Weather, the Great Equalizer4 min read.
For once, we face a challenge that completely ignores wealth, race, religion, fences and all the other divisions we place amongst ourselves.
The weather and climate have suddenly become “front and centre” in our lives, and demand our attention because their vagaries have suddenly hit the Global North. One of the greatest unspoken fallacies of our time is that climate change is a recent phenomenon that “we” suddenly need to be concerned about today, with regards to our emissions and carbon footprint. The truth of the matter is that the greenhouse gases that the atmosphere accumulates and what we are witnessing now, is the cumulative effect of what has been emitted in the 200 years or so since the Industrial Revolution.
That humankind is now in trouble is indisputable and we must all work together to solve the challenges brought by climate change. However, the search for solutions to this problem must come from a position of honesty, if we are to have any chances of success. Therefore, the first thing we must deconstruct is the false corporate term “we” in reference to responsibility for the origins and the drivers of climate change.
People in the tropics (also referred to as the “Global South”) do not experience the extreme seasonal variations typical of the temperate zones, but the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) where they live has always been subject to extreme weather, including droughts and floods. In Kenya, and in much of Africa, rural indigenous communities developed resilience mechanisms, including “reserving” key resources like springs and highland grazing areas exclusively for use during times of crisis. In most communities, this wasn’t only a material consideration but a social and, occasionally, a spiritual one. This is because the use of these resources was subject to decisions by designated elders, and some of these “reserved” areas were also used for cultural rituals and spiritual purposes. Nature, therefore, was part of a continuum that included people, their cultural structures, spiritual standing, and physiological needs.
That humankind is now in trouble is indisputable and we must all work together to solve the challenges brought by climate change.
People in the temperate “Global North”, on the contrary, have always seen themselves as “external” to nature, and have used the latter as a resource to be consumed and exploited. The rate of consumption was only limited by the physical capability of the consumer. When the industrial revolution came, mechanical engineering exponentially increased their capability to consume. Furthermore, it gave rise to capitalism, whereby consumption was now driven by the profit motive, in addition to the initial individual need. The earth (and its environment) suddenly had to cope with a society that had the desire and capability to consume far beyond its physiological needs, and initial geographical boundaries. The pressure was on, and students of history will easily recognize how this drove colonialism, war, and environmental destruction, resulting in the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves today; the instability, unpredictability and occasional violence of atmospheric conditions that we pretend to understand and describe in a deliberately vague term; climate change.
“Climate change” is a terminology that appears to denote something current, fluid and urgent. When used within the context of describing extreme weather events, it evokes images of an event that is happening right now, driven by actions being undertaken by everyone right now. This is why it is such a useful term, because it feeds the crisis narrative. Scientists can receive millions of dollars in grants and base their entire careers on it without doing anything tangible. Politicians and political parties can ride on this crisis to power or positions of power within coalition governments. World powers can easily use it at global forums as a pretext to try to curtail the industrial ambitions of their rivals. At the extreme end of the ethical spectrum, it has even been used as an excuse by adults to put a teenage girl on the frontline of the geo-political battles from which we should be protecting children.
One of the most absurd facets of the chimera we know as climate change is the rise of the monetization of the environment. The rise and acceptance of the bizarre notion of “carbon” offsets, credits, and trading in the same. As we have observed above, capitalism and its associated consumption patterns is a major root of the environmental miasma in which we find ourselves today. For us to imagine that capitalism, brokerage and profiteering can be used to mitigate the same damage it has caused over all these years is the height of hypocrisy, or cognitive dissonance, or both on a global scale. At a basic level, the money that changes hands has zero impact on emissions. It simply means that those who pollute pay for it. The cost of the payments gets passed on to consumers, so the polluters don’t lose, and with most emissions coming from essential consumer goods, what we end up with is a simple extortion scam, paid for by the consumers, who then suffer its atmospheric consequences through extreme weather.
The most harmful part of this hypocrisy has been the fallacy of “carbon sequestration” by annexing and colonizing lands and seascapes in the tropics. Allied to this is the accelerated creation of new “protected areas” driven by the fatally flawed premise that wealthy people and biodiversity will somehow survive the vagaries of a destabilized atmosphere within islands of land fenced off from the rest of the world.
