‘Get out there and get it’ – Women and Leadership in Kenya

giuliaGiulia Di Mattia, Programme Officer at Minority Rights Group International, interviewed Jennipher Atieno, the new Minister for Education, Youth, Culture and Social Services for Kisumu County in Kenya, who has dedicated her life to empowering marginalised women.

Jennipher Atieno has worked for the protection of the rights of marginalised women in Kenya for over 20 years. She explains how minority women face double discrimination, both from cultural practices towards women within their own communities and as a member of a minority community. In her own words, ‘Women are discriminated against, in particular when it comes to property ownership. The men don’t consider the opinion of the women.’

Jennipher Atieno at the launch of our report 'Challenges at the intersection of gender and ethnic identity' in December 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya

Jennipher Atieno at the launch of our 2012 report ‘Challenges at the intersection of gender and ethnic identity’ in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: OPDP

She has recently been appointed as Minister for Education, Youth, Culture and Social Services for Kisumu County, Kenya. At MRG, we worked together with Jennipher under a recent MRG project (KGGP 2010-2013), when she was in her previous role as Executive Director of Women in the Fishing Industry Programme (WIFIP).

WIFIP works on education, health and economic empowerment of marginalised women. The KGGP project in particular raised awareness of human and minority rights and built the confidence of minority and indigenous peoples to advocate for their own rights in order to ensure their concerns were discussed at decision-making level. The KGGP included three minority and indigenous communities: the Endorois, the Ogiek and the Abasuba communities.


Abusaba dancers perform at an installation of the new chief of the Suba Elders Development and Cultural Council, where women sit on the executive secretariat. Credit: OPDP

The Abasuba community is a minority and indigenous fishing community living near Lake Victoria in Kisumu and Homa Bay counties. WIFIP worked with the Abasuba people, carrying out trainings on women’s rights for the communities and organising leadership workshops for women, building the confidence and skills of women candidates in the run up to the 2013 elections. Under the project, WIFIP also contributed to publishing our report Challenges at the intersection of gender and ethnic identity in Kenya. Jennipher told MRG that her work with marginalised women has led her to her current position:

‘I just want to confirm that the work I have done over the years with women, youth and minority groups indeed influenced my way into the County Government, and particularly my appointment to the Ministry for Education/Youth/Culture and Social Services. This also includes the areas of Gender, Children, People with Disability and Sports. It therefore goes without saying that even KGGP had direct influence on my decision to join politics and my desire to be a greater voice representing the groups mentioned above.’

In her new position, her priorities are on improving the quality of early childhood and strengthening vocational and technical training, with a special focus on gender mainstreaming in areas of employment, and promoting leadership of women and people with disabilities in decision making positions.

Kisumu county is prioritising work with civil society to strengthen its presence within the community at grassroots level by creating an office responsible for working with non-governmental organisations. With the new county level system being established in Kenya, Jennipher says that minorities and indigenous peoples now have more access to the government to advocate for their rights, ‘They can walk into an office, these are people they know at a personal level.’

Jennipher Atieno with Suba women elders, taken by Laura Young during her field research for the report 'Challenges at the intersection of gender and ethnic identity in Kenya'

Jennipher Atieno with Suba women elders. Credit: Laura Young/MRG

Through her work with minorities, Jennipher has observed positive change: women have higher positions, more girls go to school and appreciate education, minority women are more aware of their rights and consequently more vocal. When she organised public activities, she witnessed an increase in women’s attendance and participation.

Jennipher’s advice to women considering a leadership career is to first and foremost receive an education and then, ‘Get out there and get it.’ She encourages women that have dropped out of school to go back and further improve their education level. She urges women to believe in their skills and know that they are just as capable as the men they work for.

Ethiopia’s ‘Master Plan’ – good for development, damaging for minorities


Writing from our Africa Office in Kampala, MRG intern Biraanu Gammachu sheds light on the Ethiopian government’s unpopular national development project. 

Ethiopia paints two remarkable but contrasting images before the global eye. On one side we see an independent state, a cradle for human civilization. On the other, we see a state struggling to shrug off poverty, that disgraceful consequence of underdevelopment, poor governance and conflict.

The fall of Ethiopia’s socialist military regime in 1991 ushered in the leadership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition party. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), leading the coalition, engineered Ethiopia’s 1995 Constitution, which charted the country into seven ethnically-divided regional states, two geographically defined regional states and two Provisional City Administrations (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa).



