Friday, July 31, 2015

A Heart that Never Dies

Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, not only demands total loyalty from his citizens – most of whom survive on less than a dollar a day from handouts from the UN – but he also makes sure that meetings he deems ‘political’ are disrupted by police, who harass and beat up activists like Bheki. Many of them are subsequently charged with terrorism for trivial ‘offences’ such as shouting ‘viva PUDEMO’ or wearing a PUDEMO t-shirt (Swaziland’s largest banned political party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

A new documentary, ‘Swaziland – Africa’s last absolute monarchy’, made by award-winning Danish investigative journalist Tom Heinemann, describes the fight for democracy and socio-economic justice through the eyes of Bheki Dlamini, a young activist and leading member of PUDEMO. It was at university, while studying Sociology and Public Administration, that Bheki really started questioning the doctrines and cultural codes of Swazi society. The different views of students and lecturers had an impact. ‘University changed my perception and how I looked on society,’ he says.

Bheki chose to act on his new-found beliefs by, amongst other actions, helping organize civic education for poor and illiterate people in Swaziland’s rural areas. After having had his home ransacked and been detained on several occasions, Bheki was arrested in 2010, tortured, and charged with terrorism for allegedly committing arson against an MP and a police officer, crimes that he and his colleagues said he could not have committed. Bheki was in prison for nearly 4 years. He was kept in a filthy cell, no larger than 5 by 12 metres, 24 hours a day and with up to 40 other inmates.

When the trial finally began, all charges against Bheki were quickly dropped and he was released. But as Bheki told the large crowd that had gathered outside the courthouse to greet him upon his release: ‘I am moving out of the small prison into the bigger prison.’ A few months later he was forced to flee Swaziland, when the police tried to arrest him after he had given a speech on May Day.

‘No matter what they do to me, the fight continues,’ hesays, unflinching and looking straight into the camera. ‘The state is afraid, so if we can push much harder it is going to succumb to our pressure.’ 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

South Africans Against Climate Change

The battle against climate change is a world war. South Africa is in the front lines. Anti-nuclear energy activists are up in arms, and have taken to vigils outside South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town to protest against President Jacob Zuma’s push for nuclear development. The protest has been building since September 2014 when Zuma struck a deal with Russia’s Rossatom to build up to eight nuclear power stations in South Africa. The stations would cost the country around 1 trillion South African rands (84 billion dollars). The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), an interdenominational faith-based environment initiative led by Bishop Geoff Davies, has said the government’s nuclear policy is not only foolish but immoral.
“SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country [South Africa] and lead to further energy impoverishment” – Liziwe McDaid, energy advisor for the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute. SAFCEI is demanding that the government take a fresh look at its drive for nuclear energy. Liziwe McDaid, SAFCEI’s energy advisor argues for a much greater rollout of renewable energy is the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future. “SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country and lead to further energy impoverishment.”

David Hallowes researcher and editor of Slow Poison for groundWork, another climate change pressure group, feels South Africa is not doing enough on adaptation. “Government is still allowing mining and industry to poison water and land in key catchments and agricultural areas,” adding that the result is that climate impacts will be amplified. The same plants and developments that are driving climate change are poisoning and killing people, animals and plants that are in the path of pollution, “so the people’s struggles for an environment not harmful to their health and wellbeing are also climate struggles.” According to Hallowes, “there are different views on what can be achieved with renewable energy. We do not think it can power infinite economic growth and hence we do not believe it can sustain a capitalist economy. In the short term, we think we should be looking for a reduction in energy consumption. The question is who gets it for what.” He goes on to explain “We think we should have a programme that creates democratic ownership and control of renewable energy at different levels from community or settlement, to municipality to national. We call it energy sovereignty.  The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa calls it social ownership. It’s the same thing.” The groundWork researcher said that CSOs want to see an end to new coal developments, such as new mines or power stations. “I think everyone agrees but don’t necessarily mean the same thing. For some, it’s just a matter of jobs. We think it means the transformation of the economy towards equality and freedom that is democratic control rather than plutocratic control.”

Muna Lakhani, founder and national coordinator of the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa (IZWA), is equally concerned that government is not doing enough to fight climate change.
 “Our government sees too much of ‘business as usual’ and is very lax in implementing even the minimal legislation, such as air quality permits, carbon taxes and the like,” he says. According to Lakhani, CSOs are mostly united on key issues, such as the call for no more fossil fuel, a bigger push for renewables, and promoting local resilience especially of poorer communities and the generally disadvantaged.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kwaheri (goodbye), Obama

On his high-profile visit to Kenya and Ethiopia Obama declined to address some of the really big problems in both countries.

What to do about Kenya’s refugee problem? The Dadaab refugee camp for displaced Somalis has now existed 23 years, having grown from a tented village to become a small city that houses over 300,000 stateless people. According to Human Rights Watch, Kenyan security forces deployed to Dadaab since the 2011 invasion of Somalia have committed abuses and human-rights violations against refugees. Last year police had rounded up thousands of Muslims—mainly women and children—and detained them for three weeks on a soccer pitch a few hundred meters from the stadium where Obama was speaking. Kenya has demanded that the UN move the refugee population back to Somalia, and given a three-month deadline to do it. Human-rights groups pointed out that the move is, under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, illegal.

Obama stressed the Ethiopian military’s ruthless “efficiency” in fighting Al-Shabab in Somalia and Addis Ababa’s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping efforts. The emphasis on security cooperation speaks to the fact that, from Nigeria’s Boko Haram to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia’s Al-Shabab, under Obama, the U.S. has increased its military footprint in Africa. U.S. strategic priorities in sub-Saharan Africa have largely knocked democracy promotion and human rights off the radar. Obama’s trip to Addis Ababa comes in the aftermath of a lackluster May election, in which the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) “won” all 547 seats in the national parliament, improving on 2010’s 99.6 percent rate. This is why Ethiopian human rights and free press advocates fear Obama’s visit will be construed as an endorsement of the EPRDF’s quarter-century hold on power. The EPRDF has devastated free press and civil society through a slew of draconian laws that equate dissent with treason. The political space has significantly narrowed. Opposition politics is criminalized. Ethiopia’s civil society institutions are brittle. The country’s storied economic progress, including double-digit GDP growth over the last five years, has benefited only those who are politically connected. Resentment is rife over EPRDF hard-liners’ domination of the top brass of the military, the security forces and the commanding heights of the economy.