One of the most absurd facets of the chimera we know as climate change is the rise of the monetization of the environment.
That vague term “climate change” has allowed us to conjure up an entire economy of “greenwashing” trade in intangible “carbon”. It has engendered scientific publications, academic and political careers, not to mention the relentless search for “alternatives” that will somehow excuse us from changing our consumption patterns. The prejudices that are such an integral part of human nature have found a comfortable home in the miasma that is climate “science”, with industrialized nations pointing at livestock in the Global South, and ignoring cars, industries and fossil-fuelled power stations in their own countries. Pointing at population growth in the Global South, while ignoring the existing density and incomparable carbon footprint in the north. The people who drive this are “scientists”, ironically funded by the corporations that do the most damage, so we must not let “science” become the unquestioned cult it seeks to be. We must scrutinize it in the same manner we examine everything else around us and apply logic to it.
Extreme weather, in its unpredictability and power, is actually a reminder to us, that our international borders, protected areas, international conferences, hare-brained financial schemes and “scientific research” means nothing if we don’t reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We must get our act together because for once, we face a challenge that completely ignores wealth, race, religion, fences and all the other divisions we place amongst ourselves. Weather, the great equalizer.
This is the original English manuscript of the article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on 17 October 2021.
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France in Africa: New Face of Colonialism or a Repentant Posture?
Aymar N. Bisoka, David Mwambari and Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni write about the recent Africa-France summit. The scholar Achille Mbembe was recruited to prepare a report for the summit by speaking to African youth. This blogpost asks what was the real meaning of the summit behind the official pronouncements.
At the beginning of 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron approached the Cameroonian historian and political scientist Achille Mbembe to prepare the New Africa-France Summit, which was to take place in Montpellier, France, on 9 and 10 October 2021. The most immediate context of a forthcoming election in France itself in which the French president might be using this occasion to win the Afro-descendant votes should not escape our minds. Unlike previous summits, this one was to welcome a new generation of young Africans from Africa and its diasporas to an open and direct dialogue with Macron. For the first time in history, the summit between France and African countries was held with no African head of state.
As part of the preparation for the summit, Mbembe had to lead a series of discussions in twelve African countries and the diaspora, ahead of the actual event, around themes of common interest. According to him, the aim of these discussions with African and diaspora youth was to “directly and openly question the fundamentals of this relationship [and] to redefine it together.”
Four days before the summit started, Mbembe submitted a 140-page report containing thirteen proposals for a ‘refoundation’ of relations between France and Africa. These proposals focus on an Innovation Fund for Democracy, a House of African and Diasporas Views, migration, employment, intercontinental economic transparency, the transformation of development aid, the voice of Africa on climate change, the narrative on Africa, the rethinking of the relations between Africa and Europe, the restitution of stolen works of art, among others. During the summit itself, twelve young people were selected to discuss with Macron and mount a critique on the issues arising from the proposals contained in the Mbembe Report.
What is the real meaning of this summit beyond the organisers’ pronouncements? How can we understand the controversies and discourses that came out of it? Was this summit simply a way for France to improve its image that has deteriorated sharply over the past four years?
Placing the summit in its historical context
The historical context of this summit is firstly, colonial and neo-colonial (Françafrique) and secondly, a context of increased global connections in which the Afro-descendent population has increased with France and cannot be ignored. Thirdly, it is also a context of insurgent and resurgent decolonization of the 21st century, which has also seen the escalation of activism – by African youth – targeting colonial symbols of domination in general, and those of French interests in particular. Therefore, a key question arises: Was the summit organised to respond to recent events on the African continent or in France, and to push France to open-up to debates that are uncomfortable but essential?
On the African continent, Senegalese youth protests that vandalised French interests in March 2021 are still fresh in the minds of French policymakers. The youth on the streets spoke loud and clear when they attacked French shops, petrol stations, supermarkets and you can guess that their names did not feature on the French list of the desired invitees to dine with Marcon at the summit. The invited youth were mostly the educated, youth with a pre-existing and official platform and means. There were few, if any, of the young protestors like those who revolted against French interests.
