Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hungry schoolkids

The U.N. World Food Program warns it may be forced to end school meals for more than 1.3 million children in west and central Africa unless it receives $48 million.

School begins in September and October in Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. More than half-a-million children in those countries are likely to be deprived of life-saving school meals, according to the WFP. Another 700,000 children in 11 other countries will no longer receive the crucial meals when their schools start later in the year.

Bettina Luescher, WFP spokeswoman, says the vital programs are endangered because of the competing humanitarian crises around the world. The situation in west and central Africa is especially critical, she says, because WFP is the sole or main provider of school meals in most of the region.

"Families rely on this. If we cannot deliver this, they often are really stuck,” Luescher said. “What could happen is that families take their children out of school. We have seen that all over the world — if money is being spent on school meals, the whole country will profit, the family will profit, the villages will profit." Without those WFP meals, she says, children who go to school on an empty stomach cannot concentrate, and many will become malnourished. "What it means is they … will never be as productive in the long run as other children would be,” Luescher added. “School meals help the children, especially girls, get an education."

Pay Insecurity in Security

In South Africa, the Department of Labour has announced new minimum wages for the private security sector – which will rise 7.1% with effect from 1 September 2016.

Private security has become a major industry and employer in South Africa. The number of private security officers has more than tripled that of police officers since 1997. The private industry has more boots on the ground than the police and the military combined. In 2014 there were 153,116 sworn police officials, versus nearly (487,058) half a million registered security officers. According to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira), there are over 1.87 million registered security officers in South Africa – 490,000 of which are classified as active.

Fidelity Security Group announced earlier this month that it intends to buy ADT, the South African security business belonging to US-based Tyco for approximately R1.9 billion ($140 million). ADT provides central monitoring services including video surveillance and dispatch, armed response, access control and other security-related services to more than 365,000 residential, small-to-medium sized enterprises and larger commercial customers. Upon completion of the merger, the expanded Fidelity group would have more than 168 points of presence across Southern Africa and support around 57,000 employees.

Police officers in South Africa earn between R105,000 and R156,000 a year – the average pay for private security officers is much lower  at between R37,596 and R58,752 annually.

Digest August 2016

Africa's Socialist Banner Digest August 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Healthcare in Guinea

The Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 2,500 people in Guinea, revealed how little access to medical care rural Guineans had. The health situation has improved slightly post-Ebola, but without donor money, the system would grind to a halt.

Of every 1,000 babies born in Guinea, 123 die before their fifth birthday. Thousands of babies die from preventable causes each year. For every 100,000 live births, 724 women die.

Guinea has the world’s second-highest rate of female genital mutilation (FGM), after Somalia – 97% of women between 15 and 49 have been cut. Women who have had FGM are twice as likely to haemorrhage during childbirth, and haemorrhage is the leading cause of mothers dying in Africa.

Medicine is in short supply, and health workers’ salaries rely on selling enough of it. This leads to staff shortages; most health centres have one or two health workers when they should have eight.

“The needs are identified, but the money is just not coming from the government,” says Guy Yogo, Unicef’s deputy representative in Guinea. After Ebola, the government increased its contribution to health from 2.66% to 4.66% of GDP, and has committed to 7% for next year. According to Yogo, however: “The minimum is 11-15% if you really want to have an impact.”

There is also an endemic problem with the UN’s approach.
“They give out supplies like sweets,” says Yolande Hyjazi, the country director of Jhpiego, an international health organisation. “The UN system is: what the government asks for, they buy, and that’s it. We’ve seen a lot of vacuum extraction equipment, but if you ask the staff about it they say: ‘I don’t know [what it is], the UNFPA [UN population fund] sent it.’ They give equipment without training.”

Even when staff do know how to use it, obstetric equipment does not solve a problem many women have – getting to a clinic.
Harriet Somadouno, a 20-year-old farmer in her third trimester, walked 17km to Kondiadou for a checkup, carrying 10kg of peanuts on her head to sell at the market en route.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Asian scramble for Africa

 "We have a feeling in our gut that in Africa, where possibilities abound, Japan can grow vigorously," Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged.

Starting this year, Japan will make a $10bn investment in the continent's infrastructure development, focusing on electrical power, urban transport systems, roads and ports. An additional $20bn will flow into Africa through investments from Japan's private sector.  

In 2015, Japanese trade with the continent stood at $24bn (China, Africa's largest trading partner, recorded total trade in Africa was worth approximately $179bn)

Seijiro Takeshita, an economist and professor at the University of Shizuoka, said, Japan wants to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council and they would want to get more people agreeing to this agenda." He continued "Another reason is that not only Japan, but China's neighbouring nations are all feeling this extreme aggression by China and that is one of the reasons why Abe has pointed out he wants a free and open Pacific-Indian sea strategy. This is basically to ward off the continuous aggression that the neighbouring nations are feeling from China."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Tanzanian Food Surplus and Poverty

 Lack of political will to invest in agriculture in Africa has led to a vicious cycle that could keep costing the continent billions of dollars annually. The president of the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Mr Kanayo Nwanze, says Africa spends $35 billion a year to import food, money that could have been used to create jobs in agriculture. While Africa has a quarter of the world's arable land, it only generates 10 per cent of global agricultural output. "If even a portion of the money used for food imports was spent on creating jobs in rural areas, not only would the world's largest youth population see a viable future on the continent, but Africa would be able to feed itself," Mr Nwanze adds. 

Employing directly and indirectly about 65.5 per cent of Tanzanians, contributing 29 per cent to GDP and comprising 30 per cent of exports and 65 per cent of inputs to the industrial sector, agriculture is the veritable backbone of the Tanzanian economy. But one could be forgiven for thinking that adequate public investment is being poured into the sector to add value to the livelihoods of at least 35 million Tanzanians. Budgetary allocations in the agriculture sector are inadequate and have been the cause of its slow growth, making higher earnings for the rural population a far-fetched dream.

Poor investment in agriculture has made Tanzania in particular and Africa in general a net food importer, wasting the limited financial resources that could have been invested in the sector and create millions of jobs.

Tanzania's food import situation is worrying. Available statistics show that the country spent Sh885.8 billion ($421.8 million) on food and foodstuff imports in the 12 months between May 2015 and May 2016, according to the Bank of Tanzania. This is equivalent to 88.5 per cent of the total budget for the agriculture sector in 2015/16.

Tanzania spends significant resources on food imports despite the fact that the country is considered food self-sufficient with food production exceeding 100 per cent of demand "in years of adequate rainfall". Tanzania had a food surplus of 2.6 million tonnes following more than adequate rains and harvests during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 farming seasons. The country harvested about 15.5 million tonnes of food in 2014/15 (to be consumed in the 2015/16 financial year). Among these, 8.9 million tonnes were grain and 6.6 million tonnes non-cereal harvests. The total food demand in 2015/16 was 12.9 million tonnes (8.2 million cereal and 4.8 non cereal) Food supply analysis shows that Tanzania is food sufficient by 120 per cent, down from 125 per cent in 2014/15,

Among the 25 Mainland regions, however, only nine regions had food surplus, six were food sufficient and six had food shortages in the period under review. Despite good harvests, at least 69 district face serious food shortages.

