Archive | March 13th, 2017

Something is rotten in the state of Somaliland


Despite widespread vociferous opposition by citizens, the government of Somaliland has granted a military base to Abu Dhabi. There is no credible justification for this decision in terms of Somaliland’s national security or economic needs. The decision is one more example of the culture of impunity, entitlement and mendacity of the Kulmiye government.

In Act I of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Marcellus, one of the sentries at Elsinore Castle, utters the immortal line “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, meaning that there exists in Denmark (the setting of the play) a deep malaise that is having a profoundly negative effect upon the country and its collective psyche (an alternative understanding of the line is that the reference to “Denmark” is to the King himself and the “rottenness” or malaise is in his soul) – either explanation serves the purpose of this article.  The genius of the bard, and indeed of all great dramatists, lies, at least partly, in their talent for encapsulating complex and often inexpressible thoughts and ideas in concise and simple language.  This is the essence and beauty of great poetry.

We can say today, with both confidence and sadness, that there is something truly rotten in the state of Somaliland, and that something is, without doubt, rotten in the current Kulmiye Government.  The fiasco in Parliament on 12 February 2017 wherein at a joint session of the two houses, Wakiilada & Guurtida (Representatives and Elders), the decision to grant a military base at Berbera to the Government of Abu Dhabi was supposedly ratified, is but the latest in a long line of government actions that directly sacrifice the public interest in favour of the personal gain of government insiders and the ruling elite. The use of public office and executive authority for personal enrichment has a long tradition and is common in many countries, including many so-called advanced countries that often have the shameless temerity to lecture their less developed counterparts on the evils of corruption and the imperatives of clean governance and transparency in civic affairs. However, it is fair to say that the Kulmiye Government has elevated executive corruption, public mendacity and the open manipulation of public office for personal gain to a level unseen in the history of Somaliland.  We have now reached the rarefied heights of the Afweyne dictatorship with respect to the open and shameless theft of public funds and assets by government officials from the highest levels to the lowest clerical cadres.

Government ministers are blatantly shameless in misappropriating public funds for their personal use and in stealing public assets and property (i.e. land, buildings, vehicles etc.) by transferring legal title to themselves or their family members. Another recent example of the breach of executive privilege was the spectacle of a coterie of ministers accompanying the Kulmiye presidential candidate, Muse Bihi, on a campaign tour of the eastern provinces of Sool and Sanag. These officials saw no conflict between their responsibilities as public servants sworn to work for the people and uphold the constitution and openly campaigning for a candidate of one of the three national parties; or if they did see the inherent conflict of interest in their actions, they simply did not care – indeed it is normal for government officials to refer to the Kulmiye candidate as “Mr. President” – even though the election is many months away.  This culture of impunity, entitlement and mendacity has been a feature of the Kulmiye government for many years now, and it has become more entrenched with each passing day.

The issue of granting a military base in Berbera to Abu Dhabi merits close study for many reasons, most importantly because authorizing the presence of armed, foreign military forces on one’s soil is an extremely sensitive matter that has fundamental implications for national sovereignty, foreign relations and national development.  Traditionally, nations permit foreign countries to base military personnel and equipment on their soil for reasons connected with the national security of the host country.  For example, after World War II, Germany and Britain granted the US military bases in their countries under the auspices of the NATO alliance in support of their own national security against the threat of the USSR. In response, under the auspices of the Warsaw Pact, the countries of Eastern Europe granted the Soviet Union military bases in their countries. In Asia, South Korea and Japan permitted US military bases in their countries to protect themselves against the perceived threats from North Korea/China and the USSR respectively.  The states of Bahrain and Qatar have granted the US military bases in their countries as a bulwark against the perceived threat to their own national security from Iran.

In the Horn of Africa, Djibouti has granted military bases to several foreign countries, namely France (due to the historic, colonial relationship), the US (which is withdrawing this year due to the base recently granted to China), China and (as recently reported) Saudi Arabia.  However, the case of Djibouti is somewhat different from the examples in Europe and Asia mentioned above. Djibouti is a city-state with no mineral or other natural resources with which it can support itself economically.  Historically, its only significant asset which can be converted into economic value has been its geo-strategic location – after all this was the principal reason that France sought control over the city and its environs during the colonial ‘Scramble for Africa’ during the 19th century.  Thus, for Djibouti, granting military bases to foreign powers has a primarily economic motivation which has worked to its benefit to date.

With respect to Berbera and Somaliland, it is instructive to analyse the various motivations that may lie behind the decision by the Kulmiye government to grant such a base to Abu Dhabi against widespread, popular opposition. First, Somaliland has no immediate and obvious threat to its national security and sovereignty against which the presence of foreign military forces could be a credible deterrent. Ethiopia, the country’s huge neighbour to the west, is also its closest friend in Africa as well as Somaliland’s greatest potential economic and security partner. It is difficult to see Somaliland’s economic, political and security development without Ethiopia as a close and collaborative partner and ally; equally, it is clear that the future of Ethiopia’s economic, trade and security development and growth is closely linked to free and unfettered access to Somaliland’s ports and the entrepreneurial acumen of its vibrant private sector.  Somaliland’s other two neighbours, Djibouti to the north and Somalia to the east and south, do not pose a serious, existential threat to the country’s national security at present and are unlikely to do so in the future. Thus, it is clear that fear of immediate, external threats to its national survival does not comprise a credible motivation for Somaliland to grant a military base to a foreign power.

Second, let us examine the economic motivation which has been widely and loudly touted by the Kulmiye government and its spokespeople.  According to the government, the military base will provide many well-paid jobs which are badly needed and which will contribute to the local economy. The fact is that the foreign military bases in Djibouti do not provide many such jobs to its people, despite the fact that Djibouti, as a recognised member of the international community of nations which has full access to the international monetary, financial and trading systems, has a much greater opportunity to maximise the potential economic benefits of such installations. The simple truth is that the relatively few jobs provided to the host communities by many of these bases are in the janitorial and cleaning sectors. Further, the local purchasing of most of these facilities is very limited since they tend to source most of their goods and materials from their home countries. The limited capacity for sourcing the required goods and materials within Somaliland due to the lack of a local banking sector that is connected to the international financial system, will militate in favour of this trend.

Finally, the experience of Japan and the Philippines suggests that many of the economic and social consequences of hosting large foreign, military installations are often negative for local communities, rather than positive.  In short, despite the glowing and rosy projections of the government regarding the economic benefits of such a base, experience suggests that the socio-economic consequences are uncertain at best, and unambiguously negative at worst.

Unlike Djibouti, Somaliland has ample mineral, pastoral, agricultural and other natural resources upon which to base the economic development of its small population of some 4-5 million. Thus, renting out parts of the land and coast of the country in order to capitalise upon its geo-strategic location is neither the only option available to secure economic benefit, nor is it a particularly rational one. This rentier model of economic development may be sensible for a small city-state with a population of half a million people (grosso modo), but it is laughable as a viable economic strategy for a nation comprising approximately 138,000km2, including 700km of coastline, with significant agricultural, mineral, marine and pastoral resources that could be relatively easily developed to yield economic benefits that would transform the lives of its people beyond recognition.  Thus, the economic rationale for granting the base as advanced by the government is a blatant fallacy.

Since there is no credible motivation with respect to its own national security and the economic benefits of the proposed base are uncertain and limited at best, the motivation of the Kulmiye government in pushing through with granting the base against widespread and vociferous local opposition needs to be scrutinised closely. Is there some critical threat to Somaliland’s security that has been hidden from public view against which the proposed base will be a defence?  Is there some as yet undisclosed benefit that will accrue to the country and its people that has been agreed upon with Abu Dhabi, but which will emerge in the near future?  Based upon the government’s track record with respect to openness and transparency, its history of mendacity and duplicity with respect to foreign policy (principally in its relations and supposed dialogue with the discredited and now defunct Dum-al-Jadid government of Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud), the fact that it is now a ‘lame duck’ administration with just six months remaining of its tenure, not to mention its well-documented elevation of kleptocracy to a method of governance as briefly outlined above, it is difficult, if not impossible, to but conclude that the true motivation lies in the personal gain of key government insiders.

Having established that the rationale and motivation for the proposed base in Berbera do not fall within the parameters applicable in many other countries that host bases for foreign powers, we can turn to the potential disadvantages that granting such a base will bring to Somaliland.  The first issue that needs to be addressed is the proposed tenant of the base and the purpose for which they propose to use it. The lessee is the Government of Abu Dhabi and the stated purpose for its use is the execution of the air campaign against the Houthi rebels in the Yemen War mounted by Arab allies of the government led by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.  In this context, it is important to note that Abu Dhabi has also secured a base in Asab in Eritrea which it has developed significantly since 2015 when the base was granted.  Of course, Eritrea is closer to Yemen and thus better suited as a base of operations against the Houthi rebels, while southern Saudi Arabia is contiguous with Yemen and is the present base of operations for the Arab allies in the Yemen war.

In view of the above, and bearing in mind that Abu Dhabi has a close military alliance with Egypt which has extended to mounting joint air strikes against targets in Libya, many observers see a hidden Egyptian hand in the request for the base in Berbera. This is a very serious issue for Somaliland in view of the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Nile waters and Ethiopia’s plans to construct hydroelectric dams on the headwaters of the Nile in its northern mountains, in order to power its ambitious industrial development plans.  It has been widely reported that Ethiopia is greatly concerned regarding the granting of the base in Berbera to Abu Dhabi, and it has made its concerns known to the Kulmiye government on several occasions.  The fact is that the ramifications of the proposed Berbera base for regional politics are very complex and unclear.

For example, as mentioned above, the principal player in the Arab alliance supporting the Hadi government in Yemen, namely Saudi Arabia, has recently secured a military base in Djibouti, while simultaneously signalling its displeasure with Egypt by supporting Ethiopia’s policy to develop its power generation capacity through construction of dams on the Nile headwaters in its northern waters.  In December 2016, Saudi Arabia sent several delegations to Addis Ababa, one of which visited the Renaissance Dam, and signed economic cooperation agreements with Ethiopia, including joint investment in hydroelectric power projects.  Further, as the new administration in the US signals retrenchment in its global military footprint, and conversely China indicates expansion of its global military footprint (witness their game of musical chairs with respect to bases in Djibouti), regional powers will seek to enhance their projection of military power in the region in support of their respective interests.  In this context, it is also important to bear in mind Russia’s determination to maintain their naval base in Tartus in Syria as evidenced by Russia’s substantial and decisive military support for the Assad regime in the Syrian war.  In January of this year, this Russian policy bore fruit as the two countries signed an agreement to expand and upgrade the base, while making Russia’s use of it permanent.