Other recent events in Africa include protests in Mali against the French military presence and the move to hire Russian militias to combat terrorism where the French have failed. On the day the summit was to start in October, Mali’s Premier accused France of training ‘terrorist groups’ and summoned the French ambassador. Youth also attacked French interests in Northern Mozambique, resulting in the deployment of forces from the SADC region and Rwanda.
These are a few examples to show that popular pressure on France informed Macron’s choice of inviting young participants instead of the heads of state to the summit. Throughout his presidency, Marcon has also defended the establishment of the ECO to replace the controversial CFA currency that is part of the French colonial heritage that West African protestors have rejected. French monetary imperialism has been subjected to heightened opposition from African youth.
In addition, recent global events like the #BlackLivesMatter movement instigated debates amongst French intellectuals who aligned with their politicians to dismiss the claims by Afro-descendants in France to have racism directly confronted. These elites dismissed demands to challenge racism in France as irrelevant to France’s past or present, claiming that the French state is based on anti-racist ideals of republicanism. Macron himself declared these are ‘certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States’.
Other prominent intellectuals joined in to argue that contemporary theories on race, gender, and post-colonialism were a threat to the French identity of liberté, égalité, and fratenité. These assertations were made ignoring a long tradition of French-speaking scholars like Aimé Cesaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Frantz Fanon, Cheikh Anta Diop, Valentin-Yves Mudimbe, Fabien Eboussi Boulaga, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Françoise Verges or more recently Norman Ajari, Pape Ndiaye, Nadia Kisukidi, even the academic director of the summit itself, Achille Mbembe, and many others whose works on post-colonialism have critiqued French society.
In fact, debates on the question of identity in France have shown that non-white communities’ lived experiences show that liberté, égalité, and fraternité are empty slogans and merely a façade to the reality of French society. For instance, issues of police brutality against non-white communities, especially the Afro-diaspora, did not feature prominently in the summit, although they concern the community whom Macron might want to lure in next year’s elections.
The summit claimed to break ties with the colonial past, but it was hardly the case as the major problems that continue to strain the relationship between France and its African colonies were not even addressed. Yet, the voices of young people were present on stage and they asked questions, made arguments that have long existed in post-colonial literature. Articulating these views in front of the sitting president and in France was a significant moment. For example, there was a speaker from Burkina Faso civil society who asked Macron to stop patronising Africans, and that a change of vocabulary was needed to move from aid to partnership. Nevertheless, even partnership is not radical enough; the correct demand must be for reparations and restitution. Such a demand would constitute a total turn in what mainly were political and diplomatic debates.
The other unique feature of this summit was the fact that they asked Achille Mbembe to take on the task as intellectual scholar for the forum. Was this a radical gesture by the president to engage an African intellectual – a one-time outspoken critic of France’s policy in Africa, rather than another politician? Mbembe traveled around the continent to listen and record divergent voices about Africa’s relationship with France. Mbembe’s involvement in the 2021 summit leads us to ask three questions we explore below.
Firstly, the gesture to endorse an African intellectual with ties to France was intriguing. Was this a sign that the French establishment are taking African intellectuals seriously? It was indeed curious for Mbembe to accept this task with its high risks of being accused of doing the clean-up work for an imperial power which has never left Africa and is increasingly being exposed for its continued neo-colonial, exploitative relations with the continent.
Secondly, Mbembe’s involvement and young civil society activists who voiced criticism can also be viewed cynically as part of the French strategy to divert attention to real issues, namely CFA monetary coloniality, the presence of its troops in Mali and France interference with the monetary reforms spearheaded by ECOWAS. Or was it to collect data on the changing pattern of West African consciousness and capture the new vocabulary of African youth as part of an effort to monitor debates, listen to frustrations, then re-align French interests across the continent accordingly? Or can this be a case of a ‘cognitive empire’ needing data to sharpen its tools and recruit new allies? Doubtless, though, is a popular demand for Europe in general, and France in particular, to embark on de-imperialisation as part of an essential pre-requisite to redefine relations.
Thirdly, the much-publicised summit was held in France. The selection of these young participants was preceded by a preliminary consultation with France. Even if it is argued that these debates had started during previous meetings on Macron’s visits to the African continent, the summit in Montpellier was a platform to send a message to Macron’s electorate that he cares about minority issues, and to African youth that France cares where their governments have failed, and to other world powers competing for Africa’s resources, that France is in a leadership position and in touch with ‘authentic’ issues.