Experts say famine persists in Tanzania due to extreme poverty as well as poor infrastructure and inadequate distribution channels.

Quote of the Day

"They are thinking that what happened in the Arab Spring is going to happen in this country but we tell them that it is not going to happen here," Mugabe told state television

South Sudan's Misleaders

One year after South Sudan's peace agreement, the head of the truce's monitoring group has said the country is worse off today than it was before.

Festus Mogae, head of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) and former Botswanan president, said that the largest problems stemmed from "security... that is where we've made the least amount of progress."

Mogae said the main reason behind the peace agreement's failure stems from the "bad blood" between Kiir and Machar, rather than the deal itself.  "It was never with the agreement...We were trying to persuade him [Kiir] that they were leaders and they should think of the welfare of the people, but they failed to do that…the leaders as a whole have duty to work together to bring about peace and being to develop this country," said Mogae. "For now, the people of South Sudan are worse off than before."

Tens of thousands of people died in the conflict that followed. Many starved to death. More than two million people were displaced.

Friday, August 26, 2016

British slave history

For more than 200 years Britain was the heart of a most lucrative transatlantic human trade which enslaved millions of Africans.   In the 245 years between John Hawkins first voyage and the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, merchants in Britain despatched about 10,000 voyages to Africa for slaves, with merchants in other parts of the British Empire perhaps fitting out a further 1,150 voyages.  Even with the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act by Parliament in 1807, slavery was not abolished in the British colonies until the Slavery Abolition Act (1833).  At this point in time, according to the Slave Compensation Commission, the government body established to evaluate the claims of the slave owners, there were 46,000 slave owners in Britain.  Between 1562 and 1807, British ships carried up to three million people into slavery in the Americas.  Most bizarrely when slavery was abolished, it was not the slaves who were compensated but the approximately 3,000 British slave owners who received £20m (£1.6bn today) in compensation.

In 1662 the British established its headquarters on the Gold Coast (today Ghana) a few miles east of Elmina, giving competition to the Dutch who were already in the region. And just one hundred miles south from the mouth of the Senegal River is the island of Gorée where the French had built a fort and extended its colonial presence to the north bank of the Gambia River.  Across the river: a British fort. This area became for many years to follow a conflict zone between the competing colonising powers of France and Great Britain.  So when you look at a map of how African nations are geographically, it is often a sign of where one colonial power had influence over the local people and/or other colonising nations.

From here 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dim future for African children

Sub-Saharan Africa’s children are being left behind amid global progress in poverty reduction and will account for nearly half of the world’s poor people by 2030, raising the risk that the continent’s young population could become a “time bomb”, a new study has found. Many African countries have young populations that have the potential to translate into a fast-growing workforce and boost economic growth, creating a so-called “demographic dividend”. However, if those young people do not have skills or job opportunities they can instead become a burden on governments.

By 2030, more than 147 million African children will be living below the $1.90 per day extreme poverty threshold, according to a report published on Wednesday by the UK-based Overseas Development Institute. The continent will account for almost 90 per cent of extreme poverty among children, up from 50 per cent today, implying that progress in other areas such as ending malnutrition and early marriage will be slow. If African governments fail to harness this generation of children to accelerate growth and drive development, they could become trapped “in a vicious circle of marginalisation”, the study warns.

“The current trajectory is not encouraging”, said Kevin Watkins, executive director of the ODI and co-author of the report. “Africa is losing out big time on growth in part because of a failure of governments to tackle the inequalities and invest in the human capital needed to accelerate the demographic transition.”

Africa is also yet to achieve the “demographic transition” seen in Asia, where increasing rates of child survival were eventually accompanied by declining fertility. As a result, a growing share of the world’s children are being born into African countries that have the slowest rates of poverty reduction, according to the report. The report says that Africa’s average birth rate is 4.7 children per woman, twice the number in South Asia. It also found that women in many African countries were having more children than they wanted to as they could not access contraceptives. For example, in Nigeria — which will account for 6 per cent of births globally between 2015 and 2030 — the fertility rate is 15 per cent higher than it would be if women had the number of children they say they want.

African governments are generally behind the curve in addressing the gender imbalances that keep young girls and women from managing fertility, Mr Watkins said: “There is no starker illustration of these disparities than the conspicuous failure of most African leaders to tackle the scourge of child marriage — a practice that exposes young girls to enormous risks and drives up fertility rates.” The report also argued that tackling inequality through education — for example, by keeping poor girls in school longer — could help bring down fertility rates. Rwanda was an exception, the study noted, citing data that pointed to a fall in fertility rates from 6.1 to 4.6 births per woman between 2005 and 2010, partly due to an increase in contraceptive use amid rapid economic growth.

Low wages in South Africa

Last month, a Labour Court appeals judgment referred to the salary paid to a cashier by Woolworths as shocking.

“At the time of her dismissal, she was working at the appellant’s store at Maponya Mall in Soweto earning a shocking monthly salary of R2 090.21,” reads the judgment.

The reality is that, for more than five million South Africans, a job is not a ticket out of poverty because they earn too little.

Despite discussions about a national minimum wage having been on the cards for the past two years, very little has happened.

The National Economic Development and Labour Council established a national minimum wage advisory panel two weeks ago and it hopes to give its first round of feedback in October. The seven-member panel will also have to make a call on how much the minimum wage should be. Trade union federation Cosatu is asking for it to be about R4 500.

Swaziland's false customs

Swaziland’s King Mswati III passes suppression, unaccountability and royal opulent spending in the face of drought, starvation and poverty, as traditionally “Swazi” values. Tradition is also the basis for Swaziland’s constitution (from 2005), where the words “ accordance with Swazi law and custom” are used many times. The constitution also gives the king executive authority in Swaziland and in effect lets him determine what constitutes “Swazi law and custom”. 

The Swazi system of governance, ‘Tinkhundla’, is indeed unique”, says, Sonkhe Dube, a young exiled activist who is the International Secretary of the Swaziland Youth Congress. “They claim it is a democratic institution that encompasses traditional forms of leadership. But in a democratic state, the cabinet is not handpicked by a king who literally controls everything without being accountable to his citizens”. No culture remains frozen in time. Culture is, or ought to be, about the adjustment of society to the needs of its citizens, as well as the other way round. But according to Sonkhe Dube, the current Swazi Tinkhundla system of governance is by no means adjusting itself to the needs and wishes of the people. It is neither democratic nor even truly traditional in a Swazi sense.

“It is a system based on the manipulation of culture to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the greedy monarchy. The monarchy should stop hiding behind culture. Swazi culture in not only about ceremonies but also about social responsibilities which the present powers that be are intentionally ignoring”, says Sonkhe Dube.

King Mswati III has recently spent $ 14 million on a new personal 375-seater jet and will be spending millions of dollars more on hosting a SADC Heads of State summit this year, while a quarter of his population is starving.