With respect to the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean, these regional powers comprise Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and India, while the superpowers also jostle for advantage as US strategic imperatives under the new administration become clearer.  The immediate future, therefore, for regional politics and strategic alliances presents a period of increased competition and regional turmoil as these regional powers jostle for advantage and position in the shadow of superpower realignment, expansion and entrenchment. It is into this witches brew of turmoil, localised wars and intensified regional competition, that the Kulmiye government has waded with nary a thought except for its own immediate and petty, material gain.

The people of Somaliland are much wiser than their rulers and understand the dangers and shifting alliances of their neighbourhood, and for this reason have opposed the proposed base by a wide majority.  It is clear that the story with respect to granting of the base is by no means concluded, and it is very likely that the incoming government of Somaliland will reverse the decision of the Kulmiye government after the elections scheduled for September this year. In the meantime, those elements of the Kulmiye government that have been pushing for approval of granting of the base will have secured their ‘thirty pieces of silver’ at the cost of the interests of their nation and people.  However, this is but what we have come to expect from this morally bankrupt and lame duck government.

Posted in SomaliaComments Off on Something is rotten in the state of Somaliland

Re-trial of Saharawi nationalists resumes

International pressure urged to ensure fair re-trial for ‘unfairly convicted’ Saharawis
Peter Kenworthy

International presence and pressure is necessary to ensure a fair re-trial, set to continue on March 13, against the Gdeim Izik Group from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, who Amnesty International says were “unfairly convicted.” The Group strenuously denies the charges, claim that they are politically motivated, and insist that confessions used at the trial were obtained using torture.

In 2013, 21 members of the so-called Gdeim Izik Group were given sentences of between 20 years and life imprisonment in a military court for allegedly belonging to a “criminal group” and for acts of “deadly violence” against Moroccan “public forces in the line of duty.”

The offenses allegedly happened during and after the violent Moroccan raid of the Saharawi Gdeim Izik protest camp outside El Aaiun in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, where over 15,000 Saharawis peacefully protested against Moroccan occupation in late-2010. The Group strenuously denies the charges, claim that they are politically motivated, and insist that confessions used at the trial were obtained using torture.

Amnesty International stated in 2016 that the 2013-trial was “grossly unfair,” that the Gdeim Izik Group were “unfairly convicted”, and that the claims of confessions obtained by torture must be independently investigated for the re-trial to be fair.

Unfair trial
But the re-trial of the Gdeim Izik Group has so far been biased and politically motivated, the most basic principles of a fair trial have not been met, and a court representing a colonial power does not have any jurisdiction in their homeland, Western Sahara.

Nevertheless, the judge has said that he did not see the international agreements that Morocco has signed as legally binding in the trial and furthermore refused the defendants bail, even though they have been in prison for six years after a trial that was declared null and void. The most basic principles of a fair trial have thus not been met.

These are the overall conclusions, made by Norwegian law student Tone Moe and Portuguese human rights activist Isabel Lourenco, who were present at the initial court sessions of the re-trial on December 26, 2016 and 23-25 January in Sale near Rabat.

Hostile environment
Other findings made by Moe and Lourenco were that the defence team were not given access to the full contents of the case file, were interrupted “numerous times” by the judge and prosecutor while the prosecution was allowed to speak freely, were not allowed to speak about the political background for the Gdeim Izik protest camp, and that the defendants were often unable to speak with their lawyers, to hear what was said in the courtroom or to take notes due to being denied pens and paper.

There was also a lot of hostility directed towards the Saharawis who took an interest in the case, according to Moe and Lourenco.

The Moroccan press referred to the defendants as “criminals” and seemingly regarded them as guilty before the case was concluded. Saharawis who wished to protest or enter the court room had dead rats and other objects thrown at them or were threatened by Moroccan bystanders, and some were refused admission to the court room.

Business as usual
According to Abba Malainin, the representative in Denmark of Saharawi liberation movement Polisario, these conclusions are consistent with how Morocco deals with matters regarding Western Sahara, or “the southern provinces” as the colony is usually called by the Moroccan authorities and in the Moroccan media.

He therefore doubts if they will receive a fair trial without any real pressure being put on Morocco, both in regard to the case and Western Sahara in general.

“Many of the accused are leading members of Saharawi organizations and were conducting negotiations with the Moroccan authorities prior to the violent dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik camp. The real reason for their detention is their activism for human rights in occupied Western Sahara, their support for the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination, and their work to expose the illegal exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources by Morocco and third parties such as the EU, says Malainin.

Even so, the spirits of the 21 Saharawi defendants were apparently still high during the court sessions. On more than one occasion upon arriving in court, where they appeared dressed in traditional Saharawi Daraa’s, they chanted “Labadil, Labadil, Antakrir El Masir” – “there is no other solution than self-determination.”

Morocco invaded Western Sahara and suppressed the indigenous Saharawi population in 1975 in violation of international law. They have consistently stalled UN demands for a referendum on the status of the colony since the cease-fire with Polisario in 1991. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Freedom House regard the Moroccan regime in Western Sahara as one of the most repressive in the world, and the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Juan Mendez, reported “systematic patterns of acts of torture and ill-treatment during the detention and arrest process” in Western Sahara in 2013.

Posted in MoroccoComments Off on Re-trial of Saharawi nationalists resumes

Western Sahara: Self-determination delayed


Western Sahara stands out today as Africa’s last colony, occupied illegally and forcefully by Morocco with the backing of France. Everyday Saharawi people suffer horrendous human rights violations by the occupying power. This is one of the world’s forgotten conflicts. The only peaceful solution is for Morocco to accept the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination.

[Radhi Bachir, the Ambassador to South Africa of Western Sahara, or the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), delivered this speech on 27 February 2017 during a panel discussion at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. The panel included Ambassador Ghulam Asmal, Director NEPAD and Partnerships in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation and José Nascimento, an international law expert.]

First let me thank Pretoria University and the Human Rights Department for keeping an eye on this issue.

I would like to thank the Dean for opening this discussion, which we are sure is a contribution that will promote peace and respect for human rights in our corner of Africa.

For years the University has contributed to enlightening on the complexities that seem to characterize the Western Sahara question. Complexities because geographically we are called Western and this area is called South of the same continent and distances can be overcome only by travelling or by information and understanding. This meeting is thus auspicious, especially when lack of clarity is fueled by full speed propaganda and contradicting information spread by Morocco and its Western allies’ machines of misinformation.

If we start by situating the theme of the day, let us say, the Sahrawi Republic is located in northern Africa bordering the Atlantic Ocean (1200 km), Mauritania to the South (over 2000 km) and the Kingdom of Morocco in the North (400 km). With Algeria, the territory has a border of only 50 km.

For more that five decades, the question of Western Sahara, its people’s struggle for independence, has remained unanswered, and the conflict that opposed for years the Sahrawis and Spain (1970-1975) then the Sahrawis and Morocco and Mauritania, (1975-1979) and the Sahrawis and Morocco (ever since) has become a forgotten and neglected international crisis. Still, it is a conflict that cannot and will not go away so long as injustice is committed against a people that do not want to give up despite the complexities and the means used to subdue them. Freedom is indivisible; if one part of African suffers injustice then all of African is enduring the same pain and anguish.

The question of Western Sahara was since 1963 a simple question of decolonization: a people, the Sahrawi people, who live in the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, have been colonized by a declining European power, the Kingdom of Spain. Ever since, the United Nations, which registered the territory, some 110 000 square miles as a Non-self- governing territory, to which the right to self-determination, a God-given right, should apply which has been enforced into law, during long debates, in 1960, nevertheless adopted in Resolution 1514 (XV) of the United Nations General Assembly.

The right to self-determination provides for a people to determine freely their destiny at a time when the colonizer prepares for its withdrawal for the territory it occupies. The colonial power has nevertheless the responsibility to prepare the people to be able to exercise that right in a “civilized” manner, which means that the colonizer should invest time and funds for the setting up of a reliable administration and infrastructure as well as education for the colonized people to enjoy that inalienable right without coercion.

This did not happen in Spanish Sahara. Spain was, as I said, a declining power associated with the worst of regime, Hitler’s nationalism, and suffering from a long civil war that left the country depleted of its potentialities. No civilized manners, customs or administration was introduced in our homeland. To the contrary, Islam was targeted because it provided a very strong alternative to colonialism and exploitation.

All along the past century, the Spanish Sahara went through several uprisings and organized intermittent resistance against colonialists in West Africa. In early 1900s, a long war was launched from the “Land of saints” against the new colonial attempts. The Sahrawi resistance against the French colonial army is very well known and French tombs could be found today from Saguia el Hamra to the river of Senegal and within today Mali. They are the cemeteries witnessing the battles between the Sahrawi Gazia and the French colonial army.

Western Sahara was occupied and “pacified” only thanks to French intervention at the turn of last century. Under Spanish colonial presence the territory was managed by the ejercito the Spanish foreign legion, i.e. a military administration, for that matter, the same military administration was operating in metropolitan Spain, under the command of Generalissimo Franco.

Madrid was poor and provided very little and was doing very little and spending very little “to modernize” the colony. Education was a luxury. The Sahrawis created their own Koranic schools, where most of the leadership of the Polisario Front got its first education. The infrastructure was non-existent. Whatever Spain built in the territory was a long conveyer belt to exploit the huge deposit of phosphate of Bucraa. Asphalt roads were limited to the capital EL Aiun, and the population movements were limited to the colony, for fear that the wind of liberty could blow into the colony. The borders were strictly controlled by the tropas nomadas and visiting the neighboring states was prohibited for nationals.

All this exposes the reality on the ground at the time Spanish Sahara became known as the Western Sahara in 1975. Recent history will tell you that the Sahrawis continued their struggle for national liberation and fought a violent war against the Moroccan army, which has enjoyed the backing of France, and the United States when their army was pushed way beyond their borders. The war from 1975 to 1991 resulted in dozens of thousands of deaths, perpetration by Morocco of genocide against the Sahrawi people who fled to neighboring countries (close to half of the population are refugees today in Algeria, where five refugee camps are installed in a barren land; other thousands fled to Mauritanian northern towns, and to Spain).

The Sahrawi government administers 40 per cent of the Western Sahara, liberated areas where some 20, 000 families live almost permanently and provides basic food, education and health care for the refugees, some 170 000 people. The refugee camps even though they represent a permanent challenge to the organization because of the lack of resources and the insufficient international humanitarian assistance, have been

recognized as the best organized refugee camps by the United Nations High commission for refugees.

The situation in the camps contrasts with that of the Sahrawi living under Morocco’s control. The Moroccan illegal administration comprises over 120, 000 troops, 20, 000 gendarmes, 20, 000 civil servants, including police, and over 120, 000 settlers who are the eyes and ears of the oppressor. The Sahrawis living in the occupied territories are outnumbered and are estimated to be less than two hundred thousand.

