Since the release of the White House’s Policy Directive on Sub-Saharan Africa, the Obama Administration has gone out of its way to demonstrate its commitment to African development. The White House has already hosted numerous meetings and conference calls in order to explain the Administration’s five-pronged approach to promoting development and security in Sub-Saharan Africa. Significantly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Africa from July 31 until August 10, conferring with leaders in Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi on their respective issues. However, the harpooning of the Arms Trade Treaty by United States’ delegation represents a missed opportunity for the Obama Administration to demonstrate a tangible dedication to the security and development of the African continent.
According to the initial UN reports, negotiations were derailed at the last minute by a small but powerful group of countries, including China, Russia, and the United States. Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA lambasted the Administration’s actions, stating that “this was stunning cowardice by the Obama administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line.”
This treaty would have been a significant help to many African communities plagued by civil unrest and rebel groups. According to Amnesty International, under the current regulatory framework it is easier to trade a light weapon than a banana (http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/military-police-and-arms/arms-trade). Furthermore, Oxfam has estimated that 7-8 million firearms produced every year are lost or stolen. The availability of and lack of regulations surrounding small arms have contributed to the global proliferation of civil wars. This militarizing phenomenon has certainly played an important role in the conflicts in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda, among others in Africa. Some observers have suggested that the delegation stymied the treaty because of domestic politics and that any productive treaty negotiations will have to wait until after the Presidential elections this fall.
It seems that the Obama Administration has prioritized political posturing over constructive action. Endless reiterations of the five pillars of American foreign policy cannot be substituted for support for important multilateral arms regulations promoting peace and security. No number of summits, on-the-record meetings, and diplomatic envoys can compensate for America’s failure to support the Arms Trade Treaty.
The AIDS and Economic Justice panel at the Global Village of the International AIDS Conference provided a forum to discuss the dizzying array of avenues for combating HIV/AIDS. At the beginning of the panel, the moderator instructed the audience to turn to their neighbor and exchange names of those who have passed away from the disease. The woman next to me said, with a tone of resignation that could only have been acquired after years of internalizing a great loss, “Katie.” I nodded in a way that I hoped conveyed my sympathy and didn’t betray the discomfort I felt at knowing this woman’s losses before I knew her name. After a brief smile, this woman dropped her eyes to her folded hands in her lap, and continued, “And I will lose my fiance to it.” I asked her what his name was, and she said ‘Brian’ much more softly than she had proclaimed ‘Katie.’ This woman and I briefly discussed Brian’s situation, his medications, his prognosis, his disease, before the moderator turned the discussion over to the panel.
Each speaker on the panel lavished praise upon supporters of clean needle programs, advocates for treatment programs, developers of prevention programs, lobbyists for better government programs, and the countless others who have dedicated their time to combating the spread of HIV/AIDs. The audience was largely comprised of advocates, organizers, and activists brimming with ideas as to which structural changes could be the most useful in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The hope and determination to eradicate AIDS in our lifetime demonstrated by those present was startling and inspiring; the panelists impressed upon me the importance of lending our support to any and all of the numerous programs combating HIV/AIDS.
Though the panel members and their discussion were both fascinating and brilliant, I could not grant them my full attention. My mind was stuck on Brian and his fiancé next to me. The battle against AIDS is fought on a multitude of fronts, but the most important is within the lives of those who struggle with the disease every day. We can not forget, in the midst of a discussion over policies and practices, that we fight in honor of those struggling against the disease and those we have already lost to it. Though we all work to end AIDS by different means and through different organizations, we are all fighting in honor of our own Katies and Brians.
As many of you have heard, Africa Action suffered a very serious financial setback in the past year. In August 2010, the Board of Directors discovered that faulty internal procedures had allowed one individual to steal funds from the organization.
The Africa Action board, which I chair, immediately took steps to investigate the theft, establish new internal procedures to assure we have control over the finances and work with our major donors to make sure that the critical projects Africa Action created and was supporting in Africa continue. This last point is particularly important because of the work you and I helped to support to establish the Zimbabwe Alliance as a collaboration of like minded partners working within a human rights framework to secure a democratic transition in that country.
Yet the crisis is very serious. We removed the one employee suspected of fraud and accepted the resignation of the Executive Director who shares with our board responsibility for the poor internal procedures that led to this theft. Because of the need to meet our responsibilities in Africa, we were also forced to lay off or accept the resignations of all of the other staff in the office in Washington, move with one desk and computer into a donated space and face the question some people ask: “isn’t it time to close permanently?”
