1. For Kenya, increased access to the EU market is the magic wand. This is mostly due to its comparative advantages in vital sectors, with a potential to improve the country’s export revenue base. However, the agreement has not been ratified by member states, with the exception of Kenya and Uganda.

    The EPA provides a duty and quota free access to EU markets for East African goods in exchange for liberalisation of the regional market for European products. The EU will keep its market open for the region in exchange for gradual liberalisation of over 80 percent of the signatories’ market over a period of 25 years.

    The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report titled “Analysis of the Impact of the EAC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement on the EAC Economies” warns that this move opens up local market to imports from more developed nations within the EU and this could hurt the fledgling industries within EAC due to competition from high standard goods. The report further asserts that local industries will struggle to withstand competition pressure from EU firms, while the region will be stuck in its position as a low value-added commodity exporter.

    Other findings of the report do not portend improved market access to EU market for the EAC, rather a decline in tariff revenues from EU and further prevents the EAC from later applying a higher tariff rate on capital and manufactured goods like pharmaceuticals, and this agreement will mainly benefit the EU which needs unrestricted access to the EAC market. The report suggests that the agreements is more advantageous to the EU and that EAC countries must renegotiate for quota-free and duty-free access to the EU market, which would be a huge benefit for all the countries in the region.

    A study commissioned by the Kenya Human Rights Commission titled “The ABC of EU-EAC Economic Partnership Agreement” faults the agreement and suggests that Kenya will likely be the most affected if the EPA is not ratified because its products will not qualify for preferential treatment and as such still attract high tariffs. This is because Kenya is classified as a developing country and does not qualify for the favourable “Everything but Arms” (EBA) arrangement reserved for the Least Developed Countries.

    A study conducted by UNECA indicated that implementation of the agreement would reduce welfare in the EAC, with Kenya being the hardest hit (US $45million loss) while the EU will register a welfare gain of US $212 million. This is supported by the EAC study titled “Economic Impact of EU – East African Community Economic Partnership Agreement” which found that implementing the EPA would put the EAC at risk of losing trading opportunity with other states and only the EU would benefit from the agreement. Kenya has fairly developed industrial and manufacturing sectors. While the country’s portfolio in these sectors is to sell finished products within the region, it only exports raw materials to the EU. Trade liberalisation and elimination of tariffs on EU products opens up the market to imports from EU that will compete with local products leading to loss of business, unemployment and decline in revenue.

    These are the issues that are still outstanding in the post Doha agenda of the World Trade Organisation, especially on agricultural products, which are central to the EAC economy.

    While trade liberalisation is meant to grow the economy, the advantages of EPA must be critically examined. Kenya must specifically assess the agreement to ensure it reaps maximum economic dividends from it. The EPA should create jobs and improve revenue earnings and throughput economic development in the country.

    A primary target sector that Kenya could benefit from by enforcing the EPA is the horticultural industry, which accounts for 21 percent of the country’s export, earning US $1.1 billion annually. Horticultural products will enjoy preferential access to the EU market with little to no competition from other exporting countries such as Ethiopia and Colombia. Kenya will escape the high EU tariffs, embolden its access to the lucrative European market, and be able to improve its trade infrastructure through technical assistance from the EU. This will enable it to address technical regulations and compliance standards in the export markets in an effort to expand and add value to the economy.

    According to the UNECA report cited above, EAC imports could decline by US $42 million mainly in manufacturing while tariff revenues from EU imports would decline by US $169 million. A great amount of Kenya’s tax revenue is derived from customs and import duties. In the absence of the EPA, Kenya’s export would fall under the Generalised System of Preference and Most Favoured Nations tariffs, with a high risk of market loss. However, due to the EPA, its exports to the EU will continue to benefit from the duty-free and quota-free access.

    Going forward the country must employ a mixed approach to international trade in order to fully exploit its gains effectively, it should approach EPA with patient ambition whilst also crafting lucrative deals with high net worth economies that guarantee access of strategic products. Technical assistance programmes that come with most agreements must be harnessed to result in incremental value addition to the products for optimal competition in the relevant market.


    *Jack Juma Obiero and Zamzam Idris are former associates in the International Relations and Diplomacy Division at the Kenya Revenue Authority

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    The East African
  2. However, because the situation is not ideal—and this is the subject of the memo—I am moving directly to the public. The message in the memo comes at the end of the article. It is a short and direct one. I am therefore utilising the available space to reflect on a related issue of general interest. The “related issue” supplies the title of the piece. And, “for the avoidance of doubt” and “for completeness”, I define the Nigerian Left in this historical epoch as the aggregate of Marxists, socialists and partisans of popular democracy.

    Found in one of the “mountains” of papers, drafts and study notes left behind by Karl Marx at his death in 1883 was a rough document carrying a series of his critical observations on the works of the materialist philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach. The discovery was made by Marx’s life-long friend and collaborator, Friedrich Engels. The latter considered the note important enough to be edited, titled and published post-humously as an article and later used for a larger publication. This post-humous article, written by Marx in Brussels in the first half of 1845, and published in 1888 by Engels, has been passed to history and to us as Theses on Feuerbach. In Engels’ view, the “note” which later became Theses on Feuerbachwas “the first document in which is deposited the brilliant germ of a new world outlook”, that is, the Marxist theory of history and society. That is for interested students and researchers to examine.

    It may interest Nigerian Leftists, progressives, patriots and radical democrats to know that I have also discovered important “theses” in the papers left behind by a number of our departed comrades and compatriots. I have drawn the attention of some comrades to this development. What is interesting in the latter discoveries is that the “theses” have now shed more light on some critical issues that were bitterly debated in the Nigerian Left some decades ago. Some of these issues had led to seemingly irreconcilable divisions and fights; others had led to frustrations, disillusionment, abandonment and premature retirement from struggle.

    Back now to Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach. There are 11 of them, or rather, in my view, Engels and latter editors handed over Marx’s theses on Feuerbach to us in 11 segments of unequal lengths. Historically and in broad terms, Marx can be classified, along with Ludwig Feuerbach, as a “materialist” philosopher in contrast to “idealist” philosophers of whom the most famous and best known in Europe of Marx’s time was Hegel. Marx, a student of philosophy and history, started off as a radical or Left Hegelian.

    From here he became a critic of Hegel and came under the influence of Feuerbach, a radical anti-Hegelian. It was in the course of confronting the “inadequacies” of Feuerbach that Marx formulated his “theses”. In these theses he called Feuerbach’s materialism the “old materialism” or “mechanical materialism” and his own “the new materialism”. The latter was later codified—after Marx’s death—as Marxist theory of history and society.

