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29 June 2009

The politics of the VUVUZELA: the tough questions of an African World Cup

by Siphokazi Magadla
The 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa which started on 14 June, and ended yesterday with the victory by Brazil over the United States, offered a critical glimpse into South Africa’s readiness to host soccer’s biggest tournament, the 2010 World Cup. More importantly, it can be assumed that for the rest of the world this Confederations Cup has offered a small taste of how the soccer World Cup will potentially feel and sound like when played in the African continent. The Confederations cup makes it more relevant to ask the vital questions: what does it mean to have the World Cup in Africa? What are some of the characteristics that should be expected of this World Cup since it carries a unique African identity? Perhaps the most difficult question to ask is this: how should Africans use this forum provided by this soccer World Cup to re-negotiate their African identity in all its multifaceted terms, the political, the socio-cultural and the economic?
One can safely argue that for South Africans and the 2010 organizing team, their biggest worries regarding their readiness for next year’s World Cup includes the capacity and safety of the stadiums, safety of supporters in the country especially because of the country’s battle with crime and so on. However, that has not been the case as complaints about a little plastic trumpet fondly known by many South Africans, as the Vuvuzela, has been the main source of tension. The Vuvuzela is an instrument fans blow at matches in South Africa as a show of support. The trouble with this trumpet began when several European television stations launched a complaint to FIFA that this instrument is disruptive as it drowns out commentary because of the noise levels. These stations brought this issue to FIFA’s attention calling for the ban of the Vuvuzela from next year’s World Cup. FIFA President Sepp Blatter responded by stating that the Vuvuzela is a “local sound and I don't know how it is possible to stop it I always said that when we go to South Africa, it is Africa. It's not Western Europe. It's noisy; it's energy, rhythm, music, dance, drums. This is Africa. We have to adapt a little." The Observer- Dispatch quoted Blatter stating that “we should not try to Europeanize an African World Cup." Consequently these complaints have given rise to petitions from several social network groups protesting the banning of the vuvuzela. Indeed the Vuvuzela has made it even more relevant to ask the most fundamental question raised above i.e. what does it mean to have the World Cup played on African soil?
Although there are some fans globally who agree that the sound of the Vuvuzela might be a bit noisy, it is unmistakable that many see this as an attack on African values and lifestyle as noisy compared to that of Africa’s former colonial masters, Europe. Commenting on the BBC article In defence of the vuvuzela, Tunde in the United Kingdom angrily states that the “choice between rich, vibrant African sounds (vuvuzela), and vulgar songs that we hear across the terraces of Europe (racist chants) is an easy one. Once these hypocrites can deal with the monkey chants in their own back garden, then; and only then, should they consider stymieing the expressions of joy and camaraderie that they see on our African lawns.” Indeed many fans, several from African countries have professed their irritation with the Vuvuzela, while many are protesting that this is the time that the world should do as the Romans do, or rather, do as the Africans do.
This incident as well demonstrates the need for Africans to have a dialogue about how we as Africans see ourselves and how we would like the world to see us. It is because of such incidents that demand self-reflection from Africans. What do Africans do? Is next year’s World Cup an African World Cup or purely a South African World Cup? What has South Africa done to ensure that this World Cup represents a historic moment not only for South Africans but for Africans at large? South African leaders need to use this platform to talk with other Africans about the political, socio-cultural and economic needs of African people which do cut across the whole continent despite of the rich diversity. It is important to remind the world that the ‘South African miracle’ of the end of Apartheid and the blossoming of South Africa’s democracy is by all means an African ‘miracle’. It is important that South Africa makes it known that her readiness to host the World Cup, is also a representation of Africa’s political, social, cultural and economic readiness to confront global challenges. South Africa’s assessment of hosting the World Cup should rest on the country’s ability to engage the struggling communities of the Southern African community, Zimbabwe being the one in most need for a helping hand. The political implications of the upcoming World Cup should not be underscored, the uncomfortable questions must be asked of South Africa now and of African leaders before this opportunity comes and passes while the lives of African people remain destitute. The challenge rests on us Africans and our ability to seize this opportunity and for the South Africans to engage the continent.
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15 June 2009

Obama in Cairo: Equivalences and silences

by PT Zeleza

As Obama himself acknowledged, 'no single speech,' however lofty and soaring in its promises, 'can eradicate years of mistrust’ between the United States and the so-called Muslim world or untangle the messy Arab-Israeli conflict which is at the heart of American troubles in the region.

