FILE – In this Monday, June 29, 2020 file photo, clockwise from top left, Simone Ngalula, Monique Bitu Bingi, Lea Tavares Mujinga, Noelle Verbeeken and Marie-Jose Loshi pose for a group photo during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. Five biracial women born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule who were taken away from their Black mothers and separated from their African roots are suing the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. The case is being examined on hursday, Oct. 14, 2021 by a Brussels court. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
‘BRUSSELS (AP) — A court in Brussels has started considering a crimes against humanity lawsuit brought by five biracial women who were born in Congo and taken away from their Black mothers when they were little and the country was under Belgian colonial rule.
Lea Tavares Mujinga, Monique Bintu Bingi, Noelle Verbeken, Simone Ngalula and Marie-Jose Loshi are suing the Belgian state in hopes it will recognize its responsibility for the suffering of thousands of mixed-race children. Known as “metis,” the children were snatched away from families and placed in religious institutions and homes by Belgian authorities that ruled Congo from 1908 to 1960.
“My clients were abducted, abused, ignored, expelled from the world,” lawyer Michele Hirsch said Thursday as a court in the Belgian capital examined the civil case. “They are living proof of an unconfessed state crime, and soon there will be no one left to testify.”
The five women have requested compensation of 50,000 euros ($55,000) each.. The court is expected to deliver a verdict within six weeks.
The five women, all born between 1945 and 1950, filed their lawsuit last year amid growing demands for Belgium to reassess its colonial past.
In the wake of protests against racial inequality in the United States, several statues of former King Leopold II, who is blamed for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial rule, have been vandalized in Belgium, and some have been removed.
In 2019, the Belgian government apologized for the state’s role in taking thousands of babies from their African mothers. And for the first time in the country’s history, a reigning king expressed regret last year for the violence carried out by the former colonial power.
Hirsch said Belgium’s actions are inadequate to what her clients experienced.
“The Belgian state did not have the courage to go all the way, to name the crime, because its responsibility incurred damages,” the lawyer said.. “Apologies for history, yes, but reparations to the victims, no.”
Lawyers say the five plaintiffs were all between the ages of 2 and 4 when they were taken away at the request of the Belgian colonial administration, in cooperation with local Catholic Church authorities.
FILE – In this Monday, June 29, 2020 file photo, from left, Marie-Jose Loshi, Monique Bitu Bingi, Lea Tavares Mujinga, Simone Ngalula and Noelle Verbeeken speak with each other as they as they look over papers during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. Five biracial women born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule who were taken away from their Black mothers and separated from their African roots are suing the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. The case is being examined on hursday, Oct. 14, 2021 by a Brussels court. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
According to legal documents, in all five cases the fathers did not exercise parental authority, and the Belgian administration threatened the girls’ Congolese families with reprisals if they refused to let them go.
The children were placed at a religious mission in Katende, in the province of Kasai, with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul. There, they lived with some 20 other mixed-race girls and Indigenous orphans in very hard conditions.
According to the lawyers, the Belgian state’s strategy was aimed at preventing interracial unions and isolating métis children, known as the “children of shame,” to make sure they would not claim a link with Belgium later in their lives.
Legal documents claim the children were abandoned by both the state and the church after Congo gained independence, and that some of them were sexually molested by militia fighters.
“If they are fighting for this crime to be recognized, it is for their children, their grandchildren. Because the trauma is transmitted from generation to generation,” Hirsch said Thursday. “We ask you to name the crime and to condemn the Belgian state.”
People attend a political rally for Aziz Akhannouch, Moroccan businessman and head of the RNI party, in Rabat, Morocco, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, days before the upcoming legislative and regional elections. Millions of Moroccans head to the polls on Sept. 8 to cast ballots in pivotal legislative and regional elections amid strict safety guidelines as the north African country is grappling with a new wave of COVID-19, driven mainly by the Delta variant. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)
RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Moroccans voted Wednesday for a new parliament and local leaders in elections that have been reshaped by the pandemic, and whose outcome is hard to predict as opinion polls were not allowed.
Candidates promised to create jobs and boost Morocco’s economy, education and health care. The kingdom has been hit hard by the pandemic, but has Africa’s highest vaccination rate so far.
Despite a dip in popularity in recent years, the governing Islamist party is eyeing a third term at the helm of the government if it again wins the most parliament seats. But a recent election reform could limits its powers, and the role of lawmakers is limited by the powers of King Mohamed VI, who oversees strategic decision-making.
