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You can jail a revolutionary, but you can't jail the revolution.

Fred Hampton, 1948-1969
Black Panther Party leader

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Government in Africa
By Yunus Rafiq
Page 1|2

I am Lesikar Ole Ngila, a Maasai from East Africa. I have a question that I want to ask our elders, brothers and sisters who have been working for many years, and are still working today, to study different human societies. Forgive me for asking this question, but it's one that my father in the village once asked me: What is the meaning of `government'?

I gave him the answer that I thought: the way I see it, serikali (government) means a cruel secret (siri kali). It is a cruel secret because they are people who take things that are not true, and make them true. They take things that are wrong and make them right, but only as long as they are the ones doing them. If ordinary people do them, we can be imprisoned, tortured and killed.

In many African countries, the governments were created by the colonial powers. Even in many African governments of today, there is still colonialism. Those clever people are the ones making all the decisions, while the rest of us are not allowed to decide anything. As indigenous peoples, we had our own systems of governance, but the colonizers repress them and deny them. Why do governments make laws to oppress their own people? They create places for killing people, and then ask others why they kill. Murderers are themselves executed by the state: is there any difference? Isn't it all killing?

Governments have their own ways of deciding what is good and what is bad, but they are made up of human beings, who make mistakes like the rest of us. Who will come to arrest the government officials when they make a mistake? Where is the jail for the government?

When I was a child, I used to believe that the government was the world, but since then I have discovered that governments are made up of clever people who oppress others. For a long time, I wondered why they could not accept the laws of indigenous peoples, while elsewhere; indigenous people rule their own lands. I finally realized that colonialists never listen to the words of slaves.

I thought that I was the only person with these ideas. Now I realize that there are many more people who think in this way, even if they are afraid to say so. There are many African and foreign leaders who know these things, and want to say them; but they are afraid that they will be killed, or that their economies will be suppressed, or that the rights of their citizens will be denied. They want to speak out, but they are unable to. I am not afraid to say these things, but I have no opportunity to meet the people in power.

Why do they allow students to come into our communities, to study and write about our indigenous knowledge for their degrees and doctorates, while we are forbidden even to speak about it in school? They shave off our sacred hair, throw away the jewellery that has been blessed by the saliva of our elders, ban us from wearing our traditional dress, beat us for speaking in our own languages, and tell us that our traditional medicines are satanic. I know why: it is because large companies will lose their markets. If they were to agree that everyone should be their own boss, who would work for them? Who would buy their computers, their cars and their oil; then who would need their paper?

My friends who have spoken words like these are now in jail, and even for us, there is no security. As NGO workers and activists, what can we say? As anthropologists, what can we say? We need to find a forum that can bring us together with organizations like Survival International, to know how we as indigenous peoples can help one another. We need to work together, to understand who is with us and who is not with us because this is a great danger in the life of human beings. We are struggling against human beings. There are people in America who can buy us to make us slaves, and we cannot play games with them. We need to find a powerful international meeting in which we can speak the truth. We are not just revolutionaries, but seekers of the truth. For my own part, I want peace. I want people on earth to be given their rights. This is why we are searching for different ways to find the truth itself.

The Wahadzabe are our brothers, and we have stayed with them for a long time. At one time, there was great hunger in the Maasai society, and the Wahadzabe helped us to find food. There was also a time when the Wahadzabe were very sick, and they came to the Maasai doctors, called iloibonok, to ask for medicines. This is why the life of the Wahadzabe and the life of the Maasai are very close. There are even songs that the Wahadzabe sing to tease us: ‘Ejo Irparakuo mekirisio kirisio. Enereu orkiteng toldoinyo, nareu mangarut toldoinyo oloro. Enereu oloing'oni, nereu olaserema lai oloitiko. Eata endare kumok, kiata siyiook indare nanyokie naibor kidong'o: inkoiliin: "The pastoralists say we are not equal to them, but we are equal. When they take their oxen on the mountainside, we will take our buffalo. When they take a fat ox, we will take a zebra. When they say they have many goats, we have our red goats with white tails, the gazelles."

The problems of the Wahadzabe are the same as our own problems. Americans who claim the wild animals of the African bush for themselves have seized their food, and their land has been taken from them. In the same way, our livestock have been destroyed and our pastures stolen. The animals and birds that were important for our lives, like the ostriches, have been killed, and our sacred trees like oreteti have been cut down. There is nobody who respects our environment, but they come and tell us that they can look after it better than we can, when we have lived there for millions of years. They sell us trees from somewhere else and say that they will be good for our environment. It is just business.

When I went to the United Nations, I thought that I would meet people from every nation of the world. I expected to find Maasai and Wahadzabe and people from thousands of other indigenous tribes making the important decisions. I expected to hear Maa and Hadza and all the other tribal languages, but I heard only the languages of rich people, like English, French and German. They call it the United Nations: does this mean that we are not nations too? The United Nations has no power, because it is not a true union of nations. This is my message to the United Nations, and to the leaders of many different countries where indigenous peoples are oppressed...

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