Archive | October, 2014

30 years on: Ethiopia and the business of hunger


By: Nick Dearden

30 years after images of Ethiopian famine haunted British TV screens, they still shape how we see Africa – and ensure we fail to understand.

It’s 30 years since Michael Buerke’s harrowing report of a ‘biblical famine’ reached BBC TV screens. Following a year of cynical government inaction and silence, Bob Geldof launched a frenzied celebrity campaign to get aid to the famine-hit regions.

Money from the public, if not the government, poured into the country. But in the process, the politics of what was happening in Ethiopia was completely erased, and our ideas of ‘charity’, ‘hunger’ and indeed ‘Africa’, were changed in fundamental ways which to this day are difficult to challenge.

The BBC remains proud of its reporting of Ethiopia’s famine, and certainly it directed public attention to a horrific situation. But it did this at the price of understanding what was really happening in Ethiopia, a problem compounded by Bob Geldof who insisted on seeing the famine as a terrible ‘natural disaster’.

In fact Ethiopia’s authoritarian government under Mengistu Haile Mariam, heavily armed by the Soviet Union as a key proxy player in the Cold War, was waging a war against Eritrean and Tigrayan freedom fighters. Drought was being used by Mengistu as one tool to starve and defeat the rebel areas.

Yet when aid started flowing in, it largely went to the Ethiopian government itself, which further used that aid to forcibly displace thousands of opponents. In an excellent article for the Guardian, former BBC journalist Suzanne Franks makes clear just how problematic the aid effort was:

“Victims of famine were lured into feeding camps only to be forced on to planes and transported far away from their homes. Some estimate the number of deaths from this policy to be higher than those from famine.”

As Franks says, Médecins sans Frontières refused to play along – a principled position they have maintained in humanitarian emergencies ever since. War on Want sent aid directly to rebel areas, where it was administered by the rebel infrastructures and senior Labour Party figures like Glenys Kinnock continued to support the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and expose the horrific circumstances they were facing.

But by and large, aid agencies played along with the politics as the best chance they had of getting aid in. Indeed, the Ethiopian famine played a huge role in the enormous growth of the aid industry over the next few years.

Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that such a situation would be tackled more honestly today. Partly that’s because the way Ethiopia was treated fundamentally shaped the way we view Africa. Our idea of starving Ethiopians – helpless, passive and in desperate need of Western salvation – became our image of Africa as a whole. Media and governments played a role, but the biggest culprit was the aid organisations themselves, who understood it was untruthful, but found it an incredibly successful way of raising money.

In a report commissioned several years ago called ‘Finding Frames’, researchers found that this framing of Africa – what they describe as the ‘Live Aid’ legacy – remains incredibly strong today. Swept away is the political context of Africa – the decades of Empire and slavery through to structural adjustment and debt crisis. Also ignored are the many examples of African resistance and success – from the national liberation governments of the 1950 through to Thomas Sankara’s transformation of Burkina Faso up to 1987. Africa’s agency is marginalised.

The idea that we are a ‘Powerful Giver’ to ‘Grateful Receiver’ continues to dominate the aid discourse today, constantly reinforced by some aid agencies who still insist of perpetuating offensive imagery in order to raise funds.

It’s important we use the anniversary of the Ethiopian famine not simply to show ‘how far Ethiopia has come’, after all Ethiopian civilisation long precedes our own. Rather we should use it to review our image of, and relationship towards Africa, and refuse to support those organisations which still grow rich on the ‘Live Aid’ legacy.

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ANC and SACP are behind attempts to split Cosatu


Shaheed Mahomed
Under the guise of ‘mediation’ the ANC is seeking to split Cosatu and weaken the workers’ movement. For the ANC and the SACP, the prospect of Numsa and its radical proposals gaining dominance in Cosatu is an intolerable threat to imperial capitalism and the electoral dominance of the alliance itself.

For weeks, ANC leaders have been attempting to ‘mediate’ between the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) and the African National Congress (ANC)/South African Communist Party (SACP) faction within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). What they were really trying to do is to get Numsa to give up on its Congress resolution to break with the ANC and SACP and to form a workers’ party.

The ANC-SACP leaders have neither concern for workers’ unity nor for respecting workers’ democratic processes; they only have self-interest at heart. Put simply, the ANC-SACP leaders need to continue to use Cosatu as a conveyor belt so that their own privileges from parliament and business can continue. Now that the ANC and SACP leaders realise they cannot persuade Numsa members to go back on their decision, they are fighting for their lives. Without Cosatu, the ANC is dead; they will be nothing else but a black Democratic Alliance (DA) or a new Congress of the People (COPE). Thus the ANC and SACP leaders are fighting tooth and nail to prevent a special Congress of Cosatu. Imagine if the Congress sits and not only removes the current leadership but also breaks the alliance with the ANC and SACP, and sets up a new workers’ party. If the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) could gain a million votes within a few months from the fringes of the ANC and without deep roots in the workers movement, what would a Cosatu-formed workers party get? It could almost overnight become the ruling party, Socialism would be placed on the agenda and the path would be open for expropriation of the commanding heights of the economy. The support for a workers’ party is confirmed through the study commissioned by Cosatu in 2012, which started before the Marikana massacre, which showed that more than 60% of Cosatu would support a workers’ party against the ANC. With each passing attack by the ANC government, the support for a new workers’ party is likely to grow.


Due to the danger that a Cosatu workers’ party would pose, big capital and imperialism, support the split of Cosatu. Thus, instead of being faced with a Cosatu-formed workers’ party, imperialism would be faced only with a Numsa-led workers’ party. This would be a significantly smaller threat and would mean that the advanced layers of the working class would be split. This further split of the advanced layers of the working class is necessary for the imperialists to carry out their plans of extensive attacks on the masses. It is no accident that the recent Medium term Budget statement of the ANC government carries within it plans for massive attacks against the working class. It is also no accident that the ANC plans to spend an extra R3 billion to further militarise the police. Imperialism knows that by next year Cosatu will be further split and weakened, and thus unable to launch a sustained campaign of defence.

Some of the planned attacks by the ANC govt on behalf of big capital are as follows:

· Large scale privatisation of state-owned entities, including water and electricity;

· Further youth slavery through labour brokers [it has emerged that most of the 219 000 youth subsidies paid out by the state so far, have gone to labour brokers];

· Handing over of workers’ providend funds to the banks and denial of access of workers to their own funds until the age of 65;

· Cutting of thousands of vacant posts in the public sector;

· The cutting of public sector salaries in real terms;

· Ensuring that the pace of housing construction is slow enough to maintain the high house prices, benefiting the construction monopolies and banks.


