Category Archives: Social Movements

MAYIBUYE! iAFRICA!

In January 2014, a group of Africans from many physical, spiritual, and political locations began conversations around the deteriorating state of our Continent, the fundamentalisms that divide us and the multiple forms of violence that harm us. Initially spurred by the violent laws enacted in Nigeria and Uganda against Africans who are non-conforming in terms of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and African women, we put this statement together to mobilise and re-engage ourselves and others around a platform to re-imagine and transform Africa in the tradition of our liberation struggles and spirit of our ancestors. We use the title Mayibuye iAfrica – a slogan from the liberation struggle in Southern Africa meaning ‘bring back Africa’ – to call for self-determination, diversity and justice and a return to our traditions of resistance. We hope you will join us.

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MAYIBUYE! iAFRICA!

On this African liberation day, we, the undersigned, note with grave concern the continent-wide deepening crisis including, growing militarism, the crisis in democracy, an expanding neoliberal economic order, deepening patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism, amongst others.

We especially note the worsening social and economic conditions of those who have been dispossessed of dignity and autonomy over their lives, bodies, lands and natural resources, and denied rights to access shelter, food, water, education & healthcare.

We call the attention of all freedom loving people across the Continent and around the globe, to the pervasive and debilitating violence faced by those who are pushed to the margins because of divisive and unjust laws and policies, and poor practices by our own governments, who do not respond to their people but to financial interests. We condemn and resist attempts to homogenise Africa‘s multiple legacies into legalised hatred and discrimination.

We rise up and come together as Africans globally, working for a continent where self-determination, as well as physical, emotional, social and economic wellbeing are guaranteed to all. We come together to condemn and resist all forms of violence and militarism, including inter-community and state sponsored violence such as is currently rife in the Central African Republic and Kenya; systemic violence against Africans based on their actual or assumed sexual orientation and gender identity, as in Nigeria and Uganda; and endemic violence against women, girls and gender non-conforming persons, as witnessed in the abductions of girls and lack of adequate response in Nigeria.

We remind ourselves of the critical contributions that Africans have made across history in defining and defending principles of justice, solidarity, liberation and diversity. We salute all Africans who speak and have spoken in defence of these principles.

We stand for a return to Africa in every respect:

Re-imagining our lives outside neo-colonial power.

Breaking free from the structures, systems and individuals who disappear our history and traditions of democratic principles and respect for humanity, and who erase our cultures of agency, resistance, creativity and people power.

Reclaiming and upholding the rich legacies and cultural norms of collectivity, freedom, self-determination and ubuntu.

Taking individual and collective responsibility to fight globally and locally against the impoverishment and dispossession of the majority of African people.

Fighting for an end to violence and militarisation that destroys and harms us all.

Fighting for an end to the greed and oppressive power responsible for the destruction of our lands and the Earth.

We recognise, affirm and insist that Africa needs:

Economic and environmental justice to claim and redistribute power, to redistribute land and put our vast resources to the benefit of our people and the healing of mother Earth.

To eradicate militarism and all forms of violence, including the violence of oppressive laws and of poverty.

Racial and ethnic justice.

The transformation of the politics of sex, sexuality and gender, the rightful access to affirming and responsive institutions and services, and the restoration of spaces free of fundamentalisms in order to practice our religions and participate in our cultures.

Africa needs Africans who are imagining and building a future of freedom. We believe that Africans, in our multiplicity, have the potential to transform the world.

We, the undersigned, recommit ourselves to working actively for the Africa we want.

Contact Persons:

Dawn Cavanagh

Pouline Kimani

Phumzile Mtetwa

Contact Address:

mayibuye.pledge AT gmail.com

Deadline: 23 May 2014

Publication date: The statement, with the list of signatures, will be published on Africa day, 25 May 2014.

Cultural and Traditional Values in Human Rights

Some states and other actors are increasingly claiming that ”traditional values” should take precedence over universal human rights for all. In addition ”cultural practices” are used to limit the rights and freedom of women who do not given any say in the issues surrounding their right to live.

All women and in particular lesbian and bisexual women and trans people are particularly targeted by these so-called ”traditional values”.

This cross-regional panel explores the discourse around ”traditional values” and harmful cultural practices. In focus are the strategies used to fight back against the patriarchal structures aiming to limit the freedom and rights of women on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity,
gender expression and sexuality.

Via Iranti-org

Phumzile Mtetwa & Val Kalende on Anti-LGBTI Legislation

On Africa Today with Walter Turner, Phumzile Mtetwa  and Val Kalende discuss resistance strategies around the recent legislation from Uganda and Nigeria criminalising LGBTIQ people in those countries.

 

 

 

 

 

African groups call for the African Union to urgently respond to gender and sexuality rights violations in Africa, and particularly to anti-gay laws recently passed in Uganda and Nigeria

African groups call for the African Union to urgently respond to gender and sexuality rights violations in Africa, and
particularly to anti-gay laws recently passed in Uganda and Nigeria

As African civil society organisations whose members live and work to improve the lives of all Africans, we condemn in the strongest terms, the disturbing increase in sexuality and gender-related rights violations and abuses, especially those aimed at women and gender non-conforming people, and people in same sex relations including lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identifying African people.

Specifically, we condemn the signing of the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act and the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act, both of which were passed into law this year by Presidents Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, respectively. We also strongly condemn the Anti-Pornography Law, which was passed in Uganda last year.

In defence of African people whom these laws target, we seek recourse through the African Union (AU) and its organs.

We also call on the AU Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to make a public statement condemning both the Nigerian and Ugandan laws, and providing African citizens with a roadmap for how the AU Commission plans to address laws that violate gender and sexuality-related rights amongst member states.

EXTREME VIOLATIONS
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act criminalises homosexuality—defining it as “same sex or gender sexual acts”—with punishment ranging from seven years to life imprisonment. Those who are found guilty of “aiding and abetting homosexuality” also face up to seven years in prison. Uganda’s Anti-Pornography Act places limitations on ‘appropriate’ dress code for women, specifically banning miniskirts and any other clothing deemed to “cause sexual excitement”.

The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act goes further than its stated purpose by criminalizing the registration of ‘gay clubs, societies and organisations and banning the public show of a same sex ‘amorous’ relationship either directly or indirectly, carrying a ten year prison sentence for such acts.

These laws have already forced people from their schools, work and homes out of fear and due to their safety being threatened. The levels of violence, threats, and abusive and hate speech have escalated dramatically as homophobic laws have been put in place. We note with alarm that in both Uganda and Nigeria,  the passage of these laws have been accompanied by acts of murder, rape, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention and other forms of persecution of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity. The climate of fear and hate was further escalated in Uganda by the publication of a list of “200 Top Homosexuals” in Red Pepper Newspaper, with the headline “Exposed”, immediately following President Museveni’s signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. This constitutes a gross violation of media ethics and of human rights, both of which, we argue, are punishable under Ugandan law.

States have an obligation to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of gender or sexuality. States have a responsibility to protect the rights of all who live in their borders. States should not be creating the conditions in which violence by non-state actors are justified or encouraged. Nor should the state set itself up as a threat to its own citizens and block them from living with basic levels of freedom as both Uganda and Nigeria have done.

We reject arguments made by the heads of state of both Uganda and Nigeria, that consensual same-sex relations are “unAfrican”, and we condemn in the strongest terms the comments of political, religious and cultural leaders who have used similar rhetoric to incite hatred against persons perceived to be homosexual.

We celebrate and echo the strong voices of African leaders who have rejected these claims and who continue to condemn discrimination, violence and human rights violations based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. We align ourselves with all Africans who have spoken out in the face of these unjust laws and who have continued to call for respect for diversity and for all Africans to embrace the African idea of Ubuntu –our shared humanity.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated in respect of the Nigerian law, “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.” Former President of Mozambique, Joaqium Chissano, in an open letter to African leaders said, “I encourage leaders to take a strong stand for fundamental human rights, and advance the trajectory for basic freedoms…This simply means granting every one the freedom and the means to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one’s life – one’s sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children – without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.”

Given its mandate as the human rights organ of the African Union, we call upon the African Union Commission, as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to condemn all homophobic and anti-gay laws that have either been passed, or are being proposed, throughout Africa, and further respond urgently to the increasingly violent acts that precede and follow these laws.
– Statement by African civil society organisations listed below.

Contact:
Lucinda van den Heever, Sonke Gender Justice : (+27) 72 994 3138
Kene Esom, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights : (+27) 11 242 6801
Sheena Magenya, Coalition of African Lesbians : (+27) 11 403 0004/7

List of signing organisations:
African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHER)
Africa Regional Civil Society Platform on Health
AIDS Accountability International
Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)
Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA)
Gay and Lesbian Network (Pietermaritzburg)
Gender DynamiX
HOPEM (Men For Change) Mozambique
Signing organisations (continued):
International HIV/AIDS Alliance
MenEngage Namibia
MenEngage Zimbabwe
MenEngage Zambia
MenEngage Kenya
Out in Africa
SANAC Women’s Sector
Sonke Gender Justice
South African Council of Churches Youth Forum
Triangle Project
World AIDS Campaign
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights
Background for Editors
Provision of the laws
While there are close to 40 African countries that criminalise consensual sexual conducts between persons of the same sex, the new laws enacted by Nigeria and Uganda goes further by criminalising peoples’ sexual orientation and identities regardless of sexual conduct. They also include such egregious provisions.

The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act [A1] includes:
•             a provision for a 14-year prison term for anyone who enters into a same sex union,
•             a ten-year prison term for anyone who ‘administers, witnesses, abets or aids’ a same sex marriage or civil union ceremony.
•             The law states that ‘a person or group of persons who … supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.’

The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act: [A2]
•             introduces a series of crimes listed as “aggravated homosexuality” – including sex with a minor or while HIV positive;
•             criminalises lesbianism for the first time;
•             makes it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts;
•             makes homosexual acts punishable with life in prison.

Statement from the Wits University on Anti-Homosexuality Legislation in Africa

MESSAGE FROM THE OFFICE OF THE VICE-CHANCELLOR AND PRINCIPAL

DATE: MONDAY, 3 MARCH 2014

STATEMENT FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND PERTAINING TO ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY LEGISLATION IN AFRICA

The University of the Witwatersrand notes with dismay and concern recent legislation in Nigeria and Uganda that criminalises women and men who express themselves through relationships other than those defined as heterosexual. It also decries the targeted violence that has accompanied this legislation in these and other countries.

While academic debates may focus on the extent to which human sexuality is a result of nature or nurture, or whether it is inherent to Western or African culture, the reality is that diversity in terms of sexual orientation is part of the recorded history of virtually all societies.

