By Matthew Ayibakuro
In the past couple of weeks, there has been widespread shock over the revelations of child sex abuse in British football clubs dating back to the 1970s. The scandal started on 16 November when former Bury and Sheffield United player Andy Woodward, 43, waived his anonymity to tell the Guardian of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Bary Bennell, a convicted paedophile who worked for football clubs Crewe Alexandra, Manchester United and Stoke City in the 1980s and 1990s. Following his revelations, more than 20 former footballers have come forward with stories of historical sex abuse in various clubs in the country. As of 1st December 2016, about 350 victims had reported cases of abuse to the police with a helpline set up for this purpose estimated to have received 860 calls within its first week.
The scandal has been described as shocking, appalling and potentially worse than the revelations in the Jimmy Saville affair. But in the midst of the shock and widespread condemnation, many have stopped short of describing the scandal in terms of ‘corruption’. This is a fact that speaks of a broader issue about how corruption is conceptualised and understood globally; one that needs to change.
The reaction to the scandal has been swift as it should be. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has since set up a new helpline and five police departments in the UK are investigating the growing allegations. On its part, the English FA has announced an internal review with individual clubs also carrying out their own inquiries. FIFA has also released a statement confirming its awareness of the allegations and that it was monitoring the situation.
However, these processes have made little mention of the obvious role of corruption in precipitating these crimes and especially in the concealment of such abominable acts for decades. As the official inquiries by the FA and clubs continue, preliminary explanations by officials that they were simply not aware of such large-scale abuse cannot suffice. Neither will claims of negligence be enough to explain why so many football clubs failed to protect youngsters in the game. The FA will also struggle to exonerate itself in failing to detect, investigate and punish such crimes for over 30 years.
One particular piece in The Times has sought to downplay the significance of the scandal by noting the fact that one of the main perpetrators, Barry Bennell was convicted and sentenced multiple times for his crimes. However, it is this very fact that raises serious questions as to why the FA and clubs did not initiate further inquiries on the matter until the recent revelations. The growing narrative on the scandal shows that some clubs and officials were aware of these abuses and either ignored them or deliberately took action to ensure that they were concealed from the public. It has been revealed that Chelsea football club for instance, paid off an alleged victim after he threatened to go public with claims that he was sexually assaulted by a club official in the 1970s.
Corruption is generally defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Hence, instances where particular officials or the clubs were aware of abuse and decided to ignore or conceal it for their purposes amounts to corruption and this should be a central element of the ongoing investigations. There are wide range of reasons why such indifference or concealment might have occurred: to protect friends who are the perpetrators; to protect the image of the club and its financial interests; to avoid the stress and cost of a public inquiry, etc. In any of these cases, the officials or clubs involved would be putting their personal interest above that of the victims, thereby abusing the power entrusted in them. This is corruption and should therefore be called what it is.
The fact that the word corruption is not being used or used only passingly in this situation is an indication of the economic foundations of the global fight against corruption. It is not so long ago when the media went berserk over allegations of corruption in FIFA. The headlines were easily about corruption because it was about money. The obvious economic bias of the global anticorruption movement is such that cases where entrusted power is abused with grave human consequences, as compared to finances, are rarely seen as corruption. In fact, just two months ago, corruption made the headlines when revelations of financial impropriety against then England manager Sam Allardyce and other club managers surfaced.
However, in this case when the outcome is that most children might have actually suffered abuse or continue to suffer unnecessarily because some clubs or officials decided to protect their selfish interest by covering up cases of abuse, the media and the institutions concerned are weary to use the word corruption.
Perhaps the historical use of the word corruption to bedevil countries in the global south is quickly unravelling and after FIFA, the Panama Papers, the Sam Allardyce affair and others in recent years, countries in the global north like England are now struggling with an identity crisis over the reality of corruption in their countries and how best to conceptualise it.
The fact is that this is as much a case about abuse as it is about corruption. Granted the crime is sexual abuse but the only logical explanation for its continuation in the English game all these years has to be corruption. Remarkably, neither the global office nor the UK branch of Transparency International has issued any statement on the scandal. This is quite regrettable but not surprising, considering the financial focus of the global anticorruption movement.
However corruption is defined and wherever it is being tackled, the underlying objective must be one that, at the barest minimum, is wide enough to protect the interest of vulnerable youngsters who just want to play the game we all love. And any inquiry that fails to consider the corruption component of this scandal is not only incomplete but hypocritical and shameful. It is important to get this right at these early stages and avoid the type of corrupt cover-ups witnessed in the Hillsborough inquiry.
