Archive | June 29th, 2017

Was Lesotho’s low voter turn-out exaggerated?

Lesotho Times

One of the main issues around Lesotho’s general elections, including the recent poll of 3 June 2017, is the incredibly low voter turnout. Much of the commentary on this blames election fatigue, among other things. The 3 June general election was, for example, the third in five years. But, is there more to Lesotho’s voter apathy than election fatigue?

It is widely acknowledged that electoral participation is the cornerstone of modern democracy. Leading political scientists think low turn-out is a “common symptom of democratic ill health” (Norris 2012:221), and of “a crisis of democracy…[and] legitimacy” (Przeworski 2008:126). Politicians are thought to have more incentives to espouse policies in the ‘public interest’ when majority of citizens take free and fair elections seriously. It was partly for these reasons that in the run-up to Lesotho’s snap election on 3 June 2017 — the third in five years— Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) embarked on an ambitious campaign to attain a voter turnout of 85%. If achieved, this would have eclipsed the 47% average turnout recorded in the previous general elections.

This being a snap election, IEC’s ‘85% voter turnout campaign’ was limited to within the three months of the election campaigning period (from March to June 2017). The limited time notwithstanding, the campaign was rather ill-informed of the real factors behind the voter apathy that goes back to 2007, and is one of the lowest in the SADC region. The content of the campaign material was not underpinned by empirical evidence regarding the factors that keep the majority of Basotho disinterested in voting.

The IEC and its pre-election campaign had absolutely no social media presence despite its main target being the youth and first-time voters. The result was that voter-turnout in 2017 remained roughly as it has been over the past four general elections (see Figure 1).

A few hypotheses have been advanced regarding the low turnout in this election. The IEC spokesperson, Tuoe Hant’si conjectured that the presence of the members of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in the immediate vicinity of the voting stations might have intimidated potential voters, nullifying the positive effect of the ‘85% campaign’. Hantsi’s suspicions might hold water. While LDF has a long history of meddling in national politics, soldiers are usually confined to the barracks on the polling day.

Amidst allegations of connivance between powerful individuals within LDF and senior politicians in government, the unprecedented presence of armed soldiers around polling areas might have had a chilling effect. But we have no way of measuring how big the impact this was on turnout.

I have argued elsewhere that central to Lesotho’s high levels of apathy is an electorate that has been disenchanted with a fractured democracy for so long that it has given up on the notion that ‘democracy is the worst form of government except for all others’. Basotho have grown weary of the political class that often pervert the idea of democracy to advance personal interests.

Regarding the recent poll, the straw that broke the Carmel’s back pertains to the circumstances surrounding the decision by the prime minister and the king to call an election instead of handing over to the opposition after the former lost the confidence of the majority of parliamentarians.

Rampant corruption and impunity

An analysis of the 5th round (circa 2013) of Afrobarometer survey on Lesotho confirms that older individuals and rural folks are likely to vote. Trust in the prime minister also has a positive effect on turnout. The coefficient of trust in opposition parties is also positive, but not statistically significant.

Notably, an increase of one standard deviation in the perception that the government is losing the war on corruption decreases the probability of taking part in Lesotho’s general election by 0.033 on average. This is quite a sizable statistical effect. Although the effect size is relatively smaller, increase in the frequency of paying bribes also reduces the likelihood of voting in this country.

In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that the serious allegations of impunity that dogged the administration of the outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, (1998- 2012 and 2015-2017) and the antagonistic reaction of his cronies to corruption allegations cemented voter apathy. Just before it collapsed, Mosisili’s government was besieged by a plethora of claims of nepotism and the wanton violation of rules, including public procurement regulations.

In fact, rampant corruption and marginalisation are believed to be among the major reasons for the split of Mosisili’s political party, Democratic Congress (DC), which precipitated a successful vote of no confidence in March 2017.

It is also important to note that throughout Mosisili’s premiership of 16 years, Lesotho consistently ranked below the global average on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Incidentally, Lesotho’s ranking improved considerably in the two years that Mosisili was out of power. While CPI is not a perfect measure of corruption, it provides a rough idea of its pervasiveness, in addition to being strongly correlated with more objective measures of accountability and the rule of law. It is not a wonder that CPI is highly regarded in the international development community, and often informs advocacy in the global fight against corruption.

Clean and credible voters’ roll

The reasons for low turnout proffered in the foregoing put the blame, squarely, on the dynamics in the political environment, especially the self-centred behaviour of the political elites. But, the potentially unreliable voters roll might exaggerate Basotho’s apathy.

It is now common for Lesotho’s electoral agency to raise concerns about its state of preparedness and the integrity of the electors’ register in the run up to snap general elections. Shortly before the general election of 2012, an outgoing IEC commissioner claimed that the voters’ roll was highly defective, and that there was urgent need for voter re-registration.

Elections expert and IEC’s consultant, Robert Johnson, later corroborated these claims, estimating that the register was inflated by more than 100 000 voters. This is not a small figure in a country of 2 million people. It is important to mention that Johnson pinned this down to insufficient cleaning and updating of the register by the IEC, rather than a deliberate plan to rig elections.

Once again, in 2015, the current chairman of the IEC raised concerns about the poor state of the voters roll. The EISA Election Observer Mission noted that the total number of registered voters represented 110% of the voting age population, according to the 2015 population census projections.

While IEC always comes out before the polling day to assure the public that identified irregularities and concerns have been addressed, it is difficult to independently verify these declarations.

Also, one wonders how effective, given a very short period within which IEC prepares for a snap election, are the crude and cumbersome methods currently in place to purge the register. One of these methods entails sending out personnel to villages to identify and compile a list of deceased voters. In this year’s election, however, IEC did not have time to undertake this extremely unwieldy voter verification process.

The cleaning and updating of the voters roll requires a significant amount of funding, something Lesotho’s electoral agency, admittedly, doesn’t have. In countries like Kenya, worldrenowned audit firms conduct the initial phase of the cleaning process by compiling anomalies on the voters roll for the electoral agency to address.

While a growing number of African countries are adopting advanced biometric technology to ease the burden of auditing the voters roll and verifying electors during the poll, Lesotho is still stuck with the more rudimentary methods.

It is plausible, given the snap nature of the recent general elections and the capacity constraints of the IEC, that the faulty register consistently over-estimates the number of registered voters. If this is true, the actual turnout is possibly higher than the official figures. A bloated register overestimates the number of expected voters compared to the actual voters.

This analysis should not be interpreted as an insinuation that the faulty voters roll was designed to favour some political party/ parties over the others. With every stage of the polling process open to scrutiny by representatives of more than thirty political parties and hundreds of election observers, it is difficult to take advantage of a defective voters roll to rig elections.


One of the possibly main correlates of turnout in Lesotho is perceptions and experiences of corruption. When coupled with widespread poverty and the ever-narrowing prospects of upward mobility for a majority of the youth, high corruption perceptions undermine the belief that citizens’ involvement in decision-making processes of the state makes a difference.

The new Prime Minister Tom Thabane campaigned on a strong platform of zero-tolerance for corruption. Following through on his promises to address the cancer of corruption will not only strengthen his political party — currently the largest in Lesotho — it will also go a long way towards restoring Basotho’s faith in democratic politics.

Voter turnout is also likely to improve as the Independent Electoral Commission graduates from the short, temporary and election-focused voter education programme to a comprehensive, targeted and continuous democracy education programme.

Lastly, the IEC needs to acquire advanced Biometric Verification Devices (BVDs), such as the ones currently in use in Ghana. This will not come cheap and their technical glitches will mean that voting could proceed much more slowly, as was the case in the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria. But, it will go a long way towards easing the qualms about the integrity of the voters’ roll, such as recently expressed by Mothejoa Metsing, the outgoing Deputy Prime Minister and leader of Lesotho Congress for Democracy.

Other than helping to keep the voters roll up-to-date, BVDs can aid in the quick transmission of voting stations’ results to the Results Co-ordination and Announcement Centre in the capital, or wherever IEC chooses to announce election results. This can speed up election announcement process and potentially reduce temptations to tinker with the results at the polling stations.

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Caught between two fires: Sudanese refugees in Jordan


There was a time when persecuted Sudanese looked to Jordan,as their only hope to reach a place where their rights and prospects could be valued. That was before the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the election of Donald Trump, and the VIP welcome extended to Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir in Amman earlier this year. What then is a viable option for those seeking safety?

Ahmad is poised as a journalist from Kutum, a town that lies 120 kilm away from El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur in Sudan. His towering figure and wide shoulders sway slowly with each calculated step he takes around his home’s uneven floor, leaning on his aluminum cane for support. He is among the many Darfuris that have in recent years actively spoken out about persecution in their homeland:

I am forced to raise my voice because my family members are victims. There are real problems: rape, banishment, displacement, occupation of lands. Armed strangers occupy known areas in Kutum. We don’t know who they are. There’s no police to defend us.

Four years ago, Ahmad’s leg was injured during a Janjaweed (armed militia) raid on his village. He states that he continues to be targeted for his reporting on human rights abuses and for “collaborating” with foreign media. The Sudanese government has not shied away from or attempted to cover up its relations with the Janjaweed. On the contrary, despite various Save Darfur international campaigns over the years, relations between Khartoum and Janjaweed militias have advanced far enough for Janjaweed leaders to be granted a seat with the government delegation to the UN/African Union Peace Negotiations on the Darfur Crisis. Such alliances, Ahmad says, are one of the ways the government tries to “sow seeds of sedition to ultimately destabilize Darfur,” which is approximately the size of Spain.