For the first time, the Meles Zenawi regime officially introduced a multi-party democracy, ethnic federalism and a market economy in a move to curb a history of political, social and economic injustice in Ethiopia. But the reality is very different. Two decades down the road there are glaring facts that show that Zenawi’s vision has done more harm than good to the wider population of Ethiopia, while only benefitting the few in power. The institutionalisation of ethnic politics and ill-conceived ethnic federalism in Ethiopia has mainly served to weaken critical dissent against the state and secure TPLF’s indefinite grip on power.

Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, a poverty index informed by Amartya Sen’s capability approach, ranked Ethiopia the second poorest country in the world in 2014. However, relentless state-sponsored media has manipulated the public into believing there has been an economic boom, an advancement of social welfare and an improved political environment in Ethiopia since 1991. This stands in contrast to the country’s high unemployment, income disparity and political impasse. Though huge infrastructural developments are being witnessed, Ethiopia’s structure of governance continually reignites dormant conflicts between different socio-linguistic communities in the country, impairing cooperation and provoking mistrust among the population.

‘Addis Ababa under siege’

Addis Ababa is the country’s capital city, financial hub and main gateway to the outside world. ‘Shagar’ (the unofficial name for Addis Ababa) hosts the African Union headquarters and has increasingly attracted international summits.

Addis Ababa is encircled by predominantly ethnic Oromo-inhabited areas; Lagatafo, Sululta, Sabata, Holota and Dukam. For the minority communities in these areas surrounding Ethiopia’s capital, agriculture and rearing livestock is their primary economic activity. Their land is at the centre of their livelihoods, yet they do not have control over it.

Ethiopian farmers winnowing orange lentils. Credit: Bioversity International

Ethiopian farmers winnowing orange lentils. Credit: Bioversity International

In Ethiopia, land is the property of the state, and, alarmingly, people are losing their land to state-directed labour-intensive agriculture, land investment and state land grabbing. The farmers are often excluded from any business concerning their land in the name of ‘development’. The government brushes away the grave concerns of the local farmers, explaining that their actions are necessary for development.

Urbanisation and urban development are growing phenomena and Addis Ababa is no exception. Therefore, it is rational for the government of Ethiopia to develop a proper plan to address stakeholders’ political, economic, social, and environmental interests and thus to ensure sustainable urban development.

In 2011 Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone (areas surrounding Addis Ababa which fall under Oromia Regional State) established a joint Project Office to work on urban and development issues common to both Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone. The Project Office is led by a board of directors which includes ethnic Oromos such as Mr Kuma Demeksa (mayor of Addis Ababa at this time), Mr Abdulaziz Mohamed (deputy president of Oromia Regional State) and Mr Umer Hussein (head of the Oromia Special Zone). The Project Office did not carry out proper and appropriate consultations with stakeholders before urging the need to formulate an integrated development plan (known as The Master Plan).

Stakeholders from the government and international organisations held a meeting in June 2013 at Adama town and indicated ‘Ethiopia’s interest’ in centralising the country and integrating the economic and social activities of Addis Ababa with its surroundings (Oromia Special Zone) by subtly bypassing the 1995 constitution (which clearly demarcates Oromia from Addis Ababa and observes the ‘special interest of the state of Oromia with respect to supply of services or the utilization of resources or administrative matters’). After being recommended by regional officials and experts from the African Union and UN, the draft plan has only to be approved by the project board and the Addis Ababa City cabinet in order to become effective.

Determined to push its Master Plan forward, the government of Ethiopia claimed it would improve the socio-economic conditions of Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone residents. Like most plans which sound good on paper, this one promises ‘to ensure the placement and exercise of a proper industrial waste output management system, to acquire designated industrial zones, and to decongest and coordinate public services for the ever rising city population’.

In April this year, officials from Oromia Special Zone and Addis Ababa City Administration met for an open discussion on the proposed Master Plan in Adama town. The discussion centred on constitutionality and development ethics, and whether moral and ethical guidelines will enter into the Master Plan. However, there is much pressure from federal government to see the plan effectuated.

If implemented, the plan would incorporate Sululta, Bishoftu, Sabata Dukem, Holeta and Ambo, bringing 1.1 million hectares of land under Addis Ababa City Administration and thus endangering the livelihoods of tens of thousands of ethnic Oromo farmers who regard the plan as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘unconstitutional’. They fear that an expansion of Addis Ababa will erode Oromo-inhabited areas, compromising the social setup and diminishing Oromo identity. Proponents of this first view, therefore demand that the Master Plan uphold the constitution, which stipulates that the people of Ethiopia must be at the centre of their own development process, by facilitating free, prior and informed consent, as well as genuine consultation with and adequate compensation for Oromo whose agricultural land is to be consumed by the State.