The counter-summit was an eye-opener. A collective of associations, unions, and political parties organised a counter-summit to denounce the Françafrique (the term used to describe the continued and unabated influence of France, its government, and businesses, over its former colonies). Their objective was to unmask ‘the hidden face’ of the ‘New Africa-France summit’ and to challenge France’s policy in Africa. For most of the detractors, the summit was simply a publicity stunt to restore the image of France, which has deteriorated sharply in recent years, particularly in the eyes of African youth.
It is indeed true that several events of the last three years were behind the demonstrations against France in Africa and, therefore, Emmanuel Macron had an interest in a charm offensive to try and restore the image of his country in many regions of the continent.
The counter-summit registered the participation of significant political figures such as Mireille Fanon-Mendès-France, daughter of Frantz Fanon, and Miriam Sankara, the wife of the African hero, Thomas Sankara from Burkina Faso. For those attending the counter-summit, Macron’s announcements for a change in France-Africa relations over the past four years were being challenged as nothing but the usual operations of colonial seduction to give neo-colonial relations a new lease of life.
For example, the reform of the CFA franc, in favour of the future West African currency ECO, still guarantees a central role for France in the monetary policy of West African countries. Also, the announced end of Opération Barkhane is, like other previous military operations in Africa, part of a strategic redeployment towards maintaining French influence through military cooperation and the action of Special Forces.
Macron’s France has therefore never introduced a break in its African policy but, on the contrary, continues to increase its neo-colonial influence in Africa strategically to fight against growing criticism, particularly from young protestors. These are the reasons why this summit was considered as a symbolic renewal of old Franco-African summits, by using topics such as ‘Youth and actors from the diaspora, entrepreneurship, culture and sports’ to continue to revive the same colonial practices of France in Africa.
The counter-summit of a hundred organisations and supported by several political parties and unions succeeded in organising itself around a message which clearly showed what the meaning of “putting an end to the coloniality of France-Africa” had to involve. The meetings, debates and events they organised on the side-lines of the official summit showed a great mistrust towards Macron, based on their deep knowledge of existing contradictions between France’s discourse and its actions in Africa.
It emerges from these debates that this is not the first time a French president has promised to put an end to France-Africa coloniality, including president Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) and president François Hollande (2012-2017). These presidents always talked about cosmetic change and a change of style in their relationship with Africa, but not the kind of rupture that the counter-summit participants were asking for.
An example of changing styles over time is how from President Charles de Gaulle (1959-1969) to Jacques Chirac (1995-2007), France had a personal relationship with African presidents, in order to maintain its influence on the African continent. The style then changed with Sarkozy and increased with Francois Hollande, with more emphasis and focus on ‘democratisation’, but still insisting on positioning a relationship with politicians and the Élysée (the official residence of the French president). More recently, the gradual disappearance of former dictators in some African countries has not allowed the Élysée to establish personal and deep relations with certain African presidents. Therefore, it was necessary to change the former way of doing things, in order to maintain, above all, the influence of France in Africa.
Sarkozy, who did not appreciate the need to change the old model of the France-Africa relationship, paid dearly in a lawsuit related to his relations with President Muammar al-Gaddaf. Macron thus had no choice but to try and refigure the relationship in a different way. Yet, this does not mean that the core of France-Africa coloniality has altered in any way.
This is what the counter-summit meant in demanding a sign from Macron, showing that there really was a will for radical change. This would consist of France’s commitment towards five very specific points: (a) ending its military presence in Africa, (b) ending the neoliberal trade policy of France and the EU in Africa, (c) stopping support to presidents who remain in power in an undemocratic manner and French interference in the internal political and economic affairs of African countries, (d) cancelling the odious and illegitimate debts of African countries, (e) respecting the freedom of movement and settlement of people as well as putting an end to expulsions of asylum seekers from France in accordance with international treaties.
Some post-colonial thinkers, including Mbembe, argue that we should not only see cynicism in France’s declaration of its desire to improve its relations with Africa. Sometimes the will is there, but differences still appear on the issue of what a healthy multilateral relationship means. Though, we would argue, that beyond cynicism, there is above all an issue of ideological and cognitive incapacity which is at stake in the official French political imagination.
