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Repressive African Governments Under Siege

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Unpopular and anti-democratic rulers throughout the region are facing new and unexpected pressures from fired-up citizens demanding democracy in the wake of a people power uprising in the northern African nation of Tunisia.

In Yemen, police arrested Tawakul Karman after she led two protests at Sanaa University, criticizing autocratic Arab leaders and calling on Yemenis, using SMSs and e-mails, to topple President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Karman, who heads the Yemeni activist group Women Journalists Without Chains, also called on Yemenis to support the Tunisian people in their political struggle.

Protesters in Sanaa last week held signs reading: "Leave, before you are forced to leave."

In Algeria, helmeted riot police armed with batons and shields were reported to have clashed this week with rock- and chair-throwing protesters who tried to march in defiance of Algeria’s ban on public gatherings.

In the past two weeks, eight people have set themselves on fire in the country to protest unemployment, poverty, social inequality, and government corruption.

The largest protests were reported in Egypt, where thousands of demonstrators demanded an end to President Hosni Mubarek’s decades-old rule.

In Cairo and Alexandria, protestors were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. The rallies had been called on Facebook and Twitter, mostly by young Egyptians facing the same poverty and oppression that set off Tunisia's unrest.

Emergency laws in place since 1981 outlaw demonstrations without prior permission. Opposition groups say they have been denied such permits, and Egyptian security forces have a track record of dealing violently with protesters.

Writing on the VOA Africa website, Reuben Camara warned: “You can oppress some of the people some of the time - but you cannot suppress the vast majority all of the time. North Africa is about to explode.”

Mamdouh Khayrat, 23, said to Al Jazeera news service: “We want a functioning government, we want Mubarak to step down, we don't want emergency law, we don't want to live under this kind of oppression anymore… Enough is enough, things have to change…”

Madonna Scraps Plans for Girls School in Malawi

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A pledge by superstar Madonna to invest $15 million in an academy for underprivileged girls in Malawi has been scrapped by the recording artist.

The pop star known for racy videos had offered the “gift” after her adoption of two Malawian children. The $15 million “Raising Malawi – An Academy for Girls” would have taken in 500 young women to prepare them as future leaders. The school was scheduled to open this year.

Her revised plans have embarrassed government officials who had evicted some 200 villagers from their ancestral lands for the school. The villagers were reportedly paid about $1,500 each for their houses, gardens, and trees but offered no other land.

"We'd like to know why," said education minister Peter Mutharika. "Yes, we do appreciate that it is her project; she devised it and she knows best how to implement it. But still, as government, we'd be interested to know why there is this change."

Children’s rights activist Maxwell Matewere chided Madonna for "dumping" the project. "You educate a few to educate others,” he said. “She must borrow a leaf from others like Oprah [Winfrey] who did it in South Africa."

According to her publicists, Madonna has teamed up with the Global Philanthropy Group to "shift the strategies so that we can accomplish our goals with more efficiency as we continue to consult our government partners in Malawi". A pilot school is on the cards “that will address the barriers keeping girls from secondary education".

Poor, Minorities Become Abortion Victims in Philadelphia

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By Larry Miller, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

From the outside, the innocuous looking building at 3801 Lancaster Avenue was just another physician’s office in an area that has seen an upsurge of economic development during the years.

Even the name, “Women’s Medical Society” sounded impressive, suggesting a facility that cared first and foremost about its patients, most of whom, District Attorney Seth Williams said were poor African-American females and other minorities.

But, the Women’s Medical Society, run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who is himself African-American, was anything but a clinic that cared about the women who came for help with their pregnancies. What the innocent sounding name and safe looking exterior concealed was, according to Williams, a “house of horrors.”

The conditions of the facility were deplorable, unsanitary, and filthy, Williams said. Gosnell allegedly routinely used unlicensed and untrained staff members to treat patients, administer medication, conduct medical tests, and, even worse, kill babies.

Williams said. “The majority of the women who came to Gosnell were poor women of color. White women were placed in a slightly cleaner room. On those rare occasions when the patient was a White woman from the suburbs, Gosnell insisted that he be consulted at every step. When an employee asked him why, he said it was ‘the way of the world.’”

Williams told reporters during a recent press conference that he had no words to describe the brutal and cold-blooded actions of Gosnell. Gosnell, 69, who ran the Women’s Medical Society located at 38th and Lancaster Avenue has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and related offenses. Williams also alleged that Gosnell, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson University caused the death of at least one patient during a botched abortion. He has been charged with 3rd degree murder in the death of Karnamaya Mongar, 41.