The Ethnic Oromo Protest and its Achievement 

The discussion on the Master Plan at Adama town was partially reported on and broadcast by Oromia’s regional state-owned television station. Footage of a participant’s challenge to the ethical intentions of the plan was circulated on social media and kick-started a protest by Oromo students whose confidence in TPLF had already been damaged by its lack of transparency in its development project.

Protesters in Addis Ababa  demand TPLF to stop evicting Oromo farmers and grabbing their land, May 2014. Credit: Gadaa.com

Protesters in Addis Ababa demand TPLF to stop evicting Oromo farmers and grabbing their land, May 2014. Credit: Gadaa.com

The ethnic Oromo student protest, which mainly adopted ‘the constitutionalist perspective’, was quite peaceful at first, implicating TPLF for its neglect of development ethics in Ethiopia. However, over time it took a radical course as unclear leadership, ambiguous objectives and ethnic resentment sparked deadly protest.

The violence of the protest meant that Oromo students failed to win either the sympathy of fellow Ethiopians or international support. Ultimately, the peaceful protest which was sabotaged by the secessionists’ political extremism resulted in unnecessary loss of life and property, ethnic strife and the expulsion of Oromo students from various universities.

However, the failed protest taught ethnic Oromos an important lesson. It had clearly indicated the need for ethnic Oromos to refine and clarify their concerns and tailor their demands to Ethiopia’s social and political context. It demonstrated a huge gap in public knowledge of the regime in Ethiopia and its specific failures. It is part of a trial-and-error process whereby Oromo activists attempt to show a constructive attitude, non-violent behaviour and consideration of the wider national context, and to propose a framework of governance superior to the existing ethnocentric regime in Ethiopia.

Ethnic Oromo farmers in Addis Ababa are not the only minority group affected by Ethiopia’s centralised land policy, arbitrary ethnic federalism and unethical development projects across the country. Omo valley communities are threatened in the southern part of the country; there are unheard voices on land investments in Gambella; there is continued unlawful eviction of ethnic Amhars from southern, central and western parts of the country; and land and water grabs have a negative impact on pastoral communities.

What should the Government and Oromo activists do?

The government have all the necessary means and authority to circumvent the looming threats to minority groups in Ethiopia. Its intentions in developing the Master Plan may have been good, but the approach employed in the planning process definitely received a poor welcome from low-ranking OPDO officials, the larger middle-income Oromo population and Oromo university students. In the short-term, therefore, the government should address the ethical dimensions of the Plan by holding genuine consultations leading to informed consent and adequate compensation for evicted farmers.

The government must also apologise and take responsibility for its brutality during the protests where dozens of young Oromo university students were shot dead. The government must learn to bear the costs of being transparent rather than spending millions of taxpayers’ money in lobbying foreign firms to undermine dissenting voices in an attempt to legitimise its half-baked developmental undertakings.

In the long term, Ethiopian technocrats need to work to harmonise a current mismatch between national resource governance and awkward ethnic federalism. This area of conflict must be given proper attention sooner rather than later before it deteriorates beyond repair.

Except for a few powerful individuals, the population at large are the victims of poor governance in Ethiopia. Ethiopians themselves are better equipped to effect change than foreign embassies or institutions. Therefore, ethnic Oromo activists, especially in the Diaspora, should resolve polarising issues and animosity against particular social groups and should instead tackle the specific policy problems in Ethiopia while bringing issues forth in a national context. To this end, the ethnic Oromo activists must distance themselves from unhelpful attitudes of hate, resentment and vengeance. Equally, protesters must detach themselves from radical and anti-Ethiopia groups which only serve to damage solidarity between Ethiopians and to cause acts of inhumanity.


The author can be reached at: biraanug@gmail.com or on Facebook at Biraanu Gammachu

Is integration “impossible” for Roma in France?


As the 17-year-old Roma youth known only as Darius recovers from a vicious gang assault that shined a spotlight on France’s forced eviction policy last month, Isabelle Younane, MRG’s Communications Intern,  spoke with Roma rights activists, a Romanian MEP and the Vice President of the nation’s far-left party Front National, to get to the heart of the debate.

Louis Aliot, Front National (FN): ‘There’s no hatred!’

As much as Marine le Pen’s husband has deplored the June attack on Darius, he refuses to recognise the incident as a hate crime. ‘There’s no hatred!’ insisted Mr Aliot, ‘There’s only respect for the laws of the Republic and for public order.’ According to reports, Darius’ armed attackers beat up and burned his body before dissolving parts of his jaw with battery acid and dumping his body in a supermarket trolley. The teenager, a suspected thief, emerged from his coma last Wednesday.