Obama has, in fact, continued some of the most egregious US policies towards Africa: US soldiers remain in Djibouti in a never-ending "war on terror" with drone attacks launched, while Washington participated in the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation intervention in Libya that has left that country anarchic and spread instability across the Sahel region. China's media are pouring cold water on President Barack Obama's visit to Africa, saying U.S. attention to the continent is largely due to concern over China's growing influence there. China's two-way trade with Africa in 2013 was a record $200 billion. U.S. trade with Africa has fallen, meanwhile, hitting $85 billion in 2013.

The United States earmarked $80 million in 2005 to support a UN-initiated project to fight malaria in Africa. A government investigation later found only 5 percent of the 80-million fund was spent on bed nets, 1 percent on drugs, while the rest was mostly paid out in salaries to staff members and advisers. Obama’s Africa tour is just one more piece in a long jig-saw of misguided American involvement in the affairs of the continent.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Gambian democracy goes to the highest bidder

Gambia looks set to raise the cost of running in next year's elections with a new bill that a pro-democracy group says will make it harder for opposition parties to compete against President Yahya Jammeh.

Parliament passed a bill on Tuesday requiring presidential candidates to pay 500,000 dalasis (about $12,740). Candidates for the national assembly, mayor and ward councillor will also need to pay between $250 and $12,750 under the revised bill that Jammeh is likely to sign into law. The government said the bill was aimed at ensuring that political parties are organised and well led.

"Half a million dalasis is way out of reach for the majority of Gambians, especially the opposition," said JegganGrey-Johnson, an analyst for Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa. "It is meant to price ... a majority of the people out."

The oppositional newspaper Foroyaa criticised the bill's like passage in an editorial, saying it does not respect the electoral commission's independence. "Every honest Gambian ... (should) know that the amendment is a threat to the independence of the (Electoral) Commission and a barrier to the democratic and unrestricted participation of the people in electing their representatives," it said.

The average annual income in Gambia, one of the world's poorest countries, is around $450. The country relies on tourism but its industry was battered last year by a regional Ebola outbreak even though Gambia did not record a case.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kenyans Are Not Obama's Family

Africans were elated when Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008. Expectations were understandably high. After all, he was one of their own, a son of a Kenyan. However Obama focused his attention on America’s national security. He increased the presence of AFRICOM and expanded the use of drone – assassination against terrorists. Obama sanction for the NATO-led invasion of Libya destabilized the region, turning Libya and Mali into terrorist havens and strengthening terrorist organizations such as Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Obama’s economic policies in relation to Africa was let slip by GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who explained the real motivations behind Obama’s visit to the current 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit: “We kind of gave Africa to the Europeans first and to the Chinese later, but today it’s wide open for us.” The goal, therefore, is to help U.S. corporations compete effectively in the scramble for African resources. The positive rhetoric about “partnership of equals” and “African goals and solutions” serves as a cover for looting Africa’s resources. 
In 2013 Senator Chris Coons of Delaware chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said in a report issued by his office that “China, which has made dramatic inroads across the continent in recent years, may undermine or even counter value-driven U.S. goals in the region, and should serve as a wake-up call for enhanced American trade and investment.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Misery of Migrants in Malawi

Maula prison, in the Malawi capital of Lilongwe was built to accommodate 800 prisoners, but now is bursting at the seams with 2,650 inmates. Amongst this desperate population, the most vulnerable are the nearly 300 undocumented migrants who were arrested as they travelled towards South Africa. These men represent the reality of our mobile world, where people are on the move, seeking refuge from violence and inequality or escape from chronic poverty. Lacking any kind of resources, they left their countries of origin in the hope of building a decent life in South Africa. A dream denied at home, that dramatically ended up in Malawi’s prisons.

Abeba, a man in his thirties from Durame, Ethiopia says “We are not criminals! But now, in prison, we are not human anymore.”

The number of foreign citizens, mostly Ethiopians, detained in Malawi for illegal entry has increased in the past few years, becoming a phenomenon of humanitarian concern. Most of them have been charged for three months, but the reality is that they have been locked away for more. The law requires they return to their homelands after their periods of detention, but bureaucratic delays impede any way forward. Moreover, they are supposed to cover their expenses for repatriation, a contradiction to their weak economic status.

A young boy explains “My dream is to reach South Africa; this is what I have worked towards for years. I knew it would be difficult, but I never thought I’d end up here. I thought Africans were all brothers. But here… here it seems different.”

Ethiopians follow a long-standing pattern of migration towards South Africa, their beacon of light. “Where we live, there is not enough land for everyone, we are too many in my family,” says Abeba, counting with the fingers on both hands the number of brothers in his family. “If I go to South Africa, after two or three years I can afford to buy a house. If you work for twenty years in Ethiopia you can’t buy anything,” he says. Another young Ethiopian adds, “If you need a job there, you have to belong to a certain family that has land. My family doesn’t have any.” For many, leaving the country wasn’t a choice. It was their last hope for survival.

Prisoners in Maula get food only once a day. They usually eat a plate of nsima - ground maize that fills the stomach but doesn’t give many nutrients. Beans are an occasional treat. Nutrition is so poor that last month Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had to treat 18 inmates for moderate-to-severe malnutrition

Visas and Trafficking

As many as “30,000 kids trafficked in SA” read a headline in The Times in October 2013. A similar article appeared in the Pretoria News, suggesting that “at least 30,000 children” are trafficked and prostituted annually in South Africa and “50 per cent of them are under the age of 14”. Rawlins said she had been misquoted in the Pretoria News article and said she had told the newspaper that there are 30,000 children “currently” being prostituted in South Africa, not annually as they reported. However, the International Organisation for Migration’s 2008 report “No Experience Necessary”: The Internal Trafficking of Persons in South Africa does not estimate that there are 30,000 children currently being trafficked for the purpose of prostitution in South Africa. Nor does it claim that 50% are under the age of 14. The paper attributed the claim to Roxanne Rawlins of Freedom Climb, “a project that works with trafficked people around the globe”. In May 2013, Margaret Stafford, the coordinator for the Salvation Army’s anti-trafficking campaign, reportedly told The Star:  “In 2010, we had 20,000 to 30,000 children prostituted – now the figure stands at 45,000.”

Are 30,000 children trafficked each year in South Africa? The South African government is citing it as a reason for introducing stricter regulations for children traveling into and out of the country. The South African Department of Home Affairs started enforcing new travel regulations in June 2015. Children under the age of 18 must now carry their full, or “unabridged”, birth certificate when crossing SA's borders. This shows the names of both parents. A month before the regulations came into effect, director-general of the department, Mkuseli Apleni, briefed Parliament on the new travel requirements. In his presentation he was reported to have claimed that an estimated 30,000 children were trafficked through South Africa every year. His presentation stated that one of the benefits of requiring minors to travel with an unabridged birth certificates was “protecting them from child trafficking”.

