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Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Why Kenyans Need to Pay Closer Attention to the IEBC, Census 2019 and the Building Bridges Initiative

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If both Parliament and these nascent movements fail to forestall the efforts of the ‘system’, it is certain to use the Chebukati report, the boundary demarcation process, the population census and the Building Bridges Initiative to entrench itself and it will be interesting to see how the ‘hustlers’ respond to this direct challenge to their ‘turn to eat’.

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Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Why Kenyans Need to Pay Closer Attention to the IEBC, Census 2019 and the Building Bridges Initiative
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Even as the state-controlled media holds us in thrall to the charade that is the war on corruption, preparations are underway to fundamentally change Kenya’s political system. The weekly reports of corruption are overwhelming and it is a challenge to keep track of who has said what and who has allegedly been grilled by investigators. What is clear is that a game of politics is being played, a game that is likely to go on until it is time to hold elections or a referendum to entrench vested interests. This is why I will instead focus on the self-congratulatory post-election evaluation report issued by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the preparations for the population census and demarcation of electoral boundaries, and what the so-called Building Bridges Initiative has up its sleeve. These three issues will have a more profound effect on our lives beyond the game of smoke and mirrors that is the war on corruption.

Even as the state-controlled media holds us in thrall to the charade that is the war on corruption, preparations are underway to fundamentally change Kenya’s political system

Let us turn to IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati’s 280-page report. If you have the patience to read through the 186 pages (the rest are annexes), you will be struck by how tone-deaf and dry it is. It describes an election process that was almost flawless and fails to capture the toll, both financial and emotional, that it took on the Kenyan people. Reading the report alongside that of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC), which basically indicts the entire IEBC leadership, is astounding. It reads even more bizarrely in the light of the end of assignment report submitted by former Commissioner Roselyn Akombe upon her resignation from the IEBC.

One would have expected that, during an election year in which election officials were murdered, the Chairman would pay tribute to his staff. The Chebukati report makes no reference to the murder of Chris Msando, a senior IEBC manager, or to any of the staff killed or injured, particularly in the period preceding the 26 October 2017 repeat presidential election. It is as though the murder, intimidation and threats against staff, including against the Chairman himself, did not take place.

Reading the report alongside that of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC), which basically indicts the entire IEBC leadership, is astounding. It reads even more bizarrely in the light of the end of assignment report submitted by former Commissioner Roselyn Akombe upon her resignation from the IEBC.

In a chapter dedicated to electoral security, there is no reference to the threats and intimidation visited upon IEBC staff by both Jubilee and NASA. The report instead dwells on details of a project funded by the United Nations (UN) to support police deployment, the very forces accused of violence against voters. The IEBC postponed and eventually never held presidential polls in Homa Bay, Migori, Kisumu and Siaya counties, citing insecurity. There were numerous reports of polling officials in these counties having been threatened and even seriously injured.

If the Commission can sweep under the carpet issues of safety and security, why should we believe anything else it says in the report?

The report’s section on the use of information technology is even more disturbing. The Commission paints a picture of full compliance with the law in this area and identifies only two challenges: “inadequate time to procure, install, test, and commission technology due to late enactment of laws by parliament” and “lack of regulations to govern the scrutiny of election technology during petition proceedings.” The PAC report is much more detailed and transparent in its evaluation of the Commission’s performance on ICT. It shows, as does former Commissioner Akombe’s report, the intrigues behind the procurement of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS). The technology was deliberately sabotaged to benefit one party with the full knowledge and connivance of the IEBC and the selection of OT-Morpho to supply the technology was orchestrated by powerful state actors while some of the consultants provided by the UN to work with OT-Morpho were affiliated to the Jubilee Party. The murder of Chris Msando was pre-meditated and it had the desired effect. That the Chebukati report completely avoids reference to these issues – among many others – while presenting the IEBC as the victim, only serves to remind us of the wrongs committed by the IEBC against this country.

