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Kongomano la Mageuzi: A Luta Continua!

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We must provoke a new political awakening, imagine a new politics, a new humanity, and bring about a fourth liberation — the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

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Kongomano la Mageuzi: A Luta Continua!
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The launch of Kongomano La Mageuzi-VUMA (KLM-VUMA) comes at a time when COVID-19 has brought home to the planet, the African continent and our country that we must reject all normality past and present and imagine new societies that are just, free, peaceful, non-militaristic, ecologically safe, egalitarian and equitable, non-racist, non-ethnic, gender-just, prosperous, and socialist. Of course, from lessons learnt over the last 100 years, socialism is being critiqued, historicised, and problematised in various creative ways. The focus seems to be on consolidating the strengths of socialism and mitigating its weaknesses. Public and organic intellectuals and movements are engaged in the quest for a paradigm or paradigms that will liberate the planet.

It is therefore useful to position KLM-VUMA — this movement of civil society organisations, social movements, and individuals committed to the transformation of the economic, social, cultural, spiritual, ideological and political status quo of our motherland — within the global, regional, and national contexts, so that the movement can clearly see the challenges that lie ahead, the difficulties that it will have to surmount.

The great African Marxist revolutionary Samir Amin has written extensively on the exploitation, oppression, and domination of the Global South by the imperialism of the West (neoliberalism), or what he calls the imperialism of the Triad (America, Europe, and Japan) with its satellite countries comprising Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In Europe, Germany seems to dominate the former states of the Soviet Empire, while Russia has not managed to remove itself from the clutches of the imperialism of the West. Nevertheless, neoliberalism as a paradigm for socio-economic life and politics has failed.

Social democratic societies seem to be consistently moving to the right, particularly in Europe and Canada (where there has been a muted social democracy). The Nordic countries and Holland —which experimented with a model of social democracy that prioritised public goods and radically mitigated capitalism —also seem to have moved to the right and are comfortably installed within the orbit of the imperialism of the West.

China has become the focus of attention for many liberation movements. Afro-Chinese relations are examined and debated but a consensus is yet to be reached on whether China is a neoliberal imperialist country. In my view it is. We hear the beating of the global drums of war as we witness cyber warfare and geopolitical positioning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenya, and indeed the Global South, has a great opportunity to regain its sovereignty amidst the growing tensions and hostilities between the West and China. We must take this opportunity to redress the historical injustices of colonialism. We should not be trooping to the US and the UK to sign skewed free trade agreements. It is this reimagining of Kenya and Africa — and its place in the world — that KLM-VUMA seeks to ignite.

On the African continent, the burning question is how to bring about the resurrection of radical people-to-people Pan-Africanism as envisioned, not by the leaderships of the African Union, but by the people of Africa themselves. Debates on this issue are reaching back to the political positions of Nyerere, Nkrumah, Cheikh Anta Diop, Amilcar Cabral, Gaddafi (particularly his call for African Unity to include a free African currency) and others in the African continent and Diaspora.

Closer to home the pandemic has exposed the wicked rule of the Kenyan elite and their foreign backers. Like their foreign patrons, our elite believe money is all it takes to organise and mobilise in politics; the Constitution decrees otherwise. The commons and public goods have been commodified. The mitigating vision of the 2010 Constitution has been subverted. Poverty has become a way of life for the majority of our compatriots. The middle class is shrinking and joining the ranks of the working class. In his time, J.M. Kariuki feared for a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Now we have (according to an Oxfam Report) a Kenya of 8,300 Kenyans billionaires and multi-millionaires whose assets equal those of the rest of us combined — all the 47 million of us.

The status quo in land, resources, the ownership of the commons and public goods is unacceptable and unsustainable. Kenya has a sovereign debt that makes it difficult for Kenyans to call our country free and independent. We have an elite that is daily engaged in grand corruption and all the ills of an illicit economy. President Uhuru Kenyatta has admitted in public that KSh2 billion is stolen daily in Kenya. As to why he has done nothing about it, your guess is as good as mine.