    I consider three of Marx’s 11 theses on Feuerbach—the second, the third and the eleventh—as the most lucid and direct applications of dialectics to the study of history and society. The second thesis can be rendered as follows: “The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory. It is a practical question. In practice, a human being must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question”.

    The third thesis may be rendered like this: “The doctrine that human beings are products of circumstances and education and that, therefore, changed human beings are products of other circumstances and changed education forgets that the educator himself needs educating. That doctrine as presented by old materialism or contemplative materialism necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts—one of which is superior to the other. That is not so. In reality the changing of circumstances and human activity coincide; and the coincidence can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.”

    The 11th thesis is the most well-known and is often quoted by revolutionaries and reactionaries alike: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”. To these three theses we may add the following line from Marx’s The Holy Family written just before the Theses: “If a human being is formed by his/her circumstances, then his/her circumstances must be made human.”

    We may now move to my message to the Nigerian Left—the main subject of this piece. The message resolves into seven propositions. The first is the “covering” proposition. It is general in nature. The other six are specific. One: There should be initiated in the Nigerian Left a process of internal criticism, education and correction. It should be a process that ends in an organisational leap. The process and the leap are now demanded more than ever before in our post-Civil War history. Two: The national situation in our country now strongly demands that the existing political groups, organisations and parties of the Nigerian Left—as well as unaffiliated Leftists— should combine to form a central political platform. Three: This platform should have a dual form: electoral and non-electoral.

    The fourth proposition is this: Independently, Marxists within the Nigerian Left should establish an educational-ideological centre with the capacity for minimum continuity. Five: The centre should be appropriately allied to the political platform; and the two should support and nourish each other. Six: The Nigerian Left should articulate and publish a manifesto that goes beyond being a general presentation. The manifesto should take clear and precise positions on the burning questions of the time. Seven: If the Nigerian Left cannot meet these elementary conditions to confront the challenges of the present stage of our history then it has no basis to enter electoral politics or seek electoral alliance with anybody.

    In May 1949, at the start of the anti-communist hysteria which swept America after World War II, a number of American Marxists who were also academics and public intellectuals came together and established an enlightenment-ideological centre. The centre went on to establish a monthly “independent socialist magazine” called Monthly Review.

    Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman were the magazine’s co-founders and foundation editors. Today, 69 years later, Monthly Review is not only still appearing monthly and circulating all over the world, it had long become a global institution—carrying out intellectual, academic and ideological programmes and projects in all the continents of the world including America, in particular. Among the articles that appeared in the foundation issue of Monthly Review in May 1949 was one by the world-historic physicist, Albert Einstein. The article was titled Why socialism?

    In addition to the Monthly Review magazine, there are now Monthly Review Press and Monthly ReviewFoundation. The Press publishes highly valued books authored by writers spread across the globe and also distributing important non-Monthly Review books. In other words, the Monthly Review Organisation has maintained what I call “minimum continuity” through almost seven decades—influencing Left and radical politics throughout the world, including America, in particular.


    * Edwin Madunagu is a mathematician and journalist. He writes from Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.

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  3. Ordinarily, it would probably be wisest to ignore this furore as just another outburst by a celebrity who is seeking to garner publicity for himself. After all, West is currently working on an album that is due to be released later this year and, if we have learnt anything from the cult of celebrity in the digital age, it is that controversy sells. As his arguments are likely to have serious implications for a range of global debates, however, it behoves us to reflect on the nature and potential ramifications of his comments rather than to dismiss them as a celebrity stunt. This applies more especially in South Africa, a country with a deep yet frequently overlooked slave history, which set the tone for race relations and provided the blueprint for future systems of racial oppression.

    To see how his views could affect some topical current debates, consider that, if slavery was a choice and slaves had become inured to the depredations of their social station, on what grounds could slave descendants make legitimate demands for justice, reparations or restitution? On the other hand, implying that slaves had no choice as those who have rushed to remind us of how brutal the system of slavery really was, risks infantilising slaves and detracting from their agency. What effect does characterising them thus, as terrified spectators to their fate who patiently waited upon their white masters to free them from their bondage, have on the psyche of slave descendants, who by and large remain rooted at the bottom of the societal hierarchy? Speculatively, subscribing to this view risks mentally enslaving slave descendants further, no matter how well-meaning these posts are.

    Perhaps a better way to contribute to the online debate generated by West’s comments would be to allow slaves to speak for themselves instead of looking to the latest memes that are trending on social media. We could do so by looking at the choices, which they made. If we did, we would see that, time and again, slaves chose freedom. Far from being victims resigned to their fate who placidly bore their circumstances with dignity and large doses of faith, a stereotype so beloved in the blockbusters which many of the entertainers who took offence to West’s remarks star in, slaves never lost their desire to be free and proved themselves willing to fight for their freedom no matter the cost.

    South Africa itself has a history of slave rebellion and resistance, from the relatively peaceable Jij Rebellion of 1808 to the more violent 1825 uprising led by Abel, Thyssen and Galant. All these took place in addition to the myriad undocumented daily acts of resistance in which slaves engaged; from running away, to arson or to aiding members of runaway communities. Though these rebellions, as with other slave uprisings internationally, were largely unsuccessful; Haiti being the most well-known exception; these episodes show that slaves never lost the capacity to hope.

    Sadly this history of resistance has been all but overlooked worldwide in favour of the prevailing narrative according to which slavery was ended only after former slaveholders became enlightened and decided to emancipate their slaves through an act of benevolence or were forced to do so after being militarily defeated by their “woke” brethren as in the case of the American Civil War. For perpetuating this narrative that ultimately reinforces the notion of white dominance and black subservience we members of former slave societies are all culpable. So, if you would like to drop the mic on Kanye West, refrain from re-posting your favourite celebrity’s latest tweet on this topic; demand a more accurate representation of our slave history instead.


    * Gerard Boyce is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Howard College). He writes in his personal capacity.

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  4. Sub-Title: 
    So that Blacks do not have to irritate whites with their presence in Europe and America?

