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Taking a Stand, Resisting Corporate Tyranny

5 min read.

Withdrawing her column after 11 years, RASNA WARAH refutes allegations made by the editors of the Nation Media Group that she, along with seven of her colleagues who resigned en masse, did it either to increase her notoriety or to score political points. To the contrary, she explains, a culture that increasingly stifled editorial independence and victimised principled voices, has pervaded a once-independent media house, threatening to muzzle free expression.  

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Senior managers at the Nation Media Group have tried to underplay the significance of the joint resignation of columnists Maina Kiai, Kwamchetsi Makokha, George Kegoro, Nic Cheeseman, Gabriel Lynch, Muthoni Wanyeki, Gabriel Dolan and myself by claiming that the withdrawal of our columns was prompted by a hysterical “political activism” moment rather than a genuine concern about the newspaper’s editorial independence and integrity.

In a front-page editorial published three days after our resignation, the Nation newspaper’s editors took great pains to explain to readers that the NMG’s publications were non-partisan, independent and “committed to telling the truth”. The Nation’s Public Editor, Peter Mwaura – he appears to have abdicated his role as the neutral arbiter between the newspaper’s readers and its editors – defended the NMG by saying that there appeared to be an “unspoken reason” for our “groupthink”, suggesting that we had made the decision to resign en bloc for political reasons.

The Nation’s Public Editor, Peter Mwaura – he appears to have abdicated his role as the neutral arbiter between the newspaper’s readers and its editors – defended the NMG by saying that there appeared to be an “unspoken reason” for our “groupthink”, suggesting that we had made the decision to resign en bloc for political reasons.

“The independence of the media…is determined by reporters or editors, not columnists,” he wrote, adding that columnists “can only bask in the sunshine of that independence. They cannot bestow independence to [sic} a news organisation.”

Perhaps the Nation’s Public Editor is not aware of the fact that media independence – a hallmark of democracy – is not bestowed on columnists by individual reporters or editors; freedom and independence of the media is guaranteed by Article 34 of Kenya’s constitution. Through his ill-informed defence of the NMG, Mwaura betrayed another truth – the very reason for our resignation – that NMG’s editors have taken it upon themselves to decide who, just as much as what, is politically acceptable to publish.

The flimsy and unconvincing reasons given for the removal of the cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado) and economist David Ndii also suggest that it may not even be senior editors who make decisions about who to hire or fire, but influential and powerful individuals within government.

The NMG emphasised that none of the eight columnists had been censored by their editors and even issued a statement stating that each of us had individual contracts that the group had dutifully honoured, adding that editors had not tampered with our opinions “except to correct basic errors” – an obfuscatory tactic portraying us as petulant writers, easily upset by the heavy hand of the editor.

I must admit that initially I was conflicted about whether or not to resign…I am also deeply aware that as a woman – and an Asian woman at that – such privileges are hard to come by in our male-dominated media. Female columnists are rare in our newspapers; in fact, I was the only female op-ed columnist in the Daily Nation.

If the NMG’s senior managers had listened to us carefully, and read our press statement, they would know that none of us claimed to have been censored by our editors; on the contrary, I made it a point to state at our joint press conference that we were not resigning because we felt that we were being individually censored but because we could no longer remain silent and watch our colleagues being fired on flimsy – and what appeared to be politically-motivated – grounds. By glossing over the reasons we gave for our resignation, the NMG made us look like spoilt troublemakers, old farts stuck in their ways who needed to give way to younger, less jaded (and perhaps less opinionated) columnists.

I must admit that initially I was conflicted about whether or not to resign. I realise that having a column in the country’s largest-circulating newspaper is a great privilege and honour. I am also deeply aware that as a woman – and an Asian woman at that – such privileges are hard to come by in our male-dominated media. Female columnists are rare in our newspapers; in fact, I was the only female op-ed columnist in the Daily Nation. Before making the decision to resign, I wondered if giving up my column was not an act of ceding to reactionary forces who would be only too happy to see me go. However, I also know that the privilege of a column cannot be enjoyed in a vacuum. The context within which I left the NMG is critical to understanding the reasons for my resignation.

