By Matthew Ayibakuro
On Tuesday 8th March, the world marked International Women’s Day 2016: Various events were held in New York, Geneva, Ethiopia and elsewhere, numerous speeches made, Facebook posts and tweets put up and somewhere in the National Assembly in Nigeria, a Senator moved a motion asking Nigerian men to marry more wives, claiming that “the first care of a woman is marriage” and that marrying more than one wife is “a sign of respect for women”
Although the motion did not go through, and some might claim that it should be taken in good humour, it is important to note that this was taking place just a few days after another senator had, with benighted pride, referred to the need to marry Nigerian wives as a way of patronizing “made in Nigeria” products. There is absolute nothing funny in either the inapt coincidence of these statements made on the floor of the Senate or indeed in the timing.
What concerns me most however is the fact that other rational senators in the National Assembly did not speak up against these statements on the floor of the Senate, and as usual, most reactions condemning these statements came from women or women groups, with men satisfied to play a neutral role on issues bordering on gender equality once again. As considerable strides are being made all over the continent to secure the rights and protect the interests of women at political and institutional levels, perhaps the missing piece of the puzzle is the emergence of male champions for gender equality.
CELEBRATING THE PROGRESS MADE ON GENDER EQUALITY IN AFRICA
In the last couple of decades, considerable progress has been made on gender equality in Africa. Facts show that, as of February 2016, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in Parliament in the world with women constituting 63.8% of members of its lower house and 10 of the 26 members of the upper house. The top ten countries in this respect also include Senegal (ranked 6th) and South Africa (ranked 8). Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America lie at an abysmal 48 and 95 respectively. Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Burundi are also in the top 20 in the ranking of countries according to the percentage of women in ministerial positions. The use of quota systems in most countries has been instrumental to making these gains.
At an institutional level, the African Union declared the years 2010 – 2020 the African Women’s Decade, with 2016 in particular being the African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women. In 2015, the African Development Bank Group produced the first African Gender Equality Index offering “a snapshot of the legal, social and economic gaps between men and women” with the major objective of providing the needed findings that will spur leaders, policymakers and civil society to start dismantling the barriers preventing women from contributing fully to the continent’s development.
These institutional efforts have also translated to reasonable success on the ground. Statistics show that between 1990 and 2011, almost 20 African countries have achieved gender parity in primary school enrollment, with others making good progress. There has been a 47 percent reduction in maternal mortality rates with similar progress in other areas like employment and access to healthcare.
However, most studies show that a lot still needs to be done in furtherance of gender equality on the continent. There is a palpable disparity in progress made between different countries in the continent on most of the issues mentioned above. But perhaps more importantly, there is still the prevalence of religion and culture-based prejudices against women in most countries; prejudices that are echoed in the statements of the senators referred to at the start.
GENDER EQUALITY: A MATTER OF NATURAL JUSTICE AS WELL AS DEVELOPMENT
The fact that most men are content playing a passive role on the issue of gender equality is a reflection of a lack of understanding of the foundations and ramifications of gender equality in society. This explains why, even though the right to equality and freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex is guaranteed in most constitutions, most men would show indifference to this right, in comparison to discrimination on grounds of colour, religion or ethnicity for instance. It is hypocritical that men would take a stand on discrimination in society on almost everything else, but not the institutionalized discrimination of women in their homes and offices and places of worship.
Discrimination against women, like any other form of discrimination questions the very conception of justice in society, but it also has ramifications for development in the continent. Women have always been economically active in Africa, albeit often as farmers and petty entrepreneurs, and in these roles they continue to contribute enormously to the welfare and life prospects of their families and children in particular. But this is changing slowly as women are beginning to occupy strategic roles in both the public and private sectors, and as the continent strives to harness its resources for development, bridging the gender gap and unleashing the full potential of women political, socially and economically could yield profound and enduring results for development on the continent.
In the light of this, the conversation on gender equality needs to progress from connotations of social norms, cultural formations and spirituality, traditional or otherwise: It is an issue of justice in society and like most issues of a similar nature in society, indifference on its own perpetrates the injustice. The patriarchal nature of present-day society mean that, without the involvement of men, progress on gender equality will continue to saunter. This is true in Africa, as it is in every other part of the world. The United Nations #HEFORSHE campaign was initiated in recognition of the important role of men in attaining gender equality.
There are fewer ways for us to be champions to our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives and our nieces that to play our role in creating a just society where they can all ‘equally’ realize their full potential and contribute to development in society, than in advocating for gender equality. This is my #PledgeforParity. Over to You…
The 26th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly came to a conclusion last week with few resolutions and many questions left unanswered on the most pressing issues facing the continent.
