Category Archives: Namibia

SA: Sex-Work In Lieu of Opportunity

Prostitution is not often a career choice, but an unfortunate opportunity. Seeking opportunity, people travel

Sex-workers travel and oftentimes foreigners come to dominate the local sex-markets. The issue of prostitution and the mitigation of AIDS in Southern Africa can’t be solved by any one country alone, when the issues cross borders. Thus far, an ‘international effort’ has failed to satisfactorily redress the root cause: opportunity. (borders?).

Namibian prostitutes fall short of earnings compared to their foreign counterparts

According to findings, Zimbabwean and Zambian street sex workers, with well-paying clients fare much better. A Zimbabwean sex worker, Violet Chigari (26): “It’s a fact that foreign girls make all the money in this country while Namibian girls simply don’t know how to.” All her fellow foreigners make good money because they deal with the ‘right clientele’ mostly comprised of high-profile personalities, such as local and international businessmen, as well as politicians.

When it comes to day-to-day operations, Violet points out foreign sex workers do not only run the streets but they own them. In her view, foreign prostitutes have better advantage because they are highly experienced and find it a lot easier to be prostitutes in a foreign country rather than back home: they do not worry about bumping into anyone they know.

This clip gives good coverage:

The Tropic of Capricorn 2 of 20 – Namibia – BBC Travel

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Rashida Manjoo: Advice for Africa

Dr. Rashida Manjoo, lawyer and international advocate to advance women’s rights makes points in her conversation with University of Connecticut students which have relevance to the issue of African nationalism and independence.

By knowing your struggle—becoming educated on it, and the means of changing it—you can overcome it. Becoming familiar with barriers oppression, one will quickly find legal grounds in policy, and “having a law degree helps you understand the world in a way.”

Having an understanding of policy and the means to change it was a path traveled by Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah obtained a Western education, and used this to assist his advocacy for Pan-Africanism, by organizing supporters and leading conferences on the matter. He was then able to apply his understanding of Western legal systems and political navigation to help Ghana (then the Gold Coast) achieve self-rule from the UK, by the ballot in February of 1951, and ultimately, independence in March of 1957.

Dr. Manjoo also conveyed an approach to measure the effectiveness of issue advocacy. If “what people were demanding in the past, they are demanding today,” then the issue is still in need of advocacy. This relates well to the land issues of Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically, that of Zimbabwe and South Africa. Their freedom struggles were grounded in the return of the land for majority use from the minority white settler populations. Since independence, the black majority is still landless, and the bulk of the land remains in white, Western, and now “Eastern” hands. In many cases, choice properties have become the private estates of leaders in government, or political gifts to their supporters.

There are many examples between the two countries that of land that once was fertile, now fallow and no longer productive. Fear is the issue making the trained agriculturalist a refugee to neighboring Botswana or Mozambique. Land equity has not been effectively addressed “on the ground,” and the issue remains just as pressing as it did at independence and fifty years prior. The need for discussion and resolution persists.

UCONN’s: Violence Against Women Conference
IMAGE and recent Manjoo news: UN expert heads to UK to investigate violence against women

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Settler Colony Culture of Violence

Boer & Xhosa

Boer & Xhosa

While the majority of Africa attained their independence by the ballot during the early 1960s, southern Africa was forced to armed struggle to gain majority representation.

Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), was a white ‘settler-colony’[1]. The Ian Smith regime sought to keep the country under white rule. They declared Rhodesia independent from the United Kingdom, who at the time, were granting self-rule to their other colonial holdings. Smith refused to allow wider ballot access, believing that the masses of people were not competent enough to vote.[2] Holding on to his principle of a ‘qualified vote’ and restricting voting access to the vast majority of the country, Ian Smith forced black Zimbabweans to radicalize, in order to obtain political equality. Political parties such as ZAPU (Zimbabwean African Peoples Union—1961) and ZANU (Zimbabwean African National Union—1963) were formed, though they were quickly banned and their leaders imprisoned.[3]

Ethnic Matebele, followers of ZAPU and Shona, followers of ZANU took up arms under militant wings of the political parties. They conducted guerilla warfare from the bush, hiding and training across the border in neighboring countries that had already obtained their independence. The widest population in the country advocated a form of socialism via armed struggle. This would bring independence by 1980, but not before all manner of atrocities committed against whites and blacks over the course of 20 years, which included plane bombings of Air Rhodesia[4] and the mass murder of Matebele ZAPU supporters by ZANU militants shortly after. The party forced a merger with opposition ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Patriotic Union) in 1987, and since, the country has been predominantly single-party.[5] It is still under the rule of ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe. The issue of equitable land reform has yet to see resolution, and ‘War Veterans’ hold the country hostage, economically[6] and through violence and intimidation.

In Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the continent, there were multiple problems which would form crises in the short and long-term. It began, foremost, with partitioned colonies containing borders which bore no reality, geographically and demographically. These new states became nations of disparate people, with multiple ethnicities competing for leverage and power after independence. This crisis of disunity in the African nations would lead to the creation of single-party rule, as an attempt to mitigate and control dissent. In the struggle for upward mobility, education was lagging in presenting Africans with leadership chances. This begets the popularization of force as a means for upward social mobility. Other parties became outlawed, and ‘opposition’ no longer had a lawful opportunity to question and change policy through political means.  In 1963, Togo became the first of many African countries to suffer the coup.

In order to change policy, it was felt necessary by dissidents to implement coups against stagnant, inept, or corrupt governments. In many cases, coups were perpetrated against governments, who did fit that case. One such instance is the removal, arrest, and murder of Patrice Lumumba of Zaire, who had no chance to govern his country before the Mobutu Sese Seko leapt at a chance (backed with covert foreign support) to replace the Prime Minister in 1961. Oftentimes, these new military junta’s were on a scale of corruption which dwarfed the purported corruption of previous regimes[7].  In many instances, the juntas were responsible for extreme violence and gross violations of human rights, including the assassination and murder of activists, such as Ken Saro-Wiwa of Nigeria in 1995.[8] They are responsible for stripping civil liberties, and creating a culture of fear and intimidation. In the post-coup state, the means of self-protection are found with the gun, as is the route to power and ‘self-improvement’.

Historian Ali Mazrui states that “the culture of violence and the absence of democracy are at the root of the multitude of crises in Africa,”[9] and this is true. In total, there have been more military coups than free and fair elections since the ballot victories of the Convention People’s Party of the Gold Coast of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. But ultimately, even in the model example of Ghana, the seeds of discord were set from the beginning. Irrational borders, and instability in managing disparate ethnic groups, led to policies which ostracized participants, such as the single-party state. This forced citizens into participation with a government that did not work in their interests, or in situations where they were excluded in decision making. Brought on by tribalism and ego, leaders were replaced, by murder or exile, only to see the cycle repeat and ratchet forward.

[1] Colonized initially by Afrikaners, and then the UK, Rhodesia was a colony that became home to many whites, whereas many other African colonies to the north and west were claimed chiefly for commerce.

[2] Frost, David. “Frost Programme – David Frost interviews Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith.”

[3] Eliakim M. Sibanda. The Zimbabwe African People’s Union 1961-87: A Political History of Insurgency in Southern Rhodesia. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2005. (print copy), ISBN 978-1-59221-276-7.

[4] “ZAPU Responds To UK MP’s Condemnation of Air Rhodesia Shooting.” Zim Eye, February 12, 2013. (accessed December 12, 2013).

[5] “Gukurahundi, Mugabe’s Cold War cover.” Zimbabwe Independent, September 20, 2013. (accessed December 12, 2013).

[6] ‘War Veterans’ have been implicated in unauthorized farm seizures, and illegal diamond exchange, circumventing Zimbabwe’s revenue attempts.  Most importantly, War Vets physically confronted Mugabe in 1997, demanding reparations and stipends, which Mugabe was forced to authorize. The payout is known as “Black Friday,” and in a single day, the expenditure crashed the Zim economy. The impact on the economy is still felt, and the War Veterans continue their demands.

[7] French, Howard W. “Anatomy of an Autocracy: Mobutu’s 32-Year Reign.” New York Times – International, May 17, 1997. (accessed December 12, 2013).

[8] “Nigerian junta charges Nobel winner, dissidents with bombings.” CNN World News, March 12, 1997. (accessed December 12, 2013).

[9] Mazrui, Ali. “”The Africans: A Triple Heritage”.” BBC, 1986.

African Society Is Older Than Slavery

1818 Pinkerton Map

1818 Pinkerton Map

It is has been expressed that Africa, in effect, had “no history” prior to western colonialism. On the contrary, curiosity attracted me to continent, wherein I easily found much.  I read books as a child which described the ‘mythical city’ of Timbuktu; I learned of the vast resources of the Congo, (as Zaire), merely by watching contemporary television coverage. Early on, I was led to a picture book of the Great Zimbabwe society, and fascinated by the stone structures that seemingly stretched across much of the southern third of the continent; as well as the ancient gold mines nearby.

When Oxford University History Professor Trevor Roper to claim in 1964 that “there is only the history of Europeans in Africa,” there could be no statement further from the truth.  With that type of instruction, taught to a nation’s most brightest students, it is no wonder that recent statistics show students to disbelieve in Timbuktu, as pure myth, akin to an African ‘El Dorado’. It is known, though apparently not taught well enough, that the city actually exists, and was THE center of Islamic learning (and by extension, world learning) during from the middle ages until the rise of European powers. Roper would say I’m “seduced…by the changing breath of journalistic fashion,” in hoping that the ‘common knowledge’ become commonly known. Granted, modern technology has put libraries at my fingertips, where I can explore the continent, virtually, at whim. However, this history has always been there to find, and an Oxford Professor of 50 years past, had just as much resource, if not more in terms of primary sources and artifacts.

