Tag Archives: 16Days

#16Days – African Women in the Age of War

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What must women do?

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

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

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

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

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

More articles from 16 Days here. 

 

 

#16Days: I am a Genderqueer Peculiarite.

500 years ago a formidable army descended on the university city of Sankore in Timbucktu. When they left the Peculiarites emerged from the spoils. The inhabitants viewed by the Spanish as a strange   skin colour,  their strange language (if it could be called that thought the Spanish conquistador), and their ways earned their land mass the place name , Peculium and it stuck.  Everything about Peculium, as far as the militaristic guests were concerned, had more than a hint of the peculiar, so they named the land mass.

In the time before I underwent a procedure,  I was prescribed natural estrogen by the famous Dr. Aramanda who made it his duty to protect me from the herd of insane soldiers who had come to town. Most trans were rounded up to be used as game like foxes during the hunt or paraded as a marker of wealth. The times were truly vile. They still are.

London felt delicious after dry dry frigging Bath. As soon as it got off the coach It felt like feeding. Most genderqueer peculiarites couldn’t help the urge to feed. That night was the ten thousandth birthday of a distant relative so “It” hadn’t a choice. Genderqueer peculiarites were a close knit folk like that. Although I came from Bath (at least that’s what we told ourselves to keep our real stories safe from the wanderings glances from our human food chain) the furtherest I ventured from the roman architectured city of my birth the closer I felt to the university of Sankore in Timbucktu some 500 years ago in the heart of deepest Africa.

My name is Tantoloun-Yin Misaki of the one million year old clan of the Misakis of Peculium. Most of the family lineage were lost to famine, war, pillage and plunder over the centuries that it was a wonder the name survived to this day.

“I am 5,000 years old this day and I know the ways of the world,” said Tantoloun as if “It” had cracked a joke in the vein of a seasoned standup comedian’s mould. “Imagine that,” mused Tantoloun as “It” pondered the food on display. It didn’t matter the strength of the gang thought Tantoloun as “It” took the Pasha boy in particular in. The boy’s struggle made Tantoloun’s hunt that more interesting.

Suddenly “It” is over come by a convulsive spasms that reminded “It” of the capitulation into the bloodlust that imprisoned peculiarites till this day. However that night was like most nights to the people of that area of London. “It,” the youth thought, “doesn’t deserve the privilege of walking the streets!” commanded a bevy of youths amusement starved and eager for a laugh or something to fill the empty time on their hands. Their raucous was such that Tantoloun’s Peculiarites form threatened to surface; to show itself for what it was but it held back somehow. Scaring the food off wasn’t an option. Tantoloun’s thirst was overpowering to the point that ordinarily nerves might have snapped but “it” was only a matter of time, decorum and a healthy degree of discretion.

Meanwhile every time Tantoloun spoke in the Avon and Somerset accent the gang of young adults vent berserk hooting and hurling insulting abuse:

“Foreigner, go back where you come from. Nobody speaks foreign here,” shouted a six three hulk of a boy from within the gang. Tantoloun’s sensitive eyesight was on him immediately. In spite of the boy’s height he couldn’t be more than 18 years on the face of the earth. The boy thought he knew all there was to know in life. Tantoloun smiled despite the growing rage brewing in “its” entire essence. “It” saw as much as sensed the boy’s fear long before the boy spoke those vile words. Cowardly, vain and insecure the boy joined a gang in order to seem less conspicuous but his build plotted against him. Apart from that there was also his high pitched voice that had an ultra femme ring to it making for an incongruity the boy himself was deeply ashamed of. To mask this the boy started smoking cigars to deepen his voice. An unhealthy habit for one so young. How he came by them was anyone’s guess but Tantoloun saw him steal them from the newsagent’s across the 17 storey high rise council building where the boy lived. Tantoloun laughed so heartily “it” inadvertently drew attention in spite of “itself.”

“Once I was male I became female with the help of Dr. Aramanda now because of your conquistador forebear I’m here,” said Tantoloun without seeming to say a word. Nobody in the gang heard “It” except the Pasha boy. “I was the young girl beaten they said for daring to suggest my kind existed long before the binary conflation that has enslaved all mankind in production line procreation since the beginning of time. “You have a choice,” said Pasha’s army, “become one of our whores and you won’t want for anything. Turn down this offer and we condemn you to a very slow and painful death.” I wouldn’t so I was sent down for something called, ‘corrective rape. I was beaten, raped and beaten again then tossed in a cell for the night. That night a mob of soldiers came. They took turns again. That night I felt the fangs sink in and I went into a coma. They were going to throw me into one of their mass graves when I flew away forever. After that I couldn’t be female or male I became a genderqueer Peculiarite and I have not looked back since.

Meanwhile some members of the gang were girls, one of whom walked with a bragadosio left-right tilt of her shoulders as she walked. She seemed intent on making sure that everyone in the world knew Tantoloun was a genderqueer Peculiarite. She walked fast pass Tantoloun and said out loud, “I’m not like that there. That there is a man!” but her swagger drew more attention than what could have been the sting of words. Other gang members around cackled, jeered and made merry at Tantolorun’s expense shouting, “you are a fucking foreigner. Go back where you came from,” at Tantolorun but “it” kept “its” head up. They were all so engrossed in the terror they assumed they were that they missed the Peculiarites’ peculiarities.

At that point something odd happened. A sudden chill descended. Tantoloun seemed swift as a flash of light as “It” swooped right up towards the juiciest of the gang members and Tantoloun’s eyes were as fearsome as that of the oldest Peculiarite in myth out for a snack. The buff boy’s realisation took the form of a fang bearing, blood sucking fiend bent on eliciting maximum fear while still keeping his prey oblivious. The boy-prey barely moved let alone understood what stood before him nor did he realise the act of wetting himself until it was too late to conceal. As Tantoloun came close the boy tried to scream but no voice came from him. He could have been dreaming but he could have sworn he hadn’t fallen asleep. Fearing imminent death -his- he put up what looked like a struggle to no avail. He found himself rooted to the spot as if by some magnetic force. Just then as he had glimpsed the futility of his efforts he gave up to the inevitable.

“I don’t blame any of you. Five thousand years ago, I became a genderqueer Peculiarite.

“In your language, that is, Peculiarites are synonymous with what you call, vampires. You had better watch out or I’d have you for a snack. Five thousand years ago I became a Peculiarite at the hands of one of Judas Pasha’s army the day Sankore fell. Did you know you are the last known descendant of the Spanish general? The news of the day had the news if you know where to look. That day Dr. Aramanda was shot and the world hadn’t known light since.

When I woke up everything was different. What I noticed was the deep craving to feed…

Mia Nikasimo (c) November 2012

#16Days: – Nigeria’s Memory Hole*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excuse me while I die

We are 4 days into the 16 Days of Activist Against Violence Against Women which dates back to 1999. Fourteen years of days and weeks where the world supposedly focuses on violence against women will end on Human Rights Day, the 10th December. In Durban the 17th UN Climate Change conference begins today and continues until 9th December. So much activity!

The campaign to end violence against women hardly mentions [here I think I am being generous] the violence unleashed by changes in climate and environmental degradation; land grab by investment bankers in New York and London; the purchase of large tracks of land by governments such as Saudi Arabia Kuwait; gentrification or rather ethnic and class cleansing of urban spaces. Is it really that difficult to make the connections by providing a broader more realistic interpretation of violence against women? Abahlali baseMjondolo go some way to doing this
Continue reading