African women farmers reject the same old business as usual

Members of the Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana (RUWFAG) prepare a field for sowing.

The World Economic Forum is meeting this week in Cape Town, with much self-congratulation on “economic growth”, “poverty eradication”, and “women’s empowerment”, all brought by those who engineered a world economy based on growing inequality, galloping individual debt, expanding precarization of labor, and anything but the empowerment of women. Part of this circus maximus is the meeting, held largely behind closed doors, of the partners of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Across Africa, women farmers see this “new alliance” as the same old same old, and they’re not buying it.

The New Alliance, cooked up by the G8 and the European Union in 2012, sports all the “right language”: transformation, growth, partnership, security, sustainability, sharing. But the New Alliance opens ever-larger amounts of land to corporate investors and multinational agro-corporations, because nothing says sustainable security like over-the-top investments, land grabs and the forced eviction of local populations. Women farmers’ organizations have decried the physical and cultural violence of this project. They have protested the Alliance’s refusal to consult, and they have shown the devastation this “new alliance” harvests from the destruction of women’s bodies and lives.

But what do women farmers know about food security or nutrition, and, in particular, what do African women farmers know? Once again, they must be saved from themselves.

The premise of the New Alliance is that “land titling” will fix everything. Here’s what’s actually happened. Malawi was induced to release about a million hectares, or 26 percent of the country’s arable land, to large-scale commercial farming. According to ActionAid, “Land titling can give small-scale food producers more security over their land, but in the current New Alliance-related processes, it appears to be a way to primarily help governments facilitate large-scale acquisitions of land. Secure land tenure does not necessarily require individual land ownership but can be achieved with clearly defined and sufficiently long-term use rights over land that is ultimately state property. The abolition of customary or communal tenure systems and their replacement with freehold title and the private land market has often led to extinguishing the land rights of the poor, notably women.”

Notably women. Yet again, the “new” produces wider and deeper vulnerability, especially for women, all in the name of security and sustainability. This new is not so new.

Malawi women farmers are not the only targets. Women farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso report the same, as do women farmers in Tanzania. As Tanzanian farmer Anza Ramadhani explained, “We never had a chance to influence the decisions concerning our land and future. There has been no transparency whatsoever. We don’t know if we will be resettled, where it will be or if we will be compensated. We don’t know how much the compensation will be or if it will be at all.”

In Ghana, women farmers are threatened with being forced to give up their control, and knowledge of seeds, by a new law, called the “Monsanto Law”, which would restrict, and even prohibit, storing and trading seeds. This law is a condition of New Alliance aid. The new is not at all new. As farmer Esther Boakye Yiadom explains, “My mother gave me some seeds to plant, and I’m also giving those seeds to my children to plant. So that is ongoing, every time we transfer to our children. And that is how all the women are doing. We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves.” Patricia Dianon, chair of the Rural Women Farmers Association of Ghana and traditional queen, agrees, “After harvesting, the women are able to store the seeds … They are able to dry it, tie it, and preserve it … So when the year comes, they bring these seeds to sow again.” Victoria Adongo, Program Director for the Peasant Farmer Association of Ghana, concurs, “Seed is where you grow your food from. So if you save the seed, then you grow food the following year. It’s very economical because you don’t have to go and buy seed. That is what we farmers have always done … We, the small holder farmers, want to have good lives. We want to be healthy. We have our seed systems that we like and are proud of. So we do not want multinational companies to come in and take over our seed systems.”

In the pursuit of profit, the New Alliance condemns women to “new” lives of increasing, intensifying and expanding vulnerability, hardship, and disposability. Across Africa, women farmers are saying NO! to the international delegation of liars and thieves. They are saying, “We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves. We want good lives. We want to be healthy.”

 

(Photo Credit: Global Justice Now / Common Dreams) (Video Credit: Global Justice Now / YouTube)

For Nigeria and the World, an Anniversary and Much, Much More

A year ago 276 high school girl students were kidnapped from Chibok boarding secondary school located in the state of Borno in the north east of Nigeria. One year later, clearly the national response and global response has been ineffective and disappointing since 219 girls are still missing.