The Commission paints a picture of full compliance with the law in this area and identifies only two challenges: “inadequate time to procure, install, test, and commission technology due to late enactment of laws by parliament” and “lack of regulations to govern the scrutiny of election technology during petition proceedings

The forward by the Chairman is even more revealing of the inability of the Commission to honestly reflect upon its failures. The Chairman describes the 8 August 2017 election thus: “the Commission eventually conducted the August 8th General Election within the prescribed legal framework.” This is despite the fact that the Supreme Court annulled the presidential result, which Chebukati describes as “a season of mixed fortunes.”

It is difficult to comprehend how a person qualified to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court could refer to a historic annulment of a presidential vote as “mixed fortunes.” This is the same person who agonised over the release of the election results after informing the press that he could neither confirm nor deny reports that IEBC servers had been hacked. The entire report reads in the same flat manner, mechanically detailing tasks undertaken by each directorate and – with the exception of legal reforms – putting forward underwhelming recommendations.

One may wonder why we should pay attention to the Chebukati report but it is precisely because of its links to the population census/electoral boundary demarcations exercise and the Building Bridges Initiative that we should.

The Chairman describes the 8 August 2017 election thus: “the Commission eventually conducted the August 8th General Election within the prescribed legal framework.” This is despite the fact that the Supreme Court annulled the presidential result, which Chebukati describes as “a season of mixed fortunes.”

Despite the questions raised regarding the legitimacy of the Commission (only three of the requisite seven members remain and it is without gender parity, a constitutional requirement), it is business as usual over at the IEBC. The report is an affirmation that the ‘system’ is intact and ready to move on, that the IEBC has evaluated itself and found itself worthy of undertaking any major task placed before it. Chebukati says that the “Commission will also engrain the successes of the 8th August General Election and the 26th October Fresh Presidential Election.” The Commission seems to exist in a different universe where it alone could consider the 2017 General Election to have been successful. The Commission has signaled that it is ready to bury the past, together with all the questions that remain unanswered, and develop “concrete strategies that will assuage, if not cure, the missteps that may have been evident in the grand match towards a widely accepted election outcome.” This means that the Commission can now tackle the next item on the electoral calendar, the border demarcation process.

The game of politics has many tricks the most common of which is gerrymandering, the act of manipulating boundaries to benefit a political party or politician. Chebukati is now perceived as the safe pair of hands that can handle the gerrymandering. If he ever did have a moral compass, he lost it when he presided over the 26 October 2017 presidential election. He and his team are now fully initiated members of the system. Once an outsider, he has now joined the camp of Commissioners Molu Boya and Abdi Yakub Guliye and as one official who has witnessed the contempt with which both Guliye and Boya previously held Chebukati remarked, “they seem to have found a formula which works for them.”

The formula in question is the willingness to serve the system and the whims of those in power. The boundary demarcation exercise will predictably be used as another tool to manage the new bogeyman, the Deputy President. With the population census fully in the hands of the three Commissioners, we should expect the return of the ‘tyranny of numbers’ narrative. We should expect that those parts of the country with a historically low birth rate will experience miraculous increases in their population while others will magically have higher death rates and lower numbers of new births since the last census. The ‘system’ will work closely with the Chebukati team to manipulate the boundaries to benefit those who have a vested interest in maintaining their political and economic hold on the country.

The second significance of the Chebukati report lies in the ongoing debate on constitutional and legal reforms. Anybody who has followed political processes in Africa knows that these documents come in handy when one wants to change the constitution. Chebukati has served his masters well once again by providing in his report arguments which could be used to amend certain laws. The report is likely to be used as a source of inspiration by the Building Bridges Initiative. The report even provides a timeline for legal reforms which “… should be carried out at least two years to the election”, meaning that those planning a referendum need to hold it now or next year at the very latest.

The legal reforms proposed by the Commission go beyond electoral law amendments to include constitutional issues such as the electoral cycle. The report attempts to disingenuously insinuate itself into the debate on whether there are too many electoral positions without providing sufficient argument or data. It suggests that the electoral law should be amended to allow the holding of county and national elections on different dates, without providing any explanations beyond citing the fatigue of poll workers.

