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The bill proposed by the Council of Ministers in March 2014, and rejected a week later by the parliament due to condemnation of the international community, is a very good example of the hostility towards LGBTQ people in this second most populous African nation.
The short-lived bill was intended to significantly change the country’s Pardon and Amnesty Law and tighten the already harsh anti-LGBTQ law to make it impossible for sexual minorities to exercise their fundamental human rights. The bill put the homosexual act on the list of offences considered “non-pardonable,” along with terrorism and other serious crimes.
In Ethiopia, homosexuality is illegal, carrying a maximum sentence of imprisonment up to 25 years: lesbians, bisexuals, gays, and transgendered citizens are often stigmatised, discriminated against, and subjected to numerous human rights violations and attacks.
According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project (2007), attitudes toward homosexual members of the community are overwhelmingly negative in this country. According to this organisation, 97 percent of Ethiopians believe that homosexuality is a very harmful way of life, which society should not accept and that people who are engaged in such relationships should be punished.
Ethiopian government officials have been well-known for denouncing homosexual acts and LGBTQ communities for many years. The government has made it clear to the nation that there is no place for these members in society, stating that their options are either to change who they are or suffer in prison.
The Ethiopian society is known for its conservative values, is deeply religious, very traditional and highly collectivistic. Its two primary religions (Orthodox Christianity and Islam) have a strong control over the population and have established moral standards for millions. The teachings of these two religions are incongruent with such modern ways of life as personal freedom and adaptability to societal change.
The Ethiopian Orthodox church (a conservative form of Christianity) teaches that the homosexual act is a sin, immoral, an illness, repulsive, strictly forbidden and must be legally punished. It goes without saying that this belief has been inflicting fear for years.
The 2012 pro-gay conference that was scheduled to take place in the capital Addis Ababa by a human rights group was the first attempt to stir open conversation in a society that is at odds with its LGBTQ community members. However, the effort failed due to the outcry of different religious groups. As the date of the conference approached, these religious organisations set their differences aside and protested together against the conference, calling the organisers “missionaries of evil”. Their protest resulted in the cancelation of the conference, which could have brought so much good.
It was during this time that Abune Paulos, former Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church—who once termed homosexuality as “the pinnacle of immorality”—said that, “People who act in this manner have to be dumb, stupid like animals. We strongly condemn this behaviour. They have to be disciplined and their acts discriminated against. They have to be given a lesson.” (Reuters, 2012)
Denial, silence and frustration
Ethiopians deny the fact that there are gays, lesbians, and transgendered human beings in their society, believing that it is a western way of life. Millions still think homosexuality is a result of sickness and demonic possession. Although research has demonstrated that there are a growing number of LGBTQ community members, many still dismiss these revelations, consider LGBTQ rights as a non-issue, and see their narrative as a western conspiracy.
The hostility towards the LGBTQ community is extreme and very concerning. Because of this, many are forced to live by hiding their sexual orientation or fleeing the country. Even talking about having a same sex relationship is very dangerous.
The silence in this society is overwhelming. People do not talk about homosexuality. The media has no appetite to cover such issues or discuss about the subject, let alone ordinary citizens. The issue is pushed aside even by Ethiopian human right defenders, political activists, and human rights groups. Very few agree that the rights of these community members should be respected, and even they are afraid to talk about it in public.
The consequences of the hostility, silence, criminalisation and discrimination are far -reaching, and go far beyond frustration in the LGBTQ community. The mainstream narratives of religious groups and the government have caused many members to believe they are sick and mentally disturbed.
Rush, 26, is one of the very few Ethiopian gays who bravely came out and shared his story with the world. He left his country and started a new life in South Africa during the final months of 1998. In his recent interview with Global Gayz, he stated that many are brainwashed in Ethiopia. He said “Yes, when I came to South Africa, I thought homosexuality was a disease or abnormality, but now I understand that it is natural, so we all must come to understand this.” (Global Gayz, 2002)
The Ethiopian Constitution guarantees the right to equality and recognises the importance of protecting people’s human rights. It clearly states that all persons shall be equal before the law and shall be entitled to equal protection under the law, without distinction of any kind related to race, nation, nationality, colour, sex, language, religion, political or social origin, property, birth or any other status.
However, other articles of the constitution, including Article 34, open the door to other laws, which redefine and violate this fundamental right. As a result, discrimination against LGBTQ members of the community on the basis of sexual orientation still occurs in Ethiopian society.
