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Category Archives: Law
The number of African immigrants arriving to the United States has roughly doubled each decade since the 1970s. There are almost 2 million African immigrants currently living in the U.S., accounting for about 4.5% of the immigrant population. Although this is not a large number, they have the fastest growth rate of any immigrant group. Almost half of all Africans are Muslim, which means a notable portion of the African immigrants arriving to the U.S. each year are too. This is significant considering Trump’s stance on Muslims in the United States.
Under a Trump administration, there would certainly be a reduction in the number of refugee and asylum statuses granted, including to Muslims seeking protection from fundamentalism in their home countries. The U.S. admitted a record number of Muslim refugees in 2016, almost 40,000. Most of them were from the Middle East, however, and I have not been able to find numbers on African Muslim refugees. Trump argues that allowing Muslims into the U.S. puts the country at risk for terrorist attacks, although there is no evidence that this is true. Anecdotally, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have been perpetrated by those on student visas or those with long-time ties, including citizenship.
Cutting off a safety route to Muslims who are seeking to separate themselves from the homelands that have oppressed them is exactly the opposite of what a security-minded Trump should be doing to minimize terrorism. By allowing Muslims to enter the U.S., we strengthen ties to global Islamic communities, improve our image, and separate disaffected Muslims from the places that foster malcontent towards Americans. African countries from which the U.S. would be wise to accept more immigrants include those with growing extremist tendencies, e.g. Sudan, Nigeria, and Mali. Barring such individuals’ entry into the U.S. system keeps them in fundamentalist locations, where they can then live with a much more jaded view of the West.
These are all hypothetical concerns because, although Trump will be arguably the most powerful head of state in the world, bureaucracies are still bureaucracies. He will (hopefully) still have to make such inhospitable immigration changes within the confines of a government slow to change. He will be bolstered by a Republican Congress, but it is yet to be determined how much GOP support he will enjoy. Since he is divisive among his own party at this point, he may very well get in his own way when it comes to realizing his goals of isolating Muslims from the American mainstream. Let’s hope that is actually the case, that he, and his ill-chosen words, is his own greatest obstacle. If not, if he does what he claims he wants to do, American-Muslim relations can only become more precarious.
Most Africans don’t seem to find great hope for their continent in the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. I’m not convinced that Africa is of much concern to the future American President, but his win creates direct and indirect economic effects across the continent beyond just the disrupted world markets following the election results.
Africa may be much more on its own economically under Trump than it has been under previous American administrations. It is unclear what Trump will do with the 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act, which offers tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies and build free markets. As of now, he appears only interested in fostering relationships with world economies that can benefit the U.S. immediately through trade. This may be good news to Nigerians, who enjoy the largest economy on the continent, but less promising for growing economies such as that of Ghana.
Trump’s probable business-like emphasis on what the U.S. can gain from African relationships does not bode well for human rights practices. I would presume that American financial gain would be foremost in Trump’s mind during negotiations, far more than concerns over human rights practices. This is troubling since the U.S. benefits economically from some African countries with disturbing human rights records. Equatorial Guinea is the 6th largest oil producer in Africa and 3rd largest supplier of African oil to the U.S. Yet, President Obiang has been in office since his coup in 1979, and the country has been plagued by reports of underground torture of dissidents, extrajudicial killings, repression of the press, and high level corruption. Similar human rights challenges exist in Angola, Algeria, and Sudan, which are also top ten oil producers in Africa, and with whom the U.S. has trade arrangements. I am also concerned for human rights standards in Central Africa, which are large mineral producers, if the robustness of their economies is more valuable to Trump’s administration than their human rights practices.
This potential fostering of relations with countries with dubious human rights records would come at a troubling time, when African countries are withdrawing or threatening to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
In terms of humanitarian aid, it certainly wouldn’t increase under Trump, and would most likely fall into decline. The U.S. currently gives around $12 billion per year in aid to Africa. It is less than 1% of the U.S. annual budget, which is very little and less than many European countries donate. To his credit, Trump has spoken in favor of the Bush-era PEPFAR program, which has given millions to help fight communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria across the continent. These funds have been wide spread across countries, and I helped put some of that money to good use as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique in 2005. We implemented a nationwide girls’ empowerment conference in Maputo using much needed PEPFAR funds.
