Category Archives: Conflict Mining/Resources

The human security implications of anti-gay law on sexual minority in Nigeria

The human security implications of anti-gay law on sexual minority in Nigeria by Toyin Ajao

Introduction

On 7th January 2014, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed an anti-gay bill into law, with punishments including 14 years imprisonment for anyone that enters into same-sex marriage, 10 years for any organization or people that support gay rights as well as any individual who displays same-sex affection in public. This invasive law made Nigeria the 36th country in Africa to prosecute gays. Following suit, Uganda passed its own anti-gay law on the 24th of February 2014. This development is perturbing as it empowered the population and provided a common ground on which to unite and persecute sexual minority. What the law has validated is the homophobic stances of religious and cultural beliefs that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’, ‘unAfrican’ and ‘immoral’, without a critical engagement with its human rights and human security implications.

It is very germane to reflect on the Nigerian anti-gay law in the context of peace and conflict, particularly through the lens of human security. This is because the current discourse has largely captured the human rights paradigm, rather than its human security element.

The emerging paradigm of human security was promulgated in the ‘Human Rights Report’ by the UNDP in 1994.[i] The imperative components of Human Security as encapsulated by Abass are: freedom from fear and want, and the guaranteed fulfilment of individuals. ‘Human security’ has similar components to the human rights concepts, but human security has more far-reaching practical implications from the perspective of peace and conflict. The difference however is in the approaches of these two concepts. This is a shift in the traditional state-based approach to security where the rights of one group can be placed above the other to protect their political interest at the expense of the other group. Human security focuses on human crises that need practical interventions without which there will continue to be obstacles to human development. The practical components of human security include the individual protection from internal and external threats, access to food security, health care, education, environmental security, personal safety, human rights, effective governance and absence of violent conflicts.[ii] This makes it pertinent to look at the anti-gay law in the contemporary discourse from the human security perspective.

 The case of homosexuality in Africa

Many scholars have squashed claims that homosexuality is ‘unAfrican’. As Tamale argues, colonization came with draconian rules and laws that categorized many practices including homosexuality in Africa as horrendous and ‘barbaric’.[iii] Tamale further challenged the claim that homosexuality is not part of African culture with ‘culture’ in contemporary Africa being an interpretation and construction of the colonialists and patriarchs.[iv] This dilemma within African communities essentially states the white ‘other’ construction of their reality. Ilesanmi also debunks the myths of the ‘UnAfricanness’ outcry in her reflection that homosexuality existed in African society before the advent of imperialism and colonialism.[v] She argues that the multi-cultural nature of African society embraced diversity and tolerance in its practices before the importation of foreign religions, which has subsequently dominated the discourse and rhetoric of African identity and society.[vi] Furthermore, in the Amnesty International report on criminalization of same-sex conduct in sub-Saharan Africa, it was highlighted that African colonizers brought the laws that criminalize homosexual practices in Africa with a determination to expunge what is considered ‘unnatural’. [vii]

Dlamini also argues the ‘compatibility of homosexuality with African culture, cosmology and spirituality’ by reviewing selected critical texts of ‘homosexuality in Africa’.[viii] Dlamini states that western colonization imported homophobia, and not homosexuality, to Africa.[ix] This he justified by citing homosexual practices in Africa before the spread of ‘civilization’ by the West. Some of the examples are: Sango the effeminate Yoruba deity in the pre-modern history of Africa revered and worshiped with his affinity for cross dressing and ‘feminine’ hairdo; the Azande warriors in Congo, known to marry other warriors and serve as temporary wives; and lastly, the Hausa ‘Yan Daudu’ men in Northern Nigeria recognized as individuals whose gender expressions are very effeminate and displayed strong affinity for cross-dressing. These aforementioned practices were not frowned upon or criticized until Africa’s colonization.

The new waves of western missionaries have built on the homophobic rhetoric and strengthened it. This is due to the proselytization of Africans during and after colonization: a classic enabling factor for the promotion of the anti-gay agenda in Africa. With the contemporary understanding of ‘culture’ and the less well-understood pre-colonial history of Africa, many Africans’ believed that homosexuality was a ‘Western invention’. The international community, witnessing the impediment of gay rights in Africa, has been making attempts to prove that homosexuality is not their invention but a human reality. Nevertheless, Western evangelicals are influencing anti-gay campaigns in Africa as homophobic funding trickles in from Western Christian Organizations.[x]

Furthermore, the religious fundamentalist’s alignment with state power has intensified homophobia in Africa.[xi]Nigeria is a case in point. Apart from losing the rich historical culture on sexual diversity, the incessant conflict of interests between the African leadership and the West is a key area of interest influencing decisions on gay rights. Syed argues that, ‘pressure from the West only emboldens the religious fundamentalists and their political allies’[xii] to victimize the already marginalized group. Another very central reason is the leadership of patronage and the institutionalization of religious belief in Nigeria.[xiii] Consequently, the growth of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria has a strong impact in the criminalization of the Nigerian sexual minorities.

What then are the threats to this human security?

By passing the anti-gay law in Nigeria, the Nigerian government has strengthened the penal codes that exist in Northern Nigeria to execute, jail or punish anyone considered homosexual. This has helped widen the scourge of discrimination that Nigerian sexual minorities already endure.

 There has been a known culture of open antagonism, discrimination and hatred for sexual minorities in Nigeria, with the government legitimizing this discrimination and hatred. As a result, there are continuous incidents of gays, or people perceived to be gay, being evicted illegally from their homes, stripped naked, tortured, or beaten. A recent example was the five alleged gays stripped, beaten and paraded naked in Warri in March 2014.[xiv]

 Furthermore,the Nigerian police force that is notorious for abuse and exploitation of their citizens has now gained more legal status to continue this act as a result of the passing of anti-gay bill into law. Arbitrary arrests and detention of real and perceived homosexuals have continued to take place. This law has exponentially compromised the personal safety of Nigerian sexual minority, or those perceived or accused of being gay.

Some NGOs that render support to sexual minority are under threats because of the clause in the anti-gay law that spells out 10 years for any organisations caught supporting this group. In the wake of the anti-gay laws, a few organizations working for the defence of LGBT rights fear recriminations and have to be extremely careful about their interventions as not to risk jail terms imposed by the law. Many organizations that have done incredible work in advocacy, lobbying and service provision for the protections of sexual minorities are been forced into silence by this law. This is a breach of the constitutional and democratic freedoms of non-governmental organizations in Nigeria. With most organizations clamped down upon by this law, exploitation and illegal prosecution of perceived and real homosexuals can only rise.

Another significant threat is access to quality health care. Available statistics revealed that there are about 3.7 million Nigerians living with HIV.[xv] With this new law, homosexuals living with HIV/AIDS are likely to go underground for fear of prosecution. The likelihood of spreading HIV/AIDS with those forced underground will increase thereby leading to a greater health hazard. NGOs working on issues of sexual minorities and providing health services will have trouble delivering adequate services as well. Unfortunately, the anti-gay discrimination may fuel the African HIV/AIDS epidemic in Nigeria. Part of the ongoing efforts with the World Health Organization, ‘to eliminate health disparities across board, notably including those impacting the LGBT community’ will be hampered.[xvi]

Fuelling more threats both internally and externally is the media.As the mainstream media highlights awareness on gay rights, so also is the platform used for promoting hate and discrimination. The effect of media ‘sensationalist tabloids’ on gay rights has been negative.[xvii] Through some media outlets the categorization of homosexuality as ‘unnatural’, ‘ungodly’, ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unAfrican’, as gained high profile debate and prominent visibility.[xviii] Some Nigerian TV stations and online newspapers are culprit. Also, traditional media in so many ways have contributed to ‘witch-hunting’ of gays by ‘linking same-sex attraction with incest, paedophilia, bestiality, and adultery’.[xix] Negative reporting can only further endanger the lives of sexual minorities who are already marginalized.

 Finally, there is growth in the number of asylum seekers from Nigeria. Ilesanmi in her interview on ThisDay newspaper explained that many homosexuals have been forced to seek asylum outside their country, leading to more ‘brain drain’.[xx] This has increased rapidly since the bill became law. Sadly, many skilled individuals who were contributors to Nigeria’s economic development and growth are fleeing persecution by their government.

 Conclusion

It is unpalatable that sexual minorities in Africa are used as collateral damage in the global war of power and self-determination. We live in a global village, with opposition and support for homosexuality, which is not totally strange in human relations. However, the Nigerian government has not shown objectivity or understanding of the threats to human security in the position taken against its sexual minorities. The atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance has dimmed significantly. Both the political and religious leaders have been part of the crusade of homosexual persecution and prosecution. Nigeria needs conversations that are open to change and that demonstrate respect for human rights and diversity.

Whilst it would help for political leaders to repeal the laws that criminalized sexual minorities, a move towards evidence-based research on sexuality issues is crucial. This is an important step that will be useful in educating the Nigerian society. Until such moves are made human rights and human security will continue to suffer imminent threats and Nigeria will continue to be seen as a retrogressive nation.

______________

Toyin Ajao is a Peace and Conflict doctoral fellow and an assistant lecturer at the University of Pretoria. She is also an alumnus of the Africa Leadership Centre at King’s College, London and Obafemi Awolowo University. Her research focus includes: human security, conflict transformation, citizen journalism and gender and sexual rights.

NOTES

[i] See Abass, A. (2010) An Introduction to Protecting Human Security in Africa. In Protecting Human Security in Africa. 1-20.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] See Tamale, S. (2009) A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Public Dialogue.Kampala: 1-6.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] See Ilesanmi, Y. (2013) Freedom to Love for All; Homosexuality is not UnAfrican!
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] See Amnesty International (2013). Making Love a crime: Criminalization of Same-sex conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa.
[viii] See Dlamini, B. (2011) Homosexuality in the African context. Agenda: Empowering women for gender equity : 128-136.
[ix] Ibid.
[x]See http://www.voanews.com/content/lesbian_gay_rights_in_africa_hit_roadblocks/1512357.html
[xi] See Ossome, L. (2013) Postcolonial Discourses of Queer Activism and Class in Africa. In Queer Africa Reader. 32-47.
[xii]Seehttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16068010
[xiii] See Sampson, T. I. (2012) Religious violence in Nigeria: Causal diagnoses an strategic recommendations to the state and religious communities. AJCR Volume 12 No. 1: 103-134.
[xiv]See http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/gay-men-publicly-stripped-and-beaten-nigeria.
[xv] See http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-nigeria.htm
[xvi] See Daulaire, N. (2013) The Importance of LGBT Health on a Global Scale. LGBT Health 24 July: 1-2.
[xvii] See Johnson, C. A. (2007) Off the Map: How HIV/AIDS Programming is failing Same-sex Practicing People in Africa.
[xviii] Ibid.
[xix] Ibid.
[xx]See http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/our-senators-are-hypocrites/104344/

US Expansionism by stealth: Militarism from Africa to the Pacific Islands

From Guernica – The Pivot to Africa.  The US [AFRICOM] claims it has a limited military presence in Africa with just one military base in Djibouti however when each small ‘footprints’ is counted, we see the whole is alarmingly expansive.

The proof is in the details—a seemingly ceaseless string of projects, operations, and engagements. Each mission, as AFRICOM insists, may be relatively limited and each footprint might be “small” on its own, but taken as a whole, U.S. military operations are sweeping and expansive. Evidence of an American pivot to Africa is almost everywhere on the continent. Few, however, have paid much notice.

The U.S. Military’s Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013 (key below article) ©2013 TomDispatch ©Google
The U.S. Military’s Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013 (key below article) ©2013 TomDispatch ©Google

If the proverbial picture is worth a thousand words, then what’s a map worth? Take, for instance, the one created by TomDispatch that documents U.S. military outposts, construction, security cooperation, and deployments in Africa. It looks like a field of mushrooms after a monsoon. U.S. Africa Command recognizes 54 countries on the continent, but refuses to say in which ones (or even in how many) it now conducts operations. An investigation by TomDispatch has found recent U.S. military involvement with no fewer than 49 African nations.

In some, the U.S. maintains bases, even if under other names. In others, it trains local partners and proxies to battle militants ranging from Somalia’s al-Shabab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram to members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Elsewhere, it is building facilities for its allies or infrastructure for locals. Many African nations are home to multiple U.S. military projects. Despite what AFRICOM officials say, a careful reading of internal briefings, contracts, and other official documents, as well as open source information, including the command’s own press releases and news items, reveals that military operations in Africa are already vast and will be expanding for the foreseeable future.

The US strategy has been to open small units or bases which initially appear small scale and then expand their usage so for example the military base in Niger was initially set up to deploy one predator drone. Now it is being used to deploy larger multiple drones on a daily basis.  Another example is the military base at Entebbe, Uganda which in 2009 was just a ‘barebones compound’ with a few aircraft. Now it is a much larger complex with fleets of helicopters and aircraft.

AFRICOM also provides a  massive role for private military contractors such Berry Aviation who provide “Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance” services…

In July, Berry Aviation, a Texas-based longtime Pentagon contractor, was awarded a nearly $50 million contract to provide aircraft and personnel for “Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing services.” Under the terms of the deal, Berry will “perform casualty evacuation, personnel airlift, cargo airlift, as well as personnel and cargo aerial delivery services throughout the Trans-Sahara of Africa,” according to a statement from the company. Contracting documents indicate that Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia are the “most likely locations for missions.”

At present the US has agreements to use 29 international airports in Africa for refueling which technically at least can be interpreted as the US having a foothold in each of these countries in addition to all other bases and or training facilities.

When the US presence in  Africa is placed side by side with the expansion  in the Pacific – the Pacific Pivot, and the Middle East we begin to see the true picture of US globalized militarization which includes bases in all four corners of the world.   The frame now is no longer that of  outreach policeman,  but of grand patriarch and protector of the  homeland – of the women and the children, a horrible heteronationalism led by a black saviour astride a white horse.

