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press and human rights in Gabon?

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  • roiadende
    Hello everyone! This is my first post here, and I m glad this is around... My name is Jeremy. I m presently the Amnesty International USA country specialist
    Message 1 of 7 , Jan 2, 2004
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      Hello everyone!

      This is my first post here, and I'm glad this is around...

      My name is Jeremy. I'm presently the Amnesty International USA
      country specialist for Gabon, and I lived there from 1998 to 2000
      when I was working on my dissertation in history. I presently am a
      history professor.

      I haven't had the chance (in other words, the money) to return to
      Gabon since the end of 2000, and I am wondering if those of you in-
      country could give me some help. From the outside, it looks like the
      human rights in Gabon has been in decline for the last couple of
      years - granted, it never has been very good, but based on all the
      reports I've been seeing, Bongo is more openly cracking down on
      political dissent than in the late 90s. I heard that l'autre journal
      and la griffe were closed down by the government, for example, and I
      heard about the protests in Ndende and the RTG and university strikes
      in Libreville.

      Am I right in thinking the situation is getting worse? Or this just
      a distorted viewpoint? If you prefer that your comments are not
      posed, email me directly.

      Que vous tous ayez une bonne et heureuse annee, Jeremy
    • bobutne
      Welcome aboard Jeremy. Amnesty International has accomplished much in bringing to light instances of mans inhumanity towards man including the curtailment of
      Message 2 of 7 , Jan 2, 2004
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        Welcome aboard Jeremy.

        Amnesty International has accomplished much in bringing to light
        instances of mans' inhumanity towards man including the curtailment
        of democratic freedoms. http://www.amnesty.org/

        However, can one judge human rights in Gabon solely by Westernized
        standards? I'd like to understand how the traditional tribal
        standards are being upheld and violated and whether or not the
        Gabonese prefer to move entirely to a Westernized model or to retain
        portions of their traditional, tribal model of human/tribal
        behavior.

        How did the various tribes interact throughout the 100,000+ year-old
        history of the Bantu? What rights did women and children have and who
        enforced the tribal codes?

        In many tribal societies, wealth resides and is controlled the tribal
        leader and everyone else shares. Birth rights determine tribal status
        and tribal allegiance is a much stronger force than national or any
        other identity. If one looks at Gabon as simply one Bantu tribe, the
        actions of Omar Bongo appear quite normal by tribal standards.

        On the other side of the coin, I have heard of too many instances of
        inhumanity towards women and children in Gabon. For example, when I
        was in Gabon in 2002, an European told me he saw a Gabonese woman in
        Libreville, being driven in a Mercedes, stop at a school and then
        abducted a young girl. He knew it was an abduction after his child
        related the news. Since only the top officials in Gabon own Mercedes
        autos, the European surmised it was one of the wives of a cabinet
        official.

        Personally, I'd focus on the instances of inhumanity against children
        in Gabon as the major focus of your inquiry. Good luck on your quest
        to enlighten us all.



        --- In gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.com, "roiadende" <roiadende@y...>
        wrote:
        > Hello everyone!
        >
        > This is my first post here, and I'm glad this is around...
        >
        > My name is Jeremy. I'm presently the Amnesty International USA
        > country specialist for Gabon, and I lived there from 1998 to 2000
        > when I was working on my dissertation in history. I presently am a
        > history professor.
        >
        > I haven't had the chance (in other words, the money) to return to
        > Gabon since the end of 2000, and I am wondering if those of you in-
        > country could give me some help. From the outside, it looks like
        the
        > human rights in Gabon has been in decline for the last couple of
        > years - granted, it never has been very good, but based on all the
        > reports I've been seeing, Bongo is more openly cracking down on
        > political dissent than in the late 90s. I heard that l'autre
        journal
        > and la griffe were closed down by the government, for example, and
        I
        > heard about the protests in Ndende and the RTG and university
        strikes
        > in Libreville.
        >
        > Am I right in thinking the situation is getting worse? Or this
        just
        > a distorted viewpoint? If you prefer that your comments are not
        > posed, email me directly.
        >
        > Que vous tous ayez une bonne et heureuse annee, Jeremy
      • Jeremy Rich
        Thanks for the kind reply, first off. In regards to tribal views on human rights - It is very hard to come up with a definitive answer to this question.
        Message 3 of 7 , Jan 2, 2004
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          Thanks for the kind reply, first off.