The response from the former President Goodluck Jonathan was slow. Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer, showed that the authorities’ apathy was obvious. He interviewed the population and the girls who escaped three months after the kidnapping, and reported that no police or other forms of inquiry had taken place.

Meanwhile, the insecurity is real and affects everyday life in Borno, straining means of subsistence and the region’s social balance. There is massive displacement of the population with 1.5 million forced out of their homes among whom 70% are women and children.

Since the beginning of 2014, over 2000 women and girls were killed in Nigeria.

Although the #BringBackOurGirls campaign got international attention with celebrities involved, a code of silence still sticks to the regular violence against women and youngsters in this part of the world.

While the killings in Paris were shocking and created the movements we know, the killing of 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria did not receive that same attention. BringBackOurGirls along with many activists have not given up. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize Winner who defends school education for girls, has declared, “In my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help us.”

When women are taken hostages and utilized in a military way, whose patriarchal interest does it serve?

Should we question the lack of clear engagement of some leaders in the region of Lake Chad where important reserves of oil have been found? This oil reserve is shared by Niger, Nigeria and Chad.

Chad’s president, Idriss Deby Itno, has played a very obscure role, sometimes supporting efforts to control Boko Haram and sometimes retreating from the coalition. He also trapped the Nigerian president into a deal to get back the girls, last September, and then nothing happened. Boko Haram’s chief has been seen in armored vehicles made in Israel and used by the Chadian army. The French government has supported Deby, and French companies have also had important interests in the region. Nigerian leaders claim Chad is exploiting Nigerian oil using new drilling methods, while Nigeria is destabilized by Boko Haram’s assaults. The Chadian opposition organization, Mouvement du trois fevrier M3F, sees Deby as a pyromaniac fireman, spreading fire to better control oil exploitation in this area, thus expanding his political and economic control in the region, having already extended his stranglehold on the Central African Republic. Corporations from abroad enjoy a piece of the pie. Boko Haram’s thuggery is aided and abetted by this collusion by governments and corporate interests. And the victims are the school girls, who are still unaccounted for, and the terrorized population.

The questions surrounding the girls’ kidnapping and disappearance are a reminder that women’s lives are subjugated to the interest of a market system that knows no limits in using manipulation and spreading violence.

The exploitation of Nigeria’s oil reserves has a long history. Three decades ago, activists and writers tried to defend the precious Ogoni lands from being exploited by Shell Oil Company. The Nigerian government colluded with Shell Oil, which in turn was strongly supported by both the U.K. and the U.S. Nigeria tamped down the protests by executing the activists, despite international protests. Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose death, he himself predicts in his writing, clearly articulated and challenged the neoliberal corporate and political interests at the expense of the Ogonis. Today his words ring truer than ever as we see the brutal murder of women that mask the transnational neoliberal corporate and political greed to increase the oil fortunes of the one percent.

In this context, Boko Haram’s members maybe viewed as modern mercenaries. Their main targets are women, and to complete their grip on the populations they also target schools, with 900 schools burned in northern Nigeria and some 176 teachers killed. They seek to normalize violence and vulnerability. But resistance continues to be organized and women’s rights organizations have engaged in making these crimes visible. Resistance movements are not giving in. On March 14, one year after the abduction of the girls, a Global School March was organized worldwide. Women are demanding the newly elected Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari who will start his mandate on May 29th to fulfill his promise and to step up the process to save these young women. The movement goes further and demands global protection of women and girls to teach and attend school and to enforce protection of rights. This is a global threat against women and against humanity, which is not poverty driven but driven by vested interests that impoverish and manipulate populations.

We cannot stop marching.

