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As there are different authors for the articles on this blog, each article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bokamoso Leadership Forum.

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18 April 2011

Côte d’Ivoire – Intervention: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

By Nadia Ahmadou (Masters Candidate in African Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland.)

The media spotlight this year has been focused on Côte d’Ivoire following a disastrous outcome to the first election in the country after about five years of civil strife. The latter was a result of discriminatory policies separating and dividing people along ethnic lines and restricting access to equal opportunities based on such ethnic discrimination. The social construction behind this ethnic divide was borne out of political machinations to resist the threat of strong political opposition and to maintain a strong hold on power by those in charge at the time of the initiation of these policies. History of course dictates that once one starts constructing the identity of thousands of people on faulty grounds, this can only lead to disgruntlement and strong desires for change. The subsequent result of this problematic division was a civil war that plunged one of Africa’s economic strongholds into a crisis it is yet to recover from.

Throughout the civil war and the period covering peace initiatives, the international community including the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) was heavily involved in attempting not only to bring an end to fighting but also to reconcile the differences that led to the war in the first place. The UN as a result has had blue helmets based in the country from 2002 till today. Their main responsibility after successfully brokering a ceasefire and a number of peace accords was to organize elections and ensure that these were conducted in a transparent manner and respected by all. These elections were held late 2010, after years of postponement. As most analysts envisaged, the elections did not lead to the desired peaceful outcome as the results were questioned by the regime in place at the time. Despite the fact that the primary mandate for releasing and enforcing these results lay with the UN, it was unable to enforce this mandate.

Côte d’Ivoire has consequently remained mired in this conflict limbo, with the extra ironical status of being the only country with two presidents: one recognized by the international community and the other self-legitimated. In addition, armed groups across the divide began urban warfare using light and heavy weapons that increased the casualty toll most significantly on the side of the civilian population living in Abidjan. After a number of failed diplomatic initiatives, led by the AU with the support of the UN and ECOWAS, to resolve the issue, it became imperative to consider other resolution methods. As always, the conundrum faced with military intervention stayed the same: Is the use of force to achieve peace legitimate, especially when exercised by external states?

France, under the umbrella of the UN, illustrated this conundrum by deploying its military capacity to destroy the armed reserves of the self-legitimated president, paving the path for the opposing armed force to gain access to him, and thereby dismantling the organization behind armed activity in his favour. Debates have sprung up regarding this involvement and whether or not it is an infringement of Côte d’Ivoire’s sovereignty; or an exercise of undue force or if it fits within the framework of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, as observed by the International Community.

In the simplest terms Côte d’Ivoire’s riddle boils down to that old International Relations puzzle: Do external states have the right to intervene militarily within the bounded territory of a sovereign state such as Cote d’Ivoire? To what extent do we justify the killing of hundreds of people by applying a quick-fix solution to a problem that requires long term processes? Does the use of violence to promote peace not beget future violence instead? On the other hand, surely to stay silent to the plight of those already dying at the hands of militias and armed forces is as criminal as forceful intervention?

We must recognize that long term processes do require a clever mixture of short and medium term actions in order to start processes in favour of the long term. In order for the necessary reconciliation initiatives to begin in the country, there is a need for the right kind of framework to support this. This framework would necessitate an environment that ensures the safety, security and comfort of those residing within it. Given this particular context, the only way to achieve this peaceful setting was to rid the country of the various militias, mercenaries, other armed groups and regime supporting the mayhem. Experience showed that non-violent marches incited even more nefarious action on their part, with the death of civilians, and a body count that rose daily. Was the remaining option then not making use of regional and international armed forces to stop hostilities? How else could the ordinary unarmed person be protected from such violations? Given the limited resources of those on the ground, and the glaring absence of the state as a primary protector, who was to be responsible for ensuring this civilian protection? Was the international community supposed to sit by and watch the beginnings of genocide? Had the world really not learned from Germany, Serbia, Kosovo and Rwanda among others? What about the botched interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq? What lessons have we learnt from those?

Although one cannot in good conscience support military intervention as the only recourse to peace, given the current facts, one cannot in equal good conscience condone sitting back and watching the continued abuse of human rights. This even more so as all peaceful measures had failed and did not promise to succeed in time. The framework for military intervention set up by the UN and contained in Chapter 7 of its Charter permits such forceful action. As much as we should not condone violence of any kind, we need to recognize that some values are so fundamental that there is little other recourse than forceful intervention in order to protect those most vulnerable to the conflict.