          In regards to "tribal" views on human rights -

          It is very hard to come up with a definitive answer to this question. Historians - like the late Chris Gray, a former PCV who put out "Colonial Crisis in Equatorial Africa" (U. of Rochester Press, 2002), a history of southern Gabon from 1850 to 1940 - have pointed out how ethnic labels used today in Gabon were created by Europeans and Africans in the last century. Clan rather than "ethnic" identity on lingustic lines was much more important. Fang-speaking people identified by clan, and often fought against other clans, up through the disasters of WWI and the famines of the 1920s. When we in the West think of tribe as a permanent or solid entity, it doesn't apply well to central Africa.

          There were a lot of check to the power of big men in 19th century Gabon. Individual chiefs had to answer in many cases to councils of village men. In southern Gabon, mwiri and bwiti associations of men could reject or even depose chiefs rather easily. Among the Mpongwe of Libreville, chiefs could not make decisions without support from free men - or women, since the Njembe secret society made up of women would sometimes refuse to obey chiefs. Chiefs became more authoritarian with the establishment of French rule, when the government appointed chiefs and the chiefs only answered to the French (at least in theory). it might not have been a western liberal democracy, but it wasn't just a matter of chiefs ordering everyone else around, either.

          Women's rights varied a great deal. Among the Mpongwe people, free women had a lot of freedom, but slave women did not. Among Fang-speaking communities, there were in the late 1800s and early 1900s expectations that women would be relatively powerless and docile, but many Fang women refused to accept these expectations. Some joined mevung power associations that would criticize men.

          "tribal" or ethnic identity, to my mind, still is not particularly strong among many Gabonese. ethnic boundaries are still very fluid in the south. fang people divide by region, clan, and family ties. many estuary fang people i interviewed in 1998-2000 said they were afraid the Fang from Woleu-Ntem wanted to take over the country, while there were divisions between Fang from Oyem and Bitam.

          Bongo has often been criticized along local lines for being greedy and overbearing. people in pre-colonial Gabon might often have been dependents on authoritarian chiefs, but they also would criticize men who were seen as overly selfish or cruel - often accusing them of using occult powers to harm others.

          so, to end this longwinded post, i'd argue that many Gabonese today do not look on Omar Bongo as a good leader, but only a rich and powerful one.



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        • bobutne
          ...i d argue that many Gabonese today do not look on Omar Bongo as a good leader, but only a rich and powerful one. And what nation in the world can t you
          Message 4 of 7 , Jan 2, 2004
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            "...i'd argue that many Gabonese today do not look on Omar Bongo as a
            good leader, but only a rich and powerful one."

            And what nation in the world can't you make the same statement? Power
            corrupts and absolute power ....."

            My points are that Amnesty International would be better served to
            focus on the most egregious incidents of injustices (IMO, the alleged
            incidents of slavery of many young) versus using Western standards to
            focus on broadly condemning the nation's leadership for its use of
            press censorship, the imprisonment of selected political opponents
            and its omnipresent greed.

            What works in the media are real life stories. Dig and you should
            find, and, ....report to the world.
          • Jeremy Rich
            AI is also working on child trafficking as well, although its very limited committment to Gabon has meant not enough has been done in this area. AI s
            Message 5 of 7 , Jan 3, 2004
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              AI is also working on child trafficking as well, although its very limited committment to Gabon has meant not enough has been done in this area. AI's resources in terms of research in central Africa have been overwhelmed by the atrocities that continue in Congo-Kinshasa, where over three million people are estimated to have been killed since 1998. A big problem with child trafficking is that it requires a lot of research on the ground to find the guilty parties, and few human rights agencies have done much (as opposed to Cote d'Ivoire or Benin). I agree human rights groups should do much more on this issue.

              Also, depressingly, it is much easier to investigate and document restrictions of freedom of the press and on journalists than it is to liberate enslaved children. I wish AI would put a lot more into the issue of children and slavery in Gabon, but for whatever reasons (mainly related to available staff, I think), it has not.

              However...

              Gabon has signed off of many international treaties regarding human rights. Thus, if the Gabonese government has accepted the validity of "Western" standards such as freedom of the press and due process of law, to my mind it should be held accountable when it does not respect them. And if critics of a government have risk to their well-being to write newspapers and speak their minds, should people in the US tell them that they do not deserve support or protection because they are Africans and that human rights do not apply to them?


