

Our largely English reading audience now gets to understand that this is an essential component of being a francophone in Africa. This is a critical underlying factor that maintains the crushing poverty in this sphere we happen to find ourselves as non-francophones. For this archaic arrangement, to have survived for so long, in part, is responsible for unending dictatorships with presidents for life, tyranny, coups and even genocides in francophone Africa.

But those who sit in parliament in Yaoundé and other francophonic capitals in Africa must be informed (if they are not already) about this arrangement that the president of the Ivorian National Assembly, a former Finance Minister and economist, Professor Mamadou Koulibaly, labels in New African as "financially repressive, unfair and morally indefensible." And all true representatives of our people must develop the political courage and will to terminate this arrangement immediately.

Presidents and party chairmen for life; those who parade around as the political elite with titles of "Honorables"; those in high level positions with big degrees from big universities must be obligated to focus on such poverty-inducing archaic arrangements rather than self-serving and narcissistic pursuits irrelevant to the wellbeing of our people. They must address and dismantle this arrangement immediately.

In an arrangement like this, any notion of freedom, wealth creation, progress and fundamental human dignity for francophone Africa is impossible. The "pursuit of happiness" is not possible. Modernity is passing francophone Africa by because a significant percent of their peoples' money is being controlled by France, at France's discretion, and has been so for over sixty years.

One can then only imagine the horror of some western diplomats, as was the case earlier this month in his New Year's address to the diplomatic corps in Yaoundé, when President Biya stood there and with a straight face said that Africa needs a Marshall plan.

One must also worry about the logic of all these international bureaucrats from the African Development Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Bank (including our own nationals), who parade here and give lectures on poverty alleviation, sustainable development and good governance while being fully aware of this "financially repressive, unfair and morally indefensible" archaic colonial arrangements that have been on going for over six decades.

However, we should not be quick to condemn these foreigners as being hypocrites because it will appear like we are asking foreigners to love us more than we are ready and determined to love ourselves.

However, the president of Senegal, Mr. Abdoulaye Wade, is showing such needed affection for the continent's people. It is admirable. It is patriotic. It is an example for other francophonic African leaders to follow instead of begging for alms or taking loans from China to be paid by those yet to be born; after the eternal presidents and party chairmen would have perished on their thrones.

In the New African report, President Wade is clear and direct: "Central bank reserves of member states must be returned to member states in one way or another. I insist on this, and particularly because we have been raising this issue for a long time."

President Wade "deplored the fact that close to 1,500 billion CFA francs generated from the surplus of West African states' foreign reserves are placed on the foreign stock markets and out of the reach of the Africans who own the money."

Professor Mamadou Koulibaly is clear and direct: "It has become vital today for the CFA franc to acquire its own existence, free of colonial stranglehold ...After the break; the ex-CFA zone must construct its own system based on simple principles. These include: establishing direct access to international markets without having to pass through a tutor (read France); and without a monetary guide (read France); establish a simple fiscal system and not complicated tax codes that are incomprehensible; have flexible exchange rates vis-à-vis major currencies." Professor Koulibaly believes that done within a democratic dispensation, free trade will do the rest for the benefit of Africa.

As it unbelievably exists today, Professor Koulibaly explains that, "the foreign reserves of the CFA African states are deposited in the French Treasury, but no African country is capable of telling you exactly how much of this hard-earned foreign reserves belong to them. Only France has the privilege to that information."

As Professor Koulibaly laments, francophone Africans have been reduced to "taxpayers for France (remember that 65% of hard currencies that the 14 CFA zone states are obliged to deposit yearly in the French Treasury!) Yet our people neither have French nationality nor access to the public goods and services made available to other French taxpayers."
The CFA franc and its archaic arrangement with the French Treasury in Paris is a slave deal. But Tiko must stop drinking only for Kumba to get drunk. We must get all 10,000CFA francs of our garri money.

The Frontier Telegraph

Deny the British empire's crimes? No, we ignore them

Posted by: pelikay in Opinions

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pelikay
New evidence of British colonial atrocities has not changed our national ability to disregard it. We British have a peculiar ability to blot out our colonial history.

There is one thing you can say for the Holocaust deniers: at least they know what they are denying. In order to sustain the lies they tell, they must engage in strenuous falsification. To dismiss Britain's colonial atrocities, no such effort is required. Most people appear to be unaware that anything needs to be denied.

The story of benign imperialism, whose overriding purpose was not to seize land, labour and commodities but to teach the natives English, table manners and double-entry book-keeping, is a myth that has been carefully propagated by the right-wing press. But it draws its power from a remarkable national ability to airbrush and disregard our past.

Last week's revelations, that the British government systematically destroyed the documents detailing mistreatment of its colonial subjects(1), and that the Foreign Office then lied about a secret cache of files containing lesser revelations(2), is by any standards a big story. But it was either ignored or consigned to a footnote by most of the British press. I was unable to find any mention of the secret archive on the Telegraph's website. The Mail's only coverage, as far as I can determine, was an opinion piece by a historian called Lawrence James, who used the occasion to insist that any deficiencies in the management of the colonies were the work of "a sprinkling of misfits, incompetents and bullies" while everyone else was "dedicated, loyal and disciplined"(3).

The British government's suppression of evidence was scarcely necessary. Even when the documentation of great crimes is abundant, it is not denied but simply ignored. In an article for the Daily Mail in 2010, for example, the historian Dominic Sandbrook announced that "Britain's empire stands out as a beacon of tolerance, decency and the rule of law. ... Nor did Britain countenance anything like the dreadful tortures committed in French Algeria."(4) Could he really have been unaware of the history he is disavowing?

Caroline Elkins, a professor at Harvard, spent nearly ten years compiling the evidence contained in her book Britain's Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya(5). She started her research with the belief that the British account of the suppression of the Kikuyu's Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s was largely accurate. Then she discovered that most of the documentation had been destroyed. She worked through the remaining archives, then conducted 600 hours of interviews with Kikuyu survivors – both rebels and loyalists – and British guards, settlers and officials. Her book is fully and thoroughly documented. It won the Pulitzer prize. But as far as Sandbrook, James and the other imperial apologists are concerned, it might as well never have been written.

Elkins reveals that the British detained not 80,000 Kikuyu, as the official histories maintained, but almost the entire population of one and a half million people, in camps and fortified villages. There, thousands were beaten to death or died from malnutrition, typhoid, tuberculosis and dysentery. In some camps almost all the children died(6).

The inmates were used as slave labour. Above the gates were edifying slogans, such as "Labour and freedom" and "He who helps himself will also be helped". Loudspeakers broadcast the national anthem and patriotic exhortations. People deemed to have disobeyed the rules were killed in front of the others. The survivors were forced to dig mass graves, which were quickly filled. Unless you have a strong stomach I advise you to skip the next paragraph.

Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates' ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound(7).

Elkins provides a wealth of evidence to show that the horrors of the camps were endorsed at the highest levels. The governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, regularly intervened to prevent the perpetrators from being brought to justice. The colonial secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, repeatedly lied to the House of Commons(8). This is a vast, systematic crime for which there has been no reckoning.

No matter. Even those who acknowledge that something happened write as if Elkins and her work did not exist. In the Telegraph, Daniel Hannan maintains that just eleven people were beaten to death. Apart from that, "1,090 terrorists were hanged and as many as 71,000 detained without due process."(9)

The British did not do body counts, and most victims were buried in unmarked graves. But it is clear that tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of Kikuyu died in the camps and during the round-ups. Hannan's is one of the most blatant examples of revisionism I have ever encountered.

Without explaining what this means, Lawrence James concedes that "harsh measures" were sometimes used, but he maintains that "while the Mau Mau were terrorising the Kikuyu, veterinary surgeons in the Colonial Service were teaching tribesmen how to deal with cattle plagues."(10) The theft of the Kikuyu's land and livestock, the starvation and killings, the widespread support among the Kikuyu for the Mau Mau's attempt to reclaim their land and freedom: all vanish into thin air. Both men maintain that the British government acted to stop any abuses as soon as they were revealed.

What I find remarkable is not that they write such things, but that these distortions go almost unchallenged. The myths of empire are so well-established that we appear to blot out countervailing stories even as they are told. As evidence from the manufactured Indian famines of the 1870s(11) and from the treatment of other colonies accumulates(12,13), British imperialism emerges as no better and in some cases even worse than the imperialism practised by other nations. Yet the myth of the civilising mission remains untroubled by the evidence.

References:

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyed-records-colonial-crimes

2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/apr/18/sins-colonialists-concealed-secret-archive

3. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2131801/Yes-mistakes-stop-proud-Empire.html

4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1299111/Stop-saying-sorry-history-For-long-leaders-crippled-post-imperial-cringe.html

5. Caroline Elkins, 2005. Britain's Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya. Random House, London.

6. Caroline Elkins, as above.

7. Caroline Elkins, as above.

8. Caroline Elkins, as above.

9. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100083096/in-all-the-coverage-of-the-atrocities-in-kenya-two-words-are-missing

10. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2131801/Yes-mistakes-stop-proud-Empire.html

11. Mike Davis, 2001. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso, London.

12. See for example John Newsinger, 2006. The Blood Never Dried: a people's history of the British empire. Bookmarks, London.

13. Mark Curtis, 2007. Unpeople: Britain's secret human rights abuses. Vintage, London

George Monbiot
www.monbiot.com

INSIGHT: Malawi paid price for ego of "Economist in Chief"

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LILONGWE  - Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika's fight with foreign donors may have cost him his life.

When the 78-year-old collapsed from cardiac arrest a week ago - and subsequently died - simple medicines he needed were out of stock because of a foreign currency shortage exacerbated by his policies.

The Health Ministry's pharmaceutical warehouse, across the street from the Lilongwe hospital the ailing president was rushed to, should have held those life-sav2ing drugs, according to hospital officials in the capital.

But its construction was delayed due to a budget crunch caused by an aid freeze over a fight he picked with donors.

Even if the warehouse had been completed, its shelves would have been largely empty because the country did not have the money to buy foreign pharmaceuticals.

If doctors had been able to put Mutharika on life support, he probably would not have survived for long.

The precarious electric grid was under pressure as more Malawians returned home to watch TV and listen to radio reports about the failing health of a much loathed leader.

The hospital's emergency generator was out of diesel due to fuel shortages that grew the longer he ruled.

Down the road from the hospital in Kawale 1, Lilongwe's biggest township, sympathy for the once respected leader had long run out.

"We wanted him to die," said James Sinsamara, in front of a burned-out store where police had killed two protesters in anti-government demonstrations in July.

FROM DARLING TO PARIAH

Malawi was once the darling of international donors. Programmes to subsidise fertiliser and provide seeds to farmers created an economic revival in the early years of Mutharika's rule that made it one of the world's fastest growing economies.

Landlocked, with 13 million people and a GDP estimated by the IMF to be about $5.6 billion this year, many people outside the region might have trouble finding Malawi on a map.

But for international relief agencies it is a prime destination, with South Korean missionaries, the European Union, USAID and Chinese conglomerates bringing in money and equipment to a country with low crime, massive poverty and a large Christian population.

When Mutharika came to power in 2004, the former World Bank economist was seen as a bland technocrat, leading a party that did not have a majority in parliament.

He made a good start. Farm support programmes helped the economy post annual growth of 7 percent between 2005 and 2010, turning the country of subsistence farmers into a food exporter.

Life expectancy improved from about 40 in 2000 to 52.2 in 2009 and cuts were made in high HIV/AIDS infection rates.

Many Malawians praised his early years but said his worst tendencies became exaggerated after he won re-election.

"He was arrogant to start but became a power unto himself when he won a second term and his party won an outright majority in parliament in 2009," said a political insider who asked not to be named.

Mutharika, described by one donor government diplomat as "contrarian by nature", then shoved aside central bankers, ministers and MPs to grab control of economic policy.

ONWARD AND UPWARD

Billboards with his image proclaimed he was "propelling Malawi into the future", showing projects such as an inland river port which turned into a colossal waste of money.

He called himself the "Economist-in-Chief" and brushed off a meeting with an IMF delegation, saying they were too junior to have an audience with him.

He once refused a meeting with a top diplomat from a Western power, saying he was in another city. But at the time of the scheduled appointment he appeared at a venue near the hotel where the envoy was staying.

Critics at home were harassed and jailed. Independent newspapers were threatened.

Months before his death, he gathered some of his country's most powerful CEOs to discuss economic policy only to lecture them for days about how they should run their companies.

He expelled the British ambassador about a year ago over a leaked diplomatic cable in which the president was described as "autocratic and intolerant of criticism". In response, Britain froze aid worth $550 million over four years.

In a watershed moment for the normally peaceful country, 20 anti-government protesters were killed by Mutharika's police in July 2011, prompting international condemnation and a suspension of other aid projects.

One of the biggest was a $350 million construction project from the U.S. aid agency Millennium Challenge Corporation to rehabilitate power lines and stations.

This put under pressure a budget that traditionally relied on foreign donors to bankroll about 40 percent of spending and made worse a foreign currency crisis.

Tobacco sales, which usually accounted for 60 percent of foreign currency revenues, plunged on diminishing international demand and the decreasing quality of the local product.

The Malawian Church, one of the most powerful forces in the deeply religious country, last month condemned Mutharika for pursuing poor economic policies, political violence, tribalism, nepotism and for badly conducting international relations.