In Swaziland, King Mswati’s father King Sobhuza II was given the power to appoint and dismiss chiefs and in 1957, 11 years before independence, acts of disobedience against the king were made illegal by a colonial act. The foundations that were laid for such royal hegemony were seen a couple of years after independence, in 1973, when Sobhuza II banned political parties, declared a state of emergency that is yet to be officially repealed and began ruling as an absolute monarch. Swazis are made to believe that the monarchy rules through the people by way of a traditional people’s parliament, ‘Sibaya’, say Sonkhe Dube. “But when the king called Sibaya in 2012, and the convention pronounced to the king that they wanted the Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini and his cabinet out, the king responded by keeping them. The same Prime Minister is still in charge, against the will of the people”.

Swazis are also at the mercy of the king through his chiefs in their everyday lives. “Chiefs allocate land to people and chase them out of their chiefdoms if they feel there is something wrong with them, as happened in Kamkhweli and Macetjeni, where the king sanctioned the eviction of families. The king and the chiefs also order their subjects to do voluntary manual labour in their fields. The product from the manual labour culturally has to cater for the vulnerable and orphaned, but currently it is not doing that, yet people are still required to provide labour for the chiefs and the monarchy. Culturally, the king and chiefs do not own the land but are supposed to be holding it in trust for the people”, Sonkhe Dube says.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


President Edgar Lungu has once again defeated UPND leader Hakainde Ichilema during the 11 August presidential and general elections by a slim margin of 100,530 votes. Lungu polled a total of 1,860,877 votes against Ichilema who polled 1,760,347. the overall voting pattern is the repeat of the 2015 presidential by-election in the sense that both leaders managed to retain their traditional political strongholds, viz. Ichilema received 75% of the votes in Southern, Western and North-Western Provinces, whereas Lungu was massively in Wapula, Northern, Eastern, Lusaka and Copperfield Provinces.

The victory condemns Mr. Ichilema to his fifth successive loss while extending the PF’s rule to 10 years.

The elections were held under a new constitution which required the victor secures 50% plus one vote to avoid a re-run. Lungu polled 50.4% against Ichilema’s 47.63%. The other remaining opposition politicians polled less than 1% of the votes cast.

Lungu’s triumph under the glare of international election observers and monitors is the confirmation that the PF’s pro-poor policies have not worked to the satisfaction of all Zambians – especially those who dwell in rural areas.

Indeed, after an intense campaign period and four days of anxious waiting for the final election results, Zambians poured into the streets in a wild orgy of celebrations when it was announced that Lungu had won the elections – reminiscent of 2011 when the late president Saba had defeated the former MMD leader Rupiah Banda.

Overzealous crowds sing the chorus for the now popular vernacular song “Dununa Reverse”, which had become the PF campaign slogan. With the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, such as cooking oil and meali meal – life remains still bleak along the line of rail and the capital city Lusaka for the workers, peasants and students.

Looking the seemingly small margin of the votes that separates the two presidential contenders the victory does not paint a rosy picture for the political future of the pf. It is now more certain than eve before the PF under the leadership of President Lungu is no longer a popular political party it claims to be.

Because the political campaigns preceding the elections, characterised by political hooliganism and intimidation between PF and the UPND. Celebrations heights ethnic sentiments directed against tribes who hail from regions that had unanimously voted for UPND leader Ichilema, viz. Tonga, Lozi, Kaouda, Laniba, and Luvale.

Zambia remains a divided country in terms of the voting patterns which emerged after the elections, with the traditional UPND and PF political strongholds remaining separate despite the massive economic and social programmes taking place in Southern, Western and North-Western Provinces.

The now seemingly entrenched ethnic and regional voting patterns speaks large about what motivates the way people vote in rural village communities. It is now apparent that residents in rural areas do mostly vote for a political leader to whom they have close ethnic and tribal affinities – regardless of his political credentials.

Despite having won a resounding victory above 50% Lungu came out in the open and expressed his reservations about the divisive regional voting patterns. Even before the Electoral Commission of Zambia had announced the final election results, UPND leader Ichilema stormed the facility to express his consternation in the manner the votes were tabulated. He had raised a court injunction disputing the election results.

The ruling PF suffered some political causalities in the sense that at least eight former PF ministers have lost the parliamentary seats while for the first time some ten independent candidates won the elections.

Among those who lost their parliamentary seats was the PF defence minister Richwell Siyamunene, who failed to retain his Sinazougwe seat in Southern Province. He had resigned from the UPND when he was appointed as defence minister in 2015 by Lungu. He was mobbed irate Tonga-speaking UPND political cadres and badly assaulted after having lost the election.

Indeed, the celebrations for Lungu’s victory taking place in the Copperbelt and Lusaka was reciprocated by indecent attacks against PF supporters in South Province by UPND political cadres.

Alarm bells are ringing more loudly for the future political destiny of the PF in the sense that once again the PF has failed to penetrate the UPND political strongholds of Western, Southern and North-Western Provinces. In fact it is supposed to be the indefatigable  UPND leader Ichilema who should be celebrating for having given Lungu a close and gruelling fight.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Genuine Olympic Hero

Ethiopia’s state-owned TV network has refused to broadcast footage of one of its most successful Olympic athletes crossing the finishing line or receiving his medal after he staged a political protest against oppression back home.

As Feyisa Lilesa crossed the line on Sunday he raised his arms to form an “X”, a symbol of defiance that has been used by the Oromo people in Ethiopia as part of political protests against the government. At a news conference following the race, he reiterated his defiant message."The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe," Lilesa said. “My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.” Lilesa had gone from a national hero to a man who might not be able to return to his home country. Lilesa was conscious of the danger. He immediately suggested that he might have to move somewhere else. "If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me. If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country," he said.

Most of those who watched Lilesa's spectacular silver medal performance didn't know what that meant — or just how dangerous a protest they were watching. Lilesa was protesting the Ethiopian government's killing of hundreds of the country's Oromo people — an ethnic majority that has long complained about being marginalized by the country's government. The group has held protests this year over plans to reallocate Oromo land. Many of those protests ended in bloodshed. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 people have been killed since November. In addition to those killed, many Oromo protesters are currently languishing in prison.

The plight of the Oromo and the Ethiopian government's use of force against civilians have received some attention recently, but nothing as prominent as Lilesa's defiance. Earlier this month, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said that it was “deeply concerned” about the most recent killing of protesters. But because Ethiopia remains a U.S. ally in the fight against Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab, American officials have been reluctant to offer any further condemnation.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Presidential Protection

Nearly 100 coups have been staged across Africa since 1960, presenting challenges and opportunities for outside states jockeying for power on the continent. When independence movements began to sweep through Africa in the 1950s, many of the European nations that had carved up the continent had to look for alternative ways to maintain their clout in their newly freed colonies. Former colonial powers such as France and Britain did so by installing or supporting leaders who would uphold their interests — a priority in territories with critical natural resources such as oil, diamonds, copper and uranium. The threat of instability in these emergent and often feeble nations provided their onetime parent states an impetus to lend their support, offering defense and security agreements in exchange for the continued flow of goods. France signed nearly a dozen defense agreements with its former colonies.