              The mainland Chinese government, among others, enjoys arguing that human rights is an alien and Western concept, and that therefore arbitrary imprisonment, religious persecution, and brutal treatment of prisoners somehow thus should not be criticized by people from the outside. Mobutu basically made the same argument in Congo in the 70s by rejecting "democracy" as a foriegn idea. It is a cynical argument that seems to be much more popular with authoritarian regimes than ordinary people living in them.

              So, I guess I'll end by saying I think you are right that AI needs to do more on children, but that AI also is concerned with protecting people who face persecution solely to express their views.

              Jeremy



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            • bobutne
              To President Omar Bongo s credit, Gabon has avoided the mass bloodshed of civil wars experienced by many of its neighbors even though ot because of his (along
              Message 6 of 7 , Jan 6, 2004
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                To President Omar Bongo's credit, Gabon has avoided the mass
                bloodshed of civil wars experienced by many of its neighbors even
                though ot because of his (along with the French) strong-arm political
                style. So, how does one pick his/her battles to best affect positive
                change? IMO, education including the proper treatment of the youth
                and ridding Gabon of malaria appear to be more critical, at this
                time, than shaming Gabonese/French leadership for their lack of
                freedom of the press and others to dissent.




                --- In gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.com, Jeremy Rich <roiadende@y...>
                wrote:
                > AI is also working on child trafficking as well, although its very
                limited committment to Gabon has meant not enough has been done in
                this area. AI's resources in terms of research in central Africa
                have been overwhelmed by the atrocities that continue in Congo-
                Kinshasa, where over three million people are estimated to have been
                killed since 1998. A big problem with child trafficking is that it
                requires a lot of research on the ground to find the guilty parties,
                and few human rights agencies have done much (as opposed to Cote
                d'Ivoire or Benin). I agree human rights groups should do much more
                on this issue.
                >
                > Also, depressingly, it is much easier to investigate and document
                restrictions of freedom of the press and on journalists than it is to
                liberate enslaved children. I wish AI would put a lot more into the
                issue of children and slavery in Gabon, but for whatever reasons
                (mainly related to available staff, I think), it has not.
                >
                > However...
                >
                > Gabon has signed off of many international treaties regarding human
                rights. Thus, if the Gabonese government has accepted the validity
                of "Western" standards such as freedom of the press and due process
                of law, to my mind it should be held accountable when it does not
                respect them. And if critics of a government have risk to their well-
                being to write newspapers and speak their minds, should people in the
                US tell them that they do not deserve support or protection because
                they are Africans and that human rights do not apply to them?
                >
                >
                > The mainland Chinese government, among others, enjoys arguing that
                human rights is an alien and Western concept, and that therefore
                arbitrary imprisonment, religious persecution, and brutal treatment
                of prisoners somehow thus should not be criticized by people from the
                outside. Mobutu basically made the same argument in Congo in the 70s
                by rejecting "democracy" as a foriegn idea. It is a cynical argument
                that seems to be much more popular with authoritarian regimes than
                ordinary people living in them.
                >
                > So, I guess I'll end by saying I think you are right that AI needs
                to do more on children, but that AI also is concerned with protecting
                people who face persecution solely to express their views.
                >
                > Jeremy
                >
                >
                >
                > ---------------------------------
                > Do You Yahoo!? -- Une adresse @... gratuite et en français !
                > Testez le nouveau Yahoo! Mail
                >
                > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • bobutne
                In the latest edition of quarterly The Gabon Letter , published by Darcy Meijer (justdarcy@ntown.com), there was a great interview conducted by Darcy with
                Message 7 of 7 , Jan 6, 2004
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                  In the latest edition of quarterly "The Gabon Letter", published by
                  Darcy Meijer (justdarcy@...), there was a great interview
                  conducted by Darcy with Andrew Herman. Andrew was a PCV in Gabon from
                  1993-1996 working in an AIDS education project in Libreville and,
                  later, teaching English in Mimongo where he met his present wife.

                  One of the keys Andrew focused on was the lack of books and libraries
                  in Gabon. No public libraries not even in Libreville. If Darcy will
                  send me the entire interview, I will publish it on here.
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