"Taju spoke truth to those in power. He boldly took to task leaders who did not have the courage of their convictions." Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, former secretary general, Organisation of African Unity
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African Postcardsby Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Ama Biney
The untimely death of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem in 2009 on African Liberation Day stunned the Pan-African world. This lively selection of his weekly Pan-African Postcards demonstrates the brilliant wordsmith he was and his steadfast commitment to Pan-Africanism and offers a legacy of political, social, and cultural thought from his determination to speak
The untimely death of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem in 2009 on African Liberation Day stunned the Pan-African world. This lively selection of his weekly Pan-African Postcards demonstrates the brilliant wordsmith he was and his steadfast commitment to Pan-Africanism and offers a legacy of political, social, and cultural thought from his determination to speak truth to power. Showcasing the author's exceptional ability to express complex ideas in an engaging manner, this book presents his philosophy on diverse but intersecting themes: his fundamental respect for the capabilities, potential, and contribution of women in transforming Africa; penetrating truths directed at African politicians and their conduct; and deliberations on the institutional progress towards African Union. He reflects on culture and emphasizes the commonalities of African people. Also represented are his denunciations of international financial institutions, the G8 and NGOs in Africa, with incisive analysis of imperialism's manifestations and impact on the lives of African people, and his passion for eliminating poverty in Africa.
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Speaking Truth to Power
Selected Pan-African Postcards
By Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem
FahamuCopyright © 2010 Pambazuka Press
All rights reserved.
Taking a stand for gender equality and justice
Ending violence against women
12 March 2009
The focus of many International Women's Day activities this year was on ending violence against women. For many years activists — both feminist and non-feminist — have been campaigning against gender-based violence, and drawing upon several international instruments, conventions and statutes that prohibit violence against women. All African states sign up to these instruments, and our intergovernmental multilateral organisations, whether at the regional or continental levels, have drawn upon some of these instruments and Africanised them to make them appropriate for our concrete, lived experiences. The next frontline is the domestication of the laws in the national statutes of various countries through ratification. Even when that is achieved there remains the Herculean task of popularising them so that the public become aware of them and of sensitising the police, social workers and the entire judicial system to take them seriously, investigate allegations and bring perpetrators to justice. Also there are many challenges about victims being sufficiently empowered to be able to report to the appropriate authorities.
No matter how good a law is it is only in its implementation that its impact can be felt. As any judicial activist knows, a law that cannot be enforced diminishes the status of that law.
Impunity arises not simply because victims do not have access to justice, but because perpetrators get away with their crimes and at times are not even aware that they have done anything against the law.
Therefore general public education and mass awareness must be sustained at various levels. This will not just be about laws but also confronting certain received wisdoms, and cultural and social practices that encourage violence against women and disempower them from voicing their pain, let alone seeking legal redress.
For instance, how many Africans (not just men but women too) will accept the charge of 'marital rape'? There are many dubious interpretations of religion and internalised social conditioning that prevent women from accepting that they can say no to their husbands. Even girlfriends or mere female acquaintances are treated as 'wives' simply because they agreed to go out with a man or visit him. Consider a common reaction when Mike Tyson was imprisoned for date rape a few years ago. 'What was she doing in a man's room so late?', they asked. But being with a man should not be interpreted as consenting to go all the way. It is a very simple definition: rape begins from the moment a women says no and a man does not stop. All kinds of specious cultural nuances are used to abet this particular crime by insisting that 'no decent woman will just say yes like that'.
While the campaign against gender violence is gaining in momentum, it is important that campaigners do not concentrate on women alone. After all, it is generally men who batter and rape women, both in war and in peace. It is important to enter into serious dialogue with men to campaign against all kinds of gender-based violence together.
We as men must look at things and ask ourselves what our reaction would be were such violence to be perpetrated against our daughters, sisters and mothers. Our strength should not be in our fist, gun or between our legs.
Mothers should not die giving life
5 March 2009
The United Nations Millennium Campaign is launching a report this week on maternal mortality to coincide with International Women's Day on 8 March. We are also joining with various national partners, UN agencies and governments in various countries across Africa in a month-long series of activities designed to draw attention to the alarming number of women who continue to die while giving birth or as a result of complications during pregnancy. Many of these deaths are preventable and their prevention is not costly in human and material terms to the families involved or society in general.