For most, a reduction in aid to Africa would be unequivocally bad. There are nations that rely for almost 100% of their national budgets on international aid, producing nearly nothing, e.g. Central Africa Republic (CAR). Conditional economic aid to Africa has been heralded as helpful to democracy in some places, e.g. Uganda. U.S. aid also acts as a potent antidote to the immense investments that China is making in the continent, investments which certainly do not come with conditions. (Many blame China for allowing Sudanese genocide under Omar al-Bashir, as China has great business investments in Sudan and thus blocked UN intervention that could have stopped the Darfur killings.) Trump would certainly not take the time or effort to fight for conditions to American economic aid.
However, there are anti-aid advocates who highlight the lack of evidence that economic aid actually helps pull countries out of poverty at all. In fact, Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize winner in economics, represents a growing body of scholars and policymakers who believe the developed world may actually be corrupting those more impoverished nations’ governments and slowing their overall growth. They say that economic aid allows lackluster leaders to stay in power when they would otherwise be ousted for their performance; also, aid replaces revenue flow that should come from taxes, which are a fundamental building block of strong democracy. These folks argue that economic aid simply creates dependency. If you agree with this idea, then a Trump presidency may be a positive. His disinterest in the continent could create the conditions for self-sufficiency.
What is your forecast for Africa under a Trump Presidency?
Across sub-Saharan Africa, marriage of minors is still a prevalent problem, particularly among young girls from impoverished families. In Nigeria, the practice is far more common in the Muslim North, where some areas practice Sharia law that allows for child marriage. “The Nigerian government made child marriage illegal in 2003, but according to campaigners from Girls Not Brides, 17% of girls in the country are still married before the age of 15. In the Muslim-dominated northwest, 48% of girls are married by the age of 15 and 78% are married by the time they hit 18.”
This is obviously a challenge for development, as girls who marry young are unlikely to finish schooling or stay within the protective proximity of their parents. There are countless health problems associated with childbearing at a young age, common among child brides. It threatens both the health and human rights of young girls.
For this reason, it was lauded news that “Malawi banned child marriage last week through new legislation that increases the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, representing a major victory for girls in a country that has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.” Malawi could function as a model nation in Africa for reforming the ways marriage and girls’s rights are approached.
Human Rights Watch just published a report that Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, 2013 (SSMPA) “encourages widespread extortion and violence.” I blogged about the similarities between Nigeria’s legislation and that of Uganda several years ago, after reading about anti-LGBT violence in East Africa. Then, anti-gay legislation was in its nascence in Nigeria, but is now codified. It encourages Nigerians to report suspicions of same-sex relationships, which can lead to jail time for those convicted. Nigeria is just one of many African countries that make the continent one of the most difficult for members of the LGBT community. Assuming that gay marriage laws are an indication of attitudes toward the gay community in general, this legislative map shows which world countries are most challenging:
Human Rights Watch just published the following:
Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, 2013 (SSMPA) has made a bad situation much worse for Nigeria’s beleaguered lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The law has led to an increase in extortion and violence against LGBT people and imposed restrictions on nongovernmental organizations providing essential services to LGBT people in Nigeria.
The 81-page report, “‘Tell Me Where I Can Be Safe’: The Impact of Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act,” shows how the law, which took effect in January 2014, is used by some police officers and members of the public to legitimize abuses against LGBT people, including widespread extortion, mob violence, arbitrary arrest, torture in detention, and physical and sexual violence. The law has created opportunities for people to engage in homophobic violence without fear of legal consequences, contributing significantly to a climate of impunity for crimes against LGBT people.
“The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act effectively authorizes abuses against LGBT people,” said Wendy Isaack, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While Human Rights Watch found no evidence that anyone has been prosecuted under the SSMPA, its impact has been far-reaching and severe.”
The report is based on in-depth interviews conducted between October 2015 and April 2016 with 73 LGBT people and 15 representatives of Nigeria-based nongovernmental organizations in Abuja, Lagos, and Ibadan. Human Rights Watch research indicates that since January 2014, there have been rising incidents of mob violence, with groups coming together to attack people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan passed the law, even though same-sex activity between consenting adults was already illegal and activists had not been advocating legalization of same-sex marriage. The law provides for prison terms of 14 years for anyone who enters a same-sex marriage or civil union and is so vague that “civil union” could include any form of intimate co-habitation.
The law also punishes establishing, supporting, and participating in gay organizations and public displays of affection with 10 years in prison.
The passage of the law was strongly opposed by domestic, regional, and international human rights groups, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On February 5, 2014, Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou, the African Commission’s special rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa, voiced concern about “physical violence, aggression, arbitrary detention and harassment carried out against human rights defenders dealing with sexual minority rights issues” in the wake of the law.