The Kenyan elite are without a doubt leaders unto darkness and death. They are geniuses in the politics of division and in the politics of inhumanity; the data proving this fact is incontrovertible. They have managed to keep Kenyans divided for the last 57 years and their ongoing intra-elite succession struggles seek to snuff out other political narratives and kill off any nascent alternative political leadership. It would not surprise me to see the opposing factions come together in the near future in the name of national unity; one only need analyse the alliances formed by our elites since independence.

The Kenyan elite have subverted the vision of the constitution and corrupted all its transformative ingredients. The opposition has joined the government, a faction of which now claims to be the opposition. We have a continuation of the dictatorships of the past.

The Kenyan middle class — particularly the lower and the middle middle-class — is being pushed back down into the ranks of the working class while the upper middle class, in its quest to join the ranks of the elite, continues to subsidise those elite. The entire Kenyan middle class actually subsidises the state. The monies they pay to the extended families to enable them to access public goods (education, housing, health, employment, water) even as they are heavily taxed, should motivate them to join the ranks of this movement. Will they?

Yes, we know Kenyans have resisted dictatorship since the 19th century. This resistance has taken place both underground and overtly. The Mau Mau War of Liberation fits within this trajectory of resistance and struggle for our land, our national resources, and our freedom and human dignity. History records that at no point did Kenyans ever stop struggling for justice, freedom, emancipation, and democracy. So why should we stop now? Kenyans have always consolidated the gains achieved and struggled for greater social reform.

There have been great leaps forward since independence, through the second liberation to the constitution making that culminated in the third liberation, the promulgation of the current constitution on 27 August 2010. The struggle for the full implementation of the constitution continues, with the Kenyan elite subverting its vision and clawing back the gains of 2010 in order to restore the status quo.

But there are challenges to be faced, and questions whose answers will give KLM-VUMA its manifesto, clarify its United Front ideological and political position, state its message clearly to the working class, the middle class and the popular nationalist and democratic forces, the baron-elite compradors, and the foreign interests of the West and East.

To begin with, we must study our history and learn about those who were here before us and about the pitfalls they faced so that we can go to the field well prepared. The essential question we must ask ourselves is: what has KLM-VUMA learnt from past movements and individuals including Me Kitilili, Waiyaki wa Hinga, Muthoni Nyanjiru, the Mau Mau Liberation Movement with its female and male leaders, the various religious and education movements such as Dini ya Msambwa and Dini ya Kaggia? What have we learnt of the struggles of Markhan Singh, Pio Gama Pinto, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), the Kenya Socialist Alliance (KASA), Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the December Twelfth Movement, the Mwakenya Movement? What of the various movements of exiled Kenyans after 1982, the second liberation movement, Wangari Maathai, the National Convention Assembly-National Convention Executive Council (NCA-NCEC), and the constitution-making movements that gave us the progressive 2010 Constitution?

We must not forget to look outside Kenya, to Africa and beyond, to see which movements are working and those that aren’t. What has made certain movements successful and why others have failed. We must use this age of technology to learn about the past, understand our present and have a vision for the future — and a strategy and responses ready for when we do hit those walls.

Have we learnt the lessons from all these movements, their strengths and their weaknesses? Have we assimilated the principle of non-partisanship having learnt from the movements that received foreign funding which incapacitated them politically? Have we interrogated the importance of alliances with political parties that reflect our ideology and politics? Are we ready to contest for political power so that we can implement the 2010 Constitution and correct its weaknesses? Have we reflected on whether the movement will incubate alternative political leadership?

Which movements come under the umbrella of KLM-VUMA? Is DeCOALONIZE — which has shouted a loud NO! to the nuclear power and coal plants that our political leadership wants to obtain corruptly from countries that are discarding them) on board? The social justice movements should be on board, as indeed should the artists and movements in this country.

