President Banda's recent decisions seem honourable and pragmatic. But we should be concerned in the way Western aid is being used to keep Malawi under donor colonization.
In just a few weeks, Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, announced she would decriminalise same sex relationships, disposed of the excesses of her predecessor (the $13.3million presidential jet and fleet of 60 Mercedes), embarked on an austerity drive to end a shortage of foreign currency and refused to invite President Al Bashir of Sudan to the AU summit in Malawi over his indictment by the International Criminal Court, forcing the AU to move the summit to Ethiopia.
Should we cheer at her courage to defy the rest of the continent, stand up for sexual rights and against rampant corruption? No African country came out in support of her government's decision on Al Bashir or welcomed her stance on LGBTI rights. However, the word is Malawi has sold itself to the West in return for continued and possibly increased aid and has become the "darling of the West".
The UK Guardian newspaper reported Banda's meeting with the British minister for Overseas Development as follows:
"Mitchelle reportedly said Banda's decision "sends an enormously encouraging signal to British taxpayers and the international community about the seriousness President Banda is applying to overturn bad decisions taken under the previous government". She suggested that the "proceeds can be used to provide basic services to Malawi's poorest people who urgently need help following the vital devaluation of the currency". Which is true and a noble thing to do. [ http://bit.ly/Lcl7YE ]
Put more kindly, Malawi is "balancing principles with national interests."
"Banda's administration initiated early moves to rehabilitate Malawi's battered reputation for the promotion and protection of human rights." [http://bit.ly/Lm2AH3]
These are honourable and pragmatic decisions and I have no doubt as to the sincerity of Joyce Banda. Nonetheless we should be concerned in the way aid conditionality is being used under the ruse of "Malawi's best interest" - is that to remain under donor colonisation? It's always more powerful to know choices are made from conviction rather than under threat.
AFRICAN WOMEN BLOGGING
President Joyce Banda is a successful business woman, identifies as a feminist and is an advocate of women's rights, stating: "I'm carrying this heavy load on behalf of all women" and early this year she marched with thousands of other Malawian women against sexual violence on the streets. [ ]http://bit.ly/Kmm1h2]
There is much evidence of African women's resistance during the colonial period and subsequent period of nationalist movements towards independence . Two recent posts by Minna Salami on [Ms Afropolitian - http://bit.ly/KQyWuR ] discuss African feminism and pre-colonial matriarchies in Africa - defining feminism broadly as a resistance to patriarchy...
"In much of premodern Africa, there were women who possessed economic, political and spiritual power. To name only a few there were warrior women like the Amazons or Fon women of Dahomey. Or royalty who used their powers to demand justice like Makeda of Ethiopia, Nzinga of Angola or Mnkabayi of Zululand."
It is undeniable that African women resisted the conditions which oppressed them and continue to do so without necessarily naming the resistance as 'feminism' or 'feminist acts'. The presence of radical feminists in African politics may well be on the increase. In Senegal Fatou Kiné Camara who identifies as a radical feminist is running for a parliamentary seat under 'Beuss Du Niakk 'a human centered Islamic party which promotes women's rights'. [http://bit.ly/K2c0q4].
In 2005 I wrote a post on my blog Black Looks asking the question: 'Where are all the African women blogging?" [http://bit.ly/K2e6Gu] Some like Mshari and Kenyan Pundit no longer blog though KP is prolific on Twitter. Others such as Molara Wood [http://bit.ly/K2eyEW] and Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman [http://bit.ly/rpwX6K] remain active. In addition to the excellent Ms Afropolitan mentioned above others worth reading are Egyptian Chronicles, Ugandan blogger, Rose Bell [ ]http://rosebellkagumire.com/] Nigerian romance novelist Myne Whitman [http://bit.ly/K2fiK7] whose dedication to encouraging writings by younger Nigerian women should be acknowledged; the hugely popular tabloid blog Bella Naija which focuses on fashion, music and popular culture, [http://www.bellanaija.com/] and finally the group blog Her Zimbabwe run by a group of young Zimbabwean women...