In 2014, Ahmad fled Sudan with his family to Jordan to seek medical treatment, and has remained there ever since. There are around 3,200 Sudanese refugees in Jordan, caught up in a vicious cycle of poverty in East Amman’s slum neighborhoods. Statistics on the so-called “non-Syrian refugee populations” in Jordan are difficult to find, reports quantifying the socio-economic conditions of a forgotten minority refugee group like the Sudanese even more so.

According to aid groups, two out of three Syrian refugees living in Jordan’s urban neighborhoods are surviving on less than the absolute poverty line of sixty-eight Jordanian dinas (approximate ninety-six US dollas) per person per month. There is no doubt that the conditions of the Sudanese are just as dire, if not more so, given the lack of donor interest in this community.

Although migration may be the story of this era, the upheaval by African refugee groups to gain international attention has gone undetected and has overall been simply been ignored by mainstream media. The Sudanese diaspora has over the past years mobilized demonstrations in cities like Cairo, Amman, and Beirut, and all the way to Hannover and Amsterdam. In Amman, such activism took an extreme turn when it resulted in the forced deportation of more than 600 Sudanese refugees, including entire families, back to Khartoum. Some human rights groups like Human Rights Watch closely followed the deportation proceedings and publicly condemned it, but none could reverse these unlawful actions which separated families whom until today have heard nothing from their loved ones. Reports indicate that about 145 of the deportees fled renewed persecution for a second time to Cairo, where racism and violence are also rampant.

The lack of action to uphold the international principle of non-refoulment, and the deafening silence that accompanies such acts, has prompted some researchers to question the hierarchal structure within the humanitarian system. As a article published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) explains:

“These people are paid little attention now, but not because they do not fit the legal definition of refugees. They are passed over because, in a world of protracted emergencies, finite and bifurcated funding mechanisms, and a politics of humanitarian priorities that amounts to selective valuation of human life, what matters is where refugees come from.”

Aicha Elbasri, former spokesperson of the African Union/United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), takes an even stronger stance in pointing out the UN’s role in fueling the conflict, which has prioritized maintaining diplomatic ties with the Sudanese government over speaking the truth about these powers. Elbasri resigned eight months after taking up her post with the following words: “As an Arab-African Muslim, I refuse to remain silent while innocent civilians are being killed in my name. I chose to end my UN career to regain my freedom to speak out. I have only lost a job; countless Darfuris are still losing their lives.”

Earlier this year I had the chance to discuss the predicament of the Sudanese population in Jordan with a high-ranking UN official in Amman. He seemed genuinely concerned about their dire living conditions, but tied down by the shortage of funds and other constrains. Near the end of our discussion he concluded that the time might have come for the Sudanese to reassess the Jordanian option as a pathway for resettlement.

There used to be a time when persecuted Sudanese looked to Jordan, the kingdom of refugees, as their only hope to reach a place where their rights and prospects could be valued. That was before the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the election of Donald Trump, and the VIP welcome extended to Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir in Amman earlier this year during the Arab League summit. What then is a viable option for those seeking safety?

Adam is a sharp-featured yet soft spoken man in his mid-thirties. He was attending university in Khartoum when he got news of an attack on his village in West Darfur, where he lost his father, sister and brother in the space of a single day. “I left the university and returned to Darfur in a state of shock. What I found was disastrous, the villages were completely destroyed,” he recounts. While searching for ways to keep the rest of his family safe, he came across the option of applying for asylum in Jordan and eventually qualifying for resettlement in a third country, where he could then either bring his family or at least support them financially. He worked for a man on a construction site in Khartoum for nine months, and in return received his help in obtaining a passport with a medical visa to Jordan.

Three and a half years after having arrived in Jordan, without any prospect of a resettlement resolution happening anytime soon, Adam says Jordan perhaps offered him protection but not refuge. To Adam, “protection” means staying alive but is devoid of the concept of security. Some years ago, the one-bedroom apartment he shared with four other Sudanese single men was broken into by Jordanian neighbors, put on fire and robbed. He told the story while flipping through his half-burnt Sudanese passport, which had ironically already failed to protect him from abuse and exploitation.

The Sudanese embassy in Jordan takes no responsibility for Sudanese refugees in the country. To the contrary, a number of men including a theater-script writer told me that they have been targeted and intimidated by embassy staff on several occasions.

Every day, Adam leaves his home in Jabal Amman at around 3:30 am and walks under the rays of old Amman’s streetlights towards the central vegetable market in Wihdat to look for work. There, together with hundreds other men, he earns fifty piasters for each load of vegetables he transports from the merchant’s kiosk to the customer’s truck or nearby shop. On the day I met him, he had transported fifteen between from 4:00 and 10:00 in the morning. He walked out with 17.5 Jordanian dinars (approximately 24 US dollars), three of which went to renting the wheelbarrow that is property of the Amman municipality. But he considered it a good day, first because he was not arrested by the wafideen (immigrant) police for working illegally, and second for actually being paid. Sometimes, he and other Sudanese said, they are not paid for their work. “You don’t have a voice even to complain to the police because you are working illegally. As written in the refugee certificate, the bearer does not have the right to work,” Adam helplessly explains.

When you listen to Sudanese refugees in Jordan, you realize that they have become accustomed to racism and ill-treatment, and that the lack of money or food isn’t their central concern. If we eat today, the reasoning goes, we don’t have to eat tomorrow, we won’t die of hunger. The real issue that keeps them up at night is the insecurity of family members they had to leave behind. In Adam’s words, “I sometimes get in a mental state where I am not able to sleep and am only thinking of them. I think of them more than I think of my future. I want to help them out.”

The numerous difficulties they confront notwithstanding, people like Ahmad and Adam continue to speak out, insisting to be heard. “Darfur is in need of a major social peace movement,” says Ahmad. “It needs all the intruders to leave and to let people live peacefully.”

Will their voice break into the echo chambers of closed-door international meetings? And if it does, will there be politicians in those rooms willing to make a difference? As Francis Deng, a politician and diplomat from South Sudan, once said: “What we are silent about is what divides us.”

Author’s Note: Some names in this article have been changed to protect identities.

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The Kenya I want for my daughter

Thoughts on the Day of the African Child
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
I want her to live in freedom and safety not in fear and confusion and not surely in a sanitized bubble where everything is rosy. What I want for her is a future where she will not be violated or put down simply because she is a girl.
I am seated by the living room window reading a book, more like staring into it. My mind wanders, occasionally glancing outside to catch a glimpse of my daughter riding her bike. Those who know me can hazard a guess as to the author who makes me ‘tick’ with her affirmation of girls and women – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – but not even her poignant words draw me away from the many thoughts running through my mind as I watch my daughter’s father motion to her not to ride so fast.
You see, my daughter is 12 years old and very independent. One of her favorite pastimes is cycling. I am happy because it pulls her away from the TV and other electronic gadgets that could take her God knows where – I digress. I yearn for the time when as children we could go outside to play and wander kilometers from home. Our parents never worried about our safe return – we always made our way back home exhausted and famished. Sometimes dirty but fulfilled in our adventurous day.
 In 2017 one cannot, unfortunately, let a child, especially a girl, even 100 meters out of sight without thinking the worst! What happened to us? What became of the adage that in Africa a child is raised by a village?
Am I paranoid? I don’t think so. My head is full of crazy thoughts. Will she be able to use hand signals appropriately? Will the chaotic Nairobi drivers be courteous on the roads? Will she fall given the rugged terrain, littered and sometimes non-existent pedestrian paths? What of the predators and pests? Will she remember not to talk to strangers? What of the “strange” stares? Why do we sexualize children? Why can’t a child be a child in this country? Why would an apparently straight thinking adult look at a child and entertain sexual thoughts?
This reminds me of the court ruling that has made Kenya “famous”, that of a judge who ruled that a 14-year-old seemed to have invited sexual advances from an adult! I am personally not surprised that Justice Juma Chitembwe came out top with the worst court ruling – referring to a ruling with a negative effect on women’s and girls’ rights – as the Kenyan law is quite clear that having sexual intercourse (read defilement) with anyone under 18 is against the law and is punishable by a very stiff sentence.
But are you surprised? Are we collectively surprised? Going by recent social media discussions – some rather heated on this particular ruling – it is clear that we still have a long way to go and are very far from consensus that a child is just that – a child.
Now, if the justice system will not protect my child because some in it believe that she can ‘entertain’ sexual advances and ‘consent’ to ‘whatever’ is suggested, should I then continue reading my book or should I be outside watching her like a hawk?
This fear notwithstanding, we as parents have allowed her to venture and at times she has grown wings and gone even further away and out of our sight and we have continued to pray for her safety. But this has not been without incident.  Twice she has fallen and almost been hit by a car.
Men have beckoned her. This made my skin crawl and my insides burn with anger. As parents we soldier on and constantly seek to empower her to know when to run…when to say no…when to abandon her cycling mission, her dad chaperons her now and again. She is one lucky girl, privileged even. Let us take a moment, think about her peers who may not relate or identify with this narrative.
Where do I even begin with empowering her? I want her to live in freedom and safety not in fear and confusion and not surely in a sanitized bubble where everything is rosy. What I want for her is a future where she will not be violated or put down simply because she is a girl. From my experience and observation, for pre-teens and teens it is a critical time, when we should be affirming girls to grow up into confident and empowered young women. Unfortunately, that is when we clamp down on them so hard – be it in school, at home, in public spaces and the larger society.
I am reminded of a question I received when my colleagues from Equality Now and I visited a school to have a conversation on sexual violence, among other issues. It made me wonder, what has happened to adults and the community at large?
A young girl wrote on a piece of paper anonymously: “I was raped just before coming to school and I have not reported because I am afraid. My uncle always assaults me and I am afraid to say”.
One look at the pink flash card and I felt numb, wearing a face of confidence and reassurance but inside I was crumbling. The fact that 90% of the questions from the students were of this nature made me realize that we are failing our children. We are failing a whole generation of girls and destroying their innocence. These experiences have strengthened my resolve to jealously protect and uphold the role of schools as safe havens and spaces that allow our children to grow into their full, unhampered potential.
I yearn for a country where the narrative around girls’ and women’s leadership and participation in public life is positive and uplifting.
As Chimamanda put it, a country where… “We do not teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We do not say to girls, you can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you would threaten the man.”
A country that respects the rule of law and the constitution and especially the provisions that speak to gender equality. It saddens me that, seven years after the adoption of Kenya’s constitution in 2010, the struggle on implementation of provisions that speak to women’s equal representation in political and appointive roles continues.
What will it take, though? How do we kill the persistent narrative that demeans girls and women? How can we increasingly affirm girls especially on their leadership potential? How can we breakdown stereotypes?
As my daughter comes back home, with her father in tow, I put my book aside just to hug her and whisper a silent thankful prayer.
* FLAVIA MWANGOVYA is a Senior Program Officer, Legal Equality at Equality Now. Flavia is passionate feminist and human rights activist and has over 10 years of experience in the gender and human rights field. Flavia holds a M.A. in Gender Studies from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Nairobi.
About Equality Now
Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. Our international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sexual trafficking, sexual violence, and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Equality Now is dedicated to creating a more just world where women and girls have equal rights under the law and full enjoyment of those rights. For details of our current campaigns, please visit