In 1964 a coup led by factions of the military ousted Leon Mba, the president of Gabon. At the time, Gabon was France's principal source of oil, and de Gaulle immediately ordered French paratroopers to intervene, citing the 1960 defense agreement with Gabon and quashing the new government. After reinstating Mba, elements of the External Documentation and Counter-Espionage Service, then France's external intelligence agency, stayed behind to guard his palace. Robert Maloubier, a member of the agency and a former French agent of the British Special Operations Executive during World War II, was chosen to form a new Gabonese presidential guard. Maloubier brought several expert French policemen, marksmen and bodyguard trainers to the country, building an elite guard to protect the president who had done so much to protect Paris' interests.

After Ghana gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, its leader, Kwame Nkrumah, forged closer relations with the Soviet Union. When Nkrumah bought arms from the Soviets and established a Soviet-trained presidential guard, however, the Ghanaian armed forces' long-standing ties with the British — who trained and educated Ghana's officers corps — came back to haunt him. Angered by the leader's sudden political shift and burgeoning security forces (which comprised a 1,500-member battalion and plans for a second), officers of the Ghanaian army overthrew Nkrumah in 1966.

For countries without colonial interests in Africa, the wave of independence movements offered an opportunity to make inroads in nations outside their traditional spheres of influence. Here, too, security provided an entry point. For example, when Guinea declared its independence from France in 1958, the communist world was at the ready. In time, Soviet advisers poured into the country, and Cuban military officials trained President Ahmed Sekou Toure's entire presidential guard. Having assumed control of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi turned to East German security services to train his personal guards.

In 2006, President Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic approached South African President Thabo Mbeki at an African Union meeting to ask for help in reducing his country's dependence on its former colonial master, France. Mbeki saw Bozize's request as an opportunity for South Africa to extend its power further into Central Africa, and the two countries signed a defense cooperation agreement the next year. Bozize then submitted an extensive wish list of defense assistance services — something South Africa neither could nor wanted to provide. As a compromise, Mbeki offered to furnish the Central African leader with a close protection team until South Africa could train a team of locals to give him better security. Bozize's protection team and small training mission grew slowly until 2013, when the South African National Defense Force deployed 200 additional soldiers. The troops eventually countered several thousand Seleka rebels attacking from northern Central African Republic in an attempt to take its capital, Bangui, from the Bozize government. Thirteen South African soldiers were killed in the fight, and the Bozize administration collapsed, sending its leader into exile and undermining South Africa's influence in the unstable country. In the wake of the coup, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza came to rely almost entirely on Rwandan peacekeepers for security. Samba-Panza explained her choice by citing the Central African Republic's close relations with Rwanda. The countries grew only closer as a result of the peacekeeper's service, and Samba-Panzer later appointed a consul to Rwanda.

President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) engaged Israeli advisers to train his Special Presidential Division. Given its reputation for security and its close alliance with Zaire's Cold War patron state, the United States, Israel seemed a prudent choice for Mobutu. The leader added another layer of security on top of the Israeli training and recruited only members from his ethnic group to staff his personal guard. In this way, he ensured that disgruntled bodyguards from another group would not turn on him. (Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, after all, was murdered by her Sikh bodyguards after the Indian army's assault on the most prominent Sikh holy site.) Mobutu is not the only African leader to rely on Israel's expertise in personal security.

For years, Cameroonian President Paul Biya has employed retired Israeli Gen. Mayer Heres for protection. That Heres is far removed from the ethnic intrigues that plague Cameroon has likely endeared him to Biya, a Christian from south Cameroon whose 34-year tenure in office included a 1984 coup attempt by Muslim presidential guards from the north.

In recent decades, the rise of private security and military companies has enabled African leaders to find disinterested experts to train their personal security details. For instance, TASK International, a U.K.-based firm established in 1990, trained Nigeria's presidential security guard. This type of contract offers African leaders all the skills and training of former top-level soldiers from the United Kingdom, France or the United States (among others) without the hassle of foreign governments' meddling and ambitions. President Ali Bongo of Gabon has relied heavily on the experience of Park Sang Cheol, a South Korean bodyguard who has provided his security for almost three decades.

For better or worse, African leaders have options when looking for personal security, even if some are not offered with the noblest intentions. 

As the African proverb goes, "The hand that takes is beneath the hand that gives."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

New Zimbabwe—old story (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

After that great epic series, the Lancaster House Saga (sub-title the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia talks), with its deadlocks and diplomacy, its cliffhanging and imminent walk-outs, Rhodesia now faces the prospect of some kind of limited democracy for all and a build-up of the economy with a largely African government. Since the agreement was signed in December leaders of the Patriotic Front, Nkomo and Mugabe, and many of their guerrillas, plus many Rhodesians who have been living in the UK, USA, Europe, USSR and other parts of Africa, have returned to ‘their’ country. Many of them are under the illusion that the forthcoming election will bring about changes which will enable them to live freely in a democratic society. The extent of the democracy rather depends, however, on who wins the elections, as some leaders appear to favour “one man one vote” only as long as they are victors. There are numerous reports of intimidation in some areas of the country by Mugabe’s ZANLA forces and Muzorewa’s auxiliaries.

Even though legally sanctioned discrimination by white against black—which for many years was enshrined almost along the lines of apartheid—will no longer exist, tribal conflicts are certain to continue. In any case, the freedom to buy large, expensive houses in previously white areas will be of small consequence to the average African worker, except as an abstract notion. The returning heroes will be subject to the dubious privilege of being employed and therefore exploited by a predominantly black capitalist class rather than a white one or unemployed as the case may be. No doubt they will be urged by their leaders to work hard and harder, as are workers the world over. If things go badly they may be put in prison for disobeying capitalism’s laws or even for disagreeing with the ruling party—and it is hard for even the most avid enthusiast for black liberation to convince us that incarceration by a black government is more comfortable than by a white one. The 71 former supporters of Mugabe detained on his instructions in Mozambique until recently could perhaps enlighten us as to whether their imprisonment was more pleasant than that imposed on Nkomo and Mugabe by the white regime.

There is no doubt that the Africans of Rhodesia have suffered immensely at the hands of the European settlers, who have treated them as inferior beings with a vastly lower standard of living than the whites. So many Africans, wishing to rid themselves of their oppression, took to their guns in what they regarded as a legitimate war of liberation. It is tragic that so many have offered and given their lives for a vain cause; despite the belief that true liberation is round the corner (at least if their favoured leader wins the election), they face inevitable disillusionment.

