Another world is possible.
In fact, another world already exists; one in which previously colonised peoples are fighting for justice. Most of us in the economic North have never heard of the struggle of African women for land rights. We tend to be ignorant about the countries our nations ruled and stole from, as if the harm we did was wiped out by independence. In fact the effects of colonisation, and new forms of it, are still rolling on, but the people who are suffering this injustice are not silent victims. They are organising.
In an article in Africa Renewal, Mary Kimani explains why in most African countries women, the main farmers, have no title to the land they farm. It is owned by the state, the clan (with men in charge) or by individual men. Colonisers did not invent patriarchy, of course. Traditional communal ownership of land gave men the deciding power, but there were some protections for women, and rights of appeal and arbitration. These have been eroded, and the introduced Western system of individual entitlement has not served women well.
If you are widowed, ownership returns to your husband’s family. If you are cohabiting, you have no rights of your own. If you borrow land on a sharecropping system, it is pointless improving it. One woman in the Gambia who planted cashew trees only got to harvest them once before she was evicted. You have to grow seasonal crops, and after harvest you may have to begin all over again negotiating for access.
The new colonisation: land grabs
Foreign investors, both states and multinational corporations, are grabbing land in Africa. They are sometimes doing it to drill for minerals, sometimes in order to use their own intensive farming methods to ensure their own citizens’ future food security, at the expense of the people currently using and living on the land. They buying it from states and individuals, and people who cannot produce the right proofs of ownership (in Western terms) are being evicted. Women, who do most of the farming and on whom families depend, and particularly vulnerable.
The Road to Kilimanjaro
Women from 20 African countries are converging at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. My Gambian co-counsellor is among the few men who accompany them as allies. A delegation of 16 will climb the to the summit, symbol of their determination to obtain their rights. The Charter they agree will put pressure on the many countries they have come from. They hope to get the attention of global as well as local and national media. But that is hard, because we in the economic North are systematically kept in ignorance of what is happening elsewhere. Mentally, we live in gated communities. The economic system which is causing global warming – devastating the lives of subsistence farmers – depends on consent: our consent, so the less we know, the less we care, the better.
Help the brave women at Kilimanjaro: use social media and old fashioned conversation to spread the word!