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#BreakTheBias: Nigeria must not be missing in a progressive new world order By Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi

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There was no missing March 8 on the global calendar for women. It has been forty-five years since the United Nations(UN) singled out that date to celebrate women, many years after being held under by a male-dominated wold system.

The early signs of emancipation had come in the early 1900s when Soviet Russia granted women voting rights in 1917. Since then, and in spite of that act of tokenism, the world appears to have moved rather too slowly to erase the discrimination against women, and attain a much desired gender equality.

The pace of progress towards parity has been particularly woeful in most developing societies, especially Africa where the patriarchal system still looms large and women remain largely relegated to the background. It must be said, though, that Rwanda has stood out as a shinning example, driven, perhaps, by the challenge to reinvent itself after a gruesome civil war that claimed thousands of lives.

The build up to this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) had been quite remarkable, coming soon after the world began the early steps of recovering from a global pandemic that drove more African societies into economic quandary, and found its women taking up additional family responsibilities in order to contain the excruciating pangs of poverty.

Therefore, this year’s theme, #BreakTheBias, could not have been more apt. Not only had conversations around the event been very illuminating, the engagements have been very robust, especially in Nigeria where women in their thousands have, for several days, fiercely stood up to challenge the failure of government to systematically address the troubling issues of gender equality, and women’s rights, among others.

It was evident, given the events of March 1, 2022 that the women were not going to give up without a fight. On that day, lawmakers in Nigeria’s House of Representatives and the Senate, in separate resolutions, threw out five gender-related bills in the country’s bid to amend its constitution.

The bills would have had the salutary effect of closing the perceived parity gap between men and women, notably in the area of access to political and socio-economic power. There had been hopes that the lawmakers would see reason, especially as incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha, had, in a historic move, led a women’s lobby group to speak to the gender bills. But all that was to fall flat in just one day of deliberations at the National Assembly.

The development did not come as a total surprise to anyone who had followed the country’s political space keenly. My immediate findings showed that Nigeria’s constitution barely referenced women, even in its wordings.

Another damming discovery was a report which presented Africa’s most populous country as having one of the continent’s lowest female representation in parliament, ranking 181 out of 193 nations. This is according to the International Parliamentary Union.

In more specific terms, my searches had also shown that in the current Nigerian 9th National Assembly, women occupy only 7 out of 109 Senate seats, and 11 out of 360 seats in the House of Representatives. A comparative review appears to reveal an uneven growth, with 3 female Senators reported in 1999; 4 in 2003; and 9 in 2007. In 2011 and 2015, the number of female Senators had sadly declined to 7 respectively.

Before the March 1 rejection by the 9th Assembly, the 8th Assembly had also acted its own script. For three years, between 2016 and 2019, it ensured that the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO) was frustrated and finally buried!

This writer is convinced that the most intricate game plan to keep women subjugated has been the rejection of the five gender bills which would have conveyed the following advantages on womenfolk:
—Citizenship to a foreign-born husband of a Nigerian woman, and vice versa
—Indigeneity through marriage
—20 per cent appointed positions for women
—35 percent affirmative action in party administration and leadership
—Extra seats for women at National Assembly

I still cannot fathom why Nigerian lawmakers acted the way they did before coming under intense pressure to rescind their positions. And, this is why my heart goes out to all women and other sympathizers who kept vigil to ensure that the travesty of justice at the National Assembly was reversed.

The shift in position by members of the House of Representatives, though not radical, represents only but a symbolic gesture, if viewed critically. Here is why.

Of the five gender-related bills, it resolved to revisit three namely: bills to expand scope of citizenship by registration, affirmative action for women in political party administration and provision for criteria to be an indigene of a state in Nigeria.

The House cleverly left out the bills on extra seats for women in legislative houses and the 20 per cent quota for women for appointment into federal and states cabinets. Noteworthy is the fact that the Nigerian senate is yet to adjust its known position even in the face of the ongoing protests by women in the nation’s capital.

A less than smart move by the federal government to assuage the feelings of women came in the hurried revision of the National Gender Policy, just a day after lawmakers rejected the gender bills. The government had said it was driven by the higher ideals to promote gender equality, good governance and accountability across the three tiers of government in the country.

Even as the world celebrates women, it is clear to this writer that Nigeria faces the danger of operating in the fringes in an emerging progressive world order, as government’s initiatives appear not far-reaching or half-hearted.

