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Why the world needs an African ecofeminist future, African Argument March 12, 2019

Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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Orthodox economic models have failed us all, but women across Africa are resisting them and coming up with visionary alternatives

By Fatima KelleheAfrican Argument

African ecofeminism: Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer.

Women in Africa are often at the forefront of campaigns for sustainability, justice and sovereignty. Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer.

We need an “African ecofeminist future”. And by we, I don’t just mean Africa, I mean everyone.

I say this for two reasons. Firstly, Africa is now the “final frontier” for economic models that have already ecologically compromised the rest of the planet. Not long ago touted as the world’s “basket case” but now covetously viewed as its future breadbasket, a sustainable alternative in Africa is possibly the final bastion against global environmental degradation.

Secondly, women and feminist activists are already on the front line of the battle for ecological sustainability on the continent. Their everyday struggles, uncompromised commitment, and willingness to envision a radical future in which justice, equity and rights harmonise with environmental sovereignty have the potential to save us all.

So what is ecofeminism, and why African ecofeminism specifically? Ecofeminist activism grew out of feminist, peace, and ecology movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Intersectional ecofeminism also underscores the importance of gender, race, and class, interlinking feminist concerns with human oppressions within patriarchy and the exploitations of a natural environment that women are often more reliant upon but also its guardians in many cultural contexts.

But whilst the broader movement has sometimes been bogged down in a divisive debate over whether gendered associations with nature essentialise women, movements engaged in feminist and ecological activism in Africa have simply gotten busy building strategic and political alliances between women, nature, and protection of the environment.

Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement arguably epitomise the essence of African ecofeminism and the collective activism that defines it. As the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004, Maathai highlighted the close relationship between African feminism and African ecological activism, which challenge both the patriarchal and neo-colonial structures undermining the continent. Lesser -known activists, however, have also long been at the intersection of gender, economic, and ecological justice.

Ruth Nyambura of the African Eco Feminist Collective, for example, uses radical and African feminist traditions to critique power, challenge multinational capitalism, and re-imagine a more equitable world. Organisations like African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction (WoMin) campaign against the devastation of extractive industries. Meanwhile, localised organising is also resisting ecologically-damaging corporatisation: in South Africa, Women Mapella residents fought off land grabs by mining companies; in Ghana, the Concerned Farmers Association, led largely by women, held mining companies accountable for pollution of local watersheds; and in Uganda, women of the Kizibi community seed bank are preserving local biodiversity in the face of the commercialisation of seeds by corporate multinationals.

These activists on these front lines are fighting back, but they are also offering visions of alternative development models that demand both gender and economic justice. In doing so, they ask us all to reconsider what constitutes “progress” in the first place.

Women, the environment and biodiversity

African women are often at the heart of communities dealing with huge changes related to economic development and shoulder the burden of environmental mismanagement. These concerns are multi-layered, and range from agrarian justice through to extractivism, but one issue that particularly clearly demonstrates the importance of African ecofeminism today is the threat to seed biodiversity.

This is an increasingly worrying concern. In the 20th century, an alarming 75% of crop biodiversity was lost, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, and this trend has continued since. In the last decade, for example, Europe and Central Asia have seen 42% of their terrestrial animal and plant species decline in population size, partially due to intensive agriculture and forestry practices, with more natural resources being consumed than produced.

Currently, the Green Revolutions seen in Europe, the US and, more recently, parts of Asia – which have involved moving from subsistence agriculture to industrialised farming, cash cropping and mono cropping – remain at the forefront of thinking around economic growth and food security. However, there is increasing evidence that this corporate-driven vision, which has dominated development trajectories over the last century, has failed on several fronts.

Not only has it failed to address hunger despite overproduction, it has indirectly reinforced biodiversity losses and therefore nature’s more holistic contributions to a sustainable environment. Before the Green Revolution in India, for example, there were roughly 50,000 varieties of rice. Within 20 years, this dropped to just 40. This has resulted in the loss of crops once part of diverse food baskets as well as a degradation of farmers’ ownership and control over seeds.

Seed sovereignty is therefore a key pillar of ecofeminism, and the relationship between seed biodiversity and women is particularly critical. Women, who are often central to domestic food production, are also frequently the custodians of seeds that reproduce balanced, varied and nutritional diets. In Africa, female farmers often preserve diverse (and indigenous) crops that remain off the cash-cropping agenda, from myriad varieties of spinach and cassava to the less well-known acha, a paleo grain native to parts of the Sahel.