President Obama's much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world delivered on June 4 to 3,500 selected guests in the ornate auditorium of the century-old Cairo University has predictably drawn mixed reactions in different parts of the world including the Middle East itself as noted by some of the major American and British papers such as The New York Times (Varying Responses to Speech in Mideast Highlight Mideast Divisions) and The Financial Times (Caution Tempers Muslim Praise) and evident in commentaries in today's newspapers across the region from Egypt's Al-Ahram to Israel's Haaretzand further afield to Kenya's Daily Nation (Back Words with Action Muslim Leaders Now Tell Obama).

As the President himself acknowledged, 'no single speech,' however lofty and soaring in its promises, 'can eradicate years of mistrust,' repair the awful relations between the United States and the so-called Muslim world, untangle the messy Arab-Israeli conflict which is at the heart of American troubles in the region. The task is daunting if opinion surveys are anything to go by. While Egyptians expressed more confidence in President Obama than his predecessor, the figure was only 35 per cent (8 per cent for President Bush), and their favourable opinion of the United States itself remains low at 22 per cent.

It was indeed a powerful, smart speech. Some have even called it historic, reminiscent of President Kennedy's in Berlin or President Nixon's opening to China. It was delivered with the eloquence and mastery the president has become famous for. It was clearly a hit with the audience of carefully selected functionaries, friends and foes of the American and Egyptian governments, who gave him a standing ovation at the beginning and end of the speech. A remarkable reversal of fortunes for a US President: On his last visit to the Middle East President George Bush was pelted with a volley of shoes by an Iraqi journalist.

Many have remarked on President Obama's captivating charm and the respectful tone of his speech, its judicious invocation of his Muslim background on his father's side, Islamic contributions to world civilisation, the religious discourses and texts of the three great monotheistic religions, even its truthfulness. What caught my attention however, were its equivalences and silences.

He sought to address and diffuse what he called 'tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.’ Like no other president before him, he outlined some of these forces – colonialism, proxy wars, and western insensitivities. But the very framing of the protagonists is problematic: It is between the United States and Islam, one a political entity, the other a religious community. Notwithstanding his concession that Islam and Muslims have been a part of the United States from the beginning – lest we forget many of the enslaved Africans, some estimates indicate up to a fifth or a quarter, were Muslim and the majority of United States Muslims are African Americans – Islam is presented as an external ‘other'.

In this formulation, observes a perceptive commentator in The Guardian, the United States refers to 'a concrete specific place, and Islam 'a vague construct subsuming peoples, practices, histories and countries more varied than similar. ‘Labelling America's "other" as a nebulous and all-encompassing "Islam" (even while professing rapprochement and respect) is a way to avoid acknowledging what does in fact unite and mobilise people across many Muslim-majority countries: Overwhelming popular opposition to increasingly intrusive and violent American military, political and economic interventions in many of those countries. This opposition – and the resistance it generates – has now become for supporters of those interventions, synonymous with "Islam".

'Another glaring parallel was the one President Obama drew between the lessons of the peaceful civil rights movement in the United States and the violent Palestinian resistance, that one led to progressive change, the other is doomed to failure. But these are two different struggles: One a struggle for civil rights by an oppressed racial minority, the other a struggle for statehood by an occupied nation. As the history of decolonisation shows, in which the Palestinian struggle ought to be placed – and indeed in which America's own struggle for independence belongs – independence struggles involved both peaceful and violent resistances. The nature of the resistance was in large measure determined by the attitudes of the imperial, colonial, or occupying powers.