Ethiopia’s criminal code defines marriage as a legal contract entered or engagement between a man and woman and sees other forms of relationships as illegal. According to this law, homosexual acts are punishable by up to 15 years in prison, or 25 years if an offender “uses violence, intimidation or coercion, trickery or fraud, or takes unfair advantage of the victim’s inability to offer resistance.” (Huffington Post, 2013)
Ethiopia is also a member of several treaties and conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. These treaties enshrine the rights of all people to non-discrimination and equality before the law. As a member of the United Nations and human rights treaties, Ethiopia has the obligation to respect and protect these rights. However, the country has proven that it does not have the wish to uphold these standards.
* Betre Yacob Getahun is an activist of sexual minority rights.
Huffington Post, 2013. Ethiopian Evangelists Pushing For Death Penalty For Homosexuals. [Online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/05/03/ethiopian-evangelists-death-penalty-homosexuals_n_3208972.html [Accessed 17 June 2018]
Reuters (2012) Gay gathering sparks row between Ethiopia church and state. [Online] Available at: https://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL5E7MT5IB20111129 [Accessed 17 June 2018]
Global Gayz (2002) Homosexuality in Ethiopia. [Online] Available at: https://www.globalgayz.com/homosexuality-in-ethiopia/ [Accessed 17 June 2018]
For over four decades, Adedeji was indisputably the leading proponent of regional integration in Africa. He was widely regarded as the intellectual father of African integration, just as Raul Prebisch was of Latin American integration and Jean Monnet the European integration. He persistently stressed that economic co-operation among African states is a sine-qua-non for the achievement of national socio-economic goals, and not an “extra” to be given thought to after the process of development is well advanced. He remained a peerless champion for regional integration in Africa, indeed the epitome of the push for integration in Africa.
Professor Adedeji’s death is a rude shock to me. For many years he regarded me as his dependable United Nations junior colleague in vigorously advocating for a more integrated Africa to meet the interlocking challenges of development. He enthusiastically welcomed my establishment of a Centre for Regional Integration in Africa appropriately in Ghana, the Mecca of Pan-Africanism and African unity, to offer training in the technology of regionalism. In a United Nations documentary on my contribution to African regional integration, Dr. Mary Chinery Hesse, the distinguished international civil servant and the recently appointed Chancellor of the University of Ghana, introduced me most accurately in these words: “Professor Adedeji ‘discovers’ Asante.”
It all happened in November 1984, the ECA and the Dalhousie University at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, jointly invited me to present a paper on “Development and Regional Integration Since 1980” at a conference on Africa’s Economic Crisis and the Lagos Plan of Action. I had then come from Harvard University to take up an appointment at the University of Florida, Gainesville, as Professor and African Area Studies Consultant. It was at this conference that Professor Adedeji and I met for the first time.
After presenting my conference paper and chairing two panel sections, Professor Adedeji unexpectedly walked straight to me and asked of my name, nationality and background. He then muttered: “Hei, my friend, you are a disservice to Africa”. For a moment I stood completely baffled until he elaborated on his remark to imply that I ought to be working in Africa for Africans to contribute towards the solution of the continent’s complex development challenges, instead of working in a faraway America “with a piece of chalk in hand for the benefit of Americans.”
In April 1985, the ECA invited me to Addis Abba, Ethiopia for a briefing on an extremely demanding and challenging consultancy service titled, “A Study on Review and Appraisal of the Impact of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa on African Development: Policy-making, Programming and Execution of Projects, 1975-1985.” After completing this assignment, which took me to all the five sub-regions of Africa –East, West, Central, North and South – to conduct interviews with development planning ministers and senior technocrats, Adedeji strongly advised me to resign from the University of Florida. I was offered a UN appointment first, as Head of Development Studies Department at the United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) based in Zambia, subsequently Deputy Director and Director of the Institute and, after Namibia’s independence, as Principal Regional Advisor and Coordinator of the United Nations Multidisciplinary Regional Advisory Group (ECA-MRAG) at the Cabinet Office of the ECA. As Executive Secretary of ECA, Adedeji was in charge of the UNIN and therefore involved me in all major and critical African development strategies.