Have we analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the elites (economic, social, cultural, spiritual, ideological, and political) and the challenges posed? How shall we deal with the politics of division?

How shall we deal with the challenge of mobilising and organising? Are we ready to raise our funds from Wanjiku since we do not have finances?

How will we guarantee free, fair, peaceful, credible, and acceptable elections?

Will we build on the gains we shall make in 2022?

Will we become the people’s opposition even if we do not win in 2022?

Will our movement reflect the face of Kenya? Will this movement be led by the youths (women and men) of this country who reflect the vision for the change that we need?

What is the movement’s position on the resurrection of radical Pan-Africanism? Do we have positions on Palestine?

Are we anti-imperialist and anti-Kenyan elites?

What is our position on the rights of LGBTIQ+?

What do we consider to be the major weaknesses of the 2010 Constitution?

Do we believe that our movement has all the expertise it needs to serve as a government in waiting?

Are we going to dust off all the reports of the various historical injustices in this country and implement them?

If KLM-VUMA comes to power, will we pursue revenge politics against the elite? And if so, have we sufficiently analysed the political consequences?

What social reforms will we undertake?

What political messages will we have for Kenyan capitalists oppressed by the elite?

What political messages will we have for the foreign interests (a euphemism for the imperialism of the West and East)?

Have we thought through which anti-baronial political parties we will work with and why?

Have we clarified the ideological and political ingredients of a United Front that is anti-imperialist and anti-baronial?

Have we identified the public and organic intellectuals we shall work with? No movement can survive without organic intellectuals.

These are some of the burning questions that Kenyans must address in order to provoke a new political awakening, imagine a new politics, a new humanity, and bring about a fourth liberation — the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

A luta continua, vitória é certa.

The struggle continues, victory is certain.

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Dr Willy Mutunga is a public intellectual and former Chief Justice of Kenya.

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Kenyans Need an Education That Is Human: A Call to Conscience

Colonial and post-colonial governments have worked to separate education from access to culture and information, and to isolate the school as the only source of learning.

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This is a call to Kenyans of conscience to step back and reflect on the lies about education that are circulating in the media, the schooling system and government. Foreign sharks have camped in Kenya to distort our education. Using buzzwords such as “quality” and “global standards”, these sharks seek to destroy the hopes, dreams and creativity of young Africans, not just in Kenya, but in the whole region, and to make a profit while at it. With the help of local professors, bureaucrats and journalists, they spread hatred for education among the population. At the same time, they ironically create a thirst for schooling that makes parents resort to desperate measures to get their children into school, going as far as accepting violence and abuse in schools that causes children to take their own lives.

This insanity must end.

We must accept that education is a life endeavour through which people constantly adapt to their social and natural environment. Education is more than going to school and getting the right paper credentials. Education occurs anywhere where human beings process what they perceive, make decisions about it and act together in solidarity. That is why education, culture and access to information are inseparable.

However, since colonial times, both the colonial and “independence” versions of the Kenya government have worked hard to separate education from culture and access to information. They have done so through crushing all other avenues where Kenyans can create knowledge. We have insufficient public libraries and our museums are underfunded. Arts festivals, where people come together and learn from unique cultural expressions, have been underfunded, and by some accounts, donors have been explicitly told not to fund creativity and culture. In the meantime, artists are insulted, exploited and sometimes silenced through censorship, public ridicule and moralistic condemnations in the name of faith.

All these measures are designed to isolate the school as the only source of learning and creativity, and this is what makes the entry into schools so cutthroat and abusive.

But entering school does not mean the end of the abuse. Once inside the schools, Kenyans find that there is no arts education where children can explore ideas and express themselves. In school, they find teachers who themselves are subject to constant insults and disruptions from the Ministry of Education and the Teachers Service Commission. Under a barrage of threats and transfers, teachers are forced to implement the Competency Based training which is incoherent and has been rejected in other countries. Many of the teachers eventually absorb the rationality of abuse and mete it out on poor children whose crime is to want to learn. This desperation for education has also been weaponized by the corporate world that is offering expensive private education and blackmailing parents to line the pockets of book publishers.