This was clearly the case in Africa where independence was achieved through peaceful struggles in contexts where the metropolitan colonial power was willing to negotiate, while protracted armed struggles were waged in the more recalcitrant settler states where national freedom for the 'natives' was seen as incompatible with continued settler power and hegemony. We should not forget that in South Africa, which the president referred to as an exhibit of the universality of the American civil rights narrative, the struggle against apartheid involved generations of peaceful protests, armed struggle, and international sanctions which were opposed by much of the West. Historical analogies are always tempting, but when uttered by an American president they betray indifference to historical realities and such false analogies can produce wrong-headed policies with dire political consequences.

The silences were equally telling. The most troubling was the failure to fully address one of the fundamental reasons for the estrangement of the so-called Muslim world from the United States: The latter's support for authoritarian regimes. To be sure, the president talked about democracy, religious freedom, and women's rights, not to mention development, but in vague and bland terms. Indeed, as Heba Moyayef notes, 'Obama's speech essentially failed to address the dismal human rights record of Egypt and its neighbors, beyond generalities. His words, greeted with both rapturous applause and moments of silence, were addressed to the whole Muslim world. But he could and should have alluded in a far more direct way to the repressive practices of Egypt and many of its neighbours. Those troubled by the signs that the Obama administration is downgrading the place of human rights in US foreign policy will have found nothing reassuring in his speech.

'President Obama's rhetorical references to democracy and human rights were a disappointment not because the United States should pursue a democracy crusade as the Bush Administration sought to cover its unadorned imperial belligerence and hubris, but because its policies undermine democracy in many Muslim-majority countries and there was no sign in the speech itself – nor has there been in the new administration's foreign policy agenda as articulated thus far – that these policies are likely to change fundamentally in substance rather than style. The president acknowledged America's role in overthrowing a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953. But American interventions are not confined to the past. Today the United States continues to coddle dictatorships and frustrate democracy across the world where its strategic interests are at stake. The delivery of this very speech in Egypt, a country ruled by the autocratic President Hosni Mubarak for the past twenty-eight years, shows that old habits die hard indeed.

Interestingly, it has been reported that on his second visit to an African country in July – in case people and the press forget Egypt is in Africa – the president will go to Ghana rather than his father's homeland Kenya, because of the latter's troubled politics. Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, was also avoided to the chagrin and even anger of many Nigerian politicians and commentators apparently because of its unsavoury democratic credentials. The comment by the great Nigerian writer and human rights activist, Professor Wole Soyinka, underscores what is at stake for human rights and democracy campaigners in American presidential visits, especially President Obama, in whom much hope has been invested – quite unrealistically in my view – in many part of the world. Professor Soyinka praised the choice of Ghana, a relatively successful democracy, over Nigeria and added with poetic flourish: ‘If Obama decides to grace Nigeria with his presence, I will stone him. The message he is sending by going to Ghana is so obvious, is so brilliant that he must not render it flawed by coming to Nigeria any time soon.’

In the end, as President Obama himself has often stated, he will not be judged on delivering fine speeches, in which he excels, but on the actions taken by his Administration. Much of the world including the so-called Muslim world is used and inured to flowery rhetoric from their own demagogues and visiting western leaders who often preach what they don't practice, who come with promises of change that mask continuity. In essence, the issues are dazzlingly straightforward: The United States would do itself a lot of good if it curtailed its propensities for destructive interventions around the world and the so-called Muslim world would do itself a lot of good if it built truly democratic developmental states. It is only by promoting these mutually desirable conditions that symmetrical relations, principled rather than paternalistic partnerships, between the peoples of different faiths and civilisations in the developed and developing nations can be forged for the good of us all.