Available research only sheds light on detected victims. International Organisation for Migration reported assisting 306 victims of trafficking in the southern African region between January 2004 and January 2010. Of these, 57 were children. In 2011, they reported assisting 13 victims in South Africa, but did not state how many were children. In its 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime stated that “the police reported to have detected 155 victims of trafficking (of all ages) during the fiscal years 2011/12 and 2012/13” in South Africa. Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba in June this year said his department had recorded no instances of child trafficking between 2009/10 and 2011/12. Between 2012/13 and 2014/15 they had detected 23 victims.

The director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, Professor Ann Skelton, has said her centre believes the new requirements are “far too broad” and that “the inconvenience to ordinary people far outweighs the actual risk of trafficking”.

Liesl Muller and Patricia Erasmus, both attorneys at Lawyers for Human Rights, previously told Africa Check that the measures will not prevent child trafficking. “Real human traffickers don’t follow legitimate and documented methods of travel but cross the border in illegitimate and clandestine circumstances. The regulations won’t prevent this,” they said.

The sex work industry and human trafficking are often presented as linked and interdependent but the reality is that there is little tangible evidence available that human trafficking within South Africa plays a large part in the sex trade. In a 2010 brief for the African Centre for Migration and Society, researchers Marlise Richter and Tamlyn Monson highlighted the importance of not conflating sex work and human trafficking: “The difference between sex work and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is that sex work reflects an individual’s decision to engage in a sexual transaction, while exploitation through trafficking occurs against the will of the victim.” A senior researcher at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies’, Chandre Gould, found little evidence of trafficking in the sex industry in Cape Town. Only 8 of the 164 women she canvassed said that they had at one time been a victim of human trafficking-like practices. “This finding is likely to cause controversy,” she writes. “An enormous amount of donor money is available specifically for projects that counter trafficking, so organisations working in this area potentially stand to lose funding if trafficking is not in fact as prevalent as assumed.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Money for safety

South Africa is a major destination for migrants and asylum seekers from all over the continent. In 2014, it received over 86,000 asylum applications, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, more than twice the number received in the UK. But just under one in 10 of those applications were approved – one of the lowest approval rates in the world.

In South Africa, asylum seekers and refugees in need of documentation often have no choice but to pay for it. So says a new report exposing how corruption and bribery have permeated nearly every level of the country’s asylum system: from border crossings, to queues outside refugee reception offices, to what takes place inside those offices.

The report, carried out by the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, together with Lawyers for Human Rights, surveyed more than 900 respondents, the majority of them asylum seekers, and found that nearly a third had experienced corruption at some stage in the process. “It is corruption everywhere,” said one respondent interviewed outside Marabastad Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Pretoria, which according to the report is the most corrupt of the country’s five RROs. “They ask for money. You pay, but they don’t help you. If you can give R2,000 to R5,000 (US$162 to $404) you can get refugee status.”

An interpreter employed by the Department of Home Affairs at Marabastad said that asylum seekers were routinely asked for money in exchange for a positive outcome on their applications.

13 percent of respondents said that border officials asked them for money. 22 percent of respondents said they were asked for money while queuing outside an RRO, usually by security guards or brokers claiming to have connections with staff inside. At Marabastad, more than half of the respondents experienced corruption in the queue. 31 percent reported being asked for money in exchange for being assisted once inside the office.

Asylum seekers unable to renew their permits before they expire are liable for fines, a system that opens up another opportunity for corruption, with fines often being paid directly to RRO staff, according to the report. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Africa – Starvation and Speculation (2011)

Africa – Starvation and Speculation (2011)