There are initiatives by members of parliament which could scuttle the processes set up so far by the ‘system’ but it is unclear if there is sufficient parliamentary momentum for their success.

All these are deliberate ploys by the Commission to anchor the report of the Building Bridges Initiative team to this “broadly consulted” post-election review. There are reports that the Building Bridges Initiative team is also finalising consultations. We have all too often seen predetermined recommendations emerge from purported view seeking exercises among Kenyans. At any rate, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga has already outlined the key elements to be expected in that report, as a precursor to the referendum. The ground is being prepared for the dynasties to protect their economic and political interests and for the hustlers to defend their loot.

The big question is what the rest of the population will do. Will we tug along and play victim later? Will we try to avoid treading on the path laid out before us by ‘the men from the shadows’ as John Githongo calls them? This is still unclear.

There are initiatives by members of parliament which could scuttle the processes set up so far by the ‘system’ but it is unclear if there is sufficient parliamentary momentum for their success. Hon. Peter Kaluma has proposed reverting to the 1997 Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) model where political parties nominate Commissioners. This would mean changing the current composition of the IEBC, potentially delaying a referendum or even the boundary demarcation exercise if the selection process is protracted. Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen is proposing changes to the Elections Act where parliament, rather than the IEBC, would have the final say on boundaries. Meanwhile, the cross-party PAC report recommends the immediate departure and prosecution of the current Commissioners.

However, all these processes would require parliamentary approval, not an easy task in the current political climate. With the Jubilee Party infighting, it is not clear if it will be possible to marshal enough votes and the situation is no clearer in the NASA camp although it is difficult to imagine ODM party members defying Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, lest they face his wrath as Malindi Member of Parliament, Hon. Aisha Jumwa recently did. As one friend remarked, “Baba is confident that Chebukati will deliver the referendum and presidential election for him.” It is also unlikely that the cross-party PAC report will have its day in parliament unless, of course, those at the helm of the Building Bridges Initiative determine that it is in their interest to implement the recommended changes.

The solution could be found away from parliament. There are media reports of civilians organising themselves around the Red Vests Revolution, Beyond Zero Corruption and Kenya Tuitakayo movements. Many of these groups appear to have been inspired by the French Yellow Vests protests and the ongoing protests in Algeria and Sudan. These faceless movements, if they are to have any impact, need to organise differently and focus on the issues that will galvanise the population. There is the likelihood that the State will find a way to silence these voices, but this should only serve to strengthen the resolve of those involved.

If both Parliament and these nascent movements fail to forestall the efforts of the ‘system’, it is certain to use the Chebukati report, the boundary demarcation process, the population census and the Building Bridges Initiative to entrench itself and it will be interesting to see how the ‘hustlers’ respond to this direct challenge to their ‘turn to eat’. Until then we can only expect another post-election or post-referendum report that glosses over issues and presents the illusion of a flawless electoral process that is unrecognisable to the country’s citizens.

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Ms. Abraham is a governance and institutional development expert.

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Educating the Native and the Ivy League Myth

Elite schools in the US continue to place a premium on institutions, not ideas. Where you went to school is what matters.

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As a young student, I was always fascinated by the “top” universities and the erudite people that emerged from those august institutions. My first contact with Ivy League people was when I arrived at Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia in 1999 to start my MSc research. I met students and faculty from Princeton University (which is a trustee of the research centre) and was reassured that they looked “normal”, given all the academic challenges and foibles that a Kenyatta University student like me had. After I finished my MSc, the administration was impressed enough with my work to offer me a job as resident scientist, which I took up with the alacrity of someone catching a big break through hard work (I got a rude awakening later, but that’s a story for another day). As part of my job, I was to supervise a group of Princeton undergraduates undertaking a senior field project and, wanting impress, I sharpened my ecologist brain, especially because I thought I would be instructing some of the world’s sharpest young minds. Now I laugh at my consternation when, after mapping out clear and easy ecological transects for them, they strayed off into a neighbouring ranch and I got a call from the security personnel there that they were sunbathing topless on the research vehicle (they were ladies) and that the boss might be offended.