Africa is a story about the loss of human capital, extracted like a resource from their people of origin. Why is the memory short on Africa? Is it that “Darkness is not a subject for history,” as Oxford University Professor of History, Trevor Roper, expresses? He charges that students should be taught about black African history, that unless it is, history will only be known from the European perspective… and that perspective, much like the history of pre-European, pre-Columbian America, it “is largely darkness.”

In order to fully grasp the state of current affairs, one should look to the past to see how things were before they became the way they are. It puts into context and grounds one to the material, in that that the learner may realize the changes that have occurred between two times in history. In our schools we are taught about the “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” but what is taught is merely cursory, and oftentimes simplified to less than a page, to where all ‘history’ is merely the modern era, and everything before: ‘ancient’. One can only begin to make sense of the mad reality and come to terms towards a peace and reconciliation by a deeper, more historical understanding of the issue, and moving beyond the Euro-centric conception of the African continent. Well-travelled 14th century explorer Ibn Battuta described the African people he encountered in Mali as “seldom unjust, and have a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people.” He described the peace and security maintained by the people and noted that “neither traveler nor inhabitant has anything to fear.”[1]

This greatly contrasts the European vision presented hundreds of years later, in 1831 by German philosopher George Wilhelm Hegel, who declared the African “completely wild and untamed,” and “unhistorical.” Justifying his lack of wont to guess a timeline for African self-governance, Governor of Kenya Sir Philip E. Mitchell urged that “it is necessary to realize that history began for these African people about 1890.” Which the Governor said in 1947, making one wonder: when is the start year for African history? It’s obvious to many, including L.S.B. Leaky, that Africa, rather than being without history, “was the birthplace of man himself, and that for many hundreds of centuries thereafter, Africa was in the forefront of all world progress.” And that many people “should know better.”[2]

Even still, history occurs in real time, and it is just as much a contemporary study, then as it is now. Did Roper not understand French (or implications) when it was uttered “Ou es Carlucci?” following the Western ‘intervention’ and deposing of Lumumba.  Roper pines: “Undergraduates… demand that they should be taught the history of black Africa,” as if he didn’t want to teach it. Rather than curiosity, he clings to academic self-preservation, but not before using subtle innuendo to describe his vision of African history as “largely darkness” and that “darkness is not a subject for history.” Whether a product of his times, with racism still in the collective ethos, or an intellectual bully with his steadfast, biased vision of history, regardless of the evidence; there is something to explore.

[1] Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1334

[2] The Progress and Evolution of Man in Africa (OUP. 1961:1)

Occupation: Claim Your African Cake

Berlin Conference

Berlin Conference

In their scramble for Africa, the dominant European powers of the late 1800’s took claim to the continent for a number of reasons, foremost, out of necessity to compete with their neighbors who were doing the same. This was for resources and trade to existing and new markets borne “from the demand for raw materials unavailable in Europe, especially copper, cotton, rubber, tea, and tin, to which European consumers had grown accustomed and upon which European industry had grown dependent.”[1] Sub-Saharan Africa, in turn, was a new market for surplus European goods, and not participating in the Berlin Conference would have put them at a loss to their competitors. As well, instability in the Suez and the Barbary region necessitated an alternative thru-route into Africa and points east. Part of their effort to solve the Suez and Barbary pirate matters encouraged the plan for powers to protect their trade ability by occupation and control of Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia (for example).

Although slavery had been essentially outlawed by all the European powers, much of the proposal was billed “The diplomats put on a humanitarian façade by condemning the slave trade, prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages and firearms in certain regions, and by expressing concern for missionary activities.” In the worst case, the King Leopold’s land acquisitions—‘trinket’ treaties negotiated by Henry Morton Stanley wherein the signee would have no concept of what they were participating in—were organized into a front-agency “International Congo Society” and proclaimed the “Congo Free State” at the conference under the personal control of Leopold. Very soon, the exploitation and harsh treatment of labor for rubber would soon have the ‘Free’ ‘State’ ignoring its advertised precepts, and original ‘scientific’ beginnings “as an entirely disinterested humanitarian body” which sought to “administer the Congo for the good of all, handing over power to the locals as soon as they were ready for that grave responsibility.”[1]

The terms for keeping the European claims under the conference mandated “effective occupation”—European powers could acquire rights over colonial lands only if they actually possessed them: “if they had treaties with local leaders, if they flew their flag there, and if they established an administration in the territory to govern it with a police force to keep order.” As well, the dispossessed white Voortrekkers (slaveholding), were moving into the interior of southern Africa, establishing independent Boer states, contrary to the aims of the United Kingdom, and were not included as parties to the partitioning. In fact, the Boers were to become detainees in modern history’s first concentration camps for in their attempt to assert their independence.