Education is more than going to school and getting the right paper credentials. Education occurs anywhere where human beings process what they perceive, make decisions about it and act together in solidarity.

By the end of primary and secondary school, only a mere 3 per cent of total candidates are able to continue with their education. This situation only worsens inequality in Kenya, where only 2 per cent of the population have a university degree, and where only 8,300 people own as much as the rest of Kenya.

But listening to the government and the corporate sector, you would think that 98 per cent of Kenyans have been to university. The corporate sector reduces education to job training and condemns the school system as inadequate for meeting the needs of the corporations. Yet going by statements from the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and the government, there is no intention to employ Kenyans who get training. The government hires doctors from Cuba and engineers from China, and then promises the United Kingdom to export our medical workers. KEPSA is on record saying that we need to train workers in TVET so that they can work in other African countries.

It is clear that the Kenya government and the corporate sector do not want Kenyans to go to school and become active citizens in their homeland. Rather, these entities are treating schooling as a conveyor belt to manufacture Kenyans for export abroad as labour and to cushion the theft of public resources through remittances.

The media and the church also join in the war against education by brainwashing Kenyans to accept this dire state of affairs. The media constantly bombards Kenyans with lies about the composition of university students, and with propaganda against “useless degrees”. The church has abandoned prophecy and baptizes every flawed educational policy in exchange for maintaining its colonial dreams of keeping religion in the curriculum to pacify Kenyans in the name of “morality”.

The government is now intending to restrict education further through the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) which seeks to limit education through pathways that prevent children from pursuing subjects of their interests, and by imposing quotas on who can pursue education beyond secondary school. At tertiary level, the government is devising an algorithm that will starve the humanities and social sciences of funding. It claims that funds will instead go to medical and engineering sciences, which are in line with Kenya’s development needs.

But recall that foreigners are doing the work of medical professionals and engineers anyway, so “development” here does not mean that Kenyan professionals will work in their home country. They will work abroad where they cannot be active citizens and raise questions about our healthcare and infrastructure.

The proposed defunding of the arts, humanities and social sciences aims to achieve one goal: to reserve thinking and creativity for the 3 per cent of Kenyans who can afford it. This discrimination in funding of university education is about locking the majority and the poor out of spaces where they can be creative and develop ideas. It also seeks to prevent Kenyans from humble backgrounds from questioning policies and priorities that are passed under dubious concepts such as “development needs” that are largely studied in the humanities and social sciences.

It is clear that the Kenya government and the corporate sector do not want Kenyans to go to school and become active citizens in their homeland.

Clearly, there is a war against education and against Kenyans being creative and active citizens in their own country. For the 8,300 Kenyans to maintain their monopoly of resources, they need to distract Kenyans with propaganda against education, they need to limit Kenyans’ access to schooling, and they need to shut down alternative sources of training, information and knowledge. By limiting access to schooling and certificates, the 8,300 can exploit the work of Kenyans who have not been to school, or who have not gone far in school, by arguing that those Kenyans lack the “qualifications” necessary for better pay.

We must also name those who enable this exploitation. The greedy ambitions of the political class are entrenched by people who, themselves, have been through the school system. To adapt Michelle Obama’s famous words, these people walked through the door of opportunity, and are trying to close it behind them, instead of reaching out and giving more Kenyans the same opportunities that helped them to succeed. This tyranny is maintained by a section of teachers in schools, of professors in universities and of bureaucrats in government, who all fear students and citizens who know more than they do, instead of taking joy in the range of Kenyan creativity and knowledge. The professors and bureaucrats, especially, are seduced into this myopia with benchmarking trips abroad, are spoon-fed foreign policies to implement in Kenya. They harvest the legitimate aspirations of Kenya and repackage them in misleading slogans. For instance, they refer to limited opportunities as “nurturing talent”, and baptize the government’s abandonment of its role in providing social services “parental involvement”.