It’s not hard to imagine why the U.S. military wants to maintain that “small footprint” fiction. On occasion, military commanders couldn’t have been clearer on the subject. “A direct and overt presence of U.S. forces on the African continent can cause consternation… with our own partners who take great pride in their post-colonial abilities to independently secure themselves,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere earlier this year in the military trade publication Special Warfare. Special Operations Forces, he added, “must train to operate discreetly within these constraints and the cultural norms of the host nation.”

On a visit to the Pentagon earlier this summer, AFRICOM’s Rodriguez echoed the same point in candid comments to Voice of America: “The history of the African nations, the colonialism, all those things are what point to the reasons why we should… just use a small footprint.”

And yet, however useful that imagery may be to the Pentagon, the U.S. military no longer has a small footprint in Africa. Even the repeated claims that U.S. troops conduct only short-term. intermittent missions there has been officially contradicted. This July, at a change of command ceremony for Naval Special Warfare Unit 10, a spokesman noted the creation and implementation of “a five-year engagement strategy that encompassed the transition from episodic training events to regionally-focused and persistent engagements in five Special Operations Command Africa priority countries.”

Though Nick Turse’s article doesn’t comment on land and water grab, mineral resources, oil etc, it seems to me that it is important to at least ask how US militarism in Africa and the Pacific facilitates corporate America’s involvement with all of these issues and ultimately what is the purpose of the massive presence in these regions if not to protect these  interests?

Read  The Pivot to Africa: On the startling size, scope, and growth of U.S. military operations on the African continent.” in full on Guernica.       

 

Key to the Map of the U.S. Military’s Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013
Green markers: U.S. military training, advising, or tactical deployments during 2013
Yellow markers: U.S. military training, advising, or tactical deployments during 2012
Purple marker: U.S. “security cooperation”
Red markers: Army National Guard partnerships
Blue markers: U.S. bases, forward operating sites (FOSes), contingency security locations (CSLs), contingency locations (CLs), airports with fueling agreements, and various shared facilities
Green push pins: U.S. military training/advising of indigenous troops carried out in a third country during 2013
Yellow push pins: U.S. military training/advising of indigenous troops carried out in a third country during 2012

After the bees and the frogs we are not far behind

In an August 2013 report, Haiti Grassroots Watch wrote that Haiti’s mineral wealth could be worth as much as $US 20 billion and for this already land has already been given to US and Canadian businesses fronted by Haitian firms.   These awards have been taking place over the past five years and behind closed doors with no oversight.

The “gold rush” in Haiti has been going on for the past five years or so, since the price of gold and other minerals rose. Until last year, the government and the companies cut their deals behind closed doors. After an investigation revealed that 15 percent of the county was under contract, on February 20, 2013 the Haitian Senate adopted a resolution demanding all activities cease in order to allow for a national debate and for analysis of all contracts.

Writer Edwidge Danticat goes further by tracing the quest for Haiti’s gold back to Christopher Columbus who set in motion and ongoing disaster for Haiti  culminating in the present day unregulated quest for gold.   People have already been displaced, land will be destroyed which forebodes a warning for something more to come such as the disappearance of frogs along with the disappearance of people.

The land has been  destroyed, the rivers, and all of nature.   Greed has no respect for any of these – It  takes  and takes and takes till there is nothing left, then pockets full of dollars,  moves on to somewhere else and repeats.

From The Coffin Factory an interview with Edwidge Danticat ….

The Coffin Factory: You have this whole environmental aspect of Claire that I haven’t seen in the other books. There are what initially seem to be surreal, almost magical, elements, like the exploding frogs. But then you explain that this is part of climate change.

Edwidge Danticat: The Cuban writer Mayra Montero published a wonderful novel a few years ago called In the Palm of Darkness, which is about two men, one Haitian and one foreigner, who are looking for a very rare kind of frog in Haiti. Every once in a while some rare species of frogs are discovered in Haiti, which are either endangered or extinct elsewhere. Given how little tree cover there is now in Haiti, something like less than five percent, it is amazing that something like this is even possible. I did some research and it seems that frogs, like bees, are a bellwether species. Like the Jean de la Fontaine poem the radio personality quotes in the book, when all these types of animals start disappearing, we can’t be far behind. So the facts that the frogs are disappearing in Ville Rose is a sign that something big is going to happen, something even more environmentally drastic—and everyone knows it. In a way, you have this ongoing disaster in Haiti that started with Columbus’s quest for gold and continues through the renewed interest in Haiti’s gold mines today.

 

 

 

 

My grandmother was a fisherwoman………

she used to fish on the Sombrero River and the adjoining creeks but then came the  oil, and  greed, and pollution and war, now most of the fish are dead, fat men and women fight over the overspill of their bellies and men with guns terrorize people trying to live in peace!  This could be a long story and maybe one day it will be but for now….

From Platform London

The picture above captioned as A Niger Delta Village In the 1960s (Before Oil) has sparked much discussion on online forums in Nigeria. While there have been debates about its veracity, what is interesting is the way that it provides a catalyst for people’s memories about the region before oil.

Here is one comment that I find particularly moving and evocative:

As a young Niger Delta boy even in the early 70s such good looking natural environment existed in the Niger Delta.

1. I remembered going to pick periwinkles in the swarms meeting blue coloured water that is reflecting the blue skies in a hot afternoon like that.

2. I remembered especially on a rainy day and especially at night going to creeks with only Calabash and bare hands coming home with good catch of fishes

3. I remembered using such clean (so to say) sea waters tasting salty to soak my garri padling my canoe while returning from Kaa or Iyanaba market

4. I remembered not bothering about tap water every morning to bath to school but jumping into this river like you do in this modern day swimming pole, wash mysely come out robe high scenting pomade and off to school

5. I remembered having my canoe capsided on the sea and I swarm to safety without any polluted water with oil to choke me

6. But I also remembered afterwards on Sobiekiri river many canoes with people on the water, someone mistakenly threw a cigaret stub on the water and it caught fire and so many people were burnt to dead including good swimmers who jumped into the river to see if they could dive past the burning oil on the water

-

50 years on and Shell STILL has not cleaned up it’s mess – despite the 2011 UN Environmental Programme’s  [UNEP] damming report on Shell’s and the NNPC activities

The report found that, without exception, all the water bodies in Ogoni was polluted by the activities of oil companies – Shell Petroleum Development Company (Shell) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Indeed the report stated that some of what the people took as potable water had carcinogens, such as benzene, up to 900 times above World Health Organisation standards. The report also revealed that at some places in Ogoniland, the soil is polluted with hydrocarbons to a depth of five (5) metres.

The UNEP report revealed that the Ogoni homeland had indeed been turned into an “ecological disaster,” as the Bill of Rights asserted. We remind ourselves that the UNEP report made recommendations that most of us saw as low hanging fruits that government could easily have responded to assuage the pains of the people and commence a process of restoring the territory to an acceptable state. The apparent inaction is nothing but a squandering of opportunities to rescue a people and for impactful political action.

A total clean up of Ogoni land will take a life time or about thirty years at the least. That is the length of time UNEP estimates it would require to clean up the water bodies in the territory. And it would require an additional five (5) years to clean up the land. How is that a lifetime? Well, life expectancy in the Niger Delta stands at approximately forty-one years.

 

 

Haiti: Caracol, Cholera and Dignity

Evel Fanfan is a Haitian human rights lawyer and activist.  He is the co-founder of AUMOHD [Action des Unités Motivées pour une Haiti de Droits) or Action for Human Rights in Haiti founded in 2002.   Despite constant intimidation of Fanfan he continues to speak out against the worker exploitation and human rights abuses of the poor and marginalized minorities.   Presently Fanfan is a leading figure in the campaign to obtain justice for Haitian cholera victims and workers rights [ especially those in the textile sector in SONAPI ] the form of the Caracol Industrial Park – the site of a new wave of exploitation of Haitian workers under the guise of job creation and reconstruction.

SE: Lets begin by introducing yourself and your organization AUMOHD. 

EF: First let me say thank you for this interview.   I am Evel Fanfan, a lawyer, a defender of human rights promoting the rights and the dignity of the people especially the poor people who cannot pay for lawyers fees in the goal to get justice in Haiti.

I  am Co-founder of AUMOHD,  action for human rights in Haiti.  WE founded it in 2002 and our special work is to support the people and to help them understand their rights and their responsibilities in the law and how they can campaign so that everyone respects their rights and the law.  We provide free legal assistance for workers and also training and promoting human rights for people like you see here today.  Our work also includes developing a network of different groups in  civil society and our goal is to build a new society here in Haiti.  AUMOHD has created different (in Cite Soleil, Grand Ravin, Simon-Pele, Croix des Bouquets and Bainet) communities which we call the Community Council for Human Right, CHRC.

SE: What  kind of training do you provide? 

EF: Different training, legal training on what the law is, so for workers, we provide information and training on international labour laws and workers rights.  For small businesses, we help them understand their rights and how to build their business and also leadership training. We have a  mobile education car which travels throughout Port-au-Prince, in Cite Soleil, Carrefour, Delmas, Petion-Ville and here we educate on whatever is needed at the time cholera, violence against women and we will soon do some special education on elections such as what do they [elections] mean for the people and how can they get involved.

SE:  Do you see your organisation as having a political position?

EF: The status is non political.  Our politics is to help the people get a voice – to build a network, to teach and know what the law says.  We are not involved in party politics.  Its a broad politics.

SE: Yes, but  by teaching the people about their rights, voting labour laws and so on, isn’t that subversive particularly with the present government. 

EF: Our mission is to help people understand why they should vote for a candidate and who to vote for.  By that I mean we explain to the people that they need to vote for the action not because someone paid them.  For example when someone needs help we do not care about their politics – whether they are Lavalas or some other party, if people are being abused them we support them.  Thats why in 2004/5/6 a lot of people said ahaaa AUMOHD is Lavalas because we defended victims who were Lavalas.  Then the people said we are against Lavalas.  Then with Preval it was ahh they dont agree with Preval and now its the same thing ahh we do not agree with this government.

So we promote the rights of the people and if the government promote the rights of people then we support the government.

Cholera

Misthaki Pierre cries after the burial of his mother, Serette Pierre, who died of cholera October 29, 2010 in Back D’ Aguin, Haiti. Her death has left Misthaki without a mother and father, one of the thousands of orphans from cholera. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images) #

SE:  I would like to move on to Cholera. The situation now is that the UN has refused to receive the law suit.  Where do you go from here? 

EF: First AUMOHD was not really involved with the original suit. That was BAI [Bureau des Avocats Internationaux ] and others. But we agreed with them that we needed to do something.  I discussed with Mario Joseph of BAI that the first suit was to ask the UN to agree they introduced cholera to Haiti and they must pay compensation to the victims. That was the first step. The UN have now said they will give $2 billion to eliminate cholera in Haiti. Thats a lot of money but they said this money is not for victims but to eliminate the cholera and we know they can collect this money and give it to large NGOs who will spend the money.

SE: It seems this is yet another opportunity for the water and sanitation NGOs and the private sector to make a great deal of money from Haiti.

EF: Exactly that is why we will try to oppose this through out campaign and explain to them that if they want to give money to Haiti to address this problem then we will show them the way.  You know that more than 8,000 people have died and lot of children have been left orphans.   It is a huge problem that cholera has given to the Haitian people and this is why we say cholera is a crime against Haitian humanity.  Another crime is when the UN refused to admit they introduced cholera into Haiti.  So we need to do something for the dignity of the people  because one thing we do not want to do is blame the people who introduced cholera directly into Haiti,  that is the UN soldiers.  This is not our goal. The UN is supposed to ensure that the soldiers they deploy are in good health.

SE:  Could you explain for readers why you consider  the state of Haiti also culpable in introducing cholera. 

EF: Generally the state is supposed to be sure that in the contract between the UN and Haiti,  the soldiers [staff] are in good health  and if not, the government is supposed to say no these people cannot enter. The government of Haiti have the responsibility to refuse any UN soldier or official who they think is ill or has some other problem.

SE:  So the government has also been negligent?   What was their response? 

EF:  You have to understand this government is not the state.  There is a difference between the state and the government and we are suing the Haitian state which is permanent. This government is just a temporary guardian of the state.  The present government is comfortable with the international NGOs and agrees with all the actions of these people, they do not want to clarify, by legal process, who is responsible.

SE: But hasn’t the Haitian government always been in this position of subservience to the US since the occupation?

EF: Yes historically we are supposed to be a strong people, it is really difficult to see that because of the way our government accepts anything.

SE: What are the next steps in the cholera campaign.

EF: Right now the UN has refused to accept responsibility so we need to go to the second step,  which is to go to the international or regional courts to get a redress against the UN. We are working with different civil society organizations to see how we can mobilize against the way things are going with cholera.  We want to show them how to eliminate cholera and to compensate the victims.

SE: Two things – first of all there are the damages payable to the relatives of the  dead, then there is the question of how to stop the spread of cholera which requires changes in the water and sanitation.  What kind of programme would you like to see to eliminate cholera?  

EF:  For us the first thing we want from the UN and the Haitian state is to have the participation of  Haitians in this programme especially those from  the areas where there is cholera and those who are affected. We want something that is clear, that has a structure for clean water.   A programme that includes the victims and where Haitians are able to monitor how the money is spent. We want to divide how the money is spent:  50% by the state,  25% by NGOs and 25% by the grassroots organizations.

Caracaol 

SE: I would like to move to workers rights.  Since the earthquake we have seen disaster capitalism at work in Haiti with the introduction of factories which under the guise of reconstruction, use Haiti as a place of cheap labour.  For example I just read a news report that Clintons next venture is agribusiness and the setting up of coffee plantations. I wonder what this means for Haitian farmers?   There is now a free trade zone where corporations pay no tax and workers are paid $3 per hour. 

EF: Let me introduce this policy of the international corporations who want to come to Haiti. Its  like in 1791 when we had slaves, we gave the work to the people but they worked as slaves.  Now its the same. We want to give a lot of jobs in Haiti so the question is what kind of jobs?  With the textile industry we understand there is an increase in this sector because of the cheap labour costs and abuse of workers rights.  Its a similar exploitation but its also a big dilemma because we have a lot of people who want jobs and we have these kinds of cheap labour jobs.   So people have little choice but to work.  You cannot say don’t work when a person has no job.

