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.


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


Rhodesian UDI: 50 years on

by Dr Sue Onslow, Senior Lecturer in Commonwealth Studies

There is a remarkable public amnesia in the UK that 50 years ago on 11th November, Southern Rhodesia defiantly declared its independence from Britain. In a highly theatrical performance, and under the gaze of a large photograph of the Queen, Ian Smith, the prime minister, and his cabinet signed Rhodesia’s declaration of independence, consciously modeled on the American declaration of independence of 1776. Whilst announcing Southern Rhodesia’s break with the Labour Government, Smith stressed his country’s enduring loyalty to the Crown – yet another example of contradictory thinking in the Rhodesian settler community. The break with Britain had been a long time brewing, and the British public was aware of this – notwithstanding Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s press statement that it was ‘a shock’.

Ian Smith, Rhodesian Prime Minister, in 1975

Ian Smith, Rhodesian Prime Minister, in 1975

Smith and his Cabinet colleagues had planned this rupture carefully, removing dissident elements within the Rhodesian Army and civil service; privately sounding out senior officers in the RAF via their High Commissioner in London, to calculate whether Britain would use force against the rebellious Rhodesia Front government; ensuring this announcement was after sales of the Rhodesian tobacco crop, the country’s primary export earnings; seeking Portugal’s solidarity and support, to ensure trade sanctions would fail; identifying South African finance and credit; smuggling Rhodesian gold out of the country in airline food trays, via Johannesburg, to Switzerland (using South African contacts with key members of the Swiss banking system). The British government only belatedly realized what was going on and certainly their intelligence on South African attitudes and activities was remarkably poor. And the Rhodesian choice of 11th November itself was highly deliberate – Remembrance Day, underlining the Rhodesian white community’s contribution to the British war effort in WWII – and because it was a Friday. Smith confidently believed that this declaration of independence would be a 9-day wonder: that the City of London would rapidly adjust, and the reverberations of Salisbury’s actions would start to settle over the weekend.

Instead of this 9-day wonder, Rhodesia’s illegal declaration of independence developed into a crisis of international dimensions, fracturing Britain’s relations with the modern Commonwealth. Rhodesian UDI starkly demonstrated the limitations of British power – London had used American power to achieve British diplomatic goals of decolonization, and was to try to do so again in the Rhodesia case, particularly in 1977-1978. Interestingly, it was a British led show in 1979 that led to eventual settlement. This 14-year period highlighted the problems of using economic sanctions as effective political leverage; it also witnessed the radicalization and violence of rival African nationalist movements in their shift to armed struggle, from external bases; how winning the propaganda war in the international media acts as a force multiplier for a political movement; and the importance of civil society activity – the Anti Apartheid Movement regarded Rhodesia’s transition to black majority rule as the earlier victory before South Africa in 1994.

Attempts at settlement of this crisis in a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa drew in a multiplicity of international actors, from the region, from unlikely ideological sympathizers and financiers, and from both sides of the Cold War divide – interestingly, unlike many of his political opponents, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger did not underestimate Ian Smith, whom he described as acting with ‘dignity and courage’. (In contrast, Lord Carrington was highly critical, describing Smith as a bigoted and stupid man, ‘who could see every tree in the wood, but not the wood.’ As a number of these interviews underline, the Commonwealth became a significant actor in this story of Rhodesia’s decolonization into Zimbabwe, and the country’s achievement of internationally recognized majority rule in April 1980.

Is this 50th anniversary important today? Certainly, for contemporary Zimbabwe, which had again caused considerable headaches for the Commonwealth before President Mugabe’s abrupt departure in 2003. Particular paths taken, in contrast to others deliberately not selected, are always significant in a country’s history, and its current politics, given the particular legacies of its political economy, and this inheritance of the new elites. Access to land is probably the most toxic of all colonial legacies. Smith had been pressed to liberalise land ownership and access before 1965 – in the hope that a compromise could be reached, and a modified form of white-led independence achieved. The RF resolutely refused to do this. The land settlement of the Lancaster House agreement at the end of the UDI era was problematic in that it was a highly conscious political arrangement, which stored up problems for the future. Furthermore, history of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe has been progressively politicized since the election of ZANU-PF in 1980, particularly so since 2000 and the emergence of ‘patriotic history’ as a key way to legitimize ZANU-PF and to present political opponents as counter-revolutionary and de-legitimate.