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Herstory: Soweto uprising and the erasure of Black women

South African History Archive (SAHA)

There are many distortions in the dominant narratives around the 1976 students’ uprising. One of the most critical of these is the persistent, subtle projection of that uprising as the exclusive initiative of young men, to the complete exclusion and erasure of the invaluable contributions and sacrifices of young women. This constitutes epistemic violence against Black women.

Last week Friday marked 41 years since the Soweto students’ uprising that took place on the 16 June 1976, a day that ushered a decisive turning point in the liberation struggle in Azania (South Africa).

Today the day is a celebrated national holiday rebranded as ‘Youth Day’, a day in which contributions of young people in the liberation project are usually evoked and celebrated. In fact, the whole month of June has become christened as ‘Youth Month’.

But, there are serious distortions and misrepresentations of historical facts in the dominant public narratives around the 1976 students’ uprising. One of the most critical of these distortions is the persistent subtle projection of that uprising as the somewhat exclusive initiative of young men, to the complete exclusion and erasure of the invaluable contributions and sacrifices of young women of that time.

Very often, when 16 June is discussed or commemorated, the painful experiences, sacrifices and contributions of the young Black women of the 1976 generation in the fight against the white supremacist education are largely downplayed (mentioned in passing), or completely erased and silenced.

It is as though 16 June was the sole initiative of the prominent male students like Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso Sethloho only (and of course,  the first boy victim, Zolile Hector Peterson); as though no Black women were involved at all in the planning meetings and the subsequent protest on that fateful day and weeks after.

The names and identities of young women rarely appear even when victims of that 16 June massacre are evoked in public dialogues, intellectual discourse or media reports. These Black women are continuously rendered invisible by the entire system; they simply don’t exist; they are not regarded as worthy subjects of his-story.

For example, there were many female students who shot and killed at various places around Chaiwelo when the uprising began at Nghungunyane Secondary School, whose identities remain a mystery till this day. Other examples are two specific women from Dlamini whose involvement in the uprising resulted in their lifetime confinement to wheelchairs.

On 17 June 1976 a young Black girl, Hermina Leroke, was shot dead in Diepkloof after she and her peers had seen a helicopter and ran. Her companions and friends witnessed her killing by the police. Her name, like many other young women who died, is unknown.

Even when pictures of the June 16 events are shown on any public platforms, the selective gendering of the images used is quite apparent. In the media, in academia and in political spaces the historic images used to tell the story are those with largely male students.

Images of the uprising with young Black women leading in front, carrying placards with revolutionary messages alongside the male students, defiant against military and police armoury, and leading in front during the marches, are rarely published or used.

Consequently, the only stories that are told are those of the brave young men of that generation; those of the many brave, but nameless, young women don’t matter much in our national consciousness and memory.

Take Sam Nzima’s famous image of Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying Zolile Peterson’s dead body for example. In the same frame on that image is a clearly emotional Antionnette Sithole. But she bears little significance, she is afforded no historic currency at all besides being known as the sister of the dead boy carried by Makhubu whose whereabouts are today unknown. She is cast either as an ahistorical or unhistorical object in the enterprise of historical manufacture. Nothing is said about the fact that she was a young woman who had made a conscious decision, like many others, to protest on that day. We simply know her as ‘Hector’s sister’.

The subtle consensus constructed through this distorted version of and approach to history is that 16 June was, first, conceived by men and led by men only; second, an exclusive initiative by students only; and third, a one day event which changed the course of history.

Stories and experiences of less known people, particularly women, involved in 16 June are generally disregarded and undermined. There are numerous Black women, little known because they were not in leadership positions or did not appear on photographer’s frames, whose involvement, contributions and experiences during the uprising were significantly profound.

Even the only woman who was an executive member of the Soweto Students’ Representative Council (SSRC) and General Secretary of the South African Student Movement (SASM) that planned and organized the 16 June uprising, Sibongile Mkhabela, is least spoken about and less known. Her contributions to and sacrifices for the liberation project are unknown to today’s youth.

And she is not an exception.

Think of the silenced broader influences of women like Winnie Motlalepula Kgware who worked very closely with the students as a teacher and had an influential role in the launch of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO), later becoming the president of Black People’s Convention (BPC), an umbrella body of the Black Consciousness Movement. Mama Kgware’s name, the first woman to be elected as president of a political organization in South Africa, never appears on any public platforms in this country.

There are many Black women who were directly involved in the 16 June uprising, like Dikeledi Motswene who was a grade 9 pupil at Ithute Senior Secondary in 1976, Priscilla Msesenyane who was a grade 4 pupil at St Matthews Roman Catholic School, Naledi Kedi Motsau who was a grade 12 pupil at Naledi High School and Martha Matthews who was a grade 12 pupil at Kelekitso Senior Secondary, whose stories never get registered on our collective national memory and consciousness.

Other residents and Black people of Soweto who were directly or indirectly involved and affected by the 1976 students’ uprising, like community activists, parents, officials, shop owners, nurses, doctors and teachers like Nozipho Joyce Mxakathi (now Diseko) also disappear completely from our memory when the story is narrated.

Another serious limitation of the way memory about 16 June is reconstructed today is the lack of detail about the subsequent arrests, tortures and killings that occurred days and months after that initial day; right up to the trial of the Soweto 11 who were accused of sedition for planning and organizing the student protest in 1976.

For days, weeks and months after 16 June the Black community was under siege and terrorized by blood-thirsty police whose mandate was to capture or kill student leaders. In the book, ‘Soweto 16 June 1976: Personal Accounts Of The Uprising’, Martha Matthews who took part in the protests is quoted as having said:

“The following day it was worse because these Boers were now following people inside their yards. We could not go out. We could not go buy in shops… The Boers’ cars were patrolling, and they were driving very slow, very slow. I am telling you, if you want to die just get outside the house… They could even shoot a toddler as young as six years”.

Then there are the stories of those that died on 16 June 16; none speaks for the dead as history is reconstructed and told. The contestations over the lifeless bodies of those killed that ensued between the state, their families and communities are muted and unknown.

One person who tells this story is Thomas Ntuli who was a grade 8 student in 1976. In the above-mentioned book he reveals that:

“The victims of June 16, and the days thereafter, would not be buried like the other dead. Their bodies did not belong to their families. They were contested between the State, the families and the community. Community members wanted to inscribe the bodies with messages for the ‘the struggle’. The State, however, demanded that the burial should not be political”.

This parochial approach to history also minimizes the scale of the viciousness, violence and brutality of the racist apartheid regime. The extent to which, not only the students, but the entire Black community and families were affected by the 16 June uprising becomes obscured and blurred.

Stories of home invasions at night, police threats, beatings, sexual harassment, interrogations and torture of many women, mostly mothers, grandmothers and aunts of students, are downplayed and mentioned in passing at best, or completely erased at worst.

This obfuscates the stories and experiences of many ordinary Black people, women especially. It inscribes glorified men as the sole-supreme actors and only agents of history, projecting women as mere insignificant shadows, passive, without any agency. This is epistemic violence against Black women.

It is, in fact, the traditional modus operandi of the elite that record history to erase and silence the voices of women and ordinary people. The Euro-patriarchal elitist approach, not only to the writing of history but also in the honouring of struggle icons, erases the memories and experiences, and silences the stories and contributions of ordinary Black women, women activists and women intellectuals.

We must understand that this approach to history is fundamentally rooted in Eurocentric ethos. Mohau Pheko writes that “almost every canonized western philosopher is on record as viewing women as inferior, incompetent, or disqualified epistemic or moral agents”. Indeed, European scholars and philosophers like Aristotle, upon whose ideas today’s democracy is built, were misogynist.