“I hope that the people we voted for do not disappoint us,” said voter Adel Khanoussi, casting his ballot in the capital Rabat. “There are so many projects that should be implemented. The people’s expectations are high.”
Turnout was 36% three hours before polls closed.
The outcome of Wednesday’s voting is difficult to predict since opinion polls on elections are banned. The race will likely be close and no matter which party comes first, it will likely need to cobble together a coalition with other parties to form the government.
At a school turned polling station in Temara, near the capital, dozens of people stopped in to vote before going to work. Two security officers were stationed outside, and a poll worker took voters’ temperatures before letting them in.
Once inside, voters are asked to provide their identity cards and hand over their phones before entering the booth. They’re required to use hand sanitizer, wear a mask and keep 1-meter (3-foot) distances.
A 36-year-old woman who only gave her name as Fatima said she hopes the parliament can bring a “new Morocco” seen as an advanced world country.
While Morocco has one of the region’s strongest economies and a thriving business district in Casablanca, poverty and unemployment are also widespread, especially in rural regions. Morocco has seen thousands of despairing youth make risky, often deadly, trips in small boats to Spain’s Canary Islands or to the Spanish mainland via the Strait of Gibraltar.
Strict pandemic guidelines restricted candidates’ ability to reach the 18 million eligible voters. Candidates weren’t allowed to distribute leaflets and had to limit campaign gatherings to a maximum of 25 people. As a result, many stepped up efforts on social media instead.
Morocco has registered more than 13,000 COVID-19-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to figures from the Moroccan Health Ministry.
There were 31 parties and coalitions competing for the 395 seats in the lower house of parliament. Voters will also be selecting representatives for 678 seats in regional councils.
The moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), at the helm of the government since 2011, is seeking a third term. With Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani, the party has campaigned on raising the competitiveness of Morocco’s economy.
El Othmani acknowledged that turnout is a “challenge” in a country where many are disillusioned with politics, but said he was encouraged at his voting station to see “good participation of voters of both sexes.”
Other major contenders are the center-left Party of Authenticity and Modernity, or PAM, the Istiqlal party and the liberal National Rally of Independents.
Istiqlal general secretary Nizar Baraka said the new parliament should “work for the people to get them out of poverty and stop the deterioration of the middle class.”
The elections were monitored by 4,600 local observers and 100 more from abroad.
FILE – In this April 13, 2021, file photo, Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover smiles during a press conference in Nashville. Tennessee State University announced on Wednesday, MAY 26, 2021, that it will begin offering an online app design and coding class in two African countries this fall. (George Walker/The Tennessean via AP, FILE)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee State University announced on Wednesday that it will begin offering an online app design and coding class in two African countries this fall.
Robbie Melton, who runs TSU’s coding program, said the idea is to get African students interested in STEM careers and increase the number of Black students entering those fields. App design and coding is an easy introduction.
The courses are offered through a partnership between the historically Black university and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which operates several schools in Africa. The participating schools are the African Methodist Episcopal University and its feeder high school, Monrovia College, both in Monrovia, Liberia, and Wilberforce Community College, which serves high school and college students in Evaton, a township in South Africa.
TSU already offers the app coding program to more than 30 historically Black colleges and universities in the United States, and more than 2,000 students have participated since it started in 2019, Melton said. Around 20% have gone on to pursue STEM degrees, she said.
In addition to teaching students, TSU faculty members train participating school faculty to be able to give the courses themselves. The same will be true for the African schools, which have signed up 500 students to take the course over the next three years. That includes both college students and high school students who will take advantage of dual-enrollment.
If some of the students decide to continue their studies with TSU, the school is now able to offer degrees remotely through virtual classes, TSU President Glenda Glover said.
“Our global mission is to empower underserved populations,” Glover said. “Access to education is challenging in parts of Africa. We’re meeting that challenge and breaking those barriers.”
We are at a unique moment in history. Two particular, ongoing events stand out. COVID-19 is one. The other is a long-overdue recognition of inequities among people in the US and worldwide, as exemplified by the Black Lives Matter movement. These issues provide a useful, timely lens through which to consider the role and value of African research.
There are many levels on which the future of the world, not just Africa’s, rests on African research. First, Africa represents the youngest and fastest growing population in the world. This makes intellectual investment an imperative, to harness talent that is a significant and growing share of the global population.