Many people have urged that we find ways to keep going, because Africa Action is an organization with a long and important history that, working with many of you, has made a difference on key policy issues over many years.
With your help, we may be able to turn this crisis into an opportunity. As the governors of the organization we have hired an outside accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit of the books and accounting procedures before December 31, 2010. We will post the 990 tax documents they prepare on our website so you can also be assured that the finances are in order. We have also instituted new policies to ensure stricter and more effective oversight.
Turning This Challenge Into Opportunity...
Our next step is to create a space in which the community of Africa Action supporters can discuss what future role this important organization should play. The board has appointed me as Acting Executive Director for the next year. We’ve already established a local advisory committee made up of individuals with a history of working with Africa Action and its predecessor organizations going back to the 1960s. Now we want to reach out to a broader group to start a discussion that focuses on:
Africa Action’s assets today (tens of thousands of supporters, a record of success that dates back 50 years, and a committed group of supporters):
A review of the progressive Africa advocacy work being done in the United States today and what linkages there are to progressive groups in Africa; and
Identifying specific small next program steps that Africa Action could take to link progressives in the United States with progressives in Africa
I don’t assume that these exchanges will automatically lead to Africa Action continuing into the future with its current form and program. But progressive past activities, including solidarity work with liberation movements during the struggle for independence from colonialism, and the extended battle against apartheid, ongoing mobilization of diverse constituents in support of economic justice and human rights, and subsequent initiatives such as the framing of a compelling case for U.S. action on HIV/AIDS, protecting human rights in Dafur and all Sudan, and our actions regarding the political crisis in Zimbabwe have all helped open the space for progressive program and campaigning. We owe it to ourselves and our allies in Africa to investigate what work is most urgently needed now, what is possible, and what role Africa Action could take.
What We Need Immediately...
We anticipate that such a process will take about a year and we need finances to make that possible. We have enough money to finish the audit (read the fuller statement from the board on the finances) and keep a minimal bookkeeping staff focused on maintaining accurate and secure finances safe for the next two years. We’ve reduced Africa Actions expenditures down to a very small amount by moving to a smaller, donated office and drawing on the volunteer time and commitment of the board and people in the Washington, DC area.
As a first step in the consultative process, we want to hear from you. We are open to all suggestions - your idea could help shape how Africa Action looks at the choices going forward. I hope you will consider posting a comment to this blog post. The blog process provides for a transparent public process (although I know some of you may prefer to make comments in private initially). In the early part of next year, we plan to set up a forum for those interested in discussing strategic perspectives for the coming year and decade.
The world’s biggest sporting event was this year also marketed as an occasion of momentous social progress. Between seas of waving flags and glimpses of the majestic Table Mountain, World Cup viewers were beset by a heavy-handed message of impending change in Africa. The theme of “Africa’s time” having arrived was repeated in FIFA’s official television lead-in, the lyrics of Shakira’s hit theme, and former president Thabo Mbeki’s assertion that the World Cup would represent the “moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict.”
These kind of statements play into a familiar paradigm in which the marginalization of Africa from the global order is reduced to behavioral and psychological factors: a lack of resolve, “Afro-pessimism,” tolerance of continued corruption and under-development. From this perspective, the fact that South Africa has successfully hosted soccer’s premiere event seems to represent a significant victory, and FIFA’s decision to hold the cup in South Africa seems a veritable blessing for the region’s development.
However, this is essentially the same model of private sector-led growth—albeit with a nationalist spin—that has dominated mainstream African development discourse since the introduction of structural adjustment programs. Heavy investments in the development of business and tourism infrastructure have been justified as leading to growth and, over time, decreased poverty. The inherent assumption that growth will “trickle down” fails to take into account the continued lack of access to the formal economy and the profound social separation that is the legacy of apartheid for many in South Africa. Much of the money made during the World Cup will leave the country with corporate sponsors or remain concentrated in the hands of large food service and hotel operators, and most of the investments made in advance of the cup will benefit already well-serviced parts of cities inhabited by wealthier South Africans.