Aristotle believed women were inferior to men. For example, in his work ‘Politics’, Aristotle writes that “as regards the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject”. And in ‘Xenophon’s Symposium’, Socrates also asserts that woman’s nature is not wise and is inferior to men’s.

In his book, ‘Homosexuality & The Effeminization Of Afrikan Males’, Dr Mwalimu Baruti also reveals that beginning with the fathers of stolen European philosophy, not only were women seen as unfit for the love of men, but they were also judged as innately inferior and of less social, political, economic, religious and, therefore, cultural significance and value”.

So ultimately, histories constructed in Euro-patriarchal societies called ‘democracies’ today, shaped and informed by the dominant Eurocentric culture that permeates every fabric of our being and social existence, must innately eliminate women. These histories must advertently erase, silence and debase women; her story does not qualify as history.

In this way, violence against women, misogyny and patriarchy are perpetually institutionalized through this erasure of the memory and contributions of women in socio-economic and political revolutions. Liberation struggles, we are made to believe, are the products and field of elite ‘great’ men only; as a result, history, therefore, must necessarily continue to be a male-dominated theatre.

So, as we honour the memory and commemorate the sacrifices of the youth on 1976, we must understand that the June 16 generation were heterogeneous and diverse in many respects. We must acknowledge the critical role played by young Black women in that students’ uprising. Their contributions must be equally remembered, evoked and celebrated. Otherwise, we continue to institutionalize violence against women through their erasure from national memory and our collective consciousness.

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Palestine: another desperate cry for help

Palestinian Christians holding a cross and a Palestinian flag
“Beyond urgent… on verge of a catastrophe… last chance to save Christian presence in Holy Land”
By Stuart Littlewood

The National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) has just issued a final plea for help in the form of an open letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement. It is signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and can be read in full here.

The problem is well known to everyone who’s paying attention. The letter recaps for us:

We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour Declaration, intensified through the Nakba [Arabic for “catastrophe” – the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians in 1948] and the influx of refugees, followed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza and the fragmentation of our people and our land through policies of isolation and confiscation, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall.

A hundred years later and there is still no justice! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule… Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leaders’ callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.

The letter harks back to the Amman Call of 2007. “We are concerned that 10 years later the situation is worse… the Amman Call did not achieve its goal of a just peace and we must ask ourselves today – why?”

Concern is also expressed at Israel’s “systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance” (by which they mean BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions), and on their partners worldwide who use BDS to persuade Israel to end the occupation.

While we are grateful for the “costly solidarity” articulated in the Amman Call and exercised by many churches around the world, we are concerned that some churches have weakened their positions in the last 10 years as a result of pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their religious dialogue partners.

So now they ask us to do the following:

1. Call things as they are: recognise Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report, which said: “Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.” They are concerned that states and churches continue dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal, ignoring the reality of occupation, discrimination and daily deaths. Churches united to end apartheid in South Africa, the World Council of Churches (WCC) playing a pivotal role, and they are expected to do the same again in Palestine

2. Unequivocally condemn the Balfour Declaration as unjust, and demand the UK asks forgiveness and compensates the Palestinian people for their losses. Unfortunately, Zionist stooges in high places, like Theresa May, have said they will be celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration “with pride” and inviting Mr Netanyahu along for the fun.

3. Take the strongest possible stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and favours one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant.

4. Take a stand against religious extremism and any attempt to create a religious state in Palestine or the region.

5. Challenge our religious dialogue partners, and withdraw from the partnership if they won’t condemn the occupation.

6. Encourage church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities using Palestinian travel agencies, not Israeli.

7. In response to Israel’s war on BDS, defend the Palestinians’ right to resist non-violently, and support economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation. Go further and include sport, cultural and academic measures until Israel complies with international law and UN resolutions.

8. Create lobby groups in defence of Palestinian Christians.

9. Urgently create a strategy within the WCC, like the programme “To Combat Racism”, to coordinate lobbying, advocacy and other activities aimed at achieving justice and peace and maintaining the presence of the Palestinian Christians.

“We fully grasp the pressure church leaders are facing here and abroad not to speak the truth, and it is because of this that we are raising this call,” says the NCCOP.

Their message ends with these ominous words:

Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status-quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.

As I’m writing news has come in of a legal victory against the UK government for trying to stifle BDS. The government recently issued guidance to stop divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law, and to protect the UK’s defence industry. Pension holders, for example, could have been forced into investing in companies complicit in human rights abuses, contrary to their conscience and beliefs.

Thanks to action by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign the court held that the government had acted improperly by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy. Parts of the guidance are now held to be unlawful and no longer applicable to local government in their pension decisions.

Other last-gasp appeals

The Amman Call mentioned earlier was issued exactly 10 years ago at the WCC’s International Peace Conference “Churches together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East” held in Amman, Jordan. It contained a number of imperatives.

  • Enough is enough. No more words without deeds. It is time for action.
  • The churches are part of the conflict, because they cannot remain silent while there is still suffering.
  • There is no military solution to the conflict, UN resolutions are the basis for peace and the Geneva conventions are applicable to the rights and responsibilities of the affected people.
  • Palestinians have the right of self-determination and the right of return.
  • Jerusalem must be an open, accessible, inclusive and shared city for the two peoples and three religions.
  • Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal, and constitute an obstacle to peace, and Israel’s “Separation Barrier” is a grave breach of international law and must be removed.

The Kairos Document of 2009 called itself a “cry of hope in the absence of all hope”. They said they had “reached a dead end” in the tragedy of the Palestinian people and the decision-makers “content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it”. The faithful were asking: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the church doing? “The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the church.”

Kairos told the international community to stop practising “double standards” and start implementing international resolutions. “Selective application of international law threatens to leave us vulnerable to a law of the jungle. It legitimises the claims by certain armed groups and states that the international community only understands the logic of force.” So, Kairos was calling for a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel – not as a revenge tactic but action to reach a just and definitive peace.

It also urged churches to revisit the fundamentalist positions that support the evil policies imposed on the Palestinian people, and to stop providing theological cover for the injustices they suffer.

Local action

These heart-rending pleas are all very well but churches are hard to mobilise. Some have flirted with BDS but only after much internal wrangling. Others have allowed themselves to be put off by interference from their interfaith partners.

What can we ordinary mortals do?

Well, I pop into churches randomly and ask what links they have with the Holy Land. They usually stare at me in blank amazement and an awkward silence follows. I therefore recommend a national campaign to visit all churches throughout the land and ask that same question. Shame them.

But you never quite know when you’re up against the “enemy within” – the Christian Zionist. Many readers will remember The “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism” by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in 2006.

It says, among other things:

  • We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message.
  • We reject the alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States [add the UK] that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine.
  • We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that support these policies as they promote racial exclusivity and perpetual war.
  • We call upon all churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.
  • We call upon all people to reject Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.
  • We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation.
  • And, of course, Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. Don’t anyone forget that.

Memorise it.

Did you ever hear any of the 26 Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords roundly condemn the British government’s unshakable support for the rogue regime in Israel that’s causing all this misery? No, they’re scared to death of ruffling the feathers of their “interfaith dialogue” partners and being branded anti-Semitic. And yes, the church does have its fearless heroes but they are few and far between and not always tolerated. The Anglican Church by and large doesn’t give a damn about their brethren in the Holy Land or the military jackboot on their necks. And, by extension, they don’t give a four-x whether, in another 10 years, there will be any Christians left in the place where Christianity was born. No, maybe they will care, but by then it will be too late.

If I had my way every clergyman and every political leader calling him/herself a Christian would have the “Jerusalem Declaration” tattooed on their rump.

I’d like to invite some of them to spend a week with priests in the front line in Jenin, Nablus or Hebron for a real taste of life under the brutal Israeli occupation; then queue for hours at daybreak with Palestinian workers in the obscene human holding pens at the Bethlehem checkpoint as they struggle to get to work – and home again; then watch Israeli bulldozers evict Palestinian families and destroy their homes for no good reason; then join Gaza fishermen as they try to earn a living while getting shot at in their own waters by Israeli gunboats; then stay with a Gaza family in the rubble, experience living with only two hours’ electricity a day, with the kids going to school in shifts and studying by candlelight; then sit down with Hamas ministers to learn what it’s like running this tiny, overcrowded enclave after 10 years of cruel blockade; then visit Gaza’s hospitals to see first-hand the crisis in medical equipment and spares; then watch the groups of young, uniformed Israeli gunslingers swaggering through the Old City of Jerusalem making that beautiful place so ugly.

The opportunities to learn the nasty truth about today’s Holy Land are endless.

And when they return home – who knows, they might just feel pricked to do something about it. At least they could ensure every parish in England twins itself with a parish in the West Bank to offer solidarity and provide moral and material support.

