Sunday, August 17, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls at AGOA conference in Washington, DC August

It's important to keep our girls on the agenda.  Lacking huge resources and robust participation by people who are still sitting on the fence on this issue, I believe it's important to stand up and be counted.  The US-Africa Summit brought most of Africa's heads of state to the US to discuss US-Africa trade.

The Young African Leaders Initiative was also combined with the events for the trade talks.  I have no doubt that the trade will benefit the US and will have underwhelming impact on Africa.  It is also most unfortunate that the neoliberal model of trade is being pursued.  This means that in the US, the trade will benefit the large corporations like Bloomberg, Monsanto, Dow, General Electric and the like, to the detriment of small and medium scale enterprises.

It is also curious that African American businesses are not privileged in these deliberations.  Neither are businesses owned by new African immigrants to the US, who could be a bridge between American businesses and African customers.  It is mighty curious that African heads of state are figuratively selling their heritage for the proverbial and Biblical "mess of pottage".  What is in this trade arrangement for Africa?  How is it better than what obtains before?  What does it mean to be a sovereign state?  Why should you all be called here to the US like a headmaster calling school children?  Why do the first ladies participate in a public forum where they are lectured at by people whom even I could "school"?  Is there any recognition that there are African immigrants right here in the US who are experts on all the issues being discussed?  To what extent were they meaningfully and comprehensively consulted by either the Obama administration, the First Lady of the US, or the African governments of the countries from which they originate?

My observations on the Obama administration and its dismissive attitude toward Africa is found in the following article by the Voice of America:  "African Experts Expected More from Obama Administration"

I went primarily to protest.  I also attended the AGOA conference organized by Congress Member Karen Bass, the Ranking Member, Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health & Human Rights.  Below are pictures from Hon. Karen Bass' site.  I was waiting to ask a question.  Just so happened it was the first question.

The context: I was at the AGOA conference referenced below.

Here's the panel line-up:

Panel One
9:00 – 10:30 am
Moderator: Dr. Monde Muyangwa
Africa Program Director, Woodrow Wilson Center

H.E. Erastus Mwencha
Deputy Chair, African Union Commission

H.E. Sindiso Ngwenya
Secretary General
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)

H.E. Amb. Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo
President of Commission
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
Next Generation African Leaders: Discussion with a YALI Fellow
10:30 – 11:00 am
Moderator: Bernadette Paolo
President, The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa

Hon. Sheryl Vangadasamy
Elected Representative, Seychelles National Assembly
Young African Leaders Initiative Fellow
Panel Two
11:00 – 12:30 pm
Moderator: Dr. Sharon T. Freeman
President & CEO, All American Small Business Exporters Association

H.E. Dr. Anthony Mothae Maruping
Economic Affairs Commissioner, African Union

H.E. Amb. Dr. Richard Sezibera
Secretary General, East African Community
Thank you for signing up to participate in this forum during the historic U.S.-Africa Summit. I look forward to seeing you next week.

Congressmember Karen Bass
Growth and Opportunity in Africa Forum
Hosted by Congressmember Karen Bass
Tuesday, August 5, 2014 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM (EDT)
Cannon Caucus Room (345 Cannon House Office Building), US House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20540  |  Directions

During the Q.& A, After the first panel, I was able to ask the panelists on "Africa's regional economic priorities", each of whom spoke about the linkage b/w peace and security plus economic development and good governance plus democracy the questions:  If peace and security are as important as you have assured us, why did it take the President of France to convene a meeting of the Presidents of West African countries to discuss joint approaches and strategies to combat the Boko Haram threat?  Why also have our Chibok girls not been rescued?  What are you doing to respond to the massive humanitarian crisis that is unfolding?  How can African governments guarantee the peace and security of all their people no matter how remote their location?

After that first panel was concluded, I began lobbying the Members of Congress at the meeting.