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AFRICA: Reactions To Colonialism

Ashanti War

Ashanti War

Europeans made headway into Africa by making associations with disaffected ethnic groups—who hoped that the newcomers would provide leverage over territorial disputes with other groups.  Some initially welcomed the Europeans, but eventually all would resist European occupation. In the west, the coastal Fante Confederation, weak from raids of the nearby Asante, would side with the British; in the east, the Buganda province would align with against the dominant Bunyoro.[1] European powers capitalized on regional conflict to at first gain footing on the continent, and then secondly, to undermine the native ruling structures of the interior. The Europeans conducted long wars against holdout groups, which fought with both conventional and guerrilla tactics, such as the Islamic empire of Samory Touré, which held a resistance for nearly 20 years against French rule in West Africa at the end of the 19th century.[2]

Defeat for Africans meant a new means of tribute. The European model of taxation for the purpose of capitalizing work projects was introduced to the continent, as a means of self-sufficiency for the European colonies. Hut taxes, Head taxes, and a host of other taxes were introduced upon the Africans who never had to pay such things.[3] Failure to pay taxes, would force conscription into a forced labor gang to build improvements desired by the European nations, which mainly consisted of roads and railways to coastal ports, but nary a road between neighboring groups. Africans were also pressed into mine work, and other dangerous duties by the local chief, who was only crafting the work detail out of a European demand from higher up.

Avoidance of taxation and forced labor could lead to imprisonment; another system foreign to the continent.[4] Prior to physical incarceration, punishments were closer to moral judgments and self-reflection. The true leaders of the people were often jailed, for instigating rebellion, or on the fear they might, and it is from this practice that Africa, again, was forced into chains and captivity, and suffered the loss their human capital. Though the slave trade purportedly ceased, a new model of slavery replaced it, one of economic and political servitude. All the while, Africans were being dispossessed of their lands, and forced into meager reservations of poor soil, which would sew “the incipient seeds of future African nationalism.”

Where once the Europeans were welcomed by certain parties, when the demands that were placed upon their enemies were eventually then put upon them, they too, were forced to rebellion in their own self-interest. In what is described as the Secondary Reaction to European colonialism, the ethnic groups that initially welcomed the Europeans would rebel against them, when taxation, forced labor, imprisonment and land alienation began to be imposed on them, in addition to their enemies. The opportunity for alliance was too late, and these rebellions were suppressed, forcing Africa into compliance with the European colonial objectives.

[1] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 24th, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 26th, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

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Direct/Indirect Colonial Management

Foncha Ahidjo, West Cameroon (1960)

Foncha Ahidjo, West Cameroon (1960)

The European powers each managed their holdings differently, but the most utilized strategies were Indirect Rule and Assimilation, by the British and French colonies. Employed by the British, Indirect rule sought to dictate from London, and rule through local (loyal) “chiefs.” The French sought to assimilate Africa into their empire, and disseminate the French culture to Africans. The Portuguese, in contrast, made no effort at a teaching Africans to read, and literacy rates generations later reflect that—in 1945, less than 1 person in 100 in the Portuguese colonies could read.[1] The continent would be subject to European rule, save for countries of Liberia and Ethiopia which maintained their independence and self-governance.

The method of ‘Indirect rule’ was favored by the British, whereby the native group is left to administer locally. Chiefs were appointed, usually men loyal to the Empire, as Africa’s indigenous leaders were prone to capture and imprisonment. These chiefs were subjects to the Empire, installed by British Administrators to collect taxes and conscript labor for road and rail building projects, in addition to maintaining local order. In their role as agents of the empire, the chiefs would bear the brunt of local criticism for policies and mandates crafted in the colonial capital or elsewhere and acted as a buffer against anti-colonial sentiment; the chiefs were seen as transgressors, locally, for British crimes mandated upon them.[2] Africans were seen as a lesser species, and though Britain had ended its role in the Atlantic Slave Trade, their managers ruled with racism in mind. The British though that the ‘inferior’ African people, could never attain the level of culture and sophistication of a European nation, and preferred their arrangement with Africans to be one of master and servant.