Tolerance and acceptance of such diversity has not been easily secured, but those nations that have afforded equal rights to sexual minorities alongside a multitude of other diverse identities can justifiably claim the benefits of an equitable and just environment for their citizens who live in, and actively contribute to an inclusive and productive state.

The University of the Witwatersrand values diversity and believes that its student and staff body should reflect a multiplicity of race, gender, socio-economic background, urban and rural geographic origin, culture, ethnicity, disability, religion, national origin and sexual orientation. Indeed it believes that everyone has a role to play in furthering human development and that diversity can only enhance learning and the generation human knowledge. Such principles are the foundation of university policies and are underpinned by values enshrined within the constitution of South Africa.

It is the University’s view that recent legislation in Africa and elsewhere that seeks to criminalise sexual minorities, runs counter to these values and in addition contravenes key articles contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is apparent that these legislations are driven, not by a desire to address true criminality but rather are projected by an incomplete understanding of human sexuality compounded by an orchestrated campaign of hate towards vulnerable groups. South Africans understand only too well the damaging legacy that hate founded on institutionalised prejudice can deliver and that while the seeds of hate are easy to sow, they can take generations to uproot once they have spread and taken hold.

Leadership carries with it a huge responsibility, not least of which is protection of minority rights from the ebb and flow of opinion amongst the “moral majority”. The University (that counts amongst its staff and students, thinkers from across the continent of Africa), stands with other academic institutions in urging leaders to reflect carefully on what they have allowed to pass and points out that history will judge harshly those who are responsible for imprisoning others as a result of whom they love. We strongly urge that these laws be rescinded and encourage others who value the sanctity of Universal Human Rights to call for the same.

Jaywalking the Freeway from Fear

From Center for Women’s Global Leadership by Bernedette Muthien, South Africa

In 1993, the year of the germinal UN conference in Vienna, the first President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, affirmed that all freedoms (and hence oppressions) are interdependent. This speaks critically to intersectionality, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression, and its intersections with privilege. Intersectionality influenced South Africa’s groundbreaking Constitutional equality clause, which guarantees the rights of all peoples.

Vienna was a groundbreaking intersectional moment too, affirming human rights as a universal standard and emphasising the indivisible, interdependent nature of human rights, specifically in response to the historic divide between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other hand.

Intersectionality shows how categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexuality and other forms of identity interact in myriad ways, contributing to systematic societal inequity. Classic conceptions of oppression in society, such as racism, sexism and homophobia interrelate, creating a web of subjugation.

While we are familiar with victims suffering violence, we often forget that witnesses suffer vicarious trauma, and that most perpetrators are themselves survivors of violence, including gender-based violence, that violence and discrimination often stems from insecurity and fear, rather than a lustful nature, no mirth intended.

Of less concern are the labels or issues we are still forced to deal with, like widespread gender-based violence that has not diminished over decades of feminist activisms and progressive legislation and policies. Of greater import are the approaches taken, the imperialist or colonial gaze, how we conceptualise issues, how these lenses shape/d activisms.

This includes the narrow LGBTQQI discourse, European letters completely ignorant of and sidestepping ancient same sex practices on all continents, including woman to woman marriage across Africa. Ifi Amadiume and the late Audre Lorde famously argued whether these women had romantic-sexual relations, Audre’s argument, or whether it was entirely about property relations and ensuring succession, Ifi’s contention. This ancient practice was almost entirely eradicated by colonial Christianity, yet it still persists, especially in rural areas, across East, Central and West Africa.

Of equal concern is the classification, led by the global North, of the rape of lesbians, ostensibly due to their sexuality, as a “hate crime”. This divorces so-called “curative” or “corrective” rape from its rootedness in gender-based violence and an analysis and challenge of Patriarchy, effectively deradicalising a revolutionary moment.

The presumption by feminist scholars and activists, especially those entrenched and aptly rewarded in euro-formed discourses, of the primordialism of patriarchy is another point of vexation to those of us from ancient indigenous societies that still remain matrilineal and women-centred, despite centuries of colonial and capitalist depredations. Matrilineal societies, still existing across the continents of the world, tend to be socially and gender egalitarian, with deep-rooted conflict resolution practices and hence less violent. The matriarchal Iroquois of North America’s precolonial Great Peace of the Haudenosee are said to have gifted the United States with the foundations of their Constitution. What can we learn from these nonviolent egalitarian peoples, their complex histories and ways of being? In as much as we study the League of Nations and the social welfarism of Scandinavia. Even as we smartly don the business suits, modern offspring of military uniforms, so necessary for our advocacy and scholarly endeavours, do we hear Audre Lorde’s admonishment of the complexities of employing the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?

The silofication of our discourse and struggle speaks to a weakness of the global imagination. We need to indigenise our struggles. We need to use language that is familiar to local peoples the world over, so that tyrannical patriarchal leaders cannot say our practices are un-African or un-Russian, because they are indeed indigenous and we have been doing it since time began. With indigenous knowledge we can more effectively resist the flood of fundamentalist Christians from North America and Europe recolonizing our continents, aided by despots more interested in scapegoating marginalised communities than in addressing issues of socio-economic justice.

We need to note that violences are structural-cultural, and due to Patriarchy, women are at the centre of this war on our bodies and minds. While we focus on choice, autonomy, desire and pleasure, we need to remember that we need socio-economic-cultural rights to be truly free.

As the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, brutally slain by Apartheid securocrats during the 1970s said in a speech in my Mother City of Cape Town: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” And we all know Bob Marley’s song, “none but ourselves can free our minds…”

Bernedette Muthien, scholar, a poet, and an activist. She co-founded and directs Engender, an NGO which works in the intersectional areas of genders, human rights, justice and peace. Over 20 years, on all six continents, she produced 170 publications and conference presentations, some of which have been translated from English into other languages, including Dutch, Flemish, French, German, and Italian. Follow her @BerneMuthien

Queercide: Campaign Against Violence Against Women – Why We Must Document

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In 2012 there were 10 murders of black lesbians, gays and transgender people in South Africa. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which includes the death penalty and makes LGBTI people and anyone or organisation that supports or helps them, into illegal citizens, has once again been tabled in Parliament and once again delayed – all in the space of a month. There is no guarantee that it will not resurface in 2013. In Nigeria, the “Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage Bill” has been passed unchallenged by both Houses and is awaiting a final reading in the House Chamber.

In South Africa, Queercide, like other social phenomena is being driven by a set of social conditions in this case, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, government inaction and community silence. In Uganda and Nigeria, religious fundamentalism and a weak and disinterested civil society are the driving and enabling forces respectfully. These expressions of the logic of domination are the punishment for daring to digress from arbitrary norms.

It is in this context that Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases exhibition opened at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg on 27th November, 2012. Faces and Phases is an ongoing body of work which began in 2007 with the intention of creating an archive of Black lesbian lives and ensuring black queer visibilities. Faces expresses the person and Phases signifies the stages of those expressions. It is a personal experience and journey for Muholi as a visual activist and the people she photographs.

What I love about Zanele’s work is the strength of performance, the way the faces breathe. The portraits are in different poses. One can hear the voices of those who look directly into the camera. But still, there remains an untold story behind each portrait. Visible yet partially invisible. Invisible yet partially visible. I like that. Photographs capture a moment in history. W.J.T. Mitchell wrote a book “What Do Pictures Want?” I think we should ask this question when we look at the photos in Faces and Phases. People and places are layered and I would prefer it, if we could take the time to unpack the layers instead of diving in and ripping everything apart. Read my story and create your own through your imagination. The same goes for Zanele’s photographs.

From the beginning the impetus for Muholi’s work has been on the one hand, to disrupt sexual and gender norms whilst also highlighting the intersectionality of gender, sexual orientation, race and class both in homophobic acts of violence and the response to these acts of violence. Faces and Phases III consists of 60 black and white portraits and as Muholi points out there is a reason ‘there are no smiling faces here’ – their visibility has become a dangerous one. One that has lead to rape, torture and murder including some of Muholi’s collaborators. The constitutional right to be who you are and choose visibility over the closet, becomes a symptom of vulnerability. Homophobia, hate and inertia become the destructive powers that ridicule the protection of the constitution.

In her exhibition Isilumo Siyaluma* Zanele uses her own menstrual blood as a way to begin to articulate and bridge the pain and lost felt as a witness to the pain of ‘curative rapes’ suffered by many young black lesbians in Zanele’s own community. The first piece is a thumb print thereby establishing her truth and her presence as part of her community. Other photo montages are a ‘mothers cry’, ‘the judge’, and the ‘defendants in the dock’. We are all witnesses and we must make our own judgements on how to respond
Zanele’s work has been exhibited outside South Africa and the continent and this too has implications of meaning in terms of black bodies and bodies which may have been violated being exposed in white colonial spaces. Queer black bodies under the gaze of closeted racism loaded with notions of black sexuality and desire -always we return to Zanele’s question “What do you see when you look at me? ……?????????

Campaign against violence against women highlighted by Zanele in this video

Odi Massacre & Origins of Militancy in Ijawland

Kaiama – December 1998

Kaiama is a small town in Western Ijaw, about half an hour’s drive from Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State. Historically Kaiama is famous for being the birth place of Major Isaac Adaka Boro, an Ijaw nationalist who in 1966 proclaimed “the Niger Delta Peoples Republic.”  In December 1998 5,000 Ijaw men and women re presenting over 40 Ijaw clans, chose the historic town of Kaiama to articulate their aspirations for the Ijaw people, and to demand an end to 40 years of environmental damage and underdevelopment in the region.

On the 11th December, 1998, they assembly presented the Kaiama Declaration.  What followed is a series of military attacks which provide an historical context and  understanding  to the present day militancy in Ijawland which has also contributed to the violence against women.  In some instances whole villages have been abandoned by women due to fear of militants and gangs.

On the 1st of January 1999 the Nigerian Military Government declared war on the Ijaw people. Following the Yenagoa massacre, the army invaded Kaiama on the 2nd January.  On the 4th January, soldiers using Chevron helicopters and sea trucks invaded Ikiyan and Opia towns.  Other towns, Odi, Sabama, Patani, Aven, Bomadi were all occupied by military. The mayhem continued unabated throughout January and February.  These communities were ransacked and looted, men and young boys were murdered, tortured and beaten.  Women were molested, harassed, beaten and raped.  Many people are still missing almost 18 months later.  The Nigerian army and Mobile Police engaged themselves in a blood bath which left over 200 dead and thousands wounded.  Once control of the area had been established by the military they settled down to occupy Ijawland and continue up to the present time to terrorise communities of mostly women, children and the elderly and commit endless.

Invasion.of Kaiama

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In Kaiama and across the region, many women and girls were raped and forced into prostitution by the Nigerian army.  They also suffered bereavement and were further impoverished through the death or disappearance of family members.

