Monthly Archives: April 2010

British Africans – deciding in UK elections

The deciding moment, when Black Britain decides, had come. The General Elections planned for 6th May 2010. In my previous postings about this topic I made some implicit distinctions between the following two constituencies: Black British who have settled in Britain for more than one generation, and those particularly from Africa who are first generation British. The latter demonstrates strong connections with the African continent than the former.

It was an event that Operation Black Vote had well crafted for Wednesday 28/4/2010 in London. Three quarters of the Methodical Church hall in Central London were full of a diversity of ethnic minority people gathered to listen to what politicians could sell to them to get their vote. The main British political parties: Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democratic, even the Greens were represented at their highest levels by their deputy leaders. People were eager for change. Labour talked of policies they were aiming to improve on. Conservatives lacked some real connections with the audience; at one time they were even booed. The Liberal Democrats, as the new guys of the block, were Obama-like in their selling of hope.

The previous days, the free evening standard edition had published in its paper that the three main British parties contesting the elections would have all to make drastic cuts in government spending to address current huge deficits. It was however reported that the Conservatives were found to be with the biggest shortfall in their plans for public spending cuts between April 2011 and March 2015 – of £54.4 billion – compared with £44.1 billion for Labour and £34.5 billion for the Lib-Dems. In other words, this translates as saying that if any cut would have to be experienced, the Lib-Dems would be more likely to make services and people suffer less.

Having mentioned this, if the Lib-Dems could apply their policy of fair and just society beyond Britain borders, to the rest of the world through their foreign policy, they could also immensely contribute to a better and much fairer world where justice could be improved and sustainable development become a shared concern.

But where do British Africans do stand in all this? Africa is a continent where Labour and Conservative governments have not always played fair when it comes to effective development of African people. It would sound irrational to acknowledge that British interests have overwhelmingly come first at the expense of indigenous people, when particularly they were or are ruled by dictators and criminals serving external interests rather their citizens.

British Africans can change that situation in the UK coming elections. A transformative change of British foreign policy towards Africa is required. It cannot come from the two old parties which have enormously contributed to what Africa is experiencing today, not to be proud of: wars, dictatorships, famines, corruption, abuse of human rights, repression of any dissent voices to change what it wrong.

By making the right choice on 6th May 2010, British Africans can make the necessary difference worth more than the amount of worthless Aid that Africa gets at the back of the West supporting corrupt and dictatorial African regimes.

Africa in the next 50 years

In Britain, every October of each year, a series of events is set across the country to remember and celebrate black people in the history of humanity. The period is called the Black History Month. ‘How do you become a slave?’ I had been watching on television documentaries on slavery sitting with a young person eager to understand and make some sense out of such experience as slavery. That was a question she threw at me still captivated by the inhumanity of humankind well represented through the lenses of the filmmaker.

I had never looked at the whole slavery journey from that angle. The question helped to assess effectively the weight of each involved actor in the human trade tragedy of black Africans in past centuries. One of the findings was that slavery couldn’t have reached the heights it did get to if some African leaders of that time didn’t play an active role in selling or betraying their own people to benefit Europeans. In the last 50 years of African history, aren’t there plenty of African leaders who have sold or continue to sell their brothers and sisters to external interests as did their ancestors?

The year 2010 marks 50 years after the African independence period of the 60s.
The last half century has not been glorious in many respects for the continent. There have been decades of coup d’etats, years of the worst tribal wars such as Biafra in Nigeria, famines, corruption, nepotism, dictatorships, discrimination exemplified by Apartheid in its time and of course the Rwandan case, and no tangible social and economic developments, except a few exceptions.

Independences enabled the continent to shift political and administrative authority from colonialists to African elites. This shift of power didn’t address the fundamental principles of creating sustainable institutions. Colonialism morphed into modern tribalism where characteristics of the latter concept had this time the means to shine. Even there, lessons had not been learnt properly from old masters. That’s the reasons there were decades of coup d’etats. Normally, in traditional African tribes, you rarely hear of coup against authority.