Now we are at a point where we can try to change our situation because with $3 a day its terrible.  People are supposed to pay for food, transport, school everything – its really difficult so we need to ask what do these corporations and organizations especially USAID mean when they want to provide jobs in Haiti?  We say, AUMOHD says,  we need decent jobs. The problem is not really the amount but what people have to do with the money.  It’s not possible and people are working for the USA .

Another problem with Caracol is they used agricultural land and this was a big mistake.  They could  have used other land so I try to understand why they used the agricultural land which could be used for farming?

Another thing is they said they will build houses for the workers, but if you go there you will see the kind of houses they built and how much money they said they spent for building these houses.  I call them tombs because they are  really really small.  These people need to review the way they work in Haiti.  I would also add that Haitians in the US need to put their hands together and understand  that we need to work together, to think of another way to develop Haiti, not this way.

SE:  Are you trying to negotiate with some of the companies?

EF:  Right now we are trying to organize the workers so they understand what the project means for them,  now and in future; what will this area look like.  Because think of it, HASCO gave us Cite Soleil, is that what we want?  We  have to explain these things to the workers so they can empower themselves.  [Cite soleil was originally built by Hasco to house sugar workers in what was known as an Export processing zone - very similar in concept to Caracol]

We have Cite Soleil today and the same thing will happen in Caracol in 10 years so thats why we need to help the workers.  The best thing is to put pressure on the companies that if they want to be positive we cannot continue to pay people  $3 a day like before.

SE:  Is it not also possible to put pressure on the Haitian government to provide fairer tax policies for these corporations who pay nothing? 

EF:  We are now in a system of domination and I don’t think the Haitian government can do anything about this.

Sexual Violence and Sexual Minorities. 

There has been much discussion and media reports on violence against women, sexual violence especially since the earthquake.  Recently BAI reported an increase in the number of successful prosecutions of rapists.  In addition Haiti is poised to make changes in its penal code which will make it easier to prosecute rapists.  However I am interested to know your thoughts on how effective the new laws will be in really making it easier for women to report rape.

EF: We need to educate women on the law itself and on how to use it to their advantage.  Another thing is we need to provide the capacity and possibility to do that.  So we need to provide lawyers who can support them and attend court on their behalf.  But still education is the most important, for example in cases of sexual harassment.  In some cases the perpetrators themselves do not know what they are doing that is harassment.  So we need a campaign of education which is for the community so everyone is clear on what is rape, what is sexual violence because at this moment it is not always clear.   Also one reason women are afraid to report rape,  especially by a neighbour,  is that they need to be sure that something will be done. So we need a good strong structure for example they don’t have to go to the police alone but with a lawyer.

SE: What is the law on sex workers and with regards LGBTI people which is not altogether clear.

EF:  Here too more education is needed but there also there needs to be a judicial review on sex workers.   But really the problem is the same,  people not understanding their rights.  For example homosexual rights, we are in a culture where homosexuality is not accepted.  We need to take the time to understand this situation.  I recently had a meeting with a gay activist and I explained to him that we need to go to slow with this issue.  Here in Haiti you cannot even go into a church with a tattoo people will say you are the devil.  In some churches women cannot wear pants, its something terrible.   So now people come from the US with tattoos and the society tries to accept these new ways.  The same thing with homosexuality;  the international situation is one thing and here the law doesn’t even recognise it.  The culture influences the law and since homosexuality is not in the peoples perception, then we have to think of [a solution] it in a different way.

Movement Building 

SE : When we first met you mentioned a desire to build a movement which suggests a particular political positioning and one that might clash with your professed neutrality as a human rights lawyer? 

EF: I resolve this problem through justice.   For example politically I can have a view such as for Lavalas but as a human rights defender I have no view other than to seek justice.

The problem is the influence of my citizenship on my human rights position and I solve this through justice.  For example, when this government agrees to send children to school,  I say bravo but when they spend our money traveling the world I say no, you need to stop this. When they agree to reduce the number of people in the jail I say yes, this is a good thing but when they arrest members of congress, I say no you cannot do that. So when they decided to arrest Aristide, I said OK let me see the case you have. If I see they have proof and evidence then go ahead and arrest him but if not then leave him alone. And not just for Aristide but for everyone, even Jean-Claude Duvalier.

I was asked to take a case against Duvalier  but  we have to be careful because if we take these cases then we need to be prepared to collect all the evidence, bring in all the people and to build a proper case.  If this happens,  then I will be there, because I do not want to begin this process if we are not going to be able to build a strong and clear case.

People have to make a commitment. Right now we have to send a sign to the people that we need to change the way we are doing things in Haiti.  People need to know where they want to go and what result they want.  Also how will this benefit Haiti?  If the prosecution of Duvalier will help Haiti then we must go ahead but if it will divide us more then I don’t want this.

Right now we cannot get a good judgement against Duvalier because they [Duvalier and the elite] control the justice system. And thats why I advise people [who want to go to court over Duvalier] that we need to have a structure that everyone agrees  that these crimes committed by Duvalier were terrible and we cannot accept this ever happening again.

This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

BAYAKOU: – Why I’m talking shit & cholera on World Water Day*

We are born, we eat, we shit. And so it continues till at the end we  pass on. We talk about birth, about maternal health, choices we have or don’t have on birthing methods, on reproductive rights.  We most definitely talk a great deal about food which if you stand on most streets and look around, seems to be in abundance even though in Haiti and other parts of the global south, millions,  are food insecure, an easy to manage way of saying at risk of  death from hunger.

The Silence

But when it comes to shit, there is silence.  Where does it go, how is it removed, what happens to it.  In this instance I am talking about Haitian shit but shit is shit as they say. The only difference from country to country is what happens to it after we have, at least metaphorically, flushed the toilet.  I don’t know where Haiti falls in the hierarchy of shit management, say compared to my own country Nigeria which I don’t think  is that great.  I suspect that most of the global south remains challenged by  sanitation as well as food and water.

We know that in certain situations shit can kill and the poorer you are the more likely you could die of a shit related illness CHOLERA is a prime example, so shit is a poverty issue and a class issue.  We know there are issues of privacy, access to ‘toilets’ especially at night and sexual violence in unlit densely populated urban areas, so shit is also a gender issue. We know that some people risk physical violence or are refused entry into toilets such as a proposed ban in Arizona where transgender people would not have the rights to choose the toilet of their choice so shit is also a transgender issue. With shit playing such a prominent part in our lives, why is what happens to it so mysterious?

In 2009  DINEPA [1] was created to take control of the management of water and sanitation in Haiti.  Prior to that, the management of water  was minimal with little regulation.  Various initiatives had been created in the past such as  CAMEP, set up by Francois Duvalier in the 1960s and much later the neighbourhood water committees created during President Jean-Bertrand’s first presidency.  Sanitation management though was close to zero.  The earthquake changed everything though not for everyone!  There are still only 6 people to service the sanitation needs of 10 million people. Seriously how is that possible?

2010 Earthquake

The earthquake changed everything because at that point water and sanitation became a crisis issue which was again taken to another level with the October 2010 outbreak of cholera.  The cholera outbreak  has now been proved to be a direct result of  cholera infected shit from a UN camp being introduced into the Artibonite River which is a source of water for thousands who live in the area.  8,000 people have died from Cholera – a shit and water related bacterial infection. Thousands of children were made orphans during the earthquake and more thousands have been orphaned through cholera.  Families left destitute as the main breadwinner has died from cholera.  Shit kills!

Since the 2010 earthquake the role of DINEPA has become more crucial as it forms a major part in the management of the prevention of cholera and other illness.  This is done through its camp monitoring work consisting of : Data collection – information gathering of water, sanitation and hygiene; municipal coordination mechanism which analyses data – water supplies, number of working toilets, desludging [nice word for shit removal].  All of these are crucial in a country with a cholera epidemic that could get out of control at any given moment particularly as the rains begin next month.  The danger was put to me by Oliver Schulz of MSF

 “My personal fear is that things will get worse before they get better.  The structures are weaker today than in 2011/2012.   Every year the structures deteriorate.  There is no plan for cholera and without a WHO supported comprehensive national health care plan with clear directives, clear action plans and milestones then it will not get better. Also many of the big agencies have left and there are too many unknown NGOs, charities and faith groups”

Crisis of Cholera

At this moment, cholera is a crisis.  Access to clean water is a crisis and sanitation levels are a crisis.  The refusal to see these as crisis is a major contribution to the crisis itself.  Despite these crises the United Nations which has refused to receive the claims of Haitian cholera victims for compensation claiming immunity  under the UN’s 1946 Convention is suggesting that 99% of the cholera elimination programme  be funded by the private sector.  Read Haitians will have to pay and pay hard for clean water and sanitation. As one official said to me, private companies are always ready to cut corners for profit so you cannot trust them.    The Haitian government and its partners in exploitation – The Clintons, USAID, Canada, France, Corporations,  have two solutions for Haiti and neither have the interest of the popular masses who make up 80% of the population.  The first is charity which is invariably unsustainable and merely papering the gaps.  The second is to privatize Haiti so even the supply of water becomes an opportunity to profit from earthquakes and disease.

Removing the shit

To return to the shit situation, there are two ways of desludging, mechanical and manual.  The former uses a truck with a pump which extracts the shit from the septic tank which if you can afford it, is made of blocks and cement.  This is the system I grew up with in Nigeria and remains the way it is done.  The shit is then removed  but no one ever  talks about where the shit goes.   In Haiti the mechanized method is also used in the camps. In Port-au-Prince [PAP] the pumped  shit is taken to one of two newly built treatment plants.  The plants provide 500 cubic meters for 500,000 people which means the two plants are only meeting treatment needs of 1/3rd of PAP’s population.   Although the camps have the benefit of a mechanized system the rest of the city does not.  And here lies one of the problems. The post earthquake crisis has meant the focus for water provision and sanitation [as well as rape and other forms of sexual violence] has been concentrated on the camps leaving millions living in poor neighbourhood with minimal or no support.

However the majority of desludging is done manually in the depth of the night by BAYAKOU  - men who literally stand in the pits and remove the shit.   Unfortunately rather than get respect for doing the worst job imaginable,  Bayakou’s are stigmatized which might be why they work at night.  Once exposed, they are often victims of violence so very often they live secret double  lives.  Bayakou’s  do not live long.  Imagine you are in the pit and cut yourself, the wound soon becomes infected plus your liver is compromised after regularly drowning yourself in alcohol to remove the smell and taste.  BAYAKOU are unregulated and no one asks where the shit goes.   The government has been trying to formalize manual desludging and provide the men with proper protective clothing and regulate the disposal and to some extent this has been started in the Cap.  But when there is so much anti-shit bias where no one wants to discuss any aspect of shit management, it is a slow process.

SHIT is the dark side of life, and until it is cool to brag about how my shit is removed and treated or recycled and used for compost or we begin to look at shit as a health issue, change will be slow.  Along with access to clean affordable drinking water, management of shit are central to healthcare and the prevention of cholera.

The Last Word – The UN is responsible for Cholera

The NGOs and International aid agencies came and now most of them have left.  Many of those that remain are scaling down their services of water, sanitation, healthcare provision.   DINEPA itself is now sure how long it will be fully funded and inevitably something or someone will loose and it wont be the UN or the private sector.  To quote Oliver Schulz again there is simply no plan.

In the hope of obtaining justice and reparations for the thousands of cholera victims, the Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux [BAI] and Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti [IJDH] filed a groundbreaking suit against the UN on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims.  In addition to insisting on accountability the suit  demands that the UN

  • Install a national water and sanitation system that will control the epidemic;
  • Compensate for individual victims of cholera for their losses; and
  • Issue a public apology from the United Nations for its wrongful acts.
After the demands were dismissed by the UN Haitian Civil Society will proceed with their campaign to for the UN to meet their demands.   In a joint action CSOs, released the following press statement on Cholera in Haiti in which they  demanded the UN pay reparations for the 8,000 dead; demanded the UN / MINUSTAH admits to its responsibility in introducing Cholera;  develop a sustainable programme with consultation from the population for elimination of cholera; Present an apology to the Haitian people worthy of  the greatness and pride of the First Independent Black Republic in the free world

Par devant cette situation inacceptable, nous, AUMOHD, Erzili DLO, BAI, Batay Ouvriye, SOFEJH, CCDH, FEHATRAP et des d’Organisations de la Société Civile, des Organisations populaires, des Organisations des victimes comptons lancer un appel à la mobilisation générale et de faite lançons un appel patriotique, humanitaire et de dignité au nom du PEUPLE Haïtien à l’ensemble de la population mondiale pour :

1.- Forcer aux autorités Onusiennes/MINUSTAH de RECONNAITRE leur faute relative au cholera en Haïti.

2.- Réparer dignement les 8.000 victimes et autres

3.- Eradiquer de manière réaliste avec la participation citoyenne l’épidémie du cholera en Haïti

4.- Présenter au Peuple Haïtien des excuses dignes de sa grandeur et de sa fierté de la Première République Nègre libre et Indépendante du monde.

There will be a protest march to  the UN / MINUSTAH headquarters at 10am – starting at ‘Carrefour l’Aéroport to the l’Aéroport route and UN HQ.

 

 

[1] National Directorate for Water Supply and Sanitation in the Ministry of Public Works

*The blog post is based on a series of conversations over the past two months with MSF staff, human rights lawyer, water and sanitation official, camp and neighbourhood residents.  The conversations are ongoing.

This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

Haiti – Cholera still an emergency issue

From Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) a report on the deplorable condition of cholera related healthcare in four departments in Haiti.   Part of the problem is that increasingly over the past 18 months cholera has been downgraded to a ‘development’ issue rather than an emergency one.  However as the report states there has been an  increase in mortality rates  in part of the country of 4%  towards the end of 2012.  Another factor which has the potential to exacerbate the cholera situation is the downsizing of DINEPA staff responsible for all aspects of monitoring water and sanitation in the ‘official’ camps.