In our joint statement, we emphasised that past attempts by some of us to get the NMG’s Board of Directors to address what we felt was “a systematic process to constrain independent voices within the company, contrary to its stated editorial policy” had borne little fruit and that we had resorted to this radical measure when the NMG went ahead and fired the economist and Nasa political strategist David Ndii and NTV’s Linus Kaikai, who had spoken out against collusion between the Executive and some media managers to block the television station live coverage of the mock swearing-in of opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

Weighing in on the matter, retired op-ed editor Magesha Ngwiri, who edited my column for nearly a decade (with a very light hand, I might add, even though we held politically divergent views), insinuated that the majority of the columnists who had resigned did so because they belong to human rights organisations and so must “earn their keep”.

The answer to Ngwiri’s question is that our conscience did not allow us to “clothe the loss of editorial independence and media freedom at the NMG with respectability”. Some of us, and I include myself in this category, resigned because we no longer wanted to be associated with a newspaper that was increasingly looking and feeling like a government mouthpiece.

Ngwiri, one of the Nation’s most experienced editors, rightly stated that “if an editor purports to slant the views of a writer towards the conventional, then he or she is doing a disservice to the profession.” Indeed, the publication of diverse and diametrically opposed opinions is what lent the NMG’s publications credibility – credibility that has been seriously eroded in recent months. Ngwiri then went on to describe the columnists who wrote for the Saturday and Sunday editions of the Nation as individuals “who go hysterical every weekend in the belief that he is making an impression”, dismissively adding that these columnists were living in “cloud cuckoo land”. He went on to ask what could have induced others in the group to join “a cabal of rebels without a cause”.

The answer to Ngwiri’s question is that our conscience did not allow us to “clothe the loss of editorial independence and media freedom at the NMG with respectability”. Some of us, and I include myself in this category, resigned because we no longer wanted to be associated with a newspaper that was increasingly looking and feeling like a government mouthpiece, rather than an independent and trusted source of news. More importantly, by standing in solidarity with Kaikai, Ndii, Gado and others, we were saying that if the NMG felt compelled to silence these voices, then it would not be long before it felt emboldened enough to silence our voices as well.

Having fought so hard for the freedoms we enjoy under a new constitution – freedoms that were denied to us in the past – we could not sit back and watch our media, particularly the newspaper we wrote for, return to those dark days of subterfuge, censorship, silence and intrigue. What legacy will we leave behind for future columnists and journalists if we do not resist state capture of the region’s most influential media organisation?

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Rasna Warah
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Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and journalist. In a previous incarnation, she was an editor at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). She has published two books on Somalia – War Crimes (2014) and Mogadishu Then and Now (2012) – and is the author UNsilenced (2016), and Triple Heritage (1998).

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The G20 Is Gathering. Debt Justice Is Our Demand

As the G20 meet to discuss the global economic recovery, the Debt Justice group calls for a radical break with extraction and austerity — and proposes a new system in its place.

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A tsunami of debt has crashed over the world, and billions of people are drowning. This week, the G20 will meet to decide the direction of global economic recovery. Their power — and their responsibility — point in one direction: drop debt, drive investment, and deliver justice for all peoples of the world.

The pandemic has accelerated inequalities across the planet. Workers have lost $3.7 trillion in income, while billionaires have increased their wealth by $3.9 trillion. Wealthy countries have invested trillions of dollars to inflate their economies. But poor countries have been paralyzed by a $2.5 trillion financing gap that has prevented sufficient pandemic response.

Of more than $13 trillion spent on pandemic recovery worldwide, less than one per cent has gone to the Global South.

But things can get much worse. Before the pandemic, 64 lower-income countries were already spending more to service their international debts than on strengthening their local health systems. Now, the burden of their public debts has increased by around $1.9 trillion — four times the size of Sub-Saharan economy.

The ability to borrow money is critical to government capacity. The domination of imperial currencies like the US dollar, however, means that governments in the Global South must borrow in a foreign currency — and these debts come with higher interest rates than those of their foreign neighbors.

Even in good times, the global economy works to extract cash from the South to deliver to the North.

