Yearly Archives: 2015
The forgotten Sahrawi resistance struggle in Africa’s last colony.
For decades, the Sahrawi have been fighting for political independence from Morocco. Faced with numerous expulsions and countless human rights violations at the hands of the Moroccan occupying power, the Sahrawi have fought for their rights, first militarily, and since the signing of a peace agreement in 1991, through peaceful resistance. The fact that this long-standing conflict over the last colony in Africa is so rarely given attention in the international media was a key motivation to highlight the issue for this fifth evening of 14km’s Film and Discussion Series. With her documentary, “Life is waiting – referendum and resistance in Western Sahara,” Brazilian film maker and political activist, Iara Lee, sheds light on the Sahrawi desert people and their almost forgotten struggle for national self-determination. The film explores over 40 years of history in north-west Africa, and highlights the living conditions of the people of Western Sahara along with their form of non-violent resistance. When Spain, after having ruled the territory as a colonial power, withdrew in 1975, both Morocco and Mauritania rushed in to occupy the resource rich country in violation of international law. A Sahrawi liberation and independence movement – the Polisario Front – soon emerged, calling and taking up arms for an independent “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.” Whereas Mauritania withdrew its troops in 1979, Morocco did not abandon its territorial claims. Moroccan napalm and phosphorous bombs saw tens of thousands of Sahrawi flee into exile in Algeria, where they remain to this day in refugee camps, separated from their homeland by over 2,700km of walls and minefields. Despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in 1991, the conflict remains far from resolved. UN MINURSO, the international peacekeeping mission established to ensure the ceasefire held and pave the way for a referendum, has largely failed. So far, no referendum has been held. Instead, Moroccan troops have increased daily attacks on the Sahrawi, who have in turn fought back. The film gives a voice to many Sahrawi activists who express their opposition through art and political action. Take the young rapper, Flitoox Crazy, for example, who raps confidently about freedom and peace. Undeterred despite being severely tortured at the hands of the Moroccan police, he continues to fight for the rights of his people. Similarly, the film introduces us to Aminatou Haidar, perhaps the most well known Sahrawi rights activist. After being arrested during a demonstration, Haidar spent over four years in a Moroccan prison, suffering torture. “My children can grow up without parents, but not without dignity,” she says, explaining the struggle for justice and an independent homeland. The film is dedicated to the late Sahrawi singer, Marien Hassan – the “Voice of the Sahara.” For decades, her songs of resistance about everyday life in exile and Sahrawi identity touched close to the hearts of her people. She exemplified the power of art in expressing political resistance and highlighted the strong role Sahrawi women play in the struggle against the occupation of their homeland. The film makes it clear that the Sahrawi are a proud people, brought even closer together by a collective identity based on their common resistance against the occupiers. We witness a vivid description of Sahrawi resistance struggle in the film. The public discussion following the film gave rise to more important questions about the background and nature of the conflict, and the future of Western Sahara. The responsibility of Europe and the international community was a particularly salient topic. Saleh Mustapha is an activist from Western Sahara. Born in Smara refugee camp in Algeria, he is currently living as a student in Berlin. He stressed the fact that the United Nations has failed to fulfil its responsibilities in mediating a resolution to the conflict. For him, UNHCR’s support and WFP’s food assistance to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria should not obscure the fact that the Sahrawi’s fundamental rights continue to be denied. International human rights organisations have been consistently complaining of the Sahrawi’s mistreatment, torture and even death in detention, as well as the ever-present danger of landmines. Reports of arbitrary arrests of Sahrawi activists, and restrictions on freedoms of assembly, speech and movement are also frequent. Saleh Mustapha reminded the audience of the high numbers of missing persons and political prisoners locked up in Moroccan prisons. Without a mandate to monitor human rights violations, the MINURSO peacekeeping mission is impotent and the violations of Moroccan security forces will continue to go unpunished. Berlin artist, Bettina Semmer, who has come to know Western Sahara through multiple visits and art projects, emphasised the role of European economic interests, and in