A lack of funds and supplies has crippled cholera treatment programs in Haiti, leading to unnecessary deaths and increasing the risk of greater outbreaks during the upcoming rainy season, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

In recent evaluations of public health facilities in four Haitian departments–Artibonite, Nippes, Southeast, and North–MSF found that the quality of cholera treatment declined significantly in the last year due to funding shortfalls.

“Some of the staff at the cholera treatment centers have not been paid for several months,” said Dr. Mamady Traoré, MSF deputy medical coordinator, who participated in the Artibonite assessment in late December 2012. “Infrastructure and equipment are worn out because they haven’t been maintained and there are frequent shortages of medical supplies. As a result, hygiene precautions that are essential to limiting the spread of the disease are no longer enforced. Sometimes patients are left without treatment or must pay to obtain it. That is intolerable.”

Cholera-related mortality has risen since late 2012 in Haiti’s North Department. “The mortality rate exceeds 4 percent in certain treatment centers–this is four times the acceptable rate,” said Joan Arnan, who was in charge of the evaluation. “This reveals the shortcomings in treatment. Cholera is not difficult to treat if it’s done promptly. But sometimes there are only two nurses to manage 50 patients. That’s not nearly enough to ensure quality care.”

In December 2012, the United Nations launched an appeal for $2.2 billion to fund a plan by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) to eliminate cholera by 2022. The plan is yet to be funded, leaving many current cholera patients without adequate treatment.

“Cholera now appears to be seen as a development issue to be resolved over the next 10 years, whereas the current situation still calls for an emergency medical response,” said Duncan McLean, MSF program manager in New York. “The necessary resources for such a response are becoming increasingly scarce.”

The deplorable state of the treatment centers suggests that the worst is yet to come with the looming rainy season. In 2011 and 2012, rains led to sudden localized epidemic spikes between May and November. MSF responded within the limits of its resources.

“Prevention–by improving water, sanitation, hygiene conditions and vaccinations–is obviously the long-term solution, but sufficient resources are still needed today to treat patients and prevent deaths,” said Oliver Schulz, MSF head of mission in Haiti. “The priority today must be to strengthen the treatment centers and the early warning and rapid response systems. The Haitian government and international donors need to ensure that existing treatment sites are equipped and staffed before the rains. That means as soon as possible.”

Since the cholera outbreak was identified in late October 2010, MSF has treated nearly 200,000 patients at a total cost of approximately $60 million and with a mortality rate below 1 percent. During 2011, MSF gradually handed over responsibility to Haitian health authorities for treatment centers outside the area affected by the January 12, 2010, earthquake, after training Haitian staff and donating supplies and equipment. MSF continues to provide cholera treatment in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne, with 23,000 patients treated in 2012.

This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

Redux: Odi & Filling Nigeria’s Memory Hole

After 14 years, Nigerian courts have ordered the government to pay compensation to Odi Town in the sum of nearly $240 million within 21 days. He described the attack on Odi as

“brazen violation of the fundamental human rights of the victims to movement, life and to own property and live peacefully in their ancestral home.”

Odi Town Massacre

In addition to the compensation the people of Odi town have demanded an apology and the rebuilding of the town.  Odi town was one of many towns and villages invaded, destroyed, burnt, people were killed and injured during the rule of Olusegun Obasanjo – hopefully now they will one by one begin to receive justice.

Odi Town Massacre.

In the early hours of the morning of the 20th November, 1999, 27 trucks carrying over 2000 soldiers plus 4 armored personnel carriers mounted with machine guns drove into Odi Town in Bayelsa State. Between 2pm that afternoon and 6pm the following day, the town was bombarded with artillery fire. By the end of the two days, practically every building in the town was flattened, set on fire and/or looted. In all 2,483 persons – mainly women, children and the elderly were massacred in 24 hours. Thousands more fled in canoes or on foot to the forests where they hid, some up to a week with no food or shelter.

The order to invade and destroy Odi town was given by the then head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo. The reason given for the attack at the time was that two weeks before, 9 policemen had been kidnapped and killed in the town by a criminal gang.

Odi was not the only town in the Niger Delta where people were massacred and property destroyed during the Obasanjo years. Kaiama just a few miles from Odi was attacked January and later Oleh Town, in Delta State and Erema in Rivers State were also invaded to name a few. Then there was the terrible rape that took place in Choba, Rivers state where Nigerian army soldiers were photographed raping women. No one has ever been held to account for these past and present crimes against women and other civilians.

Mother and child outside their burnt home in Odi

In the original report on the invasion of Odi the term used for those who killed the police was “criminal gang’. This has now been revised in line with the ubiquitous use of the ‘war on terror’ narrative, to ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’ by both President Obasanjo and Jonathan. Remember this was in 1999 and rather than put an end to militancy – there wasn’t any at this time, it is very likely the action gave birth to the militancy they now claim was the reason for the invasion. In response to Jonathan’s claim that the massacre of Odi people did not put an end to “terrorist’ acts Femi Fani-Kayode wrote

“The Governor [Alamieyeseigha, the then Bayelsa State governor] said that he was unable to do so and President Obasanjo, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, took the position that security personnel could not be killed with impunity under his watch without a strong and appropriate response from the Federal Government. Consequently he sent the military in, to uproot and kill the terrorists and to destroy their operational base which was the town of Odi. The operation was carried out with military precision and efficiency and it’s objectives were fully achieved. The terrorists were either killed and those that were not killed fled their operational base in Odi.” The people of Odi town have denied the charge that the men were militants and that Odi was ‘an operational base’.

I use the invasion of Odi as an example of the extent to which militarism pervades governance and all aspects of Nigerian society – cultural, social, economic and gender justice, in Nigeria. Successive Nigerian governments both military and civilian have always chosen violent responses, under the guise of protecting citizens, to silence political protests, punish ethnic and religious conflict, evict street vendors, destroy informal settlements and remove beggars from the streets.

Group of elderly Odi women after the invasion

The award winning environmental and human rights activist, Nnimmo Bassey describes the responses to the Odi massacre and destruction of property and livelihoods in the Niger Delta as a’Blanket of Silence”. The impunity with which the murder of civilians and the extra judicial execution of alleged  criminals is never questioned.  Such is the desensitization to violence. No where in the media reports or in any other statement on the invasion, does anyone question the use of collective punishment – the massacre of 2,483 people and the total destruction of a town which can only be described as a war crime.  What arrogance and shamefulness it is that an ex-President can attempt to justify the murder of 2,483 unarmed women, children and elderly men.

When I speak of violence, I am speaking of an inclusive violence. Women have been at the center of this violence and they continue to be so.   Women have always been at the center of these acts of violence which are psychological, sexual, physical, emotional and verbal, as well as  the fear of those acts.   The true nature of the gendered violence which comes from the relationship between the militarized ruling elite and multinational oil companies, is obscured by the focus on supposed militants and or criminal gangs. In June 2009 the government of the late President Yar’Adua bombed Oporoza town, Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Delta state supposedly to ‘root out’ militants. Yet not a single militant was killed and there is no real evidence that any were present. Once again women, children and elderly men were killed and driven out of the town to hide in the swamps. Many trekked for days before reaching the city.  Later some 2000 women and children were placed in a refugee camp outside Warri run by women’s rights activists from Rivers State.

In the post amnesty period, 2009 to the present much of the violence against women has come from cultist and criminal gangs empowered by the culture of violence around the protection of oil production and bunkering. At the same time women have become increasingly disempowered through the perpetual violence and the loss of their livelihoods as market traders, farmers and fishing. Many women have had to move to Port Harcourt and despite the hardship and poverty of living in the city, they remain fearful of returning to their villages.

It is now 2012, the militants have been given amnesty yet the region remains heavily militarised and it is impossible to move by water or land from village to village or town to town without facing a checkpoint. In a 2011 audit of security forces carried out by myself and Emem Okon of Kebetkachie Womens Resource Center, Port Harcourt,  we listed the following security in the region.

Nigerian security forces: The River’s State Internal Security Task Force – used against the Ogoni people. The Special Naval Task Force, regular forces of the Nigerian Army, Mobile Police and police units, and more recently the Joint Task Force [JTF].

On the militant’s side there were [are] two main militias: the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force led by Asari Dokobo and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta [which has a number of splinter groups]. In addition there are various other militias some being splinter groups of the main two such as the Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (CMND), South-South Liberation Movement (SSLM), Movement for the Sovereign State of the Niger Delta (MOSSEND), DE Gbam, DE Well, Niger Delta Vigilante, and Meninbutus. There has also been at various times a Joint Revolutionary Council whose aim was to bring together leaders from all the militias.

The multinationals [Shell, Chevron, Agip, Elf, Mobil] all have their own private security personnel as well as a close political, economic and general working relationship with the various Nigerian security forces. Since the 2009 amnesty many of the ex militants have been employed by oil companies as security. In addition there are criminal / cultist gangs at work in urban centers and villages especially in those where there are oil facilities; There are also ex militants, church and other institutional security forces.

The culture of militarism is thus an all pervasive one which impacts directly on the rights of women as it extends into the domestic sphere, traditional spaces and the environment through a systemic destruction of the ecological system.

* The phrase ‘Memory Hole’ is taken from an article by William Finnegan in the New Yorker.

In Honor of Childhood-less Children/Adults.

My most visceral thoughts are right now with all the children who have been robbed of their childhoods by war and conflict. Oftentimes war and conflict can be in the home, in the family. Sometimes it is literally in war trenches. It is the time to speak out for the protection of the African child’s childhood where the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other documents such as the African Charter on the Rights and Responsibilities, fall short. Heaven, bless the child to speak and be heard. Heaven, protect the child.

Haiti: From AIDS to Aid, an [Un]Humanitarian Story

The third anniversary on January 12, 2013 of the earthquake in Haiti was marked yet again by a flood of new reports, opinions, facts and figures: a repetition of the past two years in terms of the lack of progress in reconstruction, the use and abuse of Haitian people by NGOs, failure to provide housing and other basic amenities for the hundreds of thousands who remain in the camp and the exploitation of workers in the new “open for business Haiti” proclaimed by President Martelly.  To try to understand the logic of the present Western [imperial] relationship with Haiti it is necessary to go back to 1804 and the founding of the Republic. Readers might well say that was 208 years ago and surely irrelevant now but a close examination will show a surprising consistency in the subjugation and exploitation of Haitian people underpinned by blatant and paternalistic racism and overall fear of the power of the black masses.

The story begins in 1825 with France’s demand for an indemnity payment of 150 million gold francs as recompense for the loss of  its plantation economy, including slaves, in  exchange for diplomatic recognition and thereby the ability to trade .  The debt, which was not fully repaid until 1947, cost Haiti as much as 80% of its national revenue.  Debt continued to pile up as a result of borrowing to pay back the French debt, and new debts were incurred during the US occupation from 1915 to 1934, a  period which consolidated the USA’s imperial domination of the country. A new constitution  abolished a law prohibiting foreign land ownership and thereby allowed US companies to purchase huge tracts of land, displacing an estimated 50,000 peasants. [1] In addition a  $40 million loan was provided along with the takeover of the national bank and treasury. The cycle of new debt for old has continued to the post-earthquake period. In 1934 the USA ended its occupation but not before it had created two militarized forces, the National Guard and the gendarmerie which would be used to keep the population under tight control by successive dictatorships until the brief presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. [2] Further loans of $250 million were provided to the Duvalier regime, and $158 million to the US-backed government of Henry Namphy, both by the World Bank. The Inter-American Development [IDB] bank also lent $110 million to the Haitian government prior to Aristide’s presidency yet only agreed to lend his government a mere $12 million. [3] This clear distinction between democratically elected leaders and US-backed unelected leaders has persisted: in 2003 the IDB agreed a loan of $200 million, the majority of which was only disbursed after the kidnapping of President Aristide on February 29, 2004.  Aristide puts it like this: “The reason is very clear: when it’s people who are serious, who will spend money for the country, these foreign banks hold on to the money. when it’s thieves who will misuse the money, with their acolytes, no problem.” [4]

Haiti was not the only Caribbean island subjected to US intervention and imperial power. Nearby Cuba was briefly under direct US control and Cuban independence was only granted on condition that the USA retained rights to operate a military base at Guantanamo Bay. In fact, since the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898 US policies towards Cuba and Haiti have been intertwined in a mix of human subjugation, material exploitation and vagrant disregard for international law.  [5]  Much of this has been couched in the language of humanitarian intervention,  similarly to the post-earthquake period.  Who can forget the audacious US invasion of Grenada in October 1983 which was preceded by various attempts at economic strangulation? Again, the justification was a “rescue” mission as well as a pre-emptive strike lest Americans be taken hostage even though there was no evidence to suggest this might happen. [6] The three Caribbean nations which have either attempted to set up or have successfully established autonomous governments for and by the people have been victims of US terror.  A. Naomi  Paik also makes the point that the “simultaneous renewal of the Guantanamo lease and the end of the Haitian occupation [in 1934] are not isolated events.”  On the one hand the USA required a permanent naval base in the eastern Caribbean and on the other an assembly line of cheap resistance-free labor and for this a pact was made with Jean Claude Duvalier and subsequently his son “Baby Doc.”  The result of the violent regime of Duvalier was thousands of refugees fleeing to the USA.   Paik explains the logic behind the USAs hostility towards Haitian refugees which was a double-edged sword, i.e. thousands of black bodies on the shores of the USA and the fact of its own “friendly” self-interested relationship with a brutal dictatorship. The USA attempted to shy away from this fact by claiming the refugees were “economic’ rather than political – in reality a meaningless distinction.