The Commonwealth is also guilty of amnesia on Rhodesia/Zimbabwe: its repeated public emphasis on the success of its role at the Lusaka heads meeting in 1979 contrasts dramatically with the Commonwealth’s silence – and this includes the Commonwealth Secretariat’s silence – about the violence and killings in Matabeleland between 1982-1985 post-independence. There is public acknowledgement of the sad irony of the Harare Declaration of 1991 as the second key foundational document for the modern Commonwealth, set against growing political authoritarianism and turmoil in the country by the late 90s/early 2000. Like Smith in 1965, Mugabe’s abrupt withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 2003 was in defiance of Commonwealth opinion and confirmed the country’s increasingly pariah status. Given the significance of the 11th November, one is tempted to reflect, ‘plus ca change…’ in terms of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe public gesture political behaviour. Yet, President Mugabe and ZANU-PF as a dominant one-party state might reflect on the eventual fate of Ian Smith and the Rhodesia Front rule. A country cannot stand indefinitely against the forces of the international political economy, regional and international opinion. Cue the Commonwealth as a mediating conduit again, to help ZANU-PF find its way out of its current political/economic cul-de-sac?

International migration and asylum – an opportunity for the Commonwealth to show leadership

by Richard Bourne, ICWS Senior Research Fellowship 

The meeting of Commonwealth Heads in Malta is likely to be dominated by three issues – the election of a Secretary-General to run the Secretariat from 2016, positions for the Commonwealth to take at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris (COP21), and how to handle the strains caused by international migration. The third issue is the most intractable. Malta itself is a destination for migrants and asylum seekers, crossing the Mediterranean in leaky boats from Libya. Commonwealth states have radically different national strategies – from the culture of welcome in an immigrant country like Canada, to the caution of the UK, the worries about Bangladeshis in India (where India has erected a concrete and barbed wire wall), and fences separating Botswana and Zimbabwe, and South Africa from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Australia, of course, has been running an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers in the tiny Commonwealth state of Nauru.

Border fence between South Africa and Mozambique. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Border fence between South Africa and Mozambique. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The most comprehensive study of migration trends in the Commonwealth was conducted by the Ramphal Institute in 2009-2011. Conducted by a commission chaired by P J Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica, it was assisted by high level academics from Oxford, the University of the West Indies, and Adelaide.

Alan Gamlen, the New Zealander who drafted the first of the commission’s three reports, which took Singapore, South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh as case studies, urged the Commonwealth to reconnect with the issue. He argued for the building of capacity to manage migration, streamlined policies to encourage brain circulation and mitigate brain drain, encouragement for migrants to share their success with both origin and destination states, and stronger international cooperation.

Recent events have shown the weakness of international cooperation, especially at a European level, and spotlighted the impact of war, insecurity and human rights abuse in stimulating refugee flows. Humanitarian conventions and the right to asylum have been put aside by some of the richer states, worried that economic migrants who might not gain entry, under the kind of points-based system developed in Australia, pretend to be refugees seeking asylum. There have been hints in the London press that the UK prime minister, David Cameron, may approach Commonwealth African leaders to fund overseas processing centres which might cope with, for example, those fleeing Eritrea; he may also speak to President Buhari of Nigeria about the Nigerians who have been attempting to get to Europe after crossing the Sahara, escaping the mayhem of Boko Haram.

"Malta-halfar-tents-nov2009" by Myriam ThyesLicensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A refugee camp in Malta. “Malta-halfar-tents-nov2009” by Myriam Thyes. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Following the Ramphal Institute report, acknowledged in the Perth summit communique, the Commonwealth Secretariat held a meeting in Jamaica to review the extent to which small states suffering brain drain could facilitate investment from and return by their migrating citizens. It also asked the Institute to investigate how visa rules, affecting movement between Commonwealth states, could be simplified. This was a question that had also been raised by the Eminent Persons Group, which was worried that the Commonwealth seemed so remote from and of little help to its two billion plus citizens.
Partly because of security worries and the diverse national perspectives, this Ramphal exercise – which involved a tour of 15 capitals by Farooq Sobhan, Michael Frendo and James Jonah – did not result in immediate acceptance of the recommendations to the summit at Colombo in 2015. The inquiry had proposed easing travel for legitimate tourists, and a business card similar to the APEC business card, heavily used by Australian and Chinese business people. The Ramphal Institute indicated that, with a number of regional bodies like CARICOM committed to free movement, it would in theory be possible for different regional blocs to exchange visa reduction. But Colombo did have one positive result. A working party on visas, formed of High Commission reps in London and chaired by Gary Dunn from the Secretariat, has been meeting in 2014-5. It is expected to recommend to the Valletta summit that all states should commit to a “Commonwealth advantage” in revising their visa policies, so that for example Commonwealth citizens in transit through London, Johannesburg or Sydney, would not be charged.