Why the Suspension of Whistleblower-Legislator Makes a Mockery of Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption Campaign
By Matthew AyibakuroOn July 21, a federal legislator in Nigeria Abdulmumin Jibrin blew the whistle on alleged “budget padding” by the speaker and other principal members of the House of Representatives, the lower house of Nigeria’s federal legislature. Jibrin had just been removed from his position as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the House the day before on a range of vague allegations including misconduct, incompetence, immaturity and total disregard for his colleagues and abuse of the budgetary process.
The revelations made by the legislator, in what is now known as the “budget padding scandal” in the country show that the speaker and other federal legislators had earmarked funds for fictitious projects by embedding them in genuine projects proposed by the executive for various departments and agencies in the 2016 budget. These funds would eventually then find their way back to the pockets of the legislators in the course of the implementation of the 2016 budget.
In a series of responses in the press, the speaker without necessarily denying the allegations, justified the practice by pointing out that whatever actions taken by the legislature with respect to the 2016 budget were within the constitutionally stipulated powers of that arm of government. He duly quoted relevant provisions of the constitution to good measure. He was also quick to resort to the law by quoting Section 30 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act to claim privileged immunity against any planned investigation of the issue by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption agency.
After months of intense conversation on the scandal in the media and by ordinary Nigerians whilst the federal legislature was on recess, Jibrin was, earlier this week, unanimously suspended by his peers for a time frame that could last for over a year, paying the ultimate prize for his revelations. The motion for his suspension alluded to his recklessness and to the damage he had done to “the image of the House”.
Budget Padding, Corruption and its Implications
It is worth noting that until Jibrin’s revelations, the concept of “budget padding” had never been part of the anti-corruption lexicon or indeed of public discourse in the country. And so a substantial part of the discussion on the issue has been on the exact meaning of the concept of budget padding and of the legality or otherwise thereof. Whilst the speaker, the legislators and their sympathisers continue to argue the legality of the practice, it calls into question the broader issue of the definition of corruption and taxonomy of corrupt acts. Is an act corrupt only because it contravenes the law or should corruption be determined by extra-legal considerations like morality and apparent breach of trust and morals? Should the discussion on corruption concentrate on the elements of the act alone or the consequences?
In this case, the consequences of budget padding by legislators, illegal or not, has very serious implications for socio-economic development in Nigeria. As the scandal has progressed, revelations now show that federal legislators get about N100 billion annually for projects in their respective constituencies with about 2516 such projects included in the 2016 budget alone. One commentator notes that if these projects were duly implemented, there would be at least 5159 federal projects located at the local level all over the country with each of the 774 local government areas getting about 7 such projects. The development implications of this are enormous.
Yet the conversation has regrettably being about mundane issues that have no effect whatsoever on the development implications of issues of this sort for the country. The members of the legislature been preoccupied with the effect of the scandal on its “image” and acted swiftly to preserve that image, whatever it is. The ruling party to which those involved in the scandal belong also acted promptly in cautioning the whistle-blowing legislator from making any further revelations to the press. The question left unanswered is, who will act swiftly for the ordinary Nigerian who ultimately bears the immediate and long-term consequences of such palpable corruption?
But why would the legislators care about the ordinary Nigerian or even understand the poverty with which he is stricken when they are the highest earning lawmakers in the world? And with such money, they can afford to procure prostitutes on foreign trips paid for by the ordinary Nigerian, return to sittings in the legislative chamber paid for by the ordinary Nigerian and suspend whoever tries to expose their corrupt actions to tarnish their image.
Understanding What Really Matters for an Anti-Corruption Campaign
The ruling party in Nigeria which was voted in primarily on the premise of fighting corruption has been establishing special courts and even more anti-corruption agencies, as if the ones in the country are not too many already. It has also been demanding, soliciting and blackmailing countries and individuals alike for the return stolen funds and taking other cosmetic steps in its fight against corruption. All these might be well received by donor organisations, the world press and western allies, but they would mean absolutely nothing to the ordinary Nigerian if fundamental institutions like the legislature are as dysfunctional as this scandal highlights, and whistle-blowers are shamed and discarded.
