Monday, December 1, 2008 (All day)

Debating issues underlying conflict in Africa, with special reference to Angola, Kenya and Zimbabwe. 

A one day conference held on Monday 1st December 2008 at 24 Greencoat Place, London SW1P 1RD

CONFERENCE THEME

Recent elections in Angola, Kenya and Zimbabwe have brought negative headlines to the world’s press and a pervasive question on why Africa keeps getting it wrong. 

As well as shared electoral experiences, these countries share many critical issues with other countries in Africa. Angola, with the highest economic growth in the continent, wrestles with the influence of an elitist ruling class that buys a wholesale electoral process and international legitimacy; Kenya, seen as a shining example of political stability, suffers from historical ethnic tensions; Zimbabwe, once one of the strongest African economies, exemplifies conflict surrounding exploitation of land. The cases of Zimbabwe, Kenya and Angola highlight three particular strands about elections in Africa. Behind the headlines hide issues that are rarely debated openly: race, class, ethnicity, identity, wealth and poverty.

As one commentator has said: “when conflicts are reported, the attention comes in brief bursts, produced by non-specialist reporters, and focuses primarily on the humanitarian aspects of the war, thus confirming the partial and paternalistic view that most Africans are helpless victims and their leaders unusually cruel and greedy.”

Such a view represents a genuine goodwill for a more in-depth and fair Western media coverage of African affairs. Yet, the main question remains as to how Africans, particularly in Angola, Kenya and Zimbabwe, seek to represent themselves and bring forth their own perspectives on how to resolve their civil strife.

SUMMARY REPORT

Chairman of the event was Firose Manji, Kenyan chief editor of the prize winning pan African social justice newsletter and website Pambazuka News. He is currently a Visiting Fellow in International Human Rights at Kellogg College, Oxford. 

Many raw issues were discussed by those with first hand experience; among them, the truth behind the recent election results in Angola; the unhappy mix of political, military and economic power; the strong influence, particularly of the international media, to validate personalities, parties and political situations whether true or not; and the tragic realities of the ordinary person in Zimbabwe. 

Bill Porter, Founder President of the ICF, introducing the day expressed personal culpability for the assumed superiority of white people towards Africa. He traced his own need of change in philosophy and practice when he undertook the task of encouraging the media world-wide to create the mental climate in which problems could more readily be resolved. Read Bill Porter’s opening remarks by clicking here 

Dan Juma, deputy executive director, Kenya Human Rights Commission, felt that there were lessons now to be learned following the flawed elections. 'We need to learn to demonstrate without violence. We need to work on our democratic infrastructure.' 

Lydiah Bosire, a Kenyan Oxford D. Phil candidate, added, 'reconfiguring our political institutions alone will not change anything. Our structures must be based on principle. We need value-based leadership. Good transnational arrangements can then follow. We have allowed our institutions to be used for self aggrandizement.' 

Amina Dikedi-Ajakaiye, Nigeria, told of her 10 year commitment to train a new generation of young African professionals capable of leading their countries with integrity through the Harambee Africa Programme. 'We must now reach the rural millions. In this task the media can play an integral part.' 

Agnes Zengeya, human rights activist, whose family has suffered grievously in Zimbabwe, made a heart felt plea for the world to assist her country. 'Save our people who are dying.' 

Rafael Marques, Angolan journalist and human rights activist, underlined his conviction, 'We must reach the youth. We must be unafraid of new ideas, and new ways of doing things. He appealed to those young men and women he knows not just to meet with others but to meet together as young people to discuss our needs. We have the capacity, the heart and the will. We must meet share and act, even if our leaders don't back us'. 

Bill Porter concluded with the challenge, 'We have been looking under the carpet today and while seeing what others have brushed under it, we may also have seen things that we should deal with. Let us go out and deal with what we see'.