Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Introducing...Real African Women (R.A.W.)

Today, Dec. 21, 2009 (I started writing this before the clock turned 12 a.m.!), Obaasema Magazine in a partnership with Gye Nyame Empowerment Project (GNEP) launched Real African Women (R.A.W.) on Facebook! My partner, Akua Soadwa and I have been so psyched about this initiative that we felt like kids in the hours leading to the launch.

Here's a note I posted on Facebook saying why R.A.W. is important to me:

"R.A.W was birthed when Akua and I met this summer at a special gathering. After about 10 minutes into REAL conversations, we realized that we both possessed very similar traits and most surprisingly, carried around similar challenges! Why would I engage in a conversation about one of my biggest struggles - vulnerability - with someone I had just met? Why did we both nod at almost every personal challenge that surfaced during our conversation? We laughed at each revelation – the only thing that may have ruined any thoughts of us being twins was the fact that I was born in Ghana and she was born in the U.S. We knew after this exchange, though, that we had to act and we were both quick to admit that we couldn’t do it alone.

My desire to grow and to use my personal growth process to inspire others is one of the things that drives me – whether it is pouring my heart into empowering women through Obaasema Magazine or engaging in initiatives such as R.A.W, I seek to see a different woman in me.

You see, R.A.W was not only created for “them,” as in the “other African women,” but also for Akua and me. We are both women who deeply appreciate the beauty of personal growth and choose to seek the support of our fellow sisters. It should be obvious by now why we have decided to create an open forum discussion to invite other African women to join the movement of helping each other grow by sharing our experiences.

R.A.W intrigues me and is important to me because it hinges on personal growth; it’s about inspiration, it’s about empowerment. All I hope R.A.W can do for you are these 3 things: inspire you, empower you and challenge you to grow! Embrace the movement, baby!"

I'm extremely excited to have begun this beautiful journey with a woman who is as passionate about inspiring others and contributing positively to the world. The first R.A.W. forum session will be held in May 2010 and we're equally as excited about that! You'll be hearing more from me soon on this subject.

Support this initiative by becoming a Fan of our Facebook page! ... and...ahem...tell your friends, girlfriends, wives, sisters, aunties...ummm everyone about it! :-)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Uganda Makes African Women Proud

If you've been follwing my blog entries you should know by now that I'm a Beep fan -- in other words, that's where I get most of my news about the continent. So, just in case you haven't yet heard the news, Uganda dropped "FGM" from its list of embraced acronyms. I'll interpret -- Female Genital Mutilation is now legally banned in Uganda!

The BBC reported: "Anyone convicted of the practice, which involves cutting off a girl's clitoris, will face 10 years in jail, or a life sentence if a victim dies."

The news comes just weeks after a world acknowledgement of "International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women," (read my post on that).  The human rights status of Uganda is still in the dark, considering some of the charges that have been brought against the government in the past: Reports about violation of refugee rights, torture allegedly is a well-known practice in security circles and of course, who can forget the arrest of the country's main oppostion leader, Kizza Besigye?

But I think it's important for the world to acknowledge this bit of news as an indication of what Uganda could become. That perhaps taking this step against genital mutilation demonstrates the government's progress in tackling women's issues? This statement may be a stretch, but I say let's give them the benefit of the doubt and monitor any advancements on the issue.

The World Health Organization asserts that between 100 and 140 million girls and women are living with the brunt of FGM today. This violation of the human rights of girls and women, viewed in some countries as a right of passage, is one of the most torturous experiences any woman should be subjected to. (Read this article)

I think African governments taking the initiative to ban such practices are commendable. But what happens to unmonitored areas of a country? It's one thing for a government to pass such a law, it's another, however, to ensure that traditionalists are held accountable and adhere to these new rules. Anyone familiar with African "laws" will tell you that with the bribery of a local official, one can get away with almost anything.

I would suggest - and I'm yet to see detailed official documents regarding this new Ugandan law - that any country that passes such a law should invest in resources that'll ensure that they're carried out. This is not just a law. It's the life of a young girl who may someday want to become an entrepreneur, a doctor or lawyer but lacks confidence as a result of the ordeal because she feels incomplete and insecure. It's the life of a woman who desires to build a family but never imagined that the sexual pleasure missing in her marriage would directly be linked to what was taken away from her as a child by someone who held a skewed view of preserving virginity.