In Pramila Venkateswaran’s “When they Hang a Poet,” poet – activist Ken Saro-Wiwa protests neoliberal exploitation of the Ogonis, and is killed by the Nigerian government. But his words live on, and the protests continue. Try as they might, government and corporations will fail to snuff out the voices raised to preserve democracy free of violence 

When they Hang A Poet…
For Ken Saro-Wiwa

You spoke of a green earth—your dream
a filament of the earth’s desire.
You wrote of Africa pillaging
herself, a prostitute “choosing”
her destiny. I see your blood
in my quiet hands, in the hands
of my country, in the hands
of every human being caught
in the clamor of living,
in the hands of corporate souls
on whom desire sticks like sin;
in the hands of your land, your sentence
is as extraordinary as a poet’s nightmare.

They hanged Saro-wiwa: syllables shock the air
as leaves weep on the cold, cold dirt.
But your words spread like a rain-storm filling
decrepit croplands of the Ogoni.

(published in The Kerf, 1997)

 

 

(Photo Credit: bellanaija.com) (Illustration credits: KR Magazine)

The World Bank is (still) bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures

The World Bank is still bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures. While not surprising news, it is the result of a mammoth research project carried on by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their partners. Journalists pored through more than 6000 World Bank documents and interviewed past and current World Bank employees and government officials involved in World Bank funded projects. They found that, in the past decade, an investment of over 60 billion dollars directly fueled the loss of land and livelihood for 3.4 million slum dwellers, farmers, and villagers. That’s a pretty impressive rate of non-return, all in the name of modernization, villagization, electrification, and, of course, empowerment. Along with sowing displacement and devastation, the World Bank has also invested heavily in fossil-based fuels. All of this is in violation of its own rules.

Women are at the core of this narrative, and at every stage. There’s Gladys Chepkemoi and Paulina Sanyaga, indigenous Sengwer who lost their homes and houses, livestock and livelihoods, and almost lost their lives to a World Bank-financed forest conservation program in western Kenya’s Cherangani Hills. In 2013, Bimbo Omowole Osobe, a resident of Badia East, a slum in Lagos, lost nearly everything to a World Bank funded urban renewal zone. Osobe was one of thousands who suffered “involuntary resettlement” when Badia East was razed in no time flat. Today, she’s an organizes with Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, a group of slum dwellers fighting mass evictions. Aduma Omot lost everything in the villagization program in Ethiopia, a World Bank funded campaign that has displaced and demeaned untold Anuak women in the state of Gambella. In the highlands of Peru, Elvira Flores watched as her entire herd of sheep suddenly died, thanks to the cyanide that pours out of the World Bank funded Yanachocha Gold mine, the same mine that Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have battled.

The people at ICIJ promise further reports from India, Honduras, and Kosovo. While the vast majority of the 3.4 million people physically or economically displaced by World Bank-backed projects live in Africa or Asia, no continent goes untouched. Here’s the tally of the evicted, in a mere decade: Asia: 2,897,872 people; Africa: 417,363 people; South America: 26,262 people; Europe: 5,524 people; Oceania: 2,483 people; North America: 855 people; and Island States: 90 people. The national leaders of the pack are, in descending order: Vietnam, China, India, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. It’s one giant global round of hunger games, brought to you by the World Bank.

None of this is new. In 2011, Gender Action and Friends of the Earth reported on the gendered broken promises of the World Bank financed Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline and West African Gas Pipelines: “The pipelines increased women’s poverty and dependence on men; caused ecological degradation that destroyed women’s livelihoods; discriminated against women in employment and compensation; excluded women in consultation processes; and led to increased prostitution … Women in developing countries have paid too high a price.” The bill is too damn high.

In 2006, Gender Action and the CEE Bankwatch Network found that women suffered directly from World Bank funded oil pipeline projects in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin: “Increased poverty, hindered access to subsistence resources, increased occurrence of still births, prostitution, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in local communities.”

There’s the impact on women of ignoring, or refusing to consider, unpaid care work in Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Rwanda, and the catastrophic impacts on women of World Bank funded austerity programs in Greece. And the list goes on.

So, what is to be done? Past experience suggests that the World Bank is too big to jail. How about beginning by challenging and changing the development paradigms and projects on the ground? No development that begins from outside. Absolutely no development that isn’t run by local women and other vulnerable sectors. While the World Bank refuses to forgive debts, globally women are forced to forgive the World Bank’s extraordinary debt each and every second of each and every day. This must end. Stop all mass evictions. Start listening to the women, all over the world, who say, “We need our voices heard.”

