31 October, 2016

Do African Lives Matter for African Leaders?

by Hussein Solomon

Africans have grown accustomed to the West ignoring their suffering. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Consider the fact that Belgian King Leopold II’s atrocities was historically ignored in Europe at the time and barely gets a footnote in recent European books on its African colonies. To be clear, 15 million Congolese were murdered and numerous others were mutilated by this ‘civilized’ European king as he sought to extract rubber from this blighted country. More recently, more than 6 million Congolese have been killed since the 2nd August 1998. Once again, there is scarcely a mention on the front pages of The Washington Post or the New York Times.

At one level, perhaps, this is understandable. According to psychologists one is supposed to have greater empathy for one’s in-group as opposed to the proverbial other. What is particularly galling for Africans, however, is when their own leaders display such callous disregard for their lives. Worse, still, is the hypocrisy accompanying the callousness on the part of Africa’s leadership. Consider for instance the events surrounding the 7 January 2015. This was the date of the brutal terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices which resulted in 17 people being killed on the streets of Paris. The world rallied with the French and a mass march of 1,6 million people took to the streets of Paris. This march also included 40 world leaders, including several African leaders who mourned the lives of the innocent savagely cut short. This is as it should be.
At the same time, of the Paris killings, however, there was another atrocity taking place. In the dusty town of Baga, northern Nigeria, Boko Haram militants slaughtered 2000 innocent people. There was no similar Paris march. No African leader took to the streets to commemorate the lives of those lost. Even the Nigerian President at the time, Goodluck Jonathan, did not immediately respond to the tragedy which took place on his own territory where his own citizens lost their life in such a cold-blooded way. This prompts the question: Do African lives matter to African leaders?

I asked this question several times following the decision by my own government – South Africa - to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The South African decision may well be related to domestic politics. According to Anton du Plessis of the Institute for Security Studies, the Zuma administration is attempting to protect itself from an imminent Constitutional Court hearing in relation to the 2015 visit of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when Pretoria refused to arrest him as it was obligated to do under the Rome Statute. Instead Bashir and his entourage were whisked out of the country by the South African authorities.
Peacekeepers in Darfur (Aekkaphob / Shutterstock.com)

To be clear, the arrest warrant for Bashir was based on the charge that he oversaw the war in Darfur which resulted in the deaths of between 200,000 and 400,000 people and the displacement of a further 2.5 million people in Darfur out of a population of 6.2 million. The so-called leaders of Africa denounced the ICC decision ostensibly because heads of state should have immunity of prosecution. The counter-argument is simply this: as Head of State should the buck not stop with him? Do not forget that Bashir was not merely Commander-in-Chief by virtue of him being President of Sudan. He was a military man who staged a coup in 1989 to come to power. The second charge levelled against the ICC was that it was unfairly targeting Africa. Let us be frank: many of the ICC investigations were initiated by African countries themselves since they did not have the resources to conduct an investigation and engage in a trial themselves. Do not forget, too, that the ICC is a court of last resort. The attack on the ICC is simultaneously taking place at a time when Africa’s own domestic and regional judicial mechanisms have come under threat from Africa’s self-serving leaders who desire to escape accountability at all costs whilst they simultaneously steal from and brutalize their citizens.

Perhaps the most powerful response to these objections put forward would simply be this: Do African lives matter to African leaders? Their deep concern for Bashir is akin to sympathizing with the aggressor as opposed to the victims. After all who speaks for the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims who needlessly lost their lives in Darfur?

14 October, 2016

Lesotho: 50 Years of Independence?

by M. K. Mahlakeng

“Sir George Grey restore to me all the land that was in my possession before the arrival of the Afrikaners..”
King Moshoeshoe I - 31 July 1858

On the 4 October 2016, Lesotho celebrated its 50th year of independence (the Golden Jubilee) from the Great Britain (4 October 1966 – 4 October 2016). But one serious noteworthy question remains. Is Lesotho really independent? Independence refers to sovereignty, self-government and the state or quality of being independent. It is conceivable to argue that Lesotho attained self-rule and sovereignty from the Great Britain, however, “the state or quality of being independent” (i.e. socially, economically and otherwise) is a highly contended issue. It is generally perceived that Lesotho is not truly independent and that its “total independence” is central to regaining the “lost territory”, which is the Free State.

The Free State, as seen from the University of the Free State, QwaQwa Campus

50 years later, the Free State which was lost by the Basotho nation to the Afrikaaner following a series of fights has still not returned to Lesotho. The Afrikaner, leaving the Cape Colony as a result of the conflict with the British, showed up on the western borders of the then Basutoland (today Lesotho), and claimed land rights. This eventually led to a series of fights in 1858 between the Afrikaner and Basotho in the “Free State – Basotho War”, thus leading to Moshoeshoe I to lose a great portion of the western lowlands.

50 years later Lesotho is still heavily dependent on foreign aid (posing a great deal of challenge in addressing socioeconomic issues), and imports 95% of its goods from South Africa. Its geographic location, being an enclave landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa, seems to be a negative aspect to its political and economic development which has left Lesotho in a position of being dependent on South Africa for economic survival. Moreover, it has left Lesotho with the inability of negotiating sustainable deals.

Furthermore, 50 years later Lesotho, with a population of about 2.1 million, has not been able to fully address political and socioeconomic upheavals confronting the country simply due to the lack of resources. However, there is a solution to this. And this solution falls back to the issue of the Free State region. The total retrocession and restitution of the Free State to Lesotho. The retrocession and restitution of the Free State to Lesotho would mean a number of things for the enclave landlocked country. Firstly, it would mean a considerable increase in arable land, which currently stands at 10% of the total of this mountainous country.

Secondly, this additional land comes with a number of these resources essential in addressing Lesotho’s political and socioeconomic upheavals such as, among others, HIV prevalence, lack of employment and poverty, which has led to serious health issues such as chronic malnutrition of children under the age of 5. These resources include gold in Allanridge, Welkom and Virginia; coal in Sasolburg; and, diamonds in Jagasfontein and Theunissen. Furthermore, The Free State falls under what is commonly referred to as “The Maize Triangle” possessing the best maize. This maize triangle stretches from Lichtenburg (North West Province), Hobhouse (Free State Province) to Ermelo (Mpumalanga Province) thus forming a triangle.

Furthermore, the same region (i.e. the High Veld in the Free State) is recognized, among four other parts of the World (i.e. the Prairies in Canada, the Pampas in Argentina, the Steppes in Ukraine, and the Downs in Australia), as possessing rich soil able to sustain agricultural life. Despite trade routes, Lesotho remains dependent on South Africa simply because it lacks resources (found in the Free State) essential for the development of a competitive economy and a prosperous social and political life.

The failure by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and King Letsie III, during their respective speeches commemorating 50 years of Lesotho’s independence, to not acknowledge the positive outcomes that would come with the return of the Free State to Lesotho and the fact that Lesotho is not independent until retrocession and restitution of the Free State to Lesotho is final, is detrimental to the knowledge and history of Lesotho and its nation respectively.