The bulk of the 33 billion rand, or about $4.3 billion, spent by the South African government was directed towards infrastructure specific to the World Cup or the tourism industry. The largest portion, an estimated 20 billion rand, was spent on upgrading international airports in major cities. Eight billion rand spent on stadiums was the most controversial expense, with a brand new stadium built in Cape Town to avoid use of an existing one in a poor township. UBS Investment Research estimates that the World Cup created roughly 330,000 jobs, but most of these were low-paid and ended at the close of the event. And what of the money brought into South Africa by tourism and other cup-related activities? FIFA brought in over $3 billion in profits, on which it is not obligated to pay taxes. An initial estimate from government has South African revenues at 93 billion rand, or roughly $13 billion. The winners here are clear—South African advertising agencies’ profits increased by $200 million in 2010, and large hotels which could meet a number of FIFA requirements enjoyed full occupancy. Meanwhile, smaller B&B owners went into debt after they had taken out loans to upgrade their properties only to be excluded from the list of recommended accommodations.
For many communities, the experience of the World Cup was one not only of exclusion but of active harassment. Following the eviction of informal settlement-dwellers from areas in Cape Town near the new stadium, members of the Poor Peoples’ Alliance decided to organize a “Poor Peoples’ World Cup.” This cup featured 38 teams from about 15 poor communities in the Cape Town area and gave participants and spectators with neither money for match tickets nor electricity to watch the matches a chance to participate in the festivities.
With tourists generally confined to white areas of Cape Town, the Poor Peoples’ World Cup also sought to bring attention to the vast inequality in South Africa while the dominant media narrative focused on the country’s beauty. Cup organizers were deeply critical of the expenditures leading up to the World Cup and the increase in South Africa’s foreign debt in order to pay for FIFA-mandated improvements. “At the end of the day, what did we benefit?” asks Pamela Beukes, secretary of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and one of the cup’s organizers. “In order to pay back the loans that our country has taken, we’re going to see cuts in services.”
To deem the World Cup a "success" uncritically affirms an approach to development centered on the courting of short-term influxes of capital and embrace of highly unequal public-private “partnerships.” The Poor Peoples’ World Cup, by contrast, has sought to highlight the overwhelming need for adequate housing, education, and jobs and skills training as the priorities for state spending. At stake in the post-World Cup analysis, then, is whether the former path will be legitimated in the eyes of the South African and international publics and corporate-controlled mega-events like the World Cup accepted as tools for growth and development.
Rebecca Burns, Master's student in Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, and currently living and researching in Cape Town, South Africa.
Beyond our concerns about the militarization of U.S.-Africa policy, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has given us more reasons to be critical of AFRICOM. Last month, the GAO released a report entitled “Improved Training, and Interagency Collaboration Could Strengthen DOD’s Efforts in Africa.” The title may be fairly innocuous, but the evidence contained within its pages signals an inability by AFRICOM officials to lead an effective military command.
In its first critique, the report states “activities are being implemented as the detailed supporting plans for conducting many activities have not yet been finalized.” In other words, AFRICOM is engaging in military programs before knowing exactly how they will be carried out. According to a diagram in the report, the larger vision and strategy plans have been finished, but none of the regional engagement plans or contingency plans have been finished. Only one of the supporting plans has been finalized. It begs the question: how exactly is AFRICOM providing guns and training without knowing how they will be used?
Equally as concerning is the section that indicates, “in addition to unfinished strategic plans, AFRICOM is generally not measuring the long-term effects of its activities.” It notes that very few project proposals include information about objectives or anticipated outcomes and that some activities may have unintended consequences. This is due in part to the lack of plans, but also to the lack of effective sociocultural training and consultation with other U.S. agencies. For example, “embassy officials cited a past example where the task force had proposed drilling a well without considering how its placement could cause conflict in clan relationships or affect pastoral routes.” Embassies have also expressed concern over the military doing research on cultural sensitivities, suggesting instead that this information be gathered by interagency partners not in uniform (USAID, for example).
