Archive for December, 2013

What’s Going On in the Central African Republic ?
December 10, 2013

Once again France is involved in a major military intervention in Africa … this time in the Central African Republic (CAR) ostensibly to prevent growing growing muslim/christian violence amidst talk of genocide. But what exactly is going on in the CAR and will this intervention do any more to enhance stability and economic development than any of France’s numerous interventions in Africa over recent decades?

The CAR is a huge country with a very small population. It is about the size of France and has around 4.5 million inhabitants.

The population is comprised of some 80 different ethnic groups. The religious breakdown seems to be 50% christian, 35% adhering to traditional beliefs, and only about 15% Islam.

It is a former French colony. In fact, the most significant anti-colonial struggle in Africa between the two world wars, the Kongo-Wara rebellion (brutally crushed by the French and covered up) took place in this area.

The country is rich in natural resources: oil, uranium, gold, diamonds, lumber, etc.

CAR ostensibly gained independence in 1958 but the French never really left. They have involved themselves in it’s affairs ever since .. helping install and overthrow despots as it suited them. As far as I can make out they have maintained a permanent military presence. The “father of CAR independence”, Barthélemy Boganda, who was due to become the first prime minister after independence is believed to have been murdered by the French secret service.

So what exactly has happened recently? How is it that people of different religions who have coexisted for centuries have suddenly started killing each other? The answer to these questions is not easy to come by.

What we do know is that in 2003 General François Bozizé seized power in a coup. This was followed by many years of low intensity conflict with a disparate collection of rebel groups in the north. At this stage he was supported by the French who, amongst other things, carried out mirage jet attacks on rebel positions in 2006.

A peace agreement was signed between the government and rebel groups but this fell apart in December 2012 as the rebels (now united under the banner of Seleka) accused the government of breaking promises and immediately began to seize territory. Bozizé appealed for international support but France now stated that it would not assist him. French troops were dispatched however to seize and hold the airport. Several African countries (Chad, Gabon, Cameroon, Angola,South Africa and Republic of Congo) did decide to sent troops to stop the rebels advance on the capital. The South African commitment in particular was significant and some observers viewed this as an attempt to counter French influence in the CAR. By March 24, however, Seleka was able to seize the Capital and install Michel Djotodia as president.

How was it, I wondered, that rebel groups who had not been able to seize power in many years of low intensity conflict were able to sweep to the capital and seize it in a matter of months? Also, I furthered wondered, how was this possible when the rebels apparently represented the Islamic population of CAR which makes up at most 15%. The short answer to this is that Seleka seems to have been substantially stiffened with mercenaries from Chad and Sudan. Who has organised and funded this is an open question. Also, who exactly are these mercenaries?

One interesting thing in the Seleka march to the capital was that one night a substantial group of their fighters (several hundred if not more) came from the direction of the French held airport (where they had no problem with the French)to attack a contingent of South African troops. In the ensuing 19 hour firefight about 14 South Africans were killed. (The South Africans say they killed 500)

Another interesting thing is the the President installed by Seleka, Michel Djotodia, was resolutely pro west. The first thing he did on assuming power was to tear up all the mining and oil contracts the previous government had signed with China. Djotida stated that he would be seeking the help of France and the USA to retrain the CAR Army defeated by Seleka. ““We will rely on the European Union to help us develop this country,” he asserted. “When we have been sick, the European Union was at our bedside. It will not abandon us now.”

Now, while Djotida was tearing up contracts the Selekaa forces were running amuck. Widespread looting, pillaging, rape and murder of Christians commenced. What was this about one wondered? In response Christian communities began to form their own militias to fight the Seleka know as the “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) Unfortunately, they also began to take revenge on ordinary Muslims who had nothing to do with Seleka.

In September 2013, Michel Djotodia announced that Seleka had been dissolved but the militias comprising Seleka did not go along with this. So roaming the country since have been heavily armed bands of men, often speaking no CAR language and answerable to God knows who. On the anti-balaka side as well there are now numerous local militas under no centralised command.

It will be interesting to see who France puts into power to sort all this out. One cannot help but feel, however, that at the end of the day the people of the CAR will continue to be the losers.

And the BRICS countries have not done well while the EU is in the driving seat. China has been stripped of its oil and mineral concessions and South Africa has been given a bloody nose.

There are, by the way, about 100 members of the US Special Forces in the CAR ostensibly seeking Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Sam Lord  10 December 2013

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Ten young women and one young man, the Dunnes Stores strike and the disappearance of the man
December 8, 2013

Today’s Irish Times carries an article on page two by Kitty Holland, in it she states:

“The picket would be there, on the shops three entrances, manned by 11 young women from the inner city, for two years and nine months.”

And that is typical of what is being printed right now.