Most of the illegally performed late-term abortions were performed on poor Black, Hispanic, and other minority women, Williams said.

“When you perform late-term abortions by inducing labor you get babies; living, breathing, viable babies. Most babies who are born prematurely will survive, if the get appropriate medical treatment. But, that was not what the Women’s Medical Society was all about,” Williams said. “He had a simple solution for the unwanted babies he delivered. He killed them but he didn’t call it that, he called it ‘ensuring fetal demise.’ The way he ensured ‘fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called it ‘snipping.’”

According to the Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Project, poor African-American women between ages 18 to 24 are most likely to have an abortion. They are either separated or unmarried and have an annual income of less than $15,000, or have Medicaid.

Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion rates showed that compared to the general population, poor women of color are almost five times as likely to have an abortion compared to their White counterparts.

“What’s the central issue surrounding this case is the need for quality healthcare across the board, not just reproductive healthcare,” said Brenda Shelton Dunston, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Project. “There is a need for African-American women to have access to medical providers who will perform a safe abortion if it’s needed. But, women of all ethnicities should not have to be concerned whether a physician will provide quality care. This case is extremely unfortunate and I think it’s particularly so in light of the fact that we’re celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King said that of all forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane. I think this case underscores that. Quality healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”

In the case of Gosnell, the Grand Jury’s investigation revealed a host of disturbing facts about the facility but perhaps the most compelling is the fact that the oversight agencies, particularly the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which should have shut down the Women’s Medical Society, didn’t.

In fact, several red flags went up about the clinic but none triggered the appropriate response.

“We deserve better and more oversight for these abortion clinics,” Williams said. “Some of them have their own standards and do exactly what they’re supposed to do. But, the Grand Jury was very upset when they learned there is more oversight for women’s hair and nail salons than for abortion clinics in Pennsylvania. The fact is that various state agencies; the Senate, appropriations, the House, and the current governor, need to investigate the Department of Health and ensure that the atrocities and barbaric medical treatment received by so many poor women in West Philadelphia does not occur again.”

According to the Grand Jury, the Pennsylvania Department of Health neglected its duty to ensure the safety and health of patients in state abortion clinics.

The investigation into Gosnell’s practices revealed that the state DOH deliberately chose to not enforce laws that should afford abortion patients quality care and appropriate safeguards.

“A significant difference exists between how DOH monitors abortion clinics and how it monitors facilities where other medical procedures are performed,” the report said. “Indeed, the department has shown an utter disregard both for the safety of women who seek treatment at abortion clinics and for the health of fetuses after they have become viable. State health officials have also shown a disregard for the laws the department is supposed to enforce. Most appalling of all, the Department of Health’s neglect of abortion patients’ safety and of Pennsylvania laws is clearly not inadvertent: It is by design.”

During the process of its investigation into Gosnell’s practices, the Grand Jury learned that several times officials at the Department of Health either stumbled upon or received complaints about problems at Gosnell’s clinic and failed to take any action to stop him.

The legion of accusations and allegations surrounding Gosnell came to light purely by accident.

On February 18, 2009 federal agents raided his clinic to break up an illegal prescription drug ring. What they found was the illegal abortion clinic with filthy and unsanitary conditions. The remains of at least 45 babies were found at the facility, Williams said, babies, who were born alive.

Also charged in the case are Lynda Williams, 42; Sherry West, 51; Adrienne Moton, 33; Steven Massof, 48; Elizabeth Hampton, 51; Eileen O’Neill, 54; Tina Baldwin, 45; Maddline Joe, 53; and Gosnell’s wife, Pearl Gosnell, 49. All are facing a host of charges including 3rd degree murder, theft by deception, conspiracy, hindering prosecution, and perjury.

In addition to being accused of murdering the babies of hundreds of poor women of color from 1979 to 2009, Gosnell and his allegedly unlicensed and untrained staff are accused of injuring and overdosing patients, spreading venereal disease by utilizing unsterilized medical equipment and perforated their wombs and bowels. At least one woman, Karnamaya Mongar, died, allegedly from an overdose of drugs during an abortion procedure she received at Gosnell’s clinic.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes said that although the gruesome activities of Gosnell and his co-defendants cannot be minimized, the broader issue surrounding the case is quality healthcare, especially for poor Black women.

“Most of Gosnell’s victims were Black women,” he said. “Women from low-income environments. While words cannot express the reprehensible nature under which Gosnell operated, the broader issue is quality healthcare, especially for low-income women. We can’t lose sight of that in the harsh light of these allegations.