Instead, Aliot claims that the incident flagged up a failure of the Hollande government to seize control of its own borders; ’We want to regain our sovereignty which has been stolen from the French people by the technocracy in Brussels,’ insisted Mr. Aliot. The FN maintains that the loosening of EU migration requirements and withdrawal from the Schengen agreement is the only solution to the marginalisation of Roma in France. This would enable forced evictions to be followed by permanent deportations.  But do we have to rid ourselves of Roma, I ask? Wouldn’t a policy of social insertion be more effective?

‘Integration is impossible in a country like France which is plagued by debt, the budget deficit, the crisis and mass unemployment!’ argues Aliot.  And supposing it were economically possible? ‘I don’t think [Roma] even ask themselves this question,’ dismissed the politician, ’They go wherever they think is socially the best and where they can reap the most benefits without any special requirements.’


Roma communities protest in Paris. Credit: Philippe Le Royer

Draghici: ‘The Front National are morally responsible’

‘This is completely stupid,’ reacts Ligue de Droits de l’Homme (LDH) activist and board member of the European Association for the Defence of Human rights (AEDH), Philippe Goossens, to Mr. Aliot’s assertion that the Roma have no desire to integrate. ‘It is based on a misunderstanding of the situation. People living in slums are trying to integrate, they want better lives and a future for their children. But when you put people in a precarious situation, it is difficult.’

For the Romanian Member of the European Parliament, Damian Draghici, it is exactly Aliot’s attitude of dehumanisation that provokes hate speech and violence against the Roma. ‘The irresponsible speech that these politicians are disseminating is in profound contradiction with the European spirit, and it undermines the project of a united European Union, where freedom of movement is one of its fundamental principles,’ he claims. ‘The idea that Roma do not want to be integrated is a prejudice that it is not statistically sustained. A vast majority of Roma that have emigrated to other countries looking for a better life, are active citizens, that do honest work and contribute to the development of the communities to which they belong.’


A Roma family in Val de Marne. Credit: Service photo, photothèque du Conseil Général du Val-de-Marne

Goossens: ‘Eviction has costs’

And besides, adds Goossens, it is not just integration and social support that costs the state money. ‘Eviction has costs – both social and financial.’ Since the beginning of this year, over 7,500 Roma have already been subject to forced eviction, while last year saw the eviction of 20,000 Roma, according to the Goossens. Erika Bodor, a European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) activist, shed light on the social costs; ‘Families are forced to sleep in the streets, often lose belongings or important documents and this is extremely detrimental to the psychological well-being of children.’

The ERRC supports Goossens’ claim that Roma seek social inclusion. According to Ms. Bodor, 59 per cent of 118 respondents stated that finding a job was their top priority, and 47 per cent said it was housing. A massive 39 per cent also said they came to France because they had family living there. It seems, therefore, that while Roma certainly desire to ‘reap the… benefits’ of a relatively stable European democracy, as Aliot claims, they also want to play a functional role in that democracy.

Goossens says that the policy of eviction – judged as illegal by the French High Commission for the Housing of Disadvantaged People (HCLPD) – needs to be accompanied by a programme of re-housing and social support; ‘We need to work with these people for six months to one year to make sure they are stable.’ Currently, he claims, only 10 per cent of evicted Roma are provided with any alternative housing solution. For Goossens, kicking them out onto the streets of France causes them to resort to crime, exacerbating an atmosphere of racial discrimination in the neighbourhoods in which Roma take shelter.

Roma communities are forced to live in slums like these in Lyon. Credit: Nicholas Nova

Roma communities are forced to live in slums like these in Lyon. Credit: Nicholas Nova

Bodor: ‘The goal is to not have slums’

Without a programme of re-housing and social support, Roma generally find themselves in the poorest neighbourhoods of France, which suffer from high levels of unemployment and so are inevitably hostile to newcomers. ‘In Marseille there is a strong division between the north and south parts of the city,’ says Ms. Bodor. ‘Roma settlements tend to be in the north, which is the poorest area of the city.’

The result of eviction, therefore, seems to be a stark and inescapable division between French citizens living in homes and Roma living in slums. This class division results in discrimination in all tiers of public life. Political authorities often block access to education for migrant Roma children living in slums in France,’ claims Ms. Bodor. ’Our research showed that only 47 per cent of respondents said that their children attend school.’ This figure is in spite of French law which states that education is obligatory for all children, French or foreign, from age six to 16. The majority of Roma parents whose children were not in school reported that they had been told by school authorities that there were no spaces available.