Later on, I asked a postgraduate student from the same institution how these ladies could be so casual about their studies and she couldn’t hide her amusement at my ignorance. “Grad school is competitive. Undergrads get in because of money and name recognition.” I was stunned, but I remembered this when I saw the poor work they submitted at the end of their study. Being an aspiring lecturer (and a student of the late brilliant Prof R.O. Okelo) I marked them without fear or favour, assuming that they would be used to such standards at Princeton. I was told that I couldn’t give them such low marks because they were supposed to qualify for med school after their biology degrees.

They strayed off into a neighbouring ranch and I got a call from the security personnel there that they were sunbathing topless on the research vehicle.

The next cohort included one serious student who I actually enjoyed instructing and who finished her course successfully. By that time though, I was getting restless and had started writing an academic and financial proposal for my PhD, and I finished it about six months after my student had returned to the US to graduate. The then Director of Mpala, Dr Georgiadis, refused to let me do my PhD on the job, so I submitted my proposal to several conservation organizations, including the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. I received a positive response from them (offering me a grant) which hit me with a strange mixture of feelings. First of all, I was elated at the prospect of starting my PhD, but I was completely baffled by the signature on the award letter. It was signed by the undergraduate student that I had supervised about eight months earlier. An American undergraduate who had spent two months in Africa was somehow qualified to assess a PhD proposal on the ecology of African wildlife written by an African MSc holder. It was my rude awakening to the racial prejudice that is de rigueur in African conservation practice. But I had to get my academic career moving, and indulge my first taste of the ultimate luxury that my competence and my work could afford me, which was the ability to say “NO”. It was with extreme pleasure that I wrote and signed my letter of resignation from my job at Mpala, leaving it on the Director’s desk.

Years later, after I finished my PhD and had a useful amount of conservation practice under my belt, I attended the Society for Conservation Biology conference in Sacramento, California, where there was a side event featuring publishers from several Ivy League universities. I excitedly engaged them because at the time Gatu Mbaria and I were in the middle of writing “The Big Conservation Lie”. I pointed out to all of them that there were no books about conservation in Africa written by indigenous Africans, but they were uniform in their refusal to even read the synopsis of what we had written. I later understood why when I learned that in US academia, African names — as authors or references — are generally viewed as devaluing to any literature.

An American undergraduate who had spent two months in Africa was somehow qualified to assess a PhD proposal on the ecology of African wildlife written by an African MSc holder.

From Sacramento, I made the short trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto, to give a seminar to an African Studies group. I felt honoured to be making an academic contribution at an Ivy League university and I prepared well. My assertions about the inherent prejudices in African conservation practice were met with stunned silence by the faculty, many of whom are involved with conservation research in Africa. One bright spot in that dour experience was the brilliant PhD student who echoed my views and pointed out that these prejudices existed within academia as well. I later found out that he was Kenyan — his name is Ken Opalo and he now teaches at Georgetown University.

Fast forward to today. The Big Conservation Lie was published, and after the initial wailing, breaking of wind, gnashing of teeth and accusations of racism, Mbaria and I are actually being acknowledged as significant thinkers in the conservation policy field and our literary input is being solicited by various publications around the world. Now, the cultural differences between how European and American institutions treat African knowledge are becoming clear (certainly in my experience). I have been approached by several European institutions to give talks (lectures), and have contributed articles and op-eds (to journals and magazines) and one book foreword. Generally, the approach is like this:

“Dear Dr Ogada, I am_______ and I am writing to you on behalf of________. We are impressed with what you wrote in _____ and would appreciate it if you would consider writing for us an article of (length) on (topic) in our publication. We will offer you an honorarium of (X Euros) for this work, and we would need to receive a draft from you by (date). . .” Looking forward to your positive response. . .”

