Presentation for the Berta Cáceres International Feminist Organizing School
1st Thematic Workshop: Systems of Oppression
April 12 and 13, Virtual
I begin by expressing my joy in writing this text as a contribution to the International Feminist Organizing School (IFOS), which represents the advancement of a dream or the response to a perceived need in international coordination spaces of the World March of Women, which several years ago joined forces with GGJ – Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Grassroots International and Indigenous Environmental Network. Education for political action is an unavoidable need for the movement to strengthen itself. Understanding the Systems of Oppression is an essential part of individual and collective self-knowledge and critical to advance strategies and processes of change and transformation for the greater good, a life that is worth living, both in this one, and for generations to come.
Speaking of colonialism in Africa is a challenge. Africa became a colony because it is a rich continent, due to its people, natural resources, diverse ecosystems, seas, rivers, forests and oceans. We are very diverse peoples, of multiple languages, of multiple cultures, of multiple colors, of multiple spiritualities! We love to sing, dance, and eat! We are a hardworking people! Africa is a vast and quite diverse continent, with more than 54 countries, which were colonized by different colonial powers: Portuguese, French, Spanish, British, Belgian, Italian and Germans. Sylvia Tamale, in her book Decolonization and Afro-feminism, mentions that although there are overlaps and similarities in the legacy of European colonialism in Africa, there are also significant differences between the practices and impacts of different colonial powers. On the other hand, in order to analyze any situation for the purpose of decolonization, it is important to go back to the origins and consider the history, not to romanticize it, but to salvage and restore the dignity of the African people. (TAMALE, 2020: 2)
Therefore, my view of the effects of colonialism and white supremacy is based on the experience and historical legacy of Portuguese colonization in Mozambique.
We still live under the effects of colonialism – The processes of assimilation and civilization that we were subjected to were aimed at the destruction of our History, our memories, our knowledge. I am part of a generation that was beaten up for speaking my mother tongue or native language (Xitsua, in my case), at school – we were only allowed to speak Portuguese, even after independence. Language is the first element of communication, of passing on values, beliefs, traditions. While promoting access of the whole society to schooling = Western enculturation, one is, in a way, in a process of castrating the history, culture, traditions and references that constitute African identities and legacies. Without the language of one’s origins, it’s challenging to have a true accounting of history, and the process of decolonizing becomes more challenging still.
Free Trade Agreements and Development Aid were mostly pre-established during independence agreements, and later legitimized through global institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and multilateral institutions, were the means which the colonizers used to maintain their control over their former colonies, by imposing preferential business agreements. These restrict the autonomy of African nations and keeps them in a state of total dependence on the colonizers, and this later allowed trade relations to be between Africa and the Colonizers, rather than between Africans. This determined how infrastructure and means of communication developed: It is cheaper and faster to leave Mozambique for Europe or America, than to go to Central or North Africa.
The financial indebtedness of African countries has been the new form of enslavement that world powers use to keep African nations in chains. Governments are encouraged to take out large loans, supposedly to invest in security systems and to fight terrorism. War logistics moves more resources than any other sector of the economy, and those who supply arms, ammunition and the entire apparatus of military logistics are companies with the same origin as the loans. In contrast, Women die from lack of access to primary health care, lack of support for family farming efforts that are the basis for the survival of the majority of the population, lack of drinking water and basic sanitation, and massive unemployment.
Extractivism, practiced in the name of development that kills and destroys nature and everything in it, has been the main form of wealth accumulation by economic powers, through their multinational companies. They extract natural resources such as gas, oil, precious stones, forest and marine resources for export to the West and to Asia, maintaining African countries in continuing impoverishment. Land and production systems are also plundered from communities that are forced into inhumane resettlements where they lose their rights and livelihoods. In those territories where there are extractive mega-projects, there is an accelerated destruction of nature, with drastic environmental effects. (CHARMAINE, 2021: 1)
The commodification of nature and of common goods – has contributed to the precariousness of living conditions and increased poverty. They privatize natural sources and turn common goods into commodities. Even in remote rural areas, people drink soda and water bottled by Coca-Cola and other private companies. In return, many families have to pay to rent plots of land to grow their food, because their land has been taken over by agricultural corporations under completely unequal contracts that place them in slave labor. The context of the COVID-19 Pandemic has highlighted the precariousness and scarcity of public services to meet the needs of the people, especially women, who are the most affected in all situations of the health crisis.
