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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "Africa"

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A Day to Remember A Martyr

February 21, 2013 ·

photo of MLK and MalcolmThe militancy and radicalism of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (a.k.a. Malcolm X) has made his legacy harder to hijack by those of the status quo than that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but that hijack is being attempted nonetheless. It has to be. Learning about the life and legacy of Malcolm X may be the most widely cited starting point of left politicization of youth worldwide, particularly for urban youth of color and more particularly for those of African descent. The life of Malcolm was a lesson for all, a lesson rich and nothing short of admirable. His exceptional life made him an inspiration to so many — and a threat to others.

On February 21, 1965, just when Malcolm was about to open his speech in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, he was assassinated. That makes today the 48th anniversary of his murder. Although there is still controversy about who was behind his assassination, many things are clear.

The facts of the murder will be shared and discussed this evening from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM in Howard University’s Blackburn Center, Room 155, at the forum, The “Black Messiah” The Life And Assassination Of Malcolm X Who Killed Him And Why? The event, spearheaded by Coalition on Political Assassinations in co-sponsorship with a host of other organization, will feature an array of extremely fitting speakers.

A fact more generally known is that President Lyndon B. Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover deemed Malcolm’s revolutionary internationalism and domestic radicalism subversive and threatening to the U.S. government. Malcolm brought the plight of African people in the United States to the world stage, and clarified that our problems were not merely about civil rights but human rights. He wanted to take our issues to the world court, something that would have embarrassed the U.S. government as it was positing itself as the lecturer and enforcer of freedom and democracy around the world.

After returning from Africa and further solidifying his Pan-African perspective and concrete connections with leaders there, Malcolm started the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), modeled after the Organization of African Unity (OAU). This organization was meant to create a practical bridge between those on the African continent and people of African descent in the United States. As African people had been forcibly disconnected physically and mentally, this bridge reflected a profound political evolution that continued the ideals of the Garvey movement.

If in greater unity there is greater strength, Malcolm’s moves indeed represented a threat to those who preferred the continued oppression and disempowerment of African people worldwide. This made him a target of both the FBI and CIA.

Public documents now show that the FBI and its program COINTELPRO wanted to “…prevent the rise of a Black ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant Black nationalists movement. Malcolm X might have been such a messiah; he is the martyr of the movement today” (FBI Memorandum, March 4, 1968).

Exposing a hypocritical and immoral indiscretion of his former leader in the Nation of Islam (NOI), Elijah Muhammad incurred Malcolm X the dissatisfaction (to put it mildly) of Elijah Muhammad and the wrath of many of the leader’s loyal followers. This included the well known Malcolm X protégé, Louis Farrakhan, who publicly made inflammatory statements implying Malcolm should be killed for “betraying” Elijah Muhammad.

Even before Malcolm was officially out of the NOI, internal resentment against him was deliberately and calculatedly exacerbated by the FBI through fake letters sent and made to seem as though they were internally written. This was a common practice against organizations targeted by COINTELPRO. After Malcolm left the NOI the FBI, in coordination with the NYPD, was able to assign undercover agent Gene Roberts to infiltrate the new organization formed by Malcolm and work his way up to becoming Malcolm’s body guard. Roberts was to later do the same thing to the Black Panther Party in New York, which revealed his true identity 6 years after Malcolm’s assassination in a trial to railroad the Panther 21 into prison for allegations of plots to commit terrorist attacks.

Initially very critical of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm eventually gained respect and admiration for Dr. King and began a dialogue about how they could begin combining forces. They had even gone as far as to agree that Dr. King would work on galvanizing his strength and influence in the South, while Malcolm would work on the North, to in time bring both forces together. While the FBI maintains that there was no direct order given by it to assassinate these two great leaders, it is folly not to contextualize their culpability. The FBI's surveillance, meddling, and instigation of lethal tensions around the lives of the most respected and high profile leaders of the time is undisputed. These were leaders they considered a threat to national security and wanted “neutralized.”

But while murdering Malcolm deprived us of anything more he could give in life to the struggle, it also resulted in either unintended or unavoidable consequences for his adversaries. Malcolm's life and legacy continue to be an inspiration for so many young people the world over and seems to grow with each passing generation.

As Marcus Garvey said, “You can kill the lion, but what will you do about the cubs?”

Charles Taylor Found Guilty of War Crimes -- Emira Woods Available for Comment

April 26, 2012 ·

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been found guilty of 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity this morning by an international court at The Hague. Emira Woods, an Institute for Policy Studies expert originally from Liberia, is available for interviews on the case.

"The long-awaited verdict of the Special Court brings some measure of justice to a region ripped apart by brutality, greed, and proxy geopolitical actors" Woods said.

Taylor was accused of 11 charges, ranging from murder, rape, and sexual violence to the recruitment and use of child soldiers in a long and bloodied war in Liberia’s neighbor Sierra Leone. Taylor was charged by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a court established before the International Criminal Court was formed.

