Why Invisible Child’s #Kony2012 Campaign Gets No Applause From Me

In short: #Kony2012 #StopKony misrepresents N. Uganda, spreads misinformation abt Kony/the LRA, denies Africans’ agency and is imperialist. It raises the perennial question of “Who represents Africa?”

For example: This tweet (one of many prime examples) succinctly exemplifies all that I critique in this piece:

In fact, it reminded me of my post-colonial readings of Karl Marx. Reading this quote from his “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Sie können sich nicht vertreten, sie müssen vertreten werden” spurred me deeper into my anti-colonialist, post-colonialist fervor. Literally translated from German, “Those who cannot represent themselves must themselves be represented,” the quote revealed to me just how insidious the narrative of “saving” and “speaking for” the subaltern is.

HOW DOES THIS TIE INTO Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 CAMPAIGN?

If “awareness” is the payoff for paternalistic, imperialist, “white man’s burden” NGO campaigns, I don’t want it. (Just the name “Invisible Children” denies and co-opts the agency of Ugandans- many of whom have organized to protect child soldiers…). I stand by this: if you’re more comfortable talking about Africans than you are talking to an African person, you really should not be in the business of representing Africa. Furthermore, if you cannot find an African nation on a map, let alone acknowledge Africans’ agency, you should not be providing “solutions” or “aid. Certainly, if you think that Uganda is in Central Africa, you should not be disseminating (mis)information that could have implications on policy.

Presumably, this campaign is supposed to raise awareness in the international community of Joseph Kony and lead to his arrest and/or death. The assumption is that taking down the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army will eliminate the problems. Thing is, Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army are symptoms of corrupt governance. Invisible Children’s video strangely omits Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s complicity in the horrors of the conflict that began in the late 1980s in Northern Uganda at the beginning of his (prolonged) presidency. Clearly, the international justice community is aware of Joseph Kony, because his name has been on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s “most wanted” list for nearly a decade. Not to mention the fact that the United States armed forces have made several attempts at fighting the LRA and killing Joseph Kony, all of which resulted in the displacement of Sudanese and Congolese civilians as the LRA scattered about Central Africa.

[Also, I suggest a little light research into Invisible Children’s spending practices.] Continue reading

Youth Unemployment in Africa and its Political Implications

Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges’ site

Africa is a young continent, with 65 percent of the continent’s population is under the age of 24, with over 40 percent of the total population below the age of 16, and about 25 percent between the ages 15 and 24. Contrast the population makeup with the leadership of African nations- in Zimbabwe, where the life expectancy is 45, Robert Mugabe is 87. In 2009,  Niger’s then-President Mamadou Tandja (age 73), rewrote the nation’s constitution to extend his term as President, only to be ousted in a military coup. Egypt’s recently-ousted leader Hosni Mubarak was 82. Cameroon’s Paul Biya is 78. Tunisia’s ousted leaderZine al-Abidine Ben Ali is 74. Libya’s now-deceased embattled leader, Moamar Gaddhafi,  was estimated to be 68 years old, as is Eduardo dos Santos of Angola. Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville is thought to be 67, a year older than Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, believed to be 66.

All in all, the average age of the African leader is just over 72, compared to about 51 for European and North American leaders. The bitter truth is that many of these African heads of state are former leaders of the anti-colonial movement of the mid-twentieth century. Having attained the prestige and material trappings of being heads of state, many have neglected to be leaders.  It’s one thing to have a title, and another entirely to be accountable to those under your leadership.

In Angola, student protests are challenging the authority of Angola’s President Eduardo dos Santos Continue reading

The Greater WE: Military Interventions in a Globalized World

Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung- Future Challenges’ blog

Global governance and the movement toward a Greater WE means a protection of global public goods, supranational structures and the harmonization of laws and procedures regarding human rights, trade and security. The Greater WE is about the common good of all, not the profit of a few.

“With this in mind, where do undeclared proxy wars over resources fit into this framework of global governance?”

These military interventions have become a peculiar form of aid that destroys infrastructure, creates dependence and vulnerability. Furthermore, in the case of nations like Somalia, wars and military interventions undermine regional food security, contributing to famine. Considering these factors, it is apparent that security within a global governance framework needs to be reconfigured to address and prevent the resultant destabilization wrought by military interventions.