 “I stay in my house at that time, soldiers were everywhere.  Three of them came to my house and broke the door down. They take my son and I have not seen him since that day. I have no money as my son used to look after me.  Before I used to farm but I no fit farm now, I am weak. I no feel to do anything I just wait make I die, I no fit eat, every day I worry what will happen now.”

” My husband dey [was in] Yenagoa with his wife.  When he hear what happen in Kaiama he come see for himself.  Since that day when the soldier came and take him I have not seen him.  I stay in Yenagoa but they I hear say they kill people and start to worry for my husband.  Sometime those who have wounds they bring them to Yenagoa but I check and did not see my husband.  After I come hear that they kill my husband at the Motor park. (the Chief was one of many townsmen that were taken to a nearby army camp and tortured after which he was murdered).
Helen, Widow – On the day the soldiers came I ran with my 3 children to the bush. At that time I was pregnant.  My husband lock the house then follow me run.  I think that he is at my back but I am hearing gun shot.  After I come and see my husband is shot by the soldier when he is running.  They steal all my property and break everything.  Now I have no money, I can only collect firewood to sell and some small farming.  Some time the church help me.  Now my heart is cut.”

” At  that time when the soldiers came I was at home with my husband.  The soldiers came and arrested my husband and took him to the motor park.  When there he was beaten and tortured with the others. His face was cut, nose broken, lips swollen and wounded everywhere.  He had be cut on his head with an axe.  When they took my husband I ran with my children to Opukoma (nearby village) to my father’s house until after 2 days I came back to Kaiama.  At that time there was no one in the town, no medicines. After my husband went to Yenagoa but by that time it was too late for him to recover.  My husband died three months ago from the wounds he received”

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.

Odi Town November 1999

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“My 15 year old son is missing. I came back and couldn’t see him. I could not see my son even his corpse I cannot see him even till now – 15 yrs – we were all in this house but when we heard the gun shots everyone take on his heels. My son ran to a different direction to myself and others.  I ran to the bush, there was no food to eat there was nothing.  I stayed in the bush for 12 days as the hunger was so much we started plucking leaves to chew and water to drink – my husband ran on his own too. We were scattered. When the soldiers left I came back and  I saw my husband.  He is looking for our son but we cannot see him.”
” You know you could not stand on the ground, the ground was shaking even the houses were shaking as if they want to fall down.  So I started running down with that fear – I heard the army shooting, even the ground was shaking from the noise of the guns, the houses too.  I had no canoe.  Everything was burnt – books, my properties, my things for teacher’s college, NCE and University of Port Harcourt certificates, everything.”

“Other people ran into the bush. Those who could not get boats ran into the nearby bushes, they were all here most of them were just right inside.  You know that time was a flood period and water everywhere, the whole of the bush was covered with water and some of them were standing on top of trees, hanging like that for days.”

Displaced women from Gbaramatu – May 2009

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On May 14, 2009 at about noon, Gbaramatu Kingdom,Delta State, was in a festive mood. There had been an influx of guests into the community from far and near. They all came to witness the presentation of the Staff of Office to the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, His Royal Majesty Ogie the third. The palace located in Oporoza was filled with well- wishers as the day also marked the King’s one year anniversary. Suddenly, three low flying helicopters were seen approaching the Kindgom. The community people initially thought they were flying dignitaries to the ceremony or that they were part of the glamour for the ceremony. They were wrong. Dead wrong!

 “ Most“Most of the students like me who tried to escape during the deadly incident are dead. Some in the streets, forests …they were killed by the bombs. I lost my mother and six of my brothers in the incidence. Two of my three sisters are still trapped in the forest. The place is too dangerous for them to come out now. They can’t cross with boat and they can’t risk swimming. The JTF people have blockedhave blocked the waterways. One of my sisters has been missing.

Nobody seems to know her whereaboutwhereabouts. The military people were using their helicopter chopper to destroy everything we have ever had. I saw war with my naked eyes. I saw my mum’s dead body. I saw my brothers lying helpless on the ground (here she started sobbing). Everyone was running without direction. It is a bitter experience.

They are wicked people. They are heartless. I don’t have any family member as militants. We used to survive with fishing. It was through fishing business that my mum pays our school fees. Why will the FG send military men to kill us, to destroy our community? We don’t have anywhere else to go now. No home, no place to go. My OND certificate, my only hope for a better tomorrow has been destroyed”. Miss Peres Popo, 21, ,21 from, from Okporoza .

“I was sleeping but suddenly I woke up due to the endless sound of gunshot. It was after twelve in the afternoon. I was confused. When I peeped through my window, I saw people running and screaming. It was a hot afternoon. I slept with only my pants on. I had to run without even knowing that I was naked I was not conscious of my nakedness. It was when I managed to find my way to Warri town that I was able to clothe myself with the help of a relative. I am afraid I have still not seen my younger sister. Her name is Mary. We started running together from the house but at a point Ipoint I was ahead of her. After some time, I didn’t notice her again. I pray she is alive. She is my only sister.
- Mrs. Vero Idolo ,27, mother of two.

“They bombed everywhere and everything. They don’t have feelings at all. I was lucky to have my children and husband alive. My neighbour lost his pregnant wife in the incidence. She was my friend too.” – Evelyn Emmanuel.

“We were warming up for the king’s party. All of a sudden we started seeing helicopters roving in the air. The next thing something was dropping from it and it was landing as fire and exploding and burning and killing. I was scared stiff . I have never seen this kind of thing in my life.
-Timi Tonfawei

The attack on Gbaramatu  brought a huge humanitarian crisis to the region. Besides, an estimated 20, 000 persons believed to be trapped in the forests and swamps.   Those who managed to reach Warri were eventually given shelter in a disused clinic.  Most of the displaced have now returned to their villages.

Gas flaring has been continuous for 40 years.  Gas flaring is the process used in the Niger Delta to separate petroleum from the by product, natural gas.   The process wastes a potentially useful product as well as fills the atmosphere with carbon monoxide, smoke and soot.  The gas flares are right in the middle of farmland and villages burning 24 hours a day every day.  Some of the flares are on the ground in pits, spewing out huge flames and soot and leaving the ground unusable for farming for years to come.   People literally live in fire and oil.

Gas flares

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Who is Michel Martelly and why is the Haitian grassroots movement protesting against him?

Today [anniversary of the Battle of Vertieres , 1803 in the war for independence] marks the second of a series of  planned street protests against the government of Michel Martelly.  The protest are organized by Fòs Patriotik ou Respè Konstitsyon [FOPARK] a coalition of pro Lavalas supporters, students, lawyers and  human rights activists.

The first march was November 7th march and ended in Petion-Ville, a bourgeois enclave in the capital Port-au-Prince.  Internataional media reported the protest ‘turned violent’ but they failed to explain the violence was initiated by pro-Martelly, macoute thugs who attacked protestors with the sole purpose of causing violence. Protesters reported at least three people were shot and taken to hospital.   On Friday 15th November at around  1pm, Inorel Delbrun, the attache and cameraman to outspoken critic and president of the senate, Dieuseul Simon Desras,   was assassinated whilst getting out of his car.

Assassinations, death by poisoning, arrests and threats to  human rights lawyers, harassment of activists are common place  actions as a desperate Michel Martelly unleashes his macoute thugs on the popular masses and human rights activists.  To consolidate his brutal repression of Haitians, Martelly is attempting to bring back the army  which was dismantled by President Aristide.   The capital is awash with private security guards many run by former military men and macoutes.   Many  carry  unregistered weapons, and in an industry without any regulation.   Full combat police roam the streets in armoured trucks along with the UN occupying force.  Pro Lavalas supporters are regularly and repeatedly threatened with violence .   Only yesterday three people were murdered in Bel Air.

On Sunday the 17th November,  the government of Martelly distributed food to people in Camp Acra and in Cap Haitian, an act typical  which is reminiscent of the Duvalier regimes when people became restive, throw them some coins or food.

And yet American liberal politicians, journalists and celebrities such as  Sean Penn, continue to give vocal support to the Martelly government.   Predators under the guise of ‘humanitarians’, filmmakers, photographers, missionaries  continue to feed off the misery of the poor.

Today’s  protests are planned in cities across Haiti.

Below Charlie Hinton of the Haiti Action Committee provides a detailed background and analysis as to why people are dissatisfied with Michel Martelly’s government.  Corruption, return to Duvalierism, rewriting and undermining Haiti’s Constitution,  nepotism, corrupting the judiciary, reactionary economic policies.

Haiti Action Committee calls for solidarity with the Haitian people and to start by seeking out the truth of the Martelly government.

 

1. Who is Michel Martelly? Martelly grew up during the 27-year dictatorship of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean Claude “Baby Doc.” He joined the Duvalierist death squad, the Tonton Macoutes, at the age of 15 and later attended Haiti’s military academy. Under Baby Doc, Martelly, a popular musician, ran the Garage, a nightclub patronized by army officers and members of Haiti’s tiny ruling class.

As another way to signal their opposition to Martelly, the Haitian masses march with red cards, which, when given to a player by a football (soccer) referee, mean he’s out for that match and the next. The people are telling Martelly to get out. [Haiti Action Committee]
As another way to signal their opposition to Martelly, the Haitian masses march with red cards, which, when given to a player by a football (soccer) referee, mean he’s out for that match and the next. The people are telling Martelly to get out. [Haiti Action Committee]

After Baby Doc’s fall in February 1986, a mass democratic movement, long repressed by the Duvaliers, burst forth and became known as Lavalas (“flood”), from which emerged Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular liberation theology Catholic priest, who was elected president in 1990 with 67 percent of the vote in the first free and fair election in Haiti’s history.

Martelly quickly became a bitter opponent of Lavalas, attacking the popular movement in his songs played widely on Haitian radio.

Martelly “was closely identified with sympathizers of the 1991 military coup that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” the Miami Herald observed in 1996, and ran with members of the vicious FRAPH death squad from that period, infamous for gang rapes and killing with impunity.

On the day of Aristide’s return to Haiti in 2011, after eight years of forced exile in South Africa and two days before the “run-off” election, Martelly was caught in a video on YouTube insulting Aristide and Lavalas: “The Lavalas are so ugly. They smell like s**t. F**k you, Lavalas. F**k you, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

Down with Martelly graffiti in Port-au-Prince [Haiti Action]
Down with Martelly graffiti in Port-au-Prince [Haiti Action]
2. The fraudulent presidential election of 2010-2011: In the presidential election cycle of 2010-2011, the Electoral Council ruled that Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas Party could not participate, which de-legitimized the whole corrupt process. Voter turnout was less than 25 percent in the primaries and less than 20 percent in the “run-off.”