I am yet unconvinced that the reign of tokenism in our clime will effect the desired change needed to close the widening gulf between men and women, measured by access to opportunities across all human endeavours.

Perhaps, a significant leap would manifest in guarantees for equal employment opportunities, equal rights to inheritance, equal rights for women in marriage, equal access to education, and protection of rights of widows, among others.

One is constrained, therefore, to join the horde of courageous citizens, both women and men, speaking truth to power, and insisting that modern societies, Nigeria inclusive, must avoid discrimination against women and promote gender equality.

To this end, we must act quickly to overcome the euphoria of celebrations and continue to pile more pressure on recalcitrant politicians who have been blinded by an unprogressive patriarchal culture. To retreat is not an option at this time when Nigerian women have increasingly shown capacity for leadership, not just locally but globally.

While these giant strides should be celebrated, staying focused on the ultimate goals remains the bigger task. I dare say that the centre stage is where Nigerian women are destined. Let us work to #BreakTheBias.

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Strictly Personal

If I were put in charge of a $15m African kitty, I’d first deworm children, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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One of my favourite stories on pan-African action (or in this case inaction), one I will never tire of repeating, comes from 2002, when the discredited Organisation of African Unity, was rebranded into an ambitious, new African Union (AU).

There were many big hitters in African statehouses then. Talking of those who have had the grace to step down or leave honourably after electoral or political defeat, or have departed, in Nigeria we had Olusegun Obasanjo, a force of nature. Cerebral and studious Thabo Mbeki was chief in South Africa. In Ethiopia, the brass-knuckled and searingly intellectual Meles Zenawi ruled the roost.

In Tanzania, there was the personable and thoughtful Ben Mkapa. In Botswana, there was Festus Mogae, a leader who had a way of bringing out the best in people. In Senegal, we had Abdoulaye Wade, fresh in office, and years before he went rogue.

And those are just a few.

This club of men (there were no women at the high table) brought forth the AU. At that time, there was a lot of frustration about the portrayal of Africa in international media, we decided we must “tell our own story” to the world. The AU, therefore, decided to boost the struggling Pan-African New Agency (Pana) network.

The members were asked to write cheques or pledges for it. There were millions of dollars offered by the South Africans and Nigerians of our continent. Then, as at every party, a disruptive guest made a play. Rwanda, then still roiled by the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994, offered the least money; a few tens of thousand dollars.

There were embarrassed looks all around. Some probably thought it should just have kept is mouth shut, and not made a fool of itself with its ka-money. Kigali sat unflustered. Maybe it knew something the rest didn’t.

The meeting ended, and everyone went their merry way. Pana sat and waited for the cheques to come. The big talkers didn’t walk the talk. Hardly any came, and in the sums that were pledged. Except one. The cheque from Rwanda came in the exact amount it was promised. The smallest pledge became Pana’s biggest payday.

The joke is that it was used to pay terminal benefits for Pana staff. They would have gone home empty-pocketed.

We revive this peculiarly African moment (many a deep-pocketed African will happily contribute $300 to your wedding but not 50 cents to build a school or set up a scholarship fund), to campaign for the creation of small and beautiful African things.

It was brought on by the announcement by South Korea that it had joined the African Summit bandwagon, and is shortly hosting a South Korea-Africa Summit — like the US, China, the UK, the European Union, Japan, India, Russia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey do.

Apart from the AU, whose summits are in danger of turning into dubious talk shops, outside of limited regional bloc events, there is no Pan-African platform that brings the continent’s leaders together.

The AU summits are not a solutions enterprise, partly because over 60 percent of its budget is funded by non-African development partners. You can’t seriously say you are going to set up a $500 million African climate crisis fund in the hope that some Europeans will put up the money.

It’s possible to reprise the Rwanda-Pana pledge episode; a convention of African leaders and important institutions on the continent for a “Small Initiatives, Big Impact Compact”. It would be a barebones summit. In the first one, leaders would come to kickstart it by investing seed money.

The rule would be that no country would be allowed to put up more than $100,000 — far, far less than it costs some presidents and their delegations to attend one day of an AU summit.

There would also be no pledges. Everyone would come with a certified cheque that cannot bounce, or hard cash in a bag. After all, some of our leaders are no strangers to travelling around with sacks from which they hand out cash like they were sweets.