    I recently had an interesting conversation with my Italian roommate, after I had expressed my deep gratitude to the Italian people for taking in African refugees, treating them well, and giving them a chance to start over in Italy. While out jogging, I had met a Nigerian, who crossed the desert and survived adrift an inflatable boat for three days in the Mediterranean Sea until the Italians rescued them and brought them ashore to Sicilia. Although the Nigerian man now had a job as a cleaner, but because he supported his wife and Italian born kids, he still had to rely on panhandling for the generosity and mercy of kind Italians, to supplement his income. My roommate explained that the increasing numbers of Africans is putting a huge pressure on the average Italian and is causing growing “irritation” (not racism though) in the southern parts of Italy.

    He mentioned that Africa was the only place where the people did not fight for their independence and break away from foreign domination by Europe, but had its independence was negotiated through help from Europeans and Americans. He lauded places like Italy, France and America, where independence was fought for through violent revolution and war. He wondered why Africans did not appear patriotic and stay in Africa to build it. And he referenced Africa’s proverbial poverty. Needless to say, my roommate knew of the history of Africa’s path to independence from a myopic European perspective, and consequently, was ignorant of the brave liberation struggles of African nationalists, who left European powers no other choice but to jettison physical colonisation of most of the continent.

    Then I decided to enlighten my roommate from Rome—the city that was a bastion of the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century—a bit about the African paradox, which also exists in part because Europeans and intelligence operatives from other parts of the world, have not really left Africa, but continue to exploit its resources through fifth columnists camouflaging as African leaders. And then I asked him if he was aware that majority of the world’s natural resources used in western industries are extracted from Africa. I asked him if he knew that Nigeria for instance was among the biggest oil producers in the world and has among the top five largest reserves of natural gas and oil in the world and that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product was US $1 trillion from mainly oil production. He said he did not know this, but that when he heard of Africa, he only understood it to be the poorest continent in the world that Europe and America help—and of course, when he hears of Nigeria he hears of Boko Haram, terrorism, and corrupt Nigerians who defraud westerners.

    Consequently, I proceeded to enlighten him a bit more. He was quite surprised to learn that, according to Forbes magazine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has the world’s richest deposits of tin and coltan, used to make electronic devices and chips in our computers, etc. It has among the world’s largest deposits of cobalt, used in jet engines. The Congo has oil and diamonds too. It has been described as the most richly endowed mineral resources place on earth. I remember one closet bigot colleague of mine who was a stockbroker. When I tried to discuss the issue of looking to investments in Africa because of its resources, the Lebanese American derisively cackled, “that he knew of a company that has thought of investing in water in Africa.” Water was the only resource the American of Lebanese descent could think of, when I raised Africa as a region for investment. I will get back to the issue of Lebanese folks, who have a close relationship with Nigeria. (I am not prejudiced or bashing a nationality. Just one moment and I will reveal more.)

    My roommate also got to know that an Italian energy company called Eni, currently has a corruption case in Milan, where we live, regarding its involvement in scandalous bribes of Nigerian government officials to the tune of billions of dollars, for oil field concessions in Nigeria. He had not known of this, until I informed him. He knows a lot about Italian politics. And he belongs to a party that is nationalistic and while not racist, is critical of immigration. However, what he did not know was that the value in oil deals and concessions which the Italian oil company has gained from Nigeria alone, is far greater than the cost to Italians, of all Nigerians who have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean to work in Italy. Besides, I also learned in my International Criminal Law class, that the Italian mafiaalso controls and facilitates the trafficking of Africans into Italy.

    Now he had learned that Africa despite having tremendous resources, ingenuity (he is a rap aficionado music student who wants to be a rap producer, and praises black creative genius), and hardworking people (Africans were used as slave labour to build America and historically were used as slave labour to build Middle Eastern empires), remained paradoxically populated with impoverished people, because of continued detrimental activities of the West and the Middle East in the continent.

    He is very solutions oriented, my roommate. Thus, he asked, “What is the solution to curb Africans from emigrating and braving the perils of the desert and the hazards of racist rogue cops in America?” I asked him if it were possible for all Europeans and non-blacks to leave Africa alone – by removing themselves and going back to where they came from the way racists in America and some parts of Europe where Africans are called monkeys, chant that blacks should go back to Africa. Then arrangements can be made for all Black people to return to Africa to use their resources and labour fairly for themselves. The refugee, who was panhandling, was an Igbo man. Igbos do not beg but are industrious and take pride in their diligence and entrepreneurial skills. He left Nigeria seeking work. Because corrupt Nigerian government officials sell oil and embezzle the proceeds keeping billions in Swiss banks and hide hundreds of millions of dollars in their homes. I referred him to YouTube videos revealing discovered millions of dollars in cash, in people’s homes in Nigeria.

    I asked him if these puppet Nigerian and African leaders on the payroll of foreign intelligence outfits (for instance Mobutu of Zaire was used by the Central Intelligence Agency and Belgian intelligence) would be released for the Nigerian public to deal with according to their laws and hearts’ desire. And if foreign intelligence would sever all links with Africans, so there would not be blacks working at cross-purposes with African interests and sabotaging African development. This way Nigerian graduates like the refugee I met (he said he had a degree in Statistics and I could tell he was a university graduate from his flawless spoken English), could be employed in Nigeria, when the proceeds from oil are invested in developing Nigerian industries, rather than siphoned off to banks in Europe and America, with the help of foreigners.

    General Ibrahim Babangida, who used General Abacha as a fix-it man, was allegedly on a foreign payroll. He institutionalised corruption in Nigeria, and his regime witnessed the razing of Nigeria’s ministry of defence building (equivalent of the United States Pentagon), to obliterate paper trail of his nefarious activities. US $12 billion from oil proceeds went missing under his regime. He was known as an egregious human rights violator during his reign of terror and corruption. The Oputa panel has claimed that he was involved in the perfidious use of a letter bomb to kill a Nigerian journalist investigating his atrocities. Yet the Queen of England knighted him while he executed his reign of terror. Is England not supposed to be a staunch opponent of reprehensible dictators? (Knight Grand Cross of the Bath was conferred on Babangida in May 1989 by Queen Elizabeth II of Britain) General Babangida was a traitor to the Nigerian state, which his regime ruined with impunity.

    Apart from Europeans who live in Lagos and Port Harcourt, and of course South Africa, there are also Asians who have lived in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa for decades and claim Africa as their home. One of the things the refugee, who left Nigeria three years ago, complained about was the increasing presence of Chinese firms in Nigeria, buying oil fields in shady deals. He said the investments from China are not leading to industries and job creation for Nigerian graduates, but instead was propelling a heavy influx of Chinese people into Nigeria, since the firms prefer to bring in Chinese workers, to work in even the most unskilled jobs in their firms and industries.

