Calgary Sun

October 4, 2001

Activist's venom shows little thought

By LICIA CORBELLA -- Calgary Sun

Sunera Thobani came to Canada from Tanzania in 1989 as a student. Just four years later, while still a graduate student in sociology, she became the president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women -- a group largely funded by taxpayers, though it represents a miniscule percentage of women in this country.

On Monday, Thobani gave her now infamous speech at a conference in Ottawa entitled "Women's Resistance: From Victimization to Criminalization."

It is fair to say that many of her comments were not just exaggerated, but wildly so to the point of being utterly false.

"There will be no emancipation for women anywhere on this planet until the western domination of this planet is ended," she wailed.

So, what, pray tell, would have been her fate had she criticized her home country in such an exaggerated way?

Let's examine that.

On Aug. 31, police in the Mara region of northern Tanzania arrested nine journalists from mainstream newspapers and broadcasters who were present to witness the signing of peace agreements between the warring Waanchari and Walyanchoka clans in Tarime, the Tanzanian Guardian newspaper reported.

The journalists were arrested on claims they exaggerated reports of the clashes.

Their arrests were not unique since that was the second time in one week that journalists had been arrested in Tarime.

Needless to say, most members of Canada's government didn't like Thobani's hate-filled racist rant against the West, but she was not arrested.

What's more, officials from the University of British Columbia -- where the "oppressed" Thobani teaches women's studies -- defended her right to say what she wants.

Most "westerners" would agree that everyone -- even those who offend us -- must be free to say whatever they want.

What's outrageous, of course, is that Thobani spoke out at a conference that was fully funded by $100,000 of federal government money.

Does the "eastern" government of Tanzania fund such conferences or at least support large gatherings of those who are subversive to their culture?

To be brief, the answer is no.

On Jan. 27, for instance, the Tanzanian police shot and killed at least 30 people and injured hundreds more when they fired upon a peaceful gathering of supporters of the opposition party the Civic United Front.

What was the Tanzanian president's response to such an outrage?

Benjamin Mkapa said "there is no need for conducting investigations," into the violence, because the demonstrators didn't fill out the appropriate paperwork.

He said that genuine democracy must be built on the supremacy of the law, adding that demanding rights without respecting the law would result in chaos.

Well, at least we understand where Thobani honed her skills to reason.

As for women in Tanzania, while they are much better off than many of their African sisters, life is pretty grim.

Women in Tanzania can be punished for not bearing children.

What's more, under Zanzibari law, unmarried women under the age of 21 who become pregnant are subject to two years in jail.

About 18% of the female population, according to a 1996 health survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Statistics (patriarchal propaganda in Thobani's eyes to be sure) are subjected to female genital mutilation.

It sounds to me like Thobani is needed far more in Tanzania than in Canada.

Of course, she would likely have to conduct her "advocacy" for women's rights from behind bars -- the conditions of which, apparently, are often deadly.


Licia Corbella, editor of the Calgary Sun, can be reached at 403-250-4129 or by e-mail at licia.corbella@cal.sunpub.com. Her columns appear Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Letters to the editor should be sent to callet@sunpub.com.

Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.