May 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
In December 2013 when conflict broke out in the Central African Republic, France swooped in to “save the day” by sending soldiers to its former colony. Just over a month ago, a UN report was leaked detailing sexual abuse of children in the CAR by the very same French troops.
The report detailed the rape and sodomy of starving and homeless young boys by French peacekeeping troops who were supposed to be protecting them at a center for internally displaced people in the capital Bangui. The boys, some of whom were orphans, were sexually exploited in return for small amounts of food, water and money. In one case, a 9-year-old boy described being sexually abused with his friend by two French soldiers when they went to a checkpoint to look for something to eat. The soldiers forced him and his friend to carry out a sex act. The child was so distressed after the assault that he fled the camp in terror .
Harrowing stuff. But just as worrying were the various responses to the report from the UN, French authorities and the mainstream media.
The United Nations responded to sexual abuse by its peacekeepers by suspending the senior UN aid worker who chose to disclose the report to French prosecutors, after the UN’s failure to stop the abuse.
The response by the UN shouldn’t come as a surprise. When it comes to sexual abuse by its peacekeeping forces, the UN has previously been known to embark on witch hunts against whistle-blowers; politicize the issue despite its urgency; and display an appalling disregard for victims.
Ignore, deny, dissemble and cover up is the UN’s instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks, as demonstrated by its past failure to act over pedophile rings operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and allegations of sexual misconduct by its troops in Burundi, Liberia and Haiti.
The pervasive culture of impunity that prevails at the UN should raise serious doubts as to its credibility in managing world affairs.
Many media outlets chose to portray this sexual exploitation of African children by peacekeeping forces as a “sex-for-food scandal”. This is nothing new. The media similarly covered as “sex for food” stories past incidents of peacekeeper child sexual abuse in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (2002); the Democratic Republic of Congo (2004); Liberia (2006); and the Ivory Coast (2011).
Yet children cannot legally, let alone morally, consent to sex. When an adult has sex with a child, this is rape not “sex”. For the media to describe it as “sex for food” implies that the soldiers were merely compensating locals with food for transactional sex, rather than acknowledging what they were truly doing to vulnerable children.
The ultimate danger of such antiseptic reporting is that it will deny the victims the necessary attention, indignation and outrage that could generate public interest, mobilize activists and institutions and ultimately bring about positive change. The only beneficiaries of such downplayed media coverage are the UN and French authorities, whose ongoing policies get to proceed more easily without interference due to concern over their politically inconvenient victims.
The media must refrain from attempts at minimizing the gravity of sexual abuse crimes. When peacekeepers force African children to perform sex acts for food, or for any other reason, this should be covered by the media as a “child rape scandal”.
French Government Response
In response to the scandal, the French defense ministry issued a statement which read in part that:
“If the facts are proven, the strongest penalties will be imposed on those responsible for what would be an intolerable attack on soldiers’ values.”
The French government would have us believe that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against children were merely bad apples, when in fact they were exhibiting the toxic values and ideals of militarism that are encouraged and rewarded in militarized cultures. To become a soldier you must unlearn consent and empathy. You need to dehumanize in order to kill – which is what ALL militaries everywhere train their soldiers to do.
The French soldiers showed no empathy towards the starving boys desperate for food. They instead exploited victims who could not consent to sex, dehumanizing them before and during the rape. The French soldiers were doing exactly what they were trained to do.
When the story of sexual abuse in the CAR first broke out, many around the world expressed their shock that peacekeepers would “take advantage of desperate people they were supposed to be protecting.” However, the fact that sexual abuse by peacekeepers has happened many times before, points to the existence of a pattern that begs to be looked into. It’s time to stop treating peacekeeper sexual abuse as anomalies or random, isolated occurrences, and begin to recognize the deeper issues at play. Until we begin to address the root causes of such incidents, this will happen again, and soon.
May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
Maya Angelou, the American activist, author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer died a year ago today. Angelou had a deep connection to Africa. In 1961, she helped organize a protest at the United Nations over the assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, which had been approved by the CIA.
