Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Great Lakes indigenous peoples fear attack

Bambuti child
Bambuti child
Indigenous rights organisations representing Bambuti and Batwa people who live in the Great Lakes sub-region, consisting of the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Rwanda, warned of an unfolding humanitarian crisis and expressed concern that they would be singled out for massive human rights violations.
As the rebel forces of the M23 and Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) advanced on the town of Goma in the eastern DRC, a workshop in Genevea brought the region's three main indigenous peoples' organisations together (PIDP-Kivu, UNIPROBA and COPORWA) to review the technologies and methodologies available to record incidents of human rights violations against indigenous peoples on a weekly basis, how to activate secure Early Warning Systems in relation to genocide or gross human rights violations, and the setting up a human rights observatory to monitor human rights violations against the Batwa.
During the July 11-13 meeting in Geneva - which was funded by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Programme of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) and Bread for the World, and facilitated by IPACC and DoCip - the three organisations sounded the alarm.
The organisations stressed that the Great Lakes region has a long and tragic history of violence, including the fact that according to researchers who visited Rwanda before and after the 100 day genocide in 1994, as much as 30 percent of the Batwa were killed. The Batwa, who are indigenous peoples in this region, were on neither side of the conflict and yet were targeted by both combatant groups as a vulnerable, soft target.
This pattern of targeting indigenous peoples during the on-going instability in the region is being repeated today, with examples of mass rape, using indigenous peoples as human shields, and extreme human rights violations, notably in the Ituri Forest area and throughout the provinces of Kivu Nord and Kivu Sud.
It was against this grim backdrop that IPACC engaged  the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) to assist with explaining what rapid response mechanisms are in place already, how such data could be usefully directed within the UN system, and the OHCHR's overall approach to the instability in the Great Lakes.
The enormity of the 1994 genocide meant that it was almost impossible to bring to the world's attention the human rights violations perpetrated against the Batwa population, thus leaving them vulnerable to the unchecked continuation of these gross human rights violations.
"It is the hope of all the organisations involved in the Geneva meeting that, through initiatives such as this one, the voice of indigenous people will be amplified in the halls of power and will reach the ears of those with the ability to put an end to such atrocities, and that, this time, no one will be able to claim that they did not know, or were not told," said Delme Cupido, OSISA Indigenous Rights Programme Manager.
"Most importantly, we are asking regional and continental institutions, to add their voice to those of indigenous peoles to ensure that these violations come to an end."