The top two candidates announced after the primaries were the wife of a former pro-Duvalier president and the son-in-law of Rene Preval, the president at the time. Martelly was declared third, but his supporters demonstrated violently, and an OAS “investigation” of the elections ruled that, in fact, Martelly had finished second.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton flew to Port-au-Prince in January 2011, at the height of the Egyptian revolution, to reinforce this decision. Martelly received $6 million from an anonymous donor in Florida to hire a PR firm that had worked on the campaigns of Felipe Calderón in Mexico and John McCain in the U.S.

3. Corruption: Corruption scandals have followed Martelly since he refused to divulge who funded his campaign for president.

  • Bribes – Award-winning Dominican Republic journalist Nuria Piera broke the story in April 2012 (later reported in Time) that Martelly was alleged to have accepted $2.6 million in bribes during and after the 2010 election to ensure that a Dominican construction company would receive contracts under his presidency. In addition, the vote to make Laurent Lamothe the prime minister is known in Haiti as the “tout moun jwenn vote” (“everyone got their cut” vote).
  • Surcharge on international calls and money transfers for “education” – Questionable new taxes have also fed controversy. A $1.50 tax on money transfers and a 5 cent per minute tax on phone calls to Haiti are alleged by Martelly to support education, but the poor majority continue to face unaffordable school fees, and critics say no money from this tax has gone to schools. Moreover, Haitian teachers have been marching to demand back pay. Martelly’s new taxes were not ratified by or presented to Haiti’s Parliament, making them illegal.
  • Travel expenses – When traveling, which he does often, Martelly’s entourage receives an outrageous per diem from the Haitian government. According to Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, Martelly gets $20,000 a day, his wife $10,000 a day, his children $7,500, and others in his inner circle get $4,000 daily.
  • A plan to establish an illegal parallel customs system to circumvent legislative control – This allegedly involved the selling of a membership card and gun to anyone who wanted to be part of the Martelly gang. The membership privileges included tax-exempt status at customs. The program had to be scratched when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration complained about members facilitating drug transport on the strength of their membership.
Photo by Sokari Ekine
Photo by Sokari Ekine

4. Rewriting and undermining Haiti’s Constitution: The overthrow of Baby Doc in 1986 led to the creation of a new democratic Constitution in 1987, ratified in a referendum by an overwhelming majority of Haitians. It recognized Haitian Kreyol as an official language, along with French, and legalized Vodun, the spiritual practice of the majority of Haitians. It provided for grassroots participation in national decision-making, decentralized the nation’s finances and political structure, and provided for protection of human rights.

On June 12, 2012, Martelly announced new amendments, which concentrate executive power and herald the return of Duvalier-style dictatorship. The new illegally amended Constitution, written by non-legislators and never seen nor voted on by the Parliament prior to its publication, creates a top down method of choosing a Permanent Electoral Council to run elections, undermining grassroots participation and centralizing control from above.

It allows the president to appoint the prime minister after merely “consulting” the heads of the two chambers of Parliament instead of requiring Parliamentary ratification. In cases of “presidential vacancy,” the new amendments make the prime minister the provisional president, so presidents can resign, appoint the prime minister to succeed them, and thereby maintain perpetual control.

New amendments provide that a “general budget” and a “general expenditures report” can replace line item annual budgets, thus limiting parliamentary oversight of the budget.

New amendments return Duvalier era and other retrograde laws, including:

  • A 1935 law on “superstitious beliefs,” which would ban Vodun once again.
  • A 1977 law establishing the Court of State Security to increase state surveillance and repression.
  • A 1969 law that condemns all “imported doctrines,” thereby attacking freedom of thought and freedom of association. Violation of this new law can result in the DEATH PENALTY. The 1987 Haitian Constitution had eliminated the death penalty.

5. Restoring the army: In one of the most popular moves of his administration, President Aristide disbanded the hated Haitian army in 1995. Since the coup that overthrew Aristide for the second time in 2004, U.N. troops and police, currently numbering 8,754 uniformed personnel, have occupied Haiti. One of Martelly’s campaign promises was to restore the Haitian Army, and now new Haitian troops are being trained by Ecuador and Brazil. In addition, well-armed former military and paramilitary personnel have occupied militia camps since early 2012, supported by Martelly.

 

Photo by Sokari Ekine
Photo by Sokari Ekine

Sen. John Joel Joseph has identified senators that he claims are marked for assassination. He identified the people who have been paying the “hit squads” on behalf of Martelly. He denounced one of the men as an escaped criminal who had been caught red handed with a “near death” victim behind his vehicle. Said victim sent the police to a house where two more victims could be found.

Sen. Joseph identified the leader of the death squad and his vehicle, denouncing the group as the one which recently assassinated a grassroots militant. He accused the president and his wife of pressuring the chief of police to remove the senators’ security detail, in order to facilitate their assassinations. He denounced a previous instance when Martelly tried to pressure former police chief Mario Andresol to integrate a hit-man into the police to assassinate Sen. Moise Jean Charles.

7. Death of a judge: Martelly set up his wife and son as head of governmental projects, but with no parliamentary oversight. A Haitian citizen, Enold Florestal, filed suit with attorney Andre Michel before Judge Jean Serge Joseph, maintaining that the Martellys were siphoning off large amounts of state monies, which the Haitian Senate has no jurisdiction over.

Judge Joseph moved the case to the next judicial level, which required depositions from the Martellys and various governmental ministers. Enraged, Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe called two meetings with the judge – which they deny took place – to demand he kill the case, the second on July 11. The judge drank a beverage offered him at that meeting.

On July 12 Judge Joseph became violently ill and died on July 13. Haitian police arrested Florestal on Aug. 16 after viciously beating him, and Haitian authorities have issued a warrant for the arrest of attorney Michel, who has gone into hiding. A commission of the Haitian Parliament is now calling for the impeachment of Martelly based on illegal meetings with the judge, interference in legal matters and threats to those involved in the case.

8. Corrupting the judiciary and Parliament: The Martelly regime is working to establish executive control over the judicial system through the use of “controlled” prosecutors and judges. In violation of the Constitution, he appointed as Supreme Court chief justice, Anel Alexis Joseph, who is 72. Haitian law says a judge must be 65 or under to be named to this position.

The chief justice also leads the commission that regulates the entire judicial system, so Judge Anel Alexis Joseph is using his power to block an investigation into the death of Judge Jean Serge Joseph and to protect Martelly and his henchmen from all legal challenges, thereby granting impunity.

Martelly has also corrupted the legislative branch that could bring charges against members of the executive. He ordered the arrest of Deputy Arnel Belizaire in spite of parliamentary immunity and his legal counsel’s advice.

He has so far failed to call elections for 10 senate seats in January and is trying to force the 10 senators whose terms he says are up – they say in 2015, not 2014 – to leave office. Since elections have still not been held for 10 additional seats, if these new 10 seats are vacated, it would leave the 30 member Senate without a quorum, allowing Martelly to dissolve the Parliament and rule by decree.

9. Reactionary economic policy: Martelly enforces the Clinton-Bush plan for economic “development” of Haiti through sweatshops, tourism, and the selling of oil and mining rights to transnational corporations. Under this plan, money donated for earthquake relief has been used to build a duty free export manufacturing zone in the north of Haiti, which was not affected by the earthquake, and several luxury hotels in Port-au-Prince. The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund made a $2 million equity investment in a hotel called the Royal Oasis to give foreign tourists and investors an “oasis” to escape the miserable conditions under which the majority of Haitians live.

At the same time, the Martelly regime viciously represses the economic activities of the poor super majority. The phone and money transfer taxes cut into their incomes. Taxes have been arbitrarily increased on imports, affecting small merchants. Thugs wearing masks have burnt markets in different cities, causing merchants to lose capital they had been accumulating for years, forcing them to raise new capital through usury loans. Street vendors are harassed and removed forcefully, then, after hours, their stands are looted.

10. Duvalierism returns to Haiti: Martelly warmly welcomed the January 2011 return to Haiti of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century, after his decades of luxurious exile in France. Duvalier still has many supporters in Haiti, some of whom are armed and have a history of killing political opponents.

Martelly’s government is filled with Duvalierists: Hardline former Haitian army officer David Bazile is now interior minister. Magalie Racine, daughter of notorious former Tonton Macoute militia chief Madame Max Adolphe, is Martelly’s youth and sports minister. Public Works Secretary of State Philippe Cinéas is the son of longtime Duvalierist figure Alix Cinéas, who was a member of the original neo-Duvalierist National Council of Government (CNG), which succeeded Duvalier after his fall in 1986. In addition, Duvalier’s son, Francois Nicolas Jean Claude Duvalier, is a close advisor to Martelly.

Conclusion: A major objective of the Duvalier dynasty was to institutionalize dictatorship through death squad brutality, supported by the United States and other powers. Martelly is an example of their policies having come to fruition. He’s restoring a government of impunity per the Duvalier era, building an administration of right wing ideologues who believe in dictatorship and who collaborate to sidestep all legislative and judicial controls.

His goal is to implement extreme neo-liberal economic policies on behalf of Haiti’s less than 1 percent with control over all natural resources. The people will be at their mercy for factory work and other “subservient” positions, under the boot of a U.N. occupation force of 8,754 army and police personnel, the beginnings of a restored army, paramilitary training camps, death squads, gangs and mafias that use the cover of the corrupted executive and judicial systems to operate.

The Haitian majority does not accept this return to the bad old days, however, and has been actively and massively protesting this repression for the past year. They deserve the support and solidarity of freedom loving people everywhere.

 

For more information on the Haitian Grassroots Movement see:  Haiti Action Committee  action.haiti AT mail.com.

Charlie Hinton may be reached at ch_lifewish  AT yahoo.com.

 

 

Haiti – Feminist Series 5, In conversation with Paulette Joseph

During his campaign for presidency of Haiti, Michel Martelly made education was of his priorities.  Once elected he quickly established the “Program for Universal Free and Obligatory Education (Programme de scolarisation universelle gratuite et obligatoire – PSUGO)” PSUGO was supposed to increase access to education for millions of primary school children through the allocation of funds for first and second grades. The amounts for public schools are tiny at $6 per student and $90 for private students who are by far the majority.  However an investigation into PSUGO by Haiti Grassroots Watch found the programme seriously lacking and questioned the figures claimed by the government.

Book supplies, food and other resources have not been forthcoming. Rea Dol of SOPUDEP school explained that even where funds have been received, it is only for the first two grades and only for a selected number of children rather than all of primary school as promised.   Compounding the problems with resources is the postponement of school until October, made just  a few days before September classes were due to start thereby putting even more pressure on teachers and students to complete the curriculum by the end of the year.

