Archive | December, 2011

UNIVERSALISM IN HUMAN RIGHTS AND POLITICAL CULTURALISM: CONTRASTS AND CONVERGENCE

16 Dec

BY: JAVAS BIGAMBO
The developments in human rights discourse and the body politic in respect to international relations are increasingly becoming more depressing. We have begun seeing the tragic potential difference in intercontinental political spheres. The United States of America and the United Kingdom are united in contemplation that African countries must embrace the defense of gay rights as a precondition to qualify for financial aid. This has shifted the aid debate to a whole new level, pitting universalism in human rights against politico-cultural relativism.
Western aid is not the coefficient of African development. For a fact, societies develop politically in several different ways, followed by assortment of the more successful and dynamic paradigms that foster development, as opposed to western-led prescriptions for Africa. It is self-evident that Europe and America have seemed to have conspired to under develop Africa over the past three centuries. But the last quarter of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century have vindicated historical documentation. For, the Structural Adjustment Programmes harmed African countries more than they benefitted from that idea. In her book Dead Aid, Dumbisa Moyo’s assertive sobriety posits that;
In the past fifty years, more than $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Has this assistance improved the lives of Africans? No. In fact, across the continent, the recipients of this aid are not better off as a result of it, but worse—much worse.
This is true. Kenya has incessantly recorded increased levels of unemployment and underemployment so much so that western-propelled projects have only turned out to be opportunities for the western blocks to access African markets for selfish interests. So the conditioned aid is of suspect motive. From the outset, human rights are certain moral guarantees that are ostensibly inalienable. If this is true and agreeable by all parties and proponents of human and political rights, then it must not be lost on us that western values are worlds apart from African values. If Africa must invoke its cultural perspectives and value systems, then the present reaction and rejection of American and British conditions to aid are only natural and grounded in values and belief systems that are intrinsically African. This does not mean that gays and lesbians do not exist in Africa. They do, and they are human and thus qualify to have their rights protected and preserved.
The point of departure is that the burly bedrock of values held by the majority consider gay rights as obnoxious. This throws the whole discourse into matters of identity politics, hetero-normativity, justice and the fabric of universalism. I totally agree with James Boyle (2000) that “the liberal conception of justice demands that we universalise our moral beliefs, and liberal education strips away our superficial differences to reveal that we are all confronting the same dilemmas of existence, encouraging us as we go out into the world to flee the particular and parochial and to seek the universal and timeless”. If this is true, it should also be held as true that the strong must not always compel the frail to give up their values so as to appease the strong. That is why it is immoral for America and Britain to lecture African states and order that they must embrace gay rights in order to access aid. I have never come across “gay rights”. Never. What are these gay rights and how do they look like? The liberal tradition within the Enlightenment school of thought has argued that individuals are best at finding their own interests and should be left to improve themselves in self-determined ways. So Africa should be left to find its own footing in queer rights.
What must be well fathomed is that the moral canon of human rights aims at identifying the fundamental prerequisites for each human being leading a minimally good life. That doctrine is in the fold of universalism. So in principle, human rights aim to classify both the obligatory negative and positive prerequisites for leading a minimally good life, such as rights against torture and rights to health care. What has concerned Africa as an appendix to African values is that there are overwhelming health implications of gayism to human health. If it is true that HIV/AIDS prevalence in the homosexual community, particularly gays, then by forcing Africa to embrace gayism, America and Britain need to determine their commitment to combat HIV/AIDS.
It is understood that everyone has the right to equality as expressed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights or the right to life guaranteed in the Kenya constitution 2010 or the right to health guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Homosexuals must not be killed, or subjected to mob injustice. But there is a school of thought that holds that given the fact heterosexuals are not engaged in any sexual advocacy, then homosexuals must not holds demonstrations to declare that they are of queer sexual orientation. That is a whole different debate.
As Spinoza argues, the benevolent rationale for authoritarianism has always been that rulers and their advisors understand the needs of the people better than the people do themselves. So America and Britain should not presume that all their prescriptions are durable for Africa. Individual African leaders or statesmen should steer national conversations on all these things, than privately making up their minds to impress investors and the west. The framers of the UDHR and the ACHPR were not oblivious of societal norms and values and customary relations.
It therefore behooves the exponents of human and political rights to interrogate these components and establish the nexus between universal human rights and cultural relativism in the context of political and international relations. Tragedy is that the whole thought appears to be suffused with a Capitalistic Functionalism that places Western democracies as the goal for all societies. This in itself is the folly of African democracies that look west for socio-economic and political enlightenment.
It is easy from the foregoing to conclude that Africa stands the high risk of losing out significant advances for years in political, economic, intellectual spheres, and thus face untold stagnation if all it does is go by the expectations to the liberal left field of radical thought. Franz Oppenheimer’s 19th Century classic, The State comes in handy. Oppenheimer’s thesis is that the state emerged as a result of conquest and subjugation, particularly by nomadic herding societies over more peaceful agricultural populations. This is true of Africa as a traditional agrarian society. If well organized, Africa can do without much of western aid. So the elephant in the room isn’t China. It’s the USA and Britain. These are the two post-modernist giants that Africa needs to know how to deal with much political creativity.
Knowing full well that if the cog creaks then the wheel falters; then African states must be more articulate in what they believe in and what they shall pay any price to stand for. Am sure the Bushmen of the Kalahari, the Mbuti pygmy of the Congo and the Pokots of Kenya understand nothing about foundational gayism. So this is going to be a long ideological struggle. I believe in the rights of all persons, and those rights are inherent, they don’t have to come from the west.