Near the top of our list of reasons why we reject the U.S. military’s expanding role in Africa is the inevitable conflict between embassy civilians and military generals. We have always argued that although AFRICOM says ambassadors retain Chief of Mission authority in their countries, they are put in a difficult position when a four-star general walks into their office and asks permission to conduct a training exercise. Of course they’re going to agree. The GAO report provides proof of this challenge:
“[A senior State official] cited a recent example in which the U.S. ambassador to Liberia maintained that the embassy should have authority over DOD personnel carrying out security sector reform activities in the country, while AFRICOM argued that it needed shared authority over these personnel. A shared authority agreement was eventually reached for DOD personnel who would reside in Liberia on a semipermanent basis.” (p. 38)
Other parts of the report indicate that, as we suspected, AFRICOM really does have more money than it knows what to do with. Air Force officials said, “from their perspective, no individual at AFRICOM or its Air Force component command has comprehensive knowledge of all funding sources for activities.” On a similar note, questions are also raised about the ability of low-income countries to sustain military programs once U.S.-funded security assistance projects are finished.
In each section, the report is careful to highlight progress that has been made in terms of interagency collaboration, but the questions it raises far outweigh such cursory praise. It is clear that AFRICOM is not only detrimental to U.S.-Africa relations but that it is also an uncoordinated disaster. Building schools and forgetting about them, not mandating cultural awareness training, not knowing how to get funding for conference participants, and going directly to the Djibouti government without involving the embassy are all examples of how poorly AFRICOM is doing in terms of implementation.
Considering this evidence, Congress should reject the administration’s request for funding for AFRICOM and all military operations in Africa in the next round of budget requests. Even if they are unable to see the long-term ramifications of DOD’s actions on the continent, at least they can read GAO’s scathing review of AFRICOM’s capabilities.
Gender equality in Zimbabwe needs to be regarded as a national struggle, not simply a woman issue, to be addressed parallel to that of achieving democracy, economic development and social justice in the country. Too often women in Zimbabwe experience discrimination and gender-based violence. According to the Human Development Report (2007/2008), Zimbabwe is among the countries with the lowest global gender related development index, ranking 130 of 170. This reflects the low status of women with respect to access, control and ownership of economic resources and positions in the decision-making process. The fight for gender equality and empowerment remains difficult for Zimbabwean women as they are constricted by implementation of laws, confront abuse of customary law and a largely patriarchal nation, where women remain stereotyped as housewives and caregivers. There is a real need to craft an engendered constitution, harness political will to implement rights and educate women in communities, to ensure for protection and respect of women.
In light of the constitutional reform process in Zimbabwe and the nation’s transition to democracy, leading officials have an opportunity to secure safeguards for women in the new constitution. These include a proportional representation electoral system and women’s quotas in party nominations, which will provide an opportunity for women to play a role in politics, as well as provisions to close the gap of women’s access to social and economic rights. The provision of rights in the constitution fosters a sense of entitlement of rights to women, which will be instrumental in empowering women in communities. Zimbabwe has made commitments to protect the rights of women and address gender inequalities, including being signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Beijing Platform of Action, the African Union Protocol on Women’s Rights, and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. These commitments must be fully implemented and embraced as part of the constitutional review process.
One of the most powerful instruments in pressuring Zimbabwe’s government officials for safeguards of women’s rights in the new constitution is a united women’s voice, one which echoes the demands of women nationwide. The Women’s National Congress in South Africa sets an example of the power which a united women’s voice can have to ensure that women are represented and kept part of the constitutional negotiations. This Coalition covered “most political parties, rural women’s organizations, and religious and professional organizations.” Today, women of Zimbabwe have a similar task in front of them, to craft a national platform of action, to be a part of the constitutional negotiations and enable their influence over the electoral system, to keep the Global Political Agreement inclusive. Women need to intervene on the status of customary law and access to socio-economic rights in the constitution and voice any concerns now by participating in the process and following up by voting in the referendum in February 2011.
Zimbabwean women are doing just that, mobilizing to confront the government in achieving justice for women in economic, social and political rights. They have been demanding respect for and protection of human rights and the rights of members of their communities. Since the country gained independence in 1980, women in Zimbabwe have been active in lobbying the government to adopt laws and policies that promote and protect their rights. Of particular significance has been the women's movement's success. Women's organizations such as the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), the Women's Coalition, Women Action Group (WAG), Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Development Trust (WLSA), among others, have lobbied for the enactment of laws against domestic violence. In November 2006 the lower house of parliament passed the Domestic Violence Act. Since its enactment, there has been an increase in the number of domestic violence cases brought by women seeking justice. Women have also lobbied against discriminatory inheritance laws, for reform of marriage laws and on other issues affecting women.