The African population inside Rhodesia has also suffered cruelly from the guerrilla war waged over the past seven years. On the one hand, people have been tortured and killed, their shops and homes have been raided, and they have been forced to feed “the boys” regardless of their own sympathies and needs, with always the threat of a bullet to discourage them from informing the government forces. On the other hand, they have been subject to extreme pressure and violence from a Rhodesian Army determined to discover the whereabouts of the “terrs”. The appalling predicament of ordinary African people caught in this trap is aptly described in an article in the Evening Standard of January 22. A white farmer on police reserve duty describes how he
“. . . came on a village minutes after a party of terrs . . . had left it. Two girls were lying untended beside a hut, bayonetted in the chest . . . I worked on those girls for an hour, to keep them alive until a truck came. Nobody in that village spoke a word or did a thing.
   Then I turned to a man who was watching: ‘Who is this girl? Your daughter?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Where did the terrs come from? Where did they go to?’ ‘Don’t know’. ‘Don’t know?’ That man said nothing until we took him to the police station.
   We did the usual—left him without food until evening then beat the hell out of him. He told us where the terrs had gone but it was too late to track them. His daughter died. Tell me what kind of creature is it that will stand there and do nothing when his daughter is dying?”
All this is complicated by the existence of the Selous Scouts, a particularly brutal crack-force of the Army, who have often been suspected of perpetrating atrocities while posing as guerrillas. The situation has been so confusing and so horrific that thousands of people have been forced by the government into protected villages (like concentration camps) and thousands more have fled to the towns. Their abject poverty and over-crowding has been seen on British television—a particularly moving example, a few weeks ago, was of people picking over the municipal rubbish dumps in Salisbury with large sacks, looking for anything to sell, as a means of livelihood. Others, not lucky enough to be living in appallingly overcrowded houses in the towns, were living on the streets with only plastic bags as shelter against the rains.

After 14 years of UDI, why has the British Capitalist class finally reached agreement round a conference table? Partly because the war has frightened out many white Rhodesians and had dire effects on the economy; partly because of pressure by “front-line” states on the guerrilla leaders to end the war and negotiate—since the economies of those countries had suffered from the effects of the war and of sanctions on Rhodesia. Machel of Mozambique, for example, was reported in The Observer of January 20 to be
". . . anxious to see Rhodesia return to normality as soon as possible since a prosperous and stable neighbour would provide a much-needed boost to his country's lagging economy.”
while Zambia had
“. . . enough maize to last only until late February or early March, nearly three months before the first of this [i.e. 1979] year’s harvest will reach the millers.
   The problem might not be so serious had not the Rhodesians cut landlocked Zambia’s two lifelines, the Tazara Railway to Dar-es-Salaam and the southern line which runs through Zimbabwe-Rhodesia to South Africa.”
If the single-track line from Zimbabwe-Rhodesia to Zambia were to break down
“Dr Kaunda would then not only face a food crisis but would also have difficulty exporting the copper on which his country depends for more than 90 per cent of its foreign earnings.”
(Guardian, December 11 1979)

Also, it is possible that nationalist leaders like Nkomo of ZAPU and Mugabe of ZANU, who were detained for many years, may have felt that their chance of power might slip from their grasp if they didn’t act soon.

Who will benefit?
So who is really going to benefit from the newly established “democracy”, from the holding of elections, from the lifting of sanctions and the expected stability and boost to the ailing economy? There are rich pickings to be had: Rhodesia is the fifth producer in the world of gold; one of the few producers outside Russia of chromium; the top grower of Virginia tobacco after the United States; Rhodesia is also a main producer of asbestos, copper and industrial diamonds. It is clear, therefore, that Britain’s interest in Rhodesia’s independence is not merely a technical matter of “loyalty to the crown”. Different capitalist groups have lent their support to different leaders in Rhodesia according to which one they judge will best serve their own interests, and the business community in general is taking a keen interest in developments there. Tiny Rowland, for example, chief executive of Lonrho, has consistently backed Joshua Nkomo although, according to the Observer of November 1 1 1979, he would
". . ally himself with whichever nationalist politician eventually becomes leader of Zimbabwe Rhodesia. Lonrho’s enormous assets there include a million acres of ranchland, besides commercial and industrial operations. These are operated by independent companies, but will revert to Lonrho when sanctions end and the new State is internationally recognised.”
What of the politics of the politicians in Zimbabwe? Do they really plan to bring socialism to that country? Hardly. There are nine black parties fighting the election but effectively only three main contenders, none of whom offers a genuine alternative of any kind: the message from all of them seems to be a general list of platitudes about peace, prosperity and racial harmony. Bishop Muzorewa is openly committed to free enterprise capitalism; Nkomo has adopted a conciliatory, pragmatic approach without reference to either capitalism or socialism and talks of increased wages and redistribution of land. And Mugabe? His image has been that of a hard-line “Marxist”. Perhaps this is demonstrated by the rally of his supporters where he “gave triumphant clenched fist salutes to the crowd and led them in the chanting of nationalist slogans” (Times, January 28). According to the Sunday Times, January 27, Mugabe’s election platform, although cautiously phrased,
“. . . is still the nationalisation of industry, the radical redistribution of land, the introduction of sweeping state controls, and above all, what he terms ‘the collective ideal’, the public ownership of the country’s natural resources, land, minerals, water and forests.”
Whether or not he wishes to establish a “communist” regime such as that in China, it would seem that he is trying to be all things to all men, to be moderate and capable of compromise as well as a “genuine socialist”, for at the same time his party policy-makers
“. . . now encourage the continuity of private enterprise in Rhodesia and accept the need for a close commercial and logistic relationship with South Africa.”
(Guardian, 28 January)

It has long been fashionable among some Rhodesian Africans to label their political opponents ‘sell-out” for cooperating with the Smith regime, for supporting Muzorewa’s opportunistic government, for making too many concessions to the British government at Lancaster House. But they fail to recognise that the whole thing is a sell-out and a sham. On one prognosis, a limited type of democracy, typical of the development of capitalism, will prevail; on another, civil war will rage. But whoever gains power, we may be sure he will be hell-bent on building up the capitalist economy and on training his citizens to become hard-working, obedient wages slaves, regardless of whether his advice, investment and technical assistance comes from the Soviet Union, Great Britain, South Africa or wherever. The hollow phrase “Victory to the Patriotic Front”, beloved by the left-wing, means for African workers the victory of a different style of exploitation.

Jack Bradley

Liberating Africa? (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a country in Africa which has so much liberty that it is actually called Liberia. It should, of course, have been christened Tyrannia so similar is it to the other “independent” states of Africa (and so independent that it almost belongs lock stock and barrel to Firestone Tyre of America). Its tyrannical ruling class is not however composed of indigenous blacks but of the descendants of former slaves who returned to Africa after the American Civil War and proceeded to make virtual slaves of the entire black population.

In many ways, Liberia has served as a prototype for the dozens of “liberated” African hell-holes which have emerged since the end of the Hitler war. The sufferings of the mass of the people in the countries that were formerly parts of the European imperialist empire are such that most people do not even have a glimmer of understanding of what goes on there. Oh yes, we all know about the slaughters in Uganda by the minions of the murderous Amin, and perhaps many people became aware that innocent black workers and peasants were butchered at will by another megalomaniac called Emperor Bokassa in a former part of the French empire called the Central African Republic. But there arc numerous other appalling regimes which have busied themselves in murdering thousands of their own populations in countries that arc barely even names in the West.