Shortly after, she moved to Cairo, Egypt, and served as the editor of the Arab Observer. The country was at the time a center of anti-colonial movements opposed to imperialism and Zionism. During her time in Cairo, she met Nelson Mandela while he was on his trip in Africa in 1962, to garner support for the armed struggle and to undergo military training.
She then moved to the newly independent state of Ghana and became one of hundreds of expatriates known as the “Afro-American community”. She worked as a teacher in the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana. She also served as a feature editor of the African Review, and wrote articles for Ghanaian Times.
Angelou met with Malcolm X when he visited Ghana in 1964. Ghana was at the time the citadel of the Pan-African and socialist movements taking place in Africa and throughout the Diaspora. The first chapter of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, founded by Malcolm X in 1964, was formed in Ghana among the expatriate community.
Upon her return to the United States, Angelou was encouraged to put her life experiences down on paper. In 1970 she published “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which gained international notoriety.
Dr. Maya Angelou’s contributions to literature and social movements remain an inspiration to many in Africa and across the globe.
Rest in Power.
By Maya Angelou
Thus she had lain
deserts her hair
golder her feet
mountains her breasts
two Niles her tears.
Thus she has lain
Black through the years.
Over the white seas
rime white and cold
took her young daughters
sold her strong sons
churched her with Jesus
bled her with guns.
Thus she has lain.
Now she is rising
remember her pain
remember the losses
her screams loud and vain
remember her riches
her history slain
now she is striding
although she had lain.
May 24, 2015 § 3 Comments
White people can play a role in African causes; but only in facilitating and boosting African voices – not trying to derail the conversation, or distract from and dismiss as irrelevant issues pertaining to white supremacy and racism. Dominating discourse, insisting on speaking for us, silencing criticism and abusing critics is an abuse of white privilege that only does more harm than good.
A white woman doing research in Kenya not too long ago went on a social media rant accusing Kenyans who expressed their support for the “Black Lives Matter” campaign of caring more about the victims of police brutality in the United States than those in Kenya. To her, Kenyans voicing opposition to white supremacy and racism in a spirit of pan-Africanist solidarity (see here and here) was trivial and below consideration. In short, our feelings and emotions towards the plight of our own in the Diaspora – Africans and people of African descent – did not matter.
Rather, it was her job to decide what matters for Kenyans, as we couldn’t possibly know what issues to prioritize for ourselves. After all, only the objective, rational perspective of a privileged white woman can determine exactly what is most important for us – and it apparently was not expressing solidarity with victims of the racism that she as a white person benefits from.
Taking her bigotry a step further, she went on to denigrate the efforts of Kenyans in raising awareness using social media. This in turn revealed just how much her white privilege had distanced her from the reality of the many Kenyan activists who turn to online platforms due to a lack of access to the real world platforms that she, on the other hand, is guaranteed by whiteness.
However, contrary to her belief that Kenyans are uncaring to their own, we are human beings capable of compassion and empathy for each other, as has been demonstrated time and again. More importantly, we’ve realized over time that white supremacy and racism in the West exacerbates the issues we as Kenyan people face in our country. It is this very same white supremacist and racist mentality that makes white academics in Africa, such as herself, feel entitled to engage in acts of erasure by invalidating and devaluing the views of Kenyan activists with the same or greater credentials, not to mention, lived experience, while posturing as “African expert” (white person who believes they know more about Africa and Africans, than Africans themselves).
Frankly, the cliché of the white academic turned “African expert” erasing African agency by stealing the spotlight from grassroots activists so as to be worshiped by Africa’s poor, while simultaneously boosting her academic qualifications to farther her career and profit from her “activism” is getting old. As a Kenyan woman, expressing solidarity with African-Americans against white supremacy and racism doesn’t mean I undervalue the experiences of Kenya’s poor. I just do not need a white woman to “educate” me on what they are.