From August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Starvation – the inability to buy the things to sustain life – is still stalking Africa.
George Soros is one of the great men of capitalism. He’s the Chairman of Soros Fund Management, a Hedge Fund that is estimated to have assets of approximately $27 billion, and the vehicle that has enabled him to become the 35th richest person in the world. He’s admired in the financial world as the “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England” when he pocketed a reported $1 billion in 1992 from the Black Wednesday UK currency debacle. He’s renowned for his philanthropy and as a supporter of liberal ideas. He has been described as a “distinguished thinker”. Consequently people take notice when he asserts that: “Most of the poverty and misery in the world is due to bad government, lack of democracy, weak states, internal strife, and so on” (
It’s fortunate that Soros decided to become one of capitalism’s speculators rather than a doctor, because his diagnosis of poverty and misery is simply a list of a few of their symptoms. The business Soros is a “respected” member of, and his charitable interest in Africa through the Soros-affiliated organisation, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, coincided with a BBC report last year (8 June) that: “Hedge funds are behind ‘land grabs’ in Africa to boost their profits in the food and bio-fuel sectors… Hedge funds and other speculators had, in 2009 alone, bought or leased nearly 60m hectares of land in Africa – an area the size of France”. The word ‘profits’ in the BBC’s report is the cause of ‘poverty and misery’.
Global food prices have hit all-time highs during the past year, which is the driving force behind the African “land grab”. The BBC reported (23 June) that: “The World Bank says that since June last year, rising and volatile food prices have led to an estimated 44 million more people living in poverty, defined as under $1.25 (£0.77) a day. It estimates that there are close to one billion hungry people worldwide”. The G20 ministers two-day meeting in Paris in June did nothing to resolve any of these problems, as the same BBC report went on to say: “They have agreed to look at new rules to tackle food price speculation. However, it remains to be seen whether these will be adopted. This is because any moves to target speculators in the food commodity markets will have to be agreed by G20 finance ministers at a later date.” Not very good news then if you’re starving now.
Duncan Green, Head of Research for Oxfam GB gave his appraisal of the G20 meeting on his blog ( “Verdict on G20 food summit? Dismal, please try harder.” And Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement said: “The UK government’s stance in defence of excessive speculation is untenable. It must put its weight behind European plans for regulation, putting the needs of hungry people before the profits of banks like Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital”(
Africa is the embodiment of capitalist exploitation. For almost four centuries it has been systematically plundered for its raw materials and human labour. Although the African slave trade dates back to the 7th century with the Muslim conquest of the southern Mediterranean basin, and was also a well-established part of the institutional structure of African society, it never gained any real economic momentum until it came into contact with European traders. 
By the middle of the 17th century capitalism was throwing off the fetters of European feudalism. Britain was at the forefront of that change. The agrarian capitalist of the past few centuries was giving way to the industrial capitalist, and the African slave trade played a leading role in the growth of that embryo.
At the start of the eighteenth century the British trade in slaves was dominated by London-based merchants, but after 1730, Bristol and finally Liverpool saw the majority of slave ships sail from their ports to acquire their human cargo. The returning cargoes were the product of the slaves’ labour: sugar, tobacco and the industrial input – raw cotton. This set in motion a dramatic expansion in intercontinental trade, vital to the development of capitalism. The importation of sugar, tea and tobacco were the foundations of consumer expansion, as was their re-export. As was to a larger extent the production of cotton, which was a significant factor in America's primitive accumulation of capital and their advance towards a capitalist state.
The trade in human labourers thrived until the early nineteenth century. Throughout this period the death knell for slavery was steadily being rung by the growth in wage labour. With slavery the slave is the commodity, with wage labour the labour-power of the worker is the commodity, the buyer of which is the capitalist and the seller is the labourer. The price of that labour-power is the wage paid to the labourer. 
The emergence and expansion of waged labour was the defining element in the growth of capitalism. Within the space of a few centuries a substantial segment of global society had undergone a transition from one means of feeding, clothing and sheltering itself to another. The trade in African slaves and the concomitant growth in consumer commodities created new capital, new markets, new technology, new mercantile methods, and helped to bring about the exponential growth in waged labour.  However, the conclusion of the legalised trade in African slavery simply led to a new quest for profits. 
The historian J R Seeley argued in 1883 that “Britain acquired an empire in a fit of absence of mind”. Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, and Belgium must also have been visited by the same malady, and at exactly the same time. Most of Africa was colonised by the European powers by the time of Seeley’s book. New markets and new materials to profit from have to be continually sought. When located they must be protected by the state. That is the logical solution to an economic imperative integral to capitalism. State-backed capitalists and speculators, like Soros, throughout Europe had common aims in the late nineteenth century – expansion into Africa.
The natural resources freely available in Africa were a prize that most capitalists would logically covet. An illiterate and unorganised labour force was an added incentive. Draconian work methods were imposed on the workforce to extract those resources that made contemporary European factories seem almost genteel.
There’s an Ibo saying “when two Brothers fight, Strangers always reap the harvest”. That encapsulates the aftermath of European imperialism in Africa. From Algeria to Zimbabwe almost every African state has been affected by war for decades. The control by small elites of natural resources remains the prime cause for much of the slaughter, poverty and misery which are by-words for the daily lives of many, many Africans. Western capitalists and speculators, remain as firmly entrenched in Africa today as they were during Cecil Rhodes’s era who summed up the capitalist view of Africa: “We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories” [].
Modern land grabs
A new impetus is driving capitalism’s elite – how they can profit from mass hunger. The Observer reported last year (7 March) that a “land rush” in Africa: “ has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages which followed the sharp oil price rises in 2008, growing water shortages and the European Union's insistence that 10 percent of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015… Leading the rush are international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds as well as UK pension funds, foundations and individuals attracted by some of the world's cheapest land.” But it isn’t just land that’s of interest: “the Saudi investment company Foras, backed by the Islamic Development Bank and wealthy Saudi investors, plans to spend $1bn buying land…but is also securing for itself the equivalent of hundreds of millions of gallons of scarce water a year. Water, says the UN, will be the defining resource of the next 100 years”.
Even the academics are not shy when it comes to turning a profit, as the Guardian reports (8 June): “Harvard and other major American universities are working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which may force many thousands of people off their land, according to a new study.” 
China began its search for raw materials much earlier as the BBC reports. “In almost every corner of Africa there is something that interests China. The continent is rich in natural resources that promise to keep China's booming, fuel-hungry economy on the road. There is copper to mine in Zambia, iron ore to extract in Gabon and oil to refine in Angola.” But like all such reports the writer is compelled to include the benefits for the workers: “Many Chinese firms employ large numbers of local workers but wages remain low. However, there is evidence that workers are learning new skills because of the availability of Chinese-funded work. Taking advantage of low labour costs, the Chinese are also building factories across Africa. Observers say Beijing appears ready for the long haul in Africa” (26 November 2007). And why wouldn’t they have every intention of staying? Cheap, unorganised labour, and an abundance of nearby natural resources is the fulcrum that creates new capital. A few Chinese capitalists will enrich themselves, but the African workers who produce those riches through their labour power will live out their lives in poverty and misery.
Slavery is still with us or what is nowadays termed “forced labour”. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are at least 12.3 million people in forced labour worldwide; 660,000 of those in Sub-Saharan Africa. As much as slavery is alive so too is the slave mentality – imploring the master to be kind. However, the master is capitalism and it is out of any organisation’s or individual’s control. It cannot be legislated away. There is no lever to be pulled or button to be pressed that can make it more humane. 
The World Development Movement asks its supporters to become involved by cycling from London to Paris, recycling your phone, putting WDM in your will, getting green energy, and investing ethically. I’m sure that George Soros and his class are trembling in fear at their proposals. 
Starvation caused by poverty – the inability to be able to buy the commodities that can sustain your life – seems to be looming large for a great many of our fellow human beings. Anyone who genuinely wants an end to poverty has to confront the cause. The cause is the profit system. Capitalism. The only cure is a socialist revolution, not a bicycle ride to Paris. 
Andy Matthews

Cote D'Ivoire: Pre-Election Concerns

Five years after Côte d’Ivoire’s disputed presidential election threw the country into turmoil and left more than 3,000 dead, its people are set to go to the polls again. Could we see similar unrest this October or will the West African nation turn the page and move forward?
Former president Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to quit when declared the loser of the 2010 election to Alassane Ouattara, is now in The Hague charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with crimes against humanity.
Côte d’Ivoire’s economy is booming and Ouattara has gained popularity. Gbagbo – seen as the only viable challenger – is unable to run.

There is every chance the vote will pass off peacefully, but this doesn’t mean all has been forgiven between the two camps.

The Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was supposed to forge unity and resolve long-standing political and ethnic divisions, is one of the country’s most unpopular institutions and Ouattara is accused by some of presiding over “victor’s justice.”

With less than three months to go until the election, human rights experts and political analysts identify three key areas of concern:

Political prisoners
The detention of as many as 700 political prisoners remains a deeply divisive issue. Supporters of Gbagbo demand their release, but his opponents say justice must be served.
“The current government is not willing to create the conditions for a peaceful society,” Dahi Nestor, president of the pro-Gbagbo opposition’s National Youth Coalition for Change, told IRIN. “It continues to keep innocent people in prison. This is an attack on democracy. A normal country cannot go to elections with hundreds of political prisoners in its jails.”
Ouattara and his government maintain that those imprisoned were not arrested because of their political affiliation but because they broke the law. “We want reconciliation,” the president said, “but we do not want a lawless country.”

Selective justice?
The sentencing in March of former first lady Simone Gbagbo and two co-accused to 20 years in prison for “undermining state security” - and of some 65 others supporters of her husband to shorter terms -was confirmation to opponents of Ouattara of a lop-sided justice process.

