South Africa: 2014

2014 is the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s independence, and is also an election year. Although South African politicians often describe the country as a “rainbow nation,” is the term really more than rhetoric used in an attempt to pacify those who speak about persisting inequalities and rampant corruption?

Today’s African National Congress (ANC) is a far cry from the radical, revolutionary group that fought for independence. 20 years after the ANC rose to power, legislative changes have not necessarily translated into racial  or class equality for South Africa. Black South Africans suffer from increasing rates of unemployment, and maternal mortality rates have quadrupled under ANC leadership.

Incumbent President Jacob Zuma has at best, a questionable record as head of state; his most recent abuse of power blowing R208 million (USD18.5 million) of public funds to pimp out his private residence in Nkandla. While City Press calls Nkandla “the village at the centre of South Africa’s election,” the votes of President Zuma’s disenfranchised neighbors will most likely not sway the election, despite Julius Malema’s wishful thinking that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will win this year’s election; and the ANC’s declining support.

Despite the corruption and inequality that has continued to characterize South Africa under ANC leadership, it’s unrealistic to think that an opposition can group can win this year’s election, especially after the implosion of the coalition formed between the Democratic Alliance and Agang SA; under which Mamphela Ramphele would’ve run as the presidential candidate.

But who knows? Maybe all the political analysts are wrong, and an opposition group will win and wave a magic wand and erase all of South Africa’s systemic problems. One can dream, anyway.

Why the racist, sexist backlash against Cecile Kyenge is a good thing

In April, Cecile Kyenge was appointed minister of integration by Italy’s prime minister, Enrico Letta. She is the first black person to serve in Italy’s cabinet, and has lived in the country for the past 30 years after moving to Italy to study medicine at the age of 18. An ophthalmologist by trade, she has been active in integration issues since 2002. She founded DAWA, an organization to promote awareness and cooperation between Africa and Italy, and was elected to the Modena City Council in 2004.

Many people have been extremely vocal about their displeasure at Italy’s first black minister. Kyenge has been compared by Senator Roberto Calderoli to an orangutan, who also said she should be a minister “in her own country” (she’s an Italian citizen and has been in Italy most of her life), has had bananas thrown at her, and has even had a politician, Dolores Valandro of the Northern League, advocate for her rape.  In response to the victimization of an Italian woman,  Valandro posted on her Facebook page “Why doesn’t someone rape her so she can understand what victims of atrocious crimes feel?”  Because every time someone is a victim of rape, apparently the correct response is to go out and rape an Italian minister.

While Valandro was expelled from the party, Calderoli still holds office, and the public attacks haven’t stopped. And you know what? I think the backlash against Kyenge is a good thing.

I think the backlash against Kyenge is a good thing because it prompted representatives from 17 European Union countries to meet in Rome September to condemn the attacks. Joëlle Milquet, Belgium’s deputy prime minister, called the meeting, not just because of the remarks against Kyenge, but in support of all those who are victimized by racism in Europe: “What has happened to the Italian minister is unacceptable,” she said, “but we’re talking about a widespread phenomenon. It was necessary to mobilise in order to affirm the value of diversity and integration.”

I think the backlash against Kyenge is a good thing, because in the same way that racist whites resisted America’s civil rights movement, and racist whites in South Africa resisted the anti-apartheid movement, the Italian resistance against immigrant-friendly policies mean that members of society have noticed that Italy is become more inclusive. It’s a good thing that in response to Calderoni’s “orangutan” remark, journalist Daniele Passanante started a petition asking him to resign, and that nearly 200,000 people signed.

Of course, misogyny, xenophobia, and racism are not good.  However, the backlash against Kyenge’s appointment means that immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities are no longer an invisible underclass. African immigrants to Italy now comprise about 1,000,000 people, and there are hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities, such as those who have immigrated from Asia and Latin America as well. These statistics cannot be ignored, and the vitriol hurled at Kyenge means that Italians are aware that their country is changing. Continue reading

Is Change Coming to Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan’s presidential election will take place on Tuesday, October 9th. Coercive and undemocratic, the “republic” has concentrated money and power in the hands of the Aliyev family for the last twenty years.

Unfavourable Spread of Wealth

Although the country has $7 billion dollars in oil reserves and strides made towards reducing poverty, many Azerbaijanis live in poverty, with “42 per cent of the rural population [living] below the poverty line, and about 13 per cent of poor people [living] in extreme poverty.”

A 2013 Chatham House meeting summary noted that the government focuses its attention largely on big projects, rather than issues such as healthcare, education, and making it easy for Azerbaijanis to move around- there is “no public transportation in the regions- buses are prohibited and most people do not own cards, which means there are often no means of transports in the villages.” Continue reading

On Gender Nonconformity

Gender is everywhere. Although there is evidence that suggests that, for example ancient Yoruba culture had no gender roles, it is hard to deny their pervasiveness today. From FGM and foot binding (now outlawed), to rigid expectations of manhood, the socially accepted ways in which we are expected to behave are arbitrarily decided on what genitalia we happen to have been born with.

Recently, a six-year old Argentinian was permitted by the state to change her identity. Born a boy named Manuel, she is now a girl named Lulu. Her mother, Gabriela, told The Telegraph “By accepting that my son was not the son I gave birth to, but a girl, I accepted her identity and put myself at her side.”

I fully support individuals being able to identify as the gender that suits them. That may be neither masculine nor feminine: In some societies, there are people who are considered to be a third gender, neither a man nor a woman. In Nepal, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex Nepalis will be able to register as ‘third gender’ for the first time in the country’s history and campaign openly for legislative seats in the planned Nov. 19 elections.” (source) While politicians have accepted LGBTI individuals, says Purushottam Dahal, a political science professor at Nepal Sanskrit University, traditional society has yet to be as inclusive. Allowing them to appear be registered and run on the tickets of major political parties will pave the way for their acceptance into wider society.

Both the Nepalese and Argentinian governments are setting a good example in supporting their citizens who may not fit into the rigid and sexist roles. Although my ideal world is one in which gender doesn’t exist- where people aren’t given a set of behavioral and sartorial expectations based on how they were born- that scenario is unlikely. Still, Argentina and Nepal are encouraging evidence that societies evolve.