Bringing African Perspectives into US Activism (#USSFafrica)

Thursday and Friday I attended many of the Africa focused workshops – most were very exciting and engaging. They really brought the African perspective into the ideas of the US Social Forum and made delegates think about the US role in issues affecting communities on the African continent.

24 Thursday 10am-12pm

African Unity Towards What? (Pan-Africanism & Nationalism is not enough!) by: University of Kmt

I still haven’t exactly figured out this group and what they do. They run the Kmt Press which publishes books and journals, but all of their sessions that I attended were focused on teaching with an African historical perspective. Their missions states that they are dedicated to educating the new generation of African leaders. Interesting that they are in Detroit and I wonder if they know of the Detroit Public School (DPS) Initiative starting in 1992 where Africa was integrated into school curriculums from math to literature. 

24 Thursday 1-3pm

Prioritizing Africa & the African Diaspora Agenda from Detroit to Dakar (D2D) by: Priority Africa Network (PAN)

This People’s Movement Assembly was geared towards bringing African perspectives into the US Social Forum and continue the discussion as preparations are made for the 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal. The room was full of delegates from many African countries, Detroit, and US Africa Advocacy groups. 

Briggs Bomba, Director of Campaigns at Africa Action, spoke strongly about building solidarity with those most affected in Africa. He said, “corporate led globalization has harshest effects on those in the perifery, the underdeveloped.” He reminded us that all of us the privilege to attend conferences like these and make the policies need to prioritize the communities most affected.

A delegate from South Africa spoke eloquently about the social apartheid of displacement – ideologically, locations, in decision-making and governments; in voting process lack of people power and transformational action, and in the social mainstream. “We cover many issues, but it is the same struggle. We come from different areas, but share common experiences.” (i.e. colonialism)

Some top issues that came out of the PMA:

  • Militarization in the Congo (DRC)
  • HIV & STDs from Detroit to Africa
  • political economy – effects seen in everyday Africa
  • African defense (defend communities), liberation (not yet liberated), and autonomy

An exciting and dynamic session that really makes me excited for the World Social Forum in Dakar!

24 Thursday 3:30-5:30pm

The New Africa Command & U.S. Military Involvement in Africa by: African Security Research Project (aka: Daniel Volman)

This session was an interesting overview of AFRICOM by some leading scholars on the topic of US national security interests in Africa. The attendees were less diverse than the Detroit to Dakar session and most people came to learn more because it looked interesting and had studied Africa to some small degree in the past. 

Most interesting was when the discussion turned to private military contractors (PMCs) in Africa responsible for fighting wars in Libera, Southern Sudan, and Somalia. A Ugandan delegate actually talked about being trained by PMCs in Iraq to then return and fight the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. Great to hear the perspective of the Ugandan delegate and Dan Volman as well as to see so many people interested in learning more about African issues!

25 Friday 1-3pm

Power-sharing Deals in Africa: Implications for Democracy – The Case of Zimbabwe & Kenya by: Africa Action

This was by far the most organized session that I attended at the US Social Forum. The Africa Action team did an amazing job of gathering great speakers, formatting the session, and bringing people into the room for the discussion. Many African voices were heard from delegates representing Zimbabwe and Kenya. 

In both cases of power-sharing, the speakers agreed that the power-sharing deal was a sigh of relief that stopped the fighting and opened their doors to the international community and economy again. However, they also all recognized that power-sharing was a positive in the short-term, but can be positive as in the case of South Africa when Mandela and de Klerk signed a power sharing deal until the national democratic elections.

Here are some take-aways:

  • A weak state can and will be manipulated (i.e. Museveni in Uganda – waiting for a similar situation as Kenya and Zimbabwe soon, elections next year)
  • “The people” are separated from the power – people-centered in needed
  • Power-sharing allows for lessened tensions and time to create national unity towards something better
  • Coalition governments show defeat of “people power”

Crossposted from SCOUT BANANA

hope and change in 2008 politics

peace without sickness, failure without denial, and democracy without restriction

Hope and change have gained a great footing in not only the 2008 Presidential elections in the US, but also in the communities of Northern Uganda. Peace talk negotiations and a cease-fire in fighting have allowed children to return home, families to rebuild, and communities to begin creating lives without fear from conflict. The conflict in Northern Uganda is often tagged as a “civil war,” but largely centers on a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). (Read more here) Thousands displaced, abducted, lost – hundreds killed. The peace talks have been going well and two weeks ago (April 10th) Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, was supposed to come out of hiding to sign the peace agreement. He did not show up and his spokesperson claimed he had been sick. Sick or afraid? Kony and his top officials are now on the top of the International Criminal Court’s arrest list. It seems he may have been sick with fear of being held accountable for his long-running violent resistance.