Whether or not France and the International Community acted with the interest of Ivorian citizens in mind is doubtful. This recognition however does not cancel the atrocities that were occurring at the time of intervention, or the fact that said intervention, dubious as it was, brought most of these troubles to an end. At the same time one cannot ignore the potential for abuse, not only by external states in the pursuit of economic interests, but also by accepting that very seldom does violence engender peace. The clearest conclusion derived from this particular case: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The debate is moot, rather than spend energy determining the legitimacy and purpose of military intervention in Côte d’Ivoire, we should be more constructive and ask: What’s on the table for the future with regards to reconciliation and development?
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11 April 2011

Gendering the local: the curious feminist and African knowledge production

Siphokazi Magadla, is a Junior Lecturer at the Political and International Studies department at Rhodes University, South Africa.

The third annual “Global Symposium” by the Barnard Liberal Arts College for Women based in New York City took place in Johannesburg, South Africa on 15 March 2011 under the theme “Women Changing Africa.” Among the key women leaders in the symposium was Senator Aloisea Inyumba of Rwanda, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank Gill Marcus, Chairperson of the South African Law Reform Commission, Yvonne Mokgoro and the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and former Senior Director of the World Bank Dr Mamphela Ramphele. It was Ramphele’s assertion during the symposium that the characteristic of a true leader is their “understanding that the personal, the professional and the political have to cohere in our ¬everyday lives.” She argued that her generation in realizing this link “had to create spaces for dialogue, not only about the struggle for freedom from apartheid but also with how to make the “three Ps” come together.”

In this article I argue that in order for the space for the “three Ps” in leadership and knowledge production to be possible, we have to realize that our personal, professional and political daily realities remain dominated by a violent patriarchal discourse that while privileging mostly men, holds hostage our ability to create a true community of men and women dedicated to the creation of a continental project that will see an Africa that lives up to our best aspirations.

To live up to the theme that charges us to commit ourselves to “celebrating our own: the power of local knowledge” and in thus do “our best to bring to the light the best of our local knowledge, our ‘traditional’ or cultural institutions and strategies, and show how useful these can be in the 21st century” then we must be prepared to acknowledge that the “center” in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s concept of “moving center” was by all means a patriarchal one. It is a center premised on a violent masculinity that is rooted in the violence of colonization as well as the violence of the decolonization project as argued by Fanon’s thesis “on violence” in the classic “The Wretched of the Earth.”

By patriarchy I use bell hook’s (2000) definition in “Feminism is for everybody” that patriarchy is the assumption that men are superior to women and therefore they should rule over women. I also use her definition in “Feminism from margin to center” (1984) that feminist politics is a “movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” This means calling for an end to the domination of one gender by the other which is most visible in the infatuation with the control of women’s bodies not only in conflict Africa, but even in ‘stable’ regions like Southern Africa where rape continues to be the biggest cause of insecurity for women. Thus an end to sexist patriarchy opens up an important space where self-actualized women and men at the personal, professional and political spheres can give their utmost best to end other struggles such as racism, class elitism, and imperialism that the African intelligentsia is up against.

It is imperative to emphasise that a submission to the reality that ‘gender matters’ in Africa too must be committed to a nuanced creation of knowledge representative of all Africans. Paul Zeleza maintains in “Gender biases in African historiography” (1997) that equal representation of men and women needs to go beyond the romantic myth in most of African historiography “that the roles of women and men were equal and complementary in traditional, harmonious, pre-colonial Africa, or that the lives of notable, exceptional, heroic women were celebrated” because upon close inspection of ‘great texts’ on Africa, there is a dominant celebration of the “lives of great men…[while] women remain largely invisible or misrepresented in mainstream, or appropriately ‘malestream’ African history.” Moreover a quick examination through some of the leading scholarly articles on African great thinkers and intellectuals reveals this trend of absence of women thinkers being recognized and venerated.

Oumar Ba in the preceding article argues that the politics of selective memory are “disastrous to our societies…”. I agree with him, and also argue that an inclusive remembering in knowledge making in Africa will be one that is curious about women, or at the very least curious about the gender dynamics of the ‘thinking cadre.’ Cynthia Enloe (2004) in “The curious feminist: searching for women in a new age of empire” argues that in order for us to be serious about the gendered nature of our epistemic communities we need to take women seriously.

Whenever therefore we converse with male thinkers such as Kwame Nkrumah, we must also be curious about the lives of women in Africa. When young intelligentsia like Zukiswa Mqolomba urge us to build a new cadre to “move beyond deconstructive theories to constructive theories for Africa’s development” we must there too, be curious about how this intelligentsia is to provide new constructive alternatives of masculinity and femininity not premised on violent domination.

I therefore conclude that an important step to emancipatory projects by the African thinking class will have to start when the intellectual class consciously brings women into the “historical center” (Zeleza 1997) and the present contemporary center. In our research projects and scholarly output we must always be cautious about assuming gender neutrality and start building curiousity about the gender dynamics at play in how men and women could be similarly or differently affected by our academic products. Just as Cornel West argued that democracy and race matter, I argue that gender matters - in everything.

