Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Uganda’

The Commonwealth and Human Rights

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th January, 2016

Bourne and ChidgeyThe Commonwealth is a rather odd club, made up of 53 states of wildly different size, most (but not all) of which once formed part of the British Empire. They therefore share an interest in the English language, as well as maintaining ties with the old country and among themselves. There is a Secretariat in London and Dominica-born Baroness Scotland is its latest Secretary General, but the organisation does not have the sort of resources at its disposal of a regional body such as the European Union or even the United Nations. But also unlike the UN the Commonwealth has the advantage of being a club, which means that members who misbehave badly can be suspended or even thrown out. Others choose to withdraw instead when the they see that they are in disgrace. Since the beginning the main reasons for exclusions have usually been human rights violations and a democratic deficit, both of which sadly are still evident in some of the current member states. This evening, as the first event of the National Liberal Club’s new Commonwealth Forum, chaired by Lord (David) Chidgey, the writer and longstanding human rights activist Richard Bourne spoke in particular about the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative with which he has been closely involved, but setting this in a wider context. Developing countries tend to highlight basic human rights such as access to food and housing whereas comparatively wealthy countries like Britain put more emphasis on civil and political rights. The latter can sometimes be extremely sensitive, paradoxically because of colonial era laws which are still on the statute books in many Commonwealth states while Britain has evolved in a different direction. Richard Bourne mentioned LGBT+ rights, for example; whereas same sex marriage is now accepted in many ‘developed’ countries, including Britain, homophobic laws are still acted on in some Commonwealth states, such as Uganda and Malaysia. Similarly, whereas long ago the Commonwealth championed the merits of democracy there has been a worrying tendency for some African states in particular to revert to an older model of presidents for life. Because the Commonwealth works by consensus and pressure is brought to bear on misbehaving governments behind the scenes, unless their behaviour is egregious, it is often hard to see what the Commonwealth actually achieves in promoting human rights and Patricia Scotland has a daunting challenge ahead of her to try to change that. But perhaps the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative can quietly chalk up successes while keeping the Commonwealth on its toes.

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Making Children Bear Arms Is Child Abuse

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th January, 2016

IS childThe chilling pictures published by ISIS/Daesh of a small child thought to be British, proudly brandishing a gun, are symptomatic of a worrying trend by political extremists to try to “normalise” the phenomenon of children bearing arms, supposedly in the defence of a particular cause. I’ve seen examples on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict and child soldiers have been a sickening feature of a number of recent civil wars, such as in Uganda, Liberia and Sri Lanka — in some cases with children being forced to kill or else be killed or tortured themselves. You will even find photos of American kids posing with weapons with the encouragement of their gun-loving parents, despite the fact that each year numerous victims, both young and old, get accidentally shot by young children in America. For supporters of the US constitutional right to bear arms, the issue at stake is “freedom”, but I would argue that even in countries where it is legal for adults to own firearms it should be a serious criminal offence to encourage or allow children to handle them. For me, that amounts to child abuse, and a particularly pernicious form of child abuse, for kids often do not have a developed sense of right and wrong, or of the nature of killing and death. I believe that if parents proudly pose with their infants who are brandishing weapons they should be prosecuted for child abuse and sentenced accordingly.

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Bringing Burundi Back from the Brink

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th December, 2015

Museveni NkurunzizaToday, here in Entebbe, Uganda, the first round of peace talks aimed at averting mayhem in the central African state of Burundi are scheduled to begin. Given the way that things have deteriorated so rapidly over the past few weeks, especially in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, where dozens of bodies have turned up on the streets, it might have been useful to have convened the talks earlier, but the man charged with overseeing them, Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 30 years, has been busy campaigning for re-election. The crisis erupted in Burundi this April when incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he was not stepping down at the end of his constitutional second term, but would instead stand for re-election. There was an attempted coup by a group of military officers against the government the following month that failed, and Mr Nkurunziza was duly re-elected in a poll boycotted by much of the opposition.

Burundi 2A few days ago, the African Union announced that it was preparing a peace-keeping force of 5,000 troops to send to Burundi to prevent more bloodshed. But President Nkurunziza declared firmly that they would not be welcome. Hence the added importance and urgency of the talks here in Entebbe, for which representatives of different Burundian parties have been arriving. The challenge for reaching an accord is enormous as there is a central disagreement: the President’s opponents are demanding that he step down, while he and his supporters are insisting that he will stay. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the peace accord that brought an end to 12 years of civil war in Burundi, in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed. And large numbers of Burundians fear that the country is once again on the brink of such a devastating conflict. At least 200,000 refugees have fled the country, many to neighbouring Rwanda. Unconfirmed reports meanwhile suggest that in Rwanda, some Burundian exiles are preparing to return to their homeland to fight if the opportunity arises.