The election count in Zimbabwe has been delayed. After many have called for the results to be released from the election, electoral officials have decided to recount 23 out of the 210 seats. This will take 3 more days. There is fear that the recount will include vote-rigging, something that would not be new in Zimbabwean elections under Mugabe. It is well known that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has gained the majority over Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. There are fears that the recount could reverse that majority. Hope for change in Zimbabwe is stalled yet again and there is no guess as to when election results will actually be released. Now hundreds of opposition supporters, fleeing “state-sponsored” violence, have been detained. Most will be charged with inciting election violence as the scapegoats for Mugabe’s government response to political opposition.

Opposition candidates have been arrested, people stayed away from the polls, rising cost of food and decline in wages have lead to a popular discontent with the Egyptian government. People are more concerned with getting bread on the table than on turning out in the polls. The main opposition party in Egypt has been officially banned and their candidates have been arrested and detained so that they cannot campaign. The hope for change has been squashed by the current government, but not without at least some opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood, with its candidates banned, boycotted the elections and clashed with police. There is fear in the government that they will lose more support to the “pro-Islamist independents” who seem to have the backing of the people. The US is not the only country where the rise in power of Islamic groups has produced an unfounded fear and caused actions that are far from democratic.

Kenyan politicians have reached a deal to allow a coalition government. Mwai Kibaki will remain President and his opponent, Raila Odinga, will serve as Prime Minister. It is not clear how the people will react to this evolution. The next major task of the coalition government is to work on relocating the hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples as a result of their “election” or move to power. Nearly 140,000 people are living in tents and depend on food handouts to live. Adding difficulty, there is disagreement in the parliament as to what actions should be taken first: returning the displaced or preaching co-existence and reconciliation. The historical rifts in Kenyan politics will need to be handled as soon as possible if Kenya is to move forward with the stability of the past.

In all four cases there is an extensive past to learn in order to fully understand the current situations. Each case represents a direct outcome of former colonial systems perpetuated (especially their failures), oppressed populations, and a push for democracy that seems to be historically flawed in its practice and exportation. Hope and change may just become buzz words for the 2008 election year, but they also have the great potential to live up to the aspirations of many looking for a new way of handling governments and societies.

kenya’s political history of turmoil

If it happens in Africa it must just be the primal instinct based in tribalism. The mass media has been covering the situation in Kenya as a near exclusive tribal and ethnic conflict without accounting for the history of Kenya’s political turmoil and where ethnicity is put into a colonial context. The crisis in Kenya is not solely ethnic and tribal. It is a crisis based on democracy and fueled by past divisions created by British colonial rule.

What we have seen recently is a devolution of ‘democratic’ elections into ethnic conflict. The Presidential incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, was made President in previous elections as the opposition candidate was declared unable to run by the constitution. Moving into the most recent elections Kibaki did not have the majority support. However, in the end tallies of votes Kibaki came out ahead of the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga. Odinga was running with his Orange Democratic Movement behind him. European Union observers declared Kibaki’s second term as stolen when the national vote counts came back different than the district vote counts, putting Kibaki as the winner. What we then saw was a devolution of a ‘stable democracy’ in to “tribal” conflict. But, before we can even begin to grasp what this means in Kenya we have to examine and understand Kenya’s history of colonial violence and created ethnic tension.

