Panel discussion report 31: Human Rights in Africa
There were five of us in the panel discussion group. Four were panelists and the last one was the moderator. I, Mohamed Yusuf Mohamed from Kenya, Mamadou Ly from Guinea, Sharmake from Somalia and Abdulrazak Nassir from Uganda. The four of us were panelists. Zainoul Abideen was the moderator and he is from Guinea. All of us coming from the same continent, we thought we should discuss a matter that’s quite important in our continent.
We had a meeting to discuss which topic we were to pick. There were several topics put on the table. Some of them were gender equality and women empowerment, the role of civil societies and the role of U.N in ensuring peace throughout the world. Eventually, we agreed on Human Rights in Africa. But the topic was too wide. So we broke it down such that each panelist would discuss the level of human rights in his country.
Abdulrazak talked about the level of Human Rights in his country Uganda. He compared the current regime to the previous ones. He explained that the previous ones were a lot worse than the current one. A lot of rights were restricted and not given to the citizens.
From my side, I mostly talked about the regime of our former president, H.E Daniel Arap Moi. The Daniel arap Moi administration consistently received international criticism of its record on human rights. Under Moi, security forces regularly subjected opposition leaders and pro-democracy activists to arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, abuse in custody, and deadly force. One of them was Dr. Robert Ouko. The Honorable Minister Dr. John Robert Ouko (31 March 1931–c. 13 February 1990), commonly known as Robert Ouko, was a Kenyan politician who served as Foreign Minister of Kenya from 1979 to 1983 and from 1988 to 1990. Robert Ouko served in the government of Kenya from the colonial period through the presidencies of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi. A report presented in parliament in 2010 states that the murder was carried out in one of then President Daniel arap Moi’s official residences. It also called for further investigations into top officials, including one of Moi’s closest allies, Nicholas Biwott. Another was Professor Wangari Maathai. She was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. In 1986, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, and in 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. She was against privatization of forests and wanted trees to be planted all over. In the summer of 1998, Maathai learned of a government plan to privatize large areas of public land in the Karura Forest, just outside Nairobi, and give it to political supporters. Maathai protested against the privatization through letters to the government and the press. She went with the Green Belt Movement to Karura Forest, planting trees and protesting the destruction of the forest. On 8 January 1999, a group of protesters including Maathai, six opposition MPs, journalists, international observers, and Green Belt members and supporters returned to the forest to plant a tree in protest. The entry to the forest was guarded by a large group of men. When she tried to plant a tree in an area that had been designated to be cleared for a golf course, the group was attacked. Many of the protesters were injured, including Maathai, four MPs, some of the journalists, and German environmentalists. When she reported the attack to the police, they refused to return with her to the forest to arrest her attackers. However, the attack had been filmed by Maathai’s supporters, and the event provoked international outrage. Student protests broke out throughout Nairobi, and some of these groups were violently broken up by the police. Protests continued until 16 August 1999, when the president announced that he was banning all allocation of public land.
In 2001, the government was again planning to take public forest land and give it to its supporters. While protesting the land-grab and collecting petition signatures on 7 March 2001, in Wang’uru village near Mount Kenya, Maathai was again arrested. The following day, following international and popular protest at her arrest, she was released without being charged. On 7 July 2001, shortly after planting trees at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park in Nairobi to commemorate Saba Saba Day, Maathai was again arrested. Later that evening, she was again released without being charged. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in a statement announcing her as the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, “Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya. Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression—nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation.”
The situation is currently getting a lot better. There is freedom of speech and also the press have a lot of freedom. Although it is not yet perfect but the situation will get better.
Reflection of the Panel Discussion
The discussion helped open my eyes to what’s happening around our continent in terms of human rights.
The future looks brighter. Especially with civil society organizations growing and working tirelessly. As we know, change doesn’t happen overnight. It’ll take time but we’ll reach there.