Rwanda Genocide Testimony of Clare Muhinyuza

This is the testimony of Rwanda genocide survivor Clare Muhinyuza.  Clare was one of the first people interviewed by SURF: The Survivor's Fund.   Her story is absolutely heartbreaking and I found it to be a moving and powerful video.  Sadly, Clare eventually passed away from her injuries.  What an unbelievable tragedy.

SURF have a book entitled Survival Against The Odds which is a collection of survivors stories as well as a chronology of events.  If you click on the link above, it will take you to the page where you can obtain a copy.

The New Scramble for Africa

Ambassador Michael Battle
Image source:

The US, African Union and new scramble for Africa

Source: ThoughtLeader

The past few years have seen a dramatic uptick in American diplomatic efforts in Africa, which has coincided with a decisive shift in political rhetoric about the continent. At first glance this might seem like a positive development, reflecting a more progressive attitude toward what has long been considered an unimportant global backwater. But a closer look reveals that American diplomacy in Africa is less about serving the good of African people than it is about securing the interests of private American capital. Nowhere has this been more flagrantly clear than on the lips of Michael Battle, the US ambassador to the AU.

First, a bit about Battle. He received a Masters degree in Divinity at Trinity College and a Ph.D in Ministry at Howard University, and served at the Interdenominational Theological Centre in Atlanta until he was nominated to his current post by President Obama in 2009.
Battle’s position at the AU is new and little known outside diplomatic circles. The US only established a dedicated ambassadorship to the AU during the Bush administration in 2006. This mission - known as USAU - is the first of its kind among non-African states, and is designed to facilitate US operations in Africa as a more ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ alternative to bilateral relationships with individual African states.

This month I had the opportunity to attend a speech delivered by Battle during his visit to the Miller Centre of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. I noticed a new diplomatic rhetoric right at the outset of his presentation. First, he referred to Africa as a continent of ‘great riches’ and ‘abundance’, flagging a notable departure from earlier, longstanding representations of Africa as ‘desolate’ and ‘impoverished’. Paralleling this point, Battle spoke at length about shifting US policy in Africa toward corporate ‘investment’ and ‘partnership’ and away from public ‘aid’ and ‘assistance’.

On the face of it this seemed like good news to me, but the rest of Battle’s speech disabused me of any rosy assumptions about his intentions, as the two primary objectives of the USAU rose quickly to the surface: security and trade.

In terms of security, Battle confirmed America’s dedication to working with the AU and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to militarise the continent’s coastlines. While he claimed that the goals of this mission include responding to increased maritime piracy and breaking cartels that traffic illegally in drugs and humans, he made it clear that the primary military objective is to protect US oil interests in the Gulf of Guinea, suppress local resistance movements like MEND in Nigeria, and secure a favourable climate for returns on investment for American corporations. When pressed, Battle justified his call for militarisation by invoking the vague and poorly substantiated spectre of ‘terrorism’.

In terms of trade, Battle spoke excitedly about the partnership between the US, the AU, and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) to integrate and liberalise the continent’s national economies. Battle’s explicit vision is to facilitate the efforts of US corporations such as Chevron, Delta, and GE (which he mentioned explicitly by name) to expand investments across multiple African nations by ‘harmonizing trade rules’ and ‘simplifying regulations’.
He praised the AU for developing ‘free trade’ across the continent at a faster rate than the EU was able to accomplish over a similar period of time, and hailed USAU’s vision for an Africa that is increasingly open for business to American companies.

None of this is particularly new, of course - the US has long used its diplomats to push for neoliberal economic policies. The real newness of Battle’s approach is that he no longer feels the need to hide America’s brash economic interests in Africa. While diplomats of earlier eras invoked the lofty rhetoric of development and democracy, Battle makes no such effort. Instead, he speaks plainly about using diplomacy to facilitate monopoly capitalism, and about paving the way for US corporations to - as he put it - ‘take advantage of Africa’s resources and exploit its tremendous market opportunities’. According to Battle, ‘If we don’t invest on the African continent now, we will find that China and India have absorbed its resources without us, and we will wake up and wonder what happened to our golden opportunity of investment.’ Battle couldn’t have been blunter - or more offensive - if he tried.

One can’t help but find Battle’s approach shockingly redolent of the 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, when European nations conspired to divide the continent among themselves, each claiming a share of its abundant resources, its cheap labour, and its untapped markets, all while committing to secure their claims with a military presence. The only thing that has changed today is that the actors are different, and the plunder is being conducted with the full support of the African political elite and the AU, which - not surprisingly - depends partially on funds from the US through USAID.

Before he left the auditorium, Battle agreed to field a few questions from the audience. One student asked him why he focused so much on capital investment and economic liberalisation, but never once discussed fairer labour standards or protective environmental policies or regulatory mechanisms designed to benefit the poor. Indeed, any astute observer of African affairs understands that poverty and instability arise not from too much regulation and too little foreign direct investment, but from too little regulation and foreign direct investment that plunders and exploits without meaningfully benefiting the public. What Africa needs is not investment for its own sake, but investment within a framework that will protect workers and the environment and ensure that common people receive a just share of the resources that are their birthright. But Battle refused to answer the question.