I began by having a brief one on one conversation about our girls with Leader Nancy Pelosi.  One of her aides already followed up.  After the Congressional recess, #BringBackOurGirlsNYC intends to work on this matter until our girls are released, reunited with their families, and given the psychosocial support they need to resume their lives with a semblance of normalcy. 

And my Sister Friend, Prof. Olivia Cousins, (who took all the pictures at the AGOA Conference, as well as at the protest on August 6, and was a tremendous support all through the process of planning, navigating the DC transit system, and generally getting things done), is here below with me and Leader Pelosi.

I also spoke with Congress Member Karen Bass, and will follow up with her on the matter of our girls.  So will #BringBackOurGirlsNYC. 

I spoke as well with Congress Member Sheila Jackson-Lee (who apparently presented President Goodluck Jonathan an award at the Nigerian Heritage on Monday night).  She promised to look into our concerns.

I told Congressman Gregory Meeks, who said Diasporan Africans are Africans without concern for geographical divisions, that he is now my adopted Brother.  I will follow up with him on the matter of our girls.  So will #BringBackOurGirlsNYC. 

I also spoke with almost all panelist at the conference.  There is much work to be done on the Africa end if any of this neoliberal trade is to be beneficial to any African. You can find some of my thoughts on trade and Africa online.  I've been most vocal about Africa, gender and international trade.  In  Addis Ababa, at a conference from 21- 22 April 2009, I presented a paper at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, AFRICAN TRADE POLICY CENTRE's Inception Workshop on Mainstreaming Gender into Trade Policy.  The draft of the paper: Active Participation, Insignificant Gains: The Elusiveness of 
Gender Equality for African Women in the Liberal Global Economy" is found here 

Back to the AGOA conference, I guess since I was on the listserv, I was invited to a Congressional hearing on Ebola on Thursday, August 7, by a staffer of Congresswoman Bass, but the event was over-subscribed. I got there on time but there were already so many people on the line for the overflow room that I realized I should have been there about 2 hours ahead of time.  

All members of Congress promised to sit down and have a conversation with me on our girls.  All in all, it was a fruitful foray into Washington.  Now I need those clones yesterday (:  

#BringBackOurGirlsNYC press release to protest dinner in honor of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan by Corporate Council for Africa on Wednesday, 8/6/2014

I know some people would wonder why a press release meant for August 6 is now just making its way online.  I need a clone!  Too much work, too little time, and a full life, with its ancillary responsibilities are my only excuses.  Regardless, I hope that you give this a careful read and also disseminate widely because until our girls are found, we should not relax.  


Contact: Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome

#BringBackOurGirlsNYC invites you to the protest at the U.S.-Africa Summit dinner in honor of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday, August 6 at 6:30 p.m.

Washington, DC
— On Wednesday August 6, 2014, over three months after the Chibok abductions, with heavy hearts, #BringBackOurGirlsNYC invites the public to a protest in solidarity with the families and communities of more than 200 girls abducted by the terrorist militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria.  The protest is at Grand Hyatt Washington in Washington, District of Columbia starting at 6:30pm.  The protest is to express outrage and disappointment that most of our girls remain in captivity over 3 months after their abductions, and after multiple appeals to the Federal Government of Nigeria by #BringBackOurGirlsNYC and all people of good conscience in solidarity for the girls’ safe return to their families. 
“We call on the Nigerian government to rescue these girls and reunite them with their families. We believe that this issue belongs to the Nigerian government, which should take primary responsibility and lead the effort to bring back our girls.  The problem of human security is an urgent and ongoing matter in Nigeria. It is the fundamental duty of the government of any country to provide security for its citizens. The Nigerian government should harness the skills, experience and knowledge base of all Nigerians at home and abroad to solve these problems.  #BringBackOurGirlsNYC thanks the US government, local NYC community groups, leaders and activists worldwide for their support and efforts to reunite these Nigerian girls with their families.” - Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome, Professor of Political Science, African & Women's Studies (#BringBackOurGirlsNYC)

#BringBackOurGirlsNYC believes that partnering with Nigerian women’s groups, NYC local organizations, activists and leaders; will bring the much needed attention to this urgent and heartrending matter. We remain optimistic that our girls will be rescued and reunited with their families and hope that this happens sooner rather than later under the leadership of the Federal government of Nigeria, assisted by the government of the US and the international community.

