Monday, March 18, 2013

Equality for Ethnic Minorities

More than 65 ethnic groups call Uganda home—65! Living in a country so diverse, Ugandan civil society organizations agree that ethnic tensions are present, significantly as a result of discriminatory practices by the government.  However, the government denies the existence of any such ethnic discrimination. 

Most recently, development of the country’s oil resources has exacerbated tensions between those ethnic groups that stand most to benefit from newly found riches and those that are excluded. Although oil development will bring additional wealth to the country, ethnic minorities– those that do not have access to power or decision making – are excluded from what should be a shared benefit for all.

As you can see, the topic of ethnic minorities in Uganda is complex. I’ve witnessed this firsthand while visiting our Uganda country office and partners this past week.  During my trip, I attended the final workshop of our project for the development of advocacy strategies on key human rights issues for ethnic minorities.

The project, funded by the Ford Foundation, has made tremendous progress in one year, evidenced by the high level of workshop participation this past Thursday and Friday.  The 24 participants did a deep dive into the two advocacy campaigns that had been identified in the previous workshops – access to land and access to education for ethnic minorities.  Those campaigns have gained depth and commitment as a result of the project.   And, an informal network has even formed among the participants that includes two key state institutions, the Ugandan Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

I was truly impressed by the honesty and the transparency of the conversation. The willingness to share personal stories with others in the room underscored the trust that Global Rights Uganda has built with the participants.  They recognized that to move this work of advancing the rights of ethnic minorities forward, there needs to be a more open dialogue rather than conversations behind closed doors that only deepen tensions. 

I’m excited to see the momentum grow. My hope is that this work will be able to develop and expand, bringing together even more civil society and government officials who are committed to change the discourse and open up dialogue. This is critical if Uganda wants to ensure a fair and equal access to all its citizens. 


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

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