In 1888, the British took over the area known as Kenya as part of the 1885 Berlin Conference that divided the land area of Africa between the major European powers. The Germans formerly controlled the land. The colony known as British East Africa remained uninvolved in World War I. By the twentieth century 30,000 white British settlers began establishing themselves in the fertile highlands growing coffee and tea and commanding unjust political and economic power in the country. The highlands had traditionally been home to the Kikuyu people, who were forced off of their land and had to then seek jobs on their own former land under the employ of white settler farmers for a meager wage of newly imposed British currency. This injustice set off the start of the Mau-Mau rebellion lead by the Kikuyu people and the Land and Army Freedom movement in 1952. The country was placed under martial-rule. The British Long Rifles, the Home Guard (Kenyan soldiers), and the British army backed by Winston Churchill‘s command came together strongly against the movement and killed 42% of the rebel fighters. The capture and execution of Dedan Kimathi in 1956, the Mau Mau leader, essentially ended the rebellion. The Kikuyu rebellion was destroyed. The British consciously divided the Kikuyu and Luo people for fear that they would be too strong of a unifying force against their colonial empire. The Kenyan elites were able to take power with the election of the Kikuyu elite, Jomo Kenyatta.

The first elections in Kenya were in 1957. To the dismay of the British, the election was won by Kenyatta backed by his Kenya African National Union (KANU) party instead of the ‘moderate’ Africans the British had hoped for, but this was their own product of favoring the Kikuyu. Upon Kenyatta’s death Daniel arap-Moi took power, stepping up from his Vice Presidential role. His succession to president was strongly opposed by the Kikuyu elite, known as the Kiambu Mafia. He held power in uncontested single-party elections from 1978 until 2002. Moi dismissed political opponents and consolidated his power. He put down Kikuyu coup attempts through execution of coup leaders. Moi was central in the perpetuating Kenyatta’s single-party state, reflected in the constitution. In his 2002 and 2007 election wins, Moi exploited the mixed ethnic composition of Kenya and with a divided opposition of smaller tribes – Moi won. Moi represented an ethnic minority, the Kalenjin, that kept the Kikuyu out of power for many years. I am not sure if we are to assume the role of Moi as Vice President to Kenyatta was to appease the ethnic minority, but the Kikuyu’s role as a benefiting elite was lost with Moi’s succession.

Kenya’s 36 million people are divided among more than 40 ethnic groups, each with its own identity, cultural traditions and practices, and separate language. The main groups are Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%), Kalenjin (12%) and Kamba (11%), according to government figures. Now we see the colonial policy of “divide and conquer” lives on. The tradition of corruption in Kenyan politics continues and Kikuyu is pitted against the various ethnic groups. However, this is a created ethnic conflict in a country where ethnicity and politics are conjoined. Kenyatta was a Kikuyu elite created by the British colonialism, Moi was essentially a dictator for 30 years, and Kibaki undemocratically stole power and now for a second time. Instead of a conflict rooted in tribalism this conflict, “suggests that the undemocratic historical trajectory that Kenya has been moving along was launched at the inception of British colonial rule more than a century ago.” What is most surprising is not that there is now an ethnic conflict in Kenya, but that it did not happen sooner.

Surprisingly, CNN acknowledged the roots of Kenya’s ethnic political troubles. Neither candidate in Kenya’s elections really represented the people or true democracy. Odinga’s (Luo) Orange Democratic Movement was supported by Luhya and he promised to appoint a Luhya deputy if elected. Kibaki’s government has had troubles and scandals dealing with corruption and graft since beginning in 2002. The BBC also gives a more accurate account of the conflict in Kenya. They suggest that the headlines talking of tribalism should better read: “Tribal differences in Kenya, normally accepted peacefully, are exploited by politicians hungry for power who can manipulate poverty-stricken population.” But no one wants to read that. The main stream media has decided to final cover Africa as a front page story only because it provides a striking headline. As Kikuyu flee, the news wants to make Kenya out to be another Rwanda, but I wouldn’t venture so far to say that it has become that terrible. This sentiment of violence influences writers at every level. One student writer can only focus on the violence in her article.

The US has condemned the violence in Kenya. “We condemn the violence that occurred in Kenya as its citizens await these election results, and call on all Kenyans to remain calm while the vote tabulation process is concluded,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement. The US would like to say how terrible it is that Kenyans have been denied democracy. However, I am not sure how we can claim to know democracy. Just as Kenyans, we too have never known real democracy in this two-party system full of government control and corruption. My swahili professor is from western Kenya, he is a Luo. The other day I asked him if his family was safe. He said they were, they had fled soon enough to miss the violence. I asked him about the history of ethnic favoring in Kenya and he said that it all started with Kenyatta. While this all goes on – colonial legacies of ethnic tension, stolen democracy, and a fear of continued turmoil, the US presidential primaries plug along. We as US citizens can only dream of democracy. While Obama, with Kenyan descent, gains popularity and primaries his family in Kenya watches. Will there be democracy gained anywhere? Will stolen votes bring conflict in the US too or maybe we do not have a knowledgeable enough electorate to protest.

young people for. . .