For Bodor and the ERRC, therefore, the source of discrimination against the Roma is their geographical marginalisation from the rest of society. ‘The goal is not to have slums in France and to assure that these EU citizens live in dignity and safety, with the opportunity to build a life for themselves and their children.’

Roma communities protest in Paris. Credit: Philippe Le Royer

Roma communities protest in Paris. Credit: Philippe Le Royer

Mile: ‘They share the same social needs’

‘Integration is impossible’ – a phrase recited by Louis Aliot, the rest of the FN, interior minister Manuel Valls and the conservative UMP party – perpetuates a cycle of anti-Roma feeling in France. Head of La Voix des Rroms, an online portal for Roma people in France, Saimir Mile, pointed out that ‘[Roma] settle in France for the same reasons as non-Roma people, with whom they share the same social needs.’ They are simply in search of a better life, free from the social discrimination they faced in their home countries.

The European Convention of Human Rights, to which France is party, demands that they have the right to work, to be housed and to be educated. Damian Draghici insists that the answer lies in cooperation across Europe, rather the continued expulsion of the Roma from place to place. ‘What is needed is a unified strategy that should start with the principle that Roma are a European minority, for whose social inclusion European policies are needed, as well as a common effort of all the European political decision makers.’ For him, and other Roma rights activists, the French government’s failure is not, as Mr. Aliot claims, their incompetency to shut off France’s borders, but rather it is their refusal to accommodate those who venture across.

Sexual violence a ‘normal thing’ in many countries at war

alexAlexandra Veloy, MRG’s Fundraising Intern, shares her experiences from the first Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

Two weeks ago, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict took place at the ExCel Centre in London. A summit that offered many options to learn about sexual violence issues around the globe: exhibitions, theatre and dancing performances, films screening, mock trials, and fringe events, with speakers from the leading NGOs, survivors of sexual violence and judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, amongst others. Overall, a great environment for dialogue, ideas, comments, sharing of best practice, awareness-raising for the general public and for decision-makers to include sexual violence in their agendas.

Aline and Lilliane came a long way from Democratic Republic of the Congo to attend the Summit. They were invited by MRG to share their experiences as Batwa women working for NGOs dedicated to women’s empowerment in North-Kivu. Batwa women have been a particularly vulnerable group in the many conflicts that have affected their country, where rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used as methods of war. Furthermore, on many occasions Batwa women have been abducted and forced to become sexual slaves for long periods of time.

Whilst accompanying Aline and Lilliane during the Summit events I realised how different our perspectives were. I was continually shocked by what I was hearing and outraged by the levels of sexual violence around the world (I was unaware of the extent this happens on a daily basis in so many countries), especially when Aline and Lilliane kept confirming all the information and adding details and numbers, as if it was a ‘normal thing’. Not that they accepted it, on the contrary; but they have to deal with it every day. Wandering around the exhibitions, they ran into many people from the DRC and other African countries who work in the same field, and discussed the necessity to raise awareness at a global level in order to solve the problem.

The Summit is a first step to putting this tricky issue on the world stage (even if only for a few days), aided of course by the presence of the UNHCR Special Envoy and celebrity Angelina Jolie, and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. But it has also brought together others such as US Secretary of State John Kerry, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda or Dr Denis Mukwege, all of them committed to putting an end to sexual violence in conflict.

Regardless of the people ‘starring’ in the event, it provided an opportunity for the international community to talk about the problems linked to sexual violence in conflict, such as ending impunity for the perpetrators, providing support for victims in order to remove the stigma brought by the abuse, and how to come up with effective solutions with the collaboration and commitment of the international community.

For this Summit, legal experts presented the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Protocol is a tool aimed mainly at NGOs, lawyers and other people working with survivors of sexual violence. It seems like a good start, and is definitely a useful tool to fight impunity, but the problem of sexual abuse remains an all too common practice.

The catchphrase of the Summit was ‘Time to Act’. And it is indeed time to act; time for the international community to react and this Protocol is a start. In the words of Lilliane, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon with which we can fight this war against sexual violence.’


Breaking the silence in Somalia


Isabelle Younane, our Communications Intern, finds out how identity fuels discrimination in Somalia at an MRG storytelling event 

As visitors pressed themselves into the cramped back rows of the MRG tent in the ExCel centre, waiting for our Somali panelists to begin, I quickly realised that my role of kick-starting the question time had been made redundant. While I passed the microphone from straining hand to straining hand, trying to wrestle my sleeve from the grasps of eager Somali guests who insisted in not-so-hushed tones that it was their turn to speak next, I felt increasingly saddened. Here, in this side-event at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, perched on the edges of London and thousands of miles away from Somalia, was, for many, their chance to express how it feels to be treated as a second-class citizen in their own country. Why had no one listened to them sooner?