I call on the voices of all women, specifically African women, whether you've undergone this procedure or not, to join forces and fight against the brutality. No human deserves this.    

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zimbabwe's Economy Taking on a Positive Turn?

The Beep reported last week that there could be a positive turn in Zimbabwe's economy. The article stated: "Zimbabwe's first budget since its unity government began sharing power 10 months ago predicts a healthy economic future for the country." This could be the best news the country has heard in a very long time if you ask me. Before moving any further, I should state that I do not support any one party, but it would be a shame for me to not commend Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for his efforts.

I mention the Prime Minister because although I know Robert Mugabe would've probably loved to be the one to shop around for funding for his ailiing country, Tsvangirai was the one who did. I admire Tsvangirai not for any reason (because I don't know much about the man...yet) other than the fact that his actions in the last couple of months have demonstrated his heart for his country. I remember a meeting with President Barack Obama in June, while on his week-long globe-trotting hunt for money, in which the U.S. president pledged $73 million in aid to Zimbabwe. There was a catch though, or I should say a rule attached to the funds: That the money would not go directly to the government but instead to direct services for the citizens of Zimbabwe. After meeting with Tsvangirai, Obama commented, "We've seen progress from the prime minister," in a report by The Washington Post.

According to Finance Minister Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe's economy will most likely see a growth of 7% next year - a LEAP since the country's decade-long contraction.

The reason I began my post by commending Morgan Tsvangirai was because the world has witnessed the authoritative rule of Mugabe for 29 years; his rule and ineffective policies have led to the downfall of a country that was once promising. It wasn't until a bitter power-sharing government deal was struck in February between Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party and Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union -Patriotic Front that the world began to see some improvements in the country's economy.

The BBC just reported that Zimbabwe youths are still fleeing the country to South Africa for much better lives, after almost one year since the power-sharing government that was supposed to help rebuild the economy was established. But any economist, although I'm not one, would tell you that one year is a very short time to see recovery. Take the economic recovery process of the U.S., for instance. The country is further ahead of Zimbabwe in all regards yet it'll take more than a year to reach a point of economic equilibrium. How much more Zimbabwe, whose inflation rate or I should say hyper-inflation rate, was reported in July 2008 to be as high as 231,000,000%.

If perhaps more folks like Morgan Tsvangirai hang around to fight for Zimbabwe's best interest, I believe the world will live to see the country spring back to life. Yes, it'll take years, but it's not impossible.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Anti-Corruption Day" -- What to do With it?

So, on Monday, December 7th, myself and other journalists/bloggers participated in a conference call with some officials from the World Bank and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) about the issue of Corruption. I thought my piece about the discussion would be ready for today, "Anti-Corruption Day" -- unfortunately, it's not but I still wanted to acknowledge this day until my final article is ready!

Since I don't want to give away anything I'll be writing in my article, for now, I'd like to encourage YOU to get involved and create awareness about corruption in your country! Should I say happy or sad Anti-Corruption Day? You fill it in! 

Stay tuned for my piece!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Somalia - Forgotten or Not?

On Thursday, the Beep reported a suicide bomb in Somalia; the bomber was allegedly disguised as a woman in an attack that reportedly killed 19 people including the nation's Health Minister, Qamar Aden Ali, Education Minister Ahmed Abdulahi Waayeel and Higher Education Minister Ibrahim Hassan Addow. Also among the dead, the BBC reports, were students and two journalists. This attack is suspected to have been executed by a member of some radical Islamist group, although no one has come forward to claim it. The dissatisfaction running within such groups can be attributed to the idea of having a UN-backed government ruling some of Somalia's territories. But really, does this nation need any more problems? The issue of sea piracy is yet to be resolved and the internationl community doesn't seem to know where to begin to tackle it. Or have they given up?

The BBC reported the African Union (AU) as saying the latest attack would "not deter the resolve and determination of the African Union to support the people of Somalia in their quest for peace and reconciliation."