In a letter read to the faithful during Palm Sunday, the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Nkhoma Synod said: "We need to pray against poor and selfish decisions by government".

BLAME THE DEVIL

The currency crisis caused queues for petrol and doubled the

price of essentials for the typical Malawian, who struggles to get by on less than a dollar a day.

Mutharika made things worse by telling donors they could go to hell and proposing a "zero deficit budget" that cut spending and raised taxes on the few firms and individuals with the money to pay them.

This pushed more of the formal economy into the black market, stifled the few sectors responsible for job creation, and, combined with the loss of international support for the budget, sent the economy on a downward spiral.

Mutharika blamed Satan, international donors and political opponents for the fiscal woes and cozied up to the Chinese, who helped build a massive parliament building in the capital.

He wore Chinese-style attire and took out a $90 million loan from the Import & Export Bank of China to build a massive luxury hotel in Lilongwe.

Humanitarian aid from other major donors was not cut, but large chunks were diverted away from influence by Mutharika.

But these projects still suffered as the price of petrol, often smuggled in from neighbouring Zambia, hit about $8.25 a litre on the black market.

"Every programme we had was being impacted by the fuel shortage," said Doug Arbuckle, the mission director of USAID in Malawi.

Medicine to fight malaria could not be delivered to remote areas. The maternal mortality rate, already one of the highest in Africa, increased. There was not enough money to buy gloves and bandages for midwives and more mothers were dying because there was no fuel to transport them to clinics.

"The government cut funding for training. Nursing students are sitting at home because they cannot afford to pay for school," said Dorothy Ngoma, executive director of the National Organisation of Midwives and Nurses of Malawi, the country's largest healthcare union.

In the private sector, a major sugar refiner was exporting its goods abroad to raise hard cash, resulting in queues a mile long.

When Thomas Banda Nkosi opened his franchise business of South Africa's Steers and Debonair restaurants in the city of Blantyre two years ago, he envisioned success and growth. He achieved neither.

"Any franchise business in Malawi is now struggling. We can't pay royalties on time because the banks have no forex. It's difficult to import stocks and the result has been massive layoffs," said Nkosi.

WAITING FOR DOLLARS

Malawi became a cautionary tale of what happens when aid is diverted and a leader defies those trying to help.

The IMF is concerned about Malawi's over-valued currency the kwacha which is officially set at 165 to the dollar but trades at about double on the black market.

"Now that he is gone, we are praying the dollars will come back," said taxi driver James Sikelo.

The new president, Joyce Banda, has talked to major donors including Britain and the United States to restore aid packages worth nearly $1 billion. The diplomatic corps showed their support by visiting her home before she was officially installed as the new leader.

The new president of Zambia, Michael Sata, is making the transition easier, contributing 5 million litres of petrol that should help the economy.

Banda, a 61-year-old policeman's daughter who won recognition for championing the education of underprivileged girls, now enjoys widespread support among a population whose lives grew increasingly difficult under Mutharika.

She could signal her intention to repair ties with the IMF, which has suspended a $79 million aid facility due to conflict with Mutharika, by devaluing the kwacha.

The IMF has said too much of the state's precious foreign currency reserves are being used to defend the kwacha.

She can also ease concerns of donors by meeting international calls to restore the independence of the central bank, protect human rights and ensure a free media.

Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said the economy could return to its fast rate of growth if aid was restored. But the country needed to move away from tobacco and increase the strength of its value-added businesses.

"We really need to start generating forex for ourselves," he told Reuters.

Jon Herskovitz/Reuters

TO: All Brothers and Sisters Born on the Continent

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Blessed Love My Lords and Empresses:

We, your Black brothers and sisters in the West, would like to introduce ourselves to you; have a conversation with you and re-establish a bond with you. Indeed, throughout the years, we have seldom spoken directly to each other and have known of each other only what has been fed to us by a biased, white media, intent on alienating us from one another and sowing seeds of distrust and discord between us. In particular, the white media portrayed you as backward and uncivilized, while at the same time depicting us as lazy, unproductive, criminally inclined individuals who would rather rely on government handouts than work for an honest living. In fact, the United States of America has willfully exported a negative image of its Black citizens throughout the world for the explicit purpose of engendering hatred toward us. This conversation aims to change that perception.
Specifically, we want to show that there is a deeper truth beyond the media headline and it is that truth which Africans on the Continent must understand in order to fully comprehend the continued tribulations of Black people in the West, notwithstanding the election of Barack Obama in November 2008 as the first Black president of the United States. We will tell you about thedifference that makes no difference and the change that brought about no change. We will tell you about the paradox of progress which allows a Black man to become president, even as millions of Blacks are subjected to increased racism and brutality. We will tell you about the shifting nature of racism and demonstrate to you that racism is both an idea and a structure of institutions, impervious to meaningful change or challenge.

We will explain why in the midst of seemingly boundless wealth, Black people have remained poor. We will show you that poverty is not accidental, but rather by design. We will demonstrate how the white man places hurdles in our path to success, then curses us for not succeeding, a practice which led Malcolm X to remark that "[he has] no respect for a society that crushes a man under a heavy burden and curses him when he is unable to stand up under the weight of that burden." We will show you that their contempt for us is based on nothing but the color of our skin. Indeed, we will show you that they hate us when we fail but hateusmore when we succeed.
We will expose the distortion of tying blackness to criminality, and argue that the real criminality is to have wretched poverty in the midst of unbridled wealth. That whatever offense they accuse us of, they have committed greater offenses against us. To put it bluntly and to borrow a line from Shakespeare "we have been more sinned against than we are sinning." Finally, we want to communicate strongly our desire to come home to Africa, but we need your assistance in facilitating our return. We want you to join us in our demand for reparations for Africa and all her children.

Below we provide a small sample of the myriad ways in which our progress in the West was deliberately thwarted by whites and show you the impact of inherited disadvantage. Correspondingly, we want to acknowledge your suffering at the hands of the "colonizers" and the "investors" in Africa. At the end of this communique, it is hoped that we in the West and you on the Continent will realize that our struggles are one and the same and that the need is urgent for us to work together to save Africa and to preserve and advance the interest of the Black race.