The Summit aptly declared 2016 the “African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women”. Even though progress is still required, celebrating human rights in the course of the year on the continent will be more about creating opportunities to consolidate on the gains made in this area over the years. Granting particular attention to specific integral areas like the rights of women will go a long way in deepening the human rights culture on the continent and is therefore a commendable theme. As much as headlines go however, this was as much as consensus and conclusiveness went at the end of the Summit.
Dialogue Over Intervention in Burundi
Prior to the Summit, there was a lot of expectation on what the decision of the AU would be on the situation in Burundi. This was heightened by Burundi’s forthright dismissal of plans by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) to deploy Peacekeeping troops to the country which was announced in December. The slow but steady deterioration of the situation in Burundi is one that has lingered and this Summit provided the AU an opportunity to take a decisive step towards ending the crisis before it plunges the country into another civil war.
But this was not the case. The Summit ended with AU leaders effectively shelving the planned deployment of peacekeeping troops to the country, electing instead to send a delegation to try and negotiate peace. This is perhaps in the hope that the AU would succeed were regional leaders in East Africa have failed. Nkurunziza’s stance so far since the issue of his intention to run for a third term ignited protests in the country, makes it difficult to be hopeful on the prospects of negotiated peace in Burundi, without some form of external pressure; one that the AU appears quite uncertain of applying at the moment.
Consensus in Call for Withdrawal from ICC
The most interesting headline following the conclusion of the Summit was that of the consideration of a mass withdrawal by African countries from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma announced that his country was reviewing its participation in the Rome State, whilst his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta claimed that he has been “distracted from the duty to serve” by the constant harassment of his government by the ICC. But the debate on the perceived persecution of African countries by the ICC is a long-standing one and looking at the facts, there are justifiable grounds for African leaders to be concerned. Since its establishment in 2002, about 23 cases across nine countries have been brought before the ICC, with eight of those being African countries, including Sudan and Libya who are non-member states. In the past, leaders like Paul Kagame of Rwanda have referred to the ICC as a fraudulent institution and Jean Ping, a former Chairman of the African Union Commission was quoted as having questioned why countries like Argentina, Myanmar and even Iraq have not had leaders brought before the ICC.
It would appear that the spotting resentment towards the ICC by African leaders is moving towards a consensus that will have quite revealing ramifications for the work of the ICC considering Africa with 34 states is the continent with the highest number of signatories. This situation must however be interpreted with caution. Apart from Kenya which voted to withdraw from the ICC in 2013 and South Africa that has commenced the process of withdrawing shortly after the Summit last week, most countries who are signatories to the Rome Statute are yet to take any serious step towards withdrawal and even when they do, the process would take a couple of years to conclude. It also remains to be seen how many leaders will be willing and able to maintain their stand when external forces start exerting pressure.
Are there any Positives?
Many persons including the exiled leader of the opposition FRODEBU party in Burundi Jean Minani expressed disappointment at the decision of the AU not to send peacekeeping troops to Burundi at the end of the summit. He claimed that the action of the AU amounted to turning their backs on the people of Burundi whilst the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza continues with the systemic persecution of the opposition in the country.
However, the decision of the AU to first explore dialogue as a means of ending the crisis is one that must be commended, albeit to an extent. Considering the history of disastrous military interventions in countries in various parts of the world at different times, it does make some sense for the AU to show caution in situations like this. Interventions should indeed be employed only as a last resort. The recent successful efforts by West African leaders to negotiate a peaceful transition in Burkina Faso provide reasons to be optimistic about the decision of the AU to explore dialogue as a solution to the situation in Burundi. Hopefully the high-level delegation of leaders from Mauritania, South Africa, Senegal, Gabon and Ethiopia can prevail on Nkurunziza’s government to respect the sovereignty of his people in the same way as the AU has shown respect for the sovereignty of Burundi.
In the following months and years, it will become more apparent if African countries are really serious about withdrawing from the ICC. Whether or not they do, the fact that the issue is now on the front burner of discourses emerging from an AU summit must be considered a positive development overall. But the rhetoric and the discourse is only a start; one that is long overdue.
So often leaders, activists and academics alike have cried foul about the unfairness, insensitivity and inappropriateness of western-driven solutions for problems facing African countries, without proffering viable alternatives. With respect to the ICC and the prosecution of leaders and individuals who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, reference has often being made to efforts to establish an African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights as an alternative to the ICC. But operationalising this court is still a distant possibility and the current legal framework for its establishment has some drawbacks that mean it might not provide a comprehensive lasting alternative to the ICC.
The 26th AU Summit has indeed raised many questions, rather than providing many answers. Afrocentrics can however celebrate the fact that some important questions are now being posed, the answers to which will have important ramifications for the pride and people of the continent.
BETWEEN BUHARI’S WISH LIST AND KENYATTA’S RALLYING CALL: WHAT IS THE STRATEGY OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES ON AID?