Many schools, both free and private are struggling with decrepit buildings and minimum resources.  The majority of parents are struggling to pay fees and in schools like SOPUDEP which provide free education they are over subscribed despite the lack of resources with class sizes as much as 60/70 children and some as high as 100.

Prior to the now extended summer holidays I spoke with educator and community activist, Paulette Joesph at the Excelsior School which she founded in 2003.   Since then, Haiti and Paulette have gone through numerous crises. The 2004 coup in which President Aristide was forcibly removed and flown to Central African Republic. The  violence unleashed against members of Lavalas in which hundreds were murdered and thousands went into exile or hid in the countryside.  Those like Paulette who remained in the capital did so with fear in their hearts.   Then in January 2010, the  earthquake struck, and soon after the cholera epidemic, floods and hurricanes. In spite of all of these challenges she has managed to remain strong, the school is still going and she continues to work with women in her community.

Paulette, like her friends, Rea Dol of SOPUDEP and Roselaine Derival Fabre of Mojub, an adult literacy and kindergarten school,  began as ca community activist working with women in their communities many of whom including Rea and Paulette were or are single mothers raising children on their own. 

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How and when did you become involved in community work.

PJ: I first started working with both men and women in my community when we organized as KADSK, a commune or  village solidarity to keep our community clean and campaign for clean water and electricity.  This was in 1991.  At that time  President Aristide and Preval were in government and they helped us a lot in our commune.  After the coup against President Aristide things were very difficult for all of us.

SE: Why did you move from a mixed community organization to working solely with women?

PJ: You know in Haiti many working class women don’t have money to send their children to school.  They don’t have jobs or business yet they have to take care of their children by themselves. 70% of Haitian women are raising their children on their own as so many men do not take responsibility for their children.  But there is a paradox because the men leave when the child comes and then the women look for another man in the hope that he will change their life and bring them out of misery.  But in most cases this does not happen.

I saw the way women were living miserable lives and said, we need to start an organization where women can defend themselves and create something for themselves.  This was in 1996 and we called ourselves Organization Fanm Vanyan [OFAV] meaning organization of strong women.   And you know women work hard and they  know how to work together but they need to have respect and dignity. One day a women in the organization told me her husband had punched her in the face.  Her eye was swollen and I said no this is not right so it was the organization’s work to explain and to educate women on their rights in the house and what to expect.   We were able to come  together as women and speak about many things but always we found that it was our children that were our  greatest greatest concern as many of them did not have fathers.  So it is from here that I had the idea to open a school for poor children and those being raised without fathers, that is for the women in our organization.

SE: Before we go on to talk about the school, can I ask you to tell us a little more about yourself?

PJ: Well we are talking about women living on their own,  I was married in 1980 but have been divorced since 1990.   I have two sons, my first son died when he was six months.   Now I live with my mother and my youngest son and my only focus is my work. I think this is important for my son because  I don’t want him to grow up with violence in the house, I don’t want him to have to live with someone who disrespects his mother.   So I  take care of my family by myself and spend time with my son.  Every time President Aristide asks me, how is your son, and in this way he gives us some advice and focus on him  because in Haiti it is hard to stay on your own.

I believe some women feel they need to have a man to take care of them but I do not feel like this, I am not afraid to stay on my own.  Our organization meets every last Sunday of the month and I always try to tell other women that they don’t have to depend on anyone but themselves, they can live by themselves.  No women has to accept violence. If you have 100 $Haitian [500gds or $11] you can make something for yourself.  You can survive.  But let me say this, one problem we have in Haiti which we have to be careful is HIV, I think this is very dangerous for women and  children because of the men who do not protect themselves.

SE: Speaking of health, what about cholera in your community and the school?

PJ: Cholera in Haiti is now the biggest problem.  We have had a lot of cholera amongst our children.   But we also have to talk about MINUSTAH [UN force in Haiti] who are responsible for cholera in Haiti.  It started in their camp by the Artibonite River which was contaminated by the shit. This is how cholera spread in Haiti.  Imagine please if the Haitian army went to the US to help them and the Haitian army then spread a sickness like cholera. What do you think the Haitian government is supposed to do if not to take responsibility.  So the UN must take responsibility  and compensate all the victims of cholera.  But you know we are a Black nation and they think they can forget us.  We were the first black country to get independence and we are still paying for that.  But you see also our government is silent, they say nothing about cholera or MINUSTAH.

SE: Can I ask you about the present government in Haiti?

PJ: [Laughs... If you have a good government. A government which represents the people then for example if you are a business and you come to my country you must pay tax.  If you come to my country and you want to employ people you must pay them a good wage like $8 /9 a day.  But here nobody pays tax,  nothing, The government gives them the freedom to do what they want.

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SE:  I would like to end by asking you specifically about the school.

PJ: I started the school in 2003 with 50 children most of them the children of the women in OFAV.  We have kindergarten aged 3-5 years and primary from 6-12 years.  Now I have 500 children altogether.  As you can see our building is very small and very crowded and we need so many repairs especially when it rains, it is terrible.    But this is Haiti and that is how things are [laughs] we struggle but we have hope.

We had to end our conversation rather abruptly as children were changing over classes and it was no longer possible to hear ourselves speak amidst the chatter and laughter of 500 3-12 year olds!

 

 

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

John Akomfrah on his film “The Stuart Hall Project”

From Derica – Speak, Collaborate, Listen

I came to learn of Stuart Hall in the 1980s London and with him my introduction and understanding of being Black British – not something I ever felt personally but an identity that made sense to my children growing up Black in Britain.  As Akomfrah writes, Stuart Hall was a kind of  ‘rock star – pop icon with brains’ disseminating race and empire…  We were proud, we listened and learned….

 

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“I’ve been making projects on memory for a while now, but this one feels like the one I have been ‘preparing’ for a very long time indeed, possibly all my working life.

In our teenage years, there is always at least one person we meet or see perform or watch on the screen who in that first encounter leaves such an indelible mark on our soul that we end saying to ourselves: “when I grow up, I want be just like that; I want to be that cool, that hip, that confident, that compelling”.

Of course we always change our minds later since this is after all our ‘growing up’ years. But whatever reasons we subsequently give ourselves for our change of mind, for that shift in our thinking, secretly we also know that it usually coincides with the growing realization that we don’t have the talent or the brains or the wherewithal to become that person.

Once we accept we are never going to be exactly like our heroes, something very interesting begins for us because the initial burst of enthusiasm they sparked off, the charismatic example they offered about the purpose and direction one’s own life could take, these remain with you, moulding and shaping one’s expectations and, crucially, what ‘deals’ we end up making with this unfolding thing called life.

For many of my generation in the seventies, Stuart Hall was just such a figure. In those heady, mono – cultural days, he was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn’t crooning, dancing or running. I loved all the athletes and singers and dancers too but when you are a black teenage bookworm in seventies West London, let’s just say a public intellectual of colour disseminating ideas on television offered other more immediate compensations.

Stuart Hall was a kind of rock star for us; a pop icon with brains whose very iconic presence on this most public of platforms – television – suggested all manner of ‘impossible possibilities’. By just being there in our bedrooms and living rooms, he opened up pathways into that space that he has referred as the place of ‘the unfinished conversation‘, that space in which the dialogue between us and the external world begins, that place of identity. With him and through him we begun to ask the indispensable questions of that conversation: who are we, what are we and what could we become.

Throughout the making of The Stuart Hall Project, I’ve thought a lot about this questions of identity and of our ‘debt’ to this man. I’ve also thought a lot about the poignancy of the eulogy delivered at the funeral of Malcolm X by Ossie Davis, especially the section where Davis talks about “the presence of his (Malcolm’s) memory”. And the section I find the most affecting in that eulogy, the one I returned to again and again to the point where it became the organizing motif for this piece, comes at the end when Davis says “.. in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves“.

The presence of memory. What a wonderful way of describing all our lives. And for me, the question of ‘honoring’ begins there; with memory, with uncovering the stems of memory, the ghosts of history, sifting through the debris and detritus of past events for traces of the phantoms. It begins with searching and rummaging through all those itineraries, those collective unfinished conversations that tell us something about how a very bright young Rhodes scholar from colonial Jamaica, became ‘Stuart Hall’.

In understanding him and the movements he shaped and was shaped by, we begin to understand something about how we became what we are: the Suez crisis, the Hungarian revolution , the anti- colonial project, the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the new Left, feminism, class politics, cultural studies. All these interventions, these unfinished conversations.

And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Amen to that.”

__

Also, a review of “The Unfinished Conversation” the split screen installation that became the feature documentary “The Stuart Hall Project” (now showing in the UK)

Haiti: The Last Camp Standing

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On Monday 19th August 4 residents of Camp Acra & Adoquin and their lawyer Patrice Florvilus were summoned to court following criminal charges laid by  Reynold George, the claimed owner of a section of the camp land,  devotee and lawyer of Jean-Claude Duvalier. The residents included Camp Acra coordinator and founding member of the housing action  group, Chanjem Leson,Jean-Louis Elie Joseph, Darlin Lexima who had previously been detained and beaten by the police following a protest in April this year and the family of Civil Meril who died whilst in police custody.   

Reynold Georges had previously visited the camp in April threatening to set it on fire if residents did not leave what he claimed to be his section of land.  In the period since his threats, members of Chanjem Leson  have been living in fear  sometimes having to go into hiding following visits from unknown plain clothes men and threatening phone calls.  So it was with great apprehension that the residents prepared to attend court on Monday 19th August.  Fortunately for everyone, and through the hard work of human rights lawyers, Reynold Georges was forced to withdraw his charges.

There have been a number of reports on specific persecution of human rights activists in the US mainstream media [here and here] and on Twitter by members of the foreign media and human rights community in Haiti.  However it is unfortunate that in these reports the voices of camp residents, who are far more vulnerable to the threats of from power elites, are erased from the story which becomes one about the human rights lawyer and western human rights activist.  Even the protestors, it is claimed, where there for the lawyer rather than stating they were there to save their camp!

This is not to fully recognise the importance of the legal profession in defending people’s rights or  to dismiss their excellent work.  However there is once again an erasure of the voices of the popular masses.    For example Darlin Lexima, Elie Joseph, Esther Pierre and other vocally visible camp activists do not only have to contend with living in fear and in hiding from  the likes of Reynold George and having their property and lives at risk from fire, they also have to contend with living in deplorable camp conditions for nearly 4 years, unemployment, sickness and sickness of relatives – in short living with the worst aspects of structural violence.    