Hon. Bibi Khalif Mohamed, one of the few female MPs in Somalia and member of the Constitution Review Committee, told us the story of Habiba, a child from a minority clan in Somalia who found herself caught up in a civil war that raged across Somalia in the 1990s. Habiba’s father and brother were murdered, while her mother and aunt were raped by insurgents from the majority clan under the gaze of three-year-old Habiba as she hid beneath a mango tree. As their home was destroyed, Habiba and the remains of her family were admitted into an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp where they hoped to find relief from the surge of sectarian violence between majority and minority clans that had been fuelled by conflict. But as our storyteller revealed, they found no such refuge.

Hon. Bibi Khalif Mohamed tells the story of Habiba

Hon. Bibi Khalif Mohamed tells the story of Habiba

The audience members were required to wave a coloured card when they saw what they perceived to be discrimination – a seemingly straightforward task. A flurry of cards shot into the air when Habiba’s mother was raped and her father was killed. This was discrimination as we know it – sexual violence, murder and hate speech. But there was less certainty when Habiba reached the IDP camp and discrimination took a more insidious form. Being forced to the back of the food queue, receiving smaller portions than everyone else – was this discrimination too? As we learned from Habiba’s story, the act of doing nothing, too often practiced by the guards of IDP camps whose knowledge of Somali clans is insufficient, can also serve to facilitate discriminatory action in an environment that should offer protection.

‘But this is just the way it is,’ was the general consensus in the room. It is not that our Somali guests had accepted their fate of persecution, but rather they had despaired of any tenable solution. The civil unrest in Somalia stems from deep tribal divisions between Somali clans, notably Isaaq of the north, Ogadeni of the south and Hawiye of central Somalia – divisions that span generations. It became increasingly apparent that in Somalia, your tribe is considered inextricable from your identity, which means the victims envisage little hope of escape from threats of violence, sexual assault and even death.


As one audience member pointed out, the tribal tensions are perpetuated by Somali diaspora, and parents who teach their children to treat minority clans with hostility. So inevitably, just as Habiba and her family suffered persecution in the IDP camp, Somali families who have fled Somalia in search of new lives abroad find that they cannot leave discrimination behind them. ‘If you meet another Somali,’ said one guest, ‘the first thing they ask you is “which clan do you belong to?” If you give the wrong answer, they insult you, threaten you, or simply walk away from you.’ But when victims of persecution living in London turn to the police for help, another guest explained, the authorities dismiss it as ‘an argument within our community’ – a Somali problem.

But hopefully the Global Summit went some way to dissolving this Western attitude that persecution of minority cultures is not our problem. As the representative from the Somali Women’s Development Organisation (IIDA) reminded us, this attitude is particularly damaging to Somali women, who are protected in Somalia neither by the militant groups and warlords whose loyalties are with majority clans, nor by Somali police who fail to provide effective justice or social support for victims of sexual assault. Our audience members and panellists emphasised that there is a black hole of responsibility for discrimination against minority groups, both in and out of Somalia. The international community can make a first step in countering this discrimination by ensuring that such violations of human rights are not met with impunity in our own country, and by empowering members of minority groups through education programmes and advocacy, both national and international. IIDA, the largest grassroots movement in Somalia,  has driven this empowerment at a local level in developing women-led support programmes, enabling female members of minority clans to help themselves. But they require the help of the international community to implement lasting change, particularly in the Diaspora.

As I learned from this event – and from the Global Summit in general – the effects of globalisation and immigration mean that the West can no longer sit back and allow the suffering of ethnic groups, particularly as some of their members now walk the streets of our egalitarian nation. Hopefully, this modest event was a first step in creating a dialogue between Somali victims and the international community about the reality of life as a minority in Somalia, and what we can do to help.



A world of extremes – the paradox that is Luanda

MRG’s Head of Law, Lucy Claridge, takes in the sights, sounds and perplexing contrasts of the capital of Angola

“Is anyone here for the African Union event?” calls out a smartly-dressed, official-looking woman.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  I’ve just landed at Luanda airport, and am stuck at the end of a long immigration queue, despite having jumped through many hoops to obtain my visa in advance, and the hour-long wait isn’t really appealing after little sleep on an overnight flight.  “Come with me,” she says, and ushers me straight to the front of the line, where my passport is promptly stamped, and I’m in!  Perhaps VIP treatment is sometimes available for us mere charity workers, I think.