These bureaucrats and academics are helped to pull the wool over our eyes by the media who allow them to give Kenyans obscure soundbites that say nothing about what is happening on the ground. They also make empty calls for a return to a pre-colonial Africa which they will not even let us learn about, because they have blocked the learning of history and are writing policies to de-fund the arts and humanities. We must put these people with huge titles and positions to task about their loyalty to the African people in Kenya. We call on them to repent this betrayal of their own people in the name of “global standards”.

We Kenyans also need an expanded idea of education. We need arts centres where Kenyans can meet and generate new ideas. We need libraries where Kenyans can get information. We need guilds and unions to help professionals and workers take charge of regulation, training and knowledge in their specializations. We need for all work to be recognized independent of certification, so that people can be paid for their work regardless of whether one has been to school or not.

We need recognition of our traditional skills in areas like healing, midwifery, pastoralism, crafts and construction. We need a better social recognition of achievement outside business and politics. It is a pity that our runners who do Kenyans proud, our scientists, thinkers, artists and activists who gain international fame, are hardly recognized in Kenya because they were busy working, rather than stealing public funds to campaign in the next election. Our ideas are harvested by foreign companies while our government bombards us with useless bureaucracy and taxes which ensure that we have no impact here.

We need for all work to be recognized independent of certification, so that people can be paid for their work regardless of whether one has been to school or not.

Most of all, we need an end to the obsession with foreign money as the source of “development”. We are tired of being viewed as merely labour for export, we are tired of foreigners being treated as more important than the Kenyan people. We are tired of tourism which is based on the tropes of the colonial explorer and which treats Africans as a threat to the environment. And the names of those colonial settlers who dominate our national consciousness must be removed from our landmarks.

Development, whatever that means, comes from the brains and muscles of the Kenyan people. And the key to us becoming human beings who proudly contribute to society and humanity is education. Not education in the limited sense of jobs and certificates, but education in the broader sense of dignity, creativity, knowledge and solidarity.

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UN Panel of Experts: Kenya Urged to Back Former CJ Willy Mutunga Candidacy

Willy Mutunga, the former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya has been nominated by a number of international organisations to be one of the three experts. International human rights activists are calling on the government of Kenya to join with others in Global Africa to support the nomination of Willy Mutunga.

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UN Panel of Experts: Kenya Urged to Back Former CJ Willy Mutunga Candidacy
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On 28 June 2021, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations called on the UN to set up a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent. This call came one year after the police murder of George Floyd in the United States. The UN panel of three experts in law enforcement and human rights will investigate the root causes and effects of systemic racism in policing, including the legacies of slavery and colonialism, and make recommendations for change. Willy Mutunga, the former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya has been nominated by a number of international organisations to be one of the three experts. International human rights activists are calling on the government of Kenya to join with others in Global Africa to support the nomination of Willy Mutunga.

The government of Kenya is strongly placed to support the nomination of its native son, an internationally respected jurist. Kenya is currently a member of the UN Security Council and an influential member of “A3 plus 1”, the partnership between the three African members of the Security Council and the Caribbean member of the UNSC, St Vincent and the Grenadines. Last week on 7 September, President Uhuru Kenyatta co-chaired the African Union, Caribbean Community summit. This meeting between the AU and the Caribbean states agreed to establish the Africa, Brazil, CARICOM, and Diaspora Commission. This Commission will mature into a politico/economic bloc embracing over 2 billion people of African descent. Kenya, with its experience of reparative justice from the era of the Land and Freedom Army, has joined with the Caribbean to advance the international campaign to end the dehumanization of Africans. African descendants around the world have lauded the 2021 Human Rights Council Report for calling on the international community to “dismantle structures and systems designed and shaped by enslavement, colonialism and successive racially discriminatory policies and systems.”