The overlap of global governance and military might is easily seen when one looks at the United States’ foreign policy. Undeclared wars, interventions and military aid are hallmarks of the Washington’s strategies. For example, the United States is increasing its military presence on the African continent- most pointedly in resource-rich nations like Nigeria, Somalia and Uganda.

What are the implications of President Obama’s decision to send military advisers to Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Can we learn from the United States armed forces’ forays into Africa? Can we look at the First (1993) and Second (2006Battles of Mogadishu (Somalia) and Operation Lightning Thunder (2008) and learn from the resultant civilian casualties, displacement and heightened risk of hunger and famine? Continue reading

Land Grabs and Deforestation in South Sudan

[Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges’ blog]

According to a report issued by the Oakland Institute, hedge fund land grabs in Africa are a contributing factor to “food insecurity, the displacement of small farmers, conflict, environmental devastation, water loss and the further impoverishment and political instability of African nations.”

The implications of land deals in the Republic of South Sudan are particularly troubling in the light of the fledgling nation’s turbulent history and its relations with the Khartoum government. South Sudan was granted autonomy from Khartoum on July 9, 2005, and officially became an independent country on July 9, 2011. However, South Sudan’s autonomy and independence could well be under serious threat from land deals.

In March 2008, Nile Trading and Development Inc (NTD), a Dallas Texas-based company headed by former US ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, leased 600,000 hectares of land in Mukaya Payam, Lainya county in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria State. The 49 year land lease was bought for 25,000 USD (about 75,000 Sudanese pounds). The lessors were the Mukaya Payam Cooperative, a fictitious cooperative “made up of influential natives from Mukaya Payam and other neighboring payams (districts)” and the contract was signed by the Mukaya paramount chief, Scopas Loduwo.

This deal comes to about 0.04 USD per hectare for the duration of the lease and the contract allows for an additional 400,000 hectares to be leased to the company with virtually no limit placed on the use of the land and its resources. The contract reads:

The development, production and/or exploitation of timber/forestry resources, including without limitation, the harvesting of current tree growth, the planting and harvesting of megalopolis-paulownia, palm oil trees and other hardwood trees and the development of wood-based industries; and
Agriculture, including the cultivation of the jetropha [sic] plant and palm oil trees (and the exploitation of any resulting carbon credits).

In reporting this deal, the largest land deal to date in South Sudan, the Guardian pointed out that Nile Trading and Development Inc stands to profit heavily as it gains millions in revenue from UN-backed carbon credits. This is in addition to the profits garnered from the exploitation of the land’s forests and farmland. Once the trees are logged, the land may be reforested or turned into farmland, but the contract also allows NTD to explore and drill for oil and other minerals.

As late as July 26, 2011, the people of Mukaya county refused to give the land to NTD, stating that the paramount chief and other members of the ficticious Mukaya Payam Cooperative did not consult with the community before agreeing to the 49-year land lease. Such a lack of transparency among the most influential members of the Mukaya is a further blow to indigenous land and water rights.

What are the possible environmental effects of this land deal?

The contract allows Nile Trading and Development (NTD) unlimited use and exploitation of the natural resources of the 600,000 hectare plot of land. This includes logging, harvesting palm oil, and mining for oil, all of which could contribute to deforestation and the degradation of the topsoil in South Sudan. Continue reading

The Great Land Rush: Land Grabs & Food Security

Crosslinked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization

The Great Land Rush and Food Security

What is land?

Many of us don’t think about what land really means. An economist might define land as the totality  of natural resources in a given area, while a lawyer might focus on  land, water and mineral rights. But a farmer’s answer might be simpler: land is the farmer’s capital. Land is the soil and  water utilized in the production of crops for the local or global market. In the context of an increasingly globalized world, land rights are paramount, particularly in the Global South (Asia, South America, Africa and Australia). As governments and multinational corporations buy up land, small farmers and indigenous groups are edged out.

A Global Phenomenon

A 2010 World Bank study showed that 110 million acres (44,515,420.7 hectares) of farmland worldwide were sold or leased in the first eleven months of 2009 alone;  70 percent of these land deals were concentrated in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique.