My missions to the ECA became particularly frequent when Adedeji set up, and appointed me a member of, an International Advisory Board of 20 eminent African and non-African personalities in July 1988 to advise him to challenge the Bretton Woods (World Bank and International Monetary Fund) orthodoxies –Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) and provide an alternative to the Western push for SAPs. Adedeji worked tirelessly to reverse the advert impact of the SAPs on economies and led the development of an African Alternative Framework to SAPs for Socio-economic recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP), which charted a new course for Africa’s development. He gave intellectual great hope in Africa as Deng Tsiao Ping led on the transformation of China.
A year after in 1989, I was given a major assignment to lead a high level four-man UN General Assembly special joint United Nations Development Programme/ECA/UN Headquarters Evaluation Mission to review the “Structure, Organisation and Operations” of the Multinational Programing and Operational Centres (MULPOCs) of the ECA. The Review Team visited all MULPOC offices and 12 selected member states covering all the sub-regions. The report, which I submitted as leader of the Review Team, made fundamental recommendations leading to the restructuring of the MULPOCs. Adedeji hailed it as a masterpiece and indeed, a most useful document.
My work as Coordinator of ECA-MRAG was given a new dimension with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison on 11 February 1990 and his appointment as the head of South African Transitional Government. To enable the ECA to effectively implement its mandate in the emerging South Africa, Adedeji instructed that a special Southern Africa Desk and Task Force be created at the Cabinet Office of the Commission with me as head. For almost two years, the Southern Africa Desk and Task Force was in regular touch with the President Mandela’s Transitional Government. This enabled me to have regular interactions with President Mandela. Impressed by the ECA advisory services, President Mandela sent me a personal invitation to his inauguration as South Africa’s first black President in May 1994. As if this was not enough, I was again invited to witness the ceremony of conferment of an honorary doctoral degree on the President by the Stellenbosch University on 25 October 1996.
Professor Adedeji highly welcomed my study on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), arguably the first academic study of the community, published in 1986. Indeed, it was Adedeji’s intellectual and physical effort, which resulted in the formation of ECOWAS, earning him the title the “Father of ECOWAS”. In 1991, Adedeji asked me to join him to serve as United Nations technical advisers to the Eminent Persons Committee Reviewing the ECOWAS Treaty under the chairmanship of General Yakubu Gowon, former Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He again involved me in drawing the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) in June 1991. He took me along to Abuja for the signing of the AEC Treaty. It was during this mission that I surprised my boss with a final draft of my study titled, African Development: Adebayo Adedeji’s Alternative Strategies. It was a big surprise! He warmly embraced me and attempted to lift me up. He could not believe it. The 232-page study published in London was launched at a high level ceremony at the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos, Nigeria in November 1991 chaired by General Yakubu Gowon. Indeed, Adedeji was my inspiration for the publication of my studies on regionalism and African development.
Adedeji put me in close touch with almost all the Southern African leaders, in particular, President K.K. Kaunda of Zambia, Sam Nujoma of Namibia and the current President of Namibia, Hage Geingob, my predecessor as Director of the United Nations Institute for Namibia. My wife and I had the honour to accompany Professor Adedeji to the Namibian independence celebration on 21 March 1990. Besides President Mandela, several notable South African leaders such as Thabo Mbeki supported and admired my ECA-MRAG mission in South Africa. In view of my critical involvement in the South African “decolonisation” process, Cyril Ramaphosa, the current South African President, fondly referred to me as “leader of Ghanaian Mafia” in South Africa.
It was indeed a major memorable occasion when the ECOWAS Commission invited me to accompany its Vice-President, Toga McIntosh, to interview Professor Adedeji at Ijebu-Ode, his home, in June 2013, for the ECOWAS @ 40 Documentary. Much to the surprise of his family members and the television crew, Adedeji, showing visible signs of physical strain, embraced me with tears of joy. He insisted that the mission be extended by two more days to enable him to fully enjoy our reunion.
Such is the imperfection of all human happiness; and every period of life is obliged to borrow its enjoyments from time to time. In youth we have nothing past to entertain us, and in age we derive nothing from the retrospect but fruitless sorrow. The loss of our friends and companions impresses hourly upon us the necessity of our own departure. Adebayo Adedeji was indeed an illustrious son who gave his life, energy, passion and intellectual gift to the African continent. He fought a good fight and has left us a legacy to follow.