” This distinction, no matter how specious, nevertheless legally justified US nonrecognition of Haitian refugees, a nonrecognition that essentially made the Haitian refugee into a political impossibility. The United States could not sustain its relationship with the regimes that fostered political and economic violence and simultaneously acknowledge the fact that thousands of Haitians feared for their lives in their own country. Its action in dealing with Haitians in Haiti and in its own territory, and in the waters between the two countries, were rooted in a logic of self-interested violence that disregarded Haitian lives.” [7]

1992 — Haitian refugees wait in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba while being processed to return to Haiti. — Image by © Bill Gentile/CORBIS

The specific policy towards Haitian refugees was known as the Haitian Program and entailed “multiple state agencies collaborating” to deport Haitians already in Florida and discourage others from leaving Haiti. In her essay,  Paik cites a number of legal petitions by the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami which expose blatant disregard for international and humanitarian laws and the biased decisions by US courts. Haitian refugees were singularly excluded , being described as a threat to the community’s [USA] well-being. Eventually, during Reagan’s presidency, the Haiti Program was extended to include “interdiction” of refugees by the US coastal guard in international waters, which is illegal, and later detention without due process at Fort Allen in Puerto Rico. The justification for the illegal interception of Haitian boats in international waters was configured as a humanitarian intervention that would save Haitian lives.

“Interdiction exemplifies how human rights advanced US nationalist and imperialist interests. A Janus faced policy, it utterly denied Haitians the possibility of finding refugee from violence while simultaneously casting its mission as humanitarian investment in saving Haitians from the dangers of open waters.” [8]

Though the USA made it plain its 1915 invasion was to protect its financial interests, such as the Haitian American Sugar Company, HASCO, [9] subsequent interference, occupation and policies towards Haitian refugees have been presented under the guise of “humanitarian” intervention. Saving Haitians from the open seas, from disease [HIV/AIDS] and from themselves has hidden the truth behind,  on the one hand, the fear of thousands of Haitians “invading” US shores and, on the other, the opportunity for a cheap labor force just a few hundred miles away. It was only during the democratically elected presidency of Bertrand Aristide that the number of Haitian refugees significantly decreased, only to rise again after the September 1991 coup which forced him into exile in the USA. It was at this time that thousands fleeing Haiti were sent to Guantanamo Bay and again Haitian boats were intercepted in international waters and forced to return. Those who refused were hosed down and forced off the boats. [10]

Working in parallel with the Haitian Program, the USA was also busy supporting the military junta of coup-maker General Cedras and inventing and facilitating ways to suppress Lavalas, the party of Aristide, and prevent his return. The suppression was brutal from the start.

“…to steady their nerves, ordinary soldiers received up to $5000 a piece. As crowds gathered in defense of the government [Aristide] the army opened fire, and kept firing…..’the soldiers shot everything in sight . They ran out of ammunition so fast that it seems the US had to re-supply them with night-time helicopter flights from Guantanamo. At least 300 people were killed in the first night of the coup, probably many more.” [11]

The strategic importance of Guantanamo is displayed both as a detention center and as a launching pad to terrorize Haiti and no doubt any other Caribbean nation that dared to create an autonomous government. But it was with the detention of HIV+ and suspected HIV+ Haitians that the Haitian Program really came into its own. As Paik points out, the detention of HIV-positive Haitians by the USA  at Guantanamo is not just part of the historical “[neo] imperialism in Haiti” but also a continuation of a racist discourse which sees migrants and in particular migrant black bodies as “carriers of contagion.” [12] The marking of Haitians as carriers of AIDS goes back to the early 1980s when the “Center for Disease Control [CDC], identified four high-risk groups, known pejoratively as the 4-H club – “homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitians” – the first time a disease was tied to a nationality but not the first time black bodies have been tied to racist notions of deviance and contagion [13] and of being a threat to whiteness.

The justification for imprisonment of HIV-positive Haitians was humanitarian – to provide them with “shelter, food and medical care.”  In reality they were being detained in dehumanizing conditions such as inadequate water,  maggot-ridden food and forced to take  blood tests.  Those diagnosed as HIV Positive were isolated and often men and women were misdiagnosed.   Women were forced to have birth control injections and in some instances their children were sent to the US whilst they remained in the camp.  Other illness reported identified were, trauma and many detainees were found to have head injuries from beatings.  One US official on hearing complaints about the appalling conditions responded that they were going to die anyway.

The immediate reaction of the USA following the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent “restoration policies” need to be seen in the above historical context of exploitation, subjugation and US domestic immigration policy. The decision to prioritize security over real humanitarian need saw the deployment of troops throughout Port-au-Prince in the immediate days after the earthquake; the consolidation of NGO rule [they provide 80% of basic public services] [14]; the consolidation of the Free Trade Zone and  the creation in January 2011 of a mega assembly line in Caracol [PIRN].   The deal was signed by the “Haitian government,” the US Secretary of State [on behalf of US taxpayers], Korean textile manufacturer, Sae-A Trading, and the IDB. With the sweep of a pen, 300 locally owned plots of land were converted into an industrial park. A report by Haiti Grassroots Watch provides some of the reasons behind PIRN which also affects US workers.

“Ultimately, in the case of the PIRN at least, US taxpayers are making it easier and cheaper for foreign and local clothing and textile companies firms to set up (sweat-)shops in Haiti, lay off better paid workers in the US and other countries, and increase their profits. If Levis and the GAP can get their clothes stitched in a place that pays US$5.00 a day rather than US$9.00 an hour (approximately the lowest wage paid in US-based clothing factories), with new infrastructure, electricity, UN peacekeepers to provide security, and tax-free revenues and other benefits, why not?”

What’s in it for the main investor , Sae-A Trading?  Massive profits from the HELP Act which allows textiles to enter the USA from Haiti, tax-free, and a USA-Korea Free Trade Agreement giving new meaning to the manufacturing methods of JIT [just in time].  The location of the industrial zone at Caracol also has serious environmental impacts, as explained in a report by Alter Presse. Apart from the loss of farming livelihood to some 1000 farmers who now constitute cheap production labor, archeological sites will be destroyed, “water appropriated polluted and made more expensive,”, and destruction of farmland means the workers will be forced to ” buy subsidized US food.
Most recently there have been a number of  mining contracts issued to multinational mining corporations [These have just been rejected by the Senate who have asked that the companies 'cease exploitation'.

"We can't sit and just say everything must stop. We must take a resolution to tell the Executive this is the position of the Senate of the Republic, the Haitian Parliament on this issue. Everything must be done within regulations. We can not resolve a wrong with a wrong but in the meantime..."

We would like to know the value of the mines in Haiti, we must get this, because we must know what we have - because it's everyday that they are telling us that this country is a poor country, their presence here is humanitarian but there is nothing being done and then, all this time, we are full of resources. And the people who are principally concerned don't have any information on this.

In “Haiti’s Gold Rush” [Guernica Magazine]Jacob Kushner writes that “mineral explorers have long suspected Haiti could be sitting on a large gold deposits.”  A number of Haitians interviewed, however, say the local people in the northern mountains and elsewhere have always known there was gold in the ground and US and Canadian mining exploration companies have been testing the region on and off since the 1970s.   Permits have been given to two Canadian companies, Majescor (to explore 450 sq kilometers), and Eurasian (1,770 sq kilometers).   Two US companies are also involved: VCS Mining have rights over 700 sq kilometers and Newmont Ventures have the largest share.  As of December last year mining permits were given to Majescor and VCS Mining.  The deal for the mining corporations is the gift from Haiti to multinational capital…

Since 2009, Haiti’s government ministers have been considering a new convention. This would allow Eurasian, Newmont’s business partner, to explore an additional 1300 square kilometers of land in Haiti’s north. But according to Dieuseul Anglade, Haiti’s mining chief of two decades, unlike previous agreements, this one doesn’t include a limit–standard among mining contracts worldwide–on how much of a mine’s revenue the company can write off as costs. Without any cap, a mining company can claim that a mine has an unusually low profit margin, allowing it to pay fewer taxes to the Haitian state; Anglade opposed these terms, and was fired in May.”

Kushner also points to the poor environmental record of Newmont. For example, in 2010 a cyanide spill in Ghana killed fish and destroyed drinking water. There are also questions around the number of possible employees and the conditions under which they would work.  Given the environmental and social devastation  of other resource-rich regions such as the Niger Delta, DRC and Ecuador,  and the weakness of the Haitian government, rule by NGOs and an overall carpetbagger mentality,  it is hard to imagine mining bodes well for local people.    An investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch found that behind the mining contracts lay

“backroom deals, players with widely diverging objectives, legally questionable “memorandums”, and a playing field that is far from level.”

Guernica – Images from Flickr via waterdotorg

The hills in the Cap Haitian region are the hills of the revolution.  They are also the hills where the indigenous people of Haiti, the Taino,  were slaughtered by Christopher Columbus and other white settlers.  These are now the hills owned by foreign multinational mining corporations. President Martelly’s slogan “Haiti is open for business” should include the line  “going for a song.”  Humanitarian aid in Haiti has always been aid in the interest of the donor country, whether it be to keep out Haitians from US soil or to exploit their labor on Haitian soil and make even more money for companies in donor countries.  It has never been about the Haitian masses.

I have very briefly attempted to outline a few complex historical events in the hope that those interested will seek out further reading such as the following sources used in compiling this piece:

Haiti’s New Dictatorship: The Coup, The Earthquake and the UN by Justin Podur 

Haiti – Haitii? Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization by Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti by Jeb Sprague

Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment by Peter Hallward

Notes

  1. A. Naomi Paik  “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo: Legacies of US Imprisonment of Haitian Refugees, 1991-1994”  published in Radical History Review Issue 15 /Winter 2013].
  2. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation”, Pluto Press, 2012
  3. Jean-Bertrand Aristide [2011]“Haiti-Haitii! Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization”, Paradigm
  4. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti-Haitii!
  5. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  6. Terry Nardin and Kathleen D Pritchard “Ethics and Intervention: The United States in Grenada, 1983” [http://bit.ly/W7MrKo] 
  7. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  8. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  9. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship”
  10. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  11. Peter Hallward “Damming the Flood: Aristide and the Politics of Containment”
  12. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  13. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  14. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship”

This post was also published on Pambazuka News – 25/01/2013

 

This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

Banks, multinationals, billionaires buying up water

You’ve heard about the massive land grabs taking place across the global south including across Africa – see here and here and the push towards water privatization.   There are two additional ‘disturbing trends’ around the supply and access to water.  The first is the multinationals and banks buying up water, lakes, water rights, acquirers and water technology.  The second trend is governments limiting our ability to become ‘water self-sufficient’.  In addition to billionaires you will find the usual banking suspects – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Barclays and HSBC

It’s a strange New World Order in which multibillionaires and elitist banks can own aquifers and lakes, but ordinary citizens cannot even collect rainwater and snow runoff in their own backyards and private lands.

“Water is the oil of the 21st century.”
Andrew Liveris, CEO of DOW Chemical Company (quoted in The Economist magazine, August 21, 2008)

In 2008, I wrote an article, “Why Big Banks May Be Buying up Your Public Water System,” in which I detailed how both mainstream and alternative media coverage on water has tended to focus on individual corporations and super-investors seeking to control water by buying up water rights and water utilities. But paradoxically the hidden story is a far more complicated one. I argued that the real story of the global water sector is a convoluted one involving “interlocking globalized capital”: Wall Street and global investment firms, banks, and other elite private-equity firms — often transcending national boundaries to partner with each other, with banks and hedge funds, with technology corporations and insurance giants, with regional public-sector pension funds, and with sovereign wealth funds — are moving rapidly into the water sector to buy up not only water rights and water-treatment technologies, but also to privatize public water utilities and infrastructure.

Now, in 2012, we are seeing this trend of global consolidation of water by elite banks and tycoons accelerating. In a JP Morgan equity research document, it states clearly that “Wall Street appears well aware of the investment opportunities in water supply infrastructure, wastewater treatment, and demand management technologies.” Indeed, Wall Street is preparing to cash in on the global water grab in the coming decades. For example, Goldman Sachs has amassed more than $10 billion since 2006 for infrastructure investments, which include water. A 2008 New York Times article mentioned Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and the Carlyle Group, to have
“amassed an estimated an estimated $250 billion war chest — must of it raised in the last two years — to finance a tidal wave of infrastructure projects in the United States and overseas.”

By “water,” I mean that it includes water rights (i.e., the right to tap groundwater, aquifers, and rivers), land with bodies of water on it or under it (i.e., lakes, ponds, and natural springs on the surface, or groundwater underneath), desalination projects, water-purification and treatment technologies (e.g., desalination, treatment chemicals and equipment), irrigation and well-drilling technologies, water and sanitation services and utilities, water infrastructure maintenance and construction (from pipes and distribution to all scales of treatment plants for residential, commercial, industrial, and municipal uses), water engineering services (e.g., those involved in the design and construction of water-related facilities), and retail water sector (such as those involved in the production, operation, and sales of bottled water, water vending machines, bottled water subscription and delivery services, water trucks, and water tankers)…..

Goldman Sachs: Water Is Still the Next Petroleum

In 2008, Goldman Sachs called water “the petroleum for the next century” and those investors who know how to play the infrastructure boom will reap huge rewards, during its annual “Top Five Risks” conference. Water is a U.S.$425 billion industry, and a calamitous water shortage could be a more serious threat to humanity in the 21st century than food and energy shortages, according to Goldman Sachs’s conference panel. Goldman Sachs has convened numerous conferences and also published lengthy, insightful analyses of water and other critical sectors (food, energy). Goldman Sachs is positioning itself to gobble up water utilities, water engineering companies, and water resources worldwide. Since 2006, Goldman Sachs has become one of the largest infrastructure investment fund managers and has amassed a $10 billion capital for infrastructure, including water.
In March 2012, Goldman Sachs was eyeing Veolia’s UK water utility business, estimated at £1.2 billion, and in July it successfully bought Veolia Water, which serves 3.5 million people in southeastern England.
Previously, in September 2003, Goldman Sachs partnered with one of the world’s largest private-equity firm Blackstone Group and Apollo Management to acquire Ondeo Nalco (a leading company in providing water-treatment and process chemicals and services, with more than 10,000 employees and operations in 130 countries) from French water corporation Suez S.A. for U.S.$4.2 billion.
In October 2007, Goldman Sachs teamed up with Deutsche Bank and several partners to bid, unsuccessfully, for U.K.’s Southern Water. In November 2007, Goldman Sachs was also unsuccessful in bidding for U.K. water utility Kelda. But Goldman Sachs is still looking to buy other water utilities.
In January 2008, Goldman Sachs led a team of funds (including Liberty Harbor Master Fund and the Pinnacle Fund) to buy U.S.$50 million of convertible notes in China Water and Drinks Inc., which supplies purified water to name-brand vendors like Coca-Cola and Taiwan’s top beverage company Uni-President. China Water and Drinks is also a leading producer and distributor of bottled water in China and also makes private-labeled bottled water (e.g., for Sands Casino, Macau). Since China has one of the worse water problems in Asia and a large emerging middle class, its bottled-water sector is the fastest-growing in the world and it’s seeing enormous profits. Additionally, China’s acute water shortages and serious pollution could “buoy demand for clean water for years to come, with China’s $14.2 billion water industry a long-term investment destination” (Reuters, January 28, 2008).
The City of Reno, Nevada, was approached by Goldman Sachs for “a long-term asset leasing that could potentially generate significant cash for the three TMWA [Truckee Meadows Water Authority] entities. The program would allow TMWA to lease its assets for 50 years and receive an up-front cash payment” (Reno News & Review, August 28, 2008). Essentially, Goldman Sachs wants to privatize Reno’s water utility for 50 years. Given Reno’s revenue shortfall, this proposal was financially attractive. But the water board eventually rejected the proposal due to strong public opposition and outcry.

