In­ter­view: Sam Kutesa, Pres­i­dent, UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s 69th ses­sion

— Sam Kutesa

Africa Renewal - - Contents -

Re­cently the United Na­tions de­clared 2015-2024 as the In­ter­na­tional Decade for the Peo­ple of African De­scent. Africa Re­newal‘ s Masimba Tafirenyika sat down with the pres­i­dent of the 69th ses­sion of the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly, Sam Kutesa, who is also Uganda’s for­eign min­is­ter, to dis­cuss why the global body is so con­cerned about dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple of African de­scent. The fol­low­ing are the ex­cerpts:

Africa Re­newal: When we talk of peo­ple of African de­scent, who are we in­clud­ing in this def­i­ni­tion?

Sam Kutesa: Peo­ple of African de­scent are peo­ple who are scat­tered all over the world, who orig­i­nally came from Africa or from the same African cul­ture. They were dis­persed largely by the slave trade or colo­nial­ism. Th­ese are peo­ple who are Africans but live mainly in the di­as­pora.

Why did the UN de­clare a whole decade in their hon­our?

The rea­son is that th­ese peo­ple, be­ing dis­persed world­wide and hav­ing come as slaves, re­main marginal­ized and racially dis­crim­i­nated against. The UN felt that in or­der to fight racism and sen­si­tize the world against racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and marginal­iza­tion of peo­ple of African de­scent, we have to have this decade to pop­u­lar­ize and find ways of en­sur­ing that dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism are treated as evil. We be­lieve that this decade should draw at­ten­tion to th­ese dan­gers. The UN views all of us as born equal.

The slave trade ended more than a cen­tury ago. Why we are still be­ing re­minded of such a painful past?

We are re­minded of this painful past be­cause its con­se­quences are still with us. The con­se­quences of dis­crim­i­na­tion and marginal­iza­tion that re­sulted from slav­ery are still ram­pant in the world. It is im­por­tant that we work to elim­i­nate them. We al­ready have con­ven­tions that talk against them – the 2001 World Con­fer­ence on Racism, for ex­am­ple, ac­knowl­edged th­ese con­se­quences. That is why we are now ded­i­cat­ing a whole decade to re­mem­ber. And let me tell you that it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber so as to make sure it is not re­peated. For ex­am­ple, we re­mem­ber the Holo­caust – it is not be­cause it was not painful, it was very painful, and so was slav­ery. We must re­mem­ber slav­ery to en­sure that it doesn’t hap­pen again. Of course, it is also im­por­tant to know that slav­ery goes on in some parts of the world. If you don’t condemn what took place a hun­dred years ago, you won’t pre­pare your­self to tackle what is hap­pen­ing now. There is still traf­fick­ing of peo­ple; there is still slav­ery of black peo­ple in coun­tries like Su­dan.

There are ar­gu­ments that the vic­tims of slav­ery should be com­pen­sated just as we have seen com­pen­sa­tion for Holo­caust vic­tims, which you just spoke about. What is the UN po­si­tion?

There is no UN po­si­tion; but there are na­tional po­si­tions. Some coun­tries’ ju­ris­dic­tions ad­mit that peo­ple should be paid repa­ra­tions. But the UN has so far not con­sid­ered a res­o­lu­tion on repa­ra­tions. How­ever, Ar­ti­cle 4 of the UN Dec­la­ra­tion on Hu­man Rights talks about the right to an ef­fec­tive rem­edy by com­pe­tent na­tional tri­bunals for acts vi­o­lat­ing fun­da­men­tal rights of peo­ple. You have to go to na­tional ju­ris­dic­tions to be able to claim repa­ra­tions. Even that too de­pends; I know that there are some ju­ris­dic­tions that have made the de­ci­sion to claim com­pen­sa­tion very dif­fi­cult be­cause the claims could be phe­nom­e­nal. Our best bet may not be repa­ra­tions but to en­sure we end dis­crim­i­na­tion and marginal­iza­tion so that it doesn’t hap­pen again. That’s

the best bet we can look for as a rem­edy. Repa­ra­tions will de­pend on the ju­ris­dic­tions and leg­is­la­tion within coun­tries.