By Matthew Ayibakuro
Last month Germany hosted the meeting of the Group of Seven countries, often referred to as the G7 Summit. These countries consider themselves the most powerful industrialised countries in the World. It used to be group of eight of course, but Russia is suspended. The merits of this group in world order and its legacy remains debatable; a debate that I do not wish to engage in at the moment. But every now and then, certain countries are invited to dine with this group of the high and mighty. This year Nigeria was was one of the fortunate chosen ones.
Of course Nigeria had to consider itself one of the charmed ones going to the G7 Summit, especially at this point in time. After all, it is the newest darling of the democracy-crazy west. The country had just concluded general elections where the ruling party had been toppled by an opposition party that had not only won the elections, but did so with a campaign strategy shaped by western consultants. These G7 countries could not have wished for a better scenario. Even before his inauguration, President Buhari was the guest of David Cameron to Downing Street, where the Nigerian leader promised, amongst other things, to do all he could to secure his country’s borders, thereby ensuring that Britain would not have to deal with the infestation of African migrants to Europe. This is very crucial to Cameron’s commitment to limit migration to Britain at all costs.
And by the way, that is apart from the fact that he remains very committed to aiding development in Nigeria and Africa in general. Britain is one of only a handful of countries that fulfils the target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income on aid every year. So, in the same vein, shortly after the inauguration of President Buhari, the British Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond who was in Abuja for the ceremony, told the President that they were ‘waiting for his list’ of things he needs help with at the G7 summit. Helping in this way is better, certainly more convenient. Why deal with a problem on anyone’s terms when you can do it on your terms? That would be irrational, stupid even.
Buhari’s Wish List and Kenyatta’s Rallying Call
Thus, the expression of the President of Nigeria going to the G7 summit with a “wish list” was born. I found it amusingly theatric the first time I read about the wish list. It reminded me of a scene from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. I could almost visualise the G7 leaders seated around a table like Don Corleone and then President Buhari walks in expectant and respectful. He would then speak in low tones about how he needed this for that and that for this. He would explain how this person was the hindrance and that situation was the problem. The G7 leaders would nod with empathy and say words like, “We will help you. Just make sure you do not do this and that. It is bad for the business of the family and our partners”. Buhari agrees and everyone comes out with smiling faces for the cameras. Back in Nigeria, Buhari extols the ‘tremendous sympathy’ of the G7 for the region.
I wonder what faces they would have had on when just a couple of days later, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta made a rallying call for African leaders to give up aid, as “the future of our continent cannot be left to the good graces of outside interests”. This contrast of opinions and approach from leaders of two of the biggest countries on the continent tells a bigger story. Between Buhari’s wish list for help and Kenyatta’s rallying call for an end to aid, one wonders what exactly is the strategy of African leaders for aid, and if there is even one at all?
What is the Strategy of African Countries on Aid?
There is a large amount of literature on development assistance. There are those who call for an end to aid like Kenyatta. Others criticise the practice of conditionality that accompanies aid, whilst yet others who support conditionality, go further to argue that the conditions are often the wrong ones or that they are not monitored or implemented properly. The one homogenous feature of all these opinions is the fact that they all talk about the strategy of donor institutions and countries. There is little or no talk about the strategy of recipient countries. Surely it is time for this to change.
In recent terms, there is a general impression that there is another scramble for Africa; principally for its resources, but also for its potential and opportunities. Unlike the previous scramble for Africa, the history of which is best forgotten but never will be, this time it is not just the Europeans. The East in the form of China in particularly is increasing its presence and prominence in Africa. It professes to have an agenda different from that of the West in terms of aid and general development cooperation. It does not care about the much publicised and berated issue of conditionality. It will deal with African countries without necessarily telling the various governments what to do, as the Europeans and Bretton Woods Institutions have since the 1980s.
The important thing is that the Europeans apparently know what they want from their dealings with African countries on aid or otherwise. The Chinese also do. The question then is, do African governments know what they want? What is their strategy generally in dealing with donors. Do they have one in dealing with China? Have they had one in dealing with Western donors over the years? If so, has this strategy being reviewed in the light of the relatively recent involvement of China in the equation? In what ways are the governments of countries in Africa planning to leverage the new scramble to deal with Africa for its benefit?
It would appear that in 2015, as it was decades ago, most African leaders are still content playing the role of passive aid recipients, without necessarily being proactive on the issue of development assistance. They appear to be just lying there with open arms, beneath the decision table, collecting what crumbs that fall to them, totally unperturbed about the implications of the decisions taken at the table before aid is given; the strategies, the motives, the significance.
Making the Most of the Moment
The new scramble for Africa is an obvious testament to the opportunities that the potential of the continent provides. But it is also an opportunity for governments of countries on the continent to become active in deciding its fate in dealings with willing development partners. With leaders like Buhari taking a list of demands for help to the G7, I can only wonder how many leaders in the continent understand the strategic nature of this moment in the history of the continent.