This scandal reiterates the fact that Nigerians cannot depend on their political institutions to fight corruption. The real fight is between ordinary Nigerians and those in power – executive and legislature, irrespective of the party, agency or committee. And in all battles, there are heroes and martyrs. Since it is apparent that the political leadership in the country is determined to martyrise Jibrin for his actions instead of celebrating him, it is left to ordinary Nigerians to celebrate him for his acts of heroism that has provided a rare peek through the hitherto dark veil of legislative tyranny in the country.
“From Whose Decisions to Whose Actions?” Reflections on UNCTAD 14, Youth Participation and Development
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It has been just over two weeks since I joined over two hundred youths from all over the world in Nairobi for the Youth Forum of the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The conference was aptly themed, “From Decisions to Actions” with an apparent focus on the implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted at the UN in September last year.
As youths, we had been invited for the first time to UNCTAD to contribute to the discourse on the key issues of education, more and better jobs and state accountability, with the ultimate objective of “Shaping the World we Want”. But did we really achieve this goal?
A fortnight after leaving Nairobi, as I look back on what was, without doubt, an enriching experience, I realise that our participation in UNCTAD 14 will surely shape the world we want, but not in the ways we expected when we were selected for the conference and definitely not through the major activities or outcomes that UNCTAD itself organised the youth forum around.
UNCTAD Provided the “Form” for Youth Participation
As is the case with most instances of social exclusion of groups in society, a few years down the line, many might be asking how and why it took most UN bodies like UNCTAD 50-60 years before creating space for youth participation in its discourses. However, UNCTAD deserves commendation for taking the first step in this respect in Nairobi. And this was indeed a first step in most ramifications: the organisation of the youth forum reflected this in the piecemeal manner the agenda and activities were undertaken and in the fact that there was no predetermined plan for youth participation in the main events of the Conference.
But this was a good first step nonetheless. Participation is often comprised of “Form” and “Substance” very much akin to UNCTAD 14’s theme that distinguishes “Decisions” from “Actions”. And by inviting us to Nairobi, UNCTAD had taken a major step in providing the “form” for youth participation in development discourses. It would however be mistaken on our part as youth, and also from UNCTAD’s perspective, to magnify this beyond what it really was: a formal recognition of the role of youth, nothing more; nothing less. Looking back now, I realise we were never really going to change the agenda of UNCTAD or indeed that of the United Nations on the key issues we discussed in Nairobi, neither were we going to significantly impact the policies and programmes of our governments back home with the outcomes of our conversation.
So Where does the “Substance” of Youth Participation Really Rest?
My understanding of the essence of my participation in UNCTAD 14 and positively of youth participation in fora of that nature came full circle in the evening of July 20; the penultimate evening of the youth forum. Due to my research interest, I had been working with the sub-group on state accountability at the forum and on that evening, for about seven hours (5pm to 12 midnight) over fifteen participants drawn from countries as diverse as Uganda, India, Mexico, Iceland, New Zealand, Namibia, Australia, South Sudan, Great Britain, Dominican Republic, Liechtenstein and Nigeria worked together on what was to be the Youth Declaration on state accountability.
We discussed, argued, voted and reached consensus on the use and expression of paragraphs, sentences and even words as they describe the world we want on the broad range of issues bordering on state accountability.
Back in my room that night, I put down the first thoughts of this reflective piece. The substance of our participation in the forum rests, not in the declaration that was presented to UNCTAD the day after, but rather on what we had made and would eventually make of the space created by UNCTAD for us to meet; to understand the experiences of youth in our various countries, to learn from the process of creating consensus in a room with people from all over the world, to create and sustain life-long networks between ourselves. They were, in reality, the factors that would shape the world we want on the long run.
In a fitting coincidence, shortly after listening to Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary General of UNCTAD who put together a final cocktail dinner for us on the final day of the forum and to whom we will always be grateful for commissioning the forum in his time, I had a fascinating conversation with one of the delegates, a young artist from South Africa. She took the trouble to explain how her art was all about providing spaces for people to meet, to dialogue and create connections. She convinced me never to disregard the importance of such spaces in fostering good in the world. And so we must all recognise and appreciate UNCTAD for providing such a global space for us to meet.
Going Forward: Bridging the Gap From Decisions to Actions
Like artistic spaces, neoliberal theorists often argue that government should have as limited a role as possible in the economy, by concerning itself only with creating an enabling room for private enterprise to thrive. In the same vein, how we thrive as youth with the space provided us by UNCTAD is left to us. It is our prerogative now to use this space to continue the conversation, to forge a common voice and demand for more spaces, to proffer and build solutions and thereby bridge the time-lapse between decisions and actions as the world moves towards realising the SDGs.
