RSS

Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Need for Visibility of the Invisible Children Amended

The Kony 2012 campaign against Ugandan LRA leader Joseph Kony and his use of child soldiers released by the human rights organisation Invisible Children (IC) last week has caused quite a stir globally and has been quite controversial. However, the issue of children in combat is not new at all and it is a very grave one which constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour. The issue was highlighted by the landmark 1996 study by Graça Machel and the UN Secretary General appointed a Special Representative on the issue. Although it is not an issue in South Africa (although it could be argued that children involved in gang activity constitute children involved in combat), it is or has been an issue in a number countries on the continent namely Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi and Uganda. One that is said to be most critical in Afrika affects us all in one way or another.

Both girls and boys fall victim to this. They are beaten and exposed to all sorts of hazardous conditions. Girls are subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence and many of them fall pregnant and have babies or contract STIs and HIV as a result as they were often “wifed” by commanders in the group. By 2008, the LRA had yet to release many women and children from its ranks, claiming that those remaining were their wives and children. Despite repeated pleas and a request by the UN Secretary-General they were still not released and while the total number of remaining LRA fighters in the bush remained unknown, up to 2,000 women and children were believed to remain in LRA camps in the eastern DRC and southern Sudan. According to the Child Soldiers Global Report, 2008:

“About 25,000 children were abducted by the LRA from the beginning of the conflict in the late 1980s. Abductions peaked after 2002, with an estimated 10,000 children abducted between May 2002 and May 2003 alone. Throughout 2003 and 2004 more than 20,000 child ‘night commuters’ sought safety each night in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader towns, to reduce the risk of their abduction.” 

Child soldiers join armed groups for various reasons such as economic or social pressure or because they believe that the group will offer food or security. Others are forcibly recruited, “press-ganged” or abducted by armed groups. As part of their initiation they are at times forced to kill family or relatives in order to ensure their loyalty and prevent possible defection. Government forces in some countries including Uganda and the DRC have also been guilty of recruiting children under 18 into armed conflict.

There have been developments over the years thanks to local and international efforts particularly in the form of policy and legislation with most notably and most recently the conviction by the ICC of Thomas Lubanga for the war crime of enlisting and conscripting children under 15 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) armed conflict in the Ituri region between 2002 and 2003 and now faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Other efforts to note are United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict which prohibits the forced recruitment of children under the age of 18 or their use in hostilities as well as the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour that prohibits the forced or compulsory recruitment of children under the age of 18 for use in armed conflict. Also, the office of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict was established in 1997, following the Machel Report, facilitating a global focus on the issue.

Although conversation and debate are welcomed and encouraged in activism, it is important not to divert attention from the issue. I acknowledge that very pertinent issues have been raised by different people globally with most of the concerns raised being founded but my bone of contention lies with the fact that the people who are talking about the campaign are not really addressing the issue of children in armed conflict. They are instead focusing on the implications on the portrayal of the continent and its people as a result thereof i.e. either as war and atrocity mongering savages or as helpless victims that need the West to come and save them.

In part, I agree with most of these concerns but I must highlight that I feel that to some degree some of these concerns, particularly the one of the portrayal of Afrika are, however founded, also a matter of projection, denial of our realities as well as self involved and uninterested arrogance. I realise that this is harsh but based on conversations that I have had I think it is fair for me to say. The assumption that everyone else in the world (one wonders if this said world includes the rest of Afrika that is not Uganda, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America or if it only constitutes the US, the UK and the “Western Bloc”) is a supposition that is perhaps informed by one’s own sentiments about the continent upon first watching the video. People seem to either be in denial or actively ignorant of the experiences of the people outside of their immediate social and geographical sphere and although they purport to, in a quasi Pan Afrikanist fashion, champion the rights of the Afrikan in the face of adversity they appear to only be willing to do so when “outsiders” are the said adversity. Lastly, when I asked some of those who question the legitimacy and sincerity of Jason Russell and his colleagues’ claim to care about the children if they themselves care and they have said that they don’t but they care that a group of Americans want to profiteer from Afrikan children. This is fair enough to say but should it really just be about whether or not the Americans genuinely care and not whether or not we as Afrikans care and what we are willing to do about it.