The alliance between the workers movement, the Communist parties and nationalist-multiclass parties has its origin in the days of Stalin when Communists were directed to form ‘people’s fronts’, bury working class interests and put ahead the interest of the local lumpen bourgeoisie. This was part of a trade-off with imperialism to allow the Stalinised Soviet Union to exist, while Communist parties spearheaded the betrayal of revolutions to prevent the working class from taking power on a global scale. This is the origin of the ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance that has successfully allowed imperialist rule to continue for the past 20 years in South Africa. The local lumpen bourgeoisie (Ruperts, Oppenheimers, Motsepes, Ramaphosas, etc) has identical interests with imperialism.


The 7 November 2014 Cosatu Central Executive Committee (CEC) has as its first point a charge that Numsa should explain why it should not be expelled. This shows that the ANC is directly behind the expulsion of Numsa and thus the split of Cosatu. Numsa has no case to answer. On the contrary, the leadership of National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) and other affiliates, should be explaining why they should still be in the leadership of their own unions. These ANC and SACP union leaders should explain to the masses why they still support a regime which has carried out the Marikana massacre and which is planning more massacres. They should explain why Cosatu still maintains links with the ANC regime which has openly declared its dedication to maintaining links with Israel, which supports bantustans for Palestinians and which has just indicated that it will not prosecute SA citizens who serve in the genocidal Israeli army. Why do they maintain links with the ANC regime that is dumping our youth into labour broker slavery? Why do they maintain links with a regime that is sabotaging service delivery so that private companies can benefit? Why are they expelling Numsa when in the previous public sector strike, it was only the threat of a secondary strike by the industrial sectors, led by Numsa, that forced the ANC regime to agree to workers’ demands?

Even if you support the ANC, what right have the Nehawu, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Popcru and Sadtu leaders to give an ultimatum to Numsa to give up on its democratic Congress decision or face expulsion? Surely what should be done is the calling of a Special Congress of Cosatu so that workers can debate and reach their own conclusion.

We call on workers from all affiliates of Cosatu, and all the masses suffering from poor service delivery and unemployment, to go to the Cosatu head office on 7 November to demand an end to the victimisation of Numsa and to support the calling of a special Congress.

If the ANC still goes ahead and splits Cosatu, we propose the following measures:

1. We call for the setting up of workers’ committees in every workplace, which would unite workers irrespective of union and political affiliation; it is not a question of a numbers game of recruiting more members to Numsa or to the rump of Cosatu, but of building and maintaining the maximum unity in action. We should avoid, at all costs, falling into the trap that imperialism is setting for us, namely for worker to attack worker, or for this to become a terrain for inter-union rivalry and recruitment. Thus we would oppose the formation of a rival federation, as this would only entrench divisions among the working class.

2. The Numsa United Front should invite workers in Cosatu to join up with its structures, not by joining Numsa but as members of their Cosatu unions, as they have done with other unions up to now. Thus, even if expelled, Numsa should still show solidarity with the public sector, or any other affiliate of Cosatu, when they go on strike next year or in the future. Thus there would still be de facto unity of Cosatu members as an organised force, despite the divisive efforts of the ANC and SACP leaders. We call for a new way of policy formulation through discussions determined from the shopfloor upwards.

3. But the central call should be for all workers to join up in discussions with Numsa to help shape and form a revolutionary working class party as part of a new International to be set up in future. There is a long history of advanced workers in unions supporting a workers’ party. This party should be set up based on the lessons of the past experience of the pro-capitalist, multi-class alliance of the ANC-SACP-Cosatu. The working class fighters need to be united in a revolutionary working class party to face off the coming massive attacks by big capital. Unions are limited in their scope and often, when a period of radicalism passes, tend to become the best defenders of capitalism. The history of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe, the Workers’ Party (PT) in Brasil, the Bolivarian parties in South America, and their role in sustaining capitalism, needs to be learnt from. Imperialism will try everything to weaken a new workers’ party, including from within, but this should not deter us from actively working for a truly revolutionary working class party – the only chance we have to ensure a decisive advance to Socialism.

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Lindiwe Sisulu and the new denialism


Richard Pithouse

The assertion that people under 40 have lost nothing to apartheid is one of the most extraordinary statements from the mouth of a cabinet minister since 1994. The pretense that apartheid’s consequences came to an end in 1994 is sheer denialism that is so out of touch with reality.

In 2005, early in her first term as Minister of Housing, Lindiwe Sisulu announced that the state had resolved to ‘eradicate slums’ by 2014. This was a time when the technocratic ideal had more credibility than it does now and officials and politicians often spoke, with genuine conviction, as if it were an established fact that this aspiration would translate into reality. It was not unusual for people trying to engage the state around questions of urban land and housing to be rebuffed as troublemakers, either ignorant or malicious, on the grounds that it was an established fact that there would be no more shacks by 2014.

As we head towards the end of 2014 there are considerably more people living in shacks than there were in 2005, in 1994 or at any point in our history. The gulf between the state’s aspirations to shape society and what actually happens in society have also been starkly illustrated at the more local level. Sisulu’s flagship housing project, the N2 Gateway project in Cape Town, resulted in acute conflict and remains in various kinds of crisis to this day.

One of the lessons to be learnt from the denialism around the nature and scale of the urban crisis that characterised Thabo Mbeki’s Presidency is that although the state is certainly a powerful actor, it has often been profoundly wrong about its capacity to understand and to shape social reality.

But Sisulu’s first term as the Minister of Housing is not only remembered for her failure to grasp either the scale of the demand for urban land and housing or the limits of the state’s response. There was also a marked authoritarianism to her approach. She did not oppose the escalating and consistently unlawful violence with which municipalities across the country were attempting to contain the physical manifestation of the urban crisis via land occupations.

Sisulu also offered her full support to the failed attempt, first proposed in the Polokwane Resolutions, and then taken forward in the KwaZulu-Natal parliament in the form of the Slums Act in 2007, to roll back some of the limited rights that had been conceded in the early years of democracy to people occupying land without the consent of the state or private land owners. At the same time she also earned some notoriety for her unilateral, and clearly unlawful, declaration in 2007 that residents of the Joe Slovo settlement in Cape Town would be permanently removed from the (entirely mythical) ‘housing list’ for opposing forced removal. She was also silent in the face of the violence marshalled through party structures against shack dwellers who had had the temerity to organise around issues of urban land and housing independently of the ANC in both Durban and on the East Rand in 2009 and 2010.

Her second term as Minister, in a portfolio now termed Human Settlements, has been marked by a similar silence in response to the even more brazen forms of repression, including assassination, now visited on people organised outside of the ANC in shack settlements in Durban. But there have been some important shifts in her position. One is that like her predecessor Tokyo Sexwale, she no longer speaks as if the ‘eradication of slums’ is imminent. In this regard the state has developed a more realistic understanding of the situation it confronts. Another shift is Sisulu’s opposition to unlawful evictions in Cape Town. This is, given her on-going silence in response to violent and unlawful evictions elsewhere in the country, clearly an expedient rather than a principled position. But in a context where land occupations are routinely misrepresented through the lens of criminality or political conspiracy her framing of her opposition to eviction in Cape Town in the language of justice may open some space in elite publics to politicise the contestation over urban land, something that is relentlessly expelled from the terrain of the political by a variety of elite actors.