I also took a moment to pose a question to Battle. I asked him how it was that his job as a public functionary of the US government has become about securing the private interests of multinational corporations. I wasn’t surprised when he refused to answer me. But I was surprised that he made no effort to contradict me. Indeed, Battle was entirely prepared to defend his role as facilitator of American military intervention in the service of private American capital. And this without even the usual claims to altruism: he didn’t even gesture to the pressing problems of poverty, inequality, and exploitation in Africa. Given that Battle’s training in African affairs prior to his post at the AU amounts to almost zero, I suppose this shouldn’t be so shocking. Still, I expected more compassion and critical insight from a man trained in theology and educated at a historically black university.

As much as I want to criticise Battle for his lack of diplomatic decorum, I actually find myself grateful for it - grateful that he has spoken so bluntly about his gunboat diplomacy, grateful that he has exposed the market-oriented motives of the USAU, grateful that he has stripped away the romantic mystifications that usually shroud US foreign policy in Africa. Gone at last is the fig leaf of humanitarianism; Battle has given lie to any pretence that the Obama administration has the best interests of the beleaguered continent in mind. Indeed, Battle’s rhetoric represents nothing less than the formal inauguration of a New Scramble for Africa, and of a complicit AU that has been thoroughly co-opted by the US government and multinational capital.

Jason Hickel teaches courses in African studies at the University of Virginia while working on his doctoral dissertation in anthropology.

Student Uprisings: Otpor!

The current spate of student protests across the United Kingdom has divided opinions and the media has rushed to portray the students as hooligans and radicals.  But what if you lived in a country where students could not protest or risked their lives by doing so?  What about those protests that changed the face of history or left indelible marks on the politics of an entire region or nation?

Otpor – Resistance (uploaded on Flickr by Igor Jeremic)

University of Belgrade, October 1998.   The increasingly authoritarian and paranoid regime of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević introduced repressive laws in an attempt to curb media freedom and the autonomy of universities.  Otpor (Отпор in Serbian Cyrillic, meaning ‘resistance’) was formed by 15 students at the University of Belgrade to protest these laws.

In 1999, NATO bombed Serbia in response to massive human rights abuses and crimes against humanity taking place in Kosovo during the Kosovo War.  In the aftermath of the NATO bombings, Otpor changed their focus to a non-violent campaign of protest against Slobodan Milošević and the movement grew rapidly from just a couple of hundred members to thousands and then tens of thousands.  Students engaged in peaceful marches, met in coffee shops and schools, and made use of graffiti and propaganda posters to convey their message. 

The Milošević regime responded with a brutal counter-attack against the student organisation.  Up to 2000 students were arrested, many were beaten on streets and in police stations and the mass media responded by branding the students as hoodlums and terrorists.

Otpor logo OTPOR Sign Novi Sad 2001 Gotov je!

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Otpor launched the “Gotov je” campaign.  Gotov je  (Готов је in Cyrillic, see above right) means “he is finished” and it was a widespread campaign to encourage voters to turn up at the polls and to use their vote to remove Slobodan Milošević from power.  The campaign was specifically aimed at disillusioned voters and youth abstainers.  It is estimated that six tons of gotov je stickers (or approximately two million) were printed in six weeks and affixed to buildings, cars, street signs and in shop windows.

Prior to the elections, eighteen opposition parties combined in an attempt to present a unified position against the ruling party.  The opposition was called the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition and Vojislav Koštunica was their prime candidate.  The elections took place on September 24, 2000.  By midnight on the 24th, both independent sources and coalition staff reported that Koštunica had won over 50% of the votes (thus ensuring a win) but the Federal Electoral Committee stated that no party had won the required majority.  As discrepancies and irregularities began to emerge, allegations of election fraud were rife and this was fueled by Milošević’s transparent ploy to manipulate the vote and force a runoff.

Koštunica called for a general strike which initially started with miners at the countries Kolubara mines which produced most of Serbia’s electricity.  As worker involvement increased, Otpor arranged road blocks across the country and together, they brought the country to a standstill.  On October 5, 2000, several hundreds of thousands of students, workers and other protests converged on Belgrade in what has become known as the Bulldozer Revolution.  The protests were peaceful but during the events, the parliament was partially burned down and the main television station RTS was taken over.  The police, who had been secretly working with Otpor and the opposition for months, stood by and refused to carry out Milošević’s orders. 

Slobodan Milošević resigned a couple of days later and was eventually transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to stand trial on war crimes charges.  He passed away on March 11, 2006 before he could be convicted or sentenced.

Otpor is widely acknowledged for the role that they played in bringing down the Milošević regime and they were awarded the MTV's Free Your Mind Award in 2000.