particular, the economic importance to France and Spain of maintaining good relationships with Morocco. The western areas occupied by Morocco are located along the fishing-rich Atlantic coast, and also boast important minerals, especially phosphate. France’s veto power on the UN Security Council was seen as a key reason as to why MINURSO’s mandate was watered down to remain silent on the issue of documenting human rights violations. Parallels with the Israeli occupation of the Palestine and the resistance struggle there are readily apparent. The independence struggle of the Sahrawi, however, has gained far less attention. One Sahrawi audience member explained that the lack of international interest comes from the West’s interest in a stable Morocco and containing the Sahrawi movement to one of non-violent resistance. Frustrated, she lamented: “So long as there are no bombs exploding and no fighting, nobody looks any further.” But she warned that patience among the youth of the occupied territories is wearing thin. Living conditions of the Sahrawi are poor. About 540,000 Sahrawi live in Western Sahara, with between 210,000 and 420,000 in exile (mainly in Morocco and Algeria). Around 60 per cent of the camps’ inhabitants are teenagers and young adults. Saleh Mustapha spoke of the poor conditions in the camps. Of the Sahrawi who study, most do so abroad like him, predominantly in Algeria, Cuba and Spain. Yet, on their return, there are no jobs. Faced with hopelessness and isolation in the camps, the inaction of the international community and the changing political climate in North Africa after the Arab Spring, many are thinking about returning to armed struggle. “The Sahrawi people must decide whether or not to return to war. Without war, another forty years may pass,” declares a Sahrawi activist in the film. Saleh Mustapha, however, warned against a radicalisation of the struggle, pointing to the Middle East and the civil war in Syria as an example of the dangers of armed conflict. There seems to be no obvious solution to the conflict in Africa’s last remaining colony. Uncertainty over the future of this disputed territory on the Atlantic coast has prevailed for years, and the international community appears to accept the Sahrawi’s situation as the price to pay for maintaining political stability and its economic interests in the region. Nonetheless, there are hopeful, optimistic voices. Saleh Mustapha, for example, stressed the importance of international support. “Without international solidarity, our voices cannot be heard throughout the world,” says Saleh. Only with non-violent resistance can the conflict be highlighted to the world’s public. But the question remains, how long can the Sahrawi persevere in their peaceful struggle? We thank our guests, Bettina Semmer and Saleh Mustapha, for sharing their exciting and personal impressions and for contributing to a very interesting event about the situation in Western Sahara. Event coordination and presentation: Silvia Limiñana and Andreas Fricke Coordination of the Film Series: Andreas Fricke Text: Carolin Bannorth Text translation: Alex Odlum Photos: Andreas Fricke and Carolin Bannorth Organisation: The 14km Volunteer Film Crew The 14km Film and Discussion Series 2015 gets sponsorship by budgetary funds of the Federal State of Berlin – Office for Development Cooperation. Further events are scheduled as followed: October 28th / November 18th / Dezember 9th The events are dedicatet to a single country or specific topic, in order to give an artistic-documentary impression . The ensuing audience discussion aims to include further informations by an affected person living in Berlin and by an scientific expert, always aiming to make links to North-South relationships. We express thanks for the support:
14km Film and Discussion Series
“14 KILÓMETROS” (feature, Spain 2008, original version with German subtitles, 95 min – screening on 35mm celluloid!) by Gerardo Olivares on Wednesday, 28th October 2015 at 6:30 p.m. (1830) at Filmrauschpalast, Lehrter Straße 35, 10557 Berlin-Moabit 14km.org presents the sixth evening screening of the 2015 “14km Film and Discussion Series.”: In the semi-documentary film, “14 KILOMETERS – The Pursuit of Happiness” (Hausa/French/Tamasheq/Arabic with German subtitles), Spanish director Gerado Olivares tells the story of three men’s escape from Mali and Niger to Europe, highlighting the hardships of the route through the desert. The three men hope to cross the last 14 kilometers across the sea to reach a better life in Europe. Following the film screening, special guests and the audience will discuss the motives and conditions of fleeing and migrating from North Africa, as well as the reactions and viewpoints on migration in Europe. Attendance is free, donations are welcome. Facebook-Event The event takes place at Filmrauschpalast cinema, on the 1st floor of the Kulturfabrik's backyard building in Berlin Moabit: Lehrter Straße 35, 10557 Berlin. Press Kit "14 Kilometers" film (German) The discussion ends at 22:00 (10 pm) at the latest. Facebook event The 14km Film and Discussion Series 2015 gets sponsorship by budgetary funds of the Federal State of Berlin – Office for Development Cooperation. Further events are scheduled as followed: 18 November / 9 December The events are dedicatet to a single country or specific topic, in order to give an artistic-documentary impression . The ensuing audience discussion aims to include further informations by an affected person living in Berlin and by an scientific expert, always aiming to make links to North-South relationships. We express thanks for the support:
14km e.V. presents itself at the open Africa Days. We invite you to visit us on Saturday, October 17th 2015, at the Sprengelhaus in Berlin Wedding. At the same location and all around Berlin other associations, initiatives, institutions and companies with focus on Africa can be visited. The entrance is free. The events will take place in German language. During the complete period of time we invite you to get to know the volunteer 14km team in a personal conversation - we speak English as well. Press release (German): Afrika-Tage der Offenen Tür 2015 Programme overview (German) Homepage Africa Days (German) The 14km programme on SAT, 10/17/15: 2:00 p.m. Presentation of 14km e.V. 2:30 p.m. Reading "Im Taxi" (Khalid Al-Chamissi) 3:30 p.m. Presentation International Volunteer Programme 5:00 p.m. Presentation 14km Film- and Discussion Series (incl. short movie screening)
The four guest discussing with moderator Carolin Bannorth: from left to right: Carolin Bannorth, Hervé Tcheumeleu, Sarah Reinke, Ahmad Hassan Arnau, Abbas Tharwat The Darfur conflict – told by local people, based on their own lived experiences. This was the theme of the fourth evening in 14km’s Film and Discussion Series, which featured Sudanese director, Hisham Hajj Omar’s documentary: “Darfur’s Skeleton”. From the outset, the audience was closely listening to the realities of Darfur as our guest, Ahmad Hassan Arnaud, himself having fled from the region, explained: “In Darfur, a village is burned every one to two days. But the media do not report it.” This 2009 film covers three dimensions of the war in Darfur: environmental destruction, persecution of the civilian population, and the role of tribal authorities in resolving the conflict. At the time of filming, three trees a day were being cut down in Kondowa forest – a rate that could soon lead to desertification of the region. In 2009, the forest is as good as dead. Nearby, in Otash camp, the home for tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes, inhabitants struggle to survive through daily life with close to nothing. For these refugees, selling the rare forest wood represents a scarce livelihood opportunity they are obliged to take, despite the protests of forest rangers in the film. “We have no choice”, the displaced declare. The Kondowa forest symbolizes a vicious cycle, which fuels the war in Darfur: a poor climate and limited arable land drives resource conflicts between neighbouring tribes, and nomadic and sedentary populations. In turn, hostilities destroy villages and force people to flee, leading to further exploitation of national resources in areas where thousands of refugees gather – as in the Kondowa Forest. Giving voice to the victims The sight of countless victims fleeing violence, which pervades the news and media, offers only an abstract context and encrypted figures. This documentary, in contrast, highlights the names, faces and voices of the victims. Aysha, for example, was shot and robbed in an attack in Guz. She lay alone and helpless in the village with her daughter until relatives were eventually able to rescue her, only for her injured leg to be amputated in Otash refugee camp, condemning her to a life of idleness. Half-smiling, Aysha laments: “How are we going to find the strength to cry?” By contrast, teacher Mohamed Adam, remains positive. He himself had to flee from home, traveling a dangerous route before reaching Otash camp. Having endured the experience, he is determined to pass on his knowledge to the children in the camp, so that they may tread a new, better path. In addition to allowing victims of the war to have their say, the film analyses the causes of the war, portraying the situation from their perspective. They speak of the responsibility of the central government in Khartoum, whose strategy of “divide and rule” and tactics using the Janjaweed militia has activated conflict lines and fuelled hostility between the Arab and African populations. Tribal leaders argue that with peace between the government and the rebels, conflicts between individual tribes would soon be reconciled. Yet, the government is hesitant to provide essential funding to tribes so that they might self-govern and achieve peace. Another obstacle to peace, particularly emphasised by political analysts, is the challenge of putting to trial war criminals and providing reparations to the victims – without which there can be neither peace nor an