For those who follow topical issues in French politics, there is still in its political world a kind of nostalgia for the French empire, power and influence in the world, which ultimately makes imperialism a criterion of the greatness of a state. According to Achille Mbembe, this deep rationality implies that “France is struggling to enter into the ‘decolonial’ world that is coming” . For this reason, the counter-summit argued that the official summit organised by Mbembe was unable to break with this imperialist baggage which is at the very foundation of the French state.
The empire and its technologies of domination
The cognitive empire sustains colonial relations. It continues to invade the mental universes of its targets. It maintains surveillance over new knowledge which is not informed by colonial and capitalist interests. What sense do we make of the fact that the summit took place within a context in which conservative politicians in alliance with conservative intellectuals were mounting a push-back against critical race theory, intersectionality theory, post-colonial theory, and decolonial thought? These are frameworks that emerged from the battlefields of history and struggles against racism, enslavement, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. It is these frameworks that the current insurgent and resurgent decolonisation of the 21st century is building on, with students, youth and other progressive forces at the forefront.
The new world now has a critical language with which to propose and imagine a future beyond racism, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. The counter-summit was inspired not just by rethinking but unthinking all toxic colonial relations. Summits have been well-known techniques of sugarcoating colonialities. The long history since the 1958 referendum in France has amply demonstrated that colonial relations do not need reform but abolition for any genuinely new relations between France and Africa. What is needed is a double rupture—which is simultaneously epistemic and systemic.
This article was published in the Review of African political Economy (ROAPE).
Back to the Future: Restitution, Stolen Artifacts and Guarding Against a Willing Amnesia
Two books, by art historian Bénédicte Savoy and journalist Barnaby Phillips respectively, detail how we got to this point in the restitution of African heritage.
The past five years have seen a flurry of activity around issues of restitution of African material heritage, resulting in new reports, new books and even, new returns. Along with this sudden surge in activity there has been an escalation in debate around these questions, where positions once thought to be entrenched, racist, conservative, and considered mainstream, seem to have shifted dramatically. In the frenzy, it can begin to feel as if things are changing and that society is progressing. But we’d do well to pause for deeper dives and more systematic remembering of what has come before.
Two books, Bénédicte Savoy’s Africa’s Struggle for its Art and Barnaby Phillips’ Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes, do this in different ways, but bring to us the important opportunity to remember again. In calling on us to remember, Savoy and Phillips separately recenter the intentions, objectives, and justices that restitution seeks, the violences and obstructions already undertaken, and offer some strategies for ensuring greater success this time around. Savoy, an art historian, who along with Senegalese economist, Felwine Sarr, co-authored a report for the French government on returning African cultural artifacts, states in the new English language translation of her book (forthcoming 2022):
Nearly every conversation today about the restitution of cultural property to Africa already happened forty years ago. Nearly every relevant film had already been made and nearly every demand had already been formulated. Even the most recently viral videos on social media… by the Congolese activist Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza, had already been scripted in many minds by the mid-1970s. What do we learn from this?
Phillips is a former correspondent with the BBC and Al Jazeera and his Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes is a detailed telling of the story of the approximately 4,000 objects in bronze, wood, and ivory taken violently in the plundering, by British forces in 1897, of the Kingdom of Benin (in present day Nigeria). The story of the Benin Bronzes is an important one within the restitution discourse for various reasons, but perhaps most specifically because the terms of their taking were so clearly punitive and incredibly violent, and the claims for their return hold a relatively clear moral, geographical, and art historical grounding. Phillips looks to lay out in substantial detail the chronological telling of the context of their making, their theft, and their distribution across museums of the global north.
Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes is written first and foremost from the position of a personal vested interest in the story of the bronzes, and the impact that the violence and destruction that took place in their looting has had on a people, their culture and contemporary society. The book details the majesty and sophistication of the Benin Kingdom, using a range of oral histories, from those of the Benin royal family, their associates, as well as African academic writing on the subject.
