Yesterday I ventured to Howard University to hear Emira Woods of the Institute for Policy Studies speak on Militarism in Africa, primarily through the recent examples of the Central African Republic and Mali. The occasion for this talk was the 19th annual Women Ambassadors Conference. The Conference continues today and tomorrow. I understand that seven of the 23 female ambassadors resident in DC will be present tomorrow as well as the female Ambassador of the African Union to the US.Emira Woods spoke quite passionately, noting that she gets ‘goosebumps’ every time she comes to Howard. She encouraged Howard’s sudents to ‘seize your power, find your voice’ and follow in the ‘historic tradition’ of their predecessors. Although asked to speak about hotspots in Africa, Ms. Woods began by noting the great advancements that African states have made in regards to gender parity.
She observed that the pan-African parliament has a high rate of female representation and that the legislatures of countries like Rwands, Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa have a much higher rate of female legislative representation than the US (perhaps everyone shouldn’t have been so smug about criticizing the composition of the panel at Rep. Bass’ recent breakfast).
Ms. Woods transitioned to a critique of the military industrial complex and the steps that western governments and multi-nationals will take to obtain access to Africa’s valuable natural resources, often resulting in violent conflict (she announced that Walter Rodney, who I did not know was educated at Howard, was one of her economic idols and added that ISODEC, a Ghanian think tank also does great social development work). She lamented the excessive funds that the Department of Defense receives to the detriment of development agencies like USAID, which she stated is much smaller in size now than it was several decades ago. On a positive note, she added that Africa’s population growth will increase its world standing and opined that the BRICS bank will be a significant counterweight to existing world financial institutions.
While I am generally sympathetic to Ms. Woods philosophies, I did disagree with her claim that as a pan-Africanist she believes that the distinction between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa has been manufactured to weaken continental unity. I’ve been to countries in coastal west Africa, southern Africa, and the Sahel. I haven’t been to North Africa, but from my time in Niger, I believe that the cultural differences that arise south and north of the Sahara are pretty vast.