Citigroup: The Water Market Will Soon Eclipse Oil, Agriculture, and Precious Metals

Citigroup’s top economist Willem Buitler said in 2011 that the water market will soon be hotter the oil market (for example, see this and this):
“Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”
In its recent 2012 Water Investment Conference, Citigroup has identified top 10 trends in the water sector, as follows:

1. Desalination systems
2. Water reuse technologies
3. Produced water / water utilities
4. Membranes for filtration
5. Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection
6. Ballast-water treatment technologies
7. Forward osmosis used in desalination
8. Water-efficiency technologies and products
9. Point-of-use treatment systems
10. Chinese competitors in water

Continue reading here

 

#16Days – African Women in the Age of War

From Open Democracy, Amina Mama on where African women should stand in the age of war.  [This article was first published in September 2011.]

 

The anniversary of 9/11 has filled the US-dominated media with action replays and detailed excavations of the events surrounding the attacks on the World Trade Centre and two other targets. More critical thinkers, such as Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and Robert Fisk, for example, have problematized the ubiquitous Western rhetoric of ‘terror’. This rhetoric justifies and underpins the massive military spending on a potentially endless global war, executed all over the world in the name of a narrow US-centred security doctrine. US feminist philosopher Iris Young also takes issue with these alarming developments, homing in on the ‘masculine logic of protection’ that provides ideological grist to the militarist mill. How do we, as Africans, make sense of this unprecedented escalation? How is it affecting Africa and African women in particular as we work to end war, re-build societies and economies already ravaged by years of conflict and military rule, and struggle to establish open and inclusive democracies?

Anti-militarist activists around the world have traced the links between militarism and capitalism ever since the highly decorated US Military General Smedley Butler published a powerful anti-war statement ‘War is a Racket’(1935), in which he bitterly acknowledged how his outstanding military service had effectively cleansed the way for private profiteering in the colonised world — Mexico, Dominica, Cuba, Haiti, China, and “half a dozen Central American republics”. Years before Butler, feminist anti-war activists — Virginia Woolf among them — drew links between war and the male domination of political and economic arenas. Woolf may not have been fully aware of it, but she wrote The Three Guineas (1937) at a time when African women were losing sons, fathers, and husbands conscripted and recruited into colonial armies, dispatched around the world to fight for their European masters. Myron Echenberg’s Colonial Conscripts: Les Sénégalais Senegalais in French West Africa records over 175,000 French West African conscripts fought in the First World War, of whom at least 30,000 died in the trenches. In the Second World War too there where huge numbers of French West African conscripts, with as many as 20,000 participating in the allied landing of 1944 alone. The British also utilized large numbers of Africans, as the living memories in many communities confirm. Less well documented is that fact that those who returned did so as militarised men who saw Africa’s future in ways that reflected their training in all-male colonial armies. A detailed excavation leads us to see historical connections between colonial militarism and our post-independence proclivity for coups and civil wars, such that by the mid-1970’s more than half of Africa was under all-male military regimes. These rulers continued the exploitative colonial practices of serving transnational corporations instead of African people, looting national resources and stashing their profits away from public scrutiny in Western banks.

Many wars and several genocidal episodes later, the link between male domination, corporate profiteering, and militarisation holds true on both sides of the Atlantic. Women of the African diaspora in the US (its ranks regularly replenished by refugees from postcolonial conflicts) live the implications of these connections, as public services and social protections are cut, plunging more Black and ethnic minority families into deepening poverty. Their sons have limited options — large numbers facing jail terms or military service.

In early July this year, in the midst of the largest military spend in human history, the Watson Institute at Brown University released their research report on the costs of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Catherine Lutz and her colleagues reveals the same link between corporate interests and militarism. Among the facts they present:

- US military spending has reached an all-time high, with Iraq Afghanistan and Pakistan alone costing between $2.2-2.8 trillion so far.

- Most of this money has been borrowed, contributing significantly to the US’s larger-that-ever debt burden, and the US financial crisis.

- While the recession has taken its toll, military contractors have profited from significantly more public money, amounting to over 400 billion received in contract in 2008, their highest levels since World War II…Lockheed Martin alone received $29 billion in Pentagon contracts in 2008.

Lockheed Martin’s contracts draw significantly more public funding than the Environmental Protection Agency ($7.5 billion), the Department of Labor ($11.4 billion), or the Department of Transportation ($15.5 billion). This boom in money to private military contractors should not be viewed as separate from the US economic crisis, or the raced and gendered patterns of profit for some, pauperization for others.

Africans on the other side of the Atlantic excavate a different set of memories, not featured on CNN. On the African continent, 9/11 was preceded by the direct bombing of US embassies in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi three years earlier, on 7 August 1998, leaving 258 dead and over 5,000 injured. African memories include the US retaliation — the cruise missile attack on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan on 20 August 1998, number of casualties unknown. In other words, Africa was included in an escalating US war that respects no sovereignty but its own before 9/11.

Military power in Africa has been re-shaped since, in ways heralded by thelaunch of the US High Command for Africa, aka AFRICOM, Oct 1 2008. AFRICOM was designed to centralise US counter-terrorism operations in Africa, to ensure effective pursuit of US security interests defined to include securing access to African resources, notably oil. African governments and civil society initially responded by raising objections loud enough to keep AFRICOM head office in Stuttgart and force a change in the public relations strategy. AFRICOM has been re-packaged as a more collaborative and diffuse set of ‘joint operations’ that emphasize ‘training peacekeepers’ ‘humanitarian assistance’ and training exercises for African military forces. The dedicated website somewhat incongruously features US military personnel digging wells, offering medical assistance and reading to schoolchildren.

What must women do?

As military assistance looks set to displace old-fashioned development assistance, it behoves us to ask what this means for women. Women in Africa have endured the worst aspects of militarism in a long series of military regimes and conflicts that have wrecked lives, displaced countless families, disrupted livelihoods and left legacies of loss, abuse and violence and gender inequality that are both visible and indelible. Whether one is talking about the so-called ‘blood diamonds’ in Sierra Leone, the curse of ‘black gold’ in the Niger Delta, or the rapacious quest for coltan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the link between conflict and minerals sought after by transnational corporations is clearer than ever, as are the greatest human costs.

The costs to women have included loss of livelihoods, disrupted by violence, dislocation and other consequences of militarism. It has also cost women many of their fundamental rights as citizens whose definitions of security extend beyond declared ‘cessation of hostilities. Peace has not yielded the much hoped-for dividends to women. If we listen to African women’sperspectives on security, forged in the cauldron of conflict and military rule, we hear that these include economic and livelihood security as much as security from violence, security in their own homes as much as security from marauding military men.

Feminist activists working against conflict and militarism in Africa bring these together to rethink the meaning of ‘peace’ and ‘conflict’, and to enhance women’s movement capacities for contributing to democratization and social justice. This is the agenda now being pursued by ABANTU for Development, the Mano River Women’s Peace Union and the Women’s Peace and Security Network, and other partners working in an activist research collaboration‘Strengthening Women’s Activism Against Conflict and Militarism’ (SWACM), launched in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria’s Oil Delta a year ago. It is an agenda that women across Africa articulate, inspired as we are by our collective survival through decades of conflict and military rule, and the accumulated experience of mobilizing for peace and equality.

If the US war on terror is the ‘father of all wars’, Africa’s conflicts are his angry and rebellious offspring, sharing the same disrespect for borders and the close connections to private profiteering. Open conflict is only the surface eruption of much deeper-seated contradictions, vivid ulcers on the skin of an unhealthy body politic governed by a militarist mindset. The roots of these eruptions include complicated webs of economic, cultural and political malaise. Militarism is not just about men with guns, or wars, or the blistering legacies of the past. It lays out a future ordained by economic decisions that neglect social development and justice, and perpetuate the stark stratifications and gendered inequalities that militarism at once relies on and perpetuates.

All this gives African women particular cause for concern. It tells us why African women must take a stand in the transnational movement to dismantle militarism. Whether one considers the direct effects of military rule and conflict on women, or the global economic implications of US war-making, militarism threatens to strip away all the 20th century gains in women’s rights, dispossessing us once more. African women have good cause to renew their struggle for peaceful, radical, creative, and ultimately solutions that will bring social justice considerations to the fore once again, and finally understand that security cannot be built without women, without economic and social justice.

More articles from 16 Days here. 

 

 

#16Days “I Am A Woman, Hear Me Roar”

From the People’s Parliament and Occupy Guyana [GT]

 

 

All photos by Shirlina Naager © Creative Commons

“We Remember Differently” – Oil is Everything in Nigeria

From Bella Naija – Chimanada Ngozi Adiche responds to some of the criticism of Chinua Achebe’s memoir “There Was a Country”.   I finished reading ‘There Was a Country’ a few days ago and was contemplating my own response to some of the critical reviews of the book.  Fortunately for me Adichie has said nearly everything I wanted to say and probably much better too.   She unlike Achebe’s few lines of reference and unlike all of the reviews I have read, has at least mentioned  one of the two elephants in the room – the Biafrian minorities.     My memory of this period is a vague which probably shows that the war had little impact on our lives.  I do know that our Igbo workers did not leave the compound and there were large numbers of soldiers and check points everywhere – something which has never gone away.    In that sense it was a frightening time – the soldiers were frightening.  Young men with machine guns and red eyes and limited vocabulary.   I do know that families were split between those  who supported Nigeria and those supporting Biafra.   My parents were on the Nigerian side – then.  The Biafran side were in Port Harcourt or thereabouts.    A good question to ask is how much choice did minorities  have but to stay when Biafra was declared and they woke up to find they were in another country?

The other elephant in the room is oil.  I do think it’s worth asking the questions – Would there have  been a war without oil? Would there have been a secession?  Would there have been a succession of coups?  Because Oil is everything in Nigeria.   It would be another 20 years of dance and thievery in what was known as the ‘oil boom’ for some and for others the ‘oil doom’ before the Ogoni people, drowning in oil polluted swamps, would rise up and set in motion a new consciousness amongst Nigerian minorities of the east.
“Chinua Achebe at 82: “We Remember Differently” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

” I have met Chinua Achebe only three times. The first, at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, I joined the admiring circle around him. A gentle-faced man in a wheelchair.

“Good evening, sir. I’m Chimamanda Adichie,” I said, and he replied, mildly, “I thought you were running away from me.”

I mumbled, nervous, grateful for the crush of people around us. I had been running away from him. After my first novel was published, I received an email from his son. My dad has just read your novel and liked it very much. He wants you to call him at this number. I read it over and over, breathless with excitement. But I never called. A few years later, my editor sent Achebe a manuscript of my second novel. She did not tell me, because she wanted to shield me from the possibility of disappointment. One afternoon, she called. “Chimamanda, are you sitting down? I have wonderful news.” She read me the blurb Achebe had just sent her. We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made. Afterwards, I held on to the phone and wept. I have memorized those words. In my mind, they glimmer still, the validation of a writer whose work had validated me.

I grew up writing imitative stories. Of characters eating food I had never seen and having conversations I had never heard. They might have been good or bad, those stories, but they were emotionally false, they were not mine. Then came a glorious awakening: Chinua Achebe’s fiction. Here were familiar characters who felt true; here was language that captured my two worlds; here was a writer writing not what he felt he should write but what he wanted to write. His work was free of anxiety, wore its own skin effortlessly. It emboldened me, not to find my voice, but to speak in the voice I already had. And so, when that e-mail came from his son, I knew, overly-thrilled as I was, that I would not call. His work had done more than enough. In an odd way, I was so awed, so grateful, that I did not want to meet him. I wanted some distance between my literary hero and me.

Chinua Achebe and I have never had a proper conversation. The second time I saw him, at a luncheon in his honor hosted by the British House of Lords, I sat across from him and avoided his eye. (“Chinua Achebe is the only person I have seen you shy with,” a friend said). The third, at a New York event celebrating fifty years of THINGS FALL APART, we crowded around him backstage, Edwidge Danticat and I, Ha Jin and Toni Morrison, Colum McCann and Chris Abani. We seemed, magically, bound together in a warm web, all of us affected by his work. Achebe looked pleased, but also vaguely puzzled by all the attention. He spoke softly, the volume of his entire being turned to ‘low.’ I wanted to tell him how much I admired his integrity, his speaking out about the disastrous leadership in my home state of Anambra, but I did not. Before I went on stage, he told me, “Jisie ike.” I wondered if he fully grasped, if indeed it was possible to, how much his work meant to so many.