But it is Sisulu’s recent declaration that the state intends to do away with the provision of free housing and that people under forty will no longer be eligible for public housing that has been particularly controversial. Both aspects of this comment position her in direct contradiction to the law and the policies to which the government is, at least in principle, committed. This is nothing new. When it comes to its response to the urban land occupation the state routinely speaks and acts in direct contradiction to both law and policy. What is significant here is the indication that the state, increasingly short of cash, intends to step back from some of its commitments to sustain some forms of public welfare.

Sisulu is presenting the state’s public housing programme as if it were a temporary state response to apartheid, which now that things have been normalised, can be abandoned. Both parts of this equation are seriously problematic. The ANC, in a posture that these days is simply farcical given that it is Putin rather than Lenin that restores the sparkle to Zuma’s eyes in tough times, likes to pretend to itself that it is a revolutionary organisation. But public housing, far from being some kind of unique and temporary South African exception to the general status quo, is a standard part of even basic social democratic programmes.

Countries in the South like Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela all have public housing programmes of various kinds. These programmes all have serious flaws, but the fact that they exist and that other states are committed to public housing as a principle, should not be denied. In Venezuela the public housing programme includes housing that is entirely free for entirely impoverished people. There are also governments in the South that have actively sought to legalise land occupations and support the improvement of conditions in shack settlements.

Sisulu’s assertion that people under forty “have lost nothing [to apartheid]” is one of the most extraordinary statements to have escaped from the mouth of a cabinet minister since 1994. The pretence that apartheid’s consequences came to an end in 1994 is the sort of denialism that is so out of touch with reality – and in a way that works to naturalise inequalities inherited from a long history of brutal oppression that turned race into class – that it’s almost obscene to even engage it as if it were a serious proposition.

In a situation in which millions of people cannot access housing through the market, the state should recognise the social value of land occupations, offer all the support that it can to improve conditions in shack settlements and develop the best and most extensive public housing programme possible.

But if the state continues to see most land occupations as criminal and to curtail its own public housing programme, it will place millions of people in a situation that is just not viable. The inevitable consequence of the state committing itself to an urban agenda that simply has no place for millions of people will be a radical escalation of the already intense conflict in our cities. To put it plainly guns will become even more central to how our cities are governed. Sisulu’s comments amount to a declaration of war.

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Israel reopens al-Aqsa mosque compound before Friday prayers

Rare closure followed fatal police shooting of Palestinian suspected of having been the attempted killer of a rabbi.
stand-off outside al-aqsa mosque between israeli police and the mufti of jerusalem
Israeli border policemen prevent the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein (centre), from entering the al-Aqsa mosque compound on 30 October. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty

Israel reopened the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday before the weekly Muslim prayers, after a rare closure following clashes sparked by the killing by police of a Palestinian shooting suspect.

The streets of east Jerusalem were calm before midday prayers, following an Israeli clampdown on the shrine on Thursday.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri told Agence France-Presse that because of fears of unrest, entry for Muslim men would be restricted to those over 50. Additional police were deployed around the compound in the heart of the Old City. Local media reported the presence of 3,000 officers, three times more than usual.

Thursday’s full closure of the compound – the first in 14 years – was described by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as “tantamount to a declaration of war”. It came after anti-terrorist police shot dead a 32-year-old Palestinian on Thursday morning who was suspected of having tried to kill a far-right rabbi the night before.

In the aftermath of the shootings, Israeli security forces brought reinforcements – some called in from the West Bank – into the Old City and Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem as helicopters flew overhead and observation balloons were deployed in several locations.

The al-Aqsa compound, or Temple Mount, has become a central point in the escalating violence in the city in recent months. The compound houses Islam’s third holiest site, but is also the sacred spot for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it once housed two Jewish temples.

In an escalation of the rhetoric around the site, Abbas’s Fatah movement had called for a “day of rage” for Friday.

Muataz Hijazi – a former Palestinian prisoner and member of Islamic Jihad – was shot dead on the roof of his family’s home in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Abu Tor by anti-terrorist police just before 6am on Thursday, as he hid behind solar panels.

Israeli police sources said he had opened fire on them before being killed, a claim his family denied. Hijazi was suspected of shooting and wounding Rabbi Yehuda Glick, an activist who has led a campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray at the al-Aqsa compound.


Foreign jihadists flocking to Iraq and Syria on ‘unprecedented scale’ – UN


UN report suggests decline of al-Qaida has yielded an explosion of jihadist enthusiasm for its even mightier successor organisations, chiefly Isis.

Islamic State fighters
An image grab taken from a video released by Islamic State group’s official Al-Raqqa site via YouTube. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants to global terrorism.

A report by the UN security council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (Isis) and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to al-Qaida”.

The UN said it was uncertain whether al-Qaida would benefit from the surge. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida who booted Isis out of his organisation, “appears to be maneuvering for relevance”, the report says.

The UN’s numbers bolster recent estimates from US intelligence about the scope of the foreign fighter problem, which the UN report finds to have spread despite the Obama administration’s aggressive counter-terrorism strikes and global surveillance dragnets.

“Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 – and are growing,” says the report, produced by a security council committee that monitors al-Qaida.

The UN report did not list the 80-plus countries that it said were the source of fighters flowing fighters into Iraq and Syria. But in recent months, Isis supporters have appeared in places as unlikely as the Maldives, and its videos proudly display jihadists with Chilean-Norwegian and other diverse backgrounds.

“There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,” it states. More than 500 British citizens are believed to have travelled to the region since 2011.

The UN report, an update on the spread of transnational terrorism and efforts to staunch it, validates the Obama administration’s claim that “core al-Qaida remains weak”. But it suggests that the decline of al-Qaida has yielded an explosion of jihadist enthusiasm for its even mightier successor organizations, chiefly Isis.

Those organisations are less interested in assaults outside their frontiers: “Truly cross-border attacks – or attacks against international targets – remain a minority,” the report assesses. But the report indicates that more nations than ever will face the challenge of experienced fighters returning home from the Syria-Iraq conflict.

Wading into a debate with legal implications for Barack Obama’s new war against Isis, the UN considers Isis “a splinter group” from al-Qaida. It considers an ideological congruence between the two groups sufficient to categorise them as part a broader movement, notwithstanding al-Qaida’s formal excommunication of Isis last February.

“Al-Qaida core and Isil pursue similar strategic goals, albeit with tactical differences regarding sequencing and substantive differences about personal leadership,” the UN writes, using a different acronym for Isis.

Leadership disputes between the organisations are reflected in the shape of their propaganda, the UN finds. A “cosmopolitan” embrace of social media platforms andinternet culture by Isis (“as when extremists post kitten photographs”) has displaced the “long and turgid messaging” from al-Qaida. Zawahiri’s most recent video lasted 55 minutes, while Isis members incessantly use Twitter, Snapchat, Kik,, a communications apparatus “unhindered by organisational structures”.