Well they were all young, but not all from the inner city, and definitely not all women. That only one young man joined the courageous women in the strike is bad enough, but that is no reason to revise him out of history.
It was a principled workers strike, supported and opposed by both men and women, many of whom traveled from all over Ireland and even abroad to support the strike, or sadly, to take joy in passing the picket and even abusing those on the picket line.
I have searched the web and very few references are made to the one man, but the fact that cross gender working class solidarity was shown is mentioned in two songs. This is by the late great Ewan MacColl.

Ten Young Women And One Young Man

A song by Ewan MacColl ©EwanMacColl 

Pause a while my friends and listen to what I’m going to tell to you
About the events in Dublin City and the girls of the IDATU
Dunne’s stores branch in Henry street was where the trouble first began
That led to the strike, the famous strike
Of ten young women and one young man

At the union conference that year they said we should not compromise
With apartheid, and they voted to boycott all South African merchandise
Karen Guerin, and the Dunne’s shop steward, told their mates about the ban
They said “We’ll stick by the resolution”
Ten young women and one young man

Mary Manning, from Kilmainham, a twenty one year old cashier
Was put to the test the very next morning and she spoke up loud and clear
“No, I’m afraid, I cannot serve you. That grapefruit’s South African
Some of us here are opposed to apartheid”
Ten young women and one young man

Well what a hell of a hullaballoo, the groans and threats and angry cries
The management foaming at the mouth and the suits running round like blue-arsed flies
“You’ll sell that fruit or be suspended, we’ll tolerate no union ban”
Little did they understand the will
Of ten young women and one young man

Mary Manning got the push, a lass of independent mind
And ten of her workmates came out and her and joined her there on the picket line
For days and weeks and months they stood there held their nerve and kept the ban
Showing the will and determination
Of ten young women and one young man

So here’s to the girls of Dublin City who stretched their hands across the sea
That action surely is a lesson in workers’ solidarity
Here’s to the folk who heed the boycott, won’t buy Cape and spurn Outspan
And to the lad who joined the lasses
Ten young women and one young man

From here

And from Christy Moore:

Close your eyes and come with me back to 1984
We’ll take a walk down Henry Street to Dunnes Department store.
The supermarket’s busy and the registers make a din’
The groceries go rolling out and the cash comes rolling in.

Mary Manning is at the checkout and she’s trying to keep warm,
When a customer comes up to her with a basket on her arm
The contents of the basket Mary’s future is to shape
But the label clearly stated “Produce Of The Cape”

I can’t check out your oranges Mrs, now won’t you bring them back.
For they come from South Africa, where White oppresses black
I’d have it on my conscience and I couldn’t sleep at night
If I helped support the system that denies Black People’s rights

Our union says “Don’t Handle Them. it’s the least that we can do.
We Fought oppression here for centuries, we’ll help them fight it too”
The managers descended in an avalanche of suits
And Mary was suspended cos she wouldn’t touch the fruits.

Chorus:
Dunnes Stores Dunnes Stores
Dunnes Stores with St Bernard Better Value Beats Them All

Well, her friends are all behind her and the union gave support
And they called a strike and the pickets brought all Dunnes’ Stores to a halt
No one was going to tell the Boss what he bought or sold
These women are only workers, they must do as they are told.

Isn’t it just typical of a partite screwball law?
It’s not just in South Africa, the Rich Temple and the poor.
He wouldn’t have a boycott, he couldnt give a tinker’s curse
Doesn’t matter how he fills the shelves as long as he
Lines his Purse

Chorus

The messages came rollin’ in from all around the world
For such concern and sacrifice and for courage brave and bold.

When 14 months were over, 10 women and a man
Had helped to raise the consiousness all around the
Land. 

Cleary’s in O’Connell street wouldn’t sell South African shoes.
Best Man sent all their clothes back, Roches Stores sent back their booze.
Until all South African goods were taken off the shelves in Dunnes.
And Mary Manning was down in Henry Street sticking to her guns.

Chorus

And a rare non-song mention:

One thing I did that sticks in my memory is the trip to Dublin. This was a lovely experience – there were these (I think) five [sic] women and one man, a small group of workers at Dunnes Stores in Henry Street in Dublin who had refused to handle or take money for South African produce and they were sacked by their employer. The union IDATU backed their case and I went over there on our behalf. That was a very nice trip; and they came over to us. They were decent folk who had just taken a moral stand. (Interview with Andy Higginbottom, April 2012).

From here

So there you have it….when next you hear someone talk of the Dunnes Stores women remind them that there was a quiet young man who saved us men from total shame.

I have forgotten his name, and that may be the way he would want it, but if he reads this I just want to say…..thank you.

Eamo  8 December 2013

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