The Queen will attend CHOGM this year. By Joel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence [OGL 3], via Wikimedia Commons

The Queen will attend CHOGM this year. By Joel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence [OGL 3], via Wikimedia Commons

What else might the Commonwealth leaders do in Malta? Many journalists, in the developed and developing world, love to attack the body as “a club”, “a talk-fest”, and “a colonial hangover” but it is likely that the decline in attendance by heads will reverse in Valletta, partly because of the S-G election and partly because the Queen, in her capacity as Head of the Commonwealth, has said she will come. The leaders must take this chance to make a real contribution, which can be noted by media and publics.

Two specifics: first, a declaration to assist the international community, and the countries from which countries are coming; this would bundle together a commitment to development and better life chances, democracy and rights and better security for citizens. Peacemaking in Syria would help. This would need to be followed up by Joseph Muscat, Malta’s energetic prime minister who will shortly chair the European Council, in talks with Brussels and specially affected Commonwealth countries like South Africa, India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Australia.

The second would be to arrange a meeting of police chiefs from states particularly affected by people smuggling – such as Malta, Cyprus, South Africa, UK and Australia – to coordinate a crackdown on the smugglers.

Migration and asylum do not need to be no-win topics for the Commonwealth. The association, benefiting from its diversity, can show leadership here.

A historic trial and justice denied

by Henning Melber, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

The principle in dubio pro reo (“in doubt for the accused”) is that one is innocent until proven guilty are fundamental principles of justice.

But another motto suggests that justice delayed is justice denied. The long-awaited conclusion of the Caprivi high treason trial is a painful reminder of this.

Let us remember: over 140 people were arrested after the failed secessionist attempt on 2 August 1999 in and around Katima Mulilo. The murderous attack on the territorial integrity of the Republic of Namibia killed eight innocent people. Those arrested were accused and detained for up to 278 charges related to the act.

Map of the Caprivi Strip, via Wikipedia

Map of the Caprivi Strip, via Wikipedia

In the course of identifying suspects, the security organs of the state violated laws too. When a lawyer of the Legal Assistance Centre disclosed the torture of prisoners to enforce confessions, these human rights violations were defended.

In early September 1999 Prime Minister Hage Geingob complained in the National Assembly that the brute force against suspects became the main issue.

He argued: “Because of provocation by the separatists, some unfortunate excesses had resulted in the effort of our security forces to zealously protect their motherland.” And he claimed: “We value upholding our Constitution.”

President Hage Geinob via Wikimedia Commons

President Hage Geingob via Wikimedia Commons

Article 12 (“Fair Trial”) of this Constitution stipulates under section 1(b) that a trial “shall take place within a reasonable time, failing which the accused shall be released.” And 1(d) confirms that all accused “shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.” Articles 24 (“Derogation”) and 25 (“Enforcement of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms”) offer additional food for thought. They illustrate the disparities between the codified rule of law and the failures to live up to its defined minimum standards.

In early August 2003, Amnesty International (AI) – erstwhile respected as a relevant and credible supporter of the liberation struggle through publicly condemning the human rights violations under apartheid, the illegal South African occupation of the country and the treatment of political prisoners – published a critical report.

AI expressed deep concern about the violation of pre-trial rights of the accused, which might undermine their right to a fair hearing based on international standards as defined in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). It criticised the failure of the authorities to investigate and prosecute allegations of torture.

AI also cast doubt over the official versions concerning the deaths of 12 defendants in detention and suggested that unsanitary prison conditions and medical neglect were contributing factors.


In a press release AI finally called on the Namibian authorities “to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and ensure that the remaining defendants are tried in a fair manner.”

This resulted in accusations that AI is unduly interfering in domestic affairs. Since then, the number of those who died in custody without being found guilty exceeded more than 20. How many among these would have now been released as innocent?

In February 2013 the first 43 of the accused were released for lack of evidence. Now, with Judge Elton Hoff presenting his final judgement, another 35 of the accused were found not guilty during the last few days. From the more than 140 initially arrested, only 30 have been found guilty.

While Judge Hoff’s findings underline once again the relative autonomy of the judiciary, the justice system in general has failed. Despite numerous appeals by concerned members of civil society and human rights advocates, the authorities maintained an iron fist resembling features of the inhuman apartheid system, which also locked away and tortured people for political reasons.

