Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Zimbabwe Book Sparks Debate, Moroccan Rapper on Hunger Strike, Somalia gets aid but convicts rape victim, South Africa farmworkers get raise
New Book Reignites Debate Over Zimbabwe Land Reform- Feb. 5 (GIN) – Authors of a new book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land, have set off sparks with the claim that despite political violence and hyperinflation, the black farmers who received land under President Robert Mugabe’s “fast track” land reform are doing relatively well, improving their lives and becoming increasingly productive, especially since the US dollar became the local currency.
The authors, Teresa Smart, Joseph Hanlon and Jeannette Manjengwa, scholars from UK universities, reject the dominant media narratives of oppression and economic stagnation in Zimbabwe. They spoke at a recent UK roundtable at the thinktank Chatham House.
“Fast track” land reform made headlines around the world when Pres. Mugabe acceded to demands of liberation war vets to receive land occupied by whites. Thousands of landless Black farmers and some friends of the Mugabe administration received small and large plots.
Today, a growing number of writers and researchers, including New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen, are moderating their criticism of the south African country.
Polgreen noted that fewer than 2,000 farmers were growing tobacco when fast-track began in 2000, and most of those farmers were white. “Today, 60,000 farmers grow tobacco, the vast majority of them black and many of them working small plots … Most had no tobacco farming experience yet managed to produce a hefty crop, from a low of 105 million pounds in 2008 to more than 330 million pounds this year.”
Not all Zimbabweans, however, share her views. Jaquelin Kataneksza, writing on the blog Africa is a Country, wrote scathingly: “What this book achieves … is to sanitize and trivialize a decade of mayhem. Mugabe, the “champion of mass justice,” asserted that the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe would redress the wrongs of colonial injustice. Yet, it was conducted in a way that appears to make a mockery of the very notions it supposedly espoused–those of justice, equity and freedom.”
Zimbabwe Vigil, a dissident group in the UK also found fault: “If, as claimed in the book, agricultural production is returning to former levels, the Vigil warmly welcomes it. But this assertion does not square with the statement by the UN that 1.6 million Zimbabweans are facing starvation – some 12% of the population – and for yet another year Zimbabwe needs international food aid.”
Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land is available in paperback on Amazon.com
JAILED MOROCCAN RAPPER A SYMBOL FOR STALLED ‘ARAB SPRING’
Feb. 5 (GIN) – Despite the adoption of a progressive new constitution and the election of an Islamist-led parliament, Morocco continues to curtail free speech and jail dissidents, often using excessive force, say human rights activists in that north African country.
One of those in jail is rapper Mouad Belghouat also known as Al-Haked – the Enraged - who is serving a one-year prison term for a song “Dogs of the State,” critical of the police. This week he began a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his detention, friends said. The claims were denied by the prison.
Belghouat was considered a public face of the February 20 Movement that was born in 2011 during the Arab Spring in Morocco which called for sweeping political reforms.
Franco-Moroccan journalist Zineb el Rhazoui, co-founder of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties, in a TV interview remarked: “Is Mouad’s trial an isolated case? Quite the opposite: The regime regularly resorts to arbitrary arrests and all manner of intimidation to suppress the protest movement."
She added: “Social movements are springing up everywhere. Young people are sick of unemployment, the lack of freedoms. They’re sick of the democracy-free zone that is the Moroccan regime. They’re sick of the police state.”
The NY-based Human Rights Watch said the conviction of El-Haked "shows the gap between the strong free-expression language in Morocco's 2011 constitution and the continuing intolerance for those who criticize state institutions."
Last month, the watchdog Transparency Morocco awarded the musician a prize for integrity for his "honesty and the justice of his fight for an integrated and transparent society." Over 70 rights activists are currently in jail awaiting trial for activities in connection with the February 20 Movement, according to the country’s independent association for human rights. w/pix of M. Belghouat
GRANT TO RE-START FARM PRODUCTION IN SOMALIA SEEKS HELP FROM THE DIASPORA
Feb. 5 (GIN) – Efforts to rebuild Somalia may get a boost from the International Fund for Agriculture Development which is offering start up grants for innovative projects to the Diasporic community. But the detention of a journalist and the conviction of a woman alleging rape is giving the country a black eye.
Amounts ranging from 20,000 dollars to 100,000 dollars will be handed out for such projects such as cross-border investment in agriculture, food security and rural employment. "We must harness this often-times invisible investment in agriculture, particularly in post-conflict countries and fragile states," said Kanayo F. Nwanze, IFAD head.
The initiative is called “Rebuilding Somalia through the Diaspora Investment in Agriculture” and works with the Somali government and the U.S. Department of State's International Diaspora Engagement Alliance.
The new program will leverage more than one billion dollars sent home by Somalis annually.
Meanwhile, civil liberties groups are angered by the conviction of a woman who alleged she was raped by security forces. A journalist who interviewed her was also sentenced. The convictions appear to be based on newly added charges to Somalia’s penal code under Sharia. The woman received a sentence of one year for “damaging state security” which was deferred because she is breastfeeding.
The groups calling for overturning the convictions and freeing the journalist are the National Union of Somali Journalists, Sister Somalia, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. w/pix of protest by journalists.
SOUTH AFRICAN FARMWORKERS, ENDING STRIKES, TO GET NEW MINIMUM WAGE
Feb. 5 (GIN) - The South African government has begrudgingly agreed to raise up the minimum wage of farmworkers who were earning $7.82 daily to a new minimum of $11.77 daily. The announcement, by Labor Minister Mildred Oliphant, ends three months of strikes that claimed three lives and interrupted fruit harvests.
The higher wage has already prompted loud outcries from business leaders who warn they will be forced to mechanize, lay off workers or close their farms.
Labor leader Tony Ehrenreich rejected the threats, saying that claims by farmers that they could not pay the new salary could lead to them losing their land.
"If they can’t use it, they must lose it. This is a country that has shown it cares about farm workers. Bad farmers will lose their land in favor of good farmers who choose to work with us as a country,” he said.
The Daily Maverick, a pro-worker news site, opined cautiously: “On paper, a wage jump of 52% rings out like a stunning victory for farmworkers. But as usual in a South African context, there is more to consider here. The first is the pitiful base from which the wage is rising. The second is the long-term effects of the raise. If, as farmers claim, it will lead to a much smaller pool of more highly paid workers – that sounds like it might be a recipe for a long term disaster in the already wildly unequal society.”
Still, a loophole exists for farm owners who say they cannot afford the increase. They will be allowed to apply for an exemption, the Labor Minister said, as long as they provide proof in the form of financial statements. w/pix of workers demanding higher pay.