“Basically, because of this law the police treat LGBT people in any way that they please,” said an Abuja-based leader of a nongovernmental group. “They torture, force people to confess and when they hear about a gathering of men, they just head over to make arrests.”
Punitive legal environments, stigma, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, together with high levels of physical, psychological, or sexual violence against gay men and other men who have sex with men, impedes sustainable national responses to HIV, Human Rights Watch found. When officials or national authorities, including law enforcement officials, condone and commit violence, it leads to a climate of fear that fuels human rights violations. The fear also deters gay men and other men who have sex with men from seeking and adhering to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services.
The law contravenes basic tenets of the Nigerian Constitution and violates several human rights treaties that Nigeria has ratified. In April 2014, the African Commission adopted its groundbreaking resolution 275, calling on governments to prevent and punish all forms of violence targeting people on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity. In November 2015, the African Commission urged the Nigerian government to review the law, to prohibit violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to ensure access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services for LGBT individuals.
Nigerian authorities should act swiftly to protect LGBT people from violence, whether by state or non-state actors. Law enforcement officials should act without delay to stop all forms of abuse and violence against LGBT people, and ensure that LGBT victims of violence can file criminal complaints against their attackers.
The government of Nigeria should repeal the specific provisions of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act that criminalize forming and supporting LGBT organizations and ensure that key populations, including gay men, men who have sex with men, and transgender people have access to HIV services, care, and treatment.
“LGBT people in Nigeria are not advocating for same-sex marriage, but they want the violence to stop and for human rights defenders and organizations that provide services to LGBT people to be able to operate without fear,” Isaack said. “Nigeria should respond to the African Commission’s recommendation to review the law, rather than remaining silent about the human rights abuses LGBT people are facing.”
The Burundian government wants to leave the International Criminal Court. They’re well on their way.
via Washington Is Unhappy That Burundi Is ‘Very Happy’ to Be Leaving the ICC — Foreign Policy. Also see my post on if certain African leaders are anticipating their own bad behavior by leaving the ICC.
Leaders at the UN have announced their collective support of Portugal’s former Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, as the new Secretary General starting next year. He will replace South Korea’s Ban Ki Moon for the first of two possible five-year terms. In a secret ballot, 13 Security Council members voted in support of him, two neutrally, and none voted against him. Although he is not the female SG many had hoped for, as there as has never been a woman to hold the position, it is still good news.
So, why does this new SG matter so much to Africa?
Guterres was the 10th High Commissioner for Refugees, and most of his UN experience has been working towards humanitarian efforts for those who are displaced. He has been a vocal supporter of greater Western intervention on behalf of refugees, particularly those from Syria.
Although the world’s attention has been focused on those displaced from the Middle East, the refugee crisis has worsened in Africa too. The UNHCR reported that about 16 million people in Africa were either displaced or forced to flee to other countries. This figure increased by 1.5 million from 2014. Most of these people, about 10.7 million of them, were internally displaced persons (IDPs). The remaining 5.2 million were people that fled their home countries. The vast majority of these refugees, roughly 4.4 million, sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Like the previous years, the ongoing civil war in Somalia remained a huge factor in the high number of refugees. The simmering conflicts in South Sudan and Sudan were also responsible for putting many people on the run. Burundi descended into chaos after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was running for a third term, an election he went on to win. In Nigeria, the Boko Haram crisis drove a higher number of refugees to neighboring countries.
There are few who are better poised to understand the displacement challenges of Africans than Guterres. Appointing the former head of the UNHCR as SG is a sound decision, and good news for those concerned for refugees and IDPs from Africa. Let’s still focus on a female SG for the next round, though, as this gender imbalance continues to be pressing.
The African Union is still considering a mass withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would be disastrous for human rights. The ICC can prosecute individuals for international crimes such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly in circumstances in which the country of the crime is unable or unwilling to do so.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on testimony against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo at the ICC in the Hague, Netherlands. He is the Congolese former Vice President and ALC leader who ordered mass rapes and killings in the Central African Republic from 2002-2003. His trial was historic because it was the first time that an individual was charged with sexual violence as a stand alone crime. Previously, charges of mass rape have been embedded under the umbrella of other wartime violence in general. It was an important step forward for women’s rights.
This sort of progress would not have occurred outside the framework of the ICC. The AU currently demands that sitting heads of state be immune from ICC charges, but such actors are exactly those who are least likely to face justice in their home countries. The ICC is most relevant precisely for them. Are such leaders making a bid to withdraw simply in anticipation of their own potential bad behavior in the future?