Among other things, women’s indigenous knowledge around seeds and their selection, storage, and planting of diverse and often hardy crops increase climate resilience, placing them right on the frontline of the battle against climate change. By contrast, extensive mono-cropping has actually made agriculture more vulnerable to pests, disease and drought, often leading to a dependence on the pesticides and fertilisers produced by the same companies that sell the commercial seeds now being pushed across Africa.

Indeed, commercial seed capture on the continent is on the rise, with corporate-invested pushes towards regulations that authorise the planting of only selected seeds. Hybrid seeds aimed at maximising yields in particular are being prioritised. This is deeply problematic as hybrid seeds cannot be replanted, meaning farmers must buy new ones each season. Through this, farmers lose their autonomy, while the women who’ve been custodians of seed knowledge for centuries are disempowered. The commercialisation of seeds is therefore not just reducing variety and undermining climate resilience, but also compromising food sovereigntyas a small cabal of multi-nationals monopolise the market.

Visioning something better

An info-graphic making the social media rounds a few years ago highlighted that if everyone on the planet consumed like in the United States, we would need 4.4 Planet Earths. The reality that accepted models of development are unsustainable is no longer news to most. Meanwhile, there is a growing public awareness around threats to biodiversity and climate resilience as well as of the tensions that have arisen as a result of corporate-driven agricultural agendas.

And yet, most African governments remain anchored to the idea of a Western-inspired green revolution, and are beholden to donor support (from the West as well as China) that is often invested in agribusiness expansion. Policy spaces still rarely welcome the voices of smallholder farmers and those working at the grassroots, leaving alternative positions and challenges to orthodox models of economic development on the margins of regional and global tables where decisions are brokered.

Undeterred, however, ecofeminists continue to fight at the coalface of this struggle. From Ghana to South Africaand beyond, women-organised seed-sharing initiatives continue to resist corporatisation. Activists like Mariama Sonko in Senegal continue to lead on agroecological farming initiatives for localised and sustainable food production.

Ultimately, the crisis of Africa’s current trajectory is a crisis of visioning: the inability of the continent’s leaders to imagine a process of development less destructive, more equitable, less unjust, more uniquely African, and – quite simply – more exciting. The positions, passions, and holistic approaches offered by African ecofeminism provide key ingredients for an alternative to the capital-centric ideals of economic growth that have defined progress so far. These have not only wreaked havoc on global ecological sustainability but have failed to deliver a genuinely equitable or just society anywhere. It’s time to start dreaming and delivering an African future that can do better than that.

African Arguments: Why President Farmaajo holds so much hope for Somalia February 16, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in Somalia.
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The Big Cheese: Why President Farmaajo holds so much hope for Somalia

Why is there so much excitement around the former prime minister’s surprise appointment as Somalia’s new president?

Somalia’s ninth president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.

On 8 February, the protracted Somalia elections finally came to an end to widespread celebrations and surprise as Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was appointed as the new president.

The former prime minister was one of 21 candidates vying to be Somalia’s 9th president in a process involving 329 newly-elected lawmakers. The decision went to a second round of voting in which Farmaajo received 184 votes to the incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s 97, prompting to the latter to concede peacefully.

This outcome came as a huge but largely welcome shock to most.

Who is Farmaajo?

The new president – known as Farmaajo, Italian for “cheese”, because of his reported love of the food – first became a well-known figure in Somalia in November 2010. At that time, he had been living and working in the US, where he holds dual citizenship, for 25 years. But he was suddenly plucked out of obscurity in the diaspora by then President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to become prime minister.

It is what happened in the following seven months that made him perhaps Somalia’s most popular politician in recent times.

Unlike so many of Somalia’s politicians, Farmaajo made an immediate and tangible difference on coming into office. For the first time since 1991, he reduced the cabinet from the customary 31 members down to a core of just 18, dropping redundant departments such as the Ministry of Tourism and Wild Animals. He fought corruption, establishing an Anti-Corruption Commission and increasing transparency around government spending and ministers’ assets. And he ensured salaries were disbursed to government workers and soldiers who hadn’t been paid for months, an accomplishment for which he is still fondly remembered.

Under Farmaajo, large swaths of territory were also recaptured from al-Shabaab. The momentum achieved in this period is believed to have been the cause of the Islamist militants’ withdrawal from the capital Mogadishu, for the first time since their inception, just a month and half after Farmaajo left office.

In 2011, however, the prime minister’s term came to an abrupt end. The president and then Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden had been embroiled in a bitter power struggle for months, and it was only resolved when the two struck a deal that included an agreement that Farmaajo would step down.