 

(Photo credit: El Pais / SERAC)

In Nigeria’s election, Remi Sonaiya cracks a glass ceiling

Nigeria goes to the polls tomorrow, finally, and the top three contenders for President are Goodluck Jonathan, no surprise there; Muhammadu Buhari, also no surprise; and Comfort Remi Sonaiya … What? A woman is running third in the Presidential elections of the most populous country on the African continent? Yes, she is.

While it’s easy, and accurate, to frame the story as a long list of men and only one woman, it’s equally important to acknowledge that Remi Sonaiya is the first woman to qualify to run for President, and as such deserves more than praise, although a bit of praise wouldn’t hurt.

A published scholar and longstanding critic of both leading candidates, Remi Sonaiya is representing the Kowa Party, whose ideology is described as two-pronged: social welfare and modernism. That basically means that evidence-based approaches would be used to ensure a decent life for everyone and for all communities by transforming the Nigerian economy from one based on consumption to one based on production. Not surprisingly, given Remi Sonaiya’s history as a teaching and research scholar, she insists on expanding and improving education at the same time that she insists on “engaging with the Nigerian public on seeking to bring to an end age-old cultural and traditional practices which degrade the human person.” Sonaiya’s description of the Kowa Part ideology concludes with this telling sentence: “All of the above, needless to say, leaves absolutely no room for corruption or graft.” Needless to say, and yet it very much needs to be said.

Remi Sonaiya has been a tireless critic of State and bureaucratic corruption, at the same time that she has worked to ensure women’s rights, equality and power. As she noted in Lagos in January, “We have done enough of cheerleading. Women cannot keep on being cheerleaders in this country.” Elsewhere, Sonaiya expanded on this message: “I have a stake in Nigeria. I am qualified to run for the presidency of Nigeria. Like what Barack Obama said, he thought there was a skinny little black boy who thought that America had room for him. Well, this not so skinny woman thinks that Nigeria has a place for her, at the leadership level also.”

Many agree, and in particular a number of Nigerian women have taken notice. As one Nigerian writer commented, “Prof. Comfort Remi Sonaiya is the only woman contesting for the presidency in the forthcoming Nigerian elections in February 2015. Unfortunately, not many of us have heard of her, her running mate, Saidu Bobboi or her party, Kowa. I say unfortunately, not because she’s a woman like me, but because watching this video of her I found on Youtube, I get her, and she feels so much more capable, approachable and qualified than both Goodluck and GMB. The prof is an intellectual and in 2008, she was named an International Ambassador Scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Sonaiya became the National Public Relations Officer of KOWA Party soon after she resigned as Professor of Foreign Languages at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. In the video, is a speech made at the 2013 TedexIfe where she speaks the language of the youth which included singing and rapping.”

Check out her 2013 talk, “How Could You Have Power and Not Use It?” Tomorrow, almost certainly, either “Goodluck or GMB” will be elected to the Presidency, but the future is in the race run by Comfort Remi Sonaiya. Listen. You can hear Nigerian women singing, rapping and asking hard and necessary questions through the cracks in the glass ceiling of the most populous country on the African continent.

 

(Photo Credit: YouTube / Kowa Party) (Video Credit: YouTube / Tedx Talks)

#BringBack: Bring back the thousands, bring back the hundreds, bring back the one

 

January 14 will mark the ninth month since more than 300 schoolgirls were abducted from Chibok. At that time, women organized #BringBackOurGirls to break the national and global silence that covered the atrocity. Those women are still organizing, still mobilizing, still demanding action and accountability. Meanwhile, from the national as well as the global community, the silence has intensified. The Chibok women of #BringBackOurGirls warned, from the outset, that failing to act meant the violence, terror and horror would escalate and expand. This week, their prophecies came to horrible fruition.