There are two related issues in this matter.  One that of  Reynold Georges, is about evicting specifically 300 families from an area of Camp Acra & Adoquin with a view to evicting all 32,000 residents [6000 families] plus the fate of all remaining camps and this is where the focus needs to be.  As Chanjem Leson write on their website,  they have a plan for the housing of all camp Acra & Adoquin and a means for them to create their own income generation projects. The second issue is that of persecution of human rights lawyers and camp activists.

The erasure of the voices of popular masses is how the western media works – it selects a name and runs with that name at the expense of everyone else and western human rights activists on the ground are complicit in this formula.   In addition to ignoring the voices of those actually living the human rights abuses in the camps,  missing from the commentary is a critique of the role of the  US as the puppeteer pulling the strings behind the  Haitian government or of corporate interests which seek to exploit the labour of Haitians at the cheapest rate possible.   Although the UN occupation forces, MINUSTAH are mentioned failure to consider the US influence over the UN ends up with only half the story.  The failure to critique US foreign policy and call for an accountability from  the US government  is a frequent omission by western activists working in the global south who speak of rights as simply a local politic.   Ezili Danto is one of the most articulate voices speaking the truth of western involvement in Haiti as she explains in this piece on the US “rewriting the Haitian Constitution to better serve the one percent”..

As long as white supremacy paints Haiti as a failed state because of weak public services, when Haiti is prevented by US unfair trade and World Bank/IMF structural adjustments from investing in its own local economy and paints the Clintons, Paul Farmers, UN, World Bank SaveFrom.net, the NGOs and their three-piece suited Eurocentric-Haiti collaborators with the mark of international distinction and service to humanity, Haiti’s pains will continue to be their cash cow. (Conflict of Interest: World Bank to Rewrite Haiti Mining Law, while Invested in Mining in Haiti, through the IFC.  US mining companies – through the World Bank/IFC – are writing Haiti mining laws to mine Haiti’s 20billion in gold while the people are disenfranchised under the US occupation behind UN guns.)

Again as evidenced in the support of Trayvon Martin family, activists from Chanjem Leson recognise the injustice they face here in Haiti is closely connected to the injustice faced by black youth like Oscar Grant,  Marissa Alexander, Travyon Martin and Jordan Davis.   I would go further in saying that human rights violations in Haiti should also be seen in the context of US human rights violations in Guantanamo, targeted assassinations and drone killings of civilians in Yemen and the harassment of US journalists and their families by US immigration and their allies. It is therefore hardly surprising that the US government doesn’t just close it’s eyes to the gangsta politicians and elites in Haiti, it protects them in so far as it’s main interest is in acquiring Haiti’s natural resources and using cheap labour to drive US and other international corporate interests.

There is presently a call to support Haitian Frontline Defenders – namely the human rights lawyers, their workers and families…

Front Line Defenders fears for the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Patrice Florvilus, DOP staff members and their families in the light of the previous threats against them. Furthermore, Front Line Defenders is concerned at the precedent that the summons may set in undermining the independence of the legal profession

Not a mention of the front-line defenders at the Camp in Delmas 33!   Let their voices be front-line news, their faces circulated so everyone knows who they are.   IReynold Georges has announced on the radio that he will surely remove everyone from  Camp Acra & Adoquin.  It’s hard to imagine anyone including the Mayor of Delmas standing in his way and it’s hard to imagine that 2014 will not mark the end of camps at least the large two in Delmas which sit on prime real estate.

Below are my notes from Saturday’s conversation with Chanjem Leson members.

We are happy the criminal charges against made by Reynold Georges has  been withdrawn and we are thankful to our lawyers especially Patrice Florvilus. But right  now many camps have faced evictions  – in Place Boyer, Champ de Mars, Acra 2, St Pierre, Tabarre and so many others and this is still going on every month there is one camp less.  Where are the people going? Many come to the remaining camps, some to their families and some rent a house if they are lucky to get compensation.  What will happen after that we do not know. We do not want this to happen to us here at Delmas 33.

Reynold George has dropped the charges but we do not think this is the end of the matter as he wants what he is claiming as his land.  Possibly he will go to the courts and try to get an eviction order for the 300 families in the section of the camp he claims is his, then they will have maybe  three months to leave maybe less.   There is a [back] story to this land.  Before the earthquake the land was designated as public by Wilson Jeudy, the Mayor of Delmas. [Note, Jeudy is no friend of camp residents for whom he has shown nothing but disdain.  He has only visited the camp once plus he has been responsible for violent evictions in other camps in Delmas]   He went to court with people who claimed the land was their including Reynold Georges. There was a plan to build a commercial complex  for Delmas on this land.  If the eviction process is successful this will benefit the mayor who may then return to challenging George and others  claiming the land.   As you know the camp is huge and you can imagine what they can do with this land so possibly they will end up fighting each other once they have evicted us but I believe it will be very difficult for  Reynold George to acquire this land.  In the camp at Delmas 40b where there were maybe 9,000 families there are already evictions and I believe some people have received compensation so this eviction threat is a very real one.

As you know we have had a plan including an architect design to provide houses for all the families who wish to go with us. The land was given to us in 2011 but now we are having to fight for this again as the NGO is saying they know nothing about this.  But we have evidence.   Once we have the land we have to find money for the notary then  we have to find an organisation willing to build homes for us on credit.  It is a huge struggle for us.  We will start with 1,500 families or those who are willing to join us.  This is our  focus at this time because we want to leave the camp, we are tired of living in tents.  By January we have been here four years. This is too long and we are all very tired and many of us are getting sicker and there is no employment. The stress is too much.

 

Mandela’s Queer Legacy

From the Mail & Guardian, Phumi Mtetwa discusses Nelson Mandela’s role in facilitating LGBTI rights in South Africa through encouraging dialogue. However his contribution fell short as failed upset the social and economic structures at the  core of inequality.

“Oliver Tambo thetha noBotha akhulul’ Mandela / u Mandela azobusa… [Oliver Tambo speak to Botha to release Mandela to rule!"]

Many anti-apartheid activists of my generation sang this song, along with others. I can still feel the yearning for freedom, which we believed Nelson Mandela’s ascent to the presidency would bring.

And so, on the eve of his release, we marched and danced in the streets of KwaThema; the next day we watched on big screens as he walked out of prison, raising his fist. For many of us that was the first taste of how freedom felt — and our struggles seemed closer to an end.

On April 27 1994 we voted for the ANC and for Mandela as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. In May that year, on the occasion of the opening of Parliament, Mandela said: “We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political liberties and the human rights of all our citizens.”

Encouraged by many calls to build a new South Africa, about 70 lesbian, gay and human rights organisations launched the South African National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) in Johannesburg in December 1994. This new formation had the objective of guaranteeing equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, in the country’s new Constitution and legislation. The coalition’s strategy was informed by the diversity of its constituency and in recognition of all forms of oppression. It thus campaigned for equality for all.

This significant moment in the history of gay and lesbian organising in South Africa had its roots in the anti-apartheid struggles, in which many openly gay and lesbian people were active. It was also a moment for the majority in South Africa collectively to define the nature of the way  we relate to each other as a people, informed by a past filled with exclusion, oppression, discrimination and violence.

Discriminatory conditions
The wider ANC movement, at home and abroad, had been challenged to discuss homosexuality openly and explicitly, and to adopt policies that protected lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

The 1993 interim constitution had the equality clause, which recognised a range of discriminatory conditions and identities by means of which South Africans were excluded. Sexual orientation was one of them.

The coalition saw the significance of the ANC’s commitments to human rights, and of what Mandela implied in his presidential address in 1994: that the Bill of Rights, as endorsed by the ANC in 1990, encodes principles that “speak of a [an] … order in which, regardless of colour, gender, religion, political opinion or sexual orientation, the law will provide for the equal protection of all citizens.”

A coalition delegation (Simon Nkoli, British actor Sir Ian McKellen and myself) met President Mandela in February 1995, at the ANC’s then headquarters, to acknowledge the organisation’s commitment to equality, and to reiterate the importance of ensuring that it lived up to that commitment and presented the aspirations of many lesbian and gay people, organised as the NCGLE.

Mandela’s presidency was one of constitutional and legal reform. In 1996, when the final Constitution was adopted, we could continue to celebrate the equality clause and the Bill of Rights.

The NCGLE, until it was disbanded in 1999, then the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, and then the LGBTI Joint Working Group and their member organisations, worked on legal reforms such as the recognition of same-sex partnerships and marriage. This latter campaign was successful in 2006, when Parliament passed the Civil Union Bill. That is one instance of widely celebrated processes and results attributable to Mandela’s vision of South Africa as the “rainbow nation”.

Basis of sexual orientation
At the ANC’s 50th congress, in 1997, the party adopted a resolution opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This resolution drew on the party’s 1993 “Ready to Govern” document, which had included support for equality for LGBTI South Africans, committing the ANC to public representation of LGBTI people, and calling for ­programmes to counter anti-gay prejudice and to promote equality in the organisation.

The importance of these victories was huge. Many people came out. The oldest Pride march in Africa (Johannesburg’s) no longer included faces hooded with brown paper bags!

The legal gains helped to reverse discriminatory practices. Mandela became an important icon of the movement, in contrast to homophobic leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Namibia’s Sam Nujoma and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

Mandela came from a political tradition that encouraged debate, and provided leadership of a kind seldom seen now in Africa. He lived up to his name, Dalibhunga — “convenor of the dialogue”. He courageously listened and positioned his views according to the principles he stood for, even if they were unpopular.

He knew there were threats to freedom and equality. He knew legislative changes would not eliminate social and economic oppression and exclusion. He did not, however, upset the political and economic structure at the core of inequality and, in turn, of rising homophobic and other violence, misogyny and other forms of scapegoating of the impoverished by the impoverished.

These are issues the ANC should address urgently to rectify the contradiction of advancing a sociopolitical vision such as Mandela’s without reconstructing the political-economic structure.

As a queer activist I will remember uTatu Dalibhunga for the dreams of freedom he symbolised. This, for me, offers renewed inspiration to continue to challenge neocolonialism and capitalism. I will defend South Africa’s Bill of Rights and struggle to make the government deliver on its promises. I will struggle against the hate waged against LGBTI people and nationals from other African countries who are living here. I will struggle against inequality, patriarchy, misogyny and racism. I will struggle against tribalism, nationalism and fundamentalism.

Many LGBTI people across the world celebrate Pride on the last weekend of June. In several South African cities and townships, Pride happens throughout the year! I hope that at all such events, with rainbow flags flying high, we celebrate one of the freedom movement’s greatest icons, and that we reflect and build on Mandela’s insight: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Phumi Mtetwa is a co-founder of the NCGLE and former executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project

Day Under the Egyptian Sun

As I write this piece, the Egyptian army is claiming to have ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi insists he is still president and that he is open to negotiations. He had only been in power since 30 June 2012, following what has been known as Egypt’s first ‘democratic’ election.