The French chose to adopt the attitude of ‘assimilation’ in their colonial holdings. They incorporated their African colonies into their Empire, and sought to share the French culture, which they viewed as enlightened. [3] They allowed for any African to become a French citizen, by virtue of adopting French ways and customs. The French established schools to aid in literacy, and allowed for travel to France and education in universities. Exhibiting none of the racism of the United Kingdom’s colonial endeavors, the French also allowed representation in their national assembly. In Senegal, communes were established in Gorée, Dakar, Rufisque, and Saint-Louis[4] which exemplified their attempt at integrating the French culture into Africa, although most Africans living outside the communes had no access to schools. Davidson notes that by 1926, fewer than 50,000 out a regional population of 13 million acquired the status of French citizen.[5]  Many Africans, retained their native customs, and carried on their traditional way of life. However the culture was pervasive enough that the Franc survives as the currency and French as a predominant language, more than fifty years after Senegalese nationhood.[6]

The most devastating method of management from this time period employed by all European powers was the development of the cash-crop, or monoculture. These crops, exclusively for export, were grown to the exclusion of the regions basic food needs, and are responsible for famine to this day. In his book, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” Walter Rodney illustrates how “in Gambia rice farming was popular before the colonial era, but so much of the best land was transferred to groundnuts that rice had to be imported on a large scale to try and counter the fact that famine was becoming endemic.”[7] This was a practice repeated all throughout Africa, and left Africans vulnerable not only to famine, but the ravages of crop failure and international price fluctuations.[8] According to Rodney, these land use practices are responsible for rendering the continent “helpless in the face of capitalist manoeuvres.”[9]

[1] Basil Davidson, “Modern Africa, 3rd Edition” 1994.

[2] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 24th, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Maelenn-Kégni Touré “Black Past – Four Communes of Senegal (1887-1960)” accessed October 7, 2013:

[5] Basil Davidson, “Modern Africa, 3rd Edition” 1994, page 38.

[6] The CIA World Factbook, Entry “Senegal” accessed October 7, 2013:

[7] Rodney, Walter, and Abdul Rahman Mohamed Babu. 1974. How Europe underdeveloped Africa. Washington: Howard University Press.

[8] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 24th, 2013.

[9] Rodney, Walter, and Abdul Rahman Mohamed Babu. 1974. How Europe underdeveloped Africa. Washington: Howard University Press.

Africa As Cake: Berlin Conference


The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 was the ‘international’ agreement to settle the territorial Scramble for Africa, led largely by France and Britain. It set the ground rules for taking of African land and resources between European powers, in order to avoid war and international conflict. African historian Basil Davidson notes in “The Magnificent African Cake” that by the 1880’s, industrialized Europe saw in Africa “new sources of raw materials for its factories, new markets for its manufactures, and new positions of advantage against its rivals.”[1] Represented in Berlin were fourteen different countries; of these, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal were the primary stakeholders, holding the largest share of Africa at the time.

At the time of the conference, most colonial holdings were limited to coastal areas of Africa. The conference, among its range of purposes, was foremost convened to decide the interior boundaries between the European powers in order to avoid conflict between Europeans. Africans were not represented at the conference, nor were African leaders consulted on boundary exchanges.[2] However, its outcomes are responsible for the aggression of Europeans and the visiting of conflict upon the African people. The African people would effectively be rendered non-persons, suppressed further from the Atlantic Slave Trade of prior centuries; an act which set precedent for the theft of Africa’s resources and incarceration or murder of its human capital. The outcome of the Slave Trade, and that of the Berlin Conference, created a long-term chaos in African society which forms the root of the continent’s contemporary issues.

As is the modern rhetoric when one country intervenes upon another, the notion of Humanitarian concern was visited as a motive for Africa’s partitioning. Africans were viewed, paradoxically, as “lazy” or “savages” that required conversions to Christ, and taxation schemes to develop a western work ethic, under the instruction European empire.  Whether the phrase “humanitarian reasons” would be conveyed sincerely or euphemistically,  a conference of that nature—stealing and sharing an inhabited continent—would not be allowed by the collective morality, were it not for racism and the predominate view of Africans as sub-human. The land itself was seen as empty, and for the taking. Davidson describes how Belgian King Leopold “Spoke for them all when he said, “I am determined to get my share of this magnificent African cake.””[3] Africa was not seen by the European powers as belonging to someone else.

The land and Africa’s other natural resources, were sought for a number of reasons, from which they are largely the result of the “dynamic growth of industrial capitalism.”[4]  The British needed new markets, The French had a desire for land largesse, and needed to nurture the cultural ego, while their European territory was contracting[5]. The Portuguese concerned themselves with the perpetuation of their coastal trade outposts, which were among the earliest modern European settlements on the continent; the earliest, European settlements, Sub-Saharan, that history can establish. The Dutch, much like the Germans, sought fertile land and homesteads and religious freedom. Each saw Africa as a means to their survival against competing powers; Resources, to sustain industrialization and capitalism; Redemption and espousal of cultural identity; continuation of naval trade dominance, and land for the political or religious refugee. Religion would also settle Africa; missionaries of a certain nationality in a particular area would be used to justify a land claim[6], and the scramble saw waves of missionaries make their trek into the interior; a practice that still occurs to this day.