That said, I agree that IC’s callous encouragement of US militarization in Afrika is both harmful and unwelcome especially after the failure of the US backed Operation Iron Fist in 2002 that did more harm than good and saw LRA forces that had left Uganda crossing back into Uganda and carrying out attacks on a large and brutal scale. The same can be said of their suggestion that it is up to their government to put a stop to Kony. There needs to be a rethink on their strategy and they need to take into consideration that a lot of the issues can be attributed to US and Western influence and perhaps it is this that they should be encouraging their government to end.

Awareness raising and advocacy are important but they need to be conducted intelligently and knowledgeably, devoid of any monolithic neo colonial ill informed notions and one needs to be careful what they are advocating for. Unfortunately, this video could also lead people to believe that “stopping” Joseph Kony will be enough and automatically mean the end of over two decades of conflict or that the situation is as simple as Ugandan army and US armed forces = good guys, rebels = bad guys because nothing could be further from the truth.

IC itself is an organisation with questionable motives for the work it does, mostly based on their spending of donations, their continued call for the expansion of US militarization and apparent close relations with the Museveni government and right wing anti-gay rights Christian groups, their arrogant approach and the implications in the video that until now, nothing else was done by others to end the LRA’s reign of terror in Northern Uganda as well as justified concerns of whether or not they truly comprehend the issues surrounding the conflict.

I find it worrying that the current absence of the LRA in Uganda in the last 7years has given credence to and substantiated beliefs by some that the whole campaign is pointless and in part this is true however the issue should not be about the LRA’s presence or absence in Northern Uganda but its presence anywhere and the atrocities that it commits, particularly those committed against children. It is not the work of the LRA in Northern Uganda this campaign, or any other should seek to end but its work, and of other militia forces that use children period and this includes countries like the DRC, CAR, Southern Sudan and Darfur where children in armed conflict are still present.

People have suggested that there are more important issues than that of children in armed conflict that need to be dealt with and that this is just a symptom of these issues and I concur that the issue of children in conflict is as a result of a plethora of other issues but I don’t agree that it is not just as important. As in the case of diseases, symptoms should not be viewed in isolation but they too must be prioritised and dealt with accordingly and it is very troubling that people who have commented do not seem to appreciate this.

At the end of the day however, our differences aside, two things remain and the first is that children need to be protected at all times and at all costs no matter where in the world they are from. Recruiting, abducting and coercing children into armed conflict is a gross human rights violation and there is an urgent need to abolish it once and for all and a good place to start is getting more and more people involved in ensuring this. The second thing is that although we need to do away with the “save Afrika” syndrome, we also need to realise that ultimately we need to encourage collective social responsibility and an altruistic moral strength in people globally as well as foster a transnational connection that doesn’t come from a place of arrogance or mistrust.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 8, 2012 in Afritude, Human Rights

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

It Would Really Suck Wouldn’t It?

It would really suck wouldn’t it?

To wake up and realise that you have been asleep this whole while

That your life has been squandered by fear.

While fear lived your life for you,

Loved for you

Hurt for you

Cried for you

Laughed for you

You were tucked away safely asleep.

Safe.

That is the tragedy that is one relinquishing their power

The power to their life

Giving it away to the all powerful and ever wise Fear

“Fear will live my life better” he says

“Fear will love better” she says

“Fear will handle hurt better than I”

“And fear knows no pain

My life is safer with fear”

It would really suck wouldn’t it?

To realise when it’s too late that you never asked the right questions.

“Do I abide by the law because I believe in it or is it because I fear the consequences if I don’t?”

“Do I not break this wine glass because I am more worried about what the other patrons will think of me

And yet I don’t stop to think about it when I break my lover’s heart?”