The resignation of the admired prime minister triggered days of demonstrations across Somalia and abroad, with protesters blaming foreign interference for his removal. Farmaajo’s popularity was particularly notable in Mogadishu from which his clansmen, who include former President Siad Barre, had been indiscriminately driven out in the 1990s civil war. His acceptance in the capital served as a reminder of how far Somalia has come.

The biggest mandate

Farmaajo’s popularity amongst the people combined with his mandate – the biggest since 1967 – gives the new president a tremendous opportunity to move Somalia towards stability, democracy and prosperity.

To achieve this, it is imperative that he avoids the mistakes of his predecessors, particularly in four key areas.

Firstly, Farmaajo must take great care in appointing his prime minister. The past four presidents all struggled with this and each went through at least three different PMs, with almost all the partnerships ending in acrimony. In some instances, internal conflicts lasted months, derailing any progress that could have been made. President Farmaajo must appoint somebody he trusts, that shares the same vision, and that will stick with him through his administration.

A second key area will be reconciliation. The brutal civil war that broke out in 1991 led the country to break up into several clan-based territories. Many Somalis never leave their regions.

The new president will need to set in motion a process of national reconciliation. Political grievances must be readdressed; the discriminatory parts of the constitution such as the 4.5 clan-based power sharing formula should be removed; and property should be returned to its rightful owners. By re-cultivating real trust between clans, Farmaajo can ensure a lasting peace.

[4 questions the new president must confront in deciding what kind of democracy Somalia should be]

Thirdly, the new president will have to tackle the insecurity that has long wracked the country. Even after some promising gains, Mogadishu has seen an increase in al-Shabaab attacks, to the extent that the venue of yesterday’s election had to be moved to the heavily fortified Aden Adde Airport.

To improve security, Farmaajo will have to pay special attention to Somalia’s security forces. Soldiers’ morale desperately needs to be built up with adequate training and the timely payment of salaries. This, in turn, could help the army recruit the young educated conscripts it needs to effectively replace the African Union forces (AMISOM) when they eventually leave the country.

Finally, Farmaajo will have to take great care in ensuring his rule is inclusive. The past two administrations were frequently criticised for concentrating power in the hands of the few. Under the new president, Somalis all over the country should be able to claim the government as their own and be proud of it.

As prime minister in 2010, Farmaajo openly expressed a disapproval of the 4.5 power-sharing formula that discriminates against smaller clans. At the time his capacity was limited, but now he has the power to walk the walk and ensure that his government is one that represents all Somalis.

Sakariye Cismaan is a political commentator. Follow him on twitter at @SakariyeCismaan.


African Arguments: Ethiopia: How popular uprising became the only option. #OromoProtests #OromoRevolution October 8, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests.
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Ethiopia: How popular uprising became the only option

In theory, the Oromo and Amhara are well-represented by parties in government. But they have never been perceived to have either legitimacy or autonomy.

The government claims 52 people were killed in the Irreecha celebrations, but the opposition puts the figure much higher.

The government claims 52 people were killed in the Irreecha celebrations, but the opposition puts the figure much higher.

When Shibiru Amana heard gunshots ring out near his home in the town of Mandi on 26 September, he immediately rushed outside where he saw people clamouring for safety and kids running for their lives. Across the commotion, he later told VOA Afaan Oromo, Amana spotted a young boy lying lifeless on the ground. He mustered up the courage and took a few steps towards him. It was his younger brother Lidata.

Lidata, who was just 15 years old, had been shot in the torso. His transgression had been shouting a few anti-government slogans at a gathering on the eve of the Meskel holiday.

A week later, enormous numbers of people from all corners of the Oromia region descended on the town of Bishoftu to celebrate Irreechaa, an annual Oromo thanksgiving festival. When some began to protest, security officers responded by firing tear gas and live ammunition, according to witnesses and videos that later emerged on social media.

The crowed was packed between a lake and treacherous terrain, and in the panic that ensued, many died. The government reported that 52 died. Human rights groups say several hundreds were killed. Meanwhile, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) put the death toll at a huge 678.

The ongoing wave of protests in Ethiopia was initially triggered in November 2015 by a development plan that would have expanded the capital Addis Ababa into neighbouring Oromia towns. This plan was eventually suspended, but the protests amongst the Oromo people continued and have since spread to over 200 towns and been joined by Amhara demonstrators too. The government has often responded by sending in security forces that have engaged in deadly violence, leading to the deaths of over 600 people, according to rights groups, and over 1,000, according to activists.

[Ethiopia’s unprecedented nationwide Oromo protests: who, what, why?]