A “lack of social media message discipline” in Isis points to a leadership “that recognizes the terror and recruitment value of multichannel, multi-language social and other media messaging,” reflecting a younger and “more international” membership than al-Qaida’s various affiliates.

With revenues just from its oil smuggling operations now estimated at $1m daily, Isis controls territory in Iraq and Syria home to between five and six million people, a population the size of Finland’s. Bolstering Isis’s treasury is up to $45m in money from kidnapping for ransom, the UN report finds. Family members of Isis victim James Foley, an American journalist, have questioned the policy of refusing to pay ransoms, which US officials argue would encourage more kidnappings.

Two months of outright US-led war against Isis has suffered from a lack of proxy ground forces to take territory from Isis, as Obama has formally ruled out direct US ground combat. On Thursday at the Pentagon, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the US has yet to even begin vetting Syrian rebels for potential inclusion in an anti-Isis army it seeks to muster in Syria. Dempsey encouraged the Iraqi government to directly arm Sunni tribes to withstand Isis’s advances through the western Anbar Province.

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Somalia’s future befouled by failed initiatives


Mohamud M Uluso

Nearly two decades of foreign interventions have failed to build peace or a viable state. International engagement has served to deepen the humanitarian and political crisis in Somalia.

Despite an unprecedented number of foreign interventions particularly since 2000, Somalia lingers on as a failed state, which is a threat to the international peace and security. The installation of a permanent federal government in 2012 and the victories over the terrorist group Al Shabab did not change Somalia’s misfortune because Somalia’ future is befouled by the outcomes of failed peace processes or initiatives. Foreign actors decided to welcome and applaud disreputable and lately unconstitutional agreements that sully Somali politics. Wittingly or unwittingly, they are deepening Somalia’s crisis.

Generally there has been common consensus that the peace and reconciliation conferences sponsored by the international community from 2000 to date have failed and have not produced positive durable results. But donors and neighboring countries continue to claim success and progress on the basis of disreputable agreements that became instrumental and justifications for prolonged foreign interventions.

In 2010, Conciliation Resources (CR) – a UK International NGO – in collaboration with Interpeace published a review of the international peace processes in Somalia. The review edited by Mark Bradbury and Sally Healy was titled Whose peace is it anyway? The central conclusion of the review is: “Nearly two decades of foreign interventions have failed to build peace or a viable state. International engagement has served to deepen the humanitarian and political crisis in Somalia.” This well documented conclusion is still valid as of today.

In 2011 the international community sponsored the roadmap process for ending the transition period and formed a permanent national government based on a provisional constitution. Puntland President Professor Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gas was the cheerleader of the process. Today, he distrusts, trashes and mutilates the outcomes of the process, which are the provisional constitution and the federal government. The process has been seen as a failure.

When the federal government lost moral and political compass, the international actors – IGAD, UN, EU, and US – stepped in to run the “Vision 2016” show. Except for President Hassan Sheikh who announced in 2014 his presidential candidacy for 2016 election, hardly anyone believes in the integrity, legitimacy, and endgame of this new initiative. Professors Hassan Sheikh, Mohamed Sheikh Osman Jawari, Abdiweli Gas, and many others had the intellectual capacity, political acumen and opportunity to foresee what is wrong with each process. But they decided for personal interest to close their minds and eyes and throw their people and country into a ditch of disputes and indignity.

IGAD, UN and the EU solicited Garowe agreement between the federal government and Puntland regional state (a show produced for Copenhagen, Denmark international conference on Somalia) is another instrument to shame the Somali people for their lack of a sense of nationalism and good conscience as the foundation for nation building. Foreign representatives witnessed the conference posters and clan images displayed during the 3-day meeting to prove that Somalis like to exist as clans rather than as a nation. IGAD is delegated to be the enforcer of clan segregation (clan federalism) in Somalia.

Granting the important point about the inadequate consultation on the scope of “Secret Vision 2016” among all Somali stakeholders, the agreement seeks to make the federal government a fiefdom and reinstate the territorial divisions of Somalia into South Central, Somaliland, and Puntland enclaves. In fact, with the signing of Garowe agreement by the Prime Minister and Deputy speaker of parliament with IGAD, UN, EU, the federal government has lost the vestiges of national legitimate authority. The question is, who does the federal government represent?

A far more distrustful perspective has been identified in Puntland by researchers of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies during their field research on federalism and reconciliation in Garowe on September 18. They reported, “A common theme in our public and private conversations was the urgent need for social and political reconciliation among the Somali people. The scars of the civil war were all too evident in people’s minds and hearts. Federating the country was repeatedly referred to as a secondary priority to reconciliation.” This observation supports the public discourse in which each clan accuses other clan or clans for real, perceived, or fabricated crimes and abuses committed by a member or members of the accused clan or clans in public or private capacity. This happens after more than 17 peace processes. Without prejudice to the gravity of abuses inflicted on any clan, adversarial accusations flying among clans are:

1. Darod holds grievances against Hawiye, Isaq, Digil and Mirifle, and Minority groups;
2. Hawiye holds grievances against Darod;
3. Digil and Mirifle holds grievances against Darod and Hawiye;
4. Minority groups hold grievance against Hawiye, Darod, and Digil and Mirifle;
5. Isaq holds grievance against Southerners- Darod, Hawiye, Digil and Mirifle, and Minority groups but forgave grievances against Northerner clans – Dhulbahante and Warsangeli (Darod) in exchange for their support to Somaliland secession.

Despite these inter-clan grievances, clans are not separated and have intense economic and social ties. But clan federalism destroys these ties. Divisive clan politics encouraged by foreign powers fuel social, political, and institutional fragmentation and chaos.

The Somali misfortune is also exacerbated by a dangerous confusion on understanding and appreciating the civil war concepts such as conflict resolution, national reconciliation, peace, and statebuilding. This confusion represents an obstacle to statebuilding. Somalis miss to appreciate that reconciliation is not only a goal but a process carried out for social integration and cooperation without external interventions through indigenous institutions established during the process of conflict resolution. The aim of reconciliation is to promote a shared narrative about the civil war and the future under the rule of a democratic state. The shared narrative about the civil war prohibits repetition of group narratives developed before conflict resolution.

Furthermore, the cited observation of the Heritage researchers questions the raison d’être of the federal government and the aptness to form federal member states on clan identity. The shared aspirations of the Somali citizens are to get true justice, equality, accountability and effective participation in the political process at all levels and places. Somaliland and Puntland provide empirical evidence for exclusion and marginalization. Poverty, hunger, social injustice, corruption, and abuse of power, human rights violations are all considered violence.

The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephan Harper, said in his speech at the 2014 UN General Assembly meeting that: “Where human misery abounds, where grinding poverty is the rule, where justice is systematically denied, there is no real peace, only the seeds of future conflict. We understand how the worst of human nature – perverse ideologies, religious extremism, and the lust for power and plunder – can rob people in so many places of property, of hope, and of life itself.” Humanitarian organizations are warning of famine and acute economic deprivation in Mogadishu.