“Am I normal because I act like most people around me?

Because I am not in the looney bin?

Or am I just one of the billions of crazy people in the world?

One of the billions of crazy people who believe they are the epitome of what is normal and have the authority to decide what isn’t?”

“If Man was created in the image of God, in whose image was WoMan created?”

“Who decides that stretch marks, cellulite and a flabby belly do NOT a beautiful woman make

Yet the Universe saw it fitting that be our natural

And in such abundance too?”

“Why does the world feel safer when we all think alike and individuality is not encouraged even when they say it is?”

We never ask.

It would be wrong to

We think it sometimes

But it is safer not to ask

It wont do to stand out.

We go along in order to get along

Because fear is at the reins of my life

It would really suck wouldn’t it?

To wake up and realise what I gave up when I gave up my life

When I decided it was better to survive than to live

It was better to plan than to leave anything to chance

To please all around me but never myself

To confuse pleasantness for pleasure,

To confuse being in love with the person someone is with being in love with someone

Lust for desire

Acquaintances for friends

DNA for family

Culture for tradition

Religion for spirituality and the knowledge of God

It would really suck wouldn’t it

To realise that the dreams I have chased my whole life

Were not my own but those of others.

I laughed other people’s laughter,

And cried other people’s tears,

Loved other people’s loves

And fought other people’s battles

But never my own.

It would really suck

To come to these realisations when it is too late to rectify

And I realise that I don’t get another go at this game called life

It would really suck indeed.

By Doreen Gaura

 

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2012

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 6, 2012 in Poetry, Reflections

 

Tags:

Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?

A friend forwarded me a link to Zimbabwean feminist activist, scholar, and regional coordinator of Just Associates (JASS) Southern Africa, Shereen Essof’s article South Africa: patriarchy, paper, and reclaiming feminism and I must say it makes for a very interesting read indeed. It left me thinking about feminism, in all its various forms, and not only did I think of the ideology of it but I did so on a much wider geographical scale than the one tackled by Essof in this article i.e. across the entire continent.

On the most part I agree with Essof, there most certainly needs to be a collective feminism, “measuring success not by how high a woman can climb, but by the condition in which most women remain”. I also agree that often times the feminist agenda falls on the wayside or takes the backburner to what are implied (through a lack of prioritisation or in some countries a blatant disregard for gender equality) to be “more important or bigger” agendas that feminists might be a part of such as trade unions or even Afrikan nationalist struggles during colonialism and all this because it is not considered an agenda in its own right.

For instance, although the liberation struggle in South Afrika, as in many Afrikan countries, created a platform to acknowledge women’s movements across the continent with the collective consciousness (Afrikan liberation) forming the foundations of the indigenous feminist movements, it has become evident that even though women’s groups were very visible and active then, they were still considered by some as auxiliary to the more patriarchal political parties of the liberation. So when Essof says “It’s the same old story, women work in supporting and building the struggles and organizations, but the campaigns are designed in ways that do not  accommodate women’s agendas”, it is easy for me to agree and come to the realisation that although nationalism, by way of example, mobilised women as political agents in the struggle days, it also acted as a restraint that hindered them from exercising their agency or allowing them to bring to the fore their fight against gender inequality.

I also agree that achieving gender equity, not only in South Afrika but in Afrika as a whole should not just be on paper. It goes beyond just signing and ratifying regional and international instruments and means very little if the implementation or lack thereof leaves a lot to be desired.