While some of these killings in Oromia have been carried out by regional police, it is notable that much of the security response has been conducted by the federal police and army. As Amana explained, “I wanted to ask the police officers why they killed my brother but they speak a different language”.

Under Ethiopia’s system of ethnic federalism – comprising of nine states and two chartered cities – significant powers are devolved to regional authorities, including the right to establish a state police force and maintain public order within the region. The federal army is only permitted to intervene at the request of the Oromia regional government.

However, the reality is that much of this devolved autonomy only exists in theory, and the fact that federal forces have been deployed reportedly without the express request of the Oromia government speaks to its lack of sovereignty.

Indeed, for the last 25 years, politics has been controlled by the four-party ruling coalition known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This alliance includes the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). But its lead partner is the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

This latter party’s base represents just 6% of Ethiopia’s 100 million population, but TPLF elites have long dominated the country’s political and economic spheres and kept a hold on key posts such as defence, intelligence and foreign affairs.

It is partly anger at these inequalities that is driving protests in Oromia and Amhara. The government has largely denounced these demonstrators and used force, but it also recently announced it would evaluate the performance of its regional parties and engage in the necessary reforms of them to address the people’s concerns.

“Deep reform”?

In 2001, the year Lidata was born, the Ethiopian government also faced the need for an internal upheaval. A struggle for power within the TPLF had just concluded and the faction led by then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had come out on top. A major purge of his opponents in government soon followed.

OPDO’s leaders had been indecisive in declaring their loyalties during the factional fight and were largely sidelined. Negasso Gidada, former president of Ethiopia and chair of the OPDO, was suspended along with other senior leaders. Meanwhile, Kuma Demeksa, an OPDO central committee member and president of the Oromia region, was removed and later replaced by Juneydi Saaddo, a new technocrat on the block.

In times of crisis and internal party strife such as these, there was nothing Meles enjoyed more than conducting a highly charged meeting (‘gimgema’) in which participants engaged in criticism and self-criticism. Those from the OPDO reportedly engaged in a frantic admission of guilt.

15 years on from this – and four years since Meles’ death in 2012 – today’s widespread protests have forced senior leaders in the TPLF and EPRDF to resurrect their ideologue’s penchant for reform. These recent changes have been spoken about under the banner ofTilq Tehadiso, which is Amharic for “deep reform”, and are supposed to “tackle rent-seeking” and “root out nepotism”. But the reality is that the exercise has been, at best, a cosmetic reshuffle.

At worst, it has been used to usher in an even more confrontational approach to the protests. In its September 2016 party congress, for instance, the OPDO replaced its chair and vice-chair with Lemma Megersa, a former Security Chief for the region, and Workneh Gebeyehu, a former Director-General of the Federal Police Commission. This shift is widely believed to have been choreographed by the TPLF, and the combined intelligence and law enforcement expertise of the two new leaders will be of immediate value to the government. According to Jawar Mohammed, a US-based Oromo political activist, the move is an attempt to “further militarize the administration in Oromia”.

Indeed, early evidence suggests the new leadership is taking a more ruthless approach. Weeks after the change of guard, crackdowns have intensified in parts of Oromia, leading scores if not hundreds such as Lidata to lose their lives. “That’s the closest I have ever been to a war,” Bayesa Abera, who has attended every Irreechaa celebration for the past 10 years, said of events earlier this week. “I am lucky to be alive today.”

Neither the cause nor the solution

The OPDO is not the only Oromo political party in Ethiopia, but thanks to the TPLF, it has developed a sense of near invincibility over its competitors in the region since the 1990s.

According to insiders, the TPLF masterminded the very creation of the OPDO in 1989 in order to pit them against the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a group with which its relations were deteriorating. The TPLF struggled to encourage the formation of this new OPDO party, however, and reportedly had to call upon on Oromo-speaking prisoners of war to make up its members. From its early days, OPDO officials were widely referred to disparagingly as ‘maxxanne’, Oromo for freeloader.

In 1992, the now banned OLF, a more potent symbol of Oromo nationalism, finally withdrew from the transitional government in acrimonious circumstances, and since then, the TPLF has ensured that its OPDO ally has completely dominated in the region. As a Human Rights Watch report from 2005 noted, “From top to bottom, the OPDO has had a near-total monopoly on political power in Oromia since 1992”.

Two Oromo opposition parties – the Oromo National Congress (ONC) and Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) – did manage to enter the political fray when they won seats in the 2005 elections. But they were constantly undermined to prevent them from mounting a real challenge to the OPDO’s supremacy. This strategy of restricting political space to opposition parties culminated in the 2015 elections in which the OPDO officially won all 537 seats in the regional state council and all 178 seats allocated to the region in the federal parliament.