Background to the nomination of Hon Willy Mutunga

The murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 led to worldwide condemnation of police killings and systemic racism in the United States. The African Members of the UN Human Rights Council pushed hard to garner international support to investigate systemic racism in policing in the United States. In the wake of the global outcry, there were a number of high-level investigations into police killings of innocent Blacks. Three distinguished organizations, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild convened a panel of commissioners from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean to investigate police violence and structural racism in the United States. Virtual public hearings were held in February and March 2021, with testimonies from the families of the victims of some of the most notorious police killings in recent times.

In its report, a panel of leading human rights lawyers from 11 countries found the US in frequent violation of international laws, of committing crimes against humanity by allowing law enforcement officers to kill and torture African Americans with impunity and of “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhumane acts”.

Among its principal findings, the Commission found the US guilty of violating its international human rights treaty obligations, both in terms of laws governing policing and in the practices of law enforcement officers, including traffic stops targeting Black people and race-based stop-and-frisk; tolerating an “alarming national pattern of disproportionate use of deadly force not only by firearms but also by Tasers” against Black people; and operating a “culture of impunity” in which police officers are rarely held accountable while their homicidal actions are dismissed as those of just “a few bad apples”.

After the Commission’s report was published, the convening organizations’ Steering Committee mobilized international public opinion to publicize its findings. Former CJ Willy Mutunga was one of the jurists in Africa who worked hard to publicize the report’s findings and recommendations.

It was in large part on the basis of these findings that the Human Rights Council issued its own report at the end of June. The United Nations decided to set up a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent, adding international weight to demands in the United States for accountability for police killings of African Americans, and reparations for victims. The panel of three experts will have a three-year mandate to investigate the root causes and effects of systemic racism in policing. Many organizations have submitted names for suggested panel members. Legal experts from Global Africa and international jurists have recommended Willy Mutunga to be one of the three panellists. Thus far, the following organizations have endorsed the candidacy of Willy Mutunga:

  1. The African Bar Association, with membership in 37 African Countries.
  2. The United States Human Rights network (USHRN), a National network of U.S. organizations working to strengthen the Human Rights movement in the US.
  3. International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Decent in the United States.
  4. Society of Black Lawyers of the United Kingdom
  5. Bandung Conference, a Diaspora Human Rights network based in Nairobi, Kenya.

There are now calls for the government of Kenya to step forward to be more proactive to lobby the Human Rights Council and to write letters to its President, H.E. Nazhat Shameen Khan (hrcpresidency@un.org), endorsing the candidature of Dr Mutunga. His CV is included for those who want to write to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Kenya to lead the endorsement of Willy Mutunga.

The Steering Committee of the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States is coordinating the campaign for Dr Willy Mutunga to be appointed by the UNHRC as a member of the International Expert Mechanism to monitor compliance of the UNHRC findings and recommendations.

The Government of Kenya and Human Rights groups are kindly asked to send copies of their endorsements to the Coordinator, International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States, lennoxhinds@aol.com.

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Cutting the Hand That Feeds: Is the UN Silencing the Voices of Farmers and Indigenous Communities?

More than 500 indigenous and farmer organisations across the continents have raised their voices to expose the UN’s Food Systems Summit as only advocating one food system—so they’re being silenced.

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Cutting the Hand That Feeds: Is the UN Silencing the Voices of Farmers and Indigenous Communities?
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The United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) invokes the UN Sustainable Development Goals to demonstrate its purpose—namely, goals 2.1 and 2.2 (to end hunger and malnutrition). At the same time, however, the summit is obstructing another of those goals: goal 2.3 (to increase resources for smallholder farmers).

Because of this contradiction, the summit, planned since 2019 to be held at the UN Headquarters in New York, will now be exclusively virtual (September 23), a measure intended to maximize control and minimize dissent. During the last year, more than 500 indigenous and farmer organizations across the continents have raised their voices to expose the summit as advocating only one food system, the one that is polluting the soil, water, and air, and killing vital pollinators.