Today, women’s rights groups find that even with the support of high-level politicians, it is extremely difficult to get commitment to become a reality. They are also finding that the discourse on women’s rights risks being swallowed by party politics, where women’s representation remains low at 25%. For this reason there is even more need for women to unite and participate in the transition. Presently, women’s groups have played a pivotal role in ensuring that women are participating and represented in the constitutional process. They have united under an umbrella organization called, the Women’s Coalition, which has brought together 54 organizations and has 9 chapters across the country. This body has played a pivotal role in strategizing on how women can interface with the constitutional reform and participate in the process. For instance, the Women’s Coalition presented names to the committee responsible for the constitutional outreach process, COPAC, increasing the participation of women in the outreach teams to 25%. They have also been monitoring the process and ensuring that outreach teams create space for women to speak. Other groups such as WLSA have been using media to raise awareness and joined with the Women’s Coalition to reach out to women in rural communities, reaching over 2000 women.
Today’s discourse on women’s rights in Zimbabwe must set gender equality in parity with economic, political and social justice being sought through the democratic transition. Through empowering women and supporting civil society groups actively working to ensure women’s rights is part of the national agenda, there is real hope that this transition can bring justice to women of Zimbabwe.
This spring, the Obama administration unveiled a new initiative aimed at ending hunger in poor countries around the world. Named Feed the Future (FTF), it will initially work with 20 countries, 11 of them in Africa, to boost agricultural production through technological inputs and country-led strategies. Though many of FTF’s components are admirable, including the focus on women’s role in farming and the importance of civil society in carrying out the initiative, it will unfortunately encourage the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds and other profit-driven agricultural components.
The discourse around large-scale, government investment in agriculture emerged several years ago and is becoming an increasingly significant component of U.S.-Africa policy. Beginning with the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations’ Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), U.S. policy and humanitarian advocates claim not enough is being done to capitalize on Africa’s tremendous agricultural wealth. Yet, rather than recognizing that the roots of the problem lay with structural adjustment policies instituted in the 1980’s, violent conflict, unjust trade policies, and climate change, the prevailing wisdom is that Africans simply need to be taught how to farm better using high-tech, Western-based inputs.
The absurdity of that notion aside, it is important to recognize the power of multinational agricultural companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). All of their profits depend on a system of agriculture that hijacks the sovereignty of small farms, destroys the environment, and produces food as though it’s a product on an assembly line. Moreover, the history of these companies in the global south has been incredibly detrimental to local communities. The infusion of Monsanto’s GM seeds in Asia bankrupted farmers (who were forced to buy expensive fertilizers and were unable to save seeds from year to year) and depleted the soil of its nutrients, all the while boosting the company’s profits.
Thus, to see a Congressional oversight hearing on the FTF initiative include testimony from Monsanto and the Monsanto-funded Danforth Plant Science Center is disheartening. Only one member of the panel, Dr. Hans Herron, seemed irate at the blatant disregard of FTF for the agricultural wisdom already inherent in Africa and other developing countries. Meanwhile, the Danforth Plant Science Center hailed the creation of a nutrient and protein-rich cassava plant without recognizing that the remedy for nutrient deficiencies exists in crop diversity (and thus diet diversity). Hopefully, the initiative’s focus on country-led and civil-society led approaches will yield a shift away from biotech, but it will require careful monitoring by advocates both in Africa and in the United States.
Revision of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) also poses a threat to food sovereignty on the continent. Many policymakers now recognize AGOA’s disproportionate benefits for multinational corporations involved in extractive industries such as oil and mining, so a recent emphasis has been placed on agriculture. The idea is that approximately 75 percent of Africans are involved in the agricultural sector, so increasing agricultural trade is the best way to benefit a majority of Africans. We need to be careful here, however, as agriculture can also be an extractive industry where corporations benefit more than the small farmer.