To understand our current dilemma, we must go back to the origin of our crisis. The foundation for our perpetual oppression was laid very early. In 1803, the Haitian people, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, defeated the French army and won freedom for the enslaved Blacks on the island, thereby allowing Haiti to become the first free Black Republic in the Americas. As punishment for succeeding against a white army and freeing its citizens from slavery, Haiti became the direct target of European and American hostility. Specifically, Haiti was subjected to unrelenting military invasion, economic embargos, diplomatic quarantines, imposition of U.S.-backed dictators, and demands for reparations. More specifically, shortly after Haiti declared itself a free Republic, France demanded $21 billion dollars (2004 dollars) in reparation from Haiti for depriving France of Haiti's slave labor. Moreover, in 1825, France threatened to re-enslave Haitians, if Haiti did not agree to pay France an additional 140 million francs, as well as grant France a 50% tariff reduction for all French ships docking in Haiti. To meet it financial obligations to the French government, Haiti was forced to borrow money from various French banks at extremely high interest rates. From that time on, Haiti has been struggling under the yolk of a huge economic burden, never able to balance its national budget or offer its citizens a good standard of living. In fact, today, Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, as a direct result of the actions of Europe and the United States in 1825. (For a full discussion of the continuing legacy of slavery in Haiti see Randall Robinson's work "An Unbroken Agony.")

Similar schemes were set in place in the United States. Shortly after the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, the U.S. government and its white citizens devise new ways to keep Blacks enslaved and oppressed. Among the many practices and schemes put in place to hinder the development and growth of Blacks were:

• The Enactment of Vagrancy Laws - Numerous states enacted "vagrancy" laws which were so vague that a person had no way of complying with these laws. Accordingly, Black men were systematically rounded up and arrested for vagrancy, after which they would be taken before a county judge, found guilty, then a fine would be imposed and the man sentenced to 30 days in prison. However, because most Black men could not pay those fines, their sentences would be extended to one year of hard labor. In this way, white America was able to continue its practice of forced labor without compensation, under brutal conditions. This practice continued for many years.

• Discriminatory Housing Laws – Black codes were developed after the end of slavery and race determined (i) whether a person could own property (ii) where a person could own property (iii) where a person could live. Residential patterns were established by racialized zoning laws established in the late 19th century. When this practice was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1917, white citizens created restrictive covenants in their real estate deeds to prohibit any white from selling his or her property to Blacks. Blacks, therefore, were confined to living in the worst areas and environments, often at the sites of toxic waste dumps.

• Redlining - Redlining was a means by which banks would designate neighborhoods where they would not invest, and these were generally black neighborhoods. Thus, Black communities, stigmatized and denied access to loans and other resources, often became places that lacked businesses, jobs, grocery stores and other services. This, in turn, would cause upwardly mobile Black to leave these neighborhoods, further causing these communities to fall into chaos and despair. Thus, redlining further entrenched the problems of concentrated poverty, thereby creating and reinforcing a vicious cycle of decline for which Black people themselves were blamed.

• Restrictions on Entreprenurship - Black people's attempts at economic self-sufficiency and independence were thwarted by whites at every turn. Specifically, Blacks were restricted by law from participating in business on the open market. In fact, explicit state and local policies restricted the rights and freedom of Blacks as entrepreneurs. Indeed, numerous industries and various types of businesses were off limits to Blacks. Furthermore, those types of businesses opened to Blacks were restricted to all-Black, segregated markets, thereby depriving Black businessmen access to customers of other races. In other words, Blacks could only sell to Blacks but other business people such as whites, Jews, Japanese, and Chinese were allowed to sell to each other and to Blacks as well. Above all, Blacks were also forced into the role of consumer, then cursed for not being sufficiently industrious.

Eugene Robinson says it most succinctly in his book entitled, "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America". Mr. Robinson states that Black progress was not just discouraged, not just hampered, but actually outlawed. Blacks were prohibited from learning to read and write; were prohibited from going into certain types of industries and were prohibited from doing business beyond the black community.

• Education – Our access to education was severely limited and even in those rare situations where we managed to get a good education, we were prevented from pursuing higher professions, such as law and medicine. Instead, we were channeled into athletics and performing arts, under the theory that we were good at those things, but not at science and math or intellectualism, generally.

• The Criminal Justice System – Black men are disproportionately targeted for police brutality, arrests and ultimately incarceration. Every year, numerous Black youths are killed by white police officers and thousands are locked up for crimes that go unpunished if committed by white youths. The scope of the problem is vast and the situation grave. Here is a frightening statistic: 70,000 rapes take place in prison annually. Who do you think this is happening to? What impact do you think this is having on our communities, on the Black race? [I am writing a separate paper on Mass Incarceration in the United States and the misery that that spawns for Black people.]

In addition to the structural barriers to achievement which whites erected, ambitious Blacks and successful Black communities were targeted for attacks. Among those incidents are:

• Rosewood community in Florida – In June 1921, the thriving Black community of Rosewood was burned to the ground by racist whites who could not tolerate the success of Black people. Accordingly, an angry mob, supported by the government, completely destroyed the schools, churches, businesses and homes in Rosewood. Hundreds of Blacks lost their lives and property loss was estimated at $2.3 million. Numerous such incidents took place throughout the United States, where thriving and successful Black communities were sacked by whites, with many Blacks killed in the process. This was to serve as a deterrent to Black people advancing.

• Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – In 2005, after hurricane destroyed a predominantly black community in New Orleans, the people were left without help or resources for an unreasonably long time. Those seeking refuge in neighboring white communities were turned back by white government officials and were even fired upon by white citizens. When help finally arrived, the rescue workers would bypass Black people to save the white people of the town.

• Paul Robeson – After graduating at the top of his class from Columbia Law School in New York in 1923, Paul Robeson was unable to find a job as a lawyer. When he was ultimately hired by a law firm, he faced so much discrimination, ever from the secretaries and the clerks, that he was forced to leave the firm. As a consequence, Paul Robeson he was forced to go into theatre and performance, one of the few fields that were available to Blacks, although not without harsh discrimination.

• Reginald Lewis, an able and successful businessman, was hindered in his bid to acquire Beatrice International Foods, a thriving conglomerate having 64 companies in 31 countries. Ultimately, Mr. Lewis had to hire a white man to "front" the deal in order to successfully effect the acquisition of Beatrice Foods. The white business men became enraged when they discovered that Reginald Lewis was, in fact, the person behind the acquisition. They could not abide the idea that a Black man should own such a successful company. Reginald Lewis died in 1993; it is widely rumored that he was poisoned.

• Bill Cosby - In1992 and 1993 famous actor and comedian, Bill Cosby, was denied the right to acquire National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), the number two broadcasting network in the U.S., at that time. Once again, the powers that be could not abide the idea of a Black man owning a mainstream media outlet, which would allow him to help control the images of Blacks that is projected around the world.

