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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

Queen Nanny: Ghanaian woman who led liberation army in Jamaica by Owei Lakemfa

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Nanny, a young Akan woman from present-day Ghana, born about 1686 was captured with her four brothers and sold into slavery. They were taken on ‘The Journey of No Return’ across the Atlantic Ocean, becoming part of the 12.5 million Africans forced on this journey by Europeans and Americans who wanted free labour to exploit for profit.

Unlike the 1.8 million others who perished during this journey and had their bodies fed to the roaring ocean waves, Nanny, who was to become known as “Nanny of the Maroons,” and her brothers, survived the ordeal and arrived in Jamaica.

They later escaped from the slave plantations and fled into the mountains and jungles of Jamaica to become Maroons. This was the name for escaped slaves who banded together and fought for freedom, initially for themselves and eventually for various Latin American and  Caribbean countries, including Jamaica.

The names of slaves, in almost all cases, were lost. This was part of the depersonalization and dehumanisation of the slave, who was forced to forget the past and live entirely at the pleasure of the slave owner, who exercised the power of life or death on his “property. So it is not unlikely that her original name was not Nanny. This was most likely a corruption of the name Maame, which means mother in Twi. This would have been preferred to the names given to her by the slave masters.

By the mid-1550s, there were already escaped slaves in the Caribbean, who, with no way of finding their way back home to their loved ones, banded together to fight the slave owners and establish their own communities. In Jamaica, as in some other countries, these freedom fighters were called Maroons.

The word, “maroon” was derived from the Spanish word “Cimarron,” which was originally used for runaway cattle. Since African slaves were valued and treated no better than cattle, it came to be used for escaped African slaves. Maroon communities were typically located among mountains and swamps, making slave owners and European countries’ raids difficult.

They also provided safe bases for the Maroons to conduct raids on white plantations and organise guerrilla armies. They linked up with local Native Americans to defend the terrain. Today, Maroon communities still exist in various North and South America countries like Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Ecuador, and the United States especially in the Carolina’s, Alabama, Florida, and New Orleans areas. They also exist on islands in the Indian Ocean.

After escaping from the plantations, Nanny and her brothers joined the Maroons. She later founded a Maroon village with one of her brothers, Quao, in the Blue Mountains in eastern Jamaica in 1720.  British Captain Stoddart said Nanny Town, was “situated on one of the highest mountains on the island” and found the only path leading to it, to be: “steep, rocky, and difficult, and not wide enough to admit the passage of two persons abreast.”

This forced the invading army into a single file and an easy target for the Nanny fighters. This part of Jamaica was described as “Windward” and the inhabitants were known as “Windward Maroons.” The village became known as Nanny Town. The Maroons evolved their own traditional religious practices with West African influences.

It was called Obeah. Nanny was a priestess, leader, and commander-in-chief of the rebel army who trained her soldiers in guerrilla warfare. She was so fierce in a battle that the Europeans tried to pass her off as a myth created to rally the forces of the Maroons. But despite strenuous efforts, the Europeans could not force her off the history books.

This is primarily because a ghost could not have been recorded by European writers; could not have been declared wanted with a bounty on her by the colonialists, nor could a myth have physically established two separate towns. Also, she organised and supervised the escape of about 1,000 slaves over a three-decade period and resettled them.

The Queen Nanny rebels fought the British military for six years from 1728 until the latter, led by Commander Stoddard seized and destroyed Nanny Town in 1734. In fact, the British claimed that one of its mercenaries, Captain William Cuffee alias Captain Sambo, leading the “Black Shots,” killed Nanny in 1733 during the battle for the town.

However, a year later, the same British reported that she was leading the Windward Maroons in a retreat westward. Eventually, she was reported to have led her troops to take refuge near the Rio Grande, one of the largest rivers in the country. The Maroons were making slavery costly and unsustainable and creating insecurity for the Europeans.

These, coupled with the European powers’ inability to defeat them after 84 years of insurgency, led the British settlers in 1738 to call for a truce. The first peace treaty was signed with the Leeward or Western Maroons, led by Captain Cudjoe (Kojo), another Maroon of Ghanaian origin, in 1739.

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Why now is the right time to invest in Zambia by Choolwe Chibomba

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Zambia sits on a fountain of untapped potential. Home to over 376,000 square kilometers of arable land, as well as some of the highest-grade copper deposits in the world, the country is a treasure trove of natural resources. Added to this, 54% of Zambia’s population is of working age (15 – 64), while businesses have access to a market of some 406 million inhabitants via the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Tragically, and in a pattern seen all too often across Africa, successive governments have failed to tap into this potential. Instead, they saddled Zambia with unsustainable levels of debt while allowing a culture of corruption and venality to proliferate throughout its society.

The election of President Hichilema and the UPND government is therefore rightly heralded as a ‘new dawn’ for Zambia; allowing people and businesses to finally realise Zambia’s abundant potential.

Since this New Dawn government was elected, Zambia’s credit rating has been upgraded to a CCC+ (up from CCC-) by the S&P rating agency, with GDP growth expected to accelerate to 3.7% in 2023. Having negotiated a $1.3 billion extended credit facility from the IMF, as well as a $275 million loan from the World Bank, the government is now tantalisingly close to agreeing a debt renegotiation plan with its external creditors, freeing up vital funding from interest payments to be invested into infrastructure, healthcare, and education.

Businesses are already waking up to the opportunities that this proactive, forward-thinking government is unlocking for them and for the Zambian people. In May, the CEO of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold, Mark Bristow, described President Hakainde Hichilema as a “breath of fresh air” at the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town. The company has credited the New Dawn government’s pro-business attitude and progressive tax reforms – including an end to the double tax trap on mining royalties – with plans to potentially extend the life of the company’s Lumwana mine until 2060.

This kind of continued investment would not only sustain jobs at the Lumwana mine but also create opportunities throughout the value chain as the company contracts Zambian firms to provide machinery, equipment, and services to the mine. Furthermore, it would result in significant upskilling for Zambian workers as the mine invests in training and educating its employees.

It is not just mining companies that are taking note. In July Zambian Breweries, which is owned by Belgian drinks company AB InBev, announced it would be investing $80 million into expanding its Lusaka factory, creating 5,000 new jobs in the process. The brewery again cited the “pro-business and pro-investment climate” that President Hichilema’s government has cultivated since coming into office.

These developments represent just the tip of the iceberg, as the government has promised to use its 2023 budget to make Zambia the most attractive investment destination on the continent. This will in turn provide Zambians with the access to capital and financing they need to set up and grow their own businesses.

In manufacturing, the government is promising a 50% suspension on excise duty for clear beer, as well as concessions geared towards stimulating investments in corn starch production. Meanwhile, telecom companies will benefit from the abolishment of the two-tier tax system in favour of a single corporate income rate of 35%, and betting shops will see their presumptive tax reduced by 10%.

These plans to drive investment also include measures to waive visa requirements for visitors from the EU, United Kingdom, United States, and China. This will not only help foster increased tourism but also allow potential investors from wealthy countries to visit Zambia more easily and witness its potential firsthand.

To help promote the breadth of Zambia’s investment potential, the government is supporting the efforts of Zambia Is Back campaign through the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA). Zambia Is Back campaign works to publicise the opportunities being unlocked by the New Dawn government and match up promising Zambian businesses with interested investors around the world.

We are excited to meet with growing businesses in Zambia, as well as investors looking to get involved in this exciting chapter in our nation’s history. In particular, we are looking forward to meeting with investors that want to make a positive impact in Zambia and support the country’s development by promoting education, entrepreneurship, and value-chain addition.

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