Be that as it may, I can’t bring myself to agree completely with Essof, particularly when she speaks of the evils of nationalism and its patriarchal make up. I say this because I feel that nationalism in itself is not a bad thing but it is the way in which it is designed and presented that needs to be tackled. A gender sensitive approach is paramount to the idea and success of nationalism and there is a need to deconstruct the masculinity within it and patriarchal foundation on which it is built. The empowerment and complete emancipation of Afrika is a dire need in order for the progression of its people, including the women. We must not forget that women on this continent were once powerful and respected. The subjugation of woman in my opinion, based on history, came with the subjugation of the Afrikan. Unfortunately Pan Afrikanism and Black Consciousness today have a very masculine face and one needs only look up the list of the “well known” Pan Afrikanists online to find that the list is only made up of men. The redistribution of not just political but economic power needs to go back into the hands of the people but these people are not just the men but also the women and there needs to be the realisation that this ideology is not foreign or Western but it is one that has been part of Afrikan authentic tradition, prior to the monotheistic Abrahamic religions that facilitated the enslavement and colonisation of the aboriginal Afrikan (see King Leopold II’s letter to the church). There is also a need for Afrikan feminists to see that tradition and culture need not be the enemy especially if approached from their original composition and they were not always oppressive of the female.

In academic circles, the emergence of spiritual feminism the past 20 or so years has been frowned upon and so quickly dismissed but I would not advise this within the Afrikan context. Afrika is historically acknowledged as the birth place of humanity, civilisation and religion and spirituality so it only stands to reason that Afrikans are amongst some of the most religious and spiritual peoples on the planet. Instead of fighting this I strongly believe that Afrikan feminists learn from this and design their activism against this backdrop and not that of other cultures. Whether one believes in the supernatural or the mystical is neither here nor there if their targeted beneficiaries and constituencies do.

From an academic or intellectual perspective the need for people to hold onto the idea of a supernatural being who is all powerful should be respected therefore the fact that there was widespread Goddess worship with people believing Her/Them to be the original Womb and Creator of the universe and all things within, in Afrika prior to Western influence is testimony to the possibility of empowerment and reverence of women on the continent. Afrika has its own powerful women throughout history from Nefertari and Nefertitti to Dahya, warrior queen of the Berbers to Mamphela Ramphele to Wangari Maathai to Nawal el Saadawi and to Dr. Buchi Emecheta that there really is no need to constantly look to the western champions of women’s lib such as Simone de Beauvoir for inspiration. This of course is not to say that there is nothing to learn from such great and inspirational minds as nothing would be further from the truth but instead is to highlight that not only do contexts differ but as Afrikans we have our own great minds and our own functional systems too, even if we may forgotten them. We need to make use of the feminism within culture and tradition as well as (given the nature of Afrikan societies i.e. a case where spiritualism and religion are paramount on the Continent) a need to make use of spiritual feminism.

Although I may not agree completely with American University professor and author Clenora Hudson – Weems’ Africana Womanism theory I believe she is right when she postulates that by and large the average Afrikan woman does not see the Afrikan man as her enemy as it is suggested by Western feminism that appears to be waging a war against men for subjugating women and therefore that the choice to be a wife, a mother, to cook all the meals, give up the opportunity for career advancement and to provide financially for the family so that your husband can do it instead and give up one’s individual identity by taking on the husband’s name is not necessarily a sign of disempowerment of the woman. Being pregnant and broody should not necessarily be seen as a sign of disempowerment or lack of ambition but instead be seen as the woman accepting the great responsibility that only a woman was capable of carrying out, of creating life.

When Essof tackles the patriarchy in conservative traditionalism in her article I realise that she does so, as do many people in post-colonial Afrika, from the perspective of one who has bought into the ideology of our tradition and culture as it was redefined, redesigned and readministered by our colonisers. The thing this is though, there is a need to provide revisionist histories of the role of the Afrikan woman within Afrikan society and to revisit culture and tradition on the continent. Fighting post-colonial culture which is mistaken by many as authentic indigenous culture and its vilification does nothing for the feminist fight in Africa, in my opinion, and instead only serves to reinforce people’s resistance of it and continues to reinforce the impression that feminism is a western ideology that has no place in Africa. We should instead, look into reviving authentic cultures that revered women as well as rethink our strategy and stop pushing a Western feminist agenda while ignoring our own aboriginal feminism.

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2012

 

Tags: , , ,