By Refilwe Moahi
National Programme Officer for the KP REACH Programme in Botswana.
Between 6-8 February 2017, the KP REACH Programme as part of the KP REACH Consortium hosted the first South-to-South Learning Exchange workshop in Nairobi, Kenya as part of the KP REACH Learning project. The workshop was entitled Think for Yourself: An Exchange between KP REACH Learning Project and Radical African Lesbian Feminists in East Africa. The aim of the workshop was for the KP REACH team to learn about organizing and movement building in hostile situations from the East Africa group, and for KP REACH to offer learnings on creating conscious learning cultures, the politics of knowledge, and case studies. Simultaneously, the meeting was premised on the realization of disconnect and understanding of the need to connect, strengthen relationships between CAL and her members and partners in the sub-region, and work together to find sustainable creative strategies of doing advocacy work in spaces that are rather hostile to human rights defenders.
The workshop was well attended by CAL members and allies from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The organizations represented included: Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND), Voices of Women in Western Kenya (VOWWEK), Africans for Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA Kenya), African Eco-Feminist Collective (AEC), This Ability, Together for Women’s Rights, Rights for All (RIFA), Young Women Initiative Group, Fem Alliance Uganda, Freedom and Roam Uganda, Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), Minority Women in Action (MWA), and East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (UHAI-EASHRI).
Having all of these different voices in the room made for a very enriching three days of discussion and exchange. Participants appreciated being able to learn about each others’ issues and to realise that the root causes of the issues we face and tackle in our work are the same. An activity that stood out was when particpants drew trees of oppression highlighting the fruits or problems they face, the trunks or actors perpetuating them, and the underlying roots or causes. While those from Tanzania and Uganda face discrimination and stigma, abuse, rape, oppressive laws, limited resources, low capacity, arrest, de-registration of organizations, imposition of donor agendas, lack of barrier methods, and lack of a common goal, those from Burundi and Rwanda face homophobia, gender base discrimination, harrassment, opportunity inequality, stigmatization, and violence against LGBTI, and those from Kenya face corrective rape, homophobia, unemployment, ableism, elitism, hunger, lack of land rights, homelessness, mental illness, intimate partner violence, extortion, and cat calling. And underlying all of these problems are patriachy, heteronormativity, capitalism, colonization, religion, and culture. We all realized that we don’t tend to do the hard work of really introspecting to understand the root causes of the problems we work to address. For a lot of participants, this was their first time working with the tree of oppression. They felt that it is not possible for all of us to work on the roots, especially when some people are in desperate situations of homelessness or hunger; they are not interested in discussing patriarchy and heteronormativity. We concluded that some of us need to work on the fruits, while others work on the roots.
Another key discussion was that of the politics of knowledge, which ultimately led to the participants creating knowledge as African thinkers and presenting case studies of their successful work on access. We discussed knowledge as a tool of oppression, as well as a product that we package and use for legitimacy. There is the implicit idea that black people or Africans cannot do their own research and need researchers from the West to conduct research on their lives. We want to challenge this notion.
We also talked about the intimate connection between the politics of knowledge and the politics of money, resources, capitalism, and neoliberalism. Power dynamics play out in activist spaces when we use a lot of technical language or don’t use local languages that everyone in the room can understand. Similarly, when we have to find capital through other people, we become subservient to their agendas and may even become complicit in companies’ oppression of the communities they operate in, including ours. Some participants felt that cooperatives or communes could be a solution to funding and money issues; in rural areas, women have been organizing themselves in this way for a long time and perhaps we could use this model.
Additionally, some felt that when talking about women, it more about the politics of resources, rather than money. For example, women need childcare to attend meetings. Some of the case study presentations included: NGO registration campaigns in Botswana and Rwanda, the establishment of a community center for LGBT people in Burundi, the establishment of monthly consciousness raising conversations for LBQ women in Kenya, and an agriculture campaign against the World Bank in Kenya.
In conclusion, it was a great week of getting to know each other and learning about what we are doing in the two sub-regions and what challenges we are facing. However, it was also a week of breaking down barriers between CAL and its East African members, discussing our problems, and exploring how we can work together moving forward. It was a week of intellectual discussion and questioning our previous understanding.