To create the needed impact therefore, our approach has to look beyond just influencing how governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental institutions move from decisions to actions, to how we can make use of the spaces created to reach our decisions and take our actions and shape the world we want in the process.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It has been just over three weeks since South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment vote in the country’s National Assembly. This followed the ruling of the Constitutional Court that he had violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla.
Like David Cameron surviving calls for his resignation following the Panama Papers scandal in the British parliament, it was safe to reckon that Zuma might have survived this. That was until yesterday, when the country’s High Court declared that he should be charged with 783 counts of alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering in connection with a £4.4 billion arms deal signed when Zuma was deputy president in 1999. The charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) just weeks before the 2009 election in which Jacob Zuma emerged president.
Whilst awaiting the decision of the NPA on whether or not to reinstate the charges following the decision of the High Court, it is important to highlight yet another significant lesson to be learnt from the Jacob Zuma corruption case, and indeed the anti-corruption regime in South Africa.
Constitutional Institutions and Principles are Pivotal
Following the relative success stories of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the more prominent Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, the model mechanism for dealing with corruption in the last couple of decades has been the establishment of specialised anti-corruption agencies charged with fighting corruption in their various countries. The United Nation Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) makes the establishment of such specialised anti-corruption agencies obligatory for state parties in Articles 6 and 36 of the Convention.
In response to this, anti-corruption institutions have cropped up in unprecedented numbers in countries all over the continent, albeit to to obvious limited effect. The establishment of these institutions has been important in creating the impression that these countries are taking specific action against corruption, whilst simultaneously fulfilling the expectations of international donors, institutions and partners. The reality on the ground has however shown that these institutions have achieved very little in terms of dealing with corruption. Even countries like Nigeria that have done one better by creating multiple institutions in this regard has shown little signs of significantly reducing corruption.
After years of relative failures, possible explanations proffered include the lack of attention for local circumstances in promoting this global model of institutions, the inadequacy of requisite infrastructure, deficit in capability of anti-corruption personnel and more importantly political interference in the work of these institutions.
The issue of political interference has featured prominently in most countries, prompting the cliche call for political will in the fight against corruption. The Executive branch in particular has been known to use these institutions to witch-hunt political opponents whilst simultaneously shielding their corrupt supporters from prosecution. In most countries, the performance of anti-corruption institutions has become only as long as the foot of the head of the Executive.
More than anything else, this shows that dealing with corruption goes beyond just the establishment of specialised anti-corruption institutions. It requires other supporting democratic institutions and frameworks without which these institutions cannot operate successfully. And for any country that is really serious about dealing with corruption, these institutions and their independence in particular should be constitutionally guaranteed. Issues like the appointment and tenure of members of these institutions and their financing need to be guaranteed in the constitution to give these institutions any chance of operating independently and successfully.
The South Africa Model
South Africa provides a good model in this regard. Chapter 9 of the Constitution establishes not only the office of the Public Prosecutor, but also for other important state institutions to support constitutional democracy like the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality and the office of the Auditor-General.
Considering the broad range of desperate steps taken by Jacob Zuma to shield himself in the light of the Nkandla scandal, it is difficult to see how the Public Prosecutor would have pursued the case against the President as she did without the all-important backing provided by the constitution. Recent efforts by the Senate in Nigeria to amend the Code of Conduct Act for the specific purpose of assisting the Senate President in an ongoing corruption case shows just how vulnerable these institutions are to political manipulation and restates the importance of providing constitutional backing for anti-corruption institutions and efforts generally.
In the face of overwhelming emphasis on institutions in the fight against corruption and in the overall pursuance of good governance, experience has shown the futility in expecting corrupt politicians and political systems to create independent and effective transparency and accountability institutions. Perhaps the emphasis should de-emphasise seeking political will to fight corruption and rather concentrate on insulating these institutions from any form of influence from political will in the first place, at least until the point when the political systems in most countries are entrenched in positive values and therefore dependable.
Providing constitutional backing for these institutions might not, by itself, provide a final solution to the challenge of dealing with corruption, but it will at least give the widely-spreading anti-corruption institutions a fighting chance against entrenched grand corruption prevalent in most countries.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
Without a doubt, the biggest news out of the African continent in last couple of days is the decision of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, declaring that the President Jacob Zuma violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla. The lavish improvements which Zuma must now pay for in the coming months include a swimming pool, amphitheatre, visitor centre, cattle enclosure and chicken run, amounting to over $15 million.