This year I have been awarded a fellowship through the Young People For the American Way. YP4 is a youth-driven and youth-led program that brings together young leaders and activists who are eager to ensure that their voices are heard on critical issues, such as civil liberties, the judiciary, free speech, the environment, and civil rights. The program is designed for serious people who are interested in becoming more effective leaders and making a difference. I am happy and honored to say that I have been chosen as one of those people. Coming up this month in roughly 6 days is the National Summit of all the progressive leaders chosen for the fellwoship. I am very excited to be headed to Washington D.C. and meet the outstanding student leaders from across the US.

“In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation. . .”
– Great law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)

As I have said before, I am an idealist – or that is how many people define me – I am a dreamer, but I keep the realities of the world close at hand. In my young age I have experienced so much, met so many inspiring people, seen so much suffering, and witnessed an incredible amount of hope. I dream, but I also see my dreams come to life, I hope and that hope becomes an embodied passion. I dream of a world where my children can live and have no fear. Fear is merely the term used when there is an absence of compassion. I dream of a world where peace is the norm, we will cooperate and coexist and accept one another for who he or she may be. I dream of a world where passion for life and the well-being of others drives the world and not lust for fame, fortune, or the frivolity of things. I dream and I hope. One of my favorite quotes: “Dreams do not meet the overhead, believers do.” A person who does not dream cannot be a believer, but a dreamer has to do more than just envision, a dreamer has to put their heart and soul into their dreams. What I see as the greatest problem in our country (USA) and in our world is the great lack of passion and compassion in society. Where there is a lack of passion there is a lack of purpose. Where there is a lack of compassion there is a lack of hopes and dreams. This all leads to what we are experiencing today – a government with little citizen participation, a society bent on getting more, a world caught up in greed, and a cynical base of societal leaders.

The most basic human emotion of compassion is neglected. People need to be relating to one another as equals. Our pain is the same yet in this world that seems to bring no gain. Broken and dying the poverty stricken are lying at society’s doorsteps. Who will it be who brings about the change in people’s attitudes? What will you do? Today people relate to one another through historical class structures that have somehow made it into the modern world. We go to the schools of our same class (private, public), we attend the same stores as our class, and we meet at the same community centers as our class. Capitalism has driven us apart, its drive for more profit at any cost and hierarchical divisons make us insensitive to the plights of others – because they are below us. Yes, you guessed it I am a socialist. No, not a communist – a socialist, there is a difference. I believe that when economics and class structures are leveled then we will live in a truly equal (and then free) world. When we do not rely on gaining for ourselves, but for our neighbors then we will be a free society. When we can work together to end poverty of all peoples then democracy will be true.

This can all be changed as the decision making power lies with the people. Right now the people do not realize this because those in power use fear to control and gain more power. War, terrorism, flu pandemics – be very afraid and give more power to your government to protect you. No, this is where people need to step up and be more involved democrats (as in a supporter of democracy – not political party)! If we truly live in a democracy then we the people need to be sure that the powerful know what is at stake. Democracy is more than just an idea and a great white building – democracy is a mindset of the people. Democracy is more than a building and less than a person. Democracy lives outside the great buildings of Washington D.C., but has more power than each man or woman gives to it. The decision making power seems to fearfully reside with the primp and proper politicians on the hill, but truly the power resides in the hands of the people – we only need more passion and compassion!

This is just a glance at what concepts and values are in the world I imagine for the future. I believe it to be a possibility. Even more than a possibility, a hope. When we embolden and embody our passions and compassion, when we realize career politicians have no place in America, when we recognize that we each hold the power to help one another and change the world, only then will my imagination be served no longer. The burning issues of passion and compassion live on my campus, in my community, and in our country. When a student refuses to listen to all sides and later decide on their own, when a community leader pushes for a ban of rights for underserved people, when a country bows to fear – this is when the burning issues of passion and compassion rule the day. I strongly believe that the youth of today hold the creativity and the answers to reverse this trend and change the world for the better of society. The youth are the future, we are the future, what do want to see in your future?