To be sure, a few carefully selected Blacks are allowed to advance to certain positions (i.e., Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan etc.). However, the remaining millions of Blacks are poorly educated; unemployed; homeless; confined to depressed neighborhoods; suffer from ill health; are brutalized by police or are incarcerated at disproportionate rates. The successful Blacks may be the elite of the servant class, but they are still the servant class. Thus, in measuring progress, we have to look at the collective, and not just at the exceptional successful Blacks.
Indeed, there is great strategy involved in allowing a select number of Blacks to advance. Specifically, in positioning a number of Blacks in top positions, it helps to deflect accusations of racism in America. Thus, people become focused on what America looks like rather than what it does. Accordingly, the principle of fighting structural discrimination is eclipsed by the desire to showcase difference through symbolic gestures. Therefore, the presence of Blacks in certain position is little more than "window dressing" and any perceived change is simply cosmetic. Furthermore, the system could never remedy the Black condition because the system IS the problem.
The same is true with the Presidency of the United States. Although a Black man occupies the office of President of the United States, this achievement must not be interpreted as a structural change in the system. You see, racism is not simply about whites as obvious villains and Blacks as obvious victims. To be sure, racism is a system of oppression that discriminates against people on the basis of their race. But racism is not static; it has a shifting nature so that it can give something on the one hand, and takes away something greater on the other hand, yet, at the same time, gives the illusion that it is receding. That is the genius of the system. Therefore, so long as the system remains intact, the question of which individual holds power is irrelevant and, thus, Barack Obama's election works as a subterfuge which causes Black people to relax their position and convince them that they are living in a "post-racial" society, where race no longer matters. But that would be a grievous mistake on our part, if we should disarm at this time. In fact, Obama's election should confirm for us that no matter our achievement, what "progress" we seem to make, racism remains intact. As stated above, we must recognize that our redemption will not come from within the system, but rather from our resignation from the system.

Indeed, they want to dupe us with the illusion of a post racial society so that when we talk about continued racism and discrimination our arguments are immediately discounted and we are accused of living in the past or of practicing the same discrimination of which we complain. They call this "reverse discrimination." But we must be able to see the difference between "racial distinctions intended to impose white supremacy" and "racial distinctions intended to undo the harms of white supremacy." In sum, we are not anti-white; we are just pro-Black.

Like us in the West, you on the Continent have been subject to brutal colonialism, imperialism and now Chinese "investments." We are aware of the lopsided contracts you have been forced to sign; the many incidents of multinational corporations dictating the terms of a trade agreement or outmaneuvering African governments in negotiations. Similarly, they have convinced you that their white culture is more advanced than yours and that they are better at governing than you are. In this way, they hope to erode your self-confidence, your abilities and your culture. We are aware of the myriad ways in which they undermine your political and economic system; how they promote internal strife to create unrest or rebellion, thus "proving" that Black people are unable to maintain a stable government. We know fully well the nature of these people.

Remember, we are talking about people who have no compunction about poisoning a river where women, children and cattle go to get drinking water, as was the case in Namabia when SWAPO fought to eliminate colonial rule. We are talking about people who would manufacture germs in a lab such as the HIV virus to kill millions of people for the sole purpose of acquiring the people's land. We are talking about people who have attacked or killed our freedom fighters such as, H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie; Marcus Garvey; The Right Hon. King Emmanuel Charles Edwards; Patrice Lumumba; Kwame Nkrumah; Steve Biko; Nelson Mandela; Jomo Kenyatta; Winnie Mandela; Malcolm X; Maurice Bishop; Walter Rodney; Robert Mugabe; Albert John Luthuli; Walter and AlbertinaSisulu; Kenneth Kaunda; Hector Pieterson and countless others.

We are talking about people who are now inducing African countries to impose greater restrictions on issuance of visas to Blacks from the West, especially Rastafari. People who want to compel African countries to adopt or endorse social policies (such as homosexuality) under the threat of reduced financial aid and in total derogation of these countries cultural practices or moral principles. In every way possible, Europe and America continue to impose its will on Africa and its people.

Yet, for all that the white man has done to us and continues to do, we remain loyal to him and to his system. In fact, in a masterful act of treachery, the white man continues to retain a position of trust and reverence among Black people, a situation that is as perverse as it is paradoxical. That is why, in his book entitled "Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery" psychologist Dr. Na'im Akbar writes that the slavery that feeds on the mind; that invades the soul of men; that destroys a man's loyalties to himself and establishes allegiance to forces which seek to destroy him, is an even worst form of capture.

Brothers and sisters, the evidence is all around us. White people don't love us, they never will and they seek only our destruction. In furtherance of that objective, whites have consistently tried to create division among us, by pitting Blacks from the Caribbean against those born in the U.S., and all of us in the Diaspora from you born on the Continent. They have even told some of you on the Continent (especially Ethiopians, Somalians and Eritreans) that you are not Black or "Negroid" like people in other African countries or those of us in the West. Their strategy continues to be "divide and conquer." In a further effort to keep us alienated from each other, they continue to advance the argument that you on the Continent participated in the slave trade.

Indeed, the argument that "our own brothers sold us into slavery" has become more popular and prevalent in recent years. However, it is dishonest to compare the role played by Blacks in the Transatlantic Slave Trade with that played by whites. After all, it was whites who invented the system; it was whites who forced many Blacks to participate or risk their own enslavement; it was whites who transported us across the ocean in some of the most inhumane fashion; it was whites who divided families; it was whites who auctioned us off as chattel; it was whites who raped our women; it was whites who savagely beat us and lynched us if we rebelled against any injustice; it was whites who kept this brutal, savage system of slavery going for hundreds of years; it was whites who made huge amounts of money from enslaving Blacks; it was whites who said that Blacks are less than human, were animals. So we don't want whites to tell us about your participation in the slave trade unless they are ready to hear some hard truths about themselves. Your participation does not relieve whites of their culpability.

Sadly, many Blacks in the West have taken up this position. (When the oppressed starts making the argument for the oppressor, you know the oppression is complete). Fortunately, most of us in the Diaspora have recognized that we need to be careful because when we countenance this type of argument, we legitimize the behavior of whites and become co-conspirators with white men in their never-ending quest to evade responsibility for the atrocities they have inflicted upon the Black race. In any event, whether or not you on the Continent participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, is no business of the white man. This is a family affair, an internal matter and will be handled as such, without the interference of any white man.

Another point to be made is that the Jews are guilty of worst behavior toward their own brothers; but no one likes to talk about that. Jews delivered thousands of their fellow Jews to the Nazi regime, knowing fully well that the people they gave up would be exterminated in the gas chambers. Those Jews were handsomely rewarded for betraying their brothers; but that discussion is always stifled and never pursued.

My brothers and sisters on the Continent, it is time for us to unite and work together. We must move to erase the socially constructed barriers that continue to imprison and divide us. Black people cannot afford to be divided by ethnicity, tribal or political affiliations, geographic boundaries, gender differences, culture or religion. We must unite across all these divides, if the Black race is to be preserved and become strong.