Second, Africans represent the oldest and most diverse genome in the world. Human genetics research has the potential to reveal some of the small differences in our genes that are influential in determining what makes Africa more susceptible or resistant to certain diseases. The findings can influence disease outcomes and response to treatment.
Such studies are critical not just to improve the health of Africans themselves, but also to shed light on diseases that affect people of African origin who reside all over the world.
Third, Africa carries about 25% of the global disease burden. This is rapidly shifting from communicable to noncommunicable causes. Of course, it’s good news that part of this equation reflects a decline in death and illness from AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases.
But it is also a sad story of the rapid increase in incidence in the noncommunicable diseases that have for a long time dominated in the global North. Heart and other vascular diseases, cancer and diabetes in African countries are often driven by the same excesses that exist in societies that have been prosperous for longer: obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise. By investing in African science to address African diseases, we invest in the parallel prevention and treatment of the same diseases everywhere in the world.
Fourth, scientific research is a vital driver of economies. Currently, the African continent’s scientific output represents less than 2.6% of the world’s share, according to UNESCO. Without major investments in scientific research, particularly the kind of basic research that is often not considered cost-effective for private enterprises, African economies will be at a perpetual economic disadvantage.
All of this raises the question: is there world-class research in Africa? Yes, there is. Thanks to major investment in science infrastructure, human resource training and education, the continent is well placed to lead from the front.
We and our colleagues at the African Academy of Sciences created the Alliance in 2015 through a partnership with the African Union Development Agency, founding and funding global partners, and through a resolution of the summit of African Union Heads of Governments. The Academy’s research and training programs operate under the Alliance. Its mission is to shift the centre of gravity for African science to Africa through setting agendas, mobilizing research and development funding, and managing science programs.
The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa has funded 186 grantees directly. Some of them in turn offer master’s, PhD and postdoctoral fellowships. This has led to a scientific community numbering over 2,000 scientists in about 40 countries.
All of this research can be applied in African countries and beyond. And more of it can be produced if the global scientific community, governments, funders and others come together to tackle the hurdles that African researchers still face.
These challenges include:
Inequities within and among populations and between genders. These result in much potential talent being lost to science in general.
Exploitation by commercial enterprises that regard the African continent as a source of large populations for clinical trials.
Funding. Until more African science is predominantly performed in Africa, by Africans, and for Africans, the full potential of this work will never be realized.
The nations of the African Union have all pledged to dedicate 1% of their respective GDPs to research and development but spend an average of 0.45%. These nations are grappling with many competing needs.
Basic research is almost never attractive to commercial funders, and African governments often do not have the resources to fill this void. Or they are not in office long enough.
Western funders tend to focus on health and medical research. This is worthy. But it leaves the physical, mathematical, and chemical sciences as underfunded orphans. Big innovations are built on the foundation of basic discovery. African scientists must enjoy the opportunity to contribute to that foundation alongside their peers in countries where public investment in basic science has been provided for decades.
This article is adapted from a longer piece in ACS Omega, available here.
Africa Day celebrates the foundation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. It’s all about recognizing, as the First Congress of Independent African States held in 1958 in Ghana put it, “the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation”. Indeed, it was previously called African Liberation Day.
The continent is now formally free of colonial rule. Nevertheless, the aim of remembering and furthering the fight for self determination remains relevant as ever. This year has seen Africa – once again – characterized as a set of helpless states that face devastation by the coronavirus pandemic.
Such lifeless and homogenizing depictions fail to recognize the ability of African communities and governments to overcome major health challenges such as Ebola. They also ignore the remarkably varied and dynamic – and in many cases effective – response of different groups and individuals to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Kenyan writer and political analyst Nanjala Nyabola recently put it:
Africa is not waiting to be saved from the coronavirus.
A new major publication – the Oxford Encyclopedia of African Politics – contains many important chapters that make the same point on a wide variety of topics. With 122 authors, 109 articles and more than a million words, it is one of the largest volumes on African politics ever published.
Chapter after chapter shows the ability of leaders, intellectuals and activists to find their own solutions to national and global problems.
Recognizing African agency
All too often, the achievements of African countries are overlooked. Conflict and controversy make for more attention-grabbing headlines than peace and democracy. Yet, while the continent features more than its fair share of authoritarian repression, in some respects African countries are leading the way.