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Rwanda and Regional Integration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st December, 2015

imageAs a small landlocked country in the heart of Africa, Rwanda would have limited economic possibilities if it tried to go it alone. But by cooperating more closely with some of its neighbours it can gain many benefits. A degree of regional integration — without undermining national sovereignty — is accordingly being promoted through the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP), which held its latest Summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, just over a week ago. The NCIP groups Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, and as of this Summit Ethiopia as well. As the name suggests, the initiative is project-focussed, in particular promoting the development of railways in the sub-region and in improving both the road network and the efficiency of the port of Mombasa in Kenya, on which the land-locked members — in other words, all of the countries except Kenya — depend for many of their exports and imports. Tanzania is currently only an observer, but logically it would make sense if it joined NCIP too and integrated the port of Dar Es-Salaam into overall planning.

Regional integration has had something of a chequered career in East Africa, notably the East African Community that brought together Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda but failed to live up to its expectations. By being project-focussed the NCIP probably has more chance of success and it confirms a trend towards regional integration that is happening all round the world as a by-product of globalisation. The European Union is, of course, by far the most advanced example of regional integration, as well as being the most ambitious, having political as well as economic dimensions and grouping no fewer than 28 countries. Not everything is running smoothly in the EU, but it is too important to fail in a world where new economic giants are rising. Africa is beginning to understand that as well, and although the continent-wide African Union is provably over-ambitious as a model of integration for the foreseeable future, smaller sub-regional groups such as the NCIP are feasible and promising.

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The Lake Victoria Hotel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th December, 2015

Lake Victoria Hotel.jpgLike many writers, I can only work well in the right environment. At the house in London, that is a small book-lined study on the first floor where I sit facing the window but with the curtains permanently drawn. But I’ve discovered as I travel literally all over the world on journalistic assignments or to attend conferences that there are some places where my writing mojo just kicks in. One of those is the Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe, Uganda, a stately old colonial establishment that has been tastefully refurbished, serves good food and has totally silent rooms, being set in spacious grounds. There is even an Olympic-size swimming pool below the restaurant terrace for sporting breaks. It helps that Uganda’s climate is benign; the temperature is a steady 26 degrees C or so at this time of year, with only the occasional shower. And there aren’t even any mosquitoes around. But of course it is the who really create the atmosphere, both the hotel staff and the local population of this sleepy town on the shore of Lake Victoria: courteous, obliging and always ready with a smile. Above all, they let guests like me get on with whatever we are doing without interruption, whether it is writing, reading or just thinking through the next difficult passage of a book. This afternoon I shall move on to Rwanda, but I will be back.

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International Human Rights Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th December, 2015

Human Rights DayThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly 67 years ago today, but the fight for rights is as necessary as ever, not just in totalitarian states and conflict zones round the world but even in so-called mature democracies. Each International Human Rights Day (IHRD), 10 December, is a useful moment to take stock of the situation worldwide and the picture in 2015 is particularly depressing. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise as part of the collateral damage to the war against ISIS/Daesh and other Middle Eastern and North African conflicts; countries including China, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Iran continue to implement the death penalty, in many cases for “crimes” that would not even be considered as such in much of the world.

capital punishmentThe theme of this year’s IHRD is “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always”, which at many levels is so broad as to be almost meaningless in campaigning terms, but the idea was to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year (sic) of the adoption of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Despite being equally broad-brush, these covenants are considered important frameworks for putting pressure on governments that are denying their people a decent livelihood or suppressing their freedoms.

amnesty pngOf course, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not every country or society agrees on their definition. Uganda, where I am at present, continues to harass LGBTi activists, for example, with the tacit support of much of the local population. Apostasy is still a capital crime in Saudi Arabia, while freedom or religion (and the freedom to choose) is a core value of democratic societies. Double standards are moreover evident in so many fields and it is not always the Western democracies that are innocent. They were right to express outrage at Russia occupation/annexation of Crimea, for example, yet most (with a few honorable exceptions such as Sweden) have remained relatively mute about Israel’s 48-year occupation of Palestine; Russia is the subject of sanctions, Israel hardly at all.

However, that does not mean we should give up in despair. NGOs in particular have an important role to play in furthering economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political ones — not least in holding governments to account. But governments, such as Britain’s, also should not shirk their duty to stand up for what they say support, and the same goes for the European Union. So even if IHRD may seem vacuous at times it is important to remind us of all that needs to be done to promote human rights, both individually and collectively.