About #BringBackOurGirlsNYC

#BringBackOurGirlsNYC is a coalition of Nigerians, Nigerian Americans, Africans, Diasporan Africans and friends of Nigeria resident in New York City. We intend to redouble our efforts and continue to protest until these girls are brought back to their families. We will also work to better strengthen the dialogue concerning the #BringBackOurGirls initiative, and we encourage you to join and support us to urge the Nigerian government to rescue, re-unite the girls with their families, and provide them future support.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls: Boko Haram and the Hydra-headed monster in Nigerian Politics

I haven't written for a long time.  The reason: distress writ large about Nigeria and our girls who have now been in captivity for well over 3 months.  There's nothing less desirable for me than writing this.  The piece I'd rather write is that which leads the crowing and jubilation about Nigeria's newfound stature as the largest economy in Africa. Alternately, I’d rather write one that points out some glorious achievement or another that my country of origin or its intrepid people have accomplished.  So for many days I've put this onerous assignment on my back burner. I also felt conflicted.  At one point I just hadn't done enough in my estimation to deserve the luxury of armchair pontificating.  I also had my constant need to study more. Perhaps there was something about the Boko Haram situation that I didn't know or understand; perhaps there's some stellar analysis out there; perhaps.... Now that I'm professor #BringBackOurGirlsNYC, I have earned the right to give what I hope is enlightened, thoughtful and well-reasoned response to this horrific situation, this unfolding tragedy, this cataclysmic rending of the social and political fabric of Nigeria. 

There's a pervasive tendency toward uni-dimensional analysis by many who have commented on the Boko Haram issue.  Some see this as an issue concerning inequitable denial of girls' access to education.  Others see human trafficking looming large.  For yet others, this is a Muslim attack on Christians.  Some consider it a case of humanitarian crisis.  Many in Southern Nigeria see it as a Northern problem.  I see the problem as hydra-headed since it has elements of each dimension enumerated immediately above. And yet it's more. The problem is structural, historical, political and economic, and it has extraordinary and profound ramifications. 

Boko Haram is widely perceived as the source of the problems of insecurity that currently beset Nigeria.  But it is not.  What it has successfully done is to exploit the weaknesses in the body politic to push its agenda of forcing its own warped perspective of what the proper observance of Islam should be on all the people it encounters.  It does not brook resistance, and disagreement with it is met with overwhelming force that aims to destroy, even obliterate opposition.  It challenges traditional as well as post-colonial state, as witnessed by its destruction of state-owned infrastructure, battles where it increasingly deploys superior firepower against state security forces; foiled abduction and assassination attempts on Muslim traditional rulers, including the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, in February 2013; the assassination of the Emir of of Gwoza in May 2014, the attacks against a former Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari, and the moderate Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi on July 28.  UN House in Abuja was bombed as were numerous churches, markets, and countless public gathering places.  The terror and mayhem inflicted on the Nigerian people by Boko Haram are unprecedented in the annals of Nigerian history. 