Before 2008, land was sold or leased at an average annual rate of  10 million acres (4,046,856.42 hectares). However, in the last four years alone, nearly 148 million acres (about 60 million hectares) of land on the continent of Africa has been acquired by international investors and government bodies. This surge in land grabbing and speculation deserves attention because it poses a grave threat to regional food security, indigenous land and water rights.

These land deals are not just confined to the continent of Africa (which holds nearly two-thirds of the world’s remaining arable land). In the Middle East,  Bahrain has seen political upheaval and protest in the wake of a major land deal within its borders. White South African farmers are buying up land in Georgia while in the Ukraine, the state is planning to buy up 30 percent of the nation’s land to bolster the country’s food security. In Australia, in a similar move a Chinese company has offered to buy 80,000 hectares of farmland.

In one of Asia‘s poorest nations, 15 percent of Cambodian land has been signed over to private companies (made easier by the Khmer Rouge’s  prohibition of private property and subsequent burning of all land titles). In South America, the Brazilian government has shown its openness to greater foreign investment in rural land. In today’s globalized world economy, these land deals have far-reaching effects.

Why the rush for land?

Factors driving the land grab include population pressure, the burgeoning middle class in the Global South and its heightened demand for foodstuffs, in concert with individual countries’ concerns over food security. As ready access to food is essential to a politically stable nation, food security can have major political effects.

This was seen in 2009 in Madagascar when a land deal with a South Korean conglomerate that would have handed over half of Madagascar‘s arable land was met with mass protests and led to the overthrow of then-President Ravalomanana. Continue reading

Namibia’s Anti-BioPiracy Bill

[Cross-linked with Future Challenges Organization – Bertelsmann Stiftung]

Research suggests that trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, when specifically applied to “traditional” or indigenous knowledge, genetic material and plant and animal life, have a detrimental effect on biodiversity. The 2001 Doha Declaration suggested that the TRIPS Council look at the “patent-ability or non patent-ability of plant and animal inventions, and the protection of plant varieties.”

The Namibian government has enlisted the help of rural and indigenous communities to help draft the nation‘s first bill on access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge. The bill is set to be finished by the end of the year so that Namibia can sign the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising From Their Utilization, an international framework for equitable access to, and sharing of, genetic resources. As one of the main architects of the 2010 Nagoya Protocol, Namibia has been instrumental in defining and securing access and benefit sharing (ABS) rights for communities under the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity.

This is particularly important in the arena of intellectual property rights – or more specifically the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS). The World Trade Organization’s stated aim is to “strike a balance between the long term social objective of providing incentives for future inventions and creation, and the short-term objective of allowing people to use existing inventions and creations.” However, these TRIPs tend to favor the wealthier, more powerful party to the agreement, according them greater access and control over the resource than the country or community of origin has.

This bill would prevent the exploitation of indigenous natural resources like the “devil’s claw” (Harpagophytum sp.), a plant used by the San Continue reading

African Governments, NGOs & Civil Society: A Crisis of Legitimacy?

[Crosslinked with Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization’s Blog]

In April, the Columbia Journalism Review raised the question of whether non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa benefit from particular representations of the continent as conflict and poverty-ridden.

„Yet US journalism continues to portray a continent of unending horrors. Last June, for example, Time magazine published graphic pictures of a naked woman from Sierra Leone dying in childbirth… Reinforcing the sense of economic misery, between May and September 2010 the ten most-read US newspapers and magazines carried 245 articles mentioning poverty in Africa, but only five mentioning gross domestic product growth.“

The recent coverage of the famine in East Africa, while warranted, is profitable to NGOs. The influx of aid monies and resources allows NGOs to proliferate in the region. In Ethiopiain 1984, the outpouring of food aid in Ethiopia was not generally accompanied by concrete efforts to bolster local food security or conserve local water sources. Neither the government nor the private sector made substantive action to stop drought and desertification. The government, entrenched in civil war, instead diverted resources toward the military, rather than toward the threat of famine. For this reason, the United States chose to give less aid to the Ethiopian government, Continue reading