Book Review: When Everything Has Fallen – Nathalia Zongo

wheneverythinghasfallen%20cover On October 15, 1987 a military coup d'état took place in Burkina Faso and the president Thomas Sankara was assassinated.  Sankara himself had gained power in 1983 when he had toppled the Ouédraogo regime in a coup d'état that was organized by Blaise Compaoré and supported by Libya.  In an ironic twist of events, it was Blaise Compaoré that went on to lead the subsequent coup d'état in 1987. 

Although he was only in power for four years, Thomas Sankara had become an incredibly popular leader.  He had declined foreign aid and adopted an anti-imperialist foreign policy.  His domestic policy centered around poverty reduction; agrarian self-sufficiency land reform; public health and the vaccination of 2.5 million children; literacy and a commitment to women’s rights that saw him outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy.  His radical and progressive policies seemingly required greater control of his society though and Sankara became increasingly authoritarian in his governance of Burkina Faso, banning unions, free press and anything else that he saw to stand in his way. 

ThomasSankara Sankara’s popularity rose to dizzying heights amongst the poorest and most vulnerable of his citizens but his policies and authoritarian practices began to alienate some very powerful people, including the Burkinabè middle class, tribal leaders and those with foreign trade ties to France (Sankara had maintained strong ties with Libya and Ghana).  France backed Blaise Compaoré in leading the 1987 coup d'état in which Sankara was assassinated.

Air Force Lieutenant Etienne Zongo was President Sankara’s chief military officer and had served at his side since October 1983.  He went missing on the day that Sankara was assassinated and for several agonizing days, his family thought that he had been killed in the coup d'état, only to discover that his name was not on the list of the dead.  When Everything Has Fallen is an autobiographical account of these events written by Etienne Zongo’s daughter Nathalia Zongo.  This is a deeply personal memoir that follows the immediate aftermath of the coup d'état and the family’s struggles to pick up the pieces in the following years.  The book details military raids on the family household as soldiers searched relentlessly for Lt. Zongo and his release into custody that was negotiated by the Ambassador of Cuba and the Embassy of Ghana.  Lt. Zongo had his passport confiscated and was then interrogated, tortured and held under house arrest before being detained without trial for two years.  Released in August 1989, Lt. Zongo fled to neighboring Ghana in fear of his life and disappeared from his family for seven years.

In When Everything Has Fallen, Nathalia Zongo details how the family were once again subject to military raids upon the household after Lt. Zongo had left for Ghana and how they were ostracized by the school and the greater community.  Already struggling to make ends meet, the family suffered devastating damage to their house due to a fire and did not hear a single word from Lt. Zongo until a brief reunion in 1994.   Nathalia describes the struggles that beset the family and how one of her brothers Jonathan lost all interest and dropped out of school before graduating.  Nathalia moved to America when she was 21 to study and work to support herself.  She describes a precarious existence where employers felt able to terminate her contracts with little or no reason or notice and her own brother felt unable to support her or house her in his apartment.

There is no doubt that the Zongo family lead a harrowing and troubled existence in the years after the coup d'état, during Lt. Zongo’s imprisonment and subsequent exile, and following the departure of Nathalia and older brother Jean-Martin to America.  However, When Everything Has Fallen is set against the backdrop of a major political event and I expected the book to go into more detail about the history of Burkina Faso and the policies and practices that ultimately lead to Thomas Sankara’s death.  The author described what Sankara meant to her on a personal level but did not provide sufficient context for her admiration of the man.

Similarly, the author described what happened to her father in very brief detail although she went into greater detail about how the events impacted on her and her family.  I expect that readers of a political biography such as this might want to know more about the practice of detainment without trial and the moral and political implications of such a practice.  Lt. Zongo was interrogated and tortured by the government and had previously spoken out about his experiences to Africa International in 1991.  As the author had re-established contact with her father by the end of the book, it would make sense that some insight be provided into his experiences (or at least an opinion offered if he felt unable to talk about those experiences).  There is also little insight in the book as to why Lt. Zongo failed to make contact with his family for seven years and the reader is left wondering whether this was negligence or the fact that the family remained in a rural setting.  All that the author does mention in this regard is the unwavering and frankly irrational faith maintained by her mother that he would eventually return to the family (he never did). 

Nathalia Zongo The press release for the book does approach this and states that although set against a political backdrop, When Everything Has Fallen is an autobiography by a child “without the encroachment of hindsight or adult values”.  I find this problematic as the book is not targeted towards readers of ‘tragic life stories’ but is firmly presented as a political and historical memoir.  The book would greatly benefit from a foreword explaining the historical and political aspects of the story together with a detailed account of Lt. Zongo’s experiences as a detainee plus perhaps an afterword explaining Lt. Zongo’s subsequent actions and continuing absence from his family.  As it stands at the moment, When Everything Has Fallen simply leaves too many questions unanswered.

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Article written by me and first published as Book Review: When Everything Has Fallen by Nathalia Zongo on Blogcritics. This review contains affiliate links.