*Professor Samuel K.B. Asante is Ghana’s renowned political economist, regional integration disciple, and former Principal Regional Adviser and Coordinator at the UNECA. He now serves as a consultant to international organisations.
Since the last 19 years, there has been a revival of the quest for the reestablishment of the defunct Republic of Biafra. Between 1967 and 1970 Biafra existed as an independent state apart from Nigeria. The boundaries of the new country were based on the colonially created former Eastern Region of Nigeria. Igbo national people were the dominant ethnic group in the region. But there were many other non-Igbo ethnic or national peoples in the new country. Because of the circumstances that necessitated the independence declaration of the country it was natural for this Biafra of 1967 to include the dominant Igbo nationals and others who are Igbo neighbours living in the contiguous surrounding lands.
Just like they did in the dysfunctional greater Nigerian country, the European colonialists who created the former Eastern Region had insensitively mixed up all the different national ethnic groups in the region for their governing convenience. Because this hotchpotch arrangement helped to minimise the running cost of the colonial outposts by cutting down on the number of staff and other incidentals it made a sound commercial sense for the non-indigenous Europeans. So, the Europeans maximised profit from their colonial venture while the indigenous peoples suffered from avoidable endemic interethnic internecine conflicts that would frustrate and stunt any form of progress.
As soon as the colonial Europeans left when they granted independence to the natives, the hitherto simmering dormant crisis busted out into uncontrollable flames. Up till now, as I write this piece, since the departure of the Europeans, interethnic and interreligious killings have constantly erupted among the native peoples who were forced by the exigencies of colonialism to exist as citizens of the same country. This is what led to the declaration of Biafran independence from Nigeria in 1967. Islamic dominated Nigeria had embarked on the mission to wipe out the Christian dominant Igbo people from the Earth. Igbo people resisted the genocidal move by declaring an independent state of Biafra from Nigeria.
This is 2018 more than half a century after, the various peoples are still engulfed in an unnecessary progress-arresting and human-lives destroying crisis because the lazy inheritors of this unviable European creation have continued to avoid facing the realities of their so-called Nigerian country. The only sensible solution to the seemingly unending Nigerian crisis is to divide the country along the existing ethnic and religious divides.
However as we stated earlier, there has been a renewed interest in carving out of Nigeria a new independent Biafra. With the new agitation came the controversy surrounding the authentic identities, territorial boundaries and social and political structures of this new quest. As all will agree, both those involved in the struggle to free Biafra from Nigeria and those watching the developments from any angle, there is no way the Biafra of 2018 will look anything like the Biafra of 1967. Nothing in this world remains static and time, it is said, changes everything. Fifty years have passed since 1967 and the truth is that the conditions and circumstances that produced the first Biafra and this new Biafra are not the same.
Therefore the human identities, national boundaries and political and social structures of this new Biafra cannot be the same as those of 1967. Every new generation must fight their own wars and win or lose their own battles on their own terms. Agitating for a new Biafra based on the 1967 identities, boundaries and structures will amount to an intellectual laziness on the part of the agitators and spell the doom of the proposed new country. A new Biafra as agitated for by the Igbo does not and cannot include any non-Igbo ethnic nationals. This position cannot be overemphasised because going against it will be nothing different from the extant Nigerian disaster – the mixing of different incongruent peoples in a country that cannot work. That mistake was made by foreign powers and we rightly blame them for it. But we cannot afford to make the same mistake in the new Biafra. Doing so will be like creating a new Nigeria by another name, Biafra. The same crises that have bedevilled the present Nigeria will also dog such Biafra and destroy it.
Such a disaster can easily be avoided by creating a brand new country by Africans and for Africans based on their own native experiences and anticipations. It will be a country for the first time created by Africans and for their people on their own terms. When this is done, if the new country fails or succeeds, it will be the shame or pride of the creators – Igbo people. There will be none else to blame but the indigenous people themselves. There will not be any foreign input by sheepishly following the moribund foreign concept boundaries of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria. The absurdity of adopting the map of the old Eastern Region as the boundaries of the new Biafra is the fact that almost half of Igbo population and land on the west bank of the Niger were not included in the 1967 Biafra. There are also several Igbo populations and lands that extend beyond what many people today know as traditional Igbo land. No Igbo anywhere should or will be left behind in this new quest to re-establish an independent Igbo state.