The bulk of the sourcing comes, however, from extensive historical British records. Phillips tells of the increased British activity in the area and the inevitability of a clash with the kingdom by colonialists. It details the widespread violence and destruction of the city during the British expedition, but also the seemingly indifferent and disconnected claim to the totality of the kingdom’s vast cache of exquisite and sophisticated court art pieces by the British: for the purposes of financial resourcing of the punitive expedition itself. Phillips then tracks the movement of these objects, through dynasties of families in Britain, and through museums of the world. He ends with a discussion of the attempts to have these returned to Nigeria, particularly since its independence in 1960, as part of a rebuilding of a society from the ashes of colonialism, and the Biafran War—the civil war that raged in Nigeria in the late 1960s and divided the country.
The book is sympathetic primarily to the voices and justified demands of Nigerians, and discusses in much detail the many turns of deceit and violence at the hands of the British in this long saga. It is, however, also written in a kind of specifically European tone of hazy “even-handedness” that spends overly-significant page space on issues such as the Nigerians’ unwillingness to discuss the rumors of human sacrifice by the Benin Kingdom that the British used to partly justify their actions, and on his argument for the likely accidental setting alight of the entirety of kingdom by the British forces.
Both these issues become almost petty in the greater picture of total wanton destruction, violence and death not only at the moment of the expedition but also continuously after it—in physical occupation, and in spiritual and epistemic erasure. This marks the book as perhaps slightly out of step with some of the more contemporary literature emerging out of this moment within the broader restitution issue. This book possibly serves as a useful detailed description for a reader unfamiliar with the subject but offers little to the broader discourse on this issue.
Though Savoy’s forthcoming book tracks histories that strongly overlap with that of Phillips,’ it serves a far more urgent and direct call to remember these histories, and to lay bare the wilful amnesia and hidden obstruction that have previously completely derailed efforts at justice and repair. Savoy’s report that she co authored with Sarr commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron about France’s role in plundering African heritage, was arguably the spark that reignited the now raging fire of restitution of African heritage. Africa’s Struggle For Its Art is concerned primarily with the context of historical West Germany. Nonetheless, her deep working through the archives—initiated first for the commissioned report—reveal a vital understanding of the global story of struggles for African heritage restitution and its historical defeat.
Using primarily the meticulous archiving by West German bureaucrats in museums, foreign affairs bureaus, and embassies, Savoy pieces together the early and relatively substantial attempts at opening dialogue on access to African heritage by Africans. Savoy puts Africans front and center of the dialogue and push for justice—as initiators of engagements on access to African history. She tracks in return, the systematic undermining of these efforts, with obstructive stonewalling and delay tactics that completely dismissed any attempt at even the most modest requests for engagement. Savoy argues also, for the extent to which the arguments against restitution have their roots in long standing racism, in heritage staff whose careers begin through Nazi association and administration, and in attempts by European art historians, museum personnel and curators, and West Germans in particular, to claim place and prestige amongst themselves.
By tracking these arguments and the kinds of internal planning and plotting among museum officials, Savoy also identifies very clearly the shaky foundations of many arguments against restitution still spouted today. Not only are many of these racist, but also Savoy demonstrates the degree to which many of these arguments are based on out-and-out lies. For example, in the 1970s one German museum director, Friederich Kußmaul, cited by Savoy, spouted entirely fictional statistics and made hearsay-based accusations of thefts from African museums—a line Phillips, for example, repeats in Loot as regards hearsay about thefts from the Benin Museum in 1980, and a story easy to corroborate through UNESCO illicit trafficking databases.
Savoy lifts the veil on the construction of an idea of the museum as an institution: as a benevolent custodian of universal heritage, distanced from politicking, lies or corruption and history. Rather, museums have been ruthless in their efforts to retain their hoard and discredit in pernicious ways their African peers. These efforts have been incredibly successful, wearing away at African energies and investments in good faith engagement. They undermined their own structures, such as UNESCO, and left cultural experts and the cultural intelligencia of newly independent African countries empty handed just as Africa’s young nations began to shift away from believing in the potentials of culture that characterised the early days of the Dakar World Festival of Black Arts in 1966 or FESTAC in 1977.
At certain points, Savoy’s historic rendering has an eerie sense of déjà vu, and a kind of sinking feeling of realising that the late 1970s looked much like our contemporary moment in terms of efforts toward and a zeitgeist in favor of restitution. Her book serves as a warning that we have been here before and that last time we lost the battle. But it also serves as a kind of arsenal, to not fall for previous tricks, to expose old lies and to build upon what was already built by so many African and allies over decades.