When inviting me to speak, the letters are similarly respectful and appreciative of my time. The key thing is the focus on and respect for one’s intellectual contribution. Publications from American Ivy league schools typically say:

“Dear Dr Ogada, I am __________, the editor of __________. We find your thoughts on _______ very interesting and we are pleased to invite you to write an essay of________ (length) in our publication. Previous authors we have invited include (dropping about 6-8 names of prominent American scholars).

The entire tone of the letter implies that you are being offered a singular privilege to “appear” in the particular journal. It is even worse when being asked to give a lecture. No official communication, just a casual message from a young student saying that they would like you to come and talk to their class on__________ (time and date on the timetable). No official communication from faculty or the institution. After doing that a couple of times, I realized that the reason these kids are so keen to have an African scholar speak to them and answer all their questions is because they need his knowledge, but do not want to read his publications, or (God forbid) have an African name in the “references” section of their work.

The reason these kids are so keen to have an African scholar speak to them and answer all their questions is because they need his knowledge, but do not want to read his publications.

European intellectuals seem to be catching on to the fact that knowledge and intellect reside in people, not institutions. That is why they solicit intellectual contributions based on the source of an idea they find applicable in that space and time. Name recognition doesn’t matter to them, which is why they seek people like Ogada, who doesn’t even have that recognition in Kenya. The elite schools in US still place this premium on institutions, which is why whenever an African displays intellectual aptitude, those who are impressed don’t ask about him and his ideas, but where he went to school. They want to know which institution bestowed this gift upon him.

For the record, I usually wait about a week before saying “no” to the Ivy League schools. Hopefully, they read my blog and will improve the manner in which they approach me, or stop it altogether.

Aluta continua.

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Cuba Can Help Vaccinate the World

On 25 January, the Progressive International will host a special briefing live from Havana with Cuba’s leading scientists, government ministers and public health officials as part of its Union for Vaccine Internationalism.

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2022 began with a “tsunami” of new Covid-19 cases crashing over the world, according to the World Health Organization. Over 18 million cases have been recorded in the past week alone, a record number since the pandemic began two years ago. In the first 10 days of January, nearly 60,000 Covid-19 deaths have been recorded worldwide — though the total death count is far higher than the official statistics describe.

The Omicron variant is reported to have less “severe” implications among vaccinated patients. But the world remains perilously under-vaccinated: 92 of the WHO’s member countries missed the 2021 target of 40 percent vaccination; at the current pace of rollout, 109 of them will miss their 2022 targets by July.

These statistics tell a story of a persistent vaccine apartheid. Across the EU, 80 percent of all adults have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Meanwhile, only 9.5 percent of people in low-income countries have received a single dose. Omicron is a death sentence for thousands in these countries — and as the virus travels across the Global South, new variants will emerge that may be less “mild” for the vaccinated populations of the North.

But the governments of these Northern countries refuse to plan for global vaccination — or even meet their own pledges. By late last year, they had delivered only 14% of the vaccine doses that they had promised to poorer countries through COVAX, the UN vaccine-sharing initiative. Big pharmaceutical corporations are focused almost exclusively on production of boosters for the world’s rich countries, creating a shortfall of three billion doses in the first quarter of this year.

President Joe Biden could easily help fill this shortfall by compelling US pharmaceutical corporations to share their vaccine technology with poorer nations. But he has so far refused to do so. A new production hub in Africa — where only 3 percent of people are vaccinated — is now trying to replicate the Moderna vaccine. But without Moderna’s help, or Joe Biden’s executive action, production could take more than a year to begin.

Amidst this crisis of global solidarity, Cuba has emerged as a powerful engine of vaccine internationalism. Not only has the island nation successfully developed two Covid-19 vaccines with 90 percent effectiveness, and vaccinated more than 90 percent of its population with at least one dose of its homegrown vaccine, Cuba has also offered its vaccine technology to the world. “We are not a multinational where returns are the number one reason for existing,” said Vicente Vérez Bencomo of the Finlay Vaccines Institute in Cuba. “For us, it’s about achieving health.”

