Censorship and the SABC

by Martin Plaut, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: Christa Eybers/Eyewitness News

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: Christa Eybers/Eyewitness News

On Friday 27th of May this year South Africa’s state owned broadcaster – the SABC – announced that it would will no longer broadcast footage of people destroying public property during protests.

The SABC’s Chief Operating Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, said that the destruction of public property was disrupting the lives of many, and that as a responsible public institution the SABC would not “assist these individuals to push their agenda that seeks media attention. As a public service broadcaster we have a mandate to educate the citizens, and we therefore have taken this bold decision to show that violent protests are not necessary,” he announced. The SABC argued that continuing to broadcast this material could “encourage other communities to do the same”.

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LGBTI vote at the UN shows battle for human rights is far from won

by Professor Henning Melber, ICWS Senior Research Fellow and Extraordinary Professor, University of Pretoria

image: Reuters

image: Reuters

The world has edged closer to placing the same value on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people as it does on human rights. Sadly, not all states, including many African countries, are on the same page.

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Ivory – battle lines being drawn over the trade in tusks ahead of CITES summit in South Africa

by Professor Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

Ivory and elephants have for decades been very emotive topics among conservationists, wildlife departments and NGOs in states which have elephant populations and in Western countries which believe they have a right to tell others how to manage their wildlife resources. This has led to a constant state of verbal and media warfare over the international trade in ivory and the best approaches to conserving elephants. The arguments have centred on Africa’s elephants – the main source of illegally traded ivory.

elephant

Photo: copyright Keith Somerville. Madikwe, South Africa

On 24th September this year, South Africa will host the 17th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The regular CITES conferences have since the late 1980s been the main battleground for the competing camps when it comes to the relationship between the trade in ivory and the conservation of elephants. This year’s meeting in Johannesburg from 24th September to 5th October will be no exception. The trenches are already being dug and the opening skirmishes have taken place more than two months before the delegates gather.

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What Brexit means for the Commonwealth

By Sue Onslow, Senior Research Fellow, ICwS

Facundo Arrizabalga/EPA

Facundo Arrizabalga/EPA

By voting to leave the European Union, Britain’s future relationship with its fellow Commonwealth members has assumed both a greater significance and a greater degree of uncertainty.

Before the poll, the uniform message from the other leaders of the 53-member association had been a desire for Britain to remain a member of the EU. To the Commonwealth, Britain was a powerful and privileged member within the EU trading bloc, with considerable opportunities for diplomatic leverage in broader Commonwealth interests.

But unlike their political leaders, Commonwealth citizens in Britain who were entitled to vote in the referendum (the approximate number varied between 890,000 and 960,000) were by no means a monolithic bloc supporting the Remain camp.

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The Commonwealth and Brexit

 By Dr Eva Namusoke, Postdoctoral Research Officer, ICWS, Commonwealth Oral History Project

The campaign ahead of the EU referendum on Thursday 23rd June has been bitterly fought by both the Remain and Leave camps, with rhetoric and statistics bombarded at voters on a daily basis from politicians, business leaders and celebrities. Amidst the ongoing discussion concerning the future of the UK’s place in or outside of the European Union, the role of the Commonwealth, and of eligible Commonwealth voters in the UK has provided an interesting dimension.

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Nigerian corruption and crime – a fantastically corrupt culture or the result of a particular history?

By Professor Keith Somerville, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Fantastically-corrupt-comment-by-David-Cameron

‘Fantastically corrupt’. Prime Minister Cameron discussing Nigeria with HM The Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker of the House of Commons

 

Just before May’s anti-corruption summit in London, British prime Minister David Cameron, made his now infamous public gaffe when he boasted to the Queen in a rather a silly, schoolboyish way that, “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world”.   The rudeness and stupidity of the remarks, made in front of TV cameras, apart it was also inaccurate.  Nigeria justifiably has a reputation for corruption and criminal networks, but it is by no means one of the two most corrupt countries in the world, Somalia and North Korea hold that distinction, according to Transparency International.  Nigeria also ranks as less corrupt as key British and American ally in the war against Islamists in East Africa, Kenya – Kenya is ranked 139 out of 167 countries and Nigeria 136.

