By Sokari Ekine
It is ironic that just over a month ago President Joyce Banda of Malawi made the courageous decision not to invite President Omar Bashir to the AU Summit in Malawi. [Pambazuka, ]http://bit.ly/Lyds9l] On the basis of that decision and because of the lack of support from the AU members, the summit was transferred to Ethiopia. This week another African woman was elected into the elite club of African leaders when Dr Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma became the first woman Chairperson of the African Union. Rumidzai Dube [Black Looks, ]http://bit.ly/MyyZK4] celebrates her election as part of a “significant shift in African politics” which has seen a number of African women elected or appointed to leadership positions. In addition to Joyce Banda, she mentions, Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone [UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict] and Fatou Bensouda of Gambia [Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, ICC]. And in Nigeria, Mariam Aloma Mukhtar became the first woman Chief Justice. [http://bit.ly/NWx85V]
For some in South Africa, Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s election is a disappointment as this would mean she would not be in a position to challenge President Zuma in the next elections. However Rumbi is hopeful the new chairperson will ‘articulate’ her vision from a feminist perspective which puts African women at the center and move away from the usual AU rhetoric.
“I am hopeful that should Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s vision for the AU be fulfilled, seeing as how it resonates largely with women’s agenda, then African women are going to be in a better position than they have been so far…….The AU has largely been about rhetoric, focusing on sugar coating a semblance of unity and Pan-Africanism at the expense of the most vulnerable members of its society, especially women. Hence despite the rape and mutilation of women in Zimbabwe, in the DRC, in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Liberia the focus of the AU’s efforts has not been on giving these women an effective remedy but about reaching compromised solutions. Of course, the peace vs. justice debate had raged on and partially consumed the African continent. So never mind the scars that Omar Al-Bashir inflicted and continues to inflict on the bodies, spirits and minds of Sudanese women and children, and men for that matter, but the AU was prepared to protect him and rescue him from the clawing paws of the huge, ferocious and African-hating mammal called the ICC than afford justice to the individual women on the ground.”
Pan African News [http://bit.ly/Mwuc24] focuses on the ‘politicking’ around Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s election much of which centered on the position being given to a South African.
“So tight was the contest that the ad-hoc committee of eight heads of state and government that was tasked to break the impasse in January had recommended that new candidates be fielded when they failed to broker a deal on who between Dr Dlamini-Zuma and Ping should be at the helm of the AU secretariat after six months of trying.”
I am prepared to give the new chairperson the benefit of the doubt even though personal endorsements by presidents Mugabe and Museveni who described her as a “freedom fighter” are cause for concern. But then much can be said for all the heads of state and maybe Dr Dlamini-Zuma will make a difference. I will be interested to hear her position on LGBTI rights when that issue comes before the AU again. Will she make waves and follow in Joyce Banda’s footsteps?
In Nigeria, Lagos State Government is constantly being held as progressive and Governor Fashola is praised for upgrading the city through a campaign to ensure people and businesses pay their taxes. He is also known for violently destroying informal settlements and removing street vendors from the city’s streets. But clearing the city of the unwanted masses in such violently destructive ways and without providing an alternative in housing or markets is not only irresponsible but also criminal and something more characteristic of a military dictatorship than a democratic government. Last week he consolidated his ‘gentrification’ of Lagos by destroying one of the oldest communities in the city, Makoko leaving 2,500 people homeless. Alashock’s blog [http://bit.ly/MsHCbz] has a vivid report of the chaos and trauma suffered by residents as security officers stormed the area. Quoting a resident he writes…
“We have been rendered homeless from a place where we were born and grew up. I am 33 years old and I was born in Makoko and all my life I have lived here. The government has demolished what we know as home without giving us enough time to vacate, nor did they provide any alternatives”, Osawi said as he watched the crane level his home……. “We lamented that the time is too short and if government wants us to leave, they should provide us with alternative abodes; but we were shocked when about noon on Monday, we saw heavily armed soldiers, police and other security agents as they stormed our homes destroying things. Where do we sleep now? Families of eight, nine, ten lived here; where does the governor want them to sleep?”
Laseayoola [http://bit.ly/OiQG4h ] reports the residents were only given three days’ notice showing a complete disregard for people’s lives. All of a sudden the government is concerned with “protecting lives and property and promoting legitimate economic activity”. The way to do this is not to begin dialogue with residents towards an incremental development programme that provides housing and other amenities, but rather to displace and criminalize residents. Below is the notice sent to residents:
“He said, “You have continued to occupy and develop shanties and unwholesome structures on the waterfront without authority thereby constituting environmental nuisance, security risks, impediments to economic and gainful utilisation of the waterfront such as navigation, entertainment, recreation, etc.
“The state government is desirous of restoring the amenity and value of the waterfront, protect lives and property, promote legitimate economic activities on the waterfront, restore security, improve water transportation and beautify the Lagos waterfront/coastline to underline the megacity status of Lagos State and has decided to clear all illegal and unauthorised development on its waterfront and water bodies.
“Therefore, notice is hereby given to you to vacate and remove all illegal developments along the Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront within 72 hours of receipt of this notice.” [ Laseayoola, ”]http://bit.ly/OiQG4h]”
In another related post on criminalising the poor, YNaija [http://bit.ly/OWRfhN] reports on the arrest of five ‘scavengers’ by Lagos State officials for entering a dump illegally. However, those arrested said their troubles began when employees of Lagos State Waste Management began demanding money and it is their refusal which led to the arrests.
What does the United States mean for Africa? In particular what do we expect from President Obama? Hakima Abbas, Director of Fahamu, answers these questions in a powerful open letter to President Obama. [http://bit.ly/MyZOxX ]
“When you were making your great strides in the machinery that is the U.S.A, I watched from your father’s land in Kenya. I watched initially with great fear as those around me cheered in jubilation. I thought myself a coward for being so scared. I feared that, like many before you, you would become a conveniently vilified symbol of what your image does not represent. I feared for the dignity of millions of our African sisters and brothers in the U.S.A for whom promised democracy, redress and reparation have still to be realized. And I feared for your life. We heard, below your King overtones, your Malcolm words and subtle gestures, so that even veteran Black nationalists were singing your praises. And I feared their unwavering optimism, while realizing in your unmatched mobilization how ineffective we had been.”
There is one posted comment which saddens me. From a ‘bi-racial’ sister now a US citizen. She claims Hakima is too hard on Obama and we in Africa should not expect him to solve Africa’s problems. She misses the point. We do not expect that he solves Africa’s problems. We ask that he stops adding to those problems! That he at the very least gives some space to racism and poverty in the US and takes responsibility for how his policies affect people in far off lands.