Yemeni protesters during the 2011 revolution. Source: Al Jazeera English via Wikimedia Commons
On 29 January 2014, I attended the side meeting on Yemen, organized by CIVICUS and its partners, as well as the 18th Session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Yemen. One of the issues that arose in the side meeting and the UPR process was concerning investigations into the human rights violations during the 2011 uprising in Yemen. This issue caught my attention, because it directly touches on the work of human rights activists and human rights defenders in Yemen. As it will be shown below, the rights violated included attacks on peaceful protesters, restrictions on exercise of the right to expression, association and assembly which are core to the work of human rights activists and human rights defenders and other civil society organizations. Before I dwell on this issue, let me briefly talk about the 2011 uprising in Yemen.
 South Korea, the first country to become the UN assessment contributor from UNAIDS, miracle of the Han River. Those are common accolades commemorating South Korea’s incredible development over the past half-century. After three years of a devastating Korean War (1950-1953), the country was left impoverished and in a dire state. Consequently, basic human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were often sacrificed in pursuit of industrialization and development. Now, South Korea enjoys its status as the world’s 15th largest GDP (Gross Domestics Products) and is ranked 7th largest merchandise exporter in the world. Nevertheless, what we are witnessing now in Miryang, a small farming village located in the Southeast region of South Korea, resembles the development stage of South Korea seen in the 1970’s, when government prioritised national development over individual rights.
Growing up in Zimbabwe I always had a dream. I envisaged sitting on the board of directors of a multilateral organisation, I dreamt of making it to the upper echelons of the United Nations; oh yes that was the nature of my dreams. I always dreamt BIG. I pictured my name enshrined in the hall of fame with clusters of people literally stampeding just to catch a glimpse of me.
Such was the power of my imagination at a tender age. Since then, days have slowly turned into weeks, weeks into months and the months into years and today I am a young man still chasing those dreams, albeit with some degree of success.
Today I am privileged to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) 24th Session, not as President of the Council but as a young determined activist under the CIVICUS UN Learning Exchange Programme. Continue reading →
Characterized as the Egyptian Revolution’s 3rd Wave, the protests on June 30 in Egypt followed the collection of more than 22 million signatories calling for the resignation of President Muhammad Morsi by the Tamarud (Rebel) Campaign.
Since the removal of President Morsi on July 3, people around the world have become preoccupied with the ‘whether it was a coup or not’ issue, to the extent that a blind eye has been turned to the 186 women who were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square and its vicinity, some brutally raped, between June 28 – July 7, 2013.
The masses stood both united and divided, in preparation for June 30, and as has sadly become the norm with most uprisings, lives were lost, victories were celebrated and the repercussions are being endured. The severe polarization between the Islamist groups supporting Morsi, and the cluster of ideologically and politically oriented groups who support a secular state continues to make the atmosphere on the streets tense. Violence has spread like wild fire, with attacks carried out on churches, shops owned by Copts, and on Copts themselves in several Egyptian governorates, including Minia, Assuit, Luxor and Sinai. Several clashes have also taken place in different parts of Cairo including the violent killings of residents in Ben ElSarayat, ElManial and Mokattam districts, along with the massacre at the Republic Guard, where it is estimated that 50 to 80 Morsi supporters died at the hands of the Republican Guard and the Military. Continue reading →
This weekend, while on a camping trip, I sat next to a friend and in the course of our conversation I mentioned I was contemplating a graduate course in Poverty and Development. His response was interesting. He felt that, with so many opportunities around, poverty was a choice. For the life in me I wanted to refute his statement with every possible philosophical, legal and lived experience explanation I had. I wanted to tell him he cannot go on blaming the poor and that society cannot get away with doing that either. But I didn’t, part of me agreed with him. When I had offered him an apple for a snack earlier he commented it was odd, so silence seemed redeeming and it felt wise not to mention that part of the reason I was going camping was to gain some perspective on a poverty blog I was to submit in the course of the week. I promised myself not to think about the blog, this blog, all weekend but I have been thinking about it all week.
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of convening a multi-stakeholder dialogue consultation meeting on urban poverty with a special focus on slums. This was thanks to the Nelson Mandela- Graca Machel Innovation Award. The award was based on a presentation titled “No more Time Outs from Poverty” coined from an earlier blog by the same title. The gist of the blog was, as a beneficiary of so many poverty alleviation programs and sadly an implementer of some, I felt most programs just provided a time out from poverty, a break which in most cases lasts to the end of the project. In all fairness I was not complaining. I felt and still feel that the time out is important, it gives room to dream a bit about an escape from the drudgery of slum life for a while but a real break is needed.