“Taylor’s case is associated with many firsts," Woods said. "He is the first head of state to have escaped from a U.S. medium-security prison. He is the first head of state to publically refuse to sign an imbalanced rubber concession agreement with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. He was the first sitting head of state to be brought on charges for international crimes against humanity. And now, he is the first head of state since World War II to have been convicted of war crimes by an international criminal court."
 
Taylor was key leader in a machinery of repression that killed 50,000 Sierra Leoneans and amputated the limbs of tens of thousands more, mostly civilians.

Reporters/journalists seeking to contact Ms. Emira Woods for interview, please contact IPS Media Manager Lacy MacAuley at (202) 445-4692 or lacy@ips-dc.org.

Obama: Selectively Honoring MLK

October 21, 2011 ·

At the end of August, I headed over to the opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial right before the hurricane. I returned this past weekend for the official dedication, which brought more than 10,000 people to what now is sacred ground.

Obama connected with MLK's domestic agenda against poverty and disenfranchisement, but ignored MLK's stance against increased militarim. CC photo by absentmindedprof.During the ceremony, President Obama drew several parallels between the obstacles that King and the nation faced 50 years ago and our current economic challenges. Sounding again like a proponent of real change, Obama said, "If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company's union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain."

But while Obama was quick to pay lip service to King's work for civil rights and economic justice and play to the popular sentiments of those "Occupying Everywhere," Obama didn't mention King's equally important efforts to stop the Vietnam War and end U.S. militarism.

This omission probably wasn't a mistake. Obama sent 100 U.S. troops to Uganda on Friday and over the weekend he encouraged the incursion of Kenyan military troops into Somalia, a continuing target for U.S. aerial drone strikes.

Noting the U.S. interest in securing oil in Uganda, and viewing Somalia as part of the "global war on terrorism," IPS Africa expert Emira Woods says that Obama, dubbed the "Son of Africa" by many in the region, is betraying many of the core values his fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for.

Also, as the weekend set upon us, two women who are longtime peace advocates on the African content joined King and Obama as Nobel Peace Prize winners: Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, along with Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman.

Appearing on PBS News Hour, Democracy Now and other outlets, Woods was quick to acknowledge the similarities between these awardees and Obama. Gbowee was a tireless community organizer. Johnson-Sirleaf was the first woman in Africa to serve as a democratically elected president. Unfortunately, Johnson-Sirleaf also shares Obama's agenda of establishing a permanent U.S. military command, AFRICOM, showing that the Peace Prize isn't always about peace.

It was wonderful to see so many of you at our Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards reception and ceremony last week. That night, the Wisconsin Progressive Movement and Bethlehem, The Migrant's Shelter (Mexico) showed what can be possible with faith, love, and determination.  

Sign up to receive the Institute's Unconventional Wisdom newsletter every other Thursday.

Playing Banana Monopoly: Agribusiness in Cameroon Threatens Independent Farmers

August 5, 2011 ·

The next time I’m at the grocery store and I see bunch of Dole bananas, I’ll think twice before picking them up and plunking down my 69 cents per pound.

As discussed in the film, “The Big Banana,” multinational corporations can wreak havoc on local communities, especially when governments collude with companies against the interest of their own people. In the Littoral region of Cameroon, on the west coast of Africa, a food company has been participating in government-supported land grabs since the early 1990s.

Traditionally, indigenous groups in Cameroon shared their land and lived from it in community land-sharing arrangements. From the late 1800s, Cameroon was a colony of Western European countries — first colonized by Germany, then after World War II, divided between France and England. During this time, land was the property of the crown or privatized. In 1959, the laws were revised to include provisions for “customary” land holders. Indigenous groups were allowed to register their land if they had lived there consecutively for five years or more.

When Cameroon became independent in 1960 and unified as one country in 1972, the government faced intense pressure from the West to encourage foreign investment and development. According to the Forest Peoples Programme's report, the state added more requirements for registering land that included Western-style buildings and “improvements.” Since then, the semi-nomadic peoples of the country have been largely excluded from the rights to land they have inhabited for centuries, and now they must either adapt to Western settlements or farm on rented land to survive.

The REseau de LUtte contre la FAim (RELUFA) explains that “Land is the main ‘employer’ in Cameroon. It allows the farmers to take care of their family and lead a decent life. But ever since its installation, the banana export company Plantations du Haut Penja has obtained as much land as possible, at times to the detriment of the rights of the local population, and with complicity of local authorities.”

In 1993, the government granted a land lease to Plantations du Haut Penja, a local banana mega-plantation, when the local land cooperative went bankrupt. The plantation is a supplier for Compagnie Fruitiere, a French subsidiary of Dole Food Company. Since then, the plantation has been forcing the farmers and families off their land using corrupt practices. Company officials claim to offer fair compensation for the crops, but in reality they modify contracts and refuse to fulfill their agreements. Farmers often remain indebted in spite of their hard work and often lose their land in dishonest deals.