Rethinking indigenous education

San children
San children
The statistics relating to San children in Namibia and education are shocking. Only 67 percent of San children in the country enrol in school. And only 1 percent of those children complete secondary school. Think about that for a second. And then add the fact that none of them make it to university.
These statistics – highlighted by Dr Haavashe Nekongo-Nielsen from the University of Namibia during the Indigenous Education in a Changing World conference on San education co-hosted by UNESCO, the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa and OSISA in Namibia – raise a very important question for those providing education services and working in the education sector, where are we getting it so wrong?
Despite being backed up by numerous policies and legislation, from the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People to constitutions at country level to several policies by Ministries of Education and other relevant Ministries, education outcomes among the San people remain the poorest of all the social groups.
Dr Jennifer Hays, an anthropologist, says the major challenge lies in the fact that education systems, content and provision is being managed by people who are not San and have no appreciation of what it means to be San and to be forced to live in a world that is foreign and a world apart from the life you know.
Right from the first day of schooling, San children have to contend with a myriad of challenges, from a culture and language shock, to unprecedented levels of discrimination by both teachers and fellow learners, to bullying, economic barriers and the long distances walked to get to the school. These are some of the key barriers that keep San children away from school.
Is it a wonder then that by the time they get to Grade 2 less than a quarter of the children who actually enrolled are still going to class?
Such statistics are not limited to Namibia. San children in other countries in the region – such as Botswana, Angola and South Africa – face similar challenges. Xhwaa Qubi, a Naro speaker from Botswana had this to say about education, “when the education system was put in place, all our children received a 12 year sentence to learn a foreign language and a foreign way of life.”
The reality and truth in this statement is hard hitting but nevertheless one that cannot be undermined. Is it that education systems have imposed on the San an education system that’s unable to integrate the needs of its community?
The ‘Indigenous Education in a Changing World’ conference was organised to try and seek alternatives that can truly integrate San children into the education system. Several proposals have already been put forward including integrating San culture and indigenous knowledge into education; using local language (mother tongue) at least in the first four years of schooling; removing all economic barriers to education like user fees; promoting inclusive education policies; and, addressing issues of bullying and discrimination in schools. But will this be enough to result in better education outcomes for San Children?
Most of the countries represented at the conference have compelling examples of initiatives they have put been in place to address these issues – yet dropout rates among the San remain very high. So what is missing?
While there is a general appreciation for the efforts made so far, there is also a general acknowledgement that most of these interventions have not addressed the core needs of San children. A major reason is that there is very little if any involvement of the San themselves when developing such interventions.
As they say in disability circles ‘nothing about us, without us’. And this is equally true for interventions targeting the San. Only when the San are put at the centre of any intervention and with their full involvement and participation, will we truly achieve an education that is tailored to address their needs.
This conference has been premised on that very foundation – that the voices of the San need to be heard. Although participants have come from as far as Canada, UK and other countries within the region, the key presentations have been drawn from San organisations with several examples of practical education initiatives, by the San themselves for the San.
Maybe, that is after all what we are missing – allowing the San themselves to determine the type of education they need, how that education should be provided, when and by whom.  Maybe only then, will the San children fully enjoy their right to education. 
China and India in Africa panel at OpenForum
China and India in Africa panel at OpenForum
The reality of Indian and Chinese investment in Africa is much more complex than the good cop, bad cop image of Asia's two emerging economic giants. Chinaand India have caused an explosion of trade and investment in Africa in the past decade. Yet they are perceived quite differently: China has a reputation for economic ruthlessness, while India's business interests are generally seen as beneficial to Africa.
But their investment in Africa needs to be viewed in the context of broader investment trends on the continent, trade experts said at the OpenForum on Money, Power and Sex: the Paradox of Unequal Growth that was organised by the four Open Society Africa Foundations in Cape Town.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of African governments to set firm ground rules for foreign investment flow and ensure a direct relationship between trade and development, the experts said. "We are not leveraging our regional economic communities or the African Union (AU) to get better deals and the kind of investment that we need," lamented Buddy Buruku, policy advisor at the African Centre for Economic Transformation.
If Africa would make development its priority, with the support of the AU, its 54 nations would quickly gain more control over emerging economies' investments in their territory.
"World powers compete for a presence on the continent, and Africa can benefit from that. If the AU countries would work in solidarity, they wouldn't need to fear India's or China's presence," said Zhongying Pang, professor of international relations at the Renmin University of China in Beijing.
Although it is still too early to tell what China's and India's impact on Africa will be, "it's potentially more positive than negative," says Howard French, former New York Times bureau chief in China and a fellow with the Open Society Foundation researching Chinese migration to Africa.
"Africa has for a long time been stuck in a position with few options of whom it wants to trade with," French said. With China and India competing for investment opportunities alongside Europe and North America, African nations now have a multitude of potential trading partners to choose from. And more leverage to set the rules.
According to the World Bank, Indian and Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa has grown dramatically. To date, China has been the largest single investor, aid-giver and trade partner on the continent, with 127 billion dollars in resource extraction and infrastructure deals in 2010.
India has much less financial muscle than China, but its influence in Africa is on a rapid rise. It currently accounts for 46 billion dollars in trade deals on the continent and has announced it will invest 70 billion dollars by 2015. "The Chinese state is surely a major motor of economic activity in Africa. But India is equally striving to boost its investment in resource extraction on the continent," said French.
At the same time, exports from Africa to Asia tripled in the last five years, to 27 percent of total Asian imports, according to 2010 World Bank data, showing a clear trend towards rapidly growing South-South commerce.
This tendency has been heightened since South Africa joined the Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) group of emerging economies in December 2010, now called BRICS.
China's push into Africa is viewed more critically because it is largely based on massive state companies pursuing major public works and infrastructure projects, such as stadiums, highways and railroads, very often with state and multilateral funding. "China has a very formalised policy to encourage Chinese interests and investment in Africa. India has no such policy," explained Buruku. India instead follows a short-term investment outlook, with a two- to five-year strategy.
India's engagement with the continent is primarily driven by private businesses and focused on acquisitions. "That means Indian companies tend to generate more jobs and facilitate skills transfer, while only a very small component of Chinese investment in Africa creates jobs," Buruku noted.
China says it is committed to reversing its negative image. The Asian giant plans to revise its Africa foreign policy, hoping this will provide further political advantages in Africa. "We have learnt from criticism levelled at our investment policy. If China wants to continue to play a role in Africa, it needs to maintain its principle of non-interference, but also add others, such as multilateral interventions and careful policies on land ownership," said Pang.
Chinese enterprises in Africa also need to comply more strictly with local labour and environment regulations, facilitate the transfer of skills to African countries and upgrade their industries.
Others argue that India is getting off too lightly.
"India has invested in buying off agricultural land to fight food price inflation in its own country. India doesn't have better labour standards than China. Exploitation, corruption and bribery are rife in India," argued Aniket Alam, a senior editor of the Mumbai-based journal Economic and Political Weekly.
Like China, India has been particularly interested in Africa to help meet its rising energy requirements, investing in nations with crude oil resources like Nigeria, Sudan, and Angola, he said.
China and India both have rapidly modernising industries and burgeoning middle classes with rising incomes and purchasing power. They have therefore demand not only for natural resource-extractive commodities and agricultural goods but also for diversified exports, such as processed commodities, light manufactured products, household consumer goods and food. All of which Africa can offer.
By Kristin Palitza, IPS