Posted in Palestine AffairsComments Off on Palestine: another desperate cry for help

Strike by judges adds to pain of war in South Sudan

A press statement
A strike by judges in South Sudan has paralyzed operations in the Judiciary, adding to the misery of the country currently hit by a civil war. While supporting the peaceful industrial action, the Communist Party of South Sudan has called on the government resolve the strike, which threatens the rule of law.
In the light of the historic strike that was announced by Judges across the country which is entering its second month due to lack of a response as well as unsettled demands with the Judiciary of South Sudan, as quoted in their memorandum dated 20/April/2016, including the following issues:
  • Resignation of Chief Justice
  • Provision of transportation for judges
  • Provision of stationery
  • Provision and increment of sitting halls for judges
  • Provision of identity cards for judges and judiciary staff
  • Increment of Judges’ salaries as directed by (Resolution No.14/2016) dated 03/02/2016 from the Council of Ministers of the Republic of South Sudan)
  • Provision of health insurance
  • Enactment of pension act for Judges
  • Promotion of Judges who came from Sudan Judiciary to the Judiciary of South Sudan
Their strike is a natural outcome of the complete paralysis of the Judiciary and the state apparatus. The Judiciary is considered as one of the most important pillars of a state after the Legislature and the Executive and its absence means the absence of the rule of law.
The dispute between the judges and the Chief Justice had intensified following the strike; although the judges had surpassed it, following a plea from the Chief Justice, they resumed their work, but very soon they renewed their strike due to lack of response from the Judiciary.
The situation worsened and prompted the Presidency to intervene by asking the Judges for more time. In response, a Presidential Inquiry Committee was formed to look into these demands. Then the President promised the Judges a response to their demands and the Judges suspended their strike for the third time.
Although, the committee has finished its work and reported it to the Presidency, unfortunately the Presidency ignored the demands of the Judges because the regime is not serious in resolving the issue.
Currently, the situation that our country is facing in the absence of the Judiciary means the absence of the rule law, because of the insistence of the regime to maintain the current Chief Justice instead of replacing or sacking him to set up an efficient Judiciary.
For a Judiciary that will ensure the delivery of justice on the basis of above, the Communist Party of South Sudan wishes to state the following:
First: The party praises the peacefulness of the Judges’ strike as a constitutional and democratic means for demanding their rights.
Second: The party completely supports the Judges in their strike to realize their demands.
Third: The party believes that these demands shall contribute in creating a viable Judiciary in South Sudan, therefore:
  • The Chief Justice must resign immediately from his position to avoid any legal gap in the Judiciary and in the country or the Presidency must interfere by replacing or sacking him.
  • The Judiciary must be professionally, administratively and financially independent and must preserve their right of electing a Chief Justice instead of the Presidential appointments
The Secretariat of Central Committee
 Communist Party of South Sudan

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British elections leave an unsteady ship lurching rightwards in turbulent waters

Political Gambler

Having lost their parliamentary majority, Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to form an alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP is a set of misogynist Bible-beating reactionaries infamous for their diehard opposition to evolution, to manmade climate change, to same sex marriage and to abortion. A coalition with the DUP introduces fascism into British politics and would help install a regime that abandons hypocritical discourse about tolerance and instead relies on violent repression.

The national elections held in the United Kingdom on 8 June came at a critical time in the world and the country, with little consensus among the ruling class about how to handle the increasingly acute contradictions that are shaking up the existing world order – from Brexit, with Britain to leave the European Union, to the establishment of the fascist Trump regime in the US, the sweeping away of the traditional governing parties in France in the recent Presidential elections there, and more.

Rather than settling the matter, the Brexit vote left the British ruling class deeply divided on how to handle its relations with the European imperialist powers (especially Germany, now bidding to lead the EU), and the US, with which the UK’s “special relationship” is not so much a matter of language and culture as the interwoven investment and close partnership in global exploitation. Powerful global currents are hammering at the long-standing political order in Britain: surging migration, driven by war and imperialist plunder of the countries of the third world; ripping social and economic inequality in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis (with food banks and homelessness proliferating in the inner cities); strident attempts to reassert traditional values, and in particular a war on women to put them “back in their place”; intensifying contradictions among the major powers; and, not least, the ongoing contradiction between outmoded and reactionary Western imperialism and forces associated with it, and outmoded and reactionary Islamic jihadism – which both fuel and fight each other. This last conflict erupted in blood in the streets of London and Manchester during the election itself.

In the face of this global turbulence, Theresa May, Prime Minister and head of the Conservative (Tory) Party, adopted the mantra that what the UK needs is a “strong and stable” hand – a strong woman for hard times. As Europe’s loudest voice in opposing rescue operations for migrants in the Mediterranean Sea when she was Home Minister, May began demonstrating what that means even before becoming the head of her party and prime minister. Her unapologetic opposition to letting in people from other countries underlies both her current immigration policies and plans for negotiating Brexit. In contrast to the phony “compassionate conservatism” previously espoused by the Tories, a proud cruelty marks her approach to other social issues. This was once again spotlighted a week after the elections by her initial refusal to talk to survivors of the Grenfell tower block inferno, where the deaths of as yet uncounted public housing residents due to a lack of elementary fire precautions is itself emblematic of official indifference to the lives of vast sections of the population.

When Trump surprisingly won the US presidency, and in the face of his fascist moves and particularly his trumpeting “America First”, uncertainty mounted among the British ruling class, May took decisive action and was the first head of state to visit Trump. She invited him with unprecedented haste for a state visit. She touted what she called “patriotic conservatism”. She pledged what was called a “hard Brexit” – “Brexit means Brexit!”, she proclaimed – and promised to “take back control of our borders”, echoing Trump’s “build that wall!”

She said she called these snap elections three years early because she needed a mandate as Britain entered into negotiations with the other 27 EU countries over Brexit. But instead, the Tories’ slim majority in Parliament evaporated in a humiliating setback for her personally. May is now struggling to weld together some form of governing majority. Uncertainty and volatility are more than ever the order of the day.

May and the Tories lost their parliamentary majority, but still being the largest party, are currently attempting to form a governing majority by allying with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. The DUP, a creation of the notorious Ian Paisley, is a set of misogynist Bible-beating reactionaries who have fought for decades to keep Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. They have historic connections with the Orange Order and Protestant militias who carried out vicious terror attacks against Catholic civilians in the interests of British domination of the province. Their MPs are infamous for their diehard opposition to evolution, to manmade climate change, to same sex marriage and to abortion under almost all circumstances. Making the DUP the main strut for a parliamentary coalition introduces a whiff of fascism into the political atmosphere and would surely encourage and build up forces quite ready to help install a regime that abandons hypocritical discourse about tolerance and inclusiveness and instead sanctifies and relies on violent repression. Even before the election May responded to jihadi terror attacks by declaring, gangster-like, that protection from such violence would require the country’s people to surrender basic democratic rights.

Unlike in France, however, where neither of the two traditional parties that have governed since World War II made it to the final round of the recent presidential elections, in the UK both of the two main traditional parties saw their share of the vote increase. In part this reflected serious shifts by the parties to adjust to the Brexit decision: Corbyn moved “left” and distanced Labour from the now discredited “centrist” “Third Way” policies of former PM Tony Blair’s New Labour and adopted an implicitly “soft Brexit” stance, while May shifted rightwards with calls for a “hard Brexit”, greater austerity and stepped-up repression. Despite the electoral setback, May did have some success in winning over many who had earlier supported Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP). With Britain now headed out the door from Europe, UKIP’s very reason for being was over, and many of its supporters switched back to the Tories, leaving it without a single MP.

The setback suffered by the Tories is being attributed in part to an outpouring of youth on behalf of Corbyn’s Labour. After seven years of Tory governance, Corbyn undoubtedly offered a fresh look. He openly proclaimed his “socialism” and lashed out at the banks and the rich – Labour’s main campaign slogan was “For the Many, Not the Few”. The Labour election manifesto called for re-nationalizing the railways and utilities, eliminating the university tuition fees that have saddled a generation of students with huge debts (originally implemented by Blair’s New Labour), extra funding for social services, in particular the National Health Service, and guaranteeing pensions. All of this was to be funded by raising corporate and income tax on the wealthy. Internationally, Corbyn promised to rein in British military intervention abroad. He has a long record of voting against the various British military adventures alongside the US in the last 30 years, including the invasion of Iraq in both 1991 and 2003.

Most of the mainstream media denounced Corbyn as “unelectable”. The Murdoch-owned Sun said his election would “make Britain a global laughing stock” and screamed about his “jihadi comrades”, while the right-wing tabloid Daily Mail called his team “Apologists for Terrorism”. But for many of Corbyn’s volunteers, this was proof they were hitting a nerve. As with Sanders in the US and Melenchon in France, virtually the entirety of the organized “Left” supported his campaign to one degree or another.

One reason Corbyn’s programme might appear radical these days is that this kind of social-democracy has been ruled off the agenda in the Western countries for years now. Intensifying global competition in recent decades has seen social welfare programmes slashed throughout the Western countries. Subject to the compulsion of expand or die, capital everywhere is cutting costs to compete. In this environment, and especially as this global competition intensifies and self-proclaimed “my country first” policies are stepped up, dreams of reviving the glory days of Western social democracy have gone up in smoke, one after another – or worse. The dire fate of Greece’s Syriza speaks volumes in this respect. It’s one thing to tell the British people that their fate depends on the success of British capital when they can feel that capital is keeping its part of the social bargain. It’s another when “austerity” – which is not a question of anyone’s will but of the requirements for profit and capital accumulation that the workings of capitalism itself imposes on capitalists and blocs of capital – leads many people to feel that the social compact is being broken.

May clearly felt that it was essential to deal a sharp blow at the kind of opposition Corbyn represented to ensure it does not further undermine the political stability she rightly believes is so vital and so endangered. The potential for this infighting within the ruling forces to erupt into something much more difficult to control could be felt in the justified, explosive and widely supported anger of the Grenfell Tower survivors May dared not meet with, and which in fact seems to be aimed at all the authorities, including London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. Given the constraints of the situation, there is, in fact, no good option for the British ruling class.