The colonial policy of Morocco in Western Sahara seeks to integrate at any cost and by any mean the Sahrawis to Moroccan society: prohibiting Sahrawi culture, limiting their freedom of movement, prohibiting peaceful demonstrations, and prohibiting contacts with foreign visitors. Visitors to Western Sahara must have a special permit, which can be obtained only after a long scrutiny. Media and NGOs are seen as enemy number one of the Moroccan administration and authorities. If they are permitted to visit, they will have to follow a fixed itinerary and be accompanied by plainclothes police from the point of entry to the territory to their exit. The United Nations personnel has complained several times and documented Morocco’s vigilance in Western Sahara. The territory is also under a constant media blackout even though the United Nations has been deploying both components of international civilian and military to prepare and organize a referendum on self- determination.

No change. While the UN is present, just as before, the Moroccan colonial administration oppresses, tortures and jails at will any Sahrawi suspected of presenting even the least challenge to Moroccan policy. Morocco rejected any human rights monitoring by the UN mission in Western Sahara. France provided the defense of Morocco’s colonialism in Western Sahara. France worked to defeat the UN referendum and it has succeeded so far. Since 1975 hundreds of civilians have disappeared and may have died in detention. Even today

Morocco’s colonial laws of arbitrary detention and life-long prison for peaceful activists are common practice.

The territory of Western Sahara stands out today as, ostensibly, Africa’s last colony. Colonialism is a mode of submission and exploitation of a people and their land. When the land is super-rich, phosphates, uranium, gold, fish, beaches, etc and when the people are rebellious and ungovernable, the repression becomes quite similar to the Apartheid regime during its heyday.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other European and African human rights non-governmental organizations have documented Morocco’s persistent violation of rights in occupied Western Sahara. This typical colonial aggressiveness and savagery are reported by any delegation that will visit the area.

Any discussion on the question of Western Sahara will lead to another. What about a peaceful resolution of the conflict? And since early this month because the Kingdom of Morocco has accepted to sit with the Sahrawi Republic within the African Unity one may think that the parties to the conflict are getting closer to settling their dispute peacefully.

Conflicting signals are emerging from Moroccan officials as to the existence of a real political will to be awaked from their long colonial dreams and face reality and accept the principles guiding African unity and work through decolonization practices and democratic methods to resolve this conflict peacefully.

On the one hand King Mohamed V of Morocco has limited experience in world politics but inherited tremendous centralized powers. By lobbying to be admitted in the AU, he seems to be willing to correct mistakes his father made when the Sahrawi Republic was admitted to the Organization of African Unity but His Majesty seems to be making other mistakes that could be judged as even worse – by expelling the United Nations mission from the Western Sahara, deployed to keep a badly needed ceasefire Morocco’s Hassan II strove for and was a witness of his army defeat. The UN mission was invited to help Morocco out of its quagmire to organize a referendum, as a face-saving formula, a formula

Morocco can only fear because its outcome is clear and will lead ineluctably to a confirmation of the Sahrawi independence.

On the other hand at Gergarat, an illegal aperture, the only land passage in the entire Moroccan land borders, in the Moroccan Chinese-type wall built in the heart of the Western Sahara, is used to unload tones of dissimulated dagga into Africa. In the last few months, and as reported today in the Pretoria News, tension has gone a notch higher; the UN peacekeepers have been deployed to keep the two armies at distance and prevent a spark that would unleash the resumption of the war. Yes, but the escalation is only the consequence of Morocco’s stubbornness and rejection of its previous commitment to a peaceful resolution and signing of many agreements negotiated officially with the Sahrawi side under UN supervision.

It is the result of recent refusal to receive the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and his Personal Envoy and UN mediator, Christopher Ross. Morocco has created “a dangerous situation” according to Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General.

Morocco boycotted the ongoing peaceful negotiations to which the Sahrawi side has always adhered and continues to welcome. The talks represented the only glimmer of hope for a peaceful resolution. The deadlock is the result of Morocco’s attempt to dictate the outcome of any referendum and reject any internationally supervised but also organized referendum in the territory.

Because of their own colonial endurance, the majority of African countries have only witnessed and understood the colonial policy exercised on daily basis on the Sahrawi people. Whether through the African Unity approach to welcome both the Sahrawi Republic and the Kingdom of Morocco in its fold or through the advanced position of the United Nations and the European community, the framework of a final solution entailing the exercise of the right of self-determination by the sole people of Western Sahara remains the wise course for a peaceful resolution of this African dispute.

Never forget that expansionist Morocco sat for over six long years with the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in the Organization of the African Unity without recognizing its independence. We hope that this time

Morocco would have learnt from its own colonial experience and shorten the time of the normalization of bilateral relations with the Sahrawi Republic.

The efforts the African states and peoples will make to bring that day closer will benefit Africa and speed up the huge task of unity and development our peoples have sacrificed for.

Thank you very much.

Posted in MoroccoComments Off on Western Sahara: Self-determination delayed

African women have made significant gains, UN rights report shows

African Leadership

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published its first-ever report on the human rights of African women. The report celebrates important achievements such as provisions on sexual and gender based violence, economic, social and cultural rights and the principle of non-discrimination in constitutions, polices and in legislations across the continent.

The UN Women’s Rights in Africa Report was produced in honour of the African Union 2016 theme “year of human rights”, thus celebrating the gains made by women in the continent.

The gains made in sexual and reproductive health and rights are acknowledged by the provision of regional instruments such as the Maputo Protocol, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

According to the report, health gains have been achieved in the continent through increase in domestic expenditure on health, reduction in mortality rates, improved maternal healthcare and the achievement of the Abuja Declaration target of allocating 15% of state budget to healthcare in countries such as Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Togo and Zambia.

Other gains include the advancement of the rights of women and ensuring gender quality. Specific provisions highlighted in the report include the adoption of binding agreements, generating recommendations informed by various reports and instruments within the African continent mandated with the promotion and protection of the rights of women.

The Women’s Rights in Africa report admits that despite the gains achieved, gaps exist in the full realisation of enjoyment of rights for women. The key gaps include the multiple forms of discrimination women go through and the inherent intersectionality of this discrimination, the continued violation of women’s rights in both the public and private spheres and the inhibitions women face when effecting participation in these spheres.

The report recognises that rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent, and observes that achievement of one right contributes to the achievement of another right. The report further notes the role of culture as a justification for violating women’s rights and voices Maputo Protocol’s perspective that culture and tradition ought to evolve when they contribute to violation of rights or discriminate women.

The Women’s Right in Africa Report notes key issues within the Maputo Protocol in recognising that a vision for ‘The Africa We Want’ is unachievable until and unless women are able to enjoy their rights. These include access to safe abortion, recognition of the rights of women living with HIV and creating an enabling environment for access to healthcare services, ensuring protection against sexually transmitted diseases, the protection of persons with albinism and specifically women.

Other key issues raised include sexual and gender based violence, harmful practices such as child marriage, economic, social and cultural rights including access to land, legislations that are discriminative to women’s access to and control of land and the plight of women in prison.

On access to safe abortion, the report points out that when women are denied access to essential health services with respect to termination of pregnancy; the results are serious for both the life and health of women. Articles of the Maputo Protocol on health that the report draws reference to include Art 4(2) (c) which calls upon states to protect the reproductive rights of women by allowing medical abortion in cases of rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy is likely to harm the mental and physical health of the mother.

The report recognises that on abortion, a lot of resistance has been observed, with the laws going further to criminalise the procedure. The relevance of access to contraceptive is also noted, with the observation that denial of contraceptives has negative impacts on women’s health, ranging from disability to death.

The Women’s Rights in Africa Report remarks that the number of people living with HIV in Sub Saharan Africa is among the highest, accounting for 71% of global total infections and that young women are at high risk of contracting HIV. The report brings to attention rights violation among people with HIV such as sterilization without full, free and informed consent. As a protective mechanism for the rights of women living with HIV, the report draws attention to Art.14 of the Maputo Protocol which guarantees women the right to protection from sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. It also commends the milestones achieved by countries towards lowering the number of HIV infections amongst their citizenry.

For women with albinism, the report acknowledges the stigma that is meted on the persons affected and the belief that body parts of persons with albinism can bring wealth and good luck when used in witchcraft. Violence against persons with albinism has increasingly been reported in the African continent with women and children being the majority of victims. The plight of women with albinism and persons with albinism in general is documented by the report to be a result of the gaps in achievement of disability rights in the continent.

Furthermore, the report indicates that the challenges facing persons with albinism are a result of non-inclusion of albinism into mainstream healthcare to ensure they get access to care such as for preventing skin cancer of which persons with albinism are susceptible.

The role of key voices in the African human rights system on condemning violence against persons with albinism has also been highlighted, such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights of the Child.

Sexual and gender based violence is noted to be a phenomenon on the rise amongst women with the interplay of many socio economic factors. The report notes categories of women who are more vulnerable to sexual violence such as migrant women with non-binary gender identify (intersex), women with disabilities and sexual minorities.

Harmful practices that impede the realization of women’s rights have also been highlighted, including child marriage.

The report recognises women’s economic contribution, mostly in agriculture and in employment and within households. An impediment to rights on economic, social and cultural issues is noted to be limited access to credit facilities and markets. The report also notes the challenges women face in their bid to access and control land and calls upon states to embrace a human rights-based approach when dealing with issues of land .The report further observes that challenges still exist on access to land more so for women in conflict and disasters. Countries that have amended their laws and repealed sections that discriminate against women have been noted such as Sierra Leone.

The report notes that peace and security are an integral part of achievement of rights of women and that conflict enhances vulnerability to discrimination and risks of sexual, physical and psychological violence against women. The report invokes specific provisions of Maputo Protocol on women and peace, such as Art. 2 o non-discrimination, Art. 3 on the right to dignity and Art. 4 on the right to life, integrity and security of the person.

According to the report, Africa has the lowest number of imprisoned women but prisons in Africa are worse in comparison to other prisons worldwide. The report recognises the fact that some women are imprisoned not for criminal offences but due to discrimination, poverty, the absence of economic social and cultural rights access .It also observes positive best practices for women in prison such as remote parenting programme to mitigate the impact of imprisonment on the family.

The report also acknowledges that prisons lack the necessary gender sensitive infrastructure because they were designed with the male gender in mind. Women ex-prisoners  suffer from gender specific discrimination such as the case of pregnant women, women living with HIV and women with drug problems. The report emphasises the  actualisation of the provision of Maputo Protocol in relation special protection of women in distress(Art.24) including women in  detention.

Posted in AfricaComments Off on African women have made significant gains, UN rights report shows

Effects of colonialism on Africa’s past and present  

Address at AZAPO commemoration of Africa Liberation Day, Pimville Community Hall Soweto, 26 May 2012

The challenge of Africa Liberation Day 2O12 is for this generation to reflect on their commitment to the vision of Pan-Africanist pioneers who worked so hard to bring Africans to where they are today.