With the opposition now calling for the impeachment of Zuma following the decision of the Constitutional Court, it is safe to say that the story of this scandal which has dragged on for some time is not over yet. In the meantime, for those interested in issues of governance, it is imperative to highlight some very significant issues and lessons for the much talked about fight against corruption in South Africa and indeed other countries in the continent. A comparative analysis of the framework for anti-corruption in Nigeria and South Africa shall highlight these issues.
Independence of Anti-Corruption Authorities -Appointment and Removal
The headlines for the decision in Zuma’s case has been mostly about the Constitutional Court and rightly so. The bold decision of the court re-emphasizes the strategic nature of its role in democratic societies. However, the role of the Public Prosecutor should be getting as much or even more acclaim. The Court itself emphasized this point when it noted that the public prosecutor is “the embodiment of a biblical David that the public is, who fights the most powerful and well-resourced Goliath, that impropriety and corruption by government officials are“. This metaphor could not be any more apt considering this case was against the president of the country. Rare as this case is, it is no coincidence considering the independence of the office of the public prosecutor guaranteed under the constitutional and legal framework in South Africa.
Under Article 193 of the South African Constitution, the appointment of the public prosecutor is made by the president on the recommendation of the National Assembly. The latter is required to only recommend persons nominated by a committee of the Assembly proportionally composed of members of all parties represented in the Assembly and approved by 60 percent members. Based on Article 194, The Public Prosecutor can also only be removed on a finding by a committee of the National Assembly establishing grounds of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence. The National Assembly is then required to adopt a resolution supported by at least two thirds of members calling for the removal from office of the public prosecutor.
By comparison, the heads of the two strategic anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria -the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) – are simply required to be appointed by the President subject to confirmation by Senate. On removal, whilst an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate is required for the president to remove the head of the ICPC, the head of the EFCC can solely be removed by the president for inability to discharge the functions of his office or for misconduct or if the president is satisfied that it is in the interest of the Commission or the public that he be so removed.
Why This Matters?
In the course of the Nkandla scandal, President Zuma utilized every possible political office and tool that owes him allegiance including the Minister of Police and Parliament, where his party the ANC holds a majority, to exonerate himself. And he probably would have succeeded, but for the courage and persistence of the public prosecutor. The fact that the president plays a rather peripheral role in her appointment and removal offered her the requisite security and therefore independence to carry out her duties without fear of removal or being influenced.
This is a far cry from the situation in Nigeria where the President plays a dominant role in the appointment and removal of heads of anti-corruption authorities and therefore displays very obvious and over-bearing influence over their activities. The fact that prospective and serving presidents in Nigeria have over the years made themselves spokesmen for anti-corruption agencies by promising to prosecute certain individuals or investigate certain issues makes a whole mockery of anti-corruption efforts. In countries that deal with systemic corruption, especially within the executive, the best a chief executive can and should be required to do is guarantee the independence of anti-corruption authorities and allow them do their work.
It may be argued that irrespective of the procedure for appointment and removal of heads of antic-corruption bodies, such individuals can still demonstrate seriousness in investigating and prosecuting corrupt officials and institutions once appointed. While this may be true, it leaves open the question of the fairness and impartiality with which they carry out their functions. This is a question that continues to bedevil the actions of anti-corruption authorities and the overall anti-corruption regime in Nigeria. Even the much acclaimed efforts of Nuhu Ribadu who was head of the EFCC under President Obasanjo were later ridiculed by claims of overwhelming influence by the President leading to selective prosecution of public officials.
It is difficult to envisage any circumstance where any of the numerous anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria will be able to hold a serving president of the country accountable for corruption under the current legal framework, and if we cannot guarantee that everyone is indeed equal before the law in this regard, then anti-corruption efforts in the country will continue in the realm of politics, instead of being about public resources, people, rights and development.
The first lesson from the Zuma case is therefore that granting independence to anti-corruption authorities is a prerequisite for any viable anti-corruption effort. It is time for Nigeria and other countries with similar legal frameworks to amend their laws accordingly.
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.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
The election of a new president in Burkina Faso on Tuesday is one of those rare occasions when describing a situation as ‘historic’ can be considered a disservice, albeit not a misdescription.
