Every civilized modern measure that is supposed to protect the African woman, the most vulnerable of the human species around the globe, takes a long time in coming and then it may ultimately prove counterproductive. Such is likely to be the case at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia-based African Union Commission (AUC), where the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reports an investigation has been launched by Commission Chairperson, Mr. Moussa Faki, into widespread charges of sexual harassment, largely involving the routine solicitation of sexual favors from young women looking for jobs (See “African Union Hit by Sexual Harassment Claims” BBC.com / Ghanaweb.com 11/24/18).
It is no laughing matter, although the first thought that flashed through my mind was how the average African-male chauvinist or cad who may find himself in an executive position at the headquarters of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) would be apt to interpret this new-found power and influence to put quite a humongous “pool” of fetching young women at his beck and call. But that it was reporters from South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper that first published a report of the allegations of sexual harassment at the AUC’s headquarters, which was then picked up and amplified by the BBC, was all the more logical. This is simply because South Africa, being the most Westernized of continental African nations, and therefore more abreast with female-protective measures in the West, in particular, was more likely to be sensitive to such a dire occupational hazard whose legal remediation has yet to take firm roots in Africa and Third-World countries, in general, and be taken seriously as a critical human rights problem.
So far, 44 cases of the unwanted solicitation of sex in exchange for jobs have been reportedly established by Commission Chairperson Faki, who has promised to get to the bottom of the same, and to make sure that the culprits, if forensically sustainably proven as such, are “severely punished” to the fullest extent permitted by law. Now, I don’t know what the severity of such penalties as the AUC so decides would actually entail, besides a routine slap on the wrist here and a slapstick-like smack on the butts there, according to the degree of the seriousness or criminality of such cases of harassment as may be internally or privately determined by the AUC’s movers and shakers.
On the whole, I am not holding my breath. After all, how much can any serious-minded person expect from such a mega organization that has yet to put into place sexual-harassment policies aimed at protecting women and the most vulnerable employees working for the largest organization on the second-largest continent in the world, composed of some 52 countries? At the best, the outcome of such investigations would be the rolling out of a sexual-harassment policy that is apt to be more functionally cosmetic, at least in the offing, until the very concept and seriousness of the act of sexual harassment become widely encoded, understood and accepted by at least the most forward-looking and civilized countries on the continent.
You see, some of these African countries, like Somalia and the Central African Republic (CAR), and others that recently emerged from brutal wars are barely above a State of Nature existence, in Hobbesian parlance. And the male-chauvinist leaders of those countries that can favorably compare their level of civilization with any in the in the West and beyond, are more likely to look the other way, hoping that they can buy time to literally do their own thing for a remarkable while. We must also not overlook the fact that this epidemic of sexual harassment that seems to have suddenly gripped the AUC, may pretty much have something to do with the fallout from the US-based “# MeToo” Movement. For this is not the first time that incidents of sexual exploitation have been reported from that part of the African continent or any other part, for that matter.
Not very long ago, for instance, a platoon of AU-mandated Ghanaian police peacekeepers, largely men, was accused of having taken indiscriminate sexual advantage of some South-Sudanese women in several refugee camps in that country, if memory serves yours truly accurately. There appears to have been some movement, by way of exacting punitive measures against the culprits so determined, even though I am not certain about the precise nature of such punitive measures, and as of whether such punitive measures as promised by the AU’s authorities could be objectively reckoned to be commensurate with the crimes reportedly committed.
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By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York