Both sides were accused of civilian massacres in 2010-2011 and yet only those allied to the former president have been convicted of any crimes.
“Unfortunately, we will not have this equal justice before the next election, because the more we advance towards this deadline, the more that resources and attention are diverted to the polls,” Barthélémy Touré, a political analyst in Abidjan, told IRIN.

Too scared to return
Côte d’Ivoire’s constitution says no citizen can be forced into exile, but nearly 50,000 Ivoirians, including political and military exiles who fled to Liberia, Ghana, Togo and other countries during the 2010-2011 crisis, still cannot - or will not - return home, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.
Despite pleas from Ouattara for them to come back, many say they fear ending up in jail or being persecuted if they do.
Franck Kouakou Tanoh, a member of the Young Patriots – a pro-Gbagbo youth movement – has been exiled in Ghana since April 2011. “It is not the urge to return that we lack,” he told IRIN by phone, adding that he just don’t believe assurances that they will be treated fairly.
The opposition is also demanding the return of its leaders, including Gbagbo and former head of the Young Patriots Charles Blé Goudé, who is also awaiting trial by the ICC. The opposition says it plans to boycott the October elections if its demands aren’t met.

from here with more links

Election Day Notes From 'Burundi Diary'

BUJUMBURA, 21 July 2015 (IRIN) - The presidential election finally took place today. Across the country, according to state radio and other stations still on the air, things are fine. For me, what’s important isn’t so much this election. I am more worried about people’s security. I wonder about people who can’t sleep well because they have fled or because strangers come into their homes. Last night I heard grenades going off and gunshots in several parts of Bujumbura, including Kamenge, an area which had been calm up to now. One resident there told me, “We also heard the music at night.” It made me realise that people have become so used to gunfire.
There are few independent or private media journalists left in this country. It’s hard to find reliable information. After the explosions, the place was abuzz with text messages and phone calls: “What’s happening? Who is shooting? Why?"
Some people think journalists know everything about what’s going on. We don’t, even if information often comes first from us and is later confirmed by the authorities. The police have yet to explain the who and why of the shooting.
This morning I woke up as normal. I called a colleague from the Iwacu Press Group, the only private media company still functioning since the attacks on the press that followed an aborted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza in May. We’re to work together, which is great; otherwise there’s a risk of being kidnapped, and then who would tell our family? That’s how it is now. 

I didn’t see a lot of people voting today while visiting polling stations in the Bujumbura districts of Taba, Kamenge, Gihosa, Rohero and Nyakabiga. Outside the capital, according to media reports, turnout was quite high. But in the city, according to the chairman of the electoral commission, voters only turned up in dribs and drabs. This was no surprise: turnout for the parliamentary elections held on 29 June was below 30 percent.

In some polling stations I visited, I saw voters trying to remove the indelible ink from their finger with lemon juice. Others put oil on their finger before voting so that when the ink was applied, it came off easily. It seems they didn't want to be clearly identified as having voted.

This morning there was a spate of criticism of the election. Belgium, our former colonial power, and the United States, both said the polls lacked credibility and shouldn’t be held.
We’ve heard all this before. People deplore the closure of political space, and then what? I wouldn’t give my life to a politician but I believe in the future of this country and its youth. I believe if you give people a chance they will do better. What I and other young people miss now is a chance for stability. We’ve had problems for a long time. We’ve been burying our loved ones for a long time. We don’t really know those who have bereaved us because there have been no credible investigations.
I am not going to have more than I had before because of these elections.
Burundians like me expected stability from credible elections. Whatever happens, we need stability. That’s all. For now, this stability is absent. Can you conceive of 161,000 refugees? It’s shocking to call family members in the province of Nyanza Lac and find their phones switched off. Why? They’ve fled the country, school children included. They finished the school year but missed their exams and left for camps in Tanzania. Tanzania has become another home for many in my family. I don’t know if these elections will bring them back or other Burundians suffering in camps in Congo and Rwanda.

from here and for previous diary entries, see here 

Amin, Africa and the World (1976)

Amin, Africa and the World (1976)

From the September 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The way to stop understanding of events is to show them as resulting from personal misconduct or mismanagement by those in charge. Had Hitler not been mad and bad, the Second World War would never have happened. Stalin's treacherousness made Russia what it is. But for a succession of weak and untrustworthy leaders, the Labour Party would have brought us all to the Promised Land. This view of history means we are perpetually invited to look at figures idiotic and corrupt, and put all the blame on them. Without doubt they are all as objectionable as stated, but that is not the answer. The high chairs in which these characters sit are provided by capitalism, and at some time of need each appeared to be the ideal occupant.

The special place of buffoon-turned-villain is held at present by President Amin of Uganda. Since his regime began it has been characterized by killings, culminating in the "Makerere massacre" of over 100 students in August this year. It has included the deportation of Asians in 1972, and a series of international incidents; in July there was a confrontation with Kenya, and on the 28th July Britain broke of diplomatic relations with Uganda. There have been attempts at uprisings and to assassinate Amin. On 1st August The Observer had an editorial headed "Getting rid of Amin".

The fact is that Amin's takeover in January 1971 was supported by Israel and favoured by Britain. A lengthy article in The Observer on 15th August recalled that the previous Prime Minister of Uganda, Dr. Milton Obote, had at the end of 1969 introduced a "Move to the Left" policy that was "Britain's reason for welcoming the coup d'état 13 months later". On Amin's accession, the article went on: "The British Government was delighted . . . One of Amin's first acts was to de-nationalize the British businesses taken over by Obote." Israel viewed Uganda under Amin as as an ally against the Arab states. While these relationships lasted, Amin was presented as a not-unsympathetic clown; since they were reversed, the Ugandan regime has been shown as a reign of terror.

Uganda was formerly a British protectorate, and remains part of the British Commonwealth. In the 19th century and up to World War II trade was carried on by a number of European countries and Asian traders; there were thriving cotton, coffee and timber industries, and large stocks of timber were contributed to war production for Britain. The wartime increases in world prices for cotton and coffee brought economic advances and the importation of industrial machinery and this in turn promoted ideas of nationalism. British companies still operate in Uganda — according to a report in The Times on 29th July they include Unilever and the ubiquitous Lonrho group, and subsidiaries of Grindlays, Barclays and Standard banks.