end to cycle of hatred. Holding the perpetrators accountable 14km staff Carolin Bannorth and Andreas Fricke The absence of judicial process was addressed by Sarah Reinke of the Society for Threatened Peoples in an audience discussion following the film screening. Tribunals at the local level and permanent mechanisms for prosecution are needed. At the international level, prosecution was not successful either. The International Criminal Court failed to hold President Omar al-Bashir accountable although he was indicted for his involvement in genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Ultimately, the international community’s attempts to resolve the conflict have not been helpful. According to Sarah Reinke, the Doha peace process was not supported by international powers, with Russia and China blocking the UN Security Council’s ability to act. Hervé Tcheumeleu, executive director of the Africa Media Centre, pointed to the economic interests of large defence manufacturing companies, and to countries including Russia, China and the UK. Similarly, the impotence of the African Union (AU) on the issue has been evident, with Tcheumeleu arguing that “many presidents in the AU support Al-Bashir, as they themselves are in the same position as he is.” “A village is burned every one or two days” Hajooj Kuka by Toyin Ajao (CC) Ahmad Hassan Arnaud, a young Sudanese man from Darfur who has been living in Berlin for three years, lived through the war himself. “The reality is still clearly worse than shown in the film,” he informed the audience. “A village is burned every one or two days. But the media do not report it.” Sarah Reinke agreed: “After twelve years of genocide, the situation is very grim.” It was difficult to take a positive outlook away from the discussion. But at least the film ended on an optimistic note with a hopeful phrase: Darfur has a strong skeleton – and so long as the skeleton remains intact, flesh will once again cling to it. The director, who is currently working under the name of Hajooj Kuka, is receiving a lot of accolades and prizes, from Toronto to Luxor, for his second documentary “The Beats of Antonov.” This film, which explores the music scene of his home country, gives expression to something that is obscured by the palpable suffering in “Darfur’s Skeleton”: Against an identity that is imposed by the Government and which drives conflict, the only solution is to enthusiastically become aware of one’s own cultural identity. After the first film, we know that Darfur’s skeleton is not yet broken. After the second film, we will know that music can bring Darfur’s skeleton back to life. We thank our guests Ahmad Hassan Arnaud, Sarah Reinke, Hervé Tcheumeleu and Abbas Tharwat for helping us approach the difficult topic by sharing their personal point of views. Film links: Film homepage Director’s CV Event organisation and moderation: Carolin Bannorth Coordination of the Film and Discussion Series: Andreas Fricke Text: Susanne Kappe Translation: Alex Odlum Photos: Silvia Limiñana, Caroline Bunge Organisation: The volunteer 14km Film Team The 14km Film and Discussion Series 2015 gets sponsorship by budgetary funds of the Federal State of Berlin – Office for Development Cooperation. Further events are scheduled as followed: 07 October / 28 October / 18 November / 9 December The events are dedicatet to a single country or specific topic, in order to give an artistic-documentary impression . The ensuing audience discussion aims to include further informations by an affected person living in Berlin and by an scientific expert, always aiming to make links to North-South relationships. We express thanks for the support:
My name is Michael and I am currently enrolled in an internship working as a researcher and grant director with the Lebanese NGO SMEX - Social Media Exchange. I started in April 2015 and I will stay in Beirut until October. SMEX is a media advocacy and development organization based in Beirut. We provide on- and offline trainings for journalists and activists and advocate for human rights adapted to technology and the web throughout the MENA region. The founders Mohamad and Jessica are experienced and their work is very professional. I am very happy to have found this internship as I learn a lot about the way how local NGOs work, digital rights in the Arab region and social media tools for advocacy. Lebanon is a very interesting country with a lot of different and often opposing views within society - it gives me a lot of input to think about and to question assumptions I had before. “Unfortunately” a lot of people speak perfectly English, so my plan to really learn Arabic and French did not work out until now. The people are very nice and it is easy to engage with them and to do lots of different activities (hiking, cycling, beach, party, …). The safety situation is relatively good, but one should be aware of limitations within the country and some negatively affecting interior and exterior conditions which could change the current situation.