Over the past week, Boko Haram is reported to have attacked and razed 16 villages. Baga has been emptied. Many were killed. Others fled to Chad. Many of those who fled drowned in their attempts to cross Lake Chad. Amnesty reports this as “Boko Haram’s deadliest act” thus far. According to survivors, women, children, elders and the disabled were the principal targets. They were hunted as they fled. Now, the landscape is littered with their dead bodies, burnt homes and abandoned villages. The bodies pile up, too many to bury.

Over the weekend, in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, a girl, some say she was ten years old, walked into a busy market. A bomb, strapped to her waist, exploded, killing many, wounding many more. The girl was torn into two halves.

Some say using a child so young is a new phase. It’s not. The schoolgirls of Chibok are the girl-child of Maiduguri. The line is direct. The women of #BringBackOurGirls said so, nine months ago, and no one listened. Will anyone listen now?

Bring back the hundreds; bring back the thousands; bring back the one. #BringBack #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackChibok #BringBackBaga #BringBackMaduguri #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBack

 

(Photo Credit: Premium Times)

#BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls

 

April 14, 2014, over 300 schoolgirls were stolen, like so much property, from their school in Chibok, in Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria. Over at Africa Is a Country, Karen Attiah and I wondered, separately, why the coverage was so little so late. We also wondered why the coverage was so bad. For example, it took a long time for the so-called world press to start reporting on women’s organizing efforts, under the rubric of #BringBackOurGirls. Since then, the European and American media have begun to pay attention, sort of.

Meanwhile, women, students, concerned people across Nigeria are organizing, mobilizing, and demanding. They’re demanding stronger and more effective action on the part of the government, and they’re demanding more consultation and more respect. The mothers of the stolen girls, in particular, understand that this is about women’s and girls’ dignity, respect, autonomy. Those girls were stolen partly because they are girls pursuing studies, mostly because they are girls. Reports say they are to be sold into slavery. In Borno today eight more girls were stolen.

Yesterday, Naomi Mutah Nyadar, one of the leaders of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, was or was not arrested. Her colleagues, Lawan Abana and Saratu Angus Ndirpaya, say she was detained. The police say the encounter was “purely an interactive and fact-finding interview.” There’s nothing pure here, and it doesn’t matter. What matter is this: #BringBackOurGirls. #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls.

That’s all that matters.

That’s the message delivered today by Fatima Zanna Maliki, a student, a woman, a woman student: “We appreciate the concern and efforts of all the civic society organisations, women groups, leaders and the international communities towards our plight and we are urging them not to relent until our girls are brought back home safely in particular and peace returns back to our country in general. We, the youth and students in Borno State, have endured unimaginable hardship for the past four years and we took it upon ourselves to call upon stakeholders and the President in particular to act urgently… The abducted students of GSS, Chibok are our sisters and colleagues, after 21 days of their abduction, we don’t know their condition, we don’t know how they are faring, we don’t know if they have eaten this morning, we don’t know their health condition, we don’t know there whereabouts, we don’t know! We don’t know!! We don’t know!!!”

Students of Borno have called for a day of sympathy tomorrow, during which no classes or lectures would occur. They also warned the President that if something isn’t done, they’ll be back.  If the girls, all the girls, aren’t back by May 24, 40 days into their captivity, the students and youth of Borno will mobilize students from across the country to gather in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno:  “Students will be brought across the nation if no success is recorded before the 40th day of the abduction, to sit tight on Ramat Square to protest until the schoolgirls are freed.”

I teach and work in a Women’s Studies Program. Every year that I’ve taught, somewhere a group of women students, girl students, has been attacked, for being students, for being girls and women, for being girls and women pursuing education. It’s a long and tragic list that the schoolgirls of Chibok have now joined. Tomorrow, stop at some point at least and do something to acknowledge the schoolgirls of Chibok and the long list of women and girls, of women and girl students, who have suffered the same violence they are now suffering. For women and girls, there has to be something other and better than the work of mourning.

#BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls

Bring them all back.