The primary stipulation to any land claim was the principle of ‘effective occupation. “Any power that could occupy African soil could, effectively, claim it,” as Basil Davidson describes.  In addition to settler colonies and forts on the frontier, claims by the European nations were bolstered by the presence of missionaries and explorers within a desired territory. Commercial companies, like the Imperial British East African Company, were the foundation for British claims in the East, while the entrepreneurial efforts of Cecil Rhodes were responsible for British claims in Southern Africa. Davidson likens the strategy to a “great game” which purpose “was to get hold of places and positions of advantage over rivals, no matter what irrational frontiers might result.”[7]

In The words of British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, European nations were “engaged in drawing lines on map where no man’s foot has ever trod. We’ve been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where we were.”[8] Wherein the Berlin Conference signatories were to inform other signatories and Western nations of their land claims[9], they were not required to inform the people of Africa, which who were more or less captured, coerced, or strong-armed into ‘agreement’.

[1] Basil Davidson, “The Magnificent African Cake,” Documentary film, 1986.

[2] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 24th, 2013.

[3] Basil Davidson, “The Magnificent African Cake,” Documentary film, 1986.

[4] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 26th, 2013.

[5] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 19th, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Basil Davidson, “The Magnificent African Cake,” Documentary film, 1986.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Amii Omara-Otunu, Lecture, University of Connecticut, September 19th, 2013.

Genocide of the Herero

The Lives Less Publicized


Throughout history, states have gone to war when their interests demanded it.  Sometimes, this interest includes the decimation of another culture; done in the self interest of the aggressor.  Occasionally, this there is a racial, ethnic, or political motivator for such a callous slaughter.  Oftentimes, the occasion revolves around land and resources. War, for these reasons, has occurred since the dawn of humankind.  For all the instances of lost cultures that make it to the history books, there are many more lost to time.  These cultures, though their erasure is no less important than modern “genocides,” were also victims of another’s push for land, religion, or ethnic supremacy.  Genocide occurs practically the same now and for the same reasons, as it did one hundred years ago.  However, the difference is that the genocide of these pre-modern cultures had the misfortune of occurring in an era less globally publicized than the one in which we live; and this mass publicity is responsible for an avalanche of awareness over the rights and wrongs of warfare.

Genocide, for these historical reasons, took place in modern Namibia in 1904.  No longer willing to put up with tribal “encroachment,” Germans increased their military presence in the colony. After a Herero rebellion over the land issue[1], the German military commander, General von Trotha, ordered the Hereros to leave the country or be killed. As the Hereros scrambled across the Omaheke desert to escape to British Botswana, Trotha issued this ultimatum: “I, the great general of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero people… All Hereros must leave this land… Any Herero found within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women or children; I will drive them back to their people. I will shoot them. This is my decision for the Herero people.” Hereros who turned back; men and women, as well as children; were massacred by machine guns, or driven again into the desert, on the “trail of bones,” this time, to die. Between 35,000 and 105,000 people were estimated killed.  Those that lived were put into concentration camps, where “forced labor, disease and malnutrition took their toll.” Between 50 and 80 percent of the entire population would be wiped out.[2]

The governor of the colony, Major Theodor Leutwein, had concerns that the Herero would be exterminated, and the some in the Reichstag[3] thought the same as well, calling the initial Herero aggression a “justified liberation war.”  However, there was little understanding among the colonists that this was a war for land, not just a run-of-the-mill tribal rebellion.  The German press treated it as such and considered it a right and natural thing, naming military objectives of the destruction of tribal structure and the confiscation of weapons.  The Herero maintained their struggle for as long as they could, even getting the better of the German troops before von Trotha was assigned.  The change in power would create a different outcome besides liberation for the Herero people.  Under von Trotha, the German Army became “ruthless in pursuing their beaten enemy…no pains, no sacrifices were spared in eliminating the last remnants of enemy resistance. Like a wounded beast the enemy was tracked down from one waterhole to the next, until finally he became victim of his own environment. The arid Omaheke was to complete what the German army had begun: the extermination of the Herero nation.”[4]             When the Germans weren’t hunting the Herero like wild game, they were poisoning wells; the most one could do was to make the perilous journey across the desert.  The lucky would make it to Botswana; the unlucky, if not killed by the bullet, would starve or die of thirst.

While the German government “disagreed with the intended course of action,” they still allowed von Trotha to continue, only forcing him to change his orders as to subject “all parts of the nation to ‘stern treatment.’”[5] He claimed that the knowledge he had learned in the field mad negotiations “pointless.” Later, when a group of Herero men were offered to come and surrender nearly all 70 who showed up were killed.  The genocide would continue in forced labor camps, were emaciated men were worked to death while women and children starved or faced disease, and oftentimes rape. Again, when surrendering, they were “guaranteed fair treatment,” yet in the camps, they were subjected to brutal treatment by the hands of their German overseers.  The Herero story even has its own mad geneticist, Eugen Fischer, who conducted research using prisoners of war, the results of which provided “evidence” of German racial superiority.[6]

The question is, with all the elements of genocide, why is this moment in history not as well known as Jewish Holocaust? Certainly, the number of overall Herero deaths is not nearly as dramatic.  Although people hear about genocide and genocides occurring and are even familiar with popular euphemisms to avoid issuance of the word, such as “ethnic cleansing,” the issue is still underreported.  Many times when genocidal acts are reported, as in the case of the Herero, the aggressor is portrayed as the victim, with little regard to the innocent civilians blanketed under the term ‘rebel.’  Had there Herero situation been brought into the hearts of the West, with bias put aside, the outcome may have been different.  This capability did not exist to the degree it does now, where people from around the globe can pick their pet cause to donate to.  Even still, today’s methods of addressing genocide are still met with similar arm-chair attitude as they were one hundred years ago.