When we stay alienated, separated and divided, white man wins. Some have argued that skin color is not a sufficient basis on which to unite but we believe that our collective experience as victims of racial oppression is all the cohesion we need. White people have always united around skin color, notwithstanding any internal differences. We should do the same.
In this connection, we urge you to petition your respective governments, tell them about us and our plight in the West, tell them how we continue to suffer at the hands of whites and that the election of Barack Obama does not diminish this truth. Tell them that we work hard and continue to strive but that each time we reach the goal post, they move it further and further away.
Tell them that the system was designed for us to fail; that the system is "rigged" against us in the Diaspora, as it is rigged against you on the Continent. Tell them that the system is rigged against Black people universally. Tell them that in judging Black people's advancement or lack of advancement in the West they should bear in mind that success and advancement are tied to more than individual effort; they are tied to the willingness of the larger society to allow access to those seeking to enter. Tell them that in many cases we are honorable people forced to do dishonorable things.

Tell them that the destructive behavior that some Blacks engage in is a direct result of the oppression under which they are forced to live. Tell them how white men quote statistics as proof of Black men's criminality but that statistics do not reveal cause nor do they give balance or provide context for the information upon which the statistics are based. Tell them to not accept racial stereotype as fact. Tell them that the bad behavior is both a cause and a consequence of our condition, so that the symptom and the syndrome are one and the same. Tell them that most of us have done everything they require of us, yet it is not enough for we cannot do the one thing white men require most of us, in that "we cannot stop being Black." Tell them again that despite any wrongdoing they perceive on our part, "we have been more sinned against than we are sinning."

Tell them to be ever vigilant against the deception of the white man. Tell them that the white man's methods may have changed but not his motives. Tell them to not impose any restrictions on our travel into Africa. Tell them to reject the argument that slavery was good for us, that we in the West are better off than you on the Continent because of slavery and that European culture is superior to African cultures. No, they are not brighter or more intelligent than Africans; they are not more industrious than Africans; they are not more creative or ingenious than Africans. They are simply more evil and godless than Africans. What they excel at is deception. Tell them that white man's doctrine is as sweet as honey but as corrosive as acid. Remind your governments that all that the white man has achieved has come at our expense. Their "advanced society" was built with the forced labor of Black people. The minerals they used were stolen from Africa, after they pillaged the continent and forced the people into servitude. The "know-how" they acquired was done by copying us, after which they destroyed our libraries and great civilizations. The monuments and artifacts in their museums belong to us. They are criminals who continue to profit from their misdeeds, both past and present.

Tell your government about Rastafari. Tell them to look closely at Rastafari culture and what it promotes; what it means for the dignity of the Black man; how it pledges it's loyalty to Africa above any place else; how it affirms the Black man's humanity; how it doesn't require the Black man to subordinate his culture to European culture. Tell them that Rastafari serves to lessen the demoralizing effects of the degrading roles that Black people are forced to assume in the world. Tell them that Rastafari stands as the defender of the poor and the powerless, in David's perpetual battle with Goliath. We know that the governments of Africa have been fed a negative image of Rastafari, so that they may reject the culture and Rastafari people. But tell your government that our only offense is that we reject white man's culture and that the white man is running scared because he is losing his grip on the Black man's mind.

Above all, tell them we want to repatriate. Tell them to join us in our demand for reparations from the governments who enslaved us. Tell them that we must collectively reject welfare, foreign aid and IMF loans and demand reparation because we prefer justice to charity. Tell them that Africa and her children are entitled to reparations for the damages they have suffered. Tell them that this is true, despite any seeming generosity from white government with whom they transact or any "nice" white person with whom they share a friendship. Tell them that our fight is not against individual whites, only the oppressive white system. Tell them that slavery and discrimination are social problems that demand social solutions – not individual misdeeds that demand individual reparation. Tell them that Africa's children in the West need their love and loyalty. Tell them we want to re-unite with our mother.
Tell them we want to come home.

One Perfect Love,
Your Blood Brothers and Sisters in the Diaspora

Empress Marina M. Blake (Bobo Shanti House)


Is Africa on trial?

Posted by: pelikay in Opinions

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pelikay
The International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up to try those responsible for the most serious crimes in the world - such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

So far, all 24 people facing charges - and the only person convicted - are from Africa, leading to accusations of bias. The African Union has said members countries should stop cooperating with the Court.

One of the two experts asked said YES Africa is on trial.

There are 15 cases currently before the International Criminal Court. All of them are against Africans. There is every indication that the ICC is targeting African leaders, working to a script written in Washington, Paris and London.

The former President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, was "abducted" at midnight and secretly carted off to The Hague. Liberia's former President, Charles Taylor, is still incarcerated at the ICC [he is being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone]. Sudan's head of state, President Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted. Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif, and Libya's intelligence chief were indicted before the court could even establish the nature of their crimes. The trend is easy to spot.

It is indisputable that some of these men were behind untold suffering. Their actions cannot be defended or denied. But this list of people suggests African leaders are the only ones imprisoning, torturing and murdering their citizens. They are clearly not. But no-one else is on trial.

When American staff sergeant Robert Bales allegedly shot dead 16 civilians in Afghanistan, including nine children, he was quietly spirited away to a military prison in the US, despite the demands of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to try him in the country where the massacre took place.

Had Mr Bales been an African, his commander-in-chief - although thousands of miles away - would have been subjected to the ICC's Rome process. But the idea that US President Barack Obama would be put on trial for crimes in Afghanistan is absurd. Yet senior Kenyan officialsare being held responsible for the deplorable actions of men who were not even taking orders from them.

The reason is simple: "[Lead ICC prosecutor, Jose Luis Moreno Ocampo has] avoided situations where he would likely step on the toes of permanent members of the UN Security Council, from Afghanistan to Gaza, to Iraq, to Columbia," argues international human rights law expert William Schabas, chairman of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
'Charade'

Politicians, activists and lawyers have desperately tried to bring horrific crimes from other parts of the world to the ICC's attention, but the court seems to actively avoid their pleas for justice.

The worst thing about the entire process is that the human suffering that inspired the creation of the court is irrelevant when it comes to who gets prosecuted.

The American ability to dictate the court's agenda was not at all diminished by the fact that the US refused to ratify the Rome Statute creating the court, meaning no American is subject to the court's authority.

African states, by contrast, signed up to the Rome Statute as equal partners.

But when the African Union - which knows a little more about African affairs than some American diplomats - tries to advise the court, it is systematically ignored. This attitude tells you everything you need to know about the ICC.

The trials are nothing to do with seeking justice for the hundreds of thousands of wronged people.

They are designed to target the leaders who have offended powerful western interests enough to earn the court's attention. If African "warlords" have western friends, they are ignored.