Programme Director, Comrades, Brothers and Sisters,

The effects of colonialism past and present are visible all over Africa. It is not an overstatement when Edem Kodjo, author of ‘Africa Tomorrow’ describes the condition of African as “torn away from his past, propelled into a universe fashioned from outside that suppresses his values, and dumbfounded by a cultural invasion that marginalises him. The African,… is today the deformed image of others. ”

On this year’s anniversary of Africa Liberation Day, African people all over Africa and wherever they may be on this planet, must reflect deeply on their history as it relates to their present life conditions and to their future. History is a clock that tells a people their historical time of the day. History is the compass that wise people use to locate themselves on the map of the world. A peoples’ history tells them who they are. What they have been, where they have been, where they are now, but most importantly, where they still must go. True African History is a powerful weapon against colonial history that has been used for mental enslavement and colonisation of the African people.

Programme Director,

Africa is the Mother of Humanity. Africa is the cradle of the first human civilisation. The First Renaissance on this planet was the African Renaissance. Africa was “the first world” economically and technologically NOT the “third world” of paupers robbed of their lands and riches. Our ancestors built the pyramids which even in this 21st century no one can reproduce. Egyptian civilisation was a Black civilisation. The pharaohs were Black people. That is why that great African Egyptologist, Prof. Cheikh Anta Diop has written:

“The history of Black Africa will remain suspended in the air and will not be written correctly until African historians dare connect it with the history of Egypt. The African historian, who evades this, is neither modest nor objective or unruffled; he is ignorant, cowardly and neurotic.”

The Zimbabwe Buildings that Africans built have been attributed to “foreigners” who vanished into thin air and cannot be found! The stubborn historical fact, however, is that these magnificent buildings were designed by Zimbabweans.

The Azanian civilisation which stretched from Eastern Africa to our country is a historical fact. The people of Azania whose country colonialists called “South Africa” through the British imperialist Union of South Africa Act 1909; mined gold and copper in Mapungubwe as early as the 9th century. That was centuries before Jan van Riebeeck arrived in Azania on 6th April 1652. He and the other settlers brought no land here on their ships. Our ancestors fed them and housed them. They knew not the intentions of these pale strangers.

The Rev. J.H. Soga was a contemporary of Enoch Sontonga, the composer of ‘Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika’. He has made reference to how Africans in what is called South Africa today came to be called “Bantu” instead of their old name Azanians. Soga explained in 1928 that the name Bantu was of modern application. It arose when Dr. Bleek a scholar of Azanian languages used the word “Bantu” as a comprehensive term for all the dialects of the inhabitants who formed a large section of the people of Southern Africa. He had no intention of applying this term to the people themselves. (The South Eastern Bantu pages 2, 6 and 11, Wits Univerity Press, Kraus Reprint Millwood, New York, 1982).

The history of European colonisation has been not only of land dispossession but of destroying African knowledge. For instance, the “Atlantic” Ocean was called the Ethiopian Sea as late as 1626 and the so-called “Indian” Ocean the Azanian Sea. George Murdock has written that Azanians stimulated trade with the East. (‘Africa and Its Peoples and Their Cultural History’, pages 204 and 206). See also ‘General History Of Africa’ by J.KI Zerbo, pages 3O4, 3O6 AND 33O; Heinemann, California UNESCO 1981).

The name Azania, or Azanian civilisation, has a long history. (Look at the following literature and history on this name: ‘Old Africa Rediscovered page 95, The Lost Cities Of Africa pages 155-156 by Basil Davidson; Basutoland Records Volume 2, Ethnography of Southern Africa the History Of The World’, J.M. Roberts pages 457-458 Pelican Books).

Azania like Kush, Mizraim, Egypt, Kemet, Ethiopia means Blackman’s country or continent (Izwe labantu abamnyama, lefatshe la batho ba bats’o). In 1930 excavations at Mapungubwe in the area of Limpopo River revealed skeletal remains of people that became known as “ancient Azanians.” These Africans were also referred to as Kushites or descendants of Kush. Of course, the offspring of colonialists and their neo-colonialist collaborators hate the name Azania because it is not their master’s name.

In fact, in 1990, Dr. Gert Viljoen who was F.W. de Klerk’s Minister of Constitutional Affairs gave reasons why his apartheid colonialist regime would not negotiate with those African revolutionaries who subscribed to the Azanian school of thought.

He said, “We want to change our approach. But we would be negotiating even the name. Many Blacks call it Azania….The name sounds a warning note of a break in history. In our thinking, a complete break in history would be unacceptable. We will have to provide some continuation of the past.” Indeed, this has happened. The colonial minority has entrenched 87% of the land for itself. It has given the “moderate leaders” with whom it negotiated the same 13% of land allocated to the 80% African indigenous majority in 1913.

By the way, the name Azaniah in the Bible, means “he whom God hears.”


Let me now move on to North East Africa – ancient Egypt, and to other issues about Africa. Africans built the city of Memphis in ancient Egypt in 31OO B.C. Greeks built Athens in 12OO B.C. The Romans built Rome in 1OOO B.C. Africans invented writing. It was Hieroglyphics before 3OOO B.C. and Hieratic alphabet shortly after this. Demotic writing was developed about 6OO B.C., while a Kushite script was used in 3OO B.C. Other African scripts were Merotic, Coptic, Amharic, Sabean, G’eez, Nsibidi of Nigeria and Mende of Mali. There were many others such as the Twi alphabet of the Twi people of Ghana.

In November 1999, some scholars at Yale University such as Prof. John Damell speculated about the origin of writing going back to 19OO B.C. These scholars could not dispute that, whatever date was, the location was Africa – Alkebu Lan, “the Mother of Nations.”

The well-known archaeologist in Kenya, Dr. L.S.B. Leakey long wrote, “The critics of Africa forget that men of science today are without exception, satisfied that Africa was the place of birth of man himself, and that for thousands of years…Africa was in the forefront of all world progress.”

Affirming this fact, Edem Kodjo, the author of Africa Tomorrow who is also a great researcher on Africa has written, “It is here in Africa that history began. Far from being a gratuitous assertion, this statement is undeniable scientific fact for which one finds corroboration when one roves the world in search of the remains of the ancient civilisations. According to the present state of research on the origins of the progress of human kind and civilisation, the Mother of Mankind; Africa remains the privileged source of the manifestations of intense human creativity.”


Africa was destroyed by imperialist Europe and is still being destroyed by Europe. Up to the 14th century A.D. Africa was ahead of Europe or on par with Europe militarily. The Romans used spears and we used spears in war. That famous Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar in adoration and admiration of the advanced Africa exclaimed, “ex Africa semper aliquid novi!” (Out of Africa always something new!)

Earlier educated Greeks received their education in Africa, to be precise in Mizraim (ancient Egypt). This is corroborated by “the father of European history,” Herodotus himself. He is supported by other ancient historians such as Diodorus.

Prof. Walter Rodney shows how Europe destroyed Africa. This is in his book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’. This is a mentally decolonising book every African must read because Africans tend to treat Europe and its satellites as demigods. Indeed, when an African fears a creature like him just because he has a different skin colour, he or she offends God. He or she indulges in idolatry which is the worship of a false god.

Africa has suffered the worst genocide and holocaust at the hands of the architects of slavery and colonialism. What is called “European Renaissance” was the worst darkness for Africa’s people. Armed with the technology of the gun and the compass it copied from China, Europe became a menace for Africa against her spears. So-called “civilised” Europe also claiming to be “Christian” came up with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. There was massive loss of African population and skills. Some historians have estimated that the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana) alone, lost 5OOO to 6OOO of its people to slavery every year for four hundred years.

Prof. Walter Rodney asks a pertinent question: “What would have been Britain’s level of development had millions of her people been put to work as slaves out of their country over a period of four centuries?”

As if slavery had not already done enough damage to Africa’s people, European leaders met in Germany from December 1884 to February 1885 at the imperialist Berlin Conference. The Belgian King Leopold stated the purpose of the Berlin Conference as “How we should divide among ourselves this magnificent African cake.”

Africa was thus plunged into another human tragedy. Through the Berlin Treaty of 26 February 1885, the European imperialists sliced Africa into “Portuguese Africa”, “British Africa”, “German Africa”, “Italian Africa,” “Spanish Africa”, “French Africa” and “Belgian Africa.” There was no Africa left for Africans except Ethiopia, encircled by paupers of land dispossessed people who were now the reservoir of cheap native labour for their dispossessors.

Somalia, a tiny African country, had the misfortune of becoming “British Somaliland”, “Italian Somaliland”, and “French Somaliland.” Colonial brutality on the colonised Africans knew no bounds. Here are a few examples of atrocities committed against Africans by colonialists. A British philosopher, Betrand Russell wrote about some of these colonial atrocities perpetrated by Belgium in the Congo in the name of “Western Christian Civilisation.” Russell wrote, “Each village was ordered by the authorities to collect and bring in a certain amount of rubber – as much as the men could bring in by neglecting all work for their own maintenance.

If they failed to bring the required amount, their women were taken away and kept as hostages…in the harems of colonial government employees. If this method failed…troops were sent to the village to spread terror, if necessary by killing some of the men…they were ordered to bring one right hand amputated from an African victim for every cartridge used.” (Introduction To African Civilisations, John G. Jackson 31O-311)

The result of these atrocities according to Sir H.H. Johnston was the reduction of the African population in the Congo from twenty million to nine million people in fifteen years.

The worst genocide also occurred in Namibia in 19O4. Namibia was then a German colony. The Herero people resisted German colonialism. A well armed army under General Lothar von Trotha defeated the Hereros at the Battle of Waterberg. The German colonial aggressors drove these Africans from their land to the desert where there was no water. Seventy percent of the Herero population died of dehydration in that desert. In South Africa the Khoisan people were exterminated by colonialists after being hunted like animals and dispossessed of their land.


Colonised Africans were treated not only as sub-humans, they were denied basic rights such as education and the right to land for decent housing, farming, mining and fishing. Colonial functionaries were honoured for barbaric actions and atrocities. The British government honoured its colonial officials such as “Sir Andries Stockkenstrom”. He had earlier said:

“The question of robbing natives of their land is not whether it is right or wrong to plunder their land, massacre and exterminate the Hottentots, the Kaffirs…the simple question is will it PAY? But if the Bible and the missionary stands in the way of this one thousand per cent profit…If in short, they cannot promote the great work of converting a nation of shop-keepers into a nation of millionaires,…gun powder will produce a more efficient gospel for the purpose of our system of civilisation.” (R.U. Kenny, Piet Retief, Cape Town and Pretoria: Human & Reason, 1976 page 77)

When introducing inferior education for African mental enslavement in South Africa, Hendrik F. Verwoerd that arch implementer of apartheid colonialism said, “There is no place for him (the African) in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. Until now, he (the African) has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his community and misled him by showing him the green pastures of the European society where he is not allowed to graze.” (‘Apartheid: The Story Of A Dispossessed People, Motsoko Pheko page 15O Marram Books London 1984)


Slavery and colonialism enriched Europe and reduced Africa to abject poverty. The riches of Africa and her raw materials fuelled the economies of imperialist countries. The British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill bore testimony to this fact when he said:

“Our possession of the West Indies gave us the strength, the support, but especially the capital, the wealth, at the time when no other European nations possessed such reserve, which enabled us to come through the great struggles of the Napoleonic Wars. The keen competition of commerce in the 18th and 19th centuries enabled us not only to acquire this appendage of possessions which we have, but also to lay the foundations of that commercial and financial leadership which when the world was young,…enabled us to make our great position in the world.” (‘The Long Road To Humanity’, by Stanton A. Coblentz page 325 and Introduction To African Civilisations John G. Jackson page 3O6)

It was against this background of genocide in the name of “European civilisation” that Africans in the Diaspora who had been shipped from Africa and enslaved in the West Indies and in the Americas realised that the solution to Africa’s people both at home and abroad was Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism is a political philosophy that was conceived in the womb of Africa. Pan-Africanism was formally organised in 19OO by Selvester Henry Williams.