The released 2014 report of the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) details incredible levels of misappropriation of public funds used for partisan agendas which constitute threats to peace and security. The rate of misappropriation is estimated at between 70 and 80 percent, while around a third (1/3) of domestic revenues from Mogadishu port cannot be accounted for. More alarming, the report reveals that Al Shabab receives a lion share of $ 250 million revenue from the charcoal exported in 2013-2014 through seaports controlled by African Union and Somali government forces. Secret foreign contracts with foreign private companies became major sources of dirty financial resources outside the public financial management control. These unprecedented scandals could bring down the federal government before 2016 election.

The solution could be a Somali owned initiative that responds to the principles of the New Deal Strategy endorsed by the international community. Clan based governments are recipe for corruption and clan antagonism that will perpetuate the failed state condition.

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Stoning in Lower Shebelle: Recent incidents highlight continued brutality


SIHA is calling for action from both parties within and outside Somalia to prevent stoning and other form of torture and violence from continuing to cripple the ability of Somali people to lead viable lives

In a series of actions that violate human rights norms and humanitarian, customary, domestic, and Islamic forms of law, al-Shabab militants operating in rural areas of Lower Shebelle region of Somalia recently stoned to death Safia Ahmed Jimale, a 33-year old mother found guilty of adultery (zina) and 18-year old Hasan Ahmad Ali, who was found guilty of rape.

‘The stoning emphasizes the continued suffering of Somali civilians in the name of dubious and militant interpretations of Islamic law,’ said Hala Elkarib, Director of SIHA. The stoning also represents a broader trend, which SIHA regularly confronts, whereby militancy is used by select groups despite the presence and validity of peaceful and social-justice oriented interpretations of Islam which carry currency for far larger segments of the global Muslim population.

Further, in Ms. Jimale’s case, she was alleged by al-Shabaab authorities to have confessed to the crime of adultery. A confession by an alleged adulterer negates the obligation of the accusing tribunal to ‘prove’ that the adultery occurred, with proof of adultery typically relying on the testimony of four witnesses said to have directly witnessed the illicit act. In Somalia and other areas of the world where stoning has occurred, the confessions of the accused have often been fabricated to make up for a lack acceptable proof the act occurred. In 2008, 13-year old Aisha Duhulow’sfiling of a police report after she was gang raped by three armed men was considered by al-Shabab as evidence of her ‘confession’ to the crime of adultery and led to her execution by stoning. Similar ‘confessions have led to stoning sentences in other contexts in recent years. The tribunal verdict issued in regards to Mr. Ali demonstrates that even in absence of a supposed confession, the proving of accused’s guilt as mandated by Islamic law is not a priority – Mr. Ali denied that he had raped anyone, had said the sex was consensual, yet was judged guilty and executed nonetheless without the required witnesses which Islamic law says are necessary to file a guilty verdict on charges of adultery or rape.

Additionally, SIHA has established that Ms. Jimale was mentally unfit to stand trial, make confessions for crimes, or receive punishment for crimes. A small-scale trader from Barawe who witnessed Ms. Jimale’s execution told SIHA that it was widely-known in Barawe that Ms. Jimale was mentally unwell, and that her family repeatedly communicated this fact with al-Shabab prior to the sentencing and execution. In Islamic law, mentally unwell individuals, referred to as majnun, are said to lack legal responsibility (taklif) for their actions, and thus are not eligible for the punishments mandated by Islamic law for mentally well adults. Violations of Islamic law committed by majnun, such as the alleged adultery committed by Ms. Jimale, are viewed in Islamic jurisprudence as unintentional acts and are therefore not punishable. Despite there being a clear process in place in Islamic jurisprudence for establishing the mental capacity of the accused to stand trial, no such process appears to have been engaged in by al-Shabab tribunal members prior to the stoning.

A closer look at classical and Islamic jurisprudence emerging from madhhahib as early as the 8th century reveals scholarship discouraging the brutality of stoning. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century the decisions to stone a person to death is still being made in any part of the Muslim world despite a wealth of accumulated knowledge, wisdom and interpretations of Islam not supporting the practice.

The brutality of stoning lacks, therefore, a foundation in Islamic law, and acts of stoning carried out against Somali citizens ought to be understood not as something which select groups are compelled to do because of religious affiliation but more simply as the preference of some to employ violence as a means of intimidation and population control.

SIHA is calling for action from both parties within and outside Somalia to prevent stoning and other form of torture and violence from continuing to cripple the ability of Somali people to lead viable lives and contribute to the rebuilding of their country.


The continuation of stoning carried out in the name of Islam must be challenged by Muslim communities and countries around the world. [url=]Stoning is not part of the legal system in most Muslim countries[/url=]; these States should share their experience with countries in the Horn of Africa which are resistant or unable to pursue abolishing the practice.


Respond proactively to incidents of stoning and other terror occurring in Somalia and advocate for the referencing the universality of human rights protections like the UN Convention Against Torture which is binding whether or not a State or party is present as a signatory;
Develop means of receiving information from communities which have experienced violence through strengthened communication and funding channels to locally based human rights defenders and organizations;

Maintain pressure on the Government of Somalia as well as the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to improve on their capacity to improve security in regions across Somalia;

Ensure AMISOM forces work towards the establishing security of Somalia and avoid becoming perpetrators in human rights violations themselves. Encourage, by liaising with donor nations contributing to AMISOM, the development of stronger oversight and justice mechanisms for any armed forced discovered to be committing human rights violations, particularly sexual violence and extrajudicial killing.


Ensure that the Human Rights Commission mandated by the Constitution receives necessary parliamentary support to become an effective body by which human rights violations like stoning can be investigated and perpetrators of human right violations brought to relevant judiciary bodies;

Work to build and maintain security corridors by which qualified human rights agencies, humanitarian actors, and key stakeholders can gain better access to key regions in southern Somalia where significant human right violations are known to occur in an atmosphere of impunity. Increasing the ‘footprint’ of human right and humanitarian actors is an established means of deterring extremism and supporting isolated communities suffering under it.


In terms of Human Rights Law (HRL), the broadly reaching Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in instructive regarding punishments like stoning; acts of torture committed by any party constitute violations of a variety of articles of the UDHR, particularly those protecting against violations of human dignity (Article 1), protecting against torture and cruel punishment (Article 5), and guaranteeing fair trial (Article 10) and Article 30, which broadly prohibits acts of individual States or groups to attempt to destroy or invalidate human rights contained in the UDHR. In Customary International Law (CIL), the most relevant instrument regarding stoning is likely the UN Convention Against Torture, which is increasingly becoming absorbed into customary law world over and also underpins other international prohibitions (see: Article 5, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights) against punishments like stoning. Given that Somalia is beset by a non-international armed conflict, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), is also a key consideration. At the time of Ms. Jimale’s execution in Barawe, al-Shabab was the de facto controlling force in what was at the time their last stronghold in southern Somalia. IHL regarding occupying forces is most clearly spelled out in the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Under these obligations, occupying forces ‘must respect the laws in force in the occupied territory,’ ‘must take measures to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety,’ and must comply with [url=]a variety of prohibitions against torture[/url=] and other forms of ill treatment, all regulations which are violated by the stoning of civilians.