The concern with Uganda and other African states today is their relationship with the conflicting interests of the big powers. In East Africa, Somalia is backed and armed by the Soviet Union. Ethiopia is armed by America, but has officials who talk the parrot-jargon taught by Russia. In June this year the American government provided Kenya with a 44 credit for the purchase of 12 American fighter aircraft. A report in The Times on 20th July said:
In the American view, Soviet and Chinese arms supplies to the African states in recent years have completely altered the balance of power, and this must now be redeemed. Kenya is an obvious starting point.
In the week of Amin's Makerere massacre 98 men were executed in the Sudan for taking part in a revolt supported by Libya and other Arab countries (Times, 6th August) without expressions of horror from the western world.

Amin's support in finance, arms and technical personnel comes from the Arab states, particularly Libya, which is in turn supplied by Russia. In the flare-up between Uganda and Kenya it was said that neither America nor Russia wanted to see a shooting war develop in this part of Africa and had advised caution to both sides and their neighbours. Nevertheless, the balance between Africa and Middle East states and the major powers which "handle" them is like that of the Balkan states and Europe before 1914. It is absurd to imagine that this position would be different if Uganda, Libya and other states had more amiable rulers. In some cases they had different ones, who were made unacceptable by the situation instead of the opposite happening.

The continual threat of war is created by the worldwide working of capitalism. The major powers all want to exploit Africa far more intensely than was done under direct imperialism; at the same time the nationalism of the African countries provides a market for arms production. According to figures in the 1976 Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in the Middle East "where the arms trade had been most conspicuous" nearly 16 per cent of the region's gross product was being spent on military purposes.

The cause of war remains the same: conflicts among the capitalists of various nations over markets, trade routes and resources of production. Of course it is masked by diplomacy and and political motives. The last major war fought more or less openly for markets was World War I. The immediate factors in the modern world are control of strategic points and influence over particular sections, presented as a conflict between "ideologies". Ultimately, however, all wars are economic. The balance of power in Africa is between the growing and aspiring ruling classes of the states there, their deals for aid with bigger nations, and the bigger nations' own need for oil and minerals for commodity production.

In this balance, the grotesque Amin is entirely dependent on his sponsors. The continuation of the Kenyan oil blockade in July could have caused his downfall, and from the viewpoint of his Arab allies he is unreliable and disposable; no doubt their attitude is like Samuel Pepys's — "whether it will be better for me to have him die, because he is a bad man, or live, for fear a worse should come". Meanwhile, workers in Uganda and countless other countries not only under tyrannical regimes but have the prospect of being fodder for wars, in which the enemies are a matter of permutation. This is the result of production for profit. It does not have to go on.
Robert Barltrop

Report on Mau Mau (1960)

Report on Mau Mau (1960)

Book Review from the July 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Historical Survey of the Origins and Growth of Mau Mau, carried out by Mr. F. D. Corfield, has now been issued as a Government Blue Book. It contains the following statistics of casualties up to the end of 1956
Terrorists: Killed 11,503. Captured wounded 1,035. Captured in action 1,550. Arrested 26,625. Surrendered 2,714.
Security Forces: Killed 167. Wounded 1,582.
Loyal Civilians: Killed 1,877 (including 32 Europeans). Wounded 978.
The cost of the emergency up to June 30th, 1959, is shown as £55,585,424. before the massive technical and numerical superiority of the British Government Security Forces finally overwhelmed this African uprising, all the violent measures of ruthless repression were called into use, even down to interrogation under torture and the hangman busy in the concentration camp.

Mr. F. D. Corfield, who is a former Governor of Khartoum Province, has produced a report which points a sanctimonious finger of blame at almost everyone except the British Government and the narrow interests that they represent. As an apology for the British Government, as a self righteous justification that might confuse and misdirect, the Corfield Report does a serviceable job. But as an objective historical account of the cause and development of a particularly ugly piece of human history the report is useless and in every way unworthy of its title.

The main contention of the report is that leading Africans, and in particular Jomo Kenyatta, encouraged by sympathy from many outside sources, and unwittingly aided by the facilities provided by a "liberal" government, perpetuated rebellion as a manifestation of their personal malevolence. The report says, "Without the freedom afforded them by a liberal government Jomo Kenyatta and his associates, would have been unable to preach their calculated hymn of hate." Mr. Corfield is completely convinced that the government of Kenya was pre-occupied with "...the material progress of the peoples of Kenya." He says, "One has only to read the annual reports of the provincial commissioners to realise the immense efforts made by officials and unofficials to raise the material and moral welfare of the Africans."

These are the terms in which the report ignores the naked and cruel self interest of the white landowners' mission in East Africa. For a rational society of controlled purpose to be confronted by a primitive social grouping over which it held immense technical superiority would involve problems of a most delicate sociological nature. Its approach would be scientific procedures, its motives would be humanistic. But when the envoys of European propertied society landed in East Africa to preach the Gospel of Self Interest and predatory exploitation they were interested only in smashing the social organisation of the African inhabitants and making them servants and labourers. Here surely was the bed rock basis of the Mau Mau violence. Mau Mau, though loathsome in form, arose inevitably from the indignities, the injustice and the sheer primary poverty of the African's plight. This is well known and the evidence for it is even contained in the government's own Colonial Publications. In contrast with the hypocritical Corfield report the African Labour Efficiency Survey, 1949 (Colonial Research Publications, No. 3) is a realistic appraisal of the problems of making the African a more efficient and effective wage worker.

In viewing the East African situation (in 1947) it says, "The East African comes from a tribal economy in which his human needs of sustenance can still very largely be met . . . He has not, to any significant degree been detribalised . . . The East African has not been bent under the discipline of organised work. In his primitive economy, the steady, continuous labour is carried out by women. In respect of the few working activities which in the past occupied him he was free and independent. Though the tasks he performed were prescribed by tribal law and custom, he could do them in his own way and at his own speed, for him time had no economic value. The work he did for others was not for wages, but was one of the duties arising out of his relationship with his fellows. He gave satisfaction by his work and derived a measure of contentment from it. In these circumstances he was willing to do what was required of him. To work steadily and continuously at the the will of another was one of the hard lessons he had to learn when he began to work for Europeans."

Even so, the report reveals the positive measures taken by the Kenya Government to coerce Africans into seeking wage employment. In the first instance the Kikuyu and other East African tribes were enclosed within small reserve areas which to an agricultural people was disastrous. In the terms of the report, South Nyeri, one of the three component districts comprising the Kikuyu reserved lands, had a population estimated in 1944 to be 542 to the square mile. This population density is probably among the highest in the world. As well as this the Government instituted a hut tax and poll tax, payable only directly in cash. Thus within two simple but brutal measures the authorities began to reduce the African from a dignified tribesman with a stake in his community to a dispossessed wage worker forced into white landowners' service or into industrial undertakings.