As political scientist Mamoudou Gazibo points out, countries like Ghana and Senegal became democracies despite the fact that they faced a particularly challenging context. They lacked the kind of national wealth, strong state and large middle class that many theories suggest are necessary for a smooth transition out of authoritarian rule. Yet they have proved that democracy is feasible in Africa.
Similarly, Liberia and Sierra Leone should also be seen as remarkable – but not, as is usually the case, because they had horrific civil wars. Instead they should be recognized for overcoming extreme and prolonged violence to forge a pathway back to democracy. In addition to maintaining political stability, both countries have experienced peaceful transfers of power via the ballot box.
In all these cases a combination of good leadership, institution building, and the support of ordinary people for democratic values has enabled African states to change their futures for the better.
Yet this story is rarely told.
One reason is that stories like this don’t fit with the popular narrative that democracy is somehow “unAfrican”. In other words, that modern governance was introduced to the continent by the West.
This is not only untrue. It also turns history on its head.
As political scientist Kidane Mengisteab shows in one of the chapters of the book, in many countries “traditional institutions of governance” featured important checks and balances on how power could be exercised. These measures were typically destroyed, eroded, or radically transformed by colonial rule. This paved the way for the emergence of authoritarian regimes after independence.
Similarly, multiparty elections were not reintroduced in Africa in the early 1990s simply because the UK and the US decided this was a good idea. These freedoms and rights were fought for by activists, opposition leaders, trade unionists, religious leaders and ordinary citizens who risked their personal safety to bring down authoritarian governments. Some paid with their lives.
Recognizing African Genius
A major casualty of the tendency to overlook the creativity and contributions of African leaders and intellectuals is the neglect of African political thought. Africa has produced some of the most thoughtful and articulate leaders in the world on how political systems can best be designed. These have included Kwame Nkrumah, Tom Mboya and Leopold Senghor. Yet the continent is often treated as if it is devoid of interesting political ideas and ideologies.
This is one reason why many African intellectuals have been attracted to the idea of the African renaissance. In his chapter Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni describes this as:
a ‘remembering’ of a continent and a people who have suffered from ‘dismembering’ effects of colonialism and ‘coloniality’.
This concept continues to inspire both ideas and action, and fed into the #rhodesmustfall and “decolonize the university” campaigns that began in South Africa and had ripple effects across the world.
Yet despite this, African contributions continue to be downplayed – even within intellectual movements that are supposed to be all about breaking down racist assumptions and hierarchies. Take post-colonial theory, which analyses the enduring legacies of colonialism and disavows Eurocentric master-narratives. It is often said that African intellectuals have played a minor role in developing post-colonial critiques. Yet Grace Adeniyi Ogunyankin, an expert in gender studies and critical race theory identifies
African thinkers and activists who are intellectual antecedents to the post-colonial thought that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.
This is often overlooked, she points out, because some – though by no means all – of those working in these frameworks have been “dismissive of African theorizing”.
Recognizing African leadership
The path-breaking leadership shown by many African countries has also been criminally overlooked. When asked to name two of the most advanced and progressive constitutions in the world, how many people would say Kenya and South Africa? Outside of the continent, my guess would be almost no one. Yet as legal and constitutional expert Muno Ndulo argues, the constitutions introduced in these countries over the last years 30 years enshrine democratic norms and values. They also go well beyond their European and North American counterparts by institutionalizing socio-economic rights (South Africa) and the principle of citizen participation in the budget making process (Kenya).
While including a clause in a constitution doesn’t mean that it is automatically respected, historically marginalized groups have mobilized creatively to demand the rights they are supposed to enjoy under the law. African women, for example, are not waiting for others to save them from patriarchy. They are mobilizing across the continent to claim their rights. According to Robtel Pailey, an activist, academic and author,
African women have simultaneously embraced and challenged cultural and socio-economic norms to claim and secure citizenship rights, resources and representation.
Recognizing African diversity
These are, of course, just a small number of the stories that deserve to be told. The encyclopedia includes articles on everything from political parties and elections to the role of China and migration, oil and religion. But despite featuring a chapter on every sub-region, political institution, and major trend, there is still so much more that needs to be said about a continent that is remarkably diverse.
That is one reason why we should celebrate the showcasing of the voices of African journalists and researchers, and share them far and wide.