Yesterday House Republicans moved to try and repeal healthcare reform, to return us to the same status quo healthcare that clearly did not serve Gosnell’s patients. My prayer is that Gosnell was the only doctor operating like this, but he might not be. We know of at least one other case where a doctor was performing abortions in one state and finishing them in another. The common denominator is low income. These women were from low-income environments where access to quality healthcare is problematic. They should not have been victimized.”

Susan Schewel, Executive Director of the Women’s Medical Fund however raised an important question — which is why any of the women who had abortions at Gosnell’s clinic went there in the first place.

“Women’s Medical Fund joins the chorus of voices that unequivocally condemn any illegal practices that occurred in that office. But, news coverage has not asked the most important question related to this story: why did women seek care there at all? Abortion is a legal common routine medical procedure. Yet for 25 years, the state of Pennsylvia has banned Medicaid funding for abortion. Abortion is the only routine medical procedure not covered by Medicaid. This prohibition on Medicaid payment for abortion leaves desperate women vulnerable to sub-standard providers,” Schewel said.

She said the Women’s Medical Fund raises money from individuals and gives it to women who have chosen an abortion but can’t afford it.

“We have never referred women to the Women’s Medical Society,” she said. “Over an eight-week period in 2010 when the Gosnell story first unfolded, I reviewed our records of the women whom we had supported who live in that same neighborhood. There were six women whose ages ranged from 21 to 36. Five were mothers. Four were enrolled in Medicaid; two had no health insurance at all. Two received unemployment checks and one had just been laid off a few days before she called. One worked at McDonald’s and earned $450/month. Two hundred dollars of that went to rent. One was obtaining a protection from abuse order against her violent husband. Another was pregnant due to a rape. One was living in a homeless shelter with her young child. She received $213 a month in welfare. The average monthly income of these six women was $503. Thankfully, all of these women sought care at high-quality abortion practices. Unconscionable public policy says if you are poor, pregnant and don’t want to be, you are out of luck and on your own. This story reminds us of the lengths to which desperate women go to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.”

Gbagbo has Special Connection to Blacks in the U.S.

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By George E. Curry –

(NNPA) ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire – Laurent Gbagbo, who has served as president of Côte d’Ivoire for 10 years, has always had a special connection to the United States.

“I visited the United States many times,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) News Service. “The first time was in 1980.” As part of his study abroad, he visited New York, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, and Memphis, which holds a special place in his heart.

“I visited Memphis, the city of the blues,” he recalled. “…I saw B.B. King in Memphis, with his big earring and his guitar. I saw him perform. I saw John Hooker. I saw him perform. But, the artist I loved dearly and I have all of his documented life is Ray Charles.

“Ray Charles’ life is a real defiance of nature. This is a man who when 5 years old, lost his brother. The seventh year, he became blind. Fifteen years, he lost his mom and his dad. So, when he was 15, he could not see, he had no parents, but when he died in 2004, he was one of the richest performers in the world. This is what I call a fighter. I like people who fight to make it in life, who start from scratch and reach the top level of their life. The fight of his life is more important to me than his voice.”

Gbagbo also said he was inspired by civil rights fighters in the U.S.

“When we were young, we listened to everything. I listened to Cassius Clay, who became Muhammad Ali. I listened to Carmichael – Stokely Carmichael – whom I met before he died. I met him in Senegal. He was in Guinea, where he married Miriam Makeba. I listened to Malcolm X and then Martin Luther King.

“For us young Africans who were far from the United States, we didn’t know what was the best attitude, the best path to follow to end what was not an inside problem to America. It was a worldwide problem, the problem of segregation of Blacks. We are Black so we felt concerned about what was happening in the United States.”

And, he paid special attention to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Among all the problems we have, Martin Luther King has indicated one important way to resolve the problems: triumph without war,” Gbagbo said. He said he noticed how King used non-violence in dismantling racial segregation in the U.S. and how South Africa, to a less extent, used non-violence to eradicate apartheid.

“Black Americans should not think that the teachings of Martin Luther King are only for them,” he said. “It’s a teaching. It has to be implemented, it give results, extraordinary results.”

And when Gbagbo visited America, he made an extraordinary effort to visit Memphis.

“In Memphis, I saw the motel where Martin Luther King was killed,” he recalled. “We went to see the room. There were some flowers at the door where he was shot. After that, I saw that the place had been changed into a foundation, a Martin Luther King Foundation. It’s a good thing.”

Gbagbo recently announced that he has asked Charles Steele, Jr., immediate past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization co-founded by King, to create the Charles Steele Jr. Peace and Nonviolence Center in Abidjan. Gbagbo said he would be the first volunteer to undergo special training in nonviolence.