The paradox of the situation is that millions of children in Asia and Africa now have a better chance of living beyond the age of five. If more children are living, why are their mothers dying in such scandalous numbers? Who is going to nurture and care for these children with improved chances of living, facilitating their universal access to education and greater opportunities beyond 2015?
Official statistics reveal a shocking trend of mothers dying in circumstances that are preventable. Despite the fact that some countries have invested in the provision of basic healthcare, in developing countries only 35 per cent of births are attended by skilled health workers.
In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman has a one in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a one in 4,000 risk in a developed country. More than half a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year, and of these deaths, 99 per cent are in developing countries. Neonatal mortality accounts for almost 40 per cent of the estimated 9.7 million deaths of children under-five and for nearly 60 per cent of infant (under-one) deaths.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in Africa and the most dangerous place to give birth, with women facing an astonishing one in seven chance of dying. Nigeria for its part makes up 2 per cent of the world's population, but accounts for 10 per cent of its maternal deaths.
While statistics can educate and raise awareness, they remain statistics. We do not see human beings in them. Until they are humanised, we may not feel their impact directly.
I have been banging on about MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) for quite some time now. But it affected me directly recently. A young sister of mine, Asmau (better known as Talatua) aged 33, died two hours after delivering her second child, a boy, whom she never held.
Asmau was not an illiterate woman. She was a senior science teacher, while her husband is a college principal. Both were materially better off than the so-called 'ordinary' man and woman, as their income could 'buy' them better access to health facilities. My sister died in a 'private' clinic, one of many that have mushroomed in response to the crisis in the public health sector. Most of these 'private' clinics are owned by doctors and other medical staff also working in the public sector. So really the only dividing line between public and private is the extra money that those who can afford to pay in order to buy themselves more care and time from overworked public professionals.
But it is all a game of chance because many of these 'private' clinics do not have the requisite facilities and often fall back on the privatised sections of public facilities. So the closer one is to better public hospitals and other medical establishments like dedicated gynaecological, paediatric and other specialist hospitals such as teaching hospitals, the better are one's chances of buying off a slice of the public service for one's health. Consequently, regardless of your economic status, your access to better public or private health facilities is predetermined by location. If you are closer to the big cities, your chances are better.
In a continent where most of our people still live in rural areas, it is highly precarious that the health and lifespan of mothers and other citizens are based on such a random selection. It means that the majority of our peoples are condemned to inferior access to good medical facilities. Even in the capital cities, your residential area and economic well-being determine your access.
Our people try to cope with every calamity, many of them avoidable, preventable and human-made, by insisting that 'it is God's will'. Since God does not protest and has no instant rebuttal department, everything can be blamed on him.
It is not God's will that children should be brought up without their mothers. It is the way in which we plan our society that leads to women being penalised for doing what is natural to womanhood.
It is unacceptable that governments that can find money for unjust wars, the private security of presidents and their wife, wives or concubines — to say nothing of ministers and other state officials — while ignoring the far greater needs of their citizens for these services. It is not about lack of resources, but lack of people-friendly public priorities. If the minister of health of a country goes abroad on the flimsiest of health reasons and the minister of education does not have any of his or her children in the educational services his or her ministry is providing, why should the public trust the services?
It is not possible for the majority of a country's citizens to privatise their way out of public services, whether in health or education. Therefore citizens' pressure must be placed on governments so that public policy responds positively towards the better provision of these services. Enough is enough!
While citizens should stand up and speak out to draw attention to the alarming number of women who continue to die while giving birth, governments in turn must develop national action plans for the reduction of maternal mortality that adopt a human-rights approach supported by strong institutions, funding and accountability mechanisms. Special attention should be given to marginalised groups in health system strategies, and all efforts should be made to guarantee the meaningful participation of women and communities in the designing, development, implementation and monitoring of programmes and policies to combat maternal deaths.
Most importantly, developing innovative strategies to rapidly increase access to skilled health workers for emergency obstetric care and comprehensive reproductive health services — including the expansion of responsibilities (and corresponding enhanced compensation) and greatly increased numbers of nurses, midwives and non-physician clinicians — is one of the few ways in which governments can demonstrate political will aimed at reducing the alarming maternity mortality rates.