But the US and its allies continue to oppress and exclude Cuba from the global health system. The US blockade forced a shortage of syringes on the island that endangered its vaccine development and hindered mass production. US medical journals “marginalize scientific results that come from poor countries,” according to Vérez Bencomo. Meanwhile, the WHO refuses to accredit the Cuban vaccines, despite approval from regulators in countries like Argentina and Mexico.

That is why the Progressive International is sending a delegation to Havana: to combat misinformation, to defend Cuban sovereignty, and to help vaccinate the world.

Bringing delegates from the Union for Vaccine Internationalism, founded in June 2021 to fight the emerging apartheid, the Progressive International will convene Cuban scientists and government representatives to address international press and members of the scientific community in a showcase of the Cuban vaccine on 25 January.

The goals of the showcase are both local and global. Drawing attention to the promise of the Cuban vaccine and the perils of the US embargo against it, the showcase aims to forge connections between Cuba’s public biotech sector and manufacturers who might produce the vaccine and help the Cuban government recuperate the costs of its development.

In the process, the showcase aims to set an example of international solidarity in the face of the present global health crisis, advancing the cause of vaccine internationalism around the world.

This article was first published by Progressive International.

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DRC: Bring Patrice Lumumba Home

The return of Patrice Lumumba’s remains must not be an occasion for Belgium to congratulate itself, but for a full accounting of the colonial violence that led to the assassination and coverup.

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For much of the past year, there have been plans for the sacred human remains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s first post-independence prime minister, Patrice Émery Lumumba, to finally be returned to his children in Belgium, and then repatriated to the Congo. Originally scheduled for a ceremony on June 30, 2021, the 61st anniversary of the country’s independence passed with Lumumba’s remains still in the custody of Belgian authorities. The ceremony with Belgian King Philippe, current Prime Minister Alexander de Croo of Belgium, and Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, was then planned for January 17, 2022, the anniversary of the assassination. Last week, Tshisekedi announced another delay—this time until June 2022. The official reason for the delay was the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Congo, but the pandemic crisis is deeply entangled with a series of other political maneuvers and other crises that are undoubtedly factors in the decision.

At the center of this story, Lumumba’s family continues to be victimized. As Nadeen Shaker recently reported, his children were forced to escape to Cairo during their father’s house arrest, never to see him again. The disturbing fact that the remains of Lumumba spent another Independence Day in Belgium may provide opportunities for metaphor and analogy, but, amid the widespread complicity in this ongoing desecration, the most important outcome must be to respect the ethical and legal claims of his children, which daughter Juliana Lumumba described in an open letter to the Belgian king last year.

The story of the execution and its aftermath is well told by Ludo de Witte in The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba. On January 17, 1961, Lumumba was killed along with comrades Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito by Belgian authorities, with the support of neocolonial Kantangan separatists and the US. Two days later, Gerard Soete, Belgian police commissioner of Katanga, and his brother exhumed the body to chemically eradicate all physical evidence of their crime in order to prevent the kind of mobilization which its identification would inspire. Though the execution was kept secret for nearly a month, its announcement inspired exactly what his executioners feared, as African people throughout the world engaged in protest and other revolutionary acts of remembrance—from the well-known demonstration at the United Nations, and other cities throughout the world to a legacy in a visual, musical, and literary culture that continues to this day.

In February 1961, while the Cultural Association of Women of African Heritage organized a major protest at UN headquarters in New York, Lumumba’s widow Pauline Opango Lumumba led a march of family and supporters to the UN offices of Rajeshawar Dayal in Kinshasa. There, she requested that the UN help her receive the remains of her husband for a proper burial. After Ralph Bunche offered “apologies” for the New York protest, Lorraine Hansberry “hasten[ed] publicly to apologize to Mme. Pauline Lumumba and the Congolese people for our Dr. Bunche.” Meanwhile, James M. Lawson of the United African Nationalist Movement and other Black activists organized a wake for Lumumba at Lewis Michaux’s Harlem bookstore. When Pauline died in Kinshasa in 2014, she was still waiting to bury her husband. She, and her iconic demonstration, are memorialized in Brenda Marie Osbey’s poem “On Contemplating the Breasts of Pauline Lumumba,” which is part of a long line of African American efforts to uplift the Lumumba family. The immediacy of Pauline’s demands remains after 6 years.