But when crises hit, Southern currencies lose value against the dollar at the same time that public revenues dry up. The result is a deadly trade-off. To repay debt means shredding the social safety net — a net that stands between billions of people and severe poverty. But failure to pay may be even worse: poor countries risk losing their ability to borrow in the future — all but guaranteeing the disappearance of the safety net they have now.

As the major creditors to the world, the G20 governments have done little to address this deadly trade-off. In 2020, the G20 suspended only 1.66% of the total debt payments due by lower income countries. Instead, they protected the power of vulture funds and holdout creditors to collect money that is desperately needed for response, recovery and climate action.

The G20 have now offered a ‘Common Framework’ to address the emerging debt crisis. This offer is an ultimatum. Either renew the vicious cycle — of indebtedness, austerity, and privatisation — or enter complete financial meltdown.

The G20 Common Framework is not a lifeline for the governments of the Global South. It is their debtors’ prison.

We need to break this system of neo-colonial exploitation — and replace it with a system centred on debt justice and the delivery of green and just transitions everywhere.

What, then, are our demands of the G20?

First, every creditor must participate. In the last ten years alone, private creditors like BlackRock and Glencore have doubled their share of lower income government debt. The G20 must compel all creditors to come to the table and end their exploitation of government desperation.

Second, the G20 must give all countries the chance to restructure their debt — not just those deemed cheap enough by creditors. The G20 system of debt relief serves creditors who give feeble concessions for ‘cheaper’ countries while leaving others to descend deeper into crisis. A debt workout process must be available to any country that asks for it.

Third, the debt workout system must move out of the hands of creditors and into transparent, multilateral oversight. Secrecy and complexity only protect creditors at the expense of self-determination.

Fourth, the system cannot be measured by a ‘Debt Sustainability Framework’ that is designed by the creditors themselves. We need independent debt assessments that incorporate debtors’ basic concerns for health, welfare, and development.

Fifth — and crucially — the G20 must move ahead with real debt cancellation. This is not a short-term liquidity crisis. Only large-scale write-offs will get debt to sustainable levels and kickstart recovery.

Sixth, the G20 must put a final end to austerity. Austerity conditionalities have exposed countries to waves of crises, intensified inequalities, and hollowed out public health systems. It is time to turn on the taps to secure green and just transitions everywhere.

The G20 will try and tell us that they’re doing everything they can — that we should be thankful for their efforts. But the world is not suffering from a lack of resource. We suffer because gargantuan amounts of cash are funneled into the pockets of the few. There is no shortage of ideas we can pursue to reverse this flow. What we lack is the political will, and we won’t stop until we get it.

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USA: For Right-Wing Extremists the Attack on Capitol Hill Was a Victory

The successful attack on Capitol Hill will fuel years of recruitment and mythologising for post-Trump extremists.

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This article was first published by Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

As attacks grow more shocking and dramatic, the size of their audience increases accordingly. While most observers are terrified and outraged by such violence, a small minority become inspired enough to plan attacks of their own. This is how extremist movements grow. This is how they seek to bend the world to their will.

Social media has dramatically increased the effectiveness of spectacular acts of terror. In 2014, ISIS militants used the viral executions of two American hostages to declare war on the United States. They were rewarded with an exponential increase in Western media coverage and tens of thousands of recruits from more than 100 countries. In 2019, a New Zealand-based white supremacist livestreamed his murder of 51 Muslim congregants in the city of Christchurch. His actions prompted numerous copycat attacks and a global resurgence of white ethno-nationalism.

Yet the media impact and symbolic power of these attacks are dwarfed by the events of January 6, 2021, during which far-right extremists stormed and occupied the U.S. Capitol at the encouragement of President Trump. Several carried firearms. Others reportedly planted improvised explosive devices. In less than two hours, they overwhelmed federal police and forced the Congress to flee. They breached the seat of American government that had stood inviolate for 211 years. It was a violent, extraordinary, unthinkable victory; one whose images and videos captivated the world.

This was the most spectacular domestic extremist attack in American history. The individuals who perpetrated this attack will be mythologized as heroes among future extremists. A generation of far-right recruits too young to have participated will spend their lives dreaming of again seizing the U.S. Capitol. In the words of writer Osita Nwanevu, this will become the “Woodstock” of the far-right — the victory and spectacle by which all future actions are measured.