But the illusion ends abruptly, as I’m faced with nearly an hour wait for my suitcase, and I start to wonder if in fact it may still be in Addis.  And there starts the recurring theme of my trip.  Angola is a paradox.  It has oil, and so (some of) its inhabitants have money: Luanda has been voted the most expensive city in the world for several years now and the government seems really keen to impress foreign visitors.  But, unsurprisingly, that wealth is concentrated in an elite few – and so it lacks the basic infrastructure (transport, decent roads, basic customer service) which most cities of this size require – and which you’d expect of a city where a simple dinner of chicken and rice costs 20 US dollars.


Credit: Erik Cleves Kristensen

My suitcase arrives and I bargain hard for my lift into town.  Driving into the hot, dirty, heavily-congested city, I’m instantly struck by the visible signs of extreme poverty (shanty towns, open sewers) juxtaposed with signs of extreme wealth.  In contrast to many other African cities I’ve visited, most of the cars are new, and I’ve never seen so many SUVs!  ‘Is this what Texas is like?’ I wonder.

I am in Angola for the 55th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  Based in Banjul, African Commission sessions usually take place in The Gambia, but are occasionally hosted (and therefore funded) by other African states.  At the same time, this provides host states with a chance to impress upon all attendees their commitment to human rights.  However, the expense of Luanda, coupled with the difficulties of obtaining visas (usually, a mention of human rights work on an Angolan visa application would result in instant denial; in this case, the Government has made special dispensation for those who wish to attend the Commission session, but the process still wasn’t easy), has discouraged many people from attending.

The following morning, a minibus arrives to transport us to the conference centre where the Commission session is taking place.  The VIP treatment continues, and we’re even treated to a police escort.  As the sirens on the police mopeds sound in front of us, I’m both relieved (the Angolan paradox means that taxis are unreliable, expensive and incredibly difficult to come by in Luanda) and embarrassed.  And sorry Angola, I know you won’t like this, VIP treatment doesn’t mean I won’t be questioning your human rights record.


Storm clouds gather
Credit: MRG

During the course of the Commission session, for example, it becomes apparent that an Angolan NGO that has been granted observer status, and therefore has the right to take the floor and deliver a statement, has been prevented from doing so.  And a few days later, I learn from an Angolan human rights activist that at the very same time that the Angolan government is spending considerable funds on hosting this high profile session to monitor the human rights situation in Africa, state authorities have detained, intimidated and assaulted a small group of journalist activists who were peacefully celebrating Press Freedom Day.  So how does that fit with your commitment to human rights, Angola?

On my last day, a friend and I meet with Rafael Marques de Marais, an Angolan journalist and human rights activist who has received several international awards for his reporting on conflict diamonds and government corruption.  Unsurprisingly, in the past Rafael has also been detained without charge and subjected to inhuman treatment by his Government for this work, continues to be regularly intimidated by state authorities, and has successfully challenged such treatment before the UN Human Rights Committee.  Rafael shows us around town.

We see the huge Mausoleum of Angola’s first President, erected by the Soviets (as you can see from the photo it looks like a space shuttle), the vast expanse of the Presidential palace, and the impressive and recently built (at huge expense, naturally) National Assembly buildings, which apparently aren’t used regularly because of issues with the air conditioning.  And yet again, literally metres away from these signs of extreme wealth and power, are open sewers and shanty towns, some of which are in the midst of being destroyed (apparently, they were spoiling the President’s view from his palace).  I’m also told the inhabitants were evicted in the middle of the night and had nowhere to go, and as a result, the few possessions they owned were destroyed.  But that’s ok, because if they head to the local shopping mall, they can easily pick up a new Sony TV and some Moschino heels….

Rafael takes us for dinner at a modern, relaxed restaurant on the coast.  We sit by the sea, huge storm clouds gathering on the horizon.  I decide to have fish.  This causes some difficulties because the grill where the fish is cooked is on the other side of the restaurant, and I’m not sitting at the right table.  I don’t speak Portuguese, but I can see this is frustrating Rafael as he repeatedly requests a simple solution: to bring the fish to our table from the other side of the restaurant.  Eventually, he speaks with the chef, and the matter is sorted.  Then another waiter butts in and explains the problem with the fish being at the other side of the restaurant.  Rafael patiently smoothes things over.  And finally, success! My fish arrives.

As we eat (extremely tasty fish) and the rain lashes down, I mull over the country’s many dysfunctions. Everyone seems to want their slice of power in Angola.