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Africa’s rising middle class: time to sort out fact from fiction

  By Professor Henning Melber, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Image credit: Botschaft-Madagaskar

Since the turn of the century the middle classes of the global South have taken centre stage in economic policy circles. Animated by diversification of some countries’ economies, a handful of economists from international agencies and think-tanks began a discourse that then entered African and development studies.

This in turn led to calls for policies to be redirected. Countries were urged to strengthen their middle classes. The leading proponents were the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) followed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The OECD’s view is evident in its Global Development Perspectives 2012 report and the UNDP’s in its 2013 Human Development Report.

The main economists behind this push included World Bank chief economist Martin Ravallion, his former colleague, William Easterly, Nancy Birdsall from the Centre for Global Development in Washington, and Homi Kharas from the OECD Development Centre.

They define middle class as a group of people with a minimum of anything from US$2 to $10 monetary income/expenditure a day.

But such a reduced approach misses much of what is required for a proper analysis of a class – its character, and its positioning in and impact on society. Rather, the discovery of the middle class was linked to its anticipated role in promoting social change to which those in the “business of development” could pin their hopes.

This, however, shifts the debate away from the critical assessment of obstacles to development. It thereby gets in the way of a proper diagnosis of the real challenges to promoting more social equality and justice in some of the most unequal societies in our world.

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Soweto uprising – 40 years on: the role of Wits students

  By Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Remember Soweto poster

It is hard to believe, but it is 40 years since the pupils of Soweto confronted the apartheid state. It was the beginning of the end of white rule in South Africa. But the children – many of them very young – paid a terrible price.

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Commonwealth, Sustainable Development Goals and T20 Cricket: some ‘Ivory Tower’ reflections

by Dr Balasubramanyam Chandramohan PhD, FRSA, FHEA, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

Bank Holidays are a good time to let some thoughts break through normal routines of academic life.

As I sit facing across the window, with a magnolia tree in full bloom and not many yards from the famous tree that that was a part of Kent County Cricket Club grounds till high winds destroyed it a few years ago, I thought of recollecting and reflecting on an extraordinary few weeks in April.

Just recovering from co-organising a workshop on UN Sustainable Development Goals and Higher Education at  the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London with a fellow Senior Research Fellow, I search for answers for what one of the contributors, a seasoned Programme Officer of a range of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) – in South Africa and Afghanistan and UK — asked: Can the expertise/knowledge held by ‘Ivory Towers’ (exact quote) be made available to CSOs?

Living in an ‘Ivory Tower’, I find the above disconnect (or perceptions of it) a bit surprising. Have universities always been seen as being remote from day-to-day realities/issues? What has happened to all the ‘Third Stream Activities’ and ‘Knowledge Transfer’ (and PR) activities that university staff engage in? Can Universities, speaking of ‘vertical’ activities, redefine their roles and support goals of universality in SDGs by forming and actively participating in specific/individual SDGs involving both the Global South and the Global North? Can universities, additionally, as sites of disciplinary/multi-disciplinary/inter-disciplinary knowledge taxonomies, look out of their ‘Ivory Towers’ and conceptually and practically help to work across what could, if due attention is not paid, become 17 SDG ‘silos’ of activity?

Thinking back to the 6th of April, there was a high profile event on Sport and Sustainable Development organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat. The format was that of a debate with three speakers each arguing for and against the proposition: To maximise the contribution that sport can make to sustainable development, governments should focus investment on ‘sport for health’.

 As I was unable to attend the event, I sent in my contribution to the debate in the form of points supporting the ‘against’ argument. As with any oppositional debate, my points were one-sided:

  • ‘Sport for health’: Sport can contribute in a range of ways to achieve sustainable development, such as contributing to social cohesion cutting across a range of political, linguistic and cultural divides, and so the intangible benefits are equal if not more in importance to benefits such as health with regard to sustainable development
  • Investing in ‘Sport for Health’ should be left to sports bodies which have a greater reach, appeal and financial resources than individual governments (for example, football and cricketing bodies have enormous resources that are more than what many governments can afford). Governments can, however, ensure that the investments are directed equitably and free from corruption and mismanagement
  • To be successful, ‘Sport for Health’ investment should be accompanied by attitudinal change rather than just creation of stadia or sports facilities. These changes would come, mostly, from a range of opinion builders and icons in public life that can pass on/embody messages of health benefits from sports. So, governments should invest in communication strategies rather than sports per se for one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communications regarding sports and their links with the health of individuals, families and communities

However, my main contribution was to suggest that Sports in the Commonwealth as a whole will get a boost if cricket (T20 format) is included in Commonwealth Games 2018, and Olympics 2020 (and later ones too). 