The AU has been smacked with numerous criticisms in the past for not having a "back bone." This censure hangs on the claim that the AU has failed to act in a timely manner when needed in the past. But does the AU deserve such criticism? Just this year the world witnessed as the organization scrambled to control the conflict in Madagascar as a result of a coup organized by Andry Rajoelina. I was personally impressed by the AU's swift suspension of Madagascar from the organization after conflicts arose in the Indian Ocean Island state and equally impressed to see it re-integrated into the Union after it began to work on a power-sharing government.

Reverting to Somalia, Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke of the nation's UN-backed government, described the recent attack as "vicious and calculated outrage."

Besides religious-toned conflicts, this nation carries wounds so profound that mere funding wouldn't do. I would like to say the African Union can harp all it wants about maintaining peace but if the root of the problem isn't addressed and tackled, Africa will be watching one of its own deteriorate before its eyes.  But it would be unfair to omit the fact that the AU is dealing with a convoluted problem. The African community - as demonstrated by most states - seems to be determined to assist Somalia emerge as a competent participant of the democratic process, but religious conflict encumbers this.

I wish I could say that the world should focus on tackling Somalia's economic problem first -- create jobs to discourage youths from joining rebel groups and falling in love with the world of piracy. But how is this possible when the country screams with instability? Who would even consider investing in Somalia to create economic growth? But what if this never happens; What if, for some reason, Somalia never reaches a place of peace, - hypothetically speaking - what would happen to its sons and daughters?

I am left to ask the questions: What can the AU do better? What can the international community do? What can Somalis do to resolve the conflicts? And what can the average African do to help?                 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Thoughts on Ghana's Looming Oil Woes

To preface, I should state that I believe in property rights, limited government and free enterprise, although I must say that oil agreements aren't easy to deal with, especially when property rights are involved. This entry was prompted by Craig Murray's piece, "Oil Must Benefit Ordinary Ghanaians" -- I coudn't stay mum after reading his views on the issue.

So, Kosmos Energy, which bought $4 billion shares in Ghana's oil is considering selling their shares to Exxon Mobil. According to Murray, the contract entered into by Kosmos Energy and Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) gives the latter rights to be the first to refuse, should Kosmos decide to sell its shares to another company. If this information is in fact accurate, then government intervention is necessary now that Kosmos is interested in selling its shares to Exxon Mobil. It is also safe to say that Kosmos breached an aspect of the agreement based on this information. But, none of these details has been officially confirmed so it is best to analyze the situation based on available information.

Property rights infringement in Africa has been a problem for both domestic and foreign investors. In the case of Kosmos-Exxon-GNPC, Kosmos Energy reserves the right to sell its shares to whomever it chooses, unless of course, it did concede to something else -- which leads to the question: If in fact there was an agreement to not sell shares to a third party without the consent of GNPC, why then will Kosmos attempt to do just that? If GNPC indeed imposed such rules with intentions to carefully monitor the source of funding to the company that owns shares in its property, I would understand, although it would bother me much. The intrusion and level of government control comes too close to infringement of property rights, in my opinion. I would like to see the Ghanaian government impose taxes on transactions instead, which goes to benefit the nation in the long run.

The most logical thing to do, if the Ghanaian government decided to take the taxation route, would be to use the money to develop the country to boost the economy through programs that would facilitate this. The unemployment rate would positively be affected since there will be more jobs created not only through money received from taxes but also from oil activities.

The government appears to be determined to take advantage of this oil to benefit average Ghanaians. President John Atta Mills has urged Kosmos to consider ordinary Ghanaians as it moves forward with oil activities. It also seems that the Ghanaian government is approaching the oil and its development with extreme caution, and rightly so. The country has witnessed what the "curse" can do to a nation - we need not look too far.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Another Special Day For Women...or Human Rights?

I know I'm three days late -- November 25th was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. After reading much comments about this Day, I was left to ask myself nothing but the question: "Is this a human rights issue or is it a women's issue?" I believe it is first the former before the latter. A close look at the story of the three Mirabal Sisters, through whom this world recognition day came about, provides some answers.