    In Kano, there have been Indians, Arabs and Lebanese who have lived in Nigeria for decades, profiting off Nigeria’s oil. For instance, Gilbert Chagoury is a Lebanese (Nigerians call him a white man), worth US $4.2 billion on Forbes. He and his brothers claim Nigerian citizenship and have lived there for decades. They were close associates of the perfidious military dictator, Sani Abacha, who embezzled billions from Nigeria, and hanged a Nigerian intellectual, award winning writer, and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ken Saro-Wiwa complained about the despoliation of Nigerian lands from oil extraction, by foreign oil companies, which did not exercise the standards of care that would have been imposed in Europe and America. Abacha enriched Chagoury the Lebanese man, but hanged a Nigerian intellectual for seeking justice. My roommate acknowledged that there appeared to be an element of dearth of “Nigerian love for fellow Nigerians,” he called it. It can be described as self-hate, as the facially scarified Abacha, who allegedly died of a sudden heart attack in the arms of prostitutes flown in from India for his pleasure, scorned Nigerians like him.

    My question was not a tacit endorsement of the extreme position of expropriation of South African lands without compensation of white farmers, taken by South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa and Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, to redress historic racial injustice against Africans.

    Will every non-black physically leave sub-Saharan Africa voluntarily and leave Africa alone, so that Africans do not have to keep flooding Europe and America seeking help? It is a pipe dream. Therefore, until this occurs, westerners must accept the “irritation” of black presence, just as their presence in Africa causes a lot more than mere irritation, which Africans must endure.


    *Olurotimi Osha is a Doctor of Law candidate at the George Washington University Law School, in Washington, DC, United States of America.

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    Mainstream and alternative media unite to shut the truth up

    Certainly not!  My book – The Dialectic & the Detective: The Arab Spring and Regime Change in Libya – is not only anti-establishment and anti-imperialist; it is also a scathing indictment of bourgeois media in their role as outriders for naked imperialist aggression.

    The bolt from the red was the response of many left-wing writers, journalists and alternative media. I had thought that once the book was published these presumed fellow travellers would need little prompting to write and run critiques of the work.

    If for nothing else, I reasoned, they would find its main thesis an interesting one, namely that the Arab Spring was a United States-orchestrated plot to provide cover for the murder of Colonel Gaddafi and regime change in Libya. 

    If the mainstream media accomplices in the Libya intervention were going to deny publicity to the book, surely their ideological opposite numbers would jump at the opportunity to at least examine the merits or otherwise of a book which substantiates what they had been saying since the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation war against Libya – that it was a Western conspiracy to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi.

    That the establishment media ignored it is but a moot point.  They would not have liked Chapter Eight in particular, where I lay into their disgusting, pusillanimous role in the whole Libya episode; the cringeworthy antics of establishment doyens, such as former Guardian editor Pete Preston and Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow, are also highlighted there.

    The eye-opener came from those fellow travellers whom common sense alleged would not only welcome the book’s publication, but would do so with the enthusiasm of activists, writers and scholars whose positions on the Libya intervention were now vindicated by well-researched and dialectically-logical arguments.

    Believe it or not, they behaved in the same manner as their right-wing counterparts!  I am not going to do a full roll call here, but will say that I sent copies to, among many others, the Marxist website and group Counterfire, the online magazine Pan-African Newswire, Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report (BAR), the Pan-Africanist Horace Campbell of Black Commentator, The Guardian columnist Gary Younge, and Eric Draitser, a journalist and RT contributor.  

    Of these, Professor Campbell and columnist Younge are the only ones to whom I do not have even a tenuous connection.  In a younger incarnation, I used to be a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), as were many people in Counterfire.  The Pan-African Newswire I read and like, and am Facebook friendly with its editor, Abayomi Azikiwe; the BAR’s Glenn Ford has published my work before and, as far as I know, we are still “friendly comrades”; and I am on Draitser’s list of Facebook friends. 

    My messages to all but one of these six went unacknowledged; only Counterfire acknowledged receipt and bothered to reply to my request for a book review.  Comrade John Rees wrote back to say, “Dear Julian, Thanks for contacting us but this isn’t for us. Best wishes”. 

    “Dear John”, I wrote back.  “Thanks for getting back.  I would have thought a refusal or rebuttal on theoretical grounds would have been in order. Best…”

    You see, dear reader, that was the crux.  If the theses in my book are wrong, misguided, ideologically unsound, or theoretically suspect, then why won’t my “peers” come out and say so?  Dismantle my arguments, peer review the work, as demanded by the scientific method.  If am wrong, I will gladly go back to the drawing board.  Don’t reject it because you don’t like the message, or the messenger.

    Refute my contentions if you can.  Otherwise, declare them valid and true.  That is the scientific method!  It is as if my peers are afraid to review my work, for then they will be forced to publicly acknowledge its merits.  And that, it is increasingly becoming clear, they will do only under pain of death.

    I have tried to figure out why Marxists and others on the left would, like their right-wing counterparts, want to stay well clear of my book.  The only reason, which seems to make any sense is that they may have gone along with the bourgeois, imperialist narrative that the Arab Spring revolts were “popular grassroots revolutions against autocracy”.  But we all did, at one time or another.  Or, perhaps it is the fact that it took “a nobody from nowhere” to discover truths which had remained hidden to them for the last seven years.  Your guess is as good as mine.

    I have heard mention of a so-called left-wing, even a “Marxist”, establishment.  It would appear that I, or rather the truths contained in my book, had come up against them.  The “Guardians of Absolute Truth” had decreed my work heresy and ordered that the masses be protected from its hedonistic allure. “Just who does he think he is, telling us the earth is round, as if we didn’t know it already!”  But, guys, you didn’t.  Otherwise, you would have written my book, not me!

    Their imprimatur was withheld and my book duly sentenced to be digitally pulped.  It is as if I have single-handedly been able to unite the Left and the Right in a veritable conspiracy to have my book buried under a Chernobyl-like containment shield.  To paraphrase dear old Karl, if this is Marxism, then I am sure as hell not a Marxist.

    The genie is out of the bottle now – and it is definitely not going back in it!



    * Julian Samboma is author of The Dialectic & the Detective: The Arab Spring and Regime Change in Libya

    *The author’s website is

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  6. For those old enough to remember, 4 May was a day of grief, as 40 years ago apartheid’s brutal military launched an unprecedented airborne assault on the small Angolan hamlet of Cassinga, 260 kilometres north of the Namibian border. At the time, apartheid South Africa was entangled in harsh repression at home, coupled with the challenge posed by the insurgency of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), the Namibian guerrilla movement struggling for independence from the South African occupation.