Despite this, Corbyn’s campaign has played a powerful enabling role in keeping the increasingly sharp question of how to resolve these contradictions within the confines of what is good for British imperialism. Britain is the leading financial power in Europe, one of the first colonial nations and a major imperialist predator today whose wealth has been accumulated on the backs of hundreds of millions of people worldwide for generations – from the days when the “sun never set on the British empire” down to today. It is in this context that, despite his opposition to some British military intervention, we must situate Corbyn’s declaration that he “wants to make Britain stronger in the world”.

Seeking to redistribute the wealth within the country while maintaining its position at the top of the global imperialist food chain can only mean advocating a slightly revamped redistribution of this historically accumulated plunder within the framework of the existing world system. Despite Corbyn’s self-proclaimed “socialism”, Labour’s programme ultimately amounts to a reactionary and impossible effort to make society in the capitalist-imperialist UK more “fair” rather than working for the overthrow of a system of exploitation that thrives on the destruction of bodies and souls, and moving toward  the elimination of all the antagonistic social divisions and inequalities that hold back humanity’s potential throughout the world – a project that would link the fundamental interests of the vast majority of people in the UK with those of the vast majority of the world’s people.

This is why Corbyn has been so wishy-washy on the issue of Brexit – having opposed the EU for many years as a parliamentary backbencher, he now promised to “respect the referendum” and carry out a “softer” form of Brexit than the Tories, preserving some form of UK’s inclusion in the European common market. What Labour could not do was to oppose both the European Union – an alliance of imperialist states whose history is one of domination and plunder of most of the world’s peoples – while simultaneously denouncing the nostalgia for the British Empire and the dreams of recovering lost imperial glory that fuelled the vote for Brexit.

This too is why, although Corbyn has opposed the more blatant cases of British intervention alongside US imperialism in recent decades, the Labour Party election manifesto makes a firm commitment to NATO – the main military alliance enforcing Western imperialist interests in the world, including through the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Corbyn also pledges to continue British participation in United Nations military “peacekeeping” efforts, likewise a key part of the overall way the US-led imperialist powers have enforced their global domination at gunpoint. And although Corbyn spent years as a backbencher MP denouncing Britain’s nuclear arsenal and in particular the nuke-armed Trident submarine force, now to ensure his own “electability” he has agreed to go along with the Labour Party as a whole in maintaining Trident if elected.

Many Corbynistas want to avoid all this and limit discussion of Labour to its support for public services like the National Health Service, pointing out proudly how it was Labour that founded the NHS back under the Clement Atlee government in the late 1940s. What this argument ignores is that it was also Atlee’s Labour government that initiated Britain’s nuclear weapons programme and was a key architect of NATO. In a major capitalist-imperialist country like Britain, one does not come without the other.

And what of the dire threat to humanity posed by the rise of the fascist Trump-Pence regime in the US? While criticizing Trump here and there, Labour has made it abundantly clear that in power it would continue the “special relationship” with the US – anything else would of course make the party “unelectable” in the eyes of the British rulers. While opposing the upcoming state visit scheduled in early autumn, with its extraordinary pomp and circumstances involving the Queen, Labour will not oppose an “official visit”. How does this help the struggle to drive out this fascist Trump/Pence regime, the greatest danger to humanity in history? How does this stand up to May’s right-wing course, since it legitimates the claim that the basic interests of the masses of people in the UK lie in an alliance between British and US imperialism?

All this should be of great concern to those who support Corbyn but are seriously trying to figure out how to transform the world in a liberating way. But there’s more. The election campaign was twice put on hold following murderous jihadist attacks, first in Manchester and then in London, with over 30 people killed and dozens seriously wounded. The Labour election manifesto had already promised to put an extra 10,000 police on the street, but in the wake of the attacks Corbyn dramatically stepped up the campaign to show that Labour would be tougher than the Tories on terrorism. What ensued was a fiery public fight between Corbyn and May over who supports the police more, with Labour blasting Tory austerity policies that had led to cuts of 10,000 police, which Corbyn said “left the British people unsafe”. In the last week of campaigning, the main banner on Labour’s election “battle bus” proclaimed “More police for safer communities”. May and the Tories seized on these jihadist attacks to demand the stripping away of democratic rights, including the restoration of the kind of internment that was used against the Irish nationalist struggle 20 and 30 years ago, with people jailed without trial simply for their beliefs. While Labour has opposed this, if the terms of debate are framed narrowly over how best to protect “us Brits”, then Labour is already on a slippery slope to accommodation – yet again.

What a lesson this should be in the poisonous character of bourgeois parliamentary politics! Only a year or two ago, Labour politicians, including Corbyn himself, featured prominently at protests against brutal attacks by the police on especially Black youth in Britain’s inner cities, and in solidarity with the movement in the US following the Ferguson rebellion there. Corbyn and Labour were now corralling many of these same anti-police protesters and convincing them to take to the streets, this time urging people not to protest against the police but to beef up their ranks at the polls! Worse, some organisers in Momentum, Socialist Workers Party and other “Left” groups were doing all this in the name of “opening political space” and even advancing the cause of “revolution” – when all this actually helping to strengthen the armed enforcers of the capitalist system and its oppressive state.

However different Labour may look from the Tories, and however different their social bases, ultimately both parties function as two pillars of an ongoing parliamentary democracy that has concealed and legitimated the dictatorship of capital in the UK for over a century now. At the same time, these elections, if analysed scientifically, reveal the degree to which the British ruling class is facing and fighting over how to deal with potentially life-or-death challenges thrown up by the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system itself. Both parties offer solutions for solving these contradictions in the interests of the preservation of the system. The rapidly intensifying contradictions churning up the ground beneath the political arrangements that have ensured several generations of relative stability in the Western imperialist powers since World War II will lead to further polarization and sharper clashes within Britain’s ruling order. This should be taken as an urgent moment to start talking about, analysing and acting on how these openings can be seized on to resolve these contradictions in the interests of humanity through a genuine revolution, in opposition to those of the ruling class, and not be pulled into serving one wing or the other of the ruling class.

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Pariah State? Travel warnings in the land of 13 months of sunshine


What exactly is the message the U.S. and the U.K. governments are communicating by issuing travel warnings in Ethiopia? On the surface, a travel warning is just that. But does it signify something deeper about U.S./U.K. perceptions of the political situation in the country? Is there a hidden message buried in the warnings?

Time was tourists flocked to Ethiopia in search of the “Land of 13-Months of Sunshine” and adventure. Ziggy Marley, son of the late great reggae king Bob Marley, even wrote a song about it:

13 Months of Sunshine/Is what we got/Take us to, take us to, take us to that land/Who shall ascend the hill/Stand in that holy place/Lift up your heads/

O ancient gates/13 Months of Sunshine/Is what she got/Forward to, Forward to , Forward to that land/Where the water run (free)/We want to be

In 2017, the song heard from the U.S. of A and the U.K. is, “Get away, begone from that Land!”

For the past quarter of a century, Ethiopia has become “Land of 13 Months of Darkness” under the corrupt tyrannical rule of the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF). Some 400 thousand Ethiopians have fled to Saudi Arabia alone, the vast majority are “undocumented”. Millions of others scattered throughout the world. Ethiopians are leaving their country by sea, land and air to escape oppression, injustice, brutality, abuse, persecution and the indignity of second class citizenship under T-TPLF rule. They cry out, “Take us out of the Land of 13-Months of Darkness because we can’t breathe with T-TPLF boots on our necks”.

Now the governments of the U.S. and U.K. are advising their citizens, in no uncertain terms but with diplomatic delicacy, “Avoid Ethiopia like the plague! If you travel to  Ethiopia and get in a jam, and the likelihood of getting jammed is high, you are on your own. Don’t call us because you can’t. Normal communications are shut down. We can’t help you.”

On June 13, the U.S. State Department issued a “Travel Warning advising,

U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Ethiopia due to the potential for civil unrest and arbitrary detention since a state of emergency was imposed in October 2016. The Government of Ethiopia extended the state of emergency on March 15, 2017, and there continue to be reports of unrest, particularly in Gondar and Bahir Dar in Amhara State. This replaces the Travel Warning of December 6, 2016…

The Government of Ethiopia routinely restricts or shuts downs internet, cellular data, and phone services, impeding the U.S. Embassy’s ability to communicate with U.S. citizens in Ethiopia and limiting the Embassy’s ability to provide consular services. Additionally, the Government of Ethiopia does not inform the U.S. Embassy of detentions or arrests of U.S. citizens in Ethiopia… (Emphasis added.)

What exactly does this travel warning mean?

The U.S. issues two types of travel notices. A “travel warning” is issued when U.S. officials recognize the existence of a high risk situation to personal safety and seek to urge U.S. citizens “to consider very carefully whether they should go to a country at all.” Such a warning is issued when there is “unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks”; and “remains in place until the situation changes; some have been in effect for years.”

A “Travel Alert” is issued “for short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country”, often because the destination country is experiencing “strikes, demonstrations, disturbances, health issues or  an elevated risk of terrorist attacks.”

On June 13, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office also issued a travel warning advising its citizens to prepare their own “alternative communication plans when travelling in Ethiopia”. The warning strongly advises against travel to a number of locations in the country, including the “Bole area (in the capital) at night and in more secluded areas, such as the Entoto Hills” because of “incidents of violent assaults”. The warning urges against any travel in the “Amhara”, “Somali”, “Gambella” and other regions.

On June 13, the T-TPLF announced  the launch of its “e-visa service” (electronic travel authorization for international visitors) for travelers to Ethiopia effective June 12, 2017.”  The service is alleged to be “part of a new national initiative to transform the tourism sector in the country.”