Agricultural organizations and projects all over the Africa are skilled in farming sustainably through use of traditional seed and indigenous methods of irrigation and soil enrichment, so it’s discouraging to hear the U.S. government take such a top-down approach to agricultural growth. On the bright side, the global food sovereignty movement is growing, with organizations like Via Campesina and Biowatch South Africa taking the lead on promoting locally-based approaches to agricultural production. Additionally, American and European organizations such as Food First and GRAIN are actively campaigning against Monsanto’s involvement in the global south, providing resources to communities in Africa looking to maintain their food sovereignty
It remains to be seen how much of a contribution FTF will make to agricultural growth in Africa, particularly when hunger has more to do with power, marginalization, and inequality than successful farming. It may have a few positive effects, though the Obama administration could do more to promote agricultural growth by pushing for fair trade laws, addressing the causes and consequences of climate change, and by supporting sustainable methods of farming
A month before twin suicide bombs exploded in Kampala, Uganda on July 11th, and before the Somali-based militant group al-Shabaab openly confessed responsibility for the terrorist attacks (Islamists claim attack in Uganda) the New York Times wrote an investigative report about child soldiers in Somalia working for a military that is armed and financed by the United States as part of a counter-terrorism strategy in the Horn of Africa (Children carry guns for US ally, Somalia). The African Union Summit, currently underway in Kampala this week, is serving as a culminating platform for U.S. diplomats, security generals and special envoys to voice their support for the African Union’s decision to increase their military efforts in fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia as part of the larger battle to incriminate terrorist actions across the globe (Briefing on African Union Summit, US department of State). However, America’s full-fledged military support for these new initiatives only serves to increase violence in the already anarchistic region and fails to recognize how aptly blind U.S. foreign policy has been toward Somalia since 1991.
In deciding to remove the blinders from their diplomatic eyes, the Obama Administration voices its support for an active engagement with African leaders in peacekeeping efforts throughout East Africa, while denouncing the terrorist vigilantes instigated by al-Shabaab radicals. However, what the U.S. fails to recognize is that American policy of negligence in a region that has been classified as “stateless” for the last 20 years, is suddenly deserving of our attention only now when it serves our “seek-and-destroy” national security objectives. Furthermore, nowhere in this doctrine of instructive diplomacy does President Obama or anyone else in the Department of States reiterate the necessity of political stability in the region. Political stability is a prerequisite to quell social instability, including actions of militant fringe groups. Not one newspaper article or Department of State press release recognizes this monstrous elephant in the room: Somalia does not have a legitimate centralized government, and therefore, without a centralized federal structure, whom is the U.S. actually extending its support?
One way that the U.S. can authenticate its rhetoric is by recognizing the legitimacy of the northwest region of Somalia that does have political stability: the sovereign territory of Somaliland. Secondly, the U.S. should concentrate some of its military efforts on relieving the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Somalia – the deplorable socioeconomic welfare of the “country’s” citizens has increased exponentially since the nation’s collapse 20 years prior. The current government in Somalia lacks the ability to protect the interests of its people, and the people recognize its inept ability to legitimately provide the services and protection they need as citizens. By increasing U.S. funded humanitarian aid to the region, international leaders can also hope to reduce the desperate circumstances people find themselves under on a daily basis in Somalia. In doing so, recruitment by extremist groups sympathizing with their plight may be reduced as the citizens see they have different options to improve their lives that do not involve joining a terrorist organization.
Overall, the United States has been given a crucial opportunity to amend 20 years of discrepant foreign policy in the Horn of Africa. The recent terrorist bombings in Uganda can serve to strengthen relations between US Department of State and African government leaders, while also increasing the legitimacy of African multinational institutions, like the African Union, by providing an avenue for African governments to mobilize collectively and interact with the Obama Administration in a manner that is equitable and mutually beneficial. Overall, African leaders should take the lead in drafting the new policy toward Somalia, with an emphasis on shifting the mindset of ordinary Somalis away from a deterministic outlook where young men think groups like al-Shabaab provide the only outlet to escape their suffering. Instead, let the United States coerce them not with guns and military prowess, but with “carrots of development” through support for political stability that can end 20 years of humanitarian crises in a country that deserves long-term support from the entire international community.
As the new decade begins, 15 African countries have held or will hold elections sometime in 2010. The prospect of fair and free elections is the first important step for these countries’ citizens to voice their right to choose a representative government. Two such rare opportunities in the last weekend in June – elections in Somaliland on Saturday the 26th and Guinea on Sunday the 27th – each signify a “new beginning” for ordinary voters hoping for a political future free from terrorist threats or military junta dictatorships. For Guinea and Somaliland, the prospect of peaceful elections will have a huge impact on guiding each civilian government on the path to democracy, sustainable development, and international support.