The report dwells in some detail on many reasons for the African workers' so-called inefficiency, including lack of education and poverty. It says, "Perhaps in some respects the greatest handicap is physical and arises from malnutrition." On the question of wages this report is equally forthright, " . . . it is clear that the wage plan does not ensure wages adequate to enable an African residing in any of the towns to bring up a family." Again: "It is therefore with more confidence that the whole survey team, including the medical and nutritional investigators, record their reasoned observation that they found much discontent concerning wages in relation to cost of living."

Apart from laying bare the ruthlessness of of British Colonial policy, even in modern times, the report contained a disquieting warning. Quoting a doctor who lived in East Africa for two decades it said "A doctor . . . can assert that the cause of the poor work output is more mental than physical. Malnutrition and disease play their part but, sitting and talking with the workers in their homes, one became aware of a very grave discontent which, unless constructively guided and relieved, may well threaten civil peace."

It was the violent repression that Mau Mau provoked that enabled British interests to finally destroy the Kikuyu and other tribal structures. The way is now clear for the rapid conversion of East Africans into wage workers. Mau Mau retaliation was bloody and horrible, primitive political struggles often are, but undoubtedly British colonial policy first provoked the violence.

Pieter Lawrence

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Football's Slaves

African footballers as young as 14 are being trafficked to Asia and forced to sign contracts, the BBC has learnt. Six minors are still with top Laos side Champasak United, after it imported 23 under-age players from West Africa to an unregistered football academy in February, a BBC investigation found. It has been claimed that Champasak United, a newly-formed club which plays in Laos' top league, intends to profit by selling the players in future.

Fifa regulations prohibit the movement of players to a foreign club or academy until they are 18. There are exceptions to Fifa's rules on the movement of players under the age of 18, but none of them apply in this case. In a clear breach of the world football governing body's rules, the club has fielded overseas players as young as 14 and 15 in league games this season. The minors' freedom of movement is restricted by the fact that they became illegal immigrants in March after their visas ran out. They are hoping to receive work permits but these are unlikely to arrive since all are underage. With the club having held their passports since their arrival, the boys rarely leave the stadium where they both live and train twice a day.

Some of those who have returned to Liberia have told the BBC they were poorly fed, rarely paid and received no medical assistance from the club despite contracting malaria and typhoid because of the conditions. One also described their existence at Champasak United as akin to "slave work".

One 14-year-old player, Liberia's Kesselly Kamara, says he was forced into signing a six-year deal before playing for the senior team. His contract promised him a salary and accommodation, but Kamara says he was never paid and had to sleep on the floor of the club's stadium. "It was very bad because you can't have 30 people sleeping in one room," Kamara told theBBC. “It's hard to live in a place with no windows. It made sleeping very difficult, because you are thinking about your life," said Kamara. 

The "IDSEA Champasak Asia African Football Academy" is “a fictitious academy, which was never legally established," said Liberian journalist and sports promoter Wleh Bedell "It's an 'academy' that has no coach nor doctor.”

The BBC understands there are five more minors from Liberia at the club. Along with eight senior players (six Liberians, a Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean), all are living in conditions described as "deplorable and disturbing" by Bedell. For five months, they have been sleeping on meagre mattresses in a vast room that lacks any glass on its windows and a lock on the door.

One NGO, Culture Foot Solidaire, estimates that 15,000 teenage footballers are moved out of West Africa every year - many of them illegally.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Nigerian Poverty

Poverty level in Nigeria is soaring with an estimated 70 per cent of the population, mostly rural dwellers living on less than $1.25 per day, according to ‘Bishop’ David Oyedepo.

About 50 million Nigerian youths are currently jobless.

“Nigeria is blessed with abundant natural resources that she has not been able to successfully harness to the benefit of its teeming population,” he said.  “Agriculture is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, employing approximately two-thirds of the country total labour force and contributing 40 percent to gross domestic product (GDP). Nigeria was ranked 40th out of 79 on the GHI and 156 out of 187 on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2011 human index development. According to the data from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 2012, poverty is widespread in the rural areas, where 80 percent of the population live below poverty line.”

Sunday, July 19, 2015

After apartheid, what? (1990)

Editorial from the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

So. after the nomenklatura in Eastern Europe, it is now the white minority in South Africa that has been forced to agree to negotiate on giving up its "leading role" and "guaranteed monopoly" of political power. For this is what the release of Mandela means. 

It means that those in charge of the South African state have at last publicly admitted what they have long realised in private: that they cannot maintain the law and order necessary for the proper functioning of the capitalist system they preside over without including the majority of the population in the system of political representation. Their hope is that Nelson Mandela will be able to command sufficient support among the black population to be the person with whom they can negotiate an orderly transition from apartheid to the new "non-racial democracy" that capitalism demands, indeed has been demanding for decades. 

The failure of apartheid, as an attempt to impose on a capitalist economy a caste system based on skin colour, is underlined by the fact that the party in charge of the South African state—the Afrikaner nationalist National Partei—is the same party that, under such hateful figures as Malan, Verwoerd and Vorster, introduced apartheid after 1948 as a rigid codification, and intensification, of the existing discriminatory practices against "non-whites". 

Already in 1948 apartheid was an anachronism, even from a capitalist point of view but. with the franchise restricted to "whites" most of whom were Boers in all senses of the word, the succession of parties directly representing the capitalist interest—the United Party, the Progressive Federal Party and, today, the Democratic Party—were unable to win a majority in the white parliament. Political power was exercised—and has been without a break since 1948—by the representatives of Afrikaner nationalism whose original policy was to try to reconstruct the master and servant relationship between whites and" blacks their forefathers—the people who organised the Great Trek from the Cape Province in 1836 to avoid the abolition of slavery in the British Empire—had known in the pioneer days of white colonisation. 

What the Afrikaner nationalist government sought to keep "apart" capitalism brought together. More and more Africans were drawn into capitalist industry, and not just as labourers in the mines but as workers of all kinds—clerks, accountants, bank employees as well as foremen and skilled and semi-skilled production workers—until today they form the majority of the urban working class of South Africa. 

From the 1970s onwards the development of capitalism forced the government to abandon apartheid bit by bit. First to go was the industrial colour bar under which certain skilled manual jobs were reserved for whites. Then Africans were allowed to form trade unions. Then the Pass Laws were abolished and Africans allowed to own property in the townships. Then the so-called "petty apartheid" of separate park benches, beaches and the like was relaxed. Then "coloureds" and Asians were granted some political rights. Then the Mixed Marriage Act—which criminalised sexual relations between the different "races"—was abolished. Then mixed residential areas emerged in some cities. 

All that remains—and of course it's a big all—are the laws which classify every South African into one or other "racial" group and which reserve areas for the exclusive habitation of these groups, but the De Klerk government has declared, as it had no choice but to, that these too are negotiable. 