History and civics, as school subjects, function not merely to teach facts but to transmit more subtle things, like pride and dignity. My Nigerian education taught me much, but left gaping holes. I had not been taught to imagine my pre-colonial past with any accuracy, or pride, or complexity. And so Achebe’s work, for me, transcended literature. It became personal. ARROW OF GOD, my favorite, was not just about the British government’s creation of warrant chiefs and the linked destinies of two men, it became the life my grandfather might have lived. THINGS FALL APART is the African novel most read — and arguably most loved — by Africans, a novel published when ‘African novel’ meant European accounts of ‘native’ life. Achebe was an unapologetic member of the generation of African writers who were ‘writing back,’ challenging the stock Western images of their homeland, but his work was not burdened by its intent. It is much-loved not because Achebe wrote back, but because he wrote back well. His work was wise, humorous, human. For many Africans, THINGS FALL APART remains a gesture of returned dignity, a literary and an emotional experience; Mandela called Achebe the writer in whose presence the prison walls came down.

Achebe’s most recent book, his long-awaited memoir of the Nigerian-Biafra war, is both sad and angry, a book by a writer looking back and mourning Nigeria’s failures. I wish THERE WAS A COUNTRY had been better edited and more rigorously detailed in its account of the war. But these flaws do not make it any less seminal: an account of the most important event in Nigeria’s history by Nigeria’s most important storyteller.

An excerpt from the book has ignited great controversy among Nigerians. In it, Achebe, indignant about the millions of people who starved to death in Biafra, holds Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian Finance Minister during the war, responsible for the policy of blockading Biafra. He quote’s Awolowo’s own words on the blockade — ‘all is fair in war and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder’ and then argues that Awolowo’s support of the blockade was ‘driven by an overriding ambition for power for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.’

I have been startled and saddened by the responses to this excerpt. Many are blindingly ethnic, lacking in empathy and, most disturbing of all, lacking in knowledge. We can argue about how we interpret the facts of our shared history, but we cannot, surely, argue about the facts themselves. Awolowo, as de facto ‘number two man’ on the Nigerian side, was a central architect of the blockade on Biafra. During and after the war, Awolowo publicly defended the blockade. Without the blockade, the massive starvation in Biafra would not have occurred. These are the facts.

Some Nigerians, in responding to Achebe, have argued that the blockade was fair, as all is fair in war. The blockade was, in my opinion, inhumane and immoral. And it was unnecessary — Nigeria would have won anyway, it was the much-better-armed side in a war that Wole Soyinka called a shabby unequal conflict. The policy of starving a civilian population into surrender does not merely go against the Geneva conventions, but in this case, a war between siblings, people who were formerly fellow country men and women now suddenly on opposite sides, it seems more chilling. All is not fair in war. Especially not in a fratricidal war. But I do not believe the blockade was a calculated power grab by Awolowo for himself and his ethnic group; I think of it, instead, as one of the many dehumanizing acts that war, by its nature, brings about.

Awolowo was undoubtedly a great political leader. He was also — rare for Nigerian leaders — a great intellectual. No Nigerian leader has, arguably, articulated a political vision as people-centered as Awolowo’s. For Nigerians from the west, he was the architect of free primary education, of progressive ideas. But for Nigerians from the east, he was a different man. I grew up hearing, from adults, versions of Achebe’s words about Awolowo. He was the man who prevented an Igbo man from leading the Western House of Assembly in the famous ‘carpet crossing’ incident of 1952. He was the man who betrayed Igbo people when he failed on his alleged promise to follow Biafra’s lead and pull the Western region out of Nigeria. He was the man who, in the words of my uncle, “made Igbo people poor because he never liked us.”

At the end of the war, every Igbo person who had a bank account in Nigeria was given twenty pounds, no matter how much they had in their accounts before the war. I have always thought this a livid injustice. I know a man who worked in a multinational company in 1965. He was, like Achebe, one of the many Igbo who just could not believe that their lives were in danger in Lagos and so he fled in a hurry, at the last minute, leaving thousands of pounds in his account. After the war, his account had twenty pounds. To many Igbo, this policy was uncommonly punitive, and went against the idea of ‘no victor, no vanquished.’ Then came the indigenization decree, which moved industrial and corporate power from foreign to Nigerian hands. It made many Nigerians wealthy; much of the great wealth in Nigeria today has its roots in this decree. But the Igbo could not participate; they were broke.

I do not agree, as Achebe writes, that one of the main reasons for Nigeria’s present backwardness is the failure to fully reintegrate the Igbo. I think Nigeria would be just as backward even if the Igbo had been fully integrated — institutional and leadership failures run across all ethnic lines. But the larger point Achebe makes is true, which is that the Igbo presence in Nigerian positions of power has been much reduced since the war. Before the war, many of Nigeria’s positions of power were occupied by Igbo people, in the military, politics, academia, business. Perhaps because the Igbo were very receptive to Western education, often at the expense of their own traditions, and had both a striving individualism and a communal ethic. This led to what, in history books, is often called a ‘fear of Igbo domination’ in the rest of Nigeria. The Igbo themselves were insensitive to this resentment, the bombast and brashness that is part of Igbo culture only exacerbated it. And so leading Igbo families entered the war as Nigeria’s privileged elite but emerged from it penniless, stripped and bitter.

Today, ‘marginalization’ is a popular word in Igboland. Many Igbo feel marginalized in Nigeria, a feeling based partly on experience and partly on the psychology of a defeated people. (Another consequence of this psychology, perhaps, is the loss of the communal ethic of the Igbo, much resented sixty years ago. It is almost non-existent today, or as my cousin eloquently put it: Igbo people don’t even send each other.)

Some responses to Achebe have had a ‘blame the victim’ undertone, suggesting that Biafrians started the war and therefore deserved what they got. But Biafrians did not ‘start the war.’ Nobody with a basic knowledge of the facts can make that case.

Continue reading on Bella Naija

 

#16Days: – Nigeria’s Memory Hole*

In the early hours of the morning of the 20th November, 1999, 27 trucks carrying over 2000 soldiers plus 4 armored personnel carriers mounted with machine guns drove into Odi Town in Bayelsa State. Between 2pm that afternoon and 6pm the following day, the town was bombarded with artillery fire. By the end of the two days, practically every building in the town was flattened, set on fire and/or looted. In all 2,483 persons – mainly women, children and the elderly were massacred in 24 hours. Thousands more fled in canoes or on foot to the forests where they hid, some up to a week with no food or shelter.

The order to invade and destroy Odi town was given by the then head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo. The reason given for the attack at the time was that two weeks before, 9 policemen had been kidnapped and killed in the town by a criminal gang.

Odi was not the only town in the Niger Delta where people were massacred and property destroyed during the Obasanjo years. Kaiama just a few miles from Odi was attacked January and later Oleh Town, in Delta State and Erema in Rivers State were also invaded to name a few. Then there was the terrible rape that took place in Choba, Rivers state where Nigerian army soldiers were photographed raping women. No one has ever been held to account for these past and present crimes against women and other civilians.

In the original report on the invasion of Odi the term used for those who killed the police was “criminal gang’. This has now been revised in line with the ubiquitous use of the ‘war on terror’ narrative, to ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’ by both President Obasanjo and Jonathan. Remember this was in 1999 and rather than put an end to militancy – there wasn’t any at this time, it is very likely the action gave birth to the militancy they now claim was the reason for the invasion. In response to Jonathan’s claim that the massacre of Odi people did not put an end to “terrorist’ acts Femi Fani-Kayode wrote

“The Governor [Alamieyeseigha, the then Bayelsa State governor] said that he was unable to do so and President Obasanjo, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, took the position that security personnel could not be killed with impunity under his watch without a strong and appropriate response from the Federal Government. Consequently he sent the military in, to uproot and kill the terrorists and to destroy their operational base which was the town of Odi. The operation was carried out with military precision and efficiency and it’s objectives were fully achieved. The terrorists were either killed and those that were not killed fled their operational base in Odi.” The people of Odi town have denied the charge that the men were militants and that Odi was ‘an operational base’.

I use the invasion of Odi as an example of the extent to which militarism pervades governance and all aspects of Nigerian society – cultural, social, economic and gender justice, in Nigeria. Successive Nigerian governments both military and civilian have always chosen violent responses, under the guise of protecting citizens, to silence political protests, punish ethnic and religious conflict, evict street vendors, destroy informal settlements and remove beggars from the streets.

The award winning environmental and human rights activist, Nnimmo Bassey describes the responses to the Odi massacre and destruction of property and livelihoods in the Niger Delta as a’Blanket of Silence”. The impunity with which the murder of civilians and the extra judicial execution of alleged  criminals is never questioned.  Such is the desensitization to violence. No where in the media reports or in any other statement on the invasion, does anyone question the use of collective punishment – the massacre of 2,483 people and the total destruction of a town which can only be described as a war crime.  What arrogance and shamefulness it is that an ex-President can attempt to justify the murder of 2,483 unarmed women, children and elderly men.

When I speak of violence, I am speaking of an inclusive violence. Women have been at the center of this violence and they continue to be so.   Women have always been at the center of these acts of violence which are psychological, sexual, physical, emotional and verbal, as well as  the fear of those acts.   The true nature of the gendered violence which comes from the relationship between the militarized ruling elite and multinational oil companies, is obscured by the focus on supposed militants and or criminal gangs. In June 2009 the government of the late President Yar’Adua bombed Oporoza town, Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Delta state supposedly to ‘root out’ militants. Yet not a single militant was killed and there is no real evidence that any were present. Once again women, children and elderly men were killed and driven out of the town to hide in the swamps. Many trekked for days before reaching the city.  Later some 2000 women and children were placed in a refugee camp outside Warri run by women’s rights activists from Rivers State.

In the post amnesty period, 2009 to the present much of the violence against women has come from cultist and criminal gangs empowered by the culture of violence around the protection of oil production and bunkering. At the same time women have become increasingly disempowered through the perpetual violence and the loss of their livelihoods as market traders, farmers and fishing. Many women have had to move to Port Harcourt and despite the hardship and poverty of living in the city, they remain fearful of returning to their villages.

It is now 2012, the militants have been given amnesty yet the region remains heavily militarised and it is impossible to move by water or land from village to village or town to town without facing a checkpoint. In a 2011 audit of security forces carried out by myself and Emem Okon of Kebetkachie Womens Resource Center, Port Harcourt,  we listed the following security in the region.

Nigerian security forces: The River’s State Internal Security Task Force – used against the Ogoni people. The Special Naval Task Force, regular forces of the Nigerian Army, Mobile Police and police units, and more recently the Joint Task Force [JTF].

On the militant’s side there were [are] two main militias: the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force led by Asari Dokobo and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta [which has a number of splinter groups]. In addition there are various other militias some being splinter groups of the main two such as the Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (CMND), South-South Liberation Movement (SSLM), Movement for the Sovereign State of the Niger Delta (MOSSEND), DE Gbam, DE Well, Niger Delta Vigilante, and Meninbutus. There has also been at various times a Joint Revolutionary Council whose aim was to bring together leaders from all the militias.

The multinationals [Shell, Chevron, Agip, Elf, Mobil] all have their own private security personnel as well as a close political, economic and general working relationship with the various Nigerian security forces. Since the 2009 amnesty many of the ex militants have been employed by oil companies as security. In addition there are criminal / cultist gangs at work in urban centers and villages especially in those where there are oil facilities; There are also ex militants, church and other institutional security forces.

The culture of militarism is thus an all pervasive one which impacts directly on the rights of women as it extends into the domestic sphere, traditional spaces and the environment through a systemic destruction of the ecological system.

* The phrase ‘Memory Hole’ is taken from an article by William Finnegan in the New Yorker.

Arms to Art: Online exhibition of weapons art

 

 

Arms into Art is an ongoing exhibition of sculptures made from old weapons by Mozambique artists.    After 17 years of civil war Mozambique was awash with weapons  so a scheme called “Transformacao de Armas en Enxadas ” (Transforming Arms into Hoes) was started 10 years ago by Bishop Dinis Sengulane.
People were asked to hand in their weapons in exchange for something productive that they could use to build a new life such as a farming tool or sewing machine.  The weapons were then broken down and transformed into pieces of art such as the  “Throne of Weapons” and  “Tree of Life” – illustrating peace and prosperity.

“For the artists involved in the TAE initiative, the process is both painful and cathartic — especially as some of them were themselves forced to become child soldiers. “Civil war creates soldiers, and now it is time to make peace,” said Cristóvão Estevão Canhavato (Kester), creator of the Throne of Weapons. “We are Gonçalo Mabunda en Eugénio Sarangabuilding creativity out of cruelty and using the symbols of death for healing. We are taking away the instruments of death… to develop a productive life.”

Black Looks: Reblogged, Art is Art – 2005

Nigeria’s Generation of the Bewildered! – A review of “There was a Country”

From London Review of Books, a short excerpt from “Things Left Unsaid” by by Chimamanda Adichie.

In Nigeria under colonial rule, he could travel from Lagos to the south-east at night without worrying about armed robbers. This, he argues, is because the British managed their colonies well. His simplification is rooted in disappointment. He is a member of Nigeria’s generation of the bewildered, the people who were fortunate to be educated, who were taught to believe in Nigeria, and who watched, helpless and confused, as the country crumbled. He was a Biafran patriot, as were most of his Igbo colleagues, because they no longer felt they belonged in Nigeria. He still seems surprised, almost disbelieving, not only at the terrible things that happened but at the response, or lack of response, to them. ‘As many of us packed our belongings to return east some of the people we had lived with for years, some for decades, jeered … that kind of experience is very powerful. It is something I could not possibly forget.’ Later:

“I was one of the last to flee Lagos. I simply could not bring myself to accept that I could no longer live in my nation’s capital, although the facts clearly said so. My feeling toward Nigeria was one of profound disappointment. Not only because mobs were hunting down and killing innocent civilians in many parts, especially in the North, but because the federal government sat by and let it happen.”

Achebe mourns Biafra, but his anger is directed at the failures of Nigeria. His great disappointment manifests itself in a rare moment of defiance towards the end of the book:

“There are many international observers who believe that Gowan’s actions after the war were magnanimous and laudable. There are tons of treatises that talk about how the Igbo were wonderfully integrated into Nigeria. Well, I have news for them: the Igbo were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness, in my estimation.? Full review here,,,,,

Geography of Useful Africa

From Le Monde Diplomatique – A map of useful Africa [See also Patrick Bond "Washington in Africa, 2012: Who will Obama 'whack' next?"]

