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

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The Africa Track at the US Social Forum (#USSFafrica)

There are a number Africa-related organizations represented at the US Social Forum focused on bringing Africa into the larger US social justice context and ensuring that there are African voices represented.

During the June 22-25 conference there will be 14 workshops presented by: Africa Action, TransAfrica, HealthGAP, Support Darfur Project, All African Peoples Revolutionary Party, University of Kmt, Priority Africa Network, Community Alliance for Global Justice, African Security Research Project, Athletes United for Peace, Detroit to Dakar, and International Development Exchange (IDEX). See list below:

24 Thursday (10am-12pm)

  • Africa & Pan- Africanism in this hemisphere: fighting neo-colonialism, racism, class, and gender oppression
    • All African Peoples Revolutionary Party @ Cobo Hall – Rm. W2-61
  • Building a Pan-African Solidarity Movement in North America
    • Support Darfur Project @ WC3 – Rm. 317
  • AIDS isn’t over: Solidarity in the fight for justice for people with AIDS worldwide
    • HealthGAP @ WA – Rm. 1472
  • Gender Militarism and US Corporate Violence in Oil Producing States
    • Priority Africa Network (PAN) @ Cobo Hall – Rm. O2-40

24 Thursday (1-3pm)

  • Africa Unity Toward What? (Pan-Africanism & Nationalism are not enough!)
    • University of Kmt @ Cobo Hall – Rm. O2-38
  • The Politics of Exploiting Need: AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), the Gates Foundation, & the Food Crisis
    • Community Alliance for Global Justice @ UAW – Rm. Taurus
  • Migration & Militarization of U.S. and European Borders: A Comparison & Contrast
    • Priority Africa Network @ Cobo Hall- Rm. O2-40
  • Youth-led Activism in NYC’s Public High Schools
    • Support Darfur Project @ WBC – Rm. WB2
  • The World Cup, Sports & Social Justice: The Beautiful Game & Beautiful Struggle, Together
    • Athletes for Peace @ WSU S – Rm. 29

24 Thursday (3:30-5:30pm)

  • International Financial Institutions & Climate Change: Community Impacts in the Congo
    • Africa Action @ WC3 – Rm. 337
  • The New Africa Command & U.S. Military Involvement in Africa
    • African Security Research Project @ UAW – Rm. Pres

25 Friday (1-5pm)

  • Prioritizing Africa & the African Diaspora Agenda from Detroit to Dakar (D2D)
    • Priority Africa Network @ Cobo Hall – Rm. W2-69
  • Educating African People: K12 through Ph.D. levels
    • University of Kmt @ Cobo Hall – Rm. O2-38
  • GM Crops – the poisoned chalice: perspectives & victories from South Africa
    • International Development Exchange (IDEX) @ Cobo Hall – Rm. D3-23
  • Power Sharing Deals in Africa: Implications for Democracy – The Case of Zimbabwe & Kenya
    • Africa Action @ WSU S – Rm. 261

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.

more on politics in kenya

Relative calm has returned to Kenya, the Rift Valley saw nearly 1000 people killed and 170,000 flee to their ancestral homes. Business are reopened, roadblocks removed, and armed police patrol the streets. Those who have fled may not face the violence any longer, but life in the camps is made no less difficult by the recent rains. The taxi service has resume, but access to food and medications is a rising issue. The armed patrols that used to be known for ruthless brutality are now seen as protectors. Kisumu, which saw widespread rioting, is back to calm. Maseno University is still not open because it cannot ensure security to its students. The Nairobi slums have remained mostly calm as the negotiations with Kofi Annan are taking place, however the slums saw the worst of the post-election violence. There are some reports that say the slums are now divided by ethnic lines. Mombasa, contributing 15% of Kenya’s economy through tourism, saw no real trouble except for tourists canceling their vacations. While the calm has returned the hopes of the country seem to teeter on Annan’s ability to forge a coalition government. What cannot be forgotten as these talks begin is the political and colonial history of Kenya (read more here).

Kofi Annan arrived in Kenya to broker a deal to bring together the two opposing sides of most recent election. After selling out to large development interests with the Green Revolution in Africa (Gates, Rockefeller) my trust in Annan to work in the best interest of the Kenyan people is not very high. He is calling for a coalition government where both sides will work towards reform for free and fair elections. However, Annan has angered the Kibaki government side in the negotiations. He has made some statements that are said to have undermined the government’s position in the post-election political conflict. The negotiations are now said to be close to an end deal. Annan has said that the idea for a “broad based” government deal is near final stages. Both sides recognize the need for a political solution. However, I feel the call for a coalition or broad based government is not the answer. Along with others I see this as against new and free elections. What is most troubling is that both Kibaki’s government team and Odinga’s ODM party have tabled proposals for power sharing and Annan speaks as if this is the final deal.

