Media intern Lovemore Luwizhu shares some impressions from his first MRG-sponsored international conference in Budapest, Hungary
I was gripped with excitement, thinking of what lay ahead for me at the conference I’d been invited to attend by MRG.
It was to be my first visit to Hungary, a European country that historically had been part of the Eastern Block during the ‘time of madness’, don’t get me wrong here, I mean the Cold War.
As I am from Zimbabwe, I was also thinking of how I would relate conference experiences to that of my country’s context. Zimbabwe is a country that is no stranger to MRG as it has featured significantly in its annual publications like Peoples Under Threat and the State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples.
It also has its own dirty past in the form of the Gukurahundi massacres; an estimated 20, 000 people of the Ndebele ethnic minority group were killed in the early 80s by the government’s North Korea-trained army, to suppress a rebellion in the country’s Matabeleland province.
The conference, entitled The role of minorities and indigenous peoples in development cooperation, was being held to increase awareness in the EU of the needs of minorities and indigenous peoples with regards to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
What made the event exceptional for me was the fact that it gave me a rare opportunity to interact face to face with advocates of minority and indigenous groups from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. The diversity in terms of representation of delegates at the conference was really something; it was like attending a mini-United Nations event and gave me the opportunity to meet many representatives from countries that I only knew through media stories.
Deliberations at the two-day conference broadened my knowledge base on minority and indigenous peoples’ rights throughout the world, most of whom don’t seem to receive much international media coverage.
It was also quite an emotional ride. Leydi Constanza Perez Vente of the Pacific Coast Afro-Colombian Foundation spoke profoundly and passionately of her belief that the Colombian Government is intent on exterminating Afro-Colombians through exploitation and expropriation of their land and other resources.
As Leydi elaborated the plight of Afro-descendants on the Pacific coast of Colombia, she reminded me of the old television series ‘Roots’, set in the slavery period in North America. However, what aroused my anger was the realisation that she was not narrating a movie but telling us about real life violations of human rights being perpetrated on her people by the current government, armed groups and some multinational companies.
It saddened me, as I listened to advocates of minority and indigenous groups tell the same story of governments showing complete failure to protect or promote minority rights in many countries whether in Latin America, Africa or Asia.
In light of an apparent lack of engagement by governments with community organisations, the delegates at the conference called for direct dialogue between Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the EU. I found this to be urgently needed considering the many instances cited by participants where governments abuse donor aid at the expense of the marginalised, who in most cases belong to minorities and indigenous groups.
It was also perfect timing for the advocates to raise this issue as a representative of the European Commission’s Civil Society and NGO liaison DG Development Unit attended the conference. It was an opportunity for him to hear of the situation on the ground for minorities.
I must say I was overjoyed at the conference to meet Wilson Kipsang Kipkazi, one of the representatives of the Endorois indigenous community from Kenya, who recently won their land rights case at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
Esther Somoire of the Centre for Indigenous Women and Children, also from Kenya, came dressed in her traditional Maasai garb. Esther, who continuously emphasised the need for the EU to have a direct dialogue with the minorities and CSOs representing them on the ground, took advantage of this opportunity to bombard our EC representative with an avalanche of questions that deservedly earned her place in the ‘Guinness book of records’ as jokingly suggested by a delegate.
Getting to know more about Esther and Kipkazi’s struggle reminded me of James Cameron’s latest movie, Avatar. Well, I know some of you might start calling me a movie maniac but I guess you see what I’m driving at here…..