Who knows where to find Ruanda or Burundi or Upper Volta on the map (assuming you know they exist in the first place)? Who then knows that countless numbers of innocent men, women and children have been drowned in rivers of blood whose sources are their own black ruling classes? In case anyone imagines that the rulers of other African states view these events with horror, just ask the question: Now that Amin and Bokassa (to name but two) have been overthrown, what has happened to them? They are alive and well and living in other African states, enjoying the wealth they accumulated through the sweat of their black subjects. It is significant that these murderous robbers enjoy the protection of their fellow African rulers—and, let it not be forgotten, of their friends—their former European masters like President Giscard who brazens out the scandal of the diamonds he got from Bokassa—with the help of the French Communist Party which says such things don’t matter!

In fact, there is not a square yard of freedom from Cairo to the Cape (ironically there might prove to be a change in that regard in, of all places, Rhodesia, but more of that below). The facts are clear; nationalism, whether it be African, Basque, Irish, Scottish or Welsh, is a trap for the working class. It is a delusion that the workers’ wage-slave status will be different if the slaveowners are changed from white to black or from Castilian to Basque. So that all the sacrifices and all the misery that were endured to get rid of the hateful British imperialism in, say, Uganda, have merely served to change white tyrants for black ones—who in many cases proved even more monstrous. Those British leftists who backed anti-colonial movements thirty or forty years ago show not the slightest understanding of, let alone remorse about the grisly results. Fenner Brockway (now My Lord, if you please), who was formerly young and stupid and is now old and stupid, makes it clear whenever his voice is heard that he remains proud of his efforts to foist the likes of Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Kaunda upon the suffering African people.

To add to the horror of it all, pseudo-socialists like Brockway and similar people in the Labour Party and other so-called leftist organisations, not only besmirched the name of socialism by supporting these appalling nationalist movements, they still lend their names to the preposterous claim that these countries are socialist. Socialism, however, can only be brought about by the conscious understanding and support—freely and democratically given—of the majority of the working class. That understanding is a long way from being evident in countries like Britain, where the workers have a chance to register it freely if they were so minded. The notion that the majority of workers in places like Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Libya, have had an opportunity to discuss and debate the issue of capitalism or socialism and have freely and democratically elected socialists to their parliaments, is clearly absurd.

In all these countries the regimes are tyrannies, where there is no possibility of free socialist parties being allowed to propagate their views. Where, indeed, opponents of any kind are intimidated, gaoled or killed. The white regime in South Africa is undoubtedly obnoxious, but the leftists (including such organs of the capitalist press as the Guardian, the Observer, the New Statesman, Tribune) who spend so much time screaming against that regime, carefully overlook that there are more blacks rotting in the dungeons of Nyerere’s Tanzania or Mengitsu’s Ethiopia—two countries which vie for the honour of first place in Amnesty’s lists of murderous regimes—than South Africa has ever had.

In Rhodesia, at the time of writing, an election campaign is proceeding and—give or take a few murders—it seems that a number of parties, black and white (but of course all capitalists of varying hues) have the opportunity to state their views and canvass votes with all manner of reformist promises, just like good old Britain (they even vie with one another about curing unemployment just like our own con-men). Yet whether any semblance of democracy will exist when the elections are over must be gravely in doubt. The apparent leader in the race for power is Robert Mugabe, who has the impudence to call himself a Marxist (which is echoed by all the ignorant press here). This man has been running a guerrilla army for some years based in Mozambique and his ideas are so full of democratic freedoms that not only does he murder the supporters of opposing parties and even of allied leaders of the so-called Patriotic Front; he even kills and imprisons his own party members who happen to disagree with him. Lord Soames, the temporary British governor, has twisted Mugabe’s arm to release over seventy of such victims from his prisons in neighbouring Mozambique (another Marxist state, of course!). This item was referred to in a leading article in the Guardian (Jan 20). What the leader omitted to mention was that Mugabe only agreed on condition that they arc not allowed to move freely inside Rhodesia during the election campaign (even though some of them are candidates!). In other words, he keeps a private prison and will hand over the victims on condition that they remain chained and gagged. So if he is like this with his own party members before he attains power, the imagination boggles at what kind of hell he will visit on the country if elected in place of the previous incumbent, Bishop Muzorewa. King Stork for King Log!

Finally, we must refer to a recent (January 28) article in the Guardian: President Machel of Mozambique has “advised” (quotes in original) the “Marxist” Mugabe “to send envoys to South Africa to spell out a policy of peaceful co-existence and non-interference. And Mugabe’s vice president of ZANU-PF, Simon Muzenda, is expected to fly to the parliamentary capital of Cape Town soon to add his avuncular charm to such tidings.” All this without a blush in the great “liberal" paper which screams its head off about a team of bone-headed rugby players going out there to play games. One almost feels more at home with the right-wing rugby correspondent of the right-wing Sunday Telegraph, John Reason, who, asked by a BBC twit about the reactions to the rugby tour of the Organisation of African Unity, replied: “Might as well worry about Idi Amin. He was their chairman recently”.
L. E. Weidberg

Bloody inroads (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In two dramatic decades, virtually the entire continent of Africa was carved up among the European powers in what has appropriately been called “the scramble for Africa”, leaving only Ethiopia independent. What gave rise to this sudden change? For the answer we must first look at Europe itself.

England, for a long time the “workshop of the world”, was facing increasing competition. Her industrial supremacy was diminishing rapidly. In 1870 she was still smelting half the world’s iron —more than three times that of any other country—but before the close of the century she was overtaken by America and hard-pressed by Germany for second place. The growth of manufacturing created the need to open up new markets, a need well understood by the then French Prime Minister, Jules Ferry, when he remarked: “What [our great industries] lack more and more is markets. Why? Because . . . Germany is covering herself with barriers; because, beyond the ocean, the United States of America have become protectionist .. .”. The so-called Golden Age of Laissez-Faire capitalism was coming to an end, as England’s competitors waxed stronger. Stanley, the famous explorer of the Congo Basin, enthusiastically addressed the Manchester Chamber of Commerce in 1884 with the words: “There are forty millions of people beyond the gateway of the Congo, and the cotton spinners of Manchester are waiting to clothe them. Birmingham foundries are glowing with the red metal that will presently be made into ironwork for them”. But it was Leopold the Second of Belgium who employed Stanley to establish military posts in the Congo and make treaties with the local tribes. These were the foundations of Leopold’s empire, where the most barbaric practices (such as the flogging to death of fugitives or slackers with the sjambok) were commonplace.

Along with new markets, the colonies could provide raw materials such as copper, rubber, palm oil, timber and cotton which the expanding home industries craved. They also provided highly profitable outlets for the export of capital.

The means of communication and distribution were rapidly advanced with the invention of steamships, locomotives and telegraphs, the effects of which were only felt in the world at large in the last few decades of the century. These made possible massive increases in colonial trade and the expansion of empires. All these factors, working in conjunction, created the possibility for many powers to lay claim to vast territories, reacting to each others’ claims by annexing more, in a sort of complex chain reaction. Hitherto lack of competition, amongst other factors, had detracted from the sense of urgency which now accompanied empire-building.