Kibaki ran for President with the promise that the government would pay for tuition fees while parents cover boarding and uniform cost in order to provide free secondary education. With ethnic divides flaring up over recent election scandal, 1000 dead and 600,000 displaced, Kenyans now have access to free secondary education. This program now has minimal impact given the recent violence. The government faces an uphill battle to provide this free education access. Children cannot attend school amid conflict and crisis. In 2002 Kibaki’s government provided universal primary education. The Kenya National Union of Teachers has asked the government to first focus on providing for the safety and security of teachers and students as well as reconstructing schools destroyed by the recent violence.

As the violence has subsided, hundreds of thousands displaced, universal secondary education provided, on top of all of this President Bush has begun a tour of Africa. Bush has stated that he is in support of a power-sharing model. The same power-sharing model rejected by both political parties. Bush is set to highlight success in African countries by speaking on democratic reform, economic and military assistance, and combating HIV/AIDS. All of which are topics that Bush has no real place to talk. The notion of democracy in the US is wrought with hypocrisy, economic and military assistance are centered around gaining power and access to resources in Africa, and the Bush administration’s actions to combat HIV/AIDS have been minimal at best (with an abstinence only policy). Bush is using his tour of Liberia, Ghana, Benin, Rwanda and Tanzania to show a compassionate side of US foreign policy. I would argue that no such side exists in our current political system. Bush is supposedly sending the Secretary of State to Kenya to convey his message in support of power-sharing to solve political crisis. The US seems to not be the only international actor concerned with the situation in Kenya. What may be most important here is not to come to a solution that the international community might like to see, but rather a solution that works for the Kenyan people and creates a long-term solution to the political turmoil rooted in the colonial history of Kenya.

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.

writing about africa. . . a simple exercise or a skill?

When writing about Africa many times it is difficult to bring the proper perspective or ‘view’. So often people write about Africa with the view, that many of us have come to know, from the myths of Africa. The old myths of a ‘dark’ continent, Heart of Darkness, uncivilized, and savage to the new myths of a continent wrought with poverty, disease, and conflict, these are all too often emphasized in writings about Africa. That, I would say, is a poor representation of Africa, its many countries, and its many peoples. In her blog, Acumen Fund Fellow Jocelyn Wyatt, writes about her training in writing about Africa before being stationed in Kenya for eight months. She tells us of three views often evident in writings about Africa. I will allow her writing to continue this message. And I hope, that I can write about Africa with a critical eye and not with a jaded or an overly simplistic mindset. I hope to understand the intricacies of Africa and not look too far past the idea that all people are more alike than they are different.

From My Year as an Acumen Fellow – 3 Views on Africa:

The Acumen Fund Fellows have been fortunate to meet many inspiring leaders and engage in plenty of thought-provoking discussions over the past four weeks. The question about how to write and talk about Africa has been raised several times. In April, Jacqueline referenced “How to Write About Africa” on this blog and discussed it with the fellows during the first week of orientation. This piece exposes the simplicity of how most people write about Africa and inspired us to think about how to do it in a different way.

View 1 – The Outsider Who Gets It: Gayle Smith, currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and former journalist and senior staff member of the National Security Council and USAID, spoke to the Acumen Fund fellows about her work in Africa and as a member of the U.S. government. Many people don’t understand the appeal of living in the developing world, and I often have trouble articulating it. After living in East Africa for 20 years, Gayle explained it well, It was easier and more satisfying to live there than in the U.S. There’s a sense there’s something bigger than you there. In D.C., there is nothing bigger than any of us. While working for various NGOs in Africa, Gayle saw that there were stories that needed to be told and insisted that the media print them. Gayle’s unique combination as an outsider with extensive experience in East Africa provided her an honest view of the culture, people, politics, and economy and her understanding of the complexities led to her success as a journalist.

View 2 – The Insider Who Exposes It: The book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a powerful reflection on the introduction of western culture and colonization to a Nigerian village. When it was published in 1959, it was probably the first book written by an African that most Americans read. Achebe’s novel is honest and extremely critical of the colonial forces who he recognized did not see anything in Africa that was larger than themselves. As an insider, Achebe delivers us well-rounded and real characters and aptly describes the complex forces that pulled Nigerian villages apart.

View 3 – The Outsider Who Simplifies It: In the recently released movie, The Last King of Scotland, a young doctor from Scotland moves to Uganda to work in a rural health clinic. He becomes Idi Amin’s personal physician and gets caught up in the ruthless dictatorship. The film begins with colorful, stereotypical footage of Africa, people singing and dancing on the side of the road, a beautiful African woman seducing a young westerner, and an older white doctor and his wife “saving” a village of Africans at their rural clinic. As the movie goes on, Uganda becomes a much darker, more corrupt, and violent place as Amin’s rule becomes harsher. Even in a ‘flat,’ globalized world, we are frequently exposed to such stereotypical portrayals of Africa: one that is simple, happy and colorful, and the other that is dark, corrupt and violent. While an interesting story with strong characters, in an effort to simplify the context, the film does little to accurately showcase Uganda.