Dr. Dierks, Klaus. “Namibia Library of Dr. Klaus Dierks.” (accessed 11 January 2010).

“Herero Genocide.” (11 January 2010).

Wozny, Peter. “Remembering the Herero Rebellion.” Deutsche Welle. 11 January 2004,1564,1084266,00.html  (accessed 11 January 2010).


[1] Wozny, Peter. “Remembering the Herero Rebellion.” Deutsche Welle. 11 January 2004,1564,1084266,00.html  (accessed 11 January 2010).

[2] Dr. Dierks, Klaus. “Namibia Library of Dr. Klaus Dierks.” (accessed 11 January 2010).

[3] Reichstag was the German Parliament until 1945.

[4] “Herero Genocide.” (11 January 2010).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.


Jobs Drive Gender Equality In Africa


Investment is the key to equality between the sexes in Africa, according to Richard A. Schroeder, associate professor of geography at Rutgers University.  In his book Shady Practices: Agroforestry and Gender Politics in The Gambia, Schroeder details how women in that country were able to challenge traditional male power structures by small scale, female targeted projects in commercial gardening. With little capital, these women were able to raise their earning capacity and increase their economic power.[1]  Meanwhile, political change in the country of Zimbabwe has seen the creation of a Ministry for Women’s Affairs and the elevation of a woman to Vice President.  More change is needed, contends activist Jenni Williams, the head of Women of Zimbabwe Arise. She feels that an even stronger female presence is needed in government to insure “that gender equality is clearly spelt out in the constitution. However, it must not only be gender equity, but also social justice.”[2]

There is still concern that these progressive laws will do little to change the situation in places such as Kenya, where its many laws to protect the rights of women go ignored in rural areas, superseded by customary law. The Human Rights Watch organization believes that “discriminatory property laws and practices impoverish women and their dependents,” as well as subject them to other impossible living conditions, “relegating them to dependence on men and social inequality.”[3]   Gender balance can be found in international attention and activism, as well as programs meant to empower, such as those in The Gambia and the Women in Development programs of the 1970s and 1980s, “instigated because of a general recognition that many aid programs had not addressed the needs of women or had ignored them entirely.”[4]

Mr. Schroeder recalls how the community of Kerewan, a once impoverished village on the River Gambia, changed over two decades. “The town’s women transformed the surrounding lowlands into one of key sites of a lucrative female-controlled, cash-crop market garden sector.”  In his first visit the area production was small scale, but ten years later, large gardens, managed by women, “had come to dominate the landscape.” He believes that “the arrival of tools and construction materials donated by developers” helped to empower women, by providing a “surge in female incomes.”  This eventually led to “an escalation of gender politics centered on the reworking of…the ‘conjugal contract’.” Men were bitter at first, regarding their wives attention to their garden as that of being a “second husband.” However, a financial crisis “undermined male cash-crop production” and the husbands household monetary contributions, meaning “that gardens were often women’s only means of (household) financial support.”[5]

Eventually, “by virtue of their new incomes,” women were able to enter into “intra-household negotiations,” thereby changing their traditional role in marriage.  Women were now the lenders; men now borrowed money from their wives, who more or less, “purchased…freedom of movement.” Before the gardens, men controlled the cash flow and it was the wives who received pittance.  “The advent of a female cash-crop system reduced (men’s) leverage…because women’s incomes had outstripped their husbands’.” “Men dropped their oppositional rhetoric, became more generally cooperative, and began exploring ways to benefit personally from the garden boom.”  Noticing this change, women worked harder to “sustain production on a more secure basis.” Schroeder believes that “women in The Gambia’s garden districts succeed in producing a striking new social landscape.[6]

In Zimbabwe, “top-down” changes in male-dominated politics have occurred, beginning with Joyce Mujuru being named Vice President in 2005.  In light of the Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and current political crossroads, the former Minister of Women’s Affairs called “for zero tolerance to violence against women and girls,” adding, “violence has negative socio-economic implications. Violence is unacceptable as it dehumanizes the victim and the offender. It’s a sign of weakness.” She was criticized however for avoiding the subject of “Jestina Mukoko and other women such as Concilia Chinanzvavana, who were…abused in prison by the Mugabe regime.[7] Mukoko, who chronicled state sponsored human rights abuses, was beaten and tortured for three months, and her detainment became “one of the most prominent examples of…Mugabe’s refusal to restore human rights in Zimbabwe.”[8]