Dictatorships which became part of the political scenery of the 70s until today are emanations of that modern but failed tribalisation of Africa and colonialist interests which are proving difficult to expel. These interests from past ties with the continent hinge on supporting oppressive regimes, criminal leaders, through a multitude of channels, sometimes unconditionally as long as gains are assured.

With the help of globalisation, a more sophisticated approach has been adopted to cover up injustices Africans have become victims of both by their leaders and foreign interests behind them. This is where international aid agencies, UN experts, mainstream media coverage; advisory committees with foreign origins to the continent, all become instrumental and play a part in creating an image of powerlessness in our mother continent.

Not everywhere on the continent everything has been following the sloppy path during the past 50 years. There are few islands of hope which demonstrate that the continent can emerge from its seemingly hopeless and helpless destiny, as described by many vested interests around the world. Countries like Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Tunisia, Ghana, Mali, are few examples of what is possible, feasible, and at different paces. Individual countries with enlightened leaderships are realizing that there are citizens for whom standards of lives must and should be improved.

For the next 50 years, the continent can excel and become the beacon of the world as it used to be at the start of human civilization. Its chances are that it doesn’t have legacy systems to build on its future. Its structures have not been completely tampered by what most of western countries have been suffering from such as excessive pursuit of materialism.

We have young populations. Technology is available. Choosing the right resources for the interest of the continent should be the key. We need to learn quickly and correctly from continents and countries which transformed their social and economic landscapes from near ashes. Additionally, it is worth pointing out that if we as a continent do not address issues with a sense of urgency, many generations of Africans will be being let down. This has been missing and must be addressed.

For example, as Ms Alice Ukoko from Women of Africa clearly highlighted on Monday 27/4/10 while addressing a London audience on the subject of Britain aid effectiveness in Africa, ‘shouldn’t we talk about how Britain has been exploiting Africa instead?’ Aid is a very serious and dangerous issue for Africa. After seriously researching what triggered the development of countries today classified as developed, none of them got where they stand today through aid. Even the Marshal Plan which helped rebuild Europe after World War II had totally different components as the one Africa suffers from persistently.

After 50 years of missed opportunities, it is time for Africans to wake up and move forward. Take charge of their destiny. Create strong institutions which make leaders accountable fearlessly. As Barack Obama indicated in Accra when he was addressing the Ghanaian parliament in July 2009, Africa does not need strong personalities. It has had enough of dictators serving external interests. ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,’ said Friedrich Nietzsche. It is up to Africans to get organized for the purpose.

Another radical reason for British Africans to vote for change in UK elections

On Tuesday 20/4/10, Paul Rusesabagina, the author of the inspiration to the movie Hotel Rwanda, gave a talk at the Human Rights Action Centre in London. He is the patron of Save the Congo, a UK-based Congolese organization of young people, interested in making a difference to the lives of millions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.).

The focus of Rusesabagina’s talk was on the root causes of DRC ongoing tragedies. As he explained, if someone wanted to end Congolese misery caused by recurring wars, the solutions have to be found in Rwanda. D.R.C. appears weak in the face of ongoing situation. Several militias are fighting and control immense territories in Eastern Congo. They are illegally exploiting strategic minerals and selling to multinationals which produce mobiles, computers and other technological gadgets. It is noteworthy explaining that the existence of most of the militias and Congolese government’s weaknesses find their origin in external interferences which have interests in the country’s minerals.

Atrocities that have been repeatedly committed against civilian populations will not stop if only military solutions which are costing millions of lives are put forward, mainly by Rwanda, because they divert its responsibilities in ending the insecurity. Suggested solutions to bring peace and stability in the region include

  • suspending temporarily bilateral and multilateral aid and putting military embargo to Rwanda and Uganda until they stop opposing fully inclusive inter-citizens dialogue involving pro and against their respective regimes and open up their political space for effective democracy and change; inter-citizens dialogues have been applied in South Africa, Burundi and D.R.C. successively; there is no reason they shouldn’t apply and succeed in Rwanda and Uganda
  • making enough pressure to end in Rwanda its apartheid like system of governance camouflaged under a wall of laws and daily practices which only fool foreigners but not Rwandans, and which oppresses the Hutu majority of the population and deprives them of their past, present and future

Along the same line of solutions, on March 2, 2010, Senator Russ Feingold made the following call in his Statement to the American Congress on the fragile state of democracy in Africa. He said: ‘The international community should not shy away from pushing for greater democratic space in Rwanda, which is critical for the country’s lasting stability. We fail to be true friends to the Rwandan people if we do not stand with them in the fight against renewed abuse of civil and political rights. In the next few months in the run-up to the elections, it is a key time for international donors to raise these issues with Kigali.’

