ON April 9 2014, Amnesty International, Freedom House, Open Society Foundations and the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, seeking an invitation to the US-Africa Summit.
The letter which received endorsements from more than 100 signatories from around the world including human rights groups in Africa reads:
Dear Mr. President:
We welcome your decision to host the first ever US-Africa Leaders Summit this August in Washington, DC.
The Summit is an important step in your administration’s efforts to engage more constructively with a host of leaders from across Africa.
Most importantly, we believe it offers an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill your commitment to stand in support of civil society organisations and individuals on the frontlines of advancing human rights and democratic change.
At the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2013, you were unequivocal in your support for civil society freedoms, and we write to you today to ensure that this ideal plays a major role in the Summit agenda.
The US-Africa Leaders Summit is a crucial platform to highlight your commitment to integrating human rights and good governance concerns into our relations with African countries, much as we do in other regions of the world.
Across Africa, attacks on human rights have become increasingly evident.
A spate of repressive laws, including limits to peaceful protest and restrictions on the independence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as outright violence, intimidation, and harassment are the latest indicators of this trend.
By providing official space during the Summit for participation from African civil society activists, you will send a strong and clear message that the US considers these independent voices to be an equally vital part of the conversation.
We look forward to the opportunity to work with you and your staff on how best to integrate civil society voices and human rights concerns into the official Summit programme.
We are readily available to help identify potential participants and key issues to address.
Thank you very much for your time and for your attention to this important issue.
Open Society Foundations
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
Amnesty International characterises Africa as a continent of repressive governments who have no qualms using state institutions against dissenters.
In its 2012 annual report, the group indicated that security forces used live ammunition against anti—government protesters in Angola, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Sudan. The report further alleges that human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents in most African countries continue to be arbitrarily arrested, detained, beaten, threatened and intimidated.
Some are reported to have been killed by government security forces. Governments are accused of many human rights violations carried out by law enforcement agents.
According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2014 survey, the only electoral democracies in Africa are: Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mauritania, Namibia, Sao Tome, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.
It is important to note that Freedom House, while heralding itself as a non-profit organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights as describing itself as a ‘clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world’, receives 80 percent of its funding from the US government.
I think the adage is, he who pays the piper calls the tune and Freedom House dances to the tune of the American establishment.
The Financial Times has reported that Freedom House is one of several organisations selected by the US State Department to receive funds for ‘clandestine activities’ inside Iran.
In June 2008, Freedom House’s vice-chairman of board of trustees asked the US Senate to increase its share of funding aimed at helping support non-violent foreign ‘democratic activists’ organise for potential overthrows of their non-democratic governments.
The Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights was founded in 1968 after the assassination of Robert Kennedy as a living memorial.
Its driving force is to realise Kennedy’s dream of a peaceful and just world by advocating human rights.
The Centre for Justice and Peace engages in long term partnerships with human rights activists to initiate and support sustainable social justice movements. Most of these partners are honoured for their ‘work’ through Human Rights Awards which is why you find that the likes of Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams and their rent a crowd at WOZA have also been honoured. Interestingly, Jennie Williams has also been honoured by Amnesty International for her work.
Handing over the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award to Mahlangu and Williams, President Obama praised them for undermining the Zimbabwe Government and inspiring others to also follow in their footsteps.
In light of these organisations track records, it goes without saying that any contribution they are to make at the US-Africa Summit will be that of castigating governments and possibly embarrassing African leaders.
One has to understand the immense pressure America is under given that China’s influence on the continent continues to rise.
Relationships between African states and the Anglo-world are at best lukewarm and President Obama has been criticised for lacking clear focus and creativity when dealing with Africa.
Africa also faces challenges that include the lack of cohesion among her leaders which is why the African Union fails now and again to articulate specific positions on behalf of the continent.
If the EU-Africa Summit is any indication, then Africa still has a long way to go.