It’s relevance to Africa’s people as a solution to their problems is indisputable. Its effectiveness and prowess were demonstrated at the 5th Pan African Congress in Manchester in 1945. It is Pan Africanism that won present political freedom for Africa and reversed the African tragedy and humiliation that was orchestrated at the Berlin Conference. It is Pan Africanism that brought about the Organisation of African Unity, the African Union, the Pan African Parliament and Africa Liberation Day that Africa’s people throughout the world are commemorating each year. It is Africa’s Pan Africanist spirit that led to assisting African Liberation Movements of Southern Africa against colonialism.


Programme Director, Comrades, Brothers and Sisters,

The challenge of Africa Liberation Day in 2O12 is for this generation to reflect on their commitment to the vision of Pan Africanist pioneers that worked so hard to bring Africans to where they are today. Among these pioneers of Pan Africanism, allow me to mention and honour a few in the Diaspora such as Henry Sylvester Williams, Marcus Garvey, W.E. B. Du Bois, George Padmore, C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, Yosef Makonen, Malcom X, John Hendrik Clarke, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Binito Sylvania and Martin Delany. In fact, Marcus Garvey was the first to organise Africans globally on the principles of Black Consciousness and Pan Africanism.

The pioneers of liberation in Africa such as Nkrumah, Patrce Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Ahmed Ben Bella, Abdel Nasser, Modibo Keita, Ahmed Sekou Toure fought, the first stage of African liberation with distinction. That is political freedom. But they are now reminding this generation that there is much to be done. True sons and daughters of Africa must tighten their belts for a more fierce war. That is a war against neo-colonialism – the last stage of imperialism. The battle cry is now for economic liberation of Africa and her technological advancement.


Africa is 11.3 million square miles. Africa is almost four times the size of the United States of America in land size and in all kinds of riches, especially in raw materials such as platinum, cobalt, uranium, tantalum, gold, diamonds and oil. There is hardly an agricultural product that cannot be grown in Africa. Africa’s arable land for food security is reported to be the largest in the world. But Africa’s riches including her human resources have been brutally looted by imperialist countries for centuries and still are, even under supposedly liberated Africa.

A glaring example of the riches of Africa is the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country of Patrice Lumumba. Economic experts have pronounced that, when developed Congo alone can feed and provide electricity for the whole of Africa. During the Second World War, the Nazi forces of Hitler over-ran Belgium. The Belgians established their government-in-exile in London. How did Belgium manage financially? Well, Congo was their colony. Let this come from the horse’s mouth. Godding was the Colonial Secretary of the Belgian Government-in- exile. He boasted:

“During the War, the Congo was able to finance expenditure of the Belgian Government-in-exile in London, including the diplomatic service as well as the cost of armed forces in Europe and America. The Belgian gold reserve could be left intact.”

To this minute, Africa’s riches are fuelling the economies of imperialist countries. Africans remain the poorest people in the world amidst their own riches in their own African Continent. As the late President Kwame Nkrumah put it, “If Africa’s resources were used in her own development they would place Africa among the most modernised continents of the world. But Africa’s wealth is used for the development of overseas interests.”

Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe the Pan-Africanist giant that was banned “this side of eternity” as John B. Vorster put it, declared, “The potential wealth of Africa in minerals, oil, hydro-electric power, and so on, is immense.” Sobukwe envisioned that by the end of the 2Oth century, “the standard of living of the African masses will undoubtedly have arisen dramatically.” Lo! This has not happened.

Perhaps, our venerated Martyr Steve Biko was being prophetic of the African condition, when he said, “At the end of it all, the Blacks have nothing to lean on, nothing to cheer them up at the present moment, and very much to be afraid of the future.”


Whenever an African country is about to be liberated, imperialists have always divided liberation movements into radicals, extremists and militants and so-called moderates. Colonialists have often called these so-called moderates to the “negotiating table” and offered them the flag and parliament – things we never made the fundamental objective of our liberation struggle.

Lest we forget, from day one of the arrival of colonial invaders in our country, the primary objective of our struggle was repossession of our land and its riches taken from Africans at gunpoint. Anyone one who doubts this historic fact must consult Kings Sekhukhene, Makado, Hintsa, Cetshwayo, Moshoeshoe, Makana and Bambatha, even Mzilikazi for that matter. Land is what our people have died for, for over three hundred years of their existence, in our case in Azania.

A Kenyan political activist and former presidential candidate, Koigi Mamwere, captured this truism accurately in April 2OOO when he proclaimed:

“Today, Europeans own almost all the land in the Americas, almost all the good land in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania and most of the best land in African countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya. To acquire this land outside Europe, Europeans did not use law, justice or money. They took the land and its riches with the gun….Europeans continue to own millions and millions of hectares of the best land in Africa….Whatever Robert Mugabe’s past mistakes, we must agree that on this one question of finally redistributing land to African people, he is 1OO% right…”


Programme Director,

“Regime change” is the new name coined by imperialists to continue with colonialism in a new form. The political situation in “post independent” Africa demonstrates that any true leaders, who the imperialists perceive as a threat to their economic interests, are targeted through aggressive campaigns such as “regime change.” Some of these leaders were Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Chief Moshodi Abiola and recently Maummar Gaddafi.

So far, imperialists have found President Robert Mugabe a hard nut to crack. Two British Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and President George Bush of America have become despicable casualties in the battle field of “regime change” in Zimbabwe against President Robert Mugabe. The imperialist European leaders have gone down the political drain, on the shores of Africa. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France who enthusiastically created a “New Libya” in the imperialist war for “regime change” seems headed for the political dustbin of history.

Mugabe is still standing. He is still in command. Africa needs more African leaders like President Mugabe. Otherwise, Africa’s authentic liberation will never arrive.

Under America’s Bill Clinton’s government Chief Moshodi Abiola, a democratically elected Presidential candidate was prevented from taking power in Nigeria. Abiola was a staunch defender of Africa’s economic liberation. In 1993, he convened the First Pan African Conference on Reparations. In his speech inter alia, he said:

“Our demand for reparations is based on the tripod of moral, historical and legal argument….Who knows what path Africa’s social development would have taken if great centres of African civilisation had not been destroyed in search of human cargo by Europeans? Who knows how our economics would have developed?”

Chief Abiola added, “It is international law which compels Nigeria to pay its debts to Western banks. It is international law that must now demand Western nations to pay us what they have owed us for nearly six centuries.”


Comrades, Brothers and Sisters,

There are two main things that Africans must do to advance Africa’s authentic liberation. African rulers must exercise sovereignty over African lands and riches and use them for the benefit of their people. This is true national independence from colonialism and imperialism. Secondly, education is the key to the development of Africa, wise control of her raw materials and use of her human resources. Quality education is the key to creating, owning and controlling Africa’s wealth and mentally decolonising her people’s captured minds.

Africa needs a diverse education that is tailored to the economic needs of her people. That education must be free for the poor. No African child must be without education, merely because of his or her condition of poverty. And these African children must be taught the true history of Africa, not the colonial history of Africa’s invaders that is full of perfidy to protect their colonial interests.

All African countries must prioritise the study of science, technology, economics and finance and of course International Law. Africa’s children must be equipped with skills and professions that arm their countries with technological capacity to process Africa’s raw materials and export them to the outside world as finished goods. An African nation that exports its raw materials unprocessed will remain a perpetual pauper.

Where there is urgent need or desperate lack of high technology to process raw materials rapidly, African countries must exchange Africa’s raw materials for high technology; not for cash or foreign goods. Countries that enrich themselves from Africa’s raw materials are secretive and refuse to transfer technology to Africa. Knowledge is power. This is probably why Prophet Hosea told his people in 735 B.C. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”


Programme Director, Comrades, Sisters and Brothers,

Africans both on the continent and in the Diaspora must have the agenda for economic liberation of Africa and technological advancement.

Pan-Africanism is more relevant to the African world today than when it was formalised over one hundred and twenty years ago. Yes, we may be Jamaicans, Tanzanians, Trinidadians, Kenyans, Zimbabweans, Angolans, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Basotho, Zambians, Namibians, South Africans, Azanians, African Americans, Afro- Brazilians etc. But the train that will take all Africans to their destination and give them power to take their destiny into their hands is the Pan African train.

It is not ethnicity, regionalism, sectarian politics or flirtation with the forces of neo-colonialism and imperialism. Forces that are determined to make us their perpetual slaves work together against us. A divided Africa cannot defeat these plunderers and thieves.

We need to ignite our Pan African Nationalism. Pan African Nationalism is the privilege of all Africans wherever they may be to love themselves and to give their way of life preference. Pan African Nationalism views the personhood and humanity of the African people and of the people of African descent as equal to any other human beings on this planet. Pan African Nationalism rejects with contempt any philosophy that holds that Africa’s people are destined to exist in servitude to other human beings. Pan African Nationalism does not look down on other members of the human race.

But it demands justice for African people. Africa’s riches belong to Africans. They are there for the benefit of the African people. They are not there to fuel foreign economies and perpetuate economic exploitation and poverty of our people.

The commemoration of Africa Liberation Day is not a ritual. It is a time to renew our vows, revisit our strategies and tactics to fight neo-colonialism more effectively with tangible results to control Africa’s riches for Africa’s people. The ultimate goal of our political struggle was to regain our lands and economic power, and rapidly advance Africa’s people technologically.

The question is not whether economic liberation for Africa is winnable. The critical question is whether we can afford not to win such a life and death struggle and therefore, continue to be the wretched of the earth in our own country and continent. The economic freedom of Africa is winnable. But it starts with the recognition that the greatest damage colonialism did was on our minds. We must decolonise our minds. Only mentally liberated Black people with a vision for our country and continent can win Africa’s authentic liberation for themselves and their children.