England v Sri Lanka, Twenty20 International, Southampton, UK Thursday 15 June 2006  Image via Flickr user Badger Swan

England v Sri Lanka, Twenty20 International, Southampton, UK, Thursday 15 June 2006. Image via Flickr user Badger Swan

I thought I must make a more detailed case for T20. Here is my argument in five points:

  • Cricket is the most popular sport of the Commonwealth going by the number of fans/supporters. For numbers, just add the populations of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, and the West Indies
  • Cricket embodies Commonwealth and its key democratic principles of adherence to rules, fair play etc. , its diversity of membership, which has ‘equal say regardless of size or economic stature’, its gender equality, as there are teams for both men and women, and others
  • T20, the latest format in which cricket is played, is ideal for getting quick results, in a matter of hours. Several newspapers, TV Channels and media outlets devote space to T20 league matches, bi- and trilateral tournaments, and reciprocal tours by teams
  • Many teams from the Commonwealth and beyond (Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Oman, UAE, Holland, Ireland, Hong Kong) participate in national/regional tournaments, bilateral or trilateral series, and/or the T20 World Cup
  • Cricketing bodies such as the Indian Premier League are rich and could potentially help in popularising the game in all countries through helping to construct cricket grounds and develop training facilities

These investments, in addition to promoting cricket, can have spin-off benefits such as helping in the overall development of sporting facilities, enriching the culture of participation in sports, and promoting SDGs such as Health and Education.

I would like to (continue to) argue that Commonwealth institutions need to work towards getting T20 cricket included in Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, as part of their strategy for Sport for Sustainable Development.

I am sure there will be some agreements and disagreements regarding what I said. That is what blogs are for!

Observing Uganda’s 2016 Presidential Election

 By Dr Eva Namusoke, Postdoctoral Research Officer, ICWS

 The 18th February saw long-anticipated elections in Uganda, where the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) faced his stiffest opposition in his 30 years in office. With a reported 60.8% of the votes, Museveni was declared winner and will continue as president until 2021. The election drew extensive coverage in Uganda and abroad with the campaign process being marked by frequent arrests of the opposition leader, sometimes clashes between the Ugandan police and opposition supporters, constraints on the media, and the recruitment of controversial Crime Preventers. In this election in Uganda, as on previous occasions, international election observers were invited into the country to witness and asses the democratic process. Election observers included teams from the EU, the East African Community, the AU and the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth in particular has one of the oldest traditions of election monitoring, having observed more than 130 elections in 36 countries since 1980. While the various observer groups present written reports about the process, the interviews in the Commonwealth Oral History Project (COHP) offer a look behind the scenes, moving beyond the measured words of the official reports and photo ops.

Olusegun Obasanjo, Chair, leads members of the Commonwealth Observer Group Commonwealth Observer Group - 2016 Uganda Elections

Olusegun Obasanjo, Chair, leads members of the Commonwealth Observer Group
Commonwealth Observer Group – 2016 Uganda Elections

 

Election monitoring in the Commonwealth began in 1980 under the leadership of General Secretary Sir Shridath “Sonny” Ramphal. In 1980, the Commonwealth sent a group to monitor the first elections in independent Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), the culmination of long-term involvement in the transition to majority rule. Neville Linton worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat from 1983-1995 and was involved in observing numerous elections. Along with his discussion of elections in Namibia, Kenya and Bangladesh, he also explained the beginning of the activities in 1980:

‘You see, these were crisis situations: Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, and the phase after Idi Amin. But they had been one-offs. What happened in the meeting in Malaysia was that it was accepted that this would now be part of the routine practices of the Commonwealth.’

The process of Commonwealth election monitoring was formalised following the 1989 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malaysia and as Linton recalled, Malaysia volunteered to be the first country to allow Commonwealth observers at its 1990 general election. As noted above, Uganda’s post-Amin 1980 election was one of the earliest observer missions for the Commonwealth. Hugh Craft, an Australian diplomat and member of the 1980 Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) described the turbulence of this particular election:

‘Violent? Yes, in the extreme. I vividly remember guerrilla leader Museveni surrounded by his AK47-bearing bodyguards, straight out of the jungle, coming into the Speke [Hotel] to see the COG.’