This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.
The Revolution Continues and Sudanese Women Are on the Front Lines of the Resistance
Sudanese women are well aware that their access to basic human rights and justice are conditioned upon the presence of a civil and democratic system of governance that respects women’s rights and humanity. Only under such a government can women be part of legal and political reform processes that will contribute to bringing about meaningful change.
There is nothing more difficult than losing a child. There is nothing worse than losing our children as a result of treachery, ignorance, crime and short-sightedness, and this is what is happening in Sudan now. Dozens of young men and women are being killed by the bullets of the Sudanese military.
In the midst of this, it is important to acknowledge the contribution of the women of Sudan to the country’s civil transition.
Since the revolution’s instigation, Sudanese women brilliantly coordinated and effectively participated in the overthrow of the Bashir regime, with the proportion of women in the demonstrations in 2018-2019 estimated to have been at least 60%.
In the mid-1990s the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that Sudan had more than 35% women-headed households. Fast-forward more than 23 years, the number of women-headed households in Sudan has probably doubled, if not more. While doing the lion’s share of care work and providing for their families, women have also, since 2019, made incredible strides to assert their agency and presence within households and public spheres. If this coup is allowed to last, Sudanese women will be dragged into a very dark corner.
We all know that the transitional period of the Sudanese revolution has not been ideal, and we are fully aware of the number of challenges and constraints that occurred, but we also fully understand the root causes of these challenges, starting with the disproportionally designed political agreement, which allowed remnants of the Omar al Bashir regime to remain in power. This faction of the transitional government has never been interested in anything other than keeping Sudan captive to the same cycles of violence and poverty that have long been hindering Sudan’s opportunities to achieve stability and peace.
And although there has been no clear progress on legal and institutional reform towards gender equality in Sudan, we cannot deny the achievements made by the Sudanese people, women and men, throughout the transitional period. In particular, the success of Sudanese women in increasing and consolidating their presence in public places.
Women founded sports teams, involved themselves in creative activities, and paved the way for professions that had been preserved for men during the previous regime, such as traffic police, technical professions, car mechanics, carpentry and public car driving. Sudanese women’s voices rose on all platforms, and through their participation in peaceful protests and marches, they demanded their human rights, while spreading awareness about the rights of women and girls.
Now, at this critical time in Sudan’s history, the women of Sudan are standing at the front lines, fighting once again to prevent their country from slipping back into dark times.
If this military coup succeeds in taking over the country, Sudanese women will face another cycle of obscurity and violence that may be much worse than the era of Bashir, especially since no legal reform has taken place in the country. Sudan is still not a member of CEDAW, and Sudan has not signed or ratified any of the international protocols or instruments that could have improved the status of women. In addition, Sudan still has active laws that allow gender-based violence and impunity for perpetrators of violence against women and girls.
Moreover, women continue to be arrested for so-called ‘moral transgressions,’ despite the repeal of the Public Order Law in Sudan. Punishments are harsh, including flogging, imprisonment and, in some cases, execution. Poor women and girls, internally displaced people, refugees, and those living in areas of armed conflict areas continue to be the most vulnerable to these penalties and organized violence.
A militant militarized system can only exist by eliminating any glimmer of hope towards accountability and the rule of law.
The reasons Sudanese women took part in the revolution in large numbers are the same reasons they are now part of the resistance against this treacherous coup. We are well aware that any military government will seriously jeopardize the rights, security and safety of women, especially with these fundamentalists and warlords at the helm.
The environment created by the presence of armed groups in civilian areas has time and again been accompanied by increases in sexual and gender-based violence. Already there are reports that a group of soldiers representing the coup stormed a hostel for girls in north Khartoum, and assaulted dozens of the female students there.
Sudanese women are well aware that their access to basic human rights and justice are conditioned upon the presence of a civil and democratic system of governance that respects women’s rights and humanity. Only under such a government can women be part of legal and political reform processes that will contribute to bringing about meaningful change. Until then, the women of Sudan remain on the front lines to resist any action that pushes them back or diminishes their humanity and the value of their contribution to society.
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