One can infer from their story that the women were treated as they were because of their gender, which I partially agree. The thought of having tenacious, intelligent women challenge one's leadership would drive any dictator, in this case, Rafael Trujilo, to order their murder.

Additionally, his unreciprocated romantic advances towards Minerva, one of the sisters, could've only intensified his antipathy toward them. But I believe the murder would've taken place irrespective of who it was. History demonstrates that all dictators tend to rid themselves of any threat, be it a person or thing. In fact, Trujilo's threats were also directed towards the husbands of the Mirabal Sisters, but of course, the women were undeterred by this.

As I pondered on this moment in history, I thought about the African woman and where she fit in all of this - in the context of "Elimination of Violence Against Women." For no particular reason, my thoughts landed on 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai. Not to say her experience was close to that of the Sisters, but she did endure another form of violence: The humiliating divorce from a man who announced to the world that for a woman, Maathai was too strong-willed, which made it impossible for him to control her (As if a man's purpose in life was to control his woman). After Maathai called the judge who oversaw their divorce "either incompetent or corrupt" in an interview - because he agreed with her ex-husband's cruel statements - he charged her with contempt of court and sentenced her to six months in jail, of which she served a few days. This woman, has since contributed greatly to our environment with her Greenbelt Movement project and others. Maathai, in my humble opinion, deserves acknowledgement on this day.

Another person who deserves recognition is Betty Kavata, a Kenyan woman who lost her life in the hands of her husband. Here's how the story goes: In December 1998, Felix Nthiwa Munayo, a Kenyan police officer, returned home late and requested meat for his dinner. His wife, of course, couldn't provide any because there was none in the house. This exacted beatings, which resulted in Kavata becoming paralyzed and sustaining brain damage, leading to her death five months later - on her 28th birthday. The Kenyan government, after this incident, passed a family protection bill that criminalized such acts and others related to domestic violence. Betty Kavata may not have been able to defend herself like the other women mentioned, but she deserves acknowledgement on this day just the same.

According to a 2001 Amnesty International USA fact sheet, 6,000 women in North Africa undergo genital mutilation everyday. Every six minutes, in the United States, a woman is raped. The report also predicted that an excess of 15,000 women would be sold into sexual slavery in China that year. The list goes on and on.

Although the above cases and millions of others have women targets, they do not take away from the fact that we have a human rights issue at hand. "Human Rights," as universally defined, is the basic rights and freedoms entitled to ALL humans. When someone is attacked or threatened on the basis of their right to life and liberty, it's a human rights issue. When someone is attacked or threatened on the basis of their right to freedom of expression, legal egalitarianism, social, cultural and economic rights, it's a human rights issue.

I sign off today, though, with hope that things will change. I encourage everyone, male or female, to take the issue of human rights very seriously. The African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" was not meant only for child-rearing, in my opinion. In light of this saying, I believe that it will take us, as a community or village, to extend a hand in solving these problems. Some of our efforts can be invested into supporting non-governmental organizations (NGO) that promote these causes - whether it is volunteering or giving monetarily.

Below is a list of organizations I believe will be worth looking into (these are only suggestions):
Amnesty International
United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Welcome to the Mind of Abi

It's two days before Thanksgiving, 2009...a day after my father's 57th birthday - which reminds me that my incredible "old man" (he's not that old okay) - is aging.

As I focus on writing a piece that seems to be taking forever to complete, ding! something goes off in my head and I remember that I never returned to update my blogger account...I never got past writing my name and providing an e-mail address! So what brings me to the magical world of blogging? One of them being my inability to stay still considering ongoing events in my continent...yes, i said "my" continent, Africa.

To you, Africa, I feel as though I've deserted for a while. Silence, in this case, isn't golden when I read reports about Ghana's oil discovery being in danger. Silence isn't golden when I read that Niger Delta militants are apparently training Ghanaians. My silence breaks with a smile, though, when I read that Kenya has launched an HIV/AIDS door-to-door campaign to get one million people tested! Kudos, Kenya!

But what with the Democratic Republic of Congo sending me to sleep with a nasty frown? Do I quiet down? This is when some of my most powerful tools -- my mind, my hand, my keyboard -- get stirred. Stay with me...you won't regret the ride :-)