Posted in AfricaComments Off on Effects of colonialism on Africa’s past and present  

The Ogoni tragedy revisited

Premium Times

Much has changed about Ogoniland twenty years since the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight comrades. With the Niger Delta flush with money and arms, rebels and criminals now have more bargaining power. Some observers claim they have the capacity to cause mayhem on the scale of Boko Haram. The only thing not to have changed is the anger the Ogonis feel towards the Nigerian nation. And that is a ticking time bomb.

A little over twenty years ago, the Ogoni Nine were hanged in Nigeria sparking off outrage, and causing befuddlement and repercussions against the General Sani Abacha regime. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the public face of the Ogoni struggle, became an icon of resistance after he had spent the latter part of his tragically curtailed life as the voice of the voiceless in the Niger Delta.

Saro-Wiwa possessed all the romantic and leadership qualities to change the course of Nigerian history and not just the Ogoni cause which was informed by a basically ethnonationalist drive. Saro-Wiwa decided to wage his struggle during a dire epoch in Nigeria’s political history. The June 12 presidential election crisis of 1993 was at its height.

Moshood K.O. Abiola had won the elections but was refused his mandate by a selfish cabal headed by the then military ruler of the country, General Ibrahim Babangida. Rather than swear in the winner of the polls, Babangida elected to hand over power to Ernest Shonekan, a former CEO of United African Company (UAC), a multinational corporation with strong colonial antecedents. On the evening Shonekan was delivering his acceptance speech, a huge fly kept buzzing around his head as if it were fecal matter. Shonekan was widely viewed in the West of the country as a betrayer of the broad-based Nigerian democratic cause. He looked weak, ineffectual and spoke in an unvarying and often annoying monotone that appeared to expose a lack of confidence. In just four months, he was duly ousted from power by the gloved fist behind the throne: General Sani Abacha.

Abacha was meant to have retired along with his erstwhile boss Babangida, but it was decided it was better that he remained behind so as to conceal the skeletons and dirty linen of the previous rulers of the country. As they say, never trust anyone with power. Abacha turned out to be probably the worst monster to have ruled the country. Serving the country was the least of his concerns. He merely wanted to gorge himself on the intoxicating spoils of power and nothing else. His public demeanor was inscrutable; taciturn, dour and largely undemonstrative. His eyes remained mostly hidden and his lips barely moved. It was hard to fathom what he was thinking behind those dark sunglasses. But his feudal attitude seemed to disclose one thing: all Nigerians lived at his mercy and he was prepared to wield the big stick to prove the point. And he did often have to prove the point.

Abacha established an elite corps of personal bodyguards headed by the redoubtable Major Mustapha who terrorised and brutalised everyone that crossed him. Distinguished men who were old enough to be his father were reduced to weeping emotional wrecks in short order. Mustapha couldn’t impress himself enough with his inexhaustible capacity for torture. Illustrious professors were reduced to begging for their sanity and lives. A particular infamous crack shot, Sergeant Rogers, grew to prominence in Mustapha’s elite corps. Rogers is notorious for having slain the gallant and sartorially elegant Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the then detained politician, in broad daylight.

All radical political figures were either to be co-opted or eliminated by the regime. Foremost amongst those murdered was Alfred Rewane who was dispatched of in his twilight years. A few supposed radicals such as Ebenezer Babatope and Olu Onagoruwa joined the Abacha cabinet as ministers and destroyed all their democratic credentials in one stroke. The real radicals were forced to flee abroad for safety.

Abacha indeed became Nigeria’s worst imaginable nightmare. He behaved like a child capable at any moment of the most infernal tantrum; one that meant the power over life and death. He held on to the levers of power like an infant might have clutched bars of candy and wasn’t prepared to let go until all his perceived enemies were dead and buried. His viciousness and oddity haven’t yet been successfully captured in fiction for the mere reason that he exceeds the bounds of the imagination and thus leaves it sorely inadequate.

Psychological oddity

The only artist capable of depicting and satirising this psychological oddity was Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who was well into decline when Abacha took on the reigns of power. Kuti was already ill and slowly dying. Abacha’s anti-drug czar, General Bamayi, sent his goons to Kuti’s residence to have him arrested and handcuffed. Kuti was then paraded before TV cameras, his grey streaked mane wildly unkempt, looking as gaunt as a skeleton and unusually withdrawn. Insiders of the Kuti empire claim this single act of brutal insensitivity more than anything else hastened his death. He died less than a year later.

Bamayi, the spineless general who had ordered the gross violation of the global icon, grinned with a ridiculous gap-toothed mouth over his supposed victory. Abacha and his henchmen were unabashedly anti-culture and civilisation; they were out to kill, maim and destroy because that was what was required to rule and hold onto power. It was this unbridled lust for power that created one of Africa’s most devastating dictators.

It took a great deal of courage to confront Abacha knowing that it could only mean one thing; certain death. Apart from the radical activists who spoke out against Abacha’s inhumanity, mention ought to be also made of the role played by what was left of the independent press.

The independent press was certainly responsible for the myths that built Abacha into a veritable figure of terror. Abacha wasn’t interested in rarefied notions of public relations; he had no public relations machinery worth mentioning to burnish his image. Indeed, it could be said that he had no understanding of the concept, let alone its utility. Within this obvious gap the independent press stepped in.

Abacha emerged as an autocrat who was reckless and whimsical. The state had been hijacked by an unfeeling despot who was in turn ruled by caprice, veniality and unpredictable rage. He held cabinet meetings with ministers individually and not collectively so as to employ the divide-and-rule tactic to maximum effect. Also, he held most of his meetings at night and matters of state languished unattended to. The country teetered on the brink of absolute administrative collapse while he continued to siphon the contents of the national fiscus at a rate hitherto unknown.

Petroleum, the country’s main source of foreign exchange, was controlled by Abacha and his circle of cronies. At one point, he was responsible for the importation of a brand of oil that smelled highly toxic. Dwellers of congested cities groaned and held their breaths as the reek suffocated everyone. In a country awash with natural gas and oil, long queues emerged at gas stations that lasted for weeks. Motorists took to passing nights at the stations waiting for elusive fuel. An exorbitant black market flourished as a result of the artificially created scarcity. Abacha couldn’t be bothered by the muted complaints of the citizenry. Instead, he took to flying in call-girls without travel documents from Asia. He had also become a Viagra addict on account of his insatiable appetites.

When Abacha died mysteriously in 1998, he was rumored to have been indulging his favorite pastime even though his first wife had provided him with almost a dozen children. Abacha was the most unreal anomaly that could happen to any nation. The only suitable comparison to him is Mobutu Sese Seko of what used to be called Zaire. The two despots rather than manage their countries plundered them relentlessly. Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is yet to recover from the prolonged plunder orchestrated by the Mobutu regime. Mobutuism survives after the fall and eventual demise of Mobutu; it has become a way of life, a systemic form of nation-wide dissolution that has resulted in warlordism, chronic conflict and violence that are self-replicating. These kinds of violence and disintegration were also evident in parts of Nigeria.

It was within this scenario of sociopolitical malaise that Saro-Wiwa launched his project of ethnic self-determination. Abacha reduced the country to a pariah nation when he hanged Saro-Wiwa and the eight others. Nigeria was immediately suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations. The country lost friends, goodwill and considerable standing among the comity of nations and its people suffered immeasurably as a result of this precipitous fall in status. A state that exhibited such a fragrant disregard for human life, democracy and human decency just couldn’t be taken seriously and the only figures to counter this unenviable reputation were its artists of global stature.

Under the Abacha regime, the country was slowly being suffocated by despair, paranoia and the airless claustrophobia engendered by the ruthless police state. Saro-Wiwa’s severest crime was having the courage to dare this state. His death paradoxically was a fervent burst of life amid the zombie-like existence to which many Nigerians had been reduced. His death was the final wail of indomitability in the face of apparent ceaseless and mindless tyranny; a tyranny that subsequently disgorged its tyrant of value and humanity. Abacha stands for a curse everyone struggles to forget while Saro-Wiwa has been transformed into a hero whose promise all and sundry jostle to realise. The despot’s currency is death which causes his irredeemable disappearance while his victim is eventually resurrected by the same death that ends his earthly sojourn.

Incessant outbreaks of violence

The Ogoni crisis which reached its peak in Nigeria in the 1990s has divided all the major stakeholders in the conflict. In this case, the major stakeholders are the Nigerian state, the multinational petroleum concerns, the Ogoni community (along with other oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta) and the rest of the Nigerian populace. These merely refer to the broad-level stakeholders but there are undoubtedly other important ramifications within the classificatory parameters just mentioned. For instance, within the Ogoni community there are divisions along the lines of those who are pro-government and those who uphold an opposing stance. These divisions run deep and define the more subtle contours of conflict amongst the Ogoni people.

Due to the fact that the major stakeholders of the conflict are unable to reach a consensus as to problem-solving approaches, there have been incessant outbreaks of violence in the Niger Delta region where Ogoni communities are to be found. In this regard, the major policy problem is what approach may be adopted to halt the seemingly unending tide of violence? The oil wealth produced by communities such as the Ogoni is perhaps the glue that holds the Nigerian federation together. The state understands this and this is why it gives knee-jerk responses to any conflict emerging from the Niger Delta. It needs the wealth to keep the various organs of the state apparatus functioning and to prevent the entire nation from grinding to a halt. As such, it has not been absolutely clear to itself about how to keep functioning on the resources provided by petroleum with little or no conflict from the communities that produce them. A large part of this lack of clarity stems from a sense of anxiety. The state often hesitates when it confronts the question: Can the Nigerian state survive without the oil wealth produced by the aggrieved petroleum generating communities?

The major source of conflict between the Ogoni people and the oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta generally on the one hand, and the Nigerian state on the other, is the inability to agree upon an acceptable revenue allocation formula between the two major stakeholders. Nigeria is a federation made up of at least two hundred and fifty ethnicities who often feel distanced from the state. The state is not always viewed as an impartial arbiter and defender of the common good as it is historically an extension of the colonial apparatus. The Nigerian state has also been deformed by decades of military rule and at other instances civilian mismanagement.

Oil wealth, as a result, has been mismanaged and looted by government functionaries and their collaborators in various sectors of society. Of course, the Nigerian state even when admitting to its deplorable history is unwilling to yield to the demands of the oil-producing communities and so the cycle of violence continues. It is not enough to label the youth of the Niger Delta as outright criminals even though there is widespread criminality occurring in the area.

It is important to admit that there has been a dire mismanagement of oil wealth by representatives of the Nigerian state who often work in collision with multinational actors. It is also important to note that ethnicity rather than being mobilised as a rich source of diversity has been deployed by myopic powerbrokers as a chancre of divisiveness. As noted one of the major sources of conflict is the lack of a mutually acceptable revenue allocation formula. This factor generates other problems such as failure to deliver basic amenities of life to the oil-producing communities in view of the stupendous oil wealth they generate.