This article first appeared in The Zeleza Post.
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The Ogoni Nine–Shell settlement: Victory, but justice deferred?

by Sokari Ekine and Firoze Manji

With Shell having agreed an out-of-court settlement of $15.5 million with the families of the Ogoni Nine activists killed in 1995, Sokari Ekine and Firoze Manji argue that a victory should not be confused with justice. Though representative of an emerging movement in bringing a multinational to the brink of a trial, the questions over the Niger Delta region and Shell's atrocious environmental and human rights records remain, with the company admitting no liability for its actions. We must continue to support the numerous trials against Shell still carrying on, Ekine and Manji contend, and ensure that widespread discussion helps establish broader justice for the Ogoni people and all those suffering from multinational and governmental exploitation in Nigeria and beyond.

'And as I was going, I was just thinking how the war have spoiled my town Dukana, uselessed many people, killed many others, killed my mama and my wife, Agnes, my beautiful young wife with J.J.C and now it have made me like porson wey get leprosy because I have no town again.'

And I was thinking how I was prouding before to go to soza and call myself Sozaboy. But now if anybody say anything about war or even fight, I will just run and run and run and run and run. Believe me yours sincerely.' Ken Saro-Wiwa, Sozaboy

Thirteen years ago, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr and the families of the eight other Ogoni men who had been murdered by the Nigerian state in 1995, together with two other Ogonis, began three separate law suits against Royal Dutch Petroleum, Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) and Brian Anderson, the former CEO of the SPDC. The plaintiffs accused Shell of human rights abuses against the Ogoni people, of arming the Nigerian army and of being complicit in the extrajudicial killing of the Ogoni Nine in 1995. The trial against Shell was due to start on 26 May, but was then delayed indefinitely. On Tuesday 9 June 2009, we learned that Shell had settled the case out of court for a sum of $15.5 million, which included a $5 million contribution to a trust for the Ogoni people. The settlement was offered with no admission of liability from the defendant. While the settlement is being seen as a victory for human rights, it raises a number of worrying issues in law suits by local indigenous communities against multinationals who are committing human rights violations and environmental crimes.

It is impossible to separate the actions of the oil multinationals operating across the Niger Delta from the actions of the Nigerian government in the region. The relationship between the two, though complex, is based on profit over and above any other consideration. In exchange for the oil removed from the Niger Delta, the oil companies, with the support of the Nigerian state, have left behind an ecological disaster, reducing whole towns and villages to rubble, causing death by fire and pollution, and leaving behind the guns of the Nigerian military. Shell and the other oil companies in the region have one of the worst environmental records in the world. This includes pollution of the air and drinking water, the degradation of farm land, damage to aquatic life, the disruption of drainage systems, and oil fires, which have left people dead and with horrific burn injuries and no medical care. The causes of the damage to the environment are oil spills from pipelines and flow stations – with many of the former running through villages and in front of people's homes – and gas flaring, which produces toxic gases and releases poisons into the atmosphere.

The late Professor Claude Ake, who was killed in a plane crash in 1996, used the term 'the militarisation of commerce' to describe the relationship between Shell and the Nigerian military government. What he was referring to was the unholy alliance which led to the collaboration between Shell and the military in planning the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine and thousands of others that have been maimed and killed since 1990. Though Ake was referring to the military government of the late Sani Abacha, little has changed since 1995, despite the country's so-called 'democracy'. On the contrary: more violence has been unleashed under the governments of Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua than under military dictatorships. Only a month ago the Joint Task Force for the Niger Delta (JTF) of the Nigerian military, under the pretext of rooting out militants who were supposed to be hiding in the creeks, launched a violent, sustained attack of collective punishment on communities in the region, this time on the Warri South West communities. The numbers of the dead are not yet known, but estimates run between a few hundred and a few thousand, with some 25,000 displaced. Young men are particularly at risk. They are the ones who in the past have being picked up by the JTF on the pretence that they are militants, when in fact their only crime is that they are just young men.