The specific motives—and pretexts—or colonisation differed from area to area. In North, West and East Africa, colonisation was “largely governed by strategic requirements having little to do with Africa herself”, as far as the British were concerned. South of the Zambesi River “British policy was driven by a deliberate and determined desire to establish a British dominion in South Africa” (Scramble for Africa A. Nutting). Thus Britain gained control of the Suez Canal Company (on the strength of a loan from Rothschilds) and eventually Egypt, to protect the route to her valuable possessions in India. To secure her hold in Egypt she looked upon her territories elsewhere as “disposable assets”, to be bartered if necessary.

By no stretch of the imagination could South Africa be a mere “disposable asset”. The second half of the nineteenth century revealed her immense mineral wealth, beginning with the discovery of diamonds in Qriqualand West in 1867. Bitter disputes broke out over the ownership of the diamond fields involving the Boer republics and the various Qriqua and Tswana chiefs. These were effectively resolved by the annexation of Qriqualand West by Britain in 1871. Diamond wealth spawned the De Beers Consolidated Mining Company, whose vast resources were used to promote the activities of the British South Africa Company. It was through this organisation, with the megalomaniac Cecil Rhodes at its helm, that Rhodesia was brought under European domination.

In 1877, after unsuccessful attempts to establish a federation of states in South Africa, which people like Rhodes dearly wanted, Britain annexed the Transvaal only to hand it back in 1881 after suffering a humiliating defeat by the Boers. In 1884, Germany laid claim to South West Africa and Rhodes, fearing a possible link-up of Boers and Germans, succeeded in getting Bechuanaland annexed by Britain, thus driving a wedge between the two and securing the strategically important “missionary Road to the North”, important for it gave access to what he believed was the Eldorado of the North. From the 1860s explorers had come across the ancient gold workings in that area and in the Tati district the German explorer, Karl Mauch discovered gold. Rhodes and his company finally captured this fabled land of King Solomon’s mines with such ruthlessness against the Matabele that the Company’s own ambassador in Bulawayo felt prompted to remark that “the Pioneer at his most highly developed state is a white savage, the most terrible of men”.

However, the real Eldorado lay not to the north but southwards, for in 1886 in the Witwatersrand area of the Transvaal a rich gold bearing reef was discovered. With the rising fortunes of the Transvaal grew the fear that British supremacy in South Africa was threatened and that the British colonies there might throw in their lot with the Boer Republics. For the next thirteen years British policy was directed at denying the Boers access to a seaport by surrounding the Transvaal with newly acquired British territory. With the completion of the railway line between the Rand and Portuguese held Delagoa Bay every effort was made to exploit the grievances of the “Uitlander” population of mainly British extraction living on the Rand. Such was the determination of British imperialism to resolve the issue by force that Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, faced with the relatively generous Boer concessions to Britain’s demands, despairingly commented: “I dread above all the whittling away of differences until we have no causus belli left”.

But Chamberlain need not have worried for all along an overriding “causus belli” was there. It was still there when the frictions resulting from the partition of Africa played an important role in dividing the world into two armed camps that led to the outbreak of World War One. And today it continues to menace our very existence, until the workers of the world are prepared to learn from its blood-soaked past that the capitalist system of society cannot and will not be made to behave otherwise, and resolve therefore, to abolish it from all the continents of the earth.

Robin Cox

Ethiopians begin to resist

An article by Graham Peebles, Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity supporting fundamental social change and the human rights, on recent developments in Ethiopia is worth quoting from.

“After being frightened into silence for over two decades, the people of Ethiopia are finding their voice and calling for fundamental political change. Thousands have been taking to the streets in recent weeks and months to peacefully protest against the ruling party, expressing their collective anger at the injustices and widespread human rights violations taking place throughout the country and calling for democratic elections.

The People are Rising Up. 

The people have awakened, and overcoming fear and historic differences are beginning to unite. The two main ethnic groups are rallying under a common cause: freedom, justice, and the observation of their constitutionally acknowledged human rights. And two opposition parties, the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) and Patriotic Ginbot 7 for Unity and Democracy (PG7) have formed an alliance in the fight to overthrow the incumbent regime, and are seeking to bring other opposition groups together.

The protests are dominated by people under 25 – 30 years of age; young people, connected to the world via social media who are no longer prepared to live in fear, as Seyoum Teshome, a university lecturer in central Ethiopia told the New York Times, “The whole youth is protesting. A generation is protesting.” At the moment demonstrations are largely confined to Oromia and Ahmara, but as confidence grows there is every possibility that other regions could become involved, swelling numbers of protestors, overwhelming security forces.

When there is unity, and consistent, peaceful collective action, governments are eventually forced to listen (as has been demonstrated elsewhere in the world), and the attention of the international community is garnered. Ethiopia receives between a third and half of its federal budget in various aid packages from international donors; irresponsible donor countries which see Ethiopia as an ally in the so-called ‘war on terror’, a stable country in a region of instability – the illusion of stability maintained by keeping the populace suppressed. To their utter shame the countries primary donors – America, Britain and the European Union – have repeatedly ignored the cries of the people, and turned a blind eye to human rights abuses perpetrated by the ruling party, which in many cases constitute state terrorism. It is neglect bordering on complicity.

Remain peaceful

This is a historic moment that could result in the overthrow of the government – a day longed for by the majority of Ethiopians – and usher in what activists and opposition groups have been campaigning for; democratic fair elections, and open political debate. None of which, despite the false pronouncements of Barack Obama and the like, have taken place under the EPRDF. Indeed Ethiopia has never known democracy. It is essential that protestors remain largely peaceful, in spite of the government’s brutal response – and it has been brutal – and this does not turn into an ethnic conflict, with Tigrayan military forces loyal to the government pitched against groups from Oromo, Amhara, Ogaden and elsewhere. To take up arms on any significant scale would not only risk large numbers of casualties and national chaos, but would also allow the regime to propagate false claims of terrorism, attribute the uprising to destabilising influences and ignore the demands of protestors and opposition parties….

Ethiopia is made up of dozens of tribes and a variety of ethnic groups. The people of Oromo and Amhara (at 35% and 27% respectively of the population) make up the majority, and rightly feel they have been ignored and marginalised by the Tigray (6% of the population) TPLF dominated government – who also run the military. And it is in Oromia and the city of Gondar in Amhara that the protests have concentrated in recent weeks and months. Protests that the government has responded to with predictable violence.

Despite the fact that freedom of assembly is clearly spelt out in the Ethiopian constitution (Article 30), the Prime Minister, Haile Mariam Dessalegn, announced a blanket ban on demonstrations, which, he said, “threaten national unity”. He called on the police – who need no encouragement to behave like thugs – to use all means at their disposal to stop protests occurring. The Communications Minister Getachew Reda chipped in, and called the protests illegal. All of which is irrelevant and, of course, misses the point completely. Shocked and appalled at the ruling regime’s violent reaction to the protests, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged “the government to allow access for international observers into the affected regions to be able to establish what exactly transpired.” The spokesperson described information coming out of Amhara and Ormoia as “extremely alarming”, saying there had been “no genuine attempt at ensuring accountability” since reports of abuses by security forces began emerging back in December.