The areas suffer from overcrowding, poor roads and transportation networks, inadequate medical facilities and educational institutions among other drawbacks. All these further fuel the grievances of the people in those communities. Criminally-minded people in turn exploit these grievances with acts of lawlessness that are conducted on the pretense that they are lashing out against decades of impunity on the part of the Nigerian state. They claim that the state is incompetent, partial and corrupt and has consequently lost the moral high ground by which to act in accordance with their interests.

The activities of these criminal actors often manage to infiltrate those of legitimate social activists working for the improvement of living conditions in the Niger Delta. In other words, illegal armed gangs can be found alongside legitimate social movements ostensibly campaigning for a similar set of social concerns. Sometimes this blurs the demarcation between illegality and proper conduct. This blurring in turn impairs the lens through which policymakers dealing with the Niger Delta perceive the crisis. Armed gangs masquerade as social activists in kidnapping foreign workers of multinational oil concerns and ask for large sums in foreign currency. They issue death threats if their illegal monetary demands are not met. Gun running is widespread in the region thereby contributing to the general state of insecurity. Subsequently, the incidence of armed banditry is spreading well beyond the oil-producing communities in the south. It is rapidly being transformed into an instrument to pursue and gain political power in other parts of the country. Part of this is as a result of a prevailing culture of impunity in the oil-producing communities.

From a colonial state to a rentier one

The common view proffered by the Nigerian state is that indigenes of Ogoni land and the other oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta have a tendency towards lawlessness and are bent on undermining the Nigerian nation. They are seen as secessionists and outright rebels. But is this an entirely correct view? Not quite. The Nigerian state cannot be judged as an impartial player in the conflict. Its evolution from a colonial state to a rentier one ought to be addressed from a broader historical canvas than is often employed.

In periods of chronic military dictatorship, the state became transformed into an instrument of oppression just as it was during the colonial era. Beginning from the colonial era, grievances in Ogoni land had been mounting. The state had no adequate mechanisms in place to assuage those grievances. Even the historical context of those myriads of grievances is equally important. Indigenes of Ogoni land are quite small as a minor ethnicity when compared to other major ethnic groups in Nigeria. The Hausa-Fulani political elites that have largely dominated the seat of power are usually viewed with mistrust and deemed to be insensitive to the plight of the inhabitants of the oil-producing minorities. The Igbo, another major eastern Nigerian ethnic group, are also viewed with suspicion by the oil-producing minorities.

During the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), the Igbo as an ethnic group intended to secede from the Nigerian nation taking along with them virtually all the oil-producing minorities in southern Nigeria where most of the petroleum resources of the country are concentrated. Ken Saro-Wiwa claimed that oil was the major cause of the civil war. In many respects, he was correct. Oil-producing communities such as the Ogoni people are thus sandwiched between a number of major ethnic groups that did not appear to understand or appreciate their plight.

This created a siege mentality in Ogoni land as well as a persecution complex amongst its indigenes. Never did the Nigerian state up to the moment of the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight compatriots on 10 November 1995 devise a cogent strategy to address this siege mentality which afflicted the Ogoni people. Instead it resorted to the militarisation of the territory and employed forceful measures in quelling demonstrations and dissent. Of course this only worsened the prevailing siege mentality and persecution complex in Ogoniland and other similar communities. This in turn created the space for lawless actors in those communities to move in and begin to act under a variety of social concerns: resource control and allocation, equitable federalisation, environmental consciousness and cultural and political self-determination.

Sectors of the state-controlled media often tried to portray both lawless and law-abiding inhabitants of Ogoni land unpalatably. They were simply construed as rebels bent on truncating the pan-Nigerian project. When embarking on researching and writing my book on the crisis entitled, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Shadow: Politics, Nationalism and the Ogoni Protest Movement, I attempted to examine the various historical strands behind this popular façade. I posed the questions: Who are the Ogoni people? What are their psychological complexes? What are their problems? How do they live in comparison to other Nigerians? What are their fears and expectations?

I also posed the following questions relating to the Nigerian state: What are the historical antecedents of the Nigerian state? Can it be said to be impartial given the fact that it monopolises the instruments of force and controls the mechanisms of governance? How sincere was its drive towards democracy? These are some of the questions I posed regarding the Nigerian state to give the ongoing conflict in Ogoniland and the Niger Delta generally a deeper historical context. They, hopefully, provide alternative ways of viewing the problem.

I delved into various theories of conflict management and resolution. I consulted theories dealing with the problems of managing complex multi-ethnic societies. I also surveyed processes of truth and reconciliation in nations (such as South Africa and Chile) undergoing elaborate rituals of social healing. I realised it was unhelpful for the Nigerian state to maintain the guise of an impartial party in the ongoing conflict. It required rigorous critique and reconstruction after decades of militarism. If oil-producing territories such as Ogoniland needed to be demilitarised so did the state’s approaches to conflict management. I went on to argue that entire sectors of Nigerian society needed to be demilitarised including civil society itself.

Indeed many civil society institutions, cultures and practices had become tainted with militarism and were in urgent need of transformation to meet the imperatives of democracy. Demilitarisation cannot thus be confined to state policies alone or the forcefully administered oil-producing territories. It is a process that must pervade the whole of Nigerian society including other African nations that have similar historical experiences. In addition to the demilitarisation of the polity, it is important to keep all channels of dialogue open between the aggrieved oil-producing communities and the Nigerian state. The employment of force by either of the parties has only contributed to the spiraling of the conflict. In recent times, the Nigerian state called for amnesty for armed rebels willing to lay down arms. This is a step in the right direction and confirms the long-term effectiveness of dialogue and a non-militarist approach.

I also advocated the adoption of democracy and democratic practices for a number of reasons. First, the channels of dialogue are freer and more vibrant under democracy. Second, governmental accountability is more open to public scrutiny under democratic rule. Finally, the use of force becomes more glaringly anachronistic and perhaps more morally reprehensible. These are some of the measures, conditions and views I advocated during the height of crisis when Nigeria was still within the clutches of military rule.

A ticking time bomb

Much has changed about the situation of the insurgents since the death of Saro-Wiwa. With the Niger Delta flush with money and arms, rebels and criminals now have more bargaining power and some observers claim they have the sort of capacity to cause mayhem on the scale of, say, Boko Haram. The only thing not to have changed is the anger the indigenes of the region feel towards the Nigerian nation, which many claim is a ticking time bomb. It would appear that disaffection and rebellion have become attractive career options for youth ostracised by decades of social and economic exclusion, neglect and abuse which from the point of view of building a cohesive country are certainly of not much use. As a result of the activities of the rebellious youth in the region, the notion of ‘the boys’ has changed drastically from its colonial meaning of third class subjects or natives, as the case may be, to a category of men who ‘run things in the streets’, who are, as it were, solidly in charge.

The city of Lagos twenty years after Saro-Wiwa has changed considerably. It has rebounded with its customary vibrancy, élan and flair. The move of establishing Abuja as the federal capital rather than Lagos sucked a measure of life out of the latter. The military elite and their civilian bureaucrats absconded to the interiors of the country carrying along with them a large portion of its federal wealth yet Lagos has managed to thrive and retain its imaginative vigour in an almost miraculous style. When the city decided to honour the memory of Saro-Wiwa, it did so with its customary aplomb and distinction. A range of participants were involved: high school kids, poets, artists, musicians and lovers of the arts were all there. The spirit of resistance Saro-Wiwa embodied was evident in the manner the city chose to remember the departed hero underlining the fact that with or without state support self-sufficiency and resilience were all that are needed to fashion a worthwhile existence.

Jahman Anikulapo and Toyin Akinosho of the Lagos Book and Art Festival led the team that organised the commemoration of Saro-Wiwa which turned out to be a success as there was a little something for everyone within the crowds that graced the occasion. Each night, there were different genres of music: highlife, Afrobeat, classical, reggae, funk, Afropop, rock and urban contemporary. The event ran from morning until past midnight during a couple of days and it did indeed feel, at moments, a trifle too much to digest all at once. Anikulapo and Akinosho counter such misgivings saying, “this is a festival” and one cannot but agree that in the spirit of fiesta, it was very much a remarkable feast of riotous creativity.

Posted in AfricaComments Off on The Ogoni tragedy revisited

Malcolm X and human rights in the time of Trumpism: Transcending the master’s tools


There was something quite different with Malcolm’s approach to human rights that distinguished him from mainstream civil rights activists. By grounding himself in the radical human rights approach, Malcolm articulated a position on human rights struggle that did not contain itself to just advocacy. He understood that appealing to the same powers that were responsible for the structures of oppression was a dead end.

Fifty-two years-ago on February 21st, the world lost the great anti-colonial fighter, Malcolm X. Around the world, millions pause on this anniversary and take note of the life and contribution of Brother Malcolm. Two years ago, I keynoted a lecture on the legacy of Malcolm X at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. While I had long been aware of the veneration that Malcolm inspired in various parts of the world, I was still struck by the love and appreciation that so many have for Malcolm beyond activists in the black world.

There are a number of reasons that might explain why 52 years later so many still pay homage to Malcolm.  For those of us who operate within context of the Black Radical Tradition, Malcolm’s political life and philosophy connected three streams of the Black Radical Tradition: nationalism, anti-colonialism and internationalism. For many, the way in which Malcolm approached those elements account for his appeal. Yet, I think there is something else. Something not reducible to the language of political struggle and opposition that I hear when I encounter people in the U.S. and in other parts of the world when they talk about Malcolm. I suspect it is his defiance, his dignity, his courage and his selflessness. For me, it is all of that, but it is also how those elements were reflected in his politics, in particular his approach to the concept of human rights.

The aspects of his thought and practice that distinguished the period of his work in that short year between his break with the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1964 and his assassination in 1965 included not only his anti-racism and anti-colonialist stance but also his advocacy of a radical approach to the issue of human rights.

Human rights as a de-colonial fighting instrument

Malcolm – in the tradition of earlier black radical activists and intellectuals in the late 1940s – understood the subversive potential of the concept of human rights when philosophically and practically disconnected from its liberal, legalistic, and state-centered genesis.

For Malcolm, internationalizing resistance to the system of racial oppression in the U.S. meant redefining the struggle for constitutional civil rights by transforming the struggle for full recognition of African American citizenship rights to a struggle for human rights.

This strategy for international advocacy was not new. African Americans led by W.E. B. Dubois were present at Versailles during the post-World War I negotiations to pressure for self-rule for various African nations, including independence from the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. At the end of the World War II during the creation of the United Nations, African American radicals forged the possibilities to use this structure as a strategic space to pressure for international support for ending colonization in Africa and fight against racial oppression in the United States.

Malcolm studied the process by which various African American organizations – the National Negro Congress (NNC), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), petitioned the UN through the Human Rights Commission on behalf of the human rights of African Americans. Therefore, in the very first months after his split with the NOI, he already envisioned idea that the struggle of Africans in the U.S. had to be internationalized as a human rights struggle.  He advised leaders of the civil rights movement to “expand their civil rights movement to a human rights movement, it would internationalize it.”