A constitutional democracy or state under the rule of law (in German aptly called Rechtsstaat) should act differently. Policy makers, including the head of state, who delivered his maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly in late September, have no reason to be proud.

Namibia has, not for the first time, failed its national and international obligations. The so-called ex-detainees, as much as those who mourn the loss of Frieda Ndatipo, should find it not difficult to relate to the plight of those detained innocently for 16 years and the harm also done to their families.

Injustice cannot be reversed. But an apology and related signs of regret and remorse might be a humble way to document insights into failures. Such abandonment of self-righteousness would underline the claim that the much-used metaphor of the Namibian house is indeed to be understood as a house, which is built for all.

Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974. He is director emeritus of The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala/Sweden, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein and a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies/University of London. His book Understanding Namibia. The trials of Independence was published 2014 with Jacana.

A version of this article was originally published in The Namibian.

Sri Lanka’s Embattled Media

by William Crawley and David Page, ICWS Senior Research Fellows

The articles in our edited volume Embattled Media were written before the Presidential election in Sri Lanka in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated and removed from office. For some of our authors and readers, instead dating the book, this has transformed its interest and potential influence. Our contributors write about aspects of the Sri Lankan media environment which have caused major difficulties in the past but now – in today’s changed political circumstances – are prompting creative and constructive thinking. The reality with Sri Lanka is that more than forty years of conflict and insurgency and civil war have given rise to a generation which has lost any experience of normality in the legal system, and the environment in which Sri Lanka’s long established and sophisticated media operate. The challenge today is to restore that normality.

One of the first issues to be tackled by the new government is discussed by several of the authors in Embattled Media – a Bill to ensure a Right to Information. The legal limitations of Sri Lanka’s constitutional protection of a freedom of speech are analysed in in some detail by Jayantha de Almeida Guneratne. The Supreme Court had ruled that media freedoms could be superseded by Emergency regulations which had been in force for much of the past forty years. He argues that a Right to Information Act is therefore an urgent necessity. But it has not been easy to press forward. A draft Right to information Act was presented by the government to parliament but stalled under parliamentary pressure. The new parliament elected in August has another opportunity to address the issue. The external factor of the presentation last month to the UN Human Rights Council of the report on wartime excesses has added to internal pressures at home for new initiatives.

At the seminar on 20 October Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, co-editor of Embattled Media, was in a position to analyse how attitudes and possibilities for Media Reform have changed in the 10 months since the Rajapaksa government was ousted. But Sri Lanka’s long tradition of judicial and constitutional independence, shorn of its Emergency accretions, is very much part of an inheritance shared by India and other countries of south Asia. For the Commonwealth and the wider international community, media freedoms have come to be seen as an important part of the human rights agenda. Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbour India has been treated with wariness as a ‘big brother’ whose past intervention in the Sri Lankan conflict ended disastrously for its own long term influence. Yet Indian legal practice and judicial decisions have provided some welcome examples and support for a Sri Lankan civil society seeking to conserve and rebuild its democratic foundations. Lawrence Liang of the Alternative Law Forum based in Bangalore, another speaker at the seminar on 20 October, is a critic of many aspects of the Indian judiciary. He will surely give an interesting view of some of the parallel dilemmas that both India and Sri Lanka have faced in the regulation of the media. The focus on Sri Lanka and south Asia, with which Embattled Media is mainly concerned, is the starting point for the seminar and will form the topic of the first session.

But it is the wider global relevance of issues of media regulation, freedom and reform that other speakers will focus on. The Commonwealth as an international institution drew up the Latimer House Principles in 1998 as guidelines for the relations between parliament, the executive and the judiciary in Commonwealth countries, and the three distinguished speakers in the seminar’s second session will reflect on Media Policy and Governance in these countries. Victoria Holdsworth, Head of Media at the Commonwealth Secretariat will speak on the need for an integrated approach to media development. Lawrence McNamara of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, based in London University, will speak on the relevance of the Latimer House principles to media freedom and the accountability of the Executive in Commonwealth countries. Mark Stephens, past present of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association – the body which played a key role in drawing up the Latimer House principles 27 years ago – will also speak.