These truths and facts serve as fundamentals that need to be clearly defined for all who care to join this Igbo liberation business so that from the onset they will have a clear picture of what they are getting into, what they should and what they should not do. With that said it does not mean that in the process of doing that that we should produce a document that is perfect and immutable. We should aim for a living document that is dynamic and in tandem with the times, events and current circumstances. Since events, circumstances and experiences seem to change very rapidly these days we can keep up by constantly reviewing and updating the contents of the working document to always reflect in real time the prevailing realities, which we encounter along the way.
At this moment all those who are involved in this business need to recognise that we are at the cusp of bringing into being a brand new society, country or nation. As such, we seem to have been involuntarily positioned by providence to play a special role in the history of Igbo people. We can voluntarily choose to re-enact the convoluted grandiose “Zik of Africa” pipe dream by pursuing to build another clay-footed giant in the new Biafra of 2018 and jumble up a mixed bag of incongruent peoples in the name of inclusiveness. If we did this we would have fallen into the same sin we accuse Lugard, Zik and others of. Or we can choose to unashamedly reinvent our ancestral Igbo nation and proudly turn it into a viable, progressive, peaceful, prosperous and manageable modern country that is successful and serve as an inspiration to the rest of the world. Such a modern and ideal Igbo country will attract other people from around the world who would come and proudly take up citizenship in this Igbo country and will be self-propelled to honestly pay patriotic allegiance to their newly adopted country and Igboness.
It will be foolhardy of us who have the luxury of time (relative to the 1967 Biafrans) as it is, to carelessly, even naively adopt the same unworkable one-Nigerian pattern to which we are all witnesses of as a woeful epitome of a futile doomed enterprise.
At this stage (maybe at no time at all) we cannot afford to have anything to be written in stone – unchangeable and final. In the popular saying it is said that only God and fools do not change their minds. 1967 Biafra was the concept and dream of our fathers but the 2018 Biafra must be the concept and dream of the present generation of Igbo people. I personally was a firm believer in one-Biafra that would be made up of both Igbo and their neighbours (an all-inclusive Biafra.) In my simplistic thinking I believed that the so-called south-south or Niger Delta political zone should naturally be a part of the new Biafra because 1967 boundaries included those places. I wrote passionately in favour of such political arrangement in the new Biafra we are founding. I had even used such fanciful phrases like “United States of Biafra” to describe the envisaged new creation of another one-Nigeria only with a different name “Biafra.”
But such phrases are thoughtless and full of “beautiful nonsense” as my friend Festus Afamefule would put it. In the last few years after some time of impassioned personal interrogation and honest empirical contemplation I concluded that in the interest of the future generations of our people that we cannot afford to construct a new country for our people whose foundation and modus vivendi is not firmly anchored in our Igboness (in who we are.) For a society to work, the people are expected to have common historical experiences, common cultural practices, common linguistic history and some other things that help to hold a people together. The saying in Igbo is that na izu ka nma na nne ji.
Some people have come up with the question about what happens to the rest of the peoples some of whom also fought and died in the effort to free the first Biafra from Nigeria. Such people will need to be reminded that these other nations of indigenous peoples are capable of forming their own independent countries without Igbo as a part in their destiny. The populations of most of these ethnic nations run in several millions with so much natural and human resources that can easily sustain and make them successful. It will be stupid for any Igbo to think that they have been placed in the position of the “redemptive saviours” over these peoples who have their own innate redeemers. Everyone or ethnic people that fought under the banner and name of Biafra in 1967 and onwards are also equally entitled to adopt the name as their redemptive symbol of resistance, freedom and independence. Today that is what that name has come to represent for all peoples and persons – a universal symbol of resistance against genocide, injustice, oppression, persecution and domination. Any people or person anywhere in the world can adopt that name as their symbolic avatar in their quest for redemption, liberation, freedom and independence from anything, person or institution.
Perhaps the reason why this confusion has festered is that this movement for a new Biafra has remained like a moving train, which stops to pick up all willing passengers without discrimination. Of course there should be no discrimination against all those who want to get in but the danger we have faced is that most of those who are joining the train (the Biafran train) come with so many wild, dangerous and hideous (sometimes fraudulent) notions. All come with preconceived parochial opinions on what Biafra is or what it should be. And all claim to be the final authorities in the subject. But unfortunately many of these individualised ideas about Biafra are flawed. Yet this has not stopped these misled individuals from holding very tight to their version of personalised wishful and impractical opinionated Biafranism.