Somali domestic law, represented by the Provisional Constitution adopted in 2012, also has important prohibitions against violence against women, torture, and inhumane treatment (Article 15.2). Additionally, the Constitution mandates the forming, in the face of clear incidents of human right violations occurring within Somalia, of a Human Rights Commission charged with identifying and investigating allegations of human rights violations (Article 41.1-2). Yet, despite extreme violence and human rights violations occurring throughout Somalia since the adoption of the Constitution, the Somali Parliament has consistently lagged behind to form a viable Human Rights Commission and to clearly define leadership, roles, and objectives of the Commission.

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Ali Mazrui, 1933-2014: A tribute


By: Toyin Falola

Mazrui was a Creolite, that is, one who had the capacity to mix languages, and became entangled in the cultures as well as the identities of these languages. He was a language bargainer, shopping for the appropriate genre in which to negotiate in the marketplace of ideas.

Laa ilaaha illal-lahuu
Muhammadur Rasuulullah

[“There is no good example except Allah (SWT).
Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah (SWT).”]

Inna lillaahi maa akhaza,
wa lillaahi maa a’ataa,
wa kullun indahu,
bi ajalim musamman,
faltasbir waltahtasib.

[“Verily everything belongs to Allah (SWT)
that He hath taken away,
And belongs to Allah that He hath given.
Allah (SWT) is with him for an appointed time;
forbear and except reward.”]

Innalilaahi wainalaihi rajioon

(It is from Him did we come and it is Him shall we return).

The colossus with the feet of steel joined his ancestors in the early hours of October 13, 2014. Ali Mazrui was larger than life! The most prodigious scholar of African politics, his multiple talents combined creative work in elegant prose and poetry with polemics. A teacher, orator, journalist, filmmaker, and public intellectual, he was arguably the most connected and best known African scholar for over half a century. There will be a legion of tributes in his honor all over Africa and elsewhere. My tribute will be limited to the place of language in his long writing and scholarly career.

Growing up in Christian homes, many Africans believe that they would hear about Babel only in Christian parlance-or, if you will, in Christendom – where it refers to the countless tongues when the “Tower of Babel” was being built. However, in this tribute, I crave your indulgence to allow me to use the opportunity of Mazrui’s passing to re-introduce ‘The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience’ published by the University of Chicago Press in 1998. This seminal book was co-authored by Professors Ali A. Mazrui and Alamin M. Mazrui (two Mazruis, needing only one more to create a triple heritage of names!). I would like to use this book to pay tribute to a legend, to talk more broadly about the power and ambiguity of languages, how word choice connects you and me to society, and how language opens a window into the world of politics. Baba Mazrui used languages to distinguish himself.

Autobiography is connected with language. Mwalimu Ali Mazrui (also honorifically called Nana in Ghanaian royal parlance) was born and raised in East Africa, where he learned English, Swahili, and Arabic. He was a Creolite, that is, one who had the capacity to mix languages, and became entangled in the cultures as well as the identities of these languages. Years later, when he became a respected scholar, he formulated his eclectic language background into what he called Africa’s “triple heritage”: indigenous, Islamic, and Western. That triple heritage, as he defined it, has a foundation in language. Undoubtedly, the Creolite in Mazrui came across very forcefully in this articulation of the triple heritage in a successful documentary film series on Africa.

Orality is critical, and it is sometimes presented as the use of African languages or their revival to advance the agenda of modernity. The endorsement of the creative power in orality becomes a sort of theatrical performance itself. The people whom he wrote about are grounded in orality, and they represent this orality in conversations and text. Mazrui was able to capture their imaginations and reality.

To Mazrui, English was a vehicle to mobility, modernity, and intellectual power. His prolificacy was facilitated by the infrastructure of the English language. His works are focused on African politics and economy, the search for change agents, and the understanding of processes in the longue durée.

The languages of Mazrui, a Creolite, embedded the narrative of the self in that of the nation. Although he did not pursue his work in a chronological fashion, the genealogies are clear. There was the autobiography of childhood in the TV series, (The Africans: A Triple Heritage) one that talked about his family, and how that family was connected to an identity. This is how orality structures a narrative. He possessed a nostalgia for Mombasa, Kenya, and lamented the passing of many of its cultural elements into oblivion, just as the Griot in Senegal would present a storyline. Mazrui was fond of placing stress on space and memory which, although presented in the colonial language of English, he always grounded in orality.

Orality recognizes the organic relationship between the environment and human beings, as humans use the powerful animals in the jungle to describe themselves. Human beings developed a strong understanding of everything around them, from insects to trees, and call upon the resources of the environment to organize their religions and rituals. This connection with the environment can be characterized as sensing nature itself, and in doing so, using a language that draws heavily on all available objects and elements and working them into idioms, proverbs, and parables.

Moving into the school system, the language of orality is not discarded but expanded upon. English and Swahili become juxtaposed, and indigenous languages may be added to create a creolization. One sees in a number of Mazrui’s writings this juxtaposition. Strikingly, he also brought in poetic stanzas, woven into prose, stylistic choices that embroidered an argument or were used as transitional connecting points in building an assembly of ideas.

In Mazrui’s work, poetry reveals creolization, the unconscious recourse to the multiplicity of languages and creative genres. This brings the otherwise estranged languages of the farmers and the professor closer to a mutual understanding. Mazrui was a language bargainer, shopping for the appropriate genre in which to negotiate in the marketplace of ideas. He was indeed a smart bargainer, as he drew from so many diverse sources.

Orality is about dialogue, and Swahili is conversational. Thus, Mazrui often wrote as if he were engaged in dialogue, with a few sentences forming short paragraphs. These shorter paragraphs tended to invite another set of dialogues, a style not drawn from the European languages but from East African oral culture. When you “call out” in orality, it takes the form of a performance. Orality does not encourage monologue. Orality is spontaneous and creative, and one sees the deployment of both aspects in the way Mazrui answered questions in seminars and conferences. He could be theatrical, using imaginative and figurative language.

Mazrui’s intellectual assembly was a combination of the plurality of issues, the plurality of subjects, the plurality of perspectives, and the plurality of languages. But that plurality of languages was enfolded in what I have identified as the recourse to orality, the constant references to fragmented histories and memory. But as Mazrui deployed the English language, he needed to fracture and fragment himself, that is, his own being and body; his presentation of the past, grounded in orality, sometimes became “mythical.” Indeed, he often took the Islamic as “indigenous,” thus casting its impact in mythical ways as well. This is where Mazrui not only betrayed his preference but his transparency: the Western and the Christian became patriarchal and masculine, in opposition to the innocence and femininity of the mythical.