 

 

 

 

Guyana: Backstory to Linden protests,

Over the weekend I spoke with Guyanese activist Mark Jacobs * in order to contextualise the uprisings and occupy movement taking place in Guyana this past five weeks.

 

SE:  We are well into the 5th week of the Linden uprising.  Could you start by giving readers some background on the importance of Linden to the Guyanese economy? Where is it located, the population and racial dynamics of the town.

MJ: Linden is central to the economy of Guyana because of it’s central location. It’s approximately 60 miles south of the capital. Readers would do well to look at a map to better understand as Guyana sits on the coast of South America.  The only road connecting Guyana to the rest of South America passes  through Linden.  This road eventually ends at the Takatu bridge in south west Guyana on the border with Roraima state Brazil. This is about a 208 mile journey.  To get to all the major gold mining regions of Guyana you also have to pass through Linden. Recently gold has surpassed sugar and sea food to become the number one export.

Most of the information in Guyana are state secrets but in 2008 the government reported that gold production was 286,812, 288,646 in 2009, 363,883 in 2011. These numbers are for small and medium scale mines but even the government admits that they do  believe mining companies fail to report 25% of their total production.  As for the larger producers Omai pulled out one million ounces of gold out of a concession which they then closed after a massive cyanide spill that polluted rivers used by river communities. No one was ever punished for this.  You can find information on gold companies in Guyana at publications like Buillionstreet.com.   ETK Inc estimated  annual production of 250,000 to 300,000 at a new mine it is developing and a company called Guyana Goldfield just invested $1 billion in a mine named Aurora [none of these companies are owned by Guyanese].

It’s been a while since the government conducted a census in Guyana and they’ve refused to release the last results but the best estimates say there are about 20-30,000 people living in Linden. It is predominantly Afro Guyanese but there are also east Indians, Amerindians, Chinese and mixed people.   Timber is another major foreign exchange earner for Guyana and most timber producers have to access their concessions by passing through Linden.  Because of the large sums of money the Guyana government receives in the name of
indigenoous development [carbon trading, eco tourism etc] blockage of the road has been a major headache.  Travel warnings have been issued by the USA, Canada and the European Union.   For more information on Guyana’s mining industry – gold, diamonds, and bauxite see here.   Suffice it to say in addition to gold production as stated above, diamond output in 2010 was 49,920 carats which is down 6% over 2009.  This was due to a transfer in mining focus from diamonds to the more profitable gold market.  Bauxite output in 2010 was  2010 was 1,099,880 metric tonnes.  Again a decline due to mining conditions.

SE:  When and why did the people of Linden decide to hold protests and what happened? Give us an overview of the timeline

MJ: The government has been threatening electricity increases for a while now and they finally set the date to implement it on July 1st.  There were a few protests by Lindeners and their supporters in the capital against the increase because of the 70% unemployment in the town. These were all ignored and ridiculed by the government.  Lindeners set July 18 as the date to begin a one week protest and shut
down the town to all vehicular traffic.  Later that day as the place got dark someone shut off the lights of the town and the police, soldiers and unknown men began shooting at unnarmed citizens who had blocked the Wismar/Mckenzie bridge.  Background: To get to Linden you are basically travelling on the eastern side of the Demerara river. To get to the other side and continue on the road to the Amazon and Brazil you cross the Demerara river into Wismar.  The bridge the people were blocking is called the Wismar/Mckenzie bridge. Mckenzie is the old name for Linden and is sometimes used alternatively by older Guyanese.

The next day more people came out into the streets and Lindeners vowed to continue the protest indefinitely. The Guyana government over the past 20 years has used the police and soldiers to shoot people and intimidate them into silence.  From the beginning, their stance was they will not talk or visit Linden until the protesters cleared the roads.  Many attemnpts were made by the army and soldiers over the past weeks to clear the blockade but as fast as they removed them the people replaced them.  A few late night raids were made into the town hoping to catch citizens off guard.  Negotiations of a sort have been ongoing between the office of the President, the regional chairman of region 10, Sharma Solomon and representatives from Linden and the region.  [Guyana has 10 regions and three counties.]  For admin purposes there are elected regional chairmans. Linden is the ‘capital’ of region 10 – Upper Demerara- Berbice]

In the early morning of August 15 men dressed in police and army uniforms invaded Linden again. This is hours after a concluded negotiation between the government and region 10 representatives. On this  occasion a few more citizens were shot. Randy Tello a former boxer was shot through the jaw and in the back.   The government say they are unclear as to who did this shooting.  The one mile primary school was also set on fire. Citizens caught two men who admitted that they were being paid $1000 for each building they burnt by known government agents. Within 24 hours the police released those men claiming to have no evidence to charge them. The Guyana government is no stranger to arson. Four government ministries have  gone up in flames over the years with billions disappearing up in smoke.  On August 16 the president [Donald Ramotar] popped into Linden for a photo pop and about 30 people went to go see him. The rest stayed on the streets and protested his presence.

SE: The government have killed protestors, what has been the response to these acts of violence by Guyanese people,

MJ:  The reaction of most Guyanese to the shootings are hard to guage. One would like to assume that most are horrified, but outside of Linden, rallies and protests rarely have more than 50 people.   Beginning a few years ago the govermment employed the services of a cocaine dealer to eliminate hundreds of ‘criminals’.  This and many other outrageous crimes against the people have left most people wary of putting their necks on the line and joining in protests.

SE: Shirlina wrote a moving article about the failure of elite women’s organisations to support Linden. She  and Red Thread (an organisation of grassroots women) are involved in the occupy camp and we have updated reports from occupiers.   Could you tell us the importance of the occupy movement and the role of women and what you all hope to gain.

MJ: Linden has thousands of single mothers as does Guyana. Women are under constant attack in all forms in Guyana. Domestic violence is at epidemic proportions with hardly a week going by without murders,stabbings, beatings etc. and these are the ones that make the newspaper.   Women have also seen their sons, husbands, brothers etc murdered and brutalised over the years  by the Guyana government. Remember men are still the primary breadwinners for most families in Guyana so either way you cut it,  women loose and they understand that Occupy Guyana is important because government repression has beaten most people into submission. Most people are of the opinion that there is nothing you can do to stop the government atrocities. The appearance of this movement hopefully is a spark that brings more people out in protest against govt crimes and atrocities.  Because it would take up too much time we wont get into rampant corruption and nepotism by the Guyana government and this is a country the size of the UK with a population of 700,000 people.

SE: What are the implications of the Guyanese uprising to other parts of the Caribbean/ South America?

MJ: I cannot say what implications these protests will have in the Caribbean or South America because Guyana for the most part is
isolated from both regions. We’re not an island but part of the Caribbean because of our colonial past and we’re not quite part of
South or Latin America because the majority of Guyanese speak English.  We have  maintained the attachment to the ‘home ‘country European colonialism established. So you would find Guyanese lean more towards England, Canada and the USA.

More updates from the Occupy Georgetown movement which is predominately led by women and the Red Thread organization.

 

 

 

Msg from [occupy] Georgetown camp #Linden

Very brief background on the importance of Linden.   Linden is the second city of Guyana.  It is a center for bauxite mining and  as the only road from Guyana to Brazil runs through Linden, the town is a market hub.  The question we need to ask is if Linden is so important to Guyana’s economy why is there 70% unemployment in the town?  The statement by Region 10 [Linden] Chairman Sharma Solomons, begins to answer this question.  [See below]

 

 

 

The following message from the camp set up in Georgetown Guyana in solidarity with the people in Linden and freedom loving Guyanese

Lina Free says: On August 15th, 2012, a group of peace and freedom-loving Guyanese launched the People’s Parliament. People gathered in a spirit of revolutionary love to reason and brainstorm with fellow citizens about the problems facing our nation. Within 15 hours, agents of the police state arrived to break up the gathering. We were not blocking any road or walkway, not burning any tires, and not even holding any picket signs. We were simply talking with one another. The father of one of the boys killed in Linden a month ago (Shemroy Bouyea), a mother who has a son in the army there, people from Berbice, Linden, and Georgetown, lawyers, writers, vendors, security guards, the homeless, the mentally ill, the sad, discouraged and downpressed, the university professor, retirees, politicians, unemployed, revolutionaries young and old- we gathered in solidarity and love. They can dismantle the structure, but they cannot dismantle our minds. A LUTA CONTINUA!

 

Occupy Georgetown

 

List of demands from Linden

 

Region Ten Proposed Conditions for Normalcy

1. The withdrawal of the electricity tariff;

2. The resignation of the Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, together with the interdiction of the squad that participated in the attack of July 18, 2012 with a view of identifying those who must be charged for murder and attempted murder;

3. The establishment of a Technical Committee to examine the electricity sector in Linden and Region Ten to make recommendations to the National Assembly. This committee shall comprise of seven persons, three appointed by the government, three appointed by Region Ten and the Chairman agreed upon by the two parties;

4. The provision of funding for a committee to carry out a study and develop an economic program for the region. The participants for this committee will be arrived at by the RDC, Region Ten;5. The immediate appointment of the Regional Land Selection Committee based on the composition of representation on the RDC, which will see representation from the APNU, AFC and PPP. This will terminate the Office of the President’s imposition as to who are to be given lands in Region Ten;

6. The immediate return of the television operation in Linden which was a gift to the community (received in 1980) and seized by the PPP government after their ascension to office (1993);

7. The issue of the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry into the July 18, 2012 shooting of peaceful protestors, discussion must take place with the Region that has responsibility to address its citizens’ concern. It must involve all the Parliamentary groups together with the Region.

 

 

Region 10 Chairman Sharma Solomon statement on govt invasion, talks, demands etc

It is with much sorrow I learnt of the fore-dawn invasion of Linden, executed by the Joint Services at 2:00a.m, this morning. The reports that have reached me are heart-rending. I am saddened by these events which now oblige my presence on the ground. I am also disappointed by the insidious manner in which President Ramotar seeks

to intimidate and frustrate the efforts of this community of Linden to abandon its legitimate civil and human rights of seeking to represent their community’s concerns to the Central Government.

 

While the Region Ten delegation has entered into talks with Central Government in good faith and trust, all would agree that a military operation to preempt a fair and reasonable and amicable outcome of our current dilemma in Linden now threatens the atmosphere of negotiation, and begs for the urgent and speedy resolution of the problems confronting us.

 

I have spent the greater part of yesterday in Georgetown working on putting the finishing touches to the documents to be submitted to the President and his delegation in efforts to resolve the impasse. Thus, while intelligence has informed us the Armed Forces were planning an invasion into Linden, and we went public with the information on Wednesday, ours was the hope that good sense would prevail. It was our expectation that while negotiations were taking place, the government, as any other conscientious Party to these negotiations would respect the principle that such discussions would be done in an environment of mutual respect, and that they would resist any temptation to engage in any activity that would ultimately undermine our deliberations and, or incense the rather tense situation on the ground.

 

We want resolution to the plight of the Lindeners. We want the rights of Lindeners and the People of Region Ten to be respected. We want a return to normalcy, which we thought we were moving closer too. But, the Central Government, in its efforts to stymie the Linden Community legitimate exercise of its fundamental human and civil rights, has invoked the horrible specter of July 18th once again in the psyche of our residents by the introduction of the Armed Forces into the mix, unmindful of their previous criminal experience. It is apparent that restoration to normalcy, according to the Government, is a return to State terrorism of our community, of our residents, of Linden.

 

We are now even more concerned that there exists within the thinking of Central Government and the Armed Forces that they stand to benefit from this abominable behaviour. We ask the question —what next? Will leaders be attacked, harmed or gun down? But we say to them, while they are deploying their weapons of mass destruction, we will match such hostility and destruction with our resoluteness to remain steadfast in the face of challenges, until justice prevailsWhile we are weak from the standpoint that we have no weapons (which we do not need); nor the State on our side (which we need), we are convinced that we are stronger in the presence of our resilience and our quest for justice. For while the government has declared war on us, we have declared for Freedom! 

 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has declared on our side of justice and human rights. President Ramotar Government has declared that the IACHR are biased for supporting our legitimate aspirations and the exercise of our legitimate and fundamental rights. The Private Sector Commission has urged the Government to meet with our Administration, our Leaders and our residents in an effort to secure an early and acceptable resolution of this crisis. President Ramotar has declared that the Private Sector Commission does not run his office!

 

We are now compelled to believe that it is the strategy of the Office of the President to allow Lindeners and the wider society to suffer. We believe that they hope to benefit from an insidious and despicable public relations campaign intended to turn public opinion and support against us.

 

We take this opportunity to call on all Guyanese, particularly those who are directly and indirectly affected by the civil rights movement in Linden to bring pressure to bear on this government to respect the rights of the people of Linden/Region Ten. We remind this nation that our state of inter dependency makes it crucial for all parts to be in harmony and not just some. Each region, each sector of our economy, each group is best served when all is served. Your peace and comfort is assured by our peace and comfort. We urge you to safeguard your interest by ensuring that ours are satisfied by this government and that you do not allow the usual divide and rule practice by those who are responsible for denying Linden and causing Lindeners to embark on a Civil Rights Movement.

 

We experience the loss of lives and injuries on July 18, tear gas, pellets, and live ammunitions; now with the invasion at 2:00 this morning, tear gassing, and continued brutality that have forced, men, women and children out of their homes and onto the streets, will see us matching such violations with intensified steadfastness. This is a People’s Struggle for their Civil Rights. It encompasses persons from across the racial spectrum, religious beliefs and socio-economic status. It has within its midst those who are supporters of the APNU, AFC, PPP and the non-aligned. And we will keep it this way.

 

I was not born in the 1960s and what I know of the problems of that era is what has been told to me or what I have read. President Ramotar was of that era and I would like to say to him, Linden will not return to 1964, however much forces are trying to push us there. We are resolute in this struggle as a people who fervently believe that the Laws of this Land were also written for us and we too must have our rights respected, and a say in decision making that impact our selves. That the people of Region Ten too have the right to self determination and are also protected by the national motto One People, One Nation, One Destiny.