It is not morally or politically right and it cannot be acceptable that mothers die giving life. In memory of my mother who sacrificed everything for her 'first child' and all her other children, my grandmother who nurtured and loved me unconditionally, my great-grandmother whom I was privileged to know, my eight sisters who are now reduced to seven because of Asmau's untimely death, and in honour of my two wonderful daughters Aida and Ayesha and their mum Mounira, and my numerous nieces, women cousins, sisters-in-law and all women, I have pledged myself to support the 'Piga Debe' campaign ('to make noise" or 'to shout' in Swahili) on women's rights of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, with a particular focus on maternal health.
Mothers should not be dying giving life. Enough is enough, join the 'Piga Debe' campaign.
Every day should be a woman's day
9 March 2006
International Women's Day on 8 March has been marked for almost a century, the first having been in 1911. The day is meant to honour women, celebrate their achievements and focus attention on the continuing challenges facing the realisation of the fullest potential of women as equal citizens with equal rights to men. It is a day to recommit everyone to the motto: women's rights are human rights.
It is not just a 'women's day', even if that is how it is popularly celebrated. It is about gender awareness and the democratic struggle to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants, both men and women.
There is no denying the fact that women have made tremendous advances globally and in Africa in the past few years. There are many visible pointers to the growing numbers of women in top political positions. Last year, Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, of Liberia, finally broke through the ceiling by becoming the first popularly elected female head of state in Africa. That victory means that women no longer have to rely on the good will of men in order to hold or aspire to political offices.
The truth is that most of the women who have been vice presidents in Africa have largely been 'appointed' by a 'kind' male president. An unwritten convention in such patronage is to go for women 'who will not cause trouble' and who will be 'forever grateful' to the 'appointing authority'. Mama Ellen has now put an end to that. No longer will an African woman's political ambition be limited to the second position, as a kind of political accessory for presidents and political parties seeking political correctness and looking for votes.
It is not just in politics that African women are making giant strides. Just look around at other fields, such as the economy, community organisations, civil society groups and NGOs, education, academia, and the professions. These achievements are not due to magnanimity on the part of the men, who are still very much in charge of the largely patriarchal power structures in society. They are the outcome of wider struggles, sometimes provoking incremental reforms and sometimes the result of prolonged conflicts. Women as women and as part of the democratic struggle, together with men, have won and continue to struggle for more victories in new frontiers. No doubt a changing consciousness and awareness is improving men's attitudes and creating men who may not be as hostile to the advancement of women as their fathers or grandfathers. But the fact that we can still point to women in top places means that it is not yet commonplace.
There are many challenges ahead. One, in some countries where women have made giant strides in formal political institutions, like Uganda or Rwanda for instance, there is a tendency to see the progress as a 'gift' of the president, thereby inculcating a kind of political gratitude that promotes political cronyism to the detriment of the wider interests of women's struggles. In Uganda, Museveni and his party talk as if they own Ugandan women and the peasantry. Even in countries like South Africa, where women's rights are part of a wider progressive movement, there is a tendency to make women feel perpetually grateful to the party.
Two, as with all oppressed peoples, women may be oppressed not because they are women, but because they are of a different class, colour or creed. Thus, they suffer the oppression differently. Some women may become economically and politically liberated and acquire more choices at the expense of fellow women. For instance, some middle-class women are able to make the choices that they make because other women subsidise their existence.
Three, a high number of women in public offices may be important symbolically and certainly necessary, but this may not translate into gender-aware policies and politics. For instance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria's minister for finance. Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf has appointed another woman as her finance minister, but they are both committed to the neoliberal policies of their International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank bosses. Therefore their policies will not benefit most women, who make up the majority of the poor.
Excerpted from Speaking Truth to Power by Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem. Copyright © 2010 Pambazuka Press. Excerpted by permission of Fahamu.
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Meet the Author
Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem was the coordinator for the Africa Research and Information Bureau, the founding editor of Africa World Review, the cofounder and executive director of Justice Africa, and the chair of the Centre for Democracy and Development and of the Pan-African Development Education and Advocacy Program in Uganda.
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