A first and practical step to building academic and intellectual curiosity about women’s lives is to start by remembering and proclaiming their names. When we remember great men, we must recall that they were there with great women. This is aligned to the prophetic spirit of the past under which American Author Alice Walker argued that “how simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers names.” Unless we address the monster that is patriarchy in our homes, offices and politics we risk losing a special space where without the hindering of sexism we can all truly be human beings thus “humans in a process of being” as prophetically put by Paulo Freire in the “Pedagogy of the oppressed.”
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04 April 2011

The personal and the creation of knowledge

Oumar Ba is a graduate student in Political Science and African Studies at Ohio University.

In his 2005 text titled “The Seven Dirty Shoes”, Mozambican novelist Mia Couto gave a striking example about Zambia. On June 5 1966, then Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda gave a speech on the waves of Radio Luanda to announce that one of the pillars their country’s future had just been built. He thanked the people of Zambia for having helped build the first university in their country; an answer to his call a few months earlier by all segments of the society. The peasants donated maize, the fishermen donated fish, and the salaried donated money. In that eloquent example of a country coming together, an uneducated people invested in what they hoped would be the ticket to a brighter future for their children. They told themselves that donating food today meant tomorrow their children would not go hungry. Couto writes “Forty years later, the children of those peasants are still hungry.” Zambia did not experience any war, and the country has enough natural resources. So, what went wrong? Did the university fail the peasants?

To keep in the spirit of celebrating local knowledge production and its dissemination in Africa, this article seeks to investigate the ways in which the personality of the knowledge producers affects the role that their intellectual production plays on improving the conditions of the society, and the connection or lack of thereof, of the intellectual’s production and activism in the people’s struggle.

As it has been argued in the precedent articles, elitism and class anxiety plague the African intellectual personality and negatively affects the production and sharing of knowledge, and even its relevance in the African context. In a continent where the vast majority of the people are still excluded from the formal channels of knowledge acquisition and production, in addition to the privileges attached with the status of the intellectual, must come also the duty of serving the society, thus Chinua Achebe’s notion of the “black writer’s burden.”

Formal education is not just a right in Africa, the reality being that it is also privilege for those who have been lucky enough to have accessed it; hence it is important that we make sure that elitism does not become the end result that creates the schism between the segments of our societies. By combing through the intellectual elite of and in Africa, one can only wish we will have more people like Jean Paul Sartre, who sided with Frantz Fanon, and the Algerian people, and all the freedom fighters when doing so meant also being ostracized in one’s own country. How many among us, aspiring intellectuals, or our elders, African intellectuals would decline a Nobel Prize? How many of us would courageously realize that "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”. Would we join the battlefield if that is what our generation has identified as its mission, like Fanon did?

Academic work must be coupled with civic engagement and social activism if the African intelligentsia is to have any meaningful impact on our societies. As the previous articles have discussed the need to “move the centre”, African intellectuals must also turn around and speak to the people. We must dare to break away from the established academic circles and move towards reclaiming African languages, vocabulary, and paradigms in order to break down the clusters in which different segments of our societies engage in dialogue and exchange of ideas.

Moreover, the African intellectual must move his/her center of gravity towards those who are often called voiceless when the reality is that it is us who are not listening. We ought to create more Cornel West and less ivory tower intellectuals on the continent. We must dare to be a “bluesman in the life of the mind, and a jazzman in the world of ideas.” Even in the case we decide to (if we can afford it) always be dressed in “a hand-tailored three-piece black suit with cufflinks of 25 karat Ethiopian gold, each featuring a tiny image of Africa” as Brother West does, we must also be humble and loving out loud enough to give a big hug to everyone that we greet.

The African intellectual must also embrace the fierce dedication to African languages of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and be able to speak to an African audience. Speaking of and to political authorities the language of truth is also a route that is still not fully paved in our academic circles. In his latest book “Sortir de la grande nuit: Essai sur l’Afrique decolonisee” published in October 2010 (and dedicated to Frantz Fanon and Jean Marc Ela “two thinkers of the unlimited future”), Achille Mbembe calls the current African political elites “satrapes”, which can be loosely translated in English as “bloodsuckers”. He also writes that in many instances, the African political elite conducts itself as foreign occupiers who view their countries resources as war bounty subject to pillages. Mbembe explains the reasons of his spiritual detachment from his homeland of Cameroon to the fact the elite refuses to acknowledge and recognize those who sacrificed themselves for the independence of the country, those whose names are banned from the history books: Um Nyobe, Pierre Yém Mback, Félix Moumié, Abel Kingué, Osendé Afana, Ernest Ouandié, etc.

The politics of selective memory are as disastrous to our societies as the pillage of our natural resources. Finally, to be an African intellectual aware of local knowledge creation and diffusion is also to be an agent of action for a better change, and as Fanon said, “what matters is not to know the world, but to change it.”
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