THE DEATH OF IDEAS: ABATING GENDER VIOLENCE THROUGH TEACHING OF BRUTALITY

5 Dec

BY: Javas Bigambo
Kenya is a great country, with some great people. I have come across some of the finest ideas on the planet by Kenyans. Some have been killed thanks to the executive fiat. As I look at my calendar, I note that it’s the first week of December, meaning that we are in the middle of marking the 16 Days of Activism, and ending violence against women. Quite noble initiatives designed to make the society a better place. I hate violence against women, including rape. Whenever I read of incidences of domestic violence, rape and such barbaric ills, I always know that the moral fabric is torn and the threads of social norms can no longer hold the garment. Rape must never be looked at lightly. The sexual offenses Act should be made thoroughly functional to make rape an extinct crime. But another issue is at hand.
I am disappointed that some civil society organization is not making sense of the whole matter. On Sunday 4th December 2011 I read an article on gender violence written by Rosemary Quipp, titled “Rapists warned: 33 bad women on the prowl” and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Time and experience have established to a manifestation, the public utility of values as components of true transformation. I wonder how gender violence can be contained by teaching women how to be brutal. Forget the “self-defense” protracted mantra. Violence is brutality even if it’s given a fancy name. If 33 women have been trained to “break knees, crush windpipes and burst eardrums” it means that whichever programme or organization(s) that devised such ingenuous acts of violence and intent were experiencing a poverty of ideas.
The NMNW model should be re-thought. There is no way that violence affects community in a positive way. What that agency must ask itself, just as much as all of us, it the exact cause of such deviance that occasions violence against women including rape. Breaking windpipes cannot contain the deviants. Scholars like Dr. Munyae Mulinge of USIU being behind such a programme, and being a sociologist should have made that initiative a better one.
Violence against women is broad. When the government dispatched bulldozers to demolish houses in Syokimau, Maasai, Kyang’ombe and Eastleigh, it all amounts to violence against women who were crushed psychologically, emotionally and financially, aching through the cold desolate night with young children on their laps and remaining homeless. When new mothers are detained in maternity wards like Pumwani Hospital because they cannot clear delivery fee, that amounts to violence against women. When women are taken advantage of and harassed by touts at the bus terminus, that to me is violence against women. So don’t tell me that the violent skills that the 33 ill-advised women have will come in handy to abate such acts of violence against women that we as a nation have witnessed in the recent months.

Clearly such programmes are deficient in their present forms, and require alterations if effect and impact are the expected positive outcomes. Let us interrogate the causal root of crimes including rape, whether it occurs at home, at gunpoint or in hostels of universities. After a proper diagnosis only can we have a critical and significant prognosis of remedy, and work towards the effective solutions. If training women to be violent is the best possible solution to gender-based violence, it is rather deplorable that it has for so long a time ceased working altogether. We don’t need to make murderers of women in the name of tackling gender violence. Teach self-defense as basic modest means, but heaven knows that is no solution. The criminals can easily get more violent, and that will lead to even serious and potentially fatal encounters. So don’t make these to be christened 16 days of aggression.

The author can be reached through jbigambo@interthoughts.co.ke