Back to naivety. Confessions of a journalist after visiting Uganda

paulinaPaulina Pacula is journalist from Poland. She recently travelled with MRG to Uganda under the Minority Realities Programme. Here she recounts how meeting Batwa was a life changing experience which made her understand the basics of her profession again, and adopt naivety as a way of thinking.

I feel a little bit ashamed to admit what I’m about to say. Maybe I should speak only for myself, but at the same time I tend to think that I’m not the only one beating their breast about how in our everyday work, with all the hurry and routine, we journalists forget to ask ourselves the most important questions.

Which questions? I’ll come to that….

Journalism is about the mission, but you know how it really is. In planning the story we have to think, ’Will people be interested in this subject so they click, buy or stay on our TV channel? Is this story exclusive enough to impress the audience or make other media quote us and make our brand stronger?’

Clicking, buying and watching are the most important activities of the audience from an economics point of view. They all mean money – the more people click, buy, watch, the more advertisements we get and business can go on. Because it’s all about business, isn’t it?

But it’s difficult to admit that out loud. Why? Because we journalists are ambitious people. We don’t like to do things the easy way and of course we don’t do our job for the media owners to earn money. No! We have a mission. Only sometimes the reality makes us forget this.

However I am lucky. I was reminded about it during a recent trip with MRG to Uganda. We visited two Batwa communities – indigenous people of Central and East Africa, who for the last five thousand years have lived in the rainforest along with colobus monkeys, chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. Unfortunately in the 1990s they were evicted by the Ugandan government to make way for a national park.

What happens to them today? Those who were lucky enough to get a piece of land as a form of compensation from the government or from an NGO live outside the forest. That makes them totally unable to continue with traditions as all of their religious, social and health practices were connected with their natural habitat. They are traumatized, vulnerable and they have no voice. But at least they are not starving as they can grow some food.

Those who haven’t got any land live in slums around bigger towns. Deprived of everything, they live in shacks made from garbage and burn old tires to warm up and cook food. Most of them die before reaching forty, not to mention that almost every woman has an experience of losing a child as the level of child mortality is so high.


Batwa man in a slum on the outskirts of the town on Kisoro
Credit: Paulina Pacula

Seeing all of this made me feel overwhelmed. I was no longer thinking as I had at the beginning of this trip, ’Oh, this is so great, I’m going to bring all these amazing, exotic, exclusive stories back to Europe.’

Instead of that I had this word jumping in to my head: responsibility. What is my responsibility towards these people? What can I do to help them? Had I lost my faith in journalism? Could my stories change anything?

And the person who enlightened me was Lee Kanyare-Kaguongo, the director of the Ugandan Media Academy, and our lecturer during the MRG training workshop on ethical reporting in Kampala. When we came back from the visit to the Batwa communities and the next day we were sitting and discussing our stories, he kept asking this question to all of us, ‘What will be the impact of your story?’

The impact of my story. What a brilliant question!

I was lost, because I didn’t feel sense in my work. And suddenly I got it. What do you want to be the outcome of your story? What do you want to achieve with it? That basically means, what do you write it for?


Batwa girl. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve can be seen in the background
Credit: Paulina Pacula

I was never satisfied with the idea that I write ‘to have it published’, ’to earn money’ or ’to have my name under the big headline on front page.’ But finally I realized that this was because I always felt my responsibility to the people who give me their story goes far beyond that.

Listening to Lee I understood that I can be far more successful in making impact with my stories by being conscious about this impact. Thinking deeper than making it clickable.

The question about impact is also a question about whether I reinforce stereotypes in my story or challenge them. Can my story make someone vulnerable and how can I prevent that? Will I open people up to reflection and discussion, or rather give them easy answers which do not make them understand others better? What actions do I want to see after the story is published? Who do I want to put pressure on? The government? Public institutions? Business people?

Only by doing that can we fulfill the role of the media as a watchdog. And with this comes another issue – the follow up stories and if there is a need to keep the pressure up. Journalism is not about writing and forgetting! And I see this pattern in the media too often.

As Lee brilliantly pointed out, media plays a significant role in our society as an agent of change. They can facilitate dialogue, debate and discussion at both the national and international level.

Brilliant. I believe in journalism again!

Some may call this approach naïve – I’m fine with that. As Javier Goma Lanzon, the Spanish philosopher pointed out recently, ‘Naivety is a method for traversing the dense cloud created by skepticism, relativism and particularism. It’s a way to deal with our culture dominated by the philosophy of suspicion, destruction, deconstruction, as well as proclamations such as the death of God, the death of Man, the end of History, and other such funereal declarations.’

Yeah, I can be naïve!