Raja Gomez, a Sri Lankan civil servant, was part of the same group as Craft and similarly remembers the events:

‘That was one in which we had soldiers firing in to our hotel. And we have a tape of the shots being fired and various people talking and saying silly things to each other – shall we get under tables and that type of thing you say to each other in situations that you would have never met before.’

Martin Aliker, a Ugandan diplomat, ran in the 1980 elections and discussed the results, arguing that while the voting was free and fair, the election was stolen by the electoral commissioner deliberately reporting the wrong winners.

Amitav Banerji, who joined the Commonwealth in 1990 was also actively involved in election monitoring and commented on what made the Commonwealth process unique:

‘Election observation by the Commonwealth was very different from other observer groups because they were led at much higher level, usually a former head of state or a former head of government.’

The inclusion of a former head of state remains an important part of the Commonwealth process and there appears to be an effort to ensure the individual is from the same continent. Most recently, the October 2015 Commonwealth Observer Group to Tanzania was led by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, while the group in Uganda was led by another former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo. The 13-member group representing a range of professional and national backgrounds arrived in Uganda on the 11th February, a week ahead of the election, and spent their time meeting with various civil society groups. Reflecting on his experience in Namibia in 1994, Linton made an important point:

‘What we would do would be to go in before the election, in the run-up to the election because in any case that is when elections are fixed.’

His words were echoed with examples by another veteran of the Commonwealth monitoring process: Sandra Pepera who stated in reference to the 1992 Ghana elections:

‘Well, I think we understood intimately – straight off – that it was just too late to come in two weeks before polling and, clearly, certainly, in Ghana’s case… Yeah, two weeks before the election… This thing was a done deal long before COG arrived.’

As mentioned above, the campaign process for Uganda’s 2016 election has been a somewhat turbulent time for the opposition, suggesting the necessity to view the events of the 18th February within a longer timeline.

In Uganda’s 2016 election, unlike in previous years, the proliferation of social media added another level to monitoring. Despite the government’s surprise decision early on the 18th to block social media including Facebook, Twitter, and (in a move that unduly affected businesses) mobile money, the hashtag #UgandaDecides trended on Twitter. Through the creative use of VPNs to bypass the blockage, Ugandan news sources, opposition leaders and individuals alike shared stories of missing ballot papers, late openings and tense, hours long queues at polling stations. As a result the frustrations of Election Day in Uganda were instantly transmitted around the world, allowing the international community to follow events live.

The Commonwealth Observer Group’s preliminary report on Uganda’s 2016 election, published on the 20th February, echoes other international monitoring groups in its criticism of the process. With a long list of issues noted including a lack of transparency in campaign financing, restrictions placed on the media and incompetency in the work of the Electoral Commission, Obasanjo concluded that, as in previous Ugandan elections, ‘once again these elections fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks’. Interestingly, African observer groups were notably less critical of the process.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who became Commonwealth General Secretary in 1990 right at the beginning of the huge scaling up of Commonwealth election monitoring described its significance:

‘Commonwealth observance of elections legitimises the election and makes it easier for the parties who have lost to accept the result if the election is judged to be free and fair by Commonwealth observers. And this works both for the governing and the opposition parties.’

In the case of Uganda’s most recent election, it appears the process was somewhat lacking in both freedom and fairness. In the wake of the announcement that Museveni had won, his closest opponent, Dr Kizza Besigye, who had received 35.37% of votes, disputed the result and was considering challenging the results in court. At the time of writing and despite protests from the likes of the US government, Besigye had been taken into police custody following three days of house arrest, and the office of his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party had been stormed by police. Police have also been deployed around major intersections in Kampala and Obasanjo has meanwhile urged security forces and political party supporters to ‘exercise restraint and avoid unnecessary confrontations’.

With Commonwealth observers present at presidential elections from 1980 and regularly alongside a slew of other observer groups in the years since, Uganda has perhaps one of the longest histories of international monitoring of its electoral process. However, it appears that while the levels of violence have reduced markedly since that first monitored 1980 election, there remains some way to go before the country can claim truly democratic elections.

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Commonwealth observers at polling stations, as Ugandan people cast their votes. Commonwealth Observer Group – 2016 Uganda Elections