There is discontent, still, after the recent power-sharing deal in Zimbabwe.  Jenni Williams believes that “nothing will ever come out of this deal until women are included.” [9] People like Luta Shaba, director of the Women’s Trust, contend that “only through proportional representation can women, together with other previously marginalized groups, rise.”[10]  Rutendo Hadebe, deputy chairperson of The Women’s Coalition, believe that “the coalition will take advantage of the constitutional reform process to lobby for progressive provisions that will empower women and “close a past of inequality.””[11]  There is cynicism, however, that the challenges of tradition could stand in the way.  Gladys Hlatswayo, of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, says “We have heard these nice words before but, without political will, they do not mean anything…the power relations are uneven and reflect the power struggles of the general Zimbabwean society.”[12]

Tradition holds sway in the country of Kenya, as well, where women face a variety of discriminatory practices along with poverty and disease.  Many are “excluded from inheriting…stripped of their possessions and forced to engage in risky sexual practices from their husbands.”  Human Rights Watch cites “a complex mix of cultural, legal, and social factors” as responsible for the property rights violations.  Unwritten customary laws that exist beside formal laws, continually override Kenya’s constitutional prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex.  HRW argues that “the few statutes that could advance women’s property rights defer to religious and customary property laws that privilege men over women.” Women are seen as “untrustworthy, incapable of handling property, and in need of male protection.”

This paternalist attitude is emulated by state, judicial, and traditional leaders who “often ignore women’s property claims and sometimes make the problems worse.” Women generally have “little awareness of their rights” and those who “fight back are often beaten, raped, or ostracized.”  Meanwhile, “the agricultural sector, which contributes a quarter of Kenya’s gross GDP and depends on women’s labor, is stagnant.”  Their assessment is that in order for “Kenya to meet its development aims, it must address the property inequalities that hold women back.”  HRW charges that “unequal property rights and harmful customary practices violate international law,” and that Kenya “must develop a program of…reforms…and initiatives that systematically eliminate obstacles to the fulfillment of women’s property rights” in order to progress.[13]

Investments in women’s programs that are designed to ‘enable’ are necessary for the furtherance of women’s rights and economic growth in Africa.  Schroeder’s documentation of the progress of women’s gardens in The Gambia, show a balancing change in traditional roles between the sexes. The Human Rights Watch’s avocation of more legislative protections in Kenya could help to build upon the gains made by women in Africa. Activism such as that of Jestina Mukoko and other women’s rights organizations can, in turn, build upon that. Continued awareness will address the crisis of inequality by informing the world of these discriminatory practices. Ultimately, calls for equal gender representation, like in Zimbabwe, will one day, have women changing these laws for themselves. The empowerment of women in Africa could one day bring equality to a traditionally male dominated power structure.


1  TAKING SIDES : Clashing Views on African Issues, Issue #13

2  Mpofu, Thulani. “Zimbabwe’s Women Feel Left Out of Power Deal.”  The National.

3  The Zimbabwean.  “Women Join Hands to Fight Violence.”

4  Celia W. Dugger. “Zimbabwe Activist Released, In Victory For Opposition.” New York Times.

5  Kwidini, Tonderai. “Now To Share Power With Women.” Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

6  Association for Women’s Rights in Development.  “New Cabinet Ignores Quota For Women.”

[1] TAKING SIDES: Clashing Views on African Issues, Issue #13.  232-239

[2] Mpofu, Thulani. “Zimbabwe’s Women Feel Left Out of Power Deal.”  The National.

[3] TAKING SIDES: Clashing Views on African Issues, Issue #13.  240-243

[4] TAKING SIDES: Clashing Views on African Issues, Issue #13.  233

[5] Ibid. 235-236

[6] Ibid. 238-239

[7] The Zimbabwean.  “Women Join Hands to Fight Violence.”

[8] Celia W. Dugger. “Zimbabwe Activist Released, In Victory For Opposition.” New York Times.

[9] Kwidini, Tonderai. “Now To Share Power with Women.” Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[10] Mpofu, Thulani. “Zimbabwe’s Women Feel Left Out of Power Deal.”  The National.

[11] Association for Women’s Rights in Development.  “New Cabinet Ignores Quota For Women.”

[12] Kwidini, Tonderai. “Now To Share Power with Women.” Resource Centre for the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples.

[13] TAKING SIDES: Clashing Views on African Issues, Issue #13.  240-243

written: 04/02/09

image via recent Africa & Women’s Micro-finance MSM coverage:
IFC & Goldman Sachs Launch $600 Million Global Fund for Female Entrepreneurs (03/06/14)

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