Many of the individuals who directly participated in this action have undergone years of radicalization in extremist online communities and developed a unique culture steeped in ironic violence. They have come to venerate street fighting as the ultimate form of political expression and can name various skirmishes — the 2017 U.S. presidential inauguration, protests in Berkeley and Portland, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the deadly counter-protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin — as a veteran might count battles. Their ranks have swelled in recent months thanks to the popularity of the QAnon delusion and baseless claims of voter fraud that have been aggressively amplified by Trump and his allies.

In some ways, the attack on the U.S. Capitol was the culmination of this violent and conspiratorial movement of pro-Trump communities. Yet because the attack was so catastrophically effective, it also represents the birth of the post-Trump extremist movement. As casual Trump supporters peel away from the network in the weeks to come, they will be replaced by a new cadre who are less politically engaged but far more likely to undertake acts of violence. So it has been with the evolution of extremist movements around the world; so it will now be in the United States.

(Source: @etbrooking/via thedonald.win)

(Source: @etbrooking/via thedonald.win)

Two factors will make this post-Trump extremist movement uniquely dangerous. The first is the transition to anti-state violence. Participants in the January 6 attack routinely assaulted U.S. Capitol Police (often, ironically, while carrying pro-police paraphernalia). Following the killing of one female participant by law enforcement, online supporters of the attack darkly speculated that the police had been infiltrated by antifa “terrorists.” The woman was quickly recast as a martyr, one whose death might be the spark of a bloody revolution.

Previous far-right, anti-state movements have struggled to gain traction under the Trump presidency. The most successful of these — the so-called “Boogaloo” movement — hid its overt anti-state violence under layers of subtext and irony. When Boogaloo supporters did engage in acts of anti-state terrorism, as with the murder of two California security officers in June 2020, they sapped the movement of popular support. Under a Biden administration, however, this cognitive dissonance will no longer be an issue. If state authorities are seen to be corrupt and working at the behest of a Democratic administration, they will be targets.

The second factor is the mainstream popularity of the far-right extremist movement in the United States. For years, Trump has conditioned Republican voters to support violence as a means of settling political disputes. From the podium, Trump has regularly encouraged assaults on journalists and dehumanized racial and ethnic minorities. This rhetoric has carried terrible consequences. According to a January 6 YouGov poll, 45 percent of Republican voters supported the storming of the U.S. Capitol, seeing it as just another kind of political expression.

This means that a post-Trump extremist movement — even one that routinely engages in violence — may benefit from a level of political support not seen since that of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction-era American South. And so long as the movement remains politically popular, there will be politicians who seek to court it. As much could already be seen when the U.S. Congress reconvened early in the morning of January 7. In their remarks, several Republican legislators sought to trivialize or excuse the attack that had forced them from their chamber. Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-1) went so far as to blame antifa activists, whom he alleged — without evidence — had initiated the attack to give Trump supporters a bad name.

The violent extremist movement inspired by the events of January 6 will rank as one of the great challenges of the Biden presidency. Diminishing the strength of this movement will require disentangling isolated, angry Trump supporters from the much smaller core of extremists who seek to do Americans harm. It will require sapping the January 6 attack of its myth-making potential and to ensure that it is viewed, rightly, as a national embarrassment. Most of all, it will require confronting the pundits and conspiracy theorists who will seek to boost the far-right extremist movement in a grasping bid to retain their relevancy.

This work must begin immediately. The stakes were high before. They are higher now.

The DFRLab team in Cape Town works in partnership with Code for Africa.

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Dismantling and Transcending Colonialism’s Legacy

Nkrumah, Nyerere and Senghor were acutely aware of the need to displace the epistemic conditions of colonization in order to transcend it.

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In “decolonial” discourse, the African leadership landscape is flattened to the point of becoming a caricature. In an earlier variation of this caricature, Kwame Nkrumah’s injunction of “seek ye first the political kingdom” was presented by political scientist Ali Mazrui as a deficient obsession with political power to the neglect of the economic. In the current variation, the neglect of epistemic “decoloniality” is characterised as the deficient underbelly of the “nationalist” movement.