    At daybreak on 4 May1978, South African planes flew low over the Cassinga camp, home to more than 3,000 Namibian refugees, spraying over 20,000 pounds of high-explosive bombs, strafing fragmentation shells and munitions, then followed by an assault by South African paratroopers. At the time, it was the South African army’s largest airborne operation, with close to 400 paratroopers dropped near the area.

    By the end of the raid, more than 600 Namibian refugees were killed by the bombs and bullets of the South African forces. Only a Cuban military unit based at Tchamutete, an Angolan village 16 kilometres south of Cassinga, came to the defence of the camp, advancing to confront the paratroopers despite being bombed by the South African Air Force. More than a dozen Cubans lost their lives in the fighting.

    The South African government at the time claimed that Cassinga had been a major SWAPO military base. As recalled by historian Piero Gleijeses, however, the available evidence indicates that Cassinga was indeed a refugee camp, administered by SWAPO with the assistance of the United Nations, protected only by a small SWAPO military force.

    The magnitude of the killing during the air assault was harrowing, all the more so when taking in to account the precarious conditions of the people who had sought refuge in the village. According to the account from representatives of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Health Organisation who visited Cassinga three weeks after the raid (also documented by Gleijeses), the place was completely obliterated, leaving behind just the traces of “the extreme savagery, the attempted annihilation, and the systematic destruction wrought upon a group of refugees who were under the protection [of the UNHCR]”. To the visiting UN delegates, “what happened in Cassinga must be described as criminal in legal terms and savage in moral terms”.

    The massacre was reported for a mere couple of days in the Western press, whereas Western governments barely reacted. In fact, the lack of any Western country voicing concerns at the event simply reinforced Pretoria’s callousness at the time. When the issue was taken forth to the United Nations, the United States and its allies opposed sanctions against South Africa at the UN Security Council. The only verbal response from the international community came in the form of the UN Security Council Resolution 428, adopted unanimously on 6 May 1978, after hearing representations from Angola, Zambia and SWAPO.

    In the Resolution, the Security Council reminded member states to refrain from using threats and use of force in their international relations; reiterated Resolution 387 (1976), which reaffirmed the principle of territorial integrity in the face of South African incursions into Angolan territory; and condemned South Africa for its armed invasion of Angola. This fell short of any sanctions against the apartheid regime. As Gleijeses recalls, US President Jimmy Carter – who had avowed to base his foreign policy on the promotion of human rights – only relayed to reporters the South African version of the event when asked about the incident, claiming that it was just a “retaliatory raid” against the SWAPO forces who had “invaded” Namibia with small strikes.

    With almost 30 years already under apartheid rule, South Africa in the mid-seventies seemed very well under the yoke of its White rulers, having banned all major opposition organisations, imprisoned its most important Black leaders and entrenched itself under the umbrella of its powerful military and security services. Then a series of events altered the stability of White supremacy in the country. On 16 June 1976, young students from the township of Soweto began to protest in response to the proposed introduction of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in their schools. They were met by fierce police brutality, leaving hundreds of young schoolboys dead. Then, on 12 September 1977, Steve Biko (one of South Africa’s most charismatic anti-apartheid activist and prominent leader within the Black Consciousness Movement) was murdered under police custody after being savagely beaten. Both events set off a storm of outrage throughout the world. As a result, the UN Security Council unanimously approved an arms embargo against South Africa in November 1977.

    All this, however, failed not deter the regime in Pretoria from repressing the majority black population in the country, as well as the people of Namibia, unlawfully occupied by South Africa. The lack of any credible and tangible response from the main powers (especially in the West, as arms continued to flow to South Africa despite the embargo) simply emboldened the segregationist government in South Africa. Through most of the eighties and until the eventual demise of racial segregation, apartheid South Africa continuously sought to exterminate the SWAPO insurgency.

    Progress had been made in the diplomatic field in order to set an orderly independence for Namibia. By March 1978, the Contact Group (the informal group consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and West Germany, established to set the transition to Namibian independence) presented its proposals to South Africa and SWAPO, calling for free elections, a constituent assembly under UN supervision, the withdrawal of South African troops from Namibia, and the independence of the territory by the end the year. The plan included several concessions to Pretoria – most importantly, that the port of Walvis Bay would remain in South African hands.

    All this came to an end after the South African military launched the air assault on Cassinga in May.

    After the massacre, in a rare but powerful display of international solidarity, Cuba took the majority of the children that survived the Cassinga raid to undertake their studies in the Island of Youth. Over 600 Namibian children arrived in Cuba by late 1978. The German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia also took several students from amongst the survivors.

    Years later, upon pressure from economic sanctions, civil unrest at home and the military defeat against Cuban troops in Angola, South Africa’s apartheid leaders were forced to hand power over to their erstwhile archenemies of the African National Congress (ANC), the party that won the country’s first democratic elections in April 1994.

    The devastation brought about by this ominous chapter of Southern African history must be told and heard. The Cassinga massacre must be taken as what it is: one of the greatest crimes of apartheid South Africa. The indiscriminate bombing by the South African Air Force against the refugee camp and the subsequent killing of hundreds of its inhabitants by South African paratroopers should have gone down in history as one of the most appalling crimes committed by the racial segregation regime in Pretoria. Despite this massacre having been included in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, no high-ranking South African official or military officer from the apartheid era was ever made truly accountable for the massacre.

    The coverage of the celebrations in the press from Angola and Namibia sharply contrasted with the lack of any reporting on the commemoration of the massacre by the South African press. The only story published in South African news outlets mentioning the Cassinga raid was devoted to the return of the mortal remains of a South African paratrooper who perished during the assault. What is more, no official statement from the South African Government was issued on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the raid.

    As with many things with its recent past, South Africa is yet to confront and come to terms with bygone grievances. The fact that the massacre’s anniversary was only met with silence in the South African press tells us more about the current South African society’s attitude toward the past, a society that has not been able to cope with the repression and injustice that happened beyond its border, never fully understanding nor alleviating the plight of those who suffered under apartheid despite not being on South African soil. The legacies of the brutal civil wars in Angola and Mozambique, abetted by the apartheid regime, also come to mind. This ever-present unawareness within the South African society unbalances the look at the history of the region by putting more stress on the South African angst than on the experiences of apartheid’s other victims.