It may sound fashionable to show an understanding of the basis of western aid, no doubt endearing to be critical of it. But I reckon it is now time for African countries to put all that aside and become proactive in dictating the terms upon which it would cooperate for development with the West.
Whilst doing this as individual countries might yield reasonable results, no doubt a continent-wide effort is required. The African Union needs to take the lead in this regard. It needs to put together its own set of conditions under which donors should be required to deal with the continent in a way that benefits the countries in the continent, not just conditions that the donors consider beneficial to the continent and/or themselves. Such strategic policy document should serve as a framework within which individual countries may then negotiate the terms of development assistance agreements.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
The United States of Africa! A country with the landmass of China, The United States of America, India, Japan and all of Europe combined, with an Island perfectly shaped for the United Kingdom. Population, 1.111 billion. Its people speak English, French, Portuguese, Arabic and over 2,000 other languages. Its currency is the ‘afro’ and demonym, African. It has the highest GDP of any country in the world and the unprecedented growth rate of its economy shows no signs of slowing! I feel like I could go on and on with this.
But beyond the pageantry and sentimental feeling that the paragraph above evokes, is becoming a single country a workable and beneficial option for the continent of Africa? Akon surely thinks so. In an elaborate interview on Aljazeera a couple of weeks ago, the ‘American-born Senegalese’ artist and businessman stated his strong conviction in the idea of a ‘United States of Africa’. Although for the usual reasons, the headline that emerged from the interview was his statement that ‘America was never built for black people’. I found that insightful also, but that is a subject for another day.
Akon is surely not alone. The legendary reggae musician Bob Marley repeatedly echoed the idea of ‘one Africa’ in the lyrics of his songs and long before him, Marcus Garvey alluded to it in his celebrated poem, ‘Hail! United States of Africa’. In the first stanza, he writes:
- “Hail! United States of Africa-free
- Hail! Motherland most bright, divinely fair!
- State in perfect Sisterhood United,
- Born of truth; mighty thou shalt ever be.”
Although Garvey’s poem did not inspire the creation of the United States of Africa, it is however believed that his poem deeply influenced the birth of the Pan-Africanist movement and inspired the golden generation of Kwame Nkrume, Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba and others.
In recent times, who can forget the entourage of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attending the African Union summit in 2009 as the ‘king of kings’ of Africa and rendering the lines, “I shall continue to insist that our sovereign countries work to achieve the United States of Africa”. The support of other leaders was rather variegated and the vision never came to fruition.
Perhaps I should say not yet, at least. At the Summit of the African Union (AU) and World African Diaspora Union (WADU) which held in Harlem in 2011, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal again called for the ‘establishment of a United States of Africa by 2017”. The Accra Declaration of 2007 restates the commitment of the AU to “accelerate the economic and political integration of the African continent, including the formation of the union government for Africa with the ultimate objective of creating the United States of Africa” by 2025. So whilst the late Gaddafi did not live to see his vision come true, Akon might yet see his realised.
But not many agree with the idea of a United States of Africa. In fact some commentators refer to the idea as ‘wishful thinking’, and the comments on the video of Akon’s interview on youtube contain borderline opinions like, “United States of Africa is a retarded idea. Anyone with such thoughts should be locked up in a mental hospital”. Reading comments on stories on social media will always provide one or two of this kind, so no harm done.
The proposition stirs up many fundamental questions though – Is a United States of Africa feasible, and if so, is it imperative to the development of the countries and the peoples of Africa? What would be the official language and the currency? How would leaders be chosen? Does it make sense to hold a general election in the whole territory of the continent as it is today, to choose a single leader and a single parliament? What would be the ostensible benefits of having such single country and at what cost? Would the latter outweigh the former? In other words, does the strength of the peoples of Africa lie our diversity or in our uniformity? The answers are probably more convoluted that they first appear.
One further question worth considering is whether efforts at creating a single country in Africa would be more beneficial if directed towards strengthening the African Union (AU) and building on its gains. As a youth, I feel a bit ‘quagmired’ making this argument at a moment when the AU’s recent choice of leadership is, to state it as mildly as possible, most disparaging – a subject for another day.
However considering the reasonable achievements recorded by organisations established to achieve regional economic integration in different parts of the continent – ECOWAS, SADC and especially the EAC in the last fifteen years – the the replication of same at an Africa-wide level would appear a more feasible and rational path to tread for the time being than the pursuit of establishing a United States of Africa.
I can share the sentiments and enjoy the Pan-Africa feelings that the idea kindles in me, but beyond that I find very little rationale to pursue the idea further as imperative to the development of the countries and peoples of Africa at this moment.