Col Gaddafi's son did not start abusing his power in 2011. But that is when western politicians decided to stop feting him, and the ICC decided he was a criminal.

Similarly, Mr Taylor is in The Hague because he had a spat with American diplomats. The crimes he is being accused of are simply an afterthought. It's a charade.

There is an Akan saying: "Megyefo de abaa tare me so", which means "My redeemer has turned my persecutor".

The International Criminal Court is in fact a pathetic continuation of an imperial tradition, a way for western powers to pretend they are protecting human rights in Africa, that they are teaching Africans right from wrong.

It is time Africa's criminals were held to account by Africans.

Zaya Yeebo is a writer and commentator on Pan African Affairs. He is a programme manager at UNDP's Civil Society Democratic Governance Facility in Kenya.

River State News/BCC

Development: Microfinance - possibilities and limitations

Posted by: pelikay in Opinions

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The scope of microfinance to lift poor people out of poverty and provide mechanisms of empowerment is being challenged as questions are raised about the supporting evidence.

In a discussion hosted by the UK's Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the academic evidence was concluded to be unclear, unreliable and inconclusive.

"[There is] no clear evidence that microfinance has any positive or negative impacts," said Maren Duvendack, ODI fellow and author of a recent systematic review of microfinance, while David Roodman, of the Centre for Global Development, added: "I [wouldn't] say microfinance doesn't work, I would say it does not systematically reduce poverty. We do not have credible academic evidence that microcredit on average lifts people out of poverty... We [also] do not have evidence that microfinance is systematically making people worse off."

Range of services

"I think a lot of people think that microfinance equals microcredit [providing small loans]," Duvendack told IRIN. "[Microfinance is] not just credit and savings, [but also] insurance, business skills, training, financial literacy."

Most studies consider the impact of microcredit, but Roodman suggested another of the microfinance portfolio products - microsavings - could have positive impacts on poverty reduction.

Duvendack, however, who is completing a study on the impact of microsavings, said it showed no significant benefits over microcredit.

Microfinance risks

The predominance of microcredit as a microfinance tool could be a significant hindrance to poverty reduction, as the risk of indebtedness is high.

According to former ODI fellow, Milford Bateman, micro-enterprise failure after funding with microcredit can strip poor people of all their remaining assets.

"It is the overall lack of access to credit for small and medium enterprises that prevents micro-enterprises growing into anything more substantive," Bateman added in an ODI paper. Microfinance initiatives have provided a social legitimacy for poor people to become indebted, commented Bateman, and the commercial business model has meant high interest rates for microcredit.

Microfinance risks

The predominance of microcredit as a microfinance tool could be a significant hindrance to poverty reduction, as the risk of indebtedness is high.

According to former ODI fellow, Milford Bateman, micro-enterprise failure after funding with microcredit can strip poor people of all their remaining assets.

"It is the overall lack of access to credit for small and medium enterprises that prevents micro-enterprises growing into anything more substantive," Bateman added in an ODI paper. Microfinance initiatives have provided a social legitimacy for poor people to become indebted, commented Bateman, and the commercial business model has meant high interest rates for microcredit.

"Microfinance institutes [are] now required to generate high financial rewards for their managers (salaries, bonuses) and owners/shareholders (dividends and capital gains)," Bateman explained.

"The fear is that significant financial flows are flowing out of the poorest communities, rather than being retained and recycled within them to underpin productive investment as the precursor to an escape from poverty."

Consensus is growing that microcredit should not be offered to the poorest of the poor due to the risk of harm, said Ruth Stewart of the Social Science Research Unit at the Institute of Education, University of London, at a London International Development Centre event.

Limitations and advances

The limitations in evidence of microfinance for poverty reduction result from poor study design and unreliable data, despite more than 30 years' experience. Hopes remain that robust and well-designed research, including randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews, will provide clearer conclusions in coming years.

Microfinance initiatives will not be successful in a vacuum, according to Duvendack. They will need to operate as part of a broader poverty reduction strategy with appropriate large- and small-scale economic frameworks to support advancement for poor people.

Another forthcoming systematic review co-authored by Duvendack will also show no firm conclusions of microfinance as a tool to empower poor women, although it does increase recognition of poor people as consumers of financial services, and can result in the development of regulatory frameworks around consumer rights. These factors were argued as possible forms of empowerment and new regulatory frameworks for India were cited.

"There are indigenous models and we need to investigate these models," said Will Derben, head of community relations at Barclays Africa.

Indigenous community models to provide finance for poor people, like the Susu men in Ghana, have been overlooked during implementation of microfinance tools.

Potential customers, as well as existing community models, need to be better understood so as to be better supported by microfinance initiatives.

Also overlooked, Duvendack told IRIN, may have been other potentially important development interventions, such as targeted welfare programmes, conditional cash transfer programmes, or small-scale agricultural growth programmes.

"I think we need more studies to be clearer about what is the actual impact of the various products," said Duvendack. "Do we have to have credit plus savings together or savings alone, or credit alone - or what is it now?"

Growth

By 2008, the microfinance industry had grown to include at least 2,420 microfinance institutes in 117 countries, according to microfinance institute exchange; the number continues to grow annually.
Microfinance institutions are able to be relatively self-sufficient, to innovate, to provide jobs and to compete in financial markets.

For Barclays Africa, Derban said, "Microfinance is a concept. It's about finding that balance between providing a financial service that will improve people's lives but yet be viable commercially.

"We need to provide financial services and we need to find ways of improving the system. Everybody wants to be banked."

To maintain a balance between doing social good and implementing successful financial products, Derban explained, Barclays Africa combines its commercial expertise with regulations bound to the philanthropic budget used to invest in community projects.

"I think it used to be the case where a lot of people that came into the microfinance sector came via the NGO route, where it's all about helping. [Now] we're seeing... more commercial people are coming in."

Regulation

"Certainly we shouldn't just let the market do its own thing," added Roodman. "Government does need to play a major role, setting the rules of the game and ensuring that it stays on an even keel."

Continuing to increase funds invested in microfinance, Roodman reflected, would not only be unnecessary, but could also potentially create harmful "microcredit bubbles".

"We cannot assume that more is always better. The amount of money going into microcredit these days poses the largest threat to the largest strength of microfinance."

Microfinance, argued Roodman, offers "a cautionary tale about putting a lot of money into things where the impacts are not rigorously dealt with".

IRIN News

Amber Murrey Blog: Hydrocarbon Scramble in Uganda

Posted by: pelikay in Blogs

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Uganda has announced the discovery of viable oil reserves in the northern part of the country, which is estimated to contain over 2.5 billion barrels of oil. In October, President Yoweri Museveni said that the country intended to begin refining its crude products by 2014.