The consumerist culture and preaching of Prosperity is one of the strategies of Neo-colonialist capitalism to keep people in a state of illusion. They cultivate the idea that living well means having money to buy whatever you want; but it’s the Marketing companies that define standards of consumption, beauty standards and the very concept of “living well” that confers a socially accepted status. Churches, the media and social media in turn play a very central role in this process of massive and decadent enculturation. Women’s bodies are used as commodities. The local market is infested with imported products at excessively low prices that compete unequally with local production, since many multinational companies produce in countries where they exploit labor and often do not pay taxes. African countries are now a source of raw material for the colonizers, but also a potential consumer market for their products.
Co-optation of the State and Militarization in all spheres of life has placed Women in a constant state of war – many African nations live in cyclical conflicts – Civil wars preceded the War for Independence and today, terrorism is implanted mainly in the regions where there are economic interests in the extraction of natural resources, as a means of forcing people to abandon their land and allow occupation for exploitation. The massive migration from the countryside to cities and abroad is the result of this phenomenon – this fuels colonial interests because the West appropriates cheap labor from immigrants for the functioning of its economy. Violence against women grows, with an emphasis on Pregnancy and early motherhood, the trafficking of women and girls exposed to sexual slavery, the trafficking of human organs, among other forms of violence.
The trajectory of African Feminism and the challenges of building the movement – the struggle for equality are often told from the history of the National Liberation Struggle movements, because the colonial perspective has silenced much of the history of resistance and leadership of Women. The liberation movements in turn had as their stated priority “Liberate Man and Liberate the Land”, thus assuming that all other banners were under this one, and considered to be a great and “unifying” message. However, as Gertrude Mongela said, “we fight side by side with men to free ourselves from colonialism, but we women are not yet free and we still need to fight for our own independence, for our freedom”! Sylvia Tamale (2020: 59) reinforces that the colonial educational approach, even in the post-independence period, continues to reinforce white supremacy, patriarchal conventions and male domination and research done from the viewpoint of Western feminism also marginalized the contribution of women, not recognizing them as part of the feminist struggle.
Women have raised their voices in resistance against the current neo-colonialist offensive, confronting threats and intimidation in this era of the criminalization of struggles, but convinced that no oppressor should walk with impunity and conscious of their rights to the land for which they have fought. Today, there have been growing voices calling for space, visibility and deepening analyses premised on and referencing studies done by Africans from Africa. Understanding the history from these references is essential, it is part of this process of decolonization that begins with the questioning in order to advance in the building of alternatives based on the experiences and expectations of African women.
The International Feminist Organizing School is a window of opportunity to encourage this collective process of decolonization to build a new trajectory with respect and dignity.
TAMALE, Sylvia: Decolonization and Afro-Feminism, Dajara Press. Otawa, 2020.
PEREIRA, Charmine & TSIKATA, Dzodzi, in: Extractivismo, Resistências e Alternativas. Feminist Africa 2021, Volume 2, 1 Edição.
Expressão de Slogan repetida por Samora Machel, Lider da revolução Moçambicana.
Gertrude Mongela foi Secretária Geral da IV Conferência sobre a Mulher, em 1995, em Beijing. Este pronunciamento foi feito no Forum paralelo á Comissão do Estatuto das Mulheres, UN, em 2013.
CASIMIRO, I & CUNHA, T. “Cinderelas of our Mozambique wish to speak: A feminist perspective on extractivism” In: Extrativismo, Resistências e Alternativas. Feminist Africa, 2021