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Gay Rights (and Wrongs) in Africa

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1, photo: Riacale/flickr

The African continent has long been described as one of the most homophobic places on earth. And lately this appears more true than ever. From Uganda and Senegal to Malawi and The Gambia, gays are being attacked with alarming new vitriol.

While western media has been abuzz with shocking stories of gay-bashing across the continent, the reasons for this tragic turn have been less discussed. In fact, many western media outlets – not to mention human rights groups championing the gay-rights cause – have failed to provide proper context for this new wave of homophobia. And an informed view of the complex cultural and political factors that undergird anti-gay fervor is critical – especially if it is to be properly combated.

An ugly colonial legacy

Africa’s heated homophobia is fueled largely by anti-western sentiments. In colonialism’s wake, African strongmen solidified their newfound political power and cultivated nationalist fervor by stirring up anger against purported western influences – a real ‘us vs them’ construction of national identity. Among these so-called western values was homosexuality, an ‘evil’ to be expelled along with the colonial rulers who brought it.

The ironic truth, of course, is that homophobia – not homosexuality – is largely a product of the continent’s colonial past. By jumping on the homophobia bandwagon, some of these ‘Africa-first’ champions are actually perpetuating one of the ugly legacies of colonialism itself. » More

Rwanda’s Mutsinzi Report: A Diplomatic Coup

hundreds of skulls and bones on a shelf

Genocide memorial in Nyamata church, Rwanda/ Photo: hoteldephil, flickr

Could it be that sometimes historical truth and political gain really do go hand-in-hand? It appears so for Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

A Rwandan investigative committee has just issued a massive new report on the 1994 assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana – a murder that sparked the genocide of nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the hellish hundred days that followed.

Drawing on extensive research and nearly 600 interviews, the report concludes that Hutu extremists in Habyariman’s own government took him out to curtail the power-sharing peace agreement he was about to implement with Kagame’s Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in his own backyard on the fateful night of 6 April 1994 by a pair of surface-to-air missiles. The role of the plane crash in launching the small central African country into a swift and shocking spiral of violence has been well documented. The question of ‘who done it?’, however, has remained in dispute.
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Mobile Phones Transform Development

Before the internet comes the mobile phone / Photo: Esthr, flickr

They are among the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Only a minority of their people has access to electricity. Clean drinking water remains a distant dream. Many of their children continue to die of diseases that have long become extinct here in the West or are easily preventable.

But in one area, developing countries are clearly ahead of the industrialized world: the use of mobile phone applications.

Three-quarters of the world’s mobile phones are believed to be owned by people in developing countries.

In Africa, more people own mobile phones (37 percent) than have access to electricity (25 percent). (Note: Phones are often charged using rather ingenious methods, such as old car batteries). According to one estimate, about a billion people, most of them in the developing world, don’t have a bank account but – guess what? – own a cell phone.
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Guns for…Guns?

A serene sunset in a war-ravaged Niger Delta / Photo: Sigma Delta, flickr

A serene sunset in a war-ravaged Niger Delta / Photo: Sigma Delta, flickr

To say the new Nigerian guns-for-amnesty plan faces “difficulties” is, well, understated at best. Some observers see it as a full-on theater of the absurd.

The ill-conceived peace plan was designed to bring militants out of the Niger Delta swamps to hand over their weapons in exchange for a daily stipend lasting a couple months. Unfortunately, harsh reality is already steering far from lofty conception: Not only are the anti-government militias not lining-up to make peace, but some experts say that common criminals are actually expected to capitalize on the deal.

“The money realized will be used to rearm,” Anyakwee Nsirimovu, chairman of the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition told the NY Times. “Criminals who claim to be militants will come forward and take the amnesty, and that will be delaying doomsday […].”

It’s not just that $13 a day for 60 days doesn’t sound like much of a deal to the battle weary militants; it’s that they’re fighting for something more fundamental. For years, these guerrilla warriors have battled injustice, squalor and poverty for their share of the Niger Delta’s vast oil wealth. Experts agree that without a real redress of the local population’s grievances, fighting will continue.

“As long as the equity situation is not solved, you will continue to have people who will blow up pipelines,” Nsirimovu concluded.

The Wild Wild South

Cover of Courrier International No 970

Cover of Courrier International No 970

Now, that’s a change. Europe has been Africa’s Eldorado for years, but it looks as if the reverse is now true, too.

Among the countless ‘boat people’ and ‘fortress Europe’ headlines, two articles caught my eye. In the same issue, Courrier International reports about Portuguese immigrants in Angola (pay site) and it reproduces a Wall Street Journal piece on French people with North African roots emigrating to Morocco.

The paper says that about 100,000 Portuguese live in Angola at the moment. They get better career opportunities there than back home, especially with the oil economy booming. That figure is pretty impressive when you think that the Angolan civil war only just ended in 2002.

At the same time, something similar is happening between France and Morocco. Many young educated French-born people with Moroccan roots  decide to migrate to the country of their parents or grandparents. They have access to better jobs and social recognition in Morocco. Life is still pretty difficult for people with an Arab name in France. » More

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