If 54 states (we will exempt the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for special circumstances) contribute $75,000 each, that is a good $4.05 million.

If just 200 of the bigger pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank, Afrexim Bank, the giant companies such as MTN, Safaricom, East African Breweries, Nedbank, De Beers, Dangote, Orascom in Egypt, Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco, to name a few, each ponied up $75,000 each, that’s a cool $15 million just for the first year alone.

There will be a lot of imagination necessary to create magic out of it all, no doubt, but if I were asked to manage the project, I would immediately offer one small, beautiful thing to do.

After putting aside money for reasonable expenses to be paid at the end (a man has to eat) — which would be posted on a public website like all other expenditures — I would set out on a programme to get the most needy African children a dose of deworming tablets. Would do it all over for a couple of years.

Impact? Big. I read that people who received two to three additional years of childhood deworming experience an increase of 14 percent in consumption expenditure, 13 percent in hourly earnings, and nine percent in non-agricultural work hours.

At the next convention, I would report back, and possibly dazzle with the names, and photographs, of all the children who got the treatment. Other than the shopping opportunity, the US-Africa Summit would have nothing on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. X@cobbo3

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AU shouldn’t look on as outsiders treat Africa like a widow’s house, By Joachim Buwembo

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There is no shortage of news from the UK, a major former colonial master in Africa, over whose former empire the sun reputedly never set. We hope and pray that besides watching the Premier League, the managers of our economies are also monitoring the re-nationalisation of British Railways (BR).

 

Three decades after BR was privatised in the early to mid-nineties — around the season when Africa was hit by the privatisation fashion — there is emerging consensus by both conservative and liberal parties that it is time the major public transport system reverts to state management.

 

Yes, there are major services that should be rendered by the state, and the public must not be abandoned to the vagaries of purely profit-motivated capitalism. It is not enough to only argue that government is not good at doing business, because some business is government business.

 

Since we copied many of our systems from the British — including wigs for judges — we may as well copy the humility to accept if certain fashions don’t work.

 

Another piece of news from the UK, besides football, was of this conservative MP Tim Loughton, who caused a stir by getting summarily deported from Djibouti and claiming the small African country was just doing China’s bidding because he recently rubbed Beijing the wrong way.

 

China has dismissed the accusation as baseless, and Africa still respects China for not meddling in its politics, even as it negotiates economic partnerships. China generously co-funded the construction of Djibouti’s super modern multipurpose port.

 

What can African leaders learn from the Loughton Djibouti kerfuffle? The race to think for and manage Africa by outsiders is still on and attracting new players.

 

While China has described the Loughton accusation as lies, it shows that the accusing (and presumably informed) Britons suspect other powerful countries to be on a quest to influence African thinking and actions.

 

And while the new bidders for Africa’s resources are on the increase including Russia, the US, Middle Eastern newly rich states, and India, even declining powers like France, which is losing ground in West Africa, could be looking for weaker states to gain a new foothold.

 

My Ugandan people describe such a situation as treating a community like “like a widow’s house,” because the poor, defenceless woman is susceptible to having her door kicked open by any local bully. Yes, these small and weak countries are not insignificant and offer fertile ground for the indirect re-colonisation of the continent.

 

Djibouti, for example, may be small —at only 23,000square kilometres, with a population of one million doing hardly any farming, thus relying on imports for most of its food — but it is so strategically located that the African Union should look at it as precious territory that must be protected from external political influences.

 

It commands the southern entrance into the Red Sea, thus linking Africa to the Middle East. So if several foreign powers have military bases in Djibouti, why shouldn’t the AU, with its growing “peace kitty,” now be worth some hundreds of millions of dollars?

 

At a bilateral level, Ethiopia and Djibouti are doing impressively well in developing infrastructure such as the railway link, a whole 750 kilometres of it electrified. The AU should be looking at more such projects linking up the whole continent to increase internal trade with the continental market, the fastest growing in the world.

 

And, while at it, the AU should be resolutely pushing out fossil-fuel-based transportation the way Ethiopia is doing, without even making much noise about it. Ethiopia can be quite resolute in conceiving and implementing projects, and surely the AU, being headquartered in Addis Ababa, should be taking a leaf rather than looking on as external interests treat the continent like a Ugandan widow’s house.

 

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:buwembo@gmail.com

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