The OPDO’s loyalties have thus always been with the TPLF, and when men and women across Oromia have been gunned down, no OPDO official has had the courage to condemn excessive use of force. Juneydi Saaddo, a former ODPO cabinet minister who is now in exile, explained recently in an interview that those in government fear reprisals if they speak out against TPLF dominance, and confessed that the OPDO has never been able to shake off its subservient status.

[Behind the Ethiopia protests: A view from inside the government]

For the protesters in Oromia therefore, the OPDO possesses neither legitimacy nor autonomy, and any reshuffle of its leadership is considered as inconsequential as the party itself. The overwhelming belief is that its leaders are handpicked by the TPLF puppet-masters, and the new generation of Oromo youth – known as the ‘Qeerroo’ – have seen that it is business as usual after the latest reform. As Jawar Mohammedargued following the change of guard, “the OPDO is neither the cause nor the solution for the political crisis”.

Over the past year, Oromo protesters have been calling for genuine representation in government, an end to the dominance of a single ethnic group, respect for democratic and human rights, an end to indiscriminate killings and repression, and the cessation of marginalisation and evictions of Oromo from their ancestral lands. These are issues that far exceed the powers of the OPDO.

A Luta Continua

Over the past few months, the Amhara have joined the protests and there have been shows of unprecedented solidarity with the Oromo, united in their shared grievances. This is a significant development. Together, these two ethnic groups make up more than two-thirds of Ethiopia’s population, and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s most urgent and perhaps toughest job now is to halt or reverse this growing trend.

[“The blood flowing in Oromia is our blood too”: Why Oromo-Amhara solidarity is the greatest threat to the Ethiopian government]

Former strongman Meles Zenawi long managed to avoid this situation by stoking historical antagonisms in order to create perpetual mistrust between the two groups. He effectively drilled this trick into his disciples too, including current Communications Minister Getachew Reda, who in a recent interview, bluntly admitted that “the alliance between the two…is clear evidence that the government has failed to do its job”.

But Prime Minister Hailemariam, a former technocrat hailing from Ethiopia’s southern region, has proven less politically cunning than his predecessor. His attempts at employing the old divisive tactics, even mimicking Meles’ language and gestures at times, have failed as solidarity between the Amhara and Oromo has grown both within Ethiopia and in the diaspora. When the state TV recently unearthed and aired old footage of Meles expounding on the “narrow nationalism” and “chauvinism” of the two groups, it highlighted Hailemariam’s comparative lack of skill in delivering effective propaganda.

From Hailemariam’s first day in office, it has been clear that the TPLF still calls the shots. In fact, it is believed that his very survival strategy is to play second fiddle to gain approval from the TPLF hierarchy. But if protests continue, he could end up as a sacrificial lamb.

However, one thing the PM may take encouragement from is the fact that despite the turmoil facing the country, support from key Western allies hasn’t wavered. The US government in particular has shown little interest beyond penning half-heartedstatements of concern, reluctant to criticise a partner it sees as a force for stability in a volatile region and a major ally in its War on Terror.

In this configuration, the Ethiopian government has barely had to project even the semblance of democracy for Western diplomats to continue singing its praises. For instance, when US President Barack Obama paid a visit to the country in July 2015 – just two months after the ruling party and its allies won 100% of seats in parliament amidst accusations of intimidation and fraud – he described the government as “democratically elected”. The killing of hundreds of protesters since then has done little to shift this position.

The events of the last 11 months – and the responses from the Ethiopian government and its allies – have shown that Ethiopia’s protesters must take it upon themselves to define their destiny and bring an end to their peripheral role. Indeed, this seems to be the position that demonstrators in both Oromia and Amhara have willingly adopted, aware that as the two largest ethnic groups in the region, the success of their struggle lies in their ability to galvanise the public to rally and create links of solidarity with others who share their grievances. External actors can facilitate, but not replace, this process.

But this struggle goes on. At the funeral of Lidata, just one of many who have lost their lives at the hands of security forces, friends and family said their eulogies to celebrate his life and grieved that it had been so tragically cut short. A whole community gave him the send-off that he deserved, with mourners chanting pro-freedom slogans, of which one particularly stood out. Qabsoon itti fufa, or Oromo for A Luta Continua”.

Michael C. Mammo is studying for his PhD at the University of Birmingham. He is a former Ethiopia correspondent for Inter Press Service and Spanish News Agency (EFE). He tweets at @mcmammo.