Having observed this dangerous trend it has become necessary that the Igbo must get together to reinvent and refocus their own standardised unique and workable Biafranism and anticipated Biafran or Igbo country. It doesn’t matter, when independence is won the new state can stick with Biafra or change its name. The other emerging new countries can also adopt the Biafran name or something else as it suits them. More than one country can go by Biafra just like Sudan and South Sudan.
In the end a more sensible and ideal new Biafra or Igbo state should be aimed toward success. It should be one that while being careful to preserve all the great conservative aspects of Igbo cultural heritage and traditions, is also dynamic – readily embracing change and willingly directing the society to seamlessly transit into newly discovered lights with little or no frictions. If this generation followed their hearts and are willing to do the right things, this new society can work if it is founded on a non-sentimental and well-considered uncompromised realism.
On the contrary if we want to follow the fad and adopt the “pretty boy” posture of the current wave of indiscriminate and unrealistic world dream then we will be headed for trouble. Sadly, it is this prevailing unregulated sentimental liberal ideology that has created the greatest danger that is facing our world today. It is the indiscriminate senseless implementation of this innocent-sounding idea that is threatening to revert all the progress, prosperity and freedoms, which the world has thus far enjoyed to the level of the dark ages. This sentimental liberalism if left unchecked will send the world to the darkest abyss, the type that it has never seen before.
To prove the danger inherent in this psychedelic self-defeating indiscriminate all-inclusiveness; apart from the perfect example of the one-Nigerian disaster, the reader can take one hard look at Europe in its current compromised state. With the trend and rate at which Europe is traveling along this uncensored inclusiveness, Europe will be doomed. The only hope that is still open to Europe is that the current generation of Europeans must stand their ground and push back the coming darkness of religious fundamentalism. Otherwise, if nothing is done to stave off this wave of absolute evil, in the next few years Europe as we know it will be completely engulfed in a total hopeless darkness of the worst kind.
* Osita Ebiem is a social affairs commentator and rights advocate.
So far, those with the view that ideas are the most desirable vehicles of every progressive change shy away from the way ideas could cause pain and retrogression. Yes, ideas do not just build the world; they could ruin things.
Like Adolf Hitler’s idea that harmed millions of Jews; and that idea on increasing agricultural productivity that became the transatlantic slave trade; and that idea of a glorious rewarding world beyond that makes people strap bombs in their bodies to kill and maim. And so many more.
Recently, I saw an old classmate in a crowded Lagos street. I had not seen him for almost a decade, so great was my joy when I met him again. After all the “ohs” and the “ahs” and the teeth showing, I asked him what he was doing for a living. “Online persuasion” was his reply with a chuckle after looking around as if he wanted to tell a secret. I was tempted to ask him what “online persuasion” was, but I immediately remembered those emails about a dead dictator with loot stashed in some back account.
Now let’s talk about some good ideas: democracy, civilisation, freedom.
What is democracy? That idea with many faces; like its face in Britain, and its face in the United States of America, and its face in Zimbabwe; and in some “democracies” where fathers hand over power to their sons.
What about civilisation? Colonialism came because Europe loved some distant lands so much that it wanted their “savages” civilised. The Aborigines of Australia needed to become European to be “civilised”. Belgian king Leopold II wanted to civilise the savages in Congo so he cut off their hands and killed them in millions.
Freedom: What is freedom exactly? Freedom of choice? Freedom to be who I am? What if I wanted to be an online persuader like my old classmate? What if a paedophile were born that way? What if I wanted to defecate behind a tree in Sandton, South Africa? What if I wanted to take a boat ride across the strait of Gibraltar into Europe? Why can’t I be free?
One thing about ideas or good ideas is that they are abstractions whose workings would depend on the humanity behind the working. To talk about ideas without talking about morality is like talking about a good invention without talking about who gets to use it.
So what will a civilised Africa look like? What if we all spoke model C English? What if the slums of Kenya’s Kibera, Lagos’ Ajegunle and Johannesburg’s Alexandra turned to glass and steel skyscrapers or neighbourhoods with white picket fences?
Are we civilised when all the forests become towns and cities? When all the wild animals are gone? When we all have gadgets imported from Europe and Asia? When we start making these gadgets?
