Eye on Africa

Hendrik Witbooi (Chief of the Witbooi Namaqua)

Depictions of colonized African peoples from Southwest Africa (DSWA, present-day Namibia), Germany’s first overseas colony, were prevalent throughout the German metropole at the turn of the twentieth century. Tobacconists catered to the erotic fantasies of colonial enthusiasts with images of Herero girls in their advertisements. Coffee companies used portraits of black African women to affirm the quality of their beans. Youth magazines allowed children to escape into “exotic” domains where their imaginations could wander unhindered by “civilized” social expectations. Anthropologists shifted the paradigms of scientific analysis by studying “natural peoples” as faceless objects. Novelists published romanticized accounts of faraway conflicts, a practice that over time made the realities of colonial bloodshed palpable for a continental audience. Though characterizations like these typified the contemporary discourse on Africa and epitomized Europe’s dominance over the continent, they belie the significant degree to which Africans in turn influenced the evolution of German imperial policy in southern Africa.

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Ali Ahmida is Professor at the Department of Political Science in University of New England. His research interests are in political theory, comparative politics, and historical sociology. His scholarship is cross-cultural and focuses on power, agency and anti-colonial resistance in North Africa, especially in modern Libya. He is currently working on two books, one about genocide in colonial Libya and the other a biography of the Libyan freedom fighter Omar al-Mukhtar. Ahmida recently gave a lecture titled, “When the Subaltern Speak: Researching Italian Fascist Colonial Genocide in Libya, 1929–1934” as part of the African Studies Initiative Symposium on Reframing Mass Violence in Africa: Social Memory and Social Justice. After his lecture, Ahmida shared more insights with Miray Philips (UMN Graduate Student, Sociology).

 

What happened to the Libyans during 1929-1934 at the hands of Italian fascists?

110, 000 were interned in concentration camps for four years as a strategy to cut the base of support for the anti-colonial resistance. They were starved and denied medical treatment, and only 40,000 came alive after 1934.

Why is this genocide unknown?

The fascist Italian government denied any international media access to the camps. The allies covered up any trail of war crimes, and the fascist government was never put on trial. Libya remained a colony until 1951. However, since the foundation of Libyan Studies Center in 1977, there has been Libyan scholarship and documentations of the genocide in Arabic. The Center collected archival material and oral history from that year until 2000.

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One of the more pressing questions I consistently get asked about genocides and mass atrocity is: What would motivate an individual to kill their neighbor? Understanding the answer holds the key to end genocides and mass atrocity.

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On October 14, 2017, one of the worst truck bombs ever experienced in Africa ripped the capital of Somalia, Mogadisho. On a global scale, this blast was only second to the 2016 attack in Iraq that killed 341 people in Karrada. This particular attack was so horrific that even a former Al-Shabaab leader was pictured donating much needed blood. As of October 16th, almost 276 people had been declared dead with 300 hundred injured. This number is likely to increase in the coming hours as the rubble is sifted through. Due to the intensity of the blast, there is a very real chance a large number of the dead will never be identified. One of the victims of the attack is Dr. Maryama Abdullahi who was to graduate from the medical school this week and whose parents’ joy and anticipation has now become unbearable grief. Another was Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, a Minnesota man who prayed at the Dar-Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. I’m not sure if you saw this in your regular news outlets or if it even crossed your social media platforms.

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Twenty-three years have passed since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the decades since have shaped Rwanda into a nearly unrecognizable country. The genocide seems, at first glance, to be a distant and painful memory. The capital of Kigali has transformed into a vibrant urban hub, complete with five star hotels and immaculate streets. Educational initiatives and a skyrocketing tourism industry are reshaping the nation. For many, especially those living outside of Rwanda, the genocide seems to be a historical event, locked firmly in the past. But while decades have passed since the 100 days during which at least 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed, the past doesn’t seem so far away to many Rwandans. The personal tolls, be they loss of family members or lasting emotional scars, still remain.

Photo Credit: The New Times

 

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The following is an open letter to the organizers of an African Trade Forum event, who have announced that Maowia Osman Khalid, Ambassador of Sudan to the US, will be on campus for a panel co-hosted by the Carlson School of Management.

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“The irony in this is that this is a country that people are fleeing to…[but it’s] becoming one of tyranny, is becoming one of dictatorship and is becoming one that’s turning its face against the values that it’s supposed to stand for.” – Ilhan Omar

An executive order signed on January 27th, ominously falling on Holocaust Remembrance Day, enacts a series of changes impacting people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen. The Twin Cities, home to the largest Somali community in the US, is heavily struck. In just the last three months of 2016, 433 Somali refugees were resettled in Minnesota contributing to a total of approximately 77,000 Somalis in the Twin Cities. Almost two-decades of civil war has resulted in one of the largest displacement crises, with almost 1 million registered as refugees, and another 1.1 million displaced within Somalia.

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While it may seem as though the international community has made notable progress in acknowledging and responding to human crises with an increasing international spotlight on Syria, this focus is all too often still quite limited in breadth. As reports from Aleppo and other decimated Syrian cities take center stage, the rapidly dissolving situation in South Sudan has largely fallen by the wayside, both at the discussion table and in regards to policy development. Last month the UNSC failed to vote on a resolution over South Sudan that sought to impose an arms embargo, even when UN reports provided extensive evidence of widespread killing and rape perpetrated by the South Sudanese army. Reports of rampant human rights violations and unabated sexual violence in Yei and Yambio point to untold misery faced by communities. This suffering has expanded into an additional crisis in Northern Uganda as refugees from South Sudan stream into the country. Numbers of families fleeing the conflict have steadily risen over the past year leading to aid organizations dealing with food shortages.

Members of the UN Security Council sitting around a round table.
UN Security Council

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December 9th is the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide. It commemorates the adoption by the United Nations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948. On this 68th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention, it is a stark reminder that the world still lags behind the ambitious goals envisaged by not only Raphael Lemkin but also the signatories to the convention. Over the past few months, the United Nation’s Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide has issued warnings on the current state of affairs in South Sudan, Aleppo, Syria and Northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. In a rather ironic twist, we have grown accustomed to debating whether a conflict is a genocide or not, rather than working together to stop genocides from unfolding. Despite clear and early warnings about the possibility of a genocide unfolding, there is still a yawning gap between how events unfold, and our response to ending/curbing human suffering due to conflict.

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“Be as humble as you are curious.”

Few statements could speak so directly to the dynamic of the room as these, when President Paul Kagame addressed the crowd in a talk last month at Yale University. The leader was invited to speak at the university to present the Coca-Cola World Fund Lecture, and the reaction to his arrival was incredibly mixed across the campus. He encouraged the audience to have an open and empathetic perspective on global affairs, one which leaves room for cultural divergence in opinion and policy. During this speech, a group of faculty and students lead a “teach-in” outside of the event, echoing critiques from Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International about human rights concerns within the country. The commentary continued through extensive coverage in various media outlets, both positive and negative. The nation of Rwanda and Kagame’s RPF party are no stranger to controversy, with the academic and policy conversation often taking on quite the polarized tone. more...