Taking a page from the examples of the NNC, NAACP and CRC, The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), one of the two organizations Malcolm formed after leaving the NOI, sought to bring the plight of African Americans to the United Nations to demand international sanctions against the U.S. for refusing to recognize the human rights of this oppressed nation.

However, there was something quite different with Malcolm’s approach to human rights that distinguished him from mainstream civil rights activists. By grounding himself in the radical human rights approach, Malcolm articulated a position on human rights struggle that did not contain itself to just advocacy. He understood that appealing to the same powers that were responsible for the structures of oppression was a dead end. Those kinds of unwise and potentially reactionary appeals would never result in substantial structural changes. Malcolm understood oppressed peoples must commit themselves to radical political struggle in order to advance a dignified approach to human rights.

“We have to make the world see that the problem that we’re confronted with is a problem for humanity. It’s not a Negro problem; it’s not an American problem. You and I have to make it a world problem, make the world aware that there’ll be no peace on this earth as long as our human rights are being violated in America.”

And if the U.S. and the international community does not address the human rights plight of the African American, Malcolm is clear on the course of action: “If we can’t be recognized and respected as a human being, we have to create a situation where no human being will enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Malcolm’s approach to the realization of human rights was one in which human agency is at the center. If oppressed individuals are not willing to fight for their human rights, Malcolm suggested that “you should be kept in the cotton patch where you’re not a human being.”

If you are not ready to pay the price required to experience full dignity as a person and as members of a self-determinant people, then you will be consigned to the “zone of non-being,” as Fanon refers to that place where the non-European is assigned. Malcolm referred to that zone as a place where one is a sub-human:

“You’re an animal that belongs in the cotton patch like a horse and a cow, or a chicken or a possum, if you’re not ready to pay the price that is necessary to be paid for recognition and respect as a human being.

“And what is that price?

“The price to make others respect your human rights is death. You have to be ready to die… it’s time for you and me now to let the world know how peaceful we are, how well-meaning we are, how law-abiding we wish to be. But at the same time, we have to let the same world know we’ll blow their world sky-high if we’re not respected and recognized and treated the same as other human beings are treated.”

People(s)-centered human rights

This approach to human rights struggle is the basis of what I call the People(s)-Centered approach to human rights struggle.

People(s)-Centered Human Rights (PCHR) are those non-oppressive rights that reflect the highest commitment to universal human dignity and social justice that individuals and collectives define and secure for themselves through social struggle.

This is the Black Radical Tradition’s approach to human rights.  It is an approach that views human rights as an arena of struggle that, when grounded and informed by the needs and aspirations of the oppressed, becomes part of a unified comprehensive strategy for de-colonization and radical social change.

The PCHR framework provides an alternative and a theoretical and practical break with the race and class-bound liberalism and mechanistic state-centered legalism that informs mainstream human rights.

The people-centered framework proceeds from the assumption that the genesis of the assaults on human dignity that are at the core of human rights violations is located in the relationships of oppression. The PCHR framework does not pretend to be non-political. It is a political project in the service of the oppressed. It names the enemies of freedom: the Western white supremacist, colonial/capitalist patriarchy.

Therefore, the realization of authentic freedom and human dignity can only come about as a result of the radical alteration of the structures and relationships that determine and often deny human dignity. In other words, it is only through social revolution that human rights can be realized.

The demands for clean water; safe and accessible food; free quality education; healthcare and healthiness for all; housing; public transportation; wages and a socially productive job that allow for a dignified life; ending of mass incarceration; universal free child care; opposition to war and the control and eventual elimination of the police; self-determination; and respect for democracy in all aspects of life are some of the people-centered human rights that can only be realized through a bottom-up mass movement for building popular power.

By shifting the center of human rights struggle away from advocacy to struggle, Malcolm laid the foundation for a more relevant form of human rights struggle for people still caught in the tentacles of Euro-American colonial dominance. The PCHR approach that creates human rights from the bottom-up views human rights as an arena of struggle. Human rights does not emanate from legalistic texts negotiated by states—it comes from the aspirations of the people. Unlike the liberal conception of human rights that elevates some mystical notions of natural law (which is really bourgeois law) as the foundation of rights, the “people” in formation are the ethical foundation and source of PCHRs.

Trumpism is the logical outcome of the decades long assault of racialized neoliberal capitalism. Malcolm showed us how to deal with Trumpism, and the PCHR movement that we must build will move us to that place where collective humanity must arrive if we are to survive and build a new world. And we will – “by any means necessary.”

Posted in USAComments Off on Malcolm X and human rights in the time of Trumpism: Transcending the master’s tools

Canada’s role in the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah


Friday, February 24 is the anniversary of the 1966 coup against leading Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah. Canada played a key role. Following the coup, the Canadian High Commissioner in Accra C.E. McGaughey, wrote that “a wonderful thing has happened for the West in Ghana and Canada has played a worthy part.”

A half-century and one year ago this Friday, Canada helped overthrow a leading Pan-Africanist president. Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, a leader dubbed “Man of the Millennium” in a 2000 poll by BBC listeners in Africa.

Washington, together with London, backed the coup. Lester Pearson’s government also gave its blessing to Nkrumah’s ouster. In The Deceptive Ash: Bilingualism and Canadian Policy in Africa: 1957-1971, John P. Schlegel writes: “the Western orientation and the more liberal approach of the new military government was welcomed by Canada.”

The day Nkrumah was overthrown the Canadian prime minister was asked in the House of Commons his opinion about this development. Pearson said nothing of substance on the matter. The next day External Affairs Minister Paul Martin Sr. responded to questions about Canada’s military training in Ghana, saying there was no change in instructions. In response to an MP’s question about recognizing the military government, Martin said:

“In many cases recognition is accorded automatically. In respective cases such as that which occurred in Ghana yesterday, the practice is developing of carrying on with the government which has taken over, but according no formal act until some interval has elapsed. We shall carry on with the present arrangement for Ghana. Whether there will be any formal act will depend on information which is not now before us.”

While Martin and Pearson were measured in public, the Canadian High Commissioner in Accra, C.E. McGaughey, was not. In an internal memo to External Affairs just after Nkrumah was overthrown, McGaughey wrote “a wonderful thing has happened for the West in Ghana and Canada has played a worthy part.” Referring to the coup, the high commissioner added “all here welcome this development except party functionaries and communist diplomatic missions.” He then applauded the Ghanaian military for having “thrown the Russian and Chinese rascals out.”

Less than two weeks after the coup, the Pearson government informed the military junta that Canada intended to carry on normal relations. In the immediate aftermath of Nkrumah’s overthrow, Canada sent $1.82 million ($15 million today) worth of flour to Ghana and offered the military regime a hundred CUSO volunteers. For its part, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which had previously severed financial assistance to Nkrumah’s government, engaged immediately after the coup by restructuring Ghana’s debt. Canada’s contribution was an outright gift. During the three years between 1966 and 1969 the National Liberation Council military regime received as much Canadian aid as during Nkrumah’s ten years in office with $22 million in grants and loans. Ottawa was the fourth major donor after the US, UK and UN.

Two months after Nkrumah’s ouster the Canadian High Commissioner in Ghana wrote to Montréal-based de Havilland Aircraft with a request to secure parts for Ghana’s Air Force. Worried Nkrumah might attempt a counter-coup, the Air Force sought parts for non-operational aircraft in the event it needed to deploy its forces.

Six months after overthrowing Nkrumah, the country’s new leader, General Joseph Ankrah, made an official visit to Ottawa as part of a trip that also took him through London and Washington.

On top of diplomatic and economic support for Nkrumah’s ouster, Canada provided military training. Schlegel described the military government as a “product of this military training program.” A Canadian major who was a training advisor to the commander of a Ghanaian infantry brigade discovered preparations for the coup the day before its execution. Bob Edwards said nothing. After Nkrumah’s removal the Canadian High Commissioner boasted about the effectiveness of Canada’s Junior Staff Officers training program at the Ghanaian Defence College. Writing to the Canadian Under Secretary of External Affairs, McGaughey noted, “All the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course.”

After independence Ghana’s army remained British dominated. The colonial era British generals were still in place and the majority of Ghana’s officers continued to be trained in Britain. In response to a number of embarrassing incidents, Nkrumah released the British commanders in September 1961. It was at this point that Canada began training Ghana’s military.

While Canadians organized and oversaw the Junior Staff Officers course, a number of Canadians took up top positions in the Ghanaian Ministry of Defence. In the words of Canada’s military attaché to Ghana, Colonel Desmond Deane-Freeman, the Canadians in these positions imparted “our way of thinking”. Celebrating the influence of “our way of thinking”, in 1965 High Commissioner McGaughey wrote the Under Secretary of External Affairs: “Since independence, it [Ghana’s military] has changed in outlook, perhaps less than any other institution. It is still equipped with Western arms and although essentially non-political, is Western oriented.”

Not everyone was happy with the military’s attitude or Canada’s role therein. A year after Nkrumah’s ouster, McGaughey wrote Ottawa: “For some African and Asian diplomats stationed in Accra, I gather that there is a tendency to identify our aid policies particularly where military assistance is concerned with the aims of American and British policies. American and British objectives are unfortunately not regarded by such observers as being above criticism or suspicion.”

Thomas Howell and Jeffrey Rajasooria echo the high commissioner’s assessment in their book Ghana and Nkrumah: “Members of the ruling CPP tended to identify Canadian aid policies, especially in defence areas, with the aims of the U.S. and Britain. Opponents of the Canadian military program went so far as to create a countervailing force in the form of the Soviet equipped, pro-communist President’s Own Guard Regiment [POGR]. The coup on 24 February 1966 which ousted Kwame Krumah and the CPP was partially rooted in this divergence of military loyalty.”

The POGR became a “direct and potentially potent rival” to the Canadian-trained army, notes Christopher Kilford in The Other Cold War: Canada’s Military Assistance to the Developing World, 1945-1975. Even once Canadian officials in Ottawa “well understood” Canada’s significant role in the internal military battle developing in Ghana, writes Kilford, “there was never any serious discussion around withdrawing the Canadian training team.”

As the 1960s wore on Nkrumah’s government became increasingly critical of London and Washington’s support for the white minority in southern Africa. Ottawa had little sympathy for Nkrumah’s pan-African ideals and so it made little sense to continue training the Ghanaian Army if it was, in Kilford’s words, to “be used to further Nkrumah’s political aims”. Kilford continued his thought, stating: “that is unless the Canadian government believed that in time a well-trained, professional Ghana Army might soon remove Nkrumah.”

During a visit to Ghana in 2012 former Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean laid a wreath on Nkrumah’s tomb. But, in commemorating this leading Pan-Africanist, she failed to acknowledge the role her country played in his downfall.

* Yves Engler’s latest book is, A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academia sell war and exploitation. His previous book is, Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation.

Posted in Africa, CanadaComments Off on Canada’s role in the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah

Shoah’s pages