What if we all ignore rural agriculture and leave for the cities to take white collar jobs, so that we can wear good suits and live like in the Hollywood movies?
Would Africa become like those nations where neighbours ignore each other and go about like humanoid robots?
There are ideas of civilisation that have been shoved down our throats by various oppressive systems. But what ideas of civilisation rule our world as it is now? There are questions we have been ignoring for so long; we have answers to find so that we will not be complaining about what our parents, grandparents and great grand parents complained about.
We have to get rid of the illusion that the passage of time will heal all wounds, that we will get better with time; that we are on the right track. If we are not on the right track our wishful thinking will not change our course; only strategic purposeful thinking will.
Haiti is the oldest nation to gain independence from colonialists. That country is over two hundred years old, but is not any better than Botswana. Liberia is over a hundred years old, but Ghana has a better success story than old Liberia.
We need to face our challenges with sincerity and with determination to get solutions against all odds.
In what ways are Africans setting the agenda in terms of their future and identity? The answer, as that pop star sang, is “blowing in the wind”.
* Feyisayo Anjorin writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
There has been a state of mayhem, uncertainty and confusion in the politics of the country. Anarchic behaviour has fully prevailed in all nine provinces. Political parties are facing major challenges within and amongst themselves. Power politics is at play with leaders fighting for the control of and ascendancy to strategic positions. Quite recently the judicial system has been playing a referee in the political matters. Many argue that this is the move that is quite regrettable given the “supposedly” maturity of our politics.
Our young democracy has been tested to the greater length. The three major political parties being the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) continue to dominate our media platforms. The sad part is that as it could be expected that the parties are competing with each other, they are instead wrestling within themselves. Infightings have dominated our political spectrum. It has been quite obvious that the basic needs of our people are sacrificed in a bid to outmanoeuvre each other.
The case in point was the North West Province where the community didn’t have “free” access to health care and when they did there was either no medication or medical personnel, as they were on an over a month National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union strike. The situation is quite unfortunate because at the centre of it all it is about fulfilling the personal interests of those we elected to represent and look after us. It is for this reason that many argue that the tension and rifts are about the politics of the stomach with leaders trying to consolidate their own political survival. Social media have gone viral with memes making mockery of our current state of affairs.
African National Congress
The ruling party has been marred with controversy after controversy. Instead of focusing on delivering on their electoral promises the party is always handling or managing its public relations. The credibility of the party is suffering due to the behaviour of some notable leaders who are either associated with corruption or maladministration, nepotism, favouritism, violence and abuse of power. Recently, the interviews about service delivery have taken a back step as ANC leaders are defending scandals brought about by those who are supposed to lead by example. The infightings within the party are all concerned with leadership positions. Conferences are hijacked by violence, disruptions and interdictions from the courts. The infightings are so robust that one could not even differentiate whether they are just political tensions or major divisions. Political killings are rife especially in KwaZulu-Natal due to this political uncertainty within the party. Given these violent incidents, there is a perception that there is no political tolerance within the movement and that the unity is forced.
Nowadays, ANC members are singing in different tunes. The ideological posture of the party is truly unclear than ever because the party tries so hard to outshine the EFF that they end up just talking about policies and taking public postures without necessarily providing detailed accounts of how, when and where. For instance, former President Zuma announced, to the amazement of many ANC members, that there would be free education. After the announcement no one could give details on how the process would unfold. Also, the ANC in the suburb of Nasrec, Johannesburg has taken a resolution on the land [destitution without compensation] without detailing how. The liberation movement is now learning that it has created its own demons by coming up with great and progressive policies and failing to implement them. The opposition is using their policies to garner support and even take the party’s former loyalists.
The behaviour and personal issues of the likes of Mduduzi Manana are adding to the damage. Currently, many ANC leaders don’t inspire many people. People are disgusted, disappointed and fed up. No one understands how President Ramaphosa saw it fit to retain the likes of Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane and Malusi Gigaba who have dark clouds hanging over their heads. Lots of decisions don’t make sense and only adds to the allegations that the party prioritises factional battles over national interests. This was said to be the case in North West where the people were calling for the immediate removal of the premier and the party took its time to address the matter in what was seen as negotiation with the then premier Supra Mahumapelo while many expected a solid and decisive decision from the ANC.