Everything about this situation defies all the obvious definitions we have come to know as questions are buzzing around; was the ousting of Morsi a revolution or a coup or… Who knows???

Democratic election? Was the election that led to President Morsi’s election democratic? Many of the anti-Morsi protestors will tell you it was not. The US government will say it was. What would make the election democratic or not?

Was it competitive; did all parties and candidates enjoy fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement? Did they have the necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly? Did they manage to bring their alternative policies and candidates to the electorate?

Was it periodic, oh well since this was the first such election that really doesn’t count does it.
Was it inclusive; did all eligible and willing voters vote? Were any religious, racial or ethnic minorities excluded? Were women included? Were all interest groups included?

Was it definitive; was a leadership of the government chosen? Of course, there would not have been a President Morsi had that not happened.

So then was the election democratic: I don’t know…

Others argue these events oust a “legitimately elected leader.” Who confers legitimacy on a leader? Who elects a president? Is it not the people, the same people who have decided that he is not living up to expectations and have decided to remove him? If these same people with the right to choose a President were now describing him as “a political despot who was peddling religious fundamentalism to consolidate his power base,” did he still remain “legitimate?”

Oh but wait, there is a Constitution. Constitutionalism demands that the President should be removed through a democratic election but neither through a mass protest nor through the solicitation of the military’s strength. In terms of the law he obviously remained legitimate because he could only be legitimately removed through another election , but politically was he still legitimate? I don’t know that either…

To throw in another spanner, was the Constitution itself a legitimate document? Is it legitimate when citizens are trashing its provisions and crying foul about the process through which it came into being? Is it legitimate when citizens are crying foul about its provisions and crying foul about the implementation of some of its provisions? Is that Constitution binding or do the people have a right to demand a re-write of the Constitution-for the people, by the people, of the people? Again, I don’t know…

Is this a coup? The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a coup as “a sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group, the chief prerequisite of which is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” Was it sudden-yes. Was it violent-well four people died and a whole lot more injured. Was it illegal-in terms of the constitution-yes. Did it result in the seizure of power from a government — yes. So was it a coup-hey, I don’t know…

Is this a revolution? Again the Encyclopaedia Britannica says a revolution occurs when “large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change organise and execute a major, sudden alteration in government.” Were there large numbers in Tahrir-the images speak for themselves. Were they asking for social-economic change- bread, butter and bedding issues do sound economic and social to me. Were they asking for political change- definitely, against arbitrary arrests and other rights violations.

Late on 3 July, a number of civics in Egypt including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies described the mass uprising as “tantamount to a genuine popular referendum by which the majority of Egyptians rejected all policies seeking to undermine rights and liberties in the name of empowering a single political faction to monopolise state institutions, undermine the rule of law and judicial bodies, disregard court orders, harass and prosecute political opponents, and restrict the media and freedom of opinion and expression.”

Many are giving these events many terms; counterrevolution, popular uprising, invited coup, popular coup, a coup within a revolution, a revolutionary coup. What it all adds up to is that there is nothing defined under the Egyptian sun.

Queer African Reader

It started as a one year project and ended up taking us three years but finally Hakima and I are able to announce the publication of the  Queer African Reader published by Fahamu Books.

QAR1REVIEWS

A richness of voices, a multiplicity of discourses, a quiverful of arguments. African queers writing for each other, theorizing ourselves, making our movements visible. This is a book we have hungered for. – - Shailja Patel award-winning Kenyan poet and activist, author of Migritude

All too often we read about African queers as monolithically victimized or as passive recipients of modernity from the West. What a great antidote The Queer African Reader provides to that narrative, with its diversity of styles, stories, memoirs, scholarly theory, art, photography, and deliciously combative polemics and petitions as rich as the diversity of Africans themselves! Listen to the poetry, feel the passion — love, rage, sadness, pride — admire the beauty, grow from the insights of Africans speaking directly to us about their struggles to be true to themselves, to their families, their lovers, their nations. This brave volume should be essential reading for all human rights activists far and wide in Africa and the Diaspora. Professor Marc Epprecht, Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University

The Queer African Reader serves as an amazing anthology documenting the struggles faced by African LGBTI people both in Africa and in the diaspora.  From personal narratives written by individuals like the late human rights defender, David Kato, to in depth academic and feminist analysis of the discourse concerning sexual orientation and gender identity in traditional African contexts, this publication contains a wealth of knowledge that can act as a starting point for various discussions concerning queer Africans around the world.  Hopefully this book will allow others from all walks of life to share their unique African LGBTI experiences. – “Victor Mukasa, Ugandan human rights defender and long term LGBTI activist”

QAR is a revelatory, path-breaking collection of writings drawn from across the continent and its diaspora. Ekine and Abbas have achieved  a huge task in compiling and editing 38 contributors who courageously share what it means to inhabit the precarious space that opens up between the patriarchal heteronormative regimes of the past and the radical possibilities heralded by so many personal-political struggles for sexual freedom.  QAR offers timely testimonies, a bold and defiant cacophony of voices that variously subvert the sexual-political despotism that relies on normative fear and hatred to resist radical nonconforming ways of being and enjoying sexuality and desire. The first of its kind, QAR offers a rich festival of material includes analytic and expressive prose, theoretical discussions, erotic fiction, journals, documents and representations from visual and performance artists, that work to share the disquieting realities of LGBTQI experiences, contradictions and political perspectives to life. QAR is a rich resource – a milestone in the self-narration of Africa by people who will be silent no more. Essential reading for the twenty first century!  Amina Mama, Professor & Director, Women and Gender Studies, University of California, Davis

Long awaited and overdue, written amidst burnout and premature death, in the front lines of Empire and gender violence, this first collection by queer Africans is no quick or easy read. The Queer African Reader demonstrates that urgency was never an excuse to leave anyone behind: unlike the depressingly streamlined movements of the global/izing north, they have ample space for impossible subjects that complicate the single story and expand who belongs in the movement and what it demands, from transgender to disability to healing. Written by and for Africans, this assembly of leading and emerging activists, artists and academics from the continent and its diasporas takes a leadership in sustainable, accountable community building that non-Africans, too, should learn from — while hearing the signal that queer and trans African have always been able to represent themselves. Jin Haritaworn  PhD, trans/queer of colour activist, York University (Toronto), author ofThe Biopolitics of Mixing and co-editor ofQueer Necropolitics.

 

Various launches will take place in the UK, South Africa, Kenya and the US and we will announce these as they happen.

Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance

image001Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance by Marc Epprecht

 

The persecution of people in Africa on the basis of their assumed or perceived homosexual orientation has received considerable coverage in the popular media in recent years. Gay-bashing by political and religious figures in Zimbabwe and Gambia; draconian new laws against lesbians and gays and their supporters in Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda; and the imprisonment and extortion of gay men in Senegal and Cameroon have all rightly sparked international condemnation. However, much of the analysis has been highly critical of African leadership and culture without considering local nuances, historical factors and external influences that are contributing to the problem. Such commentary also overlooks grounds for optimism in the struggle for sexual rights and justice in Africa, not just for sexual minorities but for the majority population as well.

Based on pioneering research on the history of homosexualities and engagement with current lgbti and HIV/AIDS activism, Marc Epprecht provides a sympathetic overview of the issues at play and a hopeful outlook on the potential of sexual rights for all.

 

Reviews

‘Clearly written, well researched and deeply committed to global social justice, this book foregrounds decades of research on sexuality in Africa. It shows, despite much publicized homophobia, the existence of sexual tolerance and calls for the elaboration of erotic justice.’ – Dr Robert Morrell, Research Office, University of Cape Town, South Africa

‘Through meticulous scholarship, Marc Epprecht has become a global authority on how homosexuality is indigenous to Africa. In this book, he once more brings sanity, clarity and wisdom to a debate too often warped by ideology. His book is a vital introduction for anybody wishing to understand the complex ways that African societies are changing when it comes to issues of sexuality, and how new ideas about sexual identity – often deeply grounded in ancient traditions – are taking root on the continent. As the global culture wars play out on African soil, pitching those who advocate ‘human rights’ against those who claim to represent ‘traditional values’, Epprecht writes vividly of the people who actually live on the battlegrounds of these debates, and cautions us to eschew easy readings in favour of deeper understanding of the contexts. This very necessary book is a work of activism as well as scholarship. It provides trenchant lessons for all those interested in social justice and how to support and defend the rights of embattled sexual minorities in sub-Saharan Africa.’ – Mark Gevisser, author, journalist and Open Society Fellow

Haiti: Occasional Musings – 14, “the wasps have been knocked out of the nest”*

UPDATE
President Aristide today held a press conference in which he announced that Lavalas’s participation in the next elections – mobilization begins!

Two years after his March 2011 return to Haiti, former President and Fanmi Lavalas leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide made his first appearance in public. President Aristide had been called to court by the investigative judge, Yvickel Dabr̩sil, to answer questions around the April 2000 assassination of of his friend and fellow Lavalas member, journalist and activist Jean Dominique. Full details of the events surrounding the murder of Jean Dominique and the search to find those responsible has been well documented Рsee here and here. The assassination of Jean Dominique should be read as part of an historical silencing of human rights and Lavalas activists such as Father Jean- Marie Vincent, murdered in 1994; Father G̩rard Jean-Juste who died in 2009 of cancer believed to have been contracted during his imprisonment on false charges in 2005; and Lovinsky Pierre Antoine who disappeared on the 12th August 2007.

The court’s imposition on President Aristide as well as former President Rene Preval, again requires a closer reading to understand it as a political act and part of an ongoing attempt by the present ‘Duvalierist government of President Michel Martelly to discredit and once again prevent Fanmi Lavalas from participating in Haitian politics and in particular from the forthcoming elections. It was therefore not surprising that TV National Haiti [TNH] could only file a 60 second report that mentioned the reasons for the hearing but with no commentary and no mention of the thousands who accompanied President Aristide to and from the courts.

