Wednesday January 24 2007
Nobel laureates hit out at civil society
By EMMANUEL ONYANGO
Three Nobel Peace Prize winners yesterday raised the red flag on the diminishing role of civil societies in keeping African Governments on check over human rights abuse and poor governance.
The three laureates from Africa , United States and the Middle East equally condemned the absorption of outstanding activists into various Government agencies, a fresh trend in Africa, which they described as debilitating to the civil movement.
Prof Wangari Maathai (Kenya), Prof Jody Williams (USA) and Dr Shirin Ebadi (Iran) similarly singled out lack of adequate education and information technology as the greatest impediment to the activities of civil movements in Africa.
Prof. Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her afforestation campaign in Kenya,
Prof. Williams for her fight for a world free of land mines and Dr. Ebadi for advocating for the rights of political prisoners in Iran.
“Governments can be held accountable and responsible only by a strong civil society. But Africa civil societies are weak due to lack of information and lack of technology,” Prof Maathai said.
She added: “Until we have a strong civil society, we will go nowhere. The African Governments would continue acting with impunity in the knowledge that there are no credible civil movements to question their authority.”
Drawing examples from the United States, Prof. Jody Williams elaborated on how complacency within the civil societies had led to the perpetuation of great atrocities and how similar mistakes should be avoided in Africa.
“The civil societies in Africa cannot afford to relent in their struggles for a better world. We are the people on the ground who get their hands dirty on some of these things,” Prof. Williams said.
The three were speaking yesterday at the ongoing World Social Forum (WSF) during an interactive session convened by the Green Belt Movement in conjunction with the Nobel Women’s Initiative. The theme for the session was “Women Building Another World.”
On absorption of civil activists into Government service, the Laureates concurred that the trend was a body blow to the civil movements.
“Despite opposition from the Government and the use of incentives to lure civil activists, they (Government) cannot kill the spirit of what we believe in,” Prof. Maathai asserted.
But Maathai, also the Member of Parliament for Tetu, refrained from disclosing why she snubbed to take the assistant minister’s docket offered to her by President Kibaki immediately after the referendum.
President Kibaki’s tenure has seen erstwhile civil activists joining Government service, but some like John Githong’o, the former Ethics Permanent Secretary, have since resigned citing the Government’s indifference to reforms.