Kwame Nkrumah, Sédar Senghor, and Julius Nyerere are not only three of the most cerebral figures of Africa’s “nationalist” movement, but unlike Amilcar Cabral they lived to lead their countries in the aftermath of formal colonial rule.

Contrary declarations notwithstanding, Senghor, Nkrumah, and Nyerere were acutely aware of the colonial epistemological project and the need to transcend it. Indeed, philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s re-reading of Negritude as epistemology argued that its salience lies in the dissolution of the binary opposition of subject and object in the logic of René Descartes. Whatever one’s take on the specificity of Senghor’s claims of Africa’s modes of knowing—by insisting on the interconnectedness of subject and object—he deliberately sought to mark out what is deficient in modern European epistemology and valorise African systems of knowledge. This epistemological project is built on a distinct African ontological premise.

Nkrumah and Nyerere were most acutely aware of the urgent need to displace the epistemic conditions of colonisation. In the case of Nkrumah, the imperative of epistemic decolonisation was most forcefully expressed in the 1962 launch of the Encyclopedia Africana project, initially with W.E.B. Du Bois as editor, and the 1963 launch of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Nkrumah’s 1963 speech at the launch of the Institute stressed the epistemic erasure at the heart of colonialism, linking political and epistemic freedom. “It is only in conditions of total freedom and independence from foreign rule and interferences that the aspirations of our people will see real fulfillment and the African genius finds its best expression,” Nkrumah argued. If colonialism involves the study of Africa from the standpoint of the colonialist, the new Institute of African Studies was charged with studying Africa from the standpoint of Africans. Its responsibility, Nkrumah argued, is the excavation, validation, restoration, and valorisation of African knowledge systems.

Nkrumah exhorted the staff and students at the new Institute to “embrace and develop those aspirations and responsibilities which are clearly essential for maintaining a progressive and dynamic African society.” The study of Africa’s “history, culture, and institutions, languages and arts” must be done, Nkrumah insisted, in “new African centered ways—in entire freedom from the propositions and presuppositions of the colonial epoch.” It is also worth remembering that the subtitle of the most philosophical of Nkrumah’s writings, Consciencism, is “philosophy and ideology for de-colonization.

Much is made about Nyerere surrounding “himself with foreign ‘Fabian socialists.’” Yet the most profound influence on Nyerere’s thoughts and practice was not the varieties of European “socialisms” but the “socialism” of the African village in which he was born and raised—with its norms of mutuality, convivial hospitality, and shared labour. Nyerere’s modes of sense-making (which after all is what epistemology means) was rooted in this ontology and norms of sociality.

For Nyerere, the ethics that are inherent in these norms of sociality stand in sharp contrast to the colonial project. It was, perhaps, in Education for Self-Reliance (1967) that Nyerere set out, most clearly, the task of the educational system in postcolonial Tanganyika, one that is not simply about the production of technical skill but the contents of its pedagogy. It is a pedagogy that requires the transformation of the inherited colonial system of education (Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism, 1968). The pedagogy is anchored on the three principles of Nyerere’s idea of a society framed by African socialism: “quality and respect for human dignity; sharing of the resources which are produced by our efforts; work by everyone and exploitation by none.” It frames the ethics of a new, postcolonial society.

Whatever their limitations, it was not for lack of aspiration and imagination. Nyerere is the one who most aptly communicated to us the responsibility of the current generation to pick up the baton where the older generation laid it down. The struggle for political independence was never understood as an end in itself. The ‘flag independence’ we so decry makes possible the task that subsequent generations must undertake and fulfill. The task of realising the postcolonial vision is as much a responsibility of the current generation as it was of the older generation.

Finally, as Mwalimu reminds us, on matters concerning Africa, “the sin of despair would be the most unforgivable.” Avoiding that sin starts with acknowledging and embracing the positive efforts of the older generation while advancing the pan-African project today.

This piece is part of the “Reclaiming Africa’s Early Post-Independence History” series from Post-Colonialisms Today (PCT), a research and advocacy project of activist-intellectuals on the continent recapturing progressive thought and policies from early post-independence Africa to address contemporary development challenges. Sign up for updates here.

This post is from a new partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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