Even in this day and age - you gave the ex­am­ple of Su­dan - there are coun­tries in­clud­ing Niger and Mau­ri­ta­nia still prac­tis­ing slav­ery. What is the UN’s role in end­ing mod­ern-day slav­ery?

We need to condemn them. We need to iso­late them. We need to sanc­tion them be­cause th­ese are against fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights. We should do that both at the level of the UN and re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tions to make sure we end slav­ery be­cause where there is slav­ery there is marginal­iza­tion, there is traf­fick­ing and there is un­der-pay­ing of peo­ple.

Do you see this hap­pen­ing?

Yes, there are moves to iso­late th­ese coun­tries and to name and shame them, to make sure this prac­tice ends.

Stud­ies have shown peo­ple of African de­scent have limited ac­cess to ser­vices like ed­u­ca­tion and health. What is the best way to ad­dress th­ese in­equal­i­ties?

The most lib­er­at­ing tool in the world is ed­u­ca­tion. If we can en­sure they get ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and skills, then they be­come em­ploy­able and can live their lives more freely and also ed­u­cate their chil­dren. We should urge all gov­ern­ments where peo­ple of African de­scent live to give them ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion be­cause it is the big­gest so­lu­tion and cure.

How about a strict en­force­ment of some of the anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws en­acted by na­tional gov­ern­ments?

That is also very im­por­tant. But what I am say­ing is yes, even when you are not dis­crim­i­nated against, if you don’t have the tools, if you don’t have the right skills, if you don’t have the ed­u­ca­tion, you re­main un­em­ploy­able and you re­main un­able to ac­cess those rights that would oth­er­wise be avail­able. So the first fight for them is to get ac­cess to good ed­u­ca­tion. If you want to lib­er­ate your body, you lib­er­ate your mind.

Ghana has adopted the “Right of Abode” law which gives peo­ple of African de­scent the right to live and work in Ghana. What’s your com­ment on this?

It should be em­u­lated by other coun­tries. Some of the peo­ple in the di­as­pora have ac­quired skills that could be use­ful to African coun­tries. Some have re­sources to in­vest. I also think that it’s cul­tur­ally and morally cor­rect to give them an an­chor to their cul­tural her­itage. I don’t know if you re­mem­ber the book, Roots, which traced the ori­gins of Africans in the di­as­pora. The African Union has al­ready passed a res­o­lu­tion that di­vided Africa into five re­gions, with the di­as­pora be­ing the sixth.

One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most fa­mous quotes is about his dream that one day his chil­dren would live in a na­tion where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the con­tent of their char­ac­ter. Will his dream be ever re­al­ized?

First of all, even now – even be­fore the Decade of African De­scent was de­clared – so many things are dif­fer­ent from what they were in 1963 when Martin Luther King talked about his dream. Racism is on the de­crease. Judg­ing peo­ple by their merit is now more vis­i­ble than ever be­fore. Black peo­ple are oc­cu­py­ing some of the high­est of­fices in the world, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dency of Amer­ica. That was some­thing that Martin Luther King dreamt about. Of course, there re­mains seg­re­ga­tion, there re­mains marginal­iza­tion, and as I say, we need to fight th­ese things but there has been progress since 1963. The very fact that he had this dream in it­self set a tar­get for peo­ple to say it is pos­si­ble. And so much has been re­al­ized since then. This Decade for the Peo­ple of African De­scent should be used to sen­si­tize and en­gage in dia­logue with other peo­ple un­til this dream is re­al­ized in full.

Africa Sec­tion/Paddy Ilos

Sam Ka­hamba Kutesa, Pres­i­dent of the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s sixty-ninth ses­sion.

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