The protection of journalists has become an increasingly urgent issue as the number of journalists killed and injured in the exercise of their profession has steadily increased, especially in areas of conflict. Sri Lanka became a prime example of this as journalists of all ethnic groups were exposed to violence and targeted assassinations from both state and non-state actors in the prolonged civil war. As Amal Jayasinghe writes in his contribution to Embattled Media, his employers Agence France Presse at a critical stage in the Sri Lanka conflict sent him – for his own safety – to Afghanistan! The third session will focus on the urgent and vital question of how to make safeguards for journalists more effective, with contributions from Oliver Spencer of Article19, the Indian journalist and documentary film maker Nupur Basu, Judith Townend of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and William Horsley, Director of the Centre for the Freedom of the Media in Sheffield University.

We asked contributors to Embattled Media to look at the state of media education in Sri Lanka. One of the purposes of the book has been to provide documentation and study material for a more informed academic study of the media in Sri Lankan universities. For the seminar’s final session our speakers include Daya Thussu, Professor of Communications and Director of the Indian Media Centre at Westminster University, Nicole Stremlau of the Oxford Programme on Comparative Media Law and Policy, Tessa MacArthur of the Department of International Development – speaking on DFID policy on governance and the media – and James Deane, Director of Policy and Research at BBC Media Action. This discussion to be chaired by Professor James Manor promises to be lively and illuminating not only for students of south Asia but for those involved with assessing the impact of rapidly changing media technologies. It will also look at priorities for those engaged in supporting and delivering programmes to strengthen the role of the media as a key element of the governance process in democratic countries.

Reparations, liberation, and the legacies of colonialism

by Adam Elliott-Cooper

The BBC documentary, ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners: Profit and Loss’, broadcast in July 2015, shed light on the vast resources appropriated by Britain through the enslavement of African peoples in the Anglophone Caribbean. In addition to the financial impact this genocidal period of world history had on Britain, the documentary also talked about the dehumanisation of African peoples, through discourses, popular culture and European intellectual thought. The legacies of this dehumanisation endure to this day, with people of African heritage in Britain facing racial injustice in many spheres of life. It is in this context that a coalition of Civil Society Organizations in Europe and the Americas Representing People of African Descent have made a number of key demands of the British state.

The Codrington Plantations, like many others in Barbados, relied on slave labour.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Codrington Plantations, like many others in Barbados, relied on enslaved labour. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading

Cosmetic trade bans and Western paternalism will not end poaching in Africa – community-based conservation will

by Keith Somerville, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies*

One of the major announcements by President Obama during his brief but highly symbolic visit to Kenya this weekend was that he would implement “urgently needed steps” to restrict the sale of ivory from African elephants. He used his high-profile trip to jump once more on the ivory ban bandwagon with a measure that will get headlines, the keen approbation of Western animal welfare and conservation NGOs, but have little real effect and, like many of the well-intention but ill-conceived and patronising policies pushed on African elephant range state by the West and its NGOs, have practically no effect on the conservation of elephants and combating of the scourge of poaching.

Confiscated ivory carvings. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Confiscated ivory carvings. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Obama’s lofty aim of eliminating the illegal market for ivory in America is based on restricting the domestic commercial trade, still legal in many states and legal for antique or pre-ban ivory or trophy ivory brought back by American hunters, and stopping inter-state trade in most forms of ivory.  But this is a very small proportion of the global trade and where it involves illegal, smuggled ivory it just targets what is already illegal and so is nothing startlingly new. It is also worth noting that the extra restrictions on the legal trade may well be struck down by a Republican congress viscerally opposed to almost anything Obama proposes – but it is the effect of the headline announcement rather than the final effect that often really matters in the  ivory PR struggle.

But whatever the chances of becoming law or the localised effects on the ivory trade, this represents another example of Western paternalism towards the issues of ivory trading, poaching and conservation in Africa. This paternalism developed under colonialism when British game department officials declared all Africans to be potential poachers and hunting by Kenyan communities was banned, but trophy and commercial hunting by whites was encouraged. The conservation movement developed a new form of environmental colonialism with communities moved from land to make way for national parks and reserves. The very game wardens who launched militarised anti-poaching campaigns against African communities banned from traditional hunting for subsistence themselves benefited materially from the system as they could buy elephant hunting licences and then sell the ivory at a profit. Some, like the venerable George Adamson, David Sheldrick and Bill Woodley, were avid elephant hunters when it suited their pockets – yet they fiercely pursued hunters among traditional hunting communities like the Waliangulu and Dorobo.