Tullow Oil Plc. (an oil and gas exploration and production company), Total (a French oil firm), and China National Offshore Oil Corporation are expected to partner to develop oil-rich land in the Lake Albert Rift Basin fields. At this time, 10,000 square kilometers of Ugandan land will be involved in a competitive biding process for re-licensing contracts for oil exploitation. A Resource Management Law is expected to be passed in the near future, and will create the groundwork for the bidding process.

At this time, however, little oversight or transparency exists to ensure oil profits are spent in a socially and economically responsible manner and there is little insight into the details of leasing arrangements. Winnie Ngabiirwe of the pro-transparency group, Publish What You Pay Uganda, explained on 2 November that, "Our government has continued to dismiss our concerns, treating the oil and gas sector with the highest level of secrecy. Making agreements accessible to Ugandans, and publishing what the country is earning is an important step necessary for fighting against corruption and embezzlement."

Indeed, reports of petro-corruption were heard by the Ugandan parliament in early November 2011. An Independent Member of the Parliament, Western Uganda youth representative, Gerald Karuhanga, possess documents alleging that Tullow Oil bribed Energy Military Hilary Onek, paying him approximately 17m euros ($23m; £15m). These documents also indicate that Tullow bribed Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa. These allegations were refuted by the accused Ugandan governmental officials but the topic of oil corruption and transparency remain critical.

In an interview with Risdel Kasasira of the Sunday Monitor, Karuhanga said, "I fight for the truth if there is anything of corrupt nature, anything that involves cheating Ugandans, unemployment and unfair treatment of Ugandans like the lecturers' and teachers' salaries, I will always mention them whenever I get a chance or platform to speak about them irrespective of any government in place...I still insist these oil documents are genuine."

Some actors are looking towards the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a potential fail-safe for ensuring transparency of petrodollars and oil contracts. The EITI was established in September 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg after a large-scale push by a coalition of civil society organizations for increased transparency in payment and revenues generated by extractive industries. This increased transparency involves public disclosure of company payments and government profits. This push for public disclosure and accountability is essential in guaranteeing that public resources do not exclusively benefit the ruling elite. In Angola in the late 1990s and early 2000s, for example, approximately US$1 billion of Angola's oil revenues were estimated to have disappeared from government records in the form of kickbacks to leading government officials. Six African countries—the Central African Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Mali and Niger—currently meet the compliances of the EITI.

The dilemma of the EITI is its voluntary nature. Because there is not large-scale agreement on its policies, market niches for countries and companies who do not sign onto its requirements may emerge. An example of this possibility is BP's relationship with Angola. When BP agreed to full disclosure of payments to the Angolan government, the government threatened to discontinue business relations with BP. As a solution, some activist and scholars have argued that all G20 countries should require resource extraction companies to disclose payments. At this time, an agreement between G20 countries has not been made.

In July 2011 the United States passed the Cardin-Lugar amendment on energy sector transparency that requires companies to itemize payments in their annual filings with the Securities Exchange Commission. The British financial services regulation draft bill, which emerged in July 2011, is similar in scope and consequence. The European Union is currently considering a Transparency Directive which would hold companies listed in its 27 member states to similar standards. While this represents large advances in ensuring transparency in the extractive sectors, it falls short of the global action which is necessary to ensure that companies outside the EU and the US do not fill gaps in the market and continue conducting secret business deals that enable corrupt regimes stay in power and compounding poverty in the citizenry of the countries in question.

Amber Murrey is a doctoral student in the Department of Geography at the University of Oxford

Cohabitation: the greatest disagreement between sexes

Posted by: pelikay in Opinions

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While Cameroonian women prefer marriage, men argue for free union. Cohabitation is growing among young people, although there are no official figures. The Cameroonian phrase 'Come we stay' is derived from woman temporarily moving in with a man while waiting to raise money for a big wedding. However, this situation can end up lasting forever.

Madeleine is 37 and has been living in a common-law relationship with Rigobert for 18 years. "I got pregnant when my boyfriend was in his final year of studies. So I moved into his student room.

We intended to wait for him to finish his studies and find a job. But after finding a job, he wanted to build a house first. And after the house, Rigobert had to start saving for the children's education," Madeleine explains.

Wedding wishes
Rigobert just doesn't see the need to formalise the relationship: "Marriage is a way of saying we love each other. But isn't living together for twenty years not a sign of love?

"Of course I know that all women dream of a lavish wedding. But I am just struggling to make ends meet. I don't see the need to spend three thousand euros on a party and then not being able to pay the children's school fees."

Although Madeleine says she is happy with the situation, she did want to marry him. "I had to stop my studies quite early and took take care of our five children. There was no chance for me to develop myself professionally," she says regretfully.

"I sometimes have the impression that I missed something. I also do not have the ability to assert my opinion because I am financially dependent on my husband. I am obliged to do what he wishes."

Faced with this comment, Rigobert is quite surprised. "The law and God say that the man is the head of the family. I make decisions that I deem to be the best for the welfare of our family. It is not a question of purchasing power."

The risk of losing everything
During the conversation, Madeleine refers to her partner as "her husband", which is revealing.

"Cohabitation is not marriage, although over time the women feel to be married," explains Christophe Owoudu, a Social Affairs Counsellor. "In Cameroon, marriage benefits and protects the women, while cohabitation is more profitable to men."

Owoudu explains that in general women do not take such precautions as having property in their names. When the partner dies, his family can then grab all the property and leave the woman penniless. The same thing happens in case of separation. The man can just send the woman away and keeps all the property.
When the couple is married, the Court ensures that the property is shared. It also ensures that the woman perceives alimony. Owoudu says that he receives a lot of desperate women who have been robbed by their ex-partners.

Mass weddings
The view of Christopher Owoudu is the official position of the Cameroonian government: the promotion of marriage.

Part of this promotion is the regular organisation of mass weddings. The Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Family organises a ceremony during which several couples who live in cohabitation, can get married.

It then offers a cocktail to the newly-weds. This cocktail is cheaper and offered by the state and not by the bride and the groom.

But, cohabitation is convenient for many men. "When you cohabit, the woman is helpful and obedient," says Aurélien Tchambou, a 23-year-old carpenter. "Once she gets married, she thinks she doesn't have to make any effort to please her husband anymore."

Disadvantages
Another reason not to get married are the costs: the dowry, the wedding dress, the party, etc. "I prefer buying a home instead of spending all of my savings on a one-day event," Nasser Tchoumbo explains.

Aurélien Tchambou has been living in a common-law relationship for the last eight months. But he promises: "I will get married very soon. I just need time to save enough money for the party."

Meanwhile, Madeleine sells doughnuts by the roadside to gain some financial independence. She is very proud of her business that she started a year ago. "When I can contribute to our household, I can have my say about things." The wedding should be soon.

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