Unstoppable Momentum for Change

For years the Ethiopian government and the country’s major donors have been propagating the lie that democracy and social development were flowering inside the country. As the people march that myth is now beginning to totally unravel. The plain truth is that the EPRDF government, in power since 1991, is a vicious, undemocratic regime that has systematically suppressed the population for the last twenty-five years. There is no freedom of expression, the judiciary is a puppet of the state, political opposition leaders as well as journalists and anyone who openly expresses dissent are imprisoned (often tortured), their families persecuted. Humanitarian aid, employment and higher education opportunities are distributed on a partisan basis; and what economic growth there has been (dramatically downgraded by the IMF recently) has largely flowed into the coffers of government officials and supporters. A social protest movement has been building with growing intensity since the 2010 general election (which like the ones before it, and since, was stolen by the EPRDF), and now the momentum appears to be unstoppable. No matter how many courageous protesters the police and military shoot – and they will no doubt continue killing – arrest and intimidate, this time there is a real chance that the people will not be put down; they will no longer be denied their rights. They sense, as large numbers of people do everywhere, that an energy of change is sweeping through the world, that they are in tune with the times, and that this is the moment to unite and act.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mauritanis anti-slavery campaign

Thirteen anti-slavery activists in Mauritania have been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for their alleged role in a riot in June. A tribunal found the members of the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) guilty on Thursday of counts including attacks against the government, armed assembly and membership of an unrecognised organisation. The activists were arrested in late June and early July after a protest against eviction by residents of a slum in the capital Nouakchott, many of whom are themselves former slaves. The Nouakchott slum was home to many so-called Haratin - a "slave caste" under a hereditary system of servitude whose members are forced to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants.

IRA Vice President Brahim Ramdane called the verdicts a "parody of justice" 

The defendants said they were not present at the June protests and that the trial was a politically motivated attempt by the government to discredit their organisation. The decision was condemned on Friday by international campaigners as a "devastating blow to the Mauritanian anti-slavery movement".

Sarah Mathewson, Africa Programme Manager at Anti-Slavery International, said that the activists were "clearly being targeted by the government for their work to expose and denounce slavery, still commonplace in the country".

Mauritania is a focus of activism by the modern anti-slavery movement over a practice believed to affect between 4 and 20 percent of the population.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hiding the ugly truth

Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian, study, ‘Britain’s Gulag’, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups. The Mau Mau uprising was an armed rebellion launched by the Kikuyu, who had lost land during colonisation.

The British, declaring a state of emergency in October 1952, proceeded to attack the movement along two tracks. They waged a forest war against 20,000 Mau Mau fighters, and, with African allies, also targeted a bigger civilian enemy: roughly 1.5 million Kikuyu thought to have proclaimed their allegiance to the Mau Mau campaign for land and freedom. That fight took place in a system of detention camps. The British had sought to quell the Mau Mau uprising by instituting a policy of mass detention. This system – “Britain’s gulag”, as Elkins called it – had affected far more people than previously understood. She calculated that the camps had held not 80,000 detainees, as official figures stated, but between 160,000 and 320,000. She also came to understand that colonial authorities had herded Kikuyu women and children into some 800 enclosed villages dispersed across the countryside. These heavily patrolled villages – cordoned off by barbed wire, spiked trenches and watchtowers – amounted to another form of detention. In camps, villages and other outposts, the Kikuyu suffered forced labour, disease, starvation, torture, rape and murder.

Many documents relating to the detention camps were either absent or still classified as confidential 50 years after the war. Elkins discovered that the British had torched documents before their 1963 withdrawal from Kenya. Files indicate that roughly 3.5 tons of Kenyan documents were bound for the incinerator. The scale of the cleansing had been enormous. For example, three departments had maintained files for each of the reported 80,000 detainees. At a minimum, there should have been 240,000 files in the archives. They also expatriated colonial records that were considered too sensitive to be left in the hands of successor governments. One record 1961 dispatch from the British colonial secretary to authorities in Kenya and elsewhere, states that no documents should be handed over to a successor regime that might, among other things, “embarrass” Her Majesty’s Government. British officials acknowledged that more than 1,500 files, encompassing over 100 linear feet of storage, had been flown from Kenya to London in 1963. Under legal pressure, the UK government finally acknowledged that the records had been stashed at a high-security storage facility that the Foreign Office shared with the intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. It also revealed a bigger secret. This same repository, Hanslope Park, held files removed from a total of 37 former colonies.

Elkins found a few hundred. But some important records escaped destruction. One stamped “secret”, revealed a system for breaking recalcitrant detainees by isolating them, torturing them and forcing them to work. This was called the “dilution technique”. Britain’s Colonial Office had endorsed it. Over some 300 interviews, Elkins heard testimony after testimony of torture.

After the country gained independence in 1963, its first prime minister and president, Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, declared repeatedly that Kenyans must “forgive and forget the past”. This helped contain the hatred between Kikuyu who joined the Mau Mau revolt and those who fought alongside the British. Elkins met young Kikuyu who didn’t know their parents or grandparents had been detained; Kikuyu who didn’t know the reason they had been forbidden to play with their neighbour’s children was that the neighbour had been a collaborator who raped their mother. Mau Mau was still a banned movement in Kenya, and would remain so until 2002.

“I’ve come to believe that during the Mau Mau war British forces wielded their authority with a savagery that betrayed a perverse colonial logic,” Elkins wrote in Britain’s Gulag. “Only by detaining nearly the entire Kikuyu population of 1.5 million people and physically and psychologically atomising its men, women, and children could colonial authority be restored and the civilising mission reinstated.” After nearly a decade of oral and archival research, she had uncovered “a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead”. 130,000 and 300,000 Kikuyu are unaccounted for, an estimate derived from Elkins’s analysis of census figures.

At the Royal Courts of Justice in London plaintiffs from rural Kenya have come to seek justice. In court, lawyers representing the British government tried to have the Mau Mau case tossed out. They argued that Britain could not be held responsible because liability for any colonial abuses had devolved to the Kenyan government upon independence. But the presiding judge, Richard McCombe, dismissed the government’s bid to dodge responsibility as “dishonourable”. He ruled that the claim could move forward. “There is ample evidence even in the few papers that I have seen suggesting that there may have been systematic torture of detainees,” he wrote in July 2011. Foreign Office lawyers then conceded that the elderly Kenyan claimants had suffered torture during the Mau Mau rebellion. But too much time had elapsed for a fair trial, they contended. There weren’t enough surviving witnesses. The evidence was insufficient. In October 2012, Justice McCombe rejected those arguments, too. The British government, defeated repeatedly in court, moved to settle the Mau Mau case. On 6 June 2013, the foreign secretary, William Hague, read a statement in parliament announcing an unprecedented agreement to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused during the insurrection. Each would receive about £3,800. “The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,” Hague said. Britain “sincerely regrets that these abuses took place.” It was the first time Britain had admitted carrying out torture anywhere in its former empire.