Like all decent-minded people, Socialists are pleased at the coming demise of the obscene system of institutionalised race discrimination of apartheid. Although the coming of a non-racial regime in South Africa will allow the "non-whites" there a dignity and respect as equal human beings which they have been denied up to now, the ending of apartheid will not amount to "liberation" for the working class in South Africa. Capitalism without apartheid—which is all even the ANC wants, despite its talk of "socialism" (in reality, nationalisation, or state capitalism)—will remain capitalism and so exploitation for profit, bad housing, inadequate health care, cheap schooling, unemployment, poor transport, police brutality, pollution and all the other problems workers have to endure under capitalism will continue as well. 

The end of apartheid will not mean the end of working class problems. At most it will result in the creation of the best conditions under which the working class can struggle to protect its interests within capitalism and, more importantly, can struggle alongside the workers of the rest of the world for the non-class as well as non-racial society that socialism will be.

Remembering the past

“Gays are worse than pigs and dogs,” Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is on record to have said. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, who has described gays as “disgusting” people; and Yahyah Jammeh of The Gambia, who says gays are “mosquitoes” and “vermin”. They are homophobes.

Most African countries have a strong anti-gay cultural environment reinforced by stern anti-gay laws. Uganda and Nigeria passed separate anti-gay laws about a year ago, which prescribe harsh custodial sentences for gays. Homosexuals in Africa are targets of instant injustice. They are, either stoned to death, or burnt alive by marauding crowds with beastly abandon. Anything “un-African” must be intolerable to Africans, and must be purged by ‘any means necessary’ – even lynching.

Africa’s sexual minorities are fighting back. “Who defines what is un-African?” They are falling on ancient traditional practices documented by anthropologists, to counter what in their view, is a misinformed perception about homosexuality being alien to Africa.

A report titled: Expanded Criminalisation of Homosexuality in Uganda: A Flawed Narrative / Empirical Evidence and Strategic Alternatives From an African Perspective, prepared by Uganda’s sexual minorities, says anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe, have clearly shown that homosexuality has been a “consistent and logical feature of African societies and belief systems,” throughout the Continent’s history. Other anthropologists like Thabo Msibi of the University of KwazuluNatal, Marc Epprecht, E. Evans-Pritchard and Deborah P. Amory have reached similar conclusions.

The first documented case of homosexuality has been traced to Egypt (Africa) in 2400 BCE. Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, two male “overseers and manicurists of the Palace of the King” were depicted in a nose-kissing position in Egyptian art. In a 2000-year-old “explicit” San Bushman painting, which depicts men having anal sex with each other. Also, the Nzinga – a warrior woman in the Ndongo Kingdom of the Mbundu – who ruled as ‘‘King” rather than “Queen”, was documented by a Dutch military attaché, in the late 1640s, dressed as a man surrounded in her harem, by young men dressed as women she called “wives”. A clear manifestation of early transgenderism and transvestitism in Africa.

E. Evans-Pritchard also recorded that the Azande, or Zande of Northern Congo, practised an institutionalised traditional custom, which allowed older warriors to marry younger men, who were between 12 and 20 years old. They served them as “wives”. The warriors, according to anthropologists, paid a “brideprice” to the family of the young men they married, just as happens in heterosexual marriage contracts within the same traditional setting. The “boy-wives” served their “warrior-husbands” sexually, and domestically. Once married, the warrior-husband referred to his boy-wife’s parents as “gbiore” (father-in-law) and “negbiore” (mother-in-law). A precursor of gay marriage in Africa.

Eighteenth century anthropologist, Father J-B. Labat, is thought to have documented the Ganga-Ya-Chibanda, the presiding priest of the Giagues – a group within the Congo Kingdom, as routinely cross-dressing and being referred to as “grandmother”: another anthropological evidence of primordial transvestitism in Africa, it seems. And there’s a plethora of them.

The “Chibadi”, found in Southern Africa, were thought to have practised transvestitism. They were documented by a Jesuit in 1606, to have expressed aversion to, and embarrassment at, being called men.

Also, effeminate transvestites in 17th century Angola, were documented by Portuguese priests Gaspar Azevereduc, and Antonius Sequerius, to have been married by men. Such marriages were purportedly “honoured and even prized”.

Similarly, men who dressed and behaved as women in northwest Kenya and Uganda’s Iteso society had sexual relations with other men. Same-sex practices were also recorded among the Banyoro and the Langi, while in pre-colonial Benin, homosexuality was apparently seen as a natural phase for growing boys.

The Nandi and Kisii of Kenya, and parts of Eastern Africa, are also recorded to have practised female-to-female marriages, while, among the Cape Bantus, lesbianism was ascribed to women, who were in the process of becoming chief diviners, known as ‘isanuses’. Generally, in Southern Africa, many female diviners were thought to have been either homosexual, or asexual, because the divine healer is thought to be closer to women, and by extension, had spiritual proximity to nature’s fundamental source of sustenance.

Also, the rain queen of the Lobedu Kingdom in South Africa, Modjadji, is said to have taken up to 15 young wives as she saw fit. Anthropologists also claim gay sex amongst Bantu-speaking Pouhain farmers (Bene, Bulu, Fang, Jaunde, Mokuk, Mwele, Ntum and Pangwe), in present-day Gabon and Cameroon, was seen as mystical medicine for transmitting wealth. It was known as “bian nkû”ma”. Similarly, among the Nilotico Lango of Uganda, men who assumed “alternative gender status”, known traditionally as “mukodo”, could marry other men and be treated as women. Other Ugandan tribes such as the Bahima, Banyoro, and Buganda, have also been documented to practise same-sex relationship. Buganda Monarch, King Mwanga II, who was known as the Kabaka, is documented by anthropologists, to have had sex with his male subjects. Mwanga, apparently fought Christian missionaries, who attempted getting him to stop sodomising his male subjects. The Igbo of Nigeria; Nuer of Sudan; and the Kuria of Tanzania; also had homosexual practices in their cultures. Murray and Roscoe documented in their book, Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands that the Bafia people in Cameroon, saw homosexuality among young men as a normal resort to avoiding impregnating young girls during puberty. They found that boys had sex with boys as a precautionary measure for fear of impregnating girls before full maturity. Sexual affection between girls were also common in Lesotho.

Homosexuality is intricately interwoven into many African traditions, and, therefore, cannot be labeled as un-African. It predates colonialism. So, logically, the West can’t be deemed to have influenced a culture that pervaded before its forays into Africa. And besides, the West didn’t choose Africa’s tradition for the Continent. Africa is simply running away from its homosexual past.