 

(Photo Credit: Tom Saater for Buzzfeed)

African women smallholder farmers haunt the G8 … and The Guardian

In 2012, the G8 launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which, controversially, gave agribusiness a seat at the African farming table, right next to governments and aid donors. Agribusiness had always been there, but now the arrangements of hand holding and pocket filling would be formalized. Despite promises of the `new’, transparency around the arrangements did not increase. If anything, the world of African food security and nutrition transactions became murkier.

This week The Guardian ran a series of articles on the New Alliance. Many see the Alliance as colonialism with a neoliberal face. First, the aid processes become increasingly privatized and imbedded into the workings, and failings, of markets. Second, the contractual and policy decisions are not only made behind closed doors, they’re made in settings that prohibit any direct involvement of smallholder farmers. Neither the Alliance nor The Guardian seems to care that smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are overwhelmingly women. What’s not new here? Millions of women workers rendered invisible … again.

Ten African countries signed agreements that `open’ them to greater foreign direct investment. The countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania. The national commitments involve land and water; seeds; tax; finance; infrastructure; food security or nutrition; and other. Ten countries signed 209 commitments. Of those ten countries, only Benin made any commitments to women, and those two commitments are, at best, vague: “Design and set up a gender-based information and communication system to prompt behavioural change in the agricultural and rural sector.” “Improve how gender is addressed when designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating projects/programmes and activities in the agricultural sector.” As of yet, the progress on these is listed as “Unknown.”

The Guardian reported on Malawian smallholder farmers being kept in the dark on Malawi’s commitments; on Tanzanian smallholder farmers’ concerns that the new alliance will only turn them into cheap labor for the new, large farming corporations; and on Ghanaian smallholder farmers’ mixed reactions. The Guardian doesn’t mention or quote any women smallholder farmers.

Women comprise as much as 80% of African subsistence farmers. In Burkina Faso, gardeners and smallholder farmers are overwhelmingly women. From palm oil production in Benin to cocoa production in Ghana to general smallholder production in Tanzania, women predominate in numbers but not in access to resources or control. In Malawi, women make up almost 70% of the full time farmer population. Every major multinational agency has issued a report on the centrality of women in agriculture to any food security agenda. Repeatedly, reports demonstrate that women constitute the majority of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and yet have little to no access to land tenure or to State or international assistance. Those reports also suggest that extension services automatically look to men as `change agents.’

Women farmers are a majority of the adult farming population. They are not part of the picture. They are the picture. They are not part of the story. They are the story. When you see the picture, when you read the story, if you don’t see and read about women farmers, write to the authors and tell them, “No women farmers, no justice.”

 

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org)

Roseline Akhalu and the atrocious barbarism of the Home Office

Roseline Akhalu on her way to an immigration tribunal

Despite the greatest efforts of the United Kingdom Home Office, it appears that Roseline Akhalu will be allowed to live. Last week, judges rejected `an appeal’ by the Home Office to deport Roseline Akhalu. Akhalu committed no crime, other than that of being ill and of being Nigerian. If she were to return to Nigeria, it is certain that she would die. No one disputes this. And yet … the Home Office has spent years and untold resources trying to deport her. Why?

Furthermore, why do they call it the Home Office, when that agency dedicates its resources to expelling, incarcerating, and generally despising the precisely those who need help? What kind of home is that, anyway?

In 2004, Roseline Akhalu was one of 23 people to win a Ford Foundation scholarship to study in England. That would be enough to celebrate in itself, but Akhalu’s story is one of extraordinary pain and perseverance. Five years earlier, she and her husband were working in Benin City, in Nigeria. Her husband was a nurse, and Roseline Akhalu worked for the local government. They didn’t earn much but they got by. Until March 1999, when her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The couple was told that they must go to South Africa, or India, for care, but the costs of such a venture were prohibitive. And so … Roseline Akhalu watched her husband die because there was no money.

Now a widow, and a widow without a child, Akhalu confronted a hostile future. After her in-laws took pretty much everything, Roseline Akhalu set about the work of making a life for herself. She worked, she studied, she applied for a masters’ scholarship, and she succeeded.