Once that’s established, he won’t have to make so many trips to Memphis to rekindle the memory of Dr. King.

President of Ivory Coast Deplores Election Double-Standard

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By George E. Curry –

(NNPA) ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire -- Laurent Gbagbo, the embattled president of Côte d’Ivoire, more popularly known as the Ivory Coast, says President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and other western leaders should stop questioning the legitimacy of his re-election and accord the West African country the same respect the United States was given in the controversial 2000 presidential election contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

In an exclusive videotaped interview in his presidential residence, Gbagbo said: “You in the United States, in 2000, you had an election dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush. They did a recount of the votes. Did we go get the NATO forces to come and attack America and impose democracy on America? This is a post-electoral dispute. That’s why I’m [suspicious of] all those countries who are rushing in to condemn us. I don’t trust them.”

In three separate rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the recounting of ballots in the race between Bush and Gore, allowing Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ certification of Bush as the winner to stand. Bush’s victory in Florida gave him 25 electoral votes, allowing him to defeat Gore 271 electoral votes to 266.

On October 31, 2011 there was a presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire. A run-off election was held November 28, 2010 between Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister under President Felix Houphouet-Boigny and an economist for the International Monetary Fund. The chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that Ouattara was the victor, which pleased Sarkozy and other western leaders who had been supporting Ouattara.

Gbagbo, who was first elected president of the former French colony a decade ago, said those supporting Ouattara ignored the second part of a two-step electoral process. After some of the ballots were challenged by Gbagbo, the Constitutional Council – the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court – ruled that Gbagbo won the run-off with 51.45 percent of the votes, three percentage points higher than Ouattara’s 48.55 percent.

“In our constitution, the Independent Electoral Commission is just an administrative body. It organizes the election and it proclaims the provisional results,” Gbagbo explained. “The only institution which by law proclaims the final results, proclaim who won the election and who receives the oath of president is the Constitutional Council.”

Sarkozy expressed support for Ouattara before the Constitutional Council issued its ruling.

“The Independent Electoral Commission has announced the results, which signal a clear, indisputable victory for Alassane Ouattara,” Sarkozy said on December 4, 2010. “After verification of the votes, the United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon endorsed the result of the ballot and congratulated President-elect M. Ouattara. Following this, President Obama and the European leaders, like me, saluted Alassane Ouattara’s victory.”

Sarkozy was relying on a 2007 peace agreement that required the United Nations to certify election results. However, Gbagbo asserted that as a sovereign nation, no outside institution is above his country’s highest court.

After throwing out voided ballots, the Constitutional Council concluded that Gbagbo had defeated Ouattara 2,054,537 to 1,938,672.

The Constitutional Council is composed of six counselors and a president. Under the constitution, the president of the National Assembly appoints three of the jurists and the president of the country picks three, plus the president of the Constitutional Council.

Critics argue that given its makeup, it is not surprising that Council ruled in Gbagbo’s favor. Gbagbo does not deny that most of the justices are his friends, but said that is no different from the president of the United States appointing members of the Supreme Court, pending Senate confirmation.

Gbagbo also noted that the Independent Electoral Commission was heavily packed with Ouattara supporters, a point mentioned in some of the Constitutional Council’s documents.

In a signed appeal to voters, dated November 27, 2010, Gbagbo and Ouattara agreed, “We solemnly pledge to accept the election results as declared at the close of polls by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Constitutional Council.”

Article 98 of the constitution proclaims, “The decisions of the Constitutional Council are not susceptible to any recourse…”

Instead of accepting the ruling by the country’s top court, however, Ouattara claimed victory and called for the physical removal of Gbagbo from Côte d’Ivoire. He remains ensconced in the Golf Hotel, protected by United Nations troops. The only way to reach or leave the hotel is aboard a U.N. helicopter.

Côte d’Ivoire, once known as the Paris of Africa, is the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Its downtown skyline is dotted with impressive skyscrapers. The country is slightly larger than New Mexico and has a population of approximately 21 million.

Ethnic, geographical, and religious factors are part of the tension between supporters of each candidate. Gbagbo is a Christian from the Bete ethnic group and lives in the south. Ouattara is a Muslim, a member of the Dioula group, whose supporters are mostly in the northern part of the country, a section held by rebels who initiated a civil war less than two years after Gbagbo became president.

Gbagbo said he was under pressure to hold elections in 2010 even though the international community that now opposes him never insisted that rebels lay down their guns as part of the peace process.