Yesterday”s massive outpouring of the popular masses, in many ways marked an important juncture in Haitian politics vis a vis Fanmi Lavalas’s continued importance and strength. Aristide’s supporters, many who slept outside his house throughout the night of the 7th / 8th May, ignored the government’s ban on holding a protests to which they responded, its not a protest its a march! With cries of “bare pa bare n’ap pase” barrier or no barrier we will pass, and “Aristide se wa nan peyi a” Aristide rules”, tens of thousands reclaimed the streets. People also marched in Gonaïves, in Cap Haitian, and in Les Caye. I’ve been on probably hundreds of marches in my life but the sheer spontaneous joy expressed by marchers was incredible and inspiring. Yes, there was anger at the present administration, at the UN and the discrediting of Lavalas but the overwhelming feeling was one of commradship and joy. From around 8am crowds began to gather near the courthouse in Champ Mars which had been condoned off by police. At 10am, when I entered the courthouse, there were perhaps a few thousand supporters scattered around the nearby streets. By the time Aristide left the court house some 2 hours later there were tens of thousands lining the streets as far as one could see. As the motorcade exited the courthouse premises, Aristide made the first of two surprise but brief appearances from his car, and greeted the crowds. Instead of returning directly to his home in Tabarre, President Aristide moved slowly through the surrounding streets and onto Champ Mars and then to Bel Air neighbourhood where he made a second stop standing on the car roof to greet the crowds. Yes, this was about a beloved hero , but to dismiss this as simply about President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is too miss the symbolic meaning which he embodies, that is a different Haiti to the one designed by the USA and the present administration which is essentially a factory of cheap labour and cheap resources for global capital, to one of hope, dignity and independence. Fanmi Lavalas is a movement of people and as such it is not dependent on any one individual.

The title for this piece is a quote by one of the marchers reported in the Washington Post.

Haiti: April 26th, Memories of a Duvalier Massacre

From [The Progressive](http://www.progressive.org/). Memories of a Duvalier Massacre, 50 Years Later” by Edwidge Danticat

“Recently, Francois Duvalier’s grandson, Jean Claude’s son, François-Nicolas Duvalier, an adviser to Haiti’s current president Michel Martelly, wrote an opinion piece praising his grandfather’s “republican values” and calling him a “great nationalist.”

+ This is the legacy of Duvalier openly supported by President Martelly

Haiti, April 26, 1963: Some will commemorate this date with religious services, conferences, radio forums, film screenings, and testimonials.
Some will commemorate it on social media, on Twitter and Facebook.
Others will choose to commemorate it privately, without uttering a word.
Others will decide not to commemorate at all.

A radio spot declares:
Ann sonje viktim yo.
Ann aprann sa k te pase.
Ann kenbe rasin memwa nou.
Let us remember the victims.
Let us learn what happened.
Let us keep the roots of our memory alive.
Former journalist Michèle Montas still vividly remembers the bullet-ridden bodies lying on the sidewalk near her home on April 26, 1963. She was seventeen years old.
There had been an attempted kidnapping of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier that morning and his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, decided to unleash his wrath, and his henchmen, on the entire city of Port-au-Prince.
The bloodbath began at the home of Montas’s neighbor, Lieutenant François Benoit, an elite marksman who had been dismissed from the army. Benoit’s parents were killed. His house was set on fire, with a seven-month-old baby inside.
“Soldiers and Tonton Macoutes seemed infected with a blood lust and shot anyone who moved or came near the Benoit place,” retired Marine Corps officer Charles T. Williamson, in Haiti to help train Duvalier’s army, wrote in his 1999 memoir, United States Naval Mission to Haiti, 1959-1963. “Throughout the town the word was out that former army officers were to be arrested along with anyone thought to oppose the regime. . . . The hunt was on.”
The hunt was indeed on for Duvalier’s adversaries, army and civilian alike. Roadblocks were set up. Death squads though roamed freely. Grenades and bombs exploded in the daytime and gunfire crackled at night, resulting in what Bernard Diederich, co-author (with Al Burt) of Papa Doc and the Tonton Macoutes, recently called “a day of mayhem, genocide!”
Montas recalls “the smell of rotting bodies for days, but also the gripping smell of fear. It had become the norm, whole families guilty by bloodline, condemned, executed.”
Hundreds were rounded up or disappeared into the bowels of Fort Dimanche, the notorious dungeon prison where many of Papa Doc’s victims lost their lives.
It was one of the most brutal days of the twenty-nine-year rule of Papa Doc and his son, Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. During their reign, an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 men, women, and children were killed.
Recently, Francois Duvalier’s grandson, Jean Claude’s son, François-Nicolas Duvalier, an adviser to Haiti’s current president Michel Martelly, wrote an opinion piece praising his grandfather’s “republican values” and calling him a “great nationalist.”
This, coming just a few days before the fiftieth anniversary of April 26, 1963, seems to not only be an attempt at whitewashing the past, but at launching an offensive against those who, on this day, will pause to remember.
Fifty years on, the victims of Duvalier père can only evoke these atrocities ceremonially, while a few of those who suffered similarly under his son were recently able to briefly face him in court.
The few–like Montas, who was arrested on Jean Claude Duvalier’s orders, on November 28, 1980–who have been able to file complaints or testify, represent a small percentage of those who were arrested, jailed, tortured, or killed under the younger’s Duvalier regime. Montas joins an even shorter list of high profile victims, whom Baby Doc is able to identify by name.
“But we–the thirty listed in the complaint–are not the only ones,” Montas stresses. “The repression went across all classes, all over the country. Journalists were crushed. Students were crushed. Unions were crushed. Rural people were crushed.”
She recalls the particular case of one of her fellow plaintiffs who was forced to travel from northern Haiti with her husband’s severed head in a bucket during the father’s reign and was only released from Fort Dimanche during the son’s reign, as part of a prisoner exchange with the United States.
“He inherited a repressive machine from his father,” she says, “and continued to use it to stay in power. There should be no statute of limitations for judgment on that. There should be no statute of limitations on the disappeared.”

Continue on The Progressive http://progressive.org/haiti-duvalier-massacre-50-years-later

Haiti: Occasional Musings, 11 – International Women’s Day

I have a general wariness around national and international days which are set aside to remind us of a particular issue or celebration such as the Day of the Child, Human Rights Day, Water Day, Day Against Homophobia and International Women’s Day [IWD]. There seems to be something condescending about such designations not least of all because we often have no historical or other context for such days. I had thought to mark IWD 2013 with a profile of four Haitian women activists, three I have known for a number of years and one I just met this January. However after talking with each of them and considering the impact of their work in their communities I felt I needed to bring something deeper to my understanding of the relationship between IWD, feminism and activism in an Haitian context.

I started by reading on the history of IWD which I had always believed to be a post WWII creation along with the various declarations around human rights. Not so. IWD was born within the European and Russian socialist politic of the late 19th century along with May Day, as a celebration and recognition of working class struggles including ‘universal women’s suffrage’. In other words IWD was created out of the the intersection of class and gender and was formalised at the August 1910 at the “International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen”.

“In agreement with the class-conscious political and trade organisations of the proletariat in their respective countries, the socialist women of all nationalities will hold each year a Women’s Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage. This demand must be handled in conjunction with the entire women’s question according to socialist precepts. The Women’s Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully. Clara Zetkin, Käte Duncker, and other comrades

In her lecture “Wars Against Women” Angela Davis points to the multiple origins of IWD so in addition to the 1910 Socialist International there was the

“ Russian women’s strike for bread and peace in 1917 against the wishes of the revolutionary leadership which [later] helped to bring down the Czar. There was the triangle shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911 during which 140 women, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants were killed. There was also a 1857 strike on March 8th in New York by women in the garment and textile industry, in which they demanded, better wages, shorter working hours and generally better working conditions.”

The first IWD was in 1911 under the banner of ‘equal rights, protection of working woman and women’s suffrage. The ideology behind the early IWD was driven by a desire to end capitalism which was seen as the barrier to equality, to internationalize the struggle of women and workers and to oppose the impending war in Europe [WWI]. By the 1970s, IWD, which grew out of a socialist workers international was appropriated and incorporated into global capitalism through the institution of the UN, which despite the tensions of the east west cold war period, was always leveraged as an instrument of global capital. The first global recognition of IWD and women’s struggles, was through the UN Commission on the Status of Women which held a series of ‘internationals’ in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).

Another interesting  example of the early IWD socialist connection took place  following the first UN  sponsored international in Mexico which designated March 8th as IWD.

“Cuba marked the occasion by launching it’s attack against the second shift – the shift women do when they get home from work and began to address some of the major issues that confront working women within a feminist framework.” [Angela Davis]

Davis also asks us to recognize the importance of the global in “recognizing the recognition of women’s pivotable role” in creating hope for a better future. I would add that these internationals also led to  the recognition of the ‘pivotable role’ played by women from the global south in the independence movements in the 1930s onwards and of course in post-colonial struggles. It is within this international or global history as well as Haiti’s own revolutionary history that I would like to view the activism of the Haitian women. Each of the four women’s organizing grew out of the struggle of the popular masses against the subjugation and brutality of the 1930s US Occupation, Duvalierism, militarisation and the desire to reclaim the revolutionary narrative which had long since been appropriated by Haitian elites, imperialist forces as well as local patriarchies.

Each of the women prioritise women’s struggles in the context of a broader activism of an inclusive movement of the popular masses.  So water rights, land rights, food insecurity, an end to the UN occupation, an increase in the minimum wage, free accessible education, sit alongside issues of gender discrimination, sexual violence, domestic violence, imprisonment of girls and women for extended periods often with delayed trials or years, access to healthcare,  and adult literacy.

Globalised Women

The clothes we wear the majority of which are made in China or the global south by women are invariably manufactured under extremely exploitative labour conditions. Even in Europe and the US, it is immigrant and often undocumented women’s labour that is used.   The food we eat.  Most of the sugar imported into the US comes from the Dominican Republic where Haitian men, women and children many of whom have been trafficked across the border,  work in slavery conditions on huge plantations.  The conditions are horrendous, there are few schools, clinics or access to alternative employment.  The petrol we use to travel has destroyed the livelihood of women in rural Niger Delta.

At the beginning of this post I said I was wary about the ‘celebration’ of designated international Days though I wasnt sure where or why my ambivalence.  But understanding the history of IWDs particularly learning the socialist history has given IWD a much needed context.

Haiti – Reframing the narrative

Peter Hallward, author of “Damming the Flood:Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment”. Reframes the narrative of Haiti as disaster and the problem as one of development. Rather he argues that the real issue is one of political sovereignty, popular power and popular powerlessness.

Read through all the reports on Haiti over the past three years and you will hardly hear the word Fanmi Lavalas mentioned so much so, its almost as if there has been a conscious decision to erase the party, the ideology and by inference, the popular masses. Hallward discusses Lavalas as a political force and speaks to the origins and growth of the movement and the attempts to break and silence the party.

Nonetheless despite the media erasure and attempts to destroy Fanmi Lavalas by the US and other foreign powers, NGOs and UN, amongst people in the neighbourhoods, activists, organizers,- the popular masses, there remains a deep desire for regaining popular mobilization. One only has to consider the silence of President Aristide and when he was summoned to court a few weeks ago on spurious charges, the judge reconsidered and decided it preferable for him to go to Aristide’s home rather than face huge numbers of popular masses demonstrating in support of the former president.