Akhalu went to Leeds University, to study Development Studies. She joined a local church; she tended her gardens, saving tomatoes that were otherwise destined to die; she worked with young girls in the area. She planned to return to Nigeria and establish an ngo to work with young girls. It was all planned.

Until she was diagnosed with kidney failure. That was 2004, a few months after arriving. In 2005, Akhalu was put on regular dialysis. In 2009, she had a successful kidney transplant, but the transplant meant that for the rest of her life Roseline Akhalu would need hospital check-ups and immunosuppressant drugs. In Nigeria, those drugs would be impossibly costly.

Her attorney informed the government of her change in status, that due to unforeseen circumstances Roseline Akhalu, who had never planned on staying in the United Kingdom, now found that, in order to live, she had to stay.

And so began Roseline Akhalu’s journey into the uncanny unheimlich of the Home Office, where home means prison or exile, and nothing says “compassion” like humiliation and degradation and persecution.

Once a month, Akhalu showed up, in Leeds, at the United Kingdom Border Agency Reporting Office. Then, in March of 2012, without explanation, she was detained and immediately packed off, by Reliance `escorts’, to the notorious Yarl’s Wood, where she was treated like everyone’s treated at Yarl’s Wood, and especially women … disgustingly.

So far this is business as usual. Here’s where it gets interesting. In May, Akhalu was released from detention. In September, the Home Office refused her appeal. In November, a judge overturned the Home Office decision. The judge declared that, since Akhalu had established a private life of value to her, to members of the Church, and to a wider community, removing her would violate her right to a private and family life protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judge noted that Akhalu had done absolutely nothing illegal. She had come to the United Kingdom legally and was diagnosed while legally in the country. Most chillingly, perhaps, the judge agreed that to send Roseline Akhalu back to Nigeria was a swift death sentence. Given the health care system and costs in Nigeria, she would be dead within four weeks. Nigerian and English doctors agreed.

On December 14, the Home Office appealed the decision. That’s right. They’re pursuing a case against Roseline Akhalu, despite all the evidence and mounting pressure from all sides. Why? Because that’s what the Home Office does. Want an example? In 2008, Ama Sumani, 43-year old Ghanaian woman, was lying in hospital in Cardiff, in Wales, receiving kidney dialysis for malignant myeloma. That was until the good old boys showed up and hauled her out and then shipped her off to Ghana, where she died soon after. The Lancet put it neatly: “The UK has committed an atrocious barbarism.” That was January 19, 2008. Five years later and more … the atrocity continues.

(This originally appeared, in January 2013, in a different version, at Africa Is a Country. Thanks as ever for the collaboration and support.)

 

(Photo Credit: guardian.co.uk)

The Life and Times of Esther K

Barinem Kiobel is dead. Esther Kiobel is alive, kicking, and organizing. Remember that, and remember the name: Esther Kiobel.

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. Kiobel is Esther Kiobel. Esther Kiobel’s husband, Barinem Kiobel, was a prominent member of government who opposed the devastation wrought by Shell Oil and opposed the violence being committed against the opposition. In 1994, he was arrested, along with Ken Saro-Wiwa and seven others, mostly the leadership of Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP. They were tortured for a year and then hanged. The nine, the Ogoni 9, were then dumped in unmarked graves in a Port Harcourt cemetery. The rest, as they say, is history.

Or is it?

Esther Kiobel fled Nigeria, applied successfully for asylum status in the United States, became a U.S. citizen, and sued Shell Oil, aka Royal Dutch Petroleum, for their role in the torture and assassination of her husband and so many others. There’s more to the story. There’s the “ecological genocide” committed over decades by Shell and Chevron … in cooperation with the various national governments of Nigeria. There’s the story of women in the Niger Delta organizing, as they continue to do. And there’s the story of rapacious multinational corporations operating without restraints.

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday decided that Kiobel and her group don’t have a case, at least not in U.S. courts the way the law is currently written. The vote was 9 – 0. This decision is a setback for human rights organizations that hope to bring multinationals to justice, or at least to some sense of accountability, through the U.S. court systems.