“Many Americans don’t even know what is Côte d’Ivoire,” said Gbagbo. “When I was in the U.S., I was obliged to say we are between Ghana and Liberia… So when they tell them there’s a dictator somewhere in a country called Côte d’Ivoire who lost the election and doesn’t want to go, they take it. It’s very easy when it concerns Africa because they say, ‘Well, it’s Africa.’”

Gbagbo, a former college professor, has a Ph.D in history and wrote his dissertation on French colonization of Africa. He said many of the problems on the continent stem from the relationship between African leaders and their old colonial powers.

That alone, however, does not explain why there is such widespread opposition to Gbagbo. The U.N., France, the U.S., the African Union, the Central Bank of West African States and the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) all assert that Ouattara is the duly elected president.

When asked about African opposition to his remaining in power, the prideful Pan-Africanist became subdued, selecting his words carefully.

“English-speaking countries that were colonized by Great Britain do not suffer the pressure from their colonial power as former French colonies,” Gbagbo stated. “The French have a stronger impact on its former colonies than English-speaking superpowers. That’s a factual situation. Other than that, our French-speaking countries are more fragile than English-speaking countries.”

In other words, some African leaders feel intense economic pressure to do the bidding of France.

Not everyone accepts that explanation.

Abbul-Rahma, writing in a column for GhanaWeb.com, said: “…The Ivorian problem is not an issue of colonial imperialism, but a determined effort by a tyrant to defy the will of his people and of the international community.”

Some critics are trying to use the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and other troubled Black countries as an excuse to reintroduce colonialism.

In his January 11th column in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens dismissed Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, and the Sudan as basket cases.

“What, if anything, does it all mean? It means that we have come full circle,” said Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of the newspaper. “It means that colonialism, for which the West has spent the past five decades in nonstop atonement, was far from the worst thing to befall much of the colonized world. It means, also, that some new version of colonialism may be the best thing that could happen to at least some of the countries in the post-colonial world.”

Ouattara called for a “special operations” raid to seize Gbagbo and “take him somewhere else.” With France cheering them on, African leaders in ECOWAS have discussed the possibility of using military troops to remove Gbagbo from office.

Ghana President John Mills, a member of ECOWAS, said he will have no part of such a move. And one of Mills’ predecessors, Jerry Rawlings, supports his decision.

“More outrageous election results have taken place without intervention,” Rawlings stated. “How can we justify an intervention in this instance, when the results are so close and divided along ethnic lines? Let us investigate all the peaceful options available rather than a military intervention that cannot establish a peaceful political transition in Côte d’Ivoire.”

President Obama is part of the international effort to isolate Gbagbo.

Like the European Union, he has announced a travel ban on Gbagbo, his wife, and three of his top aides. In addition, an executive order issued by Obama forbids U.S. citizens from conducting financial or commercial transactions with Gbagbo and his inner circle and freezes all of their U.S. assets.

“They said they are closing all of the accounts of President Gbagbo and his staff in the foreign banks, but I laughed at it,” Gbagbo said, flashing a broad smile. “I have no accounts outside [Côte d’Ivoire]. In the United States, they found a small account that’s for my daughter when she was a student there. There’s $400 in the account. She forgot that there was $400 left in it. That’s the only account that is called Gbagbo and they don’t even belong to me. They are not for me, they belong to my daughter.”

According to the White House, Obama has tried to reach Gbagbo by telephone on at least three occasions, but the African leader would not accept his calls.

When asked about refusing to speak with U.S. president, Gbagbo said, “I didn’t even know if Barack Obama called me because his ambassador, he has discredited himself. So, when he tells me something, I don’t believe him.”

That notwithstanding, Obama sent a letter to Gbagbo urging him to step aside. According to Gbagbo, Obama said “he’d give me a professor’s job in Boston.”

Despite his ability to see humor in some U.S. actions, it is clear that Gbagbo is pained about the actions of America’s first Black president, a president whose father was born in Kenya.

When this interviewer asked Gbagbo what he would say if Barack Obama were sitting across from him, Gbagbo replied: “If I was in front of him, I would say his administration is being misled, that his administration is being totally misled on this issue,” Gbagbo said. “He has to help Africans build strong states and to build those strong states, you have to re-enforce the power of the institutions on which the nations stand. He must respect those institutions.”

Gbagbo said Obama is more than simply a Black man in the White House.

“I’m very proud that when the Blacks now walk down the streets in America, they are not looked down upon like a sub-human,” Gbagbo explained. “This is my pride. But politics remain politics… He is an American president. And, he defends the interests of the United States.”

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