It is in this context that we need to view the settlement agreed between the families of the Ogoni Nine and Shell. The emotional drain on the plaintiffs in this case cannot be underestimated and at some point they all need to be able to rebuild their lives and look to the future. There is also no doubt that this is a victory in that it brought a multinational to the brink of trial. This is no small feat. It is representative of an emerging movement that has successfully called multinationals to account for their actions. The case adds to the legal precedent set by the Bowoto v. Chevron trial last year (the plaintiffs lost the case), and reinforces the fact that US-registered companies who commit atrocities overseas can be brought to trial, even if justice is not meted out in every case. At the same time, we need to be aware that despite the courts in Nigeria awarding $1.5 billion against Shell to the Ijaw Aborigene of Bayelsa State, Shell has so far refused to pay out. This is clearly a reflection of the complete disdain and lack of respect shown by multinational companies towards decisions of the courts in Nigeria.

This case was brought by the families of the Ogoni Nine and not on behalf of the Ogoni people. How much of a victory is this, and what are the implications for the other law suits against Shell and possibly other oil companies operating in Nigeria? The sum of $15.5 million, while constituting a considerable amount to the plaintiffs, is but a drop in the ocean of oil for Shell. Although legally the settlement includes a non-admission of guilt by Shell, there is some grounds for celebration by the Ogoni Nine, since the general public will draw its own conclusions as to the significance of Shell's out-of-court settlement. But the settlement also sends out the message that oil companies can seemingly buy impunity for the price of one day’s worth of Ogoni, Ijaw or Itsekiri oil.

While the families of the Ogoni Nine can celebrate a partial victory and breathe a sigh of relief from the fact that the years of anxiety and hard work in bringing the case to court are now over, it is hard not to think that there will remain a bitter after-taste of polluted waters, poisoned rivers, noxious gases, toxic fumes and destroyed communities living under stress and exploitation – a burden to be borne by the Ogoni people over decades. The destruction of their communities and environment has to be laid at the doors of both multinational corporations like Shell and the Nigerian state.That Shell were forced to pay – albeit without an admission of guilt – is a victory of sorts. But we should be careful, in the euphoria of the moment, not to confuse that victory with justice. It is justice neither for the families of the Ogoni Nine or for the Ogoni people. That struggle for justice, and the bringing to justice of those who carry out such crimes, remains the task of the day. Like the Ogoni struggle begun by Ken Saro-Wiwa – which became the inspiration for other Niger Delta nationalities to demand justice and equity from the oil companies and Nigerian State – this trial was also an inspiration to others and as such was always bigger than just the plaintiffs' case. We should remember that right now both the military violence and environmental abuse continue to destroy people's lives. The final question is whether Shell, Elf, Mobil and Chevron will now be motivated to clean up their mess, or will things simply remain the same?

There are a number of other outstanding cases against Shell in Nigeria, including a class action suit by the Ogoni people. It is unlikely that they will be offered an out-of-court settlement and we owe a duty to the Ogoni people to ensure that justice is done, and seen to be done, by ensuring widespread public discussion about and support for their struggles for justice.

'Sleep Well, KenAnd smile at your killers
For though a few feet underground
The struggle you started continues'
Danson Kahyana

* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
This article is from: http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/56914
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09 June 2009

Political Accountability

We have had a great year in the continent with peaceful elections and of-course some so called leaders continuing to rule with an iron fist. All is all lost as we are getting ready to bring the glorious days in the continent. Our people have paid the price with their lives, while the people who are suppose to be our leaders watching and stealing from citizens. How long are we going to live like this? All the resources being send away to build the developed nations and turn around act like they are doing us a favor with our stolen resources. We are meeting here today to begin a journey that will invoke and provoke innovative ideas to transform our continent. We are here to share and cultivate servitude-leaders with interest in the continent. Bring your ideas, suggestions, concerns, etc. There is a brighter day ahead of us...
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