Continue reading

No longer at ease – clouds on the horizon for Botswana’s conservation success story

by Keith Somerville, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies*

Without belabouring the Chinua Achebe motif, Botswana’s conservation community is less at ease than it is used to being but the country is still far from seeing things fall apart. Botswana has long prided itself on its advances in conserving key habitats, species and implementing a tough but generally workable anti-poaching strategy. But clouds are gathering on the horizon, partly due to regional failures in controlling poaching and the trade in wildlife products, and partly as a result of the domestic reaction to the government’s own policies.

The clouds forming along Botswana’s borders result from incursions into areas like Chobe and Linyanti (home to Africa’s largest and most healthily expanding elephant populations) by poachers from Zambia. These have increased over the last few years. The domestic concerns centre around creasing numbers of cases of poisoning of predators and vultures in the Chobe Enclave, indications that local communities may be helping ivory poachers entering the country’s safari areas and national parks, and an increase in the last year or so in poaching by local communities for bushmeat. The poisoning is thought by Michael Flyman, of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), to be linked to elephant poaching and, in a small number of cases, to livestock protection. Animal carcasses, whether elephants or antelope, are poisoned, killing predators like lion and hyena but also jackals and vultures. The large-scale wiping out of vultures means that there are no flights of birds circling above kills to alert the wildlife authorities and Botswana Defence Force (BDF) anti-poaching patrols.

In four days tracking around the Chobe Enclave at the end of June, I saw no lions, hyenas, jackals or vultures, in an area that should be replete with them. Steve Johnson of the Southern African Regional Environment Program (SAREP) told me that increasing numbers of vultures and predators have been poisoned by those working with the poachers. He said this was going on along with the growth in the illegal bushmeat trade the region. What I did see was the clear sign of elephant poaching and the removal of tusks across the Linyanti river by boat into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. Driving along the edge of the Linyanti marsh my guide and I found the tracks of at least a couple of men dragging two round objects the same diameter as medium-sized elephant tusks.

Tusk drag marks leading down to Linyanti Swamp. Photograph courtesy of Keith Somerville

Tusk drag marks leading down to Linyanti Swamp. Photograph courtesy of Keith Somerville

The guide was convinced an elephant had been killed in the last 24 hours and the tusks dragged down to the swamp to be taken by mokoro to the Namibian bank. This was reported to the nearby BDF anti-poaching team, who operate in Linyanti with a harsh shoot-to kill policy for poachers. We failed to find the carcass of the elephant, with and no circling vultures to help us.

Continue reading

Renewing the Commonwealth – A reform agenda for a new Secretary-General

by Matthew Neuhaus*

The Commonwealth in Crisis

In Malta, in November this year at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Commonwealth leaders will elect a new Secretary-General. He – or perhaps at last she – will be the sixth Secretary-General, or SG, in the 50 year history of the Secretariat. The Commonwealth itself has changed considerably over the last century, as the nations of the British Empire emerged into independence. The election of a new Secretary-General provides the opportunity for further change and reform, to ensure its continuing relevance to its members and the wider world.

The current Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The current Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma. Image via Wikimedia Commons

What the Commonwealth needs above all in the new Secretary-General is a change agent, thought leader, motivator and manager. It also needs someone who can develop a shared vision for a Commonwealth facing crisis – in relevance, funding and commitment – which in the words of one Commonwealth commentator is “graver than any it has faced before”. The Chair of the CHOGM, the youthful Prime Minister Muscat of Malta, is alert to the challenge of fixing what he sees as a “sick” and dysfunctional organisation. Muscat as Chair could be a powerful combination with a dynamic new SG.

This “crisis situation” is also not unique to the Commonwealth. Writing in the Sunday Times on 14 June 2015 former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin spoke of a broader “crisis of international institutions” which are failing to grapple successfully with the big issues of the world today. However for the Commonwealth it is particularly acute as unlike the UN or similar global bodies its very existence may be at stake.

Unfortunately too the divisions between Commonwealth members – developed and developing, small states and large states, tiger economies and fragile states – have been growing. There is real need for a new SG to help its leaders find a sense of common purpose and indeed “common wealth”. Prime Minister Nehru is often quoted on the “touch of healing” the Commonwealth could bring to the world. A new SG will need to bring a touch of healing to the Commonwealth itself, and needs the temperament, strength and emotional intelligence to do that.

While the Commonwealth’s future may depend much on the nature of the new Secretary-General, this is not the only factor for change and renewal. In fact it is its member nations, and its associated organisations and civil society, which will really determine the future of the Commonwealth. Only if they are prepared to take the decisions to make it fit for purpose in the 21st Century – including the sort of SG its leaders will choose – will this historic international organisation continue to exist, and provide useful service to its membership and the world.

Continue reading