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Jinja, Source of the Nile

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st December, 2013

Jinja main streetSource of the NileFinding the source of the River Nile was an obsession for Victorian explorers. David Livingstone perished while frankly looking in the wrong place; John Hanning Speke had already correctly identified the outlet from Lake Victoria that fell over what he named Ripon Falls as the beginning of Africa’s greatest river. That is the White Nile, of course; the Blue Nile starts in Ethiopia, where I visited its supposed source a few years ago, and the two join at Khartoum, a city I found enchanting, even if the government is not. Anyway, yesterday I had the chance to go and see the Ugandan Source of the Nile, which is actually much more striking than I had imagined. A branch of Lake Victoria, called Lake Bujagali, mutates into the Nile at the hydro-electric dam where the Ripon Falls used to be. The body is already quite wide and swift moving, and I was able to drink in its atmosphere while having lunch, entirely alone, in the Mezzanine Restaurant on the bank, in the compound of the Jinja Backpackers comp9und. Jinja itself is a rather charming town, with suburbs of fine villas that would not be out of place in Virginia Water. The centre’s main street is lined with one- and two-storey buildings from the early 20th century. Some have an Indian flavour, reflecting the fact that that there used to be a thriving Asian business community here before Idi Amin threw them out. A few have since returned, in today’s more welcoming climate, but Jinja still has a sense of being frozen in aspic from a gentler age.

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Entebbe’s Subtle Charms

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th December, 2013

Lake VictoriaLake Victoria HotelFor people above a certain age, the name Entebbe conjours up memories of the daring Israeli raid on the airport where a hijacked plane was being held in July 1976. But nearly 40 years on, this small town on the shore of Lake Victoria is one of the mostly placid places one can be. Although the airport is still the main gateway to Uganda, few arrivals linger long in Entebbe itself, but head straight for the capital, Kampala. In doing so they miss a lot. The Lake Victoria Hotel, where I have been staying for the past three days, is one of those wonderful old colonial establishments that have been preserved but polished, thanks to the Arab company Laico, which owns a number of prestigious hotels in Africa. The 50,000 souls in Entebbe town are well spread out, the overwhelming impression being one of greenness — in formal gardens and prolific natural vegetation loud with the singing of birds. Down on the lake there is a very narrow sandy beach, fringed by some modest cafes. When I was there yesterday I saw only one other foreign visitor, while local lads swam naked and mock-wrestled in the sand. Religion is omnipresent in Entebbe, from the various Christian churches to the mosque and the Sikh gurdwara and the people have a low-key, dignified friendliness. Though this is my first time here, I am sure I will be coming back, probably en route to future explorations of neighbouring South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi.

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Lynne Featherstone’s African Remit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th November, 2012

During her two years at the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone did great things to promote the equalities agenda, even if she and Theresa May did not always see eye to eye. The Equal Marriage consultation was a real win for the LibDems within the Coalition, and to his credit David Cameron “got” the issue, even if some of his backbench headbangers didn’t. So there was initially some disquiet among LibDems when Lynne was moved in the ministerial reshuffle earier this year to the Department for International Development (DfID). However, as Lynne made clear at an informal briefing to the International Relations Committee (IRC) of the Liberal Democrat Party in Westminster this evening, she has taken equality issues along with her (with the PM’s blessing), and it is especially important that she is able to champion the central role of women in development. She has just returned from a mission to South Sudan, which was rather jumping in at the deep end, though other states she has visited this year include Kenya and Uganda, and Africa is now central to her remit. DfID has of course been directed to phase down its involvement in India (now one of the BRICs) but Africa remains a main area of concern, not only for the traditional problems of famine and disease (including HIV/AIDS) but also for the way that women are excluded and often oppressed within many African societies, including through the persistence of female genital mutilation (FGM). It was interesting that FGM was a major topic in the discussion after Lynne’s presentation at the IRC, but then it is a quintissentially Liberal issue, relating to human rights and gender matters as well as to health. Lynne was a shadow International Development Minister some years ago, so she is not entirely fresh to the field. But it is clear that Africa is offering her a steep learning curve, from which both she and Africa’s development should ultimately benefit.

 

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The Bell Tolls for Dictators

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd August, 2011

Like many bloggers and tweeters I stayed up late last night, transfixed by the scenes in Tripoli, where the National Liberation Army (as I prefer to call it) penetrated neighbourhoods of the city, including the iconic Green Square, which was immediately renamed Martyrs’ Square. At least two of Mouammar Gaddafi’s sons have been captured and it can only be a matter of time before Gaddafi himself is cornered. Will he do a Hitler and shoot himself, or arrange things so that he gets killed? Or will the cause of justice be served by him and some of his closest associates being taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC)? It’s staggering to think how fast events have moved since the impoverished Tunisian fruit-vendor Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself last December. The Tunisian President Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s President Mubarak was forced to resign and is now on trial, Yemen’s President Saleh was seriously injured in clashes during the uprising to oust him and remains in hospital in Saudi Arabia — which has a reputation now as the retirement home for dictators, beginning with Uganda’s Idi Amin. And now Gaddafi’s day of judgement is nigh. To remind ourselves of the speed and significance of these events, just take a look at the photo here of the four dictators looking so pleased with themselves at an African Union Summit last year. And next? Syria, inshallah.

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