In Guinea, voters expressed anxious satisfaction as they lined up outside polling stations across the county, ready to participate in their nation’s first free presidential election since independence 52 years before. Indeed, the 24 presidential hopefuls on the ballot verified citizens’ eagerness to participate in the nation’s first prospective opportunity for a civilian government after decades of military dictatorship. Election observers noted that the military stayed in the barracks during the voting, and General Sekouba Konate – the interim president leading the transitional government – conveyed a serious determination to make this election happen successfully, without violence.
In fact, the environment surrounding the June 27th elections symbolizes a complete about-face in a country ruled by a succession of dictators. In effect, the elections represent a positive confluence of events after an army-led massacre of nearly 160 civilian demonstrators at a stadium in the capital city, Conakry, shunted the population into repressed passivity just nine months ago. Now, the atmosphere teems in anticipation of democratic rule. Two of the three leading candidates, former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Toure of the Union of Republican Forces (URF) received 39.72% and 20.67% of the 3.3 million votes, respectively. Each candidate will participate in a runoff election on the 18th of July to determine who will win the majority of the votes.
Somaliland, the northwest region of the stateless Somalia, is one of the most democratic countries in the Horn of Africa, but the international community does not officially recognize its status. Since the disintegration of the Somali state in 1991, the Somalilanders have held peaceful national elections in their region three times. The most recent election on June 26 represents a milestone for the resilient territory, as the Somaliland government demonstrated a peaceful changeover of power to the opposition candidate, Ahmed Mahmoud Silanyo. Silanyo defeated outgoing president Dahir Riyale Kahin with 49.6% of the vote, and international observers note that the poll was “free and fair.” Most importantly, voter turnout was high – at more than one million votes cast - even in the face of an al-Qaeda-linked militant group threatening to disrupt the election process violently!
However, despite years of political stability, peaceful transitions of power, and democratically elected officials, the international community still fails to recognize the legitimacy of Somaliland’s sovereignty separate from its stateless neighbor Somalia. Given the recent bombings in Uganda by Somali-based al-Shabaab terrorist groups, and the United States’ increased military involvement in the Horn of Africa, Somaliland’s enduring social and political stability should be recognized more than ever. In fact, Somaliland’s newly elected president, Silanyo, pledges to achieve just that “…during my tenure as president I will vigorously fight for the recognition of Somaliland. The world must recognize our democracy.”
The elections in Guinea and Somaliland tell a strange truth. Many African countries are fighting for representative government, and the battle begins at the polling stations. Facing threats of terrorist violence and military repression, Somaliland and Guinean citizens demonstrate the power of the vote, and their courage to demand the protection of their rights from their governments is an act that must be recognized and commended by the rest of the international community.
When covering Malawian news the Western media is usually focused on Madonna’s adopted children or on the struggle for gay rights. But more is happening in the country than just these popular media stories. While women are still marginalized and lack equal rights and opportunities as men in Malawi, there is recent hope that times are changing for the better for women in the country. Women are making strides in one traditionally male-dominated arena: politics.
Women currently hold 42 of the 193 seats in parliament, although only one of the 16 parliamentary committees is chaired by a woman. A campaign to achieve 50-50 representation in the government has gained momentum among NGO and advocacy groups in Malawi (See: Women Empowerment: Do We Really Understand It?). These organizations providing training, funding, and capacity building for female candidates (See: Malawi: Changing the Face of Politics).
In the previous election, women went from holding 14% of parliamentary seats to 22% (Malawi: Changing the Face of Politics). Many women are hoping that this percentage will increase even more in the upcoming November 2010 elections.
Nevertheless, female candidates are facing a crucial challenge: access to funding. Women are competing with men who have far more resources than they do, and are therefore better able to successfully campaign. “It’s only three months before the elections and yet we do not have the funds in place to finance campaigns for the women candidates. It’s a fact that campaigns in this country are so commercialized and women are usually disadvantaged,” says award-winning activist Emma Kaliya. Adds candidate Mable Malinda, “We know that elections are competitive but as women we are already at a disadvantage because most of us do not have the same financial muscle as men… People are so used to receiving handouts [for votes] and one is really deemed tight fisted if you do not distribute anything to the people.”
Despite these challenges, women are hoping that more female candidates will be elected in November. Says Malinda, “Now, more women are voting for women. You could even see old, old women coming to vote and they would say, ‘This time around we have to vote for women."