    * Andres D. Medellin is a Mexican sociologist and career diplomat, currently posted in South Africa. He can be reached at

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  7. Left criticism of French imperialism in Africa provides a stark example. Incredibly, the primary contemporary criticism North American leftists make of French imperialism on that continent concerns a country it never colonised. What is more, Paris is condemned for siding with a government led by the lower caste majority.

    To the extent that North American progressives criticise “Françafrique” they mostly emphasise Paris’ support for the Hutu-led Rwandan government after Uganda/Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded in 1990. Echoing the Paul Kagame dictatorship is simplistic narrative; France is accused of backing Rwandan genocidaires. In a recent article for, a leftist outlet based on unceded Coast Salish Territories, Lama Mugabo claims, “the organisations that organised this anger into genocide, and the instruments of murder that they wielded, were outfitted by French colonial power.” In Dark Threats and White Nights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping, and the New Imperialism Sherene H. Razack writes that “French peacekeepers made a number of decisions that prolonged and exacerbated the conflict.” The “post-colonial” Canadian academic also decries “French support for him [Hutu President “Hanyarimana” — her (repeated) misspelling] scuttled any fledging peace efforts.”

    In taking up Kigali/Washington/London’s effort to blame France for the mass killings in Rwanda (rather than the Uganda/RPF aggressors and their Anglo-American backers), Razack and others even imply that Paris colonised the country. But, Germany conquered Rwanda and Belgium was given control of the small East African nation at the end of World War I. The nearest former French colony — Central African Republic — is over 1,000 km away.

    What Razack, Mugabo and other leftists ignore, or don’t know, is that Washington and London backed the 1990 Uganda/RPF invasion. Officially, a large number of Rwandan exiles “deserted” the Ugandan military to invade (including a former deputy defence minister and head of military intelligence). In reality, the invasion was an act of aggression by the much larger neighbour. Over the next three and a half years Kampala supplied the RPF with weaponry and a safe haven.

    Throughout this period Washington provided the Ugandan government with financial, diplomatic and arms support (Ottawa cut millions in aid to Rwanda, prodded Habyarimana to negotiate with the RPF and criticised his human rights record while largely ignoring the Uganda/RPF aggression). Washington viewed the pro-neoliberal government in Kampala and the RPF as a way, after the Cold War, to weaken Paris’ position in a Belgium colonised region, which includes trillions of dollars in mineral riches in eastern Congo.

    Echoing Kigali/Washington/London/Ottawa, many leftists have taken up criticism of Paris’ policy towards a country France never colonised and where it sided with a government from the lower caste (over 85 percent of the population, Hutus were historically a subservient peasant class and the Tutsi a cattle owning, feudal ruling class). Concurrently, leftists have largely ignored or failed to unearth more clear-cut French crimes on the continent, which Washington and Ottawa either backed or looked the other way.

    In 1947–48 the French brutally suppressed anticolonial protests in Madagascar. Tens of thousands were also killed in Cameroon during the 1950s-60s independence war. Paris’ bid to maintain control over Algeria stands out as one of the most brutal episodes of the colonial era. With over one million settlers in the country, French forces killed hundreds of thousands of Algerians.

    To pre-empt nascent nationalist sentiment, Paris offered each of its West African colonies a referendum on staying part of a new “French community”. When Guinea voted for independence in 1958, France withdrew abruptly, broke political and economic ties, and destroyed vital infrastructure. “What could not be burned,” noted Robert Legvold, “was dumped into the ocean.”

    France hasn’t relinquished its monetary imperialism. Through its “Pacte Coloniale” independence agreement, Paris maintained control of 14 former colonies’ monetary and exchange rate policy. Imposed by Paris, the CFA (Communauté financière en Afrique) franc is an important barrier to transforming the former colonies’ primary commodity based economies. As part of the accord, most CFA franc countries’ foreign exchange reserves have been deposited in the French treasury (now European Central Bank), which has generated large sums for Paris.

    Alongside its monetary imperialism, France has ousted or killed a number of independent-minded African leaders. After creating a national currency and refusing to compensate Paris for infrastructure built during the colonial period, the first president of Togo, Sylvanus Olympio, was overthrown and killed by former French Foreign Legion troops. Foreign legionaries also ousted leaders in the Central African Republic, Benin, Mali, etc. Paris aided in the 1987 assassination of famed socialist Burkina Faso leader Thomas Sankara.

    While undermining independence-minded leaders, Paris has backed corrupt, pro-corporate, dictatorships such as four-decade long Togolese and Gabonese rulers Gnassingbé Eyadema and Ali Bongo Ondimba (their sons took over). France retains military bases or troops in Djibouti, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gabon, Mali, Chad and Niger. French troops are also currently fighting in Mali and Niger.

    Compared to Paris’ role in Rwanda, French influence/violence in its former colonies gets short shrift from North American leftists. Part of the reason is that Washington and Ottawa largely supported French policy in its former colonies (Ottawa has ploughed nearly US $1 billion into Mali since the 2013 French invasion and gave Paris bullets and other arms as 400,000 French troops suppressed the Algerian independence struggle). Additionally, criticising France’s role in Rwanda dovetails with the interests of Kigali, Washington, London and Ottawa.

    The North American left’s discussion of France’s role in Africa demonstrates the influence of powerful institutions, especially the ones closest to us, in shaping our understanding of the world. We largely ignore what they want us to ignore and see what they want us to see.

    To build a movement for justice and equality for everyone on this planet, we must start by questioning what governments, corporations and other powerful institutions tell us.


    *Yves Engler’s the author of Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation.

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  8. I got to know June soon after she published Kwame Nkrumah: The Conakry Years: His Life and Letters in 1990, which I reviewed, and we became friends. As I embarked on my doctoral research on Nkrumah in 1998, she was immensely supportive to the extent that she opened her home to me during the decade of the 2000s. I poured through some of the materials she had rescued from Guinea-Conakry and had in her private collection in her beautiful detached home in North London.

    June welcomed me and other Pan-Africanists on several occasions to her abode. She was always generous in her hospitality as well as in gifts of books that stimulated my thinking. June was also generous in her time and attention to me.

    Milne and her husband Van Milne were dedicated to publishing the works of African political and literary figures. Van Milne died on 20 December 2005 at the age of 85 and helped found the Heinemann African Writers Series in which the novelists Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o were given an international platform.