You would more likely expect a chat on metal knickers and spiked bras to be about Lady Gaga or a fashion shoot for Vogue than a discussion on ideas for protest outfits. But unfortunately, you would be wrong. I learnt this first-hand from a group of twenty-something women in Cairo last week, as we chatted about what they will wear for protection to the mass protests taking place across Egypt on Sunday, 30 June.
30 June Protestor against Morsi’s Policies by bora25 on Flickr
They were actually half joking about measures to make themselves seem no longer human to the touch, to frighten away the wandering hands of men seeking to invade female clothing and assault girls at protests. As discontent grows against Mohammed Morsi, the winner of Egypt’s first free Presidential elections held a year ago, many Egyptian women will be attending these protests calling for his resignation. President Morsi has sought to consolidate his power and abuse the rights for which the revolution was fought, and these women want their voices heard.
Uganda is a deeply religious country. Within an hour of my arrival in Kampala, I had seen many testaments to faith including the rather tasty ‘Jesus Saves’ range of snacks. However, at an inter-faith community dialogue that I attended in Bwaise, an overpopulated, unplanned deprived area in north Kampala last week, there was a surprising call for secularism.
The Pentecostal faith and other forms of charismatic Christianity, known for their fervent evangelism, have been steadily increasing their flock in the area and, although popular in Bwaise, these faiths have not eclipsed Catholicism and more traditional forms of Protestantism such as Anglicanism as the dominant religions in Uganda. However, according to the last national census only 12% of Ugandans are Muslim and data from grassroots youth-led organisation, AFFCAD, indicates that 76% of Bwaise is Muslim.
Listening to an expert discussion of the role of elected representatives in social accountability interventions at a recent event hosted by the Mwananchi Governance Programme and CIVICUS in Johannesburg on 16th May 2013, I was reminded of this quote by Joe Khamisi, a former Kenyan MP:
“Save, you may not see Parliament again”, one two-term Member liked to tell us. In many cases non-performers with deep pockets are preferred than stingy doers. “As much as possible, avoid your constituents in the first three years and show up only towards the last half of your term, with plenty of money!”
In response, a Member of Parliament (MP) from one of the countries where Mwananchi works said, “You need to put premium on leadership”. In other words, we should not expect leaders to deliver the change we want if society encourages them to pursue perverse incentives to attain and remain in office, and to achieve solutions to collective action problems. Continue reading →
By Mark Nelson, Policy and Advocacy Intern, CIVICUS
Although 2012’s Mayan apocalypse didn’t pan out quite as spectacularly as anticipated, the year was nonetheless an eventful one for civil society activists engaged in struggles for political, social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Through its Civil Society Watch project, CIVICUS continued to monitor situations adversely affecting civil society in seventy-six countries in 2012. CIVICUS’ State of Civil Society Report 2013 also focuses on an “enabling environment” for civil society.
Despite disturbing trends ranging from the deepening humanitarian crisis in Syria, where pro-democracy activists have been bombarded with tanks and heavy artillery, to authoritarian aggrandizement in Russia via draconian laws and intimidation of activists, a few small victories have been achieved through advocacy and solidarity initiatives.
*An honest forum for discussions about accountability, power and development isn’t always easy to find. Issues of external aid financing for internal social accountability building, holding parliamentarians to account and finding ways to strengthen democratic structures are complex and sensitive issues: so the Mwananchi roundtable, bringing together politicians, traditional leaders, academics and civil society leaders was a unique opportunity to ‘tell it as it is’. The two day meeting in Johannesburg, hosted by CIVICUS and convened by the Mwananchi Programme, aimed to explore what works for holding governments to account through direct citizen action.
The event was primarily a response to the upcoming closure of the Mwananchi Programme, which after five years has amassed a wealth of evidence on ‘what works’ (and what doesn’t) for social accountability in Africa. Fletcher Tembo, the programme Director, presented some of the ideas which will inform a major report synthesising learning from across the programme sites (to be published in September). These include a flexible approach to a theory of change, rooted in specific local context, learning ‘in the rear view mirror’ and adapting the ingredients of what works in one country to another. He also proposed a model of ‘accountability as answerability’ rather than ‘accountability as responsiveness’. You can read Fletcher’s presentation here.