How cleverly convenient?! Vintage T-TPLF. They love one-upmanship, trying to stay one step ahead in the game and do an end run to score a touchdown.

Of course, the T-TPLF was notified in advance of the travel warning by the U.S and the U.K. officials. The T-TPLF guys just could not resist the opportunity to stick it in the face of Uncle Sam and John Bull by announcing that visitors can just cyber-walk (cakewalk) their way into Ethiopia, travel warning or no.

There have been previous U.S. travel warnings in Ethiopia.

In December 2016, the State Department issued  a “Travel Alert”, set to expire in February 2017, informing “U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling in certain regions of Ethiopia due to anti-government protests, some of which have involved violence.”

In May 2015, the State Department issued a “Travel Alert”, with an expiration date of June 30, notifying “U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Ethiopia of the upcoming elections scheduled for May 24, 2015.”

In April 2010, the State Department issued a “Travel Alert”, set to expire in July 2010, informing “U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Ethiopia before and after national parliamentary elections scheduled for May 23, 2010.”

For the first time, the U.S. issued a “Travel Warning” in June 2017.

Tourism in Ethiopia went to the dogs after the T-TPLF declared a state of emergency in October 2016

According to data cooked  in the kitchens of T-TPLF tourism office, statistical agency and central banks and smoothly massaged and craftily laundered through the World Bank, (I did not say Bankrupt), the International Monetary Fund, tour operators, travel agents and others, Ethiopia has been on a steep trajectory of massive increases in tourism.

2006     330,000                                           2007     358,000
2008     383,000                                           2009    427,000
2010     468,000                                           2011      523,000
2012     597,000                                           2013      681,000
2014     770,000                                           2015      864,000

The T-TPLF alleges Ethiopia earned over $5.6 billion from tourism activities in 2016 with over 800, 000 tourists. By November 2016, tourism had dropped by 100,000. Yet, the “Ministry of Culture and Tourism hopes to increase the number of tourists to one million and the revenue to well over $29.8 billion in 2017.”

From $5.6 billion to $29.8 billion in one year! Such a thing can only happen on Planet T-TPLF (nom de terre Thugistan).

Over the past year, tourism in Ethiopia has nosedived.

Estimates vary but tourists are staying away from that country in droves, possibly by the hundreds of thousands. Travel alerts and warnings issued by the State Department are making Americans planning to travel in Ethiopia skittish. There is substantial anecdotal evidence of trip cancellations, changes in travel plans, re-routings to other African destinations and travel postponements by American citizens. Informed American travelers believe it is too dangerous and highly risky to travel to Ethiopia and check out the usual historic tourist spots. To complicate things and make matters even worse, the T-TPLF has turned back upon arrival at Bole airport a number of Ethiopian Americans whom it suspects or believes are its opponents.

The impact of a dried up tourism industry on the local services economy has been devastating.

A story in Addis Standard in March stated that tour businesses were reporting cancellations of “more than 95% of the bookings for the high season.” One tour operator complained, “But there are no tourists now and we can’t even rent the cars to business tourists coming to Addis Abeba. We don’t know what to do. We are just paying rent, maintaining a small staff and hoping for the best at the moment. Most of their clients come from abroad after communicating with them via the internet, guide, says he is now considering a change in career.” The operator added, “Last year at this time, I worked at least 4 days a week. Now getting tourism work has become very difficult. Some of my friends have started working as taxi drivers. At this point, we don’t know what is going to happen next and that is scary.” Many tour guides are also changing professions and looking for other non-tourism related work.

The T-TPLF has sought to drum up tourism by participating in tourism fairs and exhibitions and conducting workshops for travel agents and tour operators in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and other cities. They have also launched tourism web-marketing under the tagline Land of Origins in apparent reference to Ethiopia as the “origin of mankind” and of the “Blue Nile”. None of the public relations efforts have worked. Tourists are staying away.

The collapse of tourism appears to have been blamed on the former chief executive officer (CEO) of  “Ethiopian Tourism Organization” (ETO) who has been in office since 2014. According to a recent report in the Ethiopian Observer, the CEO was appointed “to promote the country’s tourist destinations and to restore the country’s bad image in the western media.” But, “Last year after a wave of anti-government protests in Oromia and Amhara regions, and the government’s move in declaring state of emergency,… the number of foreign tourists visiting the country has fallen by half. The inflow of European tourists fell dramatically due to travel restrictions and sales of travel packages.”

Leo Tolstoy observed, “It’s too easy to criticize a man when he’s out of favor, and to make him shoulder the blame for everybody else’s mistakes.”

The decline in tourism has also impacted the availability of foreign currency. Tourism contributes significantly to the country’s foreign currency supply which is used to finance imports (I did not say imports of luxury cars, designer clothes and fancy construction supplies for T-TPLF bosses and cronies). The black market for greenbacks and Euros is said to be sizzling hot. Word on the street is that one U.S. dollars could  fetch up to 31 T-TPLF birr, especially if the conversion amount is over $1 thousand.

The IMF says the birr is overvalued, which among other things, makes exports relatively more expensive, dampens domestic demand and increases spending on imports. With declining exports (in 2011, Ethiopia allegedly exported nearly $870 million worth of commodities compared to barely $600 million in 2016), chronic shortages of hard currency, an insatiable demand for imports (imports in Ethiopia increased to $4.2 billion in the third quarter of 2016 and averaged $2.7 billion from 2006 until 2016), widening trade deficit ($3.2 billion in 2016), crushing foreign debt (nearly $40 billion in 2016 representing 54.8 percent of GDP), the Ethiopian economy is spiraling downward as average Ethiopians drown in a morass of a mismanaged economy.

Two weeks ago, “the Auditor General’s latest report” to the “Parliament” “revealed illegitimate transactions close to 20 billion Br in 158 federal institutions during the past fiscal year.

A pariah among nations?

What exactly is the message the U.S. and the U.K. governments are communicating by issuing travel warnings in Ethiopia?

On the surface, a travel warning is just that, but does it signify something deeper about U.S./UK perceptions of the political situation in the country? Is there a hidden message buried in the warnings?

Reading between the lines, there is little question that the U.S. and U.K. governments have concluded there will be no end to the political turmoil in Ethiopia which remains barely contained by a state of emergency decree which authorizes illegal mass arrests and incarcerations and use of live fire on protests including peaceful ones. It is clear to both the U.S. and the U.K. that T-TPLF has no legitimacy whatsoever in the eyes of the vast majority of the Ethiopian population. They know the T-TPLF is sitting atop an ethnic powder keg connected to a slow burning fuse fast approaching the loaded barrel. The T-TPLF barely hangs on to power because it has minimal control over the military. However, the military is highly fragmented along ethnic lines. Nearly all of the military brass are ethnically affiliated with T-TPLF regime leaders. The vast majority of the rank and file are members of other ethnic groups.

The U.S. warning speaks about the “unpredictability” and state of “unrest” “particularly in Gondar and Bahir Dar in Amhara State”. The U.K. warning concurs. That fact is corroborated by substantial anecdotal evidence of individuals who have visited those areas in the recent past.  The areas mentioned in “Amhara State” are now self-administering. There is little doubt that the T-TPLF has lost complete political and military control in a number of areas throughout the country. Just a few days ago, the T-TPLF sent a contingent of troops to suppress resistance in the Arba Minch and Gamu Gofa areas some 500 km south of the Ethiopian capital.

The U.S. perceives a direct relationship between the “state of emergency and the unpredictable security situation” in Ethiopia in urging its citizens to avoid travel to Ethiopia. The U.S. understands that the T-TPLF would not have resorted to a “state of emergency” unless it believed it was facing a clear and imminent existential threat. There is little question that there currently exists a vast groundswell of opposition to T-TPLF rule. The T-TPLF claims “protests and demonstrations” against its rule are limited to a few isolated areas remotely managed by overseas opposition groups. That is inconsistent with the fact that the T-TPLF issued a nationwide state of emergency. For the T-TPLF to impose a nationwide state of emergency decree, it must necessarily believe there is broad and deep  resistance to its tyrannical rule throughout the nation.

The U.S. is manifestly disapproving of the means the T-TPLF is using to impose its will on the vast majority of the Ethiopian population and its excessive and indiscriminate use of violence on peaceful protesters. The U.S. is communicating its disapproval in its advisory language underscoring the fact that there is “widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions throughout the country” and the intentional failure of the T-TPLF to “notify the U.S. Embassy of detentions or arrests of U.S. citizens in Ethiopia.”

The U.S. expects notification of arrest of its citizens abroad within 24-72 hours. But the T-TPLF does not honor such diplomatic courtesy. There was a time when such reporting was required (Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations between the United States of America and Ethiopia, Sept. 7, 1951, art. 6(2) (entered into force Oct. 8, 1953). Art. 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963) also provides for consular communication and contact with nationals of a foreign state when arrested in the host country.

Of course, legal obligations mean nothing to the T-TPLF ignoramuses who have absolutely no regard for the rule of constitutional and international law. As I have often remarked, preaching the rule of (international) law to the T-TPLF is like sermonizing  Scripture to Heathen or pouring water over a slab of granite. It is a complete and total exercise in futility!

The U.S. Congress is righteously indignant about the T-TPLF’s “use of force and live fire in response to demonstrations” and on “peaceful gatherings”. In February, Representative Christopher Smith introduced H.R. 128 condemning the use of excessive violence and to “support respect for human rights and encourage inclusive governance” in Ethiopia. In May, Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced S.R. 168, co-sponsored by 14 senators, which mirrors the House version. I discussed these bills in my May 29 op-ed piece in The Hill.