Economic Freedom Fighters
The party and its leaders have matured to the highest level. Many young people are identifying with the party as it speaks to the issues that are closely related to them. The EFF is seen as hands on party that is genuinely concerned with improving and prioritising the lives of the poor. Many, especially the poor and the marginalised are regarding it as a saviour of the 21st century. The fact that the leaders are young, charismatic and highly qualified is seen as an inspiration to many. The party highlights the importance of education and actually takes a lead at showcasing that the doors of higher learning are for everyone at any given stage. With EFF, many believe that we are introducing a new revolution headed by academics. The leaders continue to send a very strong message by posting their pictures accompanying each other to their graduations. Nowadays, in most times the EFF is in the news when they are dealing with important issues like, for example, recently the EFF’s Commander in Chief was trending making his mark at the Pan African Parliament. Advocate Dali Mpofu, EFF’s National Chairperson, continues to do wonders winning popular cases even for opposition fellows like the Cape Town Mayor.
At the moment, the EFF is seen as more stable, focused, genuine political party. Even on social media the memes that are made about EFF represent positivity, growth and development. Many people are impressed, economic freedom is an ideology that resonates with the majority; the unapologetic character of the leaders is winning hearts of many eligible voters. The EFF is by far the only political party that is clear on what they stand for and have shown that they are willing to deliver and defend their stance by any means necessary. That is the decisive posture that has been lacking in our politics. This is another win for the EFF, definitely something new that the South Africans are not used to.
The party will always be marred with the allegations that one race is preferred over another. Out of the three major political parties in the country, DA is the only political party that have more “white” membership/following. The issue of balanced racial representation poses as the major challenge for the party. Race and class are evidently the problem the party have to urgently and effective address for its growth and sustainability. For instance many suspect that the DA leader Mmusi Maimane is a ceremonial leader having the big “white bosses” pulling strings behind the scenes. The party’s national legislative representation fuels to the allegations. As much as the party has managed to make inroads in the black community, many still treats it with caution. There are still utterances like “I will go for anything but the DA”, “DA is a white people’s party”. The alleged uproar that took place in the party’s caucus against Maimane’s freedom day speech made matters worse.
The Cape Town issue have opened a can of worms for the party. For many people, the assumption that the party is “too good to be true” has been confirmed by the Patricia De Lille (Mayor of Cape Town) saga. Many have argued that the party is selling unrealistic dreams to the voters. The DA has always painted a picture of a South Africa where people live together harmoniously, however what has transpired in Cape Town have proven otherwise. It gave an impression that there are certain people and characters that threaten the party leadership and therefore have to be dealt with at all cost. Many observe that the way the party is dealing with De Lillie is harsh, inhumane and disrespectful to her contribution.
As it stands among these three major parties the DA and the ANC are the problem children. The EFF is thriving on positive publicity without even trying hard. For now the EFF’s future looks very bright. It is seen as the party that wins its battles—holding the executives accountable (paying back the Nkandla money being one of their highlights). Many argue that it is the likes of the EFF that contributed greatly to the growth in political interest in the country. Indeed many allude that we owe it to the chaotic disruptions in the National Assembly that now many people are taking interest in parliament; politics form part of the discussions in taxis, hair salons, restaurants even in unusual places like the toilets and bedrooms. Currently, whether a person is old, young, black, white, man or woman, the moral is high and the standards and expectations are higher.
The upcoming elections will be one of the most fiercely contested. Due to anger and frustration many people will surely participate and some have already taken a stance. With only few months to the polls these political parties have so much work ahead to rally support, work on their issues and give South Africans the competitive and conducive environment to make their choices on the ballots. The Independent Electoral Commission better be prepared and well equipped because it is the readiness, effectiveness of the election body that determines the success of the elections.
In conclusion, if we were to listen to the signal and present Mama [Winnie Mandela] with a South African political report, we would report that at the moment things are not looking good in the ANC and DA camps. I personally foresee the EFF increasing its national and provincial support base. As things stand, a coalition government seems inevitable. We might be heading to our first national coalition government. If things turn out like that, South Africans should prepare and embrace themselves for the government marred by vote of no confidences and threats to withdraw supports. I foresee nothing but the troubled state of political affairs. Some, however, proclaim that this is a necessary step for the maturity of our democracy. I argue that we will only find peace when one political party wins outright majority.
* Bonolo Lovedelia Pelompe is a public servant in South Africa.