There are many reasons why the recent polls in the country should be considered significant. After all, this is the first time in almost 30 years that long-serving leader Blaise Compaore is neither leader nor candidate leading up to an electoral process.
For a country whose political history has been dominated by coups and countercoups more than anything else, the election of a civilian president with no military background or ties is something not many countries with a similar history can boast of. In fact, not even supposed regional leaders like Nigeria can compare in this regard, with the latter having elected two former military dictators since its return to democratic rule in 1999, including the current president Gen Muhammadu Buhari.
Another factor for which this country should be proud is the fact that, by the account of most observers, the election was considered largely free and fair. Burkina faso has taken a step further the progress made in recent times by countries in the West African region in terms of eliminating irregularities, fraud and violence during elections, occasioning a change in the headlines in the process.
Most significantly, successful transition from the Blaise Compaore era to a new democratic leadership in the last one year is an enviable testimonial to the courage, determination and maturity of the Burkinabe people. Not many gave the transition process a chance, especially in the light of the failed coup attempt in September, which threatened to derail the process.
The handling of the Burkina Faso situation provides a valuable model – a precedent for other countries in Africa for solving its internal problems and more so for the few still dealing with leaders who have perpetuated or are attempting to perpetuate themselves in office. Whilst there are so many individuals and organisations who deserve praise for their role in recent political developments in the country, three factors are worth pointing out.
Three Salient Factors in the Burkina Faso Transition Process
The first is the resilience of the people, and especially the youth population in their protests against the leadership of Blaise Compaore. For long, underserving leaders of African countries have succeeded in suppressing opposition to their actions and their leadership. In most cases, protests against such leadership have often resulted in more oppressive policies until the opposition has been quashed. In a few other unfortunate situations, the opposition has ended up taking to arms, with the inevitable outcome being civil war. But the people of Burkina Faso showed determination and maturity in standing up, not just against the leadership of Campaore, but also against the attempt by some military officers to steal the mandate of the people in September.
Credit for this should go partly to the strong civil society in the country, which is the second factor worth pointing out. Whilst the civil society in most African countries have ended up playing the tune of foreign financiers without making much practical impact on the ground, the civil society in Burkina Faso showed good organisation in coordinating support against a leader that was backed by a western colonial power for decades and still was until the moment he fled from the country. They also remained vigilant and active throughout the transition process up until and after election day. It is intriguing to imagine how leadership and electoral processes in most countries on the continent would be so different with such strong and organised civil society.
The role ECOWAS in the recent events in Burkina Faso must also be commended. Leaders of the regional body did not just act when the military tried imposing itself on the people flowing the demise of Campaore’s leadership, they acted swiftly. This was significantly different from the rather lackadaisical approach adopted by their counterparts in East Africa during the recent and perhaps best described as, ongoing leadership crisis in Burundi. The presidents of the regional countries of Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal took the time to go to the Ouagadougou to demand for a swift return to civilian rule and to ensure that a reasonable arrangement was in place to ensure a peaceful transition. This candid and swift move sent a clear message to the army. It is left to imagination what might have resulted otherwise.
At a time when the outcomes of the popular protests that heralded the Arab Spring have been rather variegated and disappointing in most countries, the story of Burkina Faso, at least in the immediate, is one that should be celebrated, highlighted and emulated.
There are many challenges confronting Roch Marc Christian Kabore, the newly elected president. Issues of job creation for the teeming youth population, access to education, healthcare and infrastructural development dominated the campaigns, in addition to the rather unanimous promise of change which was manifest in the circumstances.
In the bigger picture however, Kabore will do himself and the Burkinabe much good by consolidating on the gains made by the recent political events in the country. The history of the country suggests that efforts need to be made in reforming the army and redefining its place in the affairs of Burkina Faso. This is important to avoid another coup headline in the country in the near future.
Constitutional and legal challenges also lie ahead. Whilst the decision to ban the former ruling party of Blaise Compaore from having any presidential candidate in the recently concluded elections might have appeared expedient and appeared generally accepted. Democratic governance and the rule of law cannot thrive on the long run in a society where fundamental human rights like the right to vote and be voted for are curtailed, irrespective of the justifications. What is done with regard to these issues will be the true test of the much-celebrated change in Burkina Faso.
Going by the actions of the people in recent events, it is fair to say that these challenges are not insurmountable. There are so many reasons to be optimistic, not just for Burkina Faso, but for the evolution of democratic governance in countries in Africa.
So, over to you, the people of Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Uganda and of course, Burundi!