While Lumumba’s body was dissolved in sulphuric acid, Soete, like the US lynchers of Sam Hose and so many others, kept trophies of his victims as he traveled from the Congo to Belgium, often displaying them for friends and journalists. After Soete died, his daughter Godelieve continued her father’s tradition, culminating in a bizarre 2016 interview, during which a reporter found the remains in her possession. (In her efforts to defend her father, Godelieve further revealed that his brutality was visited upon his children.) The Belgian police intervened and, for the past five years, Lumumba’s remains have been held by the Belgian government responsible for his death. In September 2020, a court finally ruled they should be returned to the family.

These most recent delays are occurring at a time when the ongoing mistreatment of human remains is receiving public attention. The case of the Morton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania led activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad to uncover the ongoing desecration of the remains of Tree and Delisha Africa, who were killed when the city of Philadelphia bombed their family’s home on May 13, 1985, leading to the discovery that the city held additional remains of the victims of its violence against the MOVE organization.

Since 2005, in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) created the Missing Persons Task Team to identify the remains of the Black victims of the country’s apartheid era. Drawing on the expertise of researchers with experience in similar initiatives in Argentina and elsewhere, this government project has been deliberate in its efforts to include the families of the missing at all stages, while seeing their work as integral to the larger mission of the TRC, and further representative of a larger model of repatriation of human remains and possessions. As different as these cases of violence may be, government sanction—at multiple levels and taking different forms—remains constant.

In an October 2021 program hosted by Friends of the Congo, Juliana Lumumba explained that for her, as the daughter of a martyr, repatriation and memorialization of her father’s remains were not finite events to be completed like items checked off of a to-do list. Rather, the return must be part of a wider and ongoing process: “I told Belgium, that if we want a reconciliation we need reconciliation of memories because we can not make a reconciliation when our memories [are] so different and so contradictory.” Juliana’s words carry a particular weight at a time when the Special Parliamentary Commission on Belgian Colonial History has received a sharply critical historical report that may or may not lead to meaningful action of the sort that the family has demanded.

Lumumba’s son Guy-Patrice Lumumba opposes Tshisekedi’s efforts to exploit the repatriation for political gain. Tshisekedi himself is familiar with some of the political challenges of memorialization after the remains of his own father, longtime popular opposition leader Etienne Tshisekdi, spent more than two years in Europe before their return in 2019 after Felix’s election. Felix is quickly losing whatever claim he had on his own father’s mantle (see Bob Elvis’s song “Lettre à Ya Tshitshi for a recent indictment of the president’s abandonment of his father’s mantle). He may find value in an association with a revered nationalist icon amid political protests from opponents concerned about his overreaching efforts to control the country’s powerful electoral commission as the 2023 election cycle approaches.

Meanwhile, the younger Tshisekedi’s international standing has been consolidated through his position as head of the African Union, where his responsibilities include negotiating for the provision of COVID-19 vaccines for member states. He recently met with President Biden and made an official visit to Israel, the latter of particular concern given its historical involvement in mercenary efforts against pro-Lumumba rebels and its ongoing role in the plunder of the Congo’s resources (to say nothing of Tshisekedi’s support for Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem and its status as an observer at the African Union). Such actions highlight the extraordinary distance between Lumumba’s legacy and Tshisekedi’s leadership.

For decades, the Lumumba family has made a series of unanswered demands through formal inquiries and legal appeals. A group of scholars and activists have also asserted the return of Lumumba’s remains must not be an occasion for Belgium to congratulate itself, but rather an opportunity for a full accounting of the colonial violence that led to the assassination and its subsequent coverup.

Hopefully soon, Lumumba’s family can mourn on their own terms and have all of their demands for justice met immediately and without equivocation.

This post is from a 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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