In contrast, the food system that feeds 75 to 80 percent of the human population—smallholder farmers practicing biodiverse cropping (in line with the principles of agro ecology)—was only added to the agenda after months of criticism. Those in opposition to the summit say it is advancing industrial agriculture, which is the core problem, not solution, for addressing climate change, malnutrition, and hunger.

A second criticism is that corporations are trying to replace the UN system of one country-one vote with “stakeholders,” a euphemism that may sound inclusive but really only invites those “who think like us” to the table.  Smallholder farmers, who produce the majority of our food, are not invited.

This food summit is about the global business of agriculture, not the livelihoods of those who produce nutritious, biodiverse foods. Governments’ attempts to regulate global food corporations (e.g., labeling unhealthy foods, taxing sugar products) meet strong opposition from these industries. Yet the corporations profited massively from the 2008 food crisis and strengthened their global “food value chain,” contributing to the consequences that over 23 percent of Africans (282 million people) still go to bed hungry every night.

This focus is in stark contrast to the stated aims of the summit. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food explained in August 2021:

Hunger, malnutrition, and famine are caused by political failures and shortcomings in governance, rather than by food scarcity ….. How will the [Summit] outcomes identify the root cause of the crisis and hold corporations and other actors accountable for human rights violations?

A third criticism of the UN Food Systems Summit is that it heralds technological advances as the primary answer to overcoming continuing hunger in an era of climate change. Most of us applaud multiple revolutions in genetics while we queue for vaccines, but genetic manipulation of seeds threatens the future of food, because ownership of the technology controls ownership of the seed. Industrial agriculture expands corporate profits from commodification of seed (beginning early 20th century), from the financialization of seed (speculative trading, late 20th century) and continuing today, through the digitalization of seed.

To the industry, a seed is merely a genome, with its genes representing digital points. The genes can be cut and pasted (by enzymes, e.g., CRISPRcas9), much like we edit text.  A seed is no longer a living organism representing thousands 1000s of years of careful selection by expert farmers. For example, biologists today say they no longer need the germplasm of Oaxacan corn from Mexico to access its drought-resistant characteristics.

Promoters of these technologies rarely admit that they are very imperfect, with uncontrolled “off-target mutations.”  Further, a seed variety needs its biome to flourish. It is farmers who understand the intricate interactions, who experiment with changing micro-climates (often in one field) to cultivate adaptive seed varieties.

No farmer denies the importance of scientific advances. But industrial agriculture giants are denying the value of farmers and their knowledge, saying they no longer need them: digitalized seed can be planted, watered, fertilized, and harvested by machines, run via satellites (this is called “precision agriculture”). Taste is irrelevant, because it is chemically added as crops are processed into food products.

Success in derailing the “corporate capture” of UN processes (e.g., UN Committee on World Food Security) to address increasing hunger arises from global, organized resistance by smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and fisher folk. After appeals to transform the agenda, many of these farmers and advocates decided to boycott the summit. This “outside resistance” included African voices, who stated:

The current UNFSS process gives little space to traditional ecological knowledge, the celebration of traditional diets and cuisine . . . ….Indigenous and local community Africans have experience and knowledge relevant to the current and future food system. Any process or outcome that does not recognize this is an affront to millions of African food producers and consumers.

The “inside resistance” worked to advance farmers’ voices within the official pre-summit dialogues, holding a series of webinars among the farmers in Southern Africa, and then globally (July 28).  This trajectory was possible because of allied support within the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.  As stated by one of the convenors of these official dialogues, Andrew Mushita,  “African smallholder farmers are not beneficiaries of the corporate [agriculture] industry but rather co-generators of innovations and technologies adaptive to ecological agriculture, farmers’ needs—within the context of sustainable agriculture.”

To follow the end result of the summit, go here.

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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