The T-TPLF’s “disruptions” of communication throughout the country by “routinely restricting or shutting down internet, cellular data, and phone services” are a sore point for the U.S. and the U.K. In its annual human rights report for 2016, the State department expressed its disapproval of the “Ethiopian government’s shut down of mobile access to the internet, wired access to several social media and communication sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, news websites such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, and many other sites, including foreign university homepages and online shopping sites such as Amazon.”

My informed conclusion is that it is highly unlikely that the T-TPLF will make a monkey out of the Trump Administration. I cannot imagine the T-TPLF wrapping the Trump Administration around its little fingers as they did the Obama Administration.

I do not doubt that the T-TPLF leaders believe they are so crafty and clever that they could outfox, outmaneuver and outsmart Trump and his administration any day of the week. Why else would they take hire a $2 million dollars from the mouths of starving Ethiopian babies and feed the voracious appetite of a Washington lobby firm in January unless they believed they can make a patsy of the Trump Administration?

I believe the Trump Administration has given some consideration to the points I raised in my letter to Trump dated February 3, 2017 and other follow-up communications.

President Trump is the object of savage criticism for his “America First” foreign policy”. During the presidential campaign, I was one of his harshest critics on a variety of issues. On the issue of human rights and cuts in U.S. aid to dictatorships, I agree with him completely.

As I defended U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in my op-ed piece in The Hill last week,  the Trump Administration is right in its decision (yet to be implemented) to quit the U.N. Human Rights Council than be part of an organization that is run by the some of the world’s notorious human rights violators, including Ethiopia. Haley was absolutely right when she declared, “Being a member of this council is a privilege, and no country who is a human rights violator should be allowed a seat at the table.” Haley had the courage to stand up and tell dictators to shape up or ship out.

I am so glad that Nikki Haley is no Susan Rice, Obama’s Ambassador to the U.N. In  2012, Rice canonized  the late Meles Zenawi, the ruthless and bloodthirsty genocider, as “brilliant and a son of Ethiopia and a father to its rebirth.”

Rice has never been able to tell the difference between the death and rebirth of a nation in Ethiopia, Rwanda or anywhere else. There has never been a murderous African dictator Susan Rice did not madly love.

The question is “not to be or not to be”. The question is who is on the wrong side of history on the issue of human rights? Obama or Trump?!

Trump’s “America First” foreign policy is “focused on American interests and American national security”, not about the feeding and care of savage African dictators or making excuses for the mess they have created. It is about “withdrawing” from messy entanglements that cost the American taxpayer billions of dollars. It is about accountability and not giving handouts and free money to African dictators who stash it in their offshore accounts.

The Obama Administration prolonged the political life of the T-TPLF with infusion of massive amounts of American tax dollars. It is unlikely that Trump will dump hard-earned American tax dollars to prop up a bloodthirsty thugtatorship; and will certainly not buy the “terrorism partnership” scam of the T-TPLF.

I believe the Trump Administration has concluded that things in Ethiopia have gone beyond a point of no return when the T-TPLF renewed its state of emergency in March. No doubt, the T-TPLF will continue to renew its emergency decree until it is removed from power.

When that time comes, que sera, sera (“what will be, will be”)!

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Gulf crisis could spill over into the Horn of Africa

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Namibia conference affirms Africa-Cuba solidarity

Legacy of cooperation against colonialism and imperialism continues
Abayomi Azikiwe

Close bonds between the people of the African continent and the Caribbean island-nation of Cuba have been centuries in the making.

Africans caught in the Atlantic Slave Trade were taken to Cuba where their presence made an indelible mark on the character of the political, economic and cultural fabric of the country.

Since the 1960s, in the early aftermath of the 1959 seizure of power by revolutionary forces led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and others, African independence and transformative struggles have constituted a major factor in Cuban foreign policy. President Castro noted in 1976 that socialist Cuba was populated by a Latin African people opposed to colonialism, racism and imperialism.

This historical tradition was reinforced at a recent conference held in Windhoek, Namibia, which brought together African leaders and Cuban governmental officials to renew ties among the geo-political regions and to chart a way forward in the current period. The Fifth Continental African Conference of Solidarity with Cuba was convened June 6-8 and brought together over 200 delegates from 26 African states under the theme of “Intensifying Solidarity and Continuing the Legacy of Fidel and Che.”

The first of these conferences was held in South Africa in 1995 just one year after the demise of the racist-apartheid system that brought President Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) to power. Subsequent gatherings took place in Ghana during 1997, Angola in 2010 and Ethiopia, the headquarters of the African Union (AU), in 2012.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Che Guevara in Bolivia while he was in the South American country assisting revolutionary forces fighting against the neo-colonial regime which was supported by the United States. The Cuban Revolution from its inception posed a challenge to American imperialist dominance over the Caribbean, South America and other colonial and neo-colonial territories around the world.

In November 2016, 90-year old former President Fidel Castro passed away in Havana. His funeral was attended by many African leaders including Namibian President Hage Geingob who paid tribute to the revolutionary leader in an address to the mourners.

In a statement to the Conference, Namibian Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah emphasized that: “The holding of this conference is all the more timely because it is taking place when retrogressive forces are bent on reversing the gains made recently to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States.” Under the previous U.S. administration of President Barack Obama, the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba after a breach of over 50 years raised expectations of a possible lifting of the economic blockade imposed by Washington in October 1960.

Without the abolition of the blockade relations cannot be fully normalized despite the exchange of diplomats and the reopening of embassies. The U.S. Congress would have to approve the liquidation of the blockade and there are political elements within the legislature which categorically oppose full economic and trade relations with Havana.

Nonetheless, the Fifth Continental African Conference supported the address by Namibian President Hage Geingob who said: “We applaud the positive development in this respect and we commend the U.S. government and Cuba for their efforts towards normalizing of ties. However, there is still much ground left to cover to ensure the complete lifting of the blockage against Cuba.”

Geingob emphasized the urgency of the conference to develop a unified African strategy in regard to supporting Cuba. In addition, the delegates passed resolutions demanding the return of Guantanamo Bay, which remains over a century later after the so-called Spanish-American war under U.S. control, to the Cuban people.

A co-founder of the ruling Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) Party, Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, who passed away just days after the conference, noted that: “Historically, Cuba assisted African countries in the fight against foreign domination. Through this patriotic support, Cuban people have shown us the meaning of solidarity, hence (we should show) our support for Cuba.”

Final Declaration calls for continuing solidarity

African leaders viewed the current situation involving the status of U.S.-Cuban relations as being critical in light of the political character of the administration in Washington. President Donald Trump does have the prerogative of reversing the reforms instituted by his predecessor.

Therefore, the Conference stressed as a mandate for future actions to “continue developing and strengthening the Cuba solidarity movement in each one of our countries, struggling for unity and truth…. We demand that Cuba’s right to self-determination and sovereignty, as well as its right to decide the political system of its choice, be respected.”(Granma International, June 7)

Moreover, the struggle to maintain and enhance the independence and sovereignty of Cuba is linked with other countries within the region. In recognizing this reality the conference expanded its scope to encompass other states which have also been under pressure from successive U.S. administrations.

The final declaration pledged support to “the causes of all sister countries struggling for a better world. In particular, we pledge our support to Puerto Rico in its struggle for self-determination, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and the people of Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina, and all peoples of the continent defending their sovereignty.”

In attendance as well from Cuba were Fernado González, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) and Cuban Ambassador in Namibia, Giraldo Mazola.

Historical tradition of solidarity

In 1961 in the aftermath of the assassination of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, Cuban Minister of Economic Planning Che Guevara spoke out strongly in condemnation of the murderous act which was carried out by the U.S., Belgium and other imperialist states utilizing local surrogates. Che during 1965 toured Africa in an effort to build solidarity and make preparations for Cuban internationalists intervention in Congo aimed at supporting the revolutionary forces fighting for the ideals of Lumumba.

Although this mission was not successful, the experience taught profound lessons which laid the foundation for the deployment of Cuban military units a decade later in Angola in defense of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) beginning in October 1975. President Fidel Castro was requested to send support by Angolan President Agostino Neto in the face of an invasion by the South African Defense Forces (SADF), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the surrogate U.S.-backed UNITA and FNLA rebel groups designed to derail the genuine independence of the oil-rich former Portuguese colony.

Cuban Internationalists spent another 13 years in Angola where they assisted in defeating the SADF in a series of battles around Cuito Cuanavale in 1988. After the humiliating losses by the SADF, negotiations began which resulted in the liberation of Namibia, the release of South African political prisoners in 1990 and the transition to non-racial democratic rule in the citadel of apartheid settler-colonialism by 1994.

In recent years, Cuba has educated thousands of African students in universities in the Caribbean socialist state. These students are provided with free tuition and lodging.

During the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) pandemic of 2014, Cuba deployed hundreds of physicians and other healthcare workers to Liberia and Sierra Leone, two of the hardest hit West African states, which was instrumental in turning the tide in efforts to halt and eradicate the crisis. The U.S. was forced to recognize the role of Cuba in the battle against EVD which paved the way for the reopening of diplomatic relations.

Outside of the conference deliberations in Windhoek, the delegates visited historic sites including Heroes Acre and the Museum of Independence on June 7. The participants decided in its conclusion that the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be the venue of the next Continental African Conference in Solidarity with Cuba.

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