    Privately, June told me that she wished ideally that Nkrumah’s Conakry papers could be housed in Africa but the realities of poor state funding for the preservation and proper documentation of archival material in Africa, encouraged her to hand over some of the materials to the Moorland-Spingarn Center at Howard University in Washington DC, where they remain to this day. As one of America’s fine historically black colleges and universities – it is an equally appropriate place for such documents and considering that Nkrumah believed that: “All peoples of African descent whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any other part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nation” – It is likely that Nkrumah would have approved of the choice of Howard University. Whilst the great Amilcar Cabral spoke at Nkrumah’s funeral of “the cancer of betrayal” – which referred to the coup d’état that overthrew Nkrumah, June expressed to me personally on at least two occasions that she suspected that Nkrumah’s cancer was engineered by neo-colonial and imperialist forces.

    As Nkrumah required little sleep, his energetic mind allowed him to write over 15 books that were published by Panaf Books that was set up in 1968 by Nkrumah and June managed the London office at 89 Fleet Street. With June’s retirement from Panaf in 1987, the work continues under the management of S. S. and E. R. Kakembo.

    In the pages of The Conakry Years, one gets a glimpse of the working relationship between June and Nkrumah. She was responsive not only to Nkrumah’s need for “Cadbury chocolates” and other eateries, but his frequent requests for many books that shaped his thinking and writing, as well attending meticulously to his manuscripts. Since June was an historian by training and had received a first honours degree in History, she was therefore well suited to be Nkrumah’s literary executrix.

    Whilst some of the reserved English character may have rubbed off on June over the years she spent her life in Britain, she always had a spark in her eye when she spoke to me about Nkrumah. She would often say to me in an eager tone of voice: “A united Africa is the only way!”

    Very few are aware of the commitment of June to Panaf Books as well as her efforts to preserve Nkrumah’s papers from Conakry – particularly as June bitterly recalled how the coup plotters destroyed much of Nkrumah’s personal correspondence and papers in his office in Flagstaff House. With an academic background in history, such material was precious to June who had a deep understanding of the historical worthiness of such material.

    Perhaps no other African head of state has left such a prodigious work as Nkrumah. Therefore, June Milne is to be highly commended for this endeavour in continuing to publish Nkrumah’s works, for his thinking remains available for historical posterity and for future generations to realise his ambition of a Union Government for Africa in which the ordinary people of Africa will be in control of the resources of Africa. 

    Farewell indeed June Milne.


    * Dr. Ama Biney is a scholar-activist and Pan-Africanist living in London, United Kingdom. 

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  9. Girls who get pregnant as a result of rape or sexual exploitation end up being double punished as they are banned from attending school and in most cases there is no access to justice for the rape ordeal, with perpetrators going unpunished.

    The joint statement issued by Equality Now, Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society, Defence for Children International – Sierra Leone, The Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace and Graceland Sierra Leone, detailed the urgent need for action following the worrying rise in the number of sexual and gender based violence cases reported, and the perpetrators being let off the hook.

    According to statistics by the Rainbow Centre and Campaign for Human Rights and Development International, 56 percent of the rape victims are between 11-15 years. Majority are school going children. Once the girls who cannot legally consent to sex get pregnant, they end up dropping out of school. The strongly worded statement further indicates that, many of the girls become pregnant due to the type of sexual violence reflected in these statistics. Many more girls under the age of 18 become pregnant as a result of exploitative relationships with much older men, which is a crime in Sierra Leone.  Girls are subjected to multiple violations of their human rights, including forced and early child marriage and female genital mutilation, a ripple effect in some cases, of the sexual violence. 

    In his address pursuant to his swearing into political office following recent elections, the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, promised to prioritise the education sector in Sierra Leone. The organisations are now calling upon him to ensure that all pregnant girls are allowed to continue with their education and further lift the on-going discriminatory ban, targeting teen mums. There is an on-going human rights crisis affecting adolescent girls in Sierra Leone because thousands of pregnant adolescent girls who were exposed to sexual violations, abuse or exploitation, are still being denied the right to attend school. The right to education for pregnant girls in Sierra Leone was denied in April 2015, just before schools re-opened following the Ebola crisis. It was declared as official government policy by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

    The organisations now want the new political regime to:

    -Ensure that the laws that protect girls are fully implemented and enforced in Sierra Leone and that the perpetrators of sexual violence are brought to book;

    -Adequately equip the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police to ensure that the officers are in a position to effectively handle all the cases reported to them;

    -Develop and implement programmes that ensure that girls know their rights and have access to safe spaces and other resources including a programme of Comprehensive Sexuality Education as part of the curricula delivered in all schools and provide sexual and reproductive health rights services to girls;

    -Put in place measures that address the prevalence of teenage pregnancy and sexual exploitation and conduct nationwide campaigns to alleviate the stigma and discrimination endured by pregnant girls.

    The Sierra Leone Education Act of 2004 clearly provides for non-discrimination in access to education. The normative instruments of the United Nations and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation clearly outline the standards and obligations for states in regards to the right to education.

    Sierra Leone has made tremendous steps in ratification of international and regional laws that seek to promote and protect the rights of women and girls. At the national level, the Sexual Offences Act of 2012 is comprehensive in the proscription of offences and penalties. Despite these laws being in place, the rights of women and girls continue to be abused. Despite the establishment of the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police, the police officers in this unit do not take adequate and timely action to ensure that thorough investigations are conducted, suspects arrested and arraigned in court.   Additionally despite the provisions in section 39 of the Sexual Offences Act, girls who are sexually abused are still made to pay for their medical treatment. Most of these girls and women cannot afford to pay for these medical costs.


    * Equality Now is not for profit organisation that works for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world. It is one of the signatories to the statement.

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  10. The referendum is scheduled for 17 May 2018

    The government’s banning of respected global news broadcasters the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Voice of America (VOA) on 4 May has raised concerns about its plans to restrict coverage of human right violations ahead of, during and after the vote.

    The state-controlled National Communications’ Council has accused the BBC of “violating press laws” and “unprofessional conduct,” claiming the remarks of a Burundian, interviewed by the broadcaster in March, were inappropriate and damaged the president’s reputation. It said the VOA was suspended for broadcasting on a frequency banned by the regulatory body.  

    Until their banning, the BBC and VOA were among the few independent media outlets still operating from within Burundi (even though their coverage was restricted to specific locations), since the country was plunged into a political and humanitarian crisis by Nkurunziza’s announcement indicating in 2015 that he would run for a third term — in violation of the constitution and the Arusha Peace Accord that ended the 12-year civil war in 2005. 