Reporters and discussants of the Supreme Court decision have focused on the corporations. Some note the irony of corporations having the rights and standing of individuals, but not the responsibilities or constraints. Others focus on the impact on human rights suits, on corporations, on the prosecution of torture. In a quick and informal survey of articles, barely half reference Esther Kiobel, preferring instead the shorthand Kiobel.

Esther Kiobel is the story. Barinem Kiobel is dead. Ken Saro-Wiwa is dead. So are Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, and John Kpuine. Erasing Esther Kiobel from the story does not honor the dead. It continues the narrative.

So, kudos to Katie Redford, of EarthRights International, who wrote: “There are only a few things that are clear about today’s decision in Kiobel.  First, a lot of ink is going to be spilled trying to parse what it really means in the next few days.  And a lot of attorney hours are going to be spent in the next few years litigating the issues in the lower courts.  And of course, the Court dismissed Esther Kiobel and her fellow plaintiffs’ claims of torture, killing, and crimes against humanity, giving Shell a pass for these human rights abuses.  That result is a shame.”

That result is a shame.

Esther Kiobel and her allies will find ways to continue their struggle for justice. Justice must be more than rememorative. It must exist in the present, and it must open new spaces for the future. Meanwhile, for now, let us make sure Esther Kiobel doesn’t vanish in the haze. Corporations are not people; people are people. Esther Kiobel is the story. Remember her name.

 

(Photo Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster)

End the war on children living with disabilities. End it now.

Over two years ago, we wrote about `seclusion rooms’. These are solitary confinement spaces in schools across the United States. More often than not, they’re closets or utility rooms, anything small and tight with a lock on the outside. That is not seclusion. That is torture.

And of course, `of course’, the subjects of this practice are overwhelmingly children living with disabilities. Children like Jonathan King, who, at 13, hanged himself in a Georgia seclusion room. Or the 12-year-old girl living with autism, or the seven-year-old girl living with autism and bipolar disorder.

Or, as described in yesterday’s New York Times, Rose, who, in kindergarten, was locked into seclusion rooms for hours … at five years of age. Her `problem’? Rose had `speech and language delays’. For which she was thrown into a closed, dark space for an hour or so at a time.

Rose’s father reports she was deeply traumatized. The school system, in Lexington, Massachusetts, has agreed, or been forced by a lawsuit settlement, to pay for Rose’s treatment.

Seclusion rooms, screaming rooms, school based solitary confinement can be found in Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Florida, Ohio. Georgia banned seclusion rooms … `thanks’ to Jonathan King. How many children? How many children must suffer? How many children must then be given `the gift’ of post-traumatic treatment? For how long?

While this issue addresses all children, and all people, it strikes at the heart of citizenship for those living with disabilities. Billions of dollars of profit are generated every year from the care provided for those living with disabilities. Those who care for those living with disabilities are overworked, underpaid, and always under-esteemed. Billions are stolen from their labor and lives.

At the same time that billions of dollars of profit are generated, there isn’t enough money to provide decent, humane treatment? No. This is the production of vulnerability writ large on small bodies. In the United Kingdom, Ellen Clifford, of Disabled People Against the Cuts, DPAC, knows this lesson all too well. In Nigeria, Patience Ogolo, of Advocacy for Women with Disabilities Initiative, AWWDI, does as well. So does Marsha M. Linehan, a psychologist at the University of Washington who, as an adolescent, suffered and barely survived seclusion rooms. Only now, many decades later, can she finally share the stories of her life in the cells.

These women know that the State that treats any group as disposable is worse than a failed or a rogue state. It’s criminal.

The claim of State poverty as an alibi for physical, emotional and psychological harm against people living with disabilities is a crime. The suggestion that there isn’t enough money or resources is a lie and a crime. And the lie and the crime are framed within a political economy of vulnerability, in which it is presumed that the vulnerable cannot speak or act for themselves.

They can, and they do. And they know that the question of who lives and who dies has been taken over by the question of who lives well and who lives in hell, under constant attack.

End the war on children living with disabilities. End it now.

 

(Image Credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times)