A worrying pattern worth highlighting has been the rolling out of the Ugandan model of development and governance where this country has now become a dictatorship sponsored heavily by US and UK with the backing of all the institutions where these two countries have influence (World Bank and others). The model has been exported to Rwanda since 1994 and also strengthened a dictatorship regime at the expense of the population. Presently the model is being promoted in the D.R.C., with millions of pounds from Britain, dollars and euros other institutions pledged to the Congolese government.

Uganda, Rwanda and DRC have currently proven to be oppressive regimes without much respect for human rights towards their citizens. But they are continuously being pampered. Isn’t possible for the sponsors to play their part in caring more about the populations? They don’t need aid but governments which let them free and support them to look after themselves. They need strong institutions but not dictators. One can have the former without the latter.

From the 80s until today, Conservatives and Labour governments have been behind dictatorships in Uganda and Rwanda. Millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money and dollars from institutions where UK have great influence have been pulling in these regimes’ coffers to support their policies. These have resulted in a bit of development but mainly in oppressive systems which deny to the populations their basic human rights, waging wars in neighboring countries, exploiting illegally minerals from these territories, killing millions of indigenous people. The tragedies and misery seem to have no end.

If there has to be peace in the Congo, the international community, starting from UK and US governments should start taking serious actions towards the troublemakers of the region: firstly Rwanda, then secondly Uganda.

Tim Whewell’s film, ‘What is the true price of Rwanda’s recovery’, which was shown on Newsnight on Wednesday 31/3/10 at 10.30 pm on BBC Two, explained that whoever between Labour and Tories British political parties will win the general elections, support to Paul Kagame’s regime would remain. What if the Liberal Democrats get a substantial fraction of Westminster power? Will the continuous waste of British taxpayers’ money go on strengthening criminal dictatorships in Rwanda and Uganda?

British Africans have here another radical reason to vote for change in UK elections on May 6th, 2010.

British Africans: Voting strategically in UK elections

 

The UK census of 2001 indicates 1,148,738 of Black British recorded as living in the country at the time. The figure does not include people of mixed Black and another ethnicity.  It appears among the group Black Africans now outnumber Afro-Caribbeans in the UK. Largest subgroups of the Black British community are Nigerians, Jamaicans, Ghanaians and Zimbabweans.

Although that census showed only 1.1 million Black British people, there were an estimated 1.4 million Black people in England alone in 2007, some community estimates suggest the figure to be much higher (with the possibility of up to 3 million Nigerians and 1.5 million Ghanaians in the UK). In other European countries, Black people have big communities, particularly in France, Germany, and Italy. For example, Senegalese and Malians are the most represented national groups, especially in France.

There are other African nationalities less visible in European statistics: Somalis, Kenyans, Ugandans, or Rwandans. All these communities moved to Europe for multiple and sometime complex reasons. One particular case is of Rwandans after the 1994 genocide in their country. A number of years have passed since the tragedy that country encountered. Tim Whewell’s film, ‘What is the true price of Rwanda’s recovery’, which passed on Newsnight on Wednesday 31/3/10 at 10.30 pm on BBC Two, portrays among other things a picture of Rwanda today including strong ties between the country and Britain. The British government, as Rwanda’s biggest bilateral donor, donates about £50m ($75m) a year in aid, most of which goes straight into central government coffers.

However, for the last 16 years, Paul Kagame’s government has suppressed most human rights the West takes for granted. ‘There is practically no freedom of expression, political space for any kind of opposition is extremely limited, and anyone trying to criticise or challenge the government is subject to intimidation or threats or worse,” says Carina Tertsakian from Human Rights Watch.