    Since 2015, almost all human rights defenders in Burundi have fled the country following killings and assassination attempts of activists. Journalists and thousands of citizens were forced into exile as the government targeted perceived opponents of Nkurunziza’s campaign to stay in power.  This campaign’s tactics – violence, intimidation and harassment – has sparked a national humanitarian crisis.  

    In the past three years, more than 400, 000 Burundians have fled the country while thousands have been killed or simply disappeared. And the government has effectively silenced independent media in Burundi.  These attacks on critical voices and on freedom of expression, association and assembly have completely closed spaces for civil society and political participation in Burundi, as reported by CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society globally.  The sentencing of human rights defender Germain Rukuki to a staggering 32 years in prison on trumped up charges of “participating in an insurrection movement” by a Burundian court in late April shows the lengths the government has gone to, since 2015, to silence independent voices and those who report on human rights violations. 

    This prosecution and the disappearance, killing and attempted assassinations of other human rights defenders and civil society representatives that preceded it, means the space for civil society to operate will remain closed, at least for the foreseeable future.  This is because any reporting on human rights violations and civil society attempts to hold government accountable will be met with reprisals from the state. 

    Nkurunziza extended the mandate the Commission nationale électorale indépendante (the independent electoral commission) that will manage the referendum. Constitutional changes include amendments increasing presidential terms from five to seven years and limiting them to two terms.  Political parties and individuals were supposed to launch official campaigns for a “yes” or “no” vote on 1 May, even though the president’s Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie–Forces de défense de la démocratie(National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy—CNDD-FDD) started campaigning months before. 

    This poll is being organised in a climate of fear, intimidation and violence orchestrated by national authorities, local government officials, the police and members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure. Nkurunziza has reportedly warned that anyone attempting to “sabotage” the referendum would be crossing a “red line.”  A ruling party senior member recently told supporters that, “opponents of the referendum should be thrown into Lake Tanganyika so they can be fed to the fish.”[[i]] Other government officials have publicly vowed to punish Burundians opposing the referendum and that “no” vote campaigners should be arrested because their actions are regarded as rebellious of the president’s orders.  The police and ruling party youth wing continue to kill, intimidate, physically assault and detain perceived opponents or those they suspect will vote “no”. 

    In some instances the Imbonerakure has erected checkpoints and targeted those who fail to produce proof they have registered to vote.  It is clear that in this hostile environment of violence and intimidation, the government’s objective will be achieved – Burundi will announce to the world that its citizens agreed to amend the constitution.  Even calls by the political opposition including the Forces nationales de libération and a coalition of Burundian opposition in exile (Conseil national pour le respect de l’Accord d’Arusha pour la réconciliation et la paix au Burundi) to vote “no”, will not be enough to prevent this outcome. 

    Implications for democracy in Burundi and the Great Lakes region

    Ideally, a referendum is supposed to provide an opportunity for citizens to vote on a particular proposal, policy or set of reforms.  In Burundi, this process has been shrouded in controversy from the outset and used to advance the interest of the president after his failed attempt to amend the constitution in 2014—CNDD-FDD did not command the required majority in parliament to amend the constitution—and after he was only able to win elections the following year following a controversial court ruling.  A committee set up by Nkurunziza in May 2017 to draft the constitutional amendments excluded Burundians from the process. The amendments remove key provisions of the Arusha Accord [[ii]], which forms the basis for the current constitution and ended the civil war in 2000.  Political opposition members have declared the referendum a “death warrant” for the Arusha Accord.

    The amendments also include changes in the procedures used to adopt bills in parliament – from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority — and replaces the two vice-presidential positions with one vice president and a prime minister.  Burundi has employed two vice presidents – the first vice president mandated to focus on civil and political affairs and the second economic and social affairs — who were meant to be from different ethnic groups, with one of them coming from the political opposition. 

    These changes are all intended to consolidate Nkurunziza’s position, paving the way for him to contest elections in 2020 and [theoretically] extend his stay until 2034.

    The government’s silencing of the BBC and VOA in Burundi is part of its strategy to silence the media, target human rights organisations, capture the judiciary, withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and refuse to participate in United Nations human rights processes in an attempt to limit reporting of atrocities and human rights violations and prevented perpetrators from being held to account. 

    President Nkurunziza is following the lead of neighbouring presidents who changed their constitutions to stay in power beyond what is allowed.  In 2015, Rwandans voted in a controversial referendum, which adopted constitutional changes, paving the way for President Paul Kagame to [potentially] extend his stay in office until 2034.  In Uganda, parliament has voted in favour of lifting constitutionally-prescribed presidential age limits making long-time President Yoweri Museveni eligible to contest the next scheduled elections in 2021 and potentially extend his reign. 

    Until this current crisis erupted three years ago, Burundi had one of the most active environments for private media in the Great Lakes region and boasted of an active civil society. But any hopes for a democratic transition, nursed by Burundians between 2005 and 2015, will be dashed when the referendum is held on 17 May 2018. 

    Across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congolese are facing similar challenges. President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated term in office ended two years ago but his government has failed to hold elections, precipitating a deepening political and human rights crisis.

    While elections are planned for December 2018, Congolese civil society and citizens have expressed concerns over the legitimacy of another run for office by President Kabila and the government has used violence to repress peaceful protests and calls for a peaceful political transition. 

    All these constitutional amendments by incumbents in the Great Lakes region happen under the watchful eye of the African Union (AU) and in clear violation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. In fact, in Burundi’s case, the AU has sent mixed signals, which have encouraged Nkurunziza to cling to power. In January this year, it condemned the ICC’s decision to open an investigation in Burundi, calling it “prejudicial to the peace process under the East African Community” and in violation of Burundi’s sovereignty, saying the move could potentially destabilise the country. Yet, the human rights violations that the ICC wants to investigate have had a major destabilising effect on Burundi for years now. While the voices of citizens in Burundi have been stifled and violence used to achieve political objectives, the East African Community and the AU hold the key to ending the violence and trigger reforms. 


    * David Kode leads Advocacy and Campaigns for global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.



    [i] The official was later one sentenced to three years in jail for hate speech and inciting the public to commit crimes. accessed 15 May 2018.

    [ii] Proposed constitution for the 17 May 2018 referendum: accessed 15 May 2018

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    Nkurunziza in campaign. Source: Alleastafrica