The dominance and status of the English language in Mazrui’s work are clear. The English language was used to present Africa to Africans and to the world, and to re-Africanize Africans in drawing from lost traditions. A blended language, the “Englishes” with doses of Swahili and Arabic revealed creativity but drew attention to curiosity as well. Creativity and curiosity raised questions not just about intellectual innovations, but the content of ideas. A language has such a powerful linkage with culture that writing in English does not mean a rejection of one’s cultural immersion. Let me illustrate this point with a citation from The Power of Babel:

“Where do the ‘pronouns’ come in? Languages betray the cultures from which they spring. Pronouns are part of that story. In referring to a third person English is gender-conscious-so the pronoun he refers to the male and the pronoun she refers to the female. In many African languages pronouns are gender-neutral. The words for ‘he’ or ‘she’ are fused into one. To the present day many Africans competent in the English language sometimes refer to a third person female as ‘he’ when speaking in English because of the linguistic influence of their own mother tongues.” [210.]

And there are cultural nuances:

“Most African languages do not have separate words for ‘nephews’ and ‘nieces’ because your sister’s children are supposed to be equivalent of your own biological children. The same word which is used for your child (mtoto in Kiswahili) is used for your niece or nephew. Very few African languages have a word for ‘cousin’. Your uncle’s daughter or son is the equivalent of your sister or brother, so cousins are counted almost as siblings. Once again language betrays the tightness of kinship ties in the African extended family.” [The Power of Babel, 210.]

May Allah forgive his failings

And reward his contributions to the human spirit

May Allah (SWT) grant Mwalimu Mazrui Jannat

May the Mzee be received by all our ancestors

May Allah provide those of us he has left behind

The fortitude to continue the Nana’s work.

Let us proclaim today as the beginning of a new ideology: Pax Mazruiana!

Jazakumu Allahu Khayrain!

* Dr Toyin Falola teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Ebola in Africa: A product of history, not a natural phenomenon


Health workers teach people about the Ebola virus and how to prevent infection,  in Conakry, Guinea, last month. Officials say more than 100 people have died in an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

August H. Nimtz

There is nothing inevitable about the Ebola epidemic now devastating parts of Africa. Like other disasters, it too is the product of history, of the decisions that governments have made in the past as well as the present.

Modern African history teaches, often tragically, the need to distinguish between what might be called natural phenomena from those that are essentially socio-economic-political. The droughts that ravaged many parts of the continent in the early 1970s were an example of the former. (I leave aside the issue of human actions and global warming.) As drought-stricken California presently shows, the famines and the tens of thousands of lives lost that came in their wake were not, however, inevitable. That horrific outcome was largely the product of the policies put in place by colonial governments and dutifully and sadly reproduced by post-colonial regimes.

The same lesson is being taught, again, tragically, by the continent’s latest scourge. Human pathogens have existed in Africa ever since our species began to evolve there and they too evolve, sometimes resulting in viruses like Ebola. But there’s nothing inevitable about the Ebola epidemic that’s still unfolding. Like famines, it too is the product of history, the decisions that governments have made in the past as well as the present. The relevant question is whose interests are prioritized in those choices? How a society responds to that most natural of processes, the evolution of human pathogens, testifies to the answers it gives to that question.

Colonial regimes, in place from about the last quarter of the nineteenth century to a decade or so after the Second World War, were, above all else, designed to extract Africa’s natural resources in the most lucrative way. Social services that might have benefited the colonial subjects, such as healthcare and education, were, to save costs, kept to a minimum—if that. This explains the profoundly undemocratic character of those regimes. The last thing the extractors wanted is for the subjects to have some say-so about how they were governed and, hence, how their natural resources should be utilized. These were the arrangements that post-colonial elites not only inherited and readily embraced but deepened to advance their own narrow class interests. In the case of Liberia, a semi-colony of the U.S.—nominally independent since 1847—its elite (the descendants of repatriated slaves from America) ensured that Firestone Rubber would reap enormous profits from its operations there. Thus, the outrageously ironic situation today where, in one of the world’s leading rubber producers, there are not enough rubber gloves to protect its citizens from the scourge.

In recent decades, in the name of fighting wasteful government spending and corruption, international lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund have demanded as a condition for getting new funding African governments must reduce their spending. African elites have willingly agreed to do so with resulting cuts in healthcare and education—helping to create the perfect storm for the Ebola virus.

Lest it be assumed that only poor or underdeveloped countries are afflicted with such tragic outcomes, consider what happened in the richest country in the world in 2005. In the wake of a natural phenomenon, Hurricane Katrina—global warming again notwithstanding—more than 1,600 people (and still counting for those of us intimately familiar with what happened) lost their lives in New Orleans and environs. Yet two months earlier a hurricane of greater intensity, Dennis, struck Cuba twice and only 15 of its citizens perished. Neither outcome was inevitable. The difference, rather, evidenced the deep going structural transformations in Cuban society after 1959—its revolution. For the first time in Cuba’s history, its toilers had a government that prioritized their interests and not those of a tiny elite. Their life chances, as measured by, for example, infant mortality rates, life expectancy, levels of education, dramatically improved, despite the fact that Cuba is still poor and underdeveloped. The starkly different aftermaths of the two hurricanes in both societies spoke volumes about what Cuba’s toilers had achieved and what their apparently better-off counterparts 400 miles to the north had not.

Neither is it a coincidence that Cuba has stepped forward, unlike any other country, to commit healthcare personnel to fight the Ebola scourge. Four hundred and sixty-one Cubans are either on their way or already in the affected areas. They were selected from 15,000 of their 11 million citizens who volunteered to go. That’s tellingly in contrast to, as of this week, the 2,700 U.S. citizens, out of a population of 316 million, who, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, have volunteered to do the same. For Cubans there is nothing unusual about what they are doing since four thousand of their healthcare workers already serve in 38 African countries and about 45,000 in 28 countries elsewhere. Thus, the political choices a society makes have consequences not only for the life chances of its own citizens but also for those of other countries. And therein is the most important lesson. Until the toilers not only in Africa but elsewhere have governments that serve their interests they risk being once again needless victims of natural phenomena.

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Ebola’s villain and victim


Amira Ali

Varying Western mainstream media styles of reporting on Ebola confirm how narratives are spaces of domination. The African Ebola patient is classically “othered” and portrayed as a villain and perpetrator, while the American Ebola patient is depicted as a victim.

Currently, narrating human tragedy may sound more like fiction, and perhaps fiction may have more humanity.

Whilst sensationalizing headlines regarding all things related to African tragedy is a common place for western mainstream media, the news coverage on the current “war on Ebola” is pervasively flooding. Much like scenes from a chilling movie with endless fear-inducing images of workers in hazmat costumes, reinforced with invasive stigmatizing, reductive images, and unclear language of medical folklore, the purpose seems to confuse and mount public anxiety.