Boko Haram is not the source of insecurity.  The structural problems that were set in motion by the establishment of the modern Nigerian state under the tutelage of the British colonizers are responsible for the emergence of Boko Haram. The most serious aspect of those problems include the weakness of the state and the inability or unwillingness of its custodians to prioritize the security of Nigerians.  This enabled not only Boko Haram, but other militia groups to thrive and permitted them to act with impunity.  It is the absence of the state and its lack of awareness of its most fundamental reason for being that allows an insurgent militia to strike at will, mostly unchallenged to wreak havoc and mayhem in a region of the territory under its sovereign control that the state itself says is “very remote”.  Sovereignty over an area means that it can never be too far to be availed of the same basic protections as the capital, otherwise, the state might as well pack up shop. 
Structurally, there is a North-South divide that drives ongoing struggles for access to political goods, including the proceeds from the natural resources produced by Nigeria.  Complicating that struggle is the Christian-Muslim divide, the sectarian divides among Muslims, the rampant and grinding poverty of the masses of Nigerians, which is more extreme in the North, the mass unemployment of even educated youth, inadequate and atrociously barren educational opportunities of the children of the poor, lack of social welfare for the teeming masses, and increasingly, a refusal to accept this as a perpetual fate of the poor who bow and kow tow to the wealthy, who are indifferent to their plight.  The indifference of the wealthy is a key part of the resentment and anger that gives Boko Haram a ready army of footsoldiers to carry out its horrendous agenda. 

The incapacity of the state to challenge Boko Haram and bring it to heel is another key element.  A third element is the embrace by even those who barely managed to claw their way into middle class status, of the gross inequities and stark inequality that is writ large in Nigeria.  These are people who have escaped poverty and never want to see it again.  They thus distance themselves from the plight of the poor.  Many only get passionate when they are consuming the exploitative and manipulative interpretations of their chosen religion’s tenets by their favorite "Man or Woman of God”/clergy.  The wealthy spend their sometimes ill-gotten resources with wanton disregard for the plight of the struggling masses.  The state elite is part of this nouveau riche, and it is also blatantly uncaring about the poor and oblivious to their needs.  It was caught unawares when Boko Haram came calling.  It still refuses to go beyond its very limited comfort level because it would rather see the problem as one caused by its political enemies who would rather not have a replay of a Jonathan administration.  One wonders who is advising the Federal Government of Nigeria and why it continues to embrace policies that don’t work.

The state governments in the Northeast of Nigeria where Boko Haram has been most destructive have also succumbed to imposing “easy” solutions, such as the establishment of vigilante groups to battle Boko Haram.  Regardless of the success of the vigilantes, it is difficult to see the groups as advantageous to the corporate integrity of the state.  Vigilantes are not legally constituted entities.  They may be seen by pragmatic people as a stop-gap but they challenge the very existence of the state because they are in essence an admission that the state has failed.  

Boko Haram’s violent reign of terror has not been checked in any appreciable way by the Nigerian government and this has caused a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions.  3 million people have been displaced by this violence.  Millions have also escaped from affected areas to neighboring countries.  They are in dire straits and there’s no meaningful response by NEMA and the various SEMAs.  The inability of the Nigerian state to check Boko Haram, (which by the way, is not the first insurgent movement in the area, having been preceded most recently by the Maitatsine millenarian movement in the 1980s), is at the heart of the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

As the humanitarian crisis unfolds, there is devastating disruption of everyday life and the tendency of the wealthy to distance themselves from the plight of the poor means that many in close proximity to the affected areas also do not see this crisis as their problem. It is the problem of the vulnerable poor.  The farther the distance of the wealthy to the epicenter of the Boko Haram controlled zone, the more their blasé attitude and determination to carry on business as usual.  Nigerians should be ashamed!  Even so, there is a possibility of redemption if we all gird our loins and engage the struggle of making sure that we rescue those beset by Boko Haram predators, and by so doing, begin to rescue Nigeria from its serious structural flaws that are most damaging to the body politic. 

Being the largest economy in Africa is well and good, but it means nothing if there is no peace and security, if majority of Nigerians are still scrabbling in the dirt for their day to day sustenance, if our communications infrastructure is at best inadequate, at worst, decrepit and decayed; if our educational system is full of substandard institutions that are poorly funded and neglected because the children of the wealthy and upper middle class have alternatives.  It is most unseemly that the majority of the citizens of a country as wealthy as Nigeria are in the dire straits that have become their norm.  Growing into the true manifestation of the largest economy in Africa means Nigeria begins to take care of ALL its people.  Since there’s no existing culture of doing this in a serious way, doing it well will be challenging, but it’s not impossible. 

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