Rwanda has in the past been accused by UN experts of interfering in his neighbours’ affairs, by supporting militias, namely CNDP of ex chef rebel Nkunda, to illegally exploiting mineral resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and cause mayhem in Eastern Congo. This involvement in looting other countries’ wealth resulted in some Rwanda’s partners for development suspending or reducing their financial support.

Further to the tally of millions of lives which has been lost in the Great Lakes region for the last 15 years, this because of the violent policies of the duo Paul Kagame/ Kaguta Museveni, for example British Africans who come from that region would like to see a change in the unconditional support that Britain gives to these two criminal regimes.

In the mentioned film, Tim Whewell concludes saying that whoever between Labour and Tories British political parties will win the general elections, support to Paul Kagame’s regime would remain. What if the Liberal Democrats get a substantial fraction of Westminster power? Will such waste of British taxpayers’ money go on strengthening criminal dictatorships in Rwanda and Uganda?

“We have a situation where British money is serving to prop up a (Rwandan) government that is routinely violating the rights of its citizens,’ says Carina Tertsakian from Human Rights Watch.

British Africans, who are from the Great Lakes region in particular and eligible to vote in UK, have opted to vote neither Labour nor Conservatives, because of current UK ties with Rwanda and Uganda regimes. They would rather for example vote for Liberal Democrats if this party could pledge significant change in UK foreign policy towards the two countries and put more pressure for more democracy and respect of human rights.

UK voters from that region have started campaigning on above issues among their communities.

Using rebels as a pretext to cling onto power and illegally exploit African mineral resources

Kagame-and-MuseveniOn Friday 9/4/10 Press TV invited me to contribute to a debate on an incident from December 2009. Lord Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony, a rebel movement against the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni, was apparently the culprit according to the report from Human Rights Watch which brought the story in the open several months after it happened.

The focus of the discussion was on ‘why everyone did keep silent about such atrocity?’

People aware of political contexts in the Great Lakes region of Africa are well familiar with pictures of atrocities periodically associated with rebel movements, particularly in Eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.).

LRA has been in the region for almost as long as the reign of Joweri Kaguta Museveni in Uganda, which is 24 years. The Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) are another rebel movement further south in Kivu provinces of D.R.C. They are a reminiscence of Rwandan refugees who fled their country after the 1994 genocide.

These two rebel movements have been accused of atrocities year on year by the international community. But who is this international community? It is generally the developed world with its forces of intoxication of the world opinion about everything man can think of. This reminded me of stories of atrocities in countries as disparate as Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, but all located on the ‘wild and dark’ continent.

Some common characteristics to all these countries are the fact that they have huge reserves of minerals needed by strategic industries of the West. It was only that Friday, sitting and listening to my colleague from D.R.C. when I started realizing and questioning the roles of multinationals in these atrocities. I had always suspected dictatorial governments in Rwanda and Uganda to stage such atrocities and ensure they were blamed on rebels that oppose them. Never had it come to mind that while acting that way they had foreign accomplices in such horrible crimes, or only them being their proxies.

Until my colleague from DRC on the panel insisted that multinationals were responsible of violence, rape of women, illegal looting of Congolese minerals, I could not link them straightforwardly to these crimes. It is common knowledge Rwanda and Uganda have immensely benefited from raping the Congo. Though their criminal intervention in the country could rationally be explained, it was a different matter understanding how the longevity in power of the leaders of these two countries could be justified by the existence of the rebels.

LRA has according to some sources 1,500 combatants. In October 2007, International Crisis Group indicated FDLR men were 6,000. In eastern Congo, the biggest UN contingent (17,000) of peacekeepers has been deployed there since 2000. This force was established further to the UN resolution 1279 (1999). Rwanda and Ugandan armies count tens of thousands of soldiers well trained and equipped with the money provided by the West through several channels. In recent years, they have been able to run joint military operations with the Congolese, even with the help of the UN forces to crash these rebellions.

I came to this conclusion that Rwanda and Uganda leaders, if they did not have existing rebel movements publicly against their dictatorships, they would create them. They need them to justify their clinging onto power. This serves their purpose in staying in charge and at the same time serving their masters, at the expense of their citizens undoubtedly.