The only alternative for small farmers is to work directly for the plantation company for a wage that is not suitable for feeding a family. RELUFA visited and interviewed farmers from the area starting in 2005 and produced a report on the financial situation of the farmers and their relationships with the plantation.

The report describes an untenable situation:

“They then were invited by [the plantation] to come to the sub-prefect, where they were met by the police commander and special commissioner, and received at most a third of what they expected to get in compensations for the crops in their fields. Afterwards, the sub-prefect proclaimed to have handed out an amount up to $100,000 for each of the farmers and $30,000 for the community of Bonandam. But based on the numbers he himself produced, less than $80,000 had actually been distributed.”

“Aware that their compensations were insufficient and baseless, the farmers went to the judge in chambers of Mbanga, for a judiciary expert on oath to be assigned to them to make an inventory of the crops and assess their value according to the law. As soon as [the plantation] was summoned and the courts had agreed to go to the site for the requested inventory, [the plantation] went with tractors and caterpillars to the terrain and destroyed the crops. With this act, the company made the court's decision useless and destroyed any proofs.”

Cameroonian filmmaker Franck Bieleu led the production of a documentary about Plantations du Haut Penja titled “The Big Banana.” The documentary was banned in Cameroon in April 2011. But the Institute for Policy Studies is hosting a screening of the film in Washington DC this Thursday, August 11, 2011. (See event listing.) The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker. In addition, the program “Africa Now” on Pacifica Radio’s WPFW (89.3 FM) will air a segment of the film and feature an interview with Bieleu 11 AM on Wednesday, the day before the screening.

The Big Banana illustrates in painful, personal detail the injustice that is inflicted across communities and nations when profit of multinational companies is put before the interest of people. Plantations du Haut Penja and their parent company Dole are only interested in Cameroonians as a resource to exploit for the growth of capital. Powerful international companies have no problem with plowing over the health of local families and villages to expand their agricultural empire. We have to remember that the 69 cents per pound we pay at the grocery store is nowhere near the whole cost of our food. We must work together to build societies that aren’t sustained by the suffering of others.

Christopher H. Bartlo is a communications intern at the Institute for Policy Studies and a student at George Mason University.

Seeing No Evil In The Congo

July 20, 2011 ·

Do you have a smart phone? A laptop? Then you play a role in the violence that occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Cell phones, laptops, and other electronics don't work very well without the mineral coltan. In the Democratic Republic of Congo poor farmers are gathered by armed gangs and enslaved to dig coltan out of the ground.Raw Coltan

On June 30, the Institute's Foreign Policy In Focus project, Friends of The Congo, Congo Global Action, and Africa Faith & Justice Network co-sponsored a screening of Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth at the Reeves Center in downtown Washington. As the crowd of over 100 people gathered in the conference room there was excitement about the film as well as chatter about becoming a “friend of the Congo.”

The film explores U.S. influence on the humanitarian crisis in Congo and argues that U.S. actions and the lack thereof have fueled violence and the exploitation of natural resources there. While Congo has experienced turmoil for over 100 years, violence significantly increased after it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, dreamed of democracy as well as total emancipation for his country. However, this has proven to be a dream deferred indefinitely as western powers systematically support the nation's destabilization. In 1961, the United States and Belgium conspired to assassinate Lumumba because he refused to conform to western ideals.

After the assassination, the United States supported Congolese dictator Mobutu a corrupt leader who committed numerous human rights violations. Washington ultimately discontinued its support for him but has continued to sponsor other Congolese dictatorships that exploit citizens.

 US Gen. Kip Ward with Rwandan Gen Kabarebe

Furthermore, the United States and United Nations have failed to respond to attacks by Ugandanand Rwandan troops on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rival war lords such as James Kabarebe of Rwanda and James Kazini of Uganda frequently raid Congo, rape the women, massacre entire communities, and help themselves to the country’s natural resources. In the war in Congo, 6 million people have been killed. No action is taken to investigate and penalize offenders.

According to Congolese human rights activist Kambale Musavuli, President Barack Obama understands that it is imperative to help Congo. As a senator, Obama wrote a comprehensive law, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006 (pdf), to support Congo. Section 105 of this legislation states, “The Secretary of State is authorized to withhold assistance made available under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, other than humanitarian, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism assistance, for a foreign country if the Secretary determines that the government of the foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  However, the U.S. continues to support Rwanda and Uganda despite clear evidence of their attacks on the Congolese.

The film includes footage of a speech President Obama delivered two years ago in Ghana, in which he said: “Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men.” How true. That's why the U.S. government must stop ignoring corruption and supporting war lords.

Timeka Smith is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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