"At Her Zimbabwe, we want to listen to as many women as we can. And we've realised that the Internet is not something freely accessible to all of us. This is why we have our SMS line; in case someone out there realises that we could help some women who have no access to new media, but who needs us.
"Our other firm conviction is that no one intervention can impact every single woman. If Her Zimbabwe does its part, and other players become more involved in empowering different communities of women, then the collective energy of our efforts will reach far and across the terrain of the mentality that dictates that one size fits all."
NIGERIA - JUNE 12. REMEMBERING M.K.O ABIOLA
In the week Nigerians chose to celebrate democracy, they also remembered the late Chief Mashood Abiola who was elected president on June 12,1993 in what was described as Nigeria's "freest and fairest election". However the election was shamefully and illegally nullified by then military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida. M.K.O. Abiola was later arrested by the new military ruler General Sani Abacha, imprisoned in solitary confinement for four years for refusing to renounce his presidency. Abiola died under suspicious circumstances on the day of his release July 7, 1998.
In an act which has outraged Nigerian students, President Goodluck Jonathan recently renamed the University of Lagos [UNILAG] Moshood Abiola University. Within hours of the announcement, students of UNILAG took to the streets, Twitter and Facebook condemning the renaming. Why the outrage? Nigerians Talk [http://bit.ly/M2wm2h ] suggest the anger was due to the failure to consult with students, faculty, alumni or the university council.
"This action feels like a reversion to the military era, where the military leaders took any decision they deemed fit and forced it down the throat of the populace. A democracy, which is what we claim to have, should work through a dialogue in which the government and the electorate arrive at the best decision for everyone.
"Additionally, as the Federal Government was attempting to honour Bashorun MKO Abiola with the name change, it also took that honour away by referring to him as the 'presumed winner' of the 1993 elections. I believe that the starting point on the path to honouring Bashorun Abiola will be to declare the winner of the 1993 elections, and move him from being 'the presumed winner' to 'the President-elect', even though he has passed on and will never occupy that office."
I suggest the anger was as much an expression of frustration by particularly youths over the government and the failure of the Occupy Nigeria movement to sustain itself much beyond 7 days. The suddenness and lack of consultation with the students can be seen in conjunction with the January 1 announcement of the removal of fuel subsidy. These military-style declarations mock the notion of democracy.
President Jonathan has become a figure of ridicule as he stumbles from crisis to corruption like a man trying to find his way out of Amos Tutuola's 'Bush of Ghosts'. Boko Haram continue their murdering spree and unknown gunmen slaughtered 27 people across two villages in Zamfara State in a reprisal attack. [http://bit.ly/KF3xJn]. A series of tweet exchanges by myself and @rmajayi highlights the sense of insecurity and fear felt by many Nigierians.
"I'm not angry yet, just terribly sad & scared! Trouble sleeping too!.....I feel like govt's going to scr*w me over!
Political activist, Kayode Ogundamisi, remembers the 1993 'heroes', the Niamey 4, who in an act of desperation, hijacked a Nigerian Airways plane in protest over the annulment of the June 12 election. [http://bit.ly/LJjAev]
"The hijackers [Richard Ajibola Ogunderu, Kabir Adenuga, Benneth Oluwadaisi & Kenny Rasaq-Lawa] had issued prepared statements, which they distributed in the plane calling on the Nigerian government to actualize the June 12 election and swear-in the winner, Chief M.K.O Abiola. Negotiations began with the hijackers after some few days of lull and indecision by the local authority, which was unaware of the hijackers' military capacity, or whether they had explosives that could blow up the plane. The Nigerian authorities offered to release the hijackers provided that they would not harm the passengers, but while that was on going, Richard revealed, high level security meetings were in top gear with the chief aim of storming the plane and freeing the passengers, and if possible, kill the hijackers."
Ending on a Nigerian depression note, the government announced today it will be deploying "civil defence' personnel as part of its strategy to end Boko Haram's terror campaign. Neither the supposedly highly trained army or the paramilitary police have been in any way successful so its hard to imagine what he expects from a civil defence unit except of course more deaths and destruction.
For an excellent historical and political analysis of Boko Haram read Wole Soyinka: "Next Phase of Boko Haram Terrorism" in this issue of Pambazuka News.