More often than not, with the ubiquity of whiteness narrating Africa – popular imagination inherited during the colonial era of mass idea dissemination – while tramping local (African) agents, pervasively, we see the dissemination of a “single story”. By and large, in the dangerously monotone styled narration the villain is usually the African and the hero looks much like the western narrator; and such has been the dominant trajectory of white-scripted history.

Yes, the Ebola hemorrhagic fever is ravaging West Africa, and yes some have said it is spiraling out of control, undermining the social structures and exposing weak public institutions. Having said that, we are reminded by Mandisi Majavu that “the poor health situation in Africa exists largely due to colonialism, imperialism and global inequality”; underpinned by what Frantz Fanon calls “the contingencies -the discursive practices carried on from colonial times, economic drives, and institutional configurations.” And further weakening structures, catastrophes such as epidemics have been said, get managed out of “playbooks”; seemingly formulated by design to destroy and dismantle local structures. Hence, the reported mistrust in some West African countries concerning the spread of the Ebola disease is of no surprise, and is perhaps with merit.


Varying American mainstream media styles of reporting on Ebola confirm how narratives are spaces of domination. As scenarios and stories of the arrival of the virus from Africa into the U.S. rapidly varies, the inundation of sensationalized features that objectify the African body, much for the benefit of western readers, is consistently troublesome but not surprising. Bleakly evident is how human beings are portrayed; for some of us, the language of the inhumane voice and the circulating reductive images are more than uncomfortable; they’re mutilating. Emphasizingthe prevailing narrative that black Africans living in western countries are the diseased ‘other’ who pose a threat to the health of whites”, while the local African population is portrayed as unqualified and in dire need of being saved by the west.

Further, the current discourse around the outbreak, beyond medical racism, the politicized and racialized delivery –what Teju Cole calls “the Fox News of explosive incontinence”, attempts to remind us of how “the scourge of anti-Blackness is savage, deadly, and global”. As it purports to be concerned about health but lacking genuineness, western mainstream media has not been short on reporting the African story nevertheless failing to visualize beyond the historico-racial schema that is deep-rooted in social consciousness. And as Narcisse Jean Alcide Nana states, “Major clichés and few strong allegories conjure up the spasms of this ongoing malaise to the point of oversimplifying the field of African security.”

cc DCH
New York Fashion Week models show off Chanel’s new contamination prevention Ready-to-wear collection in preparation for the Ebola apocalypse. Image obtained here


Telling of a common representational style, the African Ebola patient is classically “othered” and portrayed as a villain and perpetrator, while the American Ebola patient is depicted as a victim.

Not short on stigmatizing – treating Africa as dirty and disease infested, rather disturbingly, Newsweek’s August 2014 magazine cover features an image of a chimpanzee with the words, A Back Door for Ebola: Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark a U.S. Epidemic. Overall, as the ignorant and racialized message behind the image is a common place for western media, the meaning behind the illustration is saturated with a historically pathological and racial depiction whereas the story illuminates incompetent and immoral journalistic performance.

While such and other sources fuel panic and racist reactions in and beyond the American borders, as authored in the Washington Post by Ishmael Bah, we have been made aware of how “in Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “’we apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment’”.

And yet again, on October 5, 2014, the New York Times in an article titled Ebola Victim’s Journey From Liberian War to ‘Fight for Life in U.S’, a peculiar feature regarding Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who while visiting the U.S. was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas, the article written prior to his fatality attempts to sell, on and after the heading, a story that’s more than Ebola –underscoring the U.S. as “the savior of life”. But beyond the health status and concern of the patient, from a title that sets the tone and a story that reflects on its premise, in a disturbing and intrusive approach, senselessly, delves into the private history of the patient also weaving in the story of his child’s mother. Sensationalizing the story further, it reports irrelevant accounts such as describing the interior of the apartment – living space furnishings, types of furniture, color of floor, etc. – where Duncan was staying during his visit in the U.S. Additionally, as it further disregards the patient’s privacy, it publicizes a full graphic of the apartment layout.

Meanwhile, there have been articles written about American Ebola patients featured in a brief and humane tone, adhering to respect and safeguard of the patients’ privacy. On October 6, 2014, CNN, in an article titled Who are the American Ebola patients, the feature lists the American patient’s name; age; organization he/she works for; where he/she was infected, and the current health status of the patient. And in fact, on September 9, 2014, when Fox News reported the arrival of another American Ebola patient, it announced how based on Emory University Hospital “the identity and status remains confidential”.

All in all, selling the rare and exotic disease story of Africa with sensationalized stories that inspire headlines like “The ISIS of Biological Agents” and “Why Obama is allowing Ebolaphobia to spread” by media houses like Fox News and CNN has been bellyful. All while, sounding geographically unknowledgeable, on September 9, 2014, Fox News had a difficult time making the distinction between Liberia and Nigeria.

cc CNN
With no concern to western mainstream media of being informed, geographically speaking or with reference to other facts, rather, capitalizing on mounting fear and anxiety Ebola is portrayed as the disease of the diseased black man and a burden for the rest. Meanwhile, the American patients are represented in a ratherwhite-savior industrial complex” manner; as Aid workers or volunteers who’ve journeyed to Liberia to save lives and now implicated, all while they were doing-good and offering charitable service. Telling their story in a sentimental tone, as victims of the “African” malady.

Characteristically, the indicated written accounts and others not mentioned further highlight how narratives are spaces for dominant groups to take on the role of defining the out-group’s identity. And far from educating the public and taking responsible media action on the outbreak that is projected to infect “more than 1.4 million persons in the next few weeks”, it has taken the opportunity to drive fear. Insisting on coverage that speaks to the militarization of West African epicenters of Ebola and all else that incites panic, while as stated by Horace Campbell “placing no attention on measures for public education,” with no sight to foster and address the overwhelming need “to diminish the racialization of Ebola to clarify that the first recognized outbreak took place not in Africa, but in Marburg Germany, hence the name given to Ebola as Marburg Virus”.


Having said all of that, beyond western stigmatization and military intervention, in the end, what we [Africans and friends of Africa] prominently ought to demand and what will matter the most is how to contain this lethal virus and how Africans can be mobilized to save their own. Pointing towards how the most effective action and solution has to be within, from a type of African leadership that values the lives of its citizens and takes appropriate measures to respond; to educate and mobilize.

Significantly, as stated by Horace Campbell, “The very same institutions and organizations that have been at the forefront of bioeconomic warfare in Africa cannot lead the mobilization against Ebola,” and furthermore, “ECOWAS has been able in the past to intervene in Liberia and Sierra Leone to bring peace. Collectively, ECOWAS and the AU possess the technical and medical capabilities to be more vigorous in response to Ebola. There is the mistaken perception abroad that Africa does not have the medical personnel to fight this epidemic. However, the ability to mobilize the resources in Africa for a more robust response depends on political will.”

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